Category Archives: Baseball History

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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Happy Birthday, Ben Tincup!

A baseball lifer, Austin Ben Tincup spent fifty years playing and teaching baseball to thousands of kids all over the country – but not before he became the first Native American from Oklahoma to make it to the big leagues.

In doing the research, I found four different birthdays listed for Ben.  A couple of places, including FindaGrave.com and the Baseball-Reference.com Bullpen biography of Tincup, show his birthday as December 14, 1890.  Baseball-Reference.com has a main player page and a minor league player page for Tincup, too.  Those show April 14, 1893.  His obituary and his grave stone in Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulsa, OK says his birth year is 1894.  (You’d think that the findagrave.com mini-bio would want their data to match the picture, right?)  SABR and Retrosheet.org, as well as the database I use for compiling this data, say 1893.  Let’s go with that one…

Tincup was born on April 14th, we’re pretty sure, to James and Lucinda (Vance) Tincup.  A TSN article listed Ben’s birthplace as Sherman, TX, but other sources say Adair, OK.  (I’m tempted to go with Adair, mostly because the TSN writer probably read that Tincup came from Sherman when he joined the Phillies, but that was his minor league city and not his birthplace.)  Not long out of school, Tincup was signed to pitch for Muskogee in the Oklahoma State League, the first professional team to operate in Muskogee.  By the end of the 1912 season, though, he had been shifted to Sherman in the Texas-Oklahoma League.  He stayed in Sherman for 1913, figured things out, and won his last fourteen starts.

The winning streak got him noticed, and the Philadelphia Phillies brought him out for spring training to see how he’d fare.  Before long, the young Cherokee Indian was making relief appearances in May and June.  In July, he was given his first major league start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Tincup pitched a masterful game, winning 1 – 0, and holding the Pirates to just five hits – three of them by Honus Wagner.

Tincup became a bit of a celebrity and the newspapers called him The Millionaire Indian, one of many landowners who got rich when oil was found on a number of large farms in Oklahoma.  Ben countered, however, that the writers missed their mark.  “The stories were only half right,” said Tincup.  “I’m 100 percent Cherokee Indian and I own 500 acres of Oklahoma land.  But I’m the Indian who owns land where they didn’t find oil.”

Among the first Native Americans not nicknamed “Chief”, Tincup won two other games by shutouts: a 1 – 0 blanking of St. Louis and a 2 – 0 win over the Pirates.  However, he mixed in a few rougher outings, including a 13 – 5 loss to Brooklyn and 12 – 3 loss to Boston.  When the year was out, he finished 8 – 10 as the third starter on the roster.

However, the fourth starter was lefty Eppa Rixey, a fine thrower out of the University of Virginia.  Rixey roomed with Tincup for a year while the rookies found their way through the league.  In 1915, Rixey made the step forward, joining Grover Cleveland Alexander and Erskine Meyer and New York Giant import Al Demaree.  The new rotation helped propel the Phillies to their first pennant in 1915.  Tincup was reduced to a marginal reliever, making just ten appearances, and hardly contributing to the 1915 National League championship.  In fact, Tincup was voted just a half-share of the team’s post-season take.

The Phillies chose to dispatch Tincup to the minors for a little more seasoning.  In 1916, Tincup went 16 – 11 for Providence in the International League.  Moved to Little Rock in 1917, Tincup threw a perfect game against Birmingham in the Southern Association.  He kept a ball and the press clippings for years – the ball finally being donated to the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, OK.

St. Louis claimed Tincup for the 1918 season, but the National Association ruled that Tincup still belonged to the Phillies, who called him up for a few outings.  Tincup decided to retire and went off to join other Americans in the US Army who were fighting in Europe during the first World War.

When he came back in 1919, he was declared a free agent.  Bill Neal, who had scouted and signed Tincup for Philadelphia, was now associated with the Louisville Colonels in the American Association.  Neal signed Tincup for more money than he might have made with the Phillies – and Tincup became a minor league lifer.  For the next twelve seasons, Tincup was a regular starter and later a reliever for the Colonels.  He won 20 twice; the first time he went 20 – 14 in 1922, and two years later he won 24 games.  And he could hit, too.  One year, he played left field when he wasn’t pitching and wound up hitting .331 with 16 doubles, 16 triples, and eight homers.  He missed the batting crown by four points.  However, the next season manager Joe McCarthy and Tincup decided pitching was the right thing to do – and Tincup only played the outfield in emergencies.

