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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Happy Birthday, Joseph Brown

Born 4 April, 1859, Joe Brown was a Canadian-born pitcher who made six starts for the Chicago White Stockings in 1884, winning four of six decisions.  He 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.

“At five o’clock, on Thursday evening, occurred the death of Joseph Brown.  Mr. Brown was 29 years old the fourth day of last April, and was well known in baseball circles throughout the country, where he passed under the familiar title of ‘Old Reliable Joe Brown.’  He began his career, as a baseball player, several years ago in a Warren nine, where he developed such a talent for pitching that he won more than a local fame and, finally, joined a professional club at Fort Wayne.  From there he went to Chicago, where he played with one of the leading clubs for one season, leaving there to join the Milwaukees.  At the close of his engagement with the latter club he came east and joined the Bridgeport, Conn. club.  He remained with the Bridgeport team two years and after playing with the Jersey City nine for a short time, he returned to Warren, broken in health and with that dread disease, consumption, fastened upon his system.  Joe had literally worked himself to death.  He had fairly won the title of “Old Reliable,” but it cost him his life.  If a man was wanted anywhere Joe was ready to step in and take the place, and he would stand in the pitcher’s box and struggle manfully for victory, game after game, without a day’s rest in between.  The club knew that he was always to be relied upon and, therefore, they made him work harder than any two men in the club.  He was temperate, honest, faithful and he stood manfully at his post long after he should have been in bed.

“He was ill when he came home and after his arrival he grew worse rapidly.  During the winter he failed constantly and even the warm sunlight and balmy air of summer failed to revive his waning strength, and at last the Angel of Death came and bore his spirit away from the wreck of his shattered body to that country where sickness and suffering cannot enter.

“To-day, at two o’clock, the earthly remains of ‘Old Reliable Joe Brown’ were borne across the river and laid beside those of a sister who preceded him but a few weeks into the silent land.”

“Death of Joseph Brown”, Warren Mirror, 30 June 1888, Page 2.

Putting aside the writing of someone mourning the loss of a vital and athletic young man who had left his town for sporting fame…  When Joseph Brown was hired to pitch for Fort Wayne in 1883, he was brought in as the alternate pitcher.  In time, however, he became the ace of the Fort Wayne team and stayed a second season.  His pitching there earned him a tryout with the White Stockings in 1884 – and he didn’t necessarily fail, though he wound up playing for Milwaukee the next season instead.

After 1885, though, he spent less time as a pitcher and more time in the outfield.  Some of that may have been related to an injury suffered in a horse/carriage accident.

“Joseph Brown has nearly regained his usual health, his right arm that he almost despaired ever having the use of again has been gaining strength all winter, he has resumed the care and management of his horses that came so near being the death of him.  They are a handsome pair of steeds.”

“Corydon”, Warren Sunday Mirror, 5 August 1885, Page 2

Joseph Brown has been ill for some time with a serious attack of neuralagia.  He is better now.

“Corydon”. Warren Mail, 26 October 1886, Page 3.

I tried to assemble the story of his youth and family by going through census records and here’s what I can find:

In the 1870 Census, Joseph is #7 in the list of children.  The list includes James (26), William (22), Mary (20), Margaret (18), Alexander (14), John (13), Joseph (12), Adeline (9), Martha (6), Roscoe (3), Irene (2 months).  A family tree record in Ancestry.com shows another sister – Bertie – born in 1873, but she is not in the 1880 census as she had died before then.

According to the 1880 Census Joseph was working at a sash factory with his brother Ambrose John.  Here are the family members listed: John Brown (68), Martha Brown (49), Ambrose John (23), Joseph (21), Evaline (18), Mattie (15), Roscoe (12), Lorena (10).

John, Joseph’s father, was a laborer born in Canada to Scottish parents; the mother was born in Ireland to Scottish parents (?) and moved to Canada.  The kids born prior to 1865 were born in Canada, but the last two were born in Warren, PA – so that tells you that the Browns moved to the United States just after Civil War and just before the area just east of them, Bradford, PA, turned into oil country.

From what I gather, the family dealt with a lot of grief.  Some of the kids didn’t make it into adulthood and a couple of the others that did never saw their thirtieth birthday.

