Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Game when Durocher and Ott Circumvented Baseball Rules

You may have noticed recently that I've been including "This Day in Dodgers History" notes in my Daily Kiosk post.  For the most part I've been featuring rare feats and broken records tied to the Dodgers, but todays historical note failed to mention one incident that has had me scratching my head all morning. 

Frankly, I just don't know what to make of it.

Per the Dodgers own website they noted a game played against the hated NY Giants at Ebbets Field on September 1, 1944, and an strange incident that happened between the two managers - Leo Durocher of the Dodgers and Mel Ott of the Giants. 

In the second inning of the game Giants left fielder Joe Medwick (a future Hall of Famer and former teammate of Durocher with both the Gashouse Gang of St. Louis and the Dodgers) got struck in the elbow by a pitch and was in immense pain.  A Brooklyn Eagle article written by Harold Burr from the following day said this about it:
Joe Medwick was winged on the left arm by an errant pitch, Ducky Wucky went tearing around like a man beside himself, clutching his arm and writhing to the ground well down the third-base line.
Apparently, Giants manager Ott fretted at the decision to pull Medwick from the game.  After all, Medwick was an offensive leader for the club, and losing him would surely lead to a loss that afternoon.  Seeing this Leo "The Lip" Durocher came up with a plan.  So, he made a pitch to Mel Ott.  Per the same Brooklyn Eagle article noted above:
The Lip put his hands on Mel's shoulder and said something to him.  Ott looked dubious, suspecting a catch in it.

"Put in a runner for him, Mel" said Durocher magnanimously.  "And if Medwick can play the outfield it's all right with me if you want to put him back in the game."

Is that legal?  Did the rules back then allow this? 
The Giants manager softened under such altruism and agreed.  But the rule governing such decision permits the other manager to pick the runner.  Ott wasn't kept long in suspense as the Durocher's Choice.

"Mancuso," said Leo in all innocence.
Of course, Gus Mancuso was an 38-yeard old catcher and likely the slowest runner on either team.
The Giants boss bit his lip - he should have bitten the Dodgers Lip - but Mancuso it was and Ernie Lombardi, the next batter, hit into the season's easiest double play.  It was a study in slow motion, with two pairs of legs pumping away on the treadmill.

Medwick wasn't badly injured.  His arm was paralyzed momentarily and in the dressing room it was found that he had suffered nothing worse than a bad bruise.  He should be well enough to resume picket duty today.  Bruce Sloan took his place in the outfield.
I still don't know if this was actually in the rule book back in 1944 (if you know please pass that along), but I suspected it wasn't.  The Dodgers own website says that it was just a part of the bargain between the two managers.  Likely, Durocher and Ott were happy to have some fun given that neither would be seeing postseason play.  So, the game played on with Joe Medwick still eligible to get into the game.

BTW, the Dodgers ended up scoring six runs in the third inning to make the whole matter moot.  They easily defeated the Giants, 8-1, and Mel Ott never did find a situation where he could bring Joe Medwick back in.

The press photo at the very top is of Leo Durocher and Mel Ott taken in 1942 in Havana, Cuba during Spring Training.

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