Every sports fan loves a good underdog story, whether it’s a wild card team or a club with a Cinderella story. But sometimes, we see a team flat out flop. This was the case in the 1914 World Series, when the heavily favored 99-53 Philadelphia Athletics were swept by the opposing 94-59 Boston Braves.
How could a 99-win team be such a favorite over a team with only five less victories? Well, the A’s lineup was centered around future Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Frank “Home Run” Baker. Collins slashed .344 with 58 steals in 1914 while Baker batted .319 with 12 homers and 117 RBI. It was the fourth consecutive year Baker led the American League in home runs.
Philadelphia’s starting pitching staff was even more dominant. Future Hall of Famers Chief Bender, Eddie Plank, and Herb Pennock combined for 43 wins while pitching to a combined ERA of 2.64.
If that was not enough of a reason to favor the A’s, they were led by the winningest MLB manager of all-time, Connie Mack, who tallied 3,731 victories in his career. What could possibly go wrong?
Well to be blunt, everything began going wrong for Philadelphia even before the series started. As defending champions and winners of three of the last four Fall Classics, the A’s were heavily overconfident. They were about to face a Braves squad that was in last place in July before coming back to win the National League pennant.
Prior to the series, Mack gave Bender the week off to scout the Braves for himself. Bender instead defied orders and decided to take a vacation. “Why should I check out a bunch of bush league hitters?” responded Bender when asked about his decision.
Bender probably should have checked out that bunch of bush league hitters as they ambushed him in Game 1. The Athletics’ 17-game winner was rocked in 5.1 innings, giving up six runs in Philadelphia’s 7-1 loss in the opening game.
Game 2 was a pitcher’s duel between Eddie Plank and Bill James, who won 26 games for the Braves in 1914. Plank, unlike Bender, gave his team a chance to win. Plank threw a complete game allowing one run.
However, let’s not forget Athletics hitters were also cocky figuring they would steamroll the Braves. James tossed a two-hit shutout in Boston’s 1-0 win to give his club a 2-0 series lead heading home to Fenway Park.
The A’s batted .272 as a team in 1914 and were looking for answers after collecting only one run and seven hits in the first two games combined. Philadelphia finally had an offensive “explosion” in Game 3, tallying four runs in 12 innings.
Two of the four came thanks to Home Run Baker’s two-run single in the top of the tenth, but starter Bullet Joe Bush could not secure the win. After Bush gave up two in the tenth, he literally threw the game away in the twelfth. After a leadoff double, Bush threw wildly to third on a sacrifice bunt attempt, allowing the winning run to score. The powerhouse A’s were defeated 5-4 as Boston took a 3-0 stranglehold lead in the series.
The A’s offense went back into hibernation mode in Game 4, putting up one measly run on seven hits. Once again, Philadelphia’s pitching kept them in the game, but with no reward. The Braves won 3-1 and completed the first ever four-game sweep in World Series history. The Athletics’ anemic offense batted a combined .172 for the series.
How could a perennial title contender like the A’s faceplant so hard on baseball’s biggest stage? They were overconfident for sure, but many people also suspect poor relationships between Connie Mack and his players. It is rumored that the team did not play hard because they were not pleased with Mack’s penny-pinching ways.
Mack also owned the A’s, and really pinched his pennies after the loss. Feeling a grudge against him, he let Collins go to the White Sox on a $15,000 contract, making Collins the third highest paid player in the league behind Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Philadelphia’s other vital bat, Home Run Baker, got into a contract dispute with Mack. Baker ended up sitting out the entire 1915 season before Mack sold him to the Yankees for $35,000 in 1916.
Mack got rid of his star pitchers as well. He let Chief Bender go to the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League knowing he did not want to match the Terrapins’ contract offer. Eddie Plank was also let loose to the Federal League and signed with the St. Louis Terriers. Mack had no regrets of letting Plank leave, feeling he was solely after a big contract. For good measure, Mack sold Herb Pennock to the Red Sox for $2,500.
After shredding his juggernaut team, Mack and the A’s spiraled into irrelevance for a decade. The A’s experienced brutal losing seasons from 1915-1924, including a 36-117 record in 1916. Their .235 winning percentage is the lowest in baseball’s modern era. The next closest team? The 1935 Braves, who had a .248 winning percentage after going 38-115.
Whoever would have thought one disastrous World Series performance would be the spark to light a much larger fire. Oh, how the mighty can fall so quickly.