There are certain World Series games that are instant classics, like Game 6 in 1975, when Carlton Fisk willed a home run fair to keep the Red Sox alive in the series. And Game 6 in 1986, when the Red Sox snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, giving the Mets new life.
And there are some that represent history. Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series was the first and to date only of its kind, and Game 6 in 1977 saw Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in three successive at-bats, each on the first pitch he saw from a different pitcher.
Game 5 of the 1920 World Series was one of those games just dripping with history. There were three firsts in the game. One has yet to be duplicated, and it’s hard to say if it will ever happen again.
Before Game 4 ended, fans lined up at the League Park box office for the chance to buy general admission tickets for the next day’s games. One woman, Esther Manning of Cleveland, already had her ticket, but she stood in line anyway to win a bet from some friends. Neighborhood children sold soap boxes to sit on and coffee to sustain them through the October night in Cleveland. One World War I veteran in line said, “Remember the Argonne? This is a joy compared to that.”
Jim Bagby got the nod for the Indians. His wife was in the stands, watching her first major league baseball game, and she picked a good one. Also in the stands was former Cleveland mayor Newton D. Baker, then the Secretary of War.
Charlie Jamieson led off the bottom of the first with a single to right. Bill Wambsganss hit a chopper down the third base line to put runners at first and second, and Speaker bunted to the pitcher’s mound. Burleigh Grimes fielded but fell, and threw to first sitting down. Speaker was safe, loading the bases.
Grimes worked the count to 0-and-2 on Elmer Smith, but threw a ball low and over the plate, his third straight spitter, for ball one. Grimes then hung a fastball high over the dish, and Smith wouldn’t miss it. “When I saw it from second, I knew it was gone,” Wamby said later. The ball landed on Lexington Avenue. Not only did it stake the Indians to a 4-0 lead, it was the first grand slam ever in World Series play.
Ed Konetchy hit a one-out triple to deep center to open the second. It was his first hit of the Fall Classic. Pete Kilduff rocketed a drive to left, but Jamieson gave chase and pulled it in. Konetchy tagged up and broke for home. Jamieson launched a strike to Steve O’Neill, who blocked the plate and tagged Konetchy out for an inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the fourth, Doc Johnston singled, moving to second on a passed ball and taking third on a groundout by Joe Sewell. Grimes gave O’Neill an intentional pass to pitch to Bagby, and was made to regret it. Bagby hit the second pitch he saw into the new bleachers in right field. It was the first home run by a pitcher in the World Series, and the Indians were now sitting on a comfortable 7-0 lead.
A rattled Grimes gave up a single to Jamieson, and then hit the showers. Clarence Mitchell was brought in to pitch. He had gone 5-2 in 19 appearances for the Robins that year, but after blowing through four pitchers the day before, manager Wilbert Robinson was in a position where he had to get creative. Mitchell retired the side, and when he came to bat in the top of the fifth, he would become a footnote in baseball history.
Mitchell came up to bat with Kilduff at second and Otto Miller at first. The Indians infield was playing deep for Mitchell, who was known to play first or pitch and was regarded as a decent hitter. He hit a rocket to second base with the hit-and-run on. Kilduff was tearing for third as Wamby leaped up – and snared the ball. He then stepped on second for the double play, and heard Joe Sewell yelling, “Tag him!” Wamby turned to see Miller standing like a statue in the basepath. Wamby tagged him out for an unassisted triple play.
“When I started after the liner of Mitchell’s, I hadn’t any idea there was a triple play in sight,” Wamby said years later. “I would have taken a double play and called it quits.”
It was just the second unassisted triple play in major league history, and the first in the World Series. Indians fans had gotten spoiled. They had seen both of them. The first was by Neal Ball in 1909. All told, only 15 people have turned unassisted triple plays, making it rarer than a perfect game, and Wamby’s remains the only one in a World Series game. And it came after offensive fireworks that were unsurpassed at the time.
“Had but one of those three events taken place yesterday it would have been considered most notable, but when three high spots in the chronicles of the national pastime come in such rapid succession, the historian runs out of adjectives,” Henry Edwards wrote in the Plain Dealer. “He scarcely knows what to crown as the royal event of the day.” (Edwards loses points for hyperbole when he said in the following paragraph that Babe Ruth’s 54 home runs that year might never be equaled.)
The Indians added another run in the fifth, and the Robins got on the board in the ninth, but it was all over but the shouting by then, as the Indians won the game 8-1 to take a three games to two lead. The only way the series would end in Cleveland was with an Indians win.
“It was one of the most remarkable games I ever took part in, and must have been a great game to watch,” Speaker said afterward.
That night, Les Nunamaker went home and found a roll of bills stashed in his bed. He had not put them there, and seeing the gambling scandal that had gripped the National Pastime, immediately brought the money to American League President Ban Johnson, who unfolded the roll and counted out 16 one-dollar bills – from the Confederate States of America.