Saturday, August 12, 2006

August 12th, 1912

Harlond Clift Born

I'm not sure about this--I don't have my usual collection of research aids where I am--but I'm pretty sure that Clift got his rather unfortunate nickname, "Darkie," on account of a teammate thinking his first name to be "Harlem" and from which a nickname was born.

Clift had two genuinely great years when he was twenty-three and twenty-four (and a pretty good one at twenty-two) in 1937 and '38 for the St. Louis Browns. Playing third base, Clift posted OPS+ of 139 and 143 in back-to-back years while stealing twenty bases over the two years. He also became the first third baseman to hit thirty or more home runs when he slugged 34 in 1938. It was Clift's bad luck to be playing for the Browns, who were both woeful--they averaged over a hundred losses over the two years--and barely attended in way we can't grasp now. (The Browns had a total attendance of just over two hundred and fifty thousand for the two seasons, their per game average was below fifteen hundred.) As such, his great seasons went almost unnoticed, failing to even make the All-Star team the second year.

Had Clift continued on his career path, he would be in the Hall of Fame, even with his misfortune of being on the Browns. Those two years represented the high water mark for him however, and although he remained a solid hitter through 1942, he would drop off shortly after that. By 1945, Clift was a below average hitter and that marked his last season in the Major Leagues. All said he only played twelve years, but he remains probably one of the more underrated players in history.

Friday, August 11, 2006

August 11th, 1986

Pirates and Cubs Finish Game

Being that this is, after all, a Friday in August and I've had one long entry this week (Monday) and one absolute opus (yesterday), I think today is a good day for a call back to another, shorter blog. So let's enjoy a sunny Friday (at least in New York) and look back on this entry from last year.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

August 10th, 1966

Claude Osteen Finishes Game

Editor's Note: This was something of an odd game for Osteen, as he pitched two innings, allowed two hits, two walks, had two strikeouts and gave up, you guessed it, no runs. While ruining a visually appealing line, I'm sure Claude prefers that to an ERA of nine for the day.

Anyway, last year around this time, I used Clause Osteen as a jumping off point for a discussion of how the league had changed around him. Over the course of the year I developed this idea into a longer essay that I publish here--citations and all--about what I believe led to those changes, the failed attempt to begin a third Major League. Enjoy.

The White Rat

Claude Osteen debuted in 1957 for the Cincinnati Reds as a seventeen-year-old, pitching just four innings; his final season in the National League came in 1974, seventeen years later
[1]. In those seventeen years, Osteen had won—and lost—nearly two hundred games and won—and lost—a World Series with the Dodgers.
Perhaps the most striking element of Osteen’s career, however, is how the National League changed around him. In 1957, the League had eight franchises, all in one division: Milwaukee, St. Louis, Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh. The northernmost team was on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the farthest west was far closer to the Atlantic than the Pacific Ocean while the most southern was still outside of the Confederacy. In contrast, by the time Osteen retired, the League had twelve franchises, divided up into two divisions. Three franchises had moved, two to California and another to Atlanta, and three new franchises had also been added. Osteen’s road trips now went all the way to the West Coast and so far north as to leave the United States. All of these moves do not even take into account the various American League franchise shifts and expansions. Over the course of Osteen’s career, Major League Baseball went through a period of expansion and team movement unseen before or since. The effects of expansion on the game, from the distribution of talent to the economic consequences have been written on extensively. A less studied topic, however, is the impetus for that expansion, the Continental League. By forcing Major League Baseball to at last expand, the Continental League had an impact on the game that (although far less in a larger social sense) is equal to that of a far more famous “other” league, the Negro Leagues.

Part I:
“If the baseball owners were running the United States, Kansas and Nebraska would still be trying to get into the Union”

Bill Veeck’s sentiment on the reluctance of owners to consider expansion is perhaps the most concise—and glib—summary of the issue. Despite the dramatic changing face of the country, neither the American nor National League had ever expanded since the “Original Sixteen” franchises were set in 1901, and prior to 1953 no team had shifted cities. In 1950 census data revealed that the country’s fourth and sixth biggest cities lacked Major League teams and fifteen of the twenty-five largest cities were without big league baseball
[2]. The team movements of the 1950s fixed this situation somewhat as teams moved first to the Midwest and then the West Coast. However, these moves had more to do with the cities teams were departing from than their new homes. After drawing just two hundred eighty-one thousand and change in Boston in 1952, the Braves moved to Milwaukee and increased their attendance nearly six and a half times. Following this lead, the St. Louis Browns and Philadelphia A’s, both the smaller team in a two-franchise market, departed for greener pastures in Baltimore and Kansas City respectively. Although slightly more complicated, baseball’s most famous moves of the Dodgers to Los Angeles and Giants to San Francisco also had attendance as a major factor. New York City had a population of almost eight million but the Giants drew fewer than eighty-five hundred fans a game their last two seasons at the Polo Grounds.
Teams had become willing to move if a better situation was available, but by 1958 the only city with multiple franchises was Chicago. Despite this, 1960 census data shows that eleven of the largest twenty-five cities—including three of the top fifteen—still had no teams. If these markets were to be capitalized upon, expansion was the only viable solution. Owners remained largely uninterested, however, and it would take a Tammany Hall politician and a lawyer who had attended college on a football scholarship to begin to force the change.

