The third post in Red Reporter's count down of the 10 Greatest Moments in Reds All Star History. This is my attempt to rank the most memorable and exciting moments relevant to the Cincinnati Reds in the history of the Mid Summer Classic.
July 8, 1947
In the pantheon of Reds pitching greats, Ewell Blackwell gets a bit of a short shrift. Riverfront76 places him 50th on the list of the Top 100 Reds, ahead of the likes of Browning, Franco, Purkey and Vander Meer. Yet he probably has the least name recognition of any in that group. And it's not just because he pitched way back in the 40s and 50s. Vander Meer pitched from '37-'51, but despite compiling a less distinguished career than Blackwell, his legacy is secured on the wings of his back-to-back no-hitters. Blackwell nearly replicated Vander Meer's feat in 1947. Just over two weeks after the Marshall Plan had come down, he took a no-no into the 9th inning against Brooklyn on June 22 after having successfully pulled one off against the Boston Braves in his previous start.
Though sadly far from unique for his time, Blackwell had a streak of bigotry, spewing racial epithets directed at Jackie Robinson (despite the fact that it had been broken up by Eddie Stanky) in a fit of frustration after his second no-hit bid ended. Despite some ambivalence about him, Blackwell hasn't exactly been consigned to the dustbin of history either. Miami University grad and reknowned illustrator C.F. Payne recognized Blackwell's place in Reds history, incorporating him into his Redsland Forever piece, right over Joe Morgan's right shoulder.
Blackwell began his Reds career at age 19, during the fateful year of 1942. He appeared in only two games that season and was drafted to serve in the 71st Infantry under General Patton. He would not return to baseball until 1946, though he was only 23 after his discharge. If there was any rust, it wasn't visible. His first season back was excellent, but '47 was undoubtedly his best season. On top of almost pulling a Vander Meer, Blackwell put up a 2.47 ERA, threw 23 CGs, set a career-best WHIP (1.179) and led the league in wins, Ks, K/9, K/BB and HR/9 - a microscopic 0.3-per-9 (His '46 mark was improbably better: 1 HR in 194.1 IP). Had there been a Cy Young award, Blackwell would have won it.
Like Vander Meer before him, Blackwell enterred the '47 All Star Game on the heels of two recent, back-to-back command performances. His ERA also stood on July 8 at a season-low 2.10. 1947 would be the second of six consecutive All Star appointments for Blackwell while playing for some truly terrible Reds teams. '47 would the club's best year in that stretch, finishing 5th of 8 NL teams. Bert Haas and Eddie Miller were the other two Reds represented on the NL side that year, though Blackwell would be the lone Red in 1948.
Blackwell was famous for his unorthodox sidearm delivery, which garnered the nickname The Whip. Though it became extremely taxing on his right arm, it had National League hitters absolutely befuddled in 1946 and '47. American Leaguers had only seen it up-close for 2.2 innings of work during the '46 All Star Game. Just one day after the "Roswell Incident" is reputed to have taken place in New Mexico, Blackwell took the mound at Wrigley Field on July 8 as the NL's starter. He faced an AL order that included a 3-4-5 of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Boudreau.
Blackwell's stuff was a complete puzzle for the AL All Stars. He struck out Ted Williams to complete a 1-2-3 first. There was trouble in the 2nd, but two more strikeouts stranded DiMaggio at 2nd after a leadoff single. Blackwell's final inning of work was a 1-2-3 jobber. He completed the semi-standard 3 frames of All Star toil with 4 K, only 1 H, 0 ER, tying the AL starter Hal Newhouser for highest Win Probability Added. It was a losing effort for the NL, but Blackwell had further established his foothold in a climb to becoming one of the game's elite pitchers of his era.
Blackwell is one of a host of All Star "what if" players, firmly planted in the Hall of Very Good, but not deemed worthy of Cooperstown. Had Blackwell not missed nearly four years to the War and had his career truncated at Age 32 by arm injury related to his delivery, it's an easy leap to see him in the Hall of Fame. As it stands, Blackwell remains one of the great Reds pitchers in history, one that came of age during the War and soared to greatness after the fighting stopped.