The Batter Who Ran To Third
This morning I got a fun tweet from a reader:
Reading @KeithOlbermann’s BBNerd Blog, remembered a dream I had where I was @ a ball game and the batter broke and ran 4 3rd.
That was no dream! It was a past life experience!
Baseball historians have never been entirely comfortable with saying with absolute certainty that this happened, but the anecdotal and circumstantial evidence suggests that on April 27, 1902, Chicago pitcher Jimmy St. Vrain – the youngest player in the majors – grounded to Pirates’ immortal shortstop Honus Wagner and as the astonished Wagner threw to first, St. Vrain ran to third.
Davy Jones of the 1902 Cubs told the late historian (and top economist) Larry Ritter the story and Ritter put it in his seminal book The Glory Of Their Times (which you must buy now if you have not already done so):
He was a left-handed pitcher and a right-handed batter. But an absolutely terrible hitter — never even got a loud foul off anybody.
Well, one day we were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates and Jimmy was pitching for us. The first two times he went up to bat that day he looked simply awful. So when he came back after striking out the second time Frank Selee, our manager, said, “Jimmy, you’re a left-handed pitcher, why don’t you turn around and bat from the left side, too? Why not try it?”
Actually, Frank was half-kidding, but Jimmy took him seriously. So the next time he went up he batted left-handed. Turned around and stood on the opposite side of the plate from where he was used to, you know. And darned if he didn’t actually hit the ball. He tapped a slow roller down to Honus Wagner at shortstop and took off as fast as he could go … but instead of running to first base, he headed for third!
Oh, my God! What bedlam! Everybody yelling and screaming at poor Jimmy as he raced to third base, head down, spikes flying, determined to get there ahead of the throw. Later on, Honus told us that as a matter of fact, he almost did throw the ball to third.
“I’m standing there with the ball in my hand,” Honus said, looking at this guy running from home to third, and for an instant there I swear I didn’t know where to throw the damn ball. And when I finally did throw to first, I wasn’t at all sure it was the right thing to do!”
The story sounds great, it has a quote from Wagner, and Jones’s eyewitness account. The only problem is, as noted here, while Jimmy St. Vrain pitched against the Pirates on April 27, but witness Jones didn’t join Chicago until May 13. St. Vrain was only in the bigs for 12 games, so there isn’t a lot of wiggle room. He did start again against the Pirates in Pittsburgh on May 30 before returning to the bushes, but as most historians note, you would think something as bizarre as a batter trying to run the wrong way around the diamond would’ve been mentioned in the usually labyrinthine newspaper articles of the time – but the Jones story is the only contemporary account.