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Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of October 5

The major league playoffs are underway as the days grow shorter and the weather becomes more temperamental. As another season hurtles towards an unknown conclusion, a cornucopia of baseball historical happenings has sprung up over the past week.

*The Library of Congress recently made an extraordinary find—previously unseen film footage of the 1924 World Series, where the Washington Senators defeated the New York Giants. The black and white news reel is nearly four minutes of the deciding Game 7 of that year’s Fall Classic. Highlights include a Bucky Harris home run, watching Washington’s all-time great right-hander Walter Johnson and his amazing side-arm delivery, and a frenzied crowd celebrating the accomplishment of their team.

*Graham Womack of the entertaining and informative Baseball Past and Present website has begun an exciting new project. He is conducting a vote to determine the 25 most important people in baseball history. Anyone is able to vote as long as their submissions are in by October 26th at 8 p.m. PST. He will be publishing the results of the vote the following week. Not only will this be a fascinating exercise in identifying these hardball movers and shakers, he is also using the project as a platform to help raise money for the American Brain Tumor Association. More information on the cause and donating is available online.

*Dara Lind of has written a piece on “The Secret History of Jews in Baseball.” It covers a wide expanse of territory, from the Negro leagues, to Sandy Koufax, to the present. Jewish baseball history doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, so it is nice to see what Lind has done.

*Mel Hall had a good but not great 13-year major league career, hitting .276 with 134 homers for four teams, including the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants. Never achieving star status, he was viewed as an eccentric type as a player, but is now known as something much worse. SB Nation’s Greg Hanlon has written a terrific profile on Hall and a number of sexually-related crimes that led to a 45-year prison sentence in 2009. It’s a somber reminder of the power and influence that can be wielded by someone in the public eye, and the awful ways that can be used to exploit others.

*Here is an interesting look at the evolution of the value of baseballs from the first days of the game to the present. This covers not only some of the price points of balls at various times throughout history, but how they have been made and valued by others.

*Some sad news with the passing of a couple of old-time players. The first is likely the most recognizable in George “Shotgun” Shuba. He was an extra outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers between 1948 and 1955, and passed away on September 29th at the age of 89. In 355 career games, he hit a combined .259 with 24 home runs and 125 RBIs. However, he is best known for playing in three World Series and initiating a widely publicized post-home run handshake with black teammate Jackie Robinson in 1946 when they were minor league teammates and such things were considered taboo.

Additionally, Earl Smith, who played in five games with the 1955 Pittsburgh Pirates passed away last week at the age of 86. A career .299 hitters in the minors, Smith collected just one single (against Don Liddle and the New York Giants) and four walks in 21 major league plate appearances.

Atlanta Braves special assistant to the general manager, Jose Martinez, died on October 1 at the age of 72. Known for his talent in scouting players in Latin America, he was a beloved member of the organization for nearly 20 years. A native of Cuba, he played in 96 games as an infielder for the Pirates in 1969-70, hitting a combined .245 with a home run (a game-winning grand slam off Claude Raymond and the Montreal Expos on September 8, 1969 at old Jarry Park) and 16 RBIs.

*The success of the Kansas City Royals in the early stages of the 2014 MLB playoffs have evoked memories of their successful past, particularly the 1985 squad that won the World Series. Born as an American League expansion team in 1969, the franchise’s signature blue and gold logo has an interesting back story, as told by’s James Forr.

* With 3.1 nondescript innings pitched for the 1905 Detroit Tigers over two appearances, the major league career of pitcher Walt Justis is a mere blip on the vast canvas of baseball history. However, a closer look shows an intriguing figure. He won 108 games in his minor league career, including four no-hitters in a two-month span in 1908, when he won 25 games for the Lancaster Links in the Ohio State League.

Despite his talent, Justis was held back by eccentricities and mental problems/illness. He was known for doing things like wearing ladies’ silk hose when pitching and mimicking umpires for hours in the hallway of his team’s hotel. He also suffered a number of mental breakdowns/attacks that may have been related to epilepsy. The Baseball History Daily has the full rundown of his story.

*Just when you thought you might have seen the last Derek Jeter story for a while; there’s one more. Business Insider’s Cork Haynes did an audit of sorts on the $262.5 million the New York Yankees’ legendary shortstop made in salary during his 20-year career—which ranks second to former teammate Alex Rodriguez ($356.3 million and counting) all time in major league history.

Starting from when Jeter was passed over by a number of teams in the 1992 draft to the present, the piece does an excellent job of showing how his coffers became so gilded over the years.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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