Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sputnik

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

60 years ago today, the world marveled, reeled, and responded to Russia’s launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite.

And so mankind’s journey towards manned spaceflight began.  Time described the chirping sounds coming from Sputnik as “those chilling beeps.”  Suddenly, the need for America to dominate the Russians in technological progress became a necessity.  A year later, NASA began operations.

Russia’s official statement informed that the 184-pound satellite, 23 inches in diameter, circled Earth at a height of 500 miles:  “The successful launching of the first man-made satellite makes a tremendous contribution to the treasure house of world science and culture.  The scientific experiment staged at such a great height is of great importance for establishing the properties of cosmic space and for studying the earth as part of our solar system.”

What once was fascination represented in comic books, movie serials, and novels became, if not a certainty, then a reality within grasp.  Bureaucracy and boasting, the twin banes of progress in any endeavor, became a sticking point.  E.P. Martz, Jr., a scientist described in the Washington Post as having “played an active part in U.S. missile development, decried, “We see extensive worldwide propaganda from our country about our plans long in advance of any readiness for an actual launching.”

For scientific prestige, the Russians were a giant leap ahead of the United States.  It, in turn, ignited frustration, if not ire, in certain factions of Washington.  Senator Richard Russell, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, pointed out that the military factor was one of great concern, calling it a “new and terrifying danger,” but cautioned “this is no time or place for panic or fright.”

Four days after the Sputnik launch, President Eisenhower met with advisers, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Quarles.  A memorandum indicates that Quarles had “no doubt that the Redstone [missile] had it been used, could have orbited a satellite a year or more ago.”  But that capability was not realized because the American approach to space exploration differed greatly from Moscow’s.  “One reason was to stress the peaceful character of the effort, and a second was to avoid the inclusion of materiel, to which foreign scientists might be given access, which is used in our own military rockets.”

Sputnik provides the backdrop for a critical scene in the 1983 movie The Right Stuff, based on the novel of the same name by Tom Wolfe.  Jeff Goldblum races down a hallway to a meeting between President Eisenhower, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, and other advisors.  It is a fictional counterpart to the October 8th meeting, perhaps.

Johnson compared the conquest of space to the Roman Empire’s world leadership because of roads and the British Empire’s because of ships.  Also chronicled in the book, Johnson’s statements indicated an urgency for America to get further involved in spaceflight.  NASA selected its initial seven astronauts for the Mercury program on April 9, 1959.  10 years later, an American flag was planted on the Moon.  The Russians never made it there.

JFK vs. LBJ

Monday, May 29th, 2017

“Neither heroic nor exciting.”

That is how Patrick O’Donovan of the Herald Tribune – London Observer Service described President Eisenhower’s America of the 1950s.

1960 reversed the political status quo in the White House. Or at least detoured it towards a feeling of optimism, enthusiasm, and action. Forgotten is the battle at the 1960 Democratic National Convention from which John F. Kennedy emerged as the Democratic party’s nominee and Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate. It was a matchup that made perfect sense—Johnson’s legendary liberalism—particularly on civil rights—plus unparalleled knowledge of Captiol Hill through his tenure as Senate Majority Leader balanced Kennedy’s inspiring youthfulness, camera-ready charisma, and political charm.

Kennedy, too, had a solid curriculum vitae in politics, though not as extensive as Johnson’s. When a Japanese destroyer tore his PT-109 boat apart in the south Pacific during World War II, Kennedy led his crew to safety against impossible odds, an experience chronicled in several books and the 1963 movie PT-109, which Warner Brothers released during his presidency. After his service, Kennedy served as a congressman and a senator from Massachusetts; he ran, unsuccessfully, for the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1956.

But the Kennedy-Johnson connection was not a foregone conclusion. The two senators jawed at each other in a battle for the nomination at the Los Angeles Sports Arena—one of the last examples of a format that gave way to a primary season, a pre-planned schedule of speakers, and an acceptance speech by a nominee already known.

Johnson poked at the 43-year-old Kennedy, declaring, “I’m not against young people, I’m for them—for Vice President.”

Kennedy’s family wealth also served as a punching bag. “I haven’t had anything given to me. Whatever I have and whatever I hope to get will be because of whatever energy and talents I have,” stated Johnson, as quoted by John A. Goldsmith in the Washington Post. Johnson made his remarks to the West Virginia and Kentucky delegations as the convention edged toward the nominating sessions.

Going deeper into the Kennedy clan, Johnson reminded the Democratic bloc that Kennedy’s father initially opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policy against Nazi Germany; as Ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. held, arguably, the most important ambassadorship in the Roosevelt administration. When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain struck a deal with Adolf Hitler that gave Germany a chunk of Czechoslovakia in exchange for curtailing invasions of countries, it sent a message of appeasement to a regime of evil. Germany ignored the pact, continuing its path towards destruction, bigoted mania, and the slaughter of six million Jews. “I wasn’t any Chamberlain umbrella policy man. I never thought Hitler was right,” stated Johnson.

