Frankie Frisch

02231101-2A few weeks ago I was able to pick up this 1934 Diamond Stars card of Frankie Frisch.   PSA graded this particular card a “2”, which is expected for an 83 year old card.  With 108 total cards in the set, the Diamond Stars set was produced from 1934 to 1936 by the National Chicle company. Each pack sold for a penny and features over 30 Hall of Famers.  Frisch is one of them and I’m certain this particular card was the subject of many “trades” between young baseball fans of the time.  I absolutely love the bright colors and art-deco themed backgrounds.  Many of the cards show the player “in action” on the field.  The Diamond Stars set was one of the first products to feature baseball cards packaged with gum (as opposed to cigarettes) and as many baseball fans did not own television sets in the 30’s, it was cards like these that gave them a handy visual as they listened to their favorite teams on their radios.  Given the fact that the set does not include the two biggest stars of the decade (Ruth and Gehrig), the set still remains pretty affordable given the other stars that are included.  I am not certain how many cards were featured in each pack and my 45-minute internet search turned up nothing.  If anyone knows the answer, I’d love to know.

Before entering baseball, the Bronx-born Frisch attended Fordham University where he played four sports and his speed earned him the nickname “The Fordham Flash.”  Leaving Fordham in 1919, Frisch signed with the New York Giants of the National League.  Playing for the Giants for the next six years, Frisch won a World Series with the team in both 1921 and 1922.  Leaving the Giants in 1926, Frisch joined the St. Louis Cardinals and became the driving force behind the “Gashouse Gang.”  He would go on to win two more World Series with the Cardinals.  The first in 1931 against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics  and then again in 1933 against the Detroit Tigers.  Frisch finished his playing career in 1937. His career statistics totaled a .316 batting average, still the highest ever for a switch hitter, with 2880 hits, 1532 runs, 105 home runs and 1244 RBI. He also stole 419 bases in his nineteen playing seasons. His hit total stood as the record for switch-hitters until Pete Rose surpassed it in 1977. Frisch also hit .300 for his career from each side of the plate; the only other switch-hitter with more than 5,000 at-bats with this distinction is Chipper Jones.  Other career highlights include:  3x All-Star (1933-’35), NL MVP (1931), 3x NL Stolen Base Leader (1921, ’27, ’31), National Baseball Hall of Fame (1947).

s-l500One of my favorite Frisch stats though, is that he is currently tied for 6th on the all-time managerial ejections list.  He is currently tied with Paul Richards with 81 total ejections.

Known for his fiery competitiveness as a player, his managerial career consisted of more than a handful of umpires landing square in the path of his verbal lashings.

No other umpire was Frisch’s target more than Hall of Fame ump Jocko Conlan.  It was a match made in baseball-heaven as Conlan was widely known as one of baseball’s feistiest umpires.

There are many documented stories of the jaw-jabbing Frisch and Conlan engaged in on the field but here is one of my favorites:

On August 19, 1941 during a rainy game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Frisch who was managing the pirates felt that the second game of the double header should be called on account of the weather.  The Dodgers had already taken the first game and as the Pirates were now trailing the Dodgers by a run in the third inning, Frisch shouted from the dugout, “All my players are going to get pneumonia because of you Jocko – you haven’t got the guts to call this game!”  

Conlan who was finding it harder and harder to ignore Frankie’s incessant heckling, turned to the dugout and yelled “Whatsa matter Frankie?  Haven’t you the guts enough to PLAY the game?”

After the drizzle continued into the next inning, Frisch grabbed a large umbrella to “further emphasize his point” and proceeded to carefully make the trek from the dugout to the pitcher’s mound as “not to slip on the wet grass.”  Watching Frisch approaching and wanting nothing less than to continue to argue with Frisch over the weather, Conlan stood there and let him march all the way out onto the field.  Frisch stopped right in front of Jocko, opened up his large umbrella and stood there staring at the three umpires.  As the fans and the press roared in laughter, Jocko took one look at that umbrella and gave Frankie the boot.  Norman-Rockwell.-Bottom-of-the-Sixth.-April-23-1949

Frisch simply turned back around and as he returned to the dugout muttered, “Can’t a guy have any fun anymore?”  

“Sure Frankie, have all the fun you want…just not at my expense!” Conlan yelled.  

The ejection would later serve as inspiration for Norman Rockwell’s baseball-themed piece
“Bottom of the Sixth.” 

Despite the frequent battles with Conlan, Frisch considered him a close friend. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Conlan from giving Frankie the old heave-ho more than any other manager of his day.

