Broadcasting booth no place to buckle to no-hit superstitions
A wise man told me the fundamental rule about writing and preaching: ``Select as your subject something you know something about.'' Today's subject is no-hitters and superstition. In the ninth game of the Milwaukee Brewers' season-opening 13-game winning streak, Juan Nieves pitched a no-hitter. This was the 210th no-hitter in the big leagues, if I count correctly in the record book - 96 in the American League and 114 in the older National.
A no-hitter isn't as remarkable as the stories make it seem. Nolan Ryan has thrown five, Sandy Koufax four, Bob Feller and two others three, and 20 have hurled a pair, including Cincinnati's Johnny Vander Meer, whose two were back-to-back. A few years later another Cincinnati pitcher, Ewell Blackwell, came within two outs of matching this feat before Eddie Stanky singled in the ninth - and ironically Vandy was still with the Reds and watching in the dugout.
Pitching a no-hitter requires skill, yes, but also, as the song in ``My Fair Lady'' says, ``a little bit of luck'' - not in a superstitious sense but in such things as having fielders in the right place at the right time. Not only must hard-hit shots go at these fielders, there usually must be some great plays as well. Nieves had two wonderful outfield catches behind him. Don Larsen, in his 1956 perfect World Series game, had two tremendous smashes turned into outs. Many of our best pitchers never had a no-hitter and some routine ones have achieved them. Bobo Holloman of the old St. Louis Browns pitched just one complete game, and that was a no-hitter.
I got to Cincinnati in 1934. I had to ask which street car went past Crosley Field. I hadn't seen a major league game until I broadcast opening day. I certainly hadn't heard that you weren't supposed to mention out loud when a pitcher had gone five innings that he hadn't given up a hit ... bad luck ... jinx him.
Lon Warneke of the Chicago Cubs not ony went past the fifth but into the ninth without surrendering a hit. Adam Comorosky singled between Warneke's feet with one out, the only hit. I nearly had a no-hitter my first game. When I learned I had done what tradition said I shouldn't have, I kept right on reporting all the pertinent data whether the pitcher was after a no-hitter or not.
I could understand why teammates wouldn't mention the topic to the pitcher and maybe get him exercised. But I couldn't, and still can't, understand why such a superstition made sense in the press box or broadcast booth - unless as Roy Campanella often said, ``Baseball is a boy's game,'' and that goes for writers and announcers.
The afternoon of June 11, 1938, Vander Meer pitched the first of his two historic no-hitters. It was against the Boston Braves. I was the only announcer who did the game. The broadcast did not go back to Boston - then it was home-and-home in Boston and while the Braves were playing in Cincinnati, the Red Sox were at Fenway, with Fred Hoey at the mike. I detailed that Vandy had given no hits every inning, which of course added to the drama and excitement for the listeners, added to Vandy's achievement, and I don't think jinxed his performance. No announcer had a chance to jinx his next time out when he no-hit the Dodgers at Brooklyn - 1938 was the fifth and final year of no broadcasts of any kind from the three New York home grounds. Nobody heard Vandy's second record shattering game on radio.
As I said, I never respected the fifth inning no-hit ``hoodoo.'' To me I had no right to withhold pertinent data from the listener. I was to announce the full game as it was being played. However, while the ``hoodoo'' slumbered as I worked on various hometown stations, it awoke with a fury in Game 4 of the 1947 World Series. Mel Allen did the first half of the game. I came on in the middle of the fifth inning. Bill Bevens of the Yankees had not allowed the Dodgers a hit. After the fifth inning I gave the totals, including no hits for Brooklyn. That woke up Mel and the booth. As the game continued, the story became Bevens and his bid for the first no-hit game in the World Series. As a reporter I emphasized the growing story of what Bevens was after. It was the story and it got bigger than the outcome of the game.
Cookie Lavagetto pinch hit with two runners on, two out, last half of the ninth and doubled off the right field wall, breaking up both the no-hit bid and the ball game as the Dodgers won, 3-2.
Did the Yankee fans give Lavagetto any credit? Did they blame Bevens for giving up 10 walks, the last two putting those runners on base? Did they blame Bevens for pitching Lavagetto high where he could see and hit the ball?
No, I got it. I cost Bevens his no-hitter and the game. Several of my fellow announcers on their sports shows that evening said I had perpetrated the most unsportsmanlike broadcast in history. If you think there was an outcry about Al Campanis and his recent televised remarks about integration at the managerial and front-office levels, you should have been in New York the night of that game!
Keep in mind, the broadcast of the 1947 World Series was worldwide. It was the largest radio audience ever in baseball - maybe in history. Television began eating away thereafter. And also both teams in that Series were in the same city.
I knew what I had to do before game 5. I had to face manager Bucky Harris of the Yankees, and pitcher Bevens. I told each exactly what I had broadcast. Harris said, ``Red, if you can control a ball game by what you say, I will pay you twice what they pay you in the booth to sit by me in the dugout.'' Bevens was great. He had on one pitch lost a no-hitter and also the ball game. He had a bad arm, and he knew he had come so close to his pinnacle moment and might never get another shot - which he didn't. ``It wasn't anything you said, or didn't say, Red, it was those bases-on-balls I gave up.''
That was a tremendous radio network. Worldwide. I knew about the fifth inning superstition. I had never respected it, but this was the World Series, with more listeners than could be counted.
My first World Series broadcast had been in 1935 when Judge Kenesaw M. Landis was commissioner. All networks carried the Series. The judge told us not to second-guess the players, managers, or umpires. He said for us to leave our opinions in our hotel rooms, but to announce everything that happened. As the fifth inning of Game 4 of this 1947 Series ended and it was time to give the totals I seemed to hear the judge asking me who I was, ``Was I a dealer in superstition, or was I a reporter of facts?''