When I was a student at Plymouth State, the college sponsored an annual “Sports Challenge Cup” trivia competition. I happened to be in a fraternity populated by jocks and we dominated the event. One year we even entered two teams, which met in the finals, just to demonstrate our campus dominance—especially over the nerds who ran the school newspaper.
My senior year we rolled into the finals, ever-dominant. The finals were a best two-out-of-three affair, and we easily won the first match against a dorm team. After taking a lead in the second match, I whispered to my three fellow panelists that maybe we should lose on purpose, so we could get in a third match and maximize the trivia experience. So we missed questions intentionally and the dorm dudes won to even things up at one match apiece. Our hubris incensed our opponents, but hey, we were the BMOC (Big Men on Campus).
But things didn’t work out as planned. Surprisingly, the dorm team refused to be doormats and raced out to an unexpected lead in the deciding match. I was literally sick to my stomach. The dorm dudes were gleeful as they were about to bring down the BMOC. Our only chance was to answer the last three questions correctly, ahead of them, to force overtime.
My teammates saved the day, forcing a tie-breaker which we won to retain our title. But duly chastened, we sincerely congratulated out opponents, sans swagger. We’d learned humility from this particular victory.
So how might this relate to the 1912 World Champion Boston Red Sox? Stay with me.
The 1912 Red Sox went 105-47 to easily win the pennant in the year that Fenway Park opened. Tris Speaker (.383 batting average) led a powerful offense while Smokey Joe Wood (34-5) was the best pitcher in baseball.
Boston’s World Series opponents were the New York Giants, and the BoSox quickly moved out to a 3-1 Series lead. Boston figured to wrap up the Series at New York’s Polo Grounds on Oct. 14 with Smokey Joe slated to pitch. But Red Sox owner Jimmy McAleer forced Boston manager Jake Stahl to start Buck O’Brien instead of Wood. O’Brien was still hung over from a night of heavy drinking and gave up five first inning runs, as the Giants rolled to an easy win.
McAleer’s intent was obvious. He wanted to lose and have the Series return to Fenway Park. In those days gate receipts accounted for almost all of a team’s revenue and McAleer needed the money. Hence, Sox fans got the hung-over O’Brien.
Unfortunately, Smokey Joe’s fastball wasn’t smoking on Oct. 15 when the Series returned to Fenway, and the Giants scored six first inning runs en-route to an 11-4 win, forcing a deciding game on Oct. 16.
Only 17,000 fans showed up at Fenway for the penultimate game, as Boston rooters were perhaps jaded by McAleer’s antics. The Giants led 1-0 late in the game, and McAleer must have been sick to his stomach, watching a world championship slip away. But Boston tied it, forcing extra innings.
The Giants took a 2-1 lead in the 10th, but in the bottom of the inning New York centerfield Fred Snodgrass made his famous muff, dropping a fly ball. The BoSox got men on base and Speaker tied the game with a single. Then a sacrifice fly by Larry Gardner won the game—and the World Series—for Boston.
A good thing, because had New York won—in part because of McAleer throwing a game—then it would have been the 1912 Red Sox who might be remembered as the Black Sox, instead of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. (Eight Chicago players infamously schemed with gamblers to “throw” the 1919 World Series to Cincinnati, and that scandal rocked the sports world like no other.)
Of course, in 1912, it was an owner who was complicit, not the players.
But the 1912 Red Sox prevailed, and presumably McAleer learned the same lesson that the BMOC later learned during Plymouth State’s Sports Challenge Cup.
“Always give your best effort!’
Who holds the record for the longest hitting streak in Boston Red Sox history? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on Dec. 10 include Chicago Bear linebacker Larry Morris—the MVP of the 1963 NFL title game—(1933), and star NBA forward Mark Aguirre (1959).
“The fewer rules a coach has, the fewer rules there are for players to break.” —Oakland Raider coach John Madden
BoSox centerfielder Dom DiMaggio hit in 34 straight games in 1949.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and for NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com.