Ninety years ago, Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Eddie Rommel gave up 29 hits and 14 runs (13 earned) in a contest against the Cleveland Indians.
And he won the game.
On July 10, 1932, he pitched 17 innings and faced 87 batters. Why? He was the only pitcher A’s manager Connie Mack had available. Even though he won, the Indians set two offensive records against him: They pounded out 33 hits (the A’s had 25) and Cleveland’s shortstop Johnny Burnett set a record with nine hits in the game. It is the most runs given up by a pitcher who still earned the victory. Rommel walked nine, struck out seven, and threw two wild pitches.
The offensive star for Philadelphia was Jimmie Foxx, who went 6-for-9 with three home runs and eight RBIs. His home runs increased his league-leading total to 33 through 81 games, and put him on pace for 62 home runs in 154 games, which would have surpassed Babe Ruth’s 1927 record of 60 homers. Foxx finished the season with 58. Rommel did pretty well himself with the bat, going 3-for-7 with an RBI.
In the top of the 18th, Foxx scored the winning run when he singled with two out, and reached home on shortstop Eric McNair’s double.
The A’s left Philadelphia for a one-day trip to Cleveland for a scheduled Sunday game out of town. 20-year old Lew Krausse and Rommel were the only pitchers Mack brought with him. The “popular” wisdom says Mack took only a pair of hurlers because he wanted to save money on train tickets, but that’s probably a myth, an outgrowth of tales of Mack’s legendary parsimony.
Robert Warrington, a member of SABR who has written books and many articles about Philadelphia baseball, said the game “was one of those aberrations in the schedule caused by the prohibition of baseball on Sundays in Philadelphia. The A’s would make these strength-sapping trips to AL cities to play a single game on a Sunday because they could not do so as the home team. The previous Sunday, July 3, the Athletics had traveled to Washington to play a one-game series against the Senators.”
He added, “The trip to Cleveland must have been particularly grueling. The Mackmen played three doubleheaders in a row at Shibe Park from July 7-9. After the third one, they took a train to Cleveland for a game the next day on Sunday July 10.” When the game was finished, both teams boarded a train to Philadelphia to play a doubleheader the next day.
“With that as background,” said Warrington, “we still have the question of why Connie Mack chose to take only two pitchers with the team when it made the one-day dash to Cleveland and back.”
A newspaper account on the game reported that Krausse started for the Athletics, but he was removed after Cleveland had nicked him for three runs in the first inning. Rommel was the only other pitcher with the team and could have been forced to pitch until darkness halted the game, had not either team scored beyond the tying runs.
Philadelphia A's Pitcher Eddie Rommel. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
So, why did the manager pull Krausse so abruptly?
“I speculate Krausse may have hurt himself while pitching in the first, or been hurt during one of the plays that occurred while the Indians were at bat,” said Warrington. “I have no direct evidence to prove this, but I can think of no other legitimate reason for Mack to have removed Krausse from the game so early. What Mack didn’t count on—no one could—was that the game would last 18 innings and Rommel would have to pitch 17 of them.”
“Why did Mack take only two pitchers with him to Cleveland? Was saving money on train fare the reason? It may have been a factor, but I believe another, far more important, reason motivated Mack’s decision. The Athletics played three doubleheaders in a row before traveling to Cleveland for the Sunday game. Players must have been exhausted,” said Warrington.
Facing the prospect of playing another doubleheader against the Indians at Shibe Park on Monday, the A’s manager must have determined to take a bare bones roster with him so the players left behind, especially pitchers, could rest. “Again, what Mack couldn’t anticipate was that Sunday’s game would go 18 innings,” Warrington said.Norman L. Macht, another SABR member who wrote a three-volume biography of Mack, said, “Rommel was a knuckleball pitcher—easy on the arm—and if you look at his lifetime record, always appeared in a lot of games each year; 1932 was his last year, and he was used strictly in relief. He went to Cleveland expecting to work a few innings, and had no objections to that, but Krausse’s one lousy inning was enough for Mack.”
