Alexander Bennett (Ben) Sanders

On this day (Aug. 22) in 1892, Ben Sanders threw a no-hitter to beat Baltimore.

So who was Ben Sanders?

Alexander Bennett Sanders was a husky right handed pitcher with what was a corkscrew delivery that would frequently spin him around such that his back was facing the batter after a pitch.  A strong hitter and able runner, one writer claimed he had but one fault, “…that he handles himself a trifle awkwardly.  It is believed, however, the abolition of the bunt will make this defect amount to little.”  (The bunt, of course, was never outlawed.)

Ben Sanders

Photo of Ben Sanders taken by Gilbert and Bacon of Philadelphia and is part of the A. G. Spaulding Collection at the New York Public Library

It must have been efficient, though.  According to an article in Sporting Life, Sanders set the record for fewest pitches in a game with 68 in a win over the St. Louis Browns in 1891.

He was born in Catharpin, Virginia just weeks before the end of the Civil War.  According to a baseball scribe who grew up with him, he described Sanders as a big fellow who built up endurance playing in the heat of Virginia summers playing for the Catharpin nine around 1885.  “[Sanders] …only threw the out-curve at the time, but was a terror in the box, and the fellow who could make a two-base hit [off him] was considered a prominent figure in the community…”  He added, “It’s hard to find a better gentleman on the diamond…”

Sanders was first noticed by the big league managers while pitching in Altoona, PA.  Signed to pitch for Philadelphia, he would win 19 games both seasons with the Phillies in 1888 and 1889.  In his rookie season, he threw a league leading eight shutouts.

Like many, he jumped to the Player’s League in 1890 and won 19 more games there in 40 starts.  The Player’s League folded after that one season, though, making Sanders a free agent.  The Phillies thought they would get Sanders back for 1891, but he was now finishing a civil engineering degree at Vanderbilt (as well as playing football and baseball – amateur athletics not being as well defined then).  Instead, Sanders held out for the best deal and then pitched the rest of the 1891 season with the Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association, getting paid at least $5000 for a partial season, which made him the highest paid pitcher (per month, I am guessing) in the game.  He went 11 – 5 in his 18 starts.

Back in school for the 1891 – 1892 school session, he graduated in June and then made 31 starts for a poor 1892 Louisville team, finishing 12 – 19 but throwing a no-hitter against Baltimore.  A contemporary article in the Louisville Courier-Journal says that the previous game had been a one hitter (not a no-hitter) vs. Baltimore, and he followed it with another one-hitter against Boston (Quinn – 4th inning ground single to left).  His one hit in two starts would be the record beaten by Vander Meer nearly 50 years later.  When the season was over, Sanders took a job with a prestigious engineering firm and retired from baseball.

After 1892, he was done but never gone.  Every year Louisville asked him to come back and pitch and kept him on their reserve list for at least five seasons and even offered him a player-manager role in 1897 (!).  Most of the time the owner of the Louisville Colonels tried to convince Sanders to put an end to his civil engineering business and Sanders considered going, provided it didn’t materially affect his current business.  He claimed that he could still pitch if called upon, and he would need extraordinary inducements (not necessarily money) to make a comeback.  (Sunday starts only?  Train rides back to wherever his current clients needed him?)  Regardless, Sanders was a favorite in Louisville for his “…earnest play and the gentlemanly bearing which characterizes him at all times.”

According to articles written while Louisville was still begging Sanders to play, he was among the engineers in charge of building the Chicago West Side Elevated Railway, invested in property in Louisville, and was involved in the engineering of the water works system of Morgantown, PA.

He remained an engineer in Tennessee until his death in Memphis in 1930.

*****

“Out of Baseball”, Sporting Life, 30 May 1891, Page 9.

“It Suits Louisville”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 1 Feb. 1892, Page 8.

“Only One Missing.”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 26 March 1892, Page 7.

“Brave College Boys.”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 2 April 1892, Page 8.

“Hurrah For Sanders”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 27 August 1892, Page 8.

“Editorial Views, News, Comment”, The Sporting Life, 17 September 1892, Page 2.

“Has Given Up Ball Playing For Good”, The Sporting Life, 18 Feb. 1893, Page 4.

McKee, Jr., Sam. “Louisville Lines”, The Sporting Life, 23 December 1893, Page 3.

Saunders, John J. “Will The Prodigal Return”, The Sporting Life, 1 February 1896, Page 3.

Richter, Francis. “Ben Sanders in Luck”, The Sporting Life, 6 April 1895, Page 7.

Saunders, John J. “Louisville Lines”, The Sporting Life, 2 January 1897, Page 2.

“Remarkable Performances”, The Sporting Life, 27 January 1912, Page 5.

Nemec, David, Major League Baseball Profiles 1871 – 1900, Vol. 1, University of Nebraska Press, 2011, Pages 161, 162.

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Happy Birthday, Champ Summers!

John (Champ) Summers was an outfielder with the Cubs when I was a kid watching baseball games on WGN from my home in Buffalo Grove, IL.  The Cubs got Summers when Charlie Finley wanted a real baseball player to be the 25th man on the roster and grew tired of Herb Washington, the designated runner.  So, he sent the Cubs Summers for a speedy outfielder named Matt Alexander.

Anyway – I remember a few things about Summers.  I can remember a pinch-hit grand slam he hit against Houston in 1974, and I remember him getting to play once because Jose Cardenal got in a fight with a cop at O’Hare Airport – the officer was giving Cardenal’s wife a hard time because she was parked illegally waiting to pick up Cardenal when the Cubs returned from some road trip…  I digress.

The Cubs couldn’t use him – he was packaged to Cincinnati, which had more great outfielders than Chicago.  He was traded to Detroit where he had two pretty good years as a DH and part time outfielder or first baseman.  Then, he stopped getting at bats.  Traded again to San Francisco, he was a pinch hitter until his shoulder gave out.  He finished his career in 1984 with the Padres – he struck out in the 1984 World Series against his old team, Detroit.

After several years selling cars and as a batting instructor, Summers retired to Ocala, FL to play golf.  Cancer in his kidneys took Summers from us in 2012, but one assumes he’s playing in a better league now.

What follows is an article about Champ written when he was lying about his age and trying to make the Cubs that appeared in The Sporting News in 1976.

Cubs Have a Champ Who Hopes To Prove He’s Special

Nobody was more anxious for spring training to begin than John (Champ) Summers, a Cubs’ utility outfielder who had a least three things to prove before the first week of April:

(1) That a lefthanded hitter can tear up lefthanded pitching, (2) that a guy who never played baseball until he was 22 can make it in the big leagues, and (3) that there’s as much money to be made in the majors as Summers made in Mexico this winter.

Summers is a “kid” of 27.  Something he’s never lost is enthusiasm because, as he puts it, “baseball is still new to me.”

Less than five years ago, he was undertaking this brand new sport at Southern Illinois (Edwardsville), determined to make ends meet by getting some scholarship money for a free ride he’d run to its limit in basketball.

A few years earlier, as a senior high school tennis star in Madison, Ill., the Champ had worked out with a fledgling named Jimmy Connors from nearby Belleville.  Connors, then 13, “hit everything back to me,” Summers recalled.

At Edwardsville, fresh from two years in the paratroopers, including duty in Vietnam, Summers took a shot at college baseball.  One of those who watched him was George Bradley, who then scouted for the A’s and now serves the Phils.

“I don’t think Charlie Finley wanted to sign me too badly, but George told him I had the rough edges of a pro,” Summers recalled while waiting for the owners to flash the green light for spring training.

“Now I’d like to prove that George Bradley was right.”

Summers, late start and all, has five years of pro ball behind him.  They’ve been good eyars, including .308 at Burlington (Midwest) in 1972 and .333 at Tuscon (Pacific Coast) in ’73.

Obtained by the Cubs last April, Champ had 21 hits in 91 times up, most of them as a pinch hitter, his first full campaign in the majors.  But, he hardly saw a southpaw pitcher, so in Mexico this winter he tried to destroy the theory that he couldn’t hit lefties.

Summers played for Culiacan, and at the halfway point in the season was hitting .352, good enough to lead the Mexican Pacific League and also to make the all-star team.

“Three out of four starters were lefthanded,” he pointed out.  Are you listening, Jim Marshall?

Culiacan, which was going nowhere, finished fifth, and Summers said “they stopped giving me anything to hit because they didn’t have to.” He wound up hitting over .280 but in the midst of a late slump was offered a $1,000 bonus by the club if he’d forget his desire to go home and finish the season.

The Champ agreed, but was released anyway to make way for another player who was supposed to help Culiacan make the playoffs.

