Top 100 Baseball Blog

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Now Up, Matt LaPorta: Talking His Career and Life After Baseball

Baseball players who are fortunate enough to play in the majors seemingly have it all. They are at the top of their profession, can make a salary that if lucky can veer into Jed Clampett money, and get to travel the world.  However, baseball careers are just a fraction in length of a typical vocation, and many players are at a loss of how to proceed once they are done with the game. Former player Matt LaPorta is trying to do something about that, and his post-baseball work could be a real game changer.

As a youngster, LaPorta was one of the top prospects in all of baseball. The right-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder was drafted in the 14th round of the 2003 draft by the Chicago Cubs but decided to attend the University of Florida. He was also selected in the 14th round by the Boston Red Sox in 2006 but chose to remain at school for the senior season of his stand-out career. It turned out to be a smart choice, as he hit .402 with 20 home runs as a senior, earning All-American honors and the distinction of being the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft when he was tapped by the Milwaukee Brewers.

The minors seemed to be little challenge for the slugger, as he mashed 62 home runs in his first three seasons, solidifying his status as a top prospect. That ultimately led to him being the centerpiece of a trade in July, 2008 that brought star pitcher C.C. Sabathia over from the Cleveland Indians.

LaPorta made his major league debut with the Indians in 2009, hitting his first home run in just his second game. In four seasons with Cleveland, he hit a combined .238 with 31 home runs and 120 RBIs. Unfortunately, he was derailed by a series of injuries that impeded his ability to find consistency. He spent 2013 in the minors and 2014 in the Mexican League before deciding to retire from the game at the age of 29.

Now that he is off the diamond, he has hit the ground running. He has launched the NowUp Foundation, designed to work with former players who need assistance to successfully transition to their new lives outside of baseball. It’s an ambitious project with goals to provide counseling and career mentoring to those who have known little outside of the game. With the turnover of players in the minors and majors each year, there should be a substantial client base who could find great benefit from this endeavor.

Much success is wished to LaPorta as he embarks on his next career. Check him out on Twitter, and keep posted for more information about NowUp. In the meantime, here is what he had to say to me when I sent him some questions about his playing days and his newest gig.

Matt LaPorta Interview:

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite team growing up was the Chicago Cubs. My Dad’s side of the family was from the south side of Chicago but that didn’t stop them from being huge Cubs fans. I remember every day coming home from school and sitting with my Papa and Gram and watching the Cubs play their day games. Growing up, my favorite players were Sammy Sosa because he was a Cubby, and then as he was phasing out it became Albert Pujols. I loved what he stood for as a Christian man, and how he played the game. I tried to emulate the way I hit to model him. 

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: Wow, that’s a tough question. I feel like I have had some great moments. I’ll tell you a few and you can decide which one you like the best. 

Getting to play in the 2005 College World Series was a great experience. 

Being drafted in the first round after my senior year was amazing especially since everyone thought I was crazy for going back. I trusted and had faith that great things would happen. 

Representing my country USA in the 2008 Bejing Olympic Games and getting a bronze medal. 

Getting my first call up in 2009 was unbelievable. The best things to happen in the big leagues was that I had a couple of walk-off hits/homers 

Which coach or manager had the greatest influence on you, and why?: Another great question. I would have to say there a few of coaches that really had an influence on my career. One being Dave Tollett, who was my high school coach and now is the head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University. He has done amazing things there. Two is Pat McMahon. He was my head coach at the University of Florida. He taught me a lot about the mental side of the game of baseball. He was very analytical and really taught me about the small things in the game. Three, the two coaches in professional baseball that had the greatest influence on me was Sandy Alomar because he just understood the game so much and taught how to think through the game. Last is Mike Hargrove. He would come into spring training and help me out at first base. He was always so inspiring and helped me believe in myself. 

If you could do anything from your playing career differently, what would that be and why?: The one thing that I would have done differently is not have two hip surgeries, (Haha) which I had no control over. The things that I did have control over would be not to rush back from the hip surgeries and take my time to make sure that I was as close to 100 percent healthy as I could be. I would really take interest in people outside of the game and realize that it’s not all about me. Lastly, I would have done a better job of eating healthier for my career. It is a very important part of the game that sometimes as players we over look the importance of. 

Now that you have retired from playing, you have have started a foundation called NowUP. Can you talk a little bit about that and the work you are doing?: NowUP will be working with retired and soon to be retired baseball players. Our goal is to help them with the transitional process of leaving the game. A lot of players feel lost once the game is over and nowhere to turn because there are a limited amount of people who actually played professional baseball. We want to let players know that they are not alone and that they can be a huge success outside of the game of baseball. Our goal is to help them get a job that is a good fit for them, and provide them with any counseling they may need because this is a huge change in our lives. 

