June 8, 1934: A’s rookie Mort Flohr’s wayward first pitch nails Babe Ruth

This article was written by Kurt Blumenau

Mort FlohrImagine being a rookie pitcher, rushed directly from college to the major leagues, and being summoned into your first game to find Babe Ruth waiting in the batter’s box.

It could have been the kind of beginning legends are made of. But for Moritz “Mort” Flohr,1 the outcome was best described as mortifying. The 22-year-old lefty’s first big-league pitch drilled Ruth on the wrist, knocking the New York Yankees slugger out of the game. Flohr’s errant pitch set the stage for a runaway loss by his Philadelphia Athletics on June 8, 1934, and also for a brief major-league career.

Flohr, from the western New York town of Canisteo,2 owed his rapid arrival in the major leagues to several strokes of good fortune. Big-league scouts had stepped up their presence on college campuses in 1934, aiming to find new talent of the likes of Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, or Ted Lyons – all former collegians turned American League stars.3

Philadelphia A’s owner and manager Connie Mack was especially active on the college market, looking to rebuild after selling off his last great nucleus of players following the 1932 season. Flohr’s school, Duke University, provided a talent pool Mack dipped into again and again thanks to coach Jack Coombs, a former A’s pitcher and a crony of Mack’s. “Almost any player that Jack develops at Duke can be had by the long, lean leader of the A’s,” one scribe wrote. “Coombs sees to that.”4

Duke players who leaped to the A’s roster in the 1930s included pitchers Flohr, Tim McKeithan, Bobby Coombs,5 Pete Naktenis, and Dave Smith; pitcher and first baseman Chubby Dean; catcher Hal Wagner; infielders Wayne Ambler and Ace Parker; and outfielder Eric Tipton.6 But Mack missed Duke’s biggest prize. Infielder Billy Werber, who signed with the Yankees, easily led the group in career major-league games (1,295) and hits (1,393), while posting more lifetime WAR than the other players put together. Mack eventually obtained Werber in a trade after the 1936 season.7

The Philadelphia team Flohr joined in early June sat in seventh place, eight games behind first-place Detroit, with an 18-26 record. The team had fallen a long way from winning consecutive World Series in 1929 and 1930 and the AL pennant in 1931. The June 8 game marked the start of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. In recent weeks, the A’s had lost two of three to the Washington Senators, lost two of three to the Yankees, dropped two of three to the Boston Red Sox, and been swept by the Cleveland Indians.

Philadelphia fielded a solid offense led by future Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx. The 1934 A’s hit more homers (144) than any other AL team, and their .280 team batting average was on pace with the league average of .279. But they ached for pitching, compiling an ERA of 5.01 – above the league average of 4.50 – and leading the AL in walks. “[Mack’s] team leads in hitting and fielding, yet are trying not to get a toehold in the cellar,” a newspaperman wrote. “Why? Because he hasn’t a hurler destined to go nine innings any time he enters the box.”8 Philadelphia’s June 8 starter, rookie righty Johnny Marcum, entered with an 0-5 record and 6.22 ERA, and had lost twice to the Yankees in April.9

The Yankees, World Series champions as recently as 1932, were also fighting to regain past glory. After finishing second to Washington in 1933, Joe McCarthy’s team entered the game in second place, one game behind the Detroit Tigers, with a 25-19 record. Their lineup mixed ’20s holdovers like Gehrig, Ruth, Bill Dickey, Earle Combs, and Tony Lazzeri with younger performers like Red Rolfe and Frank Crosetti.

Starting pitcher Lefty Gomez came in hot: He’d won seven straight starts earlier in the season and boasted an 8-1 record and a 1.52 ERA. The future Hall of Famer had pitched a complete-game win against the A’s in his previous start, on June 3. Gomez went on to lead the AL with 26 wins (against five losses), 158 strikeouts, six shutouts, and a 2.33 ERA.

A scant crowd of about 6,000, including about 3,000 sailors,10 watched the home team dominate, starting in the second inning. Gehrig led off with a double and left fielder Myril Hoag sacrificed him to third. One out later, Dickey’s double to right field scored Gehrig for a lead the Yankees never surrendered.

