Breaks of Luck are a Big Factor

Damon Runyon

Washington Herald/October 9, 1915

 

Gods of Fortune Smile on the Mighty Alexander in Phillies’ Initial Victory Over Red Sox by 3 to 1.

Tough Lines For Shore

“Alec” did it. The gods of baseball fortune smiled very, very kindly on the big star of the Philadelphia Nationals and the men behind him, this afternoon, but he did what he was expected to do. He won.

He carried his club through to a 3 to 1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in the opening game of the world series: slipping and slopping and staggering along, he carried it through, and though he must have gone to bed tonight with a feeling that Friday was a mighty auspicious day for Grover Cleveland Alexander, he won.

That’s the main thing—he won.

The world pauses but briefly to analyze the reasons for a winner. It may sympathize a fleeting moment with Ernest Shore, the long, thin, scissors-legged lad from ‘way down South in Georgia: he will hear a great deal the next few hours about his “tough luck,” and then the procession will move on in the wake of Alexander, called The Great.

He won. Shore lost.

The Royal Rooters, of Boston, 400 strong, tramping disconsolately across the muddy field of the Phils behind their band and the only “Honey Fitz” late this afternoon, mumbled “Horse shoes” at the shrilling thousands in the stand, but a hundred yards away Alexander was fighting his way toward the clubhouse door through a wild jam of humanity that chanted: “Oh, you Alec.”

Alexander Gets Breaks

Pitching nothing like the mighty Alexander who shoved the heavy-footed Phillies across the summer months of the National League campaign, his delivery was cracked to all corners of the yard in eight sharp, decisive hits, while his towering young opponent was holding the clubbers of the Philadelphia outfit to five safe blows—four of them spongy infield rollers—the big Nebraskan had to have all of what baseball men call “the breaks” to win.

Tonight in the huge parlor of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel that is used for press headquarters, above a weird jangle of typewriters rocking under the fingers of two score newspaper men telling the tale of the day’s game, can be heard a hum of argument which indicates widely varying views of the proceedings.

“Scott’s boner in the eighth did it,” says a Boston man, irate over the defeat.

“Paskert’s catch in the eighth saved the day,” asserts a Philadelphian.

“All luck,” declares an out-of-towner.

“Nothing but luck. Alexander had a rabbit’s foot.”

But the score remains unchanged—3 for Philadelphia and 1 for the Boston Red Sox.

Nothing Sensational

There was nothing homeric about the struggle. Did it take place on any Friday in the run of the regular session it would be called a poor game, a listless, draggy game, for in the regular session it would carry none of the interest that naturally centers about a world’s championship fight.

There was just one flare of the spectacular in the course of the afternoon. That was George Paskert’s catch in the eighth. Going into that inning the Phillies had a one-run lead. Scott, the young shortfielder whose error of omission later on rests heavily on the minds of the Boston rooters this evening, was retired on a fly to Bancroft.

Tris Speaker, the Texan, generally recognized as the greatest fielding outfielder in the baseball world, was given a base on balls by Alexander. The pitcher tried to “work the corners” on Tris, which translated means that he endeavored to put the ball over the edge of the plate farthest from the Lone Star slugger.

Something should be said here of the craft displayed by Alexander in working on the Boston batsmen.

Alexander a Little Wild

Maybe it was overcaution in this respect that made him a little wild. Maybe it was extreme care that was responsible for what the baseball people are now calling “ragged” pitching. He had passed Speaker in the first inning trying to confine his delivery to a scant few inches of the plate, and now, in this eighth, he did not get a ball across that William Klem, shrill-voiced, dapper, alert, umpiring behind the bat, could call a strike.

As craftily as Alex worked, just as craftily did Speaker squat there, sliding his eyes along the range where he knew the ball must come to suit his purpose. The great Texan is growing gray in the service of the Sox, but no pitcher, however wonderful, may take liberties with him.

He walked. Dick Hoblitzel, discard of the Cincinnati Reds, and passed up by every club in the National League, only to find himself in a world series, hit a sharp grounder down to Milton Stock, the pudgy little third baseman discovered and developed by John J. McGraw, of the Giants, to finally make a useful player for another manager.

Stock Makes Fumble

Stock fumbled the ball for an instant. But for that fumble he might have had a chance to toss the ball of Bert Neihoff at second and start a double play. Seeing it was too late to get Speaker at second, however, the small Chicagoan twirled the ball over to Luderus and Hoblitzel was called out by “Silk” O’Loughlin, the American League umpire, in that high vocal scream that carries to the distant edges of a crowd.

Duffy Lewis slugged the first ball pitched at him by Alexander for a single to left field. Speaker was in motion with the swing. He crossed the plate several feet ahead of George Whitted’s arm, and though Burns whipped the ball down to Neihoff as soon as he saw he could not tag Speaker, the Californian was easily safe.

Then it was that Larry Gardner drove a fly far out over center field, but a little toward left, and then it was that Paskert came racing up out of the distance and clutched the ball while traveling at full speed. That catch may have changed the entire aspect of the game. Had the drive gone safe the Sox would have been in front. The things that occurred in the Phillies’ end of the same inning might not have been.

Shore Unsteady

And that would have relieved poor little Scott of a lot of criticism that is not altogether just. Maybe, too, a Sox advantage might have held the gawky Shore steady. Fresh from a little school down South, Shore joined the Giants a couple of years back, as green in point of baseball experience as the greens come. He was put into the last inning of a game against the Boston Braves in which the Giants had a huge lead, and was hit for ten runs, though the Giants won out.

After that Shore got homesick for the South. He wanted to go back to college and McGraw finally let him go, giving him an unconditional release. Later Jack Dunn, of the Baltimore Orioles, picked him up and developed him and sold him for a fat price to the Red Sox. It was that same Shore who faced the Phillies today as the star of the Boston staff, and that same Shore who pitched well against the champions of the National League today.

Alexander was the first man to bat in the eighth, and he was thrown out by Black Jack Barry, once shortstop of the great Athletic machine, but now second baseman of another championship outfit. Great was Black Jack Barry today. Stock waited on Shore until he drew a base on balls, although the Georgian managed to mix in a brace of strikes. Shore was getting unsteady even now. Bancroft smashed a grounder across second. It seemed impossible that any infielder in the world could get that skipping ball, but “Black Jack” performed the impossible.

Makes Good Catch

He tore over well back of second and got the drive with one hand. Had Scott been covering second as he should have been when he saw Barry after the ball, and Stock racing for the middle bag, the latter would have been an easy out, but Scott was at his usual position, and, apparently, as much surprised by Barry’s wonderful play as anybody in the crowd. “Black Jack” came up with the ball in his bare hand and started to snap it to second, when he saw Scott was not there. In an instant Scott dashed over to the sack, and then Barry made the throw, but it was too late. Stock flung his pudgy body in under Scott’s stab and was safe.

It was a close play. It would have been one of the most remarkable plays ever seen on a ball field had it gone through, but no one murmured over “Silk” O’Loughlin’s decision.