Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

What If the Dodgers Had Stayed in Brooklyn?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

What if the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn?  Further, what if migration in the modern era had never taken place, thereby forcing expansion in Kansas City, San Francisco, and other MLB cities.

My paradigm assumes the following:

  • Tampa, Toronto, Arizona, and Montreal do not have teams
  • A’s, Braves, Browns, Dodgers, and Senators stay in their original locations
  • The Giants move to Minneapolis after the 1957 season.
  • Team names reflect the location’s history and lore
    • Grizzly Bears:  California’s state animal
    • Conquistadors:  Group claiming Oakland for Spain’s king in the 1770s
    • Loggers:  Washington state’s rich logging history
    • Gold:  Northern California’s gold rush in the mid-19th century
    • Mountaineers:  Georgia’s magnificent mountains
    • Astronauts:  Houston’s fame as the home of NASA
    • Express:  Colorado’s key role in America’s railroad history

Expansion teams have their inaugural years in parentheses.

1961-1965

American League

Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Los Angeles Angels (1961)
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
St. Louis Browns
San Francisco Gold (1961)
Washington Senators

National League

Boston Braves
Brooklyn Dodgers
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Los Angeles Grizzly Bears (1961)
Milwaukee Brewers (1961)
Minnesota Giants
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals

1966-1975

American League East

Baltimore Orioles (1966)
Boston Red Sox
Cleveland Indians
Georgia Mountaineers (1966)
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
Washington Senators

American League West

Chicago White Sox
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals (1966)
Los Angeles Angels (1961)
San Francisco Gold (1961)
St. Louis Browns
Texas Rangers (1966)

National League East

Boston Braves
Brooklyn Dodgers
Cincinnati Reds
Denver Express (1966)
Houston Astronauts (1966)
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates

National League West

Chicago Cubs
Los Angeles Grizzly Bears (1961)
Milwaukee Brewers (1961)
Minnesota Giants
St. Louis Cardinals
San Diego Padres (1966)
Seattle Loggers (1966)

1976-Present

American League East

Baltimore Orioles (1966)
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
Washington Senators

American League Central

Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Georgia Mountaineers (1966)
St. Louis Browns

American League West

Kansas City Royals (1966)
Los Angeles Angels (1961)
Oakland Conquistadors (1976)
San Francisco Gold (1961)
Texas Rangers (1976)

National League East

Boston Braves
Brooklyn Dodgers
Miami Marlins (1976)
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates

National League Central

Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Houston Astronauts (1966)
Milwaukee Brewers (1961)
St. Louis Cardinals

National League West

Denver Express (1966)
Los Angeles Grizzly Bears (1961)
Minnesota Giants
San Diego Padres (1966)
Seattle Loggers (1966)

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 14, 2016.

What if…

Friday, April 21st, 2017

What if…

Charlie Finley hadn’t broken up the 1970s Oakland A’s dynasty?

Bob Uecker hadn’t appeared in Major League?

there was no Designated Hitter position?

the Mets had never traded Nolan Ryan to the Angels?

Yogi Berra had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers?

George Steinbrenner had never bought the Yankees?

the Dodgers had never moved from Brooklyn?

the Giants had moved to Minneapolis instead of San Francisco?

the Red Sox had never sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees?

Walter O’Malley had never owned the Brooklyn Dodgers?

the Red Sox had integrated in 1949 instead of 1959?

Satchel Paige had pitched against Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and other Hall of Famers in their prime?

Bob Feller and Ted Williams had never lost years to military service in World War II?

Mickey Mantle hadn’t blown out his knee in the 1951 World Series?

Bobby Thomson had struck out against Ralph Branch?

Commissioner William Eckert had never invalidated Tom Seaver’s contract with the Atlanta Braves?

Major League Baseball banned synthetic grass?

the Mets had never traded Tom Seaver to the Reds?

Reggie Jackson had never played for the Yankees?

Thurman Munson hadn’t died in a plane crash?

