Umpire needed help to break up pitched battle
In more than 6,000 games as an umpire, Cece Carlucci never saw anything else quite like the chaotic events of Aug. 2, 1953. That was the day the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League staged a brawl so heated and violent that about 50 Los Angeles Police Department officers were dispatched to Gilmore Field to stop it.
“It was probably the biggest fight in baseball history -- the biggest I remember, anyway,” says Carlucci, who was behind the plate that day for the first game of a Sunday doubleheader and the seventh game of a tense, eight-game series between the cross-town rivals. “I’ve never seen that many guys fighting.
“Everybody was flinging.”
The “pugilistic pips,” as reporter Al Wolf’s account in The Times described the skirmishes, lasted for nearly 30 minutes, Carlucci recalls.
Police Chief Bill Parker, watching at home on television, ordered officers to the stadium on Beverly Boulevard -- CBS Television City stands there now -- and warned that additional incidents would result in the booking of offenders.
Carlucci, the only umpire enshrined in the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame, was only too happy to see the cops streaming onto the field.
“I don’t like to go in and break up a fight because they get so wild,” says Carlucci, who is 89, living near Lake Elsinore in Wildomar and still manufacturing custom, homemade umpiring equipment for a clientele that has included more than 30 major league umpires. “But my mother used to say, ‘What if somebody gets hurt?’ So we try to go in to help, try to stop it before it gets real serious.
“But this one, we couldn’t do nothing. We had no control of this fight at all. You’d see a swing come in here, guys punching over there.”
By game’s end, officers and players were seated side by side in the dugouts. All but the players still involved in the game had been banished to the clubhouses, many of them nursing cuts, scrapes, black eyes and other minor wounds.
Carlucci says the trouble that escalated beyond the control of the three-man umpiring crew was not unanticipated.
Two earlier games in the weeklong series had been marred by fights, including a benches-clearing brawl two nights earlier. The Stars, on their way to the PCL championship, had won the previous two one-run games -- Friday on a ninth-inning, two-out pinch single by Frank Kelleher and Saturday when Kelleher’s two-run pinch homer in the eighth inning provided the difference.
In the sixth inning of Sunday’s opener, Kelleher was hit by a pitch from Angels starter Joe Hatten. Kelleher, usually mild-mannered and never before ejected in a career that was in its 17th season, dropped his bat and stormed the mound.
“He’d never been in trouble, never disputed a call,” Carlucci says. “So I went over to pick up the ball and I see him running toward Hatten. And, I’ll tell you, he threw a haymaker. He knocked Hatten right off the god-darn mound.”
Both benches emptied, but order was quickly restored, Carlucci says. Kelleher was ejected, and Ted Beard was brought in to run for him.
Moments later, after stealing second base, Beard was attempting to steal third when he spiked third baseman Murray Franklin in the arms and chest with a hard slide. Franklin, who had joined the Angels that day after playing for the Stars earlier in his career, dropped his glove and leaped on Beard.
The melee was on.
Beard, 86, says from his home in Fishers, Ind., that he doesn’t remember much about what happened but does allow that “we had a little scramble.”
It was more than that, of course. Noting that Beard was “out by 15 feet,” Carlucci says the runner launched himself at Franklin with spikes flying. Their fight, he says, “probably was the most vicious of all the fighting that was going on.”
Elsewhere, as a crowd of 10,408 looked on, players paired off all over the infield, punching and kicking as the three umpires stood by helplessly.
Then, seemingly all at once, police started pouring onto the field, Carlucci says, “from left field, right field, center field, home plate. I thought it was fabulous because now we had some help. They put the fight out and I thanked them. As a matter of fact, I made a few talks years later and somebody in the audience got up and said, ‘I was one of the police officers,’ and I thanked him again.”
Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured. Beard and Franklin each were fined $50. Kelleher was dinged double that amount because he returned to the field after his ejection. League President Pants Rowland declared, “Fistfights don’t belong in baseball,” but Angels President Don Stewart said, “These things happen. Players who won’t battle for their rights aren’t worth having around.”
Carlucci, who worked internationally after leaving the PCL but to his regret never reached the majors, says that he is still fit enough that “I could work a doubleheader today.” He and his wife, Lucille, tend to 48 fruit trees and 35 varieties of vegetables on their half-acre. They make wine in their home cellar.
Carlucci tutored Emmett Ashford, major league baseball’s first African American umpire, and is still considered by working umpires an expert on rules.
One Sunday in 1953, though, he let a brawl get out of hand.
“We just lost control,” he says. “It was a mean son of a gun.”