Bill Faul

01011112Despite his blazing fastball, Bill Faul only won 5 games for the 1963 Detroit Tigers.  That year they finished fifth in the American League.

Detroit Tigers manager Chuck Dressen once said: “You watch him for a while, watch how he acts, talk to him, spend some time with him, and you figure either he’s the dumbest guy in the world or the smartest one you’ve ever met.”

Throughout the season there were certainly other players on the team that reporters could have written about. Players such as future Hall of Famer’s Al Kaline and Jim Bunning and fan-favorite sluggers Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash who each hit over 20 home runs.

Yet, after the game it was always Faul’s locker that could be found surrounded by dozens of reporters just hoping he would say something worth publishing.

To say Faul was entertaining would be an understatement.

Baseball has always had it’s eccentrics but in the 1950’s and 60’s, it was widely considered to be a wise move for professional ballplayers to approach the game from a more conformist standpoint.  Faul was weird and this is likely why Faul was popular with reporters, (but probably not so much with his teammates.)

In the 1960’s Faul was what many considered a “flake”.  In 1985 Baseball Digest named Faul to their “All Time Flake Team”.

Of the many things Faul would be remembered for, he was extremely gullible and believed nearly anything that his teammates told him. In 1961, while playing for the University of Cincinnati, one of his teammates told him that as a part of a promotion for the fans the next night, he would have to parachute down onto the field before the game. Faul didn’t sleep a wink before that start because he was so afraid of heights.    He then went out to strike out 24 batters; a school record.

Another time, his teammates told him that an opposing batter was 8 for 8 in the game and batted .678 the year before.  He paced up and down the dugout in between innings and really worried about facing that batter.  He went out to strike him out 3 times in the game.

After complaining to the team trainer that his arm was sore, the trainer pulled Faul into the training room and told him to roll up his sleeve and put his arm under a table lamp for 15 minutes.  Faul did so and afterwards told the trainer, “Gee doc, you were right!  I feel like a new man!”

On one occasion, Faul fell asleep in his locker and had be awakened 30 minutes before the game.  This was his first major league start.

A popular topic for reporters to ask about was Faul’s fascination with hypnosis.  Not of other people though – but rather of himself.  It wasn’t something that he particularly liked to talk about for fear of being branded as a “kook”.  Faul said that hypnosis helped him relax and keep his curveball low.

In a 1963 exhibition game against the Kansas City Athletics, Faul pitched eight shutout innings and was even good enough to gather two hits for himself.  After the game, A’s owner Charlie Finley publicly protested against Faul’s novel strategy saying  that hitters facing an opposing pitcher who was in a “trance” was a “very dangerous hazard” and that his club “has a hard enough time getting hits off of pitchers that aren’t hypnotized!”

As the rumor spread through the league that Faul was pitching under a trance, he would sometimes walk off of the mound, take off his glove, stare at the opposing team and then violently wiggle his fingers from both hands in front of his face.  This would send the opposing team into a panic as hitters set foot in the batter’s box.

When not under self-hypnosis, Faul was widely considered to be a pretty easy going

Jack McKeon4/12/1972
Rosenblatt Stadium

Jack McKeon – 1969

teammate.  Oddly enough, there was one man that Faul absolutely despised.

Jack McKeon.

McKeon managed the Omaha Royals in 1969 where Faul was a starting pitcher.  McKeon already knew that Faul was a strange bird – for instance, he didn’t like to shower thinking that the water would wash away his body’s natural oils, he carried loaded weapons in his carry-on travel bags, and then of course, there was the whole “self-hypnosis” thing – McKeon really had no problem with the fireballing right hander.  Despite being beloved by nearly every player he ever managed, McKeon ended up on the bad side of Faul.

Faul loathed McKeon.

While McKeon knew he wasn’t exactly at the top of Faul’s list; he was shocked when he learned from his players just how much Faul hated him.  During one game where the Royals were batting and McKeon was coaching third base, the opposing team’s third baseman slapped a rough tag on the runner that McKeon objected to.  While voicing his displeasure to the third baseman, the third baseman handed it right back to McKeon.  Both team’s benches cleared within seconds.  As the opposing team swarmed around McKeon, Faul rushed over, knocked the opposing players out of the way, threw McKeon over his shoulder and carried him into the clubhouse.  After Faul slammed the clubhouse door shut, McKeon, who was out of breath and visibly shaken,  said to Faul, “Thank you Bill – you saved my life out there!”

Faul slowly walked up to Jack, stared him dead in the face and quietly said, “I already told you Jack, if anyone is going to kill you – it’s going to be me.”

