Great plays are in the eye of the beholder.
Jack Lelivelt said the greatest play he ever saw came in the greatest game he ever witnessed; the first game of a doubleheader played during the dog days of August by fourth and seventh place clubs hopelessly out of the American League pennant race.
Lelivelt watched from the bench on August 4, 1911, as his Washington Senators played the Chicago White Sox. Months later, he told Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner the game included “(S)ix plays in it that might any one be called the greatest according to the way a man looks at it.”
The game was a 1-0, 11-inning victory for the Senators; Walter Johnson getting the complete game victory over Doc White. And Lelivelt was not alone in his assessment.
William Peet of The Washington Herald said:
“An old-time fan in the grandstand correctly described the curtain raiser when he slapped his neighbor on the back and cried: ‘That was the best game of ball I ever saw in my life.”
Joe S. Jackson of The Washington Post said:
“No more freakish game than the opener has ever been played at the Florida Avenue field (Griffith Stadium).”
Lelivelt told Fullerton:
Bodie’s play robbed Walter Johnson of at least extra bases, with a runner on first in the third inning—and Walker robbed Ambrose “Amby” McConnell of the White Sox in the eighth; The Herald said he “spared it with his bare hand.”
While noting Lord’s “two stops,” Lelivelt failed to mention his most notable play during the game; when he fell into the Chicago dugout to catch a George McBride foul pop out, a play The Herald called “one of the best catches ever seen here.”
“Everyone seemed to be trying to pull off the greatest stunts of his life in that game…with White and Johnson pitching magnificent ball. It is as if you took a dozen great games of ball and crowded the most sensational parts of each into 11 innings.”
As for the best play, Lelivelt said it came in the third inning after Johnson walked McConnell and Lord sacrificed him to second:
“(Jimmy “Nixey”) Callahan whipped a fast hit right down between third and short, a hit that seemed certain to go through to left field without being touched. The ball was hit hard and was bounding rapidly when McBride went back and out as hard as he could, shoved down his glove hand, scooped the ball and snapped it straight into (William Wid) Conroy’s hands on top of third base. The play was so quickly made that McConnell saw he was out, and by a quick stop tried to delay being touched and jockeyed around between the bases to let Callahan reach second. He played it beautifully, but he never had a chance. McBride jumped back into the line and before McConnell could even get a good start back Conroy whipped the ball to McBride and McConnell was touched out before he had moved five feet.
“So rapidly was the play made that as soon as McBride touched McConnell he shot down to second so far ahead of Callahan that Cal was able to turn and get back to first…If Callahan had reached second on the play Chicago would have won, as (Matty) McIntyre followed up with a base hit that would have scored the runner from second easily.”
Curiously, the play Lelivelt said was the greatest in a game of great plays, the greatest play he said he ever saw, received no notice the next day’s coverage of the game in either Washington or Chicago.
The Herald ran a column listing fourteen key plays in the game but failed to mention Lelivelt’s “greatest play” at all. The Post said only that McConnell was out “McBride to Conroy, on Callahan’s grounder.” It received no mention in the Chicago papers.