Wonders Streak to Championship
by Rick Carter
In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt was in his fifth year as President. Among the major legislation passed that year included the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act (inspired by Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle”, an expose of the filthy conditions in Chicago slaughterhouses), which permitted federal inspection of food, drugs, and meats. Oklahoma was a year away from becoming the 46th state. The population of the United States was about 85,000,000. Life expectancy of Americans averaged about 50 years, fare to ride the newly built subway system in New York was a nickel, and it cost two cents to mail a letter.
As the spring of 1906 approached, the Philadelphia A’s prepared to defend their American League championship in the sixth season of the junior circuit. Managed by Connie Mack, the A’s finished 1905 with a record of 92-56, two games ahead of runner-up Chicago. They were led by pitching Triple Crown winner Rube Waddell, 26-11 with a sparkling 1.48 ERA. Waddell, best described as eccentric and colorful, had a blazing fastball and the best curveball of his day, and was irresistibly attracted to fire engines. Other returning stars included pitcher Eddie Plank, left fielder Topsy Hartsel, and first baseman Harry Davis.
Chicago appeared to be the main challenger to Philadelphia. Since Fielder Jones, a superb center fielder who was also one of five playing managers in the American League in 1906, had taken the reins in 1904, they had led the league late in each of the two previous seasons before finishing 3rd in 1904 and 2nd in 1905. Their top returning players were Jones and shortstop George Davis, and the pitching staff led the AL with a team 1.99 ERA in 1905.
Other possible contenders included the Detroit Tigers, who finished third the previous season and featured a young 19-year-old outfielder named Ty Cobb, the Cleveland Naps (named for popular second baseman-manager Nap Lajoie), and the New York Highlanders, who had lost out in the 1904 race to Boston in the final four games of the season and faded to sixth in 1905.
The Boston Pilgrims, who had won the AL in 1903 and 1904, were in the process of dismantling the team under owner John I. Taylor. The St. Louis Browns and Washington Nationals had finished near the bottom of the league and were not expected to contend.
On April 18, four days after the AL season began, a devastating earthquake struck San Francisco, killing approximately 3,000 people and causing $400,000,000 in damage. Philadelphia and New York would later play a benefit game, raising $5,600 for the victims. A ban on Sunday baseball in New York was temporarily lifted for the benefit game.
May began with all eight teams bunched within three games of each other. Boston began the month with a 20-game losing streak, the last 19 of which were played at home. They would lose at least one game to each of the other seven teams in the league before a 3-0 shutout of Chicago in a game that took 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete ended the streak on May 25. This amazing streak would barely top the 19-game losing streak that the Boston Beaneaters of the National League would compile from May 17 through June 8. Amazingly, for a team that would go 49-105, they would finish fourth in the league in attendance, drawing 410,209 people, a decent total in the days in which major league ballparks were still wooden structures.
During the months of May, June, and July, the A’s, Highlanders, and Naps shuffled back and forth in the top three spots in the standings. Philadelphia used an 11-game winning streak between May 6 and May 19 to open up a 3 ½ game lead. The highlight of this streak was a 5-0 win over Detroit in which Rube Waddell gave up only a bunt single to Ty Cobb. Just after the A’s streak was snapped, the Highlanders had an 11-game winning streak of their own as part of a 16-1 run to take first place on June 2. Cleveland, while not having a long winning streak of their own, although Lajoie would have a 31-game hitting streak, would stay close and lead the league through most of late June into early July.
Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis made up the next group of teams in the race, each staying approximately five games back, although Chicago trailed New York by 7 ½ games on June 10, and the Browns began to gradually fade in late June.
Boston compounded a miserable 4-22 May with records of 6-17 in June and 9-22 July to bury themselves in the cellar. Washington, after beginning the season 11-8 and trailing Philadelphia by only 1 game on May 8, went 2-15 over the next 17 games and then went 8-17 in June to fall into oblivion, compiling three different seven-game losing streaks in the process.
On the morning of August 1, Philadelphia led the league with a 56-33 record. New York trailed by 1 game, with Cleveland 5 games behind.
At the time, Chicago was in fourth place, trailing the A’s by 7 ½ games. After losing 3-1 to the hapless Red Sox, they would shut out Boston in each of the next three games by scores of 3-0, 4-0, and 1-0. On August 5, Philadelphia, leading New York by 2 ½ and Chicago by 7 ½, came to Chicago’s South Side Park for five games. Chicago’s Doc White easily out dueled Chief Bender 10-2 in the first game. Next, Frank Owen beat Jack Coombs 7-2 to make it two in a row for the Sox. In the third game, Ed Walsh tossed a 4-0 shutout at Rube Waddell and the A’s. Roy Patterson threw a 1-0 shutout over Eddie Plank in the fourth game and Doc White came back to edge Jimmy Dygert 3-2 to give the Sox a five-game sweep. Chicago now had an eight-game winning streak and trailed Philadelphia by 2 ½ games with the Highlanders coming to town. On August 10, Ed Walsh out dueled Jack Chesbro 2-1 in the opener. Frank Owen bested Bill Hogg 8-1 and Ed Walsh came back on one day of rest to shut out Al Orth 3-0 to give Chicago victories in the first three games. The White Sox now had an eleven-game streak and a half-game lead over Philadelphia and a one game lead over New York. A scoreless duel the next day between Doc White and Jack Chesbro was called after nine innings so that the Highlanders could catch a five o’clock train. It would be several decades before teams would use charter planes.
