A hundred years ago, while the Black Sox scandal was unfolding, two small Massachusetts towns got caught up in an insane game of one-upmanship that inflated a local baseball rivalry to major league proportions. It became known as the Little World Series
In the fall of 1919 competing economic philosophies buffeted professional baseball like colliding weather fronts. The game was caught halfway between 1869, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first paid players, and 1969, when Curt Flood martyred himself for the cause of free agency, suing the St. Louis Cardinals in an effort to block a trade. (“I do not regard myself as a piece of property to be bought or sold.”)
Most team owners steadfastly pulled backward, toward the nineteenth century. They wanted to maintain full control of the players through the “reserve clause”—meaning that once a player signed a contract with a team owner, the team owner controlled the player in perpetuity. The players, agitating for free agency (even if they didn’t call it that), pulled in the opposite direction, toward Scott Boras and the distant 21st century.
Within these two massive systems, the winds shifted in unpredictable directions. Far from acting in concert, players often behaved selfishly. Carl Mays, for instance. Ten months after pitching the Red Sox to victory in the 1918 World Series, Mays stormed off the field, vowing never to play with such a bunch of bumbling incompetents ever again. Rather than exercise the reserve clause and demand that Mays return, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee acquiesced and sold him to the Yankees. This precipitated a round of internecine bickering and legal wrangling on the owners’ side of the divide. (The case also paved the way for Mays’s fellow World Series pitching star, Babe Ruth, to flee Boston for New York in January.)
These swirling uncertainties inside the game made it ripe for exploitation from outsiders. There was no unanimity here, either, but there were two essential types: big-time fixers and small-time barkers. The fixers dwelt in the underworld. Gambling was as deeply entrenched in baseball culture a century ago as it is in football today. Inevitably, that enticed gamblers to bribe players to fix the odds—and because the players weren’t yet making the kind of money that could insulate them from such temptation, some of them gave in.
The barkers, on the other hand, worked aboveboard—more or less. They offered pro ballplayers a chance to supplement their incomes on the barnstorming circuit. A few hundred bucks could lure the biggest of big-leaguers to the smallest of small towns.
As the 1919 season ended, each of these outside forces reached its peak of influence. The result was two extraordinary series of games, which unfolded in parallel. One, the tainted “Black Sox” World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds, was so scandalous that it remains prominent in the sporting consciousness a century later. It’s been well documented, particularly in Eight Men Out (both the 1963 book by Eliot Asinof and the 1988 film by John Sayles).
This story documents the other extraordinary baseball event from the fall of 1919, the “Little World Series” between two neighboring Massachusetts towns, Attleboro and North Attleborough. (Such was the extent of their enmity that the two towns couldn’t even agree on the spelling.)
When it began, on September 6, 1919, the Little World Series was no different than hundreds of other “semipro” rivalries around the country. But by the time it had played out, over five consecutive Saturdays, the semi- portion of semipro had vanished. Each side had steadily upped the ante, until the teams that took the field for the decisive fifth game consisted entirely of major-league ringers.
The climax of the Little World Series occurred on October 4, 1919—the same day as Game Four of the Black Sox series. In hindsight, the contrast between those two games is startling. At Chicago’s Comiskey Park, the White Sox lost to the Reds, 2–0, to fall into a three-games-to-one hole in the World Series. And lost to puts the emphasis in the right place. Having received $10,000 from gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan to help throw the series, White Sox starting pitcher Eddie Cicotte did his part to ensure the Cincinnati victory. The only runs resulted from two Cicotte “errors”—a misnomer, since as Cicotte later confessed to a grand jury, the errors were “deliberate.”
Meanwhile, some 840 miles away, the largest crowd in the history of Attleboro’s Brady Field had gathered to watch what amounted to a de facto major league game. Like the Black Sox scandal, the Little World Series was fueled to an extent by selfishness and greed. But the results were manifestly different. The Little World Series was a sunny yin to the Black Sox series’ dark yang. Instead of a little boy’s plaintive plea—“Say it ain’t so, Joe”—there was the “curious specimen of [a] giant on boy’s legs.”
That was Joe Martin’s description of Babe Ruth.
