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The Poorest World Series Ever

When the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, Beantown witnessed something it hadn’t seen since 1918 — a Fall Classic championship won on its home soil.

The Red Sox broke the supposed “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004, ending an 86-year championship drought, and swept the Cards in four games but won the Series in St. Louis. They did it again in 2007, this time sweeping the Colorado Rockies, but won the final game in Denver.

When they won Game 6 of the 2013 Series, they did so at Fenway Park in front of 38,447 rabid fans, with thousands more lining the streets of The Fens, and the capital of Red Sox Nation went crazy for the first time since the Wilson administration.

The days following the victory were filled with parades, duck boats, reveling, speeches and tributes to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. It was a far cry from the 1918 Series, which saw only 15,000 fans attend the final game and players collecting the worst payoffs ever. In fact, they almost were playing for free — and almost went on strike by way of protest.

The early days of the Red Sox were mostly successful, bringing six pennants and five World Series titles to the franchise from its inception in 1901 to 1918. Only a refusal by the New York Giants to play them in 1904 kept the Sox from possibly winning six titles.

The Red Sox christened Fenway Park in 1912 by setting franchise records in victories (105) and winning percentage (.691) that still stand, then beat the Giants in eight games (Game 2 ended in a 6-6 tie) to capture their second World Series and first since 1903 when their nickname was the Americans. 

The Boston Red Sox World Series victory in 1912 marked the beginning of the most successful run in franchise history.

The city was getting a bit spoiled as it celebrated title-clinching games on its home turf in all but one championship campaign (1915). If you toss in the National League Braves’ World Series sweep in 1914, Fenway Park was home to four clinchers from 1912 to 1918. So the city’s fans could be forgiven if they expected that run of success to continue.

Of course, we know now that it didn’t. The Red Sox finished sixth in 1919, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees that winter, and didn’t celebrate another World Series victory in the 20th century.

Only a second-place finish behind a powerful Chicago White Sox team in 1917 kept Boston from becoming the first team to win four consecutive American League pennants. Wholly unsatisfied with an also-ran status, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee opened his purse and took advantage of one of Connie Mack’s infamous Philadelphia fire sales to acquire pitcher “Bullet Joe” Bush, catcher Wally Schang, outfielder Amos Strunk and first baseman Stuffy McInnis from the Athletics for Larry Gardner, a handful of nondescript players and $60,000.

Pitching stars Babe Ruth and “Bullet Joe” Bush helped the Red Sox capture their fifth World Series championship in 1918.

Those moves, the pitching trio of Mays, Bush and “Sad Sam” Jones, plus Ruth’s all-around play — he went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA on the mound, and led the league in homers (11) and slugging (.555) while splitting time between the outfield and first base — propelled the Red Sox to their sixth pennant in a 1918 campaign shortened by a “Work or Fight” order handed down by the government after the United States entered the World War.

Over in the National League, the Chicago Cubs easily grabbed their fifth pennant since the turn of the century, finishing 10 1/2 games ahead of the New York Giants. It was their best season since the Frank Chance-led squads won four pennants and two World Series from 1906-1910.

J.V. Fitz Gerald of The Washington Post gave the Red Sox the edge in the Fall Classic and predicted “low scores and close games should result practically all the way through.”  He was right. Neither team scored more than three runs in any of the six games, and four of the contests were decided by one run.

The Series wasn’t without its share of controversies. Frazee criticized Major League Baseball’s governing body, the National Commission, for scheduling the first three games in Chicago, calling the decision “very unfair to the Boston club” and an “insult to Boston fans and to the best baseball town in the American League.”  

The decision was made out of respect for the government’s request to curtail transportation during the war. A coin toss determined which city would host first, but Frazee was certain American League president Ban Johnson was sticking it to him. On the other hand, a Red Sox win guaranteed that the city of Boston would get to celebrate yet again at home.

The first three games were held at Comiskey Park, which held 20,000 more fans than Weeghman Park (now Wrigley Field), where the Cubs played their regular-season home games. The teams traded victories in Chicago with Boston winning Games 1 and 3, and the Cubs taking Game 2. 

Then things got really interesting. The players were “perturbed” by their expected World Series shares — $900 for the players on the winning team and only $600 for the losers, a far cry from the National Commission’s original figures of $2,000 and $1,400, respectively.

The Boston Globe’s Ed Martin explained that the commission’s figures failed to account for lower-priced tickets than in previous years, and its estimation of revenue was off by at least half. But he downplayed rumors that the players would refuse to play until they had a chance to negotiate a new agreement. ”There is nothing approaching a strike or walkout,” he wrote.

The New York Times, on the other hand, announced that same day:  ”PLAYERS THREATEN TO CALL OFF SERIES!”  Regardless of the threats, Game 4 was played at Fenway Park with the Red Sox winning 3-2.

With the Sox up three games to one and on the verge of clinching the Series, the players finally went on strike, delaying Game 5 an hour before AL president Johnson, National League president John Heydler and National Commission chairman Garry Herrmann convinced the players to take the field. They did but under protest. The Cubs took the fifth game 3-0 and narrowed Boston’s margin to three games to two.

Game 6 was played before only 15,238, by far the smallest crowd of the Series. Despite weak hitting that produced only three runs, the game was well played but for a crucial error by Cubs right fielder Max Flack and included some interesting features.

The Sox scored both their runs in the third inning on two walks, a sacrifice and Flack’s muff of George Whiteman’s line drive with two out and runners at second and third. The Cubs got their run in the top of the fourth when Flack singled and eventually came home on a hit by Fred Merkle. Neither side could produce another run the rest of the way as the Red Sox won 2-1.

Whiteman made a catch in the eighth inning that writer Martin described as “one of the best ever observed in a World’s Series.” He hurt his neck when he somersaulted at the end of the play, forcing him out of the game in favor of Ruth, who took over in left field.

Third baseman Fred Thomas made a great backhanded stab of a shot by Merkle and threw him out from foul territory, thanks in part to a long stretch by McInnis at first. Shortstop Everett Scott and right fielder Harry Hooper also did well in the field for Boston, as did Cubs center fielder Dode “Honey Boy” Paskert.

All the while the action was being reported to Camp Devens, a temporary cantonment for training soldiers about 50 miles northwest of Boston, by carrier pigeons that were released from Fenway Park at the end of each inning.

Many reasons were given for the low attendance of the final game. Martin blamed the less than ideal weather and the players’ public disagreement with the National Commission, insisting the latter was a “fateful mistake for baseball men to argue over dollars.”  

Fitz Gerald argued that the numbers were “up to expectations” considering the number of men who were serving the country in the war effort and couldn’t get time off to watch baseball as they had in the past. But he also thought attendance would have been better had Frazee and Chicago’s Charles Weeghman “stood in higher favor in baseball circles.”  

And he speculated about what Frazee had already wondered aloud, that perhaps Johnson scheduled the World Series in a way that would allow him to “get even” with the Boston owner, who openly criticized Johnson at every turn.

The aftermath of the 1918 World Series turned out to be anti-climactic and void of any fanfare. In fact, Martin lamented in the Globe, “baseball should have gone out with a farewell that had all the stuff on it that a New Year receives.”

In the end the Red Sox earned $1,102.51 per man, the lowest winning shares in World Series history. Each Cub received $671.

When the Red Sox won the World Series in 1918, Boston fans could never have imagined that more than eight decades would pass before the team would again become world champions.

 

 

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