The 1920 World Championship was the high mark for the Indians, who had reached baseball’s pinnacle after finishing second in the previous two years. It wouldn’t last.
The Yankees’ purchase of Babe Ruth was a game changer. The speed that people thought was lacking on the team as the season dawned turned out to be unnecessary, as it was more than replaced by power. Ruth ended the season with 54 home runs, and would hit 50 or more in a season four more times, including setting the record of 60 in 1927. With six pennants and three World Series wins in the next decade, the Yankees would become the power of the American League for the better part of the next half-century.
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.
Indians manager Tris Speaker was fortunate enough that for game 2 of the 1920 World Series, he could send a 30-game winner to the mound. Jim Bagby would face off against Burleigh Grimes. Robins manager and namesake Wilbert Robinson pitched Rube Marquard in the opener because Ebbets Field, like League Park, had a short right field. Now down a game in the series, Robinson elected to go with his ace Grimes, who had won 23 games for the Robins that year.
Larry Gardner doubled to left to lead off the second inning. Doc Johnston tried to sacrifice to move Gardner to third, but Grimes fielded and Gardner was caught in a rundown. Joe Sewell popped out and Johnston tried – and failed – to steal second.
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.
The Indians departed Cleveland for St. Louis on Sept. 25 hanging on to a half-game lead in the American League. If ever there was a time to put it away, it would be against the Browns, a fourth-place team that the Indians had been able to handle throughout the year.
The Indians scored three in the first inning, but Ray Caldwell got shelled in the bottom half of the frame, giving up five runs. Indians player-manager Tris Speaker turned to George Uhle, a second-year player who had won 10 games in 1919. Uhle had made just six starts that year, and his ERA was up over 5. But that day, he threw six shutout innings and helped start a third-inning rally with a two-run double. Stan Coveleski came on for the save and the Indians won 7-5. Meanwhile, the White Sox beat the Tigers 8-1 to keep pace.
Duster Mails took the hill for the Indians at Sportsman’s Park on Sept. 27, and the Browns countered with Dixie Davis. Mails gave up a bases-loaded single to George Sisler, putting the Browns up 2-0, but settled in for his seventh win of the season as the Indians won 8-4. Charlie Jamieson picked a great time for his first home run, hitting a three-run shot in the top of the eighth. The White Sox shut out the Tigers that day, 2-0, and once again, the Indians remained half a game up.
On Sept. 23, the Indians were clinging to a 1 ½ game lead over the White Sox as the two teams started a three-game series at League Park. There were 10 games left to play, and the pennant was still up for grabs.
But the White Sox had other things to worry about. The grand jury impaneled to look into allegations of the fixing of a Phillies-Cubs game had started hearing testimony that was regarded as unthinkable: That the White Sox had thrown the previous year’s World Series.
“The last World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds was not on the square,” Assistant State’s Attorney Hartley Replogle said. “From five to seven players on the White Sox team are involved.”
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 …
After travel restrictions were lifted for 1919, Indians owner Jim Dunn started holding spring training in New Orleans, and 1920 spring training arrangements were going to be difficult. The Indians would be fighting for lodging and other accommodations, as the city was taken over for horse racing through April.
Dunn realized he would incur more expenses than the average owner, but thought of it as an investment, said Plain Dealer sportswriter Harry Edwards.
“Jim has spent lots of money on the team,” Edwards wrote. “The training schedule has been costly. The Indians won’t make as much out of exhibition games as most of the other clubs, but Dunn sees farther. He sees crowded stands throughout the coming season because the Indians are almost sure to be up there. And even though the training season is more costly to him, he’ll catch up with the profits later on.”
October 9, 1948
It was the first World Series game that triple play man Bill Wambsganss had seen since his Cleveland Indians defeated the Brooklyn Robins in Game Seven in 1920. The grand slam man, Elmer Smith, had seen a few since, however.
“This is the first series I’ve seen since our 1920 victory,” Wamby said in an article originally from The Plain Dealer. “Elmer, of course, played in two other series’ with the New York Yankees.”