Part II:
“The unofficial chairman of the state’s unofficial permanent government”

Robert Wagner was one of the last prominent New York City politicians to emerge from the once mighty Tammany Hall machine, winning by a dozen points. By 1957, however, the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt had put Tammany Hall into its death throes and Wagner needed all the support he could find. To that end, Wagner—who had promised at his inauguration a “government dedicated to the best interest of all people
[3]”— launched a committee to bring another Major League team back to New York City. The four man panel included a former Postmaster General and the patriarch of a prominent New York City department store family. The panel’s main force, however, was William A. Shea. Shea was a well-known attorney and Manhattan power broker; Nicholas Pileggi described him in the title quote and Shea himself admitted that what he and his firm did was as much bluff and bluster as law, telling Pileggi that “We’re not statesman, we ain’t white shoe[4].” This tough-nosed reputation was something of a mixed blessing: while some admired Shea’s techniques others declared the law firm “a factory of graft.” For Wagner’s purposes, there was hardly a better person to lead the cause. In addition to his figure as a power broker, Shea had a longstanding interest in baseball, having first been introduced to the game as a child[5].
Shea quickly went to work attempting to lure a franchise to New York. As late as January of 1958 Shea was at least publicly optimistic of his chances of attracting an existing franchise, telling the New York Times that the “door is still open…we haven’t been flatly rejected by any team we’ve approached[6].” Although kept quiet at the time, Shea first approached both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and while both expressed interest, they eventually declined. The official plan was for the new team to play in Ebbets Field although Shea faced resistance from (among others) National League President Warren Giles who refused to meet with the group until the 1958 season was underway. This lack of progress kept National League baseball out of New York for the first time since 1882, the season before the New York Gothams (as the Giants were then known) first started playing. 1959 saw more of the same problems, as efforts to move the Phillies proved unsuccessful, with their owner Bob Carpenter eventually conceding he was “not interested in moving to New York[7]” fueling further speculation that Carpenter had performed one of the first threats to move his team in an attempt to extract a new stadium from his home city.
At the same time as the possibility of the Phillies was fading, another idea was beginning to form in Shea’s head, the one that would dramatically alter the landscape of Major League Baseball.

Part III:
“I was not going to be a party to moving any club, so long as that city had people willing to support it”

In the course of his meetings with Carpenter, Shea came to the realization that moving a team was not the solution he had first imagined. According to Shea, he realized that “This fellow [Carpenter] is just like me. He doesn’t want to move. Philadelphia is his town and he is going to stay there. He’s not going to pick up and leave the place just for money
[8].” By 1959 Shea was making public statements that he was moving in the direction of “the only feasible way to bring another club to New York—towards a third Major League[9].”
At this point it is worth pointing out the crucial element of Shea’s statement, albeit one that is easily overlooked. Shea was proposing a third Major League, meaning a league that would integrate their franchises into Major League Baseball from day one. Shea was not attempting to create something analogous to the American Basketball Association which was founded on the hope of surviving until it merged with the NBA or to the Federal League which had hoped to compete with Major League Baseball in the teens
[10]. More than any owner then in power, Shea understood the disparity between cities that had a Major League franchise, those which could support one, and the willingness of baseball to fill that market. To that end, Shea began to explore which cities could host franchises in his new League.
On July 27th 1959, Shea made the official announcement of his new league. Dubbing it the Continental League, Shea revealed that five cities already had groups willing to pay the League’s half million dollar franchise fee, with eleven other cities expressing interest. To no one’s surprise, New York was one of the founding cities, along with Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Toronto and Houston. The latter city was the largest in the United States without a team; while Toronto’s population was higher than every American city without a franchise either in place or planned save Dallas. Dallas, not surprisingly, was one of eleven cities with reported interest, a group that ranged as far as San Juan, Puerto Rico, Buffalo, San Diego and Seattle[11]. The whittling down process for these cities would have to be relatively quick as Shea announced that Continental League play was to begin with the 1961 season.
Making sure to emphasize that the CL was to be a Major League, not just another minor league with more fanfare at its opening, Shea set a minimum seating capacity of thirty-five thousand for any Continental League park. The New York Times article from the next day makes note of this and includes a diagram including where in Flushing Meadow Park the Continental League stadium would stand. That was never to be but would prove the genesis of the idea for the stadium that today bears Shea’s name.
Having established the first of the cities that would play host to Continental League baseball, Shea needed to bring in someone who could not only help organize the League but also represent its most prominent figure and give the League much needed credibility. As it turned out, Shea was able to find with relative ease a figure who was both an astute baseball mind, a long-time supporter of a potential third league and a legendary New York figure.

