Saturday, January 07, 2006

January 7th, 1945

Tony Conigliaro Born

Just another Jury Duty short one today, as I point you elsewhere for the largely tragic story of "Tony C." who suffered perhaps baseball's most infamous beaning, ahead even of the fatal blow struck to Ray Chapman.

Friday, January 06, 2006

January 6th, 1982

Wally Post Dies

One of my favorite websites for goofing off and procrastination is the Internet Anagram Server (which can itself can anagrammed as "I, rearrangement servant") and I've been trying to find a day to use it for the blog. Well, today it is. As I'm currently on Jury Duty, I'm somewhat lacking in time to create an original blog, so I will instead rely on my rearrangement servant to see what it can tell us about those who had their beginning or end on this date. For our titular man, Wally Post, who stole just nineteen bases (while being caught thirteen times) and hit only twenty triples in a fifteen year career, one can find that he is, indeed, "Aptly Slow." Cubs' manager Frank Chance allegedly threatened to fine pitcher King Cole if he didn't stay out of the team's poker games on account of his erratic play. From this I guess we can conclude he saw both many a nickel come and many a "nickel go." And finally, lest you think this is all frivolity, as Buck Crouse proves, anagrams can also help us learn history. Crouse was a catcher who spent his entire career in Chicago, but it was all with the White Sox, insofar as their catching woes were concerned then, he was never the "Cubs' cure, ok?"

Thursday, January 05, 2006

January 5th, 1960

Continental League Gains Congressional Support

The Continental League is something of a footnote in history, albeit one that deserves far better, even if it is something of a rather bizarre story. The league was the brainchild of New York attorney William Shea (for whom Shea Stadium is named). Shea had decided the National League had no intention of ever putting a team back into New York City and so enlisted the support of Mayor Robert Wagner. In November of 1958 Wagner and Shea made an announcement of their intention to begin a third Major League with teams in cities that the current leagues were ignoring.

There are two key points in that first announcement. The first is that Shea and Wagner weren't suggesting another League entirely, a baseball version of the AFL or ABA, but rather that Major League Baseball would--if the plan went through--now have American, National and Continental Leagues. The second point is that Wagner and Shea were actually one-hundred percent correct with regards to baseball expansion. Bill Veeck had once said that if baseball owners had run the United States, Kansas and Nebraska would still be waiting to become states. That's glib, but only a tiny bit inaccurate.

Anyway, things began to progress as Branch Rickey was appointed chairman of the league and began a study to see how they could acquire players, since the "other" two leagues appeared to be planning to fight kicking and screaming. Meanwhile cities like Buffalo, New Orleans and even Honolulu applied for franchises as owners began lining up to pay the league's ten million dollar franchise fee (about sixty-five million in today's dollars).

In July of 1960--after Rickey had been given the titular Congressional support by New York Senator Kenneth Keating--the league announced it would begin with five franchises in New York, Houston, Toronto, Denver and Minneapolis. The National League helped steal some of this thunder with their announcement a week earlier, however, that if the CL was not accepted into MLB, then the NL would itself expand with ten teams including whichever cities held CL franchises.

In the end, this conflict would never come to be, as in early August the dispute was settled. The Continental League dropped its efforts after Walter O'Malley declared expansion should happen as soon as 1961 and it was suggested that the CL territories be admitted in as orderly a fashion as possible. In the end, the National League granted franchises in New York and Houston in 1962, and Minneapolis got an AL franchise of their own in 1961 after the Washington Senators abandoned the capital. Toronto and Denver, however, were rather left out in the cold. Toronto would not see a team until 1977 (after its Canadian companion Montreal had already received one along with cities like Seattle and San Diego) and Denver not until 1993 in baseball's penultimate (to this point) round of expansion.

It would be pat to say the arrival of the Rockies closed the book on the Continental League but that's unfair. Its true legacy is a valuable one, as being the impetus baseball needed to launch expansion and make itself truly a national game.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

January 4th, 1944

Tito Fuentes Born

In the department of "Was it something I said?" we come to Tito Fuentes and a September thirteenth game against the Padres in 1973. Fuentes was a flamboyant (some might say "hot dog") Cuban infielder for the Giants, Padres, Tigers and A's in a thirteen year career. He is largely unnoted except for holding one of my much-loved obscure records. In Fuentes' case, he holds the record for most times hit with a pitch in a single game, by a single pitcher, with three.

As mentioned earlier, it was mid September and a relatively meaningless game between the Padres and Giants. The Giants jumped to an early lead, knocking Pads' starter Steve Arlin out of the game after just two-thirds of an inning and bringing in reliever Mike Corkins. In the fourth inning Fuentes, who had already walked and struck out, was hit by a pitch from Corkins. Obviously no one thought much of this at the time and probably had largely forgotten until Fuentes led off the seventh and was again hit by a Corkins pitch. Seeing as Corkins was allowed to remain in the game, and the Padres' half of the inning passed without incident, it can be assumed that once again no one thought of much of this.