Another thing – their home is now gone, the Kinzua Dam along the Allegheny River has put what used to be Corydon under water.  Corydon was Seneca country before it was an incorporated township.  Johnny Cash sang about it in the song “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow,” which is the first track on the “Bitter Tears” album.

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Happy Birthday, John Frill!

John Edmund Frill was a former artillery construction worker for the US Army around the time of the Spanish-American War who later worked his way up from the low minors all the way to the New York Highlanders.

The third child born to Charles and Rosa Geisler Frill, John Frill was born on 3 April 1879. John – like his father – would serve a stint in the U.S. Army.  His dad was a private in the late stages of the Civil War; John registered with the Army in 1901 during the time of the Spanish-American War and reenlisted in 1905.  Originally a tin smith, his time in the army was spent working in artillery construction.

This explains his late start in professional baseball – though one wonders if he hadn’t played some growing up in Reading, PA or with fellow soldiers in camp.  Out of the Army, he first signs to pitch for Springfield and Bridgeport in the Connecticut State League.  Showing a modicum of ability, Frill next pitches for East Liverpool where he gains notice as a live-armed southpaw for the Potters.  He is courted by at least two major league teams but is eventually sold to Newark in the Eastern League.

He had success there, winning 13 games in 1908 and then 16 games in 1909 as the number two man in the rotation behind Joe McGinnity.  His fine work gets him noticed by Kid Elberfeld, who was now managing the New York Highlanders.  He didn’t make the team in 1909, but he was brought up to the majors with George Stallings after a solid spring training in 1910.  However he was unsteady – and he was 31 years old as a rookie.  Sent down to Jersey City in the Eastern League, he had decent seasons there in 1911 and 1912, leading to his being signed twice – once by the St. Louis Browns, and a second time by the Cincinnati Reds.

Frill didn’t thrill there – he would return to Buffalo in the International League.  After bouncing around for a couple more seasons, he and his wife Hannah Francis would give up baseball and live, instead, near the in-laws in Westerly, Rhode Island.  By 1918, Frill was working as a wine clerk at a saloon when, as a former army private, he filled out his draft card for World War I.  That was September 12th. Sixteen days later he was dead – a victim of influenza – at just 39 years old.

Among the odds and ends I saw in looking up information about him – he got the nickname Big John, though he was just 5′ 9-1/2″ tall and didn’t weigh much more than 170 pounds.  And, he was also called “Honest John” – he once received an envelope with money in it that was intended for another person in East Liverpool.  Rather than keeping it, he took out an advertisement in a local paper and found the proper owner.  Another article claimed that he may have received $50,000 as part of the will from a dead uncle.

Sources:

“A Few Minutes Among the Base Ball Players”, East Liverpool Evening Review, 14 September 1907, Page 12.

“Pitcher John Frill Goes Higher Up”, East Liverpool Evening Review, 21 August 1908, Page 13.

“Honest, Unlucky John Frill Sees Turning of Lane”, East Liverpool Evening Review, 19 September 1908, Page 5.

“Big John Frill Leaves Majors For Eastern”, East Liverpool Evening Review, 19 July 1910.

1880 Census

1900 Census

Family record on Ancestry.com – Father was Civil War Vet, and Private, Charles Edmond Frill (1846-1933) – obit says he was a lifelong employee of the Reading Company and his wife died many years earlier.

1918 Draft Card says that in 1918 he was a wine clerk at Walton’s Saloon in Westerly, RI, married to a Hannah Francis Frill and living at 74 Main, Westerly.  Tall, black hair, blue eyes.  Registered on 9/12/18 and 16 days later he was dead.

US Army Registrations – 1901, 1905

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Baseball History on April 3

BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENTS:

1854 Joe Ellick

According to MLB Profiles, 1871-1900 (Vol. 1), Ellick was a baseball nomad – he played all over the country for various clubs and teams from about 1872 into the 1880s.  Occasionally, he’d get a few games in the majors – his longest stay was 92 games with the Chicago franchise in the Union Association.  Later, he managed and umpired, though – much like the rest of his baseball career – he moved around some.

