Baseball’s 100 Most Important People, Part 6

Continuing this illustrated series that commenced Monday (, in today’s installment we provide biographies for those ranked from 41 through 60. Tomorrow, 61 through 80. To revisit the full list from 1 to 100, go back to the launch of this series, at:

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Alan Schwarz and John Thorn


Sandy Alderson with A's.

Sandy Alderson with A’s.

Bill James changed baseball from the outside. Alderson did it from the inside.

A California attorney before joining the A’s in 1981 and becoming GM in 1982, Alderson didn’t enter the game with a traditional outlook. Specifically, he had read Bill James and appreciated his scientific approach to the game. Alderson analyzed player-performance numbers as much as any GM to that point and built the A’s around power and the ability to draw a walk, launching the “on-base revolution” long before Billy Beane was celebrated for this in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball.

He worked only in Oakland through 1997, but Alderson’s effect went far beyond that city. After working in the A’s system, young executives there routinely moved on to top-notch big league jobs: Walt Jocketty (St. Louis), Ron Schueler (White Sox), and Billy Beane (A’s, as Alderson’s successor) all went on to win division titles as general managers of other clubs. Bob Watson, an A’s hitting coach, was GM of the 1996 World Series-champion Yankees team. Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, and Dave Stewart all played for Oakland in the late 1980s before graduating to management roles elsewhere.

Alderson moved on to MLB as executive vice president of baseball operations and proceeded to bring some order to rules that had been skirted for years (rule-book enforcement of the strike zone and delaying tactics, notably) and to an umpiring fiefdom that had frustrated players, owners and fans. The most influential baseball executive of the past 25 years, Alderson will be tremendously important in implementing such proposed innovations as the worldwide draft, world cup, and inner-city academies.


Sol White; Ars Longa card.

Sol White; Ars Longa card.

One of black baseball’s true founding fathers, Sol White’s life spanned the time between the segregation of professional baseball in the 1880s and its re-integration in 1947.

White played for integrated minor league teams from 1887 through 1895, was a star second baseman (and played every position but pitcher) for several Negro League powerhouses, and helped found and manage one of the top black teams of the first decade of the century. In 1907 he wrote the only history of the early years of African-American ball, Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide.

Born only three years after the end of the Civil War in Bellaire, Ohio, a small town across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia, White grew up to be a fast runner and a feared hitter. He played for the integrated Ohio State League team in Wheeling in 1887 and batted .381, but was cut when the league drew the color line in 1888.

He later played for integrated teams in Trenton, New Jersey; York, Pennsylvania; and Fort Wayne, Indiana. He never batted less than .333, and his lifetime average in the integrated minors was an impressive .360. But by 1895 integration in professional baseball was a thing of the past.

In 1902 White paired up with Philadelphia sportswriter H. Walter Schlichter to found the Philadelphia Giants, which White managed from 1904 through 1907. The Giants attracted the best black players in the game and became the dominant force in black baseball. The records indicate that from 1902 through 1906 they played 680 games and won 507 of them. In 1906 the Giants went 108-31. They offered to play the winner of the Cubs-White Sox World Series, “and thus decide who can play baseball best, the white or black Americans,” but received no answer to their invitation.

In his book, White paints an honest picture of the difficulty of life as a black ballplayer, pointing out that the average white major leaguer made $2,000 in 1906, while the average black professional player netted only $466.

But White added, “Baseball is a legitimate profession. It should be taken seriously by the colored player. An honest effort of his great ability will open the avenue in the near future wherein he may walk hand in hand with the opposite race in the greatest of all American games—baseball.”


Red Barber from Ebbets Field.

Red Barber from Ebbets Field.

Red Barber was working at college radio station WRUF in Gainesville, Florida, in 1934 when Larry MacPhail invited him to Cincinnati to broadcast the Reds’ games. “The Old Redhead” announced the Reds’ games when they were at home and did re-creations from the teletype when they were out of town. When MacPhail joined the Dodgers in 1938, he lifted the ban of radio broadcasts that the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers had agreed to impose. He understood that, contrary to popular belief, “giving the games away for free” would boost attendance, not hurt it. Just as dramatically, he proclaimed that the Dodgers would broadcast both home and away games live, with Barber as the announcer.

