Anything Can Happen in Wrigley Field

This article was written by Art Ahrens

This article was published in the Road Trips: SABR Convention Journal Articles


This article was originally published in “Baseball in Chicago,” the 1986 SABR convention journal.

 

The 1986 season marks the 70th anniversary of the Cubs’ occupancy of Wrigley Field. Originally known as Weeghman Park, it was opened in 1914 for the Chicago Whales of the short-lived Federal League. The Cubs became residents in 1916, and the past 70 years have been like the script out of an old Marx brothers picture.

Old-time Brooklyn Dodger fans might insist that Ebbets Field was the zaniest of all the old ballparks. With all due respect to the denizens of Flatbush, this writer must vote for Wrigley Field.

True, Ebbets Field once witnessed three Dodgers on one base concurrently, but were there ever two balls in play at the same time? No. That only happened at Wrigley Field in the Cub-Cardinal game of June 30, 1959.

The mayhem occurred in the top of the fourth inning. On a three-and-one count, Cub pitcher Bob Anderson delivered one to Stan Musial that either tickled his bat or was a wild pitch. The ball bounced toward the screen and Cub catcher Sammy Taylor ignored it as if it were foul. Cub third baseman Al Dark rushed in to retrieve the ball, but the batboy picked it up and flipped it to field announcer Pat Pieper.

Musial, thinking it was ball four, headed toward first base. Plate umpire Vic Delmore pulled out another ball and handed it to Anderson, while Pieper gave the original ball to Dark. Musial ran for second base as Dark and Anderson both fired in that direction. Anderson’s throw sailed into center field while Dark’s went straight to shortstop Ernie Banks, who tagged Stan the man sliding into second.

Musial ignored the tag and streaked toward third. Center fielder Bobby Thomson retrieved the other ball and lobbed it into the Cub dugout. Play was stopped as Delmore ruled Musial out at second and umpire Al Barlick ruled him safe at first. They then conferred, and Musial was ruled out, although the base was not specified. Cardinal manager Solly Hemus announced he was playing the game under protest but after the Cardinals won, 4-1, the protest was dropped. And the National League dropped Delmore at the end of the season. Even Brooklyn could never match confusion like this.

Wrigley Field has long been known as a pitchers’ graveyard. Yet it was here that the only double no-hitter in baseball history took place. On May 2, 1917, Jim Vaughn of the Cubs and Fred Toney of the Reds held their opponents hitless for nine innings before Cincinnati eked out two safeties in the 10th to win, 1-0. So much for the graveyard theory.

Then came the lively ball and Wrigley Field became the site of the two highest-scoring contests in beg league annals. On August 25, 1922, the Cubs outlasted the Phillies, 26-23. Forty- seven years later, the Phillies wreaked a belated vengeance in a 23-22 victory on May 17, 1979. There was not another no-hitter on Chicago’s North Side until May 12, 1955, when Sam Jones turned the trick on the Pirates, 4-0. Back to the graveyard theory.

Wrigley Field is the only park with vines, without lights, and with a scoreboard that is primarily manually operated. All of these characteristics have inspired bizarre stories.

Back in the 1940s the Cubs had a pint-sized outfielder named Dom Dallessandro, also known as “the fireplug who walked like a man.” As legend has it, “Dim Dom” once got stuck in the vines while attempting to make a leaping catch. During the same era Cub outfielder Lou Novikoff was afraid to go near the vines because he thought they were poison ivy. In 1942 the “Mad Russian” batted .300 but his fielding average was not much higher since he never went beyond the warning track for a fly ball.

It has often been rumored that the Wrigley Field scoreboard crew includes shifty-eyed spies who use binoculars to steal the signals of the enemy. However, if the Cubs do employ such devious tactics, they have apparently been of little use since about 1945 (excluding 1984). And the lack of lights? Cynics say that the Cubs will never need night ball because they are always in the dark, anyway.

Wrigley Field is also the only place where a pitcher had to be relieved before he even threw a pitch. On June 21, 1957, the Cubs and the Giants were knotted up at 10 apiece when Jim Brosnan came to the mound in the 10th inning. Following a few warm-up tosses, Jim’s jersey caught in his zipper, he fell of the mound and had to be carried off on a stretcher. Dave Hillman was hurriedly brought in, served up a couple of gopher balls, and the Cubs went down to a 12-10 loss.

Addison and Clark has been the scene of historic hits as well as hysterical ones. On May 13, 1958, Cardinal great Stan Musial claimed hit number 3,000 of his career. Nearly five years later to a day—on May 8, 1963—Cub pitcher Bob Buhl came to the plate after having gone hitless in his last 88 at-bats. By the grace of the Wrigley Field wind currents, he was granted a windblown bloop single to end his suffering.

