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Bucky Harris Pulls the Ogden Gambit in the 1924 World Series

Bucky Harris managed the Washington Senators to the capital’s only World Championship in 1924. As Neyer explains in part 9 of his series on great managerial moves, Harris pulled the Ogden Gambit on John McGraw’s New York Giants. The move has only been replicated one other time in postseason play.

By Rob Neyer, May 19, 2017

Pitcher Curly Ogden—in his first and only postseason appearance—started Game 7 of the 1924 World Series for the Washington Senators.
Source: The Trading Card Database 

Curly Ogden. In the annals of important World Series pitchers, Curly Ogden doesn’t usually figure real high on the list.

No wonder! In his five-season career in the Major Leagues, Ogden went 18–19. More to the point, his entire World Series career consisted of only two batters faced, one of whom he walked.

Yet in 1924—his best season in the Majors, by the way—Ogden, despite facing only two batters in the entire World Series and recording just a single out, played a key role in the Washington Senators’ only World Championship in that team’s 60-year history.

In ’24 the Senators won their first American League pennant, just edging the Yankees with a tremendous stretch run (35–13 in their last 48 games). In the Series the Senators faced John McGraw’s New York Giants, winners of their fourth straight National League title.

The ’24 Series was exceptionally tight. The Giants took the opener, 4–3; the Senators took Game 2 by the same score. Both games featured plenty of drama in the final innings. Games 3, 4, and 5 weren’t as close, but the teams kept alternating wins; in Game 6, Senators starter Tom Zachary gave up one run in the first inning but nothing afterward, and Washington held on for a 2–1 victory to force the decisive Game 7.

President Calvin Coolidge (center, grandstand) poses with Bucky Harris, John McGraw and members of the Senators and Giants before the teams face off in the deciding game of the 1924 World Series.

In the deciding game, Senators Player-Manager Bucky Harris—“Boy Wonder,” they called the 27-year-old second baseman in his first year as skipper—reached deep, deep into his bag of tricks to (maybe) fool McGraw, arguably the greatest manager in the history of the game.

During the regular season, Giants rookie (and future Hall of Famer) Bill Terry had batted just .239, albeit with decent power, while pinch-hitting almost exclusively until September, when he took over at first base, with George “High Pockets” Kelly sliding from first to the outfield.

In the World Series, McGraw wanted Kelly in the lineup for every game, but the manager wanted lefty-hitting Terry only when a righty was starting for Washington. So Terry was in the lineup against the great Walter Johnson in Games 1 and 5, and he went 4 for 7 with three walks. He also rapped a couple of hits in Game 3 against righty Fred Marberry.

Obviously, it was a tiny sample size. But at the time, Terry’s performance against right-handed pitchers was noticed. “The Washington board of strategy,” Fred Lieb wrote in his history of the World Series, “figured its best chance to win was to get him out of the lineup early, and 31,667 seventh-game fans looked on with displeasure when they saw Curly Ogden warm up against young Zeke Barnes in the finale at [Washington’s] Griffith Stadium, October 10. ‘What kind of a pitcher is that to send after a deciding game?’ they asked.”

Oddly, a couple of weeks earlier in a regular-season game against the White Sox, Harris seems to have pulled the same trick. The right-handed Ogden started the game, walked leadoff man Maurice Archdeacon, and was lifted in favor of lefty Tom Zachary, who went on to pitch nine innings for the win. The White Sox platooned at the center- and right-field positions, and both starters were immediately replaced by their platoon partners. This move offers no advantage early in the game but does have the benefit of removing two players from the bench, making the manager’s job a lot harder if the game is close later on.

Okay, enough preamble. Ogden started. He struck out New York’s Fred Lindstrom, walked Frankie Frisch, and was gone, replaced by George Mogridge, a 35-year-old lefty who had finished second on the Senators with 16 victories that season. Mogridge had pitched into the eighth inning in Game 4 and earned the win. In Game 7, he pitched four innings, gave up one run, and retired Terry both times he faced him.

No, McGraw did not remove Terry from the game . . . until the sixth inning, when righty Firpo Marberry replaced Mogridge with two runners aboard and nobody out, the Senators leading 1–0. Irish Meusel pinch-hit for Terry and tied the game with a sacrifice fly, and later in the inning the Giants went ahead 3–1 on a couple of infield errors.

If the Giants had held that lead, you wouldn’t be reading this because nobody would have remembered good ol’ Curly Ogden. But they didn’t. In the bottom of the eighth, Bucky Harris—who had accounted for the Senators’ only run with a fourth-inning homer—singled to left field with two outs, scoring two runs to deadlock the score at three apiece.

“The Boy Wonder”— player/manager Bucky Harris hit a home run in the 4th inning of Game 7 to give Washington a 1-0 lead.
Source: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Walter Johnson took over on the mound for the Senators in the ninth, and it was still 3–3 in the bottom of the 12th when Earl McNeely—after a couple of Giants errors—doubled down the left-field line to plate Muddy Ruel with the Series-winning run. While it’s impossible to prove that Harris’s trick made the difference, we know that Terry batted only twice, both times without the platoon advantage, and that the game could not have been tighter.

So, smart move, right? It was famous, it happened on the National Pastime’s single biggest stage, and, most importantly, it worked.

Yet, to the best of my knowledge it never happened again in the World Series. Oh, there have been starting pitchers who were yanked early in the game. But as far as I know, they were yanked because of ineffectiveness rather than some pre-game plan. In fact, I know of just one other instance of the Ogden Gambit (a name I just made up, by the way) . . .

In Game 6 of the 1990 National League Championship Series, right-hander Ted Power—who hadn’t started even once during the regular season—started for the Pirates against the Reds, but was replaced by lefty Zane Smith with one out and one on base in the third inning.

Pirates Manager Jim Leyland’s idea was for Reds Manager Lou Piniella to start all his lefty hitters—including outfielder Paul O’Neill, catcher Jeff Reed, and first baseman Hal Morris—and then quickly get Smith into the game against them.

But Piniella didn’t bite. O’Neill started for the Reds, but Reed and Morris opened the game on the bench. Power ran out of gas quickly, Smith pitched well for four innings, and the Reds eked out a 2–1 win to clinch the series on their way to sweeping the A’s in the World Series.

That was more than 25 years ago, and I don’t believe it’s happened since.

Why not? For one thing, today’s ever-expanding bullpens mean fewer roster spots for non-pitchers, and thus fewer platoons. But this doesn’t explain why it never (or rarely) happened between 1924 and 1990. I think the better explanation is that managers just don’t want to make their own jobs harder. You start doing it, then the other guy starts doing it, and then you realize you haven’t gained anything except a few more headaches. So why bother in the first place.

That’s my working theory, anyway. I am surprised that Earl Weaver never did it, but on the other hand Weaver always had a fairly set rotation, one through four. Anyway, my point is that the Ogden Gambit would often be a smart move, at least as a surprise in October.

Finally, I just want to say one more thing about Bucky Harris. I wrote an entire book about great “blunders” in baseball history, many of them made by managers. In that book, I wrote about Harris leaving Walter Johnson in Game 7 of the World Series for too long—but in 1925, almost exactly a year after Johnson’s fine relief outing in 1924. I stand by what I wrote about Harris. Still, I wish I’d written in that essay something about Harris’s celebrated maneuver the year before. Without it, Washington, D.C., might still be without even a single World’s Championship.

Giants manager John McGraw congratulates Bucky Harris on the Washington Senators World Championship.
Baseball Magazine, December 1924

 

 

 

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