- The Miracle Braves, 1914–1916 by Charles C. Alexander
One of the best current-day writers of baseball history that I always enjoy reading is Charles Alexander, a Professor Emeritus of history at Ohio University. In this latest of his seven books on baseball history, he has taken up the story of perhaps the least-known champion of the Deadball Era, if not in all of the diamond game’s past.
The Boston Braves franchise had precious few notable seasons in its history before the team was relocated to Milwaukee in 1953—the three-year period covered in this slim volume unquestionably the best with the exception of winning the 1948 National League pennant. The 1914 National League season, and then the stunning World Series outcome that followed, remains one of the biggest surprises in baseball history to this day. Alexander undertakes the task of attempting to help us understand how the Braves accomplished what he calls the “miracle season”—the “miracle” being that on July 6, 1914, the Braves were in eighth, or last, place in the National League and fourteen games behind the leading New York Giants, yet compiled a tremendous record the rest of the way to win the pennant by ten-and-a-half games ahead of the second-place club. Along the way, the author gives us a little too much detail.
In the past, Alexander has produced outstanding biographies on prominent baseball personalities John McGraw, Rogers Hornsby, and Ty Cobb. With the Miracle Braves, he has tackled an entirely different genre of baseball history: that of following a team through an [End Page 104] entire season or seasons of play. Unless there are plenty of colorful personalities and off-field exploits to liven up the story a bit, the outcome of these baseball-season histories is usually a seemingly endless stream of recitations on the batting and pitching deeds produced in a good many of the games, along with the scores, right through the entire season for the team being examined. One season is bad enough for the average reader who has virtually little chance of remembering anything much from all the data; for three seasons, it becomes impossible. This is the only problem with Miracle Braves.
The Braves were led to their success that included the 1914 World Series victory over the legendary Philadelphia Athletics by one of baseball’s relatively ignored managers, George Stallings—a long-time baseball man dating back to 1890. A fiery manager, Stallings always remained dressed in street clothes while sitting in the dugout during games. The book benefits by the good deal of information that the author gathered on Stallings for both on and off the field—especially during the off-seasons. Stallings was from Georgia and owned a 2,200-acre cotton plantation there that employed sixty African Americans. After the 1914 season, he appeared on the Keith vaudeville circuit for a time to help pay for feeding his employees, according to an interview he gave (92), and he was said to consider them “his children” (144). More on the plantation arrangements certainly would have been interesting.
Plenty of anecdotes are also presented on second baseman Johnny Evers, who came to the Braves in 1914 and was important to their success that season, and Alexander gives us a lot of examples of just why Evers was so disliked everywhere he went in baseball. Other key players who come in for a fair amount of attention are catcher Hank Gowdy and shortstop “Rabbit” Maranville, along with the three pitchers who really carried the Braves to the 1914 pennant—Dick Rudolph, Bill James, and George Tyler.
After winning the World Series, the Braves then were in the middle of tight pennant races in 1915 and 1916, finishing in second and third place, respectively, which are covered in the same style of detailed game results. One of the best parts of the book is the epilogue, in which the author gives us short descriptions of the post-1914 lives of...