Three Strikes & You're — SAFE?


Between 2000/8/22 and 2001/3/5, DR had some playful chats with NY Yankee outfielder Tom Henrich, the only baseball player ever to have won and homered in all four of his World Series. Baseball's Commissioner F.Vincent has rightly referred to Tom as the happiest of all the players he knew.

Our contacts commenced concerning the most probabilistically-miraculous turnaround-incident in the storied misstory of baseball's World Series: the infamous 1941/10/5 dropped-3rd-strike Game Four of the 1st Yankees-vs-Brooklyn-Dodgers subway Series. Tom generously took the time to retell (verifiably accurately at age 88) the story of the finale of that Brooklyn-curséd day when it seemed the Series was about to be tied-up 2 games apiece. Henrich's NYYs trailed the enemy-Leo-Durocher-Dodgers in runs, 3-4 — with Tom about to have the searing experience of a lifetime: at the plate in the 9th, nobody on base, the count 3&2. Dodger pitcher Hugh Casey threw a sharp downward-breaking “curve”; Henrich swung (half-swung, since he was vainly trying too-late to stop the bat's momentum) — and missed the ball by a foot.

But it was feet that saved the day. The catcher also missed the ball, so Henrich deered it to dear 1st — miraculously keeping the game alive. However, more miracles were needed yet, to salvage this crux-contest. And that is where our conversations started (2000/8/22).

The odds-against winning were vast. (Which is what attracted DR to the incident, as my old Harvard physics prof, Nobelist Edw.Purcell, was similarly enthralled by the Joe DiMaggio 56-game hitting streak. Statistically near-impossible.) The greatest defensive Brooklyn catcher, Mickey Owen, is catching Hugh Casey, the best Won-Loss-ratio relief pitcher ever. (As bold and wild as they come: Casey in 1942 boxed Ernest Hemingway; in the 1947 Series, blocked the plate to nail Henrich coming in from 3rd base after an errant pitch [spectacular assist-credit to catcher Bruce Edwards]; and in 1951 suicided with his wife on the phone.)
Casey unashamedly called the famous 1941 “curve”: “the best pitch I ever threw”. But in the attention paid to Owen, Casey, & Henrich, it has been almost completely forgotten that this now-mythic game had actually been won by Tom's teammate, Charlie Keller.

When Tom made it to first — and visibly leaped with disbelief — he then faced how bleak things still looked; as he puts it: “big-deal”, there's still two out, and no one's in ready scoring position. The only positives: [a] It's not over. [b] The two most dangerous hitters of the era were next-up.
DiMaggio quickly cracked a single to left; Henrich: “ooooo — he hit a bullet.” Next, Casey got ahead 0-2 on Keller, who then kept the game barely alive by fouling off two-strike pitches again&again. But, all through this tense dueling, the situation stayed as fragile as Henrich's summary: one more strike, and (OK — assuming the catcher catches this one) the Series is tied 2 games each. Instead, even‡ while just protecting the plate (on 0-2), Keller gambled on an aggressive swing — and his bat met Casey's pitch nearly flush, hitting a long, arching fly. The seemingly-impossible miracle now came to pass: the ball struck high off Ebbets Field's unremote but lofty right-field fence (c.330' away at this azimuth) — for a double that scored Henrich to tie the game & then on his heels flew in Joe DiMaggio. Thus, in just a few seconds Keller had turned a potential 3-4 loss (to the warmly-hated Durocher) into a 5-4 NYY advantage. More Dodger woe was soon to come, as (after a deliberate walk to non-swift Bill Dickey), Series MVP Joe Gordon came to the plate. One of “Flash” Gordon's rare sports-world distinctions (shared with eternal lifetime-triples-king Wahoo Sam Crawford) was his open atheism. He didn't need a prayer to double home Keller & Bill Dickey, topping off a Brooklyn disaster that ended at a score of 7-4, as a 34000-strong audience (of mostly fanatical Brooklynites) watched in a horror never even approached in baseballdom until 1986. [The well-known telegenic historian (& typical Dodger-fan-atic) Doris Kearns' youth was blighted by the 1941 incident, which hung over Brooklyn until 1955. Fortunately for her adulthood, she switched allegiance (when the Dodgers moved to L.A.) to a proven World Series winner: the then 5-1 Boston† Red Sox. (See DIO 8 [1998] p.48.)]

