Happy Birthday, Ethan Allen! (The baseball guy, and not the war hero whose name is tied to furniture…)


Many players on the birthday list were part of the first generation of baseball players – guys who played the game prior to 1901…

1855 – Bill McGunnigle

One of the lesser known but important contributors to the early game, McGunnigle managed a pennant winner in Brooklyn in both the American Association (1889) and National League (1890).  He also is credited with inventing the first (admittedly primitive) catcher’s mitt, and his methods as a manager were eventually mimicked by a player on his 1891 Pittsburgh Pirates squad.  Connie Mack would – like McGunnigle – wear a suit in the dugout and signal to players with his scorecard.

1857 – Tim Keefe

Keefe won 342 games in three different leagues between 1880 and 1893 – and at four different pitching distances – eventually being added to the Hall of Fame in 1964.  Keefe also spent three years as a regular umpire in the National League, that after being asked to umpire more than a dozen games while still a player.

1858 – Hugh Nicol

Nicol was a speedy utility player of the 1880s who was credited with a league leading 138 stolen bases while with Cincinnati in the American Association in 1887.

1870 – Bumpus Jones

Jones was a minor league nomad of the 1890s who is most famous for throwing a no-hitter in his first major league start for Cincinnati.   Jones never really made it in the majors, but got enough chances because of that famous game.  His no-hitter may be the luckiest of them all.

That list is followed by another interesting list of players who continued the growth of the grand game.

1904 – Ethan Allen, who not only hit .300 in his 13 year career, he later became the head coach of the Yale Baseball team, coaching two teams to the NCAA College World Series finals – teams that included future president George H.W. Bush.  As if that would be a good enough resume, Allen was the creator of the board game All Star Baseball.  Some of you may remember player disks and spinning the wheel to determine batting results…

1911 – Hank Greenberg – you’ve probably heard of this Tigers legend…

1924 – Earl Torgeson

Torgeson was a bespectacled first baseman of the late 1940s and 1950s who played in two World Series (1948 Boston Braves, 1959 Chicago White Sox) and was a player-coach for the 1961 Yankees.  His batting stats are sort of a poor man’s Bobby Abreu – decent average, fair power, walks, and some stolen bases.  A biography of Torgeson is included in Baseball Players of the 1950s by Rich Marazzi and Len Fiorito, and is an interesting read…

1955 – La Marr Hoyt (1983 AL Cy Young Winner)

1975 – Fernando Tatis, who was the first player to hit two grand slams in the same inning, both off of Chan Ho Park, on April 23, 1999.   Here’s something about that game you may not remember – Tatis was later pulled in the eighth inning as part of a double-switch.


1923 – Willie Keeler
1977 – Danny Frisella

Frisella came up with the Mets following a path similar to Tom Seaver.  They were both drafted by the Braves but declined the opportunity and went back to school.  Both went on to pitch in Fairbanks, Alaska.  They were drafted the following season (1966) and both found their way to the Mets.  Frisella didn’t have Seaver’s fastball and lived on breaking pitches.  Frisella died at 30 when he tried to jump off his dune buggy as it began to tip in the sand.  His foot got stuck, however, and he didn’t make it out.

2006 – Paul Lindblad – 1970s reliever.


1894 – Baltimore traded Billy Shindle and George Treadway to Brooklyn for Dan Brouthers and Willie Keeler.  In the 1890s, the same ownership group controlled both Baltimore and Brooklyn and would keep all the good players in Baltimore.  So, while this is listed as a trade (and, on the surface, a really lopsided one at that), the truth is that it was more a reorganization of talent.

1927 – Brooklyn released an aging Zack Wheat.  Wheat signed with Philadelphia for the 1927 season and hit .324 in his only AL season.  He probably wasn’t finished as a ballplayer, but hung it up at the end of the 1927 season anyway.

On This Date – December 30

Hello friends…  I am trying something different for the website.  My ability to write and maintain it will be, of course, limited to the time I have available to me but the focus will rarely be on the current events of baseball.  Instead, I am going back to my roots – which is learning about any and everything I can about baseball.  The goal is not just to highlight the heroes of the game for which there are a gazillion different books.  Rather, I wish to talk about players for whom you may or may not have heard anything and try to tell their stories in a smaller format.

Here’s a sample of what I will try to provide over the next several months.  If you enjoy it, please let me know.  If you have suggestions or feedback, that will be most welcome, too.  As always, I’m just glad people are visiting.  Happy New Year!


