Looking back at baseball's most exciting game a century later

Walter Johnson Lost in Thought
Walter Johnson Lost in Thought / Transcendental Graphics/GettyImages

The 2024 season marks the centennial of arguably the greatest – if least remembered - major league game ever played. That contest took place Oct. 10, 1924, at Griffith Stadium in Washington and the stakes – winner-take-all for the world championship – could not have been higher.

The four-time National League champion New York Giants, the last great team led by manager John McGraw, took the field against the Washington Nationals (Senators), who had just won their first pennant in franchise history.

What makes it so worth recalling today? Several things.

*Ten future Hall of Fame players took the field that afternoon, many playing pivotal roles. They were Giants Fred Lindstrom, Frank Frisch, Ross Youngs, George Kelly, Bill Terry, Hack Wilson and Travis Jackson, along with Nationals Sam Rice, Goose Goslin and Walter Johnson.

*Both McGraw and Washington skipper Bucky Harris were also destined for the Hall - as was one other future manager, Giants pinch runner Billy Southworth.

*It was one of only five Game 7s ever to require extra innings to decide, and – at 12 innings – it remains today the longest of all of them.

*Nearly one-fifth of the exactly 100 plays taking place during that game swung the likely championship outcome by more than 10 percentage points as measured by Win Probability Added.

*At various points between the sixth and ninth innings, both teams enjoyed more than an 80 percent probability of victory.

That the game was so closely contested could not have been much of a surprise, since three of the Series' first six games had been decided by a single run. When the championship was finally awarded to the Nationals, the overall series scoring margin was a single run, 27-26, in favor of the Giants.

1924 World Series deserves remembrance with 100th anniversary around corner

Washington scored first on a fourth-inning home run into the first row of the deep left field bleachers by Harris, the team's player-manager. But the Giants retaliated with three sixth inning runs, and behind 16-game winner Virgil Barnes appeared to have the game solidly in hand entering the bottom of the eighth.

With the bases loaded and two out, Harris smacked what appeared to be a rally-killing ground ball in the direction of Giants third baseman Lindstrom. But the ball took an unexpected carom, hopping over his head and into left field, allowing Washington to score the two tying runs.

Entering the ninth inning of what was suddenly tie game for the championship, Harris motioned for his ace pitcher, Walter Johnson, who was warming up in the bullpen. Two days earlier, at the Polo Grounds, Johnson had pitched a complete-game 6-2 defeat, but he had gone 23-7 during the regular season. Even at age 36, there was nobody Nats fans had more faith in.

That faith may have been tested when Frisch drove a one-out triple into the far reaches of left-center. But Johnson intentionally walked Youngs, then retired Kelly and Emil Meusel to strand Frisch at third.

The Nats had their own chance at victory when a single and error gave them runners at first and third with one out in the bottom half of that ninth inning. But Giants reliever Hugh McQuillen coaxed an inning ending double play out of Ralph Miller. The game went into extras.

In the 11th, Johnson struck out Frisch and Kelly with the go-ahead run in scoring position. In the bottom half, Goslin’s double gave Washington a shot at victory, but that hope ended on a groundout.

The drama finally concluded – bizarrely – in the bottom of the 12th. With one out, Giants catcher Hank Gowdy stepped in his own mask attempting to catch a foul ball off the bat of Muddy Ruel. Reprieved, Ruel grounded a double into left field. An error sent him to third, then Earl McNeely grounded what looked like a sure out toward Lindstrom at third. “My whole insides seemed to rise up in my throat as the words ‘double play’ came to mind,” Harris would say later.

But just as in the eighth inning, the ball caromed wildly over the infielder’s head, Ruel trotting home with the Series winner.

So dramatic was the outcome that it even produced a hosanna from a man still considered among the all-time American stoics, then-President Calvin Coolidge. In attendance at the game, the President issued an official White House statement saying with classic Coolidge reserve, "I do not recollect a more exciting World Series than that which has finished this afternoon.”

A century later, many still don’t.

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