Joe Martin published the North Attleborough Chronicle, the local evening paper. The Chronicle competed with the Attleboro Sun, the local morning paper. In their unabashedly biased accounts, the two papers did much to gin up interest and escalate the intensity of the Little World Series. They spun two tales of two cities.
And why not? It was a fascinating and multifaceted story. Sharing it was good for business—never more so than when the Chronicle published a telegram announcing that Babe Ruth was coming to town.
What the Chronicle’s account didn’t say was that its own publisher was paying Ruth’s way. Joe Martin declined to publically reveal that little detail until 1961, when he published a book called My First 50 Years in Politics. By then Martin had served in the U.S. Congress since 1924, including two stints as Speaker of the House. His name had even been bandied about as a possible presidential candidate.
In his memoir, Martin casually noted that he had once “hired Babe Ruth [and] paid him five hundred dollars.”
The Babe also got a diamond ring out of the deal. But that wasn’t the perk that Martin found most painful to deliver. “When the game was over I took [Ruth] to the Elks Club and bought him a steak,” Martin wrote. “He devoured it like a polar bear and asked if he might have another. The second disappeared as fast as the first. ‘Would you mind if I had another?’ he asked. ‘Go ahead,’ I said, weakly, signaling the waiter. After the third he had a fourth, and I cannot imagine how many more he would have eaten if I had not finally hustled him out of the place.”
Ruth’s prodigious appetites only added to his appeal. Due in part to his charisma, he would become the most transformative economic force in professional baseball. Like Carl Mays, he had come up through the Red Sox system at a time when teams played “small ball,” and the pitchers were the stars. Accordingly, Ruth became a pitcher—and a very good one. Like Mays, he had won two games for Boston in the 1918 World Series. Like Mays, he’d become disgruntled as the 1919 season wore on. And like Mays, he eventually talked his way out of town.
But unlike Mays, Ruth had recognized new possibilities for himself beyond simply being an accomplished pitcher. He was also the game’s most feared hitter. In 1918, playing in fewer than half of Boston’s games, he led the American League with eleven home runs. In 1919, still playing only part time in the outfield, he had shattered the major league record with 29 home runs. The rest of the Red Sox had hit four--combined.
But it wasn’t just the quantity of home runs that Ruth hit, it was their quality. His elephantine strength enabled him to propel the ball right out of the park and “into real life,” as a commentator once noted.
Wrote Martin, “It was as if all the steaks he had ever consumed had gone into his chest, shoulders, and arms.”
In 1920, Carl Mays and Babe Ruth, the two preeminent “free agents” of 1919, would continue on divergent paths. Mays would achieve infamy, and seal his reputation as a pariah, by striking the Indians’ Ray Chapman in the head with a pitch and killing him. Ruth would cement his status as the game’s greatest player by blasting 54 home runs while playing in America’s largest city. His days of small ball and pitching were done. He was now the great Bambino. He was on his way to making more money than the President (and joking about it, which increased his appeal still further).
But all of that was still in the near distance on the afternoon of October 4, 1919. All that mattered to Babe Ruth that day was the goings-on at Brady Field in Attleboro, Massachusetts, where the Babe was playing left field and batting cleanup for Attleboro’s archrival. On the mound, pitching for the home team, was Carl Mays.
As Ruth stepped to the plate in top of the first, with two outs and a runner on, the buzz in the crowd reached a crescendo. Two months earlier, not many people thought the annual battle of the Attleboros was even going to happen. Absolutely no one foresaw it happening like this.
In 1919 North Attleborough, like most of America, could hear the Roaring Twenties approaching. All aspects of life were changing. There were more entertainment options than ever. (You could go to the moving pictures in your automobile!) But people had less leisure time for leisure-time pursuits. The Chronicle reported that more and more men were spending Saturday afternoons working rather than lounging at the baseball grounds.
That was bad news for Frank Kelley, general manager of the town’s threadbare semipro baseball team. He was having a hard time sustaining enough interest to keep the team viable.
Stifling weather didn’t help. On July 5, with the temperature pushing 100, only 200 fans showed up at North Attleborough’s home park, Columbia Field. Many of those had come to support the visiting Quincy team, which won the game, 3-1.
A few days later the Chronicle reported that the local team was in financial trouble. “Fans will be given another opportunity of demonstrating just how strong they are for having a ball club in town,” the story said, “and if the response is not better all of the games will be played away from home.”
