Grandstand Managers Day
Since the beginning of organized sporting competition, fans have always second guessed their clubâ€™s coaching decisions when things go bad. The fans go by many names, from armchair quarterbacks to grandstand managers. However, on August 24th 1951, fans of the St. Louis Browns could only blame themselves if something went wrong.
It was only five days before that St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck pulled his most famous stunt in his eccentric baseball career, sending 3-foot-7-inches tall Eddie Gaedel to the plate to draw a walk. He did it successfully but the rest of the American League was not amused by Veeckâ€™s scheme. They voided Gaedelâ€™s contract the following Monday.
Despite all the show around the Browns (38-81), the team was dead-last in the American League heading into the August 24th home game against the Philadelphia Athletics (49-75), who werenâ€™t faring much better. A day before, Veeck held a contest in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat that would allow fans to vote on the Brownsâ€™ starting line-up. Everyone who mailed in their ballot would in return be given a ticket to the Browns-Athletics game; where they would be seated in a special section behind the Browns dugout. Veeckâ€™s plan was for everyone seated in that particular spot in the bleachers, called the Grandstand Managers Section, to vote on what plays the Browns should do next.
In addition, Veeck wanted to select two of the fans and have them serve as the teamâ€™s first and third base coaches. However, maybe in thanks to the Gaedel stunt, the American League would not approve the contracts of the two fans and did not give the team consent to allow the two would-be coaches on the field. Instead, they sat in a special box beside the dugout with Manager Zach Taylor, who was given the night off, and were in communication with Browns coach Johnny Berardino via walkie-talkie throughout the entire game.
Athletics management, though, were not impressed with the stunt even before the game took off. Â General Manager Art Ehlers threatened to protest the game before its first pitch on the grounds that Veeck was making a “travesty of the game.” Field manager Jimmy Dykes also said that if the game was delayed because of the decision-making of the 1,115 managers, he would ask the umpire, Bill Summers, for a forfeit.
One former Athletic did not seem to mind and that was former legendary Athletics manager Connie Mack. Mack felt that while Veeck maybe went a bit over the top with the Gaedel incident, he did not believe that many of Veeckâ€™s ideas were detrimental to the game of baseball, as many others thought. Mack was still travelling with his former team and when they arrived at the ballpark, Veeck invited Mack to sit with him in the Grandstand Managers Section and help the Browns win with his input. Mack accepted the offer and according to Veeck, he “enjoyed himself tremendously.”
The game didnâ€™t start well for the Browns, to no fault of the new managers. Gus Zernial hit a three-run homer in the top of the first to spot the Athletics an early three run lead. Ned Garver, the Browns starting pitcher, continued to get himself into trouble and the first fan decision of the night was coming up. Instead of Taylor making the call from the dugout, the new procedure went like this: A public relations employee would hold up a sign above the Browns dugout asking the crowd what they would like the Browns to do. Then, the crowd would quickly hold up a green sign for ‘yes’ or a red sign for ‘no.’ St. Louis District Circuit Judge James E. McLaughlin would quickly tabulate the votes, find the majority and relay the decision to Taylor, who in turn would instruct the players what to do.
With one out in the first and men on the corners, the question posed to the crowd was whether the Browns should bring the infield in or keep them in double-play position. The crowd voted to keep the infield back and then watched to see their call work to perfection as Pete Suder hit into an inning-ending double play as manager Taylor watched comfortably in a rocking chair at field-level, smoking his pipe and drinking a cool beverage.
In the bottom of the first, the fans were again put to action. With Sherm Lollar at first with one out, batter Cliff Mapes had worked a full count. The crowd was asked whether or not to put the slow-footed Lollar in motion with the pitch. Again, the crowd made the right call as Mapes struck out and Lollar would stay on base and would later score a run for the Browns. In fact, three St. Louis runners came around to score that inning to tie the game at three apiece.
However, the grandstand managers also ran the Browns out of the bottom of the first, their only mistake of the game. After Hank Arft drove in the second and third runs of the inning on a single, the fans elected to try and steal an extra base. Arft took off but was thrown out by two feet by Philly catcher Joe Astroth. After an eventful first inning, the two teams were square at three per side.
The Browns would add another run in the bottom of the third on a Lollar solo home run. That would prove to be the game-winning run as the Browns and their rookie managers would come away victorious, 5-3. Mapes would drive in an insurance run in the eighth but it was plenty of runs for Ned Garver, who would improve 15-8. It was also Garverâ€™s 11th straight win over Philadelphia. A’s manager Jimmy Dykes, who was not happy with the tactic before the game, said after: “It was a good game.”
Maybe the Browns should have stuck with the manager-by-committee. The Browns would go 16-22 the rest of the way on route to a 52-102 record overall on the season, good for dead last in the National League. Manager Zach Taylor would have plenty of time to smoke his pipe in a rocking chair during the 1952 season as he was shown his walking papers by Veeck in favour of hall-of-famer Rogers Hornsby.
As for Veeck and the rest of the Browns, they would only last until the 1953 season. Veeck tried to move the club to Baltimore but was denied by the other owners who werenâ€™t very fond of him. Veeck would sell the club and the new owner, Clarence Miles, would successfully move the team to his hometown of Baltimore, where they would be reborn as the Orioles.
So next time you hear a fan second-guess your teams manager, donâ€™t be quick to criticize them. After all, they might have been in attendance that August day at Sportsman Park, busy leading their Browns to victory. The fans retired with an all-time winning percentage of 1.000.