Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A four home run day for Mays

On April 30, 1961; Willie Mays hit four home runs leading the San Francisco Giants to a 14 – 4 victory over the Milwaukee Braves.  He is one of 16 Major League players who have accomplished the feat of hitting four home runs in one game.  Also, Mays is one of four Hall of Fame players, the others being Ed Delahanty (1896), Lou Gehrig (1932), Chuck Klein (1936), and Mike Schmidt (1976); and one of four African-American/Latin American players to do it.  Mark Whiten (1993), Mike Cameron (2002), and Carlos Delgado (2002) being the others.

On that spring Sunday afternoon at County Stadium in Milwaukee with 13,114 baseball fans in attendance, the Braves pitched their 1957 World Series hero Lew Burdette against the Giants.  Mays hit a first inning solo home run to give San Francisco a 1 – 0 lead which was quickly erased by Henry Aaron’s three run homer when the Braves batted.  But Burdette could not hold the Giants giving up a two run homer to Mays and two solo homers (Orlando Cepeda, and Jose Pagan) before exiting in the fourth inning losing 5 – 3.  The Braves’ relief pitchers were ponded for eight runs by the Giants.  Mays hit a three run home run in the sixth inning off Seth Morehead and another two run homer in the eighth inning off Don McMahon,   His only at bat in which he did not hit a homer was in the fifth inning; he flied out to centerfield against Moe Drabowsky.   The only other Braves score was Henry Aaron’s second home run of the game in the sixth inning.

The Giants were in first place that day, but finished the year in third.  Mays ended the year second in the National League with 40 home runs, second to teammate Orlando Cepeda who led with 46.

What highlight of Willie Mays’ career is your favorite?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Born in Palatka, Florida on this date in 1884; John Henry “Pop” Lloyd spent 26 years (1906 -1932) in Negro League baseball as a player and manager.  A player who excelled in all phases of the game; hitting for average and power, running with speed, fielding, and throwing; Lloyd is considered the best shortstop in Negro League baseball history, In his prime (1900 – 1920), Lloyd played for some of the best blackteams of the early 20th Century such as the Cuban X Giants, Chicago American Giants, Philadelphia Stars, and New York Lincoln Giants.  While still hitting over .300 in the later stages of his career, he played until he was 48 years old, Lloyd was given the nickname “Pop’ by the young players who came to him for advice. He was induced into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.   

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Andrew (Andy) Lewis Cooper was born on this date in Waco, Texas; 1898.  Whereas many of the best hurlers in Negro League baseball had nicknames to describe the power and speed of their pitches, “Smokey”, Bullet”, “Cannonball”,  “Strong Armed”, etc.; Cooper was different.  Nicknamed “Lefty”, he threw with his left hand, Cooper used a variety of pitches (curve ball, change up, screwball) at different speeds to get batters out.   From 1920 – 1927, Cooper was the pitching ace of the Detroit Stars.  Traded to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1927, he helped them win the 1929 Negro National League pennant.   Later, with Cooper as the team’s manager, the Monarch’s won four straight Negro American League pennants (1937 – 1940).  Andy Cooper was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Charles (Chuck) Harmon was born on this date in Washington, Indiana; 1924.  A College All-American basketball player at the University of Toledo in 1943, Harmon played in only five Negro League baseball games in 1947 before being signed by the St. Louis Browns.  He hit over .300 for at least three years, but the Browns kept him in the minor leagues until he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1952.  Harmon and Puerto Rican born Nino Escalera became the first black ballplayers to dawn a Reds uniform in a Major League game on April 17, 1954.  In his four year Major League career as a utility player, Harmon hit .238 with seven home runs in 289 games.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Ted Page was born on this date in Glasgow, Kentucky; 1903.  A speedy outfielder whose base stealing drove opponents crazy, Page played with two of the best teams in Negro League baseball history during his 15 year baseball career.  In 1931, he played with the Homestead Grays; a team that included Hall of Famers “Smokey” Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson.  The next year, Pittsburgh Crawfords’ owner Gus Greenlee added Page and the other star Grays to his team which already had Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.  A lifetime .300 hitter, Ted Page was a tough, aggressive player who was not afraid to fight opponents. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Two 1939 debuts

Two players destined for the National Baseball Hall of Fame made their debuts in 1939; although their paths to Cooperstown took different routes.
On April 20, 1939 at Yankee Stadium, Ted Williams got one hit in four at bats in his first Major League game as a Boston Red Sox.  Williams hit a double off of New York pitcher Red Ruffing.  The Yankees won the game 2 – 0.   Other Red Sox players in the field that day destined for the Hall of Fame were Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin, and Bobby Doerr; who like Williams was 20 years old.  Future Hall of Fame members Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig were in the Yankees’ line up.  Williams had better days swinging the bat that year.  He hit 31 home runs, drove in 145 runs, and batted .327.  He went on to have  a 22 season Hall of Fame career, despite it being interrupted twice by military service (1943 – 1945, 1952).

