By Ralph Gibson
Before the Civil War, most Americans were not familiar with the game of baseball because it was only played in sports clubs for the affluent. During the war, hundreds of thousands of young men in the North and the South were introduced to the game. Officers believed the sport to be a morale booster and kept the men in good physical condition. Once the war ended, former soldiers brought the game home to their communities and by 1870 baseball was being played on makeshift fields from Maine to the gold fields of Placer County.
Around the turn of the 20th century, a young boy named Bill James was the water boy for the Iowa Hill baseball team. It was during their practices in an old hydraulic mining pit that he learned and fell in love with the game. His family would eventually move to Oroville where he became an outstanding pitcher for the Union High School baseball team. He played one year at St. Mary’s College before signing his first professional contract with the Seattle Giants in 1912.
After a stellar year with Seattle, the Boston Braves of the National League offered him a contract. James had made it to the big leagues. He pitched sparingly during his rookie season of 1913 and ended with a record of six wins, ten losses. In 1914, the Braves played poorly at the start of the season. By July 4, 1914, they were in last place in the National League. But then they started to play better and put more games in the win column. By September 2nd, they were in first place. In that stretch from July 4th to September 2nd, Bill James went 12-1 as a starting pitcher.
In the 1914 World Series, the Boston Braves faced the heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics, an experienced team that had won two of the last three World Series. The Braves swept the Athletics four games to none with Bill James winning game two 1-0 and game three after he pitched in relief on one day’s rest. As a team, they were known as the Miracle Braves, and as a pitcher Bill James was known as one of the best in the league.
The Placer County Museums is proud to announce the opening of the exhibit Bill James and the Miracle Braves at the Archives and Collections Facility on Thursday, October 9th at 1:58 pm (the 100th anniversary of the opening game of the 1914 World Series). The exhibit will be up for over one year at this location. The Archives and Collections Facility is located at 11526 C Ave in the DeWitt Government Center in Auburn. Please call 530-889-6500 for more information.