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Yankees History: Russ Ford and a very weird complete game

In a game that would only happen in the olden days of baseball, the Yankees produced a weird win in 1912.

Cigarette Card Of Russ Ford Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The art of the complete game appears to be one that is dying. Officially, only one Yankee pitcher threw one in 2022, and that was Nestor Cortes in a game that only went six innings because of rain. Cortes’ May 26th start against the Rays was the only time a Yankee pitcher was sent back out for the ninth inning to potentially get one. He then allowed a leadoff single to start the ninth and was removed. Every other time a Yankee pitcher got through eight innings, a reliever then came in to start the ninth.

All of that has happened for a variety of reasons that seem unlikely to reverse. However, it used to be far from the case. If you go back and look at say ... 1912, it was a very different story. If you go and look at the 1912 Yankees — then called the Highlanders — you’ll see a pitching staff that combined for 105 complete games in the 153 games they played.

The 105 total was headed by Russ Ford with 30. Ford was one of the Highlanders’ better pitchers in 1912 and finished with 291.2 innings pitched. His numbers were generally a bit better than league average, which means a good number of those complete games would’ve been pretty good. However, not all of them were. One of those less good complete games came in a weird game against the White Sox on May 21, 1912.

The visiting White Sox team started the game quickly, scoring two runs in the top of the first and added a third run in the second. While Ford wasn’t great this day, he also didn’t get a lot of help. In total, the Highlanders committed five errors on the day. One was on third baseman Roy Hartzell, one on first baseman Hal Chase, and an astounding three on shortstop Jack Martin. The Martin to Chase combination on grounders seemed to provide most of the issues. (In related news, Chase was often the subject of accusations of throwing games during his career. Just thought that tidbit might be of interest.) In particular, those two made a throwing error each on one play, allowing Chicago’s Buck Weaver to race all the way around the bases for a little league home run on what was a ground ball to short.

The Highlanders got one run back in the third, but, with Ford still on the mound, Chicago added two in the sixth. After New York answered with two runs of their own in the same frame, the White Sox then scored another three in the seventh. Not to be outdone, the Highlanders again answered, matching that total again.

All throughout that, Ford remained in the game, eventually putting up scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth. In his nine innings of work, Ford allowed eight runs on eight hits and three walks. It’s unclear the exact breakdown of how many of those runs were earned or unearned, because 1912 box scores aren’t exactly totally thorough. However even with several members of his defense throwing the ball all over the place, he didn’t have a great day.

Down 8-6 and down to their last three outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Highlanders got a rally started when right fielder Bert Daniels led off the inning with a triple, and then scored when center fielder Guy Zinn singled. At that point, Chase somewhat made up for whatever it was he had been doing in the field and also singled. At that point, the White Sox went to their bullpen and brought in pitcher Frank Lange. The first batter he faced was Birdie Cree, who laid down a sacrifice bunt, putting the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position. That’s when things got stupid.

Next up for the Highlanders was second baseman Hack Simmons. During that at-bat, a pitch got away from Lange, going for a wild pitch that scored Zinn to tie the game. Lange eventually struck out Simmons, at which point, the White Sox then opted to intentionally walk Hartzell. On what should’ve been the fourth and final pitch of the walk, Lange started his windup but hesitated a bit before attempting to check Chase at third. The umpires ruled that he had balked in the process, allowing Chase to score which gave the Highlanders the win.

To recap, Ford got a complete game victory despite allowing eight runs because his team scored nine, thanks in large part to a wild pitch and a balk. Baseball is a normal sport.


New York Times - May 22, 1912