Wednesday, December 25, 2013

'45 Dodgers dodged fiery death in train wreck

Luis Olmo from 1977-80 TCMA
"The War Years" set.
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.

A large contingent of the 1945 Brooklyn Dodgers narrowly escaped a fiery death when the train on which they were riding collided with a gasoline tanker truck at a crossing near Manhattan, Ill.

About 6:30 on the morning of Sept. 15, while making a night jump from St. Louis to Chicago, the train of three passenger coaches and three baggage cars hit the gas truck about 40 miles west of the Windy City.

Traveling on the train were 13 players, the manager, two coaches, several team officials. and nine newspaper men. The eight Dodgers regulars (Frenchy Bordagaray, Tom Brown, Augie Galan, Goody Rosen, Mike Sandlock, Ed Stanky, Eddie Stevens, Dixie Walker), who had played a twi-night doubleheader in which they had twice beaten the Cardinals, 7-3 and 6-1, in St. Louis were on another train and pitcher Les Webber had left for Chicago the previous afternoon.

Despite the overnight train ride, they were scheduled to play a Saturday doubleheader at Wrigley. The Dodgers were traveling on a day coach, rather than a Pullman sleeper, due to wartime transportation restrictions. Some were stretched out asleep on the floor, which may have helped minimize injuries from flying glass.

Manager Leo Durocher was credited with averting a panic when the players began to stampede as they saw flames licking at busted windows. “Don’t run, fellows,” the skipper yelled, “Take it easy and go out by the rear door.”

The train’s engineer was burned to death in the cab. His fireman jumped out and was treated at the scene by Dodgers trainer Harold Wendler. The fireman was able to limp to an ambulance and was taken to the hospital with third-degree burns, from which he eventually recovered. The gas truck’s driver escaped serious injury.

None of the Dodgers was seriously hurt. Coach Chuck Dressen suffered an injury to his right knee and Luis Olmo received a cut on his arm from flying glass.

Even the team’s uniforms and equipment were unscathed. While two of the baggage cars were constructed of wood and were destroyed, the team’s equipment manager Danny Comerford had stowed the gear in the third baggage coach, which was built of steel.

The town of Manhattan didn’t fare nearly so well. Townspeople who witnessed the wreck said the train was a flaming torch as it passed through the town of 600 before it was brought to a stop about a quarter-mile down the tracks. A coal yard, a lumber yard and the freight station all caught fire and the Manhattan fire department had its hands full containing the blaze.

Besides the previous mentioned Dodgers, the lucky Bums who escaped the wreck were players Eddie Basinski, Ralph Branca, Cy Buker, John Dantonio, Curt Davis, Hal Gregg, Babe Herman, Art Herring, Clyde King, Vic Lombardi, Johnny Peacock and Tom Seats, coach Red Corriden and traveling secretary Harold Parrott.

Just hours after the accident, the Dodgers split a doubleheader with the Cubs, winning 12-5 and losing 6-7.

Barnstormers also got lucky
Less than a month after the Dodgers’ close call, a barnstorming squad of American League ballplayers also escaped injury in a fatal train wreck.

Bert Shepard from 1948-50
Washington, D.C. Safe-T-Card set.
A Great Northern passenger train derailed about 10 miles north of Great Falls, Mont., on Oct. 9. The engineer and fireman were killed when the locomotive, tender and baggage car overturned.

The American League all-stars were reportedly shaken up but uninjured.

The fortunate ballplayers were Steve Gromek, Frank Hayes, Jeff Heath and Allie Reynolds of the Indians; Sam Chapman, Bobo Newsom and Buddy Rosar of the of the Athletics, Al Evans and Bert Shepard of the Senators and Jim Bucher of the Red Sox.

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