This article was written by Roger A. Godin
This article was published in The National Pastime (Volume 28, 2008)
By 1920 the idea of matching two high-minor-league teams in a lesser version of the major-league World Series had finally taken root. Informal series had been staged in 1904, 1906, 1907, 1917, and 1919. In 1920, the pennant winners of the International League (IL) and of the American Association (AA) met in the Little World Series, or Junior World Series (JWS) as it would come to be called, establishing a tradition, a championship series between the IL and AA, that would be observed most years through the end of the century until the AA disbanded after the 1997 season. At stake was the championship of the high minors at a time when most of these teams were strong independent entities close in quality to that of the major leagues.
Jack Dunn in the second decade of the twentieth century had established in Baltimore a dynasty that would bring his Orioles seven consecutive IL pennants and corresponding trips to the JWS. In both 1920 and 1922 his teams had defeated St. Paul in the postseason event, and there was little reason to believe that Baltimore’s domination would end when the two teams met again in October 1924. The Orioles had finished 19 games ahead of second-place Toronto. After briefly trailing Buffalo early in the season, they had gone on to win the pennant handily.
Baltimore was paced by future Hall of Famer Robert Moses (Lefty) Grove (26–6, 3.01 ERA). Other significant members of their pitching staff were Jack Ogden (19–6, 3.63 ERA), later to see action with two of the St. Louis Browns’ better teams (1928–29) and with the Reds (1931–32); Cliff Jackson (16–8, 3.92); Tommy Thomas (16–11, 4.08), and Ed Tomlin (11–2, 3.61).
Second baseman Dick Porter led the IL in batting with a .363 average along with 23 home runs and 125 RBIs. He was injured in late August but returned in time for the JWS. At first base was Clayton Sheedy (.298, 16, 99). Joe Boley (.291, 4, 100) was at short, and Fritz Maisel (.306, 20, 88) at third. In the outfield was left fielder John Jacobs (.284, 14, 70), center fielder Merwin Jacobson (.308, 18, 97), and right fielder Tom Connelly (.312, 19, 98). Both Jacobs and Connelly had been acquired during midseason trades. The catching was handled largely by Joe Cobb (.320, 22, 84), who was backed up by Lew McCarty (.308, 4, 22). Off-the-bench outfielder Harold Clark (.339, 9, 39) was a major contributor as well.
The 1923 St. Paul Saints had won 111 games but still finished second behind Kansas City in the AA pennant race. The 1924 version of the team would win “only” 96, but that was good enough for a first-place finish over Indianapolis. The team was piloted by backup catcher Nick Allen, succeeding long-time manager Mike Kelley, who had moved over to Minneapolis to assume the reigns of the Millers. Allen’s pitching staff was led by Cliff Markle (19–9, 3.01), Howard Merritt (19–17, 4.68), Paul Fittery (16–10, 4.37), and Tony Faeth (15–4, 3.45). St. Paul’s offensive leader was third baseman Charlie Dressen (.346, 18, 151), destined to become better known for his major league career as a manager, guiding the Brooklyn Dodgers to two pennants (1952, 1953) during his three years at the helm there. First baseman Johnny Neun, a Baltimore native, batted a healthy .353 with 5 home runs and 100 RBIs while leading the AA in stolen bases with 54. He would subsequently earn a degree of immortality after moving up to the Detroit Tigers in 1925 and, two years later, becoming one of only two first basemen in major-league history to execute an unassisted triple play.
Second baseman “Hap” Morse (.273, 3, 52) and shortstop Danny Boone (.259, 4, 65) rounded out the infield. Patrolling the outfield was AA runs leader Walt “Seacap” Christensen (.314, 8, 73) in center, flanked by Bruno Haas (.293, 11, 100) in left and, in right, Cliff Lee (.382, 3, 36). Leo Dixon (.272, 10, 67) was the everyday catcher. Also in the dugout was utility infielder Mark Koenig (.267, 0, 16), who would parlay this series into a starting role with the 1925 Saints before joining the Yankees and ultimately playing shortstop for the memorable 1927 team.
