Christy Mathewson pitches during the World Series at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection, LC-DIG-ggbain-14469
Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was delayed by one day due to rain which arrived, though not heavily, in the St. Louis area early Wednesday evening. It's a minor inconvenience for the players; some fans might have to change plans to attend, but all in all, it's a bump in the road and Thursday night, either the Rangers will become World Series champions, or the teams will play on Friday.
There have been other recent postponements due to rain; in fact, St. Louis was also the site of the most recent Series rainout before this one: Game 4 of the 2006 World Series. Before that, the decisive Game 7 of the 1986 World Series in New York was pushed back a day, and the famous Carlton Fisk home run in Game 6 in 1975 took place only after that game had been delayed three days by rain in Boston.
And a century ago, when the New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics -- the Yankees and Phillies of their day -- met in the World Series, they waited a very long time to play Game 4. On Oct. 18, 1911, with the Athletics leading the Series two games to one, it started to rain in Philadelphia.
No sweat, right? There was one small problem. Unlike the ballparks of today, most stadiums in those days didn't have full-field tarps; those didn't come into common use until the 1920s. Usually, only the pitcher's mound and home plate areas were covered. If you've seen photos of ballparks from 100 years ago, they weren't the groomed greenswards of today; often, bare spots were everywhere and trash littered the fields.
It rained in Philadelphia for several days. Even when it stopped, Shibe Park's field was unplayable; newspaper accounts of the time called it a "quagmire" and that even after no rain was falling, mud would "ooze" out of what was left of the turf and... according to this 2008 review of World Series rain delays:
When Game 4 was called twice by rain so hard that one person suggested covering the field with oil and setting it afire — Connie Mack, the A’s manager and owner, demurred because he did not want to hurt the grass ...
Now that would have been must-see TV, if they had had TV back then -- a ballpark on fire! But wait, there's more. In Game 2:
... the Giants’ Fred Snodgrass spiked the popular A’s third baseman Frank Baker and left him a bloody mess...
Furious Baker fans gathered outside the Giants’ hotel and threatened him whenever he emerged; Giants Manager John McGraw finally told Snodgrass to take the train back to New York until play resumed.
"The absence of Snodgrass from the Majestic Hotel, the Giants’ headquarters, set a wild rumor afloat this afternoon that an irate fan had attempted to shoot Snodgrass," The New York Times reported. Another false rumor centered around whether Baker’s spike wounds had become infected and caused blood poisoning.
A threatened shooting? Infected wounds? Blood poisoning? And here we spent hours and hours and hours talking about a bullpen phone this week. Boring! That was followed by a suggestion by the Giants to shift the games to the Polo Grounds in New York, also rejected.
So they waited. During the week-long delay, more trouble erupted:
This was not even the last controversy of the week, during which Giants players grumbled about McGraw’s interrupting billiards and card games by making them work out to stay sharp.
Imagine that. A manager wanting his players in shape during the World Series. And then there was this quote, which could easily come from 2011, but is 100 years old:
"Baseball with them is a business, they say, and they don’t propose to furnish pictorial entertainment for the whole country just for the love of having their pictures taken."
That came about because:
... the National Commission, the era’s version of Major League Baseball, ordered players on both clubs to pose for a motion-picture company that would distribute the film to theaters over the winter. Several Giants refused to participate without any cut of the profits.
Finally, after a week of these hijinks and controversies, it stopped raining and the field dried out. Giants ace Christy Mathewson, with the week break, was able to start Game 4 after he had started and lost Game 3 in 10 innings; he lost Game 4, too, putting the Giants down three games to one. They won Game 5 in dramatic fashion, scoring two runs with two out in the bottom of the ninth and winning in extra innings, and then, 100 years and a day ago, the A's won their second straight World Series.
So remember when you hear about bullpen phone miscommunication, blown umpiring calls or star players calling their own hit-and-run plays in the World Series, remember that a century ago, ballplayers had more weighty things to think about. Too bad we don't have any film of the angry mobs looking for Fred Snodgrass.