'Greatest': Fans Forget Games Existed Before TV Did
Many people are calling the sixth game of the Rangers-Cardinals World Series “the greatest” MLB game ever played and this year’s World Series “one of the greatest” in history.
That sixth game was certainly exciting. It was electrifying, gripping, inspiring, amazing, incredible and surely memorable. It will stand among the classics in Major League Baseball history.
But “greatest” is not how I would describe a game with five errors, numerous mental mistakes, poor pitching, bad base running, throwing to the wrong base, etc. In the early going of that 11-inning thriller, neither team really deserved to win the sloppy affair.
When I think of “great” MLB games, the first game that comes to mind is the fifth game of the 1956 World Series — Don Larsen’s perfect game, 2-0 victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
High on my list of “great” games in MLB history was the day Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard ’round the world” 60 years ago. That walk-off, three-run homer won the third and deciding playoff game against the Dodgers and the 1951 National League pennant for the Giants.
Then there is Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates the 10-9 victory over the favored New York Yankees and the championship in a “great” game.
Another of my “greatest” games was on July 2, 1963, in Candlestick Park, San Francisco, when a 25-year-old Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants dueled the 42-year-old Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves through 15 scoreless innings. Marichal finally won this “greatest” pitching duel in MLB history when Willie Mays hom-ered in the bottom of the 16th for a 1-0 victory.
Don’t forget the thrilling seventh game of a “great” World Series just 20 years ago when Jack Morris of the Minnesota Twins pitched a 10-inning, 1-0 triumph over the Atlanta Braves to win the 1991 championship.
The list goes on and on.
Because there have been more than 165,000 MLB games since the American League joined the older National League to create the modern major leagues, there have been countless “great” games and “great” World Series. However, many present-day baseball fans ignore what came before television.
Of course, the sixth Rangers-Cardinals game 10 days ago kept folks glued to their TV sets as those scrambling and scratching Cardinals never gave up.
They were two runs behind and down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth and again in the bottom of the 10th only to survive and eventually win on David Freese’s walk-off homer in the 11th inning. Then they won No. 7 for the WS title.
The Cardinals became the 19th MLB team to come back from a 3-2 WS deficit to win both games six and seven for the championship.
The first of these teams was the 1924 Washington Senators, who won the only WS in that franchise’s history. Those Senators were the last team to win game seven in extra innings in what might be ranked by some as one of the “greatest” games and “greatest” World Series.
That WS started with a 12-inning affair in which Walter Johnson went the distance against the New York Giants’ Art Nehf. Nehf and the Giants were 4-3 winners.
Although the Senators won two of the next three games, the Giants, under manager John McGraw, took a 3-2 series lead by once again beating “Big Train” Walter Johnson in the fifth game.
With their back to the wall but at home in Griffith Stadium for game six, the Senators won, 2-1, when Bucky Harris singled home two runs in the fifth inning.
Since this was well before television, just the 31,667 people in Griffith Stadium on Oct. 10, 1924, plus the players and umpires, got to see game No. 7 of this series. It was a doozy that ended on a quirky bounce of the ball that was fortunate for the Senators and disastrous for the Giants.
Errors played a major role in the outcome of this finale as the two teams combined to commit seven errors — Giants 3, Senators 4. But one error by the Giants’ catcher, Hank Gowdy, in the 12th was extremely costly.
The Giants took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning, but the Senators scored twice to tie the game at 3-all.
Johnson, with 20 innings in two losing starts, entered in the ninth inning and eventually became the winner after four innings of relief.
The bottom of the 12th inning began with the teams still deadlocked at 3-3. Jack Bentley, a southpaw, was the third Giants pitcher of the game. He began his MLB career with the Washington Senators, 1913–1916. After he had spent six years in the minor leagues, the Giants bought him from Baltimore of the International League in 1923. Bentley had his best season with 16 victories in 1924.
But he ran afoul of the worst luck in his career while pitching against his former team in that 12th inning.
Ralph Miller started the bottom of the 12th harmlessly by grounding out to second base. Muddy Ruel, the Washington catcher, followed by hitting a high foul pop that was dropped by his opposite number, Hank Gowdy, when the Giants’ catcher tripped over his own mask. Ruel promptly hit the next pitch for a double.
Johnson then came to bat and reached first on an error by the Giants’ shortstop, Travis Jackson. Ruel remained at second base.
It was then that Earl McNeely, the Senators’ center fielder, hit a hard ground ball toward the Giants’ 18-year-old third baseman, Freddie Lindstrom, who could have started a double play to end the inning. But the ball hit a small stone directly in front of Lindstrom and bounded high over his head, and went on out into the left field corner for a game and series-winning double.
Would you call that “one of the greatest games” in MLB history? Maybe. It seems worthy of greatness if an error-filled sixth game of the 2011 WS is called “one of the greatest” games in MLB history.
Ironically, the 1924 WS marked the final WS for John McGraw, who managed the Giants through nine of these postseason affairs, winning only three of them. Just 12 years earlier, McGraw’s Giants were beaten by the Boston Red Sox in “one of the greatest” World Series and “one of the greatest” final games that also went an extra inning.
That 1912 WS was a best-of-seven affair needing eight games for a decision. The second game ended in an 11-inning, 6-6 tie that was called because of darkness. Four of the 1912 WS games were one-run decisions.
Christy Mathewson, who pitched the entire 11-inning tie for the Giants in game No. 2 and lost a 2-1 decision going the distance in game No. 5, started and went all the way in game No. 8.
He seemed certain of victory and the championship when the Giants’ Fred Merkle singled home Red Murray in the top of the 10th inning at the brand-new Fenway Park that opened in April 1912.
But Mathewson could not hold it as his center fielder, Fred Snodgrass, started the inning by dropping an easy fly ball from Clyde Engle. In short order, the Red Sox scored two runs on a single by Tris Speaker and a sacrifice fly by Larry Gardner.
Those games and World Series played long before TV came along were just as “great” as the exciting WS games that were played just a few days ago. Let’s not forget them.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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