The Braves won the National League pennant five times in eight years between 1891 and 1898, and finished a close 2nd in ’99. But the franchise fell on hard times in the first years of the 20th century, particularly in comparison with the upstart Red Sox of the American League.
For the ten-year span starting in 1903, Boston’s National League team finished in 6th place twice, in 7th place three times, and brought up the rear five times. The Braves lost 90 or more games in nine of those ten years, racking up more than 100 losses in six of the ten years — this in seasons that averaged 151 games.
During the same ten-year period, the Red Sox won the American League championship three times and the World Series twice. They were inconsistent, though, finishing in every spot but 6th. (In 1904 the National League refused to play the American League, a position generally attributed to spite over losing the first one in 1903.)
Before the 1913 season started, the Braves hired George Stallings to manage the team. Stallings, a native Georgian, had a long and peripatetic minor league career, primarily in various incarnations of the Southern League, the Texas League, and the Western League. Stallings’ first Major League managerial gig came in 1897 with the Philadelphia Phillies. Between minor league managerial positions, primarily in the Eastern (International) League, he had achieved a very pedestrian 300-301 record managing Philadelphia, Detroit and New York (AL), before joining Boston.
The 1913 Braves improved significantly over the previous teams, posting a 69-82 mark that proved good enough for 5th place, although 31.5 games behind John McGraw’s Giants. Little improvement was expected for the 1914 season, since the only significant offseason change brought a 32-year-old Johnny Evers as the starting second baseman in exchange for 2B Bill Sweeney. But a series of minor league acquisitions in late 1913, particularly the addition of 1b Butch Schmidt and c Hank Gowdy, would later prove to have been very important.
The 1914 season started inauspiciously, the Braves losing the first three games. As May started, the Braves were in the midst of a 5 game losing streak. A victory over Philadelphia provided the only respite as a seven-game losing streak followed. By mid-May, Boston’s record stood at 3-16, already ten games behind the New York Giants and seemingly safely ensconced in last place again.
Matters improved slightly during the latter half of May, as the team finished the month going 7-7. But they remained 10-22 overall. The season’s nadir came after a loss to Cincinnati on June 8, as the Braves fell to 16 games under .500, now 13 games behind the McGraw’s Giants. Lost in the noise was the fact that Stallings’ Braves had actually posted a winning record for the month of June with no losing streaks greater than two games.
July opened with the Braves on another five-game losing streak, including both ends of a July 4th doubleheader at home against Brooklyn. The team stood at 26-40 with one tie — they had the occasional tie ballgame back then — and was in last place, 15 games behind those seemingly unstoppable Giants.
And then, beginning with the next game on July 6, the Braves went 68-19 with four ties for the rest of the year, winning the division by 10.5 games.
They swept the World Series in four straight games, the first championship in franchise history. The turnaround started exactly one century ago.