Yankees History: Russ Ford and a Very Strange Complete Game from 1912
The art of the complete game seems to be one that is dying. Officially, only one Yankee pitcher threw one in 2022, and that was Nestor Cortes in a game that only went six innings because of rain. Cortes’ May 26 start against the Rays was the only time a Yankee pitcher was sent back for the ninth inning to potentially get one. He then allowed a leadoff single to start the ninth and was removed. Every other time a Yankee pitcher made it through eight innings, a reliever came in to start the ninth.
All this has happened for a number of reasons that do not seem to be reversing. However, that used to be far from the case. If you go back and look at say … 1912, it was a completely different story. If you go look at the 1912 Yankees — then called the Highlanders — you’ll see a pitching staff that combined for 105 complete games in the 153 games they played.
The total of 105 was led by Russ Ford with 30. Ford was one of the Highlanders’ better pitchers in 1912, finishing with 291.2 innings. His numbers were generally slightly better than league average, meaning a good number of the complete games would be pretty good. However, not all of them were. One of the less good complete games came in a strange game against the White Sox on May 21, 1912.
The visiting White Sox started the game quickly, scoring two runs in the top of the first and adding a third run in the second. Although Ford wasn’t big this day, he didn’t get much help either. In total, the Highlanders committed five errors on the day. One was on third baseman Roy Hartzell, one on first baseman Hal Chase, and an astounding three on shortstop Jack Martin. The Martin to Chase combination on grounders seemed to cause most of the problems. (In related news, Chase was often the subject of accusations of throwing games during his career. Just thought it might be interesting.) Notably, these two each committed a throwing error on one play, allowing Chicago’s Buck Weaver to run them all. his way around the bases for a minor league home run on what was a ground ball too short.
The Highlanders got one run back in the third, but with Ford still on the mound, Chicago added two in the sixth. After New York answered with two runs of their own in the same frame, the White Sox scored three more in the seventh. Not to be outdone, the Highlanders responded again, matching that total again.
Overall, Ford stayed in the game, eventually pitching scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth. In his nine innings of work, Ford allowed eight runs on eight hits and three walks. It’s unclear the exact breakdown of how many of those runs were earned or unearned, because the 1912 box scores aren’t exactly thorough. But even with several members of his defense throwing the ball all over the place, he didn’t have a great day.
Down 8-6 and down to their final three outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Highlanders got a rally going when right fielder Bert Daniels led off the inning with a triple, then center fielder Guy Zinn singled. At that point, Chase made up for what he had done in the field and singles as well. At that point, the White Sox went to the bullpen and brought in pitcher Frank Lange. The first batter he faced was Birdie Cree, who laid down a sacrifice bunt, putting the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position. That’s when things got silly.
Next up for the Highlanders was second baseman Hack Simmons. During that at-bat, a pitch got away from Lange, and went for a wild pitch that scored Zinn to tie the game. Lange eventually struck out Simmons, at which point the White Sox elected to walk Hartzell on purpose. On what should have been the fourth and final pitch of the walk, Lange started the windup, but hesitated a bit before attempting to check Chase at third. The umpires ruled that he had failed in the process, allowing Chase to score, giving the Highlanders the win.
To recap, Ford picked up a complete game victory despite allowing eight runs because his team scored nine, thanks in large part to a wild pitch and a reluctance. Baseball is a regular sport.
New York Times – May 22, 1912