Bums Bombard Blackwell
May 21, 1952
For most of his career, Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell owned the Dodgers. In his prime, Cincinnati’s rail-thin, right-handed sidearmer intimidated Brooklyn’s predominantly right-handed, power-laden lineup like no other pitcher in the National League. Brooklyn stars would often take the day off when Blackwell took the mound; even left-hander Duke Snider well remembered the game Blackwell struck him out five times.
Blackwell didn’t particularly care for the Bums, either. In 1947, he was just two outs away from tying teammate Johnny Vander Meer‘s record with a second consecutive no-hitter when Dodger second baseman Eddie Stanky grounded Brooklyn’s first hit of the game back through the box. When Jackie Robinson came up later in the inning, Blackwell unleashed his rage with a shower of racial epithets.
On May 21, 1952, the Dodgers got their revenge with the biggest single-inning barrage in modern baseball history.
The Reds’ disastrous first inning began, innocently enough, when Blackwell induced a groundout from Brooklyn leadoff man Billy Cox. It ended 59 minutes later when Duke Snider took a called third strike from Reds reliever Frank Smith. In the inning, four Reds pitchers faced 21 Brooklyn batters, allowing ten hits, seven walks and two hit batsmen. It all added up to a new major-league record — 15 runs in a single stanza.
Blackwell later recalled “the Dodgers were going around those bases like a merry-go-round.” He faced just six batters, surrendering two walks, two hits, and a Snider home run before Cincinnati manager Luke Sewell sent him to the showers. “Blackie, it’s not your night,” said Sewell. “I’m getting the same idea,” replied Blackwell.
Right-hander Bud Byerly was called on to stem the tide — indeed, the end of the inning seemed in sight when Reds catcher Andy Seminick nabbed Andy Pafko trying to steal third base. But Byerly walked Gil Hodges and the carnage continued. Four consecutive singles scored four more Dodger runs and Byerly was history.
Even though it seems logistically improbable, Blackwell’s assertion that both he and Byerly were able to shower and return to the team’s hotel in time to watch the rest of the first inning remains a part of baseball lore.
The next sacrificial lamb for the Reds was Herm Wehmeier, who promptly walked Snider to load the bases and then plunked Jackie Robinson to score Billy Cox. When Pafko followed with a two-run single that was it for Wehmeier. A frustrated Sewell turned to workhorse Frank Smith, who matched the previous Reds relievers by staring down his first batter and promptly walking the bases loaded. Another free pass to Hodges plated the Dodgers’ 11th run, and a bad-hop grounder by Rube Walker scored two more. Dodger starter Chris Van Cuyk followed with his second RBI single of the inning.
The Dodgers had now batted around twice in the inning and Sewell had apparently decided it was best to save the rest of his bullpen for more important contests. Resigned to his fate, Smith hit Cox to load the bases again and walked Pee Wee Reese, scoring Walker. Having plunged his team to unprecedented depths of ineptitude, Smith somehow caught Snider looking with a curve to end the debacle. Perhaps the Duke of Flatbush hoped to pad his RBI totals with another bases-loaded walk.
The autopsy was this: every Dodger had scored, driven in at least one run, and (except for Hodges, who walked twice) had a base hit to their name. And that was with Brooklyn stars Roy Campanella and Carl Furillo sitting on the bench with minor injuries.
Compared to Cincinnati’s bumbling hurlers, Dodgers pitcher Chris Van Cuyk looked like Babe Ruth in his pitching prime. Not only did Van Cuyk go the distance, holding the Reds to one run (a Dixie Howell hit a solo shot in the fifth) on five hits — he also led the Brooklyn attack with four hits in five trips to the plate. But the game would prove to be one of the few highlights in an otherwise uninspiring career; 1952 proved to be the last of Van Cuyk’s three seasons in the majors.
The win gave the Dodgers a hold on first they would never relinquish. Charlie Dressen’s Bums finished the season 96-57, 4 1/2 games ahead of the second-place New York Giants, but fell to the dynastic New York Yankees in the World Series.
Cincinnati finished a distant sixth, 27 1/2 games out, and along the way both Joe Sewell and Ewell Blackwell fell victim to their team’s poor record. Shortly after the All-Star break, Sewell was fired and Rogers Hornsby was named as the Reds’ new skipper. Blackwell made it clear he wasn’t happy with the temperamental Hall of Famer at the helm, so Cincinnati sent Blackwell to the Yankees for Jim Greengrass, Johnny Schmitz, Ernie Nevel, Bob Marquis, and $35,000.
The trade set up an interesting rematch in the World Series. Blackwell was tabbed to start Game 5 against Brooklyn and allowed just one Dodger run in his first four innings of work. But a sacrifice fly by Pee Wee Reese and a two-run shot by Duke Snider convinced Yankee manager Casey Stengel that five innings from his aging veteran was enough. The last Dodger batter ever to face “The Whip” was Jackie Robinson, who struck out.