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October 3, 1951: Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Giants

30_1951-52 Giants comic bookI wrote this story 35 years ago, for a book called Baseball’s Ten Greatest Games. It has never been published on the net. My editor discouraged me from including any nineteenth century contests, or the game of June 14, 1870 would have been in there, along with other games from 1907 to 1978. Maybe it’s time to update my list to include, say, Game Six of the 2011 World Series, but in any recounting this game would make the cut, and might well retain its honor as The Greatest Game Ever Played.

Ralph Branca, who on October 3, 1951, before 34,320 lucky fans, threw the single most famous pitch in baseball history, has said: “Whenever somebody tells me he was there I tell him he’s the four-hundred-and-thirty-first thousandth guy to tell me he was at the game.”

Of course, in the age of television the audience for a baseball game is no longer limited to the seating capacity of the park. For Game Six of the ’75 Series, 62 million people could say, “I was there.” You may have been one of them. But technology cannot enable us to step back in time and witness games whose glories passed uncaptured on film, yet which have endured and taken their place in baseball lore. Nor will snippets of more re­cent games, stitched together into a “highlights” program, call up the excitement of seeing the game unfold play by play, as it was happening.

For Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world,” and and all the events that led up to it, I hope you’ll now feel that you can say, “I was there.” So come with me now to the Polo Grounds on this damp third day of October.

Here we are, sitting in the lower left-field stands of New York’s Polo Grounds, about to witness a game no schedule-maker had planned last winter, and no fan had dared to dream of even six weeks ago. The contest to be played on this dim, overcast afternoon will determine the National League champion.

Polo Gr (NYG) 4180.68HTt NBLThe New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, who through the years have produced baseball’s greatest rivalry, have this year produced baseball’s greatest pennant race. While Brooklyn, which was nipped for the flag on the final day in 1950, broke fast from the starting gate, the Giants stumbled, dropping eleven straight games in April. Eventually the New Yorkers picked up the pace and moved into second place; but by August 11 they were still hopelessly behind by thirteen-and-a-half games. On the next day, however, a whirlwind began to take shape: the Giants went on to win sixteen games in a row and an unbelievable thirty-seven of their final forty-four. They pulled into a tie with two games left to play, and only a fourteenth-inning homer by Jackie Robinson against the Phils on the final day of the regular season prevented the Giants from taking the flag. In the best-of-three playoff the Giants took the first game, 3-1, and the Dodgers, with their backs to the wall, captured the second game. 10-0. Now the teams have arrived at a crossroads: After today’s game, one club will meet the Yankees in a “Subway Series”; the other will lick its wounds and wait till next year.

The morning threat of rain appears to have held down the size of the crowd. Game time, 1:30, is only a few moments off, yet fewer than 35,000 people occupy this grand old cavern of a stadium, which has accommodated more than 60,000. The Polo Grounds, named after polo fields which existed on an earlier Giants site in the nineteenth century, may be great for football, or soccer, or even polo . . . but baseball? Look around the outfield and you’ll see why this park built below Coogan’s Bluff has been such a nightmare to pitchers and batters alike. Down the lines, a ball must drift a mere 258 feet to right field or 280 feet to left to become a four-bagger, dimensions which have yielded countless pop-fly homers. (Actually, a fly hit to left may travel even less than 280 feet and still be a homer, for the upper deck juts out over the stands below.) To the power alleys, where most well-hit shots go, a ball can rocket 425 feet to left center or 450 feet to right center and still be caught. Dead center is beyond home-run consideration, an outlandish 475 feet from home plate.

Leo Durocher

Leo Durocher

In mid-1948 Leo Durocher, manager of the Dodgers since 1939, was let go and, miracle of miracles, was hired by the Giants. He inherited a team which had been designed to take advantage of the short porches in left and right—lumbering strongboys who could powder the ball but do little else. Gradually, he stripped the Giants of their aging sluggers and constructed his team around a stingy pitching crew and aggressive players who could “execute”—who could manufacture runs from such odds and ends as a grounder hit behind the runner, a bunt, a steal, or a hit-and-run, as well as the occasional circuit blast. It is these new-breed Giants who are running out to their positions now.

The big change Durocher has wrought in this team has been up the middle, where tradition has it that pennants are won or lost; so let’s check out those five vital stations first. Behind the plate is Wes Westrum, an excellent receiver whose anemic batting average of .219 masks his real contributions to the team offense: 20 homers, 70 RBIs, and 102 bases on balls, all excellent totals for an eighth-place batter. Warming up on the hill is thirty-four-year-old Sal “The Barber” Maglie—his intimidating combination of fastballs up and in and curves low and away have produced 23 wins coming into today’s game. Durocher reclaimed this veteran from the Mexican League last year and put him in the starting rotation with Larry Jansen, Dave Koslo, and Jim Hearn to give the New Yorkers the best moundwork in either league.

Eddie Stanky comic, 1951

Eddie Stanky comic, 1951

The keystone pair of Alvin Dark at short and Eddie Stanky at second was acquired as a unit in a trade with the Boston Braves, and these two scrappers have led by example in the field and molded the team spirit off the field. At thirty-five years of age Stanky, nicknamed “The Brat” for his combative nature, does not run, field, throw, or hit particularly well: but like Bucky Harris back in 1924, he finds a way to beat you. Dark, who bats second behind Stanky, is more naturally gifted in the field and at the bat. He can be counted on to advance Stanky if he has reached base, or to take matters into his own hands: He is a .300 hitter who this year leads the league in doubles.

Out there in center field is a twenty-year-old kid who started the season in Minneapolis, the Giants’ Triple-A club. After thirty-five games there, in which he batted .477, the Giants couldn’t keep him down on the farm any longer and summoned him to the Polo Grounds, where he promptly went 0-for-21. But Leo was convinced the kid would hit; and even if he didn’t, his glove alone merited him a spot in the lineup. As the season progressed the young center fielder did get over his jitters at the plate and hit 20 homers. When he hangs up his spikes in 1973, he will have hit 640 more. His name? Willie Mays.

The arrival of Mays in the month of May led in turn to the Giants’ most important move of the season: uprooting Bobby Thomson from his center-field turf and transplanting him to third base. Thomson is a good but not great player who had been enjoying a good but not great year until the Giants’ closing charge, when he became the league’s hottest hitter. At the other corner is Whitey Lockman, a reliable hitter and like Thomson a transplanted outfielder. Unlike Thomson, however, Lockman has become a first-rate infielder.

In the remaining two outfield posts we have Monte Irvin in left and Don Mueller in right. Irvin was a long-time star in the Negro Leagues who arrived at the Polo Grounds in 1949 as a thirty-year-old rookie. Though his best years may be behind him, he still had enough left to give the Giants an exceptional 1951 season, batting over .300, belting 24 homers, and driving home a league-high 121 runs. Mueller, only twenty-four years old and in his second year as a regular, is still developing as a hitter but already is nearly impossible to strike out, having whiffed only thirteen times all year long.

Irvin & Mays, 1952

Irvin & Mays, 1952

So there you have it, the team which has made the greatest stretch run in baseball history. But that accomplishment will be forgotten soon enough if victory eludes the Giants today. Brooklyn is a formidable foe, having finished first in two of the last five seasons and second by a whisker in two others. On paper they seem a stronger team than the Giants, with pitching nearly as good, and hitting and defense which are vastly superior. We’ll examine the Dodgers individually when they take the field; right now it’s time to focus our attention on home plate, for a Dodger batter is in the box and Maglie is peering in at Westrum for the sign.

Sal gets off on the right foot, slipping a called strike three past Carl Furillo, but then he loses sight of the plate and walks Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider on only nine pitches. Jackie Robin­son lines a single past third, and Reese scores. The fans have hardly settled into their seats and already the home team is one run down and in trouble. But now The Barber regains his edge, inducing Andy Pafko to dribble one down to Thomson, who steps on third for the force. His throw to Lockman is too late for a twin killing, but no matter, for Gil Hodges pops to Thom­son in foul ground and a big inning has been averted.

The Giants will send Eddie Stanky to the plate as their lead-off man; but before he steps in let me tell you a few things about the Dodgers, and you’ll see why perhaps they ought to have run away with the pennant. At first base is Gil Hodges, a superlative fielder whose 40 circuit blows this year are second only to Ralph Kiner’s 42; in a game last year he hit a record-tying four home runs. At second base is the incomparable Jackie Robinson, the trailblazer for all the black stars to follow and a remarkable player despite having to wait, like Monte Irvin, until he was well along in years to reach the majors. This year he hit .338 and established a record for second basemen by making only seven errors. The shortstop is Pee Wee Reese, the Dodger captain who started playing in Brooklyn in 1940 and shows no signs of slow­ing yet. And at third there is Billy Cox, a light hitter whose magic glove has no equal in his day.

Reese & Robinson

Reese & Robinson

Standing below us in left we see Andy Pafko, a proven slugger whose acquisition from the Cubs in midseason seemed to assure smooth sailing to the pennant. Thus far he has hit 30 homers. Patrolling center is the twenty-five-year-old Duke Snider, whose “off year” in 1951 still produced 29 homers and 101 RBIs. And in right is Carl Furillo, “The Reading Rifle,” whose powerful throwing arm cut down twenty-four foolhardy runners, a league high.

The backstop is Rube Walker, substituting for the injured Roy Campanella, who struggled through the playoff opener but could go no further. Dodger manager Charley Dressen hopes his team will not feel the loss of Campy today, but how do you replace a man who hits .325, with 33 homers and 108 RBIs? And now we come to the mound where, ball in hand, his hulking frame bowed toward the plate, waits Don Newcombe. He has won 20 games thus far, and was Brooklyn’s salvation in the final week­end against the Phils, throwing a shutout Saturday and five and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief on Sunday. He pitches today with only two days’ rest, but Newk is strong—last year he pitched both ends of a doubleheader.

The big right-hander gets Stanky on a fly to Pafko in short left, Dark on a pop to Cox, and Mueller on a liner to Pafko. He will not be easy to solve today.

In the top of the second. Maglie breezes through the Brooks in order, fanning Walker along the way. Irvin opens the Giant second by grounding to Reese, but Lockman breaks the ice by singling past Hodges into right. Now the batter is Glasgow-born Bobby Thomson, “The Flying Scot,” whose two-run homer in Game One of the playoff was the winning blow. He leans on a Newcombe fastball and drills it into left for a single, extending his hitting streak to fifteen straight games. But this is no time to accept congratulations: while Lockman stops at second as Pafko fetches the ball, here comes Thomson motoring head down onto Whitey’s heels. Bobby imagined his hit would certainly reach the wall and that Lockman would scurry to third. He neglected, however, to confirm his theory by actually looking to left field or at the first-base coach, who was waving frantically to stop him. Bobby does spot Lockman at the last moment and tries to retrace his steps, but the “rock” cannot be covered up—Thomson is tagged out, and the budding rally goes for naught as Pafko races back to the wall to grab Mays’s drive.

Bobby Thomson

Bobby Thomson

The skies have become, if possible, even more overcast than they were at game-time. As Furillo steps to the plate to start the third inning, the lights are turned on; it is only 2:04 in the after­noon. Again, Maglie puts the Dodgers down in order, this time whiffing Snider. In the bottom of the frame, with Westrum on first after a walk, Stanky smashes one down the third-base line only to have Cox intercept it and send it round the horn for a brilliant double play. In the years to follow, only Brooks Robinson and Clete Boyer will bear comparison to Cox for artistry at the hot corner.

The fourth frame is “nothing across” for both sides, but in the fifth Maglie’s streak of fourteen consecutive outs is broken by Cox’s leadoff bunt single. The next three Dodgers, however, flail helplessly at Sal’s curves. We are only at the halfway point in the contest, yet that run Brooklyn pushed across in the first before The Barber found his form is looking bigger all the time.

