After the 1920 Championship Season
Vince Guerrieri | On 27, Feb 2015
The 1920 World Championship was the high mark for the Indians, who had reached baseball’s pinnacle after finishing second in the previous two years. It wouldn’t last.
The Yankees’ purchase of Babe Ruth was a game changer. The speed that people thought was lacking on the team as the season dawned turned out to be unnecessary, as it was more than replaced by power. Ruth ended the season with 54 home runs, and would hit 50 or more in a season four more times, including setting the record of 60 in 1927. With six pennants and three World Series wins in the next decade, the Yankees would become the power of the American League for the better part of the next half-century.
Sunny Jim Dunn, who had delivered on his promise to bring Cleveland a championship, died at his Chicago home on June 9, 1922. The team was owned by his estate until 1927, when it was sold to a syndicate that was a veritable who’s who of Cleveland, including former mayor Newton Baker, his law partner Joseph Hostetler, and railroad and real estate barons Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen. The group was headed by Alva Bradley, who served as managing partner of the team until it was sold again in 1946, to a group fronted by the legendary Bill Veeck.
League Park never hosted another Major League World Series. One of the first things Veeck did was make the Indians’ full-time home Cleveland Stadium. League Park never had lights installed, and was a bandbox compared to the lakefront stadium, which could hold as many as 90,000 spectators. League Park continued to be used by the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues (who won a Negro League World Series while there in 1945), and was a practice field for the Browns into the 1950s. Ultimately, it was bought by the city of Cleveland, which tore down everything but an office building on the property at the corner of East 66th and Lexington. In 2012, the city approved a $5 million grant for the renovation of the stadium, and two years later, the historic field opened as a park.
Tris Speaker continued on as player-manager for the Indians through 1926, although the Indians never won a pennant again under his tenure. The Red Sox had slipped into irrelevance, but a new dynasty was in bloom in the Bronx, as the Yankees got a new home, Yankee Stadium, just across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds. After the 1926 season, the Grey Eagle left Cleveland and announced his retirement. Coach Jack McCallister, who had taken over in Speaker’s absence in 1920, became manager. Allegations were thrown around that he and Ty Cobb conspired to fix a game in the 1919 season. Neither player was banned from baseball, but Speaker spent 1927 in Washington, and played the last year of his career, 1928, in Philadelphia, alongside a fading Cobb. Speaker was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937, and spent most of his post-playing career in the Cleveland area as a businessman and broadcaster. In 1939, Speaker tried to organize an indoor softball league, but the idea never got off the ground. In 1947, he was asked by Veeck to work with Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League. Doby was a second baseman for the Newark Eagles, but with Speaker’s help, he turned into an all-star center fielder. Speaker died of a heart attack in 1958 on a fishing trip in his native Texas.
After the 1922 season, Smoky Joe Wood retired, and became a baseball coach at Yale University. Wood’s name was mentioned in the fix allegations concerning Tris Speaker (he had allegedly placed the bets), but nothing came of it. He was let go by the university in 1942, because of financial reasons due to the war, and spent seven years on the West Coast running a golf range before returning to New England. In 1985, Yale President (and future MLB commissioner) Bart Giamatti gave Wood an honorary degree. Wood died two months later at the age of 95.
A plaque was dedicated in Ray Chapman’s honor at League Park. When the Indians moved to Cleveland Stadium, the plaque followed. When the Indians moved to Jacobs Field in 1994, the plaque … got lost. It was rediscovered in 2007 and now hangs in Heritage Park beyond center field at what is now Progressive Field.
After Chapman’s death, the Indians made an attempt at some kind of protective headgear, but helmets didn’t become mandatory until the 1950s. Chapman remains the only major league player to die from game-related injury.
