Saturday, July 23, 2005

 

July 23rd, 1918

Pee Wee Reese Born



Since I was very young, I've always liked Pee Wee Reese for the incident described in this book when Reese publicly showed his support for Jackie Robinson in front of a hostile crowd in Cincinnati. (For those shopping for young baseball fans, incidentally, that's a great gift.) However, the incident most associated with Reese's birthday took place in Ebbets Field in 1955. Reese, in his second to last season as a regular and last as a better than average ballplayer, was celebrating his birthday at his home park. On account of this the Dodgers decided it would be a fun promotion to have a party at the ballpark.

To that end, they passed out small birthday candles to all in attendance (one can only imagine the reaction of an insurance company if you tried this today). When the seventh inning stretch came around, the ballpark lights were dimmed and the fans lit their candles. Then, as a cake was presented to Reese from the Dodgers, the crowd all sang Happy Birthday to their shortstop.

However Reese celebrates his birthday today, it is unlikely to quite be of the scale of thousands of loyal fans lighting candles and singing. But he'll always have the memory, and that's pretty good. Happy Birthday Pee Wee.



Friday, July 22, 2005

 

July 22nd, 1912

Eddie Cicotte Purchased by White Sox



This one is a move that can filed under "Well, that was nice while it lasted," but more on that in a moment. Prior to being sold, Cicotte had been a pretty good pitcher on-and-off for the Red Sox as far back as 1909 but his inconsistency caused Boston to let him go for the waiver price. Cicotte was one of the first, quite possibly the first, to throw a knuckleball, although much of his success was attributed at the time to his "shine ball." Cicotte's shine ball (different from that of Dave Danforth) worked via Cicotte rubbing one side of the ball in the dirt and then the other on his pants to create a differentiating effect between the two sides that alternated crazily when the ball was delivered. Cicotte vigorously denied this however, claiming that it was "no exaggeration to say that out of 100 average balls [he throws], 75 are knuckle balls." He claimed further that "the so-called shine ball is a pure freak of the imagination."

However he was doing it, Cicotte came to the White Sox and became, while not necessarily a more consistent pitcher than he had been in
Boston, at least one whose highs were much higher (he led the league in ERA in 1917 and wins in 1917 and 1919) and whose lows were just league average pitching. However, due both to Charles Comiskey's greed (he forced his manager to bench Cicotte down the stretch to prevent him from reaching thirty wins and the $10,000 bonus Cicotte was due on reaching that feat) and Cicotte's loose morals "Knuckles" agreed to join the 1919 World Series fix.

In Game One, Cicotte famously hit Reds' lead-off man Morrie Rath to confirm the fix and would go on to pitch poorly (three and two-third innings, 6 runs, 7 hits) and although his performance in Game Four seems better (9 innings, no earned runs) both of the Reds' two runs--the margin of victory--came after an error on should've-been-easy-play by Cicotte. He finally redeemed himself in Game Seven--the series was best of nine that year—when, with the fix possibly off due to a lack of funds, Cicotte threw a complete game, scattering seven hits while giving up just one run. The Sox would lose the series in Game Eight however.

In the course of the investigation into the fix Cicotte was the first to confess, although he would later recant the confession and demand a trial. For the waiver price then, the White Sox got several effective seasons but at the extreme cost, due to a variety of factors, of a pitcher who was willing and able to play a major role in the throwing of a World Series and would later be a crucial factor in unraveling the plot. Ah well, it was nice while it lasted.



Thursday, July 21, 2005

 

July 21st, 1959

Boston Red Sox Integrate

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The Red Sox were the last team to integrate, a subject which is of sometimes great controversy in Boston and one that no matter where you stand a sensitive point. But, rather than dive too much into the more serious aspects of it, we might as well try to have a laugh:

"Pumpsie Green was the first black player on the Boston Red Sox...in 1959 irate fans paraded around Fenway for three days protesting the Red Sox refusal to bring Pumpsie up from the minors. When he was finally brought up in the middle of the year, he disappointed even his most ardent supporters by being unable to either hit major league pitching or field major league hitting, thus achieving immediate and total equality with the rest of the Red Sox lineup. He disappointed no one, however, with his bizarre behavior. One summer weekend in 1962, when after a particularly humiliating defeat at the hands of the New York Yankees, he and [teammate] Gene Conley...walked off the team bus in the middle of a traffic jam in the Bronx and disappeared into the postgame crowd. They were not encountered again until nearly three days later...standing in line at Idewild International Airport attempting to board a plane for Israel--with no luggage, no passport and in what in all candor must be described as a markedly inebriated condition."

~Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

 

July 20th, 1896

Bob Meusel Born


Known as "Long Bob" for his height--6'3"--he was the tallest player on the 1927 Yankees and a member in good standing of Murder's Row, having his best season that year. (As an aside, 6'3" is still tall, but it’s interesting how ballplayers have changed; the last truly great Yankee team of 1998 had more than ten players 6'3" or taller.) Meusel had a relatively short career, playing just ten years, all but one for the Yankees, retiring after a single season with the Reds in 1930.

