Clark Griffith was prescient. At the end of the 1914 season, with the Philadelphia A’s advancing to represent the American League in the World Series, the Washington Senators manager told reporters, “The best ball club in the game today will not take part in the coming world’s series.”1 He gave that distinction to the Boston Red Sox, a team that had finished 8½ games behind Philadelphia, but 10½ in front of his own 81-73 Senators. “The changes that have made the Red Sox such a wonderful ball club were not made until the American League race had ceased to be a race,” Griffith said. “With recent acquisitions the Red Sox are clearly the best balanced ball club in the game today.”2
Griffith especially liked the Boston pitching staff, singling out Ernie Shore, who had gone 10-2 with a 2.00 ERA after being acquired from the Baltimore Orioles of the International League on July 9, 1914. The skipper did not mention another Baltimore pitcher who arrived in the same transaction, Babe Ruth. The lefty had also debuted with Boston in 1914.3
Legendary Boston baseball writer Tim Murnane saw promise in Ruth as the Red Sox trained in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1915. Starting on the mound for the backups against the regulars, Ruth went “three splendid innings” before a fourth-inning uprising. In his only at-bat he smashed “a savage wallop” home run off Carl Mays that was “fully enjoyed by the crowd.”4 Ruth, 20, then settled into the Red Sox’ 1915 pitching rotation, going 18-8 in 217⅔ innings. Boston fulfilled Griffith’s prediction by winning 101 games and the American League pennant before dispatching the Philadelphia Phillies in five games in the 1915 World Series.
The Red Sox enjoyed such solid pitching that Ruth appeared in that Series only as a pinch-hitter.5 But his manager, Bill Carrigan, had no doubt about Ruth’s mound ability during spring training in 1916. “Ruth will be one of the very best pitchers in the league this year,” Carrigan said. “He is stronger than ever. He was fit and capable to pitch in the world’s series, but we had three other men all ready and fit.”6
True to prediction, the 21-year-old Ruth rolled off four straight wins to open the 1916 season. By July 18 he was 14-5, but then took losses in four of his next five decisions. His only win in that string was a two-hit shutout at Detroit on July 31. After Ruth was hit hard at St. Louis on August 4, he pinch-hit unsuccessfully once and otherwise sat idle until August 12, when he was Carrigan’s starting pitcher for the opener of a three-game series at Fenway Park with Griffith’s visiting seventh-place Senators. Although Ruth yielded only one run in seven innings and Boston won, 2-1, Dutch Leonard got the win in relief against Walter Johnson, who also appeared in relief.7
That midsummer of 1916 saw the Red Sox in a tight race for their second consecutive AL pennant. The August 12 win left them two games ahead of the Chicago White Sox in a closely bunched top four, but three days later they were only a game and a half in front of the second-place Cleveland Indians.
The Senators were still in town for the final game of the series the following Tuesday, August 15. Ruth once again got the ball,8 this time against Johnson, and if the weekday crowd of 5,4679 sought a classic pitchers’ duel, they got it.
Hometown baseball writers had begun referring to the Red Sox as “the champions,” but Paul Shannon of the Boston Post gave Johnson, 28, his due: “Seldom has Johnson been seen on better advantage, and not once on this long and dubious trip away from home had he pitched such ball.”10
Jack Barry seemed to get Boston off to a good start with a one-out double in the bottom of the first, but advanced only to third base. In the third, right fielder Sam Rice lost Ruth’s fly ball in the sun — it was a two-base error, but like Barry, Ruth only got to third. Meanwhile, Ruth was in a “bad hole” as early as the Washington second inning, when it took “a fine catch off [George] McBride” by Harry Hooper in right field to close out the half-inning with runners on second and third.11 A walk to Duffy Lewis and a sacrifice advanced a runner to second base in the Boston fourth, but Tillie Walker couldn’t deliver; the game remained scoreless.
Johnson failed to help himself in the Washington fifth. Eddie Ainsmith doubled off the scoreboard to open the half-inning, and McBride bunted him to third. With one out and Ainsmith on third, Johnson popped out. Ruth got Ray Morgan to end the threat.
The Senators came right back against Ruth in their half of the sixth. With two outs and Rice on first base, “[Howie] Shanks dropped a Texas leaguer in right. Rice went to third, and when Hooper’s throw got by [third baseman Larry] Gardner, he tried to score.”12 Gardner recovered the ball in foul territory and gunned Rice down at the plate — the Boston Post deemed this “Washington’s most promising chance to score” in the game, featuring the play in the first of four frames of a page-width sports cartoon accompanying its game story.13
Gardner singled for Boston’s third hit off Johnson in the seventh and reached second base on a sacrifice, but nothing further developed. Neither team threatened in the eighth, either. Red Sox catcher Pinch Thomas helped Ruth out of mild trouble in the ninth by nailing Danny Moeller14 on an attempted steal of second base to abruptly end the inning as Shanks struck out.15
Boston roused the home fans in the bottom of the ninth when Gardner tripled to left-center with two outs and Chick Shorten pinch-hit for Everett Scott. Shorten, though, tapped back to Johnson; the game went into extra innings still scoreless.
The Senators ran into another out at home plate in the 10th as Ainsmith tried to score from second base on Johnson’s groundball to Hal Janvrin, who had replaced Scott at shortstop. Janvrin relayed to Barry at second for a force out, and Barry’s throw home completed a snazzy 6-4-2 double play. Boston got runners to second and third with two out in the 11th but Johnson retired Gardner. Ruth “hit a ball almost into the center field seats”16 in the 12th that Clyde Milan ran down; it was deep enough to advance Janvrin to third base with two outs.17 Johnson again prevailed, getting Hooper on a popup.
