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THE “LITTLE WORLD SERIES” Attleboro vs. North Attleboro:1919-1920: And a Cast of Thousands

How would you have liked to have seen a World Series that featured, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, George Sisler, Hank Gowdy, Rogers Hornsby, Dave Bancroft, Carl Mays, Joe Judge, Rabbit Marranville, Jim Thorpe, Rube Marquard, Heinie Zimmerman, Frankie Frisch, Wally Schang, Stuffy McInness, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Zach Wheat, Eddie Collins, Bucky Harris, “Jumping” Joe Dugan, Harry Hooper, “Irish” Bob Meusel, Harry Heilmann, Everett Scott, etc. Impossible you say, it never could have happened! Well, it did & you could have seen it if you had lived in Attleboro & North Attleboro in 1919-1920. It all came about because of Dan O’Connell, &  local businessmen with big, big bankrolls.


The Wampanang Indians treated William Blackstone kindly. He had traveled up the Bungay river (after coming to the states from England) fighting strong currents that twisted in & out of bug infested marshland, red maple swamps leading into bog peated islets that flowed past gigantic trees with long boughs & limbs rooting very deep into the water. The heat was oppressive. A constant fog hung over the Blackstone’s as they traveled through the fiords, bringing tears to their eyes & stinging their skin.


Reaching their destination (which was to become Attleboro) they settled into the area & both Wampanang Indians & Blackstone’s lived together peacefully. The year was 1661. The wetlands & the Bungay lent itself to settlement. Eventually mills & industrial development dotted the Attleboro landscape. Churches reflected the religious attitudes of the inhabitants. The first Baptist Church was erected in the 1850’s to be followed by the First Congregational Church. Manufacturing took hold in the outlying areas. First came metal fabrication plants with utilitarian machines forging metal into hundreds of industrial products. Then came jewelry, which gave birth to tiny localized areas which eventually led to many centers which led to some of Attleboro’s businessmen amassing enormous fortunes.

Meanwhile North Attleboro had grown too. Before colonial days, North Attleboro was situated on an Indian trail leading to Narragansett Bay. Known as the Bay Path, it led to Boston & the winding Seekonk River. The first settlement there was John Woodcock & his family. Cultivating fishing & agriculture the settlement put up with Indian raids which resulted from a split off from the King Phillip War. By the 1780’s North Attleboro, just  as in Attleboro, began to develop an industrial look. Brass working forges were set up near the river’s edges.

From Britain, itinerant tradesmen came to the states with sophisticated machinery & were followed by small commercial enterprises such as grist & saw mills. The Ten Mile River, framed by rich verdant, farmland, abundant trees & game, gave birth to snug, picaresque farms & factories. They specialized in cotton spinning & more important, textiles, jewelry, & button manufacturing. In the mid 1880’s North Attleboro had become the button center of the United States. By the early 1900’s that was eclipsed by the jewelry industry. Gradually Attleboro & North Attleboro were in competition with each other as far as jewelry manufacturing was concerned. The competition spilled over into other areas & that brings us to the great baseball rivalry that erupted in 1919 & 1920. Which brings us to the remarkable games that were referred to then as the                    

“Little World Series.”

Money was abundant in both Attleboro & North Attleboro. Great fortunes were made from the jewelry centers that came into existence there. Entrepenuers such as the Wolfendens & the Saart silver & jewelry dynasty were in competition & in some cases it took the shape of baseball teams from both cities playing against each other. The local businessmen took the rivalry seriously. In 1919 it took on a whole new dimension. For years both cities would play a series of games against each other with teams consisting of local talent. In 1919, after the second game, millionaire Oscar Wolfenden approached the Attleboro manager, Dan O’Connell & asked him if maybe some of his Major League baseball connections could get him some big league players to participate in the series. Money was no object!  It worked!

First to sign was a promising young hitter who though he was a terrific pitcher was beginning to hit homeruns like nobody had ever done before. His name was George Herman Ruth. Lately his teammates had started calling him “Babe.” He was followed by Heinie Zimmerman, Dave Bancroft, & Yankee great Carl Mays. Each player was payed anywhere from 100 to 400 dollars. Later on in one or two cases they were offered 700 dollars. In those days that was terrific money. Not to be outdone by Attleboro, North Attleboro manager Frank Kelly packed a huge suitcase loaded with money donated by the city’s wealthiest businessmen & shopped around for Major Leaguers for his team. He came up with the likes of Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Bob Shawkey, Harry Hooper, & Frankie Frisch. When all was said & done, by the end of the initial 5 game series you had a galaxy of stars playing together that had not been seen before. By 1920 the above were joined by Heinie Groh, George Sisler, Rube Marquard, Joe Judge, Wally Schang, Jim Thorpe, Hank Gowdy, Stuffy McInness, Bob Meusel, Harry Heillman, Joe Dugan, Everett Scott, & others.

