Friday, September 29, 2006


It was Sunday baseball at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn before 33,813, standing room only. Yankees against Dodgers, Game Four, World Series, the first for Brooklyn in 21 years.

The first ball was thrown out by New York Mayor LaGuardia. Everyone settled in on that summer-like day to watch the match-up of Brooklyn's Kirby Higbe and New York's Atley Donald in the first Subway Series between the two teams.

The game moved to the ninth inning with the Brooks clinging to a 4-3 lead. Higbe and McDonald were long gone. In their place were Brooklyn's Hugh Casey and Yankee reliever pJohnny Murphy.

The burly Casey got Johnny Sturm and Red Rolfe on ground balls. That made it seven in a row for him. Tommy Henrich was next. The count ran full.

"Casey goes into the windup," Mel Allen described it. "Around comes the right arm, in comes the pitch. A swing by Henrich . . . he swings and misses, strike three! But the ball gets away from Mickey Owen. It's rolling back to the screen. Tommy Henrich races down toward first base. He makes it safely. And the Yankees are still alive with Joe DiMaggio coming up to bat."

That fabled call by Allen succinctly and dramatically described what happened. Tommy Henrich recalled: "That ball broke like no curve I'd ever seen Casey throw. As I start to swing, I think, 'No good. Hold up.' That thing broke so sharp, though, that as I tried to hold up, my mind said, 'He might have trouble with it.'"

Owen, who ironically, that season, set the National League record for 476 consecutive errorless chances accepted by a catcher while setting a Dodger season record by fielding .995, was the goat.

There were those who thought the game was over when Henrich swung and apparently struck out on the Casey 3-2 pitch. A few Yankee players were headed down the runway to their locker room. Police, positioned in the Dodger dugout, were out on the field prepared to handle crowd control. The police, it was later claimed,were an issue for Owen trying to come up with the passed ball.

A shaken Casey was roughed up for four runs. The Yankees wound up beating the stunned Dodgers,7-4. The next day a four hitter by Ernie (Tiny) Bonham gave the Yankees a 3-1 victory and the world championship again.

For the Dodgers, it was "Wait 'til Next Year" again.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Baseball Names and How They Got That Way: Part V

The words and phrases are spoken and written day after day, year after year - generally without any wonderment as to how they became part of the language. All have a history, a story. And since so many of you asked for another installment - here it is. More to come

OLD ACHES AND PAINS Luke Appling performed for two decades with the Chicago White Sox. A .310 lifetime batting average was just one of the reasons he was admitted to the Hall of Fame in 1964. His nickname stemmed from the numerous real and imagined illnesses he picked up playing in 2,422 games, while averaging better than a hit a game. Appling was born April 2, 1907, and in 1950 was still playing major league baseball, aches, pains, and all.

OLD RELIABLE Tommy Henrich played for the New Yo* Yankees from 1937 to 1950. His lifetime batting average was only .282, but the value of Henrich to the Yankees was in his clutch hitting. Time after time he would come up in a key situation and deliver. His nickname had its roots in his ability to function under pressure and to perform reliably with distinction.

OLE PERFESSOR Hall of Famer Charles Dillon Stengel was an original. Born on July 30, 1890, in Kansas City, Missouri, he played in the majors for 14 years and managed for 25 more—with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boston Braves, the New York Yankees (10 pennants), and the New York Mets (four tenth-place finishes). He had seen it all, and in one of his more coherent statements, he said, "This here team won't win anything until we spread enough of our players around the league and make the others [teams] horseshit, too." The statement underscored the ineptitude of the early Mets. Loquacious, dynamic, vital, Casey could lecture on baseball and life for hours and hours, and that was just part of the reason for his nickname. Actually, in 1914 Stengel held the title of professor at the University of Mississippi, for he spent that year's spring-training coaching baseball at that institution. That's how he really came by his nickname.

$100,000 INFIELD That was the price tag and the nickname given to Eddie Collins, "Home Run" Baker, Stuffy McInnis, and Hack Barry, the players who composed the infield for Connie Mack's 1914 Philadelphia Athletics.

"WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR" A plantive refrain echoed annually by the fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, this phrase was an expression of eternal optimism and faith in the ability of their beloved bums to make up for all the failures and inadequacies of years gone by. It especially applied to the World Series. In 1941, for example, the Dodgers won the pennant but lost the World Series in five games to the New York Yankees. In 1947 the Dodgers won the pennant and lost again in the World Series, this time in seven games, to the New York Yankees. They lost in the 1949 World Series to the Yankees; they bowed in the 1952 World Series to the Yankees; they were defeated in the 1953 World Series by the Yankees—but 1955 was "next year." The series went seven games, and the Dodgers
defeated the New York Yankees and became World Champions at long last.

WALKING MAN, THE Eddie Yost played nearly two decades in the major leagues. His lifetime batting average was only .254, but that didn't keep him off the bases. Yost coaxed pitchers into yielding I,614 walks to him—almost a walk a game through his long career.

