Baseball’s 100 Most Important People, Part 7

This the seventh installment of a book-length aeries that commenced on Monday (http://goo.gl/hMghOf). Today we provide biographies for those ranked from 61 through 80. Tomorrow we wrap up, with 81 through 100. To revisit the full list from 1 to 100, go back to the launch of this series, at: http://goo.gl/5171CX.

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Alan Schwarz and John Thorn

61. THE SPINK FAMILY

The Sporting News first issue, 1886.

The Sporting News first issue, March 17, 1886.

Viewed from the perspective of today’s role of journalists in the baseball world, it is hard to grasp the prestige the Spinks enjoyed—and the power they wielded—as publishers and editors of The Sporting News for nearly a century. Today an all-sports weekly, TSN was once regarded as the Bible of Baseball, and J.G. Taylor Spink, particularly, was the self-appointed guardian of the sport.

His uncle, Alfred H. Spink, founded The Sporting News in 1886, but he got his start in baseball as sports editor of the St. Louis Post and then as press agent for Chris von der Ahe’s St. Louis Browns. He brought his brother Charles (Taylor’s father) into The Sporting News as business manager and soon Charles controlled the company, championing challenges to the baseball establishment. Al went on to write The National Game in 1910, a valuable history.

When Charles died in 1914, Taylor took over the editorial reins. He expanded his weekly’s coverage to include the box scores of all major and minor league games—all the way down to D Class ball. He created a network of more than 300 stringers to make certain that every tidbit of baseball news in the whole country would be available to his readers. When World War I reduced subscriptions, Spink conjured up a scheme to get the publication into the soldiers’ hands free of charge; a generation of American men became avid Sporting News readers.

After Taylor passed away in 1962, his son, C.C. Johnson Spink (named for AL president Ban Johnson), guided the publication for 15 years until it was sold to Times-Mirror.

62. OZZIE SMITH

Ozzie Smith.

Ozzie Smith.

Ozzie Smith was in a class by himself at shortstop. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post once wrote of him, “Instead of ‘1’ his number should be ‘8,’ but turned sideways because the possibilities he brings to his position are almost infinite.”

The National League’s career leader in Gold Gloves and by general acclaim the best-fielding shortstop of all time, Smith also made himself into an above-average hitter and fine base-stealer. It was Smith’s glove, however, that made him a legend. He not only got to balls that other players could not even reach, he turned them into double plays; in fact, Smith retired having taken part in more twin-killings than any shortstop in history. He also rarely missed games. Only Luis Aparicio played more games at the position than Smith.

After winning two Gold Gloves in San Diego and setting a record for assists with 621 in 1980, Smith was traded to the Cardinals for shortstop Garry Templeton after the 1981 season. He spent the rest of his career in St. Louis, learning to fit his talents to the spacious dimensions and artificial turf at Busch Stadium. In 1985 the switch-hitter improved his batting average to .276 and uncharacteristically won the deciding game of the NLCS with a ninth-inning home run, the only left-handed home run of his 19-year career.

Although he piled up 2460 hits and 580 stolen bases, it was his glove that won him his plaque in Cooperstown in 2002.

63. JACOB RUPPERT

Jacob Ruppert, 1932.

Jacob Ruppert, 1932.

Yankee Stadium may be known figuratively as The House That Ruth Built, but in point of fact it was owner Jacob Ruppert who built not only the palace in the Bronx but also the Yankees’ tradition of excellence.

A high-living, big-spending son of a brewery magnate, Jacob Ruppert was no stranger to the elite of New York society. In fact, he had served as a four-term U.S. congressman from the “silk stocking” district of Manhattan. He went from silk stockings to sweat socks courtesy of Giants manager John McGraw. In 1915 McGraw introduced Ruppert to millionaire engineer and contractor Colonel Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston and suggested that the two of them buy the downtrodden New York Yankees.

