Happy Birthday – Curtis Schmidt!

The leading pitcher of the 1991 and 1992 Kansas Jayhawks, Curtis Schmidt went from a 41st round pick of the Montreal Expos to one of the 24 kids who hailed from Montana to make it to the big leagues.

Curtis Schmidt was born 16 March 1970 in Miles City, Montana, a mostly farming community in the southeastern portion of the state.  After graduation, he attended Howard College in Big Spring, Texas before transferring to the Jayhawks for his junior and senior seasons.  The 6′ 5″ Schmidt immediately earned a ticket into the starting rotation with his heavy 90 MPH fastball that led to frequent strikeouts and even more frequent ground balls.  While at KU, he fashioned a 13 – 10 record with a 2.80 career ERA, earning two All-Big Eight Conference awards.

He was drafted in 1991 by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 28th round, but chose to return to college.  Then, after completing his eligibility at Kansas, he was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 41st round of the 1992 draft.  Assigned to Jamestown in the NY-PENN League, Schmidt showed promise – he struck out nearly a batter per inning, allowed just a lone homer in over 6o innings of work, and just 42 hits in 63+ innings.  Advanced to West Palm Beach in the Florida State League for the 1993 season, Schmidt continued to show growth but it was his 1994 season with AA Harrisburg where Schmidt went from decent minor leaguer to ” blue chip relief prospect.”  Schmidt went 6 – 2 with a 1.88 ERA, striking out 75 and walking 29 in 71.2 innings of work.  He allowed only 51 hits all year, just four of them clearing fences.

He was called up to the Expos in early 1995, where he would face the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field for his first taste of the major leagues on April 28.  Rey Sanchez bunted on the rookie pitcher, beating out a single to open the fifth inning.  Schmidt, whose fastball usually stayed low, did just that – getting Mark Grace to bounce into a double play.  Then, Sammy Sosa flew out to end the inning.  Unfortunately, not all of Schmidt’s outings were that successful.  Getting a late call in September, Schmidt appeared in 11 games, pitching 10.1 innings, but allowed 15 hits and nine walks, leading to a 6.97 ERA.   Between call ups, Schmidt was undefeated for the AAA Ottawa Lynx in 1995, which became his minor league home for the next two seasons as well.  After starting 1997 slowly, Schmidt moved to the Pirates where he pitched better for Calgary of the Pacific Coast League, but was no longer considered a prospect.  Trying one more time, Schmidt pitched for the independent Somerset Patriots in 1998 before calling it a career.

For me and several of my Jayhawk journalism alums, Curtis Schmidt is a throwback name – a time when Dave Bingham was moving the Jayhawks baseball program forward.  Several of my friends spent springs and summers calling games where Schmidt would mow down hitters in Hoglund-Maupin Stadium, whether as a Jayhawk or a member of the semi-pro Maupintour Travelers.  A year after Schmidt left, the Jayhawks were in the College World Series; Schmidt was part of that growth pattern.  And of the many players we covered from that period, Schmidt was one of the few who made it to the pros.

 

Sources:

Curtis Schmidt Page on Retrosheet.org

Curtis Schmidt Pages on Baseball-Reference.com

(Majors)

(Minors)

Pascarelli, Peter “It’s Not The System, just bad management”, The Sporting News, 9/12/1994, Pg. 47.

“The playoff share”, The Sporting News, 9/11/1995, Pg. 12.

“Schmidt Tabbed in 41st Round”, Lawrence Journal-World, 6/4/1992

 

 

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Mighty Casey Bio: Arlie Tarbert

One of the better all-around athletes to come out of Ohio State University in the early years of the previous century, Arlie Talbert was a two-sport star who made it to the major leagues with the Red Sox in the late 1920s.

Born in Cleveland on 10 September 1904, Wilbert Arlington (Arlie) Talbert used his skills on the basketball court and diamond at Cleveland East Technical High School to get into Ohio State University.  It didn’t take long for Tarbert to make his mark as he was named captain of the freshman squad – and also played every position on the court.  Not always the best student – he got in trouble and missed time his sophomore year after some poor test scores – he was respected by his teammates and made a captain of the basketball team his senior year.

The versatility he showed on the basketball court also appeared on the baseball diamond.  He started off as a catcher, moved to the outfield, eventually pitched and played first base, and if needed could fill any infield spot.  Upon his graduation and signing by the Boston Red Sox, many felt that Tarbert may have been the best outfielder in Ohio State baseball history.

Boston signed him and immediately gave the kid a chance to make the team in 1927.  Tarbert played in 33 games, came to bat some 78 times, but only got 13 hits – all but one a single.  Despite the poor showing, he was brought back the following spring training where his only play of note was going back on a Freddie Lindstrom fly ball, then – as he reached up for the ball – backing into a metal gate that flew open.  Talbert fell down, the ball rolled away, and Lindstrom circled the bases for an inside the park homer.

Tarbert played in just six games in 1928 collecting three more hits.  He apparently didn’t always pay attention, earning the ire of his manager, and so he was sent to Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League.  He only played six games there – he may not have enjoyed his stay and isn’t credited with getting a single hit – and was recalled, only to be released to the Salem Witches of the New England League.  However, a bout of appendicitis interrupted that season – Tarbert appeared in 25 games, batting just .236 with two doubles. (His teammate in Salem, though, was a 37-year-old Stuffy McInnis, who may have been a player-manager then…)

No matter – Tarbert was a businessman anyway.  After the 1927 season he enrolled in law school and eventually went to work in the private sector.  However, his post-baseball career was short, too.  He spent most of the last 18 months of his life dealing with various illnesses and died of a coronary thrombosis at just 42 years old.

