Series Starts at Ebbets Field; Tribe Takes Opener

Abraham Lincoln had come through the old Union Depot in Clevleand, near where the Shoreway meets West Fourth Street now on the way to Washington to be inaugurated. And his funeral train came through the station on the way to his final resting place in Illinois. And on Oct. 4, 1920, as plans were surreptitiously being made for a new train station on the edge of Public Square – the Terminal Tower – a train carrying the conquering heroes stopped as the American League champion Indians made a brief stopover in Cleveland before heading to Brooklyn for the start of the World Series.

Manager Tris Speaker made it a point to stop in Cleveland for a strategy and recharging session. They would depart by train that evening to arrive in Brooklyn for the World Series. They wouldn’t have a morning practice, seeing Ebbets Field for the first time when they got there for the game.

The Fall Classic was supposed to start in Cleveland that year, but owner Jim Dunn asked for it to start at Ebbets Field as additions were being made to League Park to accommodate another 6,000 fans – and nearly 1,000 members of the press, including celebrities like Ring Lardner Jr. and Damon Runyon. Billy Evans, who had turned to umpiring after realizing it paid better than being sports editor at the Youngstown Vindicator, would write regular columns from the World Series as well.

The first radio broadcast of a baseball game was still nearly a year away. In fact, KDKA in Pittsburgh, which would broadcast that first game, was a month away from its first broadcast at all, so fans relied on newspapers and wire services for all their baseball news. The Keith Theater on Prospect would feature a large scoreboard for recreations of the World Series games for fans who were unable to see the action in person.

As the specter of last year’s fixed World Series loomed over the games, fans were assured by the King’s County District Attorney after meeting members of the Dodgers that there would be no fix this year. American League President Ban Johnson said that the Indians were also above reproach.

The World Series started before a packed house at Ebbets Field on Oct. 5, 1920. Charles Ebbets, owner of the Dodgers and namesake of the park, estimated that he refunded $60,000 for people who unsuccessfully sought World Series tickets.

A well-rested Stan Coveleski would be the starter for the Indians in the World Series opener, while Dodgers manager Wilbert Robinson countered with Rube Marquard, a choice which had to have pained Cleveland sports fans. Marquard, a Cleveland native, was recognized by some as the one who got away.

In the top of the second, George Burns hit a sky-high pop-up that dropped behind first base for a hit. Burns took off for second as Ed Konetchy threw to try to get him out. But nobody was covering second, and the ball sailed into left field. Burns came all the way around to score the Indians’ first postseason run. Four batters later, with Joe Wood at second and Joe Sewell at first, Steve O’Neill hit a line drive to left field to score Wood, staking Coveleski to a 2-0 lead.

The Indians tacked on another run in the fourth, with O’Neill lacing a double to score Wood. Dodgers outfielder Zack Wheat – who was also writing about the game for area newspapers, including the Plain Dealer – said they should have walked O’Neill to pitch to Coveleski.

The Dodgers got a run in the seventh when Wheat doubled, took third on a groundout and then scored on another.

In the eighth inning, Tommy Griffith led off with a rocket shot to left-center field. Speaker ran like a gazelle and snared it for a long fly out, prompting Lardner to write the next day that the difference between the Indians and Dodgers managers was that Speaker played the field like four people, and Wilbert Robinson took up the space of four people on the bench.

Babe Ruth, for the second year in a row, was not playing in a World Series (it’s not something he would be able to say a lot for the next decade). He was also signed on to write a column, and after the first game, said, “If Brooklyn cannot win with Rube Marquard in the box, Brooklyn cannot win the series.”

“We did not get a single break in the entire game,” Robinson said afterward. “Every break there was went Cleveland’s way. I want to say I do not believe Coveleskie will be as successful against us the next time we tackle him.”

But for now, Robinson and his team had more immediate concerns. The most amazing thing about Speaker’s decision to start Coveleski in the opener was that it afforded him the opportunity to save a 30-game winner for game 2. It was entirely possible that the Indians would return to Cleveland with a 2-0 World Series lead.

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