Pittsburgh’s Babe and the 1909 World Series
Five days ago, the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 1909 World Series, in which both team took part. The Pirates won the series in seven games but the result might have been different if it wasn’t for Pirates rookie pitcher Babe Adams.
Babe Adams was an unlikely hero, a rookie who rose from the minor leagues at the beginning of the season. He started his big league career off with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1906, but that only lasted one game, when he surrendered eight runs across four innings of play. He was soon sent down to the minor league ranks and he spent the remainder of the year between Class AA and Class A. In 1907, he led the Class A Western League in victories with 23 and was noticed by a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates scouting staff, who purchased his contract off the Cardinals in September.
His debut appearances for Pittsburgh weren’t so good. Over four games at the end of the season, Adams added two more losses to his career resume and finished with an ERA of 6.95. Pittsburgh sent him back to the minors for 1908, and he spent the entire season with Louisville in Class AA. He posted a record of 22-12 and walked only 40 batters over 312 innings. His success earned him a spot on the big league pitching staff for the 1909 season.
Getting innings would be hard for Adams on the big league team. Manager Fred Clarke had a wealth of experienced arms on the team, led by Vic Willis and Howie Camnitz. In addition, youngsters Nick Maddox and Lefty Leifield had already earned the other two spots in the starting rotation and 37-year-old Deacon Phillippe gave Clarke a veteran arm to turn to either out of the bullpen or as a spot starter.
Adams didn’t get many opportunities to pitch right away but when Clarke handed him the ball, he did his job. His control was sensational and after earning his bones in the bullpen, Clarke started to give Adams a few starts towards the end of the season. The 27-year-old rookie did not falter and continued to pitch well. Over the final two months of the season, when many of his appearances were starts, Adams complied a 7-2 record. On the season, his final record was 12-3 with a team low ERA of 1.11. The Pirates as a team would win 110 games and finish 6 Â½ games over the Chicago Cubs to capture the National League pennant.
In the World Series, the team would face the Detroit Tigers. It was the third AL pennant in as many years for the Tigers but the team had failed to win a World Series in their two previous appearances. Starting on the mound for the Tigers would be the teams’ undisputed ace, George Mullin, who won 29 games for Detroit that season. However, Clarke decided to bypass his aces in order for Adams to pitch, much to the surprise of baseball fans. Although Adams had pitched well throughout the season, fans were shocked that Clarke went with the rookie who had spent much of the season in the bullpen.
One theory as to why Adams got the start was that new NL president John Heydler suggested to Clarke that Adams should get the start because he had seen a Washington pitcher named Dolly Gray hold the Tigers scoreless over 18 innings earlier in the year. He believed Gray and Adams had similar styles. However, this theory sounds a little fishy because of the fact that Adams was a righthander and Gray was a southpaw. A more believable explanation is that Clarke was impressed with Adams’ control and his play during the final stretch of the season.
30,000 spectators watched the opening game of the World Series at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Adams got off to a shaky start. In the first, with runners on first and second with one out, Jim Delahanty deposited a single into leftfield, scoring Ty Cobb to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. Adams would bear down and strand the other two runners and depart the inning down only one run.
For a time, it looked like even if Adams turned into Cy Young, he wouldn’t get a win. That’s because Mullin was throwing extremely well for the Tigers, so good that the Pirates couldn’t even touch him. But in the fourth, Clarke finally put an end to his dominance and sent one of his fastballs over the left field fence to tie the game up at one. Detroit had defensive problems in the fifth, when a few errors turned the game into a 3-1 contest in Pittsburgh’s favor. The Pirates added one more in the sixth to make the score 4-1, which would eventually be the final.
Adams wasn’t spectacular but he got the job done for Pittsburgh. He walked five batsmen – unheard of for Adams â€“ surrendered six hits and struck out only two hitters. With guys on base though, Adams buckled down and stranded eight Tiger baserunners. He received help from his defense in the seventh when with two guys on, centerfielder Tommy Leach robbed Ty Cobb of sure extra-bases and RBIs with a fantastic catch.
Adams’ next start in the series was in game five, with the series knotted at two apiece. Again, things did not start well for the Babe, who gave up a home run to the first batter he saw of the game, Davy Jones. However, once again, Adams regained his composure and pitched well through five innings and was working with a 3-1 lead. But in the sixth, Cobb scored on a double by Sam Crawford to cut the lead in half and two batters later, he would tie the game by scoring a run on a Honus Wagner error.
The Pittsburgh offense would pick it up in the seventh. With two runners on and one out, Clarke hit another home run, turning the tide in the game and giving the Pirates a huge 6-3 advantage. Wagner atoned for his error in the field and darted around the bases for another insurance run as the Pirates handed Adams a 7-3 lead to work with. Each team traded runs late but Pittsburgh came away with an 8-4 victory and was one win away from becoming World Champions. Adams had a much better line than his first game. He gave up six hits again, but he only walked one batter and struck out eight.
Game six and seven shifted to Detroit and the Tigers forced a game seven by defeating Pittsburgh 5-4. Willis took the loss while Camnitz, the projected game seven starter, had to come in for relief. Nick Maddox, who had picked up the win in game three of the series, was one of the options to start but despite being on two days rest between starts, Clarke went with Adams to pitch the seventh game. Opposing him on the mound would be ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan.
Control would decide this game early on. Simply, Adams had it and Donovan did not. Donovan walked six Pirates in only two innings and departed the game down 2-0. Tiger manager Hughie Jennings panicked and rushed out Mullin but his ace was running on empty, having already pitched in three previous games in the series. The Pirates scored two more in the fourth and three in the sixth and had a 7-0 lead. They would eventually win the ballgame 8-0 and their first championship of the modern Major League Baseball era.
Adams was remarkable in the final game, walking only one Tiger and not allowing one to reach any further than second base. For the series, he won all three of his games and had not allowed a reliever to touch the ball when he was in the game. His WHIP, a stat not used back then, would later be calculated at a tremendous .889. The New York Times wrote this salute to him after the game seven victory:
To Charles Adams, the phenomenal young pitcher, formerly of the Louisville American Association team, belongs the lion’s share of the credit for the victory, and his wonderful pitching has crowded Wagner, Leach, Clarke, and the other Pittsburgh stars into the background. To-day’s victory was his third of the series, and he held Detroit safely throughout the entire game. He allowed but six hits, and in only one inning â€“ the fourth â€“ did Detroit get more than one safety. Adams allowed only one base on balls, and in four innings he retired the hard-hitting American Leaguers in one-two-three order.
During the celebration for the clubs’ victory back in Pittsburgh, each player was introduced and the loudest ovation was reserved for Adams. He was also presented with a $1,000 check above his share of the receipts for his great efforts. After his great rookie season, which made him a hero throughout Pittsburgh, Adams carved out 16 more big league seasons and would retire in 1926, a Pirate, spending time with no other organization since donning a Pirates uniform. His career record was 194-140 with a career 2.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a category he led the NL in four straight years between 1919-1922.
Adams died in 1968 on his farm in Silver Spring, Maryland. The town of Mount Moriah, Missouri’ where Adams resided for years after his retirement and managed in the minor leagues, later erected a monument in his honor on the town’s square. In 2002, US Interstate 136 was renamed the Babe Adams Highway by the Missouri General Assembly. Also in that year, Adams was joined by John Lackey as the only two rookie pitchers to win a seventh game in the World Series.