Friday, December 31, 2010

TWENTIES - FIRE SALE TIME ... An Excerpt from


By Dr. Harvey Frommer

The Roaring Twenties would prove to be a dismal decade at Fenway Park. Wooden bleachers along the left field foul line would burn down and not be rebuilt. There would be seven last place finishes, and attendance would be at or near the bottom of the league. Talented men would take turns managing the flawed franchise: Ed Barrow, Lee Fohl, Frank Chance, Bill Carrigan, Hugh Duffy. All would feel the sting of failure. And Babe Ruth was gone.

But it was not only the Babe who was sold to the Yankees. Owner Harry Frazee sent a steady stream of talent their way: catcher Wally Schang, premier pitcher Waite Hoyt, shortstop Everett Scott, pitchers "Bullet" Joe Bush and "Sad Sam" Jones, third baseman Joe Dugan, pitchers Herb Pennock and George Pipgras and more.

"All Frazee wanted was the money," Harry Hooper said. "He was short on cash and he sold the whole team down the river to keep his dirty nose above water. What a way to end a wonderful ball club. I got sick to my stomach of the whole business. After the 1920 season I held out for $15,000. And Frazee did me a favor by selling me to the Chicago White Sox. I was glad to get away from that graveyard."

On Patriots Day, 1920, George Herman Ruth was back in town. "In all the years the writer has witnessed baseball in Boston," The Globe's Melville E. Webb Jr. wrote, "he never has seen a former home team player so 'ridden' by the normally friendly fans."

But it was not the Babe who was booed. It was his Yankee teammate, right-hander Carl Mays. Both players had led the Red Sox to victory in the 1918 World Series. Both Ruth and Mays became disenchanted with playing for the Sox. Both wound up as employees of Yankee owner Jake Ruppert.

Babe Ruth's first Fenway at bat as a Yankee was just a bit after 10:00 A.M before what The New York Times called: "a crowd of 6,000 early risers." There was a competing draw - - the Boston Marathon. Native Greek Peter Trivoulidas supposedly had trained on the course that had given the Marathon its name, and was the victor in what the Globe called "the greatest Marathon run ever staged in any land."
The Bambino got two hits in four at bats in a losing cause as the Red Sox won 6-0 the first game that day.

Mays was the Yankee starter in the post-Marathon game. "With a real holiday setting," Webb observed, Ruth and Mays drew a crowd that rivaled a World Series turnout.

Relentlessly chided and booed, Mays according to Webb, responded by "working every nerve and sinew ... to rub it into the fans who were so keenly showing their disapproval."

The Red Sox led 4-2 in the seventh. Mays heard loud catcalls as he left the field.
"Carl, standing the gaff, stopped near the Red Sox dugout and tipped his cap," Webb reported.

A four run eighth inning locked the game up for Boston. Ruth's single in the ninth led to a meaningless Yankee run. "The crowd was strong for Babe ... but they had the satisfaction of seeing the big fellow win no hero stripes on the occasion of his home coming," wrote Webb

Another who would go down as a baseball immortal showed up July 1 at Fenway. Surprisingly, only 3,000 fans, were in the stands despite Walter Johnson's being on the mound for the Washington Nationals. Those who were there were treated to a masterpiece – Johnson spun the only no-hitter of his 21-year career. After his 1-0 victory over the Sox some teammates in the soggy clubhouse slapped the broad back of Johnson and others yelled: "Speech!"

"Goodness gracious sakes alive, wasn't I lucky?" was Johnson''s reply.

New York versus first place Boston, four-game series. Game one was May 27th. Yankee Bob Shawkey walked in a run in the 4th inning and became so irritated that he began yelling at home plate umpire George Hildebrand. The agitated Shawkey then took 5 minutes to tie his shoe on the mound. He resumed pitching and was credited with a called 3rd strike on Harry Hooper. That prompted him to sarcastically tip his cap and bow low to Hildebrand who ejected him from the game. Shawkey's parting shot was a swing at the ump who banged him with his mask. The crowd loved it. Shawkey did not. A one week suspension and a $200 fine was the price the Yankee hurler paid for his temper tantrum.

In the sixth inning of that game, Babe Ruth smacked his first Fenway homer as a Yankee – a mighty blast to right-center. Then he launched another making it four homers in three days. The Sultan of Swat was the first 20th century player to accomplish that feat. A Yankee series sweep dropped the Sox out of first place, sending them into a downward spiral.

The bitter rivals met again in a September 4, 1920 twin bill. A record 33,027 fans crammed into Fenway. Another 10,000 were turned away.

