The Baseball Bunker Archives

First Published 9/18/2022---LOUISVILLE'S BASEBALL HISTORY: Louisville Kentucky was founded by George Rogers Clark in 1778. Less than a 100-years later Louisville would be a founding member of the National League. George's younger brother, William Clark, would explore the West and reach the Pacific Ocean as part of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. His grandson, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. would build Churchill Downs and found the Kentucky Derby. Located along the Ohio River, Louisville was a key riverboat portage town and strategic during the Civil War. The Riverboat "Belle of Louisville" is moored downtown and claims to be the most traveled riverboat ever. The first woman riverboat pilot, Mary Miller, got her license in Louisville. After the war, the city's industrial base boomed. The first bridge designed for automobile traffic across the Ohio River was here. The largest distillery in the world opened here after prohibition ended and Louisville was the largest rubber producer in the world during WW2. Reynolds Wrap was invented here, as was flavored bubble gum and the "Happy Birthday" song. Bourbon Balls, Kentucky "Hot Brown" sandwich and the "Old Fashioned" drink were all invented here. Speaking of inventions, Thomas Edison worked in Louisville just before his 1000-plus patents came to be. John James Audubon spent ten years as a successful businessman in Louisville before going on to his bird drawing fame. Cave Hill Cemetery is an accredited arboretum and the final resting place of native son and heavyweight champion boxer Mohomed Ali and Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Louisville is also home to the largest baseball bat in the world. A 120-foot wooden bat stands above the entrance of the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. Louisville's baseball heritage dates back to the Civil War. A founding member of the National League, the Louisville Grays were the cities first pro team in 1876. The meetings between owners that established the National League took place in Louisville. The Grays only lasted two seasons due to a cheating scandal, the most infamous until the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal baseball would see. Louisville had a number of pro and semi-pro teams in the second half of the 19th century. They had fierce rivalries, so much so that saloon owners would enforce rules prohibiting the talk of baseball in their establishments. The Louisville Colonels would be the most successful of these early teams. They started out as the Louisville Eclipse from 1882-1884, named after the park they played in and were part of the American Association (AA). An Eclipse pitcher by the name of Guy Hecker held the major league record for WHIP of 0.077 for 118 years until Boston's Pedro Martinez broke it in 2000 (0.076). Some historians consider Hecker the best two-way player of the 19th Century. He won pitching's triple crown in 1884 and pitched a no-hitter in 1882, a week after his teammate Tony Mullane pitched the first no-hitter in AA history. He remains one of two pitchers to hit three home runs in one game. In all, there would be three Eclipse Parks beginning in 1874. In 1882 two Eclipse pitchers would throw no-hitters nine days apart, the closest two no-hitters have ever been tossed. In 1885, the Eclipse would change their name to the Colonels and continue to play at the first Eclipse Park until 1892. It was here that Pete Browning would become a baseball legend known as the Louisville Slugger. In 1884 a 17-year-old boy named Bud Hillerich would skip work at his father's woodworking shop to come see the star slugger play. Unfortunately, Browning was in a slump. After Browning broke his bat, young Hillerich offered to make him a new one at his father's shop. Browning would even go to the shop to help choose his specifications. The next day, with the new bat in hand, Browning would get three hits. Fellow players, seeing Brownings sucess would begin to order bats of their own and the Louisville Slugger Bat was born. The American Association (AA) would last for 10 seasons. In several seasons the AA would play the NL for the championship in an early form of a World Series. The Colonels won the Championship in 1890. The previous year they went 27-111, making them both the first pro-baseball team to lose 100 games and the first team to go from last to Champion. In 1892, the Colonels would move into the second Eclipse Park and join the National League after the AA folded. Honus Wagner, the greatest short stop ever, would make his debut here. In all, five future Hall of Famers would play for the Colonels. Honus Wagner, Rube Waddell, Fred Clark, Hughie Jennings and Jimmy Collins. The team's owner, Barney Dreyfuss, would go on to purchase the Pittsburg Pirates in 1900 and take 14 players from the Colonels to Pittsburg, effectively ending major league baseball in Louisville. It was at this time the National League would contract from 12 to 8 teams. The depleted Colonels were one of the four teams contracted. With the addition of so many ex-Colonels especially Wagner and Clarke the Pirates, perennial losers, would go on to win three consecutive pennants and appear in the first World Series in 1903. Other teams in different minor leagues used the Colonels name, most notably the American Association minor league team. That Colonels team would make history by winning the most titles in that league, 15, until it folded in 1962. The Louisville Black Caps and the Louisville White Sox would represent the Negro Leagues for a couple years. Predating the Negro Leagues by a decade, the city had the Unions "The