Bill Nowlin wrote a pretty good biography of Tarbert for the Society of American Baseball Research.  You can read his article here.

Anyway, I mentioned that Tarbert once got in trouble with his manager, Bill Carrigan, while in Boston.  Nowlin’s story doesn’t include this tidbit that I found in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  It’s not a nice story – a sportswriter trying to be funny in a sarcastic way – but I figured I should share it.

“Arlie Tarbert, former star at Ohio State, is coming back to the majors and bringing his sun glasses with him.  In the future he will see to it that they are either on his nose, in his hand or at least in his pocket.  It was a pair of sun glasses that nearly cost him his job.

“Tarbert is the careless young man who came up to the Red Sox this spring.  Carrigan liked his playing and put him out into right field.  That happens to be the sun field at Fenway Park.

“The young collegian didn’t mind the glare.  Bright days he donned his sun goggles and hauled down files and picked up grounders in big league fashion.  He looked like a fixture.

“Success made him overconfident.  One day the Athletics came to Boston for a series.  Tarbert had heard of those right field home run hitters of Connie Mack, but they didn’t impress him very deeply.  Up to the seventh inning they didn’t give him a chase all afternoon.  The Red Sox were leading.

“Young Merle Settlemire was twirling a good game.  One man got on base.  That was anything to worry about.  Up stepped Joe Hauser.  Tarbert played deep for him.  He was beginning to learn the weakness and strength of the various hitters.  Manager Carrigan would compliment him on his shrewd way of playing the batters.

“Sure enough, Hauser wafted a high fly nearly to the exact spot where he was standing.  Tarbert jogged confidently under it.  He looked up – and went blind.  All he saw was a ball of fire rushing down into his face.  Too late, he remembered.  He had forgotten his sun glasses.

“He couldn’t see them lying on the grass just a few feet away.  There was no time to run over and pick them up, of course.  The only thing he could do was to duck away and let the ball fall safe.  He had seen old, experienced big leaguers do that.  He followed their illustrious example.

“Hauser got a two bagger, the runner scored and the Athletics went on to win the ball game.

“That one lapse of memory was once too often for Bill Carrigan.  Not wearing sun glasses might be the way they play ball at Ohio State, but it wasn’t how he had been taught at Holy Cross.  The next day Arlie Tarbert was farmed to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League.

“Down in his heart Carrigan knew that Tarbert was a good ball player who just needed a lesson.  He let him stay in California just long enough for him to get used to looking at the world through a brown haze and harness broken to the feel of the loops of the goggles over his ears.  Now he has recalled him.

“There can be no other reason for the managerial change of mind.  The Red Sox have plenty of outfielders without Tarbert.  Dug Taitt, Ken Williams, and Ira Flagstead are quite capable of looking after the last line of defense unless one of them loses an arm in a railroad wreck.  And Tarbert hasn’t done any hitting to speak of on the coast.  He hasn’t even been a Hollywood regular.

“He won’t go without his glasses again, not even when it’s raining.”

- Harold C. Burr, Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

I’m guessing the Burr was in his saddle that day…  The game happened on May 1.  Tarbert didn’t start the game – he was a defensive replacement who came in after Taitt left for a pinch hitter (Charlie Berry) in the fourth or fifth inning.  Tarbert misplayed Hauser’s flyball in the seventh inning – the A’s trailed 3 – 1 when they got a four spot in the top of the seventh.  Tarbert later got a hit off of reliever Ossie Orwoll, the last hit of his major league career.  Orwoll came in the game in relief of Lefty Grove in the seventh and earned the save (not that they counted saves back then).

SOURCES:

Arlie Tarbert Page on Retrosheet.org

Arlie Tarbert Pages on Baseball-Reference.com
(Majors)
(Minors)

“Ohio State’s Hopes Hanging in Balance”, Charleston Daily Mail, 1/1/25, Page 29.

“Tarbert Named Captain of State Team”, Zanesville Signal, 3/11/1926.

“Only One Veteran Sure of Berth on Ohio State Cage Combination This Season”, Mansfield News, 12/5/1926, Page 20.

“Buckeye Athlete is Star Anywhere”, Lockport Union Sun and Journal, 3/2/1927, Page 13.

“Red Sox Player to Return to College”, Syracuse Journal, 9/29/1927, Page 19.

Franklyn J. Adams.”Colleges Produce Fair Run of Players in 1927 Despite Impression to the Contrary”, The Sporting News, 12/1/1927, Page 8.

Rome Daily Sentinel, 3/27/28, Page 12.

Harold C. Burr, “Red Sox Fielder Has Learned How to Wear Glasses”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 5/27/28, Page 6C.

“Red Sox Release Three”, Chester Times, 6/2/28, Page 13.

“Hit and Run”, Logansport Pharos Tribune, 9/22/28, Page 7.

“Necrology”, The Sporting News, 12/11/1946, Page 20.

“Hold Rites for Tarbert, Former Red Sox Player”, El Paso Herald Post,  11/28/1946.

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Mighty Casey Bio: Abraham Lincoln (Link) Bailey

Born February 12, 1895, this future Chicago Cubs pitcher would be named after the president who shared his birthday.

Abraham Lincoln Bailey was born in Joliet, IL, one of nine Bailey kids, where he learned to play baseball in the sandlots of his city.  He grew tall and thick – listed at 6′ 0″ and about 185 pounds, but the few photos of the day suggested that he carried a few pounds more than that.  Still – he threw the ball hard and it was his fastball that drew the attention of Chicago Cubs scouts who saw him play in the old Joliet City League, or on the semi-professional Joliet Rivals, or on a low level team in Kenosha, WI.