After Reese throws out Lockman in the Giants’ half of the fifth, Thomson hits another screamer to left, this one a surefire double since no teammate occupies second base. Newk bears down and strikes out the overanxious Mays. Now Dressen em­ploys a mildly unorthodox strategy—with Maglie on deck, he orders an intentional walk to Westrum, the potential lead run. Dressen is fully aware that in the Polo Grounds everyone is a home-run threat, but chalks up the move as a good one when Maglie rolls out to short.

In the top of the sixth with one down, Snider, a dead-pull hitter with a picturesque swing, is fooled by a change of pace, takes a halfhearted poke at it, and dumps the ball into left off the end of his bat. With Robinson at the plate, Snider takes off for sec­ond, surprising everyone in the ballpark except the Giants. Westrum calls for a pitchout, and The Duke is out by a mile. Though Robinson draws a walk, another zero goes up on the scoreboard for Brooklyn. New York fares no better in its at bats, as Cox robs Dark of a hit, and the score holds at a nerve-wrack­ing 1-0.

Don Newcombe

Don Newcombe

Despite a two-out single by Rube Walker, the Dodgers once again shoot a blank in the seventh. Now the home-team rooters stand for the seventh-inning stretch, and this display of allegiance seems to do some good as Monte Irvin smashes a double off the left-field wall. The situation demands a sacrifice, and Lockman dumps a bunt out toward the mound—he had meant for it to roll toward third. Walker pounces on it and throws to Cox, but too late to tag the sliding Irvin. Now Giants stand on first and third with nary an out. While Newcombe paws the mound, Cox sneaks up behind Irvin trying to pull the old hidden-ball trick; Monte doesn’t fall for it—he sticks to the bag. Dressen orders his infielders to play back for the double play, conceding the tying run but hoping to get out of the inning no worse than even. After fouling off two two-strike pitches, Thomson renders the maneuvering pointless as he skies to deep center, easily scoring Irvin. Newk again must face Mays in the clutch, and again he proves the master, getting Willie to smack a hard grounder to Reese for a rally-killing double play.

One to one. Now the entire season, 156 games plus, is com­pressed into six outs per side. There have been league play-offs in the past—in 1908 and 1946 in the National League, in 1948 in the American—but in none of these was the issue dead­locked so near to the end. Through seven innings, each hurler has permitted only four hits; if we had to guess which one might tire first, the choice would be Newcombe. A fastball pitcher who ordinarily strikes out five or six men a game, Big Newk has fanned only one to this point. Maybe the strain of last weekend’s exploits is showing up after all. The Barber, on the other hand, has fanned six with his razor-sharp curveball, and has been in complete command since the first.

Sal Maglie

Sal Maglie

Furillo begins the eighth by lining one back to the box which Maglie is fortunate to stab for the out. Now, all of a sudden, both his luck and his skill run out. Reese laces a single to right and dashes to third as Snider drives a hit past Stanky’s outstretched glove. With everyone on the edge of his seat, wondering if Maglie will retire Robinson or Robinson will retire Maglie, this marvelous game takes an unexpected and disappointing turn: The Barber heaves a wild pitch. Reese scoots across the plate with the lead run and Snider makes it all the way to third.

Pitching carefully to Robinson, Maglie runs the count to 3-1, then puts him on intentionally to set up a possible double play, as Dressen had done an inning earlier. Durocher looks awfully smart when Pafko smacks a hot shot to third; but the ball kicks off Thomson’s glove for a tainted hit, scoring Snider and moving Robby to second. Now Hodges pops to Thomson, and there are two outs. The light-hitting Billy Cox, however, hits a wicked smash off Thomson’s chest; the ball bounds away for a hit, and Robinson tallies the third run of the frame. With two men still on base, Maglie at last gets out of the inning as Walker grounds to second.

You can sense the dejection of the Giants and their fans as the players come in from the field—to have come from so far back, and to have forced the Dodgers beyond the season’s end, only to lose on a wild pitch and some ground balls that should have been outs … it just doesn’t seem right. But right or not, defeat seems a certainty as the Giants bat against Newcombe in the eighth. Newk, who relaxed his grip on the Giants’ throats in the seventh, tightens it once more. Bill Rigney, batting for Westrum, strikes out on three pitches. Hank Thompson, hitting for Maglie, raps one to Hodges’s right, which Gil gracefully backhands and flips to Newcombe, covering first. Stanky fouls out to Reese near the field boxes behind third. So much for our “educated” guess about which pitcher figured to tire first.

Coming in from the bullpen to hurl the ninth for New York is Larry Jansen, who with 22 wins this season trails Maglie by only one for league honors. The thirty-one-year-old righthander will be working with Ray Noble, who replaces Westrum as the backstop. The Dodgers, perhaps already looking ahead to to­morrow’s World Series opener against the Yankees, go down meekly on two grounders and a lazy fly to center.

In the dugout, Newcombe tells Dressen he’s running out of gas; Dressen sends him out to the mound but alerts the bullpen to get some arms ready. Three outs are all that stand between the Dodgers and an incredibly hard-earned flag. First up for the Giants is Alvin Dark, hitless in his first three trips. Newcombe rears back and throws the best smoke he’s got left, jamming him up and in, but Alvin steps off the plate and, with a protective, awkward swing, loops a single to right. Next up is left-handed Don Mueller, like Dark, hitless today.

Alvin Dark

Alvin Dark

What’s this? Hodges has moved in a step or two behind Dark, obviously to hold down the size of his lead. But why? With the Giants down three, Dark is no threat to steal, and his run means nothing; by moving Hodges in behind the bag, Dressen has opened up the entire right side of the infield for Mueller. And Don, nicknamed ”Mandrake the Magician” because he uses his bat like a magic wand to “hit it where they ain’t,” does just that. He drives a grounder to precisely the spot where Hodges would have stood had he been permitted to ignore Dark. Gil dives, but the ball bounces by, perhaps two feet beyond his reach. If Dressen had not pulled a boner, the Dodgers would have had a cinch double play, for Mueller runs poorly.

In the third-base coach’s box, manager Durocher is praying that Irvin can get another single so he can have Lockman bunt the tying runs into scoring position. But Irvin lifts a pop to Hodges, and now Whitey must swing away. As he prepares for Newk’s first delivery, Lockman thinks to himself that he must at all costs get the ball into the air and stay out of a possible game-ending double play. And more than get it in the air, he will try to park it in the seats. Though he connected for only 12 homers during the season, the dimensions of this park make everyone a potential Babe Ruth. Newcombe recognizes the danger and offers up a high, outside ball. For Whitey, who ordi­narily is the type of hitter who goes with the pitch, thoughts of home-run glory vanish and instinct takes over. He strokes the pitch down the left-field line for a double, scoring Dark and moving Mueller to third.

Don, however, didn’t begin his slide until he was almost at the bag, and now is writhing on the ground with a severely sprained ankle. While Don lies at third, surrounded by team­mates and waiting for a stretcher to be brought out, Dressen is on the phone to his bullpen coach, Clyde Sukeforth. Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca have been warming up; now Sukeforth tells him that while Erskine’s got nothing, Branca’s fastball looks good. So as Newcombe walks off the mound to scattered cheers and Mueller is carried out to the clubhouse in deepest center field, in comes Clint Hartung to run for Mueller and Ralph Branca to pitch for Brooklyn.

Branca, a twenty-five-year-old right-hander, was the loser in the opening game of the play-off. He had also been the loser in the opening game of the 1946 play-off. In 1947, at the age of twenty-one, he won 21 games for Brooklyn. This year he has been effective both as a starter and as a reliever: he has won 13, the same number he wears on his uniform.

The batter is Bobby Thomson, who last inning made the Giant faithful wish that Billy Cox had been playing third for their side. On the other hand, he has gone 4-for-9 thus far in the playoff and did drive in the tying run in the seventh. While Branca tosses in his warm-ups, Durocher confers with Thomson. What he says, we will learn later, is, “Bobby, if you ever hit one, hit one now!”

Willie Mays

Willie Mays

The thought crosses Dressen’s mind whether, with men on second and third, to walk the dangerous Thomson intentionally and pitch to Mays, the overanxious rookie who has been a flop at the plate this afternoon. Charley had employed this strategy successfully, though with far less risk, in the fifth. But this time he decides to go with the book and does not put the potential winning run on base.

Assuming his stance in the batter’s box, Thomson remembers that the pitch he hit off Branca for the game-winning homer two days ago was a waist-high fastball, so that’s the one pitch he knows he won’t see now. But surprise, surprise, that is precisely what Branca fires in, and Thomson takes it for a strike. Lockman, perched on second, thinks, “Oh, no, he’ll never get another pitch like that again.”

And he’s right. The next pitch is a fastball high and inside, the kind pitchers had been getting him out on all season long. It is not a strike but a “purpose pitch” designed to set Thomson up for a curveball away on the next pitch. But Bobby takes a cut at it, meets it squarely, and the ball sails out in a low arc toward us in left. Here comes Andy Pafko, racing to the wall at the 315-foot mark and hoping the liner will start to drop. On the mound, Branca whirls to follow the flight of the ball, muttering, “Sink, sink, sink!” Thomson runs head down to first at full speed, for though he knows he has hit the ball hard, he doesn’t think it will reach the stands. As he nears first he looks up, in time to see his drive sink, sink, sink—not into Pafko’s waiting glove, but barely over the wall of the lower left-field stands! The Giants win!

Thomson's homer going into stands

Thomson’s homer going into stands

A tremendous roar fills the old stadium, which has never seen a finish like this one. The Giants and their fans are jumping up and down, hugging each other in disbelief, shouting, laughing, crying from joy. Had there ever been a season such as this, a game the equal of this one? It is the Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff. The Dodgers and their faithful stand silent and hollow, trying to absorb the enormity of what has just happened. With one swing of the bat, the game that was won is lost. The pennant that was theirs now belongs to the hated Giants. The campaign that was to reach its climax in the World Series is now over. A thirteen-and-a-half game lead in mid-August, and now . . . nothing.

This is how it ends.

This is how it ends.

As Thomson realizes that the ball is in the seats, he begins to hop, then skip, then trot around the bases, the picture of joy un­bounded. At home plate he is swallowed up in the throng of teammates and fans waiting to share this moment with him. It’s a great moment for Thomson, for the Giants, for baseball—but cast your eyes toward the outfield, where a scattered procession of somber Dodgers paces off the interminably long trip to the center-field clubhouse. Walking by himself, feeling the complete weight of the Dodger collapse on his shoulders, is Ralph Branca—Number 13—who forever after will be remembered as the “goat” of this incredible game, just as Bobby Thomson, very nearly the goat himself, will be remembered as its hero. One pitch, one swing—a goat, a hero—and the 156 games that have gone before, and the countless opportunities for victory along the way, are all forgotten. It’s unreasonable, and it’s cruel, but there’s no changing it now.


Old News in Baseball, No. 22

Newsboy logoSeptember is for me baseball’s best month, even better than October, because it is so filled with possibility. Who will win the division title? The wild-card spots? The batting and pitching crowns? The World Series is for October, and the timing of the MVP and Cy Young awards, and Hall of Fame announcements, is designed to keep the hot stove league burning. But if in spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of Opening Day (oh yeah, and love, too), in these first days of fall, for veteran fans the topic is baseball, baseball, baseball.

With the approach of the regular season’s end, this will be the last Old News column for 2015.  

Shoeless Joe Jackson Batting Grip

Shoeless Joe Jackson Batting Grip

September 25:

1920: Behind Joe Jackson’s homer and two doubles, and the pitching of Lefty Williams‚ the White Sox beat host Cleveland 5-1‚ to shave the Indians’ lead to a half game. Jackson is hitting .387 and will finish with a mark of .382, the highest ever for a player in his final full season. Jackson, of course, like Williams and five others (Chick Gandil retired after the 1919 campaign), does not yet know that these will be his last days in Organized Baseball. For more, see:

1929: Three days after turning the team over to coach Art Fletcher‚ Yankee manager  Miller Huggins dies from blood poisoning at New York’s St. Vincent Hospital at age 49. After the Yankees learn of their skipper’s death, during the fifth inning at Fenway Park, both teams line up at home plate for a minute of silent prayer.

