1914 The Miracle Braves

After a typically depressing start, the hapless Boston Braves stagger the baseball world with one of the game's biggest comebacks; meanwhile, the Federal League begins business.

Johnny Evers spreads smiles among his Boston teammates in pregame warm-ups. The veteran shortstop’s leadership was crucial to the Braves’ stunning midseason turnaround.

It appeared to be business as usual for the Boston Braves. They had just reclaimed the National League basement after being swept in a doubleheader against Brooklyn, running their losing streak to five. Adding insult to incompetence, they then traveled to Buffalo to play an exhibition against the town’s minor league team—and lost, 10-2.

With a 26-40 record in early July, the Braves were doing what they had been doing for ten years: Looking up in the standings. Way up.

But from that abysmal day in Buffalo lay the foundation for one of baseball’s unlikeliest and greatest rises from oblivion. And when the season concluded in October, the rampaging Braves would completely lay waste to everyone within their path—including the three-time defending NL champion Giants, and the high-powered Philadelphia Athletics in a stunning World Series sweep.

For a decade, Boston had been the NL’s perennial derelict. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of instability. Over this period, the team averaged nearly 100 losses a year under seven different managers, four different owners, and under four different nicknames. While other teams stayed competitive and moved into steel-and-concrete palaces, the Braves played their dreadful brand of ball in a rickety wooden ballpark with 10,000 seats—most of them rarely occupied.

Before 1912, the franchise was purchased by former star pitcher John Montgomery Ward and two former high-ranking New York policemen, James Gaffney and John Carroll. Under their leadership, the team didn’t make any immediate inroads on the field. But at least they gave the team a name that would stick: The Braves.

In 1913, the Braves named as their manager George Stallings, who like Connie Mack wore suits in the dugout, but like John McGraw had a vicious temper—even worse, many claimed. Stallings prodded the Braves to a 69-82 record, which by the numbers was his worst managerial performance over the past ten years. But it was a godsend to the Braves’ faithful; it was Boston’s best finish since 1902.

For 1914, Stallings chucked away veteran players he felt had stuck around too long, injected more youth into the starting lineup and made one newsworthy acquisition. Johnny Evers wanted no part of being with the Chicago Cubs any longer and threatened to jump to the Federal League; instead, he signed with the Braves for a nice salaryUsing the rival Federal League as leverage, Evers was able to forge a $25,000 deal with the Braves that would have been unthinkable before the advent of the FL.. The long-time second baseman was not a superstar slugger who could carry a team offensively, but his experience playing for and managing a consistently successful unit like the Cubs would engender him into a critical leadership role in Boston.

The Braves’ start to 1914 showed zero signs of what lay ahead; they won four of their first 22 games. They rebounded to become more competitive, but then came the five-game collapse and the embarrassment at Buffalo in early July.

Using the loss against the minor leaguers at Buffalo as a rallying point, Evers challenged his team to start believing in itself. The Braves met the dare, winning 12 of their next 16 games—all on the road. It propelled Boston all the way from last place to fourth in a suddenly bunched-up NL race.

Upon returning to Boston, a 14-game homestand produced 12 more victories, an upgrade to second place, and a showdown with the only team left ahead of them: The New York Giants.

Angling for an unprecedented fourth straight NL title, the Giants were performing nowhere like the team that had won it the previous three years. With the exception of second-year outfielder George Burns, no one seemed to be stepping it up at the plate for manager John McGraw. And on the mound, pitcher Rube Marquard—who reached star status with a 19-game win streak two years earlier—suddenly seemed to lose it at mid-season, with many pointing to an exhausting 21-inning performanceMarquard lost his remaining ten decisions on the year following the 21-inning marathon against the Pirates, finishing at 12-22; though he would show better results in future years, he would never regain the form that earned him 73 wins between 1911-13. against Pittsburgh in July that may have deadened his arm.

Though his Giants were ahead of the Braves by 6.5 games, McGraw acted as if he was ready to concede the flag to Boston when the Braves came to the Polo Grounds. Unfortunately, his intuition paid off; the Braves swept the Giants in three, capping the sweep with a 10-inning, 2-0 win over Christy Mathewson.

The Miracle Braves’ steamrolling continued, eventually catching up and tying New York for first place—just as the Giants came to Boston for a return engagement in early September.

With the entire city of Boston now abuzz, the neighboring Red Sox graciously allowed the Braves to play their remaining home games at Fenway Park—a much newer facility with three times as many seats as the South End Grounds. The park was put to good use; over 91,000 attended the series against the Giants, with the Braves winning two of three.