Kennedy and Johnson joined forces the following day. When he stood in front of the crowd at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Johnson erased—or at least partially obscured—the ill feelings displayed in the course of political combat: “I am proud to stand behind, and to stand beside, the next President of the United States.”

The Night That Ted Turner Managed the Braves

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Some things aren’t meant to last.

Prime time television’s roster has a handful of shows that didn’t endure more than episode, e.g., Co-Ed FeverPublic MoralsSouth of Sunset.

Major League Baseball’s annals boast tales of players who only played in one game.  Perhaps the best known in this category is Moonlight Graham, portrayed in the 1989 film Field of Dreams.

On May 11, 1977, Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner added another story when he ventured from the owner’s suite to the dugout to manage the Braves.  His helming lasted only one night; Major League Baseball’s powers that be reminded Turner that a rule prevented managers from partial or full ownership of a team.  The Braves lost the May 11th game to the Pirates 2-1; it was Atlanta’s 17th consecutive loss.  Phil Niekro pitched a complete game, a noble outing in a 16-20 season yielding a National League-leading 262 strikeouts for the Braves knuckleballer.

Though Turner expressed a Veeckian ardor for baseball and its fans, the likes of Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, and Tommy Lasorda had nothing to fear from the man dubbed “Mouth of the South” for his brashness flavored with ambition, dedication, and southern charm.  Managerial aspirations may have been fleeting, but they were, nonetheless, on display in the Braves dugout.

Commitment to success did not constrain Turner to his accountants and bookkeepers.  A communications magnate who created the Superstation template by offering his Atlanta station WTBS on cable systems across the country and revamped the news industry with Cable News Network (CNN), Turner has a passion for his portfolio beyond dollars and sense—an approach that continues today, long after these assets are no longer under his aegis.  His is a passion for excellence, enjoyment, and engagement.  In a 2001 profile of Turner for The New Yorker, Ken Auletta wrote, “To insure continuous baseball coverage that could not be taken off his Superstation, Turner, in 1976, bought the Atlanta Braves; although he paid a bargain price of ten million dollars, he went into debt to do it.  He attended most of the Braves home games: he ran out onto the field to lead the fans in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”; sitting behind the Braves dugout, he’d spit Red Man tobacco juice into a cup and swill beer, in hot weather peeling off his shirt; when a Brave hit a home run, he’d jump over the railing and rush to the plate to greet him; he played cards with his players and insisted that they call him Ted.”

Putting the Braves on WTBS meant piping games into areas lacking major league teams—and, in some cases, minor league teams.  Thereby, Turner branded the squad “America’s Team.”  As inventive as P.T. Barnum, Turner employed a strategy to set the Braves games and other WTBS programming apart from network and local fare—by starting programs at five minutes after the hour or the half hour, WTBS stood out in the program listings in TV Guide.

Turner owned the Braves till the mid-1990s, when he sold the club to Time Warner.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 11, 2017.

Bowling, Tim Matheson, and “Dreamer”

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

“You just dream about something, that’s all it’s ever gonna be.  Just a dream.”

So says Harold Nuttingham in the 1979 film Dreamer, a post-Watergate, feel-good movie with a down-to-earth vibe.

Nottingham dreams of being a bowling champion—hence, his nickname “Dreamer”—but he can’t even get a PBA membership until he storms an executive meeting, proves his credentials, and demands inclusion in bowling’s upper echelon.  His statement about dreams targets father figure Harry White, a former PBA bowler who never quite reached the level of excellence that Dreamer envisions—and is capable of achieving.  Dreamer’s words nudge Harry towards buying an option for them on an 18-lane establishment with a coffee shop and a bar in Peoria.

Dreamer’s car broke down in Alton, Illinois two years before, creating an opportunity for him to work at the Bowl Haven, where he practices his game; Harry runs the pro shop.  Repairing the bowling racks is among Dreamer’s duties.  Tragically, Harry dies of a heart attack late at night, while bowling; he had a heart condition, so the news is not surprising to Dreamer.

Tim Matheson plays Dreamer, Jack Warden plays Harry, and Susan Blakely plays Dreamer’s girlfriend—Karen Lee, who also works at the bowling alley, as a cashier.  “Debra Winger rocked her audition, but the studio decided on Susan,” explains Matheson.

Bowling icon Dick Weber plays Johnny Watkin, Dreamer’s opponent in the film’s climactic match.  Matheson reveals, “Dick Weber was instrumental in helping me with my bowling.  He showed me ways to patch up my thumb until my calluses healed.  We also worked on creating a style that was interesting visually and looked real.

“I was in a bowling league in Burbank.  At the Grand Central Bowl in Glendale, I kept score for bowlers.  You could make 10 bucks a night, which was a decent amount of money.  So, I was very comfortable in that world.  For the movie, we bowled in an old alley in St. Louis.  I averaged around 165-170.  My highest was 199.  One day, we’re shooting a sequence and I’m keeping score consecutively with the takes.  My score was 224.