Baltimore had trained at Columbus, Georgia, and then barnstormed north, playing major- as well as minor-league teams. St. Paul had no opportunity to face major-league opposition during spring training. Assembling at Fort Smith, Arkansas, near the Oklahoma border in early March, the Saints broke camp on March 25 for a twelve-game exhibition tour of the Southern Association, through Memphis, Birmingham, Nashville, and Chattanooga, finishing with a record of 6–5 and one tie. The Baltimore Sun’s evaluation of the Orioles could have applied to the Saints equally well: “done well, without setting the world on fire.”
The tight AA pennant race of 1924
Unlike Baltimore, which won the IL pennant easily, St. Paul fought a hard, season-long pennant race. The AA season opened in mid-April. Indianapolis, Louisville, and St. Paul rose to the top of the standings, all of them holding first place at some point during the summer. By September 15, the Saints were on top at 84–62. Indianapolis was second at 82–65, and, at 82–66, Louisville was a close third.
A week later, with less than a week of the season remaining, the Indianapolis Indians, now holding a half-game lead over the Saints, went to St. Paul, where they lost four of five games and fell 21⁄2 games back. The Saints then split a four-game series against Louisville. Indianapolis got swept by the Minneapolis Millers in a three-game series, and that was the season.
The clincher came in the second game of a double-header versus Louisville on September 27 as Markle went the distance in the 5–3 win. Allen put things into perspective as reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “It’s too early to start crowing. Our biggest job lies ahead of us. When we have beaten Baltimore, and I am sure this is our year, then we will be able to call it a successful season” (September 28).
Opening in Baltimore
The Junior World Series was to open in Baltimore on Thursday, October 2. The Saints took the train from Minnesota on Monday evening. After an hour’s layover in Chicago, they departed for Maryland in time to work out at the home team’s Oriole Park on Wednesday. No Saint was suffering from anything worse than minor injuries as Allen put the team through “a short, but intensive workout ”:
After the usual infield and batting practice Allen took the men over the field, inspecting the distances to the fences and discussing the possible developments from hits to any field. Standing in left, center, and right fields successively, the players discussed every possible play that might develop from balls bouncing off the short fences and a plan of campaign was outlined that pretty comprehensively covered all the possibilities of the opening game. (Pioneer Press, October 2)
The series would be best-of-nine, a format that the major leagues had used previously for the Fall Classic in 1903 and then again in 1919, 1920, and 1921.
In Game 1, Allen went with Cliff Markle as his starting pitcher, while Dunn predictably sent to the mound Groves, as Lefty Grove was then known. Allen’s decision looked misguided when the Orioles’ lead-off hitter Fritz Maisel sent Markle’s second offering over the left-field fence to put the home team up in the first inning. The locals added another run and took that lead into the fourth when the Saints got to Grove for two runs. The tie held until the top of the ninth when Cliff Lee homered to right to give the visitors a 3–2 lead heading into the home ninth. After Maisel was retired, Connelly doubled to right, bringing up Merwin Jacobson, who “fixed his eye on the offering of the St. Paul pitcher,” according to the account in the Baltimore Sun (October 3), “gave a mighty swing at the whirling sphere and caught it squarely with his bat. Before it fell outside the park, a thousand fans were on the field to hail him chief, conqueror and premier batsman of the day.”
Despite the 4–3 defeat, the Pioneer Press in its account (October 3) was optimistic:
All in all, even in defeat, the Saints looked like the better team. Their superiority is marked in the outfield and even more so in the infield. The Orioles have an advantage in catching, not because McCarty is any part of the catcher Dixon is, but because he knows St. Paul’s hitters and guides his pitcher carefully and wisely [McCarty had played for 1923 AA Kansas City].
Five thousand St. Paul fans had stood outside the newspaper’s downtown offices at Minnesota Street watching the game’s progress on an electronic scoreboard. Others stood in windows and on roofs of adjacent buildings to catch the play-by-play reports. The crowd had taken heart when Lee had put the locals in front during the top of the ninth and called on Markle to preserve the victory. They were predictably disappointed when things turned sour in the last half of the inning.
