MORNINGS ON MAPLE STREET VOLUME TWO

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The Greatest Hustler, Page One

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"The Nats swept their second doubleheader in five days when they defeated the Kansas City Athletics at Griffith Stadium last night, 5-4 and 10-9, before 7291 spectators. The double victory boosted the Nats into a third-place tie with the Boston Red Sox. The second game saw the Nats score four runs in the eighth to overcome a 9-6..." -Washington Post, June 4, 1958

THE GREATEST HUSTLER (2010)

According to the Farmers' Almanac website, it was a beautiful day in Washington, DC on Tuesday, June 3, 1958. The high temperature was a perfect 75, probably even cooler when I got off the school bus in Dowell, Maryland, a little village in Solomons, 60 miles south of the Nation's Capital. I was finishing up my junior year, and looking forward to another summer of hanging out and playing baseball. But on the 10-minute walk down the dirt road to my house, all I could think about was the doubleheader the Senators were playing against Kansas City, at Griffith Stadium.

My lowly Nats had won four of their last five, including a pummeling of the Yankees in both games of a Memorial Day doubleheader. That had been quite a day in our house. I still remember it vividly, as well as the few days of baseball excitement that followed. A recent search on Baseball-Reference.com confirmed, surprisingly, that my memories were almost entirely accurate. But the search also filled in some of the details I had long forgotten. Both are represented in this story.

On Memorial Day, which was a Friday, we had the traditional cookout and oyster roast in our front yard along St. John's Creek, as the radio blasted out six or seven hours of play-by-play from the screen porch. Outboards and other small boats frequently buzzed by and drowned out a pitch or two. My father and I hung on every word from announcer Bob Wolff, as we became more and more convinced that the Senators were really going to pull it off, at Yankee Stadium no less. In the first game, we came from behind with six runs in the eighth inning, and won 13-8. In the nightcap, Jim Lemon had two home runs, Pete Ramos pitched a complete game, and we won 7-2. We were elated. Then we took two out of three from the Orioles over the weekend.

Now it was the Tuesday twin bill with the Athletics. It had already started, and I was anxious to find out what was happening. I unloaded my books, grabbed a Coke, flopped down on my bed and turned on the radio. The Senators were leading 5-0. One of my favorite players, infielder Herb Plews, already had two hits. By the time Mom had dinner ready, they had hung on to win 5-4. A half-hour later, I was back in my room for the second game.

"Herb Plews, Nat's third baseman, had a bad time in the second game of last night's doubleheader when he made four errors against Kansas City, three of them in the seventh inning. The four errors tied an American League record for most misplays by a third baseman in one..." -Washington Post, June 4, 1958

The Senators took a quick lead, but at the end of the sixth inning, they were one run behind. Then the impossible happened - or maybe just the improbable. In the top of the seventh, Plews made three errors at third base, letting in two runs. Now it was 9-6. It was embarrassing, and I felt really bad for him. Manager Cookie Lavagetto went out to the mound to settle down the pitcher, and asked all the infielders to join him on the mound. Bob Wolff described the scene, and said something about Cookie talking directly to Plews. I was afraid he was going to pull him out of the game. But when Cookie strode back to the dugout, Plews returned to third. 

Going into the bottom of the eighth, we were still behind by three runs. I was poised for a rally. The first two batters got on, and Plews came up. Amazingly, the fans gave him a huge ovation, and my heart skipped. Then another improbable thing happened. Plews smacked a double, and it was 9-8. The crowd, well, all 7,000 of them, went wild. I ran down the stairs, frantically spit out something to my father about it, and raced back up. A couple of batters later, two more runs came home, and it was 10-9. That's how it ended up. The Senators had taken six of their last seven, and had vaulted into third place.

Plews was traded to Boston the next year. I graduated and went off to college. Two years later, the Senators moved to Minnesota. And now, 50 years later, I live in Massachusetts and root for the Red Sox. Several months ago, I got to thinking about Plews, wondering what happened to him, if he was still around, and what he remembered about the legendary "night of the three errors." I found out he lived in Colorado, and a few minutes later, I was on the phone with him.

What do you say in that kind of situation? Well, I just told him I grew up a diehard Washington fan, and that for a few short years, he was one of my favorite players. He seemed genuinely delighted. After a few minutes, I proposed doing an article about him for this website. He quickly agreed, and we arranged a recorded telephone interview. After I hung up, I was kind of stunned. "Wow," I said out loud, "I just talked to Herb Plews."

"Herb Plews, the CIO shortstop, topped batters in the first round of the A division of the American Legion Junior Baseball League with a fat .600 average. Plews has registered hits in six of his 10 official times at bat, maintaining the loop-leading pace he hit in the 1944..." -Independent Record (Helena, MT), May 31, 1945

For the record, Herbert Eugene Plews was born in Helena, Montana on June 14, 1928. The left-handed hitting infielder was a star in American Legion ball, and then enrolled at the University of Illinois, where he had a stellar career as a shortstop. After his graduation in 1950, he was signed by the Yankees and played briefly in the minor leagues, before being drafted into the Army. Following his discharge in 1953, the Yankees sent him to Birmingham (Class A), and then to Norfolk (Class B). In 1954, he went back to Birmingham, but the following year, he was moved up to the Triple-A team in Denver, where he played for Ralph Houk, who later managed the Yankees, Detroit and Boston. Plews had been a consistent .300 hitter, had good speed, and was a solid prospect. But prior to the 1956 season, he was traded to the Washington Senators, where he played four seasons, mostly part-time, at second base and third base.

On June 11, 1959, he was traded to the Red Sox, who sent him down to Minneapolis about a month later. He spent the next few years in the minors, finally retiring at the end of the 1965 season. He worked in several cement plants in Montana and Colorado for many years, until his retirement. His wife, Shirley, passed away in 2009. They were married nearly 54 years. He has one son and several grandchildren.

Interview with Herb Plews

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