Flummoxed by the introduction of a dead baseball, the defending World Series champion Cardinals struggled to score a run at the start of the 1943 season. Desperate, Stan Musial broke the scoreless streak by attempting to steal home.
The 1943 Cardinals established a major-league record by going scoreless for the first 26 innings of the season.
The record stood for 73 years until the 2016 Padres began the season by failing to score in the first 30 innings. Jon Jay, a former Cardinals outfielder, snapped the Padres’ futility streak with a RBI-single in the fourth inning against the Rockies at Denver on April 8, 2016.
Musial’s mad dash
In 1943, the Cardinals started the season at Cincinnati. The Reds won the opener, 1-0, in 11 innings and also won, 1-0, again the next day in 10 innings.
After going scoreless in the first five innings of Game 3, the Cardinals had the bases loaded with one out in the sixth. Musial broke from third, attempting to steal home, and was trapped in a rundown.
When Musial dashed for the plate, third baseman Bert Haas tossed the ball to catcher Ray Mueller, who dropped it. Musial scored on the error for the Cardinals’ first run of the season. The Cardinals scored again in the eighth and won, 2-1.
After Reds general manager Warren Giles sent a telegram to National League president Ford Frick, complaining about the ball, an official with manufacturer A.G. Spalding admitted the ball produced by the company “did not measure up to specifications in resiliency,” The Sporting News reported.
According to Giles, the Spalding official said that the “rubber cement they were forced to use had affected the rebound of the 1943 baseball adversely.” Tests showed the resiliency of the 1943 balls were 25 percent less than in 1942.
In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial explained, “Because rubber was a war-priority item, the Spalding Company … decided to use re-processed rubber or, as it’s more accurately known, balata.”
Irate, Giles fumed to The Sporting News: “Asking big leaguers to play with the sort of a ball with which we are opening the season would be like asking our soldiers, sailors and Marines to win the war with blanks instead of real ammunition.”
Frick instructed NL teams to use leftover 1942 baseballs until Spalding could issue revamped 1943 balls.
Said Cardinals manager Billy Southworth of the dead balls: “It robs the game of the great hitting and great fielding plays which cause baseball to appeal to the public.”
Here is the look at the Cardinals’ first three games of the 1943 season:
In a matchup of aces Johnny Vander Meer of the Reds and Mort Cooper of the Cardinals, Vander Meer prevailed in the 1-0 Reds victory on April 21.
Vander Meer yielded two hits and five walks in 11 innings. Singles by Whitey Kurowski in the first inning and Frank Demaree in the third accounted for the St. Louis hits.
The Cardinals put three runners on base in the first but couldn’t score.
In the 11th, Lonny Frey led off for the Reds with a single against Cooper and advanced to second on Mike McCormick’s sacrifice bunt. Max Marshall drove in Frey with a single.
Cooper pitched 10.1 innings and gave up six hits and two walks. Boxscore
Choke up, fellas
In Game 2 on April 22, Ray Starr held the Cardinals to five hits in 10 innings. The Reds won, 1-0, when Frey scored from third on a Haas single off starter Ernie White with two outs in the 10th.
Musial had tripled with one out in the fourth, but was stranded.
“When I tripled off Ray Starr,” said Musial, “the ball sounded like a nickel rocket.”
Said Southworth to the Cardinals: “You’ll have to choke your bats, fellas, as they used to do in the old days, and bunt more often.” Boxscore
In Game 3, on April 24, both of the Cardinals’ runs in their 2-1 victory were unearned.
The first came when Musial escaped the rundown after Mueller dropped the ball.
The second came in the eighth when Musial scored from third on a passed ball by Mueller. Boxscore
With better baseballs, the 1943 Cardinals’ offense came to life. They scored 679 runs (second only to the Dodgers in the NL) and won their second consecutive pennant, posting a 105-49 record.