With that, Boston took sole command of first place by capping off a remarkable streak in which it won 36 of 46 games. The Braves didn’t pause to celebrate; they won 25 of their remaining 31 games and outdistanced the GiantsOverall, the Braves were 68-19 after reaching their mid-season nadir. by a stunning ten-game margin at season’s end.

No eventual World Series champion built a bigger hole for themselves than the Miracle Braves, but here’s the list of trailers who were well below .500 before rebounding to an October triumph.

Everyone got a chance to donate under manager Stallings, who worked his magic through platooning, a tactic generally oft-used in the majors at the time. Yet it was hard to look at the team’s offensive numbers—especially its middle-class .251 batting average—and conclude they were overpowering. But the Braves got their hits and scored their runs when it counted, as evidenced by their many come-from-behind victories during their second-half dash.

On the mound, Stallings relied almost exclusively on a three-man rotation during the team’s phenomenal second half. His two best pitchers of 1914—right-handers Dick Rudolph and Bill James—had made so little career noise coming into the season, their white-hot numbers from July on were all the more jarring, each winning nearly 20 games after the Buffalo debacle. The Braves’ winning momentum became contagious even upon their subpar players, who briefly rose to stellar heights. Oft-used pitcher George Davis wedged in a start between the regular rotation on September 9 and proceeded to throw the NL’s only no-hitter of the year; it was just one of seven career victories for Davis.

While the National League was turned upside down, the Philadelphia Athletics remained at the American League forefront in more conventional fashion. They seldom were challenged and won 99 games, claiming their fourth AL pennant in five years with room to spare.

There were no surprises on the Philadelphia roster, which remained as potent and well-oiled as before. The A’s offense led all major AL categories, and was anchored again by Eddie Collins (.344, 122 runs scored and 58 steals) and Frank “Home Run” Baker, who led the AL in his nickname for the fourth straight year.

Philadelphia’s top two veteran pitchers, Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, were used more sparingly yet remained just as effective. They were complemented by a fine young batch of hurlers, including Bullet Joe Bush, Bob Shawkey, Herb Pennock, Weldon Wyckoff and Rube Bressler—all of whom were 23 or younger. The pitching duties became so socialist, the 1914 A’s became the first league champion without a 20-game winner.

With his staff awash in solid young talent, manager Connie Mack had to say no to another bright pitching prospect first offered to him by cash-strapped minor league owner Jack Dunn in Baltimore. Rebuffed, Dunn next turned to the Boston Red Sox, who said yes—and thus welcomed 19-year old George Herman RuthThe Cincinnati Reds were also offered Ruth, but they instead chose two other ballplayers from Dunn who would make no impact whatsoever., better known as Babe Ruth, into their fold.

While many went by the numbers and predicted a Philadelphia rout of the Miracle Braves in the World Series, others were wisely reading between the lines and foretelling something different. One simply had to look inside each team’s clubhouse to understand the latter point of view.

In sharp contrast to the Braves’ totally unified team enthusiasm, there was trouble brewing among the Athletics. Dissension led to bitter factions; some players felt they could make a better living in the rival, upstart Federal League, while others chained their loyalty to Connie Mack—and felt betrayed by those who didn’t. The internal strife failed to damage the A’s regular season performance, but it wasn’t about to help them against the rampaging Braves.

The Braves employed their 1-2 punch of Dick Rudolph and Bill James for the first two games at Shibe Park, and it completely muted the A’s powerful bats. Rudolph won Game One, scattering five hits in a 7-1 triumph, while James tossed a two-hit shutout in Game Two. Back “home” at Fenway Park, James came to the rescue of starter Lefty Tyler in Game Three, pitching two scoreless innings of relief and allowing the Braves to post a 5-4, 12-inning victory. With nothing left emotionally, the A’s were finished off by Rudolph in Game Four, 3-1.

With their sudden success and fame too big for their small, decrepit ballpark, the Braves were allowed to move their home games late in the year to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. This panorama was taken during Game Three of the World Series, won in thrilling fashion by the Braves in 12 innings, 5-4.

Even for those who sensed a Boston upset, this was startling. Rudolph and James each got credit for two victories, combining to allow just one earned run over 29 innings. The Athletics batted just .172 and were left utterly demoralized.

It was the first time the World Series ended in a sweep.

Connie Mack had clearly seen the writing on the wall left by his ballplayers. It was time for a change. A big one.

NNo one took better advantage of the Federal League than Benny Kauff, who catapulted his status from that of an unknown minor leaguer to a brash star hitter in the upstart circuit.