Best Black Team You've Never Heard of." Minor League baseball is well represented today with the Louisville Bats. In the 1980's The St Louis Cardinals affiliate The Louisville Red Birds became the first minor league team ever to draw a million fans in a season (1983). They led the league in attendance four years consecutive (1982-1986). Louisville native, Hall of Famer and Colonels alum, Pee Wee Reese's number is retired at their park. The success of the Red Birds in the 80's led to a campaign for the return of a major league team to the city. Kentucky native and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning led the unsuccessful charge. Bunning is the only Hall of Famer to be elected to the Senate. In all there where three Eclipse Parks and all three were destroyed by fire. Pete Browning would go on to play for National League teams in Pittsburg, Cincinatti, Brooklyn and St. Louis. His .341 career average is fifth highest among righties and he and Shoeless Joe Jackson are the only two in the top ten not in the Hall of Fame. He too is buried at Cave Hill Cemetery. The contributions of Louisville to baseball are immense. Countless major leaguers have played on Louisville's minor league teams, or as a visiting player or representing one of the city's teams. Major leaguers Gus Bell, Jay Buhner, Mike Greenwell, Dan Uggla and Adam Duvall were all born in Louisville, to name but a few. To this day, Louisville Slugger bats are made in Louisville and over 8000 major leaguers have contracted with the company, all because a kid skipped work to see a baseball game. As great and proud as Louisville's baseball history is, they remain the only city to suffer the National League's contraction that never got a team back.
First Published 9/10/2022--- "R.I.P. QUEEN E!" Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson met Queen Elizabeth in London in 2019 when the Yankees and Red Sox played a two-game series there. He said she was impressed he removed his "bonnet" to greet her. In the 1988 movie Naked Gun Reggie played himself and the Queen (played by Jeanette Charles) threw out the first pitch, a screwball, in a fictitious game at Dodger Stadium. The real Queen Elizabeth did actually attend an MLB game. In 1991 she watched the Baltimore Orioles host the Oakland A's. Before the game she and her husband Phillip shook hands with players, including Cal Ripkin Jr. and Manager Tony Larrusa. Pitcher Dave Stewart even tried to impress the Queen with his Curly impression of Three Stooges fame. He says she gave him a smirk. Cal, who was no stranger to big games, noted how there was an electricity in the stadium that night. President Bush joined her in a private box at the old Memorial Stadium where she waved to the crowd and was very well received by all in attendance. Upon the news of her passing on Thursday, teams honored her with a moment of silence and images of her on scoreboard screens. In the Naked Gun movie, a hypnotized Reggie Jackson repeatedly mumbled, "Must kill the Queen." After her passing he Tweeted, "Now we all know I was innocent! Amen! RIP! Queen E!"
First Published 9/4/2022--- BOSTON'S MILLION DOLLAR OUTFIELD: "He was a team player. As great a hitter as he was, he wasn't looking out for his own average. Speaker was the bell cow of our outfield. Harry Hooper and I would watch him and know how to play the hitters." Red Sox teammate Duffy Lewis speaking about Tris Speaker. From left to right, Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper made up the Red Sox "Golden" or "Million Dollar Outfield." They were a unit in Boston from 1910-1915 winning two World Series (1912 and 1915). When Fenway opened in 1912 there was a slope in left field that rose into the wall now called the Green Monster. Duffy Lewis was so adept at running up it to make spectacular catches the slope became known as "Duffy's Cliff." In one of the great World Series performances, Lewis would hit .444 against the Phillies in 1915. Harry Hooper's range was so well known there was a saying among fans that if the ball was hit into another country Harry would catch it. His home run robbing catch off of Larry Doyle in the 1912 World Series is still legend. Hooper won four World Series with the Red Sox (1912, '15, '16 and '18). In 1971 he would make the Hall of Fame. He still holds the franchise record for triples (130) and stolen bases (300). In 1913 he would become the first player to hit a leadoff home run in both games of a doubleheader, a feat that stood for 80 years until Rickey Henderson matched him. Tris Speaker, the "bell cow" of the trio was ranked the 27th greatest baseball player ever by The Sporting News. He is on MLB's All-Century Team and was inducted into the Hall of Fame's second class in 1937. Speaker's 792 career doubles, 449 career outfield assists, and 6 unassisted double plays are MLB records still. Speaker would be traded by Boston to Cleveland after a contract dispute in 1915. He would go on to lead the Indians to their first title in 1920. Perhaps this is why he is often overshadowed by Boston legends Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. But Speaker would retire a .345 hitter (9th all-time) with 3,514 hits (5th all-time) better than the three Hall of Famers mentioned. He remains the last batter with 200 triples. Both Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth said that outfield was the finest they ever saw. Baseball writer Grantland Rice wrote, "The greatest defensive outfield I ever saw. They were smart and fast. They covered every square inch of the park - they were like three fine infielders on ground balls. They could move into another country if the ball happened to fall there."
