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It may have been the last title, but it was hardly the best

By Bob Richardson
Globe Staff / October 22, 2004

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Decades of derisive chants, combined with the Nation's obsession with the date, make it natural to believe 1918 was the high-water mark for the Red Sox team that won five of the first 15 World Series.

Instead, that triumph was an aberration on the order of the St. Louis Browns' lone postseason appearance in 1944 and the Chicago Cubs' most recent Series visit in 1945. Furthermore, the triumph was marred by a threatened players' strike that incensed the fans even though the owners and league officials were primarily at fault.

The conflict we know as World War I was raging in Europe and Provost Marshal General Enoch Crowder had issued a ``work or fight'' order that required eligible men to enlist in the armed services or find work in war-related industries. Thus, by September 1918 the Red Sox featured only two regulars from their 1916 world championship team (shortstop Everett Scott and right fielder Harry Hooper) and just two pitchers (Carl Mays and Babe Ruth, who played outfield and first base when not on the mound, and tied for the league lead with 11 home runs).

The Red Sox outdistanced the depleted field only because the now vilified Harry Frazee, who purchased the team in 1917, opened his wallet to secure center fielder Amos Strunk, first baseman Stuffy McInnis, catcher Wally Schang, and pitcher Joe Bush from Connie Mack's cash-strapped Philadelphia Athletics. Buoyed by the new players and veteran minor league executive Ed Barrow, who stepped in as manager when Jack Barry joined the Navy, Boston edged Cleveland by 2 games for the American League pennant.

The regular season was ordered ended after Labor Day and the World Series began Sept. 5 with the Red Sox trekking to Chicago to face the Cubs, who rode the arms of Hippo Vaughn (22-10), Lefty Tyler (19-9), and Claude Hendrix (19-7) to their first National League pennant in eight years. To minimize travel, the first three games were scheduled at Comiskey Park, borrowed from the White Sox for the Series just as the Red Sox had used Braves Field in 1915 and '16. The Sox brought a 2-1 advantage back to Boston after Ruth and Mays outdueled Vaughn, 1-0 and 2-1, respectively, in Games 1 and 3. The Cubs captured Game 2 when Tyler, a New Hampshire native and mainstay of Boston's Miracle Braves in 1914, outpitched Bush and singled home a pair of runs in a 3-1 victory. Game 3 ended when Cubs second baseman Charlie Pick was retired in a rundown as he tried to score the tying run from second base on a passed ball.

Pitching continued to dominate when the scene shifted to Fenway Park Sept. 9. Ruth beat Tyler, 3-2, in Game 4 with an assist from Bush, who bailed him out of a two-on, none-out jam in the ninth. Vaughn kept the Cubs alive by winning Game 5, 3-0, with a five-hitter, but Mays nailed down the Red Sox' final world championship of the 20th century with a three-hit, 2-1 triumph the following day. A misplay by right fielder Max Flack gave Boston two runs in the third inning of Game 6 and Mays, 208-126 lifetime but remembered today only for throwing the pitch that killed Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920, made the lead stand up despite yielding two hits, a hit batsman and a walk in the fourth.

Although Ruth and Mays won two games apiece, the surprise hero of the Red Sox' last world championship was a 35-year-old minor league journeyman named George Whiteman, who had played in only 14 big league games prior to 1918 and never appeared in another after the World Series. Whiteman batted just .250 against the Cubs but delivered some key hits and made several run-saving catches in the outfield.

The abortive strike delayed Game 5 nearly an hour as the crowd of 24,694 stewed and player representatives Hooper of the Red Sox and Les Mann of the Cubs negotiated unsuccessfully with baseball's ruling triumvirate (AL president Ban Johnson, NL president John Heydler, and August Herrmann of the Cincinnati Reds) for a larger cut of the meager World Series receipts. The players eventually were persuaded to take the field ``for the sake of the public, and the wounded soldiers in the stands,'' according to a statement delivered by Boston mayor John ``Honey Fitz'' Fitzgerald, grandfather of President John F. Kennedy. The fans booed lustily and only 15,238 turned out for Game 6.

Prior to the season, major league owners voted to reduce the players' World Series share nearly 50 percent by giving teams finishing second, third, and fourth a slice of the pie. As a result, Red Sox players received $1,103 apiece, the Cubs $671, the smallest shares in Series history. In addition, they were asked to donate 10 percent of their take to the Red Cross or other war charities.

Later, Red Sox players were denied the commemorative gold medallions traditionally given to World Series champions, an insult not rectified until 1993, when all of them were dead.

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1918, 1918, 1918. The year is ingrained in the minds of Red Sox followers. In the 86 years since the Red Sox last World Series title, the tortured history — the curse, if you believe it — has been well chronicled. A series of illustrations and stories depicts the team’s Series travails.
 1903, '12, '15, '16: Tradition
 1918: The last title
 1946: A mad dash
 1967: 'Impossible Dream'
 1975: Epic clash
 1986: One strike away