Allen had intended to start Tony Faeth for the Saints in Game 2 but decided against that move as the well-traveled Faeth was a fly-ball pitcher who could be easily victimized in the small confines of Oriole Park. He decided to save Faeth for more spacious Lexington Park and go with Howard Merritt, who responded with a masterful three-hit shutout as the Saints won 6–0 and evened the series. Dunn had elected to start Jack Ogden and stayed with him through eight innings and ten hits. Charlie Dressen’s RBI single in the fourth, scoring Neun, put the Saints on the board first. Dressen’s two-run home run in the sixth made it 3-0, opening the floodgates for the Saints, who added one run in the eighth and two more off reliever Ed Tomlin in the ninth, but even Dressen’s heroics couldn’t overshadow Merritt’s performance. His
quiet confidence, his deliberate planning of every move, his calmness growing more serene as the situation grew more critical, was just the tonic the Saints needed. . . .With two on and two out, Walter Christensen ended the game by a nice catch of Freitag’s fly and the Baltimore fans, much to their credit, gave Merritt a genuine ovation, the tribute that was due an artist’s masterpiece. (Pioneer Press, October 4)
On October 4, in Game 3, three hours and ten minutes into play, the two teams were tied 6–6 after thirteen innings when the game was called due to darkness. Allen had rethought his reluctance to use Faeth in Oriole Park and got 52⁄3 innings out of him before bringing in Paul Fittery, who went the rest of the way. Dunn started Cliff Jackson, but he left in the fourth when the Saints came up with five runs. His relief, Tommy Thomas, finished the game. St. Paul carried a 6–3 lead into the sixth when Baltimore tied the game, Fritz Meisel chasing Faeth with a two-run homer. Both teams nearly won the game on solo home runs in extra innings. In the bottom of the eleventh, Connelly’s line drive nearly cleared the fence but was held to a double. In the top of the thirteenth, Dressen’s long fly missed going out by a yard or two.
Before the next day’s game, on Sunday, October 5, Baltimore second baseman Dick Porter received a cup as a reward for winning the IL batting title. Unfortunately for the Orioles, he would be throwing to someone other than Clayton Sheedy at first base. Sheedy had sprained his ankle in the tie game the day before, forcing Dunn to use pitcher Ed Tomlin in his place now in Game 4. Each manager returned his Game 1 starter, Grove and Markle, to the mound, and with the same outcome.
Close to 11,000, the largest crowd either team would draw for the series, saw the locals build up a 6–0 lead after seven innings, largely as the result of a four-run third inning. Markle was hit hard, walked two batters, and uncorked a wild pitch to put St. Paul in a hole. Allen relieved him with Herb McQuaid, 7–9 on the season, who gave up a run before yielding to Oscar Roettger (8– 4) in the seventh. The Saints made it interesting in the top of the ninth. Trailing 6–4 with Christensen on second and two out, Grove faced local product Neun. “Johnny wasted no time,” as Saints fan would read the next day in the Pioneer Press (October 6).
Swinging at the first ball pitched, he drove a tremendous fly to right field. “It’s over,” shouted the fans, and so it seemed. Connelly raced for the fence, which in that part of the field is only a little over waist high. He threw himself against the barrier, reached into the crowd beyond and made the catch.
Game 5: Ed Onslow and Mark Koenig
Game 4 had marked the series debut of Mark Koenig, who batted for Morse in the seventh and took his place at second base. The San Francisco native would find himself in the lineup for good in Game 5, but not at second. During batting practice before the final Baltimore game, on October 6, St. Paul’s shortstop Danny Boone was hit in the head by Faeth, and Koenig was his emergency replacement. He would also be the Saints’ only bright spot in a 10–1 pasting that put them down 3–1 in the series.
Merritt, who had pitched so brilliantly for the Saints in Game 2, was opposed by Baltimore’s George Earnshaw. This time it was Earnshaw who would throw a three-hitter. He struck out 11, the only run he allowed being a solo home run by Koenig in the sixth. Baltimore pounded Merritt, McQuaid, and Roettger for 12 hits.
