A STORY FROM JAN 19TH IN BASEBALL HISTORY – THEO EPSTEIN, HE’S BACK

TODAY’S STORY TAKES US BACK TO BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS IN 2006.

I wonder if Chicago Cubs fans are aware that Theo Epstein walked away from the Boston Red Sox a little over a year after he assembled a team that won the World Series after their 88-year drought.

Epstein slipped away from Fenway Park October 31, 2005 – Halloween Night – in a gorilla suit to avoid the media. The Red Sox reportedly offered him a three-year contract worth $4.5 million. Epstein said it wasn’t “the right fit.”

As Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

It was announced on this date in 2006 that Epstein is  back  with the Red Sox. So he was gone about 2 and a half months. A joint statement from Epstein and owner John Henry read, “Ironically, Theo’s departure has brought us together in many respects… we now enjoy the bonds of a shared vision.”

The Red Sox won another World Series in 2007, but that shared vision got a little blurry after that. Theo left the Red Sox again in 2011, this time for the Cubs. The shared vision seems to be pretty clear on the northside of Chicago – at least for now.

Contributing sources:
Los Angeles Times, Epstein returns to the Red Sox, January 20, 2006
ESPN.com
Fivethirtyeight.com

A STORY FROM JAN 18TH IN BASEBALL HISTORY – BOB FELLER ACCEPTS PAY CUT

TODAY’S STORY TAKES US BACK TO CLEVELAND, OHIO IN 1950. 

After winning 24, 27, 25, 26 and 20 games, then dropping down to 19 and 15 wins, future Hall of Famer Bob Feller not only accepted but suggested a 25% pay cut from the Cleveland Indians.

At $80,000 Feller was the highest paid player in the majors a few seasons earlier. His pay was cut $20,000 in 1950. Of course, this was before the days of free agency. The owners pretty much dictated salary terms. Players could accept them or go work for a living. Feller seemed resigned to the pay cut. While negotiations were going on he told the Associated Press that he was “not altogether unhappy. We seem to agree on almost everything.”

It turned out Feller had some good years still in him. He went 16-11 in 1950 and startling 22-8 in 1951. Like many other ball-players he missed some of his most productive seasons, 1942, ‘43 and ’44, to serve in the military during World War II.

The Van Meter, Iowa native finished his career with 266 win and 162 losses, a .621 winning percentage. He led the American League in wins six times. Bob Feller was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1962.

Contributing sources:
Los Angeles Times (AP),
“Bob Feller’s Pay Check Gets Scalped,” January 19, 1950
FoxSports, Dan Graf, January 18, 2016

A STORY FROM JAN 17TH IN BASEBALL HISTORY – MAYS DEFENDS OWNERS

TODAY’S STORY TAKES US BACK TO SAN FRANCISCO IN 1970. 

Baseball great Willie Mays spoke out in favor of major league baseball owners on this date in baseball history.
 
The San Francisco Giant outfielder told broadcaster and former player Joe Garagiola, “If players control the game it is going to be bad. Owners must make some money, too.”
 
Mays’ comments were in reference to Curt Flood. The St. Louis Cardinals traded Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood refused to report in protest of baseball’s reserve clause which put the player’s future totally in the hands of the team that held his contract.
 
Mays didn’t criticize Flood, only saying, “That’s a personal thing. For myself I want to stay in San Francisco, but if the Giants traded me I would go.”
 
Flood sued Major League Baseball and the case went all the way to the United State Supreme Court. The Court ruled against Flood in 1972, saying that Major League Baseball was exempt from antitrust laws. But the case paved the way for free agency.
 
Flood only played 13 more games in his career and retired at age 33. Willie Mays was traded to the New York Mets in 1972. He retired in 1973.
Contributing source:
 Jack Hanley, The Daily Review, Hayward, California, January 18, 1970

A STORY FROM JAN 16TH IN BASEBALL HISTORY – TWEAKING THE ALL-STAR GAME

We go back to 2003 for our story. Major League Baseball owners met Scottsdale, Arizona on this date in 2003 to rectify a public relations embarrassment. The 2002 all-star game did not end well.

Commissioner Bud Selig stopped a tied game in the 11th inning because both teams ran out of pitchers. Fans felt cheated. The game was played in Milwaukee, Selig’s home town.
 
The owners decided to tweak the summer classic to make it more than an exhibition. Starting in 2003 the league that wins the all-star game will have home-field-advantage in the World Series. Fifteen of the previous 17 World Series champions had home-field advantage. The two leagues had been alternating home-field-advantage since the World Series began in 1903.
 
Teams will be urged to save pitchers and other position players for the eventuality of the game going into extra innings.
 
The January 16, 2003 rule change lasted about a dozen years. As of December 2016, the owners changed the home-field-advantage rule again. Starting with the 2017 post-season, home-field-advantage for the World Series goes to the team with the best regular season record.

Contributing sources:
MLB All-Star game
SBNation home-field-advantage
World Series recaps

JAN 15TH IN BASEBALL HISTORY – FEARED AND FEARLESS BOB GIBSON ELECTED TO THE HALL

JANUARY 15, 1981 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – A feared and fearless Bob Gibson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on this date in 1981. St. Louis Cardinal righty Bob Gibson became, at the time, just the 11th player voted into the Hall in his first year of eligibility. Gibson said, “That didn’t affect me until I saw the guys who made it in their first year.”

They were Al Kaline, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Warren Spahn and Mickey Mantle (players like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb aren’t among the 11 because they were already voted into the Hall in its inaugural year of 1939).

Bob Gibson won 20 or more games 5 times. His best won-loss year was 1970 when he went 23-7. But his most dominant year, as far as he and most observers are concerned, was 1968. He went 22-9 with a 1.13 ERA and 13 shutouts. Let me repeat – 13 SHUTOUTS. An entire pitching staff is lucky to have that many shutouts in a season.

Oh, by the way, 2 of Gibson’s 9 losses were by scores of 1-0.

His ERA was the 3rd lowest in the modern era (since 1900). He won the Cy Young award and was National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1968.

The Omaha native pitched in 3 World Series. The Cardinals won two of them – 1964 against the Yankees and 1967 against the Boston Red Sox. He was MVP in both. His World Series record was 7-2.

Some little-known facts about Bob Gibson; He went to Creighton University on a basketball scholarship, averaging 22 point per game his junior year. Before he joined the Cardinals, the feared and fearless Bob Gibson played one year for the Harlem GlobeTrotters basketball team.

Contributing source:
Chicago Tribune Wire Services, January 16, 1981, “Gibson in Hall, no one else comes close.”
More on Bob Gibson

JAN 14 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-WHY WAS FUTURE HALL OF FAMER APARICIO TRADED SO OFTEN

JANUARY 14, 1963 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS  Luis Aparicio was a Hall of Fame shortstop, a 13-time All-Star, a 9-time Gold Glove winner, a fan favorite everywhere he went, so why was he traded so often? “Little Louie” as he was called, was traded on this day in 1963 along with Al Smith, from the Chicago White Sox to the Baltimore Orioles for Hoyt Wilhelm, Dave Nicholson, Pete Ward, and Ron Hansen.

Aparicio was traded three times, but one of those was back to the White Sox, the team he started his career with. There was never a hint of Aparicio being anything but a team player.

When he retired in 1973 Aparicio was the all-time leader in games played, assists and putouts by a shortstop. He was the American League stolen base leader nine years in a row. He helped the White Sox get to the World Series in 1959 and helped the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series in 1966.

In an 18-year big league career the Venezuelan born Aparicio never played any position other than shortstop?

Luis Aparicio was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. So, why was he traded so often?

Contributing source:
Baseball-Reference

JAN 13th IN BASEBALL HISTORY – BUCK WEAVER PLEADS WITH COMMISSIONER LANDIS

JANUARY 13, 1958 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS The New York Times reported on this date in 1958 that disgraced Chicago White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver pleaded with the Commissioner who banned him to reconsider. Weaver and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis met informally a week earlier, but it was not publicly disclosed.

Weaver had been kicked out of major league baseball for life for being part of a conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. Despite he and seven other players being acquitted of taking bribes from gamblers (mainly because their confessions were mysteriously lost), baseball banned them anyway for associating with gamblers. The evidence was that Weaver refused to take part in the plan but never spoke up about it either.

