The Unusual to Bizarre in Early Professional Baseball

 


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There were many reported bizarre and unusual incidents and events in baseball featuring various baseball characters that seemed to be acting in an epic saga that combined comedy, mystery, and fantasy. Some of these incidents may be embellished, or they may not be apocryphal. Some though, are so unusual and bizarre, that I believe no one could make them up. Some of the events are well documented and there’s no question that they actually happened.

Flame On:

Chris von der Ahe became the owner of the St. Louis Browns in 1882. He was said to be the first owner to sell hot dogs at his ballpark. He encouraged his players to brawl with their opponents for entertainment value, and by dropping his home game ticket prices to 25 cents, he was able to lead the Majors in attendance. He claimed to have made back his losses by selling beer.

Von der Ahe erected a large statue of himself at a major park in St. Louis, and throughout his stint as owner of the Browns, he was embroiled in controversy and was ridiculed by the media. Legal and business problems plagued him.

At one point he hired Charles Comiskey, who would become legendary in baseball, to manage his team and play first base. Comiskey turned out to be a very successful manager, winning the league championship four years in a row. His fifth year at the helm was less than successful, and von der Ahe fired Comiskey and managed the club himself.

The Browns’ owner got himself into financial trouble, and his own bondsman kidnapped him in an attempt to get him to pay his bills. Von der Ahe also accidentally burned his own ballpark down by setting out hundreds of candles on the field and near the dugout in an attempt to get his players to finish a game at dusk.

Merkle Debacle:

The 1908 season in the National League produced a bizarre finale that has come to be known as the Merkle Incident. It started in a regular season game between the Giants and the Cubs at the Polo Grounds- tie score, two outs, bottom of the ninth, runners on first and third. Merkle was on first.

A single was hit, the runner scored from third, and thinking that the Giants had won, Merkle ran to the clubhouse instead of advancing to second base. One of the Cubs’ fielders claimed to have retrieved the ball and tagged second base, which no official saw. There was an official protest by the Cubs, and Merkle was ruled a force out at second, wiping out the game winning run.

The League ordered that if it were necessary the game would be replayed at the end of the season. The Cubs and Giants ended the regular season tied for first place. The Cubs won the replayed game and subsequently, the World Series. The Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since.

Black Sox:

The White Sox of 1919, or as they have become widely known- the “Black Sox", conspired (8 of them) to throw the World Series. After the series there were rumors about the fix, creating a controversy that led to an investigation. Eddie Cicotte admitted his part in the conspiracy, followed by “Shoeless" Joe Jackson. Even though they broke no law, all eight involved were suspended from baseball. The players were eventually acquitted, yet baseball ruled they were permanently ineligible to play.

Team Work:

Pitcher Buck O’Brien’s record was 20-13 for Boston. He gave up 5 runs in the first inning of game six of the 1912 World Series subsequently losing the game. His teammates beat him up after the game. To add insult to injury, Boston won the World Series and O’Brien was traded to the Chicago White Sox.

The Umpire Strikes Back:

Umpire Tim Hurst had a bad reputation for settling arguments by striking arguing players on their heads with his mask or his fists. In 1897 an irate fan threw a beer stein at Hurst. The umpire tossed it back, hit an innocent fan, was fined and dismissed by the American League.

After a stint of 5 years in the National League as an umpire, Hurst rejoined the American League. An argument with New York manager Clark Griffith resulted in Hurst knocking him cold. In 1909, he intentionally spit in the eye of Athletics second baseman Eddie Collins, which ended an argument but started a riot. The American League fired Hurst for a second time.

Fact or myth?

Here are some strange and bizarre events that have been reported over the years.

* Rumor has it Charlie Hough once broke his finger shaking hands with a friend.

* Some sources say Red Murray and Ray Caldwell were struck by lightning during a game.

* It is well documented that Ted Williams once picked up a reporter (Hy Hurwitz) by his necktie, and then cut the tie off with scissors.

* Some sources say Minor league umpires Samuel White and Ora Jennings were actually killed by fans during a game.

* Babe Herman reportedly once doubled into a double play.

* It has been said that Ed Stewart once swung the bat so hard he knocked himself out.

* Some sources say Dan Friend once played the outfield in his robe.

* Legend has it Marv Thorneberry once hit a ball that was ruled a triple but he was called out for not tagging first and second base.

* Jackie Brandt once said his inconsistent defensive play was due to the fact that when he ran hard, his eyeballs jumped up and down.

* Jim Kern reportedly once came out on the field with his uniform on backwards and fell backward off the mound, suffering a concussion.

Perhaps the strangest of the bizarre come in the form of quotes from the inimitable Yogi Berra:

* “I didn’t really say everything I said. "

* “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical. "

* “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded. "

* “This is like deja vu all over again. "

* “If you come to a fork in the road, take it. "

* “It’s never happened in the World Series competition, and it still hasn’t. "

* “Nobody can hit and think at the same time. "

This article was written by FR Penn sponsored by http://www.stubhub.com . If you’re looking for tickets to see your favorite team live in action, look no further than Stubhub.com where fans buy and sell the hottest baseball tickets. Reproductions of this article are encouraged but must include a link back to http://www.stubhub.com

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