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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.

 

 

 

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People, Part 6

Continuing this illustrated series that commenced Monday (http://goo.gl/YkcJ4h), 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: http://goo.gl/5171CX.

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Alan Schwarz and John Thorn

41. SANDY ALDERSON

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.

42. SOL WHITE

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.”

43. RED BARBER

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.

44. PETE ROSE

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.

45. LARRY MacPHAIL

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.

46. RICKEY HENDERSON

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.

47. GREG MADDUX

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.

48. CY YOUNG

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.

49. PETER UEBERROTH

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.

50. TONY LA RUSSA

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.

51. WILLIAM HULBERT

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.

52. BAN JOHNSON

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.

53. MARK McGWIRE

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.

54. SAMMY SOSA 

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.

55. ALBERT SPALDING

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.

56. ICHIRO SUZUKI

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.

57. REGGIE JACKSON

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.

58. DAN OKRENT

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.

59. RUBE FOSTER

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.

60. LUIS APARICIO

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.

 

 

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People, Part 5

Continuing from yesterday (http://goo.gl/asOj79), in today’s installment we provide biographies for those ranked from 21 through 40. Tomorrow, 41 through 60. 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

21. BUD SELIG

Commissioner Bud Selig

Commissioner Bud Selig

Allan H. Selig grew up watching the minor league Milwaukee Brewers; at 35 he became owner of a major league team and named it the Brewers; and at 58 he became overseer of every team in baseball. Selig led a group of dissatisfied owners that forced the ouster of baseball commissioner Fay Vincent in September 1992, then replaced Vincent on an interim basis. After nearly six years of “searching” for a permanent commissioner, the owners unanimously elected Selig.

Selig’s Brewers won just one pennant in his 28 years in charge, but his fellow owners valued him nonetheless. With the collective bargaining agreement due to expire in 1994, he rallied the owners behind a proposal calling for revenue-sharing and a salary cap—a concept the players union flatly rejected. On August 12, with Tony Gwynn chasing .400 and the New York Yankees and Montreal Expos having dream seasons, play was suspended. A month later, to the shock of fans worldwide, Selig announced the cancellation of the World Series.

After the strike, baseball tried new directions: another round of playoffs, interleague play, limited revenue sharing, and more expansion. As the game slowly returned to 1994 levels of popularity, the governance of baseball became centralized in the commissioner’s office. The jobs of both league presidents—positions that predated the role of commissioner in Organized Baseball—were essentially eradicated.

In the first days of the 21st century the owners gave Selig even more control. Though not as flamboyant in the exercise of his office, he is, simply, the most powerful commissioner since Landis.

22. JIM BOUTON

Jim Bouton

Jim Bouton

With the exception of two years with the New York Yankees in 1963 and 1964, Jim Bouton’s career as a pitcher consisted primarily of comeback tries. His greatest success actually came when he wrote Ball Four, a revealing book about what players in the national pastime said, did, and thought.

Bouton’s sometimes hilarious, often disturbing, stories of the sexism and childish high jinks typical of major leaguers shocked the baseball establishment. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said that the book was “detrimental to baseball.” Mickey Mantle vowed he would never appear in an Old Timers game with Bouton. (The Yankees did not invite Bouton to one until 1998.)

In a sense, Bouton’s book was a sequel to the two books written in the 1960s by another bullpen habitué, Jim Brosnan: The Long Season and Pennant Race. Those books certainly upset the baseball establishment, but Ball Four leapt well beyond that. Tales of players taking amphetamines (greenies, in the parlance of the day), taking the field while hung over, and ogling young women were scattered throughout Bouton’s reminiscences of the 1969 season, as he tried to mount a comeback as a knuckleballer with the expansion Seattle Pilots.

Bouton’s irreverence was disarming: “I’ve been tempted to say into a microphone that I feel I won tonight because I don’t believe in God.” Or, “Lots of people look up to Billy Martin. That’s because he just knocked them down.” The close of the book became his most famous quote: “You spend a good part of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out it was the other way all the time.”

23. CANDY CUMMINGS

Candy Cummings plaque.

Candy Cummings plaque.

William “Candy” Cummings is the probable inventor of the curveball, and thus the chief nemesis of every man who has ever picked up a bat. His place on this list is secured not only through his own real accomplishments but also in praise of other, not-so-famous men: Elmer Stricklett, spitball; Russ Ford, emery ball; George Blaeholder, slider, and so on.

Thirty years after his retirement, Cummings described how the Big Idea came to him. “It was in the 1860s that I discovered the curve ball, and strange to say, it was the idle throwing of half a clam shell that gave birth to such an idea. As I watched the shells sail through their irregular course, the theory developed in my mind that I might apply it in baseball…. I was laughed at by scientific men and experts, but I finally proved to them that the stunt could be done, and for a long time I was known as the ‘boy wonder.’ “

While it may never be proven conclusively that Cummings invented the curve, his claim was backed by such 19th-century notables as George Wright, Albert Spalding and Cap Anson.

The 5-foot 9-inch, 120-pound stringbean used his newly invented pitch to work his way up from semipro teams in Brooklyn to five ballclubs in the National Association and the National League from 1872 to 1877. He led the NA in ERA, shutouts, and innings pitched in 1873, and he won 35 games in 1875.

If only his NL totals of 21‑22 are counted, he is, along with Rollie Fingers and Leroy “Satchel” Paige, one of only three Hall of Fame pitchers with losing major league won-lost records. But for all three, the story is greater than the stats.

24. SATCHEL PAIGE

Satchel Paige, 1953.

Satchel Paige, 1953.

Baseball historians may debate whether Satchel Paige was the finest pitcher of all time. There is certainly no question that he was the most quoted. With observations such as “Never look back; something may be gaining on you” he has made his mark on Bartlett’s as well as Total Baseball.

Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama, the seventh of 11 children. The official date is 1906, but 1903 and 1908 have also been suggested. He got his nickname from toting bags at the Mobile railroad station at the age of 7.

He signed on with a local black semipro team, the Mobile Tigers, in 1924, then moved onto Chatanooga. Soon he was a celebrity in the world of southern black baseball. He had his own roadster, played guitar with Louis Armstrong’s orchestra, and supped with Jelly Roll Morton.

In 1931 Paige went north to one of the finest black teams around, Gus Greenlee’s Pittsburgh Crawfords. With the Crawfords, Paige teamed with Josh Gibson to form one of baseball’s most impressive batteries. His Kansas City Monarchs of 1939 to 1942 may be mentioned alongside the Yankees of 1936-39 for greatest team ever.

In 1946 Branch Rickey broke baseball’s color barrier when he signed Jackie Robinson. “Somehow I’d always figured it would be me,” said Paige. When the 1948 season opened he was still on the Monarchs’ roster. Then Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck decided to give the 42-year-old a chance. “Everybody told me he was through,” said Veeck. “That was understandable. They thought he was human.” Satch pitched a shutout in his second start, drew 200,000 fans to his first three starts, and compiled a 6-1 record.

In 1952 Paige was 12-10 for the Browns. He barnstormed in 1954 and rejoined the Monarchs in 1955. In 1956 he signed up again with Veeck, who was operating the Miami Marlins in the International League. He finished the year 11-4 with a 1.86 ERA.

In 1965 Charles Finley brought him back to the big leagues for one more game in Kansas City, and at the presumed age of 59 he pitched three shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox.

25. WILLIE MAYS

Willie Mays, 1956.

Willie Mays, 1956.

The most exciting and best player of the 1960s, Mays raced around the bases or into deepest center field, his hat flying off behind him. “The only man who could have caught that ball,” one announcer said, “just hit it.” Willie Mays embodied The Joy of Baseball. In the history of the game, there may have been better outfielders, players with better arms, batters with higher averages and more homers, and faster runners who stole more bases. But no one could do all those things at his skill level, and so any discussion of “baseball’s greatest player” must include Willie Mays.

Mays signed his first professional contract at age 17, with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro National League. Sold to the New York Giants in 1950, he reached the big club and became Rookie of the Year in the mad pennant rush of the following year. Called into the service after only 34 games in 1952, he did not return until 1954. When he did come back, he lit up New York like a Roman candle. He led all National League hitters that year with a .345 average and 13 triples. He tied for third in home runs, with 41, drove in 110 runs, and scored 119. The Giants won the pennant by five games and swept the Indians in the World Series, thanks in part to “the Catch,” perhaps the game’s most famous highlight clip. Harry Hooper, who played next to Tris Speaker in the Red Sox outfield for six years, said that Mays was the best outfielder ever … and Speaker had been everyone’s choice for greatest outfielder till Mays came along.

And did we mention that he hit 660 home runs? That he won MVP Awards eleven years apart, one in New York, the other in San Francisco? That upon his return to New York in 1973 he hit a home run to win his first game as a Met?

One testimony to Mays’ legacy is the number of today’s superstars who wear his uniform No. 24 as a tribute. They have included Willie’s godson Barry Bonds (while at Pittsburgh), Ken Griffey Jr., and Rickey Henderson.

26.NAP LAJOIE

Nap Lajoie, 1908.

Nap Lajoie, 1908.

When fans debate the question of who was baseball’s best player in the first decade of the 20th century, the names most often mentioned are Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie. Fellow Hall of Famer Kid Nichols called Lajoie “the hardest hitter I ever pitched to.”

One of the best second basemen of all time and, by all accounts, the most graceful, Lajoie was also one of the most successful right-handed hitters. An established star with the NL Phillies, where he’d hit .378 in 1899, he jumped to Connie Mack’s AL Philadelphia A’s in 1901. The presence of Lajoie, Cy Young, and a few others helped legitimize the AL as a major league. Lajoie’s .426 is still the highest batting average achieved since the 19th century.

The following year an injunction by the Phillies, who claimed that Lajoie had breached a contract with them, prevented him from playing in the state of Pennsylvania. This forced A’s manager Connie Mack and AL president Ban Johnson to shift Lajoie to the struggling Cleveland franchise, where he spent the bulk of his career. (When the team played the A’s in Pahiladelphia in 1902, Lajoie did not accompany them.)

Lajoie was an instant sensation with Cleveland, so much so that the team was named after him—the Cleveland Naps—when he commenced to manage the club in 1905. Lajoie hit over .300 in 16 of his 21 seasons and finished with 3,242 hits

for a .338 average. The controversy over the 1910 race to the batting championship—during which he trailed Ty Cobb going into the final day of the season, then overtook him through some dubious collusion, then saw the AL award the title to Cobb, then have two of Cobb’s hits removed after both Cobb and Lajoie were long dead—is detailed in “The History of Major League Baseball Statistics,” by John Thorn and Pete Palmer, in this volume.

It’s difficult to argue Nap Lajoie’s place among baseball’s greats: his records speak volumes, and he was immensely popular. As Tommy Leach said, “Even when the son of a gun was blocking you off the base, he was smiling and kidding with you.” Lajoie was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1937.

27. BARRY BONDS

Barry Bonds.

Barry Bonds.

Barry Bonds was one of the best players in the 1990s both defensively and offensively. He captured a Gold Glove in every season of the 1990s except two. He missed winning four consecutive MVPs in 1990-93 by the slimmest of margins. The Sporting News named him the player of the decade. But Bonds was only beginning.

After finishing second to teammate Jeff Kent in the 2000 MVP race, he took the next three while shattering the game’s elite batting records: home runs (73 in 2001), slugging (.863, also that year), on-base average (.582 in 2002), walks, (177 in 2001, 198 in 2003), and OPS (1.381 in 2002), and park-adjusted OPS (275 in 2002). Oh, and he hit .370 in 2002 to lead the league at the age of 38. When naming the greatest player of all time, he may be mentioned with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and his godfather, Willie Mays.

San Francisco drafted Bonds out of high school in San Mateo, California, but when the Giants offered $70,000 instead of the $75,000 he wanted, Bonds wound up at Arizona State University. The Pittsburgh Pirates made him the sixth overall pick in the 1985 draft and they installed him in their outfield a year later.

He did not develop quickly with the Pirates. From 1986 to 1989 he did not exceed 59 RBIs and batted higher than .261 only once. The Pirates tried to trade Bonds when his contract demands exceeded his production, but other teams shied away because of his moodiness. The Bucs held on to Bonds; in 1990 they were glad they did.

In 1993 Bonds returned to his hometown San Francisco. He batted .336 with 46 home runs, and he became the first player to lead the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage since Mike Schmidt in 1981.

Seemingly driven to become better and better, Bonds took on an intensive workout schedule after 1996. The result was another 40 home runs and his seventh Silver Slugger Award in 1997. Like Hank Aaron in his later years, not only did Bonds show no sign of slipping, but his power, bat speed, and mental approach to the game reached new zeniths. He is the Babe Ruth our era, and the story of his enduring legacy to the game is yet to be written.

28. HARRY & GEORGE WRIGHT

Wrights at center, 1878.

Wrights at center, 1878.

Baseball’s Wright Brothers are as illustrious in their chosen field as Orville and Wilbur were in theirs. Harry Wright, born in England, was saluted on his death in 1895 by legendary baseball writer and promoter Henry Chadwick as “the father of professional base ball playing.” George, twelve years younger, was born in New York, to which the family, led by their cricket-professional father, had emigrated in the late 1830s. He was simply the greatest player of his day, a national hero with the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869-70, managed by brother Harry.

Harry Wright instituted dozens of innovations, including the backup system, whereby fielders back up each other and pitchers back up bases; pregame batting practice; hand signals; the double steal and the hidden-ball trick, and more. The Cincinnati Enquirer said of Wright, “He is a baseball Edison. He eats base ball, breathes base ball, thinks base ball, and incorporates base ball in his prayers.” All his life he fought to make the occupation of professional baseball player a respectable trade for grown men.

While serving as a cricket professional in Cincinnati, Harry was invited to form a baseball club that would reflect glory on the Queen City. He recruited outstanding players from the east, principal among these—and the highest paid—being his brother George, who led the Red Stockings on their undefeated national tour of 1869 by hitting over .600 with 57 home runs. His talents at the plate, however, were secondary to his fielding. In 1911, when Honus Wagner was at the height of his career playing the same position as Wright, the New York Journal’s Sam Crane called Wright “the best shortstop ever.”

But George was equally important to the development of the game off the field, starting a sporting-goods house in Boston with teammate Charlie Gould that evolved into the great Wright & Ditson firm, which in turn consolidated with that of fellow pioneer ballplayers Al Reach and Albert Spalding.

Though Harry’s contribution may be more important than that of George, the younger brother made it to the Hall of Fame in 1937, sixteen years ahead of the elder.

29. TY COBB

Ty Cobb.

Ty Cobb.

In 1936 Cobb was the first man elected to Cooperstown, mostly by voters who grew up in his era. Babe Ruth was second. The majority of today’s critics would reverse the order and maybe drop Cobb a few more pegs besides. The reason, of course, is that the modern game, with its emphasis on home runs, has evolved in a Ruthian rather than a Cobbian direction.

After all these years, he’s still first in batting average (.366). He collected 12 AL batting titles in 13 years, hit over .400 three times, led in steals six times, and in runs five times. In other words, he was the best at the things he tried to be best at. Cobb epitomized the dead-ball era, which is to say, baseball before the sluggers took over.

He was no home run hitter, managing only 118 in 24 seasons. But for most of

those seasons, going for homers against a misshapen, sodden ball was a losing proposition. Still, in 1925 he hit three homers in one game, and two in the next, just showing off.

Considering all that, it’s a bit disconcerting to find a few modernists working overtime to chisel Cobb down to a so-so level. Essentially, the argument is that modern players are bigger, faster, better trained, and face more difficult challenges. None of the old-timers could make it big today, they say. Cobb might hit .260.

We believe a “modern” Cobb would have the same advantages in diet, training, and baseball experiences the other moderns have. He’d be bigger, faster, and better trained. He might not hit .366—though we shouldn’t bet against it—but he’d be right up there showing other moderns his heels.

Now, if the critics want to stomp on Cobb, they can attack his personality. “The Georgia Peach” was mean, vindictive, selfish, vain, a bully, a racist, paranoid, cruel, and hot-tempered. But it was just because of those nasty attributes that Cobb would have found a way to win in any age.

30. TED WILLIAMS

Ted Williams ca 1939.

Ted Williams ca 1939.

Until Barry Bonds’ most recent years, either Williams or Babe Ruth was the greatest hitter of all time, and you could probably cover the difference with an ant’s umbrella. Despite losing nearly five seasons in two wars, Williams put together a statistical record that would stand against anyone’s.

Here are the career figures: .344 batting average, 521 home runs, 1,798 runs, 1,839 RBIs, 2,019 walks, and a .634 slugging average. His on-base percentage is the highest all-time (Ruth is next) and his slugging percentage is second, to Ruth. And there is the .406 batting average in 1941, the All-Star Game home runs, and the home run in his final at bat.

Now that he is gone, the knights of the keyboard (Ted’s memorably derisive term for sportswriters) recall his heroics and his frailties and try to assign him his place in the history of baseball. Even in death Ted resists categorization: Was he our last classic American hero, in the style of John Wayne (who once said to Ted, “I only play the hero; you live it”)? Did he live the life he wanted, his way, without regret? How did he transform himself from Terrible Ted, the pincushion of the Boston scribes, to become patron saint of the game and paterfamilias to the stars of the 1990s? Did Ted mellow in his later years, or did he remain the same, always True North, while our compass needles slowly swung around to him?

One thing seems certain: Williams will get better every year in our memories.

31. WALTER JOHNSON

Walter Johnson, ca 1911.

Walter Johnson, ca 1911.

Johnson is high up on everyone’s list of nominees as the greatest pitcher of all time. His statistics alone are staggering. Working for a Washington team that finished in the second division in 10 of his 21 seasons, he nevertheless won 417 games (second only to Cy Young), threw an all-time record 110 shutouts, and compiled a 2.17 ERA, the seventh-best career mark. He won more 1-0 games—and lost more—than any other man. Simply to state his 1913 numbers is enough to give you a shiver: 36-7, 11 shoutouts, 1.14 ERA, and, in 346 innings, 243 strikeouts against 38 walks.

He did nearly all of this with a fabled fastball, thrown with an easy sidearm motion. It came in straight as string, but the hitters couldn’t get around on it. Only late in his career did Johnson bother to develop a curve. For years his 3,509 strikeouts was considered an unbreakable record, but a more free-swinging age has changed that; even though he has been surpassed by several latter-day pitchers, with more surely to come, Johnson still may be the greatest strikeout artist ever.

Johnson finally made it to the World Series in 1924 at the age of 36. The old man was 23-7 and led the league in his usual categories: wins, ERA, strikeouts, and shutouts. He lost his first two starts, despite having an entire nation wishing for “Old Barney” to make up for all the tough years with a World Series win. (The sweetly conflated nickname linked his speed with that of auto-race king Barney Oldfield.) And then in Game 7, he came on in relief to pitch the final four frames of a miraculous twelfth-inning Senators victory.

If he wasn’t the greatest pitcher ever, you’d want him to be. In 1936 he was one of the first five players elected to the Hall of Fame.

32. BRUCE SUTTER

Bruce Sutter.

Bruce Sutter.

The first practitioner of what came to be called “the pitch of the 1980s,” the split-finger fastball, Bruce Sutter was for nine years the dominant closer in the National League. He was a Cy Young Award winner—only the second reliever to be so honored—a four-time winner of the Fireman of the Year Award, and the man who set the current trend of one-inning closers.

Sutter was blessed with exceptionally large hands—his fingers were “a full joint longer than normal,” according to historian Martin Quigley—and a limber wrist that enabled him to throw the pitch harder. Sutter’s splitter was much more deceiving to batters because it spun quickly enough to look like a fastball.

Sutter notched 27 saves in 1978 for the fifth-place Cubs, and in 1979 he won the Cy Young Award when he spun a 2.23 ERA to accompany his 37 saves. After the season he applied for salary arbitration, one of the first stars to do so. Sutter asked for $700,000; the Cubs offered half that. The arbitrator, required to choose one figure or the other, went with Sutter. The decision sent shock waves throughout major league baseball. As a result a player with a handful of experience could compare his stats to someone with a proven portfolio, even someone who had signed a rich free-agent contract. Richard Wagner, conservative owner of the Reds, called the Sutter decision “an atom bomb for our industry.”

After he led the league in saves again in 1980 and was chosen for the All-Star Game for the fourth straight year, Whitey Herzog and the Cardinals went after him. Sutter won Game 2 and saved Games 3 and 7 of the 1982 World Series against the Brewers to give St. Louis its first world championship since 1967.

Sutter finished up with the Braves, finally succumbing to the long series of injuries that had marked his career even before he hit the majors.

33. EARL WEAVER

Earl Weaver

Earl Weaver

Weaver presided over the Orioles’ dynasty of the 1970s, leading them to six division titles, four pennants and a world championship. His winning percentage of .583 ranks in the top 10 all-time. Although it was said his teams relied on “pitching and the three-run homer” to win, Weaver was actually a highly innovative manager. He schooled his players in fundamentals, pioneered the use of computer charts, extended the use of platooning, and even wrote a training manual used by the entire Orioles organization. Always open to new ideas, his motto became the title of his autobiography: It’s What You

Learn After You Know It All That Counts.

He never got past Double A as a minor-league second baseman, but once he moved to managing he found his way to major leagues in 1968. Although Jim Palmer cracked, “The only thing Earl knows about pitching is that he couldn’t hit it,” he and coach George Bamberger produced 20-game winners 22 times, with six Cy Young Awards mixed in. Several pitchers, including Mike Cuellar, Steve Stone and Mike Torrez came from other organizations to achieve their best seasons with the Orioles.

Weaver was known for his rages against umpires. He was ejected from 91 games during his career. Once he was booted from both ends of a doubleheader.

However, Weaver was so respected as a psychologist that some believe his tantrums were staged to arouse his team. Weaver was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.

34. JOE JACKSON

Joe jackson, Cleveland.

Joe Jackson, Cleveland.

One of the great natural hitters, Shoeless Joe averaged .356 for his career, the third best ever, using his favorite bat, “Black Betsy,” and a sweet swing that Babe Ruth even copied. Ironically it was Ruth’s popularity that helped fans forget the infamy that Jackson and his co-conspirators on the 1919 Chicago White Sox brought to baseball. Yet Jackson remains an important figure in baseball lore, linked in Baseball’s Hall of Shame with such names as Jim Devlin, Hal Chase and Pete Rose.

An illiterate millhand, Joe hit .408 as a Cleveland rookie in 1911. He finished second to Ty Cobb’s .420. The next year Joe hit .395 and finished second again to Cobb (.410). Except for 10 games in 1908-1909, Joe always hit .300. But a trade to the White Sox in 1915 threw him in with the proverbial bad company.

The White Sox were building a great team, but it was a team divided. Joe resented the club’s college-educated second baseman Eddie Collins and his cadre of followers. The other side, the ones who griped about the a low salaries owner Charles Comiskey paid, the ones who hung with the sharpies who looked for an edge, that side accepted Joe. They didn’t snicker at his lack of sophistication, or make fun of his Southern drawl.

