On September 20, 1908, during one of baseball’s tightest pennant races,1 Frank Smith of the Chicago White Sox threw a no-hitter, edging Eddie Plank and the Philadelphia Athletics 1-0. Frank Isbell scored the game’s only run in the bottom of the ninth, when Chicago’s Freddy Parent hit a lob from Plank – who was trying to intentionally walk him – just far enough for Isbell to beat the tag at home plate. For Smith, the no-hitter was like a taste of honey in an otherwise bitter season.
Smith had notched 23 wins for the 1907 White Sox, and in 1908 he was expected to be a mainstay on a championship-caliber pitching staff that also included Ed Walsh and Doc White. Yet before the season even began, Smith was sowing discord.
After an exhibition game in Nashville on March 27, Smith vanished; he failed to accompany his teammates to their next game, an exhibition in Evansville, Indiana.2 Smith disappeared after proclaiming he was done with baseball, and neither his manager, Fielder Jones, nor his Chicago teammates knew whether Smith was serious.3 The Pittsburgh Press speculated that Smith left because of homesickness for his wife and child, or his mother’s alleged offer to take Smith and his family on a European trip if he would quit baseball.4
Smith missed Chicago’s first game in Evansville, but arrived at the ballpark the next day, perhaps because he discovered that the White Sox had summoned Moxie Manuel to fill his roster spot.5 Whatever brought him back, Smith conferred with manager Jones, worked out with the team, and soon was in everyone’s good graces. But if Smith and the White Sox reconciled their differences, the good feelings did not last.
The season started poorly for the White Sox and Smith. By the end of May, Chicago occupied sixth place in the eight-team American League with a 17-19 mark. Smith was 2-9, but – with the exception of two drubbings by Detroit in which the Tigers piled up 13 runs in 11 innings – he had pitched well. Twice he lost in extra innings, twice he was topped 2-1, and two more losses were by the scores of 3-2 and 1-0.
In June the White Sox quickly climbed the standings. Beginning with the second game of a June 4 doubleheader, and continuing through June 16, Chicago won 13 in a row, with Smith contributing a three-hit shutout of Philadelphia on June 11. The White Sox moved into first place by two percentage points on June 8, and extended their lead. After Smith beat the Boston Red Sox in relief on June 18, Chicago led second-place Cleveland by 2½ games.
But all was not well. On June 20 Smith abandoned his teammates a second time.6 With his family in tow, Smith left for their Pittsburgh home “in a sulk.”7 He remained there for more than five weeks, tending to his piano-moving business and playing amateur baseball.8 Smith’s departure came after White Sox owner Charles Comiskey chastised him for missing several morning practices without excuse.9
Smith vowed he would not return to Chicago “under any circumstances,” and blamed his troubles on Jones and catcher Billy Sullivan.10 Comiskey was amused by Smith’s announcement. He defended his manager and catcher, and said of Smith’s declaration, “I happen to know better.”11 According to Comiskey, Smith was counting on Jones to intercede for his return.12
Rumors circulated about Smith being traded to Washington for one or more of the Nationals’ young pitchers. The Inter Ocean, a Chicago newspaper, supported such a trade, declaring that “Smith has been a disturbing element on the South Side for several years.”13 Jones was adamant that the White Sox should not give in to Smith’s behavior, even if it meant Chicago’s pitching would remain shorthanded.14
In Smith’s absence, Chicago fell from first place to third, and dropped four games behind Detroit. Smith finally rejoined Chicago on July 24, boarding the team’s train in Cleveland as the White Sox returned home from New York. If he apologized, it was not reported. Smith informed reporters, “Our differences have been adjusted. I am in shape to give them my best efforts and am glad to rejoin the club.”15 The press had no sympathy for Smith – whether before or after his return – labeling him “the deserter.”
Jones sent Smith back into action on July 27, and Smith responded with nine innings of shutout relief. Thereafter, he took a regular turn on the mound, winning eight and losing eight over the next several weeks, to bring his record to 12-17 entering the September 20 match against Plank (12-14) and the fifth-place Athletics. Chicago still held pennant aspirations, trailing the league leaders – Detroit and Cleveland – by just 1½ games.
Smith’s start against Philadelphia was his first appearance since September 13, when a line drive injured the little finger on his pitching hand. Despite his still-painful finger, Smith was in top form. He retired the first five batters he faced before walking rookie Frank Manush. But Scotty Barr popped out to end the second inning – beginning a string of 18 straight Athletics to be retired by Smith. The clean scoresheet was jeopardized only once, when a slow roller by Simon Nicholls in the sixth required shortstop Parent to charge in, scoop the ball on the run, and throw to first without straightening up.
