Gerry Hobbs – Gerry Hobbs enters the TCBA Yest/Gold sections, taking over the Baltimore Baysox franchises.
Bob Braun -
September 21, 1925
Hyde Park – The Hudson Valley Railroad was bustling with activity early this morning, as the South Starrucca Ainspans and all their baggage arrived in town. The A’spans, as their fans like to call them, were certainly tired from their stressful, but successful journey to Long Island, where a 3-1 series win over the hapless Islanders propelled the South Starruccans into a tie with the local VitaMen. The players stood somewhat shakily on the platform watching their baggage being hauled off to the stadium, not knowing that at that very moment a contingent of Bradenton Buckeyes, including the Big Buck himself, Bob Wood, was chugging southward aboard The Chief en route to Hyde Park to witness the game. (What the Bradenton boys would witness would become the standard for Hyde Park-South Starrucca match-ups for the next 80 years.) It is an historic event; the first ever division-deciding one-game playoff in TCBA history.
The VitaMen had arrived home the night before and had a chance to sleep in their own beds. The Bergen Barflies had damaged more than the Hyde Park season record. The VitaMen were a worn-out bunch, physically and mentally. One look as they trudged up the hill from the station told the story…
Almost. There was still the deciding playoff game to play. To accommodate an anticipated huge radio audience, the game was slated to start at 10 AM. All night the Ainspans had anguished over choosing a starting pitcher. At some point, desperate for enlightenment, Sticky Fiehl paid a visit to the club car and sat across from Madame Bovine, the renowned Binghamton psychic. Bovine had gained worldwide fame in 1897 by predicting that Mary would lose her sheep, and she did (It’s in the book!) As the train roared through the Breakneck Tunnel, Fiehl learned that 24-year-old Joe Shaute (19-7) would die in Scranton, PA in 1970 at the age of 70, on February 21st! Fiehl was convinced that Shaute would live to pitch the game of his life, and then die happily in his memory 56 years later. And so, Shaute’s fate was sealed as Fiehl penciled him in the lineup. Up at the Hyde Park Brew Pub, Red Braun had already informed Mighty Jack Quinn (14-4) that he would get the ball.
Game time approached, but problems were obvious. The beer kegs had not yet been delivered, the Kracker Jacks bin was empty, and the peanuts were still on a truck somewhere south of Poughkeepsie. A strong wind had blown down a part of the telegraph lines, and the WHVW radio tower had been damaged by lightning while Dazzy Vance was finishing up his season ending win in Long Island. The game was rescheduled for 8:00 PM.
GAME TIME> After 154 games, the rivals held identical 111-43 records. The teams prepared to settle it mano á mano. The residents of J-Block from Hudson Valley State Psychiatric Hospital sang the National Anthem and then took their seats immediately behind the visitors’ dugout. The color guard, a contingent of hardened criminals from Greenhaven State Prison, sat just to the right. The VitaMen took the field to a roar from the fans packing Miller-Wells Park.
There was plenty of tension to go around, obvious when Topper Rigney blooped a soft liner behind second to start the game positively for the Ainspans. Two outs later, Glenn Myatt singled to right to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
With all that had taken place in the final weeks of the season, it is difficult to imagine how the players could find the focus and energy to continue on; but they did. Both teams. Bernie Neis gave the VitaMen a lift with a one-out single in the bottom of the first, and Highpockets Kelly drove him home with a double to tie the game at 1-1.
Bibb Falk doubled to lead off the second, but Quinn was up to the challenge and would have gotten out of the inning; fatigue caused a momentary loss of concentration for Bing Miller, who dropped an easy fly ball, allowing the Ainspans to jump ahead again, 3-1. Miller had gone 52 straight games without a miscue. What a time to pull one!
But Miller was not the only one who had difficulty keeping fatigue at bay. Shaute opened the bottom of the third by hitting Ira Flagstead with a pitch. It was the 14th time for Ira, and the 10th time for Shaute, but what a time it was to happen! Neis followed with a nice h&r single. Highpockets Kelly might have been walked intentionally, but he wasn’t, and he made the Ainspans pay by drilling another double to tie the game at 3-3! So after 154 1/3 games, the two teams were still tied.
Like two heavyweights, the two teams went at each other, inning after inning. In the 6th inning, Glenn Myatt landed another punch, belting a high, hard deep fly to right that soared into the dark night sky, long gone for a 4-3 South Starrucca lead. The park was as silent as the frost on the dead corn stalks in Farmer Hoag’s field. Could this be how it ends, Hyde Park players standing silent in the moist grass, mulling through a wreckage of regrets, Ainspan players whooping and hollering in their cozy dugout?
The damage was still incomplete. Howard Shanks, tears of frustration in his eyes, threw away a grounder, and it appeared to all that the Walls of Jericho were about to come tumbling down around the patrons of Hyde Park. In desperation, Red Braun called on Wee Willie Sherdel to replace a distraught Quinn. Sherdel got only one out before being similarly replaced by Vic Aldridge. That seemed to be the right choice, because Aldridge (14-5) had the right stuff, ending the 7th with no further damage.
