By Brett Hall – Harding Home Presidential Site Staff Member
The Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs have punched their tickets to the World Series and have set the stage for one of these two franchises to break their long title droughts. This. Is. Drama. With the World Series fast approaching, we felt we should take a moment to remember the President’s love of our nation’s pastime and these two teams before fall turns to winter and the long wait before spring training begins.
Warren G. Harding was an avid baseball fan. Mr. and Mrs. Harding both knew their way around the game and rooted for the Cincinnati Reds. Mr. Harding, owner of the Marion Daily Star, had the box scores of the major league games posted in the pages of his paper. Baseball was in his blood. “I like the tension of a tight game,” Senator Harding said. “You can’t win a ball game with a one-man team. I like a pitcher who puts the ball over the plate and trusts his fielders to play their stations. Maybe it is old-fashioned, but I am for team play.”
In the summer 1920, Senator Harding was in the midst of his front porch campaign and he told the media that he was unable to get away from the campaign trail to see a baseball game. The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians were in the middle of two completely different seasons. The Cleveland Indians were in a three way battle for first place with the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees. With the success of the Indians and with the Reds in striking distance of playing for the National League Pennant, Senator Harding said, “I had hopes that Cleveland would win the pennant in one league and Cincinnati in the other, so that the world championship games might be played in Ohio, by Ohio teams”
In the late summer, the Indians were trying to finish their season in first place while rallying together after the tragic death of starting shortstop Ray Chapman, who died on August 17 a day after being hit in the head by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays. Meanwhile, the Cubs were buried in the standings by the Brooklyn Robins and were sputtering towards a .500 finish.
After hearing of Harding’s desire to see a ballgame, the Cubs owner Bill Wrigley decided to give the senator a live baseball game. Wrigley was a Harding supporter and seeing that his club’s shot at the pennant was out of reach, worked out a plan with the Harding campaign to bring the Chicago Cubs to Marion, Ohio to play an exhibition game against the Kerrigan Tailors, the semi-professional local team. Senator Harding was a former stockholder of the club and “perhaps the most enthusiastic of Marion fans.”
On September 2, 1920, the Cubs arrived in Marion with Cubs ownership and press to watch the game. The Cubs started off visiting the Harding Home in the morning with Senator Harding addressing the team. The team then had lunch at the Marion Club before making their way to Lincoln park to prepare for the game. Marion was abuzz that day. Tickets went fast as there were only 700 grandstand tickets available starting at 1 p.m. Tickets sold for 50 cents and half the tickets were sold at Selby & Markerts Cigar Store with the other half being sold at Lincoln park. Once the grandstands were sold out, visitors encircled the entire playing field with an estimated 5,000 people in attendance. It was the largest sporting event in the history of Marion at the time.
The crowed was entertained watching the players warm up and listening to Baker’s Band play throughout the afternoon until Senator Harding and his party arrived. Senator and Mrs. Harding arrived at the park around 3 o’clock to a chorus of cheers. Senator Harding, sporting a blue coat, white flannel pants, and his trademark straw hat, went to the Cubs dugout and met with players and signed autographs. Harding then told the Cubs players, “I pay to you my tribute to baseball because I like the game just like every other real American. It has been in the blood for over a half century and it has helped us as a people.”
As game time approached, Senator Harding warmed up to pitch for the Tailors. Harding was to pitch to the first batter of the game. Harding caught all the balls thrown to him barehanded before one of the players gave him a glove. The New York Tribune stated that, “He threw with such vigor that his hat bobbed around on the top of his head and paid little heed to the wild yells from the crowd.”
Harding went to the mound and prepared to throw to the first batter of the game, outfielder Max Flack. The first pitch was called a strike by “a charitable umpire.” The next pitch ended up “about four feet outside the plate and within a foot of the ground” with the final pitch carrying out of Flack’s reach. Senator Harding then retired to the grandstands to cheers to watch the rest of the game. The Cubs then lent the Tailors pitchers Abraham “Sweetbread” Bailey and Speed Martin as well as former Indians catcher Tom Daly to make the game more interesting.
The game was scoreless through the first two inning until the Cubs broke out with an RBI single in the 3rd and two insurance runs in the 7th. The Kerrigan Tailors were held scoreless until the 8th, where they were able to push a run across. The Tailors had an opportunity to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th after a one out single brought the tying run to the plate. Tom Daly, the catcher the Cubs lent the Tailors, bounced into a game ending double play. The crowd and Senator Harding went home pleased with the showing from the two teams.
The Cubs went on to finish the season four games below the .500 mark at 75-79. The Cleveland Indians, one of the two teams that Harding had hoped would make it to the World Series, went on to narrowly clinch the top spot in the American League at 98-56 with the White Sox and Yankees finishing 2 and 3 games back respectively. The Indians would defeat the White Sox to win the American League pennant and send Cleveland to its first World Series in franchise history. The Indians went on to defeat the Brooklyn Robins 5 games to 2 in a best of 9 series to capture the franchise’s first World Series title on October 12th. Later that day, Harding’s Marion Daily Star had the headline, “The Cleveland Indians, The 1920 Baseball Champions of the World” with the subheading “Fandom Out In Force For Contest.” While Harding did not get the matchup he dreamed of, he still got what he wanted; an Ohio team bringing home a World Series for Ohio.