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On This Day in History, April 11: P-L-A-Y B-A-L-L!

Not only do the first few weeks of April bring on spring fever to most folks, but fever pitch among baseball players and fans alike. Kids risk the consequences by skipping school on opening day. Workers even risk skipping their jobs for the day.  And the term “fever pitch” came into use in 1916, so it makes us wonder if it doesn’t have to do with baseball.

In the Eagle’s Sporting Section of April 11, 1920, the headline read: SUPERBAS COME HOME TO CLINCH SERIES IN HOT 13 INNING GAME.

“And who were the Superbas?” some readers might ask. Brooklyn’s baseball team was not always called the Dodgers. The Superbas name was derived from a popular theatrical group — the manager of Brooklyn’s baseball team at that time was named Ned Hanlon, and Hanlon’s Superbas was a popular theatrical group — get it? Later the team was called the Robins, after the manager of the team at that time — William Robinson.

When electric trolleys came into use and replaced the horsecarts, Brooklyn’s streets became a gridiron of street railways. Brooklynites were reputed to spend a good part of their lives getting out of the way of the newfangled cars. Hence, the populace was  tagged “trolley dodgers.” Brooklyn’s baseball team was called at first  the “Trolley Dodgers” which eventually became shortened to “Dodgers.”

Back to our 1920 Eagle sports page. A game was scheduled between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Superbas for April 10, 1920 at Ebbets Field. The Yankees had been playing in Lynchburg, VA, on April 9 when the railroad switchmen announced a strike, but the team made it back in time for the game. The Eagle report indicated that the weather at Ebbets Field on April 10 was on the frigid side. Eagle sports reporter, Thomas S. Rice, wrote: “All here around will rejoice exceedingly that the strike of the railroad switchmen did not prevent the Brooklyn Superbas [Dodgers] and New York Yankees, from getting into Greater New York yesterday in time for a baseball game at Ebbets Field. Had the strike held the athletes back on their way home from Lynchburg, Va., where they contended on Friday, the Superbas would not have been able yesterday to beat the Yankees 8 to 2 in 13 innings of bang-up baseball played before a crowd of six or seven thousand Brooklyn fans in near midwinter weather.

“As it was, the baseballers beat the strike, the Superbas beat the Yankees, and Cols. Til Huston and Jake Ruppert, owners of the Yankees, beat their chests in despair because the winning clinched the spring series for the Superbas beyond recall. When the Yanks won at Lynchburg by 5 to 2 they made the series stand 8 to 5 in favor of Brooklyn, and they still had a chance to square the account by winning in the exhibitions at Ebbets Field yesterday, today and tomorrow. Now it’s all off, as far as an even break is concerned. The American Leaguers will play the Superbas today and tomorrow, but they are bound to be losers on the spring [series]. In April of 1919 the same teams played 11 exhibitions and the score in games was 8 to 3 in favor of the Yankees, but this is another year and the Superbas are a whole heap of another team.”

Babe Ruth played in this game as a New York Yankee. In 1939 he became a coach for the Dodgers. But here is an account from the Eagle of his playing in the April 10th game:

Babe Ruth Hits — a Huge Foul. “Everybody and his neighbor was keenly concerned about what Babe Ruth might do. He might do a lot later, but yesterday his contribution was a huge foul off Cadore in the fourth inning when the count was one strike and two balls. The foul sailed over the right field fence a mile high and is probably going yet. Cadore tried his best to fool Ruth in that inning, but only succeeded in walking him, which was the only time Ruth reached first in six trips to the plate. He was thrown out by Ivan Olson on four occasions.

“The third throw-out of Ruth by Olson came in the tenth inning. Ruth smashed a savage liner between second and first. Konetchy was drawn entirely away from first in a desperate effort to block the ball. It went past him and was speared by Olson’s gloved hand in short right. Olson recovered the shot to Mitchell at first and Ruth was exterminated. Man and brethren, that was some play!”

April 11, 2012 - 9:33am


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