August 16, 1958: Thomas Terror: Pirates slugger blasts last-place Redlegs

This article was written by John Bauer


Frank ThomasThe Pittsburgh Pirates visited Crosley Field for a weekend series at a time of turmoil for the Cincinnati Redlegs. Two seasons removed from being named the National League Manager of the Year, skipper Birdie Tebbetts resigned his post on Thursday, August 14. With the Redlegs lingering at or near the bottom of the league, Tebbetts’ job security had been the source of rumors for weeks. Fans were voting with their feet, too, with attendance down 200,000 from 1957.1 Although he had hoped the return of several injured starters would prime a run at a first-division finish, the manager fell on his sword. That Tebbetts resigned, and was not fired, was a point emphasized by Tebbetts and GM Gabe Paul during a press conference announcing the news. Tebbetts lamented, “I just felt that if I had continued I would have hurt the entire organization. I didn’t want to do that.”2

Paul appointed Jimmy Dykes interim manager, delaying any decision on a permanent replacement until club President Powel Crosley Jr. returned from an Alaskan fishing trip. Dykes lost his first game against league-leading Milwaukee on Thursday, but won the series opener against the Pirates on Friday. That snapped a seven-game Pirates winning streak that had elevated them to second place. Bob Purkey held Pittsburgh to one run on five hits, and the offense broke a 1-1 tie with a five-run eighth inning. 

For Saturday’s game, Harvey Haddix started for Cincinnati and his afternoon would be brief. He got through the first inning with only a hit batsman (rookie Dick Stuart), but did not complete the second. Frank Thomas led off by launching the ball 470 feet, clearing the Siebler’s clothing sign that rested on top of the laundry across the street beyond the left-field fence. (Had Thomas’s ball hit the sign, he would have earned a new suit as Cincinnati’s Frank Robinson had done the previous day.) After Bill Mazeroski grounded to shortstop Roy McMillan, the Pirates chased Haddix from the game. Dick Groat and Hank Foiles singled to place runners at the corners, then Bob Friend’s bunt single scored Groat for a 2-0 lead. When Bill Virdon singled to load the bases, Dykes went to his bullpen. Fortunately for Cincinnati, Willard Schmidt’s pitch to Roberto Clemente triggered an inning-ending double-play ball to Johnny Temple

Friend struck out the side in the Redlegs’ half of the second, after which the Pirates added to their lead. Bob Skinner hit a one-out single into right field. With Thomas batting, Skinner swiped second base and took third base on catcher Ed Bailey’s bad throw. Another run suddenly 90 feet away, Thomas lofted a fly to left fielder Bob Thurman for a 3-0 lead. Mazeroski popped up to McMillan to end the inning. Cincinnati’s bats remained quiet as the Redlegs squandered McMillan’s leadoff walk with three consecutive groundouts. 

The Redlegs tallied against Friend in the bottom of the fourth. Jerry Lynch opened the inning with a single to center field. Dee Fondy, in the lineup for the slumping George Crowe, grounded to Mazeroski, who tossed the ball to Groat to force Lynch. Robinson continued his post-All-Star Game tear with a long drive over the center-field fence that closed the gap to 3-2. The home run was Robinson’s 16th since the break and 24th of the season. Then, Cincinnati pulled even in the fifth inning. Alex Grammas hit a leadoff single to left field and advanced to second on Schmidt’s sacrifice bunt. Temple, returning to the lineup after missing two games with an injured left arm,3 grounded out to Mazeroski and Grammas moved to third. Lynch singled to right field, scoring Grammas and tying the game, 3-3.

Thomas reclaimed Pittsburgh’s lead in the top of the sixth. Leading off, he blasted another ball over the left-field fence, “slamming off the building”4 across the street. Schmidt remained composed enough to set Mazeroski, Groat, and Foiles down in order after surrendering the home-run ball. The Redlegs responded in the bottom of the sixth. Robinson led off with a single to right field. Bailey flied out to Virdon in center field, and Thurman’s grounder to Groat forced Robinson. McMillan singled to left field, moving Thurman into scoring position at second base. Grammas’s bouncer to Groat appeared likely to end the inning, but Mazeroski dropped the toss from his shortstop. Flashing his speed, Thurman darted around third base and beat the throw home with his slide. Despite Pittsburgh’s protests to home-plate umpire Ed Sudol, the game was tied, 4-4. Smoky Burgess flied out to Virdon for the third out, a pinch-hit appearance that closed the book on Schmidt’s afternoon.

