Today’s Game Rewind looks at a big game from all-time great Hank Greenberg, who was born 110 years ago today. The Hall of Fame first baseman spent just one season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Paired with a young Ralph Kiner, the two of them formed a potent middle of the lineup for the 1947 Pirates. This game on Saturday, August 16th against the St Louis Cardinals at Forbes Field in front of just 6,435 fans, was the best example of what they were capable of when both were firing on all cylinders.
The 1947 Pirates were exciting on offense, but also very disappointing. Going into this contest, they had a 48-65 record. That put them in seventh place, just three games ahead of the lowly last place Philadelphia Phillies. The Cardinals had a 63-47 record, just 4.5 games back of the first place Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Cardinals had 30-year-old right-hander Ken Burkhart on the mound. In his rookie season in 1945, he went 18-8, 2.90 in 217 innings. He lowered his ERA slightly to 2.88 in 1946, but he was having a rough go of things in 1947. He finished the season with a 5.21 ERA in 95 innings. The Pirates were sending out veteran Roger Wolff, who they acquired just two months earlier from the Cleveland Indians. This was not a match-up of elite pitchers and it turned out as you would expect it to when two struggling pitchers face strong offensive clubs. In fact, these two pitchers combined to make just one more big league start after this game. Wolff had just one relief outing left in his career, while Burkhart pitched until 1949, though his final big league start came six weeks after this contest in the final game of the season for the Cardinals.
As mentioned, the Pirates had two Hall of Famers in the lineup this day, Greenberg and Kiner. Their manager was Billy Herman, a Hall of Fame second baseman, who ( perhaps unknowingly) played his final big league game 15 days before our highlighted game. On the St Louis side, their lineup included Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and Red Schoendienst. They had another Hall of Famer on the bench in veteran Ducky Medwick, and he would get into the game. There was an eighth Hall of Famer there in first base umpire Al Barlick. A ninth Hall of Famer may have been/was probably there in the form of Pirates coach Honus Wagner.
This game was scheduled for 1:30 PM, but it was delayed nearly an hour before first pitch due to heavy rain. Both teams were lining up at the batting rack from the start once the skies cleared. Terry Moore of the Cardinals got things started with a one-out homer in the first. That was followed by a triple by Stan Musial, then one out later a walk put runners on the corners. The next batter was Whitey Kurowski and he deposited a pitch over the left field wall to make it 4-0. Manager Billy Herman wasted no time getting Roger Wolff out of there and bringing in veteran pitcher Jim Bagby Jr., whose father also pitched for the Pirates. Bagby struck out Marty Marion to end the top of the first.
The Pirates didn’t wait long to get their scoring shoes on either. Culley Rickard and Jim Russell had back-to-back singles to start the frame, though Rickard was thrown out trying to take third base. After a foul out by Frankie Gustine, Ralph Kiner walked to put runners on the corners. Hank Greenberg then hit his 22nd home run into the screen in left field, making it a 4-3 game. The next batter was shortstop Billy Cox and he tied the contest by putting one off of the scoreboard in left field.
After all of the action in the first, the second inning went very quickly. Bagby retired the Cardinals in order, while the Pirates couldn’t do anything with a lead-off walk by Dixie Howell. The top of the third saw a two-out double by Enos Slaughter, but Bagby got some help from outfielder Jim Russell when he made a long running catch to straight away center off of the bat of Ron Northey. That ball would have been a homer in any stadium now, but Forbes Field was 457 to center field.
In the bottom of the third inning, Ken Burkhart retired Frankie Gustine for the first out. That was followed by back-to-back homers by Kiner and Greenberg to give the Pirates a 6-4 lead. Burkhart was done and Ted Wilks came on to pitch. Wilks would join the Pirates in 1951 in a seven-player trade, which also included Joe Garagiola, who was catching for St Louis on this day. Wilks allowed a double to Jimmy Bloodworth and he issued a walk to Dixie Howell, though he got out of the inning without any more damage.
The Cardinals brought the game within one run in the fourth, as Whitey Kurowski led off with his second homer of the day. Bagby retired the next three batters, then the Pirates went to work again in the bottom of the inning. Culley Rickard singled, then after an out by Jim Russell, Frankie Gustine picked up a single. Kiner came up and hit a towering shot over the left field scoreboard to make it a 9-5 game. The Pirates weren’t done though. Greenberg walked, then Billy Cox hit his second home run of the game to make it 11-5, and the route was on. The Cardinals went to reliever Al Brazle, who got out of the fourth.
The Cardinals chipped away at the lead in the fifth, scoring one run in the inning via a Red Schoendienst triple that was followed by a Musial RBI ground out. The Pirates went down quietly in the bottom of the frame after a Bagby lead-off single was erased on a double play. Neither team could push a run across in the sixth. The Pirates had their chance when Greenberg and Kiner drew back-to-back walks with one out. Ground outs by Cox and Jimmy Bloodworth both resulted in outs at second base, which ended the inning.
Both teams had runners on in the seventh without anyone crossing the plate. Bagby got himself in and out of trouble when he allowed two singles in front of Musial and Slaughter, before he retired the pair of Hall of Famers on fly balls to keep it an 11-6 game. The Pirates got a double by Howell, then a walk and hit-by-pitch, which loaded the bases. Frankie Gustine grounded into a twin-killer to end the threat.
In the eighth, a fielding error by Bloodworth at second base cost the Pirates a run, when Joe Garagiola’s two-out triple made it an 11-7 game. The Cardinals then pinch-hit with Ducky Medwick, who grounded out back to Bagby to end the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals brought in reliever Johnny Grodzicki, who was greeted immediately by Kiner’s third home run of the game, another bomb over the left field scoreboard. Greenberg walked, then Cox singled. The Pirates nearly ended their big day on offense on a bad note when Bloodworth hit a sharp grounder to third base, which was inches away from being turned into a triple play as he hustled down the line to beat the throw to fist. Bagby worked a quick ninth, getting Musial to ground to shortstop for the final out, to give the Pirates a 12-7 win.
The papers the next morning had a long list of records tied or set in this game, most notably Kiner’s home run feats. He homered in four straight at-bats, including the previous day’s game, which tied a record. He had five homers in two days, which tied an MLB record and set an NL record. He had six homers over three games and seven over four games. Both of those tied MLB records and set NL records. The Pirates tied the NL record for homers in a game, and the ten homers between the two clubs tied an MLB record. All of this coming in a game that almost didn’t happen because of a long rain delay prior to first pitch.
Kiner went 3-for-3 with three homers and two walks. Greenberg went 2-for-2 with two homers and three walks. They came to the plate ten times combined in the game and had five homers and five walks. The scored seven of the team’s runs and picked up nine RBIs. The other three RBIs came from Billy Cox, who homered twice, meaning that all 12 runs scored on home runs. Kiner had 35 homers at that point, one behind league leader Johnny Mize.
Lost in all of this was the fact that Jim Bagby pitched 8.1 innings in relief for the win, giving up just two earned runs.
Here’s the boxscore, along with play-by-play, from Baseball-Reference.