Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Chicago Leads the Way

February 14, 2019

Willie Foster, 1927

When the Negro National League was formed in 1920, the Chicago American Giants were the top of the league. They remained there a few years before being bested by J.L. Wilkinson’s Kansas City Monarchs. It took a while for the American Giants to return to the top of the league. By that time a new league, the Eastern Colored League had formed and the two leagues were involved in the first version of the Negro World Series (there was a new version beginning in the 1940s). In 1926 and 1927 the American Giants squared off against the ECL winner, the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants for the Negro League championship.

With Dave Malarcher, third baseman, as manager, the American Giants fielded a team dominated by pitching. Hall of Famer Willie Foster, Rube Foster’s brother, as the primary lefty and Willie Powell, Rube Currie, George Harney, and Webster McDonald from the right side, the staff was deeper than most Negro League teams. The infield had Charlie Williams at second, Malarcher at third, and Pythias Russ at short. The big guns in the outfield were Steel Arm (Walter) Davis and George Sweatt.

The Dick Lundy managed Bacharachs had Oliver Marcell at third and Lundy at short, with Chancy White and Ambrose Reid in the outfield. Luther Farrell and Hubert Lockhart were the two main pitchers. Both were lefties.

There’s not a lot of play-by-play available, but it was a streaky series. The American Giants won the best of nine 5 games to 3 with games being played in both Atlantic City, and Chicago. I mention that because frequently the Negro World Series did a barnstorming tour playing games in several cities. The series produced a tie. Chicago won the first four games, all in Chicago With scores of 6-2, 11-1, 7-0, and 9-1 none of the games were close. Then the Bacharachs won game five 3-2. The tie was game six. Games seven and eight saw Atlantic City tighten the series with 8-1 and 6-5 victories. In game nine, Chicago won 11-4 to finish out the series and claim their second straight championship.

It was the end of the road for the first version of the Negro World Series. The ECL folded in 1928 and the NNL followed in 1930. I’ve been looking for the winners and losers shares for the series and couldn’t find them. If you do, let me know.

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RIP Frank Robinson

February 12, 2019

Frank Robinson

I hate writing these. It means that someone I liked long ago is now gone. It reminds me that not only are they mortal, but so am I.

By now you’ve read all the glowing tributes, the mention of his hitting ability, his MVP, this Triple Crown, his role as the first black manager in the Major Leagues. You’ve probably seen the umpire stare down that became a part of the Robinson legend. I remember Robinson as a player and a proud African-American and somehow it’s appropriate that if he had to die, it should be in Black History Month.

What I remember most about Robinson is not his stats, but his ferocity at the plate. He was no placid hitter who walked to the plate and looked out at the pitcher. He stalked to the plate, glared at the pitcher, dared him to try to throw something by him. Few did. But to me Robinson was summed up in two incidents that I will never forget (both watched on TV).

Bob Gibson

It was somewhere in either 1964 or 1965 and the Reds (Robinson’s team) were playing the Cardinals. Bob Gibson, who had the only glare in baseball greater than Robinson’s was pitching. They stood there staring at each other until Gibson motioned Robinson into the batter’s box. Being Robinson, he continued to stare, rather than move. Gibson motioned again and again nothing from Robinson. Finally the umpire told Robinson to get into the box. Gibson’s first pitch missed Robinson’s head by inches (very few of them). Robinson dusted himself off, got back up, stepped back out, and started the glare again. Eventually, after a couple of knock downs and a couple of strikes, Robinson tapped one to short (Dal Maxvill, I think). The was out by a bunch. Then he and Gibson engaged in a long stare down as Robinson returned to the dugout. It was good baseball, but it was better theater.

Sandy Koufax

The other one occurred about the same time. This time the Reds were playing the Dodgers with Sandy Koufax on the mound (he never glared at a batter). Koufax threw three of the greatest curves anyone ever saw and Robinson looked silly trying to hit them (Koufax could do that to you). He stepped out of the box, looked at Koufax for a moment, then nodded. Only time I ever saw him do that to a pitcher.

So adios, Frank. You were one of the greats and all of us who saw you play are better for it. RIP, Frank Robinson.

