Showing posts with label Memorial Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memorial Day. Show all posts

Monday, March 7, 2011

Duke Snider's Philadelphia grab eclipsed that of Willie Mays in the World Series


As detailed in Jason Aronoff's "Going, Going ... Caught!: Baseball's Great Outfield Catches as Described by Those Who Saw Them, 1887-1964" Duke Snider made an award winning grab on Memorial Day in 1954 that still stands as the best ever, yes, even better than Willie Mays' grab in the 1954 World Series.

In baseball circles, one just has to say “The Catch” and immediately visions of Willie Mays racing towards the depths of the Polo Grounds appear. While many regard Mays’ catch of Vic Wertz’s smash as the best catch ever, some witnesses argued that Mays’ catch wasn’t even the best one that year! The recently deceased Duke Snider made a catch on Memorial Day earlier that year that easily rivaled, if not surpassed Mays’ highlight in New York.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were facing the Philadelphia Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia on May 31, 1954. Entrenched in a 12-inning battle, Phillies third baseman Willie “Puddin Head” Jones stepped to the plate against Clem Labine. Jones laced a screaming shot towards the left-center field gap that forced Snider into an all-out sprint towards the wood-faced concrete wall. Snider miraculously managed to dig his foot into the wall and propelled himself seemingly higher to reach out over his head and across his body to make a spinning backhanded catch against the fence. He stumbled down the wall and pulled the ball out of the webbing of his glove. Second base umpire Jocko Conlan signaled the out and the Dodgers mobbed Snider for preserving the victory.

The Brooklyn Eagle’s Dave Anderson labeled Snider’s grab as, “the greatest, absolutely the greatest, catch in baseball history.” Dodgers coach Jake Pitler told the New York Post that Snider’s catch was like no other he witnessed in baseball.

“In forty years of baseball, I never saw a catch like Snider made.”

In a 2009 interview that I conducted with Dodger outfielder Don Thompson, he gave me a bird’s-eye view from his position in left field, where he was inserted as a late inning defensive replacement.

“A man in upstate New York contacted me about a book he was writing about baseball’s greatest catches," Thompson said. He asked me about a catch Duke Snider made on Memorial Day in 1954. I was in the field, as I went in during the 8th or 9th inning. Snider made a catch you wouldn’t believe unless you were there to see it. Puddin Head Jones hit a ball to left-center field; Snider had a better shot at it than I did. He was running towards the fence, jumped and turned, and sorta stuck his cleats in the wooden fence there and caught this ball. It may have gone over, but he jumped and turned and caught this ball. This author rated this number one. Snider was going right towards the fence as hard as he could, turned at the last minute, stuck his cleats in the fence and caught this ball. He rated it over Mays’ catch in the World Series. Mays had a long way to go, but he didn’t have anything obstructing him. Alston said not only did he have a long way to go, he had to jump, and he had the fence to contend with. I was playing left field, I was right there. He stuck his cleats in that old fence, and I couldn’t believe that he had it. He backhanded it for the catch.”

Bob “Mickey” Micelotta was on first base when the ball was hit. Micelotta was a rookie infielder for the Phillies, making only his third plate appearance in the major leagues. He drew a walk off of Labine to extend the inning for Jones’ drive. There was some speculation that Snider trapped the ball against the wall with his near-impossible catch. In a July 2009 letter from Micelotta, he affirmed Snider’s awe inspiring leap.

“I did see the catch," Micelotta said. "I was on first base and the play was right in front of me. He did catch it!”

Monday, May 31, 2010

Eddie Carnett: At 93 memories of a baseball player and soldier in World War II are as clear as ever

World War II veteran and retired major league baseball player Eddie Carnett holds the unique distinction of being one of only a handful of players to make their debut as a pitcher and later return to play full time as a position player. Others on this short list include Smokey Joe Wood, Lefty O'Doul, and someone named Babe Ruth. While Carnett did not put up Ruthian-like numbers, he was an excellent mentor, teaching Warren Spahn his pick-off move and tutoring Bob Feller on how to throw a slider.
Eddie Carnett / Author's Collection
Carnett is one of the few living members of the legendary Great Lakes Naval baseball team. On this Memorial Day in 2010, he recalled his entrance into the Navy 65 years ago.

"I'm pretty old, I'll be 94 pretty soon," Carnett said via telephone. "I went to Great Lakes in 1945, 65 years ago today. I was 28, heck I was an old man in the service! It was very interesting. Bob Feller was our manager, Walker Cooper was our catcher, I played first base, and Johnny Groth was in center field. Pinky Higgins was there too. We were all big league ballplayers."

A few days into his service, Carnett played in an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers. He recalled an entertaining exchange between Hall of Fame manager Mickey Cochrane and pitcher Schoolboy Rowe over the decision to pitch that day.

"In fact, on June 6th we had an exhibition game; the Detroit Tigers came into Great Lakes and I hadn't been there too long," he recalled. "I remember Mickey Cochrane was the manager, and before the game, Schoolboy said [to Cochrane], 'Skip, it's kinda cold out there today.' Cochrane shot him a look and said, 'It's pretty warm over in the South Pacific.' Rowe quickly said, 'Give me the damn ball skip!' Rowe and Virgil Trucks pitched and we beat them. In fact, we beat every big league club we played."

In 1944 while playing with the Chicago White Sox, a visit to a Philadelphia area hospital proved to be a sobering experience for Carnett about the realities of war.

"We went around and played quite a few exhibition games across the country," he said. "We went into the Valley Forge Hospital in Philadelphia with all of the guys from the White Sox. All of the guys from Normandy were sent back shot up. I never seen such a bloody mess in my life. That was when they went across the channel and got shot up.

"One big kid, his idol was Hal Trosky. The nurse told me he had both eyes shot out, he had a bandage over his face so I didn't know that. Trosky was in a batting slump, and the kid got up and said, 'I can see ol' Hal Trosky now.' He just stood there perfect in Trosky's stance, and Trosky got white as a sheet. Trosky then said, 'It takes a blind kid to tell me what I was doing wrong.' There wasn't a dry eye in the room; he wasn't worried about his eyes, he was worried about his buddy Trosky, his baseball idol. I'll tell ya, I would have rather been over there than see what I seen coming back at Valley Forge Hospital. Those guys that came back, I'm telling you, they were shot up."

Carnett explained why many of these horror stories never reached the public consciousness.

"The public never sees any of this stuff," he said. "And I can understand why the government hides this stuff from them. I don't know whether the public can take it or not. War is hell! There ain't nothing fair about war. If I know you are going to try to shoot me, I am going to shoot you first and ask questions later."

He also acknowledged that some of the players took heat from their fellow servicemen because they were shielded from combat duty as they traveled the country playing exhibition games for the troops. A vast majority of the armed forces appreciated what they were doing.

"I was fortunate," he said. "I was in the Navy, scheduled to go out in a bunker hill and [instead] the Commodore of our Naval District wanted us to go around. We went to Fort Dix and played some exhibition games. There were a couple of soldiers that called me a draft dodger because I was playing ball. The guys over there in the Army told me not to worry and they picked those guys up and threw them out of the ballpark."

Far removed from his military service, Carnett suggested enlisting the services of the retired veterans to help put an end to battle.

"I'll tell you how to stop war," he said. "Take guys like me, 80-90 years old and put us in the service, on the front lines, and after four or five shots, you know what we're going to say, 'What in the hell are we doing here?'"

While the current administration may not be knocking down his door anytime soon, Carnett is glad to be around to continue to tell his story.

"I had a lot of good friends in baseball and I miss them," he lamented. "I love the fans. A lot of my buddies lost their lives, the only thing I lost was money and my big league career. That was fine; I came back alive."

Carnett is featured in the following books about World War II and baseball:

Hardball on the Home Front: Major League Replacement Players of World War II - Craig Allen Cleve

Bluejackets of Summer: The History of the Great Lakes Naval Baseball Team 1942-1945 - Roger Gogan