Happy Birthday, Count Gedney!

“The mystery of Alfred W. Gedney’s life was buried with him here yesterday. The old-time ball player, who never used a glove, died at the age of 76 last Friday. He was a member of the champion Philadelphia baseball team, which was the first American outfit to tour Europe, but for the past 25 years he absolutely shunned professional ball and never saw a game.

“In 1890 Gedney played the outfield for the Hackensack team, and since then had occasionally practiced with local teams when his day’s work as an accountant was done. He always was grimly silent on his professional baseball career.”

“Former Star Dies in Baseball Mystic”, New Castle (PA) Herald, 27 March 1922, Page 11.

Let’s see if we can’t tell some of the stories that Alfred Gedney wasn’t willing to share.

Count GedneyAlfred William Gedney hails from one of America’s first arriving British imports.  His lineage goes back to John Gedney, who left Yarmouth, England in 1636.  John’s son, Bartholomew, is famous for being a magistrate in the Salem witch trials.  Fast forward two centuries, and Alfred was born on 06 May 1849 to William Henry and Eliza Forman (Purdy) Gedney – Eliza was William’s second wife (Jane Osterman was the first, and she and her daughter, also Jane, died much too young).  William was connected; an architect and builder in New York’s 9th Ward, he served as a dutiful Republican, friendly with Thurlow Weed and President Chester Alan Arthur.  Alfred was the second of five children, four of whom lived to adulthood.

Playing the evolving game of baseball on the lots of New York City, Alfred was an active member of the amateur clubs of his city.  In 1869, as a member of the Empire club, he was awarded a ceremonial bat for being the best hitter at an event held at the Elysian Fields.  By 1870, he was on the Unions of Morrisania, and a year later Alfred landed on the Eckfords, a top semi-professional club that played a number of games against the first National Association clubs, winning several contests.

“It is rumored that the match on Saturday will wind up the Haymakers as a club hailing from Troy, as they have not received any salary for some time…” 

“The Troy Club.”, Boston Globe, 22 July 1872, Page 8.

Gedney was a fine outfielder with a pretty solid arm and joined the Troy Haymakers for the 1872 season.  As a reserve outfielder, Gedney played really well – even though by midsummer he was no longer getting paid.  When Troy disbanded, many of the players finished the season with the Brooklyn Eckfords, which jumped from being a good amateur team to being a member of the National Association.  Gedney never played with the same team two seasons in a row.  In 1873 he was an outfielder with the New York Mutuals.  A season later, he signed with the Philadelphia Athletics and was one of the ten players who made a tour of England playing baseball exhibitions against Boston’s championship team.  In 1875, Gedney went back to the New York Mutuals, possibly to be closer to home.  By the end of that season, he had taken on his own business – he’d be an accountant for the rest of his days – and was twice called upon to pitch.  In fact, Gedney won his only start.

“Gedney now stepped up to the plate and all waited breathlessly, bets being freely made that the Mutuals would win. Presently Gedney hit a magnificent ball to right field, far over Addy’s head, which carried him to third, and Hicks trotted in easily and the game was tied. There stood Gedney on third and only one man out, and the Philadelphia backers began to turn from the field – well, they might, for the next ball was badly muffed by Fulmer and Gedney made the winning run.”

“A Field Day.”, Philadelphia Times, 18 May 1875, Page 4.

Likely no longer interested in the travel requirements, his batting average – usually a bit below average (his career mark was .251 with few walks and a token number of extra base hits – he usually batted near the bottom of the lineup) fell to .206.  At this point, Gedney returned to the New York City amateur ranks, playing with the Arlingtons, called “…one of the bona-fide first-class amateur clubs of the country” by the New York Herald.  Eventually he moved to Hackensack, New Jersey with his wife, Elizabeth Blanck, whom he married in 1881.  They had no children.  After an illness, Gedney passed with his baseball secrets to the next league on 26 March 1922.

