“The Greatest Heady Play I Ever Saw”

14 Aug

Jim Delahanty related the greatest play he ever saw on a baseball field to Hugh Fullerton in The Chicago Record-Herald in 1911:

“I have seen a lot of plays that were great, extraordinary; that were startling and set the crowds crazy.  It is usually hard to pick the greatest, but the one I recall was in a long-forgotten game in a little minor league.”

Jim Delahanty

Jim Delahanty

Delahanty said it happened during his first season in professional ball.  He was a member the Allentown Peanuts—his brothers Joe and Tom were teammates—in the Atlantic League.  Allentown was playing the Lancaster Maroons.

“The play was the headiest, the most surprising and altogether the most wonderful I ever witnessed and although it was made more than twelve years ago I never have forgotten one of the circumstances.”

[…]

Old Piggy (Frank) Ward, who had been famous before that, was playing second base for Lancaster, and (Oliver) Sprogell was pitching.  The game was a close one.  The score was 2 to 2 in the eleventh inning and the two teams were battling desperately for the victory.”

With runners on first and third and two out, (Orlin) Ollie Smith came to bat for Allentown.

“Sprogell was a slow-ball pitcher, and with two balls and two strikes called he floated up a slow teaser and Smith hit the ball as hard as ever a baseball was hit.  He had called the turn on the slow ball and took a run to meet it and hit it with all his might.  It went like a shot straight at Piggy Ward.  The ball was hit so hard that Piggy set himself and braced to break it down and throw out the runner, and just as he was setting himself his foot slipped and at the same instant the ball took a bad bound and jumped straight at his shining bald head.

“Ward had dropped his hands to save himself from falling when he lost his footing and it looked as if the accident had beaten his team.  But Piggy was game.  He saw the victory slipping away, saw that he would not be able to get his hands up in time to touch the ball, and shutting his eyes; he ducked that old shining bald head of his and butted that ball as hard as he could.

“Piggy sat down rather hard, dazed and stunned, and put his hand up to the spot the ball had hit.  The whole trademark was branded on the top of his head and there was a lump that was swelling like a balloon being filled with gas.  But the ball he butted bounded as straight and true as if it had been thrown straight into Sprogell’s hands, and Sprogell turned and threw Smith out at first.”

Piggy Ward

Piggy Ward

Delahanty said Lancaster won the game in the twelfth inning.

“In all my ball playing experience it was the greatest heady play I ever saw, and it was heady in a double sense, for old Piggy thought like a flash and when he saw he could not get the ball with his hands he went after it with his head.  I haven’t seen him for years, but I bet now if anyone can get him to take his hat off they’ll find Reach’s  trademark stamped on that bald spot.”

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