Category Archives: Baseball History

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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Happy Birthday, Bobby Reis!

Bobby Reis is one of the true “utility” players of the 1930s.  Reis began his career as an infielder, spent a couple of years in the outfield, and then, when things didn’t work out as Reis might have liked, his managers recognized that his strong throwing arm meant he might be able to help as a pitcher – so he did that, too.

A 1934 image of Reis in The Sporting News.

A 1934 image of Reis in The Sporting News.

Reis learned the game playing in the lots and parks in and around Manhattan,  Born 2 January, 1909 in Woodside, NY, and a graduate of Flushing High School, Reis left the big city and a future in banking (he turned down a chance to go to NYU while working for a bank) when an opportunity to play professionally presented itself in Rocky Mount, NC in 1929.  Joining the Buccaneers for the last two months of the season, Reis hit .373 with a little power and caught the eyes of a Brooklyn Robins scout who signed Reis as an infielder.  For Brooklyn, he homered in an exhibition game, but didn’t get the call for a league game.  (1)(3)

Brooklyn manager Max Carey saw talent, but it was still raw, so he was sent to Macon in the South Atlantic (SALLY) League, where he learned to play third base and continued to hit – albeit at a bit lower clip (.281).  He also missed time with a broken leg.  The best thing about playing in Macon was the tremendous company around him.  Reis played with Paul Richards, Bobo Newsom, Alta Cohen, Phil Gallivan, Johnny Mann, Earl Mattingly, Monroe Mitchell, Jimmy Pattison, and Joe Vance – all future major leaguers. (1) (2) (12)

After a third solid season in 1931, this time playing in the Eastern League for Hartford, Reis got the call to join the Robins in September where he got five hits in seventeen at bats playing a couple of games here and there.  The Sporting News announced his arrival a few weeks early, noting that he was in the running for a batting crown and playing a decent third base.  He appeared to have a shot at making the big league club in 1932, but it didn’t work out – so he was dispatched to Jersey City, where he stumbled just a little.  Brooklyn, stocked with infielders, sold Reis to Toledo of the American Association. No longer primarily an infielder, Reis was playing wherever management wanted.  In 1933 and 1934, he spent nearly equal amounts of time playing shortstop, third base, and the outfield. (2) (3)

More importantly, though, his batting came back.  Reis hit .323 with 31 doubles, 14 triples, and 10 homers for the 1933 campaign, and continued to club the ball in 1934, hitting .297 with 56 more extra-base hits.  Reis was a run producer, too – in 1934, Reis scored 90 runs while driving in 89 more runs.

In 1935, Reis was in the majors with the Robins as Casey Stengel envisioned Reis as a player who could help out in many different ways.  The Sporting News called Reis a “Jack of All Trades”, reflecting on his hitting, baserunning, and value at four or more positions.  Stengel was less impressed – Reis hit just .247 with little power and didn’t wow with the glove.  However, Reis had a strong arm and Stengel allowed Reis to throw batting practice to see if he could pitch.  Raw and wild, Reis was successful enough to get fourteen appearances for Brooklyn, including two starts.  Reis went 3-2 with a 2.83 ERA – even though he walked 24 men (with just seven strikeouts) in 41.1 innings. (3)

One wire-service article that made the rounds about Reis discussed is easy-going manner on the field.  “Reis has the temperment to become a successful pitcher…  When signaled in the bullpen to start warming up, Bobby goes about his work with the same nonchalance he goes through fielding practice.  Called to the box he heaves the ball with the same unconcerned motion he uses when throwing from third or short to first when the ball was being tossed around to limber up the arm.  The same unconcern is manifested when he faces a batter with men on the bases and accepting the words, “throw them where the batter does not want them.”

At the end of the season, though, Brooklyn went shopping for a pitcher, and acquired Ed Brandt and outfielder Randy Moore for four players.  Heading to the Boston Braves were Al Lopez, Tony Cuccinello, Ray Benge, and – at the insistence of Bill McKechnie – Bobby Reis. (5)

Listing the positions of the players, The Sporting News called Bobby Reis a “what-is-it.”