After two outs in the eighth, Philadelphia got its second – and last – baserunner when first baseman Isbell let Barr’s grounder skip through his legs for an error. No one questioned the scoring decision. The ball was hit “straight at Isbell for what looked like a cinch third out,” a Chicago sportswriter observed.16 A’s rookie catcher Jack Lapp flied out, stranding Barr.
Smith breezed through the top of the ninth, retiring all three Athletics batters. The last two – Nicholls and Rube Oldring – were thrown out on grounders tapped right back to Smith. Even though Smith had held the Athletics without a hit or run through nine innings, and had received loud cheers from the crowd, he could not celebrate. The game’s outcome was in doubt.
Plank had been nearly as good as Smith, limiting Chicago to three hits and no runs through eight innings. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Plank never looked better, mixing in curves, fastballs, and his “crossfire.”17
Plank was aided by sharp defense, too. In the eighth, Athletics first sacker Danny Murphy robbed Chicago “of an almost certain run.”18 With Ed Hahn on first base, Jones ripped a vicious liner just inside the line. Murphy jumped and snagged the ball in his glove, only to see it squirt out. While it was still in the air, Murphy made a second effort, and caught the ball to retire Jones. Murphy stepped on first to double up Hahn, who was already past second base.
Plank’s fortunes changed in the bottom of the ninth. Isbell started things with a hard grounder just out of Murphy’s reach for a single. John Anderson fouled a two-strike bunt for the first out, but with George Davis batting, Isbell – despite a bruised ankle – stole second base. Plank’s next pitch was a curveball that catcher Lapp could not secure in his glove, allowing Isbell to reach third base. With Isbell on third and only one out, manager Connie Mack ordered Plank to intentionally walk Davis and Parent to set up a force out at home, or a double play.
After Davis was walked, Parent watched Plank lob two pitches far outside. Before Plank’s third delivery, Parent stepped closer to the plate, and grasped his bat near the tip of its handle. As the pitch floated in, Parent reached for the ball, and tapped it toward the second baseman. Isbell alertly dashed for home, as second baseman Barr, who was stationed on the infield grass, fielded the roller and threw home. Lapp caught the throw, but reached the long way around, tagging Isbell after he had reached home plate in a cloud of dust.
The Philadelphia Inquirer accused Parent of striking the ball while out of the batter’s box.19 If true, he should have been called out, and Isbell forced to return to third base. The umpire did not see it that way – and the Athletics did not argue the point – so the run counted. The White Sox walked to the clubhouse with their fourth consecutive victory. For Smith, it was his second no-hitter. He had accomplished the feat for Chicago on September 6, 1905, in Detroit.
Smith again beat Philadelphia in his next start, claiming a six-hit, 3-2 win in 10 innings. He won twice more before the season ended, to finish 16-17 with a 2.03 earned-run average.
Chicago had a shot at the pennant on the season’s final day, but lost to Detroit and finished in third place, 1½ games behind the league-leading Tigers. Notwithstanding five weeks in exile, Smith threw 297⅔ innings in 1908, placing him second among White Sox hurlers, and sixth in the American League.20
I.E. Sanborn, “Smith in No Hit, No Run Victory,” Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1908: 10.
2 “Pitcher Frank Smith Leaves the White Sox,” Pittsburgh Press, March 29, 1908: 21.
3 “Pitcher Frank Smith Leaves the White Sox.”
4 “Pitcher Frank Smith Leaves the White Sox.”
5 “Sox Take Polar Pennant,” Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1908: 12.
6 A departure date of June 14 appears in Sam Bernstein’s SABR biography of Frank Smith, but that is incorrect since Smith pitched 1⅓ innings in relief on June 18, and was the winning pitcher. Chicago and Boston papers first reported Smith’s absence June 21, indicating he left the team on June 20.
7 “Smith Leaves the White Sox,” Chicago Tribune, June 21, 1908: 13.
8 “White Sox Begin Home Series Today, Opening with Athletics,” Inter Ocean (Chicago), July 25, 1908: 4.
9 “Smith Quits White Sox,” Boston Globe, June 21, 1908: 12.
10 I. E. Sanborn, “Sox and Browns Take Rest,” Chicago Tribune, July 4, 1908: 12.
11 Sanborn, “Sox and Browns Take Rest.”
12 Sanborn, “Sox and Browns Take Rest.’
13 “Sox Ready for Double Battle with Browns After Day of Rest,” Inter Ocean (Chicago), July 4, 1908: 4.
14 “Frank Smith to Be Kept by the White Sox,” Pittsburgh Press, July 11, 1908: 5.
15 “White Sox Begin Home Series Today, Opening with Athletics,” Inter Ocean (Chicago), July 25, 1908: 4.
16 I.E. Sanborn, “Smith in No Hit, No Run Victory,” Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1908: 10.
17 “White Sox Win from Athletics,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 21, 1908: 11.
18 Sanborn, “Smith in No Hit, No Run Victory.”
19 “White Sox Win from Athletics.”