Brooks Lawrence assumed the Redlegs’ pitching duties in the seventh. Friend stared at strike three for the first out, and Virdon grounded out to Temple for the second. Clemente got an infield single on a slow roller to third baseman Grammas. Stuart worked the count full against Lawrence. Bailey kept Stuart’s at-bat alive when he dropped a foul tip that would have ended the inning.5 After fouling off another pitch, Stuart “drilled the ball on the far side of Western Avenue behind the centerfield wall”6 for a 6-4 Pittsburgh lead. Stuart’s home run was such a sure thing that center fielder Robinson7 did not move other than turning his head to watch the flight of the ball.8 Skinner delivered Robinson a catchable ball to end the half-inning. Despite Temple’s leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh, the Redlegs could not match the Pirates as they had in the prior inning.

In the top of the eighth, the Pirates extended their lead. Thomas led off with a walk. Lawrence struck out Mazeroski, but Groat singled against the Redlegs reliever. Ted Kluszewski, in his first season for the Pirates after spending the previous 11 with Cincinnati, batted for Foiles, and the four-time All-Star walked to load the bases. The managers then made a series of moves and countermoves to find an advantage. Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh sent Johnny Powers to pinch-hit for Friend. That move prompted Dykes to replace Lawrence with Alex Kellner. In response, Murtaugh swapped Powers for Roman Mejias. The match-up now set, Mejias and Kellner battled to a full count. Mejias slammed Kellner’s next pitch into left field, scoring Thomas and Groat. Virdon and Clemente hit back-to-back pop-ups to Temple to end the inning, but the Pirates now led 8-4. Against Bob Porterfield, the Redlegs proved again unable to answer in their half of the inning.

In the ninth, the Pirates ran up the score. Stuart and Skinner singled to start the frame before Thomas drove another ball over the left-field fence, becoming the first Pirate to hit three home runs in a game since Ralph Kiner in July 1951.9  Leading 11-4, the Pirates continued their late-game onslaught. Mazeroski singled to left field, prompting a final pitching change by Dykes. Hal Jeffcoat replaced Kellner, and immediately surrendered a double to Groat. Bill Hall singled to plate Mazeroski, and Porterfield’s double-play grounder scored Groat for Pittsburgh’s 13th and final run. Both teams worked quickly to conclude the game as heavy rain started to fall in the bottom of the ninth. Crowe and Temple each swung at Porterfield’s first pitch and sent catchable fly balls into the outfield. Lynch fouled off Porterfield’s first two pitches before swinging and missing for the game’s final out.10  At least close to half the crowd did not have to shell out for this 13-4 beatdown of the hometown team. Paid admissions totaled 9,564, but “ladies’ day” padded the attendance to 17,496.

With his three-homer afternoon, Thomas achieved a feat that had previously eluded him. He commented, “I had many chances before but I took dead aim today. It really was a thrill, the biggest I’ve ever had in baseball.”11  Thomas’s third homer was his 32nd of the season, trailing only Ernie Banks in the NL. Thomas also surpassed his previous personal best of 30 home runs from his 1953 rookie season. 

The loss left Cincinnati (53-63) in last place, 15½ games behind Milwaukee. Because of the overall mediocrity of many clubs, the Redlegs were only two games out of fourth place, which was shared by the Dodgers and Cardinals. Despite rampant speculation about the identity of the next Redlegs manager, Gabe Paul stuck with Dykes for the remainder of the 1958 campaign. Under Dykes, Cincinnati went 24-17 for a 76-78 final record, good enough for fourth place and the first-division finish Tebbetts had hoped to achieve.

 

This article was published in “Cincinnati’s Crosley Field: A Gem in the Queen City” (SABR, 2018), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, baseball-reference.com and retrosheet.org were consulted.

 

Notes

1 Earl Lawson, “Birdie Resignation ‘For Good of Club’ Shakes Cincinnati,” The Sporting News, August 20, 1958: 11.

2 Ibid.

3 Bill Ford, “Reds End Stand With Twin Bill,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 17, 1958: 1F.

4 Bill Ford, “Thomas Star as Bucs Shell Reds, 13-4,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 17, 1958: 1F.

5 Lester J. Biederman, “3 Homers by Thomas Sink Reds,” Pittsburgh Press, August 17, 1958: section 4, page 1.

6 Ford, “Thomas Star.”

7 Robinson had been playing center field since late July, taking over for an ailing Gus Bell.

8 Les Biederman, “Bucco Speedsters Slowed as Hurlers Run Out of Gas,” The Sporting News, August 27, 1958: 13.

9 “3 HRs Thrill Frank,” Pittsburgh Press, August 17, 1958: section 4, page 1.

10 Ford, “Reds End Stand.”

11 “3 HRs Thrill Frank.”

Additional Stats

Pittsburgh Pirates 13
Cincinnati Redlegs 4


Crosley Field
Cincinnati, OH

 

Box Score + PBP:

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