Category Archives: January

Was ’51 Pennant Stolen?

JANUARY 31, 2001 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK • The Wall Street Journal reported today in baseball history what had been rumored for years. The dramatic 1951 comeback by the New York Giants, culminated by Bobby Thomson’s ‘shot heard round the world’ to give the Giants the pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers, was aided by espionage.

Wall Street Journal reporter Joshua Prager, author of The Echoing Green, reported that Giants players Monte Irvin, Sal Yvars and Al Gettel admitted stealing opposing catcher’s signs for about the last ten weeks of the regular season.

An electrician sitting next to the spy activated a buzzer in the Giants bullpen before each pitch; one buzz meant fastball, two buzzes meant curve.

The Giants clubhouse in the old Polo Grounds was in centerfield. The story goes that manager Leo Durocher had a player peer at the opposing catcher’s signals almost 500 feet away with a telescope through an opening in the clubhouse wall. An electrician sitting next to the spy activated a buzzer in the Giants bullpen before each pitch; one buzz meant fastball, two buzzes meant curve.

Giant utility player Sal Yvars is quoted in Dave Anderson’s book, Pennant Racesas telling Giant batters, “Watch me in the bullpen. I’ll have a baseball in my hand. If I hold on to the ball, it’s a fastball. If I toss the ball in the air, it’s a breaking ball.” The Associated Press quoted Gettel as saying “Every hitter knew what was coming, made a big difference.”

The Giants made a miraculous comeback in 1951 from 13½ games back on August 11th. They tied the Dodgers on the last day of the regular season, forcing a best of three playoff. Each team won a game, bringing the season down to Game 3 at the Polo Grounds on October 3rd. Bobby Thomson’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth won game three. It sent the Giants to the World Series, and the Dodgers home.

Contributing Sources/More information:
Wall Street Journal, Joshua Prager, January 31, 2001
The Echoing Green, by Joshua Prager, Vintage Books, 2001
Historic Baseball, AP, February 2, 2002
New York Times

Voting Taken From Fans

JANUARY 30, 1958 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK • Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick saw a lot of red at the 1957 all-star game and he didn’t like it. So today in baseball Frick took the all-star team voting away from the fans, calling it “a joke.” The starting lineups for the 1958 all-star team would be determined by a vote of players, coaches and managers.

Frick must have thought, ‘Hold on. No Mays, no Musial! No way.’ Frick replaced Bell and Crowe with the two future hall of famers.

The problem in 1957 was that Cincinnati fans stuffed the ballot boxes enough that almost the entire team was Redlegls*. As it turned out five were in the starting lineup: Frank Robinson, Don Hoak, Roy McMillan, Ed Bailey and Johnny Temple, except for Robinson, not exactly household names. Gus Bell and George Crowe also appeared to have enough fan support to make the starting lineup.

Frick must have thought, ‘Hold on. No Mays, no Musial! No way.’ Frick replaced Bell and Crowe with the two future hall of famers.

According to Baseball-Almanac, players, coaches and managers would choose the starters for the all- star team through 1969. The vote went back to the fans in 1970, which is the procedure today. Fans pick the starting fielders, the managers pick the pitchers and the managers and players pick the reserves.

*The Cincinnati ballclub was called the Redlegs for a while in the 1950’s and 60’s because of paranoia during the red scare of communism. Anything “red” was verboten.

Contributing Sources:
Fred DeLuca, International News Service (INS), January 31, 1958
Baseball-almanac
MLB all-star game Wikipedia

“The Man” is Rewarded

JANUARY 29, 1958 | ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI • Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals became the highest paid player in National League history on this day in baseball (1958). Stan “The Man” gratefully stroked his signature across a contract worth $100,000. It was certainly well deserved. He won his seventh batting title in 1957 with a .357 average, and drove in more than 100 runs for the tenth time in his career. The Associated Press reported that only Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox probably makes more at an estimated $125,000.

 

The Cardinals made it clear they wanted Stan to stick around. According to the AP the 37-year old former outfielder who now mostly plays first base, told reporters, ”Baseball has rewarded me richly, and the Cardinals have always treated me more than fairly, this year in particular. I would have settled for less.”

