1925 World Series Game 3: Instant Replay Edition

March 12, 2014

What if Commissioner Landis had instituted a manager’s challenge system for instant replay prior to the 1925 season? Here is a new account of Sam Rice’s famous catch in Game 3 of the World Series.

Saturday October 10, 1925

Nats Lose in Late Innings, Local Man Called Goat

Stephen Jeffrey Bartmaier wasn’t looking to be famous. All he wanted was a ball to commemorate his trip to Griffith Stadium for Game 3 of the World Series.

When replay cameras caught the 17-year-old removing the ball from the glove of a temporarily incapacitated Sam Rice, everything changed. Bartmaier was caught on camera trying to replace the ball in Rice’s glove, but it was too little too late for the life-long Nats fan who may not be able to show his face in the DC area again.

With two outs in the top of the eighth inning, Pittsburgh catcher Earl Smith hit a drive deep into the right field corner of Griffith Stadium. Right fielder Sam Rice sprinted toward the right field line, leapt, and backhanded the ball in his glove as he tumbled into the stands. Moments later, Rice emerged with ball in hand. Smith was called out. Immediately Pittsburgh manager Bill McKechnie threw the white hanky to get the attention of the umpire.

The game was delayed while the umpire crew looked over the various camera angles. Initial angles were inconclusive, but a hand held camera stationed in the outfield bleachers caught Bartmaier’s act. Before the Fox broadcasters could show the incident a second time, there was already a Wikipedia entry for Bartmaier calling him, among other things, “Washington’s biggest palooka”  and the “goat” of the 1925 World Series.

Further delayed followed as the crew tried to determine whether the ball was foul or not. After about 20 minutes total, the ruling was that Smith had earned a ground rule double and the Nats were forced to retake the field.

The next batter was Carson Bigbee, who pinch hit for pitcher Ray Kremer. Bigbee singled off of a cooled-off Firpo Marberry to plate Smith with the game-tying run. The Pirates went on to win the game in the bottom of the ninth when Pie Traynor’s sacrifice fly knocked in Max Carey.

Though there were plenty of on field heroes in the game, all of the talk afterwards was about McKechnie’s challenge and Bartmaier’s mistake.

 

 

 


1925: “At no time did I lose possession of the ball”

October 6, 2010

Amidst all the “baseball in October” commercials I keep coming back to this moment that is not a huge part of the modern lore, but probably should be.

Saturday October 10, 1925

After splitting the first two games of the 1925 World Series, the Washington Nationals returned home to host Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Nats were ahead 4-3 heading into the top of the eighth inning, looking to take a 2-games-to-1 lead in the series. With two outs, Pittsburgh catcher Earl Smith hit a drive deep into the right field corner of Griffith Stadium. Right fielder and future Hall of Famer Sam Rice sprinted toward the right field line, leapt, and backhanded the ball in his glove as he tumbled into the stands. Moments later, Rice emerged with ball in hand. Smith was called out, and Washington went on to win the game.

There was some dispute from the Pirates as to whether Rice had actually caught the ball. The working theory for Pittsburgh was that he lost the ball in the crowd, but a helpful Washington rooter placed it back in his glove.

Rice seemed to enjoy the mystery surrounding the play. As the years went on, he never directly addressed the question of whether he caught the ball, often replying in a coy manner that “the umpire said he was out, so he was out.” He even refused to tell his wife and daughter the truth, obviously enjoying the mystery of the whole thing.

Instead of revealing the truth while alive, Rice left a sealed letter with the baseball Hall of Fame, to be opened upon his death. Finally, in October of 1974, the letter was opened, revealing that following:

“… the ball was a line drive headed for the bleachers towards right center, I turned slightly to my right and had the ball in view all the way, going at top speed and about 15 feet from bleachers jumped as high as I could and back handed and the ball hit the center of the pocket in glove (I had a death grip on it). I hit the ground about five feet from a barrier about four feet high in front of bleachers with all my brakes on but couldn’t stop so I tried to jump it to land in the crowd but my feet hit the barrier about a foot from top and I toppled over on my stomach into first row of bleachers, I hit my Adam’s apple on something which sort of knocked me out for a few seconds but McNeeley arrived about that time and grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me out. I remember trotting back towards the infield still carry in the ball for about halfway and then tossed it towards the pitcher’s mound. (How I have wished many times I had kept it.) At no time did I lose possession of the ball.”

