On June 4, 1911, the Cincinnati Reds were “running the circuit like the drivers in the big auto race,” in the words of Jack Ryder of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The inaugural Indianapolis 500 had just taken place five days before, so the roaring of the engines around the track was fresh in the minds of sports fans, and an easy comparison to make for this day’s game. The Reds “drove three Boston pitchers into kingdom come,” racking up 26 runs on 23 hits with six stolen bases while being helped by 11 walks and eight Boston errors.1 A game like this today would seemingly never end, but on this day, it was over in 2 hours and 5 minutes. Seeing no caution flag, the Reds ran one Boston pitcher right out of baseball and another lasted only another month.
The Boston Rustlers, later known as the Braves but now named for their owner, William Hepburn Russell, finished 5-10 in April, then dropped 14 in a row and were 11-32 and easily entrenched in last place. Boston sent Cecil Ferguson to the mound. Ferguson, in his fourth season with Boston, had a career 28-43 record and had suffered through a 5-23 season for Boston in 1909. Ferguson felt his 7-7 record in 1910 was worthy of a salary bonus and had held out early in the season, threatening to make his offseason plumbing business his main occupation. He was convinced otherwise, however, and made his first appearance of the season. Unclogging a sink would probably have been a better decision. Buck Herzog, Boston’s shortstop, batting .325 at the time, was unable to play due to injury. He would be dealt to the Giants the following month.
The Cincinnati Reds had played a little under .500 so far this season, coming into this game in sixth place at 19-23. Taking the mound was Frank Smith, who had been acquired from the Rustlers for cash less than a month before. Smith had been shaky for Cincinnati, dropping his first four starts and coming into the game 2-6. Called “piano mover” due to his boasts of carrying baby grands up and down stairs, Smith wouldn’t find this game nearly so strenuous.
Cy Rigler was the home-plate umpire while Bill Finneran umpired at first base. The two teams split the first two games of this four-game series, Boston taking the opener, 8-5, and Cincinnati winning the second, 15-4. A crowd of 7,000 came to the Palace of the Fans on June 4. They could have used other types of fans that day as the sweltering temperature hit 95 degrees.2 Severe storms blew through northern Ohio that day and devastated towns like Norwalk, where members of a local baseball team scattered when winds blew apart the grandstand. When they sought shelter under a tree, one was killed by a lightning strike and Ohioans remembered this storm for decades.3
Boston went quickly and quietly in the first. Then the onslaught began. Bob Beschner led off with a walk and stole second. Dick Egan singled and also stole second, then a walk to Johnny Bates loaded the bases. Dick Hoblitzell grounded to second, where Bill Sweeney made a wild throw to the plate and Bescher scored. Egan streaked for home as Boston catcher Bill Rariden tracked it down, throwing too high for Ferguson to handle, and Egan scored. But there was still more to come on this one play. The ball sailed toward the grandstand (the accounts are uncertain as to whether it was on the first- or third-base side) and no one was backing up the play. By the time the ball was retrieved not only had Bates scored but Hoblitzell himself came all the way around to score on what today would probably be called a Little League grand slam. And still there were no outs.
Mike Mitchell doubled, Tom Downey tripled, and Eddie Grant doubled to push the lead to 6-0. Boston manager Fred Tenney brought in Cliff Curtis from the bullpen. Ferguson retired no one, surrendering four hits and six runs.4 Curtis’s first offering was a wild pitch that Rariden tracked down but Grant was already coming home and scored as he again threw wild. Larry McLean singled but Smith, the pitcher, flied out, and finally there was one out. Bescher singled, but Egan struck out. Bates singled to load the bases. Hoblitzell again grounded to second, but this time Sweeney handled the play and the inning was finally over. Cincinnati led, 7-0.
The second inning was the calm before the next storm as the Reds poured on another five runs in the third. Third baseman Harry Steinfeldt made a two-out error and the Reds followed with four hits and two walks which, combined with two more Boston errors, gave the Reds a 12-0 lead.