 

Musial went on to hit .337 in 1958 and play six more seasons, finishing with a lifetime .331 average. He was not considered a home run hitter, but hit over 30 home runs six times and finished with 475 for his career.


He named to twenty-four all-star teams (there were two all-stars some years), and elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.

 

Contributing sources:
Associated Press, January 30, 1958

Campanella Paralyzed

JANUARY 28, 1958 |GLEN CLOVE, NEW YORK • There was unsettling news on this day in 1958. Early that morning Roy Campanella of the Brooklyn Dodgers was on his way home to Glen Cove, Long Island after closing the Harlem liquor store he owned when his car hit a patch of ice. The vehicle flipped and hit a light pole. The robust, rock-like catcher’s neck was broken by the impact. Several vertebrae were fractured. It wasn’t immediately certain if he would survive.

As it turned out Campanella pulled through, but would never walk again. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down. He would later regain considerable use of his arms and hands through therapy.

The Philadelphia native remained employed by the now Los Angeles Dodgers, working with young catchers in the organization. He later became assistant to the director of community relations.

Roy Campanella survived an accident that could have killed him, and went on to live a productive life. Still, it’s tempting to imagine what could have been. He probably had a few productive baseball-playing years in him. He was 36 when the accident happened. While he only played 10 years, he was one of the greatest catchers of all time:

  • 8-time all-star
  • 3-time MVP
  • 242-home runs
  • 856 RBI
  • .276 life-time batting average

Roy Campanella died of a heart attack June 26, 1993 at the age of 71.

More Information:
More on Roy Campanella
United Press International (UPI), January 29, 1958
Associated Press (AP), January 29, 1958
Campanella Obituary

FRANCHISE SHIFTS IN THE AIR

JANUARY 27, 1956 & 66 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK & MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN Today in baseball history provided hints of impending franchise moves. On January 27, 1956 the New York football Giants announced they would desert the Polo Grounds for Yankee Stadium for the upcoming season. This added to speculation that the baseball Giants wouldn’t be long for the Polo Grounds either.

The Associated Press reported that the baseball Giants were contemplating a “move across the Harlem River” to Yankee Stadium by 1957. The baseball team ended up moving in 1958, but across the country to San Francisco, where they remain to this day.

Ten years later on this date in 1966 the City of Milwaukee was trying to get the Braves back from Atlanta. The team hadn’t played any games in Georgia yet, but they’d already left Wisconsin. On January 27, 1966 Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Elmer Roller stopped just short of ordering the league to expand to Milwaukee or bring the Braves back. He instructed that Major League Baseball should do everything “within their scope” to get a team in Milwaukee.

As it turned out, the Braves stayed in Atlanta. The American League franchise Seattle Pilots left Puget Sound for Milwaukee in 1970 and changed their name to the Brewers. And the Polo Grounds in New York was demolished in 1964.

More information:
Chicago Tribune, Judge Orders NL: Stay in Milwaukee, January 28, 1966
United Press International
, January 28, 1966
Associated Press, January 28, 1956
New York/San Francisco Giants history

THE DOUBLEDAY MYTH

JANUARY 26, 1893 | MENDHAM, NEW JERSEY  Abner Doubleday died today in baseball history. You know, the guy who didn’t invent baseball. His name is so tied to the game however, it would be remiss not to tell the story on this baseball website.

Doubleday was rather extraordinary, but not for anything having to do with baseball. He could not have been aware such a story was circulating since he died before it surfaced.

Doubleday never claimed, wrote or uttered that he invented baseball.

Doubleday was born near Albany in upstate New York, spent more than thirty years in the military, achieving the rank of general for the Union in the Civil War. He was second in command at Fort Sumter, reportedly ordered the firing of the first shot in defense of the Fort off Charleston Harbor, South Carolina in the battle that started the War between the States.

The story goes that Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, NY in 1839. The only evidence to support this is the word of a man named Abner Graves who was described as being of questionable integrity.