Part IV:
The Mahatma

In 1958 Branch Rickey, the brilliant architect of several championship clubs and the modern Minor League system, was officially the Chairman of the Board of the Pittsburgh Pirates but widely understood to be semi-retired. The only topic which seemed to pique his interest—and sufficiently so for the New York Times to write a short piece on the subject—was the possibility of his having a part in Major League expansion. With this in mind, Rickey’s name came up repeatedly in discussions over the Continental League and its creation. It was finally made official in August of 1959 as Rickey resigned his Pirates’ post and was made President of the league. At this debut press conference, Rickey set an ambitious goal for the league, declaring that “I am convinced more than ever now that we will have a third major league by 1961
[12].” Rickey’s first meeting also included an olive branch to the current leagues as Presidents Warren Giles and Joe Cronin were the sole members of a committee created to study the issue of how the new league would acquire players.
Although Rickey’s press conference did not establish any new franchises, it did put to rest rumors that the league would include ten or even twelve teams, announcing it would have just eight teams, forcing the contending eleven cities to compete for just three spots. Major League Commissioner Ford Frick was in attendance at the press conference and announced a series of condition that MLB had imposed in order to allow the Continental League to integrate into the Majors. These included the Continental League’s acceptance of the standard player contract (this was probably intended to ensure the preservation of the Reserve Clause) along with entry into the player pension, that the CL played a then-standard one hundred and fifty-four game schedule and, in a condition the CL was probably all-too-happy to grant that no Continental League city have a population below that of the lowest existing Major League franchise[13].
In addition to a sense of credibility, Rickey brought his unique enthusiasm to promoting the Continental League, making it clear he expected his league to soon be on an equal plane with the American and National Leagues. In an interview given that August, Rickey held court and gave his perspective on the new league. He estimated the Continental League would have a team in the World Series by 1963 and his plan for an expanded round-robin Fall Classic (see sidebar for details[14]) and emphasized that he thought the Continental League would have players ready for the All-Star game by 1963 or even earlier. Rickey described “Johnny Jones,” a player for the “Denver Continentals” who was hitting .380 at the All-Star Break. Rickey conceded that “true, Johnny may not be a .280 hitter in the National or American League. But so what? He’s leading the Continental League and deserves All-Star recognition. Gosh, you just know the public will demand Johnny be picked for the All-Star game[15].”

Part V:
“It’s an established fact that every 16-year-old boy today will be 19 three years from now”

While even the Times seemed caught up in Rickey’s enthusiasm for the new league and its prospects, questions remained. Perhaps the most obvious was how the new league would stock itself with players; where, the Times asked in reference in Rickey’s theoretical All-Star, “would the Continental League find the Johnny Joneses to staff its teams?” Not surprisingly, Rickey had a solution for this as well. It is important to remember that player acquisition was far more casual at the time than the process today. When Rickey was presenting his plan, the first draft was still more than five years away, college baseball a far more minor game (the College World Series barely a decade old) and even the modern minor league system, Rickey’s own brainchild, had not yet celebrated its thirtieth year. A new league had a far easier road to hoe in acquiring players than they would even ten years later.
Rickey’s plan then was essentially to acquire players the same way American and National League teams did, with Rickey telling reporters that “good Lord, the world is full of baseball players.” Referring to the titular nineteen year olds, Rickey claimed that ten percent of them would be good ballplayers so it was only a matter of time before the Continental League was cultivating talent on a par with the best of what Major League Baseball had to offer. In the interim, Rickey announced the CL planned to enlist older players, especially stars, who were perhaps past their prime but still capable of playing. Rickey emphasized that these players would be more than welcome in the CL, and “could look forward to two or three more years of baseball with the Continental,” before presumably being phased out in favor of younger, Continental League-developed talent[16].
Rickey did not spend all his time holding court, however; he also worked on deciding what other cities would receive the three franchises to that point unassigned. In September of 1959 Rickey heard bids from groups representing New Orleans (whose presentation Rickey deemed “excellent[17]”) and Montreal (whose effort was “impressive[18]”) and Rickey continued to emphasis not only that the new league would happen, but that the list of prospective cities remained long, telling reporters the league had far more applicants than it could possibly award franchises[19].
At the time, the Continental League seemed to be cruising towards its beginnings in 1961, fueled above all by Rickey’s limitless enthusiasm. Although it would still be more than a year before the idea of a third Major League finally died, the first signs that the CL was not a sure thing would emerge before Christmas.

