Sunday, November 29, 2020

November 30: Men of Stature

After playing for the Boston Red Sox for three
years, Moose Grimshaw played some minor league
ball before settling into a Beech Nut factory job.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Division, Washington, D.C.
By December 1944, Major League Baseball was preparing for what to do with the 500 or so ball players who would be returning stateside when World War II ended. Victory had not yet been declared, but America could feel it was coming.

Word out of Chicago was that "A recommendation by the steering committee of both leagues calls for increases in both midseason and reserve player lists of five and 10 reinstated players, respectively," according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, reporting on December 1. That meant that the regular season rosters would go from 25 to 30 players, and the 40-man would become a 50-man, at least temporarily.

That was one topic of discussion of the pending league-wide meetings. But there was another topic that needed even more attention.

Who would replace the recently deceased Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner of baseball?

"If you have not been mentioned yet as the new Landis there must be something desperately wrong with you," wrote "Famed Sports Columnist and Expert Analyst" Joe Williams in his syndicated column that ran that same day in the paper. "Up to press time those who have been mentioned include Gen. George Marshall, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, James A. Farley, Steve Early, Senator Happy Chandler, J. Edgar Hoover, Ford Frick, Will Harridge, Leslie O'Connor, Col. Leland Sanford MacPhail, Judge William Bramham, Abbott and Costello, Harvey the Rabbit and a mysterious stranger known to have a cache of cigarets." 

Williams warned that "Naming the new Landis threatens to be a popular form of indoor sports for months to come," as there seemed to be no true consensus on a successor. What there was consensus on was the idea that the new commissioner should come from outside of baseball, a point that threw Williams for a loop. "Is this an admission that baseball lacks capable and distinguished executive ability?" he asked. "If the game hasn't developed any men of stature it's about time it started."

It might have been Landis himself. His brand of leadership, and the unlimited powers he seemed to hold, had the owners nodding their heads a lot, out of fear, perhaps, maybe respect for the fact that he got the job done. After all, said Williams, he had come in after a "period of hysteria" and righted the ship.

For the first time in a quarter of a century, baseball could choose a new direction. An ending war and the promise of a new commissioner offered baseball a chance at rebirth.

The Stars
Close. So close.

The Team
Frank "Lefty" Killen (164-131, 3.78 ERA) twice won 30 games in a season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and will serve us well as our ace. Firpo Marberry (148-88, 3.63) will go second, although we might need to utilize him and his 99 saves in the bullpen. Bob Tewksbury (110-102, 3.92) will go third, and our depth continues at number four with Rich Harden (59-38, 3.76) and Craig Swan (59-72 3.74) at five. Steve Hamilton (42 SV) and Juan Berenguer (32 SV) will lead the relief corps, with Leo Kiely, Chase Anderson, Jimmie DeShong and Win Ballou.

Ray Durham (.277, 192 HR, 875 RBI, 273 SB) brings us pop from an unexpected place, at second base, while "The Flyin' Hawaiian" Shane Victorino (.275, 108, 489, 231 SB), in the outfield with Matt Lawton (.267, 138, 631, 165 SB) and Patrick Gillespie (.276, 10, 351), adds some clutch to that pop. That's right, we got pop AND clutch. Mark Lewis (.263, 48, 306) is our shortstop with Luis Valbuena (.226, 114, 367) at second and Craig Wilson (.262, 99, 292) (the second Craig on our Craigs list) at first. Dave Engle (.262, 31, 181) will catch. Our bench starts with Bo Jackson. Anybody who remembers him snapping a bat over his knee after a strikeout knows why. Then we'll add Moose Grimshaw, Tacks Latimer, Dud Brown and Alamazoo Jennings, who once had ten passed balls in one game. In fact, it was his only game.

The Round Numbers
Walks: Bo Jackson, 200.
Games Started: Frank Killen, 300; Jimmie DeShong, 100.

