Posts Tagged ‘American Association’

Exposition Park

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Decades before Willie Stargell’s We Are Family vibe, Bill Mazeroski’s legendary World Series home run, and Roberto Clemente’s demonstrable power, professional baseball in the Pittsburgh area lived in Exposition Park.  It holds distinction as the first ballpark for Organized Baseball in the Pittsburgh environs—the “Alleghenys” débuted in the American Association in 1882.  “Professional” in this narrative means playing within a league structure.

Constructed in Allegheny City—then a separate metropolis from Pittsburgh, across the Allegheny River—Exposition Park had a location that proved disastrous when a flood and a fire combined forces, destroying the ballpark after one season.

In 1883, the team played in Exposition Park II, built closer to the Allegheny River than its predecessor; it also had a one-year tenure as the home site for the Alleghenys—Exposition Park II flooded as well, opening the path for Union Park to be a major league facility in 1884.  The following season, Union Park underwent a name change to Recreation Park.

An article in the March 5, 1885 edition of the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette highlighted  the park’s multiple uses that would have made baseball überpromoter Bill Veeck stand up and applaud:  “Another feature of the park will be a roller skating floor.  It will be built in one corner of the outfield, where there is sufficient room without interfering with the ball playing.  There will be no roof, and it is thought that it will be a pleasanter place to skate on rollers than in any of the inclosed [sic] rinks, for all out of doors is certainly pleasanter on a hot evening than any building can be.”

The article also mentioned the team’s name change:  “The report that the old name was to be retained is untrue.  The club will be known as the Pittsburghs.  It will work under the old charter and legally be the Allegheny, but in all advertising and in general usage Pittsburgh will be used.”  This label switch might have been slightly confusing because the absorption of Allegheny City into Pittsburgh did not take place until more than 20 years later.

Pittsburgh joined the National League in 1887.  A few seasons later, it faced competition for baseball fans in Steel City—the Players’ League débuted in 1890 with the Burghers as its Pittsburgh franchise, which played in Exposition Park III.  It was located “about two blocks where PNC Park stands today,” stated the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  The Players’ League only lasted for the 1890 season.

Pittsburgh’s National League team rebranded, became the Pirates before the 1891 season, and moved to Exposition Park III for its home games.  In 1903, when the Pirates faced the Boston Americans in the first World Series, Exposition Park III became the first National League ballpark to host a World Series game.

In the middle of the 1909 season, the Pirates moved to Forbes Field.  Built of concrete and steel, Forbes Field signified a new era of ballparks with grandeur compared to their predecessors—Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Ebbets Field emerged within five years.  Forbes Field’s unveiling inspired awe from Pittsburgh’s fans:  “If there had been no ball game at all the masses of sweltering humanity would have paid for their coming, for the stands on Forbes Field [sic] look out on some of the prettiest scenery to be found in Pennsylvania.  And the stands themselves are pretty enough to draw sightseers even if there were nothing else for them to see,” wrote R. W. “Ring” Lardner in the Chicago Daily Tribune about the June 30, 1909 contest between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates, which ended in a 3-2 loss for the latter squad.  Approximately 36,000 fans attended the game.

“The women came dressed as if for the greatest society event of the year, and perhaps it was for Pittsburg’s [sic] year,” Lardner added.  “Gorgeous gowns, topped by still more gorgeous hats, were in evidence everywhere.”

Forbes Field’s début, however exciting, could not swipe away the indelible imprint made by the three incarnations of Exposition Park on the genesis of Pittsburgh’s professional baseball auspices.

A version of this article appeared on on August 29, 2015.

The Most Important Person in Dodgers History?

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

George Chauncey may not immediately come to mind when discussing Dodgers history, assuming, of course, that he comes to mind at all.  Perhaps he should.  It was, after all, Chauncey who made  front office decision that, in retrospect, drastically improved, enhanced, and secured the team’s iconic status, especially in its locus of Brooklyn.

A co-owner of the Brooklyn Wonders in the Players’ League, George Chauncey merged his operations with the National League’s Brooklyn squad when the league folded after its sole season of 1890.  It was a financial necessity born from the carnage created by the chaos of the Brotherhood War, a nickname bestowed on the Players’ League invading the rosters of the National League and the American Association for players; the NL and AA were the two major leagues at the time.  Unable to sustain itself, the Players’ League folded.

