Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Was Joe DiMaggio Overrated?: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 30, 2014

Best wishes to those who celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday. Hopefully nobody was done in by that extra slice of pie or sneaking another spoonful of stuffing before it hit the fridge. The moment Americans woke up from their food-induced comas, the holiday shopping season commenced. Neatly wrapped presents are not the only things being bought, as baseball teams are in a mad dash to scoop up the remaining free agents before they are outfoxed or outbid by another.

The Boston Red Sox made a major impact by locking down perhaps the two best available hitters on the market in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Signing just one of them would have been mildly surprising, but inking both was a shock to the baseball world. Looking to keep pace in the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays countered by landing star third baseman Josh Donaldson in a trade with the Oakland Athletics. If this past week is any indication, the remainder of the offseason promises to be full of a lot more surprises!

Now, on to the notes for the week.

*Former pitcher Luis Tiant recently turned 74. The flamboyant right-hander won 229 games during a 19-year major league career spent with six teams—but his greatest success came with the Red Sox. This picture is a classic representation of “El Tiante,” relaxing in a whirlpool after a game, and presumably after one of his victories—perhaps one of his 49 career shutouts.

*Another former player who had a recent birthday is the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, who would have been 100 years old on November 25th. The Hall-of-Fame outfielder passed away in 1999 and is widely considered to be one of the most respected, if not best players of all time. In 13 years with the Yankees (he missed three full years due to military service), he hit .325 with 361 home runs. However, not all buy into the hype. Baseball historian John Thorn believes “Joltin’ Joe” may be somewhat overrated with the narrative taking over the actual results. He certainly isn’t denigrating him by any means, but rather pointing out that the nostalgic light he has been cast in over time has perhaps exaggerated the way he is remembered and placed among the greats of the game.

*Speaking of former Yankees greats, check out these two video clips of Babe Ruth that were recently uncovered. One is footage of him playing on an All Star team in Japan in 1927, while the other is of one of his at-bats during a 1929 game against the Washington Senators. It’s a fantastic find, and one can only hope that more continue to surface to allow modern fans to have a better understanding and appreciation of these players from bygone eras.

*The folks at Baseball History Daily have dug up yet another gem. Bobby Eager played for nearly a decade as a backup catcher in minor leagues in California in the early 1900s. His skill as a receiver was modest, as evidenced by his .213 career batting average. However, he was popular with fans and later found a niche as an occasional sports columnist with the San Jose News. Some examples of his work were dug up and can be enjoyed again by new generations.

*Don Zimmer spent over 60 years in professional baseball as a player, coach and manager. Sadly, he passed away earlier this year but his legacy lives on as someone who impacted many during his time in the game. Jean Mackin of WMUR News reports how Zim was recently honored in Windham, New Hampshire for his special connection with the town. He and his family were deeply involved with the Windham Endowment for Community Advancement, a local nonprofit organization. It’s nice to see that the baseball legend used his success as a platform to spread goodwill and assistance to others- a legacy and impact that will likely be felt even longer than what he did on the field.

*This incredible piece by The Sporting News’ Tim Hagerty tells the tragic story of B.F. Hicks, a player for a town ball team just outside of Pittsburgh who made a fatal catch in the outfield during a 1906 game.

Hicks was a railroad worker who also enjoyed playing baseball with his coworkers. During the fateful game described in the article, he went back to catch deep drive off the bat of an opposing player. The field they were playing on bordered a rail line, and as the backpedaling fielder caught the ball, he stumbled on to the tracks and was instantly killed by an oncoming train. Although he lost his life, amazingly he still had the ball nestled in his glove when horrified onlookers rushed up to his lifeless body. Although the story sounds like a tall tale, it appears to be true. However, the only known report of the incident appeared in the 1907 Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide.

*Hall-of-Fame debating season is upon us once again, as the 2015 ballot was just announced. 17 newbies are making their first appearance, including legendary pitchers Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, who should both be shoo-ins when the votes are tallied late next year.

Forbes’ Tom Van Riper has compiled a list of who he believes are the 20 biggest Hall-of-Fame snubs. Every baseball fan more or less has a list in their head of those they believe are deserving but have not yet gotten their call to the Hall. Take a peek and see how much (or little) you agree with him.

*Following up on the Hall-of-Fame debate,’s Matt Snyder compares Martinez with Sandy Koufax, one of the most dominant pitchers in history. What he finds may or may not surprise you.

*Finally, some interesting footage of former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner being honored by fans later in his life. The right-handed hitter was one of the best players in the history of the game, but little visual evidence remains from his career because he was retired before the end of World War I. It is unknown when this celebration took place, but the best guess would be sometime in the 1930s.

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