How difficult was it for you to transition from playing to "civilian life?": For me I knew I was done because my hip was killing me. After two surgeries you just are not the same person. It was time for me. But I still deal with knowing that if I was healthy I could be a successful MLB player and make a lot of money. Ha. I miss the games; I don’t miss getting prepared for the games. I mostly have good days but every once in a while I get down about not being able to play baseball. Then I take a step back and realize how blessed I was to get to play baseball at the highest level. 

How prepared would you say most former players are to adjust to post-playing life?: I would say that only about 15-25 percent of players are prepared to leave the game of baseball. That might even be a high number. While you’re in baseball it’s hard to think of anything else or do anything else. You have a one track mind. Making it to the big leagues or staying in the big leagues. It is a huge adjustment for most guys getting out of the game. 

What are some of your major goals moving forward?: Some of my major goals moving forward are growing the NowUP Foundation to be a huge resource for players. I also want NowUP to be so good at what we do that companies from around the country are calling us about our players because they want them to come work for them. 

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Actor Bill Murray, the Professional Baseball Player: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of February 22, 2015

One of the biggest story lines during spring training has and will continue to be the reintroduction of Alex Rodriguez to major league baseball. After being suspended for over a year for PEDs, the 39-year-old New York Yankees’ third baseman is attempting to salvage the remaining years of his career from the scandal pages, but how much progress will he be able to make in that regard?

A-Rod has already issued a formal apology in the form of a hand-written letter. It’s an interesting touch for an athlete who has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in player salaries over the years, but one that certainly comes across as more personal than a statement issued from a publicist or delivered from a dais during press day.

Although he is a statistical titan with his 20 years of super star production, he will never be able to regain the credibility he had before the suspension. All he can do now is make the most of the dwindling time he has left on the field and do his best to add another chapter or two to his story. Villains have a place in baseball too, and despite his recent troubles, Rodriguez is now in the driver’s seat when it comes to writing his final act.

Now, on to the note for the week…

*Sad news to report in the passing of former outfielder Gary Woods. A backup for nine major league seasons from 1976-1985 with four teams, most notably the Chicago Cubs, he hit a combined .243 with 13 home runs in 525 games. More recently, he acted as a scout for the Chicago White Sox, covering Southern California.

*Former coach Wendell Kim has died at the age of 64 due to complications from Alzheimers. The 5-foot-4 dynamo gained cult status during his stint as the third-base coach with the Boston Red Sox because of his aggressive style, which resulted in the nickname “Wave-‘Em-In Wendell.” A former minor league player, he was a career baseball man and had a reputation as one of the best and friendliest people in the game.

*Tom Gage of The Detroit News has the story of Ed Mierkowicz, the last surviving member of the World Series winning 1945 Detroit Tigers. The former outfielder appeared in just 10 games for the team that year but did have one appearance in the Series, and still remembers his time in the game with fondness. He hit just .175 in 35 major league games over four seasons but did enjoy a solid 13-year minor league career where he hit a combined .284.

*Beginner baseball historians can easily recite that the majors were formally integrated when Jackie Robinson took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Unfortunately, spreading equality throughout the game progressed slowly after that, especially when it came to spring training. Michael Bechloss of the New York Times has the story of how baseball struggled in the post-Jackie years to provide equal accommodations to black players training in areas that were unwelcoming of such social change.

*The sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live recently celebrated its 40th birthday. Over the years, a number of baseball figures have made appearances. Here’s a look at some of the best.

*The worst brawl the majors has ever seen occurred in 1965 when San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Juan Marichal struck Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat during a heated exchange. The event was shocking fans and players alike. This piece from Sports Illustrated has an intriguing adaptation from the new book The Fight of their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball's Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption by John Rosengren. It was a seminal moment in baseball, and hopefully one that will never be repeated again.

*Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson spent 18 of his 27 seasons as a skipper with the Detroit Tigers. When he announced his retirement at the age of 61 following the 1995 season, he was the third-winningest manager of all time. Some thought it odd that he left the game at such an early age, including Detroit Athletic Co.’s Bill Dow believes it’s possible he was blackballed because of his refusal to coach replacement players during the 1995 strike.