“The what-is-it has had a most peculiar existance since he entered professional ball.  He started life as a shortstop and a third baseman, gave that up because his handling of ground balls was too erratic.  At Toledo, he shifted to the outfield where he was a fielding sensation.  But his experience at bat last season as a Brooklyn utility outfielder seemed to impress upon him his futility against big league pitching.

“Having a naturally strong throwing arm, Reis decided to become a pitcher.  His ability to make Brooklyn regulars look rather foolish in batting practice convinced Stengel that he had a chance.

“Sent in under fire as a relief worker, Reis did well enough to establish himself as a real hurling prospect.  Now it is up to Bill McKechnie to decide whether Reis is an infielder, an outfielder or a pitcher.” (4)

In 1936, Reis was more regularly seen on the mound – he threw 138.2 innings, making 35 appearances on the mound and finishing 24 games.  He also walked 74 batters while striking out 25.  In 1937, he pitched just four times in blowouts, but spent more time as a pinch hitter and utility outfielder, getting nearly 100 plate appearances and batting .244.  Boston gave him one more shot in 1938, and Reis wasn’t up to the challenge, hitting .184, and going 1-6 with a 4.99 ERA.  Another Reis was given a shot with the Braves that year – Bobby’s younger brother John, a catcher, was brought to spring training but never made the club. (6)

Reis wasn’t done as a player, but he was done with the majors.  His rights were sent to the St. Paul Saints where he would spend two more seasons as an infielder/outfielder/spare pitcher.  In the off-season, Reis opened a downtown cocktail lounge, which became his second career after the 1940 season ended.  With a bunch of players off to war, Reis helped the Saints in a few games in 1943, but was never bound to be a regular again.  Instead, he took up semi-professional ball for a few years and even coached a nine in Faribault, MN. (10) (11)

St. Paul suited Reis, though, and he stayed in the city – active in baseball alumni events – until was called to the final field on May 1, 1973.

Sources:

(1) “Bobby Reis is Home town Boy who is Making Good with Detroit Club”, Cameron, Stuart, Nevada State Journal, 3/27/1932, Pg. 7.

(2) Connors, R.J., “Minors Worth Watching”, The Sporting News, 8/13/1931, Pg.3.

(3) “Jack of All Trades”, The Sporting News, 12/13/1934, Pg. 1.

(4) “Brandt Gives Casey More Elbow Room”, The Sporting News, 12/19/1935, Pg. 1.

(5) “Brooklyn Tosses Out Brandt’s 1935 Figures”, The Sporting News, 1/2/1936, Pg 1.

(6) “20 Pitchers ‘Pour’ at Bees Big Party”, The Sporting News, 3/4/1937, Pg. 1.

(7) “Pitching Pegs St. Paul High in A.A. Race Again”, The Sporting News, 1/26/1939.

(8) “Many of ’39 Saints Ready to Take Wing”, The Sporting News.

(9) “Bobby Reis Outstanding Experiments of Year”, Romano, John J., Connellsville Daily Courier, 9/4/1935, Pg. 7

(10) “Springfielders Hand Tigers First Defeat”, Runn, Hittan, Albert Lea Evening Tribune, 7/27/1945 Pg. 6.

(11) Albert Lea Evening Tribune, 4/19/1947, Pg. 7

(12) Baseball-Reference.com

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How little can a “good glove, no hit” guy hit?

To be honest, I can’t exactly recount how I decided to look up information on shortstop Ray Oyler, but I did…  Oyler was among the best defensive shortstops to play in the late 1960s, but he was among the poorest hitters to play 100 games in a season.  I could recount his career, but SABR has a really good biography – so if you want to read more about Ray Oyler, read that one.

As a hitter, Oyler’s batting averages were as follows:

DET 1965 – .186
DET 1966 – .171
DET 1967 – .207
DET 1968 – .135
SEA 1969 – .165
CAL 1970 – .083

He also was owned by Oakland for just a brief time between December, 1969 and April 1970, but never played a game for them.

Anyway – the question I had in looking at Oyler’s record was whether his glove was really good enough to carry his inadequate bat and at about what level of production, combining offense and defense, would be enough to keep a job.

