Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit: Chapter 9

Jim Rogash - Getty Images

On this Red Sox off-day, let's join the temporally challenged Ryan O'Malley back in 1912 . Things were just better then- well, expect for racism, gamblers fixing games, baseball players beating people... Ok, just the Red Sox were better then.

It is almost over. The 2012 season has not gone well, but 100 years ago thinks were very different. Newly hired manager Jake Stahl brought together a troubled clubhouse, Smokey Joe anchored a dominant starting rotation and star centerfielder Tris Speaker did not dislocate his shoulder in April. It was pretty awesome. Let's join the temporally challenged Ryan O'Malley back there on this Red Sox off-day. Things were just better then- well, expect for racism, gambling, baseball players beating people... Ok, just the Red Sox were better then.

Get caught up on the story with the first eight Chapters if you need. They are right here
Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 8

Mulholland had significantly unnerved me and I decided it was best to avoid Third Base and Sport Sullivan for a while. I did not hear anything about him taking action on Cobb’s suspension and instigating the bet seemed too risky now that Sullivan was so clearly annoyed with me and a fellow reporter was deeply suspicious of my foresight. I could hardly avoid the press box, given my position but I told myself that not betting so consistently would probably be enough to divert attention away from my "sources" of information.

By this time I had made enough money beyond my salary to be quite comfortable for the time being. I had a decent job as well and I knew a fair amount about the future. If I couldn’t make a fortune betting on every game, I’d make it in the stock market or by betting bigger on the few sure things I had knowledge of. I had given up any hope that I would return to this time by that point. I had also forgotten entirely about my fears of disrupting the future. If I wasn’t going to see 2011, I need not worry about my effect on it. I might have missed my chance to bet on Ty Cobb’s suspension, but thinking about the embattled slugger had given me another idea for making my fortune. I remember that Cobb was among the richest ballplayers of his time, not because he was well paid (though he was, relatively speaking) but because he had stock in a tiny start up company in his home state called Coca-Cola. If Cobb could make his fortune in that stock, so could I. I could also take a hand in GE, AT&T and any of the other future Fortune 500 companies that were just in their infancy in those days.

After Cobb and the Tigers had left town, the Red Sox stream rolled through the month of May. The White Sox and the A’s presented the only challenges in that month which was characterized by dreadful teams getting blown away by the Sox. The White Sox were the early season’s big surprise. They had jumped out to a big lead in the American League after a fifth place finish in 1911. They were led by big Ed Walsh, the greatest practitioner of the spitball, who seemed to throw almost every inning of the season for them. They had won the 1909 World Series with a team that had been known as the "hitless wonders" and the men at Third Base still used the moniker. It still fit. Behind Walsh the White Sox had second year pitcher Joe Benz coming into his own and a punchless offense that struggled to score, yet when they arrived at Fenway in mid-May they held a record of 22-6. They took two of three from the Red Sox behind two starts in four days from Ed Walsh. Wood beat him in the final game of the series in a 2-0 squeaker. I couldn’t help but make a small wager on that one, as the odds against the Sox shot up thanks to Walsh and the White Sox surprising start and it paid well.

The Sox would be home for the entire month of May and then on the road for almost all of June. These were the days of train travel and even with St. Louis representing the furthest western outpost of the game, it was impossible for teams to play a series at home, a couple of series on the road and then jet back home. This made the schedule extremely frustrating for most fans. The team had gone 13-6 in their long May home stand and enthusiasm for the club peak was peaking just they set off for a 24 game road trip. This was particularly painful for me since it meant that I had to sit through a solid month of Boston Braves baseball. It was not completely wasted time, as it saw them pummeled by the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance Cubs who were on the way down from their 1908 era of dominance, then saw them run over by Honus Wagner and his Pirates and ended the month with a thorough sweep from John McGraw’s Giants, who were now making quick work of the declining National League. Upon leaving Boston, the Giants were an absurd 42-11. Matty was still that League’s best pitcher, but he was being challenged by the team’s lefty Rube Marquad who had not lost a game to that point in 1912. The few Braves fans that remained in the city got by on a kind of gallows’ humor, but they were the minority even in their own ballpark. The town belonged to the Red Sox and Braves games were little more than a chance to get in a game (and just as significantly, to get in a few wagers) whenever the Sox were on the road.