Then Mazatlan, managed by Russ Nixon, snapped him up, offering him $2,000 to finish the season there.  Mazatlan, which as the rights to Summers next winter, got only five games out of him but Champ’s wife Barbara already is making plans for next winter.

“That’s a resort area, and I’m not staying in Arizona next year; I’m going, too,” she said, adding that their daughter would be enrolled in a private school there.

The brief Mazatlan episode didn’t end Champ’s four months of winter ball.  Navajoa drafted him for the playoffs and he hit over .500 in seven games against six southpaw starters before Obregon finally won and also took the Caribbean Series, a fact which Summers says should improve the reputation of Mexican baseball. “They just haven’t respected Mexican baseball as they should,” he insisted.

He might have added that neither the Cubs nor the A’s have respected Champ Summers to the degree that he hopes to achieve.  One top major league scout whom he chose not to identify told Summers’ wife at a game in the Mexican playoffs.

“Your husband hits lefthanded pitching better than any lefthanded hitter I’ve seen.  If the Cubs can’t use him, we can.”

The Cubs can use him, but not very much, apparently.  He played only 18 games in their outfield last year, pinch hit the rest of the time.  And the road will be tough once more again because Jose Cardenal, Jerry Morales, and Rick Monday form an outfield that can be upset only by trade.  Furthermore, Joe Wallis is the fair-haired newcomer who will get the biggest play.

But the Champ is champing at the bit.  He says he wants to play in half the exhibitions.  Winter ball has left him in great shape.  He can’t afford a spring delay.

As Barbara put it, “I hope they start playing ball pretty soon.  Ball player’s wives aren’t used to being cooped up with husbands morning, noon and night.”

Dozier, Richard. “Cubs Have a Champ Who Hopes To Prove He’s Special”, The Sporting News, 13 March 1976, Page 34.

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Happy Birthday, Lou Skizas!

Usually, I try to do as much research as is possible for a given player (and much can be done online – more than ever before) when writing these biographies.  In this case, I found a great article that summarizes a young Lou Skizas – who was born on 2 June 1932.

Lou was a Yankees prospect, then traded to the As in 1956 – where he would have a pretty good season (well, about 60% of the season) and finish second to Luis Aparicio for the Rookie of the Year award.  His batting fell off after that, though, which led to his being traded to Detroit and then the White Sox, and by 1960 he was through.  He had, however, gone back to finish college and would return to the University of Illinois where he would teach and coach baseball.

I’ll one day go back and revisit this story another day.  Until then, enjoy this article from the archives of The Sporting News.  This dates back to the summer of 1955 when Skizas was likely at his peak in the minors.

Skizas, Bears’ Fidgety Slugger, Gives Flingers Fits With His Hits

Frank Haraway

It’s really a jumpy situation whenever Lou Skizas of the Denver Bears comes to the plate.

The compact righthanded slugger is known as “The Nervous Greek” for his ants-in-the-pants mannerisms around home plate.  And the things Louis does with the bat, once he gets settled, are certainly hard on a pitcher’s nerves.

With only a short time to go in the American Association race, Skizas looks like a cinch to win two of three coveted slugging titles, and he might have made the grade on all three had not injury forced him out of the lineup for three stretches during the season.

Skizas’ batting average of .353 through games of August 17 topped the circuit, and with an edge of 13 points over his nearest rival he should become the champion.  He had 99 runs batted in with 21 games left on the Denver schedule and was tied with his teammate, Marv Throneberry, for the league’s RBI lead.

Out for Week With Injury

However, Throneberry had played in every one of Denver’s 133 games to that point while Skizas had participated in only 104.  Nine of the games in Skizas’ 104 total were only pinch hit appearances, making his RBI average all the more impressive.

He had a chance for the home run crown, too, until a groin injury knocked him out of the lineup for ten days, August 6 – 15, when his bat was in the midst of one of its hottest streaks of the season.  Unless he enjoys a phenomenal homer barrage in the closing games, he will not be able to raise his total of 21 round-trippers sufficiently to nail down that title.

Barring further injury, Skizas will pass the 400 at-bats needed to qualify for the batting championship should he wind up with the highest average.

Skizas’ first injury occurred when he caught a fly ball on the end of the ring finger on his glove hand and went out of the regular lineup for two weeks early in the season.  Twice he was sidelined with groin injuries, costing him nearly two additional weeks.

Skizas is unusual among hard swingers as he seldom strikes out.  He whiffed only 29 times in those first 104 games.  Neither did he walk much, drawing only 35 free tickets in the same stretch.  Louie goes up to the plate with only one thing in mind – to hit the ball as quickly and as hard as he can.  Many of his walks were intentional.

One night during a critical spot in an extra-inning game in Denver, the opposing manager jerked his southpaw pitcher and brought in a righthander.  That brought chuckles from the press box occupants.

“Louie doesn’t know which side a pitcher throws from anyway,” quipped one of them.

Skizas hit the ball out of the park to bring the Bears a victory.  Sure enough, when being interviewed in the clubhouse after the game, he grinned: “I always could hit those lefthanders.”  He apparently hadn’t been aware of the pitching change.

Asked what he hit, Skizas shot back: “How do I know what I hit?  I just see the ball and if I like it, I swing.”

Goes Through Plate Ritual

Skizas’ batting box mannerisms are both unusual and provoking.  His first act upon arriving is to drop the bat and cover it with dirt.  Then comes the wiping off process, accomplished by drawing the bat between his pants legs.

Next, a fond kiss on the fat end of the flail and Louis is ready for business – almost anyway.

There remains the little matter of reaching into his right hip pocket at least three times before the pitcher delivers the ball.  No one knows just what he’s reaching for.  Some say it is a Greek religious medal.  Skizas won’t say.

His stance is unique, too.  His left heel is held off the ground while his weight is solidly on the back leg.  The left heel never touches the ground until the moment of bat impact on the ball.  The unusual stance has enabled him to whip the sometimes troublesome problem of keeping his weight on the back foot.

What about his other qualities besides hitting?  He is an average fielder, average thrower has better than average speed and is a hard battler, using spectacular head-first belly-slides.

Haraway, Frank. “Skizas, Bears’ Fidgety Slugger, Gives Flingers Fits With His Hits”, The Sporting News, 24 August 1955, Page 29.

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Happy Birthday, Wimpy Quinn!

Playing out of position, a whim of his manager, Wellington “Wimpy” Quinn headed out to the mound for his major league debut to face the bottom of the Boston Braves order.  He was predictably wild, but it would be hard to tell if he was unusually nervous.  Walking the lead-off hitter and hitting the second batter, Quinn settled down and got six of the next seven hitters out – including aging Hall of Famer Paul Waner.  And so began the end of Wimpy Quinn’s chances of being a major league first baseman.

Wimpy Quinn - Mgr Bakersfield

Wellington “Wimpy” Quinn

Wellington Hunt Quinn was born in Birmingham, Alabama to Allena (Hunt) and William Quinn on 14 May 1918.  Allena was from Alabama, but William was from New Jersey – and one figures that there might be a great story there lost to history explaining how the Yankee landed a southern belle…  William eventually took his family west, settling in Portland.

Wellington Quinn was doomed to be nicknamed Wimpy by his friends.  During his youth, the Popeye cartoon strip was hitting its stride and the burger-eating character J. Wellington Wimpy was a frequent visitor in the popular comic.  Articles covering his semi-pro teams prior to attending college already called him Wimpy, and for years afterward, writers penned J. Wellington Quinn in their articles even though his name was Wellington Hunt.  Quinn never minded, though – he was tall, blonde, handsome, and confident.

By the time Quinn graduated from Grant High School, he was already a local baseball legend – and he was scooped up by the University of Oregon to play both baseball and basketball.  In the winters, he was a backup guard to Ford Mullen.  The two were infielders during the springs and summers.  Quinn played semi-pro baseball for the Eugene Townies, Ballin Finance, the Hop Golds, and a state championship contender sponsored by Reliable Shoe where he played third base next to shortstop Johnny Pesky from nearby Lincoln High School.

Wellington Quinn - 1937 Oregon Yearbook Basketball Team

The frosh basketball team at Oregon in 1937 – Quinn is in the top row second from the left.

Oregon was loaded with talent on both the court and diamond – winning the first ever NCAA Basketball Championship and then the Pacific Coast Conference North Division baseball crown.  Joe Gordon had also come from Oregon and now it was a baseball hot bed – four Webfoot players on that 1939 team would get professional contracts.  Three signed with the Detroit Tigers – seniors Bob Hardy and Busher Brown, and junior Ford Mullen.  (Going with the comic strip nickname theme, Mullen’s nickname in the majors would be “Moon.”)

