There’s good reason to be superstitious this time of year, and I suggest that superstitious baseball fans keep an eye on Cubs’ pitcher Travis Wood. As Halloween nears and the highly anticipated Chicago-Cleveland World Series commences, Wood may just be a sign to the superstitious that a championship drought is about to end.
Arkansans like Wood (Bryant, Saline County) have an eerie history of being final, decisive players in past World Series featuring the Cubs or Indians. This tradition dates all the way back to 1908 when Chicago last won a championship title and was revived when they last appeared in a World Series in 1945 and when Cleveland last won a title in 1948. In each case, an Arkansan earned a unique distinction by factoring into the final outs of the decisive game of the series. And as the only Arkansan in this year’s series, it would seem that Wood may be in a unique position to do the same.
The connection between Arkansas and the Cubs-Indians series began with Charley “Boss” Schmidt, a tough-as-nails catcher who grew up working the mines at Coal Hill, Ark. In 1908, Schmidt was a 28-year old member of the American League champion Detroit Tigers club. Pitted against the Tigers in the World Series were the reigning champions, the National League’s Chicago Cubs. The series lasted only five games, ending on October 14th at Bennett Park in Detroit. Perhaps non-coincidentally, Schmidt was the final obstacle between the Cubs and victory. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Schmidt came to the plate for Detroit and hit a foul pop-up to Chicago catcher Johnny Kling. The final out of the series was recorded, and Chicago began a championship celebration that hasn’t been repeated since.
Thirty-seven years later, Trumann, Ark., native Hank Wyse helped lead the Cubs to the 1945 National League pennant. Wyse had been Chicago’s star pitcher that season, winning 22 games. He was selected to start Game 2 of the World Series for the Cubs, who were once again challenged for the championship by the Detroit Tigers. The Cubs failed to support Wyse at the plate and lost the game, but fought hard late in the series to force a decisive Game 7 on October 10th at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Trailing 3-9 in the 9th inning, Chicago sent Wyse to the mound with their final hopes of a championship. Wyse pitched a perfect inning, but Chicago couldn’t create a comeback in the bottom of the inning and lost the series to Detroit. As fate would have it, Wyse became the last Chicago Cubs pitcher to appear in a World Series.
For Cleveland, the Arkansas connection stems from the club’s last World Series title in 1948. That season, the Indians were led in part by Gene Bearden, their 28 year-old star rookie from rural Phillips County, Ark. With 20 wins on the mound for Cleveland, Bearden had become a breakout performer and was dominant in Game 3 of the World Series when he shut out the Boston Braves on five hits. The series was tight, but the Indians gained a 3-2 edge on the Braves heading into Game 6 on October 11th at Braves Field in Boston. With only a slim lead, Cleveland called on Bearden to relieve Bob Lemon from a tough situation in the 8th inning. Bearden escaped the inning with limited damage and was allowed to return to the mound in the bottom of the 9th. After a double-play, Bearden recorded the final out of the series by forcing Boston’s Tommy Holmes to pop-up to left field. By doing so, Bearden became the last Cleveland pitcher to appear in a champion World Series.
Perhaps the unique distinctions earned by Schmidt, Wyse and Bearden are simply interesting bits of trivia. But considering that only a handful of Arkansans have ever played in a World Series, it seems remarkable that three different Cubs/Indians championships would end at the hands of an Arkansan. So if Travis Wood should enter a game in the Chicago-Cleveland series with either team poised to claim the World championship, I suggest that the superstitious pay attention.