Kathleen Chapman never went to another baseball game again. On Feb. 27, 1921, Rae Marie Chapman was born. The Cleveland News called her “a living monument to perpetuate the memory of Ray Chapman.” Kathleen remarried and the family relocated to California. Her father Martin died at his desk at the East Ohio Gas Company in 1926, and on April 21, 1928, Kathleen Chapman died. She had drank poison. Her mother said she had mixed up bottles in the medicine cabinet, but the cause of death was listed as suicide, and Plain Dealer made mention of a recent nervous breakdown.
Rae went to Cleveland to live with Kathleen’s parents. They sent her to Florida that winter to avoid the measles outbreak that occurred in Cleveland. A nurse who cared for Rae recalled the girl saying that she talked to her mother. “She told me I’ll be with her soon.” Rae Marie Chapman caught measles when she returned to Cleveland and died April 27, 1929. She was 8.
Ray Chapman’s death turned out to be a break for Joe Sewell, who knew he was carrying on for the late shortstop – and he made the most of it. Sewell committed six errors in the World Series, but as Damon Runyon predicted, went on to be a great player, spending 10 more seasons with the Indians, and another three with the New York Yankees. After he retired, he served as a scout for various teams, including the Indians, and in 1964 became the baseball coach at his alma mater, the University of Alabama. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1977, and the year after that, the Crimson Tide’s baseball stadium was renamed in his honor. He died in 1990.
Sewell counted Larry Gardner as a reason for his success. He said during the heat of the pennant race, the veteran was a calming presence. When the Indians went to the White House in 1921, President Warren Harding said, “I know you are a good player, young man, because way back in the early ’80s I knew a player by that name. He was with Cleveland in the old National League and was a mighty good man.” Gardner laughed and said, “That was just about the time I was breaking in.” He had an even better 1921 season at the age of 35, but by 1923, he was more of a coach than a player for the Indians. After he retired, he managed in the South Atlantic League for three years, but returned to his native Vermont because, among other reasons, it was difficult to get ice cream in the South. He served as baseball coach and athletic director at the University of Vermont, and died in 1976 at the age of 89.
Carl Mays’ name was forever linked to Ray Chapman. His career with the Yankees ended ignominiously amid rumors that he’d thrown games in the 1921 World Series, but he was able to hang on for a few years with the Reds and Giants before retiring in 1929. He served as a scout for several teams – including the Indians, oddly enough – and ran a baseball camp in Oregon. He retired with a record of 208-126, including five 20-win seasons, and a career ERA of 2.92, but Cooperstown never came calling, the subject of some bitterness for Mays. He died in 1971, and the first line of his Associated Press obituary mentioned the fatal beaning.
Before the 1921 season, the spitball was officially banned, but any pitcher who was a spitball thrower was grandfathered in, including Stan Coveleski. He had another 20-win season in 1921, his fourth straight, but his productivity started to slip for the Indians, who dealt him to Washington after the 1924 season. Coveleski was happy with the change of scenery, expressing his distaste for Cleveland. “The people are all right, but I just didn’t like the town.” Coveleski won 20 games for the Senators in 1925, as they advanced to the World Series for the second straight year. But in 1927, he was released by Washington. He spent a little time in 1928 with the Yankees, but was out of baseball by August of that year. He and his family – several years after his wife’s death, he married her sister Frances, who had cared for their children after Mary died – settled in South Bend, Ind., where he ran a service station. The Hall of Fame came calling for him in 1969, and when he died at the age of 95 in 1984, he was the oldest living hall of famer. His marriage to Frances lasted until his death. The home field for the South Bend Silver Hawks was named in his honor in 1987.
Jim Bagby’s 30-win season and 1.80 ERA in the World Series was his high-water mark as a pitcher. He won just 21 more games in his career. After a miserable 1922 season – which saw him get an emergency appendectomy – he was dealt to the Pirates, and finished his major league career there. He knocked around the minors until 1930, and ran a dry cleaner for more than 14 years. He also served as an umpire in the minor leagues until a debilitating stroke in 1942. He worked at some Atlanta area department stores until his death from another stroke in 1954. Bagby had lived long enough to see his son and namesake pitch in the 1946 World Series for the Red Sox. They were the first father and son duo to pitch in the Fall Classic.
