This annotated week in baseball history: Aug. 31-Sept. 5, 1945

When it comes to great moments, historic games and memorable plays, Richard will admit that Sept. 4 does not notably stand out. But that doesn’t mean the history of what took place on that isn’t worth hearing, especially if you appreciate the more unusual bits in baseball history.

If offered a chance to see all of the baseball history that took place on a certain day, there are some good choices. Oct. 16 features the final game of the 1962 and 1969 World Series, Aaron Boone‘s home run in the 2003 ALCS and the Red Sox rally from a 7-0 deficit in Game Five of last year’s ALCS.

July 4 is not only patriotic but a pretty good baseball day as well, featuring Lou Gehrig‘s luckiest man speech, a 15-inning duel between Lefty Grove and Herb Pennock, the largest crowd in minor league history (more than 65,000 in Denver) and Dave Righetti‘s no-hitter.

There are doubtless more choices, depending on one’s fondness for a particular team, a style of play or almost anything else. For a sheer weird selection of events, however, it is hard to top Sept 4. Its history starts in 1908, when the Cubs were defeated by the Pirates 1-0 in ten innings. After a walk-off hit, the Pirates’ Warren Gill heads for the clubhouse rather than touching second base.

The Cubs would lose their appeal on this play, hanging the loss on them, but Johnny Evers remembered the play, and, to Fred Merkle‘s infinite regret, it would work later in the season.

But not all history from the date is quite as historically relevant. Some of it is downright bizarre. For example, the Reds were playing the Dodgers in LA, and losing 2-1. At some point, reports vary, Reds’ shortstop (and future Mariners’ General Manager) Woody Woodward heard a tremendous thud about 10 feet behind him.

It turned out—and I promise I’m not making this up—that someone in a passing airplane had dropped a bag of flour (generally cited as weighing 10 pounds) on to the field. Woodward was understandably alarmed, but stayed in the game. The Dodgers and the FAA investigated the incident but the culprit was never found.

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Roberto Kelly, Giants’ coach and master of catcher interference (Icon/SMI)

For something equally strange, if in an entirely different way, we once again have the Reds as the visiting team, this time in Houston. The Astros’ Don Wilson was pitching a no-hitter through eight innings, albeit one he was losing 2-1 thanks to two walks and a really badly timed error by Roger Metzger.

So Wilson was down, but only by a run (the Astros had already gotten one back) and had a chance at retiring the Reds in the top of the ninth, followed by an Astros’ comeback to secure the no-hitter, But that chance would never come because Astros’ managed Preston Gomez lifted Wilson! It was a pinch-hitter, and this is true, but still a tough move on Gomez’ part.

Wilson was replaced by Mike Cosgrove, who did succeed in continuing the no-hitter, but the Astros failed to score in the ninth so the Reds managed to win a game without recording a hit, which is a pretty good trick in its own right.

For Gomez, this was actually the second time he had taken out a pitcher in the eighth inning of a no-hitter, he did it previously while managing in the Padres in 1970. Gomez finished his career with a miserable .395 winning percentage as a manager, but say this for the man, he wasn’t afraid of bold moves.

Catcher’s interference is one of the stranger plays in baseball. Most casual fans are only vaguely aware of the rule at all, and fans could probably go an entire season without seeing the play, as there are generally fewer than 30 in any given year.

(I’ve only seen one that I can remember, Aaron Boone reaching base on an interference by Einar Diaz.)

But for dedicated Yankee fans in 1992, the CI was a frequent notation in their scorebook. That season Roberto Kelly reached base eight times on catcher’s interference, a major league record. The previous record, which Kelly tied on Sept. 4 of 1992, was held by Dale Berra.

While it seems unlikely Kelly could manage a CI at will (he had just nine the rest of his career) in 1992 he did seem to time them well. Pitchers Kelly got his base on included Nolan Ryan, Dave Stewart, Jack Morris and Roger Clemens.

Kelly’s record likely seems safe for another year; the leader in CI this season is St. Louis’ Ryan Ludwick who has just three. The leader for the decade is Craig Counsell, with six in 2004. He could have challenged Kelly; he had six CI by early August, but failed to record another that season.

Finally, continuing the theme of Yankees-related weirdness, in 1945 the team found themselves being routed by the Tigers. Rather than turn—as the Red Sox recently did in a similar situation—to a position player. The Yankees inserted Paul Schreiber. Schreiber was 42 years old, hadn’t pitched in the majors since 1923, or thrown a pitch in anger since 1931.

But the Yankees knew he could get it over the plate, because he was their batting practice pitcher. Perhaps because of indifference by the Tigers, Schreiber threw three and a third scoreless innings.

The Yankees would try the trick again with less success later in the season—he allowed two runs in an inning—but Schreiber’s late career appearance created one of the stranger looking career statistics.

It is true that Sept. 4 lacks the drama inherent in other days. No hotly contested playoff games and the only real accomplishment is Jim Abbott’s 1993 no-hitter. (Though Robin Ventura also hit two grand slams in one game, which is neat.)

But for sheer weirdness, it is a tough day to match. Catcher inference, records falling, middle-aged batting practice pitchers taking the mound, and flying bags of flour are only some of the strangeness. It is true that given the chance to see all the baseball history of one day I would probably not pick this one. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a day worth noting.

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Comments

  1. Greg Simons said...

    Richard, in what years were the Reds’ occurrences?

    I always enjoy your articles, but today’s could have used some additional proofreading.

  2. Richard Barbieri said...

    Oops. The Flying Flour took place in 1971, perhaps not coincidentally, the last year of Woodward’s career.

  3. Bob Rittner said...

    “so the Reds managed to win a game without recording a hit, which is a pretty good trick in its own right.”

    An absolutely true statement, but it did happen at least one other time. On July 1, 1990, Andy Hawkins of the Yankees pitched a no-hitter but lost to Chicago 4-0.

    All 4 runs came in the bottom of the 8th inning with 2 outs. An error put a man on first followed by 2 walks and another error on an easy fly ball that allowed 3 runs to score. A sac fly followed to bring in the 4th run.

  4. Kahuna Tuna said...

    Two other strange Sept. 4 events:  Dorian Boyland’s first major-league AB (1978), a strikeout finished for him by Rennie Stennett; and Joel Horlen’s big-league debut (1961), in which he wore a White Sox uniform without a number.

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