Meusel and his brother Emil, universally known as "Irish" (the nickname is wrong incidentally, he apparently really looked Irish, but wasn’t) played each other in three straight World Series, 1921-23, with Irish and the Giants taking the first two and the Yankees finally winning their third appearance in 1923. The brothers were an interesting pairing. Irish is generally listed at nearly four inches shorter than his brother but otherwise they seem relatively similar; Bob finished with a career .309/.356/.497 while Irish, who was the older brother but slightly lesser ballplayer finished at .310/.348/464. Both were leftfielders and both ended their career with the same OPS+ of 119, with Bob accomplishing his in roughly seven hundred more plate appearances.

Besides their height, the primary difference between the men was their throwing arms. Bob was reputed to have one of the best arms in the league, possibly the best of his generation (he played left field because the Yankees had a right fielder you might have heard of, Babe Ruth) while Irish's arm was notoriously poor. This is best summed up by a story Bill James relates: Irish was walking down the street with John McGraw when a one-armed man came up--very drunk--and began his tale of woe:

"Pardon me, sir, I had the misfortune to lose my arm--"
McGraw cut him off, "get on your way, Irish ain't got it."



Tuesday, July 19, 2005

 

July 19th, 1993

Raul Mondesi Debuts


Apropos of nothing--which come to think of it, could be the motto for this blog some days--I went to this Orioles/Yankees game and sat in the right field bleachers, from where I could see Raul Mondesi man his post. Prior to the bottom of the ninth inning, Mondesi was warming up his arm with reliever Mike Stanton (filling in for a ball boy on this duty) and ended his long tosses with the ball in his hand. He turned towards the bleachers and briefly scanned them, before spotting an attractive young woman wearing a tank top. Mondesi pointed to her and threw her the ball. Before she could catch it, it was intercepted by a young man, her boyfriend I assume. After the inning's first pitch, he shouted for Mondesi's attention, and when Mondesi turned around, the boyfriend threw the ball back to the outfielder.

Mondesi caught the ball and regarded the boyfriend, but decided upon further reflection to simply toss the ball to a little kid in the bleachers, and all parties received a mock cheer from the rest of the bleacher crowd.


Monday, July 18, 2005

 

July 18th, 1956

Razor Shines Born


That's his real name, Anthony Razor Shines. Shines was a pretty decent minor league hitter with more than seven hundred RBIs and a hundred homers. He never shined (sorry, sorry) in the Majors however, hitting just .185 in four separate cups of coffee with the Expos as he was shifted around the infield in an attempt to find him a position since his natural one--catcher--was blocked by Gary Carter. He was briefly moved to first base, including an Opening Day start, but was turned away there by the emergence of another Expos' prospect: Andres Galarraga. Shines hung around in the minors into the early nineties but would never play in the Majors after 1987. The dual highlights of his career would be an inning pitched in a blowout in 1985 and a single to break-up a Dennis Eckersley no-hitter. After a few years out of baseball Shines returned to game as a coach; he managed in the low minors for a few years and this year is managing in Birmingham, the Double-A level of the Chicago White Sox.

As to the name, Shines explains "Razor’s a family name. My grandfather was a Razor. He gave that name to my father and he gave it to me. My son’s middle name is Razor." So there's your explanation, somewhere along the line someone decided it would be a good idea if the family name was, in fact, a word. The mysteries of life.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

 

July 17th, 1941

Joe DiMaggio Goes Hitless

You may remember that I wrote about the start of his streak, waaaay back in May during my "Brief Phase" when I was moving. I'm writing about it here because I think it gives a sense of the length of DiMaggio's streak, not just in terms of the games which everyone knows, but also just in the passage of time. Every day from that one in May to this one in July 1941 DiMaggio either got a hit or the Yankees didn't play. It’s fairly remarkable.

Speaking of remarkable, a remarkable coincidence took place on that July 17th, as related by Bill James. The U.S. Army was conducting a draft in
New York City, and in those days, each number selected was linked directly to a particular person. The second pick that day was a young man named...Joe DiMaggio. Not the same Joe DiMaggio, but that didn't stop the media who as James puts it, "just loves that kind of thing." The draftee Joe DiMaggio was apparently happy with the media coverage but "felt awful bad Joe's streak had come to an end."

One last bit on DiMaggio's streak. It is widely reported that Joe missed out on a $10,000 dollar endorsement (that was a good bit of money in those days) as he streak stopped short of 57, the magic number for Heinz and their "57 Varieties" brand line. The story is well known and whether it’s true or not may be difficult to say, but it's worth nothing that DiMaggio later claimed it was nothing but bunk.


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