For the first ten years (one year was not played) it was played, the World Series was not the affair it is recognized for today. It was simply an event for the city it was playing in and a place for gambling. In his new book The First Fall Classic: The Red Sox, the Giants, and the Cast of Players, Pugs, and Politicos Who Reinvented the World Series in 1912, Mike Vaccaro claims that 1912 was the year that the Series captured the hearts of Americans and transcends into America’s Pastime.
Vaccaro paints a vivid and engrossing picture of the hostile conditions that surrounded the 1912 event, putting the New York Giants and the Boston Red Sox. The Giants, led by legendary hurler Christy Mathewson and revered and hated manager John McGraw, against the Red Sox, known as “The Speed Boys” and featuring future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker and phenom Smoky Joe Wood.
Far from what we see today – pitch counts, pitching specialists, middle-relievers – baseball at the turn of the 20th century featured toughness that isn’t seen often today.
Smoky Joe Wood, worn out from the regular season, fought through nine indomitable innings in game one to give the Sox an early series lead. Giants hurler Jeff Tessreau’s fingernail would later be ripped off his middle finger. Speaker played through a severely sprained ankle. Players talked trash in newspapers about the opposing teams, and sometimes their own team.
Vaccaro presents baseball’s seedier side. The affairs that took place in 1912 predated the infamous Black Sox Scandal and are nearly as disturbing. With his team leading the Series 3-1, Sox owner James McAleer made it clear to manager Jake Stahl to bench a rested Wood in New York in order to force an additional home game and thus an extra day of gate sales. In fact, McAleer was quoted as saying he wouldn’t mind if the Series went 21-games.
Not only sports-oriented, The First Fall Classic also shares what happens in America during that time. Vaccaro shares courtroom scenes from the ongoing trial of the young century, Charles Becker, a corrupt NYPD lieutenant, was accused of arranging the murder of a bookmaker. On the campaign trail, three presidential hopefuls offered little hope of social or racial equality. Taft was seen as a sports fanatic and Roosevelt as a bull-moose while Wilson was seen as an overt racist.
Vaccaro claims that the 1912 Series elevates baseball to a national obsession, but outside of Beantown or Gotham, does not provide evidence as to how that was possible.
The Series itself was not even that spectacular in the first place. It was simply too many errors (28 in eight games, compared to 25 in the 1919 fixed-Series) the blunders by the players and coaching staff, an owner who messed with his own team, arrogant players on the Giants, and Red Sox players who fought on the team train, and loyal fans of the Red Sox who were denied their usual seats, all for the sense of profit. The Series ended with an anti-climactic sacrifice fly, to the delight of a half-empty Fenway Park.
The First Fall Classic, however, has touched upon the subject of how baseball has been a huge factor in American society. What Vaccaro does well is painting the Series of 1912 against the events happening in the second decade of the 20th century. The book is a page-turner sure to entertain sports junkies (especially this Red-Sox hater).
The First Fall Classic: The Red Sox, the Giants, and the Cast of Players, Pugs, and Politicos Who Reinvented the World Series in 1912
by Mike Vaccaro