The ultimatum failed to stir interest. A week later the Chronicle announced that the town team had ceased operations.
Attleboro’s baseball cognoscenti sensed a ruse. They suspected that North Attleborough had folded its team not to save money but to save face. If it had no team, North Attleborough wouldn’t have to risk a third straight humiliation in its annual series with Attleboro. An editorial in the Sun questioned everything from the neighbors’ manhood to their financial acumen. “It is an open secret that a series between the two towns will pay, so why under the sun North doesn’t show signs of life is mystifying,” the Sun wrote. “It is hoped that Attleboro will not have to believe for another 12 months that North men are affected with coolness to the pedal extremities.”
North issued no public response to this teleprinted trolling. At least not right away.
In the meantime, Attleboro’s ball club stayed sharp by beating up on other teams from the area. The Attleboro team, a formidable collection of college kids and moonlighting minor-leaguers, was backed by jewelry magnate Bill Saart, a 52-year old native of Germany who had moved to Attleboro in 1881. In 1904 he founded W.H. Saart Company, which specialized in manufacturing silver novelties. Within ten years the company had several hundred employees and had opened offices in New York and on the West Coast.
Player/manager Dan O’Connell, an Attleboro native, was the team’s sparkplug. O’Connell had been a major league prospect who had once roomed with future Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville on the New England League’s New Bedford Whalers. Although an ankle injury had ended O’Connell’s dream of playing in the majors, the local boy still had game. With O’Connell running the team and playing centerfield, Attleboro handled all comers all summer. Until August 23, that is, when Marblehead came to Brady Field and left with a 7-3 win. “The visiting aggregation was by far the best seen here this year,” the Sun noted.
Frank Kelley and the moribund North Attleborough team noted how good Marblehead was, too. Kelley would later serve in the state legislature, and he displayed a politician’s gift for bald-faced opportunism. Shortly after the Marblehead game, Kelley announced that North Attleborough would field a team for the best-of-five intertown series after all. The first game was set for Brady Field on Saturday, September 6.
These were the terms, as reported in the Sun: “There will be no limit to the players, and every man who ever donned a uniform will be eligible.” Kelley exploited the liberal rules by recruiting six starters from the Marblehead team to play for North Attleborough.
The undisputed star for Marblehead—and now for North Attleborough—was Chick Davies. A standout at Amherst Agricultural (now UMass–Amherst), Davies had had two extra-large cups of coffee with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, in 1914 and ’15. Although primarily an outfielder, the 145-pound Davies had pitched in a handful of spot starts for the A’s, with a complete-game victory. He had put his versatility on full display at Brady Field in August, holding the potent Attleboro lineup to three runs on 12 hits while supplying much of Marblehead’s offense with a double and a homer. “He is still the property of the Philadelphia team,” the Sun reported, “[but] prefers semi-pro ball and a business life.”
In other words, for some players, professional baseball circa 1919 was just another job.
Kelley’s comic scheme—raiding the only team that seemed capable of beating his archrival—took a sober turn on the morning of Game One, when Davies’s father “dropped dead,” in the Sun’s insensitive phrase. Davies withdrew, of course, and without its star pitcher, North Attleborough stood no chance. Attleboro blew the game open with eight runs in the bottom of the third, en route to an 11-7 win.
In the bottom of the eighth, with his team up by five runs, Dan O’Connell couldn’t resist ribbing some North Attleborough fans in the crowd of 1,662. Said O’Connell, “Going to have the Marblehead team next Saturday?”
“It was,” the Sun reported, “a body blow.”
North Attleborough did not, in fact, have the Marblehead team for Game Two. With the minor league season ending, the pool of available players was deep. Given a full week to work with, Kelley had ample time to revamp his lineup. He brought in seven new players, including several Eastern Leaguers with major league experience.
It didn’t help. Attleboro scored four runs in the top of the second and coasted to a 7-2 win. The Columbia Field crowd of 1,500 was dispirited, and the local paper captured their frustration. “Men hired to knock the ball out of the lot were lucky to hit dinky flies or push out easy rollers,” the Chronicle sneered.