The Federal League opened shop to the masses in 1914, with eight teams playing out of rebuilt or brand new ballparksAmong the Feds’ new ballparks: Chicago’s Weeghman Park, later to be known as Wrigley Field.. Fan interest wasn’t bad to begin with, but the reality of the competition between the three major leagues slowly began to set in. Still, the Feds’ first season was a qualified success, complete with a competitive pennant race where just 25 games separated first place and last—an even tighter fit than the dizzying NL battle won by the Miracle Braves.

While many marquee names in the new league performed as expected, others who migrated from the benches of the two established leagues became stars in their own right. At the top of that list was, unarguably, Benny Kauff of the Indianapolis Hoosiers. A 24-year old outfielder with only 11 previous major league at-bats to show for, Kauff became the Feds’ instant answer to Ty Cobb, leading the league in batting average (.370), runs (120), hits (211), doubles (44) and steals (75). A man of flamboyant character, Kauff lived up to his newly acquired superstar image, and his contributions led Indianapolis to the FL’s first flag, besting Joe Tinker’s Chicago ChiFeds by a game and a half.

For Kauff and the Feds, 1914 would be the life of Riley. Unfortunately for both, life would be far less kind in the future.


1915 baseball historyForward to 1915: The Great Connie Mack Fire Sale Sensing bad vibes and bad finances, Philadelphia A's manager Connie Mack tears apart his first dynasty.


1913 baseball historyBack to 1913: Giant Bridesmaids, Again Not even good luck charm Charlie Faust can save the New York Giants from another World Series defeat.


1910s baseball historyThe 1910s Page: The Feds, the Fight and the Fix The majors suffer growing pains as they deal with a fledgling third league, increased scandal and gambling problems, and a brief interruption from the Great War.


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Hank Gowdy baseballAntique collector Dan Dunn shows off a baseball hit for a double by the Boston Braves' Hank Gowdy during the 1914 World Series (it says so on the ball) and talks a little more about the Miracle Braves.


1914 Standings

National League
Boston Braves
94
59
.614
---
New York Giants
84
70
.545
10.5
St. Louis Cardinals
81
72
.529
13
Chicago Cubs
78
76
.506
16.5
Brooklyn Robins
75
79
.487
19.5
Philadelphia Phillies
74
80
.481
20.5
Pittsburgh Pirates
69
85
.448
25.5
Cincinnati Reds
60
94
.390
34.5
American League
Philadelphia Athletics
99
53
.651
---
Boston Red Sox
91
62
.595
8.5
Washington Senators
81
73
.526
19
Detroit Tigers
80
73
.523
19.5
St. Louis Browns
71
82
.464
28.5
New York Yankees
70
84
.455
30
Chicago White Sox
70
84
.455
30
Cleveland Naps
51
102
.333
48.5

1914 Postseason Results
World Series Boston (NL) defeated Philadelphia (AL), 4-0.


It Happened in 1914

Leonard Gets Down
Second-year pitcher Dutch Leonard of the Boston Red Sox sets an all-time season record for the lowest earned run average. Though that’s not disputed, his final numbers are; The Sporting News lists Leonard’s 1914 ERA at an even 1.00, but Major League Baseball and other, more revisionist sources (such as retrosheet.org) have him even lower, at 0.96. (This Great Game officially acknowledges the 0.96 mark.)

Lamb Yankee
Roger Peckingpaugh, 23, is named interim manager for the New York Yankees after Frank Chance resigns on September 11. Peckingpaugh is the youngest person ever to manage in the big leagues, and will lead his team to a 10-10 mark under his command. He’ll manage again, but not for another 14 years.

A Babe in Boston’s Arms
Babe Ruth, 19, makes his major league debut on July 11 when he takes the pitching mound for the Red Sox against Cleveland at Fenway Park. He pitches seven innings and gets a no-decision in a 4-3 win over the Naps. Ruth will be sent back to the minors before the year is out, but while on the big stage produces a 2-1 record in four games for Boston while getting two hits (a single and a double) in ten trips to the plate.

Cap Gets Company
Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie both collect their 3,000th career hits, the first players to reach the milestone this century. They join only Cap Anson as those who have reached the magic number. Wagner’s 3000th hit comes on June 9 at Philadelphia, Lajoie’s on September 27. The noteworthy hits are among only a few of the year’s highlights for either player; Wagner, at 38, hits a career-low .252, while Lajoie—whose 3,000th hit comes just weeks after his 40th birthday—is having one of his worst campaigns with a .258 average.