Also in 1939, Monte Irvin hit .365 in his first season in Negro League baseball with the Newark Eagles.  Irvin played seven year with the Eagles, having as teammates in 1939 Willie Wells, “Mules” Suttles, and Ray Dandridge; all currently in the Hall of Fame.  When he left baseball for military service in 1943, many considered Irvin the best player in Negro League baseball.  Irvin returned to the Eagles in 1946 and helped them capture the Negro League World Series Championship.  When African Americans finally broke through baseball’s color barrier to get into the Major Leagues, Irvin was past his prime years as a player.  However, he still had seven solid years in the big leagues; seven years with the New York Giants (1949 – 1955) and one with the Chicago Cubs (1956).

Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966, Irvin in 1973.    

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

In the annals of Negro League baseball there are many stories about the home run power of George “Mule” Suttles.  During his 19 year Negro League career, few players could hit a baseball further than the “Mule”, not even the great Josh Gibson some say.  One story told is of Suttles hitting a 600 foot home run while playing in the Cuban Winter League.  It is said the ball carried out of the stadium and over the heads of Cuban soldiers on horseback doing crowd control duty behind the outfield fences.  Another version of the blast had it landing in the ocean.  Suttles was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.   

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Jim Zapp was born on this date in Nashville, Tennessee; 1924.  The 6’2”, 208 lbs., outfielder began his nine year Negro League baseball career with the Baltimore Elite Giants after leaving military service in 1945.  By 1948, Zapp was with the Birmingham Black Barons and split playing time in left field with a teenager named Willie Mays; who was shifted to center field later in the season.  Zapp hit the game winning home run against the Kansas City Monarchs to give the Black Barons the 1948 Negro American League pennant.  After leaving the Negro Leagues, Zapp played the remainder of his career in the minor leagues.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Trader Frank" strikes again

 “Trader Frank” was one of the nicknames for longtime baseball executive Frank Lane who was not afraid to make controversial trades.  On April 17, 1960; Easter Sunday, Lane pulled off one of his most head turning trades.  As the General Manager for the Cleveland Indians, he traded Indian outfielder Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Harvey Kuenn.  Colavito, a Cleveland fan favorite, was the 1959 American League home run co-champion in; hitting 42.  Kuenn was the 1959 American League batting champion, hitting .353.   

Neither club was helped by the 1960 trade, Kuenn’s batting average dropped 48 points to .308 and the Indians finished in fourth place after finishing second the previous season.  Colavito hit 7 less home runs (35) and the Tigers dropped from finishing fourth in 1959 to sixth place in 1960.

The results of the trade got worse for the Indians after the season.  Lane traded Kuenn to the San Francisco Giants on December 3 for Willie Kirkland and Johnny Antonelli; neither of which had great success in Cleveland.  But Colavito had three strong years with the Tigers (1961 – 1963) averaging 34 home runs and 114 RBI. 

Lane left Cleveland after the 1960 season.  The Indians were the third of five Major League baseball teams he held the position of General Manager during his baseball executive career beginning in the late 1940’s until the early 1970’s in which he made over 400 trades.

What is your most memorable Frank Lane trade?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A missed opportunity to make baseball history

Jackie Robinson was the first, but not the only African American player to cross over Major League Baseball’s “invisible color line” in 1947.   Larry Doby played his first game for the Cleveland Indians on July 5th of that year to become the first African American in the American League (the Dodgers and Robinson were in the National League).  Two weeks later, the St. Louis Browns signed two black ballplayers:  Willard Brown and Hank Thompson and then in August the Dodgers signed Don Bankhead.

Although Doby hit only .156 in 1947; he was instrumental the next year in helping the Indians become World Series Champions, played 13 seasons in the Major Leagues (1947 – 1959), and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.  Appearing in ten games in 1947, Bankhead became the first African American to pitch in the Major Leagues and played two other seasons with the Dodgers (1950, 1951).

