The morning of Sunday, June 2, 1957, was a great day to be a Cincinnati Redlegs fan.
This wasn’t something that could be said often since World War II. In fact, the Redlegs’ third-place finish in 1944 was not to be attained again for 12 years, when the inspired 1956 team won 91 games and finished only two games out.
What a special season 1956 was! The team to bring the first division back to Cincinnati ripped 221 home runs as a team, tying the 1947 New York Giants for the major-league record. The fans loved it and attendance boomed, with 1,125,928 spectators enjoying the games, the first time in franchise history over one million.
In 1957 manager Birdie Tebbetts’ boys seemed determined to prove that the 1956 heroics weren’t a fluke, taking over first place in mid-May, primarily on the strength of a 12-game winning streak. They continued their solid play, and took a 27-14 record, three games ahead of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, into the scheduled June 1 doubleheader against Chicago at Crosley Field.
An interesting note to the season thus far was that the Redlegs’ road record (16-5) was much better than their home record (11-9), contradicting the 1956 results, when they were the second-best home team in the NL, their 51-26 record at Crosley Field trailing only pennant-winning Brooklyn’s 52-25 home mark.
Despite this, the fans were again coming out to support the hometown team. Attendance was averaging over 16,000 per contest and was projecting to be even higher than their 1956 record. Crosley was certainly putting its best face forward in 1957, most significantly the addition of a huge new scoreboard in left field that showed in addition to the game score the up-to-date player batting averages, a first in modern baseball.1
Buoying fans’ spirits even more was the result of the previous afternoon’s contest, when the Redlegs pounded the Cubs, 22-2, in front of a small crowd of 9,320 spectators.
The visiting Cubs came into the June 1 contest 12-24, in seventh place, just ahead of Pittsburgh. Like the Redlegs, the Cubs had not seen a team finish in the first division in over 10 years. Unlike the Redlegs, the Cubs didn’t appear to have much hope for the near future. Aside from All-Star shortstop Ernie Banks, there wasn’t much bite in their lineup.
The Cubs started veteran southpaw Dick Littlefield, who had been acquired in an April trade with the Giants. This was the second time the Giants traded the journeyman; in December they traded him to Brooklyn for Jackie Robinson. After Robinson declined to report to New York, the trade was voided, and Littlefield went back to the Giants. The Cubs were the ninth team he had pitched for in his big-league career. Thus far he had pitched solely and fairly decently from the bullpen, where he was 2-0, 2.76.
Taking the mound for Cincinnati was Hal Jeffcoat. Seeing Jeffcoat on the mound for longtime followers of the game must have been a bit odd, as he had originally established himself as an outfielder for the Cubs, even being named to The Sporting News’ All Rookie team in 1948. However, he had struggled at the bat since and despite his reputation for possessing fine baserunning speed and excellent defense in center field, his playing time had steadily decreased since his rookie campaign. After showing the Cubs potential as a pitcher in 1954 spring training, he switched primarily to the mound, and developed into a solid relief pitcher.
A trade to Cincinnati after the 1955 season originally did not please the South Carolina native, though, and he pondered retiring to sell insurance. After his new manager, Tebbetts, talked him out of it, he enjoyed a successful 1956 season,2 transitioning to becoming a starting pitcher, and was 6-2 in 16 starts.
The Cubs struck first in the contest, when Walt Moryn scored on catcher Ed Bailey’s error in the second inning. George Crowe’s sacrifice fly and Bailey’s single in the third scored two and put the Reds in the lead, 2-1. Jeffcoat and Gus Bell homered in in the fourth and the Reds had a 5-1 lead when they came up to bat in the bottom of fifth. The game didn’t look as though it would be overly memorable.
But it indeed become a memorable game.
In the fifth, on the power of home runs by Ed Bailey, Don Hoak, and Frank Robinson, the Redlegs scored nine runs. In the sixth, they added seven more behind a home run by Wally Post and Hoak’s bases-loaded double. Robinson capped the scoring in the seventh inning with another home run.
