... related to Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders.
Jimmy McAleer and
the 1912 World Series
by Mike Kopf
Sixty-five years later, Fred Lieb
would remember the carnival atmosphere aboard the Boston-to-New York
train on that fateful Sunday in 1912. The Red Sox had taken a
three-games-to-one lead over the Giants in the World Series (Game 2 had
been a darkness-induced tie), and the next day their ace, Smokey Joe
Wood -- 34-5 for the season, 2-0 in the Series -- would take the mound
for the clincher. It was like traveling to a coronation, with the
players already weighing the value of their soon-to-be-won crowns.
Little did they realize that their seemingly inevitable investiture was
about to be challenged, and not so much by the McGrawite pretenders as
by their own potentate, majority owner Jimmy McAleer.
McAleer was not a rich, know-nothing owner. His bloodlines were pure
baseball, having played center field for Cleveland throughout the
1890's, then managed in the American League for eleven years. But it
was his relative lack of wealth -- he had bought control of the Red Sox
only through the good auspices of AL President Ban Johnson, who put up
most of the money -- that would prove his undoing. With the Series
seemingly in hand, he let his mind wander to the possibility of filling
spanking new Fenway Park one more time. This could happen only if his
club lost to the Giants the next day. But how likely was that, with Joe
Wood on the hill? So McAleer conferred with manager Jake Stahl, and
persuaded (or maybe ordered; accounts differ) Stahl to hold back Wood
and start instead Buck O'Brien, a twenty-game winner during the season
and hard-luck loser of Game 3 a few days earlier.
It wasn't an irrational scenario. Wood would have been coming back on
two days rest -- as he had earlier in the Series -- and like all Dead
Ball Era aces, his workload had been back-breaking. McAleer was not
throwing the game. But under the guise of protecting Wood's arm he was
giving himself a fighting, or rather a losing, chance. In any case,
O'Brien, possibly in shock at being so unexpectedly handed the ball,
pitched miserably, giving up five runs (three earned) on six hits, and
contributing a run-scoring balk in his only inning of work. That was
all the Giants got, and it was all they needed for a 5-2 victory. The
Series would indeed return to Boston.
But be careful what you wish for. The owner would get his payday . . .
at the price of demoralizing his team, the members of which had not
perceived the wisdom of starting O'Brien. Days earlier, the decision of
the National Commission to deny the players a share of the receipts
from the tied game had been received like a slap in the face. Now
they'd been screwed again.
Also, it is entirely possible that, in a gambling-infested era, many
Red Sox bet on themselves in Game 6, not knowing that Wood would be
scratched. All the ingredients for catastrophe were simmering as the
teams returned to Boston. And then McAleer inadvertently tossed in one
The Red Sox were originally scheduled to host three Series games, so
they sold their tickets as a three-game set. The tied game, though
technically meaningless, counted as one of those three. Thus all seats
for the seventh game were up for grabs: first-come, first-served.
But the club, through stupidity or arrogance, neglected to inform its
most passionate fans, the Royal Rooters, of that fact. The Rooters, a
contingent of approximately five hundred led by Mayor John "Honey Fitz"
Fitzgerald, habitually arrived at games in parade formation, marching
on to the field and into their reserved seats. But on this day the
seats were already occupied, and the Rooters were herded into a
standing room area. They took this badly. A riot ensued. Mounted police
were eventually summoned to contain the infuriated cranks. All this
occured as Wood tried to warm up. He stopped and retreated to the
dugout, resuming half an hour later. Fred Lieb would claim that Wood's
arm stiffened in the interval. Maybe so, for he was buffeted about like
a bush leaguer, aided by a defense that butchered every ball it came in
contact with. Like his surrogate in game six, Wood lasted one inning.
There would be game eight, and a coin flip determined that it would be
at Fenway Park.
Jimmy McAleer had done the impossible: alienated not only his players
but the most loyal fans in baseball. The next morning's papers were
full of denunciations of the Red Sox brass. The Royal Rooters wanted no
part of game eight, and neither did many others. A "crowd" of only half
Fenway's capacity showed up to see McAleer go for the trifecta: a lost
Series on top of everything else. Thanks to the Red Sox's incredible
good fortune in the bottom of the tenth (Snodgrass' error, the foul pop
that fell at Merkle's feet) he was spared the ultimate humiliation.
Nonetheless, the handwriting was on the wall; Ban Johnson had watched
it all and was not amused. In 1913 the Red Sox struggled, and McAleer
compounded his previous errors by firing manager Stahl, who happened to
be a close friend of Johnson. It was the final straw. The portly Ohioan
ran his league like a feudal lord, and if an owner displeased him (and
was not filthy rich), off with his head. McAleer was forced to sell.
Remarkably, he had won the World Series and blundered himself out of
baseball, practically in one fell swoop.