Broadcaster recalls taking on a longstanding baseball superstition. Practice of remaining mum ignored as pitchers closed in on no-hitters
TOM BROWNING of the Cincinnati Reds pitched a perfect game to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 1-0, in mid-September. Not a Dodger got on base. Browning didn't allow a hit, didn't walk a batter, didn't hit a man; and his teammates didn't commit an error. It was the 14th perfect game since they started keeping statistics in baseball. Browning also saw to it that the umpires couldn't call a balk on him.
Several days later, I read that Browning's teammates carefully avoided saying to him what he was doing. No one on the Cincinnati bench mentioned that he was working on a no-hitter, and certainly nothing was said as the game drew near its end that he was pitching a perfect game.
Most ballplayers are superstitious, and to mention a no-hitter to a pitcher when he is working on one is supposed to jinx him and cause him to lose his no-hitter.
Nobody knows when it started, but it became a standard practice in baseball, that you didn't mention a no-hitter after five innings to your pitcher, if he got that far.
That was, and still is, of some practical value, in that you don't want to put undue pressure on your pitcher. Then this after-five-innings hoodoo spread to the press box, and the writers began avoiding the dreaded jinx. Radio came along, and the jinx went into the broadcasting booths.
Into some - not mine.
My first major league broadcast was opening day 1934, Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati. Lon Warneke of the Cubs didn't give up a hit until one man was out in the ninth inning.
I had never heard of the fifth-inning jinx, so I broadcast Warneke's mastery as he performed it. From my first encounter with the jinx I never respected it. Before my first World Series in 1935, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the game's commissioner, strengthened my custom by ordering the announcers to ``report'' everything we could see in the game, on the field and in the stands. Report it all, don't criticize, don't umpire, don't second-guess, just report.
I reported that Cincinnati's Johnny Vander Meer was working on a no-hitter, and didn't jinx him. His second straight no-hitter wasn't broadcast - there was then a ban on radio reports in New York.
Mel Allen and I broadcast the 1947 World Series. A flip of the coin decided our rotation - I did the first half of Game 1, Mel the second, then we switched. I had the second half of Game 4. Mel was a devout respecter of the jinx.
When I came to the end of the fifth inning, I had to decide whether I was a dealer in superstition (remember, this wasn't a local broadcast but heard all over the world), or was I a reporter telling millions of people every detail of the game?
The admonition of the late Judge Landis came to me. I reported, ``Dodgers, one run, no hits, no errors.'' Mel nearly fell out of the booth.
I continued to report that Bill Bevens was giving up no hits, until Harry Lavagetto pinch-hit a double with two out in the last of the ninth, knocking in two runs to win the game.
There was a hue and cry that night. Yankee fans flooded the radio station with angry calls and claimed I had jinxed Bevens. Some of my fellow announcers on sports shows that evening said I had done the most unsportsmanlike broadcast in history.
But it was all over the next day. Before the game, I went to Bevens to tell him what I had broadcast. He smiled sadly and said, ``You didn't have anything to do with it - it was all those bases on balls I gave up.'' He walked 10.
I went to Yankee manager Bucky Harris. ``Yes,'' he said,``I heard about it last night, and let me tell you something, if you can control what happens in a game by what you say, I'll pay you more money to sit by me on the bench than they'll pay you in the booth.''
That was Bevens's last major league game.
Years later he told me, ``Thanks for the way you broadcast that game ... otherwise nobody would have known what I was doing, and I wouldn't be so well remembered.''
I think most announcers today report games in full detail. I know Vin Scully does.
He has always ignored the jinx theory. He ignored it when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in the 1956 World Series. He ignored it when Sandy Koufax pitched four no-hit games, and the fourth was a perfect one.
In fact, when a pitcher goes eight no-hit innings, Scully has the engineer tape the ninth as a present for the pitcher.
I asked Hank Greenberg once if he was superstitious, and he said, ``Yes, ... when I hit a home run I am very careful to touch every base.''