After his career, he had a number of jobs for the railroad, then in the auditor’s office of a meatpacker, and finally as a cigar maker before passing away in Kansas City in 1923.

1856 Guy Hecker

One of my favorite personalities of the early days of baseball, Hecker was a remarkable pitcher – threw a no-hitter once and led the American Assoiciation with 52 wins in 1884.  He was a pretty good hitter, too – once led the association in batting average at .341 in 1886.  He then formed semi-professional teams in Pennsylvania’s Oil Country where he would manage and play first base.  Hecker’s Hitters – a team in Oil City, PA, would frequently play (and win) exhibitions over teams from Pittsburgh and Washington.

Among the odd records in Hecker’s professional career – he once had three homers and three singles (and a walk), scoring seven runs (still a MLB record) while being the winning pitcher in the second game of a August 15 doubleheader.

Bill Bailey wrote an excellent bio for SABR:

1860 Tom Lynch

National League umpire in the 1880s and 1890s.

1864 Bill Schwartz

Briefly played two games for Columbus in 1883, then was able to get a gig with the Cincinnati Outlaw Reds of the Union Association, but only played 29 games there.  His major league career was over just after his 20th birthday.

1867 Paul McSweeney

St. Louis native who must have played semi-pro ball in the river city during his youth.  The Browns needed help for a few games in 1891 and McSweeney got to play in three games as a second baseman and third baseman.  He got three hits, a double and two RBI, even stole a base.  However, he committed eight (!) errors in the field – one every fourth inning he played – and was sent back to the sandlots.

1875 John Pappalau

Holy Cross grad, got to pitch in two games – one in relief, and one was a complete game loss – for the Cleveland Spiders in 1897.

1879 John Frill

John Edmund Frill was a former artillery construction worker for the US Army around the time of the Spanish-American War who later worked his way from the low minors all the way to the New York Highlanders.

Read his biography here.

1886 Bert Graham

Eight games with the Browns in 1910.  He was pulled out of the Cotton States League by Robert Hedges, but it didn’t work out…  Back to the minors he went, playing in several B level leagues for about a decade.

1892 Harry Kingman

Played four games with the Yankees in 1914.

Except, of course, that Kingman was the first person born on mainland China to play in the majors – his parents were missionaries – and he had a remarkably long career in education and missionary work.

This remarkable story was written by Bob Timmermann for SABR.

1905 Gordie Hinkle

Played in 27 games for the 1934 Red Sox, a catcher who batted but .173 and struck out nearly a third of the time.  His brother, Clarke, was a Hall of Fame fullback with the Green Bay Packers.

Hinkle coached into the late 1940s, then joined Mobil Oil until his retirement.

Bill Nowlin penned this bio for SABR.

1919 Larry Shepard

Minor league pitcher, lost five years to World War II, and never made it to the bigs even though he pitched from 1941 to 1958.  Was a coach for years after that, though, and briefly managed the Pirates in the late 1960s.  Went back to coaching in 1970 and was the pitching coach for the Big Red Machine under Sparky Anderson.

1921 Dick Conger

UCLA student signed by the Tigers in 1940.  Pitched briefly for Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia from 1940 to 1943.  Got the call of duty in World War II, then returned to the minors when he got back in 1946.

Died in his native LA in 1970.

1926 Alex Grammas

Fine fielding shortstop for St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s.  Some of you may remember him for his coaching time – he managed the Brewers in the 1970s, and was a coach for Sparky Anderson on both his Cincinnati and Detroit teams.

1929 Art Ditmar

The last pitcher to win a game with the Philadelphia As as a rookie in 1954, he suffered through a 12 – 22 season in Kansas City before being traded to the Yankees in 1957.

Casey Stengel got a lot out of Ditmar for five seasons, including a 15 – 9 mark in 1960.  However, Ditmar lost two games in the 1960 World Series and his arm didn’t seem as solid in 1961.  He was traded back to Kansas City and his career ended after just 21.2 innings with the As in 1962.

Ditmar was incorrectly identified by a radio broadcaster as the guy who served up the Bill Mazeroski homer to end the 1960 World Series – that sound byte was later used in a Lite Beer commercial about 20 years later.  Ditmar sued unsuccessfully to collect damages for the use of his name.

