Today in Baseball History: Wilbert Robinson, Casey Stengel and a flying grapefruit
In 1915, the Brooklyn Dodgers held their Spring Training camp in Daytona Beach, Fla. At the time, Spring Training was as much a loosely organized promotional tour as a means of preparing for the season, so the team was always looking for a gimmick to goose publicity. And, as it turns out, they were in luck -- Ruth Law, one of the only female stunt pilots of the day, was also in Daytona Beach, dropping golf balls from her plane for a local course.
So the Dodgers got an idea: Why not bring Law to the diamond, and have her drop a first pitch from above that would be caught by manager Wilbert Robinson? Luckily for every future baseball fan, she agreed, and on March 13, she prepared to take flight ... except, uh, she forgot to actually bring a baseball to the field. She did, however, have her lunch with her. If you remember the headline, you can probably see where this is going.
Reports are split about exactly what happened next -- legend has it that Brooklyn outfielder Casey Stengel wanted to play a prank on his manager, while Ruth swore it was her mechanic's idea -- but one thing's for sure: When Law took off, she had one grapefruit and no baseball. Robinson, meanwhile, waited eagerly and obliviously on the ground below.
Law reached an altitude of just over 500 feet and dropped the fruit. The toss, however, was a little off target, and the grapefruit struck Robinson in the chest and knocked him to the ground. Still not realizing what happened, the skipper looked down and assumed he had been mortally wounded -- which, considering what he thought was a baseball had left a mess of red liquid on his chest, was actually a pretty logical assumption. Eventually, while his team could only laugh, Robinson realized what had happened, and presumably made everyone in the area run sprints for the next 24 hours. Never change, baseball.