1956: At Ebbets Field‚ Sal Maglie of the Dodgers no-hits the Phils 5-0, keeping Brooklyn a half game behind the Braves, who beat Cincinnati 7-1. As David Nemec observed, “After seemingly having a fork stuck in him upon being released by the Indians in 1956, Sal Maglie was signed by the Dodgers and did not make his first start with them until June 4 at Milwaukee when he beat Burdette 3-0.  Following that, he joined the Brooklyn rotation and was so instrumental in the Dodgers’ pennant win that he finished a relatively close second to teammate Don Newcombe in the MVP balloting.” Fans of Yoenis Cespedes, take note.

September 26:

1961: In New York’s 159th game‚ Roger Maris rips a Jack Fisher fastball into the right-field seats at Yankee Stadium for his 60th home run, tying Babe Ruth’s mark set in 1927. Fewer than 8‚000 fans are on hand.

1964: Behind rookie Mel Stottlemyre’s two-hitter‚ the Yankees roll over the Senators‚ 7-0‚ for their eleventh win in a row on their way to another pennant (but their last one until 1976). Stottlemyre adds a record-tying five hits‚ the last MLB pitcher to collect that many.

1993: The Rockies set a season attendance record‚ reaching 4‚483‚350 as they defeat the Reds‚ 12-7. Don’t reach for that calculator: in 81 home dates, the Rockies averaged 55,350 fans per game.

September 27:

1917: The Red Sox play a benefit game against an American League all-star team featuring Ty Cobb‚ Tris Speaker‚ and Joe Jackson. More than $14‚000 is raised for the family of sportswriter Tim Murnane‚ who died February 13. Babe Ruth (along with teammate Rube Foster) pitches for the Sox, Fanny Brice helps sell programs, and John L. Sullivan coaches at third base. For more, see:

Murnane Benefit Game 1917

Murnane Benefit Game 1917

1924: Rookie Pedro Dibut (3-0) hurls the Reds to a 10-1 win over the Cardinals. Except for a brief relief appearance next year‚ that’s it in the majors for the chunky Cuban‚ who played in the Negro Leagues for the Cuban Stars (West), before the Reds. Gary Ashwill observes: “There were three players, all Cubans, who appeared in the organized Negro leagues 1920-1946 and also in the major leagues, all in the 1920s: Pedro Dibut; Ramón ‘Paito’ or ‘Mike’ Herrera; and Oscar Estrada…. If you want to go pre-1920, it depends on how you define ‘Negro league.’ Both Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida played for All-Cubans/Cuban Stars teams on the blackball circuit in the 1900s … [and both] appeared in a predecessor league, the 1906 International League of Independent Professional Base Ball Clubs, which strictly speaking wasn’t a ‘Negro league,’ as it included a couple of white teams…. Bill Cadreau, a Native American who pitched one game for the Chicago White Sox in 1910 under the name ‘Chief Chouneau,’ also played for the Chicago Union Giants, a black professional team, in both 1911 and 1917…. In the 19th century Weldy Walker played for both the 1884 Toledo AA team and the 1887 Pittsburgh Keystones of the National Colored League (both very briefly).” For more, see:

1951: With the score tied at 3-3 in the eighth inning‚ umpire Frank Dascoli clears the entire Brooklyn bench after his call at home plate produces a violent protest. Future Hall of Fame NBA basketball player Bill Sharman‚ up from St. Paul (AA) at the end of the season‚ is one of the players thrown out. Sharman, who never gets into a game for the Dodgers, thus becomes the only man to be thrown out of a big-league game without ever having played in one.

Bill Sharman, 1951

Bill Sharman, 1951

September 28:

1865: Four thousand spectators gather at Hoboken to watch the Mutuals lose to the Eckford Club 23-11. The Mutual Club meets after the game and charges catcher William Wansley with “willful and designed inattention” with the view of causing Eckford to defeat Mutual. A committee formed to investigate the matter later reports that gambler Kane McLoughlin paid $100 collectively to the three players to heave, in the favored term of the period, the game to the Eckfords. Wansley made so little attempt to hide his skullduggery (six passed balls, no hits in five at bats) that rumblings about something being rotten in Hoboken were aired in the press immediately. Confronted by the Mutual club’s president, Wansley confessed and implicated his partners in slime, Tom Devyr and Ed Duffy; all three were banned from play. Young Devyr, after a heartfelt confession, will be restored to good graces in 1867‚ Duffy in 1869‚ and Wansley in 1870.

1960: At Fenway in the bottom of the eighth inning, in his final big-league plate appearance Ted Williams picks out a 1-1 pitch from Baltimore’s Jack Fisher and drives it 450 feet into the seats behind the Boston bullpen. It is Williams’ 521st home run‚ placing him third on the all-time list. Williams stays in the dugout‚ ignoring the crowd’s cheers‚ but after trotting out to left in the ninth‚ he is replaced immediately by Carroll Hardy. The Splendid Splinter exits as a standing crowd roars.

1988: In his last start of the regular season‚ Orel Hershiser pitches 10 shutout innings to extend his consecutive scoreless inning streak to 59‚ breaking Dodger Don Drysdale’s record. Hershiser ends September with a 5-0 record and an ERA of 0.00. His streak started on August 30 with four shutout innings against Montreal.

September 29:

1945: The Cubs clinch the NL flag on Hank Borowy’s 4-3 win over Pittsburgh in the first game of a doubleheader. Borowy, an All-Star with the Yankees in 1944, came to the Cubs on July 27, for a payment of $97,000. He had won 10 games for New York and would proceed to win 11 for the Cubs.

1954: In Game 1 of the World Series‚ Willie Mays of the Giants makes one of the greatest catches in history. Racing back to deep center field in the Polo Grounds to make an over-the-head catch of Indian Vic Wertz’s 440-foot drive in the eighth, he preserves the 2-2 score. In the tenth‚ Dusty Rhodes hits a pinch-hit‚ three-run home run to give the Giants the first of their four consecutive victories.

Mays Catch, Colorized

Mays Catch, Colorized

1959: The Milwaukee Braves knock Don Drysdale out of the game and take a 4-2 lead‚ but the Dodgers come back to win their second game of the playoff‚ 6-5‚ and win the NL pennant. The Dodgers, who had lost a three-run lead in the ninth of a playoff game only eight years before, now overcome a 5-2 ninth-inning deficit to tie the game. They win it in the 12th when Gil Hodges scores from second on Felix Mantilla’s throwing error on a Carl Furillo grounder.

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

September 30:

1951: Jackie Robinson hits an upper deck HR in the 14th inning off Robin Roberts‚ who came on in the eighth‚ to give the Dodgers a n all-important 9-8 win over the Phils. Robbie saves the game in the 13th by making a great catch of an Eddie Waitkus line drive and throwing to second base for a DP. The Dodgers’ win sets the stage for a playoff with the Giants, who had won earlier today.

1927: With the score tied at 2-2 in the eighth‚ Mark Koenig triples and moments later Babe Ruth launches his historic No. 60 off Washington’s Tom Zachary for a 4-2 win. Ruth has hit 17 homers in September‚ the highest month’s output till Rudy York’s 18 in August 1937. The Babe is the first player to hit 30‚ 40‚ 50‚ and now 60 homers.

1907: An overflow crowd lines the field at Philadelphia’s Columbia Park for the showdown Monday doubleheader between the A’s and Tigers. In the first game‚ the home team gets off to a 7-1 lead against 25-game winner Bill Donovan. But Ty Cobb ties the game at 8-8 with a homer in the ninth. Both teams score once in the 11th. In the 14th an umpire’s ruling costs Philadelphia the game and precipitates a bit of a riot:  Harry Davis hits a long fly into the crowd in left CF‚ ordinarily a ground-rule double. As Tiger CF Sam Crawford goes to the crowd’s edge‚ a policeman stands up and moves‚ either to interfere or to get out of the way. Home plate umpire Silk O’Loughlin says there is no interference‚ then reverses his ruling when base umpire Tom Connolly offers a different opinion. When play resumes‚ the Athletics’ Danny Murphy hits a long single that would have scored Davis. The game is called because of darkness in the 17th‚ a 9-9 tie. The second game is never played. The Tigers retain first place. For more, see:

1866 baseball scorecard_b

October 1, 1866 scorecard

October 1:

1866: In Philadelphia‚ the largest crowd in baseball history‚ 30‚000‚ gather to watch the first match in a home-and-home series between the champion Atlantics from Brooklyn and the Athletics of Philadelphia. Batting first‚ the A’s score a pair but the press of the crowd makes play impossible and the game is called. Another attempt to play in Philadelphia is successful on October 22.

1924: Only three years after Commissioner Landis banned the eight Black Sox for life, another bribery scandal clouds the October landscape. Landis bars Giants outfielder Jimmy O’Connell and coach Cozy Dolan from the impending World Series with Washington after they admit an attempt to bribe Phils shortstop Heinie Sand to “go easy” in their season-ending series against the Giants. O’Connell implicates Frank Frisch‚ George Kelly‚ and Ross Youngs‚ who deny everything and are cleared by Landis. O’Connell is out of baseball at 23. AL President Ban Johnson‚ an enemy of the Giants John McGraw‚ proclaims that the World Series should be canceled because of the betting scandal‚ a pronouncement that the owners will ignore.

1967: Boston, a ninth-place club in 1966, clinches the American League pennant with a 5-3 win over Minnesota‚ Jim Lonborg besting Dean Chance. Carl Yastrzemski goes 4-for-4. His 10 hits in his final 13 at bats secure the Triple Crown (.326‚ 44‚ 121). Detroit‚ which could tie for the lead with a sweep on this day‚ beats California in the opener 6-4 but drops the nightcap 8-5.

There She Is, Myth America

The Natural Jacket, EFFAt left is an Ebbets Field Flannels replica of the jacket Robert Redford wore when he played Roy Hobbs, the thirty-five-year-old rookie from nowhere, an item which may prompt postmodernists to question what it means to replicate the frankly fake. The 1984 film The Natural has become a litmus test for baseball savants and film critics. Either it was horrible, a comic-book parody of Bernard Malamud’s excellent 1952 novel; or it was grand and mythopoeic, a tour de force by director Barry Levinson that was vastly superior to the book on which it was based. The battle was pitched anew on Facebook yesterday, with some hating the book and loving the film, others the opposite.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in the world who hated the film,” Tara Krieger wrote. “It just felt incredibly overwrought.”

“One thing that kinda bugged me about the movie,” said Ron Bolton,” was Hobbs did two things at the plate – he either hit a home run or he struck out.”

“If you’re looking for realism,” I replied to my friends, “yes. I like the film as fable.”

The Natural_Lobby cards_aThe Natural was not a movie about baseball, the critics charged. Overly simplistic, they said, it was instead an allegory about the eternal battle between good and evil, between our past and our future, between what could have been and what is. (Sounds like baseball to me.) The film was chock full of allusions to baseball players and events–Babe Ruth, Jim Creighton, Eddie Waitkus–and to classic legends: Faust, King Arthur, the Serpent in the Garden, Prometheus. It gave us a dazzlingly visual ending–the famous homer into the light stanchion that explodes into a brilliant fireworks display. Bull Durham and Field of Dreams touched new sets of nerves about baseball, life, love, and myth, and Moneyball was complicated fun, but for me, The Natural is the long ball of baseball movies.Geena Davis, LIFE

A League of Their Own was based on the real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), whose story has grown larger in death than it was during its twelve-year life in 1943-1954. Once a lightweight item for morning talk shows in the early 1980s, the AAGPBL would have retreated into the anonymity of academic theses had it not been for director Penny Marshall and actors Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, and Rosie O’Donnell. The film, released in 1992, was a huge hit and brought renewed attention to the women’s league. As a feminist rallying cause, the film reversed the classic paradigm in which art imitates life; Geena Davis imitating LIFE puts an additional spin on the ball.