In 1898, original Brooklyn co-owner and team president Charley Byrne died, leaving a leadership vacancy.  Chauncey wanted Charles Ebbets to fill the position.  Ebbets had been with the Brooklyn organization since its first game in 1883, starting as an office clerk.  He knew every piece of the team’s operations, so he could provide a smooth transition, especially with first-hand knowledge of Byrne’s approach to management.  Chauncey enhanced the job offer to Ebbets with an ownership stake in the team.

Whether by divine inspiration, instinct, or business savvy, George Chauncey filled a vital position with a man who proved to a visionary, a hero, and a civic leader for Brooklyn’s fans.  Had Chauncey selected another person for the job, then the team’s history could have been altered.  Terribly.  What if Ebbets, feeling passed over or maybe restless for a new challenge, took an executive position with another team?  What if he became an executive in the National League, the American Association, or a minor league?  Then, he would never have been on a path to become the team’s sole owner, build Ebbets Field, and further a legacy of affection between the borough and its beloved Dodgers.

Ebbets saw his team as more than an investment.  Loyalty, indeed formed his philosophy.  A 1912 article about Ebbets in the New York Times highlighted this loyalty in the light of plans to build a new ballpark, which became his namesake.  Despite the financial burden, Ebbets manifested an unbreakable nexus to Brooklyn.  “I’ve made more money than I ever expected to, but I am putting all of it, and more too, into the new plant for the Brooklyn fans,” Ebbets said.  “Of course, it’s one thing to have a fine ball club and win a pennant, but to my mind there is something more important than that about a ball club.  I believe the fan should be taken care of.  A club should proved a suitable home for its patrons.  This home should be in a location that is healthy, it should be safe, and it should be convenient.”

Ebbets endured a cost requiring him to sell half the team to Steve and Ed McKeever, the stadium’s contractors.  Would another owner have submerged his financial interest for the team’s fans or moved to another city in pursuit of more lucrative pastures?  In a more severe scenario, an owner facing a financial quagmire may have dissolved the team and broken it into pieces for sale, following the adage that the parts are worth more separately than together.

Speculation, certainly, demands imagination to answer a constant stream of “What if…” questions.  In conversations about baseball, the stream is endless rather than constant.  What if George Steinbrenner  had bought the Indians instead of the Yankees—would an open checkbook have restored Cleveland’s baseball glory in the early years of free agency?  What if Nolan Ryan had stayed in New York—would the Mets have been a perennial World Series contender in the 1970s?  What if the Red Sox had never traded Babe Ruth—would the Yankees have been as dominant in the 1920s?

A version of this article appeared on on August 26, 1951.

Baseball in Appalachia

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

A minor league baseball treasure resides in the heart of Appalachia.  West Virginia may be known for its natural resources—coal, logging, natural gas—but its roots in baseball date back more than 100 years.  Charleston began its professional baseball history in 1910 with the Statesmen, a Class D team i the Virginia Valley League.  The following year, the Statesmen played in the Class D Mountain State League.

The latest incarnation of professional baseball in West Virginia is the Power, a label that began with the 2005 season.  Concurrently, the team created five mascots—Axe, Gusty, Pyro, Hydro, Charlie.  In 2010, Chuck replaced all five.  A yellow creature with a bowler and an eye patch, Chuck is a hallmark of Power baseball.  The eye patch is highly significant because it pays homage to the Power’s parent team—the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In the Charleston Daily Mail article “New Power mascot dons bowler”—dated September 1, 2010—Zack Harold describes Chuck’s initial appearance:  “After weeks of anticipation, the West Virginia Power baseball team debuted its new mascot—a furry, yellow, bowler-hat wearing creature named Chuck—during Tuesday night’s game.

“Chuck made his grand appearance in the middle of the second inning, riding into Appalachian Power Park on a Suzuki four-wheeler.  The Davisson Brothers Band welcomed him to the stadium with a special adaptation of their song Big City Hillbilly.

Appalachian Power Park houses the Power.  Noting the financial realities demanding a change in venue for Power home games, the team’s web site states, “Modern baseball economics could not survive in Watt Powell Park and several groups worked to preserve the game in Charleston.  From political support and work with the Economic Development Grant Commission to WVWINS, a community action group that mobilized local fans and businesses to back the project, an East End ballpark was put on the map.  Appalachian Power would quickly agree to take on the naming rights to the new 23 million dollar facility.”

