Satchel Paige must have been born old. Either that, or what he saw early in his life blessed him with the wisdom of age, and it shone in his eyes. He was forced by the color of his skin to watch organized baseball from the outside until he was at least forty-two years old (the oldest rookie ever). His homespun philosophy (“Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.” “Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.”) has therefore become a larger aspect of his legend than his pitching feats, recorded sparsely in dozens of years of Negro League and barnstorming play.
Satchel claimed to have pitched between 130 and 160 games a year for all that time (his custom was to start a game, pitch a couple of innings, then give way to a collaborator like Hilton Smith). He had great stories of his prowess and his range of pitches. “I got bloopers, loopers and droopers. I got a jump ball, a be ball, a screw ball, a wobbly ball, a whipsy-dipsy-do, a hurry-up ball, a nothin’ ball and a bat dodger.” His best, though, was the “be ball,” named “ ’Cause it ‘be’ right where I want it.” One Paige story is that he walked the bases full in a World Series game just so he could end the contest by striking out Josh Gibson, a former teammate and the Negro Leagues’ greatest slugger. His pinpoint control was the secret to his long-lived success and huge income, which according to legend was greater than that of any white player except Ruth.
But happy as he was to be the king of black baseball, Paige was distressed when the Dodgers made Jackie Robinson the first of his race to reach the modern major leagues. “I’d been the guy who started all that big talk about letting us in the big time. I’d been the one the white boys wanted to barnstorm against.” His first complete game in the majors, in 1948, was in front of 51,000 fans at Comiskey Park. In August of that year he threw his second complete game, this time for 78,000 appreciative hometown fans in Cleveland. He even got to pitch two thirds of an inning in the World Series that year.
Integration pioneer Bill Veeck (the story is told that the owners kept him from buying the Phillies in the 1940s because he planned to sign a lot of Negro Leaguers) brought Paige with him from Cleveland to the St. Louis Browns in 1951, and he averaged more than forty appearances a season there for three years. (It’s delightful to contemplate that juvenile Palmer Cox brownie adorning the sleeve of this superannuated Brown.) He returned to a big-league mound in 1965, at age fifty-nine or so, to throw three scoreless innings for the Kansas City A’s against the Red Sox; only one man, Carl Yastrzemski, got a hit off him.
When the National League abandoned Troy and Worcester after the 1882 season, it reestablished franchises in New York and Philadelphia for the first time since its inaugural campaign of 1876. Grumbling can still be heard in Troy and Worcester today, but their loss was baseball’s gain, giving the shaky National League the two key eastern markets it had lacked.
As you can see from the studio shot of the original Giants of 1883, they wear the emblem of the city on their breasts, binding the team to the body politic and making baseball seem as much a part of old Gotham as Indians and beaver pelts, Knickerbockers and coopers. The uniform patch shown above is the original, worn by Buck Ewing at top left in the team photo.
Notice the other future Hall of Famers: pitcher Mickey Welch (bottom, left), who in 1885 posted an imposing record of 44-11, and John Montgomery Ward (upper right), the perfect-game pitcher turned shortstop whose hand rests on the shoulder of Roger Connor, whose career home run record was finally surpassed by a guy named Ruth.
This week, more than three decades after publication, the Society for American Baseball Research is reissuing the debut number of The National Pastime, a publication I created for it in 1982. Not only in retrospect but also at the time, this felt like a new path for SABR, and for me. Here is my 2014 preface to The National Pastime, republished in facsimile. To purchase a paperback or ebook, go to http://goo.gl/JYn88W; or better yet, join SABR and get it free. The ebook may also be purchased from the vendors listed at the end of this post.
That they also provided no funding—except for the cost of typeset, printing, paper, and mailing—meant that I would have to scramble a bit, but that was OK. I enlisted contributors—those mentioned above, my newfound friends, my onetime idols, and veteran authors, journalists, and researchers. Gordon Fleming, author of The Unforgettable Season, a pioneering new form of baseball book, sent me a brilliant treatment of the Merkle Boner. Dr. Seymour and David Voigt, who had long disapproved of each other, took the roles of lion and lamb for this new journal, coexisting peaceably and contributing bold, fresh articles. Baseball Research Journal regulars like Art Ahrens, Al Kermisch, and Ted DiTullio contributed fine pieces. And an unpublished researcher, a bank accounting officer named Frank J. Williams, submitted an exhaustive article, handwritten on yellow legal paper, which upon publication became a landmark in the history of baseball record keeping.
I designed the publication and on my kitchen table laid out the reproduction proof with paste pot and Exacto knife. I created the headlines with Letraset transfer type and a burnishing tool, as our printer Dean Coughenour of Manhattan, Kansas, could not obtain display-size versions of the type I had specified. If all this sounds like complaint, then I have failed to strike the proper tone. Trust me, it was heaven. I could not have believed more fervently than I did in the opening words of my “house column”:
The National Pastime has sprung into being to depict the panorama of baseball, from its murky beginnings on up to last night’s news, showing that the past of this great game is every bit as exciting as its present.
The debut issue was mailed in late October and immediately met with rave reviews. Its nominal cost was $5, but that was paid only by nonmembers—whose cost could be reduced to nothing if they added $10 to purchase a SABR membership. Our rolls rose from 1250 in July 1981 to 2800 at year end, 1982. In the June/July 1983 issue of American Heritage, which had been my model for TNP, the editor wrote:
Thorn, who assembled the portfolio of baseball pictures in this issue, is editor of The National Pastime, a handsomely produced publication sponsored by the Society for American Baseball Research (P.O. Box 323, Cooperstown, NY 13326). And like all of SABR’s three thousand members, he is interested in exploring and preserving the legacy of the sport.
Actually by the time that issue of AH hit the stands, SABR membership had climbed to nearly 4000. This debut issue, which even in reprint more than three decades later, still looks handsome to me, also won an honorable mention in the 1983 PRINT Magazine annual review of the nation’s top achievements in the graphic arts.
But enough button-popping about the look of the thing. It is the quality of the writing that will impress most today, as it did then.
