Friday, July 01, 2005

1925 World Series: A great story worth retelling

One of the franchise's most illustrious moments, diminished by time, is relived as Pirates visit D.C. again
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
By Dejan Kovacevic,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

1925 World Series Revisited:
Facts & Figures
When the Pirates take the field tonight in Washington's RFK Stadium, the speakers will not blare "We are Family," as happened when they met the Baltimore Orioles. Nor will Bill Mazeroski be on hand for a good-luck sendoff, as happened before they embarked for Yankee Stadium. Nor will the crowd receive illustrated history lessons, as happened at Fenway Park.
There will be no pomp, no pilgrimage of fans.
And that, perhaps, is fitting.

The Pirates' appearance in the nation's capital will be their first since the 1925 World Series, since defeating one of the game's greatest pitchers in one of the game's greatest Game 7 finishes, since sparking chaos on the streets from Oakland to Downtown.

But the memory is as faded and frayed as the century-old books and yellowing newspapers that are all that is left to tell their spectacular tale.

Pittsburgh has won 11 major sports championships: The Pirates have won five World Series, the Steelers four Super Bowls and the Penguins two Stanley Cups. And there is none less celebrated than the second of those, according to two men who have written several books each about the city's sporting history.

"Is the 1925 squad the least appreciated of the World Series champions? Not by the fans of Pittsburgh in that era," John McCollister said. "If you mean today, quite possibly. Some might argue that the 1909 team is the least appreciated because of the time factor. However, even some modern-day fans have heard the story of the battle between two superstars, Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, that was featured in that series."

Senators manager Bucky Harris and Pirates manager Bill McKechnie are presented bouquets by Rosetta Duncan at Forbes Field.Click photo for larger image.
"People talk to me every day about the Pirates and their history, and I can tell you no one ever, ever asks about the 1925 team," Jim O'Brien said. "It's amazing how they're forgotten. And it's a shame, I think, because it was a great team with a great story to tell."
One worth retelling ...

Breaking from history

Barney Dreyfuss, the Pirates' owner and the man who made personnel moves, was furious after losing the 1924 pennant to the New York Giants. In particular, he was perturbed by some of his players' partying ways, which is why he traded three popular regulars -- Rabbit Maranville, Charley Grimm and Wilbur Cooper -- to the Chicago Cubs for three players who were not their equals but brought more serious attitudes.

As Dreyfuss famously put it, "I got rid of my banjo players."
He also got rid of much of his experience. The Pirates left spring training with the youngest team in Major League Baseball.

Dreyfuss' thinking was that his talented team needed toughness, and he continued to push buttons into the season. He brought back Fred Clarke, the player-manager who starred for the Pirates in their glory days to start the century, to serve as right-hand man for manager Bill McKechnie. He claimed first baseman Stuffy McInnis, a veteran of four World Series who would hit .368 in his 59 games, off waivers. And he traded for two veteran relievers.

The Pirates were 6-14 in early May, but they finished 95-58 and a comfortable 8 1/2 games ahead of the National League pack. They had shaken their tag as mischievous underachievers and joined the baseball elite.

Three resources to find out more about the Pirates' 1925 World Series championship team:
Frederick G. Lieb's book, "The Pittsburgh Pirates," originally published in 1948 and still in print, offers a firsthand account of much of the franchise's first half-century, including rich detail and numerous interviews.

The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum in the Strip District has an elaborate display on Pirates history in its baseball hall, including third baseman Pie Traynor's 1925 World Series pin.
Several historical groups will dedicate a marker to Barney Dreyfuss, owner of the Pirates in 1900-32, at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Forbes Quad on the University of Pittsburgh campus in Oakland. Speakers will include Forbes Field historian Dan Bonk and Honus Wagner biographer Dennis DeValeria.

And they had done it with offense.
Right fielder Kiki Cuyler hit .357, third in the league, with an incredible 26 triples and 41 stolen bases. Center fielder Max Carey had his finest season at age 35, hitting .343 with 46 steals. Pie Traynor, the game's preeminent third baseman, hit .320.
Seven of the eight regulars hit .308 or better, and the lone exception hit .298. Four of them topped 100 RBIs. As a group, they led the league in runs, hits, doubles, triples, walks, RBIs, stolen bases, batting average and slugging percentage. They scored 84 runs more than the next-highest team, St. Louis.

The pitching, too, was exceptional, with the no-star staff producing an earned run average of 3.87 that was second-lowest in the league.
Despite it all, they would be decided underdogs against the defending World Series champion Washington Senators and their indomitable, imposing staff ace.

