The rise and glorious moment in the sun of the 1911 New York Giants, widely considered one of the best lineups in baseball history.
In 1910, as Klein (Emeritus, History/Univ. of Rhode Island; A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II, 2013, etc.) carefully chronicles, baseball was evolving, with the introduction of both the cork-centered ball and new rules, including one that held that the pitcher had to be anchored to the mound with the rear foot atop a slab of rubber. “The intent was to spice the game up with more hitting,” Klein writes, “and it succeeded.” RBIs and batting averages soared, even as wide-ranging fielding became ever more important. Enter John McGraw (1873-1934), who had played brilliantly for the Baltimore Orioles and become a pioneering champion of the hit-and-run play. A man who lived and breathed baseball, McGraw took some of the Orioles’ habits of hitting to every field and running on any ball to his new job as coach for the New York Giants, which had but one real star, the legendary pitcher Christy Mathewson. McGraw carefully matched veterans with rookies, making sure everyone had plenty of time on the field, and conveyed his considerable knowledge of and enthusiasm for the game to everyone who would listen. Mathewson himself considered McGraw without peer as a third base coach; but more, he said, “he was the game.” Demolishing orthodoxies and hierarchies, McGraw created a league-winning, base-stealing squad out of dust, one that only got better the next two seasons and that made baseball history. Klein writes with appropriate excitement, though with some of the usual clichés and expected groaners: did he have to use the phrase “Faustian bargain” with respect to pitcher Charlie Faust?
A lively, absorbing retelling of a great episode in the history of America’s iconic pastime, one that modern coaches would do very well to study.