Posts Tagged ‘major leagues’

The Hall of Fame Case for William Shea

Friday, February 10th, 2017

William Alfred Shea never played in the major leagues nor did he manage, own, or work in the front office of a team.  Nevertheless, Shea made an invaluable contribution to Major League Baseball.  Without him, arguably, the National League would have had a more difficult path to fill the crater generated by the Dodgers and the Giants abandoning the Big Apple for the Golden State—the exodus happened after the 1957 season; baseball’s expansion to New York City happened in 1962.

Presently, Shea lacks the honor of membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It’s an honor he deserves.

Tapped by New York City Mayor Wagner to lead the effort for securing another team, Shea, a leading attorney operated with the finesse of an orchestra leader—he knew how the city’s political, business, and legal arenas operated and, moreover, he had the required relationships with decision makers to get questions answered.  These were invaluable assets in an era when lawyers did not always bill by the hour; Shea’s connections proved as key, if not more so, than acumen in legal rhetoric, contract drafting, or appellate advocacy.

In his 2009 book Bottom of the Ninth:  Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme To Save Baseball From Itself, Michael Shapiro wrote, “Shea was neither a litigator nor a legal scholar.  Rather, he was the sort of lawyer whom powerful men trusted with their secrets and whom they could rely upon as a go-between.”

To be clear, Shea’s position in New York City’s legal circles was not an endowment through wealth, connections, or familial status.  Shea built a legal career that began a quarter-century prior to Mayor Wagner’s handing him the responsibility for establishing New York City as a two-team metropolis.

According to a Shea & Gould law firm biography circa 1982, Shea graduated Georgetown Law School, got admittance to the New York bar in 1932, and started working at the prestigious Manhattan law firm Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Gardiner & Read.  During the Depression, Shea received an appointment from New York’s Superintendent of Banks to work as counsel to the Liquidation Bureau, followed by an appointment from the Superintendent of Insurance to be the attorney of record for the New York Title and Mortgage Company—Shea later worked as the Assistant General Counsel to the superintendent.

Shea’s private practice yielded positions of stature with no pay, akin to the baseball job.  In 1954, for example, Mayor Wagner appointed Shea to be a Trustee of the the Brooklyn Public Library.

In Shea’s 1991 obituary in the New York Times, David Margolick quoted a 1974 piece by Nicholas Pileggi in the magazine New York:  “He is the city’s most experienced power broker, its premier matchmaker, a man who has spent 40 years turning the orgies of politicians, bankers, realtors, union chiefs, underwriters, corporate heads, utility combines, cement barons, merchant princes and sports impresarios into profitable marriages.”

Indeed, Shea had the innate ability to bring disparate interests together to close deals, a trait that was imperative to the baseball mission.  Contrariwise to the paradigm conceived of a power broker metaphorically snapping his fingers to make things happen, Shea received the Wagner appointment based on the integrity earned through 25 years of law practice.  There were other established lawyers, businessmen, and philanthropists with more power, certainly.  But the mayoral decision pointed to a well-respected attorney, not the men with loftier names and further reaches.  As part of the leadership of the Continental League, Shea worked with Branch Rickey to realize the idea of a third league to compete with the National League and the American League.  It faded from the drawing board, finally erased when Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley and the National League’s expansion committee okayed adding two teams to the senior circuit.  Thus, the Mets and the Colt .45s (later the Astros) emerged in New York City and Houston—they débuted in 1962.

For the first two years, the Mets played in the Polo Grounds, and then moved to a new stadium in Queens—William A. Shea Municipal Stadium.  A stadium in his name was not a tribute sough, such was Shea’s modesty.  It was, however, proper.  To be sure, a new professional baseball team in New York City was inevitable; the thirst of fans in the wake of losing the Dodgers and the Giants demanded an outlet for quenching.  However, it was Shea who played a highly significant role in making it happen by first working on the genesis of the Continental League, which led to the NL expansion.  Without Shea’s involvement, when would New York City have received a second team?  It’s a “what if” question that, of course, can only be speculated upon, but never answered.  In its first season, 1964, Shea Stadium hosted the All-Star Game.  It succumbed to destruction after the 2008 season.  Shea’s name lives on, though.  At Citi Field, the Mets’ present home, Shea Bridge is a walkway traversed by thousands of fans.

