A playful young blonde in a flaming red dress gave an unexpected mix of sex appeal and comedy to the first regular-season night game played by the Cardinals.
Eighty years ago, on July 31, 1935, on a sultry evening in Cincinnati, Kitty Burke, 25, a nightclub entertainer, emerged from an overflow crowd at Crosley Field during a game between the Cardinals and Reds, grabbed a bat and stood at the plate, expecting a delivery from St. Louis pitcher Paul Dean.
Amazingly, with the approval of the plate umpire and with the commissioner of baseball watching from the stands, Dean tossed a soft pitch, Burke swung at it and connected with a groundball to the pitcher.
Satisfied, she departed back into the crowd and the game resumed.
Two months earlier, regular-season night baseball had debuted in the major leagues with a game between the Phillies and Reds at Crosley Field.
The Cardinals, who wouldn’t have lights at their home field, Sportsman’s Park, until 1940, were the defending World Series champions in 1935 with a lineup of colorful Gashouse Gang characters such as Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, Joe Medwick, Frankie Frisch and Leo Durocher. That made the Cardinals-Reds night game at Cincinnati a big draw, even on a Wednesday.
Crosley Field in 1935 seated 26,060 spectators. Thousands more than that turned out for the Cardinals-Reds game and were admitted. Many were in a partying mood.
Out of control
“A big part of the overflow came into the park shortly before game time on special trains from Dayton, Ohio _ and to say that a good many of these excursionists were feeling their oats is putting it mildly,” The Sporting News reported. “They had been hitting it up on the train and were out for a high time. When they found no seats for themselves at the park, they just leaped the field-box fences and made for the foul lines.”
Fans initially stood along both foul lines and in territory behind the plate. When some fans who were seated in box seats had their view of the playing field obstructed by those standing in foul territory, they left their seats and joined those on the grass. Eventually, the crowd swelled so much that spectators “completely encircled Crosley Field,” the Associated Press reported.
Wrote The Sporting News: “Fans were standing right against the base lines and so close behind the catcher that it was impossible for any player to catch a foul ball.”
Official attendance was listed as 30,000. The Sporting News estimated the crowd at 30,450. Among those in attendance were baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Reds president Powel Crosley, who stood together for most of the game “because they couldn’t see the field while seated in box seats,” The Sporting News reported.
In the fourth inning, “irate fans stormed the field, holding up the game for 10 minutes” because of mixups in the seating arrangements, according to International News Service.
Wrote the Associated Press: “Players were forced to shoulder their way through to the plate. The heat, too _ on Cincinnati’s hottest day of the year _ added to police troubles, a number of fans being ejected from the park for alleged disorderly conduct.”
Sizing up the boozy crowd, third-base umpire Cy Rigler ordered beer sales stopped in the fourth inning.
Kitty takes the stage
From her perch in a field-level seat, Kitty Burke was one of the patrons unable to see the playing field. Described by United Press as “a pretty young blonde wearing a flaming red dress,” Burke attracted attention when she left her seat and joined those standing near the field.
“I had a very good box seat and I figured I was entitled to see the game,” said Burke, “but it seems they oversold the park and about the sixth inning everybody started crowding in front of me … I just joined the crowd, which swarmed down on the field, and found places along the first-base line.”
The Cardinals had taken a 2-1 lead, with one of the runs being scored by Medwick. According to Burke, “The St. Louis players had been crowded out of their dugout by the mob and we were lined up behind them on the field.”
In the eighth inning, Burke found herself within shouting distance of Medwick and the two exchanged good-natured taunts.
Burke: “Medwick, you can’t hit anything.”
Medwick: “You can’t hit anything yourself.”
Burke: “I’d like to show you sometime.”
Medwick: “You can’t hit anything with an elephant.”
(Said Burke to United Press: “I think what he meant was you can’t hit an elephant.”)
Burke: “I’ll show you.”
Babe helps a babe
Burke looked toward the plate and saw a Reds player, Babe Herman.
Said Burke to United Press: “I yelled, ‘Hey, Babe, lend me your bat.’ ”
Herman said, “OK, Sis,” and handed the bat to the lady in red.
“Babe always is accommodating to his public,” The Sporting News slyly noted.
Said Burke: “So I took the bat up to the plate and made up my mind I was going to sock one if I had to stay there all night. (Dean) was on the mound when I came up, but was looking toward the outfield. You should have seen the dumb expression on his face when he turned around and saw me. He didn’t know what to do.”
The plate umpire, Bill Stewart, did nothing to stop Burke.
“The umpire was a good egg and yelled. ‘Play ball!’ ” Burke said.
Said The Sporting News: “How Stewart let her get away with it is beyond explanation. She would have had no chance pulling that on Bill Klem or some of the other umpires.”
Dean plays along
Dean, younger brother of Dizzy, was nicknamed Daffy. Burke yelled to him, “Hey, you hick, why don’t you go home and milk the cows?”
Said Burke: “That must have got him, because he started winding up to burn one in. I asked myself, ‘Should I get out of here?’ but just then Pepper Martin yells, ‘Take it easy, Daf.’ So, Daffy just grinned and lobbed one across.”
Dean made an underhanded toss.
Burke swung and hit a grounder to Dean.
Said Burke: “I smacked it … but Daffy was on first with the ball, waiting for me.”
Burke took a few steps up the line, then veered back toward the crowd.
“I saw that he had me beaten, so I stopped,” Burke said.
Before she departed, though, she gave a parting shot to Medwick.
“I said to Medwick, ‘I hit that one, didn’t I, big boy?” He was a good sport and said, ‘Yes.’ ”
When play resumed, the Reds scored two in the eighth to take the lead, the Cardinals rallied to tie the score, 3-3, in the ninth and the Reds rewarded their fans with a run in the 10th for a 4-3 victory. Boxscore
Previously: Why 1940 was year Cardinals saw the light