“Dick told us about the tricks that bowlers used.  They soaked balls in solvent that would soften the ball, so when you went to the tournament, it would react with more torque.  If you threw a ball with spin, it spun more.  Now, there are rules preventing this from happening.

“Jack Warden was one of the great storytellers of all time.  He told us that he auditioned for John Houseman, who was directing King Lear.  He was just beginning acting, but he had a blue-collar job during the day.  He didn’t have time to change for the audition, so he went in his coveralls.  Houseman said, ‘What part do you think you’ll audition for?’  Jack responded, ‘How about this Lear guy?’

“He was full of bravado and always gave advice if you asked about a scene.  He was a great acting coach, just gold.  He was a gem.  Susan was such a pro.  So wonderful to work with.  Sexy and intense and all the good things you’ll hope for in a partner that you play so many scenes with.”

It is convenient to compare Dreamer to Rocky, which premiered during the Christmas season of 1976; the elements are there—underdog taking on the champion, mentor tutoring the underdog, love interest.  This would, however, overlook the density of emotional resonance that Rocky evoked.  Where Rocky Balboa wanted to go the distance with Apollo Creed because no fighter had accomplished that seemingly impossible task, Dreamer has unwavering confidence that he belongs in the pantheon of bowling champions, if only he gets the opportunity to prove it.

Typical for Hollywood, Dreamer concludes with the upstart winning in dramatic fashion, dethroning Watkin by one pin in the 10th frame for a final score of 245-244.  Dreamer may not have had the edge of The HustlerRocky, or The Sporting Life, but it follows the template for Hollywood’s sports films.  We want the underdog to win because they remind us of ourselves.  Who wouldn’t rather play for the Miami Sharks rather than the Dallas Knights in Any Given Sunday?  Who wouldn’t rather play with Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, Jake Taylor, and Roger Dorn on the Cleveland Indians rather than the New York Yankees in Major League?  These types of films fulfill the need to hope, allowing us to live vicariously, whether the hero is a bowler, a rugby player, or a major league pitcher.

To the extent that Dreamer has a villain, it’s the PBA, which looks askance, at least initially, at Dreamer’s qualifications.  Though not explored in depth, the confrontation between Dreamer and the PBA’s powers that be, including Watkin, represents a frustration at bureaucracy that was felt 100 years before Dreamer hit movie theaters and will be evident 100 years hence, in whatever medium audiences use to consume visual entertainment.

After the climactic game between Dreamer and Watkin, the last shot of the film shows Dreamer and Karen Lee packing up their car and listing their itinerary of bowling tournaments.  As they pull away, we see that the building behind them is the Harry White Memorial Bowl.

Taking Matheson’s portrayal of Eric “Otter” Stratton of Animal House as the archetype of a slightly arrogant character brimming with confidence, one can find levels of that personality in several of his subsequent roles, including:

  • Larry Sizemore (Burn Notice)
  • Al Donnelly (Black Sheep)
  • John Hoynes (The West Wing)
  • Harry Stadlin (Just in Time)
  • Alan Stanwyk (Fletch)

Alan Stanwyk is devious when he sets up Fletch to be the dead body in a burning car, thereby allowing him to escape to South America undetected.  John Hoynes is a political manipulator along the lines of LBJ—a Senate Majority Leader from Texas who lost the Democratic nomination to an underdog from New England and settled, uncomfortably, for being Vice President.

And yet, there is an underlying likability to these characters—they do not, in any way, exude nastiness.  Dreamer, neither, though his single-mindedness about pursuing a professional bowling career excludes Karen Lee, whom he considers to be a distraction during competitions.  This, of course, is reconciled after Harry’s death, which prompts Dreamer to realize that Karen Lee is not an appendage to his career, but a necessity to his life.

The Bowl Haven still stands today, a 24-lane escape for Altonians looking to knock down some pins.  Those of a certain age may remember the summer of 1978, when the Bowl Haven closed down for shooting.   Once owned by the Netzhammer family and built in the late 1950s, the Bowl Haven enjoys continuity to the past with Bill Netzhammer, the original owners’ son, managing the lanes that Dreamer once practiced upon.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 4, 2017.

The Hall of Fame Case for Charles Ebbets

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

For reasons passing understanding, Charles Ebbets is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is shameful at best and unforgivable at worst.  Imagine a baseball lineage without Ebbets Field, which débuted in 1913, becoming the home for a team with various names—Trolley Dodgers, Dodgers, Flock, and Robins were interchangeable monikers until the Dodgers label was officially affixed through a vote of the press in the 1930s.

With an unparalleled loyalty to his Brooklyn brethren, Ebbets sold half his ownership in the team to finance the construction of the stadium bearing his name.

