Recent Indians Heroics Recall ‘Braggo’ Roth
Vince Guerrieri | On 24, Aug 2016
He’s been dead for nearly 80 years, but Braggo Roth’s been a popular figure for the past couple weeks to Indians fans – and not just because he’s a right-handed power hitter.
He was part of a pair of memorable moments in the team’s history that were recalled by equally memorable moments in the past couple weeks.
On August 12, the Indians tied a team record by stealing a total of eight bases against the Angels. And Friday’s stunning win featured an inside-the-park game-winning home run. Both were events that hadn’t happened in almost a century — and when they did, both involved Robert Frank “Braggo” Roth.
Roth came over from Chicago in the deal for Shoeless Joe Jackson. He promptly hit three home runs in a week’s time for the Indians at the end of 1915 to lead the league – with seven.
His power dipped the following year, but in the last of the ninth on August 13, 1916, he stood in against St. Louis Browns reliever Earl Hamilton, and crushed a drive to the deepest part of League Park, toward the scoreboard in center field, 465 feet from home plate. By the time outfielder Armando Marsans had gotten to the ball, Roth was already rounding second. Marsans hit the cutoff man as Roth ran into home standing up to give the Indians the win.
It was the first of two memorable moments coming with the team. On August 27, 1917, the Indians stole eight bases, half by Roth, including a steal of home plate as part of a triple steal.
Eight stolen bases weren’t enough. In that game, the Indians lost 11-9, and at three hours and ten minutes, it was the longest nine-inning game the Indians played that year. Henry P. Edwards, in the next day’s Plain Dealer, called it a marathon masquerading as a baseball game.
Harry Harper got the start for the Senators at Dunn Field – League Park carried that name while its home team was owned by Jim Dunn, from 1916 until his death in 1922. He lasted an inning, giving up one run and one hit. Roth, who scored Ray Chapman with a single to center field, stole second, aided by a passed ball, and then he and Joe Harris pulled off the double steal. But they were left stranded when Bill Wambsganss popped out to end the inning.
Bert Gallia took the hill for Washington in the second. By then, the Senators had staked him to a 3-1 lead, tagging starter Ed Klepfer for four hits. Harper was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the second inning to keep the rally going.
The Indians pulled within one in the bottom of the second, but the Senators scored three more runs in the top of the third to take a 6-2 lead. The Indians got two back in the bottom of the third, chasing Gallia, who left in favor of Jim Shaw with no outs and the bases loaded.
In the fifth inning, the floodgates opened. Roth walked, Harris singled and Wamby walked to load the bases. Elmer Smith came on as a pinch-hitter for Terry Turner, and the Indians pulled off a triple steal. Roth scored with the 13th steal of home plate for the Indians that season – his fourth steal of the day. (Roth set a major league record that year, with six steals of home.) Smith walked to fill the bases, and Senators manager Clark Griffith brought in Walter Johnson.
He promptly threw a passed ball to score another run, but got Steve O’Neill and pinch-hitter Ivan Howard to strike out. Jack Graney hit a chopper past Ray Morgan, scoring another run, and one more scored after Morgan’s throw home was dropped by catcher Eddie Ainsmith. But Graney was cut down trying to take second on the play to end the inning with the Indians finally taking a lead, 8-7.
The Indians gave up that lead in the following inning, as Washington tacked on three runs. And the Big Train was mowing them down. The Indians scratched out one more run in the eighth, but could get no closer and succumbed 11-9. Johnson had gotten the win in relief, and Guy Morton, who gave up two of the three runs in the sixth, took the loss.
The final tally was a total of 13 stolen bases and 16 walks between the two teams. Each team stole home once, and there were two wild pitches, a balk, a passed ball and one hit batsman.
“The fielding was indifferent, the pitching was worse, while the umpiring was on a par with the pitching, demonstrating that the arbitrators often find the bad habits of the players catching,” Edwards wrote.
After the Indians finished second in a 1918 season shortened due to World War II, Roth was used as trade bait, and he went to Philadelphia for Larry Gardner and Charlie Jamieson – both key pieces in the Indians’ 1920 World Series win – and Elmer Myers.
In 1920, Roth surpassed his league-leading home run total five years earlier with nine. Of course, that year, he was far off the pace, as Babe Ruth hit 54 in his first season with the Yankees.
The following year, he and Ruth were teammates on the Yankees. But declining performance and his attitude (he’d acquired his nickname because of his own shameless self-promotion) left him without a major league deal for 1922. He knocked around the minors and semi-pro ranks before his death in 1936, when he was the passenger of a car struck by a newspaper truck in Chicago.
Photo: The Sporting News Collection