SABR

Birds, bees, beasts and baseball

By Ira L. Smith

This article was published in the 1972 Baseball Research Journal.

´╗┐Fans may recall that Boog Powell, while batting in the 1971 World Series, had trouble on at least one occasion fighting off bees or gnats. This was a very minor disruption compared to the many caused by birds or beasts in the offbeat annals of baseball. Down through the years, reports of ball games have included mention of monkeys, cows, alligators, cats, mules, sheep, dogs, gulls, frogs, and even a pig, a skunk, a duck, and an eagle.

To say that such intruders on the baseball scene have interfered with the normal progress of games is to tell only part of the story. Players have been hampered; umpires have been upset; and spectators have been hilarious.

A scanning of sports pages dated as far back as the 1860s shows the surprising extent of interlopings by animals in ball parks. At least 250 such incidents have been recorded in the public prints. Here are a few samples:

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A sea gull winged its way over the fence of the St. Augustine ball park one afternoon in 1946. It cruised over the field for several minutes, always flying rather close to the ground. Line drives narrowly missed it a couple of times.

Play was halted while the umpires and the managers of the two teams held a consultation. They were wondering what would be done if one of the drives hit the intruder. The plate umpire finally decided the best thing to do would be to set up a special "ground" rule. lf a batted ball struck the gull, the batter would be entitled to a two-base hit.

The gull, seemingly bored by the halt in activities, zoomed over the fence and far away. So doing, it left the umpires and managers with an unused gull rule on their hands.

***

Here's a story about an angry monkey. His name was Henry and he was adapted sixty years or so ago as the mascot of the New Orleans team. Even at his best, Henry was not an amiable character. At his worst he was something to be avoided. Regard then the newspaper account of what happened on the afternoon of July 18, 1909:

"Infuriated by taunts of the visiting Mobile players, Henry, the big monkey mascot of the New Orleans team, broke from his pen behind the home players' bench and climbed into the grandstand. He caused a stampede and stopped the game in the seventh inning for several minutes.

"The spectators threw pop bottles at him. Many became frightened and headed for the exits. Several were knocked down. The monkey fmally jumped on the field. He was captured after several minutes and play was resumed."

***

It's not normal for a duck to be on first base, especially when a game is in progress. But that is where a duck was stationed in a playoff game between Huntington and Dayton of the Middle Atlantic League, September 13, 1935. It would not have been there if Dayton had been able to get a hit off Jack Farmer, the Huntington pitcher, in the first six innings.

The Dayton manager was H. E. Holmes. His nickname was "Ducky" and the team was known as the Ducks. And a fan had given him the duck as a present before the game. As he prepared to go to the coacher's box for the seventh inning, Holmes' mind was dwelling on the fact that none of the Ducks on his team had been able to reach first.

"I'll make sure a duck gets to first base before this inning is over," he said, half to himself. He picked up the duck, carried it to first base and plunked it on the bag. Very soon thereafter that duck gained the distinction of being the first member of its species to be "thumbed" off a baseball field by an umpire.

****

"Silver Flint of the Chicago nine won yesterday's game against the home team with the help of Mr. Donald Patterson's horses," readers of the Providence Journal were informed back in 1882.

Patterson, a wealthy man, loved to watch ball games. He regularly went to the ball park in his fancy carriage.

It was drawn by two fine horses driven by a man who had recently arrived from Scotland and had absolutely no interest in baseball. After being conveyed through the carriage gate, Mr. Patterson would go to his box in the grandstand. Then the coachman would steer the horses to deep centerfield, pulling up where a tree that overhung the fence provided shade.

This particular day the game went into extra innings and the coachman fell asleep. He woke with a start when the horses began to lunge and kick. Flint had driven the ball so far that it rolled beneath the team. Paul Hines, the Providence center fielder, had frightened the horses when he came charging up to get the ball. By the time the coachman had the horses under control permitting Hines to get to the ball, Flint had circled the bases and scored the winning run.

***

A record for distance in throwing a frog probably was established close to 30 years ago by Donald Atkinson, an umpire in the Georgia-Florida League.

Atkinson was working behind the plate on a very hot day in a game between Moultrie and Albany. He was in his shirt sleeves with a canvas bag in which he kept his supply of balls slung over his shoulder.

In the fifth inning one of the Albany players hit a foul fly that went over the grandstand. Atkinson reached into his bag to get another ball. What he got hold of was a live frog. He let out a yip and threw the frog half way to the next county. He never did find out which player had sneaked the frog into the bag.

***

Time was when an American eagle might attack you while you were watching a baseball game. That's what happened to an eight-year-old boy named John Pollackson who was a spectator at a game on Staten Island, New York, in mid-September of 1908.

"The game was in full swing and the young lad was absorbed in the contest when the eagle descended and fixed its claws in his neck," according to a contemporary report. "The boy yelled and his immediate neighbors tried to grasp the eagle. This was no easy matter, but several of the men finally contrived to release the boy. They caught the eagle by its talons and held it until the boy's father could get a gun and shoot it. The eagle measured seven feet six inches from tip to tip. The boy was not badly injured."

***

It is rather difficult for an outfielder to make a throw when a dog has a tight hold on his left foot. That's why "Chicken" Wolf, Louisville's right fielder scored the tie-breaking run in a game with Cincinnati, August 22,

1886.

Chicken slammed a liner to right for a base hit in the eleventh inning. Ab Powell, the Cincinnati right fielder, chased the ball. A dog which had been snoozing near the fence woke up and chased Powell. Ab had picked up the ball and was getting set for the long throw when the dog caught up with him and grabbed his left foot with his teeth.

Powell, unable to throw, devoted his energies to loosening the dog's grip. Wolf, seeing Ab was so strangely preoccupied, circled his bases. Wolf made three home runs that year. He would have made only two if it hadn't been for a dog.

***

A sheep and two dogs knocked John L. Sullivan, the great heavyweight boxing champion, to the ground while he was umpiring a game at Waterbury, Conn. It happened when Sullivan was at the height of his pugilistic career in the 1880s.

Sullivan had a great liking for baseball and fancied himself to be quite a pitcher. In his trips around the country he frequently umpired games. Named to umpire the game at Waterbury, a charity affair with 4,000 spectators, he strode to the middle of the diamond wearing a Prince Albert coat.

A Waterbury newspaper reported that he was in complete control of everything until the seventh inning. That was when the sheep and two dogs appeared on the scene. The sheep was the Waterbury Team's mascot. The dogs had come through an open gate. They saw the sheep and headed for it.

The sheep, in a frenzy and seeking protection, streaked to where Sullivan was standing.

The champion soon was in the center of a major rumpus, with the three animals running around his legs and bumping into them. He couldn't keep his balance and fell.

After the animals were chased away, Sullivan got to his feet, faced the crowd and bellowed "I'll warrant you there isn't anything or anybody that gets around on two legs can drop me like that."

***

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Smith, for obvious reasons, does not include in this article the historic game played in rural Iowa in the 1890's. The batter hit a long drive which rolled almost to the fence in deep centerfield. There a pig was rooting in the grass and before the centerfielder could recover the ball the pig had eaten it. In the meantime the batter rounded the bases with baseball's first "inside-the-pork" home run.

 

This article originally appeared in the 1972 "Baseball Research Journal."

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