Archive for September, 2016

Out of the Blue: A Review

September 29, 2016
Out of the Blue cover

Out of the Blue cover

Back almost 30 years ago, the Dodgers won the World Series, beating Oakland in five games. The most famous play was Kirk Gibson’s home run in game one, but Gibson didn’t win the Series MVP. Orel Hershiser did. It was Hershiser’s year. He set a record with the most scoreless innings pitched in a row, led the Dodgers to the pennant, won the National League playoff MVP, then won the Series MVP, and finished the year off with the NL Cy Young Award. Of course, out of all that came a book: Out of the Blue by Hershiser with Jerry B. Jenkins.

My guess is you’ve read some of this kind of thing. It’s basically a baseball biography of the player, in this case Hershiser, until he gets to the big season and leads his team to victory in the World Series. There are a bunch of these and they’re all pretty much the same. If, by this point, you don’t really care about how the Dodgers won the Series in 1988 or how Hershiser rose from relative obscurity to one of the great one year wonders ever, then you probably think you could care less about this book. You’re wrong.

As I just typed, most of the book is fairly typical of this genre of literature, but there is a single section that makes it different and still interesting for non-1988 freaks. The most interesting part of the book is first 53 pages (specifically section 2 of five), which are a chronicle of how Hershiser prepared to pitch a game. It begins with his getting out of bed, goes through his breakfast routine, his morning, how he got to the park, what he did there to prepare for the game, and ends with him taking the mound. He talks about pitching mechanics, how to prepare for a particular team, his daily regimen, how he deals with his family on game day (and the days he isn’t pitching). It is, all in all, a fascinating look at how a pitcher goes about preparing to do his job. Hershiser reminds us a pitcher doesn’t just show up, grab a ball, warm up, and pitch. If you really think about it, you instinctively know that, but how often do you think about it? Hershiser does a good job letting us in on how it’s done at the big league level.

The book came out in 1989 and is by Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers. I got mine as a gift from my wife, so I have no idea what it cost at the time (there’s no price on the jacket). I still read it every so often when I want to remind myself just how much commitment it takes to be a Big League ball player. For that it’s worth the read. For the other stuff, it’s dated and of interest only if the 1988 season is of particular interest to you. You can probably find it used online or at a library.


Evermey6r’s Glove

September 26, 2016
A glove

A glove

Sometimes you just love a game. You can’t play it well, but you love it anyway. You get a chance to play it, you go play it. You don’t care what people say about your skills, you just want to play. I had a friend like that in Viet Nam. His name was Evermeyer and he was the kind of guy they talk about when they say about his batting that he “couldn’t hit the floor if he fell out of bed.” Or when fielding that he “couldn’t catch a cold.” But we all loved him.

To explain the kind of guy he was, let me tell you this story. When you arrived in Viet Nam you got new jungle fatigues. Those were the normal uniform you wore, not the fancier green or khaki uniforms with all the fancy ribbons, bells, and whistles. They fit loosely, were always baggy (which in Nam heat was a good thing), and of course they came with nametags. The local populace provided girls who would sew on your name over the right pocket and “US Army” over the left pocket. Of course the American names meant nothing to them, so you got some odd spellings. In Evermeyer’s case one of the girls didn’t quite cut off the stitching on the two lower lines of the last “e” in his name and more or less sewed them together. That made it look suspiciously like a 6. Of course that led to a name tag that looked something like this: Evermey6r. If it was wrong, you could take it back and they’d fix it, but Evermey6r loved it, so he kept it and made sure to wear it when he was going to be in what passed for formal surroundings in our unit (that means when some bigwig was around). Someone always took the bait and the conversation generally went something like this:

“You got a six in your name?”

“That’s what it says, sir.”

“How do you pronounce it?”

“Evermeyer, sir.”

“What happened to the six?”

“It’s silent, sir.”

Worked every time. So we loved him.

But he couldn’t play ball at all. He tried. I gotta give him credit, he tried. He was awful at the plate, worse in the field. We always stuck him in the outfield and told him to play deep. That led to him coming up with the following gag.

When someone asked him where he played, he’d tell them “outfield.” And of course they all took the bait and he just reeled them in.

“Which outfield position?”

“Way out.” See, I told you, we loved the guy.

