Monday, April 28, 2008

Baseball Names - and How They Got That Way! Part IV

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.
For those of you who liked Part I, Part II, Part III and wanted more, here is more.

As always, reactions and suggestions always welcome.

ALL-AMERICAN BOY Superstar slugger Dale Murphy had a long career with the Atlanta Braves and had many nicknames including: "Murph," "Gentle Giant," "John Boy," "Lil' Abner."

ALL-STAR GAME (BASEBALL) The idea was conceived in 1933 by Arch Ward, Chicago Tribune sports editor. To give the fans a real rooting interest, Ward suggested that they be allowed to vote for their favorite players via popular ballot. In perhaps no other game do fans have such a rooting interest, although there have been a few periods when voting by fans has been abandoned. Today it appears that Ward's original principle will remain permanently in effect. The American League won 12 of the first 16 All-Star games, but went on to lose 20 of the next 23 to the National League through 1978. Some memorable moments have taken place in the contest often referred to as the Midsummer Dream Game. In the first game ever played, Babe Ruth slugged a towering home run. The next year, New York Giants immortal Carl Hubbell struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession to make for some more baseball history.

AMAZIN' METS The first run they ever scored came in on a balk. They lost the first nine games they ever played. They finished last their first four seasons. Once they were losing a game, 12-1, and there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. A fan held up a sign that said "PRAY!" There was a walk, and ever hopeful, thousands of voices chanted, "Let's go Mets." They were 100-l underdogs to win the pennant in 1969 and incredibly came on to finish the year as World Champions. They picked the name of the best pitcher in their history (Tom Seaver) out of a hat on April Fools' Day. They were supposed to be the replacement for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. They could have been the New York Continentals or Burros or Skyliners or Skyscrapers or Bees or Rebels or NYB's or Avengers or even Jets (all runner-up names in a contest to tab the National League New York team that began playing ball in 1962). They've never been anything to their fans but amazing-the Amazin' New York Mets.

APOLLO OF THE BOX Hurler Tony Mullane, a tribute to his handsome appearance and playing position. Mullane was also called "The Count" or "Count."

ARKANSAS HUMMINGBIRD Lon Warneke, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals from 1930-1945, hailed from Mt. Ida, Arkansas.

AROUND THE HORN A phrase describing a ball thrown from third base to second base to first base, generally in a double-play situation.

ASTROTURF Not all of the artificial carpets that now have taken root in ball parks and stadiums in the United States and around the world are produced by the Monsanto Chemical Company. AstroTurf was the first, however, having been installed when the Houston Astrodome opened in 1965, and that's why the term has almost become a generic one for artificial sod. There is also Tartan Turf (made by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing) and Poly-Turf (a product of American Bilt-Rite). Resistant to all types of weather, more efficient to keep up than grass, better for traction than most other surfaces, synthetic "grass" has continued to "grow" throughout the world of sports, despite complaints that it results in more injuries for players. Studies focused on injuries are still in progress, while other research is under way aimed at improving the quality of the artificial carpets.

ATLANTA BRAVES The franchise began in 1871 known as the Boston Red Stockings and then by several other names including Beaneaters through 1906, Doves when the Dovey family owned the franchise, 1907-1910. In 1911, the nickname changed for new owner James Gaffney, a Tammany Hall "Brave." From 1936-1940, the team was called Rustlers, Braves, Bees. In 1941, the Braves nickname returned and has stuck with the franchise through moves to Milwaukee in 1953, Atlanta in 1966.

AWAY A pitch out of the reach of a batter. A side retired in its half of an inning.
away uniform (grays) distinctive (non-white) clothing worn by a team when playing "away" games.

B-12 SHOTS Clubhouse code for steroids.