"That was a once-in-a-lifetime day," former Fenway vendor Tom Foley recalled. "Two weeks before at the Polo Grounds he (Carl Mays) threw a ball at Ray Chapman's head and killed him. It was unintentional but people were riled. This was his first appearance back in Boston and everybody went to heckle him. I made $16 that day, all nickels and dimes."

Under Ed Barrow and then Hugh Duffy, the Red Sox finished in fifth place during the 1920 and 1921 seasons. Games at Fenway were not hot tickets. In 1920, the team had the sixth worst attendance in the American League. In 1921, they would draw 279,273 – lowest in the league.
Arthur Giddon, who lived in Brookline, was a batboy in 1922 and 1923 for the Boston Braves. He also kept on eye on the Red Sox.

ARTHUR GIDDON: I went to Fenway from time to time. Living right in Brookline, I'd take the subway and was down at Kenmore Square in ten minutes. You didn't need to buy tickets in advance; you could get all the tickets you wanted.

Tickets were easy. Long pokes for home runs were harder to come by at Fenway in 1922. Center field was 488 feet and the deepest corner, just right of center was 550 feet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Terrific hot stove reading or year end browsing of sports-related books is there for the taking. Herewith, a winning lineup. Enjoy!

A sure bet for fantasy baseball fans from Acta Sports is “Graphical Player” edited by John Burnson ($22.95, 285 pages, paper). Over 1,050 minor and major league players are featured in dashboards of stats and graphs. There are also 100 top prospects profiled with three expert opinions per profile. There are tables comparing each player to his competion at his position, four years of career stats for each player and so much more. If ever a book was worth the price - -“Graphical Player” - definitely is. OUTSTANDING

"Gay Talese Reader" (Walker, $14.95, 265 pages, paper) is worth the price spotlighting as it does some of the classic sports pieces by one of the classiest writers around. We are there with the talented Talese as he searches for and ruminates on Ernest Hemingway, the Joes - - DiMaggio and Louis, Muhammad Ali and more. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

"The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History" (Bloomsbury, $25.00, 223 pages) is the hoop game as viewed by FreeDarko and company. It is a view of roundball from all kinds of perspectives, some a bit dizzy for the conventional reader, but all entertaining. For example, the book has a section in living color on "Only the Ball Was Orange" about early barnstorming teams like the Rens, Original Celtics, et al, and another section on "The Hair Up There" from shaved (Slick Watts) to Afro (Wes Unseld) to Big Afro (Artis Gilmore). UNCOVENTIONALL BUT INTERESTING READING

"Lucky Me" by Eddie Robinson with C. Paul Rogers III (SMU Press, $23.95, 252 pages, 42b&w photos) is a memoir of 65 splendid years spent in baseball. Robinson, premier first baseman, nifty southpaw swinger, has tales to tell about players and others he played with (or worked) with and against like Babe Ruth, Bob Feller, Larry Doby, Casey Stengel, Brooks Robinson, George Steinbrenner . . . "Lucky Me" is what any reader will see reading this insightful, interesting, involving tome. NIFTY

In 2011, Harvey Frommer will be in his 36th year of writing sports books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 40 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." Frommer's newest work REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION (Abrams) is set for March 20111. He is available for speaking engagements.
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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Baseball Names - and How They Got That Way! S (Part 2)

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, X, XV and all the others and wanted more, here is more, just a sampling. As always, reactions and suggestions always welcome. And bear in mind - - this is by no means a complete list.

SHEA STADIUM On October 17, 1960, the National League awarded a New York City baseball franchise to a team that would be known as the Mets. That October day was the culmination of the efforts of a special Mayoral Committee appointed to find a way to return National League baseball to New York. Attorney William Shea headed the committee. The Mets' stadium, located in Flushing Meadows, Queens, near the site of the old World's Fair, is named for the man who was instrumental in acting as the godfather of the New York Mets.

