Bittersweet Memories of Only One Game in the Majors
by Richard Tellis
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ROBERT EARL "BERT" SHEPARD
There were two outs, and Cleary had left the bases still loaded. The hitter was a left-hander, George "Catfish" Metkovich, Boston's center fielder, who was in the third season of a 10-year big-league career. Shepard pitched carefully. "I got the count to 3 and 2, and I said, 'Hell, now you got to throw the ball over. You don't want to come in here and walk him.'"
With two out and the count full, the three base runners took off as soon as Shepard went into his windup. He threw a fastball, above the waist and on the inside half of the plate. Metkovich swung. And missed.
Bert Shepard, the only man in the history of baseball to pitch in the major leagues on an artificial leg, had struck out the first man he faced -- with the bases loaded. With the inning over, he walked to the Washington dugout to a standing ovation.
Shepard wasn't finished. Bluege sent him back out for the fifth inning, and the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth. Shepard wasn't surprised. He knew the game was his to finish. He pitched five and one-third innings, held the Red Sox to one run on three hits, and struck out three men in a batting order that included veteran hitters Pete Fox, Leon Culberson, Dolf Camilli, Eddie Lake, and Tom McBride.
While pitching, Shepard also threw out two batters on ground balls back to the mound and walked only one man. "I was enjoying it," he says. "I felt that I could get them out." At the plate that day, he went 0 for 3 against the Red Sox's rookie ace, Dave "Boo" Ferris, who won 21 games that year. Shepard doesn't recall much about it. "I think I hit a fly ball off of him."
After the game, Shepard thought he'd done a "pretty good job" and might get the opportunity to pitch more often. But the closeness of the pennant race forced Bluege to stay with his veteran pitchers as the Senators drove to overtake the Tigers. Shepard never played in another game that season and never asked why.
"That's a question you wouldn't ask. We were fighting for the pennant and being very successful, and we had some pretty good pitchers," he says. "It's hard for the manager to imagine that his best chance of winning today is a guy with his leg off. You just can't imagine that. It didn't bother me, but I can see where the other person would have a problem believing that could happen."
Going into the final days of the 1945 season, Washington was still in the race with Detroit, but their season was ending early with a doubleheader against Philadelphia. The Tigers and the rest of the American League, meanwhile, would continue a week longer. In the first game of that doubleheader, Washington's pennant hopes were dealt a severe blow when they lost to the A's, 4-3, in 12 innings, on a fly ball that outfielder George Binks lost in the sun.
But the Tigers were not playing particularly well either, and they went into their final two games against the defending champions, the St. Louis Browns, still needing a victory to capture the flag. Because of rain, the two games had to be scheduled as a doubleheader on the final day of the season. If the Tigers lost both games, they would face the rested Nats in a playoff game in Washington.
In the first game, the Tigers went into the ninth inning trailing 3-2, but loaded the bases against St. Louis screwballer Nelson Potter. That's when Hank Greenberg hit his grand-slam homer into the bleachers, just inside the foul pole, to give Detroit the pennant. The second game that day was rained out.
Washington had come close to going from last place in 1944 to first place in 1945, which no team had ever done before. If the game on August 4, in which Joe Cleary and Bert Shepard both made their only major-league appearances, had ended differently, they might well have done it.
From Once Around the Bases by Richard Tellis.
Copyright © 1998 by Triumph Books and Richard Tellis. Reprinted with permission.