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The Cubs Game That Broke Retrosheet

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Nearly half a century ago, things like this could happen.

Ernie Banks didn't play in this game. But he was listed in the lineup, and that's where the confusion began.
Ernie Banks didn't play in this game. But he was listed in the lineup, and that's where the confusion began.
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Retrosheet is an invaluable resource for baseball writers, editors and researchers. It's got the professed aim to get play-by-play data for every major-league game ever played, and they're doing a great job putting it together. As of now, they're getting back into the 1940s, largely through newspaper accounts or old scorebooks or scorecards they've received (back in the early days of Retrosheet, I sent them about 90 of my cards from the 1970s for games they didn't have).

One of the things they've had to do is design a software system to put all the data in. Every now and then, a game from years ago has some kind of weird occurrence that "breaks" the system. Researcher Tom Ruane, who designed this system, recently wrote this article listing "the games that broke Retrosheet." One of them was a Cubs game from 50 years ago, 1964. I'd have written this up on the exact 50th anniversary of the game, but the Cubs play that day and today's an off day, so I figured it would be fun to read about it now. Here's Ruane's description of what happened, caused, he says, by "a misunderstanding of the rule governing batters hitting out of order":

On September 24, 1964, Cubs' manager Bob Kennedy decided to give Ernie Banks the day off and so posted a lineup in the dugout with rookie John Boccabella playing first. While filling out the official version, however, he got distracted, habit kicked in, and he wrote Banks' name on the lineup given to the umpires. Dodgers' manager Walter Alston noticed the error when Boccabella took the field in the top of the first, but waited until the time was right to point it out. That time came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Boccabella tripled to score a run, cutting Los Angeles' lead to a single run. Alston complained that he had hit out of order and the umpires agreed, ruling Banks (the proper batter) out, and ending the Cubs' rally.

The only problem was that the umpires were completely wrong. The only thing the Cubs had been guilty of was an unannounced substitution: once Boccabella took the field in the top of the first, he replaced Banks in the lineup and so for the rest of the game was hitting in the proper place. Kennedy wasn't aware of the mistake and so failed to protest, something which would have been moot anyway when the Cubs rallied to win the game. So just about the only consequence of the series of mistakes is that Banks got charged with an at-bat in a game in which he didn't appear. Officially, he started the game at first, was replaced immediately, somehow re-emerged to make an out in the sixth inning, and then left again.

Here's the boxscore from the game, which says "BOCCABELLA REPLACED BANKS (PLAYING 1B)" before any hitters came to the plate in the top of the first inning. That's correct, and should have been the end of the issue; Banks didn't play and couldn't have played, by rule, since he was on the lineup card and replaced. The umpires didn't do it right; as Ruane noted, the Cubs could have protested the game and won the protest, but they won the game anyway. Here's the Retrosheet description, from the boxscore, of what happened after Boccabella tripled:

John Boccabella tripled but the Dodgers appealed that he was not on lineup card (Ernie Banks was) and therefore Boccabella was batting out of turn; Banks was ruled to be the proper batter and was called out; this is incorrect; by rule Boccabella became the first baseman, batting fifth when he replaced Banks in the field in the top of the first inning, but since the ruling wasn't challenged, Banks was officially charged with the at-bat.

This kind of thing would never happen today, with multiple copies of the lineup card exchanged and lineups entered into MLB's computer system. Things were a lot more casual 50 years ago. One thing that rarely happens today is a protested game; rules are better understood and, especially now with replay review, there are other avenues to challenge rulings against a player's team.

The next day, the Tribune reported:

The Cubs had legitimate grounds to protest yesterday's game, Dodger Manager Walter Alston said after the game.

When the Dodgers -- in the third inning -- discovered the Cub error in the lineup card [Ernie Banks for John Boccabella at first base], Alston sent Dick Tracewski* out to talk to an umpire and find out what he would rule, if and when the Dodgers protested.

The umpire told Tracewski the batter would be out.

Since an umpire is forbidden to give a ruling on a play calling for an appeal until the appeal is made, Manager Bob Kennedy would have had a reasonable protest.

The Cubs won, however, and there would have been no point to a protest.

* Tracewski was a Dodgers utility infielder who played in 106 games in 1964.

So in addition to interpreting the lineup rule incorrectly, the umpires did something they shouldn't have done regarding an appeal. As noted, of course, it was all moot because the Cubs won the game, on a walkoff, no less. They scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth, the tying run on a single by Don Kessinger (who was playing in just his fourth major-league game, and he got no RBI because the run was ruled to have scored on an error), and the game-winner on a sacrifice fly by Ron Santo.

There are two other curious notes about this game. The announced attendance (remember, in those days the actual turnstile count was the number announced) was 692, the sixth-smallest reported attendance at Wrigley Field since 1940, the earliest year for which we have reliable attedance figures.

It was also the major-league debut for 20-year-old Dodgers pitcher Bill Singer, who wound up having a decent 14-year career for five teams, including two 20-win seasons.

Just a bit of curious Cubs baseball history to share on this off day.