November 29: Of All the Cranks

"Long" Tom Hughes pitched in the first World Series
with the Boston Americans in 1903.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
The Lewisburg (PA) Chronicle had heard it from the New York Times. Sailors love baseball.

"How ardent a lover of our national game is Jack Tar!" said the paper on November 30, 1901. "Never a baseball game is played either at the Polo grounds in this city or at the Brooklyn baseball park without a liberal sprinkling of the uniforms of Uncle Sam's Jackies...There are no more enthusiastic 'rooters' than are the sailors, and none who seem to better appreciate the fine points of the game."

The love of the game spread beyond the ballparks. Each ship had a team, and officers sometimes "doffed their dignity" and joined in on the fun with the sailors. Those who had played at Annapolis were true cracks. And there was nothing more intense than when two ships' teams faced each other. But the impact that sailors had on the game was even greater than any landlubber might think. "It is to the playing of these naval nines at ports of call that the introduction of the game in foreign countries is due, for as fierce rivalry exists between the ball teams of the the various vessels when they come together as between the boat crews."

Not even the Bowery could compete for the sailor's cash when baseball season was on. And, somehow, despite being at sea for long stretches, sailors in the stands knew who was who. "How he manages to know, as he does, all the peculiarities of each batsman and pitcher is a mystery," said the Chronicle. "Yet such as have happened to sit near a group of gossiping sailors during a game can vouch that he knows what he is talking about and that his judgment in sizing up a player is rarely at fault." The average sailor did not have a particular rooting interest; he just wanted to see a good game.

"Of all the baseball cranks," said the Chronicle, "he seems to be the most sane."

The Stars
If Minnie Minoso, Bill Freehan and Dick McAuliffe can knock in the runs, Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera can slam the door shut.

The Team
Getting there will be half the battle. Jake Weimer (97-69, 2.23 ERA) lines up as our number one starter, with Carl Weilman (84-93, 2.67) second and Tom Hughes (132-174, 3.09) third and...that's it. We're really going to rely on the Sandman (652 SV) to hold our leads with support from Joe Price (13 SV), Dan McGinn (10 SV), Bill Sowders, Brian Holton, Shadow Pyle, Harlan Pyle (no relation) and Pedro Martinez (no relation).

The "Cuban Comet," Minnie Minoso (.298, 186 HR, 1023 RBI, 205 SB), led the league in getting hit by pitches ten times. We like a guy who will take a couple of dozen for the team. He's got the call to the outfield with Mike "Hit Man" Easler (.293, 118, 522) and Otto "The Swatto" Velez (.251, 78, 272), who were both born in 1950 and both reached the majors in 1973. Bill Freehan (.262, 200, 758), who got the call to 11 All-Star Games, will catch, with Dick McAuliffe (.247, 197, 696) at short. Both played for the 1968 World Series champion Detroit Tigers. Hojo, Howard Johnson (.249, 228, 760, 231 SB), will play third with Irv Noren (.275, 65, 453) at first and Joe Orengo (.238, 17, 122) at second. Buddy Crump will get a chance to improve on his 0-for-4 1924 campaign, um, career. I mean, he did have an RBI.

The Round Numbers 
Home Runs: Bill Freehan, 200.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

November 28: Down for the Count

Heinie Peitz played from 1892 to 1906,
then came back for four at bats in 1913.

Unknown source.
Jack Sheridan was a hero. A baseball hero.

"George Washington was the hero of the Revolution, while General Grant and Lee were the big men of the Civil War," wrote the Cincinnati Enquirer on November 29, 1908, "but the hero of modern times is Jack Sheridan." Sure, he was an umpire, but he was the dean of the umpires, twenty-five years into the baseball wars. "No one has a better appetite, no one enjoys a cigar any better, and no one takes things easier than John J. Sheridan, of San Jose, California."

