By Zane Miller
On Wednesday, October 2nd, 1912, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 in 10 innings, following a walkoff RBI single from catcher Dick Cotter. The victory enabled the Cubs to jump to a 90-59 record with pitcher Charlie Smith being credited with his 58th career win, while the Pirates dropped to 92-58, with Hank Robinson taking the loss. However, all of this information is unofficial, as, according to the MLB, this game never existed.
The 1912 season would be a successful one for both the Pirates and the Cubs, as they would finish second and third respectively in the National League standings at season’s end. Both teams also had legitimate MVP candidates who led the NL in major offensive categories, as Cubs third baseman Heinie Zimmerman paced the MLB in home runs with 14, while Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner led the NL in RBIs with 102, and would go on to be one of the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in 1936. However, the issue arose in that both teams had to go up against the New York (now San Francisco) Giants in the same league.
The Giants had already wrapped up the National League title and the only postseason spot available to reach the World Series, rendering the Oct. 2nd Pirates-Cubs matchup irrelevant from a playoff perspective. Nonetheless, both teams were poised to make the most of their few remaining games in the 1912 campaign, which the Pirates had done in the prior three contests in the series, winning 9-0, 9-3 and 4-1 respectively before heading into West Side Park (this is before Wrigley Field was built) in Chicago for the final time of the year.
The Pirates sent starting pitcher Howie Camnitz to the mound, as he had picked up a 21-12 record with a 2.76 ERA to this point in the season, while the Cubs started rookie Jimmy Lavender, who had a 16-13 showing with an ERA of 3.10.
With the Pirates holding a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning, they pulled Camnitz in favor of reliver Hank Robinson to close out the victory. As Camnitz was a right-handed pitcher and Robinson a lefty, this pitching change prompted the Cubs to replace left-handed batter Wilbur Good with the right-handed Dick Cotter.
Cotter was in just his second MLB season and first with the Cubs, as he played for the Philadelphia Phillies the previous year. In the 1912 campaign, he had seen limited action throughout the first half of the year, before becoming a regular fixture in the lineup as he appeared in the majority of Cubs matchups in August and September. Cotter would make his opportunity off the bench in this game count, as he hit an RBI single off of Robinson to tie it back up at 5-5, eventually sending the contest into extra innings.
A myriad of defensive changes would come for the Cubs in the top of the 10th, with Cotter remaining in the game at his natural position of catcher, taking over for veteran Jimmy Archer who had been pinch run for in the ninth by rookie and future home run leader Cy Williams. In addition, Lavender was removed from the game to put in the struggling Charlie Smith, as he had not had a scoreless appearance since early August. However, Smith came in clutch this time around, keeping the Pirates’ offense at bay to maintain the knotted-up score. The bottom of the inning saw the Cubs hold a golden opportunity to stave off the series sweep, as the team had runners on second and third, albeit with two outs. With it apparently being Cotter’s turn to bat, he again took advantage of his second at-bat with another RBI single, this time sending Frank Schulte home from third to win the game, as the Cubs’ 6-5 10th inning victory gave Smith the win, while Robinson was hit with the loss after allowing the walkoff hit. Everything about the game seemed typical, until the next day rolled around.
On October 3rd, Pirates manager Fred Clarke telegraphed a complaint to the National League office, alleging that the Cubs had batted out of order in the 10th inning. Specifically, Cotter had gone up to bat in the eighth spot when, due to the defensive switches earlier in the frame, he should have batted in the ninth spot. With there being two outs, this should have led to Cotter being out due to his batting in the wrong spot, and the game continuing into the 11th inning.
Once the situation was reviewed by the league office, on October 14th, 1912, it was determined that the umpires working the game had failed to call Cotter out despite being aware that the Cubs had batted out of order, as they had erroneously believed that it was the other team’s responsibility to being it to their attention instead, going to show that inept umpiring is has not been anything new to be seen at times in the MLB.
As a result, the National League ruled that the game would not be counted in the standings, and all statistics from the game would be wiped out as well. It’s important to mention that the game would have been replayed if the game had implications towards the postseason, but this was not the case as the Giants had already clinched the NL championship. The Pirates eventually claimed a record of 93-58 to take the second spot in the league, while the Cubs held down third with a 91-59 record. Out of the over 2,500 regular season games played between the Pirates and Cubs, this was not one of them.
Forfeits and Successfully Protested Games in Major League Baseball: A Complete Record by David Nemec and Eric Miklich