Listen up, all you major leaguers who think spring training is too long. You’ve got nothing on the 1911 Boston Red Sox.
A century ago, the Red Sox embarked on one of the most ambitious, grueling and daunting spring training barnstorming junkets in baseball history, traveling by rail and automobile through dusty towns in California and the Southwest, a 60-game swing in which starters and stars routinely played nine innings.
The trip didn’t quite do the trick as far as firing the Red Sox up for the regular season. They finished 78-75, in fifth place, 24 games behind the World Series champion Philadelphia Athletics. Maybe they were, well, out of gas.
Back in the days when newspapers were considered handheld portable devices, the Boston Globe carried accounts of every game. The Red Sox played minor league clubs and town teams in tiny venues that never would have dreamed to see big league ball today.
Every move of the Red Sox tour was chronicled by Globe beat writer Tim Murnane, a jock turned scribe, the 1911 version of a washed up ballplayer serving as a media talking head. Murnane didn’t just write about the Red Sox. He gushed about them. He hung out with the team when they donned their spiffy one-piece swimsuits to hang out at the salt baths.
One of the first significant tour stops was in Los Angeles, where the Red Sox played a few games in Redondo Beach, then a small seaside town not known for millions of dead fish. The Red Sox took a dip in the Pacific, toured downtown L.A. in their convertible chariots wearing full game gear, and stayed long enough for their famous right-hander, Smokey Joe Wood (pictured), to earn his nickname against the Pacific Coast League locals.
“Joe Wood had remarkable speed, fine control and a clever break that kept the locals guessing,” Murnane wrote.
The Globe also sent a cartoonist along for the ride and his drawings reflect the times. When the Red Sox played in Redondo Beach, the Boston players were surprised to see Hispanic fans come out to the game. Cartoonists made it a point to let readers know they had no idea what language the fans were speaking.
It makes you wonder how modern major leaguers (and, ahem, the Players Association) would take to ownership booking 60 barnstorming games in advance of the 153 regular season games the 1911 Red Sox played. You think modern owners are greedy? Nowadays, of course, the fans sunning themselves work harder than the regular starters do in a spring game. Not so back in 1911, a year before Fenway Park opened and before the unsinkable Titanic left the dock.
You can still find the box scores and game summaries if you’ve got a curious mind and a valid library card. The games were played under regular season rules, and starters routinely played all nine innings, out of duty, pride, or fear of losing their jobs.
Catcher Bill Carrigan split open his thumb catching against the University of Nevada baseball team, where “the college boys were a few chips shy in knowledge of the fine points of the game,” The Globe reported.
When the Red Sox got to Dallas for a homecoming game to honor star centerfielder Tris Speaker, leftfielder Duffy Lewis stole the show, and the presence of rightfielder Harry Hooper reminds us that this was one of the game’s great outfields of the early 20th century.
The Red Sox tour didn’t help the team win, but it likely won over some new fans and created some great memories. And most importantly, the team made it back to Boston in one piece. Fortunately, gas in 1911 was somewhat less than four bucks a gallon.
-- John Klima is a regular contributor to ThePostGame.com and author of "Willie’s Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend."Full Story >>