One of those secrets was the source of his nickname.  He had a teammate – Count Sensenderfer – in Philadelphia.  Sensenderfer had the air of an aristocrat, which explained his nickname.  Gedney really WAS an aristocrat.  A reasonably thorough search through digitized newspapers of his playing days never turned up an instance in which Gedney was called “Count”.  And, he had to deal with the problems of being wealthy…  In 1882, he got involved with his in-laws to help extricate his father-in-law from a young woman who convinced the older (and smitten) Mr. Blanck to marry her.  It came with a price, but one the families seemed willing to pay after trying to use questionable legal tactics and a little muscle to kick the woman out of the family estate.

SOURCES:

1855 New York Census
1820, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900,  1910, 1920 US Censuses
US Passport Application, 1874
NY Marriage Index
FindAGrave.com – Alfred
FindAGrave.com – William
FindAGrave.com – Caleb
Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org
Rootsweb.com
Wikipedia
Ebay

“Base Ball – Election of Officers.”, New York Times, 11 April 1866, Page 2.

“A Grand Match At Paterson.”, Brooklyn Union, 25 November 1868, Page 4.

“Opening By The Empire Club.”, 27 April 1869, Page 6.

“Mutual vs. Atlantic.”, New York Herald, 20 October 1869, Page 5.

“Base Ball Matters.”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 May 1870, Page 8.

“Baseball – Eckford vs. Union of Morrisania.”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 23 June 1870, Page 3.

“The Eckfords Getting Ready”, New York Sun, 01 April 1871, Page 1.

“Athletic Versus Eckford.”, 16 May 1871, Page 4.

“White Stockings Vs. Eckfords”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 30 May 1871, Page 6.

“Defeat of the Haymakers by the Eckfords.”, Brooklyn Union, 10 August 1871, Page 2.

“Baseball – The Great Game Between Harry Wright’s Boston Nine and the Eckfords”, New Orleans Times-Democrat, 11 August 1871, Page 2.

“Baseball”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 03 August 1871, Page 2.

“The New Haymaker Nine.”, Chicago Tribune, 04 December 1871, Page 4.

“The Troy Club”, Chicago Tribune, 14 April 1872, Page 8.

“The Troy Club.”, Boston Globe, 22 July 1872, Page 8.

“Sport and Pastimes.”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 03 August 1872, Page 3.

“Base Ball.”, Chicago Tribune, 25 November 1872, Page 8.

“Next Year’s Great Nines”, Chicago Tribune, 10 November 1873, Page 3.

“A Trans-Atlantic Tour by the Athletic and Boston Clubs”, Fremont Weekly Journal, 30 January 1874, Page 1.

“Base Ball.”, New York Times, 27 December 1874, Page 5.

“A Field Day.”, Philadelphia Times, 18 May 1875, Page 4.

“Base Ball.”, Hartford Courant, 20 August 1875, Page 2.

“Base-Ball.”, Chicago Tribune, 27 February 1876, Page 9.

“No Fool Like An Old One”, New York Times, 25 August 1882, Page 5.

“Former Star Dies in Baseball Mystic”, New Castle Herald, 27 March 1922, Page 11.

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Happy Birthday, Fred Schemanske!

Fred Schemanske in 1925

In this Indianapolis staged photo, Schemanske is flanked by Sumpter Clarke and Mully DeLoof.

Fred Schemanske, a big right-handed pitcher, actually made his debut as a pinch hitter – drawing a walk with the bases loaded in what was part of a seven run, ninth inning rally that allowed the Washington Senators to steal a game from the team of his hometown, the Detroit Tigers, 9 – 8.

Frederick George Schemanske was the son of Gotfried and Augusta (Dorsch) Schemanske, born on 28 April 1903, and one of seven children. Gotfried repaired railroad cars, having arrived from Germany in the 1880s; his wife would arrive shortly after. Fred was born in the Woodmere,  Michigan – a rural area eventually swallowed up by Detroit.  After finishing his second year of high school, the husky Schemanske took up playing baseball on the sandlots of the area.  It was there another Michigan ballplayer, Clarke (Pinky) Pittenger – then playing for the Red Sox – who recommended that a team in Hamilton, Ontario give the young right-handed pitcher a shot for the 1922 season.

“Fred was anything but a tame little duck and between wild pitches that manager Bill Kelly snared only after stopping the game and securing a motorcycle, the side was retired without further damage.”