Hired on the first day of Brooklyn’s nascent professional baseball team in 1883, Ebbets rose from office clerk to team president; when Charley Byrne died in 1898, a shareholder named George Chauncey advocated for Ebbets to fill the team’s highest-level executive role.  With a curriculum vitae of a decade and a half in Brooklyn, Ebbets could easily have found an executive position in either the major leagues or the minor leagues, perhaps garnering an ownership stake with another team.

Ebbets consolidated ownership in the team, became the sole owner, and realized his vision of a modern stadium.  In an article for Leslie’s Weekly, Ebbets said, “We must give our patrons what they express an evident desire for, and in progressive baseball to-day this means comfort, safety and faster play than ever before.”

Buying parcels of land in a section called Pigtown—so named because it was filled with garbage, which pigs fed on—Ebbets made good on his promise to the Brooklyn fans.

Ebbets’s contributions to baseball, intangible and tangible, deserve to be recognized with a plaque in the building located at 25 Main Street in Cooperstown, about a five-minute walk from Lake Otsego.  When Ebbets died in 1925, the New York Times eulogized, “Virtually the whole of Mr. Ebbets’ life was devoted to baseball.  His sole interest was baseball and all his money was in it.  He served the game wholeheartedly, with a fixed purpose which finally brought fulfillment.”

Credit the Brooklyn ball club owner with the following:

  • Rain check
  • Draft system
  • Weakest teams getting first chance to hire minor league players
  • Advocating for permanent World Series schedule
  • Extending the National League season to include the Columbus Day holiday

Another eulogy summarized the feeling pervading baseball upon Ebbets’s death; it went further than the usual missives encapsulating a famous person’s achievements.  Reach Baseball Guide stated, “He never played baseball ‘politics,’ was without guide, and so universally popular that he may be truly said to have been the best loved man, not only in his league, but throughout the entire realm of baseball.  Ebbets was one of the comparatively few old time magnates whose interest in the affairs of the game never faltered.”

Ebbets Field is long since demolished, its presence existing in the memories of those who saw Brooklyn’s teams—good and bad—traverse the hallowed ground in what was the second home for the citizenry of Coney Island, Flatbush, Greenpoint, and every other neighborhood in the borough, a metropolis until 1898, when New York City annexed it.

Perhaps the legendary loyalty cultivated by Dodgers fans in Brooklyn—and then Los Angeles—traces back to Ebbets, who exemplified this trait in another example of dire financial straits.  To raise money needed to settle a lawsuit, Ebbets could have sold two players to the New York Giants—Tim Jordan and Harry Lumley.  Instead, Ebbets said no to Brooklyn’s rival squad, tempting though the offer was.  “I felt that if I had sold those two star players at that time the fans would run me out of Brooklyn,” said Ebbets in an article for the Times.  “To my way of thinking, it was my duty to Brooklyn fans to keep those players in spite of the fact that we needed money worse than we did players at that time.  It wouldn’t have been fair to our patrons to sell those players.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 27, 2017.

The Los Angeles Angels, the Hollywood Stars, and the Brawls of 1953

Friday, May 12th, 2017

They might as well have called it basebrawl—Gilmore Field showcased fights disguised as baseball games between the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars during two games in a three-day span in 1953.

On July 31st, the Stars defeated the Angels 2-1 when Frankie Kelleher, a journeyman minor leaguer who spent the last 10 years of his 18-year career with the Stars, knocked a pinch single in dramatic fashion fit for the other kind of stars in Hollywood—a bottom of the ninth hit that sent shortstop Don Dahlke home from second base for the game-winning RBI.

An inning prior, quicker than a Hollywood starlet wannabe could bat her eyelashes, Angels first baseman Fred Richards and Stars third baseman Gene Handley scuffled when the former slid into third on a triple.  They were ejected, consequently.

Two days after the Richards-Handley bout, the Angels and the Stars split a doubleheader—in the sixth inning of the first game, two battles detonated that made the Dempsey-Tunney fight look like a squabble in a sandbox.

When Kelleher got into his batting stance, Angels pitcher Joe Hatten readied his array of pitches—he chose to drill one right into Kelleher’s back.  Combat ensued.  First, it was Kelleher punching Hatten.  Then, it was Angels first baseman Fred Richards “jump[ing] Kelleher, who whirled and began battling him.  By this time, the infield was a mass of uniformed brawlers,” wrote Al Wolf in the Los Angeles Times.

Before the inning ended, another brawl erupted when pinch runner Teddy Beard slid into third base and, for good measure, spiked Angels third baseman Murray Franklin in the arms and chest.  Wolf described, “As they clawed in the dirt, the diamond again became a mob scene, with a half-dozen fights going on simultaneously.”  Among the several players injured were Eddie Malone of the Stars (spiked leg) and Bud Hardin of the Angels (black eye).

Pacific Coast League President Pants Rowland took action against the players’ wallets:

  • Frankie Kelleher (Stars):  $100
  • Gene Handley (Stars):  $50
  • Teddy Beard (Stars):  $50
  • Fred Richards (Angels):  $50
  • Murray Franklin (Angels):  $50

“Fist fights don’t belong in baseball and any repetition not only will bring larger fines but suspension,” declared Rowland.  “Fights can easily precipitate riots in which innocent persons may be injured.

