Category Archives: May

JUNE 22-Veeck as in Wreck

*1946 | CLEVELAND, OHIOGroucho Marx once said, “I would not join a club that would have someone like me for a member.” Non-conformist Bill Veeck probably shared some of that attitude, but on this date in 1946 he joined a club he would often be at odds with – major league baseball owners.

Veeck was a showman who would stop at practically nothing to get fans in the stands.

Veeck put together a group, which included entertainer Bob Hope, that inked a deal for the Cleveland Indians on June 22, 1946. This was the start of a career as a major league club owner. He later ran the St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox (twice) franchises.

Veeck was a showman who would stop at practically nothing to get fans in the stands. He employed a midget who had one at bat for the Browns and walked; the pitcher had a tough time finding 3’7″ Eddie Gaedel‘s strike zone. The commissioner’s office didn’t like the idea and immediately barred Gaedel from baseball, but not before his one at bat.

There were a number of Veeck innovations fellow owners originally balked at that have since become commonplace; player names on uniforms, fireworks displays, food other than peanuts and Cracker Jacks available at the ball park.

He also understood the importance of winning. Only three teams other than the New York Yankees won the American League pennant from 1947 to 1959, two of them were Veeck’s – the ‘48 Indians and ‘59 White Sox. Each team set attendance records under Veeck’s leadership as well.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES: 
Richard Dugan, United Press (UP), June 23, 1946, Cleveland, Ohio
Post season results

JUNE 19-America’s game takes shape

1846 | HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY – It’s unlikely anyone will ever figure out when the first game of baseball was played because, in all likelihood, there was no first game. Baseball evolved. Some version of the game dates back to pre-Revolutionary War days, and is based on “ball games” played for centuries. However, a significant contest in that evolution occurred on this date in 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The Knickerbocker Club of New York organized a game at Elysian Field using rules documented in 1845 by member Alexander Cartwright (Abner Doubleday was nowhere to be found). Cartwright, a surveyor by trade, laid out the dimensions of the field. Club members tinkered with the rules and practiced among themselves before the June 1846 game. Historian Leonard Koppett, author of Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, says the Cartwright rules “formalized” many of the rules that remain intact today.

Among the 20 rules laid down by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in the 1840’s:

  1. There would be four bases in a diamond configuration.
  2. The “batter” placed at “home plate” at the bottom of the diamond, if looking from above.
  3. The game consists of 21 outs.
  4. Three outs made up a half inning.
  5. Runner no longer out by having ball thrown at him
  6. Foul and fair territory established
  7. The bases shall be from “home” to second base, 42 paces; from 1st base to 3rd base, 42 paces, equidistant.
  8. The ball must be pitched, and not thrown, for the bat.
  9. A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of first or third base, is foul.
  10. Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught is a hand out; if not caught is considered fair, and a striker is bound to run.
  11. A ball being struck or tipped and caught either flying or on the first bound is a hand out.
  12. A player running the base shall be out, if the ball is in the hands of an adversary on the base, or the runner is touched with it before he makes his base; it being understood, however, that in no instance is a ball to be thrown at him.
  13. A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base is a hand out.
  14. No ace or base can be made on a foul strike.
  15. A runner cannot be put out in making one base, when a balk is made by the pitcher.
  16. But one base allowed when a ball bounds out of the field when struck.

Reportedly, a team called the New York Nine beat the Knickerbockers 23-1 on that June day in 1846. They played four innings.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, 2004, Leonard Koppett
Knickerbocker Rules
Baseball in the Garden of Eden, by John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011
LISTEN: John Thorn NPR interview

June 18-Not again!

1962 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Remember yesterday’s story about Lou Brock being only the second player to hit a home run into the center field bleachers of New York’s Polo Grounds on June 17, 1962? The bleachers were 475 feet from home plate.

Well, it happened again the very next day. Henry Aaron, a more likely slugger, put one into the bleachers in center as the Milwaukee Braves beat the New York G.

What are the odds? Just four players had hit balls into the cent-field bleachers in the 52-year history of the Polo Grounds (Luke Easter of the Negro Leagues also did it) two of them on consecutive days.

The Polo Grounds had some interesting quirks. While the center field fence was a great distance away. The left and right field lines were short. The distance down the left field line varied over the years, but was usually 270 or 280 feet away, never more than 300 feet away, the right field line was even shorter. The upper deck in left hung over the lower deck, meaning a ball that could be caught if it fell all the way to the ground, could end up in the upper deck and be a home run.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Polo_Grounds
http://www.ballparks.com/baseball/national/pologr.htm
http://www.retrosheet.org/

http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2014/04/not_715_ten_other_great_hank_a.html

June 17-Who’da thunk it

*1962 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The centerfield bleachers in the old Polo Grounds in New York, home to the New York Giants before they moved to San Francisco, were 475 feet from home plate. Quite a poke. Before June 17, 1962 only one player had hit a home run into those bleachers – the Milwaukee BravesJoe Adcock. At 6’4″ Adcock looked the part of a slugger. 

On June 17, 1962 a second ballplayer hit a ball into the center field bleachers of the Polo Grounds, but you’d be surprised who. It was Lou Brock, a man known more for his base stealing than slugging. Brock wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with the slow trot around the bases. He finished his career with 149 home runs and over 900 runs driven in.

Brock was still playing for the Cubs on this date, but would be traded to St. Louis two years later where he’d spend the rest of his hall of fame career as a Cardinal.

Bill Grimes is a member of SABR (The Society for American Baseball Research)

 

June 16-Yankees revisit a peaceful RFK

*2006 | WASHIGTON, D.C. – The New York Yankees returned to RFK Stadium in Washington, D. C. on this date in 2006. They beat the Washington Nationals 7-5 in inter-league play.

The last time the Bronx Bombers played at RFK was September 30, 1971 – the last game played by the old Washington Senators.  The Yankees won that game too, but by a 9-0 forfeit when fans stormed the field in the bottom of the 9th and wouldn’t leave. The fans were upset with the Senators leaving the nation’s capital for the second time in ten years.

Here’s where you need a scorecard to keep track; The Senators left the first time in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins, but the deal that allowed owner Calvin Griffith to leave Washington for the Twin Cities brought a new franchise to D.C. in 1961 also called the Senators. The new Senators played at old Griffiths Stadium, still owned by the Griffiths’ family, until “District of Columbia Stadium” was ready in 1962. D.C. Stadium became known as RFK Stadium after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.

The new Senators’ attendance reflected their play – dismal. They moved again in 1971, this time to the Dallas where they became, and remain, the Texas Rangers.

To pour salt on the wounds of fans in Washington, D.C., the Minnesota Twins (the original Senators) made it to the World Series four years after leaving the nation’s capital (1965). And they won the World Series in 1987 and 1991.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
Washington Senators

June 16, 2006 box score/play-by-play