So one day we’re playing on the field I’ve mentioned a few times before. It was dusty, not much of a field, and that day we had only a handful of guys on either team. Evermey6r was on mine and stationed well out in the field (I was at first as usual) when someone hit a long one. It wasn’t all that high, but it was going over Evermey6r’s head for a lot of bases. He must have been tired or disgusted or bored or something because he simply tossed his glove in the air at the ball.

And for the first, and probably only time in its life, the glove made honest-to-God contact with a ball in anger. Not only did they collide, but the ball stuck in the webbing somehow and the two of them, ball and glove together, fell to the dirt pocket side up so the ball wasn’t touching the ground. They landed a couple of feet from Evermey6r who stared at them. And all the rest of us froze.

Quite simply no one knew what to do. Today I know that it’s not a legal catch, because you can’t throw an object at the ball, but none of us knew that back in 1968. None of us had a set of the rules (we didn’t play well enough to need one), but here was a ball that was caught by a glove. The glove simply didn’t happen to be attached to a hand at the time. So we argued about whether it was an out or not. My team, the one in the field, said they guy was out, after all the ball was in leather and hadn’t touched the ground. There was no dirt in Evermeyr’s glove, he’d never managed to catch anything that would make it dirty, so you could obviously see the ball was in the glove. The other team was sure he was safe, but wasn’t quite sure where he was safe (first, second, third, maybe a home run?). After an indeterminate amount of time and argument common sense prevailed. There wasn’t much of that around or none of us would have ended up in Viet Nam, but someone finally came up with a solution. We gave the guy a ground rule double and went back to playing (and no, I don’t remember if he scored or not).

Evermey6r was ecstatic in a way only an incompetent who’d lucked into doing something right can be (dumb luck takes care of its own). He’d made a play. Well, sort of a play. Somebody suggested we let him keep the ball (which we did) and he could bronze the damned thing and his utterly useless glove so they could be together for all time.

I lost contact with Evermeyer (OK, I’ll spell it right this time) after I left Viet Nam. I ended up in Virginia and he went to Colorado (I think) to finish his tour of duty. I hope he still has the ball and the glove. If not, I hope he sold the glove for a goodly sum, after all it was only used once.


September 22, 2016
"Sport" Sullivan

“Sport” Sullivan

Recently I took a quick look at Abe Atell, one of the gamblers involved in the fixing of the 1919 World Series. As important as Atell was in the entire affair, other gamblers should really hold center stage. One of the most important was “Sport” Sullivan.

Joseph Sullivan was born in November 1870. His parents were from Ireland, making him first generation. For most of his life his census records show him as a realtor, or at least someone working in a real estate office. And I suppose he actually did make some money at some point in real estate, but by 1903 he was considered the premier gambler in the Boston area. Newspaper accounts of the era detail him making $1000 bets on the 1903 World Series (he bet on Boston to win). Either he was making a lot of money in real estate or he’d already begun his gambling ventures.

He found sports gambling to be the most lucrative bets, leading to his nickname. He bet on baseball, but he came to prominence primarily as a boxing gambler. He was accused of fixing fights, and of trying to influence early auto races in the Boston area. And as a successful gambler he was recognized as an expert on the sports involved. After all only an expert could make money the way he did when it came to sporting events.

Of course we know there is another possibility that explains Sullivan’s expertise in sports gambling. He was, as early as 1906, getting in trouble with the Boston police for fixing sporting events. He’d pay fines and be back on the streets in hours, but I find no evidence that he spent time in jail. By 1916 he was the acknowledged king of Boston gamblers.

Hollywood's version of Sullivan (Kevin Tighe)

Hollywood’s version of Sullivan (Kevin Tighe)

As a gambler, and I suppose this is as good a time to point out that Sullivan seldom “gambled” on anything; he only bet on sure things, particularly things he could fix before hand. But as a gambler, Sullivan was well known in the community of ball players. He was known for cultivating them, dining with them, helping them out in a pinch (there is some speculation that he found them available female companionship). And that got him access to the 1919 Chicago White Sox and the idea of throwing the World Series. It’s impossible to tell who initially came up with the idea of fixing the Series, but Sullivan was front and center in the entire enterprise. He knew Chick Gandil (since at least 1912) and Eddie Cicotte played for Boston for five years (1908-1912). Things get a little murky here because Gandil said Sullivan proposed the fix while Sullivan laid the blame on Gandil (which ever one you believe, make sure you check to see that you wallet is still there when you leave them).

