A Kitten has Nine Lives, Not Thirteen.
Early asked me to write an essay or add to a list of nicknames that had been presented by Callum in an earlier article. However when I mentioned the nickname “The Kitten” it lead to a discussion of what is considered one of the most remarkable feats in Major League History.
On May 26, 1959, Harvey “The Kitten” Haddix pitched twelve perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves in venerable old County Stadium. This feat has an asterisk beside it for although the Kitten pitched 12 perfect innings he gave up a hit in the thirteenth inning and lost the ball game in perhaps is one of the strangest endings ever in a Major League game.
Before delving into the perfect game lets look at the nicknames which was a precursor to Haddixâ€™ feat and some of the players in this game. Below are the players who participated in the game.
Dick “Ducky” Schofield
Forest “Smoky” Burgess
Glen “Rocky” Nelson
Don HoakÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â known as “The Tiger:
Dick StuartÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â known as “Dr. Strangeglove”
Harvey HaddixÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â known as “The Kitten”
Ph Del Rice
Felix MantillaÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â known as “The Cat”
Hank AaronÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â known as “Hammerin Hank”
Lew BurdetteÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â known as “Bird Cage”
The origin of some of the nicknames I can account for. Forest Burgess was commonly known as Smoky and his name came from an extension of his given name. Burgess was a long time big leaguer and held a remarkable record especially for a catcher in that for a period of time he was the all time Major League leader in career pinch hits. Currently he stands third all time behind Manny Mota and Lenny Harris. Defensively Burgess was an outstanding catcher leading the National League in catchers in fielding three times as well as being a four time All Star.
Glen “Rocky” Nelson got his name when as a youngster coming up through the ranks he hit the ball so hard it was like a rocket. Instead of Rocket his name became Rocky.
Dick Stuart a first baseman got his nickname for the way he handled ground balls in the same manner as Bill Buckner handled Mookie Wilsonâ€™s ground ball in the â€™86 Series.
Harvey Haddix became known as “the Kitten” for his resemblance to a former pitching coach and mentor Harry “the Cat” Brecheen.
Anyone known, as Felix, automatically became the Cat and Henry Aaron got caught up on the â€˜alliteration nickname trainâ€™ alluding to his home run prowess.
But onto the fateful thirteenth inning of May 26. Haddix had pitched twelve perfect innings but how many know what really happened in the thirteenth inning. Haddix lost the game, as most fans know. But what really happened. The final score was 1-0 based on an official ruling from the League Office passed down the next day. Most people who left the game thought the Braves had won 3-0. The umpires changed the score to 2-0 before the final score was posted the next day as 1-0.
How did this mess happen? Henry Aaron the all time homerun king pulled a “Merkle”.
A “Merkle” for those new to the game is an expression given to ball players who make absolutely bonehead plays, much like Fred Merkle of the New York Giants did in 1908, when he failed to touch second base on a potential game ending hit. He was called out for leaving the field, canceling the run. The Giants went on to lose the game and the pennant by one game and from that moment on Fred “Bonehead” Merkle gained infamy and his name is ever present for anyone making stupid plays. (Bonehead — a great nickname in itself)
Replaying the inning, Felix Mantilla hit a ground ball to third baseman Don Hoak who booted the ball to end the perfect game. Eddie Mathews who hit 512 home runs in his career and who hit .306 for the season was asked to sacrifice Mantilla to second. This he did successfully but this essentially took the bat out of all time homerun leader Henry Aaronâ€™s hands as he was walked intentionally.
This brought up Joe Adcock. Adcock was a solid ball player who hit over 300 homers in his career but lost one in the bottom of thirteenth inning due to a running gaffe by Hall of Fame, Henry Aaron. Adcock hit what he thought was a three run homer for the only hit off of Haddix but Aaron not realizing that the ball was out of the park and knowing that Mantilla had scored left the baseline to join in the upcoming celebrations of a Bravesâ€™ win. Adcock not seeing that Aaron had left the baseline “passed him” and was declared out, as was Aaron for abandoning the base paths.
After the game, the umpires reversed their call and let the Adcock â€˜homerunâ€™ stand making the score now 2-0. However the next day the League Office changed the score to read Milwaukee 1 Pittsburgh 0. When Adcock passed Aaron Adcock was declared out and was credited with only a double and when Mantilla scored the game was over. Aaron was placed on third and Adcock was called out with the putout going to Pirate shortstop Ducky Schofield. Aaronâ€™s running error cost Joe Adcock a home run.
This was truly bizarre ending to a truly remarkable game.
Other interesting notes arising from this game saw Braves pitcher Lew Burdette throw a 13 inning complete game shutout, no mean feat in itself giving up 12 hits but scattering them effectively enough to hold the Pirates scoreless. And finally a Major League record was set for the fewest runners “Left on Base” by one team in an extra inning game â€“ one.