This unfortunate scheduling system finally broke Ellis’ back on the travel. The home stand had been a boon for the paper and Ellis’ appetite for Red Sox stories kept me at the paper later and later as May wore on. Aside from being a tremendously successful home stand for the club, the team had given me a wealth of material to write about. While they may have been the most talented club in the big leagues, the 1912 Red Sox were not a very cohesive group. The team’s younger players, many of whom were Southern and Protestant did not get along with the old guard that was predominantly local and Catholic. The leaders among the groups were catcher Bill Carrigan on one side and Joe Wood on the other and the tension between the two was enough that Wood never wanted to throw to the prickly vet known as "Rough Bill". It was problematic for Wood who struggled to control the running game- Carrigan possessed a good arm and his back up Les Numaker did not- and problematic for the lineup because Carrigan, though completely lacking in power, was a much better hitter than Wood’s personal catcher. Stahl could make concessions to Wood, his ace, but the division in the club was not always so easily neutralized. Duffy Lewis played right next to the combative Speaker and yet the two hardly spoke.

Manager Jake Stahl was an odd choice as a peacemaker for the clubhouse and his relationship to Ban Johnson and his ability to hit and play first had probably outweighed his managerial prowess in the selection process. He was soft-spoken and avoided conflict when he could. He left the job of dictating defensive positioning to Carrigan or else to shortstop Heine Wagner and his lineups were extremely consistent and regular. Early in the season, this tension threatened to overwhelm the clubhouse and Stahl appeared to be hanging on by a thread. He had suffered an ankle injury and there were rumors that he would be replaced as the first baseman by the slick fielding and even slicker talking Hal Chase, who was with the Highlanders. It was a disturbing idea as Chase was easily the most corrupt player in the game’s history. The only person who took to the idea at all was Sport Sullivan, which was telling. Had the team not begun winning on that home stand things could have gotten very ugly, very fast, but even back then the old cliché was true- "winning solves everything." Lewis and Speaker didn’t need to talk any more than to call for a ball and Carrigan could hardly have caught all 154 games, so keeping him away from Wood, who was hell on a catcher in those days before shin guards and decent padding, was hardly a problem for anyone. In his own quiet way Stahl brokered a tentative peace early on and the winning cemented it.

The Red Sox left for Cleveland at the start of June for the first stop on their month long road trip sporting with a record of 25-14. They were still three games back on the White Sox, who proceed them in Cleveland but the Pale Hose had gone 3-2 against the lowly Naps and seemed to be slipping. Meanwhile, everything had started to click for the Red Sox. In particular, Duffy Lewis began to elevate his game to match Hooper and Speaker. Fenway was the perfect environment for him and as he grew accustomed to playing the steep embankment and the Wall in left, his major flaw- his defense, soon became one of this biggest strengths. Where other fielders would stumble as they tried to track a fly ball up the hill to the base of the wall, Lewis became a master of the feat. He learned to approach fly balls there on angle, catching them as he reached the apex of his run up the hill and then using his momentum down the hill to power a sharp throw back to the infield where he would cut down tagging runners. He also learned which balls were destined to catch the wall above his reach and he became an expert at positioning himself downhill where they would land and roll directly into his glove. In May, enough runners had made the mistake of testing Lewis that word had started to spread about him. By the end of the next home stand left field would be dubbed Duffy’s Cliff.

Aside from Speaker, who was just getting started on one of the all time great seasons any centerfielder has ever had, Lewis was my favorite player to watch. His mastery of the wall and the cliff was not limited to just defense. He was a dead-pull hitter and he took full advantage of Fenway at the plate. There was a perverse pleasure in watching him slash line drives that sent an opponent’s left fielder hurling towards the obstacles he alone had mastered. With Stahl out of the line, Lewis was the only right handed hitter with power on the club and he seemed to rise to that challenge.

With the Sox out-of-town, I found it harder and harder to avoid Third Base and Sport Sullivan. I had curtailed my betting for much of the home stand and, though Mulholland would still shoot the occasional glance my way, nearly everyone else had forgotten about my mystical powers of perception. Beyond the desire to fleece Sullivan for a few more bucks, the real temptation of McGreevy’s saloon was the Rooters and the incredible access I gained from them. They were the authority on every rumor that was fit to print and thousands more than weren’t. I tried hard to avoid getting sucked into the gossip side of sports coverage, but Joe Wood, Duffy Lewis and many of the other players produced so much speculation with their socializing that I could not always avoid it. In this respect, the Rooters were invaluable. They worshipped the Red Sox players and the players knew they were always good for a few drinks or a steak dinner. The division between these super fans and the men they routed for was extremely hazy. The veteran local men like Carrigan might even show up at the saloon now and again and on those rare occasions they were treated like kings. A few drinks into the evening, I could learn almost as much about the inner working of the team as I could in hours of badgering the player’s during batting practice or calling GM James McAleer’s office all day. These men were not just fans, they were also the gears of Boston’s political machine, its biggest business owners and its wealthiest citizens and little happened in the OldTown that they did not hear about or directly influence.