He didn't start out on the road to officiating. "A decided fear of real hard work and a glass arm drove Sheridan to take up the duties of arbitrator," wrote the Enquirer. He was a second baseman, and a good one, probably the best on the West Coast in his time. Chattanooga called with an offer, which he accepted. The team was doing well, but the day he got there, they lost. Then they lost again. And again. They lost 19 in a row and the fans figured he was the curse. He tweaked his arm and couldn't reach first without tremendous pain. The team released him, and won the next game. 

He headed for Nashville, where he had some friends, and took a job at a lumber camp. "Armed with the implements of a woodchopper he was directed to begin operations on a big, husky tree," said the Enquirer. He took his team of oxen with him, standing by to pull the tree to the sawmill. Other axe men felled two and three trees as Sheridan worked on his and his foreman let him know in no uncertain terms that if he didn't speed things up, he would be handed his walking papers.

Sheridan, honestly, didn't know much about what he was doing. He didn't understand how to drop a tree in a specific direction, "and when the tree finally came to the ground with a crash it fell across the team of oxen and sent them both down for the count." Walking papers? He ran, as fast as he could, for what he figured was about four miles in world record time. He never looked back.

The next day he awoke sore and stiff, but went to the local ballgame. When no umpire showed, he volunteered his services, handed a "ten spot" to call the game. The next day, in that summer of 1884, Sheridan accepted his post. 

And he never looked back.

The Stars
We got Matt Williams, we got the long ball.

The Team
But...we have only two starters. They're not bad, though. We have Pedro Astacio (129-124, 4.67 ERA) and John Burkett (166-136, 4.31). Both pitched for the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, but Astacio pitched for six others teams, so that's like a quarter of the league right there. Get this, though. Not only do we have Robb Nen (314 SV) as a closer, we also have Dave Righetti (252 SV), who, though he started fewer than 100 games in the majors, threw a no-hitter (that I watched live). I'm feeling pretty good about this team. We'll throw Ken Howell (31 SV), Bill Simas (23 SV), Carlos Villanueva (11 SV) out in the pen with Molly Craft, Daisy Davis and Taylor Davis.

Matt the Bat (2.68, 378 HR, 1218 RBI) starts at third with Walt Weiss (.258, 25, 386) at short, part of the late 1980s Oakland A's dynasty. Sixto Lezcano (.271, 148, 591) takes to the outfield with Max West (.254, 77, 380) and Jim Jackson (.235, 4, 134) of the old Cleveland Naps. Heinie Peitz (.271, 15, 560), our first baseman, was lucky enough to spend a season playing with his brother Joe, on the 1894 St. Louis Browns. Frank O'Rourke (.254, 15, 429, 100 SB), our second baseman, is our biggest threat on the base paths, with Wes Westrum (.217, 96, 315) behind the plate. We've got room on the pine for Nook Logan, Roxey Roach, Lynn King, Billy Queen, Purnal Goldy and, of course, Corky Withrow.

The Round Numbers
At Bats: Matt Williams, 7000.
Stolen Bases: Frank O'Rourke, 100.
Walks Allowed: John Burkett, 700.

Friday, November 27, 2020

November 27: Cigar Stores and Barber Shops

"He's just a modest Irish lad, with unassuming airs
He's never heard to spout and brag, He never rips and tears;
But oh to see him in the game, It would make your heart rejoice
You'd want to sing this glad refrain, Until you lost your voice."

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
Baseball was gaining in momentum in 1911, but there was a problem that had to be tackled.

"It is said that plain clothes men will be out in the various baseball stands of the country this coming year," stated an article in the November 28 Buffalo Enquirer, "to try and ferret out the men who bet on baseball games and will be empowered to arrest those found making wagers. At the same time officers of the city police force will be charged with stopping the betting in cigar stores, news stands, barber shops and other places where wagers are made." In New York, the state had already cracked down. Any proprietor of a café or saloon who allowed gambling and was caught lost his license and his property.

Buffalo had been and would once again be a major league city, if briefly. Jacob Stein, President of the Buffalo Bisons, was part of the commission tasked with curbing gambling. Neither he, nor any other members of the commission, publicly stated just what other measures would be taken to knock out the gambling scourge, especially in the smaller venues.

