Fun Fact: The Boston Red Sox are not the only team to have won a World Series in Fenway Park.
In keeping with the spirit of the blog being a comprehensive look at New England sports history, I will be examining the 1914 World Series, in particular the role of the Boston Braves. The Braves, who have long since left Boston, are the oldest continuously operating team in professional baseball. Having begun play in 1871, they were a charter member of the National League, which began play in 1873. They were the most dominant team in the early National League, winning 8 pennants between 1873 and 1898. The founding of the American League and the Boston Red Sox in 1901 however spelled the end to the Braves’s dominance. The upstart American League, desperate to establish credibility as an “equal” major league to the National League, offered lucrative contracts to established players to entice them to switch. Jimmy Collins, N. Cuppy, Buck Freeman, Ted Lewis, and Chick Stahl jumped ship to the upstart Red Sox, a move that would sink the Braves for years to come.
In the early part of the 20th century, the Red Sox were one of the most dominant franchises in baseball. After winning the inaugural World Series in 1903, they would go back on two other occasions, winning it again in 1912. During that same period, the Braves were perennial basement dwellers. During the 13 seasons that they had played alongside the Sox, the Braves would finish last in the National League on five occasions and had only one winning season.
A Disastrous Start
The Braves entered 1914 however with some measure of positive momentum. Managed by Georgia native George Stallings, they had risen from last place in four straight years from 1909 to 1912 to fifth place in Stallings’s first season in 1913. Despite the improvement that the team saw in the previous season, expectations around 1914 were not especially high. When Stallings was asked about his 1914 team, he said that the team had ““one .300 hitter, the worst outfield that ever flirted with sudden death, three pitchers, and a good working combination around second base.” The .300 hitter was Johnny Evers, who had just been acquired from the Chicago Cubs after being fired as their player-manager.
To call the start of the 1914 season a disaster would be an understatement, the team went 3-10 in their first 13 games, finding themselves 10 games behind the National League leader when the season was barely two weeks old. The team’s fortunes did not improve as the season went along and as spring gave way to summer, they remained consistently in the cellar. By July 4, they were 15 games behind first. To make mater worse, the team lost an exhibition game, 10-2, to its minor league affiliate in Buffalo. Despite his team’s woes, Stallings tried to keep an optimistic face by insisting that the team was “playing well” but just could not win. In July, Boston Globe writer TH Murane predicted that the Braves would finish “well up” from last but would not win the pennant. Even finishing “well up from last” seemed like a bold prediction. On the date that Murane’s prediction was published, July 12, 1914, the Braves were 32-41, in last place, and 11.5 games behind first.
The Miracle Begins
Following an incredible rally, the Braves moved into 2nd place on August 13th and were 5 and a half games out of first. The Braves got gotten so hot, so quickly, that they began to have issues finding enough seats for the fans who wanted to attend games at the South End Grounds. The much larger Braves Field, where they would begin play in the next season, was still under construction. Noting the plight of the Braves, Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin offered Fenway Park to the Braves free of charge.
The Braves took the lead in the National League from the New York Giants on September 8th and never looked back. The team would go 25-6 for the remainder of the year to win the National League by 10.5 games. The team was buoyed by support from Johnny Evers, who ended the season with a .279 batting average after having batted .203 as late as early June. His contributions to the Braves were recognized at the end of the year when the National League awarded him the Chalmers Award, a forerunner to the MVP. Evers was also important behind the scenes as well, acting as team captain, he rallied his teammates after their embarrassment in Buffalo. Providing leadership and structure to the clubhouse, Evers helped rally his teammates as they sought to do the impossible.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the work put in by the rotation. Bill James, Dick Rudolph, and Lefty Tyler were perhaps the more talented threesome to take the mound for the Braves, rivaled only by the Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz combination 80 years later. During the season’s second half, James was 17-1, Rudolph 16-2, and Tyler 10-4. Over the course of the season, they were 26-7, 26-10, and 16-13 respectively.
Up Next – The World Series
Waiting for the Braves were the fearsome Philadelphia Athletics of the American League. Led by legendary manager Connie Mack, the Athletics had also won the American League pennant in 1910, 1911, and 1913. The only other team to win the pennant between 1910 and 1913 were the Boston Red Sox, who had finished 8.5 games behind the Athletics in 1914.
The Athletics were the clear favorites in the World Series. In fact, many thought that the Athletics would sweep the Braves in four. This series is notable for being the only time that Connie Mack would manage a World Series in Fenway Park, a feat usually impossible but made possible because of the circumstances that led the Braves to Fenway.
The series at Shibe Park in Philadelphia with Dick Rudolph of the Braves and Chief Bender of the Athletics on the mound for their respective teams. The Braves jumped ahead early with two runs at
the top of the first and Rudolph’s pitching kept the Athletics from being able to catch up. After giving up 3 runs in the sixth, on the strength of a 2-run triple by Possum Whitted and an RBI single by Butch Schmidt that scored Whitted, Connie Mack removed Bender from the game. This is really only worth mentioning because it was the first time, in five appearances in the World Series, that Connie Mack brought in a relief pitcher. The Braves would go on to win the game, 7-1 and take a 1-0 series lead.
