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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Some sports records just too perfect to end

Rest easy, Johnny Allen, Old Lantern Jaw.

Your remarkable record set in 1937 when you were pitching for the Indians remains safe — just barely out of reach of those who would emulate you. It remains an achievement for others to pursue in seasons to come.

Allen started the 1937 season with 15 consecutive victories.

No pitcher who ever started a year with such an unblemished record has ever completed the season without a loss.

Allen came close. But he lost the final game of the season to finish 15-1. It was a season to remember, and I remember it well.

Back to that heartbreaking loss in a moment. But first let’s extend our condolences to Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers, who was the latest pretender to try to finish a season undefeated.

Scherzer made it to 13-0 before he succumbed to the Texas Rangers the other day by a score of 7-1.

Of course, the season is only half-over. Allen didn’t start nearly as many games as Scherzer or some of the others who bolted out of the gate with blinding success only to stumble before reaching the finish line.

Allen was a perfect 15-0 going into the final game that year. All he needed was one more win. In the last game. Then he would have been 16-0. He never made it.

Roger Clemens of the Red Sox (14 victories), Elroy Face of the Pirates (17) and Dave McNally of the Orioles (15) started seasons with remarkable winning streaks before suffering setbacks.

Not one of them ever made it through the season without a loss. Now Scherzer has joined the club.
Who will be next to start out like a ball of fire before losing? It could be a long while.

But let’s get back to Johnny Allen, he of the Lantern Jaw, who tantalized Indians fans from the midpoint of the season before falling by a score of 1-0 on the final day of play.

There were some great hitters on the Cleveland team in those days. Sluggers like Earl Averill and Hal Troskey. Too bad one of them couldn’t have batted in a couple of runs to gift-wrap Allen with a perfect season.

But it wasn’t to be.

I was a school boy in those days, and I listened to all the Tribe games on the radio – when I was home and they were playing.

Baseball was an afternoon game then, as it was intended to be. There were no television networks telling the teams when to start their games because there were no TV sets to watch them on.

Calling the plays from League Park (and occasionally Municipal Stadium) were Jack Graney and Pinkey Hunter.

Players didn’t hit home runs then. Indians players got “a case of Wheaties,” or a fill-up “at the sign of the Flying Red Horse” (Socony-Vacuum gasoline).

I swear I listened to that final game in 1937. I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it, but I’m pretty sure I did. And who’s to say I didn’t?

The pitcher for the Tigers was Lefty Jake Wade. I remember him well. It’s always some guy from Detroit who does the dirty work.

Wasn’t it Floyd Giebell of the Tigers who beat Bob Feller on the last day of a season to deprive him of some kind of a record? I don’t remember what it was. I would have to look it up, but I don’t have any place to look.

Johnny Allen made a name for himself that season – in more ways than one.

He wore an old sweatshirt under his Indians uniform, and he cut great diamond-shaped holes in the sleeves for ventilation – he said.

Batters said the tattered sleeve distracted them. Allen was reported to the commissioner and was fined a modest amount, and told to stop cutting holes in his sleeves.

Allen had the last laugh. (Remember, I am doing this from memory, because I don’t have any place to look it up).

He sold the shirt to a downtown department store, I think it was Higbee’s, for $250, and the store put the shirt on display in the front window.

That was a considerable sum in those days. The only wealthy people were the owners, not the players. Now the players make more than the managers.

The Johnny Allen saga was an important milestone in the history of the Cleveland Indians.

Averill, Troskey, Feller, Lou Boudreau, Mel Harder, Larry Doby, Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell and others were stars of greater magnitude.

But in 1937, Johnny Allen stole the show. Until Lefty Jake Wade doused it with cold water.


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