Had one been in the Hyde Park dugout as the bottom of the 7th was about to begin, one would have been aware of a surprising calm. It was quiet, for sure, but not morose. The players were on the edge of total exhaustion, mentally and physically, but there was vivid confidence in the way they moved about preparing to bat. There was not one VitaMen player who was at all surprised when Flagstead opened the inning with a whistling single to right. This was just the way it was supposed to be.
Sticky Fiehl pulled Shaute after that hit, and it may be that move that led to Shaute’s life of depression. It may be the reason why, 56 years later, Shaute would return to die on Fiehl’s doorstep, a reminder of the night Sticky Fiehl robbed Shaute’s soul.
Shaute after the ballgame....
So 31-year old Arnie Stone (9-4, 10 saves in 46 games) comes on to finish up what Shaute had so boldly started. He gets Neis on a grounder to short, but Pie Traynor, silent against Shaute (and struggling to keep his head above .300) pokes a double to left center, scoring Flagstead with the tying run! It’s 4-4 and the park is shaking with the sound of the crowd’s roar. Kelly is intentionally walked this time, Bing Miller is retired, but big Mike Gonzalez hits a pea past Cotter at first, both runners score, and now the VitaMen are the ones celebrating a 6-4 lead! There’s no place for the Ainspans to hide, no one left in the bullpen to go to. They just have to stand out there and take it. Frankie O’Rourke collects his second double, upping the score to 7-4. Just like the VitaMen a few innings before, the emotions of the game, the roller coaster ride of the past few weeks, plays a part. Goose Goslin drops a routine fly ball, his first error in 65 straight games, putting the VitaMen in a commanding lead, 8-4.
And yet no one dared move from his seat. Not when these two teams play. As history will reveal over the next 60 years, anything can and will happen when the VitaMen and the Ainspans are on the same field.
Alex Ferguson (12-6), on for his second inning of work, pitching with a 4 run lead, immediately gives up consecutive hits to Goslin and Myatt to put runners on the corners. The Hyde Park fans grow restless, more so when Ferguson walks Meusel to load the bases. Bibb Falk’s pop up is misplayed by Pie Traynor, but the infield fly rule was in effect, and no damage was done to the Hyde Park lead. Marty McManus followed by popping up behind the plate. This time Gonzalez made the catch for the second out! Bases are still loaded, the Ainspans are down by four runs, and Alex Ferguson is pitching like Dazzy Vance! Sam Rice is called on to pinch hit, Ferguson is way too careful with him, and Rice walks to force in a run. More importantly, the tying run has now moved to first base…and the pulse of Hyde Park skipper Red Braun quickens noticeably.
A conference takes place on the mound. Sammy Hale (.380) is due to bat. Sacks full. Tying run at first. Two down. Red Braun calls on weary-armed Babe Adams, making what will become the final appearance of his professional career. Will it be one to remember or forget? Will Adams, already downgraded for overuse by his relentless manager, be able to retire anyone before he himself retires?
Hale, who regrets that he has only this at bat left to give for his team, slices a vicious liner down the right field line…foul!!! If that had managed to land moments sooner, the game would surely be tied. Gonzalez notices that Hale was very late on that swing and calls for another heater. Does Adams have anything left in the tank? Hale is late again, and underneath, as he lifts a little rain bringer that Miller tracks down near the line to end the threat. A collective sigh causes the outfield flags to flap in relief.
The effort seems to have been the last gasp of life for the feisty Ainspans. Stone has no answer for the suddenly vibrant Hyde Park bats, as Flagstead, Neis, and Bing Miller all collect hits around two intentional walks to place the VitaMen five runs ahead, 10-5, with just three outs to go.
Babe Adams comes on to try and finish. He’s tired, but so are the Ainspans. Their tank is empty. Rigney and Wingo fly out to Miller in right for the first two outs. Then Goose Goslin slowly made his way to the plate. The fans stood, but silently, as Adams prepared to pitch. Goslin tried to check his swing, but he didn’t have the strength to do so, hitting a slow roller to the left side, where Shanks made a clean pick up and throw to end the game and the season for the Ainspans.
The crowd, worn out by the emotional ride, applauded politely, and then filed out to get some much-needed rest before the playoffs begin.
Standing on the steps of the dugout after the game, Red Braun looked over toward the Ainspan dugout and tipped his cap.
“They gave us a good run,” said Braun. “They took everything we had.”
Shaking his head in respect, Braun gimped his way silently into the clubhouse to speak with his boys.
Up in South Starrucca, the celebration parade was quickly cancelled, and the Starruccans quietly drifted back up the streets from whence they came. The town returned to its sleepy norm, but in the distance, if you listened really carefully, you could hear the newly-formed Band from Deliverance practicing for their next gig. Plink-plinkity-plink…
Rave on, Ainspans!
Final Line score:
South Starrucca 5 8 1
Hyde Park 10 15 2
Alex Ferguson W (12-6)
Babe Adams S (13)
Arnie Stone BS (3) L (9-4)
2B: Kelly (2), O’Rourke (2), Neis, Traynor, Gonzalez, Rigney, Goslin, Falk, Shaute,