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Rules are rules: basic rule dooms Dodgers in 1941 Series

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A rule that had been in place since 1880 leads to a Dodger defeat in the 4th game of the 1941 World Series

Dilip Vishwanat

There was a lot said about Major League Baseball's unwritten rules during this current post season but the end of 2013 World Series Game 3 reminds us that there are a lot of written rules that cover many aspects of the game and the umpires are bound to abide and enforce them.

For those who say that the umpires should have let the players decide the games and not let the umpire make a call like that, well I can say, what's the difference between that call and any number of things that an umpire could do to influence a game.

Brooklyn Dodger fans certainly know how a rule can influence a game, all they have to do is look at the end of Game 4 of the 1941 World Series and wonder what would have happened if there wasn't a certain rule in place.

MLB Rule 6.09 states:
The batter becomes a runner when --
(a) He hits a fair ball;
(b) The third strike called by the umpire is not caught, providing (1) first base is unoccupied, or (2) first base is occupied with two out;

That rule hasn't changed since 1880, so a the time of the play in question, it was already over 60 years old.

The Brooklyn Dodgers had not been to the World Series in 21 years but in 1941, while DiMaggio hit for 56 straight and Ted Williams hit .406, the Dodgers won the National League pennant and had their first Subway Series.

The first 3 games were all one-run games, in Game 4, Brooklyn had a 4-3 lead in the top of the 9th inning and were one out away from tying the series.  Hugh Casey was in to try and close it out.  One note about Casey, he entered the game with two out in the top of the 5th inning and the bases loaded, he got Joe Gordon to fly out and then had fairly uneventful 6th, 7th and 8th innings.

Hugh Casey got the first two batters to ground out and had Tommy Henrich down to his last strike.  On the next pitch, Henrich took a swing and missed and the game was over.  But it wasn't.  The pitched bounced in front of catcher Mickey Owen and skipped past his glove.  Henrich, who under MLB Rule 6.09(b), became a runner, safely made it to first base.

(Hugh Casey had 2 wild pitches in 162 innings pitched and catcher Mickey Owen had one of best defensive years behind plate with 2 passed balls and .995 fielding pct.)

Casey then gave up 3 hits and 2 walks before recording the third out but the damage was done as the Yankees scored 4 runs to take the lead and soon win the game 7-4.

Casey started 18 games that year and had 3 relief appearance that were 5 innings or longer so on its face, this relief appearance may not be that strange but it was certainly a long time to be out there.

The Yankees took a 3-1 series lead and won the next game to win their first of 8 World Series titles over the Dodgers.

One more thing - when Mickey Owen passed away in 2005, the headline in his obituary in the NY Times was Mickey Owen Dies at 89; Allowed Fateful Passed Ball; the obituary recalls what Owens said years after that play

Owen feared he would be a pariah for Brooklyn fans, but he was evidently forgiven. "I got about 4,000 wires and letters," he told W. C. Heinz in The Saturday Evening Post on the 25th anniversary of the passed ball. "I had offers of jobs and proposals of marriage. Some girls sent their pictures in bathing suits, and my wife tore them up."

Will Allen Craig and Will Middlebrooks do autograph signings together some day (maybe they'll sign replica bases), that remains to be seen.  But sometimes teams are beneficiaries of the actual rules, maybe they should focus on those as opposed to worrying who is breaking the unwritten rules.