There is getaway day and then there was September 28, 1919. The New York Giants hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in a doubleheader on the last day of the season. The first game, all nine innings lasted just 51 minutes, the fastest game in Major League history. MLB is eager to increase the pace of play, New York and Philadelphia may have taken this too far a century before pace of play was an issue. The game was the opposite of Dan Barry’s Bottom of the 33rd.
It was the final day of the season, neither team won the pennant, and both teams knew the faster they played, the sooner they could head home for the winter. The Giants finished the season in second place, 9 games behind the eventual World Series champion Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati’s World Series victory is a story for another day. Philadelphia’s season was over in August, the Phillies finished last in the National League, 8th place, 47.5 games behind the Reds. The doubleheader was played simply because it was on the schedule.
The first game featured six future Hall of Famers; four players, a manager, and an umpire. Dave Bancroft was Philadelphia’s future Hall of Fame shortstop. New York had future Hall of Famer Ross Youngs in Right Field, Frankie Frisch at Third, High Pockets Kelly at First, and manager John McGraw. Umpiring the game were Future Hall of Famer Bill Klem and the notorious Bob Emslie. Klem is the father of baseball umpiring, working a record 18 World Series. He was the first umpire to wear a chest protector, taught other umpires to call balls and strikes from the slot, and the first to use arm signals when making his calls. Emslie was the base umpire during Merkle’s Boner in 1908. The controversial play earned him the despised nickname Blind Bob.
The Polo Grounds, a few seasons after the 51 minute sprint in 1919. The view from the outfield bleachers towards the infield and Coogan’s Bluff, with fans watching from behind the Grandstand. (Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
The Phillies got off to a great start, scoring in the top of the first inning. Lena Blackburne doubled and later scored thanks to an Art Fletcher error, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 lead. Philadelphia held the Giants scoreless in their turn at bat, and New York returned the favor in the top of the second.
In the bottom of the second, the Giants offense awoke. New York scored one in the second, three in the third, and two in the sixth on their way to a 6 to 1 victory. The Giants pounded out 13 hits, including five doubles, and drew three walks. Every Giants starter collected at least one hit; Larry Doyle and Art Fletcher collected two hits and High Pockets Kelly collected three hits. The final line for Phillies starting pitcher Lee Meadows was ugly: 8 innings (Complete Game), 13 Hits, 6 Runs, 5 Earned Runs, 3 walks, and 1 strikeout. Taking the loss, Meadows, who split the 1919 season between the Cardinals and Phillies, finished with a 12-20 record and 2.59 ERA.
The Phillies completed their anemic campaign on the final day of the season. Philadelphia collected five hits, one double, no walks, two strikeouts, scoring one unearned run. New York’s Jesse Barnes pitched 9 innings (Complete Game), allowing 5 hits, 1 run, 0 earned runs, no walks, and 2 strikeouts. The victory gave Barnes his National League leading 25th victory, finishing with a 25-9 record and a 2.40 ERA. The Giants swept the Phillies, winning Game Two 7 to 1, closing the 1919 season and the career of Phillies’ catcher Bert Adams.
Jesse Barnes, winning pitcher, fastest game in MLB history. (1922 Eastern Exhibit Supply Company/ http://www.vintagecardprices.com)
Some games are historically significant for Major League Baseball, others are played because they are on the schedule. The Giants and Phillies played a doubleheader on September 28, 1919 because the games were on the schedule. While neither game altered the 1919 season or baseball history, the first game set an almost unbreakable record and gave insight into the future of both franchises.
The Phillies were just four seasons removed from their first World Series appearance, yet they were in the second of 14 consecutive losing seasons. The team would not return to the Fall Classic until 1950. The Phillies had just four winning season (1916, 1917, 1932, and 1949) between their first and second World Series appearances. The 1919 Phillies changed managers midseason. Jack Coombs began the season, managing the Phillies to an 18-44-1 record before he was replaced by Gavvy Cravath. Cravath finished the season 29-46. He would return to the Phillies for the 1920 before he was fired at seasons end, concluding his playing and managing career. Coombs went on to become the winningest baseball coach in Duke University history, winning 381 games over 24 seasons in Durham.
The Giants thrived with 28 winning seasons between 1919 and their move to San Francisco in 1957. They played in nine World Series, winning four. New York finished within five games of the National League pennant in seven other seasons. John McGraw managed the Giants until 1932, compiling 2,583 wins for New York. The Giants were a powerhouse.
One game, even if not important in the moment, can tell you so much about baseball and a franchise. Never underestimate a baseball game, regardless of the pace of play, or if it is played just because it is on the schedule.
Valentine’s Day is about spending time with that special someone in your life. You express your love with gifts, flowers, candies, a nice meal, or simply spending time together. Winning builds love in baseball, it solves every team’s problems. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner hated losing, “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.” So what creates more love, winning, in baseball? WAR.
WAR, Wins Above Replacement, measures a player’s value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at his same position. The higher a player’s WAR the more they help the team.
The highest career WAR for any Major Leaguer born on Valentine’s Day belongs to Charles “Pretzels” Getzien. Born in Germany on February 14, 1864, Getzien played for five teams during his nine seasons in the National League. Nicknamed Pretzels for throwing a double curve ball, Getzien’s career 18.1 WAR far outpaces his closest competitor Arthur Irwin’s career 15.2 WAR. Even Candy LaChance’s career 11.1 WAR was no match for Getzien.
