Way back years ago I heard an interview with the actor Whit Bissell. He told the story of his nickname. Apparently every time he and his wife went out to eat or to the theater, someone would come up to him and ask “Aren’t you that actor that was in the movie…”. Now it was always true that he’d been in the movie, but of course the problem was that the person talking to him had no idea of his name. They knew the face, not the name. They just knew he’d been that actor that they noticed in a particular movie. That led to his wife calling him “That Actor.” And here’s a picture of him so you can see what “that actor” looked like. Maybe you too will instantly go, “Hey, wasn’t he that actor that was in…?
The old ballplayer Dale Mitchell told that same story more than once; but of course he was talking about being “that ballplayer.”
Loren Dale Mitchell was born in 1921 in Colony, Oklahoma, did well enough in school to attend the University of Oklahoma, where he didn’t play ball as a freshman (freshmen weren’t eligible in the 1940s). He played as a sophomore, then headed to Europe as a member of the Army Air Corps (now the US Air Force) during World War II.
Back in Oklahoma he had one more year with the university, then signed with Cleveland. His first professional baseball job was with the Oklahoma City Double-A team. He won the league (Texas League) batting title and made the Indians at the end of their season, going three for five in his first game. He played some in 1947, spending time off the Indians roster. He was supposed to go to the minors, but refused to report. Eventually he got back to Cleveland and remained for the rest of the season.
In 1948 he was part of the last Cleveland Indian world championship team. He hit .336 (a career high if you don’t count the 11 games his rookie year), scored 82 runs, and hit only .174 in the Series, but with a home run and four runs scored. A solid, if unspectacular left fielder, Mitchell continued contributing to the Indians through 1955. In 1949 he led the American League in hits and triples and made the first of two (1952) All Star rosters. By 1954 he was a part time player and only had two at bats in the World Series (he went 0-2 with a walk).
In 1956 he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers where he got into 19 games hitting .292 with a solo RBI. But it’s with Brooklyn where he became “that ballplayer.” The Dodgers made the World Series that year and Mitchell came along as a pinch hitter. He went 0-4 with one strikeout, and it’s the strikeout that matters. With Brooklyn down 2-0 in the ninth inning of game five, he pinch hit for Sal Maglie. On the mound was Yankees pitcher Don Larsen who was one out from a perfect game. Mitchell took a called third strike (which he went to his grave claiming was high) to end the game and complete the perfecto. It led to conversations that frequently went something like this, “Hey, aren’t you that ballplayer who struck out to end Larsen’s perfect game?” He was, and no one quite remembered his name.
It was the end for Mitchell. He retired to take a job in oil and later with Martin Marietta. He died in 1987. In 1981, with Mitchell in attendance, the University of Oklahoma named its new baseball field in his honor. Not a bad legacy for “that ballplayer.”