Russ Ford took the mound on the next to last day of the 1914 season attempting to cap off a tremendous year with another strong start. The ace of the Buffalo Buffeds had dominated the Federal League during its maiden season. He came into his final start with a 20-6 record and a 1.95 ERA, despite missing most of August with a sore back.1 The emery-ball specialist’s final outing of the year ended up being what the Pittsburgh Daily Post called “the greatest exhibition of pitching ever seen at the Northside park this season.”2
The Buffeds entered the second game of their final series with a 79-69 record, in fourth place in the Federal League. Buffalo had topped the Pittsburgh Rebels 3-2 the day before in the first game of their series in a rain-shortened seven-inning affair. They then headed into a pair of doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday to finish the season.3 Buffalo sent Ford to the mound in the first game of the back-to-back twin bills. Pittsburgh countered with right-hander Elmer Knetzer, who also had an impressive season, coming into the game with a 20-11 record and a 3.02 ERA.4
The top of the first inning certainly didn’t portend the long pitchers’ duel to come. Knetzer walked the first batter of the game, Joe Agler. After Tom Downey popped out, Baldy Louden singled to put runners at first and second and bring Buffalo’s cleanup hitter, Hal Chase, to the plate. Knetzer got Chase to pop out to shortstop Jimmie Savage, but the next batter, Charlie Hanford, reached on an infield single to load the bases. Knetzer was able to escape without any damage when Clyde Engle hit a tapper in front of the plate and was gunned out by catcher Claude Berry.
Ford retired the Rebels in order in the first. The Pittsburgh Daily Post commented that he was at the top of his game: “Ford had his hop curve spitter working to perfection and the Rebels were at his mercy throughout.”5 Pittsburgh was able to get a runner on base with two outs in the bottom of the second, when third baseman Fred Smith fumbled a ball hit by Hugh Bradley. Smith was charged with an error on the play.6 The next hitter, Jack Lewis, flied out to end the inning.
In the third inning, Tom Downey doubled to give the Buffeds a runner in scoring position with one out. The Buffalo Morning Express described how Buffalo’s scoring opportunity died: “Louden tapped to the pitcher, and Downey was caught between second and third bases and run to and fro. However, he managed to dodge back to second base, which he found occupied by Louden. The latter relinquished possession and all the attack was now centered on him.”7 The chaotic play continued, as Downey once again took off, “came past third and broke for home just at the moment Louden was touched out. Nearly the entire Pittsburgh infield took a hand at the killing. Downey was headed off on the home stretch, and he, too, was touched out, after some ludicrous dodging.”8 The unusual double play ended the inning and kept the game scoreless.
Buffalo had another scoring opportunity in the fifth when Fred Smith and Walter Blair both singled and Ford worked a walk to load the bases with nobody out, “[b]ut the hit that would settle matters was not forthcoming.”9 Knetzer struck out Buffeds leadoff hitter Joe Agler for the inning’s first out. Catcher Claude Berry “made a nice running catch” to retire Tom Downey, and hold the runners.10 Louden ended the inning, and left the bases full when he popped out to shortstop Jimmie Savage.
Ford continued mowing down batters. Pittsburgh didn’t get its first hit until the sixth inning, when Knetzer hit “a sneaky infield pop that could not be handled in time to get the runner.”11 The infield single and error in the second inning would be the only runners to reach off Ford through the first nine innings. As the Buffalo Courier wrote, “[T]he locals were pie before the masterly delivery of the great spitballist and they went down in order almost every frame of the long game.”12
Buffalo got two men on base in the seventh and eighth innings, but failed to cash in a run. After nine innings, the Buffeds had recorded eight hits and drawn four walks, but had left 10 runners stranded, as the scoreless battle headed to extra frames.
Pittsburgh got runners aboard in the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th innings, but couldn’t bring a runner across the plate. In the 10th, Ford gave up his first walk of the game to Ed Lennox. After Ralph Mattis flied out, Lennox stole second, but Ford bore down and recorded his first strikeout of the day, retiring Hugh Bradley, to keep the Rebels off the board. The Rebels’ first batter of the 11th reached base when third baseman Smith’s bad throw to first allowed Jack Lewis to reach, but Ford easily retired the next three batters. In the 12th Pittsburgh had perhaps its best chance to score when, with two outs, Ed Lennox singled, stole second, and went to third on a poor throw by Hal Chase. However, Ford induced Ralph Mattis to ground out to first baseman Chase to end the inning and send the scoreless game to the 13th. In that inning, the Rebels’ Claude Berry singled with two outs and went to second when Buffalo center fielder Charlie Hanford bobbled the ball. Once again Ford answered the call, getting Knetzer on a comebacker to the mound.