*Beloved announcer Harry Caray became the face of the Chicago Cubs because of his distinct voice, his unique look and a variety of quirks. However, before that he called games for the St. Louis Cardinals. This article does a nice job describing how he came to switch jobs and became one of the legends of the booth. Holy Cow!

*Few players mean as much to a team as Brooks Robinson did to the Baltimore Orioles during his 23-year career. The third baseman’s fielding was slicker than the kitchen floor of a fast food restaurant, he could hit and was as fine an individual who ever stepped on a baseball diamond. One of his major accomplishments was his turn as the 1970 World Series MVP, helping his team beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games. This video recap of his heroics shows exactly how electrifying his performance was.

*Before he became well-known as a movie star, Bill Murray was a baseball fan; a passion he has carried with him to the present. In the summer of 1978, he actually had a brief stint as a professional player with the Grays Harbor Loggers in Aberdeen, Washington—even collecting a base hit. Rob Neyer of Fox Sports has a write-up of the actor’s career as a ballplayer.

*Speaking of people with second careers, many baseball players have fancied themselves to be singers. This includes a group from the 1964 Los Angeles Dodgers, who appeared on The Joey Bishop Show. Featuring Don Drysdale, Moose Skowron, Ron Perranoski, Frank Howard, Tommy Davis and Willie Davis, the group actually does a credible job of belting out their version of High Hopes.

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

5 Burning Questions Facing the Boston Red Sox in Spring Training

Spring training will officially start for the Boston Red Sox  this year on February 20th with the reporting of pitchers and catchers to camp in Fort Myers, Florida. Coming off a 71-91 2014 season, the team made a series of offseason moves to complement their crop of up and coming youngsters in the hopes of finding more success in the new year. However, they are far from a polished product and there a number of prominent questions as a new season dawns.

Here are five of the most burning questions:

Does the team have an ace?: The Red Sox completely remade their starting rotation this offseason, bringing in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson to join holdovers Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly. Besides none of them being an established ace, the thing the group of five most has in common is that none of them have completely tapped their full potential, which has resulted in wildly fluctuating results throughout all of their careers.

It’s unlikely that anyone in this group will be a serious Cy Young contender. However, they all have the ability to post above average numbers, and the best bets for the distinction of being the staff’s leader are Buchholz and Porcello.

Buchholz was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts as recently as 2013 but has yet to post consecutive above-average seasons in his eight years in the majors due to injuries and inconsistency.

Porcello, a 26-year-old right-hander, came over from the Detroit Tigers this offseason in the Yoenis Cespedes trade. He already has 76 wins in six seasons and has seen his numbers improve each year. On the downside, he doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, which could pose problems in cozy Fenway Park.

While there are certainly some nice pieces on this staff, it’s hard to imagine banking on any one of them being the type of number one type pitcher a playoff caliber team needs. Might this hold the Red Sox back, or are they simply not yet done forming this year’s roster?

Is Dustin Pedroia on the downside of his career?: The pint-sized second baseman has been a fan favorite throughout his career—earning a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP and multiple All-Star nods along the way. Unfortunately, his numbers have been in steady decline for several years, with his OPS in 2014 being 149 points below its 2011 level.

Pedroia will be 32 shortly after the All-Star break and plays with a reckless abandon that can be taxing on the body. He has also played through a series of nagging injuries in recent years and will be part of a much better balanced roster. There is no reason to believe he can’t bounce back with better numbers in 2015, that is unless the physical tolls have created an inevitable decline a little earlier than fans would have hoped.

Is it time to cut bait on Jackie Bradley, Jr.?: One of the more highly anticipated prospects to graduate to the majors in recent memory, the outfielder has simply not yet been able to live up to the hype. Although he already has one of the best gloves in the game, his bat has been one of the worst, producing a combined .196 batting average with four home runs, 40 RBIs and 152 strikeouts in 479 major league at-bats during the past two years.

Still just 24, and with his talent and pleasant hard-working demeanor, it’s hard to imagine Bradley won’t be able to eventually figure it out. That just may not happen in Boston. With a crowded outfield that already has Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava, he will likely not only have to raise his game but actually beat out one or more of them to have a job in 2015. That being said, factors like injuries and trades can always come in to play, so nothing is written in stone yet.

Can Christian Vazquez handle the job of being the primary catcher?: There’s little doubt the rocket-armed 24-year-old is ready with the glove. He has already earned the praise of veteran pitchers for his work ethic and ability to call a game, and nabbed 52 percent of runners attempting to steal on him in 55 games with Boston last year. On the downside, he hit a harmless .240 with a single home run and 20 RBIs during that time. Fortunately, it seems that the Red Sox are putting him in a position to succeed. They brought veteran Ryan Hanigan on board to serve as his backup, while fellow prospect Blake Swihart is biding his time in the high minors waiting for his own chance.

