The Little World Series had been played on and off between the champions of the American Association and the International League (originally the Eastern League) since 1904. Unfortunately for the Minneapolis Millers, the series was mostly off during the 1910s, when they had some of their most powerful teams.
The series was back on by the 1920s and, renamed the Junior World Series, finally came to Minneapolis in 1932.
Mike Kelley, a notable player, manager, and owner on both sides of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities since the formation of the American Association in 1902, had established an effective retooling operation in Minneapolis. An independent operator who stayed that way well after other minor-league teams became part of farm systems, Kelley found a niche in acquiring aging players who could pad their statistics in cozy Nicollet Park, which had a foul pole down the right-field line only 279 feet from home plate.
One slugger suited to Nicollet Park was Joe Hauser, although he could reach the fences in any ballpark. Hauser hit 63 home runs for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League in 1930. In 1933 Hauser produced a nice total of 69 home runs for the Millers, becoming the first player to twice top 60 home runs in professional baseball.
In between, Hauser hit 49 home runs in 1932, his first year in Minneapolis. He was out the final two weeks of the season with a bad knee and as a result missed a chance at the league record of 54 home runs, set by Nick Cullop of the Millers in 1930.
Hauser wasn’t the only fence-cracker on the team, which finished with a record of 100-88, 10½ games ahead of second-place Toledo, and scored an Association-record 1,162 runs. Joe Mowry scored 175 of those runs, also a league record never broken, Art Ruble led the Association with a batting average of .376, and Babe Ganzel was on top with 143 runs batted in.
Hauser was back for the Junior World Series, against the Newark Bears, a powerful farm club of the New York Yankees that included Johnny Neun, Woody Jensen, Jesse Hill, Red Rolfe, Jack Saltzgaver, and Dixie Walker. The Bears had won 109 games and finished 15½ games ahead of second-place Baltimore.
The Millers, despite scoring only five runs, won two of three in Newark, and the series shifted to a much colder Minneapolis for the remaining games.1
The players made it west without problem; their uniforms and equipment were another story. A former New York newspaperman, angry that the Bears wouldn’t pay his expenses, shoved four trunks off the train in New Jersey. The trunks were recovered and flown to Chicago on Saturday night, October 1, less than 24 hours before Game Four, and then transported overnight to Minneapolis. “Most of the Millers’ bats were broken,” reported the Minneapolis Tribune, “but fortunately, they have a surplus of cudgels stored away.”2
At Nicollet Park on Sunday, the Bears evened the series with a 5-2 win pitched by Don Brennan (referred to by Minneapolis writers as “the merry mortician”3 and “the portly undertaker from Augusta, Maine”4), who had also been the winning pitcher in the opener.
After an open date, cold weather caused a postponement before the series resumed on Wednesday, October 5. Another chilly day — 47 degrees at game time — held the crowd to 3,695.5 This one finally produced the slugfest many had been expecting.
Hauser hit his second home run of the series in the first inning, and the Millers added another on a wild pitch in the second for a 2-0 lead.
Jensen tied the game with a two-run homer the third inning, and both teams scored a run in the fifth. The Millers broke the game open off Pete Jablonowski (later Pete Appleton) and Jim Weaver with five in the sixth.
Hill’s two-run homer in the seventh cut the lead to 8-5, and the Bears loaded the bases with no out in the eighth. Rosy Ryan relieved Jess Petty and forced home two runs by walking pinch-hitter Jimmy Moore and hitting Neun with a pitch. Elam Vangilder came in and gave up a game-tying sacrifice fly to Rolfe.
With the score 8-8 in the top of the ninth, the Bears had Saltzgaver on third and Charley Hargreaves on first with two out. At 4:10 P.M.,6 a little more than two hours into the game, Johnny Neun hit a soft fly into shallow left-center field. Center fielder Harry Rice charged in, dived, and made a backhanded stab at the ball.
Rice, after seemingly capturing the ball, slid on the ground before coming up with it.Third-base umpire Charley Johnston7 signaled out, and Jack Carroll at second followed with a similar signal, according to the Minneapolis writers.