Trailing the best-of-five series two games to none, North Attleborough was but one inevitable loss away from what the Chronicle called “the snow ball league.” Again.
It wasn’t an influx of Hall of Famers that pushed this rivalry to its critical mass. It was a pair of utility players.
Having sufficiently recovered from the shock of his father’s death, Chick Davies agreed to pitch Game Three for North Attleborough. But Frank Kelley didn’t end his recruiting effort there. “Manager Kelley has been in the Red Sox office three days this week,” the Chronicle reported the day before the game. “[Red Sox first baseman] Stuffy McInnis has been working in conjunction with the local boy and asked Manager Kelley to hold off from getting any other players until he has a talk with Eddie Collins, who arrived in Boston today with the White Sox.”
The upshot: Kelley signed Red Sox reserve first baseman Del Gainer to play for North Attleborough. He also landed Fred McMullin, a backup third baseman for the first-place White Sox. (McMullin would soon be accused of making an extracurricular deal of a darker sort; he became one of those “Eight Men Out” charged with throwing the 1919 World Series.)
According to Dan O’Connell, these two signings violated a gentlemen’s agreement. As O’Connell wrote in a memoir of the series, later excerpted in the Pawtucket Times, “It was understood that … no player under a major [league] contract would be eligible. It was in this game that the fun began, and the big-timers followed.”
North Attleboro’s pair of Sox had an immediate impact. “The playing of Del Gainer will never be forgotten,” the Chronicle wrote. “The Red Sox man fielded perfectly and at the bat all he got was three singles, a double and a triple. … McMullin, the Chicago player, didn’t make any noise at the bat, but he fielded brilliantly. He had a number of difficult chances and his throwing–Oh Boy, but it was great.”
In the first two games, a trio of North Attleborough third basemen had combined for four errors. With McMullin patching that hole in Game Three, Gainer supplying the offense, and Davies scattering five hits, North Attleboro built a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. At that point a seemingly easy win became a Buckneresque burlesque. Two hits, two errors, and two outs later, the game was tied and O’Connell stood on second, representing the winning run. Bill Glennon, Attleboro’s power-hitting third baseman, stepped to the plate. A hit from Glennon, and Attleboro would complete a devastating comeback and a three-game sweep. Brady Field was in a frenzy.
The normally unflappable Davies served up a fat one. Glennon connected on one of the longest drives ever hit at Brady Field, far beyond the fence down the left field line. “A well known ball fan, who had left the game, was within five feet of the ball when it struck,” the Sun reported. “He says it landed near a hen house on North Main St.”
O’Connell rounded third, anticipating the sweet moment when his foot would touch the plate and complete the sweep. His memoir describes what happened next: “Halfway between third and home I noticed the ump rule the ball foul. I turned around to return to second base when one of the North fans hit me a sock in the jaw and I went back at the fan, with police and players and everybody all up in arms.”
The Sun, which estimated the crowd at 2,000, described the scene as a “near riot.” Thinking their team had won, Attleboro fans had stormed the field. “Ask a thousand about the hit,” the Sun wrote, “and they will immediately say that it was ‘easily fair.’ Ask the other thousand, and they will say at once, ‘Foul by a mile.’ ”
Home plate umpire Jack Finnell’s ruling stood. And the lengthy delay required to clear the field apparently allowed Davies to regain his composure. He struck out Glennon to end the ninth. After North scored in the top of the tenth, Davies retired Attleboro in order, sending the series back to Columbia Field for Game Four.
According to a North Attleborough history prepared in 1986 for the town’s centennial, Bill Saart confronted Frank Kelley after the game. “You tried to show me up today,” Saart said, while allegedly poking Kelley in the shoulder. “You’ll regret this. From now on, watch out.”
Neither town’s newspaper reported the exchange. The Sun carried just a single terse quote from the Attleboro owner: “Wait until next week.”
Added the Sun’s unbylined writer, “Those who know the local backer are confident he will put a team on the field next week that will make Frankie Kelley travel along.”
The week between games three and four was a hot stove season in miniature. “Baseball was the sole topic of discussion yesterday in town,” the Chronicle reported on Tuesday. “The most frequently asked question of the day is, ‘Who will North have next Saturday?’”
