RED OLDHAM – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero of October 15

Sporting News

Sporting News

OCTOBER 15, 1925 – World Series Game 7

I will confess this entry of “Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Heroes” is the inspiration for the entire series. I have a fascination with Pirates pitcher Red Oldham and wanted to celebrate his unlikely and mostly forgotten World Series heroism.

I have written a few blog posts about him and wanted to write this series to give recognition to Red and the other players whose fame has dimmed over the years. Arguably the most obscure person to ever clinch Game 7 of a World Series, John “Red” Oldham began the 1925 season in the minors and would end the 1926 season in the minors, never to reach the majors again. But in between he would experience World Series glory.

The Pirates won the 1925 pennant and faced the defending World Champion Washington Senators and their superstar pitcher, Walter Johnson, in the World Series.

Initially it looked like no contest. The Senators ran up a 3-1 lead in the series, thanks to a pair of complete game victories by Johnson. The Pirates took a back and forth Game 5 and over came a 2-0 deficit to win Game 6 and force a winner take all Game 7 with Walter Johnson on the mound.

Heavy rains delayed Game 7. With the infield soaked, the Pirates grounds crew decided to dump barrels of gasoline on the dirt and light it on fire to dry it out. There were different environmental rules back then.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh manager Bill McKechnie tried to figure out how to juggle his pitching staff in the finale against the Big Train. At one point he considered using Red Oldham to start, even though he had not used the 31 year old lefty for the entire World Series.

Oldham had played for the Tigers in the 1910’s and early 1920’s and did not exactly set the American League ablaze like the infield at Forbes Field. The most famous incident in his career was having Ty Cobb dress him down and basically tackle him during a game in Detroit.

After bouncing around the minors and getting in trouble with the commissioner for playing in outlaw leagues, Oldham somehow found himself on the Pirates midway through the 1925 season. Injuries forced the team to find some left handed depth in their staff. Oldham appeared in 11 games, 4 of them starts. He threw three complete games and recorded a save.

McKechnie decided against starting Oldham and turned to Game 5 winner Vic Aldridge. Oldham would sit in the bullpen and witness one of the strangest Game 7’s in baseball history.

Aldridge did not make it out of the first inning as the Senators gave Johnson a 4 run lead before he even took the mound. Johnson kept the lead in a steady rain and mist but he was by no means dominant.

In the 7th inning, future Hall of Famer Pie Traynor tripled home the tying runs but was thrown out trying to make it an inside the park homer.

In the 8th, the Senators took the lead on a Roger Peckinpaugh homer and Washington player/manager Bucky Harris let Walter Johnson bat. Despite his struggles, Johnson was going to complete the game.

With the rain picking up, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis nearly called the game and declared the Senators World Champs, but decided to let the game play in the downpour and fog.

Johnson was gassed but had a 7-6 lead with 2 outs and nobody on in the 8th, he was 4 outs from a World Series repeat. But Earl Smith doubled and Carson Bigbee smacked a game tying RBI double. Then a walk and an error loaded the bases. Still no relief for Johnson who faced future Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler. He hit a drive to right field into the fog. It was declared a ground rule double. Washington right fielder Joe Harris said it was foul by 10 feet. There was no replay then. The Pirates took the lead and were three outs from winning the World Series.

McKechnie had already used Aldridge, Johnny Morrison and Ray Kremer as pitchers. Another one of his pitchers, Emil Yde was used as a pinch runner. With his options running out, he turned to Oldham.

Given a two run lead, Oldham had a little wiggle room. But Washington lineup offered little comfort. He would face Sam Rice, Bucky Harris and Goose Goslin. While you may not know those names well, go to Cooperstown. All three are enshrined there. An unknown who began the season in the minors had to face three future Hall of Famers with the World Series on the line.

On a 2-2 count, Oldham got Rice looking. One away. With no balls and 2 strikes on Bucky Harris, he recorded an out with a line drive caught by second baseman Eddie Moore. Now only Goslin remained.

With the count 1 ball and 2 strikes, Goslin was called out looking. Oldham had done it. He got the save and the Pirates, in the pouring rain and mist, became the first team to erase a 3-1 hole and win the World Series.

American League president Ban Johnson admonished Senators manager Bucky Harris for leaving Walter Johnson in for too long. And the Senators were one commissioner’s decision from repeating in the 8th.

But it was the Bucs title and the most obscure Pirate had closed it out. By the next June, Oldham was let go by the team he pitched to the title and was not with the club when they won the 1927 pennant. After a few years toiling in the minors, Oldham retired and eventually died in California.

His deeds have faded with time and his one moment of glory took place appropriately during a misty day that was hard to see, much like his foggy legacy.

