On July 16, 1946, Erv Dusak led the Cardinals to a dramatic victory with a pinch-hit three run walk off home run in the ninth to beat the Dodgers 5-4 at Sportsman's Park.
The Cardinals came into the contest looking for a four game sweep, however, the Dodgers were looking to salvage one, and they came very close to doing so, as they held a 4-2 edge headed into the final frame. The starters, Howie Pollett for the Birds, and Joe Hatten for the Dodgers, both took the mound in that final inning. Pollett may have thought he would not be winning his tenth game of the season on that fine day, however, he had a surprise in store, as Hatten did not record an out before the Rebirds were victorious.
The wheels began to fall off the Dodgers bus when Hatten hit Marty Marion, then surrendered a single to catcher Clyde Cluttz. The Cardinals skipper, Eddie Dyer, was hardly thinking that one would find its way to the seats like it did, so he called on Joffre Cross to pinch run for Cluttz, then called on Erv Dusak to pinch hit for Pollett. Dusak fell behind 0 and 2 after fouling one off, then took a strike, before taking a swing that sent the ball sailing into the stands in left. While I was not able to find an account of how Dusak was treated as he came into score the game winner, one can imagine it was a scene that he would preserve in his mind's eye for the rest of his days on earth. He was the hero of the day.
A versatile player, Dusak spent a great deal of time in the outfield. He also played a little bit of second, third, and one game at short as well. He was one of those guys who would trot out to whatever position was needed if he was penciled in. If he wasn't penciled in from the get go he could also come up with a big hit off the bench, as he did on that day against the Dodgers. Another phenomenal thing Dusak did later in his career was try his hand at pitching. He appeared in just 23 games from the mound, posting an 0-3 record, with a save to boot. While he was hardly successful, the fact he was able to take the ball when called upon speaks volumes about how talented of an athlete he was.
Most of Dusak's production came over the course of a three year stretch, which started during that '46 season. In each of those three seasons he had more than 300 plate appearances for the Redbirds. He played nine seasons, and in the other six he never recorded more than 44 plate appearances. Therefore, some may look at Dusak's career numbers, and shrug him off as a mediocre player from baseball's past. He was a career .243 hitter that hit just 24 home runs. However, he was also a piece to a championship puzzle in '46, and he even played in four games in the World Series.
Truly an example of a role player who made a difference, and on that day in mid July it was a big difference. Just goes to show that we never know who will play the hero. It could be the superstar. It could be a pitcher that may make just a handful of big league starts. It could be a bench player who will do whatever it takes to preserve his spot on a big league roster. We never know who will step up on any given day. Great teams have a wide variety of heroes. Erv Dusak surely played the role of the hero for a great team on that day in '46.
Check out the box score here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLN/SLN194607160.shtml