The 1914 season was the fourth in a row in which a team with Josh Devore in the outfield went to the World Series. The speedy Devore was a great leadoff man for the Giants championship teams of 1911 and 1912, and played with the pennant winners of 1913 before being traded. He joined the 1914 Braves just before they started their historic surge in July.
Devore had made one of the greatest catches in World Series history to save a game for the Giants in 1912, and as of 2013 still held a record for the most stolen bases in one inning.
Devore was born in Murray City, Ohio, on November 13, 1887 and was raised on the family farm in the town of New Marshfield, a few miles away. Devore played as much baseball as possible when not doing chores around the family farm and grocery store. Like many boys, he dreamed of a career in professional baseball even though his father actively discouraged it. Nothing his father did, including beatings, could stop Devore from playing ball, at first with local amateur teams, and then with semipro nines.
When Devore reached 17 he moved to Seelyville, Indiana, and clerked in his older brother William’s grocery store while starring in the local semipro leagues. William saw an advertisement in a Terre Haute newspaper from a club in Meridian, Mississippi, seeking a left-handed-hitting outfielder. Devore hit left, threw right, and had already reached his full adult size, 5-feet-6 and 160 pounds. Guy Sample, the Meridian manager, thought Devore was too small, but agreed to give him a chance after William put up a $100 cash guarantee that his brother would make good.
Devore later told a reporter that even William’s cash investment didn’t mean making the Meridian team a sure thing. “It seemed like every aspiring outfielder within two hundred miles of Meridian had hot footed it into town,” Devore said.1 After two weeks of tryouts, Josh made the final three, but he wasn’t sure until the season started that he had won the job. Two weeks after that, William got his money back. Josh’s swiftness on the bases and in the field earned him the nickname the Seelyville Speed Demon.
Devore hit .242 during his first professional season, and proved the accuracy of his nickname by stealing 33 bases. His 1907 season was a carbon copy of the first, with Devore hitting .241 but stealing 35 bases. The New York Globe reported in 1910 that Devore’s fence-busting power in the minors brought him to the attention of a scout for the New York Giants.2 The reporter wrote that the carpenters union in Meridian was very sad about Devore’s leaving, since they would lose the extra money they made from repairing the outfield fence. The pleas of the union notwithstanding, the Giants purchased Devore for $750.
There was some dispute about the Giants’ obligations to the Meridian Club. The Hall of Fame’s files contain letters from Allan Canto, the Meridian club president, to the National Commission complaining that the Giants hadn’t fulfilled the terms of the purchase agreement, and Meridian wanted Devore back.
This is just the first of many contradictions in Devore’s record that makes it difficult to paint a comprehensive picture of him as a man and a ballplayer. Almost every trait attributed to him is contradicted by another account. For example, reporters talk about Devore’s power in the minors, yet he had very little power in the majors. One wonders if Devore’s mercurial nature was caused by his drinking. In his Historical Baseball Abstract Bill James lists Devore as one of the well-known “drinking men” in baseball during the 1910s. It’s possible that these contradictions could be caused by the difference between Devore drunk and sober.
In this case the Giants believed they had purchased Devore, but Meridian disagreed. The dispute ended with Devore the property of the Giants. The Giants’ John McGraw sent Devore to the Newark Indians of the Eastern League for most of the 1908 season, and he hit .290, a good average for the era. He led the league with 91 runs scored and stole 48 bases.
Devore’s manager at Newark was George Stallings, who would soon move up to manage the Highlanders in New York and later traded for Devore when he was managing the Miracle Braves. That team featured some players besides Devore who would play in the majors like Clyde Engel, Oscar Stanage, and Bud Sharpe, but still finished fifth in the Eastern League.
The Giants called Devore up at the end of the season and paid him $175 per month. Devore got into five games for the Giants in 1908. He batted only .167, and in his first game was sent in to pinch-run and was picked off first. He did score his first major-league run, and garnered his first hit and stolen base. Having proved he could play in the majors, even if he had a lot to learn, Devore was probably looking forward to playing a full season in 1909.
While training with the Giants in the spring of 1909, Devore developed appendicitis and was rushed to the hospital. Although newspaper reports said Devore was recovering well, he played in only 22 games that year and hit .143 with three stolen bases. In addition to his health problems, Devore had a foot problem – it ended up “in the bucket” too many times, especially against good southpaws like Slim Sallee. Devore’s front foot would step “in the bucket” rather than straight at the pitcher. In those days before batting helmets, Devore was concerned about getting hit.