Tom Mahl, the author of The Spitball/Knuckleball book, called Rommel “the father of the modern knuckleball,” being one of the first hurlers to make extensive use of the pitch.
In the 7th inning, Mack visited the mound. Press box speculation was Mack would remove Rommel and replace him with third baseman Jimmy Dykes, who had closed a few games in 1927. Instead, Mack changed catchers.
A Portrait of Lewis B. (Lew) Krausse, Sr. of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1934. (Photo by Sporting News and Rogers Photo Archive via Getty Images)
“As for using Dykes, Mack probably had not taken any extra infielders with him,” said Macht. “The A’s were six games back of the Yankees, in second place, so Mack was still hopeful of another pennant. What was most remarkable was Rommel gave up only three runs over the last 11 innings.”
He did, however, blow the game twice by allowing Cleveland to score the tying runs in the bottom of the ninth and 16th innings.
Cleveland’s Wes Ferrell, normally a starter, was the losing pitcher. On short rest, he pitched 11 and one-third innings and allowed eight runs, 12 hits, and 4 walks (Cleveland made five errors that led to three unearned runs). He made 34 starts with 26 complete games that season, along with four relief appearances, and had a 23-13 record.
A game report from the North American Newspaper Alliance began its story this way:
“Ten thousand baseball fans who were on the edges of their seats in League Park groaned as Ed Rommel of the Athletics shot a third strike past Eddie Morgan of the Indians as the shades of night were falling fast. To the 10,000, the greatest game ever was over.”
It took four hours and five minutes to play.
“There can be no doubt these one-game sojourns, repeated numerous times during a season, took a toll on the players. The Athletics lost both ends of the doubleheader on July 11th by scores of 9-8 and 12-7,” said Warrington.
It was the first victory of the season for Rommel and the last of his career. He was 34 years old, and won 171 big-league games. He broke in with the A’s in 1920, and two years later enjoyed his best season, winning 27 games, or 41 percent of the team’s victories, and placing second in the voting for the Most Valuable Player, which was won by St. Louis Browns outfielder George Sisler, who batted .420 with 246 hits. In an interview, Rommel estimated one-third of his pitches were knuckleballs. “… (It) doesn’t do to throw all one thing, no matter how good that one thing may be. You have to mix them up to keep batters guessing,” he said.
Ted Lepcio #22 of the Detroit Tigers puts the tag on Hal Smith #9 of the Kansas City Athletics as umpire Eddie Rommel is there to make the call during an MLB game on June 29, 1959 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Hy Peskin/Getty Images)
By 1928, Rommel had become a combination reliever/spot starter for Mack. He was the winning pitcher in one of the most famous World Series games ever played. In game four of the 1929 series, the A’s were trailing the Chicago Cubs 8-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning, then scored 10 runs in that frame and went on to win, 10-8.
At the end of the 1932 season, Rommel was released by the A’s.
Tim Deale, a SABR member who wrote a biographical sketch on Rommel, said, “Based on my notes and conversation with one of his grandchildren, Eddie (told her) his arm was never the same after the July 10 game and he was done as a pitcher. He told other people his arm was done after that game,” said Deale.
If Rommel averaged throwing three pitches in that game to each of the 87 batters who hit against him, he threw 261 pitchers, and likely threw more.
Mack hired Rommel as a coach, a job he held for two seasons. In 1935 he managed the Richmond Colts, an Athletics affiliate in the Piedmont League, and they won the league championship. (Rommel also pitched for the team, winning six games and losing two.) He quit after the Richmond owner wanted to cut his salary. He contacted Mack who suggested he become an umpire. After learning the umpiring trade in the minor leagues, Rommel was promoted to the American League in 1938, and officiated games until he retired in 1959.
Rommel set another record of sorts when, in a 1956 game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Senators, Rommel became the first ever umpire to wear glasses.