More than thirty years before a pair of brothers named Wright made aviation history, another Wright duo was instrumental in changing baseball from a social-club pastime to a professional game. Baseball’s Wright brothers were George and Harry, cricket players who saw the future in the American game.
A cricket book opens our story. It is Felix on the Bat, a classic cricket instructional manual written and illustrated by the great Kent and All-England batsman of the 1840s, “N. Felix,” which was the pen name for Nicholas Wanostrocht. A copy was presented to Samuel Wright, father of Harry and George in 1858, on his Benefit Day at the St. George Cricket Club, Elysian Fields, Hoboken, where the English-born Sam was the cricket professional and Harry and George two of the key players (Harry by 1854, George beginning in 1861). George was eleven at the time his father received the book, and it is not clear when Sam passed it on to George, who wrote on the flyleaf: “This book I prize very highly as it was given to me by my Father in the year 1865. Often I have viewed its contents when a boy looking forward to some day to play the game of cricket well. G.W.”
Of course, by 1865 young George was not only adept at cricket, he was well on his way to becoming the best baseball player in the land. Harry had begun to divide his time between cricket and baseball in the late 1850s, when he joined the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, whose grounds adjoined those of the St. George Cricket Club. Mirroring the divided loyalties of pre-Civil War America, both continued to play cricket for at least two more years, Harry with the Cincinnati Cricket Club, which had lured him west with the position of cricket professional and an invitation to organize a first-class baseball club. George left the champion Union of Morrisania team after the 1866 campaign to join the covertly professional Washington Nationals as they toured the west. George was supposedly earning his living as a government clerk, but the address of his “employer” as listed in the City Directory was just a public park. They traveled as far as Illinois, where the Nationals were upset by the Forest City of Rockford and their boy pitcher, Albert Spalding. George received a handsome rosewood trophy bat for “best general play.”
By 1869 both were members of baseball’s first openly all-professional team, the celebrated Cincinnati Red Stockings. George was the greatest player of his time, with wonderful batting and fielding skills and an acrobat’s flair. In 1869 he hit .629 with 49 home runs in 57 games. Harry, twelve years older, was a fading player, but he was the organizer, promoter, and father figure of the Red Stockings and professional baseball itself.
In the photo of the Reds above, George stands in the top row, second from the right, and captain Harry stands alongside him at the center. And, following a tradition far older than baseball, both left for a new opportunity when the money beckoned. When the Reds collapsed and the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players formed, Harry moved to Boston as manager and took brother George and other Red Stockings along with him to join former Rockford stars Al Spalding and Ross Barnes and Cleveland’s Deacon White.
The Wrights and Boston rolled over the competition in the National Association, winning four straight pennants by increasingly grotesque margins, thus hastening the demise of the league. In the new National League, Boston continued its winning ways, but after championships in 1877 and 1878, George went to Providence as a playing manager in 1879 and defeated Harry’s Bostons in a close race. In the mid-1930s, National League president Ford Frick gave George Wright, nearing the age of ninety, a lifetime pass to all National League grounds (note that it is #1, the first ever given).
Major-league baseball’s centennial shindig took place not in 1976, nor even in 1971, a century since the first pro league, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, commenced play. The celebration came in 1969, and in 1994 there was a splashy yearlong birthday party for the 125th year of professional baseball.
So what exactly happened in 1869? Wasn’t Jim Creighton paid in 1859 and Al Reach in 1863? Between 1865 and 1869, weren’t there such professional teams as the Atlantics of Brooklyn, the Mutuals of New York, the Athletics of Philadelphia, and more? Sure. But there was something special about 1869: the manly admission of Harry Wright to the press that his Cincinnati Red Stockings were salaried and proud of it. The Reds were thus the first avowedly professional team in baseball history, a distinction that scholars insist on using to separate this mighty team from the under-the-table schemers and gate-receipt communards who had preceded them. Besides, the Reds were the best team ever assembled to that point, and they came from all over.
Harry Wright had come to the banks of the Ohio in 1865 at the behest of the Union Cricket Club. By 1867 he had organized a Red Stockings baseball club, too, though it wasn’t yet strong enough to compete against the best. The arrival of pitcher Asa Brainard, former Brooklyn Excelsior, in 1868, followed by the advent of Harry’s brother George for the 1869 season, made the team literally unbeatable.
The Red Stockings took on all comers, from Maine to California, in 1869, and never tasted defeat. They won 84 consecutive games in 1869-1870 before getting their comeuppance from the venerable Atlantics of Brooklyn, the champions of several earlier 1860s campaigns. The Forest City of Rockford was accounted as one of the strongest nines following their 1867 upset of the touring Washington Nationals, then led by George Wright; those Nationals in turn had defeated Harry’s developing Red Stockings, 53-10. Rockford’s stars included Albert Spalding, Bob Addy, and Ross Barnes (in 1871 they would welcome a young third baseman from Marshalltown, Iowa, named Adrian Anson). In 1870 Spalding’s heady pitching led to a 12-5 victory over Cincinnati, avenging their 34-13 drubbing at the hands of the Reds in ’69.
But that was not the Reds’ first loss. On June 14, 1870, at the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn, the Reds jumped off to a 2-0 lead in the first, but the Atlantics held a lead of 4-3 after six frames. The Reds regained the lead with two tallies in the seventh, but the Atlantics knotted the contest at 5-5 in the eighth, and there things stood at the conclusion of nine innings. Captain Bob Ferguson of the Atlantics agreed to a draw, as was the custom, but Harry Wright of the Reds insisted that the game be played to a conclusion, “if it took all summer.” Backed up by Reds president Aaron B. Champion, he ordered his men back on the field. Ferguson then did the same for his Atlantics.
After a scoreless tenth, the Reds appeared to settle the issue with two runs in the top of the eleventh. But Brainard’s nerve was wearing thin, according to the New York Clipper report. He allowed a leadoff single to Charlie Smith, then followed with a wild pitch that sent Smith all the way to third. “Old Reliable,” first baseman Joe Start, drove a long fly to right field, where Cal McVey had difficulty extricating the ball from the standing-room-only crowd. Smith scored, and now Start was on third. At this point Ferguson came to the plate and, seeing how his men had been foiled by George Wright’s brilliant plays time and again, the right-handed hitter turned around to bat from the left side, simply to keep the ball away from the Reds’ shortstop.