But St Louis Browns’ Owner Richard Muckerman and General Manager Bill DeWitt were not seriously committed to erasing baseball’s “invisible color line” that year. Their signing of Willard Brown and Hank Thompson, both from Negro League baseball’s Kansas City Monarchs, was solely a haphazard attempt to attract St. Louis’ black baseball fans.  It was a knee jerk reaction to the large crowds following Jackie Robinson in the season’s beginning months.  It was a desperate, but half-hearted attempt to help a financially struggling franchise.

There was no visible commitment from Muckerman to Brown and Thompson as he was noticeably absent from the press conference announcing their signings.  He issued a statement stating the signings were not a cheap trick to boost attendance.  But this was met with skepticism because the Browns were the Major League’s worst franchise.  From 1922 – 1944 they had finished no higher than 3rd place, more than 15 games out of first place 17 of those years.  They won the American League pennant in 1944 when the best players from other teams were in the military, but returned to their losing ways after the war.  When Brown and Thompson were signed in 1947, the Browns were 28 – 50.   Attendance had dropped below 1,000 fans for some of the games.  There is no way Muckerson and DeWitt could have ignored the crowds Jackie Robinson was attracting that spring.

But when the signings of Thompson and Brown did not overcome the negative fan attitude towards the team and produce an instant fix to the attendance problem, the players were released after one month.  The Browns did not give them more time to display their big league talents, nor place them in the team’s minor league system.

Thompson had shown potential by hitting as well as his white teammates (.256 in 27 games).  He eventually played 7 seasons with the New York Giants, helping them win the pennant in 1951 and the World Series in 1954.    Brown, who hit .179 in 21 games; went back to finish his All Star Negro League career and later was one of the first African Americans to play in the Texas League.  He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. 

The Browns ignored other African American players with Major League potential they could have signed at that time.  It lost the opportunity to be a part of baseball history.  The team did not sign another one until 1953 when under the new ownership. 

What do you remember about the St. Louis Browns?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Celebrating another "Opening Day"

Opening Day for the 2013 Major League baseball season was two weeks ago.  However, another opening day will be celebrated before all the games today.  On this date in 1947, Jackie Robinson took the field in a Brooklyn Dodger uniform to become the first African American in the 20th Century to play Major League baseball.  Since 2008, Major League Baseball has designated April 15 as “Jackie Robinson Day”.  All Major League players in today’s scheduled games will wear the number “42” on the back of their uniforms in recognition of Robinson.  There will also be a ceremony before each game honoring him for breaking down baseball’s racial barriers.

Playing first base that day at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field against the Boston Braves, Robinson scored one run in the Dodgers’  5 - 3 victory.  Johnny Sain was Boston’s starting pitcher.   Robinson grounded out to third base in the First Inning, flied out to left field in the Third Inning, and reached base due to an error by the Braves’ first baseman in the Seventh Inning; later scoring a run. 

At season end, Robinson was third in team batting, .297.  He led the National League in sacrifice hits (28), stolen bases (29), and was named the league’s “Rookie of the Year”.  He was instrumental in helping the Dodgers win the pennant that year, but they lost the World Series to Joe DiMaggio and the New York Yankees four games to three. 

What do you remember about Jackie Robinson?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

The only woman elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is Effa Manley; Hall of Fame class of 2004.  Mrs. Manley and her husband Abe were the owners of the Newark Eagles; one of the most renowned Negro League baseball teams (1936 – 1949).  A Caucasian who was thought to be black because she was raised in an African-American family, Mrs. Manley ran the day to day operations of the team.  Very outspoken and opinionated, she had to fight not only racism but also the male chauvinist attitudes of the other Negro League baseball owners to be successful.  Her team won the 1946 Negro League World Series Championship.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The movie "42"

The highly anticipated film, “42”, opens this weekend across the country.   It tells the story of how Jackie Robinson broke through racial barriers and overcame racial stereotypes in 1947 to become the first African-American in the 20Th Century to play Major League baseball.  Named after Robinson’s uniform number, 42, it depicts his successful assault orchestrated by Brooklyn Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey to integrate the sport. 

More than about baseball, “42” is Robinson’s story that began to erase injustice not just in American sports, but in American society as a whole.  The movie should not be seen similar to fictional baseball movies such as IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING (1949), ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (1951), FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), or THE NATURAL (1984).  In addition, because Jackie Robinson’s story transcends the game of baseball, “42” should not been seen in the same light as other biographical baseball movies such as THE BABE RUTH STORY (1948), PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942) which is the story of Lou Gehrig, or THE WINNING TEAM(1952) which is story of pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander . 

