Dave Parker’s remarkable 26 assists in 1977…and Roberto Clemente’s 27 in 1961

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn gave Dave Parker the All-Star Game MVP award in 1979 on the basis if two great throws.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn gave Dave Parker the All-Star Game MVP award in 1979 on the basis of two great throws.

In doing some research on Dave Parker, I realized he had an outstanding accomplishment in 1977 that has been pretty much ignored or forgotten. Playing right field for the Pirates that year, Parker had 26 assists — no major league outfielder has had that many in the almost 40 seasons since, and the last who had more was Parker’s Pittsburgh predecessor Roberto Clemente, who had 27 in 1961. (Clemente, in turn, had the most of anyone since Washington’s Stan Spence had 29 in 1944.) Dave Winfield, who finished second in the National League in assists in ’77, had “only” 15. Parker also took part in nine double plays in 1977; the only outfielder who has been involved in more since 1929 (!) was Del Unser, who was part of 10 double plays as a rookie with the Senators in 1968.

Parker had a well-earned reputation for having a superb arm, and while he never had anywhere near 26 assists or led the league in any other season (perhaps because his reputation made runners cautious), he ranked among the top three NL right fielders in assists for five straight years (1976-80) and burned his way into the national consciousness with two incredible throws in the 1979 All-Star Game at Seattle’s Kingdome that earned him the game’s Most Valuable Player honor.

Click the image below for a longer look at the throw to the plate he made…he threw it from deep right field, without a cutoff man, and Gary Carter caught it shoulder-high.

Using Retrosheet’s play-by-play and Baseball-Reference.com’s defensive game logs, I looked for the details of all 26 of Parker’s 1977 assists. Here’s some of what I found.

First a little context…outfield assists were notably more common in 1977 than they are today, perhaps because the increased use of statistical analysis has made teams more risk-averse on the bases. Even though there were only 26 teams in 1977, compared to 30 in 2014, there were 13.5% more outfield assists in 1977. On a per-inning basis, there were 32.5% more assists in 1977.

Dave Parker on the cover of The Sporting News, June 11, 1977

Dave Parker on the cover of The Sporting News, June 11, 1977

One of Parker’s 26 assists in 1977 was on a force out. I have no idea exactly how many outfielder-assisted force outs there are, but there can’t be many. Here’s how it happened for Dave. On April 23 at Shea Stadium, the Pirates took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Ed Kranepool led off with a single, to put the tying run on base, and Felix Millan ran for him. Paul L. Montgomery explained what happened after that in the next day’s New York Times: “John Stearns, the next batter, dropped a ball into right field in front of Parker but Millan, thinking the ball was catchable, held up and was forced at second by Parker’s strong throw.”

That was one of only three of Parker’s 26 assists that came while the Pirates were leading. I don’t know if that ratio would be similar to that for all outfield assists, but it leads me to think that baserunners were considerably less willing to take risks when behind, at least against someone like Parker.

Including the force out, Parker had 15 assists in which his was the only throw that led to the out. Those assists were remarkably well distributed around the bases: three at first base, four at second, four at third and four at the plate. Aside from the force out, the outs came when Parker:

  • doubled a runner off first after a fly out (3)
  • threw out a runner at second trying to stretch a single (3)
  • threw out a runner trying to advance from second to third on a fly out (2, both of them Montreal’s Chris Speier, on successive days, June 25 and 26)
  • threw out a runner trying to go from first to third on a single (2)
  • threw out a runner trying to score from third on a fly out (3)
  • threw out a runner trying to score from second on a single (1)

Eight of Parker’s nine double plays are included above. The ninth came in a game on August 20 against the Giants; the Retrosheet play-by-play wasn’t clear about what happened and actually contained an error when I found it, but I was able to get the full story from the Pittsburgh Press. With one out and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth, Willie McCovey hit a line drive to right field that Parker caught for an out. Parker then threw home, but Derrell Thomas — who had been thrown out by Parker while trying to score from second on a single in the second inning — held at third. However, catcher Duffy Dyer threw to second and doubled off Rob Andrews, who had not returned to the bag after Parker’s catch. Thus Parker was credited with an assist in the double play, but his throw did not lead directly to the second out.

Parker had 10 other assists in which his throw did not lead directly to the out, with either a relay or cutoff man involved. Here’s how they happened:

  • three times Parker tried to get a runner going from first to third on a single; the runner at third was safe, but the third baseman threw to retire the batter trying to advance to second (one was scored 9-5-6 and the other two went 9-5-4)
  • twice a cutoff man was involved in retiring a runner trying to go from first to third on a single (one was 9-3-5 when the throw was apparently going home and the other was 9-6-1; yeah, that scoring looks weird, but I can’t find the details)
  • Parker tried to get a runner attempting to score from second on a single but the throw was cut off and the batter was retired trying to advance to second (9-3-6-3)
  • a relay man was involved in retiring a batter at third base trying to stretch a double (9-4-5)
  • Parker’s throw home on a bases-loaded single was cut off; eventually the runner who started on second was retired (9-3-6-2-5, haven’t been able to find more details)
  • Parker’s throw to third apparently beat a batter trying to stretch a double, the batter was retired when the third baseman threw back to second (9-5-6)
  • Parker’s throw home apparently beat a runner trying to score from second on a single, but the runner was retired in a rundown (9-2-5-1)

Only four of Parker’s assists accounted for the first out of the inning. Ten were the second out and 12 ended the inning. By inning, the most assists came in the first, 6 of them. Other assists by inning: second (4), third (1), fourth (5), sixth (4), seventh (2), eighth (2), ninth (1, the force out) and tenth (1. retiring the batter trying to stretch the single that had just scored the go-ahead run). Parker had no assists in the fifth inning.

My question is, how much good did Parker’s assists do for the Pirates? In the 24 games in which he had an assist (including two games in which he had two), the Pirates went 10-14 for a .417 winning percentage (and they lost both the games in which he had two assists). In their other games in 1977 the Pirates went 86-52 for a .623 percentage. Granted most of Parker’s assists came when the Pirates were already behind. But in the five games in which Parker had an assist with the score tied, they went 3-2, pretty much exactly what their winning percentage was in other games. And in the three games in which the Pirates were leading when Parker recorded an assist, they went on to lose one of them.

The Pirates did rally to win five games they were trailing when Parker got an assist, and surely the outs he contributed played a role in that.

ADDED 8/10/15: Let’s take the same close look at Roberto Clemente’s 27 assists in 1961, the most for any major league outfielder in (as this was written) 71 years. Clemente did this in the last season with a 154-game schedule, as the National League still had just eight teams, and he played the field in only 145 of them. (By the way, outfield assists per inning were almost 4% more common in 1961 than in 1977.) Clemente had assists in four straight games (June 1-4), six assists in an eight-game stretch (May 30-June 6) and two assists in a single inning (the third inning on Sept. 4)!

As was the case with Parker in 1977, Clemente had one assist on a force out in ’61. It happened May 13, in the top of the second, after Cincinnati’s Gordy Coleman led off the inning with a walk. “Coleman held up at first on Bob Schmidt’s drive to short right,” according to the next day’s Pittsburgh Press, “and Clemente’s throw to Dick Groat forced Gordie.” (See photo cutline below.)

Clemente forceClemente also had two assists that didn’t result in an out because of an error. The first came on June 6. In the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers’ Tommy Davis singled and Wally Moon advanced from first to third; Clemente threw to first base, after Davis had rounded the bag (Roberto was fond of throwing behind runners to catch them by surprise, as we’ll see), but first baseman Dick Stuart dropped the ball when trying to tag Davis. The second came on July 9 at Milwaukee. In the bottom of the first, with Frank Bolling on first, Eddie Mathews singled; Clemente threw to second base, and when he did, Bolling was sent home. Dick Groat took Clemente’s throw and threw to the plate in time to retire Bolling, but catcher Smoky Burgess dropped the ball. (Groat’s assist doesn’t appear in the Retrosheet play-by-play but is part of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story.)

Roberto Clemente's 1961 Topps card ("Roberto" was just a little too exotic for America then, I guess)

Roberto Clemente’s 1961 Topps card (“Roberto” was just a little too exotic for America then, I guess)

Including the assist on June 6, Clemente had 17 throws that led directly to retiring the runner (or should have), without another throw involved. His assists weren’t as evenly distributed on the bases as Parker’s were, with six at first base, six and second, two at third and three at home. Aside from the force out at second base, here are the other 16:

  • threw behind the runner at first base to retire him after a single (4, including the error)
  • doubled runner off first after a fly out (2)
  • retired runner at second trying to stretch a single (5)
  • retired runner trying to go from first to third on a single (2, on consecutive days Sept. 3-4)
  • retired runner trying to score from second on a single (2)
  • retired runner trying to score on a fly ball (1, which came during Clemente’s only appearance in center field and came in the ninth inning of a game in which the Pirates were trailing 10-0)

Clemente had 10 other assists in which another throw retired the runner. One of them was the dropped ball at home against Milwaukee. Here are the other nine:

  • on a fly out to right with runners on first and second, Clemente’s throw to third did not catch the runner advancing, but the third baseman threw to retire the runner trying to advance from first (9-5-4)
  • Clemente’s throw to second was too late to retire a batter who had hit a double with a man on first, but the shortstop threw to third base to catch the runner who had gone too far around third and tried to get back (9-6-5)
  • on a sacrifice fly with runners on first and third, the runner on first was retired trying to advance to second (9-3-6, I can’t find an account that tells me whether the first baseman took the throw on the bag or if he cut off a throw going home)
  • the relay man threw out a runner trying to score from first on a double (9-4-2)
  • Clemente’s throw home was too late to retire a runner who scored from second, but the catcher then threw to retire the batter who had rounded first (9-2-6-3)
  • on a single with men on first and second, Clemente’s throw home was cut off and the batter was retired in a rundown between first and second (9-3-6-4-3)
  • Clemente threw to first base after a single and the first baseman threw to retire the batter trying for second (9-3-6)
  • Clemente threw to second base after a single and the batter, who had rounded first thinking the throw was going to third, was caught trying to get back to first (9-4-3)
  • on a single with a man on first, Clemente’s throw to third was too late to retire the runner, but the batter was retired trying to take second (9-5-3-4)

Nine of Clemente’s 27 assists made the first out of the inning, 11 made the second and 7 made the third. (I included the would-have-been outs for the dropped throws.) He had the most assists in the fifth inning, 7 of them; others came in the first (4), second (3), third (3), fourth (4), sixth (2), seventh (1), eighth (2) and ninth (1), 21 of the 27 assists came in the first five innings.

