Posts Tagged ‘Toledo’

When the Braves Left Boston

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Until 1953, New Englanders split their major league loyalties between two teams—the Braves and the Red Sox.  With a Beantown pedigree predating the National League’s formation in 1876, the former trekked to the land of beer and bratwurst—Milwaukee—while the latter, consequently, provides a single major league outlet from Boston to Bangor.

St. Patrick’s Day, an unofficial holiday for Irish folks, especially in heavily clover-laden metropolises, brought the luck of the Irish to Bostonians in 1953.  Bad luck.  Readers of the March 17th edition of the Boston Globe absorbed the words of Joseph F. Dinneen, Jr., who chronicled a last-ditch effort to keep Braves owner Lou Perini in the environs of Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, and Beacon Hill.  From the powerful came the pleas—Governor Christian Herter, Mayor John Hynes, and the Boston Chamber of Commerce.  Braves fans, of course, chimed in.

“Treated like an orphan son until news of the threatened transfer broke last weekend, the Braves suddenly became the prodigal son everyone wanted to return home—to Boston,” wrote Dinneen.

The Chamber of Commerce’s attempt sourced in dollars and cents, naturally.  If the Braves stayed, ticket sales would increase.  Or so the theory went.  Herter and Hynes joined forces, outlining a strategy for Perini to sell the team so it could remain in Boston.  Dinneen recounted the politicos’ missive sent by telegram, which stated, “Removal of the Braves’ franchise from Boston will have a disturbing and far-reaching effect on the city.  We appeal to you to reconsider the proposed removal, at least for 1953, so that other arrangements may be worked out and so that an opportunity may be provided other interests to purchase and retain the franchise in Boston.”

The Braves’ autumnal annum in Boston had numbers supporting Perini’s bottom line reasoning for the move to Milwaukee—the team finished last in National League attendance; a 64-89 record was not sufficient to draw the crowds necessary to sustain operations.

Russell Lynch, sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal, ignited Perini’s transplant to the Midwest, which was facilitated, in no small part, by the Braves’ AAA team being in Milwaukee—the Brewers.  Perini had vetoed attempts by Bill Veeck to buy the minor league franchise, including one deal that would have resulted in Veeck clearing Milwaukee for the St. Louis Browns by moving the Brewers to Toledo; ultimately, the Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season and became the Orioles.

Inspired, Lynch began a back-and-forth series of telegrams with Perini about blocking Milwaukee from becoming a major league city.  In the Globe, Roger Birtwell wrote, “Next Mr. Lynch turned to his typewriter and batted out a few columns.  The Milwaukee Journal has 350,000 readers each afternoon and half a million on Sunday.  Lynch informed them and their neighbors that Perini—the villain—was keeping major league ball out of Milwaukee.”

Perini, in turn, came to a fork in the road.  Keeping the status quo risked heightening the ire of Milwaukeeans and Bostonians alike—the former because their grasp of being a major league city exceeded their reach and the latter because the Braves continued to drain money by underperforming in the National League.

“We had made up our mind that, regardless if we had won the pennant we would go to Milwaukee next year,” said Perini, quoted in the Globe by Clif Keane.  Veeck’s maneuvers, however, ignited the transition’s rapidity.  Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley said, “I’m sorry it happened.  I’m not at all happy about it.  If it hadn’t been for that other thing (Veeck) it never would have come to this.”  After the 1957 season, O’Malley moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

Milwaukee County Municipal Stadium, initially constructed for the Brewers, became the Braves’ new home.  Meanwhile, Perini paid the American Association $50,000 for compensation in moving the Brewers from Milwaukee to Toledo, where the team changed its name to Mud Hens.

Braves field became the habitat for ghosts of Boston baseball milestones, including the 1914 “Miracle Braves,” a brief name change to Bees in the 1930s, and Babe Ruth hitting his last three home runs in one game.  A 2012 article by Patrick L. Kennedy on Boston University’s web site states that BU purchased the property for $430,000 in 1953; it was the home stadium for the AFL’s Boston Patriots from 1960 to 1962.  Renamed Nickerson Field, the facility hosts the BU men’s and women’s varsity soccer and lacrosse teams.  While the right field pavilion endures for Nickerson’s seating, Kennedy explains that BU demolished the grandstands and the left field pavilion—three dormitories and Walter Brown Arena occupy the space.  Additionally, the university’s police department inhabits the gatehouse and the Braves front office.

After the 1965 season, the Braves abdicated Milwaukee for Atlanta.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 18, 2016.

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.

Jackie Robinson and the Hall of Fame

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Though not technically the first black player in the major leagues—that distinction belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker of the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884—Jackie Robinson destroyed the unspoken yet visible barrier constructed in the late 1880s preventing blacks from joining a major league team.

Mr. Robinson’s début is no less a civil rights moment than Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus, or President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Walking on to the diamond at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947 preceded these civil rights hallmarks, marking a historic day, not only for baseball, but also for America.  But there are other dates that are highly significant in Jackie Robinson’s career.

Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers organization on October 23, 1945 at the team’s headquarters—215 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Jackie Robinson played his first game in Organized Baseball on April 18, 1946, when the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers minor league team, played the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Field in Jersey City.