Mickey Mantle had stayed healthy in the home stretch of 1961?

The Natural had ended the same was as the eponymous novel?

the Indians hadn’t traded Chris Chambliss, Dennis Eckersley, Buddy Bell, and Graig Nettles?

the Braves hadn’t never left Boston for Milwaukee?

the first incarnation of the Washington Senators hadn’t left for Minnesota to become the Twins?

the second incarnation of the Washington Senators hadn’t left for Texas to become the Rangers?

the Seattle Pilots hadn’t left for Milwaukee to become the Brewers?

Jim Bouton hadn’t written Ball Four?

Roger Kahn hadn’t written The Boys of Summer?

Mark Harris hadn’t written Bang the Drum Slowly?

Jackie Robinson had sought a football career instead of a baseball career?

Billy Martin hadn’t managed the Yankees in the late 1970s?

Gil Hodges hadn’t died in 1972, during a high point in the history of the Mets?

Vin Scully had stayed in New York City and announced for the Yankees or the Mets?

Bob Feller had pitched for the Yankees?

Ted Williams had played for the Yankees?

Joe DiMaggio had played for the Red Sox?

Charles Ebbets hadn’t owned the Brooklyn Dodgers?

Honolulu had a Major League Baseball team?

Pete Rose were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

the commissioner’s office rescinded the lifetime banishment of the 1919 Black Sox from Major League Baseball?

Hank Aaron had played in the same outfield as Willie Mays?

Wiffle Ball hadn’t been invented?

Nashville had a Major League Baseball team?

Dwight Goodman and Darryl Strawberry had stayed away from drugs?

Roberto Clemente had played for the Dodgers instead of the Pirates?

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

The Lone Star Years of Román Mejías

Friday, February 24th, 2017

During the Colt .45s’ inaugural season—1962—Houstonians could point to few bright spots in the team’s 64-96 record.  Román Mejías was one of them.

Mejías played in 146 games, swatted 162 hits, and finished the season with a .286 batting average.  Initially a product of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, the Cuban outfielder broke into the major leagues in 1955.  A year prior, he noticed a 55-game hitting streak for the Pirates’ minor league team in Waco, Texas.

In his article “Mejías of Waco Batting .345 of Pirate Farm Club” in the August 11, 1954 edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald, Oscar Larnce spotlighted the phenom’s talent.  “I don’t see how Mejías can miss.  He can do everything and is improving every day.  He was in Class D last year, then jumped into a tough Class B league and still gets better,” said Buster Chatham, the Pirates’ business manager, as quoted by Larnce.

Mejías spent six seasons with Pittsburgh, never playing in more than 96 games.  In 1960 and 1961, he played a total of seven games.

On Opening Day in 1962, Mejías clocked two home runs and notched six RBI to help the Colt .45s start Houston’s major league status with a victory over the Cubs. Mejías’s ability did not, however, result in selecting for the first All-Star game of 1962.  In an article for the Pittsburgh Press about Mejías’s All-Star situation, Les Biederman noted that Mejías led the Houston ball club at the plate—.317 batting average, 20 home runs, 54 RBI.

Little by little, Mejías learned English.  “New man.  I disgusted last year when Pirates send me to Columbus,” he explained in the Biederman article.  “I feel I can play in majors and never have real chance.  Figure no more chances but Houston take me and now new man.

“No swing bad balls anymore.  Not always strikes but no way to reach for ball can’t hit.  No more wait for ball over middle of plate.  Can’t get hit with bat on shoulder.”

Houston’s baseball fans embraced the slugger.  In his article “Mejías’ Season of Milk, Honey?” in the May 30, 1962 edition of the Houston Chronicle, Zarko Franks wrote, “Few will argue with Mejías’ popularity with the fans back home.  The roar of their voices when he comes to bat is sufficient testimony.”

Because of political strife in Cuba during the early years of Fidel Castro’s regime, Mejías suffered a separation from his wife, son, daughter, and two sisters for 14 months.

