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Sox Century: Oct. 15, 1917

The White Sox win the World Series with the help of some memorable Giant mistakes

Heinie Zimmerman leaps over Eddie Collins.

The White Sox won one and lost one Oct. 13. They beat the Giants in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the World Series, but they lost a coin flip to host Game 7. If the White Sox were going to win it all, they’d have to do it in New York.

The good news? They had two chances to win one game, and so Pants Rowland managed accordingly. Eddie Cicotte had been the team’s undisputed ace, but Rowland went to his other horse, Red Faber, for Game 6. Faber had only pitched two innings the prior game, while Cicotte went six and neither Reb Russell or Lefty Williams showed much. With two cracks at the championship, Rowland saved his best for last, and with the most possible rest.

John McGraw countered with Rube Benton, the lefty who threw a five-hit shutout at these same Polo Grounds in Game 3 five days before.

Both pitching choices proved wise, whether you’re looking at the game’s scorelessness through three innings or what came after. Defense decided this game. More specifically, it was the lack of defense in the fourth inning, when the Giants’ gloves found increasingly creative ways to undermine themselves.

Benton had pitched around singles in the first and second inning before a 1-2-3 third, so he appeared to have things under control. The fourth inning started equally innocuously with Eddie Collins hitting a sharp grounder to third baseman Heinie Zimmerman. Zimmerman handled the first step of the process with ease. The New York Tribune describes the other part.

Zimmerman, in all his nonchalant grace, made a pretty pick-up. He had plenty of time to make sure of Collins and righted himself before pegging for the Sox captain. For some reason the throw was very bad, in spite of Zimmerman’s apparent care. It carried low and a trifle wide past [first baseman Walter] Holke and on to the stands. Collins reached second on the error.

Joe Jackson tried bunting him to third, but fouled off both attempts. After watching two pitches out of the zone, he swung away. The Chicago Examiner will handle this one.

Joe Jackson poked a soft boiled fly to right. Dave Robertson camped under the ball and made a $30,000 muff, which sum represents the difference between the ends of the purse. Dave was standing flat footed when the pill came down and so was Ed Collins. The runner raced to third, Jackson remained at first and both Sox waited to see what the Giants would do next. Thirty-three thousand odd Polo Grounders likewise sat tight and swallowed the lumps in their necks.

With runners on first and third and nobody out, Happy Felsch had a number of different ways to get the game’s first run across the plate. He seemed to find none of them when he bounced the ball back to Benton on the mound.

We don’t have a consensus on what exactly happened next. What we do have is a great article contributed to the SABR publication The National Pastime by Richard A. Smiley, who was kind enough to share it with me. Titled “I’m a Faster Man Than You Are, Heinie Zim,” Smiley goes through dozens of accounts to try to figure out exactly how the play unraveled. He finds that Benton snared Felsch’s bouncer and caught Collins straying too far from third base. He finds that Collins aimed to prolong a rundown long enough for both runners to advance into scoring position.

From there, it gets complicated, and without the benefit of instant replay, it gets fuzzy. Many accounts have Benton throwing the ball to Zimmerman. Some have Benton throwing the ball to Zimmerman, who then threw the ball to catcher Bill Rariden. A few have Benton going to Rariden, who then threw the ball to Zimmerman.

All of them end up in the same place — with Collins winning a foot race with Zimmerman to an unguarded home plate to score the game’s first run.

It doesn’t help that the papers cast blame in different directions. The New York papers — at least the Tribune and Times — blamed Zimmerman. The former’s account:

Good, old reliable Bill Rariden, who was guarding the home goal, had moved a third of the way up the lines. He set himself for Heine’s expected relay. But Heine seemed too intent on the prey before him. He refused to let any one else in on the race. When Rariden realized Zimmerman was going to play a lone hand he got out of the way to avoid a possible claim of interference on his part.