The fourth was seen as a hitter but a defensive liability – and that was Wimpy Quinn.  Only days after teammates elected Quinn captain for the 1940 Oregon Ducks baseball team, he signed a contract to play third base for the Vancouver Capilanos replacing an injured Wayne McCue.  Giving up his final season of eligibility, Quinn made an immediate impact by homering in his first two games, and then twice more in his fourth game.  He wound up on the Western International League All-Star team and finished the season with a .330 batting average, 21 homers, 30 doubles, and 88 RBI in just 94 games.  Along the way, he set a league record by hitting in 30 straight games.

He also made 44 errors – which prompted a position switch.  In 1940, Wimpy would be a first baseman.

Nearing the end of the season, the Chicago Cubs took an interest in Quinn and offered Vancouver $5,000 for Quinn’s rights.  The deal called for $2,500 to be paid immediately, and another $2,500 once Quinn made the majors.  However, the league president didn’t like that there was no fixed arrangement for the second payment; the deal was nixed.  The Cubs, who had a working arrangement with the Los Angeles Angels, simply changed the deal – Los Angeles signed Quinn from Vancouver instead.

The Angels liked Quinn but chose to see how Quinn would do as a first baseman – and the Cubs weren’t planning on using Quinn in the infield unless he was on the hill.  Cubs manager Jimmy Wilson had done this once before with success.  Plucking a middling third baseman from the Phillies, Wilson helped develop Bucky Walters into a successful and competent major league starting pitcher for the Reds.  Wilson saw Quinn in training camp throwing the ball around the diamond and pulled Quinn over for a chat.  “Okay kid,” Wilson told him.  “You can plan on putting that first baseman’s mitt in mothballs soon.  You’re going to be a pitcher.”

Wellington Quinn Beta Theta Pi President

Beta Theta Pi President Wellington Quinn

Not right away.  Los Angeles had Ripper Collins, so they optioned Quinn back to Vancouver to play first base and learn to pitch a little.  Quinn had pitched before, but not a lot – he was a relief pitcher on rare occasions in high school, college, and semi-pro teams but his main job was to mash.  Quinn would be doubly successful – batting .342 with 27 homers, 39 doubles, 15 triples, and driving in 150 runs in 140 games.  Along the way he met Edna Templeman and they married that August.  In the off-season, he finished his college degree – and was president of his fraternity.

Los Angeles wasn’t ready to make Quinn a pitcher, despite the wishes of Jimmy Wilson, and in spring training prior to the 1941 season, Quinn was given a chance to win the first base job for the Angels.  Batting around .400 for the spring, and displaying a knack around the bag for reaching all kinds of wayward throws, Quinn earned the job.  However, for the first time ever, Quinn started slowly.  Los Angeles pulled Phil Weintraub out of retirement and sold Quinn to the Cubs.  That one slump was just the excuse Wilson needed to start making Quinn a full-time pitcher.

Arriving in Chicago, Quinn was put under the wing of recently retired Dizzy Dean, as well as other Cub flingers like Claude Passeau and Bill Lee.  After six weeks of training, Quinn gave up two runs on a hit in two innings against Boston and was dispatched to Madison, WI for regular work.

Quinn did his best – but he wasn’t very good.  He finished his tour with Madison by going 1 – 4, walking 56 batters in 63 innings, and allowing 55 runs to score.  However, he helped out in other ways.  As a pinch hitter and occasional outfielder, he pounded Three-I pitching to the tune of a .361 batting average and slugging nearly .600.

When called back to the Cubs in September, you’d think someone would have let him play first base or right field or something.  Instead, he made two more appearances on the hill.  Wimpy was swatted around once, and pitched two scoreless innings in his last appearance on September 25, 1941.  He struck out the last two batters he’d face – Chuck Aleno (swinging) and Ray Starr (looking).  Wilson broke out slow motion film and showed how Quinn had made changes and improved his control, then expected him to focus on his mechanics and come back ready to pitch in 1942.

Eugene Register-Guard scribe Dick Strite wrote, “Wimpy is slightly under weight after the long summer campaign, weighing in at 180 pounds.  But with his wife a very attractive little brunette at the cook stove, Wimpy predicts he will soon be carrying 190 pounds or better on his 6 foot 2 big-boned frame…”

Sent back to Madison, and presumably with a few more pounds on his frame, Quinn improved to 7 – 7, pitched 126 innings – but his 101 walks and 6.29 ERA proved only that the Cubs had wasted two years of Quinn’s professional hitting development on some failed experiment to see if Jimmy Wilson could recreate his success with Bucky Walters.

Quinn, in limited at bats, hit .388 for Madison.  Giving up on Quinn the pitcher, Quinn the hitter was allowed to head back to the Los Angeles Angels and play first base.

Quinn played the whole season for Los Angeles – 157 games – but for some reason he stopped hitting in the last two months.  A solid season ended with a thud – he’d bat just .236 with 11 homers and 30 doubles.  His 80 RBI would be third behind veteran Charley English and young prospect Andy Pafko.  Lefty O’Doul provided a good scouting report.  “That kid is a marvel tending that sack,” Lefty said. “He is gifted with an unusually long reach and comes up with everything thrown in his direction.  At bat, he has looked bad on low balls, but he has lots of power.”

Quinn took up his part for the war effort in the off-season, working in a shipyard.  He wasn’t alone – a number of west coast ballplayers took similar jobs.  Those jobs also paid better than many baseball salaries.  When the 1944 season began, Quinn chose to remain in the dockyards building boats for the Navy.  Charlie English did the same – and both wound up suspended by the Angels for insubordination.  Offers to keep their wartime jobs and play in only home games were dismissed by Angels President Don Stewart.

 

Wartime Shipbuilders - Wimpy Quinn and others

Wartime shipbuilders at lunch.  Wimpy Quinn is at left; Vern Stephens is holding court in the center.  Lou Novikoff is the smiling man in plaid at the right.

Within weeks, though, Quinn was inducted into the service and joined the Marines.  Private Quinn helped with the closing year of the war, and with efforts to maintain and then shut down structures in the Pacific.  He also played baseball with the troops.  Billy Herman, who managed Quinn on a Navy team in Hawaii, proclaimed him ready for the majors after hitting .366 in a military league.  Harry Hughes, a military manager compared him to George “High Pockets” Kelly.

The Angels took Quinn back and made him a first baseman for the 1946 season.  By May, though, Quinn started showing signs of an illness – he played very little after mid-summer, and would miss the entire 1947 season.  It wasn’t announced at the time what kept Quinn out of the game, but papers noted that the illness was something serious that Quinn had first contracted while a member of the Marines.

Healthier in 1948, Quinn got himself in shape and was signed to play for Pocatello in 1948.  A month later, though, he would be back in California – the Idaho club sold Quinn to Fresno in the California State League.  By the end of the season, Quinn’s bat was showing signs of life.  when not playing baseball, Quinn managed a small ranch in Topanga Canyon, CA.

In 1949, Quinn was one of the four veterans on the Bakersfield Indians – California State League rules called for a limited number of veteran players to help show the ropes to fifteen or twenty kids, most of them under the age of 21.  Quinn, now passing his 31st birthday, was mentoring players like pitcher Don Mossi, and pounding the baseball against the kid pitchers.  Playing every inning of the 139 games, Quinn hit a pair of grand slams in the final week, including the game winner in the pennant clinching game.  His .343 batting average was among the league leaders, as was his league record 298 total bases.

Wimpy Quinn - Mgr Bakersfield

Wellington Quinn, 1949.

Temporarily loaned to San Diego, he spent a week there before signing to play with Tacoma in the Western International League in 1950, batting .315, and in one Sporting News Note (24 January 1951), he set a league record with a ten RBI game.  In 1951, he returned to Bakersfield to manage and play first base – but survived just the one season on a team he guided to a record some 30 games below .500.  While there, he participated in the first ever triple play in Bakersfield history.  With the bases loaded, San Jose pitcher Stan McWilliams grounded to pitcher Mike Gazella, who fired to catcher Joe Borich, and then Borich fired to Quinn.  However, San Jose’s Ed Sobczak kept going around third trying to trick Quinn, and Quinn returned a throw to Borich to get the third out.  The Cleveland Indians ended their association with Bakersfield at the end of 1951 and with that, Quinn’s baseball career was over.