Nine of Clemente’s assists came with one team leading by four runs or more. That was also true for seven of Dave Parker’s assists. I wouldn’t have guessed there would be that many in relatively one-sided games.

It doesn’t appear that, as a whole, Clemente’s assists did any more to help his team than Parker’s did. In the 23 games in which he had at least one assist that resulted in an out (he had two assists in two games), the Pirates were 9-14 (and lost both games in which he had two assists), while they had a winning record (66-65) in other games. Only twice did the Pirates win a game they were trailing when Clemente got an assist. They won all five games in which they were leading when Clemente got an assist, but in four of those games they were already ahead by at least three runs. It’s true that Clemente’s assist was crucial in the other win, in the second game of a doubleheader on August 8. Clemente threw out Tony Gonzalez trying to score from second on a single for the third out of the sixth inning; had Gonzalez scored, the game would have been tied and the Phillies would have had two men on base. The Pirates went on to win by just one run.

The 1961 Pirates had a 2-6 record in games that were tied when Clemente got an assist (one of those wins being the game in which he got a force out), considerably worse than their overall record, although again he may have played a key role in one of those wins. He threw out Daryl Spencer trying to score (with a relay from Dick Groat) in the second inning of a game on May 17 the Pirates went on to win by one run.

Small sample sizes abound here, so I should be loath to draw any Big Conclusions, but I was surprised to find out how many of these assists came in games in which the team on the bases was already ahead, and I really wasn’t aware how much less common outfield assists are in the modern day.

The major league baseball games that were played while Apollo 11 landed on the moon

This post is adapted from an earlier one I wrote.

NY Times moon frontThe first moon landing was on Sunday, July 20, 1969. Apollo 11’s lunar module touched down at 4:17 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, and Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon’s surface at 10:56 p.m.

I was 11 years old, and the quest to put humans on the moon had been going literally as long as I could remember. It finally happened that day, one of the greatest accomplishments of human history, and it was covered live on all the television networks.

I was glued to the TV that day and night. Who wouldn’t be?

Well, about 200,000 people decided to go to a major league baseball game that day and heard about the historic event at the ballpark.

There was a full schedule of major league games that Sunday, the last day before the All-Star break. Games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were rained out. Eight of the ten teams that hosted games the day of the moon landing, all but Atlanta and Seattle, exceeded their average attendance for the season, most of them by a considerable amount. Of course, a typical Sunday would see higher-than-season-average attendance, but a typical Sunday doesn’t also feature MEN LANDING ON THE MOON FOR THE FIRST TIME. ON LIVE TV.

Game Game time (EDT) Attendance Season average
Detroit at Cleveland (DH) 1:00 13,512 8,611
Cubs at Philadelphia (DH) 1:05 12,393 7,316
Mets at Montreal (DH) 1:35 27,356 16,842
San Diego at Atlanta 1:35 12,282 19,707
Washington at Yankees 2:00 32,933 15,940
Baltimore at Boston 2:00 31,174 25,113
Kansas City at White Sox (DH) 2:15 12,691 6,553
Los Angeles at San Francisco 4:00 32,560 11,805
Oakland at Anaheim (DH) 4:00 17,835 9,849
Minnesota at Seattle 5:00 8,287 9,161

The average attendance I’ve listed for the White Sox is the average for their games in Chicago; they played 11 home games in Milwaukee that year.

The lunar landing took place while eight of the day’s games were in progress. I’ve read at least one first-person newspaper account of every game. Here’s what happened. (I should point out Larry Granillo covered some of this material in a post he did on the 40th anniversary of the landing that was reposted on BaseballProspectus.com after Armstrong’s death in 2012.)

A more typical morning-after front page

A more typical morning-after front page

Cleveland: While the Indians exceeded their average attendance, the figure was a disappointment, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Russell Schneider wrote the next day:

When the schedule was drawn up last winter, it seemed like yesterday would be the prime date of the summer for the Indians — a double header against the World Champion Tigers. But that was before (1) the Tribe’s collapse, (2) the Baltimore Orioles’ surge, (3) the moon landing and (4) heavy rains yesterday morning. Consequently, with many fans staying away to watch the astronauts on TV and because of the rain, instead of an anticipated 40,000 crowd, only 13,512 fans showed up…

Alas, Russ didn’t tell us how the news of the moon landing was broken to those who did show up, although he did manage to work the landing into his game story: “It was almost as difficult for the Indians to reach the plate as it was for Apollo 11 to reach the moon yesterday.” (Hey, the Indians scored seven runs in the two games…that doesn’t exactly sound like a 250,000-mile trip around the bases to me.)

I don’t have access to the Detroit newspapers or the Akron Beacon Journal, maybe one of their writers had details on how the landing was acknowledged during the game. If you can help, please let me know in the comments section below.

ADDED 7/22/15: Many thanks to SABR member Dennis VanLangren, who directed me to a game story in the Sandusky (Ohio) Register. Marc Katz reported Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon “five seconds” after Tony Horton struck out to end the first game of the doubleheader, although Katz did not report how the landing was announced to the crowd. He also said the Indians “listened to the space happening in the dressing room between games.”

Philadelphia: Bus Saidt tells the story in the next day’s Trenton (N.J.) Evening Times:

At 4:20 yesterday afternoon [this would be right after the Cubs batted in the top of the third in the second game of the doubleheader, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune], Phillies’ PA announcer Eddie Ferenz asked for the Connie Mack Stadium crowd’s attention, then informed one and all that the United States of America had landed a man on the moon.

Immediately, members of both the Chicago Cubs and Phillies lined up along the baselines, there was a moment of silent prayer for the continue safety of our gallant astronauts and for the further success of their mission.

Then the crowd let out a yell and joined in the singing of “God Bless America” with Kate Smith.

Of course the record didn’t play properly, the record playing-system sounded like you would expect of one which first was used right after Tom Edison invented the phonograph, but there was no disguising the genuine emotion generated by the historic moment.

It was the best play the Phillies made all day. [The Phils were swept in the doubleheader, scoring just one run in the process.]

Almost five months later, the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League used Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” in place of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a game, beginning a longtime tradition.

An Associated Press photo taken during the celebration appeared in a number of newspapers the next day; this was in the Omaha World-Herald (note the cutline incorrectly places the ceremony between games of the doubleheader): Phillies Cubs Montreal: The Mets and Expos had finished the first game of the doubleheader before Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon but took an extra-long break between games, pausing from 3:55 until 4:30 p.m. Eastern time so fans could listen to broadcast coverage of the landing over the public address system.

Atlanta storyAtlanta: The brief item at left in the Atlanta Constitution says the game was “halted momentarily in the seventh inning” to observe the landing (it doesn’t say who was at bat or even which half of the inning it was). Wayne Minshew reports the crowd “was asked to say a silent prayer for the astronauts who manned Apollo 11. Organist Bob Fountain played ‘God Bless America’ following the silent prayer, then the game was resumed.”

New York: Arming thousands of prepubescent boys with clubs may not sound like a great idea in the 21st Century, but in the 1960s it was good clean fun. And it had a name: Bat Day, which was annually one of the most popular promotions at Yankee Stadium (Hard Liquor and Handgun Night had not yet been invented). As a result the Yankees had a sizable crowd on hand for their game against the Washington Senators, including 17,000 youngsters with bats. (By the way, there was an actual academic research paper that found the Yankees’ 1990 Bat Day “did not increase the incidence of bat-related trauma in the Bronx and northern Manhattan.”)

Never been to a Bat Day? This is what one looks like.

Never been to a Bat Day? This is what one looks like.

The moon landing took place in the top of the eighth inning, and Leonard Koppett described what happened next in the next day’s New York Times:

Ken McMullen, the Washington third baseman, was batting against Jack Aker, with men on first and third and nobody out. The count on him had just gone to one ball, two strikes.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,” came the voice of Bob Shepard, the public address announcer.

The umpires, according to prior arrangements, waved their arms and stopped play.

“You will be happy to know,” Shepard continued, “that the Apollo 11 has landed safely…”

And a tremendous cheer drowned out the words “on the moon.”

The cheering continued for about 45 seconds. On the scoreboard, the message section read “They’re on the moon.” People stood. They waved the bats back and forth. Shepard kept talking, but his words could not be made out through the din.

On the field, the players seemed confused, or impatient. Most did not turn toward the scoreboard. Finally, the announcer could be understood, and he asked the crowd for a moment of silent prayer for the safe return of the astronauts.