Jim O’Phelan of the St. Paul Pionner Press wrote that Rice, after catching the ball “while lying flat on his side … appeared to be groping for the pellet” and that Johnston signaled out and Carroll safe. Ed Shave, another St. Paul writer, wrote, “Umpire Carroll at second base, hesitated a bit and then waved his arm indicating that Neun was out, that Rice had caught the ball. Umpire Johnston, at third, did likewise.”8
An Eastern reporter, Hy Goldberg of the Newark Evening News, merely wrote, “Neun lashed a drive to center and when Rice dived and came up with the ball, the trouble started.”9
Regardless of the umpire signals, the initial call favored the Millers, and the inning was over with no runs scoring. Led by coach Bernard “Mike” Kelly and manager Al Mamaux, the Bears charged out of the dugout, first confronting Johnston and then bringing Carroll into the discussion. As the second-base umpire, Carroll by agreement had the primary responsibility for calls involving the center fielder.10 He said he wasn’t sure if Rice had held the ball and changed the call to safe.
Another round of reversals followed, first Minneapolis manager Donie Bush getting the umpires to change the call back to out and then Mamaux getting them to change it again.
Umpire-in-chief Bill Summers joined the fray. (First-base umpire Jeff Pfeffer never left his spot, according to Rudick.) Upon hearing that Carroll wasn’t sure if Rice made a clean catch or not, Summers ruled Neun out. However, this decision was no more decisive than the previous four. One more visit by Mamaux was enough for Carroll to reverse himself again.
“The Play of Six Decisions” now stood as a safe call, which meant that Saltzgaver’s run counted and gave the Bears the lead. Bush and Rice had been ejected. On his way out, the Minneapolis skipper lodged a formal protest.
When the game resumed at 4:50, Vangilder gave up a three-run homer to Rolfe. The Millers got one back in the bottom of the inning and lost 12-9.
At 8:00 that night, the parties met at the Leamington Hotel in Minneapolis. Kelley and Bush represented the Millers. Along with Mamaux was Newark vice president and general manager George Weiss. The umpires were there, but the power was with the Junior Series Commission, which had only two members present: Thomas Hickey, president of the American Association, and William Manley, secretary-treasurer of the International League. The National Association representative, Piedmont League President William Bramham, was not at the series. He had suggested that Mike Sexton take his spot, but Sexton was also unavailable or unwilling.11 “Not foreseeing yesterday’s trouble, it was decided to get along without a third commissioner,” wrote a staff correspondent for the Newark Evening News.12
The vote ended in a partisan deadlock; as a result, the Millers’ protest was disallowed, and the Bears’ 12-9 victory stood.
“If we are ever indicted for a capital offense we will ask for a four-man jury comprised of those Little Series umps,” wrote Howard Freeman in the Newark Evening News. “They reached plenty of decisions, but they reversed themselves until they were spinning like tops. … The two ball teams were divided on the sizzling question of whether Rice caught or trapped that ball Johnnie Neun hit to centerfield. The four umpires were equally divided and the league officials were as evenly divided as a red apple in an orphan asylum. …
“If W.G. Branham [sic], the third appointed league representative, had been present the question of the officiated decision could have been decided by a two to one vote. But Branham has not been present at any of the Little Series games and he’s probably darn glad he was absent yesterday.”
Said Rice after the game, “I am probably the only man in the park who knows just what happened, and I am saying that I caught the ball. As I hit the ground shortly after the catch the ball popped out of my glove and rolled a little way up my wrist, but I made a grab for it and got it before it touched the ground.
“That was what they saw me grabbing for and, since they didn’t see the ball on the ground, how can they call the man safe?”13
“There is nothing I can do about it now,” said Kelley. “We will have to take our medicine and like it although it was the most amateurish exhibition of umpiring I have ever seen on a baseball diamond during my 39 years in the game.”14
The teams met again the next day at Nicollet Park, and it looked as if the Millers would force a final game as they carried a 7-5 lead into the ninth. However, Newark scored three runs, the final two on a home run by Marv Owen, to win the game and the series.
The train ride home was more joyful than the trip out for the Bears. Minus Owen and Hill, who left the group in Chicago to return to their California homes, the rest of the team got back to Newark Saturday morning and were greeted by fans at the Market Street Station.15
As for the Millers, it would be 23 years before they got another shot in the Junior World Series.
When I first wrote about this game in the early 1980s, I relied entirely on the local reporters: George Barton and Irvin Rudick of the Minneapolis Tribune,16 Halsey Hall of the Minneapolis Journal,17 Charles Johnson of the Minneapolis Star,18 Ed L. Shave of the St. Paul Daily News,19 and Jim O’Phelan of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.20 The Minneapolis writers may have had a common perspective, one that leaned toward the Millers, regarding both the on-the-field events and the meeting that night to decide the protest. O’Phelan and Shave, though also Twin Cities reporters, at least were from a city with a rival team in the Millers’ league.