Part V:
“The only reason we would not be operating in 1961 is if we fail to have cooperation from the major leagues”

The winter of 1959 proved to be a tumultuous time for the Continental League with good news and bad coming in equal amounts, sometimes with good news one day and bad the next. Even before Rickey heard the presentations from New Orleans and Montreal, Ford Frick was expressing doubts about the league’s timeline. Speaking to a Congressional committee, Frick warned that while he still was optimistic for the CL’s overall chances of thriving, he thought it might take as much as five years for the League to be of MLB caliber, a far cry from Rickey’s estimation of the CL competing in the World Series by 1963
A month later while appearing on a radio call-in show Shea was asked about Frick’s comments and gave his first public complaints about the perceived lack of cooperation between Major League Baseball and the CL, saying that although Frick had been cooperative both in public and private “to a great extent,” he was concerned that the statement “at this time is not exactly harmonious with the cooperation they promised us[21].”
An even greater concern for Shea than Frick’s comments was the possibility of the American League moving the Washington Senators to Minneapolis. Such a move would obviously all but eliminate the possibility of a CL franchise in Minneapolis; one of the league’s founding cities. In this respect Shea had an important ally in the United States Congress, which did not want to see Major League Baseball moved out of their adopted hometown. Democratic Representative Emanuel Celler argued that moving the team would make it clear that baseball was a business and not a sport, thereby putting the game’s much treasured (to this day) antitrust exemption in doubt. Celler went even farther, issuing a thinly veiled threat that if the Senators did move, Congress would take action to eliminate the exemption[22].
Shea did not have such clout, but nonetheless weighed in, telling reporters that “it wasn’t fair or ethical for the Commissioner…to discuss this move. They knew we had the stage set to move into Minneapolis.” Ultimately, in part because of Shea’s pressure but far more so in response to the possibility of Congressional involvement, league officials intervened and prevented Senators’ owner Calvin Griffith from moving the team, the second year in a row they had been compelled to do so. With Minneapolis desperate to get a team one way or another, the American League now began to explore expansion, the first stirrings of an idea that would continue to develop[23].
Having handled a problem on one front, Shea then turned to another, the issues of funding the stadium that would hold the Continental League franchise in New York City. Some suggested the stadium be located elsewhere besides Flushing Meadows or perhaps have a different design. Shea dismissed these ideas as vehemently as possible, claiming that the Continental League required a New York stadium for its very existence and that given how quickly ground needed to be broken for the stadium to be ready by 1961 that debate was not a viable option. Just as with the possibility of moving the Senators to Minnesota, this problem was solved as the New York Board of Estimates soon tabled the debate and voted to move ahead with the existing plan in a step Shea described as “encouraging[24].”
Meanwhile, the possibility of American League expansion reared its head once more, as President Joe Cronin admitted the AL was considering adding a franchise, presumably in Minnesota. In response Shea for the first time raised as a real possibility the CL existing as an “outlaw league[25].” At a CL meeting, Shea made it clear that if Major League Baseball continued what he saw as efforts detrimental to the Continental League, he would not hesitate to run the CL in direct competition with Major League Baseball in certain cities. Finally tired of Rickey and Shea’s comments, Ford Frick responded personally, telling the New York Times he hadn’t “done a single thing that could be construed by anyone as interfering with the Continental League.” The situation resolved itself with a minimum of further sniping on either side when the National League expressed its preference against a small-scale expansion, effectively killing American League efforts[26].
At the end of 1959, the Continental League moved into new offices, reaffirming the league’s continued existence. Rickey observed the office would “let the world know we are still very much in business and intend to be more so in the next few weeks[27]!” Ultimately, however, the CL’s situation was best described by a 1959 “Year in Review” story which wrote Major League Baseball had given its “feeble green light” to the CL. Within just eight months of that story, however, the Continental League’s “feeble green” would change to a definitive red as expansion into CL cities signaled the league’s death knell[28].