Kelley knew he would need players of an even higher caliber than Gainer and McMullin to counter Saart’s expected moves. And he knew he would need more cash to pay for them. “A flood of money has gone into the coffers of the Attleboro club,” the Chronicle reported, “and the slogan there is ‘Win if it takes a million.’ ” Attleboro’s jewelry trade was thriving, and Saart had several deep-pocketed supporters in the industry.
In contrast, the Chronicle claimed, North Attleborough’s team relied on ordinary citizens rather than well-heeled businessmen. (In reality, Joe Martin was using his connections, and his newspaper’s profits, to help bankroll the team.) The town’s fundraising effort included a “Big Base Ball Carnival” the night before Game Four. An ad promised “Band concerts, cabaret singers and 100 other attractions.” The tag line: “Kelley says, ‘Attleboro will not win the series.’ ”
A Chronicle story asserted that the local fan base was rallying around the team “in appreciation of their courageous stand last week in placing a club on the field that cost more than both Attleboro’s and North Attleboro’s end of the gate.”
Kelley hoped that the hype would generate a much higher gate in game four. Said the Chronicle, “All the chairs and settees available in town will be taken to the grounds.”
Attleboro was just as busy preparing for the showdown. With the taboo against active major leaguers shattered, Dan O’Connell decided to look up an old friend and former teammate. Rabbit Maranville was now a slick-fielding shortstop with the Boston Braves, who were playing out the final homestand of a losing season. It was a slog: back-to-back doubleheaders against the New York Giants on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by single games against the Giants on Friday and Brooklyn on Saturday. With nothing to play for in Boston, Maranville decided to forego the final game at Braves Field and join the cause in Attleboro. If nothing else, the Little World Series would provide a more charged atmosphere than a season-ending game between two National League teams that were going nowhere. (Hard as it is to believe, teams that had been eliminated from contention sometimes allowed players to barnstorm before the season was over.)
Maranville brought three of his teammates with him: pitcher Dick Rudolph, utilityman Red Smith, and outfielder Jim Thorpe. Rudolph and Smith, like Maranville, had starred on the 1914 “Miracle Braves,” who had rallied from last place on the Fourth of July to win the World Series, in what one 1950 poll called the greatest sports upset of the century’s first 50 years. Thorpe, the multisport star of the 1912 Olympics, was coming off his best season in the big leagues, having hit .327. (Ironically it was also his last season in the big leagues; thereafter he concentrated on professional football.)
Also joining Maranville were four members of the Braves’ opponent that Saturday, the Brooklyn Robins (later called the Dodgers): outfielders Zach Wheat and Hy Myers (both of whom hit over .300 that year), and infielders Ivy Olson and Jimmy Johnston.
Back in Boston, the depleted Braves and threadbare Robins would combine for eight errors, winding up the season up with what the New York Times called “a game that everybody concerned refused to take seriously … the cold and the lack of anything at stake keeping the attendance down to the smallest figures of the year.” This in a season in which the Braves averaged just 2,500 fans a game.
In trying to outdo one another, Kelley and Saart had trumped the local National League franchise in the process. “This is without question the classiest lineup ever announced in a semi-professional game,” the Sun declared in a story that carried the unfortunate headline ‘LITTLE DICK’ VS JOHNSON TOMORROW.
That would be Walter Johnson. Knowing he didn’t have the money to match all of Saart’s moves, Kelley opted for quality over quantity. He blew much of his budget—a reported $500—on a single player: the Big Train. Pitching for a lousy Senators team, Johnson had gone 20-14 that year, with a 1.49 ERA. Kelley hoped Johnson would even the odds, no matter how many major league hitters Saart brought in.
Kelley rounded out his battery with Giants catcher Lew McCarty. “The fans could hardly believe that such stars will appear tomorrow,” the Sun reported on Friday. “All roads will lead to Columbia Field.”
Those roads became gridlocked. “Never before were there so many automobiles in North Attleborough,” the Chronicle reported. “Several hundred machines came out from Rhode island. All of the neighboring towns and cities as far away as Boston contributed to the big crowd.”
A man named Jack Tweedy came up from New Canaan, Connecticut, but “the best he could do was to get a place on top of an express wagon.”
Mr. Tweedy wasn’t alone. “The paid admissions numbered 4,700,” the Chronicle reported, “and at least a thousand more unable to gain admission stood on neighboring hills or on top of wagons.”