Then, Faul quietly walked away.

And then there was the time Bill Faul bit the head off of a live parakeet…  I’ll save that for another post though.

Norfolk Tars

highrock3Recently I came across a few photos of High Rock Park which was located in Norfolk, VA right near the intersection of Church and 20th Street.  Home to Norfolk Tars who were a Piedmont League minor league affiliate to the New York Yankees, the 6,500 seat park was dedicated on July 15th, 1940 in front of a crowd of thousands.  The Norfolk Tars would go on to lose that inaugural game to the Richmond Colts in front of a sold out crowd.  The name of the park is often questioned in discussion as the location is neither “high” or “rocky”. The park was actually built on a location that is low and sandy.  The name “High Rock Park” was actually chosen by the High Rock Bottling Company which paid $1,000 per year for naming rights.

The left field fence butts up against the old Norfolk & Western Railroad tracks.  It is said that during an exhibition game, Babe Ruth hit the “longest home run in history” as the ball sailed over the fence and landed in a rolling coal car bound for West Virginia.  (It should be noted that several other cities have similar stories involving Ruth, home-runs, and coal cars.) 

highrock1

In 1944, the park sustained massive damage due to a fire and was rebuilt by local dentist and owner of the Tars, Dr. Eddie Myers.  Dr. Myers added 1,500 additional seats, changed the name to “Myers Field” and reopened the park which went on to host Norfolk Tar baseball games until 1955.

The Norfolk Tars played mediocre baseball in the 1940’s and never found themselves winning more than one pennant (1945), the Tars did serve as a starting point for a handful of baseball legends.  Notably, Yogi Berra, Lew Burdette, Whitey Ford, Bob Porterfield, Chuck Connors, Tom Gorman, and Clint Courtney.

The 1950’s provided better Norfolk Tar baseball and along with a general manager who promoted the team very aggressively, Myers Field was often sold out for home games.

One of his promotions was “swimsuit night” and he put an ad in the Virginia Pilot that the best looking girl would win $100.

01011111Norfolk Tar second baseman Tom Vinditelli would tell the story best.

“On the the night of the swimsuit contest, the fans kept coming and coming.  They all wanted to get a look at these girls in swimsuits and we must have had a crowd of over 10,000 people.  The only problem was that only one girl had signed up to be in the contest.  About an hour before the game, the general manager started to panic and kept saying, ‘What in the hell am I going to do?’  He fretted a little while longer and said, ‘We advertised a swimsuit contest, so we’re going to have a swimsuit contest!  I need some volunteers!’

He then hopped in his car, drove over to Sears and came back with a bunch of wigs, bras, ladies’ shorts and shoes in his hands.  While he was gone, his wife came down to the dugout and put all sorts of makeup on us.  He handed us these get-ups and we got dressed for the contest.

The one girl that actually did sign up for the contest was ‘Miss Norfolk’ and thank goodness for that01011111-2.
She was a knockout.  We let her go out onto the field first and when she came out in a leopard print bathing suit and high-heels, the crowd went nuts.  I was next in line and since I’m from Rhode
Island, the announcer announced me as ‘Miss Rhode Island.’  Jim Coates, our big 6’4″ who later played for the Yankees came out as ‘Miss Virginia.’  Bob Rack was ‘Miss Missouri’ and Moe Thacker was ‘Miss Illinois.’

We all looked funny as hell stumbling around in high-heels and bras but the funniest of all was my double-play partner Stan Rosenzweig.  Introduced as ‘Miss Brooklyn’, he was short and stocky with hair all over his body that made him look like a little bear out there.  He had stuffed two baseballs into his bra and on his way back to the dugout, he took them out, showed them to the crowd, and then put them back in.  He then called one of his buddies from the other team and told him to come out onto 01011112-2the field.  “Rosey” jumped into that guy’s arms, pulled one of the baseballs out of his bra and said to him, ‘Why don’t you come up and see me sometime big boy?’  

The fans all thought this was a riot and what we thought was going to be a flop of a night turned out to be a helluva time!”
Myers Field was torn down in 1955. I recently drove by the location (photo below) and sadly, nothing is left but an empty lot that has probably been a handful of other things in the past 60 years.

It is hard to believe that this is the same spot where a 17 year old Yogi Berra got his start.   Struggling defensively behind the plate, Berra went on to hit 7 home runs and knocked in 56 RBI’s in 1943, his lone season with the Tars before moving on to the New York Yankees, 18 All Star Games, 13 World Series rings, and eventually the Hall of Fame.img_6554

Note – the Tom Vinditelli story above can be found in Mike Shannon’s book: Tales from the Ballpark. 1999. 