Let’s try to give you a picture of the fine first baseman.  As a young man, he was tall, 6-foot-2, and fit with a long mop of blond hair usually combed and slicked back.  He had long arms and could just about fall into full splits to stretch out for throws.  He could run some when younger – as he got older and filled out, he was a bit thicker, but still trim.  He played ball between 180 and 190 pounds.  His arm was very good – he had a major league fastball and was able to throw well from the outfield when asked to play there.  He carried with him an easy personality and confidence.  One writer found him sincere and serious, but not melodramatic, and was focused on his baseball career.  He had one odd habit – if he went into a slump he’d saw off the end of bats.  Sometimes, he’d saw off his bats, and apparently once in a while he sawed off those of his teammates.  Otherwise, he was genial and displayed a natural sense of leadership.

Quinn returned to his Topanga Canyon ranch, but something else returned – illness.  Walt Little noted at the time of his passing, “Very few Bakersfield Indians knew at the time, but ‘Wimpy’ Quinn, who was a big factor in the local club’s only pennant team and who managed the nine in 1951, suffered from cancer.”  Just 36 years old,  Wellington Hunt Quinn passed to the next league on 1 September 1954 under the care of the staff at Sawtelle Veteran’s Hospital in Santa Monica.

In addition to his wife, Edna, Quinn left behind a son, Jack, and two daughters, Jill and Judy.  In that way, Wellington was like his father.  Allena Hunt Quinn was a widow when Wellington was in high school.  Edna Templeman Quinn was a widow with an eleven-year-old son, and two daughters aged seven and six.  Long lives were not in Quinn’s genes.  Jack Hunt Quinn passed away two months before his 60th birthday in October, 2003.  Julia (Jill) Hunt Quinn married Raymond Jones in July, 1969 barely one month after her sister, Judy Yvonne Quinn died – Judy was not yet 21.  Jill lived but 55 years, passing away in 2002.

SOURCES:

Web:

Baseball-Reference.com:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.cgi?id=quinn-001wel

Retrosheet.org:

http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/Q/Pquinw101.htm

Online Public Records (through Ancestry.com):

Social Security Death Records for Wellington Hunt Quinn, Jack Hunt Quinn, Julia Hunt Quinn, Judy Yvonne Quinn.

1930 United States Census

1940 United States Census

Newspapers:

“Townies to Meet Bend Elks Sunday For Second Clash”, Eugene Register-Guard, 30 June 1935, Page 10.

“Ballin Finance To Play Albany Here Wednesday Night”, Albany Democrat-Herald, 13 August 1935, Page 6.

“Hop Golds Open Season in Bend”, Bend Bulletin, 19 May 1936, Page 2.

“Frosh Cage Team Takes Road Trip”, Eugene Register-Guard, 12 February 1937, Page 12.

“Rooks Overcome Frosh 43 – 40; Thrilling Game”, Eugene Register-Guard, 28 February 1937, Page 10.

“Frosh and Rook Nines To Clash”, Eugene Register-Guard, 7 May 1937, Page 18.

“Rooks Hand Frosh Double Beating”, Eugene Register-Guard, 16 May 1937, Page 9.

“First Northwest Semi-Pro Playoff Opens Tonight”, Oregon Statesman, 22 July 1937, Page 7.

Daily Capital Journal, 16 May, 1939, Page 6

“Vancouver Signs Wimpy Quinn; Ex-Webfoot Hits Two Homers”, Eugene Register-Guard, 12 June 1939, Page 6.

Strite, Dick. “High Climber”, Eugene Register-Guard, 13 June 1939, Page 8.

“Quinn Clouts 2 More Homers”, Eugene Register-Guard, 14 June 1939, Page 6.

“Wimpy Quinn Homers Named On All-Star Team”, Eugene Register-Guard, 23 July 1939, Page 5.

Frizzell, Pat. “High Climber”, Eugene Register-Guard, 13 August 1939, Page 10.

“Vancouver Sells ‘Wimpy’ Quinn to Chicago Cubs”, Eugene Register-Guard, 22 August 1939, Page 7.

“Vancouver Sells Wimpy Quinn, Star Third Baseman, to Cubs”, The Sporting News, 31 August 1939, Page 5.

“Ban Put on Vancouver Deal Because of Indefinite Terms”, The Sporting News, 14 September 1939, Page 5.

Strite, Dick. “High Climber”, Eugene Register-Guard, 29 October 1939, Page 12.

“Los Angeles Slices Off Some More White Meat”, The Sporting News, 23 November 1939, Page 5.

Fowler, Gail. “Oregon U. Popular With Scouts Since Gordon Went Up”, Galveston Daily News, 17 February 1940, Page 6.

“Youthful Angels Fly Into Favor With Statz”, The Sporting News, 6 March 1941, Page 11.

Ray, Bob. “Weintraub Changes His Mind And Clubs”, The Sporting News, 24 April 1941, Page 12.

Ray, Bob. “Angels Take on Wally Berger In Effort to Balance Attack”, The Sporting News, 15 May 1941, Page 3.

Casserly, Hank.”Hank Casserly Says”, Madison Capital Times, 11 June 1941, Page 17.

Sheer, Harry. “J. Wellington Quinn, Blues ‘Swift’ Hurler, From Cubs’ Rookie List, Is Here To Learn Mound Tactics”, Madison Capital Times, 12 June 1941, Page 19-20.

Burns, Ed. “Chisox Tighten Race But It’s For Rivals”, The Sporting News, 12 June 1941, Page 6.

Strite, Dick. “Highclimber”, Eugene Register-Guard, 6 July 1941, Page 6.

Millard, Howard. “Quinn Yanked in Fifth, But Wins in Debut As Blues Nip Decatur, 8 – 5.” Madison Capital Times, 19 June 1941, Page 21.

Strite, Dick. “Highclimber”, Eugene Register-Guard, 12 October 1941, Page 6.

Old, John B. “Why Cubs Are Not Winning – ‘First Team With Angels’ — O’Doul”, The Sporting News, 24 June 1943, Page 3.

Old, John B. “Latin Touch for Angels from ‘South of Border'”, The Sporting News, 4 May 1944, Page 24.

“Service Dept.”, Denton Record-Chronicle, 18 July 1945, Page 6.

“Bartell’s All-Stars Win”, The Sporting News, 26 July 1945, Page 11.

“Quinn Hawaiian Slugger”, The Sporting News, 21 February 1946, Page

Strite, Dick. “Highclimber”, Eugene Register-Guard, 29 June 1947, Page 21.

Strite, Dick. “Highclimber”, Eugene Register-Guard, 9 November 1947, Page 23.

“Quinn Will Play For Pocatello”, Odgen Standard-Examiner, 22 April 1948, Page 19.

“Pocatello Shifts Two Ball Players”, Nevada State Journal (Reno), 8 May 1948, Page 9.

“Meet Two of Your Indians”, Bakersfield Californian, 13 April 1949, Page 31.

“Indians in Wild Celebration Following Flag Clinching Game”, Bakersfield Californian, 6 September 1949, Page 51.

“Batters Set New Records in Cal Loop”, Bakersfield Californian, 02 November, 1949, Page 32.

Little, Walt. “Little Quotes”, Bakersfield Californian, 30 August 1950, Page 25.

Little, Walt. “Wimpy Quinn to Manage Tribe”, Bakersfield Californian, 11 January 1951, Page 27.

“Triple Play Can’t Bring Indian Win”, Bakersfield Californian, 13 August 1951, Page 22.

“Tribe 3rd Best Defensive Club in Loop; Borich Slips”, Bakersfield Californian, 17 August 1951, Page 26.

“Wimpy Quinn Looms As Manager of Tacoma Nine”, Bakersfield Californian, 3 October 1951, Page 27.

“Quinn, Tribe Set Records”, Bakersfield Californian, 7 November 1951, Page 34.

“Wimpy Quinn, Former Cub Star, Dies at 36”, Oxnard Press Courier, 2 September 1954, Page 18.

“Funeral Services for Quinn Set”, Bakersfield Californian, 2 September 1954, page 50.

Little, Walt. “Little Quotes”, Bakersfield Californian, 2 September 1954, Page 63.

“Obituary”, The Sporting News, 8 September 1954, Page 32.

 

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Happy Birthday, Snipe Conley

The surprising answer to the trivia question, “Who was the last player to legally use the spitball in a professional game?” is this man – a member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and quite possibly the greatest pitcher in Texas League history, James “Snipe” Conley.