1930 Wally Moon

Texas A&M grad, homered in his first at bat with St. Louis in 1954 and beat out Hank Aaron for rookie of the year.  A decent hitter for a few years, was traded to the Dodgers after a down season and helped them to the World Series in 1963 and 1965.

1936 Don Rowe

Appeared in 26 games, once as a starter, for the 1963 Mets – never got a decision.

By the time Rowe was on the Mets, he had spent a decade pitching in the minors but never being good enough to get the call to the Pirates, who had his rights from 1954 to 1962.  His career ended after the 1967 season and he took on coaching at various levels, including a tour with the White Sox in 1988 as a pitching instructor.  He passed away in 2005 of Parkinson’s disease.

1939 Hawk Taylor

Bonus baby signing of the Braves right out of high school and his first taste of the majors was a World Series win…  Robert Dale Taylor was born in Metropolis, IL and got the nickname from a movie serial of the period.

Bounced around the majors and minors for nearly 15 years and only once was a regular – that with the 1964 Mets when he was in some odd Stengel platoon system.

Steven Schmitt penned this SABR Bio:

1940 Jose Vidal

Indians and Pilots outfielder of the late 1960s.  At a time nobody was getting many hits, Vidal hit .164 in 165 plate appearances and that cost him a regular job.

1943 Barry Moore

Senators pitcher of the 1960s taken out of Pfeiffer University in 1962.  Also pitched briefly for Cleveland and the White Sox.  Moore won 26 of 63 decisions in a six year career.

1944 Gomer Hodge

Harold Hodge was a kindly southern gentleman signed by the Indians in 1963.  Born in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, Hodge spent eight years in the minors as a switch hitting line drive hitter who could play nearly every position on the field.

In 1971, he made the Indians out of spring training and managed to make quite the impression in his first three games.  He had four hits in four at bats, a run scored, two doubles, and four RBI.  Excited, he told his teammates, “Golly, fellas, I’m hitting 4.000!”

His southern accent and physical resemblance to Jim Nabors earned Hodge the nickname “Gomer”, and – like everything else – Hodge took it with a smile.

His batting fell off – 1971 was his only season in the bigs.  However, Hodge spent most of the next 30 years in baseball as a coach, manager, or scout.  He’s the one who first noticed Vlad Guerrero, for example.

Hodge contracted ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and passed away 13 May 2007.

1946 Rod Gaspar

Cal State – Long Beach grad taken in the second round by the Mets in 1967 (this, after passing on being drafted by the Mets in 1966 in the 18th round).  Made the club as a 4th outfielder in 1969 when Art Shamsky got injured and hung around a second season.

Gaspar was traded to San Diego to complete the Ron Herbel acquisition, played with the Padres on two occasions, and spent the bulk of his minor league career in Hawaii.  Eventually, the travel and minor league accommodations got old and he got involved in financial services instead.

Gaspar lost a son to Leukemia; another son was drafted by the Astros but hurt his arm before making the bigs.

Maxwell Kates penned this biography for SABR.

1954 Larry Littleton

Charlotte native who was drafted by the Pirates in the first round out of the University of Georgia in 1976.  He was also drafted in the first round by Boston in 1975, but chose to stay in school one more year…

As an outfielder, he wasn’t going to take a job away from Dave Parker, Bill Robinson, or Willie Stargell,…  He got a break, though, and was traded to Cleveland for reliever Larry Anderson.  Littleton had his best spring training ever and made his debut as a pinch hitter in April, 1981 – in 26 games he batted 27 times, getting 23 at bats, three walks, an RBI on a sacrifice fly, but not a single hit.  His 0/23 is the worst oh-fer in MLB history by a non-pitcher.

Still, that season had value.  He was introduced to someone who helped getting Littleton a job with Merrill Lynch.  Life works out sometimes.

1956 Darrell Jackson

Arizona State grad taken by Minnesota in the 1977 draft…  Jackson made the bigs in 1978, went 9 – 9 as a regular member of the 1980 rotation, but when his ERA ballooned in 1982 (a shoulder injury contributing to this), his career was over.

