On this date in 1949, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees squared off at Yankee Stadium tied for first place. It was a one-game set (a make-up for a rainout, maybe?) and the winner would leave with sole possession of first place with only five games left in the season.
The game started simply enough. A three-run first inning by Boston gave the Red Sox the early lead. That made way to a 4-3 New York lead after a Yankees' four-run fourth. The Yankees extended the lead more with runs in the sixth and seventh innings, giving them a late 6-3 lead. Things changed in the eighth inning when, after Boston's first five batters reached, they tied it up on a sac-fly from Vern Stephens. Johnny Pesky, who reached on an error and then moved around the bases on a base hit and the sacrifice, proved to be the deciding run. Bobby Doerr, seeing a slow infield and a smart baserunner, laid down the bunt. Pesky came charging in, Yankees first baseman Tommy Henrich threw the ball home and umpire Bill Grieve called Pesky safe. The crowd booed, the Yankees complained, and the Red Sox won the game.
One paper described it thusly:
Pesky was called safe and Catcher Ralph Houk put up the greatest hopping argument imaginable, with the vocal assistance of half the Yankee team.
The play at the plate was caught on film (photography film, anyway), but it was inconclusive:
…The Associated Press photographers caught the disputed play. The strip of pictures show plainly that Henrich's throw beat Pesky to the plate. Whether or not the tag was made before he slid over with the run, is open to discussion.
Pesky, for his part, said what you'd expect him to say:
"I was safe," said John, "he tagged me up here on my side. The ball beat me but Houk seemed to freeze, he didn't even block the plate."
The grainy photo above shows the play at the plate. It doesn't show everything, of course, but it does certainly show that A) the ball beat Pesky to the plate and B) Houk was way over on the first base side when he received it. Pretty much any story could be true.
Well, except for this one:
Outfielder Cliff Mapes today found himself the middle man in a boiling controversy between Umpire Bill Grieve and the New York Yankees over the squeeze play decision by which Boston took over the American League lead.
After Umpire Grieve called Johnny Pesky safe at home on Bobby Doerr's squeeze bunt in the eighth inning of yesterday's game, Mapes, a non-combatant, yelled:
"How much did you have bet on the game?"
Grieve said the Yankee flychaser repeated the remark in a runway under the stands after the ball game…
The story caused quite a stir, as it seemed that American League president Will Harridge might punish Mapes for the comments. Within a couple of days, however, Mapes had sent a telegram to the league office and all was forgiven. Mapes' telegram read:
Very sorry if anything I said reflected on Umpire Bill Grieve's honesty. I certainly didn't mean it that way.
Apparently he was just honestly curious about Grieve's betting practices and didn't mean to imply anything negative. What a considerate guy.
Boston would close out the season with only two wins in their final five games, losing the last two games of the season to New York at Yankee Stadium, giving the Yankees the pennant. New York would go on to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in five games to win the World Series.