While the Chicago Cubs were cruising to their second straight NL pennant in 1907, the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Giants were battling for second place when they kicked off a six-game series at the Polo Grounds on August 22. Player-manager Fred Clarke’s squad from the Smoky City won the opener in a laugher, 20-5, to pull into a dead heat with the Giants with identical 63-44 records, though 15½ games behind the Cubs. Barney Dreyfuss, the Pirates’ German-born owner, had offered his players an additional incentive to finish runner-up: a $500 bonus.1
The league’s fiercest rivalry thus far in the twentieth century, the Pirates and Giants had combined to capture five straight pennants (1901-1905), but both were slumping since the beginning of August. The Bucs had lost 11 of their last 18 games before their welcomed offensive explosion. Skipper John McGraw’s Giants squad had dropped 10 of its last 20.
In the first game of the Friday afternoon twin bill, necessitated by a postponed game in May, the Giants came back from a two-run deficit to tie the score in the ninth, 2-2. Red-hot Honus Wagner, who entered the game hitting .429 (30-for-70) since the beginning of the month, though hitless in the Pirates’ 22-hit barrage the day before, led off the 10th with a double off reliever Iron Man Joe McGinnity and scored the go-ahead run in an eventual 4-2 victory.
Taking the mound for the Giants in the second game was a Pirates’ castoff, 27-year-old right-hander Mike Lynch, who was attempting to resuscitate his once-promising career. He had won 32 games in his first two seasons (1904-1905) but had struggled since then and drew his release in June 1907. He was 2-1 with New York, pushing his career slate to 42-27.
Lynch’s downfall in Pittsburgh helped pave the way for 26-year-old Howie Camnitz, who had sipped a cup of coffee with the Pirates in 1904 and 1906, going 2-4. The slightly built 5-foot-9, 165-pound right-hander had made his season debut with the Pirates in June and had since compiled a 6-4 slate. Despite Camnitz’s small stature, Baseball Magazine noted that he was known for “great speed, sharp curves, and excellent control.”2 Control, however, proved to be Camnitz’s biggest challenge in this outing.
Though doubleheaders in the latter stages of the season were common, Friday twin bills were rare. It was the first for the Pirates and second for the Giants. Notwithstanding the ideal weather conditions with temperatures approaching 80 degrees, and given the extra-inning affair in the opener,3 skippers Clarke and McGraw agreed “beforehand,” according to the New York Times, to end the second game after five innings.4 A night on the town in Gotham City beckoned.
After both hurlers set down the side in order in the first inning, Wagner drew a walk to lead off the Pittsburgh second. En route to leading the NL in stolen bases (61) for the fourth time in the last seven years, Wagner swiped second and moved to third on Alan Storke’s two-out grounder, but was left stranded.
The Pirates went ahead in the third, and for the second time in the doubleheader, the Flying Dutchman connected for the pivotal hit. After Harry Smith had led off with a single and stolen second, both Camnitz and Goat Anderson fanned. Tommy Leach and Clarke drew walks to load the bases for Wagner.
Hans hit what the Times described as a “slow and deceptive bounder” to third.5 Smith was already in motion and crossed the plate while Wagner beat Art Devlin’s throw to first. Dismissed as a “fluke” by the Times and a “slow scratch” by the Sun, the single nonetheless produced the game’s only run.6
With the bags still juiced, Ed Abbaticchio fanned for the third out, and Pittsburgh’s offense shut down after that point. The Pirates did not have a baserunner in the fourth or fifth, the latter against Christy Mathewson, who had entered in relief.
Camnitz battled control problems to protect the lead. His first sign of wildness occurred with the game still scoreless and one out in the second, when Camnitz beaned Frank Bowerman in the left temple.7 According to the Pittsburgh Post, the 38-year-old veteran catcher lay unconscious at the plate for several minutes. He was eventually revived and helped to the dugout. The Evening World reported that an ambulance arrived in the fourth inning to take Bowerman to a nearby hospital.8 He was replaced by Roger Bresnahan, the club’s primary catcher. (Bowerman missed more than two weeks and returned on September 9. Apparently still suffering the effects of the beaning, he batted just .127 [7-for 55] the rest of the way, dropping his season average from .289 to .260.)