[The 1941 Series ended the next day, as NY won 3-1, ensured by a Henrich homer, golfed over the same fence Keller had dented. Already 0-2 in Series ere 1941, this was the start of 5 straight subway-Series Brooklyn losses to the hated Yankees. At the time of their holy-redemption year of 1955, the Brooklyn record in World Series had become by far the all-time Series frustration-record (which could last just as forever as DiMaggio's hit-streak record or Crawford's even-safer triples record): zero-for-seven!
Yes, OK, the Cubs have now lost 7 Series in a row (1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945); but, since they won consecutive easy Series in 1907-8 (looking ready to rule baseball forever), the Cubs did not lose their first seven Series. Today, the main Cubs-question is: will they ever get their long-awaited chance to go for eight-in-a-row immortality? Or: will 2008 be their centennial year-of-Redemption?]

Tom loves admiringly to relate DiMaggio's desperate two-out dash that brought in the winning run in the infamous Owen game. Keller's hit had happened to strike the 40-foot-high right-field barrier right at the seam where the 20-foot-high flat-topped cement-wall lower half meets the also-20-foot-high anchor-wire upper half — which was set back a foot or so from the front edge of the cement wall — thereby ensuring that the ball hit the wall's flat top and thus caroms upward, hanging there for precious seconds before finally descending into Dodger right-fielder Dixie Walker's frantic hands, where it inexplicably resided for the next full second — giving DiMaggio a chance to go (on what might normally have been a single) from 1st base all the way home. He dared it, and — straining to the uttermost — arrived literally a fraction of a second ahead of the ball (which, relayed via 2nd basemen Pete Coscarart, arrived just-too-late) — bombing-in so heedlessly hard that he slid waaaaaaay beyond the plate. (Henrich had just arrived home from 2nd base, and so had the best view [of the slide] in the entire park.)
[JoeD's seemingly wild 1st-to-home flight was no fluke: he'd pulled off an even more brazen running stunt to cap the 1939 Series' scoring (in a 10th inning that wouldn't even have happened if his base-path speed hadn't barely knotted the score in the 9th): circling the bases on his own single, Keller ahead of him having semi-stunned Cincinnati Reds catcher Ernie Schnozz Lombardi in a collision at the plate when throw & runner arrived simultaneously. (Regarding the famous Schnozz-Snooz, R.Cramer's recent JoeD-bio claims Keller intimately fouled the catcher. Film definitively refutes that.) Similarly, after JoeD's brother Dom had clutch-tied the 1946 Series' 7th game in the top of the 8th, the late Enos Slaughter's rightly famous Series-winning surprise-gamble dash in that inning's bottom half was from 1st to home on a hit (by Dixie Walker's brother Harry) which good out-fielding could have held to a single.
Note: Two brother-pairs in one paragraph? Not so unusual, then. Keller's and Coscarart's brothers also played (briefly) in the majors. As did a 3rd Dimaggio, Vince; 1940s baseball was a smaller world. Smaller yet c.1900, when five Delahanty brothers played, including one of the Hall-of-Fame shoo-in immortals, Ed — whose comment on how bad the Washington Senators were, is more devastating than the familiar oldie. (Washington: 1st in war, 1st in peace, & last in the American League.) When EdD was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1945, he was unable-to-attend due to the fact that when he in 1902 was traded from the contending Philadelphia Phillies to the ever-hopeless Senators and proceeded to lead the American League in hitting that year, the contract the ever-stingy Senators offered him for 1903 was so insulting that he responded by committing suicide: jumping into Niagara Falls, 1903/7/2 — thereby ensuring the Senators a well-deserved last-place 1903 finish.]

While telling of the 1941 DiMag dash, Henrich enthusiastically empathized-aloud with a fellow pro's all-out baserunning: “gotta-make-it, gotta-make-it”.

[Unknown JoeD superoddities:
1. No great player has a career pinch-hitting average even close to his (.500), though his total pinch appearances were so few (12) that it doesn't officially count.
[Even more so for the other .500 pinch hitter: Ed Delahanty, 3-for-6. (JoeD's teammate Bobby Brown was 3-for-6 pinch-hitting in the World Series, slightly better than his unremembered but remarkable .439 regular World Series B.A. in 17~games\@. Brown used his bonus to become a doctor, and left baseball for medicine after 1954, later coming back as A.L.Prez.)]
2. Though 1941 was his legendary year-of-THE-streak, and he led both leagues in RBIs, he came in 3rd in his own 3-man outfield in 1941 homeruns (partly due to Yankee Stadium's asymmetric shape), with 30 — behind Keller's 33 & Henrich's 31. (Ted Williams led all with 37.)
DR saw DiMaggio play only once: 1949/10/7, in the 3rd game of the 3rd NYY-BD subway-Series, getting to Ebbets Field via, yes, subway.
(This on the 100th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe's Baltimore death.
Baltimore's centenary-atonement? — its medical expertise cured Dimaggio of his 1949 heel-spur, leading to the pennant-race so lovingly chronicled in David Halberstam's Summer of '49.)]

