9 Innings
A Baseball Reader

Issue # 1
(May 28, 2005)

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The Death of Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman
On August 16, 1920, the Cleveland Indians were in first place, albeit by just a few percentage points, and making their third and final visit of the season to the Polo Grounds, then the cavernous home of both the New York Giants and the New York Yankees. Facing Cleveland on that day was Yankees ace Carl Mays. An ethereal fog that hung over the Polo Grounds had been`` complicated by a drizzle by the time shortstop Ray Chapman led off the fifth inning for Cleveland. May's best pitch was delivered with an underhand sweep. Down went his body and out shot his arm from the blur of white shirts and dark suits in the open bleachers in the deep background behind him. The pitch struck Chapman in the temple and killed him -- from all indications he never saw it. As a consequence of the only on-the-field fatality in major league history, dirty or scuffed balls thereafter were discarded immediately from play and patrons were no longer allowed to sit in the center field bleachers. Mays was quickly exonerated from any wrongdoing but the following season fell under suspicion of throwing the 1921 World Series. This, more than the Chapman incident, would haunt him the rest of his days.
--1001 Fascinating Baseball Facts
David Nemec & Peter Palmer
The Color Line

Fleet Walker
Chicago [White Stockings] manager and star player, Cap Anson, ran his club -- and played for it -- until 1897, when he was forty-five. When he finally retired, he continued for ten years to oil and dust every one of the 400 bats he kept in his basement, just in case some team should call in need of his services. He was one of the era's titanic figures, at once a brilliant businessman, a great player, and an imposing figure in the game's inner circles. But Anson also was responsible for one of the saddest events in the history of baseball, an occurrence that would retard the game's progress for more than half a century.
Moses Fleetwood Walker, the son of a physician, had been an outstanding athlete at Oberlin College, and while there he attracted the attention of the Toledo team in the Northwestern League, which signed him in 1883. The very next year Toledo was invited to join the American Association, and Walker was one of the few players the club retained. A catcher for Tony Mullane, he batted .263 in 152 at bats and was quite popular both in Toledo and in such road cities as Baltimore and Washington. His brother, Welday Wilberforce Walker, also played in five games for Toledo that season as an outfielder, going 4-for-18.
But when the White Stockings came to Toledo for an exhibition [game] that year, Anson threatened to pull his team off the field if Fleet Walker played. Charley Morton, the Toledo manager, refused to comply with the demand. "The joke of the affair," according to one account, "was that up to the time Anson made his 'bluff,' the Toledo people had no intention of catching Walker, who was laid up with a sore hand, but when Anson said he wouldn't play with Walker, the Toledo people made up their minds that Walker would catch or there wouldn't be any game."
Anson's position soon took root. On July 14, 1887, the International League instituted an unofficial color line, and that same day Anson succeeded in getting the Newark "Little Giants" to remove their black battery of pitcher George Stovey and Fleet Walker from an exhibition game with the White Stockings. Later in the year, all but two of the St. Louis Browns refused to take the field against the Cuban Giants. "Dear Sir," read their letter to club owner Chris Von der Ahe, "We the undersigned members of the St. Louis Base Ball Club do not agree to play against negroes tomorrow. We will cheerfully play against white people any time, and think by refusing to play, we are only doing what is right." Von der Ahe informed the New York crowd of 7,000 that his team was too crippled to play, and in way, he was right.
-- Baseball Anecdotes
Daniel Okrent & Steve Wulf
A Comedy of Errors