Vazquez should be able to produce more than enough behind the plate to earn his keep. Any value he adds with his bat will be gravy. As he adapts to his new role, it’s hard to imagine the team not being as pleased as punch if he could chip in something along the lines of a .250 batting average and 6-8 home runs along with his anticipated glove work.

What does the team exactly have in Castillo?: After leaving Cuba, the 27-year-old outfielder signed a $72 million contract with Boston last year. He acquitted himself in a late-season call-up, hitting .333 with two homers and three stolen bases in 10 games—despite essentially not having played organized ball for about two years. He added to expectations with a very solid showing in the Puerto Rican Winter League. That being said, very few people seem to know exactly what kind of player he’ll be in the long run.

Projections have ranged from extra outfielder to All-Star potential, leaving a vast expanse of possibilities in between. Like Vazquez, he has the luxury of not having to be the savior right out of the gate. The crowded outfield might even prevent him from earning a starting role. Unlike the catcher, he will be expected to answer the bell earlier and with greater frequency because of his large contract.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mickey Mantle and His Employment Agency: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of February 15, 2015

Baseball history remains a popular subject of study. Given the increasingly quicker pace of life and the availability of other sporting options for fan consumption, this may be somewhat surprising. But on second glance there should be no surprise at all.

Baseball is the National Pastime for a reason. It is unsurpassed in having figures that can be identified with by wide swaths of people across the country and the world. “Every men” to superstars have done memorable and amazing things in the game, making their stories resonate with fans all the more. With the age of the game and the number of players and wonderful moments continuing to pile up, the material is there for generations to be drawn in by its history for years to come.

And now, on to the notes for the week…

*Roy Campanella forged a Hall-of-Fame career with the Brooklyn Dodgers in his 10 seasons with them as a catcher (1948-1957). Unfortunately, he was forced to retire after becoming paralyzed in an auto accident in 1958. His medical bills were so astronomical that his old team played an exhibition game that year in their new home in Los Angeles against the New York Yankees. Over 93,000 fans packed into the venue, which is remembered by this terrific short film.

*Speaking of the Dodgers, their legendary announcer Vin Scully is still going strong after well over half a century with the team. Here’s a picture of the now 87-year-old from around the mid-1930s when he was a school boy. As you can see, even then he had his trademark red hair.

*Julio Franco, who has previously appeared in these notes, is still going strong and making news with his baseball career. The 56 year-old, who has played professionally since 1978, including a 23-year major league career, just signed a 2015 contract to be a player-manager for a semi-pro Japanese team. It’s further proof that when it comes to loving baseball, there are no age requirements.

*Sad news to report in the passing of Nick Koback. Signed out of high school as a bonus baby in 1953 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the catcher got into 16 major league games in parts of three seasons (1953-55), hitting a combined .121 with a triple. He also played six seasons in the minors before turning to a career in clothing sales. He was 79.

*Also passing away was Ray Hathaway, who appeared in four games as a pitcher for the 1945 Brooklyn Dodgers. The right-hander lost his only decision, and allowed four earned runs in nine innings. He won 108 games in parts of 20 minor leaguer seasons between 1939 and 1965, ultimately becoming a manager with 1,441 career wins over another 25 minor league seasons. 98 at the time of his death, he had been the second-oldest living former major leaguer.

*Up and coming baseball blogger (Baseball with Matt) and author Matt Nadel recently appeared on the Rambling On Podcast. He chats about the game, his writing and other projects. Have a feeling you will be seeing his work around for a long time to come.

*Outfielder Jonny Gomes has crafted a lengthy career in the majors based not only on his powerful right-handed bat but also his reputation as one of the best clubhouse presences in the game. He rose to prominence in 2013 as one of the most visible members of the bewhiskered Boston Red Sox that won that year’s World Series. However, he is lucky to be alive today, let alone have the success he is enjoying. This piece by ESPN E:60 tells his story about how simple twists of fate could have very easily altered his life on a permanent basis.

*These days, spring training occurs in either Florida or Arizona. Camps dot the landscapes of those two sun-soaked states. However, they haven’t always been the exclusive homes of baseball preparedness. Arkansas used to be a true baseball hotspot, as described by this 1993 Sports Illustrated article by Jay Jennings. Travel might be difficult but it sure would be interesting to see a little more variety in where teams set up camp.

