Homestand Begins Amid Tribe Tragedy
Vince Guerrieri | On 09, Dec 2014
On May 28, the Indians stopped in Pittsburgh for an exhibition game against the Pirates at Forbes Field. In-season exhibitions were surprisingly common during the year, and it wouldn’t be the last one the Tribe would play in the 1920 season. The Indians lost 4-2, and returned home for a monthlong homestand.
Second baseman Bill Wambsganss committed an error that let in a run, leading the Plain Dealer to ask, “What’s the matter with Wamby?” His errors were attributed to his poor hitting. “This season he scarcely is hitting his weight and he is not among the big men of the team,” the Plain Dealer wrote. “But once he hits his stride at the bat, his fielding will pick up as the two slumps go together. Elmer Flick was the same sort of a player. If Elmer was getting hits, he was making sensational catches and performing brilliantly on the paths.”
But that day, the Indians had more to worry about. Their star pitcher had to return to his home in Shamokin, Pennsylvania for the death of his wife. Stan Coveleski married Mary Stivetts in 1913, and she had been ill for several years. However, her illness was not thought to be life-threatening. “Her death came as a great surprise to Stanley,” the Plain Dealer wrote in its May 28 edition. “The players and President (Jim) Dunn made arrangements for the funeral, which will be held either tomorrow or Monday. Covey expects to return to Cleveland late next week.” The flags were lowered to half-staff at League Park.
Coveleski got the news around noon, and had been scheduled to pitch for the Indians that day in the opener of a four-game series against the White Sox. The Indians would play a doubleheader Saturday, and then another twin bill Monday against the Tigers.
Instead, Jim Bagby got the start on the first Ladies’ Day of the season. From that day forward, women got in for a dime – the cost of the war tax – during every Friday home game. Elmer Smith hit a three-run home run to put the Indians on the board in the first inning, but Bagby got chased as the White Sox clawed their way back into the game in the fifth inning. Bagby gave up successive singles to Eddie Murphy, Eddie Collins and Buck Weaver as the Pale Hose pulled within one, 5-4. He was replaced by Guy Morton, who had been with the Indians since 1914.
Morton’s career started inauspiciously, when he set a record by losing his first 13 starts, but within a few years, he had become a solid if not spectacular innings-eater for the Indians. For four years starting in 1915, he was good for at least 10 wins a year, and went 9-9 for the Indians in 1919. Collins and Weaver came around to score, but Morton got out of the jam. In the bottom of the fifth, with the Indians suddenly trailing 6-4, they were able to score three runs to retake the lead – which they wouldn’t relinquish, cruising to a 13-6 win. Morton only pitched an inning before giving way to Dick Niehaus after being pinch-hit by Les Nunamaker, but it was enough for him to get the victory.
In the first game of the doubleheader on May 30, the Indians held a 7-3 lead after eight innings, but Niehaus gave up three straight hits, bringing the White Sox to 7-4. Then pinch-hitter John Collins singled to right to load the bases, and Speaker lifted Niehaus for Bagby, who got two flyouts. But Weaver tagged and scored to make it 7-5, and then Bagby walked three batters, forcing in the tying run. Tony Faeth was called in to face Eddie Collins, in his second at-bat of the inning, with two balls. Faeth walked Collins to force in the winning run.
The Tribe fared better in the second game. Ray Caldwell gave up 10 runs, but just one hit as the Indians cruised to an 8-1 win. Ray Chapman homered and doubled, knocking in three runs, and Caldwell got three hits as well. The split enabled the Indians to stay on top of the American League, with a two-game lead over second-place Boston. Also that day, the Indians announced they had purchased George Burns from the Philadelphia Athletics. Burns, a native of Niles, Ohio, would be used primarily to spell Doc Johnston at first base.
The Indians won the series finale against the White Sox 8-6, and rolled their win streak up to four games, taking the first two from the Tigers. By the time the calendar turned to June, the Indians had a 3 ½ game lead in the American League.
But the lead faded without the steadying influence of Coveleski, who was in Northeast Pennsylvania. The Indians were also without Jack Graney, who had to have surgery May 31 to have his tonsils removed. The Indians dropped two of their final three to the Tigers, and then lost three of four – including Coveleski’s first start back from Pennsylvania – to the Browns. They had fallen into a tie for first with the Yankees. The Indians played an exhibition against the Pirates at League Park on June 7, and then began a four-game set with the Athletics. The Indians swept the A’s, but were unable to gain any ground as the Yankees were doing the same to the Tigers.
On Friday, June 11, the Yankees were making their first appearance of the year at League Park. The teams were tied, and Babe Ruth had already hit 15 home runs for the Yankees that year. Another “Little World’s Series” loomed.