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HBP tracers

November 15, 2017

Organizing my baseball library, a mandatory twice-per-century task,  I found a book I’d never read entitled Voices from Cooperstown, by Anthony J. O’Connor, and decided to run down, quick’n’dirty, a few anecdotes, checking them for accuracy, always a good use of my time as finals approach, when I search for any excuse to procrastinate grading papers:

I’m starting at the section about knockdowns, brushbacks, HBPs, because I figure chances are good that the players are going to be stirred up, even years later, about these things, and these anecdotes may contain a high proportion of misrememberings:

Stan Musial (p. 142 ) recalls a close game against the Giants wherein he was thrown at by a Giants’ pitcher – "I think it was Windy McColl or was it Marv Grissom?"—who was being agitated by his manager (Leo Durocher, whom the Man remembers very distinctly shouting from the dugout: "Hit him! Hit him right on the big red number 6!"). The Giants pitcher, McCall (not McColl), promptly did so.  Stan, uncharacteristically, returned to the bench furious after being plunked to implore his pitcher to plunk the next Giants’ batter. In the next half-inning, however, the unnamed Cardinals’ pitcher threw over the head of the Giants leadoff batter, who was Willie Mays, and then again threw way over Mays’ head. Pissed at his pitcher’s reluctance to retaliate, Musial "went over to him from first base and said, ‘You’ve got to hit him. We can’t let them get away with what they’re doing to us.’" But instead the pitcher threw a pitch that Mays could hit, which he did: "sure enough, Mays hit a home run that beat us. That was the only time I ever really got on a pitcher on my own team."

A little research shows that this game took place on May 13, 1955 (a Friday the 13th) in Busch Stadium, and the unnamed pitcher was Harvey Haddix.  One odd stat that doesn’t support Musial’s story, which otherwise checks out, is that Haddix had already plunked two different Giants that day, before Mays hit his HR, hitting Hank Thompson in the 6th inning and then Al Dark in the 7th, making Durocher’s cries to plunk Musial seem a little less motivated by irrational bloodlust.  More inexplicably, Haddix also hit Monte Irvin, the batter after Mays in the 10th inning, making Haddix one of the more prolific single-game plunkers in MLB history. (Would Haddix today even be in the game after hitting two Giants? How many batters can you fire baseballs at before you are compelled to take a shower for non-hygienic reasons?) Of all the accusations Musial could have thrown at Haddix that day, "scared to throw close" isn’t one of them. Haddix hit five batters in all of 1955, three of them in this game, and Musial was complaining that he was insufficiently rigorous in defending his own teammates?

Reads like a very frustrating game for the Cardinals and for Musial specifically:  in the first inning, with the bases loaded and one out (Musial had singled and was on second base), Red Schoendienst hit a ball that Giants RFer Monte Irvin fielded on a hop but somehow threw out Solly Hemus at home plate, not a play you see every day, a forceout at home by an outfielder. Then in the second inning, Musial got up, again with the bases loaded, and this time he doubled, driving in two runs but the third runner was again nabbed at the plate, this time by Willie Mays. It’s understandable how the genial, gentlemanly Stan Musial might have been so agitated by the frustrations of this game that he left out the headhunting by his own team that started all the HBPing.

OK, maybe Musial isn’t as good a batter as you want to read about, so let’s find a better one: Babe Ruth. Actually the knockdown story Ruth tells in this book features him as a pitcher, and his memory is so shoddy that the buildup is much longer than what actually happened, so I’ll just tell you in advance that the whole thing is nonsense. Ruth specifies (pp. 138-9)  that he’s talking about the 1918 Series, Sox vs. Cubs, and he tells a highly detailed story about being ordered by his manager to "dust off" Cubs outfielder Leslie Mann, which Ruth promised to do. But the Cubs, unbeknownst to Ruth, had substituted outfielder Max Flack for Mann between innings, so when Ruth "flattened" the batter facing him, man oh man, was he embarrassed after the inning to learn that he dusted off the wrong Cub. His manager "cussed me up one side and down the other. And I don’t blame him." Don’t you hate when that happens? You’re so proud of yourself for following orders, but it turns out you messed up, so you remember your screwup for decades afterwards, and you remember getting scolded for the screwup even more, amirite?

In both games Ruth pitched against the Cubs in the 1918 Series, however, let the record show, Mann played the whole thing in LF and Flack in RF so there was never any possibility that one would be substituted for the other. I had to triplecheck that I was reading Ruth’s account correctly, and that my eyes were attached properly to my head. "In the 1918 World Series…the Cubs…had Leslie Mann and Max Flack alternating in the outfield" seems plain enough, and it’s hard to imagine how Ruth could remember something so specifically that never happened. But it didn’t. In the fifth inning of his opening shutout of the Cubs, Ruth did plunk Max Flack, but Mann was in the game at the time—perhaps Ruth did mix the Cubs up and misconstrue his manager’s instructions as to which one he was supposed to plunk, but the central, juicy detail about Mann being replaced by Flack was just impossible under the circumstances.