Realizing that Eastern reporters might have a different take on the events, I looked for articles from Newark sources. SABR member Stephen Katz provided two New Jersey newspapers: the Jersey Journal (with the note “Special to The Jersey Journal”) and an Associated Press story in the Trenton Times. The New York Times story is also from the Associated Press. The Sporting News of October 13, 1932, has a story on the Junior World Series that ends with the byline MAXWELL.
I was aware that Joe Donovan of the Newark Morning Ledger, Hy Goldberg of the Newark Evening News, G.A. Falzer of the Newark Sunday Call, and Michael Gaven of the Newark Star-Eagle had covered the games in Minneapolis.21 Falzer had no account of the series in the October 9 Sunday Call. The Newark Public Library provided articles from the Newark Evening News and Newark Star-Eagle although the library reported that unfortunately the October 6, 1932, Star-Eagle was missing when it was microfilmed.
Goldberg had only cursory details on the disputed play. More information was in an Evening News story from a “staff correspondent,” and it’s unclear who the reporter was or where he was from. Details varied somewhat in all the available newspapers, but all were critical of the umpires and the series commission.
Howard Freeman of the Newark Evening News maligned the umpires and league officials although it appears he was not in Minneapolis.
Jeff Lantz, the senior director of communications for Minor League Baseball, scoured the National Association archives, but the earliest book that includes meeting minutes was not until 1933, the year after the Play of Six Decisions.
1 A cartoon on page 13 of the October 6, 1932, Newark Evening News has images related to the cold weather in Minneapolis and includes a man looking at a paper and reading, “Temperature, Minneapolis 40, Newark 71.”
2 “Lose Equipment En Route,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 2, 1932: 2 Sports.
3 Halsey Hall, “Dutch Henry Ready for Fight to Salvage Series; Newark Picks Brennan,” Minneapolis Journal, October 6, 1932: 1.
4 Charles Johnson, “Millers Won’t Carry Protest to Landis,” Minneapolis Star, October 6, 1932: 13.
5 Howard Freeman, “Evening Muse,” Newark Evening News, October 6, 1932: 13.
6 Jim O’Phelan, “Bears Rally to Defeat Millers, 12-9, in Fifth Series Game,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 6, 1932: 13.
7 Larry Goetz of the American Association was to be one of the umpires, but he became ill after the regular season and was replaced by Charley Johnston. George Johnson was also replaced, by Jeff Pfeffer, who was at first base in this game. The International League umpires were Jack Carroll and Bill Summers, who, as the plate umpire, was the umpire-in-chief (from Charles Johnson’s article in the September 26, 1932, Minneapolis Star: 11).
9 Hy Goldberg, “Argument Rages Far into Night as Bears’ Third Victory Is Upheld: Millers’ Protest Divides Commission after Weird Umpiring on Hit by Neun,” Newark Evening News, October 6, 1932: 13.
10 George Barton, “Bears Win, Protest Fails; Umpires ‘Muff’ Beats Kels,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 6, 1932: 1; Barton and Johnson, in their stories, indicated that the umpires had previously agreed that the second-base umpire would be responsible for calls involving the center fielder.
11 Johnson noted that Mike Sexton “refused to act this year because he had been cut off from the minor leagues’ payroll.” According to The Sporting News, January 28, 1932: 7, Sexton was the recently retired head of the Mississippi Valley League and National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.
12 Staff Correspondent, “Arbiters Change Minds Often as Row Delays Game 40 Minutes,” Newark Evening News, October 6, 1932: 13.
13 “Rice Said He Juggled Ball but Clung to It,” Minneapolis Journal, October 6, 1932: 22.
15 Michael F. Gaven, “Victorious Bears Speeding Home with Series Crown,” Newark Star-Eagle, October 7, 1932: 1, 24.
16 George Barton and Irvin Rudick, “‘Just Like a County Fair,’ Says Mike Kelly of Grand Dispute,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 6, 1932: 15.
19 Ed L. Shave, “Newark Wins Weird Series Game, Leads Millers 3-2,” St. Paul Daily News, October 6, 1932: 15.
21 “‘Mike’ Kelly Coaches Newark in Series,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 3, 1932: 10.
Newark Bears 12
Minneapolis Millers 9
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