However it began, Sullivan provided much of the money to pay the players and got more from Arnold Rothstein. Not all of it went to the players and Sullivan made a lot of money betting on the Reds to win the Series. But there were consequences to winning all that money. When the dust settled in 1920 and 1921, Kennesaw Mountain Landis banned Sullivan from ball parks throughout the country.

That was the beginning of Sport Sullivan’s fall from the top of the gambling pyramid. Without access to the parks and players involved in the most important sport in the US, he rapidly faded. He still made money, but now was making ten bucks when previously he’d made thousands. He lived on to April 1949, mostly forgotten but not poor either.

Sullivan's grave from Find a Grave

Sullivan’s grave from Find a Grave



A Dozen Things You Should Know About George McQuillan

September 20, 2016
George McQuillan with the Phillies

George McQuillan with the Phillies

Another of the players on my fantasy team that I’ve been looking into is George McQuillan. Here’s a brief look at him.

1. George Watt McQuillan was born in 1885 in Brooklyn, the first generation son of Irish immigrants.

2. The family moved to Paterson, New Jersey where he finished high school, worked as an electrician for the Edison Company, and played minor league baseball.

3. In 1907, he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as a right-handed pitcher. He went 4-0 with an ERA of 0.66.

4. His career year was 1908. He was 23-17, had an ERA of 1.53, seven shutouts, 114 strikeouts, a 157 ERA+, and racked up 9.4 WAR.

5. He spent the offseason in the Cuban Winter League. His team folded, he got sick (the specific sickness is in dispute, ranging from jaundice to venereal disease to alcoholism), and returned to the US.

6. He was 13-16 in 1909, and if the alcoholism wasn’t already a problem, began drinking too much during the season. It led to bad numbers and to a divorce. He improved a little in 1910, but the drinking was still a problem. That got him sent to Cincinnati.

7. Late in 1910 he checked into a Hot Springs, Arkansas hospital and was diagnosed with second stage syphilis (the venereal disease seems most likely as the Cuban era problem). The Reds picked up the bill, and during treatment McQuillan reconciled with his wife.

8. This led to one of the more strange episodes in McQuillan’s career. He bought $270 in jewelry for his wife from a local jeweler (a peace offering maybe?). He didn’t have the cash so credit was arranged. It took two years for the jeweler to get his money. He had to appeal to the National League in order to have McQuillan’s check garnished.

9. Whether he was well or not, or an alcoholic, or both, George McQuillan was never again the same pitcher. He spent 1912 in the minors, then returned to the NL with the Pirates. He had a couple of winning seasons, but was never again the team “ace.” In 1915 he was traded back to the Phils where he helped them (4-3 with a 2.12 ERA) to a pennant. He did not pitch in the World Series, which Philadelphia lost 4 games to 1.

10. His last big league year was 1918. His career record is 85-89 with an ERA of 2.38 (ERA+ of 113), and 21.5 WAR. His career 1.79 ERA while in Philadelphia is still first among Phillies pitchers.

11. He remained in the minor leagues through 1924 and retired.

12. After baseball he managed a furniture warehouse in Columbus, Ohio and died in May 1940.


He Built It; We Came

September 17, 2016

Just saw that W. P. Kinsella died yesterday in Canada. He is most famous for penning the novel Shoeless Joe. It later became the 1989 hit movie Field of Dreams. He was 81.

“If you build it, he will come,” became the most famous line of the movie. And for those of us who liked either the book or the movie (or both), we came. RIP, W.P.


Congratulations and another one of those All Time Teams

September 16, 2016

First, it seems right to congratulate the Chicago Cubs as the first team to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. But, perhaps to celebrate, Sports Illustrated just released, on its daily mailing it sends to people like me, the All Time Cubs team. Here, for your interest and edification, is the list:

Catcher–Gabby Hartnett

Infield-Cap Anson (1st), Ryne Sandberg (2nd), Ernie Banks (ss), Ron Santo (3b)

Outfield–Billy Williams (left), Hack Wilson (center), Sammy Sosa (right)

Pitchers–Fergie Jenkins and Mordecai Brown as starters and Bruce Sutter as the reliever.

