Wild Card game wasn't Cardinals' first post-season experience with debris on the field
The scene was a bizarre one – a post-season baseball game interrupted by angry fans raining debris onto the field. St. Louis Cardinals players scrambled to avoid being hit by the garbage. Umpires huddled, deciding how to proceed.
The scene was Detroit. The year was 1934.
Yes, Friday night’s barrage of debris in Atlanta during the Wild Card playoff game was the second time in baseball history that the Cardinals have been involved in such a situation in the post season. This time it resulted from a call made by an umpire; in 1934 it came after a call an umpire didn’t make.
Tigers take on Gas House Gang in Series
The 1934 World Series featured the Detroit Tigers, who had won 101 games with four players reaching 100 RBIs and two pitchers with more than 20 wins, against the St. Louis Cardinals, a team who won 95 times, including 30 wins by Dizzy Dean.
The Cardinals enjoyed themselves greatly on the field and became known as the Gas House Gang for their colorful antics. (The Gas House Gang was a notorious New York gang at the turn of the century, but in the 1920s “a gas” was a popular phrase for a hilariously good time. My guess is this was a play on words referring to both of those.) The Cards that year had one of the greatest collections of nicknames in the history of the game – Spud, Ripper, Pepper, Chick, Ducky, Dizzy, Dazzy, Tex and Leo the Lip.
The slide into third in Game 7
The World Series was a good one, with the teams splitting the first six games to force a Game 7 in Detroit. The Cardinals sent Dean, who had one of the best seasons any pitcher had had to that point, to the mound. He was nearly unhittable. The Tigers only managed six hits off him all game.
St. Louis exploded for seven runs in the top of the third to take a 7-0 lead and it soon became obvious to the Tiger faithful that things wouldn’t end well for them. In the top of the sixth, with two outs and a runner on second, Joe “Ducky” Medwick tripled into the rightfield corner.
Medwick slid hard into third, even though there was no incoming throw. Reports of what happened next vary, but one source says Tiger’s third basemen Marv Owen kicked Medwick’s leg. Medwick retaliated by kicking Owen in the stomach with both feet, spikes first. Fists were swung but the umpires quickly separated the combatants. Both were allowed both to stay in the game and Medwick later scored on a single by Ripper Collins.
Tiger fans pelt the field with debris
When Medwick trotted out to leftfield to start the bottom of the sixth, the Tiger fans booed him. And then they began throwing things, mostly fruit (although I’ve never taken fruit to a game, apparently it was common for fans to take picnics along, sort of an early version of tailgating). Some pop bottles were also flung onto the field.
Medwick picked up a piece of fruit and began playing catch with it with centerfielder Ernie Orsatti, which only made the crowd angrier. They tossed more fruit and when that ran out, they began throwing hot dog buns and wadded up scorecards. There was a growing fear that the fans might stampede the field to take out their wrath on Medwick.
The umpires conferred with the commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was attending the game. Landis called Medwick over and asked him why he kicked Owen. Medwick reportedly replied, “You know a lot of things happen when you slide into third.”
Although the umps hadn’t seen fit to eject Medwick from the game, Landis did. He had him removed from the game, which he later said was for the protection of the players.
Chick Fullis replaced Medwick in left, the grounds crew picked up the garbage and the game resumed after a delay of about 20 minutes. The Cards ended up winning 11-0 and took home the World Series title.
Medwick was hotheaded and a great hitter
That Medwick would be in the middle of so much controversy came as little surprise to people in 1934. He was known as a hothead who once punched a teammate in the face for walking in front of him while he was being photographed. He had run-ins with other teammates and opponents throughout his career.
Teammates and reporters usually referred to him as Ducky (and sometimes Ducky Wucky), a nickname he hated. He tried to get people to refer to him as Muscles instead, but Ducky was far more popular.
By any name, Medwick was a tremendous hitter who led the league in RBIs three times, hits twice and won the Triple Crown in 1937. He is the last player from the National League to have won the Triple Crown. In 1936 he belted 64 doubles, the second-highest single season total of all time.
Medwick was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame 20 years after he retired, which he referred to as a “20-year slump.” Some people believe that his contentious personality caused sportswriters to not elect him to the Hall sooner.