Results tagged ‘ Polo Grounds ’

This Just In…From 1894

You might not like the Wild Card, and you might not like the World Series extending into November, and you might promise you will not like this expanded version of the playoffs Bud Selig is hinting at. But your displeasure will be nothing compared to the most ill-fated of all of baseball’s post-season formats: The Temple Cup.

On the other hand, as of this blog post, you finally have some photographs of action from The Temple Cup.
The Temple Cup was an attempt to make the best of a monopoly. 19th Century Baseball is largely and arrogantly ignored by even the game’s historians, but nearly everything we have today was either established or contemplated then. The two-league system was up on its feet by 1882 and the World Series (literally called “The World’s Championship Series”) was  established by 1886 (and a championship trophy, “The Dauvray Cup,” was established a year later). There was also a powerful players’ union by 1890 which would have overtaken the game’s power structure had it not been betrayed by the businessmen with which it necessarily had to partner to form its own player-run league that season.
The 1890 season destroyed the still solidifying rivalry between the National League and the American Association. Most of the players of the established leagues jumped to the union-backed Players League, and even in a time of franchise fluidity and player relocation, it was too much confusion and too much betrayed loyalty and simply too much baseball for the fans to stand. The NL, AA, and probably the PL lost money, and the balance of power was so deranged that the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, who as American Association Champions had lost the 1889 World Series to the NL Champion New York Giants, themselves jumped to the NL in 1890. They won the league crown, while the AA’s Louisville Cyclones – virtually untouched by the player raids because their players were thought to be so bad - went from worst to first in the Association. 
5,600 Kentucky fans showed up to see Game One of that natural Brooklyn-Louisville rivalry on display in the 1890 World Series. But the crowd for the next game was half that. By the first game in Brooklyn just 1,050 showed up. As the weather and baseball both worsened, Game Six drew just 600, Game Seven only 300. And even though the Series was tied at three games apiece with one draw, the teams called the thing off – it was that bad.
The Players League went out of business that winter, and as its talent returned home the American Association and National League squabbled (that’s why the Pirates are called the Pirates; they grabbed second baseman Lou Bierbauer when the Philadelphia Athletics failed to put in a claim for him). Within a year the weaker AA was dead, and all that was left was the NL, with four of the stronger AA franchises tacked on. The twelve-team, no-division league was so unwieldy that seven of the teams finished at least 32 games out of first.
All of which brings us back to the Temple Cup. The National League monopoly had to come up with something to fill the void of the World Series, which had died with the two-league system when the American Association folded. In 1892 they tried a split season, matching the first-half winners from Boston against the second-half victors from Cleveland. It was just as dull a prospect as it would be when the owners returned to it 99 years later after the Strike of 1981, and it was abandoned. 
There was no post-season play at all in 1893, and that didn’t work either. That’s the exiting owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chase Temple (in a neat tie-in, one of the owners who signed away Lou Bierbauer from the A’s) offered a 30-inch tall, $800 trophy to the winners of some kind of post-season championship (a team would only get it if it won three seasons in a row). But what kind of post-season championship? Naturally, the first-place finisher versus the runner-up.
Hoo boy.
They actually thought this would work, that the fans of twelve cities, having watched a 154-game season decide who was best, would accept forcing that team to then play a best-of-seven against the club they just beat. No Divisional Play, no splitting up into Six-Team Leagues or Conferences. Winner Versus Runner-Up! That the concept was inherently flawed was underscored by the fact that at its outset, the Temple Cup was designed as a challenge. As Jerry Lansche wrote in The Forgotten Championships:

The team that won the pennant would play the team that finished second in a best-of-seven series. If the first-place team declined to play, the second-place and third-place teams would compete. If the second-place team declined to play, the pennant winner would play the third-place team. If the…well, you get the idea.
I do not think it coincidental that until last week I had never before seen a photograph from any of the only four Temple Cups that were played before the idea was abandoned in the winter of 1897. Only once did the Regular Season Champs seem to take it seriously. None of the Series went longer than five games. Gate receipts for the first Cup, in 1894, were supposed to be split 65/35 but the members of the pennant winning Baltimore Orioles and runner-up New York Giants secretly agreed to go halfies on the money.
How could that possibly go wrong?
And finally we get to the point of this post. I’m not saying these are the first photographs ever discovered of The Temple Cup. I’m just saying these are the first I’ve ever seen, and that there are none in the Noah’s Ark that is the Hall of Fame Photo Archive. 
Behold! The late highlights, just 116 years after the fact!
This is from a weekly magazine called “The Illustrated American” which was published from 1887 or so until, apparently, the day headquarters in Brooklyn burned down in 1898. There is no accompanying article, and as you can see from the scans, the photographic/printing process is understandably crude (it’s 1894!). They called them “halftone photo-mechanicals” and reproducing them usually creates that herringbone effect.
Still, they are extraordinary (and possibly unique) looks into what might have become baseball’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup. Let’s look at the shots one at a time and discover that the publishers fudged, more than once.
TemplePreGame.jpg
Well, they’re a long way away from their positions if they are in fact waiting for umpire Tim Hurst’s call of “Game.” These are the 1894 New York Giants lined up in right field at the Polo Grounds before the decisive game of their sweep of the Orioles. The guy holding the flag in the middle is back-up catcher Parke Wilson, and standing to his left (our right) is the unmistakable mustache of should-be Hall of Famer, centerfielder George Van Haltren. The fellow in the striped jacket could easily be Hall of Fame pitcher Amos Rusie. Certainly the man next to him in the dark sweater
with the big glove is catcher Duke Farrell, and, to his left, in the other sweater, is Game Four starting pitcher Jouett Meekin. At the far right of the picture, seemingly just ambling up to the line, is no less a figure than Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward. Ward is not only the Giants’ second baseman and manager, but the organizer of that first players’ union that precipitated the end of the game as they knew it and made the Temple Cup necessary.
As Ward begat the Players League and Chase Temple offered up The Temple Cup, Mrs. John Ward had a hand in this, too. As the actress Helen Dauvray, she had been such a fan that the Dauvray Cup for the Winners of the World’s Championship Series from 1887 through 1890 – manufactured by Tiffany’s – had been her idea.
Between Meekin and Ward, if you think you see a horse, I don’t think you’re wrong. Keep reading. And those are three small engines perched outside the stadium. The 8th Avenue Elevated Line not only ran directly from downtown Manhattan to the Polo Grounds on 155th Street, but the precursor to the city’s subway system had a storage yard behind leftfield. The yards would still be there in the 1940’s, and the “El Train” until the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958.
TempleFarrell.jpg
Yeah, well, maybe.

I’m thinking Duke Farrell is actually acknowledging the photographer shouting at him. And he wasn’t the only one. That’s Van Haltren again at the far left, in his quilted pants (useful both for sliding and for warmth – it is October 8, 1894, after all). A little further back is, I believe, left fielder Eddie Burke. Farrell would later become the first coach for the Yankees (1909). At the far right, still holding his flag, is backup receiver Parke Wilson. And there’s the El Train in the background, along with the confirmation of the horse. This was not necessarily some precursor to the Phillies’ on-field mounted police brigade during the 9th Inning of their World Series win in 1980; for a small fee, season ticket holders could park their Broughams and other horse-drawn affairs in the outfield. 
TempleMeekin.jpg
George Jouett Meekin is not bowing, certainly not to the “rooters.”
But he took quite a few bows that season. After three mediocre years with Louisville and Washington (29-51), Meekin flourished in his first season in New York (33-9, 41 complete games, and this while striking out 137 and walking 176 in his 418 innings of work). Meekin was one of the new generation of fireballers who had been the impetus for the last great change in baseball just a year earlier – when the pitcher was moved back from a “box” fifty feet from the plate, to a mound located sixty feet, six inches away (his teammate Rusie, who won 36 games that year, and a fellow in Cleveland named Denton “Cyrus” or “Cyclone” or just plain “Cy” Young were the others). 
Relying on a side-arm delivery and absolutely no curveball, Jouett would twice again win 20 games, then get flipped to Boston in the middle of the 1899 pennant race in a controversial and some say smelly move by the Giants to try to secure Boston the crown. Though he’d give up two in the first to the Orioles today, he finished up with a five-hit victory, his second of the Series.
TempleTiernan.jpg
Oh come on! 
I have no doubt that this wonder of photo-mechanical reproduction fooled some of the readers of a general interest magazine in 1894, but you and I have seen quite a few more game-action shots and this isn’t one of them. Firstly, Giants’ right fielder Mike Tiernan does not appear to be exerting himself very much. Secondly, it’s doubtful that the shutter speeds of the day would have caught very much of him if he had been, say, running before his “great decisive throw.”
Also the game ended 16-3 New York, and the boxscore tells us none of the Giants’ outfielders got an assist that day. Tiernan also contributed only one hit and one putout to the New York cause (our friends Farrell, Meekin, and Van Haltren had three each). But Tiernan is surely worth being singled out by the photographer. In the days when almost no ballplayer lasted, Tiernan roamed that corner of the Polo Grounds for twelve and a half years until an injury abruptly ended his career in July of 1899. He had 1,838 career hits, batted .311 and slugged .462, stole 449 bases, and in that deadball era, he not only hit 105 homers but five times managed double digits in single seasons. And considering he was one of just 24 players to get 5,000 At Bats in National League play before 1900, I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.
Note, by the way, the ads behind “Silent Mike”: for the newspaper “The New York American,” The Pennsylvania Railroad, and “White’s Yucatan Gum.” In a time-travel short story by the late Jack Finney, the hero arrives in a just-slightly altered New York of 1962 where the top-selling auto brand is the Stutz, there was a President Coopernagel, the Giants never moved to San Francisco, and the most popular gum is…Yucatan.
TempleWilson.jpg
To borrow my friend Gary Cohen’s phrase: “And the ballgame is over!”