Part VI:
“It can’t miss”

Its fate notwithstanding, the Continental League began 1960 on a positive note, although on two different fronts. On one front, Congress once again became involved in the issue of a third league when New York senator Kenneth Keating expressed his support for the league and offered to act as a negotiator between the two groups. Keating’s interest was not entirely selfless; with the announcement that Dallas and Atlanta had recently won two of the league’s remaining three spots; Keating had a keen interest in ensuring that Buffalo beat out Montreal for the third and final franchise spot
The second front also involved Congress, but this time the good news came from Ford Frick who reaffirmed his faith in the league, telling Keating that expansion was inevitable and that the CL was the only plan in the works to fill that aim. In what would prove an especially prescient observation, however, Frick also told Keating that if the CL failed, it would be possible for the American and National Leagues to absorb some (if not all) of its franchises. For the moment, however, Keating was nothing but optimistic; referring to Keating’s offer of mediation, Frick said that once the CL met standards such as stadium size and territorial rights, “there should be nothing to mediate[30].”
Just a week after meeting in Washington, whether on merit, with the boost of Keating’s support or, most likely, as a combination of the two, Buffalo was awarded the final franchise spot setting the Continental League’s eight city line-up[31]. Based on 1960 Census data, the CL was planning to fill three of the four largest American cities without Major League Baseball, and the Dallas-Forth Worth area, whose collective city population was greater than any other CL city.
As January of 1960 came to a close, representatives from the eight Continental League cities gathered at the Hotel Delmonico in New York City to once again reaffirm their goal to begin play in 1961, even while conceding that some issues remained, primarily ensuring that all teams had stadiums of Major League caliber ready by April of 1961. The day was largely an occasion for celebration however, with Rickey declaring that he was “confident within four years the Continental League [would] be equal with the other majors and that in five years [it would] be the stronger.” Although neither Rickey, nor Shea nor the team owners could have known, or perhaps even suspected, such an idea at the time, their assemblage at the Delmonico Hotel would represent to the Continental League what the assemblage of troops for Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg represented to the Confederacy, the beginning of the end, masked in a glorious display[32].

Part VII:
“Negotiation with Organized Baseball is futile”

In late February of 1960, Branch Rickey announced the beginnings of the Continental League schedule, including an Opening Day set for April 18th, 1961 with simultaneous home openers for teams in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Denver. Opening Day would mark the beginning of a two-week swing across the southern CL teams for the northern franchises after which weather in cities like Buffalo and Toronto would presumably be more hospitable to baseball
Rickey emphasized however, that the Continental League—which was still having problems gaining territorial rights, especially in Houston—would need to be admitted to the Major Leagues as soon as possible in order for the schedule to become a reality, further signs that cracks were beginning to develop in the optimistic façade. More obvious signs emerged in April when Shea dropped all pretense of veiling his threats and told organized baseball to “help [them] or suffer the consequences.” Upset over Frick’s reluctance to sanction a minor league that was going to be established solely for use by the CL, and as well as other continued problems, Shea also implied that his Congressional allies would look poorly upon efforts by MLB to stall the Continental’s entrance as a third league and that if approval was not forthcoming, he would not hesitate to call upon those allies[34].
Frick, never one to back down
[35], responded with comments of his own. He took pains to point out that Major League Baseball had laid out the guidelines that the CL would have to meet to gain admittance and pointedly observed that the CL had failed to meet even a single one. Determined to prove he was unmoved by Shea’s threat of Congressional intervention, Frick wondered aloud “if it wouldn’t help a little if we had fewer complaints, less alibiing [sic] and more positive action[36].”
In May Frick began to take his own positive action, as the existing leagues discussed expansion at the (nominally) secret club owners’ meetings. A New York Times story carried two intriguing details, one being that club owners now did not believe the Continental League would ever get off the ground and that the CL, combined with Congressional saber-rattling, had forced them to concede expansion was necessary by 1962 at the latest. The most important thing taken from the meeting, however, was that the National League was now willing to go along with expansion, after it vetoed the American League plan just the winter before[37].
Responding to stories like this, Branch Rickey once again mounted an offensive. He allowed that the CL might not be ready for play in 1961 but assured reporters it would be 1962 at the absolute latest. More significantly Rickey again raised the possibility of the CL playing as an “outlaw” league that would compete rather than cooperate with Major League Baseball. While more subtle than Shea, Rickey’s threat was no less noteworthy, as he publicly questioned whether it was “the purpose of organized baseball to have a third league existing outside of organized baseball
Making those comments at the end of June, Rickey could scarcely have imagined that within three weeks the leagues would be voting for expansion and in just over a month the Continental League would exist only as a memory.

