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Jan 12, 1961 – GENIUS OR FOOL?

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS • Chewing gum magnate and Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley dropped a bombshell on the baseball world on this date in 1961 – he announced that the Cubs would not have a manager for the upcoming season.

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. Wrigley wanted a revolving door – a revolving door of coaches. 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 College of Coaches.

Contributing sources:
Chicago Daily Tribune, 
January 13, 1961, by E. Prell, P. C1 
MLB stats
Philip K. Wrigley 

Jan 11, 1971-TIGER STRICKEN

DULUTH, MINNESOTA – Detroit Tiger pitcher John Hiller suffered a heart attack at his home in Duluth, Minnesota on this day in baseball history. He was just 27-years old. 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 10, 2006-FIRST CLOSER

ATLANTA, GEORGIA  On this day in baseball history, a pitcher who never started a game, was elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame – the first time it ever happened. 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

“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 8, 1991 BABY-BOOM BEAUTIES

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Three stars baby-boomers grew up watching were elected to the Hall of Fame on this day in baseball history. 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 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. Carew finished his career with 3,053 hits and a .328 batting average. Just about every year was a great year, 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 using 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.

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