Tall Tales
April 30, 2020

Real, fake or somewhere in between, this is the greatest baseball story ever told

Baseball Player Babe Ruth Holding Bat

Bettmann

The year is 1893. The first college basketball game is played, a marquee matchup between the Geneva College Covenanters and the New Brighton YMCA. "America the Beautiful" has just been written. It's a different time and a different world, but in Pottsville, New York, they're still playing baseball. Atlantic League pitcher Mike Kilroy has just stepped to the plate in the 11th inning with the game tied at two. He takes a cut and breaks his bat. The only problem? They're fresh out of those. So Kilroy walks over to a nearby woodpile used to feed the stadium furnace, and picks up an axe instead. He steps back into the box and waits. So begins the greatest baseball story ever (never?) told:

If that headline/subhead combo, "Baseball game won by 2 1/2 to 2, "Ball, hit with axe, splits in two pieces," doesn't send you running for your Monopoly Man monocle, then clearly you're in the wrong place. The story, at least as pitcher "Wild Bill" Setley tells it (yes, these guys had the best names ever), is that Kilroy, after picking up the axe, insisted that he get his allotted hacks. He swung at the next pitch, chopping the ball clean in two, sending one half soaring over the fence and popping the other up to first base. Initially called out, Kilroy rounded the bases and, in typical baseball fashion, launched into a heated roundtable with the umpire. Kilroy argued that because half of the ball went over the fence, they should be granted half a run. The umpire eventually relented and the ballgame, as one Gary Cohen likes to say, was over.

Whether or not any of this actually happened is unconfirmed. There's no one left alive who can corroborate Wild Bill's story and questions persist about how much you can trust a guy named Wild Bill. But we choose to believe. Not because we want to or need to, but because in addition to being the best baseball story we've ever heard, it's also the most baseball story we've ever heard, and what could be more convincing than that?