When the Cubs finally agreed to terms with Bailey, though, Bailey had already signed up to join the US Army.  Assigned to the 72nd Field Artillery, Bailey spent part of two years in France during World War I.  A picture of Sgt. Bailey even appeared in The Sporting News, alongside much more famous ballplayers who had joined the war, like Pete Alexander.

Interestingly, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Abraham Lincoln Bailey were destined to become teammates – a pair of presidential names gracing the game.  One, a veteran, savvy pitcher who had a reputation for hitting the bottle and the other was a young pitcher needing to harness his game and likely had a reputation for hitting the bakery.  Bailey was “…inclined to be corpulent” and the few articles that mention Bailey note that he didn’t take the game seriously enough and was battling his weight in spring training.

The nickname that followed Bailey into the history books and reference websites is “Sweetbread” – but I haven’t yet figured out where that came from.  He wasn’t called Abe – when Cubs manager Fred Mitchell called him that, Bailey told him, “The folks back home still call me ‘Linc’ for short.”  Many articles refer to him as Link Bailey, so I’ll go with that.

Link Bailey finally joined the Cubs in the 1919 season where he was the ninth or tenth man on a ten man pitching staff.  Appearing 21 times and getting just five starts, Bailey went 3 – 5 for Chicago with an ERA of 3.15.  He struggled in 1920, though – giving up 55 hits in just 36.2 innings, he finished with a 1 – 2 record and a horrific 7.12 ERA.  Bailey came back in 1921, got himself in pretty good shape, but still struggled in 1921, so the Cubs waived him in May of that season.  The Baltimore Superbas picked Bailey up on waivers, gave him seven appearances in May and June, and sent him off to New Orleans for some seasoning.

At first, Link Bailey found success in the minors – he won ten of fourteen decisions in the Southern Association.  He stayed in New Orleans for the 1922 season and turned in a 12 – 13 record in 39 outings – the 208 innings he logged that year would be the most he would pitch in professional ball.  However, he was done in New Orleans.  He moved to Beaumont in the Texas League in 1923, going 3 – 2 in seven games and was released.  Bailey returned home to Joliet and made his life there so he could be closer to his family.

Unfortunately, like his baseball career, his life ended too soon.  He developed cancer of the pituitary gland, which affected him for the last years of his life.  Bailey died at the home of his sister on 27 September, 1939.

Sources:

Link Bailey Page on Retrosheet.org

Link Bailey Pages on Baseball-Reference.com
(Majors)
(Minors)

A Picture of Sgt. A. Lincoln Bailey appears in the 3/13/1919 issue of The Sporting News on page 6. “Notables Among the National League’s Brave Hundred”

George S, Robbins. “Chicago Cubs.” The Sporting News, 3/13/1919, Page 6.

“Famous Names”, Chicago Eagle, 8/2/1919, Page 7.

Oscar C. Seichow. “Popular Song Will Fit Fred Mitchell”, The Sporting News, 4/8/1920, Page 1.

Oscar C. Seichow. “Big Change in Evers Comes With Years”, The Sporting News, 3/10/1921, Page 1.

“Dodgers Count Hal Janvrin Real Asset”, The Sporting News, 6/23/1921, Page 3.

“Necrology”, The Sporting News, 10/5/1939, Page 15.

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Mighty Casey Bio: Jim Essian

A rough and tumble catcher of the 1970s and 1980s, Jim Essian’s greatest success came as a member of the South Side Hit Men, when the 1977 Chicago White Sox nearly won the AL West owing to a barrage of homers being launched out of Comiskey Park.

James Sarkis Essian was born on 2 January, 1951 in Detroit.  Essian was the fourth child of thirteen kids born to an Armenian house painter and his wife.  Not just good at baseball, Essian was a heck of a football player, where he was an all-state linebacker and fullback.  Essian turned down scholarships from a number of interested colleges, including Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Alabama, and Texas to play baseball – and then wasn’t even drafted.

Essian proved a pretty good catcher, though.  He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as an undrafted free agent in August, 1969.  He played with the Mesa Royals in 1969 in a winter rookie league, earning a second minor league contract.  Sent to Pulaski in the Appalachian League and Spartanburg in the Western Carolinas League, Essian would hit .298, hit 11 homers (with 50 RBI) in just 257 at bats, and finish with a slugging percentage of .525.  His best game was a five-hit, two-homer day in a 10 – 4 Spartanburg win over Anderson.  Finishing with Pulaski, Essian was named to the Rookie All-Star East Team, earning an engraved silver bowl.  His teammates on that all-star team included Dave Parker, Greg Gross, Sam Hairston, and Otto Velez.  The season was good enough to earn a non-roster invite to spring training with the parent club.

His next season in the Phillies chain was not quite as successful from a batting standpoint, but still included many positives.  Essian’s homer in the third playoff game contributed to a sweep over the Kingston Eagles, giving the Peninsula Pilots the Carolina League championship.  Essian’s efforts earned another trip to spring training with the big club.

In 1972, Essian moved up to AA Reading, where he first took on the number 13 – a number that didn’t bother Essian one bit.  “The No. 13 uniform is the only one that fits me properly,” said Essian.  ” Tom Silicato wore No. 13 last year (and hit .329), so it can’t be too bad.”  Essian got off to a great start as a hitter, was named an Eastern League All-Star in his second AA season for 1973, and even homered in the EL All-Star Game.  Essian got his first cup of coffee with the Phillies that September, getting three pinch hitting at bats, tallying no hits but striking out once.