What I did was pull the offensive records and defensive records of the ten regular shortstops in the 1967 season.  You can look up the raw data in case you wanted to know what of these guys hit and fielded on your favorite baseball statistics website or an old Baseball Encyclopedia.  From there, I convert the offensive numbers into Runs Created (I use an old Bill James formula and then make adjustments for the park each player played in), and I convert defensive numbers into Runs Saved using my own formula.  The Runs Saved formula looks at how many plays each player makes for every 870 balls in play, and then converts those additional (or missing) plays into hits and convert those hits into runs. A player who makes more plays per 870 balls in play than the average player at his position is removing hits and therefore saving runs.

I digress.  Let’s get to a quick review of the 1967 shortstops.

Shortstop (Team) Off Def Total
Luis Aparicio (BAL) 52.3 -7.1 45.2
Rico Petrocelli (BOS) 59 2.3 61.3
Jim Fregosi (CAL) 87.7 8.9 96.6
Ron Hansen (CSX) 56.5 -1.7 54.8
Larry Brown (CLE) 47.3 -7.8 39.5
Ray Oyler (DET) 27.8 16.9 44.7
Bert Campaneris (KC) 67.5 -4.4 63.1
Zoilo Versalles (MIN) 39 5 44
Ruben Amaro (NYY) 34.6 0.4 35
Ed Brinkman (WAS) 18.7 -1.6 17.1

 

Luis Aparicio was getting old and had lost a step – the Orioles would soon send him to Boston.  I know – Brooks Robinson was cutting off a few balls into the hole, but even then Mark Belanger had proven he had the much better range – enough to offset whatever edge Aparacio had in offense.

Rico Petrocelli was also slowing up some – he was never going to be as good as the really mobile shortstops – but he added a few runs that most shortstops didn’t do, and as such was a valuable entity.

Jim Fregosi had a pretty good year.  He won the gold glove, not because he was better defensively than Oyler, but because he was out there nearly every inning of every game where Oyler was removed for pinch hitters pretty regularly.  They played a comparable number of games in the field, but Fregosi played 260 more innings.

Ron Hansen was just your ordinary glove guy, but his offense looked worse because it was hard to look like a good hitter in Comiskey Park.

I had never heard of Larry Brown until I did this review of the 1967 AL shortstops.  He was a poor man’s Ron Hansen.

This is Ray Oyler’s best season – the only time he cleared .200 as a hitter.  Let’s say that Mayo Smith chose NOT to pull him for pinch hitters and he got 25% more at bats and played 25% more innings.  He would have added another, oh, seven runs on offense and might have saved the team another four runs on defense.  In terms of productivity, he would have been worth nearly 56 runs – which makes him the fourth best shortstop in the AL.  That’s just about good enough to keep a job.  Of course, if Oyler didn’t hit .200, no matter how good a shortstop he was, he wasn’t going to save enough runs to offset that lack of offense.

Campy was still pretty young…  He was learning his way as a fielder, and able to contribute more than most of these shortstops.

Zoilo Versalles was a former MVP winner still able to help with the glove, but his bat completely left him in 1967.

Ruben Amaro was never going to replace Tony Kubek.

When I think of good glove, no hit guys of this period, I think of Ed Brinkman.  In 1967 he didn’t hit and his fielding was just ordinary amongst a bunch of guys with good glove reputations.  My friend, Ike Futch, says that after his rookie minor league season in 1959, the Washington Senators considered making a free agent bid for his services.  This was the Washington Senators that became the Minnesota Twins and not the Senators that played Ed Brinkman, but in either case, had the old Senators or new Senators signed him Futch would have been playing somewhere in either infield by 1967…

*****

Baseball history fans will remember that in 1968, Oyler’s batting average fell off to about .135 and Mayo Smith couldn’t carry his glove in the lineup anymore.  When the Tigers made it to the World Series, Smith chose to play outfielder Mickey Stanley as his shortstop, trading offense for defense.  At the end of games, Oyler would come in as the defensive replacement.  The Tigers beat St. Louis in seven games, and Mayo Smith looked like a genius.

