The Baseball Gods Meet the Divine Right of Kings.
London, November 6, 1924.
Apparently, there is a simple solution to spark a rally. Tempt the baseball Gods with the divine right of Kings.
Two Major League Baseball teams are visiting England to try and grow the game in Europe made up predominantly of John McGraw’s New York Giants and Charles Comiskey’s Chicago White Sox.
The White Sox were down 6–0 heading into the middle of the seventh inning. A single spectator yelled: “all up!” The crowd rose.
King George V remained seated, looking puzzled. Finally, after a bit of prodding from his son the Prince of Wales, familiar with all things American, the King rose.
On the other side of the pond, things were as backwards as a motorcar. The King and Queen, usually the center of attention rather than quiet “rooters,” stand, his subjects follow. Subjects salute and curtsy, their majesties sit; only then Britons take the cue.
Now there was one problem: traditionally English subjects remain standing so long as the King and Queen do — as everyone remained puzzled, the ballgame lay in momentary limbo as King George V and Queen Mary stood, the crowd silently at attention. Again, the Prince of Wales leaned over and quietly explained the tradition of the seventh inning stretch. The King and Queen nonchalantly sat down. Royal prerogative. The nine players, now standing around awkwardly finally heard those two magic words: play ball!
The customary seventh inning stretch was over.
Promptly the White Sox loaded the bases and rallied for five runs in the seventh.
Call it what you will, but baseball players, managers and fans have been known to allow far less than the divine right of Kings to influence the vaunted baseball Gods.
John McGraw’s club had plenty of time to contemplate this reality. The 1924 Giants, after capturing their fourth straight pennant, knew the fickle nature of the baseball Gods all too well as did Clark Griffith’s usually hapless Washington Senators.
A pebble decided the 1924 World Series.
The Giants were on the verge of beating the Senators in Game 7, leading 3–1 in the ninth inning. Then disaster struck. A routine ground ball hit a pebble and bounded into left-field to tie the ballgame. The Nats happened to have the greatest pitcher of his era, Walter “Big-Train” Johnson upon whom they called to pitch as the game went into extra innings. The Giants couldn’t touch Johnson.
Somehow the baseball Gods struck twice. Washington Catcher Muddy Ruel, who had joined Comiskey’s club for the trip, doubled. Once upon a time, all pitchers hit.
Now in the bottom of the 12th, after pitching three scoreless innings the fate of the World Series lay in the hands of the greatest pitcher of all time — at the plate. He promptly singled. Ruel, however, an exceedingly slow catcher was unable to advance on the play. That set up one of the most improbable plays of all time. Said Ruel:
“Like a sinner forgiven…Don’t tell me the breaks of the game don’t either make you or break you.”
The next swing was a sharp ground ball to third base…
Maybe these were the poetic nuances Britons missed when watching the grand old game. As on tour, Heinie Groh was Giants the third-baseman until a bad knee had sidelined him for the World Series. A kid by the name of Freddie Lindstrom replaced him, becoming the youngest player ever to appear in a World Series. He promptly got four-hits off Walter Johnson in Game five.
As Ruel stood on second, the ball, seemly on its way into Lindstrom’s glove, hit a pebble, shot up into the air, and rolled into left field as the exceedingly slow Ruel rounded third and lumbered home to win Game 7 of the 1924 World Series.
“God was on our side in that one,” bemused Griffith, “Else how did those pebbles get in front of Lindstrom, not once, but twice?” Said Heinie Groh: “It was Fate, that’s all. Fate and a pebble.”
Just as the Prince of Wales found out the divine right of Kings can be fickle, so too can the baseball Gods. Accidental goat Freddie Lindstrom is in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame.
A fruitful return to Stamford Bridge Football Grounds was the highlight of a less than auspicious tour of the British Isles by John McGraw and Charlie Comiskey, who had come as close as any to infusing Britons with baseball fever a mere decade hitherto. The King attended his first baseball game between these same two teams on February 26, 1914 when Comiskey’s White Sox defeated McGraw’s Giants 5–4 in 11 innings in front of 37,000 fans at Chelsea FC’s iconic home. They tried to capture the same magic, but culture, weather and Britons just wouldn’t cooperate.
In 1914, Britain was the last stop of a 30,000-mile tour that spanned the globe from Egypt and Rome to Japan and Australia.
McGraw, the legendary manager of the Giants and White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey endeavored to repeat their triumphant world tour of 1914 when the King saw his first game at Stamford Bridge in front of almost 30,000 fans. That might’ve been the total — for the entire trip.
After enjoying something of a naissance before the war, baseball never was able to supplant cricket — they saw it as glorified rounders, a game akin to American kickball in English athletic parlance.
“We Americans could never sit in solemn silence all afternoon watching a game of cricket,” growled McGraw, “we like to feel part of the game and it is no worse than your football crowds act.”
In the 1920’s far more Britons preferred cricket batsman Jack Hobbs to Babe Ruth — two notable exceptions being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Bernard Shaw, who each extolled the virtues of the American game during the 1924 tour. Doyle noted its pace and speed in contrast to cricket as did Shaw, who compared it to a Handel symphony for its “eloquent irony rhetoric and emotional appeal.” In fact, the “bleachers” at which the British press scoffed, Shaw, like McGraw found virtuous:
“What is both surprising and delightful, is that the spectators are both allowed and expected to join in the vocal part of the game.”
Though the 1924 match drew far less fanfare both players and Royalty were equally enthused when both teams were presented to the King, Queen and Prince of Wales. The Duke and Duchess of York also caught a game in Birmingham.
