Tagged: Tom Seaver

Seaver And Mathewson

On his MLB Network program Studio 42, Bob Costas tonight referenced a blog post here from 2009, and asked Tom Seaver if he was aware that I’d found a game-action photograph of Christy Mathewson from the 1911 World Series that showed Mathewson using the exact of drop-and-drive delivery Seaver brought to perfection in the early years of his career in the late ’60s.

Seaver said he’d seen the photo – I was pretty sure he had, since I’d sent a copy to him via a friend shortly after I found it in Cooperstown.

In blog years, a long time has passed since I posted the shots, so here they are again:

(C) Associated Press 1975

That’s Seaver – coincidentally in action against at Shea Stadium the San Francisco Giants in 1975¬† – showing the “drop and drive” that usually left the front of his right knee dirty. There had been a lot of anecdotal evidence that Mathewson, who retired in 1916, had used a similar delivery. But until the kind curators at the Hall photo archive let me look at their collection of glass images from the 1911 World Series, I don’t think anybody had actually seen a game-action image of Mathewson.

The resemblance, as you’ll see, is startling:

(C) National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

It’s the same delivery. In 1911.

Needless to say, I geeked out completely when I saw that photo. I literally thought “Why is there a picture of Tom Seaver pitching in the 1911 World Series?” After I posted the shot in August, 2009, I ran into Bob at Yankee Stadium and he had seen the post and he geeked out completely over it.

Just for the record, there are precious few game-action photos, particularly of pitchers, particularly in post-season action, from before the first World War. This was part of a series of 30 or 40 transparent glass slides, above three by five inches, that had been taken with a special camera for presentation as a slide show at the earlier movie theaters of the time. The Hall has what appears to be a complete set, and it constitutes a treasure trove for historians. You’ve heard of “Home Run” Baker? He got his name not for volume of homers, but for consecutive game-winning blasts off Mathewson and his fellow future Hall of Famer Rube Marquard in the ’11 Series. The slides include images of Baker rounding third on one of the homers.

I’m not going to say there isn’t another game-action photo of Mathewson anywhere else (and I’m not counting all the posed and/or warm-up shots that show Matty fully upright or just soft tossing). I’m just saying I’d never seen one before this image, and I don’t recall anybody reporting having seen another.

The 1911 photo series had been lost to historians because when it was donated to the hall in the mid 1960’s, the individual slides were divvied up and put, one by one, into the individual files of the players depicted. Only around 2009 was a search made for the whole set (you can imagine how long that took). This is what the Mathewson photo looked like – exactly as movie-goers would have seen it in October or November, 1911:

(C) National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

This is magnificent for several reasons – not the least of which is the extraordinarily low mound (which makes you appreciate Mathewson’s 373 career wins (plus five more in World Series action). But principally because that which historians thought really hadn’t become the standard for the “power pitcher” until the ’40s or ’50s, was in Mathewson’s repertoire a century ago.

Aaron And Gibson Lefthanded, and The Wrong A-Rod (Revised)

Hank Aaron’s appearance this week on The Late Show With David Letterman not only brought as hearty a series of laughs from baseball’s real all-time homer champ as I’ve ever heard him produce, but it also added one of those delightful footnotes to history. Letterman claimed that the day Aaron homered off Jack Billingham of the Reds to tie Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 at Riverfront Stadium in 1974, he was in the crowd. There’s no reason to doubt it: that was the year between Letterman’s career as a tv weatherman and the start of his comedy writing and performing.

Hank was there to provide the briefest of plugs for Topps’ celebration of its 60th year in baseball cards (he presented Letterman with a one-of-a-kind card in the style of the 2011 set, complete with a diamond in it – 60th being the ‘Diamond Anniversary’). For the sake of disclosure, Topps is paying Mr. Aaron to do the publicity, and for the sake of further disclosure, I’m an unpaid consultant for Topps as well.

They did not discuss two of Aaron’s more interesting cards. Obviously the portrait on the 1956 card here is the young Henry. But who is that sliding into the plate, an “M” on his cap and nothing on his uniform?
Correct. It’s Willie Mays sliding home, his uniform doctored to kind of look like a Braves’ jersey. There’s no special value to that mistake, because they never corrected it. In fact I don’t know if it’s considered a mistake – I think “fudge” is a better term.

The 1957 edition, meanwhile, is a beautiful thing and NBH (Nothing But Hank)…but as the old cliche goes: what’s wrong with this picture?