Snipe Conley at 49 for DallasJames Michael Patrick Conley arrived on April 25, 1892 in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, the son of Rose and Michael Conley.  Michael worked as a switch man for the local railroad, while his wife was a homemaker for a bustling Irish family.  James was the second child and first son, following Katherine (Katie), who was three years older, and then followed by Thomas (1894), Margaret (1898), and Rose – a love child who arrived in 1907.  Not necessarily well off, James Conley left school one year into high school to help the family, working for the railroad, a shoe factory, and a car shop.

Pennsylvania was baseball country – teams were scattered in towns all over the state – and the mobile and gifted thrower was easily able to find games.  He joined a company team and became their regular pitcher and eventually earned a job with the Bloomer Girl’s traveling baseball team.  A Shenandoah newspaper remembered Conley playing for the Shenandoah Daisies in 1911 and 1912 and another source suggested that he played for the York White Roses in the Tri State League in 1912.  Frank Menke wrote that he pitched for Pottsville, PA and received a tryout with Connie Mack in 1913.  In 1914, signed with the Baltimore Terrapins in the Federal League and learned the ropes as a swingman for manager Otto Knabe.

It was in that first spring training that Conley got the nickname that would stay with him forever:

When Conley joined the Terrapins last spring in the training camp the players took him “snipe hunting.”  The trick is old and hoary, but Conley didn’t know anything about it. The gang took Conley ten miles into the country in an automobile.  Then they stationed him in a lonely valley with a lantern and a bag.

“Hold the bag until we go out and round up some snipe,” they told Conley.  “When we find some we’ll chase them right to you.  Catch them in the bag.”

The other players disappeared into the darkness, went up the road, got into the automobile and sped back to the hotel arriving there at midnight.

“Where have you been?” asked Manager Otto Knabe.

“We took Conley snipe hunting.”

Knabe ordered his players to go back and get Conley.  They refused.  Then Knabe hired a machine and after a two hour search found Conley walking up a lonely road carrying his lantern.  It was then close to 4 a. m.  Conley had tired of waiting for the snipes to run into his bag and was starting back for the hotel afoot – a ten mile jaunt.

— Menke, Frank G. “Great Jokesters Are Big League Players”, The Kane Republican, 12 April 1915, Page 7.

Snipe Conley Drawing - 1917

A drawing of Conley that appeared in a few newspapers in 1917.  Note that they couldn’t remember that his first name was really James.  More people knew him as Snipe.

Snipe Conley had a fine first season for the Terrapins.  Appearing in 35 games, making eleven starts, Conley made progress throughout the season.  He lost two starts in late May and early June, but pitched his way out of the bullpen to earn a month in the rotation in July and August.  On July 24, he threw a five-hit shutout to beat St. Louis.  He threw a second shutout at Indianapolis in the second game of a doubleheader on August 8, then won three days later, though he needed relief help to finish the game.  When the season was over, Conley finished with a 4 – 6 record, four complete games, and a growing reputation.

The following spring, Conley was expected to be a star.  One writer called him the kid with the “Million Dollar Arm” and the best looking kid to appear on the baseball horizon since Pete Alexander.  In addition to decent speed, he threw a fine assortment of curves – with the help of a spitball taught to him by one-time Orioles pitcher John Picus.

Unfortunately, dreams of being the next Alexander ended after Conley slipped on the icy grounds before the season started – landing directly on his throwing shoulder.  He could hardly lift his arm and had to learn to pitch side armed.  It took a month to get his ERA under 10.00, and he frequently worked out of the bullpen in June and July hoping to get on track.  It never really happened, though – he would win his last decision, a complete game win at Kansas City, but he lost his other decision.  In 24 games, he finished with a 4.29 ERA and soon was released.  The Federal League was nearly dead – Conley was free to figure out how to rebuild his career.

Conley took an offer to leave the northeast and move to Dallas where he signed with the Giants (they would have several nicknames during the next decade) in the Texas League.  At first, still only able to throw side armed, Conley still managed to win 15 games.  In 1917, Conley’s arm was fully healthy and his spitball – which broke in different directions based on whether he threw over the top or off to the side – was unhittable.

After losing the opener, Conley started winning everywhere he went.  On June 10, Conley won his fourteenth straight game beating Shreveport, 7 – 3.  This set the Texas League record, breaking a mark set by former St. Louis Brown, now Houston hurler, Dode Criss.  News of the record breaking win started regular visits from National and American League scouts who wanted to see what had happened to the one time Terrapin.

Conley kept winning though.  His seventeenth straight win was a no-hitter over Fort Worth, a perennial title winner.  The lone base runner walked and was caught stealing.  For his part, Conley fanned nine Panthers.  Dallas got an offer to sell Conley to the Phillies, but turned it down hoping to win the pennant.  On Snipe Conley Day in Waco, Conley tied Rube Marquard’s professional record of 19 consecutive victories by taking the opener, 5 – 4, in ten innings.

Now, a poem about Conley hit the wire services.

A promising busher named Conley,
Has won 19 games in a row.
Which means that some major league magnate
will buy him for oodles of dough.

In Texas they say he’s a wonder,
They never get through boosting “Snipe;”
But won’t it be tough on the magnate
Who buys “Snipe” before he is ripe?

The streak ended there, but the interest in Conley didn’t.  Dallas won the Texas League crown, and Conley set a league record with 27 wins – a record that would be equaled once but never beaten.  He led the league in winning percentage, threw over 300 innings in his 50 appearances, and had an ERA of 1.92.  He led the league with 171 strikeouts and walked just 87 batters.

Conley was also a crack fielder, and batted .309 – the only batter to clear .300 for Dallas.  And they were shots – he had sixteen extra base hits out of his 39 clean hits.

Snipe Conley Fleischmanns Yeast Ad - 1926

Conley was famous enough to appear in an advertisement for Fleischmann’s Yeast in 1926.

Cincinnati won the bidding war – they got Conley’s rights but Conley, who had made a fair salary in the Federal League initially held out for more money.  When the Reds visited Texas on the way to spring training, Christy Mathewson convinced Conley to leave his small farm and pitch for the Reds.

His days with the Reds were not very successful – though in his last outing, he entered the game in the eighth inning and pitched out of a bases loaded jam without allowing a run and earned the win in relief when the Reds pounded out a ninth inning win.  Cincinnati wanted to farm Conley out to Toronto or Milwaukee but Conley convinced him to let him return to his adopted Dallas home.

Over the next several seasons, Conley became perhaps the most famous baseball player in Texas.  In 1919, he won both ends of a doubleheader over Waco, taking both games by a 3 – 0 score.  But his most famous moment during his prime seasons occurred during a game against Wichita Falls.  Tired of missing the big bending spitball, someone dipped a baseball or two in creosote so that when Snipe licked the ball, whatever was on it might keep Conley from licking it again.  Conley got blisters on his lip and his tongue swelled and in the fourth inning, he had to leave the game.

“That is the dirtiest deal I have ever been the victim of in my ten years of professional baseball experience,” Conley said.  “There is one sportsman on the Wichita Falls club, but I won’t mention his name.  He came to me after the game and said: ‘Conley, I don’t want you to think I am mixed up in this thing.'”

Manager Jim Galloway filed a protest with the league, who inspected the balls and concluded that creosote was, indeed, on the baseballs though it couldn’t specifically say who had done it.  Walter Salm, manager of Wichita Falls, claimed it was rubbing off bats, but the lack of a clear denial left the league to declare the game forfeited to Dallas.

Conley loved teaching, too.  In the off-seasons he began serving as a pitching instructor for Southern Methodist University.

Snipe Conley - Seven Balls

Snipe proving that he can hold more balls in his hand than Dazzy Vance.

By 1925, Conley was no longer the best pitcher on the staff – but he was the longest tenured player and had a great reputation with the owners and fans.  He was put in charge of Dallas in mid season and nearly took the Texas League crown.  In 1926, now no longer a player manager, he guided Dallas to its first title since his 27 win season in 1917.  Such heady days were few.  Injuries and his own sickness, causing him to miss nearly two weeks of action, contributed to a slow start – and despite being just a few weeks into the season, Conley was fired.

Not sure what to do, Conley actually game back and pitched for the 1927 Dallas Steers – the very team that fired him.  The next season, he tried his hand managing in Jackson, Mississippi but that didn’t work out.  In July of 1928, he signed to manage and pitch in Midland, Texas.

The right offer came, however, a year later.  He moved to western Texas and took a job with the Big Lake Oil Company.  Working the fields during the day, at night he was a sports director and manager.  Bill Parker wrote:

“Conley is athletic director for a Texon oil firm.  His semi-pro baseball team is one of the best.  It is composed of former major and minor league stars who had rather have substantial year-round jobs than play baseball for a living.