The 1921 team won the American Association and challenged Baltimore in the Little World Series, a battle between the top minor league teams.  Louisville won, in part, behind the pitching of Tincup.  Tincup outdueled Lefty Grove to put Louisville in charge of the series.

In 1922, Harry Davis, the old Athletics first baseman, was sent to scout the team.  He was looking at two players, Brewers outfielder Al Simmons and Colonels outfielder Earle Combs.  Davis asked Tincup to really bear down on Simmons to see what he could do.

“I brushed Al back with a high, inside pitch.  I had plenty on it, believe me,” said Tincup.  “I wanted to scare Simmons, but he didn’t scare at all.  Instead, he just just dug in and dared me to come back with the same pitch.  I did.  He didn’t move an inch.  The next ball was a dandy curve.  Simmons whacked it over the first baseman’s head for a triple.  I figured he just had beginner’s luck.  The next time he came up he lined a double to left…  Some time later I read that Simmons had been sold to the Athletics for $100,000.  I wasn’t surprised.  When I saw Davis later, I told him that I had helped ‘sell’ Simmons to the A’s the day I pitched to him.  Davis had a smart comeback.  ‘You’re right, Ben.  But I made a mistake.  The day we bought Simmons, we also should have bought Combs.’”

Combs signed with the Yankees – and years later, well after he was done playing, Tincup would join the Yankees, too.

In the winters, Tincup would play ball in Cuba.  The 1925 Marianaos Gray Monks may have been the best team of his generation, featuring players such as Freddy Fitzsimmons, Jess Petty, Otto Krueger, Mike Griffen, Charlie Dressen, Eddie Brown, Mark Koenig, Walter Christensen, Tiny Chaplin, Bill Burwell, and Jim Cooney.  Some of those names we still recognize today – others, we’d probably have to look up.

Toward the end of his Louisville career, Joe McCarthy was with the Cubs – he needed a temporary reliever.  He called for Ben Tincup, who got a couple more appearances in the majors.  Then, he was returned to Louisville.  As he got older, Tincup left the rotation and became a quality reliever.  According to a TSN article:

“Manager Allan Sothoron this spring decided that the veteran redskin could best serve his team in the role of relief chucker, and in this capacity Ben has proved invincible.”  He would finish the season 14 – 3 in relief, and another article claimed that he “…saved approximately 13 games, for which other pitchers received credit.”  Jerome Holtzman hadn’t yet coined the term “Saves.”

1930 was Tincup’s last hurrah.  He had a rough year (7 – 16) in 1929 and was given a pay cut.  After 1930, he wanted a raise and Louisville ownership didn’t agree.  Before long, Tincup was cut and scooped up by Minneapolis.  The next year, Tincup was pitching in Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League, but he was pretty much done as a pitcher.

Instead, he was signed as an umpire by the American Association – a job that barely lasted two months.  Per a blurb in TSN:

“Ben Tincup, veteran Indian pitcher formerly with Louisville, has been released as an umpire in the American Association by President Thomas J. Hickey.  Tincup made his debut as an arbiter this season, but there were so many complaints over his decisions on balls and strikes that his release resulted.”

He went back to his farm in Oklahoma for the next three years.

However, guys who knew Tincup needed scouts and coaches – and Tincup was hired by the Cincinnati Reds to manage their farm team in Paducah, a member of the Kitty League.  In his first season, Tincup led Paducah to a first-half crown and a trip to the playoffs.  However, Tincup argued that two pitchers that helped Union City to a second half crown should have been ineligible.  When that protest failed, he began to lose favor with his Paducah owner, B.B. Hook.  Tincup next complained that he had to play night games in Union City, when his team only played day games at home.  That, too, failed.

So, Tincup told his team to play but he was going to stay home to protest the league’s decisions.  After Paducah lost to Larry Irvin (one of two players Tincup felt should not have been eligible to pitch) and Union City in that first game, seven other players decided to side with Tincup.  The series was forfeited to Union City and National Association President W. B. Bramham chose to put Tincup and the seven players on the ineligible list.  That ban lasted about four months, and Tincup was signed to manage a different Reds farm team, this one in Peoria, Illinois.

