September 12, 2016
I’m writing a new article, but it covers a lot of things I’ve already published. It will be a summary of all the amazing events that have happened in MLB since the last time the Cubs won it all – before they win it all this year.
Big-Time Baseball Blunders
Did you ever notice that most of the best remembered blunders in Major League Baseball History were fielding disasters? Most occurred on balls that should have been fielded, but were botched? They were also all indicative of teams that had been cursed, manifestations of the hand of God revealing His sovereign control over all things.
Look at them:
- Merkle’s Bone-headed Play: Yahweh, as usual, can’t be put into any box that we can construct, so the first Big-Time Mistake was a base-running error. In September of 1908, New York Giants’ rookie first baseman Fred Merkle was the runner on first with two outs when the Giant hitter singled, driving in what should have been the game-winning run. But eagle-eyed Cub second baseman Johnny Evers noticed that Merkle had not tagged second after leaving first base – he went straight to the Giants’ clubhouse in center field at the Polo Grounds in New York. After calling the head umpire out and finding a baseball that was a reasonable facsimile of the game ball, Evers tagged second in the midst of a melee of Giant fans. The umpire called Merkle out and the National League upheld the call: the game was declared a tie that would only be re=played if it meant the pennant. Well – as Providence would have it, the Giants and the Cubs ended the 1908 season in a flat-footed tie. The tie game was replayed in front of an angry sold-out ball park of Giant fans – but despite the hostilities, the Cubs won the game and the 1908 pennant. This was significant, since it was the last time the Cubs would win a World Series. Now – obviously, the Cubs weren’t cursed (they were blessed), but the Giants were. Instead of giving God thanks for their talent and the Giants’ good fortune, they took credit completely for their victory over the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1905 World Series. John McGraw, the brash Giants’ manager, bragged about intimidating Connie Mack’s team with their special black uniforms. He then ordered his team to wear shirts in 1906 that said, “World Champions”. The Giants’ curse was manifest by Merkle’s Mistake.
- Snodgrass’ Muff: The Giants, again, under a fresh curse because of John McGraw’s belief in superstition rather than the One who rules over all things. In the 1912 World Series, in the last inning of Game Seven, Fred Snodgrass, centerfielder for New York, famously dropped a fly ball that allowed the Boston Red Sox to get a baserunner, who eventually came around to score the Series’ winning run. Manager McGraw caused this new curse by believing, in 1911, in the power of Charles “Victory” Faust than in the power of Elohim. Faust was a non-athletic young man who was told by a fortune-teller that he would lead the Giants to a World Championship. For several months, McGraw had Faust “warm up” before games as if he were going to actually pitch, for “good luck.” New York went on a genuine winning streak, winning the 1911 NL pennant, but this time, they lost to the Athletics. Because of the teams’ “false god worship”, they were cursed from 1912 to 1919. As is the most common pattern, Snodgrass was known to be an excellent defensive player before “the Muff.”
- Zimmerman’s Chase of Eddie Collins: In the 1917 World Series, the Chicago White Sox had a 3 games to two lead over the Giants as they entered played Game Six. With the score tied at 2 – 2, the Giants blew a run-down play with the speedy White Sox second baseman, future Hall-of-Famer Eddie Collins. With Collins picked off of third, Giants’ third baseman Heinie Zimmerman got the ball, only to have no teammate on the other end, covering home plate. The catcher was up the line too far toward third, and the pitcher and the first baseman both neglected to back him up. Zimmerman had no choice but to chase the fast-running Collins in toward home plate, scoring the go-ahead, and eventual Series-winning run. More manifestation of the 1911 Faust Affair!
- Freddie Lindstrom and the “Phantom Pebble”: the 1924 World Series, once again, featured the New York Giants, led by the still-arrogant John McGraw. This time, however, they were facing a team that was in the Fall Classic for the very first time, the Washington Senators. The Senators featured a pitcher who has been the greatest who ever took the mound, “The Big Train”, Walter Johnson. Johnson, at the age of 36, was finally in his first World Series after years and years of frustration in Washington, pitching for one of the worst teams of that era. The two teams played to a 3-3 Series tie, with Game Seven set for Griffiths Stadium in Washington. Player-manager Bucky Harris, “The Boy Wonder”, would lead the Senators to their first and only Championship. Here’s what I wrote last year about it:
In Game Seven, two weird events happened that show all the signs of a curse. First, not one but TWO ground balls took bad hops over Giants’ third baseman Freddie Lindstrom. According to the Society of Baseball Research’s Biography Project, “In the eighth inning the Giants were leading 3-1. Then the Senators loaded the bases with two outs. Washington’s playing manager Bucky Harris slammed a sharp grounder toward third base. Just as Freddie was about to field it, the ball took a wicked hop right over his head and two runs scored to tie the game. The game remained tied into extra innings. In the 12th inning with runners on first [Walter Johnson, who had come into the game in relief] and second and one out, Earl McNeeley slashed a grounder toward Lindstrom at third. Amazingly, the ball hit a pebble or a clod of dirt, perhaps the same one that had deflected the hit by Harris four innings earlier. The ball bounded into left field for a base hit and Muddy Ruel raced home with the winning run. The Washington Senators won their first World Series, and Freddie Lindstrom was the goat of the series.”
