The Phils of ’15

I was all set to make a long post about the 1915 World Series, in which the Phillies faced the Red Sox.  Then the Rays had to go out and win Game 7 of the ALCS last night…

Philadelphia did win the NL pennant, though, and since that doesn’t happen too often, it’s probably worth looking back to the ’15 Phils, which won the franchise’s first pennant.  In fact, Grover Cleveland Alexander’s victory in Game 1 of the 1915 World Series would be the only Series game won by the Phillies in the first 90 years of the club’s history.  (The only other pennant won by Philadelphia during that time period, in 1950, resulted in a four-game Series sweep at the hands of the Yankees.)

The Phillies hadn’t been that bad in the years preceding 1915; they hadn’t been that good, either, but they were not yet the notorious sad-sack outfit they were destined to become (that slide would begin in 1918).  In the five years before 1915, the Phils had finished second in the league once, fourth twice, fifth once, and sixth once.  The runner-up finish in 1913 was marred by the sudden death of Phillies majority owner William Locke, which happened when Philadelphia was still in first place.  The Phils would eventually finish second to the Giants by 12 1/2 games.  Locke was replaced as head of the ownership group by former NYC police commissioner William Baker (for whom the Phillies’ home park, Baker Bowl, was eventually named).

By this time the Phillies had managed to acquire some fine players, including Sherry Magee (who is on the Veterans Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame this year) and Gavy Cravath, one of the outstanding power hitters of his time.  Unfortunately for Cravath, his time happened to be the Deadball Era.  If Cravath had played during any other time in baseball history, and if he had not had such a relatively late start to his career, I have no doubt he would be in the Hall of Fame.

Magee was traded prior to the 1915 season for Possum Whitted (in a somewhat puzzling move that worked out for the Phils; Magee was disappointed he had not been named manager, which was one reason for the trade), and the club picked up some other players of note, including future Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft.

Cravath had a great year in 1915, leading the NL in OBP, slugging, runs scored, RBI, homers, and walks.  He also had 28 outfield assists, which led the league.  Cravath’s 24 homers were a 20th-century record at the time.  Playing in Baker Bowl certainly helped; the park’s dimensions in 1915 included 379 feet to the left-field power alley, 388 to straightaway center, 325 to right-center, and 273 feet to right field (which also had a 40-foot wall).

The Phillies had an excellent pitching staff, which included the young Eppa Rixey (also a future Hall of Famer; 1915 wasn’t one of his better years, however), and, most importantly, Alexander the Great.  Alexander won the pitching triple crown in 1915, with 31 wins, a 1.22 ERA, and 241 strikeouts (in 376 innings).  He also led the NL in shutouts, with 12.  The Phils won the pennant by 7 games over the defending champion Boston Braves, leading the league in pitching, defense, runs scored per game, and attendance (just under 450,000 fans).

All this happened under the watch of a new manager, Pat Moran, who had been a reserve catcher for the Phillies before taking charge of the club.  Moran is one of the more underappreciated managers in baseball history.  In nine seasons Moran won two pennants and one Series title, along with four second-place finishes, all for two franchises (Philadelphia and Cincinnati) that in the fifteen seasons following his untimely death in 1924 would combine for no pennants and one second-place finish (but would combine to finish last or next-to-last eighteen times in those fifteen seasons).  Moran had a serious drinking problem, which seems not to have affected his ability to manage, but after the 1923 season he apparently completely lost control, and showed up for spring training in 1924 essentially pickled.  He died in March of that year in an Orlando hospital.

In the Series the Phillies faced the Red Sox, managed by Bill “Rough” Carrigan and featuring a great pitching staff.  Because the Phillies were known to mash left-handed pitching, Carrigan elected not to start the youthful Babe Ruth at all and limited his lefty pitching usage to Dutch Leonard, a spitball pitcher for whom it didn’t seem to matter whether a batter was a lefty or a righty.  Leonard pitched in the pivotal Game 3, beating Alexander 2-1 when Duffy Lewis singled in the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.  The entire Series featured great pitching.  Alexander beat Ernie Shore 3-1 in Game 1, and then Boston proceeded to win three consecutive games by a 2-1 score.  The Red Sox clinched the world championship with a 5-4 victory in Game 5 when Rixey was unable to hold a 4-2 lead, giving up a two-run homer to Lewis and a solo shot (in the top of the ninth) to Harry Hooper when the ball bounced into temporary stands set up in Baker Bowl’s center field section; under the rules of the day, it was a homer and not a ground-rule double.

In the following season Philadelphia actually won one more game than it had in 1915, but the Dodgers passed them in the standings and took the pennant.  The Phillies would also finish second in 1917, but in the next 32 years would only finish above .500 one time (in 1932).  Baker was a key reason for this, as his cheapness led to the de facto selling of Alexander in 1918 (for $60,000) and the eventual departure of Moran (who was forced to manage without the benefit of a coach).  Baker would continue to run the club into the ground until his death in 1930.

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