DEC 3, 2001-names can hurt

enron-fieldHOUSTON, TEXAS • Despite the biggest bankruptcy filing in U-S history Enron Corporation made it known on this date in 2001 that it intended to keep the naming rights to the home of the Houston Astros – Enron Field.

This created a sticky situation for Astros ownership which wanted out of the deal with a company that in the span of a couple months became the poster child for corporate greed.

Despite the bankruptcy, Enron found a way to satisfy its financial obligations to keep its name on the ballpark (wonder how that sat with the 7,500 Enron employees who lost their jobs and pensions).

The Astros soon went to court pleading Enron’s collapse “tarnished the reputation of the Houston Astros.” The court agreed and forced Enron to accept a buyout. By opening day 2002 Enron Field became Astros Field, and by 2003 it was Minute Maid Park, also commonly referred to as the Juice Box.

Contributing sources:
Enron’s collapse, by David Cay Johnstone, New York Times, February 17, 2002
Associated Press (AP), Dec. 3, 2001
Chicago Tribune, December 4, 2001
Houston Chronicle, December 4, 2001

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DEC 2, 1952-casey at the mouth

stengelPHOENIX, ARIZONANew York Yankees manager Casey Stengel went on a verbal rampage on this date in 1952. His targets were several teams and Jackie Robinson.

Robinson, who became the major league’s first Black player five years earlier, stirred up emotions a few days earlier by criticizing the Yankees for not having hired a Black player. According to the United Press news service, while at a banquet in Phoenix Stengel let fly:

“I don’t care who you are in this organization, you’re going to get along and make the big team if you’ve got the ability. We’ve got good coaches, a good front office, good scouts and good minor league managers, and we’re not going to play a sap at second base just because somebody said we ought to put him there.”

Even after Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 it took a while for most teams to integrate. The Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns also integrated in ’47, but it took thirteen more years for all sixteen teams to put African Americans on their rosters.

Stengel also lashed out at the Cleveland Indians boss,

“Why does Hank Greenberg of Cleveland say ‘I hate the Yankees?’ He should say that he ought to hate himself for not winning the pennant with the kind of a pitching staff he’s got. When do teams in this day fail to win pennants with three twenty-game winners on their pitching staff. The Yankee players don’t hate the Cleveland players, they hate you Mr. Greenberg.”

Stengel also blasted Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith who had accused the Yankees of shady dealing in going after one of their players.

The Yankee manager finished his tirade by promising a 5th straight American League pennant in 1953, which is exactly what the Yankees did, and went on to win their fifth straight World Series.

Contributing Sources:
Carl Lundquist, United Press (UP), December 3, 1952
When teams integrated
World Series results

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DEC 1, 1964: new image in houston

astrodome2_dam_1HOUSTON, TEXAS • The Houston “Colt .45s” officially became the “Astros” on this date in 1964. It was quite a change in image, from a symbol of the old west to the city’s modern image as home to NASA and the space program.

The new name coincided with the team’s new home, the world’s first ever indoor baseball stadium. It was initially called the Harris County Domed Stadium. It later became known as the Astrodome. It was also unofficially referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Playing baseball inside created problems during the 1965 inaugural season. The original design called for real grass. Sunlight was allowed in through semi-transparent synthetic glass panels in the dome so the grass would grow. But the players quickly discovered that the hundreds of panels created such a glare that they couldn’t see fly balls.

The solution was to paint over the synthetic glass panels, but then the grass wouldn’t grow. Hence, synthetic grass (Astroturf) was developed, but it took a while.

There were times during the 1965 baseball season when the grounds crew had to paint parts of the playing surface green because the grass had died off. It wasn’t until midway through the 1966 season that there was enough Astroturf to blanket the entire surface of the playing field.

Contributing source:
Astrodome

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NOV 30, 1870: “base-ball” evolves


cropped-cropped-Vintage_Sox-1926-e14208429125861.jpgNEW YORK, NEW YORK • Rules for the game of “BASE-BALL” were amended on this date in 1870 by the National Association of Base-Ball Players meeting at Grand Central Hotel in New York City. The document became known as The Base-Ball Guide for 1871, the year the rules took effect.

“Base-ball” was primarily an amateur sport at the time. The National League would not be established for another 6 years. It would be 30 years before the American League is created.

While the rules settled on in 1870 begin to reveal the game we’re familiar with, some of the language is foreign. For instance, in the examples below, a “fair ball” would later be known as a “strike.” The “striker” would later be known as the “batter” or “hitter.” “Home base” would later be known as “home plate” or simply, “home.”:

(The Strike) All balls pitched over home base, and not lower than the knee, nor higher than the shoulder of the striker, shall be considered as fair balls. [Editor: “Fair balls” in this context would later be known as “strikes.” The “Striker” would later be known as the “hitter.”]

