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