Category Archives: March

March 9th in baseball history-A Cleveland Indian, no really!

1897 | CLEVELAND, OHIO – A member of the Penobscot Indian tribe was signed by the National League Cleveland Spiders on this date in 1897, and some later claimed that’s where Cleveland’s American League franchise got its name.

Louis Sockalexis showed superb athletic ability and ferocious power playing baseball as a kid on the Penobscot reservation in Maine. Stories, some apocryphal, had him throwing a ball 600 feet over the Penobscot River and hitting a baseball just as far.

He went on to play ball at Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame before signing a major league contract. His career didn’t last long, before the turn the century he was no longer a major league baseball player – heavy drinking took its toll. Sockalexis died in 1913 at age 42.

A year after Sockalexis died Cleveland’s American League team was in need of a new name. They had been called the Naps, after star player Nap Lajoie, but he was traded in 1914. The name “Indians” was chosen.

As time went by the story that the team was named in honor of a real Indian, Louis Sockalexis, was allowed to surface. Ithaca College Professor Ellen Staurowsky, among others, looked into the issue and wrote in the Sociology of Sport Journal, in 1998 that the name “Indians” was more likely chosen for exploitative purposes. The real story of why “Indians” was chosen was that it was a take off on the Boston Braves which were a baseball sensation that year for going from last place on July 4th to winning the World Series.

Contributing sources:
“An Act of Honor or Exploitation?: The Cleveland Indians’ Use of the Louis Francis Sockalexis Story,” by Ellen Staurowsky, Sociology of Sport Journal, 1998
The American Indian Quarterly   

March 8 in baseball history-BASEBALL IN PARIS

1889 | PARIS, FRANCE – A dream came true for Albert Spalding on this date in 1889. A team of touring American baseball players he organized played an exhibition baseball game in Paris, France.

They finally settled on a park in the shadow of Eiffel’s rising tower,

There was some difficulty finding a suitable field. As Mark Lamster wrote in Spalding’s World Tour, “Paris was endowed with countless formal parks and squares, but a large, enclosed space that would allow Spalding to charge admission was proving harder to come by.” They finally settled on, and got permission to use, the Parc Aérostatique, a park in the shadow of Eiffel’s rising tower, which would be completed later that year.

Albert Spalding, the fledgling sporting goods magnate, was a good ballplayer in his own right, and quite the promoter. He decided to tour the world to promote baseball and, in turn, get more business for his sporting goods venture.

He set out west from Chicago after the 1888 season with a group of 20-odd ballplayers, including stars Adrian “Cap” Anson and John Montgomery Ward. They barnstormed across the western states playing in cities like Omaha, Denver and Salt Lake City, eventually reaching San Francisco and settling sail for Hawaii and Australia. Spalding’s tour played in Sydney, Cairo, Paris, London and numerous ports along the way.

The tour returned to the United States in April 1889, more than a year after leaving. And just in time for the 1889 National League baseball (the American League hadn’t been established yet.)

Contributing sources:
Spalding’s World Tour, by Mark Lamster, Public Affairs Publishing, 2006
Eiffel’s Tower

March 7th in baseball history-BRING BACK THE SPITTER?

1955 | CLEARWATER, FLORIDA Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick believed baseball had tipped in favor of the hitter, so on this date in 1955 he said if he had his way he would bring back the spitter.

While visiting the Philadelphia Phillies training camp Frick said, “Something positive should be done to help the pitchers.” In advocating the return of the spitball Frick added, “There’s nothing dangerous about it. It was nothing like the screwball they have to throw today, with a twisted elbow and tricky snapping of the wrists. No wonder today’s pitchers can’t go on as long.”

Runs and ERA’s were up in the 50’s compared to the 40’s (during World War II), but runs and ERA’s were down from the 1930’s. It’s true, throughout the years pitchers have been steadily pitching fewer innings and throwing fewer pitches, but for a variety of reasons, two of the most prominent being the proliferation of the home run, and the increased strategic prominence of the bullpen. Needless to say, the spitball did not come back – legally.