Obviously it isn’t. The other Giants are still warming up behind the pennant and the shadows are all the same as in the “pre-game” shots. 18 hits and 16 runs by the Giants and they sweep the Temple Cup and you missed getting a single shot of the entire game? I’m not even convinced that’s Parke Murphy holding the flag. Looks more like the pitcher, Meekin. And there is that same horse, just to the right of the flag.
Why do I keep mentioning the horse? Again, from Lansche’s The Forgotten Championships:
During the seventh inning, two horses escaped from the grasp of their owners behind the ropes in center field, delaying the game several minutes before they were caught.
And today, we get worked up about a loose squirrel on the field.
TempleVictory.jpgOf course, they would have had to have taken their farewell tour before the game.

Okay, I’ll stop being so picky. These are photos of the long-forgotten Temple Cup, and its long-forgotten winners, the ’94 Giants. Some of the player ID’s are clear now: the thin guy just to the left of flag-bearer Parke Wilson appears to be Mike Tiernan. On the other side, with the ‘stache, is George Van Haltren. Not sure who’s next, but the four furthest right are Amos Rusie (I believe), Duke Farrell, Jouett Meekin, and – his stride here confirms it – Johnny Ward. Somewhere in that group is one more Hall of Famer, Giants’ third baseman George Stacey Davis. It’s too bad the Orioles didn’t wander over to the “Illustrated American” photographer. John McGraw was the third baseman on that team, and among his teammates, Dan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, Wee Willie Keeler, Joe Kelley and Wilbert Robinson all went to Cooperstown (as did non-playing manager Ned Hanlon).
In fact, if you’d attended Game Three the day before, you would have seen exactly 18 Orioles and Giants on the field, and with Rusie pitching for New York, fully half of them were to be Hall of Famers.
Of course, with these photos – you sort of did go to that game, didn’t you?
Ironically the Hall of Fame doesn’t have any Temple Cup photos, but stored in its refrigerated archives, just behind a beer vendor’s case from Arlington Stadium from the 1970’s, is…
IMG_0951.jpg
IMG_0954.jpg
…the Temple Cup. Complete with guy who broke it (not really – it’s supposed to do that).
And if you think anything has really changed from the baseball of 1894 and the Temple Cup, consider a detail from one of the magazine photos, with a detail of a shot I took after Game Six of the 2009 World Series, which took place literally the other side of the Harlem River, no more than a thousand yards from Game Four of the 1894 Temple Cup. Mr. Jouett Meekin on the left; Mr. Joba Chamberlain on the right.
TempleWilsonDetail.jpg

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The Ike And Ron Davis Review

On Saturday, July 29, 1978, with Bob Lemon having gotten six unexpectedly good innings out of Ken Clay and the Yankees leading the Twins 7-1 at Yankee Stadium, Lemon thought it was a good time to break the new kid in.

He had been obtained from the Cubs a month before in the repatriation of Ken Holtzman to Wrigley Field, and had dazzled in AA at West Haven. He was greeted by Minnesota catcher Butch Wynegar, who walked. Hosken Powell followed with a single. Roy Smalley then walked. I was there, but my scorecard is stored somewhere, so I don’t know if he actually threw any strikes before Lemon came and got him, and – in a move that would presage 1979, 1980, and 1981 – Rich Gossage was summoned to clean up the mess.

The next day, in my capacity as part-time free-lance semi-pro not-real-good photographer, I posed the kid on the field in the Bronx. “I guess you better get the picture before they get rid of me,” he said with a laugh that didn’t disguise his discouragement. I told him that he was 22 and I was 19 and even if neither of us was still in the majors the next day, he’d be back – and I’d never get there. That cheered him up.

I think they did send him back the next day, or soon thereafter. His next appearance in the majors was in September. The next year, amid an otherwise horrible season in New York, he’d go 14-2 (all in relief) with nine saves, and he’d stay in the majors through 1988.

His name was Ron Davis, and hours from when I write this his son Ike will debut, also in New York, also (almost) directly from AA. Wish I could be there.

THE METS AND NO-HITTERS:

Got asked a great question on twitter about any kind of theory that could even partially explain why, after Ubaldo Jimenez’s gem, the Mets could remain one of the franchises that has no no-hitters to its credit. Suddenly the light bulb turned on.

Years ago, one of the Stats Inc guys did a wonderful analysis of the amount of fair and foul territory in current and historical parks – I’ll have to find the book. But the gist was, the amount of fair territory in which hits could drop in the Mets’ first home (The Polo Grounds) was enormous (centerfield was nearly 500 feet away from the plate). In Shea it was still pretty damn big, and in Citifield, it is, especially when measured against other new parks, proportionately just as bad as at Shea.

That might be one explanation. Interestingly, if my list is complete, there were only five no-hitters ever thrown at the “last” Polo Grounds (Rube Marquard, Earl Caldwell, Jess Barnes, Carl Hubbell, and Rex Barney) over 69 seasons (57 by the Giants, 2 by the Mets, 10 by the Yankees) and only two (Jim Bunning, Bob Moose) in the 45 at Shea.

