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The Greatest Comeback Yet

The subject of today’s post is perhaps one of the best examples of the truth of the adage “It’s not over till the fat lady sings.” Or, in the words of the great and eloquent philosopher Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

On July 4, 1914, the hapless Boston Braves were in last place among the eight teams in the National League. That was not unusual, and no one was surprised. For the previous several seasons, the Braves had fought tenaciously for last place. The previous year, 1913, they had had a phenomenal year (for them), finishing fifth with a record of 69 wins and 82 losses. So no one was surprised by where they were (last place) on July 4, 1914, with a record of only 26 wins but 40 losses.

Things had gone wrong for the team from the start of the 1914 season. They had won only 4 of their first 22 games. They were so bad that in an exhibition game against their Buffalo minor league club they lost 10-2. At one point early in the season, they reached their low point at 12-28, 16 games below .500.

The Braves had only one player in 1914 who is widely known today, and his career was even then beginning to wane. Johnny Evers had become a legend with the Chicago Cubs as the hinge on the double-play combination of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. But the Cubs had traded Evers to the Braves. Evers and his middle infield teammate Rabbit Maranville still made a formidable double-play team as Braves, leading the league in double plays in 1914, but it was a short-lived combo.

Something happened to the Braves in mid-July, however, and they went on a tear, ripping apart just about every team in the league and climbing steadily in the standings.

They hit first place on September 8 and never looked back. They won 68 of their final 87 games and 25 of their last 31. They were never flashy or overpowering; they just got hits and scored runs when they counted most. They finished the season with 95 wins and 59 losses, 10 1/2 games ahead of John McGraw’s vaunted New York Giants, who were led by the pitching great Christy Mathewson and were the odds-on favorite to take the pennant.

Heading into the World Series, the Braves faced the powerful and impressive Philadelphia Athletics, led by the legendary Connie Mack. The A’s had finished the regular season with a record of 99-53, five games better than the

Braves. Their team included some heavy hitters, including Eddie Collins at .344, Stuffy McInnis at .314, and Home Run Baker, who was hitting .319 and leading the team with 9 homers, an awesome achievement in that era of the “dead ball.” No one gave the Braves a ghost of a chance in the Series.

But the Braves had come to believe Berra’s mantra long before he uttered it. They swept the A’s in four games, outscoring them 16-6, including a shutout in Game 2. The baseball world was stunned; Braves fans were ecstatic.

To date, only one other team has even come close to matching such a comeback. In 2003, the Florida Marlins, who were at 19 and 29, ten games below .500, came back to win their league and the World Series. But their feat, though great, pales when compared with the comeback of the “Miracle Braves” of 1914.

The sad part of this story is that the Braves never won another pennant until 1948. Nonetheless, their 1914 season proves that it truly isn’t over until it’s over. So never give up! You never know.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

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