Games People Play: The Major League Baseball World Series in Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, 28 October 1915

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The 119th Major League Baseball World Series got underway last night with the matchup between the American League champion Texas Rangers and their counterparts from the National League, the Arizona Diamondbacks. This is only the third Series in which both teams were wild-card entries, the others being in 2002 when our local Anaheim Angels won its only Series (as well as making its sole appearance) by besting the San Francisco Giants in seven games and in 2014 when the Giants edged the Kansas City Royals, also 4 games to 3, to take the crown.

It is notable that this Series involves teams that have the lowest combined number of regular-season victories of any season not shortened by a labor strike, with the Diamondbacks sporting an 84-78 regular season record and the Rangers finishing at 90-72. The Rangers looked strong early in the campaign with the best record in the league powered by an offense that tied the Minnesota Twins for most home runs and leading in runs scored. In the second part of the season, however, the team slid so that the Houston Astros tied them and then took the AL West crown because of a better record in their matchups.

Brooklyn Times-Union, 14 October 1865.

Despite having lost more than 100 games just two seasons ago and, though the team entered the playoffs as a wild-card entry, the Rangers swept the Tampa Rays in the best-of-three series, and then surprised many in the divisional series by sweeping the top-seeded Baltimore Orioles, another squad that rebuilt after terrible seasons.

Finally, in the AL championship series, the team faced its rival, the Astros, which have made several World Series appearances in recent years, including a controversial one in which the team was found to have stolen signs in its 2017 World Series win against the local Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rangers, however, took the pennant in seven games, its third such achievement, and seeks its first World Series title.

Brooklyn Eagle, 14 October 1865.

As for the Diamondbacks, its climb to the Series was even more improbable. In 2021, the team lost 110 games, including a record 24 straight road contests, but it started this year with a strong 41-25 record and led the NL West. In July and August, however, the squad stumbled dropping 25 of 32 contests, but it squeezed into the playoffs with the best defense in baseball and a reorganized bullpen that has been stellar in the postseason.

The D-Backs swept the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card series and then did the same to the division-winning and 100-win Dodgers. Facing the Philadelphia Phillies, which ousted the top-seeded Atlanta Braves in its divisional series, for the pennant, Arizona on in seven games for its second World Series appearance, having upset the New Yok Yankees in seven games in 2001.

Eagle, 27 October 1865.

This post takes us back nearly 110 years and then almost 160 years in baseball history through the pages of the 28 October 1915 edition of Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, which began as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1855 when veteran journalist Henry Carter, adopting the Leslie name as a pseudonym, finally found success with his own publication.

After his death, Carter’s widow, Miriam (who legally changed her name to his!), carried on, overcame debt, and built the paper back to a sound financial footing. She was a stalwart woman suffrage advocate and strong feminist, so we’ll return, probably next year at this time, to this edition of the paper for content about those topics, until she sold Leslie’s in 1902.

In 1915, the paper was published by the company that also produced the popular Judge and it was under an entity called the Leslie-Judge Company. The editor was John A. Sleicher, who handled that task for 23 years before his death in 1921. In addition to an essay on suffrage, the issue contained material on theatre; the First World War, then it its second year of carnage in Europe; business; automobiles; and more.

Our interest, however, is the centerfold and its “Baseball Now And Fifty Years Ago” article, with is lavishly illustrated, and subtitled “World’s Series of Yesterday and Today.” The author Edwin “Ed” A. Goewey (1871-1930), was a native of Albany, who got into journalism in the New York state capital while still in his teens, but he added artist to his vocation as he developed several comic strips. He joined the Leslie-Judge Company in 1905 and was art director for both publications.

Adding “The Old Fan” after his name on the byline, Goewey noted the contrast between the recently concluded World Series and what was considered the world’s championship of a half-century prior. A reproduction of an image from the 4 November 1865 edition of Leslie’s depicted what was called the “World’s Championship” contest between the Atlantic and Eckford clubs of New York City played at the Union field in Brooklyn, then an independent city. He reported that the teams played for a title (how much of a championship locally, much less globally, this was is up to conjecture) each year between 1857 and 1865, with the Eckford squad winning six of the nine times.

Goewey continued that “it was in 1860 [that] baseball became one of the popular sports of the day in this country,” with the two teams, along with the Eagle, Excelsior and Stars squads, considered among the best in New York City, which he indicated was where “excellence in a practical knowledge” of baseball was confined.

By mid-decade, however, “the popularity of this sport had spread” to such eastern metropolises as Albany, Baltimore, Boston, Hartford, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. He further explained that “it was in this year that the first real championship of the United States was played for, and as the game was unknown elsewhere then, it might have been styled, as now, as world’s series.”

Yet, the journalist pointed out, Leslie’s and other “leading journals” of the time were not keen on the reference to championship games, with the newspaper opining that such a terminology “would impart an undesirable notoriety and importance to certain matches for the purpose of creating excitement in regard to them which should not exist.”

Moreover, the journal continued, there would be “discreditable occurrences [that] might take place on the field, that attempts might be made to bribe players to leave their teams for rival organizations or to ‘sell’ games and afford opportunities for the gambling fraternity.” In fact, there was an accusation just after this “title match” that a recent game between the Eckford and Mutual teams, played at Hoboken, New Jersey, involved three players from the latter being paid to throw the game.