THE BABE George Herman Ruth probably leads the list for most nick-names acquired. First called "Babe" by teammates on the Baltimore Orioles, his first professional team because of his youth, G.H.Ruth was also called "Jidge" by Yankee teammates, short for George. They also called him "Tarzan." He called most players "Kid," because he couldn't remember names, even of his closest friends. Opponents called him "The Big "Monk" and "Monkey" Many of Babe Ruth's nick-names came from over-reaching sports writers who attempted to pay tribute to his slugging prowess:" The Bambino", "the Wali of Wallop", "the Rajah of Rap", "the Caliph of Clout", "the Wazir of Wham", and "the Sultan of Swat", The Colossus of Clout, Maharajah of Mash, The Behemoth of Bust, "The King of Clout."

His main nickname was rooted in President Grover Cleveland's Baby Ruth. Perhaps the greatest slugger of all time and also one of baseball's most colorful characters, Ruth set some 50 records in his 22 years as a player. His accomplishments, his personality, his nickname--all combined to rocket major league baseball firmly into the nation's psyche.

BABE AND RUTH In spring training 1927, Babe Ruth bet pitcher Wilcy Moore $l00 that he would not get more than three hits all season. A notoriously weak hitter, Moore somehow managed to get six hits in 75 at bats. Ruth paid off his debt and Moore purchased two mules for his farm. He named them "Babe" and "Ruth "for Ruth

BABE RUTH'S LEGS Sammy Byrd, for his stints as a pinch runner for Ruth.

BABY DOLL JACOBSON Allegedly, in Mobile (in the Southern League) in 1912, the grandstand band played "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" after Jacobson's opening day homer.

BACKSTOP Another name for the position of catcher, area behind home plate at base of stands.

back-to-back jacks two home runs hit in the same inning one after another.

BALLANTINE BLAST Expression in deference to beer sponsor that legendary Yankee announcer Mel Allen used to describe a home run.

BALK Illegal movement by a pitcher that, when executed with runner(s) on base, allows the runner(s) to advance one base; with the bases empty, a ball is added to the count of the batter.

BALTIMORE CHOP A hard-smashed ball in or just beyond the home plate area that bounces high in the air and gives the runner a good chance to beat the fielder's throw to first base.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES The St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954 and a traditional Baltimore team nickname, the Orioles, named for the State bird of Maryland, was brought back. The 19th century version of the team became the New York Yankees.

BANJO HITTER A "punch and judy" or weak batter.

BANTY ROOSTER Casey Stengel's nickname for Whitey Ford because of his style and attitude.
BARBER, THE Sal Maglie had the unique distinction of pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Yankees and the New York Giants in the 1950's. A curveballing clutch pitcher, his nickname came from two sources. A swarthy 6'2" right-hander who always seemed to need a shave, he was a master at "shaving" or" barbering" the plate. His pitches would nick the corner, and he wasn't too shy about nicking a batter if the occasion demanded it.

BASEBALL CARDS About 20 years before the American League was organized in 1901, the first baseball cards appeared. Photographs were taken in an artist's studio. Action was simulated to approximate game conditions: the baseballs that players apparently were hitting were suspended from the ceiling by a string, and the bases that players were shown sliding into were actually set into a wooden floor. These early baseball cards were printed on paper with sepia tone and included in packs of cigarettes from the leading companies of that era: Old Judge, Piedmont, Sweet Caporal. Polar Bear, and Recruit. Bubblegum baseball cards originated in 1933 with cards made of heavy cardboard. Their popularity grew until World War II caused a halt in their production. In 1951 Topps entered the baseball-card field and has continued to innovate and dominate the market. The most valuable baseball card in existence is a 1910 Honus Wagner that was issued by the Sweet Caporal Tobacco Company. Wagner did not smoke and objected to the use of his name and image on a card; therefore, all the Wagner cards were removed from circulation except for the seven known to exist today. The largest collection of baseball cards is housed in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art--over 200,000 cards make up the collection.

