The Last Best Day: When Chicago Had Three First-Place Teams
This article was published in the 2015 The National Pastime.
At the close of play on July 17, 1915, the American League’s Chicago White Sox led the league by 1½ games, the Federal League’s Chicago Whales had a half-game lead, and the National League’s Chicago Cubs were tied for first. The feat of one city having three first-place teams has not since been repeated, since there have not been three major leagues since that season. (This statement, of course, assumes not counting Brooklyn as part of New York City.)
All three teams slumped after July 17. In this article we will view ten players from each team as lenses through which to view the highlights of a campaign dotted with no-hitters,1 blockbuster trades, Black Sox foreshadowing, and a photo-finish pennant race.
Note that standings discussed in this article relate to games ahead or behind, rather than by percentage points.
After Hank O’Day’s Cubs finished fourth in 1914, Roger Bresnahan took over a team with two offensive mainstays. One, third baseman Heinie Zimmerman, hit .307 or higher in 1911, 1912, and 1913, and in 1914 led Chicago in batting average and slugging percentage. After the season, however, Zimmerman considered quitting,2 failed to win back fines he had paid for misconduct during 1914,3 and fantasized about playing for the Giants.4 Bresnahan “announce[d] … that Zimmerman would not be traded under any consideration”5 then tried to swap him for New York’s Larry Doyle or Cincinnati’s Heinie Groh.6
“In 1912, [Zimmerman] had married seventeen-year-old Helene Chasar, but the marriage quickly dissolved and in January 1915, she had sued for alimony, alleging that Zimmerman had sent … no support.”7 The case hounded Zimmerman, perhaps explaining his subpar 1915 season.
The second potent bat, first baseman Vic Saier, led the 1914 Cubs in walks and OPS; his hitting and health drove the rise and fall of the 1915 Cubs. Unlike Zimmerman, Saier had “a quiet winter … [and] is ready … for the season to start.”8
With Larry Cheney, who’d won 20 games each year from 1912–1914, and Hippo Vaughn, also a 20-game winner in 1914, Bresnahan had “a pitching staff … loaded with holdover contracts,”9 a key given the raids on NL and AL staffs by the Federal League. Bresnahan released George McConnell, who had twelve wins over four seasons, and kept Karl Adams, who briefly appeared with the 1914 Reds. McConnell would star for the Whales while Adams would struggle for the Cubs.10
Chicago moved into a first-place tie May 21 and occupied first place for all but eleven days through July 17. Statistics through that date show Saier providing slugging and George Pierce—who had notched 22 wins in the previous two seasons—offsetting Cheney’s mediocrity with good mound work. Jimmy Lavender won his debut, but hurt his ribs11 and went more than a month until his next start. Bert Humphries, hobbled in training,12 missed the season’s first seventeen games.
Lacking Lavender and Humphries, Bresnahan leaned on Vaughn and Cheney. Yanking George Washington “Zip” Zabel from the hill in the season’s fourth game, Bresnahan used both Vaughn and Cheney in a 7–4 loss. Heinie Zimmerman, kicked out of games more than any other NL player in 1915, “after being good for three whole days in succession, became peevish over being called out at second … and … tried to bean an umpire with a practice ball between innings. ”13
In late April, Zimmerman began playing second base, and the Cubs commenced a season-high seven-game winning streak “in spite of the heavy handicap of a short-handed pitching staff.”14
Eleven days after the streak ended, Zimmerman, “threatened … with jail”15 over alimony, nearly blew a Humphries gem. Fielding a bouncer with a man on first, Zimmerman “started to throw to second, saw it was too late, then made a wild peg to first and lost both men.”16 Humphries, however, preserved a 1–0 win over New York.
Lavender returned to the rotation May 21, downing Boston 3–2 to push the Cubs into a first-place tie for the first time since opening day. Chicago swept the series with the defending champions as Zimmerman went 9-for-14 with six doubles and a homer.
Chicago slipped to second after losing two straight to Philadelphia between June 9 and 12, but Vaughn returned the Cubs to first after consecutive starts against Boston. He lasted just one inning in a 6–4 win, but after an off-day tossed a shutout. Cheney started and lost the third Boston game, which Zimmerman exited early with a spike wound.17
The loss kept the Cubs in a first-place tie, but a 19-inning 4–3 win over Brooklyn on June 17 gave Chicago sole possession of first, which it held through July 12. Zimmerman missed this game and the next three, the first four of a six-game winning streak jumpstarted by the extraordinarily long contest during which “Humphries’ hand was split”18 in the first inning. Humphries missed ten days.
Saier’s homer in the bottom of the fifteenth prolonged the June 17 contest; Chicago won on an error, rewarding Zabel for an amazing 18? innings in relief.
Saier’s power (a single, triple, and two homers) spurred the Cubs to a three-game sweep of Brooklyn. Baseball Magazine raved that Saier’s “tremendous drives seem to come just when they win or tie. ”19
Zimmerman dramatically returned on June 24, after Chicago blew a 10–9 ninth-inning lead as St. Louis scored four. With one out in the home ninth, one in, and two on, he pinch-doubled, tying the game. A groundout advanced Zimmerman after which he swiped home “on one leg with the winning tally and made the final count 14 to 13. ”20
After beating the Cardinals again, the Cubs had a season-high 4½-game lead, but, in the first of three bad streaks in little more than one month, Chicago scored just six runs in six games and lost four of them.
On June 28, after lollygagging, Zimmerman “was ordered out of the game and fined $100.”21 Replacement Polly McLarry made a key bottom-of-the-ninth fumble in the loss. The next day, Zimmerman filed for divorce after a failed reconciliation.22 The day after that, he was caught looking and ejected for throwing “his bat to the bench … there was nothing short of murder in the second degree in Zim’s eyes and attitude as he started after the umpire.”23 McLarry entered again and made another error, this one figuring in a 1–0 defeat.
On July 2, “the Great Zim … wrecked a splendid stop by a wild throw to first, giving the visitors a run in the fourth inning.”24 Tied 1–1 in the ninth, the game went Chicago’s way on Saier’s RBI single.