On the other hand, there is ample evidence that Doubleday did not invent the game. For example, while Cooperstown was home at one time, he was a cadet at West Point in 1839. If he was drawing up rules for how to play “base-ball” he was doing it while AWOL. Also, Doubleday never claimed, wrote or uttered that he invented baseball.

So how did the story come about? Baseball historian Harold Seymour wrote in Baseball: The Early Years that around the turn of the 19th century A. G. Mills, the fourth president of the National League, “wanted it distinctly understood that patriotism and research had established that the game of baseball was American in its origin,” and not a descendant of the English game rounders. A committee Mills chaired officially “concluded” as much in 1907. This conclusion was almost immediately debunked, but, being a good story, the facts never got in the way.

The story was promulgated to such an extent that a shrine to the game of baseball was built in Cooperstown, NY in the 1930’s – The Baseball Hall of Fame. A ballpark adjacent to the Hall is called Doubleday Field.

General Abner Doubleday accomplished a lot in his life, none of which appeared to have had anything to do with baseball.

More information:
“Baseball: The Early Years,” by Harold Seymour
MLB Historian John Thorn
The Doubleday Myth, The New York Times

TEAM VALUE$ SKYROCKET

JANUARY 25,1945 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK The New York Yankees were sold today in baseball history for $2.5 million to Larry MacPhail, Dan Topping and Del Webb.

Compare that sale price to the value of MLB teams today. The increases are almost incomprehensible. Even comparing for inflation, they’re way beyond the hikes in costs of every thing else.

The increase in team values over just the last 9 years is staggering, as this list from Forbes Magazine comparing 2007 to 2016 (teams are ranked by their value in 2016):

              2007    2016
 1. Yankees   $1.2B   $3.4B
 2. Dodgers   $632M   $2.5B
 3. Red Sox   $724M   $2.3B
 4. Giants    $459M   $2.25B
 5. Cubs      $592M   $2.2B
 6. Braves    $458M   $1.75B
 7. Mets      $736M   $1.65B
 8. Cardinals $460M   $1.6B
 9. Angels    $431M   $1.34B
 10. Nationals $447M  $1.3B
 11. Phillies  $457M  $1.24B
 12. Rangers  $365M   $1.23B
 13. Mariners $436M   $1.2B
 14. Tigers   $357M   $1.15B
 15. Astros   $442M   $1.1B
 16. White Sox $381M  $1.05B
 17. Orioles  $395M   $1B
 18. Pirates  $274M   $975M
 19. Diamondbacks $339M $925M
 20. Twins    $288M   $910M
 21. Reds     $307M   $905B
 22. Blue Jays $344M  $900M
 23. Padres   $367M   $890M
 24. Brewers  $287M   $875M
 25. Royals   $282M   $865M
 26. Rockies  $317M   $860M
 27. Indians  $364M   $800M
 28. A's      $292M   $725M
 29. Marlins  $244M   $675M
 30. Rays     $267M   $650M

Comparing the cost of living in 1945 with today:

  • The average cost of a new home today ($360,000) is 78 times what it was in 1945 ($4,600).
  • The average cost of a gallon of gas today ($2.33) is 16 times greater than the average gallon in 1945 ($0.15).

The value of the Yankees is 1,360 times greater than it was in 1945.

Contributing Sources:
Forbes Magazine
The New York Times, January 26, 1945
Census Bureau – home prices

Jan 24, 2001- DEION TAKE 2

CINCINNATI, OHIO  Deion Sanders decided to give baseball another try today in baseball history. As the story goes he was invited to spring training by the Cincinnati Reds. General Manager Jim Bowden gave the 2-sport star a non-guaranteed minor league contract to play for the Triple-A Louisville Riverbats.

The Washington Redskins‘ all-pro cornerback hadn’t played major league baseball in three years. Sanders played 115 games in the outfield for the Reds in 1997, hitting .273 with 56 stolen bases, 53 runs scored and 23 RBI, but he was 29 then. He was 33 in 2001.

Sanders made it up to the Reds for 32 games in 2001, but he hit just .173 in seventy-five at-bats. That was the end of his baseball career.

The debate that will never be answered is, how good a baseball player would he have been had he played with a bat and ball exclusively.

