Posts Tagged ‘Society for American Baseball Research’

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.

Satchel Paige Joins the Indians

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was, to be sure, past his prime when the Cleveland Indians signed him in 1948.  An icon of the Negro Leagues, Paige reportedly signed on his 42nd birthday, making his major league début two days later.  Pitching against the St. Louis Browns, Paige entered the game in the fifth inning—he hurled two innings, allowed two hits, and frustrated the Browns.  Left fielder Whitey Platt, a .271 hitter in 1948 with 123 hits in 123 games, “had been so fooled that he threw his bat far down the third base line,” wrote A.S. “Doc” Young, Sports Editor for the Cleveland Call and Post.

Aggravation manifested after the game for the Browns, despite the victory.  Young described, “Over in the Browns’ dressing room, Manager Zack Taylor was still muttering about the ‘hesitation’ pitch, the one where Paige practically completes a follow through before releasing the ball.  That pitch, Paige said, was legal 20 years ago!”

Although the Indians lost the game 5-3, Paige’s performance overshadowed the defeat.  It was a formidable start for the next chapter of a storied career; the Indians beat the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series.

In Paige’s Society for American Baseball Research biography, Larry Tye—author of the 2009 book Satchel:  The Life and Times of an American Legend—wrote, “His 6-1 record was neither a joke nor an afterthought; it was the highest winning percentage on an outstanding Indians staff and a crucial factor in the team capturing the pennant, which it did by a single game over the Red Sox.  Each game he won had fans and writers marveling over what he must have been like in his prime and which other lions of blackball had been lost to the Jim Crow system of segregation.”

Two tv-movies depict Paige.  HBO’s Soul of the Game, a 1996 offering starring Delroy Lindo, revolves around the decision to select the first black player for the major leagues; Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige are the primary contenders.  In the New York Times, Caryn James praised, “But unlike most baseball movies, this one resists melodrama and saccharine inspiration most of the time.  Mr. Lindo, who has had powerful smaller roles in films like ‘Malcolm X’ and ‘Clockers,’ proves himself to be one of the best leading actors around.  In scenes between Paige and his wife (Salli Richardson), he is at once a realist about the pervasive racism of society and a relentless optimist about his own potential.  Though more saintly than his biographers would have it, this Paige deserves to be the deeply humane hero Mr. Lindo makes him.”

In 1981, ABC aired Don’t Look Back:  The Story of Leroy “Satchel” Paige.  Starring Lou Gossett, Jr., Don’t Look Back benefited from Paige’s insight.  Ken Watts of Associated Press explained, “As technical adviser, the flamboyant Paige gave Gossett valuable insight into his character.  In some parts of the film, shots of Gossett are intercut with actual footage of Paige on the mound.  The resemblance is so strong, it is difficult to separate the two.”

Paige reflected on his career while watching Gossett retreat it.  “Me and the rest of ’em (Negro League players), we had to stay around for so long before we was recognized as anything, if you want me to tell you the truth,” stated Paige.  “Bitter?  Naw.  We never had much of anything, but we did have lots of fun.  If I had to do it all again, I’d do it exactly the same way.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 9, 2016.

New Owners in the Bronx

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

During the waning days of World War II, ownership of the New York Yankees transitioned—Dan Topping, Del Webb, and Larry MacPhail grouped to purchase the Yankees on January 26, 1945 from the heirs of Colonel Jacob Ruppert.  $2.75 million changed hands for 86.88 per cent, according to the New York Herald Tribune‘s Rud Rennie, who also reported that team president Ed Barrow sold his 10 per cent interest to the Topping-Webb-MacPhail trio for “an estimated $250,000.”  Ruppert’s brother George, nephew Ruppert Schalk, and niece Anna Dunn owned the remaining 3.12 per cent.

Financial realities for Ruppert’s estate generated the sale.  Rennie wrote, “Ever since Colonel Ruppert died, the sale of the club has been necessary to realize funds for the administration of the estate.  The government’s appraisal of the estate was prohibitive to the sale of the club.  Eventually, the government agreed to use the sale price as the real valuation.”

Topping’s life seems like fodder for a B-movie during the studio system era.  In the Topping biography for the Society for American Baseball Research Baseball Biography Project, Daniel R. Levitt and Mark Armour wrote, “Dan Topping enjoyed a ‘sportsman’ lifestyle we seldom see anymore in America, one founded on inherited wealth, some athletic ability, and active involvement in professional or other sports.  The life also often entailed a playboy youth and multiple attractive socialite wives.  Topping fit the mold perfectly.

Further, Topping added a celebrity factor to his persona when he married ice skating icon Sonja Henie.