Already deprived of their regular shortstop, the Saints were now faced with an Orioles lineup to which a significant bat had been added. To replace Sheedy, Baltimore’s first baseman who was now out for the series, the Orioles had recruited Toronto’s Ed Onslow. Under the series’ rules, teams suffering a season-ending injury to a player were allowed to pick from other AA teams a substitute player who was comparable (Pioneer Press, October 8). The Saints’ manager protested.
The game was delayed several minutes while the umpires and managers discussed the substitution of Eddie Onslow . . . for Sheedy. Allen announced that he [would play] the game under protest. . . . Allen’s contention was that Onslow had hit forty points higher than Sheedy and was acknowledged to be a far superior fielding first baseman.1
Later the conference moved over to the box occupied by J. Conway Toole, president of the International league, and J. W. Norton, owner of the St. Paul team. Here it was decided that President Hickey of the Association had agreed to the substitution before leaving for [the series]. Under the circumstances, Norton consented to withdraw the protest. (Pioneer Press, October 7)
Baltimore had earlier lost catcher Lew McCarty for the series after Game 2, but had a backup, Otto Freitag, on the roster, to which they were now more than happy to add Onslow, who went on to hit .318 in the series. For their part, the Saints, after losing their shortstop Boone, tried to get either Les Bell (Milwaukee), Ray French (Minneapolis), or Maurie Shannon (Louisville) but to no avail. Bell, with his 18 home runs and league-leading .365, would have been a stronger addition to the St. Paul lineup than Onslow was to Baltimore’s. In the end, Allen had to settle for Koenig.
The new Saints’ backup shortstop was twenty years old and in his fourth professional season. He had had cups of coffee in St. Paul during his first three seasons. After hitting .288 and six home runs in 1923 with Des Moines in the Western League, he earned a roster spot as utility infielder with the Saints in 1924.
Game 6: On to St. Paul
The series now shifted west. The train carrying both teams to the North Star State stopped at Pittsburgh, Boone’s hometown, where he was immediately taken to the hospital, as he had complained of partial paralysis at the back of his neck. The Orioles were in high spirits, with visions of closing out the series in the next two or three games. The Saints’ coach was directly behind theirs, but there was little interaction between the players. They departed Baltimore on the evening of October 6 and arrived in Chicago the following afternoon. After a three-hour layover, the train then departed for St. Paul’s Union Station, arriving at 7 A.M. on October 8. Play was scheduled to resume the following day and, despite their two-game deficit, the Saints were quietly optimistic that home-field advantage would now turn the series in their favor.
The Saints know they can beat Baltimore at Lexington Park. To win four games out of five, however, as they must to attain a championship, is an assignment which will take their best effort and a running start. If, by tonight, the series score stands three games to two, the Saints believe they are virtually starting the fight over again with an even chance. (Pioneer Press, October 9)
In what they might have felt to be a bad omen, the Orioles shortly after detraining at Union Station in St. Paul learned that there were no accommodations for them at the St. Francis Hotel because of a convention of funeral directors. The team soon found lodging at the Hotel Commodore, off St. Paul’s upscale Summit Avenue, and readied themselves for the renewal of the series. In the first five games, Baltimore pitchers had struck out 20 Saints with men on base. Grove had won both of his starts, and Earnshaw was impressive in his win. With the Saints striking out so often in clutch situations and now with a questionable middle infield—a rookie at short and an unsteady fielder at second (“Hap” Morse made six errors in the series)—the Orioles had reason for optimism, their brush with the funeral directors notwithstanding.
The starters for Games 1 and 4 were at it again in Game 6, but this time Grove would be beaten and Markle wouldn’t figure in the decision. It was St. Paul’s turn for a pregame presentation, as manager Nick Allen received a new sedan from the fans. When he came to bat in the first inning, Johnny Neun was given a silver bat and ball for leading the team in hitting.
