By In Stuff

The 1916 Giants Winning Streak

The 1916 New York Giants, managed by the great John McGraw and carried by two-time Federal League batting champion Benny Kauff, five-time runs leader George Burns and Hall of Famer High Pockets Kelly, won 26 games in a row.

You should know up front: All 26 games were played at home in the Polo Grounds.

One gorgeous thing about baseball is the way that we fans will contort ourselves to maintain the illusion that baseball, alone, has remained constant. Football and basketball fans do not do this. You will never hear a basketball fan wondering aloud how Jumpin’ Joe Fulks (The Kuttawa Clipper!) would match up against LeBron James. No football fan thinks, “Sure, Aaron Rodgers is fine, but give me Arnie Herber every day of the week.”

Well, it’s a mindset. Football fans often look at baseball fans and mock us for staying stuck in the past. In baseball, the guiding opinion is that the greatest pitcher of all time was a hard-throwing Kansas kid named Walter Johnson who had his best years before and during World War I, and the greatest player of all time, Babe Ruth, was a 215-pound former juvenile delinquent who, powered by hot dogs and alcohol, hit home runs in the Jazz Age.

Well, I love this about baseball. It is the American sport that bends to time; everything you see on a baseball diamond connects to a rich past. When Adrian Beltre cracks his 3,000th hit, he connects to the distant echoes Paul Waner and Honus Wagner. When Albert Pujols hits his 587th home run, it is not like any other one because it is the homer that passes Frank Robinson, and our minds fill with Robby’s beautiful passion and wrath. When Chris Sale strikes out his 300th batter this year, as he surely will, we can think of Ryan and Koufax and Feller and, yes, the Big Train too, each of them so different and yet each of them throwing lightning past hitters.

So, yes, I love this. I love that the remarkable 21-game winning streak of the Cleveland Indians gets us to talk about the all-time record 26-game streak of the 1916 Giants. That the Giants record is on the books exactly as it should be — just like Cy Young’s 511 wins and Ed Walsh’s 1.82 career ERA and Ty Cobb’s .367 batting average

But let’s not kid anybody. They are not at all the same thing.

The Giants came into their streak with a 59-62 record; John McGraw was of the belief that if his team could win out; he had made some bold moves to improve his team. He traded his greatest ever player, an aging Christy Mathewson, for the speedy and versatile Buck Herzog. He traded for power hitter Heine Zimmerman (who had led the league with 14 home runs in 1912). He called up a promising first baseman named Walter Holke. He revamped his whole team, and when asked what it would have meant  if he could have done that a month earlier, he moaned: “There wouldn’t be much else to the race right now than to figure out what we’d do with our share of the World Series money.”

Well, McGraw was famously combative and competitive — in 1921, during that pennant race, he rather famously said, “I think we can win it — if my brains hold out.” McGraw as a player used to grab runners as they were running by. When he played in Baltimore, he would tell the grounds crew not to water the spot right in front of home plate, and then McGraw and teammates would purposely chop the ball into the hard dirt so that it bounced up high. That’s still called a Baltimore Chop.

So McGraw absolutely was not giving up on the 1916 pennant even though his team seemed hopelessly behind — 15 games back in September. All they had to do, he figured, was win the rest of their games. It helped that 31 of their final 35 games — all but the last four games — were played in their home park. It was a different era, obviously, long before night games and airplane travel, so schedules were crazy. The Giants went on a 21-game road trip in May (and won 19 of those games including 17 in a row). They had just returned from a 22-game road trip.

Still, a THIRTY-FIVE game home stand.

The Giants beat the Brooklyn Robins on Thursday Sept. 7 to start the thing off, beat Philadelphia then next day, and then swept a doubleheader with the Phillies on Sept. 9. Their star pitcher Pol Perritt pitched complete games in both ends of the doubleheader. A sportswriter once described Pol Perritt this way: “He is provoking and troublesome. Sometimes he’s mean and cantankerous to the Giants; at other times even more so to the enemy. For let it be known Poll Perritt is a temperamental cuss. Just what he is going to do nobody ever knows. Least of all himself.”

By the way, people spelled it “Pol” Perritt and “Poll” Perritt and sometimes even “Polly” Perritt.