First Published 8/22/2022---THANK YOU VIN SCULLY: It's been said that if baseball had a poet laureate it would be Vin Scully. On August 2, we lost that voice and a national treasure. Upon hearing the news of the legendary broadcaster's passing at the age of 94, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts said, "There's not a better storyteller, and I think everyone considers him family." I believe both claims to be true. As a little boy in Brooklyn, a red headed Vin Scully would lie on a pillow underneath the family's four-legged radio, snack on saltines and listen to football games. The roar of the crowds got him to thinking he would like to call these games some day and be a part of it. And be a part of it he was. In 2016, at the age of 88, Scully retired after calling the Dodgers games for 67 years, the longest tenure of any broadcaster for one team in history. After serving in the Navy for a year, Scully attended Fordham University where he studied broadcasting, lettered and played outfield for the baseball team for two years while calling sports games on the School's WFUV. He sent 150 letters to radio stations looking for work. Eventually he was noticed and recruited by legendary broadcaster Red Barber to call college games. Soon after, in 1950 at the age of 22, Scully would join Barber in the Dodgers radio booth. In 1953 a 25-year-old Scully would become the youngest person to broadcast a World Series, a record that still stands. In 1958 he would make the move to LA when the Dodgers relocated. Although he broadcast other sporting events, he always remained a Dodger constant. His poetic and lyrical style, his even tone, his positive demeaner, won him legions of baseball fans across the country, many of whom who had no rooting interest in the Dodgers. He was like listening to your grandfather's stories through the radio. Fellow broadcaster Dick Enberg said of Scully, "He paints the picture more beautifully than anyone who's ever called a baseball game." And though known for his mastery of the English language, it was often his silence that was critical to his broadcast excellence. He knew when to let the game breathe. He allowed the listener to enjoy the "moment" and to hear the crowd reaction. He never buried us with useless statistics just to "fill" or have something to say. Unlike most frenetic and stress filled broadcast booths today that are overflowing with three or more chatty talking heads tripping over each other to present the next pointless stat and rushed to squeeze in endless bullet points, never failing to miss the actual game in an effort to hear themselves talk about exit velocity and launch angles and bat flips. Scully was a one man show, an oasis of solitude, relaxed, measured and calming. For many of us, he was the only "therapy" we needed. He allowed us to escape life's annoyances, not remind us of or become one of them. Vin would seamlessly stitch together a quilt from patches of factoids and history and all manner of subjects to keep us warm and enthralled while never losing focus on the game. He preferred to tell us "who" someone was not "what" someone was. If baseball is the thinking man's game, Vin was the professor. He was a master. Scully vowed to be unbiased and factual in his career. When asked to be more of a "homer" by management early on he stayed true to himself and said no. This did not prevent him from sharing his feelings on many subjects including his disdain for socialism. His patriotism was on full display when Rick Monday thwarted a would-be flag burner in the outfield and after baseball resumed after the attacks of 9/11. Or his social commentary when Hank Aaron broke Ruth's home run record in Atlanta against his Dodgers. "What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world - a black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep South for breaking the record of an all-time idol." In 1959 the Dodgers held Roy Campanella Night. The HOF catcher was paralyzed in a car crash and proceeds from the night where to help with his medical expenses. The lights were turned off as Pee Wee Reese wheeled Roy to the pitcher's mound as a record of more than 93,000 fans held candles for the vigil. Scully eloquently asked, "Let there be a prayer for every light, and wherever you are, maybe you, in silent tribute to