When the 1973 season ended, the Phillies sent a few players who were considered top prospects to Puerto Rico for winter ball, including Mike Schmidt, Larry Christiansen, Billy Grabarkewitz, Dick Ruthvan, and Essian. The next spring, injuries to Bob Boone and Larry Cox gave Essian a shot with the Phillies and caught a good game even though his batting wasn’t up to par.  Essian told a writer that spring that he wasn’t interested in spending another season in the minors – one of the first times that Essian revealed himself to be willing to talk to reporters, sometimes too easily, and demonstrating a straight-forward confidence in his ability.

Essian got a chance to demonstrate his toughness when he was ejected for his role in a fight with Derrel Thomas of the San Diego Padres.  Schueler brushed back Thomas with a pitch, which offended the Padres’ jack-of-all-trades.  Thomas flung his bat at Schueler (he said it “slipped”), but Essian would have none of it – grabbing Thomas and getting tossed for protecting his pitcher.

His catching may have been decent, his toughness demonstrated, but hitting .100 (two hits and one ejection) wasn’t going to cut it – so Essian was dispatched to AAA Toledo, where Essian was solid behind the plate, batted .282, and fanned just 17 times in his 202 plate appearances.  Essian was now demonstrating that he made regular contact and was willing to work a walk – he took 30 free passes to his 17 strikeouts in 1974 on the heels of his 1973 season where he struck out just 44 times and drew 82 walks.

Essian’s future in Philadelphia was limited, though.  Boone was an established starter, Larry Cox was a capable backup, and the Phillies added veteran Tim McCarver to the mix.  So, Essian was packaged in a May, 1975 deal along with Barry Bonnell and cash to the Atlanta Braves for Dick Allen (and backup catcher Johnny Oates).  It was a three-way deal, though – Atlanta owed something to the Chicago White Sox for Allen’s rights, so Essian was relayed eight days later to the White Sox as the player to be named later in the original deal.

Essian was put on the White Sox roster as a third catcher behind Brian Downing and Pete Varney.  Downing was young and gaining experience, while Varney was a capable backup and hitting .271.  Over the next two months, Chuck Tanner and the White Sox never once put Essian into a game – despite the fact that Tanner himself had asked for Essian to be included in the Allen deal.  Essian didn’t want to go to the minors, but he didn’t want to do nothing – while the White Sox were avoiding using Essian’s final minor league option.  His batting eye got rusty – when Essian was finally sent to Hawaii to get some playing time, he batted just .209, though pitchers didn’t allow a run in the first 35 innings that Essian was behind the plate.  Returned to the White Sox for September, Essian didn’t play that month, either.

An article in The Sporting News explained, however, that despite not playing Essian maintained a positive attitude and mental acuity through Transcendental Meditation.  Essian, along with Larry Bowa, Jim Lonborg and Paul Owens, attended a four lecture program and, upon completion, began meditating twice each day for about twenty minutes each time.  He would meditate at the hotel pool or even riding the train to Comiskey Park – sitting upright, folding his hands, and closing his eyes – gaining peace and clarity.

“Without T.M.,” he said, “it wouldn’t be easy for me to accept my role with the White Sox.  But I know things are going to work out.  I’m able to just let the thoughts come in to me.  I don’t get uptight.  I’m mentally ready for anything.  I’ve got a few of the guys interested in T.M. (also).  It can keep them from getting physically tired, too, as the season wears on.  In my case, of course, there’s no way I could be tired anyway.”

In 1976, Essian was in the Majors for good – and, rather astonishingly, selected to be the alternate player representative to the union (Bucky Dent was the player rep).  Paul Richards gave Essian plenty of opportunties to play, letting Downing rest or getting extra time when Downing’s elbow bothered him.  Essian was the catcher the night that John “Blue Moon” Odom and Francisco Barrios combined on an no-hitter – though with eleven walks and having allowed an unearned run caused by an errant Essian throw.  In September, Essian repeated his pitcher protection program in a game against the Orioles.  Reggie Jackson’s showboating earned a brush back pitch from Clay Carroll.  Like Thomas, Jackson fired his bat at Carroll swinging at the next pitch – then charged the mound.  Essian caught Jackson, gave him a bear hug, and completed a picture perfect tackle.

Essian finished the season with a .246 batting average in 78 games.  That October, he married his wife, Janey, who was a hairstylist at the time.  Then, he went to work in construction, which, paired with an exercise regimen, added strength to his 200 pound frame.

Brian Downing couldn’t stay healthy in 1977, which made Essian the starter for most of the 1977 season.  That year, the White Sox picked up Richie Zisk, Oscar Gamble, Eric Soderholm and gave chances to other good hit/weak glove types like Jorge Orta, Alan Bannister, and Lamar Johnson.  The Sox got off to a great start – Harry Caray was signing, the fans loved the regular displays of power, and by mid-summer were regularly calling out Sox hitters for curtain calls after homers – and even pitchers for completing games.

Despite being a big powerful player, Essian didn’t hit a home run in his first 100 games as a big leaguer.  He finally did it in his 101st game, lining a Fergie Jenkins pitch off the upper deck of Comiskey Park in April.  “I wanted to go into my home-run trot, but realized I didn’t have one,” said Essian, who then promised to hit more homers.  He finished the season with ten.  He also cost Ralph Garr a homer in July – Garr lined a shot into the left field corner that barely cleared the wall.  Essian thought it was caught and retreated to first, Garr thought it was in play and raced around the bases – passing Essian.  It didn’t help that umpire Nestor Chylak made a “late and somewhat vague call” – Essian scored, but Garr was counted for a single and an out.

Essian told writer Richard Dozier that, though he was usually kept around for his catching skills (Peter Gammons once said he was the third best AL catcher in calling games, and had the second quickest release), Essian felt he contributed on the offensive side, too.  “I don’t think my catching and throwing are necessarily my strong points,” he said.  “If I’m not doing it with the glove, I’m doing it with the stick.  I bunt pretty well, I get walks.  I run good even though I’m not real fast.  I get a good start and I make a quick cut of the bases.  I don’t get picked off and I know how to slide.  I don’t miss signs and I don’t strike out.”

