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.




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


13 Responses to “The First Four Red Sox Championships in Boston”

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  1. jim S. says:

    Nice job. A good read.

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  2. One point bears mentioning: these are the first four Red Sox championships clinched in Boston. The series-ending victories in 1915, 2004, and 2007 all occurred on the road.

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  3. LookItUp says:

    A point of clarification: Ray Chapman is the only major leaguer to die after being hit by a pitch. Several minor leaguers have suffered the same fate, as well as a number of amateur players.

    http://www.deathattheballpark.com/overview.html

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  4. Robo says:

    This is a very interesting article, but I think it bears mentioning that one of the best thing about it is reading all the old names. At least half of them I can’t imagine meeting someone with that name today.

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    • Spa City says:

      I agree. It is interesting to see the differences in name trends over the decades. Not sure I have ever met an Eppa, Amos or Tris. My understanding is Gary was extremely rare until Gary Cooper became famous in the 1920s. And very few Farrahs until the 1970s. I imagine that there were not many DaBrickashaws or LeBrons in previous decades, but I would think there will be a lot more of them over the next 30 years.

      The other issue this article brought to mind is that Harry Hooper, Rube Marquard, Eppa Rixey and Zack Wheat are ALL in the Hall of Fame. I am not sure how Hooper or Wheat could be considered as better players than J.D. Drew, and they certainly were not as good as Tim Raines. Neither Marquard nor Rixey compare favorably with Curt Schilling. The Hall of Fame… it makes sense if you don’t think about it.

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  5. JimNYC says:

    Tangentially touched upon one of my favorite topics: Who is the worst player in the Hall of Fame? It’s certainly not Rube Marquard.

    My personal vote goes to Tommy McCarthy; supposedly he’s in the Hall of Fame because he invented the Hit and Run, but that seems kind of a weak basis for a player who was so totally unexceptional in every respect. But, since there’s nobody alive who saw him play and almost nobody alive who’s quite clear on why exactly he’s in the Hall of Fame, it’s sort of useless to talk about him.

    There are, of course, all of those players who got into the Hall of Fame solely because Frankie Frisch was on the Veterans’ Committee and they’d played with Frankie Frisch — Freddie Lindstrom; Highpockets Kelly; Travis Jackson; Dave Bancroft; Jesse Haines. People like to disparage Chick Hafey, but I’ve always been a fan of his and of what he was able to accomplish with his disability. Johnny Evers is probably only in the Hall of Fame because of a poem. Dizzy Dean had a short career, but it’s hard to have a “Hall of Fame” without arguably the most famous pitcher who ever lived.

    I’d put all of those guys aside, because it’s sort of pointless to argue about whether or not Freddie Lindstrom deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and talking about guys like Dean or Phil Rizzuto just turn into philosophical discussions on what the nature of the “Hall of Fame” should be. Instead, I’ll point to a guy whom everybody automatically thinks of as a deserving Hall of Famer, but who really probably isn’t once you get around to it: Lou Brock.

    Brock was a poor fielder, both statistically and based upon eyewitness accounts, even though he played almost exclusively in left field — unusual for somebody of his speed; never have quite figured that out. He had a little bit of power, but nothing to speak of. Couldn’t draw a walk to save his life. Solid hitter for contact, but nothing to write home about — never hit higher than .315; never finished in the top five in his league in batting average. Legged out a lot of singles with his speed. Basically, he’s in the Hall of Fame for three reasons — he stole a ton of bases at a 75% clip; he was able to stay healthy for a long career and thus eventually got to 3000 hits; and he had back-to-back astonishingly good World Series in ’67-’68.

    He had 43.2 fWAR in 2616 games. Compare that to other people considered to be borderline Hall of Famers: Andre Dawson, 59.5 fWAR in 2627 games; Dewey Evans, 65.1 fWAR in 2606 games; Luis Gonzalez, 55.3 fWAR in 2591 games; Graig Nettles, 65.7 fWAR in 2700 games; Darrell Evans, 61.1 fWAR in 2687 games.

    On balance, Brock is closer to guys nobody considers Hall of Famers like Johnny Damon (43.0 fWAR in 2490 games); Steve Finley (40.3 fWAR in 2583 games); Vada Pinson (47.3 fWAR in 2469 games); or Al Oliver (43.9 fWAR in 2368 games).

    Yet I’ve never once heard Brock’s name brought up when people talk about undeserving Hall of Famers.

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    • I love this topic too. The point about Brock is fascinating. Of course, there are a few people who will bring up Maury Wills as a potential Hall of Famer, and his case is even weaker than Brock’s.

      The interesting guy for me is Brett Butler, though. He had a much better career than most people realize.

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      • Dan Jaffe says:

        Now you’ve touched a sore point. I know that Maury Wills is not Hall of Fame caliber, as my sabermetrically proficient son is fond of pointing out to me, but I was 11, dammit, when he stole 104 bases and 12 when the Dodgers swept the Yankees in the 2003 WS (now I’m a Red Sox fan—even more opportunities to hate the Yankees!). He was so much fun to watch and to follow. Please don’t rub it in!

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    • Spa City says:

      I like your comment even more then the original article (which I also liked). Leaving aside the historical anomalies like Candy Cummings and the feel-good types like Ray Schalk – there are a few players who are widely considered as clear-cut Hall of Famers for no apparent reason.

      I always had similar thoughts about Luis Aparicio. I never understood what was so impressive about him. He had no power, rarely reached base (career .311 OBP), rarely drew walks, did not hit for a high batting average, almost never even reached base via HBP, all while grounding into more than his share of DPs. He stole a lot of bases, but not with a particularly high rate of success. He was a very good fielder, but that does not normally lead to widespread acclaim as an All-Time Great.

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      • LookItUp says:

        Aparicio was considered (and probably was) one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time, and leading the league in steals for 9 consecutive seasons is the sort of thing that will impress some voters. And at the time of his election to the Hall (1984) the fact that his OBP was mediocre and his SB% was good but not great was essentially irrelevant; such concepts were completely off the radar of the mainstream media of that time.

        In short, in his time he was looked on as Ozzie Smith would be looked on by the next generation, and the fact that the offensive side of his game was unimpressive was not well understood.

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  6. Dan Jaffe says:

    I love baseball history. Thanks so much for this.

    In 2100 (if humanity and baseball survive), perhaps they’ll be looking back on the early 21st century and marveling at how quaintly old-fashioned the game was then, in the pre-rocket-pack, pre-bionic-arm era!

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  7. garrett hawk says:

    30.9 WAR for Bill Mazeroski.
    Lou Brock played LF because that’s the only position he could play. He had a weak arm, so RF was out. Occasionally, a weak-armed guy with great speed can handle CF (like Juan Pierre and early career Johnny Damon), but the Cubs had already spent over two seasons discovering that Brock could NOT hack it.

    So to answer your question, JimNYC, since the Cardinals already HAD a Gold-Glove CF in Curt Flood, they had zero reason to give the position to Brock.

    BTW, this whole Brock-can-only-play-one-position concept goes a long way towards explaining why the Cubs made the infamous Brock-for-Broglio trade…they already HAD a LFer, a 25 year-old Billy Williams, who’d already been ROTY and an All-Star, and was well on his way to a HOF career himself. Interesting, eh?

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