Monday, May 19, 2014

May 19, 1937: The Battle at Sportsman's Park

     On May 19, 1937, fists flew in front of more than 26,000 fans at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis during a battle that featured Cardinals ace Dizzy Dean, and New York Giants ace Carl Hubbell. While it was originally billed as "The Battle of The Century", it would end up being dubbed as "The Battle at Sportsman's Park" as a ninth inning brawl overshadowed the game that was played on that day in mid May.

     With the help of a Ducky Medwick homer Dean carried a 1-0 lead into the sixth, before having a balk called on him that set the Redbird hurler off. The National League President, Ford C. Frick made a change to the balk rule, which instructed pitchers to come to a full stop in his delivery after checking a baserunner. An incensed Dean did not believe he had balked and he let the umpire George Barr know it by going on a tirade that lasted a full five minutes before he returned to the bump. When he returned to his pitching duties the wheels fell off the bus as Dean gave up three runs before the inning was over. The Milwaukee Sentinel claimed that Dean was "madder than a wet hen" following the umpires ruling, and that anger did not subside as the game moved on.

     Dean, who had been a bit wild that day due to a taped up thumb, came into the ninth still fuming over the earlier ruling. He had gotten a pass for his earlier wildness due to the thumb issue, but in that ninth inning the Giants hitters began to get tired of his tactics as he threw at batter after batter. When New York's center fielder Jimmy Ripple stepped to the dish, picked up a sign from his bench to bunt, and laid one down the first base line. The bunt brought Dean over to cover the bag, and when Ripple met him there fists started flying. The benches cleared and a free for all ensued, before police officers and umpires were able to get things under control. The Giants catcher Gus Mancuso, along with the Cardinals catcher Mickey Owen were ejected before the teams went back to work, and the Giants tagged Dean for another run, while Hubbell set down the Redbirds with ease in the bottom of the ninth.

     The story did not end there. On May 23rd, Dean took the mound again. While he led the Cardinals to a 6-2 victory over the Phillies in St. Louis, he did it by making a mockery of the rule that had caused the battle just a few days before. The act of rebellion occurred during the second inning with a man on first when Dean came to a dead stand still for nearly four minutes after checking the runner. The man behind the dish, Beans Reardon was not amused by the antics and called a balk on him. Not caring, Dean did it again and yet again Reardon called a balk. After the inning was over Dean settled in and pitched the Birds to victory, he made a statement that did not go over well with Frick, or the umpires who were trying to enforce the rule.

     To make matters worse, on June 1st, Dean was quoted in the Bellville Daily Advocate saying that Frick and the umpire George Barr were "the two biggest crooks in baseball." At that point Frick had enough of Dean and initially suspended him indefinitely. After announcing the suspension Frick said "It's now strictly up to Dean whether the suspension lasts one day or three months." Frick was demanding a written apology from the hurler, and scheduled a meeting with the Cardinals hurler who would be accompanied by the Cardinals skipper Frankie Frisch. Dean still insisted that he had done nothing wrong, and  while glancing out of the 19th floor window of Frick's office at the RCA building in New York, he said "I'll jump out of this window before I sign anything. I've got nothing to apologize for my conscience is clear."

     Dean threatened to go to the commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and Frick made a compromise by saying that he could issue a statement that did not include the word "apology." The letter that Dean drafted to pass on to Frick is to the right.

     The letter was enough for Frick to reduce the suspension to just two days, and ultimately Dean just had a start pushed back. The papers of the day proclaimed Dean the winner in the saga that lasted more than two weeks. It all started with the "The Battle of Sportsman's Park." That day another part of the story that was put on a backburner was that Hubbell had claimed his 22nd consecutive victory. That streak would reach 24 before it came to an end. Hubbell and Dean met again on June 9th, and Dean came out in front, however, on June 27th Hubbell walked away victorious in the final meeting between the two players. Hubbell led the league with 22 wins that season, while Dean won 13.

     The next year Dean was sent to the Cubs via trade, and while I know it is speculation on my part, I wonder if one of the reasons that the Cardinals owner Sam Breadon gave him his walking papers was in part because of the way he handled things with the fiasco that followed. In many of the papers I read about this, Breadon was clearly unhappy with the situation as a whole.  I suppose we will never know, but what we do know is Ole Dizzy was quite the character from the Cardinals past, and on that day in Cardinal Nation a little chin music set off quite the chain of events.

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