Dozier noted “Essian has a lot to say about this abilities, but he says things softly and they come across with a curious modesty.”  So, even though Essian was starting only because Downing was injured, Essian had no problem saying, “I look at myself as a regular catcher whether I’m on the bench or not.  Right now I’m in there because Brian has a sore elbow.  But there’s no question I’m going to play a lot.  I expect to be in more than 100 ball games.”

Essian played in 114 games, hit .273 with a .374 OBP, and added thirty extra base hits.  Downing was moved to California for the 1977 season, so Essian came into spring training in 1978 thinking for the first time that he was a starter for good.  Instead, manager Bob Lemon was unhappy with Essian’s attitude and slow start.  So, after first sending Essian to the dog house, the White Sox sent him along with Steve Renko to the Oakland A’s for reliever Pablo Torreabla.

Joe Goddard wrote about Essian’s error in judgment in The Sporting News.

Essian was deep in the doghouse but was not aware of it until too late.

“I think they were impatient with me.  I was taking my time, getting my arm into shape.  They wanted me to come along quicker,” said the Detroit native, who hit .273 with 10 home runs last season after wresting the No. 1 job from Brian Downing, now with the Angels.

Essian began tunnelling his own hole the first day of camp when he arrived late and said, “For the first time in my life, there’s no competition.”

Things got worse.  He missed a team bus for an exhibition, was charged with four passed balls while trying to flag down Wilbur Wood’s knuckleball and was chastised for pitch calling.  He was traded the day after six Royals stole bases while he was catching Wood again.

“The only time they talked to me about anything was after the passed balls with Wilbur,” he said.  “I don’t know anything about the rest.  It’s a joke.”

Manager Bob Lemon wasn’t laughing.  “Maybe some of the others who think they’ve got it made will wake up,” he said.

The Oakland As of the late 1970s were a team in turmoil.  Charles Finley had traded off all the players that made the team a perennial AL West champion earlier in the decade.  This period was marked by regular trades and unhappy managers.  Many had issues with young Stanley Burrell (later known as MC Hammer) feeding information about the game to Finley, who would then use the information to chew out managers.  Bobby Winkles grew tired of it and two months into the 1978 season just quit.  In June of 1978, high school graduate Mike Morgan was given a chance to pitch just a week after his graduation.  Players were swapped all over the field (outfielder Miguel Dilone played third base once, making two errors to lose a game; Essian played second base once).  Also, instead of huge happy crowds, the attendance in Oakland was barely a half million.

Essian, now eligible for salary arbitration, won two cases increasing his salary from $40,000 in 1976 to $125,000 by 1980.  Essian was a regular catcher for the A’s, though his batting average and power numbers fell playing in the Oakland Coliseum.  Oakland added other catchers, like Mike Heath and Jeff Newman, and the regular nicks of the job started adding up, too.  He missed part of spring training in 1979 due to a fractured pinky finger.  Then, Essian missed time after a Lou Whitaker foul ball fractured another finger.  In 1980, it was back spasms.  Trying to get him in the lineup, Essian once played third base when Wayne Gross was injured, too.  His lone highlight was likely hitting an inside-the-park grand slam – helped when his former minor league all-star teammate, Otto Velez, chased a liner and stepped on the ball, twisting his knee. Velez couldn’t chase down the ball, and Essian circled the bases.  A strange lowlight?  Essian hit a liner that Carl Yastrzemski caught against the Green Monster – and broke a rib, ending Yaz’s 1980 season.  He also injured Alvis Woods – Woods charged the mound after being hit by a Rick Langford pitch and Essian tackled Woods when Woods tried to charge the mound.

By the end of the 1980 season, Essian figured he would be traded.  Instead, he signed a four-year, $1,000,000 deal with the Chicago White Sox to be their regular catcher.  Bill Veeck said that trading away Essian in 1978 was “the worst trade he ever made…” – now he was back.  Thinking he would be the Sox starter, Essian became the backup when Chicago landed another free agent catcher: Carlton Fisk.  Bob Markus wrote about Essian’s feelings at the time:

Essian, who said at first he would rather the White Sox did not get Fisk, changed his mind by the time it became apparent they were in the running for him.

“Selfishly, I’d like to catch all the games, but I wont be selfish about it.  Anyone will tell you they’ll be glad to have Fisk here and I feel the same way.  I’m not disappointed, and the pitchers have to love it.  It gives them a great bat in the lineup.”

Instead of starting, Essian appeared in only 27 games, getting to bat 52 times.

Essian’s willingness to say what he thought got the better of him a second time when he revealed that most of the Oakland A’s starting rotation threw spitballs in 1980.  Essian claimed that Matt Keough used Vaseline, hiding it in his glove and mitt, while Langford, Mike Norris, and Steve McCatty used sweat or spit.  When Essian tried to visit old teammates in the A’s clubhouse in a 1981 game, the pitchers wanted nothing to do with him.  Keough said, “When a man’s an accomplice in a bank robbery, he isn’t qualified to be called to the stand as a character witness.”

After 1981, Essian was dealt to Seattle, along with Todd Cruz and Rod Allen, for Tom Paciorek.  That season was derailed when Mike Hargrove ran over Essian in a play at the plate, breaking an ankle.  The Indians picked up the veteran catcher where he mostly sat on the bench, until Pat Corrales took over managing the team and gave Essian a chance to play.  He returned to Oakland in 1984, broke his hand and missed more than month, and was eventually released.