1888 – Ovid Nicholson, who got a brief tryout with the Pirates in 1912 and batted .455 in the few games he got to play.  Nicholson set the minor league record with 111 stolen bases in the 1912 season while with Frankfort thus earning his trip to Pittsburgh.  Despite playing well, Nicholson was returned to Louisville because the Pirates thought the raw kid was too small.  Nicholson married his wife, Nelle Donlea, whom he met while playing ball in Bedford, Indiana before heading off to World War I.  Then, he returned to his minor league nomadic life, playing and managing throughout the Midwest.  On a sad note, the Nicholsons lost their daughter, Donna Rose, to illness before her fifth birthday in 1926.   After that, the Nicholsons returned to Indiana to live amongst family and friends for the remainder of their lives.

1890 – Jim Viox (See below)
1901 – Dick “Wiggles” Porter (also “Twitchy”)  Must have been a nervous guy, huh?
1931 – Frank Torre
1935 – Sandy Koufax – the best pitcher of the 1960s
1944 – Jose Morales – top pinch hitter of the 1970s
1976 – A.J. Pierzynski
1977 – Grant Balfour


1894 – Jack McMahon, one of the last left-handed catchers.  McMahon’s demise was sad and quick.  In August, 1893, his middle and forefingers on his right hand were badly injured by an Amos Rusie pitch and there were fears that the fingers would need to be amputated.  He never played again.  The following spring, McMahon came down with what was thought to be Bright’s Disease, but he appeared to be regaining health by the end of 1894 only to learn he had a kidney stone in his bladder.  He survived the surgery to remove it, but he was running a fever afterward and died at the age of 25.

1916 – Reddy Mack
1951 – Bob Kinsella
1963 – Wilbur Good
2005 – Bobby Stevens


1943 – Pittsburgh trades Babe Phelps to Philadelphia (NL) for Babe Dahlgren.  Phelps would never play in the majors again, but Dahlgren had three more decent seasons with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

1958 – Los Angeles released Pee Wee Reese.

Ever Hear of Jim Viox

(Yes, I published a version of this last year.  This is slightly edited.)

Arriving on December 30, 1890, Jim Viox would grow up to become the second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates where he would play alongside Honus Wagner toward the end of Wagner’s long career.

Born in Lockland, Ohio – a small town north of Cincinnati – Viox began his career playing for Lexington in the Blue Grass League.  After a successful year in 1910, the Cubs signed him but let him go.  Viox hit .291 in 1911 and was signed by Pittsburgh to play third base.  Eventually the 5′ 7″ infielder found a starting role at second base.  He was quick but not fast – and had a decent eye.  In his first full season, Viox finished in the top five in the National League by hitting .317 with some power and getting on base at a .399 clip.  While Viox would never hit .300 again, his ability to work the count and get on base was a valuable commodity.

However, the end of the Wagner era had an unhappy ending – by 1915, the Pirates were no longer competitive and Viox was one of many players who were cut by Pittsburgh in 1916.  Viox wasn’t a rangy fielder and started to put on a little weight (in 1921, when managing for Portsmouth and still playing second base, The Sporting News noted that Viox was heavy in the team photo…), so even though he was still a better hitter than anyone else the Pirates used at second base for the next decade, he was dispatched to the minors.

Viox first landed in Kansas City but when he was claimed by Salt Lake City, he decided he would rather play semi-pro baseball in the Cincinnati area than head west.  In 1920, Portsmouth of the Virginia League tapped Viox to become its playing manager and Viox took with him a number of players he had seen playing ball in the Queen’s City area.  Among them was pitcher Larry Benton who, along with shortstop Harold “Pie” Traynor, would lead Portsmouth to the 1920 Virginia League pennant.  Viox managed another pennant winner in 1921 – though that team won its pennant only after Wilson and Rocky Mount were found in violation of the league’s salary cap and forfeited games.

While managing, Viox also played – one season he batted .371 – and earned a trip to the high minors.  He played for a season and a half for Louisville in the American Association.  However, he was called back to managing and took over teams in Lexington, Rocky Mount, and Raleigh before leaving organized baseball.

Viox may have retired, but never lost his love of the sport.  He frequently played in old-timers games in Cincinnati and would attend events sponsored by the Retired Ballplayers Fraternity in the Cincy Area.  He shows up in The Sporting News at William (Dummy) Hoy’s 86th birthday party in a couple of pictures.  His son, James Jr. grew up to be an engineer, a career that Viox’s grandchildren continue today.  Viox died on January 4, 1969 at his home in Erlanger, Kentucky, a short ride south of Cincinnati.