The soft, friendly rhythms of Barber’s voice were just what Brooklyn fans wanted on lazy summer afternoons. Barber began to plumb his southern heritage for catch phrases that became his signatures: “the bases are FOB” (full of Brooklyns); “oh, doctor!”; “hold the phone”; and “tearin’ up the pea patch.”

During World War II, Barber took pride in using the power of radio for good—he solicited war bond sales and promoted Red Cross blood drives. But then he had his integrity tested in a visceral way. In 1945, when Dodger boss Branch Rickey told Barber he was going to hire a black player, Barber was upset by the news. A Southerner, he contemplated resigning but finally concluded that he was a reporter first; nothing else mattered.

Barber left the Dodgers in a salary dispute and joined the Yankees in 1954. For 10 years Barber and Mel Allen, who was already on the scene, were the voices of the Yankees, but ownership unceremoniously canned Allen in 1964 and Barber two years later.

After leaving the Yankees, Barber began a new career as a writer and published six books. His study of baseball on the air, The Broadcasters, is still the finest book on how life in the booth really works. His story of the signing of Jackie Robinson, 1947: The Year All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball, is a masterpiece of American history.

In 1978 Barber was chosen as the first recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award with, appropriately, Mel Allen.


Pete Rose, Tampa, 1961.

Pete Rose, Tampa, 1961.

Once the most exciting player of his age, Charlie Hustle committed baseball’s cardinal sin and bet on baseball games; banished from any official contact with the game, he was sadly reduced to Charlie Hustler, making a living at the periphery of the game he loved while promoting his case for a restoration to grace. Once he monopolized center stage with his unsuccessful pursuit of Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak in 1978 and his surpassing Ty Cobb’s lifetime hit record in 1985; two decades later, he regained center stage by finally confessing the full extent of his gambling.

As with Cobb, the same traits that drove Rose to the heights of competitive sport ultimately brought him down. In the end, he makes the list of baseball’s most important people for his heroism and for his clay feet; the story is indivisible.

In addition to the lifetime hits record, Rose played more games than any other man (3,562), won three batting titles, and made the NL All-Star team seventeen times at five positions. He was Rookie of the Year in 1963, MVP ten years later, and played in his last World Series ten years later still, at age 42. He never wanted to leave baseball.

No one can take from Pete Rose his four pennants with the Reds or his two with the Phillies. No one can take from him the fundamental affection of the American people, who still want everything to come out all right for Pete, to see his plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame alongside the records and artifacts of his greatness. You could look it up.


Larry MacPhail.

Larry MacPhail.

Night ball, radio broadcasts, batting helmets, air travel, old-timers’ day, fireworks, three championship dynasties, loud feuds with his managers—the chances are that anything that Bill Veeck, Charles Finley, or George Steinbrenner thought up, Larry MacPhail had already done.

Wounded and gassed in World War I, MacPhail had even tried to kidnap the Kaiser in a daring adventure. (All he got was the Kaiser’s ashtray.) General John Pershing, commander of the American forces in Europe, called the stunt crazy but added, “I’d have given a year’s pay to have been with those boys.”

Back home Larry took over the Cardinals’ Columbus farm team and pioneered night games and air travel by baseball clubs. The fiery redhead also was fired by St. Louis, a pattern that would become standard.

As general manager of Cincinnati in 1935, MacPhail brought the first lights to a major league park (“Every night will be a Sunday”). President Franklin D. Roosevelt flipped a switch at the White House to turn on the lights for Major League Baseball’s first night game on May 24, 1935. MacPhail also laid the groundwork for the Reds’ champs of 1939-1940.

Moving to the moribund Dodgers in 1938, Larry brought Red Barber from Cincinnati to broadcast home games at a time when all three New York City clubs were scared that radio would decimate their attendance, hired manager Leo Durocher, and built a winner in 1941.

After another tour in the Army as a colonel, MacPhail engineered a one-third interest in the Yankees, with partners Del Webb and Dan Topping being the capital providers. He installed lights in Yankee Stadium and brought the Yanks to a pennant and world championship in 1947. During the victory celebration, he engaged in a loud public brawl. The next day his partners terminated his contract as club administrator and bought him out.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978.


Rickey Henderson.

Rickey Henderson.