Contributing sources:
Associated Press, Clearwater, Florida, March 8, 1955
Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)   http://www.retrosheet.org/
Ford Frick of United Airlinehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Frick

March 6 in baseball history-TOO SHORT TO FAIL

2006 | PHOENIX, ARIZONA Kirby Puckett always tried to look on the bright side, which would have helped his family, friends and fans when he died on this date in 2006. The former Minnesota Twins outfielder and member of the Hall of Fame suffered a massive brain hemorrhage the previous day, and died after surgery to relieve the pressure.

Puckett probably would have said something like, “It was a short life (45 years), but a fulfilling one.” This is what Puckett (5′ 8″ 210 lbs) actually did say when he was forced to retire in 1996 after waking up one morning blind in one eye, “I was told I would never make it because I’m too short. Well, I’m still too short, but I’ve got 10 All-Star Games, two World Series championships, and I’m a very happy and contented guy.

It doesn’t matter what your height is, it’s what’s in your heart.”

Kirby Puckett was born Chicago and raised in the Robert Taylor Homes, at the time, the largest public housing project in the country and one of the most notorious; infested with drugs, gangs and crime. But Kirby make it out, attending Bradley University for a short time where he was an all-conference outfielder as a freshman. He transferred to Triton Junior College outside Chicago and was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1982 draft, after his hometown Cubs passed him up. He finished his 12-year career with a lifetime .318 average, and despite a shortened career finished with over 2,000 hits and 1,000 RBI’s.

Puckett’s pristine, community-conscious image took hit after he was forced to retire. His former wife accused him of threatening her, and he was accused (and acquitted) of groping a woman in a Twin Cities restaurant. As time went on he gained a tremendous amount of weight, ballooning to well over 300 lbs, which likely lead to his hypertension and contributed to his death.

Contributing sources:
Kirby Puckett – Baseball-Almanac
1982 Amateur Draft – mlb.com

 

March 5th in baseball history-YANK PITCHERS SWAP WIVES

1973 | FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDANew York Yankee pitchers Fritz Peterson and  Mike Kekich dropped a bombshell on spring training camp on this date in 1973. They announced to the world that they had swapped wives… and kids and a poodle and a terrier. “It wasn’t a wife swap,” they said, “It’s a life swap.”

America had lived through the turbulent, permissive 1960’s, but this was a shock on so many levels, not the least of which was that the swap was announced to the world.

Just like in baseball; you win some, you lose some and some get rained out. Peterson and Kekich had been close friends for years, and said there was nothing sordid about the “affair.” They and their wives began discussing the switch the previous summer and put it in effect in October, 1972.

Fritz Peterson was still living with Susanne Kekich and her two daughters, aged 4 and 2, at the time of the press conference, but Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson‘s relationship had already gone south. Their living arrangement with her two sons, aged 5 and 2, had been on-again/off-again. It also became apparent that the two left-handers had had a falling out over one affair working and the other not. Murray Chass wrote in the next day’s New York Times that, “…it was obvious they had bitter feelings toward each other.”

Fritz Peterson and the former Susanne Kekich eventually married and had four children of their own. The last that was heard they were still married and living outside Chicago. Peterson attended a Yankees charity event in Fort Lauderdale in January of 2013. The Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson affair was over before it started. Kekich eventually remarried and at last report was living in New Mexico.

Both achieved some success on the mound, but neither saw their careers flourish after the swap. Kekich finished his 12-year major league career with a 39-51 record. Peterson had career record of 133-131 over an 11-year career. He also did better on the domestic front.

Contributing sources:
The New York Times, March 6, 1973, pages 51-52, by Murray Chass
The New York Times, September 9, 2009, Fritz Peterson writes a book
Washington Times, March 7, 2005
The Palm Beach Post, January 26, 2013   
Jackson, MS Clarion Ledger
, by Rick Cleveland, August 29, 2000

March 3 in baseball history-MILWAUKEE’S LOSS BALTIMORE’S GAIN

1953 | SARASOTA, FLORIDA  – How does “Milwaukee Browns” sound? It almost became a reality. There was an attempt in 1953 to shift the American League’s St. Louis Browns franchise to Milwaukee, but conversations on this date that year between owners involved put that possibility to rest.