Smead Jolley
Smead Jolley [of the Chicago White Sox] was one of the world's worst outfielders. Even Jolley agreed. He sealed his reputation by committing three errors in a single play. He was stationed in right field in a game against the Athletics in Philadelphia. Bing Miller smashed a single and, to the White Sox's dismay, it headed right for Jolley.
As expected, the ball rolled through his legs for error number one. Jolley whirled around to play the carom off the wall. To no one's surprise, the ball scooted back through his legs for error number two. Jolley could have stopped while he was ahead, but perhaps sensing immortality, he seized the moment to vault himself into the twilight zone of fielding. He picked up the ball and heaved it over the third baseman's head for error number three. Meanwhile, Bing Miller circled the bases.
Shockingly, Jolley's incredible feat never made it into the record books. The official scorer, refusing to believe that any major leaguer could commit such a fielding atrocity, charged Jolley with only two errors, thus robbing him of an officially recognized record as the worst single fielding play in baseball history.
Nevertheless, Jolley went on to distinguish himself when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox where he had trouble with Fenway Park. Some parks in those days had embankments against the outfield fences before warning tracks were installed. At that time, Fenway had a ten-foot incline in left field. To Jolley it was as awesome as Mount Everest. In frustration, the Red Sox coaches spent mornings hitting fungoes to left while Jolley practiced running up the hill to make the catch.
The next time Jolley started in left, he had a chance to show how he could handle the incline. In a game against the Washington Senators, a long fly ball was hit to left. Jolley took off, ran easily up the incline, turned around to make the catch and saw that he had overrun the ball. Jolley started back down the incline but tripped and sprawled flat on his face. The ball bounced near him and by the time Jolley staggered to his feet, the batter was standing on third.
At the end of the inning, Jolley returned to the dugout, cussing at his coaches. "Fine bunch, you guys," he complained. "For ten days you teach me how to go up the hill, but none of you has the brains to teach me how to come down!"
-- The Baseball Hall of Shame
Bruce Nash & Allan Zullo
"Merkle's Boner"

Fred Merkle
The most famous rules violation in baseball history was "Merkle's boner" of September 24, 1908. The New York Giants and Chicago Cubs, fighting for the National League pennant, were locked in a 1-1 tie in the ninth inning at New York when the Giants put Moose McCormick on third and Fred Merkle on first with two outs.
Al Bridwell drilled a hit to center field and McCormick raced home with the apparent winning run. But Merke, seeing him score, stopped short of touching second and headed for the clubhouse. Cub first baseman Frank Chance saw what happened and screamed for the ball; he knew he could touch second and make Merkle the victim of a force play, thus ending the inning with the score still tied.
Giants' pitcher Joe (Iron Man) McGinnity heard Chance, sprang off the bench, and tackled him before he could reach second. Meanwhile, the fans -- thinking the game was over -- had spilled onto the field in a rush for the exits.
McGinnity grabbed the ball and threw it into the crowd. Chance appealed to umpire Hank O'Day, who ruled Merkle out because of interference from McGinnity. The game ended in a tie and had to be replayed when the two teams finished the season with identical 98-55 records.
The Cubs won the replay and the pennant, but 19-year-old Merkle, perpetrator of the costliest blunder in baseball history, actually received a raise from Giants' manager John McGraw, and went on to become an excellent player.
-- The Baseball Catalogue
Don Schlossberg
Losing a Big One

