May 31, 1914: Joe Benz humming on all cylinders with no-hitter

This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf

joe benzThe Chicago White Sox were happy to be back at home for a Sunday matinee at Comiskey Park, their four-year old stadium, dubbed the “Base Ball Palace of the World,” located at the intersection of 35th Street and Shields Avenue on the South Side of the Windy City. The Pale Hose had just completed a 16-game road trip and had played 28 of their last 32 contests on opponents’ turf. Skipper Jimmy Callahan’s seventh-place squad (17-22) had little time to unpack their bags, however, as the players had to board a train later that same evening and head to Detroit for a pair before they could get reacclimated to their homes in Chicago on Wednesday.

The White Sox’ struggling offense had scored two runs or less in six of their last seven games, leading the sportswriter I. E. Sanborn of the Tribune to quip that the club was “proving [its] claim to the world’s championship in ‘The Science of How Not to Make Runs.’”1 Callahan hoped his team’s luck would change against the cellar-dwelling Cleveland Naps (13-24), with whom they had split a twin bill the previous day and had traveled by Pullman coach from the metropolis on Lake Erie.

Toeing the rubber for the White Sox was 28-year-old right-hander Joe Benz, whose nicknames “The Butcher” and “Butcher Boy” derived not from his penchant to toss high and inside, but rather from his German immigrant family’s meat-cutting business. A spitballer and occasional knuckler, Benz had an undistinguished 23-29 slate in his first three campaigns, but seemed to emerge from the shadows of teammates Eddie Cicotte, Reb Russell, and Jim Scott, early in the 1914 campaign. His 4-5 record was offset by the league’s third best ERA (1.14). Naps skipper Joe Birmingham sent 21-year-old rookie Abe Bowman to the mound for his first career start and third appearance.

The Second City was the center of big-league baseball on the last Sunday of May. While an estimated 10,000 spectators enjoyed the sun and temperatures in the mid-80s at Comiskey Park, 6,000 were at Weeghman Park (later known as Wrigley Field) for a matchup between the Indianapolis Hoosiers and Chicago Chi-Feds in the inaugural season of the Federal League, while approximately 2,500 spectators were on hand at West Side Grounds, the home park of the Chicago Cubs, as they played the St. Louis Cardinals.2

After Benz cruised through a one-two-three first, barely having to shift gears, “the Callahans hammered Bowman,” gushed Sanborn.3 Gradually emerging from a season-long slump, Buck Weaver whacked Bowman’s first pitch to right field for a single. Hal Chase hit a tailor-made double-play grounder to second baseman Nap Lajoie (the team’s longtime star after whom it derived its moniker), but shortstop Rivington Bisland muffed the throw and both runners were safe. Bowman helped his own cause by fielding Ray Demmitt’s tapper back to the mound and initiating a 1-5-3 twin killing. Shano Collins’s double plated Chase for the game’s first run.

The White Sox added two more tallies in the third. With two outs and Chase on second via a walk and stolen base as part of a double steal with Weaver (who was thrown out), Demmitt lined to left, but Jack Graney made an ill-advised throw to home plate. As Chase easily scored, the ball hit him in the back and caromed so far away that Demmitt reached third base. Collins drew a free pass, then attempted a daring delayed double steal. Catcher Steve O’Neill’s throw to Bisland was late, and then Bisland’s return heave flew over O’Neill’s head while Demmit slid across the bag.

