Odell Hale was a hard-headed man. I mean that literally. He literally had a hard head.
The bases were loaded on September 7, 1935, in the bottom of the ninth inning of a doubleheader in Fenway park. 26-year-old Odell “Bad News” Hale was playing third base for the visiting Indians, who were hanging on to a precarious 5-3 lead with Joe Cronin, shortstop and manager of the Red Sox, at the plate.On the mound was Oral Hildebrand. Hildebrand had lost his spot in Cleveland’s rotation after having been shelled in 3 innings in Chicago just the week before. He was brought on to close out the first game of this doubleheader for Mel Harder when the latter was unable to retire any of the first 4 batters he faced in the game’s final inning. Hildebrand’s first opponent was Mel Almada, who promptly singled and drove in a run to bring the Sox within 2 with the bases loaded and nobody out.
It was a meaningless game. With a month left to play, the Indians were 17.5 games out, the Red Sox 21.5. According to the boxscore the next morning, there were 12,500 in attendance at Fenway that Saturday for the matinee game. The Bostoners were restless now as it looked like their Sox were rallying to turn this game around.
As Hale crept forward onto the infield grass, Cronin dug in at the plate. Cronin was in his first year as player/manager of the Red Sox, who had purchased him for $225,000 from the Washington Senators the winter before. Though he’d been an All-Star this summer, it’s hard not to think that Red Sox fans must have felt disappointed in his .289 batting average (down from his .308 career) and the current standing of the team. Maybe he could make it up with a game-winning hit.
The right-hander Hildebrand wound up. He didn’t know it at the time, but when he made this pitch, a 42 year clock started to count down. He died on September 8, 1977 at the age of 70.
The pitch was inside on the right-handed batter. Future Hall-of-Famer Joe Cronin turned on it and blazed a rocket toward Hale at third. Hale reacted, but not quickly enough.
His hands went up to his face, but the ball zipped through them and caught Hale on the forehead, above his left eye. The runners took off as Cronin’s line drive ricocheted into the air.
Where was Bill Knickerbocker, the Cleveland shortstop? He had made three errors already in the game – what was going through his mind? Was he playing back at double-play depth, willing to trade a run for a twin-killing? Or was he on the grass with Hale, trying to stop any run from crossing home plate? I don’t know. Newspaper accounts that I found didn’t mention his positioning. Wherever he was, though, it was the right spot.
The ball shot off of Hale’s head and directly into Knickerbocker’s glove. It was an out. The runners, who had been off and running as soon as Hale’s head deflected Cronin’s missle, were dead on the basepaths. In the scorebook it would read 5-6-4-3.
It was a triple play. The game was over. Hildebrand had pitched to two batters, equaling, somehow, an inning of work, and in the process earned his first save of the year (second of his career).
The Indians took the second game of the double-header, too. Hildebrand got a two-inning save in that one. More impressively, “Bad News” Hale started that game at third base, too, and went 2-for-4 with a double.
On the day, Odell Hale was 4-for-8 with a double, a home run, 3 runs scored, and one lump on his hard, hard head.