Camnitz worked around five walks in the next two frames, helped by some heady fielding to hold the Giants hitless. Rookie Laughing Larry Doyle led off the third with a walk. After Lynch grounded to first, Wagner fielded Spike Shannon’s grounder and caught Doyle in a rundown between second and third while Shannon advanced to second. George Browne walked, but Devlin fanned to end the frame.
In the fourth, Camnitz walked the first two batters, Cy Seymour and Bresnahan. Both runners advanced on Bill Dahlen’s two-out grounder back to the mound. After Doyle drew a free pass to load the bags, McGraw sent in Sammy Strang to pinch-hit for Lynch, knowing the game would end after five innings. The plan backfired as Strang’s grounder forced Doyle at second.
A Kentucky native, Camnitz breezed through the fifth and final frame. He fanned Shannon, then induced consecutive routine grounders by Browne and Devlin, both of which Wagner scooped up and tossed to first, ending the game in 1 hour and 12 minutes.
Camnitz, who “never allowed a semblance of a hit,” reported the Pittsburgh Post, emerged as the star of the Pirates’ twin-bill sweep.9 He walked five, hit a batter, and fanned two while facing 21 Giants. The Sun suggested that “some piquant fielding by Wagner was one explanation of New York’s failure to get a hit.”10 Wagner was credited with three assists and two putouts. “The Pirates gave the Giants an exhibition of how to play baseball,” the New York Tribune opined about the team’s relentless approach in both games.11
Epilogue: Two weeks later, on September 5, Camnitz flirted with a no-hitter in Exposition Park in Pittsburgh, yielding only a leadoff single to Frank Chance in the eighth in a 5-0 victory to record the first of four career one-hitters.12 Camnitz finished the season with a 13-8 record (2.15 ERA) and emerged as a star, winning at least 20 games three times (1909, 1911, 1912). He tossed 20 shutouts in his career, but never a regulation nine-inning no-hitter.
The Pirates’ sweep increased their streak of 15 consecutive victories on 14 Fridays since the beginning of the season. That streak ended against the Cubs the next week in Chicago. Dreyfuss’s incentive paid off: The Pirates finished in second place (91-63), while the Giants slumped to fourth (82-71).
Camnitz’s name adorned the list of no-hit pitchers for 84 years. In 1991 Commissioner Fay Vincent convened and chaired the Committee for Statistical Accuracy, which altered the definition of a no-hitter to include only those games that last at least nine innings and end with no hits. An estimated 36 abbreviated no-hitters were removed from the ranks, including Camnitz’s.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and SABR.org.
1 “Two Wins Put Pirates Back in Second Place,” Pittsburgh Post, August 24, 1907: 6.
2 Baseball Magazine, December 1909: 69, quoted from Bill James and Rob Neyer, The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (New York: Fireside, 2004), 155.
3 “The Weather Report,” New-York Tribune, August 24, 1907: 7.
4 “Giants Vanquished in Double-Header,” New York Times, August 24, 1907: 5.
5 “Giants Vanquished in Double-Header.”
6 “New York Drops a Couple,” The Sun (New York), August 24, 1907: 6.
7 “The Baseball Pennant Fight,” New-York Tribune, August 24, 1907: 10.
8 “Giants Beaten Twice Lose Second Place,” Evening World (New York), August 23, 1907: 4.
9 “Two Wins Put Pirates Back in Second Place.”
10 “New York Drops a Couple.”
11 “The Baseball Pennant Fight.”
12 “Only 28 Cubs Batsmen Faced Howard Camnitz,” Pittsburgh Post, September 6, 1907: 9. On September 20, rookie Nick Maddox pitched the first officially recognized no-hitter in Pirates’ history in a 2-0 win over the Brooklyn Superbas at Exposition Park.