Posts Tagged ‘Grays’

Mickey, Whitey, and the Class of 1974

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

During the summer of 1974, excitement charged the air.  We watched with wonder when Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the Twin Towers, with dismay when President Nixon resigned because of the Watergate scandal, and with awe when the Universal Product Code débuted to signify a touchstone in the computer age.

For baseball fans, the Baseball Hall of Fame induction marked the summer.  In this particular instance, two Yankee icons, polar opposites in their upbringing but thick as thieves in their friendship, ascended to Cooperstown.  Mickey Charles Mantle and Edward Charles Ford.  The Mick and Whitey.

Mantle—the Yankee demigod with 536 home runs—thanked his father in his induction speech.  “He had the foresight to realize that someday in baseball that left-handed hitters were going to hit against right-handed pitchers and right-handed hitters are going to hit against left-handed pitchers; and he thought me, he and his father, to switch-hit at a real young age, when I first started to learn how to play ball,” explained the Oklahoma native.  “And my dad always told me if I could hit both ways when I got ready to go to the major leagues, that I would have a better chance of playing.”

With overwhelming power, Mantle compiled dazzling statistics:

  • Led the major leagues in runs scored (five times)
  • Led the major leagues in walks (five times)
  • Led the American League in home runs (four times)
  • 2,401 games played
  • 9,907 plate appearances

Mantle’s aplomb came with a cost—strikeouts.  #7 led the American League in strikeouts five times and the major leagues three times.

Like Mantle, Ford spent his entire career in a Yankee uniform.  Where Mantle came from the Dust Bowl, Ford came from the city.  Queens, specifically.  After achieving a 9-1 record in his rookie season of 1950, Ford lost two seasons to military service.  He returned in 1953 without skipping a beat, ending the season with an 18-6 record.

Mantle and Ford played together on the World Series championship teams of 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, and 1962.

Joining the pinstriped legends were—as a result of the Veterans Committee’s votes—Jim Bottomley, Jocko Conlan, and Sam Thompson.

Bottomley, a first baseman, played for the Cardinals, the Reds, and the Browns in his 16-year career (1922-1937).  He was not, to be sure, a power hitter—his career home run total was 219.  But he sprinkled 2,313 hits, resulting in a .310 lifetime batting average.  Bottomley led the National League in RBI twice, in hits once, and in doubles twice.

Conlan was the fourth Hall of Famer from the umpiring brethren.  In his 25-year career, Conlan umpired five World Series, six All-Star games, and three tie-breaking playoffs.  Conlan’s page on the Hall of Fame web site states, “He wore a fashionable polka dot bow tie and was the last NL umpire to wear a chest protector over his clothes.  Besides his attire, Conlan was known for his ability to combine his cheerful personality with a stern sense of authority.”

Sam Thompson was a right fielder for the Detroit Wolverines and the Philadelphia Phillies from 1885 to 1898.  In 1906, Thompson played eight games with the Detroit Tigers.  Thompson finished his career with a .331 batting average—he led the major leagues in RBI three times, in slugging percentage twice, and in doubles twice.  Thompson also led the American League in hits three times—in one of those years, he led the major leagues.

The Special Committee on the Negro Leagues okayed the inclusion of center fielder Cool Papa Bell, who played for:

  • St. Louis Stars
  • Kansas City Monarchs
  • Homestead Grays
  • Pittsburgh Crawfords
  • Memphis Red Sox
  • Chicago American Giants

In Mexico, Bell played for:

  • Monterrey Industriales
  • Torreon Algodoneros
  • Veracruz Azules
  • Tampico Alidjadores

Bell’s speed was legendary; speed inspired his nickname.  Ken Mandel of MLB.com wrote, “While still a knuckle balling prospect in 1922, he earned his moniker by whiffing Oscar Charleston with the game on the line.  His manager, Bill Gatewood, mused about how ‘cool’ his young player was under pressure and added the ‘Papa’ because it sounded better, though perhaps it was a testament to how the 19-year-old performed like a grizzled veteran.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 24, 2016.

Cleveland’s Other Team

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Cleveland, home of the Indians, reveled in the exploits of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Lou Boudreau in the 1940s.  The Cleveland Buckeyes did not receive parallel acclaim—this, despite the team’s 1945 Negro League World Series championship.

“The public and media didn’t get behind us the way they should have the year we won the world championship,” said Ernie Wright, the Buckeyes’ owner, in an interview for Dwayne Cheeks’s article “The Cleveland Buckeyes Remembered: Played Second Fiddle to Tribe until Demise” in the January 18, 1982 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “All we got from the city of Cleveland was a banquet.  There was no parade or meeting with the mayor.  The players didn’t make any special appearances.  It was a far cry from what the Indians got when they won the World Series in 1948.”

Outfielder Sam Jethroe echoed this claim.  “The way the city responded, you wouldn’t have thought we won anything.  I was a part of bigger celebrations in the minors.  Winning minor league pennants in Montreal and Toronto were much bigger events,” said Jethroe in the same Plain Dealer article.

Celebrations were not absent, however.  Contrasting the memories of Jethroe and Wright, a contemporaneous news account in the Cleveland Call and Post described the event mentioned by Wright.  “The community paid its warmest tributes to the World Champion Cleveland Buckeyes at a banquet in their honor in the Hotel Majestic Rose Room last Sunday evening where team and management were thanked individually and collectively for the glory and distinction they have brought to this city,” wrote Bob Williams in the October 6, 1945 edition of the Call and Post.

Further, Williams noted, “Special credit was also given the Buckeyes in Cleveland City Council last Monday night when a resolution commemorating them was introduced and passed through the efforts of Councilmen DeMaoribus, Finkle, Gasaway, and Walker.”

With speed rather than strength, the 1945 Buckeyes swept the Homestead Grays to win the Negro League World Series.  In his 1977 autobiography 20 Years Too Soon: Prelude to Major-League Integrated Baseball, Buckeye catcher-manager Quincy Trouppe explained, “We weren’t known as a power outfit, although we had players beside myself who could park one on you quick, but what we were doing that caught everyone by surprise and got us by them was bringing back the old brand of ball playing made famous in Rube Foster’s heyday.  Back then, guys like Jelly Gardner and Jimmy Lyons could drive you crazy by choking up on the bat, hitting behind the runner, and running wild stealing on the base paths.  It was true the Homestead Grays could bomb you out of the park, but my team was very fast.  We could run the tongue out of anybody’s head.”

The Buckeyes compiled a 53-16 record in 1945, amounting to a .768 winning percentage.  Beating the Grays meant overcoming a lineup filled with future Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Buck Leonard.  A Buckeye standout, switch-hitting outfielder Willie Grace batted .313 and hit the only home run in the 1945 Negro League World Series.  In an interview for Brent Kelley’s article “Willie Grace was Part of the Best Team in Cleveland History…in 1945!” for the November 10, 1995 edition of Sports Collectors Digest, Grace recalled, “We were tellin’ the world what a great ball club you had.  ‘Cause we beat you, but we was still tellin’ the world that’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me as a ballplayer was beatin’ a team like this.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 5, 2015.