Amidst all the “baseball in October” commercials I keep coming back to this moment that is not a huge part of the modern lore, but probably should be.
Saturday October 10, 1925
After splitting the first two games of the 1925 World Series, the Washington Nationals returned home to host Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Nats were ahead 4-3 heading into the top of the eighth inning, looking to take a 2-games-to-1 lead in the series. With two outs, Pittsburgh catcher Earl Smith hit a drive deep into the right field corner of Griffith Stadium. Right fielder and future Hall of Famer Sam Rice sprinted toward the right field line, leapt, and backhanded the ball in his glove as he tumbled into the stands. Moments later, Rice emerged with ball in hand. Smith was called out, and Washington went on to win the game.
There was some dispute from the Pirates as to whether Rice had actually caught the ball. The working theory for Pittsburgh was that he lost the ball in the crowd, but a helpful Washington rooter placed it back in his glove.
Rice seemed to enjoy the mystery surrounding the play. As the years went on, he never directly addressed the question of whether he caught the ball, often replying in a coy manner that “the umpire said he was out, so he was out.” He even refused to tell his wife and daughter the truth, obviously enjoying the mystery of the whole thing.
Instead of revealing the truth while alive, Rice left a sealed letter with the baseball Hall of Fame, to be opened upon his death. Finally, in October of 1974, the letter was opened, revealing that following:
“… the ball was a line drive headed for the bleachers towards right center, I turned slightly to my right and had the ball in view all the way, going at top speed and about 15 feet from bleachers jumped as high as I could and back handed and the ball hit the center of the pocket in glove (I had a death grip on it). I hit the ground about five feet from a barrier about four feet high in front of bleachers with all my brakes on but couldn’t stop so I tried to jump it to land in the crowd but my feet hit the barrier about a foot from top and I toppled over on my stomach into first row of bleachers, I hit my Adam’s apple on something which sort of knocked me out for a few seconds but McNeeley arrived about that time and grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me out. I remember trotting back towards the infield still carry in the ball for about halfway and then tossed it towards the pitcher’s mound. (How I have wished many times I had kept it.) At no time did I lose possession of the ball.”
Rice’s “revelation” was obviously written in a clever way as to keep the mystery surrounding the event. In fact, a Washington fan claiming to have been sitting in the front row that day claimed that Rice had indeed lost the ball.