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The Time the Bisons Beat Babe Ruth

By: Brian Frank

Part three of a three part series about Babe Ruth pitching against the Bisons. Click here for part one and part two.

Babe Ruth, Providence Grays, Public Domain

After winning his first game with the Red Sox, Babe Ruth went on to pitch the following week against the Tigers, but only lasted three innings, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk. The Red Sox were loaded with pitchers at the time, and Ruth’s start against the Tigers would be the last time he’d see the mound in the major leagues for a while. On July 30, Red Sox owner Joe Lannin bought the Providence Grays, also called the Clamdiggers, who were battling Rochester, Baltimore and Buffalo for the International League pennant. On August 18, nineteen year old Babe Ruth cleared waivers and reported to Providence.[1]

Meanwhile, the Bisons were playing well and entered a late August four game series with the Grays just percentage points out of third place, and only four and a half games behind the league leading Providence club. The series was played at the Bisons’ home grounds, Buffalo Baseball Park, at the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street. After a doubleheader sweep of the Grays on August 24, the Herd were only two and a half games out of first.

The second game of that doubleheader was rather eventful, marked by a bench clearing brawl. It all started when Buffalo shortstop Roxey Roach and Providence pitcher Guy Cooper bumped each other at home plate. As the Buffalo Evening News described the scene, “Clustered in the vicinity of the plate at the time were players, managers, bat boys, policemen, umpires, waterboys, and others, and when the row was finally settled some new faces were in the lineups.”[2] Five players were ejected from the game. After the game Buffalo shortstop Roxey Roach and Providence catcher Brad Kocher were both suspended by the league, and fined $25 each. Bisons’ second baseman Joe McCarthy and Grays’ pitcher Guy Cooper were not suspended despite being quite active in the melee.[3]

The Grays won game three of the four game series by a score of 5-1. Providence pitcher Carl Mays, who would go on to win 207 major league games, helped keep Buffalo’s bats at bay in the game. Compared to the previous day, the Buffalo Courier described the contest as “peaceful as a Puritan celebration of the landing of the Mayflower.” Providence moved three and a half games ahead of fourth place Buffalo, heading into the final game of the series.

The Bisons once again had to face their old nemesis, Babe Ruth, in the fourth game. Ruth was already 3-0 against the Bisons’ on the season, winning all three games when he pitched for the Baltimore Orioles. The Buffalo press was well aware of Ruth’s dominance of the Bisons throughout the season. The Buffalo Courier stated that “It stands in the books that for a long, long time, Bambino Ruth, big for his size and young for his age, has been one terrible hoodoo for the herd. In fact anytime Jack Dunn (of the Orioles) wanted to beat the Bisons on festive occasions like opening days, he just sent Babe Ruth in to pitch.”[4] The Buffalo Evening News described Ruth as “the ex-Oriole who has always been Bison hoodoo.”[5] The hoodoo the press described that Ruth held over the Buffalo team is evidence that the Bisons’ may have had the original curse of the Bambino. But as the Buffalo Courier stated, when Ruth came back to the International League, “The Bisons made up their minds to break the hoodoo or bust and they did- break the hoodoo.”[6]

Photo from Buffalo Evening Times

Ruth struggled with his control to start the game, but despite walking Buffalo’s Bobby Vaughn and Clarence Lehr, he did not allow a hit or a run in the first inning. In the second, after getting Joe McCarthy to ground out to second, Ruth gave up a single and a walk, but was bailed out by a 6-4-3 double play. Providence then rallied for a run in their half of the inning, with a double by Eddie Onslow and an infield single by Guy Tutwiler being the big hits.

The Herd came to bat in the third inning behind 1-0. It would be the last time they would trail in the game. Buffalo centerfielder Frank Gilhooley led off the inning with a double to leftfield, followed by an infield hit by shortstop Bobby Vaughn. Les Channell then hit a groundball to Providence second baseman Dave Shean, who threw home to cut down Frank Gilhooly at the plate for the innings first out, with Channell and Vaughn ending up at second and third respectively. Clarence Lehr gave the Bisons the lead by singling to center and driving home both runners. Lehr took second on the throw home, and after Charley Jamieson popped out, Babe Ruth’s future Yankees’ manager Joe McCarthy hit a ball into the right field corner for a triple off the Bambino, giving the Bisons a 3-0 lead. The Buffalo Courier believed that the hoodoo Ruth held over the Bisons was finally broken, saying “That settled the spell the name Babe Ruth held for the Ferry Streeters. From then on they treated him like an ordinary pitcher, until the one run lead of the Grays faded into innocuous nothingness.”[7] The Courier added that “So things went on with Babe Ruth’s greatness dwindling steadily as the game progressed. By the time it was over there wasn’t much left of the Big Bambino’s bigness.”[8]

Providence got three of the eight hits they would manage for the afternoon off of Buffalo pitcher Frank Beebe in the fifth inning, but they managed to score only a run in the frame. Buffalo also scored a run in the fifth, and two in the sixth, to take a 6-2 lead. In the seventh inning, Bisons’ leftfielder Charley Jamieson beat out a bunt, stole second, and then scored on a wild throw and an error, to give Buffalo a 7-1 lead. As the Bisons continued to tack on runs, the Buffalo Times stated that “Buffalo celebrated Babe Ruth’s return to our national pastime by walloping everything he sent their way; in fact, Mr. Ruth’s only salvation seemed to be to walk the hit-hungry Bisons, and pray whenever a ball got close enough to the plate to be reached with the hickory.”[9]

