This year is the first without an MLB All-Star Game since 1945, when the game was canceled during World War II. But what that year gave us was an interleague exhibition game between the Dodgers and Senators that featured both managers playing and a one-legged pitcher earn the win.
It all happened 75 years ago today.
To raise money for the war effort, eight interleague exhibitions were scheduled for July 9-10, 1945, the latter the original scheduled date for that year’s All-Star game at Fenway Park, which would host the midsummer classic in 1946 instead.
Five of the eight games were easy matchups, with one American League and one National League team in the same city. During wartime, travel was restricted in the United States, and the Tigers didn’t get approval to travel to Pittsburgh, so that exhibition was canceled.
The Dodgers were allowed to travel to Washington D.C. to play the Senators on July 10, the date the All-Star Game was supposed to happen. Newspaper accounts listed the attendance for the exhibition at Griffith Stadium at 23,791, with $22,760 raised for the war fund.
In the nation’s capital, U.S. Army general Alexander Patch was at the game with Dwight Eisenhower, and told the crowd before the game, “Since coming home, I have attended lots of public celebrations — by orders, but tonight I’m here voluntarily because I wanted very much to see a baseball game.” (1)
Another newspaper detailed the highlights of the exhibition: “Bert Shepherd [sic], a one-legged war veteran, was the winning pitcher. Ossie Bluege and Leo Durocher, rival managers, both played a couple of innings, and Babe Herman put on his old time fielding and base-running acts.” (2)
Bert Shepard lost the lower portion of his right leg when hit by shrapnel flying over Germany in 1944, and one year later he was on the mound in this exhibition game.
Brooklyn manger Leo Durocher reportedly threatened to fine any Dodger who tried to bunt against Shepard $500, but “Bert resented this stunt because it gave everyone the impression that he couldn’t handle bunts.” (3)
It was a bunt that did in the Dodgers pitcher though. Lee Pfund hurt his knee so badly trying to field a bunt in the second inning that he had to be carried off the field, per the Associated Press. Pfund, a 25-year-old with a 5.20 ERA in 62⅓ innings as a rookie that season for the Dodgers, would play four more years in the minors but never pitched in another major league game.
Both managers had long careers as players. Ossie Bluege played 18 years, mostly at second base. Durocher played 17 seasons, mostly at shortstop. Bluege was 44 years old in 1945 and Durocher was just 39, so them playing in the field wasn’t that outlandish.
They both played thanks to a pregame dare from Bluege to Durocher, and both walked in the first inning. (4)
Durocher already played two major league games that season for the Dodgers, starting at second base on April 17-18. He was 1-for-5 with an RBI single and a sacrifice fly. Durocher didn’t play favorites as manager, batting himself eighth both times. Those were the last major league games of his playing career.
Shepard held Brooklyn scoreless until giving up a pair of runs in the fourth inning. The Senators held on for a one-run win.
As the Associated Press account of the game noted, “The national capital tonight forgot dignity long enough to howl itself hoarse at ‘Dem Bums’ from Brooklyn as Washington’s Senators won an inter-league war relief game, 4-3.”
Shepard, then 25, pitched in a major league game less than four weeks later, entering in relief in the fourth inning of a game Washington was trailing the Red Sox 14-1 at the time. Shepard finished the game, allowing only one run on three hits in his 5⅓ innings, with two strikeouts and a walk.
That was Shepard’s only major league game. His 1.69 ERA is the 10th-best in Senators/Twins history for all pitchers with at least five career innings.
- Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), July 11, 1945.
- Edmonton Journal (July 11, 1945)
- ‘Beating the Breaks: Major League Ballplayers Who Overcame Disabilities,’ by Rick Swaine. pg. 44.
- ‘The Nats and the Grays: How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever,’ by David E. Hubler and Joshua H. Drazen. pg. 209.