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Jan 6, 1964 – Louisville A’s?

FRANKFORT, KENTUCKY  Kansas City A’s owner Charlie Finley signed a contract with the State of Kentucky on this day in baseball history to move the franchise to Louisville starting with the 1965 season. All that was left to consummate the move was the approval of six of the other 19 owners.

The A’s never called Louisville home, so you know how that turned out.

Most of the owners kept their thoughts to themselves, but the General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds, the franchise closest to Louisville, didn’t have a problem with the planned move.

Charlie Finley was the type of renegade owner who 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.”

Most of the owners kept their thoughts to themselves, but the General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds, the franchise closest to Louisville, didn’t have a problem with the planned move. Bill DeWitt thought another major-league franchise 110 miles away from Cincinnati would increase the fan base for everyone.

As it turned out, the move to Louisville was not approved, so it never happened. The A’s, who originated in Philadelphia, moved to Oakland in 1967 and have been there since.

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, 1915-PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – A short-lived 3rd major league filed a lawsuit in United States District Court in Chicago on this day in 1915, the effects of which are still being felt more than 100 years later. The Federal League claimed the National and American Leagues created an illegal monopoly, making it difficult for the upstart league to survive.

The lawsuit was presided over by Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis who was known for his hard line against monopolies. The result was not exactly what Federal League owners hoped for.

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. It was called Weeghman Field after its owner Charles Weeghman. The park was originally one level. The upper deck was added later.

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:
Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Sherman Antitrust Act
The Chicago Whales & Weeghman Park

Jan 4, 2002 – WILL THERE BE A TEAM?

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA The Minnesota Twins hired Ron Gardenhire as their new manager on this day in baseball history, even though they weren’t sure there would be a team to manage by the time opening day 2002 rolled around. Gardenhire replaced manager Tom Kelly who retired.

Whether Gardenhire would have a team to manage was in question because Major League Baseball owners voted November 6, 2001 to eliminate two franchises – most likely the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos – because of their low revenue and inability to get new stadium deals.

As it turned out the Minnesota Twins got a new stadium deal and remain in Minneapolis. Montreal did not get a stadium deal. The Expos franchise left Montreal for 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, 1973 – STEINBRENNER ERA BEGINS

NEW YORK, NEW YORK  George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees for $10-million on this day in baseball history. He put together a group that bought the team from CBS, 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 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 Steinbrenner’s reign 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 over $3 Billion.

George Steinbrenner died in 2010 at the age of 80.

Contributing sources:
More on George Steinbrenner
MLB Team values

Jan 2, 1918 – LEGAL RULE BREAKER

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK  The Brooklyn Robins (now known as the 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. He was 25-14 in 1928. 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

Jan 1, 1911- “Hank”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK • 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 at the age of 19.

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 31, 1972-MORE THAN A BALLPLAYER

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO • Roberto Clemente was an outstanding baseball player. He was a better human being. He was on a plane bringing relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on this date – New Year’s Eve 1972. The plane crashed shortly after take-off from his native Puerto Rico. His body never found.

Clemente was a winner of Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He was the type of baseball player who came across once in a lifetime. Clemente was a 5-tool player; run, throw, catch, hit and hit for power. It may be more accurate to say Clemente was a 10-tool player because he did all those things with an entertaining flair. It was exciting to see him hit a triple, throw a baserunner out at 3rd from right field, even take a ferocious swing and miss.

On the field, Clemente finished with a .317 lifetime batting average, 1,406 runs scored, exactly 3,000 hits, 12 all-star appearance and 12 Gold Gloves. But he didn’t intend for the ’72 season to be his last. Nor would he expect helping organize an earthquake relief effort be his last act of generosity. But he had to get on that plane to make sure the supplies got to the people who really needed them.

His legacy lives on in the Roberto Clemente Award given each year to the MLB player who “best exemplifies baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to the team.”

Dec 30, 1935 – A STAR BORN

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK • One of the greatest pitchers of all-time was born on this date in 1935, Sanford Braun.

Sanford who?
Braun.
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, and 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. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Sandy Koufax
Biography.com
Jewish Virtual Library

Dec 29, 1951 – THE BITHORN MYSTERY

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.

Bithorn was trying to make a comeback in the Mexican Winter League when he was killed. The largest baseball stadium in Puerto Rico is named after Bithorn.

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

 

Dec 28, 1994-12 PLAYER DEAL

HOUSTON, TEXAS / SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA • The Houston Astros and San Diego Padres closed the deal on one of the biggest trades in baseball history on this date in 1994. Twelve players, 6 from each team, switched uniforms.

Among the big names involved, the Padres got third-baseman Ken Caminiti and outfielder Steve Finley. The Astros got outfielder Derek Bell and a young pitcher by the name of Pedro Martinez. More in a moment.

Unfortunately for Houston, the promising young Pedro Martinez they got from San Diego was Pedro A. Martinez, not Pedro J. Martinez.

The Padres got the better part of the deal. Caminiti had some solid years with the Astros, but his best years were in San Diego. The same for Steve Finley. His best years were after he left Houston.

The Astros got several productive years out of Derek Bell after getting him from San Diego. Unfortunately for Houston, the promising young Pedro Martinez they got from San Diego was Pedro A. Martinez, not Pedro J. Martinez.

Pedro J. is the Pedro Martinez who went on to win 219 games, 3 Cy Young awards, appear in 2 World Series, winning 1, and make 8 All-star teams.

The Pedro Martinez Houston got from San Diego on this date in 1994 didn’t win or save a single game for the Astros. He retired in 1998 at the age of 28.

From Houston to San Diego 
Ken Caminiti
Steve Finley
Andujar Cedeno
Roberto Petagine
Brian Williams

From San Diego to Houston
Derek Bell
Pedro A. Martinez
Phil Plantier
Doug Brocail
Ricky Gutierrez
Craig Shipley

Contributing sources:
The New York Times, December 29, 1994, by Murray Chase
Baseball-Reference.com
9 biggest baseball trades