David W. Smith
It is well known that a manager may formally protest a game only if he claims an umpire has made a decision contrary to the rules. Dissatisfaction with a specific call (safe/out, ball/strike, fair/foul) is not grounds for a protest.
However, sometimes things get a little murky. Take, for example, the game of July 20, 1947, played by the Dodgers against the St. Louis Cardinals in Ebbets Field. A protest by the Cardinals that day was upheld, although the specific rule that was violated is hard to pin down. Also, the remedy decreed by National League president Ford Frick went beyond the protest rules.
Let’s address these two points separately, beginning with a short summary of what happened on the field that day. Jim Hearn pitched a great game for St. Louis, allowing no runs, two walks, only four singles, and holding a 2–0 lead through eight innings. In the top of the ninth with two outs and the bases empty, Cardinals right fielder Ron Northey hit a “towering drive” to the wall in center off Hugh Casey.1 Dodgers center fielder Pete Reiser leaped but couldn’t get it.
Umpire Larry Goetz, working at first base in the three-man crew, ran into the outfield and immediately called “No,” ruling that the ball hit the top of the wall. Beans Reardon was the other base umpire, and as Northey approached third base, Reardon signaled that it was a home run. Northey naturally slowed his pace as he continued to the plate, where umpire Jocko Conlan called him out, ending the inning.
Roscoe McGowen described it in the New York Times: “There was a lapse of a couple of seconds before the ball dropped back on the field, where [right fielder Dixie] Walker picked it up and fired it to [second baseman Eddie] Stanky, who relayed it to [catcher] Bruce Edwards.” The picture accompanying the story shows a sliding Northey was tagged out on a close play.2The Sporting News has a picture of the play at the plate from a different angle.3
The Cardinals immediately and vehemently protested, saying that Northey had been deceived by Reardon. The consensus in the press box and from the umpires (in later testimony) was that the slow-footed Northey would almost certainly have been safe had he not slowed down.
Manager Eddie Dyer formally protested the game, and the Dodgers came to bat, still trailing by two runs. The Cardinals used three pitchers to face seven batters but obtained only one out as Brooklyn collected three hits, a walk, and a stolen base (coupled with a throwing error by catcher Joe Garagiola) and used three pinch hitters to score three times, apparently winning the game, 3–2.
President Frick’s ruling was released on July 25, and he tried to be Solomon-like as he reached an unorthodox decision. The starting point was to accept the widespread view that Northey would have scored except for Reardon’s action. Therefore, Frick ruled that Northey was to be credited with a home run. However, he also let stand the three Dodgers runs in the bottom of the ninth, and the game went in the books as a 3–3 tie, with all individual records counting in the official totals. Only Casey’s win and Murry Dickson’s loss were expunged. A replay of the entire game was scheduled