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Mudville: February 24, 2024 5:50 pm PDT

The Forgotten Man II

Elroy Face went 18-1 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959, pitching all of his 57 games in relief. By the end of August, he was 17-0. Could he finish the season undefeated? On September 11, he began pitching in the bottom of the ninth against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Memorial Coliseum with Pittsburgh leading 4-3. Sandy Koufax, still finding his way to becoming the best pitcher in baseball, gave up four earned runs in 7.1 innings. He was relieved by Chuck Churn, a former Pirate, who hurled 1.2 scoreless innings in relief.

The Dodgers scored two runs off Face to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, giving him his only loss for the season. Churn earned the win, the second of his career.

Churn pitched in 14 games that season, going 3-2 with one save and an ERA of 4.99. His final appearance was in game two of the best-of-three tie-breaker between the Dodgers and Milwaukee Braves for the pennant. He gave up Milwaukee’s fifth run in the eighth inning, making the score Milwaukee 5 and the Dodgers 2. Los Angeles scored three runs in the ninth to send the game into extra innings, and won in the bottom of the 12th, giving the Dodgers the pennant – and the World Series – which they won in six games against the Chicago White Sox.

Chuck Churn might have had only three wins in his career, but that one victory kept Face from having a perfect season.

Now 95 years old, Face said, “I was glad I lost to someone I knew than to somebody I didn’t know; we were friends, in spring training we’d go fishing together.”

Churn never pitched in the majors after the 1959 season, while Face led the league in saves three times, and saved three of the Pirates’ four wins in the 1960 World Series against the Yankees. He also appeared in several All-Star games.

Churn is one of those “forgotten men” of baseball, players who were involved in important games or plays but are often overlooked. Who was on base when Henry Aaron hit his 715th home run (Ralph Garr and Mike Lum)? Who was Nolan Ryan’s first strikeout victim, the initial one of his 5,714 punch outs (it was Atlanta Braves pitcher Pat Jarvis; Ryan fanned him to start the sixth inning on September 11, 1966.)

Félix Mantilla probably thought he’d be the 37th consecutive out when he hit a ground ball to Pirates third baseman Don Hoak. But Hoak made a throwing error and Mantilla became the first baserunner for the Milwaukee Braves.

On May 26, 1959, Pirates starter Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings against the Braves, 36 up and 36 down before Mantilla led off the bottom of the 13th While Haddix was perfect, Braves starter Lew Burdette surrendered 12 hits but did not yield a run. With Mantilla on first, Braves Manager called on slugger Eddie Mathews to bunt – and he sacrificed Mantilla to second. Haddix intentionally walked Henry Aaron to face Joe Adcock.

Adcock hit a deep drive that cleared the fence for a home run, but the ball hit a second fence behind the first one, and bounced back onto the field. Aaron thought the ball hit the first fence, and when Mantilla scored with the game’s winning run, Aaron started to walk off the field. Adcock then passed him on the base paths, and the umpire ruled him out, so the game was officially a 2-0 Braves victory. Later, the National League voided Adcock’s run, and the final tally was 1-0. Despite losing, Haddix is mentioned more often in baseball lore than pitchers who won a perfect game. Mantilla’s run took him out of the record books and into the story books.

Born in Isabella, Puerto Rico in 1934, Mantilla was a top player for various Puerto Rican teams, including the Puerto Rican National team that won the Amateur World Series in 1951, defeating Cuba. A Braves scout signed him to a contract, and he was sent to the Braves’ minor league camp in Myrtle Beach, SC. After the 1952 season, Mantilla played winter ball for Caguas in Puerto Rico, where one of his teammates, second baseman Henry Aaron, was moved to the outfield where, because of him, Mantilla said, “It seemed he was more at ease than he was at second.”

Felix Mantilla

Felix Mantilla with the New York Mets. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/Getty Images)

He made his major league debut on June 15, 1956, and batted .283 while playing 15 games at shortstop and three at third base.

For the next two seasons, Mantilla subbed for the Braves’ shortstop Johnny Logan and second baseman Red Schoendienst who were injured or battling health issues.

On October 10, 1961, Mantilla was selected by the New York Mets in the National League expansion draft. He batted .275 while playing in 141 games. Teammate Craig Anderson recalls him as “a very steady ballplayer.”

After the season, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox where he hit .315 in part-time play. The following year, Mantilla batted .289 with 30 homeruns and 64 RBIs in only 425 at-bats. In 1965, he hit ..275 with 18 home runs and 92 RBIs. Shortly after the 1966 season began, he was traded to the Houston Astros, where he played part-time for a season before being released. Haddix might get the attention for his almost perfect performance, but Mantilla scored the run that cost the Pirate hurler.

At the trading deadline on June 15, 1964, the St. Louis Cardinals made a swap, sending left-handed starter Ernie Broglio to the Chicago Cubs for a young, unproven outfielder named Lou Brock. Within a short time, it was considered one of the great steals in history. In two-plus seasons, Broglio won seven games for Chicago, while Brock hit and ran his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Broglio led the league with 21 wins in 1960, and won 18 in 1963. Some writers have said he was suffering from a sore arm, but the Cubs went ahead with the trade.

But it was not an even-up deal.

Along with Brock, the Cubs shipped right handed pitchers Jack Spring and Paul Toth to the Cardinals for Broglio, outfielder Doug Clemens and left-handed pitcher Bobby Shantz – who the Cubs sold to the Phillies two months later.

Originally signed by the Phillies, Spring had been with five organizations when the Cubs purchased him from the Los Angeles Angels on May 15, 1964. A month later, he was shipped to the Cardinals, where he pitched three innings in two games with no wins or losses. For three teams that year, Spring pitched 15 innings, winning one game with the Angels. He appeared in 14 games with Cleveland in 1966, his last experience in the majors.

Toth had a connection with Clemens: he was an usher in the outfielder’s wedding; they were teammates in AA Tulsa in the Cardinals organization. Toth appeared in two games in relief and made two starts for St. Louis in 1964, going 0-2. It was his last season in the majors. After the 1965 season, St. Louis sent him back to the Angels, who then shipped him to Cleveland mid-way through the season.

Sports Illustrated Cover

June 26, 1961 Sports Illustrated via Getty Images Cover, Baseball: St, Louis Cardinals Ernie Broglio (32) in action vs San Francisco Giants, San Francisco, CA 4/23/1961 (Photo by Hy Peskin/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Clemens, who later played for Philadelphia, said the trade was finalized at 2 a.m. June 16 – past the deadline, but nothing was said officially about it being an “illegal” deal.

He was Cubs’ opening day starting right fielder in 1965. The first game was against St. Louis, with Bob Gibson starting for the Cardinals. In the bottom of the second with a man on, Clemens “hit a shot off him that came within a foot of the top of the right field wall in left field; I wished I had hit a home run. Gibson stared at me, how the hell did you hit that?”

Clemens was a standout running back for his high school football team (his father was the coach). He attended Syracuse University on a football scholarship, and was in the same freshman class as Ernie “The Express” Davis, another running back who became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. But on the fourth day of football practice, Clemens injured his knee, and his football scholarship became a baseball scholarship, and he was signed by the Cardinals.

“People who know I had a career in baseball knew I was in a trade with Lou Brock; I don’t go out of my way (to mention it).” If it is brought up, “I defend myself,” said Clemens. “I was a good minor league player; when I was a roommate with Toth in Tulsa in ’61, I was hitting .342 when the Cardinals promoted me to their AAA team in West Virginia, and I hit .310 there.”

Even though he has had a knee replaced, shoulder injuries and a torn rotator cuff, Clemens is an avid golfer, who says his game is “decent.” He frequently plays with his wife, who he met at Syracuse.

Bobby Shantz went 24-7 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1952, and won the MVP Award. But while batting in a late-season game he was hit on the wrist by a pitch that shattered it. He was never the same, but was an effective left-handed starter/reliever for the A’s when they moved to Kansas City, the New York Yankees and the Cubs and Cardinals. After joining the Phillies, he went 1-1 with a .245 ERA in 14 games, his final season in the majors.

At 97, he is the oldest living MVP. “That’s what I heard, that’s what I put on baseballs when I put my name on them,” he said.

After the 1964 season, the Phillies manager Gene Mauch asked him to pitch one more year. “Can you believe that? I said ‘No, I’ve had enough. I played 16 years, that’s enough (and) my arm was killing me,” Shantz said.

As for being part of the Broglio-Brock trade, Shantz says nobody has ever asked him about it. “This is the first time since you’ve mentioned it. I’d forgotten about it. I’m just happy to be alive (and) collect my pension. I love that thing, I make more money right now with my pension than I ever made when I was playing,” he said. After his 1952 season, he said his salary was doubled. “I thought I was overpaid,” he said. “I’ll tell you, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I’m still alive and I can’t believe it. I’ll tell you I was one of the luckiest in the world to be a baseball player. It really was. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Shantz is considered one of the greatest fielding pitchers in baseball history, winning eight Gold Gloves (including six consecutive from 1957 to 1962).

Broglio might have become infamous for being part of that trade, but there was a side benefit: a lasting friendship with Brock. When Brock turned 70, he invited Broglio to attend a benefit he was hosting for his birthday where Broglio called Brock “a great individual.”

Bobby Shantz & Co.

Portrait of three members of the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team as they smile together, in the locker room, after a victory, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1952. Pictured are, from left, Dave Philley, Bobby Shantz, and Eddie Joost. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

The Brooklyn Dodgers were one pitch away from evening up in the 1941 World Series with the New York Yankees in game four. With Brooklyn leading 4-3 in the top of the ninth at Ebbets Field, Tommy Heinrich of the Yanks swung and missed at a pitch for the third strike, but the ball got away from Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen and Heinrich reached first base. Brooklyn pitcher Hugh Casey still needed one more out, but the next batter, Joe Di Maggio, singled. Charlie Keller then doubled, driving in the baserunners putting New York ahead 5-4. Bill Dickey walked, and Joe Gordon doubled to drive in Dickey and Keller.

After Phil Rizzuto was intentionally walked, Casey induced pinch hitter Johnny Murphy to ground to shortstop for the fourth out. The Dodgers failed to score in their half of the inning and lost 7-4. Instead of being tied at two games apiece, the Yankees were up three games to one, and won the series in game five.

“Sure, it was my fault,” said Owen, near tears after the game. Casey was more philosophical about it, telling the press, “I guess I’ve lost ’em just about every way now.”

Casey pitched several seasons with the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system. He had a blazing fastball and an outstanding curve. An arm injury took the zip off his heater, and he developed a pitch he called a splitter, although some thought it was a spitball. (Casey swore the pitch Owens missed was a curveball, but because it moved so much some have speculated it was a damp.)

When he joined the Dodgers in 1939, Casey became a type of pitcher that has become extinct: a hybrid, who starts and relieves.

Over the next three seasons, Casey won 40 games as a starter and as reliever and had 10 saves. But he became primarily a reliever because of one at-bat in 1941.

After Casey surrendered a grand slam to the opposing pitcher, Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher stormed out to the mound, screaming “You’re in the bullpen for the rest of your life.”

Casey pitched often that September, helping Brooklyn win the pennant in a tight race with the St. Louis Cardinals. “We couldn’t have won without Hugh Casey’s great relief pitching,” said Durocher in a New York Times interview.

Leo the Lip was serious about keeping Casey in the bullpen. In 1942, he only made two starts while appearing in 50 games and leading the league with 13 saves.

Casey then spent the next three seasons in the armed services.

Hugh Casey

(Original Caption) Worlds Series -- 5th Game. Brooklyn, New York, New York: Hugh Casey, winner of two World Series games for the Dodgers, with Cookie Lavagetto, yesterday's hero for the Dodgers.

He led the league with 18 saves in 1947. Casey also pitched very well against the Yankees in the World Series that year, appearing in six games – five consecutively – winning two and saving one, although the Dodgers lost (again) to New York in seven games.

On May 24, 1948, Casey slipped and fell down a flight of stairs leaving his apartment. Suffering “torn tendons and ligaments” after landing heavily on his right side, he did not pitch for more than two months.

Game four of the ’41 series might have been a tragedy for Dodgers fans, but after baseball Casey had a most tragic life.

Casey was drinking heavily, according to one account. After he stopped playing, his wife had left him, and the IRS placed a lien on a Brooklyn restaurant he owned. He checked into an Atlanta Hotel and committed suicide.

*****

Jack Pfeister had to be grateful Fred Merkle made his boner play. It helped the Chicago Cubs win a pennant and prevented Pfeister from losing a key game.

The Cubs and New York Giants were battling for first place when they faced each other in New York at the Polo Grounds. Pfeister faced the Giants’ Christy Mathewson.

Each gave up only one run through eight innings. The Cubs did not score in the top of the ninth.

In the Giants’ half, with one out, Art Devlin singled. Moose McCormick grounded to second; Devlin was forced out at second base, but McCormick was safe on a fielder’s choice. With two outs, Merkle singled, advancing McCormick to third base.

Shortstop Al Bridwell drilled an apparent single into center field. McCormick stepped on home plate and the game appeared to be over, a 2–1 Giants victory. Fans poured out of the stands and mobbed the field to celebrate. Other fans walked toward a centerfield exit, a routine occurrence.

Accounts vary, but what is known is that Giants fans streamed onto the field. Merkle, advancing from first base, saw the fans swarming onto the playing field. He turned back to the dugout without ever touching second, which he later admitted. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers witnessed Merkle leave before reaching second, and saw an opportunity to have rule 5.08(a) enforced. The rule states: “A run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made […] by any runner being forced out…”

Depending on which account you follow, the ball was thrown back to the infield, only to have a Giants coach catch it and throw it into the crowd.

Umpires Bob Emslie and Hank O’Day consulted, and O’Day ruled Merkle had not touched second base; on that basis, Merkle was out on a force, and O’Day ruled the run did not score. The game was called on account of darkness and would have to be replayed. (The New York crowd threatened the umpires and a police escort was needed to get them off the field.)

When the season ended, the Cubs and Giants were tied. A makeup game was scheduled.

On October 8, the teams met at the Polo Grounds to decide the pennant. Pfeister again started for the Cubs, but lasted one inning. Chicago, however, prevailed 4-2, winning its third consecutive pennant and went on to win the World Series.

Pfeister pitched in parts of three seasons before sticking with the Cubs for all of 1906 (he still had rookie status). On May 30, he struck out 17 batters in 15 innings, an NL record that stood until Warren Spahn struck out 18 batters 46 years later. For the season, Pfiester won 20 and was second in ERA at 1.51.

The following year he led the league with a 1.15 ERA. He was 12-10 in 1908, not including the game he would have lost if Merkle had touched second.

Jack Pfeister

A portrait of John A. (Jack) Pfiester of the Chicago Cubs. (Photo by Sporting News and Rogers Photo Archive via Getty Images)

Babe Ruth did many great things on the baseball diamond. His hitting prowess is still discussed more than 87 years after his last at-bat. He was also one of the best pitchers in the game before becoming a full-time everyday player.

But he decided to make a play that, while never diminishing his mythic status, did raise some questions.

The Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals were playing a seventh game to decide the 1926 World Series. In the ninth inning, the Cards were holding onto a 3-2 lead. Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander, once one of the game’s greatest pitchers, was in relief trying to close the game out. At 39, Alexander was still an effective pitcher. He pitched two complete game victories in the series, and the day after winning game six, he was brought in to preserve a Cardinals lead.

Relieving starter Jessie Haines in the seventh with the bases loaded and two out, Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri to end the inning. He retired the Yankees in order in the eighth, and got the first two outs in the ninth, but walked Ruth. With Bob Muesel at the plate, Ruth took off for second.

Cardinals catcher Bob O’Farrell threw to second baseman Rogers Hornsby who applied the tag on Ruth for the game’s final out, giving the Cardinals the championship. O’Farrell was voted series MVP, catching all seven games for St. Louis while batting .304. For the 1926 season, he hit .293 with 68 RBIs, caught 142 games that season, and threw out 51 percent of would-be base stealers.

With Meusel, who batted .315 in 108 games that year, at the plate, and Lou Gehrig batting next, why did Ruth take off for second?

“You know, I wondered why Ruth tried to steal second then,” said O’Farrell. “A year or two later, I went on a barnstorming trip with the Babe and I asked him. Ruth said he thought Alex had forgotten he was there. Also (Ruth said) that the way Alex was pitching they’d never get two hits in a row off him, so he better get in position to score if they got one. Well, maybe that was good thinking and maybe not. In any case, I had him out a mile at second.”

Jon Caroulis has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years. Many of his articles have been about "unusual" events or players. He is a graduate of Temple University.

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