The White Sox caught their own train to Boston, where Ed Walsh shut out the Red Sox 6-0. The Sox won the next two games 9-4 and 4-3 complete the sweep of the Pilgrims. With a fourteen game winning streak and two game lead in hand, they headed to New York for four games. Ed Walsh pitched his fifth shutout during the streak, blanking Jack Chesbro and the Highlanders 10-0. Two days later, Doc White pitched a 4-1 victory and, after a rainout on August 21, swept the Highlanders 6-1 and 11-6 in a doubleheader, giving the Sox eighteen wins in a row. With a 4 ½ game lead over injury-riddled Philadelphia, who were in the process of going 9-18 in August, including an 8-game losing streak, 6 games over Cleveland, and 7 over the slumping Highlanders, who had ten losses and a tie in their last twelve games, Chicago’s lead was expanding. Roy Patterson pitched the Sox to a 4-1 win at Washington the next day, giving them a league record that would not be matched until 1947 by the Yankees and not broken until 2002 by the Oakland A’s with a 20 game streak.
The streak would finally be broken on August 25 as Washington rallied for three runs in the ninth inning off Ed Walsh, who had relieved Frank Smith.
After August 24, the White Sox led Philadelphia by 5 ½ games and New York and Cleveland by 7 games each. Cleveland had played near .500 ball in August, but Philadelphia had gone 7-15 and New York was reeling. Suddenly, the Highlanders turned it around in a huge way. After Al Orth pitched New York to a 3-1 victory over Cleveland, they then beat Cleveland twice by identical 2-0 scores on August 25. After splitting the first two games of a three-game set with St. Louis, they won the rubber game of the series 5-4 on August 29.
Washington came to New York on August 31 to play three consecutive days of doubleheaders with the Highlanders. Slow Joe Doyle pitched a 5-0 shutout in the first game for New York and the Highlanders held on for a 9-8 win in the nightcap. New York then swept both games of the second doubleheader by scores of 7-5 and 20-5 and completed the six-game sweep on September 1 by winning 5-4 and 5-3 games. Suddenly, having won ten of eleven, they now trailed the White Sox by only 1½ games.
Labor Day found Philadelphia visiting New York for a doubleheader. In the first game, won by New York 4-3, Highlanders shortstop Kid Elberfield, nicknamed the “Tabasco Kid” for his hot temper, assaults umpire Silk O’Laughlin and is forcibly removed by police. In the second game, Willie Keeler collides with A’s shortstop Lave Cross trying to field a ground ball and two runs scored, tying the game at 3-3. O’Laughlin sees no interference, a call so hotly disputed by A’s captain Harry Davis that after 8 minutes of arguing, the umpire forfeits the game to New York, giving them their fourth straight doubleheader sweep and putting them in a virtual tie with Chicago.
Traveling to Boston for a brief three-game road trip, the Highlanders sweep their fifth straight doubleheader, blanking the Red Sox in both games by scores of 7-0 and 1-0. Bill Hogg completes the sweep the next day, beating Boston 6-1 and putting the Highlanders alone in first place.
Returning home for their final home stand of the season, the Highlanders edged Boston 6-5 on September 6 and swept Philadelphia 3-2 and 11-4. The Highlanders had now won 19 of their past 20 games, including the last 15 in a row to take a game-and-a-half lead over Chicago. Cleveland had fallen to seven behind and the A’s trailed New York by eight and a half games. Boston snapped New York’s streak at 15 with a 4-1 win at Highlander Grounds and went on to take two of three in New York’s last home series of the year.
On September 12, the Highlanders held a one game lead over the White Sox. Unfortunately, their last 25 games were to be on the road while Chicago now had 22 of their final 24 games at South Side Park. Over the next week New York went 4-3 in games at Washington and St. Louis, while the White Sox put together a six-game winning streak to retake a one game lead over New York.
In the most crucial series of the season, New York visited Chicago for a four-game set. In a Friday doubleheader that drew 20,000 fans, the Highlanders score 3 in the 9th inning to put away the Sox behind Jack Chesbro to propel New York back into a tie for first. The Highlanders then went a game ahead in the nightcap as Bill Hogg led them to 4-1 victory called after 6 innings due to rain. The Sox knotted the standings the next day as Doc White pitched them to 7-1 victory over Al Orth, likely the best pitcher in the AL in 1906. In the finale, the Highlanders would score the only run of the game in the first as Kid Elberfield walked, Hal Chase hit a ball into left that was misplayed to put runners at second and third. Jimmy Williams then hit into an unusual double play in which Chase was thrown out at third as Elberfield scored. Bill Hogg made the run stand up, out dueling Ed Walsh as approximately 27,000 people watched on.
