Near suspension and utter disbelief

ORIOLES GREATEST MOMENTS

June 08, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

Orioles third baseman George Kell called it the "screwiest thing" he ever had seen. It left Chicago White Sox manager Al Lopez in shock. To this day, 38 years later, people still ask Dick Williams about it.

It was, indeed, a weird game, perhaps the Orioles' weirdest ever.

This was on May 18, 1957, at Memorial Stadium. Chicago, in first place in the American League at the time, led the Orioles 4-3 entering the bottom of the ninth inning just seconds before a 10:20 p.m. curfew established beforehand to enable the White Sox to catch a late sleeper train to Boston. At 10:20, if nothing further developed, the White Sox would have a 4-3 victory, since there was no suspended game rule in those days.

But Paul LaPalme, the fourth Chicago pitcher, made the mistake of throwing a knuckleball within reach of Williams' bat. Leading off the ninth, Williams homered, tying the score and necessitating that the game be replayed in its entirety later in the season. And the Orioles won it.

The question was: Why did LaPalme give Williams a ball to hit? Why didn't he walk him, throw the ball into the screen, re-tie his shoes, do anything to stall until plate umpire Larry Napp signaled that it was 10:20?

A left-handed knuckleballer, LaPalme was in his seventh and final major-league season, en route to a 1-4 record and a career mark of 24-45. The White Sox have lost track of him, but Lopez remembers the game clearly.

"He had to make a pitch," said Lopez, living in retirement in Tampa, Fla. "He couldn't just stand there. The umpire would have called him on it."

In the Orioles' dugout, Williams and Kell talked.

"If he gives you anything close, you've got to go for the pump," Kell said, meaning a home run.

"LaPalme's instructions," Lopez said, "were not to give Williams anything good to hit. But that knuckler, sometimes it didn't break at all."

LaPalme's first knuckleball was high, and Williams took it. He lined the next one foul down the left-field line. Napp looked at his watch but said nothing.

"The third pitch was another knuckler, up some, but I swung and hit it out of the park," Williams said.

No sooner had Williams touched the plate than Napp called off the game.

ka,3 "Kell said it was the screwiest thing he had ever seen, the fact they even pitched to me," Williams said. "It wasn't like I was a home run threat -- it was my first one of the year. One or two more pitches away from me and it would have been over."

From the home dugout, the Orioles watched Lopez's reaction after Williams' home run.

"Lopez went bananas over the thing," catcher Gus Triandos said. "The poor guy [LaPalme] was raked over the coals after that."

Pitcher Billy O'Dell said: "Everybody was surprised he threw the ball. He got a lot of criticism."

After the game, Bob Maisel, who covered the game for The Sun, walked into the White Sox clubhouse to find Lopez still seething.

"Al was in shock," Maisel said. "His mouth was hanging open. He couldn't believe it. I saw him at the Hall of Fame ceremony when Chuck Thompson went in a few years ago and needled him about it. Lopez said, 'I'm still in shock.' "

Kell says Orioles manager Paul Richards walked past his locker in the home clubhouse and said, "What did he pitch to Williams for?"

What the Orioles didn't know at the time was that LaPalme had attempted to keep the ball away from Williams. It wasn't that he disobeyed instructions or that his mind went blank. As Lopez says, "Usually his knuckleball broke down, but this one stayed up, over the plate, and Williams hit it."

When the Orioles and White Sox replayed the game later in the season, one principal in the April drama was no longer around. Williams had been traded to the Cleveland Indians.

But he was brought back, for the 1958 season and, after being traded again, for his third tenure with the Orioles from 1961 to 1962. Williams always was one of Richards' favorites.

Remembering the moment

"The curfew game was one of the weirdest ever. It was on my 20th birthday, and I was on the disabled list following knee surgery and George Kell was at third base that night."

` -- Brooks Robinson

XTC "It was the most astounding thing. All he would have had to do was hold the ball for 30 seconds or so."

0$ -- Orioles infielder George Kell

"The popular conception was that LaPalme could have stalled his way through it, but didn't."

-- Orioles assistant farm director Harry Dalton

"Paul Richards loved Dick Williams. He kept bringing him back to the Orioles. Dick couldn't throw because he had hurt his shoulder, but he did other things to help -- like produce in the clutch like he did that night against [Paul] LaPalme."

8( -- Orioles broadcaster Ernie Harwell

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