A's Flashback: 1911

That’s right boys and girls (and whatever Bloom is posing as these days); today’s history lesson takes us back to 1911, when the talk around Athletics Nation was split between its love for all things A’s and its loathing of those despicable Giants, proving once and for all that the more things change, the more they stay the sane.

As the baseball season of 100 years ago got underway, it was the Athletics- not the Giants- who hoisted a championship banner, having disposed of the once-mighty Cubs (weird, I know) in the previous Fall Classic.  Emphasis on fall, for a classic it was not.  It took but five games for the club of Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy to claim the franchise’s first World title.

 

All in a week’s work for the 1910 A’s, who settled into first place on June 21 and never looked back.  They won 20 or more games in three different months en route to a 102-48 record, 14.5 contests better than their closest competition, the New York Highlanders.  In the World Series, they were kind enough to allow the Cubs one victory- an extra inning affair, at that- but that only delayed the inevitable.  Having missed out on a sweep, the A’s won Game 5, 7-2, and for the Series, they outscored Chicago 35-15.

 

Their successor would not have it so easy.  Not at first anyway.

The Athletics opened the ’11 season with three straight defeats to the aforementioned New Yorkers, ended their skid with a 1-0 win versus Boston, then promptly lost three more in a row to those same-tinted Sox, leaving the champions at 1-6, and bringing up the rear in the eight-team American League.

 

Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers- who had to settle for the silver in three consecutive World Series’ starting in 1907- appeared prime to make a mockery of this season’s pennant race.  After beating the A’s 9-8 on May 19, the turbo-charged Tigers were 27-5 and the Philadelphians a pedestrian 13-15; good for fifth place, a dozen games behind Detroit.

 

***

 

I would love to be able to tell you that the Athletics’ season turned around after their star third baseman tore into the team during the bus ride back to the hotel a la Chavez in ’04.  But that was not Frank Baker’s style:

 

In an era characterized by urbanization and rapid industrial growth, Frank "Home Run" Baker epitomized the rustic virtues that were becoming essential to baseball's emerging bucolic mythology. Born and raised in a tiny farming community on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Baker developed his powerful back, arms, and hands by working long hours on his father's farm. Like the rugged president who defined the century's first decade, the taciturn Baker spoke softly but carried a big stick--a 52-ounce slab of wood that he held down at the handle and swung with all the force he could muster.

1911 WS-04

 

Baker in the Middle: posing with the famed A's infield.

 

Baker (first name John, better known for his middle name Frank)- a member of Mack’s famed $100,000 infield- hit .334 for the 1911 Athletics, and led the American League with 11 homeruns.  But he had gained a thin-skinned reputation around his sport, thanks in part to an unfortunate tussle with a Tiger in 1908:

 

It was in the first game of this pivotal series that Baker was involved in one of the most controversial plays of the era, when Detroit superstar Ty Cobb spiked him in the forearm as Baker was attempting to tag Cobb out at third base. Frank had the wound wrapped and was able to stay in the game, but the play infuriated Mack, who went so far as to call Cobb the dirtiest player in baseball history. But a few days later, a photograph of the play taken by William Kuenzel of the Detroit News showed Baker reaching across the bag to tag Cobb, who was sliding away from the third baseman.  The photograph vindicated Cobb, and led the Detroit Free Press to declare that Baker was a "soft-fleshed darling" for complaining about the play.

 

There were no such complaints in 1910, as the A’s downed Detroit on May 20- and again the next day- to begin their climb to the top of the American League standings.  Winning 24 of their next 27 contests surely enhanced the defending champions’ chances of a repeat performance.

 

But a four-game sweep at the hands of the first-place Tigers left the A’s 5.5 games back at the close of play on July 14.  Detroit was the only team with a winning record against the Athletics (12-10), and by taking the last two contests of a five-game set as July turned to August, the Tigers were still 2.5 games in front.

 

After that 13-6 defeat to Detroit on August 1, the A’s flexed their championship muscles by going 41-16 down the stretch, while the Tigers faded (26-33).  Fittingly, the Athletics clinched their second straight pennant against the very team they chased around for most of the season.  The year was 1911, so the recaps were not nearly as colorful as they are today.  This from the New York Times:

 

PHILADELPHIA, Penn., Sept. 26. -- The American League championship for 1911 was decided here to-day, when Philadelphia defeated Detroit by the score of 11 to 5. It was the fourth time that a local team piloted by Connie Mack has won the pennant in this organization, and it was the first time that Philadelphia has won the title in successive seasons.

 

Ho-hum.

 

So it was on to the World Series once more for the Athletics.  Waiting for them were John McGraw and his New York Giants, the same team that had punished the A’s in five games in the 1905 Series.  It was McGraw who bitterly stated that Connie Mack had a "white elephant" on his hands when the A’s manager- and Benjamin Shibe- formed the franchise in 1901.

 

 

Mack defiantly adopted the elephant as the A’s logo, and so now you know the story of Stomper.  And if you are planning on forking over the $140 for the elephant set shown here, my birthday is in April.

 

***

 

Yes, the 1911 Fall Classic featured the gentlemanly Athletics against the thuggish Giants, or as one scribe would pen later, "The Year God Met the Devil in the World Series."

 

John McGraw had heard tales of that "soft-fleshed darling" Frank Baker and it didn’t take long for "Muggsy" to try to exploit this supposed weakness:

 

In the bottom of the sixth inning of Game One, the Giants' Fred Snodgrass was on second and saw a chance to take third when Fred Merkle struck out on a pitch in the dirt. Following a strong throw from the catcher, Baker was blocking the base with the ball when Snodgrass went into the bag hard, spikes high, severely gashing Baker's left arm. Initially signaling an out, the umpire called the play safe when he saw the ball rolling on the ground. The trainer came out to patch up Baker's wounds, and the Giants went on to win 2-1.

 

1911 WS-05

Baker is attended to after being spiked by Snodgrass.

But as they say, payback is a witch with an uppercase "b", and Baker’s blast with a man on in the sixth inning of Game 2 broke a 1-1 tie, as the A’s went on to even the Series.  If the Athletics were to remove the giant…um, Giant off their backs, they would have to figure out a way to solve the riddle of Christy Mathewson.  One of the Hall-of-Fame’s five original members, Mathewson shut out the Athletics three times in the 1905 Series, and was also the winner of Game 1 in 1911.  He carried a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning of the pivotal third game, when Frank Baker stepped up.  The third baseman tied the game with his second dinger of the Series, and forever removed "Frank" from his name.  From here on out, he would be known as "Home Run" Baker.

 

Having failed the first time to shake Baker, McGraw tried again:

 

When the game moved into extra innings, the Giants once again tried to intimidate Baker. In the bottom of the tenth, Snodgrass again tried to take third, this time on a passed ball. Again, Baker blocked the base with the ball as Snodgrass came into the bag hard, spikes high, cutting into the third baseman's arm a second time. This time Baker held onto the ball...After the game, a Philadelphia reporter approached the "battle-scarred hero," observing the odor emanating from the bandages on Baker's wounds. When pressed, Baker finally broke his silence, and blurted out, "Yes, Snodgrass spiked me intentionally. He acted like a swell-headed busher."

 

The A’s intentionally beat the Giants in extra innings to take a Series lead they would never relinquish.  And then the rains came.  The teams would wait six days to play Game 4- only the 1989 World Series had a longer delay, and ironically it showcased the same clubs, albeit in different cities.

 

New York scored two runs in the first inning of the fourth game.  In the next eight innings, they scored none.  On most days, two runs would have been plenty for Christy Mathewson.  But the A’s managed four scores and ten hits off "Big Six", who lasted but seven innings.  The white flag was officially waved when on Mathewson’s next-to-last batter he issued his only walk of the day.  Intentional.  To "Home Run" Baker.

 

The Giants closed the Series gap to 3-2 with an extra-inning triumph but after five tightly-contested games, the A’s won Game 6 in a 13-2 rout to remain champion for another year.

 

And "Home Run" Baker got the last laugh.

 

I wonder if he can still hit.

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