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Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit: Chapter 10

Longing for a better Red Sox team? Join the intrepid Ryan O'Malley as he reminisces about the glorious season that was 1912 and his unlikely journey back to that time.

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Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

After the long June road trip, which had hurt the paper as a result of Ellis’ cheapness, I finally won out and began to travel with the club. The Red Sox were now in first place and returning home to a city in the early stages of baseball madness. They arrived home for a six game series against the lowly Highlanders five games up on the A’s and six games up on the stumbling White Sox. They had been gone almost a month and that absence had only made fans’ hearts grow fonder. When they returned home on June 28, the fan’s flocked to Fenway in greater numbers than they had in May, packing the house for what was nearly certain to be a lopsided battle with the woeful club from New York.

The team had not played at Fenway since May and it had been a particularly cold and rainy spring. It was now mid-summer and the weather was heating up right along with the team. Of everything that I encountered when stranded in the past, there was nothing that I was so unprepared for as the summer heat. I was in a world without air conditioning, where even electric fans were a rarity. This alone would have made me pretty uncomfortable, but the real problem was the suits. As a professional man, you absolutely had to wear a suit, basically all the time. If you wished to be perceived as someone of some importance, it was expected to be a three piece suit. In the 95 degree heat, in the direct sunlight I would be wearing boxers, suit pants, an undershirt, a dress shirt, a vest, a tie, a sport coat and a hat. Removing any part of this ridiculously inappropriate getup was simply not an option. The best you could do was wear linen and get a straw hat. As a result, I was typically dressed like a Floridian retiree or the winner of a Thomas Wolfe look-a-like contest. Regardless of the fabrics, I was continually drenched in sweat.

The press box at the original Fenway park was on the top of the grandstand, which was nothing more than several inches of wood and tar on steel beams hovering over around 15,000 people, most of whom were men, dressed just like me, smoking pipes or cigars and collectively generating a dank wave of heat that lofted up through this thin barrier and mingled with the sweat of a dozen beat writers crammed into a tiny rooftop shack. If the heat had not been enough to overwhelm me, the smell certainly would have. It was at this time I began smoking cigars In this environment, it was a matter of self-defense. Without the thick musk of tobacco thoroughly coating your senses, you’d be subjected to the smell of the extremely overdressed mob all around you. Pipes required too much effort and even in that elder context they seemed slightly affected to me. There was certainly more than enough second-hand smoke around me already anyway but somehow that scent only mingled with the heavy lather of body odor.

The crowd did not have things anywhere near as bad as the players. Baseball uniforms made of thick wool at this point. The players baked out on the shade-less field and on particularly hot days many would be visibly dragging by the end of the game. A long inning would deflate the fielders and be murder on the struggling pitcher. A triple or an inside-the-park home run seemed to require super-human energy in heat of the sun. With nothing but day games on the schedule, there was no escaping the merciless grind. Yet, these players were hard men. They had escaped even longer days in un-shaded fields or the unending darkness of a mine or a factory. They would never imagine the cool, comfortable life we enjoy now and thought little of the minor hardships that seemed to me so unbearable at times. Even when they were visibly worn from the grind of baseball, none of them would dare admit it.

The oppression of the heat did have one happy side effect. On hot days, the games would fly by. Pitchers did not stare down endlessly at the hitter and hitters remained in the box swing after swing. There was no television break between innings and players would be content with just a throw or two as warm up if they bothered at all. The pace was leisurely enough, but also steady. Keeping score in the press box required full concentration and the less than two hours that games took just flew by.

After back-to-back doubleheaders with New York, I took my first road trip with the team to see them play the A’s in Philadelphia. It was an important series of games. The A’s had past the White Sox during June and Connie Mack’s $100,000 infield was once again considered the favorite to win the division by a large percentage of writers and gamblers. There was a good deal riding on this series. The Red Sox had a comfortable six game lead on Mack’s squad, so only a complete sweep here would cost them their lead in the pennant, but the A’s were beginning to come together as team and they were still the defending champions. Both teams would have extended home stands in July. Boston could make a statement on the road here against the Champs.

Jake Stahl continued a trend that he had employed all season, skipping Joe Wood in the first game when he saw that Mack was starting his own ace, Jack Coombs. Stahl had consistently tried to keep Woods from squaring off against the top pitchers on opposing teams. This might have made sense when that pitcher was Walter Johnson and the team was the Senators, who were almost a certain victory on the days Johnson was not on the mound, but it made little sense to do it all the time. This time, however, it once again worked out, as Ray Collins was solid and the Red Sox beat up on Coombs to win the first game while Wood showed the lack of concentration that had earned him the nickname Ozone Joe, beginning masterfully with a no hitter for five innings and then falling apart completely. In the end, the Red Sox split the series, losing three in close games and getting two of their three wins in somewhat more commanding fashion. They left Philadelphia having added a great deal of legitimacy to their title hopes and dug in for another long home stand.

