The Duel Between Smoky Joe Wood and Walter Johnson at Fenway Park in September 1912

This was perhaps the first memorable game at Fenway Park, which had opened with its first game just a few months earlier, and maybe the most memorable regular season baseball game of the 1910s.

In The Glory of Their Times, Wood recalled:

That was my greatest season, 1912: 34 wins, 16 in a row, 3 more in the World Series, and, of course, beating Walter Johnson in that big game at Fenway Park on September 6, 1912. My regular pitching turn was scheduled to come on Saturday, and they moved it up a day so that Walter and I could face each other. Walter had already won 16 in a row and his streak had ended. I had won 13 in a row and they challenged our manager, Jake Stahl, to pitch me against Walter, so Walter could stop my streak himself. Jake agreed, and to match us against each other he moved me up in the rotation from Saturday to Friday.

The newspapers publicized us like prizefighters: giving statistics comparing our height, weight, biceps, triceps, arm span, and whatnot: The Champion, Walter Johnson, versus the Challenger, Joe Wood. That was the only game I ever remember in Fenway Park, or anywhere else for that matter, where the fans were sitting practically along the first and third-base lines. Instead of sitting back where the bench usually is, we were sitting on chairs right up against the foul lines, and the fans were right behind us. The overflow had been packed between the grandstand and the foul lines, as well as out in the outfield behind ropes. Fenway Park must have contained twice as many people as its seating capacity that day. I never saw so many people in one place in my life.

In fact, the fans were put on the field an hour before the game started, and it was so crowded down there I hardly had room to warm up.

Well, I won, 1-0, but don’t let that fool you. In my opinion the greatest pitcher who ever lived was Walter Johnson.

And in that same book, Harry Hooper called it “probably the most exciting game I ever played in or saw.”

A SABR article by Emil Rothe called THE WAR OF 1912 – The Wood-Johnson Duel, argued:

No single such confrontation was ever played in a more dramatic and emotional atmosphere than the game of September 6, 1912, in Boston’s Fenway Park, with Walter Johnson taking the bill for the visiting Washington Senators, opposing the Red Sox pitching ace, Smoky Joe Wood.

Earlier that season Walter Johnson had fashioned a personal win streak that had reached 16, a new American League record . . . Joe Wood, starting a consecutive string of wins of his own on July 8, was threatening Johnson’s newly acquired A.L. record as a series between Washington and Boston approached.

Recognizing the drama of a head-to-head meeting between these two great pitchers, baseball fans and writers, everywhere, clamored for the opportunity for Johnson, himself, to put an end to Wood’s threat to his record 16 consecutive wins acquired less than two weeks before. Walter’s regular turn was to be Friday, September 6, but Wood was not scheduled to take the mound again until Saturday.

Jake Stahl, Boston manager, aware of the sporting nature of the proposal, agreed to start Wood a day earlier. The fans responded over 30,000 strong far more than Fenway Park could accommodate in those days. On the day of the game, fans who could not be seated overflowed onto the playing field. Standing room was established behind ropes in front of the outfield walls and bleachers. Other spectators crowded along the foul lines. The teams were not even able to use their own dugouts, but were obliged to use chairs set up in front of the multitudes ranged along the foul lines.

As expected, the game developed into a bona fide pitching battle. Boston put together two singles in the second but Walter escaped that threat as Heinie Wagner raced into the outfield to grab a pop fly in spectacular fashion for the third out. Washington filled the bases in the third, two on walks, but Smoky Joe fanned Danny Moeller for the third out.

The lone tally of this memorable game came in the sixth after Walter had disposed of the first two batters of the inning. Tris Speaker hit into the crowd in left for a ground-rule double. Duffy Lewis, next up, drove a hard liner along the right field foul line which Moeller, the Senator right fielder, almost caught, the ball just ticked his glove as Speaker scored and Lewis reached second.

The Senators had men in scoring position, at second, in the sixth, eighth, and ninth but Wood was tough when he had to be. In two of those innings he got the final out via a strike out. In all, he fanned nine Senators, and the shutout was one of 10 he registered in 1912.

Here are two pictures from the Boston Globe covering the game:

A sidebar item on the game said: “No one who saw it will ever forget it, and may never expect to see such another.

“A review of the accompanying data will give one an idea of how evenly the two men worked. Wood threw the ball just 121 times in nine innings, serving it to the batsmen 108 times and throwing it to bases 13 times. Johnson, on account of Boston not going to bat in the ninth, threw the ball but 103 times in eight innings, serving it to the batsmen 98 times and throwing it to the bases five times.”

Here’s the Globe’s “record of all throws made by Wood and Johnson yesterday”:

Published in: on September 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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