Weaver hit .324 in the series and played errorless third base, which lent credence to his declaration that he wasn’t involved, but Commissioner Landis wouldn’t budge.

This was the first of several pleas by George “Buck” Weaver during his lifetime to get his named cleared. He died in 1956 at age 65, his pleas going unanswered.

Contributing sources:
The New York Times, January 14, 1922
1919 World Series stats, box scores

JAN 12TH IN BASEBALL HISTORY – CUBS COLLEGE OF COACHES

JANUARY 12, 1961 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS • Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley dropped a bombshell on the baseball world on this date in 1961. He would not have a manager for the upcoming season. Instead he would institute a Cubs College of Coaches

The franchise had been struggling. The Cubs were 60-94 in 1960, the eighth year in a row the team lost more games than it won. The status quo wasn’t working. Wrigley wanted to change it.

Wrigley considered the manager a “dictator,” and instead would rotate eight coaches through the major and minor leagues. Each would take turns running the major league club. Length of stay would depend on how well the “coach” was doing. This brain trust became known as the College of Coaches.

Wrigley wanted help from another unlikely source, “Everyone has always said baseball is a game of percentages, but I have yet to find anyone in baseball who can figure the percentages.” He wanted an IBM machine in the dugout so whoever was running the team could access statistical information about opposing, as well as Cub players. This information would in turn help dictate game strategy. Mind you, this is decades before the personal computer.

The Ivy League approach didn’t work. The Cubs finished the 1961 season 64-90, just four games better than the year before. The situation got worse in 1962 when the Cubs lost 103 games on a 154-game schedule, the worst season the Cubs ever had. And that was the end of the Cubs College of Coaches.

Contributing sources:
Chicago Daily Tribune, 
January 13, 1961, by E. Prell, 
MLB stats
Philip K. Wrigley 

JAN 11TH IN BASEBALL HISTORY – TIGER STRICKEN

JANUARY 11, 1971 | DULUTH, MINNESOTA – Detroit Tiger pitcher John Hiller suffered a heart attack at his home in Duluth, Minnesota on this date in 1971. The Tiger was just 27-years old when he was stricken. According to Bruce Markusen of Detroit Sports History, Hiller was not out of shape or overweight, but he was a heavy smoker.

Hiller recovered, and amazingly, despite missing the entire 1971 season, had better years after the heart attack than before.

The Canadian native broke in with the Tigers in 1965. The most games he won before his heart attack was nine, the most saves he had (Hiller was mostly a reliever) was four. After returning to baseball Hiller won ten games and had thirty-eight saves in 1973. He won seventeen games in ’74 – all in relief, an American League record – and had twelve wins in ’76.

Hiller’s entire 15-year career was with Detroit. He finished with 87 wins and 76 losses and a sparkling earned run average of 2.83.

Contributing sources:
Detroit Sports History
John Hiller, Wikipedia

JAN 10TH IN BASEBALL HISTORY – SUTTER IS THE FIRST

JANUARY 10, 2006 | ATLANTA, GEORGIA – For the first time a pitcher who never started a game was elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame on this date in 2006. Closer Bruce Sutter got the call at his home in Atlanta that he was just the fourth relief pitcher invited to the Hall. The others were Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley, but they all started games during their careers.

It was a bad break that paved the way for Sutter. Mike Spellman of Chicago’s Daily Herald wrote that Sutter was discovered by Chicago Cubs scout Ralph Diullo playing semi-pro ball in Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 1971.

Sutter was only two games into his minor league career when he injured his elbow requiring surgery. He didn’t pitch again until 1973 and when he did his fastball was gone. Sutter credits Cubs minor league pitching coaches Fred Martin and Mike Roarke with showing him how to throw a splitter. That was the pitch that got him 300 Saves in a 12-year career.

Sutter was a throw-back closer. He frequently pitched more than one inning in an appearance. Five times he pitched over 100 innings. For ten straight seasons Sutter pitched at least 80 innings. Mariano Rivera pitched 100 innings once. Only twice has he pitched over 80. White Sox closer Bobby Jenks has never pitched more than 70 innings in a season.

Contributing Sources:
Paul Newberry, Associated Press, January 11, 2006
Mike Spellman, Daily Herald (suburban Chicago), January 11, 2006

JAN 9th IN BASEBALL HISTORY -“I DIDN’T KNOW THAT”

JANUARY 9, 1903 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK • Here’s an “I didn’t know that” story. On this day in baseball history the owners of the Baltimore Orioles sold the team to New Yorkers Frank Farrell and Bill Devery who moved the franchise to New York City.

The team was called the Highlanders because they played in one of the highest spots in upper Manhattan on, what is now, the Columbia University campus. The team didn’t become known as the Yankees until 1913. So, No, the New York Yankees, the most storied franchise in professional sports, was not an original member of the American League.

*  *  *

Here’s how it evolved, according to several sources including Leonard Koppett, author of, Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, a good read by the way. The National League (NL) had been in business for a quarter century when Ban Johnson began shaking things up in 1900. He ran a minor league called the Western League. He wanted it to be “major” and compete with the National League. Should the leagues be adversaries or work something out?

The National League was torn. It had a monopoly on professional baseball as the only “major” league. It also knew expanding the major leagues would spread the gospel of baseball. And A. G. Spaulding, a major player in the National League, would sell more sports equipment – his real passion.

Ban Johnson forced the action in 1900 by changing the Western League’s name to the American League (AL). He declared it a “major” league in 1901. The NL and AL worked things out by agreeing to a uniform set of rules, not stealing each other’s players, etc., and began the 1901 season as dual major leagues.

The National League’s New York Giants didn’t want competition from the upstart American League. For two years, it got its way. Instead of putting a team in New York City the American League put a team in Baltimore for its inaugural season and called it the Orioles. Upon the sale of the Orioles to Farrell and Devery (referenced above) the National League could keep the American League out of New York City no longer. A franchise that would become the most prominent in sports, the Yankees, was put in place.

Today’s Baltimore Orioles are a different franchise all together, though, also one of the league’s originals [I know, this is like trying to keep score in an extra-inning game]. It started out as the Milwaukee Brewers (no connection to the current Brewers), but moved to Missouri after one season (1902) and became the St. Louis Browns. The Browns left St. Louis for Maryland in 1954 and changed its name to the Orioles – the Orioles that call The Ballpark at Camden Yards home today.

More information:
The New York Times
, January 10, 1903
Baseball-Almanac

Jan 8th IN BASEBALL HISTORY – BOOM BEAUTIES

JANUARY 8, 1991 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Three boom beauties – stars baby-boomers grew up watching – were elected to the Hall of Fame on this date in 1991. Hitting maestro Rod Carew made it in his first year of eligibility. Pitchers Gaylord Perry and Ferguson Jenkins each made it in their third.

Carew was born in Panama, and raised in New York City. He played most of his career with the Minnesota Twins. He finished his career with 3,053 hits and a .328 batting average. He hit .300 or better 15 years in a row. In the history of the game only Ty Cobb, Stan Musial and Honus Wagner did better.

Just about every year was a great year for Carew, but 1977 stands out. He hit .388 with 100 RBI and 128 runs scored, 239 hits and was named American League MVP.

Gaylord Perry was 314-265 in a 22-year career with seven different teams, mostly the San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers. He won the Cy Young award in both leagues, the first player to do that, and was a five-time all star. A cloud also obscured Gaylord Perry’s accomplishments. He was suspected throughout his career of throwing a spitball.

Ferguson Jenkins won at least 20-games six seasons in a row for the Chicago Cubs in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. He was traded to the Texas Rangers after winning only 14 games in 1973 but rebounded with a vengeance by winning 25 games for the Rangers in ’74. He had seven more double digit win seasons. The Canadian born right-hander won the Cy Young award in 1971 and was a 3-time all-star.

Despite being boom beauties, and as accomplished as Rod Carew, Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins were, none of them ever played in a World Series.

Contributing source:
Runs scored leaders

JAN 7 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – RED SOX HIDDEN BALL TRICK

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS  The Boston Red Sox had an easier time winning the 2004 World Series than figuring out who would take possession of the ball from the final out.

When Red Sox closer Keith Foulke fielded a grounder by Edgar Renteria and tossed it to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz to end the game it completed a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, and gave the Red Sox their first World Series championship since 1918. Well aware of the significance of the ball, Mientkiewicz held on to it.