Campanella, can also say a prayer for his well-being." Scully was deeply religious and often shared his faith with listeners. He even narrated a CD of the Holy Rosary for Christian players. Throughout his life his Roman Catholic faith would be tested. He was only seven when his father died. In 1972 his wife of 15 years Joan died suddenly, making him a widower with three children. He lost his son Michael at age 33 in a helicopter crash. In 2021 his second wife Sandra passed after a long battle with ALS. They were married 47 years. Through all the tragedies, Vin endured with grace. "I believe it's all part of God's plan," he would say after Sandras passing. Always kind and humble, always deflecting accolades and applause with his typical "It's just me" style, Scully would express his gratitude saying, "God has been incredibly kind to allow me to be in the position to watch and to broadcast all these somewhat monumental events. I'm really filled with thanksgiving and the fact that I've been given such a chance to view. But none of those are my achievements; I just happened to be there." Well, you did have achievements Vin. He is the only non-player in the Dodgers Ring of Fame, the Dodger broadcast booth bears his name, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1982 he won the Ford C Frick Award. He won the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award. He has a Day and a street named after him in LA and has been named California Sportscaster of the year 21 times. He has won Emmy's including one for lifetime achievement. He is in the National Radio, Sportscasters and Baseball Halls of Fame. And he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, the highest civilian honor, to name but a few. In his remarks President Obama told the crowd how Scully asked him if he was sure he had the right person. Scully said, "I'm just an old baseball announcer." The President reminded Vin that, "To us, you are an old friend." Vin Scully called over 10,000 games and in a twist of fate his final game was the Dodgers clinching the division over his boyhood team the Giants. In all, Vin called 25 World Series, 18 no hitters, 12 All-Star Games, and three perfect games including Don Larson's, the only perfect game in a World Series. To us baseball fans you called 10,000 perfect games and we thank you for each and every one of them.
First Published 8/20/2022---ALL BAT, NO BRAG TODD HELTON: Happy Birthday to Todd Helton. The "Toddfather" played his entire 17-year career with the Colorado Rockies. At the time of his retirement in 2013, Helton led the franchise in just about every offensive category including games played (2247), hits (2519), runs (1401), doubles (592), HR (369), and RBI (1406) to name just a few. He is the first MLB player to have 35 doubles for ten consecutive seasons (1999-2007). He is the first Rocky to have his number retired (17). In college he won the Dick Howser Award for National Collegiate Player of the Year. In 1998 he finished second to Cub P Kerry Wood for Rookie of the Year. The first baseman would go on to accumulate 3 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Sluggers, 5 All-Stars and a batting title in 2000. Helton is ranked no.8 all-time in fielding percentage (.9962) by first basemen. He is only one of three first basemen to have at least a .315 average in eight consecutive years (Bill Terry and Lou Gehrig). Helton would finish his career a .316 hitter with 2500+ hits, 550+ doubles, and 350+ home runs. Only one other player in baseball has done that, Stan "The Man" Musial. Time will tell if Todd Helton will be the first Rocky in the Hall of Fame. He has the numbers and accolades, but perhaps Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post made the best case for Helton's cause in a 2004 Denver Post article. "If the baseball gods are keeping score, (Todd) Helton will be the first player wearing a Rockies cap in Cooperstown. In this era of the asterisk, when a bleacher bum cannot be certain if the homer he just grabbed was the product of a juiced ball or a synthetic slugger, there are no doubts about Helton. Helton is a pure meat-and-potatoes, made-in-America athlete. He is the pride of the Rockies. The Colorado first baseman never cheats a paying customer. Loves winning, hates to talk about himself. His game is no brag all bat."
