My, How Things Have Changed

While doing some research for a future article, I ran across this game and had to share it. On July 7, 1921 the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees played a game at Forbes Field. It was an exhibition game, but notice the date, it was right in the middle of the season. The further you look into it, the harder it is to believe, especially if you didn’t know that major league teams played exhibition games all the time throughout the regular season back in the day.

The Pirates on July 7th, stood in first place in the National League, leading the New York Giants by 4.5 games. The Yankees were in second place in the American League, trailing the Cleveland Indians by 1.5 games. Pittsburgh, from June 22 until July 6, did not have a single off day. In fact, they played 19 games over that 15 day stretch! They also had a series starting in Brooklyn the following afternoon and they weren’t getting there by plane, it was a train ride from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn overnight.

At least for the Yankees, their schedule was much kinder. They had off on July 6th and they were in the process of traveling from the Bronx to Chicago, so they layoff in Pittsburgh actually broke up a long trip. New York also had five other days off during that same stretch the Pirates played 19 games.

It should be noted that the Pirates were barely above .500 the rest of the season, going 40-38, the fourth best record in the NL over that period. They finished in second place, four games behind the Giants, while the Yankees won their first AL pennant that season.

Since I brought up the game, might as well mention how it went. The Pirates won behind the pitching of Hal Carlson, who was being used out of the bullpen all season up to that point. The Pirates may have been impressed with how he handled the game because his next outing was as a starting pitcher a week later and he won 5-4 in 10 innings over the Phillies, throwing a complete game.

The headline in the Pittsburgh paper that day was about something that didn’t happen. Babe Ruth, who had 31 homers already, couldn’t connect for one off Carlson. He in fact, struck out twice against the Pirates starter and flew out to right field his other two times at the plate. The only homer that day was hit by Pirates right fielder Dave Robertson, who had led the NL in homers in both 1916 and 1917 while with the Giants.

Other players of note in the lineup for the Pirates were Carson Bigbee, Charlie Grimm and two future Hall of Famers, Max Carey and Rabbit Maranville. All of the Pirates starting lineup played the entire game, while the Yankees made a handful of changes mid-game. Ruth played the entire contest, as did first baseman Wally Pipp, who became famous later for a game he didn’t play, which allowed Lou Gehrig to start a streak of 2130 consecutive games. Another player of note was Tom Connelly, a pinch hitter for the Yankees that day, who probably had no idea that at age 23, he had just one late game AB(during a blowout) left in his big league career.

The teams had met the previous year as well in a mid-season exhibition game and that day, Pirates fans saw Ruth hit a homer, although the paper noted that Pirates pitchers were grooving him pitches all during that game. The crowd for the 1921 game was approximately 18,000 and the game was over in a quick 83 minutes, thanks in part to no walks being issued from either side.

Pittsburgh may have emerged victorious that day but one has to wonder what toll the game may have had on a team that had just played 19 games in 15 days. They had a long trip to Brooklyn postponed to night time for this exhibition and they were going to be on the road for 18 days, making four stops, before returning home to face the second place Giants(Pirates ended up losing three of four in this series).

I think someone in the scheduling department owes us Pirates fans a 1921 pennant, just saying.

Pirates History