UPDATE, 5:30 EDT: Just to clarify, obviously this would only explain half of the Mets’ no-hit drought. One might wonder if years of pitching inside a big-fair-territory-area might influence how the same pitchers would throw in road parks, but lord knows there isn’t any stat to measure that. 

Swinging At The Future; Whiffing At The Past

Two books to address today, one brand new, one kinda.

BASEBALL PROSPECTUS 2010
Edited by Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl
John Wiley, $25.95
Two caveats: the publisher is putting out my next book, and this really isn’t a review, because by now if you’re a baseball fan and you don’t know what BP is, you’re working in a mine without one of those helmets with the lights on it.
This is more about the headlines from the annual phone-book-sized tub of prophecies these figure filberts put out, than it is any kind of assessment of the publication as a hole, because we don’t really know how good each year’s edition is until after the season is over. But for once, there shouldn’t be much argument about what is the Statistical Reduction crowd’s biggest forecast for the season ahead: The collapse of Derek Jeter.
OK, “collapse” is a little strong. The actuarial tables of the game again prompt the editors to call Jeter’s team “still the class of MLB,” but they pummel the Captain personally. He finished 2009 at 18-66-.334-.406-.465 with 107 runs and 30 steals. BP sees 2010 as 11-58-.286-.359-.401 with 67 runs and 10 steals. 
As I understand the formulas with which the BP numbers are calculated, there is room for a dollop of common sense and/or extenuating circumstances. But mostly the stats-to-come are generated, in Jeter’s case, by comparing him to what happened to every 14-year veteran going into his 15th season, and what happened to every 35-year-old shortstop as he turned 36, and employing every other demographic comparison in baseball history. And the loss of 48 points of batting average and 40 runs and 64 points of slugging percentage, is the evident result.
It actually gets worse. The one BP number that gives you the best overall sense of a player’s total worth to his team is VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). In short, it measures in net runs (how many more do you score, how many fewer does the other team score) what were to happen if the player in question was suddenly reduced by the average bench guy. Last year, Derek Jeter’s VORP was 71.2 (Albert Pujols’ was 100.1), meaning if he had quit on Opening Day 2009 to be replaced full-time by Ramiro Pena, the number of fewer runs the Yankees would’ve scored, plus the number of more runs they would have allowed, would’ve been 71.
Jeter’s predicted 2010 VORP is just 20 – a loss of 51.2 when nobody else in the majors is predicted to lose more than 37.2 (and that’s Joe Mauer, by the way. The BP folks readily admit that their formulae tend to punish spectacular seasons). Merging the topics of catching and the Yankees, BP sees Jorge Posada dropping from 22-81-.285-.522 to 12-49-.263-.445 (and losing 21 VORP points in the process).
If BP is right, there are similar harrowing declines ahead for Ryan Howard (to hit .249 this year), and Michael Young (.297), and Kevin Youkilis (22-86-.283), and David Aardsma (15 saves). On the other hand, it sees Nick Johnson emerging to lead the AL in On Base Pecentage, Kelly Johnson to rebound in Arizona, Jeremy Hermida to blossom in Boston, and Geovany Soto to comeback in Chicago. Certainly two of the stranger computer-generated forecasts: Chris Davis with 33 homers, and your 2010 Major League Saves leader: Joakim Soria with 43 in Kansas City.
There’s also something in here about Rickie Weeks blossoming, but I think that may have been accidentally left over from the 2009 edition. Or the 2008. Or the 2007. Or the 2006…
THE FIRST FALL CLASSIC
THE RED SOX, THE GIANTS, AND THE CAST OF PLAYERS, PUGS, AND POLITICOS WHO REINVENTED THE WORLD SERIES IN 1912
By Mike Vaccaro
Doubleday, $26.95

More than 30 years ago I made an enemy for life of a baseball writer named Maury Allen. I panned his biography of Casey Stengel because I felt he had forfeited the credibility of the book’s essence – exclusive, heretofore unpublished anecdotes and quotes – because he had made so many simple historical mistakes. Allen had the Polo Grounds in which Stengel played and managed off-and-on for 50 years overlooking the Hudson River, when it in fact overlooked the Harlem River, a no-brainer mistake that nobody who had lived in New York for more than three weeks would make.
My point was not that it was fatal to make a few dozen such flubs, but that if I as the presumably less-expert reader could spot such obvious mistakes, how many more of them were in there that I wasn’t smart enough to catch? And why would I trust the accuracy of the quotes and the stories as offered by a writer who couldn’t keep his basic geography straight? If you could switch the Hudson for the Harlem, you could – I don’t know – switch Hugh Casey for Casey Stengel.

Sadly, this dynamic is reproduced in Vaccaro’s book about the epic eight-game World Series of 1912 between the Giants and Red Sox. The Series – and the topic – had everything: a dubious tie game, the first year of Fenway Park, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, President John F. Kennedy’s grandfather, and the year Smoky Joe Wood won 37 of the 120 games (regular season and World Series) he would win in his lifetime. 
For an obsessive historian with a gift for composition, like my friend Josh Prager of The Echoing Green fame, the 1912 Series would basically sing itself and he would write down the notes as quickly as he could. I truly hoped this book would be like this (I went out and bought it retail – the ultimate sign of respect by somebody in the same business) and given the volume of startling stories and the in-the-clubhouse quotes from men dead half a century and more, Mike Vaccaro certainly seems to have tried to make it like that.

