From a Researcher’s Notebook (1980)

This article was written by Al Kermisch

This article was published in 1980 Baseball Research Journal

Walter Johnson Wasn’t That Wild

When Phil Niekro, the Braves’ ace knuckleball pitcher, mad four wild pitches in the sixth inning of the second game at Houston on August 4, 1979, he set a new modern major league record. The baseball record books also list Walter Johnson with four wild pitches in the fourth inning of a game between the Senators and the White Sox at Chicago on September 21, 1914, but that is erroneous. Johnson, who won that game 6-1 in 13 innings, may have had four wild pitches in that game but certainly did not register four in the fourth inning. He had only one wild pitch in that inning and it led to the only run the White Sox could garner off him the entire afternoon. Following is the play-by-play of the White Sox half of the fourth inning as it appeared in the Chicago Daily News on September 21:

Collins dropped a single in short left-center. Daly was called out on strikes. Collins stole second. Foster threw out Schalk, Collins advancing to third. Collins scored on a wild pitch, tying the count. Roth grounded out, Morgan to Gandil. One run, one hit.


Del Unser Becomes Pinch-Homer Specialist

Del Unser of the Philadelphia Phillies hit four pinch-hit home runs during the 1979 season. Three of the circuit drives came in consecutive pinch-hit appearances to set a new major league record. Ironically, Unser was pretty much of a ping-pong hitter when he broke into the majors with the Washington Senators in 1968. He hit only one home run in 635 times at bat that year. He did not hit that first home run until his 462d time at bat in the big leagues. He finally connected off Jim Nash of the A’s at Oakland on August 20, 1968. It came in the first inning – a liner over the right field fence.

So far, none of Del’s major league pinch-hit home runs has come with the bases full. If he can add a grand-slam pinch-hit home run to his list, it will be quite an accomplishment for the Unser family, since his dad, Al Unser, performed the feat for the Tigers against the Yankees on May 31, 1944. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth at Detroit, Al batted for Joe Hoover and hit Walt Dubiel’s first pitch into the left-field stands to give the Tigers a 6-2 victory.


First Game of 1979 Series Not First to be Postponed

When the first game of the 1979 World Series scheduled for Baltimore on October 9 was postponed, it was officially announced that it was the first time that the first game of a World Series had been called off. The officials who made that determination somehow overlooked the 1918 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. That was the year that the baseball season was curtailed because of the war and the World Series was scheduled to open at Chicago on Wednesday, September 4. Rain, however, caused postponement of the game and it was played the next day, September 5, with Babe Ruth pitching the Red Sox to a 1 to 0 victory over the Cubs and Hippo Vaughn in a great battle of southpaws.


Silver King’s No-Hitter One of a Kind

On June 21, 1890, Charles F. “Silver” King of the Chicago Players’ League club held Brooklyn hitless but lost the game, played at Chicago, by a score of 1-0. King did not receive credit for a record book no-hitter since his team elected to take first bats. The game was over after Chicago batted in the first half of the ninth inning, leaving King with only eight hitless innings. King’s effort, however, deserves special mention. It was the only no-hitter of any kind in the one-year operation of the Players’ League, and therefore it makes it the only no-hit game ever pitched in the majors at a distance of 51½ feet. When many star players broke away from the National League and American Association in 1890 to start their own major league, they decided they wanted more hitting in their games and moved the pitcher back 18 inches from the existing 50-foot distance. Eighteen inches doesn’t sound like much but it produced the desired results.

The Players’ League topped the other two leagues in offensive categories. Only 32 shutouts were registered in the Players’ League compared to 53 in the National and 49 in the Association. The following figures disclose the offensive superiority of the 1890 Players’ League over its rivals:







































Federal League Came Close to Playing Night Ball

During the last month of the 1915 season, the Brooklyn Federal League club came close to playing a regular season night game. With the club going nowhere and attendance falling rapidly, even with a 10 cent bleacher admission, the Brooklyn club announced in early September that a lighting system would be installed in Washington Park and that the last series of games scheduled for Brooklyn between the Tiptops and the Buffalo Blues would be played at night. On September 11, work was begun on the pillars upon which the immense electric lights would be placed, and on Tuesday, September 28, announcement was made that the last of the eight-foot towers was completed and all that remained to be done was to install the lights. The Brookfeds had just returned from a western trip that day and the first night game was scheduled for the next day, September 29. 