The Orioles carried a 2–0 lead into the bottom of the sixth when the Saints’ bats came to life. With one out, Koenig sent Grove’s offering to the roof of the neighboring Coliseum to draw the home team within one run. After Dixon fouled out, they went on to capture the lead. Paul Fittery, who had relieved Markle in the top of the inning, walked and moved to second on Christensen’s single. Then came a blooper that opened the floodgates. Morse, who not only was fielding poorly but hitting just as badly, got a Texas League single when Baltimore’s Porter, Jacobson, and Connelly let a catchable fly ball fall between them. Fittery scored to tie the game. Neun then singled, scoring Christensen, as Morse raced to third. When Grove cut off Connelly’s throw from right in an attempt to get Neun at second, the ball bounced off his glove, and Morse came in with St. Paul’s fourth run. The home team picked up another run in the seventh on a Koenig sacrifice fly as Fittery closed out the game, and the Saints held on to win 5–2. The Pioneer Press heaped praise on the future Yankee:
And they were looking for someone to take the place of Mark Koenig.
They combed the country for a shortstop, an experienced infielder who would not crack under the strain of a championship series, one whose throws would be true and, most of all, one who could hit.
They wanted a veteran to play for the youngster who, between cracks of his melodious gum, put St. Paul back in the fighting. They wanted Lester Bell (for his hitting)…… Koenig hit 1.000 for the day; they wanted Bell because he could range here and there…… Koenig ranged as far as Bell and sent some throws that Bell would envy. (October 10)
Koenig couldn’t match that performance the next day, October 10, in Game 7. The only effective Saint was center fielder Walt Christensen. He collected two of only three hits allowed by Oriole starter Tommy Thomas as the visitors shut out the Saints, 4–0, and took what appeared to be a nearly insurmountable series lead of 4–2. Thomas had earlier pitched the near-equivalent of a full game when he relieved Jackson in the 13-inning game that ended in a 6–6 tie. He had struck out 7 then and struck out 11 here in Game 7 while driving in two of Baltimore’s four runs with a sacrifice fly and a single.
The sacrifice fly came in the fifth inning and scored Jacobs from third as the Orioles took the lead. An inning later, they got to Saints’ starter Howard Merritt for three runs in a rally that began with Jacobson’s lead-off triple. Porter doubled in Jacobson and went to third on Boley’s ground-out to Koenig. Onslow singled him in and scored on Thomas’s single. Merritt was gone after the sixth, as Allen brought in Roettger and McQuade to finish the game. They allowed no hits, the Saints lineup could do nothing against Thomas’s blazing speed. The victory put Baltimore one game from the championship.
In a practice that by today’s standards could only be called quaint, the Orioles dressed at their hotel and traveled to Lexington Park in taxis. The Pioneer Press reported that “they were greeted with hearty applause when they walked to their dugout” (October 10)—an early expression, perhaps, of what has come to be known as “Minnesota Nice”?
Now facing elimination, the Saints, as the Pioneer Press (October 11) described the situation, “are in a desperate predicament. They need to win three games running. Baltimore needs one. This is not wholly impossible, but it must be accomplished against the same kind of pitching that has effectively halted the Saints so far, for Jack Dunn has George Earnshaw in reserve and Earnshaw is just as fast as Thomas.”
Dunn may have had Earnshaw and Thomas, but Allen had Tony Faeth on the mound and Mark Koenig in the lineup for Game 8 on October 11. Faeth had given up 9 hits in 52⁄3 innings in the tie game and in this contest surrendered 10, but they were scattered. He gave up only two runs, and the Saints held on to eke out a 3–2 victory. The Orioles took a 1–0 lead in the second when Onslow, who had singled and gone to second on an error, scored on Jacobs’s single. In the home third, Koenig doubled. The next two batters were retired, and then Christensen walked. The substitute shortstop came in with the tying run when Porter booted Morse’s grounder.
The next inning, Koenig singled Dressen in from second to put St. Paul up 2–1. Baltimore spent the next several innings failing to take advantage of scoring opportunities until they managed another run off Faeth in the seventh. With two down, Jacobson walked and reached third on Porter’s hit-and-run single. Onslow, who was proving to be a valuable addition to the Baltimore lineup, then doubled, bringing Jacobson in with the tying run. The visitors almost took the lead, but Porter was thrown out at home trying to score on Onslow’s hit.