Part VIII:
“I know that in their heart of hearts the present major league owners don’t want to expand—not one of them”

Deprived of its context, the titular quote would suggest great confidence in the continued existence of the Continental League; in fact, it was uttered by Branch Rickey fewer than forty-eight hours before the Continental League was officially declared stillborn. In late July of 1960, the National League officially voted to expand to ten teams if the CL did not work out and with support of the American League, it appeared the CL was now competing against the clock to make the requirements before owners became fed up and simply expanded themselves
On August first Rickey attended meetings with Frick and the AL and NL Expansion Committees. Despite being full of his usual rhetoric outside of the meeting—Rickey told reporters “the major leagues should be protectors of this great sport, not its pallbearers”—inside the meeting was a different situation. With the Continental League still unable to secure what they perceived as reasonable deals for territorial rights in all cities save for Atlanta and New York, and with most of their stadiums still not beyond blueprints, the Continental League was attempting to stall expansion and give them a fighting chance at debuting for the 1962 season[40].
Instead, by the end of the meeting the CL was dead. The National and American Leagues voted to expand by accepting four of the eight CL cities, at the time thought to be New York, Minnesota, Toronto and Houston. At the time William Shea was pleased, at least publicly, telling the press that he had always intended only to bring another team back to New York and that the day’s “action gives us that assurance[41].”
Just three years after first joining the group to bring baseball back to New York then, William Shea could claim success, at least on paper. More than that, however, he could claim to be one of the most important, and underappreciated, figures in baseball history: the driving force behind the expansion of Major League Baseball.

The Miracle Mets

In 1969 Major League Baseball expanded, its second such round since 1962, this time adding teams in Seattle, Montreal, San Diego and restoring a team to Kansas City. In latter rounds of expansion every Continental League city except Buffalo has received a team; today that city is home to the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate.
1969 also marked the first time ever an expansion team won a World Series, as the Miracle Mets triumphed over the Baltimore Orioles. The final out of that series was a fly ball caught by Cleon Jones, patrolling left in the Mets’ stadium in Flushing Meadows named for William Shea.
Robert Wagner was reelected as Mayor of New York and would serve one more term; Senator Kenneth Keating had no such luck, losing to Robert F. Kennedy in 1964; he was holding the position of Ambassador to Israel when he died in 1975.
Ford Frick’s tenure as Commissioner ended in 1965, and although William Shea was briefly suggested as a successor, he was ultimately followed by compromise choice William Eckert. Despite controversy over his putting an asterisk on Roger Maris’ home run record, Frick was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970. He died eight years later.
Branch Rickey was the oldest of the major Continental League players, and the CL marked his last major action within baseball; he later toured as a public speaker and died in 1965 a month after collapsing while giving a speech. Rickey was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967; his Hall of Fame plaque makes no reference to his time at the head of the Continental League.
William Shea would outlive every other Continental League notable before dying in 1991. He remained a lifelong Mets fan, and also worked to keep the Jets playing in the stadium that bears his name. Although Shea sometimes joked he expected the stadium to be renamed within fifteen minutes of his death, he led a quiet campaign to prevent it being renamed for Jackie Robinson; and despite existing in the age of corporate sponsorship, it appears Shea’s name will last as long as the stadium itself, a testament to his efforts toward returning a second franchise to New York City.


