Posts Tagged ‘Flock’

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.

New Jersey, Allaire State Park, and the Revolutionary War

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Monmouth County, located somewhat equidistantly between Hoboken and Atlantic City, boasts land of high significance to baseball and America.  Once the spring training home of Brooklyn’s major league squad around the turn of the 20th century, nearly four decades before that gloried organization settled on the Dodgers label—having also been known as Bridegrooms, Flock, Trolley Dodgers—Allaire State Park has the ghosts of the National Pastime dancing around its environs.  When vintage baseball teams, dressed in uniforms play on Allaire’s grounds, they continue the legacy.

Named for James Peter Allaire, who bought the land in 1822, the park showcases a 19th century village, complete with a reenactment of daily activities.  Allaire purchased approximately 5,000 acres—it was labeled Howell Works.

The web site for the Monmouth County Historical Association calls Allaire “one of the foremost steam engine manufacturers of his time, although he was trained as a brass founder.  Between 1804 and 1806, he cast the brass air chamber for Robert Fulton’s ‘CLERMONT’ and was with Fulton on the steamboat’s historic maiden voyage.”

Allaire enjoyed the confidence, friendship, and trust of Fulton, who manifested the bond by appointing Allaire executor of his will.

Expansion occurred under Allaire’s aegis—”an additional 3,000 acres of woodland to ensure the charcoal fuel supply necessary for the bog-iron production.”

Once a self-contained village of approximately 500 people, Allaire declined because of the “discovery of high grades of iron ore in Pennsylvania along with the benefit of an anthracite coal fuel source,” according to Allaire Village’s web site.

13 of the original buildings remain for visitors to take a peek into history, including tool making using 19th century methods.

Additionally, vintage baseball teams meet not he grounds once graced by the Brooklyn ancestors of Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, and Pee Wee Reese.  “To my knowledge, visitor and Villagers participating in 1831 Philadelphia Townball at Allaire Village are involved in a unique experience not replicated anywhere else in the country!  Most other historical site interpretations of Townball play the 1850’s Massachusetts-style Game.  We play the game that Howell Works residents most likely would have known,” explained Russ McIver in a 2014 article on Allaire State Park’s web site. McIver is an Allaire volunteer and vintage baseball enthusiast, one of many dedicated to recreating 19th century baseball.

Allaire also has the distinction of being in a county that saw a turning point in the American War for Independence, also known as the Revolutionary War.  General George Washington led the rebels in the Battle of Monmouth, which highlighted a severe dispute between the general and his second in command, General Charles Lee.

Washington ordered Lee into battle.   Instead, Lee led his soldiers to retreat, which ignited wrath in his commanding officer.  It was a clash of strategies.  On the George Washington’s Mount Vernon’s web site, Dr. Mary Stockwell explains that regret formed a cornerstone of the conflict:  “Washington’s fury stemmed in part from his regret at having appointed Lee in the first place.  When Washington initially proposed attacking the British on their way through New Jersey, Lee scoffed at the idea.”

Lee wasn’t alone; General Henry Knox advocated against entering a battle with troops numbering around 15,000.  Marquis de Lafayette, General Nathanael Greene, and General Anthony Wayne took the opposite approach.

Washington opted for battle, which resulted in victory.  “Noticing British campfires burning in the distance, Washington decided to continue the fight in the morning.  But at sunrise, he realized that the redcoats had kept their fires burning as a ruse and were safely on their way to New York,” described Stockwell.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 4, 2016.

The Indomitable Zack Wheat

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Zack Wheat churned out hits with the reliability of Henry Ford’s assembly line, which débuted the Model T in 1908, a year prior to Wheat’s introduction to the major leagues.  From 1909 to 1926, Wheat flourished as a member of Brooklyn’s National League squad with various nicknames in the press—Trolley Dodgers, Dodgers, Robins, Flock.  Wheat played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927, his last season.

Dodgers through the decades have achieved more fame, acclaim, and worship than Zachariah Davis Wheat, certainly.  Sandy Koufax pitched his way into Cooperstown with four no-hitters; Jackie Robinson earned civil rights icon status when he broke baseball’s color line in 1947; Tommy Lasorda declared his passion for the Dodgers at every opportunity; Fernando Valenzuela ignited Fernandomania during the summer of 1981; Don Drysdale struck fear into National League batting lineups, then parlayed his stardom into guest appearances on television sitcoms and a broadcasting career; Steve Garvey enjoyed an All-American image until it got sullied with a nasty divorce complemented by publicity regarding extramarital affairs and illegitimate children; Duke Snider defined power with each of his 407 career home runs; and Roy Campanella displayed courage, dignity, and inner strength in facing paralysis after a horrific car accident.

Wheat, surprisingly, often remains sidelined in discussions of Dodger greats.  A lack of recognition for Wheat’s performance belies a remarkable career output placing Wheat as the #1 Dodger in the following categories:

  • Career hits (2,884)
  • Doubles (476)
  • Triples (171)
  • RBI (1,248)

Wheat racked up a .317 batting average in his 19-year career, broke the .300 mark 14 times, and won the 1918 National League batting title with a .335 batting average.

