Have you ever wondered what the record is for foul balls in one at-bat? I guess I just enjoy baseball too much not to wonder. Even though I personally enjoy the pace of the game, others complain because they think baseball is too slow. I’ve often responded to that criticism with, it’s slow only because you don’t know enough about the game and the game should be seen in person. The more you know about this game called baseball, the better the game becomes. There are many games within the game of baseball and the hitter versus the pitcher is the primary one.
I once read where there are as many as one thousand hand signals given by the two teams in one game of baseball. The manager gives a pitching sign to the catcher, catcher to the pitcher, the pitcher back to catcher and so one. This cycle occurs on every pitch. The shortstop and second baseman communicate with each other on every pitch as to whether the pitch agreed upon will be a fastball or breaking ball, and its location. This info determines where these two defenders will play that hitter for the best chance to record an out. Then there are the signs relayed from the first and third base coach to the hitter, depending on whether the hitter is left handed or right handed. These two base coaches also communicate through signs to any of their players that are currently on-base as to whether there is to be a straight steal, a delayed steal, or hit-and-run play. Sometimes when opposing players are on-base, a catcher will step out in front of home plate and signal signs to his entire team if they think the other team has discovered their set of signs. Bench coaches will also give signs to their outfielders as to where to play each hitter. So, as you can see, there is a lot going on during any one pitch. This part of the game cannot be seen on television.
On October 1, 2013, Dennis and I were joined by Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton for more than thirty minutes on our radio show. Towards the end of the interview I asked Milo, “After sixty-plus years in baseball what would be the one thing you would change in baseball?” His answer, “That the umpires enforce the 12-second limit between pitches that is already on the books.” Interestingly, here’s a guy who has spent his life announcing baseball agreeing that the pace of the game may be too slow. In May 2008, MLB addressed to all 30 clubs that rule 8.04 would be strictly enforced by the umpires. This is the rule that allows a pitcher only 12 seconds between pitches. Rule 6.02, principally involving the batter’s movement around the plate, would also be enforced. This rule involves the batter stepping out between pitches. As most of us will confirm, neither rule is being enforced.
So, when I ran across this story about Harry “The Hat” Walker, I decided to investigate. Harry Walker, a two time World Series champ (1942 and 1946), and National League batting champ (1947), was a fine player who starred for four different teams between 1940 and 1955. He later managed three different clubs, including the Houston Astros, from (1968-1972). Walker was instrumental in bringing players like Joe Morgan, Don Wilson, and Jimmy Wynn to the big leagues in Houston.
On July 1, 1949, Walker was playing outfield for the Cincinnati Reds. The score stood 9-2, in Cincinnati’s favor, in the seventh inning. Walker stepped into the batter’s box against Ted Wilks of the St. Louis Cardinals. Walker, a lifetime .297 hitter, took the first pitch low, for ball one. Walker then fouled off the next two pitches. The fourth pitch was high and called a ball. Walker then fouled off two more pitches then stepped back on ball three, a pitch that was thrown high and inside. Walker then proceeded to do the unthinkable. With the count full, he fouled off nine consecutive pitches in a row before hammering a double high off the right-centerfield wall for a hit. Walker was later replaced by rookie, Lloyd Merriman. The Reds beat the Cards 10-2, but the story was Walker and 13 foul balls in one at-bat. Walker’s at-bat lasted nearly ten minutes. Is it the record? I don’t know. Records for number of pitches during an at-bat and foul balls hit during an at-bat were not kept continually until well into the 1980’s.
There is a verbal account of Red Sox Dustin Pedroia having an 18 pitch at-bat while fouling off 14 pitches and then hitting a home run, but I can’t find corroborating evidence. I did hear a story told by Harold Reynolds about Pedroia. The Red Sox are in Minnesota playing the Twins and Pedroia has fouled off ten pitches when Twins catcher Joe Mauer says, “I don’t know what to throw you.” Pedroia responds, “That’s ok Joe, no one else in this league does either.” Pedroia got a hit on the next pitch. I also learned that baseball author Bill James, has stated that Roy Thomas, who played well over one-hundred years ago in the National League, once had a 22 pitch at-bat.
It is interesting to note that after every pitch, Harry Walker stepped out of the batter’s box, removed his cap, took his left hand, and smoothed back his hair, before replacing his cap. Maybe that’s why he received the nickname “The Hat.”
One other amazing story concerning foul balls: Hall-of-Fame outfielder Richie Ashburn was also well known for lengthening an at-bat by fouling off pitches until he got one he could hit. It is written that during one at-bat, Ashburn hit a foul ball into the stands, on the first base side, that hit and broke the nose of a middle-aged lady. Ashburn stepped out of the batter’s box as the ushers ran down to her seat with a stretcher. After she was placed onto the stretcher, play resumed; and on the next pitch, Ashburn fouled another ball into the stands near the same seat, hitting the same lady on the stretcher and knocking her off. What are the chances?
I have often said there is a good chance you will see something happen that you have never seen before, at a baseball game.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.