WHAT WAS SO CRAZY ABOUT 08?
Years before the roaring 20’s, the war to end all wars and the great depression Cait Murphy captures some of Baseball’s greatest moments. In the year of 1908 the poem Take Me Out to the Ballgame was written, Ford’s first Model T rolled off the assembly line, Mother's Day was celebrated for the first time and the Boy Scouts were formed. It was also the year that three baseball teams fought to the wire and the honor of playing Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
1908 was a year of financial panic; banks were unable to extend credit to customers because of a cash shortage. The fallout caused jobs to be lost by the thousands, companies everywhere were filing for bankruptcy and many Americans were out in the streets. Business was nearly at a standstill and the credit system was entirely wrecked. Too bad none of us can relate to those times.
HOW IT APPLIES TO THE COLORADO ROCKIES
In 2007 three teams in the NL were competing for the last playoffs spot, until the final weekend of the season. Contrast that to 1908 when three teams were in contention to represent the NL in the World Series until the last day of the season, remember the league championship was not played until 1969! In 2007 the Wild Card would be decided in a playoff between the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres, a game that went down in annals as one of the greatest games of all time. In 1908 the National League Champion was decided in a playoff between the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants in the Polo Grounds. It was a winner take-all match which only came about because of a previous game which later became famously known as “the Merkle game.”
The “Merkle game” was the second in a three game series between the Cubs and Giants. Played at the Polo Grounds in front of an estimated 30,000 people the score is tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs a man on 3rd and Giants rookie Fred Merkle on 1st. The Giant’s batter slaps a line drive over 2nd base into centerfield nearly hitting the umpire and knocking him to the ground. The runner touches home plate to a mob of backslapping Giants and the jubilant crowd charges out of the stands and on to the field. It appears the Giants have won the game, but in the confusion 2B Evers calls to the CF for the ball and is intercepted by the Giants firstbase coach who then throws the ball into the crowd. The ball is finally retrieved and thrown to Evers standing on second, where Merkle should have been. In the confusion, Merkle ran towards the clubhouse in rightfield to escape the crowd, thinking the game was over. The umpires fight through the crowd and confer under the grandstands. The umpire on 2nd states he never saw the play because he was flipped by the line drive. The plate umpire Hank O’Day makes the call, Merkle never touched 2nd and baseball rules are specific, a force out nullifies the run. The field can’t be cleared; daylight is running out, so O’Day calls the game a tie! The game is replayed on October 8, 1908 with the World Series on the line.
STARS OF 08
Honus Wagner – The shortstop was one of the charter members in the Hall of Fame, and considered the greatest player of his time. Honus’ season begins with a holdout which lasts through the 3rd game. Wagner claims he wants to retire and raise chickens. It is a soft holdout and the Pirates owner finally caves and offers Honus $10,000 a year contract to play. Interesting fact players are serenaded by the hometown band when approaching home plate for an AB. On Wagners first appearance in Pittsburgh he is serenaded with the song: I was only Teasing you.
In a July 4th game against the Cubs there is a close play at home where the Pirate is called out and Wagner convincingly argues the call diagramming the play in the dirt. The umpire reverses his call, the runner is safe and then Wagner steps into the box and blasts a homerun. Wagner’s hands were so large that when he gathered in a ground ball and fired it towards first a spray of gravel followed the ball.
The three Hall of Famers are best known for turning the double play. These three were the leaders of Chicago's greatest baseball team. Tinker-Evers to Chance will historically be known as the first great double play combo.
Frank Chance – Player manager was the first baseman anchoring the Cubs on their run. Chance was so revered in Chicago that he was known as the Peerless Leader (PL). Was a converted catcher, a career .296 hitter that stole 401 bases in his career. Chance had a managing record of .593 with 946 wins and 4 World Series appearances.
Joe Tinker – Shortstop Tinker was a power hitter that had the ability to smoke Giants ace Christy Mathewson batting over .400 against the great pitcher in 1908. Tinker was converted from 3B to shortstop.
Johnny Evers – 2B Evers was known as one of the smartest men on the field. He played in the Majors for 27 years! Evers wrote a baseball book in 1912 named Touching Second which the author recommends.
Mordecai "3 Finger" Brown – His hand mangled in a feed chopper, Brown threw the ball with electric movement. Ty Cobb claimed Brown’s curve was the most devastating pitch he ever faced. The Chicago ace threw 55 shutouts in his career, 49 saves and a career 2.06 ERA. Christy Mathewson called Brown the most complete pitcher in the game.
Christy Mathewson – Another of the original Hall of Fame inductees, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all-time. Mathewson holds the record for most wins in the NL with 373. One of the best moments recorded in the book occurs in an early game between the Giants and Cubs. The Giants are leading 4-1 when Mathewson decides the game is in hand and hits the showers, it’s his off day and there are only 2 showers in the clubhouse so he beats the rush. The Cubs end up loading the bases and McGraw pulls the rookie starter and calls for Christy. There is a mad rush to find the pitcher and until he is finally dragged out of the showers, sopping wet without his cleats to record the save.
The all-time leader in wins and losses was on the down side of his career in 1908. During the season the AL honored Young with a $6,000 bonus and an ungodly trophy. Pitching for Boston in 08 the Red Sox finished in 5th place.
Possibly the greatest hitter of all time. Nap was traded to Cleveland in 1902 the year after he hits .426. A career .338 hitter, Nap is so popular in Cleveland they name the team after him and ask him to manage the team as a player. 1908 is a tough year for Nap, he is spiked early in the season so horribly that his leg is nearly amputated. Early baseball players had to suffer through the risk of infection at a time before antibiotics were available.
This picture demonstrates how close to the action the fans could get in an early 1900’s game. This is Hilltop Park, home of the New York Yankees, they finished in last place in 1908.
.324 Avg, 36 2B, 24 3B+HR, 108 RBI
Along with Barry Bonds the two are considered the most hated players in baseball history. Cobb's racist attacks were legendary ; once kicking a black groundskeeper in the head for touching his glove, "then choked the man's wife until catcher Charlie Schmidt- a former prize fighter who could bend steel rods- tore him off." According to the book he also, "kicks a black chambermaid in the stomach for bristling at an insult."