*A YouTube user recently created a mashup of two of my favorite things, baseball (specifically the Red Sox) and The Wonder Years. Check it out.

*Baseball History Daily has found another gem in the form of a 1914 article describing what life on the road looked like for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Not surprisingly, the rules and expectations of being a professional ball player were just a bit different than they are today. For example, one rule of the Seals while traveling was “Don’t run around to dances.” In this age of high-priced and often poorly behaved athletes, there are much bigger things to worry about than running around to dances.

*Finally, check out this vintage commercial starring former New York Yankees star Mickey Mantle and former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath. They’re shilling for their employment agency, Mantle Men & Namath Girls, Inc (Who knew?). Apparently, they started around 1968 and were in business for several years before shuttering their doors in the mid 1970s.

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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Carl Erskine and His Harmonica: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of February 8, 2015

It’s finally just about here. By the time next week’s version of these notes post, pitchers and catchers will have begun reporting at Arizona and Florida locales en masse. It’s been a long and cold winter (especially if you are on the East Coast), but the start of spring training represents a connection to spring that no rodent and his shadow can take away. It’s been a busy offseason, so there’s plenty to digest as teams take stock of where they are to start a new season.

And now, on to the notes for the week…

*Sad news to report in the passing of former Detroit Tigers player Dave Bergman. The first baseman/pinch hitter extraordinaire hit .258 during 17 major-league seasons. Known for his popularity as a teammate and for his charitable endeavors, he fought illness in recent years. He was 61.

*Former all-star infielder Rocky Bridges has also passed away, at the age of 87 on January 27. Starting his career as a backup for the legendary Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers, he ultimately played for seven teams over 11 seasons, hitting a combined .247. The very definition of scrappy, he earned an All-Star berth in 1958 with the Washington Senators, despite hitting just .263 with 28 RBIs.

*The occasion of what would have been Robinson’s 96th birthday just passed. Baseball History Daily had a nice little piece celebrating the trailblazing player, who died in 1972.

*I recently had an opportunity with my friend Ron Juckett to talk with two very interesting people related to baseball. The first was with author and mayor of Cooperstown, New York, Jeff Katz. The other was a conversation with former Boston Red Sox hero Bernie Carbo. Both are definitely worth a listen if I do say so myself.

*Salaries seem to be ever on the rise in baseball. Compensation has certainly come a long way since the days when pretty much any player on a professional roster had to get an offseason job in order to make ends meet. SB Nation’s Grant Bisbee had the fun idea of taking some sample players from the past and speculating what kind of contracts they might garner obtain if they played in the current era.

*Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues thinks that former long-time New York Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph was a much better player than many people remember or realize. An outstanding defensive player, he hit .276 with 2,210 hits in 18 seasons, most of which were spent during a time when middle infielders were generally not looked to for their offense. Have to say, there is no argument from me on this one.

*Going back to 1987, T. Nicholas Dawidoff had this touching piece about former Negro League player Ray Dandridge finding out that he had finally made the Hall of Fame—at the age of 73. Already in his 30s when the majors were integrated, he never got a shot at the majors. However, he had a number of highly successful seasons in the minors and should still be considered one of the finest third basemen to ever play the game.

*Carl Erskine won 122 games pitching for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 to 1959. Along the way, he played with some of the best players to ever put on a uniform, and for some of the best teams to ever take the field. Now 88, he is still going strong. Check out this recent article talking about his amazing life and how he has found a new calling playing the harmonica.

*Second baseman Ron Hunt had a nice 12-year major league career from 1963-1974 playing for a handful of teams. He hit a combined .273 and was a two-time All Star but certainly was never what would be termed a star. However, he continues to be remembered long after he retired because of his uncanny ability to get on base via the hit-by-pitch. He led the league an incredible seven times, and his 243 career plunking is good for sixth all time. He was most prolific in 1971 when he was hit an amazing 50 times, which is still the modern record. Five Thirty Eight Sports’ Jonah Keri took an in depth look at that unusual season, and the player’s painful but underappreciated skill.

*The United States isn’t the only country with its own baseball hall of fame. Surprisingly, there is also one in Great Britain where the game is not nearly as popular but still has a following. Recently, they named the inductees for their sixth class, and will hopefully only continue to grow in the future.

*Finally, check out this cool black and white home movie footage taken by a fan at a Chicago Cubs game in the late 1930s. It may have been nearly 80 years ago but it’s still easy to pick up the electricity the team brought to their fans at historic Wrigley Field.