"SHOELESS JOE" Joseph Jefferson Wofford Jackson was born to a poor family on July 16, 1889 in Greenville, South Carolina. School was never a part of his life for at the age of six he was already working in the cotton mills as a cleanup boy. By the time he was 13 he was laboring a dozen hours a day along with his father and brother. His sole escape from the back-breaking work, the din and dust of the mill, took place out in the grassy fields playing baseball. He was a natural right from the start, good enough to be noticed and recruited to play for the mill team organized by the company.
One hot summer day Jackson played the outfield wearing a new pair of shoes. They pinched his feet, so he took them off and played in his stocking feet. A sportswriter who saw what he did dubbed him "Shoeless Joe." The name stuck even though that was the only time Jackson is reported to have played 'shoeless.'
He despised the name for he felt it reinforced his country-bumpkin origins, the fact that he could not read nor write.
Perhaps that was why when he played for the Chicago White Sox after stints with the Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians, he wore alligator and patent leather shoes - the more expensive the better. It was if he was announcing to the world: "I am not a Shoeless Joe. I do wear shoes. And they cost a lot of money!"
He was the greatest ball player ever from South Carolina, one of the top players of all time. His lifetime batting average was .356, topped only by Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.
Four times he batted over .370. Babe Ruth copied his swing claiming Jackson was the greatest hitter he ever saw. Ruth, Cobb, and Casey Stengel all placed him on their all-time, all star team. He was such a remarkable fielder that his glove was called "the place where triples go to die."
In the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown one can find Jackson's shoes. His life size photograph is there. But he is not there even though others with far less credentials and far more soiled reputations are. Shoeless Joe had to leave the game in disgrace, one of the members of the "Black Sox" accused of throwing the 1919 World Series.
He was asked under oath at trial:
"Did you do anything to throw those games?"
"No sir," was his response.
"Any game in the series?"
"Not a one," Jackson answered. "I didn't have an error or make no misplay."
In fact, Shoeless Joe was under-stating his accomplishments which included the only series home run, the highest batting average, the collecting of a record dozen hits, while committing no errors.
It took the jury a single ballot to acquit all eight accused players of the charges against them. But the very next day baseball's first commissioner - Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis - issued a verdict of his own. He banned all eight players from baseball for life.
Landis was brought into organized baseball in the fall of 1920 with a lifetime contract and a mandate to clean up the game using whatever methods he saw fit. He had the reputation of being a vindictive judge, a hanging judge - and he was all of that.
Every baseball commissioner since Landis has refused to act on "Shoeless Joe's behalf."
Commissioner Faye Vincent said: "I can't uncipher or decipher what took place back then. I have no intention of taking formal action."
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 re-instatement."
Public pressure keeps increasing year by year. But the ban still remains. It is a story that won't go away, like a riddle inside a jigsaw puzzle inside an enigma. It is a story about a great baseball injustice - - - a talented player caught at a crossroad in American history who became a victim, a scapegoat so that the sport of baseball could offer up a cleaner image.

SHOESTRING CATCH The grabbing of a fly ball by an outfielder just as it is about to hit the ground.

SHORT-HOP To grab a batted ball by charging in at it and seizing it before it bounces high.

SHORT PORCH The right field stands in the old Yankee Stadium.

SHOT HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD (DAT DAY; MIRACLE AT COOGAN'S BLUFF) On October 3, 1951, at 3:58 P.M. in the Polo Grounds in New York City, in the last game of the play-off's last inning, Bobby Thomson pounded a one-strike fastball thrown by Ralph Branca. The ball went out on a low and curving line and landed 315 feet away from home plate in the stands. The Polo Grounds exploded with frantic fans and excited ball players. On the radio, New York Giant announcer Russ Hodges screamed out eight times in a row, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" Not only had the Giants come from 131/2 games back in mid-August to this moment, they had beaten their arch-rivals, the great Brooklyn Dodgers, by scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. On the streets of New York City, the word went out. In Brooklyn there was sadness, and comedian Phil Foster referred to the time as "Dat Day" in his best alliterative Brooklynese. Others called it the Shot Heard 'Round the World, while Giant fans were content to savor the moment as the miracle that took place at Coogan's Bluff, the geographical region the Polo Grounds was located in.

SILENT BOB Name given to former Yankee star Bob Meusel because of his aloofness.

SILENT ONE Name given by Howard Cosell to Chris Chambliss, for his taciturn manner.

SINGER THROWING MACHINE Bill Singer's time as a pitcher in the major leagues, from 1964 to 1973, saw him compile a record of 89 wins and 90 losses. His nickname was a play on words with the Singer sewing machine.

SLAMMIN' SAMMY Sammy Sosa, former Cub hero, for his power feats.

SLICK Whitey Ford used a spitter to strike out Willie Mays in the 1964 All-Star Game. That was just one of the reasons for the Yankee star's nick-name.

SLIDING BILLY He played from 1888 to 1901, and in that time stole 912 bases. A 5'6", 165-pounder, William Robert ("Billy") Hamilton three years in a row stole over a hundred bases. His steals and his slides earned him his nickname. His reputation coupled with a .344 lifetime batting average was good enough to get him admitted to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1961.

SLIP PITCH A dropping pitch that comes toward the plate with off-speed velocity.
SLOW Joe Doyle, Highlanders, because of his time consuming pace.

