The First Four Red Sox Championships in Boston

Last night, as you may have heard, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. As many noted, it was the first time that a Boston team clinched the World Series in its home town since the Sox won in 1918.

It was the sixth World Championship that Hub fans have ever had a chance to witness: the Red Sox won at home in 1903, 1912, 1916, and 1918, and the Boston Braves won at home in 1914. Since it’s almost certain that none of the fans at Fenway tonight were in attendance at any of the others, I thought I’d take a quick look at what happened a century ago.

Of course, it’s not like Bostonians had nothing to cheer for in the interim. Between the 1918 and 2013 Sox championships, the Celtics won 17 championships, 10 at home; the Bruins won six Stanley Cups, three at home; the Patriots won three Super Bowls on the road; and of course the Sox themselves won two championships on the road.

But football championships are cold comfort to baseball fans, and while Red Sox fans surely enjoyed beating the Colorado Rockies in 2007, you can’t feel the stadium shake when you’re watching on television.

So, without further ado, here are the previous four Red Sox championships in Boston:

1918: The star of the 1918 World Series was Babe Ruth, as you might expect; he pitched 17 innings in two games, winning them both while allowing a total of two runs, and he hit a two-run triple that was the decisive hit in Game 4, which the Sox won 3-2. It was an extremely low-scoring series, as the Cubs actually outscored the Sox 10-9 in six games. But Carl Mays was just as effective on the mound, twirling two complete games, including a 2-1 victory in the decisive Game 6.

It’s hard to talk about just how good Carl Mays was without mentioning that he killed a man from the mound, Ray Chapman, the only man major leaguer ever to die after being struck by a pitched ball. That tragedy was caused in part by the key to Mays’s success, his difficult-to-read submarine motion; his SABR bio quotes Baseball Magazine’s description of Mays’ pitching motion looking “like a cross between an octopus and a bowler.”

Ruth and Mays were clearly the stars of the Series. The position players were a sorrier sort, with decent-enough players like Wally Schang and Stuffy McInnis and Amos Strunk. The only offensive “star” was Harry Hooper, who batted leadoff, played a terrific defensive center field, and made the Hall of Fame, but he was a similar player to Brett Butler: he was a fine player, as he stole bases, hit singles, and drew walks, but he quite couldn’t change an inning by himself. Ruth could. Ruth and Mays basically were the ’18 Sox.

1916: That wasn’t quite true in ’16, when the Sox faced the Brooklyn Robins. Ruth and Hooper were both marvelous, but Mays got blown out in Game 1 and was otherwise a non-factor; instead, the Sox relied on Ernie Shore on the mound and guys like Duffy Lewis and Dick Hoblitzell at the plate.

In truth, the Brooklyn Robins of 1916 were not the strongest team of the decade. Their pitching staff was led by Jeff Pfeffer, Larry Cheney, and Sherry Smith, all of whom had fine careers but none of whom were extraordinary; the fourth pitcher was Rube Marquard, perhaps the worst player in the Hall of Fame. Their offense was led by the Hall of Famer Zack Wheat and by Casey Stengel, who had perhaps his best year in the field.

It is interesting to contemplate how well the Sox would have done against the 1916 Phillies, who may have been stronger on paper, led by the formidable Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander and Eppa Rixey in the rotation, and with the legendary Chief Bender available as a reliever. Their offense was paced by Gavvy Cravath, who, thanks to the cozy Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, from 1913-1915 was probably the best slugger in the National League. As to the name, his SABR biographer explains:

It was during his semi-pro days that he gained the nickname “Gavy.” There are many stories about its origin, but it’s apparently a contraction for the Spanish word gaviota, which means “seagull.” During a Sunday game in the early 1900s, Cravath reportedly hit a ball so hard that it killed a seagull in flight. Mexican fans shouted “Gaviota.” The English-speaking fans thought it was a cheer and the name stuck. It’s pronounced to rhyme with “savvy,” so sportswriters of the period added the extra “v,” but Cravath himself spelled it G-A-V-Y.

