On October 2, 1949, it might have seemed hard to believe that the St. Louis Browns had been champions of the American League just five years before. St. Louis’s other baseball team slumped quickly back to the bottom of the AL standings after the end of World War II, when many players throughout the majors returned from military duty. As the decade’s last day of regular-season play dawned, the Browns were in seventh place, 43½ games out, with a 52-100 record.
The Browns faced off in a doubleheader that day against the Chicago White Sox, who sat just one place ahead of them with a 62-90 record, 33½ games behind the first-place New York Yankees. About 9,850 fans paid to attend the doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park.1 That would have been a slow day for many teams, but it was a packed house by the Browns’ standards. They drew just 270,936 fans that season for an average of 3,519 per game, far and away the worst in the major leagues.
The crowd saw history of a modest sort in the first game. By prearrangement – not desperation – the Browns trotted out a new pitcher in each inning, nine in total, breaking the previous major-league record of eight pitchers in a game.2 Only one of the nine, Al Papai, was able to pitch a 1-2-3 inning as the White Sox won, 4-3. “Rather a sad commentary on the ability of the staff,” sniffed the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.3
The second game offered fans a different sort of excitement, as Browns manager Zack Taylor penciled in a promising pitcher for his big-league debut. Twenty-year-old Ed Albrecht was a St. Louis native who had put in a few years in the New York Giants’ system before signing with his hometown team. Pitching for the Pine Bluff (Arkansas) Cardinals of the Class C Cotton States League, Albrecht posted an astonishing 29-12 record, a 2.60 ERA, and a league-record 389 strikeouts in 332 innings. He won three more games in the league playoffs. “Albrecht burned up the Cotton States as that Class C circuit had never been scorched before,” The Sporting News reported.4
Chicago opted for experience and craftiness against youth and speed, giving the start to 36-year-old lefty knuckleballer Mickey Haefner. A midseason pickup from Washington, Haefner brought a 9-10 record into the game.
As befitted a meaningless end-of-season game, both teams gave playing time to a mix of young newcomers and players on their way out. Browns second baseman Owen Friend made his big-league debut in the first game and started again in the nightcap. Five players made their final major-league appearances in the second game – center fielder Bill Higdon and catcher Don Wheeler for the White Sox; and left fielder Whitey Platt, shortstop John Sullivan, and substitute right fielder Stan Spence for the Browns. Jim Baumer, Chicago’s 18-year-old starting shortstop, traveled a unique career path: After playing eight games with the 1949 White Sox, Baumer vanished from the majors until 1961, when he resurfaced for 10 games with the Cincinnati Reds.5
With patchwork lineups in place, the teams faced off. Albrecht displayed “a fast, down-breaking flutter ball” that proved effective, as he retired the first six White Sox hitters.6 Haefner allowed only a leadoff single in the first, but the Browns nicked him for two runs in the second. Center fielder Roy Sievers, who was named AL Rookie of the Year after the season ended, drew a walk, and catcher Sherm Lollar doubled him home. Friend singled in Lollar, collecting his first big-league hit and RBI. Haefner walked Sullivan and wild-pitched the runners to second and third. But the inning died by misadventure as the White Sox turned a bunt by Albrecht into a double play. Haefner threw Friend out at home, and catcher Wheeler pegged to second to catch Albrecht trying to sneak an extra base.
Albrecht walked two runners in the third but retired right fielder Dave Philley on a fly to center and Higdon on a grounder back to the mound to escape the jam. The Browns then added to their lead as third baseman Bob Dillinger singled, moved to second on a bunt, and scored on a single by Sievers for a 3-0 Browns lead.
After the White Sox went in order in the top of the fourth, the Browns kept pouring it on in the bottom half. Friend singled and Sullivan doubled him to third. At that point, Chicago manager Jack Onslow replaced Haefner with rookie Max Surkont. Surkont walked Albrecht and gave up a single to Dillinger, scoring Friend. Browns first baseman Paul Lehner grounded to first-sacker Chuck Kress, who went to second for the force on Dillinger as Sullivan scored. Surkont retired Platt and Sievers to hold the Browns to a 5-0 lead.