Slim Caldwell went 6-6 for the Indians in 1921, but he had fallen back into the habit of drinking (despite Prohibition) and staying out late. He was released, and although he pitched another 12 years in the minors, including a pair of 20-win seasons, he was never called up to the show again.
After his playing career ended, Caldwell managed a minor league team in Fremont, Ohio, and conducted baseball schools there as well. He died Aug. 19, 1967 – 48 years to the day Speaker signed him for the Tribe.
Guy Morton, the “Alabama Blossom,” spent the remainder of his major league career with the Indians, and after the 1920 season, bounced back and forth between starting and relieving. The Indians released him in 1924, and he spent another five years bouncing around the minors in the south. He returned to Alabama and died of a heart attack at the age of 41. His son Guy Morton Jr. made it to the majors, but struck out in his only at-bat for the Red Sox.
Jack Graney retired in 1922. After being laid low by the stock market crash in 1929, Graney went back to the Indians – as a broadcaster. He’s regarded as the first player to return to the broadcast booth, and called games on the radio until his retirement in 1953. He died in 1978. He’s since been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Society for American Baseball Research chapter in Cleveland bears his name.
Graney’s full-time replacement in left field was Charlie Jamieson, who went on to play another 11 years for the Indians, well into his late 30s, before his release in 1932. Among the accomplishments for the man called “The most popular baseball player in Cleveland history” was leading the league in hits in 1923. He retired with a .304 average in a 17-year career. After his release, Jamieson returned to his native Paterson, N.J., where he played a year of minor league ball. He then worked for 25 years at the Wright Aeronautical Corp. as a security guard, and served as a crossing guard until nine months before his death in 1969 at the age of 76.
The Great Duster Mails, whose 7-0 record was nothing shy of miraculous for the Indians in 1920, won 14 games the following year. It was the most he’d ever win in the majors in a season. After 1922, he was let go by the Indians. He played for the Cardinals in 1925 and made one appearance for them in 1926, but his major league career was over. However, he went 226-210 in his minor league career, mostly in the Pacific Coast League. He did promotional work for the PCL’s San Francisco Seals and then, when it became a major league city, for the Giants. He died in 1974 at the age of 79.
George Uhle would become a solid pitcher for the Indians. After the 1920 season, he won at least 13 games for five of the next six seasons, including leading the league with 26 wins in 1923 and 27 in 1927. He had replaced Coveleski and Bagby as the ace of the staff. After a subpar 1928 season, he was traded to Detroit, where he put together four seasons of at least 10 wins. After stops in New York with the Giants and Yankees, Uhle made seven appearances for the Indians in 1936 before retiring with a career record of 200-166. No pitcher had faced Babe Ruth more, with 110 at-bats against the Bambino. Uhle struck him out 25 times and gave up just four home runs to him. He was a pretty fair hitter himself, with a.288 batting average, a record for someone who only served as a pitcher. Uhle served as a pitching coach for several major league teams – including the Indians – before returning to his hometown of Cleveland and working for the Arrow Aluminum Co. He died in 1985 at the age of 86.
Bill Wambsganss fought off injuries to remain with the Indians through 1923. The next year, he was traded to the Red Sox. His sure hands were gone, as he led second basemen with 30 errors that season. He limped along through the major leagues through 1926, and then played seven more years of minor league ball before his playing career ended. Wamby signed on to be a manager of the Cleveland team in Speaker’s abortive indoor softball league, and later managed in the All-American Girls Professional League. Wamby continued to live in the Cleveland area long after his retirement (his Lakewood neighbors included former teammate George Uhle), and was one of the 1920 players feted the next time the Indians made the World Series, in 1948. He died in 1985 at the age of 91.
Steve O’Neill was traded along with Wamby to the Red Sox in 1923 for, among others, Chick Fewster, whose near-fatal beaning served as an ironic prelude to Chapman’s death. O’Neill was with Boston through the 1924 season, and played 35 games with the Yankees in 1925 before he was released. After spending 1926 in the minors, O’Neill played two years with the Browns, amazing doctors after a car accident that was so severe, he was given Last Rites of the Catholic Church at the scene. After his playing career ended, he spent the next 26 years as a coach or manager. He was Walter Johnson’s pitching coach when he managed the Indians, and succeeded the Big Train as Tribe skipper. His pitching coach was former teammate George Uhle. O’Neill also managed the Tigers when they won the World Series in 1945, becoming the most recent team to date to beat the Cubs in the Fall Classic. He also managed the Phillies, and later worked for the Cleveland Recreation Department. He died in 1962.
Les Nunamaker continued as O’Neill’s backup until he was sidelined by a broken leg in 1922. The Indians released him after the season so he could become manager of the Chattanooga Lookouts. He bounced around as a minor league manager for the next seven years before returning to his home state of Nebraska. He died of cancer at the age of 49 in 1938.
Doc Johnston took a job running a pool hall downtown after the 1920 season. He spent the next year with the Indians, and ended his career in 1922 with the Athletics. Jimmy Johnston played until 1926, with stops with the Braves and Giants. He later coached the Dodgers. Doc died in 1961, and Jimmy died six years later.
After Johnston left the Indians on waivers, Speaker was looking for a new first baseman. He wanted Stuffy McInnis from the Red Sox, and got him, but he gave up George Burns and Elmer Smith. After a year in Boston, Smith went to New York, where he helped the Yankees to a pennant in 1922 and their first World Series title in 1923. Smith was sent to Louisville for Earle Combs, and played well enough on the minor-league level to get back to the majors with Cincinnati. His playing career ended in 1932, after several years in the minor leagues. He returned to the Cleveland area, and worked for the Cleveland Trencher Co. In the 1970s, after he retired, he relocated to Kentucky, where he died in 1984, at the age of 91.
Burns began to flourish in Boston as the Red Sox’ everyday first baseman. In 1923, he also completed an unassisted triple play – against the Indians, ironically enough. McInnis was gone from Cleveland after the 1922 season, and Speaker ultimately got Burns back in 1924. Burns proved his worth, and was given the League Award – sort of a precursor to the Most Valuable Player award – in 1926, when he hit .358 with a league-leading 218 hits, including a record 64 doubles. He was sold to the Yankees after the 1928 season, and ended his career a year later on the roster as the Athletics won the World Series. Burns ended his career, like many other Indians players, in the Pacific Coast League, and settled in Portland, Ore., afterward. He felt he was cheated out of the Hall of Fame, and died of cancer in 1978.
Joe Evans continued with the Indians through the 1922 season. He was dealt to Washington, where he appeared in 106 games, playing five different positions. The Senators let him go, and he spent two more years in the majors, as a reserve for the St. Louis Browns, before being released. He died in 1951.
The Dodgers continued to search for their own World Championship. After Charles Ebbets died, Wilbert Robinson became team president, and the team descended into dysfunction, not appearing in a World Series again until 1941. Over the next 15 years, the Dodgers won six pennants and in 1955, finally brought home the World Series victory that had eluded them. But Ebbets Field, like League Park, had grown old. A new park was not in the cards in Brooklyn, so the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, opening up the West Coast to Major League Baseball. They won five pennants in their first decade in California, and four World Series.
Rube Marquard, the Cleveland native who pitched against the Indians in the World Series, was found guilty of scalping and fined $1 in police court. But the reaction from Major League Baseball, facing a scandal of its own with the Black Sox, was severe. Ebbets proclaimed Marquard would never pitch again in Brooklyn, and Ban Johnson tried to have him banned from the major leagues. Marquard returned to Ohio in 1921, in the employ of the Cincinnati Reds. After one season in the Queen City, he was dealt to the Boston Braves. Marquard retired from baseball in 1925. After he was one of the players featured in “The Glory of Their Times” by Lawrence Ritter, a new generation became interested in him. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, and died in 1980 at the age of 93.