April Weather Plays Havoc with Tribe Schedule

In 1920, with fewer games and more doubleheaders, teams had more off days. But it was not uncommon for those days to be eaten up by travel (trains, not planes, in those days) and teams would actually schedule exhibition games during the regular season. Some of them were interleague matchups in the days where unless you lived in Chicago, Boston, New York or Philadelphia, you didn’t have the opportunity to see both leagues. And some of them were barnstorming games against local teams.

But the Indians’ off days were starting to fill already with makeup games. The weather was playing havoc with the schedule as the season dawned for the Indians. The team could only play two of four scheduled games in the opening series against the St. Louis Browns, and the next series, a visit by the Tigers, would only play three of four.

On April 18, 1920, in the first game of the season between the Tigers and Indians – which included in the stands the Dodge Brothers band, comprised of workers at the eponymous car factory in Detroit – Tris Speaker hit a first-inning home run over the right field wall onto Lexington Avenue and doubled. The Indians chased starter Doc Ayers after less than three innings, and Tiger manager Hughie Jennings burned through two more relief pitchers as the Indians rolled, 11-4.

While the Indians were in command in their first game with the Tigers, they needed some late-inning heroics from an unlikely source to win their next game. Down two runs with the bases loaded in the seventh, manager Speaker decided to play the percentages. He lifted Charlie Jamieson for a pinch-hitter, Les Nunamaker, who was more known for hitting other players than the ball. Nunamaker was drafted by the Indians, but the team immediately sold his rights to the Red Sox. Prior to his return to Cleveland in 1919, he was probably best known for falling for the hidden ball trick in the 1912 World Series (his Red Sox won, no doubt soothing his bruised ego) and launching a donnybrook at League Park that earned him a $25 fine and a black eye.

Nunamaker fouled off six straight pitches before doubling to right-center, clearing the bases and giving the Indians a 5-4 lead. The Tigers fought back, and Nunamaker found himself on first base in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 6. Speaker called the hit-and-run, and Nunamaker took off, but catcher Steve O’Neill swung and missed. Nunamaker beat the throw, and O’Neill was eventually able to connect with the ball, shooting it through the infield and allowing Nunamaker to come home with the winning run.

The next game was ridiculous. Henry Edwards noted that it took slightly more than three hours – now regarded as a standard time for a Major League game – as each team used five pitchers. The Indians held a comfortable 11-5 lead after seven innings as the wheels came off.
Ray Caldwell, who was picked up off the discard pile by Speaker the year before, started the game for the Indians, but he left after throwing two wide pitches in the top of the seventh. Elmer Myers came on in relief, and pitched a shutout inning. He returned for the eighth.
Harry Heilmann led off the inning by popping out to Larry Gardner, but Myers then walked the bases loaded. Sammy Hale, pinch-hitting for pitcher Frank Okrie, singled past Nunamaker, the previous day’s hero, to drive in a run and leave the bases loaded. Myers then walked Donie Bush to score another run, and Speaker brought in Tony Faeth to stanch the bleeding. He did no better, walking two batters, each bringing in a run, and Speaker went once again to the bullpen for Guy Morton, who mercifully ended the inning, although one more run had scored. What was a comfortable six-run lead had evaporated to a run – and only one of the five runs scored in the eighth was earned.

Morton started to live dangerously in the ninth. With one out, he walked two straight batters, got the second out of the inning, and then walked Guy Bush to load the bases. Speaker brought in George Uhle to pitch to Ralph Young, who grounded to Bill Wambsganss to finally end the game in the win column for the Tribe.

That wild finish turned out to be the series finale. The following day, amid predictions of rain throughout the day, Speaker and team president Ernest Barnard opted to postpone the game. But the skies cleared, making the day the best weather-wise that the Indians had seen since the season started. “It was not only possible to play,” wrote Ed Bang, the sports editor of the Cleveland News, “but it was a downright shame to think that the game was called off.”

The Tigers protested, saying that the Indians canceled the game prematurely because they feared losing. The Indians had no time to address it. They had a train to catch – to St. Louis, for a brief road trip.

Once again, the weather was uncooperative, as a four-game series was shortened to three with another postponement. The Indians took two of three, with the Browns’ only victory coming behind the pitching of Allen Sothoron, who had been roughed up by the Indians in the opener at League Park.

The Indians returned home for their first test of the season: They had a three-game series against the White Sox, and the defending World Champions were undefeated through six games.

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