Christy Mathewson

...And so it was on October 9, 1912. [Christy] Mathewson and the New York Giants had battled the Boston Red Sox to a deciding seventh game in the World Series. The Series would have ended sooner, with a New York victory. In the second game, the 32-year-old Mathewson had outpitched three younger foes for 10 innings, but five errors by his fielders cost him the win. He had to settle for a 6-6 tie when darkness ended the contest. Three days later, an error by the Giants second baseman led to a 2-1 loss even though Matty had retired the last 15 batters in a row.
Now the championship was on the line, and once again manager John McGraw handed the ball to Mathewson. The Giants scored a run in the 3rd, and it remained 1-0 until the Red Sox came to bat in the 7th. It was then that the fates played their first trick of the day on Matty, the man who aspired to perfection. With one out, Boston's player-manager, Jake Stahl, hit a fly ball to short left field. The New York shortstop, leftfielder, and centerfielder converged on it. They all arrived in time to catch the ball, but each one waited for another to take it, and it fell between them. With two men out, a pinch-hitter then doubled in the tying run.
Nobody scored in the 8th or 9th, but in the top of the 10th the Giants went ahead, 2-1. Mathewson then walked to the mound, determined to hold on to the lead and take home the prize. The first batter lifted a high fly ball to centerfielder Fred Snodgrass, who had to move only a few feet to make an easy catch. Incredibly, the ball trickled through his hands for a two-base error. The center fielder then redeemed himself by chasing a long fly ball and making a splendid catch.
Matty, whose control had been perfect in the first two games, walked the next man. That brought Tris Speaker, a .383 hitter, to the plate. Speaker hit a routine pop-up near the first-base coaches' box. Catcher Chief Meyers ran up the basebline as Matty came over from the mound. First baseman Fred Merkle, the closest man to the ball, took a few steps toward it. In the silence that shrouded the ballpark, where Boston's hopes seemed suddenly dashed, Matty called out clearly, "Meyers, Meyers," for the catcher to take it. Then somebody on the Boston bench, hoping to confuse the fielders, yelled, "Matty! Matty!" Merkle could have caught the ball easily, but he backed off to avoid running into the others. Mathewson could have caught it in his bare hand, but he had already called on Meyers. And so Meyers, who had the farthest to run, made a desperate lunge for it. The ball dropped to the ground in foul territory, untouched.
Given another chance, Speaker stood in the batter's box and called to Mathewson, "That's gonna cost you this ball game and the championship." And on the next pitch he lined a clean single that drove in the tying run and moved a man to third. The next batter hit a sacrifice fly to left field, and the winning run scored.
Realizing that even the greatest players sometimes make errors, Mathewson never blamed Snodgrass for dropping the fly ball that started his downfall. "No use hopping on him; he feels three times as bad as any of us," was all Matty said.
Sportswriter Ring Lardner, who was at the game, had a lot more to say about it. "There was seen one of the saddest sights in the history of a sport that is a strange and wonderful mixture of joy and gloom," he wrote. "It was the spectacle of a man, old as baseball players are reckoned, walking from the middle of the field to the New York players' bench with bowed head and drooping shoulders, with tears streaming from his eyes, a man on whom his team's fortune had been staked and lost, and a man who would have proven his clear title to the trust reposed in him if his mates had stood by him in the supreme test .... Beaten, 3-2, by a club he would have conquered if he had been given the support deserved by his wonderful pitching, Matty tonight is greater in the eyes of New York's public than ever before ...."
-- Baseball Legends: Christy Mathewson
Norman L. Macht
Tragic Angels

The disasters that began afflicting the [California Angels] in 1962 lent an air of spookiness to organization operations. In April of that year, outfielder [Ken] Hunt, who had walloped 25 homers in his rookie season the year before, stood flexing his back on the on-deck circle, snapped his collarbone, and never played a full schedule again. In August, veteran reliever Art Fowler was struck in the face by a line drive during batting practice and lost his vision in one eye. In 1964, a car accident put paid to the promise shown by lefty Ken McBride. That same season, the club paid out $300,000 signing bonuses to college stars Rich Reichardt and Tom Egan, only to have Reichardt's potential thwarted by the loss of a kidney and Egan's by a beanball that broke his jaw and cost him his vision in an eye. In 1965, rookie Dick Wantz pitched himself into the rotation in spring training, but was dead of a brain tumor four months later. In 1968, bullpen ace Minnie Rojas lost his wife and two children, and was himself permanently paralyzed, in an auto accident. Other road accidents killed infielder Chico Ruiz in 1972, reliever Bruce Heinbecher in 1974, and shortstop Mike Miley in 1977. In 1978, Lyman Bostock, one of the league's premier hitters, was shot to death as an innocent bystander. After surrendering a game-tying gopher pitch to Boston's Dave Henderson that eventually turned the tide in favor of the Red Sox in the 1986 LCS, relief specialist Donnie Moore suffered bouts of depression that ended in his suicide.
-- Total Ballclubs
Donald Dewey & Nicholas Acocella
Strange Home Runs