It was Koenig again in the home seventh, as he found himself on third after his hit to right eluded Connelly and bounded off the stands. Dixon then singled him in to give the Saints the lead again. Dunn stayed with Earnshaw through the eighth. In the top of the inning, Allen had brought in Paul Fittery, who stayed in the game to close out the Orioles on two harmless hits.
The win brought St. Paul within a game of evening out the series. The Sun cited a controversial play in the Baltimore third that might have changed the game’s complexion:
The reversal of a decision by Umpire Harry Geisel (IL) really cost the International League champions the game. With one down . . . Jacobson slashed a single past Dressen . . . after Porter hoisted to Haas . . . Onslow came to bat.
Onslow sent a “sinker” to Christensen in center. The outfielder came in fast and in a lunge apparently trapped the ball. Jacobson pulled up at third. Geisel ruled that the drive had not been caught, but the St. Paul players, led by Manager Nick Allen, surrounded the arbiter, violently disagreeing. In his dilemma, Geisel appealed to Umpire Ollie Chill (AA), working behind the plate, and when Chill declared that Christensen had caught the ball, Geisel so decided.
This judgment was costly, for it made the third out. In the following inning, Boley and Jacobs pounded out clean singles. (Sun, October 12)
Predictably, the Pioneer Press said considerably less: “It looked as if Christensen had caught Onslow’s low liner but Geisel ruled he had caught it on the hop. Chill, however, overruled the base umpire and the side was called out” (October 12).
It was, of course, the classic “what might have been” scenario, but reading the accounts some eighty-plus years after the fact, one finds it difficult to accept Chill’s overruling Geisel, who presumably had a better view of the play. The intimidation factor from both Allen and the Saints’ players in front of a home crowd would appear to have played a role in Chill’s reversal. Nonetheless, who’s to say that Boley or Jacobs would have brought Jacobson home if the play had gone as a hit?
Sunday, October 12, was an overcast day with occasional showers and low visibility. It was weather thought to be ideal for Lefty Grove’s fastball as Dunn went to his ace to finish out the series in game nine. Allen came back with Fittery, who had closed out game eight less than twenty-four hours previously. The thirty-seven-year-old veteran scattered five hits into the seventh inning before giving way to Cliff Markle. By that time, St. Paul led 3–1 on single runs picked up in the first, third, and fifth innings. Allen had reshuffled his batting order, moving Dressen to cleanup, placing Lee in right in lieu of Wade and batting him sixth, while Joe Riggert came off the bench to play left and bat fifth. Similarly, Dunn switched Jacobs and Connelly, with the former now batting second and the latter seventh.
The moves worked far better for the home team as Dressen went three for four and drove in two runs. Jacobs, who had gone three for four the day before, went hitless but very nearly put the Orioles ahead in the fifth. Trailing 2–1, with two out and a runner on third, he drove a hard liner to Riggert: “The first thought was that it would clear the fence . . . Joe Riggert . . . when he felt the fence at his back, made a desperate leap and brought the ball down to retire the side” (Pioneer Press, October 13).
The play was critical as the Saints scored in their half of the inning and the 3–1 lead held to the end of the game. Dunn had pinch-hit for Grove in the fifth, relieving him with Ogden, while Allen stayed with Fittery into the seventh when he brought Cliff Markle in to finish things off. Markle got Maisel to hit a looping fly into left center where Morse made a difficult catch to squelch Baltimore’s last rally.
The series was now tied at four games each and momentum—that oft-used phrase that had yet to enter sport’s vernacular—was now clearly on the Saints’ side.
The St. Paul management attempted to get the final and decisive game ten moved to Tuesday when they suggested that attendance would be better, but neither Dunn nor IL President Toole would agree. Was a bigger gate really the basis for the home team wanting the delay or was there a more compelling reason, such as perhaps another day’s rest for the projected Saints’ starting pitcher?
