Note: On September 26, 1908, the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies met at New York's famed Polo Grounds to play a ball game with pennant implications. The contest would go all the way into the ninth inning, and be won on a bizarre and controversial play that would become known as "Bunson's Blunder."
In 1962, the Library of Congress began an oral history project on the earliest days of baseball. Several of the surviving participants in the game sat down and reminisced about their careers and the highlights in them. What follows is the story of this legendary game, as told by the men who played it.
Rube Svenson, catcher, New York: That was quite a season. A'course, I didn't start the year with the Giants. No sir -- the Svensons were proud, hard-working men. Every March 1, my dad would get up at 4 a.m. and start loading the cart on our farm just outside Minneapolis. I got up to and helped him, and then, we started a three-month tour of the farms, selling our maple syrup as a medicine. Oh, did we work hard. "Step right up," I would yell at 20 different locations in a day. "Step right up and buy a genuine, bona fide linament, ointment and cure-all." Oh my, it was hard making those farmers pay $20, which was a lot of money in those days. So we often beat it out of them. They were friendly, though. I took my bat along with me, and they would yell helpful suggestions as I smashed their faces in. "No, no, Sven, open your grip on the bat -- it will give you more control." Gee, was he right. In my spare time, I played a bit of semi-pro ball, found I had some talent. A scout from Mr. John J. McGraw asked if I would be interested in coming to the major leagues in New York. My father did not like this. No sir. He told me how many farmers needed to be shaken down and how little he thought of my choice, and then he broke a bottle of syrup over my head and screamed, 'No son of mine will be associated with something so disreputable.'" Well, I figured it was time to join Mr. John J. McGraw.
Fritz Obermann, shortstop, Philadelphia: Gee, we had a great team. Duncan Allison, Fred Geup, Sweet Jack McKay, Kraut Santucci -- we sure tore through the National League that year.
Antonio 'Kraut' Santucci, pitcher, Philadelphia: I came to the United States from Sicily in 1890. I played baseball in the sandlots in the Bronx, where my papa had a small restaurant. See, in those days, nicknames were usually meant to be ironic. It wasn't that people were cynical. They were too polite to point out people's failings directly. So the nickname signified the opposite of what they were. Someone would say, 'Here comes Calm Enrico Credenza,' and everyone would run inside and lock their doors, because the name told you the guy was crazy. You had Rube Svenson, who embezzled public funds, Kid Alberts, who fought in the Civil War, and Honest Steve Kelly, who insisted he was Lillian Russell. My particular failing was being Italian -- hence, 'Kraut' Santucci. But I paid it no mind. In fact, I got along well with everyone on the team that year, especially Dago McGillicuddy.
Sweet Jack McKay, third baseman, Philadelphia: Fuck off.
Charlie Black, outfield, New York: We were in a really tight race for the pennant that year. Us and Chicago traded places all year, and Philadelphia surged late to challenge our dominance. Naturally, we got pretty tense, and no one was tenser than Mr. John J. McGraw.
Joe Shreve, outfield, New York: McGraw was the best manager I ever played for. The best. He knew how to run a team, he knew how to win games, and he knew how to motivate players. Now, don't let me fool you. He was tough. Oh my, was he tough. Early in the season, I muffed a fly ball, and McGraw just cussed me out and told me what he did with my mother that night. But he was fair. He only went after you if you deserved it, and no one ever complained. I remember one game -- fifth inning, we trailed the Superbas 1-0, with a runner on first and Bill Thomas, one of our utility guys, coming to the plate. McGraw told Bill Thomas him to bunt and advance the runner. Well, Bill sees the first pitch and hits a home run.
When he comes back into the dugout, McGraw says, 'Thomas, what did I tell you to do?'
'Bunt, Mr. McGraw,' he said.
'And why did you hit that home run?'
'Because I felt like it,' Thomas said.
'And that's why you're fined $100!' McGraw screamed, just before plunging a cavalry sword into Thomas. Oh, he couldn't have children after that, but we all learned to follow McGraw's advice after that. No one dared question him.
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