But I can’t trust him. The book is riddled with historical mistakes, most of them seemingly trivial, some of them hilarious. One of them is particularly embarrassing. Vaccaro writes of the Giants’ second year in their gigantic stadium, the Polo Grounds:

…to left field, the official measurement was 277 feet, but the second deck extended about twenty feet over the lower grandstand, meaning if you could get a little air under the ball you could get yourself a tidy 250-foot home run…

Unfortunately this wasn’t true until 1923. Any photograph of the 1912 World Series showing left field, indeed any photo of the new Polo Grounds in its first twelve years of use, clearly

Vaccaro Wood.jpg

shows that the second deck ends thirty or forty feet to the left of the foul pole, and the seats in fair territory are the bleachers. 
There are, in fact, actually at least two photos showing Joe Wood, with the Red Sox in the Polo Grounds, which show, in the background behind him, either the left field foul line leading directly to the bleachers, not a double deck, or, the left field foul pole standing like a lone tree with no “extended” deck even close to it.
One of him, warming up, is included in Vaccaro’s book, right after page 146.

That’s it, on the right. The white stripe next to
his glove, is the left field foul line.
The other photograph – the background largely washed out but with the undecked left field corner still vaguely visible – shows him shaking hands with the Giants’ Jeff Tesreau, and it was chosen for publication on the cover of Vaccaro’s book, below.

Sigh.
Vaccaro Cover.jpg
The most often-repeated of the mess-ups, and thus both the most annoying and the most damaging, is Vaccaro’s insistence about Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, arch Sox fan and grandfather of the future president, around whom Vaccaro tries to develop a political thread to the book and who gets nearly as much attention from him as Tris Speaker or Mathewson. Four times in the book, Vaccaro notes that Fitzgerald liked to sing, or was singing, or was about to sing, his theme song “Sweet Adelaide.” There may have been such a song, but it wasn’t a favorite of Honey Fitz (or presumably of anybody else). The Mayor, as any political historian, or adult over 65, or anyone who’s ever encountered a Barbershop Quartet, or any Marx Brothers buff, could tell you, sang “Sweet Adeline,” an incredibly popular song published in 1903 that Groucho and company later performed in “Monkey Business.”
Of the remaining twenty or so that I caught, most have clearer connections to the sport itself. Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey becomes Rixley, 1912 Red Sox infielder Steve Yerkes becomes Sam, Redland Field in Cincinnati becomes “brand-new Crosley Field” (it wasn’t renamed Crosley Field until 1934 and the radio baron who did it was still a 20-something developing automobiles in Muncie, Indiana, when Redland Field was brand-new in 1912). 

There is a lot of historical tone-deafness – particularly distressing considering Mr. Vaccaro often covers the Yankees. He recounts a conversation among McGraw and New York sportswriters about the Giants taking in the American League New York Highlanders as tenants at the Polo Grounds for the 1913 season. Vaccaro quotes the famed Damon Runyon telling McGraw that his paper’s headline writers have a new name intended for the team: The Yankees. McGraw is quoted as wondering if it will catch on in 1913. Even if the mistake originates elsewhere, it should’ve rung untrue to Vaccaro: The name “Yankees” had been used on the baseball cards as earlyYankees1912.jpg as 1911, and on a team picture issued by one of the New York papers in 1907. If McGraw and Runyon hadn’t heard the name “Yankees” by the time of the 1912 World Series, they’d both had undiagnosed hearing problems for five years.

Vaccaro also has a lot of trouble with geography. He indicates that Giants’ owner John Brush had a mansion in “upstate Pelham Manor” even though the town is essentially parallel to 241st Street in Northern Manhattan. He mocks the nickname “Swede” for Danish-born Boston outfielder Olaf Henriksen as an indication that baseball didn’t worry about geography in assigning monickers. But until 1905 Denmark was part of a union with Norway, and as late as the early 1800’s, those two countries were trying to reestablish a medieval tripartite union with Sweden. For all we know, Henriksen might have considered himself Swedish.
There are also mistakes so convoluted as to be baffling. Vaccaro writes of the fabulous game-saving catch by the Giants’ Josh Devore in Game Three:

“I took it over my left shoulder and with my bare hand although I clapped my glove on it right away and hung on like a bulldog in a tramp,” Evans would soon tell the mountain of reporters…

Evans? The catch was by Josh Devore. Evans – Billy Evans – was the umpire who confirmed the out. Later, there is the inexplicable observation that during the tense eighth game, so much of Manhattan was at the then-popular newspaper scoreboards that “Schoolrooms were scarce.” While this was doubtless as true in the New York of 1912 as it is in the city of 2010, it wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with baseball. Students in schoolrooms, yes. The rooms themselves?
The mistakes – and there are probably a dozen more – matter only in this context. When I read Vaccaro’s account of a supposed conversation, after the Red Sox took a 3-1 lead in games, between Boston’s owner and manager that clearly implies that the owner ordered the manager to hold back his ace pitcher in hopes Boston might lose the next game and thus gain the income from one more game in Fenway, I’m not inclined to take Vaccaro’s word for it. Because, lastly and most damningly, this may be how he researched the book. Years after retirement, Boston’s Hall of Fame centerfielder Tris Speaker went back to the minors as an executive. Vaccaro writes he would:

…become a part owner of the American Association, a top Triple-A-level minor league…”

In fact, Speaker would become a part owner not of the league, but of one of the teams in the league, the Kansas City Blues.
You know where else this mistake turns up?

