From the Editor's Vault...: November 14, 2007
One For the Archives: Why We Lost 3 World Championships, Part One by Christy Mathewson
Christy Mathewson was not only a Hall of Fame pitcher, he was also one of baseball's first popular authors. His "Pitching In a Pinch" was a best-seller and it went on to become a classic, still widely read today. In this article, which appeared in "Everybody's Magazine" in October 1914, Mathewson demonstrates an expert grasp of the English language, a dry, educated wit and a novelist's feel for narrative tension and rhythm while analyzing why his team had dropped three World Series they were favored to win. This the the first part of a three-part series that will conclude on Friday:
I have faced American League teams in four World's Championships. Last fall for the third successive time my team, the New York Giants, was beaten; for the fourth time the National League pennant-winner was beaten. It is significant that New York's lone triumph over an American League pennant-winner was back in 1905.
There has been much discussion in recent years, among players, fans, and National League managers, of this point - why all the World's Championships have been won by the American League. And all this has been caused by the annual failure of the Giants.
When in 1910 the Chicago Cubs lost the world's title, it did not cause more than usual comment. The Cub machine had aged and fallen to pieces. Dismiss that series in a word - "has-beens." But when in 1911 and again in 1912 and 1913 a young and vigorous team like the Giants, a team that had driven roughshod over every club in the National League - when an aggressive combination like ours had seemed almost like a high-school nine beside the American League champions, questions began to be asked. What was the matter? Why did a team that had fought its way to three National League championships invariably blow up in the most important series of the year?
After studying these three World's Championship series - and from the pitcher's box or the bench I watched closely every inning; after considering all the obvious facts; weighing the "inside" stories that naturally I knew, I have come to a definite conclusion.
The Philadelphia Athletics of 1911 and the Boston Red Sox of 1912 were not better ball clubs "on paper" than the Giants. Yet we lost. Between the teams that took the field last fall representing New York and Philadelphia, there was, I admit, a difference in playing strength. Before a game was played the Athletics had the "edge."
I am not making excuses, simply stating facts. The shifts that injuries necessitated in our line-up weakened the Giants. We had all looked upon Snodgrass and Merkle as stars of the series. They had things to retrieve, both of them. I know their temperaments, and they are the kind of men who show at their best under such circumstances. I know that Merkle and Snodgrass could scarcely wait for World Series time to come around. They were fairly itching to right themselves with the fans for certain things that had happened during the Boston Red Sox series the year before. And, as I said, Merkle and Snodgrass are the kind who always "come through."
Consider Merkle's awful predicament after the historic tie game with the Chicago Cubs in 1908 and how he had the stamina and courage to "come through" in spite of it. Consider Snodgrass's $30,000 muff at Fenway Park and how only seconds later he made one of the most sensational catches of the series. Both those men have iron nerve.
Their loss to us at the start of the World's Series was a severe blow. Not only did it deprive us of what I truly believe would have been wonderful exhibitions of baseball in center field and at first base, but through eleventh-hour changes it jarred the machinery of our club.
As a result we did not show the baseball we were capable of. Instead of a walk-over the Athletics should have had a bitter fight; it should have been a toss-up. But the Athletics of 1911 and the Boston Red Sox of 1912 defeated us; and the key to these three World's Championship defeats is the human equation. In every World's Series except 1905 - and that was different, as I shall show - the Giants blew up. It is a chapter in the "psychology of baseball." Almost without exception every man on our team fell below his standard. Self-consciousness, overanxiety, and nervousness weighed on our shoulders like the Old Man of the Sea.
On the night before the first game last October, a New York newspaper man, one of my best friends, went up to the hotel where the Athletics were staying. Having gone to college with Eddie Collins, he came to pay a personal call; and, not being on business for his paper, he was permitted by Connie Mack to go up to the suite occupied by Collins, Baker, Barry, and Schang. My friend told me that the attitude of the Athletics amazed him. On the eve of a series the winning or losing of which would mean a difference of about $1250 to each of them, their manner was one of indifference. And there was no affectation about that indifference. They did not seem to be aware of the fact, or to care, that the morrow would see them engaged in a series which would mean a difference of nearly $30,000 to their club if they lost.
It was ten o'clock, and "Home Run" Baker, stretching to his feet, yawned abysmally and announced: "I want my sleep."
Baker's only thought was of going to bed and getting breakfast in the morning. He possessed what is known as "cold nerve." Apparently the next day's game meant nothing to him. So it was with Collins - even Schang, the youngster.
About half an hour later my friend went down to a hotel that was the headquarters for the World Series out-of-town fans. He stood around the lobby gossiping baseball, and it was almost midnight when he saw a man whom he thought in bed hours before. It was Herzog, the Giants' third baseman. When my friend came up to him, "Herzie" nervously began to shift his weight from one foot to the other, to fool with his fingernails, and to betray every other sign of acute nervousness.