 

 

Ralph Branca

fullsizerender“Ralph Branca, beloved Dodger pitcher and the man who courageously stood up to racism with Jackie Robinson, dead at 90”.

At the age of 90 years old, Ralph Branca quietly passed away the day before Thanksgiving in his Rye Brook, New York nursing home yesterday.

I wish more headlines read like the one above.   Instead, the majority of them define him as the man who “gave up the ‘shot heard round the world’.

Born on January 6, 1926 in Mount Vernon, New York; Branca was the 15th of 17 children.  While attending New York University, Branca was their star pitcher in 1944 and would find himself making his major league debut that summer for  the Brooklyn Dodgers.

With the help of a blistering fastball and a curve ball that snapped like a flag in the wind, 1947 would be Branca’s breakout season as he went 21-12.  The next season he would compile a record of 14-9 and making it 3 winning seasons in a row, he would top out at 13 wins and only 5 losses in 1949.  Branca would make the National League All Star team all three years.

A post about Branca wouldn’t be complete without mention of the fastball he threw to Bobby Thompson on October 3, 1951 at 3:58 P.M..

01011104

Bobby Thompson of the New York Giants hits a game-winning home run off of Dodgers’ pitcher Ralph Branca in a playoff game at the Polo Grounds – October 3, 1951, New York (AP)

In the final game with the New York Giants to determine the National League championship, Bobby Thompson lifted a Branca fastball into the left-field bleachers with two men on base in the bottom of the 9th inning.  The shot off of Branca secured the National League pennant for the inter-borough rivals.

The “Shot Heard Round the World” is often cited as the most memorable home run in baseball history and sits alongside such baseball memories as Gehrig’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, Larsen’s perfect game in a World Series and Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder catch at the Polo Grounds.  Americans alive at the time and who possessed any vague interest, could recall with exacting detail where they were when they heard the news.

The same can be said for Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination.

Branca once said, “Nobody remembers that at 21, I won 21 games.  Nobody remembers that at 25, I had 75 wins.  All they remember is that homer.”

It would later be discovered that the New York Giants had been stealing signs from the Polo Grounds center-field bleachers during the entire 1951 season.

“He absolutely knew that fastball was coming”, Branca would go on to later say about his close friend Thompson.

Thompson denies he had the signs decoded. “Even if you know what’s coming, and I’m not saying I knew what was coming, you still have to hit the damned ball.” he would later say.

Branca enjoyed a 12 year career (1944-1956) and played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1944-53, 1956), Detroit Tigers (1953-54), and New York Yankees (1954).  His career win-loss record was 88-68, ERA 3.79, and totaled 829 strikeouts.

branca-jackie-863e8314

Ralph and Jackie at the Brooklyn Dodgers office the day Jackie Robinson signed his contract.  February 12, 1948

Branca was also an early friend and champion of Jackie Robinson.  He was one of the few in the game to great Jackie as an equal from day one.

“Ralph was good to Jack,” Rachel Robinson once said, “when it wasn’t fashionable to be good to Jack.”  In 1944, as Robinson broke the color barrier, fellow members of the Dodgers signed a petition protesting Robinson joining the team, Branca courageously refused to sign.  In those early years on the road, Branca, unlike many of his teammates, regularly socialized with Jackie Robinson and proudly stood beside him when Robinson first took the field on opening day, April 15, 1947.

Branca grew up in a diverse Mount Vernon neighborhood and his immigrant parents taught him respect and acceptance from an early age. Growing up, Branca had black, Irish, Italian, and Jewish neighbors, friends, and teammates.  “Where I lived, on 9th Avenue in Mount Vernon, black families lived right next door to me. They came in my house, I went in theirs,” he says.

While many will choose to remember Branca as merely the losing half in possibly the most famous home run in baseball history, let us not also remember him as a man of unwavering integrity who stood tall in the face of racism.

Eddie Robinson

As we head into Game 6 of this year’s World Series, I knew the Cubs had more to add to this storybook season.  The top of the 4th inning has certainly proved that to be the case.

A home run by Bryant in the 1st and now a grand slam by Russell in the top of the 4th has put the Cubs up a cool 7 runs.  Because these two teams have never faced each other before in a World Series, the grand slam was the first hit in Cubs World Series history and the first given up by the Indians in their World Series history.  I’m sure most will say that putting Cleveland’s Tomlin on the mound with only 3 days rest was a mistake by the manager Francona.  Regardless, Francona hasn’t made any mistakes yet in this World Series and I think that Chicago knows they need to flip the switch in this game if they are going to stay alive and make history.

