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Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Tragic Death of Brad Halsey: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 9

The days of baseball players spending their entire careers, or at least healthy chunks of it with the same team, are over. While free agency is certainly a good thing for the business of the game and the bank accounts of players and agents, it’s a stark difference from the way things used to be. Now that the 2014 season has concluded, the bidding frenzy will commence, as teams position themselves to restock their rosters for next year. At least the theatre that’s the offseason is highly entertaining, as many uniforms will be swapped and long-term contracts will be inked. While that starts to rev up, let’s get to the notes for the week.

*The Baseball History Daily has found another great lost figure from early days of the game. Pitcher Charles Barngrover was a forgettable 2-9 in his lone minor league season in 1910. However, as TBHD found out, he was involved in memorable and odd incidents during his career as a semi-pro player and even after he had left the game- including a bizarre after-game fight due to a crossed up bet; being erroneously reported as being lynched following attacking an umpire with a baseball bat in a game in Texas; and being indicted by a grand jury for “theft of interstate shipments” in 1921. Sadly, the following year, as he was about to testify against co-defendants, he was shot and killed in a likely attempt to silence him.

*It used to be that pitchers applied a variety of substances to baseballs in an effort to get them to do things that seemingly defied the laws of physics. Grease, pine pitch, mud, powders and sweat were among the most commonly used but none approached the level of popularity of good old fashioned saliva. At one time, the spitball was as common in the game as a slider is today. The pitch was phased out of the game nearly a century ago as a way to provide more safety (Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was killed in 1920 when he was hit in the head by an errant spitter) and greater offensive production. Grantland’s Jonah Keri takes an intriguing look at the demise of the squishy pitch and its place in baseball history.

*Endorsement deals are a common sideline for today’s players. Hawking products on the side is a lucrative way to make money off the field and expand one’s ability to make a “brand” off their name. This is something that has happened for years. Check out this mid-1950s commercial for Gillette razors starring former Brooklyn Dodgers great Pee Wee Reese. The black and white film and the $1.29 price tag on the chin scraper are essentially the only things that stand apart from anything that is seen today.

*Another great Dodger who knows a thing or two about working on camera and with a microphone is announcing legend Vin Scully. Check out his induction speech for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. It’s hard to believe that he is so great that despite more than 30 years passing since his inclusion in baseball’s greatest shrine, he is still plugging away at his craft!

Some people are put on this earth to do very specific things, and Scully was most certainly sent to Planet Earth to describe a baseball game. I don’t know about you, but he is so good at what he does that I would pay to listen to the man read an Arby’s menu…

*Most fans of baseball history associate Hall of Famer Casey Stengel with the New York Yankees and New York Mets, as those are the two teams which he had the most success and notoriety with respectively as a manager. However, the “Old Perfessor” also had a 14-year career as an outfielder, spending much of it with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. Here is an excellent picture of young Casey mugging for the camera in his checkered Dodgers uniform, which looks similar to the material my kitchen towels are made of…

*Sad news to pass along in the recent death of former pitcher Brad Halsey. The 33-year-old died from an apparent climbing accident on a cliff in Texas but authorities are still investigating.

Drafted in 2002 by the Yankees, the left-hander quickly moved through the minors, debuting with the Bombers in 2004. He was subsequently traded that offseason to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal involving pitcher Randy Johnson. On the move once more, he was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in 2006, which proved to be his final major league season.

Halsey was a combined 14-19 with a 4.84 ERA in 88 career games (40 starts). His best season was with Arizona in 2005, as he went 8-12 with a 4.61 ERA.

*’s Ryan Whirty has done a fantastic job writing about the tragic death of former Negro League player Alex Albritton at Byberry mental hospital in 1940. A right-handed pitcher, “Brit” had a relatively obscure playing career in the 1920s before moving on to work odd jobs. He later had what was described as a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized.

Not surprisingly, the hospital, which closed in 1990, had a history of deplorable conditions, and those responsible for Albritton’s death were never found. It’s important to remember this old ballplayer even though so many years have passed, especially since the circumstances of his final days slipped through the cracks already.

*Hall-of-Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley had a turbulent career, going from top prospect, to ace, losing his way because of personal problems, and finally ending by being one of the greatest closers in the history of the game. This 2004 article from the Hartford Courant’s Paul Doyle details the extreme ups and downs of the right-handers more than 20 years as a player, including his battles with alcoholism, and failed relationships.

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