During Tuesday night’s St. Louis Cardinals game, a woman in the stands was hit in the arm by a stray bullet said to have been fired from about a mile away. It’s a happening that’s both pretty rare and pretty nuts, but it’s not nearly as nuts as the time a similar thing happened in 1950 and killed a guy.
There is not, viewed through modern eyes, a single part of this story that fails to be straight up insane.
On July 4th, 1950, 54-year-old Bernard Doyle took 13-year-old neighbour Otto Flaig to see the New York Giants take on the Brooklyn Dodgers at the New York Polo Grounds.
For the benefit of any present day 13-year-olds who are reading this and just got really confused, I’ll stop at this point to answer some questions.
- Yes, the New York Giants used to be a baseball team *and* a football team.
- Yes, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the Los Angeles Dodgers.
- The Polo Grounds was a very famous facility used primarily by various baseball and football teams that is now a housing project.
- 1950 is the era a bunch of your grandparents’ stories are set in.
Alrighty. Now that we’ve got that cleared up, back to the story.
Robert Peebles, a 14-year-old who lived in an apartment building near the stadium, had several months earlier found a gun containing a single bullet in Central Park. He took it home and hid it, intending to fire it off on the 4th of July as either a form of patriotic celebration or an expression of his displeasure with the obstructed view of the Grounds from his rooftop. Which one it was depends on which source you ask, and I’m going to go with Sports Illustrated over Wikipedia on this one. So for our purposes, he was celebrating. That celebration took place at 12:30 P.M., as the game was about to start.
In that moment, the teams were running out onto the field. Doyle had turned to say something to Flaig when Peebles’ bullet connected with his skull, causing him to slouch over. The fans nearby heard a popping sound, “like a paper bag breaking.” Flaig asked the man if anything was wrong and got no response. He assumed Doyle had had a heart attack. When attendants came over and checked on him, they saw the entry wound and realized a bullet had been lodged in his brain. He had died instantly.
At that point, panic, shock and sadness ensued, the game was cancelled and a somber mood fell over the city as everyone took time to reflect on the senselessness of it all.
What actually happened was a contest was held to see who among those present could give the lowest number of fucks, or at least that’s what I assume was going on based on what happened next.
“Standees fought over Doyle’s empty seat as medics carried the dead man away,” reported the New York Daily News. Even Flaig, Doyle’s compatriot, seemed more upset that the incident caused him to miss the game than that his neighbor had been killed before his eyes.
“Young Otto himself complained that the detectives’ questions were making him miss the ballfield action,” the Daily News story continued. “‘I’ve been dreaming about this game for a month,” he grumbled.'”
The folks on the field put up a strong entry by playing through all of this madness, but I’m pretty sure poor Bernie’s little buddy Otto is our winner.
Robert Peebles confessed to firing the shot when the police, who may have cared, figured out where it came from and searched his home. His punishment, because the law at the time did not allow for anyone under the age of 15 to be charged with homicide, consisted of a juvenile delinquency charge and a stay of less than two years at something called the New York State Training School for Boys.
What became of him after that is proving difficult to uncover, but it seems that the incident may have had more of a lasting impact on Otto Flaig than it appeared it was going to. He went into policing when he grew up and used his experience as a means to educate future generations.
As for the woman at the game on Tuesday, she’s got a lawyer and is doing ok. She, unlike the woman who was shot during a ticket office robbery at a Cardinals game in 1965, is almost certainly not going to be satisfied with free tickets for the whole family.
Ahh, the good old days.