The Enquirer columnist, who went by the byline "Hospur," went with the old line about how life, itself was a gamble. "The people of this country 'gamble' from the second that they are born until they go into their little six feet of earth," he or she wrote, "and everything from religion down to handling a pick and shovel is a gamble." Hospur also felt that making a friendly wager with a friend was hardly an arrestable offense. Nonetheless, "Anything that has to do with the keeping of baseball as a clean sport The Enquirer is with to the very limit."  

The Stars
Two modern-day athletes, Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate and Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, and an old-time mound dweller in Joe Bush.

The Team
Out on the mound we start with "Bullet Joe "(196-184, 3.51 ERA), who won three World Series with three different teams (1913 Philadelphia A's, 1918 Boston Red Sox, 1923 New York Yankees). Johnny Schmitz (93-114, 3.55) runs second, with Dave Giusti (100-93, 3.60) third and Dan Spillner (75-89, 4.21) fourth. Unfortunately, they also have 235 of the 253 saves among pitchers born on this day, so we'll have to go with live arms, like Marty O'Toole, Jason Berken, Bob Schultz, Raul Valdes, Bill Short and Ken Ray.

Pudge Rodriguez (.296, 311 HR, 1332 RBI, 127) was a generational star on both sides of the ball. Rollins (.264, 231, 936, 470 SB) captured a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and the National League MVP trophy in 2007. Our next best hitter is Mike Scioscia, who will have to sit behind Pudge, but then, we need a manager. Willie Bloomquist (.269, 18, 225, 133 SB) takes third with Randy Milligan (.261, 70, 284) at first and Billy Moran (.263, 28, 202) at second. Around the outfield we go Jose Tartabull (.261, 2, 107), Eloy "Big Baby" Jimenez (.276, 45, 120) and Bradley "The Machine" Zimmer (.224, 11, 51). Not much experience there, but we like their pep. 

The Round Numbers
Games Played: Marty O'Toole, 100.
Wins: Dave Giusti, 100.
Games Pitched: Marty O'Toole, 100.
Walks Allowed: Marty O'Toole, 300.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

November 26: Blue Eagle

Hugh Duffy was a two-time major
league home run champion.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Division, Washington, D.C.
Baseball, like many industries, struggled during the 1930s. The NRA, though, thought it could help.

William P. Farnsworth, an assistant deputy administrator with the National Recovery Administration, related how in an Associated Press article that appeared November 27, 1933. 

A man connected with the Washington Senators had come to see Farnsworth on a personal matter, and then lingered in his office to ask a few more questions. "He said a lot of the boys were asking questions," said Farnsworth. "He added a lot more would be asked at Chicago, and I told him we'd have someone there qualified to give the right answers." The majors would be holding their annual meeting in Chicago in December, and there they would discuss a "code."

"Baseball is a business," said Farnsworth. "It is an industry which I believe General [Hugh S.] Johnson would like to see come under a code just like any other industry."

The Blue Eagle code championed by Johnson, head of the NRA, which was actually symbolized by a Blue Eagle insignia that might be worn on baseball uniforms, stood for fair and ethical business practices. "A baseball code probably wouldn't get into the question of salaries," Farnsworth told the paper, but said that it might "cover matters relating to the much-reported negotiations between players and owners each spring. Further, the players could be accorded collective bargaining, and some saw the possibility that there might even be a Baseball Players Union."

Circus workers had a meeting on their code coming up. Football players might be next, and if Major League Baseball players joined up, the minors wouldn't be far behind. It was the Depression, and desperate times called for innovation.

The Stars
Whoa. We have two Hall of Famers in Lefty Gomez and Hugh Duffy, 200-game winner Chuck Finley, plus Bob Johnson, Bob Elliott and Fred Tenney.