According to the Associated Press he gave the ball to his wife and eventually put it in a safe deposit box. The Red Sox management also saw the significance of the ball and wanted it in its possession rather than that of a part-time first baseman that had only been with the Red Sox for half a year.

The Associated Press also reported that team owner John Henry and Mientkiewicz talked by phone on this day in baseball history in 2005. Mientkiewicz only said it was a “nice conversation.”

It would be another fifteen months of haggling, which included the filing of a lawsuit, before Mientkiewicz, who had since been traded, and the Red Sox would settle the dispute. In the spring of 2006 both sides agreed to send the ball to the Hall of Fame.

Contributing sources:
The Lesson of Doug Mientkiewicz, by Wayne Drehs, ESPN,  April 20, 2011
Howard Ulman, The Associated Press, January 8, 2005

JAN 6 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – HOW DOES LOUISVILLE A’s SOUND?

JANUARY 6, 1964 | FRANKFORT, KENTUCKY • Owner Charlie Finley‘s first choice for where to move his A’s was Louisville not Oakland. On this date in 1964 he signed a contract to move the franchise from Kansas City to Louisville. All that remained was the approval of 6 of the other 19 owners.
 
But Charlie Finley didn’t play well with others. He was not well liked by many of his colleagues. Chicago White Sox owner Arthur Allyn didn’t mince words, “Finley is a fool and his action is inexcusable. He has no right whatsoever to attempt such a move. He has an obligation to the people of Kansas City and he had better make it good. I don’t have to tell you how the White Sox will vote on the matter.”
 
Ironically, Cincinnati Reds General Manager Bill DeWitt didn’t have a problem with the move, even though Louisville was only 110 miles away. He thought it would increase the fan base for everyone.
 
As it turned out, the move was not approved. It never happened. The A’s, a charter American League franchise that originated in Philadelphia in 1901, moved to Kansas City in 1955, and Oakland in 1968 where they remain.
 
How does “Louisville A’s” sound? We’re unlikely to ever find out.
 
Contributing Sources:
“Vagabond A’s led colorful past lives in Philadelphia, Kansas City,“ Aug 16, 2016 by Thomas Neumann ESPN.com Associated Press, January 7, 1964
A’s history

JAN 5 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – DID MLB GET PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT?

JANUARY 5, 1915 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – Did the National and American Leagues get preferential treatment? A short-lived 3rd major league sued the National and American Leagues on this date in 1915. The Federal League claimed the NL and AL created an illegal monopoly, which made it difficult for the upstart league to survive. Although the Federal League did not get a verdict in its favor, the effects of its lawsuit are felt more than 100 years later.

The lawsuit was presided over by Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. As Leonard Koppett writes in Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, Landis was known for his hard line against monopolies. That’s not how things worked out in this situation.

The case never went to trial. Landis helped bring about a settlement whereby the American and National Leagues bought-out some of the Federal League owners who were heavy in debt. A couple Federal League owners became owners of American and National League teams.

The bottom line is the Federal League lawsuit went away. The American and National League owners got their way. A few years later major league baseball hired its first commissioner – Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

The Federal League was the last major attempt at a 3rd major league. It was put together by a group of businessmen in 1913 hoping to cash in on the popularity of baseball. The league competed against the National and American Leagues in 1914 and 1915. It signed some established stars and had decent attendance, but the established major leagues felt threatened and began to match salaries and tie the Federal League up in court.

The Federal League won the lawsuits, but the costs became a burden. Owners went heavy into debt, so FL owners tried to turn the tables on the American and National Leagues by filing the lawsuit mentioned above.

There is an interesting and lasting postscript to this story. One of the Federal League teams neither bought out nor absorbed by the National and American Leagues was the Baltimore Terrapins, so they filed their own lawsuit against the major leagues. The result was a 1922 Supreme Court decision saying Major League Baseball was primarily entertainment and therefore except from the Sherman Antitrust Act. The exception remains basically intact today, though it’s been eroded somewhat by free-agency.

And one of the most famous venues in sports owes its birth to the long-deceased league. The ballpark now known as Wrigley Field was initially built for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League.

Back to the original question; did the National and American Leagues get preferential treatment? It appears so.

Federal League Teams
Baltimore Terrapins
Brooklyn Tip-Tops
Buffalo Blues
Chicago Whales
Indianapolis Hoosiers (1914 only)
Newark Peppers (1915 only)
Kansas City Packers
Pittsburgh Rebels
St. Louis Terriers

Contributing sources:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball , by Leonard Koppett
Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Sherman Antitrust Act
The Chicago Whales & Weeghman Park

JAN 4 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – MINNESOTA GETS MANAGER, WILL THERE BE A TEAM?

JANUARY 4, 2002 | MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA The Minnesota Twins hired a new manager on this date in 2002 without knowing if there would be a team to manage. Ron Gardenhire was chosen to replace former manager Tom Kelly who retired.

The fate of the Twins and the National League’s Montreal Expos was in question because of contraction. Major League Baseball owners voted after the 2001 season to eliminate two franchises that weren’t making enough money and had lousy stadium deals. The owners didn’t say which two teams those were, but the Twins and Expos fit the criteria.

As it turned out the Minnesota Twins got a new stadium deal and remain in Minneapolis. Minnesota has a new manager and a team to manage. Montreal did not get a stadium deal. The Expos franchise moved to Washington, D. C. in 2005 and became the Washington Nationals.

Contributing Sources:
ESPN, (AP-Associated Press), “Twins spared through 2003 in lawsuit settlement
South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), January 5, 2002

JAN 3 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-STEINBRENNER ERA BEGINS

JANUARY 3, 1973 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK  George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees for $10-million on this date in 1973.  This is the date the Steinbrenner era begins. He put together a group that bought the team from the  CBS television network, but Steinbrenner was clearly the boss.

George Steinbrenner would prove to be the most domineering owner since Connie Mack. Where would the Yankees be without him? Where would Seinfeld be without him? He was more famous, or infamous, than many of his players. He was not one to sit back and let the baseball people run the team, although that’s what he said was his intention in 1973. As time went on he assumed more and more control of the daily operations, and grew more and more impatient, going through a slew of managers in a short time.

He was also loyal. He hired former Yankee second baseman Billy Martin as manager five times, which of course means he fired him five times.

George Steinbrenner was born July 4, 1930. He grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, the son of a Great Lakes shipping tycoon. He did well enough in the family business to have enough money to pursue the Yankees. Despite having little experience in baseball, he made a successful bid on the Yankees at the age of 42.

Prior to purchasing the Yankees, Steinbrenner’s experience was in other sports. He ran track and played football in college. He was an assistant football coach at Northwestern University and later at Purdue.

Steinbrenner got into sports ownership in 1960 when he bought the Cleveland Pipers of the National Industrial Basketball League.

As owner of the New York Yankees, Steinbrenner found himself in the baseball commissioner’s dog house more than once. He was suspended from baseball for two years in 1974 after making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s presidential re-election campaign. He was suspended again in 1990 after making payments to a confessed gambler who had some dirt on one of his former players, Dave Winfield.

But you can’t argue with success. During the Steinbrenner era the Yankees went to the World Series ten times and won seven of them. And that $10 Million investment in 1973 is now estimated to be worth $3.7 Billion, that’s “Billion” with a “B.” George Steinbrenner died in 2010 at the age of 80.

Contributing sources:
More on George Steinbrenner
MLB Team values

JAN 2 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-WHY SOME PITCHERS WERE ALLOWED TO THROW THE SPITTER

JANUARY 2,  1918 | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK  The Brooklyn Robins (today’s Los Angeles Dodgers) got a pitcher in a trade on this day in baseball history who became known for openly throwing an outlawed pitch. Burleigh Grimes came to the Robins by way of a 5-player deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Grimes made good use of the spitter, winning more than 20 games five times. Twice he won 19.

Grimes’ best pitch was the spitball, which was legal when he broke in, but banned by major league baseball in 1920 when he was just 26-years old. “Old Stubblebeard,” as he was called, became one of 17 pitchers already in the majors who were exempt from the ban. They could continue throwing the spitter as long as they played. Grimes ended up throwing it the longest, becoming the last pitcher to “legally” throw a spitball.

Grimes made good use of the spitter, winning more than 20 games five times. He was 25-14 in 1928. Twice he won 19. Grimes won 270 games in his career, appeared in four World Series, and ended up in the Hall of Fame. Though he wore 7 different uniforms in a 19-year career, Grimes spent most of his career with Brooklyn.