DR saw Keller play only on 1949/6/23; Henrich, both days. These three, the NYY incomparable outfield since 1939 — fully a decade earlier — were playing their last year together in 1949. All had lost serious career-time serving in the US military to beat the Axis; though, curiously, all three's family origins were from Axis nations. Tom is the last living member of this now-revered outfield trio, whose deaths are happening in reverse order of age.
Same for the now-deceased pitching trio that won 80% of the NYY World Series victories in the forever-record five straight World Championships 1949-1953: Reynolds-Raschi-Lopat — none of whom is remembered in Cooperstown. (Respective World Series won-lost records of the 3 pitchers in games: 7-2, 5-3, 4-1. In Series won-lost: 6-0, 6-0, 5-0. Similar to outfielder Henrich: 4-0.]

It turned out that Tom had for years been protesting that Keller's rôle had been unfairly overlooked; but few had listened, perhaps partly because of factors related to shyness & glamour took public precedence over performance: Keller (whom Henrich called “righteous”, definitely meaning it as a compliment) always modestly over-deprecated his own achievements, and he ducked reporters as if they were stalkers; in addition, he was insensitively joked-about as the ugliest Yankee. (Until Yogi usurped the throne. A similar fate cursed longtime National League 1-year home-run champ Hack Wilson of the Cubs, who, though unbeautiful [early teammates “asked me what tree I lived in”], still holds the 1-year RBI record for either league, 190 in 1930. Since he died in Baltimore [1948/11/23, forgotten by MLB for decades ere&aft], DR was able to induce the Baltimore Sun to do a sympathetic article [1998/9/4], wonderfully rendered by Rich O'Mara.) Keller, too-briefly a Boysball-era star — almost equivalent to DiMaggio in the early 1940s — holds the lifetime World Series runs/game record: 18 for 19. (Ahead of Ruth, either Jackson, Gehrig, Greenberg, Foxx, Mantle, Mays, Aaron, JoeD, Hodges, Yogi.) Nobody's noticed.
[Question: Which one of those batters once led his team in RBIs in a World Series with but one hit, as his team won the Series in six games. Click for answer.]

In a 2000/12/8 phone conversation, Tom told DR the whole story of the final 1941/10/5 inning in meticulous detail, including a truly remarkable claim, which his now-internet-posted account tags with a parenthetical “(believe me)” — as if no one would believe it: because of the enormous dip of Casey's “curve”, Henrich during his swing suspected that catcher Owen might miss the ball, too. (There is no question that Henrich was aware of the pitch's motion before it arrived: he was so desperately trying to keep the bat from crossing the plate that the bat was soon moving more upward than forward.) His exact 2000/12/8 words to DR:
“And about the time that my bat got half-way around (and I mean by that: I'm now facing the pitcher), I had the thought — and this is no malarkey — if I'm having that much trouble, maybe Mickey's having the same thing. When I went on further, and I turn around — there goes the ball. It was as fast as that. I don't even know [at the time] that he didn't block the ball [and so could save Brooklyn with a quick toss to 1st]. I'm [just] gone. I do not see the end of his actions. I'm much too busy racing every step to first base.” It turned out that the ball rolled all the way to the stands [so there couldn't be a play, but Henrich didn't know that until reaching 1st].

In 2001 August, DR examined surviving film of the incident, frame-by-frame, and found evidence that Henrich's seemingly outlandish claim is absolutely accurate. Here is what has previously not been noticed: as Henrich's too-late-held-up bat-swing misses the pitch, he starts towards 1st base several frames before his head turns around (for an instant) to see if the ball was or wasn't caught — and then he flies (head-forward again) to 1st base. (A lone still-frame cannot make this as clear as the continuous sequence. Film also survives showing a few previous Henrich swings, during this same at-bat. None end with a move towards 1st base. All the film-excerpts just cited are available for easy perusal on the 2003 DVD 100 Years of the World Series.) This veracity-redemption was immediately relayed to Tom's wife Eileen (shortly after Tom suffered a stroke on 2001/8/3, as DR [calling from Denmark] learned by phone from his house-keeper Jeanie later that very day.) DR hopes it has helped invigorate the later years of one whose fierce drive never prevented him from being a lovable fellow-happy-optimist.

The day following the Owen game, Henrich was quoted in the New York Times (p.21): “What a finish! What a game! Never was anything like this. Never will be again, I'll bet.” With the passage of the years and decades since, no prediction in the history of the national pastime has remained more secure.



