This article was written by John J. Watkins
The Philadelphia Athletics were one game away from their third consecutive World Series title, an unprecedented feat.1 Their opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, were reeling from an 8-1 loss in the sixth game and would be relying in Game Seven on a 38-year-old pitcher with an aching hand, a sore shoulder, and an inflamed appendix.
The A’s had beaten the Cardinals in the 1930 World Series and were heavy favorites in the rematch. But the surprising Redbirds led after five games, and the oddsmakers gave them the edge as the Series returned to Sportsman’s Park. That changed after the disastrous sixth game. The A’s scored six unearned runs while Lefty Grove held the Cardinals to five hits and shut down Pepper Martin, whose 12 hits and aggressive baserunning had sparked the St. Louis offense through the first five games. Philadelphia was favored by as much as 2-to-1 in Game Seven.
George Earnshaw, the big right-hander known as “Moose,” was on the mound for the Athletics. The Series schedule allowed Connie Mack to use essentially a two-man rotation, dividing the workload between his two star pitchers.2 Earnshaw was well-rested, having shut out the Cardinals on two hits in the fourth game four days earlier. He had also dominated St. Louis in the 1930 Series, allowing two runs on 13 hits in 25 innings while striking out 19.
Gabby Street, the first manager to lead the Cardinals to back-to-back pennants, countered with the veteran spitballer Burleigh Grimes, a right-hander who had pitched a masterful two-hitter in Game Three. However, Grimes emerged from that game with a strained right shoulder, plus a swollen finger on his right hand from an ill-advised attempt to grab a sharply hit line drive. He also suffered from chronic appendicitis, which had flared up in September. While St. Louis batted in the third game, a doctor applied ice to Grimes’s abdomen to dull the pain.
Before the game, the Cardinals “seemed weary and lifeless” during infield and batting practice.3 As Mack said later, they “looked like a beaten outfit.”4 St. Louis fans, perhaps fearing the worst, stayed away in droves. Despite a sunny day with the temperature in the mid-80s, attendance was only 20,805, barely half the capacity of Sportsman’s Park. “There was no electricity in the air,” the United Press reported. “The spectators were quiet. Even the Series bunting drooped listlessly.”5
Grimes, who received the icing treatment for his inflamed appendix before the game and after each turn on the mound, retired the Athletics in order in the first inning. His teammates staked him to a two-run lead in the bottom of the inning. Andy High and George Watkins looped singles to short left field and advanced on Frankie Frisch’s sacrifice. High then scored on a wild pitch, with Watkins moving to third. Martin walked and promptly stole second base. When Mickey Cochrane dropped the third strike to Ernie Orsatti and threw to first for the out, Watkins sprinted to the plate. He slid hard into the Philadelphia catcher as Jimmie Foxx’s return throw arrived, knocking the ball away.6
The Cardinals added two runs in the third. After High’s leadoff single, Street instructed Watkins to hit away on the first pitch and bunt on the second. Earnshaw, expecting a bunt, threw a high fastball. Watkins, a left-handed hitter who had homered off Earnshaw in the 1930 Series, drove it over the roof of the right-field pavilion, sending the small crowd “into a frenzy.”7 From that point, Earnshaw was untouchable, retiring the next 15 Cardinals in order before giving way to Rube Walberg in the eighth.
Down 4-0, the Athletics threatened in the top of the fifth. Bing Miller lined a single to center to open the inning, advanced to second when Jimmy Dykes grounded out to Jim Bottomley at first base, and moved to third on an infield single by Dib Williams. Earnshaw ended the rally by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play. Mack was later criticized for not pinch-hitting for his pitcher, the second-guessers noting that Earnshaw had also grounded into a double play in the second game.8
Philadelphia went meekly in the sixth, and Grimes struck out Simmons, Foxx, and Dykes in the seventh while allowing Miller’s third single of the game. The spitballer opened the eighth with another strikeout, this time victimizing Williams. He got two strikes on Phil Todt but walked him after the pinch-hitter fouled off four pitches. Todt advanced to second on a groundout, and Grimes walked Mule Haas. Cochrane then hit a line drive that deflected off Grimes toward first base. The pitcher chased down the ball and underhanded it to Bottomley for the final out of the inning.
With Earnshaw out of the game, the Cardinals stirred in the bottom of the eighth against reliever Walberg. Grimes, leading off, had no intention of running the bases. With a 2-and-0 count, he waved at the next three pitches and returned to the dugout, where ice packs awaited. High then singled to center and Watkins drew a walk. Walberg squelched the incipient rally, however, retiring Frisch on an infield popup and striking out Martin.