Having paid $460,000 for the Yanks (back then everyone thought he had been taken for a ride, as the lowly Highlanders had previously been purchased for $18,000), Ruppert chose people to run his team and didn’t interfere with them. Behind Huston’s back, he hired Miller Huggins to manage the team. Huston’s dislike of Huggins eventually caused the dissolution of the partnership with Ruppert.

Ruppert obtained Babe Ruth from the Red Sox in the final days of 1919 and shortly thereafter hired Red Sox manager Ed Barrow as the team’s business manager. With the Huggins-Ruth-Barrow threesome in place, the Yankees won a rash of pennants and became the dominant team in the American League.

He was called Colonel Ruppert because of his rank in the seventh regiment of the National Guard. He looked after his own interests, building Yankee Stadium to house his star Babe Ruth. It cost $2.5 million but was well worth the investment.

64. CAP ANSON

Cap Anson, 1874.

Cap Anson, 1874.

Adrian Constantine Anson was a great hitter, manager, and innovator, one of the men who popularized baseball, and a star whose playing career ran so long (27 years at the major-league level) that his nickname went from “Baby” to “Cap” to “Pop.” When he finally left the team in 1897, the press called the young White Stockings he had managed the “Orphans.”

A big man (6’0, 227 pounds) who used his fists to enforce his rules, the least popular being his no-drinking edict, Anson was a martinet. Whether the players liked his style or not, he led his club to five pennants between 1880 and 1886.

He also helped segregate the national pastime. In 1883 the White Stockings showed up for an exhibition game in Toledo, Ohio. The presence of Moses Fleetwood Walker, an African-American ballplayer, in the opposing lineup so upset Anson that he cursed and raged from the dugout and threatened to withdraw his team from the game. Toledo countered with the possibility of withholding Chicago’s financial guarantee, and Anson backed down. Both he and Walker took the field. Anson’s threat did work on other occasions, however, and for later historians looking to ascribe blame for baseball’s segregation he became the lightning rod.

Following a brief stint in 1898 as manager of the New York Giants, Anson returned to in Chicago to run his poolroom. Elected city clerk in 1905, he came under official investigation and was turned out of office in 1907. To make ends meet he managed a semipro team and turned to the vaudeville stage, this time with his two daughters. But all his efforts failed, and Anson declared bankruptcy. The National League attempted to come to his aid, but the proud old first baseman refused all charity. When he died the next year, the league paid for his funeral.

65. BILL VEECK

Bill Veeck for Blatz.

Bill Veeck for Blatz.

Bill Veeck was baseball’s promotional genius, raconteur, bon vivant and patron saint of fun at the ballpark. His many memorable innovations included planting the ivy at Wrigley Field in Chicago, inventing the exploding scoreboard, letting fans manage his teams, using a midget as pinch hitter, and putting a shower in the bleachers. Veeck also brought pennants to two teams that had gone a combined 68 years without any and he integrated the American League by signing Larry Doby and Satchel Paige.

During his stints as owner of the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago White Sox (twice), the St. Louis Browns, and two minor-league teams, Veeck was part shaman, part sham. He believed that any team that relied solely on true baseball fans for its patronage would “go out of business by Mother’s Day.” With this in mind, Veeck the baseball purist became the game’s P. T. Barnum, a characterization he hated. He preferred to be called a hustler … and literally wrote the book on the art: The Hustler’s Handbook.

The Indians’ 1948 world championship, the Tribe’s first since 1920, was Veeck’s finest moment. That year the team drew an unprecedented 2,620,627 fans—a record that stood for three decades—and won their one-game pennant playoff against the Boston Red Sox. Pitching for Cleveland was Gene Bearden, a rookie knuckleballer acquired from the hated Yankees on the recommendation of Casey Stengel, formerly one of Veeck’s managers in Milwaukee. Bearden also won his only World Series start and saved the finale of the Tribe’s six-game Series win over the Boston Braves. “Lost in a lot of the showmanship was a tremendously sound baseball mind,” said son Mike Veeck.

66. DIZZY DEAN

Dizzy Dean Grape Nuts Poster.

Dizzy Dean Grape Nuts Poster.