Grantland Rice noted similarities among, Saier’s, Ty Cobb’s, and Sam Crawford’s statistics although “no one had figured the quiet, retiring worker on the Cubs even close to their class.”25 Of his ex-teammate, Johnny Evers added, “When you … take fielding and all around work … there is no player … who is a better man than Saier.”26
Facing an eighteen-game road trip that began with a win at Pittsburgh, the first-place Cubs acquired New York’s Red Murray, who “favored … the Cubs because he suspects they are going to win the pennant this year and get a lot of bonus money. ”27
The Cubs fell into a bad streak immediately, however, blowing a 7–1 lead at Brooklyn and falling 8–7 in ten. The Cubs scored twice in the first. “They might have had more, but Heinie Zim forgot how many were out and jogged into a putout…. When Saier fanned, with the call three and two, Zim started for second, but although he seemed to have the base stolen, he stopped when he saw Saier had missed … and … was run down. ”28
Brooklyn swept four from Chicago, and New York then took two from the Cubs. In the July 12 Brooklyn game, Pierce “strained his side reaching for a high bounder”29 and would sit for eight days. Pierce, 9–1 at that time, was just 2–8 in his next ten decisions.
On July 13, Humphries blew a 3–0 lead against the Giants, yielding a pair of runs in the eighth and ninth in another tough New York City loss.
Chicago recovered to win three of five, capped by Cheney besting Philadelphia’s Pete Alexander 4–0 on July 17, the last day the Cubs shared first place.
At 70–84, the 1914 White Sox were Chicago’s only major league team with a losing record. The Sox finished 30 games behind Philadelphia, who would lose to Boston in the World Series; this was one impetus for Connie Mack to dismantle his last great Deadball team. Mack’s moves in turn effected a transformation of the White Sox.
Mack considered dealing 1914 AL Chalmers (MVP) Award winner Eddie Collins to New York, but Chicago owner Charlie Comiskey secured Collins, making “1915 … the dawn of a new era for the White Sox,”30 then announced an unknown minor-league skipper, Clarence “Pants” Rowland, as Chicago manager.
Collins moved one reporter to verse:
He’s a daisy, he’s a dandy,
He’s a wonder at the game,
He’s a corking second-baseman;
Every rooter knows his name.
He’s a peach at stopping grounders
As they skim across the dirt;
He’s chockfull of pop and ginger,
And he plays for all he’s worth.
He is just as good as Evers
When it comes to brain and wits,
And he is just as fast as Milan
At beating infield hits.
They may talk about Joe Jackson,
Tyrus Cobb and all the rest,
But when it comes to picking stars,
We’d pick Collins with the best.
Last year he won the Chalmers car,
He well deserved the same,
So, here’s hats off to Eddie Collins;
He’s a credit to the game.31
Other newcomers would soon join Collins, with “the greatest interest … in ‘Happy’ Felch (sic), the stalwart young outfielder from Milwaukee, who is expected to make good with the south siders. ”32
Only a year older than Felsch, Buck Weaver, at 24, had completed three seasons as the Sox shortstop and tied for seventh in the 1914 Chalmers balloting. Interestingly, in an early association with gambling, Weaver “suddenly decided to become a business man. Before the impulse left him he purchased a billiard hall and barber shop on the south side.33
Ex-Yankees manager Frank Chance liked how the Sox looked, saying, “Rowland has at his disposal a wonderful pitching staff, and the keystone defense—Eddie Collins and Buck Weaver … should form an ironclad infield.34
In 1914, that wonderful pitching staff included Joe Benz, Eddie Cicotte, Jim Scott, and Reb Russell, with rookie Red Faber relieving more than starting. Rowland, who had first recommended Faber to Chicago, made him a starter. Less successfully, Rowland shifted Lena Blackburne from second base to third due to the arrival of Eddie Collins—the second Collins on the team along with outfielder Shano Collins.
Through July 17, Eddie Collins led the attack. Faber, already exceeding his innings thrown in 1914, and Scott each had ten more wins than losses.
Faber won the first two games of 1915, including a 16–0 rout of the Browns in which he himself had four hits and yielded just seven. St. Louis dealt with Collins the way many teams would in 1915, passing him four times. Collins eventually topped the AL with 119 walks, by far his career high.
Chicago lost six in a row after their first two victories, with a two-out, three-run homer by Hank Severeid transforming a seemingly sure Sox win into a 4–3 loss that dethroned Chicago from first. The Sox then lost four straight at Detroit.
When the team returned home, it got hot again. Starting with a five run rally when down 4–0 against St. Louis in the bottom of the ninth, Chicago won nine of its first ten home games. Shano Collins tied the game with a two-out triple in the ninth, scoring Eddie Collins, and Shano scored the winner on a passed ball. Faber won with six relief innings and would capture his next seven decisions.
Faber reportedly threw just 67 pitches in nine innings (50 strikes and 17 balls), retiring the side on one pitch per batter in both the third and fifth, in a 4–1 win over Washington May 12.35
The Sox moved into a virtual tie for first after beating Boston 3–2 in 17 innings on May 21 behind Faber’s ten winning frames in relief. “From the tenth to the seventeenth he allowed only two hits and walked nobody.”36 Backup catcher Tom Daly’s pinch-single secured the win.
Chicago swept the Boston series. Eddie Collins created an insurance run in the finale with his “nerve and footwork in going from first to third on [first baseman Jack] Fournier’s sacrifice bunt”37 in the seventh in a 4–2 win.
The Sox then swept three from New York to extend its winning streak to nine. Shano Collins saved the second Yankee contest, throwing out speedster Fritz Maisel trying to score from second on a single with two outs in the ninth to preserve a 7–6 lead.
On May 30, Cleveland ended Chicago’s streak, and on June 7 someone—Boston—finally beat Faber. “Faber showed speed, command and a neat moist ball”38 in yielding four hits, two walks, and one earned run but lost 3–0 as Chicago fell from first for the only time between May 21 and July 18.
