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Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Time Babe Ruth Fought a Wall and Lost: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 16, 2014

Baseball has always stood strong when one of its own passes away. This was proven during the untimely death of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Tavarez during the World Series last month. Tavarez and his girlfriend were killed in a horrific car accident in his homeland of the Dominican Republic. However, the most recent update is that the former top prospect was severely intoxicated at the time of the crash.

While the loss of these two young people will rightfully be continued to be mourned for some time to come, perhaps it will not be in vain. The best possible outcome of this tragedy is using it as a springboard to educate both professional ballplayers and fans alike on the dangers of operating vehicles while impaired. It looks like the Cardinals are already on this path. If this can prevent even one person in the future from making the same mistake some good will come out of all this.

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Graham Womack over at Baseball Past and Present has done it again. The talented writer and researcher published his list of the 25-most important figures in baseball history. Over 250 voters participated in the project and made their picks from among the titans of the game, both current and those from the past. Some selections and placements may surprise you, while others may not. One spoiler I will give you is that Ned Yost did not make the list; at least not this year.

*Boston Red Sox television announcers Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo have been a dynamic duo for a number of years. Their camaraderie not only provides for excellent game narrative but also the likelihood of hijinks in the booth. This clip from a 2014 game against the Chicago Cubs caught the unusual situation of Remy losing a tooth during the contest, and he and his partner’s ensuing conversation regarding what he should do about it. Hint; it involved a bit of do-it-yourself dentistry.

*Another baseball passing to report in former Oakland Athletics’ first baseman Kelvin Moore, according to the Idaho Statesman. The 57-year-old played parts of three seasons for Oakland from 1981-83, appearing in a total of 76 regular season games. He hit a combined .223 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs, and chipped in two singles in 16 at-bats during the 1981 playoffs. He was much more successful as a minor leaguer during his career, with a .288 batting average and 132 home runs in eight years. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

*Getting to sit next to an athlete during a flight is something many fans talk about but rarely experience. The Washington Times’ Todd Dybas had that rare opportunity when he had Los Angeles Dodgers legendary speedster Maury Wills as a seatmate on a trip to Phoenix. The chance encounter led to a broad discussion of his career and battle with alcoholism among other things.

Wills, who had 586 career stolen bases, including leading the National League in the category six consecutive seasons from 1960-65 is one of the more underappreciated stars from a bygone era. Now 82, reading some of his reflections is an interesting reminder about his place in the history of the game.

*Slugging Hall-of-Famer Babe Ruth was known for slamming balls over outfield walls. Unfortunately, there was also at least one time where he tried to go through a wall himself. This photograph shows an unconscious Bambino after a collision while chasing a fly ball against the Washington Senators in a game that occurred on July 5, 1924 while he was with the New York Yankees. In a nod to a different time, Ruth actually stayed in the game, going 3-for-3. He even played later that day in the second game of a double-header, and played in 153 of 154 regular season games on the year, leading the league with a .378 batting average and 46 homers.

*Major League Baseball was recently on tour in Japan, parading a team of decidedly average players abroad. This is far from a new practice, as squads have been playing exhibition games in the Land of the Rising Sun for the better part of a century. A major difference is that those teams used to be comprised of many All-Star and Hall-of-Fame caliber players. This collection of clips contains some of the home movies of Hall-of-Fame slugger Jimmie Foxx, who was part of the 1934 tour. An excellent book on that subject is Robert Fitts’ Banzai Babe Ruth, which goes into great detail about that year’s 18-game tilt and the experiences of the star-studded roster (including Foxx, Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Connie Mack among others).

*Former player and manager Alvin Dark has passed away at the age of 92. Primarily a shortstop, he had a 14-year playing career with five teams from 1946-1960, with his best years coming with the New York Giants. He compiled career marks of a .289 batting average, 126 home runs and 757 RBIs—star numbers for a player at his position at the time. He also made three All-Star teams and played in three World Series (his 1954 Giants squad winning his only ring as a player). After hitting .322 with the Boston Braves in 1948, he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.

Following his playing days, Dark skippered for 13 seasons with five different teams. He had a career record of 994-954 and won the 1962 pennant with the San Francisco Giants and the 1974 World Series with the Oakland Athletics.

*Finally, yet another reminder of how much the game has changed over the years. This clip of Kansas City Royals’ Hal McRae taking out the Yankees’ Willie Randolph to break up a double play in Game 2 of the 1977 ALCS is something you would never see today. Calling McRae’s play a hard slide would be like categorizing a Bazooka as a water pistol. More reminiscent of something that might be seen in the WWE, this shows just how far baseball has come in the past generation when it comes to rough levels of play and decreasing aggressive play.

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