Dizzy Dean was a man of many accomplishments and even more words, some of which were standard English. The National League’s last 30-game winner and a card-carrying member of St. Louis’ “Gas House Gang,” Dean often made good on his outrageous boasts. As he put it, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”

In 1934 the Cardinals won the pennant as rookie Paul Dean contributed 19 wins on top of his brother’s 30. The Deans were even better in the postseason. As the Cardinals prepared for the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Dizzy predicted, “Me and Paul’ll win two games apiece.” That’s exactly what happened.

Dizzy Dean’s career began to unravel in July 1937. In the All-Star Game Earl Averill lined a ball off Dean’s left little toe, fracturing it. Coming back to the mound after only two weeks, with “splints on my foot, and a shoe two sizes too big,” he compensated by altering his motion. He hurt his arm and was never the same again.

During the off-season Branch Rickey traded Dean to the Cubs, with whom he lasted as both a player and a coach until June 1941, when he started broadcasting Cardinals and Browns games for Falstaff beer. Dean’s disregard for correct grammar caught the attention of the St. Louis Board of Education, which demanded that he be taken off the air. Dean stood his ground. “Let the teachers teach English, and I will teach baseball.” As for his use of “ain’t,” he said, “There is a lot of people in the United States who say isn’t, and they ain’t eatin’.”

67. JOE SPEAR

Joe Spear.

Joe Spear.

Joe Spear may be the most important person on this list whose name you don’t recognize. He is the national pastime’s Christopher Wren, the head baseball architect for Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum—the Kansas City firm whose designs revolutionized the 21st century ballpark experience. He led the design of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Jacobs Field in Cleveland, the only two ballparks ever awarded National AIA Awards for Architecture. He and his firm also designed the new ballparks in Cincinnati, San Francisco, Detroit, Denver, San Diego, and Philadelphia.

Spear helped pioneer the practice of building the stadium in deference to its neighborhood, as Camden Yards preserved the now-famous warehouse and Pac Bell lets home runs splash into San Francisco Bay. The former paradigm of concrete ashtrays moated by parking lots seems a distant memory.

The big story is that thanks to HOK, major-league baseball played in multipurpose stadiums is largely a thing of the past. Intimacy and human scale have returned to the old ball game.

68. FRANK ROBINSON

Frank Robinson.

Frank Robinson.

Few ballplayers have had as much impact on the game as Frank Robinson. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1956 and Most Valuable Player Award in both leagues, with the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. He collected 586 home runs. In 1975 he became the game’s first African-American manager (hitting a home run in his first at bat to help register his first managerial victory). After becoming an influential major-league executive in the 1990s, at age 66 he returned to the field to manage the Montreal Expos. And at every stop along the way, he was an outspoken advocate of equal opportunity for African Americans in baseball.

Although Robinson played for five teams during his 21-year career, his main achievements came with the Cincinnati Reds from 1956 through 1965 and with the Baltimore Orioles from 1966 through 1972. In 1961 Robinson was voted league MVP as the Reds won their first pennant since 1940.

At the end of the 1965 season Cincinnati general manager William DeWitt traded Robinson to the Orioles for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Joe Simpson. DeWitt branded Robinson “an old 30,” a phrase that would ultimately cost him his job. In Robinson’s first season in Baltimore he led the Orioles to a pennant and a World Series sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning the Triple Crown and MVP. Finishing his playing career with the Dodgers, Angels and Indians, he remained a part-time DH in his two full years at the Cleveland helm.

69. DON FEHR

Donald Fehr

Don Fehr

As executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Don Fehr guided the players’ union through some of baseball’s most turbulent times. His first involvement with baseball came when he worked on the Andy Messersmith case. The MLBPA had just won the right to free agency in arbitration, and Fehr successfully represented the players in the owners’ federal-court appeal.

Fehr became the union’s executive director in 1984, two years after Marvin Miller retired. Where Miller was a fiery union leader, Fehr was more stoical but no less effective in defending and extending the players’ gains. His main successes have been proving collusion in the 1986-88 off-seasons and fighting off implementation of a salary cap in 1994-95. Fearing that the owners would implement their own plan unilaterally, Fehr led the players in a walkout on August 12, 1994.

Despite the fact that many serious financial issues remained unresolved after play resumed in 1995, Fehr felt that a much better rapport came to exist between the Players Association and the Commissioner’s office. “We don’t always agree, we don’t always get it done,” Fehr said, “but there is a much higher level of joint commitment to trying to avoid difficulties…. I would like to think that everybody will remember what we went through in ‘94 and do their level best to avoid it.”

70. GEORGE WEISS

George Weiss (left), Stengel

George Weiss (left), Stengel

“The last of the empire builders,” Weiss, more than any other man, was responsible for the unprecedented success of the New York Yankees from the mid-1930s until the mid-1960s: 22 pennants and 17 world championships.

He began with the Eastern League New Haven franchise in 1919 and advanced to become general manager of Baltimore of the International League in 1929. In 1932 Jacob Ruppert, admiring the farm system Branch Rickey had built for the St. Louis Cardinals, appointed Weiss farm director of the Yankees, a position he continued to hold under the new ownership of Del Webb, Dan Topping, and Larry MacPhail. The torrent of talent that flowed into the Yankee system was the envy of every other team in baseball, and it wasn’t just about money.

In 1948, after MacPhail was cast aside by his partners, Weiss became general manager of the Yankees. One of his first moves was to hire Casey Stengel as manager, despite Stengel’s reputation as a clown and a loser. With Weiss supplying the players and Stengel managing them, the Yankees won 10 pennants between 1949 and 1960.

Both he and Stengel were let go as “too old” after the 1960 season. Weiss became president of the expansion Mets in 1961, again hired Stengel as manager, and together they laid the groundwork for the future success of that team. In the meantime, the Yankees that Weiss had built continued to win pennants through 1964, and then collapsed into the poorest Yankees’ decade since before World War I.

71. SADAHARU OH

Sadaharu Oh.

Sadaharu Oh.

Sadaharu Oh, the most prolific home run hitter of all time, played his entire career for the Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants in Japan. Oh combined an unorthodox, one-footed batting stance and a uniquely Eastern hitting philosophy to help him slam 868 home runs during a 22-year career. As a product of the publicity surrounding Hank Aaron’s pursuit and capture of Babe Ruth’s home-run record, the two men became friends and U.S. fans became more attuned to Japanese baseball.

Oh signed with the Giants in 1959, and his early struggles at the plate gave no indication of the heroics to come. “My big weakness was that I had a ‘hitch’ in my swing,” Oh said. “The hitch grew more, not less, pronounced with time, so that at the beginning of my first year as a pro it was very deeply ingrained.”

In 1962 the Giants’ batting coach, a distinguished swordsman named Hiroshi Arakawa, taught Oh to hit the way master swordsmen learn to battle. According to Arakawa there were seven steps to proper hitting form—fighting spirit, stance, grip, backswing, forward stride, downswing, and impact.     As a result of this training Oh strung together 19 straight 30-plus home run seasons, despite a yearly schedule of only 140 games. He hit four homers in a single game in 1963, set the Japanese single-season home run record with 55 in 1964, and was named Most Valuable Player nine times. After retiring in 1980 Oh managed the Tokyo Giants.

72. ABNER DOUBLEDAY

Abner Doubleday.

Abner Doubleday.

In the words of historian Harold Peterson, “Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball. Baseball invented Abner Doubleday.” So what explains his presence on this list? He is important because, despite the efforts of generations of scholars, he remains the popular answer to the question, “Who is the father of baseball?” He is important because without him the Baseball Hall of Fame would be somewhere other than Cooperstown, New York. And he is important in the way that Casey of “Casey at the Bat” is important: he makes for a heck of a good story, full of twists and turns too convoluted to go into here (see “The True Father of Baseball” in this volume).

The real Abner Doubleday was a formidable person but the fraudulent one is the one we celebrate here. In 1861 he was at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and commanded the first Union gun to answer the Confederate shelling that began the Civil War. Later he fought at Gettysburg and eventually rose to the rank of major general. When he died in 1893 no one who knew him could recall his ever mentioning his great invention.

In the 1905 Guide, Albert Spalding called for a blue-ribbon commission to investigate the origin of the game. The commission threw its support behind a letter from Abner Graves, a seventyish mining engineer in Denver who claimed Doubleday had “outlined with a stick in the dirt the present diamond-shaped Base Ball field, indicating the location of the players in the field, and [I] afterward saw him make a diagram of the field on paper, with a crude pencil memorandum of the rules for his new game, which he named ‘Base Ball.’”

Whatever.

73. LOU GEHRIG

Lou Gehrig, Joe McCarthy.

Lou Gehrig, Joe McCarthy.

His accomplishments on the field made him an authentic American hero, but Lou Gehrig’s tragic early death made him a legend. Sportswriter Jim Murray described the tall, strong Gehrig as “Gibraltar in cleats.”

Signed by Yankees scout Paul Krichell in 1923, Gehrig got into a few games as September callup that year, then became a Yankee for good in 1925, commencing his streak of 2,130 straight games on June 1. The streak nearly obscured Gehrig’s power-hitting exploits, especially as Babe Ruth began to decline in the 1930s. As only one example of his countless feats, on full display in his statistical entry, in his 13 full seasons Gehrig averaged 147 RBIs; no player was to gather so many in a single season for four decades.

Gehrig played the first eight games of the 1939 season, but he managed only four hits. On a ball hit back to pitcher Johnny Murphy, Gehrig had trouble getting to first in time for the throw. When he returned to the dugout, his teammates complimented him on the “good play.” Gehrig knew it was time to leave.

The next day, as Yankee captain, he took the lineup card to the umpires, as usual. But his name was not on the card. Babe Dahlgren was stationed at first. Later in the month, doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed Gehrig as having a very rare degenerative disease: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There was no chance he would ever play baseball again. He died in 1941 at age 38.

74. JOHN DEWAN

John Dewan.

John Dewan.

Statistics have been described as baseball fans’ narcotic. If so, for most of the computer age, Dewan has been the main dealer.

A Chicago actuary who grew up playing Strat-O-Matic baseball and loving statistics, Dewan helped relaunch a failing company called STATS Inc. in 1985. (Before that, STATS had been a software company that helped three major-league teams keep their own numbers.) Dewan envisioned the company as a direct data provider to media, teams and fans. He aimed to deliver statistics instantly and electronically—in real time, as it was later called–years before that concept hit the mainstream. His vision brought billions of statistics to fans and made him a multimillionaire.

Dewan’s STATS Inc. broke the Elias Sports Bureau monopoly in the late 1980s by providing statistics to companies left and right, from Sports Illustrated to ESPN to USA Today. Dewan and partner Dick Cramer designed a new, bulked-up box score that presented far more information than the ones of old, with new categories such as pitch counts, ground balls and fly balls, blown save opportunities, runners moved up, and holds for middle relievers.

STATS aligned early with America Online, and in the mid-’90s brought fans an innovation they had only dreamt of before: the real-time box score. Fans with a phone line could “watch” every game unfold on their computers, through the statistics, live.   Rotisserie fans rejoiced. Sports leagues did not, however, claiming that real-time statistics delivery violated their property rights. Dewan and STATS fought the leagues in federal court and won the case in 1996, ushering in even more innovation in real-time data delivery.

Dewan and his partners sold STATS Inc. to NewsCorp in 2000 for $45 million. He later started a new company called Baseball Info Solutions.

75. BILL DOAK

Bill Doak.

Bill Doak.

“Spittin’ Bill” Doak may have been responsible for causing more batters to be retired than any other pitcher in the history of baseball. He did so not with his pitching, fine though it was (NL leader in ERA in 1914 and 1921), but by inventing a baseball glove so superior to any used earlier that he earned royalties from it for nearly 35 years.

