This Day In History: June 23, 1917
On this day in history, 1917, Babe Ruth was on the mound for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park against the Washington Senators. He threw four straight balls, at least as far as the umpire, Clarence “Brick” Owens, was concerned, walking Ray Morgan. Ruth thought the second and the fourth pitch were both strikes, so charged the umpire and reportedly yelled at him, “If you’d go to bed at night, you *expletive*, you could keep your eyes open long enough in the daytime to see when a ball goes over the plate!”
As you might imagine, the umpire didn’t take too kindly to this and told Ruth that if he didn’t shut up and get back to the mound, he’d be thrown out of the game. Ruth then yelled at him, “Throw me out and I’ll punch ya right in the jaw!” Owens then threw him out and Ruth attempted to punch him in the jaw… He missed though, and instead hit a glancing blow behind the umpire’s ear, but nevertheless knocked Owens down.
While today this sort of thing would have landed the player in question in pretty major hot water, it wasn’t really all that uncommon for fans or players to attack umpires in that era, though still looked down upon in the American League and National League (not as much in many other leagues of the day). For this act, Ruth was fined $100 (about $1600 today), given a 10 game suspension, and forced to give a public apology.
What made this particularly attacking of an umpire important was that when Ernie Shore came in to replace Ruth on the mound, the catcher, Sam Agnew, (who incidentally replaced catcher Chester “Pinch” Thomas who was also ejected with Ruth), threw out the runner on first trying to steal second. Shore then retired the next 26 batters in a row without giving up a hit or a walk, winning the game 4-0. As such, this was ruled to be a “perfect game” because Shore had been on the mound for all 27 outs, though in the 1990s, it was downgraded to simply a “combined no-hitter”.
“Brick” Owens was no stranger to being attacked for his umpiring and saw much worse before becoming an NL and then AL umpire, where the life of an umpire was relatively safe comparatively. As a 16 year old, he had been attempting to make a go of becoming a major league baseball player himself, but accidentally shot himself in the left hand during a fourth of July celebration. This stopped him from playing in the game he intended to that day, but he did go ahead and umpire most of the game after the original umpire quit mid-match. Owens quickly learned he could make a little money doing this, starting out at 50 cents a game ($15 today) and within a year was pulling in $5 a game and while still just 17, he was given a contract of $75 a month (about $2200 today) from the Northern League.
This may seem like good money for a 17 year old and a great job, getting some fresh air, watching games, making the bucks, but in fact it was not back then. For instance, in one game the team batting was mounting a comeback, only to have Owens call three strikes in a row on their batter, ending the inning and the game. Today, the players and fans would then just walk off disappointed, no harm done. What happened then was that the batter attacked Owens. While Owens was defending himself against said batter, a fan ran onto the field, picked up the bat, and swung and connected with Owens’ head. This kind of worked out for Owens though as there was no permanent injury and the father of the fan paid Owens $750 not to press charges, which was about equivalent to Owens’ annual salary. Given he got beat up all the time without getting money out of it, this worked out.
Attacks didn’t just come in the heat of the moment on the field either. After one game where Owens had ejected a player, the player met him back at his hotel room and attacked him there. After another, he was sitting back in his hotel when a mob of fans came after him and refused to disperse, even after police arrived, until Owens was handed over to them. In order to get him out of the hotel, police had to take him over the rooftops, as the mob followed, and directly to the railroad station where they put him on the train out of town before the mob could get him. In another similar instance, he was attacked by 50 fans, but this time didn’t get away. They beat him until police managed to get between Owens and the fans. In another similar instance, a police officer trying to protect Owens from a mob of fans got his finger bitten off.
At this point, you might be wondering if Owens got the nickname “Brick” because he was tough as a brick. Partially, but also because there were actual bricks involved. In 1903, in a game in Pittsburgh, fans were upset with a call he made and began throwing bricks at him, including striking him in the head with one. Despite this, he was back at the job just a couple days later, at which point one of the baseball players at the game, Charley Lyons, gave him the nickname “Brick”.
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- Former MLB Player Moe Berg was once a Secret Agent for the United States
- There Once was a Little Person Who Played in the Major Leagues
- Charlie Sheen Once Bought 2,615 Tickets to a Major League Baseball Game so He Could Improve His Odds of Catching a Home Run Ball
- Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn Once Struck a Spectator with Foul Balls Twice in the Same At Bat, the Second Time as She was Being Carried Off on a Stretcher
- By the time Owens got a job with the National League, he had so many scars from his days umpiring that the president of the National League, Harry Pulliam, thought he must have been in a train wreck and asked him if that’s what had happened.
- In another incident with an umpire, this one on May 25, 1922, Ruth was called out at second, trying to stretch a single into a double; he popped up and threw dirt at the umpire’s face. If that wasn’t enough, when he got back to the dugout, he took umbrage with a fan heckling him about it and ran into the stands to attack him, but the fan managed to outrun the now tubby professional outfielder. After the game, Ruth stated, “I didn’t mean to hit the umpire with the dirt, but I did mean to hit that bastard in the stands.” At the time of this incident, Ruth was fresh (six games) off being suspended for other shenanigans. Despite attempting to attack a fan and throwing dirt at an umpire, Ruth was not suspended this time, just given a $200 fine (about $2600 today) and his captaincy of the Yankees was taken away.
- Another Ruth/umpire altercation happened on June 19, 1922, when Ruth was thrown out of a game by umpire Bill Dineen. The next day, with plenty of time to have cooled off, you might think Ruth would have let the incident go. Instead, during batting practice, Ruth approached Dineen and told him, “If you ever put me out of a game again, I’ll fix you so you never umpire again, even if they put me out of baseball for life!” This time he didn’t throw any punches, but the severity of the threat, and the fact that it was premeditated, resulted in Ruth getting suspended five games.
- In yet another temper-laden incident, Ruth got in a fist fight with Wally Pipp in the dugout over Pipp’s poor defensive play that game and also attacked shortstop Frank Baker who was trying to separate Ruth and Pipp during the altercation. Funny enough, directly after the incident, both Ruth and Pipp hit home runs.
- 93 years after Ruth’s famous punching of an umpire, a coach in the Babe Ruth Baseball League (a teen league) during the Babe Ruth league state tournament attacked the first base umpire of the game after a close call at 1st base in the 7th inning, punching him square in the face and knocking him out. The umpire was unconscious for a full 20 minutes after the hit and the league commissioner banned the coaches’ team from the rest of the tournament. The coach was later arrested for assault.
- During a spring training game in Florida in 1925, Babe Ruth once was chased off the field not by an angry fan, but by an alligator.
Expand for References
- Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend, by Kal Wagenheim
- The Great Bambino on Defense
- Fenway Park’s Top Five Moments
- Babe Ruth Biography
- Umpire Knocked Out by Coach
- Weird Babe Ruth
- Brick Owens
- Babe Ruth Quotes
- 50 Dirtiest Moments in Baseball
- Babe Ruth
- Ernie Shore
- Box Score June 23, 1917
- Babe Ruth Stats
- Image Source