Chicago Cubs ace James “Hippo” Vaughn had a dream regular season in 1918. Vaughn led the National League in numerous categories, including wins, ERA, and strikeouts.1 But Vaughn’s postseason was not going as well. Despite pitching spectacularly in Game One of the World Series, he lost to young left-hander Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox, 1-0. After the Cubs bounced back to win Game Two, it was expected that Cubs manager Fred Mitchell would give the ball to 20-game-winner Claude Hendrix for Game Three.
Even when Vaughn warmed up alongside Hendrix before Game Three, it was “supposed that the appearance of the port sider was only a bit of camouflage to scare the Red Sox.”2 However, Mitchell surprised everyone when he sent his ace back out on only one day’s rest. Boston countered with Carl Mays, whose submarine delivery had helped him to a 21-13 record and a 2.21 ERA, as well as a league-leading 30 complete games and eight shutouts.
As Vaughn took the Comiskey Park mound, there were reminders throughout the ballpark that the country was at war.3 Thousands of uniformed soldiers and sailors filled the stands. A sign in the outfield asked fans to “Buy War Savings Stamps and Do It Now.” Throughout the game, airplanes “soared about” and “entertained the fans with a mock battle 10,000 feet, more or less, in the air and finished the exhibition with a tail spin.”4
The game remained scoreless through the first three innings. To begin the fourth, Vaughn struck out Amos Strunk looking, “driving over a third strike with the speed of a cannon ball,” but hit the next batter, George Whiteman.5 This brought Stuffy McInnis to the plate.6 Vaughn later recounted what he believed was a pivotal moment in the game, saying, “I got the first two past McInnis for strikes and had all the best of it, but wanted to drive him back from the plate, so intended to shoot the next one close to his bean. My control was bad, and I got it almost over the plate, just where he likes ’em, and he hit to left field for a single.”7
With runners on first and second, Wally Schang singled home Whiteman to give Boston the first run of the game and send McInnis to third base. Everett Scott laid down a squeeze bunt up the first-base line. As the Boston Globe told it, Vaughn “came in for the tap and the agate just scooted up his sleeve like trained mice. This prevented him from getting ‘Stuffy’ from going into the plate, but when he turned to make a play at first Fred Merkle was out somewhere in No Man’s Land. …” All hands were safe on the botched fielding play.
Fred Thomas then hit a sharp single to right. As Wally Schang headed home, right fielder Max Flack fired the ball to catcher Bill Killefer, “who tagged Schang out as non-chalantes as he would have bitten off a chew.”8 Carl Mays lined out to center to end the rally, but the damage had been done, and the Red Sox led, 2-0.
Carl Mays dominated the early innings, as his “eccentric delivery” puzzled Chicago batters.9 The Sporting News wrote: “For the first four innings, the Cubs were completely mystified by the slants of Mays. Carl deliberate and cool ducked his hand almost to mother earth just before letting loose of each pitch. …”10 The Cubs didn’t get a hit off Mays until the fourth, when Les Mann doubled on a ball just fair down the right-field line. Dode Paskert then launched a fly to deep left. The New York Sun wrote that “Whiteman, at the crack of the bat, turned and started to run like a hungry greyhound. He didn’t seem to pay attention to the ball, he just lengthened his stride and flew. Just before crashing into the low fence he suddenly shot up his gloved mitt, grabbed the ball out of the air and hung on to it.”11 Fred Merkle grounded to short to end the inning.
Charlie Pick led off the Cubs half of the fifth with a groundball that shortstop Everett Scott couldn’t handle. The Chicago Tribune opined, “It was the ground’s fault, not his, as the ball skittered under his hands hugging the dirt.” The ball rolled into left-center field and Pick wound up at second base. He scored two batters later on Bill Killefer’s single, cutting the lead to 2-1.
The Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth still trailing by a run. Mays easily retired the first two batters, bringing Charlie Pick to the plate with Chicago facing a Series deficit of two games to one. Pick hit a groundball that second baseman Dave Shean knocked down, but Pick beat it out for a hit. Left-hand-hitting Turner Barber pinch-hit for Charlie Deal. With a ball and two strikes on Barber, Pick stole second, beating Wally Schang’s throw.
Then, a pitch “filtered through Schang’s mitt a couple of yards behind the plate,” and Pick raced toward third.12 Schang recovered the ball and fired it to third, where, according to the New York Times, “Ball and runner arrived at about the same time, and in the mélee at the cushion the ball trickled from (Fred) Thomas’s hands and rolled away toward the Chicago bench.”13 Cubs fans held their breath as Pick raced home with the potential tying run and Thomas fired the ball to the plate. “Straight and true and as swift as a bullet the ball went from Thomas’s hand and into the waiting mitt of Schang. … As Pick came tumbling into the final bag, stretching his left foot far out so as to hook the corner of the rubber platter, the ball clapped against the catcher’s glove, and Schang tagged the runner with the ball.”14 As umpire Bill Klem’s out call echoed through the ballpark, the Cubs’ hopes of taking the lead in the Series died with it.
The Chicago Tribune noted that “Boston’s victory was won by a considerably smaller margin than one run, for the Cubs came within a long step of tying the count in the last half of the ninth.”
After struggling in the fourth, Hippo Vaughn dominated the final five innings of the game, allowing only a walk and a single. Despite his stellar performance on just one day’s rest, Vaughn took responsibility for the loss, stating: “It was my fault. They gave me one run, and that one should have been enough to win for us.”15 Vaughn may have been hard on himself in his assessment, as he’d been given almost no run support in either of his World Series starts. As the Boston Globe wrote, in recognition of Vaughn, “[E]verybody should doff their kellys, for he has pitched two sweet ball games and is deserving of considerable sympathy when a view of the vital statistics reveal that the Cubs have pushed only one run over the pan for him in 18 frames.”16
In addition to the sources mentioned in the notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com and retrosheet.org.
1 Vaughn led the league in wins (22), ERA (1.74), strikeouts (148), games started (33), innings pitched (290⅓), and shutouts (8).
2 “Finish One of the Most Dramatic Yet Seen in Baseball Classic,” New York Sun, September 8, 1918: 4.
3 The season had ended early due to World War I’s “Work or Fight” order and the Cubs chose to play their World Series home games at the larger Comiskey Park, rather than their home ballpark, Weeghman Park (later known as Wrigley Field.)
4 “Red Sox Earn Edge in Series,” New York Sun, September 8, 1918: 4.
5 “Red Sox Earn Edge in Series.”
6 McInnis’s RBI single off Vaughn in the fourth inning of Game One had provided the only run of that contest.
7 “Jim Vaughn Blames Himself for Defeat; Poor Control Cause,” Chicago Tribune, September 8, 1918: A5.
8 “Red Sox Earn Edge in Series.”
9 I.E. Sanborn, “Crisp Onslaught in Fourth Beats Vaughn, Cub Ace,” Chicago Tribune, September 8, 1918: A5.
10 “Carl Mays Takes His Turn in Baffling Cubs in Third Game,” The Sporting News, September 12, 1918: 2.
11 “Finish One of the Most Dramatic Yet Seen in Baseball Classic,” New York Sun, September 8, 1918: 4.
12 I.E. Sanborn, “Crisp Onslaught in Fourth Beats Vaughn, Cub Ace.”
13 “Red Sox Check Rally in Ninth and Take the Game,” New York Times, September 8, 1918: 32. Even Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas was a reminder of the war. Thomas hadn’t played a major-league game after joining the Navy in June, but was granted a two-week furlough from the Great Lakes Naval Training School in order to play in the World Series.
14 “Red Sox Check Rally in Ninth.”
15 “Jim Vaughn Blames Himself.”
16 “Red Sox Big Fourth Undoing of Vaughn,” Boston Globe, September 8, 1918: 1.