Chicago pitcher Jake Arrieta has cruised through the Cleveland lineup for most of the night and seems to be locked in.  Arrieta played his triple-A ball here in Norfolk for the Tides, starting 46 games between 2009 and 2013.  Here is a pretty cool clip from our local news channel spotlighting Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta back in 2009.

s-l1600-1

They did a pretty cool spotlight on Eddie Robinson who is the last surviving member of the 1948 Cleveland Indians championship team.  Robinson played first base and knocked in the winning run in game 6 of that World Series as they went on to defeat the Boston Braves.

In an interview, a reporter referenced how much the game has changed since 1948 and asked Robinson if he ever thinks about how much stars like Bob Feller and Bob Lemon would have gotten paid today.

He calmly said, “No.  I only think about how much Eddie Robinson would have gotten paid today.”

picture-17Interestingly, Robinson was with the Indians on June 12, 1948 as they played the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.  Babe Ruth was on hand to help the Yankees celebrate the 25th anniversary of their stadium.

Dying of cancer and struggling to walk, Ruth put on his Yankee pinstripes one last time and slowly made his way up the dugout steps.  Seeing that Ruth was weak and struggling to support himself, Robinson handed him one of his bats to use as a crutch.  Ruth would die 2 months later.

That bat can be seen here in this photo.

Robinson later had Ruth sign the bat and held on to it for the next 40 years.  He called a memorabilia collector in the 1980’s and asked if he was interested in purchasing the bat. Having no idea what the value of the bat would be, Robinson threw an arbitrary number of $10,000 out there as the purchase price.  The collector quickly said, “I’ll have the money to you tomorrow.”

The bat has since gone on to sell at auction for over $100,000…twice.

You can purchase Robinson’s autobiography “Lucky Me: My 65 Years in Baseball” here.

In closing, the Cubs are currently leading 7-2 in the top of the 6th.

Johnny Klippstein

01011106-2After Cleveland’s big win last night in Game 1 of the World Series and a short post about Cleveland’s Hall of Fame player/manager Lou Boudreau, I thought I’d sit back, watch tonight’s Game 2 and post about a Chicago Cub.

Johnny Klippstein is not a name you hear very often but he pitched for the Chicago Cubs from 1950-1954.  Known as one of the “most liked guys in baseball” during his 18 year career, Klippstein pitched for 8 teams from 1950-1967 and posted a 101-118 record.  Nicknamed the “Wild Man of Borneo”, Klippstein was seen as a player with great potential who could turn in masterful performances from time to time.  It was often his lack of control that overshadowed his dominance on the mound.   Leading the league in hit-batters one year, he also claimed the single-season record for wild pitches twice.

In 1943, at the age of 15, Klippstein was visiting an uncle in Appleton, Wisconsin and decided to take advantage of a tryout camp being held locally by the St Louis Cardinals. After trying out, Klippstein was signed the following spring.  300 players tried out and out of all of them, Klippstein was the only to sign a contract.

After completing school in the spring of 1944, Klippstein reported to Allentown of the Class B Interstate League.  As one of the youngest players in the league, he won his first game but posted a 10.50 ERA.  After bouncing around the minors that season, Klippstein returned home to finish up his last year of high school.  Following the school year, he returned to baseball for the 1945 season and performed much better.  The Cardinals were finally starting to see the potential in Klippstein.

After missing the entire 1946 season due to being drafted into the Army, Klippstein returned to the Cardinal’s minor league season and struggled to regain his form.  After a disappointing season, the Cardinals lost Klippstein to the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1948 draft.  After excelling in the Dodgers minor league system through the 1949 season, the Dodgers ended up losing him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for $10,000 in cash.

Klippstein made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs but never blossomed with Chicago.  After the 1954 season, he was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds where he developed further as a pitcher, learning the slider and working on his control.  It was in 1958 the

St. Louis Cardinals Stan Musial

Klippstein facing Stan Musial as Cincinnati catcher Ed Bailey awaits the pitch.

Klippstein was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he reinvented himself as a relief specialist.  The following year, he would pitching over 50 games, the Dodgers would go on to win the National League Pennant and eventually defeat the White Sox.  1960 would be the season in which Klippstein would show his age and as the Dodgers became more concerned about his health and effectiveness, they traded him to the Cleveland Indians where he would go on to lead the league in saves with 14, post a respectable sub-3.00 ERA and was considered one of the most effective closers in all of baseball.