It has become commonplace to say that Rickey Henderson is the greatest leadoff hitter who ever lived. Indeed, Henderson’s leadoff ability is the key to assessing his career. He set the table with walks and hits, he advanced with stolen bases, he scored runs, and he was better at doing this than any player in the history of the game. Maybe he followed Bobby Bonds and Willie Mays as a model for the power-speed combination that has inspired so many players of today, but in truth Rickey Henderson is beyond comparison; he is unique.

When he set the career mark for stolen bases in 1991, he declared to the crowd: “Today, I am the greatest of all time.” As Dizzy Dean used to say, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” This accomplishment came nine years after he had surpassed Lou Brock’s single-season record. Also in that year he won the AL steals title for the 11th time in 12 seasons.

After a productive but not altogether harmonious four years with the Yankees, Henderson came back to the A’s in June 1989 and led them to the postseason. He was devastating throughout October, especially against Toronto. In five game he hit two homers, knocked in five runs, and stole eight bases while batting .400 in one of the most dominant playoff performances ever. He batted .474 in the earthquake-interrupted World Series, including a leadoff home run in Game 4 in San Francisco.

Rickey played for Toronto, another World Series winner, in 1993, and then his vagabond years commenced in earnest, with nine stops over the next ten years, culminating in a 30-game stint with the Dodgers in 2003, at age 44, in which he added two home runs to make his lifetime total 297. Although his batting average had been slipping for some years, Henderson continued to draw walks, steal bases, and score runs. In each of these categories he is the all-time leader.


Greg Maddux.

Greg Maddux.

After posting four solid seasons with the Cubs, recognition finally came to Maddux in 1992, when he pitched in the All-Star Game, led the league in wins with 20, and earned his first Cy Young award. His timing could not have been better, as he became a highly coveted free agent that winter. Maddux spurned the New York Yankees and their extra $6 million to come to Atlanta, where the Braves had appeared in back-to-back World Series.

Maddux won his second straight Cy Young Award with a 20-10 record, 267 strikeouts, and 2.36 ERA in his first year as a Brave. He was on pace to better those numbers in 1994 when the baseball strike ended his season with 16 wins and a miniscule 1.56 ERA. He bettered that the following year with a 19-2 season, 1.63 ERA, and 10 complete games to lead the league in each category. He then pitched a two-hitter against the Cleveland Indians in his first-ever World Series start. “He doesn’t seem dominating,” Cleveland’s Jim Thome said, “then you look up on the scoreboard and you’ve got one hit and it’s the eighth inning.”

Indeed, Maddux has never had an overpowering fastball, but his combination of pinpoint control with exceptional movement has baffled hitters for more than a decade. He’s also been a model of efficiency, throwing a lot of innings with remarkably low pitch counts. “There are no secrets,” Maddux said. “To pitch, you have to do two things. You have to locate your fastball and change speeds. That’s all you have to do. If you can do those two things, you can pitch.”

The Cy Young streak ended at four in 1996, but Maddux kept on winning. Through the 2003 season, his last with the Braves, he had won 15 games or more for 16 straight seasons, a feat unmatched in the annals.


Cy Young, 1903.

Cy Young, 1903.

How important is Cy Young in the history of baseball? Well, they named that award after him for some good reason. And if the Cy Young Award had been around in his day he would have picked up at least four himself (1892 and 1901-03).

They called him Cy either because he threw baseballs against a fence until it looked like a cyclone had hit it or because he showed up at the Cleveland Spiders’ park in 1890 carrying a cardboard suitcase, wearing a cheap, too-small suit, and looking like what you’d get if you mail-ordered for a hick. (Farmboys in the big city were then called, invariably, either Rube or Cyrus).

But from his first pitch, he was the Spiders’ best pitcher, and he continued as the staff ace for whatever team he played for during the next 20 years. Young’s career record looks like a misprint: 511-313. He tops the lists in both wins and losses! Even when he retired in 1911, after 22 seasons, his arm was still up to the task; fat and 40, he just couldn’t bend down to field bunts anymore. He never had a sore arm, even though he pitched over 400 innings five times and over 300 in 11 other seasons.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937. The award named in his honor was first given out in 1956, one year after his death at age 88.


Peter Ueberroth.

Peter Ueberroth.

