Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Satchel Paige, Western Movie Star: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of January 4, 2015

Now that we have eased into 2015 a new baseball season is on the horizon. Spring training will literally start next month. You can practically taste it it’s so close. With the days shorter, darker and colder, anything that offers a glimmer of hope to ball being played again on a regular basis should be enough to raise the spirits of any fan. I know it does here any ways…

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Baseball appeals to a broad swath of people, including the famous and notorious. This outstanding photograph of Argentinean revolutionary Che Guevara posing with a bat shows how the game can attract even those you might never suspect would have an interest.

*Julio Franco enjoyed one of the longest major league careers in history, logging 23 seasons with eight different teams. He last played in the big leagues in 2007 with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets but that did not end his playing days. He played in Mexico in 2008, and just last year, at the age of 55, he collected six hits in 27 at-bats with the independent league Forth Worth Cats. This video tells his story and shows why it has been so difficult for him to completely walk away from the game that he has defined his life.

*Bobby Wallace was a great player; great enough to be inducted as a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He played shortstop for 25 major league seasons from 1894-1918, hitting .268 with 34 home runs and 1,121 RBIs. When he played, not everyone believed his success was based solely on raw talent. Baseball History Daily dug up an article from 1911 reporting how a noted phrenologist (old quack science that believed that a person’s capabilities were determined by the size/shape of their dome) inspected Wallace and found him to have an “abnormally developed” head. Fortunately, he was able to push past this “impediment.”

*The Boston Red Sox have a rich history. This podcast (which I was fortunate enough to participate in) with author Glenn Stout covered some interesting topics. There isn’t a person out there that knows their Red Sox stuff better.

*Johnny (Jackie) Price was a very ordinary professional ball player who collected three singles in 14 plate appearances for the 1946 Cleveland Indians. Otherwise, he hit just .267 in parts of six minor league seasons. However, he had an incredible skill for making trick plays look like the ordinary. This video clip shows some of his best feats, including throwing three balls to three different players with in one throw, catching line drives while driving a jeep headlong into the batter and playing catch while hanging upside down. It’s really something to see.

*Australia is best known for its love of cricket but it also has strong ties to baseball.’s Doug Miller details the connection the game has down under going all the way back to the 19th century. Over the years, a number of Aussie players have suited up, with reliever Grant Balfour being the most recognizable player currently in the majors.

*Sad news in the passing of former Negro League player Hank Presswood on December 27 at the age of 93. The shortstop played for the Cleveland Buckeyes and Kansas City Monarchs before his professional career ended in 1952. He didn’t get his shot at the majors until 2008 when he was “drafted” by the Chicago White Sox at the age of 87. Nicknamed “Baby” by Negro League great Buck O’Neill, he later excelled at playing fast-pitch softball after leaving professional baseball.

*World War II veteran Bob Usher also recently passed away at the age of 89. Following a stint in the Navy, he played parts of six major league seasons  (1946-47; 1950-51; 1957) with four teams—most notably the Cincinnati Reds, hitting a combined .235 with 18 home runs and 102 RBIs in 428 games.

*The 42nd anniversary of the death of Pittsburgh Pirates great Roberto Clemente just passed. The Hall-of-Fame outfielder died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve, 1972 while taking a load of supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. CBS New York’s Steve Kallas took an in-depth look into the career and lasting legacy he left behind.

*The Holy Grail for baseball card collectors is the Honus Wagner T-206 issue from around 1910. It’s the rarest card in existence and examples in varying degrees of condition have sold for massive amounts (six figures and up). The story has always been that the card is so rare because Wagner did not wish to be associated with the promotion of tobacco, and that was the business of the company that produced the T-206s. However, Forbes’ David Seideman has a nice piece showing how Wagner actually had many instances throughout his life and career where he very plainly was a user and promoter of tobacco products. There are some great photos which also help debunk one of the biggest myths in the collecting world.

*Even at the age of 89, Yogi Berra remains one of the most recognizable characters in baseball. His Hall-of-Fame career and famous one-liners have indelibly stamped him in the game’s ledger. In 1959, Sports Illustrated’s Herbert Warren Wind wrote a profile of the colorful catcher. In addition to his reputation that he maintains to this day, in this piece, Berra also showed off his strong commitment to family and a strong nose for business ventures such as Yoo Hoo and bowling alleys.

*It’s not uncommon for popular baseball players to make television or cinematic appearances to capitalize on their fame. One you may not realize did this was pitcher Satchel Paige. The great right-hander, who starred for decades in the Negro Leagues and then the majors before eventually being enshrined in the Hall of Fame has exactly one acting film credit to his name. He appeared in the 1959 western, The Wonderful Country, starring Robert Mitchum.

Here’s a clip of Paige playing Sergeant Tobe Sutton. Honestly, he’s quite good!

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  1. That Jackie Price video was the bomb!!! My ADHD 9-yr-old son actually sat and watched the whole darn thing (okay, maybe not the last 20 seconds - but pretty close) - that's how awesome a flick that was!!!!