The home run -- the grandest achievement in baseball -- is usually a mighty shot over a distant fence. But not always.
When Babe Ruth was with the Boston Red Sox in 1919, he was credited with a home run on an infield fly. "It must have been the highest pop-up ever hit," said Ruth's victim, pitcher Lefty Leifield of the St. Louis Browns. "The infielders were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, yelling that they couldn't see the ball.
"When the ball came down, Babe had already rounded third. There wasn't any chance to make a play on him and three runs scored."
On June 19, 1942, Dom DiMaggio of the Red Sox sliced the ball down the right-field line. White Sox outfielder Wally Moses watched it roll under the bullpen bench, where he parted the feet of the occupants in frantic search. By the time he found the sphere, DiMaggio had scored the only run of the game.
....Then there was the time Cleveland's Jimmy McAleer hit a ball into an empty tomato can at the base of the outfield wall. Hugh Duffy, unable to pry the ball loose, threw the whole can toward the infield, which relayed it home. Tagged with ball in glove, McAleer would have been out. But tagged with ball in can was something else. The umpire ruled him safe.
The longest home run was produced by a spontaneous combination of long ball and hopper. Joe Hauser, with Baltimore of the International League, deposited the ball in a passing coal car, which hauled it 32 miles.
Pitcher Wes Ferrell, an excellent hitter, homered in the eighth to tie and in the twelfth to win for the Red Sox, 3-2, over the White Sox on August 22, 1934.
Light-hitting Joe Niekro hit the first home run of his 10-year career in 1976 -- a game-winning blow off brother Phil, a good hitter.
Hoyt Wilhelm, even a lighter hitter than Joe Niekro, homered in his first at-bat as a rookie with the 1952 Giants, then tripled in his second. But he never hit another home run or triple over the rest of his 21-year career as a relief specialist.
Pitcher/outfielder Johnny Cooney of the Boston Bees in the '30s hit his first homer after playing 15 years, then hit another the next day. He'd play five more years without hitting any more.
Many players have homered in their first at-bat, but Bob Nieman of the 1951 Browns was the only man to hit home runs in his first two plate appearances in the majors.
Eight years later, a pinch-runner homered for the Red Sox. Gene Stephens, inserted as a runner for Ted Williams during a Boston uprising, was cut down in a force-play, but the rally continued and his batting turn came up again. Manager Billy Jurges let him bat and Stephens responded with a grand-slam homer. Boston won the contest from New York, 13-3.
Eleven players have hit two grand slams in the same game -- Fernando Tatis and pitcher Tony Cloninger in the National League plus American Leaguers Tony Lazzeri, Jim Gentile, Jim Tabor, Rudy York, Jim Northrup, Frank Robinson, Robin Ventura, Chris Hoiles, and Nomar Garciaparra. Tatis, who did it in 1999, was the only member of that group who connected twice in the same inning. The Braves, the Indians, and the Twins all had four consecutive home runs -- in 1961, 1963, and 1964, respectively.
Home-run history illustrates the unpredictable nature of the game.
-- The Baseball Almanac
Don Schlossberg
Bill Rigney: The Rookie