Said the Sun, “When there was no more room, over 300 persons came in and stood in places where they could not even see a ball pitched.”
Those 300 fans missed pretty much the whole show. Johnson lived up to his billing, and both papers gave him glowing reviews. “To hold the slugging Attleboro team to five hits, two of them scratchy, and to strike out seven while only issuing two passes, is some stunt, and that is what Peerless Walter did Saturday,” the Sun wrote.
In truth, Rudolph was every bit Johnson’s peer over the first five innings, holding North Attleboro scoreless on two hits. And he scored the game’s first run, in the top of the third. After drawing a one-out walk, he advanced to third on Olson’s double and scored on Johnston’s sacrifice fly. Johnston figured in the next run as well, scoring on Wheat’s single in the top of the sixth. In this tense pitchers’ duel, those two runs “looked as big as the Alps,” the Chronicle reported.
But North scaled that mountain in the bottom of the sixth. Johnston was in the middle of the scoring again. With runners on second and third and one out, the Attleboro second baseman booted a grounder from Eddie Eayrs, a Blackstone native who normally manned centerfield for the Eastern League’s Providence Grays. The tying runs scored. “The field became a riot of cheering,” the Chronicle reported. “Hats were tossed high in the air. Staid businessmen performed acrobatic stunts. A roar swept through the field that resembled the cannonading of the American army in the Argonne.”
Two innings later, North Attleborough took a 5-2 lead on a bases-loaded double from McCarty and a disputed balk on Rudolph. And neither side expected a repeat of Attleboro’s game three rally. Said the Chronicle, “Everyone knew that the master of the situation was Walter Johnson.”
Over the final three innings Johnson allowed only an infield single to Thorpe. (The Sun: “Thorpe’s base running was worthy of more than passing comment. He went down to first base the fastest ever seen on the grounds.”)
Red Smith, who had fanned against Johnson in his first three at-bats, grounded out to end the game. “Thousands rushed onto the field,” the Chronicle reported. “Johnson and McCarthy [sic] were hustled up onto the shoulders of a cheering mob and carried off the field. It was a new experience for the Washington star [who had yet to taste postseason play with the woeful Senators] and he appeared to rather like the good will that was thus displayed.”
McCarty, a veteran of seven National League seasons, had worked with dozens of pitchers, including future Hall of Famers Rube Marquard and Christy Mathewson. This was the first time he had caught the Big Train, and he was duly impressed. “He’s the daddy of them all,” said McCarty. “Not only of this generation, but for all time.”
The Chronicle summarized the day: “Some talent, some ball game. Victory doesn’t always go to the side with the most money.”
I will surely be on hand next Saturday to play with the North Attleboro team.
The Chronicle published this telegram, allegedly sent to Frank Kelley, four days before the deciding game of the 1919 intertown series. Babe Ruth was already the game’s biggest draw, especially in New England.
With major league baseball’s regular season over, the Red Sox and Yankees were liberally represented at Brady Field that October afternoon. Five of Ruth’s Boston teammates joined him on the North Attleborough roster, while fellow Yanks Wally Pipp, Duffy Lewis, and Chick Fewster played behind Carl Mays for Attleboro. The lone player to cross party lines was Yankees pitcher Bob Shawkey, who took the mound for North. (Kelley had hoped to bring back Walter Johnson, but Johnson chose to honor a commitment to appear at a benefit for World War I veterans—forfeiting another $500 payday.)
Also in the North lineup were Indians infielders Eddie Foster and Larry Gardner, and Senators outfielder Sam Rice. (The odd man out in North’s Hall of Fame outfield was Boston’s Frank Gilhooly in right.) Joining the quartet of Yankee starters on Attleboro were future Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft of the Phillies at short and his teammate, Harry Pearce, at second; Indians catcher Steve O’Neill; Tigers outfielder Chick Shorten; and Giants third baseman Heinie Zimmerman. “What a team it must be when Rube Marquard and Dick Rudolph are kept on the bench,” the Sun declared.
