Sunday, April 26, 2015

Duke's last hit was "ineligible"

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. 

Due to a mistake by the S.F. Giants' front office, Duke Snider's last hit in the major leagues was technically "ineligible." Same with the last three innings pitched by Billy Pierce.

On Oct. 3, 1964, the Cubs were visiting the Giants in the penultimate regularly scheduled game of the season. 

Chicago was, as usual, way out of the NL pennant race, 18 games behind the Cardinals and having been stuck in 8th place since July 23.

Theoretically, at least, the Giants were still in contention. Going into Saturday's games, St. Louis was in the lead by half a game. Cincinnati, hosting Philadelphia, was half a game behind. The Phillies were a game and a half in back. San Francisco was in fourth, two games out.

There were only two games to play and any number of combinations of wins and losses among those teams could have sent the season into overtime.

At Candlestick, the Cubs were ahead 5-7 at the top of the 7th inning when Billy Pierce came on in relief; he was the Giants' sixth pitcher that afternoon. He finished out the game, giving up three more Chicago runs.

In the bottom of the 9th, the Giants were behind 5-10. Duke Snider came in to lead off the home-half, pinch-hitting for Pierce. He connected for a single and later scored on a two-out Willie Mays homer. The rally ended there, as did San Francisco's 1964 pennant hopes.

When the team arrived for the season-ender on Sunday, Pierce and Snider were told they would not suit up. A telegram had arrived that morning from NL president Warren Giles informing the team it had erred in prematurely seeking waivers on Pierce and Snider for purposes of releasing the at the end of the season (both players had previously made it known they would be retiring).

The league office told the Giants that if they had won Saturday's game, they would have had to forfeit the victory or replay the game. 

The pennant race sorted itself on Sunday, with the Cardinals beating the Mets and capturing the flag. In Cincinnati, the Phillies and Jim Bunning shut out the Reds, leaving the Phils in second and the Reds in third. The Giants again lost to the Cubs, ending the season in fourth place.

Since there was no protest, Snider's and Pierce's stats from the game were entered into their official tallies.

Pierce ended the season with a 3-0 record and eased into retirement with a lifetime 211-169 record, Snider, playing out the string, had been used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter by San Francisco. He hit just .210 in 1964. His retirement came after 18 major league seasons in which he hit .295 with 407 home runs. He spent the next three seasons managing L.A. Dodgers farm clubs out west. In 1980 he went into the Hall of Fame.

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