The Sun on October 13 sensed disaster looming:
That St. Paul is a hard club to beat on its home grounds is being brought home to the Orioles. They are trying their best to win the series, but the Saints are battling every inch of the way and have [the] most pepper. On Friday, the Birds were leading four games to two, but now are face-to-face with disaster.
A sense of cautious optimism was voiced by the Pioneer Press (October 13):
When the Saints came home from Baltimore, they needed four games out of five to win the Junior World’s championship. It seemed a hopeless task[,] but they won three out of four and now stand even with their rivals. Everything depends upon today’s game.
The Game 7 starters would face each other again in the finale before 6,000 at Lexington Park. Mississippi native Howard Merritt made his fourth start of the series for St. Paul while Tommy Thomas, who had shut out the Saints for eighteen innings, went to the mound for Baltimore.
Dunn was soon to discover that Thomas’s touch had run its course, as the home team got to him for single runs in the second, third, and fourth innings. The last two runs were solo home runs by Dressen and Dixon. After the latter led off the fourth with his home run on Thomas’s first pitch, Dunn relieved with Cliff Jackson, who had made only one appearance in the series. Jackson was effective into the sixth, when St. Paul picked up two more runs as Koenig led off with a double, advanced to third after two outs, and came in on Christensen’s single down the third-base line. The Saints’ center fielder then stole second, advanced to third on Morse’s infield hit, and scored when Jackson balked.
Earlier in the fourth, the Orioles had seriously threatened when Jacobs and Jacobson opened with back-to-back singles, but Merritt bore down and retired the side. Now laboring into the seventh and clearly showing the effects of twenty-five innings of series work, Merritt faltered. With two on and two out, Maisel homered to bring the visitors to within two runs at 5–3. It would be as close as they would get. Merritt then shut the door.
Long after his [Merritt’s] curve had stopped breaking and his fast ball had stopped hopping he found enough of the courage and shrewdness, enough hidden power, to deliver the occasional baffling pitches which struck at the heart of the Baltimore attack. Alternately he pitched with caution and with daring but always with consummate wisdom and gameness. (Pioneer Press, October 14)
Merritt retired the side in order in the eighth and got the first two hitters in the ninth when Freitag singled. With Baltimore down 6-3, Dunn let Earnshaw, who had come in to relieve Jackson in the seventh and was a good hitter, come to bat. He grounded to Koenig, whose toss to Morse forced Freitag, and St. Paul had come all the way back to win the Junior World Series, accomplishing a feat that only seventy-two hours earlier was so improbable.
From the shadow of almost certain defeat to a faint, scarcely discernible glimmer of hope, from faint hope to actual opportunity and from opportunity to a joyous, explosive, cheer[-]crowned success the Saints fought their way doggedly and bravely to as glorious a victory, capture of the Junior World’s [S]eries, as has ever rewarded the fighting spirit of a fighting team. . . .
The suspense that the team has been playing under for the past five days broke loose . . . (at) the final out in the ninth. There was a hip-hip-hooray and the dash for the showers began. . . .
Spectators swarmed out on the field and started a demonstration, but they had so tired themselves rooting that their voices failed them. (Pioneer Press, October 14)
Merritt captured the most attention with his courageous late-inning efforts when it was apparent to all that he was almost beyond fatigue. He gave high praise to trainer John Bridges. “Were it not for Bridges,” he told the Pioneer Press (October 14), “I wouldn’t have been able to pitch today. My arm was limp Sunday. I couldn’t raise it and it seemed as if I never would be able to pitch again, but Bridges worked on it, and this morning it seemed like another arm.” Perhaps we now know why the Saints wanted Game 10 delayed.
Merritt had won two games, a number bested by Fittery, who sported a superb 0.47 ERA along with his three wins. Clearly, Mark Koenig had emerged as the Saints’ hitting star with a .474 average from nine hits in nineteen at-bats in seven games. Six of his hits were for extra bases and included two home runs. His second home run won Game 6, and his key hits in Game 8 helped St. Paul avoid elimination and win the first of the three straight games they had to win to take the series. St. Paul’s other heavy hitter was Charlie Dressen—.351, 2 home runs, 8 RBIs.
