As mentioned in the previous post about Matt Cain’s somewhat historic World Series performance, the Giants’ right hander became only the fourth starter to have a scoreless World Series debut, but fail to throw a complete game. Two of the other pitchers, Juan Marichal and Orel Hildebrand, were forced to depart early because of injury, but the really interesting story deals with the other member of the fraternity: Warren Harvey “Curley” Ogden.
Curly Ogden was an unaccomplished young starter when he was acquired from the Philadelphia Athletics on May 23, 1924. Upon joining the Senators, however, Ogden became a meaningful contributor to the team’s pennant aspirations, going 9-5 with a 2.58 ERA in 108 innings. Nonetheless, once the World Series came around, Ogden wasn’t expected to see the light of day against John McGraw’s mighty New York Giants, who were appearing in their fourth consecutive Fall Classic.
The Senators rotation was led by the legendary Walter Johnson, but also featured the solid duo of George Mogridge and Tom Zachary. Even Firpo Marberry, a highly effective starter/reliever hybrid was ahead of Ogden on the rotation depth chart, so there really was little hope for him to make any kind of meaningful impact in the World Series.
Once game seven rolled around, however, Senators’ player/manager Bucky Harris made what seemed like a curious decision. Although Johnson and Zachary had each thrown nine innings in games 5 and 6, respectively, Harris still had Mogridge available for the finale. In his game four start, Mogridge limited the Giants to two runs over seven innings to help tie up the Series, so it seemed only natural that he would toe the rubber for the deciding seventh game. Instead, Harris went with the untested Ogden, who hadn’t so much as warmed up over the first six games.
The casualties of shell-ridden “pitchers’ hill” have been so heavy upon both baseball armies that the two generals will be compelled to put their fortunes up to the youths of virtually untried capacity in today’s deciding game.” – Associated Press, October 10, 1924, writing about the Virgil Barnes vs. Curley Ogden matchup slated for game seven of that year’s World Series.
In reality, Harris had no intention of letting Ogden go very deep into the game. In fact, he didn’t intend to let him go past one batter. Perhaps eager to match wits with the legendary McGraw, who had won three championships and 10 pennants, the 27-year old Harris had planned to set a clever trap for the Little Napolean, and Ogden was the bait. You see, the Giants were a prolific 73-45 against right handers, but managed to go only 20-15 against southpaws. And, in the center of the Giants’ lineup was a young left handed hitter named Bill Terry, who would go onto a Hall of Fame career, but at the moment struggled mightily against southpaws. With that in mind, Harris hatched a unorthodox plan. He would have Ogden, a right hander, start the game, and lock McGraw into a lineup with Terry batting fifth. Then, after one batter, he would go to his lefty Mogridge and force McGraw to react.
It was Bill Terry, Giant first baseman, who threw the scare into Harris and caused him to resort to this strategy to get him out of the way…And this strategy worked out perfectly. McGraw had shifted his team to combat Mogridge and Terry was out.” – Associated Press, “Psychology in World Series”, November 11, 1924
According to a newspaper account after the series that cited an unnamed team source, Harris had actually scripted the entire game, planning ahead of time which pitchers would be used and for how long. The only deviations occurred when Ogden struck out the first batter, which forced Harris to hold off on his planned pitching change, and the game went into extra innings, which required the veteran Johnson to throw four innings on only one day’s rest.
Despite all of Harris’ maneuvering, the Senators’ World Series fate rested on the great Walter Johnson…just as everyone had expected, albeit under much different circumstances. After suffering losses in games 1 and 5, Johnson was disappointed to be skipped over in the final game, but like a true legend, he responded with four shutout innings in relief and picked up the victory when Earl McNeely’s RBI double in the bottom of the 12th clinched the World Series.
Although it still took a late game comeback and a heroic relief outing from the tired Johnson, Harris’ plan was widely credited with helping to steer the Senators to victory (his .333/.353/.515 line in 34 PAs and HR in game 7 probably didn’t hurt). By taking the bold stroke, Harris was essentially able to control McGraw’s use of the dangerous Terry, who had an OPS of 1.315 in the series. After watching Terry make two weak outs against the lefty Mogridge, the Giants’ skipper eventually relented and sent Irish Meusel to the plate in the sixth inning. Ready for the scenario, Harris responded with his relief ace Marberry, who if not for two errors would have escaped from the sixth largely unscathed. All told, the right-handed tandem of Marberry and Johnson pitched seven innings without surrendering an unearned run, so it’s only natural to wonder what might have been for the Giants if the potent left handed bat of Terry wasn’t removed so soon.
Was Bucky Harris the first sabermetric manager? And, if the strategy had backfired, would he be have been ridiculed for trusting his “binder”? Who knows…but for at least one game, the upstart Harris had outfoxed an old master and in the process made Curly Ogden a permanent part of World Series lore.