A date with history
Walter "Big Train" Johnson was 37 when he was preparing to face baseball's youngest team, but he had just gone 20-7 with a 3.07 ERA in a league where an average of four runs was scored each game.

The experts had forecast the Pirates would struggle with Johnson, and they were right.
He shut out the Pirates in Game 1 at Forbes Field with flea-swatting ease, striking out 10 in a 4-1 Washington victory.

He also sent a clear signal he would be in charge by twice beaning Carey.
"Don't you think he likes me?" Carey would ask reporters later.
The Pirates took Game 2, winning, 3-1, on Cuyler's two-run home run in the eighth. But Washington took the next two games, 4-3 and 4-0, in the capital at old Griffith Stadium. Johnson starred again in Game 4, going the distance and allowing six hits.
The Series seemed all but over. No team at that time had overcome a 3-1 deficit in a seven-game series. More ominous by far, Johnson still was available to start one more game.
But the Pirates took Game 5 in Washington, 6-3, and railroaded the Series back to Forbes Field for a 3-2 victory in Game 6.

It was cold and rainy Oct. 15, 1925, in Oakland, the day of Game 7, setting up a funereal atmosphere for what reasonably should have been the day the Pirates' rally would be ended. Johnson was starting for the Senators with one more day of rest than usual, and the Pirates, in a curious decision, went with curveballer Vic Aldridge to return on two days' rest.

The crowd of 42,856, boosted by numerous temporary seats Dreyfuss had erected to satisfy demand, would be disappointed early. Aldridge had nothing from the outset. He retired only one batter while allowing two hits, three walks and a wild pitch before he was yanked. Washington had staked the mighty Johnson a 4-0 lead before he took the mound.

The Pirates finally broke through against him in the third by scoring three times. Carey, the man Johnson beaned twice in Game 1, was the catalyst. He delivered a run-scoring single, took second on a grounder, stole third and scored on a blooper.

Washington increased its lead to 6-3 in its next at-bat, but the Pirates persisted against Johnson. Carey doubled and came across in the fifth, and two more runs in the seventh tied the score.
The Senators were just as stubborn and reclaimed the lead, 7-6, in the eighth when Roger Peckinpaugh, the Series goat to that point with seven errors at shortstop, homered.

The rain increased as the Pirates batted into the bottom of that inning, still with Johnson on the mound. Glenn Wright fouled out. McInnis flied out.

All looked gloomy until Earl Smith doubled to right, and Carson Bigbee doubled to left to tie the score. Moore walked, bringing up Carey looking for his fifth hit.

Carey bounced softly to Peckinpaugh, and the inning appeared over. But Peckinpaugh committed error No. 8 with a high throw to first, and bases were loaded.
By this point, Johnson clearly was tired and frustrated. He called out the grounds crew again to spread sawdust on the muddy mound.

Cuyler, the Pirates' best hitter, was up. It was evident he was sitting on Johnson's stuff from several hard-hit foul balls he had pulled. Finally, he lashed a drive toward deep right field that resulted in a ground-rule double and the Pirates' first lead, 9-7.
Red Oldham pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, and the Pirates were champions.

Buried in history

By nightfall, a massive, spontaneous parade of revelers streamed along Fifth Avenue, from Oakland to Downtown, where confetti was dropped from the tallest buildings.
To this day, it is one of only two championships clinched on Pittsburgh soil, the other coming 35 years later with a swing of Mazeroski's bat.

It also was one of the great teams in Pirates history, perhaps the greatest when it is considered that Traynor, Carey and Cuyler would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, a remarkable representation from one team regardless of era.

And it was all topped by beating a living legend in a game that is ranked No. 2 in franchise history by "The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia" behind only Game 7 in 1960.
How is it that those Pirates have come to be so forgotten?

The obvious explanation, the historians say, is time.
"To compare these celebrations with those of the Pirates and Steelers in the 1970s or the Penguins' two Cups is, in a sense, unfair," McCollister said. "How many fans are still around who can recall the 1925 team and explain in detail why Pie Traynor was the greatest third baseman of all time?"

Another is that the 1960 team, which produced one of the most memorable moments in sports history, has had a dwarfing effect.

"That still is what people want to talk about in our area," O'Brien said. "As great as it was, what Max Carey and company did, it's tough to top what Maz did. And with the time difference, it's even harder. For someone to claim they saw the 1925 team, that person's 105. You don't meet those people anymore."
(Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at 412-263-1938 or
for more Major League Baseball news. )

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