"Hello, Herzie," said my friend. "I thought you'd be in bed."
Herzog quickly replied, "I'm not a bit sleepy. I could stay up all night."
This little incident shows the difference. The Athletics are a calm, stoical crew, while the Giants happen to be composed of a number of very highly strung, nervous, almost temperamental players. And through the games that followed those who knew these things forecast the outcome. As day by day the tension tightened, the Giants cracked wider and wider, until in the last contest, as a result of sheer nervousness, they showed to total disadvantage.
Now contrast with this the night before the 1905 championship series, when our club beat the Athletics. I am the only one of that 1905 team still with the Giants. As I look back, I recall how those veterans - McGann, Gilbert, Dahlen, and Devlin - the "stonewall infield" - sat in an up-town hotel chatting easily and exuding a spirit of confidence that spread to every member on the team. They were seasoned players long in the game, and their nerve was iron. They were men who had always stood on their own feet, who had learned their baseball in a hard school. While quick to cooperate with Manager McGraw, they did not have to be told everything by him. They had baseball brains.
Now the Giants that have won the last three National League championships do not stand on their own feet. The club is McGraw. His dominant personality is everything. Throughout the National League campaign practically every play was ordered by McGraw. If for any reason he was unable to be with the club, he left his orders with his lieutenants and they were carried out.
It is impossible to exaggerate McGraw's part. From the bench he absolutely directs the game. No play on the offensive is made without him. He even participates in the defensive action, frequently calling Meyers aside and ordering him to shift the position of some player on the field. The men absolutely rely on him. With the exception of a very few veterans, they can not stand on their own feet. They have never had to.
This may suggest that I am indirectly criticizing McGraw. I am not.
"Why, then," the fan may ask, "why didn't McGraw build a team that could stand on its own feet, that didn't need to place such reliance on him?"
The answer is that McGraw was forced to build the Giants the way he did for the very good reason that he would never have won a championship otherwise. With a few exceptions the men are not of championship caliber. We have won the last three National League pennants solely because the club is McGraw, because his baseball brains have directed every game, because he has perfected a system that has kept his hand on the pulse of the game from first inning to last.
Now put this same McGrawized team in a World Series. Weeks before the series opens we begin to go up in the air. The Giants are the greatest "newspaper ball club" I know. Most of the men read everything that is printed about them. In 1912 Devore and Herzog in particular simply ate up the newspaper reports. Nearly everybody on the team devoured the preliminary stories. They began to dream and eat World Series. They couldn't get it off their minds. Every year by the time of the first game almost the entire team has developed a bad case of self-consciousness and nerves.
Let us see what this reaped: As usual, McGraw planned our campaign for the series. As in the National League race, he was there ready to direct every move. If his men had been in the same state of mind as during the pennant races, all would have been different. When working right, the McGraw system of baseball is just as good as any system in the American League. But, stricken with a case of nerves, the system went to pieces. The Giants did not obey orders. They either forgot or else convinced themselves that they knew more than the wonderful little manager who had guided them so long. Not only did they fail to execute McGraw's commands properly, but they became so upset - and I shall present actual cases of this - that they made bull-headed plays that you would never have seen during the regular league campaign.
Just let me briefly relate a few incidents:
Before the first 1913 World Series game in New York, Marquard, as the baseball saying goes, "had everything." I watched him while he warmed up in front of the grand stand. His curves never broke sharper and his speed was terrific. As I watched him, I did not see how the Athletics - heavy hitters tough they were -could beat him. When the game started, however, it was a different Marquard in the pitcher's box. All his curves seemed to have vanished magically. In ten minutes he actually lost the knack of giving the ball the deceptive shoots and spins for which he is noted. After the game Collins said:
"When I faced Marquard, I was surprised to see that he didn't have anything at all on the ball. There wasn't a thing that looked like a curve, and all his straight ones were right over the center of the plate. The other fellows said the same thing."
I have often heard McGraw say at the start of these World Series games:
"Now remember, don't try to kill the ball."
This may need a word of explanation. There are very few players who can "kill" a ball. It means holding the bat at the extreme end and taking a long, terrific swing. The only "killers" I can mention, offhand, are the late Ed Delehanty, Sherwood Magee, Sam Crawford, and Hans Wagner. Practically every other hitter in the big leagues holds his bat farther up the handle and takes a shorter swing at the ball; few men have "batting eyes" sharp enough to permit their taking such a long swipe at the pitcher's offerings. Nearly all the Giants hammered the National League pitchers because they chopped at the ball. It was our most successful way of attack.
(To be continued tomorrow)