Chicago took the finale in Boston and the first two in New York. Faber started against the Yanks and had led 8–1 lead in the bottom of the fourth. But Russell, in relief, lost the game, which ended with Daly flying into a double play with the tying run gunned down at home, reversing the ending of the game when Shano Collins had thrown out Fritz Maisel.
Washington took two of three from Chicago, but the streaky Sox took nine in a row and 14 of 15. After a three-game sweep in Philadelphia, Sporting Life predicted “a picnic for the White Sox if they do not become overconfident or get badly crippled. ”39
Chicago kept rolling during a week in Cleveland with six straight wins, the last of which took 19 innings. Faber, in the midst of a strange batting streak of seven walks in eight plate appearances,40 survived five Chicago errors in the third of these games, a complete-game triumph over at Cleveland. “Buck Weaver was chief messer of the afternoon, being charged with three mistakes. He dropped a ridiculously easy pop fly, heaved one to the grand stand back of first base, and kicked one all over the infield, which was considerable messing. ”41
Weaver redeemed himself in the 19th “when, with two men out, [he] lined a single to left field, his fifth blow of the game, and legged it home a moment later when Eddie Collins crashed a two bagger far down the left foul line.”42 On one day of rest, Faber won, hurling 11 scoreless innings, yielding three hits, and fanning nine.
After losing the Cleveland finale, Chicago took five from St. Louis and Detroit, giving the Sox a season-high six-game cushion in first place before losing five to the same two teams. Faber dropped a pair of games against the Tigers, the second of which occurred when he again appeared with just one day of rest. Down 7–1 after six on July 4, the Sox plated one in the seventh and five in the eighth, but Faber walked in the winning run in the bottom of the tenth for a disappointing 8–7 defeat.
In his 670-game career, Faber stole just seven bases, but swiped second, third, and home in one sequence against Philadelphia on July 14. Chicago led, and rain threatened to end the game before it had become official. Joe Bush “soaked him in the slats with a pitched ball. Red kept right on running after reaching first base, but the Athletics refused to put him out. When Faber was on the way to third Bush tossed the ball back to [catcher Wally] Schang and Schang tossed it back, although the runner was within easy reach of him.”43 The weather held, however, and Faber won a complete game.
Boston followed Philadelphia to Chicago, and after an opening doubleheader split on July 17, the White Sox had a 1½-game lead and seemed well-positioned to snare the 1915 pennant.
The Chi-Feds had the best 1914 record among the local clubs at 87–67, finishing 1½ out of first. Unlike its older neighbors, the Federals kept their manager, Joe Tinker, for 1915. Tinker spent the offseason recruiting players.
Chicago’s powerful catcher, Art Wilson, had the FL’s sixth-highest OPS in 1914, but his two backups hit .188 with no homers, figures that William Fischer of Brooklyn, who jumped to the FL for 1915, would easily exceed.
Eddie Plank rejected Chicago, but days later, a headline blared, “Chicago Feds Sign Walter Johnson for Two Years.”44 The FL St. Louis Terriers had offered Johnson a three-year contract, but Chicago owner Charlie Weeghman suggested the same money for fewer years. Plank “was then awarded to the St. Louis Club for its part in signing Johnson.”45
Johnson, of course, never pitched for Chicago, instead returning to Washington, where he would torment the White Sox, but Plank stayed and went 21–11 with a 2.08 ERA. Instead of Johnson, the newly named Whales, a sublime joy for jokey sportswriters,46 inked Mordecai Brown. “Tinker doesn’t expect Brown to work as often as he did … but thinks he will turn out just as strong hurling … if not called upon more than … every five or six days. ”47
Outfielder Les Mann, whose ninth-inning single beat Plank in Game 2 of the 1914 World Series, also joined Chicago. “Tinker wanted [Mann] particularly because he is a right handed hitter, and the Tinx of last year were overset with left handed batters,”48 including first baseman Fred Beck, and outfielders Max Flack, Al Wickland, and Dutch Zwilling. Shortstop Jimmy Smith switch-hit.
Through July 17, the catchers and outfielders led the attack in support of three workhorse pitchers, paced by George McConnell, who could not make the Cubs. Claude Hendrix, who went 29–10 with a 1.69 ERA over 362 innings in 1914, “has been slow in rounding to. He was late in reporting”49 and pitched inconsistently in 1915.
Hendrix bested Plank in the season opener 3–1 as Chicago rallied with three in the eighth. Mann reprised his heroics from Game Two of the 1914 World Series with another late-inning RBI single off Plank, and Wilson had the go-ahead hit.
After rain postponed the rest of the St. Louis series, McConnell, “mixing a good spitball with a terrific fast ball,”50 made his FL debut in relief against Pittsburgh. Down 3–0 in the home sixth, Chicago again rallied, giving McConnell his first win.
Although he yielded but three hits and one earned run in eight innings, Brown lost his debut on April 15, dropping a 3–1 decision to Pittsburgh. Teenage shortstop Jimmy Smith’s two errors gave him four in three games.
Smith also sparked the Whales to two wins, however. On April 16, he worked a ninth-inning walk and scored the winning run. The following day, with Chicago losing 1–0, Smith homered in the sixth and singled in the eighth as Hendrix improved to 2–0. Unfortunately, Kansas City’s Grover Gilmore “ran his spike into Smith’s hand,”51 slowing the rookie down in an April 24 game that rain kept from becoming official.
Brown’s first win sparked a five-game streak that left Chicago, on May 3, two games up in the race. This would be the team’s largest lead of 1915.
Six straight losses, five by one run and one by two, sank the Whales to fourth. Without Smith, Tinker played shortstop on occasion and sometimes played third with Rollie Zeider at short. On May 6, he went 3-for-4 with a double and triple, the last extra-base hits and multi-hit game of his career. Taking pregame infield the following day, Tinker “suffered a rupture in his right side”52 and thereafter mostly managed.
Smith returned May 10, just prior to a Pittsburgh trip where Hendrix, originally a Pirate, no-hit the Rebels. “James Savage was the last man up, and he drove the long foul to Leslie Mann, who made a great running catch … while many … rushed the field and congratulated the big Whale spitball pitcher for his accomplishment. ”53
Chicago won another thriller back home, rallying twice against Baltimore’s Chief Bender. Down 5–2 with two outs in the eighth, the Whales got three. In the tenth, McConnell yielded a run, but Chicago once again scored multiple times with two down, getting a two-run pinch-single to win. Smith scored in both rallies, but made his eighth error in fifteen games.
