A few weeks ago, I talked about what may have been the biggest individual base-running blunder of all time, Marvin Throneberry hitting a triple and forgetting to touch first and second. It’s time to talk about a spectacular blunder that was a group effort. I’m talking about the infamous “Three Men on One Base” incident of 1926.
The incident occurred at Brooklyn’s fabled ballyard, Ebbets Field. Soon after it opened in 1913, Ebbets Field became known as the place where the wildest, wackiest, best, worst, and just plain weirdest things in baseball could and would happen.
Pay close attention to the narrative. If you can understand E=mc2 or follow Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine, you might be able to understand what happened here.
The Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the Boston Braves. The bases were loaded when the Dodgers’ Babe Herman came up to bat. Hank DeBerry was on third, Dazzy Vance was on second, and Chick Fewster was on first.
Herman hit a shot to deep center that fell into the gap and looked like it was good for at least a double. DeBerry scored easily. Vance, a pitcher who was a slow runner, rounded third and headed for home.
The third base coach tried to slow up Fewster because it looked like he might pass Vance. However, Vance thought he was being told to go back to third, so he turned around to go back. Seeing Fewster on third, he changed directions again and headed for home. He was caught in a rundown between home and third.
Herman went into second standing up. Seeing the rundown, he thought it was Fewster, as he was sure Vance had already scored. He did what ballplayers do under such circumstances and went to third, only to see Fewster was already there.
Meanwhile, Vance somehow got out of the rundown and dove back into third. When the dust had cleared, the fans stared at the incredible sight of three Dodgers on one base.
The umpires were dumbfounded. They knew two of these idiots were out and the inning was over, but which two?
The umpires decided that Vance was safe as he was the lead runner and therefore entitled to hold third base. Herman later remarked that Vance should have been the one called out because he got the signs wrong.
Herman has been blamed for this incident, but there was plenty of blame to go around. In many ways, Herman was an unjustly maligned ballplayer. There’s no denying he was an outstanding hitter, posting a .324 lifetime batting average. He was also a decent fielder, despite his reputation for being inept. As an example, despite what was often said about him, he never got on the head by a fly ball. He admitted he did get hit on the shoulder once.
Numbers on the uniforms might have helped this situation. The New York Yankees were the first team to put numbers on their uniforms, and they did that in 1929. Had there been numbers on the uniforms in 1926, maybe Herman might have realized it was Vance in the rundown and not Fewster.
This incident did lead to a popular Vaudeville joke. There’s these two guys sitting in the bleachers at Ebbets Field, see, and one guy says to the other guy, “Hey look! The Dodgers got three men on base!”
“Oh yeah?” the other guys says. “Which base?”
Dodgers’ Manager Wilbert Robinson was completely unfazed by this incident. He’d learned to expect this sort of thing from his team. The only remark he made was, “That’s the first time those guys have gotten together on anything this season.”