WEE WILLIE He was born March 3, 1872, in Brooklyn, New York. He died on January 1, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York. His name was William Henry Keeler. A lefty all the way, he weighed only 140 pounds and was a shade over 5'4". His tiny physical stature earned him his nickname, but pound for pound he was one of the greatest hitters baseball ever produced. Keeler played for 19 years and recorded a lifetime batting average of .345, fifth on the all-time list. He collected 2,962 hits in 2,124 games, spraying the ball to all fields. Wee Willie's greatest year was 1897, a season in which he batted .432, recorded 243 hits and 64 stolen bases, and scored 145 runs. He swung a bat that weighed only 30 ounces, but as he said, he "hit 'em where they ain't" —and that was more than good enough to gain Keeler entry into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1939.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


The news just a bit before the Labor Day weekend of 2006 that Charlie Wagner had passed brought a touch of sadness to Fenway Nation. A fixture on the Red Sox scene from the 1930s on, he worked for the organization for 70 years. He will be missed. His death came as a result of an apparent heart attack. He was 93.

In my narrative and oral history, here is Charlie Wagner, one more time.
Dubbed "Broadway" because of his stylish way of dressing, Charlie Wagner was the second oldest living former Red Sox player, the longest serving. He was born December 3, 1912 in Reading, Pennsylvania and was but 5 years old when the Red Sox won the 1918 World Series. "Broadway was a spry 91 years old when Boston won it again in 2004.

CHARLIE WAGNER: The Red Sox signed me in 1935, I knew the job wouldn't last. In '35, I was 7-16 at Class-B Charlotte, which I wasn't happy about, but my skipper said I was a prospect. The next year I was able to win 20 games at Class-B Rocky Mount and 20 at Triple-A Minneapolis in 1937. And the next year, 1938, I made the big club.

Charlie Wagner's major league debut was April 19, 1938. After being used by the Red Sox in both starting and relief duties, the young hurler ad his first full season as a starter in 1941, the second arm in a pitching rotation that included Dick Newsome, Mickey Harris and Lefty Grove. Finishing with a 12-8 record, three shutouts, Wagner posted an ERA that was the best on the Boston pitching staff and the 3rd best in the American League.

CHARLIE WAGNER: The Boston writers hung the name "Broadway" on me. People said it was because of the stylish way I dressed, still dress, I guess. But I wasn't a rowdy. My second year we got Ted Williams. We were sitting at our lockers one day, Lefty Grove was next to me, Jimmy Foxx next to him and Ted comes in bellowing: "Okay, who doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, doesn't chase girls and goes to bed early?"

The office of manager Joe Cronin was next to us, and he came and said "Ted, Wagner's your man." A lot of these guys played with him, but I lived with him, and it was a joy.

We became very good friends. He got up early, and I got up early. We didn't drink or smoke. No nightclubs and all that stuff. We were good roommates. Ted liked company, but he was a loner in a sense. He liked company when he wanted company.

We lived at the same hotel in Boston. It was the Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road, the nicest hotel. You could hide away there, and nobody would know it. It had a roof garden. I used to go in there and sit in the corner and watch people come in. Ted could look out the window early morning and see which way the wind would be blowing at Fenway Park. Sometimes, he would get a little angry: "Do you see that wind blowing straight in from right field. You lucky pitchers!"

Ted would fly out and fly back. He liked to do things alone. But he had a friend everywhere in America. He knew how to handle success, he knew how to handle the test.

Wagner served in the Navy after the 1943 season, one in which he compiled career highs in wins, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts. He returned to the Red Sox in 1946. His final game was August 8th of that year, and it ended a six-season Major League career spent totally with the Red Sox, 1938-42, 1946.

But the end of his active playing career was just the beginning of his long tenure with the Red Sox as assistant farm director, scout and spring training special instructor. Still in uniform in spring training, Wagner is driven around the Boston's spring training camp on a golf cart. He looks and listens and offers tips gained through the years to pitchers. There have been so many players scouted and helped by "Broadway" through all the decades like Reggie Smith.

CHARLIE WAGNER: Reggie Smith had all the potential, which was apparent, but he had to settle in and take his lumps. He was moved from third base, to second, then the outfield. He finally found his niche. He had the best arm of his time and as good as any that's ever been in baseball. We tried him at second base and then we put him in right field. Right field is a tough place to play. They always say that you put your least talented player in right field-- but right field is an important place because you got to make the throw to third base. it. He would throw from any place, anywhere on the field and the ball would never hit the ground.

Charlie Wagner has seemingly never hit the ground. He has been the man in motion for the Red Sox, a tremendous friend to Ted Williams and so many others.

CHARLIE WAGNER: It's hard for me to talk about him. I talked to him over the phone maybe twice a week for a long time. And the last few weeks, why, his voice started to pepper down and just, unfortunately, he was just tired of being sick. We had a lot of great days together, a lot of them.
The Red Sox celebrated their 100th anniversary on May 27, 2001, with a pre-game ceremony. And there on the field at Fenway was Charlie Wagner - throwing out the first pitch to Carlton Fisk.
Then on July 6, 2005 in a special ring ceremony at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pennsylvania. Dr. Charles Steinberg, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the Red Sox, presented Wagner with his "World Series"ring.

CHARLIE WAGNER: The ceremony tore me apart. I sure appreciate it. Wearing this ring means so much to me that I can't explain it. Cherish your memories.