Indians to face Brooklyn in World Series
Vince Guerrieri | On 23, Jan 2015
The 1920 World Series would feature two teams in search of their first championship. But unlike the Indians, who were making their first appearance in the Fall Classic, their opponent, the Brooklyn Dodgers, were making their second appearance in four years.
The Dodgers had joined the National League in 1890, while Brooklyn was still its own city. The Dodgers – short for Trolley Dodgers, a reference to the streetcars that crossed the city – had been able to survive among several teams within the city, but as Brooklyn became a borough of New York City, the Dodgers played in the shadow of the New York Giants.
One of Giants manager John McGraw’s coaches was a former teammate of his from the Baltimore Orioles, Wilbert Robinson. In fact, Robinson and McGraw were both on the Orioles team that lost the Temple Cup to the Cleveland Spiders at League Park in 1895. But Robinson and McGraw had a falling-out after the 1913 World Series, which the Giants lost to the Athletics, four games to one. McGraw, well into his cups at an Orioles reunion at a local tavern, criticized Robinson’s third base coaching. Robinson, no doubt equally soused, suggested that McGraw’s managing wasn’t that good either. McGraw threw Robinson out, but not before he could dump a glass of beer on McGraw.
Dodgers owner Charles Ebbets jumped at the chance to hire Robinson, and within two years, he had led the Dodgers to a pennant. The Giants finished seven games back, giving Robinson some small amount of pleasure. Robinson was called “Uncle Robbie” for his avuncular presence to his team, and proved so popular, the team was referred to as the Robins in his honor.
The 1916 team lost to the Red Sox in five games, but the 1920 team was even stronger than that one. While the Indians couldn’t clinch the pennant until the penultimate day of the season, the Dodgers won 16 of their final 18 games to win the National League by 7 games. The Giants finished second, and the defending World Champions, the Reds, finished 10 ½ games out.
The Dodgers pitching staff had a 2.62 earned run average to lead the National League. Unlike the Indians, who had Jim Bagby, the Dodgers didn’t have a 30-game winner that season. Their staff was led by Burleigh Grimes, who went 23-11 in his third year with Brooklyn, after two with the Pirates. Grimes, like the Indians’ Stan Coveleski, relied on the spitball. In fact, he would end up being the last legal spitball pitcher in the major leagues.
Not only did the Dodgers not have a 30-game winner, Grimes was the only 20-game winner on the team. But five other pitchers – starters Leon Cadore, Jeff Pfeffer and Cleveland native Rube Marquard, and relievers Al Mamaux and Sherry Smith – had at least 10 wins for the Dodgers, who won 93 games that year.
The only Indians player who had seen the Dodgers pitchers in those days before interleague play was Larry Gardner, who was part of the 1916 Red Sox team that defeated Brooklyn in the World Series. “I’d back our four first stringers against their much boasted seven any time we meet in a series.”
Offensively, the Dodgers were led by Zack Wheat, one of the holdovers on the team from the 1916 pennant winners. Wheat led the team with a .328 average, 191 hits and nine home runs. Wheat was one of three .300 hitters for the Dodgers, with Hi Myers and Ed Konetchy.
When the owners held their pre-World Series meeting, Indians owner Jim Dunn made two requests. The World Series was supposed to start at League Park, but Dunn had been adding 6,000 seats to the ballpark to accommodate the large crowd for the World Series, and was also adding a new press box on top of the grandstand roof to hold national media that would be descending on Cleveland. Construction was not complete, so Dunn was willing to cede home field advantage and let the World Series start in Brooklyn. It would be a nine-game series, with the first three at Ebbets Field, four more at League Park, and the final two, if necessary, back in Brooklyn.
The other request Dunn made was to add Joe Sewell to the World Series roster. Only players who had been put on the major league roster by Aug. 31 were eligible to play in the postseason. Sewell had been called up Sept. 7. Sewell had been called up because of extenuating circumstances – particularly, the death of Ray Chapman – and Ebbets, whether out of magnanimity or a sense of good public relations, had no problems approving it.