Through the first six weeks of the season, Brown had pitched sparingly. He went nine innings May 22, but then the Whales split a doubleheader and trailed Buffalo 3–2. Buffalo hurler Gene Krapp, who lived down to his name by passing eleven, walked a man with the bases full to force home Flack with the tying tally in the ninth. Flack’s hit in the 14th won the game, making Brown, who yielded three hits in seven and a third relief innings, the winner on one day of rest.
First baseman Beck was hurt in Buffalo and missed six games. Bill Jackson replaced him and drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the winning run in Brown’s next appearance, a complete-game, eleven-inning 2-1 effort in the second half of a May 31 doubleheader against Kansas City. This win brought Chicago into a first-place tie, but the club then dropped six straight to fall to fifth. Led by McConnell (who won nine straight from June 6 through July 8), the Whales then captured 14 of 21 road contests, including the final six.
Brown nearly matched Hendrix on June 18, pitching “a near no hit no run game against the Buffalo Feds. One lone blow was all that separated Brownie from the much coveted record. Percy Dalton was the offender, getting the safe swat beyond question in the eighth inning, and that after Brown had put two strikes over him. ”54
On June 19, Chicago seemingly beat Baltimore 8–1. With the bases loaded and one out in the first inning, Smith broke for home after a wild third strike, but the throw beat him, so he left the field thinking the Terrapins had retired him. The other runners advanced, however, and a dispute ensued. “While this was going on Smith ran out from the bench and touched the plate. Umpire Johnstone called him safe and the run counted. He contended that a play had to be made on Smith, as it was not a force out at the plate. [Baltimore] contended Smith was automatically out for running to the bench. ”55
The FL upheld the protest, ordering a replay, although more than one month later the official standings still, erroneously, included the game.56 Hendrix lost credit for a complete-game win as well as two hits, including a homer, and the Whales lost a win.
Brown threw a second shutout 11 days after his one-hitter, giving up four Newark hits. Fischer drove in the only run following Flack’s walk and attempted steal of second, which resulted in a fielding error. “Only the great speed of Flack enabled him to score on a close play at the plate. ”57
Unlike Brown, McConnell struggled at Newark, and Chicago trailed 6–1 late before breaking through in the ninth. “The sudden rally of the Whales was a thriller and all the serious damage was done after two men were out in the ninth round.”58 Chicago had good-hitting pitchers, which helped on this day. McConnell tripled, one of 25 extra-base hits from Brown, Hendrix, and McConnell in 1915. Fischer later tripled and scored the tying run. In the bottom of the eleventh, McConnell escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam, and Beck won the game with an RBI single in the twelfth.
The Whales completed the sweep with another extra-inning win. Chicago busted a scoreless tie with three in the top of the twelfth. Flack legged out a double and scored following a sacrifice and Jackson’s bunt single. Although he had started two days earlier, “Brown had been warming up for several innings and was ready to be called upon.”59 Allowing two inherited runners to score by hitting consecutive batters, Brown saved the win and lowered his ERA to a season-best 1.41.
The Whales went back on the road after a home week. A Hendrix-Plank rematch in St. Louis resulted in 13 scoreless frames. Plank yielded one hit in that span, a Hendrix double. In the fourteenth, Jackson walked, took second on a single by Mann—still Plank’s nemesis—and scored when an outfielder played Hendrix’s fly into another double. Mann also tallied, and Hendrix fanned ten in his 2–0 shutout.
His winning streak over after losing in relief, McConnell won at St. Louis on July 14, edging the Whales back into a first-place tie for the first time since May 31. Chicago completed the St. Louis sweep, split a Brooklyn doubleheader, and held sole possession of first on July 17, the last time all three Chicago teams occupied first place. By the end of the 1915 season, fans of two of the clubs would find it hard to believe that such success had actually transpired.
After July 17, the Cubs fell apart. The offense scored nearly one fewer run per game, and Adams pitched horribly. Bolded OPS and ERA figures indicate performance declines compared to earlier data.
Beginning July 19, Chicago suffered its third and worst bad streak with three 1–0 losses, four other one-run losses, and a two-run loss. The July 20 game against Philadelphia encapsulates the Cubs’ sudden collapse.
Zimmerman did not run out a grounder, so Bresnahan fined him $25 after the sixth inning. Next, Saier scored on a double steal but “hooked his foot on the plate and sprained a tendon in his leg so badly that he had to be carried off … for repairs.”60 Finally, after Chicago had taken a 5–2 lead into the bottom of the eighth, Cheney relieved, retired two, but gave up two hits, erred, and threw consecutive wild pitches to help Philadelphia score six and eventually win 8–6. The performance likely expedited Cheney’s exit from Chicago and, worse, Saier never regained his fantastic form.
Bresnahan moved regular catcher Jimmy Archer to first and took over the catching duties until breaking his toe July 23. He would never again have an extra-base hit in the majors. His spirits broke, too: “Bresnahan has lost faith in a lot of his players … He made the statement … that he had only three or four men … who were really trying.”61 John McGraw agreed with his former backstop, blasting the Cubs for “not hustling as hard as they did.”62
On the marathon road trip, “Eighteen games were played, and the Cubs won only four of them. Bad luck, bad playing and injuries put the Cubs out of first place...”63
Saier returned for the first half of a July 30 doubleheader, the last game of the losing streak, but “hurt his lame knee in the second inning … and had to retire.”64 Missing three more games, he would—oddly—pinch-run to score the winning tally on a Murray hit on August 5, the middle match of a five-game winning streak that got Chicago within 1½ games of first.
The Cubs got no closer. Brooklyn beat Chicago four straight, with the nadir “the most one-sided and farcical baseball exhibition staged this season on the West Side grounds,”65 a 13–0 rout during which George Cutshaw went 6-for-6.