One door closing, however often opens another, and that’s what happened here.

Veeck moved his St. Louis Browns to Baltimore where they started the 1954 season as the Orioles, and remain to this day.

Let me try to explain the sometimes convoluted machinations of Major League Baseball franchise moves and almost moves.

The Braves (today’s Atlanta Braves) were still in Boston in those days, but they owned a minor league franchise in Milwaukee. They would have had to move that franchise if a major league team moved in. St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck was eager to move to Milwaukee, and the city was anxious to get a major league team, using a $5 million, 32,000 seat stadium as an enticement. But it was up to the Boston Braves. Vice-president Joseph Cairnes said, “We wouldn’t stand in the way of Milwaukee getting in the major leagues, but before we give up the [minor league] franchise we want another Triple-A franchise of the same potential.” There wasn’t time to work that out before opening day 1953, so the Browns stayed in St. Louis, but only for one more year.

Veeck moved his St. Louis Browns to Baltimore where they started the 1954 season as the Orioles, and remain to this day. The Boston Braves eventually became Milwaukee’s first major league team in three years later, though they didn’t stay long. The Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966.

Contributing sources:
Browns/Orioles
Braves (Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta)
New York Times, Sarasota, Florida, March 4, 1953

March 2 in baseball history-MONEY MONEY MONEY

1927 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK • Babe Ruth became the highest paid player in the major leagues on this date in 1927. The New York Yankees announced that the 32-year old Bambino will earn $70,000 per season for the next three years.

Seventy-thousand dollars a year in 1927 translates to about $1,000,000 in today’s dollars. Not a huge amount compared to today’s salaries, but that was before free agency when a player was the property of a team till the end of his career. The only way he could put on another uniform was if he were traded or released.

Major League Baseball salary records compiled by economist Michael J. Haupert of the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse show Ruth was also the highest paid player of the 1930’s. He earned $80,000 in 1930 and 1931.

Below is Haupert’s list of the highest annual salaries per decade, as can best be determined. Haupert says records of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are “tenuous,” but illustrate how salaries have changed:

1870’s (Al Spaulding) $4,000
1880’s (Fred Dunlap, Buck Ewing) $5,000
1890’s (Hardy Richardson) $4,000
1900’s (Nap Lajoie) $9,000
1910’s (Ty Cobb) $20,000
1920’s (Babe Ruth) $70,000
1930’s (Babe Ruth) $80,000
1940’s (Joe DiMaggio) $100,000
1950’s (Joe DiMaggio) $100,000
1960’s (Willie Mays) $135,000
1970’s (Rod Carew) $800,000
1980’s (Orel Hershiser/Frank Viola) $2,766,667
1990’s (Gary Sheffield) $14,936,667
2000’s (Alex Rodriguez) $33,000,000
2010’s (Alex Rodriguez) $33,000,000

Contributing sources:
“MLB’s Annual Salary Leaders, 1874-2012,” by Michael Haupert 
“Ruth gets 3-year contract; $210,000,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 3, 1927

March 1 in baseball history-MANTLE RETIRES

1969 | FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA • An American icon of the 1950’s and 60’s retired on this date in 1969. Mickey Mantle made the announcement at the spring training home of the New York Yankees, ending an 18-year career.

It’s remarkable it lasted that long considering “Mick” endured a variety of injuries, mostly to his legs. In announcing his decision, Mantle revealed the frustrations of a proud athlete, he was only 37, whose body would not perform, “I don’t hit the ball when I need to. I can’t steal when I need to, I can’t score from second base when I need to.”

Mantle had superstar numbers, but they could have been better. He was the prototype 5-tool player when he came up to the Yankees at age 19 – run, hit, hit for power, throw and catch.

Early in his career he was described as the fastest player from home to first, but that was before leg injuries turned him into a 4-tool star.

Career statistics:

  • 3-time MVP
  • 16-time all-star
  • On 12 pennant winners
  • On 7 World Series championship teams
  • 536 home runs
  • .298 average
  • .421 on-base percentage
  • .557 slugging percentage

Contributing sources:
New York Times, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 2, 1969
More on Mantle