Buffalo also had its chances to score in extra innings. From the 10th to the 15th the Buffeds had five hits, a walk, and a runner reach on an error, but failed to bring a run across against Knetzer. Buffalo had 15 hits in the game and drew five walks, prompting the Buffalo Commercial to write, “Any club that can’t get a run over the pan with less than fifteen hits must play in hard luck. The answer is simple — the Buffalo Feds didn’t get their hits when hits meant runs.”13 Buffalo left 16 runners stranded in the game.
The Buffeds finally broke through against Knetzer in the 16th inning. Walter Blair singled with one out. It was the fourth time Blair had reached base in the game, having three hits and a walk in seven plate appearances. Ford sacrificed him to second. Tex McDonald, who began the year with Pittsburgh, batted for Agler and came through with the big hit, as the Buffalo Courier described: “Tex swatted one of Knetzer’s twisters into right pasture and raced to third when (right fielder Ralph) Mattis fumbled the leather. Blair crossing with the winning run.”14 Downey grounded to third to end the inning, but the Buffeds had a 1-0 lead heading to the bottom of the 16th.
Things looked promising for the Rebels when pinch-hitter Davy Jones led off the bottom of the 16th with a single to center and was quickly sacrificed to second. But Ford wasn’t about to let his pitching gem be extended any further: He struck out pinch-hitter Skipper Roberts and retired Mike Menosky on a comebacker to the mound to end the game.
Ford allowed only five hits and a walk, while striking out three, over 16 innings. The Buffalo Commercial wrote: “It’s a record that Ford may point to with pride for years to come. It’s as good as a no-hit no-run game.”15 The Buffalo Courier also commented on Ford’s remarkable outing, writing: “Ford worked with ease and could probably have gone sixteen more frames without trouble.”16 Meanwhile, Knetzer took the tough loss, after pitching all 16 innings, allowing a lone run on 15 hits and five walks, while striking out nine.
The teams weren’t done for the day after the marathon game, and they took the field for game two of the doubleheader. The second game ended up being much shorter than the first. It was called at the end of the sixth inning due to darkness with Pittsburgh winning, 3-0. Buffalo managed only one hit off George LeClair, a single by Chase.
But the story of this day was Russ Ford. His 16 shutout innings earned him his 21st win of the season and lowered his ERA to 1.82, second in the Federal League. The Buffalo Commercial wrote: “That Ford is one of the greatest pitchers of the game cannot be denied and he proved his claim to recognition in the big show again yesterday.”17 After culminating a dominant season with such a masterful performance, it would be hard to argue otherwise.
1 Robert Peyton Wiggins, The Federal League of Baseball Clubs (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.), 98.
2 “Ford Defeats Knetzer in 16 Inning Pitching Duel,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, October 10, 1914: 14.
3 The second game of Saturday’s doubleheader was rained out.
4 It should be noted that both Ford and Knetzer’s win totals are different on their Baseball-Reference player pages than on the game logs for the season. This article uses the season totals, which are what Major League Baseball uses as the official totals, as opposed to the game logs, which are sourced from research done by Retrosheet. These differences will perhaps be reconciled in the future with additional research.
6 “Buffs Win 16-Inning Battle from Rebels,” Buffalo Evening News, October 9, 1914: 21.
7 “Federal Teams Divided Honors,” Buffalo Morning Express, October 10, 1914: 13.
10 “Buffs Win 16-Inning Battle from Rebels.”
11 “Ford Defeats Knetzer.”
12 “Ford Holds Pittsburgh Scoreless for 16 Innings in Remarkable Game,” Buffalo Courier, October 10, 1914: 8.
13 “Russell Ford Pitched Another Wonderful Game,” Buffalo Commercial, October 10, 1914: 10.
14 “Ford Holds Pittsburgh Scoreless.”
15 “Russell Ford Pitched Another Wonderful Game.”
16 “Ford Holds Pittsburgh Scoreless.”
17 “Russell Ford Pitched Another Wonderful Game.”