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

Friday, February 6, 2015

Rambling On: Chatting With Boston Red Sox Hero Bernie Carbo

Ron Juckett and I recently had the pleasure to chat with former Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox player Bernie Carbo. Needless to say, he had a ton of great stories to share.

Check out the podcast HERE.
You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Rambling On: A Chat With Author/Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz

Ron Juckett and I talk with Cooperstown, New York mayor and author Jeff Katz. It's a great chat about his writing, his community and baseball.
Check out the podcast HERE.
For more information on Jeff Katz, please visit his
website or go to his Amazon listing.
You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Remembering Charlie Hollocher and His Tragically Shortened Life and Baseball Career

There have been many talented baseball players during the 150-plus year existence of the game. Some have achieved glory and legendary status, while others have had circumstances impede their efforts. Shortstop Charlie Hollocher is a perfect example of this, as he was a star as a rookie in 1918, but out of the game by the age of 28, and dead not long after.

Charles Jacob Hollocher was born on June 11, 1896 in St. Louis, Missouri. A talented baseball player, he began his professional career in 1915, playing several seasons in the minors, including 1916-17 with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. After hitting .276 in 1917, the 21-year-old left-handed hitter was purchased by the Chicago Cubs, and he broke spring training the following year as their starting shortstop.

The 1918 major league season was unusual in that it was prematurely cut short because of the United States’ involvement in World War I. Draft-eligible players were expected to do their part like the rest of the country. However, none of this prevented “Holly” from having a marvelous rookie campaign. He appeared in a National League-leading 131 games, hitting .316 with two home runs, 38 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. He also led the league in base hits (161) and total bases (202). The Cubs went an impressive 84-45 and won the pennant before succumbing to the Boston Red Sox four games to two in the World Series.

The Cubs’ offense went silent during the Series, scoring just 10 total runs in the six games. Their struggles at the plate were personified by Hollocher, who had just three singles and a triple in 24 plate appearances.

It appeared Hollocher’s career hit a major roadblock when he was drafted into the Army after the 1918 season. However, he contracted influenza, and was only well enough to report to duty on November 11, which just happened to be the day that the Armistice was signed and the war officially ended. He joked to the Chicago Eagle that it “Seems harder to break into the army than it did to break into the big league.”
Reprieved from going to war, he had a strong sophomore campaign, hitting .270, but the Cubs slipped to third place.

Despite the strong start to his career, Hollocher began experiencing stomach troubles. In 1920, while on a train trip to play the Philadelphia Phillies, he took ill with what was diagnosed as food poisoning. Similar symptoms returned later in the season, and by mid August he was hospitalized with an unknown ailment that ultimately brought a premature end to his season. Playing in just 80 games, he hit an impressive .319 and stole 20 bases.

He bounced back much healthier the next two seasons, hitting .289 in 140 games in 1921, and posting his season as a pro in 1922 with a .340 batting average (The highest batting average by a shortstop since Honus Wagner hit .354 for the 1908 Pittsburgh Pirates.), 201 base hits and 69 RBIs in 152 games. He was also one of the best defenders in the game, leading the league both years in fielding percentage—all factors to being made the team captain.

More stomach trouble plagued Hollocher prior to the 1923 season. It seemed as soon as he started to feel better, he would relapse, including while at spring training on Catalina Island in California. He didn’t see the field in the regular season until mid-May but was hot out of the gate. He was so well-regarded as a player that The Daily Illini reported rumors the Cubs were contemplating including him in a package of players to try and lure star second baseman Rogers Hornsby from the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hollocher was playing through something that neither he nor those around him understood. He did not feel well but his malady went undiagnosed, which many construed as making it up. Finally, on July 26th, after hitting .342 in 66 games, he had enough and left a note for his manager, Bill Killefer, and went home for the year. The message read in part, “…feeling pretty rotten so made up my mind to go home and take a rest and forget about baseball for the rest of the year. No hard feelings, just didn’t feel like playing anymore.”

Showing that he was trying to get better instead of giving up on the game, Hollocher applied for temporary retirement for the remainder of 1923 so he could remain in good standing. His application was approved by commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
Interestingly, his early departure in 1923 didn’t prevent Hollocher from holding out that offseason. The Cubs understandably didn’t exactly rush to give their erstwhile dependable shortstop a big payday. However, they ultimately agreed on a two-year deal worth $12,000.