With the team out of town, Third Base replaced Fenway as the place to be during games. McGreevy and his small staff operated a scoreboard on the outer wall of the bar and during away games a huge crowd would stand around the bar and watch as plaques with the players names were hung in the batter’s box, at their positions, and on mound and the images of base runners were placed at each base as the action came across the wire. There was little radio and no television at all and this was only way to see an away game "live" as it happened and it was extremely popular. When the team was out west, I would often catch the last inning or two of the Sox game at the bar, and even though this meant late nights at the copy desk, I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Late in June, I left a particularly close and therefore grueling Braves’ lose as quickly as possible to get to the bar. The Red Sox were in Chicago and they had a chance to take the lead in the American League that night, so I wanted to be there at the board for the last few innings. Walsh had beaten them in the first game of the series and brought the two teams back into a tie. Boston had Wood going in this one and it seemed a good bet that they would take back first. I got there in time to see the final few outs posted and to celebrate the Red Sox return to first place with the jubilant crowd.

As I was finishing a celebratory glass of whiskey with a few of the Rooters and preparing to leave, I caught the glance of a familiar face. I couldn’t place it, but I was certain I had seen the man talking with Sport Sullivan before. He was young and clean shaven, maybe in his mid-twenties, Irish-looking and modestly dressed. I would hardly have dwelt on him except that as I noticed him, he seemed to be doing the same. We shared a brief stare before he looked away, returning his attention to Sullivan and whatever seedy exchange was taking place between them. I hardly gave him another thought as I returned to some inane conversation about baseball minutia and finished my drink.

I made a familiar stumble back to the street car and took it downtown to the Crier offices. It would be a long night. I had sent the Braves recap with my runner, Danny- an eager kid who Ellis assigned to me after weeks of lobbying for a second writer to cover the Braves. Danny wanted to be a sportswriter and he had some familial connection with Ellis or another bigwig at the paper. Rather than giving in and hiring another writer, Ellis had sent this twelve year old kid to me to run the stories back to the copy desk for the morning edition deadline or to bring me the wire stories at the ball park when the away team wrapped up earlier. It was just slightly better than nothing.

Tonight, I would need to write a story on the White Sox game and another on the Red Sox taking possession of first place. Without being in Chicago, I had no chance to fill the second story in with quotes and so I was dreading writing it. I would have to work quickly to if I wanted at least one of the two to make the second edition, but for some reason as I rode the streetcar back to the office, I could only focus on the identity of that mystery man at the bar. It began to bother me more and more. It shouldn’t have mattered at all. Dozens of people came in night after night to seek out Sullivan and settle their debt or place a wager, and it was entirely possible that he was just some gambler than I had seen here and there as he went about his betting. His face was hardly distinctive and I could simply be confusing him with someone else, some one from the ball park or the newspaper-

That was when it struck me. It was the newspaper. The man I had seen talking with Sport Sullivan had sold me the issue of the Town Crier I had bought the morning I first woke up in 1912. The Titanic had just set sail and I had been stunned at the sight of that article. He had pried a nickel from my hand for it.

I felt sick. The odds that the nickel I had given him bore some future date were overwhelming. He had not looked at it then and I had not given any thought to the matter since. Had he noticed the strange coin later? Had he connected it to me? Why was he talking to Sullivan? My mind began racing. It was possible that this man had evidence that I was, in fact, from the future and that I would be discovered. Fear washed over me. Sullivan did not give the impression that he was some hardened gangster, but his business was illegal gambling and he must have a way of dealing with cheats and deadbeats. Could it be that my life was now at risk?

Then, as the train stopped and I raced out onto the gas-lit street, I began to laugh. Who would ever believe that a man from the future had come to Boston and taken a job covering the Red Sox? So, what if I had bet on a games? I didn’t win every time, just most of the time. The entire idea was absurd. A single coin could not possibly jeopardize my new life here, I thought. I put all of my fear aside and went to work, forgetting all about the man at the news stand, at least for a time.

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