Saturday, January 21, 2006

January 21st, 1916

Yankees Accquire Germany Schaefer

Schaefer is best known, I'm pretty sure, for being the man who "stole" first base after being on second, supposedly to rattle a catcher and allow another shot at a botched double-steal. Later research has cast some doubt on the story; the whole thing might be apocryphal or it might not have been Schaefer who did it, or he might have been the last in a long line of people doing it before it was finally banned, but what the hell, it's a good story.

Either way, that wasn't what caught my attention about him. Schaefer was born in Chicago, but acquired his nickname for his German heritage. This was no problem until 1917 and the First World War (that's the one without Hitler) when the United States when to war with Schaefer's namesake country. Afraid of being jeered or worse, Schaefer decided a name change was in order. However, just like anyone nicknamed "Frenchie" in 2002, Schaefer only needed to look to the world of food for his cue. Seeing that the ultra-German "sauerkraut" had been renamed "Liberty Cabbage" (a fact once recounted by "Grandpa" Simpson) he decided that for the duration of the war, he would be "Liberty" Schaefer. Having retired to become a scout for John McGraw in 1919, he would die that same year of a heart attack while scouting players in upstate New York. The Armistice having been signed a few months earlier, Schaefer was properly remembered in his obituary as "Germany."

Friday, January 20, 2006

January 20th, 1930

Jumbo Schoeneck Dies

Don't worry, this isn't another one of those entries where I rant-and-rave about someone who is my height but thinner being listed as "Jumbo," although it is an occasion when I picked the entry just based on the name. But not to write about Schoeneck--who was a pretty good player in the semi-comical Union Association of 1884 but never thereafter--but rather about baseball nicknames. In the past, I've bemoaned that nicknames are, on the whole, far inferior to what they used to be. This is still true but on the other hand, at least they've gotten a little kinder. Up to 1950, there were five players who actually made it into the Encyclopedia as "Jumbo" plus another eight who had it as a common nickname, but none since. I hope Cecil Fielder counted his lucky stars that this was a tradition that had passed.

Of course, it wasn't just the heavyset who were the victims of bad nicknames, multiple players were nicknamed "Dummy" (for the deaf) or "Blackie" for, well, damn near anyone you wanted to run-down. (To be fair, not everyone nicknamed Blackie got it as a derogatory nickname but still.) Nicknames these days aren't as good, but at least they aren't actively offensive. I guess that's a silver lining.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

January 19th, 1962

Chris Sabo Born

Chris Sabo is the first baseball player I can remember, in the 1990 World Series. Chances are I remember Sabo because of both his appearance--he wore distinctive goggles and was nicknamed 'Spuds' after his supposed resemblance to the then Budweiser mascot--and his name, which is relatively easy for a six-year old to remember. Actually, come to that, something about "o" names must've stood out, because I also remember Jose Rijo from that Series, although at least some of that may be later given that Rijo (who won Games One and Four of the Reds' sweep and had a 0.59 ERA) was the Series' MVP.

Having looked now at his career statistics, Sabo has performed the neat trick of having an OPS+ of 100 three times in a nine year career, plus one year at 101, and another at 105 and one more at 96. For six years of his career, that's two-thirds, Sabo was within five percent of league average as a batter. Like I said, neat trick.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

January 18th, 1931

Don Zimmer Born

Ah, Popeye. Does 1931 seems a little early to anyone else? I guess it’s unfair that just because Zim looks like he’s about two hundred years old I automatically assume he actually is two hundred years old. The other thing about Zimmer is that people have apparently forgotten he had something of a Forrest Gump like ride throughout baseball.

Zim first came up in 1954 with the Dodgers but failed to make an impact that year and would really stick with the team in 1955 and see time at all the infield positions but first that year, as well as seeing time in that year's World Series. Of course, that 1955 World Series is relevant for having been when the Dodgers finally triumphed over their cross-town rivals, the Yankees.

Zimmer next pops up on April 11th, 1962 manning third base for the home team at the Polo Grounds. This is significant for being Opening Day for the worst team of all-time, the 1962 New York Mets and Zimmer was there as one of their Opening Day starters, the first of the team's more than one hundred and twenty men to man the hot corner.

Zimmer's next jaunt into baseball history was as a manager, this time watching his Red Sox blow a massive lead and eventually lose the 1978 pennant in a one-game playoff after Bucky Dent's (in)famous home run over the Green Monster put the Yankees ahead. Zimmer would also be present at the Yankees' (to this point) final triumph over the Red Sox, as Joe Torre's bench coach in 2003 as the Yankees came back against Zimmer's nemesis Pedro Martinez and won Game Seven in extra innings. Zimmer also was the bench coach for perhaps the greatest team of all-time, Torre's 1998 Yankees.

So there you are, Forrest Gump traveling through baseball embodied in Don Zimmer, watching as the Brooklyn Dodgers finally win their title, starting at third base for the Mets, watching the Red Sox blow it--twice, and spending a season with the Greatest Team of All Time. Not a bad life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

January 17th, 1915

Mayo Smith Born

"Wayne Comer says that Mayo Smith, the Tiger manager, once said to him, 'Wayne, I think you're going to hit .290 this year--but you're going to be doing it in Montgomery, Alabama.'


We beat the Tigers 3-2 with two runs in the tenth. Maybe we are as good as they are. What happened was that Mayo Smith left a righthander in to pitch to Mincher with two on in the tenth and a lefthander warming up in the bullpen. Mincher knocked them both in with a single. When he got to first base Norm Cash was really boiling. 'Crissakes,' Cash said. 'Mayo Smith has got to be the dumbest manager in baseball.'"

~Jim Bouton, Ball Four

Monday, January 16, 2006

January 16th, 1977

Baby Doll Jacobson Dies

Continuing my theme of picking entries because I like the name--don't worry, I'll get over it soon enough--we reach Baby Doll Jacobson. Jacobson, no relation to the Batman villain who also bears his name, had an eleven year career mostly for the St. Louis Browns. Jacobson was a good player, twice hitting better than .350 and finishing in the top ten in MVP voting in 1924 and '25. The frequently dire nature of the Browns meant Jacobson never really saw the spotlight and but for the nickname he would likely be even more forgotten today than he already is.

As for that nickname--his real name was William, incidentally--Jacobson got it during his time in the minors. After hitting a home run on Opening Day in 1912 in Mobile, the band in the Mobile grandstand struck up "Oh, you Beautiful Doll" which whoever captioned the photo of Jacobson changed to "Baby Doll" and the name stuck.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

January 15th, 1942

Cubs Change Plans

One of baseball's great traditions--albeit one that is dying out to some extent--is of the day games at Wrigley Field. For many years, Wrigley had no lights and therefore, no night games. Lights were installed for the 1988 season but Cubs continue to play more day games than any other franchise. Common belief is that this was a particular decision, that the Cubs held out against lights as long as possible, but that's really only half true.

The Cubs didn't have lights in part because of an intentional decision, but in many ways the man responsible for the lack of lights at Wrigley was Hideki Tojo. Tojo was the Prime Minister of Japan during the Second World War period and the decision to attack
Pearl Harbor was ultimately with him. What does any of this have to do with the Cubs? As the date reveals, it was just over a month since the Pearl Harbor attacks when the Cubs made their titular change of plans. And what was that change? The Cubs' owner decided that rather than installing lights at Wrigley--as had been his plan--he would instead donate materials to the United States war effort.

Obviously the Cubs had chances in the time after 1945 and before 1988 to install lights and passed it up, but at the very beginning, mere chance and circumstance kept Wrigley from being yet another lit stadium.

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