|Three Dimensional Baseball|
By William G. Nicholson
More than 50,000 people jammed the old Polo Grounds on the sultry night of June 26, 1944, to view major league baseball's first and only three-sided game. As the New York Times' Arthur Daley said the next morning, "All in all, it was a wonderful affair-crazy but wonderful."
Conceived as a War Bond fund-raising event by New York sportswriters as World War II raged, the game featured the city's three teams-the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees-in what was billed as a "triple-header." In reality, it was a general round-robin, with each team sitting out for a full inning and then appearing for two consecutive innings at bat and in the field. The game went on for the regulation nine innings, each team thus playing six complete innings.
With the Yankees in the field and the Giants in their dugout, the Dodgers came to bat in the top half of the first inning. Thanks to consecutive singles by Goody Rosen, Augie Galan, and Dixie Walker off Al Lyons, the Dodgers then took the field with a one-run lead over their two rivals. The Yankees failed to score in the first and retired to their dugout as the Dodgers came to the plate in the top half of the second inning while the Giants took to the field.
The Dodgers quickly scored two more runs on a walk, a double, and a single off the Giants' Johnny Allen. After the Giants failed to score in the second half of the second inning, the Yankees then appeared on the diamond to hit in the top half of the third inning as the Giants went to the field and the Dodgers, having played their two consecutive innings, went to the dugout. And so on it went to the delight of the huge crowd of New Yorkers.
While the Dodgers were scoring runs, the Yanks and the Giants, undoubtedly still engrossed with trying to find out how the game was played, were getting nowhere, either against each other or against Brooklyn. Mel Ott's Giants were shut out with only two hits throughout the game.
The Yankees, thanks to two errors by the usually slick-fielding Giant shortstop Buddy Kerr, scored their only run in the game's final inning. After each team had played its six full innings, the Dodgers had five runs, the Yankees one, while the Giants suffered the humiliation of being shut out in their own ballpark.
The game also provided another oddity-two major league teams sharing the same dugout and dressing room. The Dodgers and Yankees crowded into the Polo Grounds' visitors dugout, with the overflow sprawling on the grass in front of it. In the first, fourth, and seventh innings when the two visiting teams were directly facing each other, the Yanks' "Marse Joe" McCarthy and the Dodgers' Leo Durocher found themselves masterminding against each other from opposite ends of the same bench.
All three New York managers had their hands full trying to field and guide respectable line-ups in the summer of 1944 when few bona fide major leaguers were found on big league rosters. As the war years had dragged on, teams found that they had to struggle the best they could with veterans either urged to postpone retirement or retired from the minors, unproven youngsters in their teens, and a lot of 4-F journeymen players.
The Dodgers had the 41-year-old Paul Waner in rightfield, his eyesight so bad that he relied on the crack of ball against bat to guide him to a position in the field for a catch. At first base was Howie "Stretch" Schultz, whose 6'6" frame exceeded the Army's limits on height. For a shortstop, Brooklyn had Eddie Basinski, a former violinist with the Buffalo Civic Symphony, whose .244 major league batting average indicated that he was undoubtedly a better musician than a ball player. Eighteen-year-old Ralph Branca did some of the Dodger pitching that June evening.
Behind the plate for the Yankees was "Rollicking Rollie" Hemsley, noteworthy for his drinking exploits in a time and a sport in which the numbers of two-fisted barroom denizens were legion. Outfielders Ducky Medwick and Mel Ott, along with third baseman Billy Jurges, were the three most notable Giants who had been urged to extend already long careers for the duration of the war.
The huge crowd was treated to a series of field events before the game began. Calvin Coolidge McLish, the 18-year-old Brooklyn pitcher, won the fungo hitting contest with a drive of 416 feet, 5 inches. In the throwing for accuracy contest among catchers, the Dodgers also came out on top.
Although none of the six catchers who participated could throw the ball into a barrel with a peg from home plate to second base, Bobby Bragan came closest in his three attempts.
A sprint contest in which runners raced in pairs, one starting at home plate, the other at second base, was won by the Yanks' fleet George Stirnweiss. He defeated Johnny Rucker of the Giants with a time of 7.8 seconds.
After the field events came to a close, comedian Milton Berle ushered in a number of musical events as Al Schacht and Joe Lauri, Jr. provided the real comedy in some zany infield antics. Then former mayor Jimmy Walker moved on the scene to introduce a group of New York's all-time diamond stars. This group included immortals Herb Pennock, Zach Wheat, Nap Rucker, Wally Schang, and the famous Giant battery of "Hooks" Wiltse and Roger Bresnahan.
As the fund-raising game itself came to a close, it was announced that the crowd had purchased over $6,500,000 in War Bonds! In all ways, it was quite a night, one that was long-remembered by all who attended baseball's only three-sided game.
The Box Score
Dodgers. . . 1 2 X 0 0 X 0 2 X 5
Yankees. . . 0 X 0 0 X 0 0 X 1 -1
Giants. . . . X 0 0 X 0 0 X 0 0 -0
Runs batted in-Walker, Stanky 2, Bordagaray, Boiling.
Two-base hits-Stanky, Hausmann. Three-base hit-Boiling. Stolen base-
Stirnweiss. Double plays-Stirnweiss, Miosevich, and Etten; Stanky,
Basinski, and Bolling; Stirnweiss and Etten.
Left on base-Dodgers 4, Yankees, Giants 5.
Bases on balls-Off Gregg 2, Allen 1, Lyons 3, Branca 2.
Struck out-By Gregg 1, Lyons 1, Webber 1, Branca 2, Page 1.
Hits-Off Lyons 4 in 4 innings, Page 2 in 2, Gregg 2 in 2, Webber 1 in 2,
Branca 1 in 2, Allen 2 in 3, Seward 2 in 2, Polli 1 in 1.
Umpires-Barr (NL), Stewart (AL), Conlon (NL). Pipgras (AL).
Time of game-2:05. Attendance-50,000.