Ferguson drove the ball past the second baseman. Tie game! When George Zettlein drove a liner toward first base, Charlie Gould blocked it, but threw hurriedly and wildly to second base in an attempt to force Ferguson. The ball skittered into left field, and Ferguson scampered home with the winning run. Additional batters came to the plate, for the rules did not yet call for the game to end until three outs were registered in the final half inning, but no further scoring ensued. After the contest, Champion telegraphed the following message back to Cincinnati: “Atlantics 8, Cincinnatis 7. The finest game ever played. Our boys did nobly, but fortune was against us. Eleven innings played. Though beaten, not disgraced.”
By 1871 Cincincinnati Reds were no more. The club had disbanded, its possessions and trophies were sold at auction, and Harry and George found themselves playing under the old name of Red Stockings but in a new city–Boston, where they were joined by a couple of other Cincinnati teammates, the Rockford stars Spalding and Barnes, and Cleveland’s Deacon White.
Last month, Bryan Curtis of ESPN’s Grantland came up to Catskill to chat with me about baseball’s annual burial rites. His fine story, “The Dead Ball Century,” may be read here: http://goo.gl/a1RyNp. A couple of days ago I gathered with my neighbors at the Beattie-Powers Place to deliver my annual Hot Stove League talk and to gab afterwards with my baseball-loving friends. My talk reprised a good bit of my conversation with Bryan and to some degree expanded upon it. Warmed over, you might pronounce this blogpost but, I hope, sturdy like a casserole brought to a covered-dish supper.
There was much woe and lamentation in the seventies that the game was dying. Commentators bemoaned the sluggish play by roving mercenaries who had no loyalty to the teams or their fans; the players’ rampant abuse of controlled substances and the all-too common consort with criminals; the inept and fractious ownership. But baseball bounced back in the next decade to reclaim its place as the national pastime: new heroes, spirited competition, and booming prosperity gave birth to dreams of expansion, both within the major leagues and around the world.
And then came the nineties, when management, suddenly frightened that they had ceded control to the players, sought to restore baseball’s profitability by “running the game like a business”: they looked for ways to clamp down on salaries, reorganize the leagues to favor the big-market cities, and make real-estate fortunes from their ballparks.
And then came the boom years, capped by home-run heroics on a scale that once seemed unimaginable.
If I haven’t made myself clear, this worrisome chain of events describes the game of a hundred years ago and more. Yes, we’ve seen it all before. And yes, those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. But no, the sky is not falling—baseball is such a great game that neither the owners nor the players can kill it.
A captain of a championship club once said: “Somehow or other, they don’t play ball nowadays as they used to some eight or ten years ago. I don’t mean to say they don’t play it as well. … But I mean that they don’t play with the same kind of feelings or for the same objects they used to.” The man was Pete O’Brien of the Brooklyn Atlantics; the year he said this, the first known baseball death notice, was 1868.
Simple charms, simple pleasures. In the late 1860s, advancing had skills led to heightened appetites for victory, which led to hot pursuit of the game’s gifted players, which inevitably led to sub rosa payments and, by 1870, rampant professionalism. (Doesn’t that chain reaction put one in mind of college football or basketball?) The gentlemanly players of baseball’s first generation retreated from the field, shaking their heads in dismay at how greed had perverted the “grand old game”—now barely 20 years old—and probably ruined it forever.
By the 1880s pundits were forecasting the imminent demise of the game because of its extreme violence, much as we see today with professional football. “The records of our hospitals,” wrote a New York Times editorialist, “confirm the theory that fewer games of baseball have been played during the past year than were played during any single year since 1868…. Probably the time is now ripe for the revival of cricket.”
So what have been the tell-tale indicators of baseball’s looming end? Let me count the signs, in no particular order.
1. Baseball is too expensive.
In a letter to the editor of a Philadelphia newspaper on July 6, 1874, an aggrieved patron wrote: “Sir: On the Fourth, I felt rich, and I concluded to take it on the shell, no matter what the price. Well, the game–Athletic-Philadelphia–cost me nearly $2, as follows:– Entrance 50 cents, seat $1, fares 25 cents, four beers 20 cents…. If they would reduce the price to a reasonable figure, I would go out occasionally–but, it is really too heavy.” A simple Purchasing Power Calculator would say the 2014 cost of this 140-year-old ballpark excursion for a single fan, which included no food, would be $41.10.
2. Ballplayers are not as skilled today.
Baseball’s statistics, unlike those of, say track and field—are flexible, products of a particular time and place. Does anyone truly believe that players were better in 1887, when ten men hit over .400?
3. High salaries are killing baseball.
Giancarlo Stanton recently signed a contract for $325 million over 13 years. A reporter asked him if he was embarrassed to be paid so much. But in 1922, when the Yankees were paying Babe Ruth $75,000, a Michigan paper argued that baseball had birthed a “salary-frankenstein.”
4. Free agency has created too much movement of players from city to city.
Players have always moved around. But in former times it was owners trading players — treating players like chattel. Only a quarter of a century removed from the Civil War, the Milwaukee Journal warned in 1890, in a story called “The Decline in Baseball Interest”: “You cannot put [a player] up like a slave on auction block.”
5. Other sports are more appealing.
Today baseball’s rivals for fan favor are football, basketball, and soccer. But in 1892, the Boston Journal noted — in an article yet again titled “The Decline of Base Ball” — that bicycling was the true sport of the age. In 1917, the Colorado Springs Gazette argued that baseball was losing ground to trap shooting. “The modern young man takes up a sport that he can actually do,” the Gazette reported. “No longer is he to be a bench warmer.”
6. Young people today have too many electronic distractions.
This also is an old argument, dating to a time before TV, internet, iPhone, and video gaming. Silent movies were regarded as a big challenge to baseball; a scout told the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1917 that people preferred nickelodeons to stadiums.
