by Frank Hyde
October 6, 1948
Caldwell, 20-Game Winner of 1920 Indians, Recalls Turbulent Days of Great Campaign; Picks '48 Tribe
Ray Caldwell shifted his towering frame to a more comfortable position and grinned with a touch of the nostalgic. Memories are sacred things.
"Yes, I won 20 games for Cleveland in '20 - the last time they took the American League pennant. And we had a dandy race that year, too. No playoff, but a great fight right down to the wire with the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees."
Stanley Coveleskie won 24 and lost 14 for the pennant winning Indians of nearly three decades ago. Caldwell, a giant righthander, copped 20 against 10 losses. Jim Bagby headed the pitching parade with 31 wins - three chuckers with 75 wins between them.
"Covey and this Bob Feller compare very well," Caldwell said very slowly. "Feller is faster, but Coveleskie was a spitball pitcher, which makes it pretty hard to compare them. Feller is a great pitcher, though, don't ever forget that."
Cleveland defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers five games to two in a nine-game series in 1920. Coveleskie hurled three five-hit victories for the Tribe. Duster Mails, secured from Portland during mid-season, fired a three-hit shutout and Bagby stopped the Robins, as the Bums were generally called then, for the fifth win.
Caldwell, who labored through his last three wins with a lame arm, started the third game and was pulled in the second inning.
"Kinda funny, this baseball business," Big Ray laughed. "There was Steve O'Neill of the Tigers trying to knock Cleveland out of the pennant this year, danged near succeeded, too. Steve was our first string catcher in '20, you know."
Caldwell, recovering from injuries sustained in an automobile accident, recently purchased a farm on the Frew Run Road, less than two miles from Frewsburg. The accident may have slowed his limbs, but his mind is just as agile as his whip-like arm of 28 years ago.
"That Cleveland team of '20 came in under quite a handicap, too. Ray Chapman was killed in mid-season, and it sort of knocked us out, but we picked up and fought our way to the pennant."
The freak injury to Don Black of the 1948 Tribe parallels the shocking death of Chapman, the only fatality in major league baseball, in a lesser degree.
Just for the record - Chapman was hit in the head by Carl Mays on August 16 and died a short time later.
"Yes, sir, we had a great ball club in '20 and a great pilot in Tris Speaker," Caldwell recalled.
"And that series produced the only unassisted triple play in World Series history, and the first home run to be hit in the classic with the bases loaded," Ray reminded us.
Bill Wambsganss completed the triple killing without help and Elmer Smith smacked the grand slammer. They both came in the fifth game.
The season of 1920 was probably one of the most turbulent in baseball history, Caldwell agreed.
In addition to the unfortunate Chapman incident, the ill-famed "Black Sox" scandal broke while Cleveland was battling for the flag. Cincinnati had defeated Chicago for the pennant the preceding year. Eight Chicago players including the famous Shoeless Joe Jackson were ultimately banned for life. The incident led to the appointment of Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the high commissioner of baseball. Landis took the chair in 1921 and served until his death in 1944.
But there were more pleasant memories for Ray Caldwell - memories of great names and great feats.
Hughie Jennings resigned as manager of the Detroit Tigers after 14 years and was replaced by Ty Cobb.
Ed Barrow quit as manager of the Red Sox to take over as business manger of the Yankees. Hugh Duffy, who had been with the Phillies, succeeded him.
Lee Fohl replaced Jimmy Burke as pilot at St. Louis and in Washington Clark Griffith retired to the head office.
Babe Ruth set the original home run record for the Yanks at 54, and Mays won 23 and lost 11 to form a great struggle with the Indians and White Sox.
George Sisler of the Browns won the A.L. batting championship with a .407 average and Walter Johnson pitched the first no-hit, no-run game of his career against Boston on July 1.
George Stallings, "Miracle Man" of the pennant-winning Braves of 1914, resigned to become owner of the Rochester club.
Other highlights of that great campaign included Grover Cleveland Alexander winning 27 for the Cubs; Rogers Hornsby winning the National League batting championship with a fine .370; Johnny Evers of Tinkers-to-Evers-to Chance fame taking over as pilot of Chicago and colorful Wilbur Robinson driving the Dodgers down the stretch to the pennant.
"Yes, I've had my moments, too, during the years I was up there," Caldwell grinned again.
But you don't get Caldwell to talk about his moments, so the record books come in handy.
There was his no-hit, no-run game against the Yankees on his first trip back to the Big City after the New Yorkers sold him down the river to the Red Sox. Ray broke in with the Yanks, then known as the Highlanders.
And they were such a lousy club they once got him one run in 45 innings, which he made stand up for a 1-0 win over Detroit.
Then there was the time he stole home with the winning run to beat those same Yanks, 1-0.
And his hitting home runs on successive days with the bases loaded - a feat no other hurler right down to this day has equaled.
That lightning incident is interesting, too.
Ray was pitching against the A's in Philadelphia one day with the game in his hip pocket, two down and a strike on the last hitter. It was one of those electric storm days, although no rain had fallen. Suddenly a bolt of lightning knocked Ray colder than a mackerel. Five minutes later he shook it off, wheeled in two more strikes and the ball game was over.
"Yep, I like Cleveland in six games," the big fellow repeated. "But as I said before, baseball is a funny business."