First Published 7/24/22---CLASS and THE HALL OF FAME CLASS of 2022: In a world seemingly full of the seven deadly sins, seven players who represent the good qualities of humanity went into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday. If the childish rhetoric on some "news" channels or the general negativity of society, have you feeling down, I suggest you watch the induction ceremony, baseball fan or not. I suggest you turn your phone off and let the seven speeches given Sunday reaffirm your faith in our country. I also suggest some tissues. Thankfully, the toxicity and arrogance of Washington D.C. did not reach Cooperstown, at least not Sunday. In contrast to the deadly sins, it was a pleasure to watch and listen to the virtues of patience, honesty, kindness, charity, perseverance and humility on full display. Patience. The dapper Jim Kaat spoke of his dad turning down the temptation of a $25,000 offer that likely would have allowed his son to be in the majors immediately, but in a limited roll. Knowing many players did not last with similar offers, his dad instead took a $4,000 offer for his son to start in the minors. That patience led to Jim learning baseball deeper allowing him to have a 25-year career in the bigs, the third longest in history. Honesty. Gil Hodges won three World Series with the Dodgers and managed the "Miricle Mets" to their first title ever. We lost Gil in 1972, so his daughter Irene gave his induction speech. She spoke of his Marine days teaching scared Japanese children to play baseball during WW2. She also spoke of him, having just won the World Series for the Mets, waiting to make a long-distance call until he got home and not from his managers office as to not run up a charge. Kindness. Twins great Tony Oliva joked about his English and his wife's Spanish while sending nothing but kind thoughts to the people of his adopted home of Minnesota. Charity. Three-time Red Sox Champion David Ortiz did more than hit 541 home runs, he helped heal a city after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Today he runs the David Ortiz Children's Fund that provides cardiac services for kids in his native Dominican Republic and his new home of New England. Big Papi showed his appreciation of this country further by becoming a US citizen in 2008. Perseverance. White Sox great Minnie Minoso left the sugar cane fields of Cuba to be among the first players to cross the color line. Bud Fowler, who was born just down the road from Cooperstown in 1858, played in over 25 states and Canada trying to get a steady role with a white team that would allow a black player. He would die in poverty but until Jackie Robinson came along, he would be the only known black man to play 10 professional seasons. Humility. Buck O'Neil was among the most interesting and lovable people in all of baseball's history. He had an excellent career as both a player and manager in the Negro Leagues. He was a scout for the Cubs who found three players that would make the Hall of Fame before him. He eventually became the first black coach in baseball (1962 Cubs). He was also a huge part in the formation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Despite not making the Hall while living, Buck never complained. We lost a national treasure in 2006 at the age of 94. Famous for his stories and kind, gentle, grandfatherly demeanor. The humble kid from Florida, who use to harvest celery to help support his family, who shagged fly balls of future Yankee Hall of Famers in Spring Training practices as a kid, who spoke glowingly of all, would never say he "deserved" to be in the Hall. He would only say, "God's been good to me. They didn't think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That's the way they thought about it and that's the way it is, so we're going to live with that. Now, if I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don't weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful." Sunday's ceremonies not only showcased baseball, but they also showcased what America is and what we can be. Be they White, Black, Latin or another, America is a melting pot for people seeking a dream. The goal of life and baseball are the same, to find home. Seven more people, from very different backgrounds, persevered and found home in Cooperstown Sunday. What is more American than that? The Baseball Hall of Fame is meant to preserve the history of the game and the people who played it or where a part of it in some way. Perhaps too, it is helping preserve our country by helping restore our souls.
First Published 7/23/22--- DON DRYSDALE: Don Drysdale would have been 89 years old Saturday. The Dodger HOF pitcher won a Cy Young, 3 World Series and was an All-Star 9 times. He set many records including once recording six consecutive shutout wins. When his rotator cuff forced him to retire early, he held the record with six 200+ strikeout seasons (later broken by Tom Seaver with 10). He was also regarded as one of the fiercest pitchers of all time. He led the league in hit by pitch a record six times. "My own little rule was two-for-one. If one of my teammates got knocked down, then I knock down two on the other team." One legendary story about Drysdale happened when his Dodgers hosted the rival, Cardinals. St Louis catcher Gene Oliver admired a home run too long and yelled for the bat boy to "come get the bat," loud enough for Drysdale to hear. The next Oliver at bat Drysdale drilled him with a fast ball. As Oliver was writhing in pain on the ground teammates and trainers gathered around him. Drysdale said loud enough for everyone to hear, "hey bat boy, come get Oliver."