Five innings, 22 runs. It had taken the Cubs the previous week to score 22 runs.
The Redlegs had seven home runs in the game, one shy of the major-league record. It could have been eight. In the sixth inning Crowe’s drive to right-center field looked to be another home run, but Moryn leaped at the wall, got a glove on it and kept it in the park, holding Crowe to a double.3
The effect of the game was brutal on Cubs pitching stats. Littlefield left in the fifth after allowing four home runs and five earned runs and with a 4.43 ERA. Jim Brosnan relieved Littlefield but couldn’t get out of the inning and his ERA rose almost two runs to 6.27. Tom Poholsky then pitched one inning, allowing two homers and seven earned runs and running his ERA from 3.45 to 5.29.
Even the brand-new scoreboard felt the strain. The $65,000 scoreboard wasn’t “wired” to enter more than 19 runs! At the end, the runs-hits-errors spaces on the scoreboard showed 2-2-1 for the Redlegs, as opposed to the correct 22-22-1 totals.4
It seemed as if everybody took part on the party for the Reds. Every batter in the starting lineup scored and drove in at least one run. Seven home runs by six players. Along with his home run, Jeffcoat got the win and Cincinnati reliever Joe Nuxhall was even awarded a save in the contest!5
Looking ahead, things appeared pretty rosy for the Redlegs’ faithful. The team was leading the majors in batting average, runs scored, and home runs. Pitching, while not up to the standard of the Brooklyn and Milwaukee staffs, was showing some hope despite their fifth-in-the-NL team ERA. A “Big Three” looked to be developing from Jeffcoat, seemingly a solid starter at 4-2, 3.00; young lefty Don Gross (4-1, 1.76), who was the league ERA leader; and Brooks Lawrence, who was 4-2, 4.50 and had had won 19 and was an All-Star in 1956.
This year’s success had been achieved without Ted Kluszewski, the Redlegs’ best hitter, who had averaged over 40 homers while batting .315 from 1953 to 1956. Big Klu was out most of the season thus far with a hip ailment was due to come back soon.6 Surely a healthy Kluszewski would make Cincinnati even more formidable.
On June 2 the Redlegs were going to play two more against the pathetic Cubs, and after the previous day’s show, two more wins certainly looked likely. Then it was back on the road to play Philadelphia and Brooklyn, teams that were chasing Cincinnati but they were 3-1 against each team thus far.
Things sure looked good for the Redlegs on June 2, 1957. But they didn’t end the way fans hoped. The Reds went 53-60 the rest of the season, finishing 80-74, in fourth place 15 games back. The bottom fell out in August, as they went 9-20. The team wouldn’t see .500 again until 1961, when they won the NL pennant.
This article was published in “Cincinnati’s Crosley Field: A Gem in the Queen City” (SABR, 2018), edited by Gregory H. Wolf.
In addition to the sources listed in the Notes, the author also consulted:
Marazzi, Rich, and Len Fiorito. Baseball Players of the 1950s (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2004).
2 Andrew Sharp, “Hal Jeffcoat,” SABR Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/1ba121fd.
3 Edward Prell, “Cub Catastrophe! Redlegs Win, 22-2; Hit 7 Homers,” Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1957.
4 Tom Swope, “Reds 22 Hits and 22 Runs Too Much for Scoreboard,” The Sporting News, June 12, 1957: 15.
5 Clearly this doesn’t make the grade for a save as we know it, and is even before the “invention” of the save by Jerome Holtzman in 1960. A review of The Sporting News of 1957 shows multiple instances of reporting of the relief pitcher “saving the decision” or reporting on “saves” a pitcher had accumulated during the season. It seems that the criteria for a “save” was pretty loose.
6 Tom Swope, “Klu’s Hip Ailment Blamed on Small Calcium Deposit,” The Sporting News, April 24, 1957: 11.