Runs were plentiful in the first three games of a Memorial Day weekend series at St. Louis’s Sportsman’s Park. The defending World Series champion Cleveland Indians took the first three games over the lowly St. Louis Browns by scores of 12-5, 10-8, and 12-6.
The four-game set had begun on Thursday afternoon. Over the next three days, Cleveland scored 34 runs on 43 hits but hit only one home run during their barrage.1 That they had exploded without center fielder-manager Tris Speaker, sidelined since May 23 with an injured hand,2 was tempered by the fact that the Browns had allowed a major-league worst 235 runs up to this game.
Cleveland came into the contest in first place in the American League at 26-13, with a 2½-game lead over the upstart New York Yankees.3 The Browns were 17-21, tied for sixth place and 8½ games behind the Indians. Pitching the finale for Speaker would be 22-year-old native Clevelander George Uhle (6-3, 3.62 ERA), who had closed out the Indians’ win in the second game of the series with 2⅓ innings of hitless relief.
St. Louis manager Lee Fohl4 sent his best pitcher, Urban Shocker (8-4, 4.00), to try to avoid the sweep. Shocker was eight years older than Uhle but likewise born and raised in Cleveland and a graduate of a local high school.5
Starting in left field and batting third for the Indians was John Gladstone “Jack” Graney, who had benefited in Speaker’s absence by starting the last four games in either center field or left. Graney, a member of Cleveland’s American League franchise since his major-league debut in 1908 – when the team was known as the Naps – was last a regular in 1919 and batted only three times as a pinch-hitter in the 1920 World Series victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Known for his patience at the plate, the 34-year-old Canadian had only eight hits thus far in 1921 but five walks, giving him a .342 on-base percentage in line with his career mark of .354.
The Indians struck in the first inning against Shocker. A one-out walk to Doc Johnston was followed by Graney’s slow roller to third. St. Louis’s Earl Smith tried to nab Johnston at second but made a “clown throw,”6 sending the ball over second base and putting runners on second and third. Cleveland third baseman Larry Gardner drove home both unearned runs with a two-out single, and the Indians led, 2-0.
Shocker got into more trouble in the top of the second. Steve O’Neill’s single was followed by Uhle’s double, putting runners on second and third. Leadoff man Charlie Jamieson knocked in O’Neill with a single to right field for Cleveland’s third run.
Shocker then hit Johnston with a pitch, loading the bases for Graney with no one out.
“Three-and-two Jack,”7 as he was called, patiently worked the count full and in the words of the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s F.J. Powers, “Graney lifted it high among the white skirted sun gods in the right field bleachers.”8 The grand slam gave Cleveland a 7-0 lead.
The Browns rallied against Uhle for four runs in the bottom of the third. Consecutive singles by Shocker, Jack Tobin, and Wally Gerber loaded the bases with no one out for the fearsome George Sisler, whose 257 hits a season earlier set a major-league record that stood for 84 years.
Sisler grounded to first; Doc Johnston threw to second for the force on Gerber as Shocker crossed the plate with St. Louis’s first run. When shortstop Joe Sewell’s relay to first went wild,9 Tobin scored a second run. Left fielder Ken Williams “dented the right pavilion roof”10 with a home run to score Sisler and finish the attack.
Shocker settled down a bit after the early damage. He held Cleveland scoreless until the sixth inning, when Sewell’s two-out single to center field drove in Johnston and Smith for a 9-4 lead.
Uhle gave two back in the bottom of the seventh as Shocker, Tobin, and Gerber once again loaded the bases on a single, center fielder Jamieson’s error on a fly ball, and another single. Sisler came through with a single for one run. Williams closed the rally with a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Tobin and making it 9-6.
The Indians added two key runs off Shocker in the eighth inning. Graney hit a first-pitch home run to right field with one out. A batter later, Elmer Smith’s home run fell just a few feet from where Graney’s shot landed.11 For Graney, it was the second and last time in his career that he hit two home runs in a game. Perhaps by coincidence – or perhaps assisted by the short right-field porch12 – his first two-homer game had also come at Sportsman’s Park, on April 23, 1916.
Uhle went the distance for Speaker and the Indians but not before allowing a second home run to Williams in the bottom of the ninth with Sisler aboard. Williams had hit two home runs in the second game of the series as well, giving him four for the series.13
A single and double put two Browns aboard and one scored on a sacrifice fly. A two-out pinch-hit single by Emilio Palmero put the tying run on first base with two out, but Uhle retired Tobin on a groundout to second baseman Stephenson to preserve the 11-9 victory. It was Cleveland’s eighth consecutive win against St. Louis.
Shocker, who was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the eighth, allowed 15 hits, including three home runs, and 11 runs, nine of which were earned. Despite tying for the major-league lead in wins in 1921 with 27,14 Shocker also tied for the lead in home runs allowed with 21.15 In the four-game series, St. Louis pitching allowed 45 runs on 58 hits and 24 walks.
For Graney, who turned 35 less than two weeks after this game, it was a final hurrah for a popular Cleveland player. The eighth-inning home run was the 18th and last of his 14-year career. Starts were rare once Speaker returned to the lineup later in the week, though Graney’s production did not waver; he finished 1921 with a .299 batting average and a excellent .414 on-base percentage.16 The next season would be his last. In 1922 he batted just .155 without an extra-base hit in 37 games.
The Browns would improve on their early-season record, finishing in third place in the American League with a record of 81-73, the franchise’s most wins since 1908. Behind the big bats of Sisler and Williams and the pitching of Shocker, St. Louis had its strongest season yet in 1922, losing a pennant race to the New York Yankees by just one game.
Cleveland fell short of a repeat pennant in 1921. Though the Indians were tied with New York with only six games to play, they lost five of six to finish 4½ games behind Babe Ruth and the Yankees.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for the box scores, player statistics and league leaders, game logs, and team schedules.
2 F.J. Powers, “Indians All Tuned for Battles in East,” The Sporting News, June 2, 1921: 2.
3 The New York franchise, known mostly as the Highlanders until 1913, had been a perennial doormat in the American League before acquiring Babe Ruth and surging to 95 wins in 1920.
4 Fohl had managed the Indians for parts of five seasons before resigning after an ugly loss at League Park in Cleveland on July 18, 1919. Owner James Dunn immediately named the popular Tris Speaker player-manager. Scott Longert, The Best They Could Be (Potomac Books, 2013), 134-136.
6 F.J. Powers, “Graney’s Four-Sackers Help Tribe to Make It Four,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 30, 1921: 16.
8 Powers, “Graney’s Four-Sackers.”
9 This was Sewell’s 17th error of the season. He would finish with 47.
10 “Indians Make Clean Sweep of Series, Capturing Fourth Game, 11-9,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 30, 1921: 6.
11 Powers, “Graney’s Four-Sackers.”
12 Sportsman’s Park was 310 feet down the line and had an 11½-foot-high wall in right until a 25-foot screen was added in 1929. Scott Ferkovich, “Sportsman’s Park (St. Louis),” SABR BioProject, sabr.org/bioproj/park/sportsmans-park-st-louis/.
13 Williams finished tied for second in the American League in home runs with 24, a distant second to Babe Ruth’s record 59. He would lead the American League in 1922 with 39.
15 Shocker allowed 16 of his league-leading 21 home runs at Sportsman’s Park, despite facing 42 more batters on the road than at home for the season.
16 According to his Baseball-Refence.com game log, Graney made nine more starts after this game with just 87 plate appearances, primarily as a pinch-hitter.