The War of 1912: The Wood-Johnson Duel

This article was written by Emil Rothe

This article was published in the 1974 Baseball Research Journal


Baseball history is replete with games in which great pitchers have been called upon to face each other in mound duels.  Christy Mathewson versus Three Finger Brown; Carl Hubbell against Dizzy Dean; those two lefties, Gomez and Grove; Juan Marichal facing Sandy Koufax — each era has had its exciting match-ups.  But, no single such confrontation was ever played in a more dramatic and emotional atmosphere than the game of September 6, 1912, in Boston’s Fenway Park, with Walter Johnson taking the bill for the visiting Washington Senators, opposing the Red Sox pitching ace, Smoky Joe Wood.

Earlier that season Walter Johnson had fashioned a personal win streak that had reached 16, a new American

League record, breaking by two the record that had been held by Jack Chesbro of the New York Highlanders since 1904.  Johnson’s record-breaking 15th successive win came on August 20 and he added number 16 as he beat Detroit 8-1, on August 23.

A heart-breaking loss in relief on August 26 ended his string.  Walter had taken over from starter Tom Hughes in the seventh of the second game of a double header with the score tied and two St. Louis Browns on base.  One of them scored the winning run before Johnson could retire the side.  Under today’s scoring rules Hughes would have been charged with that winning run, but Ban Johnson, president of the American League, decreed the loss be charged to Walter Johnson.  His decision was bitterly denounced, especially in Washington.  On August 28, however, that edict and the storm that it created became academic when Walter started against the Browns, went the distance, and lost, 3-2.   While he only gave up four hits that day, he also walked four and hit his pitching opponent, Jack Powell.

In that same year, 1912, Rube Marquard opened the season for the New York Giants with an 18-3 win over Brooklyn.   The game was played before an overflow crowd and had to be called after six innings because of “congestion”; the fans had encroached the foul lines so as to hamper further play.  Rube went on without a loss for 19 consecutive victories.

Again, by today’s standards, Rube’s record would have been 20 and he would not now be sharing the major league record with Tim Keefe of New York.   Keefe also ran up 19 in 1888, under different pitching rules than those extant since the turn of the century.  Early in the 1912 season, Marquard was sent in to relieve Jeff Tesreau with the score 3-2 against the Giants in the ninth.    In the bottom of that inning New York rallied to win 4-3 but the victory was credited to Tesreau.

As Johnson’s streak between July 3 and August 23 had grown and had posed a threat to Marquard’s major league mark achieved earlier in 1912, Joe Wood, starting a consecutive string of wins of his own on July 8, was threatening Johnson’s newly acquired A.L. record as a series between Washington and Boston approached.

Recognizing the drama of a head-to-head meeting between these two great pitchers, baseball fans and writers, everywhere, clamored for the opportunity for Johnson, himself, to put an end to Wood’s threat to his record 16 consecutive wins acquired less than two weeks before.  Walter’s regular turn was to be Friday, September 6, but Wood was not scheduled to take the mound again until Saturday.

Jake Stahl, Boston manager, aware of the sporting nature of the proposal, agreed to start Wood a day earlier.  The fans responded over 30,000 strong far more than Fenway Park could accommodate in those days.  On the day of the game, fans who could not be seated overflowed onto the playing field.  Standing room was established behind ropes in front of the outfield walls and bleachers.  Other spectators crowded along the foul lines.  The teams were not even able to use their own dugouts, but were obliged to use chairs set up in front of the multitudes ranged along the foul lines.

In the second game of a twinbill against the New York Highlanders on September 2, Joe Wood had won his

13th game without a loss and so, on September 6, he was seeking his 14th while Johnson was hoping to end Smoky Joe’s threat to a record that Walter had scarcely had time to get used to owning.

As expected, the game developed into a bona fide pitching battle.  Boston put together two singles in the second but Walter escaped that threat as Heinie Wagner raced into the outfield to grab a pop fly in spectacular fashion for the third out.  Washington filled the bases in the third, two on walks, but Smoky Joe fanned Danny Moeller for the third out.

The lone tally of this memorable game came in the sixth after Walter had disposed of the first two batters of the inning.   Tris Speaker hit into the crowd in left for a ground-rule double.  Duffy Lewis, next up, drove a hard liner along the right field foul line which Moeller, the Senator right fielder, almost caught, the ball just ticked his glove as Speaker scored and Lewis reached second.