The LAPD contained the violence, thanks to television.  Chief of Police William Parker watched the game at home on KHJ, reportedly tuning in at the moment that Kelleher sought revenge on Hatten.  Parker then phoned in an order for his minions to head to Gilmore Field.

Baseball historian Richard Beverage, founder of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society and a former president of the Society for American Baseball Research observed that the PCL endured a downswing in 1953.  “The league decision to refuse optioned players from the major leagues was now in force, and the concern of all was centered on where to find players,” wrote Beverage in his 2011 book The Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League:  A History, 1903-1957.  “The consensus was that the clubs would have to expand their own scouting staffs to sign and develop their own talent, but this would bean an immediate decline in the quality of play.  Those players obtained from the majors outright would undoubtedly be those who were no longer prospects or were now on the downside of their careers.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 20, 2017.

Chris Chambliss, Billy Martin, and the 1976 American League Playoff

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

The baseball traveled on its parabolic destiny, rising through the mid-October night and dropping a few dozen feet in front of the Manufacturers Hanover Super Checking billboard at 11:43 p.m. Eastern.  It was a moment of exhilaration, followed nanoseconds later by pandemonium in a crowd that hadn’t tasted a championship in more than a decade.

Chris Chambliss’s three-run homer brought the 1976 American League pennant to the New York Yankees in the ninth inning of the fifth and deciding game of the playoffs against the Kansas City Royals.  Score:  Yankees 7, Royals 6.

“And I want to tell you, the safest place to be is up here in the booth!” exclaimed WPIX-TV announcer and former Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto when several hundred fans stiff-armed decorum, poured onto the Yankee Stadium turf, and jumped up and down like the prospectors who discovered gold in mid-19th century California.

New York City hadn’t seen a celebration like that since V-E Day.

To say that Chambliss’s safety was in jeopardy is neither hyperbole nor ignorance.  Suddenly, survival instinct surpassed the duty of touching home plate, an impossibility given the swarm of fans excited by the victory and oblivious to the hero’s wellbeing; Chambliss didn’t even make it to third base.  Hoping to embrace their hero, Yankee rooters risked injuring him—maybe even trampling him.  Had it not been for the uniform and the baseball diamond, one might have thought Chambliss was a running back as he plowed his 6’1″, 195-pound frame through the crowd towards the refuge of the dugout and, in turn, the Yankee clubhouse.

Chambliss came to the Yankees in a 1974 trade—along with Chambliss, the Indians sent Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw in exchange for Fritz Peterson, Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, and Steve Kline.  Not a power hitter, Chambliss was known as a dependable batsman—188 hits, 32 doubles, and 96 RBI in 1976.  With 17 home runs during the season, a dinger was feasible, but a hit off Royals pitcher Mark Little seemed more likely.

Chambliss, in the end, returned to the field under the guard of two police officers.  Alas, home plate vanished in the anarchy, so, to be sure, Chambliss stepped on the area.

Below the fold on the front page of the New York Times, media geography usually used to convey issues of national and of international importance, Murray Chass’s article informed the newspaper’s readers who went to bed before the ninth inning about the latest notch to Yankee Stadium’s greatest moments—a roster including Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech, Babe Ruth’s wistful farewell as he leaned on a bat with his frail body, and Don Larsen’s perfect game.

It was nostalgic, if not appropriate, that Billy Martin helmed the Yankee ball club.  Hired during the 1975 season, Martin had a reputation as a turnaround expert in stints with the Twins, the Tigers, and the Rangers.  But returning to the Bronx had an even sweeter taste for Martin—he played with the gloried Yankee teams of the 1950s, idolized manager Casey Stengel, and suffered a betrayal from Yankee management, specifically, Stengel.  Or so he believed.

When several Yankee players captured headlines with a fight at the Copacabana in New York in 1957, the front office shipped Martin to the Kansas City A’s after the season because of the embarrassment—it happened when Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford and their wives gathered to celebrate the 29th birthday of Martin, who went stag.  “Yanks Bench 2 in Copa Brawl” screamed the front page of the New York Daily News.  Confronting hecklers from a bowling team called the Republicans, the Yankees stepped up when nasty comments tinged with racism emerged from the hecklers aimed at Sammy Davis, Jr., the Copa’s performer, with whom the fellows from the Bronx were acquainted.  One bowler, a deli owner named Edwin Jones, claimed Bauer clocked him.

In his 2015 biography Billy Martin:  Baseball’s Flawed Genius, Bill Pennington wrote, “It was later learned that Casey had protected Billy from the Senators trade and two other trades.  But [Yankee General Manager George] Weiss was not to be dissuaded this time.  Not with this player in these circumstances.  Not when he wanted to send a message to the rest of the team.  Besides, Kubek was already in New York, ready to play shortstop.  For the Yankees’ youth movement in the middle infield to be complete, Richardson had to take over at second base.”