The crowd stilled. After a few seconds of silence, a recording of “America the Beautiful,” sung by a chorus, blared through the loudspeakers. At the end of the song, another mighty cheer arose, just like the one that usually greets the completion of the National Anthem before a game.

The game resumed at 4:21 P.M.

The Times also included a photo taken when the landing was announced: Yankee moon landingBoston: Jack Clary had detailed reporting of the event in the next day’s Boston Herald-Traveler. It started with the pregame playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

The crowd stood for a couple of moments of silent prayer before the game before an all-out effort in singing the National Anthem. “I even sang I was so proud,” [Reggie] Smith said, “and I generally just listen.”

Herald-TravelerClary went on to describe how the news of the landing was broken to the crowd:

Reggie Smith…had just ended the Red Sox half of the seventh inning by forcing Carl Yastrzemski at second base when Mission Control in Houston heard from the moon: “This is base Tranquility. The Eagle has landed.” [Of course, what Neil Armstrong actually said was, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”]

Two minutes later, public address announcer Sherm Feller told the Fenway Park customers and they began an ovation that lasted 57 seconds. The huge throng stood for the last 35 seconds of that salute while organist John Kiley played a nameless tune — “just something dramatic to fit the occasion.”

…Portable radios were in evidence throughout the afternoon and even before the landing was announced over the PA system, a great murmur had begun to swell in the grandstands.

“I didn’t think they were cheering my force out,” Smith said with a grin after the game.

Clary then put the events of the bottom of the seventh inning on the same timeline as the descent to the moon.

[Syd] O’Brien led off the seventh and Houston’s Mission Control reported the Lunar Module 920 feet above the moon’s surface….Aldrin and Armstrong flew past their landing site in a “football field-like crater” and were just 220 feet away as [Mike Andrews] lashed a single to left….Man was just 100 feet away from the first landing on the moon when Yaz forced Andrews…Reggie stepped to the plate as the Eagle began its final few feet of descent.

For Reggie Smith, the moon landing had extra significance, as described in a Herald-Traveler sidebar to the game story:

His brother Lonny worked at MIT as a bacteriologist on that phase of the Apollo program and now has returned to California where he is engaged on research in rocket fuels.

One of the Red Sox center fielder’s best friends, Willard Barnes, also worked at MIT on the lunar orbit phase as part of a North American Rockwell team that was acutely engaged in the computer phase of the flight’s orbit around the moon.

I’d love to know a little more about Lonny (or Lonnie) Smith and Willard Barnes but have not been able to find anything. If you can provide any information, please leave it in the comments.

Chicago: Richard Dozer started his Chicago Tribune game story with the moon landing:

Comiskey Park’s exploding scoreboard must have given Walter Williams a fright when it belched sparks and noise to salute his infield single in the seventh inning of yesterday’s first game between the White Sox and Kansas City Royals.

Actually, it had been synchronized to the moment of the moon landing, and Walter, who seems to be in the right place at the right time, at least as often as any of his teammates, was merely doing his part to trigger a two-run rally against the Royals.

The White Sox went on to lose both games of the doubleheader. Dozer had no other details of how the moon landing was observed at the ballpark, but the Tribune did include this photo: White SoxSan Francisco: I’ve read four different accounts of this game (in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner and the Los Angeles Times and Herald-Examiner), none of which offer any real detail about how the news of the landing was announced. A story in the news section of the Examiner, about what was going on around the city at the time of the landing, included this: “Out at Candlestick Park a crowd of 32,500 watching the Giants-Dodgers game let out a huge roar when the moon landing was announced over the public address system.” The only mention of the landing in Bob Stevens’ game story in the Chronicle was that the crowd was “remarkably large in light of the Apollo 11 moon landing.” (It was the Giants’ largest crowd of the season to that point and would wind up being their second-largest of the year.) Bob Hunter, in his Herald-Examiner game story, noted Dodger third baseman Bill Sudakis walked to load the bases in the top of the first inning “at the exact moment when the astronauts landed.”

But this game is the most famous of the games that were played that day, because it featured Gaylord Perry’s first major league home run, in his eighth season. (He would hit five more before retiring in 1983.) Associated Press baseball writer Hal Bock led his roundup of the day’s National League games with this:

The way Gaylord Perry swings a bat, he stands as much chance of hitting a home run as…oh…as a man does of walking on the moon.

Well, Perry and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin made it together Sunday. The San Francisco right-hander tagged his first career homer and pitched the Giants to a 7-3 victory over Los Angeles, tightening up the National League’s West Division race while the astronauts took a moon stroll that tightened up the universe.

Here’s the headline the Greensboro (N.C.) Record put on Bock’s story: Gaylord PerryAnd in the Baton Rouge (La.) State-Times: Gaylord Perry 2But Bock’s is not the story that became famous. The one that did was told by Pat Frizzell in The Sporting News issue of August 9, 1969:

[Perry’s home run] recalled to Harry Jupiter, formerly of the San Francisco Examiner, that back in 1962 he watched Perry in batting practice one day and remarked to Alvin Dark, then Giant manager, that Gaylord might be a hitter.

“No way,” scoffed Dark. “We’ll have a man on the moon before he hits a home run.”

So, just 25 minutes after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, Gaylord whacked his first big league homer.

There’s no evidence Jupiter, or anyone else, had this anecdote in print before the moon landing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Both Perry and Dark told the story often over the years since.

Anaheim: Here’s the headline on the game story in the next day’s Los Angeles Times: AngelsFrom Mitch Chortkoff’s story:

The Angels divided a doubleheader with the Oakland Athletics Sunday on an afternoon when baseball was minimized by the major news event of the day.

The opening game was 17 minutes old, and Oakland’s Rick Monday was at bat in the second inning when the contest was halted, and the following words were flashed on the message board in left field:

“We have landed on the moon.”

The Ball Day crowd of 17,835 cheered its approval, and then the game resumed.

…The second game ended five minutes before Apollo 11 astronauts began preparations for their unprecedented walk on the moon. In anticipation of the event, however, all but about 3,000 spectators departed the ballpark before the second game ended.

The A’s starting pitcher in the first game was 19-year-old Vida Blue, making his first appearance in the major leagues. He was the only player to debut in the big leagues the day of the moon landing.

SeattleSeattle: Play didn’t begin in Seattle until about 45 minutes after the moon landing. Hy Zimmerman doesn’t include a mention of what happened at the time of the landing in his Seattle Times game story, his only allusion to the events of the day being that the crowd of 8,287 — the smallest at the day’s major league games — was “presumably held to that number by the moon landing and pregame showers.” But an Associated Press roundup of what was happening at various places in America at the time of the landing included this:

…pregame ceremonies before an American League baseball game between the hometown Pilots and the Minnesota Twins were interrupted by an announcement of the moon landing. The fans cheered, stood up and sang “America the Beautiful.”

(That’s “America the Beautiful” 2, “God Bless America” 2 for those keeping score.)

Alas, Seattle pitcher Jim Bouton didn’t include any mention of the moon landing in his entry for the day in his published diary of the 1969 season, “Ball Four,” but Jim was preoccupied by the tough outing he had on the mound that day in the Pilots’ loss.

The Pilots actually lost two games that day. The previous night’s game was suspended in the 16th inning, tied 7-7, because of the American League’s 1 a.m. curfew and was resumed before Sunday’s scheduled game began. It turned out to be a big day for Twins pitcher Jim Perry, Gaylord’s older brother. Perry finished the suspended game, pitching two shutout innings and scoring the winning run after an 18th-inning double, then shut out the Pilots in the scheduled game to earn his second victory of the day.

An ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the morning after the landing

An ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the morning after the landing

The biggest crowd at any ballpark on the day of the first landing on the moon was not there to see a baseball game. The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner reported 81,032 people were at Dodger Stadium for an afternoon address by the president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower Society. He predicted Armageddon would take place in the mid-1970s, although church officials admitted they weren’t quite as sure of that as they had been when they forecast Armageddon would occur in 1925.

(My earlier post adds information about some of the minor league games that were played that day and night, including a story involving baseball clown Max Patkin that made it into his autobiography and obituary.)

From “aw, rats” to redemption: Miss Bloomington sings the National Anthem at two ballparks in 1976

This isn’t the first blog post I’ve written based on something I found out about listening to an old radio broadcast. This time I was listening to the WJR Radio broadcast of the Tigers-Angels game of August 17, 1976. As the Tigers came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning, Ernie Harwell passed along this news:

We’ve got a bulletin here on our Western Union ticker, we want to give it to you just as it came in to us. It says, “Tonight is Bloomington Night at the Met.” That’s in Bloomington, Minnesota. [The Minnesota Twins played their home games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, commonly referred to as Met Stadium or the Met.] “In honor of the occasion, Miss Bloomington led the multitudes in the National Anthem. Three-quarters of the way through she lost her place, said, ‘Oh, rats,’ and walked off the field.”

Harwell’s broadcast partner Paul Carey responded with a hearty laugh. Seconds later, Tiger catcher Bruce Kimm hit the only home run he would ever hit in the major leagues to break a 2-2 tie, and Detroit’s rookie pitching sensation Mark Fidrych would go on to defeat the Angels 3-2.

Met StadiumAs soon as I heard Ernie share this story I knew I had to find out more about what happened that night, and what happened to that singer. Especially since this happened in Minnesota; two weeks after this game was played I arrived in Minnesota to start college and I would stay there (Minnesota, not college) for most of the next 30 years; I skipped a few classes to take in a Twins game at the Met.

Little did I know when I started chasing details of this story that there would be a second part to it. Nor did I know I would have a delightful conversation with a woman who can still laugh about this almost 40 years later.

