While December 7, 1941 was proclaimed by Franklin D. Roosevelt as a day that would live in infamy, April 20, 1945 was also a monumental day in American history. While Adolf Hitler celebrated his 56th birthday, Allied forces commenced with a bombing mission in Italy known as Operation Corncob, and U.S. troops captured the German city of Nuremberg, while the Soviet troops were on the verge of invading Berlin1. Sensing imminent defeat, Hitler would commit suicide 10 days later as the European stage of World War II was drawing to a close. As the world was changing dramatically a continent away, 12,640 attended the Giants home opener at the Polo Grounds to enjoy the national pastime and take their minds off of such heavy world events.
After taking three out of four from the Braves, the Giants were looking forward to some home cooking against their crosstown rival Dodgers. The fireworks started early as the Giants erupted for three runs in the bottom of the first as they pummeled Brooklyn, 10-6, thanks in part to a pair of Phil “Mickey” Weintraub homers in the first and eighth innings.
The hometown heroes took the field, led by Weintraub at first base. At second base was George Hausmann who played all 154 games in 1945 and led all NL second basemen with 489 assists. Manning the hot corner was Nap Reyes who led the league in hit by pitches with eight. At shortstop was Buddy Kerr, who led the league in putouts and assists. In left field was Steve “Flip” Filipowicz, who was a running back for the New York Giants football team. Center fielder Johnny Rucker opened the 1945 season with an 18-game hitting streak, a Giants franchise record until Pablo Sandoval hit safely in the first 20 games of the 2012 season. Johnny’s uncle was Nap Rucker who pitched for Brooklyn from 1907-1916. Right field was patrolled by future Hall of Famer Mel Ott who was playing his last full season and who later this season became the first National League player to hit his 500th career home run. Ott hit .308, slugged 21 homers, and finished 13th in the NL MVP voting in ’45. After four seasons as a player/manager, Ott focused on managing the Giants and only played a combined 35 games in 1946 & 1947. Harry Feldman was the starting pitcher and his batterymate was another future Hall of Famer, Ernie “Schnozz” Lombardi. Even at the ripe old age of 37, Lombardi played more games at catcher (96) than anyone in the National League.2
Leading off for the visiting Dodgers was second-baseman Eddie “The Brat” Stanky. Stanky’s father-in-law was former infielder Milt Stock, who had also been Stanky’s manager at the Class-B Macon Peaches. Shortly after Stanky married his daughter, Stock traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers.3 Hitting second and playing first base was three-time All-Star Augie Galan. Galan had led the league in walks in ’43 and ’44. “The People’s Cherce” — right-fielder Dixie Walker — batted third. Walker was the NL batting champ in 1944. Morrie Aderholt was the cleanup hitter and played left field. Center-fielder Luis Olmo batted fifth and led the NL with 13 triples in ’45. Bill Hart played third base and batted sixth. Four-time All-Star catcher Mickey Owen batted seventh. As sure-handed a catcher as any, Owen has the misfortune of being remembered mostly for dropping Tommy Henrich’s third strike, the potential game-ending out in Game Four of the 1941 World Series. The Yankees won that game and took a commanding 3-1 Series lead. Playing shortstop and batting eighth was Mike Sandlock, nicknamed “The Commuter” by broadcaster Red Barber, as Sandlock would often meet up with Barber for a beer at Grand Central Station after Dodger home games.4
In the bottom of the first inning, George Hausmann drew a one-out walk off of Dodgers starter Tom Seats. While Seats only pitched 121 innings in 1945, he managed to hit five batters that year, tying him for ninth place in the National League. Hausmann advanced to third on Mel Ott’s single. Steve Filipowicz then grounded into what could have been an inning-ending double play as Dodger second baseman Eddie Stanky flipped the ball to shortstop Mike Sandlock who was covering second. While Ott was forced out at second, Sandlock lost a few seconds trying to tap on the base and wasn’t able to get Filipowicz out on the throw to first,5 allowing Hausmann to score the first run of the game. Weintraub then drilled Seats’ offering over the center-field fence giving the Giants an early 3-0 lead.