The Chronicle’s pregame assessment was even grander. And in comparing the battle of the Attleboros to the 1919 World Series between the White Sox and Reds, the paper coined a phrase: “The two greatest ball nines ever gathered on a single field will face one another tomorrow afternoon on Brady Field in the final game of the little world series. Chicago may be the scene of the season’s classic, but the ball players who will be in Attleboro tomorrow would defeat either team.”
The hype had a predictable effect. Although the game wasn’t scheduled to start until 3:15, the crowd began to gather “as early as 10 o’clock in the forenoon,” the Sun reported.
Which was also around the time that Babe Ruth arrived in North Attleborough. “Babe made the trip from Boston in his car and was accompanied by his wife and secretary,” the Chronicle reported.
Ruth was escorted to a reception at the Elks Home, then “was taken to several of the jewelry factories and shown how North Attleborough’s famous products are made.”
And then on to Brady Field, where the largest crowd in the park’s history awaited. Along with Game Five of the Little World Series, Attleboro was also hosting a “Welcome Home” celebration for World War I veterans. “There were 7,219 paid admissions,” the Chronicle reported, “in addition to the 1,000 servicemen and those who came in by the old-fashioned route of ‘over the fence.’ ”
The Chronicle claimed that Ruth hit one of his patented moon-shot homers in batting practice. But he wasn’t able to replicate the feat during the game. In the first inning Mays gave him no chance, taking much of the drama out of the moment by issuing an intentional walk. “Ruth could have walked every time if he had so elected,” the Chronicle claimed, “but he was anxious to show his appreciation of the North Attleborough fans and reached out for the old apple.”
Ruth ended up 1-for-4 with a single, along with the intentional walk.
As is often the case in such games—think Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone, Dave Roberts and Steve Pearce—the result turned not on the stars but on the supporting cast. When Red Sox utility infielder Mike McNally was unable to play short as planned, North Attleborough turned to Jimmy Cooney, a Giants prospect who had spent much of the season with the Providence Grays. Cooney drove in the game’s first run with a groundout in the second. He then drove in another run in the fourth with a double and scored on a single by Shawkey, as North built a 3-0 lead.
On the mound, Shawkey cruised through the early innings, holding Attleboro hitless until the fifth. But in the sixth, Attleboro tied the game on a two-run homer to right by Chick Shorten, a double by Wally Pipp, and a single by Heine Zimmerman. (Zimmerman had three hits on the day and also stole three hits from North in what the Sun called “the best exhibition of third base playing ever seen on Brady Field.” The Chronicle estimated that “Zimmerman’s wonderful defensive work saved Mays at least six runs.”)
The tie game created a tense atmosphere, not only among fans of the longtime rivals but also among the many out-of-towners who had wagered on the outcome. “Thousands of dollars changed hands on the result, sporting men coming from all over New England,” the Sun reported. “One man waved a thousand dollars in the air, offering to bet it even on either side, saying, ‘It’s a gambler’s chance, gentlemen.’”
North Attleborough first baseman Stuffy McInnis, the team’s primary conduit to the Red Sox, took a gamble of his own in the top of the eighth. McInnis was North’s captain, and he shared the field manager’s job with former Sox shortstop (and future Sox manager) Heinie Wagner. Gardner was on second and McInnis on first with two outs in the eighth when, according to the Chronicle, “McInnis and Wagner held a consultation.”
The pitcher’s spot was due up. Although Shawkey was still pitching well, and had already contributed a single and an RBI, McInnis decided to lift him for a pinch hitter. Braggo Roth, an outfielder whom the Red Sox had acquired in a midseason trade with the A’s, came to the plate. With Gilhooly, a lefthanded hitter, on deck, Mays worked carefully, running the count full. This was the Chronicle’s description of his payoff pitch: “Mays burned over one of his famous submarine balls. Roth swung savagely, caught the ball on the trademark and the old apple rode out of the park over the centerfield fence. The scene that then ensued was beyond description. North came to its feet and gave the greatest exhibition of cheering that has ever been seen this side of Cincinnati”—an apparent reference to the Reds’ 2-0 win over the White Sox that day.
North had to rely on journeyman spitballer Allen Russell—whom the Red Sox had acquired from the Yankees in the Mays deal—to hold the 6-3 lead for two innings. “He had terrific speed,” the Chronicle wrote, “and his spitter was working great.”