When his playing days were over, he managed the Dodgers for two unremarkable years. He stayed in baseball for many years, but mostly as a scout and minor league coach.

Burleigh Grimes was born August 18, 1983 in small farming community of Emerald, Wisconsin. He died in nearby Clear Lake in 1985 at the age of 92.

17 pitchers allowed to throw the spitter after 1920:
National League
Bill Doak
Phil Douglas
Dana Fillingim
Ray Fisher
Marv Goodwin
Burleigh Grimes
Clarence Mitchell
Dick Rudolph

American League
Doc Ayers
Ray Caldwell
Stan Coveleski
Red Faber
Dutch Leonard
Jack Quinn
Allan Russell
Urban Shocker
Allen Sothoron

Contributing sources:
Hall of Fame
Burleigh Grimes
Baseball-Reference

Bill Grimes,  the author, is no relation to Burleigh Grimes, the pitcher.

JAN 1 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – A STAR IS BORN

JANUARY 1, 1911 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK • A star is born. Slugger Hank Greenberg was born to an orthodox Jewish family on this date in baseball history. He broke into the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1930, just 19 years later.

Greenberg was a 2-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) and 5-time all-star, though he only played 9 full seasons. Henry Benjamin Greenberg, like many major leaguers, had some of his best years interrupted by military service in World War II. He missed 3 full seasons and parts of 2 others.

Greenberg was a fearsome hitter. He hit 58 home runs in 1938 – at the time only Babe Ruth had hit more (Jimmie Foxx hit 58 home runs in 1932). Greenberg’s 183 RBI in 1937 are eclipsed only by Hack Wilson‘s 191 in 1930 and Lou Gehrig’s 184 in 1931. Only a handful of players have a higher lifetime slugging percentage than Greenberg’s .605.

As a youth, Greenberg was an all-around athlete in New York City. He led James Monroe High School to the New York City basketball championship, but his favorite sport was baseball. The Yankees showed interest in the first baseman in 1929, but he decided the odds of cracking the lineup were pretty slim with another New York born slugger already a fixture at first – Lou Gehrig. Greenberg enrolled at New York University, but signed with the Detroit Tigers the following year.

Greenberg quit playing in 1948 to become farm director of the Cleveland Indians. He moved into the Indians front office as general manager and part-owner with Bill Veeck two years later. He became a part-owner of the Chicago White Sox with Veeck in 1959. Their timing couldn’t have been better. The Sox won the pennant for the first time in 40 years. Greenberg and Veeck sold their interests in the White Sox in 1961, and Greenberg went on to a successful career in private business.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. Hank Greenberg died September 4, 1986 in Beverly Hills, California.

Contributing sources:
More on Hank Greenberg
Jewish Virtual Library

 

DEC 30 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-THE GREAT SANFORD BRAUN

DECEMBER 30, 1965 | BROOKLYN, NEW YORK • The great Sanford Braun was born on this date in 1935.  Sanford who? Braun? Never heard of him.

He won 3 Cy Young awards.

He’s in the Hall of Fame.

He’s one of the greatest pitchers of all-time.

You never heard of him?

That’s because he’s better known as Sandy Koufax.

Koufax was born to Evelyn and Jack Braun, but his parents divorced when he was a child. His mother remarried Irving Koufax.

Koufax played baseball and basketball growing up. In fact, attended the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship. He impressed baseball scouts enough though that they offered him a contract in 1954.

Koufax’s major league baseball career was not long, eleven years (1955 to 1966). It took him a few seasons to harness his talent, but for a six year stretch he was as dominating a pitcher as there’s ever been.

From 1961 to 1966:

  • He won 129 games, losing just 47
  • His ERA was 2.76, lead the league 5 of those six year, 3 seasons his ERA was under 2.00
  • Lead the league in strikeouts 4 times, striking out more than 300 three times
  • Won 3 Cy Young awards

He ranks 19th in the major leagues in winning percentage (.655).

Arm trouble forced Koufax to retire at age 30. The great Sanford Braun was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Sandy Koufax
Biography.com
Jewish Virtual Library

DEC 29 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-THE BITHORN MYSTERY

DECEMBER 29, 1951 | EL MANTE, MEXICO • It was a mystery then. It’s a mystery today. A one-time rising star for the Chicago Cubs was shot and killed in El Mante (Ciudad, Mante in Spanish) Mexico on this date in 1951.

Thirty-five year old Hi Bithorn, a native of Puerto Rico, was playing in the Mexican Winter League trying to make a comeback when he was killed.

According to an article written by Jane Allen Quevedo for the Society of American Baseball Research, the Bithorn family believes Officer Cano's motive for shooting Bithorn was because he wanted to steal his car.

According to several articles in The Chicago Tribune in the days after the shooting, Bithorn was broke and trying to sell a car for cash. El Mante policeman Ambrosio Castillo Cano asked Bithorn for the car’s registration papers. There was an altercation and Bithorn was shot in the stomach. Cano said Bithorn attacked him.

According to an article written by Jane Allen Quevedo for the Society of American Baseball Research, the Bithorn family believes Officer Cano’s motive for shooting Bithorn was because he wanted to steal his car.

For some unknown reason, Bithorn was driven to a hospital more than 80 miles away. He died enroute. Cano was charged with homicide and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Bithorn was a shining star early in his career. He came up with the Chicago Cubs in 1942. He won 18 games in ’43, including a league leading 7 shutouts. It was the midst of World War II and Uncle Sam called. He missed the 1944 and ’45 seasons.

The luster Bithorn showed before entering the military wasn’t there when he got out in 1946. He bounced around the majors for a couple years, pitching two innings for the Chicago White Sox in 1947 until a sore arm put him out of action. He would never pitch in the major leagues again.

His attempt at a comeback in the Mexican Winter League ended violently, but the Bithorn mystery lives on. The largest baseball stadium in Puerto Rico is named after Hi Bithorn.

Contributing sources:
The Chicago Tribune
, January 1-5, 1952
Hi Bithorn stats

 

DEC 25 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-40,000 ATTEND 1862 GAME, FOR REAL?

DECEMBER 25, 1862 | HILTON HEAD, SOUTH CAROLINA – Sports was not yet a popular pastime, let alone a spectator event in the mid-19th century, when, according to several sources, 40,000 people showed up on Christmas Day in 1862 in Hilton Head, South Carolina during the Civil War to watch a baseball game. The 165th New York Volunteer Regiment played a game against a team of men from other Union regiments. It was an unheard of gathering of spectators for any event, and hyperbole cannot be ruled out. But did 40,000 really attend a game 1862?

University of California-Berkley history professor Gunther Barth wrote in his book City People in 1980 that the report of 40,000 fans attending a game during the Civil War came from A. G. Mills who was a big part of creating the myth of Abner Doubleday. A committee chaired by Mills agreed upon the Doubleday myth after “studying” the issue. Mills went on to become president of the National League in 1907.

While the number of spectators at that Christmas Day game is debatable, even Barth agrees Civil War contests spread the popularity of baseball beyond the Northeast. Is 40,000 people attending a game in 1862 for real?

Contributing sources:
City People: The rise of modern city culture in 19th century America, by Gunther Barth, 1980, Oxford University Press
Civil War baseball

DEC 22 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-NL & AL FLEX MUSCLES

DECEMBER 22, 1915 | CINCINNATI, OHIO – The upstart Federal League‘s attempt at being a third major league came to an end on this date in 1915. The official word was National League, American League and Federal League bosses settled their differences at a meeting in Cincinnati. What in fact happened was the National and American leagues flex their muscles, and the Federal League ceased to exist.

The rise and fall of the renegade league also put the wheels in motion to exempt major league baseball from competition.

The Federal League came about as a minor league in 1912. It declared itself a “major league” in 1914. It had a couple successful seasons with good pennant races and good attendance after luring stars from the National and American Leagues. It was an eight-team league competing in the major league cities of Chicago, St. Louis, Brooklyn and Pittsburgh (it also had teams in Baltimore, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Buffalo).

What brought about the events of this day in 1915 was the Federal League had filed an antitrust lawsuit against the National and American Leagues claiming they were illegal monopolies. The case stalled in the court of federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis while the future baseball commissioner urged negotiation. The Federal League’s position weakened as the delay drained it of funds. Several FL owners were bought out and some teams absorbed into the NL and AL.

