This article was written by Richard Smiley
This article was published in The National Pastime (Volume 26, 2006)
Although not now as legendary as Fred Merkle’s base-running blunder or Fred Snodgrass’s muffed fly ball, Heinie Zimmerman’s failed pursuit of Eddie Collins in the final game of the 1917 World Series was quite notorious in its time. Most present-day descriptions of the play originate from the account given by Frank Graham in his team history of the New York Giants:
Felsch slapped a high bounder to Benton, who threw to Zimmerman and there was Collins, flat-footed, yards off third base. Rariden, instead of remaining at the plate, moved up the line, thinking to close in on Collins for a run-down. Benton in the box and Holke at first base merely looked on, and Collins, seeing in a flash that the plate was uncovered, dug for it, brushing past the bewildered Rariden, and easily running away from Zimmerman. It was a blow from which the Giants could not recover.
McGraw defended Zimmerman and blamed Holke for not covering the plate. It was Zim, however, who entered the best defense when he answered his critics with the question, “Who the hell was I going to throw the ball to, Klem?”1
But how accurate is Graham’s account? What actually happened during the play? How did the media report the events? Why did Zimmerman get the blame? What was Zim’s reaction? This paper will make use of an extensive review of the media of the time to answer these questions and reveal that part of Graham’s version is a myth.
1917 World Series: Game One to Game Five
The New York Giants, with stellar years from Heinie Zimmerman, Bennie Kauff, and George Burns, entered the 1917 World Series as slight betting favorites over the Chicago White Sox, which were led by Eddie Collins, Joe Jackson, and Happy Felsch. Newspaper prognosticators were evenly split over who would capture the title, but all were in agreement that the end result would come down to which of the equally fine pitching staffs would shine.2
The Series opened in Chicago, where the White Sox won the first two games behind the solid pitching of Eddie Cicotte and Red Faber and the hitting of Shano Collins and Happy Felsch. In New York, back-to-back shutouts by Rube Benton and Ferdie Schupp and a two-homer game from Bennie Kauff enabled the Giants to even the Series. The teams returned to Chicago for game five and staged one of the sloppiest games in World Series history. The White Sox overcame an early Giant lead and six errors (three by Buck Weaver) to win the game and retake the Series lead.
1917 World Series: Game Six
Prior to the start of the sixth game on October 15, a coin flip to determine the site of a possible game seven went in favor of the Giants. That was the only break they would get on the day. Starters Rube Benton and Red Faber staged a tight pitchers duel for three innings as neither side threatened to score. In the top of the fourth, the roof caved in
The first White Sox batter in the fourth inning was Eddie Collins. He hit a ground ball to third baseman Heinie Zimmerman which should have resulted in the first out of the inning. Instead, Eddie reached second as Zimmerman’s throw was low in dirt and wide of first baseman Walt Holke. The next White Sox batter was Joe Jackson, who lifted a lazy fly ball to short right center. Right fielder Dave Robertson came in under the ball to make the easy play, but he muffed the catch. As a result of the drop, Collins advanced to third base and Jackson landed on first base.3 Thus the stage was set for one of the most memorable plays in World Series history.
With runners on first and third and nobody out, Happy Felsch hit a sharp bounder back to the pitcher Benton. After snaring the ball, Benton moved toward Collins, who had taken too large of a lead off third. Collins waved the other base runners forward and jockeyed along the third base line in hopes of extending the rundown play as long as possible.
Eyewitness accounts of the play vary after this point. Many observers (including Frank Graham) claimed that after forcing Collins back toward third base, Benton threw the ball to Zimmerman, who immediately began a futile chase of Collins, which ended with the latter crossing an unguarded home plate to score the first run of the game.
