When Addie Joss took the mound on October 2, 1908, he became the first Cleveland pitcher to try and pitch the franchise to a pennant, but he certainly wouldn’t be the last.
The Cleveland Naps—then named for manager and star second baseman Nap Lajoie—entered the Friday afternoon game at League Park in a three-way race for the American League pennant. The Naps trailed the Detroit Tigers for the top spot, with the Chicago White Sox just one game behind Cleveland. With just a handful of games remaining in the season, every game counted. No game was bigger than the opening game of the series between Chicago and Cleveland, matching up Ed Walsh against Joss.
Walsh, at 27-years old, was having the best year of his career. After winning 24 games in 1907, Walsh was on his way to an obscene 40-15 record in 66 games and 49 starts. At season’s end, Walsh would be responsible for 40 of Chicago’s 88 victories.
Meanwhile, Joss was also having the best year of his career. A well-educated man from Toledo, Ohio, Joss was signed by Cleveland before the 1902 season after a strong showing the year before with the Toledo Mud Hens. In his big league debut, Joss carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the St. Louis Browns before it was snapped by Jesse Burkett. Joss shined, posting solid seasons in 1902 and 1903, posting ERA’s under 3.00. In 1904, Joss logged his first season of a sub-2.00 ERA and in 1905 registered his first 20-win season. Joss won 20 or more games from 1905-08, with a corkscrew and using a deceptive, twisting delivery where he hid the ball behind his back, then twisted and fired to the plate, similar to Tim Lincecum.
When Walsh and Joss matched up, runs were expected to be minimal and this fall afternoon was no exception. The two squared off early allowing very little offense. Walsh allowed just four hits and striking out 15 Naps in the game. In the third inning, Cleveland outfielder Joe Cunningham scored on a passed ball when Chicago catcher Osse Schrecongost let one of Walsh’s spitters slide to the backstop.
The 1-0 lead would be all the offense Joss would need, or receive in the contest. Joss tossed one of the more remarkable games in American League history when he registered only the second perfect game in the league’s record books. Joss achieved his perfection on just 74 pitches. The final out recorded when pinch-hitter John Anderson ripped a liner down the left field line, just foul, then grounded to third base. Naps third baseman Bill Bradley bobbled the grounder before throwing low to first base, but George Stovall dug it out of the dirt to give the Cleveland and Joss a historic 1-0 win.
The victory was Joss’ final effort of the season, finishing the year 24-11, with a 1.16 ERA. His ERA for the 1908 season is still the eighth-lowest for a single season in baseball history. However, the Naps would not be able to chase down the Tigers and finished the ’08 season one-half game back of first place. Detroit would advance to the World Series, losing to the Chicago Cubs in five games (it is the last World Series the Cubs have ever won).
Joss worked most off-seasons as a sportswriter in Toledo, sharing personal stories from his playing career, covering the Mud Hens and the World Series. But between the 1908-09 seasons, Joss cracked the engineering books. In his spare time Joss designed an electronic aspect so that the League Park scoreboard could indicate balls and strikes for fans.
His perfect game was his crowning achievement as a pitcher, for sure, but he’d never be the same pitcher again. In 1909 and 1910, Joss struggled ailed by arm injuries and ligament issues. He was only able to make 28 starts in 1909 and just 12 in 1910. His final game was July 25, 1910. After hurling five innings, Joss left with an elbow injury.
He returned to the team in 1911, intending to pitch again, but collapsed during an exhibition game in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 3. His condition worsened and he returned home to Toledo, where he died unexpectedly on April 14 of tubercular meningitis. His funeral was on April 17, in Toledo, and his entire team attended the ceremony despite American League president Ban Johnson’s insistence that the team report to Detroit for their scheduled game. When the team refused, Johnson was left with little choice but to reschedule the game.
Despite having just nine years of playing experience, the Veteran’s Committee waived the required 10 year minimum and inducted Joss to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.
Photo: Sporting News