One of the greatest days in Boston baseball history – October 8, 1904 – actually began the night before in New York City. Jack Chesbro’s 41st victory of the season had just moved the New York Highlanders into first place over the Boston Americans by .006 and a half-game. Both teams had battled throughout the summer and now were headed to Boston for a Saturday doubleheader before returning to Manhattan for another twin bill on Monday. What happened next, as the Highlanders trudged through Grand Central Station to catch a late-night train, remains controversial today.
The most accepted story is that manager Clark Griffith told Chesbro to stay home and rest for Monday’s games. Imagine Griffith’s surprise when the big right-hander appeared on the platform packed for the trip and wanting a ticket. When Griffith asked what he was doing there, Chesbro replied, “Do you want to win the pennant or not?” and added, “I’ll pitch and I’ll win.”1 A resigned Griffith allowed the player to board the train.
New York’s pitching had been thin for the entire season. Chesbro with 51 starts and Jack Powell with 45 were the mainstays. Long Tom Hughes began the season as the third man in the rotation but was shipped to Washington in July after 18 starts and a 7-11 record. New York received Al Orth in the deal and his 11-6 mark stabilized the staff – at least until an arm injury in September sidelined him.
Griffith could spot-start now and then, but he had hurt his hand punching a photographer in Philadelphia back in April and was done as a regular contributor.2 The remainder of the pitchers were either unreliable youngsters like Walter Clarkson and Ambrose Puttmann or waiver-wire acquisitions such as Ned Garvin. None inspired much confidence from their manager, who couldn’t help but bring his best man along, exhausted or not.
The Saturday doubleheader was originally scheduled for New York, but Highlanders owner Frank Farrell had leased his grounds to the Columbia University football team back in July.3 Perhaps he hadn’t believed his team could win the pennant and felt the games wouldn’t matter. If so, he had made a terrible mistake, for New York now had to play in front of the rabid Boston rooters instead of its home crowd.
October 8 was cool and cloudy and the fans made their way into the Huntington Avenue Grounds several hours before game time. They came in a flood, filling the grandstand and bleachers and spilling onto the field around the baselines, as was the custom for the time. Several hundred Boston police were on hand to maintain order, but that number was dwarfed by the approximately 35,000 paid attendees. This was a huge total for a game in 1904, but it likely underestimated the true crowd, as it didn’t count the variety of freeloaders, squatters, and young boys who climbed nearby fences, trees, and poles to catch a glimpse of the action.4
Boston manager Jimmy Collins was blessed with the kind of rotation stability denied Clark Griffith. He used only five starters the entire season and was fortunate to have his best two rested and ready to go. Bill Dinneen was pegged for the first game and the already legendary Cy Young for the second. Griffith planned on leading off with Powell and then going with Puttmann in the nightcap. The overcast sky meant the second game likely wouldn’t go the full nine innings because of darkness.
Dinneen was announced as the Boston starter, but then the crowd gasped as they heard the name of the visitors’ pitcher.5 Whether because he was talked into it by his team or because he couldn’t help but roll the dice, Clark Griffith decided to start Jack Chesbro on no rest in the opener. It was a gamble, and the big right-hander had already hurled 441⅔ innings in 1904, but the locals were uneasy. Chesbro was 6-2 against Boston for the season and batters feared his spitball, the new pitch that had led him to dominate the AL.
Even worse was the man leading off for New York. Patsy Dougherty was a Boston favorite who posted 4.2 WAR in 1903 and led the AL in runs and hits. His average dropped off in the new season and the Red Sox shockingly traded him to the Highlanders for seldom-used utilityman Bob Unglaub. The move was so unpopular that Boston made a quick deal with Washington, trading young John O’Neill to acquire veteran outfielder Kip Selbach and fill the hole created by the first move. Local fans were even more enraged when Dougherty went on an offensive tear in his new uniform and helped spur New York into the race.6
Dinneen got ahead in the count with a pair of strikes before giving up a single to left by Dougherty. Willie Keeler dropped a bunt in front of Collins at third; the Boston manager was playing too far back to get the out. Kid Elberfeld then bunted back to Dinneen, but the pitcher bobbled the ball and could throw only to first. Jimmy Williams lofted a fly to Chick Stahl in center to plate the game’s first run, When John Anderson walked, the enormous crowd stirred anxiously, but Dinneen calmed them by retiring John Ganzel and limiting the damage to one run.