The Pride of Chicago

February 7, 2019

Chicago American Giants logo

Although baseball as we know it begins on the East Coast, Chicago has traditional standing as one of the earliest hotbeds of the sport. William Hulbert, founder of the National League lived in Chicago. His team, the White Stockings (now the Cubs) won the first ever National League pennant. But the Windy City was also the home of a number of Black Americans who liked the game as much as their white counterparts. If the Cubs were White Chicago’s team, the American Giants were Black Chicago’s team.

In 1887 the Chicago Unions were formed by Abe Jones, a local catcher and William S. Peters, a local black business owner and first baseman. Peters managed the team. The team was successful, being one of only two black teams to survive the economic downturn in 1893 (the “Panic of ’93” to historians). In 1899, the Unions were joined by the Chicago Columbia Giants. The Columbia Giants were the lineal descendants of the Page Fence Giants (a story for a later time) and included such stars as William Patterson and Sol White (who is now a Hall of Famer). They defeated the Unions in a championship match.

Frank Leland

By 1898, Frank Leland gained control of the Unions, and in 1901 worked a merger of the two clubs which he renamed the Union Giants. They were immediately successful. In 1907, Leland renamed them after himself, the Leland Giants. They were easily the finest black team in the upper Midwest. With the name change, came a bevy of stars from Black Baseball that made the Leland’s even more formidable. Pete Hill took over in center field, “Big” Bill Gatewood was on the mound, but the greatest find was pitcher Andrew “Rube” Foster. To Leland’s dismay, Foster had big plans and wanted to found his own team.

Rube Foster (with the team logo on the uniform behind him)

By 1910, Foster made his move. He claimed control of the team (and the team name) and renamed the team the Chicago American Giants. Leland hung on to a handful of the players and continued games as the Chicago Giants. But Foster had the big names, John Henry Lloyd, Pete Hill, Bruce Petway, and Frank Wickware.

The team was as successful as ever, but Foster dreamed of creating a black league to rival the Major Leagues. In 1920, he created the Negro National League with the American Giants as a founding member. They were, for most of the period of the NNL’s existence, the best team, winning pennants in 1920, 1921, and ’22. In 1926, with Foster’s failing health, and questions of his favoritism as league president toward the American Giants, Dave Malarcher took over the team and led it to pennants in 1926 and 1927. By that point, the NNL had a rival, the Eastern Colored League. The two leagues staged the Negro World Series which the American Giants won in both 1926 and 1927. In 1928, the ECL folded.

Economic crisis once again afflicted Black Baseball in the 1930s as the Great Depression caused the folding of the NNL. The American Giants remained viable and transferred to the Negro Southern League in 1932, winning the pennant before the NSL also collapsed. That began a period of transition for both the American Giants and Black Baseball in general.

A new Negro National League was formed in 1933, which the American Giants joined. They were good, but the Pittsburgh Crawfords were an all-time team and the Giants were unable to capture a pennant. In 1936, they played as an independent team, barnstorming games as they could find them. By 1938, they’d joined the newly formed Negro American League, but were never able to compete with the Kansas City Monarchs as the NAL’s top team.

With the admission of Jackie Robinson and other players to the Major Leagues, the Negro Leagues went into decline. The American Giants hung on through 1956, when they finally folded. By that point they were hiring white players and had lost much of their Negro League identity. But early on, the American Giants were one of Black Baseball’s premier teams.

Fear and Trembling

February 5, 2019

It’s February again, meaning it’s Black History Month in the US. It also means that it’s time for my annual sojourn through the Negro Leagues. I always enter February, blogwise, with a certain amount of trepidation.

I research and find information, but I know that whatever I find will be mostly incomplete. Some of it will be wrong. I don’t fault the people doing research on the Negro Leagues, you find what you can; you report what you find. Considering the state of Negro League knowledge even 10 years ago, the people working to restore the record of these leagues and their players have done a magnificent job. But it’s still an incomplete job and the info passed along will be, frequently incomplete. It is probably fated to be that way always.

So I caution people who come here and read the works of February to be careful. Know that much of the information will be incomplete and some of it will be just plain wrong. But we’re trying.

Having said all that, it’s always a pleasure to help restore, even a tiny bit, the history of the Negro Leagues and their players, executives, and staff. I hope you will enjoy all this, and more importantly, that I’ll get at least most of it right.

Nine Thoughts on the Class of 2019

January 23, 2019

Roy Halladay

The voters have spoken in both the Veteran’s Committee (whatever they call it today) and among the writers. There are six new member of the Hall of Fame. In keeping with my traditional use of nine, here’s a few thoughts on the class of 2019.