The Baltimore franchise of the Federal League was not happy with the agreement and sued. The lawsuit went all the way to the United States Supreme Court which ruled in 1922 that major league baseball was exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act, a decision in affect to this day.

Ironically, the episode gave a glimpse of what was to come 60 years later – free agency. Not only would the 1915 agreement bring amnesty for National and American League players who had jumped to the Federal League, but they would be able to sell their services to the highest bidder.

Another legacy of the defunct Federal League was Chicago’s Weeghman Park, built for the now defunct Chicago Whales. It was taken over by the National League franchise Chicago Cubs and renamed Wrigley Field, the same park they play in today. So, the National and American Leagues flex their muscles and major league baseball got a baseball shrine.

Contributing sources:
Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, December 23, 1915
Federal League

Dec 21, 2005 IN BASEBALL HISTORY: A’s HOPE LESS IS MORE

DECEMBER 21, 2005 | OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA • The Oakland A’s hope is that it becomes addition by subtraction. ‘If you take away seats, they will come,’ seemed to be the intention when the ball club announced on this date in 2005 that they will no longer sell seats to the upper deck in McAfee Coliseum (now called Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum).

At a time when ballparks like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are squeezing more seats into their venues, the A’s are trying to pretend an upper deck of empty seats doesn’t exist. The move reduced the A’s ballpark’s capacity, at the time, to the lowest in the major leagues.

It was another act in the drama playing out in the East Bay over a new place for the A’s to play. Team president Michael Crowley told reporters back in 2005, “Our goal is to create a more intimate ballpark atmosphere and bring our seating capacity in line to what we have proposed for our new venue.”

While the team seems to annually over-achieve on the field the A’s have struck out on a new ballpark deal. But as of December 2016 the A’s have restructured their leadership with the goal of making it happen this time.

Stay tuned to see if less is more for the Oakland A’s.

Contributing sources:
Comcast SportsNet, “Futuristic, Transforming Stadiums offer Intriguing Solutions For Oakland,” by Andy Dolich, December 19, 2016
San Jose Mercury News, December 16, 2013

DEC 7 IN BASEBALL HISTORY – HOW PEARL HARBOR AFFECTED BASEBALL

DECEMBER 7, 1941 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI • The St. Louis Browns was a struggling franchise in the standings and the box office throughout most of the time it shared St. Louis with the Cardinals. The team drew just 193,000 fans in 1940, about 2,500 a game. It was not unusual to have fewer than 1,000 people in the stands. The paid attendance on September 11, 1940 was 472. Needless to say owner Donald Barnes wanted a change of scenery. This is how Pearl Harbor affected baseball — almost.

It had been rumored for years that if the Japanese hadn’t bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on this date in 1941 – which ushered the United States into World War II – the Browns would have moved to Los Angeles more than a decade before the Dodgers did. Some said it was a “done deal.”

Researchers at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) decided to investigate. What they found out is… maybe.

Read SABR’s Business of Baseball Committee paper “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Coliseum” by Norman Macht for all the details. In a nutshell the committee looked into a Los Angeles Examiner report in 1946 that the deal only needed formal approval from major league baseball at its winter meetings starting December 9, 1941. Pearl Harbor was attacked on the 7th.

One theory for why little was known about the almost move is that after the move fell through the Browns ownership were all hush-hush so the St. Louis faithful wouldn’t be offended.

The Browns ended up moving to Baltimore in 1953 and became, and remain, the Orioles.

Contributing Source:
“A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Coliseum,” by Norman Macht, Outside the Lines, Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), July 20, 2008

 

DEC 5 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-INTERLEAGUE PLAY BEGINS

DECEMBER 5, 1996 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK • It became official on this date in 1996. For the first time in the 125-year history of major league baseball, the Cubs will play the White Sox, the Yankees will play the Mets, the Dodgers will play the Angels in regular season games. Eventually all National League teams would play all American League counterparts. Welcome to interleague play.

Interleague play was part of an agreement players unanimously approved to end four years of nasty labor unrest between players and owners that prompted a strike and cost the devotion of millions of fans.

Interleague play started with the 1997 season. Before then the only time a National League team played an American League team was in the World Series.

Some fans feel it should still be that way. But it can’t be denied many teams have seen a boost in attendance. Welcome to interleague play.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCE:
Associated Press (AP) December 6, 1996

DEC 4 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-NO MORE BONUS BABIES

DECEMBER 4, 1964 IN BASEBALL HISTORY | HOUSTON, TEXAS • It was trumpeted as the end of the “bonus baby” – throwing of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars (a lot of money in those days) at wide-eyed kids expected to become the next Mickey Mantle or Sandy Koufax. Too often these “can’t miss” prospects didn’t pan out. The owners wanted no more bonus babies.

They met in Houston on this date in 1964 to put an end to the chasing of unproven kids by hordes of scouts with wads of cash. Instead, the owners approved an amateur draft. The first one was held in 1965.

Blow are the first ten #1 picks. Some had decent careers. Most were mediocre. Some, well, have you ever head of Steve Chilcott? Chances are “no.” He never made to the big leagues. The second pick that year was Reggie Jackson.

1965 Rick Monday, Kansas City A’s
1966 Steve Chilcott, New York Mets
1967 Ron Blomberg, New York Yankees
1968 Tim Foli, New York Mets
1969 Jeff Burroughs, Washington Senators
1970 Mike Ivie, San Diego Padres
1971 Danny Goodwin, Chicago White Sox
1972 Dave Roberts, San Diego Padres
1973 David Clyde, Texas Rangers
1974 Bill Almon, San Diego Padres

There is still chasing after kids and some significant bonuses because the team that drafts the player retains the rights to signing a him only for a period of time until the next year’s draft. If a prospect is not signed he can re-enter a future draft and be chosen by any team but the one which selected him the previous year, unless the player consents.

Generally, those eligible to be drafted are:
•  Residents of the US or Canada including Puerto Rico and other territories
•  HS grads who have not yet attended college or junior college
•  College players who have completed their junior year
•  Junior college players
•  Players 21-years of age and older

While there are no more bonus babies, “free agency” has driven salaries into another stratosphere.

Sources/more information:
Complete draft information
Amateur draft rules 
United Press International, Houston, Texas, December 5, 1964

DEC 2 IN BASEBALL HISTORY: RUNNING OFF AT THE MOUTH

DECEMBER 2, 1952 | PHOENIX, ARIZONA – New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel went on a verbal rampage on this date in 1952. His running off at the mouth was targeted at several teams and Jackie Robinson.

Robinson, who became the major league’s first Black player five years earlier, stirred up emotions a few days earlier by criticizing the Yankees for not having hired a Black player. According to the United Press news service, while at a banquet in Phoenix Stengel let fly:

“I don’t care who you are in this organization, you’re going to get along and make the big team if you’ve got the ability. We’ve got good coaches, a good front office, good scouts and good minor league managers, and we’re not going to play a sap at second base just because somebody said we ought to put him there.”

Even after Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 it took a while for most teams to integrate. The Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns also integrated in ’47, but it took thirteen more years for all sixteen teams to put African Americans on their rosters.

Stengel also lashed out at the Cleveland Indians boss,

“Why does Hank Greenberg of Cleveland say, ‘I hate the Yankees?’ He should say that he ought to hate himself for not winning the pennant with the kind of a pitching staff he’s got. When do teams in this day fail to win pennants with three twenty-game winners on their pitching staff. The Yankee players don’t hate the Cleveland players, they hate you Mr. Greenberg.”

Stengel also blasted Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith who had accused the Yankees of shady dealing in going after one of their players.

The Yankee manager finished running off at the mouth by promising a 5th straight American League pennant in 1953, which is exactly what the Yankees did, and went on to win their fifth straight World Series.

Contributing Sources:
Carl Lundquist, United Press (UP), December 3, 1952
When teams integrated
World Series results

NOV 28 IN BASEBALL HISTORY: Monty Stratton’s career ends suddenly

NOVEMBER 28, 1936 | DALLAS, TEXAS  The 26-year old ace of the Chicago White Sox had his right leg amputated on this date in 1938. Monty Stratton accidentally shot himself in the leg while hunting the day before. The story appeared to be, ‘Monty Stratton’s career ends suddenly.’ Stratton had other ideas.