A somewhat lesser number claimed that after Benton threw the ball to Zimmerman, he tossed the ball to the catcher Bill Rariden, who chased Collins back toward third before returning the ball to Zimmerman, who then began his chase. An even smaller number of observers claimed that Benton’s initial throw did not go to Zimmerman, but instead was delivered to Rariden, who then chased Collins back toward third and threw the ball to Zimmerman, who started the chase. 4 Finally, The Sporting News reviewed the play at length and tracked the ball as going from Benton to Rariden to Zimmerman to Rariden (again) to Zimmerman (again), who then started the chase. 5
We may never know which of the versions of the play was correct, but it does seem likely that Rariden did have the ball at some point and ran Collins back to third, as he was halfway up the third base line at the end of the play.
One point that almost all of the firsthand accounts agreed on was that the sight of Heinie Zimmerman chasing Eddie Collins across an unguarded home plate produced great laughter and mockery in the Polo Grounds crowd.
After the play was over, the demoralized Giants were down by a run with still nobody out and White Sox runners on second and third.6 Chick Gandil quickly lashed a single down the first-base line to bring home both runners and up the White Sox lead to 3-0. Those runs were all that Red Faber needed and the White Sox held on to win the game and the Series by a 4-2 score.
Initial newspaper accounts of the game reveal that almost all members of the New York press community thought that the chase was the key play of the game and that Zimmerman should get the blame for it. Many writers and cartoonists used the play as a launching pad of mockery and lambasted Zimmerman with wicked humor. The best example of this could be found on the front page of the New York Times, where Harry Cross began his write-up this way:
While 34,000 fans frantically implored the Giants at the Polo Grounds yesterday to produce a hero on whose classic brow they could nestle a wreath of laurel, the New York club went down to an ignoble 4 to 2 defeat before the Chicago White Sox in the deciding game of the world’s series and instead of crowning a new baseball king, Manhattan placed a clown’s cap on the head of Heinie Zimmerman of the Bronx.
The once great Zim played the dunce’s role in the fourth inning, when he made a weird heave to first which permitted Eddie Collins to race around as far as second and a moment later he had a foot race down the third base line desperately trying to tag Collins as Eddie sped on over the plate two jumps ahead of him and started the Sox on their way to the world’s championship. Heinie could just as well have thrown the ball to Bill Rariden and squelched Collins, but Zim thought it was a track meet instead of a ball game and wanted to match his lumber wagon gait against the fleetest sprinter in the game.
The great crowd shook with laughter and filled the air with cries of derision at one of the stupidest plays that has ever been seen in a world’s series. It was a tough finish for poor Heinie after playing great ball all season, and Zim had been expected to be one of the sensations of the big classic against Chicago. Groans and more of them rumbled through the stands, and the Chicago players who have been predicting all the time that Heinie would sooner or later stage the marble top play of all time, were so happy that they hopped around like jumping jacks. The crowd called Heinie a “bonehead” and he took his place in baseball history along with Bonehead Barry, the mythical player who is supposed to have made all the foolish, rattle-brained plays of the game.
“Throw the ball!” yelled the crowd. “Throw the ball!” yelled the Giant players, but all the thousands of supplications fell on tin ears. Heinie refused to throw the ball — he wanted to catch Eddie Collins and put him out all by himself. Collins outsprinted Heinie and won the race by yards.7
Conversely, initial accounts written by press outside of New York tended to include Holke and Rariden (and sometimes Benton) in the blame along with Zimmerman. The vehemence with which the New York press focused on Heinie as the lone culprit may have been in response to hearing a verdict of guilt from the fans in the Polo Grounds who were their readers. And the fans may have been responding to the culmination of events that they had witnessed in the inning. In some sense, Heinie was certainly to blame for the run scoring, as he was the one who put Collins on base.
A look at photographs of the play provides a little clarity about what actually happened. The most commonly seen photograph of the play, which appeared in a number of newspapers, was shot from a location approximately where a modern third base dugout would be and focused on home plate. It shows four figures: the catcher Rariden, who had gotten out of the way of the base runner; the umpire Bill Klem; Eddie Collins sliding across home plate; and Heinie Zimmerman leaping over Eddie.
