1920 World Series
In the 1920 World Series, the Cleveland Indians beat the Brooklyn Dodgers, then known interchangeably as the Robins in reference to their manager Wilbert Robinson, in seven games, five games to two.
This series was a best-of-nine series, like the first World Series in 1903 and the World Series of 1919 and 1921. The only World Series triple play, the first World Series grand slam and the World Series home run by a pitcher all occurred in this Series.
The triple play was unassisted and turned by Cleveland's Bill Wambsganss in Game 5. Wambsganss, playing second base, caught a line drive off the bat of Clarence Mitchell, stepped on second base to put out Pete Kilduff, and tagged Otto Miller coming from first base. It was the second of fifteen (as of 2009) unassisted triple plays in major-league baseball history, and it remains the only one in postseason play.
The fifth game also saw the first grand slam in World Series history (hit by Cleveland's Elmer Smith) and the first Series home run by a pitcher (Cleveland's Jim Bagby, Sr.). And in that same game, Brooklyn outhit Cleveland but lost 8–1.
Cleveland had won the American League pennant in a close race with the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees. The Sox's participation in the Black Sox Scandal the previous year had caught up to them late in the season, and their star players were suspended with three games left in the season, when they were in a virtual tie with the Indians. The Yankees, with their recently-acquired star Babe Ruth, were almost ready to start their eventual World Series dynasty. For Cleveland, it would prove to be one of their few successes in a long history of largely either poor or not-quite-good enough clubs.
As America was welcoming in a new and promising decade, baseball was longing for days gone by. The 1919 World Series had sparked a major controversy amid rumors of a gambling fix. Eight members of the participating Chicago White Sox were all charged with conspiring to throw the Fall Classic against the Cincinnati Reds. After a lengthy investigation and highly publicized trial (lasting until 1921), the Black Sox were acquitted despite their own confessions (which were recanted later). However, all of the players involved were later banned from baseball because of their undeniable link to gamblers. Throughout the 1920 season, the league offices were constantly denying accusations from the press that professional baseball itself was in on the take and made every effort to assure the fans that the 1919 scandal was an isolated incident. In an effort to win back the fan's approval, the commissioner decided on another best-of-nine series and went to great lengths to promote the integrity of baseball in the papers. Still, many wondered if the fan's trust in baseball and more specifically, the World Series would ever fully recover. Only time would tell as the National League's Brooklyn Robins (who would later become the Dodgers) returned for their second series appearance against the American's Cleveland Indians.
In Game 1, Cleveland's starting right-hander, Stan Coveleski, stifled Brooklyn's line-up in a five hit, 3-1 opening winner, but the Robins answered back quickly in Game 2 with a fantastic performance by Burleigh Grimes, who tossed a seven hit, shutout that ended in a 3-0 series-tying victory. Brooklyn maintained their momentum over the Indians in Game 3 on the arm of Series veteran Sherri Smith, who threw a 2-1, three hitter to take the early lead. Coveleski returned for Game 4 against Leon Cadore, who had gone the distance in one of the longest games in baseball history just five months earlier, a twenty-six inning 1-1 tie with Boston. Surprisingly, the Brooklyn workhorse only lasted one inning (in his only Series start) which ended in a 5-1 Cleveland decision.
With the Series tied at two games apiece, Brooklyn's Burleigh Grimes, returned to rematch Cleveland's Jim Bagby. This time, the Indians line-up came out swinging and promptly loaded the bases in the bottom of the first. Elmer Smith, a twenty-eight year-old outfielder, stepped up to the plate and into the record books by smashing the first grandslam in World Series history. The historic blast scored Charlie Jamieson, Bill Wambsganss, Tris Speaker (as well as Smith) sending the home team crowd into a deafening frenzy that set the tone for the rest of the game. The score remained 4-0 until the fourth when Bagby homered off of his rival with two men on base. Now with a 7-0 lead, the Indians looked to have the advantage, although their pitcher had already given up Series high eight hits in 4+ innings. Brooklyn had yet to score, but was headed in the right direction with Pete Kilduff and Otto Miller on base and in scoring position. Relief pitcher Clarence Mitchell, who had entered the game in the fourth, was Brooklyn's next batter. The versatile Robin, who was used as a pinch-hitter, outfielder and utility infielder hit a sharp line drive to second baseman Bill Wambsganss who caught the ball, stepped on the bag and tagged out a returning Miller to complete the first triple play (completely unassisted) in World Series history. After managing to score a run in the ninth, Brooklyn fell to the Indians in an 8-1 loss.
Cleveland remained in control and went on to shutout the Robins in both Games 6 and 7. Brooklyn's recently acquired Waiter Mails threw a superb three hit, 1-0 winner and Coveleski returned for his third five hitter of the Series in a 3-0 masterpiece. Amazingly, the Indian's pitching staff had held the Robins to just two runs in the final forty-three innings of the Series on their way to their first World Championship. The victory was bittersweet though as the team was still recovering from the loss of one of it's own. Ray Chapman, a twenty-nine year-old shortstop known for excellent defense and leadership, died after being struck by a pitch on August 16 in New York. His teammates had persevered, gone the distance and went on to dedicate their win in his memory. For the second consecutive season, a "first-timer" had won the championship, but this time... it was legit.
The 1920 season will also be remembered as the year that witnessed the birth of one of sports greatest dynasties and the death of another. The New York Yankees, previously known as the laughable Highlanders, purchased an outfielder/pitcher named George Herman Ruth from the financially strapped Boston Red Sox. Ruth, who had hammered twenty-nine home runs (a Major League record for Boston in 1919), brought the game into a new era in 1920 by knocking out fifty-four. He also set attendance records at the Polo Grounds as he and the Yankees, playing their home games in the Giants' park, outdrew John McGraw's team by more than 350,000.