Yes, 1957 was Topps’ first year working with their own full color photographs, and when scanned the printing often leaves much to be desired. But of course the problem here is, Hank never hit lefthanded. This is not like the 1959 card of Aaron’s teammate righthanded pitcher Lew Burdette, who posed as a southpaw for a joke at the photographer’s expense, nor like later tricks attempted by Bob Uecker and Gene Freese (successful), and Jim Brewer, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver (caught in time). In the case of Aaron, Topps simply reversed the negative, as the backwards “4” on the left side of the uniform confirms.

The “Lefty Gibson” card is seldom seen and thus reproduced here in full:
Thumbnail image for Proof1968Gibson.jpgIf you can imagine this, Topps prepped its first series of 1968 cards in the winter of ’67-68 and not only did Gibson succeed in this stunt, but so did Seaver, who had tried it while posing for his very first card.

Each got all the way to the printer’s proofs level – just a handful of sheets printed. Then the Topps Copy Editor had his apoplectic attack and replaced both the Gibson and Seaver lefthanded pitching poses with nice tight portraits.

One of Topps’ most famous photo goofs is shown at the left. This is the 1969 card of the “original” A-Rod, the late brilliant defensive third baseman, Aurelio Rodriguez. It’s a great photo, but it’s not Aurelio Rodriguez. It’s Leonard Garcia, a rather mature-looking Angels’ batboy from 1968.

For years Topps has taken the rap for the mistake – there have even been understandable suggestions of an ethnic slur implied by the screw-up. In fact, it wasn’t entirely the company’s fault. In the winter of 1967-68, the newly-powerful Baseball Players Association was squeezing Topps into dealing with it, rather than on a player-by-player basis. Topps, which theretofore had been able to sign guys for a down payment as low as a dollar, resisted. The MLBPA promptly forbade its members for posing for Topps during Spring Training, and in fact throughout the entire regular season, of 1968.

Thus, guys who changed teams in ’68 or the ’68-69 off-season are shown hatless in old photographs in the first few series of the 1969 set. But 1968’s rookies for whom Topps had no photo? It had to get them in the minor leagues (the Topps files were filled with photos of nearly every Triple-A player in 1968), or buy shots from outside suppliers. At least a dozen images in the ’69 set, including Reggie Jackson and Earl Weaver – and “Aurelio Rodriguez” – were purchased from the files of the famous Chicago photographer George Brace. Somebody at Topps should’ve known, but the original Rodriguez/Garcia goof appears to have been Brace’s.

Incidentally, eight years later Garcia got his own card under his own name, in the Cramer Sports Pacific Coast League Series. By this point he was the trainer of the Angels’ AAA team in Salt Lake City. The biography on the back makes reference to the 1969 Topps/Brace slipup.

No Hits, No Jinx, No Humor, No Bobby

How many teams can see their ace carry a no-hitter into the 8th and still create a handful of controversies out of it?

Firstly, the question about pulling CC Sabathia out of the game at the end of the inning whether he had the no-hitter going or not, was academic. It assumes that with his rising pitch count, Sabathia was going to throw 10 to 25 more pitches without losing enough on them to give up a hit (which obviously he did anyway). Secondly, why on earth did Joe Girardi say anything about it – it had already happened and all he could possibly do was deflate Sabathia after a thrilling day and great game. Thirdly, no, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver did not cause Sabathia to lose the no-hitter by saying the word “no-hitter” 224 times. I have a tape of the famous 1969 Tom Seaver game where he lost a perfect game in the ninth courtesy an obscure Cubs’ utilityman named Jimmy Qualls. The Mets’ radio announcers meticulously avoided ever saying “no-hitter” – and he still lost it.
Remember my speculation last week that there was something wrong with the baseballs? The covers were too slick, or the stitches too high, or something that was causing pitchers and fielders to have trouble with gripping it, and led to them sailing it, sometimes as hilariously as Carlos Zambrano? Garrett Mock of the Nationals complained about it Friday night, and Mets’ scout Bob Melvin mentioned to me yesterday that he’d seen and heard about it too.
“In spite of the cover blurbs from well-known baseball personalities trumpeting how howlingly funny the book (The Bullpen Gospels) is,” writes Chaz Scoggins of the paper in Lowell, Mass., “I found it tolerably droll. ‘Ball Four,’ now that was hilarious.”
This must be taken in context. Years ago, Mr. Scoggins thought it would be really hilarious to invite me to host the annual Boston baseball writers’ dinner – without telling me that I was going to have to personally present an award to another baseball figure with whom I was having a very public feud (who, me?). This was a variation of the original plan in which I was to merely introduce whoever was to present the award. I found out as we all walked out to the dais. “Surprise!,” Scoggins said to me (conveniently the other figure skipped, possibly because he’d found out I was presenting). So, in short, Mr. Scoggins does not have an adult sense of humor.


