October 7, 1948
Marring an incredible pitchers’ duel at Braves Field in Boston was what appeared to be a missed call on a pickoff play in the eighth inning of Boston’s 1-0 victory over Cleveland Wednesday.
Bob Feller was on the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning, pitching a one-hitter in a scoreless tie. The Indians’ bats had been held quiet by a combination of the wicked array of curveballs from the Braves’ Johnny Sain and the winds blowing in from right field towards home plate off of the Boston harbor.
For just the second time in the afternoon, Feller walked a batter, issuing a five-pitch free pass to the catcher Bill Salkeld. He was immediately lifted for a pinch-runner, Phil Masi, the faster of the team’s catching duo. Mike McCormick sacrificed Masi to second, so manager Lou Boudreau and Feller decided to issue an intentional walk to Eddie Stanky, who hit .320 through an injury-shortened season.
The move would allow Feller to face his pitching counterpart, Sain, with an opportunity to end the inning unscathed on a double play ball. Boston manager Billy Southworth countered by replacing Stanky, who had just returned from a fractured ankle, with Sibby Sisti.
Prior to attacking Sain, Boudreau signaled to Jim Hegan behind the plate, who gave the sign to the Indians hurler to attempt a pickoff. After Rapid Robert gave the usual delay, he turned and fired to second, where Boudreau was awaiting the Boston pinch-runner.
The call on the field by second base umpire Bill Stewart was that Masi beat the tag to the second base bag.
A wirephoto from the Associated Press seemed to clearly indicate differently. In the photo, Boudreau appears to have placed the tag on Masi’s shoulder while his right hand is still short of second base.
“I’m sure that Masi was out,” Boudreau said in the Indians clubhouse after the ball game. “Stewart is a National League umpire and he is not acquainted with our pickoff play. I don’t think he was in a good position to see the tag. I know I got him.”
Sain, a career .268 hitter coming off of a career-best .346 season in 1947, hit the ball in the air to right field for the second out. Had Stewart gotten the call right, it would have ended the inning and prevented Tommy Holmes from delivering the go-ahead two-out single that would ultimately prove to be the difference in the ball game.
Boudreau was not alone in his belief that Masi was in fact out at second base in the eighth.
Team President Bill Veeck, upon seeing the picture of the play from the Associated Press, made a succinct statement of the play.
“It is a very interesting picture, but the game is over.”
“The picture certainly proves a point,” said vice-president of the Indians, Hank Greenberg. “There’ll be a lot of controversy.”
“I thought I had him,” Boudreau said. “I tagged him on his shoulder. But that’s just my opinion. Stewart had his. It isn’t a complaint.”
Boudreau argued the call at the time to no avail.
When reached in the umpire’s dressing room following the game, Stewart maintained his stance that Masi was safe on the play “beyond doubt”, stating that he thought the Indians skipper tagged Masi on the wrist as the pinch-runner grabbed the bag.
Masi, however, did not sound quite as confident as Stewart.
“To tell the truth, I can’t say,” said the Boston backstop. “It was as close a play as I’ve ever seen. In fact, if I had been called out, I really would have had a gripe coming. I think you could have called it either way and got an argument.”
When shown the picture, American League president Will Harridge smiled and stated “officially, he’s safe.”
As it stands, no baseball game has ever had a call reversed based on photographic evidence, and that will continue as the Indians have no formal plans to protest. Such a protest is not possible under current baseball rules.