In the eighth inning Fuentes came up again against Corkins and again was hit by a pitch. And yet, this still doesn't seem to have been much of an incident. Fuentes' reaction, whatever it was, didn't merit ejection and Corkins was allowed to stay in the game as well, pitching to one more batter being removed in a tactical switch. The Giants obviously were ok with the situation, as no Padre player was hit with a pitch in retribution. All things considered, it seems that the players on both teams regarded the incident the same way I did, as a bizarre bit of trivia.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

January 3rd, 1973

George Steinbrenner Buys Yankees

There is, of course, an almost limitless supply of things one can write about the Boss. He is easily the most controversial owner since Charles Finley and holds the uniquely dubious distinction of having been suspended from baseball twice--once for "life"--only to be restored both times. Above all else, however, Steinbrenner can perhaps be described best by quotes, both his and others. When George bought the Yankees on this day, he announced that "we plan absentee ownership...I'll stick to building ships." He further elaborated that "I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all."

Of course, things didn't quite work out that way and people soon discovered that, as former partner John McMullen put it, "there's nothing more limited than a limited partner in the Yankees." As it turned out, George didn't just miss the boat (no pun intended) on his involvement with the Yankees; he also declared that he was "dead set against free agency" on the grounds that "it can ruin baseball." That may yet prove true (although I don't see it) but free agency has been nothing but good for George, pairing him as it did with Reggie Jackson. That partnership lasted just five years but the Yankees won two World Series, a pennant and four divisional titles in that time. Despite the success, it was not all good times, as when Reggie observed that George and his sometime manager Billy Martin deserved each other because "one's a born liar [Martin] and the other's convicted." Reggie's comment was in reference to his owner having pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's campaign in 1974. And of course, it was George who famously tagged Dave Winfield as "Mr. May" in light of his struggles in the 1981 post-season.

George has tried--with varying levels of success--to mellow his image since then, even going so far as mocking his image on Saturday Night Live (Steinbrenner performed a sketch as owner of a gas station who was unwilling to fire even his most incompetent employees) and filming scenes for Seinfeld. Ultimately, both the good and bad of George, the part of him that is compelled to go out and get players like Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez but also prompts actions like hiring someone to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield is summed up by his quote that "winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, then winning."

Monday, January 02, 2006

January 2nd, 1951

Bill Madlock Born

Madlock was an infielder for, primarily, the Cubs and Pirates in the seventies and eighties. Although he initially had something of a poor reputation, notably for sitting down against the league's tougher pitchers, Madlock would evolve into a quality player and one who would win four batting titles. Those four batting titles are relevant for a pair of reasons. For one, Madlock won the first of the two with the Cubs in 1975-76 and the second pair for the Pirates in 1981 and 1983. This was notable (above-and-beyond the four-time batting champion thing in general) as it made Madlock the first--and so far only--player to have won a pair of batting titles with two different teams.

Of course, this is all rather embarrassing for me because until I started looking into his numbers, I didn't know Bill Madlock from a hole in the ground. I was actually going to do a little list here of other players who had won four (or more) batting titles and demonstrate how Madlock has somehow managed to slip through the cracks. My attempts at this however, were foiled, when I discovered there were at least two other players who had won four (or more) batting titles without my having heard of them. Now, to be fair, one of them played in the 1880s, but still. There aren't that many batting titles that have been awarded and I'm wholly unaware of men who collectively won twelve of them. But with Bill Madlock done and blogged, it's one down, two to go.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

January 1st, 1932

Tom Parrott Dies

Nicknamed "Tacky Tom" for reasons lost to history, although probably having something to do with his generally clownish behavior, Parrott was a pitcher and outfielder in the 1890s. He managed the relatively neat trick of finishing with an ERA+ and OPS+ that was exactly the same number, ninety-six, a testament to his overall mediocrity as a ballplayer, albeit one who was mediocre on both sides of the ball.

Parrott began his career with the Cubs after he signed with them wholly of his own accord, which was rather upsetting news to the minor league team for whom he had been playing who had sold him to the Reds. There was some ensuing controversy after which Parrott was finally awarded to the Reds for whom he would play from 1893 until 1895. He pitched over three hundred innings in 1894 but was already beginning to have arm troubles--he was twice suspended in controversies centered around whether or not he was fit to pitch--although he would again top two hundred and fifty innings in 1895. In 1896 Parrott was traded to the St. Louis Browns (who, confusingly, are the modern day Cardinals) and although he pitched just a handful of innings, Parrott was one of the team's regular outfielders and finished tenth in the league with seven home runs.

Parrott would never play in the Majors again but instead performing something of a Ricky Williams impression (or, more accurately given the timeline, Ricky Williams performed something of a Tom Parrott impression) wandering around the country, playing baseball when the combination of circumstance and salary met his somewhat eccentric requirements. This wandering would continue through 1907 when he retired from baseball for good and spent the rest of his life as a musician and sometime fireman. After the death of his second wife Parrott moved back to near Portland (his place of birth) where he lived out the rest of his life.

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