Even so, a single by Zimmerman and a walk to O’Neill brought Fewster to the plate as the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. But Russell concluded the exhilarating series with a final moment of drama: “Fewster struck out,” the Chronicle wrote, “missing the third strike by a foot.”
And thus North Attleborough completed the unlikeliest of comebacks, from not having a team at all, to trailing the best-of-five series two games to none, to rallying behind some of the greatest players in the game’s history to make Attleboro, in the Chronicle’s words, “take the count in the classiest series that has been played in New England in many years.”
Meanwhile, in Chicago and Cincinnati, the most notorious baseball series ever played anywhere slinked toward its preordained conclusion. “If baseball’s appeal, beyond the immediacy of the game itself, lies in its history and its mythology, then the Black Sox scandal represents a pivotal moment,” Stephen Jay Gould wrote in the introduction to the 1987 edition of Eight Men Out.
Among the changes the scandal wrought, Gould asserted, was that it marked the end of the game’s innocence—which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As an example, Gould cited Babe Ruth, who “visited sick kids in hospitals, but he also did more than his share of drinking and whoring—and his play didn’t seem to suffer.”
True enough. And if Shoeless Joe Jackson—banned from the majors for life and reduced, ironically, to playing semipro ball—endures as the tragic symbol of the Black Sox scandal, then Babe Ruth is the ideal face to represent the Little World Series. The Babe didn’t make his side deals in the shadows, he made them in plain sight. And he would just as soon play for North Attleborough as for the Red Sox or Yankees—as long as you paid him what he was worth and let him devour all the steaks he could eat.
The same spirit that had spawned the Little World Series in 1919—an inability to recognize reasonable limits—also led to the ill-advised decision to reprise the format in 1920. Not that Bill Saart and Frank Kelley felt they had much choice. “The local fans want the same kind of ball which was presented last year or nothing at all,” the Sun reported.
So the two rivals agreed to hold a best-of-three series in October, when the pool of available major leaguers would be much deeper. With more time to prepare, Bill Saart assembled a roster of even higher caliber than the year before. The Attleboro team that won Game Three to take the 1920 series was among the best in baseball history, at any level. The starting nine featured five future Hall of Famers: Sam Rice, George Sisler, Rogers Hornsby, Rabbit Maranville, and pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who commanded the highest salary: $750.
But interest flagged and attendance lagged. The 1919 Little World Series had erupted spontaneously, fueled by authentic anger and fierce competitiveness. The 1920 version was too contrived. It was a business deal, and that’s how it felt. But there would clearly be no going back to the old days, either.
In 1923 the Attleboros gave the rivalry one last shot, with a format that’s noteworthy because it prefigured major league baseball’s All-Star Game by a decade: Attleboro chose players from the National League, North Attleborough from the American League. Pirates third baseman Pie Traynor (Attleboro) and Senators outfielder Goose Goslin (North) brought the total number of Hall-of-Famers to participate in the series to 18 (counting Jim Thorpe, who wound up in Canton).
But attendance in 1923 was far less than expected. Frank Kelley reportedly lost $1,000. Still he received kudos from an unexpected source: the Attleboro Sun, which called him “the little world series hero of 1923” for his efforts to revive interest in the rivalry.
Kelley’s name lives on in the Attleboros—though not because of his role in the Little World Series. In 1924 he followed his mentor, Joe Martin, into politics, winning election to the Massachusetts legislature as a Republican. He served until his death in 1950. Kelley Boulevard, a main thoroughfare, was named in his honor.
If you follow Kelley Boulevard south, it becomes Main Street in Attleboro and wends past Veery and Upland roads, which comprise the parcel of land where long-gone Brady Field once stood. (How many people in that neighborhood realize that Babe Ruth once played in their back yards—literally?)
Columbia Field still stands. Nestled safely off the beaten path, between the North Attleborough Public Works department and Whiting Pond, it has a trio of diamonds that host youth baseball games in the Little North Attleboro League.
After 42 years in Congress, Joe Martin was voted out of office in 1966. He died two years later. “Among those of us who knew him well and worked long hours at his side,” said President Lyndon Johnson, “he will be missed but affectionately remembered.”
Three years after Martin’s death, his beloved Chronicle merged with the Sun to form The Sun Chronicle.