Despite the division on the team, it won the 1917 pennant and World Series. In 1919 the Sox paraded to another pennant and were installed as heavy favorites over Cincinnati in the World Series. But eight men on the team had a different idea, including Jackson and even Buck Weaver, who knew of the fix but kept his knowledge to himself.

The story broke late in the 1920 season, while Jackson was hitting .382. The Black Sox were indicted in Chicago. Jackson admitted his guilt, but none of the players was convicted in court. There was no doubt of what they’d done, but the evidence, including confessions, mysteriously disappeared. No matter, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the baseball commissioner, banned the “Black Sox” from the game for life.

Jackson, as well as others in the group of “eight men out,” played outlaw ball under an assumed name.

35. WILLIAM G. BRAMHAM

William G. Bramham

William G. Bramham

Judge William G. Bramham, a lawyer from Durham, NC, was the third President of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the parent organization of minor league baseball. He served from 1932 through 1946. Bramham had been active in baseball for many years, having been president of the Piedmont, the Sally, the Virginia, and the Eastern North Carolina Leagues. When he was elected head of the NA during the
depths of the Depression, the minors were reeling and in need of strong leadership.

At the 1932 convention when Judge Bramham was elected, only five leagues stated their intention to operate the following season. Fourteen eventually operated in 1933, as Bramham brought to minor-league baseball the stability and strength it needed. He made certain that the fly-by-night operators were not allowed in the minors, and his strong positions and enforcement gave minor league baseball credibility.

By 1940, 44 leagues were operating, and minor-league baseball was thriving across the country. World War II brought a necessary reversal as players were called into national service, and in 1943 only 13 leagues were in operation. But Bramham continued to give the leadership that was necessary, and in 1946, less than a year after the war had ended, 41 leagues were back in operation. Bramham retired that winter and died the following summer but the policies he instituted helped shape the minors’ postwar boom that saw 59 leagues and 438 teams in 1949 with over 41 million in attendance.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s baseball was truly the “national pastime,” even with major-league baseball confined to 10 cities and played mostly in the Northeast quadrant of the United States. Minor-league baseball made the sport a national game, with teams in small towns in the South, in growing cities in the Midwest, and in major markets on the West Coast. Before radio, before television, bush-league baseball gave the sport its national identity. Men like Judge Bramham, Frank Shaughnessy of the International League, Joe Engel in Chattanooga and hundreds of forgotten local baseball operators showcased the sport and forged its imprint on the nation’s consciousness.

36. RAY CHAPMAN

Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman

On August 17, 1920, popular Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman stepped to the plate at New York’s Polo Grounds against the Yankees’ Carl Mays. As was his custom, Chapman crouched toward the plate. Catcher Muddy Ruel had trouble seeing the ball, which was headed straight at Chapman. One witness said Chapman seemed “hypnotized.” There was an “explosive sound” and the ball came bounding back at Mays, who fielded it and flipped it to first baseman Wally Pipp for what he thought was the inning’s first out. Pipp caught the ball and started to toss it around the infield, when suddenly he became aware something was wrong with Chapman.

“We need a doctor,” home plate umpire Tom Connolly shouted. “Is there a doctor in the house?” The Indians gathered around Chapman, who at first could not speak, as the Yankees team physician applied ice to his injury. After a few minutes Chapman was able to stand, to the immense relief of the crowd. With the assistance of two teammates Chapman began walking off the field toward the center field clubhouse. At second base he crumpled to the ground; he died 12 hours later at St. Lawrence Hospital.

Chapman’s unfortunate death eventually had far-reaching implications for baseball. Some baseball scholars feel that this incident had perhaps as much influence in sparking the batting revolution of the 1920s as did Babe Ruth and the introduction of the “lively ball.”

The spitball, shineball, and all other dubious pitches had been outlawed on February 9, 1920, six months before Chapman’s death. After Chapman died, balls hit into the stands stayed there, and umpires tossed out nicked or scuffed balls with greater frequency. In 1919 the National League went through 22,095 baseballs; in 1924 that figure had grown to 54,030. Batters now got to swing at baseballs that were more visible and less apt to “sail.” Batting averages rose accordingly.

37. NOLAN RYAN

Nolan Ryan.

Nolan Ryan.

The all-time strikeout leader, with 5,714, Nolan Ryan hurled a record seven no-hitters during his remarkable 27-year career. A physical marvel, he was still throwing fastballs more than 90 miles per hour in his final year, at age 46.

Ryan made two appearances with the Mets in 1966, and despite his great promise he was only 29-38 through the 1971 season. Then he was traded to the California Angels along with three other players for Jim Fregosi.

In eight years with the Angels, Ryan led the league in strikeouts seven times, five times recording more than 300. In 1973 he fanned a major-league record 383 and pitched two no-hitters. He went on to throw two more as an Angel, tying Sandy Koufax for the career record … but Ryan’s career was barely at the halfway point. In November 1979 the Astros signed the free agent to a $4.5 million, four-year contract, making him the game’s first million-dollar man.

In his first six years with Houston he harnessed his stuff, reducing both his strikeouts and his walks, and suddenly became a winning pitcher. He pitched a record fifth no-hitter against the Dodgers.

Ryan led the league in strikeouts again in 1988 despite missing the last two weeks of the season because of a hamstring injury. After the season the Astros offered him a contract with a 20-percent salary cut. On December 7, 1988, Ryan signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers. In Arlington Ryan went from great pitcher to baseball legend.

In his first season with the Rangers, the 42-year-old Ryan led the majors in strikeouts and ranked among AL leaders in innings, ERA, and wins. He pitched a pair of one-hit complete games and carried five different no-hitters into the eighth inning or later, losing two in the ninth. On August 22 Ryan fanned Oakland’s Rickey Henderson for his 5,000th strikeout.

Ryan’s adherence to a grueling physical-fitness routine paid off in a career longer than any other power pitcher’s. In 1990, at age 43, he became the oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter by beating Oakland, 5-0, on June 11. The following year, as the major leagues’ oldest player at age 44, Ryan pitched his seventh no-hitter.

38. HONUS WAGNER

Honus Wagner.

Honus Wagner.

If a knowledgeable baseball fan in 1920 had been asked to name Major League Baseball’s all-time All-Star team, the shortstop would undoubtedly have been Honus Wagner. Ask a knowledgeable fan today the same question and the shortstop would be the same (although Alex Rodriguez may yet supplant him if, after his trade to the Yankees, he resumes playing shortstop).

The reason for Wagner’s longevity as baseball’s best shortstop is simple. No other shortstop has ever combined offensive and defensive excellence the way he did; only Cal Ripken came close, and these two bookends of the 20th century cast the mold for the shortstop of the future.

Wagner broke into the big leagues in 1897. Primarily an outfielder and third baseman for the Louisville Colonels of the 12-team NL, Wagner came to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900 in the largest trade in baseball history up to that time. Louisville owner Barney Dreyfuss, learning that his team was about to be dropped from the NL, sent fourteen players to Pittsburgh for $25,000 and four Pittsburgh players. Dreyfuss then purchased the Pittsburgh team. Traded to Pittsburgh along with Wagner were future Hall of Famers Fred Clarke and Rube Waddell.

Playing right field, third base, second base, first base, and even pitching (he hurled three scoreless innings) during the 1900 season, Wagner won his first batting title and led the league in triples, doubles, and slugging average. Not until 1901, at age 27, did he become Pittsburgh’s regular shortstop. From 1900 through 1909 5’11”, 200-pound barrel of a man led the NL in hitting seven times and even led in stolen bases five times. He drove in six runs in the 1909 World Series against the Tigers of Ty Cobb, the first time two batting champions faced each other in a Series. Wagner hit .333, Cobb .231, and the Pirates sent Detroit down to their third consecutive Series defeat.

Among the legendary baseball names who called Wagner the greatest player ever were Ed Barrow, Sam Crawford, Bill Klem, John McGraw, and Branch Rickey.

39. ALEX RODRIGUEZ

Alex Rodriguez, 2004.

Alex Rodriguez, 2004.

If Ernie Banks spoke the first word on what a power-hitting shortstop might accomplish, Alex Rodriguez may have the final say. Banks hit 40-plus home runs in four consecutive seasons, from 1957 to 1960, between the ages of 26 and 29. At this writing, Rodriguez has reached the 40-mark in six consecutive seasons between ages 22 and 27, twice crossing the 50 barrier to go where no shortstop had gone before.

In a golden age of big, mobile, powerful shortstops who could flat-out hit, much of the talk in the mid-1990s centered on Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter in the Northeast. However, Rodriguez was making a case for himself in the Northwest as the best of the lot. Having reached the majors with the Seattle Mariners at age 18 in 1993, he broke out in a big way in his first full season as a starter in 1996, scoring 141 runs, knocking in 123, and belting 54 doubles and 36 homers. He also led the league in batting with a .358 mark.

A six-year man and thus a free agent at the remarkably tender age of 25, Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252-million deal with the Texas Rangers in 2001, making him the highest-paid player in the history of the game. And if any ballplayer was worth that much money, Alex Rodriguez proved he was that player, averaging over 50 home runs in his first three seasons as a Ranger and winning the 2003 AL MVP despite playing for a last-place club.

Following upon his stunning February 2004 trade to the New York Yankees, Rodriguez was slated to open the season at third base, with Derek Jeter staying in place at shortstop.

40. BILL JAMES

Bill James.

Bill James.

For the past 25 years, baseball has been in the throes of a statistics revolution. No one person was more responsible for this than Bill James, the most influential baseball writer of the 20th century.

His annual Baseball Abstract series, self-published out of his Kansas home from 1977-81 and by Ballantine from 1982-88, introduced hundreds of thousands of fans to the power of statistical analysis. From the Runs Created metric (which boiled down batters’ accomplishments into a far more meaningful number than RBIs) to his Pythagorean Method (which helped predict teams’ won-lost records from their runs scored and allowed) to whimsical devices like the Favorite Toy (which estimated the chances of young players reaching milestones such as 3,000 hits), James’s analysis pierced through baseball’s conventional wisdom and mapped out a new understanding of the sport. He also was a fantastic writer, funny and always irreverent.

A native Kansan, James wrote his first baseball articles for Baseball Digest in the mid-1970s but had so much to say that he decided to publish his own annual guide to the game. The project immediately consumed his every waking hour, particularly his minimum-wage shift as night watchman at the Stokely-Van Camp factory in Lawrence. “I’d spend five minutes an hour making sure the furnaces didn’t blow up,” he later recalled, “and 55 minutes working on my numbers.” The result was the 1977 Baseball Abstract – Featuring 18 Categories of Statistical Information That You Just Can’t Find Anywhere Else. The 68-page compendium sold 70 copies through mail order for $3.50 apiece.

Word of James’ brilliance spread, however, and after a 1981 Sports Illustrated profile launched him into prominence, Ballantine began publishing the Abstract nationally. It became a New York Times bestseller, at its peak selling 150,000 copies.

James had his largest influence after he stopped writing his Abstracts and moved on to more traditional books. Many kids who read him grew up to work in baseball, including general managers Jim Duquette (Mets), Billy Beane (A’s), Danny Evans (Dodgers), and Theo Epstein (Red Sox). It’s no coincidence that Epstein’s Red Sox hired James before the 2003 season as a Senior Advisor.

 

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People, Part 4

Continuing from yesterday (http://goo.gl/TvLphS), in today’s installment we provide the last five of the longer biographies, bringing us up through No. 20. As mentioned, starting tomorrow you will see briefer biographies, and thus more of them; tomorrow’s post will cover the individuals ranked from 21 through 40. 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

16. JOHN MONTGOMERY WARD

John M. Ward, 1894

John M. Ward, 1894

If Ward wasn’t the most important person in baseball during the late 19th century, he certainly was the most interesting. His career as a star player, winning manager, labor organizer, and club owner placed him at the center of many of the most significant events of the period, both on and off the field.

Ward was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, in 1860. A gifted student athlete, he attended Pennsylvania State College and won acclaim as a pitcher on the baseball team. He pitched an exhibition game for the independent Philadelphia Athletics in 1877, and although he lost, 5-0, he accepted a professional contract from a team in Janesville, Wisconsin for $20 a week and a $75 bonus. The Bellefonte newspaper editorialized, “There is no reason why a baseball pitcher should not become eventually a great man, but the chances for Monte’s sake, we are sorry to say, are against it, and trust he will pause and reconsider.”

Ward proved the critics wrong. In 1878, his rookie season in the National League, he was the star right-handed pitcher for Providence, winning 22 games and leading the league with a 1.51 ERA. On August 9 he pitched and won two games in one day.

The great George Wright and “Orator” Jim O’Rourke joined the Providence team in 1879. With a better defense behind him and a stronger offense, Ward pitched the Grays to the pennant. He won a league-leading 47 games and lost only 17. His .734 winning percentage and 239 strikeouts also led the NL. In 1880 he won 40 games and threw a league-leading 9 shutouts. On June 17 of that year, he threw the second perfect game and third no-hitter in league history, a 5-0 win over Buffalo.

But Ward was only 20 years old, and the strain on his arm proved too great. After pitching 587 innings in 1879 and 595 in 1880, he battled a sore arm during the next three seasons, pitching fewer innings each year. Yet when he was able to throw, he continued to be successful. On August 17, 1882, he won an 18-inning game, 1-0. But by 1884 his arm was shot, and he appeared in his final nine games as a hurler. In seven seasons Ward won 161 games against 101 losses.

Although finished as a hurler, Ward was hardly washed up as a player. Even as early as 1879, when he was at his best as a hurler, Ward played outfield or third base on the days he wasn’t on the mound. A right-handed thrower, he was a fair left-handed batter, particularly adept at bunting and hitting behind a runner. Ward was an excellent baserunner and fast in the field. Furthermore, he was an exceptional leader. In 1880, though younger than most of his teammates, he even filled in as manager for part of the season.

After his arm went bad, Ward spent more time as a position player. In 1883 the New York Gothams acquired his contract, and during most of the 1884 season he was New York’s regular center fielder. He hit .253 and scored 98 runs. According to some reports, he threw left-handed to rest his ailing right arm. Although he never returned to the mound, his arm recovered enough to allow him to become the Gothams’ regular shortstop in 1885. He was instantly one of the top players at the position.

In both 1888 and 1889 the Giants won the NL pennant, and much of the credit went to their dashing shortstop. In 1889 the Giants trailed in the Series three games to two going into the sixth game. Hank O’Day had shut out New York for eight innings and St. Louis led, 1-0, but in the bottom of the ninth Ward singled and then stole second and third. He scored to tie the game on Connor’s single. Then, in the eleventh inning, he drove in the winning run. The Giants went on to win the next three games and the Series.

Players League Guide, 1890.

Players League Guide, 1890.

While enjoying a full career on the field, Ward also remained busy off the field, earning a law degree from Columbia University. In 1885 the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players was formed to protect and benefit the players collectively and individually, to promote a high standard of conduct, and to foster and encourage the interests of baseball. Ward was elected president. Some team owners feared any sort of player organization, but most at least paid lip service to the aims of the Brotherhood.

After the 1888 season Albert Spalding led a group of stars on a round-the-world trip to introduce baseball and open new markets for his sporting goods. While Ward and other stars were out of the country, the owners pushed through a rule to categorize the players and pay them according to rank. Since the owners determined the categories, the new system first lowered, then froze, player salaries.

For more than a year Ward tried to negotiate, but the owners refused to recognize the Brotherhood. Finally, the situation reached an impasse. In 1890 the players, under Ward, revolted, solicited financial backers, and formed the Players League. Most of the star players in both the National League and the American Association jumped to the new league.

During the 1890 season the three major leagues competed in many of the same cities. All three lost money, and the backers of the Players League lost heart, even though their attendance was the best of the three. After only one year the new league collapsed. A year later the mortally wounded American Association also went under, and four of its teams were absorbed by the NL.

Ward was shortstop and manager of the PL’s Brooklyn team, which finished second. In the settlement after the season, Brooklyn’s Players League backer and Ward each gained stock in the Brooklyn NL club. Ward assumed the player-manager position with Brooklyn, a team that soon became popularly known as “Ward’s Wonders.” He moved the club up to third in the standings in 1892, when he led the league with 80 stolen bases.

That same year Ward won 20 shares of New York Giants stock on a bet with one of their stockholders on where the Giants would finish. Such a conflict of interest and betting on standings would be prohibited by Organized Baseball today. It was common in the 1890s for owners to own shares in other teams (“syndicate baseball,” it came to be called), and occasionally players and managers did the same. In fact, half the owners in the league held Giants stock.

The team, however, was going rapidly downhill. Because the National League needed a strong draw in New York, both to protect its stock holdings and to ensure a large visitor’s share of the take, the other clubowners worked out a deal. Ward resigned as Brooklyn manager and became the Giants’ skipper. In 1893 New York finished fifth in the 12-team NL, and in 1894 he pushed them to second.

In an effort to establish a profitable postseason series similar to the prototypical World Series of the 1880s, the NL instituted the Temple Cup in 1894, with the division winner playing the second-place finisher in a best-of-seven series. The Baltimore Orioles won the pennant that year but didn’t take the Temple Cup very seriously. Ward’s Giants ambushed the Orioles and swept them in four straight games. Ward himself hit .294 and led his team in RBIs.

At age 34 Ward was at the pinnacle of the baseball world, a successful player-manager of a championship team. He chose that moment to retire. His successful law practice was growing, but he resigned primarily due to his inability to get along with Andrew Freedman, the Tammany Hall politician who had taken over the Giants. Ward was hardly alone; few men could work for Freedman for long. By the time he sold his control of the Giants in 1903, Freedman had fired or otherwise lost a dozen managers and driven the Giants to the lowest point in their history.

Ward became a leading corporate lawyer in New York but continued to be involved in baseball. He represented Amos Rusie when the famous pitcher sued Freedman for money he was owed. The case was eventually settled out of court to Rusie’s benefit. In 1909 Ward was a leading, though eventually unsuccessful, candidate to become NL president. In 1911 and 1912 he was president and part owner of the Boston Braves, and in 1913 he was business manager of the Brooklyn team in the Federal League. He was also the founder and first president of the Long Island Golf Association. He wrote several books and numerous magazine articles on baseball.

Ward died in 1925. Nearly 40 years later, in 1964, he was named to the Hall of Fame.

17. CAL RIPKEN

Cal Ripke, 1995

Cal Ripken, 1995

Cal Ripken will be forever remembered for “the streak.” He became the most durable player to ever put on a major-league uniform on September 6, 1995, when he appeared in his 2,131st consecutive game. He surpassed Lou Gehrig’s “unbreakable record” (according to Gehrig’s plaque at Yankee Stadium) at a time when baseball was still suffering the repercussions of the 1994 strike. The national Ripken watch, as he approached the magic number, helped heal some of the wounds felt by many fans. The ovation at Camden Yards on that historic night lasted more than 20 minutes.

The following season Ripken would also break the world record of 2,216 consecutive games, a number reached by Sachio Kinugasa, third baseman for the Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Central League. Ripken’s streak would end at 2,632 on September 19, 1998 with no one in the ballpark aware of the game’s significance. The next night, 30 minutes before the final Orioles home game of the year, Ripken unexpectedly asked Baltimore manager Ray Miller to take him out of the lineup. He wasn’t hurt; he could have played; it was simply time to put an end to a personal accomplishment that had begun to overshadow team goals. Ryan Minor was his replacement.

Ripken was an Oriole practically from birth. He was born and raised in Maryland, the son of an Orioles minor-league manager, Cal Sr., the taciturn founder of “the Oriole Way.” Baltimore drafted the young Ripken out of high school in the second round of the 1978 amateur draft. He broke into the major leagues shortly after the close of the 1981 players strike, debuting as a pinch runner on August 10 against Kansas City. Like Gehrig, once he stepped on the field, it was nearly impossible to get him off it.

In 1982 he was named American League Rookie of the Year after leading rookies in nearly every offensive category. He started the season at third base, but soon shifted to shortstop where he would play every game, and practically every inning, for the next 14 seasons before returning to third base in 1997. He wouldn’t miss a game at third for almost two seasons.

In that span, Ripken became one of the game’s best shortstops with both the bat and glove. Ripken won the AL MVP in 1983 as the leader of an Orioles team that won the World Series; in 1991 he won the award again because of his outstanding achievements (34 homers, 114 RBIs, .556 slugging average) on a sixth-place team. In between MVPs, his father was hired to manage the club, but Cal Sr. was dismissed in the midst of a 21-game losing streak to start the 1988 season.

Cal Jr. became one of baseball’s most popular players: through 1999 he had appeared in 17 straight All-Star Games. He set a major league record (since broken) with 95 consecutive errorless games in 1990, and followed that with back-to-back Gold Glove Awards in 1991 and 1992. He also earned numerous honors for his work off the field as well, including the Bart Giamatti Caring Award (1989), Roberto Clemente Award (1992), and Lou Gehrig Award (1992).

Ripken on Total Baseball, 2001.

Ripken on Total Baseball, 2001.

In 1993 Ripken passed Ernie Banks as the all-time home run leader for shortstops. The following year he hit his 300th home run. On September 2, 1999 he became the 29th player to hit 400 home runs, but his season ended prematurely—with him just nine hits shy of 3,000—because of surgery to relieve pressure in his lower back. Despite thedeath of his father in midyear, his .340 average in 332 at bats was the highest of his career, even if it was the first time in 19 years that he failed to play in at least 99 percent of his team’s games. The highlights of the season were his 400th home run and a six-hit game on June 13 during an interleague visit to Atlanta.

Ripken returned for two more seasons of diminishing productivity, but he did cross the 3,000-hit divide. In a particularly satisfying and sentimental farewell appearance at the All-Star Game, Cal, who had been voted in as the AL’s starting third baseman, accepted the offer of starting shortstop Alex Rodriguez to switch positions to open the game. Cal then proceeded to hit a home run in his first time at bat. He was named the All-Star Game MVP in his league’s 4-1 victory.

18. MICKEY MANTLE

Mickey Mantle, 1955; Hy Peskin.

Mickey Mantle, 1955; Hy Peskin.

Mickey Charles Mantle was the son of Oklahoma lead and zinc miner Mutt Mantle. “I always wished my dad could be somebody else than a miner,” Mantle once said. “I knew it was killing him. He was underground eight hours a day. Every time he took a breath, the dust and dampness went into his lungs.”

Mutt Mantle named his boy after legendary catcher Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane and started him switch-hitting at age 5. “He believed that any kid could develop into a switch hitter if you taught him early enough,” recalled Mantle. Mutt would pitch to young Mantle from one side, and Mickey’s grandfather would lob the ball to him from the other.

Mantle played football and baseball for Commerce High School, earning the nickname “the Commerce Comet.” During one football practice he was kicked in the left shin, and not only did his ankle swell to twice its normal size, but he also developed a 104-degree fever. He eventually developed osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone marrow) and was threatened with amputation. But at Oklahoma City’s Crippled Children’s Hospital, Mantle received penicillin injections every three hours around the clock, and his condition improved almost immediately.