The Team
We may have the rotation of the year. Gomez (189-102, 3.34 ERA) brings Depression-era New York Yankees' stuff to the mound, while Chuck Finley (200-173, 3.85) runs right behind him. Mike Moore (161-176, 4.39), a steady influence on a bad series of Seattle Mariners teams, goes third with Larry Gura (126-97, 3.76), a star of the 1980 Kansas City Royals World Series champs, going fourth. The fifth spot will be split between Bob Walk (105-81, 4.03) and Matt Garza (93-106, 4.09). You choose. Jay Howell (155 SV) closes, with Bob Lee (64 SV), Corey Knebel (57 SV), Minnie Rojas (43 SV), Gowell Claset, Gussie Gannon, Mickey McGowan and Hanson Horsey all in tow.

To the bats! "Sir" Hugh Duffy (.326, 106 HR, 1302 RBI, 574 SB) of Cranston, Rhode Island, played outfield in a different era, one in which he once hit .440 in a season. Fred Tenney (.294, 22, 688, 285 SB) will catch with Bob "Mr. Team" Elliott (.289, 170, 1195) at third. "Indian" Bob Johnson (.296, 288, 1283) will join Duffy and Jorge Orta (.278, 130, 745) in the outfield. Richie Hebner (.276, 203, 890) will play first, before he goes on to become a hitting coach, and our double-play combo will be Eddie Miller (.238, 97, 640) at short and Harold Reynolds (.258, 21, 353, 250 SB) at second. This means that we have to save space on the bench for Matt Carpenter and Jeff Torborg, which is fine, because he's our manager, and Garton Del Savio.

The Round Numbers
Walks: Jorge Orta, 500.
Wins: Chuck Finley, 200.
Walks Allowed: Larry Gura, 600.

November 25: Giants in Playing and Stature

"Fiddler" Frank Corridon may have
invented the spitball. He was at least
among the earliest to use it.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Division, Washington, D.C.
"An aged man, with eyes deep set and keen, stood behind the seats at the Polo Ground during the last days of the pennant fight, watching the Giants plate," ran an article published by the New York Herald on November 26, 1911. "Rube Marquard, the pitching sensation of the season, was in the box. The crowd was cheering him, for he had just struck out the side."

The old man had wandered into the park off the elevated train, generally unnoticed. It took John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, to recognize him. It was James Mutrie, long known as "Smiling Jeems," two time pennant-winning manager of the team.

"Mr. Mutrie was of the time when the ball players wore mustaches and Burnsides and talked about the pitcher throwing an underhand ball," read the article, "Look at the old teams of his day, and all the players have facial decorations of some sort."

He remembered many more details of his time in the game. Pitching was better in 1911 than in his day, but in days of old players hit and fielded better, in his opinion. He also remembered the day the Giants got their name. "John B. Day and I got together and we formed the New York team of the National League, now the Giants," he said. "The boys were all tall in those days, because most of them were sluggers, and they didn't go in so much for speedy players then. They were winning, and I looked out at them and said: - 'They're giants in playing and stature, too.'

"Somebody took it up, and they have been known as the Giants ever since."

The Stars
We only have one, but when you have Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, you don't need any more.

The Team
I was being nice. Our starting rotation is Bert Cunningham (142-167, 4.22), Frank Corridon (70-67, 2.80), Jakie May (72-95, 3.88) and Jim Weaver (57-36, 3.88). There are going to be some long nights. If we get late into games with leads, Octavio Dotel (109 SV) will close, with Ray Narleski (58 SV), Shingo Takatsu (27 SV), Seranthony Dominguez (16 SV), Ben Wade (10 SV) and Jim Duffalo warming up, in that order.