(to be continued)

Thursday, April 17, 2008


(The Definitive Book)
Coming Fall 2008

"I feel very fortunate that I experienced the mystique of playing in Yankee Stadium. There is no other stadium that had that aura. And Harvey Frommer captures it all in this terrific book."
-- Nolan Ryan

"In this biography of a building in the Bronx, Harvey Frommer, an accomplished writer about many facets of baseball, illuminates the truth of Winston Churchill's famous aphorism that "we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." This history of Yankee Stadium is a fine contribution to the history of the national pastime."

"When you're a kid growing up in the Bronx in the 40's, a visit to Yankee Stadium is something you never forget. It was a thrill then and now all these years later, it means even more to me. In this terrific book, Harvey Frommer brings it all back again."

"Author Harvey Frommer brings the story of Yankee Stadium's past to us in its full and vivid glory." - -- BOB SHEPPARD

"You're going to keep this book around the house for a long time. You're going to devour it. You're going to keep going back to it five years, 10, 20, 30 years in the future as you sit with kids and grandkids and tell them about the people who ran across a stretch of green grass in the Bronx." - - -- LEIGH MONTVILLE, "The Big Bam"

"Another instant classic from Baseball's greatest author, Harvey Frommer"
-- SETH SWIRSKY, "Baseball Letters"

"As a Red Sox fan living behind enemy lines, this one's kind of hard to take: a lively, colorful, altogether winning illustrated biography of the House Our Former Pitcher Built. The pictures take you through the portals, and the voices of fans and players bring the place alive. The Stadium is preserved for eternity in Harvey Frommer's wonderful book."
-- ROBERT SULLIVAN, " Our Red Sox: A Story of Family, Friends, and Fenway"

"This book is big and beautiful and filled with glorious memories, just like the ball park it memorializes. Harvey Frommer has the eye of a historian and the heart of a fan. Fans will treasure this gem for many, many years."
-- JONATHAN EIG, "Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig"

Monday, April 14, 2008


Sixteen years have passed since the original publication of Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball. During that time I've written many books, but none have the drama, the pull, or the controversy of the life and times of Joseph Jefferson Wofford Jackson.

He was born July 16, 1889, into a poor family in Greenville, South Carolina. Education was never a part of his life. At the age of six, little Joe was already working in the cotton mills as a cleanup boy. When he was thirteen, he was performing hard labor a dozen hours a day along with his father and brother. His only escape from the din and dust of the mill was playing baseball on the grassy fields. A natural at the game from the start, Jackson was recruited by the company mill team.

Playing in the outfield one very hot summer day in a new pair of shoes that were pinching his feet, Jackson was so uncomfortable that he took them off and played on in his stocking feet. A sportswriter noticed and dubbed him "Shoeless Joe." Reportedly, it was the only time he played baseball shoeless. But the name stuck.

It was a moniker the youth despised as it reinforced his rural origins and his inability to read and write. Perhaps that is why, when he played for the Chicago White Sox (after stints with the Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians), he made a point of wearing alligator and patent-leather shoes--the more expensive the better. It was as if he were announcing to the world, "I am not a 'Shoeless Joe.' I do wear shoes. And they cost a lot of money!"

The greatest player ever to come out of South Carolina, Jackson's .356 career batting average is the third highest, making him one of the top players in baseball history. He batted over .370 in four different seasons. Babe Ruth copied his swing; he said Jackson was the greatest hitter he had ever seen. Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, and Casey Stengel were among those who placed Jackson on their all-time All-Star team. Ted Williams called him perhaps the greatest natural hitter of all time. Also, Jackson was such a remarkable fielder that his glove was called "the place where triples go to die."

With all he had going for him, Jackson was undone by the 1919 World Series. His image was destroyed for his being a member of the "Black Sox," accused of throwing the Fall Classic.

In the fall of 1920, Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed baseball commissioner with a lifetime contract and a mandate to clean up the game using whatever methods he saw fit. Landis had the reputation of being a vindictive judge, a hanging judge. And he lived up to his reputation. When a jury acquitted the eight accused "Black Sox" players of all charges against them, Landis, acting as judge and jury, issued a verdict all his own. He banned the eight players from baseball for life.