“Fred Schemanske May Be Making Impression Down South But He Failed Here”, Port Huron Times-Herald, 31 March 1923, Page 15.

Schemanske didn’t stick in Hamilton, but took up a job pitching for Port Huron, Michigan instead.  A year later, he received a tryout with the Detroit Tigers.

“Cobb is unusually sweet on Fred Schemanske, a Polish youth from Detroit, who promises to become another Covaleskie. In his game against Augusta last week, Schemanske allowed but one hit in four innings and won the favor of the Georgia Peach.”

“Cobb Likes Young Hurlers”, San Bernadino Sun, 02 April 1923, Page 13.

Schemanske didn’t land with the Tigers for 1923 despite having a few good outings (and not being Polish).  Cobb released him and Schemanske found his way to Evansville where he apparently pitched well enough to earn a second shot at major league action.  The Senators used him as a pinch hitter once, and then – in the last game of the season – he pitched the final inning of a loss to the Philadelphia Athletics.  He allowed three hits and three runs.  The Senators didn’t keep him around for 1924.

Fred SchemanskeInstead, Schemanske pitched for Omaha in 1924 and then Indianapolis for 1925.  Schemanske would alternate between starting and relieving games for both teams, but never made an enviable record as a pitcher.  Despite that, Schemanske – now called Buck – was a holdout.  He settled and joined Indianapolis for spring training but came down with a stomach ailment that eventually required surgery and he missed out on the entire 1926 season.  He made a comeback in 1927 with Indianapolis, but it wasn’t good enough to stay in the high minors, so he was sent to Quincy, which was a farm team of the Indians.

“The hero of this contest, who should go down in Quincy’s hall of fame, was Fred Schemanske, big newcomer from Indianapolis who turned the Commies back without a run until two were down in the ninth. Schemanske was invincible with men on bases, 12 Commodores being left on the sacks, while he helped win his own game with a double that scored three runs in the second inning.”

Sink, Bob. “Quincy Trounces Commodores 11-2; Decatur Finally Scores in Ninth”, Decatur Evening Herald, 21 May 1928, Page 7.

He didn’t have enough heroic games – Schemanske was sold to Beaumont in the Texas League for the 1929 season, but left the team after spring training and returned home to Detroit.  He took a position as a press operator – and spent his nights and weekends in the 1930s becoming a competent bowler.  In fact, Schemanske rolled a record 738 series for the Cadillac House League (279, 244, 215) in 1932, breaking the old league record by 13 pins.  He appears infrequently in the papers as a tournament bowler for much of the 1930s.

In 1939, he married Beatrice Menard, a Detroit area clerk – it was her second marriage. Their marriage lasted the rest of his life, but included no children.  As with his first breath, he took his final breath in Detroit on 18 February 1960.  His obituary notes that his passing occurred “suddenly.”

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com

Retrosheet.org

FindAGrave.com

1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Census.

Michigan Marriage License

“Hamilton Looks For Good Year in M. O. League”, Port Huron Times-Herald, 13 April 1922, Page 11.

“Fred Schemanske May Be Making Impression Down South But He Failed Here”, Port Huron Times-Herald, 31 March 1923, Page 15.

“Cobb Likes Young Hurlers”, San Bernadino Sun, 02 April 1923, Page 13.

“Senators Win 9-8 by 7-Run Rally in 9th”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 16 September 1923, Page 20.

“Indians to Start Limbering Up at Plant City Today”, Indianapolis Star, 03 March 1925, Page 16.

Photo from Indianapolis News, 14 April 1925, Page 28.

Photo… Shows nickname to be “Buck”…  “No Longer A Holdout”, Indianapolis Star, 26 March 1926, Page 17.

“Open Three-Tilt Series Today at Oklahoma City”, Indianapolis Star, 09 April 1926, Pages 14, 15.

“Pirates Release Two To Indians”, Indianapolis News, 23 November 1926, Page 31.

Patton, W. Blaine. “Highlights Gleaned From Sportland”, Indianapolis Star, 28 November 1926, Page 37.

Sink, Bob. “Quincy Trounces Commodores 11-2; Decatur Finally Scores in Ninth”, Decatur Evening Herald, 21 May 1928, Page 7.

“Texas Leaguers Announce Rosters”, Austin American-Statesman, 24 February 1929, Page 11.

“Hard Hitting Matches Hurling of Burrell”, Detroit Free Press, 09 September 1929, Page 18.

“Series Record is Shattered”, Detroit Free Press, 13 February 1932, Page 15.

“Obituary: Schemanske, Frederick G.”, Detroit Free Press, 21 February 1960, Page 29.

Happy Birthday, “Crese” Heismann!

The son of German immigrants – his accent likely turning his name, Chris to Crese – Crese Heismann was a left-handed thrower who was one of many fresh arms signed by the American League and assigned to the Baltimore franchise to help it finish the 1902 season.

Christian Ernst (later Ernest) Charles Heismann arrived on 16 April 1880 to August Ernst and Mary (Roettger) Heismann, a farmer who lived on the fringes of Cincinnati, Ohio.  Chris was the oldest of six kids, five of them boys (and another one, Edwin, also a ballplayer).  In time, Christian would work on that farm before his live left arm gave him a chance to be a pitcher.

“No team this season has been able to take the measure of the Shamrocks, who lay claim to possessing the fastest left-handed twirler in this part of the country in Chris Heisman… His work will be watched with interest by minor league managers.”

“Prout and Ward.”, Topeka State Journal, 29 August 1901, Page 2.

Heismann worked his way through to the Shamrocks of Cincinnati, one of the strongest semi-professional teams in the state where he earned a reputation for a lively fastball.  By the end of the 1901 season, Heismann was signed by the Cincinnati Reds and given a chance to show his stuff during the end of a down season.

“Had the Red squad seconded the able efforts of “Crese” Heisman, the second game would have gone on the tab as a Cincinnati win, for the lad from Groesbeck pitched in magnificent form. He held the mighty swatsmen from Quakerdom down like a veteran who knew their weaknesses…

“Heisman’s Great Work”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 01 October 1901, Page 4.

Heismann remained with the Reds in 1902, but wasn’t around long – even though he won two of three decisions.  He landed with Evansville, but that minor league team ran into financial difficulty, so he was eventually released in early July.  At that time, the Baltimore Orioles franchise of the American League was being demolished by owner/manager John McGraw, who sold his shares in the club to John T. Brush, owner of the National League’s New York Giants and stole a number of players for the Giants and Reds.  Desperate for any live arms, Heismann was signed to pitch for Baltimore and he made three more starts for the remnants of the Orioles, losing all three decisions.

“We have the best pitcher in the state, and he is Manager “Chris” Heisman of the Sally league” – Darlington News.

The Watchman and Southron (Sumter, SC), 22 May 1907, Page 3.

At that point, Heismann became a bit of a minor league nomad.  He pitched in Butte, Montana in 1903, then he headed to the south.  According to Baseball-Reference, Heismann pitched in places like Columbia, Savannah, and Roanoke before returning to his native Cincinnati, where he became a successful grocer.

“Chris Heisman, the former left-handed pitcher of the Reds, has, like Bid McPhee, quit the professional ranks for good. He may play with some K. I. O. League club this summer, but as must of his time will be taken up supplying the Fairview Heights people with groceries it is hardly likely the Saturday Afternoon League will secure the clever southpaw’s services. Chris has three brothers in the grocery business with him, but Ed is the only other ball player in the lot. Ed played short for College Hill last season and pitched for Manager Ripley’s Rushville team, winning most of his games.”

“Baseball Gossip.”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 02 February 1908, Page 8.

In 1910, Heismann married Ida Louise Riemeier.  They had a son, Carl, in 1916.  Five years later, a second child died just two days after birth.  Carl died just after his 23rd birthday in a car accident in Albuquerque, NM.  At the time, he was the youngest salesperson on the road for Procter and Gamble.  Ida and Chris spent the rest of their years owning grocery stores in Ohio and, for a brief period after the death of their second child, in Indiana.  Chris passed to the next league on 30 November 1951 in Cincinnati, OH.

