One hundred years ago today, Attleboro and North Attleboro must have been buzzing.
What had started out as a series of friendly baseball games between the neighboring communities had escalated into a high-stakes war. Instead of a few “ringers” sprinkled in with the better local ballplayers, wealthy industrialists and leading citizens of Attleboro and North Attleboro had funded appearances by the top major leaguers of the day.
By Oct. 4, 1919, the lineups looked like an All-Star game, capturing the sporting world’s attention. Such games had never happened before then. It would be another 14 years before the first actual All-Star game would be held.
The now legendary games between Attleboro and North Attleboro, featuring such hired major leaguers as Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson, was known as the Little World Series and concluded 100 years ago Friday with a North Attleboro victory. Although I’ve written columns about the games in recent months, I’ve received many, many emails since, so I’d like to share a couple more thoughts.
A few emailers reminded that the area’s most prominent citizen of the 20th century played a major role in the Little World Series.
Joe Martin — who would go on to serve in Congress for more than four decades, including two terms as speaker of the House — not only inflamed the rivalry with stories he wrote for The Evening Chronicle (he was publisher of North Attleboro’s daily newspaper at the time), he also paid $500 for the game’s brightest star, Babe Ruth, to play for his town’s team.
In his autobiography “My First Fifty Years in Politics,” Martin tells a humorous anecdote that seems typical of the larger-than-life Sultan of Swat.
“When the game was over I took him to the Elks Club and bought him a steak,” Martin wrote. “He devoured it like a polar bear and asked if he might have another. The second disappeared as fast as the first. ‘Would you mind if I had another?’ he asked. ‘Go ahead,’ I said, weakly, signaling the waiter. After the third he had a fourth, and I cannot imagine how many more he would have eaten if I had not finally hustled him out of the place.”
I also received a nice email from Rob Sneddon of Somersworth, N.H. Sneddon is a contributing editor at Down East magazine and author of three books with regional sports appeal: “Boston’s 100 Greatest Games,” “Boston’s 100 Greatest Gamers” and “The Phantom Punch,” the story of Muhammed Ali’s shocking upset of Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine.
Sneddon says he did quite a bit of research on the Little World Series in hopes of writing a book but it never came together. Recently, to mark the games’ centennial he posted a 6,000-word blog on his website, http://www.robsneddonwriter.com/blog, that is the most comprehensive piece I’ve ever read on the event. Here’s a taste:
“When it began, on September 6, 1919, the Little World Series was no different than hundreds of other ‘semipro’ rivalries around the country. But by the time it had played out, over five consecutive Saturdays, the semi- portion of semipro had vanished. Each side had steadily upped the ante, until the teams that took the field for the decisive fifth game consisted entirely of major-league ringers.
“The climax of the Little World Series occurred on October 4, 1919 — the same day as Game Four of the Black Sox series. In hindsight, the contrast between those two games is startling. At Chicago’s Comiskey Park, the White Sox lost to the Reds, 2–0, to fall into a three-games-to-one hole in the World Series. And lost to puts the emphasis in the right place. Having received $10,000 from gambler Joseph ‘Sport’ Sullivan to help throw the series, White Sox starting pitcher Eddie Cicotte did his part to ensure the Cincinnati victory. The only runs resulted from two Cicotte ‘errors’ — a misnomer, since as Cicotte later confessed to a grand jury, the errors were ‘deliberate.’
“Meanwhile, some 840 miles away, the largest crowd in the history of Attleboro’s Brady Field had gathered to watch what amounted to a de facto major league game. Like the Black Sox scandal, the Little World Series was fueled to an extent by selfishness and greed. But the results were manifestly different. The Little World Series was a sunny yin to the Black Sox series’ dark yang.”
There’s little doubt the citizens of Attleboro and North Attleboro were buzzing a century ago. Who can blame them? For a brief moment, they were kings of America’s pastime.