The Senators had men in scoring position, at second, in the sixth, eighth, and ninth but Wood was tough when he had to be.   In two of those innings he got the final out via a strike out.   In all, he fanned nine Senators, and the shutout was one of 10 he registered in 1912.

Having registered win #14 in his heart-stopping 1-0 conquest of Walter Johnson and the Senators, Wood next faced Doc White in Chicago on September 10.  Going into the ninth of this game with a 5-3 lead, Joe was touched for a lead-off double by Wally Mattick and a single by Harry Lord, running the hit total for the hone club to a round dozen.   Manager Stahl realized that Joe was not at his beat and called in Charles “Sea Lion” Hall to save the game.  A sacrifice fly by Shano Collins brought the White sox to Within one run of a tie but Hall disposed of the next two to preserve #15 for Joe Wood.

Wood’s next turn occurred in St. Louis on September 15, in the second game of a double header.  He beat the

Browns 2-1, in an eight inning game for #16 and a tie with Johnson for the A.L. consecutive game record.   The game had to be called after eight innings because of darkness and it was Wood, himself, who scored the winning run in the top of that last inning.

Joe’s bid to better the A.L. pitcher’s win streak and to threaten the major league mark came to an end in

Detroit when the Tigers scored two unearned runs to win, 6-4, on September 20.   While Wood went the distance, he was not effective, surrendering seven hits and being wild.  In the third inning, for example, he walked his pitching opponent, Bill Covington, and then, in succession Donie Bush, Red Corriden, and Wahoo Sam Crawford.

While Johnson won a spectacular 32 games in 1912, Wood closed out the season with an even more impressive mark.  He won 34 and lost only 5, one of the all-time great season records.

In the “strange but true” category, the modern records (since 1900) for consecutive wins by a pitcher in a single season were established in that one year; Marquard’s major league 19 and the 16 with which Johnson and Wood recorded American League highs.   The A.L. record has since been tied by Lefty Grove of Philadelphia in 1931 and Schoolboy Rowe of Detroit in 1934.   The most remarkable display of avoiding a pitching defeat, however, belongs to Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants.   King Carl, the “Meal Ticket”, ended 1936 with a run of 16 straight wins and then started the 1937 season with 8 more to make it 24 games without tasting defeat.

Many baseball games are remembered by players and fans for a multitude of reasons; maybe it was the first game a player ever played, or the day he could do no wrong on the field, the first time a boy’s father took him to a game, or a game of historical import.   Whatever the reason, almost every game will live in someone’s memory as long as that someone lives.   Some games, though deserve to be remembered by the entire baseball community for all time.  The Walter Johnson-Joe Wood contest played on September 6, 1912 should be one of those.  Here is the box score.

 

Washington

 

 

Boston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AB

R

H

 

 

 

AB

R

H

Milan,  cf

3

0

1

 

 

Hooper, rf

4

0

0

Foster,  3b

3

0

1

 

 

Yerkes, 2b

4

0

1

Moeller, rf

4

0

0

 

 

Speaker, cf

2

1

1

Gandil,  lb

4

0

0

 

 

Lewis,  lf

2

0

1

Laporte, 2b

4

0

2

 

 

Gardner, 3b

3

0

1

Moran,  lf

3

0

0

 

 

Engle, lb

3

0

1

McBride, ss

4

0

1

 

 

Wagner, ss

3

0

0

Ainsmith, c

2

0

0

 

 

Cady, c

3

0

0

Johnson, p.

3

0

1

 

 

Wood, p

3

0

0

 

            Washington……………………000  000  000 – 0

            Boston…………………………000  001  00x – 1

 

2-base hits – McBride, Laport, Speaker, Lewis.

Sacrifice hits – Ainsmith, Lewis, Moran

Runs batted in – Lewis.

Stolen base – Foster

Left on bases – Boston 4, Washington 8.

Double play – Wood to Wagner to Engle.

Bases on balls – Johnson 1, Wood 3.

Struck out – Wood 9, Johnson 5.

Time – 1:46.  Umpires –  Connolly and Hart

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