After the ’62 season, the Colt .45s traded Mejías to the Red Sox for Pete Runnels.  Fenway Park’s brain trust commenced brainstorming to bring the Mejías clan into the United States.  Boston Globe sports writer Hy Hurwitz reported, “The Red Sox very quietly went about assisting Mejías in his plight.  There was no publicity on the Mejías predicament by request of certain officials who felt that any publicity might endanger the family’s chance for release from the Castro-dominated island.

“Exactly how much the Red Sox and owner Tom Yawkey did for this 31-year-old man will never be told.  Yawkey won’t let it be told.”

However it was accomplished, the Red Sox organization did its legacy proud in securing safe transport for Mejías’s family in March 1963.

Mejías ended his career in a Red Sox uniform after the 1964 season.

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

Bobby Valentine, Tommy Lasorda, and the 1970 Spokane Indians

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Among its symbols, Spokane boasts The Historic Davenport Hotel, the Bing Crosby Theatre, and the Monroe Street Bridge.  They are, to be sure, propellants of the city’s physical, cultural, and architectural landscapes.

Baseball contributes an equally significant identifier to this foothold of the Inland Northwest.

And so it was—and continues to be—with the 1970 Spokane Indians.

Indians shortstop Bobby Valentine won the Pacific Coast League MVP Award, with a .340 batting average, 211 hits, and 122 runs scored.  IN a 2015 Hartford Courant article by Owen Canfield, Valentine praised Tommy Lasorda, the Indians manager, for offering positive reinforcement at a low point.  “After one particularly tough fielding game for me, he came into the locker room and said to the other players, ‘Go and get yourselves a pen and paper and get Bobby’s autograph, because some day he’s going to be great.'”

At the time, the AAA Indians belonged in the Dodgers’ minor league hierarchy.  Lasorda, of course, succeeded Walter Alston as the Dodgers’ manager, stayed at the helm for the next 20 years, and became a Chavez Ravine icon.  Spokane was a highly significant facilitator for the Dodgers—Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Von Joshua, Joe Ferguson, and Charlie Hough played for the Indians before getting called up to “the show.”

In his 1985 autobiography The Artful Dodger, written with David Fisher, Lasorda described his strategy of converting ballplayers to different positions—Davey Lopes, for example.  “He was a bona fide, blue-chip, big league prospect,” explained Lasorda.  “His only problem was that he was an outfielder, and the organization had an abundance of talented outfielders.  We needed shortstops and second basemen.  Since Russell and Valentine were already working out at shortstop, I told Davey I wanted to make him a second baseman.  He resisted the idea at first, but once I’d convinced him he would get to the big leagues a lot faster as an infielder, he accepted it.”

Lopes became a mainstay of the Dodgers infield in the 1970s, along with Ron Cey at third base, Russell at shortstop, and Garvey at first base.

In 1970, the Indians notched a 94-52 record, captured the PCL’s Northern Division by 26 games, and won the PCL championship by defeating the Hawaii Islanders in a four-game sweep.

From 1958 to 1972, the Indians belonged in the Dodgers organization, with subsequent affiliations to Texas, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Kansas City.  The team’s genesis began, effectively, on December 2nd, when the Dodgers and the Giants agreed to pay $900,000 in damages to the PCL for transporting into the league’s territory upon their exoduses from Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively.

A three-team move followed, rearranging the Los Angeles Angels to Spokane, the San Francisco Seals to Phoenix, and the Hollywood Stars to Salt Lake City.  Hollywood and the other PCL teams—Vancouver, Seattle, Sacramento, Portland, San Diego—split the $900,000 equally, receiving $150,000 apiece.

Of the realignment, Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times clarified, “Long Beach, which has been a strong bidder for the Hollywood franchise, has no chance of landing it.  Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, among others, are solidly opposed to the beach city because of its proximity to Los Angeles.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 14, 2016.