Prior to this game, there had been 69 no-hitters in major-league baseball since the founding of the NL in 1876. In 11 of those games, the team that was held hitless scored at least one run. This game increased those totals by one, but Benz was free from blame. Roy Wood led off the fourth with a bounder over Benz’s head; shortstop Buck Weaver scoped up the ball, but threw errantly over Chase, enabling Wood to reach second. Weaver seemingly atoned for his miscue by fielding Bisland’s grounder and firing a strike to third baseman Scotty Alcock to nab a sliding Wood, but Alcock muffed the catch. According to the Tribune, “the whole outfit looked groggy” with defensive lapses; consequently, Callahan sent Russell to the bullpen to warm up quickly before things got out of hand.4

Described by Sanborn as a “dazzling electrical display — code for lightning double play,” keystone sacker Joe Berger fielded Graney’s grounder, tagged Bisland on his way to second, and then fired to Chase, while Wood crossed the plate to put the Naps on the board. But the White Sox were not yet out of the woods. Shoeless Joe Jackson, entering the game in a 7-for-36 slump to drop his average from .379 to .331, hit a routine grounder to Berger, who dropped the ball, then fired wildly to Chase for the White Sox’ third error of the frame.5 Benz dispatched Turner to end the shenanigan-filled inning.

The Calls, as the Tribune called the White Sox, tacked on three more runs in the seventh off right-hander Fred Blanding, who had replaced Bowman to start the fourth. A one-time starter with a 43-43 career record, including 1-6 thus far in ’14, Blanding had lost his spot in the rotation earlier in the month. Chase’s double drove in Weaver, who had singled for the third time; Demmitt’s single plated Chase, and Collins’s infield single made it 6-1. The Pale Hose finished the game with 13 hits, their biggest offensive outburst since they collected the same amount and scored nine runs in a victory over the Washington Senators on May 13 in the nation’s capital.

Since the fateful fourth, Benz had not allowed a baserunner and had not allowed a semblance of a hit. He walked his first batter, Graney to lead off the seventh, but stranded him on first.

Aware of the possible no-hitter, the Comiskey crowd cheered Benz as he took the mound in the ninth. Known for his excellent control (he walked 2.1 batters per 9 innings in 1914), Benz issued his second free pass, to Wood, with one out in the ninth. With spectators on their feet, Benz challenged Bisland, who grounded weakly to Weaver for a 6-4-3 game-ending double play, made possible only when Chase “hooked” Berger’s low and outside throw out of the dirt, according to the Tribune.6

Benz fashioned the fifth no-hitter in White Sox franchise history, and the second in Comiskey Park following Big Ed Walsh, who held the Boston Red Sox hitless on August 27, 1911. Benz fanned three and faced 29 batters, completing the game in 1 hour and 45 minutes.

After settling for a three-hitter in an eight-inning complete-game 1-1 tie with the New York Yankees in his next start, on June 6 at Comiskey Park, Benz came remarkably close to fashioning another no-hitter. In a ferocious pitching duel with Walter Johnson, Benz yielded what the Sanborn of the Tribune called a “scratch” single to Eddie Ainsmith to lead off the ninth and finished with a sparkling one-hit shutout.7

Bill Lamb pointed out in his excellent SABR biography of Benz that many at the park, including AL President Ban Johnson, thought the hit should have been ruled an error.8 Benz concluded the season for the eventual sixth-place White Sox (70-84) with 15 wins, an AL-most 19 losses, and a 2.26 ERA.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, SABR.org, and The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record.

 

Notes

1 I.E. Sanborn, “No Hits Off Benz; Cals Pound Ball; Humble Naps, 6-1,” Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1914: 13.

2 Attendance totals from “Only 18,500 at Three Games; White Sox Draw 10,000 Fans,” Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1914: 13.

3 Sanborn, “No Hits Off Benz.”

4 “The Break with the Game,” Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1914: 13.

5 J.M. Waterbury, “Joe Benz Pitches No-Hit Game; Naps Are His Victims,” Detroit Free Press, June 1, 1914: 8.

6 “Sox Sydelights,” Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1914: 13.

7 I.E. Sanborn, “Benz Allows One Hit; Defeats Johnson in First Game, 2-0,” Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1914: 17.

8 Bill Lamb, “Joe Benz,” SABR BioProject. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/8dc7bc65.

Additional Stats

Chicago White Sox 6
Cleveland Naps 1


Comiskey Park
Chicago, IL

 

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