Game of the Year
To say that Pittsburgh fans get their money’s worth during a July 17 game between the Pirates and New York Giants is an understatement. Those hanging around to watch all 21 innings of the Giants’ 3-1 victory have plenty to witness. Both starting pitchers—the Giants’ Rube Marquard and the Pirates’ Babe Adams—go the distance, with Adams allowing no walks—setting the mark for the most innings pitched in a game without one. There’s a bizarre sixth inning play where an attempted throw to nail Honus Wagner at third base eludes the Giants’ Milt Stock, who can’t find it—until it’s discovered that the ball has gone up Wagner’s sleeve as he runs for home (Wagner is called out on “interference”). And New York outfielder Red Murray, after making the final out of the long affair, is knocked unconscious by a bolt of lightning. Murray will recover to play the next day while Marquard, who gave it his exhaustive all in winning, will suffer from a fatigued arm for the rest of the year and lose his remaining 12 decisions.

If the Pitcher Doesn’t Get You Out, the Catcher Will
Yankee catcher Les Bunamaker becomes the first and only catcher in modern major league history to throw out three runners (Detroit’s Donie Bush, George Moriarty and Hugh High) attempting to steal in one inning. The Tigers overcome the erasures and beat Nunamaker and the Yankees at Detroit on August 3, 4-1.

How Did He Do That?
For an outfielder to turn an unassisted double play is rare enough, but the Red Sox’ Tris Speaker does it twice during the 1914 season. He’ll do it again in 1918, becoming the only player to do it twice in two different seasons; only three other major leaguers have done it twice in one season. Speaker’s highly improbable act is explained by the fact that he usually plays shallow in center field—not a risky alignment to consider during the height of the deadball era—and takes the liberty of personally doubling up opponents on the run from second base after making the catch near the infield.

Caught Stealing—and Caught in the Recordbook
Miller Huggins of the St. Louis Cardinals sets a National League record when he is caught stealing 36 times. He is successful on only 32 other attempts. Because the “caught stealing” statistic is not recorded on a regular basis in the NL until 1951, it’s quite possible that someone else holds the real, unaccounted-for mark.

Deadballheader
The Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Browns combine for a major league record-low 11 hits in a doubleheader on May 30. The first game features five total hits, four by the Tigers—who beat the Browns, 2-1. Each team gets three hits in the second game, and the Browns make the most of theirs in a 2-0 win to gain a split on the day. Missing from the box scores is
Ty Cobb, on the shelf with a broken rib.

Grapefruit Brownies
The St. Louis Browns become the first team to hold spring training in Florida, working out in St. Petersburg.

Sadly, It’s No Joke
Rube Waddell, one of baseball’s most feared strikeout artists in the 20th Century’s first decade—and one of its looniest to boot—dies of tuberculosis on, all too appropriately, April Fool’s Day. His health had gone downhill ever since performing a rescue during a recent flood in Kentucky. Waddell, who last played major league ball in 1910, was 37.

Shortslop
Shortstop
Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Naps appears to be in the midst of, well, a Cleveland nap on June 20 against the Yankees—committing four errors in one inning of a 7-1 loss to set a major league mark. It’s the low point of a particularly tough year defensively for Chapman, who finishes the year with a substandard .913 fielding average.

New Ballparks

Weeghman Park (Wrigley Field), Chicago The address of 1060 West Addison is more than just Elwood Blues’ fake residence; it’s the Federal League’s only remaining, active legacy to the majors—built for the Chicago ChiFeds at a cost of $250,000, bequeathed to the Cubs and renamed Cubs Park in 1916 after the FL died off, and finally given its current title, Wrigley Field, in 1926 after gum magnate William Wrigley bought the Cubs.

Weeghman Park originally seated 14,000, but after a few small additions was given a major expansion to its current capacity of under 40,000 in 1927 by Wrigley—who went to great pains to enliven the “Friendly Confines” by giving it a spotless presence, built-in concession stands and, most famously by 1937, the ivy on the outfield walls (as conceived by promotional whiz and future major league owner Bill Veeck). Beyond the ivy, Wrigley Field gave birth to the self-described “bleacher bums” in the 1960s, and witnessed the growth of rooftop seating across both Waveland and Sheffield Avenues in the 1980s, irking a Cub front office that didn’t collect a cut of the outside revenue. It’s the only major league ballpark left with a brick outfield wall (allowed since the ivy gives it a source for “padding”) and was, until 1988, the last major league holdout to night baseball.

Unlike other teams with older ballparks itching to build something new and more profitable, the current Cub regime has no plans to leave Wrigley (though there’s much talk of upgrading it), believing the ballpark’s charming character and rich heritage is a vital asset to the team’s brand.


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