“The greatest invention since the cotton gin”?1 Television or maybe the transistor radio?
No, it was a batting helmet that the Brooklyn Dodgers team physician, Dr. Eugene Zorn, was referring to, one that prevented serious injury to Milwaukee Braves infielder Joe Adcock when he was beaned on August 1, 1954, at Ebbets Field. As several other National League teams had already done, the Braves had mandated the use of batting helmets earlier that season.2 Adcock’s beaning, the day after he hit four home runs against the Dodgers, helped push NL owners to require protective headgear for all batters beginning with the 1956 season.3 American League owners did the same before the 1958 season – a decision that had significant consequences for one emerging star.4
“In my book he’s the greatest right-handed hitter in the league,” said Ted Williams in 1955 of 20-year-old AL batting champ Al Kaline.5 Three seasons later, in 1958, Kaline was already a three-time All-Star and reigning Gold Glove winner, leading the Detroit Tigers with shortstop Harvey Kuenn and pitching ace Jim Bunning. Picked to finish in the middle of the AL pack,6 Detroit played unevenly to start the season. By the end of May they were four games under .500, one game out of last place.
Desperate to turn the season around, the Tigers made a flurry of moves in late May and June. Skipper Jack Tighe was replaced by Bill Norman, manager of their Charleston Triple-A club.7 Detroit brought up some prospects,8 purchased or claimed several experienced players,9 and made three trades, including one with the White Sox.10
All the personnel changes couldn’t salvage the Tigers’ season. Eliminated from the pennant race by mid-September, the Tigers entered their season-ending road trip in a three-way tie with the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians for third place. Chicago was their first stop on the trip.
The White Sox had finished second to the Yankees in 1957 and were expected to challenge for the 1958 AL pennant.11 They relied on speed and defense, having led the league in stolen bases and fielding percentage for the past several years. The White Sox boasted Gold Glovers in shortstop Nellie Fox and catcher Sherm Lollar, and by adding four-time 20-game winner Early Wynn in the offseason, they felt they had the best pitching staff in baseball.12
But Chicago opened the season poorly. On June 13 the White Sox were eight games under .500 and in last place. Morale wasn’t helped by a Comiskey family feud over team ownership that lasted throughout the season.13 Too late to make a difference against the first-place Yankees, the White Sox surged with 42 wins in 67 games between June 13 and August 20, foreshadowing their drive to their first AL pennant in 40 years a season later in 1959. But in ’58 the Yankees had already clinched the pennant by the time the Tigers came to town to open Chicago’s final homestand of the season.
The Tigers and White Sox split the first two games of their three-game series. Tiger Paul Foytack bested Wynn in a complete-game four-hitter on September 23. A day later, the White Sox won in 10 innings, with Lollar singling in the winning run, and clinched their second straight second-place finish.
The Tigers sent Bunning to the mound versus Dick Donovan for the rubber match on September 25. The 26-year-old Bunning’s record of 13-11 with a 3.57 ERA was well short of his 20-8, 2.69 performance the previous year – a breakthrough season in what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career. Donovan was 15-13 with a 2.95 ERA, looking for a career-high 16th win.
The White Sox lineup was filled with youngsters and backups, Manager Al Lopez evaluating options for the next season.14 Lollar, shortstop Luis Aparicio, and first baseman Earl Torgeson sat, along with outfielders Al Smith and Jim Landis. Nellie Fox was in the lineup, playing his 510th consecutive game at second base.15
Unlike the White Sox, the Tigers were still fighting for first-division bonuses.16 Detroit filled its lineup with regulars except for slick fielding Coot Veal at shortstop,17 with Billy Martin, who regularly manned the position, shifting to third base.
Temperatures were expected in the upper 70s, with light rain forecast for the Thursday afternoon contest. In attendance were 709 fans, the White Sox’ second smallest crowd of the season and the smallest regular-season crowd the Tigers had played in front of in six seasons.18
Donovan escaped trouble in the top of the first. After Tigers second baseman Frank Bolling reached on an error by center fielder Bubba Phillips, Kuenn grounded into a double play. Kaline doubled and reached third on a wild pitch but was left stranded.
Batting leadoff for the White Sox, in his first major-league start, was 22-year-old right fielder Jim McAnany. Hitless in one plate appearance since being called up, McAnany was no match for Bunning, striking out. After Fox delivered his league-leading 182nd hit, Bunning hit third baseman Billy Goodman with a pitch. The rally ended with catcher Earl Battey grounding into a double play.
The Tigers broke through for three runs against Donovan in the second. Bunning singled home a run, with a second run scoring on the play after a throwing error by White Sox shortstop Sammy Esposito. Kuenn singled to bring Bunning home, extending his hitting streak to 14 games.19
Another error by Esposito opened the door to two more Detroit runs in the fourth. A sacrifice fly by Kuenn and a run-scoring single by Kaline gave Bunning a 5-0 lead.