As the A’s went down in order in the first four innings, the Yankees struck again in the fourth. Singles by Ruth, Gehrig, and Hoag made the score 2-0. Marcum’s bobble of Lazzeri’s sacrifice attempt loaded the bases, and Dickey cashed in with a run-scoring lineout to left fielder Bob Johnson. One out later, Gomez hit a single to center field that ended the inning’s scoring at 4-0.

The A’s still hadn’t put a man on base through five innings, but the Yankees added four more runs in the bottom half. Singles by Rolfe and Ruth put runners on first and second. A double to right by Gehrig scored Rolfe, while a single by Hoag brought in Ruth and Gehrig. Facing a 7-0 deficit, Mack summoned Harry Matuzak, a first-year righty making his 11th and last appearance of the season.11 Matuzak got two outs sandwiched around a wild pitch, then gave up a single to Crosetti to make it 8-0. An error and a walk reloaded the bases, but Rolfe’s groundball to third ended the inning.

Rabbit Warstler pinch-hit for Matuzak during another one-two-three inning in the sixth, and Mack summoned the side-arming Flohr in the bottom half. Flohr began his career with a pitch that sailed inside and hit Ruth’s right wrist. Writhing in pain, the 39-year-old Ruth was taken to a hospital to have his severely bruised wrist X-rayed. While some news stories the next day indicated Ruth would miss a week,12 no bones were broken and he resumed playing on June 10.13 Yankees outfield caddy Sammy Byrd, nicknamed “Babe Ruth’s Legs,” ran for Ruth and took his place in right field.14

Gehrig, up next, welcomed Flohr to the majors by driving one of his pitches into the right-field stands15 for a two-run homer – his fourth hit of the game, 14th round-tripper of the season, and the 313th of his career. Flohr retired Hoag on an infield liner and Lazzeri on a grounder, then gave up a double to Dickey and a single to Crosetti that made it 11-0. Gomez lined to shortstop to end the frame.

While his teammates were devouring Philadelphia pitching, Gomez entered the eighth inning six outs away from a perfect game. In the eighth, he lost both the no-no and the shutout. Foxx singled past shortstop and, two outs later, Mike Higgins’s and Frankie Hayes’ singles made the score 11-1.16 In his first big-league at-bat, Flohr struck out to end the inning. Flohr had shut out the Yankees in the seventh – helped by Byrd’s unsuccessful attempt to stretch a single into a double – and did the same in the eighth, getting Lazzeri to ground into a double play.

Easing up with a 10-run lead,17 Gomez allowed five of the first six hitters to reach in the top of the ninth on four singles and a walk. The latter three singles – by Johnson, Eric McNair, and Bing Miller – delivered a run apiece to bring the score to 11-4. Gomez then got Higgins to pop out and Hayes to strike out, ending the game in 1 hour and 54 minutes.

Flohr’s first pitch would be remembered, though not always accurately. As early as 1935, the pitch was incorrectly described as keeping Ruth “out of the lineup for several weeks.”18 An Associated Press item from 1936 described Flohr as the “southpaw who almost killed Babe Ruth with a high hard pitch.”19 The next year, a sports columnist in Ottawa apparently conflated Ruth’s at-bat with Gehrig’s: “First pop out of the box, [Flohr] tried to blow one past ‘Babe’ Ruth and the Bambino connected for one of the 22 homers he hit that year.”20

More than 40 years later, New York Daily News writer John Vergara cast the incident in a more positive light. As a boy, Vergara lived in New Rochelle, New York, near the home of Yankees trainer Doc Painter. Ruth visited Painter’s home for treatment after the hit-by-pitch and signed balls for Vergara and other children who gathered on Painter’s lawn.21

To return to 1934: Flohr appeared in 14 games, including three starts, with an 0-2 record and a 5.87 ERA. He might have been fortunate that it wasn’t worse, given that he walked 33 and struck out only 6 in 30⅔ innings. He also gave up 34 hits and threw four wild pitches – second-most on the Philadelphia staff despite his limited number of appearances.22

It was his only big-league experience. Flohr played one other season in affiliated minor-league ball, posting a 1-5 record and an 11.96 ERA with the 1937 Ottawa Braves of the Class C Canadian-American League. Flohr died on June 2, 1994, 60 years to the week from his big-league debut.