There are no backups listed.

So what do we make of this? On the face of it, it isn’t a bad list. It’s certainly better than the thing ESPN did on its top 100 players. Having said that, I have a couple of problems with it. I’m not sure how you compare Anson with the rest of the cast. He spent almost his entire career (which went from the National Association of the 1870s into the 1890s) hitting against pitchers who were not allowed to throw overhand or who did not throw from a mound 60’6″ away. I agree Anson was a heck of a player (probably a top 100), but I’m not sure you can accurately compare him with more modern Cubs first basemen (Mark Grace, Leon Durham, even Phil Cavarretta of the 1945 team). Sure you can make comparisons with Anson’s contemporaries, but I do worry about comparing him to much never guys. Second, I wish they’d do some commentary on Sosa’s steroid issue. I’m not sure how much it would change his position, but it should be noted (as should the bitter taste of how he left Chicago).

There is no manager listed. I suppose I’d go with Frank Chance. He’s the only one who proved he could lead a team to a modern World Series championship. Anyway, you should be able to find the list on Sports Illustrated’s website somewhere.

The Stanford Coach

September 15, 2016
Harry Wolter while with the Highlanders

Harry Wolter while with the Highlanders

Continuing my look at members of my 1910 fantasy team, it’s time to write about one who had a decent, but not great baseball career. Harry Wolter wasn’t a bad ballplayer, but he found his calling in another job. He became a successful college coach.

Harry Wolter was of Hispanic origin on this father’s side, making him one of the first Hispanic players in the Major Leagues. There were others going back into the 19th Century, but Wolter was still among the first. He was born in Monterey, California in 1884, graduated from high school, and attended Santa Clara College. He graduated in 1906, again taking his place as one of the first college graduates in the big leagues. While still in college he played some minor league ball with the San Jose Prune Pickers (God, I love old-time minor league names). After graduation he again took up minor league employment, this time for the Fresno Raisin Eaters (see what I mean about old-time names). He was primarily a pitcher and racked up a 12-22 record with an ERA in the low threes. They decided to use him in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching and he hit .307.

All that got the Major Leagues interested in him. He began in Cincinnati in 1907, hit a buck 33 in four games, moved on to Pittsburgh where he went oh-for-one, then got into sixteen games for the Cardinals. All that got him a trip back to the minors. He played some for San Jose, refused an assignment to St. Paul, and ended up not playing at the big league level for all of 1908.

In 1909 he got another chance at the big leagues when the Red Sox picked him up. He had first to pay a fine for refusing to play in St. Paul, Doing so, he reported to Boston. He still pitched some (4-4 with a 3.51 ERA and more walks than strikeouts) but he was becoming primarily an outfielder. He hit .240, and ended up waived by Boston.

The Highlanders (now the Yankees) picked him up and made him an outfielder (primarily the left fielder). He remained with New York through 1913, hitting .277 in 396 games. During 1912, he dislocated a kneecap and spent most of the season injured. In need of new blood, the Yanks released him after 1913 and he ended up with Los Angeles for the minor league season.

With LA he was great. He won two batting titles (1914 and 1915), led his league in triples in both 1914 and 1916, and in hits in 1914. In 1915 his owner bet him he couldn’t drive in 40 runs over an unknown number of games. I checked several sources and there seems to be no agreement on the number of games involved. Whatever the number of games, Wolter got the 40 RBIs and a new suit worth $50, which was an expensive suit in 1915. While playing in the minors, he used his spring time to coach the Santa Clara College baseball team in both 1914 and 1915 (remember it was his alma mater).

In 1917, the Cubs brought him back to the big leagues for one last season. He hit .249 and ended up back in the minors. He stayed there through 1920.

During his off-season time, he’d begun working with Stanford University, actually coaching the baseball team in 1916. In 1923, needing a new head coach, the university called on Wolter to take the job. He remained there until 1949, with a break in 1944 and 1945 when the school did not field a team because of World War II. He retired and died in Palo Alto in 1970.