Grimes was “manifestly weary” as he took the mound in the ninth inning.9 Simmons walked on a 3-and-2 pitch, but Foxx fouled out to catcher Jimmie Wilson, who snagged the ball “off a field box customer’s hat.”10 The game appeared over when Miller slapped a groundball to shortstop Charley Gelbert. Simmons was forced at second, but Miller narrowly beat Frisch’s relay throw to first. The A’s loaded the bases when Dykes drew a walk after working the count full and Williams singled off High’s glove on another 3-and-2 pitch.
Down the left-field line, Bill Hallahan was warming up with bullpen catcher Mike González. The left-hander had shut out the Athletics on three singles in Game Two and held them to one run in the fifth game, but Street stuck with his starter to face rookie Doc Cramer, batting for Walberg. Grimes was “pitching in intense pain and showing it in every gesture”11 as the pinch-hitter fouled off several pitches before singling in two runs. When Street signaled for Hallahan to pitch to Max Bishop, Grimes put up little resistance; he walked to the dugout and collapsed. Wild Bill ran the count full before Bishop flied out to Martin in center field, sealing the 4-2 win and triggering a citywide celebration.
Neither Connie Mack nor Gabby Street managed in the World Series again. The Cardinals, with Dizzy Dean waiting in the wings, traded Burleigh Grimes to the Chicago Cubs in December. The spitballer made two ineffective relief appearances in the 1932 World Series as the Cubs fell in four games to the New York Yankees. A month later, he had surgery to remove his appendix.
In addition to the game story and other sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites.
Niese, Joe. Burleigh Grimes: Baseball’s Last Legal Spitballer (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2013).
Boyle, Harvey J. “Grimes Beats Macks on Two Hits, 5 to 2,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 6, 1931, 1.
Brands, Edgar G. “Cardinals Restore World’s Series Championship to National League,” The Sporting News, October 15, 1931, 3.
Brandt, William E. “Story of the Game Told Play by Play,” New York Times, October 11, 1931, sec. 10, 8.
Drebinger, John. Cards Win Series, Beating Athletics in 7th Game, 4 to 2, New York Times, October 11, 1931, 1.
Haley, Martin J. “Watkins and High Get All Five of Birds’ Hits, Former Crashing Home Run to Beat Macks, 4 to 2,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 11, 1931, 1.
Holmes, Thomas. “Cards, in Driver’s Seat Now, Must Bank on Two Injured Pitchers,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 8, 1931, 22.
“Watkins Recalls ’31 Decisive Home Run,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 6, 1961, 6B.
1 The 1936-1938 New York Yankees, managed by Joe McCarthy, became the first team to win three consecutive World Series championships. They added a fourth in 1939. Casey Stengel led the Yankees to five straight titles (1949-1953), and Joe Torre was at the helm as the team won three in a row (1998-2000). The only other team to win at least three consecutive championships was the Oakland Athletics from 1972-1974, the first two under Dick Williams, the third under Al Dark.
2 Grove started the first, third, and sixth games, Earnshaw the second, fourth, and seventh. Waite Hoyt was the starter in Game Five.
3 Thomas Holmes, “Cardinals Win Series; Grimes Beats A’s 4-2,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 11, 1931, 1.
4 Norman L. Macht, Connie Mack: The Turbulent & Triumphant Years, 1915-1931 (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 627.
5 “Cardinals Are World Champions,” Milwaukee Journal, October 10, 1931, 1 (late sports edition).
6 Foxx was charged with an error, apparently because he was slow to recognize that Watkins was attempting to score and thus made a late throw. A photograph of the play shows that Foxx’s throw was slightly to the third-base side of the plate, knee-high, and reached Cochrane as Watkins was sliding into the catcher. “Watkins, Cardinals, Beating Foxx’s Throw to Cochrane at Plate in the First Inning,” New York Times, October 11, 1931, sec. 10, 8; “Play Which Helped to Give Cardinals World Title by 4 to 2,” Chicago Tribune, October 11, 1931: sec. 2, 3.
7 “George Watkins’ Home Run Wins World Series for Cardinals,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 11, 1931, C1.
8 Associated Press, “Series Notes,” Milwaukee Sentinel, October 11, 1931, 4C.
9 Gordon Mackay, “Cards Stave Off A’s Rally in 9th to Win Title,” Philadelphia Record, October 11, 1931, sports section, 1.
10 Thomas Holmes, “Cardinals Win Series; Grimes Beats A’s 4-2,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 11, 1931, 1.
11 Charles F. Faber, “Burleigh Grimes,” The Baseball Biography Project, sabr.org/bioproj/person/0957655a, accessed March 1, 2016.