His playing days about done, Essian signed a deal with an independent Miami Marlins team where he eventually took over as the team’s manager.  The Cubs picked him up to be a coach and manager in the minors, and when Jim Frey gave Don Zimmer the boot after a slow start in 1991, Essian got the job as top man for the Cubs.  In over his head, Essian changed over coaches (Richie Zisk took over as the batting coach, Billy Connors came in to work with pitchers), used 17 lineups in 21 days, sent starter Rick Sutcliffe to the bullpen for a short while, and watched as the morale disappeared – by the end of the season, Shawon Dunston, Damon Berryhill, and Jerome Walton all demanded trades.  Everyone got fired at the end of the year.  As to Essian’s skill as a manager, former Cub Bill Madlock used Essian as an example as to why more blacks should be managers.  Saying Herzog was the best manager and Essian was the worst, Madlock noted, “There’s a whole lot of us (meaning African-Americans) that could fall between those two.  If Essian gets a job, we should all get jobs.”

Essian’s years in professional baseball ended soon after – the Cubs used him as a scout in 1992, and he was once named manager of an independent team in 1995.

Sources:

Jim Essian Page on Retrosheet.org

Jim Essian Pages on Baseball-Reference.com
(majors)
(minors)

Holtzman, Jerome. “Essian Doing Super Job as Chisox Sub Catcher”, The Sporting News, June 26, 1976, Page 8.

Dozer Richard. “Essian’s Bat Kindles Chisox Spurt”, The Sporting News, May 7 1977, Page 14.

“Class A Leagues (notes)”, The Sporting News, 5/23/70, Page 48.

“Pitchers Play Dominant Role in Playoff Drama”, The Sporting News, 9/18/71, Page 43.

“Eastern League Notes (13 Lucky for Essian)”, The Sporting News, 5/26/1973, Page 39.

“Ruthven Trying to Locate Missing Curve in Florida”, The Sporting News, 10/27/1973, Page 22.

Kelly, Ray. “Phil Foe Getting Big Jolt from Anderson’s Hot Bat”, The Sporting News, 4/13/1974, Page 18.

Kelly, Ray. “Phils Welcome a ‘Different’ Dick Allen”, The Sporting News, 5/24/1975.

Dozer, Richard. “A Chisox Riddle: Why Essian Rides Bench”, The Sporting News, 7/26/75, Page 16.

Dozer, Richard . “11-Walk, No-Hit Combo: Blue Moon, Barrios”, The Sporting News, 8/14/76, Page 9.

Henneman, Jim. “Singleton’s Once-Dead Bat Now Buries Rivals”, The Sporting News, 9/4/76, Page 7.

Dozer, Richard. “Speedy Bannister Earns Chisox Post”, The Sporting News, 4/30/77, Page 10.

Dozer, Richard. “Bell, Sox’ Choice Prospect, Out for Season”, The Sporting News, 7/16/77, Page 13.

Holtzman, Jerome. “Winds of Victory Turn on White Sox Fans”, The Sporting News, 8/20/77, Page 13.

Goddard, Joe. “White Sox Left With Raw Receivers”, The Sporting News, 4/15/78, Page 20.

Weir, Tom. “Heaverlo Sits, Ponders His Standing With A’s”, The Sporting News, 12/9/1978, Page 34.

Weir, Tom. “Cupboard Bare, Finley Tells Page”, The Sporting News, 3/24/79, Page 46.

Chass, Murray. “Finley Suffers 5-0 Shutout in Pay Arbitration Clashes”, The Sporting News, 3/31/79, Page 36.

Weir, Tom. “Generous Portion of Rehash Likley when A’s Go to Dish”, The Sporting News, 4/7/79, Page 26.

Weir, Tom. “Kid Henderson Man of Month in Oakland”, The Sporting News, 8/4/79, Page 19.

Gammons, Peter. “AL Beat”, The Sporting News, 10/25/1980, Page 21.

Markus, Bob. “White Sox Play the Role of High-Rollers”, The Sporting News, 12/13/1980, Page 39.

Markus, Bob. “Fisk Gives White Sox Heady Feeling”, The Sporting News, 3/28/81, Page 18.

Gammons, Peter. “No More Clowns in Ranger Infield”, The Sporting News, 5/16/1981, Page 11.

“Insiders Say”, The Sporting News, 6/20/81, Page 10.

Chass, Murray. “10 Pass Up Free Agency for Huge Jackpots”, The Sporting News, 11/28/81, Page 54.

“Essian Gets Chance As Regular Catcher”, The Sporting News, 1-30-82, Page 57.

Pluto, Terry. “AL EAST NOTES”, The Sporting News, 1/31/1983, Pages 40 – 41.

Ocker, Sheldon. “Bernazard Solves One Tribe Woe”, The Sporting News, 12/19/83, Page 41.

Goddard, Joe. “Cubs Notes”, The Sporting News, 6/1, 1991, Page 15

Goddard, Joe. “Cubs Notes”, The Sporting News, 6/10/91, Page 15.

Goddard, Joe. “Cubs Notes”, The Sporting News, 6/24/91, Page 17.

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Lave Cross on William “Dummy” Hoy

Staying up late during an IT deployment, I logged into NewspaperArchive.com – an interesting collection of American history – and found this baseball nugget:

“‘Dummy’ Hoy introduced many curious and wonderful innovations into the game in his day,” says Lave Cross. “He was playing in center field for Cincinnati one afternoon when our old St. Louis team was there for a series. In the first inning, the man ahead of me in the batting order sent a long, low fly to Hoy, which he caught after a hard run, and we all noticed that he held the ball for a long time after it was in his hands.

“When the ball finally came back the pitcher picked it up carefully, looked at it as if he were searching for something, and then gave me two low incurves [SIC], at which I made futile swings.

“Out of sheer curiosity I stepped on the plate and asked to see the ball. The catcher handed it over, and there on its new white surface was scratched in Hoy’s well-known hand:

“‘Low in-curve.’

“The pitcher had followed ‘Dummy’s’ tip and had me 2-0. And even then Hoy had not exhausted his ingenuity, for he lifted his hands and gave (Billy) Rhines a sign signal which I interpreted as meaning ‘fast one straight across’, but which really was ‘slow one,’ and I struck out, greatly [to] Hoy’s delight.”

— “The Sports Tell Stories.” The Muskogee (OK) Democrat, 3 February 1905, Pg. 6.

This can’t be totally accurate…  Rhines and Hoy were teammates on Cincinnati for the 1895, 1896, and 1897 seasons.  At that time, Lave was a member of the Phillies – he wouldn’t join St. Louis until the following season.  That’s a harmless memory lapse…  Then you start wondering about the rest…  “Scratched in Hoy’s well-known hand…” – makes you think that he was regularly putting instructions on the ball.  Granted – Hoy’s inability to speak meant that he was constantly writing (when not signing to teammates who would learn sign language) – but can you imagine being able to scratch on the ball the way one writes?  Maybe it was three letters L I C.  I totally believe that Hoy would send signals to his pitcher.  The little I have read about Hoy said he was a complete student of the game – without the ability to hear, he may have been extra observant of other things that would give him or his teammates an additional edge from time to time.  It helped him stay in baseball as a productive player into his 40s.  He retired not because he couldn’t play, but because the Los Angeles Loo Loos (Pacific Coast League) wanted to cut his salary and Hoy, who had amassed a reasonable fortune through shrewd investments, could choose to do whatever he wanted (he bought a dairy farm).

Other notes…

Lave Cross is very nearly qualified to be a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Look up his record – it’s really not shabby.  He was a very good player on a number of good teams – and extremely hard to strike out.  Over a five year period (1898 to 1902) the most he struck out in a season was eight times – Eight!  (Ike Futch could appreciate that.)  You could argue that he was one of the two or three best third baseman of the period and had the rather unique record for having played on all four Philadelphia entrants in the majors (American Association, Player’s League, National League, and American League).

I’ve scribbled a few notes about Dummy Hoy before – as a member of the Society of American Baseball Research, we get to vote annually about the most overlooked star of the 1800s, and I always vote for Hoy.  One day, Hoy may wind up in the Hall of Fame.

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Baseball 365 – January 19th in History

Birth Announcements:

(1888) Chick Gandil

Member of the Black Sox – career ended in infamy.

(1903) Merle (Lefty) Settlemire

(1935) Fred (Squeaky) Valentine

Fred Valentine was an outfielder with Baltimore and Washington in the 1960s – had a decent season in 1966, batting .276 with some power and 22 stolen bases, but didn’t maintain that level of production and disappeared after 1968.  Of course, by the time Valentine got regular playing time, he was in his 30s – he was a victim of the racism of the period, which limited opportunities unless he hit like Willie or Hank.

Baltimore drafted Valentine as an infielder out of Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State) having chosen baseball over football because there were no black quarterbacks in the NFL in the late 1950s.  However, the Orioles had Brooks Robinson and Luis Aparicio – so he moved to the outfield.

Ted Leavengood wrote an excellent biography of Valentine for the Society of American Baseball Research – give it a read.

(1948) Ken Frailing

Cubs/White Sox prospect that never really panned out.

(1950) Jon Matlack

Mets pitcher, and a good one, in the middle 1970s.

(1954) Rich Gale

Royals starter (and, later, other teams) during the playoff runs in 1978 and 1980, won 14 games as a rookie, then 13 more in 1980.  In 1978, despite going 14 – 8, walked 100 batters while striking out just 88…

(1962) Chris Sabo

Reds and Orioles third baseman – injuries clipped what started off as potentially a solid career.

(1966) Anthony Young

Owner of one of the longest losing streaks you might ever see – and yet he didn’t really deserve it.  A pretty good pitcher on some awful teams.

(1974) Amaury Telemaco

I saw Telemaco pitch while he was in Class A Daytona about 20 years ago.  He looked like he was going to be a dominating pitcher – reminded me of Joaquin Andujar with his presence on the mound.  A couple of years later, he was with the Cubs and he bounced around the majors and minors for the better part of ten years.  I rooted for him, but that apparently wasn’t helping.

Obituaries:

(1900) Marty Bergen

Bergen was a catcher for Boston in the late 1890s, and a pretty good one.  He also suffered from some form of mental illness, possibly schizophrenia or manic depression.  Artciles written at the time of his death talked about how he frequently left the team and suggested that he regularly felt like teammates were out to get him.  Bergen even feared his family doctor was trying to kill him.  His teammates and managers tolerated his moods because he was a great player – finally manager Frank Selee admitted that after the 1899 season he would eventually have to let his star catcher go.  Bergen’s son died while on a road trip – and an already fragile mind became intolerably so.  Bergen’s death was a complete tragedy – he used an axe to murder his wife and two remaining children then slit his own throat.

“Bergen Tragedy.” The Sporting News, 1/27/1900, Pg. 3.

(1938) Wild Bill Everitt

Third baseman and first baseman with Chicago in the NL during the first century of baseball, was released for his lack of power and wound up in the new American League by joining Washington in 1901.  Hit .376 in the Western League, earning a draft call from Chicago, then hit .358 as a rookie with the Colts.  A collision while running the bases ruined his throwing shoulder – but Anson’s retirement after the 1897 season meant that Everitt could move to first base and his arm would be less of a problem.  In 1898, he would set a major league record – most at bats by a first baseman without hitting a single homer.  Hit .317 in his major league career before returning to the minors as both a player and later a manager.  Owned his own grocery store and other businesses in his Denver home before being called to the great field in the sky.