Sandlock made things interesting again in the top of the second. With two outs and a runner on first, Sandlock sent an offering from Giants starter Harry Feldman over the fence narrowing the Giants lead to only one run. It was the first of Sandlock’s two career home runs. Ironically, Sandlock would connect again later this season off of Feldman on September 19, that time at Ebbets Field. Feldman, unable to serve in the Army due to a lung condition, was a productive pitcher for the Giants during the war years posting a 35-32 record (35-35 lifetime). In 1941, Feldman and catcher Harry Danning formed the first Jewish battery in the major leagues.6 At the start of the 1946 season, Feldman and Giants teammate Ace Adams accepted more lucrative offers to pitch for the Mexican League. This resulted in a five-year ban for both Feldman and Adams from major-league baseball. After pitching for only one season (1946) with the Veracruz Azules of the Mexican League, Feldman emerged in 1949 with the Sherbrooke Athletics of the independent Quebec Provincial Baseball League. After two seasons with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, Feldman retired from baseball in 1951 and opened a record store in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Feldman suffered a heart attack in 1962 and died at the age of 42.7
In the top of the third, following a leadoff walk by Stanky and a single by Augie Galan, Dixie Walker roped a double, giving the Dodgers a 4-3 lead. That lead was short-lived as in the bottom of the third, Seats hit Ott with an errant pitch, gave up a single to Filipowicz and walked Weintraub. With the bases loaded and no outs, Clyde King was brought in to relieve Seats. King wasn’t able to get out of the jam Seats created as Ernie Lombardi’s ground ball single scored both Ott and Filipowicz and sent Weintraub to third, giving the Giants a 5-4 lead. Weintraub scored on Buddy Kerr’s flyout to center field extending the Giants lead to 6-4.
Stanky’s solo shot in the top of the sixth brought the Dodgers within a run. Feldman helped his own cause in the bottom of the sixth with a solo shot of his own keeping the Dodgers down by two. Feldman then gave a run back in the top of the seventh as he surrendered singles to Morrie Aderholt and Luis Olmo. Bill Hart’s sacrifice bunt advanced Aderholt and Olmo and Aderholt scored on Mickey Owen’s groundout. In the bottom of the seventh, King gave up singles to Lombardi, Nap Reyes, and Rucker giving the Giants an 8-6 lead.
Making his big-league debut, Ray Hathaway relived King in the bottom of the eighth. With one out and Filipowicz on first, Weintraub gave the Polo Grounds fans another souvenir with his second home run of the game and secured the 10-6 victory.
After the game, Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was still fuming over the double play that wasn’t in the first inning. “That play just about cost us the ballgame,” Durocher explained to Brooklyn Daily Eagle sportswriter Harold Conrad. “If he makes it, the Giants get no runs instead of three.”8
Things were just as interesting prior to the game as well. New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Fans were entertained by music provided by the 17th Regiment Band of the New York State National Guard.9
A group African-Americans identified as the League for Sports Equality picketed outside of the Polo Grounds protesting the exclusion of African Americans from major-league baseball.10 Within seven months, Jackie Robinson signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. On April 15, 1947, less than two years after protests outside of this game, Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers.
This article originally appeared in “100: The 100 Year Journey of a Baseball Journeyman, Mike Sandlock” (SABR, 2016), edited by Karl Cicitto.
In addition to the sources cited in the notes, the author also consulted Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference.com, and the following:
Back To Baseball. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2015, from http://www.backtobaseball.com/gamesiteregularseason.php?IDindex=NY1194504200
Harrison, D. Connecticut Baseball, The Best of The Nutmeg State Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2008).
1 Robert Musel, “Reds Storm Berlin In Final 3-Way Drive,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 21, 1945: 1.
2 Baseball-Reference. n.d. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lombaer01.shtml.
4 L. Lazar, “At 97, the Oldest Living Brooklyn Dodger Reflects,” New York Times, April 3, 2013
5 H. Conrad, “Sandlock’s Rhumba Costs Dodgers First Round in Feud With Giants,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 21, 1945: 6.
6 B. A. Boxerman & B. W. Boxerman, Jews and Baseball: Volume 1, Entering the American Mainstream, 1891-1948 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2006), 169.
7 “Harry Feldman – BR Bullpen,” Baseball-Reference.com http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Harry_Feldman
9 James D. Szalontai, Teenager on First, Geezer at Bat, 4-F on Deck: Major League Baseball in 1945 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2009), 114.