The date was Saturday, May 25, 1946, and the visiting Brooklyn Dodgers were pleasantly occupied in beating the perennially second-division Phillies for the 14th straight time in what was then known as Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Some 10,000 fans were on hand—several hundred of them from Brooklyn.
Came the third inning and Harold Patrick Reiser, who had been dubbed Pistol Pete in his early youth, whacked a double off the far right-field wall to score Eddie Stanky with the Dodgers' fourth run. On an infield out, Pete moved to third base and, with two out, Augie Galan came to bat. By that time Hugh Mulcahy was the Phillie pitcher, Reiser's double having sent Tom Hughes to the showers.
Almost immediately, Reiser, spotting some lack of alertness on Mulcahy's part, broke for home. Galan swung at the last second, and Andy Seminick, the 25-year-old bald-headed catcher who, when the Whiz Kids won the pennant four years later, was nicknamed Grandpa Whiz, tipped Galan's bat.
Reiser slid home untagged, and only seconds later there erupted a rhubarb. The plate umpire, Al Barlick, had waved Reiser safe on a steal and awarded Galan first base on the catcher's interference. Ben Chapman, the Phillies' manager, burst from the dugout in full voice and, loudly supported by Seminick and other Phillies, assailed Barlick for allowing the run to score. The basis of the protest wasn't clear, but the umpire's decision was quite clear: Reiser had stolen home, and the run counted.
Because of inaccuracies in statistics in those days, it was believed that Reiser had thus tied the major league record by stealing home for the fourth time. Actually, there were two players who were ahead of him. Phillie Manager Chapman had stolen home five times in 1931 while with the Yankees. A few months ago, however, it was determined that the real record holder was Bobby Roth, who stole home six times in 1917 for the Indians.
With the season still so young, though, Reiser had a chance to break all records, both known and unknown. He did just that, and when the 1947 record book came out Reiser indisputably had a line all to himself under the caption Most times stealing home, season: "7—Harold P. Reiser, Brooklyn NL, 1946."
Nineteen years later he still has that line—a unique record that is much less likely to be tied or broken than dozens of others that are more often discussed.
As a matter of fact, Pete should be credited with eight thefts of home in 1946—that is, if it were possible for an umpire who readily admits an error of judgment (as many of them have done) to reverse his call.
The Dodgers were playing the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field on July 13, battling to retain or increase their three-and-a-half-game first-place lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the fifth inning, with two out, Reiser blasted the ball high off the vine-covered left center-field wall for a triple that drove in two runs and gave the Dodgers a 3-0 lead. The hit also drove Claude Passeau out of the game and brought in Bob Chipman, a lefthander. It looked like a perfect setup for what would have been Pete's sixth steal of home—and it was, except for big George Magerkurth, the plate umpire.
With Dixie Walker at bat, Pete, after a couple of long dashes off third base, suddenly came all the way, and was almost home before Chipman hastily delivered the pitch. Reiser, as he had done on many occasions, hit the dirt on the foul side of the plate and, avoiding Clyde McCullough's tag attempt, slapped his left hand on the plate as he scooted by. Up went Mage's right arm in a majestic "out" signal.
"As Magerkurth gestured 'You're out,' " Pete recalls, "in the same breath he said, 'I missed that one!' "
At the time Pete protested the decision vehemently, and so did Dixie Walker. They joined in the noise their teammates created, but their hearts were not really in it.
"Heck, how could we squawk much?" said Pete later. "You can't very well blast an ump who admits he blew one before you can even open your trap."