While there, Tincup traded for a pitcher who had been successful for him in Paducah, Gene “Junior” Thompson.  Thompson was the ace of the Peoria staff and the Reds soon promoted him to the big league team where Junior (he hated that nickname) helped the Reds win the 1940 National League Pennant.  Thompson’s ascent and Tincup’s role in his development earned Tincup the reputation as someone who could mold young pitchers.

Tincup was a proponent of throwing strikes, saying that the biggest problem young pitchers have is not being willing to hit the catcher’s glove.  “They’re so scared somebody is going to get a base hit they throw all around the target but seldom at it,” said Tincup.  “What they don’t realize is that even when you put across a perfect strike with nothing on it, the batter won’t hit it safely more than three times out of ten.  That’s proved in batting practice.”

By 1938, he was taken by Larry McPhail from Cincinnati to Brooklyn to become a roving pitching instructor and coach.  In 1939, young kids would have seen an advertisement for a California baseball camp where young ballplayers could learn from coaches like Leo Durocher, Charlie Dressen, Bill Killefer, and Ben Tincup.  On the other hand, some things from his minor league days didn’t go away as quickly.  Tincup earned a fine in his last days managing Paducah in 1936.  When he tried to step on the field as a coach in 1940, the league told him he had a $10 fine due and Kennesaw Mountain Landis wouldn’t let him on the field unless he paid that fine.  A wire was sent, and Tincup was allowed to coach.

After two more seasons as a coach, Tincup took a short hiatus to join the war effort for World War II – this time helping build boats on the docks of the Ohio River at Jeffersonville.  During that time, he ran into an old friend – Ray Kennedy.  Kennedy was Tincup’s catcher when Tincup tossed that perfect game in 1917 for Little Rock.  Now, Kennedy was the General Manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Kennedy knew a few people – and by 1946, when the war was over, Tincup was a scout for the Boston Braves.

Tincup’s scouting and coaching career meant he went all over the place for a bunch of different teams.  He left Boston to join the Pirates.  Roy Hamey had brought him into the Pirates organization, and when he left for the Yankees, he took Tincup with him there, and then to the Phillies.  “We had him traveling around the farm clubs and working with the pitchers,” said Hamey.  “He helped fellows like Bob Friend and Vernon Law so much that when I moved over to the Yankees, I talked George Weiss into bringing him to New York.  He did such a good job with the Yanks that I had a tough time getting him for the Phils.  But I told Weiss I needed him worse than the Yankees did, so George turned him over to me.”

During his time with the Phillies, a prized prospect was a young Yaqui Indian out of Arizona named Phil Ortega.  Hamey assigned Tincup to handle the negotiations, figuring that one Native American might be better able to relate to another Native American than the other scouts.  The Dodgers, however, countered with a bigger bonus check.  Buzzie Bavasi wired Hamey when he won.  “How dumb can you get,” Bavasi asked. “Don’t you know Ortega’s and Tincup’s tribes have been at war for 300 years?”

The Yankees got Tincup back when Ralph Houk, who had used Tincup as a pitching coach in the middle 1950s, asked for him to coach his 1961 squad.  Joe Falls wrote about it in the Detroit Free Press:  “The Yankees have signed Ben Tincup, a 73-year-old Cherokee, as their minor league pitching coach…  And this is the team that fired Casey Stengel because he was, at 70, too old.”

If Tincup was 73 in 1961, that would put his birth date at 1888…  Another option…  I don’t think so.

Anyway… Eventually baseball’s tribal elder called it a career and returned to the Tulsa area.  He was inducted into various Halls of Fame in Oklahoma, including those celebrating Native Americans in sports.  In 1980, he was staying at the very hotel in Claremore, the Will Rogers Hotel, where his perfect game baseball would have been on display.  Sometime in the night on July 5, 1980 Tincup was called to pitch on the great ball field in the sky.

