Friday, May 20, 2011

An Unbreakable Record

My one baseball game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium resulted in witnessing a record that probably will never be broken. I met the record holder years later but had forgotten about his dubious distinction.

County Stadium

Periodically, Major League Baseball tells the umpires to strictly enforce the rules governing balks. The year 1963 was one of them. Balks can be called on a number of infractions, some obvious, others not so obvious. The umps thus cracked down on the more subtle forms. On May 4, 1963, my father, brother and I traveled to Milwaukee for the Braves-Cubs game. We had excellent grandstand seats but rain began falling early in the game, causing a delay and a move to shelter. Making our way to the press box, Jim Enright, a reporter for the Chicago American and one of my father’s clients, found an empty room for us, directly behind the plate. We remained there for the rest of the game.

The starting pitchers were Bob Shaw for the Braves and Glen Hobbie for the Cubs. Shaw, the White Sox pitcher who defeated Sandy Koufax, 1-0, in game 5 of the 1959 World Series, pitched for Kansas City for part of 1961 before being traded to the Braves during the off-season. The Cubs’ potent line-up included Lou Brock, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, while the Braves featured Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews.

Bob Shaw, 1959
 
 
The game was tied 1-1 when things got interesting in the top of the 3rd inning. Al Barlick, who umpired from 1940-1971 and would be elected to the Hall of Fame, was behind the plate. He and his crew called three balks on Shaw in the inning, for which he remains tied for the MLB record. They called two more on him until he was ejected for arguing the calls with one out in the 5th inning. The Cubs scored five runs in the inning on the way to an almost four-hour, 7-5 win and an eventual series sweep. The hitting star oddly enough was backup catcher Merritt Ranew, who went 3 for 4 with two RBI.

1963 Topps Card

Only 8,524 fans witnessed the record five balks on the overcast Saturday afternoon. Other records set were most balks by a team in one game – 6 – and most balks in a game by both teams – 7 – as Paul Toth of the Cubs and Denny Lemaster of the Braves each added one. The commissioner quietly told the umpires to ease up after this fiasco.

Evidently, MLB forgot this lesson in 1988, when balks were called strictly again after a rule change in the definition of a "complete stop." Three pitchers were called for four balks in a game, including Bobby Witt of Texas and Rick Honeycutt of Oakland on successive April days. Oakland and Montreal set the records for balks in each league that season, with 76 and 41, respectively. The rule was changed back after the season ended. Doing the math, we’re due for another crackdown in 2013.

Bob Shaw would end his career with the Cubs in 1967, with a record of 108-98. I met Shaw before the White Sox played the Dodgers in the Turn Back the Clock Game in 2005, commemorating the Dodgers’ first trip to Chicago’s South Side since the 1959 World Series. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember about his record until my brother reminded me after hearing I’d chatted up Shaw. I’m reasonably sure of being the only one at the ballpark that night who had seen him balk five times 42 years earlier. He probably would have gotten a kick out hearing that.

Bob Shaw, 2005

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