War at Griffith Stadium

This article was written by Gary Sarnoff

This article was published in The National Pastime: Monumental Baseball (Washington, DC, 2009)

On April 25, 1933, the Senators and the Yankees engaged in one of baseball’s most celebrated brawls.

As Ben Chapman stood on first base, Buddy Myer, Washington’s second baseman, wondered what Chapman’s next move would be. Chapman, the aggressive outfielder for the Yankees, had spiked him the day before hand once during the previous season. Myer knew there was a good chance he would get spiked again, and as precaution he moved closer to the second-base bag in case he had to cover the base on the next play.

There was friction between the Senators and Yankees that had started on the Fourth of July of the previous season. Since then the anger had begun to intensify to the point that there was no doubt that something would give in the form of a bench clearing brawl.

The feud began on July 4, 1932, at Griffith Stadium, when the two teams met for a doubleheader. Before the game Yankees catcher Bill Dickey was warned by his skipper, Joe McCarthy, to be on guard. The day before in Boston, Dickey was knocked down by Roy Johnson of the Red Sox on a play at the plate. Johnson plowed into Dickey so hard that he knocked him flat on his back. Dickey was dazed, and had lost consciousness for a few seconds. In addition, as the New York Times reported the next day, one of his teeth was “loosened.” “Dickey, “according to McCarthy, “said the next man who roughed him up had better watch out.”

In the seventh inning of the first game, the Senators had runners on first and third when Johnny Kerr attempted to bunt, and missed the ball. The third-base runner, Carl Reynolds, had danced a bit too far off the third base bag, and Dickey fired the ball to Joe Sewell, the Yankees third baseman, in an attempt to pick off Reynolds. As Reynolds retreated back to the base, the ball hit him in the back and bounced toward the third-base dugout. As Sewell ran after the ball, Reynolds broke for home, and Dickey got ready for a play at the plate by taking off his mask and stepping in position to block the plate.

Sewell retrieved the ball, then threw to Dickey, and the throw and Reynolds both arrived at the same time. Reynolds came in standing up and bowled Dickey over for the second straight day. The ball rolled back to the screen, and the runner from first base, who had made it safely to second on the play, was now on his way to third base. But Dickey did not go for the ball. Instead he trailed Reynolds, who was on his way back to the dugout, with his right fist clinched.

Reynolds shook the batboy’s hand, and then thought he may have missed the plate during the cold- lesioned decided it might be best to walk back to the plate and touch it to be sure. As he made an about face, he was greeted by a right cross from Dickey. Both benches cleared in a heartbeat. The two teams congregated at home plate, but no punches were thrown.

Meanwhile 17,000 Washington fans were in an uproar. “Why not put your mask back on, you have all your other equipment on!” an angry fan shouted. Three fans ran onto the field. Two were headed off, while one made it to the meeting at home plate. He was arrested.

After being punched, Reynolds stumbled back and was caught by a teammate before he hit the ground. He lost his senses, and when he recovered, one umpire was warning him against retaliating, while another umpire was telling Dickey he was disqualified. A player ejected from the first game would be ineligible to play in the nightcap.

Reynolds was taken to a hospital, where X-rays were taken and revealed a broken jaw. After his jaw was wired, he managed to open his mouth to form words and said, “The only regret I have is I did not get to hit Dickey back.”

The Senators took the first game, and when they took the field for the nightcap, they knew there would be trouble. It didn’t take long. In the bottom of the first inning, Yankees pitcher Johnny Allen knocked down Buddy Myer with a pitch aimed at his head. The next time Myer batted, Allen plunked him (the second time Allen had hit Myer that year). When Manush followed with a home run, Myer delivered a message to Allen as he rounded third base. “At least you are a fair hotel clerk,” he told him, a reference to Allen’s former occupation, and a not-so-nice reference to his pitching.

The Yankees were not through with Myer. In the fourth inning Gehrig made a hard slide into second base and knocked him down. In the bottom of the inning Myer retaliated by purposely chopping one to the pitcher, and then slid into first base with his spikes in the air, and his cleats ripped Gehrig’s trousers. He then quickly came to his feet in anticipation of a fight, but Gehrig just looked at him with a good natured smile. An inning later it was Ruth who knocked Myer down with hard slide. Fed up with the Yankees going after Myer, Manush made a hard slide into third base that sent Joe Sewell back-peddling ten feet.

The Nat’s went on to win the nightcap for the sweep; afterward the question was: what would happen to Dickey? He was suspended indefinitely the following day, then a few days later American League Commissioner Will Harridge made his verdict. He suspended Dickey for thirty days and fined him $1,000 for his “malicious and unwarranted attack.” McCarthy and Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert were amazed. They protested over the severity of the penalty, and made their appeal, but the American League Board of Owners backed the decision.