* * * * *

From the Aberdeen (S.D.) American-News of Aug. 18, 1976

From the Aberdeen (S.D.) American-News of Aug. 18, 1976

Her name was misspelled in the first news stories as Stephany Nielsen; she was actually Stephanie Nilson, a 19-year-old graduate of Bloomington Jefferson High School who was about to enter her sophomore year at the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University), an all-women’s college in St. Paul (a fine school from which my wife graduated). Being Miss Bloomington may not have been enough to earn her the honor of singing the anthem on Bloomington Night, but she was an accomplished singer, majoring in voice at St. Kate’s with plans to become a professional opera singer.

StephanieStephanie sang the anthem without accompaniment and was disconcerted by the delayed echo of her voice coming over the loudspeakers. After she sang “Gave proof through the night,” she got confused about where she was in the song and stopped, then after a few seconds threw up her hands and said, “Aw, rats” (or as the Minneapolis Tribune perhaps more accurately recorded it, “Aaaaw rats!”).

“She smiled graciously, bowed, and a sympathetic audience applauded,” according to an Associated Press report. (The official attendance that night was 7,850. By the way, other AP stories said she got through the line “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave” before giving up, but that is incorrect.)

But Stephanie didn’t run and hide in shame…she went back to her seat near the Twins dugout, where she watched the Twins lose to the Orioles, 10-3. (Patrick Reusse, now a Minneapolis StarTribune sports columnist but then the Twins beat writer for the St. Paul Dispatch, led his game story with Stephanie’s anthem breakdown, then added, “After that, things deteriorated as far as the Twins were concerned.”)

From an Associated Press story:

Miss Nielsen told a reporter the two-second delay caused by the echo “threw me off. But I wasn’t nervous. I was enjoying it, but that echo made it difficult.

“I could feel everybody in the audience laughing. But I didn’t feel they were laughing at me. They were laughing with me.”

Stephanie’s boyfriend, Jim Moen, told the reporter, “She blew it at her opening night at the Met” (playing on the fact that the stadium shared a nickname with New York’s famed Metropolitan Opera, for whom Stephanie no doubt would have loved to sing).

“At first I suppose I was embarrassed,” she told another reporter the next day. “But it’s only human and it happens to everybody. I guess I’m just a clown at heart. I’m glad the audience reacted the way they did. That really helped.”

The wire-service account of Stephanie’s misadventure made it into many of the nation’s newspapers in the days to come and gave headline writers something to play with:

From the St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 18, 1976

From the St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 18, 1976

From the Miami News, Aug. 19, 1976

From the Miami News, Aug. 19, 1976

From the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, Aug. 19, 1976

From the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, Aug. 19, 1976

From the Peoria (Ill.) State Journal-Register, Aug. 20, 1976

From the Peoria (Ill.) State Journal-Register, Aug. 20, 1976

Futire media mogul Ted Turner participated in many of his promotions in his first year as owner of the Atlanta Braves in 1976.

Future international media mogul Ted Turner participated in many of his promotions in his first year as owner of the Atlanta Braves in 1976.

One of the people who read Stephanie’s story was Ted Turner, then in his first season as owner of the Atlanta Braves. Among the reasons Turner was able to buy the team in the first place was that attendance had been pathetically low, and Turner vowed to increase the number of paying customers by staging as many crazy promotions as possible: motorized-bathtub races, mattress-stacking contests, a tightrope walk across the top of the stadium by daredevil Karl Wallenda, ostrich racing, “Headlock and Wedlock Day” (weddings at home plate before the game, professional wrestling on the field afterwards).

When Turner heard about Stephanie Nilson, he decided to make her part of the show at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and invited her to take another shot at singing the anthem the next week, on August 23. “I’m glad to do it again, but I hope I don’t blow it,” Stephanie told a reporter after accepting Turner’s offer.

Stephanie succeedsThis time Stephanie took the field holding a card with the lyrics written on it. (“Someone suggested it,” she told a reporter. “It’s easy to get lost under pressure like that.”) But she didn’t need to look at it as she got through the anthem without incident. “She received generous applause for her flawless performance and waved to the crowd,” the Associated Press reported. As was the case with her bungled performance, the encore received significant national media attention.

Ted Turner doubled up on promotions that night…in addition to featuring the singing beauty queen, he staged a pregame “Baseball Olympics” in which one of the events saw Turner and Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw compete to see who could push a baseball from third base to home plate the fastest using their nose. Yeah, that got some attention…

Tug McGrawTed Turner pushingAnd with that Stephanie Nilson’s 15 minutes of fame came to an end (although she was mentioned in a January 1977 Sports Illustrated story about difficulties singing the national anthem before sporting events). So what happened to her after that?

* * * * *

Stephanie todayThe alumni office at St. Catherine University was kind enough to get me in touch with Stephanie, who is now Stephanie Askew and, along with her husband, owns an art gallery in Redstone, Colorado. (Jim Moen, the boyfriend who made the crack about Stephanie blowing her opening night at the Met? Stephanie married him after she graduated from St. Kate’s in 1979, but they divorced.) Stephanie’s watercolor paintings are on display at the gallery.

She has also had a long career as a professional singer, which continues today. Walking off the Met Stadium field without finishing the national anthem didn’t leave any emotional scars. Here’s part of the phone conversation we had.

Me: Had you ever sung the national anthem at an event before that Twins game?

Stephanie: Yes, but never where I had the echo from across the field. I wasn’t ready for that. Nobody told me about the echo.

Me: When did you realize things were going wrong?

Stephanie: Right away. (laughs) I thought, oh my gosh, this is tricky, I’m going to have to really concentrate. I reached that point where I couldn’t think of where I was as it was coming out of my mouth, and I just totally lost it. What I did, throwing my hands up in the air and saying “oh, rats” was, thankfully, instinctively correct. I could have said other things, but I wasn’t a cusser, so I’m thankful that didn’t come out.

Me: That’s one of the things I love about this story. “Oh, rats” is such a Minnesota response.

Stephanie: (laughs) Yeah. Exactly.

I remember Tony Oliva was the first one to reach me. Two guys came bolting from the dugout, and one of them was Tony, and he grabbed me and swung me around – I’m wearing a dress – and he’s hugging me, thinking I am the funniest thing. Maybe he ran out to give me some moral support, too. They carried me back and it was hilarious.

Me: That’s another thing I love…you didn’t go hide, you stayed and watched the game and talked to a reporter.

“Aw, rats.” (opens envelope) “What are the last words of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’?” (Okay, I don’t know if that’s how Johnny talked about Stephanie Nilson, but he could have…)

Stephanie: I was so embarrassed, but we were laughing about the whole thing. My boyfriend was the one who said I blew my debut at the Met, that was his little tidbit immediately, and I thought, that’s pretty funny. “Opera singer blows her debut at the Met.” How clever is that? I have a funny sense of humor, so we just laughed about the whole thing. I was just amazed by all the press and the stories. Johnny Carson talked about me on his show.

Me: I also love that you didn’t let this experience scar you.

Stephanie: (laughs) Because I have a sick sense of humor. I can laugh at myself, that’s the best part. Things happen. Fortunately everybody else laughed with me. When I stood there and threw my hands up in the air and said “oh, rats,” the sound of the roar of laughter, I’ll never forget that.

Me: How did you find out about Atlanta?

Forgetful singerStephanie: My chaperone [with the Miss Bloomington pageant] called and said, guess what, you’ve just been invited to go to Atlanta, three days, all expenses paid, and meet Ted Turner, he wants to give you another chance. And I’m like, are you kidding me? He said, “And we ARE going.” We are? We’re going? I’m so embarrassed, you’re going to make me go? And he said, “You’re going.”

A photo from Stephanie's personal collection, in Atlanta with her Miss Bloomington chaperones, Todd and Barb Peterson

A photo from Stephanie’s personal collection, in Atlanta with her Miss Bloomington chaperones, Todd and Barb Peterson

Stephanie singing in Atlanta, from her personal collection

Stephanie singing in Atlanta, from her personal collection

We had the best time, I enjoyed it. I have pictures of Ted Turner, standing right next to me in a group. There’s a funny one, I always think I’m going to have it blown up, I could blackmail him. He was saying something to me so his head was turned to me, he was taller so he was looking down, and it looks like he’s looking right down my dress.

Me: I wouldn’t put it past him.

Stephanie: It was a classic. Now I look back and go, wow, I was with Ted Turner.

A photo of the scoreboard in Atlanta from Stephanie's personal collection

A photo of the scoreboard in Atlanta from Stephanie’s personal collection

From the Greensboro (N.C.) Daily News, Aug. 25, 1976

From the Greensboro (N.C.) Daily News, Aug. 25, 1976

Fortunately they didn’t have an echo problem [at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium]. The speakers were wonderful. They had a huge scoreboard, and when I was singing, there was my name in lights, “Stephanie Nilson sings again,” and I thought, this is hilarious. What a silly thing! If I’d sung it correctly [in Minnesota] nobody would have cared, but because I made a mistake… Everybody loves the underdog.

The Twins gave me another chance shortly after I returned from Atlanta. That time it was perfect.

Me: The echo didn’t bother you?

Stephanie: I kind of just put it out of my head. I had my cue card; I didn’t have to use it, but I was ready. [Stephanie doesn’t remember the date of this game; I’d love to find out.]

