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Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit: Chapter 13

Washington Senators manager Clark Griffith throws down the gaunlet for Red Sox skipper Jake Stahl, Joe Wood face Walter Johnson and Ryan O'Malley faces the discovery of his secret. It another chapter of Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit here at OTM.


Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

I searched the usual haunts for Jake Stahl until almost eight o’clock before I gave up and handed in my article on Griffith's challenge for the late city edition. After finishing up work, I settled in at Third Base for a night cap hoping that Stahl might magically appear at the saloon. I talked with McGreevy about Griffith and Stahl and Joe Wood versus Walter Johnson and drank too much. I was tired and my head was swimming from the bourbon when a hand slammed down on the bar next to me, the metallic clack of a coin punctuating the sound. It was Sport Sullivan.

"You wanna make a bet, O’Malley" Sullivan said cryptically. "Heads or tails. I’ll give you fair odds."

"I’ll pass," I told the bookie as my stomach turned over with fear and bourbon.

"Your loss," he smiled as he slid the coin from view and deposited back in his jacket pocket. "How about this big game coming up, ehh." He said in a friendly tone. "Johnson versus Wood, the battle of the Titans," he chuckled. "What do you think about that one," he asked, trying to affect the most casual tone he could, even as he gave me a hard look.

"Seems like a coin toss to me," I shot back.

Sullivan laughed hard at that. "I guess that’s true" he said after he had finished laughing. "Still, its one for the ages" he continued, suddenly very serious. "Long into the future, people will still be talking about this one, don’t you think?"

There was a hard silence between us. I couldn't think clearly. Did he really know? It seemed impossible.

"Who can say what the future holds,"

I tried to push past him, but he blocked my way. "Who indeed," he shot back. "I’d be interested to know how you’d bet on this one."

"If I decide to, I’ll let you know." I said as I pressed on toward the exit. Sullivan stood his ground for a minute, but in the end, he relented and let me leave. He would not cause a scene at the Rooters' bar and risk his place at Boston’s most important baseball saloon by drawing attention to the darker side of his business. I waded my way out of the crowded saloon and stumbled out on to the street.

The green glow of the gas lamps and the smell of old, caked manure rising up from the dirt street was suddenly too much for me and I was overcome with the foreignness of this place. I wanted to run. I wanted to sprint past the tailor shops and the butcher’s stores until they gave way to Starbucks and fast food chains, until the dirt became smooth pavement and the night silence was replaced by the thin hum of electricity. I took a few uneasy steps and then doubled over and threw up in the small alley behind the bar.

It was a long time before I got back to my rented room and I was soaked in sweat as I laid down that night. The walk back home had sobered me up and the fear I felt began to subside. Even if Sport Sullivan suspected I was from some distant future time, what could he possibly do about it? He certainly wouldn’t want to go around spreading this ridiculous notion. He was a dangerous man, I imagined. He made his living collecting on illegal bets, after all. But was I in danger? I doubted it. As I ran the encounter over and over in my mind, it became clear to me that he wanted information. He wanted an inside track on the winning bets and he thought I could give it to him. I had been making money off of him since the season began. Now, he knew how and he wanted in.

There was only problem. I didn’t know who would win the upcoming Johnson-Wood match up.

The next day, Jake Stahl was at the park early and he was prepared to meet the entirety of the Boston press and Griffith’s challenge.

"Wood will pitch Friday" Stahl announced. He went on to explain that he had intended to pitch him on Saturday, but that he would "accommodate Griff." I suspected he was more realistically accommodating his own GM, Jimmy McAleer. Saturday would draw well regardless of who pitched, but a Friday game was a tougher sell. By putting Wood against Johnson on that day, the Red Sox would bump up their own box office significantly. No one could have predicted just how significantly though.

I spent the next few games dodging Sullivan, who typically held court in the first base pavilion where the majority of the in-game bets would take place. I could easily miss him if I left as soon as the game ended, since wrapping up his bets took him some time. I did not have good plan for dealing with the bookie, but I figured that if I could avoid having to say anything about the Johnson-Wood game it would be much easier.

Friday morning I was up and at the park early to cover the game. I was not alone. All of Boston appeared to be waiting outside of the park when I arrived more than three hours before the game. The sidewalks and streets were packed. It took me almost half an hour to push my way through the crowd to the press entrance. I slipped into the still-quite lobby and made my way toward the press box.