When he recovered, New York Yankees scout Tom Greenwade signed him to a $400-a-month contract. When Mutt Mantle hinted his son could make as much working in the mines and playing ball on Sundays, Greenwade threw in a $1,100 bonus. Greenwade knew at the time he was getting someone special. “The first time I saw Mantle I knew how Paul Krichell felt when he first saw Lou Gehrig. He knew that as a scout he’d never have another moment like it.”

Mantle was sent to Independence of the Class D K-O-M League, where he batted .313. He played shortstop and committed 47 errors in only 89 games. His next destination was Joplin in the Class C Western Association, where he hit a league-leading .383 with 26 homers and 136 runs batted in.

“He should lead the league in everything,” Yankees manager Casey Stengel said of Mantle before the 1951 season. “With his combination of speed and power he should win the triple batting crown every year. In fact, he should do everything he wants to do.”

One thing Mantle couldn’t do, however, was play shortstop. He had made 55 errors at Joplin. With Phil Rizzuto still firmly in control of the position in New York, Mantle needed to find another role. He had the speed and range to play center field, but an aging Joe DiMaggio still owned the position, and any attempt to move New York’s hero could cause a riot. Stengel tried Mantle in right field.

Mantle went north with the Yankees in 1951 and started on Opening Day. He impressed observers with a 450-foot homer off Randy Gumpert on May 1, but, overall, he had trouble adjusting to big-league pitching. The Yankees finally realized that Mantle required more seasoning and shipped him down to Kansas City.

Mantle’s hitting slump continued. He called home and told his father, “I don’t think I can play baseball any more.” The next day Mutt Mantle arrived in Kansas City and started packing his son’s belongings into a suitcase.

That was enough to jolt Mantle out of his slump. During his 40-game stay at Kansas City, he batted .361, hit 11 homers, drove in 50 runs, and was back in Yankee Stadium by the close of August.

In Game 2 of that year’s World Series, Mantle tripped over an exposed drainpipe in Yankee Stadium’s right-center field. He tore cartilage in his knee and missed the rest of the Series. The day after the injury, Mutt Mantle, a spectator at the World Series, was taken ill. By the next summer he was dead of Hodgkin’s Disease, the same malady that had killed Mutt’s father.

Mickey Mantle soon developed into a star, but he was still a small-town boy in the big city. He shared an apartment above the Stage Delicatessen with Hank Bauer and Johnny Hopp, and in his first year gained 25 pounds from eating corned beef, cheesecake, and matzo ball soup. He eventually became fast friends with Whitey Ford and Billy Martin—and with that duo, his diet was often more liquid than solid.

In 1957, a fight broke out at New York’s Copacabana nightclub involving Mantle and Martin. In an effort to protect Mantle from further trouble the Yankees traded Martin to the Athletics. The two remained friends, however. “We used to tease each other about whose liver was going to go first,” said Mantle.

Part of the reason for Mantle’s high living was his suspicion that he would follow his father and grandfather to an early grave. At age 46 Mantle lamented, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

Safe at Home; Mantle, Maris 1962.

Safe at Home; Mantle, Maris 1962.

Mantle specialized in monster home runs. One of his most famous was a 565-foot blast at Washington’s Griffith Stadium in 1953. “I never saw a ball hit so far. You could have cut it up into 15 singles,” marveled Yankees pitcher Bob Kuzava. On May 13, 1955, Mantle hit three homers into the distant Yankee Stadium bleachers. Each cleared the 461-foot sign. On May 23, 1963, he struck the park’s right-field facade. It was estimated that—had it kept sailing—the ball would have traveled 602 feet.

Mantle was perhaps at his finest in the mid-1950s. In 1956 he won the American League Triple Crown with 52 homers, 130 RBIs, and a .353 batting average. He hit three more home runs in the World Series and won the AL Most Valuable Player Award. In 1957 Mantle again won the MVP Award. In the 1957 World Series, Milwaukee second baseman Red Schoendienst came down on Mantle’s right shoulder. The injury would hamper him for years, although he would win another MVP Award in 1962, along with a Gold Glove.

In 1961 Mantle and teammate Roger Maris were both in pursuit of Babe Ruth’s 60-home run single-season record. In September, Mantle developed a cold he couldn’t shake and announcer Mel Allen recommended an East Side physician who could fix him right up—”the best there is.” The doctor, garbed in a bloodstained smock, injected Mantle with some mysterious substance that immediately put him into a dizzied, feverish state.

Mantle missed several crucial games and had to have the area where he had been injected cut open and lanced. In the end he played 8 fewer games and had 76 fewer at bats than Maris, who had eclipsed Ruth’s record by a single homer. The doctor even had the nerve to send Mantle a bill. “I never did pay it,” said Mantle. “I wanted to sue. A few years later he stopped practicing.”

Even though that malady went away, injuries continued to haunt Mantle. Playing in Baltimore in June 1963, he broke his ankle and was out of the lineup for two months. His first at bat after returning to active duty was a pinch-hit, game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth inning.

But Mantle’s best days were over. His damaged shoulder caused him great pain, and in the mid-1960s he had difficulty throwing and even batting from the left side. He played first base the final two years of his career.

During spring training in 1969 Mantle announced his retirement. “I can’t play any more,” he stated. “I can’t hit the ball when I need to. I can’t steal second when I need to. I can’t go from first to third when I need to. I can’t score from second when I need to. I have to quit.”

After his retirement Mantle became involved in a number of ventures including a popular restaurant on New York’s Park Avenue South. He also announced for a while on NBC’s Saturday Game of the Week. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974, his first year of eligibility.

In later years the once-shy Mantle emerged as a raconteur and may, in fact, have been even more popular than he was while playing. In one of his stories St. Peter met him at the Pearly Gates. “Sorry, Mickey,” St. Peter said, “because of the way you lived on earth, you can’t come in. But, before you leave, would you please autograph these baseballs for Him?”

After a 1993 stay in the Betty Ford Center in California, Mantle also emerged in the unlikely role of clean-living spokesman. He appeared on TV programs to talk about his experiences and to warn kids about drug and alcohol abuse. The transformation was apparently too late for Mantle himself. In 1994 he received a liver transplant at Baylor University Hospital in Dallas. Around the same time, he formed the Mickey Mantle Foundation to raise awareness of the importance of becoming an organ donor.

Ironically, it was during the successful transplant surgery that doctors discovered an inoperable cancer lesion. Mickey Mantle died August 13, 1995 at the age of 63.

19. CHRISTY MATHEWSON

Mathewson by Paul Thompson.

In a sport dominated by ruffians, Christy Mathewson exuded a sense of nobility. Not only was he a great pitcher—the co-holder of the National League record for career victories, with 373, and the league record-holder for most victories in a season, with 37—but also he was a gentleman, a man of moral convictions who inspired an entire generation of fans. Mothers could contemplate their sons growing up to become baseball players if the game welcomed men like Matty.

“Mathewson was the greatest pitcher who ever lived,” said Connie Mack, who managed the Philadelphia Athletics through a half-century of baseball. “He had knowledge, judgment, perfect control, and form. It was wonderful to watch him pitch … when he wasn’t pitching against you.”

In the 1905 World Series against the Athletics Mathewson pitched three complete-game shutouts. In 1908 he walked an average of less than one player per game while winning 37 games (he won 30 or more games four time). From June 13 through July 18, 1913, he pitched 68 consecutive innings without surrendering a single base on balls. For 12 consecutive years he captured a minimum of 22 victories.

Christopher Mathewson began pitching at age 13 for his hometown team in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. It was there that Mathewson later added a new pitch to his arsenal, learning the delivery from a left-handed teammate. “Williams [Dave Williams, who went on to pitch briefly for the Boston Red Sox] pitched this ball with the same motion that he threw his out-curve,” noted Mathewson, “but turned his hand over and snapped his wrist as he let the ball go. He never could tell where it was going, so it was of no use to him in a game. It was a freak delivery. It fascinated me.”

At Bucknell College Mathewson continued to star as a pitcher but also made a name for himself in football. He was known as “Gun Boots” because of his skill in dropkicking. Signed to a professional baseball contract with Taunton, Massachusetts, of the New England League, he made his professional debut came on July 21, 1899, in a 6-5 loss to Manchester.

The next year Mathewson signed with Norfolk of the Virginia League. He was 20-2 by late July, when he was sold to the Giants for $2,000. Manager John “Phenomenal” Smith, a one-time big-league pitcher himself, had offers for Mathewson from both the Phillies and the Giants and gave the pitcher his choice. Mathewson, believing the Giants were more in need of pitching, opted for New York.

In New York, manager George Davis christened Mathewson’s trick pitch the “fadeaway.” Despite his innovation, Mathewson proved ineffective in 1900, going 0-3 with a 5.08 ERA, and returned to Norfolk at season’s end. The Cincinnati Reds proceeded to draft Mathewson off the Norfolk roster, but the Giants had second thoughts about handing the talented righthander back. They traded washed-up fireballer Amos Rusie for him on December 15, 1900. Rusie, who had already accumulated 245 big league victories, would not win another game. The deal turned out to be baseball’s greatest steal.

Mathewson had a wide variety of pitches, including a fastball, curve, and the aforementioned fadeaway. Although the fadeaway was his most famous pitch, he never would say which of his offerings was the best. “Anybody’s best pitch is the one the batters ain’t hitting that day,” he observed. “And it doesn’t take long to find out. If they start hitting my fastball, they don’t see it anymore that afternoon. If they start getting a hold of my curveball, I just put it away for the day. When they start hitting both of them on the same day, that’s when they put me away.”

As successful as he was, Mathewson was, to some extent, a hard-luck pitcher. Bad things often happened to the Giants when Mathewson took the mound in big games. It was Mathewson who was pitching against the Cubs on September 23, 1908, when first baseman Fred Merkle pulled his famed “Merkle Boner” play, forgetting to touch second base when Al Bridwell drove in what appeared to be the winning run from third base. Merkle headed into the clubhouse to join the celebration but was called out by umpire Hank O’Day. The game ended in a deadlock.

That tie had to be replayed on October 8, 1908. With the pennant at stake, “Big Six” Mathewson was once again on the mound. He sailed along until the third inning, when center fielder Cy Seymour, stubbornly ignoring Mathewson’s entreaties to play deeper, saw a Joe Tinker fly ball sail over his head for a triple. Four runs scored that inning, and the Giants lost the game, 4-2, as well as the flag.

Mathewson was the victim again in the the final inning of the final game of the 1912 World Series when Fred Snodgrass committed his “$30,000 Muff” in center field and catcher Chief Meyers and Merkle let an easy foul pop drop between them. Mathewson lost another heartbreaker as the Red Sox won the game and the Series.

If Mathewson had one flaw, it was his lack of concentration when he had a big lead. “Matty was a great one for loafing when the pressure was off, when we were way ahead,” teammate Larry Doyle said. “He was only great when he had to be. In tight ball games, he was darn near impossible to hit. But when the score was lopsided, Matty didn’t seem to care a whit about his reputation and he’d toss in plenty of fat ones.”

Christy Mathewson, 1916 Reds.

Christy Mathewson, 1916 Reds.

In 1914 Mathewson started to wear out. He finished with a record of 24-13, but in the second half of the season he began to complain of pains in his left side. In 1915 Mathewson suffered his first losing season since 1902, and by 1916 he was being used out of the bullpen. On July 20, 1916, McGraw traded Mathewson to the Reds along with two other future Hall of Famers, Edd Roush and Bill McKechnie, for Reds manager Buck Herzog and outfielder Red Killefer.

Although the deal was made to allow Mathewson to manage Cincinnati, Reds fans were probably relieved to get him off the Giants’ mound. With New York, Mathewson’s record against the Reds was 64-18, with 22 wins in a row at one point.

Mathewson’s last pitching performance, his only one for the Reds, was a specially contrived matchup against another aging hurler and Matty’s longtime rival, the Cubs’ Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. In the second game of a Labor Day doubleheader, Mathewson outlasted Brown, 10-8.

After several decades the significance of this game became apparent. The annals showed that when Mathewson retired he had accumulated 372 victories, a National League record. Grover Cleveland Alexander subsequently won 373, consigning Mathewson’s mark to second place. But a statistician later discovered that a May 1902 Mathewson 4-2 victory over Pittsburgh had been erroneously entered in the record books as a loss. Matty’s crown had been restored, even if it had to be shared.

Mathewson managed Cincinnati until midseason 1918, when he joined the armed services and served as a captain on the Western Front, where he was hit by a whiff of poison gas. In 1919 he returned to baseball as a coach for the Giants, but two years later was diagnosed as having tuberculosis in both lungs.

He was sent to Saranac Lake, N.Y., for treatment, where one of his lungs collapsed. Baseball was his medicine. “When a fellow cannot read, or write, or talk, and can only move his fingers and forearms, it requires some resourcefulness to keep his mind off his troubles. I started working out a baseball game, figuring every chance and studying how it should be played mechanically so as to offer the same chances as are offered on a ballfield. It interested me and kept my mind engaged.”

In 1922 Mathewson returned home, and his spirit was too strong to merely survive. In 1923 he accepted the post of general manager of Judge Emil Fuchs’ Boston Braves. It was a challenge Mathewson never should have taken. In 1925 the strain caused him to collapse. He returned to Saranac Lake and died there on October 7, as the World Series opened. Players on both squads wore black armbands in tribute.

In 1936 Christy Mathewson was among the first five players to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

20. CURT FLOOD

Curt Flood.

Curt Flood.

Every time a major leaguer collects a paycheck, he should thank Curt Flood. In 1970 the St. Louis Cardinals’ center fielder sued Major League Baseball in an effort to eliminate the reserve clause that had, since 1879, bound a player to his team forever. Although Flood lost the battle, the players ultimately won the war. Flood’s suit paved the way for arbitration, free agency, and million-dollar salaries.

After two short trials with Cincinnati, Flood was traded to St. Louis. He came to the majors to stay in 1958 at age 20. Flood played sparingly until the middle of 1961, when Johnny Keane replaced Solly Hemus as the Cardinals’ skipper. In 1961 he batted .322, up 85 points from the previous year. It was the first of six .300-plus seasons in his remaining nine years with the Cardinals.

Flood’s real gift was playing outfield. He won the first of seven straight Gold Glove Awards in 1963. By the middle of the decade it was widely acknowledged that he’d surpassed Willie Mays as baseball’s best center fielder. A 1968 Sports Illustrated cover featured a self-portrait by Flood the painter.

From September 3, 1965, through June 2, 1967, Flood played 226 errorless games in the outfield for a National League record and handled 568 consecutive chances, a record in the majors. On June 19, 1967, two weeks after he muffed a ball to end the streak, Flood completed the first unassisted double play by an NL outfielder in 34 years, the first in the majors since 1945.

Surprisingly, Flood’s most memorable moment in three World Series appearances occurred when he misjudged a fly ball in the 1968 classic. With two out in the seventh inning of a scoreless Game 7, Jim Northrup drove a Bob Gibson pitch deep into center field. Flood took a step in and then could not catch up to the drive, which fell for a triple, scoring both runners. Northrup later scored, and Detroit held on to win the Series.

Flood was a co-captain, with Tim McCarver, of those St. Louis pennant winners. When the Cards failed to win a third straight flag in 1969, the front office set about remaking the squad. Late in the season Flood complained publicly about management throwing in the towel while the team still had a chance to win in 1970. He was among the first to go.

On October 7, 1969, the Cardinals traded Flood, McCarver, pitcher Joe Hoerner, and outfielder Byron Browne to Philadelphia for first baseman Dick Allen, second baseman Cookie Rojas, and pitcher Jerry Johnson. Flood found out about the trade from a reporter who called to ask for a comment. After 12 years with the Cardinals, he felt he had earned more consideration. “If I had been a foot-shuffling porter, they might have at least given me a pocket watch,” Flood wrote. Moreover, he said, the trade “violated the logic and integrity of my existence. I was not a consignment of goods.”

He declared he would retire rather than report to Philadelphia, a standard ploy for a traded veteran player. He disliked the Philadelphia organization’s reputation and the city’s treatment of black players. But as the hurt of the trade faded, its injustice remained. Flood began to think about suing baseball over the reserve clause, which bound him either to play for Philadelphia or retire. He consulted a local attorney, who endorsed the possibility of a successful lawsuit.

Flood met with Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), who had been trying to reform the game’s archaic labor-relations policies ever since he had taken over as head of the union in 1966. Miller warned that the suit could end Flood’s career and cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost salary as well as legal fees. Flood declared, “I want to go out like a man instead of disappearing like a bottle cap.”

Still, Flood took Miller’s advice to think the suit through carefully. He dined with Philadelphia general manager John Quinn, who thought at the time that he’d convinced Flood to join the Phillies. Flood decided to proceed with the suit anyway, and in mid-December he met with MLBPA representatives, who voted unanimously to pay legal fees and other expenses related to Flood’s suit.

On December 24, 1969, Flood, with help from Miller and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, drafted the following letter to baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn:

“After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.

“It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.”

Kuhn’s reply reaffirmed Organized Baseball’s intention to hold Flood to the provisions of his 1969 contract, which included the right of the Cardinals to assign it wherever they pleased. In April, Philadelphia acquired first baseman Willie Montanez and minor league pitcher Bob Browning from St. Louis as substitutes for Flood. In January 1970, the case of Flood v. Kuhn was filed in U.S. District Court in New York. Judge Irving Ben Cooper denied Flood’s request for an injunction voiding the trade and recommended the issue be settled in a trial, which began in May.

Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg testified for Flood, along with former club owner Bill Veeck and former pitcher and author Jim Brosnan. No active players testified for Flood, nor did any show up to give moral support. Despite the MLBPA representatives’ vote, rank-and-file players were divided, some believing Organized Baseball’s dire predictions that eliminating the reserve clause would destroy the game.

Flood with Senior Professional Baseball League.

Flood with Senior Professional Baseball League.

Sitting out the 1970 season to avoid prejudicing his case, Flood went to Copenhagen after the trial to paint and to pursue plans to open a restaurant. In August, Judge Cooper decided against Flood without touching on the merits of the reserve clause. His ruling simply upheld the 1922 U.S. Supreme Court decision exempting Organized Baseball from antitrust laws because it was not interstate commerce. A federal appeals court upheld Cooper’s ruling, but the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Flood’s appeal.

On June 12, 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 decision against Flood, with Justice Lewis Powell abstaining because he held stock in Anheuser-Busch, which owned the Cardinals. However, the majority opinion hoisted a warning flag for baseball, calling its antitrust exemption an “aberration” and an “anomaly.” Flood’s suit had exposed the vulnerability of Organized Baseball’s legal position, as well as its immorality, and had begun the march toward the modification of the reserve rules, which culminated in arbitrator Peter Seitz’s 1976 ruling establishing free agency.

Flood reaped little from shaking the game to its roots. With his U.S. business interests going sour, he accepted owner Bob Short’s offer to play for the Washington Senators for the 1971 season, after securing an agreement that Major League Baseball’s attorneys would not use it against him in court. Short had to send Philadelphia a player for the right to negotiate with Flood and two more after signing him. But after batting .200 in 13 games, Flood left the team, saying that age and rust had robbed him of his skills.

Flood went back to Europe, landing in Spain, but ultimately returned to the Bay Area, where he worked as a broadcaster for the Oakland Athletics in 1978, painted, and headed Oakland’s Little League. And in one final irony, the man who had sued a commissioner of Organized Baseball ultimately became one himself. Flood headed the short-lived Senior League, which played its single season in the winter of 1989-90.

 

 

 

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People, Part 3

Continuing from yesterday (http://goo.gl/s9hUYE), in today’s installment we provide five more of the longer biographies, bringing us up through No. 16. As mentioned last time, the accounts for those not in the top 20 will be briefer, commensurate with their rankings. To revisit the list from 1 to 100, go back to the launch of this series: http://goo.gl/5171CX.

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Alan Schwarz and John Thorn

11. JOE DiMAGGIO

Joe DiMaggio, Aug 1, 1949.

Joe DiMaggio, LIFE, August 1, 1949.

Of the great players in baseball history, only a handful have possessed a unique, inimitable style. Joe DiMaggio was one of those players. His grace, almost princely elegance, and a diffidence born of painful shyness truly set him apart … and made him, oddly, a hero for his age: the more distant he was, the closer his fans felt to him.

His 1941 record of hitting safely in 56 consecutive games might be called a freak statistic, but in some ways it is the perfect Joe DiMaggio stat. DiMaggio was both “the Yankee Clipper,” a quiet, effortless batter who moved like a graceful sailing ship, and “Joltin’ Joe,” the potent slugger. Gifted with an incredible batting eye, DiMaggio struck out only 369 times in his career. His rookie year was his worst for whiffs, with 39. In his sensational 1941 season he hit 30 homers and struck out only 13 times. But it was as a fielder and baserunner that his intelligent style of play was most obvious. Manager Joe McCarthy said simply, “He was the best baserunner I ever saw.”

In 1932 Joe’s older brother Vince was playing for the minor-league San Francisco Seals in the DiMaggios’ hometown, and the team needed a new shortstop. “Why don’t you try my brother, Joe?” Vince suggested. “He’s pretty good.” The 17-year-old Joe played just three games for the Seals that year, but in 1933 he tore up the Pacific Coast League, hitting .340 with 28 homers and a league-leading 169 RBIs. He also hit safely in 61 consecutive games, foreshadowing his 1941 feat.

His strong season sparked the interest of scouts. But the Seals stalled. The team needed cash, like so many others during the Great Depression, and management figured DiMaggio would be worth even more, perhaps as much as $100,000, if he played another season for the Seals.

After DiMaggio broke his knee getting out of a cab in 1934, the scouts stopped calling for a while. But prior to the 1935 season the Yankees offered the Seals $25,000 and five minor leaguers for DiMaggio. San Francisco agreed, on condition that DiMaggio play one more season on the coast. Joe’s performance indicated that the Yanks had gotten a bargain: he batted .398 and led the league in RBIs and outfield assists.

DiMaggio’s big league debut with the Yankees came on May 3, 1936. He set American League rookie records that season with 132 runs scored and 15 triples. He hit .323, belted 29 homers, and drove in 125 runs. His 22 assists led all AL outfielders. He had 21 assists the next season and had managed another 20 in 1938 before runners wised up.

Like many Americans, DiMaggio served during World War II. He missed three full seasons, from age 28 to 31. Before the war he had been the model of consistency—from 1936 through 1942 batting over .300 every year, bettering .350 three times. He had more than 100 RBIs each season, including 167 in 1937. He was the AL’s Most Valuable Player in 1939 and in 1941. For the first seven years of DiMaggio’s career, his Yankees only once failed to make the World Series—and they won the world championship five times.

