Musings by Dick Flavin ... Mookie Betts and Enos Slaughter

Musings: Mookie Betts and Enos Slaughter

By Dick Flavin Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate and New York Times Best Selling Author


A fascinating play unfolded in the final game of the recently completed Red Sox- Yankees series at Fenway Park (Well, fascinating to me, at least). It was the bottom of the seventh, Mookie Betts was on second base, nobody out. The next batter, Andrew Benintendi, hit a routine fly ball to relatively short right centerfield, an easy play for right fielder Aaron Judge. He made the catch and Betts returned to second. But then Judge made a mistake; he took Betts for granted. Judge casually lobbed the ball back toward the infield. When Betts, who has the instincts of a burglar on the base paths, saw the arc of the lob, he took off for third base, sliding safely in without so much as a relay throw to challenge him.

It was a rookie mistake by Judge, and Betts made him pay. Luckily for the Yankees the next two batters made outs, and Betts was stranded on third. The only damage done was to Aaron Judge's pride. It could have been worse, as it was in the 1946 World Series, when a Red Sox player made the mistake of taking a base runner for granted. It wast the bottom of the eighth inning in the seventh and deciding game of that series, score tied, Red Sox 3 and St. Louis Cardinals 3. Enos Slaughter was on first with two outs. Harry "The Hat" Walker, a notorious slap hitter (he would win the National League batting title the nxt year) was at the plate. As pitcher Bob Klinger delivered a pitch, Slaughter took off for second; sure enough, Walker, a left handed batter, slapped a soft line drive to left center for a hit. Slaughter, who had a great jump, kept running to third as centerfielder Leon Culberson retrieved the ball. This is the moment that Slaughter, as crafty running the bases back then as Mookie Betts is today, took a calculated risk. He knew that the Red Sox regular centerfielder, Dom DiMaggio, the American League's premier defensive outfielder, better even than his brother Joe, had suffered an injury in the prevous half inning and was no longer in the game. Slaughter's bet was that Culberson, DiMaggio's substitute, would assume that he was merely going from first to third on Walker's hit. A brief digression: With two on and two out in the top of the eighth, DiMaggio had hit a long line drive up the gap in right center, it caromed off the chain link fence that

protected the right field seats in Sportsman's Park, scoring both runners and tying the game. But DiMaggio, who had also driven in the other Red Sox run that day, felt his hamstring pop as he legged out a double. He hobbled safely into second, but had to be removed from the game, which explains Leon Culberson's presence in centerfield as history was unfolding. Slaughter kept running through the third base coach's stop sign and headed for home. He had bet right. Culberson, apparently unaware of what was transpiring even though the play was in front of him, casually tossed the ball into shortstop Johnny Pesky, stationed just beyond the infield. It wasn't a lob, exactly, but, viewing grainy film of the play on YouTube, there was certainly no urgency to it. Pesky, his back to the play, turned, saw what was happening, and fired home, too late. Slaughter was easily safe. It was the winning run in the deciding game of the '46 World Series and the legend of Enos Slaughter's "mad dash" home was cemented in baseball lore. Up in the press box there was consternation. What had happened to enable Slaughter to score all the way from first base on a single? (The official scorer ruled it a double, but Walker had only taken second on Pesky's throw home). It was the last World Series not to be televised. There was no such thing as TV replay. They couldn't go back and look at it again. Pesky must have held the ball, the writers decided. In the clubhouse, Pesky, having been raised on the unwritten baseball rule that you never throw a teammate under the bus, said nothing about Culberson's casual throw and stoically took the blame, becoming the goat of the series. What has happened to our language? Can one player be the goat and another the GOAT on the very same play? In his book, The Teammates, David Halberstam carefully researched the play and came to the conclusion that Pesky had been wrongly blamed. The fault was Culberson's who, with the play in front of him, should have been throwing home and not to the shortstop; at the very least, he should have put a little mustard on his relay to Pesky. Enos Slaughter snookered Leon Culberson, just as Mookie Betts snookered Aaron Judge more than seventy years later. A postscript: More than forty years after that historic World Series of 1946 I was with Dom DiMaggio at a golf tournament hosted by Carl Yasrrzemski to benefit The Genesis Fund when who should we run into but Enos Slaughter. As I stood next to the golf cart in which they were seated, Slaughter volunteered without being asked, "You know, I never would have tried it if you were still in the game." He didn't have to elaborate; that play was still on their minds all those years later. Dom, who was renowned in his day for his powerful, accurate arm, smiled and said, "If you had tried it I'd have had you dead to rights."

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