What has been your favorite baseball movie?  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

 With a fastball, curve ball, change up, and knuckle ball that could all be thrown consistently for strikes, Jim “Fireball” Cohen became one of the best pitchers in Negro League baseball after World War II (1946 – 1952).  Cohen played on the coal camp baseball teams of the coal mines in Western Pennsylvania where he worked after high school.  Instead of returning to the coal mines after serving in the military, Cohen began playing with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1946.  He pitched in the second 1948 East-West All Star Game.  When the Clowns asked him to play for less money after the 1952 season, the 34 year old Cohen decided instead to retire. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Negro League baseball fact for today

Cowan F. “Bubba” Hyde was born on this date in Pontotoc, Mississippi; 1908.  Hyde was the exceptionally speedy, long time outfielder for Negro League baseball’s Memphis Red Sox (1924, 1927, 1937 - 1950).  Still in high school during his early years with the Red Sox, he went to college and afterwards played with other Negro League teams.  However, he returned to the Red Sox in 1937 and helped them win the Negro American League pennant the next year.  Hyde played in the 1943 and 1946 East-West All Star Games.  When Negro league baseball declined, Hyde played in the minor leagues until 1953; retiring at 45 years old.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Gus Triandos: 1959 Topps Card #330

The baseball cards of past players who were not notable are called “common” in the business of sports memorabilia.  These are the cards that are priced the cheapest.  Former Baltimore Orioles catcher Gus Triandos, who died this past March 28 at 82 years old, was Topps Card #330 in 1959.  In the last Beckett Baseball Card Price Guide I bought in 1994, the price categories for common 1959 Topps Cards #s 287 – 506 were:  $3.50 for near mint condition, $1.55 for very good – excellent condition, and .45 for good condition.  Triandos’ 1959 card was priced at $4.00, $1.80, and .50; a little above the common card price. 

 A little better than just a common or average ballplayer, but not great; that was my opinion of Gus Triandos.  An opinion that was formed mainly from the information on his baseball cards that I collected.

The picture on the back of his 1959 card shows multiple players going from one team to another describing 1954 seventeen player trade with the New York Yankees that brought Triandos to the Orioles.  The card also highlights the 30 home runs Triandos hit in 1958 to break his previous Oriole home run record of 21 in 1956.  From the statistics on the card, he was the Orioles’ best home run hitter and RBI producer.

On his 1960 Topps Card (#60), Triandos’ 1959 batting average dropped 29 points to .216.  However, he hit 25 home runs and the card highlights both of his two home run games.  In addition, the card tells of Triandos’ two run, eighth inning triple in the 1959 All Star Game.  But the card made a mistake, it was only a double.

For 1961 and 1962, I cut out the Gus Triandos cards on the back of Post Cereal boxes.  The 1961 card (#69) mentions him throwing out the four time American League base stealing champion Luis Aparicio four times in 1959 and that his 30 home runs in 1958 tied him with the great Yogi Berra for the record of most home runs hit by a catcher in the American League.  Triandos’ batting average went up to .269 in 1960 but dropped to .244 in 1961 (Card # 33).

The Orioles traded Triandos to the Detroit Tigers after the 1962 season.  I did not collect a 1962 or 1963 card for him.  However, I did get his Topps 1964 Card (#83) showing he hit 14 home runs with Detroit in 1963; fourth highest on the team.   The 1964 card also shows he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies shortly before the season began.  He has on a Detroit Tiger uniform but the card says Phillies. That was the last card I collected of Gus Triandos.  

Do you still have your baseball card collection?  Was it mistakenly thrown away or did you cash it in?  

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Negro League baseball fact for today

In the 1960’s, Negro League baseball’s Indianapolis Clowns got the reputation as being the “Harlem Globetrotters” of baseball.  They toured the country entertaining fans by performing racially stereotypical comedy while on the baseball field.  There were no longer any official Negro Leagues and no African-American professional teams during that time.  However, from 1943 – 1950, the Clowns were in the Negro American League and played competitive baseball.  They had All-Star players such as Alex Radcliffe, Buster Haywood, and Sherwood Brown; and the team won the 1950 Negro American League pennant.  Henry Aaron played for the Clowns in 1952 before beginning his Hall of Fame Major League career.   

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Former Negro League ballplayer George Crowe once held the Major League record for career pinch hit home runs (14).  Crowe played Negro League baseball in the late 1940’s with the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans in the late 1940’s.  He made his Major League debut in 1952 and played for nine years (1952 – 1961) on three different teams:  Boston/Milwaukee Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Cardinals.   Crowe hit 31 home runs for the Reds in 1957 and was a National League All Star in 1958.    

