Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, January 11, 2015

JFK, The Catcher: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of January 11, 2015

The National Baseball Hall of Fame has four new members. This past week, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio all received the requisite amount of votes to establish their permanent residency in baseball’s most exclusive museum.

These are all extremely worthy candidates but the voting process is still in great need of an overhaul. Additionally, innuendo and unproven allegations over things like PED use seem to be steering the Hall-of-Fame paths of many otherwise deserving candidates. Character and sportsmanship are the criteria this is used against, but it is applied unevenly, and unfairly if players are assumed guilty.

With widely loved Ken Griffey Jr. entering his first year of eligibility, the next vote should be another interesting one.

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Sad news in the recent passing of former pitcher Stu Miller at the age of 87. The right-hander played from 1952-1958 with five teams; most notably the San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles, going a combined 105-103 with a 3.24 ERA and 154 saves. The slim hurler was perhaps best known for allegedly being blown off the mound while in his windup in windy Candlestick Park during the 1961 All Star Game. However, he was dominant in his own right, twice leading the league in saves and posting four seasons when he finished in the top-20 in MVP voting.

*Another former ball player passed away in the person of former New York City mayor Mario Cuomo. Although he never made the majors, he did play briefly for the 1952 Brunswick Pirates. He didn’t progress as a prospect but certainly found his calling in another arena.

*Speaking of politicians and baseball, here’s a photo of John F. Kennedy playing the role of an impromptu catcher on what appears to be a beautiful summer day. Given the former President’s sandal-clad feet, it seems safe to assume this wasn’t the most competitive game.

*Here’s a nice picture of dapper former Boston Red Sox manager Patsy Donovan around 1911. He led the team to a 78-75 record that year, his last as a skipper in the majors. Managers sure don’t dress like that any longer.

*Casey Stengel hit .284 during a 14-year major league career as an outfielder. However, he is best known in baseball circles for his work as a manager, which included 1,905 regular season victories and seven World Series titles. This feature by Gerald Holland in a 1956 issue of Sports Illustrated follows around the old skipper when he was helming the New York Yankees. Known as an eccentric and a jokester, his masterful ability to lead a baseball team is put on full display in this piece.

*Two other tremendous managers from days gone by were Connie Mack (Hall-of-Famer) and Kid Gleason (led the 1919 Chicago Black Sox team). This is a cool clip of the two having a brief conversation of their memories of “old time” baseball. They combined to put in 91 years as players/managers during through respective careers, so whatever they have to say about baseball should be listened to.

*On a recent episode of the popular PBS television show Antiques Roadshow, a woman received quite a pleasant surprise when she discovered her collection of late 19th century Boston Red Stockings (later named the Braves) baseball cards was worth in excess of $1 million. Undoubtedly, in light of the airing of the show, a number of collectors scurried over to their nanas’ houses to forage their attics in hopes of making similar discoveries.

*Some really cool signed memorabilia from the Black Sox are going up for auction, including a ball signed by Shoeless Joe Jackson on the sweet spot. Although many collectors would surely love to add these items to their collections, only those with some serious cash will be able to seriously consider them.

*Outfielder Ty Cobb may have a reputation as being one of the meanest players in baseball history but he was also one of the most gifted. The .366 lifetime hitter was a rare athlete, who was head and shoulders above his counterparts when it came to his physicality and the brute force with which he played the game. This footage gives a rare glimpse into the legend, whose heyday came before the time much baseball was caught on camera.

*Before the explosion of television, social media and the mobility to regularly attend games, most baseball fans enjoyed the National Pastime by listening to their radio. Announcers brought the action to life with distinctive voices and well-crafted narrative of what they were seeing on the field. Here is a complete broadcast of a September 20, 1934 game between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees. In case you want to listen, I won’t spoil the outcome, but the full box score is here. It was an entertaining game, and one that has six future Hall of Fame players and managers.

*The old A.J. Reach factory in Philadelphia no longer is the hub producing official baseballs for the major leagues and the masses—at one time producing as many as 24,000 balls per day. While that business has ceased there, the old building is still keeping on, having found a new life as housing. Hopefully, it will always maintain some connection to its past, which was rich and vibrant.

*Finally, left-handed pitcher Al Hrabosky had the nickname of “The Mad Hungarian” during his time as a player due in part to his fiery demeanor. This clip from 1980 shows the southpaw, who was then with the Atlanta Braves, going off on an announcer prior to a game. It’s not clear what the dispute was about, as you can make out just a handful of unbeeped words. Ironically, Hrabosky has been a long-time announcer since his playing days ended in 1982.

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