“Snipe also manages the firm’s volleyball, soccer, and soft ball teams and promotes the firm’s weekly boxing and wrestling matches.  He has a son in junior high school.  Conley, bronzed by the West Texas wind and sun, doesn’t look a day older than when he was winning 19 consecutive games – a feat that still stands as a Texas League record…”

Over the next decade, the Texon Oilers baseball team would win the Permian Basin League nine times in ten years.  Occasionally, he would come out and pitch – like this game in Abilene:

“Creaking old Snipe Conley, one of the pitching masters of the Texas League while with Dallas, slid off his managerial bench at Texon the other day and strode to the mound.

“His Texon Oilers were in trouble in the Abilene game.  Runners stood at second and third, one man was out.  The Sniper fogged one down the middle and an Abilenian, with evil intent, bunted to the old man.

“But Snipe rushed over, caught the bunt in mid-air, scurried back to third for an unassisted double play.  The game ended – and Snipe went back into retirement.”

— McKnight, Felix R. “Tech Mentor Sounds Alarm”, Amarillo Daily News, 23 August 1940, Page 10.

Conley pitched a lot – batting practice, occasional games, and a handful of old-timers games where he showed he still had steam on the fastball and movement in his spitter.  He still felt bitter that his career was ended before he was ready to say it was over. Asked if he still wanted to play, Conley responded, “Do I have a yearning to return to professional ball?  My answer is that I have made four different applications for the job at Dallas.”

Eventually, George Schepps, president of Dallas, gave him that chance.  After a tryout, Schepps realized he might actually be more than just a stunt.  “… (H)e is in condition to pitch right now,” Schepps said.  “Say, in 1939 I used him in an old-timers game and the opposing players begged me to take him out because he was throwing too hard.”

In 1941 – now 49 years old – weighing the same as he did in 1927 though with a bit more gray in the hair, Snipe Conley took the hill against the San Antonio Missions.  He was classified as a rookie because he hadn’t pitched in the Texas League (or at A level minor league ball) in more than two seasons.  More importantly, though, he was STILL grandfathered as able to throw his spitball as he was on the Texas League spitball list in 1925 when the pitch was outlawed in the league for all new pitchers.  That makes Conley the last player to legally throw a spitball in a professional game.

The Ada Evening News Reported:

“Baseball’s oldest rookie finished with his arm limp but it failed to dim the luster of the most unusual comeback in Texas League history.

“When Conley pitched for Dallas last night the batters were fellows who were going to grammar school when he set the present league record of 19 straight victories.

“But Snipe was just as crafty, just as speedy and just as effective – that is, for eight innings.  In the ninth, he faltered.  The San Antonio Missions combed his offerings for five hits and five runs.  He managed to finish with an 11 – 6 victory but the end didn’t come any too soon.

“‘I just gave out,’ he explained as he sat in the dugout while his mates rubbed his arm with arnica.  ‘But a couple more nights like this and I’ll be ready to go nine innings.  You know, it’s been 13 years since I pitched the route.’

“Three thousand fans turned out to see Conley in his comeback.  There would have been more but too many figured that while Snipe still had the heart the arm and legs wouldn’t last… Conley was a little crestfallen over the finish but the fans were not.  If pitching nine innings doesn’t sap the aging right arm autographing likely will.”

Snipe Conley at 49 for Dallas

Snipe Conley at 49.

He made a second appearance – topping another ancient spitballer, Oscar Tuero, who was making a comeback.  Tuero lasted two thirds of an inning – Conley pitched into the fifth but ran out of gas.  Dallas won, 10 – 4, but Conley knew he wasn’t going to be able to pitch regularly at that level – he didn’t have the legs or the accuracy anymore.

As he aged, Conley never stopped defending the spitball that made him famous.  He claimed that the shine ball and emery ball were undependable and wild, but the spitball was easily controlled.  A sidearm delivery meant the ball would break like a curve, and an overhand version dropped like a sinker.  As for control – he regularly led his league in the fewest walks per nine innings pitched.

His wife of more than 25 years, Rosebud Stuart Conley, passed away on 7 April 1942.  Their son, John Quinn “Snipe” Conley, Jr.,. pitched in the low minors after graduating from Texas A&M.  Like his dad, he was an outfielder, infielder, and pitcher.  He just didn’t have the skills the original Snipe Conley had.

Conley remarried – he and Mary Lee Reese stayed on a farm near Texon until his retirement and would pitch in old-timer games into his 60s.  Briefly living in Arizona after his retirement in 1957, the Conleys soon returned to Texas where they lived their remaining days in Robert Lee.  In the 1970s, Conley was regularly included but overlooked in voting for the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, but he was finally inducted at the end of 1973.  Finally, Snipe put the glove away for the last time and passed to the next league on 7 January 1978.

SOURCES:

Web:

Baseball Reference – Snipe Conley

http://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.cgi?id=conley003jam  (retrieved 19 May 2016)

Retrosheet – Snipe Conley

http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/C/Pconls101.htm

Handbook of Texas Online, Jane Spraggins Wilson, “Conley, James Michael Patrick [Snipe],” accessed May 19, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcoxn.

Schuylkill County Baseball History

https://schuylkillbaseball.wordpress.com/players-2/snipe-conley/

Historical Data:

1900 Census Data

1910 Census Data

1920 Census Data

1930 Census Data

1940 Census Data

World War 1 Draft Registration Form

World War 2 Draft Registration Form

Newspaper Articles:

Goss, Ralston.  “Hoosiers Triumph With Moseley On Mount”, Indianapolis Star, 29 July 1914, Page 4.

Menke, Frank G. “Great Jokesters Are Big League Players”, The Kane Republican, 12 April 1915, Page 7.

Menke, Frank G. “Menke Visits Baltimore Feds”, The Kingston Daily Freeman, 20 Mar 1915, Page 8.

Guy, Richard.  “Local Boys Are Headed For Dallas”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1 Feb 1916, Page 10.

“Conley Sets Mark”, Washington Times, 11 June 1917, Page 7.

“Big League Scouts Are Looking Conley Over”, The Salina Daily Union, 20 June 1917, Page 4.

“Conley In Spotlight”, Washington Times, 25 June 1917, Page 10.

“Snipe Conley Makes Nineteen Straight Wins”, Washington Times, 9 July 1917, Page 10.

Pittsburgh Press, 11 July 1917, Page 28.

“Young Texas Leaguer Equals Marquard’s 19-Game Record — Now After World Title”, The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pa), 11 July 1917, Page 5.

“Conley, New Redleg, Was Sensation This Year in Texas League”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 21 September 1917, Page 7.

“Cressona Will Use Star Hurler Against Locals”, Reading Times, 13 October 1917, Page 13.

“Heard Here And There In the World of Sports”, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, 10 March 1918, Page 8.

“Prefers Baseball to Farm”, El Paso Herald, 19 April 1918, Page 10.

“Sport Salad By Gene”, Waco News-Tribune, 15 March 1919, Page 7.

Ryder, Jack. “Conley Fails To Get Revenge.”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 7 April 1919, Page 10.

Mount Carmel Item, 15 November 1919, Page 2

“Protest Game and Claim That Ball Was Doctored”, Wichita Daily Times (Wichita Falls, TX), 13 August 1922, Page 1.

Larkin, Paul W. “Spudders Come From Behind and Vanquish Peacocks in Fourth”, Wichita Daily Times, 13 August 1922, Page 8.

Harbert, Bryant. “Sportitorials”, Corsicana Daily Sun, 19 August 1922.

“John Snipe Conley Base Ball Pitcher Spent Friday Here”, The Courier-Gazette (McKinney, TX), 29 September 1923, Page 5.

“One National and One Texas League Player To Aid in Coaching Ponies”, Corsicana Daily Sun, 18 Feb 1924, Page 9.

“Conley’s Homer Wins”, Waco News-Tribune, 21 May 1925, Page 9.

“New Leadership Wins for Steers”, El Paso Herald, 19 June 1925, Page 10

“Victory Over Fort Worth Gives Texas Metropolis First Flag in Ten Years”, The (Bryan) Eagle, 9 September 1926.

“Conley, Dallas Boss, Outdazzles Dazzy”, The (Zanesville) Times Recorder, 17 September 1926, Page 15.

“Snipe Conley Retired As Manager of Steers”, Galveston Daily News, 6 July 1927, Page 6.

“Conley Released”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 3 July 1928, Page 11.

Moore, Paul. “Sport Notes”, Corsicana Daily Sun, 20 July 1928, Page 10.

Parker, Bill. “Sports Horn”, Denton Record-Chronicle, 30 December 1933, Page 5.

