Brooklyn, Baseball, and the Aurora Borealis

Brooklynites tuning their radios to WOR for the Dodgers-Pirates broadcast on September 18, 1941 encountered an unexpected delay in Red Barber’s recounting of balls and strikes.  A natural phenomenon triggered the interruption and, consequently, the ire of Dodger fans.  The New York Times reported, “Sun spots and the aurora borealis yesterday and lat night played havoc with radio communications, but treated New York and the Eastern Seaboard as far south as Virginia to a display of light unparalleled in recent years.”

The Dodgers and the Pirates were in a scoreless tie at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field when the event happened at 4:00 p.m., preventing the broadcast from continuing for about 15 minutes.  During the delay, the Pirates scored four runs.  The source of the delay had no import for the Brooklyn faithful, though.  “Thousands of Brooklyn followers meanwhile had telephoned the station and displayed little satisfaction with the explanation that the sun was to blame,” explained the Times.

The Pirates won the game 6-5, but the Dodgers won the National League pennant, vaulting to the World Series after a two-decaf drought.  History repeated itself as a World Series championship proved elusive.  The Dodgers lost the World Series to the Red Sox in 1916 and again in 1920 to the Indians; in ’41, they lost to the Yankees.

The most memorable moment of the 1941 World Series occurred in Game 4 with a 4-3 Dodger lead and two outs in the ninth inning.  Yankee outfielder Tommy Henrich sprinted to first base after Hugh Casey’s pitch hit Mickey Owen’s glove and a called third strike became a passed ball.  A succession of hits guided the Yankees to a 7-4 comeback victory and a 3-1 lead in the World Series.  The next day, the Yankees won the World Series in Game 5.

In Owen’s 2005 obituary, Richard Goldstein of the New York Times described the moment’s effect.  “Owen played for 13 seasons in the major leagues and was an outstanding catcher with a strong, accurate arm.  But he has been linked in baseball history with figures like Fred Merkle, Ralph Branca and Bill Buckner, all outstanding players defined by a single moment of misfortune.”

The Dodgers had three players who cracked the .300 batting average barrier in 1941: Dixie Walker, Pete Reiser, and Joe Medwick.  Reiser was Brooklyn’s powerhouse in the batter’s box, leading the National League with a .343 batting average.  He scored 117 runs, smashed 184 hits, and reached second place in the voting for National League Most Valuable Player.  Reiser’s teammate Dolph Camilli won the MVP, giving Brooklyn a one-two MVP punch in 1941.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 1, 2014.

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