September 16, 2019

The Memorial Day Brawl of 1932

May 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Administrative duties have kept me from writing much lately, so I thought I’d dust off an article I wrote for Memorial Day 2009. Enjoy!

Twelve years after the Black Sox scandal decimated the White Sox and led to lifetime bans of eight players, a postgame brawl with umpire George Moriarty on Memorial Day 1932 could have resulted in lifetime bans to four more members of the franchise. It was May 30, 1932 and the Cleveland Indians had just pummeled the Chicago White Sox, 12-6, in the first game of a doubleheader. Thirty-nine-year-old “Sad Sam” Jones, at the time a 19-year veteran, lasted only three innings and left the game with no outs in the fourth with his team losing 5-3. Tommy Thomas took over mound duties for the Sox and fared no better, allowing seven runs in five innings. First baseman Ed Morgan and center fielder Earl Averill did most of the damage for the Tribe, knocking in eight runs between them on six hits, including round-trippers by both—a two-run shot by Averill in the fourth, and a solo job by Morgan in the fifth. Former White Sox hurler Sarge Connally went the distance for the win.

It was a win the Indians desperately needed to keep up with the surging Yankees who had jumped out to a 26-11 record and held a three-game lead over the Washington Senators heading into the Memorial Day doubleheaders. The Detroit Tigers were in third place, four and a half games back; the Philadelphia Athletics were in fourth, five and a half games back; and the Indians sat in fifth, six games out of first. The White Sox were going nowhere fast and sat in seventh place with a record of 14-25 and a 13-game deficit. Only the lowly Boston Red Sox at 7-30 kept the Pale Hose out of the American League cellar.

On Memorial Day, the Yankees were in the process of sweeping the Red Sox, the Tigers were sweeping the Browns, and the A’s were sweeping the Senators. The Indians needed a sweep of the White Sox to keep pace. Things between the teams and umpires had been contentious all day; White Sox manager Lew Fonseca claimed that umpire George Moriarty had been “sneering” at his players all day and had been “on” the White Sox for quite some time. Connally almost got into a fight with White Sox outfielder Liz Funk, whom he accused of deliberately spiking him, but Morgan pulled the pitcher away before punches could be thrown.

The heightened testosterone spilled over into the second game. The White Sox scored one in the first, five in the third, and three in the fourth to take a 9-5 lead over the Indians who plated one in the second and four in the third. The Sox extended their lead with two more in the seventh and went up 11-5. Then all hell broke loose.

Moriarty and Fonseca exchanged words, each questioning the others’ managerial skills–“Moriarty managed the Tigers in 1927-1928–“and things became even more heated. Then White Sox pitcher Hal McKain asked his catcher, Charlie Berry, to rub some dirt on the ball to keep his blister from becoming infected; Moriarty objected, condemned the players with a profanity-laced tirade, and threw White Sox coach Johnny Butler out of the game for swearing at him.

Things settled down only slightly as Cleveland fought back with two in the bottom of the seventh and one in the bottom of the eighth to pull to within three at 11-8. But the ill feelings continued to simmer, resulting in another altercation, this time between Berry and Indians third sacker Willie Kamm, who pushed Berry after the latter joked about Kamm striking out.

The straw that finally broke the camel’s back came in the ninth. Indians shortstop Johnny Burnett doubled off McKain to lead off the bottom of the frame and scored on Wes Ferrell’s single to make the score 11-9. Fonseca brought Pat Caraway into the game in relief of McKain, and Bill Cissell greeted the reliever with a double over third that put runners on second and third with no outs. Averill stepped to the plate with a chance to tie the game, which he did by tripling to right-center to drive in both runners. By this time Berry was furious. Moriarty had called a ball on Averill that Berry felt should have been strike three and now Averill was standing only 90 feet away with the potential winning run.

Fonseca ordered intentional passes to Joe Vosmik and Morgan to load the bases and set up a force, then brought staff ace Ted Lyons into the game, but Joe Sewell knocked Averill home from third with a grounder and the Indians had a come-from-behind 12-11 victory.

As with most stories, there are two sides, and this one is no exception. One version has the White Sox heckling Moriarty as he walked off the field, prompting him to challenge the entire White Sox team to a fight. The other story has Moriarty accosting Berry in the players’ tunnel after the game and challenging him to a fight. Either way, a fight definitely ensued. According to Indians players and coaches who witnessed the fracass, Moriarty offered to fight the whole White Sox team, then told the players not to hold him back. White Sox pitcher Milt Gaston accepted the challenge by quipping, “You might as well start with me,” to which Moriarty responded by knocking the pitcher to the floor with two hard rights to his face, and breaking his hand on Gaston’s jaw.

Fonseca, Berry, and catcher Frank Grube rushed to Gaston’s aid and began beating and kicking Moriarty while he was down on the ground. Moriarty’s partner in arbitration, Bill Dinneen, came upon the scene and tried to help, but amazingly, Moriarty warned him not to interfere. Before Dinneen could ignore Moriarty’s order, Indians catcher Luke Sewell, first baseman Bruce Connatser, and coach Howie Shanks jumped in and pulled the White Sox players off the fallen umpire.

Had Dinneen joined the fray there’s no telling how much worse the incident might have been. Moriarty had forged a reputation as a “free style fighter” on the diamond–“legend has it that he once challenged his Tigers teammate, Ty Cobb, to a fight, but first handed him a bat and declared, “That makes us even.”