Despite his success, the Indians made him available for the expansion draft and shipped him to the Washington Senators in exchange for $25,000.  The Senators flopped that year and so did Klippstein, posting a 6.78 ERA and leading the league with ten wild pitches. Klippstein was shipped back to the Cincinnati at the end of the season.  The next year he pitched much better but found himself being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in spring training of 1963.  He would go on to have the best season of his career pitching in 49 games and posting an ERA of 1.93.  The Phillies would go on to finish in fourth place that season. 1964 saw Klippstein being marginalized and found himself buried in the bullpen and eventually waived.  The Minnesota Twins would pick him up and he would go on to develop a quick-pitch curve which helped him to become one of the most effective closers in the league and help the Twins clinch the pennant.  The Twins would go on to lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers thanks in part to the magnificent pitching of Claude Osteen and Sandy Koufax.

1966 would see Klippstein on the hill just 26 times and found his 18 year career over.  He finished with a lifetime 4.24 ERA.  When asked about his “best season”, Klippstein often remarked that he never had one.

Despite wearing the uniform of 8 different teams in his career, Klippstein loved the Chicago Cubs and remained a die-hard Cubs fan for the rest of his life.   In 2003 while listening to the Cubs defeat the Marlins, he passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer.  I can only imagine how excited he is to now be looking down on his Cubs and his former Indians both sharing the spotlight in the 2o16 World Series.

Lou Boudreau

01211202-2This will be a quick little update here as I’m currently watching Game 1 of the 2016 World Series.

What a season it has been as we finally arrive here at Game 1 with the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians facing off.  It’s certainly great to see two teams with such dedicated…and patient fans.

Who am I rooting for?  I’m excited for both teams but at the end of the day, I think I’ll have to go with the Chicago Cubs.  Their fans have waited longer and I’m a huge fan of their catcher David Ross.  What a career he has had.  He is hanging up his cleats after this year and getting to put a World Series ring on his finger would be the perfect send off.

This past weekend I was looking through a collection of Perez-Steele Hall of Fame postcards that I have accumulated through the years and came across Mr. Lou Boudreau.  Ironically, he was the player/manager of the last Cleveland Indians team to win the World Series.  Boudreau managed the Tribe from 1942 to 1950 and lead the team to a World Series title in 1948.  As their shortstop that year, he also hit .355.  Seems fitting to write about him tonight.  I love his signature on this post card.  Simple and legible – something you don’t see in today’s players signatures.

A few interesting facts about Boudreau – 1941 against the New York Yankees, he was responsible for starting the double play that ended Joe DiMaggio’s historic 56 game hitting streak.

In 1942 during his rookie year as Cleveland’s player/manager, Boudreau is said to have not only blown his nose while suffering from a cold in the dugout, but also the game.  Not feeling well enough to play the field that day, he decided to sit in the dugout and send signals to his third base coach.  At the time, Cleveland’s sign for a double-steal was a towel to the face.

Boudreau seemed to have forgotten that sign as Cleveland runner Pat Seerey pulled up into second base.  Seerey’s nickname was “Fat Pat” and it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that ol’ Fat Pat wasn’t stealing any bases anytime soon.  First base was occupied by a Cleveland runner who was just as slow.

As you can probably imagine, Boudreau’s cold that day led him to reach for the nearest towel to blow his nose.  This set off a verrrrry slooooow domino effect of two very overweight base runners taking off from their bases and attempting to advance.

While the stadium stood in shock to watch the opposing infielders easily toss out both of Boudreau’s fat  base-runners for an inning-ending double play, Boudreau lept to his feet barking at the third base coach for putting on such a stupid play.  The third base coach was just as stunned as the fans, the 2 base runners, and the opposing team.  He told Boudreau that it was in fact HIM who had given the sign for such a stupid play and it was then that Boudreau realized that he had “blown it”.  The Indians went on to lose that game.

Boudreau is also widely credited with creating the “Boudreau Shift” with the

migratedhopes of stopping the dead-pull hitter Ted Williams.  In July of 1946 as Williams was coming off of a May where he had hit .427 and the Red Sox were coming into Cleveland for a double-header with a five-game winning streak.  In the first game, Williams smashed a grand slam in the third inning and followed that up with two more dingers. By the end of the first game, Williams had racked up four hits, four runs scored, and eight RBI’s.  The Red Sox went on to win the first game 11-10.  In his first at-bat of the second game, Williams would double and score.