After his stellar 1937 season DiMaggio made what was probably the only public-relations gaffe of his career. After reminding team management that his 151 runs scored, 46 homers, and .673 slugging percentage led the league, he asked for a substantial raise, from $15,000 to $45,000. When his bosses told him that all-time great Lou Gehrig was making only $41,000, DiMaggio’s answer was terse and to the point: “Gehrig is underpaid.”

DiMaggio held out for more money until late that April, but the fans didn’t like it. He got nasty letters and was booed when he returned to play after signing for $25,000. But he earned his raise. DiMaggio won back-to-back batting championships in 1939 and 1940, and he hit more than 30 home runs and drove in more than 125 runs both years.

On May 15, 1941, DiMaggio started his streak of hitting safely in 56 consecutive games, during which he batted .408. The streak came to an end in Cleveland on July 17 in front of 67,468 fans, when Ken Keltner made two great plays and Lou Boudreau made another to keep DiMaggio off the bases. DiMaggio’s streak had lasted 12 games longer than Willie Keeler’s 19th-century effort (subsequently tied by Pete Rose).

The next day DiMaggio hit safely again, and continued for 16 more games. His record-breaking hitting streak helped him win his second MVP Award. He finished the season with a .357 average and 125 RBIs. Ted Williams’ outstanding .406 average that year earned him a mere second place in MVP balloting.

DiMaggio batted “only” .305 in 1942, and was out for the next three seasons because of the war. After he returned to play, a series of injuries hampered his effectiveness. He never won another batting title and only twice reached the 30-homer, 100-RBI level that he had topped in five of his first seven years.

Joe DiMaggio for Avon

Joe DiMaggio for Avon

Prior to the 1947 season DiMaggio underwent surgery on his left heel and on his right elbow to remove bone chips. Despite the surgery, he won the American League MVP that year. In November 1948 he once again underwent surgery to remove a bone spur on his right heel. This time DiMaggio’s comeback was slow and painful, and he missed the first 65 games of the 1949 season. Reports came in that fans were praying for him all across the country, and one day in June the pain suddenly and miraculously disappeared. He began an intense period of rehabilitation.

He rejoined the lineup for a series in Fenway Park. The Yanks were locked in a tight battle for first place with the Red Sox after Boston had won nine of its last ten games. Back to his old tricks, DiMaggio belted four homers and drove in nine runs in the three-game Yankee sweep. He finished the season with a .346 batting average with 14 homers and 67 RBIs in only 76 games. The Yankees went on to take the 1949 world championship.

In 1950 DiMaggio’s average fell to .301, second-lowest in his career, but he still swatted 32 homers, drove in 122 runs, and led the league in slugging average. That year he became the first player ever to homer three times in one game in Washington’s mammoth Griffith Stadium.

With the new decade, DiMaggio’s physical problems returned; his body was wearing out. He struggled to play 116 games and batted only .263 in 1951. He decided to retire. The Yankees offered him a full $100,000 salary if he would play in only home games during the 1952 season, but the great DiMaggio declined.

Joe never left the American consciousness, even in retirement. In 1954 he married movie star Marilyn Monroe. Their marriage didn’t last long, but the couple remained close friends for the rest of Monroe’s life. For decades after her death, fresh flowers appeared at her grave each day—many speculated that they came from DiMaggio.

The man who had been celebrated in song throughout his career was once again honored in songwriter Paul Simon’s ballad, “Mrs. Robinson,” in the late ‘60s. And in the 1970s and ‘80s Joe DiMaggio showed up on television screens across the country as a spokesman for a coffeemaker in TV ads.

DiMaggio worked as a coach and front office executive for Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s in 1968 and 1969. In 1969 he was honored during baseball’s centennial celebration as the greatest living ballplayer.

12. HANK AARON

Hank Aaron,1953 Jacksonville

Hank Aaron,1953 Jacksonville

Henry Aaron combined exceptional natural physical ability and lightning-quick reflexes with a professorial study of opposing pitchers to break Babe Ruth’s “unbreakable” record of 714 home runs. In fact, he surpassed Ruth’s record by 41. The African-American Aaron made waves well beyond baseball. That he moved almost overnight from a segregated environment into the white major-league baseball world had a deep impact on Aaron. When he realized he could use his talents as a springboard to speak out effectively against racial intolerance and inequality, he became more than just a highly skilled athlete. He became a man with a mission.

His approach to hitting was scientific but not technical. As Aaron described it, “Ted Williams concentrated on the things he had to do himself. I concentrated on the pitcher. I didn’t stay up nights worrying about my weight distribution or the location of my hands or the turn of my hips; I stayed up thinking about the pitcher I was going to face the next day.”

The success of his relaxed style confounded many observers. Pitcher Robin Roberts once said, “Aaron is the only batter who could fall asleep between pitches and still wake up in time to hit the next one.” Some misjudged him as lazy. An article on Aaron in Time magazine was titled “The Talented Shuffler.” According to Time, “Thinking, Aaron likes to imply, is dangerous. But by now everyone knows that Aaron is not as dumb as he looks when he shuffles around the field.” As Lonnie Wheeler, Aaron’s collaborator on his autobiography, I Had a Hammer, reflected, “It was odd that Joe DiMaggio was also quiet and deliberate, and yet in DiMaggio’s case these traits were perceived as dignity and grace, which translated into American heroism. In Aaron’s case, the same qualities translated into comparative invisibility.”

Aaron’s rise from Alabama teenager to major league star happened quickly. He signed with the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 for $200 a month. A shortstop, he batted cross-handed, but on the Clowns of that time no one bothered with his style, probably thinking it was part of the show. The truly competitive era of the Negro Leagues had ended with the integration of the majors. The Clowns were barnstormers like their basketball counterparts, the Harlem Globetrotters, and featured players with names such as King Tut and Spec Bebop. Why they were called the Indianapolis Clowns was a mystery to Aaron. “We never made it to Indiana the whole time I was with the team.”

It was with the Clowns that the young Aaron got a bitter taste of racial hatred. On a northern trip, the team was rained out of a Sunday doubleheader at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. “We had breakfast while we were waiting for the rain to stop, and I can still envision sitting with the Clowns in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium and hearing them break all the plates in the kitchen after we were finished eating. What a horrible sound. Even as a kid, the irony of it hit me: here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.”

Signed by the Boston Braves for $7,500, Aaron played 87 games for Eau Claire in 1952, hitting .336 with nine home runs and 61 RBIs. The following year Aaron, outfielder Horace Garner, and infielder Felix Mantilla were sent to Class A Jacksonville to break the color line in the South Atlantic League.

Aaron was expected to play the 1954 season at either Class AAA Toledo or AA Atlanta. He was hoping he would not have to help integrate another Southern league when his hero, Bobby Thomson, broke a leg in spring training. The next day Aaron started for the Braves in Thomson’s place in left field against the Red Sox in Sarasota, Fla. He came to the plate against pitcher Ike Delock, who had given up a prodigious minor-league homer to Aaron the year before. Aaron said, “I cracked one over a row of trailers that bordered that outfield fence—hit it so hard that Ted Williams came running out from the clubhouse wanting to know who it was that could make a bat sound that way when it hit a baseball.”

Aaron’s major league debut was typically understated. The Braves’ highlight film of their 1954 season featured only one shot of Aaron, hitting a foul ball. But the next year marked the first of 20 years in which he would hit 20 or more home runs, and the year after that he led the league in batting average. But 1957 was the real breakout year for Aaron and the Braves as he delivered a league-leading 44 homers and 132 RBIs, and the Braves became world champions.

Aaron's homer wins the 1957 pennant.

Aaron’s homer wins the 1957 pennant.

With St. Louis challenging in a wintry late September, Aaron hit an 11th-inning homer that clinched the pennant for the Braves. “I galloped around the bases, and when I touched home plate the whole team was there to pick me up and carry me off the field…. I had always dreamed about a moment like Bobby Thomson had in ‘51, and this was it.” After Aaron’s career ended he said that this had been his most satisfying homer. Milwaukee set a league season attendance record, and Aaron was elected MVP.

Although Aaron maintained his standard of excellence over the next ten years, Milwaukee’s fortunes plummeted. When the team moved to Atlanta in 1966 things changed forever for Aaron. He found the southern air to his liking, slugging 44 and 39 homers, respectively, in his first two years there. He was 34 years old and had 481 lifetime home runs, and neither he nor anyone else was thinking about Babe Ruth’s mark.

In spring training of 1969 the Braves invited Satchel Paige along as a goodwill gesture. Aaron looked around at all the youngsters and felt “as old as Satchel.” He began to think of retirement. Then legendary baseball historian Lee Allen pulled him aside. Allen explained the place Aaron was about to create for himself in baseball history. With his second home run that season he would pass Mel Ott. He had a good chance to get more at bats than anyone else in history, and with 2,792 lifetime hits he had an excellent chance to reach the 3,000 level attained by only eight players. Aaron listened.

A quarter-century later, it is hard to comprehend the enmity that Hank Aaron inspired as he entered the 1973 season 41 home runs behind Ruth. Atlanta police had to assign a bodyguard to him. It was rumored that Aaron’s daughter had been kidnapped from her college dorm, and Aaron told sportswriters about the hate mail he’d received. It became big news, and before long Aaron was receiving more supportive letters than threatening ones. At the end of the year he received a plaque from the U.S. Post Office for having received the most mail of any nonpolitician during the year—930,000 letters. Aaron finished 1973 with 40 homers, leaving him at 713.

The next year began with a minor brouhaha. The Braves wanted to hold Aaron out of the lineup for their first three road games so he could tie and break Ruth’s record in Atlanta. The commissioner’s office and many sportswriters felt that such maneuvering was a travesty. Ordered to play at least two of the games, Aaron hit homer No. 714 off Jack Billingham in his first at bat of the season. He sat out the second game, and in the third he struck out twice and grounded out once against Clay Kirby.

Aaron’s tie-breaking home run came at home against Al Downing of the Dodgers. In Aaron’s first at bat, Downing had walked him. When Aaron finally came around to score, he broke Mays’ NL record for runs. But no one noticed. The Dodgers were ahead, 3-1, in the fourth and Aaron was again at bat. With a man on first, Downing didn’t want to walk him again. Aaron deposited a low slider into the Braves’ bullpen in left field for home run No. 715. Teammates, fans, and Aaron’s mother met him at the plate. The game was halted for a brief ceremony, and the next time Aaron batted the stands had nearly emptied.

Aaron ended the season with 733 homers. He was traded to the American League Milwaukee Brewers, where he added 22 more for a career total of 755. Aaron once said, “I believed, and I still do, that there was a reason why I was chosen to break the record. It’s my task to carry on where Jackie Robinson left off.”

The last player from the Negro Leagues to play in the white majors, he left a legacy much greater than his remarkable playing record.

13. JOHN McGRAW

John McGraw, Pach Bros.

John McGraw, Pach Bros.

“There has been only one manager and his name is John McGraw,” Connie Mack once observed. That quote alone gives baseball fans a good indication of McGraw’s place in baseball history. But not only was he one of the national pastime’s most respected and feared tacticians, McGraw was also a scrappy infielder with a lifetime .334 average on one of baseball’s greatest teams. Another accomplishment not noted in his lifetime was his lifetime on-base percentage of .466, surpassed in baseball history only by Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

John Joseph McGraw’s mother and four of his siblings died in a diphtheria epidemic, and he was sent to live with relatives. He still came under his father’s supervision, however, which was no help to his baseball career. His father hated the game and walloped young McGraw once for breaking some church windows beyond right-center field. To protect his hide, McGraw became skilled at hitting to the opposite field.

McGraw pitched for local teams before signing a $40-a-month contract with Olean, New York, of the New York and Pennsylvania League in 1890. Converted into a third baseman by manager Albert Kenney, McGraw then bounced around the minor leagues before impressing Billy Barnie of the American Association Orioles in August 1891.

That Baltimore team was perhaps the toughest squad of all time, and the young McGraw soon emerged as the toughest and meanest Oriole. In those days rookies were as welcome on a club as a case of typhoid, and McGraw’s arrival wasn’t greeted with huzzahs. The diminutive 120-pound rookie was jeered as a “batboy,” and one day found himself literally shoved off the Oriole bench. The brash McGraw proceeded to punch out his tormentors in full view of the Orioles’ bewildered fans.

That incident gained him acceptance from his teammates. Soon McGraw was trying out new tricks. In those days only one umpire called each game, and McGraw developed such tactics as grabbing an opponent’s belt as the player rounded third, causing runners to play with their belts loosened, or just physically blocking a runner from the base.

He also was a master at fouling off balls, waiting until he got just the right pitch to hit and tiring out the pitcher, for in the nineteenth century a foul ball was not a strike. “There wasn’t any of them that could foul ‘em off harder than McGraw,” teammate “Wee Willie” Keeler said. “He could slam ‘em out on a line so fast that even the umpire couldn’t tell he was doing it on purpose.” In spring training of 1930, a rapidly aging McGraw purposely fouled off 26 straight pitches.

If McGraw couldn’t get on base that way, he had other options. He might, for example, just lean over the pitch and allow himself to be hit by it. Years later on seeing the introduction of batting helmets, Casey Stengel would remark, “If we’d had them when I was playing, John McGraw would have insisted that we go up to the plate and get hit in the head.”

The Orioles captured three straight National League pennants from 1894 through 1896. Manager Ned Hanlon pioneered a tricky style of play that emphasized the hit-and-run, the delayed steal, the Baltimore chop, and anything any of his players could think of that might lead to scoring a run or saving one. McGraw may have learned the ropes from “Foxy Ned,” but he extended the science of baseball into a managerial dynasty that descended directly to Casey Stengel, Billy Martin and Whitey Herzog.

In 1899 McGraw became the Orioles’ player-manager, but when that franchise was lopped off from the National League in 1900 he was sold along with two other players to St. Louis for $15,000. He hated the idea of playing in that city and refused to report until the reserve clause was stricken from his contract. He played in only 99 games, but still hit .344.

In 1901 he became manager of Ban Johnson’s American League entry in Baltimore. McGraw and Johnson were an odd combination. Johnson had pledged that one of the main tenets of the new league would be respect for umpires. McGraw was the premier umpire-baiter in the land. Throughout 1901 and 1902 McGraw and Johnson clashed. Finally in July 1902 McGraw was suspended indefinitely.

In retaliation, McGraw conspired to deliver the Baltimore franchise to the forces of the National League. As part of the bargain he was named manager of the New York Giants. “McGraw was one of the hardest men in the league to control and now that he has left I cannot see how the American League has lost anything,” Ban Johnson said at the time.

McGraw immediately began a house-cleaning of the New York franchise. One of his first moves was to return promising young Christy Mathewson to full-time pitching duty. A McGraw predecessor, Horace Fogel, had attempted to shift Mathewson to first base.

The Giants were a last-place club when McGraw arrived in 1902. By 1904 they were league champions. Although peace had been declared between the National and American leagues, and a World Series had been played in 1903, McGraw and Giants owner John T. Brush so hated Ban Johnson and his upstart circuit that they refused to take part in any postseason play that year.

In 1905, however, they relented, and it was a wise choice. Christy Mathewson pitched three shutouts against the A’s, and the Giants became world champions. McGraw won pennants again in 1911, 1912, 1913, and 1917, but lost the World Series each year. “Not that this record reflects upon the system I have maintained as a manager, for frankly, I am not willing to concede that it does,” McGraw wrote in Baseball Magazine in 1919.

McGraw’s teams played “scientific” baseball, manufacturing runs instead of swinging for the fences. He was a teacher first and a manager second. “The Little Napoleon,” said spitballer Burleigh Grimes, who pitched for McGraw’s Giants in 1927, “taught me more about pitching in the first 15 minutes than I had learned in 11 previous seasons.”

John McGraw, 1926.

John McGraw, 1926.

One of McGraw’s methods was to sign as many college players as possible. McGraw, who had attended St. Bonaventure University, once said, “The difference is simply this—the college boy, or anyone else with even a partially trained mind, immediately tries to find his faults; the unschooled fellow usually tries to hide his. The moment a man locates his faults he can quickly correct them. The man who thinks he is keeping his mistakes under cover will never advance a single step until he sees the light.”

McGraw had his share of disappointments in the game. His club lost the 1908 pennant in heartbreaking fashion on the famed “Merkle Boner,” in which Fred Merkle forgot to touch second base. In the 1912 World Series he had victory snatched away from him on Fred Snodgrass’ “$30,000 Muff.” He saw his young favorites, pitcher Christy Mathewson and outfielder Ross Youngs, die early.

McGraw truly relished his role of Little Napoleon, the baseball genius who directed each move and countermove on the diamond. One of his favorite activities was to call every pitch thrown by Giants hurlers. “I signaled for every ball that was pitched to Ruth during the last World Series,” he said in 1923.

McGraw was at his cockiest in a crucial 1921 series against the Pirates. With the bases loaded, George “Highpockets” Kelly came to the plate for New York. Kelly worked the count to three balls and no strikes, and traditionally McGraw never allowed batters to hit on 3-0. Now determined to outflank the opposition, he flashed a sign for Kelly to swing away. Kelly did a double take but followed orders and delivered a grand slam. “McGraw comes strutting in [saying] if my brains hold out, we’ll win it,” Kelly recalled. The Giants swept the five-game series from Pittsburgh and won the pennant by four games.

McGraw captured world championships in 1921 and 1922, but lost the World Series in both 1923 and 1924. In the late 1920s and early 1930s he became increasingly irascible. “He could be very unfair at times,” said long-time Giants third baseman Freddy Lindstrom. Often McGraw would not even bother to show up at the ballpark. Finally in 1932 he called first baseman Bill Terry into his office to turn over the manager’s responsibilities to him. McGraw resigned on June 4, taking the headline from Yankees legend Lou Gehrig, who hit hit four home runs in that day’s game.

McGraw died of cancer and uremia on February 25, 1934, and was elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously.

14. CONNIE MACK

Connie Mack, 1928; Van Oeyen

Connie Mack, 1928; Louis Van Oeyen

It is often said that baseball managers are hired to be fired. Many managers have even been dismissed from a first-place team or one that had just earned a pennant. But for 50 years Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack didn’t have to worry about where he would work the next season. Whether he won a pennant, as he did 9 times, or finished last, as he did on 17 occasions, he knew the boss would have him back, because Mack also owned the team.

In later years many believed Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy had adopted the name “Mack” as a kindness to newspaper typesetters, but Mack himself told writer Fred Lieb, “Except when we voted, our people always called themselves Mack.” Mack’s father, a Civil War veteran, worked in the cotton mills and shoe factories around Brookfield, Massachusetts. When he died, his son left school and worked in a shoe factory to help support the family. He also played ball with some local teams.

Mack’s career as a major league catcher is often described as undistinguished, but this perception stems largely from his mediocre batting average. The 6-foot 1-inch, 150-pound stringbean was never a strong hitter, compiling a .245 average in 11 seasons. But the most important part of a catcher’s grueling and dangerous job was not hitting but calling the pitches and throwing out base stealers.

While Mack wasn’t a Buck Ewing or a King Kelly with a bat in his hands, he was generally considered a strong defensive player, very smart and very tricky. He learned to brush players’ bats with his glove, and he apologized with such sincerity that the batters often believed the interference was accidental. A caught foul tip was an out, and on swinging strikes Mack often mimicked the sound of a foul tip, thereby retiring many batters who never touched the ball.

After catching for Washington through 1889, Mack joined Buffalo of the Players League. He invested some of his own money in the team, which may explain his appearance in a career-high 123 games. When the Players League folded after one season, Mack joined Pittsburgh in 1891, the same year the team became known as the “Pirates” for its tricky maneuvers to acquire players.

Pittsburgh made a strong run for the pennant in 1893, finishing second as Macj fractured his ankle in a collision at home plate that reduced him to part-time work for the rest of his playing days. When the Pirates tumbled in the standings in 1894, Mack was named manager late in the season. The team had few good hitters, so one of his first moves was to freeze the baseballs in the clubhouse icebox before each game, thereby deadening them. Mack posted a winning record as the Pirates skipper in 1895 and 1896 but was fired after a dispute with an interfering owner.

Mack became manager of the Milwaukee team of the Western League in 1897 through his friendship with league president Ban Johnson. In 1900 the league changed its name to the American League, and in 1901 Johnson proclaimed that it would compete directly with the National League. Sporting goods manufacturer Ben Shibe was granted a franchise in Philadelphia. Mack became manager and owner of 25 percent of the club. He called the team the Athletics, after a Philadelphia team of the old American Association during the 1880s and a celebrated amateur nine that went back to 1860. When John McGraw said that a team in Philadelphia would be “a white elephant,” or heavy money loser, a confident Mack took the white elephant as the team’s symbol.

Known as “the Tall Tactician,” Mack always managed in his street clothes. Another of his idiosyncrasies was his practice of moving his players around on the field by waving his scorecard. To the public he seemed like a fatherly, and later grandfatherly, figure. But Mack could make hard decisions. His players most admired his honesty.

Mack led the A’s to their first pennant in 1902, largely behind pitchers Rube Waddell and Eddie Plank. Pitching, Mack often said, was 75 percent of baseball. Strong pitching always marked his winning teams, and Mack developed a reputation for turning young pitchers into stars. Both Plank and Chief Bender went directly from the college campus to the majors under Mack’s guidance, and his patience with the talented but highly eccentric Waddell made possible the pitcher’s greatest seasons.

In 1905 Mack won another pennant, but in the World Series, the second between the American and National Leagues, the Athletics were the victims of pitching. Although Bender shut out McGraw’s Giants in one game, New York’s Christy Mathewson threw three shutouts against Philadelphia and Joe McGinnity tossed a fourth to give the Giants the Series. Waddell was unable to pitch in the Series due to an injury.

Mack positioning players with scorecard

Mack positioning players with scorecard

Mack rebuilt the Athletics during the next few years. In 1910 he developed his best team to date and won pennants in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914. Plank and Bender were still outstanding. Jack Coombs, another former college star, was the staff ace until an illness derailed his career in 1913. The team also featured the “$100,000 Infield” of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank Baker. The Athletics won the World Series in 1910, 1911, and 1913, twice defeating McGraw’s Giants. Although the A’s were heavily favored in 1914, the lightly regarded “Miracle” Boston Braves swept them in four games.

Despite being a success in the standings, the Athletics struggled financially. Attendance dropped dramatically in 1914 as Philadelphia fans took the club’s success for granted. Meanwhile, the outlaw Federal League was offering huge contracts to NL and AL stars and Mack could not compete. Before the 1914 World Series he told Plank and Bender, both of whom had been loyal to Mack for years, to accept the more lucrative Federal League offers for the following season. The outbreak of war in Europe also cast the future of Organized Baseball in doubt. Many believed the United States would become involved and that baseball would be suspended.

Mack decided to sell off most of his stars, maintaining that the A’s nucleus of young, inexpensive players could keep the team in contention. He was wrong. In 1915 Philadelphia nosedived to last and stayed there for seven seasons.

Beginning in 1922 Mack slowly brought the team back into contention. One player at a time, he added future Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove, Al Simmons, and Jimmie Foxx to his existing stable of stars that included Jimmy Dykes, Bing Miller, George Earnshaw, Mule Haas, Rube Walberg, and Max Bishop. After finishing second in both 1927 and 1928, the Athletics won the pennant in 1929.