A Capital Forfeit

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Washington, D.C. is a city often laced with discord, evidence by the combative nature of politics.  Baseball, too, is combative, but rarely on the level witnessed on September 30, 1971.

In the last game of the second incarnation of the Washington Senators, a melee erupted when the fan base, despite seeing the Senators leading the New York Yankees 7-5, manifested its displeasure at the team’s imminent transition to the Lone Star State and a new moniker—Texas Rangers.

It happened with one out remaining.  “The last out never came because the more frustrated spectators among the farewell crowd of 14,460, their emotions at a high pitch at the though of losing their team to Texas, swarmed onto the field,” wrote George Minot Jr. of the Washington Post.  “The souvenir hunters among them ripped up the bases and tore a few numbers from the scoreboard but, generally, the fans were well-behaved.”

Although the umpires declared a Senators forfeit, thereby awarding the Yankees a victory, the game’s records counted—excepting the affirmation of a winning and a losing pitcher because the Yankees trailed the Senators when forfeiture became official.  Thomas Rogers of the New York Times explained, “The umpires waited about three minutes while the mob tore out the bases and attacked the right-field scoreboard for souvenirs [sic].  Most of the light bulbs in the board were removed.

“As a crowd of several thousand stood shouting on the pitcher’s mound, the public address system announced said: ‘This game has been forfeited to New York.'”

Noting the intangible impact, or lack thereof, Minot cited Senators skipper Ted Williams, who expressed, “One more loss won’t affect our overall performance this year.”  Indeed, the Senators finished the ’71 season with a 63-96 record.  Washingtonians showcased decency toward the players, reserving their outrage for owner Robert Short, who spearheaded the move to Texas.  Legendary sports writer Shirley Povich of the Post wrote, “Those who were savoring this last, fond look at the Senators let it be known by their cheers that they absolved the athletes of all blame in the messy machinations that rooked the city of its major-league status.  Even the .190 hitters heard the hearty farewells, and in the case of big Frank Howard it was thunderous when he came to the plate.”

Moving a major league team was neither a new idea nor a shocking one by the time Short decided to uproot from the nation’s capital.  Boston, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee had lost teams; New York City lost two when the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants left for California after the 1957 season.

Washington completed its unfinished business in 2006, when the Yankees played their first game in the District of Columbia since the forfeit.  President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch with the same ball that the disturbance prevented Senators pitcher Joe Grzenda from using to pitch to Horace Clarke.  Richard Sandomir of the Times noted that the ball had been “preserved in an envelope inside a drawer in Grzenda’s house.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 15, 2016.

Aspro the Astro

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Bob Aspromonte fit nicely with the cultural paradigm built upon a “boys will be boys” philosophy in the 1960s, the decade when Joe Namath swaggered while Dean Martin swigged, offering touchstones for male fantasies of being famous and female fantasies of being in the orbit of an Alpha Male planet.

A lifetime .252 hitter, Aspromonte spent most of his 13-year career with the Houston Astros né Colt .45s. A couple of months before the Colt .45s inaugurated Major League Baseball in Houston, Mickey Herskovitz of the Houston Post profiled the Brooklyn native in a February 1, 1962 article titled “Colts’ Bob Aspromonte Favorite of the Ladies.  “The Brooklyn bachelor is so handsome that you hate him instantly…except that Bob won’t let you.  He never loses his sunny humor, no matter how much kidding he gets about being a ladykiller,” wrote Herskovitz.

A 1969 profile by Al Thomy in the Sporting News queried about Aspromonte’s single status.  “Interviewing Bob Aspromonte in a posh restaurant staffed by micro-mini clad young ladies, is not unlike trying to carry on a conversation with a harried sultan in a chattering harem.  It is most difficult to keep his attention,” wrote Thomy in “Most Eligible Bachelor…How About Aspro?”

