December 3, 2023

The Radio Guy and The Judge, Cookie and The Brat

August 16, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

We take for granted today that broadcasters on both radio and TV will dissect game situations, offer opinions on strategy, and feel free to second-guess managers and criticize players for mistakes–all of which helps to educate those of us listening at home (or in our cars) on the many nuances of a complex game. It is not unusual to hear something along the lines of, “What was he thinking?” This was not the case back in the 1947 World Series when millions listened to The Radio Guy, influenced by a Judge’s words from on high, narrating in real-time the busting up of a no-hitter by a Cookie batting for The Brat.

The Radio Guy is Hall of Fame broadcaster Red Barber.
The Judge is Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Commissioner of Baseball from 1920 till his death in 1944.
Cookie is Cookie Lavagetto, who had been the Brooklyn Dodgers’ regular third baseman for five years before World War II, but was now a utility player in his final major league season.
The Brat is none other than Eddie Stanky, all 5 foot-8, 170 pounds of him.

I’ve been reading Red Barber’s account of the pennant races and World Series in Jackie Robinson’s rookie season, 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose (Da Paco Press, 1982). Early on and several different times in the book, Barber writes that he always followed the admonition given by Commissioner Landis to the radio play-by-play announcers from three different networks about to take to their broadcast booths before the 1935 World Series to only “report” what was happening on the field of play and any visible reactions to the action, “but have no opinion.” Just report on the action; “leave your opinions in the hotel.” Landis explained that announcers did not have the training or the proper perspective to offer an opinion, specifically on umpire rulings–he had just used his emperor-like prerogatives to banish one announcer from the proceedings for criticizing the umpires in a previous World Series–but the Judge presumably was also warning against speculating about what moves a manager might make in a given situation, or the reasoning behind managers’ decisions, or criticizing players for their mistakes and managers for decisions that backfired.

Comes the drama of Game 4 of the 1947 World Series, the New York Yankees versus the Brooklyn Dodgers, and so very much less was said by Red Barber and Mel Allen over the radio waves to a national audience in describing the action than would be the case today. Take Game 4, the game in which the Yankees’ Bill Bevens was one out away from pitching the first no-hitter in World Series history, notwithstanding walking 10 Dodgers, only to lose both the no-hit bid and the game when pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto drove in two runs with a double off the right field wall at Ebbets Field.

Staying true to the Judge’s broadcast philosophy (although baseball’s first Commissioner had now been deceased for nearly three years), Barber described the action with minimal explanation that might have enlightened listeners with greater context and insider insight. In his chapter of that game, Barber is excellent in doing just that for his readers 35 years after the fact, but admits: “I didn’t second-guess managers at microphones, but I wondered then, and I still think now, why didn’t [Brooklyn manager Burt] Shotton send in a pinch runner for [Carl] Furillo as soon as he got ball four? Furillo wasn’t fast or an accomplished base runner.”

Barber was writing specifically of the moment after Bevens walked Furillo with one out in the ninth inning, gunning for his no-hitter but also trying to protect a one-run lead. This would have been precisely the kind of insight that would have engaged avid listeners–most of whom almost certainly would not have considered that Furillo lacked speed, might not score on a hit where a faster player would, or even that a savvy manager keeps such things in mind. It would have been a lesson in strategy, on the many options a manager has to try to win games. As it happened, Shotton belated did send in a pinch runner for Furillo–the speedy Al Gionfriddo–but only after Bevens got his second out.

When he sent in Gionfriddo to pinch run, and down to their last out, Shotton also sent up Pete Reiser to pinch hit for the pitcher. Reiser was not in the starting line-up because he had badly injured his ankle in the first inning of the previous game while being thrown out trying to steal second base. Barber noted in his book that because Reiser’s injury was to his right ankle–which turned out to be broken–he could still put the necessary weight and get the needed leverage off his back foot, as a left-handed batter, as he came forward in his stride. (Barber does not say whether he said this on the air.)

Gionfriddo stole second on a two balls-one strike pitch to Reiser, which was wide of the plate for ball three. It being the tying run was now in scoring position and that the dangerous Reiser–who had hit .309 during the season–had a 3-1 count in his favor, Yankee manager Bucky Harris decided it was perhaps best to intentionally walk Reiser, even if that meant the potential winning run was now on base, rather than risk him getting a hit because Blevens had to come in with strikes with a three ball count on the batter. Barber clearly makes this point in the book, but again does not say whether he so said on the air.