Five days later, the Cubs still had some fight in them. Against St. Louis, “an error by Zimmerman let in two runs. After the players returned to the bench, several got after Heinie for loafing after fumbling the ball. Had he hustled after fumbling he might have cut off one of the runs.”66 Zimmerman tried to punch Pierce, but hit a better pitcher, Vaughn, in the mouth instead, splitting the peacemaker’s lip.
Instead of fighting each other, Chicago killed itself with kindness after battling back from a 4–0 hole to tie Boston on August 26. Chicago should have surged ahead, but Archer fell rounding third. A teammate, coaching, “placed his hands kindly on [Archer] … The minute he held his hands on the crippled base runner the alert Evers ran crying to Umpire O’Day, calling his attention to the illegal act, and Hank promptly called Archer out,”67 and the game ended in a tie.
Languishing in fourth in late August, Chicago traded Cheney, who had “trouble with his arm and has been pounded harder than ever before,”68 to Brooklyn for infielder Joe Schultz Sr., who played just seven games for the Cubs. Lavender responded two days later by no-hitting New York. “His mastery of the situation was supreme. The Giants were as helpless as infants before his delivery. Just how helpless is shown by the fact that only twice … was the ball driven beyond the infield.”69
Lavender, however, faltered in relief two appearances after this no-hitter as the Cubs fell to fifth after an excruciating doubleheader loss to the Cardinals. In Game One, Lavender entered in the twelfth and hit a batter with the bases loaded, giving Chicago the loss; the bags had been filled by a hit, a fielder’s choice, and a walk. The Cardinals scored two runs batting out of order, but Bresnahan failed to protest in time, so the tallies counted.
Although not the losing pitcher against St. Louis, Lavender would drop six straight, the last of which dropped the Cubs to last place, albeit only for a day. By closing with seven wins in nine games, Chicago finished fourth, disappointing given the season’s early promise but devastating due to the hasty giveaway of Cheney, the crippled condition of Saier, and the malignant presence of Zimmerman.
After July 17, the White Sox scored nearly a run fewer per game. In addition, Faber slumped, perhaps due to his heavy workload. Bolded OPS and ERA figures show performance declines compared to earlier data.
After splitting a doubleheader with Boston on the 17th, the White Sox dropped three straight then won five of six to pull into a virtual tie for first. Although sued for breach of promise by a “very pretty” woman on July 20,70 Jim Scott won two (one by a 1–0 shutout in which he had an RBI single) and saved a third game from July 22 through July 30.
On August 4, the Sox, in the midst of scoring thirteen runs in six straight losses, fell to third for the first time since May 18, where they would remain.
Blackburne, subpar at third base, threw away the first loss. With two on and none out in the ninth, New York bunted, but “‘Lena’ scooped up the ball and heaved it high over Fournier’s head,”71 giving Benz the first in a series of tough losses over the season’s last months.
The August 2 game ended even more excruciatingly. Faber took a 2–0 lead over the Yankees into the bottom of the ninth. With one out and runners on the corners, Faber induced a double-play ball to Eddie Collins, who “handled the ball as if it was an anarchist’s bomb. He picked it up and dropped it and then repeated the operation.”72 The error cut the lead to 2–1; an out and a single tied the game, ending Faber’s day. Scott relieved, issued a walk, and threw a wild pitch to send the Sox to a 3–2 loss.
Chicago left New York, lost two at Washington, and seemed doomed to a fifth straight defeat, trailing Walter Johnson 2–0. But the Sox bats improbably awoke with a six-run eighth-inning rally sparked by Johnson’s throwing error on Shano Collins’ bunt.
With a four-run lead, Mellie Wolfgang relieved for Chicago then gave way to Faber. With two outs in the last of the eighth and the lead trimmed to 6–5, Faber had two strikes on Johnson with runners on second and third. The lead runner broke for home, “but Johnson poked a low fly to short left field. Weaver was running in … possibly with the idea of covering the plate on the steal home.”73 Johnson’s flare drove in two runs; Weaver’s vacating his position had transformed a heartening rally against the game’s greatest pitcher. Johnson would come around to score in the White Sox’s crushing 8–6 loss.
Weaver made the front page of the paper a few days later. In an article sub-headed “White Sox Ball Player Has More Trouble on His Hands; Now Must Explain Dice Gambling,” a brief revealed, “Buck’s poolroom … was going at a little too merry clip at 5 o’clock yesterday morning, so the police swooped down upon it like a bunch of Red Sox with war bludgeons. ”74
Chicago got better news in late August with the Sox’ blockbuster acquisition of Joe Jackson, who had flirted with the Whales.75 The Sox needed reinforcements; beginning with Jackson’s arrival, Chicago played 89 innings in six days, with two doubleheaders (the first game of the first DH which Eddie Collins won with an eleventh-inning single) and four straight extra-inning games that Chicago would split. On his third day in Chicago colors, Jackson tripled home Eddie Collins to lift the Sox to an 11-inning win over the Yankees.
Washington was the opposition for the rest of the bonus baseball. On August 24, trailing 5–4 in the bottom of the eleventh with two outs and the bases loaded, the Sox won on Murphy’s walk and Shano Collins’ single before succumbing to Johnson’s arm and bat in the next two games. First, he scored the winning run and got the win in a 7–4 14-inning defeat of Chicago; he then drove in a run and saved a 2–1 13-inning win.
In 21 plate appearances in 1915, Johnson hit .421/.476/.579 against Chicago. On the hill, he posted a 4–1 record with two saves.
Hitting pitchers plagued the Sox into September. With a 1–0 lead at Fenway Park in the bottom of the seventh inning on September 14, Benz faced Boston pitcher Babe Ruth, who “smashed the ball against the left-field fence, sending home the winning run. ”76
Chicago won its last eleven games but finished a distant third. This streak made Chicago’s season seem more impressive retrospectively, but the run differentials of the league’s top three teams show that the White Sox should have done far better.
