A weird quirk of baseball is that games can be considered complete even if they don’t actually finish nine innings. Shortened games (almost always due to rain nowadays) can occur if five innings are completed. That can create some weird statistical happenings, such as David Phelps’ only career complete game, when he got through all five innings in a rain-shortened contest in 2014.
On August 31, 1906, the Yankees, then known as the Highlanders, played a shortened game against the Washington Senators. However, if you were just glancing at the schedule, looking at the scores, you might not know that. That’s because what happened that day was, both on and off the field, one of the most chaotic games imaginable.
Facing the Senators at their home of Hilltop Park in the second game of a doubleheader (they had won the first game 7-5), the Highlanders stepped to the plate after getting a scoreless top of the first to start the game. On the hill for Washington that day was Harry Hardy, but he wouldn’t be around for long. New York struck for five runs in the inning, knocking Hardy out after just 0.2 innings. Former Highlander Tom Hughes came in and finished off the inning, but his team already had a long road back.
The pitching change to Hughes may have worked in the first, but very much did not in the second. After another scoreless top half of the inning, the Yankees struck with five more, opening up a double-digit lead in just two innings.
Washington got on the board with two runs in the third, even knocking out Highlanders’ starter Al Orth. However shortly after that, New York put up a five spot for a third consecutive inning
Despite that advantage, a massive lead apparently wasn’t enough to calm the tempers of a couple Highlanders’ players. In the third inning, Highlanders shortstop and future manager Kid Elberfeld slid into first base attempting to beat out a play at the bag. Although he did so successfully, Elberfeld also injured his ankle in the process.
In the clubhouse after the play, New York center fielder Wid Conroy made a comment about Elberfeld going all out and hurting himself in a game where they already had a sizeable lead. Elberfeld, nicknamed “The Tabasco Kid,” apparently didn’t take kindly to the remark, and the two ended up getting into a fist fight. Reportedly, it took players, coaches, and even police officers to break the two up and get things under control. While Conroy stayed in the game, Elberfeld left the stadium after the incident.
The Highlanders offense kept on carrying on without him. Their five-run inning streak was snapped in the fourth, but they added one run before it was over. In the sixth, they picked up another four runs. After that last inning, the game would end up being called on account of darkness. Between the fact that it was a doubleheader and the fact that it was 1906 and there were no lights, they apparently could not continue. The game ended in a 20-5 Highlanders win. There’s no mercy rule in MLB, but in a way, they scored so many runs that the game had to stop.
Frank Delahanty was the biggest star for the Highlanders that day, going 4-for-5 with seven RBI after two home runs and a double. Had he gotten a couple more innings, there’s a non-zero chance that he’d be the franchise’s single-game RBI record holder, which instead is Tony Lazzeri, with 11 in a 1936 game.
As you might be able to guess, this is the most runs in Yankees/Highlanders history in a game that lasted six or fewer innings. It’s tied for the 18th most in any game in franchise history. They were on pace for 30 runs over nine innings, although they likely wouldn’t have had to bat in the ninth unless something bizarre happened.
The wins on August 31st took the Highlanders to a 67-48 record, getting them within three games in the American League standings. They went on to hold the lead in the pennant race for a decent chunk of September, but they went just .500 in their last 24 games and ended up in second place behind the “Hitless Wonder” White Sox, 3.5 games out of first.
Rain (or in this case darkness) shortened games are always weird in general. However, there can’t be many much crazier than the Highlanders-Senators game from August 31, 1906.
New York Times, September 1, 1906