Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hit Sign... Win Suit

From today's Baseball Hall of Fame "Inside Pitch" email.

When Abe Stark came up with the idea of giving away a new suit of clothes to a ballplayer to garner attention for his men's store, he thought he had an ingenious plan. He asked the Dodgers to place his sign at the bottom of the right field scoreboard, starting at the ground, with the words "Hit Sign, Win Suit." The catch? The batted ball had to hit the sign, which was approximately four feet tall, on the fly. As he hoped, Stark's sign created a buzz, and also (as he hoped), he gave away few suits.

For six seasons, no one hit the sign. Then, on June 6, 1937, a light-hitting Brooklyn shortstop got a free set of threads from Mr. Stark. That afternoon, Woody English hit a line drive off Cincinnati left-hander Johnny Vander Meer that banged off the right field wall and Stark's sign. English trotted into second base with a double and Stark had to give away his first free suit.

English was an unlikely candidate for breaking the drought. The scrawny infielder hadn't hit a homer the previous season and would hit just one in 1937. He would hit just .238 for Brooklyn that season. In addition, English was a right-handed hitter, so hit suit-winning hit went to his opposite field.

Ironically for Stark, a dedicated Dodger fan, it was Mel Ott of the rival New York Giants who was the only opposing player to hit the sign and win a suit. "Master Melvin," who was a famous pull hitter, accomplished it twice. Dodgers' outfielder Carl Furillo, a stellar defensive player, was so adept at roaming right field, that Stark reportedly gave Furillo a suit to reward him for all of the free suits he saved with his glove.

Stark's sign remained on the Dodger scoreboard until the team moved to Los Angeles and abandoned Ebbets Field. The Museum's Sacred Ground exhibit, which contains hundreds of artifacts from ballparks, contains the cornerstone from Ebbets Field.

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