(Fly Out) The striker is out if a foul ball is caught, either before touching the ground or upon the first bound; or if a fair ball is struck, and the ball be held before touching the ground; or if a fair ball is struck, and the ball be held by an adversary on first base, before the striker touches that base; or if a fair ball be caught from the hands or person of a player before having touched the ground; or if a foul ball be similarly caught after touching the ground but once.

(Home Base) The base from which the ball is struck shall be designated the home base; the first base must always be that upon the right hand, and the third base that upon the left hand side of the striker.

(Balk) All balls thrown or jerked to the bat, or which are not delivered with a straight arm swinging perpendicularly to the side of the pitcher’s body, shall be regarded as foully delivered balls…. If the pitcher persists in delivering such balls, the umpire, after warning him of the penalty, shall declare the game forfeited by a score of 9 to 0. [and] Whenever the pitcher makes any motion to deliver the ball to the bat, he shall so deliver it, and he must not have either foot outside the lines of his position, either when commencing to deliver the ball or at the time of its delivery; and if he fail in any of these particulars, then it shall be declared a balk.

The balk rule was important because up until this point pitchers could balk continually.

(Calling the Pitch) The striker shall be privileged to call for either a high or low ball, in which case, the pitcher must deliver the ball to the bat as required. The ball shall be considered a high ball if pitched between the height of the waist and the shoulder of the striker; and it shall be considered a low ball if pitched between the height of the knee and the waist.

(The Bat) The bat must be round. It must be made of wood, and shall not exceed forty-two inches in length.

Contributing sources:
The Chicago Tribune
, December 1, 1870
The Base-Ball Guide for 1871 obtained from Retrosheet.org
Official MLB Rules of today

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NOV 28, 1938-the monty stratton story

DALLAS, TEXASA promising young pitcher for the Chicago White Sox had his right leg amputated on this date in 1938. Monty Stratton was accidentally shot by his own holstered pistol while hunting rabbits on the family farm the day before. The bullet severed a main artery in his leg and doctors decided to remove the leg.

The 6-foot 5-inch Stratton had pitched five seasons for the Sox, going 15-5 and 15-9 the previous two seasons. Stratton was fitted with a wooden leg after the amputation, and continued to work in baseball.

Though he never pitched in the major leagues again, Stratton tried a comeback in the 1940’s in the minor leagues. He went 18-8 for Sherman, Texas’ class-C minor league team in 1946.

His life story is depicted in the 1949 film, The Monty Stratton Story  staring James Stewart.

Contributing Sources:
Associated Press (AP), The Montreal Gazette, November 29, 1938
Monty Stratton minor league stats

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NOV 26, 1948-from king to pauper

hack-wilsonBALTIMORE, MARYLAND Hack Wilson  drove in 191 runs for the Chicago Cubs in 1930 – an RBI record no one in either league has come close to breaking in decades – and almost broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record that same year, but died so destitute that on this date in 1948 the National League had to step forward and help pay his funeral expenses.

At 5’6″, 190 lbs. Wilson didn’t look like a ballplayer, but he could sure hit like one.

In a 5-year stretch (1926-1930) he rivaled Babe Ruth; he never had fewer than 109 RBI, never had fewer than 21 home runs and never batted below .313. In a 2-year span (the 1929 and 1930 seasons) he hit 95 home runs and drove in 350.

Wilson fell on hard times after retiring from the game. The Associated Press (AP) reported that Wilson was bitter about never being able to find a non-baseball playing job in the Major Leagues after he stopped playing, “I’ve written to almost all the important men I know, but the answer is always the same. Sorry, we’re all filled up.”

Wilson was a heavy drinker prone to “dizzy spells.” He was taken to City Hospital in Baltimore after falling and hitting his head after one of these “spells.” Hack Wilson died November 23, 1948. He was 48..

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
The Chicago Daily Tribune,
November 27, 1930
The Baltimore Sun, November 26, 1930

 

 

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NOV 25, 1895-for a few dollars more

YOUNGSVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA • A ballplayer by the name of Frank Spruiell May was born on this date in 1895. What’s so interesting about Jakie May, as he was called? Well, during the course of his 14-year major league baseball career he struck out Babe Ruth twice during the 1932 World Series while pitching for the Chicago Cubs, but I bring him up mainly for comparison.

