The 1916 New York Giants have had their best month in a century, what with everyone in baseball talking about their record 26-game winning streak, a mark threatened by the 2017 Indians like no other team has threatened it.
But upon further review, those guys had one of the more peculiar seasons in major league history. It was a good thing there was no sports talk radio then — or, actually, any commercial radio at all — because they would have been the subject of daily psychoanalysis.
They started 1-9 and 2-13. Then they won 17 in a row, all on the road! On July 29 they were 43-43. By late August they were four games under .500 and 15 games out of first place. They had a streak of eight straight losses, and another in which they lost 11 of 12 games.
Entering their game against Brooklyn on Sept. 7, they were 59-62. Then . . . boom!
Less than three weeks later, Cardinals (and future Yankees) manager Miller Huggins was telling The New York Times, “This club of (John) McGraw’s is playing the most sensational ball I ever saw.”
And that was only 21 games into the streak, when they broke the mark set by Providence in 1884, with Old Hoss Radbourn pitching 18 of the victories.
The Times solicited statements to mark the achievement from every National League manager — including the Reds’ Christy Mathewson, who two months earlier had been pitching for the Giants.
Mathewson mostly lamented a long winning streak for the Giants that he accused Joe McGinnity of fouling up by pitching for a semi-pro team the day before a streak-ending loss to the Phillies. That was in 1904.
Brooklyn manager Wilbert Robinson simultaneously praised the Giants and threw some shade at his cross-town rival, writing, “I am as proud at this moment of this feat as of the standing of the Brooklyns in the National League.”
Indeed, the Robins (they would become the Dodgers in 1932) went on to win the pennant that year — their first in the World Series era — while the Giants finished fourth, seven games out, at 86-66.
But it was evident in the coverage that the streak fascinated the press and public more than the pennant race itself.
Arthur Irwin of the 1884 Grays, then 58, was in the stands when the old record fell and said he was glad to have witnessed history.
After the 21st victory, an unnamed Times writer predicted, “It is a mark which is so unusual that it will probably stand for many more years than the Providence mark did. Baseball is a swifter and faster game than it was in those days.”
It took the Indians 101 years to fashion a longer streak, but the Giants added six more to their record before they were through. (All 26 victories came at home, by the way, during a 31-game homestand.)
First a word on that infamous tie after victory No. 12 that many modern fans believe should disqualify the record. Baseball historians consider this a non-issue.
The 1-1 game against Pittsburgh was called after nine innings because of rain and made up from the start, as was the custom at the time, so it was more a rainout than tie.
That certainly was how contemporary fans and reporters seemed to interpret it. The Times’ story after that game began like this: “The emotional winning streak of the Giants has not been halted, by any means. No, Siree!”
The writer also reported the Giants were “romping ahead as if the welfare of the universe were at stake.”
The Giants faced four one-run games and only one extra-inning game in their streak, and got in two extra wins that didn’t count — a 4-2 charity fundraising exhibition against the Yankees on Sept. 10 and an 8-5 victory over the New Haven Colonials on Sept. 24. (Major league games were not played on Sundays then, opening the door for exhibitions.)
One reason for the Giants’ inconsistency was their so-so pitching, even though the last three victories in the streak came by shutout and the pitching and defense during the streak itself were outstanding.
There were no 20-game winners on the staff, which included Jeff Tesreau (18-14), Pol Perritt (18-11) and Rube Benton (16-8). Ferdie Schupp won only nine games overall, but six of them came during the streak.
Mathewson was 3-4 — with a 2.33 ERA — when he was traded to Cincinnati.
The strength of the team was its outfield, featuring Dave Robertson, who batted .307 with 12 home runs, and Benny Kauff, who had 74 RBIs and 40 stolen bases. One key to the turnaround was McGraw shoring up his infield defense during the season.
On Sept. 29, having won 25 in a row, the Giants were leading the Boston Braves, 1-0, after four innings when rain erased the game three outs from becoming official. The managers discussed playing a morning game the next day before a scheduled doubleheader, but McGraw thought better of that.
“(The Giants) regard the continuance of their string of victories as more important than anything else at present,” The Times wrote.
The next afternoon they beat the Braves, 4-0, to make it 26 in a row. In the nightcap, it was 2-2 after six. Then, as The Times put it, “came a shock great as the fall of Troy.” Boston scored five times in the seventh and went on to win, 8-3.
The next day’s headline read, “Braves End Flare of Giants’ Meteor.”
The day after the streak, a Sunday, the Giants traveled to Paterson, New Jersey, for an exhibition against a team called the Silk Sox, and McGraw played most of his regulars. They lost again, 2-0, as Adolph “Otto” Rettig struck out 13 and allowed three hits for the Sox.