Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One of Those Moments in Baseball

Okay, it happened again. I went to comment on Rick's video of the Japanese pitcher throwing the blooper pitch and it turned into another article. I hope you folks don't mind, I try my best to make 'em interesting.

The pitch in the video he posted brought to mind the 1946 All-Star game. I wasn't yet born but I've read about the game. Almost all of baseball's star players had been overseas fighting and now the fans in Boston got to see them assembled for the first time in five years.

Ted Williams never won a World Series, the only one he played in was that October (he went 5-25). His stage was the All-Star game. In his previous game, in '41, before becoming a Marine Corps pilot, he'd hit a walk off home run – though they didn't call them that in those days – to give the AL a 7-5 win.

The American League had its way with the Nationals in '46 though, winning 12-0. Williams already had a home run and three RBI (he'd end up 4-4) by the eighth inning. Called in to pitch for the NL was Pittsburgh's Rip Sewell.

Sewell had started with the Pirates in 1938. In 1940 he was 16-5 with an ERA of 2.40. But then hitters started to figure him out and he lost more than he won the next year. No matter though, for Sewell was very likely to be drafted that year – until he got shot that is.

On December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Sewell was hunting when a friend accidentally put 14 pellets of buckshot into him. Sewell told a reporter that the blast had torn holes into him the size of marbles. "My legs looked like screen doors." No one knew whether he'd pitch again, but his draft status immediately plummeted to 4-F.

Ignoring doctor's orders Sewell went to Spring Training, pitching in pain and keeping his wounds hidden from everyone but the Pirate trainer. It was lucky he wouldn't be facing the league's top hitters, who were on their way overseas, but his injuries had taken some of the zip off his fastball and the snap off his curve. So Rip came up with a trick pitch, the Eephus pitch. It rose on on a 25-foot arc and slowly dropped over the plate, and it was misery for batters used to swinging at fast pitches.

His first victim in exhibition play started to swing, stopped, started again, and then almost fell down. The first time he threw it in a real game the batter pointed his bat at Sewell and threatened to shoot him. (Been there, done that.) The Cubs manager tried unsuccessfully to have the pitch banned.

In St. Louis Whitey Kurowski spit tobacco juice on the ball as it floated past him. In Cincinnati the Reds shortstop caught the pitch and fired it back at Sewell. (It was still called a strike.) Against watered-down competition Sewell won 17 games in 1942 and 21 in '43 to lead the NL and then another 21 in '44. No one homered off his Eephus pitch.

In the eighth inning of the '46 All-Star game NL manager Charlie Grimm told Sewell to "See if you can wake up this crowd with that pitch of yours." Three singles and two outs later the Splendid Splinter stepped into the batter's box shaking his head from side to side and yelled, "You're not going to throw that damn pitch of yours are you?" Sewell threw it on the very first pitch and Williams swung hard, fouling it off the tip of his bat. Sewell threw it again, but missed the strike zone and Williams never swung at anything out of the strike zone.

Williams had told Bill Dickey before the game that he wasn't sure a home run could be hit on the Eephus pitch as the hitter would have to supply all of the power. On the third of Sewell's trick deliveries Williams took two steps forward – out of the batter's box – and launched the ball into the right field bleachers.

Of course the home run, the only one ever hit off Sewell's special pitch, was allowed to count – in violation of Baseball Rule 6.04 "A batter shall be called out when he hits a ball with one or both both feet on the ground outside the batter's box".

You can see at left that Ted's front foot is out of the box. But you can't ruin a magical moment like that.

You know, I've been spending some time analyzing how the Cardinals won this year's World Series and I think I've figured it out.

Wanna know why the Ranger pitchers couldn't throw strikes?

Take a look at this. Watch the girl behind the catcher as the pitcher delivers. Watch her left hand.

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