“Comiskey has been prodigal in his expenditures for new talent, and has not obtained a great deal in return…. Eddie Collins was worth every cent … but the keystone monarch alone could not make a winning team out of the collection of ivory that surrounded him.”77 The 1915 additions—Rowland managing, Faber starting, and Collins, Felsch, and Jackson playing—paid off two years later with the 1917 champions. The gambling associations of Weaver hinted, however, that the game’s greatest scandal would soon stagger the Sox.
The Whales declined at bat and on the mound after July 17, but the resilient club nevertheless eked out just enough clutch wins. Bolded OPS and ERA figures show performance declines compared to earlier data.
Starting with the second game of the July 17 doubleheader, Chicago dropped five of six. On July 22, “King Mordecai of the House of Brown brought the Whales up from the sea of despair … by pitching almost perfect baseball against the scrappy Terrapins of Baltimore. Brownie subdued the turbulent Terps with three small hits, and his 4 to 1 victory was clearly earned.”78 Following this game, Brown would not start for an entire month due to kidney inflammation.79
With Brown out, Chicago dropped four straight home games to Newark, including a 3–2 16-inning August 2 loss, the winning run scoring when “Smith cracked at the critical moment,”80 making his 40th error.
Smith kicked two more in the next game, but McConnell threw a critical complete game to beat Brooklyn 3–1. “McConnell varied the mud ball with an ordinary spitter he had, the Brookfeds missing ‘em by six inches, but he fanned only one batter. Properly delivered, the mud ball breaks like an illegal emery ball. It shoots around the plate like a bilious gent wending his way homeward at 3 a.m. ”81
Chicago made the short trip from Brooklyn to Newark, and Mann scored the winning run in the ninth inning of the third game against the Peppers on August 12 following a triple82 and a pinch-squeeze bunt by backup outfielder Charlie Hanford, who had been “ejected” two innings earlier “because Umpire McCormick’s sensitive ear was offended … [in Federal League rules] A player ousted merely from the bench, who has not been in the game, may return any time his manager desires, so Tinker was able to recall … Hanford … from exile. ”83
Hendrix homered and won the opener of an August 14 doubleheader split with Baltimore. One of these games represented the replay of the June 19 protest.
Chicago dropped the last Baltimore game and then four to Buffalo, dropping from first to fourth in three days. On August 22, Brown again righted the Whales’ ship, returning from illness on a day in his honor for “one of the greatest games of his long career. Against his magnificent labor the wrecking Buffeds were like children, and Tinker’s Whales sauntered to a 4 to 0 shutout victory. ”84
Brown dropped three in a row after his comeback and “showed weakness as a result of his recent sickness. His fast ball was lacking in its usual speed. ”85
Hendrix also struggled in August, losing the day before Brown’s beauty and twice more before the month’s end. Smith cost him a game in Pittsburgh. With the Whales up 2–0 and a man on first in the bottom of the eighth, Steve Yerkes “rolled an easy one to Smith, who had a perfect double play set before him, but fumbled, and both runners were safe.”86 Smith’s 47th and final error for Chicago set up the tying runs, and a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth brought home the winner.
Tinker hurriedly swapped Smith for Baltimore’s Mickey Doolin, but at first, the Whales played worse following the trade. Given a 6–1 lead in a game Chicago would lose 10–9 against Kansas City, Hendrix “following his usual custom, was knocked off the hill in less than six innings.”87 The Whales slipped a season-high 5½ games behind with less than a month to play.
Another no-hitter turned around Chicago’s season, albeit a no-hit defeat in the first game of a September 7 doubleheader to Dave Davenport of St. Louis. Perhaps embarrassed, Chicago would go 17-4-1 over the season’s final 22 games. Three of the four losses came by one run.
Hendrix started the turnaround with the second-game win over St. Louis. “Previously he had taken part in six games without registering a victory. He worked … with severe pains in his back and limped off after each inning. However he pitched a masterly”88 3–2 Whales win.
Brown pitched a complete-game win over Baltimore in the first of a four-game series. On September 12, in Game One of a doubleheader, McConnell earned his 22nd victory in a wild, 5–4 15-inning affair. The win returned Chicago to second place. Trailing 3–2 in the tenth, Mann doubled and Doolin singled to re-tie the game. Then, down 4–3 in the 15th, Tinker pinch-hit Hendrix for his third-place hitter, Zwilling, the team leader in several offensive categories. Hendrix singled, advanced on a wild pitch, and scored on an error. The winning run scored on a single by Joe Weiss, who had joined the team after winning an amateur newspaper talent contest!89 In Game Two, Hendrix pitched a darkness-shortened shutout to complete his virtuoso day.
In the Baltimore finale after an off day, Brown, on two days of rest, yielded seven runs in seven innings. Hendrix rescued Chicago again, however, saving the 8–7 win with two shutout frames.
On September 19, the Whales met Buffalo in a twin bill. Brown fired a complete-game 3–1 win in the opener; Weiss started a triple play on a line drive to first.90 McConnell pitched a four-hit shutout for his 23rd win in Game Two, in which Weiss had another game-winning hit.
Weiss tallied three more hits September 22 as Chicago earned a critical 4–4 tie against Newark. Trailing 3–0 early, and 4–3 in the bottom of the eleventh, Fischer and Beck delivered pinch-singles that enabled the Whales to draw even in a game that would last 15 innings.
In third place, 1½ behind, Chicago closed the season with home-and-home doubleheaders against Pittsburgh. On October 2, Chicago swept the first twin bill and moved back into first for the first time since August 18.
Brown was the hit of the first game. He went 4-for-4 at the plate, staking the Whales to an 8–1 lead and cruised to a complete game 8–5 win despite yielding 16 hits. In the nightcap, Chicago blew a 3–0 lead in the ninth but escaped with a 6–3 win in 11, the decisive run scoring on Mann’s double and Doolin’s single.
The greatest—and last—day in the Whales’ brief history took place October 3, 1915. In the first of yet another doubleheader, McConnell could not hold a 4–1 lead in the ninth, and Pittsburgh delivered a disheartening 5–4 defeat in 11 innings.