Before Doak came along, fielders’ mitts were nothing but small leather pillows. They helped protect the hand but did not help the fielder make a catch, particularly before they were broken in. Players often spent several seasons pounding out a satisfactory pocket; some even cut the palm out of the glove to form a pocket.

Around 1920 Doak sketched a glove with a pocket already formed. He inserted a lace of leather strips between the thumb and first finger, which were previously connected with a single slab of leather. He took his sketches to the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, and within a few years the Doak Glove was the most popular mitt on the market. It still protected the hand but for the first time helped the player snag the ball. Fielding improved dramatically in the 1920s, and, with continued improvement in glove design based on Doak’s breakthrough, new records continue to be set today.

76. CASEY STENGEL

Casey Stengel (left), 1963.

Casey Stengel (left), 1963.

Casey Stengel, who knew how to tell a story, sometimes started one like this: “Now take Ty Cobb, who is dead at the present time.” Or he sometimes said, “There comes a time in everyone’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.” Stengel left behind too many stories, too many laughs, too many outrageous stunts, and too many run-on sentences that started at Point A and meandered through the rest of the alphabet. His version of the English language even developed a name—Stengelese. He is the James Joyce of baseball and a national treasure.

His record with the Yankees is one of unparalleled success—10 pennants in 12 years, 7 World Series wins, 5 of them in a row. That he was the least likely candidate to manage the Barons of the Bronx only adds to the charm of his life story.

After posting rotten records as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the Boston Braves, Stengel was thought to be washed up. But he bounced back with championship clubs in the minors and in 1948 his old friend George Weiss confounded the press and brought him to the Yankees. After losing the 1960 World Series to Pittsburgh in the final inning of the final game, both Weiss and Stengel were bounced.

But there was a final act for each, with the engagingly awful New York Mets. Stengel managed his last game on July 24, 1965, though he didn’t bow out quietly. That night at Toots Shor’s restaurant he attended a party to honor the invitees for the next day’s Old Timer’s Game. He fell, breaking his left hip.

The next year, Stengel was elected to the Hall of Fame, and both the Mets and Yankees retired his uniform No. 37.

77. RUBE WADDELL

Rube Waddell, 1906.

Rube Waddell, 1906.

Historian Lee Allen described Waddell’s 1903 season: “He began that year sleeping in a firehouse in Camden, New Jersey, and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between those events he won 22 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, played left end for the Business Men’s Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, toured the nation in a melodrama called The Stain of Guilt, courted, married and became separated from May Wynne Skinner of Lynn, Massachusetts, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion.”

A muscular 6-footer with a wicked overhand delivery of a blazing fastball and an excellent curve, George Edward Waddell was a strikeout pitcher in an era when most batters choked up and slapped at the ball. He led his league in strikeouts seven times, six consecutively. Waddell’s 349 strikeouts in 1904 was baseball’s all-time record until Sandy Koufax broke it 61 years later.

As tough as he was on the mound, Waddell was even tougher to deal with personally; he was a low-intellect, high-spirited country boy who came by his nickname honestly. In a way he was a vestige of baseball’s past; college-boy Christy Mathewson pointed to the future. When Mark “The Bird” Fidrych came along in the 1970s, there was barely a man alive who could make the connection. For more about Rube’s place in baseball history, see John Thorn’s essay in this volume.

78. HANK GREENBERG

Hank Greenberg, 1942.

Hank Greenberg, 1942.

Giants manager John McGraw had his eyes out for a Jewish player to entice New York’s large Jewish community to the ballpark. But his scouts saw Hank Greenberg play high school baseball and reported that he was too clumsy. The Yankees and Senators made offers, but each had an entrenched star at his position. Greenberg signed with the Tigers and by June 1933 he was a fixture at first base. Two years later he drove in 170 runs and was named the league’s MVP

Throughout his early playing days Greenberg was subjected to ethnic taunts, even by the Cubs in the 1935 World Series. He never retaliated, claiming that the slurs only motivated him to play better. He lent his support to Jackie Robinson when the invective came his way in 1947.