Buffalo’s eighth inning saw the most exciting play of the game. Speedy Frank Gilhooly walked, and took second and third on an errant pickoff throw by Ruth. After Bobby Vaughn walked, the Bisons attempted a double steal. The Buffalo Express described the play in the colorful language of the day, saying “With a bluff throw down to second as Vaughn set out for that station, Jack Onslow drew Gilhooley off at third, but the big catcher was not prepared for what followed. Gilhooley did not stop, but sprinted straight through for the home platter. Onslow had the path blocked with his big frame, but Frank made a head spring over the straddled player that would have been a creditable performance for a trained circus tumbler. Gilhooley landed squarely on the plate with his left hand scoring the eight run for Buffalo.”[10]

Frank Gilhooley, Buffalo Courier

Gilhooley was the hero for Buffalo this day, going 2-3, with a walk, a double, two stolen bases, and three dazzling catches in centerfield. However, he wasn’t the only Bison who feasted on Ruth’s pitching, as Bobby Vaughn went 2-3, with two stolen bases and a run scored, Joe McCarthy was 2-4, with a triple, and Les Channell was 2-5, with two runs scored. One thousand seven hundred thirty-one Buffalo fans saw the Bisons’ bats finally break through against Babe Ruth.

Babe Ruth’s final line for the day was nine innings pitched, giving up eight runs, on 11 hits, six walks, and two strikeouts. He was 0-3 at the plate with a strikeout, a walk, a stolen base and scored his team’s only run. The Buffalo newspapers had a field day with the fact that Buffalo had finally gotten the better of the young Ruth. The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser stated that Ruth “was once a terror to Buffalo, but not so yesterday as the Bisons hammered him for eleven swats.”[11] Under the headlines “Babe Ruth Hoodoo Rudely Shattered by Hitting Herd,” the Buffalo Courier may have put it best, stating that “Down from the lofty pedestal upon which he has roosted majestically all summer long, the puissant Bambino Ruth, Oriole and Red Sox, that was, Providence Clamdigger that is, and Lord-knows-what will be, toppled and fell yesterday when Gilhooley, Vaughn, et al. slammed aforesaid pedestal out from under him with their bats.”[12] As Buffalo won three out of four in the series, and pulled within two and a half games of Providence, the Buffalo Express described the league leaders’ performance, stating that “They were simply outclassed yesterday and the wonder of the fans was how they came to be the league leader.”[13]

Providence recovered after the series, and ended up winning the division by four games over second place Buffalo. Rochester finished in third place, and Baltimore tumbled all the way down to sixth, behind Toronto and Newark, due in part to the number of players they were forced to sell off because of attendance issues.

Ruth was a major factor in Providence winning the International League pennant. In six weeks with the Grays, he compiled a 9-3 record. He once even pitched four games in an eight game stretch.[14] At the plate he went 12-40, for a .300 average. He also blasted his first professional home run over the right field wall at Hanlan’s Point Stadium in Toronto on September 5, in a game which he also threw a one-hit shutout. Counting his time with Baltimore, Ruth finished the IL season with a 22-9 record, and a 2.39 ERA, in 35 games, 30 of which were starts.[15] When the Grays’ season was over, Ruth rejoined the Red Sox and won a game against the Yankees to finish the American League season 2-1, with a 3.91 ERA.

The rest, as they say, is history, as Ruth became one of the game’s greatest pitchers, and then the most prolific home run hitter of all time, changing the way the game was played. But for one glorious day in August 1914, the Bisons broke the Babe’s hoodoo.

Box Score, Buffalo Express

[1] Leigh Montville, “The Big Bam, The Life and Times of Babe Ruth,” Anchor Books: NY, 2006.

[2] “League Race Tightens as Bisons Beat Grays in the Doubleheader,” Buffalo Evening News, August 25, 1914.

[3] McCarthy was described as a peacemaker in some reports.

[4] “Babe Ruth Hoodoo Rudely Shattered by Hitting Herd,” Buffalo Courier, August 27, 1914.

[5] “Jersey City Skeeters Here This Afternoon,” Buffalo Evening News, August 27, 1914.

[6] “Babe Ruth Hoodoo Rudely Shattered by Hitting Herd,” Buffalo Courier, August 27, 1914.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Babe Ruth Easy for the Bisons, Beebe Puzzling,” Buffalo Times, August 27, 1914.

[10] “Bisons Made a Grand Cleanup,” Buffalo Express, August 27, 1914.

[11] “Herd Bumped the Grays; Gilhooley the Big Star,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, August 27, 1914.

[12] “Babe Ruth Hoodoo Rudely Shattered by Hitting Herd,” Buffalo Courier, August 27 1914.

[13] “Bisons Made a Grand Cleanup,” Buffalo Express, August 27, 1914.

[14] Leigh Montville, “The Big Bam, The Life and Times of Babe Ruth,” Anchor Books: NY, 2006.


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