Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chet Laabs was box score anomaly

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

It required a ruling by the International League president to prevent an unusual baseball occurrence from becoming even more of an oddity.

As it was, 36-year-old veteran outfielder Chet Laabs was in the lineup for a losing team while he was a member of the winning team.

The situation began during a Sunday double-header in Toronto on May 7, 1950. The Sunday DH was the first ever in Toronto, and was attended by 19,500, including IL President Frank Shaughnessy.

Jersey City beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 9-5 in the opener. JC also won the second game, by a score of 4-1, when a 6 p.m. curfew forced a halt after five innings. Shaughnessy, however, nullified the result, calling the second game “farcical” and “a dreadful way to treat the fans.”

When the Little Giants had amassed the 4-1 lead, the Jersey City players deliberately tried to get put out in the fourth and fifth innings so that the game would become official when the curfew was invoked. Toronto, meanwhile employed stalling tactics to offset the speedup and force a “do-over.”

Shaughnessy ruled that the game would be replayed as a seven-inning contest the next time Jersey City visited Toronto. He fined the JC manager $50 and the Toronto skipper $25. A week later, the IL decided it would treat such games as suspended, and they would be resumed from the point at which they were initially called.

On May 7, Laabs had been the right fielder for the Leafs. He had been 0-for-3 at the plate when the game was halted. Batting only .250 with just a single home run by mid-May, Laabs announced his retirement.

When Jersey City went into a swoon and dropped from first to sixth place after Monte Irvin, its principal power hitter, was recalled to New York, Laabs was coaxed out of retirement in the first week of June, and signed as a free agent.

Jersey City won 10 of its next 15 games and climbed back into third place.

The suspended game of May 7 was resumed when Jersey City visited Toronto on June 27. Complying with the new rules, the game was picked up from the top of the fourth inning, before all the hurry-up/stall shenanigans had taken place on May 7. To prevent Laabs from appearing in the official box score as a member of both teams, Shaughnessy ruled that Laabs had to sit out the contest.

So he was on the bench of the winning team when Jersey City beat his old club 4-1 in the conclusion of the suspended game.

In the regular game of June 27, Laabs was in right field for the Little Giants and went 2-for-4 as Jersey City won over Toronto 8-5.

By June 28, Laabs was batting .290 and his 13 home runs were near the top of the league.

Laabs finished the 1950 season tied for the IL home run crown with 30. His 87 RBIs were sixth-best. He batted .282. He retired for good at the end of the year.

Laabs had a solid 11-year major league career with the Tigers (1937-39), Browns (1939-46) and A’s (1947).  His only really mainstream baseball card was in the 1940 Play Ball set, though he also appeared in 1950 with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Canadian World Wide Gum issue.

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