1. Congratulations to Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, and Lee Smith on their election to Cooperstown.

2. I’m gratified to see someone finally get all the votes in the BBWAA election. I’m certain Mariano Rivera shouldn’t have been the first (see, Ruth, Babe; Aaron, Henry), but I’m happy someone finally made it.

3. Mike Mussina came as close as you can to failing enshrinement. That’s a shame, he was a terrific pitcher who, like Sandy Koufax, quit when he seemed to still have plenty in the tank. I’d have liked to see more of him, but he made the decision he felt best for himself. So far, he doesn’t have the same glow as Koufax (as a pitcher who went out on top).

4. Harold Baines still is an awful choice, but I hope he, his family, and his fans enjoy the induction ceremony.

5. Both Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds failed inclusion again. They each got around 60% of the vote (actually 59.5 and 59.1). Clemens turned out to receive two more votes than Bonds. I’m not sure how you justify voting for one and not the other and I do not expect the 2 guys who did to explain it.

6. Which leads to the question, are they ever getting in? There are too many variables for me to make a valid prediction, but my guess (and that’s all it is) is that both will either make it in their 10th and final try so that the writers can say they punished them as long as the could, or that the writers will kick the can down the road and let the Veteran’s Committee make the call. That call will, of course, depend on who the preliminary committee puts on the ballot. That action should tell us what the keepers of the keys to the cathedral think of Clemens and Bonds.

7. Curt Shilling came closest to getting in of all the people not chosen. He’s moving steadily up and has three years remaining on the ballot. I think that bodes well for his election. Listen, I don’t think much of his politics, and I’d hate for him to espouse them at a Cooperstown ceremony, but enshrinement should be based on his career, not his politics.

8. Larry Walker has one year left on the ballot and made a major jump this time. Maybe he makes it in 2020.

9. Fred McGriff missed out for the 10th and final time. Look for him to appear on the next ballot for which he is eligible. With the support he got this time, there’s a good chance he gets in (see Smith, Lee).

 

The Chicago Cubs, Story of a Curse: A Review

January 21, 2019

It’s been a while since I did a book review, so it’s time to change that. This time I want to look at a new work by Rich Cohen titled The Chicago Cubs, Story of a Curse. The title pretty much tells you the plot. Cohen is a writer, but not specifically a sports writer, so his book gives a different look at the Cubs. It’s much more a memoir than a history.

After a reasonably long and decent look at the 1906-1910 Cubs, the last team to win a World Series prior to 2016, Cohen skips, after brief stops to look at Hack Wilson and to mention the 1945 Cubs (the “Billy Goat Curse” is supposed to begin here), to the Ernie Banks Cubs. Most of the book details the “curse” that mandated the 1969 Cubs, the 1984 team, and the Sammy Sosa clubs would lose. Cohen puts a lot of the blame on ownership, the park itself (Wrigley makes it difficult to create a park friendly team that dominates at home) and the idea that “loveable losers” is a terrible way to spark a team to victory.

Then he moves to the creation of the 2016 team and goes through the World Series in reasonable detail. The book is worth the read if you’re a Cubs fan or if you’re interested in the 2016 season. I found it at Barnes and Noble for $18.00.

The Big Bankroll

January 10, 2019

Arnold Rothstein in 1927

Continuing with something of a look at the 1919 World Series and its aftermath, it dawned on me that I’d done something on two of the more famous gamblers to come out of the scandal: Sport Sullivan and Abe Atell. But I’d never done anything on the man who did much of the financing for the incident, Arnold Rothstein.

Rothstein was born in Manhattan in 1882 and had very little success in school. His Wikipedia page indicates he was good at math, but uninterested in the other subjects. He was good at gambling and as early as his school days was involved in dice games, seemingly winning more times than he lost.

By 1910 he’d opened a gambling casino in New York, ran a race track in Maryland, and was becoming wealthy. He began collecting “associates” with ties to various sports (Abe Atell, whose expertise was in boxing, is the most well-known today) that gave him “inside dope” on those sporting events that drew heavy betting. With inside information he became even more wealthy and by the mid-19 teens was considered the most powerful gambler in New York, the betting capital of the US (Las Vegas became a city only in 1905).