Post professional career
In 1929 Speaker replaced Walter Johnson as the manager of the Newark Bears of the International League, a post he held for two years. He became a part owner of the American Association. The announcement of Speaker’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame was made in January, 1937

Yep. Tris Speaker’s Wikipedia page.

How sad.

Milton Bradley Makes The Worst Teams In The World

Jack Zduriencik was one move away from completely rebuilding a shaken franchise in a little over thirteen months.

And then he made the move.
How much easier could this be to understand? You do not trade for Milton Bradley. You do not trade for Milton Bradley. You do not trade for Milton Bradley. 
He’s a “good teammate and a nice guy,” said the Mariners’ GM, hours after guaranteeing that all the startlingly good work he and his manager Don Wakamatsu had done in the last year would be washed away by some cataclysm (or “event,” as the nuclear plant engineers pleasantly call them) involving Bradley next season. Since April 1978, when his Dad filled out the name on his birth certificate without his Mom’s consent, there’s always been something. Tearing an ACL while having to be restrained from hitting an umpire. Bumping an umpire. Charging a third umpire. Suspended for the season by the Cubs. Trying to get to the press box during the game to confront the visiting announcer. Fighting with Eric Wedge. Fighting with Lou Piniella. Throwing the baseball bag on the field. Throwing a bottle back into the stands. Throwing the game ball into the stands – after the second out.
And by the way, we are talking about a player whose career highs are 34 doubles, 22 homers,  77 RBI, 17 steals, and a .321 average. This is not Albert Belle. This is not even Carl Everett. Statistically, this is a poor man’s Ben Grieve (my apologies to Ben Grieve).
And after signing Chone Figgins and Russell Branyan (and maybe even re-signing him), and dealing for Franklin Gutierrez, Jack Wilson, Cliff Lee, Ian Snell, and David Aardsma, all the good work by Zduriencik is undone by adding a player who is being described as looking for a “fresh start.” This’d be his seventh. 

FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:

This was my favorite part of the annual SABR Journal – the curious things the late Al Kermisch found, presumably in pursuit of grander truths (an example from his last “From,” published after his passing in 2002: as a professional, Phil Rizzuto never played on a team that finished worst than third, and in 17 years, he was on 14 pennant-winners). I can’t hope to emulate the quality of Mr. Kermisch’s work but I do hope to touch the curiosity factor, both with nuts-and-bolts research and, in the case of my first effort, whimsy.
Meet the greatest name in baseball history: Phifer Fullenwider. 
Don’t go looking him up in the Baseball Encyclopedia; he never actually pitched in the big leagues (though he did make it to Spring Training one year, at a time when less than 30 men per team did so).
Fullenwider graduated with a degree in pharmacy from the University of North Carolina in 1908, but instead of to a drug store, he headed to the Carolina Association, where, as Baseball Reference’s superb minor league database indicates, he opened a fourteen-year minor league career with a 13-4 record for Charlotte. But it would be 1911 before he really broke through with a 26-9 mark for Columbia of the South Atlantic (SALLY) League.
And that impressive season leads us to this rather remarkable public domain image from the Polo Grounds in New York:
Fullenwider1912,jpg.jpg

That is none other than our Mr. Fullenwider, in the uniform of the Columbia Commies (had a different meaning then), standing in New York’s Polo Grounds, most likely late in the season of 1911, or possibly early in 1912. In those days before extensive farm systems, major league teams not only drafted players from minor league teams, but did so wholesale – and usually days after the minor league season ended. Thus it was not unusual for “bushers” to report to the big leagues – and apparently to bring their uniforms with them.

The Giants thought enough of Fullenwider to bring him to spring training in 1912. The camp was in Marlin, Texas, and the team picture indicates just how few prospects were included among the veterans:
1912 Giants.jpg
NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME

The bottom row is, left to right, Giants aces Red Ames and Hall of Famer Rube Marquard, an otherwise unidentified “trainer,” Fullenwider, and outfielder Josh Devore. The legendary John McGraw is second from right in the middle row (almost right behind his prized pitching prospect), and in the back are the only two guys not wearing the goofy hats: catcher Chief Meyers (fourth from the right) who is capless, and next to him, wearing his cap backwards, Christy Mathewson. For this team photo is nothing less than a 1912 manifestation of that which we purists fear may some day happen in the future – players wearing advertisements on their uniforms! Those caps are ads for “ANGER’S Ice Cream Cones.” And evidently Mathewson and Meyers are having none of it (and yes, that’s my boy Merkle, back row, far right).
But back to Phifer Fullenwider, and something even stranger than an ad for ice cream cones on his uniform.
Fullenwider1912.jpg
The one-time UNC pitching hero is still wearing his Carolina cold-weather baseball sweater. The thing is four years old at least, he’s the property of the defending National League Champion New York Giants,  they took him to spring training in hopes that he might pitch alongside Christy Mathewson – and nobody gave him his own Giants’ sweater!
As it proved, Fullenwider never would pitch alongside Matty, nor any other big leaguer. The records of 1912 are a lot less precise than today, but while nearly everybody else in that photo went on to win the N.L. crown again in 1912 and 1913, Fullenwider shows up pitching for Buffalo of the International League (where the Giants often sent their extra players, in an informal arrangement), where he would win 20, 19, and 17 games in the next three seasons and yet never get a call to the big time. After a 19-victory season at Atlanta in 1917, he apparently quit. A 1919 entry in the University of North Carolina alumni review notes that Fullenwider (“Phar. ’08”) “is a druggist, with the Rose Drug Co., of Rocky Mount. He will be remembered as a star pitcher on the varsity baseball team. He has a one-year old child.”
The game was not gone from his system, however. Phifer Fullenwider, at the age of 34, reapp
ears in the minor league record in that same city – Rocky Mount, pitching for the Tarheels of the Virginia League for two seasons, then Columbia in 1922 and Greenville in ’23. He’d finish up with a record of 194 and 146, with memories of a trip to Marlin, Texas with McGraw and the boys, and at least one winter of the greatest kind of hope and optimism. One wonders if he got to keep the Ice Cream Cone hat.
There’s one other note before we let Mr. Fullenwider out of the clutches of the researcher. He may not have gotten a big league game under his belt, but he did make it onto a baseball card. From the Contentnea Cigarettes series called T209, dating from the 1909 season — and a dandy it is, I might add.
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New York, New York

Two new major league ballparks, opening in the same city, in the same week. Hard to believe, never to be duplicated.

Not counting the other time it happened.
In New York, no less. With one of them being built for the Mets.
We have to be a bit generous in our geographical definitions (“New York” consisted only of Manhattan until 1898 when Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Richmond were merged in as part of “Greater New York”). And we have to be a bit generous in our stadium definitions (a 19th Century “major league ballpark” could be constructed in a manner of days).
Nevertheless, on Thursday, April 22, 1886, Erasmus Whitman, owner of the original New York Mets, opened his magnificent new stadium for the American Association club at the former St. George Cricket Grounds on Staten Island (a stone’s throw from the current ballpark of the Yankees’ A-ball affiliate). Whitman owned the Staten Island Ferry and the ballclub was just another draw to get people to ride it.
On Sunday, April 25, 1886, the Mets’ American Association rivals in Brooklyn opened brand new Ridgeway Park, a facility they would use only on Sundays. Two parks in four days, just like the Yankees and Mets are doing this week.
For the record, a quick thumb through Philip J. Lowry’s bible of baseball stadia, Green Cathedrals, the “two new parks, one city” trick also happened on at least two other occasions. In 1884, Boston’s Union Association team unveiled two different new fields, Dartmouth Street Grounds (April 30), and Congress Street Grounds (date unknown). And in 1889, the Giants opened the first of the three versions of the Polo Grounds at 155th Street and Eighth Avenue in New York. Weeks later, Brooklyn’s Washington Park burned to the ground and was rebuilt very promptly as an enlarged and significantly changed facility, also called Washington Park. Again, two new parks in the same city in the same year.
I hope to bring you extensive, irrelevant, snapshot filled coverage of the startups at Citifield and Yankee Stadium Junior in this space.

Well, You Asked

First, thanks to all who posted comments. Let me violate the standard format of responding by addressing topics and not individuals (to quote Billy Crystal from a long time ago, “and you know who you are”).

