I saw my first World Series game in 1917, when my team, the White Sox, played the New York Giants, managed by Muggsy McGraw. My Uncle Tom, who was on the road selling, sent me a money order for five dollars so that my older brother Earl and I could see a couple of the games. The opening game was on Saturday, October 6th. I had read newspaper stories of how lines of fans waited all night to buy bleacher seats. I was thirteen that year, and I wanted to wait in line all night, too. But Earl and I slept at my grandmother's the night before, and we got up at about four in the morning.
It was dark outside. There had been some rain the night before and I was worried about the weather. We were very quiet in the kitchen, which was off my grandmother's bedroom in the flat on South Park Avenue where we lived. She had made sandwiches for us to take along to the game, but we got our own breakfast. Coffee and sweet rolls never tasted better than they did on that October morning of 1917.
And there, against the radiator, was my shaggy Airedale, Gerry. I loved her. My uncle had found her on a street in Boston and had shipped her home to us. With her black, wet tip of a nose looking so pathetic, she stared at us in a mute plea for food. We gave her breakfast. We tried to get her to drink coffee, but she wouldn't touch it.
Finally, well before five o'clock, we were off in the chilly predawn, leaving by the back door, going down the back stairs and along the alley to 58th Street. We took the elevated train to 35th Street, and the 35th Street trolley to Wentworth Avenue. We found the lines of men waiting before the bleacher ticket office. It was still dark when we took our places. There were about 300 men ahead of us in one of the waiting lines. I had been afraid there might be thousands waiting when I got there.
October 4, 1954
The weather was raw, and here and there men had built fires. Vendors were out with hot coffee and we drank a lot of it. About every hour, we ate. I felt important and I was very happy. The only care I had on my mind was impatience.
There was much baseball talk in the line. I spoke up with the authority of an old-time fan. Earl and I talked of the many games we'd seen together—of Babe Ruth and Smokey Joe Wood pitching, Tris Speaker, Ed Walsh's no-hit game in 1911, Rabbit Maranville and his singular way of suddenly jerking out his hands at the level of his belt line to catch pop-ups.
The dawn came, gray and still chilly. My excitement grew. This long wait was an adventure. These strange men standing in line, sitting on boxes, squatting by a fire, playing cards, chatting intermittently about baseball, showing the same concern as I did about the weather, shivering a bit as I did now and then—they and I were bound together by a common passion.
AFTER THE LONG VIGIL, THE GATES OPEN
The hours passed. Behind us, the line grew rapidly until it stretched out of sight, and I was told that it was over two blocks long. A cold sun was coming up. Twice men approached us and offered us money for our places. The men about us told us to let them in and for us to stay in line. We made about a dollar that way, but the third time we were asked the men behind us said that was enough.
At ten o'clock, the line began to move. The gates were open. We got inside and took seats high up in the right center field bleachers. Fans poured in after us and the gates were quickly closed. The big bleachers at Comiskey Park were jammed.
I controlled my impatience as best I could, waiting through the morning, looking out at the large, empty playing field and at the empty grandstand and box seats.
Finally, after the long wait, there was a cheer. The White Sox were coming out. Far away in their dugout, a few players could now be seen. Soon they appeared on the field to warm up and start taking their, batting practice.
The White Sox wore new red-white-and-blue uniforms instead of their regular-season, all-white uniforms. The latter were white with a black S on the left side of the shirt. The stockings were pure white. The new World Series uniforms, occasioned by the war, were trimmed with red and blue. The S on the shirt was red and blue against a white background and the white stockings were banded with blue and red stripes. I hoped these new uniforms would be worn in the 1918 season. They weren't.
The air of tension and excitement slowly grew through the periods of fielding and batting practice. The grandstand and box seats began to fill up. There were sporadic cheers for players, as one or another hit a long ball in batting practice.