Entering the bottom of the sixth of the last game, neither team had scored. The fans on hand were apoplectic. Doolin singled and advanced to third with two out. Flack “caught one on the nose and drove a terrific drive to left center. [Pittsburgh player-manager Rebel] Oakes … dashed madly after the ball and the Rebel did manage to get his hands on it, but the sphere hopped out into the crowd for two bases, driving in Doolin with the one run necessary.”91 Zwilling and Wilson followed with RBI hits, making the final 3–0 Chicago in a game called after six and a half because of darkness.
By percentage points, the Whales had won Chicago’s only 1915 pennant. By capturing the second and last banner in the brief history of the Federal League, the legacy of the Whales flickers a century later while the White Sox and the Cubs continue to play.
A SABR member since 1990, MARK S. STERNMAN has written for "The Inside Game," the SABR BioProject, and "The Miracle Braves of 1914: Boston's Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions."
- 1. Chicago also had Negro League teams. “Dizzy Dismukes of the Indianapolis ABCs no-hit the Chicago Giants on May 9, while Dick Whitworth of the Chicago American Giants also no-hit the Chicago Giants on September 19.” www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/1915_in_the_Negro_Leagues (accessed January 3, 2015).
- 2. The Chicago Cubs,” The Sporting Life, October 31, 1914: 7.
- 3. “National League Notes,” The Sporting Life, November 7, 1914: 8.
- 4. “Nativity against Him,” The Sporting Life, November 14, 1914: 7.
- 5. “National League Notes,” The Sporting Life, November 28, 1914: 4.
- 6. I.E. Sanborn, “Chatter about Cubs,” The Sporting Life, December 19, 1914: 3.
- 7. Sean Deveney, Before Wrigley Became Wrigley (New York: Sports Publishing, 2014), 208.
- 8. James Crusinberry, “Eleven Cubs Leave here for Tampa Training Camp,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 27, 1915: 9.
- 9. I.E. Sanborn, “Cubs to Battle Cubans Again at Tampa Today,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 15, 1915: 13.
- 10. “Adams would have had the kind of APBA card that you’d have set fire to if he was on your team. He went 1-9 with a pretty decent team, had an ERA 70 percent over the league norm, and as a hitter went oh-for-thirty.” Bill James, The Baseball Book 1990 (New York: Villard Books, 1990), 183.
- 11. I.E. Sanborn, “Rain Disappoints 49 Bugs Who Go to Cub Park,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 22, 1915: 10.
- 12. I.E. Sanborn, “The Chicago Cubs,” The Sporting Life, April 10, 1915: 5.
- 13. I.E. Sanborn, “Rally in Ninth Nips Cubs, 7-4, in Real Farce,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 18, 1915: B1.
- 14. I.E. Sanborn, “Chicago Chat,” The Sporting Life, May 15, 1915: 6.
- 15. I.E. Sanborn, “The Chicago Cubs,” The Sporting Life, May 22, 1915: 6.
- 16. I.E. Sanborn, “Rogers Win, 1-0; Bert Humphries Holds New York,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 19, 1915: 13.
- 17. “Echoes of the Game,” Boston Daily Globe, June 17, 1915: 7.
- 18. “Rice,” “Ed Pfeffer Pitches Nineteen-Inning Game,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 18, 1915: 2.
- 19. Wm. A. Phelon, “The Season’s Game,” Baseball Magazine, August 1915: 19.
- 20. I.E. Sanborn, “Zim Steals Home in the Ninth, Winning Wild Battle, 14-13,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 25, 1915: 13.
- 21. I.E. Sanborn, “Zabel Hurls Three Hit Game, but Seven Errors Beat Cubs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 29, 1915: 11.
- 22. “H. Zimmerman Wants Divorce,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 30, 1915: 9.
- 23. I.E. Sanborn, “Lavender Loses Two Hit Game, but Cheney Blanks Redlegs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 1, 1915: 13.
- 24. I.E. Sanborn, “Saier’s Drive Gives Rogers 2 to 1 Victory,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 3, 1915: 11.
- 25. Grantland Rice, “Giving a Modest Star His Due,” The Sporting Life, July 31, 1915.
- 26. Ward Mason, “Vic Saier, the Slugger of the Cubs,” Baseball Magazine, September 1915: 78.
- 27. James Crusinberry, “Murray Joins Rogers’ Squad; Rain Balks Brooklyn Game,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 9, 1915: 11.
- 28. James Crusinberry, “Cubs Lose to Robins in 10th, After Leading by Six Runs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 10, 1915: 15.
- 29. “Dodgers Win But Drop back in the Race,” The New York Times, July 13, 1915.
- 30. Warren Brown, The Chicago White Sox (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1952), 63.
- 31. W. A. Carlson, “Eddie Collins,” Baseball Magazine, March 1915: 68.
- 32. Sam Weller, “Sox Start West Tuesday Night,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 14, 1915: B1.
- 33. Keene Gardiner, “Introducing Mr. Buck Weaver in New Role of Business Man,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 15, 1915: 14.
- 34. R.S. Ranson, “The White Sox,” Sporting Life, March 27, 1915: 4.
- 35. “Claims a Pitching Record,” Sporting Life, May 22, 1915: 8.
- 36. James Crusinberry, “White Sox Beat Boston in 17 Inning Battle, 3 to 2,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 22, 1915: 9.
- 37. “Daring Stealing by White Hose Leaders, with Some Great Fielding, Spells Defeat for Red Sox,” Boston Daily Globe, May 24, 1915: 7.
- 38. T.H. Murnane, “‘Smoky Joe’ Pulls White Sox out of Lead,” Boston Daily Globe, June 8, 1915: 6.
- 39. Chandler D. Richter, “New Sidelights on Baseball,” Sporting Life, June 26, 1915: 8.
- 40. Tom Ruane, “A Retro-Review of the 1910s (the 1914-1919 edition),” www.retrosheet.org/Research/RuaneT/rev1910_art.htm (accessed January 16, 2015).
- 41. James Crusinberry, “Sox Lam Ball; Crush Indians Despite Slips,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 23, 1915: 14.
- 42. James Crusinberry, “Sox Beat Cleveland in 19 Innings, 5 to 4,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 25, 1915: 13.