Jorge Pasquel and his brother formed the Mexican League in 1946 and were offering major leaguers a lot of money to defect, thousands more than they were making in the majors. Stan Musial even considered leaving the Cardinals. The Giants held a [spring training] meeting and our manager Mel Ott asked, "Is anyone here going to Mexico?" Babe Young, an outfielder-first baseman, said we all should have raised our hands because we'd have gotten better contracts. As it was, we lost Sal Maglie, who had shown great promise as a rookie pitcher in 1945, outfielder Danny Gardella, second baseman George Hausmann, and a couple of other guys. They went down there, though our new Commissioner, Happy Chandler, threatened them with permanent banishment. (Gardella would later sue major league baseball for reinstatement after the Mexican League folded.)
The rest of us headed north. John McGraw had started a tradition: anytime the Giants would open a season in New York, they'd play the Cadets at West Point the day before ....
I'd never been to New York. I'd never been to a major league ballpark. I'd never seen the Polo Grounds. We got in at ten o' clock at night. We carried our own bags in those days, and I walked up those steps and into the Giants' clubhouse. It was a marvelous clubhouse: you walked down the steps and there was one big room and down six more steps and there were all the lockers. The trainer's room was there and the showers were upstairs; the manager's office was on the first deck. I looked for my locker and there it was next to the locker of Johnny Mize. I put my stuff down and said to myself, "Christy Mathewson, Bill Terry, John McGraw, Mel Ott, Travis Jackson, and all the other great Giants of the past dressed right here." Both clubhouses were in center field, and i walked down the twenty steps onto the field. The night lights were on. I saw that the Polo Grounds was built like a horseshoe with home plate in the middle. I remember the chill I got thinking, "Tomorrow you're going to be the shortstop in front of 45,000." I wondered what I was doing there. I wondered if I could handle it.
The next day I was introduced and ran onto the diamond in front of all those fans. I prayed the ball would be hit to me quickly so I could calm down. And the Phillies' little shortstop, Skeeter Newsome, hit the ball through the box. I picked it up one-handed and threw him out. The crowd cheered. And I said, "Oh boy, this is going to be all right." The first time I batted, Oscar Judd threw me a screwball on a 3-2 pitch and struck me out. A 3-2 screwball? I said, "This is the major leagues." Later I solved him for two hits, we beat the Phils 8-2, and Bill Voiselle got the victory.
....That first year I lived in the Bronx, on 183rd Street. My wife was pregnant, and the apartment we rented was on the top floor and had no air conditioning. We just about died. I was under a lot of pressure to succeed. I wanted to raise a family and support them by being a ballplayer. I had such love for the game and couldn't let myself think what I might do if I failed and had to do something other than play professional baseball. It was my life.
--Bill Rigney
We Played the Game
The Return of Joe DiMaggio

