Apr 12, 2011

Opening Day

April 12, 1911
Yankees 2, Athletics 1

100 years ago today the Philadelphia Athletics opened their season at Shibe Park against the visiting Yankees*. The Athletics were coming off a World Series win against the Cubs and looking to become the second team to repeat as champs in the short history of World Series play.

New York....... 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 - 2 7 3
Philadelphia... 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 - 1 3 3

Here's the rest of the box score as clipped from the New York Times of the following day:

The Yankees would win the day with Hippo Vaughn out-pitching future Hall-of-Famer Chief Bender to a 2-1 final. Bender was at the peak of his powers after having won 23 games the previous year and leading the AL in win percentage (he also threw a no-hitter and posted an ERA+ of 150 that year - the highest of his career). Vaughn, a 6'4'' 215-pounder (hence the hippopotamine nickname), was coming off of a terrific rookie year. He'd go on to pitch a few mediocre seasons for New York before finding success with the Cubs**

Indulge me as I quote at length from the NYT's account of the game from the next morning's paper:
The New York Americans, heralded as the most dangerous team to prevent the present world's champions from repeating their brilliant conquest of last year, were victors over the Athletics in the first championship battle of the year at Shibe Park to-day by a score of 2 to 1. Eighteen thousand persons witnessed the game. It was a cold, bleak, unseasonal day for the National sport, and the attendance was a personal tribute to the holders of the world's title and a testimonial to the affection with which the great pastime is held by the average American.

There was nothing to indicate that the Athletics were world's champions for 1911***. Not a sign or a signal indicated that they represented the best in the baseball world, had won its blue-ribboned title, yet they were playing their first contest under their official title of winners of the world's pennant. Another day, later in the season, fitting ceremonies will celebrate their historical conquest of the snapping and snarling Cubs of Chicago.
Lovers of vintage sports journalism are highly encouraged to peruse the entire account of the game.

Despite their lackluster offense, A's fans could take solace in the excellent pitching of Chief Bender, as, according to the Times, "the Indian's performance would have yielded victory nine times out of ten, but he was unfortunate in opposing a youngster whose work was little less than remarkable." And no, they weren't confusing him with a pitcher from Cleveland (after all, they didn't adopt that name until four years later; they were still the Naps), that's just how a newspaper in 1911 would casually reference Bender's Ojibwa ancestry.****

While this pitchers' duel didn't end in the Athletics' favor, brighter things were ahead of them as they geared up to defend their title later that fall.

But all that was still a long ways away. There were still 150 games to play, the A's were 0-1, and they'd dig themselves into an even deeper hole by the end of the season's first week. For now it was just springtime in Philadelphia, and the season was anyone's for the taking.

* The Yankees were still officially the New York Highlanders at the time. They were more commonly known by fans and the press either as the New York Americans (to distinguish them from the Giants of the Senior Circuit) or the Yankees. The team officially adopted the Yankees moniker in 1913.

**Vaughn's best year came in 1918 when he led the NL in wins, ERA, shutouts, innings pitched, WHIP, hits/9, and strikeouts/9. Too bad the Cy Young Award didn't exist then. On a game against the visiting Reds the prior year, he threw nine innings of no-hit ball. The problem was, so did the opposing pitcher, Fred Toney. Vaughn gave up a run in the top of the tenth to lose the "double no-hitter" to Toney, who continued his hitless streak to close out the bottom of the tenth. Vaughn ended his career 178-137 with a 2.49 ERA.

*** Foreshadowing!

**** Charles Albert "Chief" Bender was one of the more fascinating figures of early 20th century baseball and a major key to this team's success; as such we'll be talking about him a lot over the next few months. After his playing career ended, he remained a part of the Athletics organization in various capacities until a few years before his death. He's buried just a few blocks from the house I grew up in.

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