SOLID CITIZENS The name Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy gave to players he relied on.
SOONER WITH SPOONER In 1954, Karl Benjamin Spooner, left-handed pitcher, joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. He pitched two complete games, yielding no runs and a total of only seven hits, and amazingly, he struck out a grand total of 27 batters. The Brooklyn fans switched from their traditional slogan of "Wait 'til next year" to one that had more immediate promise, "Sooner with Spooner." Sadly, as has occurred with so many baseball phenoms, Spooner soon faded. In 1955 he won eight games and lost six, and by 1956 he was through as a major leaguer.

SOPHOMORE JINX The tendency for some players to follow a good rookie season with a less-spectacular one.

SOUTHPAW To avoid the sun shining into the eyes of a batter during the afternoon, ball fields were built with center field due east of home plate. A right-handed pitcher's throwing hand would thus point north as he faced a batter. That was how a left-handed hurler became a "southpaw".

SPACE MAN Bill Lee, former pitcher, always was a bit "spacey" but he could pitch.
"SPAHN AND SAIN AND PRAY FOR RAIN" The Boston Braves of the late 1940's were a pretty successful baseball team. A large part of their success resulted from the efforts of pitchers Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain. In 1947 the dynamic duo accounted for 42 wins between them. The following year they won a total of 39 games and powered the Braves to the National League pennant. "There was more than Spahn and Sain," remembers former Braves traveling secretary Don Davidson. "There were a couple of guys named Bobby Hogue and Nelson Potter, but hardly anybody remembers them." The "Spahn and Sain" slogan was actually a throwback to "Tyler, James, and Rudolph"--a slogan of the 1914 "Miracle Braves." George Tyler, Bill James, and Dick Rudolph were the winning pitchers in 69 of the club's 94 victories. Day after day for 60 straight games, the trio alternated as pitchers for that 1914 Boston Braves team (see MIRACLE BRAVES).

SPALDEEN The name of the bouncing rubber ball that is part of the memory of most Americans is a shortened or" sweetened" form of Alfred Goodwill Spalding's name (see SPALDING).
SPALDING Alfred Goodwill Spalding (1850-1915) is a member of baseball's Hall of Fame. In 1871 he won 21 games. Then he went on to post records of 36-8, 41-15, 52-18, and 56-5. At the age of 26, in 1876, Spalding managed the Chicago White Stockings to the pennant and helped his own cause by winning 46 games. In 1880 he packed it in as an active major leaguer and founded a sporting goods firm that made a fortune--and made his name part of the language. His rigid specifications for the manufacture of baseballs gave stability and uniformity to the balls used in the sport up to that time. His name became a synonym for a baseball (see SPALDEEN).

SOFTBALL The sport was originally called kittenball when it was played indoors with an oversized baseball in 1895. Lewis Robert, a Minneapolis firefighter, is credited with making the first softball--a softer and larger version of the ball used in baseball. It is alleged that firehouse spare-time inspired Lewis to innovate what was at first an indoor game that was played on a field with a diamond about two-thirds the size of the normal baseball diamond. By the turn of the century, the sport had moved outdoors and had a distinctive rule requiring that pitchers throw underhand. In 1933 the sport was given a new name, "softball," and was a featured part of the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago. Its new name came from the softness of the ball and indeed, there are today those who refer to baseball as "hardball," to distinguish the two sports.

SPLENDID SPLINTER He was also nicknamed the Thumper, because of the power with which he hit the ball, and the Kid, because of his tempestuous attitude--but his main nickname was perhaps the most appropriate. Ted Williams was one of the most splendid players who ever lived, and he could really "splinter" the ball. The handsome slugger compiled a lifetime batting average of .344 and a slugging percentage of .634. Williams blasted 521 career home runs, scored nearly 1,800 runs, and drove in over 1,800 runs. So keen was his batting eye that he walked over 2,000 times while striking out only 709 times. In 1941 he batted .406 - the last time any player hit .400 or better. One of the most celebrated moments in the career of the Boston Red Sox slugger took place in the 1946 All-Star Game. Williams came to bat against Rip Sewell and his celebrated "eephus" (blooper) pitch. Williams had already walked in the game and hit a home run. Sewell's pitch came to the plate in a high arc, and Williams actually trotted out to the pitch, bashing it into the right-field bullpen for a home run. "That was the first homer ever hit off the pitch," Sewell said later.
"The ball came to the plate in a twenty-foot arc," recalled Williams. "I didn't know whether I'd be able to get enough power into that kind of a pitch for a home run." There was no kind of pitch Williams couldn't hit for a home run (see EEPHUS PITCH).

In 2011, Harvey Frommer will be in his 36th year of writing sports books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 40 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." Frommer's newest work REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION (Abrams) is set for March 20111. He is available for speaking engagements.

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