SHOWDOWN AT TURNER FIELD

By Curtis L. Englebright

 

The Union City Greyhound Fulton Railroader night game of a July 4th, 1951 split doubleheader for the Kitty League lead and the honor of hosting the League all-star game had all the drama and fatality of a famous western showdown for the Greyhounds.

The Greyhounds trailed the league - leading Railroaders by four games a week before the famous event. Then they reduced the lead. On July 1, Junior Cunningham pitched his tenth straight win as the Greyhounds beat third place Paducah. On July 2 the Greyhounds beat Paducah again, this time in ten innings as R. P. Richardson ran his record to 3-0. In the meantime, Fulton had lost and their lead was reduced to one and one half games.

Three games between the two teams were scheduled for July 3-4. The July 3 game was rained out. So, the Greyhounds' task was reduced from having to win all three games of the series to winning both ends of the split double header on Sunday, July 4 to claim the prize. They beat the Fulton pitching ace, Walt Brja, in the afternoon game behind the pitching of Artie Chivers.

As the Greyhounds prepared for the night game, their dressing room walls were covered with telegrams from the Governor, the Jaycee State President, and local political leaders and civic clubs. Junior Cunningham (10-0) was scheduled to pitch on three daysí rest. The stage was set for the classic showdown. Both teams responded spectacularly. In fact, a man who saw the game and also saw the dramatic Giant-Dodger play-off game later in the year when Bobby Thomson hit his historic home run told the writer that the Greyhound-Railroader contest was the superior of the two.

The score was tied 2-2 as Fulton manager and infamous umpire baiter, Sam Lamitina, led off the tenth inning. Lamitina was thrown out on a close play at first base, following which he had a characteristically loud and profane discussion with the first base umpire regarding the latter's eyesight and ancestry. Finally, he made his way to the visiting team's third base dugout, but as he neared the dugout he turned and gave one more opinion on umpires in general to the home plate umpire who was in position to call the first pitch to the next batter.

In the meantime, the Greyhounds had thrown the ball around the infield and returned it to Cunningham, who had read the catcher's sign and delivered the first pitch to the Fulton clean-up hitter and noted slugger, Ned Waldrop. Waldrop popped it up for the apparent second out of the inning. However, the plate umpire had turned his head in response to Lamitina's last tirade and failed to see the pitch, which he ruled "'no-pitch" requiring Cunningham to pitch to Waldrop again. Union City's protests and arguments could not change the decision. When play resumed, Waldrop promptly homered over the right field wall, effectively ending the game as the Greyhounds failed to score in the bottom of the tenth.

The defeat destroyed the heart and soul of the 1951 Union City Greyhounds, particularly those of Junior Cunningham. Neither the team nor Cunningham approached a comparable level of play during the remainder of the season. Both had losing records from that point. Cunningham finishing the season at 12-6.

As a postlude to the game, the Union City Fans stormed the umpires' dressing room with insults and threats to the degree that the State Police were called to escort the two men to their car and out of town.