Lindstrom was not the only goat, however. In the second weird event, Giants catcher Hank Gowdy tripped over his mask when trying to catch a foul pop in the 12th: According to the SABR Biography Project: “In the 12th inning of Game Seven of the 1924 fall classic at Griffith Stadium, Gowdy literally stepped into the spotlight again – this time as a goat. With one out and no one on, Washington’s Muddy Ruel popped up what looked like an easy foul. Gowdy tore off his mask, tossed it to the ground, and promptly stepped in it. “I thought my foot was being held in a bear trap,” Gowdy later recalled. He staggered around and couldn’t reach the ball, which dropped to the ground. Given new life, Ruel doubled and later became Washington’s winning run when Earl McNeely hit a hopper over Freddy Lindstrom’s shoulder at third. Sportswriters, calculating the winning team’s share, called Gowdy’s misfortune “a $50,000 muff.”(SABR Biography Project).
Think I’m only seeing these things in retrospect? How about the testimony of those who was there: from the SABR Project – “Some observers thought Providence had a hand in the miscues. Clark Griffith, owner of the Senators, said “God was on our side in that one. Else how did those pebbles get in front of Lindstrom, not once, but twice?” Heinie Groh was not sure whether to blame the Lord or Fate. He told Lawrence Ritter, “I guess the good Lord just didn’t want us to win that game, that’s all there is to it.” Later in the same interview he said: “It wasn’t Freddie’s fault. It could have happened to anybody. He never had a chance to get the ball. It was Fate, that’s all. Fate and a pebble.” “(SABR)
Why were the Giants cursed in 1924? I’m convinced that John McGraw did three things to cause his team to have an 84-year curse placed on them. After the “Curse of Victory Faust” ended (it was a seven-year curse from 1912 to 1919), the Giants won two World Series in 1921 and 1922, both times over the New York Yankees. In 1920, the Yankees had purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. That precipitated the original “Curse of the Bambino”, which cursed the Red Sox for 84 years (from 1920 to 2004). But the Babe also caused the New York Giants to be cursed, also. After the two Series victories, McGraw publicly disrespected Ruth by, not only claiming to have called every pitch from the bench, as the Giants’ pitchers held the Babe in check in both years, but he also claimed that there were better hitters in the National League (there weren’t any better hitters ANYWHERE than Ruth!) “Little Napoleon” also mistreated two other players who were blessed: Casey Stengel, his best player in the 1923 loss to the Yankees (the Babe was back!), was quickly traded to the Boston Braves (a bad organization at the time); and he treated “The Rabbi of Swat” – a Jewish slugger named Mose Solomon – with disrespect at the end of the 1923 season (after signing him after a great minor league season, in September, McGraw promised to let him play. He only had 8 at-bats. And, to add insult to injury, McGraw wnted him to stay with the team for the World Series, but he refused to pay him, Solomon took an offer to play professional football, instead).
That’s three strikes, Mr. McGraw – you’re out! That curse on the Giants’ franchise lasted until 2007, manifested by the exit of Barry Bonds and the signing of a youngster named Madison Bumgarner… who has performed quite well in post-season play.