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

“Smokey” Joe Williams was born on this date in Seguin, Texas; in the late 1870’s or 1880’s.  The 6’ 4” right hander was the best pitcher in Negro League baseball’s early era.  A smart hurler with a blazing fast ball that constantly moved and with pin point control, Williams played for eight teams over a 22 year career (1910 – 1932).  It was during his best years, 1911 – 1922 with the New York Lincoln Giants, that he was tagged with the nickname; “Smokey”.  Williams was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

One of the last Negro League players to have success in the Major Leagues was George Altman.  Born in Goldsboro, North Carolina, 1933; Altman was signed by the Kansas City Monarchs in 1955 after he graduated from Tennessee State.  After the season he was sold to the Chicago Cubs, making his Major League debut in 1959.  Altman played four years with the Cubs (1959 – 1962); hitting over .300 twice, hitting 20 plus home runs twice, and was a two time National League All-Star (1961 and 1962).  He played with three more teams; St. Louis Cardinals (1963), New York Mets (1964), and the Cubs again (1965 – 1967), before finishing his career by playing eight seasons in Japan.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bob Turley's "mountain top" season

Only a small percentage of Major League baseball players have what is considered a “Hall of Fame” career.  There have been only been 243 ballplayers inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Former Major League pitcher Bob Turley, who died this past March 30, was not a part of that small percentage.  However, Turley did experience a “mountain top” season with “Hall of Fame” type results.  It was a magical ride down the road of triumph not every ballplayer will travel.   

Turley started his career with the St. Louis Browns who moved to become the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.  He was the winning pitcher for the Orioles first game in Baltimore.  In 1955, Turley was traded to the New York Yankees and became an integral part of their pennant winning pitching staff.  He won 17 games in 1955 and 13 games in 1957.  His was called “Bullet Bob” because of the speed of his fast ball.

But in 1958 Turley had the season of his career. He was 21 – 7 with a 2.97 ERA and 168 strikeouts.  Six of his wins were shutouts and he completed 19 games.  The recipient of the 1958 Cy Young Award, Turley was considered the best pitcher in the Major Leagues that year. 

The Yankees trailed the Milwaukee Braves 3 games to 1 in the 1958 World Series.  However; Turley blanked the Braves 7 – 0 in Game Five and got the 10th inning save in the Yankees’ Game Six victory.  Then in Game Seven, Turley relieved the Yankees’ starting pitcher in the fourth inning and shutout the Braves the remainder of the game as the Yankees won to clinch the Series.  Turley was named the World Series’ Most Valuable Player.

Turley never had another season like 1958.  In his remaining years with the Yankees; he won nine games in 1959, eight in 1960, and three each in 1961 and 1962.  He retired in 1963 after playing briefly for the Los Angeles Angels and the Boston Red Sox.

Who is your favorite ballplayer not in the Hall of Fame that had a magical season like Bob Turley?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

The second catcher from Negro League baseball, Roy Campanella was the first, to play in the Major Leagues after Jackie Robinson erased “the invisible color line” was Ray Noble.  Cuban born Rafael (Ray) Miguel Noble spent four years (1947 – 1950) with the New York Cubans, playing on their 1947 Negro League World Series championship team.   At age 32, Noble signed with the New York Giants and in 1951 played on the Giants’ National League pennant winning team along with other former Negro League players Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, and Hank Thompson.   After three years with Giants (1951 1953), Noble finished his career playing in the minor leagues (Pacific Coast League, International League).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

James Buster “Buzz” Clarkson was a 5’11’, 210 lb. shortstop/outfielder who played Negro League baseball for 13 years (1937 – 1950); playing eight seasons with the Philadelphia Stars.  While with the Newark Eagles in 1940, Clarkson was selected to play in the Negro League East-West All Star game (scored a run) and was also selected in 1949 while with the Philadelphia Stars (one hit and one RBI).  In 1952, Clarkson made his Major League debut with the Boston Braves; he was 34 years old.  After that one season with the Braves in which he played in only 14 games, Clarkson spent the remainder of his career as one of the first African-Americans to play in the Texas League.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Crossing paths with ballplayers while staying at the same Negro hotels and patronizing the same Negro eating establishments because of segregation, many African-American entertainers became fans of Negro League baseball.  One such fan, dancer and actor Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, went even further to become a Negro League baseball team co-owner.  Robinson along with James “Soldier Boy” Semler owned the New York Black Yankees who entered the Negro National League (NNL) in 1936.