From the Editor's Vault...: November 15, 2007
One for the Archives: Why We Lost 3 World Championships, Part 2 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. Today, we bring you the second of three installments of an article Mathewson wrote for "Everybody's Magazine" in October 1914. In the piece, 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:
The team goes into a World Series. We face pitching not as good as the pitching we had faced during the pennant race. I have seen the Giants bat effectively against such star pitchers as Hendrix, formerly of Pittsburgh, Seaton, now with the Brooklyn "Feds," and Alexander of Philadelphia, and Rucker of Brooklyn. Yet against the Athletics pitching staff - which, honestly, in 1913 had no man as good as any of the four stars I have mentioned - we seemed helpless. People said we were not a batting team. But we are a batting team. And we should have appeared to be if we had obeyed orders. Instead of heeding McGraw's command, "Now don't try to kill the ball," the Giants would go up to the plate and after the Philadelphia pitcher - Plank, Bender, or Bush - had thrown one ball, the Giants would let their hands slip down to the end of their bats and try to "kill it."
As a result, not being used to this style of hitting, we were all at sea. Solely through overanxiety we ruined an attack that had terrorized National League pitchers.
An incident comes to mind showing how apt the Giants are to go to pieces. In the second game of the 1912 series against Boston, my support caved in. It broke for the reasons I have described. Fletcher, who only a few seasons before had been a lanky youth playing in the Texas League, had fought up to be shortstop of the Giants. I wish to give Fletcher all credit for his ability as a shortstop, for he has shown it again and again. But in his first World Series he became a victim of that disease of the Giants - nerves.
In the first inning, Hooper made a hit off me and stole second base. There was one out. Yerkes, the next batter, lined a ball squarely into Fletcher's hands. Fletcher did not have to move an inch for it. It was a simple play, and when I saw Hooper already halfway to third base I figured on a double play. Fletcher would simply toss the ball to Doyle and the side would be out. But I guess Fletcher was thinking about his responsibility, for he dropped the ball. What should have been an easy double play resulted in both men being safe. Instead of taking the field, Boston subsequently scored in that inning the three runs that cost us the game.
That misplay broke up Fletcher. Thereafter in that game he lost chance after chance, and each error cost us a run. I'm not blaming him. At the time I was not even sore about it. I simply record it as a point showing why the Giants always look bad in a World Series. For some reason they seem to think that they have to stand more on their own, that the hand of McGraw can not aid them as during the regular campaign, and, going ahead on their own hook, they become nervous and blow up.
Before the start of the 1911 series against the Athletics, I took the occasion to investigate the batting methods of my opponents. Only four - Lord, Bender, Murphy, and Davis - had been on the team when I faced them in 1905. I realized that I should be confronted with tricky batters, none of whose secrets I knew. From certain American League players I obtained data about the Philadelphia team. In the first game this was effective. It was doubly effective because I learned they had our signs and were using them. That is to say, they knew how Meyers fixed his hands when he wanted a curve ball or a straight one. When the Athletics got men on the bases they would flash to the batter what was coming.
So I told Meyers to reverse his signs, and in that way we double-crossed them for the first game. Once Baker, who had been tipped off by Oldring that a curve ball was coming, stepped across the plate to meet it. But a fast ball was flying straight at him, and he was nearly "beaned." Subsequently he struck out.
With the second game, though, all this changed. Marquard was pitching and he began to get "World Series nerves." In the sixth inning, after two men were out, Collins smashed a two-base hit to left. He then took only a short lead off second base, for he was trying to discover Meyers's new signals. A hit meant the game. Seeing what Collins was up to, Meyers walked out to the box. He said to Marquard:
"No matter what I signal for, you throw Baker two curve balls."
Then, to fool Collins, Meyers gave false signals. With two balls pitched, however, the supply was out, and, not daring to give a signal, Meyers put it up to Marquard. Marquard flashed back that he was going to throw a fast one. Collins knew his sign and flashed the news to Baker. As a result Baker was all set, and when the ball came across the plate he simply swung his bat and it went screaming over the right-field fence. Overanxious in the excitement of that swift moment, Marquard and Meyers forgot that Collins had been spying on our signs and knew what was coming.
That is the authentic inside story of the first home run to make Baker famous.
During the series Devore was so anxious to hit "heavy" that on the way to Philadelphia, when some one introduced him to Ty Cobb, Josh slipped into the seat beside him and talked all the way over.
"Gee," said Josh to me, as we were getting off the train, "that fellow Cobb knows a lot about batting. He told me some things about the American League pitchers just now, and he didn't know he was doing it. I never let on. But I just hope that fellow Plank works to-day, if they think that I am weak against left-handers. Say, Matty, I could write a book about that guy and his 'grooves' now, after buzzing Cobb, and the funny thing is, he didn't know he was telling me."
Plank pitched that day and fanned Devore four times out of a possible four. Josh didn't even get a foul off him.
"Thought you knew all about that fellow," I said to Devore after the game.
"I've learned since that Cobb and he are pretty thick," replied Josh, "and I guess Ty was giving me a bad steer."
"It was evident that Cobb's misinformation was working around in Devore's mind when he went to the plate to face Plank, and, instead of being open to impressions, he was constantly trying to confirm these wrong opinions. Plank was crossing him all the time, and, being naturally weak against left-handers, this additional handicap made Devore look foolish.
That helped to send Devore up in the air. Also, the Athletics had heard tales of his baserunning, and when in another game he managed to get on at first, they had it all framed up to catch him. Caught by the "pitch out," he was touched out fully fifteen feet at second. As Eddie Collins threw the ball back to the pitcher he laughed at Devore and said:
"And you call yourself fast! You remind me of a cop on fixed post."
Not only Devore but other members of the Giants were victims of this "goat-getting."
In a subsequent game of that series, we threw away our chance to win simply because of nerves. In the second half of the tenth inning, the score a tie and the Giants needing one run to win the game, Snodgrass was on second base. There was only one out, and Merkle and Herzog were coming up. Put Snodgrass on the bases in a World Series and he acts like a madman. He jumps 'way off the ground and prances about like a dervish. He often takes leads that seem foolhardy. Coombs was pitching for Philadelphia, and Snodgrass, almost breaking through nervousness, was racing for third base at the rise of Coombs's arm, then, if the batter did not hit the ball, ducking back to second. A cool baserunner would simply have taken a good lead and waited his opportunity.
Well, one of Coombs's curves got away from Lapp, the Philadelphia catcher. At the moment Snodgrass was going the wrong way, that is, he had started back for second base, whereas he should have had his face toward third. The ball meanwhile was rolling away from the Philadelphia catcher. Of course, obeying the cries of the coachers, Snodgrass spun round toward third again and got going. He tried hard for the base but was thrown out. If he had not lost that fraction of a second, through having to turn, because of his nervous prancing up and down the line, he would have reached third safely. As things subsequently developed, with a man on third we should have won the game. As it was we lost.
The usual thing happened. The tension tightened, and good ball-players like Herzog, Merkle, and Fletcher went completely up in the air. The game was kicked away.