From 2002–2010 Gabriel Schechter was a researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. His first book, Victory Faust, published in 2000, was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) prestigious Seymour Medal Award. He is also a dedicated blogger and the author of Unhittable! Baseball’s Greatest Pitching Seasons, as well as This Bad Day in Yankees History. Gabe also wrote the captions for collections of Neil Leifer’s baseball and football photos as well as photographs from the lens of baseball photographer Charles Conlon.
Posterity has long since declared that Babe Pinelli will be remembered solely for his controversial call of strike three on Dale Mitchell to finish off Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. But that would be unfair. For one thing, the implication is that because it was Pinelli’s final game, consciously or subconsciously he widened his strike zone to end his career with a bang. Stephen Jay Gould, for instance, maintained that Mitchell was right to say the pitch was outside, but “Pinelli was more right. . . .
Although it is manifestly unfair, it is the fate of many players to be remembered only for one ill-timed mental error or physical gaffe. Merely mentioning their names—Fred Merkle and Bill Buckner, for instance—will cause most fans to recall only the disaster and not the players’ long, successful careers. Umpires can suffer the same fate, as Don Denkinger will tell you.
Why don’t more catchers become umpires? The majority seem to be former pitchers, who are used to controlling the tempo and flavor of the game. But catchers are the field generals, calling defensive signals and selecting pitches. There’s a bond between catchers and umpires behind the plate, sharing the same wide-angle view of the field action and the same vulnerability to stray pitches and foul tips.
“I am as proud of my record as an umpire,” George Pipgras told historian Larry Gerlach, “as my achievements as a player. . . . I am very proud to have been an umpire.” That’s a forthright and remarkable declaration from a man who played on the legendary 1927 New York Yankees and went undefeated in three World Series starts.
Much has been made of the Indiana farm boy who ran afoul of a corn thresher that tried to separate the boy’s right hand from his wrist. Little Mordecai Brown grew up to be “Three Finger” Brown. Mangled fingers forced him to find a unique grip that gave him the most unhittable curveball of his generation, leading to a Hall of Fame career.
When Hank O’Day was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013, he was ballyhooed as the first Hall of Famer who played, managed, and umpired (full-time) in the Major Leagues. That’s an impressive trifecta, but it represents only half the baseball roles performed by one baseball lifer in more than 50 years in the game. Add columnist/poet, goodwill ambassador, and scout, and now we’re talking about George Joseph Moriarty.
The average Major League umpire learned early in life that he didn’t have the talent to make the big time as a player. Love of the game made him pursue the less glamorous path to the most thankless job in baseball—but one that would put him in the center of the action.
An oasis of offense in an era of great pitching, the 1911 season stands out as one of the most dramatic of the Deadball Era. Great players performed at their peak, and two powerhouse teams, stuck in second place at the end of July, pushed forward to claim league pennants. A classic World Series matching the two premier managers of the era capped a year in which only five of the sixteen Major League teams finished under .500.