One of the most bizarre, and dramatic plays in the history of baseball.
Let’s set the stage.
It’s another October and what do you know? The Yankees are playing in the World Series. It’s only the 12th time in the last 21 years.
But who are these guys they’re playing, the Brooklyn Dodgers? Well they haven’t won a pennant since 1920. But don’t sell these Dodgers short. These are not the same bums from the 1920s and 1930s, who couldn’t draw flies to Ebbets Field. These Dodgers had a record of 100-54. (Okay, the Yankees were 101-53. So what’s a game?) They had three .300 hitters (Dixie Walker .311, Joe Medwick .319 and league leader Peter Reiser .341. They also featured the NationalLeague MVP winner, Dolph Camilli who hit 34 home runs along with 120 RBIs. The Dodgers even had a pair of 20-game winners on their pitching staff (Kirby Higbe 20-9, and Whit Wyatt 22-10).
But the Yankees are the Yankees. They take the opener 3-2. The Dodgers come back though, and win game two, also by a score of 3-2. The series moves from the Bronx to Brooklyn and Yanks win another squeaker, 2-1. And now it’s game four at Ebbets Field. Top of the ninth, Yankees batting. They trail the Dodgers 4-3 and are down to their final out.
Hugh Casey is on the mound for the Dodgers.
He strikes out Tommy Henrich. Game over, series tied! Uh oh, not so fast.
The “strikeout” pitch that fools Henrich is so bad, it’s in the dirt. But Dodgers’ catcher Mickey Owen, can’t find it either. The ball dribbles toward the back stop, Henrich runs to first. It’s not even close, he is safe.
Now Carey gets to face Joe Dimaggio.
Dimaggio singles to left, Henrich moves to second. Then Charlie Keller doubles and both Henrich and Dimaggio score. By this time Casey has lost his composure (Can you imagine that?) and walks Bill Dickey and gives up a double to Joe Gordon. Keller and Dickey both score.
When the inning finally ends the Yankees lead 7-4. And the Dodgers go down one-two-three in their half of the ninth inning.
The Yankees lead the series 3-1. The next day they finish off the Dodgers, beating them 3-1. And in case you’re wondering –
A batter is out when-
6.05 (b) A third strike is legally caught by the catcher;
Rule 6.05(b) Comment: “Legally caught” means in the catcher’s glove before the ball touches the ground. It is not legal if the ball lodges in his clothing or paraphernalia; or if it touches the umpire and is caught by the catcher on the rebound. If a foul tip first strikes the catcher’s glove and then goes on through and is caught by both hands against his body or protector, before the ball touches the ground, it is a strike, and if third strike, batter is out. If smothered against his body or protector, it is a catch provided the ball struck the catcher’s glove or hand first.
The Brooklyn Dodgers had not yet officially announced that they were moving to Los Angeles when they played their last game at Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957, but the fact that the Dodgers were going to be leaving Brooklyn was the worst kept secret of the twentieth century.
As the New York Times reported, “Everybody, including the 6,702 cash customers assumed that they were playing their last game in the old ball yard that was opened 45 years ago.”
Throughout sports there are certain franchises that have a storied history that will never be forgotten. Located in Brooklyn, the Dodgers and their ballpark for over four decades Ebbets Field will never be forgotten in sports history as it is remembered as one of the most nostalgic stadiums ever built. Read more Ballparksofbaseball.com
The old stadium was named after the Dodgers’ president, Charles Ebbets.
On March 4, 1912, he turned the first shovelful of dirt with a ceremonial silver and ebony spade.
On April 5 of the following year, 25,000 crammed into the new ballpark and saw Casey Stengel hit a home run that helped the Dodgers win an exhibition game against the Yankees. Four decades later Stengel would be at the helm of the Yankees for 10 American League pennants and seven World Series wins.
Four days later a crowd of 10,000 braved the cold and the wind to see the Dodgers play the first official game at Ebbets Field. The Phillies shut them out, 1-0.
Before dawn, or the morning of January 28, 1958, Roy Campanella was driving home from the liquor store he owned in Harlem. Campanella (or Campy as was known) skidded off the road and hit a telephone poll. Campanella was a three-time National League MVP, and not surprisingly, the news of his accident was covered by every major newspaper in the U.S.
Most of the stories acknowledged that the great catcher had been seriously injured, but focused not so much on whether he would live or be permanently paralyzed, but rather on whether or not he could resume playing baseball. The Washington Post on the other was more blunt and more accurate than the others. Their headline read,”Campanella’s Career at End After Suffering Broken Neck in Crash.”
On January 31 a tracheotomy was performed on Campanella to relieve congestion that had formed in his lung. By the following day, his breathing had improved, but there was no change in his paralysis.
On February 20 the New York Times reported a “pessimistic bulletin” from the community hospital in Glen Cove, NY, where Campanella was being cared for. It said “No improvement in the muscle strength of the 36-year old catcher has been apparent since his neck was broken in an automobile accident on January 28. Moreover, the sensation that had returned to the left side as low as the knee, has now receded to the groin.
In January 1958, just before he was due to report for spring training, Campanella was permanently disabled in a traffic accident. He had successfully invested in a liquor store in central Harlem, Roy Campanella Choice Wines and Liquors, earlier in his career and worked there in the offseason…The Chevy station wagon Campy normally drove was in the shop for repairs, and he was driving a much lighter rental car when he lost control of the vehicle on an icy street. He hit a telephone pole and the car flipped over, pinning him under the steering wheel. Roy’s neck was broken and his spinal cord was severely damaged, paralyzing him from the chest down. Read more SABR.org
“To play this game good, a lot of you has to be a little boy.” – Roy Campanella
It was a career started late due to the color of his skin, and ended early after a tragic auto accident.
In between, Roy Campanella blazed across the baseball landscape with 10 years of catching perfection. Read more Baseballhall.org
Here’s an ethnic baseball trivia question: Name the eight Italian Americans who have hit 40 or more home runs in a major league season? A couple of names come readily to mind; Joe DiMaggio and Rocky Colavito from the distant past, and more recently Mike Piazza and Jason Giambi. Rounding out the list are Jim Gentile, Rico Petrocelli, Ken Caminitti and perhaps the trick part of the question Roy Campanella. Read more Spitballmag.com