Nobody’s Perfect, But …

His Error in '21 Series Killed the Yankees.

Fair or not, most people today remember Bill Buckner for the ball that rolled between his legs in the 1986 World Series while he was playing first base for the Boston Red Sox. The error in Game Six allowed the New York Mets to win Game Six and then take the Series in Game Seven after all hope had seen lost. I’d be willing to bet that many people remember the Buckner play incorrectly as the last the play of the Series too, but that’s how the brain rearranges disaster over time.  It always cartoons it to a worse degree.

“My drunk husband not only left me without any money, doctor, but he punched out my cat and ran over my mother as he was backing out of the driveway at fifty miles an hour! – Well, maybe it wasn’t quite all that bad, nor all his fault, but that’s how it still feels to me.”

Bill Buckner wasn’t the first man in baseball to have his whole career tagged with a single disappointing play, nor is he likely to be the last. In fact, life itself plays out that way. It doesn’t matter how much good you’ve done, if you do something outrageously negative or scandalous, and it comes to light, as these things most often do, that is what the world is going to remember about you when your name comes up. Got that one, Mel Gibson?

Early 2oth century shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh had one of those Bucknerian moments in the 1921 World Series as a player for the New York Yankees. It was the first Yankee trip to a World Series and the Babe Ruth-led club had faced off against the more established Giants of feisty manager John McGraw in the first great “Battle of New York” for supremacy in the baseball world.

The best five games won of nine series had been a tough fight. An injury and elbow infection to Babe Ruth had mostly robbed the Yankees of their greatest weapon and the Giants’ superior pitching depth was beginning to turn the tide.

Since both clubs still shared the Polo Grounds as a home field in 1921, all they did each was trade dugouts and home team advantage status on a daily basis – with no off-days for unnecessary travel.

The Yankees started as the visitors, but quickly rocked the Giants by taking the first two game by the identical scores of 3-0. Carl Mays went the distance in Game One, surrendering only five hits, but 22-year old rookie Waite Hoyt matched that dominance of the McGraws in Game Two, giving up on only two hits.

The Yankees led the Series, two games to none.

Games Three saw the Giants explode like a baseball bomb against Yankee hurler Bob Shawkey and his no-relief bullpen buddies as they pounded out 20 hits in a 13-5 romp, following a quick recovery from an early Yankee lead of 4-0. Fred Toney started for the Giants, but yielded early to Jesse Barnes for the coast to victory. As  a Local side note, Franks “Pancho” Snyder went 4 for 5 in this game as the Giants’ catcher, Seven years later, Snyder would manage the 1928 Houston Buffs to the Texas League and Dixie Series championships in the first year of Buff Stadium.

Phil Douglas pitched the Giants even in Game Four, 4-2. Carl Mays started again for the Yankees because manager Miller Huggins had little confidence in his starters beyond Mays and Hoyt. Mays, the same guy who accidentally killed Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920 with an inside pitch, had a another good game, but the three runs he gave up in the eighth did him in.

After four game, the Series was tied at two wins each for the Yankees and Giants.

Game Five saw Waite Hoyt come back and take his second victory over the Giants and their starter, Art Nehf. The Giants only run was unearned, giving Hoyt an 18-inning ERA of 0.00 and the Yankees a 3-2 Series lead.

And then the worm turned.

With Babe Ruth now out with a life-threatening elbow infection in those pre-antibiotic “good old days,”  Jesse Barnes relieved starter Fred Toney for the Giants again and pitched the McGraws to an 8-5 win over the Yankees and lefty Harry Harper and Company. The Series again was tied at 3-3.

Carl Mays of the Yankees squared off again against Phil Douglas of the Giants in Game Seven. Both men pitched beautifully, but clumsy thinking in the field and a seventh inning error in the field by Yankee second baseman Aaron Ward gave the Giants an unearned run that stood up as the deciding tally in a 2-1 Giants victory. The Giants now led for the first time in games, 4-3, and needed only one more win to take it all.

Roger Peckinpaugh Made It Back to the Series with Washington in 1924-25.

The “visiting” Giants sent Art Nehf out there in Game Eight to face Waite Hoyt and the “home team” Yankees in Game Eight and, once more, both men pitched beautifully in each going the distance. Nehf gave up six hits; Hoyt only 4. Neither man surrendered an earned run, but Hoyt suffered the loss when a first inning error by Yankee shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh allowed a tally that held up as the only run of the game.

The Giants won the 1921 World Series, 5 games to 3. Pitcher Waite Hoyt tied Christy Mathewson’s 1905 record for a 0.00 ERA over 27 innings pitched, but mistakes in the field kept him from sharing Deep Six’s victory lap.

Hoyt must share the blame, even though much of history prefers to put it all on Peckinpaugh.

Hoyt had started Game Eight by walking Dave Bancroft and Ross Youngs. Then, with two outs,  George Kelly hit a routine grounder to shortstop Peckinpaugh for what should have been an easy third out play. As things work out sometimes, Roger muffed it. The ball deflected through his legs into short left field. Then, according to several media witnesses, Peckinpaugh appeared to nonchalantly track it down for a play at the plate that came far too late to get the speeding Bancroft, who had been running from second.

It was only one run in the top of the first, but it held up as the one score in the game and the deciding blow in the World Series.

Peckinpaugh was inconsolable at game’s end over his mistake, perhaps, making it even easier for the press and Yankee fans to pile it all on his back. Shortly thereafter, the Yankees dealt him away to the Red Sox with others in exchange for shortstop Everett Scott and others. Peckinpaugh later got another shot at the Giants as a member of  the 1924 Washington Nationals and this time he played for the winners of a seven-game series. The following season, Peckinpaugh’s 1925 Nats lost a seven-game series to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

What goes around, comes around. Continuously. Roger Peckinpaugh finally made peace with himself over Game Eight of the ’21 World Series. There’s redemption and peace for Bill Buckner too somewhere down the line – and maybe it’s already happened on some quieter plane that none of us could even know about. I certainly hope it has. I always liked Buckner.

On another plane of its importance to baseball history, and for a most worthwhile read on the times and  significance of the 1921 baseball season, pick up a copy of “1921: The Yankees, The Giants, & The Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York” by Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg.

If you care about history, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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3 Responses to “Nobody’s Perfect, But …”

  1. Mike Says:

    Any day the Yankees lose is a good day

  2. Damon Leonetti Says:

    Another great history lesson-Thanks.

    Bill Buckner was definitely an another example of a someone being remembered unfairly.

    Bill was a lifetime .289 hitter with 498 doubles and a distinguished career. He was a gritty, hard-nosed competitor and savvy baserunner who could play multiple defensive positions well.

    We all wish we were as good a baseball player as Bill Buckner. Shame on the fans and media who have perpetuated that one play in ’86 and wrongly labeled him.

    Curt Flood would normally have caught the fly ball that turned the ’68 series but no one has tainted what a great centerfielder he was.

    Thanks, Bill for your articles.

    Damon Leonetti

  3. Mike McCroskey Says:

    Speaking of Buckner, he was routinely replaced by Dave Stapleton for defensive purposes in the late innings throughout the season. I’ve ofte wondered why manager John McNamara chose to leave him in the field with a 2 run lead in the 10th and Stapleton on the bench. To me, although I have never seen it mentioned, it was as big a managerial choke by McNamara, as it was a physical error by Buckner.

    Mike McCroskey

    P.S. Clemens pitched through 7, left leading 3-2.

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