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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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