The haphazard nature of organized baseball, with the first professional team being the Cincinnati Reds in 1869, was such that there was no generally recognized championship game of a broad acceptance until a three-game series was held in October 1884 and variously known as the “Championship of America” or the “World’s Championship.”

This matchup was based on a National or Tripartite Agreement between the National League, American Association and the “minor” Northwestern League and the 1884 season was conducted with an understanding of the title being played between the top teams in the two major leagues. The Providence Grays of the National League squared off against the hometown New York Metropolitans (Mets) and with cold weather and sparse crowds the visitors took all three games, including the meaningless last one, to take the crown.

In any case, the “championship” of 13 October 1865 was a decisive dismantling of the Eckfords by the Atlantics, with Goewey writing that the final score was 38-8, though box scores provided by a pair of Brooklyn papers showed that the tally was 35-8. They diverged in terms of attendance with the Brooklyn Times reporting a crowd of up to 6,000 in attendance, “of whom quite a number were ladies,” suggestive of a socially significant reason for this gender identification, while the Brooklyn Eagle commented that there were as many as 8,000 persons (no reference to women) in what was considered the largest ever attendance at that venue.

Fast forward to 1915 and the recently concluded 12th edition of the modern World Series between the AL title holding Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies, champs of the National circuit and a panoramic photo showed what was said to be the largest attendance at a professional baseball contest, with an official count of 42,300 persons crowding the stadium of the Boston Braves, the National League runner-up to the Phillies.

The image was taken during Game 3, which came after the home team Phils took the first match, 3-1, led by legendary hurler Grover Cleveland Alexander, with the Sox bouncing back in the second game, 2-1, which featured the novelty of President Woodrow Wilson’s attendance, the first such instance of a president attending a World Series contest.

That third game, played on 11 October, was another 2-1 victory by the Boston team and this was duplicated in the fourth matchup . The series returned to the City of Brotherly Love, but the “Quakers,” as Goewey called the team, despite having home-field advantage, were bested by the Sox, 5-4. The Boston squad’s pitching staff, featuring Rube Foster, Dutch Leonard and Ernie Shore was so strong that a promising young hurler for the Red Sox who compiled a fine record of 18-8 and a 2.44 ERA (though this was the highest of the five-man rotation, which included “Smoky Joe” Wood), did not throw a single pitch and only appeared in one game as a pinch-runner. The rookie was Babe Ruth, who went on to be the game’s megastar as the “Sultan of Swat,” hitting 714 home runs in a storied career of some twenty seasons.

Goewey wrote that the uncertain respectability of America’s Pastime in the 1860s was long gone by the 1910s as the World Series “overshadowed presidential campaigns for the time being” and “which are honest in every particular, and where the professional gambler is never seen.” As my colleague Steve Dugan has written about on this blog, however, there would be a major scandal just four years later, involving the Chicago White Sox and the “Black Sox” debacle involving the 1919 World Series.

The reporter also referred to the 1912 World Series between the victorious Red Sox and the New York Giants and its success in drawing over a quarter million fans with almost a half million in receipts, though it is also worth noting that this was a rare eight-game series, there being four of these, because of a tie in game two. This was deemed “a positive testimonial to the general popularity of the annual classic” and it was added that fans included “rooters from every section of the United States and from many foreign countries.”

The 1915 series ended with Harry Hooper’s unusual homer to win the title, as he hit a fly ball that bounced on the field and over the centerfield fence, which, in turn, was moved closer to allow for more seating—by the rules of the day, such a circumstance constituted a home run, but, otherwise, it would have been an extra-base hit. Speaking of rules, it should be noted that, in 1865, the pitcher threw underhanded (hence the 46 runs scored!), the catcher stood bare-handed with no mask or other protection because he was a considerable distance behind the plate and he could catch pitches on the bounce.

In addition to the many great drawings and action shots, there is a chart of World Series figures for the 1915 edition, stating that attendance was just north of 143,000, or about 28,000 per contest and receipts of $320,000. Each Red Sox player received $3,780 as their take, while the Phillies roster garnered just north of $2,500. By contrast, the 2022 Series, won by Houston over Philadelphia, 4 games to 2, attracted 265,000 spectators (and between 11 and 13 million television viewers and millions of radio listeners—neither, of course, existed in 1915) and nearly $39 million in gate receipts.

Because of the complex financial structures of modern baseball, the players’ shares involved $516,000 for each Astro and $296,000 for each Philly. In 1915, the highest salary for a player was $15,050 paid to Fred Clarke of the Pittsburgh Pirates, $50 higher than the legendary Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers–though he was bumped up to $20,000 for the following season—this year the largest salary was commanded by pitcher Max Scherzer at $58.3 million, though the Angels’ superstar Shohei Ohtani, with endorsements, took some $70 million and will likely become the game’s highest-paid player in free agency after this season.

Finally, there is a poem titled “The Nation’s Sport” that, regardless of its merit as a piece of verse, is certainly worth reproducing here for the sheer fun of its anonymous versification:

They played the game, though not the same,

Some fifty years ago;

So do not jest, they did their best,

E’en though the pace was slow

The seed they planted took firm root,

Then blossomed year by year;

Until today, the nation’s game

Is sport without a peer

Aye, half a century has passed

Since baseball had its birth,

But hale and hardy it still reigns

Respected for its worth.

So don’t forget its splendid past,

Give it a cheer today;

And drink a toast to those old sports—

Those pioneers of play.

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