Golden Baseball Magazine
Fantastic Finishes
This feature discusses the last weeks of a close pennant race in the NL or AL.

Rogers Hornsby

Jack Hendricks

Edd Roush

Paul Waner

Bill McKechnie

Billy Southworth

Fantastic Finish - NL 1926
1926 saw the longest sustained three-team pennant race in National League history.
  • On only one day of the 154-game schedule were the Cincinnati Reds more than three games out of first place.
  • From July 9 to September 15, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent only one day more than 3.5 games out of first place.
  • From August 7 to the end of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals were never more than three games out of first place.

Aided by the acquisition of P Grover Cleveland Alexander on waivers from the Cubs in late June, the Cardinals under the leadership of player-manager Rogers Hornsby began to move up the standings ladder.

  • A 12-1 stretch in early July took the Redbirds from 6th place, 4.5 games behind, to 2nd, only a half-game behind.
  • Two Redbird infielders finally found their batting stroke. 1B Jim Bottomley raised his average from .257 to a final .299 and league-leading 120 RBI. SS Tommy Thevenot, in danger of losing his starting spot at a dismal .222, increased his average 34 points the rest of the way.

Jack Hendricks' Cincinnati club fielded a well-balanced lineup.

  • The three outfielders and C Bubbles Hargrave hit over .300: Hargrave (.353), Cuckoo Christensen (.350), Edd Roush (.323), and Curt Walker (.306).
  • 1B Wally Pipp, he of whom-did-Lou-Gehrig-replace fame, topped the club with 99 RBI.
  • 20-game winner Pete Donohue led the pitching staff, followed by veteran Carl Mays (he of who-killed-Ray-Chapman-with-a-pitch) with 19 wins and a club-leading 3.14 ERA.

The Pirates returned almost the entire team that won the 1925 World Series.

  • Eddie Moore took over for Hal Rhyne at 2B and future Hall of Famer Paul Waner replaced Clyde Barnhart in RF.
  • Six starters hit over .300, from C Earl Smith's .346 and Waner's .336 to 3B Pie Traynor's .317 and SS Glenn Wright's .308.
  • Manager Bill McKechnie's mound corps boasted two 20-game winners in Ray Kremer and Lee Meadows. But the next highest victory total was only half of that by Vic Aldridge.

At the start of September, the standings looked like this after the Cardinals swept a doubleheader from the Bucs.

Team W L GB
St. Louis 75 54 ---
Cincinnati 74 54 0.5
Pittsburgh 71 52 1.0
Chicago 69 58 5.0
  • A week later, the Cards, who were in process of playing their last 24 games on the road, still held the lead by a game over the Reds, but the Pirates fell 3.5 behind.
  • After games of the 9th, St. Louis led Cincinnati by three games while Pitt lurked 3.5 off the pace.

None of the top teams had an advantage in the remaining schedule.

  • Starting September 10, the four western teams, who made up the first division of the standings, visited the four eastern teams until the final Sunday of the season.
  • The race could well come down to how much each contender feasted on the NL's two weak sisters. Philadelphia was 26 games behind and Boston 27 on September 9.

The Cards started their Eastern swing with Boston and Philly.

  • But Hornsby's club lost their entire lead by dropping three of four to the lowly Braves while the Reds swept four in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh won three of five from the Giants to stay 3.5 behind with only ten games left on their schedule.
  • The Cardinals got a chance to redeem themselves against the Phillies in a six-game series that included two double headers. They won the first five by scores of 9-2, 23-3, 10-2, 10-1, and 7-3. Though they lost the finale, they left the City of Brotherly Love 1.5 games ahead of the Redlegs, who had stumbled at the Polo Grounds, dropping two of three. The Bucs ended any realistic hope of defending their championship by dropping three of four at Ebbets Field.

The Redbirds' up-and-down play continued with two more losses, one to the Giants and another to the Dodgers.

  • But they actually gained a half-game on Cincinnati, who did the Cards one better (or worse) by losing all three contests in Boston.
  • When the Birds beat Brooklyn 15-7 while Cincy and Philadelphia played a 15-inning tie called by darkness, St. Louis led by 2.5 games with three to play. Their magic number was only one to win the franchise's first NL pennant.

The Giants were playing out the season in the strange position of fifth place, their lowest finish in ten years.

  • On the day after Gene Tunney took the heavyweight championship from Jack Dempsey, Flint Rhem took the hill for St. Louis in search of his 21st victory. But the Cards' ace lasted only one inning, giving up six hits and three runs.
  • Hornsby sent his second-best starter, Bill Sherdel, out for the 2nd and was rewarded with eight innings of one-run ball.
  • The Cards exploded for five runs in the top of the 2nd to take a lead they never relinquished. The key hits were a two-run double by SS Specs Toporcer and a two-run HR by RF Billy Southworth, who had been traded by the Giants to St. Louis June 14.
    The pennant clincher set off a nine-hour celebration in downtown St. Louis
  • The Redbirds lost the last two games, including a meaningless Sunday game at Cincinnati that once looked like it might decide the pennant. That left their final margin at two games over the Reds and five over the Pirates.

St. Louis capped their season by upsetting the mighty Yankees in a thrilling seven-game series.

References: Rogers Hornsby: A Biography, Charles C. Alexander (1995)
Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman, Lee Lowenfish (2007)
AL 1908
AL 1948
AL 1949
NL 1949
NL 1966
NL West 1993
AL 1920 - 1
AL 1920 - 2
AL 1920 - 3
AL 1967
NL 1951 - 1
NL 1951 - 2
NL 1951 - 3
NL 1914 - 1
NL 1914 - 2
NL 1938 - 1
NL 1938 - 2
NL 1938 - 3
NL 1964 - 1
NL 1964 - 2
NL 1981 - 1
NL 1981 - 2
NL 1981 - 3
NL 1981 - 4