7. Baseball is too slow for the modern age.
In 1945, columnist Westbrook Pegler wrote, “I detect a sad and desperate admission that the game, itself, is outmoded.” In 1969 media theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote: “Baseball is … a dying sport … just too individual a sport for our new age.” Baseball will experiment with ways to quicken the pace, but the challenge will not be to alter the essence of the game–which is one of expectation, reflection, and surprise.
The past is prologue. Baseball’s revenues and fan interest are booming right now, despite the annual eulogies, but it may still endure some hard times. Franchises may fail, or relocate, or relocate and fail. Television contracts, real-estate valuations, and capital-gain speculation—the forces that blew the baseball bubble up, might make it burst, as it did in the 1890s. But the elements of further popularity and prosperity are already in place, and have been for a hundred years: the international movement, spearheaded by Albert Spalding with his world tour in 1888-89, and now carried forward by the World Baseball Classic, and the incredibly hardy minor leagues, where the business of baseball still has a human scale and a connection to the spirit of play.
Continuing from yesterday (http://goo.gl/HVQvfL), this marks the eighth and final installment of the series, offering biographies of the men ranked from 81 through 100. To revisit the complete 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
81. LIVAN HERNANDEZ
Livan Hernandez, a star member of the world-renowned Cuban National team, defected to the U.S. in 1995. He was not the first Cuban to do so—Rene Arocha and Rey Ordonez had preceded him in the 1990s and Barbaro Garbey had come over in 1980. And he was not the last—his brother Orlando, for example, fled in a ramshackle boat in 1997.
But Livan was the most important. He signed with Florida as a free agent, whereas Arocha and Ordonez had been signed through a lottery, much as Tom Seaver came to the Mets after Atlanta bungled his initial signing. Ariel Prieto was the last notable Cuban defector to expose himself to the amateur draft, back in 1995; ever since Hernandez, the sponsors or agents of defectors from the Cuban National squad have made certain that these top-rank players jumped to a country other than the U.S. before offering their services to U.S. major-league clubs. This made defecting more lucrative and spawned even more defections.
Hernandez cost the Florida Marlins a $2.5 million signing bonus in 1996, when the club was determined to expand its Latin American fan base, but he was worth every penny. After only 30 minor-league games, the durable right-hander established himself as a major leaguer with a nine-game winning streak in 1997. He became an overnight sensation by virtue of his performance in October 1997. He was chosen the Most Valuable Player of the Championship Series after beating Atlanta twice, including an NLCS-record 15 strikeouts in Game 5. Then, in the Marlins’ World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians, Hernandez won two more games and the WS MVP.
82. HAL RICHMAN
Strat-O-Matic baseball has amused 11-year-old boys for more than 40 years. Few of those know that the game was invented by an 11-year-old boy himself.
Hal Richman, who grew up in New York in the early 1950s, loved playing Ethan Allen’s All-Star Baseball—a simulation game in which players’ performances were determined by spinning discs—but grew frustrated by that game’s not having pitchers involved. Richman invented his own game, which first used a deck of playing cards to randomize the outcome of at-bats. He played the game with friends in summer camp, added strategies such as stolen bases and sacrifice bunts, and later made the probabilities more realistic by using two dice to determine outcomes. After earning an accounting degree at Bucknell University, Richman decided on a nifty name for his game—Strat-O-Matic—and borrowed $3,500 from friends in 1961 to launch the game commercially.
Within three years, the game was a hit. It wound up selling millions of editions and still is in production today with, of course, the inevitable computer edition. For generations of young fans, Strat-O-Matic was one of the favorite connections to the sport, and their main lens into strategy and team-building. The impact of Richman’s game and others like it (APBA, Pursue the Pennant and so on) goes far beyond kids’ basements: In a 2002 Baseball America survey of major-league teams’ front-office executives, 50 percent of them said they played Strat-O-Matic or a similar game as a kid.
83. PETER SEITZ
Peter Seitz never swung a bat or pitched an inning during a major-league game, yet his impact on Organized Baseball was enormous. As an arbitrator for MLB and the MLBPA, he laid the groundwork for baseball’s current system of free agency.
Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos requested free-agent status after pitching in the 1975 season without signing new contracts. Thus the two challenged the legality of the automatic-renewal clause in the standard contract.
Their appeal was heard by three officials: John Gaherin, who represented the owners; Marvin Miller, the economist who was executive director of the MLBPA; and Seitz, a professional arbitrator from New York who served as an impartial judge.
In a 70-page opinion, Seitz cast the deciding vote that ruled Messersmith and McNally free agents. “It was represented to me,” Seitz said, “that any decision sustaining Messersmith and McNally would have dire results, wreak great harm to the reserve system and do serious damage to the sport of baseball and would encourage many other players to elect and become free agents.
“The panel’s sole duty is to interpret and apply agreements and understandings of the parties. If any of the expressed apprehensions and fears are soundly based, I am confident that the dislocations and damage to the reserve system can be avoided or minimized through good-faith collective bargaining between the parties.” Following his decision, Seitz was immediately fired by baseball’s owners, who called his action detrimental to the game.
Seitz held other important positions as a labor-management arbitrator, including work with the National Basketball Association, New York City and the Defense Department.
84. KEN GRIFFEY, JR.
Those too young to have seen Willie Mays in his prime could see in Ken Griffey, Jr. the player nearest to Mays in ability. Just 30 years old, and finishing the 1999 season with 398 career home runs, Griffey had already placed himself in elite company. He had led the AL in homers four times, including back-to-back seasons in 1997-98 with 56 homers. He also won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves and made numerous leaping catches in center field to rob opponents of home runs. Elected by experts to the “All Century Team” announced in July 1999, he was then voted by fans as one of the top 25 players of the 20th Century.
Griffey, Jr. was also baseball’s most marketable star, despite playing in a medium-sized market in Seattle. He was the consensus pick to challenge Hank Aaron’s home-run record, and he more than anyone may have saved major-league baseball in the Northwest. And yet, when the opportunity came to exercise his free agency and go home to Cincinnati, where he had grown up watching his father star for the Reds, Junior pulled up stakes. (Griffey, Sr. had finished with the Mariners in 1991, playing 51 games over his last two seasons alongside his son.)
