Remembering the Miracle Braves and the 1914 World Series

This Saturday’s Atlanta Braves-Oakland Athletics game will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1914 World Series, in which the Braves and Athletics met in one of the more improbable championship matchups in Major League baseball history.

The game, to be played at Atlanta’s Turner Field, will include a tribute to the 1914 Miracle Braves, who were then based in Boston, and feature both clubs wearing retro 1914 uniforms.

In the 1914 World Series, the Braves shocked the sporting world by sweeping the vaunted Philadelphia Athletics (they wouldn’t land in Oakland until 1968, by way of Kansas City).

By mid-season of that year, however, the Braves appeared en route to a dismal finish. On July 15 they were in last place, 11-12 games behind the New York Giants. They caught fire as the summer went on, though, and won the National League pennant by 10-12 games.

The Athletics, on the other hand, were defending champions, having won the World Series in 1913, and also in 1911 and 1910. Philadelphia had four of the last five American League pennants and was heavily favored.

The Braves didn’t even have a home field to call its own; they had forsaken aging South End Grounds in August 1914, instead choosing to rent Fenway Park from the Boston Red Sox while awaiting construction of Braves Field, which would open the next season.

On paper, the Braves would seem to have been no match for the Athletics. The latter had three future Hall of Fame pitchers in Chief Bender, Eddie Plank and Herb Pennock, along with second baseman Eddie Collins, third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker and Manager Connie Mack.

In addition, the Athletics boasted the so-called “$100,000 infield,” made up of Collins, Baker, first baseman Stuffy McInnis and shortstop Jack Barry. Some have rated the foursome the greatest infield of all time.

The Braves had just two future Hall of Famers, shortstop Rabbit Maranville and second baseman Johnny Evers. They did have a couple of pitchers in the midst of career years: Bill James, who in his only full season in the Majors posted a regular season record of 27-6; and Dick Rudolph, who went 26-10.

In the end, though, the Braves took little notice of the Athletics’ big names and past successes, as James and Rudolph each won two games and catcher Hank Gowdy hit .545 (6 for 11) with five extra-base hits and five walks.

Boston posted the first four-game sweep in World Series history.

In a remarkable contrast to the slow-paced contests of today, three of the four games took place in less than two hours, with only Game 3, a 12-inning affair, taking three hours. By comparison, in last year’s Red Sox-Cardinals’ World Series, only one of the six games took less than three hours (2:52), and one game nearly went four hours. All were nine-inning contests.

Cover of 1914 Philadelphia Athletics World Series program.

The loss was the end of a great run for the Athletics. Collins was traded over the winter, Home Run Baker sat out the entire 1915 season in a dispute before being sold to New York Yankees, and both Plank and Bender went off to the newly formed Federal League.

By the middle of 1915, Barry, right fielder Eddie Murphy and pitcher Bob Shawkey had all been traded or sold. Philadelphia finished in last place in 1915 and the following year the Athletics were so bad that they ended with a 36-117 record and a .235 winning percentage, the worst in Major League history.

The Braves didn’t decline nearly so propitiously, coming in second in 1915, but it would be another 43 years before they would claim another World Series – this time as the Milwaukee Braves – behind Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain.

The Athletics’ wait wouldn’t be nearly so long; by the end of the 1920s, Mack, who would manage the team for 50 years, had compiled another dynasty, this time anchored by pitcher Lefty Grove, first baseman Jimmie Foxx, outfielder Al Simmons and catcher Mickey Cochrane. Philadelphia would win the World Series in 1929 and 1930, and the American League pennant in 1931.

With such storied histories, it’s good to see both franchises celebrating a bit of the past this Saturday. Given the caliber of both the Athletics and Braves this year, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a rematch of the 1914 World Series in this year’s Fall Classic.

(Top: Umpires and captains for Philadelphia Athletics (Ira Thomas) and Boston Braves (Johnny Evers) meet at home plate prior to the start of the first game of the 1914 World Series, at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.)

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