But his clutch performance, retiring three future Hall of Famers to clinch Game 7 of the 1925 World Series should be recognized somewhere. That makes him the Unsung Postseason Hero of October 15.

Harold Baines… 7 hits a year from the Hall of Fame

Remember that scene in Bull Durham where Crash Davis talks about how close he was to being a .300 hitter. He calculated he was a hit a week shy from .300?

“You get one extra flare a week–just one–a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail–just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium!”

Well, that applies in a very different way to former White Sox star Harold Baines.

I was looking up some stats about the 3,000 hit club about a post I am going to write about Derek Jeter, who barring injury will join the club sometime in 2011.

I saw that every single player within 200 hits of the 3,000 hit club is either a Hall of Famer or named Barry Bonds.

George Sisler, Charlie Gehringer, Brooks Robinson, Jesse Burkett, Mel Ott, Frankie Frisch, Zack Wheat, Al Simmons, Rogers Hornsby, Wee Willie Keeler, Jake Beckley, Frank Robinson, Sam Crawford, Sam Rice, Bonds and some guy named Babe Ruth all hit between 2,812 and 2,987 hits.

All immortals in Cooperstown or will eventually be after a lot of hand wringing and talk about steroids.

There’s one exception.

Harold Baines, who finished his career with 2,866 hits.

And I have to say, seeing his name on the list kind of stopped me in my tracks. Assuming that the two active hit leaders (Ken Griffey Jr and Derek Jeter) will each get 28 hits and pass Andre Dawson for 45th place on the all time hit list, then each of the top 47 names on the hit list would have had Hall of Fame careers (including Pete Rose and Bonds)… except Harold Baines.

I’ve always liked Harold Baines as a player. He was a good solid if unspectacular hitter. He had a good average, good power (he led the league in slugging in 1984) and was reliable.

He never was a top 5 MVP candidate. He never finished in the top 5 in batting average, on base percentage, OPS, doubles, homers or adjusted OPS.

He finished 5th in hits and 4th in RBIs in 1985, the year he had his personal best showing in the MVP vote. (He finished 9th.)

As I said, Baines was not spectacular but he was steady. He was a DH for more than half of his career. In his last 15 seasons, he played in the field 24 times… TOTAL.

And yet he had that hit total.

He played for 22 seasons, many of them partial injury plagued years towards the end. But he spread his productive seasons out over a long stretch. He was a 25 homer, 105 RBI man in 1982 with the White Sox.

He was a 25 homer, 103 RBI man batting .312 with an OPS of .919 for the 1999 Indians.

He broke in with the White Sox when LaRussa was managing, the team wore lapels and Chet Lemon was in Centerfield. (For a few games he was teammates with Minnie Minoso.)

He finished his career with the White Sox where he was teammates with Paul Kornerko and Mark Beuhrle.

He stretched from the lapels on the uniform era for the White Sox…

To the disastrous SOX across the chest monstrocities

To the utterly forgettable cursive uniform

Before finishing his career in the classic ChiSox duds.

He was a respected steady veteran, but not a superstar. Not a dominating force.

And yet he had that hit total.

He has barely survived four Hall of Fame ballots, peaking this last year with 6.1% of the vote… and he doesn’t have a realistic chance of ever being elected.

But just imagine this scenario, similar to Crash Davis’ dilemma.

If Baines got 7 more hits a season… he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

7 hits a year over 22 seasons would give him an extra 154 hits… and put his career total at 3,020… and as Stan Ross knows, 3,000 hits equals a ticket to the Hall of Fame.

There would be no denying him. It would be a lock, automatic in the first try.

He would be sitting in the background of Hall of Fame inductions forever with Bob Feller, Willie Mays, Whitey Ford, Hank Aaron, George Brett and Ozzie Smith.

His statue and retired #3 in Chicago would not be a tribute to a respected and loved star but a fitting send off to an immortal…

If he got 7 additional hits a year.

I’ve never met Mr. Baines, but he seems like a nice enough guy through interviews and the fact that teams kept employing him for nearly a quarter of a century.

He had a nice career, played in the post season in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, became a millionaire several times over and earned a World Series ring as a coach with the 2005 White Sox.

But I can’t help but wonder… does he think about those 7 extra hits a year? Does he think about a great catch made on a ball he hit? Does he think about an official scorer ruling a hit of his was actually an error? Does he think about a close call at first base that could have gone either way?

Does he think about games lost to the strikes of 1981 and 1994? Does he think of time lost to injuries later in his career?

A hit here, a hit there… a flare a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail here and there… and he’d be off to Cooperstown.

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