April 24, 1956: ‘Play of Four Decisions’ ensures Metropolitan Stadium’s debut is memorable

This article was written by Joel Rippel


Metropolitan Stadium (Courtesy of the Minnesota Twins)

The first game played in a new ballpark is always noteworthy. Minneapolis Millers manager Eddie Stanky helped ensure that the Millers’ debut in their new home in suburban Bloomington was memorable.

After playing the first six games of the 1956 American Association season on the road, the Millers returned home to christen the yet-to-be-named ballpark in a game against the Wichita Braves.

The Millers, who had won the American Association title and the Junior World Series in 1955, featured a young lineup. Stanky’s batting order for the home opener had an average age of 24. Three of the starters – Joey Amalfitano, Bill White, and Willie Kirkland – were 22. Starting pitcher Jim Constable, who was starting his third consecutive Millers home opener, was 23.

Wichita, which was in its first season in the American Association after relocating from Toledo, brought a 2-5 record into the game. The Millers were 3-3.

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon (it was 56 degrees at the game’s 2:30 P.M. start), an American Association record crowd of 18,366 was “thoroughly entertained, however, by more than umpires’ decisions.”2

Wichita left-hander Charlie Gorin, who was 10-12 with a 4.15 earned-run average for Toledo in 1955, pitched a complete game in the Braves’ 5-3 victory. Gorin allowed just six hits and two earned runs to earn his first victory of the season. He struck out five while overcoming seven walks.

The Braves, who had 10 hits off Constable and four Millers relievers, opened the scoring in the first inning on a double to right-center by Vin Garcia and a single by Bob Thorpe.

The Millers got the run back in the third inning when Amalfitano walked, stole second, and scored on White’s single to right.

The Braves scored twice in the tumultuous fifth inning. Bob Hazle walked and Joe Koppe reached on an error by Millers third baseman Ozzie Virgil on a potential double-play grounder. Garcia struck out but Hazle scored and Koppe took third on Thorpe’s single to right.

With Billy Queen batting, Koppe broke for home. Millers catcher Vern Rapp took Constable’s pitch “and made a great glove-hand stab to tag out Koppe.”3

Home-plate umpire Bob Phillips initially signaled Koppe out. That brought Wichita manager George Selkirk out of the dugout. After conferring with third-base umpire John Mullen, Phillips changed his call and signaled that Koppe was safe.

Stanky rushed out to argue. Phillips and Mullen conversed again, and Phillips reversed his call and again ruled Koppe out.

That brought a return of Selkirk. The two umpires again conversed, and Phillips again changed his call. This ruling was final: Koppe was safe, which gave the Braves a 3-1 lead.

That brought Stanky, who had been ejected 27 times during his 11-year major-league playing career and 16 times during his time (1952-55) as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, for an encore that eventually saw him “set the record for drop-kicking his baseball cap after he had slammed it to the ground.”4

Stanky and catcher Rapp were both ejected by Phillips.

“I hated to get run out of my first game in Minneapolis, but I couldn’t help it,” said Stanky.5

Apparently the disagreement was fueled when Phillips misheard Selkirk’s original argument.

“I protested on the basis of catcher Vern Rapp of Minneapolis dropping the ball, and Phillips thought I was asking for a balk to be called,” Selkirk said.6

That is why Phillips changed his call the first time. After Stanky objected to that, Phillips said, “Then I went down to ask John [Mullen] if he had called a balk.”7

Mullen told Phillips he hadn’t called a balk, so Phillips called Koppe out again.

Selkirk then told Phillips, “I didn’t say he balked, he dropped the ball.”8

Phillips went back to Mullen and asked him if Rapp had dropped the ball. Mullen said he had.

After the game, Mullen said, “Phillips wasn’t in a position to see the ball, so I reversed the decision when I saw that Rapp dropped the ball.”9

Rapp acknowledged that he had dropped the ball, “but after I held it long enough for the putout.”10

Stanky, who had managed the St. Louis Cardinals for 3½ seasons before being fired in late May of 1955, said after the game, “I hate indecision on the baseball field. I can excuse young umpires for indecision, but we had an experienced group, including chief umpire John Mullen. I hate passing the buck. I’m glad this happened in the presence of league president Ed Doherty.”11

The Millers regrouped and scored two runs in the sixth inning to tie the score. After Virgil reached on an error, Jake Jensen, who had replaced Rapp after Rapp was ejected, hit a long home run to left center. It was his first home run of the season.

The Braves regained the lead with two runs in the eighth inning. Ed McHugh singled and eventually scored on a wild pitch, and Ben Taylor singled and eventually scored on a squeeze-play bunt by Koppe.

Gorin shut down the Millers over the final three innings.

“Charlie Gorin had good stuff,” said Selkirk, who spent nine seasons in the major leagues with the New York Yankees. “He used his fastball and curve to advantage; this was his first start since coming down from Milwaukee. We used him in relief for an inning last week against Omaha. Gorin never had much luck against Minneapolis in that bandbox at Nicollet Park. But it’s a lot different pitching in this beautiful park. We used to throw the bunt and squeeze out the window at Nicollet. Here you can play baseball like it should be played.”12

Gorin said, “I pitched only 2⅔ innings in spring training with Milwaukee, so I’m a little wild. This is a great place to pitch in, quite a bit different than Nicollet Park.13

Thorpe had three hits and Hazle had two for the Braves. Jenkins, the only Miller with more than one hit, was 2-for-2.

Doherty, who spent nearly 50 years in professional baseball including 7½ as the president of the American Association before becoming the first general manager of the “second” Washington Senators, enjoyed the day despite the controversy. He said, “This is one of the greatest days in my life, a chance to see stands filled with baseball fans cheering for two minor league teams.”14

Longtime Minneapolis sportswriter Halsey Hall summed up the day by mentioning perhaps the oldest fan in attendance: “Probably no one in the crowd or anywhere else could match the record held by John McHugh, who lives at the Masonic home. McHugh, formerly of Red Wing, [Minnesota,] is a jolly 98 and he played in the first game he ever saw. That, mind you, was in 1878. ‘I was a catcher,’ he recalled in his ground floor box seat right in back of home plate. ‘See.’ And, with a chuckle he showed twisted fingers. ‘Yes, it’s better now, certainly for the catchers. We didn’t have much protection.’”15

The Play of Four Decisions still fell short of a greater rhubarb at the Millers’ previous home in 1932.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com, Retrosheet.org, and sabr.org.



1 The new stadium did not become Metropolitan Stadium until July 1956.

2 Tom Briere, “Gorin Stingy with 6 Hits,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 25, 1956: 13.

3 Briere: 15.

4 Briere: 15.

5 Bob Beebe, “Umpire Claims Two Decisions,” Minneapolis Star, April 25, 1956: 69.

6 “Voice-by-Voice on Play at Plate,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 25, 1956: 16.

7 “Voice-by-Voice on Play at Plate.”

8 “Voice-by-Voice on Play at Plate.”

9 Sid Hartman, “Umps Indecision Irritates Stanky,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 25, 1956: 14.

10 Hartman, “Umps Indecision.”

11 Hartman, “Umps Indecision.”

12 Sid Hartman, “Selkirk Hails the Return of ‘Baseball,’” Minneapolis Tribune, April 25, 1956: 15.

13 Hartman, “Selkirk Hails the Return of ‘Baseball.’”

14 “One of Greatest Days of My Life: Doherty,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 25, 1956: 16.

15 Halsey Hall, “Major Openers,” Minneapolis Star, April 25, 1956: 70.

Additional Stats

Wichita Braves 5
Minneapolis Millers 3

Metropolitan Stadium
Bloomington, MN

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