The games averaged around 8,000 people. Brady field was hard pressed to hold the big crowd & many fans overflowed onto the field especially in the outfield. Special buses & railroads came in from around the country. The biggest gambling syndicates were represented in the stands & set up shop in small hotel rooms, back areas of local bars, & in nearby meeting halls. Bordello’s quadrupled in numbers. Among their best patrons were the players themselves. It was said that before the fifth & final game of the series, local businessman Henry Douglas Saart, who along with his brother William Saart had founded a legendary sterling silver dynasty, threw a party that was talked about for years to come. The wealthiest citizens in the town & the players were treated to gargantuan  portions of food, women, booze, & more women. Several vans came from Chicago, Detroit, & New York filled with the most notorious hookers to be found. By the time the fourth game was played in the 1919 series the media was referring to the event as the “Little World Series.” The name seemed to fit the hoopla surrounding the games & the preponderance of great baseball talent on the field. It was said that the Attleboro payroll for the finale was around $3,500. However the actual price tag for the value of the players represented was probably around a million dollars. The 1919 five game series was won by Attleboro. North Attleboro won the 1920 series. There was such a preponderance of stars that players like Rube Marquard, Joe Judge, Dick Rudolph, & Heinie Zimmerman had very little playing time. Ruth ended up being a bit of a bust. He had one squiggler that went through the infield for a hit & that was it. He was however a hit with the fans & from reports that were circulated with the ladies as well.


The umpiring was interesting. Some of the umpires made curious decisions especially against 3 or 4 of the players. Ruth fared especially poorly against them. Whether it was due to his outgoing manner or supreme confidence, pitches were called strikes that were quite suspect, close running plays at first base were resolved against him, two or three tough fielding plays were listed as errors. With Carl Mays it seemed to be a vendetta. Umpire Jack Finnell just flat out did not like him! When the calls were tight the other team would get the benefit during the pitching count. One year after, when Mays tight pitch hit shortstop Ray Chapman and killed him, Finnell’s comment was, “I’m not surprised. That son of a bitch was always hunting for somebody’s head.” George Sisler had an obvious HR taken away from him on a horrible call…again by Jack Finnell. Sisler hit the ball into the stands, it fell out of a fans hands, & popped into the glove of Mark Markies who held it up aloft. It was ruled an out.


Some of the other players did well though. When Heinie Zimmerman did play he drew rave reviews for his fielding. Others who fared well in both series included George Cleveland Alexander, who gave up a total of 6 hits but no runs. Walter Johnson, who pitched very well & then declined to pitch another game even though he was offered $700 dollars to do so. Of the two of them Alexander drew the most attention. It was generally agreed that even though Johnson was the faster pitcher Alexander had much better all around pitching ability. In his two stints at Brady Park he completely overpowered the batters. This included Rogers Hornsby, Ruth, Dave Bancroft, & Harry Heillman. Rabbit Marranville didn’t hit much but his fielding made everybody sit up & take notice. The big hitters for both series were Eddie Collins, Hornsby, Wally Schang, & Zach Wheat. All ended up batting over .400. The pitching stars were Alexander, Dick Rudolph, Mays, & Johnson.


Jim Thorpe reached the Series just about the time when his career was winding down with the Boston Braves. The Former Olympic star was out of shape. It was rumored that he was drinking heavily. His play on the field was listless & verging on mediocre. In North Attleboro he did have a minor accident in a car while riding to the ball field. He spent a short time in the hospital but arrived in time for the game. It didn’t matter though, he went hitless in four times at bat.

All in all there were 17 players involved in the “Little World Series” that ended up in the Hall of Fame. By 1921 the competition had gotten so intense that North Attleboro decided to drop out. Citing the fact that Attleboro was spending enormous amounts of money (sounds familiar?) on Major Leaguers to play in the Series, they also mentioned that everyone wanted to play for Attleboro. Manager Dan O’Connell was very popular, he knew lots of Major Leaguers & they all wanted to play for him. North Attleboro was replaced by Providence Rhode Island. By 1922 the teams consisted mainly of local talent. Fans stayed away but in 1923 money induced some Major Leaguers to once again get involved in the games. By 1924 the money had run out, fan interest had waned, national attention was gone & the Series petered out. It was a singular & unique moment in the long history of the game. It all happened in the tiny cities of Attleboro & North Attleboro & certainly in our day & age could never be duplicated again.


Footnote: This article could not have been possible without the fine help of the curator of the North Attleboro Museum, Mr. George Anderson. I should mention that George is a very young 91 years old.

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