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

People Will Come

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Yankee Stadium owns the patent on ballpark magnificence, Ebbets Field maintains an aura of magic decades after its destruction, and Wrigley Field possesses a charm honed throughout decades of unrealized hope between 1908 and 2016.

An Iowa farm ranks among those and other vaunted cathedrals of the National Pastime.  Field of Dreams—based on W. P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe—premiered in 1989, the same year that Harry met Sally, Bill and Ted had an excellent adventure, and Ariel found love with Prince Eric.

When farmer Ray Kinsella hears voices, a bolt of inspiration strikes him with the force of a Babe Ruth home run.  Ray, despite imminent bankruptcy, turns his farm into a baseball field, captures a literary icon of the 1960s, and hosts ghosts of baseball past on his land—Shoeless Joe Jackson and his peers cannot venture beyond the friendly confines of the diamond, however.  Ray’s wife and daughter support the endeavor.

Though factually incorrect, Field of Dreams also highlights the career of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who played one inning in the major leagues.

A year removed from his performance in Bull Durham, Kevin Costner plays Ray, a character infused with passion to follow a journey mapped by his instinct.  In Shoeless Joe, J. D. Salinger is the writer accompanying Ray on his quest, so chosen by W. P. Kinsella because of a connection to the reclusive Salinger—characters named Richard Kinsella and Ray Kinsella appear in the novel The Catcher in the Rye and the short story A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waist at All, respectively.

Field of Dreams replaces Salinger with a fictional character because of “moxie and cowardice,” according to Kinsella.  In a 2014 article for MLB. com celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film, Kinsella explained, “The cowardice involved was that studio executives were afraid Salinger would launch a nuisance lawsuit just as the movie was being released, and it would cost them time and a lot of publicity money to get rid of it.  The moxie appeared  when the executive pointed out that on a good opening weekend, the movie would be seen by 10 times the number of people who had read the book.  The change would be noticed by only the literate few, people who are not valued by movie executives.”

Played by James Earl Jones, Terence Mann offers a monologue nudging Ray towards keeping the field, an action defying the financial oblivion against his family:  “People will come, Ray.  The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.  Oh, people will come, Ray.  People will definitely come.”

Field of Dreams ends with a scene that ignites vesuvius nostalgia.  After a game, Shoeless Joe points Ray to his father.  As a rebellious teenager inspired by a Terence Mann book, Ray had refused to have a catch with the senior Kinsella.  Now, the circle closes with an exchange between father and son.

“Hey, dad?”  You wanna have a catch?”

“I’d like that.”

A panning shot of Ray and his father playing catch at dusk reveals cars packing the road to the field.

Life imitates art—Field of Dreams Movie Site stands as a tourist destination for baseball fans fulfilling the destiny predicted by Terence Mann.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 17, 2016.

1934, Dizzy Dean, and the Cardinals of St. Louis

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

When Dizzy Dean pitched for the Cardinals in 1934, St. Louisans rested as easy as a stray feather landing on a duck’s backside—the Arkansas native led the major leagues in wins, strikeouts, and complete games.  With a 30-7 record, Dean marked the Cardinals as an irresistible force, propelling the team toward a World Series championship.

Dean’s brilliance on the mound fueled his confidence.  Before the series, Chicago Daily Tribune sports writer Edward Burns spotlighted this trademark, which Dean evidenced at a self-created press conference.  “Among other things the elder Dean revealed that he had told Manager Frankie Frisch of the Cardinals that he not only was prepared to pitch the opener of the world series [sic] here but that he could, and would, if Frisch desired, pitch the first four games of the series.  He conceded, however, that this, perhaps, would be unfair to his brother Paul and other St. Louis pitchers whose names have slipped us just now.”