There is a correct answer on the trivia. I’m at the Giants-A’s in Phoenix Municipal Stadium Saturday when a “security” fella (typical to the Spring Training equation, he’s a retired judge from Jersey named Bob) asks if I know the story of the lights in the ballpark. Obviously I did not and it appears very few people, even other stadium nerds, do. Yet there, as part of a series of timeline notes, engraved in the stone flooring ringing the ballpark, is the tale of how the lights were removed from the Polo Grounds after the last National League game there in September, 1963, and brought to Phoenix Stadium in time for its opening in March, 1964. This more or less confirms something I’d suspected: the Mets appear to have rented the Polo Grounds from the Giants in 1962 and 1963 – certainly as bizarre an arrangement as baseball has ever seen. The Giants had built or re-built at least the last three versions of the ballpark, and apparently retained ownership even after they moved to San Francisco. The land, oddly enough, was still owned by the Coogan Family (as in “Coogan’s Bluff”) at least into the ’60s.
To more contemporary issues: I actually retired from Fantasy Ball in 1995 for fear of having to draft a line-up of UPS Drivers. Got talked back into it in 2007 by my friend Jason Bateman, then played football in his league that year. The rust having been shaken off, I won them both last year (NL-only, six-by-six format, no freezes, Jason likes to count Holds for goodness sakes). This year I’m co-owning an AL-only team in a league with some of the ESPN experts. I take this way too seriously (the league that went out of business in 1994 had 40-man rosters and we actually held a two-round amateur draft two weeks ahead of the actual MLB draft). I’m better now but I still can’t imagine giving away my sleepers, at least until after the draft Sunday. I will say this, if it’s of any use: I saw Albert Pujols in Clearwater ten days ago and he looked 100% healthy for the first time in years. And no hint of a paunch. And I know my paunches.
There were questions about the Dodgers and Pirates, specifically about Andre Ethier. I have always expected great things of him, but against some pretty mediocre Texas pitching he went 0-for-5 and the response in the press box was neither encouraging nor sympathetic. As to the Buccos – an organization filled with some of the best people in baseball – they would be competitive if they had more than one starting pitcher. There may actually be a deep bullpen: Evan Meek has inherited – no, sorry, I’ll stop there, but he does look like he grew up after last year – and they think Donald Veal might have, too. Combine them with Grabow and Capps and it’s an entirely different concept from last year’s bullpen, which more resembled the firemen from Fahrenheit 451. Pittsburgh’s problem, of course, is July 31st. Since the starters would have to perform miracles to get them to .500, they will have to sell off again, and that means Adam LaRoche and Jack Wilson and maybe even Freddie Sanchez. But McLouth’s the real deal, McCutchen will be, and they think they’ve straightened out Andy LaRoche. Sadly, the sports-record-breaking 17th straight losing season still seems tragically inevitable.
And there was a question about George Kell, who I always thought was an underrated player, an underrated broadcaster, but anything but an underrated man. Ernie Harwell rightly got the lion’s share of the love but George was a gentleman of the old school: he assumed nobody knew who he was (he approached me when I was at ESPN and said, and this is verbatim, “Hi, Keith, I’m an announcer with the Tigers. My name is George Kell” – the sweetness of the introduction overcame my surprise that he would think anybody in baseball wouldn’t know him by sight, or at least when he used that remarkable voice of his. I have a few tapes of his radio work in the 1962 post-season and he might have been the best play-by-play man among ex-players. His ability to convey rising excitement by getting louder and especially faster, matched that skill in the Gary Cohens and Brent Musburgers.

FAREWELL TO THE BARD OF ORANGE PARK

The highlights that Sunday night on the WWL showed everything except what the home plate umpire described as the “most impressive thing I’ve seen all spring.” Justin Masterson looked sharp, Jonathan Papelbon struck out the side (amid two rocketing singles), and they even showed Junichi Tazawa getting in and out of james with four strikeouts in two innings.
Not even a quick cutaway of Daniel Bard, who merely dropped a small universe of 100 MPH heaters on three of the Tampa Bay Rays least equipped to handle them. And though it was Morgan Ensberg, Ray Sadler, and Elliott Johnson swinging through what they couldn’t catch up to, it was awe-inspiring, largely for the additional reason that the Red Sox youngster who struck out 107 men in 78 innings in the minors last year appeared to be generating his speed with a motion just slightly more involved than a guy long-tossing on the side.
I have not seen this in a long time. It harkens back to the days of Brien Taylor, the ill-fated Yankees’ prospect who regularly topped 100 with no more motion than you throwing something at a nearby trash can. Sunday night, the Red Sox managed to resist the temptation to keep such a weapon at the big league level; commendable restraint considering the early March effort against the lesser Rays was just the start – he ended the spring with 9-1/3 scoreless and twelve strikeouts.
If his long-term value isn’t readily apparent (and long-term could mean after the summer solstice), add in this factor: after that one inning, Tim Tschida, working the plate, said that obviously the speed was the most impressive thing he’d seen thus far this spring, but that would almost nobody else could tell was that Bard had been painting the corners with his lasers. Moving the damn thing around, inside high, inside low, outside low, outside high.
I only managed to see eleven games in Florida and Arizona, and I witnessed not just the aforementioned triple play, and other adventures I will recount here before opening day (Craig Monroe? Four homers in five at bats?). But The Bard — and we better use the article — remained the most stunning sight.
POLITICS-FREE

Thanks to all for the comments and the welcomes and the flaming go-to-Hades. This blog is about baseball and not politics; I won’t touch the latter here unless it unavoidably pertains to something between the foul lines, so write all you want about left-versus-right – I hope you find it entertaining to yourself, I won’t be reading it. As elsewhere here, abuse won’t be tolerated and the fine folks at MLB.Com will ultimately decide if we have to start approving comments. Doesn’t matter to me; I come here under the banner of the greater good: Baseball.
TRIVIA
Love trivia. But only if it means something. Here’s one I didn’t know about until 96 hours ago. What happened to the lights from the Giants’ last New York home, the Polo Grounds? The hint is: they’re still in service, today, in this country.
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