Change continued with the team’s branding.  Charleston’s professional baseball history has several labels, though there are gaps:

  • Statesmen (1910-1911—Virginia Valley League in 1910, Mountain State League in 1911)
  • Senators (1913-1916, Ohio State League)
  • Senators (1949-1951, Central League)
  • Senators (1952-1960, American Association)
  • Marlins (1961-1964—International League in 1961, Eastern League in 1962-1964)
  • Charlies (1971-1983, International League)
  • Wheelers (1987-1994, South Atlantic League)
  • Alley Cats (1995-2003, South Atlantic League)
  • Power (2004-Present, South Atlantic League)

A version of this article appeared on on May 7, 2015.

The Innovative Charles Comiskey

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Decades before he elevated to the executive suite as owner of the Chicago White Sox, Charles Comiskey pioneered a fielding concept during his playing days.  Or so the legend goes.

After Comiskey died in 1931, a series of Chicago Daily Tribune articles examined his life, focusing, in part, on his playing and managing tenures.  In the article “Comiskey Worked as Train Butcher to Play Ball,” Irving Vaughan wrote of the 1880 season in Dubuque, “Commy conceived the notion that there was more to first basing than anybody had as yet realized.  He and Manager Ted Sullivan discussed the theory that a first baseman’s defensive value could be doubled if he could move away from the bag, thus protecting much of the vacant territory between first and second.  They put the theory to a practical test and found it a success.  That is, it was successful except in one particular.

“Commy discovered that by playing away from the bag he was able to field batted balls which ordinarily would have been safe hits.  But he couldn’t get over to the bag in time to retire the runner.  Necessity being the mother of invention, he and Sullivan figured out that a pitcher could cover the base.  After experimenting on this feature they decided it couldn’t fail.”

On the other hand, baseball historian David Nemec offers a contrasting view of Comiskey’s contribution to the first base position.  In Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 2, Nemec stated, “Historians traditionally have credited Comiskey with pioneering techniques such as playing a considerable distance off the bag, stretching to receive wide or high throws, and having the pitcher cover first on ground balls to the right side of the infield, but while none of these techniques was actually invented by him, his success at employing them popularized them to the extent that defensive play at 1B swiftly began to evolve into a more sophisticated style once he appeared on the scene.”

As a player-manager for the St. Louis Browns, Comiskey led his team to four straight American Association championships in the 1880s.  Moreover, he reshaped the team’s image.  “Under Comiskey’s strong hand the Browns shed their reputation solely as drunks and troublemakers and created a disciplined, aggressive squad that would win AA championships in his first four full seasons at their helm,” noted Nemec.

Comiskey embraced pugnacity as part of his style, though.  “Charlie Comiskey, the manager and first baseman for the St. Louis Brown Stockings, was a mild-mannered, cerebral man off the field, but on the field, he could act like a common thug,” described Peter Golenbock in The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns.  “He played the game with a controlled aggression designed to ground the opposition into dust.  His focus was on victory, and he never permitted anyone to lose sight of the fact that he was there for one reason only: to win.”

In turn, the team’s performance reflected Comiskey’s leadership.  Golenbock stated, “Comiskey encouraged his players to try to intimidate the opposition any way they could.  He was a nineteenth-century role model for Leo Durocher and Billy Martin.  He encouraged his players to knock over an opponent in the field or on the base paths, and if you didn’t like it, that was just too bad.  On the base paths, Comiskey was a terror.  In one game against Cincinnati, Comiskey threw himself into second baseman John “Bid” McPhee, causing him to throw wild to first, enabling the winning run to score.  Ty Cobb, who came to the game twenty years later with a similar nasty disposition, had nothing on Comiskey.

“His players followed his example.  The next day Curt Welch did the same thing, throwing himself at McPhee ‘as if hurled from a catapult,’  Said Welch, ‘Well, we’re playing ball to win.'”

A version of this article appeared on on March 19, 2015.

Jackie Robinson and the Hall of Fame

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Though not technically the first black player in the major leagues—that distinction belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker of the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884—Jackie Robinson destroyed the unspoken yet visible barrier constructed in the late 1880s preventing blacks from joining a major league team.

Mr. Robinson’s début is no less a civil rights moment than Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus, or President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Walking on to the diamond at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947 preceded these civil rights hallmarks, marking a historic day, not only for baseball, but also for America.  But there are other dates that are highly significant in Jackie Robinson’s career.

Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers organization on October 23, 1945 at the team’s headquarters—215 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Jackie Robinson played his first game in Organized Baseball on April 18, 1946, when the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers minor league team, played the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Field in Jersey City.