On the other hand, Smith proved that there was a limit as to how much you could tolerate poor hitting.  Granted, they scored fewer runs in the late 1960s than they do today, but the axiom pretty much still holds – If the total amount of your offense and defensive contribution is less than 60 runs, you pretty much won’t be a regular in the majors (unless, of course, you were Ed Brinkman).

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A Mighty Casey Retro-Bio: Ike Futch

Normally, I do these things on birthdays but since Mr. Futch was kind enough to visit my site and leave a few kind words I decided to scan through various online resources and see if I couldn’t assemble a quick sketch of the wiry contact hitter.  Only then did I realize that his birthday is next week…

Ike Jerry Futch was born in Spearsville, LA on 31 January in the same year as my father, 1941 – he was named for his paternal grandfather, Issac.   Futch was one of nine Futch boys and girls, all of whom had some athletic skill.  His three sisters were fantastic basketball players and played baseball with the brothers.  Ike says that had there been softball for girls at that time, they all would have played.  As for the brothers, most of them were named after members of the New York Giants – oldest Frankie was named for Frankie Frisch, Terry was named after Bill Terry, and Joe Rigney was named, in part, after Bill Rigney.  Anyway, living on a farm in a small town on the northern edge of Louisiana, the Futch kids and their friends would make their own balls and bats.  Ike remembered taking the rubber ball off of a paddle ball, wrapping it in yarn or twine, and then covering it with electrical tape or white gauze.  Bats were carved out of local saplings.  All of them played baseball through the spring and summer, and at night would take turns putting a hand behind the family radio to help the antenna pick up St. Louis Cardinal games.

In 1959, the Spearsville High nine was pretty good, despite the fact that the roster covered but five or six families in the town.  In fact, his oldest brother, Frankie, would be the manager of his high school baseball and basketball team.  In his senior year, Futch led his Spearsville High School team to the state championship in Baton Rouge, where Ike pounded the ball and fielded everything cleanly in front of a number of major league scouts.  Turning down a college scholarship to play for Northeastern Louisiana, Ike was signed out of high school by the Yankees as a quick and sure-handed shortstop and dispatched to the Nebraska State League.  There, playing for Kearney, Futch would lead the league in hitting by batting .319 and earned a spot on the league’s All-Star team.  Moved up from his D level league to Modesto of the California League, Futch was again selected to the league’s All-Star team – this time as a second baseman – and cleared .300, this time hitting .311.  He also ran off a 19-game hitting streak.

Futch continued his ascent up the minor league ladder stopping in Augusta in the South Atlantic (SALLY) League, where he kept his batting average over .300, and continued to make the league’s All-Star teams (in 1962, he was on the same All-Star squad as Tony Oliva and Elmo Plaskett).  The 1963 team won the Sally League, but the lack of attendance killed the team.  In 1964, most of the Augusta team was moved to Columbus where Futch was the highest vote getter among All-Star infielders.  Futch’s teammates on that all-star team included Lee May, Roy White, and Ferguson Jenkins.  Among his better games was a five for six day with two doubles and a triple in an 11 – 3 win over Chattanooga on 28 August 1964.  He also set a league record by getting seven consecutive hits over two games.

By this time Futch was earning a reputation as the hardest man in baseball to strikeout.  In 1963, Futch broke a 60 year-old record by fanning just four times in 590 at bats.  After visiting a vision care specialist, Futch noted, “They said I had sharper vision than the average fellow; that I pick up a lot of extra detail.”  (“Futch Still Hard to Fan”, The Sporting News, 19 June 1965, Page 43.)  Futch claims, though, that he learned to make contact by playing game outside a local garage where one kid would snap bottle caps while the other was swinging at the cap with a broomstick.  “You could make those bottle caps spin and really curve, and it was hard to make contact using the broomstick,” Futch told me.  “After a while, though, I got to where I could hit the cap just about every time.”

The Yankees, however, had Horace Clarke and a few other young infielders and let Futch go to St. Louis where he joined the Tulsa Oilers.  Futch whiffed just five times in 569 at bats, finishing at .290 – the first time he hadn’t batted at least .300 in the minors.  With Futch and guys like Walt “No Neck” Williams, Hal Gilson, and Danny Breeden, Tulsa went 81 – 60 and was among the best minor league teams Tulsa fans had seen.  The Oilers may have lost the playoff series to Albuquerque, but it was the first time that Tulsa had finished first in its division.

