If you're a Giant fan and feeling a little uncertain about your team in this rather unsettled year of 1967, cast your eyes back over half a century to the Giants of 1916. After finishing dead last the year before, that unpredictable and unprecedented outfit began its new season with a loss, a win, then eight straight losses, three of them to the archenemy Brooklyn Robins. Following this inauspicious beginning the 1916 Giants went on to set two records that still stand: they won 17 consecutive games on a single road trip and 26 straight at home. After all this they finished the season in fourth place.
Undismayed by his team's grisly showing in 1915, Manager John J. McGraw began 1916 with virtually all the old pros who had won three consecutive pennants for him still on the roster. About the only radical change he made was the purchase of brash Benny Kauff from Oilman Barry Sinclair. Sinclair at the time was auctioning off remnants of the ill-starred Federal League to recoup part of his incautious investment in that outlaw association.
Kauff, who had been billed as "the Ty Cobb of the Federal League," arrived weeks late at the Marlin, Texas training camp wearing a derby hat, fur-collared coat, one of his 75 striped silk shirts, patent-leather shoes, a diamond stickpin, a diamond ring, a diamond-encrusted watch and carrying $7,500 in cash. Kauff made no apologies for his tardiness. He told reporters that he could bat .330 left-handed in this crummy league and that he certainly didn't need any spring training to hit bums like Grover Cleveland Alexander. McGraw was delighted, and Kauff was assured of playing center field between George Burns and Davey Robertson. The somewhat less talkative future Hall of Famer Eddie Roush, who was acquired from Sinclair at the same time for far less money, was assured of nothing more than a seat on the bench.
McGraw's old infield—Hans Lobert, Art Fletcher, Larry Doyle and Fred Merkle—stayed set. Bill Rariden was the catcher. Christy Mathewson continued to head the pitching staff.
As the season got under way it became apparent that Christy, while retaining his wonderful control, had even less stuff than during the previous season, when he won eight and lost 14. But somewhat unfairly, since Giant pitching had been uniformly inadequate, most of the criticism for early failure fell on an innocuous pair of pitchers named Schupp and Schauer. Perhaps beguiled by the euphonious sound of the combination, McGraw had taken to using these two in tandem. The results were not always impressive. Said one reporter sourly, "It seldom Schupps but what it Schauers."
The old Manhattan of brownstones and broughams was fast resigning itself to a second year of baseball ignominy, and when the New Yorkers left the Polo Grounds for their first western swing it was, as a disillusioned fan said later, "with no friend except their bat boy, who was wavering in his allegiance."
Sidling into Pittsburgh on May 9 with their mouths zipped shut, for once, they surprised the Pirates with 13 runs and 16 hits. Then they astonished themselves by sweeping the four-game series. They went on to Chicago, where they won two games against Tinker's hated Cubs. A third was rained out; a fourth was called because of the cold. After that they swept four in St. Louis; Mathewson himself came in from the bullpen to save one of those.
In Cincinnati the Giants won three more. Then they routed the Boston Braves in four consecutive games. Allowing only four singles, the aging Mathewson won the last of the series, the Giants' 17th straight, 3-0. He caught one line smash barehanded to start a crucial double play.
Averaging five runs and 10 hits per game, the Giants arrived at Philadelphia's Baker Field needing only a Decoration Day doubleheader to come home undefeated. The morning game was a scoreless tie in the eighth, when Merkle, with two men on, hit a pitch that seemed about to clear the left-field fence. Claude Cooper sprawled over the wall to make the catch, and that did it for the Giants in the first game. But they won the second and returned to New York with a record of victories on the road that no team has threatened in 51 years.
Now only one and a half games out of first place and coming fast, the Giants were again the Giants of yore, leading the league in hitting and scaring opponents just by scowling hard. "That ball club didn't come out on the field to shake hands," says Club Secretary Eddie Brannick, who has been with the Giants since 1905. "They were rough." A less restrained observer referred to " McGraw's aggregation, stamping, snorting, breathing flame from their nostrils and curdling the depths of the heavens with their frenzied battle cry."