Peter Ueberroth was hired as Organized Baseball’s sixth commissioner in 1984 to restore financial sanity to the game. Through clever marketing, improved licensing agreements, large television contracts, and corporate sponsorships he made great strides in that direction. Unfortunately, he misread the ability of the players’ union and, in a series of rulings that management had colluded to cripple free agency, the owners had to turn over all the profits they had reaped under Ueberroth’s regime—and more. And when he left the job after five years in office, Ueberroth handed his successor, Bart Giamatti, one of the hottest potatoes baseball had ever fielded—the Pete Rose gambling controversy.

As head of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, he used slick marketing, bent the arms of corporate sponsors, and turned $215 million in profit. Then he turned his attention to baseball, coming on board in after the close of the Games though he had been hired in March.

During his first week on the job, Ueberroth had to deal with an umpire strike. Then the players went on strike, but he helped settle the issue in only two days. One of the players’ largest concerns was that owners would collude to hold down free-agent signings, so they requested and received contract language to prevent such actions.    During his term, corporate sponsorships and broadcast deals kicked in millions to the sport’s coffers. During the first three years of Ueberroth’s tenure Organized Baseball realized a $206 million profit.

Then the MLBPA filed a grievance, claiming that the owners had done exactly what they had promised not to—they had colluded in the signing of free agents. Three times the union filed collusion charges; three times it won its case. In total, Organized Baseball had to return $280 million to the free agents who had been victimized.

Ueberroth decided not to run for a second term. His legacy turned out to be not prosperity but distrust, as the seeds of 1994 were planted during his tenure.


Tony La Russa.

Tony La Russa.

By general acclaim the smartest manager in the game today, Tony La Russa has won through preparedness, game control, and an us-against-them mentality that has won him the enduring allegiance of players and staff from Chicago to Oakland to St. Louis.

In 1977, his final season as an indifferent player in the major and minor leagues, La Russa was a player-coach in the Cardinals organization. Paul Richards, who had met him when they were in the Atlanta Braves’ chain, was working for the White Sox and gave La Russa a chance to manage their Class AA Knoxville farm team in 1978. La Russa joined the White Sox as a coach later that year, went back to manage their Class AAA Iowa affiliate at the start of 1979, and took over the 46-60 White Sox from Don Kessinger on August 2. He hasn’t spent a year away from a major-league helm since.

With coach Dave Duncan, who has accompanied him in his travels, developed the concept of clearly defined roles for all pitchers, an approach they readily admitted works best for pitchers of average talent, who performed better when they knew exactly what was expected of them.       Critics say that La Russa’s method is over-managing—designed to prevent second-guessing by creating the match-up that looks best on paper while slowing the game to a crawl.

He pushed the frontiers of computerizing reports and charts. He occasionally played a hunch, but many of his less obvious moves resulted from careful research.

When Jose Canseco left Oakland he drew chuckles by saying he preferred Texas because in Oakland, “All they cared about is winning.” At the end of the 2003 season, La Russa had won the most games of any active manager.


William A. Hulbert

William A. Hulbert

Following the 1875 season, marked by the fourth consecutive pennant won by the Boston Red Stockings, the National Association was in ruin, brought down by a combination of noncompetitive play, rampant gambling, and drunkenness—on the field and off. But most of all, the death of the NA was caused by the birth of a bigger idea. That great notion was the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs—a capitalist consortium of stock companies dreamed up by William A. Hulbert, owner of the Chicago White Stockings.

In addition to creating professional baseball as we know it today, his accomplishments include the institution of league-scheduled play; the hiring of a staff of professional umpires; the protection of the new league’s principles in its very first year, when he boldly expelled two clubs rather than compromise his vision; and the rescue of the game’s reputation after the scandal of the “Louisville Four,” who conspired to toss away the 1877 pennant.

After the 1879 season Hulbert expelled the Cincinnati franchise from the NL for selling “spirituous and malt liquors” on the grounds, which violated his sensibilities though not, in truth, league statute. In so doing, Hulbert sparked an insurrection of his own: a rival league, the American Association, centered in the fun-loving, hard-drinking city of Cincinnati, started play in 1882.

Hulbert was not around to observe its debut. On April 10, 1882, at the age of 49, baseball’s great architect died of a heart attack.


Ban Johnson.

Ban Johnson.

A former sportswriter, Johnson built the American League from the old Western League, a minor loop that he and Charles Comiskey took over in 1893. In 1900 they changed its name and in 1901 proclaimed it a major league. They raided the NL for star players and managers and built the league into what they claimed it to be. From the perspective of a century later, Johnson not only thrust his own league into prominence, he saved the National League from itself and major league baseball for all of us.

Johnson ran his league with tunnel vision. A humorless workaholic, his word was law among the original AL team owners. He banned liquor from his ballparks and fined for profanity and rowdyism. He backed his umpires, raising their status. Although nominally the president of the AL, he was called the “Czar of Baseball” because he dominated the three-man commission that governed the game until 1920.

But his power slipped as new owners who resented his dictatorial ways entered the AL. Even his old ally, Comiskey, turned against him. When the Black Sox scandal broke in 1920, Johnson demanded a full investigation, causing a final break with Comiskey, who owned the Sox. One result was that the commission was replaced by a czar, Judge Landis. Ban fought his loss of power for six years before resigning. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937.


Mark McGwire 1984.

Mark McGwire 1984.

Mark McGwire hit a rookie record 49 homers in 1987, then hit more than 30 home runs in each of the next three seasons with the A’s. But in 1991, McGwire struggled, hitting only .201 with 22 home runs. Sportswriters warmed up that old term, “flash in the pan.”

McGwire bounced back to post 42 home runs but painful heel and back injuries scuttled most of the 1993 and 1994 seasons. A strike-shortened season and two separate stints on the disabled list limited him to just 104 games in 1995, but in his 317 at bats he put on one of the most prodigious power displays in major-league history. He had more home runs than singles (39 to 35), and hit the most homers of anyone in history with so few at bats. This gave a taste of what was to come.

In 1997 McGwire hit 34 home runs through the first four months of the season. Despite his success on the field, it was clear that his days in Oakland were numbered. He would be a free-agent at the end of the 1997 season, and the rebuilding Athletics were unlikely to pay a 34-year-old slugger the kind of money he could earn elsewhere.

The Athletics worked out a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals in July 1997. He finished the season with 58 home runs; only Ruth and Maris had hit more in a single season.

Both fell in September 1998 not only to McGwire but also to the Cubs’ Sammy On September 5 McGwire hit his 60th to tie Ruth; two days later he tied Maris. The next night, against Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel, he hit Number 62 for the record. Sosa and McGwire embraced on the field as a national television audience applauded. But there was still a lot of season—and a lot of Sosa—left.

On September 25, the season’s final Friday, Sosa hit number 66 to move ahead of McGwire. “Big Mac” responded 45 minutes later with number 66 of his own. Then he poured it on in the last two games—67, 68, 69, 70.

The record didn’t last long, as Barry Bonds surpassed it only three years later. But McGwire’s hold on the nation’s attention remains unparalleled.


Sammy Sosa.

Sammy Sosa.

Until the 1998 season many baseball fans outside of Chicago would have had trouble identifying Sammy Sosa. But after his historic duel with Mark McGwire in pursuit of the single-season home run record, the personable outfielder became a celebrity in the United States and a folk hero in his native Dominican Republic.

“Slammin’ Sammy” was already a very good player, hitting 30 homers and batting in over 100 runs each year from 1995 to 1997. He exhibited a cannon arm and good speed. On the other hand, he struck out too often, walked too seldom, ran bases erratically, and made mistakes in the field. The Cubs hoped for more. In 1998 they got it.

Sosa became a more patient hitter, raising his batting average and power numbers. Sosa exploded for 20 home runs in June, the most ever hit in a month. As he battled all season with McGwire for the most coveted record in baseball, Sosa seemed to delight in his rival’s accomplishments.

By season’s end, Sosa became the second player to surpass Roger Maris’ single season record, but his 66 home runs still left him just shy of McGwire’s 70. He did, however, lead the majors with 158 RBIs, and led the Cubs into the postseason. McGwire had the record, but Sosa had the MVP.

In 1999 he again shadowed McGwire in the home-run derby, this time slugging 63 to McGwire’s 65. But as injury drove McGwire to an early retirement, Sosa continued to star; in 2001 he had his greatest season, with 64 homers and his highest on-base and slugging percentages ever.


A. G. Spalding, 1910.

A. G. Spalding, 1910.

In 1899 a New York Times reporter described Al Spalding in the following manner: “His face is that of a Greek hero, his manner that of a Church of England Bishop … and he is the father of the greatest sport the world has ever known.” Baseball has more than enough “fathers,” but Spalding was a star player, a pennant-winning manager, the president of the most successful club of his era, a proselytizer for the religion of baseball worldwide, and through his sporting-goods company, the largest in the world, his name was on the baseball itself. At a time when every American who read Horatio Alger harbored the dream of becoming a captain of industry, Spalding was proof that it was indeed possible to rise from humble beginnings to become wealthy, honored and influential. That he made his ascent by means of America’s national game was icing on the cake.

Born in Byron, Illinois, Spalding grew up in nearby Rockford and became the star pitcher for the Forest City nine. In 1871 Harry Wright offered him $1,500 to join the Boston Red Stockings, for whom he compiled a 54-5 mark in 1875. For the 1876 season he was lured to William Hulbert’s Chicago White Stockings and collaborated with him in the founding of the National League.

In 1877 he formed the A.G. Spalding & Bros. Company to manufacture and sell sporting goods. He led two baseball teams on a round-the-world tour in 1888-89. And to cap his fabulous career in baseball, he launched a commission which concluded that baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown in 1939.


Ichiro Suzuki, 2001.

Ichiro Suzuki, 2001.

Ichiro Suzuki (who goes by his first name) burst on the U.S. scene in 2001 at age 27, leading the American League in batting average (.350), hits (242) and stolen bases (56) while winning both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. He added Gold Gloves in the following two seasons.

American fans were astounded, but Japanese fans glowed knowingly, for they had seen Ichiro win the Pacific League batting championship for the past seven years in a row. Despite his youth, he had been the highest-paid player in Japan’s history. But Ichiro felt he had nothing more to prove to his fans back home; he wanted to play on the game’s biggest stage. As his nation’s first position player to come to the U.S. at the height of his career—as pitcher Hideo Nomo had done in 1995—Ichiro proved that while East is East and West is West, in baseball at least the twain may meet.

Ichiro set the stage for other Japanese stars to follow in his steps and, in turn, to set the stage for the international competition that Al Spalding had promoted more than a century before. Indeed, the demographics of baseball have shifted dramatically in the last generation, to the extent that U.S. nationals make for an ever decreasing portion of major-league rosters. For the health of the game, that’s a good thing, and Ichiro’s pioneering role will grow in importance in the coming years.


Reggie Jackson, 1981.

Reggie Jackson, 1981.

Any athlete who is recognized by his first name alone is in select company. In the minds of baseball fans, the name Reggie require no more additional information than those of, say, Babe, Ted, Joe, Mickey, Willie, or Ichiro.

Reggie came to the big leagues with Oakland in 1968 and immediately signaled his hallmark style with 29 home runs and a new record 171 strikeouts. His swing was Ruthian and he was willing to walk back from the plate as often as it took to exert his power in each and every game. Purists groaned, pointing to his batting average, which settled in at .262 at the end of his 21-year career. But Reggie led his A’s to five straight divisional titles in 1971-75, including three straight World Series vistories; his style fit the times, and his team.

After a single season in Baltimore in 1976 Reggie came to New York, where with the Yankees he earned the name Mr. October. In the deciding game of the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers he hit three home runs on three pitches off three different pitchers, making for a record total of five in the Series.

Reggie left New York in 1982 to spend five productive years with the Angels and a swan song with the A’s. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993.


Dan Okrent.

Dan Okrent.

Dan Okrent was the writer who introduced Bill James to the nation in Sports Illustrated, and he was the creator of The Ultimate Baseball Book. But nothing compares to what he did in 1980.
It was then that he unleashed fantasy baseball upon the sports world. The idea of friends keeping their own rosters and having them rated by players’ stats was not totally new; faculties at Harvard University and the University of Michigan had done it in the 1960s, and city newspapers ran boiled-down games periodically. But Okrent made his game alarmingly realistic: 23-man rosters, a salary cap, trading deadlines and more. Eight statistics were used to rank the teams: batting average, home runs, RBIs, and steals for position players; wins, ERA, saves, and ratio (hits plus walks per nine innings) for pitchers.

The game began among only Okrent and his friends, who met over lunch at a restaurant called La Rotisserie Française. They called their league the Rotisserie League, and after Okrent wrote an article about the game in Inside Sports, it caught on like wildfire. Leagues sprouted up in boardrooms and classrooms throughout the country. One original member of that Rotisserie League, Glen Waggoner, wrote an annual guide to the game that spread the gospel far and wide.

