Game seven, ninth inning and we are at the plate

The Boston Red Sox vanquished the St. Louis Cardinals in game six on Wednesday. With that win they became the 2013 World Series champions.

The Boston Red Sox vanquished the St. Louis Cardinals in game six on Wednesday. With that win they became the 2013 World Series champions. From a last-place finish in the American League East in the 2012 season they climbed up to the pinnacle of baseball supremacy this year.

The Red Sox now have an eighth World Series pennant to hang. They still have a way to go, though, to catch up with the Cardinals who hold 11 pennants. Of course, the Cards can argue that they have more.

The World Series officially dates from 1903. However baseball aficionados may dispute this and count back a few decades earlier. Indeed, the American Association champion St. Louis Browns who became the Cardinals played the first World ‘Championship’ game west of the Mississippi River on October 15, 1885, against the National League winning Chicago White Stockings. It was the second game in their series. The first game in Chicago had been called on account of darkness back in the days well before lighted fields. It had ended in a 5 – 5 tie.

My family still recalls the historic second game because of a disputed call at first base during the sixth inning. Chicago’s Billy Sunday, later to become a famous evangelist, doubled to right field and then made it to third base on a pass ball at the plate. A bobbled grounder to the shortstop then allowed Sunday to score. However the shortstop recovered in time and threw the hitter out at first.

Here is where family lore comes in. The umpire anticipating a play at the plate failed to watch first base. Though clearly out the umpire signalled the runner safe at first. As Jon David Cash noted in his 2002 book Before They were Cardinals: Major League Baseball in Nineteenth Century St. Louis, “Even the Chicago Tribune conceded “the ball beat Kelly to base (by) at least ten feet.”

Charles Comisky, then player-manager of the Browns and later owner of the Chicago White Sox, immediately left the bench and confronted the umpire. My great-grandfather, John J. O’Neill, vice-president and part owner of the Browns as well as congressman for the Eighth Missouri Congressional District where the Browns’ home field Sportsman’s Park sat, jumped out of the stands to confront the Chicago player-manager Adrian ‘Cap’ Anson. Soon all the players from both teams joined in the wrangling.

Order somehow was restored and play resumed until the frazzled umpire, appearing to favour Chicago, blew a foul ball call and then all hell broke loose with angry Browns fans flooding the field. Security personnel had to rescue the umpire. Chicago White Stocking players armed with their bats made it off the field safely. Comisky ordered his players off the diamond in protest. This act allowed the umpire to later say that the Browns had forfeited the game. The 1885 ‘World Series’ would end in a disputed 3-3-1 tie.

Chris Van der Ahe, owner of the Golden Lion Saloon a city block from Sportsman’s Park had purchased the St. Louis Browns basically to sell more beer. His saloon served also as the unofficial political headquarters for the Eighth Congressional District’s Democratic Committee which he chaired. Politics, business and professional sports mixed then as they do today.

Bread and circuses or beer and baseball may draw our attention away from crucial concerns in the short run and allow the powers that be to continue profiting from our inattention. We must, however, recognize that on many fronts like the environment or growing global inequality we are indeed losing in the bottom of the ninth of our key game seven in the real world. Can we keep our eye on the ball?