Indeed, the Cardinals’ outstanding pitching was often a fraternal affair in ’34, with Paul Dean going 19-11.  Though they shared the same bloodline, Paul and Dizzy differed greatly in their approaches to life.  St. Louis sports writer J. Roy Stockton chronicled the exploits of the Cardinals in his 1945 book The Gashouse Gang and a couple of other guys, including the famed Dean brothers.  “Dizzy reeked with color and was the answer to a baseball writer’s prayer as soon as he broke into organized baseball.  Paul, without Dizzy, would have been just another good pitcher.  He wouldn’t go on strikes and he wouldn’t miss any trains.  He’d just pitch, attend to business and save his money.  Dizzy was a bundle of nerves, always raring to go, never still a minute.  Sit Paul down in an easy chair and he’s stay put for hours.”

All was not smooth, however.  The Dean brothers squared off against Cardinals management in the ’34 season.  A salary dispute caused the Deans to sit out and, consequently, suffer a financial penalty and 10-day suspension issued by the front office.  Thankfully, the brothers resolved their quarrel with the brass after a judicial ruling backed the Cardinals’ fine and suspension.  On September 21, 1934, Paul Dean pitched a no-hitter against the Dodgers.

In his 2007 book The Gashouse Gang: How Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher, Branch Rickey, Pepper Martin, and their Colorful, Come-from-Behind Ball Club Won the World Series—and America’s Heart—During the Great Depression, John Heidenry described the silver linings in the clouds of discord.  “The ultimate result, though, was to strengthen the other players’ respect for Frisch,” wrote Heidenry.  “Before the revolt, the Cardinals had ability; after the rebellion, team spirit and determination coalesced.  Dizzy paid his fines and wrote a telegraphed apology to the fans in Detroit.  Though sympathetic supporters from around the country sent him money to help him pay his fines, he sent back every dime.

“Of course, it was not long before the two Deans are back in everyone’s good graces.  It was almost impossible to stay angry with those two fun-loving southern boys.  Best of all, during the final stretch, the Dean brothers became virtually invincible.”

Dizzy and Paul Dean won two games apiece against the Detroit Tigers in the 1934 World Seriesin the seventh game, Dizzy scattered six hits, went the full nine, and shut out the Tigers 11-0.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 16, 2016.

The Amazing Season of Timothy Keefe

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

In 1888, Timothy Keefe won 19 consecutive games for the New York Giants.  Or did he?

On July 16th, Keefe left the mound in the second inning of a game against the Chicago White Stockings—he played the rest of the game in the outfield.  Buck Ewing, the Giants catcher and field manager, moved Keefe to protect him from wearing out during a fantastic pitching streak.  At the time, a pitcher did not need to be on the mound for a minimum of five innings to receive an official victory in his record.

Keefe’s outstanding performance, despite the squabbles that may arise regarding the impact of the July 16th game, underscored a fantastic year for the Giants as they penetrated the National League competition to meet the St. Louis Browns in the World Series.  New York’s beloved team emerged as the champion.

When the season began, though, Keefe created clouds of question marks that hovered over the New York sunshine when he held out for a higher salary.  In the April 11th edition of the New-York Tribune, Keefe remained fortnight but firm in his quest.  “I was just thinking about taking a train for Boston,” revealed Keefe.  “I guess I will remain over, however, a day or two, and see if the difference in salary cannot be settled.  I want $4,000 and will sign with the club when I get it and not before.  I am satisfied with the New York Club and have always been treated right by the management, but I think I am worth that amount to the club and will not sign until I get it.  I don’t want my release, and neither do I want to go to any other club.  I would rather play in New York than any place else in the country.”