This story was fact-checked by Thomas J. Brown Jr. and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the specific sources cited in the Notes, the author used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for general player, team and season data and the box scores for this game.





1 Flohr was also known as Dutch, and in the spring of 1934 several newspapers referred to him as “the Flemish Fireball.”

2 Canisteo, in New York’s Southern Tier, is about 77 highway miles south of Rochester. As of July 2022, Retrosheet listed Flohr as the only major leaguer to come from Canisteo.

3 Paul Mickelson (Associated Press), “Major League Scouts Raid College Campuses for Potential Baseball Stars,” Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, June 11, 1934: 7.

4 Walter Gilhooly, “In the Realm of Sport,” Ottawa Journal, May 21, 1937: 20.

5 According to Jack Coombs’ SABR Biography Project article, Bobby Coombs was Jack’s nephew.

6 Tipton was nicknamed Duke or Blue Devil during his playing career as a tribute to his alma mater. Interestingly, several of the 1930s Blue Devils-turned-Athletics became college baseball coaches after their playing careers ended – Ace Parker at Duke, Tipton at Army, and Bobby Coombs at Williams College.

7 Werber posted career WAR of 26.1 over parts of 11 major-league seasons. None of the former Duke players signed by Mack reached double digits, and several posted negative career WAR totals.

8 Gordon Mackay, “Is Zat So,” Camden (New Jersey) Courier-Post, June 9, 1934: 14.

9 Marcum rebounded later in the season, closing 1934 with a 14-11 record.

10 James C. Isaminger, “Yanks Cut Loose and Wallop A’s in Series’ Opener,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 9, 1934: 15. Louis Effrat’s story in the New York Times, cited below, gave an attendance figure of 8,000.

11 Matuzak also pitched in six games in 1936.

12 Marshall Hunt, “Ruth, Hurt, Out for Week; A’s Fall, 11-4; Gomez Wins 9th,” New York Daily News, June 9, 1934: 28. The game story in the next day’s Camden Courier-Post, while less definitive, said Ruth “will probably be out of the New York lineup for a week.” “Lefty Gomez Too Much for Mack’s Hirelings,” Camden Courier-Post, June 9, 1934: 24. Louis Effrat’s story in the New York Times, cited below, declined to suggest how long Ruth might be out, saying his X-rays had not been developed at press time.

13 Isaminger.

14 Byrd’s 1934 season statistics of 106 games played and 191 at-bats support the description of a “caddy” – a player used mainly for late-game defensive replacement, pinch-running, and other reserve duties.

15 Isaminger.

16 Louis Effrat, “Ruth Is Injured as Yanks Win, 11-4,” New York Times, June 9, 1934: 11 (Sports).

17 Effrat characterized Gomez in the ninth inning as “easing up” rather than tiring.

18 Gene Lawing, “Hornets of 1935,” Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, April 29, 1935: 10. Flohr signed with the minor-league Charlotte Hornets after his release by the A’s in early 1935. He was roughed up in a preseason exhibition game against the Yankees, then unsuccessfully tried to convert to playing first base. Baseball-Reference and news stories do not show that Flohr ever played a regular-season game for Charlotte in 1935, and news stories indicate he was playing unaffiliated semipro ball in the Carolinas later that summer.

19 Associated Press, “Southpaw Weighs Comeback,” Buffalo Evening News, July 1, 1936: 26. Game stories from June 1934 do not characterize Flohr’s pitch as coming close to Ruth’s head or otherwise endangering his life.

20 Gilhooly. Ruth’s 1934 home-run log on Baseball-Reference confirms that he never homered off Flohr – though he did hit his first homer of the season off Tim McKeithan, another former Duke Blue Devil, on April 18.

21 John Vergara, “The Yanks Come Home,” New York Daily News (Sunday magazine section), April 4, 1976: 24.

22 Roy Mahaffey led the team with six wild pitches in 37 games, spanning 129 innings.

Additional Stats

New York Yankees 11
Philadelphia Athletics 4

Yankee Stadium
New York, NY


Box Score + PBP:

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1930s ·