Charles “Pretzels” Getzien while with the Detroit Wolverines. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)
Baseball in the 1880’s and early 1890’s was not the same game played today. Getzien, a starting pitcher, was expected to pitch every few days; teams did not use the modern five man rotation. Starters were expected to pitch the entire game; pitch counts did not matter. Bullpen matchups in high leverage situations were never a thought. In 1884, Getzien’s first season in the National League, it took six balls to walk a batter, not the modern four. There were other rule changes along the way.
1886 was Pretzels Getzien’s best season. He started 43 games for the Detroit Wolverines, pitching 42 Complete Games, and 1 Shutout. His 30-11 record included a 3.03 ERA and 1.223 WHIP. Getzien pitched 386.2 innings, allowing 388 Hits, 203 Runs, just 130 Earned Runs, 6 Home Runs, striking out 172, walking 85, and throwing 19 Wild Pitches. At the plate, he hit .176 in 165 At Bats, collecting 29 Hits, 3 Doubles, 3 Triples, 19 RBI, 3 Stolen Bases, scoring 14 Runs, 6 walks, 46 strikeouts, for an .205 On-Base Percentage, Slugging .230, and .435 OPS. Getzien’s 1886 season was the first of five consecutive seasons with at least 40 starts.
More rule changes occurred before the 1887 season. Batters could no longer call for high or low pitches. Five balls were required to walk a batter, not six. Striking out a batter required four strikes. Bats could have one flat side. While the rules changed Getzien’s success remained. He was the only Wolverine starter to make more than 24 starts, starting 42 with 41 Complete Games. Riding Getzien’s right arm, Detroit won the National League Pennant. They faced the American Association champion St. Louis Browns in the World Series. Pretzels Getzien went 4-2, throwing 6 Complete Games, 58 innings, with a 2.48 ERA and 1.310 WHIP. He allowed 61 Hits, 23 Runs, 16 Earned Runs, walked 15, and struck out 17. Getzien was a threat at the plate too. He hit .300 in 20 At Bats, collecting 6 hits, including 2 Doubles, 1 stolen base, scoring 5 Runs, 2 RBI, 3 walks, and 6 strikeouts. He boasted a .391 On-Base Percentage, .400 Slugging, and .791 OPS. The Wolverines won the series 10 games to five.
The 1887 World Series Champions, Detroit Wolverines. (www.detroitathletic.com)
In 1888, Getzien started 46 games throwing 45 Complete Games. The Wolverines pitching staff also had Pete Conway, 45 starts, and Henry Gruber, 25 starts. Despite the team’s success Detroit owner Frederick Stearns disbanded the Wolverines after the season due to financial woes. Getzien joined the Indianapolis Hoosiers for the 1889 season. Prior to the season, the National League adopted the modern four balls for a walk and three strikes for a strikeout rule. Getzien started 44 games, throwing 36 Complete Games. After one season with the Hoosiers, Getzien spent 1890, his last great season, pitching for the Boston Beaneaters. He made 40 starts, throwing 39 Complete Games alongside future Hall of Famers Kid Nichols and John Clarkson. Nichols, a rookie, threw a Complete Game in all 47 of his starts. Clarkson made 44 starts with 43 Complete Games. Getzien’s pitching career began to decline after 1890.
Getzien started nine games for Boston in 1891 before he was released. He would sign with the Cleveland Spiders and pitch just one game. Getzien finished his career with the St. Louis Browns in 1892. It was the only season of his career where batters were forced to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely; bats could no longer have a flat side.
In 1893, Getzien’s first season out of professional baseball, saw the pitching distance moved from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches. The rules governing baseball in the 1800’s shed light on the games’ differences in its infancy and today. In 1901, almost a decade after Pretzels Getzien last pitched, the National League would count foul balls as strikes. Previously if a batter fouled off seven consecutive pitches to begin an at bat the count remained no balls and no strikes. Striking out a batter required a swing and miss or a called strike.
Pretzels Getzien as a member of the Detroit Wolverines in 1888. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)
Getzien compiled a career record of 145-139, 1 Save, 3.46 ERA, and 1.288 WHIP. He started 296 games, throwing 277 Complete Games, and 11 shutouts. In 2,539.2 innings, Getzien allowed 2,670 hits, 1,555 runs, 976 Earned Runs, struck out 1,070, walked 602, hit 28 batters, and threw 111 Wild Pitches. He is the all-time leader in Wins, Loses, Complete Games, Shutouts, Innings Pitched, Hits Allowed, Runs, Earned Runs, Wild Pitches, and Batters Faced for German born Major Leaguers. Getzien led the National League in Home Runs allowed in 1887 and 1889, with 24 and 27 respectively. In an era of few home runs Getzien allowed more Home Runs than many modern day pitchers. He allowed 6.2% of the 383 Home Runs hit in 1887 and 7.2% of the 371 hit in 1889. In 2018, Tyler Anderson of the Rockies and Chase Anderson of the Brewers led the National League with 30 Home Runs allowed. They both allowed 1.1% of the 2,685 Home Runs hit.
Offensively, Getzien had 1,140 Plate Appearances, 1,056 At Bats, collecting 209 Hits, 27 Doubles, 15 Triples, 8 Home Runs, 109 RBI, 17 Stolen Bases, 78 Walks, 247 Strike Outs, .198 Batting Average, .257 On-Base Percentage, .275 Slugging, and .532 OPS. His pitching, not hitting, abilities made him dangerous on the diamond.
Pretzels Getzien is most remembered for his odd nickname. On his 155th Birthday, let us remember him as the career WAR leader for Major Leaguers born on Valentine’s Day. So in his honor, may the love of your life be kind like the warm sunshine and green grass of the coming baseball season. Happy Valentine’s Day, WAR can create love.