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A quartet of baseball stories

Ballpark DigestThe days after the season ends, the weather is suddenly grayer and bleaker than it was not too long ago — or, if you’re in an area beset by Sandy, windier, rainier, snowier, and hopefully not beset by power outages. To lighten matters, here is a quartet of littler-known baseball stories. Were you aware, for example, that….

Fans were doing The Wave in the 19th Century
Modern claimants to The Wave, that exercise so deplored by “real fans” and beloved by bored spectators, range from Krazy George to the University of Washington. But in his A Game of Inches, researcher savant Peter Morris spotlights a pair of clippings that indicate The Wave has older origins.

How much older?

It was on October 15, 1866, at an Atlantic/Athletics affair in Brooklyn, when “[o]ne individual, cramped by sitting two or three hours on the low temporary bench at the left of the field, stood up, stretched his body, arms and neck to their fullest tension, and appeared to feel quite refreshed; his next neighbor imitated his example, and one after another almost every one in the crowd stood up, straightened himself and then resumed his seat….This episode seemed to put the crowd in extra good humor, and from time to time the process was repeated.”

A similar performance from the fans at an 1889 contest between St. Louis and Brooklyn was reported by the Brooklyn Eagle, as cited by Dean Sullivan in “Early Innings,” with this depiction even describing the partisans as “compelled to sway about like a wave on the ocean…”

Six Wins in One Day
The New England League’s regular season title in 1899 was decided on a wild final day, as described in Ernie Harwell‘s The Babe Signed My Shoe:

Manchester, with a chance to catch league-leading Portland by winning its last six games, scheduled those six games for the final day of the season.”

Well, naturally. Wouldn’t you?

“They began at 9 a.m., playing a doubleheader before lunch, both nine-inning games.  three games were played in the afternoon. At this point, Manchester had won all five. The sixth game was started, but after two innings, Portland protested a decision and walked off the field. So the ump gave Manchester its sixth victory by forfeit.

“Yet all that work went for nothing. Newport, another contender in the league, won a tripleheader on that last day. Then league officials stepped in and threw out all games except one victory by Newport and one by Manchester. That decision gave the title to Newport.

“Manchester had played and won six games in one day,” Harwell sums up with a sigh, “and it did the team no good at all.”

The Climax of the 1927 World Series
What’s the most dramatic World Series finish you can remember? Perhaps it’s the walk-off homers by Bill Mazeroski in 1960 or Joe Carter in 1993, or Luis Gonzalez‘s broken-bat blooper off Mariano Rivera in 2001.

1927, though, is largely forgotten.

“They like to tell in story books,” wrote the Washington Post’s Shirley Povich in his game report, “of how, in the last half of the ninth inning, with the bases full, our hero knocked a home run and won the game. Or how, in the last half of the ninth inning, with the bases full, the chosen hero struck out the next three batters and saved the game. But they have not told of how, with the bases full in the ninth inning and none out, the potential hero struck out the next two batters and then, on the threshold of success and fame, he loosened a wild pitch and lost the game.”

The 1927 New York Yankees were more famously known as “Murderer’s Row,” featuring a lineup with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth at their peaks and supplemented by Bob Meusel, Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri. Their opponents in the World Series were the Pittsburgh Pirates, led by Pie Traynor and the Waner brothers, Paul and Lloyd. Still, the Pirates could only muster a semblance of resistance in losing the first three games of the Fall Classic.

Game 4 was played at Yankee Stadium, a taut matchup that reached the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 3-3. The underdogs had their best reliever on the mound, 32-year-old John Miljus, who had posted a 1.90 ERA during the season. With the Yanks only needing a run for the title, Earle Combs led off with a walk and Mark Koenig dropped a bunt single down the third base line to tighten the screws.

Miljus had tossed only two wild pitches all season — but with Babe Ruth at the plate, a pitch skipped away. With Combs now standing threateningly at third and Koenig at second, the Pirates’ hand was forced. They intentionally walked the great Ruth, bringing up Lou Gehrig with the bases loaded and none out.

Unbowed, the right-hander whiffed Gehrig “with a low inside curve.” One out. The imposing Bob Meusel climbed in next, but fell victim to another wicked Miljus breaker. Two outs.

That brought up Tony Lazzeri, history scarring his name. In the 1926 World Series, he had struck out against Grover Cleveland Alexander in a crucial bases loaded spot, resulting in a St. Louis Cardinals championship. On both that occasion and this one, Lazzeri jumped on the first pitch he saw and ripped it into the bleachers, home run distance — but foul.

Miljus went back to the trusty curve for his next offering, but it betrayed him. Defying the best efforts of reserve catcher Johnny Gooch, the ball went hopping off toward the Pirates dugout. Combs came jubilantly plateward, and the Yankees had won their second title.

The Salisbury Indians’ Remarkable Championship
In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James worked with Lloyd Johnson to include an article about the 1937 Salisbury, Maryland, ballclub in the Eastern Shore League.  Why devote such space to a Class-D team? Because, quite simply, the 1937 Salisbury Indians went from first place to last place to capturing the league title, all in the span of one sensational summer.

On June 19, the Indians were 21-5 and dominating their competition, at which point league president J. Thomas Kibler informed them that he was reversing the results of their 21 victories. The problem was a player named Robert Brady, a first baseman who, it was argued, had previously inked with a different team three seasons prior. This would place Brady’s status as “experienced” — but the Indians already had the league maximum of four “experienced” players on the roster. Salisbury’s reasonable counter-argument that Robert Brady had never played a game three years earlier for the team in question was flatly ignored. Kibler gave the Indians’ wins to their opponents. The ballclub was now, stunningly, 0-26.  Seventy games remained in the regular season. Good luck.

Manager Jake Flowers (quoted by James as saying boldly, “We ask no quarter and we offer none. We’ll be back in the first division before Labor Day.”) steadied his team and marshaled them onward.

The talent that produced the first 21 victories was now partnered with urgency. The Salisbury Indians went on to win five of seven and 20 of 25, persevering their way back up the standings. The missive drew increasing renown, with growing enthusiastic crowds backing the Indians at every turn. The crowds were rewarded; by season’s close, Salisbury had recorded a 59-37 record to capture first place. They had, amazingly, gone 59-11 since Kibler’s reversal of their initial 21 wins.

In the regular season finale, ace Joe Kohlman applied the crowning touch, no-hitting Easton with a nine-strikeout masterpiece. It was Kohlman’s 25th win against only one defeat, suffered in his first start of the season; he was credited with an unofficial earned run average at 1.18. Teammate George Comellas went 22-1; second baseman Jerry Lynn led the league with a .342 average.

The postseason went as if by script: Salisbury eliminated Cambridge in the first round, 2 games to 1, and then dropped the first two games of the finals to Centreville before striking back to sweep the next three. Fittingly, the championship was clinched with another Joe Kohlman no-hitter. The Sporting News recognized the Indians’ feat by naming Jake Flowers as its Minor League Manager of the Year, an unprecedented achievement for a Class-D skipper.

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is a Ballpark Digest contributing editor and the Voice of the Lansing Lugnuts. He’s the author of The Baseball Thesaurus (Lineup Books). You can reach him at


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