A League of Their Own rekindled interest in the AAGPBL and in its players, giving them a well-deserved second chance at honor and fame. But the film’s impact extended further than that. The Women in Baseball exhibit at the Hall of Fame became vastly popular, and today such organizations as Baseball for All ( are taking the next step, empowering girls to play the game and imagine themselves as big leaguers too. As to the whole question of whether a woman could one day play major-league baseball, reasonable people, myself included, believe that a female equivalent to Jackie Robinson will break the gender line.

Old News in Baseball, No. 21

Newsboy logoThis week’s dose of old news is chock full of near misses, from Dave Stieb in 1988 to the Phils of 1964 to Fred Merkle in 1908. Heroes and goats, goats and heroes, they all swirl in the memory of older baseball fans—and for young fans with a sense of the game’s glorious past. Fame and infamy may be opposites, but away from the heat of the moment both may claim a place of fame and, indeed honor. Because just like life, baseball is more about dashed hopes than it is about exultation. 

September 18

1899: After losing 24 games in a row‚ Cleveland defeats Washington 5-4. The Spiders will go on to lose their next 16 games (for a stretch of 1-40!), on their way to a final mark of 20 wins and 134 losses. When measured against the Spiders, the 1962 Mets were a powerhouse. For more, see:

1903: In the absence of official league sanction‚ the presidents of the pennant-winning clubs sign an agreement to meet in a best-of-nine series for the championship. The National Commission, baseball’s ruling body before the advent of the commissioner system, did not mandate a World Series until 1905, after owner John Brush and manager John McGraw declined to pit their victorious Giants against the American League champs in 1904. The Pirates—the only National League team not devastated by defections to the upstart American League—clinch the pennant tomorrow. Some say the Pirates lost few of their stars to the rival circuit because Buc owner Barney Dreyfuss was such an honest and fair fellow that his players were exceptionally loyal (the story goes that Honus Wagner turned down $10,000 in cash to jump); others say that Ban Johnson and the American League owners figured that a strong team in Pittsburgh meant weaker opposition in the five cities where the leagues met head-to-head (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago).

Eddie Gaedel

Eddie Gaedel

1905: Nearly fifty years before Eddie Gaedel will make his appearance with the St. Louis Browns, little person Jerry Sullivan pinch hits in an Eastern League game for Buffalo. Bison manager George Stallings, who had met Sullivan, a vaudeville performer, in the Bisons’ Baltimore hotel the night before, invites him out to the game against the Orioles. He even provides a small uniform. As Baltimore takes a 10–2 lead into the final frame, Sullivan goes in as a Buffalo pinch hitter. Fred Burchell’s first pitch is high and his second is a lob that the diminutive fellow loops for a single. In James Thurber’s 1941 story “You Could Look It Up,” a midget named Pearl du Monville was sent up to walk but, enticed by a fat pitch, grounded out. Thurber could not have based his tale on Gaedel … but he might have known of Sullivan.


September 19

1920: In New York‚ Babe Ruth’s movie Headin’ Home opens at Madison Square Garden. It has been financed in part by Abe Attell with his winnings from the Black Sox Scandal of the year before.

Headin' Home Lobby Card

Headin’ Home Lobby Card

1954: Before a sparse crowd of 1‚715‚ the A’s play their final game at Shibe Park‚ losing to the Yankees‚ 4-2. The A’s are off to Kansas City for the 1955 season.

1964: The Dodger-Phils matchup in Los Angeles goes fifteen innings‚ when with 2 outs in the bottom of the 16th‚ Willie Davis singles‚ steals second‚ and takes third on a wild pitch. With lefty reliever Morrie Steevens making one of his four big-league appearances this year‚ Davis swipes home to give the Dodgers the 4-3 win. The Phils, on their way to an epic slide from first place, now lead by 5-1/2. For more, see:

Lee Gum Hong, Oakland 1932

Lee Gum Hong, Oakland 1932

September 20

1903: A bad day for the Poughkeepsie Giants (Class D Hudson River League) as they drop a quadruple header to Hudson by the scores of 2-1‚ 6-4‚ 3-1‚ and 4-2. This is the only quadrupleheader of the 20th century. For more, see:

1932: Hoping to boast attendance‚ the Sacramento Senators and Oakland Oaks open their final Coast League series here by starting two Asian American pitchers: for the Senators, Kenso Nushida‚ a Japanese-American; for the Oaks, Lee Gum Hong‚ a Chinese-American. For more, see:

1958: Baltimore’s Hoyt Wilhelm‚ in a rare start, pitches a 1-0 no-hitter‚ the first in O’s history‚ against Don Larsen of the Yankees‚ fanning eight. The Orioles had acquired Wilhelm on waivers in August. (Thought to be washed up at age 35, Wilhelm pitched another 14 years.) The win‚ his first complete game‚ improves his season record to 3-10.

September 21

1934: The Deans shut out the Dodgers in a doubleheader. After Dizzy gives up just three hits in a 13-0 victory‚ allowing no hits until the eighth‚ Paul tosses a no-hitter‚ 3-0. Diz says: “If’n Paul had told me he was gonna pitch a no-hitter‚ I’d of throwed one‚ too.”

After Paul Dean No-Hitter

After Paul Dean No-Hitter

1940: Against the Reds‚ Pittsburgh’s Debs Garms laces five hits in a doubleheader to sew up the National League batting title with a .355 average. Garms has only 358 at bats but has appeared in 103 games‚ thus qualifying him for the crown. Bubbles Hargrave had won a batting title in 1926 under similar guidelines (with 326 at bats in 105 games, 12 of these as a pinch hitter). It was not until 1951 that the requirement was changed to 400 at-bats (and even later to 502 plate appearances).

1970: In his second major-league start, the A’s Vida Blue no-hits the Twins 6-0‚ becoming the youngest pitcher to perform the feat since Paul Dean‚ 36 years ago to the day (see above). The only base runner against Blue is Harmon Killebrew‚ who walks in the fourth inning.

Cy Young 1911

Cy Young 1911

September 22

1911: The Boston Rustlers’ Cy Young, returning to the National League for his last big-league campaign, shuts out Pittsburgh and Babe Adams 1-0 for his final career victory‚ number 511.

1953: The Brooklyn Dodgers tie the NL record for the most wins in a home park‚ beating Pittsburgh 5-4. They go an incredible 60-17 at Ebbets Field‚ equaling the mark of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1942. The top five home records since 1900 are all from the American League.

1932 Yankees      62-15       .805

1961 Yankees      65-16       .802

1931 Athletics    60-15       .800

1949 Red Sox      61-16       .792

1946 Red Sox      61-16       .792

1963: For the first time‚ all three Alou brothers share the outfield. In the seventh inning‚ Matty is in left‚ Felipe replaces Willie Mays in center‚ and Jesus is in right. In the eighth inning‚ the three are retired in order.

September 23

1845: The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York is formally organized after season-long recruitment efforts encouraged by Alexander J. Cartwright. Charles A. Peverelly credited him thus in his Book of American Pastimes (1866): “In the spring of 1845 Mr. Alex. J. Cartwright, who had become an enthusiast in the game, one day upon the field proposed a regular organization, promising to obtain several recruits. His proposal was acceded to, and Messrs. W. R. Wheaton, Cartwright, D. F. Curry, E. R. Dupignac Jr., and W. H. Tucker, formed themselves into a board of recruiting officers, and soon obtained names enough to make a respectable show.” Strangely, Cartwright is not elected as one of the KBBC’s first officers.

Merkle Ball, Sept 23, 1908

Merkle Ball, September 23, 1908

1908: The Giants’ Christy Mathewson and the Cubs’ Three Finger Brown battle in the most controversial game ever played. The score is 1-1‚ with two outs in the last of the ninth. The Giants’ Harry McCormick is on third base‚ and Fred Merkle (19‚ subbing for the sore-legged regular Fred Tenney)‚ is on first. Al Bridwell singles‚ scoring McCormick and winning the game … except that halfway to second‚ Merkle turns toward the outfield and runs to the clubhouse. Cubs second sacker Johnny Evers secures a ball (perhaps not the ball that Bridwell hit) and touches the bag as the crowd overruns the field. Umpire Hank O’Day claims he didn’t see the play‚ but that evening he rules the run does not count‚ and the game thus ended with a tie score. When the two clubs ended the season in a deadlock, they met in a one-game playoff. The Cubs prevailed, and went on to win what is today their World Series title.

1957: The Milwaukee Braves clinch the pennant by beating the Cardinals 4-2 on Hank Aaron’s 11th-inning home run. Billy Muffett serves up the pitch‚ his only gopher ball all season. The homer‚ Aaron’s 43rd‚ comes with two outs and Johnny Logan on base. For more, see:

September 24

1929: The Yankees celebrate Babe Ruth Day at Fenway by winning‚ 5-3 over Boston. Ruth is 2-for-3 with a double. Lefty Tom Zachary wins his 12th without a loss: his 12-0 season record remains the record for most wins without a loss. Two years earlier Zachary, then with the Senators, had thrown the pitch that the Babe walloped for his 60th home run.

1988: Toronto’s Dave Stieb is one strike away from a no-hitter when Julio Franco’s apparent game-ending grounder takes a bad hop over second baseman Manny Lee’s head and Stieb is forced to settle for a 1-0 one-hitter. Six days later, in his next home start, Stieb again will lose a no-hitter in the ninth with only one strike remaining.

1998: The Yanks win‚ 5-2‚ over the Devil Rays and post their 111th win of the year‚ surpassing the club record of 110‚ set by the 1927 team (these Yanks play eight more games of course). Shane Spencer, precursor of Yoenis Cespedes, pounds a grand slam‚ his eighth homer in 57 at bats.

Over the Plate: Arlie Latham’s Own Baseball Stories, No. 4

Arlie Latham, 1911

Arlie Latham, 1911

“Pity the Poor Umpire!” Cries One Who Knows – A Few of the Rules by Which That Unpopular Official is Supposed to Be Governed and Some of His Experiences with an Outlaw League.

Whenever I go to a ball game and hear the wolves in the bleachers howling “Kill the umpire!” I feel like crawling into the nearest hole and pulling the hole in after me. I can see the air as thick with stones as with raindrops, and I can still feel that old familiar “bupp!” as when some well-directed dornick [cited in the Oxford English Dictionary as a dialectal US term originating in the mid-19th century, meaning “pebble, stone or small boulder” –jt] used to knock me from under my hat. Umpiring is a great life, so it is—not.

When an umpire gets into a city, bowed down with the weight of the armor plate which he uses on the field of carnage, he can say with truth, “I haven’t got a friend in this city. There’s not a man here would loan me a nickel. I’m an outcast.”

I’ve been an umpire in a good many leagues in my day—from the Land League down to the Spinster’s League, where they bat .911 and never catch anything but a cold—and I’ve noticed a few things. I’ve felt things too. I wouldn’t look nearly so old if it hadn’t been for umpiring. I’m considerably over fifty, and I look all of forty-five. It’s terrible!

UMPIRES_aWell, anyway, one of the things I’ve noticed is that the further an umpire gets into the business the more particular the club owners get. In the big leagues the umpire is supposed to know what to do, and he does it—sometimes. But when he gets over his head in the sticks, he’s handed a list of rules and regulations that he’d have to go to college to learn. And when he’d have them learned his eyes would be ruined from overstudy, so that he wouldn’t be able to tell a strike from a June bug.

“An umpire should not dine with the players—nor on them.

“An umpire should always use his own toothbrush when possible. He should always carry one clean collar.

“He should never bandy words with the spectators. If they should crown him with a pop-bottle, let him remember that it is the only their way of expressing the joy in their innocent hearts.

“He should never use abusive language to a ball player. If he rules a player off the grounds, and the player refuses to go, let him call a policeman to eject him. If the policeman cannot eject the player, let him call the reserves. He’ll need them for his own protection.