The Baseball Writers Association of America elected Robinson to the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 23, 1962, a fact that he learned after coming home to 95 Cascade Road in Stamford, Connecticut, after spending the day in Manhattan’s corporate jungle as an executive with Chock full o’ Nuts; 1962 was Robinson’s first year of eligibility.

Excitement in the Robinson household was akin to the excitement that the Dodgers’ #42 generated at Ebbets Field.  “When I came home from work Rachel was on the phone telling David, our nine-year-old, about it,” said Robinson in the Christian Science Monitor.  “When she was me, she dropped the receiver and squealed that I had made it.”

Robinson’s Hall of Fame election was not automatic, however.  For example, Joe DiMaggio did not get elected in his first year of eligibility.  Neither did Bill Terry.  Needing a minimum of 75% of the ballots, Robinson got 124 of 160.  It was four more than necessary.

Jackie Robinson was the first black player elected to the Hall of Fame.  Arthur Daley of the New York Times addressed the issue of Robinson’s Hall of Fame election being based on his career or his color.  “It really doesn’t matter much,” declared Daley.  “Both factors undoubtedly entered into consideration because they are so intertwined that separation is impossible.  The feeling here is that he rated on both counts and no conscious effort was made to split them.  Now he has blazed another trail and it will be easier henceforth for other Negroes to follow him into Cooperstown.”

His 10-year career with the Brooklyn Dodgers yielded Robinson a .311 batting average, 1,518 hits, and 734 RBI.  Robinson’s contribution to the game cannot be measured in numbers alone, however.  Pioneering the path of integration littered with jeers, boos, and death threats required an unimaginable strength of the soul.  After Jackie Robinson came Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Henry Aaron, Don Newcombe, Elston Howard, and scores of other black players.

Baseball would never be the same.

A version of this article appeared on on April 15, 2014.

Harold Parrott: The Lord of Public Relations

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

In the 2013 movie 42, T.R. Knight plays Harold Parrott, the publicity chief for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Parrott, a former sports writer, was well suited for the task of handling his former brethren from the press box.  He knew their pressures, their deadlines, and their editors, in addition to a readership starving for information, analysis, and scoops on a daily basis.

Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager, selected Parrott to head publicity for the team.  And it was no small task.  Besides the usual responsibilities, Parrott handled the press during Rickey’s breakthrough hiring of Jackie Robinson to be the first black player in Major League Baseball during the 20th century; Moses Fleetwood Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884—the AA, long since defunct, is considered a major league by baseball historians.

Robinson’s emergence shook baseball to its core.  And Parrott, Rickey’s conduit to the sports press, needed to deflect questions, shape answers, and protect the team.  Robinson, especially.

In his 1976 autobiography The Lords of Baseball, Parrott recalled the Brooklyn squad’s first trip to Cincinnati, largely cited as a pivotal event sourced in Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Robinson before the game to show hostile fans at Crosley Field that he, a Kentuckian with southern values, good and bad, embraced #42 as a teammate, a friend, and an equal.  Parrott may have been the trigger for Reese’s gesture.

“There had been a sack of mail for Robinson at our hotel, and I went through it the morning we hit town,” wrote Parrott.  “Three of the letters contained threats that Jack would be shot in his tracks if he dared to take the field.  I handed these over to the FBI, which got pretty excited about it and searched every building that overlooked the ballpark and would afford a sniper a shot at Number 42.”

Parrott continued, “Usually I didn’t show Robbie the hate mail, most of which was scrawled and scribbled like the smut you see on toilet walls.  But this time I had to warn him, and I could see he was frightened.  I passed the word to Pee Wee, who was the captain, and to a couple of the other solid players on the club.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen in the Queen City, right across the river from Kentucky.  But all the folk from the hill and still country were flocking into town for the big event.”

When Rickey succeeded Larry MacPhail as Brooklyn’s General Manager in 1942, Parrott was a sports writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  In a five-part series, he introduced Rickey to Brooklyn.  Parrott’s October 30, 1942 article “Meet Mr. Rickey: ‘The Brain’ Is Perfect Frame for Brooklyn Baseball Scene,” Parrott described the incoming legend from St. Louis, where he spearheaded front office management of four World Series titles for the Cardinals:

“Characters?  Say, buddy, we’ve had ’em!

“But we haven’t had ’em all.  Not yet—not until we’ve had Mr. Rickey.  Branch Rickey Sr., Mr. Baseball himself.

“He follows MacPhail, and ordinarily they’d call that bad theater.  Coming after the Dodger Dynamo onto the Brooklyn stage is like following Toscanini with a tin horn.  Or would be for almost anybody I can think of.