Sources:

The Sporting News
“Finishing Second No Small Honor in A.A.” The Sporting News, Oct. 7, 1920, Page 5.
“Colonels Carry On and Never Say Die.” The Sporting News, July 14, 1921, Page 3.
“Didn’t Start A One But Has Won Seven.” The Sporting News, June 19, 1930, Page 4.
Williams, A. W. “Louisville Releases Tincup.” The Sporting News, July 30, 1931, Page 3.
“Ben Tincup New A.A. Umpire.” The Sporting News, January 19, 1933, Page 2.
“Tincup to Pilot Paducah” The Sporting News, March 26, 1936, Page 7.
“Bramham Punishes Paducah ‘Strikers’.” The Sporting News, September 24, 1936. Page 7.
“Long Arm of the Law.” The Sporting News, May 23, 1940, Page 3.
“Tincup Donates No-Hit Ball.” The Sporting News, April 10, 1941, Page 11.
“8-Game Streak Has Almendares Out in Front.” The Sporting News, November 17, 1948, Page 20.
The Sporting News, March 8, 1950, Page 14.
“Old-Time Ben Tincup Back; Gives Advice to Phils’ Kids.” The Sporting News, March 7, 1956, Page 33.
Notes, The Sporting News, January 1, 1961, Page 12.
Obituaries, The Sporting News, August 9, 1980, Page 50.
“Phils Forgot Tribal Wars When They Bid for Ortega.” The Sporting News, June 27, 1964, Page 26.

Obituary:
Claremore (OK) Progress (July 8, 1980)

Baseball Digest:
Bryson, Bill.  “The Indian Glove Call.” Baseball Digest, Feb 1964, Pages 67 – 73.
Levy, Sam.  “Simmons First Steps to Hall.” Baseball Digest, April, 1953, Pages 25 to 27.

Websites:

FindaGrave.com
Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org

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Happy Birthday, Dorsey Riddlemoser!

Dorsey Riddlemoser had a very brief major league career, making a single start in August, 1899 for the Washington Senators.  This was when the Senators were in their final season in the National League.  At that point, owner and National League President Nick Young knew the fate of Washington’s team – they were going to be contracted, along with the Cleveland Spiders and possibly two other teams (eventually, Baltimore and Louisville were also closed out).  In his outing, Riddlemoser got shelled – seven hits, four runs, giving up a couple of walks in two innings of work.

Riddlemoser was born 25 March 1875 and played sandlot and semi-pro ball in his hometown of Frederick, MD.  When not playing baseball, Riddlemoser worked as an assistant fireman and with the Union Foundry and Stove works plant.  Washington decided to give Riddlemoser, by then a reasonably accomplished local ballplayer a shot.

It may not have worked out there, but Riddlemoser was dispatched to the minors, hooking up with Allentown, PA.  There, he would pitch for a couple of years – in one game he faced a fellow Frederick pitcher named Dorsey Robinson who pitched for the Cuban X Giants.  The Giants won…

When his days as a player were over, Riddlemoser returned to his hometown where he was an active member of the Democratic Party.  He was frequently selected to be a delegate to various conventions – and the party rewarded him with various city appointments, the last being a twelve year run as the janitor for City Hall from 1931 to 1943.

Riddlemoser was a late bloomer as regards his family life.  He married Ruth Talmadge Riggs in 1925 – he was 50 at the time – and they soon had a son and daughter.  His son, Dorsey, Jr., graduated high school in 1943 and immediately entered the U.S. Navy where he was regularly promoted, making it to Sergeant and serving as a tailgunner on a B-29 Superfortress.  That plane flew a number of missions against Japanese locations in the South Pacific, but ran out of luck in May or June, 1945 while flying a mission over Tinian in the Marianas.  The younger Dorsey’s grave is with his fellow airmen in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.

As for the original Dorsey Lee Riddlemoser, he carried on in retirement, saddened by the loss of his son, until his death in 1954.

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Happy Birthday, Dodger and Royals Stadiums…

I wrote late last night, so I won’t add any new news here (not much happened since 11:30).  However, if you are enjoying what you see here – keep reading the other posts.  I will, however, provide my Baseball 365 content…


Arrivals:

(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 seven straight seasons and played in a number of World Series.  He died due to a kidney disorder at 30.

His stats suggest that he was a Brett Butler type with maybe a LITTLE more power, but not much.  He stole 153 bases, but was probably thrown out over 100 times.  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.  As such, if he were playing today, he’d probably never make it to the Hall of Fame.

(1906) Dr. Howdy Grosskloss

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.  You can read what I wrote about him here

(1921) Chuck Connors – movie star

(1930) Frank Lary – Yankee Killer

(1946) Leroy Stanton

(1946) Bob Watson – one of my favorite old Astros…

(1950) Ken Griffey, Sr.

(1982) Andre Ethier

(1985) Clayton Mortensen

Departures:

(1882) William Hulbert – the first commissioner of the National League.

(1956) Ginger Beaumont – outfielder for the early 1900s Pirates.

(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.  I wrote about Spooner’s life here.

(1995) Billy Myers

Events:

(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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Change Our Ways or Perish!!!

Every once in a while, when I start looking for information on a player or team, you come across an article about something entirely different that grabs your attention.  Today, I read about how the Palatka Red Legs came about signing their first black baseball player in 1958.

For a little context, I was trying to find information on pitcher/outfielder James Horsford.  Horsford was in the Yankees chain – I learned of him through a conversation with Ike Futch, who played with Horsford when both were on the Greensboro Yankees in 1961.  Futch recalled that Horsford, a black player from Puerto Rico, was “really screwed by the Yankees” – he had many good seasons but never seemed to get the opportunities other players might have received.  (I’ll tell Horsford’s story in another article.)  In talking about Horsford, Ike remembered times when they would be driving home from some game and stop at a restaurant to get a meal and Horsford would not be allowed in the restaurants – a problem playing ball in the segregated deep south at the time – and would have to stay on the bus.  So, one of the players would take Horsford’s order and bring back his dinner for him.  Futch said that he was perhaps the greatest athlete he had seen – a fantastic pitcher with great stuff, a solid outfielder, could hit and run like a deer.  He also said that Horsford spoke perfect English, would be used as a translator for other players of Latin descent (Benny De La Cruz was one), and always had a smile and kind things to say about life and people.  Futch, having grown up in a very small town in Louisiana and been given by his parents and his maker a remarkable capacity for kindness, remembered that it was one of the first times that he recognized that segregation really bothered him because Horsford was such a good guy and he really liked him having gotten to know him as teammates that season.  One figures that two very nice men would easily become friends over the course of 140 games and 70 road trips.

I digress…

Horsford won his first 13 decisions in 1958 for the St. Petersburg Yankees, helping them to the first half crown of the Florida State League.  I don’t know this for certain, but I would guess that Horsford was one of just a few black players in the league – but those who were in the league must have had a great impact on the games as Horsford did.  I mean, Horsford came into the league and with one professional season under his belt was now virtually unbeatable.

The team that finished third hailed from Palatka, Florida – a smallish town south and west of Jacksonville – and apparently they had no black players on the team.  According to a note in The Sporting News (June 25, 1958 – Pg. 40), the owner actually addressed this problem directly with the fans:

“In a dramatic scene at Azalea Bowl in Palatka, President Fred Hancock told a crowd of 280, June 11, that the club faced the necessity of signing Negro players or perhaps giving up its franchise.  When he asked the fans for a rising vote on the proposal, only six were opposed.  Palatka took on its first Negro player the next day, signing Outfielder Sam Conton.”

Can you picture that – the owner of a team asking the fans if it would be okay to sign a black player?!?!  It just reminds you how different the world was even 55 years ago.

Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t list a Sam Conton on the Palatka Red Legs (Vic Davalillo was on the team very, very briefly), but it does list an Alfredo Conton, who played well enough, but had been in the Reds chain for a couple of years.  I’ll have to reach out to the Palatka Historical Society and see if there isn’t something about it in their old newspapers.  As for giving up the franchise – Palatka fell the way of several small cities in the south, losing its team after the 1962 season.

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Happy Birthday, Bananas Benes and Chauncey Fisher

Just tinkering while I have a little time…  Will be going back to my project(s) about minor league all-star Ike Futch and an article about the Augusta  Yankees later this week.  Please forgive me for (a) not giving each player full due and (b) not being careful to document my sources as I do with other posts.

