On July 14, 1964, Major League Baseball umpires used replay to determine whether or not a home run call was correct.

The home run in question happened the day before during a doubleheader between the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City A’s at Municipal Stadium. At the time, the White Sox were in third place just 2.5 games behind Baltimore. The A’s however were out of reach a distant 21 games back.

In the bottom of the seventh inning of the second game, and the White Sox leading 6-3, A’s shortstop Wayne Causey hit a shot to right field off Don Mossi that appeared to have bounced off the top of the wall. Second base umpire Joe Paparella ruled it in-play and Causey pulled into second base for a double driving in Dick Green and Ken Harrelson. But home plate umpire Frank Umont saw it differently. Ironically, it was Umont’s vision that had been the topic of conversation eight years prior when in 1956 he became the first Major League Umpire to wear spectacles in a game. At the time Umont remarked, “I expect to be ribbed about my glasses, bu I don’t expect it will worry me.”

Standing at home plate, peering through his glasses from over 325 feet away, Umont saw the ball, or so he thought, hit the base of a yellow support poll that held up an awning in an area called “One Half Pennant Porch” that had just been added that year by A’s owner Charlie Finley. Finley originally tried to move the right field fence to 296 feet down the line to replicate Yankee Stadium and was going to call it “Pennant Porch.” But that was shot down by Commissioner Ford Frick. So he moved it back to 325 feet saying, “In the depression days they used to say it’s better to have a half loaf than none at all,” and thus the name One Half Pennant Porch was born.

one-half-pennant-porch

Umont overturned Paparella’s call and ruled Causey’s hit a home run which tied the game at 6. White Sox manager Al Lopez charged out of the dugout to argue with Umont which resulted in Lopez being ejected. Lopez protested the call and the A’s went on to win the game, 8-7.

The following day the Cleveland Indians arrived in Kansas City to begin a new series with the same umpiring crew of Frank Umont, Cal Drummond, Joe Paparella and Lou DiMuro there to work it.

Babe Dahlgren was hired by Charlie Finley before the 1964 season as a coach with the sole purpose of using film as an instructional method. His job was to film hitters during batting practice and games so he could then review it with the hitters to go over their tendencies. He was the first big league coach to do this. Incidentally, Dahlgren had also been teammates with Al Lopez in 1944-45 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and held him in very high regard saying, “As a player no one was more liked by the other players than Al Lopez.”

al-lopez_45_most-games-caught-1793
Babe Dahlgren signs a ball for teammate Al Lopez in 1945 after Lopez set the record for most games caught with 1,793.

Babe suited up and gathered his camera equipment to head out for batting practice when the umpires met him in the clubhouse. They were aware of his job with the A’s and asked if he caught the flight of the ball on film from the prior day. Dahlgren explained that although the film had been processed (developed) he hadn’t had time to edit and review it. They told Babe that Cal Hubbard, American League umpire supervisor, was flying into Kansas City that day to review the consequential call with them. He was on his way to the ball park and they were all on edge, in particular Frank Umont.

Dahlgren offered to leave the ball park (in uniform) and pick up the film at his apartment. Parking in the underground garage, Babe entered the elevator which stopped at the first floor to pick up several residents of the building. They all flashed a peculiar look at the guy standing before them wearing a white flannel vest with 48 on the back and on the arms of his green short sleeve undershirt. He got to his apartment, ran some film through his film editor to find the needed evidence and drove back to the ball park.

When Dahlgren returned Cal Hubbard was indeed there waiting. Babe put the film through his projector inside the A’s clubhouse where they all gathered around and watched. Sure enough, Umont’s eyes didn’t let him down. The ball hit the base of the pole right at the top of the outfield fence – clearly a home run. Umont had made the right call after all. Hubbard remarked that he had confidence in the umpires all along and didn’t doubt the call for a moment. This of course brought puzzled looks from the crew who sat there watching the film while feeling the weight of his visit.

Just three days later on July 17, Kansas City traveled to Chicago to start a three game series. Out of respect for his old teammate and friend, Dahlgren pulled Al Lopez aside and told him that he had reviewed the film he took of Causey’s home run and it was indeed the correct call. He wanted to give Lopez piece of mind.

And what an important call it was. The White Sox finished the 1964 season one game behind the New York Yankees for the American League pennant.

*Matt Dahlgren is the author of Rumor In Town and the novel, The Flannel Past. He can be followed on Twitter: @mattdahlgren12 or at mattdahlgren.com 

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