Futch would be drafted by Oklahoma City in the Pacific Coast League for the 1966 season.  There, he got off to a bit of a slow start only to have his season and knee crumble when he was bowled over at second while Bob (Shorty) Raudman tried to break up a double play.  Raudman had carried a grudge going back at least a season when he got into a brawl during a game against the Oilers, coming out on the wrong end of someone’s punch, and took it out on Futch.  His left knee required surgery and he wouldn’t return until the following May.  It cost Futch his shot at the majors.  Days earlier, Houston Astros second baseman Joe Morgan was hit by a line drive during batting practice that broke Morgan’s knee cap, costing the future Hall of Famer forty games.  Certainly Futch would have been in line for at least a short term trip to help the big club either to start in Morgan’s place or become a backup infielder in Morgan’s absence.  Instead, Futch was shelved and would never play for Oklahoma City again.

Futch returned, but to Amarillo in the Texas League.  On his second day back, he smacked a rally igniting triple off of reliever Dale Morgan to key a win over Albuquerque.  Such heady days were few, however, and at the end of the season he was released, ending his baseball career before his 27th birthday.

As a player, and just going by what I have read, Futch sounds like a poor man’s version of Glenn Beckert – a good contact hitter with little power, could bunt, batted second behind a quick shortstop (for many years, he batted behind Ronnie Retton), and the one note about his fielding was that he was sure-handed with a “good enough” arm.  In an essay on his future teammate, Dooley Womack, I noted that Womack was a smallish 6′ 0″ and 170 pounds.  If Womack was small for that size, Futch couldn’t be much different and might have looked even smaller – he was listed as the same size…  He was quick but not fast and when his knee was injured he must have lost some mobility and, having missed a year, he wasn’t making crisp enough contact to get hits.  When he joined the Cards, they had plenty of good infielders going through the system, so he was caught in a numbers game.  Still – it was a nice career…  Futch had more than 1000 minor league hits and I’d be stunned if he struck out more than 100 times in the nine seasons he played.

Futch and his bride, Brenda (who also went to Spearsville High School) returned to Louisiana for good.  Futch went to college at Louisiana Tech, got involved in a couple of decent business ventures, and the two now happily spend time being grandparents.

Before I wrap this up…  There was one rather interesting article written about Futch in The Sporting News just after completing his first season.  Bill Veeck had been talking about the future demise of the Yankees at the end of the 1959 season saying that, thanks to the deaths of three significant minor league scouts, the Yankee dynasty would soon end.  It took longer than Veeck thought, but he was right.  Anyway – in the middle of this discussion, there appeared the following article:

“Bill Veeck was on TV saying the Yankee collapse didn’t stem from any breakdown at the field level but traced to the farm system and the front office.  What he meant was that Casey Stengel could go only as far as his material would permit him and that the material had dried up.  Veeck said, too, that it would be slim Yankee pickings for the next couple of years, a statement scarcely calculated to calm George Weiss, the Yankee major-domo.

“Veeck is an omnivorous reader but chances are that he missed a name among the Yankee farmhands, one which would have caused him to be a little less positive.  There’s a youth named Ike Futch on the Yankees’ Nebraska State League farm in Kearney.  Apart from the fact that he hit .320 this season, how could a kid named Ike Futch miss becoming a star?

“And even if I.F. never makes it, he becomes an automatic winner of the Fladgett Zunk Memorial Sweepstakes for whatever year he first reports to the Yankees in spring training.  Fladgett who?

“A decade ago, when Branch Rickey set up his production-line operation for the Dodgers in Vero Beach, one of the minor league aspirants was a boy named Fladgett Zunk.  His name fascinated one of the writers who had nothing better to do than to go searching for unusual names.  He set up a yearly prize for the most unusual name in Vero Beach.  The next year it was won by Gaylord Lemis, who could still be somewhere in the Dodger chain.

“Odbert Hamric was a winner one year and when the Dodgers brought him up briefly, they deglamorized him by dropping the “Od” and making it plain Bert Hamric.

“The Yankees have a winner, surely, in Ike Futch.  Try dropping a syllable off that.”

Rosenthal, Harold. “Such as Futch Much Too Few”, The Sporting News, September 23, 1959, Pg 8.

Other sources in TSN:
Notes – Page 54, 7/13/1960
Notes – Page 42, 9/21/1960
“Futch Still Hard to Fan” – Page 43, 6/19/1965
“Ike Futch Out for Season” – Page 53, 7/16/1966
Notes – Page 33, 5/27/1967

Interview with Ike Futch, March 2013.

Other online sources:(Link to story noting Morgan’s knee injury.)

(Note – updated on 1/24 to include Mr. Futch’s feedback regarding the timing of his knee injury as well as to cite the timing of Morgan’s knee injury in 1966.  Also, thanks to a reader for noting I had the wrong nickname for Tulsa – I have been to Drillers games and the name was stuck in my head – and I have since added information about Futch’s childhood based on spending the better part of a day talking about his life before baseball a couple of months ago.  Eventually, this will change from being a blog post to being a full length biography.)

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January 3 – Happy Birthday, Buzz Arlett!

Arrivals:

1891 – Bill “Rebel” McTigue
1899 – Buzz Arlett

In 1984, the Society for American Baseball Research voted Arlett the greatest minor league ballplayer ever.  Lessee…  He was signed by the Oakland Oaks as a teen pitcher when the team was in spring training and had run out of pitchers during a spring training event – Arlett was only there because his brother was on the Oaks.  He was a very successful pitcher on a not very successful team, but a devastating arm injury forced him to try his luck as an outfielder.  The arm injury also required that he learn to bat left-handed – so he taught himself to do that, too.  He was a mighty hitter, but not much of an outfielder, and for any number of reasons he couldn’t get signed to a major league contract.  That being said, the Pacific Coast League was a really, really good league and paid major league dollars for talent.

After waiting for his shot for more than a dozen years, he finally got a contract as a 32-year-old outfielder with the 1931 Phillies, got hurt, and even though he had hit .313 with some power, was released.  Arlett signed with the Baltimore Orioles and remained a potent hitter there until his career ended in the late 1930s.  His stats remind you of Chipper Jones…

1906 – Gus Suhr
1910 – Stanley “Frenchy” Bordagaray
1922 – Virgil Stallcup
1950 – Bart Johnson
1962 – Darren Daulton
1977 – A.J. Burnett

Departures:

1917 – Rynie Wolters

Reinder Wolters was a pitcher on the NY Mutuals during the first season of the National Association in 1871.  As a pitcher, he led the league in complete games and innings, winning 16 of 32 decisions.  He could hit, too.  Wolters also led the league in RBIs (though they didn’t really count them back then) with 44 thanks to a .370 batting average.  He wasn’t as good in 1872 for Cleveland, and by opening day of 1873, he was pitching his last major league professional game.

1943 – Bid McPhee
1986 – Chico Hernandez – a backup catcher for the Cubs during World War II who died on his 70th birthday.
1991 – Luke Appling, the HOF shortstop
2004 – Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner

Transactions:

1920 – The Yankees, having completed the trade before Christmas, announce the purchase of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for the remarkable sum of $125,000.

1925 – Odd trade…  The Browns send three players, cash, and an option on another minor leaguer to the St. Paul Saints for catching prospect Leo Dixon.  It didn’t work out.

1946 – Detroit trades slugging first baseman Rudy York to Boston for infielder Eddie King.  York had one good year with the Sox, but was traded to the White Sox after a slow start the next year and out of baseball in two seasons.  Eddie King was a Freddie Patek type shortstop except he drew walks at a pace that Eddie Yost would appreciate (a walk every six plate appearances in his career).  King hit well enough in 1946, but Detroit didn’t like the .211 batting average in 1947 (even though he drew 100+ walks and scored 96 runs), and by 1950 was done.

2008 – Oakland trades Nick Swisher to the White Sox for Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez, and Fautino de los Santos.

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