The 1920 season was a three way race between the defending AL champion White Sox, the Yankees and Cleveland, who were both seeking their first ever pennant. The Yanks, with newly acquired Babe Ruth, were a real contender for the first time in years.
Because of an injury the Babe started off slow that season and did not hit his first home run until May 1st . But after that, The Bambino went on a rampage. He hit 12 homers in May, 12 in June and 13 in July. The pitching staff was led that season by Mays, Bob Shawkey and spit baller Jack Quinn. The infield was solid with Wally Pipp at first, Del Pratt at second and Roger Peckinpaugh at short. Because of the death of his wife, Ottalee, before the start of the season, the Yankees Frank "Home Run" Baker was sitting out the season to stay at home to take care of his two daughters. This left a big hole in the line-up and at the hot corner for New York. The outfield was made up of Ping Bodie in center, the Babe in right and Duffy Lewis in left.
Cleveland, which finished second to Chicago in 1919, on the other hand, was led by one of the best pitching staffs in the American League. Under manager Tris Speaker, they were to boast three twenty game winners led by future Hall Of Famer Stan Coveleski, who would lead the league in strikeouts. They were a solid team all around led by Speaker "The Gray Eagle" and a supporting cast of Chapman at short, Bill Wambsganss at second, Larry Gardner at third, and Steve O'Neil behind the plate. Elmer Smith in right and Charlie Jamieson in left supported "Spoke."
Of the three teams in the race, Chicago seemed to have the advantage. Scandal aside, the Sox were a veteran team whose players were having career years. They also had a better pitching staff than the other two rivals. Chicago ran four 20 game winners through the rotation that season, a feat that would not be duplicated until the Orioles of 1971. And so the stage was set when the Indians rolled into New York for a crucial series at the Polo Grounds in mid-August.
Mays had not pitched very well earlier in the season but had regained his form of late. The reason was an incident in spring training. Mays' only real friend on the team, Chick Fewester, was hit above the right ear by a pitch thrown by the Dodgers Jeff Pfeffer. Fewster remained motionless on the ground for several minutes. When he finally regained consciousness he was totally blank about what had happened to him. He was unable to speak for a month and spent the whole time in a wheelchair. Mays was unable to "pitch in" after that for more than half the season. He knew though that to be effective he had to pitch inside.
Mays was once quoted as saying "If the batter is hugging the plate, and many of them do this, he is likely to get hit." He became his old self just in time, because New York had the weakest mound staff of the three contenders, and they needed every one of Mays' wins.
He was also not
a stranger to controversy. While with the Red Sox, he had an infamous
confrontation with Ty Cobb. On September 16th, 1915 at Fenway Park, Mays
threw at the Georgia Peach's head each time he came to bat. In the 8th
inning, Ty had had enough and rocketed his bat back at "that no good
son of a bitch," and called Mays a "yellow dog." After
order was restored, and Cobb got back in the batter's box (no one was
ejected, those were the days), Mays promptly hit Ty on the wrist. The
Tigers won that game 6-1 with Cobb catching the last out.
That incident helped form a well deserved reputation for Mays as a "head hunter." Entering his 6th season, he was known just as much for that as he was for being a top flight righthander in the AL. And although Miller Huggins had about as much use for Mays as an abscessed tooth, Hug knew his club had a "snowball's chance in hell" to win anything without him.
"Chappie" and company were playing very consistent ball. He was batting over .300 with over 90 runs scored coming into the series. They were hot on the heels of first place Chicago, staying within striking distance most of the summer. The Yankees on the other hand were about as steady and consistent as a man with a hangover on a boat on the ocean, playing like world beaters one day and also-rans the next. In the eyes of many, this was the most important series of the season for both teams. Cleveland also wanted revenge for a four-game sweep at the hands of the New Yorkers in Cleveland the previous week.