As reported by Christy Mathewson, manager McGraw decided Devore needed a special intervention to keep him from shying away from the pitch. One day, after Devore struck out twice against Sallee, McGraw said, “That fellow hasn’t got speed enough to bend a pane of glass at home plate. … Go up there next time and get hit and see if he can hurt you. If you don’t get hit you’re fined $10.”
Josh responded to the $10 incentive by getting hit. He trotted to first base smiling. “What’d I say?” asked McGraw from the coaching box. “Could he hurt you?”
“Say,” Josh said, “I’d hire out to let them pitch baseballs at me if none of them could throw harder than that guy.”3 Devore batted with much more confidence after that, so much so that McGraw began playing him against both righties and lefties.
A healthy, speedy Devore returned to the Giants for the 1910 season. He played regularly in the outfield, hitting a career-high .304, with 10 triples, 2 home runs, and 43 stolen bases, fifth in the NL McGraw planned to split the position between Devore and Beals Becker, but Devore played well enough to take the majority of playing time. Devore became the leadoff hitter and main table-setter for the team, which finished second to the Chicago Cubs in 1910 but was about to win three straight pennants. Manager McGraw loved to use the running game during this part of the Deadball Era. Devore was one of several speedsters on the team.
In his classic Pitching in a Pinch, Christy Mathewson wrote about the impact of Devore and the other Giants runners, Fred Snodgrass, Red Murray, Fred Merkle, and Larry Doyle. He said, “Once they get on the bases they were like loose mercury. They couldn’t be caught. McGraw stole his way to a pennant with this quintet of runners.”4
Mathewson writes in more detail about basestealing technique. “If Devore sees Huggins of St. Louis behind the base he slides in front and pulls his body away from the bag so that he leaves the smallest possible area to touch. If he observes the baseman cutting inside to block him off, he goes behind and hooks it with just one toe, again presenting the minimum touching surface.”5 While we can’t credit Devore with the invention of the hook slide, because Mathewson thought this technique was worth mentioning, we may be able to credit Devore as one of its earliest and most successful practitioners.
In 1911 Devore, although by some accounts the smallest man in the National League, made a big contribution to the Giants’ pennant win. He led off most games, hit .280, scored 96 runs, and led this team of speed demons with 61 steals. The Giants won the pennant by 7½ games over the second-place Cubs. Writing after the 1911 season, Mathewson gave Devore great credit for his success in pressure situations. “Josh Devore is an in-and-out batter, but he is a bulldog in a pinch and is more apt to make a hit in a tight place than when the bases are empty,” Mathewson said. “He is the type of ball player who cannot be rattled.”6
Devore’s reported love of gambling may have helped him develop his coolness under pressure. He liked to gamble on the basepaths and in the field, and apparently off the field as well. Several sources said Devore was so fond of gambling that he would have no money left at the end of the season. Yet during his major-league career it was also reported that Devore spent his offseasons in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he owned a boxing club. If he had no money at the end of each season, how did he have money left to buy a business?
Devore may have been cool in the clutch, but off the field he appeared to some to be an overly trusting soul. On the train to the 1911 World Series he was very excited to meet Ty Cobb and talk hitting with him. “Gee,” Devore said to one of his teammates when they got off the train, “that fellow Cobb knows a lot about hitting. He told me some things about the American League pitchers just now and he didn’t know he was doing it.”7 Cobb gave him a lot of details about Eddie Plank, who was scheduled to start the first game.
Cobb may have targeted Devore because, as is quoted in the book Busting ’Em and Other Big League Stories, Cobb said, “Devore was a good money player, able to rise to the occasion.” In the event, Plank started the second game, not the first. Based on Cobb’s inside information, Devore went confidently to bat four times against Plank and four times struck out. Cobb liked Plank, and deliberately misled Devore. Devore hit only .167 as the Giants lost the Series in six games to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s. He also went 0-for-3 in stolen-base attempts and struck out eight times. Although disappointing, Devore’s Series average was still higher than those of fellow speed merchants Snodgrass, Merkle, and Murray.
The Giants repeated as NL champions in 1912. Devore played both left field and right field, batted 327 times in 106 games, and hit .275 with 66 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. On June 20 he stole four bases in one inning. The Giants defeated the Braves 21-12, and during a long rally in the ninth, Devore singled twice and stole second and third each time. This is still reported as fact by several sources, although it was also disputed by some researchers 50 years after it occurred.
What is certain is that Devore remained a key member of this Giants club that won its second consecutive pennant and this time played a strong Boston Red Sox team. Sportswriters called the 1912 Series a classic as soon as it ended, and it still featured on many lists of the greatest World Series of all time.
