Strange But True: Baseball’s Wackiest Inning

As a pitcher Al Schacht didn’t last very long in big-league baseball. He pitched for the Washington Senators from 1919 to 1921, and his record was 14 won, 10 lost. However, Schacht was one of the zaniest men in any sport. Long after his active career was over he continued to entertain fans as a baseball clown. Schacht enjoyed performing as much as fans liked watching him.

After leaving the Senators, Schacht pitched for a while in the minor leagues, but he continued to amuse his customers. One of his routines involved a light fungo bat and a 10-cent baseball. He played “baseball-golf” with the bat and ball, driving it off a tee, then “putting” toward an imaginary hole.

Schacht did his fungo-baseball act while playing with Reading, Pennsylvania, and after he had finished his routine he went back to the dugout. The sawdust-filled ball was still in his pocket.

Toward the late innings, Schacht was told to go to the bullpen just in case the Baltimore team staged a rally. Sure enough, in the ninth inning Schacht was called in to pitch. He still had that cheap baseball in his pocket.

Unable to resist the opportunity for a little fun, Schacht called his catcher to the mound for a conference. While no one was looking, he switched the dime-store ball for the real baseball.

“I’ve still got that goofy ball,” he whispered to the befuddled catcher. “I want you to throw it back to me as soon as you catch it. I don’t want the umpire to see it.”

Schacht pitched the sawdust baseball right over the plate. The batter tagged it on the nose and lifted a soft pop fly to the pitcher. When Schacht caught the ball, he saw that it had been knocked a little lopsided. He squeezed it back into shape and faced the next hitter.

The same thing happened. Another little pop-up went back to the mound and Schacht gloved it easily. But now the ball looked like a battered lump. Somehow Schacht made it look round and faced the Baltimore pitcher, Rube Parnham, who was a pretty good hitter.

Parnham really belted Schacht’s pitch. The ball popped up, fluttered, dipped, and sailed like a wounded sparrow. Parnham watched in disbelief as Schacht caught it for the third out.

“I want you to look at that ball,” roared the angry Parnham to the umpire.

The umpire walked out to the mound and took the ball from Schacht’s mitt.

“It’s the trick ball,” Schacht explained, “but I got the first two out with the real ball. I was only having some fun. Parnham’s not a nice guy and I wanted to show him up.”

The umpire had to agree. Parnham was always “popping off” at other players. Seeing the umpire hesitate, Schacht pressed his advantage.

“Let him bat again,” Schacht coaxed. “I’ll use the real baseball.”

Parnham took another turn at the plate, but by then he was so upset he couldn’t control his swing. On the first pitch he hit a pop fly back to the pitcher.

From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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