Thought this might be a treat. Three seldom-seen items from the collection, pertaining to the soon-to-retire skipper of the Braves, dating from the opposite end of his career. In fact, they all are from a time before I knew Bob. We met in Spring Training of 1978 – if you can believe that – when I was the most fledgling reporter imaginable, and he gave me a very cordial and respectful interview even though I was, in short, a moron. This first image is from his two-year career in the Yankee infield, as the starting third baseman for much of 1968, and then as a utility guy in 1969. It’s an unused photo from the files of the Topps Company and is theirs, please, with copyright and everything. He’s younger, but you can see he already looks like the manager he was to become.
Below is a card from a beautiful set from Venezuela and the once dominant winter league there, in 1967-68. Kind of formal with the third baseman’s first name.
Coxy’s ascent to management was far more rapid in Venezuela than the U.S. By the winter of 1974-75, the card of Mr. Cox of the Lara Cardenales showed him as the manager. Maybe more importantly, it showed him as…Roberto?

Beerless Forecasts

The Greatest Cooperstown Find (Updated)

For more than 25 years, Dan Patrick and I have had the same debate.

We’ll be talking about the game’s All-Time Greats, and I’ll throw out the names of Honus Wagner or Buck Ewing or Christy Mathewson, or how we need to give Bobby Mathews credit for having won 300 games at a time when most pitchers didn’t last five seasons, and he’ll always say the same thing: “How do you know they were any good? We have no film of them. We don’t know what they did or how they did it.”
I’d point out that you could say the same thing about the Negro Leaguers, or largely about Ty Cobb, and he’d say these were exceptions, and secretly I’d realize at what a towering disadvantage the pre-1920 stars are, and I’d grieve that a man like Mathewson – clearly baseball’s first idol and considered by the old, old timers as being perhaps its first modern pitcher – might eventually be totally ignored.
It saddened me especially about Mathewson, to whom the kids of 1967 was a tangible memory easily obtained from their grandfathers. One of my earliest baseball-related daydreams was of going back in time to see him pitch, possibly alongside my mother’s Dad, the great Giant fan, who never had enough money to go once to the Polo Grounds while Mathewson still weaved his magic there – or even to go before Mathewson died in 1925, after six years of agony from tuberculosis and lungs scalded in a poison gas training exercise in France just weeks before World War I ended.
And then I was shown something, in the photo library of the Hall, last week. And I gasped.
There is some film of Mathewson – he’s shown warming up on the sidelines, evidently on Opening Day of 1905, arrogant John McGraw’s decision to put “World Champions” on the uniforms (another nose thumb at the American League), the most evident image. But he’s only tossing the ball and if that’s the way he’s pitched, Dan’s right – he won his 373 games because he managed to last for parts of seventeen seasons and both the pitching and the hitting of the time were unscientific messes. At one point a dog runs around on the field, and at another, Mathewson drops the return throw. If he’s cracking 70 on these “pitches” I’d be mighty surprised.
In fact, bluntly, the second or third best “film” of Mathewson in action is from a “flip book” (A Winthrop Moving Picture Post Card, to be precise) – a delightful hand-held series of still pictures from 1907 which when skimmed through with the thumb, create an animated representation of Mathewson’s legendary form. If you grew up on the legend of the hero who died so young and so loved, it can make you tear up. I got one last year – here’s the cover:
It’s wonderful, but even here, he’s just, well, throwing. He’s a professional, to be sure, and his mechanics would make any pitcher jealous, but, again, where’s the beef? 