Whereas Dressen would go on to be remembered perhaps best, and if so unfairly, as the manager of Dodger teams that lost the World Series to the Yankees in the 1950s, Koenig‘s name would be forever linked with the great Yankees’ team of 1927. As their everyday shortstop, he hit a solid .285 with 62 RBIs. Over a twelve-year major-league career, he hit 279, drove in 443 runs, and played in five World Series—three with the Yankees and one each with the Cubs and Giants. “I was never the player I should have been,” he would say of himself years later. “I was too hard on myself.”2 But in October 1924 he was exactly the player he should have been.
The Saints celebrated that night at a banquet at Hime’s Café, on the site of the present-day St. Paul Travelers’ building, in an event open to the public. Allen got the greatest ovation, with his players leading the cheering. In only his first year as manager, he had done it all and had done it in a spectacular fashion.
As for the Orioles:
The Birds were a disconsolate band as they headed back to Maryland. They fell down miserably in the pinches and the batting was terrible. Porter, bothered by injuries, failed to shine on either defense or attack, while Connelly and Boley were weak as kittens at the bat. Failure of Lefty Groves to win a single game here hurt. The lefthander had captured a pair in Baltimore and was counted on to continue his victorious march here. (Sun, October 14)
The analysis is perhaps harsh, as Porter did hit .316, although with only 4 RBIs. Similarly, Jacobs, not mentioned above, hit .425, but with only 3 RBIs. Grove was the most noteworthy of the Orioles, and Dunn eventually sold him to the Philadelphia Athletics. Grove would go on to put up Hall of Fame numbers with them as well as with the Red Sox. He appeared in three World Series for the Athletics and logged a major-league career record of 300–146 with a 3.06 ERA.
“No cheering fans greeted the Orioles early yesterday morning at Union Station when the Birds returned after an unsuccessful quest,” reported the Sun on October 16.
“A few friends and relatives of the players were on hand to greet them, and the Orioles who live here lost little time in reaching home. Jack Dunn had little to say. ‘They beat us, and that’s about all,’ said the Oriole magnate, and the players in general were reticent in discussing their set back.”
The great come-from-behind victory would prove to be a high-water mark for the St. Paul Saints, as they avenged their defeats in 1920 and 1922 but would never win another Junior World Series, losing to Rochester in 1931 and Montreal in 1948.
ROGER GODIN, a SABR member since 1977, is author of The 1922 St. Louis Browns: The Best of the American League’s Worst (McFarland, 1991). He serves as team curator for the Minnesota Wild of the NHL and has written and researched extensively about hockey as played by Americans in the United States.
1924 Junior World Series
Game 1—Oct. 2
St. Paul 3
Game 2—Oct. 3
St. Paul 6
Game 3 (13 innings)—Oct. 4
St. Paul 6
Game 4—Oct. 5
St. Paul 4
Game 5—Oct. 6
St. Paul 1
Game 6—Oct. 9
St. Paul 5
Game 7—Oct. 10
St. Paul 0
Game 8—Oct. 11
St. Paul 3
Game 9—Oct. 12
St. Paul 3
Game 10—Oct. 12
St. Paul 6
ATTENDANCE: c. 6,000
Bailey, Bob. History of the Junior World Series. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2004.
Minor League Baseball Stars. Cooperstwon, N.Y.: Society for American Baseball Research, 1978.
Minor League Baseball Stars. Volume 2. Cooperstown, N.Y.: Society for American Baseball Research, 1985.
Minor League Baseball Stars. Volume 3. Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 1992.
Mosedale, John. The Greatest of All: The 1927 Yankees. New York: Warner Books, 1974.
Thornley, Stew. Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2006.
Weiss, Bill, and Marshall Wright. The 100 Greatest Minor League Baseball Teams of the Twentieth Century. N.p.: Outskirt Press, 2006.
St. Paul Daily News St. Paul Pioneer Press
- In fact, Onslow hit 33 points higher than Sheedy, .331 to .298.
- John Mosedale, The Greatest of All: The 1927 New York Yankees (New York: Warner Books, 1974), 59.