Look Out, Here Comes Keller!

Game Four, Tenth Inning, World Series, October 8, 1939

Editor’s note – After chasing fly balls across the windblown outfields of San Francisco in his youth, Lachtman hung up his glove and took up his pen, hoping to write about baseball someday.  His baseball contributions to Soundings include short stories “Three Fans of the Game” and “The Future of Baseball,” memoirs “Seventh Inning Stretch” and “What Baseball Means to Me,” and poems “Ruth Calls Time” and “Yogi and Joey.”

The Yankees break open a 4-4 tenth inning tie in game 4 of the 1939 World Series when Joe DiMaggio slides past Ernie Lombardi – still recovering from a collision with Charlie Keller seconds earlier – to give the Yankees a three-run lead, and half an inning later, their fourth straight world title. (Associated Press photo)
“You only got one guy to concentrate on, the one who throws the ball, unless it’s the guy coming at you from third.”  —Yogi Berra 
 
Yankee player and coach Frank Crosetti 
(a Stockton resident who told me
some of this story long after it happened)
scored easily from third on DiMaggio’s single.
When the outfielder bobbled the ball,
base runner Charlie Keller sensed
a scoring opportunity of his own.  
 
Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi
blocked the plate with his heavyweight bulk
looking for a timely relay,
blind to the opportunistic Keller
whose ball-busting prowess earned him
the heavy-hitting nickname of King Kong.
 
To remove the obstacle
waiting for him at the plate,
Charlie decided to greet Ernie
with a body slam, separating
the catcher from the belated ball
and the tag he was poised to make.
“Charlie didn’t just bump him,” DiMaggio recalled,
he decommissioned him.”
 
And it was then that Joltin’ Joe 
sensed an opportunity of his own 
and sped homeward for a third run.
“I saw immediately that something
was haywire. I kept running
and never stopped.”
 
To complete his theft of home, 
Joe accelerated into a wide slide
around the prostrate catcher
who lay in a helpless heap
with the ball close to hand
but utterly beyond his grasp.
 
“I figured anybody Charlie bumped
wouldn’t be getting to the ball 
or his feet immediately,”
Joe reasoned, a polite way of saying
the dead seldom interfere 
with the business of baserunning.
 
If you’re down in the squat
with a runner heading full speed at you,  
keeping one eye on the incoming ball
and the other on the incoming assailant  
would be a wise idea, if you can manage
to look in two directions at the same time.
 
The play, now known as the Lombardi Snooze, haunted Ernie Lombardi as the highlight of the 1939 World Series. (Associated Press photo)
Lying flat with a useless ball,
Ernie took boos from disheartened fans
and worse from sportswriters
who accused him of napping on duty 
and slapped him with disrespectful headlines
such as “The Schnozz Takes a Snooze.”
 
It wasn’t a snooze at all
or any dereliction of duty,
but a knee to his unprotected
groin that stunned and dazed Ernie,
leaving him unable to humble King Kong
or trim the sails of the Yankee Clipper.
 
For over 80 years now
the play at the plate
has made Ernie more famous
in the annals of the sport  
than his well-earned place
in the Hall of Fame.
 
As Yogi himself might philosophize,
life can sometimes throw you a beanball,
and give you a lifelong headache,
such as a reputation for the wrong reason 
when you deserve to be
acknowledged for the right.

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One Comment

  • For the love of the game! Let’s play ball! A great story about your beloved sport…baseball! Go Giants👏🙌👍

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