Funded by his success in construction, Del Webb diversified his portfolio with his ownership stake in the Yankees, which, in turn, aided his construction projects.  In his 1999 obituary of Webb, A. D. Hopkins of the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote, “Yankees tickets clinched deals for corporate construction contracts and made Webb a friend to senators with porkbarrel [sic] projects to build.”

MacPhail was a baseball legend by the time he invested in the Yankees.  As General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds, MacPhail introduced night baseball to the major leagues.  During his tenure in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ front office, MacPhail forged an unbreakable link with the fans.

In a 1941 profile for The New Yorker, Robert Lewis Taylor wrote, “Bellicose, red-faced, and clownish, he is the idol of a community which demands such qualities of its heroes.  The people there are comfortable in the knowledge that MacPhail will take care of all disparagers of their baseball team.  He never disappoints them.  His command of vituperation and eagerness to battle for the Brooklyn team have made him, by extension, a kind of borough defender.”

After the 1942 season, MacPhail departed from baseball to join the war effort as a Lieutenant Colonel with the Service of Supply.

Upon the purchase of the Yankee ball club, MacPhail asserted his leadership.  In the 1987 book The Roaring Redhead:  Larry MacPhailBaseball’s Great Innovator, Don Warfield wrote, “As the season started it became more and more evident that there was really only one person running the show.  The quiet and talented Barrow, newly elected to the title of Chairman of the Board, became extraneous and pretty much a figurehead.  In reality, it was no one’s fault.  When MacPhail was involved in an enterprise, especially when he was an owner of a third of that enterprise and its president, there was really not much authority left to go around.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 25, 2016.

Welch’s Wizardry

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Pitchers can become overwhelming forces during a season.

Denny McLain went 31-6 in 1968.

Nolan Ryan struck out more than 300 batters in a season five times.

Ron Guidry’s 25 wins in 1978 comprised exactly 25% of the Yankees’ 100 victories.

In 1985, Dwight Gooden compiled a 24-4 record in addition to leading the major leagues in ERA, strikeouts, complete games, and innings pitched.

Walter Johnson burned through American League lineups like a torch through oil-soaked rags in 1913, ending the season with a 36-7 record.  His 1.14 ERA is the second-lowest for a single season.

1885 belonged to Mickey Welch of the New York Giants.  With a 44-11 record, Welch’s victories accounted for more than half of the Giants’ total.  Welch’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site notes that “Smiling Mickey” completed all 55 games that he started, won 17 consecutive games, and tallied a 1.66 ERA.  In addition, he struck out 258 batters.

Baseball historian Bill Lamb denoted the difference between Welch and Timothy Keefe, another Giants standout on the mound, in his biography of Welch for the Society for American Baseball Research Biography Project.  “But away from the field, Welch and Keefe were polar opposites,” wrote Lamb.  “Keefe was a quiet, serious man, reserved, almost aloof in manner, and he sported the handlebar mustache near-ubiquitous among the ballplayers of the 1880s.  In contrast, the clean-shaven Welch was a fun-lover.  Although he reputedly refrained from tobacco, swearing, and hard liquor, Mickey was a fabled beer drinker, given to composing impromptu ditties about his favorite beverage.  He also frequently entertained teammates, companions, and other bar-goers with a fine Irish tenor singing voice.

In his 1988 book The Giants of the Polo Grounds:  The Glorious Times of Baseball’s New York Giants, Noel Hynd wrote, “Welch was quickly developing into one of the most prolific beer drinkers of the nineteenth century, one reason he was always said to be smiling.  Welch loved his suds so dearly that he was even given to writing rhymes and jingles about them, then setting the verses to music.”

Ultimately, the Chicago White Stockings defeated the Giants for the 1885 National League pennant by two games.  An August 31st article in the New-York Tribune emphasized the team’s lack of attention as a source of losses.  “The New-York nine ought to have the lead instead of being one game behind,” stated the Tribune.  “It cannot be denied that the New-York men have lost several games through over-confidence.  They considered their opponents to be of little consequence and the mistake has cost them dearly.  Every player in the club, however, is determined to win the pennant, if hard work during the remainder of the season can win it, and no more careless playing will be tolerated.”

Welch won 30 or more games four times in his career; for his five years in the major leagues preceding the 1885 season, Welch racked up 113 victories.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 22, 2016.

The Saga of Eddie Gaedel

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

On August 19, 1951, Eddie Gaedel strode to home plate in a St. Louis Browns uniform adorned with the fraction 1/8 rather than a whole number, signifying his physical stature similar to that of the folks who set Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road.