Chesbro took the hill and if he was exhausted it was hard to tell: He retired the side in order in the first. Both pitchers then settled in and the only notable event over the next few innings was the presentation of a silver loving cup to Jimmy Collins by local rooter Charley Lavis.7 The Boston manager’s next at-bat was more eventful as he lined a solid single to center with one out and Freddy Parent on second. More importantly, the hit scored the tying run and the Huntington Grounds erupted in relief at the opening salvo of what the Boston Post referred to as “Chesbro’s Waterloo.”8
Buck Freeman ripped a liner to left and the ball skipped past Dougherty and into the crowd for a double. Candy Lachance grounded to Williams at second, who tried to cut Collins down at the plate but threw high to make the score 2-1, Boston. Hobe Ferris hit to center, plating another run, before Chesbro quieted the crowd getting Lou Criger to ground to Wid Conroy at third.
Two outs and only the opposing pitcher stood in the way of New York escaping the inning with a two-run deficit. Bill Dinneen batted only .208 in 1904, but he came through with a clean single that drove in both runners as the noise grew again. “There was no holding the crowd,” observed the Boston Globe; “they yelled. They danced. They threw their hats in the air. They rose in one long, wild, delirious frenzy and they kept up their cheering while Selbach walked and Parent drove Dinneen home from second by cracking out his second single of the inning.”9
Stahl finally ended the carnage with a force out, but the damage was done. Boston’s lead was 6-1 and Clark Griffith ran up the white flag once the visitors went down in order in the fifth. He had pulled Chesbro after four innings and sent in rookie Walter Clarkson, and by the time the game ended, the margin was 13-2. Boston had edged back in front of the race, which was now a best-of-three battle for the pennant.
The second game of the doubleheader started within minutes of the first and the Americans eked out a 1-0 win that put them on the brink of the championship. Boston players rushed to their dressing room ahead of the crowd, looking forward to a good night’s sleep before heading back to New York on the Sunday afternoon train. The Highlanders left just as quickly and checked out of their hotels to head back home that night.10 They dropped the Monday opener in heartbreaking fashion as Boston repeated as champions.
The decision to start Chesbro with no rest came to define Clark Griffith’s tenure as Highlanders manager, which ended in mid-1908 with the team mired in the second division. For his part, all of those innings throwing the spitter took their toll and Jack Chesbro never won more than 23 games in a season after 1904. Clark Griffith pushed his chips into the center of the table and went bust and lost his best chance at a pennant in New York.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson, Yankees Century:100 Years of New York Yankees Baseball (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002), 32-33.
2 “Caught on the Fly,” The Sporting News, April 30, 1904: 4.
3 “Columbia’s Football Field,” New York Times, July 16, 1904: 8.
4 “The Great, Orderly, Delighted Multitude,” Boston Post, October 9, 1904: 11.
5 “About 30,000 See the Champions Win the First Game,” Boston Globe (Evening Edition), October 8, 1904: 1.
6 Donald Hubbard, The Red Sox Before the Babe: Boston’s Early Days in the American League, 1901-1914 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.), 67-69.
7 “Great Day for the Champions,” Boston Globe, October 9, 1904: 1.
8 “One More Victory Over the New York American Team and the Pennant Is Ours,” Boston Post, October 9, 1904: 1.
9 “About 30,000 See the Champions Win the First Game.”
10 “Echoes of the Game,” Boston Globe, October 9, 1904: 5.