“He must not try to borrow money from players or club managers. He would not get it, anyhow.”

Everyone likes to ride the poor ump, and those that have the least ability do it most. I’ve seen good men—pitchers who had everything but a mustache—get along fine with the umpires. And I’ve seen bushers with nothing on the ball but the stitches, and others who couldn’t hit a barrel if it were rolled at them, crabbing the umpires every game they played.

Sometimes the ump is to blame—but not always. And that reminds me.

One Sunday, back in Cincinnati, we were playing a game before a crowd of about eleven thousand people. McQuaid was the man slated to umpire, but he got sick and couldn’t show up. Bancroft, business manager of the club, and Patsy Tebeau, the then manager of the Cleveland club, finally decided on an umpire who lived in Covington, Ky.

Well, for about five innings everything was rosy. Crowd in good humor, players full of pepper. But about the fifth inning the ump began to blow, and put reverse English on his decisions. At last, after one particularly raw decision, the spectators began to climb out of the stands onto the field. Some of them started to throw things, and the whole mob surged toward the umpire. Two men who worked around the grounds got hold of a very long rope and ran out with it in order to head the crowd off and drive it back to the stands.

That’s where they made their fatal mistake. When the ump saw that rope he thought they were going to hang him. He turned tail and got out so fast that his feet only hit the high places. The last thing seen of him he was passing through Cumingsville [today spelled Cumminsville—jt], seven miles away, his ears pointed up wind, and his coat tails standing straight out behind. And at that time he was just settling down to run. The chief of police found him next day, and took him home in an airship.

But what happened to me was worse. Listen to this and you’ll laugh. But judge if I laughed at the time.

About eight years ago I was umpiring in the South Atlantic League. One day I was officiating in Augusta, Ga., and made a decision that I know was correct. The manager of one of the teams didn’t think so, however, and he swore for five minutes without repeating. Well, I said to myself, I’ll fix you, mister. You to the stable. So I ordered him to the club house.UMPIRES_b

“What!” he yelled. “Why, you big blank-blank-blank”—and he went off in another spasm.

When he wouldn’t go of his own accord I ordered two specials to assist him. They did, and he bucked like a billygoat all the way off the field. Before the game was over I had to put five of his men in the manger with him.

Unfortunately, the very next game I umpired this gentleman and his brood were along. They started trouble right off the bat. Things got so bad eventually that I had to have him up before the President of the league, where, I may say, he nearly lost his job.

One day when I was about disgusted I got a telegram from the Tri-State  League, offering me $500 a month if I’d come there and umpire. The Tri-State at that time was an outlaw league, and it meant that I’d have to do the loop-the-loop act. I went to a friend of mine and asked him what I’d better do.

“Why, you big dub,” he said, “jump!”

I did; and a few days afterward I found myself with the outlaws. The first game I umpired in that league went seventeen innings. Fine! Not a kick. The second game went fourteen innings. Great! Not a whisper. I was going along in that league like a house afire. The league owners congratulated me. What do you think of that? The league owners congratulated the poor umpire. I felt like a rookie who has just struck out Ty Cobb. But it didn’t fool me out of a sense of my position.

“Don’t,” I told them. “Never congratulate an umpire. To-day he’s a prince, and to-morrow he’s a bum.”

I was elated over it, though, and I think I had cause to be. But pride goeth before a fall, as the good Book says. And the next game—bing!

The game was at Williamsport, Pa., and before a big crowd. Williamsport had a fast team in those days, and a great many of the players afterward became famous in baseball. Well, along about the middle of the game the visiting team was leading by a few runs. Williamsport got a few men on bases about the fourth or fifth inning, and Jim Delahanty came to bat. He picked one and sent it sizzling down the third-base line. It went foul by about a foot and a half. I called “Foul!” but the players and crowd began to howl “Run! Run!” and Jim continued around the bases like a race horse. When he got to third base I headed him off and sent him back. Wow! What a roar! The wolves began to ride me, the players began to crab, and it looked as though the seething mixture was going to explode right there.

Edelman_Kill the Umpire_aI got them started again at last, but I was afraid to take my station behind the catcher. I knew he’d let a high fast one go by, and I knew when he did I’d get it right in the teeth. Smack! How do you do? Not for me. I went behind the pitcher. Even at that the catcher threw them back with all his speed, and the pitcher was letting them slip through his hands. But I was too wise. I ducked, and let them go by too.

The game was over at last. Williamsport had lost, and I prepared to leave the field. The crowd stuck. I could see them winding up to deliver their famous fast one. I could feel my head getting bumpy already. When I went into the little shelter at one side of the field to change my shoes five policemen surrounded me to escort me from the field.

The action started; and as usual I was one the receiving end. A fellow with a big auto drove up and told me to get in. I did. So did the cops. They surrounded me. The fellow driving the auto ran it out into the middle of the field and stalled it. What the rocks did to that auto was a shame. The driver ordered us to get out. He said the machine had broken down.UMPIRES_cc

“You got us here,” said one of the cops, “and now you get us out of here, or I’ll pound your head in.” The rocks were pretty thick by this time, and some of them landed in the car with a smack that would rattle your teeth.  Finally we got under way and made for the gate licketty-split. The gate was jammed with autos and carriages and we couldn’t get through. This was a home run for us, though, and we made the complete circuit. We didn’t dare stop, so round and round the field we went, sometimes on two wheels and sometimes on four. When we’d come round to the gate we’d take one look at the jam, and then away we’d go again around the field. The mob was running after, and scattering before us, and the rocks were “bupping” into that machine speedier than Matty’s fast one.

Finally the gate was cleared and we zipped through it. Outside was a rockpile, and the gang was waiting with their arms full. The rocks came so fast they looked like a shower. They flew over our heads, they pinged into the sides of the car, they crashed into the radiator. We simply roared along that road, and suddenly we were safe. But the car looked as though it had been through the mill. And the poor cops—oh, how do you do! But the man they were out to get—me—I didn’t have a scratch!

But just the same, I say, pity the poor umpire.

“It is only their way of expressing the joy in their innocent hearts.”



Old News in Baseball, No. 20

Newsboy logoThis week’s installment of Old News has several entries that focus not only on what happened and when but also how it came to be counted in later years—from the celebrated walks-as-hits year in 1887 to the bounce home run to Ty Cobb’s career hit total. Maybe the coming conclusion of the regular season prompts such musings, but MLB has evolved in more than its styles of play. Many have sought to conform the practices and underlying reasoning of the past with those of the present by simply disregarding the scoring conventions of the early game. I think it is worthwhile to attempt to understand the past in its own context rather than “update” it. Why was Fred Dunlap’s game-ending home run in 1880, with a man on base, at first denied and then accepted? How could Al Lopez, in 1930, get credit for a home run on a hit that bounced over the fence? Read on. 

Howard Ehmke

Howard Ehmke

September 11

1923: After Yankee leadoff hitter Whitey Witt reaches first base on a bobbled grounder to third base that is ruled a single‚ Boston’s submarine pitcher Howard Ehmke retires the next 27 batters for a 3-0 win. The Yankee crowd exhorts the scorer Fred Lieb to reverse his call on the hard grounder that 3B Howard Shanks booted‚ but Lieb stands fast. Thus is Ehmke denied a chance to pre-empt Johnny Vander Meer in the record books, for he had pitched a no-hitter in his previous appearance. For more, see:

1985: Pete Rose becomes baseball’s all-time hit leader‚ singling to left center off Eric Show in the first inning of the Reds’ 2-0 win over San Diego. His 4‚192nd career hit breaks Ty Cobb’s record before 47‚237 fans at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium … or did it? Because Cobb’s hit total had been padded by a double-counted game in 1910, Rose had actually topped the record at Wrigley Field on September 8. For more, see:–day-pete-rose-really-broke-ty-cobbs-record/71873560/

2001: All major league baseball games are canceled due to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center‚ United Airlines Flight 93‚ and the Pentagon. With commercial air traffic on lockdown, the Blue Jays take a 12-hour bus ride from Baltimore back to Toronto, while the White Sox go home via a 15-hour bus trip from New York.

September 12

1874: The Boston Red Stockings’ return home after an eight-week English is spoiled by a 6-5 victory for their shipmates, the Philadelphia Athletics. The two clubs had departed in the midst of the National Association regular season, suspending their schedules from July 15, when they played each other in Philadelphia, to September 10, when they squared off in Philadelphia again.

Philadelphia Athletics at Boston, 1874 or 1875

Philadelphia Athletics at Boston, 1874 or 1875

1930: Brooklyn catcher Al Lopez drives a ball over the head of Cincinnati left fielder Bob Meusel; it bounces into the bleachers at Ebbets Field. It will be the last recorded bounce home run‚ as NL rules for 1931 will rule that such a hit will be a double. The AL had made the change after the 1929 season. Oddly, Babe Ruth never had a bounce home run.

1962: Washington’s Tom Cheney sets a big-league record mark with 21 strikeouts in a complete-game victory. You thought that record belonged to others, with 20 (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood)? Cheney’s record came in 16-inning game at Baltimore.

Jimmy Ryan with Washington 1903

Jimmy Ryan with Washington 1903

September 13

1880: National League secretary Nick Young rules that the final score of the July 10 game in which Cleveland’s Fred Dunlap hit an over-the-fence home run in the bottom of the ninth should be 2-0‚ not 1-0‚ as originally accounted. Young declares that it would be a “gross injustice” to deprive Dunlap of his dinger, yet such deprivation was the norm until 1920. “Sudden-death” home runs with a winning run on base came in for review by the Special Baseball Records Committee prior to publication of the Macmillan/ICI encyclopedia of 1969: Its ruling read: “The committee originally voted that before 1920 any ball hit outside the park in a sudden death situation should be counted as a home run. However, after the committee had a further opportunity to review their ruling and [realizing that this would alter Ruth’s career total to 715] … they reversed their decision on May 5, 1969.”  For more, see:

1887: Jimmy Ryan goes 6-for-6 for Chicago with a single, double, home run, and three walks, which are counted as hits in this year. He also pitches the final five innings in relief to get the win, becoming the only man to pitch in a game in which he hits for a cycle. You don’t think this deserves to be counted as a cycle? Ryan did it again on July 28 of the following year, taking the pitcher’s box with two out in the second and apparently finishing out the game against Detroit. Ryan, recalled today as a center fielder, hit for the cycle again in 1891. Tom Parrott was a pitcher who also hit for the cycle, on September 28, 1894 against the New York Giants, but on this day he was positioned at second base. For more, see:

1908: On closing day of the Ohio State League‚ Walter “Smoke” Justis of Lancaster pitches a 3-0 no-hitter against Marion. It’s his fourth of the year. The others came on July 19 against Mansfield‚ August 2 against Portsmouth‚ and September 8 over Lima. Justis pitched in two games for the 1905 Tigers. For more, see:

September 14

1943: At Memphis‚ Pete Gray has a triple‚ double‚ and three singles to lead Memphis to a 7-6‚ 12-inning win over Nashville in the Southern Association playoffs. The one-armed Gray is named the league MVP and plays outfield for the St. Louis Browns in 1944.

1968: Denny McLain becomes the first 30-game winner since Dizzy Dean in 1934‚ as the Tigers beat the A’s 5-4, as the Tigers push across two in the ninth to win. Al Kaline‚ pinch hitting for McLain‚ walks and scores the tying run. Denny (30-5; he will finish 31-6, winning both the CY Young and the Most Valuable Player awards) gives up six hits and fans ten.

1978: After some years in retirement and others in the minors, Jim Bouton‚ 39‚ earns a 4-1 win for the Atlanta Braves over the San Francisco Giants. It is his first big-league victory since 1970‚ and the last of his career.

