Protest Upheld, Computer Software Confounded

This article was written by David W. Smith

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in “Baseball Research Journal #33” in 2004. It has been republished at SABR.org in its original form. Click here for a list of upheld protests at Retrosheet.org. 

It is well known that a manager may formally protest a game only if he claims an umpire has made a decision contrary to the rules. Dissatisfaction with a specific call (safe/out, ball/strike, fair/foul) is not grounds for a protest.

However, sometimes things get a little murky. Take, for example, the game of July 20, 1947, played by the Cardinals against the Dodgers in Ebbets Field. A protest by the Cardinals that day was upheld, although the specific rule that was violated is hard to pin down. Also, the remedy decreed by National League President Ford Frick went beyond the protest rules. Finally, as a result of the odd decision by Frick, the software used by Retrosheet was unable to capture accurately the events of the play.

Let’s address these three points separately, beginning with a short summary of what happened on the field that day. Jim Hearn pitched a great game for St. Louis, allowing no runs, two walks and only four singles through eight innings. In the top of the ninth with two outs and the bases empty, right fielder Ron Northey hit a “towering drive” to the wall in right center off Hugh Casey. Dodger center fielder Pete Reiser leaped but couldn’t get it. Roscoe McGowen described it in the New York Times: “There was a lapse of a couple of seconds before the ball dropped back on the field, where Walker [right fielder Dixie] picked it up and fired it to Stanky [second baseman Eddie], who relayed it to [catcher] Bruce Edwards.” The sliding Northey was tagged out on a close play, pictured on page 20 of the July 21, 1947, edition of the New York Times. The Sporting News has a picture of the play at the plate from a different angle on page 9 of its July 30, 1947, issue.

Umpire Larry Goetz, working at first base in the three-man crew, ran into the outfield and immediately called “No,” ruling that the ball hit the top of the wall. Beans Reardon was the other base umpire, and as Northey approached third base Reardon signaled that it was a home run. Northey naturally slowed his pace as he continued to the plate, where umpire Jocko Conlan called him out, ending the inning. The Cardinals immediately and vehemently protested, saying that Northey had been deceived by Reardon. The consensus in the press box and from the umpires (in later testimony) was that the slow-footed Northey would almost certainly have been safe had he not slowed down.

Manager Eddie Dyer formally protested the game and the Dodgers came to bat, still trailing by two runs. The Cardinals used three pitchers to face seven batters, but only obtained one out as Brooklyn collected three hits, a walk, a stolen base (coupled with a throwing error by catcher Joe Garagiola), and used three pinch-hitters to score three times and apparently win the game 3-2.

President Frick’s ruling was released on July 25, and he tried to be Solomon-like as he reached an unorthodox decision. The starting point was to accept the widespread view that Northey would have scored except for Reardon’s action. Therefore, Frick ruled that Northey was to be credited with a home run. However, he also let the three Dodger runs from the bottom of the ninth stand and the game went in the books as a 3-3 tie with all individual records counting in the official totals. Only Casey’s win and Murry Dickson’s loss were expunged. A replay of the entire game was scheduled as part of a doubleheader on August 18, when the Cardinals were next scheduled to be in Brooklyn.

What rule was violated? The rule book does not specifi- cally address confusing or deceptive actions by umpires, so Frick made a commonsense determination that the events on the field were (a) caused by the umpire, and (b) unfair to the Cardinals. The stated procedure in the rule book for an allowed protest is to resume the game at the point of the protest. In this case, that would mean the Cardinals should still be batting with two outs in the top of the ninth and a 3-0 lead. The three Dodger runs in the bottom of the ninth would be wiped out. Frick explained his action: “. . . fairness, common sense and sportsmanship must govern any decision not explicitly covered by the rules.”

The software problem is that we have no way to deal with an inning that “ends early,” as the ninth did for the Cardinals when they only recorded two outs. It was necessary for us to make up a bogus play for the next batter, Whitey Kurowski, so that we could move on to the bottom of the ninth.

There are two questions that remain unanswered for me. (1) Where was Reardon standing when the play began? (2) Why did Northey slide? It is interesting to note how umpires choreograph their movements when there are only two men working the bases. Even though Northey was a left-handed batter, it seems likely that with the bases empty, Reardon was on or near the left-field foul line. Such a position would be consistent with the facts that Goetz ran into the outfield to view the play and that Reardon was near third to make an indication to Northey.

The sliding question is more vexing. If Northey believed that Reardon gave him the homer sign, then why would he slide? The story in The Sporting News says he “jogged” to the plate. Perhaps he noticed the ball coming in and decided that Reardon was wrong, causing him to speed up and then slide in an attempt to evade the tag.

Final note: The tie game was played off as the second half of a day-night doubleheader on August 18, meaning that the Dodgers charged separate admission for the two games. The attendance at the first game was 32,781 and at the second was 33,723. The Dodgers donated “all receipts of the night game . . . amounting to $46,000, plus a probable $4,000 from the Frank Stevens War Memorial Fund, Inc.” The Dodgers won both that day, by scores of 7-5 and 12-3.

DAVID W. SMITH is the president and founder of Retrosheet.org.

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