In any event, Boston played Brooklyn, and it wasn’t that close, as they won the Series four games to one and won the final two games by a combined tally of 10 to 3. The final game was ugly all around, as the Red Sox won 4-1 and got their first lead in the third inning with the following hideous sequence: single, foul bunt popfly, walk, man scores on E6, man caught stealing, single, man caught stealing. Seriously: the Red Sox won the World Series on a game in which they scored their game-winning runs while making three outs on bunts and caught stealings. It’s lucky there were no GIFs back then.

1912: This is the year that Fenway Park opened. Hooper and Duffy Lewis were there in 1912, but none of the other stars from 1916 or 1918 had arrived yet. The great Tris Speaker was in centerfield, and the staff ace was Smokey Joe Wood, but he had thrown 344 innings in the regular season and something was clearly wrong. He allowed 11 earned runs in 22 innings in the World Series, and would only average 139 innings a year for the next three seasons, and after three abortive comeback attempts in 1917, 1919, and 1920, his career would be over. Instead, Boston’s most reliable pitchers in the Series would be Hugh Bedient and Ray Collins, both of whom would be out of baseball after 1915.

The opposition was John McGraw’s 103-win New York Giants, led by the brilliant Christy Mathewson and featuring McGraw’s slash-and-burn style. The team stole 319 bases, leading the majors by a comfortable margin. The team’s best position player was probably second baseman Larry Doyle, who won the 1912 MVP, though catcher Chief Meyers and first baseman Fred Merkle both also had terrific years at the plate, Meyers finishing third in the MVP race and Merkle finishing 18th.

Famously, the 1912 series went to eight games, as Game 2 was called due to darkness as the teams were tied 6-6 in the 11th inning. According to Jacob Pomrenke of SABR, this is the only best-of-seven World Series ever to go to eight games. The decisive Game 8 was finally resolved in the tenth inning, thanks to a crucial error by Fred Snodgrass and a bizarre dropped ball where Mathewson called off Merkle on a pop-up and told Meyers to catch the ball, which the surprised Meyers was unable to reach. (Undoubtedly, a color commentator somewhere grumbled that there should be a place to mark that as a “team error” in the scorebook.) Joe Wood got the win for the Sox as he pitched the final three innings, allowing just one run.

1903: This was the first official World Series, and it was a best-of-nine. Boston’s team was known as the Americans, and they faced Honus Wagner’s powerful Pirates. It was a different era. Boston only used three pitchers during the eight games of the Series, and Tom Hughes only pitched two innings. The other 69 frames were distributed evenly between Cy Young and Bill Dineen, who pitched 34 and 35 innings, respectively. The Pirates spread out their innings more evenly, but ace Deacon Phillippe pitched 44 innings while none of the other pitchers went more than 10.

In a portent for the future, the Boston Americans were down 3-1 after the first four games, but the team rallied to win the next four games in a row, playing the decisive game at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, which stood on ground which now houses a basketball arena at Northeastern University. Boston’s fortunes all changed in the 6th inning of Game 5. Once more, their luck was largely driven by the other team’s errors. This was the sequence: reached on E7, single, reached on E6, walk, reached on E6, bunt groundout, triple, triple, popfly, groundout. (Yes, Honus Wagner made two errors in the same inning. In all, he made six errors during the Series, the most on either team.)

When all was said and done, Boston had scored six runs, and what had been a 0-0 tie had suddenly become a blowout. They never really looked back. In the final game, the Red Sox won 3-0 behind another terrific performance by Dinneen, who started four of the eight games in the Series and completed all four.

It was hard to remember it during the 86-year World Series drought, but the Red Sox were a dominant team during the first 15 years of the modern World Series era. The Babe Ruth trade ended that, but the team was quite successful before he even arrived. Boston fans were quite spoiled with the success of their team over that period. And now, with three championships in ten years, they may be getting spoiled once more.

Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.

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jim S.
jim S.

Nice job. A good read.