He started out strong in 1924, hitting .288 in 16 May games. The Daily Illini even reported on May 29th that a trade sending him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in exchange for pitchers Dutch Ruether and Leo Dickerman, and outfielder Andy High was imminent. However, from that point forward, Hollocher batted just .215 before finally deciding to go home again because of recurring stomach troubles.

Hollocher’s final major league appearance came on August 20, 1924 in the second game of a double header against the Boston Braves. Batting third, he was hitless in four at-bats, as his team was shut out on the strength of a three-run home run by Boston outfielder Casey Stengel, and the six hits pitcher Jesse Barnes scattered over his complete-game shutout.

It’s important to note that doctors publicly announced they could find nothing medically wrong with the shortstop. According to the Chicago Tribune, “The X-ray plates of Charlie Hollocher’s stomach have definitely determined that there is nothing organically wrong...” To this day it’s a mystery about what his actual affliction was, but after that pronouncement was made he was on his own. Having been medically “cleared,” he was viewed as a head case from instead of a person with a legitimate medical concern that was not being addressed.

Always an outstanding contact hitter, Hollocher struck out just 94 times in his 3,393 career plate appearances, including a total of 17 times over his last three seasons, spanning 1,304 trips to the dish. Done at the age of 28, his .304 career batting average and 23.2 WAR in 760 games over seven seasons is a tantalizing indication of what might have been.

It doesn’t appear Hollocher received much sympathy when he decided to retire for good. This Norman E. Brown article in the February 3, 1925 edition of The Daily Illini was accompanied by a rather unflattering cartoon indicating the player gave up the game merely because of a “nervous stomach.”

 Although he annually tossed around the idea of returning to the diamond as late as 1930, he never did return to the game as a player—but he did work as a Cubs scout for one year in 1931. He also worked as an investigator, a night watchman at a drive-in theater, opened a tavern in St. Louis, and spent much of his free time playing golf.

Hollocher tried to explain his circumstances in a Sporting News article published on January 26, 1933, stating, “My health first broke at Catalina Island in the spring of 1923… They advised me that I would ruin my health if I played ball that season. But Bill Killefer, then manager of the Cubs, came to St. Louis and urged me to join the team, telling me that I didn't have to play when I didn't feel well. I yielded to Bill and, once in uniform, couldn't stay on the bench. I played when I should have been home… Now I realize I made my mistake in playing the 1923 season.”

After leaving baseball for good he was never able to shake his physical maladies and the depression that came with them. Finally, on August 14, 1944 in Frontenac, Missouri, his sad story closed its final chapter when he killed himself with a gunshot to his neck. Just 44, he was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Kirkwood, Missouri.

In his obituary in the New York Times, Constable Arthur C. Mosley indicated Hollocher had just bought a shotgun from a mail order store. The weapon with the price tag still attached was found under his arm, next to his automobile; his membership card for the Association of Professional Baseball Players only feet away. He had pulled over from the highway to a driveway leading up to a partially demolished house. A note simply stating, “Call Mrs. Ruth Hollocher” (his wife) was found on the car dashboard. When questioned, she told police that her husband had been complaining of ongoing abdominal pain just before his death.

Even in death, Hollocher’s actions were viewed suspiciously. His suicide wasn’t met with much surprise, and the Chicago Herald-American wrote the former player was known as a “moody, neurotic boy” since first joining the Cubs.

In retrospect, it’s easy to toss out theories as to what afflicted Hollocher. Perhaps it was physical; perhaps it was mental; and perhaps it was both. To this decidedly non-medical professional, it seems plausible he could have suffered from a serious chronic condition like diverticulitis, and then fallen into depression as the ongoing effects continued to ravage his body. Again, that’s a total guess, but one that would make a great deal of sense.

The ideas that Hollocher was a hypochondriac, moody or couldn’t handle nerves ring hollow. He played major league baseball in bustling Chicago for seven years, including captaining his team for a number of seasons. He played in a majority of his team’s games in four of his seasons, and throughout his career, when he was on the field, he played well. That just doesn’t sound like someone who was bothered by pressure or was aloof.

Hollocher’s  cousin, Bob Klinger, pitched for the Pirates and Boston Red Sox for eight seasons in the 1930s and 1940s. Other than that, this one-time star is largely forgotten in the grand scheme of baseball history. The truth may never be known about what ended his career and ultimately his life, but no matter what that was it’s a great shame.

If he played in a later era the outcome would have undoubtedly been different. Unfortunately, his star was knocked from its zenith way too early and he has slipped out of the consciousness of most as yet another footnote of history.

