Saturday, July 02, 2005

 

July 2nd, 1903

Ed Delahanty Dies


Known as "Big Ed" Delahanty (he stood 6'1, 170) he was one of a legion of Delahanty brothers to play Major League Baseball around the turn of the century and probably the best. However, it is the circumstances surrounding his death, a black comedy so absurd it is practically upstate New York Fargo that most intrigue me. Delahanty was on a train of the Michigan Central Railroad when he was kicked off, possibly for causing a disruption with his drunkenness. Delahanty had been tossed off--some stories imply rather literally--the train at Bridgeberg, so named because it was the town next to the train bridge crossing the Niagara River. Evidently annoyed at having been booted off his train, Delahanty began to attempt to cross the bridge on foot, chasing down his train. He was shouted back by the bridge's night watchman but ignored him, a particularly bad decision as the bridge was a drawbridge and had been opened once the train passed to allow a boat to go through.

The actual facts of the story get a little hazy at this point, so we'll skip ahead to the New York Times of July 9th, which although misspelling Big Ed's name ("Delehanty") provides the facts as known. Delahanty's body was recovered at the dock of the Maid of the Mist (yes, it really has been around that long) in predictably poor shape for having been drunkenly dragged down a river and over Niagara Falls. The Times reported the "body was mangled...presumably by the propeller of the Maid of the Mist." Despite this, the body was still identified by his family and claimed for burial.

So there you have it. A star baseball player--“Big Ed” is in the Hall of Fame--gets himself sufficiently drunk as to be thrown off the train he's on, and in a drunken stupor attempts to chase the train across a bridge, only to find it is a drawbridge that has been opened and drops into the Niagara River, which proceed to carry him down and over Niagara Falls. A week later his body is recovered, missing a leg, after having been mangled by a Niagara Falls sightseeing boat. If I were Joel and Ethan Coen, I'd be all over this one; it practically writes itself.



Friday, July 01, 2005

 

July 1st, 1920

Washington Plays at Boston


I wrote, very briefly, about Kevin Brown's would-be perfect game earlier in the year. In that game Brown took the perfect-o into the eighth inning before hitting a Marvin Benard in the foot and having to settle for a no-hitter. Probably the most bizarre circumstances to ever lose a perfect game was another story I've done, that of Harvey Haddix. But Walter Johnson's July 1st, 1920 pitching performance is worthy of a story as well.

On his son's fifth birthday, Johnson took the hill against the Red Sox. Although just two years removed from a World Series title, the Sox (managed by Ed Barrow) were struggling, having sold Babe Ruth in the off-season previous and would finish more than twenty-five games out of first place. 1920 was not a good season for Johnson either; it was a mediocre season by his standards. Coming off two seasons of ERAs more than one hundred and ten percent better than league average while averaging more than three hundred innings, Johnson would pitch just one hundred forty-three innings with an ERA less than twenty percent above average as he suffered what a biographer described as "the only serious sore arm of his career."

On this day however, Johnson had some pretty good stuff, despite taking the mound feeling ill. For six and two-third innings, Johnson shut down the BoSox, allowing neither a hit nor walk. He was just seven outs from pitching only the third twentieth century perfect game in baseball history to that point--and it would still only be the seventeenth in history. However, Red Sox left-fielder Harry Hopper hit a routine chance to shortstop Bucky Harris who booted the ball, ending the perfect game. Johnson allowed no further base runners going to the ninth. Down only 1-0, the Red Sox sent up two left-handed pinch-hitters in an attempt to even the score, but "The Big Train" retired them both by strikeout. That brought up Hooper who told Senators' catcher Val Picinich "I'm going to bust one out of the park if I can." Instead, he hit a screamer down the first base line. It was fielded by first baseman Joe Judge deep into foul territory, one writer said as far as fifteen feet, who speared the ball and tossed to Johnson who beat Hooper by a step to preserve the no-hitter. Hooper reportedly told Johnson "I'm glad to lose that hit for your no-hit game," a moment of class from an opponent who had wanted to do all he could to see his team win but was willing to admire an individual accomplishment once the game ended.

Despite having lost his perfect game to an event that was no fault of his own, something not even Brown (who hit the batter) or Haddix (who would surrender a home run after the error) could claim, Johnson remained true to his personality of extreme modesty. When his he teammates demanded a speech, Johnson managed only "goodness gracious sakes alive, wasn't I lucky!" He received a congratulatory telegram from his wife, but both of them were more interested in Walter Jr's birthday. However, for baseball history, this day is most important for Johnson's start, maybe the nearest "would-be" nine inning non-perfect game in baseball history.



Thursday, June 30, 2005

 

June 30th, 1944

Ron Swoboda Born


Ron Swoboda is best remembered, probably only remembered, for the diving catch he made of Brooks Robinson's line-drive in right-centerfield of Shea Stadium in the ninth inning of Game Four, saving the game for the Mets. In a twist, Swoboda had actually been born in Baltimore, but his most famous moment did as much to break the heart of his hometown as anything else that year.

