When fans of the St. Louis Cardinals woke up on the morning of April 30, 1950, they probably didn’t have much to look forward to that day. The Cardinals had been rained out the day before, and today didn’t look very promising. The team was not off to a great start, either, having gone 4-5 after a loss in Pittsburgh on the 28th, and was already three games behind the first-place Brooklyn Dodgers after only nine games played.
Cardinals management had other concerns than the weather. The St. Louis Browns, who owned Sportsman’s Park, were suing the Cardinals, the Browns’ tenants, for violating the terms of their lease. In 1948, after Sam Breadon sold the team to Fred Saigh and Robert Hannegan, the club’s lease on Sportsman’s Park was assigned within the Cardinals ownership and the Browns contended that they should have been informed. “While the primary objective of the suit ostensibly was to eject the Cardinals from the park, actually the Browns appeared more interested in getting what they termed more reasonable rental,” The Sporting News opined. “The Cardinals pay $35,000 annual rental and the clubs share alike on maintenance, which amounted to about $130,000 (in 1949). The Browns, pointing to the larger crowds of the Cardinals, have argued that maintenance costs should be on a per capita basis.”1 The Cardinals who missed the pennant by just one game in 1949, drew 1,430,676 spectators to Sportsman’s Park that year, while the seventh-place Browns drew only 270,936. A judgment in the case was close at hand.
Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer’s squad entered the game shorthanded. Stan Musial, although in uniform, was not available to play, having twisted his knee rounding first a few days earlier in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals were also without ailing veteran shortstop Marty Marion, who made his 1950 debut the next day. For Cubs manager Frankie Frisch, injuries were not the main concern — the weatherman was. The Cubs had had more postponements (five — four due to rain, one due to cold) than games played, and with three scheduled offdays for travel in the early-season schedule, Frisch’s men had played only one game since April 22. “It’s a treat to hear Frisch moan about the way in which his boys are losing the benefits of their spring training toil,” wrote Irving Vaughan in the April 28 Chicago Tribune. “Having his lads eat themselves out of shape for the lack of exercise is only part of the manager’s concern about the series of delays. Spring postponements make for summer double headers and the bargain bills burn up pitching in a hurry. Frisch isn’t sure that he has a staff able to absorb, without distress, even a normal diet of one game per diem. But he’s hoping.”2
Somehow the baseball gods relented, and 9,645 people headed to Sportsman’s Park to see Harry “The Cat” Brecheen, two years removed from leading the league in ERA, make his second start of the season against Johnny Schmitz for the 3-1 Cubs. Brecheen’s first start of the season, on April 21,was a 2-0 complete-game loss to the Cubs, although he gave up just three hits (two of them triples) and two walks while striking out seven. Cubs hurler Schmitz wasn’t as sharp as Brecheen in his 1950 debut, getting the decision but allowing five runs and a dozen hits over eight innings in a 9-6 win in their season opener at Cincinnati. Schmitz was trying to bounce back after a subpar 1949 season, which saw his win total drop from 18 to 11 (he lost 13 games both seasons) and his ERA rise from 2.64 in 1948 to 4.35 in 1949. It wasn’t Schmitz’s turn in the rotation, but Frisch decided to go with him over Bob Rush, who was scheduled to start on the 29th before the rains came.3
Once the game started, Brecheen didn’t need the help from the Cardinals’ missing stars. After an uneventful first inning, the Cubs had a chance to scratch out a run in the second. Andy Pafko led off with a single but was thrown out by Enos Slaughter trying to make third on Bill Serena’s hit. Hal Jeffcoat then grounded out to short to end the uprising.
The Cubs threatened again in the third, this time with a two-out rally. Leadoff man Wayne Terwilliger singled off Brecheen and stole second. Bob Borkowski was beaned by Brecheen on an errant throw after he laid down a bunt, and the Cubs had men at first and third. But Brecheen escaped trouble by getting Preston Ward to ground to short. The Cubs had no more baserunners until the 10th inning. Brecheen was perfect from the fourth through the ninth, striking out four during that span.
Schmitz was every bit Brecheen’s equal on this cold April day. He walked one in each of the first two innings without harm, and didn’t give up a hit until Johnny Blatnik reached with a two-out single in the fourth. The Cardinals saw their first runner in scoring position in the fifth on a leadoff double by Del Rice. The catcher made it to third after a long fly to center by Eddie Miller, but was left stranded as Schmitz got Brecheen to ground out to the mound, and Tommy Glaviano to ground to shortstop. The Cardinals got a two-out single from Steve Bilko in the sixth, but Schmitz retired every batter from then until the fateful 13th. Slaughter nearly had extra bases in the ninth, but a diving catch by Jeffcoat saved Schmitz’s streak.
That was not the last of the excitement, though, as the Cubs had great opportunities in the 10th and 12th to take the game’s first lead. In the 10th Chicago got its first hit since the third on Pafko’s leadoff double, but his attempt to advance to third on Roy Smalley’s fly ball was denied by center fielder Chuck Diering’s throw to Glaviano, then Serena struck out. In the 12th the Cubs put a runner on third on a leadoff hit by Wayne Terwilliger, a sacrifice, and a groundout. After giving Pafko an intentional walk, Brecheen fanned Smalley, the pitcher’s eighth and final strikeout of the game.
The proceedings ended shortly thereafter. Brecheen breezed through the 13th with a 1-2-3 inning, bringing up the bottom of the order for the Cardinals. Schmitz retired Red Schoendienst for his 20th consecutive out. Del Rice ended the streak — and the game. After fouling off the first pitch, he put a charge into Schmitz’s next offering, smashing a low line drive into the pavilion near the 405-foot mark.4 It was Rice’s first homer of the campaign and the only walk-off home run of his career, and it put an end to one of the better pitching duels witnessed at Sportsman’s Park. “That was a big game for us fellas,” Dyer said after the game. “Beating Schmitz without a Musial, Marion or (Ted) Wilks is good any time.”5 On a day tailor-made for pitching, the pitchers did not disappoint. Hard-luck loser Schmitz scattered four hits and two walks, and lowered his ERA by nearly 3 runs. Brecheen showed his mettle in getting out of several jams, and also retired 19 consecutive Cubs.
The next day, Judge Robert L. Aronson ruled in favor of the Cardinals in the suit by the Browns. “In sustaining the Cardinals’ contention,” Judge Aronson said, “We have concluded that the merger agreement was not a violation of the non-assignment clause of the lease of 1937. Therefore, the plaintiff had no valid basis for a declaration of forfeiture thus no valid basis for institution of this suit in ejectment.”6This may have been the final push that sent the Browns to Baltimore four years later.
This article appears in “Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis: Home of the Browns and Cardinals at Grand and Dodier” (SABR, 2017), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. Click here to read more articles from this book online.
Wolf, Gregory H. “Harry Brecheen,” in Bill Nowlin, ed., Van Lingle Mungo – The Man, The Song, the Players (Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 2014).
Also, in addition to the sources listed in the notes, the author accessed Retorsheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, SABR’s BioProject via SABR.org, The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record, the St. Louis Post Dispatch via newspapers.com, and the Chicago Tribune archive.
1 The Sporting News, May 10, 1950: 11.
2 Chicago Tribune, April 28, 1950: Part 3, page 1.
3 Chicago Tribune, April 30, 1950: Part 2, page 2.
4 St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 1, 1950: 16.
6 St. Louis Post Dispatch, May 1, 1950: 1.