July 30, 1917: Babe Ruth twirls 4-hit gem against White Sox
One wears Sox of burnished Red
And one wears Sox of White;
Which pair will finish out ahead
And cop the pennant fight?
— from Songs of Rooter’s Row1
The Boston Red Sox won the American League pennant in 1916, finishing just two games ahead of the Chicago White Sox. The rivalry continued into 1917, and when the teams met at Fenway Park on Monday, July 30, 1917, the White Sox were in first place with a two-game lead over the Red Sox.
Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice compared these teams in an article published in the Washington Herald on July 20, 1917. Based on the views he expressed in that article, here is how he might have sized up the starting lineups on July 30. The numbers below are 1917 season statistics through games of July 29, from Retrosheet.org.
- Boston’s 22-year-old southpaw, Babe Ruth (16-6, 2.13 ERA), was superior to Chicago’s hurler, Lefty Williams (11-6, 3.31 ERA).
- Although neither catcher was hitting much, Chicago’s Ray Schalk (.220) was better defensively than Boston’s Sam Agnew (.230).
- Boston’s Del Gainer (.272) and Chicago’s Chick Gandil (.270) were even at first base.
- At second base, Eddie Collins (.276) of the White Sox was superior, but Red Sox player-manager Jack Barry (.181) was quite resourceful. The two played together as part of the famous “$100,000 infield” of the Philadelphia Athletics from 1911 to 1914.
- At shortstop, Boston’s Everett Scott (.231) was one of the finest fielders in baseball, while Chicago’s Swede Risberg (.223) was a rookie getting his feet wet.
- Each team had a top-notch third baseman – Chicago with Buck Weaver (.291), and Boston with Larry Gardner (.282).
- In left field, Chicago’s renowned slugger, Joe Jackson (.269), had the edge over Boston’s Duffy Lewis (.276), despite Jackson’s batting slump and Lewis’s superior fielding. Fenway Park had an incline at the base of the left-field wall known as “Duffy’s Cliff,” which Lewis had mastered.
- In center field, Chicago’s Happy Felsch (.291) was a solid hitter and an outstanding fielder, and rated ahead of Boston’s Jimmy Walsh (.295).
- In right field, Boston’s Harry Hooper (.255) was one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, and rated ahead of Chicago’s Shano Collins (.247).
Indeed, the teams were evenly matched. Anxious to see the showdown, 11,151 fans attended the opening game of a four-game series, on a sweltering 98-degree afternoon.2
After Ruth had retired the White Sox in the top of the first inning, the Red Sox rallied against Williams in the bottom half. Walsh led off with a walk and advanced to second base on Barry’s sacrifice bunt. Gainer doubled to the wall in left-center field, scoring Walsh. Gardner lined the ball to right field, and Shano Collins “came in fast and speared Gardner’s drive.”3 Hooper hit the ball sharply back at Williams, who knocked it down and then threw wildly to first; Gainer scored and Hooper advanced to second base on the errant throw. Lewis hit a “wicked single” to third base that Weaver managed to stop, holding Hooper at second.4 Shano ended the rally by making “a pretty running capture of Scott’s drive to short right.”5
Jackson led off the top of the second inning with a triple to the right-center field gap, barely past the reach of Hooper. Felsch followed with a drive to deep left field, and Lewis “rushed up on his own cliff and made a one-hand catch.”6 Jackson tagged up and scored. After Gandil grounded out, Risberg and Schalk singled. The weak-hitting Williams was due up next. He did not look good in his first inning of work, and with an opportunity to score more runs off Ruth, White Sox manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland sent Fred McMullin in to pinch-hit for Williams. Ruth got McMullin to ground out to Barry at second base to end the threat.
Dave Danforth (6-3, 2.32 ERA), a crafty left-hander, replaced Williams on the mound in the bottom of the second inning. Danforth was known for his assortment of trick pitches, including the infamous “shine ball.” Agnew led off with a single. Ruth, who was Boston’s leading hitter with a .370 batting average, dropped a sacrifice bunt, sending Agnew to second base. Walsh lined a single into right field, and the ball bounced away from Shano. Agnew rounded third and was halfway home when Schalk received the relay throw. Agnew reversed course and made it safely back to third base when Schalk threw wildly to Weaver. Barry followed with a long sacrifice fly to Felsch in center field, scoring Agnew. After two innings, Boston led 3-1.
There was no scoring over the next six innings, as Ruth allowed only one hit – a single by Felsch – and Danforth gave up two singles, both by Barry. In the eighth inning, with Barry on second base, Gainer drilled a Danforth pitch to deep left field. “Jackson ran clear to the top of the left-field bank and speared what should have been a triple...”7 Then he wheeled and threw the ball to Eddie Collins at second base to double-up Barry.
The White Sox, trailing by two runs, sent the heart of their batting order to face Ruth in the ninth inning. After Weaver led off with a walk, Ruth had him picked off first base, but Gainer dropped the ball and Weaver advanced to second. Ruth was still going strong. Eddie Collins popped out, Jackson struck out, and Felsch flied out to end the game.8 The final score was Boston 3, Chicago 1. Ruth improved his record to 17-6 with his impressive four-hitter. It was the sixth victory in a row for the Red Sox, who were now only one game behind the White Sox.
Barry gave two balls from the game to Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, who planned “to send them to a chemist for analysis.” The balls were “smeared with some oily liquid.” It appeared that “Danforth was ‘fixing’ the pill.”9
1 Washington Herald, July 20, 1917.
2 Boston Daily Globe, July 31, 1917.
4 Boston Post, July 31, 1917.
6 Boston Daily Globe, July 31, 1917.
7 Boston Post, July 31, 1917.
8 Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1917.
9 Boston Daily Globe, July 31, 1917.