Joe “Bananas” Benes

Joseph Benes was a pretty good minor league infielder, usually on the east coast, playing in Springfield or Newark or Syracuse for the better part of fifteen years during the 1920s and 1930s.  Usually a shortstop, Benes was quick and a decent fielder but apparently wasn’t as good a hitter – which kept him out of the fast company except for about a six week period in 1931 when Benes was already 30 years old.  Born 8 January, 1901, Benes grew up in Long Island City and learned to play ball there, played semi-pro baseball in the Brooklyn area, and landed in the minors as a teen.  In 1931, Branch Rickey had a prospect that wasn’t getting much playing time named Eddie Delker.  So, to get Delker more playing time, Rickey arranged a deal to “trade” Delker to Columbus in the American Association and kept Benes on the bench as a pinch hitter or late inning defensive replacement from early May to mid-June.  Benes, who had already been a regular for more than a decade in the minors, appeared in ten games and got to bat fifteen times, reaching base with two singles, two walks, and getting hit by a pitch before being sent back to the minors.  (Delker wasn’t that much of a prospect and his big league career ended in a couple of years.)

Benes was friends with many scouts in the Yankees chain and later in his career would help them when he played with or against young talent, helping scouts find George “Specs” Torporcer and George McQuinn, among others.  When his minor league career came to an end, he would coach semi-pro teams when not running his own sporting goods store, Benes Sporting Goods, which could have been found at 41-10  29th Street in Long Island City.

Benes remained in the area before he passed to the next league in 1975.

Chauncey Fisher

Chauncey Fisher was a pitcher who, because he didn’t seem to get along with all of his managers, seemed to get bounced around a lot in the 1890s.  Born and raised in Anderson, IN on 8 January, 1872, he came through the semi-pro circuit and lower level minors before becoming a prospect while pitching in the Western League.  Up and down between the National League and the Western League, it took about three years for Fisher to get his bearings, but by 1896 he was pretty good.  Coming off a 36-win season for Indianapolis, the Reds used him regularly in 1896 until he was shuttled back to Indianapolis, apparently to help the Hoosiers win the Western League crown.  (That would never happen today.  Can you see the Yankees, out of a pennant race, sending Ivan Nova down to AAA after showing form with the big club just to help their AAA club win a minor league crown?)

Fisher was traded to Brooklyn the next year – apparently he also didn’t get along with Reds player/manager Buck Ewing – he pitched well but got on the wrong side of Dodgers manager Billy Barnie, which got him farmed to Omaha.  In 1899, Baltimore drafted him – just to send him back to their farm team in Buffalo, and eventually he landed with the 1900 Chicago White Sox in the newly renamed American League where his 19 wins helped the Sox win the first AL pennant.

A very good summary of Fisher’s career is found in the book “Major League Baseball Profiles: 1871 – 1900 (Volume 1)” edited and compiled by David Nemec.  There are two volumes and this collection is truly amazing.  In it, there are two pretty cool stories about Fisher.  The first is that he was a heck of a gambler, and an especially good poker player.  He would frequently leave tables $100 to the richer against weaker card playing foes.

The second story is perhaps more interesting.  In Volume 2 under a story about Albert Manassau, a Western League and Major League umpire, Fisher was involved in a play that would become more famous a decade later.  Trailing by a run with two outs in the last of the ninth inning, Fisher – now playing for the St. Paul Saints – hit a single that tied the score and sent another runner scurrying from first to third.  When the next batter, Eddie Burke, lashed a single to center to score the winning run, Fisher paused while running the bases to congratulate Burke for his winning hit.  However, the centerfielder saw Fisher stop.  George Hogriever scooped up the ball and ran to second, then asked Manassau to call Fisher out by a force play.  Manassau called Fisher out – but by then the field was full of people who thought that St. Paul had just won the game.  Manassau ruled the game had ended in a tie.

This was 1899.  Only nine years later, Fred Merkle would do the same thing in a game that cost the Giants the 1908 National League pennant.  You’d think that, with Fisher’s error still rather fresh in the minds of baseball people, players would have known to run out every ball.  Rather, Merkle’s Boner is very, very famous in baseball annals, while Fisher’s error – having occurred in a minor league game – was generally forgotten to time.

Fisher’s career degenerated soon after that – drinking and weight gain are tough things to pitch through – and he retired to Anderson where he ran a wrecking company until 1937.  He retired a second time to Los Angeles, where he passed away in 1939.  Fisher had a younger brother, Tom, who also pitched in the majors.

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