When the injury healed, Reynolds was reactivated against the Yankees on August 13. In the tenth inning of a 1—0 game, he came up in the ninth as a pinch- hitter. As he headed toward the plate he was swinging two bats, and moved close to Dickey to the point where he was described as being “dangerously close.” When he put down one bat and stepped into the batter’s box, Dickey took a step forward and leaned in to say something to Reynolds. Was it an apology? “Ask Reynolds,” Dickey told reporters after the game. “Ask Dickey, “Reynolds said when asked.

Reynolds hit a long fly ball to bring the crowd to its feet, but Earle Combs ran it down for a long out. The next day Reynolds appeared again as a pinch-hitter, with the bases loaded, but struck out. “Lefty Gomez made Reynolds look as foolish with three hooks as Dickey did with one,” quipped a New York sportswriter. The Senators and Yankees had five more meetings after the fireworks on the Fourth of July. With Will Harridge in the stands to make sure there was order, the players were on their best behavior, although there were some angry remarks made, and Chapman did take the opportunity to spike Myer on a play at second base.

When the Senators and Yankees met for the first time in 1933, the two teams resumed the feud. The first game was played without an incident, but not the second game. Early in the game Ruth was caught in a rundown between home and third, and as he lumbered back to third he made a hard slide at Cronin, who hit the Babe with a hard tag. While on the ground, Ruth looked up at Cronin and made a remark about his glorious ancestors. A few innings later Chapman carved a four-inch gash into Myer’s calf to go along with the one Chapman had engraved the previous season. Then Heinie Manush retaliated by making a sprawling slide into first base that Gehrig was able to sidestep in time.

Before the game the next day, Myer spoke about Chapman, and promised he would “wreak vengeance immediately” if Chapman dared to spike him. In the fourth inning Chapman singled, and Myer wondered what Chapman’s next move would be. With Tony Lazzeri, a right-handed hitter, at the plate, there was a good chance he would hit the ball to the left side of the infield, thus making Myer cover second base as the pivot man in a double play attempt. Myer moved closer to the second base bag to give him time to receive a throw and make the relay.

Sure enough, Lazzeri grounded one to the short stop, and after Myer took the throw from Cronin, he stepped toward the infield to give Chapman a clear path to the base. The Yankees left fielder was no less than three yards from the base when Myer had the ball, but Chapman kept running, then lunged forward with a hard slide, and aimed his cleats at the second baseman’s right foot.

Myer stumbled and was unable to make the throw. He felt the pain, looked down, and noticed he was spiked so hard the heel was separated from the sole of his shoe. That was it! Payback time. This meant war.

As Chapman sat on the ground after his slide, Myer wheeled around, swung his foot, and kicked him in the back of his thigh as hard as he could. He swung his foot and booted his enemy a second time. He kicked him again, and again. Chapman quickly came to his feet. Myer threw his glove away. The two seized each other and began to throw punches. Both dugouts emptied, and Cronin and umpire George Moriarty, who were closest to the fight, tried to separate the two players. Players from both teams swore and exchanged insults when they arrived on the scene. They pried the two players apart, and a few of Myer’s teammates pulled him away from Chapman.

Myer didn’t wait to be informed that fighting was an automatic ejection. He trotted toward the tunnel in the Nats dugout, which led to both teams’ clubhouses, as eight thousand hometown fans applauded.

Chapman remained on the field and surveyed the Senators as if he were looking for another fight. After being ejected, Chapman walked to the New York dugout to a salvo of boos. On retrieving his mitt, Chapman headed to the Washington dugout, since this was the only route to the Yankees clubhouse, and this meant trouble.

After sending both teams back to their dugouts, the two umpires, Moriarty and Harry Geisel, were so engaged in listening to Cronin and McCarthy scream over which players should be ejected, they failed to notice that Chapman was unescorted as he headed toward the Washington dugout. Chapman’s roommate, Dixie Walker, did notice, and he joined Chapman to make sure he made it to the safety of the Yankees clubhouse. Asthey approached the dugout, Chapman heard it from the Senators. “You’re yellow! That’s right, you are yellow!” they told him, but he hardly noticed their aunts. Instead he focused on Buddy Myer, who was waiting for him inside the tunnel; when Myer saw Chapman, he charged. Then, for whatever reason, Myer halted and remained in the tunnel.

After Chapman entered the Washington dugout, he encountered Earl Whitehill, who had something to say and blurted it out. Chapman resented whatever was said and threw a right hook that connected with Whitehill’s mouth. Whitehill grabbed Chapman and the two began to duke it out. Chapman connected with another punch, sending Whitehill to the floor. He toppled onto the hurler and, realizing whose dugout he was in, he covered up. The Washington players pulled him off of their teammate and began to punch him. Walker came to his roommate’s aid, while the rest of the Yankees cleared their dugout and stormed across the field.