According the New York Times, the accident happened while Stratton was hunting for rabbits on the family farm. He slipped and fell, accidentally discharging his shotgun. The pellets ripped into his right leg, striking a major artery. Doctors were forced to remove the leg.

The 6-foot 5-inch Stratton had pitched five seasons for the Sox before the accident. He went 15-5 and 15-9 the previous two seasons. He spent the two seasons after he lost his leg coaching for the White Sox and pitching batting practice. But he was determined to pitch competitively again.

Stratton was fitted for a wooden leg. He got himself back in shape. Though he never pitched in the major leagues again, Stratton pitched in the minor leagues for Sherman and Waco, Texas, going 18-8 and 7-7 in 1946 and 1947.

While Monty Stratton’s career ended suddenly, his inspiring story is depicted in the 1949 film, The Monty Stratton Story  starring James Stewart.

Contributing Sources:
Monty Stratton
Associated Press (AP), The Montreal Gazette, November 29, 1938
Monty Stratton minor leagues stats

NOV 25 IN BASEBALL HISTORY: SALARIES-NO COMPARISON

NOVEMBER 25, 1895 | YOUNGSVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA • A ballplayer by the name of Frank Spruiell May was born on this date in 1895. What’s so interesting about Jakie May, as he was called? Well, during the course of his 14-year major league baseball career he struck out Babe Ruth twice during the 1932 World Series while pitching for the Chicago Cubs. But I bring him up mainly for comparison of salaries-there’s comparison.

Jakie May was a dependable left-handed journeyman relief pitcher for the St. Louis CardinalsCincinnati Reds and Cubs from 1917 to 1932. He appeared in 410 games, won 72 and lost 95. Salary figures back in the day for guys not named Ruth are hard to come by, but May probably made around $70,000 for his entire career. Don’t even ask if Jakie May had to get a job when his playing days were over. He had to get a job every off-season, as did just about every other ballplayer not named Ruth.

Let’s compare May to a left-handed journeyman pitcher of the 21st Century. How about Alan Embree? He played 16 years with a number of teams, retiring in 2009.

Embree appeared in 882 games (though about half as many innings as Jakie May) with a record of 39 wins and 45 losses. Embree was paid an average of over $2-million dollars each year over the last decade if his career. He made over $22-million in his career. That’s 314 times greater than what Jakie May made in his career. Certainly costs of everything have gone up. The average home price in 1930 was about $7,000 compared to $211,000 when Alan Embree played. That’s about a 30-fold jump – significant, but no where near 314-fold.

Needless to say, while neither pitcher was ever a candidate for the Hall of Fame, Alan Embree will probably never have to work again. Jakie May never stopped working.

Contributing sources:
Raleigh News & Observer, “When baseball really was a game and nothing more,” by Dennis Rogers, October 11, 1994
Jakie May
MLB salary leaders, 1874-2012 (SABR)
Baseball in the 1930s

Special thanks to Kirk Kruger of Raleigh, NC for sending me press clippings about his grandfather, Jakie May.

NOVEMBER 18 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-BRETT FLIRTS WITH .400

NOVEMBER 18, 1980 | KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – This was an easy one. In 1980 Kansas City Royals’ 3rd baseman George Brett was the last American Leaguer since Ted Williams in the 1940’s to flirt with a .400 batting average since. So, who else but Brett should be awarded the American League’s Most Valuable Player award for that year?

Brett didn’t start out gang-busters in 1980. The first two months of the season his average hovered around .260 . As far into the season as May 22nd he was hitting only .255.

George Brett kicked it into gear in June and July, topping out at .390 July 31st. Brett eclipsed .400 (.401 to be exact) on August 17th, going 4 for 4 with 5 RBI.

Fans all over the country followed his march toward the first .400 average since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 for the Boston Red Sox.

Brett was hitting .406 on August 20th,  .407 on August 26th. Brett’s batting average was over .400 16 of the final 35 days  of the regular season, but not the last day. He finished the 1980 season with a .390 average with 24 home runs and 118 runs batted in.

Brett’s .390 remains the second highest batting average in the Major Leagues since 1941. Tony Gwynn hit .394 in 1994 for the San Diego Padres.

The highest averages since Brett and Gwynn are:

Larry Walker of the Colorado Rockies who hit .379 in 1999, and Nomar Garciaparra  of the Boston Red Sox and Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies both hit .372 in 2000.

Will we ever see a .400 batting average again? The Cubs won the World Series in 2016, so anything is possible.

Contributing Sources:
Single season batting average leaders
http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/batting_avg_season.shtml

Nov 17th in baseball history-BROWNS FADE TO BLACK

NOVEMBER 17, 1953 | LOUIS, MISSOURI • The story from November 17, 1953 in baseball history is – Browns fade to black. Stockholders of the beleaguered franchise voted to change the team’s name from the St. Louis Browns to the Baltimore Orioles.

The name change was the final step in the transition from former owner Bill Veeck to a new group of owners which would start the 1954 baseball season near the shores of Chesapeake Bay rather than the banks of the Mississippi.


The Browns began as the Milwaukee Brewers in 1901 – a charter American League franchise – not to be confused with the present day Brewers. The team stayed only one year in Milwaukee, moving to St. Louis in 1902 and becoming the Browns, which was the color of their uniforms.

In all the years spent in St. Louis (and one in Milwaukee) the Browns went to the post-season once. They won the American League Pennant in 1944, losing the World Series to the cross-town St. Louis Cardinals.

The franchise’s change of scenery did them good. The Baltimore Orioles have been to the post-season more than a dozen times since moving to Baltimore. They won the World Series in 1966, 1970 and 1983.

The story from November 17, 1953 is Browns fade to black, and the Orioles come out a winner.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 1953
World Series results year-to-year 
More on the St. Louis Browns

November 16th: Most MVP’s were outfielders

NOVEMBER 16, 2017NEW YORK, NEW YORK • The baseball world is waiting to hear who the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award winners are for the 2017. The awards are announced tomorrow (November 17th). A review of past MVP’s is that more often than not, they were outfielders.

That knowledge would be valuable for your next baseball trivia game. Here are the answers:

MVP recipients by position (as of 11/16/2017)
American League
OF       29
1B       14
P          12
3B          9
SS           8
C            8
2B         4
DH        1

National League
OF       31
1B       15
P          10
3B          9
C            8
SS          7
2B         6

There were several MVP-type awards early in the 20th Century, but the criteria were often suspect. Raising doubts about their legitimacy was the fact that players like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb never won such an award.

The Baseball Writers Association of America took over voting for the Most Valuable Player award in 1931 and continues the task to this day. This brings credibility to the conclusion that most MVP’s were outfielders.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
List of MVP winners
MVP recipients by position

NOVEMBER 15th IN BASEBALL HISTORY – THE LATE JOE NUXHALL

NOVEMBER 15, 2007 |  CINCINNATI, OHIO • The youngest player to appear in a major league baseball game died on this date in 2007. The late Joe Nuxhall was 79 when he died. He was 15 the first time he faced a major league lineup.

The 15-year old Nuxhall would have made it nowhere near a major league mound without a ticket, had it not been for World War II.

Nuxhall made it to “THE SHOW” with the Cincinnati Reds on June 10, 1944. It was the height of World War II. Able-bodied ballplayers of a more mature age were hard to come by because they were all in the service.

The 15-year old Nuxhall would have made it nowhere near a major league mound without a ticket, had it not been for World War II.

It was not an auspicious beginning. As the box score and play-by-play of that game show, Nuxhall was brought in to mop up a game pretty much out of reach for the Reds.

The Reds were down 13-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals when Nuxhall entered the game in the 9th. He gave up 5 earned runs on 5 walks, 2 hits and a wild pitch. He wasn’t even able to close-out the 9th. The Reds had to bring another pitcher to get the 3rd out.

Nuxhall’s ERA for that appearance – 67.50. He was shipped back to the minors after the game, not to return for eight years.

Nuxhall went on to have a fine career when he returned to the Reds in 1953. He won 17 games in 1955, 15 in 1963. His career record was 135-117. He wasn’t a bad hitting pitcher either, finishing with 15 home runs and 78 RBI.

Nuxhall was a victim of bad timing when he was traded to the Kansas City A’s in 1961, missing Cincinnati’s only appearance in the World Series during his playing career. He returned to the Reds in 1962.