OK, when I look for stories to run tracers on, what I look for is details, and Billy Herman’s tale is highly specific and very easy to look up. His divergence from the truth is even crazier than the Babe’s:

My first time at bat in the big leagues I got a base hit. The next time up I got hit right in the head. Si Johnson stuck one right in in my ear.

…it tore up my ear. The funny thing…I went to the ballpark the next day and I still had this blood all over my uniform. I put it back on, dried blood all over it. They didn’t wash the uniforms every day like they do now. You couldn’t stand the sight of blood, you couldn’t play.

Vivid, right? Memorable? You’d think that it’s your first MLB game, and you literally took a fastball to the head that turned your ear into a blood-faucet, that’s a memory that’s gonna stick.

You’d think. Something extraordinary happened here, but it’s hard to reconcile what the boxscore says happened with what Herman says. Not only did Si Johnson, the opposing pitcher, not hit any batters that day, but after his second-inning single, Herman was pinch-hit for, which is downright weird. I mean, a rookie gets a single in his first big league at-bat, which happened exactly as Herman says, why are you going to pinch-hit for him in the third inning? I dunno, but that’s what happened. It’s not as if Herman got hit, and removed from the game with blood soaking his uniform, because the guy who pinch-hit for him (or pinch-ran for him after the HBP that never happened) did not take first base at all. Pretty memorably, I’d imagine, the pinch-hitter, Footsie Blair, hit an inside-the-park HR to spark a 7-run rally.

I can’t begin to reconcile the boxscore with Herman’s version. Following his single in the second inning, Herman got erased attempting to steal second base. Could his ear have gotten bloodied on the stolen base attempt, and that’s what Herman is remembering? Not very likely. How is the pitcher trying to throw out a baserunner going to aim deliberately at the runner’s ear? The ASB was scored as 2-4, anyway, meaning that the catcher, not the pitcher, threw the ball to second base. Besides which, Herman was called out, which he wouldn’t have been if the throw to second base would have hit his ear rather than the infielder’s glove. Herman played the top of the third inning in the field, and then was removed for Footsie Blair in the bottom of the third. It’s hard to imagine a rookie dripping blood all over his uniform for fifteen minutes staying on the field, but it’s even harder to see how Herman got HBPed in a game where there were no HBPs.

Herman tells some wild stories. I wish the next one (p.  155, not about a HBP) had some more details: he tells of a night game in Fenway when he was coaching at third base for the Red Sox. The O’s score a run in the top of the eleventh, and in the bottom of the inning, with a man on base, Gary Geiger hits a standup triple, tying the game, but when Herman looks towards Sox manager Mike Higgins to see if he wants to squeeze the winning run in or hit away, he hears a gasp from the crowd: Geiger, having forgotten that the Orioles scored a run in the top of the inning and assuming he’d just driven in the winning run, has wandered off third base and has been tagged out.

Pretty good story, right? Never happened.  In Higgins’ entire tenure managing the Sox, they played only a handful of extra-inning games against the Orioles at Fenway, and in none of them did anything resembling this occur.  Now, maybe Herman just got some details wrong-- I looked up only games at Fenway against the O’s on Higgins’ watch, 1961-63, because the story doesn’t make any sense if it took place at Memorial Stadium (the O’s run would win the game outright), and because Herman mentions Higgins specifically several times in the story. He repeats several times that the opposing team was the Orioles, and that it happened in extra innings, at night, so that’s what I looked for, extras vs. the O’s at night while Higgins was managing the Sox in Fenway. Nada.

Oh, wait—I decided to check out Geiger’s SABR-bio, and voila! Here’s what happened:

On the 8th [of June 1961], the Red Sox were down 4-3 in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Los Angeles Angels when Geiger hit his second triple of the game, driving in the tying run. Upon reaching third, however, thinking the game had been won, he jogged off the field to return to the dugout and was tagged out. The game, the nightcap of a double header, was called at 1 A.M. with the score tied, 4-4 . 