Gaedel’s cup of coffee in the major leagues consisted of a single at-bat, when he faced Bob Cain of the Detroit Tigers in the first inning of the first game of a doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park.  In 2002, Fred Bucholz, the Browns’ batboy, recalled the game for St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Tom Wheatley.  “The fans were laughing, but no one said nothing in our dugout,” said Bucholz.  “They were just shocked.  Nothing like that had ever happened before.  Usually the guys would yell for someone to get a hit.  Here, nothing.”

A publicity stunt conceived by Browns owner Bill Veeck, Gaedel had a signed contract, giving him the legitimacy required to play in a Major League Baseball game.  Veeck embraced wackiness, seeing it as an added value for the fans.  In his second tenure as owner of the White Sox from 1976 to 1981, Veeck installed a shower in the centerfield bleachers so fans could cool off on hot Chicago days, instructed Harry Caray to sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch, and commanded the White Sox to wear shorts in a gimmick that proved to last about as long as the notion of somebody defeating Richard J. Daley in a Chicago mayoral election between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s.

In his 2000 book The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, Peter Golenbock cited Browns manager Zack Taylor as a source for the Gaedel idea.  Taylor said, “When I was with the Giants, we used to sit around the hotel lobby nights listening to the boss.  John McGraw never forgot a pitch of any game the Giants ever played under him.  And he always was scheming up new ways to win.  One time he came up with the idea that it might not be bad to carry a little fellow around and send him up to bat to get a base on balls if the score was tied in the ninth.

“Of course, nobody ever did it.  But I never forgot what McGraw said.  So when Veeck suggested hiring a little fellow, I told him what McGraw had said years before.  Veeck got on the phone to Chicago right away and checked up to find there wasn’t any rule against it.”

Veeck had only taken control of the Browns in July 1951, but acted swiftly to differentiate the Browns from their crosstown rivals, the Cardinals.  Promotion was, in Veeck’s view, the key to getting fans in the stands.

Gaedel was just one part of the entertainment designed by Veeck on August 19th.  In the Sporting News article “Day Veeck Outdid Himself; Midget Circus with Browns” marking the 30th anniversary of the event, legendary St. Louis sportswriter Bob Broeg explained, “Veeck had promised to put on a show, and the master promoter gave the fans a good buildup, which included free cake and ice creams as they entered the park and a lively between-games show.

“There was a juggler at first base, trampolinists at second and hand-balancers pyramided at third.  Baseball clown Max Patkin did his routines and Satchel Paige, playing the drums, led a poor man’s Pepper Martin Mudcat Band onto the field.

“Aerial bombs exploded miniature flags that floated onto the field.  Then, on signal, popping out of a large papier mache [sic] cake at the pitcher’s mound, came a cute little fellow dressed in a pre-shrunk Browns uniform.”

Sadly, Gaedel died in 1961, a result of a street mugging in Chicago.  In an article for the Winter 1987 edition of National Pastimea Society for American Baseball Research publication—republished in the March 1989 edition of Beckett Monthly, Jim Reiser wrote, “After the mugging, he apparently staggered home and died in his bed of a heart attack.  Paramedics were unable to revive him.  A coroner’s report said that Gaedel also had bruises on his knees and his face.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on August 19, 2015.

The Man Who Made the Mud Hens Famous

Monday, November 21st, 2016

As Corporal—later Sergeant—Maxwell Q. Klinger on M*A*S*H, Jamie Farr brought laughter to millions and fame to the Toledo Mud Hens as he incorporated his hometown of Toledo, Ohio into the Klinger character.

On his web site www.jamiefarr.com, Farr explains the nexus between actor and character:  “Klinger’s back story was, in part, my back story.  I came from Toledo.  So, too, did Klinger. I never forgot some of my old neighborhood haunts, like Packo’s Hot Dogs.  Neither did Klinger.  I rooted for a minor league baseball club called the Toledo Mud Hens.  So, too, did Klinger.”

Indeed, Farr often wore a Mud Hens jersey and donned the team’s cap as a wink and a nod to his hometown.  Consequently, Toledo and Mud Hens became household names to a national television viewing audience.

Like his fictional counterpart, Farr saw the Mud Hens play at Swayne Field.  Noah H. Swayne donated the land for the ballpark.  Wayne’s father was United States Supreme Court Justice Noah H. Swayne, appointed by President Lincoln.

John R. Husman’s article for the Society for American Baseball Research web site discusses Swayne Field’s genesis:  “Swayne Field was privately financed and as fine and modern a baseball park as there was in America when it rose out of an old fairgrounds in west Toledo.  It was the largest baseball playing field in the world.  Construction of Swayne Field began on March 6, 1909.  Less than four months later, baseball was played there.  The concrete and steel plant was the apparent brainchild and investment of William R. Armour and Noah H. Swayne, Jr.”

