Old News in Baseball, No. 13
As we near Induction Weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame, this week’s Old News column, while referencing many whose plaques adorn the gallery in Cooperstown, focuses on the game’s lesser lights. It is men like Joe Borden and Victory Faust and Hank Borowy and John Blanchard who provide a special pleasure of recollection, for their brief entries into baseball lore are what oldtimers like myself love to share with a newer generation of fans. Who would believe the circumstances of even a relatively recent event like the Pine Tar Game if it had not provided such a flash of theatrics and lingering controversy? These, by the way, are lovingly recounted in Filip Bondy’s new book titled, unsurprisingly, The Pine Tar Game, published this week by Scribner.
1911: An American League all-star team plays a benefit game against the Naps in Cleveland‚ raising $12‚914 for the late Addie Joss’s family. The great pitcher, ill through much of his brief career, had died on April 14 of tubercular meningitis; he was 31. The all-stars win 5-3 behind Joe Wood and Walter Johnson. Cy Young, who pitched for the Cleveland side, had said at Joss’s funeral “He was a great man. I feel sure he never made an enemy.”
1959: Before the International League game between the Havana Sugar Kings and visiting Rochester Red Wings‚ Fidel Castro pitches two innings for his pickup team Los Barbudos against a military police squad. Castro strikes out two batters with the aid of some friendly calls‚ and ground outs to short.
1983: In what came to be known forevermore as “Pine Tar Game” at Yankee Stadium‚ George Brett hits an apparent two-run home run off Rich Gossage to give the Royals a 5-4 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth. Then Yankees manager Billy Martin points out that the pine tar on Brett’s bat handle exceeds the 17 inches allowed in the rules. Brett is called out, giving New York a 4-3 victory and precipitating his memorable tantrum. The Royals immediately protest‚ and league president Lee MacPhail overrules his umpires. He follows his own precedent, established after a protest in 1975 of the September 7 game played between the Royals and the Angels. In that game, the umpire crew had declined to negate one of John Mayberry’s home runs for excessive pine tar use. MacPhail upheld the umpires’ decision with the view that the intent of the rule was to prevent baseballs from being discolored in game play, and that any discoloration that may have occurred to a ball leaving the ballpark did not affect the game’s competitive balance. The “Pine Tar Game” will be resumed, from the point after Brett’s home run, on August 18.
1867: The Washington Nationals, touring the West, lose to the young men of the Rockford Forest City Club, by a score of 29–23. There had been upsets before in baseball’s brief history, but never one on this scale. Immediately it was alleged that the Nationals had tanked the game so as to narrow the odds for their coming contests against the Excelsiors and Atlantics of Chicago. When the Nationals went on to win those games by respective scores of 49–4 and 78–17 to close out their tour, the cries of fraud regarding the Rockford contest only grew louder. No one could have known that several of the Forest City lads would one day become nationally prominent players—particularly pitcher Al Spalding and infielder Ross Barnes. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/12/15/the-most-important-game-in-baseball-history/.
1898: The Giants forfeit a game to Baltimore in the fourth inning on orders from President Andrew Freedman. He is offended by anti-Semitic remarks from Orioles left fielder Ducky Holmes‚ who used to play for Freedman. Responding to typical taunts from his former teammates, Holmes shouted across the diamond, “Well, I’m —— glad I don’t have to work for a sheeny no more.”) Freedman ordered his men off the field, forfeiting the game to Baltimore despite his own players’ sympathy with Holmes: Who didn’t hate Freedman? Holmes was suspended, Freedman was fined. When the suspension was rescinded but the fine was left to stand, animosity increased.
1956: At Roosevelt Field in Jersey City‚ the Dodgers defeat the Reds‚ 2-1 when Duke Snider hits a homer in the ninth. This is one of seven games the Dodgers will play in Jersey City this year, with seven more the next, as they advertise their dissatisfaction with Ebbets Field.
1933: The 61-game batting streak of San Francisco’s 18-year-old rookie‚ Joe DiMaggio‚ is stopped by Ed Walsh‚ Jr. of Oakland. Joe’s streak breaks the Pacific Coast League mark of 49‚ set by Jack Ness in 1915. DiMaggio hit .405 (104-for-257) during the skein. Joe Wilhoit of the Wichita Jobbers of the Western League retained his hold on the longest such streak in the minors, however. In 69 games from June 14 to August 19, 1919, he went 153-for-297 for a .515 batting average.
1961: John Blanchard ties a big-league record by hitting his third and fourth homers in four at bats over three games. The spare catcher-outfielder will end the year with 21 homers in 243 at bats‚ the first player in history to hit 20 or more in fewer than 250 at bats. Four of his home runs would come in pinch-hitting spots.
