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Walt Dropo's
Greatest Hits
 

by Hal Vickery

Some people are born lucky, I guess.  The rest of us are born White Sox fans.  Still good luck comes where you can find it, and it has been my good fortune to have attended two of the best bench-clearing brawls in White Sox history.

Last Saturday I was sitting with some friends in the right field bleachers when, after Detroit's Jeff Weaver plunked former minor-league teammate Carlos Lee on the arm, Jim Parque retaliated by plunking the Tigers' Dean Palmer on almost the exact same spot.  The resulting bench-clearing brawl was marked by several Sox players being sucker-punched by assorted Tigers and by Detroit reserve catcher Robert Fick and four or five cronies isolating and jumping Sox reliever Bill Simas

The sucker punches and ganging up served to remind me that in the '50s men were men and that in the '90s Tigers are wusses.  When I visited my mom for Easter, she asked me, "Were you at the game yesterday?"

"Yeah," I responded.

"Did you get to see the fight?"

"Yup."

"I remember the one we saw when you were little.  Grandma and I enjoyed the fight but the ballgame was boring.  What was the other team?"

"The Yankees," I replied.

"That's right.  What was the name of that guy who played for them who was so good?"

"Mickey Mantle?" I offered.

"That's right.  I can still see him."  (I think I detected an audible sigh from her at this point.)  "Is he still alive?"

Obviously the love of the game and of the Sox I inherited from my grandpa did not pass through all of my mom's generation.  My aunt became a Cubs fan, in her words, "so I could have something to argue about with him at the dinner table."  At least my uncle is a Sox fan, but he's out in Arizona now.

This was the third reminder I had since the game of that long-ago fight.  It was something for the books.

The year was 1957.  The Sox were, actually led the Yankees in the standings, and perhaps for that reason rivalry that was in the process of turning vicious.  I'd just had a tonsillectomy about three weeks before, and I guess as a kind of make up for my throwing up after coming out from under the ether, my dad took the family, mom, grandma and grandpa, my brother Jim, and I to the game.  Well, maybe it wasn't punitive damages for the pain and suffering the ether had cost me, but I liked to think of it that way.

The date (according to Rich Lindberg's White Sox Encyclopedia) was June 13.  The Sox were in the rubber game of a three-game series against the Yankees.  Billy Pierce was going for the Sox, and Art Ditmar started for the Yankees.  There was bad blood between the teams.  I remember listening to the previous night's broadcast.  Minnie Minoso had nearly been beaned by the Yankee pitcher, who (according to Rich) was Al Cicotte.  So tempers were at the flashpoint when the game began. 

And it didn't take long.  We'd finished lunch and the game began.  I don't remember anything before or after what I'm about to report, the the memories I have of the battle that ensued are in vivid color as viewed from behind the Sox dugout. 

Larry Doby was batting for the Sox.  Ditmar threw one that just missed Doby's head and he dove to the ground out of the way.  The ball just missed Doby's head.  I don't remember if Doby wore a batting helmet.  They were optional in those days.  The next pitch eluded Yogi Berra and rolled towards the screen.  Ditmar ran to cover the plate.  (Lindberg reminds me that there was a runner on second at the time.)  I could then see Doby say something to Ditmar.  Ditmar said something in return.  You could tell he wasn't asking the condition of Doby's health.

At that point Doby went after Ditmar, and the benches cleared.  I remember standing on my chair to try to see what was going on.  When that didn't work my dad lifted me up onto his shoulders.  I remember seeing a mix of Sox players in their white pinstripes entangled with Yankees players in their gray uniforms, players from both teams sprawled on the ground after being tackled.  Unlike the Tigers in last week's fight there was no ganging up on one player, and there were no sucker punches being thrown.  It was the '50s and real men took each other on mano a mano.

Playing for the Yankees that year was former St. Louis Cardinals great Enos "Country" Slaughter.  Slaughter's height and playing weight are listed as 5'9.5" and 180 lbs.  I'd say that was his weight soaking wet.  Slaughter, for some reason known only to him decided to square off against Sox first baseman Walt "Moose" Dropo.  Dropo was known as Moose presumably because his hometown was Moosup, Connecticut.  However, it could also have been because he was 6'5" and 220 lbs.  (I'd guess his "official" weight was less than his actual weight.)

Slaughter was surrendering 7.5 inches and at least 40 lbs.  I'd like to say, to preserve the reputation of this Hall of Famer, that Slaughter held his own, but I'd be lying.  It was no contest.  My dad said, "Look at Dropo!"  I did.  He was pummeling Slaughter mercilessly, with Whitey Ford trying ineffectually to come to Slaughter's aid.  By the time Dropo had finished with Slaughter, he'd ripped the shirt off his back.  I can see Slaughter in his undershirt trudging to the dugout, his cap askew.  You may have seen the famous photograph.  The angle of my mental picture is from Slaughter's right.

Somehow the melee was dying down.  That took about twenty minutes or so according to an interview I saw several years ago with Jack Brickhouse, who was covering the game on television. 

This is where the Sox-Yankees battle contrasts again to last week's fight.  It took two innings for a second melee to break out last week.  In 1957 all it took was for somebody to say something.  A punch was thrown and the the players were again sprawled out all over the infield.  Two knock-down-drag-out fights AND a ballgame, all for the price of a reserved grandstand seat!  According to Brickhouse in the interview I saw, it took another twenty minutes for this brawl to play itself out.

From my rather biased perspective, it looked as if the Sox had won the battle.  Dropo and Slaughter were both ejected along with Doby.  The fans, however, went berserk when Ditmar stayed on the mound.  The booing of the umpire was some of the loudest I've ever heard.  Unfortunately, Ditmar then went on to outpitch Pierce, beating the Sox 4-3.

I never considered Dropo's ejection as much of a loss.  Dropo, as I noted in a previous article, always seemed to be striking out in the clutch.  In fact the most impressive hits I ever saw him make were those that struck
Enos Slaughter on that warm afternoon in June of 1957.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!
 

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