He returned to his native Los Angeles and apparently took up a pretty significant addition – crack cocaine and alcohol – and it nearly ruined his life.  He found help, and now works as a counselor preventing kids from following in those footsteps.

1958 Gary Pettis

Five time gold glove winner – just amazingly fast and smooth as a centerfielder.  At one time, he held the Angels record for stolen bases in a season (56 in 1985).  Career ended when he couldn’t outrun his strikeout rates.

One year, the face on his baseball card was that of his kid brother.

1960 Tim Conroy

First round draft pick by Oakland in 1978 and brought up to the majors at just 18 years old (similar to Mike Morgan).  Sent back to the minors, he got back to the bigs in 1982 and alternated between starting and relieving for a few years.  He was traded (with Mike Heath) to the Cardinals for Joaquin Andujar in 1985 and pitched for two seasons in St. Louis.

Since retiring, he’s been a scout and front office exec – first in Atlanta and now with the Royals.

1961 Tim Crews

Six years as a pitcher for the Dodgers, signed with the Indians for 1993.  Then, during spring training, he drove his boat into an unlit dock (it was twilight) killing both him and Steve Olin, and seriously injuring Bob Ojeda.

Originally drafted by the Brewers in the second round in 1981, was traded with Tim
Leary to the Dodgers for Greg Brock.

1961 Doug Baker

Arizona State grad drafted by the Tigers in 1982.  Got to the Tigers in 1984, backing up Trammell and Whitaker (a lineup nobody could crack as they weren’t going anywhere), and played in 43 games as Trammell suffered with a sore throwing arm.  Could never hit, though, so after seven years as a AAAA infielder for Detroit and Minnesota, his career ended.

Older brother Dave also made it to the majors with Toronto in 1982.

1962 Dave Miley

Career minor leaguer, then coach.  Spent three years as manager for the Reds, and another decade after that as a AAA manager in the Yankees chain.

1962 Marty Clary

Detroit native taken in the third round by the Braves out of Northwestern in 1983.

Got a few appearances in 1987, then a regular turn in the rotation in 1989 where he was moderately successful (4 – 3, 3.15) despite only 30 strikeouts against 31 walks in 108.2 innings.  In 1990, he went 1 – 10 with a 5.67 ERA and went back to AAA for good.

1963 Chris Bosio

Second round pick of the Brewers in 1982, was one of the aces of the staff from 1987 to 1992, winning 30 games in his last two years there.  Crafty guy, threw strikes, but didn’t really blow guys away.  Signed a four-year deal with Seattle, but couldn’t stay healthy after that. Made three post-season starts with the Mariners in 1995, but lost only decision.  Threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox in April, 1993.  Finished with a 94-93 career won-loss mark.

Been a pitching coach for several organizations since 1998, and now a pitching coach with the Cubs.

1967 Danny Leon

Venezuelan righty made 15 appearances for Texas in 1992, winning one of two decisions.  Originally signed by the Expos, Detroit tried him for a year, and then Texas.  Sent back to AAA by the Rangers in 1993, he had an ERA around 7.00 and was done.

1967 Miguel Garcia

Venezuelan lefty, smallish, who briefly pitched with the Angels and Pirates.  Pittsburgh tried to make a starter out of him in 1990 and that failed miserably.

1968 Mike Lansing

I first saw him play for Wichita State in 1989…  Drafted by an independent Miami team in 1990, joined the Expos in 1993.

He was immediately an impact infielder, moving to second base.  In his best years, he’d have double-digit homers and stolen bases, bat around .280, and play a solid second base.  And yet, he was traded to Colorado for three prospects…

A regular in 1998 but injured in 1999, he was traded in mid-2000 to the Red Sox, struggled, and then to Cleveland – but never played a game there.

Kirk Radomski named Lansing in the Mitchell Report – he was recommended to Radomski by David Segui.  This was after Lansing was out of the majors – perhaps he was trying to get back.  No matter – he never played in the majors again.

A businessman now, Lansing is the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Los Angeles Harbor.