The Baseball Writers Association of America elected Robinson to the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 23, 1962, a fact that he learned after coming home to 95 Cascade Road in Stamford, Connecticut, after spending the day in Manhattan’s corporate jungle as an executive with Chock full o’ Nuts; 1962 was Robinson’s first year of eligibility.

Excitement in the Robinson household was akin to the excitement that the Dodgers’ #42 generated at Ebbets Field.  “When I came home from work Rachel was on the phone telling David, our nine-year-old, about it,” said Robinson in the Christian Science Monitor.  “When she was me, she dropped the receiver and squealed that I had made it.”

Robinson’s Hall of Fame election was not automatic, however.  For example, Joe DiMaggio did not get elected in his first year of eligibility.  Neither did Bill Terry.  Needing a minimum of 75% of the ballots, Robinson got 124 of 160.  It was four more than necessary.

Jackie Robinson was the first black player elected to the Hall of Fame.  Arthur Daley of the New York Times addressed the issue of Robinson’s Hall of Fame election being based on his career or his color.  “It really doesn’t matter much,” declared Daley.  “Both factors undoubtedly entered into consideration because they are so intertwined that separation is impossible.  The feeling here is that he rated on both counts and no conscious effort was made to split them.  Now he has blazed another trail and it will be easier henceforth for other Negroes to follow him into Cooperstown.”

His 10-year career with the Brooklyn Dodgers yielded Robinson a .311 batting average, 1,518 hits, and 734 RBI.  Robinson’s contribution to the game cannot be measured in numbers alone, however.  Pioneering the path of integration littered with jeers, boos, and death threats required an unimaginable strength of the soul.  After Jackie Robinson came Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Henry Aaron, Don Newcombe, Elston Howard, and scores of other black players.

Baseball would never be the same.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 15, 2014.

Harold Parrott: The Lord of Public Relations

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

In the 2013 movie 42, T.R. Knight plays Harold Parrott, the publicity chief for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Parrott, a former sports writer, was well suited for the task of handling his former brethren from the press box.  He knew their pressures, their deadlines, and their editors, in addition to a readership starving for information, analysis, and scoops on a daily basis.

Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager, selected Parrott to head publicity for the team.  And it was no small task.  Besides the usual responsibilities, Parrott handled the press during Rickey’s breakthrough hiring of Jackie Robinson to be the first black player in Major League Baseball during the 20th century; Moses Fleetwood Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884—the AA, long since defunct, is considered a major league by baseball historians.

Robinson’s emergence shook baseball to its core.  And Parrott, Rickey’s conduit to the sports press, needed to deflect questions, shape answers, and protect the team.  Robinson, especially.

In his 1976 autobiography The Lords of Baseball, Parrott recalled the Brooklyn squad’s first trip to Cincinnati, largely cited as a pivotal event sourced in Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Robinson before the game to show hostile fans at Crosley Field that he, a Kentuckian with southern values, good and bad, embraced #42 as a teammate, a friend, and an equal.  Parrott may have been the trigger for Reese’s gesture.

“There had been a sack of mail for Robinson at our hotel, and I went through it the morning we hit town,” wrote Parrott.  “Three of the letters contained threats that Jack would be shot in his tracks if he dared to take the field.  I handed these over to the FBI, which got pretty excited about it and searched every building that overlooked the ballpark and would afford a sniper a shot at Number 42.”

Parrott continued, “Usually I didn’t show Robbie the hate mail, most of which was scrawled and scribbled like the smut you see on toilet walls.  But this time I had to warn him, and I could see he was frightened.  I passed the word to Pee Wee, who was the captain, and to a couple of the other solid players on the club.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen in the Queen City, right across the river from Kentucky.  But all the folk from the hill and still country were flocking into town for the big event.”

When Rickey succeeded Larry MacPhail as Brooklyn’s General Manager in 1942, Parrott was a sports writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  In a five-part series, he introduced Rickey to Brooklyn.  Parrott’s October 30, 1942 article “Meet Mr. Rickey: ‘The Brain’ Is Perfect Frame for Brooklyn Baseball Scene,” Parrott described the incoming legend from St. Louis, where he spearheaded front office management of four World Series titles for the Cardinals:

“Characters?  Say, buddy, we’ve had ’em!

“But we haven’t had ’em all.  Not yet—not until we’ve had Mr. Rickey.  Branch Rickey Sr., Mr. Baseball himself.

“He follows MacPhail, and ordinarily they’d call that bad theater.  Coming after the Dodger Dynamo onto the Brooklyn stage is like following Toscanini with a tin horn.  Or would be for almost anybody I can think of.

“But Rickey—well, he’s a card!  He may not make Brooklyn fans forget MacPhail—but I guarantee he’ll make ’em remember Rickey.”

Parrott was right.  Rickey’s selection of Robinson ushered in a wave of talent from the Negro Leagues.  And Parrott, the wordsmith, was at the center of it.

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

Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rickey

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

42:  The Jackie Robinson Story opens in theatres on Friday, April 12th.  The date is appropriate — nearly 66 years to the day when Jackie Robinson made his official debut in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947.  He played, of course, for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Baseball has never been the same since.  Thankfully.

(more…)