Hello friends… I am trying something different for the website. My ability to write and maintain it will be, of course, limited to the time I have available to me but the focus will rarely be on the current events of baseball. Instead, I am going back to my roots – which is learning about any and everything I can about baseball. The goal is not just to highlight the heroes of the game for which there are a gazillion different books. Rather, I wish to talk about players for whom you may or may not have heard anything and try to tell their stories in a smaller format.
Here’s a sample of what I will try to provide over the next several months. If you enjoy it, please let me know. If you have suggestions or feedback, that will be most welcome, too. As always, I’m just glad people are visiting. Happy New Year!
1888 – Ovid Nicholson, who got a brief tryout with the Pirates in 1912 and batted .455 in the few games he got to play. Nicholson set the minor league record with 111 stolen bases in the 1912 season while with Frankfort thus earning his trip to Pittsburgh. Despite playing well, Nicholson was returned to Louisville because the Pirates thought the raw kid was too small. Nicholson married his wife, Nelle Donlea, whom he met while playing ball in Bedford, Indiana before heading off to World War I. Then, he returned to his minor league nomadic life, playing and managing throughout the Midwest. On a sad note, the Nicholsons lost their daughter, Donna Rose, to illness before her fifth birthday in 1926. After that, the Nicholsons returned to Indiana to live amongst family and friends for the remainder of their lives.
1890 – Jim Viox (See below)
1901 – Dick “Wiggles” Porter (also “Twitchy”) Must have been a nervous guy, huh?
1931 – Frank Torre
1935 – Sandy Koufax – the best pitcher of the 1960s
1944 – Jose Morales – top pinch hitter of the 1970s
1976 – A.J. Pierzynski
1977 – Grant Balfour
1894 – Jack McMahon, one of the last left-handed catchers. McMahon’s demise was sad and quick. In August, 1893, his middle and forefingers on his right hand were badly injured by an Amos Rusie pitch and there were fears that the fingers would need to be amputated. He never played again. The following spring, McMahon came down with what was thought to be Bright’s Disease, but he appeared to be regaining health by the end of 1894 only to learn he had a kidney stone in his bladder. He survived the surgery to remove it, but he was running a fever afterward and died at the age of 25.
1916 – Reddy Mack
1951 – Bob Kinsella
1963 – Wilbur Good
2005 – Bobby Stevens
1943 – Pittsburgh trades Babe Phelps to Philadelphia (NL) for Babe Dahlgren. Phelps would never play in the majors again, but Dahlgren had three more decent seasons with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
1958 – Los Angeles released Pee Wee Reese.
Ever Hear of Jim Viox
(Yes, I published a version of this last year. This is slightly edited.)
Arriving on December 30, 1890, Jim Viox would grow up to become the second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates where he would play alongside Honus Wagner toward the end of Wagner’s long career.
Born in Lockland, Ohio – a small town north of Cincinnati – Viox began his career playing for Lexington in the Blue Grass League. After a successful year in 1910, the Cubs signed him but let him go. Viox hit .291 in 1911 and was signed by Pittsburgh to play third base. Eventually the 5′ 7″ infielder found a starting role at second base. He was quick but not fast – and had a decent eye. In his first full season, Viox finished in the top five in the National League by hitting .317 with some power and getting on base at a .399 clip. While Viox would never hit .300 again, his ability to work the count and get on base was a valuable commodity.
However, the end of the Wagner era had an unhappy ending – by 1915, the Pirates were no longer competitive and Viox was one of many players who were cut by Pittsburgh in 1916. Viox wasn’t a rangy fielder and started to put on a little weight (in 1921, when managing for Portsmouth and still playing second base, The Sporting News noted that Viox was heavy in the team photo…), so even though he was still a better hitter than anyone else the Pirates used at second base for the next decade, he was dispatched to the minors.
Viox first landed in Kansas City but when he was claimed by Salt Lake City, he decided he would rather play semi-pro baseball in the Cincinnati area than head west. In 1920, Portsmouth of the Virginia League tapped Viox to become its playing manager and Viox took with him a number of players he had seen playing ball in the Queen’s City area. Among them was pitcher Larry Benton who, along with shortstop Harold “Pie” Traynor, would lead Portsmouth to the 1920 Virginia League pennant. Viox managed another pennant winner in 1921 – though that team won its pennant only after Wilson and Rocky Mount were found in violation of the league’s salary cap and forfeited games.
While managing, Viox also played – one season he batted .371 – and earned a trip to the high minors. He played for a season and a half for Louisville in the American Association. However, he was called back to managing and took over teams in Lexington, Rocky Mount, and Raleigh before leaving organized baseball.
Viox may have retired, but never lost his love of the sport. He frequently played in old-timers games in Cincinnati and would attend events sponsored by the Retired Ballplayers Fraternity in the Cincy Area. He shows up in The Sporting News at William (Dummy) Hoy’s 86th birthday party in a couple of pictures. His son, James Jr. grew up to be an engineer, a career that Viox’s grandchildren continue today. Viox died on January 4, 1969 at his home in Erlanger, Kentucky, a short ride south of Cincinnati.
This is great as usual. Wonder if Dick Porter had Tourette’s Syndrome?
Dick Porter may need his own biography as it appears that he was a very, very good player for a long time.
Porter was signed by Jack Dunn to play for the Baltimore Orioles of the AA in 1921 and played there for most of the 20s. This was a GREAT team, you know… Lefty Grove pitched there for a while, so these guys were teammates for five years. Seriously, perhaps the greatest minor league dynasty ever. Anyway – Dunn finally started selling off his players in the middle 20s and Porter was sold to Cleveland for the 1929 season.
Before I talk about that, though, I just want to point out that Porter was a pretty good player in Baltimore. Every year but one, Porter hit over .300 – and not just by a little. One year, it was .376 with 25 homers. His power didn’t translate when he got to the majors, but he cleared .300 most every year there, too – finishing with a .308 average before going back to the minors. When it was done, Porter had a few knocks short of 2500 hits between his major league and high minor league days. Granted, this was the 1920s and everyone seemed to hit .300 then, but even if you take some of the air out of his statistics, he’s a .280 hitter with some doubles and a few homers.
Haven’t yet found a story explaining his nickname, but might be a worthy entry to the Baseball 365 book.
That’s good stuff. Would be neat to add his nickname’s origin to the story.