Gomez grabbed a bat, and Dickey, whose life was not safe in Washington, grabbed one of Ruth’s 54 ounce clubs. A few of the Yankees grabbed him, pulled him back into the dugout, and told him to stay there for his own safety.

The Yankees rampage across the diamond incited the fans behind the Washington dugout, and several of them spilled onto the field. Fearing a riot was about to erupt, a call was made to Washington’s Second Precinct police station.

One New York reserve slugged a fan in the face, knocking him to the ground. Lazzeri punched his way through a crowd. “Don’t let Tony Lazzeri get in there, he’ll kill somebody!” yelled a young female fan. Lazzeri heard the compliment and laughed. “I didn’t realize I was supposed to be such a tough guy,” he said later with a smile. “I didn’t kill anybody, but I threw a few good punches, and for a minute I had a lot of fun.” Chapman, buried under area of bodies, punched away for his life. He heard a voice say, “I’m going to throw you in jail!” Realizing he was socking a policeman instead of a Senators player, he replied, “All right, but take me to the clubhouse so I can exchange my clothes.”

Gomez was placed under arrest after striking a detective (wisely with his fist instead of his bat). He was handcuffed, and as the two officers walked him toward the right-field gate, an executive from the Senators front office came out of the stands and convinced the two officers to release him.

A fan on top of the dugout roof jumped into the melee and the police arrested him along with another fan that got too involved.

After the war ended, the Yankees headed back to their dugout, and Chapman made it to the safety of the clubhouse (and did not encounter Myer on the way),  another fight broke out in the stands down the right field line, this one involving two fans by the name of George. The George who won the fight lost the decision, and he became the third fan to be arrested.

During the fireworks, Ruth and Gehrig remained in their dugout and enjoyed the action as if it were entertainment. When asked why he did not participate, Ruth’s reply was that his “cold was too bad to mix in anything like that these days. It might make my nose run more.”

When he received word of the brawl, Will Harridge announced he intended on making a full investigation. He suspended Chapman, Myer, and Whitehill indefinitely. He left his home in Wilmette, Illinois, and headed to the East Coast to interview players from both teams. His first interview was with Chapman, who asked him, “what would you do if I, a trained athlete, called you the name Whitehill called me?”

“I’d punch you right in the nose,” Harridge replied. “That is what I did to Whitehill,” said Chapman.

When Harridge interviewed Myer, the second baseman told him that Chapman had spiked him the day before the brawl, and once last year. He also mentioned that the Yankees had been out to get him and that Allen had thrown at him ten times last season, and had plunked him twice.

When Harridge finished his investigation, he made the anticipated decision, based on the fact that he was more fed up with the hostility between the two teams than with who was right and who should get the harshest punishment.

“In my decision I felt Myer had provoked Chapman by kicking the Yankee outfielder. I did not get any report from our umpires Messrs Moriarty and Geisel that Chapman has deliberately spiked Myer. Apparently it was a play such as we see very often an effort by a runner to prevent a double play.

“I also did believe that Chapman’s assault on Whitehill had been provoked, but with all that, Chapman had no right to strike either Myer or Whitehill.

“With all facts evening themselves out, I decided that a warning, five games and one hundred dollars would be sufficient punishment.”

When asked how he felt about the decision, Myer replied, “the president of the league has made his decision, and it is not for me to make any comment.”

Clark Griffith, president of the Washington Senators, had plenty to comment about. “Chapman should’ve been suspended for a total of the amount given to Whitehill and Myer. He was the one who provoked the affair at second base, and he started the business in the dugout.”

Griffith also had something to say about the umpires. “If they had been on the job there wouldn’t have been a riot. And if they said in their report to Mr. Harridge that Chapman didn’t go out of his way to spike Myer, then they either didn’t see the play or they are trying to make themselves look good. The things that are done by our umpires wouldn’t happen if they didn’t try to protect themselves. Whenever they make a report to the league president they are thinking about their jobs, and you could quote me!”

There were no more brawls between the two teams for the reminder of the 1933 season, but there were plenty of heated exchanges and some pushing and shoving. The two teams battled it for the American League penthouse, and when Washington took control of the pennant race, the feud came to a quiet end. As for Chapman and Myer, they buried the hatchet in mid-Au- gust. Before a game at Griffith Stadium Chapman was walking by the Senators dugout and spotted Myer.

“Hey Buddy, we sure could’ve bought a lot of gasoline for that $100 we were fined,” yelled Chapman.

“Yeah, that’s for sure. There goes that bird dog I was saving up for,” Myer replied.