After a 40-home run, 118-RBI debut in the National League, Griffey ran into an incredible string of injuries that reduced him to part-time duty and left many wondering whether he would ever again display the form he had exhibited with Seattle.
85. BOB FELLER
He grew up on a farm just west of Des Moines, Iowa, in the small town of Van Meter. Farm chores made him strong, and his father made him a pitcher. According to Feller, his father “made a home plate in the yard, and I’d throw to him over it. He even built me a pitching rubber. When I was 12, we built a ballfield on our farm. We fenced the pasture, put up the chicken wire and the benches and even a little grandstand behind first base. We formed our own team and played other teams from around the community on weekends.” That was the way it was, not so long ago, and Bob Feller stands as a proud symbol of what made baseball America’s game.
In July 1936 the 17-year-old Feller made his debut for Cleveland in an exhibition game, striking out eight St. Louis Cardinals in three innings. From that moment on, he was major-league news. After several relief appearances, he made his first start in mid-August and struck out 15 St. Louis Browns in a 4-1 victory. In September he struck out 17 Philadelphia Athletics, tying the major-league mark and setting a new AL record. Then he went home to finish high school.
In 1941 Feller went 25-13 with 260 strikeouts but missed more than a month of the season. The day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Navy. While some baseball stars spent the war playing exhibition baseball games to build the troops’ morale, Feller served as a chief specialist on the battleship Alabama, winning five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars.
Feller came back from the war better than ever. He won 26 games for the sixth-place Indians, 10 of them shutouts shutouts, while striking out 346.
Named to the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility, Feller was bothered by his Hall of Fame plaque, which lists his baseball career as spanning “1936 to 1941” and “1945 to 1956” with no explanation. He once suggested to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth that the plaque might be changed to reflect the facts. The commissioner answered that such a change would be “inconvenient.” “Well,” said Feller, “it was inconvenient to get shot at.”
86. DAVID S. NEFT
It’s hard to believe today, with books such as Total Baseball in every baseball fan’s library, but for most of baseball’s first 100 years there was no such thing as a comprehensive book of historical statistics. Then David Neft came along.
The closest thing baseball had was The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, first published in 1951, but that listed only a few statistics per player. Neft, a New York formal statistician working for Information Concepts Incorporated in the 1960s, sold his bosses—and the Macmillan publishing company—on a book that listed more than a dozen statistics for every player, all the way back to 1876. It was a mammoth undertaking, and it changed the course of baseball fandom.
The business of building a credible baseball encyclopedia was amazingly complicated in the 1960s. Computers were only beginning to handle the type of data entry, storage and checking required. Second, baseball’s records, particularly before 1920, were in complete disarray. Players were missing or identified incorrectly. Sources such as old Spalding Guides were notoriously shoddy, and even the official statistics put out by the leagues back then had hundreds of errors. Neft’s team of researchers criss-crossed the country, from library microfilm rooms to long-lost graveyards, to look up old box scores and recreate statistics from 1876-20 virtually from scratch, and to resolve other conflicts.
Finally published in 1969, The Baseball Encyclopedia ran 2,338 pages and weighed six and a half pounds. One New York Times reviewer raved that it was “the book I’d take with me to prison.” It flew through its first printing of 50,000 books and ultimately sold more than 100,000 copies. The book began a new era of fanaticism for baseball statistics and history.
Neft went on to create encyclopedias in other sports, and his Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball has been issued annually for three decades.
87. JOHN SCHUERHOLZ
No modern general manager has been able to win more often, and in more places, than John Schuerholz. He has been a master at juggling batting lines with bottom lines, and has been able to keep his teams in contention every season for 20 years.
Schuerholz’s job is barely recognizable compared to the one that former GMs such as George Weiss held, before arbitration and free agency, before the media and ownership demands, before the draft and international market, before 29 other clubs and three rounds of playoffs. With that in consideration, some might consider Schuerholz the best general manager in baseball history.
His Braves have won one World Series, five pennants and 12 straight division championships (a professional sports record). In doing so, Schuerholz did have the advantage of a large payroll, but he never lost sight of the player-development aspects of running a club, deftly weaving in top prospects while acquiring established veterans through trades and free agency. As other large-revenue teams such as the Orioles and Dodgers floundered, the Braves kept winning season after season.
Before heading to Atlanta in 1990, Schuerholz ran the Royals, with whom he won the 1985 World Series. He helped build Kansas City into baseball’s model expansion club throughout the ’70s while serving in player development, presiding over a minor-league system that produced the likes of George Brett, Frank White, Dennis Leonard, Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson and Bo Jackson, feeding teams that finished first or second every year from 1975 to 1985.
88. MINNIE MINOSO
Saturnino Orestes Armas “Minnie” Minoso was the first dark-skinned Latin to play in the U.S. major leagues and an inspiration to generations of Caribbean youth. It is not too much to say that he was the Jackie Robinson for Latin America.
Minoso, who grew up in Cuba’s Matanzas Province, left school at age 14 to work in the sugar fields. In 1946 he signed with Alex Pompez’s New York Cubans for $150 a month plus a boat ticket to Key West and train fare to New York. Cleveland’s Bill Veeck purchased the 25-year old Minoso in 1948 and assigned him to Dayton in the Class A Central League. He made it to Cleveland the next year, but he lasted only nine games.
He returned to the majors as a 28-year-old rookie in 1951, but after eight games with the Indians he was traded to the White Sox. He hit .326 that season and led the league in stolen bases and triples.
In December 1957, after hitting .310 with 103 RBIs, Minoso was traded to Cleveland but in 1960 Veeck reacquired Minoso for the White Sox in a seven-player trade. Minoso responded in 1960 by leading the AL in hits, with 184, and by finishing second to Roger Maris in RBIs. He was 37.
Father Time was catching up with Minoso. He retired in 1964—sort of. On September 11, 1976, Veeck, who was again running the White Sox, reactivated the 53-year-old Minoso so he could become a four-decade major leaguer. For once in his baseball career Minoso was nervous.
