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.