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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

This Day In Baseball (Throwback Thursday) History , June 19,1940 - Ducky Medwick Beaned by Cards

The Slide
In 1940, baseball players did not wear batting helmets. Batters stood in there against pitchers throwing ninety-plus miles per hour, putting life and limb at risk. It’s amazing that only one player (Ray Chapman) died from being hit by a major league pitch.

In 1940, Cardinals outfielder Joe ‘Ducky’ Medwick was one of the best players in the game. After averaging .352 over the prior two seasons, he won the coveted triple crown in 1937, going .374 with 31 homers and 154 RBIs. Not surprisingly, he won the MVP award that year.
Landis ejects Medwick
The next year he hit .322 and led the league in doubles and RBIs. For this, he was rewarded with a 20% pay cut (in those days of the Reserve Clause, players took what was offered or had to quit baseball and get a real job). The outfielder voiced his displeasure over this. Medwick, who was generally unpleasant, had gotten into fights with several teammates over the years. But his lack of popularity wasn’t limited to St. Louis.

In Game 7 of the 1934 World Series, Medwick had slid into third base and was spiked by Tiger Marv Owen. Medwick responded by kicking Owen in the stomach with both his spikes and started a brawl. When Medwick took his position in left field, fans threw so much debris (bottles, fruit, rolled up hot dog buns) the game couldn’t be resumed. Commissioner Landis had a confab and ended up removing Medwick from the game (which the Cardinals won handily, surely contributing to the surly disposition of Tigers fans).
Joe Medwick was disliked by teammates, other players and fans. And since he was vocally unhappy with Cardinals owner Sam Breadon over his salary, he had an enemy at the top. Breadon had a low tolerance level for players he considered malcontents. Especially when it involved ungrateful attitudes towards their salaries.

Medwick, Durocher and Davis
On June 12, 1940, he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers along with pitcher Curt Davis. However, his problems with the Cardinals were about to get worse. On the morning of June 18, Medwick along with manager Leo Durocher, had a verbal confrontation in a hotel elevator with his ex-teammate, pitcher Bob Bowman, who yelled. “I’ll take care of you! I’ll take care of both of you!”
The following day, the first three Dodger batters got hits (two of them already scoring). Bowman then beaned Medwick in the temple and sent him to the hospital on a stretcher. Leo Durocher had to be restrained while team President Larry MacPhail went after Bowman and reportedly challenged the Cardinals bench to a fight.

That's Bowman on the left.
The pitcher was removed from the game and escorted by police back to the team’s hotel. Medwick (who had a concussion but no skull fracture) tried to get out of bed to go after Bowman but was kept in the hospital.

MacPhail fruitlessly tried to have National League President Ford Frick ban Bowman for life. The Old Redhead, known for his emotional responses to, well, just about everything, also attempted to have Bowman arrested for assault. The Brooklyn district attorney investigated the affair and found no evidence of criminal intent on the pitcher’s part.

Medwick, who was expected to miss three weeks, was back in the lineup in one. Players were rushed back from injuries as a matter of habit (wrecking several promising careers over the years).
Though he helped the Daffiness Boys to their first World Series in over two decades in 1941, Ducky Medwick was never the same after being hit by that pitch. Before being traded to the Dodgers, he had hit .336 in his Cardinals career, leading the league in runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBIs or batting average a total of twelve times. He would never lead the league in any category again after The Pitch.

He hit .300, .318 and .300 for Brooklyn from 1940 through 1942: Which wasn’t bad, but certainly not up to his pre-beaning levels. He was batting only .272 when he was traded to the New York Giants during the 1943 season. Medwick was still a good hitter, but he was nowhere near one of the best players in the game. He had a brief return to form in 1944, hitting .323 for the Giants, but he would never again play in 100 games and after the Cards released him in 1948, he spent three years in the low minors as a manager-player.

Reportedly, upon his retirement, an ex-teammate said, “When he dies, half the National League will go to his wake just to make sure that son-of-a-bitch is dead.”

Likely due to Medwick’s brusque (read: rude) attitude towards reporters, he had to wait twenty years to be voted into the Hall of Fame, getting the nod from the Veteran’s Committee in 1968.  He was certainly deserving of the honor, even if pretty much nobody liked him during his career.

Medwick visited the Vatican with a group of servicemen during World War II. The Pope asked each man his vocation in civilian life. Medwick replied, “Your holiness, I’m Joseph Medwick. I, too, used to be a Cardinal.”
BATTING HELMETS – Ray Chapman was killed by a Joe Sewell pitch in 1920. In 1941, Larry MacPhail had his Dodgers wear the first batting helmets in a game. They were essentially the normal cloth caps with a hard liner. Major League Baseball did not make batting helmets mandatory until 1971, though some players were granted a grandfather clause and could continue using the caps with liners. Ear flaps were made mandatory in 1983, but players who had been using flapless helmets were allowed to continue batting without them. Beanings suffered by Medwick, teammate Pee Wee Reese and ‘Pistol’ Pete Reiser resulted in the Dodgers leading baseball to protecting their players with batting helmets.

Pete Reiser after getting beaned

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