Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Two Weird Ones, with the White Sox

As printed in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch "On This Date" column (page B4), the Browns were involved in two weird records on this date in baseball history. Both involved the Chicago White Sox, but separated by two decades.

On April 27, 1909, the Browns set a record for frustration by losing their third consecutive 1-0 game, all to the same team, the White Sox, at South Side Grounds. The losses were suffered April 25 by Bill Grahame, April 26 by four-time 20-game winner Jack Powell, and April 27 by future Hall of Famer, Rube Waddell. On April 27, 1930, White Sox first baseman Bud Clancy had no chances against the Browns in a nine-inning game. A team has to get 27 outs somehow. So, no chances for the first baseman means a lot of strikeouts and pop flies to the outfield (what broadcaster Mike Shannon terms cans of corn"). Not for nothing is the St. Louis Browns Historical Society's journal called Pop Flies. It is not often in baseball that the first-baseman comes off like "the Maytag repairman."

Tempting it certainly is to read a Whole Lotta Significance (to paraphrase Led Zeppelin) into the April 27, 1909 record. 1909 was a pivotal year and this setback may itself have been the pivitoal event in this pivotal year. But first a brief review of Browns history.

The Browns started their run in St. Louis in 1902 well enough. They almost took the pennant in their inaugural campaign, braced as they were by a number of "jumpers" from the National League, including two who would become Hall-of-Famers.* But the rest of the decade was spotty.

Nonetheless, owner Robert Lee Hedges stuck with the cast and crew that was "present and on roll" in 1902 ... including manager Jimmy McAleer. By 1908, McAleer's bunch had apparently righted the ship: the Browns had a .546 winning percentage, their best record since '02, giving Hedges fits in how to accommodate the crowds showing up at his door.** In the off-season, with the wind in his sails from '08, Hedges embarked on a complete rebuild of Sportsman's Park, expanding seating and fortifying it with the then-novel materials of concrete and steel.***

On April 24, the Browns completed a two-games-to-one series victory against Cleveland at League Park to climb to .500. But after the three straight 1-0 heartbreaking losses, the Browns would never climb above .500 again for '09. In fact, it would not be until 1916, after the federal court pulled the plug on the Federal League and the Browns took over the roster of the St. Louis Terriers, that the Browns would finish over .500 for a season.

After the '09 season, Hedges finally pulled the plug on inaugural manager Jimmy McAleer, whose eight-year run is topped only by St. Louisan Earl Weaver in Browns/Orioles franchise history.

The thing you can say about any 1-0 loss is its demoralizing for a team. The losers during this three game series were in order, Grahame, Powell and Waddell.

Bill Grahame was no standout. The next year, Grahame would have an 0-8 record in nine games pitched and would be sent back to the minors never to return. But with aces Powell, a former 20-game winner, and Waddell, a future Hall of Famer going to the hill and pitching that well, you expect to win.

Did losing those three games demoralize the Browns for the rest of the season? We cannot interview any of the participants so we will have to only speculate.

* Had jumping not been banned by the National Agreement, query whether Curt Flood's challenge of the reserve clause would have even been necessary.

**Sporting News, April 30, 1908 page 4, column 4

*** Technically the first concrete and steel stadium, though Philadelphia's Shibe Park

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