Technical difficulties developed, however, and the next day the management conceded that it would be impossible to have the lights ready for that game or for any of the remaining league games since the Federal League season was scheduled to close that Saturday. It was then hoped that the Brookfeds could play a night exhibition game with the league champions later on but that, too, failed to materialize since the club disbanded on Saturday, October 2, and even the final doubleheader with Buffalo which was to close the season that afternoon was abruptly cancelled. The players scattered for their homes and when an exhibition game was played at night at Washington Park on October 26, it was between two semipro teams. Of course, there was optimism that night ball could be played in 1916, but it was not to be since the Federal League went out of business at the end of the 1915 campaign. 


The 1889 Strike of Six Louisville Players

One of the first strikes in major league history took place in Baltimore on June 14, 1889, when six players of the Louisville club of the American Association went on strike against their owner-manager Mordecai H. Davidson. The Louisville club was mired in last place and in the midst of a long losing streak. The day before, Davidson had fined Dan Shannon $25 for a fumble and wild throw and Paul Cook $25 for stupid base-running. But it all came to a head that day when Davidson announced that if the club did not win that afternoon every player would be fined $25. The players who refused to play that day were Shannon, Cook, Guy Hecker, Pete Browning,

Harry Raymond and Phil Ehret. The Louisville club had to pick up three Baltimore amateurs in order to put a team on the field that day. They were Mike Gaule, John Traffley and Charles Fisher. The Orioles had a 5-0 lead in the second inning when rain broke up the game. The next day the same make-shift team lost to the Orioles 4-2 in five innings, the game again being stopped by rain. The following day the striking players went to Bill Barnie, the Oriole manager, for guidance. Barnie, one of the most respected individuals in the league, advised the players to end their strike and assured them that their grievances would be taken before the American Association directors at the proper time.

The fines that Davidson levied totaled $1,435 against the eight players in less than a month.  The fines were deducted from their salaries and most of the players, instead of drawing any pay, were actually indebted to the club.  Browning, for example, owed a sum of $225.  While most of the players were highly indignant, Browning was philosophical about his fines but he did object to being fined $1.00 for the loss of a bat stolen at Baltimore. The bat was his own and he didn’t think he should be fined for the theft of an article that belonged to him. Davidson had no trouble keeping track of the fines since he was a bookkeeper by trade. He had left his long-time job as a bookkeeper with a furniture outfit and invested his life savings to go into the baseball business.

The Louisville club really had a terrible road trip. They lost all 21 games played and earlier in the trip were even missing for a few days as a result of the Johnstown flood. On June 4, the Louisville Commercial made light of the missing ball club, noting:

The Athletics failed to lower Louisville’s average yesterday. The game scheduled to be played at Philadelphia did not take place because the Wandering Jays are waterbound somewhere between Columbus and the Quaker City. There is not much sympathy for them here. In fact, if the entire team had been standing in front of the Johnstown reservoir when it broke last Friday evening, the majority of the people of Louisville would have viewed the calamity as just a visitation of Providence.

The Louisville losing streak reached an all-time major league record of 26 before it ended and Davidson finally announced he was turning the franchise back to the league, which in turn sold it for him to a group of local investors. As promised the striking players, the league directors met at Louisville in a special meeting on July 5 and decided to rescind most of the fines levied against the players by Davidson, except for the fines assessed to those players who refused to play in Baltimore. Davidson repeatedly refused to reimburse the players but the new owners eventually repaid the players out of the purchase money due Davidson. Louisville finished out the season deep in last place with a record of 27 wins and 111 defeats.

Toward the end of the 1889 campaign Jack Chapman, who had managed the Louisville National League club in 1877, was hired as manager. With the turmoil caused by the organization of the Players’ League in 1890, and the wholesale shift of players among the NL, AA, and PL, Chapman turned his team completely around. In fact, they won the Association pennant with a record of 88-44, the only major league club to ever go from last place one year to first place the next. In the process they gained 64 games, the best gain in games by a pennant winner in one season in major league history.


Harry Schafer’s Phantom Fielding Records

Baseball record books include the name of Harry C. Schafer, Boston National League flychaser in 1877, for two records for outfielders. His name leads the list of those who had four assists in nine-inning game. The other entry shows him with the major league record of 11 chances in a nine-inning game for right-fielders. Both entries are for the game of September 26, 1877, between Boston and Hartford played at Boston. That would constitute quite a day for a right-fielder, particularly in that era, but the truth of the matter is that Schafer did not have a single fielding change in that game, which was won by Boston by a score of 14 to 4. The only plausible explanation is that the box score checked by the record book researcher may have had Schafer’s totals transposed with those of catcher Lew Brown. Schafer batted eighth and Brown ninth. Brown had seven putouts and four assists, the exact totals that Schafer has been given credit for.