A plaque at the Mall of America marks where home plate stood at Metropolitan Stadium

A plaque at the Mall of America marks where home plate stood at Metropolitan Stadium

In later years, when I would go to visit my family in Minnesota, I would take my children to the Mall of America [built on the site of Met Stadium], where they have home plate from the Met, and we go and stand on home plate and take pictures because they know that’s my claim to fame. We stand there and we all laugh. They laugh at Mommy. The house that my parents first rented when we moved to Bloomington when I was three years old had to be torn down to build the Mall of America.

Me: How did you get started singing?

Stephanie: For some reason in elementary school they always pulled me out to do any of the little singing parts because they said I had a really pretty voice. In middle school my music teacher knew I had more of an operatic voice so he selected the operetta “Naughty Marietta” for us to do. I was the lead role, and I got really hooked, I just loved classical music and the opera.

In college my voice teacher was Marguerite Gignac Hedges; she got me scholarships and took me under her wing. I had a lesson with her every day of the week, and she didn’t do that for all her students. Every day I went in for 30 minutes and we did exercises. She was so wonderful to me. She wanted me to go to Europe to study, so we found a program and I spent a whole year in Europe, 12 months in Vienna and Germany, in ’77 and ’78. That was the highlight of my life, and I really learned so much.

When I graduated I moved to Texas and I taught voice lessons and I joined some operatic groups there. I sang opera in Dallas for years. I also did commercial jingles and I was always doing some type of music in my church. And then I got to sing with big bands. There is a group called New Horizons for people 50 years of age and older. In Dallas they had a big concert band and also had a 20-piece jazz band. When I was 50 I found out about this group; I auditioned and they grabbed me, and I sang with them for eight years. We would tour throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, retirement communities, senior centers, nursing homes, veterans’ hospitals, private parties. I sang all of the great tunes from the ‘30s and ‘40s; my God, I was in heaven! [Here’s Stephanie singing with the band. Oh heck, here’s another.]

Mascot

A photo from Atlanta from Stephanie’s personal collection. I’m guessing that guy had just landed and said, “Take me to your leader,” and Stephanie was the closest person around wearing a crown.

I didn’t think I would have a place to sing here when I moved here three years ago [Redstone‘s population is only about 100], and now I have so much singing stuff going on I can hardly make time for my job. I get to sing opera here! There is a group in Glenwood Springs that has a big band and a orchestra, so now I’m performing opera with the orchestra and I do my big band music with this amazing band. My husband gets to play drums with the band, too, so that’s kind of fun. We have a girl group, three of us we call the Redstone Rubies, and we do three-part harmonies and dress up in full costumes and wigs and do the Supremes and country-western and the ‘60s, it’s just hysterical. We do two concerts a month in front of our gallery.

I’ve been so fortunate my whole life. I turn 59 in September and I’m still singing opera. What is so exciting is my voice teacher from St. Kate’s, she’s 86 years old and she summers in Aspen which is 50 minutes away, so I still get to see her. Last summer I was doing a classical recital and she coached me for three weeks, we prepared my concert. Here she is at 86 and she’s helping me still. Isn’t that cool?

That funny baseball thing that happened was just such a fluke, it’s such a funny story. I actually am singing the national anthem with my Redstone Rubies here on the Fourth of July and I shared that story with them a few weeks ago, and they just rolled with laughter. If you can make people laugh, that’s a good thing. I’ve had an extremely joyful life with music.

Thanks to my friend Brendan Henehan of Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac” for finding and sharing with me several Minneapolis and St. Paul newspaper items about Stephanie.

Did Max Patkin perform for a crowd of four people…and other things that happened in baseball the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon

The Clown PrinceApparently Max Patkin, the minor league pitcher turned baseball clown, told this story many times over the years. When Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call reporter John Kunda asked Patkin in 1990 what was the smallest crowd he ever performed for, Patkin replied:

“I’m in Great Falls, Mont., and only four people show up for the game. Two of them were the parents of the pitcher. That was the night they put a man on the moon. Are they gonna watch that or watch me?”

In Max’s 1994 autobiography, “The Clown Prince of Baseball,” he wrote the show he put on in Great Falls had to be the toughest he ever did.

Drew four people — it was 1969, the Sunday afternoon the astronauts landed on the moon. The general manager asked me if I would cancel, and I didn’t want to blow the pay day, so I said I’d go on. He said he’d scatter some television sets around the ballpark, but only four people showed up, and two of them were the parents of the starting pitcher.

I did my whole act and afterwards the general manager said, “Max, I can’t believe you worked that hard with nobody in the ballpark.”

And I told him, “All those kids [players] were rookies, they’d never seen me before. They were enjoying it.”

When Patkin died in 1999, the incident even made it into his New York Times obituary. Richard Goldstein wrote:

He appeared before big crowds in the majors, but there was also the time when he performed before a crowd of four, two of the spectators being the parents of one of the starting pitchers. That was in Great Falls, Mont., the night of July 20, 1969, when the rest of America was watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.

Did it really happen? Or was Max exaggerating a bit…or a lot…to make it a better story? I can’t answer the question definitively. My hunch is he probably exaggerated, but maybe not by a lot.

Apollo 11 did indeed land on the moon on Sunday, July 20, 1969, at 4:17 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface at 10:56 p.m. EDT. Patkin GFAnd Max Patkin did perform in Great Falls on July 20. While the Great Falls Tribune does not have any coverage of his appearance after the fact, the newspaper’s July 20 edition indicates Patkin will perform that day, as seen at right. (My great thanks to Eva McDunn of the Great Falls Public Library for sharing copies of the library’s microfilm of the Tribune stories included here.)

The Great Falls Giants were members of the rookie level Pioneer League. Note this story says Patkin was scheduled to perform “before the afternoon game of the split doubleheader.” That game was scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. local time (Mountain Daylight), about 45 minutes before Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon. If this is indeed what happened, it means Patkin did not perform on “the night of July 20” while “the rest of America was watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon,” as the Times obituary says. Patkin would have performed before the astronauts even landed, although it would be understandable if the baseball fans of Great Falls had chosen to stay home to watch the live coverage of the landing carried by all the television networks.

So how many people did show up to watch Patkin’s antics? It doesn’t appear anyone from the Great Falls Tribune was among them; the account of the games in the next day’s paper, which I will share in a moment, has just the barest of details and is unbylined, which I take to mean it was provided by the team, probably in a phone conversation with someone at the Tribune. There is no description of Patkin performing before mostly empty seats.

Maybe you’re thinking, well, how about the official attendance? Here’s the problem: the games were a split doubleheader, starting at 1:30 and 7:30. Nowadays in the majors, a split doubleheader means separate admissions, so there would be an attendance figure for each game. But it’s not clear that was the case in Great Falls that day. An attendance is listed only after the second game in the box scores of the next day’s Tribune, and the attendance is listed as 230…which is certainly more than four. But I have to assume that’s the total number of people who attended either game. How many of them were there before the first game started to watch Max Patkin? We’ll never know for sure if there were only four people on hand, but it certainly wasn’t much of a crowd, and however many there were it may well have been the smallest group Max ever performed for. Combine that with the moon landing and it’s an irresistible story.

Here’s the game story and boxes from the July 21 Tribune: Great Falls boxesNote the visiting team in the first game is misidentified in the box as Caldwell, another team in the Pioneer League. But the opponent in both games was Twin Falls, Idaho. That team is identified as Magic Valley in the 1970 Sporting News Baseball Guide and other reference works, but the newspapers from league cities I’ve looked at consistently used Twin Falls.

By the way, Great Falls’ announced attendance was not the smallest in the Pioneer League on July 20. The box score in the Idaho Falls Post-Register for the local team’s doubleheader against Salt Lake City lists the attendance as “150 (estimated).” That twin bill was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. and would have been in progress when Neil Armstrong took his small step at 8:56 local time. The other games in the league that day were a doubleheader at Billings that started at 2 p.m.; the attendance listed in the next day’s Billings Gazette was 390.

Max Patkin was capable of beating these numbers, even in the Pioneer League. Bob Addie’s column in The Sporting News of September 20, 1969 quoted Patkin as saying he performed before a league-record crowd of 7,200 in Salt Lake City that year and 2,400 in Ogden, Utah, No doubt Great Falls management, which scheduled Patkin’s appearance before the moon landing conflict was known, expected more bang for Max’s bucks.

Most newspapers weren't quite this honest in their coverage of the Apollo 11 landing.

Most newspapers weren’t quite this honest in their coverage of the Apollo 11 landing.

But going back to the rhetorical question Patkin asked in 1990: “Are they gonna watch that [men on the moon] or watch me?” Well, an awful lot of people were watching something other than the astronauts that day. And this stuns me. I was 11 years old in 1969; the quest to put men on the moon had been going on literally as long as I could remember, and here it was, about to come to fruition, live on television. It was one of the most significant accomplishments in human history, and there was high drama, as nobody could say for sure it was going to work (even if later we came to take it all for granted).

I was certainly glued to the TV that day and that night. Why in the world wasn’t everybody else?

There was a full schedule of major league games that day, the last day before the All-Star break. Games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were rained out. Eight of the ten teams that hosted games the day of the moon landing exceeded their average attendance for the season, all but Atlanta and Seattle, most of them by a considerable amount. Of course, a typical Sunday would see higher-than-season-average attendance, but a typical Sunday doesn’t also feature MEN LANDING ON THE MOON FOR THE FIRST TIME. ON LIVE TV.