Traveling with the team was an eye opening experience. The team would have several railroad cars to themselves on such trips and the traveling writers were not strictly segregated from them, but basically a part of the group. There was little sense of separation between the team and its beat men. While I had not been traveling with the team prior to this Philly trip, the players knew me from countless pre-game chats, interviews. They treated me with the same mix of disregard and cordiality that they gave the more experienced writers. The players made basically no attempt to hide anything from us. Their drinking, swearing, womanizing all went on as if we were not there. They had no reason to check themselves. I knew as well as every other writer in the room that the men running our papers did not want to tarnish the reputation of the men, who were heroes to so many young boys and a salacious story of adultery or binge drinking would die on the copy desk. The players’ actions outside the diamond were almost always off-the-record. I had already had enough stories rejected over such concerns to intuit the basic understanding that was held. I might be able to hint at a nefarious deed or two, but that was it. As a result, the players treated us the same as anyone else in the vast entourage. On the ride back to Boston, I was invited to play hearts with pitcher Buck O’Brien, Duffy Lewis, and Bill Carrigan. Another time, later in the season I talked about Mark Twain with avid reader Harry Hooper. It was not much different than if I had been the equipment manager or some other member of their staff. It was understood that I was not there as a reporter at these times and I would leave that work behind for a time.

Around this time, I also started ghost-writing a column for Joe Wood. It was a huge get for the Crier. Joe Wood was probably the most popular player on the team. He was young and handsome and he had the type of fastball that would light up radar guns today. Adding him as "writer" would generate a tremendous amount of attention and make the Crier a must-read for Boston baseball fans. It would not, however, mean that Smokey Joe would sit down and write anything. That would fall on me. If I was lucky, I might get twenty or thirty minutes with the pitcher to talk about what he wanted to say or to cull out his thoughts on one bit of baseball strategy or another, but most weeks I wrote almost everything with the most minimal of input from Wood. He was brash and arrogant and he had little time for anyone that wasn’t a beautiful woman or one of his few friends on the team. He disliked reporters, Easterners, and Catholics and I was- at least nominally- all three. He didn’t care that much for talking about baseball, at least with me, and he regarded his "writing" position as basically an endorsement deal. He would lend the paper his name and I would write something vaguely from his perspective and he would say ok. He would only casually review the contents of these pieces and occasionally object to a word choice or some way that I might have described the game, but such revisions were minor. It was prosaic writing, wrought with clichés and almost wholly without insight, but it did earn me a small bump in pay and the few times that Wood actually let his guard down and was willing to talk baseball with me, I found him to be intelligent about the game and possess a great understanding of pitching. I only wished that more of that could make its way onto the page.

The Red Sox ground through opponents after returning home on July 8th. The American League had become a three race by this point. Mack’s A’s were still hanging around, seven games back and the surprising Washington Senators had managed to slip in between them and the first place Red Sox behind one of the greatest seasons any pitcher has ever had from the "Big Train" Walter Johnson. It was a year of pitchers and Johnson was easily the greatest of any in the game at this point. However, he was not the one attracting the most attention at the moment. In the National League, lefty Rube Marquard of the Giants was 19-0 to start the year, a record for consecutive wins. He had been brilliant to that point, but he hardly deserved all the credit for this streak. The Giants were making a mockery of the senior circuit over the first half of the season. They were on pace to win 123 games by early July and they were easily the best offensive team in their league. I had been relieved of my duties covering the Boston Braves, but I still wrote the few general interest pieces on the National League and Marquard’s streak was a major story as he won his 16th, 17th, and 18th game. After 19, he was the top story in baseball and with the way the Giants were playing, it was not unreasonable to think that he could continue winning until the season ended. However, on July 8, he lost to one of the few competitive teams left in the NL, Frank Chance’s Cubs. It was more than the end of his record-setting streak. It was a turning point for the Giants and for the National League in general.

At this time, you have to remember, the American League was just 10 years old and though Ban Johnson had effectively poached a great deal of talent from the older National League, it was still considered an upstart. The Red Sox had won over Boston quickly thanks to the ineptitude of their NL competitor, the Braves. In Philidelphia, Connie Mack had stolen the town from the typically weak Phillies franchise without much of a fight but in Chicago, St. Louis and especially in the all-important City of New York, the American League struggled badly to drawn fans. The AL franchises in the towns were often terrible and could not pull locals away from their beloved National League clubs. The 1906 White Sox had helped the league a great deal when they upset the powerhouse Cubs from across town, but few fans, especially in Boston, at had forgotten McGraw’s boycott of the 1904 World Series. Fans of the American League teams had something of a chip on their shoulder towards the National League and NL fans loved to call the other league the junior circuit with a strong emphasis on the junior. The Atheltics had won the past two World Series, but that the National League had still won one more title in the nine Fall Classics and 1906, 1910 and 1911 were all shocking upsets. 1912 would put the American League’s inferiority complex to rest for good, thanks in large part to Smokey Joe Wood and Walter Johnson.

I did not think too much about Joe Wood that day that Marquard’s streak ended and I didn’t think about Walter Johnson at all. Wood beat the Browns and was rolling with his new catcher personal catcher Hick Cady behind the plate, but Wood nearly always beat the Browns and beyond the having to write the recap, I didn’t give that win any thought. I had my work cut out for me writing about Marquard over the next couple of days. I was well over a month before the significance of that 5-1 victory finally became clear.