Smith’s Heroics Lead 1920 Squad to Win in Old-Timers Game
Vince Guerrieri | On 04, Jul 2018
By 1938, League Park had already seen an abundance of baseball history.
Cy Young opened the place – first in 1891 when it was home to the Spiders, and then the new concrete-and-steel ballpark in 1910. Addie Joss threw a perfect game at the close of the 1908 season in what might have been the greatest game ever pitched. Legends like Tris Speaker and Napoleon Lajoie patrolled the field, and the Indians won the 1920 World Series there.
And all those moments were on display July 3, 1938 – when League Park hosted an old-timers game between representatives of the 1908 and 1920 teams, at that point the two best teams in Indians history.
The first-place Indians were on the road that weekend, with doubleheaders scheduled July 3 (a Sunday) and 4 at Comiskey Park against the White Sox, so League Park was free to host the old-timers game. Lajoie was a late scratch from the game because of ill health, but a special guest served as substitute: Ed Walsh, who had matched up against Joss in that 1908 game, fanning 15 but taking the loss. Walsh, who looked around 40, according to the next day’s Plain Dealer (he was 57), addressed the crowd of about 5,000, telling them how great Joss was and how much he missed having him at the old-timers game.
Cy Young took the bump for the 1908 team, proud still to wear the uniform, even if it had to be a little bigger around the midsection. He pitched to the first four batters, giving up one hit, a double to Speaker that advanced Bill Wambsganss to third.
League Park was the site of Wamby’s greatest achievement, an unassisted triple play in Game 5 of the 1920 World Series. But that day, he was suckered by Bill Bradley, falling victim to the hidden ball trick at third base for the third out of the first inning.
The 1908 team got around on starter Stan Coveleski, but the 1920 team retained a better batting eye, winning 8-0. The biggest hit came from Elmer Smith, who in the same game with Wamby’s triple play hit the first grand slam in World Series history. In the fifth inning, he got the 1920 team on the board with a double that scored Smoky Joe Wood. Then, in the seventh, he golfed a pitch over the high right field wall. The 1920 team demonstrated sharp defense as well, turning five double plays that day.
All told, seven former managers were on hand for the game: George Stovall, Joe Birmingham, Lee Fohl, Jack McAllister, Roger Peckinpaugh and Steve O’Neill, in addition to Speaker, and “they joined in a chorus of confidence that Cleveland would win the 1938 pennant.” The Indians were in a good spot at that point, splitting a doubleheader that day to maintain a lead of a game and a half in the American League. But the Tribe fell out of first 10 days later, and ended up finishing third – 13 games behind the Yankees.