Brooklyn fans were long remembered as umpire haters and rightly so. But it is unlikely that any Ebbets Field frolic could have matched the Wrigley Field rumble of September 16, 1923. In the eighth inning Cub runner Sparky Adams was called out at second base in a close play by umpire Charlie Moran. Within moments the field was littered with pop bottles, pocket flasks, cushions and other debris while fans swarmed the field, threatening physical violence.

Judge Landis shook his cane at the crowd as play was held up for 20 minutes. After the Giants beat the Cubs, 10-6, manager John McGraw and the umpires needed a police escort to escape the lynch mob that assembled. (And the Mets used to whine about the Bleacher Bums!)

Cub fans have been on the receiving end also, as was the case on June 21, 1928. The Cubs had won the first game of a doubleheader with the Cardinals, 2-1, and were losing the nightcap, 4-1, when Hack Wilson grounded out for the second out in the bottom of the ninth. Suddenly Wilson charged into the grandstand and attacked Edward Young, a milkman who had been drinking something other than milk and had made disparaging remarks about Wilson’s birth. Gabby Hartnett and Joe Kelly broke up the fight, after which Riggs Stephenson popped up to end the game. National League president John Heydler fine Wilson $100 while Young got off with a $1.00 slap from Judge Francis P. Allegretti. Who says those things only happen in Brooklyn?

From Babe Ruth’s “called shot” to Gabby Hartnett’s “homer in the gloamin,’” Wrigley Field home runs always possessed an aura of the unearthly, in spite of the fact that there are so many of them. In fact, it is the only place where homers have been hit off successive pitches with the same baseball.

The hated Dodgers were in town on July 30, 1943. Johnny Allen was on the mound for Brooklyn in the third inning when Phil Cavarretta smashed one off the right-field foul pole for an automatic homer. The ball dropped back onto the outfield grass and was returned to Allen. Bill Nicholson the belted Johnny’s next offering into the bleachers. Two pitches, two homers, one horsehide. The Cubs went on to win, 12-3, behind pitcher Hiram Bithorn, who made Wrigley Field history about a year earlier when he fired a fastball at Leo Durocher in the visitor’s dugout.

The most controversial home run of the postwar era took place at Wrigley Field on April 30, 1949, in a game against the Cardinals. With Bob Rush on the mound and Bob Scheffing as his receiver, the Cubs nursed a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning. Rush fanned the awesome Stan Musial for out number one. Then Enos Slaughter doubled and took third when Ron Northey grounded out. Eddie Kazak singled home Slaughter to make it 3-2. Chuck Deering was sent in to run for Kazak as the redoubtable Rocky Nelson strode to the plate.

Nelson knocked Rush’s first pitch into left center, as Cub center fielder Andy Pafko came charging in. Pafko dived, somersaulted, and emerged with the ball, seemingly triumphant. But no, said second base ump Al Barlick, it was only a trap, not a catch. While teammates restrained the fuming Pafko, Cardinal coach Tony Kaufman began waving Deering and Nelson around the bags. Deering crossed as Rush, Scheffing, and manager Charlie Grimm all screamed for the ball. But Andy’s throw was too late and Nelson scored. Bullpen ace Ted Wilks made easy work of the Cubs in their half of the ninth, as a 3-2 Cub win was turned into a 4-3 Cub loss by a freakish “home run.”

So much for the inside-the-glove homer. Now for the one that was inside-the-drain. It was July 1, 1958, when Cub second baseman Tony Taylor pulled one down the left field line. Giant left fielder Leon Wagner lost sight of the ball, then made the mistake of taking instructions from the Cub bullpen as to its whereabouts. While Wagner was frantically searching in all the wrong places— the ball had actually rolled into a gutter drain—Taylor circled the bases for another bizarre Wrigley Field “homer,” as the Cubs went on to a9-5 victory.

But the all-time classic came on August 6, 1919, back in the days when the outfield fence was made out of wire mesh. Grover Alexander was on the rubber for the Cubs when Braves pitcher Ray Keating came to bat with a man on in the top of the third. Keating hit a line fly to left center which eluded the Cub outfielders and finally bounced through a hole in the fence for a perfectly legitimate home run under the ground rules of the time.

For Keating, a lifetime .170 batter, it was the only homer of his career as he blanked the Cubs 2-0 on a three-hitter. Whether or not this was a contributing factor in Alexander’s drinking habits can only be speculated upon. In any case, it could only happen at Wrigley Field.

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