Once upon a time, the managers of the Cardinals and Reds threw punches at one another and wrestled on the ground near home plate. One of them may have taken a bite out of the other. No, we’re not referring to Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker.
Sixty years ago, on July 5, 1955, managers Harry Walker of the Cardinals and Birdie Tebbetts of the Reds fought one another during a game at Cincinnati, prompting players to rush onto the field and join in the fisticuffs.
Watching from his seat in the Crosley Field stands was National League president Warren Giles. “I never before heard of two major-league managers starting a fight between their teams by being the first to exchange blows,” Giles said to The Sporting News. “To the best of my knowledge, their fight was unprecedented.”
The drama began in the ninth.
The Cardinals scored twice in the top half of the inning, taking a 4-3 lead. Bill Virdon began the comeback with a home run off former St. Louis pitcher Gerry Staley. Bob Stephenson gave the Cardinals the lead with a RBI-single off Joe Black.
In the home half of the inning, another former Cardinals player, Ray Jablonski, delivered a RBI-single for the Reds off reliever Paul La Palme, tying the score at 4-4.
At this point, Walker made a pair of defensive changes, sending Ken Boyer to replace Solly Hemus at third base and Pete Whisenant to replace Joe Frazier in right field.
Bill Sarni, the Cardinals’ catcher, went to the mound to visit with La Palme. Tebbetts suspected Sarni was trying to buy time for Boyer and Whisenant to loosen their arms. The defensive replacements were tossing balls to teammates on the sidelines while Sarni and La Palme huddled.
Tebbetts protested to plate umpire Jocko Conlan, claiming the rules called for the game to resume as soon as the new fielders took their positions.
The argument ended without a resolution.
Sam Mele then stepped to the plate for the Reds. Batting with one out and runners on first and second, Mele flied out to Whisenant.
Johnny Temple was the next batter, but before he could take a stance, Sarni again visited the mound. As he did, Whisenant threw more practice tosses.
Tebbetts came out to the plate to complain to Conlan. Walker rushed over to defend his team. The managers began yelling at one another, with Conlan between them.
“We called each other names,” Tebbetts said. “We both seemed to get the idea at once that the only way to settle our argument was with our fists. So we started swinging.”
In The Sporting News, Bob Broeg wrote, “Tebbetts suddenly swung _ and missed _ prompting a return blow that landed.”
Tebbetts, 42, and Walker, 38, grabbed one another, wrestled to the ground and rolled around in the dirt.
Players from both benches emptied onto the field, with several piling onto Walker and Tebbetts. Some squared off in individual battles. Pitchers Art Fowler of the Reds and Larry Jackson of the Cardinals tangled. So did Frazier and Reds outfielder Wally Post.
Others, such as Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst of the Cardinals and Ted Kluszewski of the Reds, played peacemakers.
Bruised and battered
Walker suffered a bruised forehead and said Tebbetts bit him on the left ear.
“A lot of players must have hit me or kicked me,” said Walker. “At one time, while we were down, I yelled at Birdie, ‘You’re trying to bite me.’ ”
Said Tebbetts: “Someone stomped on my back and someone else kicked me in an ear. I saw another foot coming at me and ducked my head against Harry’s face so close he thought I was trying to bite him. I was just trying to protect my own head.”
Tebbetts suffered a nosebleed and cuts on his lip and neck. “I feel like I have been run over by a steam roller,” Tebbetts said.
Conlan ejected Tebbetts, Walker and Sarni.
When played resumed, Temple singled off La Palme, scoring Chuck Harmon with the run that gave the Reds a 5-4 victory. Boxscore
Giles fined Tebbetts and Walker $100 each.
“Managers have an obligation to preserve or restore order and not, by their actions, to incite disorder,” Giles said.
Neither manager seemed contrite.
Said Tebbetts to the Associated Press: “This is not a game of tiddlywinks.”
Previously: 1980s macho match: Whitey Herzog vs. Roger Craig