Devore led off and scored the first run of the series in the third inning of Game One. He singled, went to third on a single by Doyle, and both of them scored on a single by Red Murray. That put the Giants up 2-0 against Smoky Joe Wood, but the New Yorkers couldn’t hold on and lost the game, 4-3. The Series moved to Fenway Park for Game Two, which ended in a tie, called on account of darkness. Devore didn’t play in Game Two.
Devore saved Game Three in Fenway for the Giants with what is considered one of the greatest catches in World Series history. Rube Marquard, who had set a record for the most consecutive games won in a season earlier that year, was pitching for the Giants and took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Marquard got Tris Speaker to pop for the first out. Duffy Lewis followed with a grounder in the hole to first baseman Merkle, who flipped to Marquard, covering. Marquard, his attention on the throw, felt for first with his foot but couldn’t find it and Lewis was safe with a hit. Gardner doubled Lewis in. Boston manager Jake Stahl, up next, grounded back to the pitcher who got Gardner at third, leaving a runner on first and two down. Stahl pinch-ran for himself with Olaf Henriksen. Merkle booted a grounder by the next batter, Heinie Wagner, which put runners on first and third. More than 34,000 “cranks” in Fenway were screaming as Wagner stole second, putting runners on second and third with two out.
Boston catcher Hick Cady came to the plate and hit a hard liner to deep right. With two outs, Wagner and Henriksen took off at the crack of the bat with the tying and winning runs. Devore started running toward the ball with his back to the plate but he appeared to many observers to have no chance. The Red Sox were already celebrating their win when Devore caught up to the ball. He just barely got his glove on it, tipped the ball in the air, and caught it with his bare hand for the final out. Tris Speaker, writing a column in the Boston Globe after Game Three, said, “The catch was as good as any I ever saw.”8 This spectacular play saved the victory and tied the Series.
Devore led off seven of the eight games. His .250 batting average was fifth highest on the team, and his .419 on-base percentage tied Chief Myers for the lead among position players. He led the team in steals with four. During the (infamous for Giant fans) Eighth Game, which the Giants lost in the bottom of the tenth due to errors of commission and omission, Devore went 1-for-3, with two walks, scored the first run, and caught several balls in the outfield. He didn’t make any of the key mistakes that lost the game in the bottom of the tenth inning.
Devore started slowly in 1913, hitting .190 in his first 16 games. McGraw had another young outfielder, George Burns, whom he preferred to play. On May 22 McGraw sent Devore, third baseman Heinie Groh, pitcher Red Ames, and $20,000 to the Reds for pitcher Art Fromme. The Giants won their third straight pennant, and Devore hit a respectable .267 with 17 stolen bases for the Reds until August 22, when the Reds sold him to the Phillies. Devore hit .282 in 22 games for the Phils.
Devore had a productive 1913 despite his travels, and started well for the Phils in part-time duty in 1914, hitting .302 in 30 games. Braves manager George Stallings, looking for a speedy left-handed-hitting outfielder to platoon in his current lineup, traded infielder Jack Martin to the Phils for his former Newark Eagles star on July 3. The Braves, in last place at the time, stunned the baseball world by moving from the basement to first before the end of the season.
The acquisition of Devore allowed Stallings to platoon at all outfield positions. Devore hit only .227 during the Miracle Braves’ stretch run, but walked enough for a .327 on-base average in his 51 games. Although Devore was known as a good fielder with the Giants, it was said that manager Stallings would turn his back when the ball was hit to him, as if he couldn’t stand watching. That led some to think Stallings had no confidence in Devore’s fielding, but the real reason was Stallings’ superstitious nature. Stallings had turned his back the first time Devore caught a ball, and he kept doing it for the rest of the season as the Braves surged to the pennant.
The pennant chase didn’t keep Devore from enjoying himself when the opportunity presented. In Run, Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Maranville tells a story about going to a party at a rich man’s house in Pittsburgh with Devore and teammates Hank Gowdy, Bill James, Boss Schmidt, and some others. The host offered his guests bourbon, wine, beer, and other liquors. Rabbit and Schmidt tried to stick to beer but succumbed to temptation, while Devore and Gowdy drank nothing but scotch with champagne chasers. The next day, Rabbit and Schmidt were very hung over, but Devore and Gowdy appeared in great shape. They attributed their good health to the combination of scotch and champagne, for which they must have developed quite a tolerance. Maranville, even hung over, hit the home run that won the game.9
Devore only got one at-bat during the Braves’ upset victory over the A’s in the World Series. He struck out, in what was to be his last major-league appearance. The Braves released Devore before the next season.