For the Heir Presumptive, HRH Prince Edward, the Americans were a welcome sight. In fact, when the teams gathering in Montreal on October 12 before leaving for Europe, the Prince was returning to America from his Canadian Ranch to extend his American holiday. The Prince of Wales had become an American icon during his holiday in New York and made a wistful return to England just a week earlier. Ironically, the reason for his American journey was a sporting holiday for another fall classic — the Westchester International Cup at Meadow Brook on Long Island which during the golden age of sport drew 40,000 people, a few who were merely there to catch a glimpse of the Prince. That might’ve been even more the case across the pond, where a precious few were enamoured with the American game at the height of its American popularity.
The Royals immediately saw action. In the top of the first inning the Giants scored three runs on doubles by outfielders Ross Youngs, Irish Meusel and former Giant Casey Stengel against White Sox starter Red Faber, who was pitching in front of the King for the second time. On loan to the Giants, he started the finale of the 1914 tour, taking the 11-inning complete game loss.
That seemed to be more than enough for Giants pitchers Art Nehf and Jake Bentley who threw up three scoreless frames each in front of the sparkling Giants defense which seemed to wow the crowd more than their bats which added another three runs to build a 6–0 lead through six-and-a-half innings.
The King and Queen were in the Royal Box behind home plate. The King, in his usual black derby hat and overcoat seemed at ease smoking cigarettes. It was of course noted that the Prince of Wales, still basking in the charm with which he regaled the American press, was clad in his usual grey fedora, or as the New York Times couldn’t help but note, “a democratic bowler”
The King and Queen chatted with Hughie Jennings, who spent half his time amusing and bemusing Britons with his patently eccentric antics, better suited for the polo pitch, as he picked at the grass and ate it per usual, while simultaneously using his law school erudition to explain the finer points of baseball to the Royal guests.
“King George appeared to be deeply interested in the game, expressed a desire to learn the fine points and to boost the sport along. The younger generation must study and start playing the game and then it would be only a question of time when baseball would flourish.”
Jennings effervescent gesticulations while picking up imaginary posies had the Duchess of York, the future Queen Mother in stiches.
Meanwhile, Queen Mary was amused when the Hall-of-Fame double-play combination of SS Travis Jackson and 2B Frankie Frisch turned over a spectacular twin-killing. Jackson made 33-year-old Bancroft who was dealt to Boston along with Stengel, expendable. Stengel reunited with his teammates while Bancroft played shortstop for the White Sox club.
They were two of twelve Hall-of-Famers to make the trip: McGraw, Jennings, Evers, Walsh, Stengel, Jackson, Frisch, Rice, Bancroft, Lyons, Comiskey and Faber, who is actually the only pitcher in history to start in front of the King twice, though he was 0–2.
While it was not HM first game, apparently he had never been so close to the action. In the fifth inning His Royal Majesty got a little taste of, to put it in modern parlance, exit velocity.
It was that man Muddy Ruel again, who after scoring the winning run in the World Series joined the White Sox for the tour. The catcher fouled a ball back into the seats, right at the King of England. King George, sitting in between Queen Mary and Ambassador Clark Kellogg, immediately flew out of his seat in front of the Queen, who could be seen with her signature white plume hat ducking for dear life. Alas there was a screen, but this became the story of the day, even coaxing a smile from the usually somber King.
As if it was Royal prerogative, it looked as if those baseball Gods stepped in as the bottom of the seventh inning began with Claude Jonnard on the bump, who promptly walked the bases loaded. Then came that man again; Washington’s other representative to the Court of St. James Muddy Ruel, who promptly cleared the bases with a three-run, ground-rule-double over the fence of the field built for Chelsea FC. In 1924, for Ruel a catcher, ignorance was bliss- over his 19-seasons behind the plate he had a .332 slugging and a .697 OPS.
With the score 6–3 Ruel’s Hall-of-Fame Senators teammate Sam Rice doubled him home. Bibb Falk, the man who replaced Shoeless Joe in LF for the Sox knocked Rice in with the Sox third straight double, to make it a one run game, 6–5. With tying run on second, and nobody out, maybe the English baseball Gods decided Ruel’s fifth-inning launch angle was a bit impertinent, or the four-time National League Champions found their level against a team made up largely of the 66–87 1924 Sox. Jonnard settled down and the White Sox would get no closer.
Soon after, the King departed, the White Sox Royal touch ran out as the Giants added another pair of runs and won the last game of their tour in front of three Kings, 8–5 to cap their tour of the British Isles. On they went to Paris.
Matters far less pleasant, far more pressing lay in wait for King George. HM headed back to Buckingham Palace to preside over the formation of a government after a recent electoral crisis resulted in a change in power — a timely tale — but not before King George V saw his third baseball game with future Kings George VI, Queen Elizabeth II’s father and Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor. Like his future wife Wallis Warfield Simpson, John McGraw also got started in Baltimore.
While the crowd was less than auspicious, the Royals, including two Queens and the players, all used to pomp, circumstance, fame and adulation got an unusual thrill, all. Though the tour was deemed an overall failure, the players got the thrill of a lifetime.
Many players brought their wives along including Casey Stengel, one of three players who spent his honeymoon with his new bridge in Europe after he was introduced to Irma Meusel’s friend Edna.
They were also given a thrill few Americans get to experience, and many despite their Republican rhetoric dream of — an audience before the HM The King of England. As Jack Bentley remembered: He greeted the King with a well-rehearsed:
“Your highness, I’m honored.”
Joshua M. Casper is a writer from Brooklyn, NY. His areas of expertise include Royalty, history and sport. J.M. Casper. @metrbocker firstname.lastname@example.org