After beating the Yankees (pre-Babe Ruth) in an exhibition game, the Giants picked up with a 9-4 stomping of the Phillies. They swept their second doubleheader, this one against Cincinnati, and then beat the Reds again the next day behind the pitching of spitballer Jeff Tesreau. In those days, the spitter was a perfectly viable pitch, like a fastball and curve. “That big fellow has the best spitball in the league,” Hall of Famer Johnny Evers once said adminringly of Tesreau.

The Giants had won nine in a row and after a rainout, they swept Pittsburgh in a doubleheader to make the streak 11. In the second game, they trailed 3-0 going into the eighth inning but came back thanks to an error, a passed ball and general self-destruction by a not-so-good Pirates team (it was the last full season for the great Honus Wagner).

Then came what the moment that some consider controversial: The Giants were to play another doubleheader against Pittsburgh on September 18, and they won the first game behind the unhittable pitching of lefty Ferdie Schupp. You may or may not have heard of Ferdie Schupp — mostly “you may not” — but he set a record in 1916 that (sort of) still stands today. In that year, 1916, Schupp had an 0.90 ERA. That’s the lowest ERA for a season in baseball history. Now, why haven’t you heard of this? It’s because Schupp pitched 140 innings that year, which does not quite qualify for the ERA title (162 innings is the standard). So if you do a lowest ERA search for qualified pitchers now, he does not show up — Dutch Leonard’s 0.96 ERA is considered the standard.

Anyway, after Schupp shut out the Pirates, New York and Pittsburgh played a second game. It was 1-1 after 8 1/2 innings — and the umpires called the game because of darkness and rain. McGraw just about lost his mind. His team did not get to bat in the ninth inning. He ranted and raved and got nowhere. The statistics were counted — and if you look on Baseball Reference, the game is listed as a tie. But it wasn’t a tie; the game was made up in a doubleheader the next day — the third consecutive doubleheader between the Pirates and Giants. The Giants won both game easily, and the winning streak was up to 14 games.

They made it 15 the next day against Chicago — Ferdie Schupp again was the domininant starting pitcher. “After four long years of patient waiting,” one reporter wrote, “manager John McGaraw of the New York Giants has at last made a winning pitcher of Ferd Maurice Schupp.”

The streak went on; the Giants won a doubleheader against the Cardinals on Saturday of that week to make it 19 wins in a row. The 19th win was shortened by rain; the Giants led 3-0 after seven when the umpires called it.

The Giants and Cardinals played another doubleheader on Monday (these were the days when you couldn’t play baseball in New York on Sundays). Ferdie Schupp threw another shutout in the first game; Pol Perritt was good in the second, and the streak was up to 21.

They beat the Cardinals again the next da 61 for win No. 22 in a row, and that set what was considered the modern record for consecutive wins. The previous record of 21 was set in 1880 by the White Sox of Cap Anson. I have no doubt in my mind that there were some Giants fans who thought it ridiculous to compare 1916 baseball to 1880 baseball — when it took eight balls for a walk and pitchers had to throw underhand.

The next day, the Giants trailed by two with two outs in the ninth when Buck Herzog hit a two-run triple to tie the game. The Giants won on an error in the 10th — lots and lots and lots of games were won on errors then — to take their winning streak to 23.

The Giants swept another doubleheader the next day, with Ferdie Schupp and Jeff Tesreau throwing shutouts. And then the rain played one more part in this crazy streak. On Friday, the Giants led 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth when the skies opened up. McGraw tried desperately to keep the game going for just a few more minutes to get through the top of the fifth inning, but the umpires called the game over his screaming objections.

The Giants won their 26th in a row against Boston, 4-0, Rube Benton throwing the shutout. The Giants had made up all sorts of ground in the pennant race, but even so still trailed by five games with five games remaining. They needed to win out and pray. But in the second game of the doubleheader, Boston’s Red Smith and Sherry Magee each homered off of curveballing artist Slim Salee, and the streak was over.

The Giants then went on the road, all the way to Brooklyn, for the last four games of the season. They lost three of them. And that was that.

