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1914 Boston Braves / BAS875-1-1

Left side panel

Ball type: Spalding Official National League, double-stitched, John K. Tener signature.

Signatures: Twenty-five, in fountain pen. Upper panel: Dick Rudolph, Butch Schmidt, Lefty Tyler, Bill James, Bert Whaling, Les Mann, Charlie Deal, Gene Cocreham, Herbie Moran, Otto Hess. Right side panel: Ted Cather, Larry Gilbert, Paul Strand. Lower panel: George Davis, Tom Hughes, Billy Martin, Clancy Tyler, Dick Cottrell, Fred Mitchell. Left side panel: Rabbit Maranville, Possum Whitted, Joe Connolly, Oscar Dugey, Josh Devore, George Stallings.

Condition: All signatures decipherable; most reveal minor areas of deterioration, with minimal to moderate fading. Several signatures on upper panel partly effaced by scuff marks. Ball surface shows small abraded areas and significant natural discoloration.

Notes: The 1914 "Miracle Braves" were among the unlikeliest of world champions. One of the National League's banner franchises in the nineteenth century, the club had more recently been an embarrassment; its performance since 1901 ranked as the worst in the majors, both at the gate and on the field. Longtime president Arthur H. Soden had allowed the team to decline after the $2400 salary limit of the 1890s was broken by the "war" for player services fought out with the upstart American League (1901-03). His sale of the club in 1906 ushered in a half-decade of near-constant chaos, in which two owners, four presidents, and six field managers served only to perpetuate Boston's status as the league's weakest club.

In December 1911 the Boston team was purchased by a group financed by James E. Gaffney, a New York contracter and Tammanyite (who would soon gain notoriety as a target in the 1913-14 Hennessy and Whitman investigations into political graft). After a last-place finish in 1912 Gaffney made his most significant move, hiring George Stallings of the Buffalo International League club to manage. Stallings had enjoyed success in the high minors, and was generally regarded a good judge of talent and a fine developer of young players. But he had also been quickly dismissed from each of three previous big league managerial jobs, thanks to a history of well-publicized run-ins with players, umpires, and management. In his first season (1913) he improved the Braves by eighteen games, but July of 1914 found the team last in a closely packed field, after a 34-43 (.442) first half. And then the Braves caught fire: they went 60-16 (.789) over the season's second half, claiming first place for good on 8 September and ultimately winning easily, by 10.5 games over the New York Giants. As early as mid-August the press was calling Stallings "The Miracle Man", a designation that seemed all the more appropriate when Boston defeated Connie Mack's powerful and experienced Philadelphia Athletics in four straight games to win the World Series - the first sweep in modern Series history.

Contemporary observers tended to view the Braves as a team of modest abilities who triumphed because they played with a determination unmatched by their rivals. Most of the credit for this went to Stallings, whom the press portrayed as a motivator without peer, a master of "baseball psychology". A widely reported example occurred on the eve of the Series, when Stallings instigated a dispute with Connie Mack over practice time at Shibe Park, so providing his team with an imagined slight at the hands of the Athletics. Still, public perceptions of the Braves cannot be understood apart from the unusual circumstances that prevailed throughout baseball in 1914. The emergence of a new rival to organized baseball, the Federal League, had drained talent from the majors, sent salaries skyrocketing and attendance plummeting, and provoked new speculation that baseball as business was wrecking the public's interest in baseball as sport. In this troubled climate the Braves' late-season surge did more than stimulate fan interest and cut the National League's financial losses; it seemed to reaffirm baseball's most cherished competitive ideals, whereby anything was possible given healthy American doses of confidence and determination.

The Braves were, in fact, an extraordinarily young team for a pennant winner; of the ten position players who started games in the Series, only three had 500 career at-bats prior to 1914 - a remarkable statistic. Their victory was eased by the dilution of talent caused by player losses to the Federals and by a power vaccuum which saw the NL's dominant teams of the early twentieth century - the Giants, Cubs, and Pirates - in decline. The club did boast two excellent pitchers in Dick Rudolph (26-10) and Bill James (26-7), and a pair of Hall-of-Famers in shortstop Rabbit Maranville and second baseman Johnny Evers, the team's captain and elder statesman. Evers, Maranville, and James were 1-2-3 in the voting for the Chalmers Award, given to the league's most valuable player. Catcher Hank Gowdy and first baseman Butch Schmidt were year-long starters, but the outfield was a more complicated story. Joe Connolly was the team's best hitter, but he played only against right-handed pitching, in the kind of right-handed/left-handed "platoon" that Stallings was, in fact, responsible for popularizing. Over the course of the year he used an ever-changing cast of outfielders and tried platooning almost all of them - the most extensive use of the tactic to this point in the game's history, though it received very little mention in the papers.

Two key signatures are missing from this ball, those of Johnny Evers and Hank Gowdy. Evers' absence is presumably attributable to the fact that the ball was retained by him as a keepsake; it remained in his family's possession for many years. The signatures can be securely dated to September or October of 1914. The players included came together only late in the season; the last to arrive was Hughes, acquired from Rochester on 5 September (though he was not required to report until the 21st). The signatures on the ball are in fact quite consistent with the roster of players made eligible for the Series - Hughes and Clancy Tyler are the only signers not so designated (Fred Mitchell was a coach). Pre-1920 team balls displaying such a comprehensive group of signatures are uncommon. In all liklihood, this ball was signed on the same occasion as BAS875-1-2 below.

Provenance: Gift of John J. Evers Jr.

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