A Moment In Time – 5/21/55

hpeb7
hpeb8

Saturday, May 21, 1955, the Phillies are in town and it’s also Ladies Day at Ebbets Field. Bottom of the fifth inning, bases loaded, Brooks already up 3-1, Duke Snider up with a 3-1 count, and here’s good old Jackie Robinson – running the wrong way? Turns out he’s just trying to get back to third base after straying too far off the bag, from maybe a ball in the dirt, perhaps a missed squeeze, or was Jackie trying to steal home? Third base coach Billy Herman and Jim “Junior” Gilliam on second watch intently as Phillies third-sacker Willie Jones corrals the throw. Peanuts Lowrey is the distant Phillies’ right fielder.

Brooklyn was certainly going the right way in the early days of the 1955 campaign – they crashed out of the gate with 10 straight wins, and after dropping 2 of 3 to the Giants at home, reeled off 11 more to improve to 22-2 and go up 9 1/2 games on New York by May 10. In fact, the Dodgers were on a rare losing streak going into this game, having dropped 4 straight before this contest.

“Junior” Gilliam patrolling second base made sense – he took over the defensive position from Jackie Robinson in 1953 (after they moved Jackie to third to save his knees), and did well, leading the Dodgers in runs scored, the NL in triples, and claimed the NL Rookie Of The Year honors. Gilliam would be the Dodgers’ supersub for many years, even well after they moved to Los Angeles. Junior would have an off year in 1955 (.249), but he did bat .292 in the World Series as Brooklyn took their only crown. He would become a player-coach in 1964, a full-time coach in 1967, and would be one of the longest holdovers from Brooklyn, being a Dodger for over 25 years and most of his life; he would die of a cerebral hemorrhage late in the 1978 season at the age of 49.

An even better second baseman is standing along the coaching lines at third – Billy Herman was a 10-time All Star and a good wartime Dodger (1941-1946), batting .330 in 1943. He would be traded to the Boston Braves and then the Pirates, both in 1946, and  became the Pirates manager in 1947. After a subpar campaign, he resigned on the last day of the season, managed in the minor leagues for a while, and returned to the Dodgers as a coach in 1952, through the rest of their tenure in Brooklyn. He would later become the manager of the Red Sox in the 1960’s. Although he had a lengthy baseball career as a player, coach and manager, his only championship ring would come this season, with the 1955 Dodgers. He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 1975.

Willie (Puddin’ Head) Jones was the man for the job at third base that day – he was the Phillies’ third sacker throughout the 1950’s, and considered one of the best defensive third basemen of that decade. He had his best years in the 1950-1951 (including the 1950 Whiz Kids pennant winners), and was an All Star in those two seasons, but the lowly Phils wouldn’t return to the postseason for decades afterward. He also happens to be third on the Phillies’ all-time grand slam list (with 6), behind only Mike Schmidt and Ryan Howard. He also died in middle age, at 58 in 1983.

And our man Peanuts Lowery way out there in right was in his last major league season. The diminutive outfielder/third baseman/pinch hitter (who was briefly in the Our Gang comedies while growing up in Los Angeles in the 1920’s) would start only 6 more games before retiring at season’s end, and would eventually be a long time coach as well.

s-l500Jackie would rebound somewhat in ’56, but age and the onset of diabetes (a family trait) had depleted his once-great skills, and after he was traded to the New York Giants after the season, he announced his retirement from the game, which he had already planned to do after 1956. Sadly, he also died young, in 1972 at the age of 53, but clearly his legacy will always live on, as known to anyone taking the time to read this blog.

But back in a warm Saturday in May, to a gentleman and his lady (with a free ticket) sitting in two snug Ebbets Field seats in Brooklyn, NY, the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson were still the Boys Of Summer, and the Bums were going to live forever. Jackie did get back safely, and scored the 4th Dodger run as Snider also walked. Brooklyn would score 3 in the frame and win the game, 6-4, as Don Newcombe improved to 6-0 (in his first 20 win season) and the Dodgers would find themselves 6 1/2 games in first at the end of the day, with the majors’ best record at 26-8. And the Dodgers would go on to reach the pinnacle of Major League Baseball that fall, but like Jackie above, Brooklyn baseball had only a few stolen moments left.

The Call Heard ‘Round The World

51campy1_zps6afe6902

9/27/51, Braves Field, Boston, bottom of the 8th inning: Boston Brave Bob Addis slides into Roy Campanella as umpire Frank Dascoli looks on. Addis was called safe, sparking a furor amongst Campanella and the Dodgers.