“It’s been many years since I face pitching like this,” he said. “I hope [the fans] forgive me.” That day he went hitless against the Angels’ Frank Tanana. But the next afternoon he faced 25-year-old Sid Monge, who had been only 20 days old when Minoso first appeared in the American League. Minnie singled to left.
89. HARRY CARAY
When young Harry Carabina decided he wanted to be a baseball announcer, he conned his way into an audition with Merle Jones, owner of KMOX, St. Louis’ largest radio station. After the audition Jones commented, “Your voice has an exciting timbre.” He helped Carabina land his first broadcasting job, in Joliet, Illinois, and the voice of the renamed Harry Caray went on to excite fans for well over half a century.
Caray’s first major-league job was with his hometown Cardinals, and he stayed there for 25 years, from 1945 to 1969, working with four different owners—Sam Breadon, Fred Saigh, Bob Hannegan, and August Busch, who fired him.
He went on to work for Charlie Finley in Oakland, but after one season with the A’s he returned to the Midwest. The Chicago White Sox hired him in 1971 and he stayed on when the team was sold to Bill Veeck in 1976. On Opening Day that year, when the crowd began singing “Take Me out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch, Veeck noticed that Caray was singing along in the broadcasters’ booth.
Without the announcer’s knowledge Veeck had a microphone set up in the booth, and Caray’s raspy singing voice was soon booming throughout the stadium. Confronted by Caray, Veeck explained, “Anybody in the ballpark hearing you sing that song knows he can sing as well as you can. Probably better than you can. So he or she sings along.” From that day on Caray’s enthusiastic rendering of the song was a Chicago tradition, especially on the North Side when he moved to the Cubs for the final years of his career.
90. DICK YOUNG
Dick Young began his career with the New York Daily News as a messenger boy in 1937. After 45 years there he moved to the Post, but he had already changed the style of covering a baseball game forever. In the age of day baseball, the writers for afternoon papers had the players all to themselves after a game. Young, working for a morning paper with multiple editions, hung around the clubhouse to pick up quotes, “like a chipmunk looking for nuts,” in the uncomplimentary phrase that stuck. With these he would not only flesh out his game stories but also pepper his popular and, to the targets of his gibes, enfuriating column, “Young Ideas.”
No beat reporter today would dream of filing a game story without a quote. No baseball writer has ever dipped his pen in vitriol to greater effect. And no baseball writer prior to him would risk utter alienation from the source of future stories, as he did on a habitual basis.
Love him, hate him, you couldn’t ignore him. Even as his readers came increasingly to resent his testiness and his tendency to expound on the decline of society in general, he remained influential to the last.
91. SCOTT BORAS
No player agents has been more hated by management and vilified by the media than Scott Boras, and no agent has been more effective for his clients.
Boras began his involvement in professional baseball as an infielder/outfielder in the St. Louis organization during the mid-1970s. He never advanced past Class AA, retiring in 1977. In the off-season he pursued a law degree, becoming convinced of the inequity of minor-league contracts. “The deals were unilaterally imposed and the team could get out of them at any time,” he said later. “There was never any negotiation.”
In his new career as an agent, Boras looked to challenge the system. After drawn-out, confrontational negotiations, he secured ever-larger amounts for top picks Andy Benes, Ben McDonald and Brien Taylor, the New York Yankees’ first selection in 1991 who signed for $1.55 million—and never reached the major leagues. Although Boras continually added to his major-league client roster (he won for Kevin Brown baseball’s first nine-figure contract) it was another amateur, Florida State outfielder J.D. Drew, who gained him his greatest notoriety.
In 1996 amateurs Travis Lee and Matt White had escaped the draft through a loophole and commanded deals for over $10 million each; Boras envisioned even bigger numbers for Drew. “When you remove the barrier of the draft, you see what teams are willing to pay for select amateur players,” Boras said.
He warned frugally minded teams not to select his client, but the Philadelphia Phillies called his bluff and tapped Drew with the second overall pick. Drew rejected Philadelphia, demanding $11 million. He spent the season in the independent Northern League, which Boras maintained freed him from the draft. An arbitrator rejected his position, but Drew refused to sign with Philadelphia and went back into the draft. This time, the Cardinals signed him for $8 million.
92. FRANK BANCROFT
He never played professional baseball, he managed his last game over a century ago, he won only one pennant, and he’s not in the Hall of Fame. So how does this gent make the list?
In a baseball career that spanned more than 40 years, he led the first professional U.S. team to visit the Caribbean. The one pennant he won was capped by victory in the very first World Series (1884, not 1903). He was talented enough as a manager to be hired by six big-league clubs—and contentious enough to wear out his welcome mat with seven, a record unequaled unless you count Billy Martin playing Judy to George Steinbrenner’s Punch.
Oh, and one last thing. He was the pioneer of platooning, with his 1884 Providence Grays of 1884, and perhaps earlier, with his Detroit Wolverines.
Bancroft first managed during the Civil War, arranging baseball games between Union Army regiments. Later he settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, ran several successful businesses, and in 1878 became manager of New Bedford’s entry in the International Association, the first minor league. After the season he took his team barnstorming to Cuba. Two years later he was at the helm of Worcester when it entered the National League.
His other managerial stops were (in sequence) Detroit, Cleveland, Providence, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. In 1892 he became business manager of the Reds, a post he held until his death in 1921.
93. ARCH WARD
Notre Dame graduate Arch Ward’s first job was as the first sports publicity director his alma mater ever had. After one year there he moved to the Rockford Star to write sports. Five years later he was in the big leagues of sports journalism: sportswriter and, later, sports editor of the Chicago Tribune.
In 1933, Ward hit upon the idea of having a baseball game between stars from both leagues, as a sporting way to tie in to the “Century of Progress” Exposition in Chicago that year. He saw that July 6 was an open date for all major-league clubs, so he began to push the idea in his columns. In addition to promoting the city and the fair, Ward felt it could serve a charitable cause as well: raising funds for the “Professional Ball Players of America.” (He was surely connecting baseball officials to their memory of the 1911 All-Star benefit game on behalf of the family of Cleveland’s Addie Joss.) This was during the cold heart of the Depression, and Ward figured some former players who were financially strapped would benefit. Many owners disliked the idea, and when they finally agreed to it, they firmly stipulated it would be a one-time event.
