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Friday, May 11, 2012

Chronicle: Fred Snodgrass, 1908-1916

This is the first installment of a monthly article based on a chronicle of an early era ballplayer that has meant a lot to me throughout my baseball life. For my very first set of this series, I've decided to retell the historic career of one of my all time favorites, Fred Snodgrass, who's stellar playing days were overshadowed by a rare World Series error.

Fred Snodgrass played for the New York Giants and the Boston Braves between the years of 1908-1916. He was a 3-time pennant winning, 5 foot 11 inch tall outfielder in a time when baseball was rampantly taking off in America. He began his career in 1908 at 20 years old for the New York Giants, and despite having very limited playing time in his inaugural season, he went on to have a very established and remembered career with early era baseball. The peak of his career was in his first and second full seasons when he hit a  hit .321 then stole 51 bases, respectively. He finished his career with a .275 average and 215 stolen bases. Now a days, he'd be considered an average player at most, but to me his character and accountability was that to idolized.

In the 1912 World Series, Fredrick Carlisle Snodgrass became infamous. It was the last game of the 1912 World Series in extra innings with the Giants leading 2-1 when Snodgrass dropped what would have been the final out to clinch the series for the Giants. The Red Sox player, Clyde Engle, that got on second base from the error, later scored the tying run of that game. Snodgrass was forever tarnished with the sole responsibility of losing of that game.
"Hardly a day in my life, hardly an hour, that in some manner or other the dropping of that fly doesn't come up... On the street, in my store, at my home . . . it's all the same. They might choke up before they ask me and they hesitate--but they always ask." Snodgrass was quoted in an interview some 30 years after the incident.

His obituary in 1947 even read, "Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly." It's a shame that people never remembered to tell the remainder of the story. He made an incredible catch right after the "muffed fly". It was a sharp liner that forced him to dive to his right in a spectacular, spearing fashion. Granted, I wasn't there to see it in person but it would be safe to assume that by most accounts, that ball doesn't ordinarily get caught and that's a guaranteed double, maybe triple. But, he did catch it and that still left the runner on second from his error the batter before. The very next play after those was another misque, but not by Snodgrass this time. A ball hit foul by Tris Speaker was called by Christy Mathewson to be caught by the catcher, Cheif Meyers. Meyers couldn't reach the ball, while the another fielder who could have easily caught the ball froze as directed by Mathewson. The Giants ended up wasting an out and on the very next pitch, Speaker took advantage and singled to score Engle from second.

Despite this, Snodgrass still took full blame. He referenced the first play that started the rally and said "Engle hit a great big, lazy, high fly ball halfway between Red Murray in left field and me. Murray called for it first, but as center fielder I had precedence over left and right, so there’d never be a collision. I yelled that I’d take it and waved Murray off, and –well–I dropped the darn thing.”

In a book I plug fairly often, The Glory of Their Times has the first person accounts of this actual game and the specific play. In one account, Harry Hooper, the hitter Snodgrass robbed after the "muff play", tells about being in this game:
"The famous Snodgrass muff. It could happen to anybody. I was up next and I tried to bunt, but I fouled it off. On the next pitch I hit a line drive into left center that looked like a sure triple. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred no outfielder could possibly have come close to that ball. But in some way, I don’t know how, Snodgrass ran like the wind, and dang if he didn’t catch it. I think he outran the ball. Robbed me of a sure triple.

I saw Snodgrass a couple of years ago at a function in Los Angeles, and I reminded him of that catch. “Well, thank you,” he said, “nobody ever mentions that catch to me. All they talk about is the muff.”

I don’t know about anybody else. But I remember that catch all right. I’m the one guy who’ll never forget it. After that, Steve Yerkes got a base on balls, and that brought up Tris Speaker. We’re still behind, 2-1, and there’s one out. Well, Spoke hit a little pop foul over near first base, and old Chief Meyers took off after it. He didn’t have a chance, but Matty kept calling for him to take it.

If he’d called for Merkle, it would have been an easy out. Or Matty could have taken it himself. But he kept hollering for the Chief to take it, and poor Chief–he never was too fast to begin with–he lumbered down that line after it as fast as his big legs would carry him, stuck out his big catcher’s mitt–and just missed it.

Spoke went back to the batters box and yelled to Mathewson, “Well, you just called for the wrong man. It’s gonna cost you this ball game.”And on the next pitch he hit a clean single that tied the game, and a couple of minutes later Larry Gardner drove in Yerkes with the run that won it."
As you can probably compare on your own by now, this player... this moment... that game... It all is eerily similar to a more recent encounter. Do you recall 2003? The NLCS Championship between the Cubs and Marlins? A fan in the stands accidentally interferes with a ball in play and a left fielder throws a tantrum on the field. It was the spotlight of the memorable loss. Hardly anyone forefronts the blame on the subsequent plays- the botched double play, the manager keeping the pitcher in too long, etc- All they remember is the one that they can't ever forget. Don't ever let the details pass you by. It's far too often the headlines are all we remember and that is why I love the story of the admirable, Fred Snodgrass.

Thanks for reading and keep living The Baseball Life

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Terrific reading about a player who deserves a better legacy. He was, in various seasons, in the top 10 in batting average, stolen bases, runs scored, doubles, defensive assists and fielding percentage. Snodgrass was an exciting player, a great center fielder who helped the game become the American pastime.