Donovan was lifted in the fifth for right-hander Hal Trosky Jr. The son of former Indians and White Sox slugger Hal Trosky Sr., Trosky Jr. was making his major-league debut.20 He allowed a leadoff single to Martin, who was erased attempting to steal second base as left fielder Charlie Maxwell struck out. Trosky retired catcher Red Wilson for the third out.
The White Sox scored in the bottom of the fifth on Ron Jackson’s home run to deep left field. Rookie sensation Johnny Callison21 followed with a single, but the inning ended when pinch-hitter Ray Boone (traded from Detroit on June 15) grounded into a double play.
Bob Shaw replaced Trosky in the sixth. Shaw had been traded to the White Sox along with Boone. The trade had been triggered by Shaw’s refusing reassignment to Charleston a few days earlier after he claimed the demotion was to avoid paying him a $1,000 contractual bonus for being on the Tigers’ big-league roster on June 15. Shaw was thrilled to be with the White Sox.22
After walking Bunning and giving up a single to Bolling, Shaw faced Kaline with two runners on and two out. Kaline had also been in a recent bonus controversy with the Tigers front office. In June the press reported that Kaline had been offered an illegal performance bonus by McHale. (Incentive pay agreements, whether written or verbal, were banned by the major leagues at the time.23) Kaline at first confirmed the allegation but later denied that a bonus had been offered, calling the situation a misunderstanding.24
In two prior at-bats against Shaw that season, Kaline had been hitless. This time, Shaw lost his command – and he beaned Kaline with a fastball, hitting the back of his helmet. Kaline collapsed and lay on the ground, conscious, for several minutes. He was taken off on a stretcher and taken to Chicago’s Mercy Hospital for X-rays.25
The Tigers added a run in the seventh on Wilson’s sacrifice fly, and another in the ninth on a home run by Gail Harris off reliever Tom Qualters. It was the first homer Qualters had allowed all season, over 43 innings – in what turned out to be his final major-league game.26
Bunning allowed a two-out double to Phillips in the ninth, then retired Callison on a fly ball to center for the final out. He had his 14th victory of the season (and for the moment the AL strikeout lead over Early Wynn). Donovan took the loss.
To the relief of Tigers fans, Kaline’s X-rays were negative. He complained of dizziness and poor eyesight the next day, but “despite a doctor’s urging,”27 was back in the lineup the day after that. Afterward, Kaline told reporters that he’d been saved by his protective helmet.28 Despite Kaline’s return, the Tigers lost two of three games in their season-ending series with Cleveland and finished in the second division.
As with Joe Adcock in 1954, the “greatest invention” had saved Kaline from serious injury and allowed him to continue his Hall of Fame career, which in many respects lived up to Ted Williams’s early praise.29 Known as “Mr. Tiger,” Kaline was an institution in Detroit for many years, eventually leading the Tigers to the 1968 World Series championship. When he retired after the 1974 season, Kaline had 3,007 career hits, 399 home runs, 18 All-Star selections, and 10 Gold Gloves; he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for pertinent material and the box scores noted here.
1 “Seam Marks Left on Joe’s Helmet,” The Sporting News, August 11, 1954: 13.
2 The Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1941, were the first major-league team to require that batters wear head protection (the club had quarter-inch-thick plastic guards inserted into baseball cap pockets), following beanings suffered by Joe Medwick and Pee Wee Reese the previous season. Pirates GM Branch Rickey required players to wear protective helmets for the 1953 season. In 1954 Cubs manager Phil Cavarretta required all players to wear batting helmets after rookie shortstop Ernie Banks was hit on the back of the head. It was Andy Pafko’s beaning by Cincinnati Redlegs hurler Joe Nuxhall on April 13 that prompted the Braves to require that their players wear batting helmets. Pafko was voluntarily wearing a helmet, which averted serious injury. “Doctors Devised Helmet,” The Sporting News, March 13, 1941: 7; Jack Hernon, “Scouting for New Hat Sizes,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 22, 1953; 23; The Sporting News, March 17, 1954: 12; Joe Reichler (Associated Press), “Redlegs Down Braves, 9-8; Mathews Hits Two Home Runs,” LaCrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune, April 14, 1954: 26; “Seam Marks Left on Joe’s Helmet”
3 During their annual meeting after the 1955 season, NL owners by a vote of 6 to 2 approved a rule requiring all players to wear protective headgear while batting. Cardinals GM Frank Lane, a former pro football player and a longtime supporter of a helmet rule, offered that “all of us can remember just a few years back when there always were one of [sic] two football players on each team that spurned a helmet. Now if you asked one of them to go out on the field without one, they’d think you were crazy.” “All Batters Must Wear Headgear Under N.L. Rule,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1955: 12.