For his big league career he hit .270, had a .35 OBP, slugged .331, for an OPS of .655 (OPS+ 95) with 286 runs, 514 hits, 12 home runs, and 167 RBIs. His career WAR is 9.6. While at Stanford he won 277 games. That works out to about 11 wins a year in an era when colleges played much fewer games than they do today. He won conference titles in 1924, 1925, 1927, and in 1931.

Bedford Bill

September 12, 2016
Bill Rariden, with Cincinnati

Bill Rariden, with Cincinnati

I’ve spent a little time telling you about the players on my fantasy team. First I give you a short introduction to Vin Campbell. Then I did a little piece on Johnny Lush. I don’t intend to do every player, but I did find a few more that I consider interesting so I plan on passing along some information on a handful more. This time it’s my backup catcher.

William Rariden came out of Bedford, Indiana (hence the “Bedford Bill” nickname) to the Major Leagues. He was born there in February 1888. His father, like Campbell’s, was a doctor and Bill Rariden grew up in a middle class environment. He was good at baseball and in 1907 made the Class B minor league team in Canton, Ohio. He remained there through 1908, although the team changed leagues, and found himself was purchased by the Boston National League team, the Doves (now the Atlanta Braves) in August of 1909. He remained in Boston through 1913.

He wasn’t much of a hitter (his highest batting average while in Boston was .236 in 1913) but he was an excellent defensive catcher for the era. In 1914 he jumped to the newly formed Federal League joining Benny Kauff as a mainstay of the pennant winning Indianapolis team. He remained with the Feds until the league folded after the 1915 season. While there he established himself as the finest defensive catcher in the new league.

With the folding of the Feds, Rariden was picked up by the New York Giants and settled in as their primary catcher. His career year (other than the Federal League years) was 1917 when he hit .271 and helped the Giants to their first pennant since 1913 and a World Series date with the Chicago White Sox.  Rariden was superb in the World Series, hitting .385 with two runs scored on five hits (all singles), but became primarily known for a fielding gaffe that turned into a key play in the Series. In game six with Eddie Collins (who happens to also be on my fantasy team) on third, Happy Felsch hit a come backer to Giants pitcher Rube Benton. With Collins down the line, Benton threw to Giants third baseman Heinie Zimmerman. Collins dashed home, Zimmerman tossed to Rariden, Collins stopped and ran back toward third. Rariden pursued him close to third then flipped the ball to Zimmerman. Collins, seeing the ball go back to third and noting Rariden was away from home and the pitcher was standing on the mound instead of at home, dashed back toward home, raced passed Rariden and came home with Zimmerman chasing him to no avail. It was the first run in the critical game and the play became the most talked about play of the Series.

Rariden played one more year, 1918, at New York, didn’t have much of a year, and was traded in February 1919 to the Cincinnati Reds. As the primary backup catcher, he got into another World Series, again against the White Sox. He got into five games, picking up four hits and two RBIs as the Reds won the Series in eight games against the infamous Black Sox.

He played one more season, 1920, hitting .248, and participating in the last triple header in Major League history. The games occurred at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh on 2 October. Rariden played in game three. After the season the Reds let him go. He played a couple of years in the minors, one as a player-manager, and retired. He lived on a farm in Bedford, then opened a service station in town. He died in August 1942.

For his career, Bill Rariden had a triple slash line of .237/.320/.298/.618 with 682 hits in 982 games (including the Federal League years). He scored 272 runs, had 105 doubles, seven home runs, and 274 RBIs (not a lot of players get that runs to RBI ratio). He had an OPS+ of 81 and 8.7 WAR. During his Federal League years he led the league in several catching categories including both caught stealing and stolen bases allowed (you don’t see that very often).

Bill Rariden spent 12 years in the Major Leagues (including the Feds). During that time he played 982 games, or about 82 a season. That’s not a big number, but not a bad number for a catcher of the era. All in all, he was a fairly typical catcher for the Deadball Era.

Stealing Games: A Review

September 8, 2016
Stealing Games cover

Stealing Games cover

There are always new baseball books coming out. I’ve just run across a new one by Maury Klein, a retired professor whose specialty was economic history and railroads specifically. He’s written an interesting new book titled Stealing Games: How John McGraw Transformed Baseball with the 1911 New York Giants. It’s well worth the read.

