1922 St. Louis Browns
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1922 St. Louis Browns / Franchise: Baltimore Orioles / BR Team Page
Managed by Lee Fohl
Coach: Lefty Leifield
History, Comments, Contributions
The 1922 St. Louis Browns were probably the best edition of the team in the franchise's history in St. Louis. The 1944 team did make it to the World Series, but this was during the years of World War II, when talent was depleted throughout Major League Baseball and the Browns were not a juggernaut by any means. The 1922 team, however was genuinely solid and battled the New York Yankees for the pennant until the last days of the season, ultimately finishing only one game back of the New Yorkers.
The season's outcome came down to a decisive three-game series played in St. Louis' Sportsman's Park from September 16 to September 18. The Yankees came into town with a half-game lead, and excitement in the Mound City was so high that the Browns roped off the back of the outfield to allow additional fans to watch the game; as a result, a ball hit into the overflow crowd was counted as a ground rule double, a situation that the Yankees decried as unworthy of games of that importance. The crowd was quite boisterous - some would say rowdy - preventing Yankee outfielders from going back to catch fly balls hit into the first rows of spectators, while allowing Browns players to do so. However, the most famous incident occured in the first game when a fan threw an empty pop bottle and hit Yankee centerfielder Whitey Witt on the head as he was trying to catch a ball, knocking him unconscious and almost causing a riot. Police was able to restore order and the game continued, with the Yankees hanging on to a 2-1 win, Bob Shawkey having bested the Browns' ace, Urban Shocker (24-17, 2.97).
In the second game of the Series, rookie Hub Pruett (7-7, 2.33) muzzled the Yankees with his screwball for a 5-1 St. Louis win that brought the two teams again within a half-game of each other. Manager Lee Fohl caused a surprise by picking journeyman Dixie Davis (11-6, 4.08) to start the final, decisive game on September 18. It proved to be an enlightened decision as he kept the Yankees off the board for the first seven innings while he was staked to a 2-0 lead. A single by Wally Pipp just off his glove and an error by second baseman Marty McManus gave the Yankees a first run in the 8th. The 9th inning would prove to be one of the most fateful n St. Louis baseball history: Wally Schang led off with another hit off Davis's glove, followed by a passed ball by catcher Hank Severeid on the first offering to pinch hitter Elmer Smith. Fohl decided to remove Davis, although he had not yet been hit hard. In came the rookie left-hander Pruett, and Yankee manager Miller Huggins lifted the lefty Smith in favor of Mike McNally, a much weaker hitter but a right-handed batter. McNally laid down a bunt, which Severeid fielded; he chose to throw to first but his throw was off the bag, putting runners on the corner. A visibly shaken Pruett then walked Everett Scott to load the bases, and Urban Shocker came in to try to save the day. He got pitcher Joe Bush to hit a ground ball that forced Schang at home, then, in a stroke of poetic justice, Whitey Witt, still wearing a bandage on his forehead from his encounter with a glass bottle two days before, hit a single to center field, scoring two runs, giving the Yankees the game.
The demoralized Browns still had nine games left, but played poorly, eventually falling to 4½ games behind before rallying in the season's last days, but too late to catch the Yankees.
The Browns' biggest star was first baseman George Sisler, who hit .420 with 42 doubles and a 41-game hitting streak which ended with the fateful game of September 18. Outfielder Ken Williams led the AL with 39 home runs, 155 RBI and 367 total bases, to go along with a .332 batting average. Williams' 37 stolen bases made him the first, and for many years the only 30/30 man. C Severeid hit .321, 2B McManus pitched in at .312 with 109 RBI, while outfielders Jack Tobin and Baby Doll Jacobson hit .331 and .317 respectively, the latter also driving in over 100 runs. The left side of the infield did not contribute much with the bat however: SS Frank Ellerbe hit .240 and put up an OPS+ of 60, while 3B Wally Gerber was at 70. The Browns acquired 35-year old 3B Eddie Foster to help out down the stretch (with Gerber sliding over to shortstop), and he hit .306 in 37 games, but with no power. Off the bench, back-up catcher Pat Collins hit .307 with 8 home runs in only 127 at-bats, good for a 142 OPS+.
On the mound, in addition to those named earlier, Elam Vangilder had the best season of his career, going 19-13, 3.42, while Ray Kolp went 14-4, 3.93 and Rasty Wright 9-7, 2.92. Pruett had 7 saves (figured retroactively), Wright 5, Vangilder 4 and Shocker 3, a reflection of the day's tactic of using whichever starter was available to help out in the bullpen in critical situations. Youngster Bill Bayne (4-5, 4.56, 2 saves) and veteran Dave Danforth (5-2, 3.28, 1 save) rounded out the staff.
Awards and Honors
- Roger A. Godin: The 1922 St. Louis Browns: Best of the American League's Worst, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 1991.
- Steve Steinberg: "The 'Little World Series' of 1922: The Most Heartbreaking Loss in St. Louis Baseball History", in The National Pastime, SABR, Volume 28 (2008), pp. 7-14.