- 43. I.E. Sanborn, “Sox Trounce Mackmen, 6-4, in Crazy Game,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 15, 1915: 13.
- 44. I.E. Sanborn, “Chicago Feds Sign Walter Johnson for Two Years,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 4, 1914: 11.
- 45. Clarence F. Lloyd, “St. Louis’ Story,” Sporting Life, December 12, 1914: 9.
- 46. “Otto Knabe’s Terrapins kicked the sperm oil out of Joe Tinker’s Whales” represents an excellent example. Sam Weller, “Swat by Mr. Zinn ‘K.O.’ for Whales at Baltimore, 9-8,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 7, 1915: 11.
- 47. James Crusinberry, “Left Handers Beaten in Game at Whale Camp,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 26, 1915: 18.
- 48. Sam Weller, “Outfielder Mann of Braves Jumps to Local Feds,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 12, 1915: 16.
- 49. Philip Morgan, “The Chicago Whales,” The Sporting Life, April 10, 1915: 7.
- 50. “Notes of the Whales,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 14, 1915: 13.
- 51. “Chicago Chat,” The Sporting Life, May 1, 1915: 12. “In August he suffered one of the stranger injuries in baseball history. The Wilkes Barre Times Leader said that ‘Smith leaped for a hot one, lost his balance and doubled backwards wrenching the muscles of his neck and spiking himself in the back of the head. Smith was knocked out completely.’” Jim Sandoval, “Jimmy Smith,” sabr.org/bioproj/person/bcee87a4 (accessed January 15, 2015).
- 52. “Tinker Is out,” The Sporting Life, May 15, 1915: 13.
- 53. Sam Weller, “No Hits Made off Hendrix; Beats Rebels,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 16, 1915: B1.
- 54. Sam Weller, “Brown Blanks Buffeds, 8 to 0, with One Swat,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 19, 1915: 11.
- 55. Sam Weller, “Whales Defeat Terrapins, But Knabe Protests,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 20, 1915: B1.
- 56. J. J. Alcock, “Eastland Disaster Closes Whale Gate; Two Contests Today,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 26, 1915: 13.
- 57. Sam Weller, “Brown Defeats Newfeds, 1 to 0, in Mound Duel,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 30, 1915: 9.
- 58. Sam Weller, “Whales Score 5 Runs in Ninth; Win in Twelfth,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 1, 1915: 13.
- 59. Sam Weller, “Three Run Rally in Twelfth Gives Whales Victory, 3 to 2,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 2, 1915: 13.
- 60. James Crusinberry, “Rajah, Aroused, Levies Big Fines on Zim and Zabel,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 21, 1915: 11.
- 61. James Crusinberry, “Shakeup Coming Unless Cubs Get Hearts in Game,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 26, 1915: 13.
- 62. John J. McGraw, “In the National League,” Boston Daily Globe, July 26, 1915: 4.
- 63. James Crusinberry, “Cubs back Home with Only Coin to Offset Woe,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1915: 9.
- 64. James Crusinberry, “Losing Streak of Cubs Ended by Even Break,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1915: 9.
- 65. “Cutshaw Poles out Six Hits off Cubs,” The New York Times, August 10, 1915.
- 66. “Pierce and Zim Fight; Vaughn among Injured,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 15, 1915: B1.
- 67. James Crusinberry, “Cubs and Braves Play 4-4 Tie; Archer Falls and Loses Run,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 27, 1915: 9.
- 68. “Brooklyn Gets Cheney,” The New York Times, August 30, 1915.
- 69. “No-Hit Game Won by Jim Lavender,” The New York Times, September 1, 1915.
- 70. “American League Affairs,” The Sporting Life, August 7, 1914: 9.
- 71. “Chicago Baseman Tosses Game away,” The New York Times, August 1, 1915.
- 72. "Scott’s Wild Toss Lets in Winning Run,” The New York Times, August 3, 1915.
- 73. I.E. Sanborn, “White Sox Fall in Two Battles at Washington,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 7, 1915: 7.
- 74. “Buck Weaver’s Poolroom Raided and 12 Arrested,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 16, 1915: 1.
- 75. “Plot That Failed,” The Sporting Life, August 28, 1915: 9.
- 76. T.H. Murnane, “‘Speed Boys owe This One to Ruth,” Boston Daily Globe, September 15, 1915: 1.
- 77. I.E. Sanborn, “Chicago Gleanings,” The Sporting Life, October 2, 1915: 6.
- 78. J. J. Alcock, “Brown Allows Only Three Hits; Whales Win, 4-1,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 23, 1915: 9.
- 79. “Brown Sent to Hospital; Now on Way to Recovery,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 30, 1915: 9.
- 80. J. J. Alcock, “Whales Lose to Newfeds in Sixteen Inning Combat, 3-2,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 3, 1915: 11.
- 81. “Notes of the Whales,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 6, 1915: 9.
- 82. Mann had an FL-leading nineteen triples in 1915, including four in July, four in August, and seven in September.
- 83. Alcock called this quirk “a new wrinkle in Federal league rules.” J. J. Alcock, “Squeeze Play in Last Gives Whales 2-1 Victory Over Peps,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 13, 1915: 9.
- 84. J. J. Alcock, “Fed Fans Flock to Whales Park for ‘Brown Day,’” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 23, 1915: 9.
- 85. “Notes of the Whales,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 31, 1915: 11.
- 86. Sam Weller, “Smith’s Error Helps Pittfeds Defeat Whales,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 28, 1915: 11.
- 87. Sam Weller, “Whales Beaten in Binglefest at Kansas City,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September, 1915: B3.
- 88. Sam Weller, “No Hits, No Runs off Davenport; Whales Divide,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 8, 1915: 11.
- 89. J. J. Alcock, “Tribune Boy’s Swat Wins for Tinker in 15th,’” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 13, 1915: 11.
- 90. J. J. Alcock, “Tribune Boys Help Whales Win Twin Bill,’” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 20, 1915: 11.
- 91. J. J. Alcock, “Whales Win Pennant as 34,000 Fans Cheer,’” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 4, 1915: 13.