When Irish Bats Were Burning.
The final score was Dublin 34, Sandersville 17. No, it wasn't a football score from the early 1960s. Nor was it the final tally of a basketball game back in the 1940s. What happened on the 6th day of June in 1954 was nothing less than unbelievable. For the 51 points on the scoreboard that day came not on the gridiron nor on the hardwood courts, but on the diamond of Lovett Park. In the near century and one half of the history of professional baseball, only a couple of games have ever seen more than fifty runs scored in a single nine-inning game. This is the story of one of those games.
The year was 1954. Dublin's entry in the Georgia State League, which had formerly played under the title of the Green Sox, was enjoying a fine early season as the Dublin Irish. The Irish, managed by George Kinnamon, were just a few games out of first place behind the Vidalia Indians, the eventual league champs. Dwelling in the cellar were the hapless Sandersville Wacos in the year 1 B.Mc. (Before McCovey). In the following season, the Washington County team would sign future Hall of Fame slugger Willie McCovey, who would help to elevate the team to a 2nd place finish in 1955.
The two teams met in a two-game weekend series in early June. In the first game on Saturday night, the Irish scored four runs in the top of the 10th inning to win, 6-2.
"It was a hot Sunday afternoon, one of the hottest I ever remembered," recalled Irish bat boy Thurston Branch. Ray Stefanik took the mound for the Irish. Manager George Kinnamon, wearing the tools of ignorance, gave regular catcher, Denton Lakatosh, a well deserved day off. The Wacos jumped out to an early 6-0 lead on the Irish starter with three runs coming on Rudy Warren's four bagger over the right field fence in the top of the first and another three runs in the top of the second stanza with three hits, three Irish errors, and two bases on balls.
Sandersville hurler Alfredo Diaz held the Dublin nine scoreless in the first; but ran into a bit of trouble in the home half of the second inning. The Irish came roaring back, sending an even dozen men to the plate. Diaz was relieved by Richard Schurrer, who could only retire one Dublin hitter. Willard Moore came on as the third Waco pitcher of the inning. Moore finally retired the Irish, but not before the men in green scored eight runs on five hits and four walks.
Stefanik shut out the opposition for the next four innings. But, it was hot, real hot. Bat boy Branch remembered it being so hot that the manager put some green liquid in the water bucket to keep his team from having a heat stroke. Branch remembered the pitchers putting cold towels over their faces while they rested on a coolest spot on the bench between innings.
In the bottom of the third, it was obvious that the havoc reeking Irish were not about to cool down. Another dozen men stepped into the batter's box in the third frame of the game. Seven crossed the plate behind two home runs, a double, two singles, two sacrifices, three bases on balls, a hit batter, and one Sandersville miscue. Moore, who was winless during the season and later picked up by the Irish, was yanked in favor of another Waco reliever, Dick Lazicky (Lazenby), who appeared in his first and last game of the season.
Leading 15-6 in the bottom of the fourth, the Irish poured it on with four singles, a walk, and yet two more Waco errors. Out of pitchers, Ray Garman, who started in the outfield, was sacrificed to finish the game for the boys from Sandersville. The Irish scored four in the fourth. Not to be outdone, the Dublin nonet scored ten coffin-nailing runs in the fifth with one homer, four doubles, five singles, two errors, one walk, and one wild pitch to take a 29-6 lead.
One would think with the blazing June sun bearing down on them, the Irish would go to the plate swinging at anything, just to get a cool, early shower. They did swing at anything. The trouble was they kept whacking and cracking and hitting the ball. Five more Irish runners stepped on the plate in the bottom of the sixth behind a double, two errors, one walk, and one final Waco wild pitch to run the score up to 34-6.
Thurston Branch remembered that plate umpire Forder, in succumbing to the horrendous heat, requested that Branch simply roll new balls out to him instead of running fresh clean white ones out to him. The bat boy had a rough day. The Irish started the game with four bats. Before borrowing bats from the Wacos, the Irish shared an old bat salvaged from the locker room. One of the borrowed bats was good for an even dozen hits. No one knew that the team had a dozen brand new ones in an unopened box in the front office.
Pure pride took over. Garmon, who played for Dublin in 1955, held the Irish scoreless in their last two at bats in the seventh and eighth innings. Suddenly, Sandersville's hitters came alive. Exhausted Dublin starter Stefanik faltered and left the game in the seventh. Bob Vanassee came into the game for the Irish and held on. The Irish southpaw reliever gave up four runs in the seventh, six in the eighth, and a single run in the ninth, when the game ended in a 34-17, three-hour-five-minute slugfest. Ironically, Sandersville's Schurrer was saddled with the loss although he only gave up four of the thirty-four Irish tallies, while Garmon, who was left to the wolves, surrendered sixteen, not so sweet, Irish runs.
Left handed hitting Bill Shires led the Irish for the second game in row with a round tripper, a two-base hit, and three single safeties and scored six runs (one short of a modern day record) in his seven trips to the plate. Third baseman Gil Meekins, left fielder Bill Causion, and shortstop Milt Morris had four hits apiece. The Irish, in fifty-two at bats, had twenty-nine hits. Both teams combined for 11 errors on the sweltering diamond. In the words of Courier Herald sports reporter Dwight Smith, "The Irish tied the Wacos and then poured on the tar and the feathers."
League president Bill Estroff, who was in attendance and not at all happy with the result, remarked, "That was too much baseball in one day."Manager Kinnamon, the team's leading hitter, wrote in his Courier Herald column, The Pepper Box, "Someone asked me why I just didn't tell my boys to go to the plate and strike out. If I did so, I would be telling them not to do something I want them to do. So I just let the frolic ride as such. It was a big enough farce without helping it out." The veteran Kinnamon concluded, "When the ball bounces your way there's nothing one can do to stop it."
An extensive search of the Internet revealed that the most runs ever scored in a minor league game came way back on June 15, 1902 when Corsicana defeated Texarkana by the score of 51-3. The 54-run game can easily be discredited by the fact that Sunday Blue Laws forced the teams to play on a non regulation field. It was also reported that the cracker box field had no fences, while others said that the right field fence was a mere 210 feet from home plate. On April 30, 1983, El Paso defeated Beaumont, 35 to 21. Both teams were aided by nearly tropical force winds gusting out to right field. The Irish-Waco total of 51 runs in a minor league game was eventually matched on June 29, 2009 when the Lake Elsinore Storm defeated the High Desert Mavericks in a California League game, 33-18. In the big leagues, the most runs scored by both teams in a major league game came on August 25, 1922 when the Chicago Cubs outlasted the Philadelphia Phillies, 26-23 for a total of forty-nine runs.
In a sport where arguments always abound, I make the argument that the most runs ever scored in a professional game on a regulation field, not aided by 35 mph winds, came on a scorching Sunday in June at Lovett Park, right here in Dublin, nearly 57 years ago. Now when the skies are bright blue and the grass is fresh and green once again, it's time to play baseball.
I dedicate this column to my son Scotty, who taught me to love the game all over again, the memory of my good friend, the late Millard Whittle of Dexter, who loved and enjoyed an entire century of baseball and now sits in the grandstands watching his heroes play on the fields of his dreams and to my barber, Thurston Branch, who was there on that sweltering Sunday when the Irish bats were burning.