Category Archives: Baseball History

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: 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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Mighty Casey Retro-Bio: Arnold “Jug” Thesenga

Arnold Thesenga was an historical footnote in a summer baseball story at the time Yohan Pino joined the Minnesota Twins and made his first start. Pino would set a record of sorts, becoming the oldest player to make his first start for the Twins or Washington Senators in the 114-year history of the franchise. Pino, at 30 years and 175 days old, topped the record held by Thesenga who was about 50 days younger when he faced the Yankees on September 2, 1944.

Who the heck is Arnold Thesenga?

Arnold “Jug” Thesenga was a replacement player – someone who got a gig with a major league team during World War II because so many other players were off to war.

Thesenga was born on April 27, 1914 in Jefferson, South Dakota. A good athlete, the high school letterman would go to Southern Normal School in Springfield (later known as The University of South Dakota at Springfield) where he played football and baseball. Upon graduation, he signed to pitch for Sioux City in the Western League, an A level league where he showed a little promise. Thesenga was then recruited to the Philadelphia A’s by Connie Mack where he got to pitch batting practice for a few weeks. Mack decided Thesenga needed more seasoning, so he was sent back to the Western League. However, Thesenga bounced around for a couple of years and after the 1939 season decided he was done with the bush leagues. He became a tool and die worker, settling in Wichita where he could work in the defense industry and play semi-pro baseball on the side.

Thesenga’s teams were good enough to play in the National Baseball Congress championships in Wichita on several occasions – he was so good during the early 1940s that he won more games at NBC tournaments than any other player in its history, and appeared in nine different tournaments. He is a member of the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame and a 1995 inductee to the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame. There is a sculpture recognizing his accomplishments at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita.

It was while pitching in the 1944 NBC World Series that a baseball scout signed Thesenga to a $2500 contract to finish the season for the Senators. Put on a plane immediately, Thesenga said he was sick to his stomach for the duration of the flight, he flew to New York and faced the Yankees. Allowing five hits and eight walks, the Senator defense held steady enough to hold the Yankees to just two earned runs. The Yankees pulled ahead later, but Washington rallied to win the game. Thesenga didn’t get a decision.

Thesenga appeared in four more outings, all in relief, before the season came to an end – and Thesenga’s career. He returned to Wichita, didn’t take up Washington’s invitation to spring training, and instead stayed involved in local semi-pro baseball programs for the rest of his life. Thesenga passed to the next stadium on December 3, 2002.

Sources:

Rives, Bob. “Baseball in Wichita”. 2004, Arcadia Publishing.

Cleve, Craig Allen. “Baseball on the Home Front: Major League Replacement Players of World War II”, 2004. McFarland Publishing, Pages 171, 172.

Berardino, Mike. “Yohan Pino will be oldest Twins starter to make major league debut”, Pioneer Press. 6/18/2014

Baseball Reference (Website)
http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/theseju01.shtml

Retrosheet (Website)
http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/T/Pthesj101.htm

National Baseball Congress (Website)
http://www.nbcbaseball.com/nbchof.html

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Happy Birthday, Ed Winceniak

Ed Winceniak was a quick and agile defensive shortstop who lost three years of his prime to the Korean War, and, as a middle infielder in the Cubs chain in the 1950s, was destined to watch as Ernie Banks and Gene Baker got all the playing time.

Born on 16 April 1929, Winceniak, like many a good man of Polish descent, grew up in Chicago and graduated from Bowen High School.  The Cubs signed him in 1948 and dispatched him to the low minors – teams like Hutchinson/Springfield, Visalia, and Rock Hill.  There, Winceniak showed good range, was quick on the double play, but wasn’t necessarily a top notch hitter.  He did hob-nob with some decent coaches and ball players.  His manager at Visalia was Claude Passeau, former Cubs pitcher, and he moved through the farm system with future major leaguers Dusty Rhodes and Jim Fanning, among others.  In addition to his fielding skills, Winceniak was known for his dependability.  In both Visalia and Rock Hill, he played every inning of every game.

In 1950, however, the United States was getting involved in another war – this one in Korea – and Winceniak joined the military, missing three years.  When he returned after the 1953 season, the Cubs gave him a second chance and dispatched Winceniak to Des Moines in the Western League for 1954.  Something clicked there, Wenceniak continued to play good defense, especially turning two, and for three months his batting average hovered around the .330 mark (good for a top five batting average) before falling back to .280 when the season ended.

Still, it was a fine season.  Winceniak was voted by the managers of the Western League to a spot on the all-star team, and on the night he was notified of his award, he showed he earned the spot.  Per a blurb in The Sporting News,  “Shortstop Ed Winceniak of the Bruins backed the judgment of his supporters that evening when, with his team trailing, 2 to 1, he blasted a two-run homer in the ninth inning to defeat Omaha, 3 to 2.  The blow enabled Hy Cohen, who was also named to the star team, to notch his fifteenth victory.”  When the season was done, Winceniak was voted Most Valuable Player by his teammates, earning 16 of the 21 votes cast.

Winceniak was invited to spring training in 1955 but was sent to Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League instead, showing the same fielding skills – adept at the double play – and a little power, if not a high batting average.  Winceniak earned another spring training invitation and made the Cubs out of camp as a backup infielder.

Wearing number 12, Winceniak got in a few contests in 1956, but was dispatched to Havana briefly at the roster cutting deadline.  The Cubs actually were planning to keep Winceniak around a little longer, but found out that Owen Friend needed another ten days of major league service to qualify for a pension.  So, the Cubs sent Winceniak to Cuba until Friend had enough days on the roster.  Then they swapped Friend for Winceniak thirteen days later.

His days with the Cubs wouldn’t last much longer, though – he was sent to St. Paul in the American Association where he had a fine season, hitting .273 with a little pop.  Once again, Winceniak earned a trip to spring training and stayed with the Cubs in April and early May while Ernie Banks nursed a small injury.  Playing in a doubleheader on May 12th, Winceniak hit his first major league homer off of Hal Jeffcoat, then singled in the nightcap – giving him three hits in six trips for the two games.

They were his last two games of his major league career.

Instead, the Cubs got Banks back and gave the next shot to other younger infielders.  Winceniak was dispatched to Portland for the remainder of the season.  Winceniak kept playing in the PCL, staying in Portland in 1958, then being bought by Denver for the 1959 season.  Half-way through that season, Winceniak found himself in Seattle.  When the 1959 season ended, so did Winceniak’s baseball career.

According to the book “Baseball Players of the 1950s”, which has biographical sketches of every player who played during that decade, Winceniak returned home with his wife and took a position with the Republic Steel Corporation for the next 25 years.  In his summers, he would scout some for the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos.  After a stint with Dekker Electric company, he retired in 1993 and still lives in Chicago today.

Sources:

The Sporting News:

Hoffman, John C. “Bruin Bosses Have Fall Preview of Spring-Daisy Chain Prospects.” The Sporting News, September 29, 1954, Page 24.

Western League Notes – The Sporting News, September 15, 1954, Page 37.

Hoffman, John C. “Bring-’Em-Up Wid Giving Cubs Different Look for Next Season.” The Sporting News, October 20, 1954, Page 16.

“A Friend-ly Gesture.” The Sporting News, June 6, 1956, Page 17.

Books Containing Biographical Information include:

1949 California League Gold Book
Baseball Players of the 1950s

Baseball Digest Scouting Reports:

March, 1956, Page 34
March, 1957, Page 33

Websites:

Retrosheet.org
Baseball-Reference.com

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