Stengel had not only managed Martin on the Yankees, they also worked together on the Oakland Oaks, a Pacific coast League championship team in 1948.  Returning to Yankee Stadium as a managerial descendant of his mentor may not have completely healed old wounds whose scars remained resonant, but it did give Yankee fans a continuity to the past, Martin a chance for redemption, and players the benefit of their manager’s baseball wisdom honed by Stengel’s tutelage two decades prior.

The Yankees lost the 1976 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in a four-game sweep, but rebounded to win the series in 1977 and 1978, both times against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Billy Martin went through several stings as the Yankee skipper, being fired and rehired by owner George Steinbrenner.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 13, 2017.

Ty Cobb, the Detroit Tigers, and the Brawl of 1912

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Ty Cobb posed a danger on two occasions—in the batter’s box and on the base paths.  On May 15, 1912, Cobb, legendary for his nastiness, pummeled on opponent who wore neither a uniform nor a baseball cap signifying membership on a ball club.  It happened during a game against the Yankees—also known as the Highlanders—at Hilltop Park.  Cobb responded with his fists to a fan who “annoyed him continually since the game began by the use of disgusting language and unspeakable insults,” wrote E. A. Batchelor in the Detroit Free Press.

Claude Lucker—or Luker, in some chronicles—was the recipient of Cobb’s blows; he instigated the slugger, according to some accounts of spectators and reporters.  Lucker’s loss of one hand and three fingers on his other hand mattered not to Cobb, whose defenders included the Mayor of Atlanta, quoted in the Free Press:  “I glory in the spunk of Ty Cobb in resenting the insults offered him by the spectator in New York.  He has lived up to the principles that have always been taught to Southern manhood.”

It was not an isolated instance, either.  The New York Times noted that Cobb received taunts during the series from New York fans seated in prime positions to launch verbal attacks on Cobb—behind the Tigers dugout:  “What they have been saying to the Georgia Peach has no place in a family newspaper or even one that circulates in barber shops only.”

Umpire Silk O’Loughlin ejected Cobb, Hank Perry replaced him, and American League President Ban Johnson banned him.  The Tigers won the game 8-4—giving them a 3-1 record on the road trip to New York.  But the drama caused by Cobb’s pugilistic display outweighed the excitement on the diamond.

The Tigers, in solidarity, struck; their telegram to Johnson read:

“Feeling that Mr. Cobb is being done an injustice by your action in suspending him, we, the undersigned, refuse to play in another game after to-day until such action is adjusted to our satisfaction.  He was fully justified in his action, as no one could stand such personal abuse from any one.  We want him reinstated for to-morrow’s game, May 18, or there will be no game.  If the players cannot have protection we must protect ourselves.”

Tigers skipper Hugh Jennings stood with his boys:  “I expect Mr. Johnson to reconsider the matter, fine Cobb, or announce definitely the length of his suspension.”  Recruits, mostly college players from St. Joseph’s College, filled the positions vacated by Detroit’s baseball sons for the May 18th game against the Philadelphia A’s, who administered a 24-2 drubbing in Shibe Park.

It was a precarious situation, if not an anarchic one.  Johnson, in turn, canceled the next Tigers-A’s game, scheduled for May 20th in Philadelphia.  Further, he threatened suspension of the striking players.

Tigers owner Frank Navin restored order, somewhat, by persuading his players to halt the strike through a “strong personal appeal,” described Batchelor.  “He pointed out that by their action in striking, the members of the club have caused him severe financial loss, which would grow constantly greater, probably resulting eventually in the loss of the Detroit franchise.”  Cobb received credit in the Free Press for bridging the schism between the players and Navin, a result, in no small part, of praise—the Tiger icon emphasized that the club owner treated the players “generously and fairly at all times” and noted “there is no use of making Mr. Navin suffer when we cannot get at the man we are fighting.”

A meeting of American League team owners in Philadelphia on May 20th resulted in fining each Tiger $100 for striking; Cobb’s suspension remained indefinite.  On May 25th, that status changed—Johnson okayed the reinstatement of Cobb and issued a $50 fine.  An investigation led Johnson to state:

  • Cobb used “vicious language in replying to a taunting remark of the spectator”
  • Cobb’s suspension of 10 days and a $50 fine was a “lesson to the accused and a warning of all players”
  • Cobb did not “appeal to the umpire, but took the law into his own hands”

Further, Johnson underscored the league’s policy regarding abuse by fans going forward:

  • Issuing “sure and severe punishment” for those players who “assume to act as judge and avenger of real or fancied wrongs while on duty”
  • Boosting the number of police officers at ballparks
  • Removal of fans who engage in “actions or comments [that] are offensive to players and fellow patrons”

The Tigers compiled a 69-84-1 record, playing the full slate of 154 games; the May 20th game was rescheduled as part of a July 19th doubleheader—one of three doubleheaders in the July series against the fellas from the City of Brotherly Love.