Rice’s “revelation” was obviously written in a clever way as to keep the mystery surrounding the event. In fact, a Washington fan claiming to have been sitting in the front row that day claimed that Rice had indeed lost the ball.


1923: Squire Potter

August 6, 2010

Originally posted in 2009

Tuesday August 7, 1923

In the midst of Cleveland’s 22-2 victory over Washington, the Nats sent a 21-year-old rookie to the mound. Squire Potter, a right handed pitcher out of Flatwoods, Kentucky, came into a 13-1 game in the seventh inning. For those Nats fans who were watching and thinking “this can’t get any worse,” it did.

Potter walked the first two batters he faced on eight pitches, and the downhill slide continued. By the time the game (mercifully) ended, Potter had allowed nine runs on 11 hits. Though his team somehow managed to record nine outs with Potter on the mound, only five were to Potter’s credit. Three Indians players were caught attempting to steal second base, while one was retired in an attempt to stretch a single to a double. Without the help from the baserunners, Potter may still be on the mound at this moment.

In a footnote, Squire was not the only Potter to grace a major league mound. His younger brother Dykes pitched two innings for the Dodgers in 1938. He was somewhat more successful than his brother, allowing a single run in his appearance, but ended up one inning shy of his brother in terms of career length.


Triple Triples II

July 7, 2010

It has been almost a week since Denard Span became the 29th player in major league baseball history to hit three triples. To put that in perspective, there have been 21 perfect games in major league history, so it is a feat just slightly more common than the perfect game.

The Minnesota/Washington franchise has been involved in five of those games – three times on the “right” side, including Span’s game.

The last time a member of the Minnesota Twins hit three triples in a game was on July 3, 1980 when Ken Landreaux did it against the Texas Rangers.

One of the more recent occurences came at the expense of the Twins. Lance Johnson, then with the Chicago White Sox, hit three triples in a 14-4 win late in the 1995 season.

Interestingly, all three events were home games for the Twins, one at each of the parks the team has called home.

Washington was involved twice, once when Joe Kuhel did it against the White Sox in 1937, and once when the Nats were the victims of Charlie Gehringer and the rest of the Tigers in a 21-5 loss in 1929. Since Gehringer had his three triples at Griffith Stadium, that makes four ballparks in franchise history that have played host to a three-triple game.


1927: The Big Train’s Final Shutout

June 1, 2010

Monday May 30, 1927

There had been a great deal of speculation that Walter Johnson’s career would be over following the 1926 season. He hadn’t pitched particularly effectively by his standards, though at the age of 38 he was still better than league average. When he broke his foot in spring training before the 1927 season, the critics called for retirement. Johnson didn’t retire, and instead worked his way back into playing shape.

Two months later he made his first appearance in the 1927 season. It happened in the first game of a double header against the Red Sox at Griffith Stadium.

Johnson was able to answer his critics on that day, hurling a shut out against the Boston Red Sox. It was not the dominant performance that Johnson could esaily turn in years before – he only struck out one batter; but it was a testament to the pitching ability of the future Hall-of-Famer.

It’s not as if he was facing the ’27 Yankees, but Johnson was able to keep a very bad lineup in check. He allowed just three hits, a double and two singles, over the course of nine innings.

It would be the final shutout of Walter Johnson’s career. He continued to pitch through the season, at times flashing brilliance, but ending with a 5.10 ERA and a 5-6 record. Johnson retired following the season.


1925: Walter Johnson Impresses with the Bat

May 18, 2010

Tuesday May 19, 1925

With his team down by one in the top of the ninth inning at Cleveland, Nats’ manager Bucky Harris made a seemingly strange move. With the pitcher’s spot due up he sent ace pitcher Walter Johnson to the plate as a pinch-hitter. Johnson had pitched a few days before, so it was figured that he would not be pitching. Harris had used most of his bench options, however, and Johnson took some pride in his bat.

Washington baseball observers had become accustomed to watching Walter Johnson win games, but this was a new means of victory for the legend. With a man on, he hit a ball the opposite way over the 45-foot-high wall in right field to put his team up by one. According to Charlton’s Chronology, the only other right-handed batter to clear the wall in its history was Smokey Joe Wood.

The Nats won the game, and Johnson was the hero without even throwing a pitch. It wasn’t isolated hitting success for Johnson, however. He batted .433/.455/.577 with a pair of home runs in 107 plate appearances in 1925.