With the Federal League still active as a third major league, a player with Devore’s speed and record with winning teams would have had a good chance to find a major-league job. Instead of trying out for more teams, Devore bought stock in a minor-league team in Chillicothe, Ohio, near his hometown, and became player-manager for the 1915 season. This decision looks very curious from today’s perspective, but the difference between the majors and minors wasn’t as sharp in 1915 as it is now. A successful minor-league team could make money and pay salaries to some players comparable to those on major-league teams. After playing for four major-league teams in two years, Devore may have wanted the security of knowing he’d stay with the same team for a year. If so, that wasn’t how things worked out, since the Chillicothe Babes franchise fell apart in 1915 and Devore ended up playing for other minor-league teams that year and for many years afterward.
Devore’s ability to buy into the Chillicothe franchise is another fact that makes one wonder how much he actually gambled during the season. If he gambled away his salary every season, he couldn’t have saved enough money to invest in the club. Devore may have been smarter about his wagers than his teammates gave him credit for. All the sources do agree that Devore was an easygoing young man who played hard, made friends easily, enjoyed himself off the field, and made the most out of his speed and baseball ability.
Devore hit .306 his first year back in the minors. He would call Chillicothe home for the rest of his life. In 1916 Phillies manager Pat Moran brought Devore to spring training but he couldn’t win a job with the reigning NL champions. Moran sold Devore to Milwaukee in the American Association. Devore hit .244 in 46 games for Milwaukee, and went to Topeka in the Western League, where he hit .301 and stole 19 bases. He moved with the franchise to Joplin in 1917 and hit .280 with 20 stolen bases. Devore played another nine years in the minors, with some time out for military service during World War I.
Devore enlisted in the Army in 1918 and didn’t play in Organized Baseball. He jumped back into the American Association in 1919, hitting .310 for Indianapolis, and in 1920 started the first of five consecutive years with Grand Rapids, Michigan. Devore hit for good averages and stole bases even as he approached his late 30s. He hit .344 and .355 in 1920 and ’21 while managing the team. In 1924, his last year in Grand Rapids, he hit .278 at the age of 36. In 1925 Devore returned to Chillicothe, where he managed restaurants and lunchrooms and worked as a grocer, the same job he had when he started his baseball career. He lived in Chillicothe for the rest of his life.
Devore and his wife, Catherine, had one daughter, Patricia, who became a national swimming champion. Patricia married William Harkness, who was Yale’s lacrosse coach and later athletic director in the 1950s. Devore died in Chillicothe on October 6, 1954, a month before his 67th birthday. He is buried in the New Marshfield Cemetery. His obituary was on the front page of the Chillicothe Gazette, which called Devore the greatest ballplayer in the town’s history.
This biography is included in “The Miracle Braves of 1914: Boston’s Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions” (SABR, 2014), edited by Bill Nowlin.
Arnoff, Jason, and Dave Anderson, Going, Going, Caught: Baseball’s Great Outfield Catches (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2009).
Caruso, Gary, The Braves Encyclopedia (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).
Cobb, Ty, Busting ’Em and Other Big League Stories (New York: EJ Clode 1914).
Gay, Timothy M., Tris Speaker: The Rough & Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).
Honig, Donald, Baseball America (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985).
Hynd, Noel, The Giants of the Polo Grounds (New York: Doubleday, 1988).
Maranville, Rabbit, Run, Rabbit, Run: The Hilarious and Mostly True Tales of Rabbit Maranville (Phoenix: SABR, 2012).
Mathewson, Christy, Pitching in a Pinch (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press Edition of 1912 book, 1994).
Spalding’s official baseball guide, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915.
Vaccaro, Mike, The First Fall Classic: The Red Sox, the Giants and the Cast of Players, Pugs and Politicos Who Re-Invented the World Series in 1912 (New York: Anchor Books, 2010).
Chillicothe (Ohio) Gazette
Rock Hill (South Carolina) Herald
Terre Haute (Indiana) Tribune
Baseball Hall of Fame Archives, Josh Devore file. Contains several newspaper clippings from various newspapers. The names of the papers are not listed in the file.
1 Unattributed article from Devore’s Hall of Fame player file; byline, Purves T. Knox.
2 New York Globe, October 22, 1910.
3 Christy Mathewson, Pitching in a Pinch, 44.
4 Ibid., 256-257.
5 Ibid., 266.
6 Ibid., 69.
7 Donald Honig, Baseball America, 68
8 Jason Arnoff and Dave Anderson, Going, Going, Caught, 71.
9 Rabbit Maranville, Run, Rabbit, Run, 21.