As the title suggests, this is a book about the New York Giants and the 1911 season. Professor Klein’s premise is that the Giants, under McGraw’s leadership, won a pennant by emphasizing the stolen base almost to the exclusion of anything else. He begins with spring training, then moves back to cover McGraw’s  career to 1911 including how he built the 1904 and 1905 pennant winners, how he then rebuilt the team after the Merkle game of 1908, and how he went about picking players in general. There is a month by month synopsis of the 1911 season. It’s followed by a fairly brief look at the 1911 World Series, which New York lost to the Philadelphia Athletics. It ends with brief post-1911 biographies of the major players.

It’s certainly a good work if you’re interested in either the Giants or the Deadball Era. It’s brand new having a copyright date of 2016. I found my copy at Barnes and Noble for $28. It’s also available at


Captain Foul Ball

September 6, 2016
Not our field, but it looked a lot like this

Not our field, but it looked a lot like this (without the trees)

A few times I’ve mentioned the baseball diamond that we cobbled together when I was in Viet Nam. It wasn’t much of a field, but it provided a place to play, to unwind from the day, forget the war. We had fun there. We met some interesting people. We also met Captain Foul Ball.

We were playing one of those games we played frequently. There weren’t enough guys to make two teams so we were working without a catcher and probably short an outfielder that day. My team was at bat. Waverly was at the plate. I was in the hole when Waverly fouled off a pretty good pitch.

Now back a ways behind the third base foul line was a classic three hole Army wooden latrine. It wasn’t much to look at, and the smell wasn’t something you wanted to be around too long, but it did its job well. So Waverly banged one off the side wall. We had several balls so while one of the guys went after the ball, we tossed another to the pitcher and he let loose another pitch. Waverly swung and again fouled it off, again striking the latrine with a good solid “thunk,” which got the guy going for the ball to back up and grab the second while we flipped another ball to the pitcher. A third pitch, a third swing, a third foul. You know where the ball is going don’t you? Yep, right against the wall of the latrine.

So of course we go through the same routine again, but this time Waverly rolls one out to an infielder (short, I think) for an easy out. That brought up a new batter, put me on deck, and put Waverly back on the bench.

By now you have a pretty good idea what’s coming, right? About this point out of the latrine comes screaming this captain that, fortunately, none of us knew.

“What the hell are you people doing?” He shouted. (All conversation semi-cleaned up from GI English and approximated after the better part of 50 years.)

While the rest of us looked on stupidly, some genius managed to blurt out, “We’re playing ball, sir.” We had some really bright guys down in the Mekong Delta.

“Does that include throwing the ball at me in the latrine?”

“Geez, sir, were you in the latrine? We didn’t know that, sir. Besides we just had a run of foul balls.”

And of course most of us were thinking by this time that if we’d know the jerk was in the latrine it would have been a lot more than three balls.

“Fouls? You had somebody foul off that many?”


“Who the hell was it?”

We all hesitated. We all liked Waverly and besides he’d just hit three balls in a row. OK, so they were foul, he’d still put the bat on the ball three straight times and that was pretty unusual for the group of never-was types playing on our field. But Waverly stepped forward and took credit for the swings (You’re a better man than I am, Waverly).

“You foul them off purposefully to taunt me?”

Waverly looked at the captain like he was a total fool (which most of by this time were sure was true). “Captain, I swung for a hit. We got a man on second,” he waved vaguely toward second, “and my job is to get him home.”

The guy out on second waved back. To be honest, no one had called time, so he’d been smart enough not to leave the base. I have no idea where the ball was at this point, and I doubt he did either.

“You didn’t do it on  purpose?”

“No, sir, no body fouls off three in a row on purpose if there’s a runner on base.”

The captain looked around, more or less snarled at us, or at least attempted the best snarl he could manage. “Well, pay more attention next time.”

And he stalked off without waiting for a salute. We went back to the game but before an inning was up we were already calling him “Captain Foul Ball.” I’d like to take credit for the nickname, but somebody beat me to it. I’d come up with another nickname, but it was a litle more off color. OK, it was a lot more off color. We also figured he was probably a football fan.

I saw the Captain again a time or two. I never knew his name or his unit, but we crossed paths a time or two. I saluted, he returned it and went on his way. He didn’t recognize me at all or hear my snicker.