Mack surprised the Chicago Cubs in the World Series by starting veteran righthanded sidearm pitcher Howard Ehmke. Once a star hurler, by 1929 Ehmke was thought to be washed up and appeared infrequently for the A’s. But Mack believed that Ehmke’s sidearm deliveries coming out of the white-shirted background at Wrigley Field would baffle the Cubs.

Ehmke won the game, 3-1, striking out 14, a Series record that lasted 23 years. The A’s trailed, 8-0, in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 4, then rallied for 10 runs to win. They won the Series in Game 5 when, behind 2-0, they scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth. After the season Mack received the Edward W. Bok Award as the individual who had rendered the greatest service to Philadelphia.

Mack’s star-studded A’s won a second world championship in 1930 and a pennant in 1931, but the St. Louis Cardinals upset them in the World Series. By then the Depression held America in its grip. With the highest-paid team in baseball, Mack had no choice but to sell his stars once again. By 1935 the Athletics were back in the cellar.

During the next dozen years the team finished last nine times and never got out of the second division. Mack was still able to find and develop some good young players, but he was often forced to sell them before they reached stardom.

In 1948 Mack managed his last first-division team, a veteran crew that edged into fourth place. By then he was 85 years old, and subordinates did most of the real managing. After the 1950 season, when the A’s again finished last, Mack stepped down. In 53 seasons he had won 3,731 games and lost 3,948, both all-time records. Mack died in 1956 at age 93. By then, Shibe Park had been re-christened in his name, but his beloved A’s had moved to Kansas City under new ownership.

15. WALTER O’MALLEY

Walter O'Malley, TIME, April 28, 1958.

Walter O’Malley, TIME, April 28, 1958.

Probably no man in baseball history has ever been so hated in a community as Walter O’Malley, who hijacked Brooklyn’s beloved Dodgers and moved them to Los Angeles. When Brooklyn-born writers Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill once decided to list the three most despicable villains of the century, each wrote down Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley. But a less villainous view of O’Malley has taken hold in recent years, and there are even those who proclaim him a Johnny Appleseed of baseball, taking it West from New York as Alexander Cartwright had in 1849. (Dodger Stadium is located at 1000 Elysian Park Avenue.)

Walter O’Malley was born in the Bronx, attended Culver Military Academy, and earned an engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from Fordham. He began to practice law in New York City in 1931, and in 1941 George McLaughlin, president of the Brooklyn Trust Company, which held the Dodgers’ substantial loans, appointed O’Malley as the club’s attorney.

Under club president Larry MacPhail, the once-pathetic Dodgers had become a competitive team, but their finances were still a mess. O’Malley stepped in to straighten them out and did a marvelous job. By 1944 the franchise was in the black. When stock held by the Ebbets and McKeever families was made available in 1945, O’Malley, general manager Branch Rickey, and John L. Smith, president of Pfizer Chemical Corporation, each ended up with 25 percent of the franchise.

Both Rickey and O’Malley were strong-willed men, and it is not surprising that they clashed on virtually every issue. Rickey had an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball on his side, but O’Malley had Smith. When Smith died, however, his widow decided to sell out. By prior agreement the stock had to be offered to both O’Malley and Rickey before it could go to any outsider.

Only O’Malley had the money to acquire the shares, but before Rickey left for the Pirates he rigged a scheme that jacked the price up to $1.05 million. O’Malley grudgingly paid because it gave him control of the franchise. He was able to purchase the Smith stock because the Dodgers were not his only financial undertaking. He owned the New York Subway Advertising Company, which had an estimated value of $7 million, and he was a partner in the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company. O’Malley’s other holdings were part ownership of a $5-million building materials manufacturing company, partial ownership of a building block company, and 6 percent ownership of the Long Island Railroad.

Once O’Malley had control of the club, the “Rickey people” were pushed out. This didn’t affect the Dodgers’ team, which continued to dominate the National League. O’Malley was making good money, but he wasn’t making enough to be satisfied. Ebbets Field may have been cozy and lovable, but it could only hold 31,902 fans. O’Malley also felt that the neighborhood surrounding Ebbets Field was declining, a legacy of the middle-class exodus to the suburbs.

By 1956 O’Malley was working overtime on a plan to leave Ebbets Field, and he was planning on more than one level. First there was the local angle. He had the engineering firm of Clarke and Rapuano develop plans for a new ballpark on Atlantic Avenue near the Long Island Railroad Terminal. Wherever the Dodgers ended up, O’Malley was intent on building the first privately owned stadium in 30 years. The city fathers, not aware of how serious O’Malley was about moving the franchise, made two counterproposals. The first involved a site at Brooklyn’s Parade Grounds. The second was at Flushing Meadow in Queens, where Shea Stadium was later built. O’Malley wasn’t interested.

At a banquet in 1956 Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley made a rare public appearance, and O’Malley took advantage of the opportunity to offer Wrigley a swap: the Cubs’ Los Angeles Angels franchise for the Dodgers’ Fort Worth Cats. The deal was consummated in February 1957, paving the way for the Dodgers’ shift to Los Angeles.

In the mean time, O’Malley had been in contact with Los Angeles officials. Early in the 1956 season Los Angeles County supervisor Kenneth Hahn had visited New York in an attempt to secure a team for Los Angeles. He had no thought whatsoever of cajoling the defending world champs into moving west. His real target was Calvin Griffith’s Washington Senators. Instead O’Malley contacted Hahn and stunned him with the news that he intended to move the Dodgers to Los Angeles.

1962, Dodger Stadium opens.

1962, Dodger Stadium opens.

After the season O’Malley secretly visited Los Angeles and toured the city in a sheriff’s department helicopter, looking for an acceptable stadium site. He found it in a place called Chavez Ravine a few minutes’ drive from the downtown area. O’Malley was understandably tight-lipped about his plans, but word eventually leaked out. On May 29, 1957, the National League gave approval for both the Dodgers and the Giants to move to the West Coast. Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham was also eager to leave New York. The Polo Grounds was crumbling and the neighborhood around it was in seemingly irreversible decline. New York baseball fans were devastated, but calamity provided opportunity as O’Malley’s nemesis Branch Rickey combined with such folks as Bill Shea and Joan Payson to announce a rival Continental League as a stalking horse for MLB expansion.

On October 7 the Los Angeles City Council voted to swap Chavez Ravine for nearby Wrigley Field, which O’Malley had acquired in the franchise transaction with the Cubs. The city agreed to spend $2 million to upgrade the area, and the county to sink $2.4 million into access roads. The next day O’Malley announced that the Brooklyn Dodgers were no more.     His team took temporary quarters at the huge Los Angeles Coliseum until Dodger Stadium, built with a $10-million advance from Union Oil of California, was completed in 1962. O’Malley made sure his franchise was as profitable as possible. There were no water fountains in Dodger Stadium until loud protests were made. Likewise there was no free television coverage of Dodgers home games at first. O’Malley hated to give away anything. But even with water fountains and free TV, the Dodgers prospered beyond his wildest dreams.

Because of his wealth, success, and brains he became Organized Baseball’s most powerful owner. “It’s just a lot of bunk to say I run baseball and am more powerful than the commissioner,” O’Malley once argued. Yet it was an open secret that O’Malley had installed Bowie Kuhn as commissioner in 1969, and had then prevented Kuhn’s unseating in 1975 during an owners’ revolt. And it was also O’Malley who had Kuhn call off the owners’ spring training lockout in 1976.

O’Malley died of cancer at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in 1979. His son Peter owned the Dodgers franchise until it was sold in 1997.

 

 

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People, Part 2

Continuing from yesterday (http://goo.gl/GwKJ4A), here we fill out the top ten. The biographies of those not in the top 20 will be briefer, commensurate with their rankings. Alan and I will lash ourselves to the mast and resist the sirens’ song beckoning us to the rocks of Scylla–rewriting to reflect a current understanding–or Charybdis–reordering the rankings.

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Alan Schwarz and John Thorn

3. ALEXANDER CARTWRIGHT

Cartwright Plaque

Cartwright Plaque

His Hall of Fame plaque reads: “Alexander Joy Cartwright Jr. ‘Father of Modern Base Ball.’ Set bases 90 feet apart. Established nine innings a game and 9 players a team. Organized the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of N.Y. in 1845. Carried baseball to Pacific Coast and Hawaii in pioneer days.” Although the three specific accomplishments credited to him on the plaque cannot be attributed to him alone, he was a powerful influence on the game’s primal years and represents all the indispensable work of his Knickerbocker club.

According to legend, Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 at Cooperstown, New York, but this story has since been thoroughly disproved. Baseball was never really “invented”; it evolved. Young Americans had played the old English games of base and ball and several American variants since the 1700s. Those games gradually metamorphosed into baseball as we know it today, and Cartwright stood tall in making baseball a “manly” and “scientific” game worthy of adult attention.

Born in New York on April 17, 1820, Cartwright left school at age 16 and entered the business world, as was common in those days. Bright and ambitious, he started as a clerk and soon advanced to a position of responsibility.

After work, Cartwright joined other young New Yorkers to play ball. The group included merchants, lawyers and clerks whose professional status allowed them to leave work in mid-afternoon to enjoy healthy recreation. Common laborers usually had to work until dusk.

According to one early Knickerbocker, Dr. Daniel Lucius Adams, the group’s game was called “base ball” rather than rounders or town ball, which in later years were said to have been the direct antecedents of the Knickerbocker, or “New York Game” of ball. Adams began playing after 1839, when he set up his medical practice in New York. His group was preceded by an earlier association, “the New York Base Ball Club,” but according to Adams it had “no definite organization” and did not last long.

Several members of the New York Base Ball Club joined other young men in a new assembly that included Cartwright. In his diary, Cartwright claims to be one of the group’s better players. The jovial and gregarious clerk was a leader of the group when it wrote a formal constitution that named it “the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of September 23, 1845.” Cartwright served as secretary and vice president.

Cartwright may have been the first to suggest to his fellow Knickerbockers that they write down the rules of baseball, thereby codifying the regulations members had been following for years. He and three other members defined 14 playing rules, only three of which differed markedly from the rules of rounders.

They laid out the field in a diamond shape rather than a square, introduced the concept of foul territory, and discarded the practice of retiring a runner by hitting him with a thrown ball (“plunking”). These rules were created out of necessity: the diamond and foul territory were suggested by the dimensions of Madison Square, where the Knickerbockers played until 1846, and plunking was eliminated as ungentlemanly and potentially hazardous.

Alex Cartwright ca. 1850.

Alex Cartwright ca. 1850.

Perhaps more interesting is what the new rules did not include. The bases were not set at 90 feet apart. The length of the game was not set at nine innings, nor were the number of players mandated as nine. Other equally important rules that led to the modern game were also not included by the Knickerbockers. The distance from the pitcher’s mound to the plate was not mentioned; the rules did not state that a ball had to be caught on the fly to record an out (the first bounce was good enough); and there was no system of balls and strikes. The only fixed dimension was the 42 paces from home to second base and from third base to first. (For many years this was interpreted as placing the bases very nearly 90 feet apart. However, the size of a “pace” in 1845 was 2.5 to 3 feet depending on which authority was consulted. The Knickerbocker bases were only about 75 feet apart if the smaller measurement is used.)

After five or more years of intramural play on Manhattan Island, with their rules in hand and their new play ground at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, the Knickerbockers sought an opponent. On June 19, 1846, they met the New York Nine at the Elysian Fields in what is often called the first modern baseball game. The Nine won, 23‑1. The score indicates that the game followed the rules of early ball games, ending after a specific number of runs rather than innings. Although Cartwright was supposedly one of the best Knickerbocker players, he umpired the game and enforced a six-cent fine, payable on the spot, for swearing.

Over the next few years the Knickerbockers rarely played with nine men on a side. More often they had eight men—three outfielders, three infielders, the pitcher, and the catcher—although ten and sometimes as many as twelve players were also used.

Cartwright went to California during the great gold rush of 1849. As he made his way across the Great Plains, he brought a Knickerbocker baseball with him and is said to have taught baseball to anyone willing to play. By August he arrived in San Francisco, too late to strike gold; after only six weeks he gave up and booked passage for New York on a boat taking the Pacific route.

Cartwright became ill and put ashore on the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii. He fell in love with the tropical islands and sent for his family, who joined him in 1851. His interest in baseball continued, and he established leagues throughout the islands. He prospered in business and died a wealthy man on September 9, 1892.

The game continued to evolve in New York. In 1849 and 1850 the position of shortstop was created to facilitate relaying outfield throws. D.L. Adams was the first to play at that position. Initially, the position was set between the outfield and the infield, for at that time the ball was so light that few outfielders could throw it all the way to the infield.

Alexander Cartwright’s contributions to the game’s development might have been forgotten had it not been for Abner Doubleday. In 1938 the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, was nearly ready to open, and a great deal of the publicity named Doubleday as the game’s inventor, following upon a three-year study by the Mills Commission that culminated in “findings” reported in the Spalding Guide of 1908.

This grated on the Cartwright family. Cartwright’s grandson Bruce presented the Hall with his grandfather’s diaries, clippings, and other paraphernalia that showed how Cartwright and the Knickerbockers had codified the transformation of rounders into baseball, thus rendering the Doubleday tale a fairy tale. But by that time publicity surrounding the Doubleday legend was too widespread for the founders of the Hall to reverse their course. After all, the general’s supposed brainstorm was the reason for building the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in the first place.

Fortunately, no one had to call the Civil War hero a liar. He never claimed to have invented baseball and had been dead for a decade before anyone else asserted that he had. The Hall of Fame wisely chose to downplay the myth, and Doubleday was never elected as Cartwright was in 1939—a de facto rejection of the Doubleday claim.

Cartwright’s role in developing the early game in New York and in spreading it across the continent to Hawaii is certainly important. But it is more accurate to view him as a symbol of all those who helped to change the game from an old English diversion and favorite of American schoolboys into our national pastime.

4. MARVIN MILLER

Marvin Miller, 1972

Marvin Miller, 1972

Few men have affected baseball’s history more than Marvin Miller. The Players Association executive director for 18 years, Miller led his union in a revolution that forever changed the balance of power between players and owners. “The players have so much power that they should get one more thing done,” Manager Paul Richards, Miller’s bitter adversary, once said. “They should get Marvin Miller inducted into Cooperstown. That man has taken over.”

Richards, of course, was being sarcastic. But the irony is that Miller might well be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day. Baseball’s establishment failed to see the players’ perspective—that Miller only taught the players how to fight and how to win.

Miller was born in Brooklyn on April 14, 1917 and grew up a staunch Dodgers fan. During World War II he served with the War Labor Board and after the war he worked for the U.S. Reconciliation Service of the Labor Department, the International Association of Machinists, and the United Auto Workers before joining the United Steelworkers of America as a staff economist in 1950. Eventually he became their chief economist and a confidant of union presidents Philip Murray and I.W. Abel.

In 1965 Miller weighed job offers from Harvard and the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace. He also considered staying with the union and ultimately running for its presidency. While he was considering his options, representatives from the Players Association, seeking to replace Judge Robert Cannon, asked to meet with him.

Originally major-league owners had seen the Players Association as a harmless company union. They even offered to fund its operation. But once Miller took over, all bets were off. After almost 100 years of absolute power the owners were not prepared to cede control. But the shrewd Miller was to turn the owners’ arrogance back upon them to devastating effect.

Quickly he took a traditionally antiunion work force and rallied it behind him. “He was able to do it because he was honest and everything he said was the actual truth,” Brooks Robinson contended. Miller was also among the smartest men in baseball. He combined a brilliant mind with an uncanny ability to lay out his position in such a logical manner that it seemed impossible to disagree with him.

In 1969 a strike threatened, but it was averted when management conceded to Miller by increasing the pension fund and the minimum major-league salary and recognizing the right of players to employ agents. But in 1972 the Players Association staged the first general work stoppage in baseball history, delaying the start of the season for 13 days and forcing the cancellation of 86 regular-season games. The players wanted a 17-percent raise in pension benefits to keep pace with the cost of living since enactment of the last Basic Agreement in 1969 and $500,000 to cover increased health-care benefits. The negotiations stalled.

On March 9 the White Sox became the first club to authorize the union’s Executive Board to strike. Through mid-March a strike was unanimously supported. Not until four negative votes were cast by the Red Sox on March 16 did anyone break rank. The final vote was 663-10 in favor of strike authorization, with two abstentions.

Dick Young of the New York Daily News, the most influential sports columnist in the country, led the anti-union movement among the media, a movement that split along generational lines. “Ballplayers are no match for him,” Young wrote of Miller. “He has a steel trap mind wrapped in a melting butter voice. He runs the players through a high-pressure spray the way an auto goes through a car wash, and that’s how they come out, brainwashed. With few exceptions, they follow him blindly, like zombies.”

The way the players saw it, Young was as blind as the owners. He refused to acknowledge that times were changing. Miller played devil’s advocate with his union whenever a strike was near. He wanted to make sure union members understood the consequences of their actions. Finally a strike was authorized by an Executive Board vote of 47-0 with only the Dodgers’ Wes Parker abstaining. Rick Reichardt, the player representative for the White Sox, characterized Miller’s behavior during the vote as “very conservative,” adding, “the whole tone of the meeting was very professional. He wasn’t an instigator.”

The strike began on April 1, five days before the start of the regular season. A storm of fan protest greeted the move. The players eventually won an increased management contribution of $490,000 to their benefits plan, plus a transfer of $400,000 in surplus pension funds to improve retirement benefits and maintain their health benefits.

“The real issues were never a question of pension or money,” Miller said. “They were more of a question of human dignity.” Lost amid the dollar figures in the newspaper stories was a very important concession that had been granted to labor—the right to arbitrate grievances. In just a few years that right would turn baseball on its head.

Coming hard on the heels of baseball’s first strike was the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 19 ruling in the Curt Flood case. Flood had challenged the reserve clause, which effectively bound a player to his team in perpetuity. By a 5-3 majority, the high court reaffirmed the game’s antitrust exemption that kept the reserve clause intact. Yet changes definitely were coming. In 1973 the players won the right to salary arbitration, a huge step for the union.

Then in December of that year arbitrator Peter Seitz voided Catfish Hunter’s Oakland contract due to owner Charles Finley’s failure to comply with its terms. By itself the decision hardly affected free agency, but the frenzied bidding war that erupted for Hunter’s services presaged what would soon come.

The Yankees signed Hunter, one of baseball’s best pitchers, to a multiyear deal worth more than $3 million. That opened a lot of eyes, especially on the players’ side. They began to understand what they would be worth on the open market.

McNally, Messersmith, and Miller.

In December 1975 Seitz let the other shoe drop when he overturned the reserve clause in the Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith cases. The way the owners had always interpreted it, the reserve clause allowed them to renew a contract in perpetuity and thus bind a player to a team for as long as the team wished. In effect, the players contended, they were slaves no matter how high their wages were.

Seitz ruled that the option year in every contract was just that: one option year that could not be renewed unilaterally. Miller was not entirely surprised. In one of Seitz’s rulings involving the National Basketball Association, the arbitrator had cited a 1969 California Court of Appeals decision. It had given Rick Barry the right to sign with an American Basketball Association team after playing out his option year with the San Francisco Warriors. The NBA’s option clause was an exact duplicate of Organized Baseball’s. After Seitz’s ruling, the players and owners worked out a new Basic Agreement that gave players the right to free agency after six years, a requirement still in effect.

Miller faced one more great battle. In 1980 owners wanted to institute compensation for teams losing free agents. Players adamantly opposed the owners’ plan since it would severely damage the players’ negotiating leverage. The first midseason strike in baseball history was barely averted. But a year later on June 11, 1981, with the issue still unresolved, the players struck.

Again public sympathy was hardly with the players, who were now earning a minimum salary of $32,000 a year and an average wage of $193,000. The strike cost the players $28 million in lost wages, and the clubs each lost anywhere from $1.6 million to $7.6 million in revenues. In many cases the losses were offset by the owners’ $50 million in strike insurance, which had been purchased at a cost of $2.2 million. Miller, who was making $160,000 a year, did not accept his salary for the duration of the strike.

The strike was settled on July 31, with one-third of the season lost, in a settlement that included complex compensation formulas. Eventually the owners scrapped the formulas because the union had insisted that all teams, not just those signing free agents, had to submit players to the compensation pool. This did not sit well with teams that opted out of the market but still lost a player.

Throughout the years Miller’s chief antagonist was Bowie Kuhn, the game’s commissioner from 1969 to 1984. He considered Miller an “old-fashioned, 19th- century trade unionist who hated management generally, and the management of baseball specifically.” For his part Miller said of Kuhn, “To paraphrase Voltaire on God, if Bowie Kuhn had never existed, we would have had to invent him.”

When Miller retired in 1984 Reggie Jackson said, “Marvin Miller took on the establishment and whipped them. We never would have been free agents without him.”

5.  BRANCH RICKEY

Robinson & Rickey.

Robinson & Rickey.

Branch Rickey was a baseball genius, the greatest front-office man the game has ever known. He was also a sanctimonious, hypocritical cheapskate, a man who would play fast and loose with the rules and go back on his word when it suited him. That he was a successful general manager for 42 consecutive years, for the Browns, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates, becomes almost irrelevant when compared to how much he did to shape the modern baseball landscape.

First, he literally invented the farm system in the early 1920s when he was with the Cardinals. Before that the minor leagues were composed of independent teams that survived by developing and then selling players to the majors.

Second, he integrated baseball. What Rickey did transcended the game and became a significant event in the history of the United States.

Finally, his plans to form a third major league in 1959 convinced the leaders of Major League Baseball that they had to expand. That was the beginning of a sports explosion in this country that continues to this day.

Raised on an Ohio farm, Wesley Branch Rickey coached and played semipro baseball and football to pay his way through Ohio Wesleyan College. A devout Methodist, he kept a promise to his mother that he would not play or work on Sundays. He wouldn’t even travel on the Sabbath. Of course, later in his career his teams played on Sundays and he always called the ballpark to check on the day’s receipts.

While at Ohio Wesleyan he also coached the baseball team. He had a black first baseman, Charles Thomas, who was refused admission to a South Bend hotel on a trip to play Notre Dame. Rickey finally persuaded hotel management to allow Thomas to share his room. In the room, according to Rickey, Thomas rubbed his hands together and cried to his 21-year-old coach, “Black skin, black skin. If only I could make it white.” Years later, Rickey tearfully retold the story and said it was the genesis of his crusade to break the color barrier in the major leagues.