Sources:

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Censuses
Ohio County Marriage Records
Retrosheet.org
Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com

“Amateur Baseball Gossip”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 28 July 1901, Page 14.

“Prout and Ward.”, Topeka State Journal, 29 August 1901, Page 2.

“Philadelphia 10, Cincinnati 2.”, St. Joseph Gazette-Herald, 01 October 1901, Page 8.

“Heisman’s Great Work”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 01 October 1901, Page 4.

“Evansville Players Released.”, Indianapolis Journal, 08 July 1902, Page 6.

The Watchman and Southron (Sumter, SC), 22 May 1907, Page 3.

“Baseball Gossip.”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 02 February 1908, Page 8.

Also, Butte (MT) Miner box scores in 1903.

“Carl Heismann.”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 April 1939, Page 17.

Happy Birthday, Rick Grapenthin!

Rick Grapenthin was a Linn Grove, Iowa native who was signed by the Expos as a free agent after a college career at both Mesa Community College and Indiana State University. Grapenthin (pronounced Grap-En-TEEN) earned professional notice following a summer pitching for Storm Lake in the Northwest Iowa League where at one point he was striking out more than two batters per inning, including a 25 strikeout game. “Dave Potratz, a radio announcer at Spencer (High School), suggested I attend an Expos tryout at Mankato, Minn.,” said Grapenthin. “It was run by Jim Fanning, a former Iowan, and Bob Gebhard. I threw pretty well and they were impressed. They offered me a contract and sent me to Jamestown, N.Y… I was terrible at first. But they made me a relief pitcher and things got a little better.”

Grapenthin had a great 1982 season in A San Jose and AAA Wichita, earning a spring training invitation the following spring. He was among the last players sent down to the minors, but within days he was recalled by the Expos due to an injury to Woodie Fryman. He sat on the bench for nearly three weeks before he finally got to pitch in a major league game. In his debut, he entered a game after Scott Sanderson was removed with a foot injury and allowed four runs on four hits (two homers – Bob Horner and Chris Chambliss) and earned the loss against the Braves. Back to the minors he went – but he got two more chances in 1984 and 1985. He signed with San Diego in 1986 and spent a season in AAA, then spent two more seasons with Louisville in the St. Louis chain. After a short stint with two AL teams (NY, DET) in 1989, he called it a career.

Felipe Alou, who managed Grapenthin in the minors for Montreal, said that the Iowa native had a solid fastball, but no dependable breaking pitch. “Grapenthin has a major league arm,” said Alou. “He’s got a good fastball but needs to work on the breaking pitch. He has one of the best arms we have in terms of strength.”  Later, he added a fork ball to go with a fastball and slider.

Grapenthin won one game in relief, made one emergency start (losing to the Cubs on a Keith Moreland grand slam) in 1984, and had three career losses. As a reliever, he garnered two saves in his 18 relief appearances. He tallied a 6.35 ERA in 34 innings. As a hitter, he had two hits in seven at bats, and even scored a run.

Richard Ray Grapenthin was born 16 April 1958 in Linn Grove, IA.  Right before spring training in 1985, he married Lucinda (Cindy) Carol Taylor – like Grapenthin, a graduate of Indiana State University.  After calling his baseball playing career overn he spent time as an assistant coach at Clemson.  Grapenthin went back to college, getting a Masters from the Kellogg School of Management at NU, and then working in marketing management for a number of sports equipment and sporting goods companies. He currently serves as the CEO of BoneChip Enterprises.

Sources:

LinkedIn.com
Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org
Indiana Marriage Records

Hersom, Terry. “NWI League flash”, Sioux City Journal, 28 June 1980, Page 9.

“Grapenthin whiffs 25 as Storm Lake wins”, Sioux City Journal, 29 June 1980, Page D2.

“Raines Triples His Payment, Helps Expos Defeat Cubs, 4-3.”, Palm Beach Post, 15 April 1983, Page D1.

“Behanna Has Braves Believing, 5 -2”, Los Angeles Times, 04 May 1983, Page III-6.

Grett, Wayne. “Thank Heaven for tryout camps”, Des Moines Register, 07 June 1983, Pages S1, S2.