“About Snipe Conley”, Abilene Morning Reporter, 26 August 1934, Page 30.

“Champ Series Slated”, Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX), 30 August 1939, Page 7.

“Veteran Snipe Conley Yearns For Another Go In Organized Baseball”, San Antonio Express, 16 February 1940, Page 12.

Ratliff, Harold V. “‘Snipe’ Conley Preparing Oilers for Another Season”, Valley Morning Star (Harlington, TX), 16 February 1940, Page 12.

McKnight, Felix R. “Tech Mentor Sounds Alarm”, Amarillo Daily News, 23 August 1940, Page 10.

“Snipe Conley, Finished Once, Pitches Again”, Ada Evening News, 26 June 1941, Page 6.

Ratliff, Harold V. “Snipe Conley, Now 49, In Comeback With Rebs”, San Antonio Light, 11 June 1941, Page 13.

Ratliff, Harold V. “Snipe Conley To Make Second Start Dallas Rebs Sunday”, Corsicana Daily Sun, 24 July 1941, Page 8.

Ratliff, Harold V. “Comeback Trail Hard; Failed Last Night By Technicality”, Corsicana Daily Sun, 28 July 1941, Page 7.

“Death Claims Wife of ‘Snipe Conley'”, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, 8 April 1942, Page 7.

Moore, Paul. “Sport Notes”, Corsicana Daily Sun, 27 November 1946, Page 7.

“Conley Can Still Pitch a Baseball”, Abilene Reporter-News, 5 October 1949, Page 7.

Gammon, Spec. “Now-Defunct Oilers Captured 2 Titles During 8-Year Tenure”, Odessa American, 21 April 1955, Page 18.

“Texas League Great Retires From Business”, Nashville Tennessean, 5 Feb 1957, Page 15.

“Snipe Conley Down to Hurl”, San Antonio Light, 31 July 1958, Page 17.

Duncan, Arnott. “Babe Ruth Banter – Pro and Con”, Arizona Republic, 17 September 1961, Page 40.

“New Members Join Hall of Fame”, The Odessa American, 1 January 1974, Page 19.

“60 Years Ago – 1917”, Shenandoah Evening Herald, 20 July 1977, Page 4.

“James Patrick (Snipe) Conley”, The Sporting News, 28 January 1978, Page 40.

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Happy Birthday, Mack Burk!

On a June afternoon, the tall and gangling catcher heard the call to pinch hit for Curt Simmons.  He played in games with the Phillies before, but only as a pinch runner.  This time he’d get to bat.  Joe Nuxhall pitched for the Reds that day – a cagey lefty who remains the answer to a trivia question (“Who is the youngest person to play in a major league game?”) – and, unlike many of his earlier starts that season, Nuxhall was winning and pitching well.  Picking out a pitch he liked, a quick, well-timed swing lined a shot right back up the middle.  Standing at first base, Mack Burk smiled.  He was batting 1.000.

In the fifteen games Burk played in 1956, that was his lone at bat.  He got to catch in one inning, too.  Usually he just pinch ran for Del Ennis or Solly Hemus or Andy Seminick, but such was the life of a bonus baby.   From 1953 to 1957, players taken right out of school who signed for larger sums of money had to spend two full seasons on the major league roster – even if that player wasn’t ready for major league action.  Matt Burk signed for $40,000 – $10,000 at signing, and the remaining to be delivered every year for the next three years.

Some of the bonus babies panned out.  Al Kaline was ready to play in the majors right away.  A couple of others were able to do a little here and there until they could contribute regularly – like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Lindy McDaniel, Clete Boyer, and Harmon Killebrew.  Most, however, struggled to find playing time – and Mack Burk was one of those players.

Mack Edwin Burk was born on 21 April 1935 to Edwin Britton Burk and Vernie Vauline (McClain) Burk in Nacogdoches, TX.  According to the 1940 US Census, Edwin was a cigar salesman while Vernie was a homemaker.  In later years, they moved to the Houston area where Edwin would take a job with Mechanics Uniform Supply.  Dad was a baseball fan and played semi-professional baseball, a love he imparted to his son.  Mack played for his Stephen F. Austin High School team – but his height (he stood 6-4) also meant that he would play basketball.  His play at state tournaments where Burk was a second team all-star that earned Mack a scholarship to the University of Texas in Austin.  He chose Texas because he could play both sports.

Mack Burk SOPH College Yearbook Photo

Mack Burk’s sophomore college yearbook photo.

He just wouldn’t play for long.  He played baseball and basketball on the freshman teams.  As a sophomore, Burk worked his way into the rotation on a very young basketball team.  Earning his first start against the Rice Owls, Burk collided with another player trying to position for a rebound and broke his collar bone.  That injury cost him the remainder of the basketball season and the baseball season.

As he had done after his freshman year, Burk would return home and play for a fantastic amateur baseball team sponsored by his father’s Mechanics Uniform Supply company.  For a while, he’d play shortstop, third base, or first base, but frequently he would play catcher – despite his long limbs, Burk had a strong arm and quick movements.  In 1954 and 1955 Mechanics Uniform Supply won the national American Baseball Congress tournament held in Battle Creek, Michigan.  That second year, the scouts paid attention to Burk – he homered twice, batted over .500 in games played in both the regional tournament in Cushing, OK and the national finals in Battle Creek, and came home to several offers to quit school and play baseball.

Teams showing an interest in the lanky catcher included the Yankees, Indians, Giants, Athletics, Tigers, and Cardinals.  Bonus offers ranged from $20,000 to $36,000.  The winning offer came from a team that had built its Whiz Kids roster on bonus babies – the Philadelphia Phillies.  Robert Carpenter, Jr. authorized his scout, Hap Morse, to offer $40,000 and, with his parents watching, Burk signed the deal.  One of his best friends also signed a deal that night.  Pitcher Jack Schultea, who signed a bonus with the Cardinals in 1954 but was returned after showing signs of a wounded arm, showed enough form with Mechanics Uniform to get a second signing bonus with the Phillies.

As an aside, when the former Longhorn landed the big bonus a writer for the Austin Daily Texan, the student newspaper, asked Bibb Falk about Burk.  Falk said that his first year was unspectacular and he remembered little about Burk as a player.

Burk headed to Clearwater, FL for spring training.  In the past, previous Phillies bonus babies didn’t receive kind welcomes from the veterans.  Tom Qualters took away a roster spot from Jackie Mayo, and many players resented Qualters.  One clubhouse attendant deliberately gave him a uniform that was too small, and when Qualters asked for a better fitting outfit, the attendant – nicknamed “Unk” – told him to wear the uniform or leave.  Fred Van Dusen refused his bonus so he could play in the minors rather than sit – but the Phillies’ veterans still weren’t very kind to him.  He rarely got time in the batting cages, and eventually got just a single plate appearance with the Phillies.  Van Dusen was hit by a pitch – and thus never got an official at bat nor played in the field before being shipped to the minors permanently.

Thankfully, the attitude toward bonus babies changed with Burk.  Catcher Andy Seminick was already thirty-five years old and didn’t see Burk as a threat to take his job.  Seminick paired with coach Benny Bengough to teach Burk how to be a major league backstop.  Batting coach Wally Moses regularly gave Burk pointers on keeping his body behind his swing and tried to even out Burk’s long but quick swing – except for a three or four week period where a line drive off Burk’s bat clipped Moses on his left leg just below the hip and chipped a bone.

Wire Photo - Seminick Burk and Bengough

Andy Seminick, Mack Burk, and Benny Bengough in a wire photo that made the rounds in 1956.

Burk spent all of 1956 with the Phillies, returned for spring training in 1957 where he was given the unenviable task of trying to catch Granny Hamner’s knuckleball (none of the regular catchers had to do it as often as Burk), but didn’t stay with the team for long.  In May, the one-time third platoon cadet at the University of Texas Army ROTC signed up for a six-month hitch with the U.S. Army.  Private Burk went to training and missed the rest of the 1957 season.  In 1958, Burk returned for his third spring training, but the bonus baby rule had been rescinded.  Near the end of spring training, Burk was optioned to Tulsa, but played there only briefly at the AAA level before being optioned a second time to A level Williamsport, PA.

For the first time in his career – his third season – Burk finally got regular playing time.  There was a brief break – a series of injuries to catchers required Burk to return to Philadelphia for about a week.  He got to pinch hit once, struck out, and then went back to Williamsport once Stan Lopata returned to play.  Still, Burk appeared in over 100 games with the three teams, batted .236, and showed some promise.  In 1959, he played well enough with Williamsport – .269, a good on base percentage, and seven homers in just 182 at bats – to get promoted to AAA Buffalo, where he was a backup catcher on a team that won the International League championship (one teammate there was Dallas Green).  Prior to the promotion, Burk had a two-homer game and a five-hit game – it was a fine season.