1926: Walter Johnson’s Final Opening Day Start

April 13, 2010

April 13, 1926

Baseball writers were beginning to predict the downfall of Walter Johnson even a few years prior to 1926. After all, he would turn 39 shortly after the 1926 season ended. Two years prior Johnson was looking to buy a Pacific Coast League franchise in hopes of securing something to do in retirement (or perhaps to play a few more years at the minor league level). The deal fell through and Johnson found that he had a few years left in him, but there was speculation that he wouldn’t have it in 1926, his 20th season.

Johnson, at least temporarily, proved that rumors of his demise were exaggerated with a 15-inning shut out of the Philadelphia Athletics on Opening Day 1926.

He allowed the A’s just six hits spread out over the course of 15 innings. Only one of those hits was for extra bases, a double off the bat of Walt French. Johnson walked three and struck out nine (or 12, depending on if you put more trust in The Sporting News, which listed 12, or retrosheet, which lists nine).

TSN noted:

“We have suspicion that somewhere around 1957 he will be pitching a one-hit game, or a one to nothing game against some team of whose players we know nothing now.”

Looking at the retrosheet boxscore, what stands out to me is the time of game. 15 innings in 2:33. It sort of puts the recent discussion on game length into perspective.


1923: Squire Potter’s Cup of Coffee

August 7, 2009

Tuesday August 7, 1923

In the midst of Cleveland’s 22-2 victory over Washington, the Nats sent a 21-year-old rookie to the mound. Squire Potter, a right handed pitcher out of Flatwoods, Kentucky, came into a 13-1 game in the seventh inning. For those Nats fans who were watching and thinking “this can’t get any worse,” it did.

Potter walked the first two batters he faced on eight pitches, and the downhill slide continued. By the time the game (mercifully) ended, Potter had allowed nine runs on 11 hits. Though his team somehow managed to record nine outs with Potter on the mound, only five were to Potter’s credit. Three Indians players were caught attempting to steal second base, while one was retired in an attempt to stretch a single to a double. Without the help from the baserunners, Potter may still be on the mound at this moment.

In a footnote, Squire was not the only Potter to grace a major league mound. His younger brother Dykes pitched two innings for the Dodgers in 1938. He was somewhat more successful than his brother, allowing a single run in his appearance, but ended up one inning shy of his brother in terms of career length.


1927: Walter Johnson’s Final Win

July 28, 2009

Thursday July 28, 1927

The Washington Nationals pounded the Chicago White Sox, 12-2, in a game that seemed to have little significance. It was simply another win for the great Walter Johnson, the 417th of his career.

As it turned out, it was also his final victory.

Johnson was 39 years old, and most figured in his final season. The win improved the team’s record to 56-39, good for second place but a full 14 games behind the powerful Yankees.

With little chance for a pennant, manager Bucky Harris turned the season over to a youth movement of sorts. Hod Lisenbee, Sloppy Thurston, and Bump Hadley got the bulk of the starts for the rest of the season, with Johnson mostly on the outside looking in. Johnson finished his final season in the majors with just 18 pitching appearances.


1921: George McBride Injured

July 27, 2009

Wednesday July 27, 1921

George McBride, longtime shortstop for Washington under manager Clark Griffith, saw less and less playing time as the Great War wound to a close. Though on the roster from 1917 to 1920, his days as a regular were clearly drawing to a close. Though he only appeared in 13 games during the 1920 season, Griffith kept him around for a more important role. McBride was considered Griffith’s manager in training, and when the Old Fox moved on from managing on the field to his role as President off the field after the 1920 season, McBride stepped in to steer the ship.

While the team was having success on the field, one would be hard pressed to consider McBride’s stint as manager of the Nats as any kind of success. 99 games into the 1921 season, McBride was struck just above the temple with a thrown ball during practice before a game against Chicago. According to Stephen Able, McBride suffered a slight concussion and partial paralysis of the face. After remaining in bed for more than a week, McBride returned to the club on August 4, but continued to display symptoms such as dizziness and fainting spells for the remainder of the season.

As mentioned, the 1921 Nats had success on the field despite missing their manager. During McBride’s absence (with Clyde Milan serving as player-manager), the team rattled off 11 consecutive victories.

The team finished 80-73 that year, good for just fourth place in the AL but a very good season in context of the Washington teams of the early 20th century. McBride resigned as manager following the season, to be succeeded by Milan.


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