Rogers, Kim. “Grapenthin seeks baseball bliss”, Indianapolis News, 14 February 1985, Page 31.

Happy Birthday, Dizzy Sutherland!

Dizzy Sutherland went from a full-time cabbie and weekend pitcher to a tryout with Charlotte and eventually a September call up for the Washington Senators in six months.

Actually, Howard Alvin Sutherland’s life had a few more turns than that…  He was born 09 April 1922 to Ruby Garner and John Sutherland – who met when both were boarders at a home owned by Sutherland’s sister.  Sutherland was about twenty years older than Ruby, and not long after he sired older sister Erma and Howard, he was gone.  Ruby remarried – first to Raymond Groves and then to John DeGroot before finding stability in her married life.

Howard played ball in his home town Washington D.C., and then took a job in construction.  Soon after, however, he registered for the draft and later enlisted in the United States Army for World War II.  Private First Class Sutherland was part of an airborne mission in Italy when, within 30 minutes of hitting the ground and dispatching his parachute, he was taken hostage by German soldiers and spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp where the usually portly kid lost 100 pounds in two years.

Rescued and returned home, he soon married another Washington D.C. native, Mary Rose Redin, on 30 July 1945.  They had two children, Jennifer and Sherry.  To pay the bills, Sutherland took up driving a cab.  On the weekends, the former high school pitcher started pitching semi-professional baseball to help get in shape.  Spencer Abbott, a Senators scout, caught one of his games and recommended him to Senators management in 1948.  The next spring, Sutherland reported to spring training soft from spending too much time behind the wheel.

“But he had guts,” Charlotte manager Rabbit McDowell said, ” and a helluva curve.”

Another story, possibly apocryphal, suggested that Dizzy bragged about his pitching to Senators pitcher Bobo Newsom, who was riding in Sutherland’s cab, and Newsom recommended that someone check it out to see if it was legit.

It worked – Sutherland opened the 1949 season with Charlotte, where he was immediately successful, winning 18 games for a last place team.  The left hander’s curveball was the feature, but he could change speeds and spot a good enough fastball.  The Senators chose to give him a look in Washington – but not before the Disabled American Veterans gave Sutherland a special citation and plaque for having recovered from his prison camp health to pitch professional baseball.   The Sporting News noted:

“Sutherland, aptly called Dizzy, was wounded in three places by shrapnel during the late war, in which he must have set a record for quick capture. He was taken prisoner by the Germans within 30 minutes after he had bailed out with airborne troops over Italy and spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp.

“The Purple Heart holder was still 100 pounds underweight two years ago, finally got on the road to recovery and made vast strides. Now he weighs 200 and had a 17 – 10 record through September 6, for the Hornets, the city’s first last-place team in history. It was for this record and his health comeback that the DAV awarded him a special plaque, after which he went out and defeated Rock Hill, 5 to 4.”

Bisher, Furman. “Washington Cabbie in Winter and Winning Hurler in Summer”, The Sporting News, 14 September 1949, Page 20.

On September 20th, Sutherland got the start against the St. Louis Browns.  “I was scared to death,” Sutherland later said of his performance. “Normally I’m not wild, but that night I couldn’t have found the plate with radar.”  He walked three in the first inning, but a couple of ground balls and a pop up allowed him to escape allowing just one run.  In the second inning, he walked two then allowed a double to pitcher Joe Ostrowski, then another walk and a single.  He was pulled in favor of reliever Dick Welteroth.

He had two chances to work his way up the minor league ladder, but each time the Chattanooga Lookouts went in another direction.  So, he spent two more years with Charlotte – in his three seasons he won 49 and lost just 32 in 110 outings.  That last year, he was the winning pitcher when Charlotte clinched a pennant in 1951.  The next spring, after being sent to Richmond, his pitching days were over.

Sutherland would remarry and pick up four step children in addition to his two daughters.  But his time on earth, like his major league career, ended too quickly.  Sutherland passed to the next league on 26 August 1979.