Then came a most interesting move, an explanation for which Barber says nothing in his book and presumably said nothing to his intensely-listening audience. Burt Shotton called back his everyday lead-off hitter, Eddie Stanky, in favor of pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto. Blevens was a right-handed pitcher. Stanky was a right-handed batter. But so too was Lavagetto, so it was not obvious why Shotton would prefer the season-long off-the-bench Lavagetto and not the everyday veteran Stanky. Stanky did not have a hit in this game, but had walked twice. He had also hit in each of the first three Series games. Moreover, Stanky could be virtually guaranteed to make contact–he struck out only 39 times in 680 plate appearances all season–and if he drew a walk (he did so 103 times during the season), Pee Wee Reese, himself a contact hitter who was a tough out, was up next.

Stanky was quite possibly the best second baseman in the National League at that time  –indeed, the very reason why Jackie Robinson’s rookie season was at first base, not second, the position he played in Triple-A Montreal in 1946 preparing for his ground-breaking call-up to end segregation in the major leagues. Stanky started 146 games during the season for the Dodgers and was in at the finish in 134 of them.

On three occasions, Stanky left the game because he was hurt on tag plays on defense at second base. On three other occasions, Stanky was replaced defensively in the late innings of games Brooklyn was losing big. Twice, Shotton sent in a pinch runner for Stanky after he had either singled or walked in the ninth inning of a game the Dodgers were losing by one run; “Stanky couldn’t steal, slow-footed as he was, if his life and entire family depended on it,” Barber wrote elsewhere in his book. And in three of the last four games the Dodgers played in the 1947 National League schedule, Stanky was removed to give him a breather for the World Series to come; Brooklyn had already clinched the pennant, Shotton was doing the same for other veteran players on his team, and Stanky got one day off entirely.

Only once had Shotton removed Stanky for a pinch hitter, and boy did that ever work out for KOBS–Kindly Old Burt Shotton. (Well, technically twice, when Shotton had to pinch hit for Stanky in the bottom of the first in a game on August 23 only because his second baseman could not continue–and in fact missed the next four games–after being hurt while tagging out a would-be base stealer to end the top of the first.) It was the bottom of the ninth on July 12 against the Cubs, the tying run on second base, and Stanky due up against the left-handed Johnny Schmitz. Stanky not only was 0-for-3 with a strikeout in the game against Schmitz, but would be hitless in 24 plate appearances against Schmitz the entire season. So Shotton in that game surely knew what he was doing when he sent the veteran right-handed batting Arky Vaughan up to hit for Stanky. Vaughan singled in the tying run, and then came around to score the game-winner himself.

Lavagetto, meanwhile,  had played in only 41 games all season, entering as a pinch hitter in 26 of them, and hit all of .261 in only 69 at bats. As a pinch hitter, Lavagetto had 6 hits in 22 at bats with 4 walks during the season. Moreover, only 17 of Lavagetto’s total 82 plate appearances during the season were against right-handed pitching, although he did have six hits (one a home run) and walked once against the right-handers he faced.

Rarely does a manager take out his day-to-day lead-off hitter in such a critical situation, and certainly not for a pinch hitter with such modest credentials on the season as Cookie Lavagetto, so some words about why Shotton was doing what he was doing would have been appropriate and would certainly be the case today–even if the Radio Guy could only speculate. Other than some accounts saying that Lavagetto was tough in clutch situations, I don’t recall ever reading why Shotton made this move, and even with 35 years hindsight, Barber does not say. But KOBS must have known something. Lavagetto’s drive off the right field wall at Ebbets Field broke up the no-hitter and drove in both the tying and winning runs, making Shotton two-for-two in his decisions in 1947 to pinch hit for Eddie Stanky: first with Vaughan, now with Lavagetto.

Red Barber writes that he summed up the drama by saying, “I’ll be a suck-egg mule.” Or, to quote current Baltimore Orioles’ radio broadcaster Joe Angel: “Put this one in the WIN column” for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Note: Bill Bevens pitched only one more game in the major leagues–three days later as a reliever in Game 7. He later told a reporter that his failed no-hit bid, in which he faced 37 batters and had a very high pitch count because of all the walks, left his arm “dead” by the end of the Series.

The following is a You Tube video in which Red Barber and Mel Allen talk about that game.  Both mention that Lavagetto was a pinch hitter; neither say for whom.


One Response to “The Radio Guy and The Judge, Cookie and The Brat”
  1. Vinnie says:

    Very nice. One minor correction. Arky Vaughn hit left handed.

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