Here's the boxscore: . The game didn’t even get underway until 9:06 PM, so I imagine Geiger’s teammates were not at all pleased to see him wiping himself off third base with a good chance at scoring and them going home happy. Here’s how records the play: "Triple to CF (Deep CF); Schilling Scores; out at 3B/LF-2B-3B-C," which somewhat contradicts Herman’s telling, where Geiger bangs his triple off the Mawnstah, which doesn’t extend quite to CF, as I recall. OTOH, despite the repetition of "CF (DEEP CF)," it’s the LFer who throws the ball into the infield. If I’m not mistaken, Bill explained at some point that it’s close to impossible to hit the ball to the LF wall in Fenway and get a triple out of it.  That is one weird-looking play, as described: Geiger hits a triple and is out at third base. Usually, that’s what we call a "double," innit? I guess they can’t really write a full description of weird plays in that tiny space annotating the play-by-play. To make things worse for Geiger, when they replayed the tie game, the Angels won it 5-1. So, except for calling the Angels the Orioles, Herman nailed this story almost as well as the Angels nailed Geiger.

It’s rare you come across a story with details in it that actually checks out, which I find a little strange because these stories are being told BECAUSE they’re so memorable. I mean, it’s not as if a reporter is sandbagging these old guys about something that happened on September 25, 1938 and pressing them on the spot to remember exactly what happened. These old guys are telling stories, probably not for the first time, about something that was so unusual or great or terrible that it sticks in their memories.

Take a guy’s first or last big-league at-bat—you’d suppose that the small details, as well as the large details, would stick out, because you get only one first or final big-league at-bat. But here’s Goose Goslin’s final at-bat, which occurred on September 25, 1938:


Fact is, I didn’t even complete my last time at bat. Lefty Grove was pitching against us—he wasn’t any spring chicken any more, either—and I swung at a low outside pitch and wrenched my back.

…So Bucky [Harris, Senators’ manager] had to send in a pinch-hitter to finish my turn at bat.

"Come on out, Goose," he said, "and rest up a bit."

That was the last time I ever picked up a bat in the big leagues. It was also the first and only time a pinch-hitter was ever put in for the old Goose.


Well, first place, Lefty Grove was just finishing his fifth season with the Red Sox when Goslin remembered him pitching for the Athletics against him on September 25, 1938 (and it’’s not as though this was a forgettable detail—Grove won his third ERA title as a Red Sock in 1938, was in the process of leading the AL in w/l percentage that year, and may well have been the best pitcher in the AL).  So he’s off by five years in remembering who he faced in his last big-league at-bat, and it will not surprise to you to learn that he completed that at-bat: he flied out to centerfield (off Bud Thomas) and was replaced in the next half inning by a new pitcher. So unless he’s also wrong about that being the first time he was pinch-hit for, there was never a pinch-hitter for Goslin. You got to wonder where these weird details come from.

Crazy stuff happens all the time in baseball, I’m quite sure, just not as often as these old "Voices from Cooperstown" would have you believe. By this point, after finding dozens if not hundreds of detailed accounts, I make it the rule, not the exception, that the truth (or at least the boxscore) is going to be a more plausible, less colorful rendering of these anecdotes.


COMMENTS (16 Comments, most recent shown first)

Steven Goldleaf
Ah HA! I solved the Billy Herman issue by going through the NY Times of August 30, 1931, which is something I ought to do routinely for these tracers. They devote a lot of space to detailing what happened in "Bill" (as they called him) Herman's second big-league at-bat:

"A pitched ball caromed off his bat and plunked against the side of his head. Herman was carried off the field but examination revealed nothing more than a torn right ear."

Makes a world of sense. If it hit his bat first, then it just counts as a strike, not an HBP.

When I did the same for May 14, 1955, I found a reference to "Chubby" Feeney, a form of the name I never heard before--I'd always heard it as "Chub" Feeney. Learn something every day.
5:53 AM Nov 19th
Steven Goldleaf
Correction made. Thanks again.
5:35 AM Nov 19th
I wasn't much disagreeing with anything on that, except that you did seem to be looking only at it being on some throw.
No big deal either way.
6:41 PM Nov 17th
Steven Goldleaf
I don't see where you're disagreeing with me as to Herman. I say that something extraordinary DID happen here, but it ain't no HBP, as Herman says:

"My first time at bat in the big leagues I got a base hit. The next time up I got hit right in the head. Si Johnson stuck one right in in my ear.

…it tore up my ear" plainly makes it a HBP, and if something complicated like getting spiked in the ear by the second baseman happened, that still ain't no HBP. Herman never got another at-bat that day, and he obviously messed up big-time in relating what did happen.Your guess is as good as mine, and better than Billy Herman's.
6:22 PM Nov 17th
....and as long as you're here.....

About the Billy Herman thing: I looked into it a little but didn't post about it because I thought the discussion might be over.

As per how you talk about it, it's quite possible that such a play did happen but that Herman has details wrong, but what I think you overlooked (maybe because you figured that if Herman had it that wrong it isn't worth thinking about) overlooked the possibility that it wasn't a throw at all, but something else. I tried to find an article that talked about the play, but couldn't.