1971 Quilvio Veras

Dominican infielder signed by the Mets in 1989.  Took a while to get to the bigs, but once there, he established himself as a threat on the bases.  Stole 56 bases as a rookie with Florida in 1995, leading the NL.  Two years later, he was traded to San Diego, and then again to Atlanta.

Involved in trades with many big names – Mets sent him to Florida for Carl Everett.  The Marlins sent him to San Diego for Dustin Hermanson, and then the Padres moved Veras, Wally Joyner, and Reggie Sanders to Atlanta for Bret Boone, Ryan Klesko, and Jason Shiell.

Signed on as a free agent with both Boston and Los Angeles, but never played in a game for either club.

1972 Steve Soderstrom

First round pick out of Cal-State Fresno in 1993 for the Giants and made three starts for them in 1996, winning two.  And that was it.  Spent a number of years in the minors trying to get back – now runs a youth sports academy.

1974 Jim Pittsley

First round pick of the Royals whose arm injuries prevented him from having much of a career.

1975 Koji Uehara

After years pitching in Japan, Uehara was brought to the US by Baltimore for the 2009 season as a starter.  Turned into a reliever the next season and has been one of the most effective relievers (99 career saves) ever since.  Closer for the Red Sox the last three seasons, but expected to be a set up man in 2016.

1978 Bobby Hill

University of Miami shortstop taken in the second round by the Cubs in 2000.  Moved to second base, hit all the way through the minors and got his first chance in 2002 with Chicago.  Part of the Aramis Ramirez trade – didn’t seem to make a huge mark in the majors and yet was a .262 hitter with patience at the plate.

Currently the head coach of the Mission College (CAL) baseball team.

1980 Justin Christian

Speedy outfielder for the Yankees in 2008, Giants in 2011 and 2012.  Still active – played in Mexico last season.

1981 Ryan Doumit

Second round pick by the Pirates in 2009, had a nice ten year career as a catcher, first baseman, outfielder with three teams.

Ryan Doumit Trivia:  Third on the Pirates career list for homers by a catcher (Kendall – 66, Pena – 63, Doumit – 55).  Actually homered on back-to-back nights off of Trevor Hoffman (4/27 and 4/28, 2010).

1984 Kyle Phillips

Twins took this catcher out of high school in 2002.  Got a quick look in 2009 with the Blue Jays, then 36 games with the Padres in 2011 (See Luis Martinez, below).

Originally signed to be a scout after the 2011 season, but was still trying to play as of a couple of years ago…

1985 Luis Martinez

Miami native… Martinez, a catcher, got short stints with San Diego (2011) and Texas (2012).  Has played all over the country and with various teams…  Last seen in 2015 playing for Portland and Pawtucket in the Red Sox chain.

1985 Mike McClendon

Orlando native drafted by the Brewers out of Seminole Community College in 2006.  Went 5 – 0 in 35 relief appearances between 2010 and 2012.  Signed as a free agent by the Rockies in 2014, but now pitching in China.

1987 Jay Bruce

Beaumont, TX native taken in the first round by the Reds in 2005.  His batting average has fallen off the last couple of years, but he has averaged 26 homers a year since his 2008 debut.  Was an All-Star in 2011 and 2012, back when he had three straight years with more than 30 homers.

1987 Jason Kipnis

Second baseman – a second round pick by Cleveland in 2009 out of Arizona State – who has skill at the plate and in the field.  A two-time All-Star, he batted .303 last year – seventh in the AL – and his 43 doubles were second in the AL.

I’m a fan – he’s from Northbrook, IL and went to Glenbrook North HS where my cousins attended (many more years ago, though).  Also a charter member of the Taylor Hooten Foundation – a group that advocates against the use of performance enhancing drug use by kids.

1991 Tom Murphy

Third round pick of the Rockies in 2012, a catcher with some power.  Twice has cleared twenty homers in a season in the minors, and three of his nine hits in a September call up last season were homers.

1992 Blake Swihart

Rookie with the Red Sox last year, Swihart is expected to log 100 games or so as a catcher for Boston in 2016.  A first round pick out of high school in 2011, Swihart has hit at every level and appears to have decent defensive tools.