September 15

1912: In the second game of twin bill, Boston’s Joe Wood wins his 16th straight game as he tops the Browns 2-1 in a game called after eight innings because of darkness. Earlier in the year‚ Walter Johnson had also posted a streak of 16 straight wins. To keep his streak alive, Smoky Joe had to defeat Johnson, 1-0, earlier this month before a packed house at Fenway. For more, see:

Smokey Joe Wood warmed up amid a big crowd at Fenway Park in 1912

Smoky Joe Wood warmed up amid a big crowd at Fenway Park in 1912

1952: In a Cold War challenge to America’s national game, scholars in the Soviet Union offer up their own game of lapta as being the progenitor of baseball. If one wished to trace bat-and-ball games back to their antecedents, one might cite the game of seker-hemat, played along the banks of the Nile in 2400 BCE. In a wall relief at the shrine of Hathor, the goddess of love and joy, in Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir-el-Bahari, Thutmose III is seen holding a ball in one hand and a stick in the other. The hieroglyph reads: “Striking the ball for Hathor who is foremost in Thebes.”

1969: Steve Carlton of the Cardinals fans a record 19 batters and still loses. Ron Swoboda hits a pair of two-run homers‚ and the New York Mets, team of destiny in this year, beats St. Louis 4-3.

September 16

1937: Martin Dihigo pitches the first no-hit‚ no-run game in Mexican pro ball, a 4-0 victory against Nogales at Veracruz. Next year, Dihigo will lead the Mexican League in ERA (0.90)‚ wins (18-2)‚ strikeouts (184) … and batting (.387). Only Guy Hecker in MLB annals came close.

1958: Frank Lary becomes the third pitcher to beat the Yankees seven or more times in one season‚ as the Tiger righthander defeats them‚ 4-2. Ed Walsh (9-1 in 1908) and Ed Cicotte (7-1 in 1916) were the others—but Lary sets the AL record for most wins in a season against the pennant winner. (The NL record is eight‚ by Bob Buhl over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956.)

1975: Pittsburgh second baseman Rennie Stennett ties Wilbert Robinson’s  record‚ set June 10‚ 1892‚ by going 7-for-7 in a nine-inning game. (Cesar Gutierrez of Detroit went 7-for-7 in an extra-inning contest in 1970.) The Pirates top the Cubs 22-0.

September 17

1866: The Excelsiors of Brooklyn play the first match of their Southern tour against the National team in Washington‚ winning 33-28. The game starts at 4 p.m. on the White Lot, behind the White House. President Andrew Johnson watches the game for a brief time.

Excelsiors and Nationals at the White Lot, 1866

Excelsiors and Nationals at the White Lot, 1866

1900: Cincinnati shortstop Tommy Corcoran‚ coaching at third base in a doubleheader at Philadelphia‚ uncovers a wire in the coaching box that leads across the outfield to the Phillies’ locker room. There‚ reserve catcher Morgan Murphy reads the opposing catcher’s signs and relays them to the Phils’ coach “What’s the Use” Chiles by a buzzer hidden in the dirt. It seems nothing in baseball is truly new.

1912:  Casey Stengel breaks in with Brooklyn and has four singles, a walk‚ two steals‚ and two RBIs in the 7-3 win over Pittsburgh. For more, see:

Over the Plate: Arlie Latham’s Own Baseball Stories, No. 3

Arlie Latham, 1888

Arlie Latham, 1888

No. 3 – Old “Tacks” Parrot, Star Pitcher in the Early ’90s, Certainly Was the Real, Official, League Double-Stitched Article of an Eccentric – Played Cornet All the Time He Wasn’t Playing Ball and Wore Oregon Whiskers That Kept the Whole Team Guessing – Could “Ketch” Ball Some, Too. [Today the record books render his name as Parrott, but here we will preserve Latham’s spelling.]

In this, number three of the series which the famous baseball comedian is “twirling in the big Magazine league,” as he characteristically expresses it, we have some racy reminiscences of another of those old, bygone individualities of the game, so conspicuous in their day, so completely forgotten shortly after….

Old “Tacks” Parrot was a character. No one ever quite knew what Tom was capable of, and no one ever knew what he was going to do next. I’ve seen a good many bugs when I was in the game militant—from fellows who would go fishing in a mud puddle with a safety pin, a piece of thread and a limb of a tree, to eccentric gentlemen who would steal anything from second base to your best girl. But for the real, official, league, double-stitched article I never knew any one that had it on Tom Parrot.

Tom was a pitcher in the early nineties, and when he wasn’t playing ball he was playing first cornet, or something, in a bush orchestra back in his home town. Before a game Tom used to pitch up in practice for more than half an hour, and when he thought he was pretty well warmed up he’d go out into centerfield and shag flies until his tongue got sunburned. Then he’d come in and pitch his head off in a game. When the game was over Tom would run for a hogshead of ice water and thrust his pitching arm into it. He said that sort of treatment kept the salary wing in condition. I never could figure out whether he had a good whip because of this treatment or in spite of it.Parrot 1

Well, along in the early nineties, before I developed gum-hoof and umpire’s crouch, I was playing with the Cincinnati team. We trained in those days in Dallas, Tex. On the day I speak of there were a lot of rookies upsetting the pepper box around the infield and whooping things up generally. The grounds were open, and pretty soon in strolled a big, lanky six-footer, with a full set of bushes and a build like a bunch of coach whips.

He strolled over to one of the ballplayers and asked him “if he could borry his glove and ketch a few.” The player asked him if he could play any ball.

“Why, I’m a right smart ballplayer, I am.”

The player looked hard at the other’s whiskers for a second, and then said: “I’ll bet I know who you are. You’re Pete Bush of the Alfalfa League.”

“No, I hain’t,” replied the other; “I’m a local boy.”

Well, the player gave him his glove, which was a lefthand one, and the busher put it on his right hand. Then he moved over to first base and yelled for some “hot ones.” He got them. And he got a hot reception, too. The minute the players spotted those whiskers they started to ride him.

“Get out from behind that bush!”

“Take off those rabbit nests!”

“Who’s the guy with the steel wool on his map?”

“That’s Herr Shoot!”

“Don’t throw the ball into that alfalfa – he’ll lose it!”

The big fellow never batted an eye at all this; he simply stood there waiting, with his arms stretched straight out before him, the heels of his palms closed and his fingers stuck out at all angles like the blades of a jack-knife.

Parrot 3And they let him have it. Every one that got the ball picked it up and let drive at the busher with enough force to send the ball clean through him. And there was old “Brush” on first, making all sorts of stabs at them and, somehow or other, stopping them. And the more success he had in stopping the balls the harder the players threw. In about ten minutes there wasn’t a man on the field that did not have a sore arm.

After a time the big first baseman changed his glove to his left hand and started to “ketch” them in earnest. He speared them from all angles. He grabbed them out of the air, and picked them up from his shoe-laces. And he shot them back at the other players so fast that when they hit you could hear the smack all over the field.

Then they tumbled. The fellow with the sedge grass on his chin was “Tacks” Parrot!

You see, “Tacks” lived up in Oregon, where it was so cold that you could sharpen a piece of ice and use it for a razor all winter, and so he used to grow those whiskers to protect his throat. Knowing he’d have a little fun, he left them on when he came to Dallas.

I remember another funny incident connected with Tom. I was playing with the Cincinnati team at the time, and was living in one of those very quiet, refined sections of the city where the tradesman deliver their orders through the basement, where the people all bat .300 in the Finance League, and where you never hear a stray cat singing to his love or an organ grinder playing “Sweet Rosie O’Grady.” Before the season actually had started I awoke one morning about 5 o’clock and lay abed half awake, thinking idly of one thing and another.

Suddenly, somewhere in the neighborhood, the notes of a cornet rang out. This was at 5 o’clock in the morning. The fellow that played the cornet ran all the way down the scale, and then he ran all the way back again. Then he came down again and stopped in the middle as though he had made only a two-base hit. He hung around second for a while, blowing on the same note; then he made a break for third, got there and, without slackening speed, made for home. The last note was a sharp, snappy one, so I guess he slid and was called safe.

Well, that fellow blew everything out of a cornet that was in it except the hole.

This sort of thing continued every morning until the season opened. All the time we were wondering where Tom Parrot was. Up to the time the season opened no one had seen him. On the opening day we were all dressed and ready to go to the grounds, but still no Tom Parrot.

I might have suspected that the cornetist that bothered me in the morning was Tom; but somehow I didn’t. As I say, on the day the season opened we were all ready and waiting for Tom.  Not a sign of him. Finally along came the conveyance that was to take us to the grounds. We all climbed aboard and expected to see Tom come running up at any minute. But he didn’t.

Parrot 2At last we were about to start, and had given “Tacks” up for lost, when a brass band on its way to the grounds swung around a corner and headed for us full blare. But it wasn’t the band that caused us to nearly fall off the tallyho; it was something else. There, at the head of the musicians, dressed in a long linen duster and sombrero, and blowing a cornet so hard that his face came to a point at his mouth, was the missing Tom Parrot! And then I knew who the morning soloist was.

When we took trips on trains Tom never bothered to waste his time talking or playing cards; he’d just take the mouthpiece of his cornet out of his grip and practice making his lips flexible until we came to our destination.

On boat trips Tom was as good as a play. First he’d take a seat near the orchestra and watch the cornetist. Little by little he’d edge up to him until he looked as though he belonged to the orchestra. Then Tom would pull one hand from behind his back and there would be the cornet. And the next thing we knew Tom would be playing away for dear life and paying attention to nothing else.

I can very well remember the trips we used to take to Washington when old “Tacks” was along with us. After we had dressed in our hotel we proceeded to the ball grounds in a tally-ho. (That word “proceeded” always reminds me of a vacationist’s diary – “we proceeded from the lake to the next village and thence took the eight-sixty-three airship back to the boarding house” – you know.)

After we had climbed to the top of the conveyance, Tom would bring his cornet from under his duster and begin to wet his lips. Next he’d straighten up, throw out his chest and then stretch his arms out in front of him. By this time Tom was all warmed up and ready to go on the mound.

Ladies and gentlemen! Tom Parrot is now about to pitch (his cornet), and if necessary, to play any position, or tune, in the musical field.

Tom Parrott, Portland Greengages, 1903

Tom Parrott, Portland Greengages, 1903

After Tom had made a few preliminary passes through the air with the cornet he’d put it to his lips and let her go. People in the street would look in amazement after the tally-ho, and those in front of us would line up along the curb, thinking that a circus or a band was coming down the street.

Tom would keep this up all the way to the grounds; he never paid any attention to the people on the street, but kept his eyes rolled up at the sky, as though there wasn’t anything on earth, except the cornet, worth looking at. Tom wasn’t a slouch with the stick, but he used to make bigger and more hits on the way to the grounds than he ever did in them.

When we’d get to the grounds someone would have to jog his arm to make him quit playing. If this were not done he would continue to play until there wasn’t a note left in the cornet.

I don’t know what Tom is doing now; but I think it is very probably he is the owner, manager and captain combined of some bush league orchestra up in Portland, Ore., and throwing them over with a good, free (musical) delivery, holding his opponents hitless and getting a few blows (out of his cornet) himself.



Old News in Baseball, No. 19

Newsboy logoLabor Day is upon us. Time to toss that straw hat onto the field, or put it away until next year. Gentlemen will cease to wear white. Pitchers will come to dominate the game once more, as they did before the summer heat set in. Opponents Sandy Koufax and Bob Hendley will combine to yield one hit. Rube Waddell will come back from the grave top Bob Feller’s seemingly new strikeout record. Bull Durham will pitch and win both ends of five consecutive doubleheaders. And Three Finger Brown and Christy Mathewson will square off one last time. 

