This is game 41 of the 2011 baseball season.
In the first inning let’s take a look at This Week in Baseball History for the 2 week of October.
1908 In front of the smallest crowd in World Series history, Chicago, behind the strong pitching of Orval Overall, beat the Tigers in just 85 minutes to capture the Fall Classic. The 6,210 fans, witnessing the fifth and final World Series game at Detroit’s Bennett Park, have no idea it will the last time the Cubs will win World Championship in the next 100+ years.
Orval Overall was born February 2, 1881 in Farmersville, California.
Though Overall’s career lasted just seven years, it was brilliant. A huge man for the Deadball Era, Overall was a right-handed curveball specialist who compiled a lifetime 108-71 record and 2.23 Earned Run Average
Johnny Evers wrote in Touching Second, “Overall pitches his curve with a wide, sweeping overhand swing, releasing the ball over the side of the index finger as his hand turns downward. His swing and curve are duplicates of those used by Adonis Terry, Jim McCormick, and some of the great pitchers of the past, and when his jerk motion at the finish of the wide swing is sharp, the curve actually darts downward.”
With a reputation as a “money pitcher,” Overall pitched on Opening Day each year from 1906 to 1910, and in 1909 he usually pitched the opening game of each regular-season series. He also compiled a 3-1 record and 1.58 Earned Run Average in four World Series.
After pitching and playing first base in high school, the 19-year-old Overall enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley in the fall of 1900. He excelled in his studies of agricultural science and was elected president of the freshman class. Overall was also a star in both football and baseball at Cal.
In baseball Orval performed the majority of the mound work as a freshman, pitching well but suffering from occasional mental lapses. Perhaps an early indicator of the arm troubles that would plague him in later years, he missed time from pitching due to a sore arm in both his sophomore and junior seasons. During those times Overall played left field, first base, and sometimes even catcher, though he inevitably returned to pitching as the seasons wore on and his arm rounded into shape. In his junior year he entertained an offer to play baseball for a living with the San Francisco club of the Pacific Coast League, but he decided to continue his education instead.
To his father’s great disappointment, Overall finally did leave the University of California to go professional in early 1904, signing with Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League. Orval helped Tacoma win the 1904 pennant by registering a 32-25 record.
Cincinnati wanted to sign Overall, but first the Reds had to win a bidding war with the Chicago Cubs. Making his major-league debut in Cincinnati on April 16, 1905, Overall took his regular turn in the rotation throughout his rookie year and went 18-23 with a 2.86 Earned Run Average.
He returned to Cincinnati in 1906 but got off to a poor start, going 4-5 with a 4.26 Earned Run Average, and on June 2 the Reds traded him to the Cubs.
Having followed Overall’s career closely after playing with him in California, Cubs manager Frank Chance knew that the young pitcher’s problem was that Cincinnati manager Ned Hanlon had been overworking him. Pitching less frequently in Chicago, Overall responded by going 12-3 with a 1.88 Earned Run Average for the remainder of the 1906 season.
His breakout season was 1907, when he tied with Christy Mathewson for the National League lead in shutouts and finished second in wins. Overall’s strong performance led the Cubs back to the World Series, this time against the Detroit Tigers, and he received the start in Game One against Wild Bill Donovan. Though he ended up with a no-decision in what turned out to be a 3-3 tie, Overall came back in Game Four three days later and beat Donovan, 6-1, putting the Cubs up three games to none on their way to a sweep.
Prior to the 1908 season, Overall made a prediction: “I believe the new rule prohibiting a pitcher from soiling a glossy ball will greatly increase the hitting department of the game. You can’t curve a glossy ball, and in my judgment there will be more pitchers knocked out of the box the coming season than ever before. Unless I am mistaken the hitting averages will go soaring.” Apparently he was the only pitcher negatively impacted by the rule; while the league’s Earned Run Average fell to its lowest level in history, his rose to 1.92.
Overall lost his first game on May 12, snapping a personal 14-game winning streak that he had begun on August 11, 1907. His record fell to 15-11, as he was hampered by arm trouble for much of the regular season, but he did lead the National League in strikeouts per game and finished fifth in fewest hits per game.
In the 1908 World Series Overall once again matched up against the Tigers and Donovan, going the distance in Games Two and Five and winning by scores of 6-1 and 2-0. vGame Five was a Series-clinching three-hit shutout in which he struck out four men in an inning (the first inning), the only man to do so in World Series history. One of the keys to his success in the 1907-08 Series was holding Ty Cobb to a .125 average.
In 1909 Overall put together his finest season, going 20-11 while leading the National League with career bests in shutouts, strikeouts, and opponents’ batting average. He also finished third in Earned Run Average with a mark of 1.42, the best marks of his career. Despite Overall’s banner season, the Cubs failed to reach the World Series for the first time since he joined the team in 1906.
They returned to the World Series in 1910, but by that time Overall was suffering from a sore arm, having gone 12-6 with a 2.68 Earned Run Average during the regular season. Even though several pitchers were coming off better years, Overall’s reputation and past performance in the World Series led Chance to give him the start in Game One. He was ineffective, allowing six hits and three runs in three innings.
Overall claimed that his arm was better after the off-season, but a contract dispute with Cubs owner Charles Murphy prevented him from testing it against major-league competition.
Remaining in California to work in a gold mine that he owned with teammate Mordecai Brown, Overall stayed in shape by playing semipro baseball, and while pitching for Stockton late in 1911 he felt something go in his arm. He believed that his arm would never be the same, but it did heal sufficiently over the next year to attempt a comeback in 1913.
Returning to the Cubs, Overall went 4-5 with a 3.31 Earned Run Average, giving up more than a hit an inning for the first time in his career. After a short stint with San Francisco in the Pacific Coast League, he decided to retire from professional baseball at age 32.
Overall took a job with a Brewery Company, but the following year his father became ill and he took control of the family’s citrus farm. In 1918 he ran for Congress but failed to gain election.
After his father died in 1921, Overall sold off the estate’s numerous holdings, making him a wealthy man.
Orval Overall died July 14, 1947, in Fresno, California at age 66.
A large part of this biography comes from the SABR Baseball Biography Project written by Brian Marshall. It can be found online at http://bioproj.sabr.org
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Well, that’s it for today’s Baseball History Podcast. I’ll see you later at the ballpark.