OBITUARIES:

1894 Billy Redmond
1909 George Barclay
1921 George Bechtel
1921 Pop Corkhill
1938 Charlie Brown
1938 Count Campau
1942 John Rudderham
1952 Dick Harley
1952 Phenomenal Smith
1953 Larry Benton
1956 Clay Roe
1956 Dolly Gray
1969 Charley Stanceu
1971 Jack Boyle
1972 General Crowder
1975 Sugar Cain
1977 Hank Steinbacher
1978 Ray French
1979 Harry Simpson
1980 Bob Linton
1980 Bob Trowbridge
1981 Clayton Lambert
1983 Mickey Livingston
1991 Whitey Miller
2002 Roy Nichols
2002 Karl Swanson
2006 Royce Lint
2010 Jim Pagliaroni

YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!

1989 Ken Griffey, Jr. just 19, doubles in his first professional at bat off of Oakland starter Dave Stewart.

TRANSACTION WIRE:

1931 The Browns sold Lu Blue to the White Sox for $15,000.  Blue gave the Sox one good year (.304 with one homer and 62 RBI – also 127 walks), but fell back in 1932 and was released the following spring.

1938 Washington signs a washed up Goose Goslin as a free agent.  Goslin got something like nine hits in 57 at bats in his final season.

1958 The Cubs send Bob Speake and cash to the Giants for outfielder Bobby Thomson.

1962 Minnesota releases infielder Billy Martin.  He’d come back and manage a few years later…

1966 New York signs non-drafted free agent Tom Seaver.

1974 The Phillies sign free agent outfielder Jay Johnstone.  That worked out pretty well for the Phillies…

1987 Oakland acquires Dennis Eckersley and Dan Rohn from the Cubs for minor leaguers Dave Wilder, Brian Guinn, and Mark Leonette.  Oakland won that deal…

1991 Chicago signs free agent DH Bo Jackson.

1994 Seattle signs free agent pitcher Goose Gossage.  He promptly beans four guys for smiling after hitting a homer in batting practice.

1995 Oakland signs free agent pitcher Dennis Eckersley – it was his last contract with the A’s.  By then, his ERA had been over four a couple of times and he soon would be in St. Louis.

2004 Cleveland sends Milton Bradley to the Dodgers for Franklin Gutierrez and a player to be named later (Andrew Brown).

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Baseball History on April 2

Birth Announcements!

1856 Tommy Bond

Among the top pitchers of early baseball, taking in 234 victories in ten seasons between 1874 and 1884.

According to Major League Baseball Profiles 1871 – 1900 (Vol. 1), Bond was the first pitcher to win 40 games in three successive seasons – this back when teams carried just one primary pitcher and he got the bulk of the work.  Bond throw a rising fastball – it was thrown in a submarine fashion, with the ball being released less than a foot off the ground.  Throwing as much as he did, it’s no wonder that his arm gave out when it did – he was still a very young man when his ability to pitch left him.

1868 Frank Boyd

He played in just two games as a catcher for the Cleveland Spiders in 1893, but made the most of them.  He batted six times, walked once, drove in three runs, and scored three runs.  Spent a decade in the minors for various teams before returning to his home in Pennsylvania’s oil country.

1869 Hughie Jennings

Hall of Famer – very good shortstop with the Orioles, long time manager and coach in Detroit, later earned a law degree.  Lover of fast cars – accidents nearly killed him…

1874 Pete Woodruff
1875 Ed Siever
1878 Jack Harper
1881 Joe Stanley
1884 Howard Wakefield
1889 Harry Moran
1889 Ben Taylor
1889 Ben DeMott
1894 Harry O’Donnell
1895 Earl Pruess
1906 Bob Way
1907 Luke Appling

Another Hall of Famer; great shortstop and hitter.  In his 70s, he hit a homer in a Cracker Jack Old Timer’s game.

1911 Cotton Pippen
1915 Al Barlick
1917 Vedie Himsl
1919 Earl Johnson
1924 Bobby Avila
1927 Billy Pierce
1930 Art Ceccarelli
1930 Gordon Jones
1937 Dick Radatz

Boston’s “Monster” reliever.  Back then, it wasn’t strange for a reliever to win ten or more games out of the bullpen.  Without a start, Radatz won 49 games between 1962 and 1965, averaging about 135 innings pitched and about 160 strikeouts each season.