M*A*S*H ran on CBS for 11 seasons—from 1972 to 1983—giving Farr ample opportunity to promote his Toledo heritage and Mud Hens fandom.  From the beginning, Farr was in the cast as a member of the United States Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077 during the Korean War.  First, though, he had a supporting role.  In the early seasons, Klinger tried to get a section 8 discharge requiring an assessment of him having a mental disorder.  His modus operandi was wearing women’s clothes to persuade doctors, especially psychiatrists, to authorize the discharge.  It never happened.

Gary Burghoff played Corporal Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly, the Company Clerk for the 4077th.  After Burghoff departed the show, Farr stepped into his shoes as Klinger took over the clerical duties that kept the 4077th operating.  Before M*A*S*H, Farr found regular work as a guest star on network television shows, including Room 222The Flying NunFamily AffairGomer Pyle: USMCGet SmartGarrison’s GorillasThe Dick Van Dyke ShowDeath Valley DaysMy Favorite Martian, and F Troop.

Farr got his show business break as Santini, a mentally challenged student in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier as a teacher and a rebel student, respectively, in an urban high school.  Farr said, “For its time, Blackboard Jungle was pretty shocking, so shocking that MGM thought it best to put a pious disclaimer on the screen at the beginning of the film stating that all schools were not like this—so as not to alienate hundreds of thousands of school teachers all over America.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 1, 2014.

New Jersey’s Hall of Famers

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

New Jersey is more than the land of Bruce Springsteen, Tony Soprano, and the Meadowlands.  It is also the home state for three players in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In a career spanning 1888 to 1901, Billy Hamilton played for the Kansas City Cowboys, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Beaneaters.  The Newark native holds the record for most runs scored in a single season—198 in 1894.  During that season, Hamilton also tied George Gore’s record of most stolen bases in one game—7.  Gore set the record in 1881 with the Chicago White Stockings.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Hamilton in 1961.

Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin and Joseph Michael “Ducky” Medwick received their inductions in 1968.  Goslin, a native of Salem—in the southern part of New Jersey—grew up shouldering chores on his family’s 500-acre farm in nearby Fort Mott.  For Larry Ritter’s book The Glory of Their Times, Goslin recalled baseball interfering with farm work.  “I always played ball around the sandlots here when I was a kid,” said Goslin.  “I’d ride 10 miles on my bike to play ball, play all day long, and then get a spanking when I got back ’cause I’d get home too late to milk the cows.”

When he got to the major leagues, Goslin received the nickname “Goose” from sports editor Denman Thompson, according to Goslin’s Society for American Baseball Research biography.  A left fielder for the Washington Senators, Goslin won the 1928 American League batting title with a .379 batting average.  He beat Heinie Manush of the St. Louis Browns by .001.

Goslin played for the Senators, the Detroit Tigers, and the Browns in a career lasting from 1921 to 1938.  His pedigree includes a .316 lifetime batting average, 1,609 RBI, and two World Series championships—1924 Senators and 1935 Tigers.

Medwick, a native of Carteret, New Jersey, enjoyed a 17-season career, including stints with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the Boston Braves.  Also a left fielder, Medwick compiled a .324 lifetime batting average that includes 2,471 hits, 540 doubles, and 1383 RBI.  In 1937, Medwick won the Triple Crown Award and the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  Medwick’s Cardinals and Goslin’s Tigers faced each other in the 1934 World Series; the Cardinals won.

Medwick’s hometown furthers the legacy of its favorite baseball son with Joseph Medwick Park.  It is Carteret’s largest recreational facility—88 acres, including two Little League fields.  One is synthetic, the other has natural grass.  Medwick’s portrait hangs in Carteret’s Borough Hall.

A version of this article originally appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 1, 2013.

Bad Bill Dahlen

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Bill Dahlen earned his nickname “Bad Bill” because of his arguing style that had the finesse of a 300-pound ballerina.  It triggered 65 ejections for Dahlen, a figure in the Top 10 in baseball history.

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Building An Author Platform? Always Go For the Porsche!

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

“We got the Porsche! We got the Porsche!”

I heard these words of celebration ringing on a spring night in 1986.

I was not quite 19 years old, a somewhat shy pledge at Tau Epsilon Phi, Tau Beta chapter at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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Martín Dihigo Is the Best Baseball Player You Never Heard Of

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Keeping the flame of baseball history alive requires more than reading books, writing articles, and watching documentaries about well-known players, including Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Roberto Clemente, Lou Gehrig. For the flame to burn steadily, other players in the shadows cast by the spotlight must be recognized.

Such is the purpose of today’s missive.

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