More generally, this raises the interesting question of how many other players there are like Ron Swoboda, that is, remembered for one sterling defensive player and nothing else. There are some who are remembered for one lousy defensive play and little else, Bill Buckner being the most prominent example, and boatloads remembered for one shining offensive moment, Bucky Dent, Francisco Cabrera, and those remembered for all-around defensive excellence in a series, like Graig Nettles. (And of course, Willie Mays' catch in the 1954 World Series, but that's hardly the only thing remembered about Willie.) However, so far as I can think of, only Sandy Amoros is also specifically remember exclusively for one great defensive play. His came in the bottom of the sixth of Game Seven of the 1955 World Series. The Yankees were down 2-0 to the Dodgers but had runners on first and second with one out, and Yogi Berra up. Berra hit a looping fly ball down the left field line. Amoros had been positioned in extreme left-center in the hopes of neutralizing the pull-hitting Berra and therefore had a mad dash to catch the ball. He tracked it down however, making a great catch with his outstretched arm and throwing into the infield to double-up the runner, snuffing out the rally. The Dodgers would go on to win the game and the series, their only World Series in
Brooklyn.

So there's Ron Swoboda and Sandy Amoros. Players little remembered but for that moment of glory in the field, a category they seemingly have all to themselves.



Wednesday, June 29, 2005

 

June 29th, 1905

Moonlight Graham Plays


I've written in the past about would-be Moonlight Grahams, but of course, there's only one. You probably all know the story, but if you don't, go rent Field of Dreams tonight and learn it. And if you do know the Moonlight Graham story, go rent it anyway and watch it, and if you can, watch it with your Dad. That's what I plan to do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

 

June 28th, 2004

David Bell hits for Cycle


Hitting for the cycle is a nice accomplishment, although not an exceptional one. It does usually mean your team won--I have no idea how to discover this but it would be interesting to see how often someone has hit for the cycle in a losing effort--but people don't exactly send their bat from that day to Cooperstown. (Unless there's some huge "Cycle Bats" section at in the Hall of Fame; I don't know, I've never been.) Bell's cycle did indeed come in a victory, a Phillies’ 14-6 triumph over the Expos at lovely Citizens Bank Park as part of a 4-for-4, 6 RBI, 2 run evening.

As I said before however, cycles aren't terribly notable, so why did I devote a day to this one? Because many, many years prior to David Bell's cycle, his grandfather, Gus Bell hit one for the 1951 Pirates. This means that Gus and David Bell hold the obscure record of being the only grandfather and grandson to have each hit a cycle. Now, there are of course only a few three generation ballplaying families (in fact, the only two I can think of are the Boones and Bells) making it a record more notable for its obscurity than its accomplishment. But then, we know how I love those.



Monday, June 27, 2005

 

June 27th, 2003

Marlins play at Red Sox


This was quite a game for the Marlins--and Red Sox--but part of quite a week for the eventual World Series champions. Carl Pavano, demonstrating the form that has become sadly familiar to Yankee fans this season, opened the game allowing a Johnny Damon double. Followed by a Todd Walker run-scoring single. Then a Nomar double. Then a Manny Ramirez three-run home run. Then a David Ortiz double. Then a Kevin Millar run-scoring single. At which point Pavano was replaced by Michael Tejeara, having recorded zero outs, allowed five runs (to that point), six hits, and a combined 1.000/1.000/2.000 line. Tejeara came in and allowed a Trot Nixon single, Bill Mueller walk, Jason Varitek two-run single, a Johnny Damon two-run triple (meaning the Sox had batted around, which would have driven me nuts) and a Todd Walker RBI single. At which point Tejeara was replaced by Allen Levrault, meaning the Marlins had used two pitchers to get no outs but had succeeded in surrendering ten runs between them. The ten runs they gave up before recording an out also set a new Major League record.

The Sox batters would continue to, um, batter Marlin pitching, in the end scoring fourteen runs in the first inning, and batting around twice that inning which might have prompted me to walk down to the Field Level and throw my scorebook at the nearest Marlins’ pitcher. The Red Sox would go on to win the game 25-8, with the only disappointment being that although Damon had three parts of the cycle before the first inning was over, and would get four more ABs, he failed to hit a home run and complete it.

This game was just one of a strange week for the Marlins who would go on to win the next day despite being down 9-2 at one point after a seven-run inning and requiring a four-run ninth (and a four-run eighth) to win the game. The truly strange thing came a few days later as the Marlins, having lost by seventeen runs in
Boston would win by nineteen against the Braves in Miami. That game was highlighted by a six-run second as the Marlins scored in each inning but the third.



Sunday, June 26, 2005

 

June 26th, 1916

Washington plays at New York


From the Police Blotter section of the New York Times the next day:

"David Lerner, 24 years old, an actor of 123 Wadsworth Avenue; John J. Ehrman, a railroad engineer, of 930 East 180th Street, and Edward J. Steinfeld, a salesman, of 120 West Seventy-fourth Street, were arrested in the grandstand of the Polo Grounds during a game between the New York Americans and Washington's yesterday afternoon on charges of petty larceny for refusing, according to a special policeman in the grandstand, to surrender balls which had been knocked into the stand."

Yes, by the way, it really was one long almost eighty word run-on sentence. Leaving aside the most obvious bit of the story for a second, I love how the paper not only identifies the criminals by name and occupation, but also lists their home addresses. I can only imagine the furor that would cause if a paper tried it today.

But of course, however large a furor printing criminals' addresses would be, I doubt it would match the furor if the police started arresting everyone who tried to keep a foul ball. It was still a few years--and one tragic death--before baseball realized its titular instrument would have to be replaced more than two or three times a game and balls going to the stands therefore became souvenirs. I've not, despite best efforts, been able to turn up anything on what happened to the men after their arrest, but I imagine if any are still with us (David Lerner the actor would be 113 so it's unlikely but possible) they would enjoy the sight of a ball being hit into the stands and a group of fans jumping over seats (and each other) to acquire it with the police merely standing idly by.



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