On Sunday June 25, 1944, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St Louis Cardinals played a doubleheader at Forbes Field. Game one was a pitching duel, with Red Munger of the Cardinals winning 2-1 over Rip Sewell. Game two had a very rare occurrence that changed the rules of baseball and gave the 33,111 fans in attendance quite a thrill.
The 1944 Pirates were a sneaky good team, posting the best record for the franchise in the 33 years between World Series appearances in 1927 and 1960. Going into this second game of a doubleheader, they had a 31-26 record. They were trailing the Cardinals, who were off to a fast start with a 41-17 record. Veteran Ray Starr was getting the start for Pittsburgh. He had just five previous outings that season coming into this game, but he was doing well with a 1.96 ERA. His last appearances was three shutout innings two days earlier during a 5-5 tie with the Cardinals. St Louis was throwing out right-hander Al Jurisich, who was a 22-year-old rookie at the time. He tossed four shutout innings during that same 5-5 tie, giving him a 2.34 ERA on the season.
In the first inning, the Cardinals got a lead-off single from Johnny Hopp, who would later play for the 1948-50 Pirates. Hopp was picked-off, allowing Starr to face the minimum. He ended the inning by getting a fly ball to left field off of the bat of Stan Musial. The Pirates went down in order in the first.
The Cardinals started the scoring in the second inning. Starr walked the lead-off hitter, which I heard is never a good thing to do. After a fly ball for the first out, Danny Litwhiler doubled to put two men in scoring position. Star shortstop Marty Marion walked to load the bases. Emil Verban then hit a two-run single, followed by the opposing pitcher picking up a single to load the bases again. Starr got two fly balls to end the inning, though the Cardinals picked up their third run on the first fly ball, via a Johnny Hopp sacrifice fly.
The Pirates threatened, but did not score in the second. Bob Elliott drew a lead-off walk, which I heard is never a good thing to do. One out later, Babe Dahlgren singled Elliott to second base. Dahlgren had three hits in the opening game. Al Lopez and Frankie Zak couldn’t get the runners home and they went to the third inning with a 3-0 game.
The Cardinals extended their lead to 4-0 in the third after getting a lead-off double from Stan Musial, who it may have been better to walk instead. A fly out by Ken O’Dea moved Musial to third base, then a sacrifice fly from Whitey Kurowski brought home Stan the Man.
Lloyd Waner, who rejoined the Pirates earlier in the week, pinch-hit for Starr in the bottom of the third. Waner grounded out to shortstop, then Pete Coscarart and Jim Russell flew out to center field for a quick inning.
Fritz Ostermueller came on in relief of Starr and allowed a lead-off single to Marty Marion in the fourth. A sacrifice and a ground out got Marion to third base, then a walk to Hopp put runners on the corners. Marion got caught too far off of third base and was thrown out by catcher Al Lopez, ending the inning.
The Pirates could do nothing in the fourth, with three straight pop ups that didn’t leave the infield. The fifth and sixth innings were quick ones for both sides, as each team went down in order in both frames. Ostermueller finished his sixth inning with two strikeouts. The Cardinals got a one-out single from pitcher Al Jurisich, but that was all they could muster, sending the game to the seventh inning stretch with a 4-0 St Louis lead.
Johnny Barrett singled to start the seventh for the Pirates. His hit broke a string of 14 straight Pittsburgh hitters being retired. A walk to Bob Elliott put two men on, then a grounder by Frank Colman ended up with runners on the corners and one out. Babe Dahlgren got the Pirates on the board with a sacrifice fly. Al Lopez ended the inning with a fly ball.
The Cardinals got that run back in the top of the eighth. Musial tripled, then two batters later, he scored on a sacrifice fly by Whitey Kurowski. The Cardinals added a two-out single, but nothing else, as they took a 5-1 lead to the bottom of the eighth.
In the eighth, the Pirates got a one-out single by Al Rubeling, who pinch-hit for Ostermueller. A walk to Pete Coscarart put a runner in scoring position, then Jim Russell walked to load the bases. Johnny Barrett grounded out to second base, which was too slow for a double play, and it allowed the Pirates to score their second run. Bob Elliott ended the inning with a pop up to first base, as the Pirates wasted a good opportunity to get this game closer going into the ninth.
Preacher Roe took over for the Pirates in the ninth and he had a 1-2-3 inning. The Pirates picked up a run on a walk to lead-off hitter Frank Colman, followed two batters later by an Al Lopez triple to make it 5-3. Frankie Gustine, who took over at shortstop in the ninth, struck out for the second out. The Pirates were down to their last out and they went to veteran catcher Spud Davis to pinch-hit for Roe. Davis smacked a ball towards the screen in right field and the ball went through the screen. The umpire “Beans” Reardon, ruled that it was a home run and Cardinals manager Billy Southworth loudly protested.
The umpires ruled that the ground rules for the stadium said nothing about what happened if the ball went through the screen and landed in the crowd. Forbes Field had a rule that if the ball got stuck in the screen, it was a ground rule double. There was nothing about going through the screen, so Reardon decided that it had to be a home run, since it ended up in the crowd. What was strange at the time is that St Louis had an outfield screen as well and a ground rule that said a ball going through the screen was a double. So there was some thought put into the rule. Even the Brooklyn Dodgers had a screen rule, except there the ball was considered a home run if it went through.
Southworth realized he wasn’t going to win the argument, but he protested long enough that when play resumed, there was just enough time for the final out of the ninth inning, ending the game in a tie. Local Sunday laws didn’t allow play after 7 PM, so the Pirates and Cardinals ended up playing their second 5-5 tie in three days. The game was under protest however, so things weren’t settled until July 6th when NL President Ford Frick ruled that the call would stand. A few days later, the NL made a standard rule for all parks that any ball passing through a screen in fair territory would be a ground rule double.
With the original call standing, Spud Davis held the claim that he hit a ball so hard that he put it through the outfield fence for a home run. Not only that, it came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and tied the score, saving the Pirates from a doubleheader sweep at home.
Here are the boxscore and play-by-play courtesy of Baseball-Reference