Attention by females, though an ego boost, mattered not to performance on the baseball diamond.  “All this talk about being a bachelor and the Valentino of baseball doesn’t help a bit when I make an error,” explained Aspromonte in the Thomy piece.  “It comes back at you from the stands pretty often.  Once in Houston, after a bonehead play of mine, a fan yelled out, ‘Hey, Hollywood boy, what are you doing out there on a baseball field?  You ought to be in pictures!'”

Aspromonte started his career in 1956 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, playing one game.  After spending three seasons in the minors, Aspromonte rejoined the Dodgers, in Los Angeles by this time.  A two-year tenure in Tinseltown gave Aspromonte a gateway to starlets, though discretion was the better part of valor for the baseball bachelor.  “I don’t like to throw names around,” Aspromonte told Thomy.  “Frankly, I am not interested in having people know my private business.  But I will say I have met actresses who are delightful companions, intellectually stimulating and have intense interests in their careers.”

Houston selected Aspromonte in the National League expansion draft for 1962, the same year that the New York Mets débuted, filling the void created when the Dodgers and the Giants vacated the Big Apple for California.

During his tenure in Houston, Aspromonte entered Texas baseball lore when he knocked three home runs to fulfill promises to Bill Bradley, a 12-year-old who suffered blindness and later enjoyed the restoration of eyesight; it is a feat particularly noteworthy because Aspromonte, though a reliable hitter, hit 60 home runs in his entire major league career.  Bradley bestowed favorite player status upon Aspromonte while listening to the team’s games on the radio.

Aspromonte played seven seasons in Houston, two in Atlanta, and one in New York with the Mets.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 13, 2016.

Houston Blasts Off

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Houston ignited its major league status with victory.  On April 10, 1962, the Colt .45s overtook the Cubs 11-2 at Colt Stadium.  Bob Aspromonte, Al Spangler, and Román Mejias each scored three runs in the bout while Norm Larker and Hal Smith scored one apiece.

Bobby Shantz pitched a complete game, allowing five hits for the heroes of Chicago’s North Side.  Houston traded Shantz to the St. Louis Cardinals in May, prompting the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to publish the article “Acquisition of Shantz Produces Lefthanded Depth for Cardinals.”  It revealed a possibility that will shock the hearts of St. Louisans today because of a contemplated trade of a future Cardinals legend:  “[Cardinals general manager Bing] Devine tried hard to pry Shantz from the new Senators after they obtained him from the Yankees in the 1960 player pool.  Bob Gibson, then having his troubles, was among those offered to the Senators for Shantz.”

In their second major league game, the Colt .45s beat the Cubs 2-0.  Hal Woodeshick started the game, left in the ninth inning, and received a victory because of Dick Farrell’s relief.  With a 5-16 record for 1962, Woodeshick turned things around for 1963—he ended the season at 11-9.  In the June 5, 1963 edition of the Houston Post, Clark Nealon used his “Post Time” column to praise Woodeshick’s rebound:  “It is to say that the development of Lefty Hal Woodeshick of the Colts is the most amazing mound feature of an amazing first two months.  It’s one thing to be a moundsman of established ability and reputation and to turn in great performances as part of a very noticeable trend.

“It’s another to have been something of a frustrated workman all your career, and then to suddenly become a paragon of effectiveness and consistency.  And this is what Woodeshick has done in a manner to top not only the Colt staff but the entire National League at this writing.”

Woodeshick has the distinction of earning the first victory in the Astrodome, which hosted its first game on April 9, 1965—it was an exhibition pitting the newly named Astros against the Yankees.

The Colt .45s beat the Cubs 2-0 for the third game of the three-game series.  Richard Dozier of the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote, “The Chicago Cubs fled Texas by air at dusk today, puzzled by their sudden mediocrity, dazzled by Houston’s left handed pitching, and imbedded in ninth place—a position new even for them.”

