July 31, 1935: Billy Sullivan hit a run-scoring pinch single in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Reds a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in a night game played at Crosley Field. Starting pitcher Tony Freitas went the distance in improving his record to 4-5.
But, that was just a minor detail in the real stories of the evenings and days of July 31st
John Snyder has co-authored at least two books about the Reds. He partnered with Floyd Conner to write “Day by Day in Cincinnati Reds History” and later partnered with Greg Rhodes to write “Redleg Journal.” Both tell the story well, but here’s the more recent version taken from “Redleg Journal.”
“The capacity of Crosley Field at the time was 26,000, but an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 squeezed into the ballpark. Due to an unbelievable traffic crunch in the West End, those in private automobiles and buses were late in arriving. Even excursion trains emanating from Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and elsewhere in Ohio were unable to keep their schedules. As a result, many of those who bought standing room tickets took the seats of the late arrivals, sending thousands of late-arriving fans onto the field.
Attempts to corral the standees failed and the milling crowd filled foul ground and edged onto the playing field. Fans stood 12 deep all around the diamond and against the outfield wall. The contest was delayed for 25 minutes in the third inning when many of the unruly fans scampered across the outfield. Order was restored by the arrival of the riot squad of the Cincinnati police and the threat of a forfeit to the Cardinals.
Players couldn’t see the action from the dugout and had difficulty making their way to the playing field. The two managers had to call out to fans to find out what was happening on the field. In the eighth inning, when play was stopped to tend to an injured player, Kitty Burke, a young woman in the crowd near home plate, grabbed the bat from the hands of Babe Herman and pranced up to the batter’s box. St. Louis pitcher Paul Dean tossed an underhanded pitch which Miss Burke grounded to first base. She later toured the burlesque circuit as the only woman to ‘bat’ in the major leagues.
Somehow, in the midst fo the pandemonium, a baseball game was played. The Reds won, 4-3….Ironically, Commissioner (Kennesaw Mountain) Landis, who had a standing invitation from (Reds owner) Powel Crosley to attend a night game, picked this occasion to see his first nocturnal contest. However, the commissioner took no action against the Reds.
The next day, (Reds GM Larry) MacPhail issued refunds to the outraged patrons who either had their seats stolen or couldn’t see the action on the field. He announced sheepishly that he would not oversell the ballpark again, but–at the suggestion of groundskeeper Matty Schwab–MacPhail authorized the expansion of the left field terrace into center and right fields to provide additional seating for future overflow crowds.”
Sullivan batted .266 with two homers in 1935. He was sold to the Indians in the offseason and became their semi-regular catcher, batting .351 with an .890 OPS. He played 12 seasons with a lifetime .289 batting average.
Freitas has a more interesting story. Freitas made the majors with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1932, winning nine in a row at one point as a rookie, and finishing the season 12-5 with a 3.83 ERA. In one game he turned an unassisted double play by freezing both runners on base with several fakes during a pickoff attempt. His major league career soon declined and he went 13-28 for the remainder of his major league career. With the Reds he was 11-24 with a 4.21 ERA. This July 31st game was his next to last major league win.
However, he’s the fourth winningest minor league pitcher of all time with 348 career minor league wins. His career minor league record was 348-243 with a 3.14 ERA. He played 22 minor league seasons, ranging from age 20 through age 45. He won 20 or more games nine times and he won 19 on two different occasions. His high was 25 wins at age 43 while playing for Class C in Modesto, California, pitching 283 innings. In 1953, at age 45, Freitas went 22-9 with a 2.39 ERA in his final season. He was player-manager in both 1951 and 1952.
As for the Reds in 1935, they finished the season 68-85 and sixth of eight teams. Their leading hitters were future Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi (.343, 12 HR, 64 RBI, .918 OPS) and outfielder Herman (.335, 10 HR, 58 RB, .912 OPS). Paul Derringer had a very impressive year at pitcher, 22-13 with a 3.51 ERA with 20 complete games.
There’s also a sad story to relate about the team. The Reds had another pitcher, Benny Frey, pitching out of the bullpen. Frey finished the season 6-10 with a 6.85 ERA, allowing 164 hits in 114 innings pitched. Frey had been a swingman for the Reds since 1929, with this best season coming in 1934 (11-16 with a 3.52 ERA). However, Frey’s career had been sliding and he was apparently having trouble dealing with the results (career: 57-82 with a 4.50 ERA). Frey suffered an arm injury and apparently became despondent over being unable to make a comeback. He committed suicide in 1937. Unfortunately, the Reds would have a suicide of an active player, catcher Willard Hershberger, during the 1940 World Series championship season just a few years later.
Hershberger blamed himself for a loss of a July 31, 1940 game, a 5-4 loss to the New York Giants. The Reds were leading 4-1 with two outs in the ninth inning and no on base before blowing the game. Once again, from “Redleg Journal”:
“Bucky Walters walked Bob Seeds, and allowed Burgess Whitehead to homer to make the score 4-3. Walters followed with a base on balls to Mel Ott and surrendered a home run to Harry Danning to lose the game. Catcher Willard Hershberger blamed himself for the loss, claiming he called the wrong pitches. Hershberger sank into a deep depression from which he never recovered.”
More from ‘Redleg Journal” about August 3, 1940, as a follow-up to the lost game of July 31st:
“Willard Hershberger commits suicide in his hotel room in Boston while the Reds were in town to play a series against the Braves. Before the August 3 double header, Hershberger said he was not reporting to the ball park because he felt ill. (Reds manager Bill) McKechnie told him to come to Braves Field later on and sit in the stands in his street clothes. When Hershberger failed to arrive by the seventh inning of the first game, McKechnie sent Dan Cohen, a Cincinnati shoe store owner who was making the trip with the team, back to the hotel to check on Hershberger. Cohen found Hershberger’s lifeless body sprawled on the bathroom floor. He had cut his throat with a razor blade. Hershberger’s father also died by suicide with a shotgun in 1929. To add to the tragedy, Cohen committed suicide in 1961.
Weeks before his death, Hershberger placed second behind Ernie Lombardi in a “Most Popular Red” poll taken among female funs by WKRC radio personality Ruth Lyons.”
At the time of the tragedy, the Reds were in first place, 6 1/2 games ahead of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Reds finished the season 100-53 and defeated the Detroit Tigers in the 1940 World Series, four games to three. Hershberger was batting .309 at the time of his death and had a career .316 batting average over three seasons, all with the Reds.