Game Game time (EDT) Attendance Season average
Detroit at Cleveland (DH) 1:00 13,512 8,611
Cubs at Philadelphia (DH) 1:05 12,393 7,316
Mets at Montreal (DH) 1:35 27,356 16,842
San Diego at Atlanta 1:35 12,282 19,707
Washington at Yankees 2:00 32,933 15,940
Baltimore at Boston 2:00 31,174 25,113
Kansas City at White Sox (DH) 2:15 12,691 6,553
Los Angeles at San Francisco 4:00 32,560 11,805
Oakland at Anaheim (DH) 4:00 17,835 9,849
Minnesota at Seattle 5:00 8,287 9,161

The average attendance I’ve listed for the White Sox is the average for their games in Chicago; they played 11 home games in Milwaukee that year.

I’ve read at least one first-person newspaper account of every game played that day. Here’s what happened. (I should point out Larry Granillo covered some of this material in a post he did on the 40th anniversary of the landing that was reposted on BaseballProspectus.com after Armstrong’s death in 2012.)

A more typical morning-after front page

A more typical morning-after front page

Cleveland: While the Indians exceeded their average attendance, the figure was a disappointment, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Russell Schneider wrote the next day:

When the schedule was drawn up last winter, it seemed like yesterday would be the prime date of the summer for the Indians — a double header against the World Champion Tigers. But that was before (1) the Tribe’s collapse, (2) the Baltimore Orioles’ surge, (3) the moon landing and (4) heavy rains yesterday morning.

Consequently, with many fans staying away to watch the astronauts on TV and because of the rain, instead of an anticipated 40,000 crowd, only 13,512 fans showed up…

Alas Russ didn’t tell us how the news of the moon landing was broken to those who did show up, although he did manage to work the landing into his game story: “It was almost as difficult for the Indians to reach the plate as it was for Apollo 11 to reach the moon yesterday.” (Hey, the Indians scored seven runs in the two games…that doesn’t exactly sound like a 250,000-mile trip around the bases to me.)

I don’t have access to the Detroit newspapers, maybe one of their writers had details on how the landing was acknowledged during the game. If you can help, please let me know in the comments section below.

ADDED 7/22/15: Many thanks to SABR member Dennis VanLangren, who directed me to a game story in the Sandusky (Ohio) Register. Marc Katz reported Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon “five seconds” after Tony Horton struck out to end the first game of the doubleheader, although Katz did not report how the landing was announced to the crowd. He also said the Indians “listened to the space happening in the dressing room between games.”

Philadelphia: Bus Saidt tells the story in the next day’s Trenton (N.J.) Evening Times:

At 4:20 yesterday afternoon [this would be right after the Cubs batted in the top of the third of the second game of the doubleheader, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune], Phillies’ PA announcer Eddie Ferenz asked for the Connie Mack Stadium crowd’s attention, then informed one and all that the United States of America had landed a man on the moon.

Immediately, members of both the Chicago Cubs and Phillies lined up along the baselines, there was a moment of silent prayer for the continue safety of our gallant astronauts and for the further success of their mission.

Then the crowd let out a yell and joined in the singing of “God Bless America” with Kate Smith.

Of course the record didn’t play properly, the record playing-system sounded like you would expect of one which first was used right after Tom Edison invented the phonograph, but there was no disguising the genuine emotion generated by the historic moment.

It was the best play the Phillies made all day. [The Phils were swept in the doubleheader, scoring just one run in the process.]

Almost five months later, the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League used Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” in place of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a game, beginning a longtime tradition.

An Associated Press photo taken during the celebration appeared in a number of newspapers the next day; this was in the Omaha World-Herald (note the cutline incorrectly places the ceremony between games of the doubleheader):

Phillies Cubs

Montreal GazetteMontreal: The Mets and Expos took an extra-long break between games of their doubleheader, pausing from 3:55 until 4:30 p.m. Eastern time so fans could listen to broadcast coverage of the landing over the public address system.

Atlanta: Phil Collier, in his game story in the San Diego Union, didn’t tell us exactly when in the game it happened, but he wrote:

The 12,282 who turned out yesterday in the heat and high humidity gave a rousing cheer late in the game when play was suspended and a silent prayer offered for the American astronauts who had just landed on the moon.

I don’t have access to the Atlanta paper, but if anyone does and can find more information, please let me know in the comments.

Atlanta storyADDED 7/14/15: Silly me, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution archives are available online. The brief item at left in the Constitution says the game was “halted momentarily in the seventh inning” to observe the landing (it doesn’t say who was at bat or even which half of the inning it was). Wayne Minshew reports the crowd “was asked to say a silent prayer for the astronauts who manned Apollo 11. Organist Bob Fountain played ‘God Bless America’ following the silent prayer, then the game was resumed.”

New York: Arming thousands of prepubescent boys with clubs may not sound like a great idea in the 21st Century, but in the 1960s it was good clean fun. And it had a name: Bat Day, which was annually one of the most popular promotions at Yankee Stadium (Hard Liquor and Handgun Night had not yet been invented). As a result the Yankees had a sizable crowd on hand for their game against the Washington Senators, including 17,000 youngsters with bats. (By the way, there was an actual academic research paper that found the Yankees’ 1990 Bat Day “did not increase the incidence of bat-related trauma in the Bronx and northern Manhattan.”)

The moon landing took place in the top of the eighth inning, and Leonard Koppett described what happened next in the next day’s New York Times:

Ken McMullen, the Washington third baseman, was batting against Jack Aker, with men on first and third and nobody out. The count on him had just gone to one ball, two strikes.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,” came the voice of Bob Shepard, the public address announcer.

The umpires, according to prior arrangements, waved their arms and stopped play.

“You will be happy to know,” Shepard continued, “that the Apollo 11 has landed safely…”

And a tremendous cheer drowned out the words “on the moon.”

The cheering continued for about 45 seconds. On the scoreboard, the message section read “They’re on the moon.” People stood. They waved the bats back and forth. Shepard kept talking, but his words could not be made out through the din.

On the field, the players seemed confused, or impatient. Most did not turn toward the scoreboard. Finally, he announcer could be understood, and he asked the crowd for a moment of silent prayer for the safe return of the astronauts.

The crowd stilled. After a few seconds of silence, a recording of “America the Beautiful,” sung by a chorus, blared through the loudspeakers. At the end of the song, another mighty cheer arose, just like the one that usually greets the completion of the National Anthem before a game.

The game resumed at 4:21 P.M.

The Times also included a photo taken when the landing was announced:

Yankee moon landingBoston: Jack Clary had detailed reporting of the event in the next day’s Boston Herald-Traveler. It started with the pregame playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

The crowd stood for a couple of moments of silent prayer before the game before an all-out effort in singing the National Anthem. “I even sang I was so proud,” [Reggie] Smith said, “and I generally just listen.”

Herald-TravelerClary went on to describe how the news of the landing was broken to the crowd:

Reggie Smith…had just ended the Red Sox half of the seventh inning by forcing Carl Yastrzemski at second base when Mission Control in Houston heard from the moon: “This is base Tranquility. The Eagle has landed.” [Of course, what Neil Armstrong actually said was, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”]

Two minutes later, public address announcer Sherm Feller told the Fenway Park customers and they began an ovation that lasted 57 seconds. The huge throng stood for the last 35 seconds of that salute while organist John Kiley played a nameless tune — “just something dramatic to fit the occasion.”

…Portable radios were in evidence throughout the afternoon and even before the landing was announced over the PA system, a great murmur had begun to swell in the grandstands.

“I didn’t think they were cheering my force out,” Smith said with a grin after the game.

Clary then put the events of the bottom of the seventh inning on the same timeline as the descent to the moon.

[Syd] O’Brien led off the seventh and Houston’s Mission Control reported the Lunar Module 920 feet above the moon’s surface….Aldrin and Armstrong flew past their landing site in a “football field-like crater” and were just 220 feet away as [Mike Andrews] lashed a single to left….Man was just 100 feet away from the first landing on the moon when Yaz forced Andrews…Reggie stepped to the plate as the Eagle began its final few feet of descent.

For Reggie Smith, the moon landing had extra significance, as described in a Herald-Traveler sidebar to the game story:

His brother Lonny worked at MIT as a bacteriologist on that phase of the Apollo program and now has returned to California where he is engaged on research in rocket fuels.

One of the Red Sox center fielder’s best friends, Willard Barnes, also worked at MIT on the lunar orbit phase as part of a North American Rockwell team that was acutely engaged in the computer phase of the flight’s orbit around the moon.

I’d love to know a little more about Lonny (or Lonnie) Smith and Willard Barnes but have not been able to find anything. If you can provide any information, please leave it in the comments.

Chicago: Richard Dozer started his Chicago Tribune game story with the moon landing:

Comiskey Park’s exploding scoreboard must have given Walter Williams a fright when it belched sparks and noise to salute his infield single in the seventh inning of yesterday’s first game between the White Sox and Kansas City Royals.

Actually, it had been synchronized to the moment of the moon landing, and Walter, who seems to be in the right place at the right time, at least as often as any of his teammates, was merely doing his part to trigger a two-run rally against the Royals.

The White Sox went on to lose both games of the doubleheader. Dozer had no other details of how the moon landing was observed at the ballpark, but the Tribune did include this photo:

White SoxSan Francisco: I’ve read four different accounts of this game (in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner and the Los Angeles Times and Herald-Examiner), none of which offer any real detail about how the news of the landing was announced. A story in the news section of the Examiner, about what was going on around the city at the time of the landing, included this: “Out at Candlestick Park a crowd of 32,500 watching the Giants-Dodgers game let out a huge roar when the moon landing was announced over the public address system.” The only mention of the landing in Bob Stevens’ game story in the Chronicle was that the crowd was “remarkably large in light of the Apollo 11 moon landing.” (It was the Giants’ largest crowd of the season to that point and would wind up being their second-largest of the year.) Bob Hunter, in his Herald-Examiner game story, noted Bill Sudakis walked to load the bases in the top of the first inning “at the exact moment when the astronauts landed.”

