Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit: Chapter 16

Jim Rogash

It is 1912. The Red Sox are squaring off against the Giants in the World Series and Ryan O'Malley is there, like a Marty McFly on the wall of history.

Before I could head back to Boston I had to send the game story back to the paper. With the Western Union offices closest to the field and to my hotel sure to be packed with other writers doing the same, I resigned myself to taking the overnight train back to Boston and attempting to best the insomnia of the sleeper car. The Owl as it was known, would serve almost the entirety of the Nation's sporting press that night along with the players and, to my great displeasure, the Royal Rooters.

Another loud, drunken rendition of Tessie greeted me as I arrived at Grand Central Station a few minutes before The Owl was to leave. The Rooters were making their typical scene, parading through the magnificent building like Caesar on his way back to Rome. I lingered far behind the procession and made the train at the last possible minute, but all of my efforts managed to spare me only a few choruses of the tune.

Read More: Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit- Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

We were out of the tunnel and into the night air before the noise final died down. The train crept through the Westchester countryside at a slow pace to ensure a restful night for the players, writers and fans aboard and before long I drifted into a kind of half-sleep, hypnotized by the clack of the rails. When I awoke, we had been sitting idly at South Station for some time, and only a few other sleepy stragglers remained.

Game 2 would end up being one of the most exciting and frustrating games a Red Sox fan could ever witnessed. It would also cast a dark shadow over all the plans I had made since first landing in 1912, but as I made my way to the park that day, I felt good for the first time since I had run into Sport Sullivan after the Johnson game. I had made my bet and I felt confident in it. I had not detected any hint of continued surveillance during my time in New York either. I felt I could now forget about the threats I had received and think of nothing else but today's game.

Thousands of fans crowded Jersey Street and the rest of the area around Fenway, most camped out for who knows how long to see the first World Series game to be held in the new park. I had anticipated the massive turnout and arrived well ahead of time so I could fight my way through the gates and up to the newly expanded press box where prime real estate was sure to be heavily contested. I made it up to my perch atop the grandstand roof ahead of most of the other scribes and set up my portable typewriter at the far corner of the box's first base side to get an ideal view just a few paces to the right of home.

To accommodate the masses waiting outside the gates, Fenway had received a series of shoddy additions. Additional seating had been created in right field and, instead of a solid fence, the rushed crew had merely erected a few posts and a series of slats to separate the fans from the action. Saddest of all, Duffy's cliff, which had given the Red Sox and its namesake such a tremendous advantage in the regular season, would apparently play no role in the Series outcome since it was now filled with around ten rows of seats. The extra seating brought the fences in to distance that would be absurd in the modern environment, but after a full season of watching dead-ball era baseball, I assumed they would have a limited effect.

I soon learned that I was wrong about that. During batting practice, I followed the bulk of my colleagues down to the grandstands. Crew chief Silk O'Laughlin was watching intensely as Larry Doyle, Fred Merkle and several other Giants took their cuts. After Chief Bender completed his turn, O'Laughlin joined the writers at the edge of the stands. He explained the ground rules he intended to use to compensate for the new stands: any ball hit out of play onto Duffy's Cliff would be a ground rule double and any ball hit into the new right field seating, on the fly or on a hop, would be an automatic home run. I was incredulous and asked him to clarify.

"Anything hit out of play to left is a double?" I asked. He nodded as a loud shot off the bat of Tris Speaker signaled the start of his turn at the plate. I pressed on. "So even if a ball cleared the Wall above the seats, it would just be a double?"

Several of my fellow members of the press snickered as O'Laughlin gave me a suspicious look. "Yes, that's right." He replied. "Can't imagine that happening, but the rule needs to be consistent." I informed him that such a hit had happened already, but he merely shrugged and asked if there were any other questions.

As the New York writers asked him about handling McGraw and other points of interest, I looked out at new seats on the slope below the wall. It was hard to argue that a ball hit into the first row of seats some 290 feet or so from home at their closest point deserved to be a home run, but the idea that a ball hit on to Landsdowne Street would only earn a batter two bases turned my stomach. As I was staring out at the wall, Speaker drove another sharp liner out to right and diverted my attention to that corner of the diamond. Looking out at the new seats there, I could imagine that area playing the bigger role. Speaker was the best hitter on the Red Sox and Larry Doyle was the best on the Giants and both players hit lefty. They wouldn't need to crush the ball to send it into the right field corner where it could find a gap in the fence and become a ground ball homer under the new house rules. Even the right-handed hitters could wind up going the other way frequently against fastballs like the ones they would see from Joe Wood and Rube Marquard. Even in that first year of its existence, Fenway was determined to play a role in the Series.