List of Sources:

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Jim Rice, the Real-Life Hero: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of February 1, 2015

Baseball has its generations, defined by segments of players who represent their particular wedge of history in the game. No matter what the rule differences are or the milestones that are reached, it’s the players that make their own time unique and memorable. It’s always difficult to see subsequent generations lose members but their legacies will always live on longer than them thanks to the strong interest so many have in the game’s history.

Now, on to the note for the week…

*Sad news to report in the passing of former right-handed pitcher Bill Monbouquette at the age of 78. “Monbo” enjoyed an 11-year major league career (1958-1968), where he posted a record of 114-112 with a 3.68 ERA. He had his greatest success with the Boston Red Sox, including the 1963 season, which saw him go 20-10 with a 3.81 ERA. He also had a lengthy career as a pitching coach, transferring his knowledge to new generations of hurlers.

In recent years, he battled a series of health issues but his feistiness and fighting spirit kept him going. No story better personifies him than this one, which describes how on his very first day after signing at Fenway Park, he and his father got in some trouble for teaching a lesson to some unruly fans who were bothering his mother.

*Another former pitcher has passed in Chuck Locke. Appearing in two games with the 1955 Baltimore Orioles, he did not record a decision or give up a run in three innings. The only major league hitter he fanned was Eddie Yost of the Washington Senators.
Locke also won 82 games over nine minor league seasons before retiring in 1958. He went on to be a long-time insurance adjustor and was active in his church and coaching.

*Add former right-hander Charlie Williams to this week’s lengthy list of obituaries. He passed away at the age of 67, having gone a combined 23-22 with a 3.97 ERA in eight major league seasons (1971-78) with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants. He had several years as a very effective reliever but his greatest claim to fame was being shipped along with $50,000 to the Giants in 1972 in exchange for the immortal Willie Mays.

*It’s now been several years since the mother of Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken was abducted at her Aberdeen, Maryland home. Fortunately, she was found unharmed the following day, but there have never been any arrests, and the case has gone strangely cold, according to Deadspin’s Dave McKenna.

*Addie Joss won 160 games with a 1.89 ERA in nine major league seasons with the Cleveland Naps from 1902-1910. Although he tragically passed away at the age of 31 in 1911, his accomplishments in baseball were enough to earn him a place in the Hall of Fame in 1978.

His death not only shook the baseball world but obviously that of his family. In a touching gesture, an impromptu “all star” game was played in Cleveland shortly after his passing in order to raise money for his widow. This photo captures some of the participants—it really was a star-studded event.

*With a .313 career batting average and 383 home runs over 17 major league seasons, there is little doubt that Larry Walker was one of the finest players to ever grace a diamond. However, ongoing injuries and playing his home games for much of his career in offensively-friendly Colorado has contributed to him getting less than 25 percent of the vote in each of his first five years on the BBWAA Hall-of-Fame ballot. Hall of Stat’s Adam Darowski recently did an in-depth breakdown of his case and reaches some surprising conclusions.

*Jackie Robinson integrated the majors leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 but progress and general acceptance were slow to occur. Even 13 years later just 57 players of color were on big league rosters. This 1960 article by Sports Illustrated’s Robert Boyle gives a glimpse into what life was like for those players at the time—and it certainly wasn’t equal to their white counterparts.

*Baseball History Daily has uncovered a great advertisement featuring Ty Cobb for a beverage geared towards early twentieth-century ball players. In fact, it’s touted as the “proper drink for an athlete in training.” Hint, it wasn’t Gatorade they were hawking…

*Tom Kelly will always be a hero to Minnesota Twins’ fans. Their former manager won 1,144 games and two World Series in 16 years before leaving his post following the 2001 season. He has never truly left the organization though, as he has acted as an instructor and advisor over the years. A recent stroke put his 2015 spring training in doubt but current word is that he has recovered enough that he will be there once again. Great news for him and the Twins!

*In 2009, Esmailyn Gonzalez was a promising 19-year-old infield prospect in the Washington Nationals system. However, it was discovered that his real name was Carlos Alvarez and he was actually four years older—his identity changed to help bolster his signing bonus (which was $1.4 million in 2006).

Although he is no longer with Washington, Alvarez, now 29 hasn’t given up on the game. The Washington Posts’ James Wagner has the story.

*Outfielder Jim Rice was voted into the Hall of Fame on the strength of his playing ability during his career with the Red Sox. Despite all the home runs and great catches he may have made, perhaps the most heroic thing he ever did was help save a little boy’s life during a 1982 game at Fenway Park. Check out the full story.

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