Hollywood’s version of Rothstein (Michael Lerner-right) with Michael Mantell (left) as Abe Atell. From a movie trading card

The sources disagree and there’s a certain amount of murkiness surrounding Rothstein’s involvement in financing fixing the 1919 World Series. There seems to be general agreement that Joseph “Sport” Sullivan proposed the idea of fixing the Series to Rothstein. However, he became involved, Rothstein sent Abe Atell and his enforcer “Monk” Eastman to contact the players and gave out a certain amount of cash (the exact amount is in dispute) to fix the Series. One different theory comes from Rothstein biographer David Petrusza who indicates that Atell set up the fix without telling Rothstein; but when Rothstein found out he profited from the inside information.

Rothstein escaped prison in the resulting trial and his gambling continued. By 1928 he was involved with the most successful “mobs” in New York. Their more notable members included such later household names as “Lucky” Luciano, “Dutch” Schultz, and “Legs” Diamond.  To them Rothstein was “The Big Bankroll.” His job was in financing the gangs, rather than participating in their activities, at least mostly.

But time ran out for Rothstein in 1928. Involved in a poker game that he claimed was fixed (the irony is wonderful), Rothstein refused to pay his losses and was shot on 4 November. He died on the sixth. With him died many of the secrets surrounding the origins of both the bribe money and the idea of throwing the 1919 World Series. He is buried in Queens.

Rothstein’s grave (from Find a Grave)

Greasy

January 8, 2019

“Greasy” Neale with the Reds

Very few players actually earn a World Series ring. Very few people earn a National Football League championship, coach a Rose Bowl team, gain a place in the College Football Hall of Fame and earn a spot in the Professional Football Hall of Fame. In keeping with the 100th Anniversary of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, it’s time you met, as far as I can tell, the only person who did all that, Greasy Neale. And before anybody says something, Jim Thorpe did play in the World Series in 1917, but his team lost (and he never made the Rose Bowl).

Albert Neale was born in November 1891 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. As a kid, he worked as a “grease boy” in a rolling mill (he had to grease the machinery) and the nickname “Greasy” was a natural. The local high school had a football team. What it didn’t have, was a coach. Neale, the oldest player on the team, was named coach. He picked up a scholarship in football to West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1912. He played football, baseball, and basketball.

While still in college, he was signed by the Canadian League team in London, Ontario (Class C at the time), By 1915 he was at Wheeling in Class B ball and was noticed by the Cincinnati Reds. In 1916 he went to the Major Leagues.

But he retained his love of football and spent the 1915 baseball off-season coaching the Muskingum College team. For the remainder of his baseball career, he would continue to waffle between the two sports.

He became the Reds regular left fielder in 1916, remaining there through 1918. In 1919 he moved to right field and participated in the 1919 World Series against the Chicago White Sox (the “Black Sox of scandal infamy). He hit .357 with 10 hits, a double, one triple, four RBIs, and a stolen base.

After the 1920 season he was traded to Philadelphia (the Phillies, not the Athletics), spent 22 games there, and went back to Cincinnati where he stayed through 1922. After spending 1923 out of baseball, he returned to the Reds for three games in 1924, then retired from the sport. For his career his triple slash line reads .259/.319/.332/.651 with 688 hits, 319 runs, 57 doubles, eight home runs, 200 RBIs, 883 total bases, 5.9 WAR, and a World Series ring.

But he wasn’t through with sports. He spent his offseason coaching football at Marietta College, Washington and Jefferson College, and the University of Virginia (where he also coached the baseball team). His Washington and Jefferson team played California in the 1922 Rose Bowl, which ended in a scoreless tie.

Neale went back to the big leagues as a coach for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1929, and left before the season ended. He moved back to football and coached both West Virginia and Yale in the 1930s. In 1941 the NFL came calling. He took over the Philadelphia Eagles in 1941 and for the next ten seasons, the Eagles were one of the top NFL teams. They won the NFL Eastern Conference title in 1947 but lost the championship game to the Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals (the Cards only NFL championship), but won consecutive titles in 1948 and 1949. In 1950 the team slumped and Neale was fired.

In 1967 Greasy Neale was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and in 1969 the Professional Football Hall of Fame followed suit. He died in 1973 with quite a unique resume.

“Greasy” Neale as Eagles coach

1919: 100 Years On

January 4, 2019

Judge Landis’ plaque at Cooperstown

It’s now 2019. That makes it 100 years from the nadir of Major League Baseball. It’s not something to celebrate, but it is something to note.