(Summary adapted from David Nemec’s Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871 – 1900, Bison Books, 2011)

(1987) George Selkirk

Nicknamed “Twinkletoes” by Ernest Lanigan because, as a Jersey City outfielder, he learned to run on his toes… Selkirk was the guy who replaced Babe Ruth in right field for the Yankees.  He even wore his number.  Obviously, Selkirk was no Babe Ruth, but he was a regular for much of the next six full seasons.  He cleared .300 on five occasions, hitting between 11 and 21 homers in his full seasons, and twice driving in more than 100 runs.  Selkirk’s career ended as World War II was taking players out of the majors.  Even though Selkirk was Canadian, he served in the US Navy.  Selkirk returned from the war and took up coaching and eventually moved into the front office.  He was a player personnel director for Kansas City and Baltimore (at a time the Yankees made a lot of trades with both Kansas City and Baltimore…).  In 1962, he became a general manager for the Washington Senators.

I see a future writing project for me…

(2013) Earl Weaver

Pitching, defense, and three-run homers.

(2013) Stan Musial

Not as exciting as Willie Mays but every bit as important to his team.

(2013) Milt Bolling

When the two Hall of Famers passed away on the same day in 2013, few paid attention to the other guy who also died that day.

Milt Bolling was a southern born infielder mostly with the Red Sox during the 1950s.  As his career wound down – he wasn’t much of a hitter – he got to play in the same infield as his brother, Frank, in Detroit.  Milt’s career as a player ended, but for years he was an assistant to Tom Yawkey, and then an area scout based in his home of Mobile.

You Should Have Been There!!!

Haven’t found any events we missed on this date.  Still looking.

Transactions:

(1931) The PCL’s Oakland Oaks traded C Ernie Lombardi to Brooklyn for C Hank DeBerry and INF Eddie Moore.  Lombardi would go on to have a Hall of Fame career.

(1943) Boston releases Paul Waner.  He wasn’t done, though – Waner signed with Brooklyn and even pinch hit ten times for the Yankees before he was done in 1945.

(1961) Cleveland released Don Newcombe.  He was done, sadly.

(1983) Los Angeles trades Ron Cey to Chicago for Dan Cataline and Vance Lovelace.  Cey would help Chicago win the 1984 NL East.

(2004) Houston signs free agent Roger Clemens.

(2007) Atlanta trades Adam LaRoche and Jamie Romak to Pittsburgh for Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge.

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Baseball 365 – April 10th in History

Birth Announcements:

(1897) Ross Youngs

Youngs is one of the least known Hall of Famers – a very good right fielder for the Giants who hit over .300 in nine of his ten major league seasons and played in four World Series.  He died due to a kidney disorder at 30.

His stats suggest that he was a hitter in the mold of Tim Raines, without the high stolen base totals.  He’d usually hit about 30 doubles, get double digits in triples, and throw in about 60 – 70 walks, which meant very high on base percentages.  He stole 153 bases in his ten years.  John McGraw says he was the best outfielder he ever saw, and the Veteran’s Committee added him to the Hall in 1972 at a time any old player with a batting average over .300 was being added, especially old Giants players.  As such, if he were playing today, he’d probably never make it to the Hall of Fame.

(1906) Dr. Howdy Groskloss

Howdy had a brief career with the Pirates about 75 years ago, then gave up baseball to be a doctor and eventually wound up one of the early leaders of the University of Miami’s medical school.

(1921) Chuck Connors

Outfielder who was a much more famous movie and television star…

(1930) Frank Lary – The Yankee Killer

(1946) Leroy Stanton

(1946) Bob Watson

One of my favorite old Astros…  Hitting in the Astrodome murdered his statistics, but he was a very competent hitter for a long time.  Rarely an all star (just twice – he was never going to supplant Mays, Aaron or Billy Williams when he was an outfielder and he moved to first base when Steve Garvey was getting all the votes), and it took a couple of years to get his major league career on track, Watson was still hitting over .300 as he hit his mid-30s and was sent to Boston and New York.  Making the post-season with the Yanks, he hit over .300 in both the LCS and World Series.

(1950) Ken Griffey, Sr.

His son was a better player, but this Ken Griffey was a member of the Big Red Machine and played in more post-seasons.

(1982) Andre Ethier

(1985) Clayton Mortensen

Obituaries:

(1882) William Hulbert

Hulbert is most famous for being the first commissioner of the National League.

(1956) Ginger Beaumont

Beaumont was an outfielder and leadoff hitter for the early 1900s Pirates.  He led the NL in hits on four different occasions and topped the league in runs scored and batting average once each.  The first batter in a World Series game was Beaumont – he flied out against Cy Young in the 1903 series against Boston.  By 1910, his wheels were a problem, but the Cubs picked him up as a fourth outfielder and got into a second World Series as a pinch hitter for Chicago.

(1984) Karl Spooner

Karl Spooner was a Dodger prospect at the same time as Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.  Unfortunately, his knee went bad and that affected his shoulder, and the rest is history.

(1995) Billy Myers

You should have been there!

(1962) Dodger Stadium opens in Chavez Ravine.  With more than 52,000 in attendance, the Dodgers lose to Cincinnati, 6 – 3.

The same day, the Houston Colt-45s begin with a 11 – 2 win over the Cubs.

(1973) John Mayberry’s homer keys a rout as the Royals top Texas in the first game played at Royals Stadium.

Transactions:

(1947) Jackie Robinson signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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