Not too long ago, I found myself reading one of the baseball history tomes that I frequently indulge in. While engrossed in the early goings-on of the National Pastime, I had an interesting thought: if I could hop in a Delorean/Phone Booth/Klingon Bird of Prey and travel to any moment in the history of the sport,
where when would I go?
The Twins-fan part of my brain immediately conjured up images of sitting in left-center field during Game Six of the 1991 World Series, or enjoying a perfect Bloomington night watching Harmon hit one out (two things I never got to experience).
But even the pull of those classic Twins moments could not dissuade me from my ultimate choice: You see, I’m sort of obsessed with the Dead Ball Era (1900-1918) of baseball’s past. Names like Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Roger Bresnahan, Mordecai “3 Finger” Brown, & Christy Mathewson utterly fascinate me.
As such, my flux capacitor would, well, flux me back to October 2nd, 1908, at League Park in Cleveland, OH, into the thick of an AL pennant race (cue the Alan Silvestri score)...
Heading into the last few days of the ‘08 season, the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and Cleveland Naps (this was post-Spiders, now named for star player Nap Lajoie) were all separated by just a game and a half. On this day, the Sox were visiting the Naps and two legendary pitchers toed the rubber:
For the Naps, Addie “The Human Hairpin” Joss would finish that season with the following line: 24-11, 1.16 ERA, 35 GS, 29 CG, 9 SHO, 325 IP, .806 WHIP, 204 ERA+ on the way to an eventual Hall of Fame career.
When you finish marveling at that line, get out the smelling salts for his mound opponent:
“Big” Ed Walsh, himself on track for the HOF, would post these numbers for the ‘08 Pale Hose: 40-15, 1.42 ERA, 49 GS, 42 CG, 11 SHO, 464 IP, .860 WHIP, 162 ERA+. Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris must have framed portraits of this man above their fireplace mantels.
Rather predictably, the contest featured exactly one foot touching home plate (they don’t call it the Dead Ball Era for nothing, folks). In the top of the third, the Naps’ Joe Birmingham hit what looked to be a harmless single. But then Walsh tried a pickoff, Birmingham broke for second, and Sox first baseman Frank Isbell threw wildly, sending the runner to third. In short order, a Walsh offering could not be handled by catcher Ossie Schreckengost and Birmingham scampered home.
The final line for Big Ed? Eight innings, four hits, 15 K’s, one BB, an unearned run...and a loss.
On the other side, Joss kept racking up 1-2-3 innings—all nine of them, in fact, for a perfect game! In a mind-boggling 74 pitches (maybe the term for an epic pitching performance should be “a Joss”, not “a Maddux”), no less. Only three of the outs were on strikes, or in essence the greatest pitch-to-contact performance perhaps in the sport’s history (Nick Blackburn must have the box score above his mantel).
Somewhat ironically, the tables would quickly be turned on both of these squads following this epic afternoon. Ultimately, neither would take home the ‘08 AL pennant, as the Tigers would make the final successful push before ultimately losing to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. While Walsh would go on to many more successful seasons (including one in which he somehow went 18-20 with a 1.27 ERA over 369.2 IP), Joss would be cut down at the age of 30 by tuberculous meningitis.
So let’s see here—the thrill of a pennant race, two star hurlers at the top of their respective games, taking place in an era that endlessly fascinates me? Better make sure to pack my extra plutonium for the return trip.
How about you? If you could experience (or re-live, I guess) any game/moment/era in the history of baseball or the Minnesota Twins, what would it be?