The series continued the next day in Philadelphia as Bill James took the mound against Eddie Plank of the Athletics. In stark contrast to the game just a day earlier, this was a low scoring affair. James carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning when he gave up a hit to double to Wally Schlang, who was thrown out soon after trying to take third on a passed ball. An inning later, Eddie Collins hit a single but was caught by James on a pickoff at first not long after.
The hitting woes of the Athletics contrasted well with the Braves who had 7 hits but found themselves unable to bring a batter home. It wouldn’t be until the top of the 9th that the Braves were finally able to score on an RBI single from Les Mann that brought Charlie Deal home from third. In the bottom of the ninth and with one out, Jimmy Walsh was the pinch hitter for Plank and drew a walk. The next batter, Murphy hit a ground ball to shortstop Rabbit Maranville who stepped on the bag at second and threw the ball over to first to turn the double play and give the Boston Braves a 2-0 series lead.
The Braves were heading back to Boston and to Fenway Park with a 2-0 series lead. The Athletics were looking to do something that had never been before, no team had ever overcome a 2-0 series lead to come back to win the World Series. Lefty Tyler took the mount for the Braves against Bush of the Philadelphia Athletics.
The game was close throughout and went into extra innings. In the 10th inning, with the game tied 2-2, the Athletics scored two runs and appeared on their way to avoiding a Series sweep and putting themselves back into contention. In the bottom half of the inning, Hank Gowdy pulled the game within 1 run with a clutch home run, reminiscent of what David Ortiz would do in the same batter’s box almost a century later. Herbie Moran was up next, drew a walk, and then team captain Johnny Evers came to bat. On a 3-2 count, Evers sent the ball sent the ball into right, which allowed Moran to advance to third. A sacrifice fly by Joe Connolly brought Moran to the plate and tied the game at 4.
The Braves would win the game just two innings later when Moran laid down a bunt that the fielder threw the 3rd, which allowed the winning run, Les Mann to cross the plate and score. The game, which ended as Fenway Park was becoming too dark to play to play baseball, was over and the Braves had taken a 3-0 lead over Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics.
As the Braves returned to Fenway Park, looking to complete the first four game sweep in the history of the World Series, George Stallings sent Rudolph back on the mound. Connie Mack, desperate to avoid being the first team to be swept in four games, went with the untested Bob Shawkey. The Braves struck first in the bottom of the fourth inning when Johnny Evers scored on a groundout by Butch Schmidt. The Athletics responded in the top of the 5th when, following a double by Jack Barry, pitcher Bob Shawkey hit a double of his own that brought Barry around to the plate to tie the game.
The winning run would be scored in the bottom of the fifth. With two men out, Dick Rudolph hit a single into the outfield and he was followed by Herbie Moran who hit a double into left-center. The next batter was Johnny Evers and he drove both runners in with a two RBI single into center.
Dick Rudolph retook the mound in the top of the 6th and did not surrender a hit for the rest of the game, giving the Boston Braves their first World Series Championship and the first four game sweep in history. The “Miracles Braves” had shocked the world and taken down the Athletics.
The 1915 World Series would see Boston and Philadelphia meet on Braves Field. Of course, the two teams were the Red Sox and Phillies respectively. The Red Sox were using Braves Field as a home field to take advantage of Braves Field’s larger seating capacity. Like the Braves a year earlier, the Red Sox would defeat the Philadelphia team, this time 4-1.
The Braves would remain contenders of the next couple of years, finishing 2nd and 3rd in 1915 and 1916 respectively. In 1915, they were 7 games behind the first place Phillies. After 1916 however, the team once again returned to the lower half of the league and would not make another appearance in the Fall Classic until 1948, when the Red Sox came within one game of delivering an all-Boston World Series.
The fall of the once dominant Philadelphia Athletics was quite dramatic. With the Federal League attempting to establish itself, they, like the American League had, attempted to lure players away from existing ball clubs by offering extravagant salaries. Unlike other teams, Connie Mack opted to not match the offers made to his top players, resulting in him losing players like Eddie Plank and Chief Bender to Federal League teams. As a result of Mack’s frugality, the Athletics would post 43 wins and 109 losses, good enough for last place in the American League. The Athletics would languish in last place for the next six seasons. They would recover at the end of the 1920s, winning the AL Pennant in 3 consecutive seasons (1929-1931) and the World Series in 2 (1929 and 1930).
The heyday of Boston baseball was nearing a close however. Though the Red Sox would win the World Series in 3 out of the next 4 seasons, their win in 1918 would be the last World Series Championship for Boston for 86 years.