† Mercifully, 2004's Autumn at last lifted decades of diamond gloom from the life of Doris Kearns — likewise for loyal New Englanders Barbara Rawlins & Myles Standish.
For what it's worth: after the 4th game of the 2004 ALCS, DR phoned his friend Debbie Eaton, specifically for the purpose of explicitly registering his strong suspicion that [after bizball-era's spate of 0-2 and 1-3 comebacks] new-era beastball was now about cross a new showbiz frontier — by producing the 1st major-league post-season 0-3 comeback.
(However, [a]  DR did not bet anything on this suspicion.
[b] He did not experience any prescience regarding the World Series.)
[This was, however, hardly the 1st such ultimate reversal-drama in the history of best-of-seven professional baseball playoffs. E.g., in the 1912 Chicago post-season city-series, the Chisox (starring Ed Walsh & later-Black-Soxer Eddie Cicotte) did it to the Cubs. And the International League's warmly-remembered Newark Bears (boasting righteous Charlie Keller & unrighteous atheist Joe Gordon) did same to the American Association's Columbus Redbirds in 1937's Little World Series. (This was the only best-of-7 comeback-from-0-3 in which every one of the games was won by the visiting team. Such a home-crowd-muting pattern could never have occurred once boysball transformed to televised bizball in the 1950s, at which point World Series games' home-team win-percentages suddenly jumped from 50% normality to 60% warm-visuals home-joy, as DR noted 1984/11/14 in the Baltimore Evening Sun.)]

‡ In 1941, Keller was at the height of his powers. (He went 4-for-5 in this game, with two doubles.) The late John Steadman's touching 1998/9/27 Baltimore Sun remembrance of Keller ends with a quote from teammate Lefty Gomez (brilliant both as pitcher and humorist), commenting on Keller's legendary strength: “The greatest thing to happen to civilization is that Charlie Keller was born good-natured.”





Addendum on Less Credible Miracles


Gomez' 1941/10/6 NYTimes deadpan comment (along with NYY pitching great Red Ruffing) on the dropped-3rd-strike-triggered miracle-finale (emph added): “It was just the way we planned it. We've been working on that play for months, on the quiet, you understand, and we didn't have it perfected until today.” (Note that Lefty — understandably called El Goofy — wasn't kidding as a Series performer: 6 wins vs. 0 losses, still the best Series pitching record & unlikely ever to be exceeded.) Hmm. If the Yankees could weirdly jest that they planned the infamous 1941 dropped 3rd strike finale, then the only party that could one-up the dark humor here would be the Dodgers: suppose they boasted that they'd planned the whole tragedy! Ridiculous! — who'd believe that any team would INTEND to destroy its reputation for cleverness and potency? Well, for starters: about 1/5 of the Earth's population! Try asking any Christian: how could three little nails pin an omnipotent god to a cross? Rote answer: El Jesus planned his own suicidal CruciFiction-show.
[The 2006-hyped “Judas Gospel” — not written by Judas (if only: DIO 8 [1998] ‡5 §C [p.58]) — is simply an ancient Gnostic (post-Gospels) playing-out of the it-was-planned theory.]
So the losers at Golgotha have bragged for 2000 yrs that their leader planned the whole mess:
[a] First, he gets betrayed by idealist Judas. (DIO 8 [1998] ‡5 §C [p.46].)
[b] Then he's I-don't-even-know-the-guy-shunned (Mark 14.66-72, which of course claims Jesus predicted it all) by his skulking #1 disciple (Peter [i.e., Pope One]) — who'd learned from the master the old scram-and-then-takeover-when-current #1-just-happens-to-get-arrested ploy. (Matt 4.12. Cui bono? Did Capone's betrayer-successor Frank Nitti read the Bible?)
[c] Finally, Jesus is humiliated, tortured, and killed — but, hey, I planned that play all year!!
[Ah, by-the-way: isn't suicide a Christian sin? Do we have here a fabulous attempt to pre-refute the intelligent 77 AD comment of Pliny (2.5.27) that god can't suicide?]

The Real GET-REAL 2nd Coming

Irony: Of all people in history, the one who'd be most surprised (DIO 8 [1998] ‡5 §H19c [p.52]) at Christianity's present thriving, would be Jesus himself. I can just see him coming back and bugeye-exclaiming: you mean you all took me SERIOUSLY?
















Answer to One-Hit Series RBI Leader: Ruth in 1918. One triple (in 5 at-bats: so few because he was a pitcher, not yet an outfielder) for 2 RBI — on a team that scored only 6 earned runs (& 3 more unearned) but won four low-scoring one-run games over the Cubs.