Despite the benching for 10 games, Ty Cobb led the major leagues in 1912 with 226 hits.  It was a season typical of Cobb output—the Georgia Peach also led in batting average (.409) and slugging percentage (.584).

Amidst the chaos triggered by Cobb’s incident, a bright spot shone through; 1912 was the year that the Tigers débuted their new stadium—Navin Field.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 8, 2017.

The Kid from Sudlersville

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

In a Hall of Fame Strat-O-Matic matchup between the Boston Red Sox and the American League, the former prevailed 10-3.  The lineups were:

American League

Tony Lazzeri (2b)

Larry Doby (CF)

Al Simmons (LF)

Hank Greenberg (1B)

Reggie Jackson (RF)

Harmon Killebrew (3B)

Lou Boudreau (SS)

Mickey Cochrane (C)

Bob Feller (P)

Boston Red Sox

Bobby Doerr (2B)

Carlton Fisk (C)

Jimmie Foxx (1B)

Babe Ruth (LF)

Wade Boggs (3B)

Carl Yastrzemski (CF)

Harry Hooper (RF)

Joe Cronin (SS)

Lefty Grove (P)

Jimmie Foxx slugged Bob Feller’s pitching in this simulation, notching three home runs and six RBI:

  • 1st inning:  Solo home run
  • 3rd inning:  Three-run home run (Doerr and Fisk on base—each singled)
  • 7th inning:  Two-run home run (Fisk on base—single)

Foxx also walked in the 5th inning and scored on Babe Ruth’s two-run home run; he singled in the 8th but got stranded when Ruth struck out to end the inning.  The other runs for the Red Sox Hall of Famers came from:

  • 4th inning:  Carl Yastrzemski solo home run
  • 7th inning:  Babe Ruth solo home run

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, Foxx began his career with the Philadelphia A’s in 1925.  Helmed by Connie Mack for the first half of the 20th century, the A’s won the World Series in 1929 and 1930.  A third consecutive World Series championship was not to be—the A’s lost to the Cardinals in 1931.

Foxx won back-to-back MVP awards in 1932 and 1933; a third MVP award came in 1938.

It was a nearly unanimous tally for the first award—voters at the Baseball Writers’ Association of American gave him 75 out of 80 possible points; Lou Gehrig had the next highest total—55 points.  1932 was the year that Foxx scored 58 dingers, just two shy of Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60.

On November 2, 1938, Foxx became the first player to win the MVP three times.  Now with the Boston Red Sox, Foxx surprised the baseball world with his ascent.  Associated Press noted that the slugger “made a gallant comeback after being considered on the downward trail a year ago, and bothered all this year by a sinus infection.”

In his MVP seasons, Foxx led the major leagues in several offensive categories:

  • Home runs (except for 1938)
  • RBI
  • Slugging percentage
  • On-Base + Slugging percentage
  • Total Bases

Foxx led the American League in batting average in 1933 and 1938; his 50 home runs trailed Hank Greenberg’s 58 in 1938.  When Foxx’s career ended in 1945, staggering numbers joined the annals of baseball’s greatest players—534 home runs, .325 batting average, .609 slugging percentage.

Foxx biographer W. Harrison Daniel, in his 1996 book Jimmie Foxx:  The Life and Times of a Baseball Hall of Fame, 1907-1967, notes that 1938 presented a turning point for the farm-raised ballplayer from Sudlersville, Maryland—a rural town with a population that has hovered around the 500 mark for the past 100 years.

Citing a title search at the Sudlersville Memorial Library, Daniel wrote, “Although 1938 was a memorable year in Foxx’s career, it was also the year that he abandoned any interest in returning to the farm.  Ten years earlier Jimmie had made a down payment on a farm near Sudlersville and he was quoted as saying this was an investment for the future and that he hoped to retire to the farm after his playing days.  It appears that Foxx’s parents lived on the farm until around 1938, when they moved into a house in the village of Sudlersville which they had purchased in 1925 and formerly rented out.  Jimmie’s farm, in 1938, had a mortgage of $7,000.00 which he had not paid off.  In this year the mortgage was paid and the property was transferred to J.C. Jones on June 8, 1938.”

Upon Foxx’s election to the Hall of Fame in 1951, Boston Globe sportswriter Harold Kaese noted the slugger’s urbanity off the field.  “Foxx was a gentleman all right, even though he was raised on a farm and good-naturedly squirted tobacco juice on the shoes of his friends when they walked into the dugout,” wrote Kaese.  “I know he was a gentleman because as the Red Sox broke training camp one Spring, and headed for Boston, he said, ‘I’ll be glad to get out of the South.  You can’t even get a decent manicure down here.'”