And that 1916 Giants 26-game streak is the longest winning streak in baseball history. It absolutely should be in the record books. The tie doesn’t nullify it. The fact that they were all home games doesn’t nullify it. The fact that they were playing in a segregated time, and every game was a day game, and the slider had not been invented yet, and spitballs were legal, and the ball was mushy, and the gloves were pillows, and everybody made a billion errors, and 12 home runs led the National League and hitters averaged a .632 OPS and so on — none of that nullifies this streak.

Why don’t those things nullify the streak? Because we’re baseball fans, and we don’t want that streak nullified. We prefer to believe. The wish many of us have as baseball fans is to keep the game ageless, eternal, to celebrate yesterday and today as if they are the same thing. And so we will keep saying that Cleveland is chasing the Giants winning streak of 26 games … even though we all know in our hearts that they are nothing alike.

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29 Responses to The 1916 Giants Winning Streak

  1. John Autin says:

    I really enjoyed this account of the 1916 Giants’ 26-game undefeated streak. But I don’t call it a win streak.

    If you say a tie doesn’t disrupt a team win or loss streak, you open a whole can of worms about logic and consistency. For instance, what about individual streaks?

    Say a guy with a 55-game hitting streak goes 0-for-4 in a tie. The same logic that keeps the team win streak alive should do the same for the hitting streak. Imagine the controversy THAT would cause!

    Fortunately, MLB doesn’t take that view of a hitting streak. Unfortunately, their official recognition of the 26-win streak is inconsistent.

    • Bob Walk says:

      The rules also say that a guy who goes 0-for-0 with four walks in the middle of a batting streak sees the streak continue.

      • John Autin says:

        0-for-0 is a lot different from 0-for-4. Yes, there’s a judgment involved in deciding that 0-for-0 keeps a batting streak intact, but it’s a judgment I think most fans would agree with. I don’t know a soul who’d say 0-for-4 keeps a batting streak intact because the game ended tied.

        The Giants had ample opportunity to win that game. They didn’t win it. And it was a game. End of win streak.

        • MikeN says:

          No it was not a game.

        • Texas Tim says:

          Except that the game didn’t count in the standings because a tie is not a valid outcome. The W/L in the standings is what is used to determine win streaks not games played.

          If we were flipping coins for money and I got 12 heads in a row followed by the coin landing on it’s edge (causing a re-flip) followed by 14 more heads in a row would you tell people you lost 26 times in a row or would you say you lost 12 times then there was a tie followed by 14 more losses?

          The only thing that matters is who won/lost money (or who won/lost a baseball game since the standings is what matters).

    • Texas Tim says:

      The tie didn’t count in the standings. The game was replayed in it’s entirety. That’s no different than today with games that are rained out before the 5th inning is complete. If the Indians have a game rained out in the 4th inning and have to replay it are you going to put an asterisk on their streak?

      The only strange thing is that they kept the stats from that tie game. They don’t do that for games that are rained out and they didn’t do that then either (or Joe didn’t mention it). Not sure what the reasoning was behind that.

      • Clif Blau says:

        The reasoning is that the tie game was a complete, official game. Of course it didn’t count as a win or loss in the standings, but it counted as a team game played, and the Giants didn’t win, so it ended their winning streak! I don’t understand how peeople get this wrong.

        • Brent says:

          Well for one thing, a game that ends in a tie after 8 1/2 innings isn’t really fair, is it?

        • Paul Zummo says:

          No, the game did not count as a game played. The tie result was disregarded, but the individual stats were maintained. Officially, though, this was no game, and the win streak was indeed 26.

          • John Autin says:

            If it’s no game, then a hitting streak would have to be intact, right? I’d like to see you sell that one.

            Stats from tie games counted then, as they do now. That means it’s a game. And if you didn’t win, that’s the end of your win streak.