Westbrook Pegler amusingly claimed that it wasn’t unlike Moriarty to take on entire teams and insisted that “anything less than a full lineup was considered to be no contest for him. Once when he was going to fight a ball club, the pitcher did not show up so the bout was postponed on his own demand. ‘I do not want anyone to say that I picked on you when you did not have your full strength. The Moriartys believe in fair play and I refuse to take advantage of your weakness.’ ” Pegler also feigned disappointment in Moriarty for not continuing to fight with only one good hand because, afterall, he was fighting only half a team.

Meanwhile Dinneen was no powder puff; Babe Ruth once challenged him to a brawl under the grandstands at Dunn Field in Cleveland and it took three players to restrain the incensed umpire, who wanted to thrash Ruth right there in front of the dugout instead.

After the fight, Moriarty was taken to Cleveland Clinic Hospital with spike wounds, bruises, and a broken right hand. Not surprisingly, Fonseca blamed the donnybrook on Moriarty. “Moriarty was looking for a fight and it seems that he got it,” Fonseca told reporters after the incident. “Everyone in baseball knows many stories of Moriarty’s brawling tendencies and his eagerness to start a fight at the slightest provocation.”

Indians owner Alva Bradley witnessed the fight and claimed the White Sox acted in an “outrageous manner.” Indians general manager Billy Evans curiously laid blame at Dinneen’s feet, insisting that by going through the players’ tunnel, Moriarty had made the proper exit from the field and that Dinneen should have gone the same way instead of mingling with spectators after the game.

A.L. president Will Harridge launched an immediate investigation. On the diamond Moriarty was a widely reputed “bully” with “profane propensities,” who had a history of poor relations with the White Sox dating back to 1930 when Donie Bush managed the team. Bush and Moriarty had had a falling out while teammates with the Tigers and the dimunitive shortstop-turned-manager had a way of getting under Moriarty’s skin. Their relationship was so contentious that they were called to the league offices and forced to shake hands and make peace. That they despised each other was interesting considering it was Bush that Moriarty was protecting way back when he threatened to beat the hell out of a bat-wielding Ty Cobb.

Despite Fonseca’s claim that Moriarty had been “belligerent and profane,” it was expected that the men who pummeled the umpire in Cleveland would be sternly punished. Since former American League president Ban Johnson made it his mission to eradicate poor behavior and abuse on umpires, physical attacks on umps had long been considered the “gravest of baseball offenses.” The Chicago Tribune warned its readers that a lifetime suspension was possible “under the jurisdiction of the league president or the baseball commissioner.”

But only hours after the Trib’s dire pronouncement, Harridge issued his decision: Gaston was fined $500 and suspended for 10 days; Butler was suspended without pay for five days; Fonseca was fined $500; Berry was fined $250; Grube was fined $100; Moriarty was neither fined nor suspended, but was severely reprimanded for “neglect of duty.”

The Tribune called Harridge’s decision “conservative almost to the point of leniency,” but admitted that he showed “tact and pretty sound judgment.” It concluded, “President Harridge appears to have emerged from a trying situation with prestige unimpaired and without incurring enmity of the White Sox management which wholesale suspensions to an already weak team might have engendered.”

Readers of the paper were divided. One revealed that Moriarty had openly praised White Sox management at two separate banquets for hiring Fonseca and predicted a bright future for the team. “Such loyalty and praise is certainly not the conduct of a man who they now claim has been riding them.” A second reader insisted he’d no longer attend games until Moriarty was eliminated from professional baseball.

Although the players were astounded to learn that Moriarty was simply reprimanded, and they insisted that they were merely trying to help the fallen umpire up after he’d slipped while fighting Gaston, they agreed to accept the penalties. “There will be no appeal from the action,” announced White Sox vice president Harry Grabiner. “The players accept the decision without comment.”

Moriarty appears to have gotten more than just a slap on the wrist, however. It was reported less than two months after the incident that “if” Moriarty were to return to umpiring, it would be in the National League. And according to Eric Enders’ fine biography of Moriarty, the umpire was on the chopping block and about to lose his job until he embarked on a goodwill tour on behalf of the American League, lecturing at schools and banquets at the conclusion of the 1932 season.

Apparently he put on quite a show, as described by sportswriter Bob Consadine. “He thundered up and down the stages, imitating the batting stances of Babe Ruth, the pitching motion of George Earnshaw, the fielding motion of himself in his prime, the burlesque antics of several Savannah Negro sandlotters, about whom stories were told in a rich Augusta (Maine) drawl. In between he made motions like Al Jolson about to break out in a rash of Mammies.”

Harridge brought Moriarty back into the American League and he earned vindication of sorts in 1935 when a Sporting News poll of A.L. players found him to be the best umpire in the league. He retired from umpiring in 1940.

Gaston returned to the Sox after his suspension and finished the season at 7-17. He went an abysmal 14-31 over his final two seasons with a 5.39 ERA and called it a career in 1934. Fonseca led the White Sox to a 49-102 record in 1932 and finished in seventh place, 56 1/2 games out of first. They improved under his watch in 1933, going 67-83, but he was fired early in 1934 after guiding the team to a 4-11 start. Berry played until 1938 when he retired at the age of 35, and Grube played sparingly until 1941, bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors before calling it quits at the age of 36.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!