As history has demonstrated, the concept was a smash from the very beginning. John McGraw came out of retirement to manage the National League. Babe Ruth, even though he was 38 years old, was the star, with both a two-run homer and a critical running catch. Seventeen future Hall of Famers played for the 47,595 fans that came to Comiskey Park. Of the $52,000 raised, $45,000 was donated to former players in need of financial assistance.
In 1934, Ward conjured up another all-star idea: the College All-Stars against the champions of the NFL, an event that ran annually through 1976.
94. MARTIN DIHIGO
Only Martin Dihigo has been elected to the Cuban, Mexican, and United States Baseball Halls of Fame. His speed, size, and strong throwing arm made him one of the most versatile players in baseball history. During his 30-year career Dihigo played every position on the field—sometimes more than one in the same game—and played each of them exceptionally well.
Dihigo was arguably the greatest Cuban ballplayer of all time. Among Cuban-born players, only Cristobal Torriente was considered his peer at the plate. Johnny Mize, who played for a team Dihigo managed in the Dominican Republic winter league in 1943, said Dihigo was the greatest player he’d ever seen. Buck Leonard shared Mize’s opinion: “He could run, hit, throw, think, pitch, and manage.”
Known as “El Maestro” in Mexico and “El Immortal” in Cuba, Dihigo began his U.S. career as an 18-year-old second baseman for the Cuban Stars. After five years he moved on to the Homestead Grays, and had short stints with the Philadelphia Hilldales, the Baltimore Black Sox, and the New York Cubans. Dihigo won three Negro League home run crowns and tied Josh Gibson for another. As a pitcher, he racked up more than 200 wins in American and Mexican ball.
He played sparingly as player-manager for the New York Cubans in 1945 and continued to play and manage in Cuba and Mexico until the early 1950s, when he returned to Cuba to stay. Dihigo served as Cuba’s minister of sports until his death in 1971. In 1977 he became the first Cuban to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
95. ROGER KAHN
Brooklyn-born Roger Kahn began covering the Dodgers for the New York Herald Tribune as a kid out of college. Ebbets Field was his graduate school, where he learned about baseball and baseball players, and most enduringly, the boys of summer in their ruin.
In his prolific career as an author of notable sports books, none of his titles stands above The Boys of Summer. Indeed, when Sports Illustrated selected its 100 Greatest Sports Books in 2002, Kahn’s masterpiece ranked #2; only a boxing book stood above it.
Kahn showed a generation of writers that even if they start their careers in the toy department of a newspaper, to use Red Smith’s phrase for the sports department, they can aspire to literature. He showed a generation of fans that as their boyhood heroes grow frail, as they themselves soon will, the road to heroism remains open and wide.
Within half a decade, 1966 to 1972, baseball books grew up, with other monumental accomplishments such as Larry Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times (1966), Harold Seymour’s Baseball: The Golden Age (1971), Roger Angell’s The Summer Game (1972), and, in an altogether different vein, Jim Bouton and Leonard Shecter’s Ball Four (1970). Roger Kahn was in the thick of this golden age and, in a personal golden age that extended into the current century, went on to write such fine books as A Flame of Pure Fire and October Men.
96. LEFTY O’DOUL
They called Lefty O’Doul “The Man in the Green Suit” because he was given to wearing a bright green sport jacket day in and day out. They might have also called him the American father of Japanese baseball, the NL batting champion of 1929 (with a .398 average), and “Mr. Pacific Coast League,” because, in his lengthy and varied career, he was all of these things.
O’Doul started out as a pitcher. He was signed by the San Francisco Seals of the PCL in 1917, and pitched a handful of games with the Yankees in 1919 through 1922.Traded to the Red Sox, he ended his pitching career in a blaze of ineptitude, surrendering 13 runs in one inning of work in a 27-3 loss.
Returning to the majors as a 31-year-old outfielder, he hit .319 for the Giants in 1928 but John McGraw didn’t like his fielding and traded him. With the Phillies O’Doul banged out a league-leading .398 average, 32 home run and, in what remains an NL record, 254 hits. He won another batting title in 1932 with the Dodgers.
He is famous as the answer to the trivia question, “Who has the highest batting batting average of any man eligible for the Hall of Fame who isn’t in it?” (He hit .349 over 11 seasons; only Joe Jackson’s .356 is higher.) How good a hitter was he? With Vancouver, at age 59, O’Doul sent himself up as a pinch hitter and walloped a triple. How did he do it? There were two reasons, he said: “The first is clean living, and the second is to bat against a pitcher who’s laughing so hard he can hardly throw the ball.”
Starting with the Seals in 1935 O’Doul began a long career of managing in the Pacific Coast League. He remained with San Francisco until 1951 (serving as vice president of the club from 1948 to 1951), and also managed San Diego, Oakland, Vancouver, and Seattle.
Starting in the early 1930s O’Doul made the first of more than 20 trips to Japan. There he assisted Matsutoro Shoriki in founding the first professional team, which he dubbed the Giants in honor of his last major league club. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, O’Doul returned to the country to help restore baseball and the defeated nation’s morale.
On leaving baseball in 1958, O’Doul founded a popular San Francisco restaurant. It remains a landmark on Geary Street just off Union Square, and they make a heck of a corned-beef sandwich.
97. NED HANLON
Though never a strong hitter, Edward Hugh Hanlon was a fine outfielder and, more importantly, a leader. At age 24 he was named captain and found himself leading a team of luminaries when the Detroit Wolverines roared to the world championship in 1887. In 1892 he received an offer to manage the Baltimore Orioles, a team that had been absorbed into the NL when the American Association disbanded after the 1891 season.