Ellis Burton’s Baseball Record

When switch hitter Ellis Burton homered from both sides of the plate in one inning for Toronto of the International League on May 3, 1961, two of his teammates were future managers of world championship teams. Sparky Anderson, who won titles with Cincinnati in 1975 and 1976, was at second base for the Leafs, while Chuck Tanner, manager of the 1979 champion Pittsburgh Pirates, played left field.

The game was played at Toronto and was the home opener for the Maple Leafs. A crowd of 10,171 turned out for the contest with the Jersey City Giants. The Leafs went into the bottom of the eighth inning with a slight 5 to 3 advantage but broke the game wide open with an explosive 10-run inning to give them a 15-3 victory. Burton connected twice, one a grand slam, and catcher Tim Thompson also hit a home run with the bases full. The two drove in all ten runs during that inning. Burton’s first home run of the eighth inning was hit off righthander Hector Maestri and went over the right-field wall, scoring Anderson ahead of him. His second homer went over the leftfield fence off rookie lefthander Gerry Davis, and scored Steve Ridzik, Billy Moran and Anderson. Sparky had reached base both times in the inning on walks.


Fischer’s Last Major League Pitch a Homer

Bill Fischer, current pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds, threw his last major league pitch for the Minnesota Twins on May 22, 1964, and it resulted in a home run by John Orsino to give the Orioles a 6-5 win at Baltimore. The Twins went into the ninth inning with a 5-4 lead. Jerry Arrigo, who had relieved starter Jim Kaat in the sixth inning, opened the ninth by fanning both Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell. But Sam Bowens tied the score with his second home run of the game on a two-strike pitch. After Arrigo threw three straight balls to Orsino, he was replaced by Fischer, who had set a major league record in 1962 when he hurled 84-1/3 innings without giving up a base on balls. Fischer got one strike over and Orsino hit the next pitch for a home run to win the game.

Four days later he was placed on the voluntary retired list and the next year he was back pitching in the minors. May 22 was not a particularly lucky date for Fischer. A year earlier – May 22, 1963 – he was pitching in relief for the Kansas City Athletics in the 11th inning of a 7-7 tie against the Yankees. Mickey Mantle was the first batter and he broke up the game with one of his hardest hits ever. With the count 2-2, Mantle leaned into Fischer’s next pitch for a tremendous home run that just missed going out of Yankee Stadium. The ball crashed against the edge of the right-field roof, which towered 108 feet above the playing field.


The Day Don Heffner Beat the Black Sox

At the end of the 1930 International League season, Don Heffner, then a 19-year-old slick-fielding infielder with the Baltimore Orioles, joined an all-star team of major and minor league players for the annual fall series with the Baltimore Black Sox, one of the top Negro teams in the country. The games were played at the Maryland Baseball Park, home of the Black Sox.

On Sunday, October 19, 1930, the Black Sox defeated the All-Stars in the first game of a doubleheader for their fifth victory over the Stars in as many games. Submarine hurler Webster McDonald bested Eddie Rommel, a member of the world champion Philadelphia Athletics, 1-0 in a tight pitching duel. The second game hurler for the All-Stars was to be a minor league pitcher by the name of Jim Boswell. He did not show up, however, and as Joe Cambria, manager of the All Stars, was trying to work out the pitching problem, young Heffner approached him and volunteered to pitch.

He informed the manager that he had pitched in high school and thought he could hold his own against the Sox. Although skeptical, Cambria was impressed by the nerve of his frail-looking infielder and agreed to give him a chance. It being late October, the game lasted only five innings before darkness called a halt to the proceedings, but Heffner surprised everyone by blanking the hard hitting Sox, 1-0. He gave up only two hits and walked one in winning a pitching duel from Pud Flornoy. It was the only game that the All-Stars won from the Black Sox that fall. In fact Heffner accomplished something that a few big-name hurlers were unable to do over a three-year period. The list of pitchers who had fallen before the Sox included the likes of Lefty Grove, Howard Ehmke, George Earnshaw, Roy Sherid and Jack Ogden.