In 1919, the Black Sox Scandal occurred. A number of gamblers bribed members of the American League champion Chicago White Sox to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The players were promised $10,000 each and most of them never got that much, but they did manage to lose the Series. In 1920 it came out into public view and the sport was rocked to its core.

As far as I know, MLB isn’t going to even acknowledge the event, let alone commemorate it. That’s a shame. They say we learn from our mistakes, and some of us do, at least occasionally. This is a time to look back at the event and let MLB talk about what it learned from the Black Sox.

It learned quite a lot, actually. It learned that there needed to be someone in charge who could make decisions without the consent of the owners (or the players either). That got MLB the Commissioner system and Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It’s difficult to like Landis, but he did move immediately to clean up the gambling aspects of the sport. Those measures still hold today, as Pete Rose finally discovered. Baseball learned that innovation wasn’t necessarily bad and allowed the explosion of home runs as epitomized by Babe Ruth to continue, changing the nature of how the game was played. Those are both valuable lessons.

But MLB didn’t learn to deal with one of the more significant issues that led to the Scandal, the pay of players. It would take into the 1970s, a union, and an arbitrator to begin addressing the problem. If you can double your salary by losing five games (the 1919 World Series was a best of nine), why wouldn’t you at least consider it? With million dollar salaries today, that’s virtually impossible.

In all this I make no comment on the guilt or innocence of any particular player. That’s not my point. I don’t want to see baseball take an inordinate amount of time detailing the guilt or innocence of Joe Jackson. Rather, I want it to look at the Scandal in an open manner and address it as an historical event that changed the game.

And by the way, I’m not holding my breath waiting for anything to happen. I’ve also commented on this recently, but I wanted to insure that it remained fresh in the new year.

The Ending of Another Season: 2018

December 31, 2018

Shohei Ohtani

Most years I do an end of season post in nine points (because there are nine innings) with some random thoughts on the just completed year. Here it is for 2018:

1. Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox. Between 2001 and 2018 Boston has four World Championships. Between 1901 and 1918, the BoSox won five. I can’t help but wonder if they have one more in them or if they’ll follow-up the 2018 run the same way they did the 1918 run. After losing in 1919, they let Babe Ruth go. If they fail to win in 1919, watch to see if Mookie Betts is traded.

2. Speaking of Betts. He had a heck of an 2018 and seems poised to continue at the highest level for some time. I’m not a particular fan of his, but I like to see good players excel.

3. The Dodgers lost the World Series for the second consecutive year. Dave Roberts played all the percentages again and the Bums blew it again. Improvise, Dave, just once, will ya.

4. I got to watch the Angels a couple of times this year. Mike Trout is terrific and Albert Pujols used to be terrific. I wonder if the Angels might consider dropping him to sixth or so in the lineup. He’s no longer a three or four hole hitter. It’s a shame that the newer fans don’t get to see just how good Pujols was at his height.

5. And while we’re on getting to see stuff, it’s getting increasingly difficult to actually watch a game. They’re getting longer and longer and getting to be more and more the same. Lots of home runs, lots of strikeouts, and a mind numbing number of pitchers. I’ve come to the conclusion that the average Major League right-handed pitcher can’t throw a ball to a left-handed hitter and that lefties can’t throw to a right-hander. I wonder how someone who can’t get out a hitter who swings from the opposite side of the plate managed to make the big leagues. I keep waiting for a 25 man roster that includes four infielders, three outfielders, two catchers, and 16 pitchers. Is it just me, or do all the things designed to speed up the game end up slowing it down? It’s probably me. It usually is.

6. How much you want to bet that Christian Yelich is happy to be out of South Florida? Now the question becomes is 2018 a fluke for him?

7. Congratulations are also in order for Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, and Jim Thome for making the Hall of Fame as the class of 2018.

8. Harold Baines made the Hall of Fame, along with Lee Smith. Does anyone on the 2019 Veteran’s Committee know how to read a stat sheet?

9. Shohei Ohtani did the best Babe Ruth impression since the Babe himself. Let’s see how that holds up.

That’s a bit of a look at the 2018 season. Now on to 2019 and we’ll see if MLB notices it’s the 150th anniversary of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the so-called First Professional Baseball Team and if they bother to note it’s the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal. Don’t hold your breath waiting for either.