A feature of many of the ballparks built in the early part of the 20th Century was a high outfield fence that bordered on one of the streets outside the park. The ballparks were often built on private land, and they had to fit the property. Sometimes, the only way to create an adequate field was to leave one end open. This meant the ballpark had to have a high fence to keep people from watching the games for free.
These high fences became convenient places to put a scoreboard, and selling advertising space brought in more revenue for the clubs.
The only surviving example of this is Fenway Park’s Green Monster in Boston. Other examples could be found in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Washington’s Griffith Stadium, and both ballparks in Philadelphia, Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium) and Baker Bowl.
Baker Bowl was the home of the Philadelphia Phillies until 1939, when they accepted Connie Mack’s latest offer to share Shibe Park with the Athletics. It seated only about 20,000, and, given the Phils’ financial condition, it was known for its state of dilapidation.
The high fence was in right field. The distances to right field were short, just 270 feet down the foul line. The high fence was made of a composite of materials that had been added over the years to make it taller. The wall was covered with advertising signs, most of which were printed on tin. When a ball hit the wall and these signs, it made a loud “KE-BANG” noise.
If the rightfielder played the ball right, he could snag caroms off the wall and fire them to second base, thereby holding the batter to a single.
In a 1934 game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Phillies, Dodgers’ pitcher Walter “Boom Boom” Beck was living up to his nickname. One shot after another came off the rightfield wall, with a loud KE-BANG each time. Dodgers’ rightfielder Hack Wilson, who was playing with a hangover, was kept busy playing carom after carom and throwing the balls to second.
Finally, Dodgers’ manager Casey Stengel decided he’d seen enough, called time, and went to the mound to pull Beck from the game. Wilson, seeing this, thought he was getting a break. He lowered his head and closed his eyes in a badly-needed respite.
Startled, Wilson looked up and saw the ball coming off the wall. He played it perfectly and made a picture-perfect throw to second.
It was only then that Wilson realized no one had hit the ball.
What had happened was Beck was so incensed he was being pulled from the game, he threw the ball into the outfield instead of handing it to Stengel. It was that ball that was thrown as part of a temper tantrum that Wilson heard and played as it came off the wall.
Wilson must have looked like he was making a conditioned reflex to all the balls he’d been fielding off the wall that afternoon.
Stengel said it was too bad Wilson’s throw didn’t count. It was the best play he’d made all year.