The Examiner and the Chicago Tribune, conversely, pointed fingers on the lack of help — whether Rariden for being too far up the line, or Holke for not moving from first base to back up the play at home. If Zimmerman decided to go it alone, he had reason to believe in his speed. The photo above of Zimmerman hurdling Collins at the plate suggests a close race, as do the first-hand accounts. Here’s one from the Examiner, with a puzzling aside:

Zim, like Collins, is a college man. He took a course in sprinting at Harvard ‘06, but never told it to a soul except a female hair dresser at Jacksonville, Fla. Beware the female of the species. She is more deadly than the male. Anyhow, the Giants fell back and gave the sprinters a clear field. Collins was the faster. He was sprinting for his whack of the $30,000 and so was Heine. The pride of the Bronx needs it worse than the other sprinter, who has some already. Collins had the jump and he won the $30,000 classic, sliding over the rubber on the rear platform of his pantaloons with Heine almost touching him with the ball. Heine had been doing that for the last sixty feet of the race.

Let’s go back to Game 2. You may remember Faber getting thrown out trying to steal a third base occupied by Buck Weaver. The Chicago Tribune said it would be “dug up by the historians as the feature of the 1917 world’s series.”

Well, this footrace between Collins and Zimmerman trumped it. For one, the sheer spectacle of Zimmerman’s ill-fated pursuit brought the house down. The New York Times said the Polo Grounds crowd “shook with laughter and filled the air with cries of derision at one of the stupidest plays that has ever been seen in a world’s series.”

Smiley suspects the absurdity of Zimmerman chasing Collins led fans, and then the media, to blame the third baseman for the mistake. McGraw blamed Holke for not coming in from first base, and you can see him firmly anchored at his position in one of the photos of the play.

The photo of the play in the New York Tribune on Oct. 16, 1917.

Another reason this play loomed larger than Faber’s blunder? Chick Gandil followed with a single that scored Jackson and Felsch, giving Faber a sizable 3-0 cushion.

Not that the Sox ran away with it. Faber gave the Giants a way back into the game by issuing a pair of one-out walks in the fifth, both of which came around to score on Buck Herzog’s triple to right field. That narrowed Chicago’s lead to 3-2, and while Benny Kauff fouled out to end the inning, the Giants had four more innings to find one more run.

A Sox slip-up afforded the Giants their best opportunity in the seventh. Pol Perritt singled, moved to second on a passed ball and took third when Ray Schalk’s throw to second got away. Herzog had a chance to drive in his third run of the game, but he popped out to Buck Weaver at short.

The Giants never drew that close again. Faber retired the side in the eighth, and Nemo Leibold added an insurance RBI single in the ninth. That made it a 4-2 game and reduced the tension, because when Faber grazed Robertson on the wrist to start the ninth, the Giants still needed another baserunner.

Holke grounded out to second, followed by a Rariden strikeout. The pitcher’s spot followed, so McGraw made one last move. From the Times:

Then came McGraw’s final desperate effort in the series of 1917. He sent Lew McCarty, still suffering from a wretched shoulder, in to bat for Perritt, and Lew slashed a grounder at Eddie Collins. Into the Sox second baseman’s hands the ball hopped, rested for a moment, and with machine-like sureness he easily flipped the ball to Gandil, and the series was over.

The White Sox won the game by the same margin they took the series: 4-2.

It’s fitting that Collins and Faber starred in the finale, because either one would have been a deserving choice for Most Valuable Player, which didn’t exist at the time. Collins went 9-for-22 with a double, two walks, three steals and four runs scored, and he played errorless ball at second. Faber picked up three of the Sox’ four wins, going the distance in Games 2 and 6, and picking up the win with two scoreless innings in Game 5. For the Series, he went 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA, and allowed just 21 hits and three walks over his 27 innings. He pitched more than half of the 52 innings required from White Sox arms.

Based on the Times’ account, we have an idea of McGraw’s choice.

As the disappointed crowd surged down onto the field, Manager McGraw, who had been coaching at first base, rushed onto the diamond, elbowed his way through the howling mass of spectators, and grasped the hand of Red Faber. It was a hearty sincere handshake, for a few years ago McGraw, on the Giants-White Sox trip around the world, had borrowed Faber from Jimmy Callahan, for he was short of pitchers. Faber was under McGraw’s guidance when the teams played in every country around the globe and the Giants manager took a great liking to Red. He taught him many tricks and gave him good advice. Little did McGraw think at that time that one day this same awkward Red Faber would beat his Giants out of a world’s championship.

Series: White Sox win 4-2 | Box score