Shoeless Joe maintained that he had played all out in that World Series of 1919. In fact, he had hit the only home run of the series, recorded the highest batting average, collected a dozen hits (a record at the time), and committed no errors. Nevertheless, Major League Baseball was done with Jackson and his seven teammates. Justice miscarried. Sensationalistic slander had a field day. The powerless were punished while the powerful prevailed. Jackson and his teammates were scapegoats, caught at a crossroads in baseball and American history.

In 1951, a week before he was scheduled to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show to receive a trophy in honor of his being inducted into the Cleveland Indians Baseball Hall of Fame, Joe Jackson died of a massive heart attack.

Attempts to get Jackson into the Baseball Hall of Fame have failed both during and after his lifetime. Yet, Jackson's shoes are at Cooperstown. His life-sized photograph is there. So is a baseball bat he used, along with the jersey he wore in the 1919 World Series and the last Major League Baseball contract he signed. Players with far fewer credentials and far more soiled reputations are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but Jackson is not.

Every baseball commissioner who followed the posturing Kenesaw Mountain Landis has refused to act on Shoeless Joe's behalf. Commissioner Bart Giammatti said, "I do not wish to play God with history. The Jackson case is best left to historical debate and analysis. I am not for reinstatement." Commissioner Faye Vincent said, "I can't uncipher or decipher what took place back then. I have no intention of taking formal action." Neither did Commissioner Bud Selig, who received a myriad of messages, petitions, and pleas and who even agreed to a meeting with Ted Williams, who pushed for Jackson's admission to the Hall of Fame.

Public pressure keeps mounting to undo what many believe was a terrible wrong. Prominent attorneys such as Alan Dershowitz and F. Lee Bailey have argued that Jackson should go into the Hall. There have been petitions, Congressional motions, letters sent to baseball commissioners through the years--all to no avail. At the 1999 All-Star Game, of the one hundred players on the ballot for the All-Century baseball team, only two names were not displayed on banners at Fenway Park: Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson--who had finished twelfth in the All-Century balloting.

But his memory and accomplishments live on. In Greenville, South Carolina, there is a Shoeless Joe Jackson Plaza (bearing a life-sized statue of the great ballplayer), a Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park, a Shoeless Joe Jackson coffeeshop/museum, and a Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Parkway. Murals celebrating him are near the liquor store he once owned.

And there are books such as this one that attempt to tell the tale of the illiterate boy who came out of the mills to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time and who wound up as a scapegoat, vilified through the decades by many who didn't know the full story--a story that just will not go away.

Coming fall 2008
(The Definitive Book, Abrams/STB)
"Author Harvey Frommer brings the story of Yankee Stadium's past to us in its full and vivid glory."
-Bob Sheppard, legendary New York Yankee public address announcer.

"Another instant classic from Baseball's greatest author, Harvey Frommer"
- Seth Swirsky, "Baseball Letters" and "Something to Write Home About"

***Google has almost 14,100 hits for: "Yankees, Harvey Frommer"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

THE BOOK REVIEW "Walkoffs, Last Licks and Final Outs" and other Worthwhile Reads

All variety of prisms function quite nicely through which to view different aspects of the network of sports. Some have a narrow focus while others take a broader view. All have something to say, something to stay with us.

One of my favorites of recent seasons is Bill Chuck and Jim Kaplan's "Walkoffs, Last Licks and Final Outs" (Acta, $14.95, 216 pages, paper). It features all matter of factoids, trivia, charts, facts and figures focused on "baseball's grand and not-so-grand finales." Fred Merkle failing to touch second, base, Carlton Fisk touching them all and waving his arms to wave the ball he hit fair in the 1975 World Series, Bobby Richardson catching the liner that Willie McCovey of the Giants hit at Candlestick Park, box scores, line scores, the last games in ball parks - the slim book has a treasure trove of goodies for all baseball fans. TOP OF THE HEAP

