By Cliff Corcoran
The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots will face off in Super Bowl LII, with the defending champion Patriots seeking to tie the Steelers for the most Super Bowl wins with six, and the Eagles still looking for their first Super Bowl-era title. It's a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX, 13 years ago, but it has me digging even further back to the only two Philadelphia-Boston matchups in World Series history.
Those just happened to come in consecutive seasons, but without either league champion repeating.
From 1903-52, the Major Leagues consisted of 16 teams spread across just 10 cities, with Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis each represented by a pair of teams, one in each league, and New York represented by three. But only once in World Series history have teams from the same two cities appeared in consecutive years without either league champion returning to the Fall Classic. That quirk of history occurred in 1914 and '15, when both World Series offered a Boston-Philadelphia matchup: 1914 pit the Boston Braves against the Philadelphia Athletics, and 1915 found the Red Sox taking on the Phillies.
The two series had several similarities. The American League's champion was the favorite in both, each the latest edition of a dynastic powerhouse team that would appear in four World Series that decade. The National League champion in each was making an inaugural appearance in the Fall Classic. The Braves wouldn't return to the World Series for another 34 years, the Phillies for another 35. Both saw the Boston entry borrow the other Boston team's ballpark. Both were also short series that nonetheless contained some close games. The club from Boston won both in what proved to be a passing of the torch of baseball's dominant dynasty.
1914: Braves (NL) over Athletics (AL), 4 games to 0
Under manager and principal owner Connie Mack, the Athletics were the first great team in the young American League, which began play in 1901. The A's won the AL pennant in 1902 and '05, then emerged as a dynasty in the new decade with World Series wins in 1910, '11 and '13. The 1914 A's continued the trend, bludgeoning their AL compatriots with the most powerful lineup in baseball, led by their famous "$100,000 infield." Second baseman Eddie Collins won the league's MVP Award that year, hitting .344/.452/.452 (176 OPS+). Third baseman Frank "Home Run" Baker led the league in home runs for the fourth straight year (albeit with a mere nine) and hit .319/.380/.442 (151 OPS+). Catcher Wally Schang, first baseman Stuffy McInnis, center fielder Amos Strunk and right fielder Eddie Murphy all excelled in an A's lineup that scored 4.74 runs per game, despite playing in pitching-friendly Shibe Park, in a league in which no other team averaged even 4.00 runs per game. The A's thus cruised to their fourth pennant in five years, winning 99 games, but their success masked the struggles of their pitching staff.
In the National League, the perennial cellar-dwelling Boston Braves staged an unbelievable surge to their first modern pennant under second-year manager George Stallings. Central to the Braves' success were a pair of young right-handers in Dick Rudolph (26-10, 2.35 ERA, 121 ERA+ in 336 1/3 innings) and Bill James (26-7, 1.90 ERA, 150 ERA+ in 332 1/3 innings). Nonetheless, Boston's slick-fielding double-play combination of second baseman Johnny Evers (of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance fame) and shortstop Rabbit Maranville finished first and second in that year's MVP voting, respectively. At the plate, the Braves enjoyed a career year from left fielder Joe Connolly, who had converted from pitching just three years earlier and hit .306/.393/.494 (158 OPS+) in 1914. To that core, they made the in-season additions of center fielder Possum Whitted and third baseman Red Smith (.314/.401/.449, 148 OPS+ after arriving from Brooklyn in early August).
As late as July 18, the Braves remained in last place, 11 games behind the defending league-champion Giants. By then, however, their surge had already begun. From July 6 through the end of the regular season, the "Miracle Braves" went 68-19 to win the pennant by 10 1/2 games over New York. They carried that streak into the World Series against the A's, pounding future Hall of Fame righty Chief Bender on the way to a 7-1 victory in Game 1 at Shibe Park.
Game 2 was another story. James and 38-year-old Philadelphia stalwart Eddie Plank exchanged zeroes for eight innings. The Braves scratched out a run against Plank in the top of the ninth on a double by third baseman Charlie Deal, who then stole third, and a single by right fielder Les Mann. In the bottom of the ninth, James got Murphy to hit into a double play to strand the potential tying and winning runs, giving the Braves a 1-0 win and sending them home to Boston up 2-0 in the Series.
The Braves' success and the small capacity of their own South End Grounds (which held roughly 6,000) prompted the Braves to move all of their September home games to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, then in its third season. That practice continued in the World Series. The batter-friendly ballpark, packed beyond capacity with 35,520 fans, would work its magic in Game 3. Murphy, who made the last out of Game 2, led off Game 3 with a double off Braves starter Lefty Tyler and came around to score the run the Athletics couldn't manage in the previous contest. The two teams then traded runs until the game stood tied 2-2 heading into the fifth. From that point on, Tyler and A's righty Bullet Joe Bush held the line until Baker delivered a two-out, two-RBI single off Tyler in the top of the 10th.
Undeterred, Braves catcher Hank Gowdy, who had doubled home the first Boston run in the second inning, led off the bottom of the 10th with a home run to center field off Bush. The top of the Braves' lineup then put together a one-out rally to tie the game, with leadoff man Herbie Moran scoring on Connolly's sacrifice fly. Stallings then turned to James. Working on one day's rest, James worked around a two-out walk in the 11th and a leadoff walk in the 12th to bring Gowdy back up to lead off the bottom of the 12th. Gowdy, who would later become the first Major Leaguer to enlist during World War I, came through again with a ground-rule double. After an intentional walk to pinch-hitter Larry Gilbert, Moran attempted to bunt Gowdy to third. Bush pounced on the ball and tried to gun Gowdy down but threw wild, allowing Gowdy to scramble home with the winning run. The Braves wrapped up their first championship with a 3-1 win behind Rudolph the next afternoon.
James' arm was never the same after the 1914 season, nor was any part of Evers. The Braves finished a distant second in 1915, while the Giants fell to last place. In their place, a 90-win Phillies team emerged, led by Grover Cleveland Alexander's best season (31-10, 1.22 ERA, 225 ERA+ in 376 1/3 innings) and right fielder Gavvy Cravath (.285/.393/.510, 170 OPS+, 24 HR, 115 RBIs), who would be the last man to hold the career home run record before Babe Ruth.
In the AL, Mack used his team's World Series loss to the Braves as an excuse to begin tearing down what had become an expensive roster. The Athletics' dissolution paved the way for the Red Sox, who won the 1912 World Series and finished second to Philadelphia with 91 wins in 1914. The 1915 Red Sox were led by center fielder Tris Speaker (.322/.415/.411, 151 OPS+, 7.1 bWAR) and a deep pitching staff that included righties Ernie Shore (19-8, 1.64 ERA, 170 ERA+ in 247 innings) and Rube Foster (19-8, 2.11 ERA, 132 ERA+ in 255 1/3 innings), plus a 20-year-old lefty named Babe Ruth. So assembled, the Red Sox added 10 wins to their 1914 total, edging out Ty Cobb's Tigers with a 101-win season to reach their third World Series.
1915: Red Sox (AL) over Phillies (NL) , 4 games to 1
The 1915 World Series lasted just five games, but every one of them was a nail-bitter. Game 1 saw Alexander take a 1-0 lead into the top of the eighth, only for the Red Sox to tie the game on a two-out RBI single by left fielder Duffy Lewis. The Phillies answered back in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases against Boston starter Shore on two walks, then scoring twice. Down by two, the Red Sox got a man on against Alexander in the bottom of the ninth and sent up Ruth to pinch-hit for Shore with one out. It would be Ruth's only appearance of the series because of manager Bill Carrigan's reluctance to expose the young lefty to the powerful right-handed bat of Cravath. Ruth grounded out harmlessly, and Alexander got right fielder Harry Hooper to pop out to end the game.
Down 0-1 in the Series, the Red Sox scored right away off Phillies starter Erskine Mayer in Game 2, a game notable for being the first World Series game attended by a sitting president, as baseball fanatic Woodrow Wilson used the occasion to make his first public appearance with fiancée Edith Bolling Galt just 14 months after the death of the First Lady, Ellen Axson Wilson. Hooper led off with a walk, moved to third on a Speaker single, then scrambled home from third base on a delayed double-steal. The Phillies tied things up off Boston starter Foster in the fifth when Cravath and first baseman Fred Luderus opened the inning with doubles. Mayer and Foster took that 1-1 tie into the top of ninth, when Foster himself delivered the key hit, a two-out single to drive home third baseman Larry Gardner. Foster then retired the top of the Phillies' lineup to even the Series.
Prompted by their World Series win the previous year, and their need to move their late-season games to the larger Fenway Park, the Braves built their own concrete-and-steel stadium in 1915. When Braves Field opened in mid-August, its 40,000-seat capacity was the largest in the Majors. Thus, when the 1915 World Series moved to Boston for Games 3 and 4, the Braves returned the favor by letting the Red Sox play in their new ballpark. A record crowd of 42,300 showed up for Game 3, another in a series full of tense pitching duels.
Alexander returned on two days' rest to face off against 23-year-old righty Dutch Leonard, who had set the modern record with a 0.96 ERA in 1914, but had much more pedestrian, by dead-ball era standards, 2.36 in 1915. The Phillies again gave Alexander an early 1-0 lead with a run in the top of the third. They nearly scored more in that inning when Cravath hit a mammoth blast to left with two on and two out that would likely have been a three-run home run in either the Baker Bowl or Fenway Park. However, spacious Braves Field gave Lewis room to track down the ball for the third out of the inning.
This time the Red Sox answered quickly, plating a one-out triple by Speaker in the bottom of the fourth via a sac fly by first baseman Dick Hoblitzell. Between Speaker's triple and the middle of the ninth inning, just two other runners reached base in the game, both on singles off Alexander in the bottom of the seventh. The first was erased by a double-play, the second stranded with two outs.
The Red Sox had the top of their order coming up in the bottom of the ninth. Hooper led off with a single and was bunted to second. Alexander then intentionally walked Speaker and got Hoblitzell to ground out to second for the second out. The runners moved up on the grounder, but rather than walk Lewis to load the bases and pitch to the inferior Gardner, Alexander chose to pitch to Lewis, who delivered a two-out game-winning single to put the Red Sox up 2-1 in the series. The following January, while the wound was still fresh, Alexander called it the most disastrous decision of his career.
Game 4 was the least compelling of the three consecutive 2-1 scores in the Series. The Sox got a run in the third and another in the sixth, while Shore worked out of some early trouble to keep the Phillies scoreless. Philadelphia finally got one back in the eighth, plating a two-out triple by Cravath, but this was the only game of the series not to be tied in the eighth inning or later.
Game 5, back at the Baker Bowl, with its short dimensions (281 down the line to the 40-foot wall in right, 388 feet to center, where there were 2,000 additional seats added for this World Series, pushing the wall even closer), was something new entirely. In a year in which the AL's home run leader hit seven all year, there were four home runs hit in this game.
With Alexander's shoulder aching, Game 2 starters Mayer and Foster returned to the hill, and the Phillies staked Mayer an early lead. Foster hit the first man he faced, then loaded the bases before getting Cravath to hit into a double play. Nearly out of the jam, he gave up a two-run double to Luderus. The Sox got one back right away on a two-out triple by Gardner in the top of the second, then tied the game on a leadoff home run by Hooper in the top of the third. When Speaker delivered a one-out single later that inning, rookie Phillies manager Pat Moran pulled Mayer in favor of big lefty Eppa Rixey. Rixey got right-handed pinch-hitter Del Gainer to hit into a double play to erase Speaker and took the tie into the fourth. In the bottom of that inning, Luderus delivered a one-out homer to break the tie, and the Phillies added another run on a pair of singles to make it 4-2.
That score held until the top of the eighth, when Gainer led off with a single and Lewis hit a two-run blast to tie the game at 4-4. There it was, for the fourth time in five games, a tie late in the game. With the heart of their order due up in the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies got Cravath and Luderus on with two outs, but Whitted, acquired from the Braves in February, tapped back to Foster to end the inning.
The decisive blow came in the top of the ninth. After Rixey struck out Foster, Hooper connected for his second home run of the contest, both of which bounced into the auxiliary center field seats but counted as home runs according to rules of the time. This one was a solo homer that gave the Red Sox a 5-4 lead. It was all Foster would need. He retired the bottom of the Phillies' lineup in order in the bottom of the ninth, and a Boston team had beaten a Philadelphia team for the championship yet again.
Boston and Philadelphia haven't met in the World Series, or any other MLB postseason game, since 1915, although the Red Sox and Phillies did win consecutive championships in 2007 and '08.
Super Bowl LII will mark just the fifth time that Philadelphia and Boston-area teams have met for a championship in the four major North American leagues. Philadelphia's only championship in the first four matchups was the Flyers' 4-2 series win over the Bruins in the 1974 Stanley Cup Final. Never was a Boston-Philadelphia matchup better on display than in those back-to-back World Series.
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Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.