I had only been in the box for a short time when the sound of fans pouring into the lobby signaled the start of the invasion. The sound echoed through the bowels of Fenway, growing louder as the first fans began to find their seats in the grandstand and the pavilion. The noise maintained its intensity even as the seats filled to capacity and fans began to pour out onto the field. I watched from the press box as fans began to press out of the stands and into foul territory. The grandstand shook with the force of the crowd. Soon awe gave way to fear. I began to feel claustrophobic as the exit ramps overflowed and every possible escape route was choked up by the mob. Duffy’s Cliff was no longer visible, with fan’s occupying the previously fair territory that sloped up to the left field wall. The foul lines had become the last invisible barrier between the field of play and the fans.

The players emerged from the dugouts and pressed their way out to the field, bewildered by the mass of people all around them. The two stars of the hour, Joe Wood and Walter Johnson both wondered the field, looking lost. There was nowhere for the pitchers to warm up. Wood typically threw in deep right field, but nearly all of that space was now crowded with fans. Instead, he and his counterpart set themselves up at the edge of the foul lines, inches away from attentive fans who surrender just enough space for them to pace off 60 feet and still have room to wind up. The players even abandoned their dugouts to the invading hoard and sat around the edges of the field.

Just before game time, the cavalry finally arrived. Mounted police did what the grounds crew and Fenway staff could not. They corralled the mob into some semblance of order, forming standing room areas on the cliff and in right field, reclaiming the foul territory around home plate. I expected a decent into rioting and chaos to begin at any second. I was absolutely trapped. Like an animal treed by hounds, I was able to look down on the barking frenzy below but helpless to flee it. Somehow, though, an improbable peace held and the game began.

Though the noise of the Royal Rooters banging drums and blowing horns and whipping tens of thousands of fans into frenzy shook the grandstand and kept me on edge, once Joe Wood stepped onto the mound, the mob faded into the background and the battle between the two aces took center stage. Even with the intrusions onto what was normally fair territory, the mass of people in the park had just a minor effect on the game.

The match up of Wood versus Johnson managed to live up to the hype. Through five innings both pitchers were in complete control, scattering just few harmless hits through the early innings and striking out hitters almost at will. Wood had to work harder than Johnson, pitching out of a jam when a double and a sacrifice fly put runner on third with two outs and generally struggling for his outs than the cool and efficient Senator’s ace. Johnson was magnificent. Only Speaker made an significant contact in the early going as hitters popped out, struck harmless ground balls at the infielders or struck out looking foolish chasing at fastballs that had already found the catcher’s mitt or flailing ahead of his change up. There was no score early on, but Johnson was winning the battle until the sixth by any honest account.

In the sixth, Johnson faltered. He made a good pitch to Tris Speaker, throwing a fastball away, but Speaker, could go with the pitch as well as anyone, managed to react at the last second. The Red Sox centerfielder laced a double into the crowd in left and stood on second menacingly as Duffy Lewis stepped to the plate. It was a match up that favored Johnson. The pull-hitting Lewis was especially susceptible to the potent mix of fastballs and change ups the Washington righty could throw at him and he was prone to striking out. With the speedy Speaker at second Johnson needed a strike out more than ever. Lewis was patient, though, and he got ahead in the count. Johnson threw him a 2-1 fastball that should have beaten him, but Lewis got just enough to keep it fair. It sailed over the first baseman’s head and landed in short right field, far from the shifted outfielders. Speaker scored easily and the Red Sox gave Joe Wood a one-run lead. It was all he would need.

Johnson did not give up anything else, but Wood came out throwing harder than ever and made quick work of the Senators in the next two innings. In the ninth, he began to tire. He gave up a hard hit single and a bunt advanced the runner to scoring position with one out. Earlier in the year I might have looked for someone to start warming up, but by this point, I knew better. Stahl would win or lose with Wood, no matter what. Wood bore down. He abandoned his off-speed pitches and relied solely on his fastball. It worked. Smokey Joe fanned the last two hitters to beat Walter Johnson and win his fourteenth consecutive game. The crowded, which had grown quiet with the threat of defeat standing at second, exploded. They rushed out onto the field and mobbed Wood and catcher Hick Cady as his teammates did the same.

I had no illusions about slipping out of Fenway early that day. I would wait until order was restored and the tens of thousands of people crammed into the park had been ushered away. I continued to work in the press box along side most of my colleagues for at least an hour as the police and grounds crew cleared the field. The Royal Rooters make shift band sounded in the distance for a long time after the game had ended, but eventually it faded away into the evening.

It was almost dark by the time I left the box, packing up my portable typewriter and several pages of work for the trip back to the Crier offices. I was relieved to have just survived that crowd, but I was also buzzing from the thrill of having seen one of the great duels in early baseball history. My mind raced over the details even after I had packed away my stories and began to walk down the ramps that led away from the upper reaches of the ballpark.

I stepped out onto Jersey Street and found Sport Sullivan waiting there for me.