Mathewson was famed for one piece of advice to young pitchers, which would cause him to be banned from the field today, as pitching coaches clapped their hands over the ears of their young charges: Don’t put everything you have on every pitch. Save something for the 9th Inning (that might explain his 435 Complete Games). Still, this is ridiculous. He had to have had something more in the way of exertion or form – in an era of contact hitting when a batter striking out 100 times in a season was likely to find himself in Decatur, Illinois the next year, he led the National League in strikeouts five years out of six and ended with more than 2500. But where was the visual, visceral, proof?
In the basement of the Hall of Fame, that’s where.
I was handed a series of glass images, each about four inches by five, that were nothing less than the “magic lantern slides” that used to be projected in movie houses, in the pre-newsreel days. You just couldn’t set up film cameras in 1911 and hope to get anything meaningful in the way of action or highlights. But the box camera did the trick.
And there it all was: the key plays of the 1911 World Series, right down to the consecutive home runs in Games Two and Three that earned A’s third baseman Frank Baker the nickname “Home Run,” and first lit the fire in the public’s imagination about the longball. It can be argued that those two dingers – one which tied up the game in the 9th, the other which won one – set the stage for the next century of Home Run Mania, and the constant alteration of equipment, ball, stadium dimensions, and pitching rules that has ushered in era after era of “The Home Run Era” virtually without interruption.
And there was one other image in there that took my breath away. I originally posted a blurry snapshot taken with an iPhone, but the warm and friendly curators took pity on me and sent… this:
Mathewson Christy 348-65d_Act_PD.jpg
Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.

The figure in the middle of the diamond is Christy Mathewson, and what he is doing couldn’t have surprised me more than if the slide showed that he had his 2009 Lamborghini parked behind home plate.
He is clearly delivering at one of those moments when he would have advised the kids to throw as hard as they could. He is firing. And his delivery is precisely that of the modern power pitcher. His frame, 6′ 1-1/2″, is so low to the ground that the back knee is nearly touching it. He is in classic fireballer position, as aware of the physics of pitching as anybody who has followed him. 
In fact, the first thing I thought when I saw that slide was: ‘What’s this picture of him doing mixed in here?’:
Christy Mathewson had Tom Seaver’s delivery. That’s it. That’s who I thought I was seeing in that slide from 1911. Old Dirty Knees Seaver.
Or, if that’s not enough of a reference, let’s say he had a righthanded version of this guy:
A detail suggests a weird twist to the forearm, which (historians think) was how Mathewson threw his famous “Fadeaway” pitch, believed to have necessitated the same painful twisting of the arm as Carl Hubbell’s screwball (it’s probable Matty’s pitch was a screwball). If this is what it took, it is stunning that he lasted seven seasons, let alone seventeen. The similarities here also gives an almost eerie sense of looking back through time, and being there, just for an instant, as Matty explains to all who would follow him, and all who would wonder about him, just who he was, and why he still counts. 
Nice to meet you, Mr. Mathewson.
Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.

Meet Wilbur Huckle. Again.

Last month I introduced you to Wilbur Huckle, the latest apparent inductee into a very unfortunate, star-crossed club: guys who were on big league rosters, eligible to play in big league games – and never did.

Huckle, according to a scorecard owned by a photographer who works the New York ballparks, Steve Moore, was listed on the Mets’ roster in September, 1963. He never appeared in a major league game, and his two claims to fame were having been Tom Seaver’s first minor league roomate in Jacksonville in 1966, and later a Mets’ minor league manager.
Well there is a little clarification on his prospective membership in the DNP Club – and a third, delightful, claim to fame.
The ’63 scorecard turns out to list Huckle – but the listing is done in pencil, by hand, by a scout who attended the game. It assigns him uniform number 24. And it fits perfectly into the one piece of archived Huckle news found in contemporary reporting.†
The San Antonio Express of September 12, 1963, reports:


San Antonio’s Wilbur Huckle, who was named the all-star shortstop in the Class A Carolina League, has joined Casey Stengel’s Mets.

So far, so Eureka! But wait, after a resume of Huckle’s brief pro career (and his signing by the same scout who found Nolan Ryan for the Mets), there’s more:

Huckle flew from Raleigh to New York Tuesday to join the parent club. “He didn’t know whether the Mets planned to play him any, or whether they just wanted him to work out with the club a few days,” his father, Allen Huckle said Wednesday. “We’ve been hoping to see his name in a box score.”

Wow. That last line – given that they never would, is particularly poignant.

Worse still, a UPI†article from a month later, October 16, announces the addition of a dozen minor leaguers to the Mets’ off-season roster. Huckle is among them. This seems conclusive; it strains credulity to think he was added to the Met roster for a couple of days in September only to be removed, and then returned to it in October.
He appears to belong to a still more select and unfortunate club: guys who were in uniform on a major league field but didn’t even to not get in a game.
Huckle’s name, would, however, ring briefly in Mets’ history. He was with the team for most of Spring Training in ’64, and enough fans were enchanted by his handle that in that year of a presidential election, the Mets produced at least two “campaign buttons” for a fictional Huckle Presidential Campaign:

The one on the left is particularly sublime. Other than the word “Mets,” the slogan is a direct quote from the man who would ultimately be the 1964 GOP nominee, Senator Barry Goldwater.