September 4

1916: To help draw a Labor Day crowd‚ and because of their longtime rivalry—25 games since 1903, almost evenly split—Christy Mathewson and Three Finger Brown agree to close out their careers in the same game. Matty‚ now the manager of the Reds‚ wins 10-8 as the Reds rack up 19 hits off Brown while the Cubs record 15 off Mathewson. Both pitchers stagger all the way to the end, registering complete games in their final big-league appearances. After several decades the significance of this game became apparent. The annals showed that when Mathewson retired he had accumulated 372 victories, a National League record. Grover Cleveland Alexander subsequently won 373, consigning Mathewson’s mark to second place. But a statistician later discovered that a May 1902 Mathewson 4-2 victory over Pittsburgh had been erroneously entered in the record books as a loss.

Brown vs. Mathewson, the last hurrah

Brown vs. Mathewson, the last hurrah

1935: Babe Ruth receives a lifetime pass for all National League games from NL president Ford Frick. His sad comment at the time: “It is nice to know that the National League has a heart.” Ruth, who had spent nearly his entire career in the American League, had to pay his way into ballgames in his longtime league until 1936, when both leagues combine to create a program of such passes for ten-year veterans.

1945: Long-time Yankee batting practice pitcher Paul Schreiber‚ 43‚ who last pitched in the big leagues in 1923, relieves for the Yanks in a Tiger rout, allowing no hits in 3-1/3 innings. The 22 years between major league appearances is a record.

1791 Pittsfield bylaw

1791 Pittsfield bylaw

September 5

1791: At a town meeting in Pittsfield‚ MA‚ a bylaw is passed making it illegal to play baseball and other sports within eighty yards of the town hall to prevent the breaking of windows. The existence of the bylaw was rediscovered in 2003 by yours truly, and its physical location was established in the following year by, among others, Jim Bouton. The bylaw reads as follows: “Be it ordained by the said Inhabitants that no person or Inhabitant of said Town‚ shall be permitted to play at any game called Wicket‚ Cricket‚ Baseball‚ Batball‚ Football‚ Cats‚ Fives or any other games played with Ball‚ within the Distance of eighty yards from said Meeting House – And every such Person who shall play at any of the said games or other games with Ball within the distance aforesaid‚ shall for every Instance thereof‚ forfeit the Sum of five shillings….” For more, see:

1914: Pitching for Providence (IL) against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, 19-year-old Babe Ruth hurls a one-hitter and hits his only minor league home run‚ a three-run blast off Ellis Johnson. A plaque marks the site of the former ballpark at Hanlan’s Point.

1954: Joe Bauman of the Roswell Rockets (Class C Longhorn League) clouts his 70th‚ 71st‚ and 72nd homers‚ at this time a record in Organized Baseball (later topped by Barry Bonds). Bauman ends the season with a .400 batting average‚ a .916 slugging average, and 224 RBIs. For more, see:

September 6

1953: The Chicago Cubs win a doubleheader from Cincinnati by scores of 7-6 and 7-2. In the first game, Cubs first baseman Dee Fondy hits one of his team’s four homers and then scores the game-winning run with a two-out, two-strike steal of home in the ninth inning.

100th Anniversary, 1969

100th Anniversary, 1969

1963: Baseball historian Lee Allen says the Indians-Senators game is the 100‚000th in ML history. Bennie Daniels celebrates by beating the Tribe 7-2. Until 1969, MLB and its encyclopedias recognized the National Association as its point of origin; but since 1969, MLB has recognized its onset as 1876, the year of the National League’s founding. Omitting the 1,086 National Association games meant that MLB celebrated its 200,000th game not in July 2011 but in September. For more, see:

1995: Cal Ripken plays in his 2‚131st consecutive game‚ breaking Lou Gehrig’s long-standing record. The record becomes official after the Angels are retired in the top of the fifth and play is stopped for 22 minutes as Ripken takes a lap around Camden Yards.

September 7

1916: At the Polo Grounds‚ the Giants Ferdie Schupp beats Brooklyn’s Nap Rucker‚ 4-1‚ to launch New York’s record 26-game winning streak. The Giants also had a 17-game winning streak in May. So how will they manage to finish in fourth place, seven games behind the pennant-winning Dodgers? You could look it up.

1993: Mark Whiten ties the major-league record for RBIs in a game with 12 in St. Louis’ 15-2 win over the Reds. Whiten hits a record-tying four homers, including a first inning grand slam. Before today‚ Whiten had not homered in four weeks.

Mark Whiten's 4 HR, 12 RBI game

Mark Whiten’s 4 HR, 12 RBI game

1998: Mark McGwire hits his record-tying 61st home run of the year in the first inning off the Cubs’ Mike Morgan. Nine more will follow, as the great race between McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66) results in both surpassing Roger Maris’s single-season record.

September 8

1897: Louisville unveils a new battery in catcher Ossee Schreckengost and 20-year-old Rube Waddell. Ossee goes 0-for-3 and Waddell loses his big-league debut to the first-place Orioles‚ 5-1. Rube and Ossee will reunite as roommates—when the practice was to bunk two players to the bed—as well as batterymates with the Philadelphia A’s. During one salary negotiation with Connie Mack, Schreckengost had a clause written into his contract that barred Waddell from eating crackers in bed.

1945: President Truman tosses out the first ball and then cheers the Senators to their fifth win in six games against the Browns. The second place Nats win 4-1 behind the 5-hit pitching of Pete Appleton‚ recently released by the Browns. It is his last win, but his career had seemed over once before, when as Pete Jablonowski he washed out of the majors in 1933, only to return three years later as Pete Appleton. As baseball’s original player to be named later, Appleton proved to be a better pitcher than Jablonowski.

1946: With the Red Sox running away with the AL race‚ attention focuses on Bob Feller’s strikeout total. In the nitecap of a twin bill, Feller tops the Browns‚ 3-2‚ on six hits and 8 strikeouts and reaches 300 today‚ a number reached by Walter Johnson and Rube Waddell twice each in the twentieth century. Can Feller beat Waddell’s 347 of 1904? As the season comes to an end, statisticians discover an error in the Aug. 24 box score that shorted Feller one strikeout against the A’s. Counting that one‚ Feller ends with 348, setting a new record … he thinks. Alas! Waddell’s old record of 347 was apparently based on the compilations of George Moreland‚ an early baseball historian‚ and listed in Little Red Book. TSN researchers led by my old friend Cliff Kachline later up Waddell’s total to 349—still the mark for AL lefthanders.

September 9

1858: The first game under “New York rules” is played in New England‚ on the Boston Common. The Tri-Mountain Club of Boston—formed by New Yorkers to play their version of the game—loses to the visiting club from Portland‚ Maine club‚ 47-42. “The Boston people, although obliged to accept defeat, were pleased with the new game. The evening was spent in jollification around the board at the Cummings House.” For more, see:

Base Ball Quadrille, dedicated to the Tri-Mountain Club

Base Ball Quadrille, dedicated to the Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club of Boston

1945: In his first start since his return from three years in the Canadian Army, The A’s Dick Fowler pitches a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns‚ winning 1-0.

1965: When the Dodgers’ Lou Johnson draws a walk in the fifth inning from the Cubs’ Bob Hendley, he becomes the game’s first baserunner for either side. Following a sacrifice‚ Johnson steals third and scores on the catcher’s wild throw. Johnson later gets the game’s only hit‚ a seventh-inning single. Sandy Koufax throws his fourth no-hitter in four years, and this one is a perfect game. The one hit by two clubs is a record‚ as is the one runner left on base.

September 10

1881: In a game played in Albany as an alternative home site for the Haymakers of Troy, Roger Connor hits the first grand slam in major-league history. The blow‚ with his team three runs down with two outs in the ninth‚ comes off Worcester’s Lee Richmond; today we would term it a walk-off or ultimate grand slam.

1908: Louis “Bull” Durham of the Indianapolis Browns pitches and wins both ends of a doubleheader against the Toledo Mud Hens. This is the fifth time this season he has accomplished this feat. Durham enjoyed little success in the majors but became a darling of SABR as one of its “missing persons.” For more, see:

1918: Before Game 5 of this year’s World Series—played in September because the regular season was shortened as part of the war effort—players on both sides threaten to strike unless they are guaranteed the World Series shares they were promised. The Red Sox and Cubs back off‚ however‚ when told they will appear greedy while their countrymen are fighting a war. On the field‚ the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn blanks the Red Sox, who rebound to win Game 6 and the championship.


Old News in Baseball, No. 18

Newsboy logoPennant races are heating up, with clubs long absent from contention stealing the scene. But in the shadow world of the past, baseball presents great stories, too. Faded stars revive for a last hurrah; home run heroes are brought low; and a perfect game is spoiled with only one strike to go. Only in baseball among all our sports does the past vibrate silently alongside the present, not competing for attention but enriching the life of the fan.

August 28

1889: The second place New York Giants defeat the last-place Washington Senators twice, winning, 16-3 and 7-5. Playing for the Statesmen in the opener is Harry Corson Clarke, a long-time thespian, who is 0-for-3 in his lone big-league appearance. Clarke is in the circle of DeWolf Hopper, Francis Wilson, and Digby Bell, among other baseball-loving actors who played for the Actors’ Amateur Athletic Association of America—or the 5A team, for short. For more, see:

1926: The Indians use the same lineup in 2 victories over the Red Sox‚ including Emil Levsen‚ who pitches the 6-1 and 5-1 sweep. After allowing only four hits in the opener, he offers to pitch the nightcap, too, and manager Tris Speaker lets him. Levsen again allows four hits and no walks‚ becoming the last pitcher to throw two complete games in a day. For more, see:

1969: At a press conference in New York‚ Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announces the publication of The Baseball Encyclopedia, the first such encyclopedia offering complete player statistics—and the first book ever typeset by computer. For more, see:

August 29

1887: Denny Lyons of the Athletics is held hitless for the first time since May 23‚ ending a 52-game hitting streak. In two of those games—July 22 and August 19—however‚ Lyons’s only hits were actually bases on balls‚ which are counted as hits this year. When Joe DiMaggio topped Willie Keeler’s mark off 44 straight games in 1941, no one thought to bring up Lyons.

1925: After a night on the town‚ Babe Ruth shows up late for batting practice. Miller Huggins suspends Ruth and slaps a $5‚000 fine on him. In the ensuing battle of wills, owner  Jacob Ruppert backs up his manager. Ruth is forced to apologize to the team before he is reinstated.Miller Huggins, Jacob Ruppert

1985: The Reds trade veteran Cesar Cedeno to the Cardinals for minor leaguer Mark Jackson. An MVP candidate at age 21, Cedeno’s star soon dimmed, but flared again for St. Louis in his 16th year in the majors. Cedeno helped the Cards to the NL East title by batting .434 in 28 games.

August 30

1905: Ty Cobb makes his American League debut‚ doubling off Jack Chesbro as Detroit defeats New York‚ 5-3.

1918: In the fastest NL game to this time, the Giants beat Brooklyn 1-0 in 57 minutes behind the pitching of Pol Perritt‚ scoring their lone run in the ninth. Veteran Jack Coombs takes the loss and after the game announces his retirement. The Giants will play a game against the Phillies next year on September 28 in just 51 minutes‚ a record that stands to this day. 

Bob Prince, Harold Arlin

Bob Prince, Harold Arlin

1972: In Pittsburgh‚ announcer Bob Prince turns the mike over to Harold Arlin. On August 5‚ 1921‚ Arlin was the first announcer to broadcast a live play-by-play game‚ on KDKA. Today he calls a few innings while his grandson‚ Steve‚ is on the mound for the Pirates against San Diego. For more, see:

August 31

1906: Beset by injuries‚ the Tigers call 46-year-old Sam Thompson out of retirement; he plays his old position of right field and bats cleanup, driving in two runs in a 5-1 win over the Browns. Thompson‚ who last played in the majors in 1898‚ appears in eight games for the Tabby Cats.

1950: Gil Hodges of the Brooklyn Dodgers hits four home runs and a single‚ driving in nine runs in the Dodgers 19-3 rout of the Boston Braves in Ebbets Field. Hodges’ 17 total bases are the most since 1894.

1990: Ken Griffeys—Jr. in center field and Sr. in left field—become the first father-and-son combination to play as teammates in the big leagues. Each goes 1-for-4 in Seattle’s 5-2 win over the Royals.