  2. Matthew Clark says:

    Of course the 1916 Giants streak should remain in the record books. It isn’t that the games didn’t happen, they did. But that doesn’t mean that the streak in 1916 means what the Cleveland club’s streak means. Baseball records are personal; my understanding of baseball tells me that REAL baseball began with Jackie Robinson, and that modern baseball began when Pumpsie Green joined the Red Sox. To compare the game played in 1880, or in 1916, or in 1946, or in 1958 with the game played in MLB today is fun in a fantastical and imaginary sense, but is also plainly silly. It is not that Babe Ruth, or Walter Johnson, or Josh Gibson, or any other great from the unique past could not succeed in today’s game given all the opportunities and resources of today’s players. It is simply that they didn’t.
    Anyway, thank you again for writing so well about the game that I love so much. I look forward to seeing your Houdini book in the stores, but I really look forward to your deciding to re-engage with your 100 Greatest Baseball Players project, which I think contains your best work. Aside from the Hawaii Chair, that was brilliant.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Well, in 1916, all teams played under the same rules. In 2017 all teams played under the same rules. In 1916 all teams played with the same ball, white players, etc. Winning a game was equally hard. We’re not talking stats. We’re not talking sliders. Every team had the same advantages and disadvantages from that time period. So, a win is a win. A home win might be somewhat easier, but anytime throughout history a home team would celebrate a 4 game sweep of an opponent. So, to me, 26 wins in a row is 26 wins in a row. The difference in the era doesn’t matter. Nobody had an inherent advantage or disadvantage in 1916 that wasn’t shared by every team in the league.

  3. Bryan says:
    100 years later and ties still count in personal stats. In the 1916 NL there were 4288 Runs and 3258 Earned Runs or 76% of the Runs are Earned. The 2016 NL is 10035/10888 or 92%. The reason the no night game, pre-integration, no slider, mushy balls covered with saliva era is the gradual implementation of every change.
    Jackie Robinson is a historic moment but in Sept 1953 when Ernie Banks takes the field half the teams still haven’t fielded a non-white player. MLB plays it’s first night game in 1935, 53 years after the first known baseball night game in Fort Wayne and 53 years before Wrigley gets lights.
    George Uhle or George Blaeholder or even Bob Feller, Red Ruffing or Johnny Allen throwing a slider doesn’t suddenly change the league, the vast majority of plate appearances involve a pitcher who doesn’t throw a slider. Everything is incremental, even banning the spitball is incremental as pitchers are grandfathered in and allowed to continue to throw it, let alone lack of enforcement and the spitball still making appearances in the 21st century.
    But the best part about a winning streak is that it ignores all of that, in 1916 home teams win 55.7% of their games and it’s really unlikely to flip a slightly weighted coin and have it come up heads 26 times in a row whether it lands on it’s edge one of those times or not.

    • Texas Tim says:

      24% of runs being unearned is huge.

      Of course what counts as an error is subjective and always has been. I wonder if errors were simply given out a lot easier in those days than they are in the modern era when hitters (and fielders) are always lobbying for it to be ruled a hit so they can pad (or avoid bad) stats.

      Even as far back as the 70’s and 80’s when I grew up I remember lots of discussion (esp in Bill’s early Abstracts) about errors and how they were biased by home scorers.

      • Brent says:

        Conditions were much worse. No perfectly manicured infields (or Turf!) with true hops, one baseball used the whole game, gloves much smaller. That had a lot to do with more errors than scoring.

  4. shagster says:

    Occasionally. Reading this site can seem like an amateur attorney doing a contract review and pointing out real and imagined ‘gotcha’ clauses. I suppose one should expect such in this instance. Cleveland is having an amazing run. And our author is from?

    Always entertaining. Even if not in the manner intended. ; )

  5. shagster says:

    BTW. Speaking of the giants. They’re looking for talent so they can be more like Cleveland and less like …

  6. Clif Blau says:

    Schupp’s 0.90 is not the lowest in major league history. That record is held by the immortal Time Keefe with a 0.86 in 1880. But Schupp did qualify for the ERA crown in 1916. See Dan Levitt’s artice in the 1996 Baseball Research Journal.

  7. Mac says:

    Hi Joe,

    I love your articles. Can you please explain how segregation is germane to the question of the equivalence (or lack thereof) between a 1916 winning streak and a 2017 winning streak.
    You drop it as if it “doesn’t matter”, but it reads like a straw man.
    You have dropped this into articles before and I just don’t get it.
    Now if you want to argue that the era from 1947- has inconsistent significance from team to team due to accessing (or not) a wider talent pool, you might have a point. Or not. I haven’t looked at any evidence.