A catcher with a strong arm, Rickey began his professional career in 1903, and after impressing scouts while playing for Dallas he was purchased by the Reds late in the 1904 season. But Reds manager Joe Kelley released him when he learned that Rickey wouldn’t play on Sundays. Rickey kicked around with other clubs through 1907 (not counting two cameo at bats with the Browns in 1914),

He began taking law classes at Michigan and in 1911 became the school’s baseball coach. After he got his degree and went into practice he also agreed to do some scouting for the Browns. In 1913 Rickey became a full-time employee of the Browns as an executive assistant, and soon after that became their general manager. In the final weeks of the season Hedges gave him the manager’s job as well, which Rickey kept through the 1915 season. True to his oath, he stayed home on Sundays, letting a coach handle the team.

1905 Ohio Wesleyan University; Rickey (back row, right).

1905 Ohio Wesleyan U.; Rickey (rear, right).

His on-field acumen didn’t help the Brownies, but his legal background and Michigan connection did. George Sisler had signed a professional contract as an underage high schooler without parental consent, but he had not accepted any money. He then decided to enroll at Michigan. When the pro contract threatened his eligibility, Rickey advised the family to move to invalidate the agreement. Rickey was thus able to keep the star of his team, and the grateful young Sisler signed with Rickey’s Browns when he graduated in 1915—after Rickey convinced club owner Bob Hedges to break a gentlemen’s agreement that had earmarked Sisler for the Pirates.

By the time Sisler had become a star for the Browns, Hedges had sold the team to Phil Ball, and Rickey had moved across town to the bankrupt Cardinals as club president. After serving as a major in a World War I chemical warfare unit with Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Sisler, Rickey returned to the Cardinals as president and, saving a $10,000 salary, as field manager. After the club finished seventh in 1919 while teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, Sam Breadon bought 72 percent of the stock. Rickey owned the rest.

Breadon demoted Rickey to vice president but allowed him to continue as field manager. About that time Rickey developed his farm system plan—out of necessity. The Cardinals could not afford to compete with other teams to purchase top talent from independent minor league teams. Rickey had to devise a method of acquiring teams. He had to establish a system of tracking and evaluating players in every organization in the majors. He had to hire a network of scouts and organize tryout camps. He also had to develop an organization-wide teaching system. It was a task perfectly suited to Rickey’s energy and intellect, and one he was able to carry out even though he was still the field manager. When he was done, the Cardinals farm system included 33 teams. In contrast, each major-league franchise today operates only five or six minor-league teams.

By 1942 Rickey’s contract was up in St. Louis. He was fed up with Breadon, and vice versa. No one really knows if he was fired or if he quit, but he moved over to the Dodgers without missing a beat. Rickey protégé Larry MacPhail was leaving the Dodgers club after building it into a contender, so Brooklyn hired Rickey as president and general manager. He also bought 25 percent of the team.

Rickey could now move ahead with his plans to integrate baseball. By the end of World War II Rickey sensed the timing was right. He also knew it was a smart move. More and more teams were starting to copy his farm system, and he wanted, as always, to stay a step ahead of the competition. And unlike Bill Veeck, who integrated the American League when he signed Larry Doby in 1947, Rickey never paid a Negro League team for a player, knowing Negro League owners would not want to be blamed for delaying the end of the color barrier.

Rickey’s expansion machinations began in the spring of 1945, when he announced the formation of the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers to play in a new United States Baseball League and dispatched scouts to search the Negro Leagues for talent. However, the Brown Dodgers and USBL were a scam designed to hide Rickey’s real purpose—the integration of the established major leagues.

On October 23, 1945, with the approval of his Dodgers partners, Rickey signed Jackie Robinson. After a brilliant 1946 season in Montreal, Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947 and was an immediate star. Rickey’s Dodgers thus got the jump on the rest of baseball, signing such black stars as pitcher Don Newcombe, catcher Roy Campanella, pitcher Joe Black, and second baseman Jim “Junior” Gilliam. As a result, between 1947 and 1956 the Dodgers won seven pennants in 10 years.

Rickey, however, did not last long enough in Brooklyn to enjoy all the fruits of his labors. Walter O’Malley, one of Rickey’s partners, wanted control of the team and after the 1950 season led a boardroom coup that forced Rickey out. Rickey, however, cried all the way to the bank because a clause in his contract forced the Dodgers to match the highest bid for his stock if he was not rehired. Rickey produced a $1.25-million offer, more than double O’Malley’s estimate of the stock’s value. O’Malley went to his grave believing the offer was a phony.

Rickey moved on to Pittsburgh, laying the foundation for the 1960 Pirates team that won the World Series. His greatest coup with the Pirates was drafting Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers, who were trying to hide him in the minors by not playing him regularly.

Rickey’s last venture was the Continental League, his response to the majors’ repeated refusal to expand beyond 16 teams. One of his fellow “owners” was Joan Payson, who eventually acquired the expansion New York Mets franchise. Rickey was 77 by then, but his involvement in the proposed new league, which presaged the American Football League, the American Basketball Association, and the World Hockey League, was enough to put the fear of God into the major leagues. By 1961 Organized Baseball initiated an expansion program that has since nearly doubled the number of major league teams.

Rickey died in 1965, less than two weeks before his 84th birthday. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.

6. ROBERTO CLEMENTE

Clemente with Montreal, 1954.

Clemente with Montreal, 1954.

Roberto Clemente Walker played the game as if it were his and his alone. His haughty stance at the plate, the way he snared flyballs, and the way he slung the ball from right field to third base were all unique. He won four batting titles and a dozen Gold Gloves. But it is not his on-field exploits that place him this high among our Top 100. As Jackie Robinson broke a barrier for African Americans, Clemente was and remains a beacon for generations of Latin American boys who dream of playing baseball on the big stage. (Fernando Valenzuela may likewise inspire future generations of Mexican lads.)

As a youth in Puerto Rico, Clemente sneaked peeks at his favorite player, Monte Irvin, through the outfield fence. As a teenager he played in the same Puerto Rico winter league outfield with Willie Mays, and the scouts took notice. The Dodgers signed him for $10,000, although he received offers nearly three times that after agreeing to the contract. A rule at the time stated that Clemente could be drafted by any team for $4,000 if he wasn’t brought up to the majors. Yet the Dodgers sent him to their Triple A farm club in Montreal, where Clemente felt he was treated oddly. The Dodgers were trying to hide him from the Giants, but this was never explained to him, and he was so hurt and confused by the way he was handled that he thought of quitting. He recalled, “If I struck out I stayed in the lineup. If I played well I was benched. One day I hit three triples and was benched the next day. Another game I was taken out for a pinch hitter in the first inning with the bases loaded.”

After this disappointing first season Clemente returned to Puerto Rico. While he was visiting his brother, who was dying of a brain tumor, a drunk driver plowed into his car. The crash damaged three spinal discs, an injury that would plague Clemente for the rest of his career.

When the last-place Pirates met after the 1954 season to discuss who they should draft first, Clyde Sukeforth said to Pittsburgh general manager Branch Rickey, who had also been his boss in Brooklyn, “You will never live long enough to draft a boy with this kind of ability for $4,000 again.”

During his first two seasons as the Pirates’ right fielder Roberto Clemente gunned down 18 and 20 runners, respectively, on the bases. In his second year he hit .311. Clemente, and all of Pittsburgh, had a terrific year in 1960. He hit 16 homers and batted .314, and his 94 RBIs led the team as they shocked baseball by upsetting the powerful Yankees in the World Series.

Always a proud man, Clemente took it hard when he got the news that he had only finished eighth in the 1960 Most Valuable Player voting. It pushed him to try even harder. The next season Clemente changed his bat. To avoid over-swinging on bad balls he began to use heavier lumber and went on to enjoy 11 .300-plus seasons in the next 12 years. He won his first batting title in 1961, hitting .351 with 23 homers, 10 triples, and 89 RBIs.

That year Clemente missed the last five games of the season because a Don Drysdale fastball had chipped a bone in his right elbow, requiring off-season surgery. Because of the aggressive way he played, he suffered numerous other injuries. Unlike other players who declined to speak about their physical problems, Clemente discussed his aches and pains with anyone who asked. (“My bad shoulder feels good, but my good shoulder feels bad,” he once said.) His constant complaining about aches and pains didn’t sit well with Pittsburgh sportswriters, who accused him of being a hypochondriac, overlooking the fact that Clemente played more than 140 games for eight seasons in a row.

In 1964 and 1965 he won batting titles again, but the Pirates felt he wasn’t providing as much power as he could. Manager Harry “the Hat” Walker asked him to swing for the fences more often. Clemente responded by belting 29 homers and driving in 119 runs in 1966, although his batting average fell a dozen points to .317.

His defensive abilities never suffered. In one game, in a bases-loaded situation, a batter lined an apparent single to right. The runner on third didn’t see any need to hustle home; Clemente fired a strike to the catcher for a stunning force-out. Clemente won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1966, and he felt that the injustice of 1960 had been rectified.

He suddenly became more open, eagerly taking the reins of leadership in the clubhouse. If a young Pirate had a problem, Clemente discussed it quietly. Manager Walker failed to get new Pirate Matty Alou to quit pulling every pitch and use a heavier bat, but Clemente spoke to Alou. The newcomer responded with a 111-point increase in his batting average and won the league batting title.

With the arrival of rookies Manny Sanguillen, Richie Hebner, and Al Oliver in 1969, Clemente’s role as a leader became even more valuable. From 1969 through 1971 Clemente hit .345,.352, and .341. The Pirates honored him in 1970 at their new Three Rivers Stadium. Puerto Rican fans, who by now viewed him as a demigod, delivered a scroll signed by 300,000 people in Puerto Rico (roughly 10 percent of the island’s population).

More than 43,000 fans showed up for the festivities and game, which the Bucs won, 11‑0. Clemente obligingly had two hits and made a great catch of a Joe Morgan line drive. He also made a running, diving grab of a foul popup by Denis Menke that meant absolutely nothing to the outcome of the game and tore his knee open in the process. “It’s the only way I know how to play baseball,” he explained.

Clemente at Ebbets Field, 1955.

Clemente at Ebbets Field, 1955.

His intensity and skill received their finest showcase in 1971. The Pirates knocked off the Giants in the 1971 National League Championship Series, with Clemente hitting .333 and driving in four runs. In the World Series against the favored Baltimore Orioles, Clemente hit in all seven games, batting .414 and slugging .759. Writer Roger Angell said, “Clemente played a kind of baseball that none of us had ever seen before—throwing and running and hitting at something close to the level of absolute perfection.”

Clemente would never scale such heights again. Injuries allowed him to play in only 102 games in 1972, but he still hit .312. His double off the Mets’ Jon Matlack on September 30 was his 3,000th hit. The Pirates again made it to the NLCS but lost on Bob Moose’s wild pitch in the ninth inning of the final game.

In late December of that year a devastating earthquake struck Nicaragua. More than 6,000 people were killed, 20,000 injured, and tens of thousands left homeless. Clemente raised money and other contributions to help the survivors. As always, he was tireless, pleading for donations personally, negotiating discounts with airlines for transporting the materials, and packing and loading boxes for shipment. While Puerto Rico celebrated the holidays, Clemente was working 16-hour days to see that earthquake victims received what they needed.

After hearing that some of the supplies sent to Nicaragua were not getting to the right people, Clemente decided to take matters into his own hands. He decided to fly to Nicaragua in a cargo plane and make sure that distribution was carried out properly. On New Year’s Eve he boarded an overloaded DC-7 that he had rented for $4,000 to fly to Nicaragua. The plane crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff.

New Year’s Day was to have been a day of great celebration in Puerto Rico, with a new governor being inaugurated. Instead, the inaugural festivities were canceled, and the entire Pirates team flew to Puerto Rico for the funeral.

The Hall of Fame waived the five-year wait between last playing appearance and eligibility for Clemente, as it had done earlier for Lou Gehrig. The first Latin player so honored, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same day as his boyhood idol, Monte Irvin. In 1971 the Commissioner’s Office had started an annual award to the player who best exemplified baseball on and off the field; in 1973 it was renamed the Roberto Clemente Award.

More than 20 years after his death, a video about Clemente on the Three Rivers Stadium scoreboard produced instant, awestruck silence, followed by respectful applause and cheers touched with sadness. A statue of him was unveiled at Three Rivers Stadium at the 1994 All-Star Game. He had said in the late 1960s, “If you have an opportunity to make things better and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this earth.”

7. HENRY CHADWICK

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

Having played cricket and rounders in his native England, Chadwick came to America with his family in 1837 at age 13. He first played baseball in 1847 and pronounced it a descendant of the earlier English games. When nearly a decade later he first saw games between skilled players, he recognized baseball’s potential to become America’s national game. His writings and influence helped make that potential a fact.

Chadwick began his reporting career with the Long Island Star in 1844. In the late 1850s, he began covering baseball games as a reporter for several newspapers, most notably the New York Clipper and the Brooklyn Eagle. In connection with this, he developed the box score and devised a system of scoring that is little changed today, although he borrowed many aspects of the system from fellow sportswriter M.J. Kelly. In his devotion to making baseball a “scientific” game, he devised new measures of player performance, championed those invented by others, and created the statistical underpinnings that bind the game’s present to its past while providing a roadmap for understanding how teams succeed or fail.

Chadwick influenced the development of playing rules, game strategies, scoring practices, and even the moral tone of the game. Most important, though, was his relentless promotion of baseball as the national pastime, a game that would be a tonic for America as cricket surely was Great Britain.

Chadwick continued to write and comment on baseball for more than 50 years. He originated the first guide, Beadle’s Dime Baseball Player, in 1860, and edited DeWitt’s Guide through the 1870s and Spalding’s Base Ball Guide from 1881 to 1908. His The Game of Base Ball (1868) was the first hardcover book published on the subject.

Widely influential for his writings, he also had a direct influence in shaping the game by serving on various rules committees, beginning in 1858. He opposed gambling, drunkenness, and rowdiness among players, sometimes to no avail. Chadwick considered himself one of “the intelligent majority” who preferred scientific hitting over slugging, and fielding prowess above all.

Chadwick did not win all his battles. He opposed professionalism among players, and chastised the National Association when it decided to pay umpires. He opposed creation of the National League, writing that the latter was “a sad blunder.” But he took on owners and players with equal gusto. In his most enduring squabble, he traced baseball’s origins to the English game of rounders, rejecting the jingoistic notion that it sprang into life fully formed on native soil. He gave credit to the Knickerbockers as the game’s true pioneers, but held fast to his belief that the game migrated to America from England. A long-standing friendly argument with nativist Albert G. Spalding over baseball’s origins prompted Spalding to form a commission to look into the matter. Headed by former NL president Abraham G. Mills, it concluded in the Spalding Guide of 1908 that the game had been invented in Cooperstown by Civil War hero Abner Doubleday.

Chadwick—more the “Father of Baseball” than Doubleday and as much as any man—died from pneumonia in 1908 after attending Opening Day in Brooklyn. Flags around the league flew at half-staff in his honor. In 1938 he was named to the Hall of Fame; he remains the only writer honored not in a separate exhibit but with his own plaque.

8. JIM CREIGHTON

Creighton, 1860.

Creighton, 1860.

Jim Creighton was baseball’s first national star, probably its first professional, and its first martyr. He was the greatest hitter of his time, and his pitching revolutionized the game. Remarkably, he accomplished all this by the age of 21.

In 1857, at the age of 16, Creighton helped to organize a neighborhood team, the Young America Base Ball Club. The next year, he and his friend George Flanley founded the Niagara Club. Creighton played both second and third base. In the ninth inning of a game between the Niagaras and the Brooklyn Stars, perhaps the best junior team in the area, he took over the pitching duties with his team well behind. From that moment on, baseball was never the same.

According to the existing rules, the ball was supposed to be “pitched”—that is, delivered with a stiff-armed, locked-wrist, underhand motion, much like a bowler’s delivery. Throwing the ball was illegal, the calling of balls and strikes was still in the future, and the pitcher’s task was simply to deliver the ball to the batter so that he could hit it. A kind of partnership developed between the pitcher and the batter. As the game grew more competitive, pitchers tried to make batters hit the ball to a location where it would produce an out. But the rules of the day, which limited pitchers to pitching underhanded, left them with few options. Most pitchers tried to keep the ball away from the batter, hoping that frustration would lead to a swing at a “bad” pitch. Consequently, with no bases on balls awarded to limit an at bat, some batters stayed at the plate for up to 15 minutes.

That changed when Creighton became a pitcher. According to an eyewitness account, “When Creighton got to work something new was seen in base ball—a low, swift delivery, the ball rising from the ground past the shoulder to the catcher. The Stars soon saw they could not cope with such pitching.” Creighton was responsible for several important innovations. He threw much faster than other pitchers did, and because there was no mound the ball’s trajectory was nearly horizontal, as opposed to the arcing lobs batters expected. Also, he put spin on the ball in such a way that his fast pitches hopped or darted as they approached the plate. These inventions changed the face of baseball.

As Creighton’s reputation grew, some claimed that he could make the ball dip, rise, or sail at will. A few historians have even suggested that he was the first man to throw a curveball, but if he did it was probably not intentional.

How did Creighton come up with such a revolutionary pitching style? He cheated. As he brought his long right arm around he imparted an almost imperceptible, and completely illegal, wrist snap. Although the ball was still being hurled underhand, Creighton was throwing it instead of pitching it like a horseshoe.

The new style sparked a great deal of controversy. Purists correctly insisted that Creighton’s tosses were illegal. Other pitchers studied Creighton, trying to imitate him. Fans were excited by the way he threw. The game moved faster and was more interesting. Umpires maintained that they saw nothing illegal. When Henry Chadwick, the era’s most influential baseball writer, commended Creighton for his “head work,” the battle was over and the groundwork laid for the game as we know it today: a mortal struggle between pitcher and batter.

After his pitching performance against the Stars, Creighton was recruited for their team. In 1859 he jumped to the top-flight Brooklyn Excelsiors (almost certainly in exchange for under-the-table “emoluments”) and traveled with them throughout the East in 1860 and 1861. With Creighton as their star they regularly won games by such inflated margins as 51‑6 and 45‑16. Not only did Creighton pitch and usually win every game, he went the entire 1860 season with an unparalleled average of zero in the outs-per-game category (which in those rudimentary days of statistical accounting meant that his number of games played exceeded the times he hit into outs). He was also an excellent fielder; and on top of all his baseball accomplishments, he was America’s top young cricket player.

Batters eventually learned how to hit Creighton’s offerings, and it soon became clear that mere speed on the pitch was not enough. Even though the balls were delivered from only 45 feet away, the best batters managed to get around on the pitches. To counter this Creighton developed the ability to change speeds, just as other pitchers of his day were learning to do.

Creighton Monument, Green-Wood Cemtery

Creighton Monument at Green-Wood.

No one knows how much the Excelsiors secretly paid their “amateur” pitching star, but today Creighton is generally considered to have been the first professional ballplayer. He became famous, and large crowds turned out to see him perform. Young players tried to duplicate his style. Teams even adopted his name. Decades later, fans who had seen him pitch would remark that while stars such as Charley Radbourn and Tim Keefe were good pitchers, they weren’t Creightons.

In late 1862, in a game between the Excelsiors and the Unions of Morrisania, a Westchester County team (Morrisania is today a neighborhood in the Bronx, and thus part of New York City), Creighton smashed a home run. As he swung, he heard something pop. Circling the bases, he remarked to George Flanley as he crossed the plate, “I must have snapped my belt.” Then he collapsed. After several days of internal hemorrhaging he died on October 18, 1862, five months shy of his 22nd birthday.

Creighton’s grief-stricken teammates erected a tall granite monument over his grave in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. Carved on it are crossed bats, a base, a cap, a shoe, and a scorebook. A large stone baseball rests on top. The baseball has worn away over time, but the memorial baseball’s first star remains a shrine for baseball antiquarians.

9. KENESAW MOUNTAIN LANDIS 

Judge Landis, ca 1940.

Judge Landis, ca 1940.

Baseball’s first commissioner, the flinty, colorful, and often arbitrary Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis took control of the game when its integrity was in question. When he died nearly a quarter of a century later, baseball’s name had long since been restored.

Landis was the son of Dr. Abraham Landis, who had lost the use of his leg in the Civil War battle of Kennesaw Mountain in northwest Georgia. At his son’s birth on November 20, 1866, Dr. Landis suggested they call him “Kenesaw Mountain.” The name and the misspelling stuck.

His early career gave little indication of the heights Landis would later reach. A high-school dropout, his first ambition was to be a brakeman on the Vandalia and Southern Railroad, but the company’s officials rejected his application. The diminutive Landis won some fame as a bicycle racer at various Indiana fairgrounds and operated a roller-skating rink before moving to journalism. While covering court cases for Indiana’s Logansport Journal, he decided to become a lawyer and enrolled in the YMCA Law School of Cincinnati. In 1891 Landis obtained his degree from Chicago’s Union Law School.

Two of his brothers, Charles and Frederick, were Indiana congressmen. In part through their auspices, while still in his 20s Landis sat in on cabinet meetings representing the State Department. Appointed to the federal judiciary by Theodore Roosevelt, Landis quickly earned a reputation for quirky and newsworthy justice.

He fined Standard Oil $29,240,000, a record penalty at that time. He jailed Industrial Workers of the World members and Socialist Congressman Victor Berger for antiwar activities during World War I. Those cases and others placed him squarely in the public eye, even though his decisions were often overturned.

In one fiery wartime speech Landis demanded that Kaiser Wilhelm II, his six sons, and 5,000 German militarists be “lined up against a wall and shot down in justice to the world and to Germany.” Many thought him a mere grandstander. “His career typifies the heights to which dramatic talent may carry a man in America if only he has the foresight not to go on the stage,” said Heywood Broun.

But Organized Baseball had a high opinion of Landis. During the Federal League war he had done the baseball establishment a great service. The existing major leagues had faced a stiff challenge from the Federal League, both on the field and in the courts, as the upstart circuit sought to overturn baseball’s reserve clause. Landis heard the case within a month, and the owners of the established leagues held their breath.

But then Landis firmly sat on the case. Months passed and he issued no decision. It was obvious he didn’t want to issue one, because he knew what a flimsy legal structure baseball was built upon. “Both sides must understand that any blows at this thing called baseball would be regarded by this court as a blow to a national institution,” Landis had warned from the bench.

Finally, the Federal League threw in the towel, getting the best deal they could from Organized Baseball. Landis’ inaction had been the key. “Many persons felt that Landis had saved baseball in 1915,” wrote J.G. Taylor Spink of The Sporting News. “Had he ruled Organized Baseball to be a gigantic trust, the Federal League contention, he could have thrown the whole game into chaos. There would have been no sanctity of baseball territory. Had he decided against the legality of the reserve and 10-day clauses, the effect would have been free agencies for all the great players of the time.”

Landis had saved the owners’ hides and they knew it. When the 1919 World Series fix became public knowledge in September 1920, they needed someone to restore confidence in the badly shaken institution. Game fixing and gambling had been pervasiv ein the game since the 1860s, with only an occasional scandal becoming public record (such as the 1877 “Louisville Crooks” swindle that nearly tore apart the National League, or Hal Chase’s all-too-open collusion with gamblers in the 1910s). Landis was an obvious choice. He demanded absolute power and got it.

