Rumble in St. Louis

April 28, 1953


Even though he was nicknamed “Scrap Iron,” St. Louis catcher Clint Courtney didn’t look so threatening — he was the first catcher to ever wear glasses. But he was a passionate man who liked his baseball as much as his beer. Courtney was a good hitter with an intense desire to win, but sometimes his intensity went too far and that’s when his fire would really show.

A good example of Courtney’s surly demeanor came during a game at St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park on April 28, 1953 — a day that should have been remembered for a colossal 530-foot blast by Mickey Mantle. The game between the Yanks and the Browns was a close one, but in the top of the 10th, Gil McDougald broke the 6-6 tie by barreling into Courtney at home plate and jarring the ball loose.

“I‘m going to cut the first guy I reach,” Courtney promptly announced when he came to the plate in the bottom of the inning. Yankees hurler Allie Reynolds heard the declaration and tried to go up and in on Courtney, but missed. The St. Louis catcher lined the ball into right field and raced around the bases in search of a double, but was far behind the throw to the second base bag.

But Scrap Iron came through on his promise and slid into second with his spikes high. Phil Rizzuto, the Yanks’ All-Star shortstop, was covering second on the play and was cut badly when Courtney’s spikes landed in his leg.

The Bronx Bombers immediately retaliated. In a split second, Reynolds, McDougald and first baseman Joe Collins were on top of Courtney, the three of them swinging wildly. Both benches cleared as players piled up around second base.

After a lot of flying dust and a lot of flying punches, the melee cleared. Umpire John Stevens emerged from the brawl with a separated shoulder as the instigator, Scrap Iron, crawled out from the pile looking for his glasses. Unfortunately for him, Yankees outfielder Bob Cerv had crushed them into the ground with his cleats.

The fines handed out totaled $850 — at that time, a major league record for a brawl. Courtney was docked $250. But the most mysterious fine was the $150 levied against Yankee second baseman Billy Martin, who never threw a punch. When he arrived in the clubhouse the next day, Martin asked, “What did I do?” Allie Reynolds replied, “Nothing, Billy. But what can you do? You’ve got a reputation.”

When Reynolds left the park later the day he saw Courtney standing at the end of the runway, bat in hand. As the pitcher silently walked past, Courtney called out, “Hey, Allie, you hit me pretty good yesterday.”

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