Jakie May was a dependable left-handed journeyman relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Cubs from 1917 to 1932. He appeared in 410 games, won 72 and lost 95. Salary figures back in the day for guys not named Ruth are hard to come by, but May probably made around $70,000 for his entire career. Don’t even ask if Jakie May had to get a job when his playing days were over. He had to get a job every off-season, as did every other ballplayer (not named Ruth).

Let’s compare May to a left-handed journeyman pitcher of the 21st Century. How about Alan Embree? He played 16 years with a number of teams, retiring in 2009.

Embree appeared in 882 games (though about half as many innings as Jakie May) with a record of 39 wins and 45 losses. Embree was paid an average of over $2-million dollars each year over the last decade if his career. He made over $22-million in his career. That’s 314 times greater than what Jakie May made in his career. Certainly costs of everything have gone up. The average home price in 1930 was about $7,000 compared to $211,000 today. That’s about a 30-fold jump – significant, but no where near 314-fold.

Needless to say, while neither pitcher was ever a candidate for the Hall of Fame, Alan Embree will probably never have to work again. Jakie May never stopped working.

Contributing sources:
Raleigh News & Observer, “When baseball really was a game and nothing more,” by Dennis Rogers, October 11, 1994
Jakie May
MLB salary leaders, 1874-2012 (SABR)
Baseball in the 1930s

Special thanks to Kirk Kruger of Raleigh, NC for sending me press clippings about his grandfather, Jakie May.

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NOV 24, 1953-those who can’t teach

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK • A man who struck out in his only major league at bat, and made an error in one of only two chances in the field, was named manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers on this date in 1953. Walter Alston went on to be one of the most successful managers in major league history.

In 23 years as manager of the Brooklyn (and later Los Angles) Dodgers, Alston won seven National League pennants. He managed the only Brooklyn Dodger team to win the World Series in 1955. He won three more World Series in Los Angeles in 1959, 1963 and 1965, and finished his career with 2,040 wins and 1,613 losses, a .558 winning percentage.

Alston was named NL Manager of the Year six times. He had his number (24) retired in 1977. He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Walter Emmons Alston was born in Venice, Ohio December 1, 1911. He was a graduate of Miami (Ohio) University. Alston died October 1, 1984.

Contributing Source:
“The 20 greatest Dodgers of all-time, No. 16, Walter Alston,” by Houston Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2013

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NOV 23, 2001-curtain falls on bo belinsky

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA • Bo Belinsky died on this date in 2001. He was a media sensation for a fleeting moment in the early 1960’s as a rising star on the California Angels pitching staff, and a glib, flamboyant Hollywood playboy. Back in those days the Angels played in Los Angeles, just a few miles from Hollywood.

Belinsky debuted in April 1962. He pitched the Angels’ first no hitter a month later.

Mamie Van Doren & Bo Belinsky
Mamie Van Doren & Bo Belinsky

He had a much-publicized romance with movie star Mamie Van Doren. He dated Ann Margaret, Connie Stevens and Tina Louise.

Sportswriters and gossip columnists loved Belinsky’s quotes, such as, “If I’d known I was gonna pitch a no-hitter today, I would have gotten a haircut.”

Belinsky’s pitching career took off fast, going 7-1 to start his rookie season, including the May 2nd no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles. But Belinsky faded just as quickly, finishing the ’62 season 3-10.

His career was derailed by inconsistency, and his act grew tiresome. He only had one winning season when he went 9-8 in 1964. His major-league career ended in 1970 with an overall record of 28-51. His hard-drinking playboy lifestyle continued for a few years until he moved to Las Vegas and, of all things, became a born again Christian.

Belinsky had bouts with bladder cancer, and died of heart attack in his Las Vegas home. He was just 64.

Contributing sources:
Baseball-Reference 
The New York Times, by Richard Goldstein, November 27, 2001

 

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NOV 22, 1967-carew in a runaway

NEW YORK, NEW YORK • Rod Carew ran away with the American League Rookie of the Year award on this date in 1967. Carew would go on to a 19-year Hall of Fame career, mostly with the Minnesota Twins and mostly as a second baseman. He played 5 seasons for the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim).

Carew was an all-star every year of his career except his last.

He was named AL Most Valuable Player in 1977 when he hit .388, drove in 100 runs and scored 128. He finished with a lifetime batting average of .328.

Carew was born on a train October 1, 1945 in what was then known as The Panama Canal Zone. When his mother went into labor she was assisted by a doctor by the name of Rodney Cline. In an expression of gratitude, the child was officially named Rodney Cline Carew.

The family emigrated to the United States when Rodney was 14. They settled in the Washington Heights section of New York City.

Contributing sources:
1967 post-season awards

 

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