    • Mac says:

      Should read “era from 1947 – whenever you consider baseball to have been fully integrated”

    • Patrick says:

      As I read it, he’s using it as one of the examples to just say: “Yes, baseball was drastically different back then, but that’s okay and the streak is still the streak.”

      I agree though, that this seems to be a strawman argument. He mentions the belief many people have that Babe Ruth is the greatest player ever, but that’s an inherently subjective argument. If we were arguing if Cleveland’s streak was more impressive than the Giants, it might be a decent comparison, but that’s not really a debate anyone is having

  8. Jim Devine says:

    The White Sox of Cap Anson were actually the White Stockings, now known as the Cubs

  9. Marc Schneider says:

    I can understand the argument that the Giants streak shouldn’t “count” because there was a tie. But I don’t understand Joe’s cavil that we treat records from 100 years ago the same as today. I’m not sure what else we are supposed to do. Should we wipe out all records after a certain point because the game is different? Yes, a record in 1916 might not be the same as a record in 2017 but it’s still a record. You could argue that Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game in 1962 doesn’t mean as much because basketball is clearly better today.

    The records are the records until they are broken. I don’t think this is something peculiar to baseball fans.

  10. Mark Daniel says:

    The Indians won 7 games against the Tigers during their streak. I can’t imagine in 1916 there being a team worse than the current Tigers team. The Tigers are tanking like an NBA bottom dweller. This more than offsets any shortcomings of the Giants’ streak, IMO.

    • AJ Taylor says:

      In 1916, the Philadelphia A’s went 36-117 and were outscored by 331 runs so, yes, there were some bad, bad teams about.

      Of course, the A’s played in the AL, but two of their NL opponents, St. Louis and Cincinnati, had lower winning percentages than that 2017 Tigers’ .411.

  11. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    So if Joe DiMaggio had compiled his hitting streak as a New York Giant in 1916,and had gone 0-4 in that “tie” game, his streak would have ended, but the team’s streak would have continued? Seems a little odd…

    Back when the NHL had ties, they used to distinguish between winning streaks and unbeaten streaks.

    Amazing as the Lakers’ 33-game streak was in 1971-72, the case could be made that Cleveland’s streak is even more impressive. In the NBA, great teams win over 80% of their games; by contrast, even the 1998 Yankees barely made it to 70%. Also, it only takes one outstanding pitching performance by the opposition team to end a streak. There is really no equivalent phenomenon in basketball.

    • Bryan says:

      Stan Musial from April 15, 1952 through August 22, 1957 set the National League record for consecutive games played with 895 (subsequently broken by Billy Williams). However, it took a suspended game to keep the streak alive. After 862 games (beginning on the final game of the 1951 season), Musial did not play in the second game of the July 21, 1957 doubleheader. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The combination of the doubleheader and the hot humid weather was too formidable,” and Musial did not play. With one out in the top of the ninth, Ken Boyer singled and the game was suspended.

      When the game was resumed on August 27, Musial immediately pinch ran for Boyer and then played first base for the bottom of the ninth. This extended his streak that eventually ended after the August 22, 1957 game.

  12. Mort says:

    Recently I read an article from the fifties by Dan Parker, member of the Sportswriters Hall of Fame and crusader against gambling and corruption in sports. Parker, who lived in New York in 1916, noted that McGraw abandoned his team during the last game of the season because he said he couldn’t stand to watch what they were doing. This bizarre action led to speculation at the time that they might have been throwing games. Now you say that McGraw anticipated and prepared for this preposterous winning streak? The 1916 season just gets curiouser and curiouser. I’m not outright accusing anyone of throwing games, just noting that some people were talking about it, three years before the Black Sox scandal and six years after the Browns allowed Lajoie all those bunt singles on the last day of the 1910 season. I can’t help but wonder just how honest the game was in those days.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Gambling was a real problem; the players didn’t make that much money and I’m pretty sure there were fixed games prior to the Black Sox. I read a bio of McGraw and he had a real thing for the horses and spent a lot of time at the track.

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