- Baseball’s Greatest Comeback: The Miracle Braves of 1914 by Brian J. Ross
Brian Ross’s Baseball’s Greatest Comeback: The Miracle Braves of 1914 is a nicely researched account of the Boston Braves’ remarkable last-place-to-first-place 1914 season. In telling this story, Ross infuses his detailed chronology of the season with profiles of the Braves’ manager and key players, as well as noteworthy competitors. After a promising spring training, the Braves faltered out of the gate and found themselves fifteen games behind the first-place New York Giants by early July. The team was counted well out of the pennant race after the low point of the season, an exhibition game loss to a minor league team on July 7. The team somehow rallied to draw inspiration from that disappointing defeat and went on to win a remarkable sixty-six of their last eighty-nine games to overtake the Giants and win the pennant.
Ross examines the influence of five major figures from the 1914 season: George Stallings, Johnny Evers, Walter “Rabbit” Maranville, John McGraw, and Connie Mack. For each player and manager, Ross provides both a personal and professional back story, including family history, baseball experience, and an assessment of each figure’s importance to his team [End Page 445] during the 1914 season. Stallings, Evers, and Maranville were at the heart of the Braves’ comeback. Among other details, we learn about Stallings’s profanity-laced managing and disciplined leadership, Evers’s cunning on the field and emotional resilience off the field, and Maranville’s mischievousness and impressive range at shortstop. Ross gives equal time to two opposing managers and shrewd baseball men: McGraw and Mack. McGraw led the rival New York Giants throughout the 1914 pennant race, and the masterful technician Connie Mack was at the helm of the Philadelphia Athletics, the team the Braves faced in the World Series. One of the more appealing aspects of the book is Ross’s inclusion of poignant, humorous stories throughout his narrative. For example, we learn about the emotional and financial traumas that sent Evers spiraling into depression, Maranville’s personal recklessness with alcohol, and Mack’s playing days as a catcher, when he would slyly taunt opposing batters with observations like, “Say, that’s a nice dip in your swing. Always wished I had one like it” (120).
Ross also engagingly recounts pivotal games during the 1914 season, as well as figural games in which the players and managers built their reputations in preceding seasons. The final chapter of the book is largely devoted to a game-by-game chronicling of the World Series play between the Braves and A’s. Baseball fans and historians will appreciate Ross’s attention to detail and carefully crafted accounts of games. At the beginning of the book, Ross indicates that the Braves’ comeback will be considered in the larger cultural and political context of the Progressive Era and early stages of World War I. While he does briefly discuss the 1914 baseball season in relation to Progressive American values and consider the events that unfolded in Europe as the Braves climbed out of the National League cellar and went on to achieve World Series glory, those events remain very much in the background. As such, the book’s esoteric subject matter makes a wonderful addition to the annals of baseball history, but does not contribute as significantly to a broader historical consideration of the second decade of the twentieth century.