Masanori Murakami

Masanori Murakami

September 1

1872: Albert Thake‚ 22-year-old left fielder of the Brooklyn Atlantics‚ drowns off Fort Hamilton‚ in New York Harbor‚ while fishing. A benefit game is arranged by Bob Ferguson between the old Brooklyn Atlantics and members of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Thake becomes the second man in professional league play to have died. Only Elmer White, cousin of Hall of Famer Deacon White, preceded him in death.

1964: Southpaw reliever Masanori Murakami becomes the first major-league player from Japan. He debuts in a 4-1 San Francisco loss at New York. His first 11 innings will be scoreless ones. For more, see:

1987: Williamsport (Eastern League) Bills catcher Dave Bresnahan introduces something new to baseball—the hidden-potato trick. With a Reading runner‚ Rick Rudblad‚ on third base‚ Bresnahan returns from a time out with a shaved potato hidden in his mitt. On the next pitch he throws the potato wildly on a pickoff attempt. When the runner trots home‚ Bresnahan tags him out with the real ball. The umpire‚ unamused‚ rules the runner safe‚ gives the catcher an error‚ and fines him $50. Tomorrow, the parent Indians release him. 

Nantasket Beach 1880

Nantasket Beach 1880

September 2

1880: The first night baseball game is attempted at Nantasket Beach‚ MA‚ between teams from two Boston department stores‚ Jordan Marsh and R. H. White. The Boston Post reports the next day that “A clear‚ pure‚ bright light was produced‚ very strong and yet very pleasant to the sight,” by the 12 carbon-arc electric lamps. The game ends in a 16-16 tie.

1972: Milt Pappas of the Cubs hurls a no-hit game in beating the Padres 8–0. Pappas has a perfect game until pinch hitter Larry Stahl walks with two outs in the ninth. Pappas later commented on the plate umpire Bruce Froemming, “He had a chance to become famous as the umpire in the twelfth perfect game in baseball history, but he blew it.”

2001: The Yankees defeat the Red Sox‚ 1-0‚ as Mike Mussina comes within a strike of hurling a perfect game. Pinch hitter Carl Everett’s two-out‚ two-strike single in the ninth inning ruins Mussina’s gem. It is the 3rd time in his career that the righty has taken a perfect game into at least the eighth inning.

September 3

1881: Veteran center fielder Lip Pike makes three errors in the final frame to give Boston two runs and a 3-2 victory over Worcester. The losing club immediately accuses Pike of throwing the game and suspends him.

1955: Sandy Koufax seems to have the hang of it, as he hurls his second consecutive shutout‚ topping the Pirates 4-0 on 5 hits. But five more years of control woes will hold him back until catcher Norm Sherry convinces him that he can throw a bit less hard and still be overpowering—with control.

1972: Steve Carlton shuts out the Braves 8-0 for his eighth whitewash of the season. This is the most for a Phillies’ pitcher since Grover C. Alexander in 1917. Carlton will go to win 27 games for the last-place Phils, who will win only 32 games all year that were not Carlton’s.

Over the Plate: Arlie Latham’s Own Baseball Stories, No. 2

Charlie Frank

Charlie Frank

No. 2—In Baseball, a Great Deal Depends on What You Can Get Away With—Charlie Frank of the New Orleans Team Used to Hand Out “Punk” or Rubber Balls, According to Circumstances, and “Umps” Could Do Nothing, Even After Getting Wise to the Trick.

This is the second of a series of unusual entertaining stories told by Arlie Latham, reminiscent of the old days of baseball, and of some of the things, ludicrous and whimsical, that go to make up a player’s life. Arlie—who was christened Walter Arlington—will be remembered with the Giants of late years as coach and scout.

He played his first professional ball in 1882 with the Philadelphia team of the Alliance League. [The latter is today termed the League Alliance, and it was not Arlie’s first appearance in pro ball: he began with Springfield of the National Association in 1879, moved up to Buffalo of the National League in 1880, and back down to Philly in the Eastern Championship Association in 1881.] Later he joined the St. Louis “Browns,” with whom he remained nine years [in fact seven, from 1883-89, then another few games with St. Louis of the NL in 1896, Washington in 1899, and the Giants in 1909]. Subsequently he played in Chicago, Cincinnati, and then back to St. Louis. He was one of the best third baseman and baserunners the game ever turned out, and was known the country over as baseball’s foremost comedian.

It is estimated that while he was under Chris von der Ahe, in St. Louis, he was fined an aggregate of $1,000,000 for his pranks. But Chris never collected the money. Recently Latham opened a delicatessen store in New York City, and failing to see any great future in it, he went umpiring in the Colonial League.

Latham HeaderThe “ways that are dark” of the heathen Chinee have nothing on the ways of some ball players I have known. They could fox Solomon in all his glory, and he’d have to acknowledge that he was not as wise as the least of these.

And they were none of your smart youngsters, either. They were old hands: fellows who had broken into baseball about the time of the Franco-Prussian Serious and who had grown gray in their old tobacco-stained unis. They knew more tricks than a circus monkey: and if the other side gave them the slightest opportunity to “do” them—well, that other side was done.

I’m not breaking into the Muck-Raking League in giving these things away, because they are pretty well known to the profession. Besides, in baseball a lot depends on what you can get away with. If the ump isn’t looking you can cut fifteen feet inside third base on the way home; and if you get away with it, all right. If you don’t, just smile it off, hitch your pants, and sit down—after you’ve called the umpire a blind bum. Of course we know that here are some managers who wouldn’t do anything that looked like trickery; but there are others who don’t think o any more of losing a game than they do of their right eye.

Some years ago a man named Charlie Frank managed the New Orleans team [1905-13]. Charlie was the greatest hand for throwing dust in an umpire’s eye (or anyone else’s, for that matter) that I ever saw. And he had the neatest little device for doing it with.

1905 New Orleans

1905 New Orleans

Charlie came out to the game every day with a little valise like the one Dr. Pill used to carry. He kept that valise under his hand always; and if anyone came near it Charlie would hop around like a hen whose eggs are threatened. You’d think he carried bombs in it, or dope to inject into his players. Yet he only carried baseballs!

In that valise were for rows of baseballs. The first row consisted of new, good baseballs. The second row of new, punk balls. Those in the third row were balls that had been dirtied and which had an abnormal amount of rubber in them. The fourth row also held dirty balls, but they were as dead as Caesar. And according as Charlie’s team was in the lead or behind, he would throw out those balls.

The scheme Charlie worked with the new balls was this: He’d break the seal of the box of course, take out the balls, tie a piece of cord around them and hang them up in a dry refrigerator for a few days. At the end of that time you could slam them on the ground with all your might and they wouldn’t bounce half an inch. The fourth row of balls he had in his valise was of the same sort.Latham Phony Pill

Now if a ball were fouled over the grand stand, naturally the umpire would ask Charlie for a new ball. If his team was winning and the other side was at bat, Charlie would throw in a good ball and take his chances. But if they were behind, out would come a punk, new ball. Of course, it is customary for the umpire to examine the cover of the new balls to see that the seal is not broken. But Frank had a way of getting around that, too. Instead of handing the ball to the umpire, he’d take it out of his valise and slam it in the ground. The box would burst open, the ball would roll out and the ump, suspecting nothing, would hand it to the pitcher.

The pitcher would then wind up and shoot a fast, straight one across. The batter would see it coming, get set for it and lean against it with enough force to tear the stitches off it.


There was no stinging smack to that ball. It sounded as though the batter had hit a bag of mud.

And instead of breaking a board in the outfield fence with it, he wouldn’t knock it out of the infield. It couldn’t be dome. If Samson himself had hit that ball with a telephone pole he couldn’t have broken a pane of glass with it.

But when his team came to the bat Charlie worked another ball. He generally had one of those rubber skyrockets on tap and when he needed runs he’d use it. Crack! When a batter hit one of those things he sent it into the next county. Talk about artillery practice! Why, when that ball was passing over the centerfield fence it was only just getting under way. I don’t know whether they ever stopped.

Sometimes a batter would get wise to the “punks,” and after he’d been thrown out a city block at first he’d ask to see the ball. Charlie’s second baseman generally had a good new ball stuck somewhere in his shirt, and after a punk was hit like that, it was always thrown from the first to the second baseman. Then, of course, the second baseman would stick it in his shirt and throw in the good ball.

“There’s somtehin’ phony about that pill,” the batter would say. “I hit hard enough to knock it over the fence.”

Athletic Park, New Orleans. Home of the Pelicans of the Southern Association, 1901-1907.

Athletic Park, New Orleans. Home of the Pelicans of the Southern Association, 1901-1907.

Charlie always got sore when they began to talk like that. If there was anything that hurt Charlie’s feelings it was an implication that he was crooked. He couldn’t hit that sort of delivery at all. It was too low.

“Lay off that stuff!” he’d yell. “What’re you trying to do? Show someone up around here?”

Then he’d bounce the good ball on the ground, and, of course, it would rebound in great shape.

“There. Are you satisfied? You’ve got some crust, you have. You’re some fresh busher. Because you can’t hit don’t try to make a crook out o’ me. Next time you get up, keep your bat in the bat bag. It’ll be just as much use to you there as in your hands.”

And it would, too. A man never had a chance with Charlie Frank.

But if all these things failed, old Charlie had another deck up his sleeve from which he could slip a card any time he wanted one.

On top of the grand stand he had a kid stationed that no one but himself and his team knew of. When a ball was fouled off and landed on top of the grand stand it was the duty of the kid to throw it back. And so he did. But not always the same ball that went up.

Latham The KidHe had a peep hole up there, and before he threw back a ball he’d take a glance at Charlie through the hole and wait for a sign. If Charlie’s team was leading, he’d throw in a good ball. If they were behind, out came a new “punk.” Even at that Charlie wouldn’t give the other team an even break for their money, because as soon as it became a little dark, instead of throwing in a new “punk,” he’d sign the kid to throw in a dirty one, which they barely could see coming at them. Fat chance a team had of winning a game from that gent, if he could help it.

One day the umpire got suspicious of the ball He grabbed it and put it in his pocket. Then he took out his knife to cut it open. As soon as Charlie saw it was all up, he made a run at him. His team followed him, got around the poor ump and started to push him all over the field. Oh, they were a foxy bunch! In the scuffle Charlie got the “punk” out of the ump’s pocket and put in a good ball. Then when the ump got away he cut open the ball—and found it O.K.!

But when the umpires got wise to Charlie’s game at last, what could they do? Nothing. He’d got away with it and that’s all there was to it. They had a good laugh and put Charlie down as an old fox. And so he was.

Charlie wasn’t alone in his glory in those days. Old Buck Ewing was his equal any time. And the peculiar thing about both of them was that they both pulled the same stuff. Buck was managing Cincinnati at the time. I was umpiring in the National League and it was I who finally gummed up his cards.

Buck used to hand out his punks from the bench, all the while looking as innocent as a pet billygoat. You’d never suspect him in the world. He was a wonder. His favorite pastime was reading the standing of the clubs in the Land League in the Irish World.

1895 Spalding League Ball

1895 Spalding League Ball

One day I took one of the ”punks” out of his hands just as he was about to throw it on the ground. I saw that the seal was broken.

“Nix on this stuff,” I said, “give me a new ball.”

Buck was indignant.

“What d’you—Hah! What d’you know?”

I told him I was onto his little game, and if he wanted me to tell someone about it, why, I’d be glad to do it. That killed Buck, and, a far as I know, he never threw another “punk” into the diamond.

There are all sorts of ways of giving the other team less than is coming to them, from getting their signs (which used to be a science with one club I could mention) to shining a mirror into the batters’ eyes. I don’t know that the latter mentioned trick has ever been pulled, so I suppose it isn’t feasible. If it were it would have been pulled long before this. But as I have said, it’s not what you do in baseball but what you get away with.


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