Boudreau had to do something defensively drastic.  Moving nearly every defensive player to flood the right side of the field, Boudreau hoped that the carnage would stop.  In his next at bat, Williams grounded out to Boudreu who was while still playing shortstop was actually standing closer to the first baseman.  The Red Sox would go on to win the second game as well with a final score of 6-4.  Later, in his biography Player-Manager, Boudreau would go on to say that the idea of the shift was spontaneous and was probably out of desperation that day.  The infield shift has been already been covered pretty extensively online.  One of the best articles can be found here.

As I wrap up this piece, the Indians are leading in the 9th, 6-0.

I haven’t seen any infield shifts yet.

Joe Cowley

After retiring 27 batters without giving up a single hit on September 19, 1986; White Sox pitcher Joe Cowley became the 214th major league pitcher to toss a no-hitter to beat the red-hot Angels 7-1.  Not to take anything away from Cowley but it wasn’t exactly what you would think of when you think “no-hitter”.  01011102

Most of the no-hitters that I’ve seen happened to creep up on me (usually by the 5th inning) and leave me on the edge of my seat as I watch the pitcher battle deeper into the game and the defense making plays to keep that magic “0” in the “H” box on the scoreboard.

Most no-hitters are close to perfection.  Cowley’s no-hitter was closer to perfectly unconventional.

Sure, Cowley lasted 9 innings and the Angels failed to get a hit, so technically, by definition it was a “no-hitter” and his name is in the record book.

Ask Angels first-baseman Wally Joyner about the game and he’s flatly not impressed –

“He was either two feet outside or right on the black (the corner). He did his job. He got 27 outs. But he wasn’t tough at all, he wasn’t. We didn’t get a hit, that’s all that happened.  If you guys don’t look up at the scoreboard, you’d think he gave up eight or nine hits. When he was around the plate, he was barely around it. I’m not even frustrated. It wasn’t impressive, it wasn’t. Not to put Joe Cowley down, but it wasn’t impressive.”

Joyner’s take on the game probably had something to do with the fact that Cowley walked 7 batters  during the game, including walking the bases loaded in the 6th and then giving up a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson so not only did Cowley give up a run in his 9 innings of no-hit ball; he managed to give up an earned run. He wouldn’t win another major league baseball game in his career.

Baseball can be wacky like that.

Speaking of wacky, Joe Cowley was widely considered by many of his teammates to be just that.

During his 2 seasons (’84-’85) with the New York Yankees, there was hardly a funnier sight that watching manager Yogi Berra visit the mound to either talk to Cowley or remove him from the game.  Berra was all of five-seven and Cowley six-five.  When Yogi would get to the mound, Cowley would rest his hand on Yogi’s shoulder giving the crowd the impression that it was Berra getting the talking-to and not the other way around.

In 1985, Yankee manager Billy Martin spent most of the season trying to figure Cowley out. After heading to the mound to remove Cowley from a game, Martin was taken aback as Cowley greeted the manager by saying, “Hey Skip – don’t feel bad.  You’re making the right move getting me out of here.”

That season, Cowley would go 12-5 with the Yankees and his coaches and teammates all felt that he would have performed even better had he been able to keep his concentration on the mound.  As he demonstrated in his unconventional no-hitter a year later, Cowley had an infuriating penchant for walking batters.

Yankee teammate Don Baylor who at the time was the leader of the clubhouse as well as judge and jury of the Yankee kangaroo court would fine Cowley repeatedly for his bone-headed play.

After walking the lead-off hitter in fifth inning of a game, Cowley looked over to the Yankee dugout to see Baylor standing at the top of the steps with his hands on his hips glaring out at the pitcher’s mound.  Cowley  yelled over to Baylor, “I know, I know…I owe you ten for that one!”

 

Phil Garner – 1978 Topps

I’m a “complete set” kinda guy.  Not to the extent that I’d ever spend the time or money to complete a present-day “master set” though.  I’m perfectly happy with stopping at just the base set in most cases.

I say ” in most cases” because since Topps first released Gypsy Queen, I’ve always put the effort into completing the set through the SP’s.  I justify it by telling myself, “it’s just 50 more cards,” I guess.02181101

My latest project is the 1978 Topps set.  It has taken me a little bit longer than usual not for any other reason than Little Cam requires all hands on deck in most cases.  I’d say that I’ve got 3/4’s of the set complete but I still need to get what I have in pages so I can quickly fill in the blanks.  My wife thinks it ridiculous that I spend the time to put the cards in protective pages…only to complete the set, which is then neatly put in a box and stored away.

I’ve ended up with quite a few doubles and before I pass them along to a buddy of mine, I usually pull a few to send off with autograph requests.  In this case, Pittsburg Pirates 3rd baseman and former Houston Astros manager Phil Garner ended up on the mailing list and was happy to oblige my request.