"Ty and the Babe" by Tom Stanton (St. Martins' Press, $23.95, 288 pages) is a heartwarming and well researched book about the relationship of two of the greatest baseball players of all time and their showdown match in the 1941 Has-Beens Golf Championship. "Ty and the Babe" tells much about what many know little about. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

In sort of the same mold as "Ty and the Babe" comes "Arnie & Jack" by Ian O'Connor (Houghton Mifflin, $26.00, 354 pages). Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Arnold Palmer's initial Masters triumph, a time he took the links together with Jack Nicklaus for an Ohio exhibition game, "Arnie & Jack" is a bit like the Stanton tome probing and explicating the relationship of the two golf icons. This is a book to read and read again and keep in a place of prominence on your bookshelf.

"101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out" by Josh Pahigan (Lyons Press, $28.95, 288 pages) despite its depressing title is a well researched work on all sorts of places across America that have a baseball connection: ballparks, restaurants like Ozzie Smith's, the remnants of Forbes Field, the gravesite of babe Ruth.

Get a bunch of baseball junkies together, give them the assignment to write about "When Boston Still Had the Babe: the 1918 World Champion Red Sox" (Rounder Books, $18.95, 213 pages, paper) and have Bill Nowlin in charge of editing and you have a winner. There is so much info about the season and the roster that one does not have to be a fan of the Olde Towne team to enjoy this unusual and highly entertaining product. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR ALL BASEBALL FANS

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


"Vindicated" Heads the List of an Avalanche of 2008 Baseball Books,
Jose Canseco is at it again. And this time, despite the naysayers, he is as his new book title says, "Vindicated" (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $25.95, 259 pages). The latest tome is all about "big names, big liars and the battle to save baseball" in the words of its sub-title.

"Vindicated" is stunning and swift reading from the former big leaguer who hammered 463 homers in a 17 year career. To add authenticity to his claims Canseco yielded to three lie detector tests. There are lots of big names who get the up close and shocking commentary from Canseco. For the startling revelations he provided in his first book "Juiced," the Cuban born superstar was dissed as a liar. This time around with all that has come out about steroids and big stars ­ the liar label cannot be trotted out. A bit padded and not deserving of its price tag ­ appendices, photos, repetitions ­ all of which could have been trimmed, "Vindicated" nevertheless is worth the read.

As an oral historian and sports author, I was most anxious to read "Change Up: An Oral History of 8 Key Events that Shaped Baseball" by Larry Burke and Peter Thomas Fontale with Jim Baker (Rodale, $24.95, 290 pages). With three authors and 8 monumental national pastime events as the crowded agenda, "Change Up" reads as if it were a book proposal, a book first draft or a lengthy committee report.

Subject matter includes:
the 1962 Mets
Ball Four (Jim Bouton's epic effort)
The Designated Hitter and
Ichiro Comes to America.

We have mix and match and match and mix and a mish-mosh of oral history, narrative, sub-heads interfering with headlines. Too much. At times the book reads like a reading comprehension test.

From Skyhorse publishing comes two paperbacks - "Mets By the Numbers" by Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman ($14.95, 320 pages) and "It Takes More Than Balls" by Deidre Silva and Jackie Koney ($14.95, 304 pages.) The tome trained on the Mets is a must have for the Flushing team's fans providing as it does a lot of team history by uniform number.
An interesting feat. The other Skyhorse book with the unfortunate title is billed as "the savvy girls' guide to understanding and enjoying baseball. It is a primer of sorts, nothing more and nothing less. Fortunately, it does not claim to be more than that.

NOTABLE CHILDREN'S SPORTS BOOK: "The Aurora County All-Stars" by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt Children's Books) $16.00, 256 pages) for 10 and up is a remarkable book about Jackson, age ,the captain and star hurler of his team has a lot going for him including the concerns of a broken elbow, lots of secret time spent with Mean-Man Boyd. Enticing, interesting reading.