This article was written by Jeff Findley
On July 3, 1910, the reigning world champion Pittsburgh Pirates were visiting Cincinnati, completing the final contest of a five-game series with the Reds, the first games of which had been played in Pittsburgh. The third-place Pirates were just a half-game ahead of Cincinnati in the standings but, of more significance, trailed the Chicago Cubs by 7½ games in the National League race. An individual game in the middle of a long major-league season held minimal prominence in that day’s news cycle, because most newspapers were focused on the heavyweight boxing match between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries, the anointed “Battle of the Century,” which was scheduled to take place the following day.
But an uncharacteristic performance by the Pirates’ Owen “Chief” Wilson made the day a memorable one for baseball fans.
The location was Cincinnati’s Palace of the Fans, a ballpark that hosted the city’s major-league baseball team from 1902 through 1911. Unique in that it sported what Reds historians Greg Rhodes and John Erardi called “the most distinctive grandstand ever built at a major league baseball park,”1 the structure was inspired by the neoclassical White City structures at the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago. This location in Cincinnati would later make way for Redland Field in 1912, and ultimately Crosley Field in 1934, the Reds’ home until Riverfront Stadium hosted its first major-league game in June 1970.
The visiting Pirates sent Howie Camnitz to the mound, a 28-year-old right-hander who won 25 games the previous season. At 4-5, he had yet to match his 1909 brilliance, and in fact had given up four runs in a start that lasted just four innings two days earlier, a 4-1 loss at the Pirates’ own Forbes Field.
The Reds countered with Harry Gaspar, who sported a modest 7-6 record after posting wins in his previous two outings. And for three innings, the right-handed Gaspar continued his effectiveness, suffering little damage at the hands of the Pirates except for a bunt single by Wilson.
But when the Chief stepped to the plate with two outs in the fourth, a crooked number quickly adorned the scoreboard.
From the Pittsburgh Post: “Wilson’s four-ply hit vanished the Reds defense into thin air. For four rounds after Billy Klem, the master of ceremonies, had introduced the principals, Camnitz and (George) Gibson for Pittsburgh, and Gaspar and (Larry) McLean for Cincinnati, the game progressed in such a scientific manner that spectators were in doubt about the outcome. Then Wilson got busy. With two down in the fourth and (Honus) Wagner on second the Texan successfully robbed Gaspar of his good name as a pitcher, wheeled Wagner home and made the entire circuit while (Mike) Mitchell was returning the ball to the infield.”2
Gaspar managed to hang around until the sixth inning, but Wilson’s third hit of the day, a double, drove in Ham Hyatt with the final run of the frame after Fred Clarke and Wagner had previously scored. Gaspar managed to retire Gibson and Camnitz to end the inning, but his day was terminated after he allowed five runs and nine hits.
For Camnitz’s part, the Pirates pitcher hadn’t allowed a run through six frames, a vast improvement over his performance against the Reds two days earlier. He wasn’t dominant, scattering 12 hits in the contest, but the Kentucky-born hurler was able to keep Cincinnati from mounting a serious rally, allowing single runs in the seventh and ninth innings, after the outcome had presumably been decided. It was the most safeties allowed in a game by Camnitz in his mediocre 1910 campaign (he also allowed 12 hits in a win over Boston on May 18), but he still tallied a win for his efforts.
With three innings remaining, Cincinnati manager Clark Griffith sent Rube Benton to the hill. An interesting character, Benton has been described as “a hard-throwing, fast-living left-hander” who “had a reputation for drinking, gambling, and driving too fast.”3 The Reds had purchased his contract a few days earlier (he was a Class-D player at the time), and this represented only his second appearance in the big leagues.
It didn’t go well, as intimated in the Pittsburgh Post: “Like all bush leaguers Benton relies on his alleged ability to strike out opposing batsmen. The minor leaguers fish at balls which do not come over the plate, but the ball players on the Pittsburgh and Chicago clubs just fold their arms and let the Rube hang himself with his own rope. In language more easily understood they wait and wait and Rube walks and walks.”4
Benton did walk four in three innings, and he also surrendered five hits, including a single by Tommy Leach and an RBI double by Clarke, the second and third batters he faced. Three Pirates scored in the seventh before Benton struck out Gibson to end the attack, and the Pirates had jetted to an 8-0 lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, Cincinnati finally tallied a run, on consecutive singles by Mike Mitchell, Dode Paskert, and McLean, three of the 12 hits allowed by Camnitz in the contest. Despite the offensive prowess shown throughout the contest, the Reds had only themselves to rely on, as Camnitz didn’t issue a single free pass, nor did his fielders commit an error.
Unsympathetic, Pittsburgh answered with two more runs in the eighth on two walks and two hits, including Clarke’s third counter of the game. The runs pushed the Pirates’ lead to 10-1, and although the top of the ninth was scoreless, with one out, Wilson delivered a triple to complete the cycle. He was left stranded at third when the inning concluded.
An insignificant run in the final frame for the Reds came from hits by Dick Hoblitzell, Mitchell, and McLean, and the Pirates left town with a 10-2 victory, heading directly to Chicago for a four-game series with the league-leading Cubs.
Cincinnati’s hurlers were anything but stellar, with Gaspar and Benton each allowing five runs, while the Pirates’ Camnitz avenged his subpar outing of two days earlier.
Offensively, the Reds’ McLean had three safeties, as did Clarke for the Pittsburgh side. Wagner scored three times while being credited with two hits, but it was the Chief who stole the headlines with 10 total bases and a hit of each variety.
Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter Jack Ryder summed up the contest this way:
“It was one of those games which reminded one of the champs of last season, with everyone hitting the ball hard and getting a lot of runs from their hard poling. Chief Wilson had a great picnic at the bat, a regular Fourth of July celebration all by himself. He cut in with every variety of bingle, from a single to a home run. Five times up, he got on every time, making a single, a double, a triple and a home run, and reaching first the other time on a fumble by Woodruff.”5
The win kept the Pirates in third place in the National League standings, but they never got within reasonable distance of the Cubs, who won the pennant in 1910 by 12 games over the second-place New York Giants. Pittsburgh was a distant third, 17½ games back.
Notably, Chief Wilson’s outstanding performance was the only time a major-league player hit for the cycle in Palace of the Fans ballpark.
This article appears in “Moments of Joy and Heartbreak: 66 Significant Episodes in the History of the Pittsburgh Pirates” (SABR, 2018), edited by Jorge Iber and Bill Nowlin. To read more stories from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.
1 Jeff Suess, “Reds’ Legendary Palace of the Fans Symbol of Baseball’s Growth,” Cincinnati.com, April 7, 2017, https://cincinnati.com/story/news/2017/04/05/reds-legendary-palace-fans-symbol-baseballs-growth/100063096/, September 4, 2017.
2 “World’s Champions Have Easy Time Beating Reds,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, July 4, 1910.
3 Bill Bishop, “Rube Benton,” posted online at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/36b8167d.
4 “World’s Champions Have Easy Time.”
5 Jack Ryder, “After Six Rounds Against the Pirates, Mr. Gaspar Failed to Hold the Champs Safely,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 4, 1910.