Dunn’s Decision in 1920 May Have Had Role in Tribe’s World Series Fate Later
Vince Guerrieri | On 21, Oct 2016
***editor’s note: This story was originally posted 11/4/2015.
Since 2003, Major League Baseball has used the All-Star Game to determine home field advantage for the World Series.
It’s a dumb idea, implemented as a knee-jerk reaction to the 2002 All-Star Game, which ended as a tie as both managers, who treated the game as a glorified exhibition, blew through their rosters as the game went into extra innings.
But it’s really not much dumber than the way home field advantage was determined before that: It simply alternated between leagues, with no consideration for which team assembled the better regular season record.
The Indians have never held home field advantage in the World Series. Not the 1995 team that won 100 games in a strike-shortened season, and not even the 1954 team that set an American League record with 111 wins.
And part of that had to do with a decision made by Jim Dunn, the Indians owner in 1920.
Dunn had bought the team in 1915 and he was determined to spend money and deliver the city not just its first pennant, but its first World Series. The Indians were on the way to doing so in 1920 – and had started taking requests for World Series tickets in August – but the fatal beaning of shortstop Ray Chapman put the team off its game for several weeks. Ultimately, the Indians clinched the pennant with a week to spare, and would face the Brooklyn Dodgers (sometimes called the Robins in honor of their manager, Wilbert Robinson) in a best-of-nine World Series, with Game 1 in League Park, since the National League had home field advantage the year before.
Dunn made two requests when the owners met before the World Series. One was to add Joe Sewell to the World Series roster. Then, as now, only players who were on the roster on August 31 were allowed to participate in the World Series. The request was made of baseball’s governing commission, who acceded to Dodgers owner Charles Ebbets. No doubt sensing the public relations nightmare that would ensue – Sewell was called up to replace Chapman after he was killed – Ebbets granted the request.
Dunn also sought to have the beginning of the World Series moved to Ebbets Field, as he was in the process of adding 6,000 seats and an expanded press box. The commission gladly approved, and the World Series began in Brooklyn.
After three games, the World Series came to Cleveland for the first time ever, with Brooklyn holding a two games to one lead. But the Indians won the next four games to take the World Series.
The next year, the World Series was played in the Polo Grounds, the home field for both teams, the New York Yankees and the New York Giants. The Yankees had home field advantage that year, and when the two teams met for a rematch in 1922, the Giants had home field advantage.
And so it continued for more than 70 years – the National League team had home field advantage in even numbered years, and the American League in odd-numbered years. One can’t help but wonder how the Indians’ fortunes might have changed in the 1954 World Series if Game 1 was played in Cleveland Stadium instead of the Polo Grounds. Vic Wertz’s long out to Willie Mays would have been a home run, and Dusty Rhodes’ home run would have been a harmless pop up.
In 1994, a strike canceled the World Series. The year before, the Toronto Blue Jays had home field advantage at Skydome. In 1995, when play resumed after the strike, home field advantage went to the National League, with the Braves – who had won 10 fewer games than the Indians – getting home field advantage.
And two years later, the Florida Marlins – which admittedly had won more games as a wild card than the Indians did for their third straight American League Central Division title – had home field advantage. Would it have made a difference if Game 7 was at Jacobs Field instead of Joe Robbie Stadium (probably not, since the Indians only won one of three home games for the Fall Classic).
Since the World Series moved to home field being determined by the All-Star Game, the Indians haven’t had the opportunity to put it to the test. But you can’t help but wonder…
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project