Sharp defense helped Ruth pitch around an error and his own balk in the Washington 13th as first baseman Dick Hoblitzell snagged Rip Williams’s would-be extra-base hit and threw to Janvrin to double Ray Morgan off second base.
And although it had been Ruth — pitching in and out of trouble and rescued by timely defense —who had looked the most vulnerable as the innings unfolded, it was Johnson who finally yielded. The Big Train gave up only four hits through 12 innings,18 but Barry reached him to open the Boston 13th with an infield single off Johnson’s hand.19 Lewis and Hoblitzell made outs, but Barry hustled to third on a single to center field by Walker. Gardner, who hadn’t been able to deliver in the 11th, then drilled the third single of the half-inning up the middle to score Barry and close out the epic for Ruth, 1-0.20
Ruth bumped his season record to 16-921 with the win and bested Johnson again, 2-1, when the two matched up in Washington on September 9. They were at it yet again just three days later in Washington. But this time Johnson exacted some revenge — Ruth left the game after 8⅔ innings, while Johnson persevered; the Senators got him a 4-2 win in 10 innings over Shore, pitching in relief.
The Red Sox went on to win the American League pennant by two games over the White Sox and met the Brooklyn Robins in the World Series. They once again prevailed, four games to one, for their second consecutive title, amply fulfilling Clark Griffith’s “best ball club” prediction at the end of the 1914 season. And this time Ruth did get a turn on the mound. Showing the same kind of endurance he had on August 15 against Johnson, he gave up a run to Brooklyn in the first inning of Game Two,22 then shut the Robins down for the next 13 innings as the Red Sox won, 2-1, in the bottom of the 14th inning.23
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for their respective box scores of this game as well as player, team, and season pages and batting and pitching logs. All cited newspaper items were accessed at Newspapers.com.
1 Unattributed wire report, “Red Sox Best Club in Game,” Great Falls (Montana) Tribune, October 3, 1914: 9.
3 Ruth, age 19, made his debut with Boston on July 11, 1914. He started against Cleveland at Fenway Park and went seven innings in a 4-3 Red Sox win. Three days later, also against Cleveland at Fenway, Shore pitched a complete-game 2-1 win in his own debut. Ruth started again on July 16 against Detroit, was gone after three innings, and was sent to Providence of the International League until he was recalled for two more appearances in October. Ruth pitched 23 innings for the Red Sox in 1914; Shore pitched 139⅔ in his partial season.
4 T.H. Murnane, “Sox Get Seven in Their Fourth,” Boston Globe, March 24, 1915: 7, 23.
7 Walter Johnson, “The Big Train,” pitched for Washington from 1907 through 1927. A true workhorse even for the era, he pitched 369⅔ innings in 1916 in 48 games, with 38 starts and 36 complete games, posting a 25-20 record for a 76-77 team. He led the American League in innings pitched for four consecutive seasons (1913-16). Johnson was a member of the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame class selected in 1936 and inducted in 1939.
8 But it wasn’t from Carrigan. The manager was away from the team attending to family duties and “[was] not able to be on deck for a couple of days.” “Bill Carrigan’s Father-in-Law Dead,” Boston Post, August 16, 1916: 10.
9 Washington-Boston AL box score, Boston Post, August 16, 1916: 10.
10 Paul H. Shannon, “Red Sox Beat Out Johnson,” Boston Post, August 16, 1916: 1, 10. The Washington road trip had begun on July 25 in Detroit and moved on through Cleveland, Chicago, and St. Louis before the Senators arrived in Boston. Going into the August 15 game, Johnson had pitched in six games on the trip, with a 2-4 record.
13 Page-width, four-frame, sports cartoon signed “Scott,” Boston Post, August 16, 1916: 10.
14 Moeller had pinch-hit for Sam Rice and reached base on a force out.
17 The Milan catch warranted the third frame in the Post’s sports cartoon.
18 “Ruth Outpitches Johnson,” New York Times, August 16, 1916: 8.
20 The Boston Post box score that accompanies Paul Shannon’s game story, cited in Note 9, notes “one out when winning run was scored.” Shannon’s game story, which accounts for two outs (by Duffy Lewis and Hoblitzell) between Barry’s single and the single by Walker that moved Barry to third and brought up Gardner, is correct, given the Boston batting order and the fact that Gardner had the only run batted in in the game. The box score printed with the New York Times item cited in Note 18 correctly states that there were two outs when the winning run scored.
21 The 21-year-old Ruth led the 1916 American League in ERA (1.75), games started (40), and shutouts (9).
22 The first-inning run came on an inside-the-park home run by Hy Myers with two outs. Ruth drove in his own tying run in the third inning on a groundout to second base that scored Everett Scott, who had tripled.
23 The Red Sox played their home games in both the 1915 and 1916 World Series at Braves Field rather than Fenway Park, taking advantage of the National League ballpark’s greater seating capacity. Glenn Stout, Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark (Boston: Mariner Books, 2011), 340. The attendance on a Monday afternoon for Game Two of the 1916 Series at Braves Field was 47,373. As noted, this regular-season Tuesday matchup between Ruth and Johnson had attracted 5,467 to Fenway Park, which, from its opening in 1912 until extensive renovation between the 1933 and 1934 seasons, had a seating capacity of approximately 27,000. (Fenway Park entry, Ballparks of Baseball.com, accessed April 6, 2018).