That Zimmmerman was close enough to Collins at the end of the play to need to jump over him dispels any notions that Eddie had an easy time outrunning Zim. In fact, Collins later expressed his belief that he gained no ground on Zim during the chase.8 The Sporting News made use of this photo and an extensive diagnosis of the events to absolve Zimmerman of the blame and place it on Rariden.9
Another photo taken from a somewhat similar angle, but starting from a spot nearer to home plate and aimed down the first base line appeared in the New York Tribune.10 It also was snapped at the moment that Collins slid across home, but with one additional detail — in the background, New York Giant first baseman Walt Holke is visible with his foot planted on first base. Giant manager John McGraw placed the blame for the play on Holke because he did not come down to help out in the rundown.11
A Life of lts Own
The play began to take on a life of its own after the series ended. The day after it occurred, the White Sox and Giants participated in a benefit game for the troops overseas in which Fred McMullin and Germany Schaefer elaborately mimicked the play. Members of the audience recognized the play from press accounts and roared their approval of the skit.12
Prior to the Zimmerman-Collins chase, similar plays were given little notice. In a midsummer 1917 game against the Tigers, Eddie Collins was chased across an unoccupied home plate, but the play was barely mentioned in the papers.13 The year after the chase happened, writers began to pay more attention to such events. When Giant shortstop Art Fletcher unsuccessfully chased a runner home in a 1918 regular season game, the headline included the phrase “FLETCHER EMULATES ZIM.”14
Likewise, headlines were made when Zim successfully chased down Rogers Hornsby in a 1919 regular season game.15 References to the play while describing base running blunders were common in the 1920s and 1930s.
Over time the most notable feature about the play has shifted from being the comical chase of a base runner over an unguarded home plate by the third baseman to being the fielder’s clever retort upon cross-examination that the only person he could have thrown the ball to was the umpire. But where did that quote come from? For two days after the play occurred, not one sign of a quote or comment from Zimmerman could be found in any of the newspapers. He finally appears in print on October 18, when New York Evening Sun columnist Joe Vila mentions bumping into him:
Heinie Zimmerman, who has been boiled in oil since Monday, when he vainly tried to outrun Eddie Collins in the final game of the world’s series, came down from the Bronx yesterday to see the New York Club officials on a matter of business. When I ran across Zim at the Fifth Avenue Building he was hobnobbing with Ferdinand Schupp, the Giants’ young southpaw, who whitewashed the Chicago White Sox in the fourth combat at the Polo Grounds last Thursday.
“I’ll take all the blame!” said Zim manfully. “When I started after Collins I thought I could outrun him. That was why I didn’t throw the ball to Rariden, who stood on the base line. After I had passed Rariden I suddenly realized that Collins was too fast for me, but I kept on chasing him because the plate was uncovered.
“I made a big mistake when I didn’t throw to Rariden in the first place, but I didn’t believe that Collins could run so fast. It was bad judgment on my part and I intend to take my medicine without grumbling.”16
So given the opportunity in 1917, Zimmerman made no reference to throwing the ball to the umpire when discussing the play. After McGraw became suspicious of Zim’s gambling activities during the 1919 season; he removed Zim from the Giants. Zim again made no reference to the umpire in 1921:
Since McGraw banished me from baseball he has accused me of throwing the 1917 World’s Series to the White Sox. He has declared that I deliberately chased Eddie Collins across the plate with the winning run in the final game.