Will Rogers once remarked, “The game needed a touch of class and distinction, and somebody said, ‘Get that old guy who sits behind first base all the time. He’s out here every day anyway.’ So they offered him a season pass and he grabbed it.”

In the summer of 1921 the accused “Black Sox” were acquitted under highly questionable circumstances. Long used to having his decisions overturned by higher courts, Landis, as commissioner of baseball, returned the favor and reversed the jury’s decision. “Regardless of the outcome of juries,” he said, “no player that throws a ball game, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever again play professional baseball.”

Old and new scandals continued to plague baseball for the first few years of Landis’ tenure. Youthful Giants outfielder Jimmy O’Connell and Giants coach Cozy Dolan were banned from the game following a failed bribe attempt. Frankie Frisch, Ross Youngs, and George Kelly were implicated but cleared by Landis. Phil Douglas was also banned after offering to throw a game. Outfielder Benny Kauff was blacklisted for implication in an auto-theft ring; as in the Black Sox scandal, Landis ignored the verdict of a jury, this time with what many critics felt was far less justification.

Landis was a headstrong, autocratic czar. Current Biography termed him “the only successful dictator in United States history.” But Organized Baseball already had a dictator in American League president Ban Johnson. Johnson was by no means ready to relinquish the hold he had on the game. Throughout the early 1920s Landis consolidated power at the expense of his rival. The proud Johnson was left humiliated and stripped of real authority.

The last great scandal of Landis’ tenure involved the biggest names in baseball—Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. In 1926 pitcher Dutch Leonard accused the two stars of conspiring to fix the last game of the 1919 season. Leonard also accused Smokey Joe Wood of placing bets on the contest for Cobb and Speaker. Landis’ verdict exonerating the accused trio has come under heavy criticism from some historians.

Landis letter to Joe Jackson, 1923.

Landis letter to Joe Jackson, 1923.

Landis was a staunch opponent of Branch Rickey’s minor-league farm system and fought it tooth and nail. “It will be the ruination of the individual minor-league club owners,” he declared. He liberated numerous minor-league players during his term in office. In one 1938 case, the commissioner freed 91 Cardinals farmhands, including Pete Reiser and Skeeter Webb. In January 1940 he hit the Detroit system, freeing scores of players and costing the Tigers an estimated $500,000.

One of Landis’ most important personnel decisions came on December 10, 1936, when he awarded young Bob Feller’s contract to Cleveland. Another significant decision involved the freeing of Tommy Henrich from the Indians’ system in April 1937. Henrich was able to sign with the Yankees for a $25,000 bonus.

Landis’ assumption of control over all World Series decisions, his well-publicized disciplining and suspension of Babe Ruth after the 1921 Series, and his removal of Cardinals outfielder Joe Medwick from the field in the riotous seventh game of the 1934 World Series all created headlines.

World War II threatened to interrupt Major League Baseball, but Landis indirectly obtained President Franklin Roosevelt’s green light to continue the national pastime. His last major move was in 1943 when he banned Phillies owner William D. Cox from the game for gambling.

It was not until Landis died that Major League Baseball club owners finally integrated their teams. Many have contended that this was no coincidence. One oft-told tale contended that Landis scuttled Bill Veeck’s plan to buy and integrate the Phillies. Recent scholarship has largely debunked that story.

Just before Landis died on November 25, 1944, his contract was extended to January 1953, when he would have been 86 years old. Such was the hold of Judge Landis on baseball that, even as frail as he was, no one dared oppose him.

Shortly after he died, Landis was voted into the Hall of Fame. Despite his faults, he was passionately devoted to baseball and to preserving its integrity. “Baseball is something more than a game to an American boy,” he declared. “It is his training field for life work. Destroy his faith in its squareness and honesty and you have destroyed something more; you have planted suspicion of all things in his heart.”

10. GEORGE STEINBRENNER 

George M. Steinbrenner

George M. Steinbrenner

Since 1973 George Steinbrenner, the brash, bullying owner of the Yankees, has sided firmly with the long tradition of meddling management who can’t keep their hands off the baseball team. And, true to his character, he has meddled more than anyone else. Everything Steinbrenner does he does to excess. He is truly a Yankee Doodle Dandy, born on the Fourth of July in 1930.

Love him or hate him, his influence on the game has been pervasive and undeniable. The first owner to grasp not only the perils but also the opportunities of free agency, he restored the Yankees to their accustomed perch atop the baseball world after the dismal CBS years (in 1966 the Yankees finished tenth in a ten-team league; two years later thy sported a team batting average of .214). He spent millions more than other owners on free agents because he made more millions—not at the gate, necessarily, but through lucrative, smartly negotiated media alliances.

Steinbrenner put together a money-generating empire that begins and ends with the Yankees’ coveted logo. His tactics, however unnerving, have borne fruit. His Yanks of the late 1970s and early 1980s won five division titles in a six-year span. The juggernaut clubs of the late 1990s were not dissimilar from the other Yankees teams that dominated baseball throughout the 20th century.

During his incorrigible and irrepressible tenure in baseball, Steinbrenner has hired some of the savviest players around, and sooner or later humiliated them off the payroll (usually followed by an acerbic exchange in the papers). One of the first owners to take full advantage of the free-agent system, he built a team that won back-to-back world championships in 1977 and 1978. Then he threw good money after bad on unproductive, expensive free agents, and his team fell into chaos. The once-proud Yankees became known as the “Bronx Zoo.” The 1980s marked the first decade the Yankees hadn’t won a World Series since the 1910s, but the franchise rebounded in the 1990s, culminating in an American League-record 114 regular-season wins in 1998 season and a repeat World Series sweep in 1999.

Steinbrenner was the leader of 15 limited partners who bought the Yankees from CBS for $10 million, $3.2 million less than the network had paid nine years earlier. “I won’t be active in day-to-day club operations at all,” he said at the time. It wasn’t long before one partner commented, “Nothing is more limited than being a limited partner of George’s.”

When Don Baylor was asked why he said he would reject an offer by Steinbrenner to manage the Yanks, he replied, “I came into this game sane, and I want to leave it sane.” No Steinbrenner relationship was ever more typical than his mercurial connection with the scrappy Billy Martin, a man he hired five times and fired five times. It was Martin who said of Reggie Jackson and Steinbrenner, “They deserve each other. One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.”

In 1974, Steinbrenner pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him for two years, then reinstated him after 15 months. In 1990, investigations by the commissioner’s office indicated that Steinbrenner had paid a small-time gambler $40,000 to “dig up dirt” on Dave Winfield so that Steinbrenner could back out of his contractual agreement to contribute to Winfield’s educational foundation. Commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner from the game. Less than three years later, in one of his last acts as commissioner before he got fired, Vincent reinstated the man they called “The Boss.”

Back in baseball again in 1993, Steinbrenner lectured the press at spring training with predictions on the season and then made headlines during the regular schedule by threatening to move the Yankees to New Jersey unless the city built him a new stadium in a better part of town. The Yankees remained in the Bronx through the end of the decade, but he brought the Garden State a little closer to Yankee Stadium when he created the YankeeNets in 1999, a venture that broke apart in 2004 as the Nets were sold. The purchaser aimed to move the Nets to, of all places, Brooklyn, once the Yankees’ partner in the game’s most storied postseason rivalry.

 

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Yes, he's No. 1.

Yes, he’s No. 1.

This morning Graham Womack, at his fine site Baseball: Past and Present, posted “The 25 most important people in baseball history,” the product of a poll of 262 individuals. I applaud Graham for providing us with great fuel for the hot stove league (http://goo.gl/wIHmh9). An exercise of this sort offers us largely silly but thought-provoking fun: Greg Maddux, George Mitchell, Jerome Holtzman, and I tied for 96th place, each of us getting ten votes to Bill Doak’s one. Such injustices abound, but our outrage is better directed to the newspaper’s front page than to its sports section.

As MLB’s official historian, I declined to vote in Graham’s poll, as 262 estimable individuals did. I think democracy is overrated in such matters–more voters do not assure better results. I also thought it best not to champion anyone, just as I do not take positions on who should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, ten years ago Alan Schwarz and I wrote, in Total Baseball, a longish entry titled “Baseball’s 100 Most Important People.” Obviously we did not include many important figures of recent years, and we did rank high some individuals whom later research revealed to be of lesser consequence (I am thinking here especially of Alexander Cartwright). We also ranked some modern individuals lower in this 2004 article than we would today (Bud Selig and Bill James among them). If you will please keep in mind that our list and accompanying biographies are, like fat ties and wide lapels, a bit out of date, they are not, I venture to say, without interest.

Here goes. First the preamble, then the list, followed by biographies of the two who must top any fan’s list, in whatever order, then ten to twenty per day for the rest of this week. Further comparison with Graham’s list may be an irresistible exercise, but we leave that to you.

Baseball’s 100 Most Important People

Alan Schwarz and John Thorn

Picking the 100 Most Important People in baseball history is an inherently personal—and incendiary—enterprise. “Important” can mean so many things to so many people that 10,000 monkeys at 10,000 typewriters might have an easier time of it, though you can bet even they wouldn’t finish without a good argument over No. 72.

Importance, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. In the realm of baseball history, it can be found in the sheer skill of a player, in the number of home runs he hit and pennant races he influenced. It can lie in the game’s pioneers, the men whose decisions and actions determined how the sport would evolve in its embryonic stages, as well as the more modern executives and innovators who shaped the sport ever since. It can be seen in men like Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, who pried open rosters to new sources of talent but, more enduringly, an entire nation’s reluctant eyes. The candidates go on and on. Heck, to many people, the most important ballplayer ever might be the distant uncle who made the majors—or the hero from their first-ever big-league game, the afternoon when they fell in love with baseball forever.

Any list like this is better for the bouillabaisse. But in panning back and examining more than 150 years of baseball, from the day that Alexander Cartwright scribbled out the first rules to the Florida Marlins’ 2003 World Series championship, we had to set for ourselves some guidelines. They were:

  1. Importance derives from how much baseball, mainly from the fans’ perspective, would have evolved differently had that person not existed. Therefore, executives will often rank much higher than many legendary players. Walter O’Malley couldn’t hit Bob Feller to save his life, but he had more influence on the game.
  2. That influence indeed can come from many directions. While the players serve as the game’s pillars, they would topple without the buttresses of people who make the game possible and accessible. This Top 100 tips our cap to several announcers, one ballpark architect, and the mastermind behind the grandfather of the book you’re holding now, The Baseball Encyclopedia.
  3. Though they are increasingly forgotten by each subsequent generation, 19th- century figures had a tremendous role in shaping the game. There was more at stake in 1870 than 1970; an early nudge in one direction or the other, for good or ill, could have sent baseball on a drastically different course.
  4. The list attempts to sum up what we believe to be educated opinion, but nonetheless represents our own. We made the choices, while an army of other writers penned the biographies.

Now, a word about No. 1. It came down to two people—Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson—who ascended above everyone else for reasons about which you soon will read. But choosing between them for the top spot was an excruciating decision, extending beyond baseball to the United States at large. In fact, it was only after recognizing the breadth of the argument that we finally chose Ruth.

Jackie is No. 2.

Jackie is No. 2.

Babe Ruth, by virtue of his talent and charisma, carried baseball from the depths of the Black Sox scandal into modern eminence; who changed the mindset of the sport from speed to slugging; and who was, lest we forget, baseball’s best all-around talent ever. Jackie Robinson too holds a monumental place in the game’s history, a spectacular player who, by virtue of breaking baseball’s longstanding color barrier and carrying himself with unwavering mettle afterward, receives credit for helping spark the modern civil-rights movement. Robinson was undoubtedly baseball’s most admirable person. We see no shame in his being the second-most important ballplayer to baseball; he remains the most important ballplayer to the United States.

We are loath to allow all this talk of No. 1, No. 2 and all the way down to No. 100 to take away from the accomplishments of each and every person on the list—and the more than 18,000 others that didn’t make it, too. They all deserve their place in our memory, which is of course what fandom is all about.

Without further ado, here are our picks, followed by fairly full profiles of the top 20 and snapshots of the rest. For more information about these and 1900 other worthies, see their entries in the statistical and tabular sections of this volume, as well as The Baseball Biographical Encyclopedia. If you disagree with our selections, or the way they are ordered, we are confident you’ll let us know.

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Jackie Robinson
  3. Alexander Cartwright
  4. Marvin Miller
  5. Branch Rickey
  6. Roberto Clemente
  7. Henry Chadwick
  8. Jim Creighton
  9. Kenesaw Mountain Landis
  10. George Steinbrenner
  11. Joe DiMaggio
  12. Hank Aaron
  13. John McGraw
  14. Connie Mack
  15. Walter O’Malley
  16. John Montgomery Ward
  17. Cal Ripken
  18. Mickey Mantle
  19. Christy Mathewson
  20. Curt Flood
  21. Bud Selig
  22. Jim Bouton
  23. Candy Cummings
  24. Satchel Paige
  25. Willie Mays
  26. Nap Lajoie
  27. Barry Bonds
  28. Harry & George Wright
  29. Ty Cobb
  30. Ted Williams
  31. Walter Johnson
  32. Bruce Sutter
  33. Earl Weaver
  34. Joe Jackson
  35. Judge Bramham
  36. Ray Chapman
  37. Nolan Ryan
  38. Honus Wagner
  39. Alex Rodriguez
  40. Bill James
  41. Sandy Alderson
  42. Sol White
  43. Red Barber
  44. Pete Rose
  45. Larry MacPhail
  46. Rickey Henderson
  47. Greg Maddux
  48. Cy Young
  49. Peter Ueberroth
  50. Tony La Russa
  51. William Hulbert
  52. Ban Johnson
  53. Mark McGwire
  54. Sammy Sosa
  55. Albert Spalding
  56. Ichiro Suzuki
  57. Reggie Jackson
  58. Dan Okrent
  59. Rube Foster
  60. Luis Aparicio
  61. The Spink Family
  62. Ozzie Smith
  63. Jacob Ruppert
  64. Cap Anson
  65. Bill Veeck
  66. Dizzy Dean
  67. Joe Spear
  68. Frank Robinson
  69. Don Fehr
  70. George Weiss
  71. Sadaharu Oh
  72. Abner Doubleday
  73. Lou Gehrig
  74. John Dewan
  75. Bill Doak
  76. Casey Stengel
  77. Rube Waddell
  78. Hank Greenberg
  79. Miles Wolff
  80. King Kelly
  81. Livan Hernandez
  82. Hal Richman
  83. Peter Seitz
  84. Ken Griffey Jr.
  85. Bob Feller
  86. David Neft
  87. John Schuerholz
  88. Minnie Minoso
  89. Harry Caray
  90. Dick Young
  91. Scott Boras
  92. Frank Bancroft
  93. Arch Ward
  94. Martin Dihigo
  95. Roger Kahn
  96. Lefty O’Doul
  97. Ned Hanlon
  98. Whitey Herzog
  99. Carl Hubbell
  100. Mel Allen

1. BABE RUTH

Babe Ruth was not only the greatest baseball player who ever lived, but the most flamboyant. His gargantuan appe­tites and prodigious talents, ensconced in an oversized body with a face like that of a bloated Cupid, made him one of the most recognizable figures in American history. In the 1920s his name appeared in print more often than anyone’s except the president of the United States. In World War II, when American soldiers shouted “To hell with the Emperor!” at their Japanese counterparts, the Japanese hollered back, “To hell with Babe Ruth!”

He was unique.

He was unique.

Ruth revolutionized the game with his unprecedented slugging. At his death in 1948 he owned 56 major league batting records, plus 10 American League marks. His record of 60 home runs in a single season was not sur­passed until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961. Ruth’s lifetime tally of 714 home runs was not bested until 1974, when Henry Aaron hit No. 715 after nearly 3,000 more at bats than Ruth had needed to accomplish the feat. Ruth’s average of one home run for every 11.76 at bats was for long the best in major league history.

In addition to his remarkable batting feats, Ruth was the best left-handed pitcher of his era, and might have finished up as one of the best hurlers of all time had his hitting not necessitated his change to a position player. Pitching for the Boston Red Sox, he won more than 20 games in both 1917 and 1918; lifetime he was 94–46 for a winning percentage of .671. He led the AL with a 1.75 ERA in 1916; nine of his victories were shutouts, and opponents managed to bat only .201 against him. Over the five-year period from 1915 to 1919 Ruth had a 2.16 ERA. He threw 292/3 consecutive scoreless innings in World Series play, another of his records that lasted until 1961.

His legacy went beyond baseball statistics. Because Ruth was well paid by the end of his career, he helped increase salaries for all players. In 1914, as a rookie with Baltimore in the Eastern League, he earned $600, and by 1930 he was up to $80,000. When someone pointed out to Ruth that he was earning $5,000 more than President Herbert Hoover’s annual salary, the Babe supposedly replied, “So what? I had a better year than he did.”

The Babe Ruth who was merely one of baseball’s finest pitchers and the Babe Ruth who would soon become fabled as the game’s greatest slugger began to diverge from one another in 1918. That was the season that Ruth’s teammate Harry Hooper advised Red Sox manager Ed Barrow to move the Babe to the outfield full time. Bar­row’s compromise was to have Ruth pitch in 20 games, and play either the outfield or first base in 72 more. Ruth won 13 games, recorded a 2 22 ERA and tied for the AL’s home-run crown with 11. The experiment was ruled a success. Ruth moved to the outfield for 111 games in 1919 and made only 17 pitching appearances. That year he exploded for 29 home runs, setting a new major-league record. He also led the league in runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, and slugging average.

But the Red Sox finished sixth, and owner Harry Fra­zee, needing money to invest in a Broadway show, sold Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000 and a $300,000 loan, collateralized by Fenway Park. It’s been known ever since as the “Curse of the Bambino.” Boston, which had won the World Series with Ruth pitch­ing in 1918 (the franchise’s fifth title since 1903), would not claim another world championship for the rest of the century; the Yankees, who had never captured a pennant prior to Ruth’s arrival, would become the most successful franchise in baseball history.

In 1920 Ruth hit a mind-boggling 54 home runs, scored 158 runs, and drove in 137. He batted .376, and slugged an incredible .847, a single-season record until Barry Bonds topped it in 2001. The Polo Grounds, which the Yankees shared with the New York Giants, was much friendlier to left-handed long-ball hitters than Fenway Park, and Ruth fell in love with the place. In 1921 he ripped 59 homers, drove in 171 runs, and scored 177 times. The Yankees won the pennant for the first of three straight seasons. Still only 26 years old, Ruth hit his 137th career homer, surpassing Roger Connor’s previous lifetime record.

The Real Babe Ruth, by Dan Daniel

The Real Babe Ruth, by Dan Daniel

Ruth ushered in a new era of power in baseball, win­ning back the fans that had been soured by the Black Sox Scandal. But when the Babe tried to capitalize on his fame by organizing an all-star team for a postseason barnstorm­ing tour, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who wanted to establish the World Series as the definitive postseason event, suspended Ruth and teammate Bob Meusel for the first six weeks of the 1922 season. It would prove the first season since 1917 that Ruth did not lead the league in homers; it would happen only once more in the next nine years.

In 1923 Yankee Stadium opened, and sportswriter Fred Lieb dubbed it “The House that Ruth Built.” On Opening Day, before 74,200 fans, Ruth provided the Yankees’ margin of victory with a three-run homer. That season he led the league in runs, homers, RBIs, walks, slugging, and on-base percentage, just as he had in 1920 and 1921. More importantly, in 1923 the Yankees claimed their first world championship, beating the Giants in the Series after los­ing the two previous years.

After missing much of the 1925 season due to what was diagnosed as an “intestinal abscess” and a suspension for carousing, the Bambino bounced back in 1926. Ruth and Lou Gehrig set off on a seven-year tear the likes of which the sport had never seen. During that span the duo aver­aged 84 homers and 303 RBIs a year. In 1927, when Ruth slugged his record 60 home runs, Gehrig added 47; the big first baseman finished second to the Babe in home runs each season from 1927 to 1931.

The Yanks won pennants in 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1932. They swept the World Series in three of those seasons, with Ruth batting .400, .625, and .333 and slug­ging .800, 1.375, and .733. Game 3 of the 1932 World Series witnessed what has become the Babe’s most legendary home run. With the Yankees down, 4-3, in the fifth inning, Ruth came to bat against Cubs pitcher Charlie Root. When Ruth took strike one, he held up one finger to indicate he knew the count. He repeated the gesture on the second strike. With one strike to go, Ruth held up his bat to indicate he had a single strike left—or, depending upon one’s interpreta­tion, he pointed to center field to signal where he would send Root’s next offering. He then proceeded to slam the ball into the bleachers. The allegedly “called shot” has become an indelible part of baseball lore.

The Yankees did not sign Ruth for 1935. Instead, he was offered a contract with the Boston Braves as player, assistant manager and vice president. The last two were a sham: Boston was only trying to beef up attendance by having the overweight, aging legend around. But Ruth’s bat held one more round of fireworks on May 25, 1935, when he homered three times against the Pirates in Pitts­burgh. The third blast, over the right-field roof of Forbes Field, was his final major-league home run, and it was, typically, a monster shot.

Ruth was one of the five charter members inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936. He spent the final years of his life waiting for some club to offer him a managerial position; the closest he got was a coaching position with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938. When Ruth died of throat cancer in 1948, thousands paid their respects to the great slugger as his body lay in state at Yankee Stadium.

2. JACKIE ROBINSON

One of baseball’s most historic moments came in 1947 when Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson became the first African American player to compete in modern major-league baseball. Instead of fanfare, Robinson was greeted with unprecedented hostility, pressure and publicity, but he was buoyed by the knowledge that every one of his fellow African Americans was counting on him to succeed. The stakes were a lot higher than a pennant race or a batting title. “To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I’ve ever seen in sports,” said Brooklyn teammate Pee Wee Reese, whose gesture of acceptance turned the tide for Robinson the rookie.

Robinson had starred in baseball, football, track, and basketball at Pasadena Junior College and later at UCLA. Alongside Kenny Washington, he nearly took UCLA to the Rose Bowl. He was also All-America in basketball, and he broke a national record for the long jump previously set by his brother, Mack. When his athletic eligibility ended, Robinson left UCLA, got a job with the National Youth Administration, and played briefly with the Honolulu Bears football club.

After World War II broke out, Robinson was accepted at the Army’s Officers Candidate School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. At Fort Riley, Kansas, he was not allowed to play on either the football or baseball team. When the football team was being formed, Robinson was ordered to go home on leave. When the baseball team held tryouts, he was told to audition for the non-white team, only to discover that the team didn’t exist. Later, after being sent to Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson was court-martialed for violating Jim Crow statutes. Although found innocent, in November 1944 he was given an honorable discharge.

No. 2, but as easily No. 1.

No. 2, but as easily No. 1.

In April 1945 Robinson signed a $450-a-month contract with the Negro American League’s Kansas City Monarchs. But he didn’t enjoy the barnstorming life and segregated facilities and didn’t fit in with his less-educated teammates. Unknown to Robinson, Brooklyn general manager Branch Rickey was hatching a scheme to integrate the major leagues.