1991: Against the Dodgers‚ Montreal’s Mark Gardner pitches a no-hitter through nine innings before Lenny Harris beats out an infield single in the tenth. The Dodgers get two more hits and win the contest. Gardner is one of many pitchers who once would have been credited with no-hitters but, following an MLB ruling to come in September of this year, such famous no-hitters as that by Harvey Haddix and Jim Maloney are tossed into the “nice try” bin. For more, see: http://www.nonohitters.com/near-no-hitters/
1904: John McGraw and John T. Brush announce they have no intention of playing in a World Series. “The Giants will not play a post season series with the American League champions. Ban Johnson has not been on the level with me personally‚ and the American League management has been crooked more than once.” says McGraw. “When we clinch the NL pennant‚ we’ll be champions of the only real major league‚” Ban Johnson fires back‚ “No thoughtful patron of baseball can weigh seriously the wild vaporings of this discredited player who was canned from the American League.” For the two-year-old background to this aborted World Series, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/02/29/the-house-that-mcgraw-built/
1945: In perhaps the most momentous midseason transaction in baseball history, the Cubs purchase pitcher Hank Borowy from the New York Yankees in a waiver deal. Borowy‚ 10-5 with the Yankees‚ was put on waivers‚ apparently to solve a short-term roster problem‚ and was passed over by all seven AL teams who assumed the Yanks would pull him back if claimed. The Cubs grab him, and he will help them win the pennant with an 11-2 record. For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ea042adc
1969: Broadway producer David Merrick opines in the New York Times: “There’s not enough showmanship in baseball. It is show business, isn’t it? I don’t think baseball is dead by any means. But it needs things. In the theatre we’re always thinking of the audience. But in baseball they’re unmindful of the audience. . . . I like the idea of having a pinch hitter for the pitcher, one of the things they were trying this spring.”
1875: Philadelphia’s Joseph E. Borden‚ also known as Joe Josephs and “The Great Josephus,” pitches the first no-hitter in professional baseball‚ beating the Chicago White Stockings‚ 4-0. Boston will sign him to a big contract for 1876, and he will win the first game played in the National League, on April 22, 1876. But Borden will disappoint, ending the summer as Boston’s groundskeeper and turnstile operator.
1911: Charles “Victory” Faust shows up at the Giants’ hotel in St. Louis asking for a tryout. Manager John McGraw observes the “pitcher‚” and carries him on the team in unform as a mascot and good luck charm. The hayseed mental defective “helped” the Giants to pennants in 1911 and 1912. Fred Snodgrass recalled that Faust worked his charms on the 1913 pennant winners too, but research fails to back that up. For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/d1ee8535
1943: The Phillies threaten not to take the field for a game with the Cardinals‚ the proceeds of which are earmarked for the War effort. The players are upset because they learn about manager Bucky Harris’s firing by reading of it in the newspaper. Cox averts the strike but a few days later‚ Harris tells reporters that Cox had bet on games‚ a charge that will force him to sell the team. The chaos in Philadelphia will intrigued Bill Veeck, who later claimed that he sought to buy the club and stock it with stars from the Negro Leagues.
1889: Boston wins a ten-inning‚ 7-6 decision over Philadelphia but the Phils claim they are robbed by Mike Kelly. When Phillie slugger Sam Thompson hits a ball apparently over the fence in right field‚ Kelly runs back and then fires a ball to the infield. The Phils claim Kelly used a ball planted in the outfield before the inning began but the umpire rules it is the game ball. Thompson does not score.
1909: National League president Harry Pulliam‚ despondent over his inability to handle the problems and controversies of the league, dies after shooting himself yesterday. Pulliam had been suffering from a nervous breakdown that writers speculated had been brought on by the aftermath of the Merkle Boner controversy of September 1908, and New York Giants’ supporters’ resulting fury.
1921: As part of Cleveland’s 125th anniversary celebration‚ Cy Young‚ 54‚ makes a two-inning appearance on the mound in an old-timers’ game. Chief Zimmer‚ 60‚ is his catcher. Nap Lajoie, Harry Bay, and other old-time heroes take the field as well.
1874: In Liverpool‚ England‚ the Philadelphia Athletics score five runs in the tenth to beat the Boston Red Stockings‚ 14-11. The two teams would miss nearly two months of the National Association regular season in order to demonstrate the American game to its English originators. The English are largely unimpressed. A correspondent signing as “Grandmother” will write to the London Times on August 11, 1874: “Sir——Some American athletes are trying to introduce to us their game of base ball, as if it were a novelty: whereas the fact is that it is an ancient English game, long ago discarded in favor of cricket. . . .”
1980: Attempting to throw for the first time since being hospitalized for tests last week‚ J. R. Richard suffers a stroke and is rushed into surgery to remove a life-threatening blood clot in his neck. He will never pitch in the major leagues again.
2004: In a swap savaged by New York media‚ the Mets acquire pitchers Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunado from the Devil Rays in exchange for highly touted pitchers Scott Kazmir and Jose Diaz. Relatively unnoticed on this day is another trade, in which the Mets obtain pitcher Kris Benson and infielder Jeff Keppinger from the Pirates for Ty Wigginton‚ Matt Peterson … and Jose Bautista‚ who, though he did not get into a game for the Mets, will emerge as a great slugging star with the Toronto Blue Jays.