However, in the clubhouse, after that game, McGraw said that he did not blame me for that play. He gave both Bill Rariden and Walt Holke a terrible panning for not covering the plate. He absolutely cleared me of all blame.17
Heinie’s version of where McGraw placed the blame in the clubhouse was later backed up by other accounts. Zimmerman’s claim that he did not throw the series was backed by Dave Robertson:
Zimmerman was a much faster man than Collins and under ordinary conditions he could have caught him. He simply misjudged Collins’ start. I don’t think McGraw ever said a word to Zimmerman about the play because Heinie was more sorry than anybody. He came to the clubhouse crying.18
Despite the appearance of numerous newspaper descriptions of the play in the 1920s and 1930s, no use of the quote was made. The closest any piece came to mentioning the quote was a 1927 New York Times “Sports of the Times” column written by John Kieran in which he stated, “It was discovered some time later that Heinie had no one to throw the ball to except the umpire.”19 But this was still not a quote being attributed to Heinie Zimmerman. So where did it come from?
In his October 16, 1917, “Wake of the News” column in the Chicago Tribune, Ring Lardner mentioned that he had not gone to New York in person to cover Game Six of the series and that his reports of the game were coming from the wire-service stories:
On last Saturday, inst., the gentleman in charge called up and said I didn’t have to go to New York if I didn’t want to. So I said I didn’t want to. He expressed the opinion that I could write as accurately about the game from Here as the other Dirty Rats from the field of play. And perhaps better, he said. I thanked him for the high compliment implied and below is the result. I know only that Faber and Benton were the opposing pitchers at the start; that the Sox scored three runs in the fourth inning; that the Giants got two in the fifth, and that the Sox got another in the ninth, and that Perritt was Benton’s successor. Also [let’s not cheat here] that Heinie Zimmerman made a wild throw that had a great deal to do with the result.20
As Lardner’s “coverage” of the game was secondhand, he probably read many accounts of the game including one by G. W. Axelson in the Chicago Herald which contained this comment about the chase:
Zimmerman’s only play was to throw the ball to McGraw or Bill Klem. Neither probably could have held the pill, anyway, so he gave chase to Eddie on his own hook.
In his October 18 “Wake of the News” column, Lardner used what he had learned about the game to concoct an imaginary conversation in the Giants clubhouse after game six in which the players rip each other apart. The piece was entitled “The House of Glass” and it began this way:
(A rat’s guess at the conversation in the New York club-house after Monday’s game).
McGraw—Well, Heinie, you gave a great exhibition!
Kauff—I’ll say he gave a great exhibition!
Zim—You’re a fine lot o’ yellow quitters!
McGraw—Who told you you could outrun Collins?
Zim—What the hell was I goin’ to do, throw the ball to Klem? Where was Holke? Where was Benton?21
In addition to being syndicated in New York, this particular column made it into The Sporting News of October 25, 1917, alongside the paper’s dissection of the play, which blamed Rariden. And for good measure, Lardner included the phrase “Who’ll I throw it to? Klem?” in his “Follies of 1917” musical revue at the end of the year.22
In short, Heinie Zimmerman never said, “Who the hell was I going to throw the ball to, Klem?” Ring Lardner did.
Frank P. Graham
The first time that the quote was actually attributed to Zimmerman seems to have been when Frank Graham included the following passage in his 1944 book McGraw of the Giants:
Heinie answered his critics with an unforgettable question: “Who the hell was I going to throw the ball to? Klem?”23
One can only speculate that, writing 25 years after the fact, Graham had remembered Lardner’s column but had forgotten that it was not a real conversation being reported! Graham would later go on to include a similar version of the play and quote in his Giants team history.
Arthur Daley and the Spread of the Quote
Among those who read and enjoyed Graham’s book was Arthur Daley, who had taken over the New York Times’ “Sports of the Times” column from John Kieran. Daley’s 1944 review of the Graham book mentioned the Zimmerman-Collins chase, but did not use the quote.24
In 1946, Bob Broeg and Bob Burrill published an entertaining collection of sports boners and mishaps entitled Don’t Bring That Up! The final pages of their collection included a description of the ZimmermanCollins chase which closely paraphrased Graham’s text. 25 Daley praised the book in his column and included the version of the quote that appeared in the book: “Who was I gonna throw the ball to? The umpire?”26 Afterward, Daley became an “advocate” for this particular version of the quote, finding reasons to use it in his column at least 10 times over the next 15 years.27
Over time the quote became entrenched in baseball literature as writers such as Tom Meany28 and Charles Alexander, 29 using the Graham books as reference, included it in their own texts. Other variations on the quote began to appear, such as replacing “Klem” with “myself.”30 Like the play itself, the quote had taken on a life of its own.
Like everything else about the play, the best thing written about it was somewhat unfair, slightly inaccurate, and tremendously funny. Grantland Rice, tipping his hat to Rudyard Kipling, closed his report of the game in the New York Tribune with:
The 1917 affair looked to be New York’s and the National League’s best chance after a long period in the wilderness, but the end came when Eddie Collins slid safely over the plate, softly humming, according to expert testimony, the following refrain:
Where do we go from here, Old Dog
where do we go from here?
Come on Heinie, run it out,
the open way is clear,
Altho you thought you had me hooked
out safely on a limb,
I’m a faster man than you are
Heinie Zim, Heinie Zim31
1. Frank P. Graham. The New York Giants. New York: Putnam, 1952.
2. Baseball Digest, October 2004.
3. Some accounts have Jackson reaching second base on the play.
4. Newspapers researched for accounts of the play: Atlanta Constitution, Boston Globe, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Chicago American, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Examiner, Chicago Herald, Chicago Tribune, New York American, New York Evening Journal, New York Evening Post, New York Evening Sun, New York Evening World, New York Globe, New York Herald, New York Times, New York Tribune, New York World, and Washington Post.
5. The Sporting News, October 25, 1917.
6. Accounts vary as to whether or not Jackson reached third and Felsch reached second as a specific result of the chase. Many of the writers ignored the trailing runners entirely in their accounts and focused only on Collins.
7. New York Times, October 16, 1917.
8. New York Tribune, October 19, 1917, and American Legion Weekly, August 10, 1923.
9. The Sporting News, October 25, 1917.
10. New York Tribune, October 16, 1917.
11. McGraw also blamed Holke for another Game Six play in which an opportunity for the Giants to get a double play was botched by poor thinking. As a result, McGraw replaced Holke in 1919 with Hal Chase. See Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella, The Black Prince of Baseball: Hal Chase and the Mythology of Baseball. Toronto: Sportclassic Books, 2004.
12. New York Times, October 17, 1917.
13. The 1917 White Sox: Their World Championship Season. Warren N. Wilbert and William C. Hageman. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003.
14. New York Times, June 7, 1918.
15. New York Times, May 24, 1919.
16. New York Evening Sun, October 18, 1917.
17. New York Times, March 4, 1921.
18. Washington Post, January 1, 1927.
19. New York Times, October 6, 1927.
20. Chicago Tribune, October 16, 1917.
21. Chicago Tribune, October 18, 1917.
22. Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1917.
23. Frank P. Graham. McGraw of the Giants. New York: Putnam, 1952.
24. New York Times, April 25, 1944.
25. Bob Broeg and Bob Burrill. Don’t Bring That Up! New York: A. S. Barnes, 1946.
26. New York Times, June 30, 1946.
27. See Daley’s columns in the New York Times on October 11, 1946; October 3, 1947; August 14, 1949; October 7, 1950; March 27, 1951; April 5, 1953; September 25, 1955; June 3, 1958; October 6, 1960; and October 6, 1961.
28. Tom Meany. Baseball’s Greatest Teams. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1949 and Tom Meany. Baseball’s Greatest Players. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1953.
29. Charles C. Alexander. McGraw. New York: Viking, 1988.
30. John Devaney and Burt Goldblatt. The World Series: A Complete Pictorial History. New York: Dial, 1972 and Baseball Digest, October 2004.
31. New York Tribune, October 16, 1917.