For the wholly buoyant print platform of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about the bid to remove the goat horns from Dale Mitchell. A half-century ago, he took a called third strike to make the last out in the first postseason no-hitter in baseball history and never lived it down. Pick up a copy, read the column, free Trent Williams!
Until Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay‘s no-hit outing vs. the Reds last week, the only other playoff no-no came with the perfect game Yankees pitcher Don Larsen threw against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Mitchell’s son, Dale E. Mitchell, lives in D.C., as does Lew Paper, attorney and author of “Perfect,” the definitive tome on Larsen’s perfect game.
I was fascinated by almost everything about the Dale Mitchell story. For starters, Mitchell only struck out 120 times in 11 years, and had a career batting average of .312. But all he’s remembered for is taking one third strike. Opening graf of his L.A. Times obituary: “The most infamous Lookie Lou in baseball history went down for good this week, dead of a heart attack at age 65. Dale Mitchell.”
Also, I got to read scads of old newspaper clippings, and it was wonderful to be reminded that baseball absolutely owned America back then, especially come October. Shirley Povich’s front page story in the Washington Post, one of two large stories on the Post’s front page, also made vintage sportswriting seem like tons of fun.
“The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-hit, no run, no-man-reach-first game in a World Series.”
I’d read that story!
Also, there’s the part of the tale where Mitchell, if given his druthers, wouldn’t have been in the batter’s box or even in a Brooklyn uniform on that day in October. Mitchell had been sent to the Dodgers by the Cleveland Indians just months before the World Series. Neither Father nor son liked the deal that set Dad up for eternal ignominy. All in all, they’d have preferred Cleveland over N.Y.
Dale E. was 13 at the time of the trade, and had spent every summer of his youth in Cleveland, going to Municipal Stadium with his dad every day the team was in town, putting on an Indians uniform in the same locker room as Bob Feller and all the grownup Indians and shagging flies with other players’ kids while the dads took batting practice.
After the trade, Dale E. took off a few days from junior high to travel with Dad to Pittsburgh, where the Pirates were hosting the Dodgers, to meet the new teammates.
“We walked into the clubhouse,” Dale E. recalled for me, “and I’m looking around, and, well, there were ‘Boys of Summer’ everywhere — Furillo, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Sal Maglie, all these guys were famous.”
How cool is that?
As things turned out, pretty cool for everybody but the elder Dale Mitchell.
Now, as outlined in my story, folks are starting to feel sorry for Mitchell. They’re saying he got screwed by the home plate umpire, who was retiring and wanted to go out with a bang. George Will, everybody’s favorite fascist baseball fan, told a national TV audience earlier this year that the pitch that struck Mitchell out “was a foot and half probably high and outside.”
After the bum strike call, as Yankees catcher Yogi Berra wrapped his legs around Don Larsen in celebration, Mitchell walked away from the plate murmuring about getting screwed. According to the son, he never mentioned the pitch to his family, but was bitter about it “until the day he died.”
But perhaps even the elder Mitchell would have enjoyed some of the coverage of Halladay’s late-model no-no last week. During the postgame show on TBS, host Matt Winer compared Halladay’s feat with Larsen’s, then told the audience that the 1956 game ended when Larsen struck out “Dal Maxvill.” Nobody on the TBS panel, which included Cal Ripken and Dennis Eckersley, mentioned “Dale Mitchell.”
(In the original version of my Dale Mitchell story, I called the bewitching GOP senatorial candidate “Christine MacDonald.” The correct name is “Christine O’Donnell.” In the real world, Christine MacDonald is a Washington City Paper contributor. I think she was a proofreader at this paper until recently, also. But I might be merely searching for irony amid the tragedy.)