The Visitors tried the Hit and Run Scheme with Fine Success and in the Field Put Up a Stonewall Game that Blocked the Efforts of Their Opponents to Escape the Ignominy of a Shut-out on Their Home Diamond
So read the headline in the Washington Post after the Cleveland Spiders wiped out the Washington Senators, 7-0 before a crowd of 2,000 at the Senators' home field, Boundary Field.
Sockalexis was the surname of Cleveland's new outfielder, Chief Sockalexis, or Louis Sockalexis. He was a 25-year old, who had attended Notre Dame and Holy Cross and was born on a Penobscot Indian reservation. He would go 2 for 4 this game with a walk and a stolen base against Washington starting pitcher Doc McJames. The Post also pointed out that Sockalexis looked good in the field. He did make 16 errors in the outfield in his 66 games in 1897.
Cleveland pounded out 14 hits on the game, including a double and three triples. Cleveland's starting pitcher, Zeke Wilson, held Washington to just six singles. Cleveland manager Patsy Tebeau, also the starting first baseman, had a Cy Young Award candidate on his staff in the name of Cy Young, but it was Wilson's turn to pitch. In 1897, Young wouldn't have been considered for his eponymous award as he went 21-19 but with a 3.80 ERA.
The headliner in this game, Sockalexis, had a brief major league career, just 94 games over three seasons. A good capsule of his life can be found at Sockalexis's entry at The Baseball Reliquary. The Cleveland Indians no longer purport the myth that their team was named in honor of Sockalexis.
Washington's manager, Gus Schmelz, stepped down after this game with a 9-25 record. Schmelz had managed for 11 seasons in the majors, never finishing higher than second, which he did twice in 1884 and 1890 with Columbus in the American Association.
Schmelz, according to Peter Morris in his book A Game of Inches was the first manager to have a strategy of playing for one run. Morris cites two articles from 1891 in the Sporting Life where Schmelz's system of sacrifices, stolen bases, and hitting behind the runner in order to gain an advantage is described as being new to the game and credited with making Columbus, not one of the AA's stronger franchises, into a competitor. However in 1891, Columbus went 61-76 and finished in sixth place.
Schmelz's successor, center fielder Tom Brown, was able to pump some life into the team and they went 52-46 under his direction. Washington finished 61-71 and tied with Brooklyn for sixth place, 32 games out. Cleveland finished in fifth place at 69-62. First place Boston was 93-39, a .705 mark. 12th place St. Louis was 29-102 (.221).
One rookie who broke in for Washington in 1897 was an 18-year old pitcher named Roger Bresnahan. He would come back to the majors in 1900 and eventually make it in to the Hall of Fame on the basis of his career as a catcher. Bresnahan also popularized the use of shin guards for catchers.
In addition to Young, Cleveland had another Hall of Famer in Bobby Wallace, a shortstop who may be one of the least known players in Cooperstown. But he did play for 25 seasons. Wallace had broken in as a pitcher in 1894 and 1897 marked his first season as a fulltime player in the field. He played third base on this day. Another Hall of Famer on Cleveland in 1897 was Jesse Burkett, "The Crab." He played for 16 seasons and batted .338. He batted .383 in 1897, third best in the NL.
Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com, Washington Post, Baseball Reliquary