But this game is the most famous of the games that were played that day, because it featured Gaylord Perry’s first major league home run, in his eighth season. (He would hit five more before retiring in 1983.) Associated Press baseball writer Hal Bock led his roundup of the day’s National League games with this:

The way Gaylord Perry swings a bat, he stands as much chance of hitting a home run as…oh…as a man does of walking on the moon.

Well, Perry and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin made it together Sunday. The San Francisco right-hander tagged his first career homer and pitched the Giants to a 7-3 victory over Los Angeles, tightening up the National League’s West Division race while the astronauts took a moon stroll that tightened up the universe.

Here’s the headline the Greensboro (N.C.) Record put on Bock’s story:

Gaylord PerryAnd in the Baton Rouge (La.) State-Times:

Gaylord Perry 2But that’s not the story that became famous. The one that did was told by Pat Frizzell in The Sporting News issue of August 9, 1969:

[Perry’s home run] recalled to Harry Jupiter, formerly of the San Francisco Examiner, that back in 1962 he watched Perry in batting practice one day and remarked to Alvin Dark, then Giant manager, that Gaylord might be a hitter.

“No way,” scoffed Dark. “We’ll have a man on the moon before he hits a home run.”

So, just 25 minutes after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, Gaylord whacked his first big league homer.

There’s no evidence Jupiter, or anyone else, had this anecdote in print before the moon landing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Both Perry and Dark told the story often over the years since.

Anaheim: Here’s the headline on the game story in the next day’s Los Angeles Times:

AngelsFrom Mitch Chortkoff’s story:

The Angels divided a doubleheader with the Oakland Athletics Sunday on an afternoon when baseball was minimized by the major news event of the day.

The opening game was 17 minutes old, and Oakland’s Rick Monday was at bat in the second inning when the contest was halted, and the following words were flashed on the message board in left field:

“We have landed on the moon.”

The Ball Day crowd of 17,835 cheered its approval, and then the game resumed.

…The second game ended five minutes before Apollo 11 astronauts began preparations for their unprecedented walk on the moon. In anticipation of the event, however, all but about 3,000 spectators departed the ballpark before the second game ended.

The A’s starting pitcher in the first game was 19-year-old Vida Blue, making his first appearance in the major leagues. He was the only player to debut in the big leagues the day of the moon landing.

SeattleSeattle: Play didn’t begin in Seattle until about 45 minutes after the moon landing. Hy Zimmerman doesn’t include a mention of what happened at the time of the landing in his Seattle Times game story, his only allusion to the events of the day being that the crowd of 8,287 — the smallest at the day’s major league games — was “presumably held to that number by the moon landing and pregame showers.” But an Associated Press roundup of what was happening at various places in America at the time of the landing included this:

…pregame ceremonies before an American League baseball game between the hometown Pilots and the Minnesota Twins were interrupted by an announcement of the moon landing. The fans cheered, stood up and sang “America the Beautiful.”

(That’s “America the Beautiful” 2, “God Bless America” 2 for those keeping score.)

Alas, Seattle pitcher Jim Bouton didn’t include any mention of the moon landing in his entry for the day in his published diary of the 1969 season, “Ball Four,” but Jim was preoccupied by the tough outing he had on the mound that day in the Pilots’ loss.

The Pilots actually lost two games that day. The previous night’s game was suspended in the 16th inning, tied 7-7, because of the America League’s 1 a.m. curfew and was resumed before Sunday’s scheduled game began. It turned out to be a big day for Twins pitcher Jim Perry, Gaylord’s older brother. Perry finished the suspended game, pitching two shutout innings and scoring the winning run after an 18th-inning double, then shut out the Pilots in the scheduled game to earn his second victory of the day.

I also did a little poking around about minor league games played on July 20, 1969. From the Des Moines Register:

The crowd of 1,517 who watched the Iowa Oaks lose their second baseball game of the day to Omaha at Sec Taylor Stadium finally had something to cheer about when the public address announcer told them Americans were walking on the lunar surface.

Baseball fans weren’t the only ones in Des Moines blowing off the moon business that night; the Register reported 400 people attended the regular Sunday night band concert on the steps of the Iowa Statehouse, and another 400 turned up for the Sunday night community sing at Greenwood Park. (The Register also reported receiving a phone call from a woman who asked, “You don’t really believe all this, do you? It’s all a fake.”)

AlbuquerqueThe Albuquerque Journal story of the local Dodgers’ Texas League game against Memphis said the crowd of 852 was less than a third of what the average Sunday attendance had been prior to that in 1969.

The Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard story of the Emeralds’ Pacific Coast League game against Tucson included this: “The crowd of 1,028, undoubtedly held down by television viewing of the Moon landing, was the smallest of the season at Civic Stadium.”

From the Amarillo (Tex.) Globe-Times: “Some 1,354 baseball fans watched the Amarillo Giants’ 4-3 victory over the Arkansas Travelers….personal radios were much in evidence, and a cheer went up from the crowd when the announcement came over the PA system that the landing was an accomplished fact.”

It wasn’t just professional baseball games Americans were attending instead of watching what was going on on the moon…the attendance for a Central Illinois Collegiate League doubleheader in Springfield was announced as 1,117. Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon as the night’s next-to-last batter was striking out.

The biggest crowd at any ballpark on the day of the first landing on the moon was not there to see a baseball game. The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner reported 81,032 people were at Dodger Stadium for an afternoon address by the president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower Society. He predicted Armageddon would take place in the mid-1970s, although church officials admitted they weren’t quite as sure of that as they had been when they forecast Armageddon would occur in 1925.

One final note about what folks were doing instead of sitting in front of their televisions on July 20, 1969: the Omaha World-Herald reported 156 people attended a performance that night in Brownville, Nebraska of a play, “Fashion,” put on by a Nebraska Wesleyan University theatrical group. The director “stopped the play between the third and fourth acts and placed a television set on the stage,” and the audience watched the moon walk for about 20 minutes before the play resumed.

If you come across any stories about what was going on at baseball games on the day of the Apollo 11 landing, please share them with me in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to credit you in an updated version of this post.

Congratulations, Wally Holborow, you got your record back from Carlos Frias

(Much of this post is repurposed from an earlier post of mine.)

Carlos Frias pitched his way out of the major league record book on May 1, 2015. Well, his record wasn’t exactly in any book…I was probably the only person who knew he held it aside from the person who told me, Sean Forman, creator of Baseball-Reference.com. Sean was kind enough to use his database for me when I was trying to identify the unlikeliest pitching performances in major league history. I thought one way to do so would be to use the “game score” that Bill James first published in his 1988 Baseball Abstract and look for the pitchers with the biggest difference between their best-ever game score and their second-best. That might be a sign that their best game was a fluke and, hence, unlikely.

Baseball-Reference com has calculated the game score for every start in its database since 1914. Here’s the definition, from B-R.com’s glossary:

Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning).Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

When Sean ran the numbers for me earlier this year, the pitcher with the biggest difference between his two highest game scores was Carlos Frias, who to that point had two major league starts, both in 2014 for the Dodgers.

Carlos Frias

Carlos Frias

Frias was brought up to the Dodgers in August. Working out of the bullpen, he allowed at least one run in five of his first eight appearances, with an ERA of 5.65. Then on Sept. 3, manager Don Mattingly gave Frias a start against Washington, and Frias responded with six shutout innings (he came out of a scoreless tie in a game the Dodgers lost in 14 innings, 8-5). Despite pitching just six innings, Frias’ game score was an admirable 69, and Mattingly said the rookie might get another start.

That chance came two weeks later. Unfortunately for Frias, it came at Denver’s Coors Field, and he didn’t get out of the first inning — he faced 11 batters, eight of whom scored (two of them on a hit after Frias left the game). His performance earned a game score of zero (remember, you start the game with 50). Frias didn’t start again in 2014, so that 69-point difference between his best and second-best starts ever was the largest of all time (at least since 1914).

But Frias got another chance to start on May 1, 2015, and pitched 5-1/3 shutout innings against Arizona a for a game score of 62. That gave the record for biggest difference between top two game scores back to the man who held it before Frias — Wally Holborow.

Wally Holborow in 1948

Wally Holborow in 1948

With major league caliber players at a premium during World War II, Holborow went to the majors directly from the semi-pro ranks in 1944 at age 30. He had been pitching in his native New York and was with the high-profile Brooklyn Bushwicks when he signed with the Washington Senators. His previous professional experience appears to be limited to three games in the Class C Middle Atlantic League in 1935.

Holborow made one relief appearance late in the 1944 season, throwing three scoreless innings, and started the 1945 season in Washington. He wasn’t used often, and almost always in games the Senators were trailing, but he got the job done. He didn’t allow a run in nine of his first 11 appearances, with an ERA of 2.08.

Then on Aug. 4, Nats manager Ossie Bluege selected Holborow to start the first game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox. And he came through…Shirley Povich wrote in the next day’s Washington Post:

Wally Holborow Post

Holborow’s shutout didn’t earn him more opportunities; in fact, he made only three appearances the rest of the season, all in relief, and gave up at least one run in each. But he finished the year with a 2.30 ERA in 31-1/3 innings.

