Did Major League Baseball Once Allow Injured Players to Leave the Game and Later Return?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the football urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Major League Baseball used to allow injured players to have another player run for them and still allow the injured player to return later.

A common occurrence in baseball is for an injured player on the basepaths to be replaced by a pinch-runner. If a player tweaks an ankle or pulls a hamstring or any number of reasons, the ballplayer is pulled from the game and a pinch-runner is put in their place.

Interestingly enough, in a few occasions, when an injury takes place during a scoring play (like if a runner on first base gets injured during a home run by the following batter, like this game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox in 2005, when baserunner Gabe Kapler blew out his knee while running from first on a home run by the following batter), managers are allowed an injury pinch-runner (normally, pinch-runners are only allowed to be substituted during a stoppage in play).

This was the case in the past, as well, but oddly enough, prior to 1950, Major League Baseball had a very interesting rule about injured players.

This rule allowed “courtesy runners” to come in and run for injured players, but if the injured player was healthy enough to return to the game the next half half inning, they were allowed to return. It was called a “courtesy” runner because the other team’s manager had to consent to the move.

Baseball’s amazing historical site, Retrosheet, thanks to the tireless efforts of historian Dave Vincent, have listed all the known occasions where courtesy runners were used.

Here are a few examples:

June 19, 1923 (Tigers @ Yankees) – Lu Blue singled to right in the top of the first inning. The Tigers were allowed to pinch-run Ray Francis for Blue, who was still pretty groggy from an injury he suffered during fielding practice before the game (a batted ball had knocked him unconscious). Blue would return to the game to play first base in the bottom half of the first, where he would remain the rest of the game.

September 1, 1944 (Giants @ Dodgers) – In the second, the Giants’ Joe Medwick was hit on the elbow and needed treatement. Dodger manager Leo Durocher allowed Medwick to get a replacement runner, but Durocher insisted on choosing the replacement, which was 39-year-old back-up catcher, Gus Mancuso, one of the slowest runners in the league. The next batter was Ernie Lombardi, who was most likely THE slowest runner in the league. Unsurprisingly, Lombardi then grounded into a double play. Medwick returned to the game the next inning.

June 14, 1949 (Indians @ Red Sox) – Joe Gordon hit a grand slam in the top of the first inning off of Joe Dobson to put the Indians up 5-0. Dobson promptly hit the next batter, Lou Boudreau. Boudreau was replaced by Ken Keltner, who was in the game as the third baseman, and who had already scored in that inning on the grand slam. Later in the first, Keltner scored on a single by the pitcher, Bob Feller. So Keltner scored two runs from different spots in the lineup! in the bottom of the inning, Keltner and Boudreau both took their normal positions at third and first base, respectively.

There have even been examples of courtesy FIELDERS allowed, if a fielder had a problem.

So…

STATUS: True

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One Response to “Did Major League Baseball Once Allow Injured Players to Leave the Game and Later Return?”

  1. It’s still a rule in most Softball leagues, in the following manner.

    1. You can substitute someone in for a player.

    2. You can later take that person back out, and put the original player back in that position.

    3. However, if you do such, then you CANNOT use that sub again in the game, and the person who returned to the game MUST remain in the game, for the rest of the game, even if injured. Depending on the individual league rules, if that player then later gets injured, you have to forfeit if he can’t stand in the batter’s box, though in lesser leagues (like church leagues) there’s typically enough fellowship to where they’ll just count the batter as an automatic strikeout, and sit him down on the field in the outfield somewhere, to have him legally “on the field”. Of course, if he’s actually hauled off to the hospital, there’s not that option…

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