Heading into the 1960 season, Burk was at a career crossroads.  He didn’t want to hang around in the minors forever – but he didn’t have a job either.  Burk remembered sitting in the den with his parents when his dad said he might as well play for one more season.  So, Burk went to spring training, earned a job with the Asheville Tourists in the South Atlantic (SALLY) League, and got the most playing time of his career.  In 114 games, he batted .281, only fanned 32 times in 451 at bats, had 25 doubles, and drove in 46 runs.  Normally a catcher with a line like that would be a prospect.  Burk, however, was no longer a prospect.

One wonders what might have happened had Burk’s career gone in a different order.  Instead of starting with the Phillies, if he could have started in low A ball, found his game and learned some skills, would he have been playing with the Phillies in 1960 rather than the Tourists?  A catcher with some ability to hit would have been a valuable commodity.  In Burk’s case, the Bonus Baby rule likely killed his career.  He was 25 – in five seasons of baseball he had gone from a major leaguer to the low minors.  He once lived his dream, but there was no real future.  Burk decided to go home.

Years earlier, Burk invested his bonus money in a cattle ranch with his father, but Burk wasn’t meant to be a rancher.  Instead, he took a job in electrical supplies (he spent more than 35 years in the industry), got married, and spent his days in and around the Houston area.

SOURCES:

Online:

Texas Birth Records. (Ancestry.com)
Stephen F. Austin High School Yearbook, (1952, 1953).(Ancestry.com)
Univerity of Texas Yearbook, (1954, 1955).(Ancestry.com)
Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.Org

Magazines:

Sam Zygner: “Phillies Bonus Babies, 1953–57”, in Morris Levin, ed.: From Swampoodle to South Philly: Baseball in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, The National Pastime, SABR, 2013, pp. 92-97.

Newspapers:

“Grays Trail by Two Games, Open Home Stand Tonight”, Lock Haven Express, 1 June 1959, Page 9.
“Eastern League”, Lebanon Daily News, 6 May 1959, Page 10.
“Burk Sworn in Army”, Findlay Republican Courier, 4 May 1957, Page 14.
Borowsky, Ben. “Phillies Are Banking On Bonus Baby Behind Plate”, Bristol Daily Courier, 7 March 1957, Page 17.
“Hamner Impressive With Knuckler”, Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 6 March 1957, Page 13.
“25 Bonus Babies Will Stick Whether They Make It or Not”, Waco News Tribune, 12 April 1956, Page 38.
“Former UT Cager Inks With Phillies”, Austin Daily Texan, 27 September 1955, Page 3.
“Phils Fork Up Wad For Burk”, San Antonio Light, 25 September 1955, Page 49.
“Owls Smash Steers, 79-70” Abilene Reporter News, 9 February 1955, Page 90.
Lewis, Allen. “Anderson, Farrell Lighten Gloom Over Phils’ Injuries”, The Sporting News, 18 June 1958, Page 13.
“Phillie Fodder”, The Sporting News, 13 November 1957, Page 18.
Morrow, Art. “‘Easy Does It’ Robin Shows His Old Form”, The Sporting News, 27 June 1956, Page 18.
“Phil Filups”, The Sporting News, 13 June 1956, Page 13.
Morrow, Art. “Burk, Latest Phil Find, Flashes Dash of Dickey Behind the Dish”, The Sporting News, 7 March 1956, Page 15.
Morrow, Art. “Phils to Keep Inking ‘Good’ Bonus Babies”, The Sporting News, 30 November 1955, Page 23.
“Deals of the Week”, The Sporting News, 12 October 1955, Page 29.

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Baseball History on April 4

BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENTS:

1859 Joe Brown

Canadian-born pitcher – he made six starts for the Chicago White Stockings in 1884, winning four of six decisions.  Might have pitched in the American Association in 1885, but I can’t tell for sure.  If he did, his obituary didn’t mention it.

Less than three years after his last game, Brown died in Warren, PA of consumption.  He was 29.

1862 John McCloskey
1866 Jerry Kane
1866 Harry Taylor
1866 John Schulze
1878 Jake Volz
1881 Bill Jackson
1883 Bill Hinchman
1883 John Hummel
1885 Bill Dam
1888 Bill Upham
1888 Tris Speaker

Only the greatest center fielder before Mantle and Mays.

1889 Dutch Lerchen
1893 Pete Kilduff
1897 Ray Miner
1900 Jule Mallonee
1903 Les Bartholomew
1910 Joe Bokina
1910 Joe Vosmik
1916 Willie Ramsdell
1916 Mickey Owen
1924 Gil Hodges

By all accounts a kind and intelligent man, fair to players and good with fans, and one of the key players on many good Dodger teams.  As a manager, he was equally successful and his life was cut way too short.

1927 Don Hasenmayer
1928 Frank Smith
1929 Tookie Gilbert
1933 Ted Wieand
1937 Al Kenders
1937 Gary Geiger
1941 Eddie Watt

One of the bullpen aces of the great Orioles teams in the 1970s.

1942 Jim Fregosi

If you set aside the fact that he did not provide to the Mets what Nolan Ryan did for the Angels, you have someone who for a few years was the best shortstop in the league, and who was bright and observant and successful as a manager.

His son (Jim, Jr.) is in baseball, but as a front office guy.  I remember him getting hired a couple of years ago by the Royals.

1942 Tom Fisher
1942 Ron Locke
1943 Mike Epstein
1947 Ray Fosse

I used to love catchers when I was a kid, and Fosse was one of my favorites.  Me – I was destined to be a second baseman or center fielder, but catchers were cool.

1948 Leon Hooten
1956 Tom Herr

One of the few guys to drive in 100 runs with 10 or fewer homers.

1959 Pete Hernandez
1960 John Lickert
1961 Brad Komminsk

For some reason, I thought he was older.  The Braves thought he would be as good as, say, Dale Murphy, but that didn’t happen because he struck out a whole lot.

1968 Jim Dedrick
1969 Carlos Reyes
1969 Mark Strittmatter
1972 Guillermo Garcia
1972 Jeff Sparks
1972 Matt Wagner
1975 Scott Rolen

A top flight third baseman whose back eventually gave out.  Cardinal fans – who would you rather have:  Ken Boyer or Scott Rolen?

1977 Eric Valent
1978 Jason Ellison
1981 Casey Daigle
1986 Louis Coleman
1987 Cameron Maybin

The best player received by the Marlins in the trade that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers.  In a different world, his best years would not have been in San Diego and he might have been a star.

1987 Odrisamer Despaigne

The first major leaguer named Odrisamer…

1991 Martin Perez
1993 Miguel Almonte

OBITUARIES:

1902 Charlie Sweeney
1924 George Wood
1934 Dick Johnston
1941 Alex Jones
1945 Dick Cotter
1947 Jot Goar
1949 George Suggs
1962 Snooks Dowd
1966 Herb McQuaid
1969 Les Wilson
1969 Chuck Ward
1971 Carl Mays
1974 Danny Silva
1982 Mel Queen
1988 Jack Aragon
1988 Charlie Snell
1991 Johnny Moore
1999 Early Wynn
2004 George Bamberger
2008 Jerry Crider

YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THAT!!!

1974 Hank Aaron homers off Reds starter Jack Billingham, his 714th, tying Babe Ruth’s career home run record.  Aaron’s blast plated Ralph Garr and Mike Lum, but the Reds came back to win, 7-6, in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

1994 Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes hits three homers off Dwight Gooden as the Cubs clobber the Mets on Opening Day.  Rhodes is the first NL player to open the season with three bombs.

2001 Hideo Nomo fires a no-hitter, beating the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.  Brian Daubach had two homers for the Red Sox, driving in all three runs, in the 3 – 0 whitewashing.  Nomo struck out 11 and walked three batters in earning his second no-hitter (one in each league!).

TRANSACTION WIRE:

1910 The Giants sent Buck Herzog and Bill Collins to Boston for Beals Becker.

1937 Detroit sells Al Simmons to Washington for $15,000.

1960 Chicago sends Earl Battey, Don Mincher, and $150,000 to Washington for slugger Roy Sievers.

1963 Pittsburgh sends Howie Goss to Houston for outfielder Manny Mota (Mota… Mota…  Mota…)

1978 Kansas City sells John Mayberry to the Toronto Blue Jays.

1987 Cleveland signs free agent pitcher Steve Carlton.

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