Sources:

1920, 1930 US Census
1979 Washington Post Obit (undated copy)
Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.Org
FindAGrave.com
Social Security Applications
WWII Application
World War II Enlistment Records
North Carolina Marriage Records

Collett, Ritter. “Journal of Sports”, Dayton Journal-Herald, 01 July 1950, Page 10.

“Taxicab Driver May Make Grade With Nats”, Asheville Citizen-Times, 03 March 1950, Page 29.

Robbins, Zane. “Hornets Clinch Tri-State Pennant”, 27 August 1951, Page 13.

“Nooga Hurlers Sharp in Beating Tigers”, Nashville Tennessean, 11 April 1952, Page 49.

Bisher, Furman. “Washington Cabbie in Winter and Winning Hurler in Summer”, The Sporting News, 14 September 1949, Page 20.

Happy Birthday, Vedie Himsl!

Vedie Himsl

Image of Vedie Himsl from the New York Daily News, 22 April 1961, Page 31.

Avitus “Vedie” Himsl was the first Chicago Cubs manager in 1961 when the Cubs tried using a rotation of different coaches as the manager.  And, Himsl is the only manager in major league history born in the state of Montana.

Avitus Bernard Himsl was born to Austrian immigrants Victor and Clara (Engels) Himsl on 02 April 1917 in the tiny town of Plevna, Montana – maybe a few rounds of long toss from the North Dakota border.  The Himsl family moved to Plevna in 1913 after living in Saskatchewan.  Victor owned the Plevna State Bank until it was closed during the Great Depression.  However, Avitus’s brother, Mathias, took over the bank’s assets, including a 320 acre plot of land, and used mineral royalties to pay off all depositors and creditors with interest – though it took nearly 40 years to complete the payments. In fact, the Plevna State Bank was the only bank in the United States closed during the depression that paid everybody back.

Avitus was one of seven children and he told Dick Young of the New York Daily News that his mother picked his name out of a book on the lives of saints. Tall and clean cut with horn-rimmed glasses, Young wrote, “His deep voice drones on, like a college prof delivering a lecture.” Avitus learned to play baseball in the fields of his youth. “We had what we called ‘cow pasture’ baseball with some of the people in town,” Himsl explained. “Some of the older guys thought they could still play. We had a pretty good club and would as far as Miles City to play.”  After playing all sports at Plevna High School, Himsl went to St John’s University in Collegeville, MN where he played football, basketball and baseball.  He played semi-professional ball during his summers in Minnesota.

Scouts found him – and after his junior year he signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers and starting playing with them after graduating in 1938. He was first assigned to Beaumont, TX and then Class D Alexandria. “My contract was handled under the table with Detroit,” remembered Himsl. “They had a lot of players in their system that year, and when they didn’t pay me some of the money I thought I was going to get, I wrote the commissioner.”

Kenesaw Mountain Landis met with Himsl and other players and decided that the Tigers (and later St. Louis) had too many players under their control and Himsl was among the first players that Landis declared were now free agents.  Vedie signed with St. Paul in the American Association and played there for four years before serving in World War II.

He tried a comeback for a year with the Dodger organization, but his lack of playing ball during the war sapped him of his ability to get batters out. After the 1946 season, he was done as a player. At that point, he became a scout and instructor, a business manager, and ran camps for the St. Louis Cardinals before joining the Cubs organization as a scout and minor league pitching instructor in 1952.

Vedie’s lone time in the major leagues was when he was named a member of the “College of Coaches”, an experiment in management by Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley. After the last spring training exhibition game against Boston, the team was flying to Houston when Wrigley called the general manager, John Holland, and told him who he wanted as the first manager in the rotation.

“It was the furthest thing from my mind, that I would be singled out,” Himsl told Jerome Holtzman. “I wasn’t expecting anything like that.” In fact, another Chicago paper called Himsl a 100-1 longshot to be the first manager. Himsl, then a pitching coach, knew that Wrigley had watched him manage a spring training game where every decision he made seemed to work and guessed that it made a strong impression on Wrigley.