"Joltin' Joe" (.325, 361 HR, 1537 RBI) set a generation afire with his play, including his record-setting 56-game hitting streak in 1941. He married movie stars, appeared in ads and even had a song written about him. He'll start in the outfield with "Hard Hittin'" Mark Whiten (.259, 105, 423), who hit four home runs in one game on September 7, 1993, and Chico Walker (.246, 17, 116). Nick Swisher (.249, 245, 803) brings solid pop to first base, with yet another New York Yankee, Bucky Dent (.247, 40, 423) at shortstop. "Irish" Mike Ryan (.193, 28, 161) will catch (the third member of the Boston Red Sox so far; let's hope these guys can all play nicely together) with Johnny Paredes (.251, 20, 100) at third and Gene Handley (.252, 0, 29) at second.

The Round Numbers
Runs Batted In: Johnny Paredes, 100.
Hits Allowed: Frank Corridon, 1100.

November 24: A Piece of Furniture

When George Burns locked in on a fastball,
it was "Say goodnight, Gracie!"
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
Johnny Berardino had entered the majors at 22 years old in 1939. A decade later he claimed, he was done.

Between 1939 and 1947 he had never known any team but the St. Louis Browns. The infielder was steady, if not spectacular, through 1941. He increased his average from .256 to .258, to.271 and his future seemed to be limitless as 1942 dawned, but, like many ballplayers of the era, everything gave way to national service during World War II. He served in both the Army Air Force in 1942 and then the Navy, with which he stayed until October 1945. 

In 1946, he rejoined the Browns and ended up with enough votes to pick up 25th place in the American League MVP voting. At the end of the 1947 season, though, the Browns were looking for something else. They traded him on November 22 for Jerry Priddy of the Washington Senators.

Berardino was not amused. 

"Baseball's loss is going to be Hollywood's gain," read an Associated Press report a few days later. "Miffed at being traded by the St. Louis Browns to Washington 'without being notified,' the 30-year-old infielder-turned-actor yesterday signed a seven-year contract with Richard K. Polimer productions." Berardino, who had been an actor since he was nine, had recently appeared as a trainer in a racing picture. The constant losing had worn him down (he missed the Browns' 1944 World Series run while in the military). He also didn't like the idea of being a commodity.

"When they start moving you around like a piece of furniture, it's time to get out," he said. The trade was negated, and Berardino turned his eyes westward.

The Stars
We got Muscles, Hall of Famer Joe Medwick, in our outfield with George Burns, and have a Friend on the mound. Doesn't that sound nice?

The Team
Bob "Warrior" Friend (197-230, 3.58 ERA) suffered from lack of run support, but he didn't let it get him down. He sang in barbershop quartets after he retired, and you can't be depressed and do that at the same time. Ben McDonald (78-70, 3.91) came into the league with great expectations, and had a nice nine-year career. Cal Eldred (86-74, 4.42) is our number three, Horacio Ramirez (40-35, 4.65) goes fourth and Ed Doheny (75-83, 3.73) fifth, the only player to ever come from Northfield, Vermont. So far. The bullpen lacks a closer. And a set-up man. But we do have Jarrod Parker, Damian Moss, Fred Beene, Ralph Comstock and George Throop.

We've got a sturdy outfield, beginning with "Ducky" Medwick (.324, 205 HR, 1383 RBI), a mainstay of the 1930s St. Louis Cardinals' Gas House Gang. George Burns (.287, 41, 611, 383 SB) balances Medwick's power with speed, and Jim Northrup (.267, 153, 610) rounds out the group. "Fire Chief" Billy Rogell (.267, 42, 610) takes shortstop with Randy Velarde (.276, 100, 445) at second to turn two. Jose Lopez (.262, 92, 480) will play third with Steve Yeager (.228, 102, 410), the 1981 World Series MVP, a co-owner of Jersey Mike's Subs, and cousin of Chuck Yeager, the man who broke the sound barrier. Dave Hansen (.260, 35, 222), another Los Angeles Dodger, will play first. At spring training, keep an eye on Tony Guiliani, Nin Alexander, Cloy Mattox and Stub Smith. 

The Round Numbers
Home Runs: Randy Velarde, 100.
Strikeouts: Ralph Comstock, 100.