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Dodgers, Red Sox meet in rematch from 1916

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When you think of all of the history surrounding both the Dodgers and the Red Sox franchises, it’s rather amazing that they haven’t met in the World Series many, many times. That they haven’t is mostly a function of bad luck and bad timing.

The bad luck involved Los Angeles and Boston making the playoffs 19 and 17 times, respectively since the advent of division play yet, somehow, never getting through to the Fall Classic in the same year. When you have anywhere between four and ten playoff teams, stuff just has to break just right, I suppose, and it’s never broken right for these venerable franchises at the same time in the last half century.

The bad timing involved the franchises’ respective peaks during the pre-divisional era. During that period, the Dodgers were at their peak between the 1940s and the mid-1960s, winning 11 pennants in 26 seasons. They faced the Yankees in eight of those World Series because the Yankees were, well, the Yankees. The Red Sox only won one pennant in that span, losing the World Series to the Cardinals in 1946 and were particularly bad during the Sandy Koufax-Don Drysdale era, finishing no better than fifth, and often worse, between 1959 and 1966, when the Dodgers won four pennants.

In contrast, the Red Sox were at their best during the Dead Ball Era, winning five American League Pennants -- and five World Series titles, I might add -- between 1903 and 1918. During that time the ancestors of the Dodgers finished in the second division in all but two seasons and only won one pennant. That one pennant, however, came in 1916, when they faced the Red Sox in World Series for the first and only time before things get underway Tuesday night.

Things were pretty different back then, obviously. For one thing the Dodgers weren’t even the Dodgers yet. At least not permanently. They went by the Dodgers moniker in 1911 and 1912, switched to their pre-1911 name, the Brooklyn Superbas for a year but then in 1914 switched to the Brooklyn Robins, after their manager, Wilbert Robinson, which they would keep until calling themselves the Dodgers once again, and forever, in the 1932 season. If you weren’t aware, nicknames were pretty fluid back then. I’ll also observe that “Subperbas” is a fantastic team nickname.

During the Series the Robins played their home games in the same field they called home in the regular season and for every season until they left for California in 1958: Ebbets Field. The Red Sox’ home games were not played in the then-new Fenway Park, however. They played their World Series games in Braves’ Field, home of the Boston Braves, because it had a larger seating capacity. Indeed, the 43,620 in attendance for Game 5 of the Series was both a record for any Series game at the time and still stands today as the largest home crowd to ever see the Red Sox play a World Series game. Fenway Park will hold only around 38,000 to this day.

There are obviously some things with which a person sent back in time to 1916 could connect, however. Chiefly its two biggest stars: Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel.

Ruth, of course, was a pitcher then, not a renowned slugger. Stengel was a 26-year-outfielder and not a crusty old manager. Stengel had four hits in the five-game series. That that tied him with a few of his teammates for the most hits on the Robins tells you just how dead the ball really was, at least when they were up to bat against the Red Sox’ formidable pitching staff. For his part Ruth appeared in only one game, Game 2, and did not get a hit, but after giving up a first inning run as the game’s starter, he shut Brooklyn out for the next 13 frames, leading the Sox to a 14-inning 2-1 victory. That game was a long one for the time too: two hours and thirty-two minutes. Imagine such a thing!

As for the rest of it:

  • Game 1 was not as close as its 6-5 score for most of the contest, as the Robins plated four in the ninth but the Sox held on;
  • Game 3 went to Brooklyn, thanks in part to two and two-thirds innings of hitless relief from Jeff Pfeffer who, I suppose, was like a 1916 Josh Hader;
  • Brooklyn appeared like they might make a series out of it in Game 4, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead but were held scoreless for the rest of the way, with a three-run inside-the-park homer from Larry Gardner giving Boston the margin it needed; and
  • Brooklyn would scratch out only three hits in the deciding Game 5, as Boston took its fourth World Series title in the then 13-year history of the Fall Classic.

While Ruth’s Game 2 performance was something to behold both at the time and remains so from 102 years in the future, the whole thing was not all that memorable, truth be told. We’ll begin to find out Tuesday if these two can make their rematch a bit more memorable.

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