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When the subject of the greatest game in World Series history is brought up, several obvious choices are always mentioned. Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956 is usually at or near the top of everyone's most easily recalled list. The seventh game in 1955, when Sandy Amoros made his game-saving catch and the Dodgers won their first Series, and the fourth game in 1947, in which Cookie Lavagetto broke up Bill Bevens' no-hitter, are others that rank high among the alltimers of modern memory. If you are something other than a Dodger fan, of course, you may think first of the 1932 game in which Babe Ruth did or did not point to center field against the Cubs before hitting a home run there. St. Louis fans always mention Enos Slaughter's streak from first to home in 1946 against the Red Sox.
The fact is, there can be no "greatest" Series game to serve all the requirements of regionalism, excitement and human temperament. But there was one game—hardly ever mentioned among the most memorable—that has much to offer as a candidate for supergame. The fifth game of the 1920 Series between Brooklyn and Cleveland, if remembered at all, is usually mentioned only for Bill Wambsganss' unassisted triple play for the Indians in the fifth inning. Yet this was the game in which—thanks partly to the fact that it came early enough in Series history—more notable records were set than in any game in the postseason classic up to that time. There was, of course, Wambsganss' bizarre and spectacular play, but there were also the first grand-slam homer, the first home run by a pitcher and a couple of other obscure marks. If nothing else, the fifth game of the 1920 Series gave its successors something to shoot at. Billy Evans, the late American League umpire, once called the contest "an entire season...crowded into 8� innings of play."
A game of such proportions was not out of keeping with the eventful 1920 season as a whole. The Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers had played a 26-inning game on May 1. And a young Yankee outfielder named Babe Ruth had nearly doubled his home-run record of 29, hitting 54. There were other, more sinister strains to the 1920 season. A fortnight before the Series opened, the 1919 Black Sox scandal broke, upstaging such news as the presidential campaign, the debate over the League of Nations and the census (105,683,000 "without colonies"). On Aug. 16 Carl Mays, a Yankee hurler who pitched with a deceptive underhand motion, had hit Ray Chapman, the Cleveland shortstop, on the head. Chapman died within 24 hours. A brief movement to throw Mays out of baseball sprang up—Mays had stirred a controversy the year before by quitting the Red Sox in midgame one day and then being sold to the Yankees—but quickly dissipated. But Cleveland was without the services of one of its regulars in its clash with the Dodgers.
Despite the turmoil, there was the usual interest in the World Series. National League champion Brooklyn had played in one previous Series, losing to the Red Sox four games to one in 1916. The American League champion Cleveland Indians were playing in their first Series.
Cleveland had won a three-cornered pennant race with New York and Chicago; at the end of the season only three games separated the teams. Tris Speaker, the former Red Sox outfielder, was Cleveland's playing manager and best (.388) hitter. Jim Bagby, a 31-game winner, headed a pitching staff that also included 20-game winners Stan Coveleski and Ray Caldwell.
The Indians, who wore black armbands during the Series in memory of Chapman, were a sober contrast to the daffy Dodgers. It was Brooklyn's seventh year under Manager Wilbert (Uncle Robbie) Robinson, and the Dodgers were perfect charges for the porky (5'8�", 215 pounds) absentminded leader, even to the extent that they became known for a few years as the Robins. (Once during a Giant game Robinson and several players not in the lineup that day had sprawled on the grass outside the foul lines to watch an eclipse of the sun through smoked glasses.) During the Series itself, Pitcher Rube Marquard was to be arrested for ticket scalping and Owner Charles Ebbets for handing out small test tubes of Prohibition whiskey. When they were serious, however, the Dodgers/Robins were good, winning the pennant that year by seven games over the Giants. Burleigh Grimes was their best pitcher (23-11), and Zack Wheat played the outfield, hitting .328.
The first game was played at Ebbets Field and may have been an augury of things to come. The Indians won 3-1 in a stiff wind that played tricks with the ball. George Burns set the tone by circling the bases on a pop fly that eluded two infielders and was subsequently thrown away, an event that Brooklyn starter Marquard, his teammates and the capacity crowd of 23,573 never fully recovered from. Brooklyn took the second game 3-0, and the story of the game was, as The New York Times commented, that "Grimes' spitball was working famously." The Dodgers won the third game 2-1 when singles by Zack Wheat and Hy Myers in the first inning batted across all the runs Pitcher Sherry Smith needed.
As the train carrying the Indian players pulled into Cleveland before the fourth game, Mayor W. S. Fitzgerald urged his constituents to support the club. "They will win the Series," he said, "if Cleveland backs them the way it backed the pennant fight. I ask that Cleveland...show in every way possible its appreciation." Home fans were appropriately stimulated, and the Indians reciprocated by squaring the Series with a 5-1 victory. The stage thus was set for climactic Game 5.
Spectators tolerated immense traffic jams as they traveled to the game in taxis, trolley cars and carriages. Gaily colored pavilions along the foul lines provided a colorful note at League Park. Some 6,500 new seats had been installed in the outfield, increasing the old wooden stadium's capacity to 28,000 for the Series. Outside the park spectators hung, more or less, from telephone poles, trees and rooftops. Horns, cowbells and auto sirens augmented the crowd's cheers as the managers and umpires briskly concluded their affairs at home plate and the game began.
Brooklyn appeared to be the logical favorite. Grimes had throttled the Indians on seven hits in the second game, and the losers had conferred anxiously over how to handle his spitter. Nor had Cleveland starter Jim Bagby been overpowering when he had faced Grimes the first time.