- Mickey Owen’s Passed Ball: In 1941, the Yankees were still turning out Championship-caliber teams year after year. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were gone (Lou died in the summer of 1941; the Bambino retired from the Bronx Bombers after the 1934 season. “The Yankee Clipper” Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio was in his prime, hitting in a legendary 56 straight games that summer. But many baseball pundits considered their fellow New Yorkers, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to be the best team of 1941. The Dodgers had many stars that year, with a sensational rookie outfielder named Pete Reiser. The Dodgers’ manager was a young “Leo the Lip” Durocher, the hot-headed fire-brand who seemed to ignite his very talented team to greatness. Until the 1941 World Series… and Dodgers’ catcher Mickey Owen’s appointment with Providence…
The Wikipedia entry on Mickey Owen says it all: From 1941 to 1944, Owen averaged 46 RBI a season for the Dodgers and played for the Brooklyn team that faced the New York Yankees in the 1941 World Series. During that championship season, he set a then-record for most consecutive errorless fielding chances by a catcher (508) and finished with a .995 fielding average. Yet ironically, Owen is most remembered in baseball lore for a costly mistake that he committed during that year’s World Series. The Yankees held a 2-games-to-1 lead entering Game 4 on October 5 at the Dodgers’ home field, Ebbets Field. With the Dodgers leading 4–3 and 2 outs for the Yankees in the top of the ninth inning and the count 3–2 on Tommy Henrich, Henrich swung and missed at strike 3, which would have been the final out of the game, but the ball eluded Owen and went to the backstop, allowing Henrich to make it safely to first base. The Yankees then rallied and scored four runs in the remainder of the inning and won the game 7–4. Instead of the series being tied, the victory gave the Yankees a 3–1 lead. The next day, they beat the Dodgers 3–1 in Game 5 and won the World Championship.
That’s another interesting bit of Providence: most of the players making these blunders had a reputation as being excellent defensive player. Mickey Owen’s long errorless streak and new record was indeed “ironic”.
Why did it happen? Well, it doesn’t take much examination of the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers to come to the conclusion that they were cursed. The source of that curse, I believe, was the Brooklyn Atlantics (a forerunner of the team that would be called “the Dodgers”) and their failure to join the first professional Baseball League, the National Association, when it opened in 1871. Brooklyn was the home of the first slugging superstar of baseball, a guy named Lip Pike. Pike was considered the first professional ball player when he was discovered accepting money to play for a Philadelphia amateur team in 1866. Despite a spectacular season (including one game where he hit 6 homeruns), he was sent home to Brooklyn at the end of the season as a “foreigner.” No – not because he was Jewish (which he was), but because he was a Brooklynite playing in Philadelphia. He played for several teams throughout his career, but his best-known stint was with the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1869 and 1870. He was, in fact, the starting second baseman for an Atlantics team was the first team to beat the professional Cincinnati Red Stockings. But something must have happened to sour the relationship between Pike and the Atlantics. He wanted to play in the inaugural season of the professional National Association, but his own team, the Atlantics, would not become pros. So, Lip Pike signed with the Troy Haymakers in 1871. So… whatever happened must have been bad, because it resulted in an 84-year curse being placed on Brooklyn baseball teams. From 1871 to…
- Yes – the curse on the Brooklyn Dodgers was finally broken in 1955 and they finally… FINALLY … won it all. It also helped that the Dodgers also signed a local Jewish kid – a left-handed pitcher… in December of 1954. The kid was on the team, but he didn’t appear in the 1955 Series… born Sanford Braun, he later adopted the name of his adoptive step-father… Koufax… Sandy Koufax.
- Johnny Pesky and Slaughter’s “Mad Dash”: Everybody knows the Red Sox suffered from the original “Curse of the Bambino” when they disrespectfully sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in early 1920. What happened in the 1946 World Series was a classic curse manifestation for the Boston Red Sox.
Let’s set the scene: it’s Game Seven of a hard-fought World Series between the powerful St. Louis Cardinals and the AL Champion Boston Red Sox. The score was tied at three in the bottom of the eighth in St. Louis. Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals singles to start the inning off, but is still on first with two outs. The next hitter for St. Louis was outfielder Harry “The Hat” Walker. With a count of two and one, the Cardinals call for the hit-and-run. Slaughter takes off on the pitch, as Walker drills a ball to left-center field. As the baserunner approached third base, Cardinals coach Mike Gonzalez was giving him the stop sign. But, for whatever reason, Slaughter went right through the base on his way “madly” to home plate. Meanwhile, Boston’s shortstop Johnny Pesky was catching the throw from the outfield with his back to home plate. He turned – and hesitated just enough in throwing it home that “Country” Slaughter was able to slide home safely with the eventual Series-winning run. His “Mad Dash” dashed the hopes of the Red Sox for a Championship. The “Curse of the Bambino” had raised its ugly head in the Bosox’s first Series since 1918. It would be 58 more seasons until that curse was finally over.
Maybe another sign? Incidentally (or providentially), this was the last game in Major League Baseball of the “Old Regime.” The 1947 MLB season would open to a new era as Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on Opening Day.