From the Washington, D.C., Evening Star of Aug. 31, 1948

From the Washington, D.C., Evening Star of Aug. 31, 1948

After the season, with hundreds of players returning from the military, Holborow turned in his voluntary retirement papers and went back to the Bushwicks. But in late August 1948, A’s owner/manager Connie Mack lured Holborow — then 34 years old (although newspaper reports of his signing said he was 31) — to Philadelphia. He made three relief appearances and was the winning pitcher in the third of them when the A’s rallied after he was lifted for a pinch-hitter.

Six days later Holborow was called on to make his second career major league start in the Sept. 23 game at Detroit. The A’s staked him to a 7-2 lead in the fifth inning (Holborow knocked in three of the runs himself), but the Tigers came back, and Sam Vico hit a two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth to give Detroit a 8-7 win.

Why didn’t Connie bring in a relief pitcher? Who knows? Connie was 85 years old, after all; maybe he was resting. But for whatever reason he allowed Holborow to go all the way, facing 43 batters and giving up 16 hits.

Holborow’s game score was 18, 66 points less than the 84 he posted in his 1945 shutout. He made just one more relief appearance for the A’s, finishing his major league career with a 2-3 record and a 3.31 ERA, and then went back to the Bushwicks. Any further information about Wally Holborow would be much appreciated.

I’ve ranked Holborow’s 1945 shutout the sixth-most unlikely pitching performance in major league history; my complete list is at the end of this post, and I’ve written much more about number one and number three on my list here. The complete list of largest differences between best and second-best career Game Scores is here.

Brandon McCarthy now holds an all-time major league record…but not for his pitching

On April 19, 2015, Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy led off the bottom of the third inning and struck out. That gave him sole possession of an all-time major league record. It was the 89th plate appearance of McCarthy’s career, and he has never scored a run. That broke a tie with 1980s Montreal Expo Razor Shines, who finished his career runless in 88 trips to the plate. I have a bit more about Razor at the end of this post. McCarthy had a sacrifice bunt in his other plate appearance in the game to increase his record of runless PAs to 90.

Brandon McCarthy: better at pitching than he is at hitting

Brandon McCarthy: better at pitching than he is at hitting

McCarthy didn’t even reach base in his 10 trips to the plate in interleague games during his years in the American League from 2005-12. He hasn’t done much with the bat in his hand since coming to the National League, with just five hits (all singles) and four walks (he also reached on an error once). He’s never reached third base (although to be honest I haven’t checked to see if he ever reached base on a fielder’s choice and advanced to third after that).

Here is the list, updated through 4/19/2015, of all players in major league history who have had at least 50 career plate appearances without scoring a run. Note almost all of these players were primarily pitchers, the exceptions being Shines and two players from the deadball era, catcher Joe Jenkins and outfielder Frank Hemphill.

Player PA R From To AB H BB HBP BA OBP Pos TEAMS
Brandon McCarthy 90 0 2005 2015 79 5 4 0 .063 .108 *1 CHW-TEX-OAK-ARI-NYY-LAD
Razor Shines 88 0 1983 1987 81 15 5 1 .185 .239 /*H3175 MON
Gavin Floyd 80 0 2004 2014 74 5 2 0 .068 .092 *1 PHI-CHW-ATL
Mike Fiers 72 0 2011 2015 58 4 0 0 .069 .069 /*1 MIL
Carlos Silva 71 0 2002 2010 58 5 4 0 .086 .145 *1 PHI-MIN-SEA-CHC
Taylor Buchholz 65 0 2006 2011 56 5 4 0 .089 .150 *1/H HOU-COL-TOR-NYM
Jeff Reardon 65 0 1979 1994 57 5 1 0 .088 .103 *1 NYM-MON-MIN-ATL-BOS-CIN-NYY
Joe Jenkins 64 0 1914 1919 60 8 2 0 .133 .161 /*H2 SLB-CHW
John Dopson 62 0 1985 1994 55 3 3 0 .055 .103 *1 MON-BOS-CAL
Rawly Eastwick 62 0 1974 1981 56 4 2 0 .071 .103 *1 STL-CIN-PHI-NYY-KCR-CHC
Jim Colborn 60 0 1969 1978 55 4 2 0 .073 .105 *1 CHC-MIL-SEA-KCR
Al Williams 56 0 1937 1938 49 3 3 0 .061 .115 /*1 PHA
Jason Hirsh 55 0 2006 2008 50 3 1 0 .060 .078 /*1 HOU-COL
Tom Dixon 55 0 1977 1983 48 5 1 0 .104 .122 /*1 HOU-MON
Frank Hemphill 55 0 1906 1909 43 3 9 2 .070 .259 /*7 CHW-WSH
Ed Farmer 53 0 1971 1983 47 4 1 0 .085 .104 *1 CLE-DET-BAL-MIL-TEX-CHW-OAK-PHI
Marty Kutyna 53 0 1959 1962 47 9 1 0 .191 .208 *1 KCA-WSA
Albie Lopez 52 0 1993 2003 46 2 2 1 .043 .102 *1 CLE-ARI-TBD-ATL-KCR
John McPherson 51 0 1901 1904 48 3 2 0 .063 .100 /*1 PHA-PHI
Pat Misch 50 0 2006 2011 39 3 3 0 .077 .143 /*1 SFG-NYM
Johnny Gray 50 0 1954 1958 47 2 1 0 .043 .063 /*1H PHA-KCA-CLE-PHI
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/20/2015.

Standings in the Florida State League before the Internet…well, ¿quién sabía?

As someone who was born in 1958 — someone who, as a kid on Long Island, sometimes had to wait until the afternoon paper (RIP) came out to find out who won a game on the West Coast the night before — I don’t take for granted the marvels of modern technology for a moment. Not only can we get instant updates on all major league games, we can follow, even listen to, minor league games down to the lowest levels. The same is true even for college games…probably a lot of high school and American Legion games too. If you want to know who won, just go online and find out.

It didn’t used to be that way.

It wasn’t all that long ago, at least in terms of the geologic time scale, that it wasn’t so easy to find out who won. A story in The Sporting News of August 4, 1973, pointed out that no one was quite sure what the standings were in the Class A Florida State League.

FSL standingsFrom the story by Jack Flowers:

Exactly, who is in first?

It appears that not even league President George MacDonald, Jr., knows for sure, much less most of the FSL’s 10 general managers.

At a recent meeting in Tampa, there was considerable discussion of records of teams in the league.

Willie Sanchez, G.M. of the Daytona Beach Dodgers [said,] “I’m not even sure what our record is. Our newspaper (the Daytona Beach News-Journal) has stopped publishing the FSL standing because they are incorrect.”

A St. Petersburg Times survey of six newspapers in the state showed that not one of them published FSL standings which coincided with the other.

“I think I’ll look into the situation where next season I’ll have the umpires telephone me with the results of each game immediately after it’s over,” said MacDonald.

“We depend on the wire services to relay the scores to all the newspapers concerned. If these scores are not reported, then this presents a problem.”

Some FSL general managers depend on sportswriters to relay scores to the wire services, but in places like Key West, Daytona Beach, Lakeland and Winter Haven, most FSL games are not even covered by the hometown paper.

"No, for the love of God I don't know how Key West did tonight. Would you please stop calling?"

“No, for the love of God I don’t know how Key West did tonight. Would you please stop calling?”

“Last season,” said Jim Haynes of the Orlando Sentinel, “the only way I could get scores out of Key West was through a pay telephone booth outside the stadium. I would have to figure out about when the game would be finished and then I would start calling the number at the phone booth and when someone would answer, then I knew the game was over and maybe they could give me a score.

“I used to get this little Cuban kid all the time, and he would say: “Sí, sí, the game, it is over. Sí, Key West won. No, Key West lost!”

A spokesman for the Associated Press in Miami said, “We can get news out of Uganda faster than we can get FSL scores from Key West and a couple of other FSL cities.”

This wasn’t exactly the Middle Ages…heck, in 1973 TV shows were in color and we had pushbutton phones…yet finding out who won a professional baseball game in Florida could be an impossible challenge.

Wickers FieldKey West — which is closer to Havana than it is to what was its nearest FSL opponent, Miami — hasn’t had a minor league team since 1975. The site of what was Wickers Field, the home of the FSL’s Key West Conchs (also the nickname of Key West High School’s teams), is now the home of football and softball fields. The photo of Wickers Field at right was taken about 1970; it’s hard to believe it was the home of a professional team. That photo is from a page on Deadball Baseball that also has pictures of the site today, and here’s a page with more on Key West’s minor league history.

Too bad I can’t find a photo of that phone booth Jim Haynes used to call.

Wickers Field was the site of one of the odder events in baseball history, when a ball that went up never came down…or at least no one ever saw where it came down. It happened August 6, 1974. Joe Wallis of the Conchs, who would go on to play in the majors, hit a fly ball to right field, where John Crider of the visiting St. Petersburg Cardinals lost sight of it. None of Crider’s teammates nor the umpires could figure out what happened to the ball, so Wallis was awarded a home run.

Bruce Sutter, who would go on to make the Hall of Fame, was a 21-year-old pitcher for the Conchs. “The stadium wasn’t the best, and the lights weren’t the best,” Sutter told Key West magazine in 2007. (“Stadium” is a pretty generous term here.) “Wallis hit the ball by the lights. And nobody ever saw it come down. So they gave him a home run. What else are you going to do? It was one of the strangest things I ever saw.”

“Nobody knows what happened,” said Ernie Rosseau, who was St. Petersburg’s left fielder that night. “From the fans to the coaches, umps. No one knew. It went up and never came down. Nobody can give me an explanation.” Rosseau made his comments to reporter Ryan O’Leary in 2003, as O’Leary put together what seems to be the most thorough account of the events that night.