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When Cubs employed a shift -- in 1919

The greatly increased use of the shift against left-handed batters over the past decade has resulted in hundreds of stories about the practice.

Many of the stories touch on its history.

A large number cite how Cleveland player-manager Lou Boudreau put 3 fielders on the left side of second base whenever Boston's Ted Williams came to bat on July 14, 1946.

"But clubs had been using shifts against Williams as early as 1941," Peter Morris writes in his book, "A Game of Inches."

"Moreover, David Nemec has pointed out that this was not even the first Williams Shift -- shifts were used against left-handed pull hitters Ken Williams and Cy Williams in 1922!"

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SHIFT VS. BAMBINO

Last year, I wrote about finding a description of the Giants employing the shift against Babe Ruth in the 1921 World Series.

"The Giant infield played for Ruth pretty near the same way the National league infields play for Cy Williams of the Phillies," Ring Lardner wrote following Game 4 of the series, played at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 9. "[Shortstop Dave] Bancroft moved over to the right side of second base. [Second baseman Johnny] Rawlings camped in short right field and [first baseman] Kelly hugged the foul line. The whole left side of the infield was left to [third baseman] Frankie Frisch.

"Babe's first effort was a roller that went right where Kelly was playing.

"His second was a single to right field which, by the way, George Burns, the centerfield [sic], was set just right to stop.

...

"When he came up the third time he whiffed and as luck would have it [catcher Frank] Snyder was playing right when he could catch the third strike.

"And if [right fielder] Ross Young had only been setting up in the right field seats he could of catched the one Babe hit in the ninth, and took it home to the wife and kiddies, if any.

"In this infield arrangement Bancroft is the one that is taking the chance, as he stands right where Babe pickles his line drives. One of these days George Burns will see two balls coming at him at once and one of them will be Bancroft's head."

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CUBS PRECEDED GIANTS

Recently, I came across an even earlier use of the shift -- by the Cubs, against the Phillies, on Aug. 21, 1919.

The Cubs, defending National League champions, had begun the year 9-5, then lost 6 in a row and never came closer than 4.5 games of first place the rest of the season.

They were 15.5 games behind, in third, at 55-47, when they arrived in Philadelphia to play 4 games, beginning with a doubleheader on Wednesday, Aug. 20.

The Phillies were eighth and last, with just 37 wins and 61 losses. But Cy Williams smacked a 2-run homer in the bottom of the first inning and added 2 singles later on in a 10-2 rout of the Cubs.

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UNUSUAL HOMER

In Game 2, the Cubs trailed, 4-2, going to the ninth inning. With 1 out and a runner on second, Charlie Deal came to bat.

"Deal pasted a long fly to center," I. E. Sanborn wrote in the next day's Chicago Tribune. "Williams chased it almost to the stand and the ball bounced off his hands, then rolled a couple of feet into the runway leading to the clubhouse, the entrance gate having been left open carelessly.

"Williams went in and got the ball, holding Deal on second, but after a conference the umpires decided it was a home run because the ball went outside the inclosure."

That tied the score. The Cubs tallied 2 more runs in the 11th, then held off the Phillies to win, 6-5.

Williams finished the game 1 for 6, a single.

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RECORD SETTER

Williams is not widely remembered today, but he was once the greatest home run hitter in National League history -- and the greatest in either league not named Babe Ruth.

He became the NL leader in career homers when he hit his 139th, off Grover Cleveland Alexander of the Cubs, on Aug. 23, 1923. Roger Connor had hit 138 in 1880-97.

Williams would keep the NL record until Rogers Hornsby passed him in 1929, Williams' next-to-last season, when Williams hit his final homers.

By the end of 1929, Hornsby had 277 homers to Williams' 251. Ruth had . . . 516.

...

Williams led the NL in homers in 4 seasons. Three of the 4 came with the Phillies, in 1920, 1923 and 1927, the last at age 39.

The first came in 1916 -- with the Cubs, who had signed him in 1912, soon after his graduation from Notre Dame, where he also played football. He never played a game in the minor leagues.

Williams played in only 132 games, homering once, in 1912-16, then became the Cubs' starting center fielder in 1915. He hit 13 homers that year, tying for third most in the league, then shared the honor in 1916, when he hit 12.

He also had the NL's best OPS, .831. But it fell to .646 the following year, when he hit only 5 homers and struck out 78 times, more than anyone in either league.

On the day after Christmas, 4 days after his 30th birthday, the Cubs traded Williams to the Phillies for centerfielder Dode Paskert, 35, an 11-year veteran.

"I think Paskert will be a little better man for the Cubs and Williams perhaps will be more serviceable to the Phillies than to us," said Cubs Manager Fred Mitchell. "Paskert has a better throwing arm and he's a right handed hitter. We had a little too much left handed hitting last season. Paskert hit better last year than Williams did."

Williams, dismayed by the deal, announced his retirement.

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POTATOES AND CORN

When the Cubs hosted the Phillies for the first time in 1918, the Tribune wrote:

"Cy Williams, who retired from baseball this spring to be a farmer after being traded to the Phillies, left his potatoes and corn yesterday and came to town to see how badly the Phillies wanted him to come and play ball.

"He returned to his Wisconsin ranch in the afternoon, but it is understood he will be in a Philadelphia uniform within a few days. Cy has his crop all in the ground and may as well play ball while it's growing."

He missed 29 games before returning to action on May 24. In his first 10 games, he batted .429/.484/.607.

"Cy Williams is performing in center field," the Tribune said on June 7, "and seems to be pleasing the local fans, who expect to see him hit one over the right wall just as he sometimes did while here with the Chicago team."

He ended the season with 6 homers. His first-inning shot against the Cubs in Game 1 on Aug. 20, 1919, was his seventh of that year.

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'LOTS OF FUN'

The teams played a single game the next afternoon, won by the Cubs, 5-1.

The Cubs "had lots of fun with Cy Williams," Sanborn wrote in the Tribune.

"Cy is such a pronounced right field hitter that they left most of the left field side of the arena bare.

"[Fred] Merkle played close to first, [second baseman Buck] Herzog a few feet from him, and [shortstop Charlie] Hollocher on top of second base, with [third baseman Charlie] Deal over near the shortstop's berth. The outfielders played accordingly, leaving an acre or two of land vacant.

"Williams whaled into a double play to Herzog the first time up and failed to get anything safe until the ninth, when he drove a hit between the closely packed infielders and gave them all a laugh."

It wasn't quite the shift seen so often today, with 3 fielders between first and second, or 1 fielder in short right, but it was a shift, no doubt about it!

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SHIFT IN CHICAGO

The Cubs won the series finale, 10-2. Williams went 1 for 4, credited with a single on a fly ball that the Cubs' centerfielder lost in the sun.

Neither the Tribune nor the Philadelphia Inquirer mentions if the Cubs continued to use the shift against Williams.

The teams met in 1 more series before the season ended, Sept. 14-16 at Chicago. The Cubs won the opener, 4-0; took the second game, 4-3, in 10 innings; and were ahead, 7-0, after 7 innings of the finale.

"When Cy Williams went to bat in the eighth inning," Sanborn noted, "the Cubs arranged themselves on the right side of the diamond. Even [shortstop] Hollocher was over where [second baseman] Herzog naturally would play. Cy fanned.

"In the last half of the same round, the Phillies' infielders played with one hand behind them, thus getting even on the joke."

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