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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bernie Carbo, Ripped Pants and Selling Chevrolets: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of January 25, 2015

The legacy of baseball is built brick by brick with the contributions and passion of its players and contributors. One of the greatest was Chicago Cubs shortstop and first baseman Ernie Banks, who sadly has passed away at the age of 83.

“Mr. Cub” began his career in the Negro Leagues but gained his success in the Windy City, plying his trade for 19 seasons (1953-1971). Although his teams famously never reached the postseason, it was certainly never because of him, as he combined to hit .274 with 512 home runs 1,636 RBIs. He was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, gaining admission in 1977, and has since served as a true ambassador to the game. Baseball has truly lost one of the greats.

And now, with heavy heart, on to the notes for the week…

*One of baseball’s most positive and indelible phrases is Banks’ “Let’s play two,” which has taken on a life of its own over the years. This excerpt from The Cubs: The Complete Story of Chicago Cubs Baseball (Text by Glenn Stout) breaks down the possibilities of when and where this was first uttered. Like many baseball legends, there is no clear-cut answer to this question, but there are a number of possibilities that help deepen the mystery.

*Here’s a baseball art classic. This 1909 issue of Baseball Magazine advertises the opponents of that year’s World Series (the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates) in interesting fashion. It’s certainly a much more intimidating rendering than if were teams with more modern names (for instance, if the Padres played the Angels)…

*Babe Ruth is best known for playing with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox but he also played for other teams in his career. This included a brief stint with the Boston Braves in 1935; his last year in the majors. This picture shows the Bambino with some extra pounds and a few wrinkles but handling a pile of bats, his weapons of choice throughout his legendary career.

*Longtime Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione is being inducted into a Hall of Fame for his years of some of the best work the airwaves have ever heard.’s Ron Chimelis has the story. About to enter his 33rd year in the booth for the Sox, the velvet-throated Castiglione has more than earned his status as one of the best in the business.

*It used to be in baseball that if you blinked you might miss a play. However, the innovation of instant replay in 1963 gave fans the ability to analyze plays just moments after they occurred. Sadly, Tony Verna, who is considered the father of sports broadcast instant replay, recently passed away at the age of 81. His work made it possible for fans at home to have a more intimate experience with each game, and has no doubt helped spread the popularity of the sport in subsequent years.

*Crosley Field was the home of the Cincinnati Reds from 1912 until 1970 but became a casualty to the boom of modern ballparks. Although it is gone it is not forgotten, and plans are in full force to have a historic site commemorating the venue in place in time for the 2015 MLB All Star Game, which will be held in Cincinnati.

*Outfielder Ty Cobb is one of the most controversial figures in baseball history with amazing play combined with his often unsavory reputation. This interview with Herschel Cobb, an author and the legend’s grandson, tells a different story about the man often portrayed as one of baseball’s most flawed stars.

*Bill Schroeder spent six of his modest eight-year career as a backup catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers. However, he has gone on to be a face of the franchise, about to enter his 21st year as one of their television analysts. Because of his contributions, it was recently announced that he was named as the newest member to the Miller Park Wall of Fame.

*Major League Baseball has had a barnstorming influence in Japan for decades, going back to All Star teams being sent over to raise awareness and interest in the game. This 1955 Sports Illustrated article by Curtis Prendergast details how the Yankees served as baseball’s ambassadors that year, and had a great time playing so far away from home.

*Fans collect many items as souvenirs to commemorate their experiences and love of the game. Ticket stubs of well-known games and those that were personally attended have always been popular collectibles. However, there has been a growing trend of teams embracing digital tickets and making the paper versions obsolete. One team that has given up sending paper tickets to their season-ticket holders is the Toronto Blue Jays, who will go fully digital for the first time in 2015.

*Finally, I was able to recently meet former outfielder Bernie Carbo, who played for six teams during a 12-year major league career. One of the most colorful personalities to play the game, his greatest fame came from the dramatic home run he hit for the Red Sox during the 1975 World Series. He encountered significant difficulty with substance abuse but has been able to turn his life completely around.

During our recent conversation, he mentioned former teammate Carl Yastrzemski’s enjoyment of “tailoring” new clothing for anyone foolish enough to leave it laying around in the locker room for his devious scissor work. He also recalled a television spot he did in the 1980s for Casey Chevrolet, and wondered if footage of that still exists. Luckily, it does, and here it is.

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