First Published 7/11/22 ---MIKE BRITO: Most baseball fans are familiar with Fernando Valenzuela and the phenomenon known as "Fernandomania." The pitcher who led the Dodgers back to a World Series title in 1981 with his lefthanded, knee-lift up to his ear, corkscrew, eyes to the heavens delivery. Some baseball fans are familiar with Robert "Babo" Castillo. He would pitch nine seasons for the Dodgers and Twins earning a 3.94 ERA over 250 games. Fewer fans know Mike Brito, but without him, Fernando and Babo and dozens more major leaguers might never have been. Mike Brito was born in Cuba in 1935 and played in the Washington Senators minor league system as a catcher. He reached Triple-A in the 50's and then played professionally in the Mexican League in the 60's. He later moved to LA, drove truck a while to make ends meet and operated his own adult amateur league "The Mike Brito League" in LA. He found work as a Mexican League scout because his passion to stay in baseball was so strong. Eventually he was asked to scout for the Dodgers by then GM, Al Campanis. He jumped at the opportunity. Brito recalled, "It's like you find a guy in the desert and ask him if he wants a glass of water." He would often suit up for his own league games when schedules allowed. In one game, with bases loaded, Brito would strike-out. Unsure of the pitch that got him, he would ask the pitcher post-game. The Pitcher was Robert "Babo" Castillo, and the pitch was a screwball. The very first player Brito signed was Robert "Babo" Castillo. The next year he signed Fernando Valenzuela. Both he and Campanis agreed Fernando had electric stuff but was in need of another pitch. They sent him to work with Babo and in two weeks' time Fernando had mastered what would become his signature pitch, the screwball. Fernando would become the winningest Mexican pitcher all-time, earn a Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Award (the first to earn both in the same year). He would win three games in the 1981 World Series helping the Dodgers beat the Yankees in seven. Fernando would play 17 seasons and earn six All-Star Games. In all, over 30 players would make the majors thanks to Brito's talent evaluating skills including Yasiel Puig, Juan Castro and current Dodger pitcher Julio Urias to name a few. Well respected among his peers, Brito would be named International Scout of the Year in 2014, win the Tony Gwynn Award in 2021 for lifelong contributions to the game and was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. Brito was a fixture at Dodger Stadium along with his cigar and Panama hat behind home plate with his radar gun. "You're not going to believe it, but I use to smoke cigars when I was 15 in Cuba," Brito once told an interviewer. For more than four decades and well into his 80's, Brito helped keep the Dodgers among the elite teams in all of baseball. He even played a role in one of baseball's most iconic moments, Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Brito was asked to scout A's closer Dennis Eckersley before the series began. Brito noted Eck would often throw a two-strike backdoor slider to lefties. He passed this info on to Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda and the team. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Lasorda would pinch-hit an injured Kirk Gibson. Gibby would hit a two-strike slider for, arguably, the most memorable walk-off in baseball history. Mike Brito passed away Thursday night at 87. "My heart may be very heavy right this moment," Valenzuela said. The next time Fernando aims his eyes to the heavens he'll see his friend scouting from the best seats in the house.
First Published 6/22/22 --- RUSS VAN ATTA: Russ Van Atta was born today in 1906. He would pitch for seven seasons with the Yankees and St. Louis Browns and compile an unremarkable 33-41 record and a 5.60 ERA. In his 1933 rookie season however, Van Atta would bat .283 and be tied with A's future Hall of Famer Lefty Grove for best win-loss percentage of .750. Success would illude Van Atta in the seasons to come. His numbers would steadily decline for the rest of his career after a tragic event in December of 1933 (some reports say it was 1934). During a fire at his home in NJ he broke a window to rescue his dog. The resulting cuts caused nerve damage to his pitching hand, and he was basically forced into a relief role for the remainder of his career. He would go on to be a successful businessman and was even elected sheriff for a three-year term with the help of a campaigning ex-teammate named Babe Ruth. Russ Van Atta would live until he reached 80 years of age and for most of those years, he would have one particularly special day to look back on. On April 25, 1933 he made his MLB debute and pitched the Yankees to a 16-0 shutout over the Washington Senators who would go on to win the pennant that year. He would also go 4-4 batting. To this day no other AL pitcher has four hits in his major league debut.