Contributing sources:
Youngest MLB players
The Associated Press (AP), June 11, 1944
More on Joe Nuxhall

NOV 13 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-THE MOST MVP’s

NOVEMBER 13, 2017 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The most valuable player awards for 2017 are due out in a few days. It’s not unusual for each league’s most valuable player (MVP) to be a repeater. The leader of the pack by far is Barry Bonds. Evidence that he took PEDs (performance enhancement drugs) notwithstanding, Bonds won 7 MVP awards, more than twice as many as anyone else.

Multiple MVP winners as of November 12, 2016:
Barry Bonds (7)  


Albert Pujols (3)
Alex Rodriguez (3)
Mike Schmidt (3)
Yogi Berra (3)
Roy Campanella (3)
Joe DiMaggio (3)
Mickey Mantle (3)
Jimmie Foxx (3)
Stan Musial (3)  


Ernie Banks (2)
Johnny Bench (2)
Miguel Cabrera (2)
Mickey Cochrane (2)
Lou Gehrig (2)
Hank Greenberg (2)
Juan Gonzalez (2)
Rogers Hornsby (2)
Carl Hubbell (2)
Walter Johnson (2)
Roger Maris (2)
Willie Mays (2)
Joe Morgan (2)
Dale Murphy (2)
Hal Newhouser (2)
Cal Ripken (2)
Frank Robinson (2)
Frank Thomas (2)
Ted Williams (2)
Robin Yount (2)

There were several post-season “best player” awards prior to 1931, but their criteria was not always well thought out, as evidenced by the absence of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and others.

The current MVP awards have been presented in each league since 1931. They are presented annually by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA). Today – NOVEMBER 13th – in baseball history: The most valuable player awards

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Baseball-Reference.com MVP awards

Multiple MVP winners

NOVEMBER 12 – MEET THE NEW BOSS

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS • Today – NOVEMBER 12TH  in baseball history: Pete Townsend wrote “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,”  in the Who classic, Won’t Get Fooled Again. That’s not unlike when Major League Baseball owners gave in to Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis on this date in 1920. They named him the game’s first Commissioner.

The public relations nightmare of the 1919 Black Sox scandal was just coming to light. Owners were fearful the effect of the scandal would have on the popularity of the game. They were pursuing an independent 3-member commission to rule the game. A favorite of the owners to be one of the commissioners was Judge Landis, but he would only serve if he was sole Commissioner. That’s how a single baseball Commissioner came to be.

According to Leonard Koppett, author of Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, Judge Landis negotiated a pretty good deal to help major league baseball “come clean.” He got an annual salary of $50,000 for seven years. He would remain on the federal bench, but his $7,500 judge salary would be deducted from his baseball salary.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis is most remembered for banning eight members of the Chicago White Sox for life in 1921 for throwing the 1919 World Series.

Koppett suspects Landis was named commissioner as payback for bailing out major league baseball when he was the presiding judge over an antitrust lawsuit in 1915.

While the antitrust litigation had a more lasting effect, Kennesaw Mountain Landis is most remembered for banning eight members of the Chicago White Sox for life in 1921 for throwing the 1919 World Series. A jury had found the players not guilty of throwing the series – partly because confessions they made were lost – but Judge Landis didn’t care about the acquittals. His view was they confessed to accepting bribes, so they were forbidden to ever play major league baseball again.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was Commissioner for 24 years – the longest of any baseball commissioner. That’s what happened TODAY – November 12th – in baseball history.

Contributing sources:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball
, by Leonard Koppett, 2004

NOVEMBER 11: FERNANDOMANIA

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA • TODAY – NOVEMBER 11TH – IN BASEBALL HISTORY: Fernandomania continued into the post-season on this date in 1981. Los Angeles Dodger phenom pitcher Fernando Valenzuela won the National League Cy Young award as the league’s best pitcher. He was the first rookie to win the award.

Valenzuela displayed excellent composure, enthusiasm and ability though he was only 20-years old.

Valenzuela could hit too. He hit .250 with 7 RBI in his rookie year. His career batting average was .200 with 10 home runs and 84 RBI.

Valenzuela finished the ’81 season with a 13 – 7 won-loss record and a 2.48 ERA (earned run average). He beat out established stars Tom SeaverSteve Carlton and Nolan Ryan for the Cy Young award.  Valenzuela also won the National League Rookie-of-the-year award.

Valenzuela could hit too. He hit .250 with 7 RBI in his rookie year. His career batter average was .200 with 10 home runs and 84 RBI .

Fernandomania lasted 17 years.  During that time Valenzuela won 173 games and lost 153. That’s today – November 11th – in baseball history.

Contributing Sources:
“Fairy Tale Ending to Fairy Tale season,” by Mike Littwin, Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1981
1981 Post-season awards 

NOVEMBER 5, 1998 IN BASEBALL HISTORY-Yankees 27 Astros 1

NOVEMBER 5, 1998 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Houston Astros fans are relishing in the team’s first-ever World Series championship. Compare that to what the New York Yankees accomplished on this date in 2009. They won their 27th World Series. Yankees 27 Astros 1.

That’s more than the next three World Series winning teams combined.

It’s more than double the 11 won by the team with the second-most – the St. Louis Cardinals.

But it’s a start – Yankees 27 Astros 1.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Number of World Series won by each team
Postseason results, BASEBALL-REFERENCE.com
Yankees post-season results  

 

Puckett carries Twins to promised land

cropped-ball-2.jpgOCTOBER 26, 1991 | MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTAMinnesota Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett was not having a good World Series against the Atlanta Braves. The Twins were facing elimination in game 6 of the 1991 fall classic. It all changed on this date. The best way to describe it; ‘Puckett carries Twins to promised land.’

Kirby Puckett hit a triple in the first inning to drive in a run and later scored. In the third he robbed the Braves’ Ron Gant of extra bases by seeming to hang in mid-air to snag a 400-foot drive off the Plexiglas in left-center field. The future Hall-of-Famer broke a tie in the fifth with a sacrifice fly to deep center. After the Braves tied it up in the 8th, Puckett singled and stole second, but didn’t score.

Puckett’s real heroics came when the game went into extra innings. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis was packed with 51,155 frenzied fans. Puckett led off the 11th. He was facing the Braves’ Charlie Leibrandt. The count was 2-balls and 1-strike. Puckett hit the next pitch over the left field fence prompting television play-by-play man Jack Buck to say, simply, “And we’ll see you tomorrow night.”

The Twins won that game too, and won a thrilling 1991 World Series.

Contributing sources:
Still a Series to Savor

The first box-score

October 22, 1845 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Baseball historian John Thorn says in his book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, the first box score appeared in the New York Herald newspaper on this date in 1845. It recorded a game from the previous day between The New York Ball Club and a team from Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the actual box score from 1845 could not be located. Here is another from the same era:

19th Century - Newark - Eckford NYSM

The box score appeared to be patterned after cricket, a more commonly played game in Manhattan, New York at the time.

The baseball graphic included a box with two columns listing players for each team in the order of how they batted. It recorded little more than their names, number of outs made and runs scored. It didn’t have pitching statistics, except for what the pitchers did at the plate.


Today the typical box score has names, positions, at bats, runs, hits and runs batted in. Many box scores also record who had extra base hits, committed errors, hit sacrifice flies, stole bases and stats on all pitchers. Plenty to lose yourself in for a half hour or so. Below is a how-to on a modern baseball box score courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

12491620-large

Contributing sources:
Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, by John Thorn, 2011
The New York Times, “Cooperstown? Hoboken? Try New York City,” by Fox Butterfield, October 4, 1990
More on the box score 

OCT 17 IN BASEBALL HISTORY, “I’ll tell ya what. We’re having an earth…”

OCTOBER 17, 1989 | SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – Broadcaster Al Michaels was frantic as ABC lost its signal just before game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. Rain, sometimes snow, has been known to interrupt post-season play. This time the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 brought all activity in Candlestick Park, other than self-preservation, to a screeching halt, because, as Michaels’ said off-camera, “I’ll tell ya what. We’re having an earth…”. He was unable to get out “quake” before he was cut-off.

Millions watching the broadcast saw highlights of the previous game being described by announcer Tim McCarver when all of the sudden the picture sizzled and the broadcast signal was lost.