It was 1949, a bright summer morning late in June, and in his room at the Edison Hotel in Manhattan, Joe DiMaggio rolled out of bed. When he gingerly lowered his right foot to the floor, the incessant, stabbing pain [from bone spurs] in his heel that had dogged him for the past couple of years had miraculously vanished in the night ....
An operation had been performed to correct the condition over the winter, and the doctors had told him the problem had been cured. Yet when he tried to practice during spring training, there were days when the heel pained him so badly that his lips flowed blood, he was biting them so hard. While his teammates were getting into shape for the coming season, he would sit for hours on the beach of his bungalow home on the Gulf of Mexico, staring at the horizon and at the lapping waves, wondering if and when the pain would ever go away. Before spring camp broke, he finally agreed to return to John Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore for another operation.
DiMaggio, always a distant person, became morose and especially ill-tempered from the discomfort he was in .... When he moved to New York his whereabouts were kept from the public and the press .... DiMaggio disconnected his phone in the Edison Hotel and tried to hide.
In his hotel room he lay in bed and watched the Yankees on television, the new electronic marvel of the day, and he would umpire the pitches on the screen trying to retain his batting eye. But the angle of the camera was misleading and when DiMaggio saw he was consistently calling the pitches incorrectly, he began to fear that he was losing his batting eye ....
Through the months of April and May and much of June, DiMaggio remained in seclusion, waiting for the pain in his heel to subside as the doctors had promised it would. He really didn't believe them until the sunny morning in June when he arose to find that the pain had finally disappeared.
June 28 was a sunny afternoon in Boston, and though the heat had eased for the past couple of days, still there was no rain to bring relief to the parched Massachusetts Bay city. On street corners newsboys hawking the Herald and the Globe and the Record were announcing that Joe DiMaggio would be playing in the upcoming three-game series beginning here tonight, his initial appearance of the season after having missed the first sixty-five games....
There were bad feelings between the Yankees and the Red Sox, and more than thirty-six thousand people, the largest crowd ever to attend a night game in Fenway Park history, were crunched into the little antiquated Boston bandbox to see the matched skills of the two teams.
Inside the Yankee clubhouse, in the bowels of the park beneath the stands, there was an uncharacteristic revelry. DiMaggio, a man who rarely joined in the pranks or the joking, preferring instead to remain aloof, wrestled with Charlie Keller and clowned with Phil Rizzuto. He displayed an unconcealed joy just to be playing again, and his teammates could feel a lightening of their load by his mere presence. Without DiMaggio they would not have been able to survive over the long, protracted schedule, but with him back, they now had a real chance....
The Yankees jumped out to a quick three-nothing lead in the second inning on a home run. In the third inning Phil Rizzuto singled, and then DiMaggio, standing at the plate with his feet spread wide and parallel, his bat held back and stock still, snapped his wrists at a fast ball and pulled it on a high arc into the screen which tops the six-story high, left-field wall for two more runs. Rizzuto, on first, started jumping up and down as he raced around the bases, shouting, "Holy cow, holy cow," and after DiMaggio rounded third and loped toward the plate, the rest of the Yankees met him and escorted him back to the dugout....
DiMaggio had less dramatically demonstrated his leadership in other ways. Early in the game Johnny Pesky, the combative Red Sox second-baseman, raced from first to second base trying to break up a double play on a ground ball hit to second-baseman Coleman. Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto raced to second to take the pivot, fearlessly firing to first to complete the play. As he did, Pesky slid into him with a hard rolling block, tumbling the little shortstop to the ground, kneeing him in the face, and knocking him unconscious for several minutes. The shaken Rizzuto was able to continue, and by the eighth inning most of the specators had forgotten the incident when DiMaggio led off the inning for the Yankees with a walk. The next batter hit a ground ball to the infield, and Red Sox shortstop Vern Stephans glided over toward second to take the throw. As he did so DiMaggio threw a vicious block at Stephans, hurtling him to the ground and separating him from the ball and most of his senses. The Boston fans booed the play, but DiMaggio was only retaliating, giving notice to Pesky and any of the others that if there was going to be any funny business, they would have to answer to him personally.
Another large crowd arrived for the second contest of the series and there was much whooping and hollering when the Red Sox opened a 7-1 lead after only four innings. DiMaggio, who awoke stiff and swollen legged, was having a more difficult time .... In the fifth inning two men reached base before DiMaggio came to bat, and for the seconed time in two days he snapped a fast ball for a home run making the score 7-4 and drawing a nice hand from the Boston crowd. The Yankees scratched out three more runs to tie the score at 7-7. There were two outs in the eighth inning when DiMaggio dragged himself to the plate. After taking the first pitch, he pulled a high curve ball and lined [it] a good ten feet above the Fenway Park wall and screen for a third home run and the ball game. [Casey] Stengel bounded up the steps of the dugout at the crack of the bat, and as DiMaggio unemotionally glided around the bases, the Yankee manager raised his arms high and began bowing like a Moslem praising Allah. In the stands the deafening ovation for DiMaggio transcended all partisan lines ....
Afterward in the crowded, sweaty visitors' locker room, the reporters mobbed around DiMaggio's locker. Many of these men had predicted that DiMaggio would never play again, and they were staring at him in unprofessional awe. One asked, "Joe, you only had eight workouts before you came here. You've hit three home runs in two games. What's the secret?"
DiMaggio, exhausted, sitting back in his locker sipping beer, considered the question and somberly answered between sips, "You merely swing the bat and hit the ball."
-- Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964
Peter Golenbock