In many ways, fantasy-league baseball protected the popularity of baseball through the strike-ridden ’80s and ’90s. By 2003, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 15 million adults were playing in some fantasy sports league, whether in baseball, football, basketball, even NASCAR auto racing.


Rube Foster.

Rube Foster.

In 1903, pitching for the Cuban X-Giants, Andrew Foster won four games in the best-of-seven championship series against Sol White’s Philadelphia Giants. Describing his style in later years he said, “I have often smiled with the bases full and two strikes and three balls on the hitter. This seems to unnerve them.” When he bested Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics in an exhibition that year, fans called him “the Black Rube,” and the nickname stuck as he moved from Philadelphia to Chicago.

Before the 1911 season started, Foster formed a partnership with Chicago tavern-owner (and son-in-law of Charles Comiskey) John C. Schorling and created the Chicago American Giants, one of the greatest black clubs of all time. They played their home games in old South Side Park, which Schorling had purchased and renovated to seat 9,000 fans.

In 1919, he joined a number of club owners and started the Negro National League (NNL). Not surprisingly, Foster was elected president and secretary, but in truth he took total control of the fragile league. He handled all bookings, was responsible for settling all disputes, and hired the umpires, while continuing as manager of the Giants.            The NNL grew stronger by the mid-1920s and spawned imitators. A Southern Negro League soon formed, as did the Eastern Colored League. The first real Negro World Series took place from 1924 through 1927. But the herculean effort of building black baseball took its toll on Foster. Committed to the Kankakee State Hospital following a nervous breakdown in 1926, he died there in 1930.


Luis Aparicio.

Luis Aparicio.

A pioneering combination of defense and speed, Luis Aparicio led AL shortstops in fielding percentage each year from 1959 to 1966 and each year from 1956 to 1964 he led the league in stolen bases, with yearly totals unseen for a generation. Maury Wills and Lou Brock would pilfer more bases than Luis in the era, and Rickey Henderson later sped past by all of them, but Little Looey was the man who revived a lost art.

Aparicio seemed born to play baseball. His father, Luis Sr., had been an excellent shortstop in Venezuela, playing until he was 41 and running the Maracaibo Gavilanes Winter League club. Soon Luis was playing better than his father ever did, signing a contract with Frank Lane of the Chicago White Sox in 1953.

Rookie of the Year in 1956, three years later he led the “Go-Go Sox” to their first World Series appearance since 1919. Repeating the pattern, he moved to the Orioles in 1963, and three years later helped them to their first World Series.

Aparicio went on to own an insurance agency in Venezuela; he also handled television commentary of baseball in his homeland. In 1984 he became the first Venezuelan elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.




Terrifically written and fun to read. I might rearrange the order some but I love what you’ve done. Thanks for the work.

Hi John: I love this in depth series. It is so well written and very informative as well as entertaining. Amazing to me how you are able to turn out so many marvelous articles every day. I look forward to them. And thanks. Gregory Christiano

Date: Sat, 15 Nov 2014 12:20:31 +0000 To:

Luis or Maury? Here’s a comparison of their stats:

PLAYER / avg / runs / sb / hits /mvp/gold gloves/pennants/ws champ

WILLS .281 / 1067 / 586/ 2134 / 1 / 2 / 4 / 3

APARICIO.262 / 1335 / 506/ 2677 / 0 / 9 / 2 / 1

Oh, and who won the 1959 Series?

And here’s what some pretty smart baseball folks have said about who “changed he game”.

“Maury brought back the stolen base. He changed the dynamics of the game. You knew most home run hitters would hit a home run or strike out; you could just play your position. When Maury was on first base, you had to pay attention to him every pitch.” Joe Morgan, N.Y. Times, March 13, 2002

“Maury Wills started a trend with his 104 steals in 1962. . . . Maury is a phenomenon of modern baseball. He is an all-time master at getting on and around the bases on his own momentum.” Jackie Robinson, Sport Magazine, 1966

“He changed the game of baseball. The whole team got more fastballs because they were worried about him.” Tommy Davis,, November 20, 2014

“Will someone please tell why Rabbit Maranville is in the Hall of Fame and Maury Wills isn’t? . . . If Maury Wills doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, Babe Ruth doesn’t. He did the same thing Ruth did–change a national pastime, forever. Hall of Fame Journalist Jim Murray, January 19, 1978

“Wills . . . restored the stolen base as an offensive weapon and deserves a niche in the Hall of Fame . . . .” Ross Newhan, L.A. Times, May 2, 2004

“Vote Maury Wills into the Hall of Fame because he forever changed the fabric of baseball in 1962 when he resurrected the running game – he stole a then record 104 bases – and because he was as fierce a competitor as there ever has been on a ball diamond in goading the Los Angeles Dodgers to four National League pennants and three World Series championships and collecting 2,134 hits and 586 steals.” Doug Krikorian, Long Beach Press Telegram, July 3, 2007

“Not since Babe Ruth in the 1920’s had one player changed the game of baseball the way Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills did in the 1960s. . . . [His] credentials should earn him a plaque in Cooperstown.” Justice B. Hill,, February 16, 2007

“Did he change the game? I always voted for Maury Wills for this reason, because Wills reintroduced the stolen base as an offensive weapon. Without Wills, it’s likely Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson don’t have the
careers they had.” Jim Alexander, The Press-Enterprise, January 9, 2007

“I repeatedly voted for Maury Wills, for his baserunning changed the game in the early ’60s. * * * I saw enough of Wills to realize he was just as influential as Willie Mays, Henry Aaron or Juan Marichal.” Bruce Jenkins, S.F. Chronicle, December 6, 2006

“Stick Maury Wills into the Hall of Fame. Nothing against those others who deserve to be in there like Gil Hodges, but Wills changed the fabric of baseball in 1962 when he broke Ty Cobb’s stolen base record with 104. He wound up with 2,134 hits and 586 steals during his 14-year career, and played on four Dodger teams that won National League pennants and three that won the World Series. One of the fiercest competitors ever to play his sport.” Doug Krikorian, Long Beach Press Telegram, August 28, 2006

“[G]uys who revolutionize the game . . . always get extra consideration. [T]hat’s why I used to vote for Maury Wills — because more than anyone, he brought the steal back into the modern game.” Tom Gage, July 31, 2006

“There should be automatic entry for anyone who changed the game: Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, even Maury Wills for his singular impact on the National League’s style of play.” Bruce Jenkins, S.F. Chronicle,
December 24, 2000

“Lou Brock, along with Maury Wills, are probably the two players most responsible for the biggest change in the game over the last 15 years – the stolen base.” Tom Seaver, 1987

“But the failure of Wills to be elected . . . drives me crazy. All Wills ever did — besides play on four pennant winners and get 2,000 hits and never embarrass you playing shortstop — all he ever did was change the nature of the game. * * * I can recognize a trend when it slaps me in the face, and if Wills didn’t start one that revolutionized baseball then neither did Babe Ruth.” Ron Rapoport, Daily News, December 8, 1988

“The Hall of Fame should be made up of the very best of three types of players: those who were great leaders, those who dominated their era statistically, and those who ‘changed the game.’ By those criteria, Maury Aparicio and now Ozzie Smith, might be even more deserving now.” Bob Stevens,, July 23, 2002

“In perhaps the biggest error in baseball, the sportswriters failed to vote Maury into the Hall of Fame. Now it is up to the Veterans Committee to remedy the mistakes. * * * His numbers compare favorably to . . . [Hall of Famers] Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto. And Wills fits the most important criteria: If he played the game, would it be different? The answer is yes. He was a very unique player who changed the game and should be honored for it.” Jeff Torborg,, July 13, 2000

“I don’t think [Rollie Fingers] deserves to make it ahead of . . . Maury Wills. . . . . Wills changed the entire structure of baseball in 1962 when he stole a then-unthinkable 104 bases and . . . he played on four Dodger pennant teams and three World Series winners and . . . he gathered 2,134 hits and . . . he always was at his best in crisis situations.” Doug Krikorian

“It’s time for Maury Wills, who revolutionized the stolen base, to be elected to the Hall of Fame.” Allan Malamud, L.A. Herald Examiner, November 30, 1987

“I still believe Hodges, Santo and the game-changing Wills are deserving of induction, as I did during their years of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot.” Ross Newhan, L.A. Times, January 3, 2003


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: