The Last Time Sox Clinched At Fenway? Babe Ruth Was There

New England sports history would not remember H.H. Frazee so fondly during ensuing decades, but the Red Sox owner certainly was full of Boston, full of himself after the baseball nestled in the glove of first baseman Stuffy McInnis 95 years ago.

"Boston clubs have never lost in a World Series and the championship deserves to remain here until the war is won," said Frazee, sounding like the great patriot George Steinbrenner in the Sept. 12, 1918, edition of The Courant.

Harry Frazee sold off Babe Ruth a year later, of course, the Red Sox didn't win another world title for 86 years and, insert curses here, you know the rest. Regardless of how Game 5 of the 2013 World Series ended Monday night at Busch Stadium, the Red Sox can win their first world championship at Fenway Park in nearly a century this week.

Every Red Sox fan knows it was the Cardinals' Edgar Renteria who bounced a ball back to closer Keith Foulke, and Foulke ended eight decades of suffering when he underhanded the ball to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz in 2004 at old Busch Stadium. Many remember Jonathan Papelbon struck out Seth Smith in Denver to end the 2007 World Series. How many of you know that the last time the Red Sox won it all at home, on Sept. 11, 1918, it ended when second baseman Dave Shean [born in Arlington, Mass.] fielded a ground ball by the Cubs' Les Mann and threw over to McInnis for the final out?

This was the way that piece of baseball history was recorded in the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper:

"Taps for professional baseball for the duration of the war was sounded at Fenway Park today when the Boston American League pennant bearers won the first war-scarred baseball championship of the world by defeating the National League title holders in the sixth game of the series by the score of 2 to 1. This gives the Red Sox a record of five victories for the championship of the baseball world in as many starts, and as the Boston Nationals won the championship in 1914, it brings to this city, six world titles without one blot on the escutcheon."

I was dying to get "escutcheon" into this story, although I had to go to the dictionary to find its meaning. Escutcheon is an emblem or shield bearing a coat of arms. Needless to say, there were lots of blots on the escutcheon between 1918 and 2004.

The 1918 Red Sox, of course, didn't look like the 2013 Red Sox. They looked more modern. The 2013 Red Sox look like the U.S. Senate in 1885.

Many of the stars of the day were already drafted into the military by September 1918. Discretionary income was down. The attendance for that decisive Game 6, won in complete-game three-hit fashion by Carl Mays, was only 15,238. The time of the game was 1 hour, 46 minutes. There may be 15,238 people jammed into the Cask 'n Flagon alone for the first pitch Wednesday night. Tim McCarver will barely be done clearing his throat on Fox by the 1:46 mark.

The average World Series game in 1918 took 1:50. Through four games of 2013 Series, it stood at about 3:30, albeit crisp by Yankees-Red Sox standards. Afternoon start, 1:46 game, heck, even an old slowpoke like me could make deadline.

The U.S. had declared war on Germany in 1917 and after pouring our boys onto the battlefields of France in the spring of 1918, nobody could be sure when the war would end. Although victory over Germany would be achieved within two months and an armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, on Sept. 11 most assumed there would be no baseball in 1919.

The New York Times was moved to write about 1918 Game 6: "No hero was proclaimed. No player got a ride on anyone's shoulders, no star was patted on the back or madly cheered to a niche in baseball's temple of fame."

Believe this much. If the Red Sox win it all Fenway Park this week, some hero will get a ride on somebody's shoulders, some star will be patted on the back and madly cheered.

Here are some interesting tidbits about the 1918 World Series.

• Because of the war, the regular season was reduced to 140 games. The series was held in September for the only time. The War Department also had started the "Work Or Fight" rule which threatened to put any unemployed male in the draft. Owners had frozen the salaries of all the players not in the World Series.

•Game 1 was the first time "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played by a band at a major league game. It was played during the seventh-inning stretch as a patriotic gesture and wasn't yet recognized as our national anthem.

•The Red Sox won the series even though they scored nine runs in six games, the lowest total ever for a winning team. They batted .186. The Red Sox staff had a 1.70 ERA. Terrific, right? The Cubs had a 1.04 ERA.

That .186 averages looks fairly pathetic until you subtract David Ortiz's 8-for-11 splurge through four games and realize the rest of the Red Sox were 16-for-116 [.138]. Papi had 15 total bases. The rest of the team had 24. Wow.

The Cubs played their World Series games at Comiskey Park in 1918 because it had a larger capacity than their park. It was called Weeghman Park at the time, capacity only 15,000, and wouldn't be renamed Wrigley Field until eight years later. The Red Sox, in fact, had played their World Series home games in 1915 and 1916 — both resulting in championships — against Philadelphia and Brooklyn at larger Braves Field. They were all day games. There were no lights.

• As a pitcher, Ruth hit ninth in Game 1 and sixth in Game 4 for the Red Sox. No, Stephen Drew wasn't on the team. Babe won Games 1 and 4. He pitched a five-hit shutout to beat Hippo Vaughn 1-0 in the opener. He extended his World Series scoreless streak to 29 before the Cubs got two runs on him in the eighth inning of a 3-2 Red Sox Game 4 win. There was also a fistfight between Red Sox coach Heinie Wagner and Cubs coach Otto Knabe in the series. The Babe took a run after Knabe, too.

• There also has been a theory forwarded in recent years that the Cubs threw the World Series one year ahead of the Black Sox Scandal. It arose from a 2010 book by Sean Deveney, "The Original Curse," after the Chicago History Museum got a hold of a court deposition of Eddie Cicotte. He said many of the White Sox were aware Cubs players were offered 10 grand each to fix the '18 Series. Cicotte admitted his involvement in the 1919 scandal, and it should be noted that plan was hatched in Boston's Hotel Buckminster.

Another piece of "evidence" that has been pointed to is Max Flack misplaying Babe Ruth's drive to right field into a two-run triple in Game 4. Do you think the Babe was huffing and puffing as much as Papi was tagging up from third in Game 4 Sunday night?

At any rate, there certainly was no hint of scandal in the papers in 1918.

"The Red Sox played machine-like baseball and presented a defense the Cubs could not break down," Boston manager Ed Barrow said in The Courant. "No two gamer teams ever fought for a championship."

The story, interestingly, was written under the secondary headline, "Tessie Heard Again at Fenway." The song emerged as a Red Sox anthem in 1903 and, thanks to the Dropkick Murphys, became a battle cry in 2004. Chances are good "Tessie" will be heard again at Fenway. We'll have to wait to see if there are any more blots on the escutcheon.

 

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