Two of the Giant players in whom Earl and I were most interested were Benny Kauff, the center fielder, and Heinie Zimmerman, the third baseman. Heinie Zimmerman, several years earlier, had been one of Earl's favorites. He had then played on the Cubs and in 1912 he had led the National League in hitting, with an average of .372. During the 1913 and 1914 seasons Zimmerman had received much publicity because of his run-ins with umpires. He had been put out of some games and had almost got into a serious fight with Rabbit Maranville and one or two other players of the Boston Braves. He was a natural hitter, and I feared that he would be dangerous to the White Sox.
Benny Kauff had led the Federal League in batting and had been heralded as a new Ty Cobb. When the Federal League had broken up, Kauff had been one of the most sought-after of the players. McGraw had got him for the Giants. He hadn't fulfilled the expectations, but in 1917 he had hit .308. Still, I insisted that Happy Felsch, the White Sox center fielder, was a much better player.
Finally the practice and the opening ceremonies were over, and the White Sox bolted out onto the field. I was confident. For there was Eddie Cicotte on the mound. When he was right, he was almost unbeatable. McGraw had been expected to pitch his ace, Ferdinand Schupp, but he pulled a surprise and sent in Slim Sallee.
Comiskey Park is a big field, and in 1917 the distance between the bleachers and the diamond was considerable. With my weak eyes, I couldn't see the play too well. The players looked small, and the batter was far away. I would get a false perspective on many foul balls and pop flies. But I followed each play with intense absorption. After all, I had waited years to see such a game. I could imitate the batting stances and the fielding and throwing motions of practically every White Sox player. I knew their histories. Each hit, each put-out, each time at bat was of interest to me. Who would be the hero of the World Series? Who would be the goat? Would I see any records broken? Would I see baseball history made with some spectacular feat or play which would be talked of for years to come?
The game developed into a pitching duel. Cicotte seemed to be in fine form and to have complete mastery over the Giants, and I was confident that the Sox would win. They scored first in the third inning. With John Collins on second base, Fred McMullen, the Sox third baseman, hit a low liner to center field. Benny Kauff of the Giants came racing in and made a diving try for a shoestring catch. The ball got through him and rolled to the wall, and he became the first goat of the Series. Kauff had been heralded as the Ty Cobb of the Federal League but had not been that good with the Giants. He was rumored to be a dude and to have 26 suits of clothes.
ONE TREMENDOUS HOME RUN, ONE SENSATIONAL CATCH
And then in the fourth inning Happy Felsch caught hold of a pitch. The ball sailed out into the bleachers. It was a tremendous home run, and immediately I compared it with the homers that had made "Home Run" Baker famous. I had seen a historic hit, the first home run of the 1917 World Series.
In the fifth inning Lew McCarty, the Giants' catcher, smashed a terrific drive to right center field. I watched him limp around the bases on a game leg: earlier in the season he had broken a bone in it. He made only a triple, because he was slow, but he scored the last run of the game a moment later. And then in the seventh inning Holke, the Giants' first baseman, was on base. Lew McCarty smashed a low drive to left field. Joe Jackson went for it head first. He slid along the grass but speared the ball inches from the ground, somersaulted and came up with it. This was one of the most sensational catches I had ever seen. Here, I thought, was a catch that would be written of and talked about in years to come. And Joe Jackson's catch is still occasionally mentioned in the sports pages.
The White Sox were winning, 2-1, and I had seen a great play. Cicotte got better with each inning. Throughout the game, Heinie Zimmerman was booed. He was unpopular among White Sox fans and they enjoyed the boos they gave him. But he was one of Earl's favorites.
It grew chilly. The infield was in shadow. Cicotte had the Giants eating out of his hand. When Kauff reached first base on an error in the eighth inning, Cicotte picked him off the bag. He set the Giants down one-two-three in the ninth. The final score was 2-1. My hopes had been fulfilled; I left the ball park happy. The game still remains in my memory as one of the most satisfying I have ever seen.