Greenberg’s lifetime rate of .92 RBIs per game is matched only by Lou Gehrig and Sam Crawford, and when he retired in 1947, his 331 homers were the fifth-best total. Yet Greenberg’s career numbers could have been even better had he not missed four and a half seasons in the armed services. The second baseball player to join the military during World War II (Hugh Mulcahy was the first), Greenberg received his discharge on December 5, 1941. Two days later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and he reenlisted. He had barely swung a bat in more than four years when he returned to his team in front of nearly 50,000 delirious Detroit fans on July 1, 1945. He obligingly slugged a homer to lead the Tigers to a win.

79. MILES WOLFF

Miles Wolff.

Miles Wolff.

More than anyone, Miles Wolff is responsible for the modern renaissance of minor-league baseball, as it emerged from the lean years of the 1960s and ‘70s to the boom of the 1980s and ‘90s. Wolff bought the Carolina League’s Durham Bulls for just $2,666 in 1979, nurtured it into a local success, and owned the franchise as it became a national symbol of the minor leagues after the release of the film Bull Durham in 1988. He sold the team in 1990 for $4 million just as the minors began to flourish again.

A baseball purist at heart, Wolff grew frustrated at the money- and marketing-driven approach exhibited by the regular minor leagues, whose clubs were beholden to the major-league organizations to which they fed players. (Communities rarely got to know the best players, because they were promoted to the next level within three or sixth months.) So in 1993, Wolff re-established the Northern League, a circuit in the upper Midwest made up of teams that operated outside the sphere of Organized Baseball. The Northern League’s six clubs signed players—often minor-league veterans on their way down or overlooked collegians—to stock their rosters. The Northern League was an instant success and spawned imitators across the country.

Wolff’s first baseball job came in 1971 as the general manager of the Double-A Savannah (Georgia) Braves, and he subsequently was a GM in Anderson, South Carolina., and Jacksonville, Florida.

Wolff also owned Baseball America, the Durham-based magazine of the minor leagues, for most of its lifetime. He bought the magazine from founder Allan Simpson in 1982 and served as president and publisher until selling the company in 2000.

80. KING KELLY

KIng Kelly, 1887.

KIng Kelly, 1887.

Michael Joseph Kelly is regarded today as a lovable scamp, a legendary figure who played the archetypes of knave, fool, and jester at will. What has been lost along the way to the 21st century is that in his day he was the greatest player in the game and the hero of his age.

In 1880 Chicago manager Cap Anson induced Kelly to join the White Stockings and he soon became the darling of Chicago, the quintessential “man about town.” The only thing he consumed faster and in greater quantity than alcohol was Anson’s patience.

Kelly’s baserunning alone was worth the price of admission. The fans yelled, “Slide, Kelly, slide!” as soon as he reached base. An enterprising songwriter eventually turned the cheer into a song that enjoyed great popularity, particularly in Chicago.

After hitting .388 in 1886 and leading the White Sox to another pennant, Kelly was sold to Boston. The city of Chicago was stunned. Anson was certainly fed up with Kelly’s drinking, and player contracts had often been peddled before, but no player of Kelly’s stature had ever been sold and the $10,000 price tag was unprecedented.

By the 1890s Kelly’s indulgent lifestyle was beginning to catch up with him. His body, which once looked like that of a Greek god, began to look like a Grecian vase. In November 1894, his baseball days behind him, he was on his way to Boston to appear at the Palace Theater when he was stricken with pneumonia. As they carried his stretcher into the hospital, the attendants tripped and dumped Kelly on the floor. “That’s me last slide,” he said. A few days later he died.

 

 

 

1 Comment

I’m happy Ozzie is in the Hall (and I’m happy there’s no mention above on who he hit that Ninth Inning homer against). Ozzie was playing a game that Maury Wills helped develop, and it’s interesting to compare their lines:

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

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

SMITH .262 / 1257 / 580/ 2460 / 0 / 13/ 3 / 1

See http://maurywills.com/mw/HallOfFame.aspx

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