4 Several high-profile American League players were beaned during the 1957 season, including prized Baltimore Orioles rookie Brooks Robinson, who was hit on the temple. The Orioles team physician, Dr. Erwin Mayer, remarked that Robinson “probably would not be alive if he hadn’t been wearing a hard top headgear.” On March 1, 1958, AL owners, by a vote of 7 to 1, approved a rule requiring batters to wear protective headgear. “Helmet Saves Brooks Robinson,” The Sporting News, August 14, 1957: 27; Oscar Ruhl, “Rule or No Rule, Ted Would Refuse Helmet,” The Sporting News, March 5, 1958: 18.
5 https://baseballhall.org/discover/kaline-remembered-for-talent-and-graciousness. Accessed October 21, 2012.
6 “32 Pages of Scouting Reports,” Sports Illustrated, April 14, 1958: 68-69.
7 Hal Middlesworth, “New Pilot Norman Tigers’ Last-Ditch Pitch for Pennant,” The Sporting News, June 18, 1958: 7.
8 One of those prospects, infielder Ozzie Virgil Sr., became the Tigers’ first player of color on June 6, 1958. Virgil was also the first native of the Dominican Republic to play in the major leagues when he debuted for the New York Giants in 1956. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ozzie-virgil-sr.
9 One of the players purchased was outfielder Bob Hazle from the Milwaukee Braves. Hazle had hit a sizzling .403 subbing for injured Bill Bruton in the second half of the 1957 season but had become expendable to the league-leading Braves after hitting under .200 the first two months of the 1958 season. Hazle had been beaned during spring training (April 12) by Tigers pitcher Tom Morgan, the ball striking his helmet, and on May 7, Hazle was beaned for a second time by Cardinals pitcher Larry Jackson, the ball hitting him behind his ear and below the helmet. He was diagnosed with a brain concussion and hospitalized for three days. Hazle returned to play on May 17 and three days later was submitted for waivers by the Braves. Soon after, one NL manager offered that Hazle “has been having dizzy spells ever since he got beaned.” Hazle played his last game for the Tigers on September 28, 1958. Not invited to Tigers spring training in 1959, he bounced around the Tigers farm system until he retired in April 1961, his confidence shot after multiple beanings. “Hazle Hit in Head by Pitch … Braves Outfield Problem Grows Worse,” Racine (Wisconsin) Journal Times, May 8, 1958: 31; “Bob Hazle Released from Jewish Hospital,” LaCrosse Tribune, May 11, 1958: 16; Dick Young, “Clubhouse Confidential,” The Sporting News, June 4, 1958: 12; https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bob-hazle/.
10 During this period the Tigers also signed a 17-year-old left-handed pitcher from Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon, who started and won three games for them in the 1968 World Series – Michael Stephen “Mickey” Lolich.
11 “32 Pages of Scouting Reports,” Sports Illustrated, April 14, 1958: 64-65.
12 Wynn was acquired in a four-player trade with the Cleveland Indians that featured Minnie Miñoso moving over from the White Sox. Miñoso had been labeled untouchable just days before the trade by White Sox owner Chuck Comiskey. Miñoso, the first player of color for the White Sox, was a five-time All Star for them, led the AL in stolen bases and triples twice each, and earned a Gold Glove in 1957. It was Miñoso’s baserunning in 1951 that triggered chants of “Go!Go!Go!,” spawning the sobriquet “Go-Go Sox.” After the Wynn trade, Indians GM Frank Lane lamented that “I just dealt the pennant to the White Sox.” Edgar Munzel, “White Sox Dangle Doby as Swap Bait; Six ‘Untouchables,’” The Sporting News, December 4, 1957: 17; https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/minnie-minoso; Edgar Munzel, “Lopez Claims Top Hill Staff for White Sox,” The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 3.
13 After majority owner Grace Comiskey’s death in 1956, control of the White Sox was shared between her daughter, Dorothy Comiskey Rigney, and son, Charles “Chuck” Comiskey II. Chuck was unhappy with his smaller share of the club and sued in Cook County (Chicago) probate court for control. The controversy spilled into the newspapers after the 1957 season and remained unresolved throughout the 1958 season. Edgar Munzel, “Fans See Family Feud as Blow to Chisox’ Chances,” The Sporting News, January 1, 1958: 6; “Chuck Makes Bid for Sister’s Shares and Chisox Control,” The Sporting News, November 12, 1958: 21.
14 A few days before September 25, Lopez signed his contract for the 1959 season – and predicted a pennant the next season for the White Sox. Edgar Munzel, “Senor on Record Early – Forecasts Flag Next Year,” The Sporting News, September 24, 1958: 9.
