Rooftop opposite the Polo Grounds, at 515 Edgecombe Ave., where the shot was fired that killed an unlucky fan. (Photo by Seymour Wally/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Going through the security line at a ballpark or stadium these days can be nerve-wracking. Those metal detector wands make you wonder what exactly they expect to find.
Thankfully, violent crimes at ballparks are almost unheard of (well, in this country anyway). But they're not unprecedented. A shooting death actually took place at a Major League Baseball game in 1950, and it was unusual as it is forgotten.
On the Fourth of July, Bernard Doyle, a retired 54-year-old freight worker, went to the Polo Grounds to see the New York Giants square off against the Brooklyn Dodgers in a double-header. Doyle, once the manager of prizefighter James J. Braddock (better known to the world as the "Cinderella Man"), had taken with him Otto Flaig, a freckled, 13-year-old neighbor boy. In a horrible twist of fate, Doyle was supposed to take Flaig to a game several days beforehand, but he'd changed his mind after he realized it was a night game.
Nearby, Robert Peebles, a 14-year-old boy, stood on the rooftop of his apartment complex overlooking the Polo Grounds. Six months earlier, Peebles had found a .45 caliber pistol containing a single bullet in Central Park. He had hidden the gun in his basement, waiting to fire the lone bullet into the air in celebration of the country's independence. At 12:30 PM, Peebles fired the gun.
In that moment, the teams were running out onto the field. Doyle had turned to say something to Flaig when Peebles' bullet connected with his skull, causing him to slouch over. The fans nearby heard a popping sound, "like a paper bag breaking." Flaig asked the man if anything was wrong and got no response. He assumed Doyle had had a heart attack. When attendants came over and checked on him, they saw the entry wound and realized a bullet had been lodged in his brain. He had died instantly. (If you're up to it, you can see a photograph here of Doyle's body being attended to by a police officer.)
What's remarkable about this incident is that had relatively little effect on the everyday lives on the general public. Imagine if this happened today. Imagine the pandemonium, chaos, and legislation that would come after a fan being shot at an American sporting event. Well, none of that happened back in 1950. Not only did the game go on as scheduled, fans flocked to fill the seat in which a man had just died.
"Standees fought over Doyle's empty seat as medics carried the dead man away," reported the New York Daily News. Even Flaig, Doyle's compatriot, seemed more upset that the incident caused him to miss the game than that his neighbor had been killed before his eyes.
"Young Otto himself complained that the detectives' questions were making him miss the ballfield action," the Daily News story continued. "'I've been dreaming about this game for a month," he grumbled.'"
When it was discovered that Doyle had been shot, 40 detectives were dispatched to find the culprit. They searched Peebles' residence and arrested him when they found a .22 caliber pistol and rifle in his apartment. Peebles eventually confessed
that he had indeed fired a .45 caliber pistol, and that he'd thrown the gun away when he heard that his stunt had a cost a man's life. However, because no one under the age of 15 could be charged with homicide in the state of New York, Peebles was charged with juvenile delinquency
. He was sent to the "New York State Training School for Boys
," where he stayed for less than two years