First Published 6/17/22 --- DICK HOWSER: On this date in 1987, Dick Howser died of a brain tumor at the age of 51. Though a two-time All-Star at short stop, Dick Howser is best known for managing the Kansas City Royals to their first World Series in 1985 despite being down 3-1 in both the ALCS and the World Series. His teams took on his persona and battled. Before taking over the reins in KC, Howser was famously fired by George Steinbrenner in New York after they lost the 1980 ALCS to the Royals in a 3-game sweep. Steinbrenner didn't like third base coach Mike Ferraro's decision to wave in Willy Randolph who got thrown out at home and wanted Ferraro fired on the spot. Howser stuck up for his coach and after the series both he and Ferraro where gone. He was a man of principle. He managed for parts of eight seasons. In his six full seasons managing his teams never finished below second place. As the defending World Series skipper, he would manage the 1986 All-Star Game. It would be his last. At the event there was talk of Howser having memory problems and not looking well. Fellow Royal and All-Star George Brett brushed the talk aside joking that he thought his manager looked good considering the teams 11-game losing streak. Despite the festivities, things where in-fact dire. The Thursday after the All-Star game Dick was in the hospital. By Friday the diagnosis was in. Brain cancer. In a twist of fate Mike Ferraro was named interim manager. He would attempt a comeback the next Spring Training, but after just two days he had to retire feeling too weak from treatment. After his passing, the Royals retired his number 10, the first number to be retired in franchise history. In his home state of Florida, the Dick Howser Trophy was established. Meant to be the Heisman Trophy of baseball, four Dick Howser Award winners have been drafted first over-all since its inception. Florida State would also rename their stadium after its former player and coach. Howser is one of three players from the Royals "Golden Era" to die from brain cancer. Closer Dan Quisenberry died in 1988 at the age of 45. In 2003 Ken Brett, pitcher and older brother of George Brett died. He was 55. "There's a Mennonite proverb, 'Man, like a tree, is measured best when cut down.' " - Dan Quisenberry
First Published 6/16/22 --- JIM THORPE: On this date in 1909, Jim Thorpe would make his pitching debut in the Eastern Carolina League. His Rocky Mount team would beat Raleigh 4-2. He would go on to play six seasons in the majors with the NY Giants, Reds and Boston Braves. However, it was football that he excelled at, eventually entering the Football Hall of Fame. Considered the greatest athlete by many, he even considered a pro hockey career. In 1912 he became a household name by winning two Olympic gold medals (Pentathlon and Decathlon) in the Stockholm Games. However, due to his semi-pro time in the Eastern League, he would lose those medals for "armature rules violations." The International Olympic Committee (the IOC) would eventually restore his medals in 1983, 30 years after Thorpe's death. The IOC held a ceremony in L.A. that year to return the medals to the Thorpe family. Jim's daughter Charlette said, "After 70 years the marathon is finally over."
First Published 5/25/22 --- WHALEVILLE: Although built in 1914, the Chicago Cubs did not move into today's Wrigley Field until 1916. That's because Wrigley Field (Originally named Weeghman Field) was first home to the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. Charles Weeghman was a restaurant entrepreneur who made his fortune opening a number of quick-serve lunch counters around Chicago. An avid sports fan, he attempted to buy the St Louis Cardinals in 1911. When that failed, he turned his attention to starting a new baseball league. In 1913 he became one of the founders of the upstart Federal League and owner of the new Chicago Whales. Called "The Third League" or the "Outlaw League" by its detractors, the Federal League was popular with players because it caused salaries to rise and because they played outside of the "National Agreement" players weren't subject to the hated "reserve clause." In 1913 the league operated as a minor league, but in 1914 they declared themselves the "Third Major League." For two seasons, 1914 and 1915, eight teams played in the Federal League. Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Pittsburg, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Buffalo all built new stadiums to join the "FL." The Whales played a large part in the short-lived history of the Federal League. The Whales would be the first team to lure a player from the established leagues signing Joe Tinker on as player/manager. Charles Comisky, owner of the American League's Chicago White Sox, would send the Washington Senators $10,000 so as they could keep star Walter Johnson in DC, far away from his new cross-town rival. In the 1914 the Whales would finish second by just 1.5 games to the Champion Indianapolis Hoosiers. In 1916 they would win the title by .001 winning percentage over St, Louis and .004 over third place Pittsburg. Although attendance was comparable to the other leagues, financial problems became too much. Oversaturation in some markets and the looming World War were factors. The Federal League felt forced to sue the two established leagues for interference. The judge in the case, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who would eventually become the first commissioner of baseball after the 1919 Black Sox scandal, insisted the leagues settle their disputes. As part of the settlement Federal League players were sold back to the NL and AL. Some, however, were never welcomed back including the Whale's Joe Tinker. Also, part of the settlement Charles Weeghman was allowed to purchase the NL's Chicago Cubs. The Cubs struggled with their attendance at the West Side Grounds, where they played since 1893, so Weeghman moved the club to his "new" stadium at 1060 Addison St. in 1916 where they play to this day. A few years later Weeghman would fall on financial hard times and lose control of the Cubs to William Wrigley of chewing gum fame. Weeghman Field would go through a couple name changes before settling on what we know it as now in 1926. Wrigley is the second oldest park in baseball (Fenway 1912) and the only remaining Federal League Park.

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