In a season of many wild streaks, the White Sox would have the last, and ultimately the triumphant run for the pennant. As Detroit swept three games from New York, the Sox swept last-place Boston 4-1, 3-2, and 2-0 to regain first place for good. The Sox then extended their winning streak to five against Washington before losing 3-0 on September 30, but had extended their lead to 2 ½ games as New York lost two of three games and tied another in Cleveland. Smelling the kill, Nick Altrock then pitched a 1-0 shutout in St. Louis to extend their lead to three games over the idle Highlanders. Frank Owen then pitched his own 4-0 shutout of the Browns as New York’s Jack Chesbro was losing 4-3 in Philadelphia. On October 3, while the Sox were rained out of a doubleheader in St. Louis, they still clinched the pennant when New York lost the second game of their doubleheader in Philadelphia 3-0. The Sox then completed a 9-1 run with two victories over Cleveland and prepared to face the cross-town Cubs, who had finished the season on a 50-8 run and had 116 wins (still a major league record), in the World Series. New York would become the first team in AL history to have a fifteen-game (or longer) winning streak and not win the pennant—the other two teams being the 1912 Washington Senators and the 2002 Oakland A’s.
The White Sox had won the pennant despite only hitting .230 with 7 home runs for the season, which would earn them the famous nickname “Hitless Wonders”. Their best hitter, shortstop George Davis, only batted .277, but drew 80 walks. Chicago led the league in walks drawn and finished fourth in runs scored per game. In addition, they gave up the fewest runs in the league, a mere 2.99 per game and led the league with 32 shutouts. Leading the way were Frank Owen, who won 22 games, Nick Altrock, who won 20, and Ed Walsh, with 10 shutouts among his 17 victories. They were also a little lucky in that Cleveland had a Pythagorean record 98-55 as opposed to Chicago’s 90-61 Pythagorean record, but the Naps only went 21-25 in one-run games while Chicago was 29-19 in one-run games.
The White Sox were, of course, a huge underdog to the mighty Cubs in the World Series. Amid periodic snow flurries at the Cubs’ West Side Park, the Sox prevailed 2-1 in Game One. Nick Altrock got the win while allowing only four hits, and both White Sox were unearned. The Cubs evened the series the next day 7-1 behind Ed Reulbach’s one hitter. The White Sox run was the result of a wild pitch and an error and their only hit of the game was Jiggs Donahue’s single in the seventh inning.
On October 11, the White Sox took a 2-1 lead as Ed Walsh allowed only two hits, both in the first inning and struck out 12 in a 3-0 victory. George Rohe, thrust into the White Sox lineup because of an injury to shortstop George Davis, tagged Pfeister for a two-out three-run triple in the sixth. Back at South Side Park, the Cubs evened the series at two games as Mordecai Brown only allowed two hits while out dueling Nick Altrock 1-0, with Johnny Evers drove in Joe Tinker with a clutch two-out hit in the seventh inning for the only run.
Without warning, the White Sox offense, hitting .097 through the first four games, exploded in the next two games to clinch the series. Banging out 12 hits, led by Frank Isbell’s Series-record four doubles and George Davis’ three RBIs, they overcame six errors to beat the Cubs and take a 3-2 Series lead. Game Six, the only game in which the home team won, saw the Sox chase Brown in the second inning as they pounded out 14 hits in a stunning 8-3 victory to win the series, four games to two.
The White Sox managed this despite only hitting .198, but posted an outstanding 1.50 ERA and held the mighty Cubs to a .196 team batting average. George Rohe was an unlikely hero for the Sox, batting .333 with a double, 2 triples, and 4 runs batted in. Solly Hoffman, who had played in only 64 games during the 1906 season, was the leading hitter for the Cubs, batting .304 while playing every inning of the Series.
There were no official post-season awards given out after the 1906 season. It is probable that the Most Valuable Player award would been decided between St. Louis’s George Stone, who was credited with 38 Win Shares, Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie, who had 33, and Philadelphia first baseman Harry Davis, who had 31. Stone batted .358, slugged .501, had an on-base percentage of .417, and created 141 runs, all league highs, stole 35 bases, and would be the last man not named Cobb to win the AL batting crown until 1916. Lajoie created 122 runs, second to Davis, had a .355 batting average and led the league with 214 hits and 48 doubles, as well as managed Cleveland to a third-place finish five games behind Chicago. Davis led the league with 12 home runs, his third of four straight seasons leading the league, and 96 runs batted in.
New York’s Al Orth would have likely been the Cy Young winner in 1906, compiling a 27-17 record with a 2.34 ERA, leading the league with 27 wins, 36 complete games, and 338 innings pitched. Orth, perhaps the best hitting pitcher of his time, also batted .274 with a home run and 17 runs batted in and was above the league average in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.The Hitless Wonders may have not been able to power the ball over the fence, but with a combination of great pitching, a 19 game winning streak, timely hits and a little luck, they were able to clinch their league and win the World Series.
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