The protested Dodgers-Cardinals game of July 20, 1947

By David W. Smith

This article originally appeared in SABR's "The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers" (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), edited by Lyle Spatz.

It is well known that a manager may formally protest a game only if he claims an umpire has made a decision contrary to the rules. Dissatisfaction with a specific call (safe/out, ball/strike, fair/foul) is not grounds for a protest.

However, sometimes things get a little murky. Take, for example, the game of July 20, 1947, played by the Brooklyn Dodgers against the St. Louis Cardinals in Ebbets Field. A protest by the Cardinals that day was upheld, although the specific rule that was violated is hard to pin down. Also, the remedy decreed by National League president Ford Frick went beyond the protest rules.

Let’s address these two points separately, beginning with a short summary of what happened on the field that day. Jim Hearn pitched a great game for St. Louis, allowing no runs, two walks, only four singles, and held a 2–0 lead through eight innings. In the top of the ninth with two outs and the bases empty, Cardinals right fielder Ron Northey hit a “towering drive” to the wall in center off Hugh Casey. Dodgers center fielder Pete Reiser leaped but couldn’t get it.

Umpire Larry Goetz, working at first base in the three-man crew, ran into the outfield and immediately called “No,” ruling that the ball hit the top of the wall. Beans Reardon was the other base umpire, and as Northey approached third base, Reardon signaled that it was a home run. Northey naturally slowed his pace as he continued to the plate, where umpire Jocko Conlan called him out, ending the inning.

Roscoe McGowen described it in the New York Times: “There was a lapse of a couple of seconds before the ball dropped back on the field, where [right fielder Dixie] Walker picked it up and fired it to [second baseman Eddie] Stanky, who relayed it to [catcher] Bruce Edwards.” The sliding Northey was tagged out on a close play, pictured on page 20 of the July 21, 1947, edition of the New York Times. The Sporting News has a picture of the play at the plate from a different angle on page nine of its July 30, 1947 issue.

The Cardinals immediately and vehemently protested, saying that Northey had been deceived by Reardon. The consensus in the press box and from the umpires (in later testimony) was that the slow-footed Northey would almost certainly have been safe had he not slowed down.

Manager Eddie Dyer formally protested the game and the Dodgers came to bat, still trailing by two runs. The Cardinals used three pitchers to face seven batters, but obtained only one out as Brooklyn collected three hits, a walk, and a stolen base (coupled with a throwing error by catcher Joe Garagiola), and used three pinch-hitters to score three times and apparently win the game, 3—2.

President Frick’s ruling was released on July 25, and he tried to be Solomon-like as he reached an unorthodox decision. The starting point was to accept the widespread view that Northey would have scored except for Reardon’s action. Therefore, Frick ruled that Northey was to be credited with a home run. However, he also let the three Dodgers runs in the bottom of the ninth stand and the game went in the books as a 3—3 tie with all individual records counting in the official totals. Only Casey’s win and Murry Dickson’s loss were expunged. A replay of the entire game was scheduled as part of a doubleheader on August 18, when the Cardinals were next scheduled to be in Brooklyn.

What rule was violated? The rule book does not specifically address confusing or deceptive actions by umpires, so Frick made a commonsense determination that the events on the field were (a) caused by the umpire, and (b) unfair to the Cardinals. The stated procedure in the rule book for an allowed protest is to resume the game at the point of the protest. In this case, that would mean the Cardinals should still be batting with two outs in the top of the ninth and a 3—0 lead. The three Dodgers runs in the bottom of the ninth would be wiped out. Frick explained his action: “. . . fairness, common sense and sportsmanship must govern any decision not explicitly covered by the rules.”

There are two questions that remain unanswered for me. (1) Where was Reardon standing when the play began? (2) Why did Northey slide? It is interesting to note how umpires choreograph their movements when there are only two men working the bases. Even though Northey was a left-handed batter, it seems likely that with the bases empty, Reardon was on or near the left-field foul line. Such a position would be consistent with the facts that Goetz ran into the outfield to view the play and that Reardon was near third to make an indication to Northey.

The sliding question is more vexing. If Northey believed that Reardon gave him the homer sign, then why would he slide? The story in The Sporting News says he “jogged” to the plate. Perhaps he noticed the ball coming in and decided that Reardon was wrong, causing him to speed up and then slide in an attempt to evade the tag.

Final note: The tie game was played off as the second half of a day-night doubleheader on August 18, meaning that the Dodgers charged separate admission for the two games. The attendance at the first game was 32,781 and at the second was 33,723. The Dodgers donated “all receipts of the night game, amounting to $46,000, plus a probable $4,000 from the Frank Stevens concession stands, to the Brooklyn War Memorial Fund, Inc.” The Dodgers won both games that day, by scores of 7–5 and 12-3.

DAVID W. SMITH is the founder and president of Retrosheet. Learn more about protested games at Retrosheet.org.