Colt Stadium, Houston’s major league ballpark until the Astrodome eclipsed it, remains a fond memory for those who were there in ’62.  “Although Colt Stadium would soon be pushed into the shadows of the Astrodome, it still had its share of unforgettable quirks,” describes the Houston Astros web site.  “One of the most obvious of these quirks lied in the stadium seats that had colors ranging from flamingo red, burnt orange and chartreuse, to turquoise.  Also unique to Colt Stadium, female ushers were dubbed ‘Triggerettes,’ and parking attendants wore orange Stetson hats with blue neckerchiefs and directed cars into sections named ‘Wyatt Earp Territory,’ ‘Cheyenne Bodie Territory,’ and ‘Matt Dillon Territory.'”

Though off to a prodigious start for their inaugural season, the Colt .45s finished at 64-96.

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

Don Sutton Wins 300

Friday, January 13th, 2017

In a city resting on a foundation of glamour, Don Sutton provided a terrific contrast.  With a workmanlike manner, Sutton reigned over the pitcher’s mound with consistency complemented by endurance.  No ego.  No nickname.  No razzle-dazzle.

Sutton began his major league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966; the Baltimore Orioles swept the Dodgers in the ’66 World Series.  He went 12-12 in his rookie season, not breaking .500 until 1970.  It was a record hardly indicating greatness.  Despite a moderate beginning to his career, Sutton flourished.  In 1980, Sutton led the National League in Earned Run Average—2.20.  His Hall of Fame plaque calls attention to his reliability—100 or more strikeouts in a season 21 times, 15 or more victories in 12 seasons, and the fifth best career strikeout total.

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said, “When you gave him the ball, you knew one thing—your pitcher was going to give you everything he had.  You win as many games as he did—to me, that should be automatic Hall of Fame.”  Lasorda’s quote is on Don Sutton’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site.

After his lengthy stint in Los Angeles, which ended with the 1980 season, Sutton played for Houston, Milwaukee, and Oakland before playing for the California Angels in the id-1980s.  He returned to the Dodgers in 1988, which was his last season in the major leagues.

On June 18, 1986, the curly-haired pitcher reached a pinnacle rarely achieved by hurlersYou win as many games as he did—to me, that should be automatic Hall of Fame.”he won his 300th game.  In the Los Angeles Times, Mike Penner detailed Sutton’s dissimilarity with pitching legends, for example, Warren Spahn.  “And today, they have the company of the sport’s ultimate Everyman, Donald Howard Sutton,” wrote Penner.  “Sutton, who won 20 games in a season only once, who never struck out 300 batters in a season, who never had a no-hitter, who just, in his own words, kept getting people out, became the 19th pitcher in major league history to win 300 games by beating the Texas Rangers, 5-1, before an Anaheim Stadium crowd of 37,044.”

Sutton’s stoic manner disappeared after his 300th victory.  Penner described the scene taking place more than two hours after Sutton punctuated the day by striking out Gary Ward to end the game:  “But there in the darkness, still clad in his Angel uniform, was Sutton, still grinning, still clasping a celebratory plastic cup of champagne.”  It was a contrast, certainly, to Penner and other baseball insiders familiar with a pitcher uninterested in the openness connected to being a public figure.  Rhetorically and kiddingly, Penner questioned, “So this is Mr. Unemotional, eh?  The man who supposedly wears nothing on his sleeve except cuff links?  The pitcher who prides himself on two decades’ worth of poise, who attributes his long-running success to never leaving himself vulnerable to an unguarded moment?”

In 1998, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Don Sutton.  During his speech, Sutton said, “My mother used to worry about my imaginary friends ’cause I would be out in the yard playing ball. She worried because she didn’t know a Mickey, or a Whitey, or a Yogi, or a Moose, or an Elston, but I played with them every day.”