“But Rickey—well, he’s a card!  He may not make Brooklyn fans forget MacPhail—but I guarantee he’ll make ’em remember Rickey.”

Parrott was right.  Rickey’s selection of Robinson ushered in a wave of talent from the Negro Leagues.  And Parrott, the wordsmith, was at the center of it.

A version of this article appeared on on February 1, 2014.

Ralph Houk: Filling Casey’s Shoes

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

When Ralph Houk took over the manager job for the New York Yankees, he had big shoes to fill.  Casey Stengel’s shoes.

Houk guided the Yankees from 1961 to 1973, then took the helm of the Detroit Tigers from 1974 to 1978.  He finished his managerial career with the Boston Red Sox.  His Beantown tenure lasted from 1981 to 1984.

But Houk’s rookie season as manager stands out.  1961.  It was the first season after Stengel’s run of World Series championships earned by the pinstriped Adonises of the Bronx in 1947, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1956, and 1958.

A World War II veteran, Houk played a backup role to Yogi Berra after the war.  He saw sporadic action:  91 games from 1947 to 1954.  Then, he managed the Denver Bears of the American Association from 1955 to 1957.  The Bears won the AA championship in 1957, an indication of Houk’s instincts.

The 1961 Yankees dominated baseball, compiling a 109-53 record.  Elston Howard hit .348, Whitey Ford ratcheted a 25-4 record, and Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record with 61 fingers.

For most of the season, Maris raced with Mickey Mantle toward Ruth’s record.  A shot, albeit given by a reputable doctor, triggered an infection, which sidelined Mantle for the end of the season.  Mantle hit 54 home runs before this happened.

Houk documented the ’61 season in the 1962 book Ballplayers Are Human, Too.  In Chapter 5, “Let ‘er Roll, Gang!,” he describes the awe inspired by Yankee Stadium on Opening Day.  “I’ve read that wearing the Yankee pinstripes gives a player the feeling he’s on top of the baseball world,” wrote Houk.  “Believe me, it’s the Stadium that makes you feel you’ve got to do your best.  The Stadium looks like a historical building from the outside, one that’s been standing there a long time and will remain there forever, like the Coliseum in Rome.  Baseball history has been made in the Stadium.  A fellow wants to make more baseball history there—that’s the way I felt that day.”

Houk ends the book by describing a conversation with clubhouse attendant Pete Sheehy after the Yankees beat the Cincinnati Reds in the 1961 World Series.  Sheehy, a Yankees fixture, began his career with the legendary 1927 Yankees featuring Ruth’s record of 60 home runs, in addition to Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Earle Combs.  He stayed with the team till his death in 1985 at the age of 75.  The ’61 Yankees, according to Sheehy, deserve more than honorable mention in Yankees history.

“An incredible year,” wrote Houk.  “Think of it, not one beef from a player, not one phone call from someone who says one of your players is down somewhere causing trouble.  Nothing but great games, great pitching, the greatest of all hitting…and Rog’s…”

Sherry then interrupts the skipper.  “I been around here a long time.  I’ve seen ’em all since the Babe’s day.  I never seen a team like this.”

Houk responds, “That’s just what I mean.  No manager ever had a team like this.  What an incredible gang of ballplayers!  What an incredible year!”

1961.  Incredible.  Magical.  Legendary.

A version of this article appeared on on July 15, 2013.

The Most Important Person in Dodgers History

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Topic:  The most important person in Dodgers history.

Discuss.  This could take awhile, if at least one participant bleeds Dodger Blue.

Jackie Robinson comes to mind, of course.  His courage opened the door for integration to revolutionize baseball.


Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rickey

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

42:  The Jackie Robinson Story opens in theatres on Friday, April 12th.  The date is appropriate — nearly 66 years to the day when Jackie Robinson made his official debut in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947.  He played, of course, for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Baseball has never been the same since.  Thankfully.


What’s In A Team Name? Bridegrooms…Superbas…Dodgers! Oh My! The Birth of Brooklyn Baseball in the 19th Century (Part 3 of 3)

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

In Brooklyn, Charles Ebbets and his bosses suffered a crater in the bottom line because the Players’ League siphoned from the Brooklyn fan base for its Brooklyn team – the Wonders. Byrne merged operations with the Wonders.

The new incarnation acquired a nickname based on the trolley dodging custom unique to the urban landscape of Brooklyn. “Trolley Dodgers” eventually became “Dodgers” in the sports pages and popular accounts. But fluidity abounded regarding team names. (more…)