A deeper dive into Wheat’s statistics reveals arcane nuances reflecting his excellence, which further enhances the value of the left fielder who batted left, threw right, and became a Brooklyn fixture.  OPS statistics—On-Base Plus Slugging—offer a baseline measure for ballplayers.  Additionally, Gray Ink grades on the number of times that a ballplayer’s achievements place in a given category’s top 10.

Baseball-reference.com states, “Wheat’s Adjusted OPS scores are not particularly high for a Hall of Famer, but on the other hand he was a well-rounded player.  His Gray Ink score (which is the 27th highest of all time) shows that he was commonly in the top ten in the National League—in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, among other stats, and he also stole over 200 bases in his career.  As a defensive player, his range was good for many years until he began to age.  He never played any position but outfield during his major league career, and almost never appeared in any outfield position than left field, which he owned for many years in Brooklyn.”

In the 1916 World Series, which Brooklyn lost to the Boston Red Sox, Wheat did not perform to his usual standard—he batted .211.  Wheat fared better in the 1920 World Series, achieving a .333 batting average.  It was not, however, enough—the Cleveland Indians beat Brooklyn in seven games.

Wheat’s approach to physical fitness lacked even a whiff of dedication.  “I smoke as much as I want and chew tobacco a good deal of the time,” said Wheat.  “I don’t pay any attention to the rules for keeping in physical condition.  I think they are a lot of bunk.  The less you worry about the effect of tea and coffee on the lining of your stomach, the longer you will live, and the happier you will be.”

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Zack Wheat in 1959.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 23, 2016.

The Death of Charles Ebbets

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

When Charles Ebbets died on April 18, 1925, Brooklynites lost their remaining link to the genesis of professional baseball in their beloved borough.  Ebbets began his baseball career in 1883, when Brooklyn inaugurated professional baseball for its denizens from Coney Island to Canarsie.  Starting as a clerk in the Brooklyn team’s front office, Ebbets mastered the art of the tedious.  In his 1945 book The Brooklyn Dodgers, Frank Graham wrote, “He sold tickets, hawked scorecards through the stands, attended to all the little drudgeries in the business office that the other employees were glad to shirk, and made friends for the club by his good humor and his patience.”

Ebbets took to baseball like a woodpecker to a tree.  Rising through the front office hierarchy, Ebbets achieved sole ownership status after several years of gradually accumulating the team’s stock.  He presided over a team that had many monikers before it cemented the Dodgers label in 1932; Dodgers, Trolley Dodgers, Superbas, Robins, and Flock were entries used in newspaper reports.  Sometimes, a headline used one name while the story used another.  Whatever the label, Ebbets fought for his team.  Loyalty personified, Ebbets jettisoned half his ownership to contractors Steve and Ed McKeever for the necessary funds to complete his vision of a stadium suitable for Brooklyn’s baseball fans.  Ebbets Field débuted in 1913, atop a site known as Pigtown.  Its name derived from pigs feeding on the wretched garbage.

To reach his goal, Ebbets needed to consolidate disparate parcels.  No small task, this.  He kept the process secret, buying the parcels through a dummy corporation.  And he had every piece necessary, save one.  It was 20 feet by 50 feet.  Tracking the parcel’s owner was a worldwide affair—California, Berlin, Paris.  Finally, Ebbets located him in Montclair, New Jersey and bought the land for $500.  When Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley revealed plans to build a successor to Ebbets Field in the 1950s, Arthur Daley recounted the Ebbets story in his “Sports of the Times” column in the New York Times.  “No one ever received five hundred bucks faster,” said Daley.

When former manager and minority owner Ned Hanlon attempted to overtake the team through litigation, Ebbets could have resolved the dispute by selling Brooklyn players Tim Jordon and Harry Linley to the New York Giants for the funds needed to settle with Hanlon.

Even if Ebbets decided to fight Hanlon rather than settle, the money generated from a sale could serve as a financial cushion if Hanlon won his case.  Despite the practical appeal of selling Jordon and Linley, Ebbets declined the offer from the rival ball club.  In a 1912 article in the New York Times, Ebbets said, “I felt that if I had sold those two star players at that time the fans would run me out of Brooklyn.  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 our patrons to sell those players.”

Brooklyn adored Ebbets, as did the baseball industry.  Reach Baseball Guide eulogized, “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 own 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.”

The New York Times obituary for Ebbets quoted Joseph A. Guilder, President of the Borough of Brooklyn:  “I am deeply moved to learn of the death of Mr. Ebbets.  It was my pleasure to know him many years.  His death is a distinct loss to the borough and to the national game with which he was so prominently associated.  At all times he exhibited a keen interest in Brooklyn affairs, and his advocacy of clean sport caused him to be held in high admiration by a host of friends.”  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle also highlighted the Brooklyn-Ebbets connection:  “Nothing could shake his conviction that Brooklyn was the best baseball community in the country and that it was deserving of the best he could give it in the way of a better playing field and good players.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 29, 2014.