This October has been everything a baseball fan could ask for thus far. Well, unless you’re a fan of one of the teams already heading home for the winter. More to the point, we’ve seen plenty of postseason drama. We’ve also been seeing the lists popping up all over the place now that the Chicago Cubs have advanced to the NLCS. There is no shortage of fun facts about the last time the Cubs won the World Series. After all, much has happened since 1908.
Some of my favorites:
- The United States was comprised of only 46 states
- Sliced bread would not be sold is stores for another 20 years
- The Eiffel Tower (984 feet) was still the world’s tallest building
- Halley’s comet has passed the earth twice
- BONUS: Germane to today’s events, women did not yet have the right to vote
Needless to say, I did a little research on the last time the Cubs appeared in the World Series. The year was 1945 and World War II had come to a close just months prior to the Detroit Tigers besting Chicago in seven games in that year’s Fall Classic.
Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser went the distance in Game 7 as the Tigers closed out the series with a 9-3 victory over the Cubs. It was Newhouser’s second win of the series after getting rocked in a Game 1 defeat. Interestingly enough, when Newhouser was pulled in the third inning of that loss, he was replaced by a right-hander by the name of Al Benton, a man who holds a truly unique place in baseball history.
Benton tossed 4.2 innings and allowed just one run in three appearances during the 1945 World Series. A two-time All-Star for the Tigers, Benton paced the American League with 17 saves in 1940. At the time, that was the fourth best single-season save total in baseball history. Of course, the save did not become an official statistic until 1969 (more on that in a bit). All in all, Benton enjoyed an effective 14-year career.
So what makes him so interesting?
Well, on April 18, 1934, a 23-year-old Benton made his major league debut against the New York Yankees. He entered in relief for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics when starter Johnny Marcum could not escape third inning trouble. An inning later, Benton went toe-to-toe with Babe Ruth and got the Yankees legend to ground out to the mound. This was Ruth’s final season with New York.
Eighteen years later, Benton was summoned from the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox as they battled the hated Yankees on July 2, 1952. The 41-year-old came on to face a fellow Oklahoman, a 20-year-old Mickey Mantle, who lined out to Benton in their lone encounter on that day. That made Benton the only pitcher to face both Ruth and Mantle.
In fact, according to Baseball Reference, Benton is also the only man to face the group of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. I’m inclined to add Jimmie Foxx to that list, personally. Those men were among 38 Hall of Famers that Benton faced between 1934 and 1952.
More miscellaneous fun with saves:
Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown holds a special place in Cubs history. The Hall of Famer enjoyed his success thanks in large part a right hand that was mangled in a farming accident as a kid, costing him part of two fingers. Brown won two of the four games for the Cubs in their 1908 World Series triumph over the Tigers. The Cubs and Tigers met again in 1935 and in that 1945 series, in which Al Benton was a part of Detroit’s championship team.
Did you know, Brown was MLB’s all-time saves leader from 1910-1925? That’s 16 seasons as the record holder, good for a three-way tie as the second longest time any pitcher has ever held the saves record in baseball history.
The rest of the list:
Firpo Marberry (20 years, 1926-1945)
Mordecai Brown (16 years, 1910-1925)
Johnny Murphy (16 years, 1946-1961)
Hoyt Wilhelm (16 years, 1964-1979)
Lee Smith (13 years, 1993-2005)
Rollie Fingers (12 years, 1980-1991)
In case you’re wondering, Mariano Rivera has been the all-time leader since 2011. With 652 career saves, Rivera should surpass all of the aforementioned pitchers in the longevity department when it comes to holding onto that record.