[1] This—and any other baseball statistical information unless otherwise noted—comes from
[2] All data from US Census:
[3] Wagner Biography:
[4] New York Times “William A. Shea, 83, Dies; Lawyer Behind Mets” October 4th, 1991
[5] Shea Photograph from New York Times. “Baseball Starts at 8 A.M. for Shea” July 28th, 1959
[6] New York Times “New York Still Hopes.” Jan 15th, 1958
[7] New York Times “Mayor Says His Baseball Aide Talked to Phils About Shift Here”, April 16th, 1959
[9] Times, April 16th, 1959
[10] Although Shea was willing to go either route if MLB pressed the issue, he considered this a solution of absolute last resort.
[11] Times. July 28th, 1959
[12] New York Times,” Rickey Will Head Continental League” August 19th, 1959.
[13] Times, August 19th, 1959
[14]Information from Sidebar comes from New York Times “Rickey Awaits 1963 World Series” August 23rd, 1959
[15] Times, August 13th, 1959
[16] Times, August 23rd, 1959
[17] New York Times, “New Orleans’ Bid Heard by Rickey” September 9th, 1959
[18] New York Times, “Montreal Group Files Bid Here for Continental Loop Franchise.” September 18th, 1959
[19] New York Times, “New League To Add 3”
[20] New York Times. “Frick Has Doubts on Third League.” September 5th, 1959
[21] New York Times. “Shea Indicates Increasing Lack of Harmony Between Majors, New League.” October 5th, 1959
[22] New York Times. “Expansion Move Attacked as Plot.” October 23rd, 1959
[23] New York Times. “Not Cricket, Shea Says.” October 16th, 1959
[24] New York Times. “Continental League Faces Collapse if City Delays Action on Site, Shea Says.” October 20th, 1959
[25] New York Times. “Third League Again Threatens to be Outlaw Circuit if Needed.” November 17th, 1959
[26] New York Times. “Frick Defends Majors.” November 18th, 1959
[27] New York Times. “Third League Opens New Offices.” November 14th, 1959
[28] New York Times. “Sports of the Times: Year in Review.” December 20th, 1959

[29] New York Times. “Senator Offers to be Mediator.” January 6th, 1960.
[30] New York Times. “Frick Predicts Rosy Future for New League.” January 12th, 1960
[31] New York Times. “Franchise Seems Sure for Buffalo.” January 23rd, 1960
[32] New York Times. “Target for Start of Play Still ‘61” January 30th, 1960
[33] New York Times. “Northern Teams to Open in South.” February 19th, 1960.
[34] New York Times. “3D League Demands Help from Majors.” April 16th, 1960
[35] Frick’s resolve was shown most famously when he was National League President and members of the St. Louis Cardinals were reportedly threatening a protest in response to Jackie Robinson’s entry to the game, Frick declared any players involved would be suspended. The protest never materialized.
[36] New York Times. “Frick Says It’s All Talk, No Action in New Circuit.” April 18th, 1960.
[37] New York Times. “Majors Weigh Expansion Move.” May 21st, 1960
[38] New York Times. “Rickey Says Setback in Senate Won’t Halt Continental League.” June 30th, 1960
[39] New York Times. “National League Votes to Expand.” July 19th, 1960
[40] New York Times. “Baseball Men from 3 Leagues to Confer Today on Expansion.” August 2nd, 1960.
[41] New York Times. “Baseball to Add 4 Cities in Majors.” August 3rd, 1960.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

August 9th, 1998

Diamondbacks at Expos

Today represented another proud moment in the dying days of the Expos franchise. As I'm sure you know, the Expos often had an incredibly difficult time drawing fans following the 1994 strike, and so were sometimes forced to resort to silly promotions. (I myself once attended $1 hot dog night in Montreal; of course, that's $1 Canadian, so it was like eighty-three cents.) This was an especially goofy promotion though: Dog Days at the Ballpark. The point of Dog Days was that if you purchased a ticket and brought your dog--or any dog, I suppose--to the game, you could join a special parade around the field before the game with your dog.

Bafflingly, the promotion worked as the Expos drew more than twenty-one thousand, nearly ten thousand more than their average. I say that it was baffling because if you don't care about baseball enough to come to a game, why would you care enough to bring your dog to a game just so it could parade around the field? People did care though, as the Expos tallied more than seven hundred and fifty dogs. I really have no other insight to offer on this topic except to say that it only strikes me as more evidence the Québécois really ought not to govern themselves.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

August 8th, 1956

Cliff Speck Born

Today seems to be the day for people whose names are also things. The best example is our title, Cliff Speck who has nouns for both his names. This is a day, however, when names that are things practically represent the rule rather than the exception. Others born today include Al Woods, Jim Miles, Johnny Temple, Marlin Stuart (that's his real name, by the way) and Tot Pressnell. That last one is a nickname, but that's ok because Tot's real name was Forrest, so I guess he's on the all-Park Service team with Al Woods.

Johnny Temple is by far the best player of his lot, the only one to have made an All-Star game (he actually made four) while the rest are a fairly underwhelming bunch so perhaps having a name that is also a thing (or, for that matter, a name that is two different things) is too much of a burden for players born on August Eighth to bear.

