The Miracle in the South End – The 1914 Boston Braves

The baseball world sat in awe last year as the Washington Nationals rallied from a 19-31 start to win the World Series over the Houston Astros. The Nationals made the post-season after winning the second wild card slot and finishing second in the NL East to the Atlanta Braves, who made a similar turnaround 105 years earlier. The Boston Braves started their season at a paltry 26-40, losing an exhibition game to their minor league affiliate in Buffalo along the way. By July, it looked like the Braves were destined to remain the basement dwellers that they had been for much of the twentieth century.

Entering 1914, the Braves were the definition of futility. While the Red Sox were dominating baseball, the Braves were a fixture of the second division, finishing in the upper half of the National League only once since the Red Sox came to town in 1901. Between 1901 and 1914, they even had a four year run (1909-1912) where the team lost more than 100 games, a feat that they also achieved in 1905 and 1906. This run was an outlier in the history of the team, which had dominated the 1890s, winning five National League championships. In effect, the Braves were the team of the 90s in two different centuries.

The Braves had made slight progress in 1913, finishing 5th in the National League. They were also making a play for Johnny Evers, who had been dismissed as the player/manager of the Chicago Cubs (though the Cubs maintained that he had quit). The Braves traded pitcher Bill Sweeney and pitcher Hub Perdue for the infielder. Evers maintained however that since he was fired, he was a free agent and was even negotiating to jump to the upstart Federal League. The Braves ultimately persuaded Evers to sign by offering a $15,000 bonus and a salary and incentives structure that could have made him the highest paid player in baseball. The National League reached a compromise and agreed that Evers was free to sign wherever but required that the Braves send Sweeney to the Cubs as compensation. Perdue would get off to a putrid start to the season, posting a 5.82 ERA by the end of May. He would ultimately be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in June 1914 for Ted Cather and Possum Whitted.

It was a rocky start but the Braves got their man. Evers was a reliable infielder and had been a big part of the Cubs’s 1908 championship win. He had also provided reliable leadership in the Cubs clubhouse. He would take a step back however and would not manage the Braves, that job had been taken over in 1913 by George Stallings, who led the team to the aforementioned 5th place finish. Evers was given the role of team captain.

Whatever momentum the Braves may have had going in 1914 was severely diminished by July. On July 5th, the Braves dropped both games in a doubleheader to the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers) and their record fell to 26-40, good enough for dead last in the Nation League. They would follow that up by sweeping the Robins in another double header two days later. En route to Chicago for a series against the Cubs, they would stop in Buffalo where they would suffer a humiliating 10-2 loss to their minor league affiliate. Stallings saw the writing on the wall and made some strategic changes to better position his team.

That fateful July road trip would spark a turnaround. They would take 11 out of the 16 games and return to Boston just two games below .500. The Braves would drop their first game back at the South End Grounds and would then start a nine game win streak. By August 13th, they had rallied to 2nd and overtook the legendary manager John McGraw and the New York Giants for the National League lead in the National League just a month later. In two months, the Boston Braves had gone from 14 games below .500 and dead last to leading. The team did not look back and sailed to the World Series.

The success of the team proved to be the death knell for the South End Grounds, which had housed the Braves since 1871. As demand to see the Braves increased, the team worked out a deal with the Red Sox to use Fenway Park, which was both newer and had greater capacity. It would be the last time that the Braves played at South End Grounds, Braves Field was constructed the offseason and the Braves moved there for the 1915 season.

The Braves would host the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series, giving Massachusetts native Connie Mack his first and only chance to manage at Fenway Park. The Athletics were a powerhouse in the early 1910s, having won the World Series in 1910, 1911, and 1913. Local media reports of the time gave the edge to the Athletics with some even predicting that they would sweep the series. There was no way that an upstart team that got hot at the right time could defeat a powerhouse team, right? This was the same calculus that the Washington Nationals faced when they faced the Astros in the World Series. And we all know how that turned out.

The Braves took the first two games on the road, jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead over the Athletics. The World Series went to Fenway Park for game three and it was a nail biter. A victory for the Athletics would be a sign of life and Connie Mack wasn’t going down without a fight. Mack saw his chance to win three championships in four years and wasn’t keen to letting it slip away. Game three would go into extra innings and it was a seesaw battle. The Athletics took the lead in the top of the 10th but the Braves answered back in the bottom of the inning. The Braves would ultimately win in the bottom of the 12th after a wild throw to 3rd base following a Herbie Moran bunt allowed a runner to score and gave the Braves a walk off win.

The Braves entered game 4 with a 3-0 lead in the Series, faced with the possibility of one of two things happening for the first time. There had never been a four game sweep in World Series history (the Cubs beat the Tigers 4-0 in 1907 but game 1 had been declared a tie and called for darkness) and a team had never rallied from being down 3-0 to win a World Series. The Braves hoped to achieve the former and the Athletics the latter.

A hit by Johnny Evers would prove to be the decision maker for the Braves. A 2 run single in the bottom of the fifth would give the Braves a lead that they would never relinquish. The Fenway crowd watched as the Boston Braves won the 1914 World Series Championship. For the second time in its three year existence, Fenway Park played host to the World Series Champions.

The Series was also an exhibition for Braves pitching, whose three man rotation of Dick Rudolph, Bill James, and Lefty Tyler posted a 1.15 ERA. Athletics hitters would also only post a .172 batting average and .248 on-base percentage in the series.

Philadelphia and Boston would do battle again the next year in the 1915 World Series when the Red Sox would beat the Phillies, 4 games to 1. It would be the second in a three peat for Boston baseball, the Sox would win again in 1916. They would win again in 1918. Boston would not see another World Series win for 86 years but that’s a story another time.

As for the Braves……they would contend for another couple of years before returning to being perennial basement dwellers. However, they would make it back to the World Series in 1948, losing to the Cleveland Indians. Of course, the Red Sox came within in one game of making that one an all-Boston World Series. The team would ultimately leave Boston after the 1952 season.

Acknowledgements

The Boston Globe archives and Baseball Reference contributed heavily to this report.

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