Sutton’s trajectory led him to the major leagues, where he played with and against other legends—Seaver, Palmer, Niekro, and Carlton, to name a few.  Without star power enjoyed by his peers, Sutton compiled a career undeniably worthy of belonging in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 8, 2015

Monty Stratton, Jimmy Stewart, and Hollywood

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

When The Stratton Story premiered in 1949, movie audiences without even a tangential interest in baseball became engrossed in the story of a champion whose determination serves as a model of courage.  Monty Stratton played a key role on the pitching staff of the Chicago White Sox during his brief major league career in the 1930s, but win-loss records cannot measure his contribution to baseball.  After a hunting accident led to a leg amputation, Stratton emerged from physical, emotional, and mental horrors; it was a stunning comeback.

On November 27, 1938, Stratton injured himself while hunting for rabbits on his mother’s farm, close to Greenville, Texas.  Associated Press reported that Stratton’s pistol discharged accidentally, sending a bullet into his right leg.  It severed an artery, necessitating the amputation.  Consequently, the White Sox organization presented an opportunity for lifetime employment.  Team President J. Louis Comiskey said, “Monty as a job with us as long as he wants it.  He was a fine pitcher and is a finer man.  Baseball can’t afford to lose him.”  A benefit Cubs-White Sox game raised money for the Stratton family.

Already familiar with teary subject matter in a baseball setting from directing the Lou Gehrig biopic Pride of the Yankees, Sam Wood helmed The Stratton Story.  Starring Jimmy Stewart in the title role and June Allyson as Stratton’s wife, Ethel, the movie received acclaim for its portrayal of Monty Stratton’s seemingly impossible rebound to the baseball diamond after the accident deflates his spirit, dimming a once shining career to darkness.  Stratton’s promise evidences early in the movie, when baseball scout Barney Wile tells Stratton’s mother, “He can transform a baseball into a streak of gray lightning and curve it in like it was weaving through traffic.”  Frank Morgan played Wile and Agnes Moorehead played Mrs. Stratton.

AP’s April 15, 1939 story “Stratton, Coach, Is Hopeful of Pitching Again” cited the hurler’s insistence on returning to baseball.  “It will take time, because I’ve got to learn pitching from the mound all over again,” declared Stratton, who reached his goal in 1946 with an 18-8 record with the Sherman Twins.  He played in the minor leagues sporadically between 1947 and 1950, never in more than four games each season.  Appropriately, his last team was the Greenville Majors.

The Stratton Story hit movie theaters during Monty Stratton’s comeback, making it current in addition to poignant.  With the All-American Stewart and Allyson in the starring roles, the movie generated mainstream appeal for filmgoers neither knowledgeable about nor interested in the National Pastime.  It is, after all, a story based on overcoming adversity, a universal plight.  Therefore, it is a familiar story, even if baseball specifics are mysterious to the audience.

Los Angeles Times sports columnist Braves Dyer praised, “Jimmy Stewart, as always, does a superb job and actually looks and acts like a baseball player, which he isn’t.”  In the New York Herald Tribune, Howard Barnes’s review of Stewart paralleled Dyer’s.  “Thanks to his engaging and artful performance, a sentimental and inspirational screen biography has more than a little power,” wrote Barnes.

In the Washington Post, movie critic Richard L. Coe addressed the story’s emotional impact:  “Jimmy Stewart plays him with his adroitly winning style, and you’ll admire the way both writers and Director Sam Wood have managed the sentiment without wallowing in it.”  Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper similarly lauded the direction:  “Sam Wood steered it away from the saccharine morass into which it could have fallen.”

Legendary sports writer Red Smith opined, “As viewed by a sentimentalist who can still weep over practically any page of ‘Little Women,’ it is a solid tear-jerker effectively performed by James Stewart and June Allyson, which commits no outrages when it deals with technical baseball.”  Barnes agreed regarding the representation of baseball details.  “Since the script by Douglas Morrow and Guy Trosper has some good pungent talk of the kind that might be expected from big leaguers, and Sam Wood’s direction is resourceful, the work should appeal to payment as well as ardent baseball fans,” wrote Barnes.

