Monday, July 25, 2016

Frick gave Cooke's blast HR status

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's the 1930s and the batter at the plate at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis gets ahold of the pitch, sending it 400 feet to right-center field. The ball clangs off the edge of the roof covering the bleachers, bouncing back into the field of play. 

If the St. Louis Browns are hosting another American League team, the umpire signals home run. If, however, the Cardinals are the home team in a National League game, the umpire makes no such call; the ball is in play and the runner advances as best he can.

If you look at Dusty Cooke's major league record (and why would you?) in the "official" encyclopedia Total Baseball, or on, you'll see him credited with two home runs for 1938.  If you delve deeper into Cooke's game logs, however, you'll find only one home run credited. 

What's up with that? 

That bonus home run comes by fiat from then-National League President Ford C. Frick.

Cooke was playing right field for the Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis on May 14, 1938. 

In the top of the 6th inning, the Reds were ahead 3-1 with two out and two on, Cooke hit a blast into right-center field. Lonny Frey and Billy Myers scored as Cooke slid into third. 

Cincinnati manager Bill McKechnie came out to argue that Cooke should be given a home run, as the ball he hit struck the edge of the pavilion over the bleachers, or one of the steel beams supporting the roof. That meant the ball had cleared the concrete wall as it left the field of play.

If this had been an American League game, with the St. Louis Browns as the home team at Sportsman's Park, it would have been a home run. Such a situation was covered in the ground rules printed on the back of the managers' line-up card. When the Cardinals were the home team, however, the situation was not mentioned on the line-up card.

McKechnie argued that Cooke's run should count and the score should be 6-1 in favor of Cincinnati. The Cardinals scored four runs in the bottom of the 9th which should have given the Reds a 6-5 victory.  Rookie Enos Slaughter banged a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th to win the game 7-6. McKechnie phoned league president Ford Frick to protest the game.

In typical Ford Frick style, the prexy dithered while players and management of both the Reds and Cardinals argued their case in the media. Frick said he would visit the St. Louis ballyard on June 1 to study the matter and issue his decision thereafter. On June 3, Frick ruled.

It was his decree that the game would be replayed in its entirely as the second game of a Aug. 20 doubleheader when the Reds visited St. Louis. 

That decision pleased nobody. The Reds felt the proper disposition would be to resume at game in the bottom of the 6th with the Reds ahead by 6-1. The Cardinals were unhappy with the date of the make-up game. They already had a doubleheader scheduled against Cincinnati on Aug. 21. It made more sense, they argued, to schedule the replay for July 11 or 12 when the Reds would be visiting for single games. 

The game of Aug. 14 went into the books as a 7-7 tie, with Cooke being credited with a home run. 

Reds manager McKechnie was quoted saying, "We won that game fairly and squarely and it really should be awarded to us without any replay of any sort, but making us play an entirely new game is decidedly unjust. However, we'll play it as ordered and make no further protest."

The Reds won the first game of the Aug. 20 doubleheader 4-2; Cooke did not play. He also sat out most of the make-up game, getting a pinch-hit single to start a three-run rally in the top of the 8th. It wasn't enough for the Reds to prevail, however, as the Cardinals won 5-4. St. Louis won both games of the next day's doubleheader. Cooke was an unsuccessful pinch-hitter in both Aug. 21 games.

When the 1938 season ended, it also marked the end of Dusty Cooke's major league career.

After three minor league seasons, he come up with the Yankees in 1930. Injuries limited his play in 1931 and, especially, 1932, when he had only one plate appearance. He'd been traded to the Red Sox for 1933 and played four years with Boston.

He spent the 1937 season with Boston's farm team at Minneapolis. He was having a great year when he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds for delivery in 1938. With the Millers in 1937 he hit .345 with 18 home runs.

With the Reds in 1938, at age 31, he hit .275, ending his eight-year big league career with a .280 average and 24 home runs. Three of his home runs, one each in 1930, 1933 and 1936, had come against the Browns at Sportsman's Park.

Cooke was traded to the Cardinals after the 1938 season, but never played for them in St. Louis. He spent four seasons at the top level of the minor leagues with Rochester (1939, 1942) and Jersey City (1940-41), batting a combined .294.

In retirement he joined teammate Ben Chapman as trainer and coach with the Philadelphia Phillies. He also reportedly joined Chapman in virulently race-baiting Jackie Robinson when he came up with the Dodgers in 1947.

An excellent account of Cooke's baseball life can be found written by Bill Nowlin on the SABR biography project. Dusty Cooke baseball bio

Though his big league days coincided with the Goudey bubblegum baseball card heyday of 1933-38, Dusty Cooke never appeared on a major card issue during his playing days.

In 1949, while coaching with the Phils, he was included in the set of Phillies and A's newspaper "cards" issued by the Bulletin in its Sunday roto section.

When collectors' issues were fashionable in the 1970s, Cooke was found in TCMA sets of 1972, 1975 and 1980. In 1992 he was included in the Conlon Collection set.

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