15 Fox’s streak reached 798 consecutive games, a Major League record for second basemen, ending on September 3, 1960. https://www.mlb.com/news/most-consecutive-games-played-in-mlb-history-c282212708
16 The Tigers players would have known that player bonuses for 1957 were $1,004 and $466 for third and fourth place AL finishers, respectively, and likely expected similar bonuses for 1958. Dan Daniel, “30 Braves Get Full Shares of $8,924; $5,606 to 33 Yanks,” The Sporting News, October 23, 1957: 9.
17 At the season’s end, Veal, a rookie, had the highest fielding percentage of any AL shortstop with at least 200 chances (.981).
18 The lowest turnout at Comiskey Park in 1958 was 632 fans for a rainy Thursday afternoon game on May 22 against the Baltimore Orioles. The Tigers, mired in last place and losers of a then franchise-worst 102 games, played in front of 569 home fans against the St. Louis Browns at Briggs Stadium exactly six years before this game with the White Sox, on September 25, 1952.
19 Kuenn’s hitting streak extended through the end of the 1958 season and the first three games of the 1959 season, for a total of 20 games.
20 Assigned by the pitching-rich White Sox to the minors after spring training, Trosky was a late-season call-up from Colorado Springs, where he had a 10-8 record. Edgar Munzel, “Senor on Record Early – Forecasts Flag Next Year.”
21 The 19-year-old Callison was called up to the White Sox in June from Indianapolis, where he led the American Association with 29 home runs. Callison went 3-for-3 with two doubles in his debut on September 9 – the most hits by a White Sox rookie in a debut since Bill Cissell also had three hits on Opening Day 1928.
22 In a 2003 interview, Shaw told Joe Goddard of the Chicago Sun Times, “McHale said he wouldn’t pay, so I gambled and went home. It was the best decision I ever made because they traded me to the White Sox.” Shaw wired McHale to say that he and his parents had decided that he “would be better off in another form of endeavor.” Speculation that McHale was trying to trade Shaw was first reported on June 15 and validated with his trade to the White Sox that same day. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bob-shaw/; Hal Middlesworth, “Lou Skizas, Shaw Balk,” Detroit Free Press, June 15, 1958: 39.
23 “Who Mentioned Bonus,” Lansing State Journal, June 3, 1958: 22.
24 In his biography Kaline acknowledged that McHale had indeed offered him the bonus reported by the AP in June 1958. The bonus was a way for Kaline to earn back the cut in his 1958 salary after a disappointing 1957 season. Jim Hawkins, Al Kaline – The Biography of a Tigers Icon (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2010), 105-106.
25 Hal Middlesworth, “Kaline Beaned (but OK) as Tigers Rip Chisox, 7-1,” Detroit Free Press, September 26, 1958: 35.
26 Qualters was a bonus baby signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in June 1953 for an estimated $40,000. He debuted with the Phillies in September 1953 and spent the entire 1954 season on the Phillies roster without ever entering a game – one of only four players ever to do so. Qualters finished his career without ever earning a victory. https://sabr.org/journal/article/tom-qualterss-amazing-1954-season-for-the-philadelphia-phillies/.
27 Hal Middlesworth, “Dizziness Benches Al,” Detroit Free Press, September 27, 1958: 16; Middlesworth, “Tigers Refuse to Give Up on 3rd Place, 5-1,” Detroit Free Press, September 28, 1958: 46.
28 “Tigers in Third Place but Face Stiff Battle,” Traverse City (Michigan) Record-Eagle, September 26, 1958: 21.
29 Kaline admirer Ted Williams held batting helmets in disdain before the new headgear rule was imposed. His dislike of them was identified by Red Sox management as the reason why they cast the lone dissenting vote in the AL owners’ vote on the rule. Williams, who contended that the weight of a protective cap interfered with his timing, reversed course during spring training and began wearing one: “I don’t like those space helmets but if I have to wear them, I guess I will.” Al Kaline, on the other hand, supported wearing helmets before the headgear rule was imposed, even endorsing the ABC helmet brand, whose president was Branch Rickey, in a 1957 advertisement. Oscar Ruhl, “Bits and Bites – Begged, Borrowed and Bagged,” The Sporting News, August 14, 1957: 18; Oscar Ruhl, “Rule or No Rule, Ted Would Refuse Helmet,” The Sporting News, March 5, 1958: 18; “Controversy Over Helmet Proves Tempest in Teapot,” The Sporting News, March 19, 1958: 4; “Tops in Protection: The A.B.C. Cap Fiberglas Protective Headgear,” The Sporting News, April 17, 1957: 36; Hernon, “Scouting for New Hat Sizes.”