Tuesday, June 28, 2011

John Doll's 1929 baseball predictions

John Doll wasn't always thinking about Latin.

His well-used copy of the 1918 textbook "A Latin Reader" by John C. Rolfe and Walter Dennison contains many scrawled notes that indicate he was focused on his studies. There are homework reminders, vocabulary lists and class schedules -- Doll was taking Latin, English and French concurrently.1

But one day, deep in the heart of winter, Doll's thoughts turned to baseball.

The following text is written in cursive on the inside back cover.
Written Jan. 23rd by John Doll at 2:24 P.M. at Y.C.I.2 Row 3, seat no 2, straight in from boys entrance and the third row from Prof. Wentworth room.

Both leagues will be close this coming season nothing will be decided until Aug. 1st.
Doll then lists out his American League and National League predictions.

For the American League, he has:
  • 1. Washington
  • 2. Philadelphia
  • 3. New York
  • 4. Cleveland
  • 5. Detroit
  • 6. Chicago
  • 7. Boston
  • 8. St. Louis
  • Plus this note: "Standing will be very, very close not more than six games apart from 1st + bot division"
For the National League, he has:
  • 1. Chicago
  • 2. Pittsburgh
  • 3. St. Louis
  • 4. Boston
  • 5. New York
  • 6. Brooklyn
  • 7. Cincinnati
  • 8. Philadelphia
  • Plus this note: "Not more than 4 games between 1st + last"
So, how did John Doll do with his predictions for the 1929 baseball season?

In a nutshell, his predicted orders of finish weren't too bad, but his prediction of close pennant races was a bit of a dud.

He correctly picked the Chicago Cubs -- who were led by Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson, and Riggs Stephenson3 -- as the National League champions. And he correctly called Pittsburgh as the runner-up. But the Pirates finished a distant 10½ games behind the Cubs. He had the Boston Braves pegged for fourth, but they finished dead last, 43 games behind the Cubs. And Doll underestimated the Phillies, picking them for last place in a season in which they finished fifth.

In the American League, Doll whiffed on the Washington Senators.4 He picked them for first, but they finished fifth, 34 games behind the AL and World Champion Philadelphia Athletics (who Doll had picked second). And, again, there wasn't much of a pennant race, as the Athletics -- led by Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove5 -- finished 18 games ahead of the second-place Yankees and 48 games ahead of the last-place Boston Red Sox.6

Connie Mack's Athletics handled Joe McCarthy's Cubs in the 1929 World Series, four games to one. Here's some home-video footage from that series (following a Flag Day ceremony):

In all, Doll's predictions were pretty good.

And putting them inside his Latin textbook helped preserve them for our review and entertainment 82 years later.

1. Also, the word "Goose" appears twice in quotation marks. Was that John Doll's nickname?
2. Y.C.I. is York Collegiate Institute, which became part of the future York College later that year. According to York College's history page, York County Academy received its charter in 1787. Subsequently:
"In 1929, the Academy merged with the York Collegiate Institute, a non-denominational sister institution which had been founded in 1873 by Samuel Small, a prominent businessman and philanthropist."
3. The 1929 Cubs also had players named Woody, Kiki, Chick, Footsie, Trader and Sheriff.
4. Doll was one year off on the rise of the Washington Senators. In 1930, they won 94 games. It was the first of four consecutive 90+ victory seasons, which culminated with the Senators winning the American League pennant in 1933.
5. The 1929 Athletics also had players named Bing, Mule, Homer, Ossie, Cloy and, my favorite, DeWitt Wiley "Bevo" LeBourveau.
6. 1929 was a dreadful year for Boston baseball fans. The Braves and Red Sox both finished in last place, with a combined record of 114-194.

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