As you say, it doesn't seem possible that it was a throw to 2nd base that hit him on the ear, because then he almost certainly would have been safe.
I'd guess it was something like that the guy who took the throw (presumably the 2B, Tony Cuccinello, per the play-by-play) spiked him on the ear, maybe because he had to jump to take the throw. It does seem like it very likely was something on that steal try, and that seems like the most likely.

I wondered also if it might have been something in the field during the next half inning, but from the play-by-play it doesn't look like there was anything that could have happened to the second baseman.
2:09 PM Nov 17th
(I'm here all right....)
1:57 PM Nov 17th
Steven Goldleaf
Hope it's okay with you if I go back and change "two outs" to "one out." It will make your questions appear nutty to future readers of this article, but I don't expect there will be very many of those. In fact, I expect you and I will be the only readers of this article from here on in, and I'm not so sure about you.
6:03 AM Nov 17th
Well yes, that's exactly why I wondered at all if there really were 2 out!
12:24 PM Nov 16th
Steven Goldleaf
Absolutely right there being one out when the Monte Irvin assist happened--not sure that it makes a big difference in the event, other than being slightly less dramatic, but I appreciate your careful reading. I suppose it explains why Hemus hadn't been running on contact.

As to the other one, I will direct your comment to Mr. Musial, whose mistake it was. Stan said that both pitches went way over Mays' head, and I merely repeated his remarks. It's interesting in that your version (NYTimes version) the first pitch DID threaten to bean Mays, whereas Stan's complaint to Haddix was that neither pitch came close to being threatening.
6:40 AM Nov 16th
P.S. Well, I tracered my tracer of your tracer :-) because on 2nd thought, I thought I had gotten something wrong too -- and I did.

I was wrong about a detail on the analogous Jesse Barfield play that I mentioned. It wasn't identical to the Monte Irvin/Solly Hemus play, in that in the Barfield play, the bases weren't loaded, which made it even more remarkable. There were only runners on 1st and 3rd. Barfield was able to throw the guy out at home even though it wasn't a force play. (Which means that on that play, contrary to what is sometimes said when the play is recalled, the batter did get a hit out of it.)
2:49 AM Nov 16th
Sorry to tracer your tracer :-) .....but one of the plays in there seemed so puzzling that I had to check it out.
And indeed you've got a wrong detail in there. Actually, I also incidentally found a second possible wrong detail, a little thing that doesn't matter unless we feel it matters to get even the meaningless details right. But anyway, first:

In that first game up there -- Musial, Haddix etc. -- on that play where the runner from 3rd was forced out at home on the 'hit' to right field, there weren't 2 out, but just 1. It's exactly what I suspected, and it was so. Apparently it was identical to a play I saw in the '90's on TV, with Jesse Barfield in RF.

What I did was, first I checked to see what the NY Times article on the game might have said about the play. Sure enough they didn't miss commenting on it -- and while they didn't say flat-out how many outs there were, they implied it was less than 2, by indicating that Hemus had waited before running, to tag up. So, I then looked up the play-by-play (which I could have done first, and more easily than finding the article, but y'know, I like narratives), and sure enough, it shows that there was 1 out.

The other possible mistake is, assuming that the NY Times article has it right, only the first pitch to Mays in the 10th inning was anything threatening, not the second pitch also: "His first pitch to Mays nearly removed the button from Willie's cap. The Say Hey kid hit the dirt. Willie came up pretty mad, and even though the next pitch was a harmless 'ball,' his feelings remained ruffled."
How he knew what Mays' feelings were isn't specified, and I'm not sure how to put a tracer on it.
1:17 AM Nov 16th
Well, it wasn't in The Glory of Their Times. Neither Flack nor Mann are listed in the book's index.​
5:27 PM Nov 15th
Another great essay, Steven. I love the old-timey stuff like this.

I could swear I read in some old book - probably The Glory of Their Times - this Les Mann/Max Flack story but told by someone else. I remember the phrase "Poor Max Flack!" for some reason. IIRC, the pitcher was ordered to drill Mann but mistook Flack for him, and Flack got dusted a couple of times in an at-bat. If I feel like it, I'll look it up later, unless someone else beats me to it.

4:20 PM Nov 15th
77 Royals - I think by definition, by frequenting this site, none of us are the life of any such gatherings.

I would suspect that "I won my fantasy league" is not a great ice-breaker either.​
12:19 PM Nov 15th
Similar story to the Musial/Mays one is recounted in a book on Musial here:​V17XS7RK6c&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiI8MXOg8HXAhVi5oMKHauMDWsQ6AEIWTAM#v=onepage&q=stan musial hit by pitch windy mccall&f=false

That one says it happened in 1954. Sorta looks like this game:
11:12 AM Nov 15th
I'll bet you're the life of the party at your class reunions and work functions.
10:32 AM Nov 15th
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