The decisive game in the World Series that was almost shortened by rain…no, not the one between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay

Bud Selig is getting praised or pilloried for his decision to suspend Game 5 of the World Series last night.  I think most rational observers agree that it was ultimately the right decision; it’s just a question of when the decision should have been made in the first place.  Selig isn’t the first commissioner to be in a position to make a decision about whether or not to end a World Series-clinching game due to weather conditions, though…

In 1925, the Washington Senators (officially the Nationals, but almost everyone called them the Senators) repeated as AL champs and played the NL champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.  Washington was looking to repeat its Series victory of the year before, when it beat the New York Giants in seven games, the seventh game being a dramatic 12-inning affair.  The Senators would take a three-games-to-one lead in the Series, but the Pirates rallied to take the next two contests and force a deciding game 7 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

Game 7 was scheduled for October 14, but it got rained out.  The commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, had no desire for Game 7 to be rained out two days in a row, and ordered the game to be played the following day (and without any pressure from Fox TV!), even though the field was already a mess from the rains of the day before.  On the 15th it continued to rain, but they played on anyway, following a pregame pep talk to both teams from Landis, telling the squads that he didn’t want to disappoint the capacity crowd already there and that the game would be finished if “humanly possible.”

It didn’t begin well for the Pirates.  Pittsburgh’s starting pitcher, Vic Aldridge, had a nightmarish performance in the top of the first.  Sam Rice led off with a single, and after a flyout, Aldridge threw a wild pitch advancing Rice to second.  Aldridge was struggling to gain footing on the muddy pitching mound, and proceeded to walk the next three batters, throwing another wild pitch in the process.  After another single, he was replaced by Johnny Morrison, but eventually four runs would score in the inning.

The great Walter Johnson started for Washington, but he was battling a leg problem and the same muddy conditions that had affected Aldridge.  The Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the third to close within one run, but the Senators answered with two runs in the top of the fourth, the runs scoring on a two-out double by Joe “Moon” Harris.  The Pirates answered back with a run in the fifth on consecutive doubles by Max Carey and Kiki Cuyler.  (Carey had four hits in the game, but more impressively for Joe Buck, he also stole a base, despite the rain and muddy conditions.)

It had been drizzling when the game started, but began to rain harder in the third inning and by the fifth it was a torrential downpour.  By the end of the sixth inning, the outfield was enveloped in fog, and the field was such a disaster Ring Lardner would refer to it in his column the following day as resembling “nothing so much as chicken a La King.”

It was at this point that Landis almost made a disastrous decision.  He decided to call the game, with the victory (and world title) going to Washington.  However, he was talked out of calling the game by an old baseball man, someone who knew better than to have a game deciding the World Series ended in such a manner, someone who understood the game had to be completed in its entirety, someone who told the commissioner that “you can’t do it — once you’ve started in the rain, you’ve got to finish it.”

Landis was talked out of ending the game early by Clark Griffth.  Clark Griffith, the owner of…the Washington Senators.

The first batter in the bottom of the seventh, Eddie Moore, lifted a short pop fly to left field.  Washington shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh (who had been named the American League MVP before the start of the series) slipped on the wet grass while going after the ball, lost his bearings, and dropped it.  Carey then blooped a double down the left field line, scoring Moore.  At least, umpire Brick Owens ruled it a double.  Nobody in a Senators uniform agreed with him, but the conditions weren’t exactly favorable for the umpires either.  Pie Traynor then tripled in Carey (but was thrown out trying for an inside-the-park homer).  The score was tied at 6.

Peckinpaugh homered in the eighth to put Washington back in the lead, 7-6.  In the bottom of the inning, there were two outs and a man on second when pinch-hitter Carson Bigbee hit a fly ball to right field.  In the rain, gloom, and fog, though, Rice never saw it, and it dropped for another double, tying the score.  After a walk (Johnson, incredibly, was still pitching, bad leg, atrocious conditions and all), Peckinpaugh made yet another error (his eighth of the Series; the rest of his teammates combined made one).

With the bases now loaded, Cuyler and Johnson engaged in a tremendous battle.  With a 2-2 count, Cuyler took a pitch that Johnson and catcher Muddy Ruel both thought was strike three.  Home plate umpire Bill “Moon” McCormick thought differently, though.  (I believe this was the first World Series to feature both an umpire and a player nicknamed “Moon”.)   With a full count Cuyler hit an opposite-field liner over first base that landed near the line and disappeared into the fog (and possibly under a tarpaulin).  It was eventually ruled a ground-rule double, scoring two runs.  Washington outfielder Goose Goslin claimed that the ball had actually been foul by two feet, but that none of the umpires could actually see the flight of the ball.

The Pirates held on to win the game 9-7, becoming the first team to win a World Series after trailing three games to one.

Books that discuss this game (and that I used as references) include Baseball’s Big Train, a biography of Walter Johnson by Henry Thomas, and Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders.