Musings: Mookie Betts and Enos Slaughter

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author

MOOKIE BETTS AND ENOS SLAUGHTER

A fascinating play unfolded in the final game of the recently completed Red Sox-
Yankees series at Fenway Park (Well, fascinating to me, at least). It was the bottom of
the seventh, Mookie Betts was on second base, nobody out. The next batter, Andrew
Benintendi, hit a routine fly ball to relatively short right centerfield, an easy play for right
fielder Aaron Judge. He made the catch and Betts returned to second. But then Judge
made a mistake; he took Betts for granted. Judge casually lobbed the ball back toward the
infield. When Betts, who has the instincts of a burglar on the base paths, saw the arc of
the lob, he took off for third base, sliding safely in without so much as a relay throw to
challenge him.

It was a rookie mistake by Judge, and Betts made him pay. Luckily for the Yankees the
next two batters made outs, and Betts was stranded on third. The only damage done was
to Aaron Judge’s pride.
It could have been worse, as it was in the 1946 World Series, when a Red Sox player
made the mistake of taking a base runner for granted.
It wast the bottom of the eighth inning in the seventh and deciding game of that series,
score tied, Red Sox 3 and St. Louis Cardinals 3. Enos Slaughter was on first with two
outs. Harry “The Hat” Walker, a notorious slap hitter (he would win the National League
batting title the nxt year) was at the plate. As pitcher Bob Klinger delivered a pitch,
Slaughter took off for second; sure enough, Walker, a left handed batter, slapped a soft
line drive to left center for a hit. Slaughter, who had a great jump, kept running to third as
centerfielder Leon Culberson retrieved the ball.
This is the moment that Slaughter, as crafty running the bases back then as Mookie Betts
is today, took a calculated risk. He knew that the Red Sox regular centerfielder, Dom
DiMaggio, the American League’s premier defensive outfielder, better even than his
brother Joe, had suffered an injury in the prevous half inning and was no longer in the
game. Slaughter’s bet was that Culberson, DiMaggio’s substitute, would assume that he
was merely going from first to third on Walker’s hit.
A brief digression: With two on and two out in the top of the eighth, DiMaggio had hit a
long line drive up the gap in right center, it caromed off the chain link fence that

protected the right field seats in Sportsman’s Park, scoring both runners and tying the
game. But DiMaggio, who had also driven in the other Red Sox run that day, felt his
hamstring pop as he legged out a double. He hobbled safely into second, but had to be
removed from the game, which explains Leon Culberson’s presence in centerfield as
history was unfolding.
Slaughter kept running through the third base coach’s stop sign and headed for home.
He had bet right.
Culberson, apparently unaware of what was transpiring even though the play was in front
of him, casually tossed the ball into shortstop Johnny Pesky, stationed just beyond the
infield. It wasn’t a lob, exactly, but, viewing grainy film of the play on YouTube, there
was certainly no urgency to it. Pesky, his back to the play, turned, saw what was
happening, and fired home, too late. Slaughter was easily safe.
It was the winning run in the deciding game of the ’46 World Series and the legend of
Enos Slaughter’s “mad dash” home was cemented in baseball lore.
Up in the press box there was consternation. What had happened to enable Slaughter to
score all the way from first base on a single? (The official scorer ruled it a double, but
Walker had only taken second on Pesky’s throw home). It was the last World Series not
to be televised. There was no such thing as TV replay. They couldn’t go back and look at
it again. Pesky must have held the ball, the writers decided.
In the clubhouse, Pesky, having been raised on the unwritten baseball rule that you never
throw a teammate under the bus, said nothing about Culberson’s casual throw and
stoically took the blame, becoming the goat of the series. What has happened to our
language? Can one player be the goat and another the GOAT on the very same play?
In his book, The Teammates, David Halberstam carefully researched the play and came to
the conclusion that Pesky had been wrongly blamed. The fault was Culberson’s who,
with the play in front of him, should have been throwing home and not to the shortstop; at
the very least, he should have put a little mustard on his relay to Pesky.
Enos Slaughter snookered Leon Culberson, just as Mookie Betts snookered Aaron Judge
more than seventy years later.
A postscript: More than forty years after that historic World Series of 1946 I was with
Dom DiMaggio at a golf tournament hosted by Carl Yasrrzemski to benefit The Genesis
Fund when who should we run into but Enos Slaughter. As I stood next to the golf cart in
which they were seated, Slaughter volunteered without being asked, “You know, I never
would have tried it if you were still in the game.” He didn’t have to elaborate; that play
was still on their minds all those years later. Dom, who was renowned in his day for his
powerful, accurate arm, smiled and said, “If you had tried it I’d have had you dead to
rights.”