Not long before the start of the game, after some ceremonial nonsense honoring the Red Sox manager, the Royal Rooters made their standard processional lead by McGreevy and Honey Fitz and arrived out in the newly minted Cliff seats. As they did, several dozen fans from the distant reaches of the center field bleachers ran out to join them to procure themselves better seats. The police tried in vain to separate them from the Rooters and just a few were turned back. Once the Boston boosters were safely in the seats on the Cliff, Tessie rang out loud and long until another band, seated in the center field bleachers began to battle the Rooters, creating a cacophony of sound that couldn't end fast enough. Though their influence would not wane any time soon, it was clear that the Rooters were beginning to draw the ire of the common fans and even some of the Red Sox brass.

Stahl added another moment of bewilderment for me when he choose to start lefty Ray Collins opposite Giants great Christy Matthewson. Collins had been very good during the regular season, but with seats less than 300 feet away in left, he seemed better suited for the next day's match at the Polo Grounds. I had been almost certain that righty Hugh Bedient would get the start at home, but one year in the new park had not instilled manager Jake Stahl with the prejudices against southpaws that I had inherited as a child of the 1980's. The first batter of the game forged the first link in that chain of prejudice, however.

Fred Snodgrass, just a few days away from the misplay that would be his legacy, lead off for the Giants. He took Collins's second pitch a drilled it high into the air. Ordinarily, a fly ball like this would have been an easy play for Duffy Lewis at the foot of his namesake slope, but instead it fell into the first row of the new seats for a ground rule double. Just two pitches in, the hasty additions and the rules they prompted had burnt the Red Sox.

Collins worked out of the inning without allowing Snodgrass to score, so Fenway's first betrayal was quickly forgotten. Matthewson then gave up three runs in the bottom half of the first, inciting the crowd to reassemble the uproarious atmosphere that had pervaded before the start of the game. Collins gave up a run in the second when Larry Gardner took a bad hop off his face, but the Red Sox got it back quickly enough and by the eighth inning they were holding on to a 4-2 advantage.

If Stahl had thought little of the disadvantage a lefty faced at Fenway before the game, he had plenty of time to think about it as the Giants batted Collins around all afternoon. The Red Sox pitcher had escaped many hard hit balls by the eighth, but that inning he wasn't so lucky. With runners at first and third, Red Murray found the seats on Duffy's Cliff and another would be out turned into a double, this time scoring a run. Jake Stahl quickly fetched Collins and turned the ball over to Charley Hall. The reliever wasted little time proving that Fenway could burn righties too. After catcher Bill Carrigan missed a pop-fly that would have ended the inning, Buck Herzog laced a double off the new fence in left and the Giants took a 5-4 lead.

Matthewson quickly produced two outs in the bottom half of the frame before he too fell victim to the coziest of the parks confines. This time it was Lewis who put the ball in the Rooter's seating area. Giant left fielder Red Murrary gave a valiant effort trying to catch the ball and nearly broke his neck in the process. Larry Gardner followed Duffy's double with a grounder that would have ended the inning if shortstop Art Fletcher hadn't muffed it. The double and the misplay tied the game and a quick ninth put it into extra innings as the sun was setting over the third base grandstands.

Fred Merkle led off the tenth with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly to left to give the Giants a 6-5 lead with three outs and little daylight left. McGraw stuck with Matty for the tenth and what followed was one of the most disgraceful innings of baseball I ever saw. With one out, Tris Speaker lined the ball to center, just missing a home run. The ball bounded off the wall as Speaker was racing around first. As he rounded the bag, Merkle stepped in his way, nearly knocking him off his feet. Speaker stumbled briefly and pressed on, rounding second as the ball was picked up in center. It looked like a triple until the new Giants shortstop bobbled the throw and Speaker charged for home, impeded again by the dirty play of Buck Herzog, who tried to knock him over as he rounded the bag. If catcher Artie Wilson had held onto the ball, Speaker would have been out easily, but the Giants' backstop missed it while blocking Speaker off the plate. Seeing that Speaker had missed the plate, Wilson scrambled after the ball and Speaker dove back to the plate. Speaker made it there first and the game was tied.

Speaker screamed at O'Laughlin and a gestured wildly towards Merkle and Giants' third baseman Buck Herzog and first baseman Fred Merkle, but the umpire stood by placidly as dusk crept over the field.

After Speaker had said his piece, the game resumed. Lewis just missed a home run and had to settle for a double, but two groundouts ended the Red Sox chances for a walk-off win. Darkness shrouded the field as the two teams changed sides. Stahl went to his only relief option in Hugh Bedient for what O'Laughlin decided would be the final frame. Bedient was wild and put two men on, but the Giants were restless on the bases and both got caught stealing. The darkness helped the exhausted Matthewson navigate through his eleventh inning of work and the game ended in a tie.

I sat in the press box for a long time after the game ended and watched the last dim light of the day fade to black. My mind was dark as well. It would not be a seven game series I now realized. It would be eight. Eight games played, seven finished. I had bet wrong.

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