Sunday, June 23, 2013

The 1916 Giants: Two Very Long Winning Streaks Not Enough to Compete

The Toronto Blue Jays have won 11 straight and 14 of their last 16, but that may not be enough to insinuate themselves into the AL East race because of their unexpectedly bad start to the 2013 season.  This Baseball Historical Insight recalls that the 1916 New York Giants set the record for the longest winning streak in major league history, also had the second-longest winning streak that season of any big league team, and still could do no better than finish fourth in the National League. 

The 1916 Giants:  Two Very Long Winning Streaks Not Enough to Compete

After winning three consecutive pennants from 1911 to 1913, and being beaten in the World Series all three times, John McGraw's New York Giants suffered the indignity of being overtaken by the "Miracle" Boston Braves, who were in last place as late as July 18 and wound up winning the 1914 pennant race by 10-1/2 games over the Giants.  After that debacle, the Giants went down like a rock, finishing dead last in 1915.  The next year the Giants recovered enough to finish fourth in 1916 (just seven out), and in 1917 all was right in McGraw's world again when his team won its fourth pennant of the decade by a very comfortable 10-game margin.

The 1917 pennant was set up by a furious finish in 1916, with McGraw managing the Giants to 30 wins in their last 38 games of the season after September 1. This included an astonishing 26 consecutive victories that began on September 7, when they had a losing record of 59-62 and were 13-1/2 games behind in fourth place, and didn't end until the second game of a double-header on September 30, when the Boston Braves scored five runs in the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie.  Unfortunately for the Giants, their 26-game winning streak was too little, too late, coming in the final month of the season.  They were still fourth when it ended, but had narrowed the gap between them and first-place Brooklyn to five games.  Alas, there were only five games remaining on the 1916 schedule of games.  New York's 26-game winning streak included a 27th game--the nightcap of a September 18 double-header--that was tied at 1-1 when called because of darkness.  Including that twin-bill against the Pirates, the Giants played eight double-headers during their streak, winning both games in six of them before losing that second game to the Braves on September 30.

This being long before airplanes made travel between big league cities far less time-consuming, all 26 consecutive wins came at the Polo Grounds as part of a 31-game home stand over 26 days in September.  The Giants played all seven other National League teams during their streak, outscoring their opponents by 89 runs, 122 to 33.  Nine of the 26 wins were shutouts, including back-to-back shutouts on two separate occasions and three shutouts in a row against the Braves before Boston finally got on the scoreboard to end New York's winning streak.  The Braves had been held scoreless in the first 30 innings of their four-game set at the Polo Grounds before finally scoring a pair of runs in the fourth inning of the fourth game on their way to ultimately an 8-3 win.  Jeff Tesreau, the ace of McGraw's pitching staff won seven of the 26 games, raising his record from 11-13 to 18-13; he finished the season at 18-14, losing the Giants' season finale.

As astounding as 26-in-a-row was, it was the Giants' second substantial winning streak of the 1916 season.  After getting off to a terrible start, winning only two of their first 15 games and finding themselves already 8-1/2 behind (making it seem like 1915 all over again), McGraw's guys reeled off 17 straight from May 9 to 29, putting them within a game-and-a-half of Brooklyn at the top.  In counterpoise to the 26 straight they would win in September, this winning streak was all on the road during the Giants' first western swing of the season.  The Giants outscored their opponents by 79 runs, 113 to 34, and had two shutout victories.  The second of those shutouts, coming on May 29 in Boston to extend the Giants' streak to 17, was by Christy Mathewson--the last of 79 he threw in his career.  It was also the 371st win of his career.  At 35 years old, Mathewson made only two more starts and would win only one more game for the Giants (in relief) before being traded to Cincinnati in July for the opportunity to manage.  It was in a Reds uniform that Matty won one final game for his career resume.

Let's see.  That's 17 in a row, and then 26 in a row . . . and the New York Giants only finished fourth?  No other team in the National League won more than eight in a row in 1916, which was the longest streak for both first-place Brooklyn and second-place Philadelphia, and the only American League team to come close was the fifth-place St. Louis Browns, who ran off a streak of 14 straight in July and August.  The Giants' two winning streaks accounted for fully half of their 86 victories in 1916, meaning that the rest of the year they went 43-66.  That's 23 games under .500.  If it appeared the Giants were set to compete after their 17 straight wins in May, that expectation was dashed by July 4 when they found themselves in fifth place, 8-1/2 games in the hole.  It certainly did not help that the Giants were outscored in their other 109 games by 21 percent, 437 runs for their opponents to 362 for them.

Two long winning streaks did not make the Giants competitive in the 1916 pennant race, but primed them to dominate the league the next season.  Although their longest winning streak in 1917 was only six games, the Giants had a nine-game lead by the end of July and led by as many as 13 games in mid-August.  Their triumphant return to the top ended on a sour note, however.  McGraw's Giants not only failed once again to win a World Series in 1917, but played foil to the Chicago White Sox by setting the groundwork for the myth that the "say it ain't so Shoeless Joe" White Sox of that era were one of the greatest teams in history, derailed only by the greed and/or naivete of their "eight men out."  But that is another story.

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