In the late afternoon of Thursday, September 27, 1951, at old Braves Field in Boston, before only 2,086 hearty souls, occurred a controversial call on a play at home during the Dodgers/Braves contest that profoundly altered the NL pennant race with only mere days to go in the season, with every game of the utmost importance, and ultimately resulted in one of the most storied moments in baseball history.

As most baseball aficionados are aware, the 1951 National League campaign is famous for the New York Giants’ improbable rise from 13 1/2 games behind on August 11 to then win 16 in a row and go 37-7 the rest of the way overall (an .841 clip) to tie the Brooklyn Dodgers at the end of the regular season, forcing a 3-game playoff. It has since been revealed that much of the Giants’ success was due to the fact that they were likely stealing signs from mid-season on, through an elaborate system from clubhouse to bullpen to batter in the old Polo Grounds (which doesn’t explain their 17-4 road record during that stretch), but that’s a story for another blog post or two.

The Dodgers entered the contest with only a one game lead over the Giants, and a win would bump it to 1.5 games going into the final weekend – so from there the Dodgers would have to lose “out” to be denied a chance at the pennant. But the hometown Braves had other ideas, and were tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the 8th inning.

campy2Preacher Roe, a winner of 10 straight going into the game, began to tire, and the first two Braves reached with singles. With men on first and third and none out and the Brooklyn infield in, “Specs” Torgeson grounded one sharply to Jackie Robinson at 2nd, who fired a strike to Campanella to cut off the go-ahead run. Then, according to the Times account:

“As Dascoli spread his arms in the safe sign, Campy jumped up and down in violent protest and slammed his glove on the ground. Dascoli instantly thumbed the catcher out, then the dispute grew quickly.”

“Manager Chuck Dressen, his aides, Roe and many other players swarmed around Dascoli in protest, and Coach Cookie Lavagetto also got the heave-ho.”

Thankfully, LIFE photographer George Silk happened to be at Braves Field that day doing a piece on the Dodgers, and captured the rhubarb (click on photos for larger images):

33cc83702745cbcd_large

f617e331b1e373ae_large

 

aaf1a18f15f883db_large

But the fun wasn’t over yet – apparently the Dodger bench continued to express their displeasure with the call. “When the game was resumed…with Cooper at bat, Dascoli suddenly wheeled and ordered the Brooklyn bench cleared. Jock Conlon, second base arbiter,  went to the bench and herded the players out. The boys took their time, many of them pausing en route to pay their compliments to Dascoli, resulting in the whimsical scene below.

69248706db2d2719_large

c0aecd0427b1d32a_large

Unfortunately for the Brooks, they only had one more at-bat to stave off a bitter 4-3 defeat. As captured by LIFE, the ruckus had not calmed down in the 9th – the Dodger players in the field that were not ejected and now populated the half empty bench still made their voices heard:

a6504a47aa419594_large

Even Dodger rooters in enemy territory had plenty of words for the men in blue:

0dadd6eae61db17e_large

The ejection of Campanella, with his .326/32/107 numbers, turned out to be particularly damaging in the last frame as Pee Wee Reese led off the 9th with a double, but instead of Campy coming to bat with Reese having advanced to 3rd with one out, Wayne Terwilliger grounded to 3rd as Reese held, then Andy Pafko struck out to end it.

Tempers were still high after the game, with the Dodgers continuing to complain as they descended down the runways, and several even kicked and damaged a door leading to the umpire’s room. Said Dodger manager Chuck Dressen: “Dascoli is just incompetent.” Campanella himself took the high road – “I didn’t call him anything. I never called an umpire names in my life. I just asked him how he could call Addis safe when I had the plate blocked – and he just threw me out of the game”. What story Campy told the same boys over drinks after their articles were already sent to press is lost to history, however.

For their trouble, NL President Ford Frick fined Campanella and Robinson $100 each, and Roe $50, but none were suspended. And no one ever found out who splintered the umpire’s door, even though the Boston press thought Jackie did it. Said an unnamed Dodger, “I don’t know who damaged the umpire’s door, but quite a few of our boys either kicked or pounded it on their way to our dressing room.” Even Giants manager Leo Durocher chimed in, saying Robinson should be suspended if he kicked the door, since his catcher, Wes Westrum, was recently suspended 3 days for pushing an umpire, and also knowing full well a 3-game playoff with Jackie’s Dodgers was very likely.

After the smoke cleared, the controversial loss allowed the idle Giants to move to within only 1/2 game of the Dodgers heading into the last weekend of the season. The Dodgers then went to Shibe Park and won 2 out of 3 from the Phillies, but the Giants came to Braves Field after the Dodgers left, and (oddly enough after an additional off-day on Friday) won their last two games of the season there, setting up the 3-game playoff, and the legendary heroics of one Bobby Thomson in the third and final playoff game on October 3rd.