In a 9-year major league baseball career with the New York YankeesAtlanta Braves, Reds and San Francisco Giants Sanders played in 641 games, hitting .263 with a .319 on base percentage, but he was most known for his speed. He had 186 stolen bases, which average out to 47 per year.

His only World Series was an impressive one. He hit .533 (8 for 15) and had five stolen bases for the Braves in the 1992 World Series which was won by the Toronto Blue Jays. Sanders gave whichever baseball team he played for instant speed.

He had a more productive football career – eight time all-pro and played on two Super Bowl winning teams.

The debate that will never be answered is, how good a baseball player would he have been had he played with a bat and ball exclusively. He knew which was more challenging when asked by the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2000:

Q – What’s tougher: hitting off Greg Maddux or guarding Jerry Rice?
A – “Hitting a baseball is definitely the hardest thing in sports to do, not only for me but for a lot of guys, but guarding Jerry Rice isn’t easy either. I just make it look easy.”

Contributing sources:
Cincinnati Enquirer, February 27, 2000
Deion Sanders NFL stats

Jan 23, 1981-FREDDIE GONE

NEW YORK, NEW YORK • It was not an auspicious off-season for the Boston Red Sox in 1981. On this date the Red Sox had to trade the only player, up to that time, to win Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season, center-fielder Fred Lynn.

They didn’t want to part with Lynn, but the front office failed to mail a contract to him by the deadline allowing Lynn to become a free agent if he wasn’t traded. He was sent to the California Angels (today’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) for Joe Rudi and Frank Tanana.

Freddie Lynn came on like gang-busters his rookie season of 1975, less than two years after being drafted by the Red Sox out of the University of Southern California. He hit .331 with 21 home runs, 105 runs batted in and 103 runs scored. Oh, he also won a Gold Glove and made the all-star team.

He was almost the perfect ballplayer, as evidenced by being awarded the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards – the first player in history to win both (Ichiro Suzuki won MVP and ROY awards in 2001, but he had already played nine seasons in the Japanese major leagues).

Fred Lynn had a very good career, but only once did he match or surpass his rookie production, that was 1979 when he hit .333 with 39 home runs, 122 runs batted in, 116 runs scored and a .416 on-base percentage.

The Red Sox also messed up with Carlton Fisk that same off-season. That’s a story for another time.

Contributing source:
Joseph Durso, The New York Times, January 24, 1981

Jan. 22, 1857 – RULES

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – If you’re a regular reader of this website you’re aware of my belief that baseball (or “base-ball” as it was referred to in the mid-19the century) evolved. It was not “invented” one sunny afternoon in Cooperstown, New York. Here is another example of how the game came to be.

A convention of “Base Ball” clubs from the New York area met on this date in 1857 and made some decisions that would turn out to be monumental in the “evolution” of the game. Although the Knickerbocker Club of New York was instrumental in organizing the convention, the decisions made by those gathered did not go as the Knicks had hoped.

  • There was a general concensus to change the rule that the winner was the first team to score 21 runs (which back then were called “aces”). The group decided a game would last 9 innings. The Knickerbocker Club wanted 7.
  • There would be 9 players on a side. The Knickerbocker Club wanted 7.
  • A fielder would have to catch a batted ball on the “fly,” not one bounce, for an out. The Knickerbocker Club wanted the rule changed to “on the fly.” The convention kept it at “one bounce.”

There were other rules established that the Knickerbocker Club agreed with:

  • The distance between the bases would be 30 yards (90 fee
  • The pitching distance would be 45 feet from home base
  • Five innings would determine a complete game

All the above changes remain in place to this day, except the pitching distance and the “fly” rule.

A number of other rules evolved over the years, such as the infield fly rule, what constituted a foul ball and whether it counted as a strike.

How many strikes for a “strike out” and how many “balls” for a walk varied from time to time before settling on 3 strikes and 4 balls in the late 1800s. At one time a batter wasn’t awarded first base until 9 balls were called.

Contributing Sources:
Baseball in the Garden of Eden
, by John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011
Baseball Chronology

19th Century Baseball