Jimmy McAleer and the 1912 World Series

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Jimmy McAleer and
the 1912 World Series
by Mike Kopf

Sixty-five years later, Fred Lieb would remember the carnival atmosphere aboard the Boston-to-New York train on that fateful Sunday in 1912. The Red Sox had taken a three-games-to-one lead over the Giants in the World Series (Game 2 had been a darkness-induced tie), and the next day their ace, Smokey Joe Wood — 34-5 for the season, 2-0 in the Series — would take the mound for the clincher. It was like traveling to a coronation, with the players already weighing the value of their soon-to-be-won crowns. Little did they realize that their seemingly inevitable investiture was about to be challenged, and not so much by the McGrawite pretenders as by their own potentate, majority owner Jimmy McAleer.

McAleer was not a rich, know-nothing owner. His bloodlines were pure baseball, having played center field for Cleveland throughout the 1890’s, then managed in the American League for eleven years. But it was his relative lack of wealth — he had bought control of the Red Sox only through the good auspices of AL President Ban Johnson, who put up most of the money — that would prove his undoing. With the Series seemingly in hand, he let his mind wander to the possibility of filling spanking new Fenway Park one more time. This could happen only if his club lost to the Giants the next day. But how likely was that, with Joe Wood on the hill? So McAleer conferred with manager Jake Stahl, and persuaded (or maybe ordered; accounts differ) Stahl to hold back Wood and start instead Buck O’Brien, a twenty-game winner during the season and hard-luck loser of Game 3 a few days earlier.

It wasn’t an irrational scenario. Wood would have been coming back on two days rest — as he had earlier in the Series — and like all Dead Ball Era aces, his workload had been back-breaking. McAleer was not throwing the game. But under the guise of protecting Wood’s arm he was giving himself a fighting, or rather a losing, chance. In any case, O’Brien, possibly in shock at being so unexpectedly handed the ball, pitched miserably, giving up five runs (three earned) on six hits, and contributing a run-scoring balk in his only inning of work. That was all the Giants got, and it was all they needed for a 5-2 victory. The Series would indeed return to Boston.

But be careful what you wish for. The owner would get his payday . . . at the price of demoralizing his team, the members of which had not perceived the wisdom of starting O’Brien. Days earlier, the decision of the National Commission to deny the players a share of the receipts from the tied game had been received like a slap in the face. Now they’d been screwed again.

Also, it is entirely possible that, in a gambling-infested era, many Red Sox bet on themselves in Game 6, not knowing that Wood would be scratched. All the ingredients for catastrophe were simmering as the teams returned to Boston. And then McAleer inadvertently tossed in one more.

The Red Sox were originally scheduled to host three Series games, so they sold their tickets as a three-game set. The tied game, though technically meaningless, counted as one of those three. Thus all seats for the seventh game were up for grabs: first-come, first-served.

But the club, through stupidity or arrogance, neglected to inform its most passionate fans, the Royal Rooters, of that fact. The Rooters, a contingent of approximately five hundred led by Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, habitually arrived at games in parade formation, marching on to the field and into their reserved seats. But on this day the seats were already occupied, and the Rooters were herded into a standing room area. They took this badly. A riot ensued. Mounted police were eventually summoned to contain the infuriated cranks. All this occured as Wood tried to warm up. He stopped and retreated to the dugout, resuming half an hour later. Fred Lieb would claim that Wood’s arm stiffened in the interval. Maybe so, for he was buffeted about like a bush leaguer, aided by a defense that butchered every ball it came in contact with. Like his surrogate in game six, Wood lasted one inning. There would be game eight, and a coin flip determined that it would be at Fenway Park.

Jimmy McAleer had done the impossible: alienated not only his players but the most loyal fans in baseball. The next morning’s papers were full of denunciations of the Red Sox brass. The Royal Rooters wanted no part of game eight, and neither did many others. A “crowd” of only half Fenway’s capacity showed up to see McAleer go for the trifecta: a lost Series on top of everything else. Thanks to the Red Sox’s incredible good fortune in the bottom of the tenth (Snodgrass’ error, the foul pop that fell at Merkle’s feet) he was spared the ultimate humiliation. Nonetheless, the handwriting was on the wall; Ban Johnson had watched it all and was not amused. In 1913 the Red Sox struggled, and McAleer compounded his previous errors by firing manager Stahl, who happened to be a close friend of Johnson. It was the final straw. The portly Ohioan ran his league like a feudal lord, and if an owner displeased him (and was not filthy rich), off with his head. McAleer was forced to sell. Remarkably, he had won the World Series and blundered himself out of baseball, practically in one fell swoop.