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BASEBALL'S BEST: 1920 CLEVELAND INDIANS

July 6, 2012
INDIANA SPORTS PAGE



BASEBALL’S BEST...TROY DERENGOWSKI, EIHSS SPORTS

We began our series on baseball’s All-Time teams on Thursday with the 1968 Detroit Tigers.  The Tigers were 25th on our list.  Today we look at the 24th best team, the 1920 Cleveland Indians.

1920 was a tumultuous season for many reasons.  The homerun era began in the midst of a historic pennant race in the American League.   The Indians won their first AL flag and world championship the old fashioned way.  They relied on strong pitching and timely base hits.   The Indians were led by player-manager Tris Speaker.   Speaker got the Indians through some very dramatic circumstances including the death of shortstop Ray Chapman who was the only player to die after being injured during a major league game.   Cleveland also watched the rival White Sox decimated just days before the season ended.  Eight “Black Sox” were suspended when it was revealed Chicago’s 1919 World Series was fixed.   And Babe Ruth was having an unprecedented season hitting 54 homeruns, giving the fans an excitement baseball needed at the time.

Cleveland survived a mid-August slump following the death of Chapman, battled down to the wire to win the pennant.  The Indians finished 2 games ahead of Chicago and 3 games ahead of the powerful Yankees.  Through most of the exciting race, Cleveland stayed on top.  They first gained the AL lead on May 9th.   After that Cleveland surrendered first place for only 2 days in May, four days in July, 10 days in August and 2 days in September. 

Three future Hall of Famers, Tris Speaker, Stand Coveleski and Joe Sewell played key roles in Cleveland’s championship season.  Speaker (The Grey Eagle) hit .388 as the only player manager in baseball in 1920.  Coveleski  won 24 games with an ERA of 2.48.   Jim Bagby won 31 games with an ERA of 2.89 and Ray Caldwell went 20-10 with an ERA of 3.86.  Sewell stepped into a difficult situation replacing Chapman following his death and hit .329 in 22 games.  Another late arrival was lefthander Duster Mails who was 7-0 with an ERA of 1.85.

Speaker wasn’t afraid to platoon either.  He used OF Charlie Jamieson against right handed pitching, Smokey Joe Wood against lefties, with both having great success.   This team hit only 35 homeruns but led the AL in runs scored (857).

 The death of Chapman led to the use of cleaner baseballs.  Chapman was killed on August 17th.  He was crowding the plate at the polo grounds when he apparently didn’t see the pitch from Yankees hurler Carl Mays who was a submarine-style thrower.   Speaker got much of the credit for rallying Cleveland to the pennant despite the tragedy.   Cleveland clinched the AL pennant when they beat Detroit 10-1 on October 2nd when Bagby won his 31st game.

Cleveland won the world series by beating Brooklyn 5-2.  It was the last best of nine series and possibly the most historic.  Covaleski won three games but Bagby’s 8-1 victory in game 5 in Cleveland was the most memorable.   Elmer Smith hit the first grand slam in world series history in the first inning.  In the 5th, second baseman Bill Wambsganss pulled off an uassisted triple play.

It was considered an honest world series despite Cleveland being a hotbed of betting in those days.  And it produced the kind of excitement needed to get the game of baseball back on the right track.

 

FINAL RECORD:  98-56

WORLD SERIES: BEAT BROOKLYN 5-2

MANAGER: TRIS SPEAKER


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