Tribune editorial on April 15th praised the hurler, who went 35-12 in 1888.  “Keefe is a wonderful pitcher, of course, probably the best in the country today.  The local club cannot very well get along without him, and he never loses sight of that fact.”  Further, the newspaper took the position that Keefe and John Montgomery Ward, another holdout, would reach a compromise with the team’s management.

They did.

Keefe’s 1888 statistics reflect his dominance—leading the major leagues in winning percentage (.745), shutouts (8), and strikeouts (335).  Additionally, Keefe’s 1.74 Earned Run Average led the National League.

It was a time full of glory in New York.  To begin his 1952 book The New York Giants: An Informal History of  Great Baseball Club, Frank Graham described the 1880s from its societal elements to its grimy underbelly.  “This was New York in the elegant eighties and these were the Giants, fashioned in elegance, playing on the Polo Grounds, then at 110 Street [sic] and Fifth Avenue,” wrote Graham.

“It was the New York of the brownstone house and the gaslit streets, of the top hat and the hansom cab, of oysters and champagne and perfecto cigars, of Ada Rehan and Oscar Wilde and the young John L. Sullivan.  It also was the New York of the Tenderloin and the Bowery, of the slums and the sweat shops, of goats grazing among shanties perched on the rocky terrain of Harlem.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 1, 2016.

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 www.thesportspost.com on August 26, 1951.

Greg Brady vs. Danny Partridge

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

In the first half of the 1970s, two clans ruled Friday night television—The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family.  Both shows aired on ABC.

Dodgers legend Don Drysdale met the Bradys in the episode “The Dropout” as a client of Mike Brady, America’s favorite fictional architect until Ted Mosby came along to recount the tale of how he met his children’s mother.  After Mike displays his design for Drysdale’s new house, he asks #53 to talk with the Brady Boys—Greg, Peter, and Bobby.

Greg Brady has a sure-fire career of success on the baseball diamond.  Or so he believes, anyway.  A pitcher in the Pony League, Greg has stars in his eyes after Drysdale offers encouraging, kind, and seemingly benign words about Greg being in the big leagues someday, maybe even a “bonus baby” with a lucrative deal.

The allure of a baseball career overshadows Greg’s sense of reality.  At Mike’s request, Drysdale visits 4222 Clinton Way, this time with the purpose of affirming the gritty parts of baseball to Greg, including soaking your pitching arm in ice.  Still, Greg’s ego expands the typical childhood fantasy of playing in the major leagues into a full-blooded assault on perspective.

When Greg gets pounded for 12 runs in the first inning of his next game, his coach benches him.  With tears in his eyes, Greg nearly gives up baseball until receiving fatherly insight from the Brady patriarch about not everyone being a Don Drysdale.

In the Partridge Family episode “The Strike-Out King,” Danny Partridge reluctantly pursues baseball to fulfill his mother’s request that he spend more time with children his own age, hovering on the cusp of being teenagers.  Surprisingly, Danny has the makings of an ace pitcher.  Dan the Man.

Even more surprising is the turn in Danny’s attitude.  After tasting success in his first game, Danny becomes enamored with baseball.  He rattles off baseball statistics like he’s preparing to partner with Curt Gowdy in the broadcast booth.  Then, Danny starts to feel pressure from a coach highlighting victory as the primary goal while forgetting that the kids need to have fun, too.

When Mrs. Partridge shows the coach that an emphasis on winning has destructive consequences to the kids’ emotional welfare, a shift occurs—the coach focuses on fun without losing any of his enthusiasm.  Danny, on the verge of quitting, rebounds to pitch the game.  His team wins the league championship.

Jackie Earle Haley has a small role in this episode as a teammate of Danny’s, a foreshadowing of his success in the The Bad News Bears series of movies.

Both episodes showcase the importance of keeping an ego in check.  Even when Greg’s idol dispenses insights about the realities of baseball’s dark side, Greg refuses to listen.  In Danny’s case, the coach as the ego problem.  By prizing a pennant while excluding emotional consequences, he unknowingly risks losing his ace pitcher.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on August 31, 2014.