In the fourth Tenney turned to Jiggs Parson to mop up Boston’s mess. As if there hadn’t been enough damage done, the Boston Globe sarcastically quipped, “Parson was called upon to show how wild a pitcher really can be.”5 Parson had debuted with Boston in 1910 but this, his 17th appearance, would be his last in the majors. He certainly didn’t go out in style, either. Jiggs allowed three hits and a walk to allow three more runs as the Reds were now up 15-0.
Sensing a great opportunity to rest some regulars, Reds manager Clark Griffith sent in 29-year-old rookie Barney Schreiber. Schreiber had been bouncing around the minor leagues since 1906 and was making his third and final major-league appearance. In his major-league debut, a 21-5 loss to Philadelphia, Schreiber had allowed eight hits and seven runs in three innings. On this day, staked to a 15-0 lead, Schreiber walked one and surrendered hits to Steinfeldt, Rariden, and Parson to let Boston “back in the game,” cutting the lead to 15-2. Cincinnati added single runs in the sixth and seventh innings while Boston added a run in the top of the seventh on an error, a walk, and a groundout. The Reds led 17-3 after seven innings.
Cincinnati could not afford to take any chances, even with the enormous lead. Just four days earlier they led St. Louis 8-0 in the sixth only to watch the Cardinals score 15 from then on and prevail, 15-8. On this day, the Reds sent 12 men to the plate in the eighth with nine of them scoring after two were out. All 12 of those batters reached first base. Hoblitzell was hit by a pitch, stole second, and reached third on yet another bad throw from Rariden. Mitchell then smashed hit number five on the day to score Hoblitzell. Jimmy Esmond, who had replaced Downey at short, drew a walk. Grant then lofted an inside-the-park home run to right field. McLean singled and Schreiber was hit by a pitch. Bescher and Dave Altizer (who had replaced Egan at second) both drew walks, forcing in a run. Fred Beck, who had replaced Bates in center, tripled to clear the bases. Hoblitzell, at bat again, followed with a drive he assumed was enough for a home run, but “Rigler mercifully called him out at the plate” after a lackadaisical rounding of third, according to the Globe. Reds players just wanted to go home at this point. “It might have been worse, however, except for the fact that the Reds played foolishly on the bases toward the end,” the Globe writer said. “It was fearfully hot and nobody seemed to want to stand in the sun on the bases.”6
“His curve ball broke beautifully and his famous spitter had the Rustlers completely fooled,” wrote the Globe about the Rustlers’ former pitcher, Smith.7 Smith went four innings but was awarded the victory. No surprise, Boston finished with the highest ERA (5.08) and most errors (347) in the National League.
The Enquirer cartoonist depicted a Civil War-themed “Tenney’s Retreat,” with the Boston manager on a horse pulling “The Cellar Champs” through Redville” and into the waiting soldiers called “Our boys.”8 At 44-107, the Rustlers not only lost this battle, but also the war of 1911.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and the following:
“Baseball Notes,” Boston Globe, April 20, 1911: 7.
Bernstein, Sam. “Frank Smith.” SABR Baseball BioProject. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bb6d2cab. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
Findley, Jeff. “Cecil Ferguson,” in Bill Nowlin and Emmet R. Nowlin, eds., 20-Game Losers (Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 2017), 108.
1 Jack Ryder, “Banged,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 5, 1911: 8.
2 As reported on the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer, June 5, 1911.
3 “Cloudburst,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 5, 1911: 1; “June 4, 1911 Wind Storm,” Wayne County Historical Society of Ohio. Retrieved October 6, 2018. https://waynehistoricalohio.org/2013/08/01/june-4-1911-wind-storm/.
4 Retrosheet’s game account does not list which runs were earned. This author concludes three of the first four runs were earned, with only Hoblitzell’s run being unearned. Mitchell, Downey, and Grant all scored earned runs, to bring a total of six earned, seven total.
5 “Full Account of the Murder,” Boston Globe, June 5, 1911: 7.
6 “Full Account of the Murder.”
7 “Full Account of the Murder.”
8 “26 To 3 Was Too Much for Grump,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 5, 1911: 8.