Monday, August 07, 2006

August 7th, 1862/1977

Jim Gray/Tyler Yates Born

It's been a while since I've done a "linkage" blog, so this one will take along the path of common teammates from the oldest (well, dead-est, but you get the idea) player born on this date through to the youngest. Before we get to them, it's only fair to do introductions. Jim Gray played in only six career games, doing so at the rather wide age range of twenty-one, twenty-seven and thirty. He finished with a career batting average of .304, but given that's just seven for twenty-three; I'd take it with a grain of salt. Appropriately for the most recent player from August 7th, Tyler Yates is from our most recent state, Hawaii. After growing up and attending college there, Yates broke into the Majors with the Mets in 2004, and while he didn't see any time at the big league level last year, he's thrown around twenty-five innings for the Braves this season. Moving along to the list then:

Jim Gray played with Bill Wilson on the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys: The very next year the team would become known as the more familiar Pirates, but this year they were differently named. However, they had much in common with the modern Pirates, as they were an awful team, posting a winning percentage equal to fewer than thirty wins across 162 games. Bill Wilson was the team's primary bench player and didn't help much, hitting just .214

Bill Wilson played with Nick Altrock on the 1898 Louisville Colonels: Altrock, of course, has been written about at length both here and elsewhere. There has been less written about the 1898 Colonels, which is little surprise as they are a largely forgettable team, and might-be totally forgettable if not for being the home of Honus Wagner's first full season. (Incidentally, Wagner played first base, of all things, that year.)

Nick Altrock played with Sam West on the 1929 Washington Senators: Anything with Altrock is kind-of cheating, since he didn't really play with Sam West, but that's life. For someone I've never heard of--although I should do an all compass points team someday--West had a long career playing sixteen seasons and batting .299 over that time. The 1929 Senators were the first team managed by the Senators' former ace Walter Johnson. Johnson had a rough start, going just 71-81 that year, but would win ninety-two or more games the next three years.

Sam West played Early Wynn on the 1941 Washington Senators: Told you West had a long career. Although to be fair he had left the Sens for a five and a half stretch with the St. Louis Browns. Wynn would of course go onto a Hall of Fame career for the Indians and the White Sox, but at this point he was just a kid trying to make it in the big leagues. Wynn would go 3-1 with an outstanding 1.58 ERA in DC that year over forty innings. Unlike Wynn, the '41 Washingtonians were not-so-outstanding, losing eighty-four games.

Early Wynn played with Tommy John on the 1963 Cleveland Indians: Talk about your long careers, when Wynn began his career, Dwight Eisenhower was just an obscure Lieutenant Colonel toiling staff jobs in Washington. Over the length of Wynn's career "Ike" would rise to command the Allied armies in World War Two and serve two full terms as President and retired as a private citizen when Wynn was still pitching. Just like Wynn, Tommy John would go onto a great (arguably Hall of Fame caliber) career, but this was his rookie season as John went 0-2 with a 2.21 ERA over twenty innings. And like Wynn's first club, John's was not-so-good, losing eighty-three games.

Tommy John played Al Leiter on the 1989 New York Yankees: Continuing our theme here, we come to another pretty good pitcher in one of his first seasons. Leiter is not the pitcher Wynn or John were, but he had some damn fine seasons. 1989 was not one of them as Leiter posted a 5.63 ERA pitching for the Yankees and Blue Jays. Of course, this was not one of the Yankees' finest seasons either, as they lost eighty-seven games one of the highest totals in franchise history.

Al Leiter played with Tyler Yates on the 2004 New York Mets: And here we return to Tyler Yates and his debut season for the hugely mediocre 2004 Mets. Our chain of largely good pitchers debuting on bad teams is complete, and it's up to Tyler to continue that tradition. No pressure, kid.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

August 6th, 1988

Goose Gossage Records 300th Save

There are lots of ways to demonstrate how much wider the usage of closers and the save statistic have increased over the last twenty something years. Today provides an especially vivid one. The Goose's three hundredth save was obviously not only a great personal accomplishment, but also a historic one. At the time only one other player had three hundred saves (Rollie Fingers being the other) so Gossage was putting himself into elite company. He was also thirty-six years old and clearly no longer the dominant reliever he had been during his time with the Yankees and Padres.

Fourteen years later, Robb Nen nailed down his three hundredth save. While the number was still an impressive total, it was no longer special ground. Thanks to the proliferation of closers, Nen was the sixteenth man to hit the total--twenty have now done it, most recently Billy Wagner; Armando Benitez has a shot at three hundred but after that there's no one really on the horizon. Nen was also just thirty-two years old, a full four years younger than Gossage.

In the fourteen years between them, then, the usage of closers (and pitchers generally) had been changed so dramatically that while for the first nearly ninety years of baseball history only two players managed three hundred saves, fourteen managed it in the next fourteen. That's a drop from an average of one every forty-five years to one every year. Bring on the bullpen car, I guess.

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