In 1951, a field level box seat for a baseball game in Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, was $2.50, a reserved seat cost $2. and the average price of a ticket in the ballpark, according to the Sabre Project was $1.45. A hot dog and coke cost the princely sum of 35 cents.
In those days, before doubleheaders required two admissions, a single ticket got you into both games of a doubleheader. So, for $2.50 you could see two major league games and I won’t even begin to compare those prices with today’s because everybody in the world, including me, has already done that.
On Monday, August 27, 1951, the Phillies were hosting the Cincinnati Reds in one of those doubleheaders, the second in two days. For $5.00 you could have seen a doubleheader two days in a row. The Reds won Game 1 of the Sunday doubleheader by a score of 4-2. Two of the top pitchers in baseball pitched the game. Ewell ‘The Whip’ Blackwell pitched a complete game for the win, besting the Phillies’ Robin Roberts, who had led the Phils to the pennant the previous year. Roberts went eight innings, giving up three runs on ten hits for the loss.
The Phils, behind a three hit, complete game, shutout by Rookie Niles Jordan, won Game 2, 2-0. Jordan, a 26 year old left hander, was pitching in his first Major League game. After such a great start he would lose three and win just one more that year before being traded the Reds after the season. He would pitch in just three games the next year losing one, and never pitch in the Majors again. The losing pitcher in that game was Willie Ramsdell, who also threw a complete game three hitter but gave up two runs, one of which scored on a line drive out to center field by the rookie pitcher Jordan.
If you had a second $2.50 to spend, in Game 1, on Monday, Jocko Thompson of the Phillies pitched a complete game shut out, giving up three hits, to best the Reds’ Herman Wehmeier, who pitched a complete game four hitter as the Reds lost again, 2-0. The second consecutive game in which both starters had pitched a complete game.
In the second game of the Monday doubleheader, Ken Johnson started for the Phils and Ken Raffensberger started for the Reds. Johnson pitched a complete game shutting out the Reds on seven hits and Raffensberger giving up three runs and nine hits in seven innings for the loss. Pitching was not the whole story of the game, though.
Johnson held the Reds scoreless in the first three innings and Raffensberger shut out the Phils in the first two. In the bottom of the third, however, the Phils’ catcher Del Wilber, leading off the inning, hit the first pitch he swung at high over the left center field wall for a solo homer to put the Phils up 1-0. The score stayed that way until the sixth. In the last of the sixth, Wilber led off again and, this time, again hit the first pitch he swung at over the left field wall for his second homer, and it was 2-0.
In the bottom of the seventh, with the score still 2-0, Raffensberger got the first batter, Putsy Caballero, to ground out. With one out, Wilber came to the plate again and hit the first pitch he swung at over the left field wall for his third home run of the game, on three pitches.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know what would have happened if Wilber had come to bat again in that game. He would have been the second batter in the last of the ninth but the game ended after 8½ innings with the Phils winning 3-0.
As best I can determine, no other player in the history of baseball has hit three home runs on three swings, driving in and scoring all of the runs scored in a game. In his eight year playing career, Del Wilber hit a total of only19 home runs but, on that one day, he was a power hitter and came as close to having a perfect game as any hitter ever did.
He would be traded to the Red Sox the following year and play three seasons in Boston, getting into 129 games and batting .231. His career average for his eight years playing was .242. He managed and coached in the minors and coached in the major leagues for many years after his retirement and, as an interim manager with the Texas Rangers in 1973, won the only game he managed giving him a perfect 1.000 winning percentage as a manager.
With six complete games pitched in the space of two days, three shutouts and Wilber’s remarkable feat, the fans who paid $5.00 for their tickets to those four games certainly got their money’s worth.
Del Wilber and his family had a long love affair with baseball. Two of his sons, Del Wilber, Jr. and Bob Wilber, manage the family’s The Perfect Game Foundation which provides funding to ‘open doors and create opportunities for those who aspire to a business career in sports’.
Bob contacted me after reading my column about 80 Years of Loving Baseball and we have had some interesting correspondence about players in that era. He was the bat boy for the AAA Denver Bears when his Father managed there and my friend Jimmy Driscoll from New Hampshire played for him. You can bet that Del Wilber, another of those special people that devoted his life to this great game, will end up in Volume IV of THE BASEBALL BUFF’S BATHROOM BOOKS, which will be out this spring.