As one of the more unique photos in the ’78 set, this photo was taken during the 1977 season and shows Garner admiring a fly ball.  Garner did hit a career high 17 dingers that year so I suppose he could be watching the ball leave the yard.  Standing in the background is manager Chuck Tanner and 2nd baseman Rennie Stennett.  If it were a home run, I’d hope Stennett’s reaction would be a bit more enthusiastic than what you see in the the photo.

The ’77 Pirates not only sported some of the sweetest uniforms of their time, but also finished 2nd in the National League East with a 96-66 record and five games back of the Philadelphia Phillies.   I love the home uniforms of the Pirates of the ’70’s.  Revolutionizing baseball uniforms forever, the Pirates were the first team to sport buttonless pullover jerseys.  They also decided to replace their belts with colorful elastic bands on their pants.  You can clearly see that in the photo above.  The Pirates were also the first to wear a cotton-nylon knit fabric uniform that was not only cooler and lighter than the woven flannel uniforms of the time, but also provided a more “stretchy” fit.  The “stretchy” duds were not particularly well received by the players or the media; generating comments such as “the new uniforms do not flatter fat men” and “these pants are like taking off a girdle.” Regardless, this look would be adopted by nearly every team for the next 20 years.

 

J.C. Martin

As the remnants of tropical storm Hermine were approaching the Hampton Roads area and leaving no doubt that we were going to have a very wet and windy Labor Day weekend, I had anticipated knocking off a handful of tasks from my “to-do list” while we hunkered down.   What I failed to consider was that almost all of those tasks required electricity.  An entire Saturday with no power slowed me down a little bit but I still managed to get most of my chores done for the weekend.  This blog post was the last on the checklist.

Before I get to my latest through-the-mail-autograph success, let me tell you about the time I took my father-in-law to one of our local AAA baseball games.  As the players were warming up, he looked at the first base line and asked me what the chalk line just outside of the first base line was.  I had always just known it as the “runner’s lane”.  I told him from what I had been told, as the runners ran to first base, they were supposed to run between the baseline and the outer line.  Per the official rule (Rule 6.05K actually); if a runner is within the runner’s lane and is struck by a thrown ball (usually by the catcher), he cannot be called out for interference.  As we watched, we saw that very few of the players adhered to the rule and who can blame them really.

02181101 (2)As a batter leaves the batter’s both, he usually runs directly to the bag which is in FAIR TERRITORY.  This makes the most sense as the runner’s lane is in FOUL TERRITORY.  Given the fact that the shortest distance from point “A” to point “B” is a straight line and using the runner’s lane would require the batter to veer off to the right side of the line, why would they use the runner’s lane?  I could see it for a left handed batter who leaves the box on that side of the base line anyways, but had a hard time catching a right-handed batter using the lane at all.

Anyways, we could sit here all night and look at scenarios where the runner either should, or should not be called out for being struck by a thrown ball but I’d rather chat about the Ron Lewis postcard that Mr. Martin was kind enough to sign for me.  After all, it was Mr. Martin that was involved in the play that resulted in the runner’s lane being added to all baseball fields.

After being an integral part of the Chicago White Sox (1959-1967), Martin was traded to the New York Mets in 1968 to serve as a backup catcher to Jerry Grote.  It was in the 1969 NLCS that Martin found himself pinch hitting in the 8th inning for Tom Seaver and driving in Al Weis and Ed Kranepool.  That five-run eighth inning helped the Mets defeat the Atlanta Braves by a score of 9-5.  The Mets went on to sweep the Braves on their way to the World Series.

In game 4 of that series against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles, with the Mets leading two games to one, Martin was involved in the play that changed the baseball diamond forever.  With the game tied 1–1 in the bottom of the 10th and pinch-runner Rod Gaspar on second base, Martin squared a bunt back to the pitcher’s mound.  Baltimore pitcher Pete Richert scooped up the ball and threw to first base.  The ball struck Martin on the left wrist and caromed towards the dugout.  The errant throw allowed Gaspar to score the winning run.  02181101 (3)

Replays later showed that Martin was running inside the baseline and because of this, could have been called out for inference.   Stating that Martin did not intentionally interfere with the play, the umpires stood by their call.  Martin was awarded first-base, Gaspar scored, and the Mets would later go on to defeat the Orioles in that World Series,

It was this play that resulted in the running lane that extends from halfway down the first-base line to the bag to be added to all major league fields.

I’m excited to add these two Martin signatures to my collection and am always happy to learn interesting facts about players of the past.