Going into the fifth, Albrecht had not allowed a hit, but the White Sox finally broke through against the sensation of the Cotton States League. Kress and Wheeler led off with walks, and Baumer hit the only triple of his big-league career to score them both. One out later, replacement right fielder George Metkovich’s grounder to second brought home Baumer for a 5-3 score. Albrecht retired Higdon on another groundout to end the inning. “Albrecht proved himself a stout competitor,” one scribe declared.7
Onslow trotted out second-year man Howie Judson, with a 1-14 record, to pitch the bottom of the fifth. The Browns loaded the bases on one-out singles by Spence and Friend and a walk to Sullivan, but Judson struck out Albrecht and Dillinger to end the threat.
At that point, the two-man umpiring crew of Bill McKinley and Jim Boyer called the game for darkness. Sportsman’s Park had had lights since the 1940 season, but rules in place at the time did not allow teams to finish day games under the lights.8 This ended the Browns’ 1949 season a few innings early and handed Albrecht a complete-game one-hitter in his first big-league game. The National League allowed the completion of day games under lights the following season, and the American League followed suit for 1951.9
Haefner took the loss. Both starters walked more hitters than they struck out – four walks to one K for Albrecht, and two walks and no whiffs for Haefner. This was consistent with Haefner’s performance all season, as he walked 94 batters and struck out only 40 in 33 appearances. The game ended in just 78 minutes.
It was Albrecht’s only major-league win, as well as his only complete game. Albrecht appeared in two games with the Browns in 1950, going 0-1, and returned to the minors. Unable to reproduce his remarkable success in the Cotton States League, he sat out the 1952 season with a sore arm,10 and his last professional season was 1953. That was also the Browns’ final season in St. Louis, as they moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles in 1954. Fast-forwarding a decade from Albrecht’s win, on the last day of regular-season play in the 1950s – September 27, 1959 – Baltimore beat the Yankees, 3-1.
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 The St. Louis Star and Times and Chicago Tribune listed 9,849 as the attendance, with the St. Louis paper specifying “paid.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited a crowd of 10,196.
2 Associated Press, “Sox Win, 4-3; Then Lose to St. Louis, 5-3,” Chicago Tribune, October 3, 1949: Part 3, 2. The old record of eight pitchers in a game was jointly held by the Washington Senators on October 4, 1913, and the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 25, 1946. As of the start of the 2021 season, the record for most pitchers used in a nine-inning game is 11, set by the San Francisco Giants against the Colorado Rockies on October 4, 2015.
3 Dent McSkimming, “Sievers and Albrecht Help Lighten Up a Drab Day Here,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 1949: 5B.
4 Bob Broeg, “Browns’ Spotlight on Two Hill Kids,” The Sporting News, March 1, 1950: 18. The other “hill kid” prospect mentioned in the headline, Burke McLaughlin, never made the major leagues.
5 Baumer was the youngest player in the AL in 1949. In his years between major-league appearances, he missed the 1952 and 1953 seasons entirely while serving in the military and made a variety of stops in the United States and Mexico. He also played in Japan from 1963 through 1967, and became a front-office executive with several major-league teams after his retirement as a player.
6 Ray Nelson, “Brownie Cotton Stater Finds Sox Easy Pickin’,” St. Louis Star-Times, October 3, 1949: 21. It is difficult to imagine Albrecht’s out pitch based on Nelson’s description, which seems to combine elements of a fastball, curve, and knuckleball.
8 Sid Keener, “Old-Fashioned Regulations Govern Games Under Lights,” St. Louis Star-Times, September 8, 1949: 27.
9 Dan Daniel, “Majors Shift ’51 All-Star Game Site to Detroit,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1950: 5.
10 “Albrecht 4th Mission to Retire,” The Sporting News, April 9, 1952: 28.