Candlestick Park, with 62,000 people inside, bent – fans felt the stands move and the light standards sway several feet – but did not break. There was catastrophic damage in other parts of the Bay Area; a section of the double deck Nimitz Freeway collapsed, as did part of the Bay Bridge. There were multiple explosions and fires in the Mission District of San Francisco. Sixty-three deaths and almost 4,000 injuries were reportedly caused by the earthquake.

The World Series, coincidentally involving the two Bay Area teams, was postponed for ten days, because, “I’ll tell ya what… we’re having an earth-“. The A’s eventually swept the Giants in four games.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
1989 Earthquake
ABC-TV
Oakland A’s post season

No Angels in the outfield

OCTOBER 12, 1986 | ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – The California Angels were one strike from their first World Series on this date in 1986 when they suffered a heartbreaking loss. It was a spectacular series that had tragic consequences beyond baseball. On this day, there were no Angels in the outfield.

It was game 5 of the best-of-five American League Championship Series (ALCS). California had a three games to one lead over the Boston Red Sox. The game was filled with drama.

The Angels were up 5-2 in the ninth. It was the Red Sox’ last at bat. Designated hitter Don Baylor hit a two-run homer on a two-strike pitch with one out. The Red Sox were within a run.

After the second out Angel’s reliever Gary Lucas hit catcher Rich Gedman. Angel’s manager Gene Mauch brought in Donnie Moore to pitch to the Red Sox’ Dave Henderson. Moore had bounced around the major leagues for several years, but appeared to have found a home with the Angels. Moore had two strikes on Henderson. The Angels were one strike from their first World Series.

Henderson hit a two-run homer to give the Red Sox the lead.

As dramatic as that was, it wasn’t the end. The Angels tied the game in the last of the 9th. Neither team scored in the 10th. The Red Sox scored the go-ahead run in 11th on a sacrifice fly by Dave Henderson. The Angels were held in check in the bottom of the 11th to end the game. The Red Sox were still down three games to two, but were heading back to Boston where they won the final two games.


Sadly, Donnie Moore’s life spiraled down after that. He was booed regularly by Angels’ fans who couldn’t forget that one fateful pitch. Moore was tough on himself too. It’s unlikely that failing to retire the Red Sox on that October day in 1986 was his only demon, but he fell into deep depression after being released in 1988. There were no Angels in the outfield for Donnie Moore on that day. He committed suicide in 1989 at the age of 35.

Contributing Sources: 
Game 5 of ALCS
1986 playoffs 
Another view of what happened to Donnie Moore

Curt Flood is most remembered for what he would not do

OCTOBER 7, 1969 – ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – Curt Flood was a pretty good baseball player. He broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals at the age of 18. He had a .293 lifetime batting average and won several Gold Glove awards. Flood did a lot for the Cardinals. He is most remembered for what he would not do.

Flood was traded from St. Louis to the Philadelphia Phillies on this date in 1969. He wouldn’t go. Flood didn’t like that he had no control over where he played. If a team traded a player to another team, that’s where the player went. That was the essence of the “reserve clause.” Flood balked, “I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.”

Flood’s case against the reserve clause went all the way to the U-S Supreme Court. While the court ruled against Flood in 1972, the decision altered the landscape which soon allowed much freedom of movement by the players – and much higher salaries.

Contributing Sources:
Kurt Flood https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/floodcu01.shtml
“Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball” by Leonard Koppett

“It’s gonna be I believe…”

OCTOBER 3, 1951 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK 

“Branca throws.

There’s a long fly. It’s gonna be I believe…

THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!”


Those were the words that blurted out of Russ Hodges‘ mouth as he described, arguably, the most dramatic moment in sports history – Bobby Thomson’s pennant clinching home run for the New York Giants to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hodges was the Giants’ play-by-play man. His description was as much disbelief as excitement.

The drama was the result of a perfect storm; a Giants comeback from 13½ games down in August, a Brooklyn Dodgers‘ collapse, the third game of a best of three playoff to decide the pennant, the Giants’ last chance in the bottom of the 9th down 4-2, two men on, one out.

Bobby Thomson hitting a home run wasn’t so unusual. He hit 32 of them in 1951, 264 in a 15-year career. Thomson also had over a thousand RBI (1,026) in his career, and was a lifetime .270 hitter. Still, what happened at 3:58 p.m. Eastern Time on October 3, 1951 was as dramatic as anything that had ever happened in sports. The discovery of an audio recording of the play-by-play only intensified the drama.

It’s ironic that a recording of the radio broadcast is saved for posterity in that that game was one of the first to be televised nationally, but the TV broadcast was apparently not recorded.

Contributing sources:
NPR Story on Shot heard round the world
October 3, 1951 box score
The Wall Street Journal, Sept 19, 2006
The Echoing Green, by Joshua Prayer, 2006

Did Ruth call his shot? I say no.

OCTOBER 1, 1932 | CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – What did or didn’t happen in Wrigley Field on this date is debated to this day. Some believe Babe Ruth called his shot while batting in game-3 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees – that is, pointed toward the bleachers, indicating he was going to hit a home run there, and then hitting one there. So did Ruth call his shot? I say no.

Ruth definitely gestured, as film from that day shows, but was he calling his shot? [I don’t have the rights to show a still frame from that film, but you can see it by Google-ing “called shot copyright Kirk Kandle”.]

The Yankees were up 2 games to none against the Cubs in the ’32 series. New York took an early lead in game three on a home run by Ruth, only to be tied by the Cubs.

It was the 5th inning and Ruth came to bat again. He and the Cubs were jawing back and forth at each other. It’s obvious from the film that Ruth was gesturing with the count 2-balls and 2-strikes. On the next pitch, he hit a mammoth home run about 450 feet.

Did Ruth call his shot? Sportswriter Joe Williams of Scripps-Howard newspapers started it with this headline in the next day’s paper:

“Ruth calls shot as he puts home run no. 2 in side pocket”

Cubs pitcher Charlie Root, who gave up the home run, insisted Ruth did not call his shot. “If he had made a gesture like that I’d have put one in his ear and knocked him on his (backside).” Ruth did not initially acknowledge that he called his shot, but embraced the story more and more as time went on.

What may be most definitive is the typed play-by-play from Retrosheet, data gathered by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) for virtually every MLB game ever played.

Below is how Ruth’s 5th inning at-bat appears, including the bold type:

YANKEES 5TH: Sewell grounded out (shortstop to first); the Cubs bench players were riding Babe Ruth mercilessly and Ruth yelled and gestured back; Ruth homered;

Whoever wrote that does not believe he called his shot. And if you look at Ruth’s gesture it appears to be straight ahead. When a left-handed batter stands in the box straight ahead is toward the 3rd base dugout, which is the Cubs dugout. My belief is Ruth was gesturing toward the Cubs, not center-field. Did Ruth call his shot? I say no.

Contributing sources:
October 1, 1932 Box score/play-by-play
Charlie Root quote, USATODAY, September 27, 2007
Sports Illustrated Greatest Teams, by Tim Crothers, 1998

First pitcher to throw 5 no-hitters

SEPTEMBER 26, 1981 | HOUSTON, TEXAS – Nolan Ryan became the first pitcher to throw 5 no-hitters on this date in 1981. Ryan shut down the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 while pitching for the Houston Astros in the Astrodome.

Nolan Ryan is in a class by himself when it comes to career no-hitters. He ended up with 7Sandy Koufax, with 4, is the only other pitcher to throw more than 3 (although indicative of Koufax’s short-lived dominance, he threw his no-hitters in a span of 4 seasons. Ryan’s no-no’s were thrown over a 19-year span – a testament to his enduring dominance.

I didn’t know thatPl

Ready for another “I didn’t know that” stat? Nolan Ryan had a no-hitter broken up after the 7th inning 24 times. Second on the list is Randy Johnson with less than half that number (11).

Back to September 26, 1981…
Ryan came close to losing his shutout in the 2nd when he walked Steve Garvey to lead off. The Dodger first baseman stole second and went to third on a wild pitch – still with nobody out. Ryan struck out Pedro Guerrero and Mike Scioscia (the current Angels manager) and got Ron Roenicke to fly out.

Ryan finished the day striking out 11, walking 3 and giving up no hits.

Contributing sources: 
September 26, 1981 box score/play-by-play (Baseball-Reference)

No-hitters statistics (Baseball-Almanac)
Nolan Ryan career stats (Baseball-Reference)

a STORY from today in baseball history