On January 13, 1967, Foxx received the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association’s Sultan of Swat Crown retroactively at the annual Tops in Sports banquet in Baltimore for Outstanding Batting Achievement.  Illness forced Foxx to accept the award in absentia; former Orioles manager and former Foxx teammate Jimmy Dykes accepted on his behalf.  Frank Robinson, a key cog in the Orioles’ machine that brought down the Dodgers in a four-game sweep of the previous year’s World Series received the Sultan of Swat Crown for 1966 and fellow Maryland native Lefty Grove also received an award at the event.  Foxx passed away six months later.

Today, Foxx’s Sultan of Swat Crown sits in Sudlersville Memorial Library as a testament to the farm boy who became a baseball superstar but never forgot where he came from.  Generations of Sudlersville families remain in town, offering continuity of community—if a Sudlersvillean goes to the library, the grocery store, or the bank, he or she is likely to triple the time allotted for the task because conversations, serious and casual, will commence.  In a town where everybody knows everybody else, gossip is not the watchword.  Rather, the verbal exchanges ignite the thoughtful question “How can I help?” rather than the judgmental statement “That’s too bad.”

If a trek occurs near the intersection of Main Street and Church Street, the conversation may include the topic of baseball, specifically, the man embodied by the statue there.  It’s a pose of a baseball player after one of his mighty right-handed swings—the one who decimated American League pitching, became a baseball hero to Philadelphians and Bostonians, and inspired the character Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, in A League of Their Own.

James Emory Foxx.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 4, 2017.

The Début of Roosevelt Field

Monday, May 8th, 2017

When Christian Ziegler got the assignment to design a new stadium for Jersey City, he planned a voyage with Parks and Public Buildings Commissioner Arthur Potterton for a reconnaissance trip to Rochester, Cleveland, Montreal, Boston, and Philadelphia, according to the New York Times.

On June 5, 1929, Mayor Frank Hague made the announcement about the city getting a new stadium with a capacity to host 50,000 people.  The Times reported, “Work can start in three months, it is expected, and the stadium should be finished by the Spring of 1930.”

It took a bit longer, as is the tradition with construction projects.

On December 10, 1935, groundbreaking began at the site, adjoining Newark Bay, and which formerly housed Jersey City Airport; the Jersey Observer noted, in particular, Hague’s positive proclamation after making the initial dig:  “This is a great day for Jersey City.  You must realize that all the money needed for the construction of the stadium was donated by the government.  The city merely furnished the ground and pays the architect’s fees.

“This stadium has been the dream of the Jersey City officials for a number of years.”

Hague, a politician who exerted the right amount of pressure on the levers, switches, and buttons of Jersey City’s political machinery to get things accomplished, often colored outside the lines of the law to get things done.

Less than a year and a half later, the dream became reality—named for President Franklin Roosevelt, under whose aegis the Works Progress Administration governed the construction, Roosevelt Stadium débuted on April 23, 1937; the Jersey City Giants occupied home team status in the International League contest, losing a 12-inning game to the Rochester Red Wings.  Final score:  4-3.  In attendance were New Jersey luminaries, including Jersey City  Hague and Senator A. Harry Moore, who was a former governor.

Future Dodgers skipper Walter Alston banged the pitching of Giants hurler Rollie Stiles like a southerner swats flies on a humid night in August—the Red Wings first baseman went four-for-five and drove in two runs, including the game winner.

Roosevelt Stadium’s architecture affected the crowd.  “All who attended yesterday’s imbroglio gasped at the layout which Mayor Hague and the W. P. A. have provided,” reported New York Herald Tribune scribe Stanley Woodward.  “The grandstand and bleachers are of yellow fire-brick and a wall of the same substance surrounds the whole layout.  The end seats of each row are emblazoned on the aisle side with cast-iron shields, painted with ferryboats and square-rigged ships and bearing the motto, ‘Let Jersey Prosper.'”

Nine years after it opened, Roosevelt Stadium became the site of history—on April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson played his first professional baseball game.  It was a 14-1 pounding of the Giants by Robinson and the Montreal Royals.  Robinson turned in an impeccable performance at the plate:

  • 4-for-5
  • 4 RBI
  • 2 Stolen Bases
  • 2 Putouts
  • 3 Assists

There was, however, one blemish—Robinson made a throwing error to first base on a double play ball.  In turn, the Giants batter, Clefton Ray scampered to second base and then home, when Bobby Thomson swatted a single.

In August of 1984, the Historic American Buildings Survey, an arm of the National Park Service, compiled a detailed history of Roosevelt Stadium, including, among other items, descriptions of the stadium’s interior, layout of seating areas, geographic location, flooring, and landscaping.  Like other stadia lost to history—Mack, Navin, Ebbets et al.—Roosevelt Field marked a specific place in time, when men wore fedoras, newspapers in larger cities had evening editions, and generations of families stayed in the same area code.  “In short, it was a meeting place for all the people of Jersey City and as such, the stadium embodies a time, an era, an overwhelming feeling of the essence of a city in its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s that simply no longer exists,” states the HABS report.

Roosevelt Stadium was demolished in 1985.  Society Hill, a gated community, occupies the site.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 3, 2017.