Part of why I like digging through old newspapers to research baseball history is that a find so many interesting rabbit trails to explore along the way. Among the things I found about the spring of 1956 was a blurb in The Sporting News in which Don Gutteridge named the five current players he likened to the original Gashouse Gang. It turns out there was a significant history between two of the five named players.
Courtney and Martin first got into it in 1952 when Courtney was a catcher for the St. Louis Browns. In the second inning of a game on July 12, Courtney slid spikes high into Martin at second base to break up a potential double play. Yankee players were also upset with a spikes high slide by Courtney at Yogi Berra in the sixth inning. The Yankees had enough, and Martin had his revenge in the eighth inning Courtney attempted a delayed steal of second base. Martin received the ball before Courtney reached the base, and proceeded to plant the ball between the catcher’s eyes.
After the ensuing brawl, Courtney claimed that it was the fact that his glasses broke that caused him to react in anger. He charged at the Yankee second baseman, who promptly threw his glove away and landed two rights to Courtney’s jaw. Benches cleared into what was described as a “quite interesting” brawl by reporter Dan Daniel. Three umpires hit the dirt in the melee. Despite the fact that by all accounts Martin was the only participant who landed a punch, Courtney was the only player ejected from the game. He was later suspended for three games and fined $100.
It took less than a year before the rematch. On April 28, 1953, Courtney found himself on the defensive when Gil McDougald slid hard into home and knocked the ball out of Courtney’s hand in the top of the tenth inning. The fiery catcher responded with a spikes-high slide into second in an attempt to stretch a single into a double in the bottom of the same inning. Courtney lamented after the game that it was shortstop Phil Rizzuto covering second.* The slide once again touched off a bench-clearing brawl.
*Courtney’s words as quoted in The Sporting News: “I’m sorry it happened – particularly sorry it was Rizzuto I ran into instead of that —– —— Martin.” I can’t tell from the scan exactly how many blanks the author left for the expletives.
Rather than being “interesting” like the first brawl, this one got particularly nasty. Umpire Bill Summers (one of the umpires involved in round one) said it was the most fist-swinging he had seen in his 20 years. It was reported that there were separate brawls all over the field. Courtney accused the Yankees of teaming up, with a few holding him while others got their shots in. When it was all over, a total of six players were punished with fines totaling $850, including $250 for Courtney, who, according to AL president Will Harridge, violated “all rules of sportsmanship.”
For more on “Scrap Iron” Courtney read Rory Costello’s biography at SABR Bioproject.