The Orioles were awful. They finished 1892 dead last, 541/2 games out of first. Hanlon built a new team by gambling on young, unproven players. In 1893 he acquired third baseman John McGraw, outfielder Joe Kelley, and catcher Wilbert Robinson. The next year he added outfielder Willie Keeler, shortstop Hughie Jennings, and veteran first baseman Dan Brouthers. All six were eventually named to the Hall of Fame. By 1894 Hanlon’s club was fully established, and the Orioles won the pennant for three years running.
Attendance fell off as the Orioles finished second in 1897 and 1898. In 1899 the team merged with Brooklyn, and Hanlon received 10 percent of Brooklyn’s stock. He was now both president of the Orioles and manager of Brooklyn. He shifted most of Baltimore’s best players to Brooklyn, creating a powerhouse that was christened “Hanlon’s Superbas,” after a vaudeville act of the same name. (Hanlon himself had been nicknamed “Ned” after a famous contemporary oarsman named Ned Hanlan.) The Superbas won pennants in 1899 and 1900, giving Hanlon five flags and two second-place finishes in his seven years as a manager.
Hanlon’s greatest legacy is not his string of pennants but the success of the managers he influenced: Joe Kelley, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, and John McGraw. Hanlon joined his disciples in the Hall of Fame in 1996.
98. WHITEY HERZOG
Dorrel Norman Elvert “Whitey” Herzog changed the face of managerial strategy in the 1970s and 1980s as he transformed lackluster franchises in Kansas City and St. Louis into AstroTurf-exploiting, speed-dominated division champions and pennant winners. Stolen bases, defense and relief pitching were at the heart of “WhiteyBall.”
His career as a ballplayer was undistinguished and marred by injuries. Having been traded to Baltimore at the start of the 1961 season, he missed Opening Day after being hit in the nose by a ball coming through the back of a batting cage. Herzog was dealt to Detroit in 1962, and in early 1963 he was beset by an ear infection that hastened his retirement.
In 1965 he became a Kansas City coach and lasted until getting into a shouting match with Charlie Finley regarding traveling expenses. The next year he was named a coach for the New York Mets, and later became director of player personnel for the team.
In 1973 Herzog replaced Ted Williams as the Texas Rangers’ manager but couldn’t turn their fortunes around. In July 1975, however, Jack McKeon was fired at Kansas City, and Herzog was offered the managerial post. It was with the Royals that WhiteyBall first took shape, and it paid off with three successive AL West titles, but each time the Royals lost to the Yankees in the Championship Series. After Herzog finished second in 1979, he was gone.
“I thought I did my greatest job of managing that year, and yet I got fired,” said Herzog. “It’s amazing how fast you can get dumb in this game.”
Yet as one door closed, another opened. In June 1980 Herzog was got a job across the state with the Cardinals. The results were a world championship in 1982 and pennants in 1985 and 1987.
99. CARL HUBBELL
Carl Hubbell was nicknamed “the Meal Ticket” because that’s what he was to the New York Giants and manager John McGraw during his career. Hubbell earned two Most Valuable Player Awards and over two seasons won 24 games in a row. He is best remembered for the 1934 All-Star Game during which he struck out future Hall of Fame sluggers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession. But what made him important (as opposed to merely a great player) was that with his trademark screwball he showed the baseball world that—even after the 1920 ban on spitballs, emery balls, and other trick pitches that had been dead-ball era staples—a pitcher without much of fastball or curve could still be a star.
Hubbell didn’t throw a screwball in high school, and the rest of his arsenal didn’t interest baseball scouts, but Hubbell refused to give up. Persistence paid off, and he caught on with the Class D Oklahoma State League’s Cushing Refiners. In June 1924 the circuit collapsed, and by season’s end Hubbell was with the Class A Western League’s Oklahoma City Indians. There Hubbell met an older pitcher named Lefty Thomas who worked with him on developing a sinker. As Hubbell tinkered with the new delivery he kept turning his wrist farther and farther over, and as he did he developed an entirely new pitch—the screwball. Christy Mathewson had thrown a “fadeaway,” a changeup with a reverse break, but Hubbell threw his pitch hard—so hard and so often that when his career was done, his left arm turned inward.
The Tigers purchased him at the close of the 1925 season but told him not to throw that crazy pitch. He never threw a pitch of any sort for Detroit despite three years in their system.
Hubbell was about ready to quit baseball when scout Dick Kinsella routed him to John McGraw’s Giants. There he registered five consecutive 20-game seasons, amid a myriad of other feats.
100. MEL ALLEN
The single most recognizable—and likable—voice in the history of baseball broadcasting may well have been that of Mel Allen. Although his broadcasting career included stints covering football and other sports, his many years of broadcasting the Yankees, the World Series, and the All-Star Game have forever linked his comfortable style with the Golden Age of Baseball on the air. His easy drawl and signature “How ‘bout that, sports fans?” were inextricably connected with the pleasure of baseball.
In 1937 Allen obtained his law degree from the University of Alabama, where he had broadcast Crimson Tide football games for the CBS affiliate in Birmingham and, with the recommendation of pioneer broadcaster Ted Husing, he was hired as a CBS staff announcer for $45 a week. When Larry MacPhail broke the New York baseball radio blackout, Allen was hired as the Yankees’ broadcaster for the 1940 season. He and Red Barber, voice of the Dodgers, did the first of their World Series broadcasts together the following year. Allen proved to be an immediate hit with New York fans. He nicknamed Joe DiMaggio “The Yankee Clipper” and christened Phil Rizzuto “Scooter.” In 1948 Allen introduced his famous home run call: “It’s going, going, gone!”
In a move that devastated Allen for years to come, he was fired after the 1964 season. For a decade he was essentially gone from the national scene. But when Major League Baseball introduced its first syndicated series, This Week In Baseball, in 1977, Allen was back for a victory lap. When the Yankees hired him to work their cablecasts in 1985, Sports Illustrated waxed eloquent. “The Voice is back where it belongs…. When you hear it, it’s summer again, a lazy July or August afternoon with sunlight creeping across the infield.”
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
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 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
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
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 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 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 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
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
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
“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, 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
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.’”
73. LOU GEHRIG
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
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
“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, 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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
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 (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
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 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).
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 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.”
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
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.”
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
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.
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.