Himsl managed the first eleven games, winning five, and then was replaced – as scheduled – by Harry Craft. Himsl left and took over the reins of the AAA team in Salt Lake City instead. However, after Craft’s two weeks were up, Himsl was given the top job again. That time, Himsl lost 13 of 18 decisions.  If he were alive, Holtzman would tell you that, while the encyclopedia says he got a third shot and lost three more games, Himsl spent the rest of the year as the minor league pitching instructor.  His 32 games as a manager (there was a tie in there) is among the shortest first terms as a manager in baseball history.

At the time, Himsl took the carousel in stride. “We’re all human,” Himsl told Dick Young. “There is a certain amount of personal thrill in calling the shots. But this is a team effort. None of us is fighting for the job. We know everybody will have an opportunity. None of us is making an issue of it, as the fans and writers seem to be.” Himsl admitted, though, that the players were likely the most affected because each manager liked different types of players and players didn’t know where they stood as managers changed.

While the College of Coaches is generally mocked – and was mocked considerably at the time – Himsl didn’t think it was necessarily a bad idea. “From a won-loss standpoint, it didn’t work… When you look back, the club didn’t do any better the years before the experiment and in the years after that.”

Himsl remained with the Cubs as a scout or instructor through the 1985 season, then retired and did some scouting in a limited capacity for the Cubs. “Vedie’s a terrific scout, one of the best in the country,” Whitey Lockman explained – Lockman was with the Marlins when that franchise was formed and Lockman tried to hire Vedie away from the Cubs. However, Vedie chose to stay with Chicago.

Himsl married Kathryn (Bloom) and had two sons. He lived the rest of his days in Chicago, passing away to the next league on 15 March 2004.

Sources:

Young, Dick. “Himsl to ‘Wrigley’ Out of Cub Job in 48 Hrs.”, New York Daily News, 22 April 1961, Page 31.

“Vedie Himsl: Pride of Plevna”, Great Falls Tribune, 12 February 1991, Pages B-1, B-3.

Holtzman, Jerome. “Cubs’ 1st ‘coach’ was a longshot”, Chicago Tribune, 17 December 1991, Pages 4-1, 4-4.

“Himsl, Avitus”, Chicago Tribune, 17 March 2004, Page 3-9.

“Mathias A. ‘Matt’ Himsl”, Helena Independent-Record, 04 January 2007, Page 8.

Image of Vedie Himsl from the New York Daily News, 22 April 1961, Page 31.

1930 US Census

Baseball-Reference.com

Happy Birthday, Chris Withrow!

Chris Withrow - JC HONG AP in ODESSA

Chris Withrow Photo by Jae C. Hong (AP) and appeared in the Odessa American, 04 April 2013, Page D1.

Chris Withrow was a first round pick of the Dodgers in 2007 out of Midland Christian High School.  A hard throwing right hander (upper 90s fastball with a hard slider), Withrow shifted from a starting role to reliever after returning from a back injury in 2012. “It’s a different mentality,” he told Adam Zuvanich of the Odessa American. “You go in and you may have one or two innings, and you go in and have your best stuff for that inning or two. There’s a little more adrenaline pumping when you get the phone call that you’re going in…”

Withrow was called up after 25 relief appearances at AAA Albuquerque where he had a 1.71 ERA in 2013 and earned a save in 26 appearances for the Dodgers. He opened the 2014 season with the Dodgers but was a little wild, so he returned to Albuquerque. Shortly after landing in New Mexico, however, he tore a ligament in his right elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery in 2014 – which meant he didn’t pitch at all the next season. In 2015, he was traded with Juan Uribe to Atlanta for Alberto Callaspo, Eric Stults, Ian Thomas, and Juan Jaime. His MLB career ended after the 2016 season with Atlanta, though he was signed by Kansas City and sent to a minor league camp in 2017 – only to get injured again. In his three major league seasons, he won six decisions without a loss and posted a 3.07 ERA in 92 relief appearances.

Sources:

Zuvanich, Adam. “Withrow starts season in Triple-A, embraces his new pitching role”, Odessa American, 04 April 2013, Page D1.

Zuvanich, Adam. “Paternity leave, playoffs – Withrow’s had a busy year”, Odessa American, 03 October 2013, Page D1, D4.

“Withrow suffers ligament injury”, Odessa American, 30 May 2014, Page D1.

Baseball-Reference.com