Stratton approved of Stewart’s portrayal.  In a “Special to the Herald Tribune,” Stratton recounted, “He was our first choice—my wife’s and mine—when we first heard about the picture.  But we really didn’t expect Hollywood to see it the same as us.”

To research Stratton’s amazing tale, Douglas Morrow, co-writer of the screenplay, ventured to Greenville, Texas.  In a scene reflecting a real-life incident, Stratton practices pitching with Ethel.  “Slowly, imperceptibly, he was developing a pitching technique,” wrote Morrow in “Standing On Top Of The World,” an article in the June 12, 1949 edition of the Los Angeles Times.  “So gradual was it that neither Monty nor Ethel realized that he had regained much of his former speed.  That is, not until he whipped a fast ball through one day that boomed into Ethel’s mitt and bowled her back on her seat.  With swollen hands and a bruised rear end.  Ethel beat a strategic retreat and Monty began pitching against the barn wall with his four-year-old son, Monty Jr., and his dog, Happy, retrieving the balls.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 2, 2015.

How the Great Falls Voyagers Got Their Name

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

More than a moniker, the name of a sports team may reflect local history, culture, and myth.  Baseball, certainly, has contributed to this linguistic equation.

San Diego is the site of the first Franciscan mission, hence the name Padres.

The West Virginia Power, the Class A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, honors the Mountain State’s energy roots, including coal, hydro-electric, and natural gas.

Baltimore’s Orioles pay tribute to Maryland’s official bird.

The Sugar Land Skeeters ball club of the Atlantic League draws its name from the Texas pronunciation of “mosquitoes,” those pesky insects indigenous to the Houston area.

A UFO incident inspired the name of the Pioneer League’s team in Great Falls, Montana—Voyagers.  It happened in August 1950, when two objects in the Great Falls sky diverted a routine inspection of Legion Park—the home field for the Great Falls Electrics, a minor league team in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.

Nicholas “Nick” Mariana, the general manager of the Electrics (or Selectrics, as the team was briefly known for the 1949 and 1950 seasons), had the duties of checking out the ballpark.  Accompanied by his secretary, 19-year-old Virginia Raunig, he saw two bright, silvery objects in the Great Falls sky.  Mariana fetched a 16-millimeter movie camera from his car to document the event.

A 2008 article on OurSports Central titled “Historic sighting spawns new image for Great Falls ball club” states the sighting’s impact:  “Media from across the nation reported on the sighting, and over the next two decades the film was examined and studied by UFO buffs, prominent scientists and engineers, the Air Force and even the CIA.  Often disputed but never refuted, the ‘Mariana Incident’ remains to this day one of the strongest cases supporting the existence of UFOs ever captured on film, and Great Falls, Montana maintains its place as one of the most active locations for UFO sightings in North America.”

The article also quoted Vinney Purport, the team president, who explained the reasoning behind the Great Falls baseball team choosing Voyagers as its new name beginning in 2008.  “The community owns the team—and it has for the past 60 years.  But it’s been hard to capture that feeling of ownership rooting for the Dodgers, Giants, or White Sox.  Now the team will continue to be the Great Falls Voyagers even if our major league affiliation happens to change.”

Did Mariana document voyagers from another planet, galaxy, or dimension?  Was it a hoax?  Is there a reasonable explanation?  Project Blue Book researched, catalogued, and analyzed thousands of UFO reports.  Mariana was not alone in witnessing or claiming to witness a UFO traveling across Earth’s skies.  The National Archives web site states, “On December 17, 1969, the Secretary of the Air Force announced the termination of Project BLUE BOOK, the Air Force program for the investigation of UFOs.

“From 1947 to 1969, a total of 12,618 sightings were reported to Project BLUE Book.”

So, are we alone in the universe?  The National Archives summarizes the project’s findings.  “As a result of these investigations and studies and experience gained from investigating UFO reports since 1948, the conclusions of Project BLUE BOOK are: (1) no UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security; (2) there has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge; and (3) there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 3, 2014.