So Cleveland has Trevor Bauer and he throws hard, can go multiple innings, and has no idea where the ball is going from time to time, costing him a spot in the rotation at the start of this season.  Why can’t Terry Francona take Bauer and make him a long reliever of sorts – instead of going six innings every fifth day, let him throw two or three innings every other day or so when his starters get in trouble earlier than planned, and scoop up 15 late inning wins?

1938 Al Weis
1945 Don Sutton

Third Hall of Famer on this list – pitched in six different decades (or something like that) winning between 14 and 18 games every year.

1945 Reggie Smith

I remember Bill James writing about this – we must have been thinking the same thing.  Reggie Smith was ALWAYS on winning teams.  He was on the 1967 Red Sox, he was on the Cardinals when they nearly toppled the Pirates.  Moving to LA, the Dodgers won championships with Smith in town.  He was one of my favorite players as a kid, and I think he was a Hall of Fame player, even though his career statistics might not suggest it.  He just won.

1945 Mike Kekich
1950 Milt Ramirez
1951 Tom Johnson
1953 Hector Cruz
1955 Billy Sample
1958 Mike Howard
1959 Al Nipper
1960 Tom Barrett
1964 Pete Incaviglia

While at Oklahoma State, Pete Incaviglia hit one of the longest homers ever seen at Hoglund-Maupin Stadium in Lawrence, KS (where I went to college).  His shot not only cleared the left field fence, but it cleared the trees behind the fence with plenty room to spare, landed on Naismith Drive – which is probably 100-125 feet beyond the trees and maybe 500 feet or so from home plate – and then bounded into the parking lot across the street that used to be there.

1968 Curt Leskanic
1969 Steve Hosey
1970 Denny Hocking
1970 Jon Lieber

Pirates and Cubs ace.  Fairly good pitcher for a couple of years there.  But that’s the problem, right.  Very few pitchers make it last longer than five years anymore.

1973 Marc Kroon
1975 Hisanori Takahashi
1977 Mike Gallo
1978 John Gall
1981 Brian Barden
1981 Mike McCoy
1987 Brad Glenn
1989 Rob Rasmussen
1992 Wilmer Difo

OBITUARIES:

1897 Harry Scherer
1910 Joe Nealon
1920 Matty McIntyre
1927 Mike Lynch
1932 John Graff
1932 John Morrill
1933 Joe Cross
1934 John Roach
1935 Brad Hogg
1944 Bob Brush
1947 Charlie Jones
1950 Doc Sechrist
1955 Reggie Grabowski
1969 Ben Cardoni
1970 Carl Ray
1970 Dave Hoskins
1972 Gil Hodges

Had a heart attack on a South Florida golf course after a spring training game.

1974 Tommy Vereker
1978 Bill Brubaker
1981 Ben Rochefort
1984 Ike Davis
1992 Dib Williams
1994 Gil Paulsen
1997 Al Blanche
2001 Gary Gearhart
2003 Hilly Flitcraft
2010 Mike Cuellar

Don’t let Jim Palmer tell you otherwise – this guy was the best pitcher on the staff.

2011 Tom Silverio
2012 Allie Clark

YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!

1998 Texas clobbers Chicago 20 – 4, getting 23 hits off Sox pitchers.  Ten run scored in the seventh – that was some seventh-inning stretch…

TRANSACTION WIRE:

1925 Philadelphia (NL) claims George Burns from Cincinnati on Waivers.  Though nearly 36 years old, the one-time great Giants lead off man would hit .292 as a corner outfielder for the Phillies.

1959 Detroit returned Maury Wills to the Dodgers.

1963 St. Louis sold Minnie Minoso to Washington.

1976 Oakland trades Reggie Jackson, Ken Holtzman and Bill VanBommel to Baltimore for Don Baylor, Mike Torrez, and Paul Mitchell.

1992 Philadelphia sends Jason Grimsley to Houston for Curt Schilling.

1999 Kansas City trades Jeff Conine to Baltimore for Chris Fussell.

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