The first step of Rickey’s master plan was the formation of the six-team United States Baseball League, an ostensibly new Negro League circuit that was to include a franchise called the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. This enabled Rickey to dispatch scouts to survey black talent without arousing suspicion.

In April 1945, before Robinson heard from Rickey, he was given a tryout by the Boston Red Sox, who ironically were to become the last major league club to integrate. Robinson and fellow Negro Leaguers Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams were each given a perfunctory trial and a quick brush-off.

On August 27, 1945, Rickey brought Robinson to the Dodgers’ offices at 215 Montague Street in Brooklyn. Robinson, who thought Rickey wanted him for the Brown Dodgers, was shocked to learn that the Brooklyn general manager wanted him to sign with the minor-league Montreal Royals. But before any deal could be completed, Rickey needed to evaluate Robinson’s ability to handle the pressure and abuse that, as a pioneer, he was certain to encounter.

To test Robinson, Rickey observed the ballplayer’s responses to a series of hypothetical scenarios, including one in which a white player hurls offensive racial epithets at Robinson and then punches him in the face. Rickey took a mock swing at Robinson, and hollered, “What do you do now, Jackie? What do you do now?” Robinson replied, “I get it, Mr. Rickey. I’ve got another cheek. I turn the other cheek.” That was the answer Rickey wanted to hear. On October 23 he announced that Robinson had signed a contract with Montreal. (Rickey had intended for others to join Robinson as Brooklyn farmhands but his plan went awry; see “Jackie Robinson’s Signing: The Real, Untold Story” by John Thorn and Jules Tygiel in this volume.)

Robinson’s first appearance in Organized Baseball took place at Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium on April 18, 1946. In front of a packed house, Robinson went 4-for-5 with a homer, four RBIs, four runs, and two stolen bases. In what was to become his trademark, he defiantly danced away from the base, unnerving Jersey City pitchers into committing two balks.

It was a good start, but the resistance that Rickey had feared soon followed. Syracuse fans taunted Robinson, there was a rumored protest by Baltimore players, and Robinson’s two black teammates that year washed out. By the end of the season the exhausted Robinson was a nervous wreck. He was also the International League’s batting champion at .349.

Robinson was clearly ready for the big leagues, but Rickey was still playing his cards close to his vest. He sent Robinson to Havana for Dodgers spring training in 1947, at the same time keeping him on the Montreal roster. Rickey was like a chess master, plotting every move and trying to anticipate every countermove.

One countermove he may not have anticipated was a revolt by some of the Dodgers. A number of players, including Dixie Walker, began circulating a petition to present to Rickey stating their opposition to playing with a black man. But Manager Leo Durocher woke the players up late one night for a team meeting and told them to take their petition and stuff it. Rickey arrived the next day and repeated the message. The mutiny was over before it started.

Rickey was not content, however, to have Robinson’s teammates merely accept him; he wanted them to want Robinson. In an effort to win the players over, he scheduled seven exhibition games between Montreal and Brooklyn, during which Robinson’s .625 batting performance opened a few eyes, to say the least. Still, Robinson’s spot in the Dodgers lineup was not announced until five days before Opening Day. Ironically, the news was overshadowed by Durocher’s year-long suspension for consorting with gamblers.

On April 15, 1947, before 26,623 Ebbets Field fans, the majority of whom were African Americans, Robinson played his first major-league game. The 28-year-old went hitless that day and struggled for the first weeks of the season. The behavior of several other National League teams didn’t help.

Jackie Robinson, 1952.

Jackie Robinson, 1952.

The Phillies, under manager Ben Chapman, were so hostile and vicious that they drove Eddie Stanky, a one-time opponent of Robinson, to defend his teammate publicly. In Cincinnati locals made death threats not only against Robinson but also against Reese, his teammate and supporter. A hush fell over the Cincinnati crowd as Reese walked over to Robinson and signaled his support by putting his arm around him. In May, St. Louis management and National League president Ford Frick quashed a threatened strike by Cardinals players.

In June Rickey brought up pitcher Dan Bankhead to room with Robinson. Meanwhile, Robinson had not only started hitting but also began to shake up the entire league with his brash baserunning, daring pitchers to pick him off. With Robinson leading the charge, the Dodgers won the pennant, and he captured both The Sporting News and the Baseball Writers Association Rookie of the Year honors. Even Walker, an early opponent of Robinson’s signing, admitted, “He is everything Branch Rickey said he was when he came up from Montreal.”

Robinson was the sparkplug of the great Dodgers teams of the era. He batted .300 or better six straight years and led the league in 1949 with a .342 average, winning the Most Valuable Player Award in the process.

Robinson had been an “old” rookie—28 in 1947—and for the last few years of his career he was bothered by knee trouble and had problems with Dodgers management. In late 1956 his playing days ended in a swirl of confusion and controversy. He sold a story to Look magazine for $50,000 in which he announced his intention to retire. He did not, however, officially inform the Dodgers, and in December they traded him to the New York Giants for journeyman pitcher Dick Littlefield and $30,000.

The Giants offered Robinson $60,000 to stay on, and he considered the offer. But when Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi claimed that the Look article had only been a ploy by Robinson to get a bigger contract, Robinson stubbornly decided to prove him wrong. He retired at age 37.

Out of baseball, Robinson busied himself with a variety of interests, including a position with a coffee company and the board chairmanship of Freedom National Bank. In 1962 he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Robinson grew increasingly ill with diabetes, suffered two heart attacks, and died from the second one at his Stamford, Connecticut, home in 1972. In 1987 the National League Rookie of the Year Award was renamed for him. In 1997, in an unprecedented move, Acting Commissioner Bud Selig ordered that his No. 42 be retired by every major-league team.

Round Robin Baseball

Phillies Phantom WS Program

Phillies’ Phantom WS Program

Here’s something new–at least I had never heard about it. Remember the National League pennant race of 1964? Phillies fans certainly do. On September 21, with 12 games left in their season, the Phils proceeded to lose 10 straight before finishing with two wins against the Cincinnati Reds who–had they won either–would have finished in a tie with the St. Louis Cardinals for the flag. The Cardinals defeated the Mets on the final day, however, to take the pennant by one game over both the Reds and Phils. Had the Mets won, the NL season would have ended in a three-way deadlock for first place.

Here are the final standings for the three contenders:

Team Name                        G    W    L    T   PCT    GB    RS   RA
St. Louis Cardinals            162   93   69    0  .574     -   715  652
Cincinnati Reds                163   92   70    1  .568   1.0   660  566
Philadelphia Phillies          162   92   70    0  .568   1.0   693  632

1964 world series

1964 WS program

Never in the history of the game had there been more than a two-way tie, and that only in 1908, 1946, 1951, 1959, and 1962. The first of these had been resolved with a one-game playoff. Truly, that was not a playoff at all but a makeup game to cure the tie that had resulted from the Fred Merkle incident of September 23. By the time the Cardinals and Dodgers tied for the 1946 pennant, the established procedure in the NL was to stage a best of three game playoff. This was repeated in 1951, 1959, and 1962. (The Dodgers won in 1959, lost the other times.) Meanwhile, the American League elected to resolve its tied races with a one-game playoff; the first of these occurred in 1948.

But coming into the last days of the 1964 race, what would have happened if the Cardinals lost to the Mets and three clubs tied? No one knew, including myself, so I went digging. From a Tim Horgan article in the Boston Traveler of September 29, 1964, I saw that the NL had prepared for a three-way tie to be played off in a spectacularly messy round-robin style.

As described by Dave Grote of the NL office, in Horgan’s words:

“N.L. Pres. Warren Giles will draw lots–which means flip a coin–to designate the three clubs involved as Team No. 1, Team No. 2, and Team No. 3. The schedule then runs:

“No. 1 vs. No. 2 at No. 1’s park.

“No. 2 vs. No. 3 at No. 2’s park.

“No. 3 vs. No. 1 at No. 3’s park.”

[…]

“‘It’s possible that one of the teams will be eliminated after the first round,’ Grote fervently hoped. Two losses and out you go, you see.

Warren C. Giles

Warren C. Giles

“If that happens, it’ll mean one of the surviving teams sports a 2-0 record, and the other is 1-1. So Giles flips another coin to decide which is Team No. 1 and No. 2. The next game is played in No. 1’s park. If the club that’s 2-0 wins, it’s the champion. But if the team that’s 1-1 prevails, the whole blooming mess moves to Team No. 2’s park for the grand finale.

“Complicated? Not at all, compared to what’ll occur if the three teams wind up  with 1-1 records after the first go-round.

“In this tragic event, Giles gives another flip of his now-famous wrist to determine which will hereinafter be known as Team No. 1, 2 and 3. Then No. 2 plays at No. 1 and the winner meets No. 3 at a site to be decided as soon as Giles can borrow another dime. The winner of this game finally earns the right to get skulled by the Yankees.”

“‘We devised the plan in 1956 when the Braves, Reds and Dodgers were neck-and-neck,’ Grote revealed. ‘Some very intelligent people haven’t been able to understand it yet, so don’t worry if you’re confused.'”

World Series Centennial Review: 1914

Hank Gowdy

Hank Gowdy

In today’s climate of parity, fans are familiar with worst-to-first (and reverse) scenarios, most recently with the Boston Red Sox, last in their division in 2012, champs in 2013 and last again this year. In 1991 both World Series opponents rocketed from the cellar in the previous season to penthouse the next. But baseball has never seen a steeper climb than that supplied by Boston’s Miracle Braves in 1914, culminating in a sweep of the powerhouse Philadelphia Athletics.

Return with me now to that distant time. The Boston National League club had been one of the dominant teams of baseball’s early years, winning eight flags before the turn of the century. But after coming in second in 1899, the club dropped out of pennant contention for 14 years, finishing as far back as 66.5 games (in 1906) and losing as many as 108 (in 1909).

The new American League entry, the Red Sox, became the great attraction in Beantown, winning the inaugural Fall Classic in 1903. In 1912 they defeated the New York Giants in an epic eight-game contest that culminated in an extra-inning finale in which Smoky Joe Wood topped Christy Mathewson. That Boston victory interrupted a great run by the Philadelphia A’s, world champions in 1910, 1911, and 1913 and—after sailing to the AL flag past second-place Boston—the overwhelming favorite to win it all again in 1914.

Adding spice to the 1914 story was the debut of a rival league, the Federals, who lasted only two seasons but threw a scare into the established circuits. And there was another notable debut in 1914—that of pitcher Babe Ruth with the Red Sox on July 11. He won the game even though he struck out in his first at bat and later was lifted for a pinch hitter. The minor-league Baltimore Orioles‚ suffering heavy losses from Federal League competition, had first offered Ruth to A’s manager/owner Connie Mack, who declined.

Dick Rudolph, manager George Stallings, Lefty Tyler, Bill James,  Boston NL, 1914.

Dick Rudolph, manager George Stallings, Lefty Tyler, Bill James, Boston NL, 1914.

Over in the National League, the Boston Braves had risen to fifth in 1913 under new manager George Stallings. But on July 4 of the following season the club was in last place, 15 games behind the Giants and five games out of seventh place. But then the Braves won 52 of their last 66 games to capture the pennant, stunningly, by 10.5 games. Still, the pundits were unimpressed. In September Ring Lardner wrote, in a “Braves A.B.C.” ditty (in full here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/09/30/the-braves-abc-by-ring-lardner/.)

Y is for You, you brave Boston brigade!

You’re made of the stuff of which champions are made!

If you win the title, you ought to feel great,

(Until the Athletics have trimmed you four straight.) 

Z is for Zowie! and Zowie’s the noise

That is made by the bats of the Connie Mack boys,

When the bats meet the ball, as they usually do,

(James, Rudolph, and Tyler, I’m sorry for you.)

Boston’s pitching heroes were Lefty Tyler, with 16 wins, and Bill James and Dick Rudolph, each with 26. At the bat and in the field the upstart Braves were led by their keystone combo of youngster Rabbit Maranville at shortstop and veteran Johnny Evers at second base. The defending champion A’s were led by their “$100,000 Infield” of, from first to third, Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank “Home Run” Baker, plus a pitching staff led by veterans Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, with a supporting cast that included Bob Shawkey, Herb Pennock, and Joe Bush.

Baseball in the Big Leagues, Evers 1910

Baseball in the Big Leagues, Evers 1910

The Series opened at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park with Bender (17-3 during the regular season) being rudely smacked around for six runs in his five-plus innings of work. Dick Rudolph cruised to a 7-1 victory while batterymate Hank Gowdy collected three hits plus a walk, on his way to a Series batting average of .545.

Game 2 was a 1-0 thriller, as Bill James and Eddie Plank matched goose eggs through eight innings. In the top of the ninth, A’s center fielder Amos Strunk lost Charlie Deal’s fly ball in the sun for a double. Deal then stole third and scored on a two-out single by Les Mann. James struggled to hold Boston’s lead in the ninth, allowing two walks around a strikeout of Wally Schang. With the tying run on second, Danny Murphy hit a shot up the middle that Maranville snagged, stepping on second and firing to first to end the game.

For Game 3 the clubs moved to Boston, not to Braves Field but to the larger Fenway Park, which the Red Sox had graciously offered. In another thriller, the A’s took a 4-2 lead into bottom of the tenth inning. But Gowdy opened the Braves’ half with a home run to center field. A sacrifice fly tied the score and sent the game on onto the twelfth, when Gowdy again played the hero, leading off with a double. Pitcher Joe Bush, after his 181st pitch (!), fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw it past the third baseman; Les Mann, running for Gowdy, scored. Lefty Tyler pitched the first ten frames for Boston and Bill James followed with two scoreless innings for his second win.

Philadelphia Athletics dugout prior to start of Game 1 of 1914 World Series at Shibe Park.

Philadelphia Athletics dugout prior to start of Game 1 of 1914 World Series at Shibe Park.

In Game 4 young Bob Shawkey took a turn for Philadelphia, matched against first-game winner Dick Rudolph. A fifth-inning single by Evers plated two and Boston closed out matters with a 3-1 win.

There had been a great upset in the World Series before—in 1906 the Hitless Wonder White Sox (team batting average: .230) had defeated the crosstown rival Cubs, winners of 116 games—and there would be again. But the hugely underdog Braves completed their mission with a sweep, the first in modern World Series history.

Rabbit Maranville, Eddie Collins, Globe-Democrat, August 15, 1915

Rabbit Maranville, Eddie Collins, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 15, 1915

The Braves never won another world championship for Boston, although their Milwaukee and Atlanta descendants won in, respectively, 1957 and 1995. The A’s—whether from humiliation or financial concerns—blew up their team despite four pennants in five years. Within weeks, Connie Mack released Bender and Plank as well as 1910 World Series pitching star Jack Coombs. Before the new year he sold Eddie Collins, his top player, to the White Sox. Baker and Barry did not return, either.

The A’s went from first to worst in 1915, with a record of 43-109. The Braves finished second in 1915, but their wonder years were over; they wouldn’t finish that high again for 33 years.

50 years ago: The World Series of 1964 matched two clubs headed in different directions. For the New York Yankees this was a last hurrah, culminating a run of 15 pennants in 18 years. But they lost to  their old rival, the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, two of them—including the ultimate contest—won by Bob Gibson. Jim Bouton also won two for the Yankees, including a game ended by a Mickey Mantle home run. Ken Boyer’s grand slam supplied all the Cards’ runs in a Game 4 victory. Tim McCarver’s three-run blast in the 12th ended Game 6. Gibson allowed two ninth-inning home runs in the finale but was permitted to stay in. When asked why he didn’t pull his starter, manager Johnny Keane replied, “I had a commitment to his heart.”

His commitment to the Cardinals, however, was not as strong: he submitted his resignation and, after the Yanks fired their manager, Yogi Berra, took his place at the helm.

25 years ago: Who won the 1989 World Series? Few remember that the Oakland A’s swept their cross-bay rivals the San Francisco Giants in four games … perhaps because it was conducted over a span of two full weeks. The intervening event that halted baseball for ten days just prior to Game 3 on October 17 was the Loma Prieta earthquake (magnitude 7.1), which caused 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries. Fortunately for the 62,000 with tickets to the game at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on that day, fewer than half had reached their seats by the time of the quake, reducing the load on the structure of the stadium. As to the World Series outcome, the A’s were led by pitchers Dave Stewart and Mike Moore, each with two wins, and the batting heroics of Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, and Carney Lansford.

This story will run in MLB’s World Series Media Guide, to be published in the coming days.

The Braves’ ABC, by Ring Lardner

You Know Me Al

You Know Me Al

Yesterday some Twitter pals and I were going around about all-time great baseball books, and inevitably Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al came up. (Miss Grundy, I hasten to note that the title bears no comma.) Friend Steven Goldman, MLB Editor for SBNation.com, asked for his pick, replied, “It’s not 100% a baseball book, but I spent a lot of time with the Library of America’s Ring Lardner compendium.” He had that right. The Black Sox Scandal would sour Lardner on baseball for life, though he would continue to write on the subject now and then, concluding in 1933 with Lose with a Smile.

“I got a letter the other day,” Lardner once said, “asking why I didn’t write about baseball no more, as I used to write about nothing else, you might say. Well, friends, I may as well admit that I have kind of lost interest in the old game. A couple of years ago a ballplayer named Babe Ruth, that was a pitcher by birth, was made into an outfielder on account of how he could bust them, and the masterminds that control baseball says to themselves that, If it is home runs that the public wants to see, why, leave us give them home runs!”

But today, with a tip of the hat to a new SABR publication titled The Miracle Braves: Boston’s Original Worst-toFirst World Series Champions, I am thinking about the impending centennial of baseball’s greatest upset. To buy the book, or–better yet–join SABR and get this and many other books free, see: http://sabr.org/latest/sabr-digital-library-miracle-braves-1914.

1914 Boston Braves NL Champions Felt Pennant

1914 Boston Braves NL Champions Felt Pennant

The Braves’ A. B. C. 

Ring W. Lardner
Chicago Daily Tribune, September 4 and 5, 1914

A is for August, a month that is hot.
And some people like it, while others do not.
The Braves seemed to like it in spite of its heat,
For during its progress they couldn’t get beat.

B is for Brown, and he catches the pill
When Gowdy and Whaling are both of them ill.
They say he’s descended from old Mr. Brown
And was born on a farm or perhaps in some town.

1914 Boston Braves warmup jacket

1914 Boston Braves warmup jacket

C is for Catcher and also for Crutcher;
The former’s not much and the latter’s not mucher.
It’s for Collins, Cottrell and for Cocreham, too,
Whom I never heard of and neither did you.

D is for Dugey and Deal and Devore,
And also one other — a total of four;
The other is Davis, whom I never say,
But he once went to school with my brother-in-law.

E is for Evers, whom we’ve not forgotten.
He used to play ball for the Cubs, but was rotten.
He was canned from the beautiful job that’s now Hank’s,
And ever since then he’s been murmuring “Thanks.”

F is for Fred — Freddie Mitchell’s his name.
He seldom infrequently gets in the game.
He once was a catcher, but now he is through;
He merely tells others what they ought to do.

G is for Gilbert, and also for Gowdy.
The latter I know well enough to say “Howdy.”
The dope on young Gilbert is not to be had,
But possibly old Billy Gilbert’s his dad.

Johnny Evers 1914

Johnny Evers 1914

H is for Hess; old, antique Otto Hess,
Who’s seventy-seven years old, more or less.
He pitches left handed and hits the ball well
And hopes the French army will finish in disgrace.

I is for me, who am writing this thing,
I followed the Braves down to Georgia one spring.
But those whom I followed have all got the can,
With one lone exception — George Tyler’s the man.

J is for James, whom his teammates call Bill,
He pitches and puts lots of stuff on the pill.
A lucky young pitcher is William Bill James,
For he pitches but one out of every three games.

K is for Kick, which is part of the pastime
And often prevents its completion in fast time.
It’s also for Kale, which the Braves will all get
If they win this here race, which is not over yet.

L is for Lose, which I’m now telling you
Is something the Braves have forgot how to do.
It’s also for Last, which is where they were at
Before they went crazy as any old hat.

M is for Mann and Moran and Maranville,
Not one of whom comes from Decatur or Danville.
And neither Moran nor Maranville now can
When size is considered, be classed as a man.

N is for Nickerson, Brave secretary.
He once was a capable, clever, and very
Efficient and breezy baseball writing cuss,
And look at him now! There is still hope for us.

Rabbit Maranville, 1914

Rabbit Maranville, 1914

O is for Ouch! Which is frequently spoken
By persons whose knee-caps and knuckles are broken
By Boston men’s wallops, both liners and grounders,
In the game of baseball, which is glorified rounders.

P is for Pitcher Perdue, known as Hub,
Who was recently swapped to the St. Louis club,
And if the Braves cop, I do hope they’ll be fair
And cut in poor Hub for a full (loser’s) share.

Q is for Quinn, now a Federal hurler,
And quite a consid’rable sort of a twirler.
A job as a Boston Brave pitcher was his,
So he’s pulling for Boston to win (Yes he is!).

R is for Rudolph, once canned by the Giants,
And now he’s one-third of the triple alliance,
Consisting of Tyler, himself, and Bill James,
Whose purpose in life is to pitcher all the games.

S is for Strand, Smith, and Schmidt and I guess
That Stallings’ last name is begun with an S.
He’s boss of the Braves, and as such he’s a star,
For look what he’s got! And then see where they are!

T is for Tyler, left handed but sane.
He works like a horse, but he doesn’t complain.
He’s awfully chesty, so I have heard tell,
Because he’s a friend of R. W. L.

George Stallings

George Stallings

U is for Unies, and I will admit
That the Braves’ Uniforms don’t look pretty nor fit,
But as long as they’re winning their games, I suppose
We would love ‘em if they didn’t wear any clo’es.

V is for Verses, things written in rhyme,
I write clever verses when I have the time.
This verse I’m now writing might be very clever,
But I can’t be working on one verse forever.

W stands for both Whitted and Whaling.
The latter’s first catcher when Gowdy is ailing.
And when Mr. Stallings wants some one to hit it,
He sometimes most gen’rallly leaves it to Whitted.

X will now stand for X-cuse me, which I
Am anxious to say to young Connolly. Why?
Because I forgot him when I was at C,
And I don’t want him to be angry with me.

Y is for You, you brave Boston brigade!
You’re made of the stuff of which champions are made!
If you win the title, you ought to feel great,
(Until the Athletics have trimmed you four straight.)

Z is for Zowie! and Zowie’s the noise
That is made by the bats of the Connie Mack boys,
When the bats meet the ball, as they usually do,
(James, Rudolph, and Tyler, I’m sorry for you.)

[Zowie, as it turned out was the noise made by Stallings’ boys, who swept the mighty A’s in four games to win the lone world championship of the Boston Braves in the modern World Series. The next time the Braves won they would be in Milwaukee, in 1957, and then not again until they played in Atlanta (1995).

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