Tag Archives: baseball hall of fame

The Hall of Forgotten?

Thanks to the passage of time, there are lots of guys in baseball’s Hall of Fame who are no longer particularly famous.

This is the situation for former players Cap Anson, Ned Hanlon, and Addie Joss, who were stars in the game’s early days, and in addition to being enshrined in Cooperstown, all have the common trait of having died on April 14.

Of the three, Adrian “Cap” Anson is still the most well-known today.

Anson was born in Iowa corn country in 1852, and later spent time at Notre Dame and the University of Iowa before his rowdiness got him expelled from both institutions.

He began playing ball professionally in 1872, and became one of the era’s superstars playing for the Chicago White Stockings. As the first baseman and captain of the team (thereby earning his nickname), he led the Stockings to five pennants during the 1880s.

Anson played for an astonishing 27 seasons, often serving in dual roles as player-manager, becoming the first man to collect 3000 hits along the way.

Today Anson is remembered less for his play on the field than for his racial intolerance. He often refused to play in exhibition games against dark-skinned teams and is often cited as one of the major figures responsible for forcing African-Americans out of professional baseball.

Retirement was not kind to Anson, who failed in several business ventures, including with a professional football team. He served a term as city clerk in Chicago before unsuccessfully running for sheriff.

To make ends meet, he performed on the vaudeville circuit for several years, before dying on this date in 1922.

After a ho-hum twelve-year career as a player, Ned Hanlon successful led several teams as a manager until his retirement in 1907, winning 1313 games along the way.

He died on this date in 1937 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame nearly 60 years later.

100 years ago today, Hall of Fame hurler Adrian “Addie” Joss died suddenly from tubercular meningitis at the start of the 1911 season.

Born in Wisconsin in 1880, Joss began playing pro ball for Cleveland in 1902 and stayed with the team for his entire nine-year career.

Joss was so well regarded by both teammates and opposing players, that after he died, an exhibition game was staged between his former team and a collection of American League All Stars that raised $13,000 to benefit Joss’s widow. The game is often credited as being the first “All Star” game in history.

Despite pitching two no-hitters (including a perfect game in 1908), and chalking up a 160-97 record with an exceptional 1.89 ERA, Joss was barred from Cooperstown for many years because he didn’t play the required ten seasons in the Bigs.

A special exception to the rule was later granted, and he was inducted into the Hall in 1978, thereby earning the distinction of having the shortest career of anyone in Cooperstown.

Although they may no longer be considered famous, these three men have been awarded baseball’s highest honor for all time.

The way things are going these days, the truly famous players of modern times – those with names like McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and Clemens – may never make it into the Hall of Fame.

THIS JUST IN: Thanks to advances in modern medicine, I believed we would never again hear of a baseball player dying suddenly from meningitis like Addie Joss. Sadly, the day this post was published, April 14, 2011, 18-year-old Dominican shortstop Yewri Guillen died from the same disease, only days after first showing symptoms. Guillen was in the Washington Nationals system, and his death comes 100 years to the day after the passing of Joss.

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1/21 and Done

Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer

If you happen to be famous, you may want to stay in bed today.

Who knows? Maybe it was the stress of having just made it through the holidays and knowing that there were less than 350 shopping days until the next Christmas that did these folks in. Whatever the case, the 21st day of January has historically proven fatal to a large number of entertainers.

This dark trend began in 1895 when David Burbank died on this date. While not much of an entertainer himself, dentist and rancher Burbank owned the land that now houses the lots for Warner Bros., Walt Disney, and NBC.

The first film star to pass on this date was beautiful silent actress Alma Rubens (b. 1897) who died from complications from drug addiction in 1931. Canadian-born actress Marie Prevost (b. 1898) met a similar fate six years later due to alcoholism.

On this date in 1938, French magician and cinematic pioneer Georges Melies passed away in Paris. Twelve years later, British dystopian author George Orwell (born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903) died from tuberculosis.

In 1959, two Hollywood notables passed on the same day – one old, one young. The elder victim was epic film director Cecil B. DeMille (b. 1881) whose death overshadowed the news that day that thirty-one-year old ex-Our Gang member Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer had been shot during an argument over a hunting dog. The two were buried a few hundred feet apart in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Western actor Al “Fuzzy” St. John, who got his start in silent comedies with his uncle Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, died on this date in 1963. Actress Ann Sheridan (b. 1915) died four years later from cancer.

Death took a holiday until 1984 when the scythe again swung twice claiming the lives of actor and Olympian Johnny Weissmuller  and Soul singer Jackie Wilson.

Cecil B. DeMille

Actress Susan Strasberg died on this date in 1999, followed three years later by actress and singer Peggy Lee.

Other notables who passed on this date include baseball hall of famer Charlie Gehringer in 1993, Chicago television personality and original Ronald McDonald portrayer Ray Rayner in 2004, and Chi-Lites vocalist Robert “Squirrel” Lester in 2010.

January 21 was also the death date for two actors on the world stage. It was on this date in 1924 that communist leader Vladimir Lenin died in Russia. This happened exactly 131 years after King Louis XVI lost his head in 1793.


Baseball’s Barrier Breakers

Hank Greenberg in 1934.

I saw an interview this week with Bert Blyleven, who along with Roberto Alomar, just got voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Blyleven, who was born in the Netherlands, pointed out that he was proud to be the first Dutchman to make it into the Hall.

While it is certainly a major accomplishment to do something no one from your nation has ever done before, I was reminded of a much more significant barrier that was broken by a Hall of Famer who was born 100 years ago this month.

Hank Greenberg, America’s first Jewish sports superstar, was born on New Year’s Day, 1911. One of baseball’s most feared sluggers during the 30s and 40s, Greenberg was born to Jewish immigrant parents who settled in the Bronx. A high school sports standout, he was initially recruited by the Yankees, but turned them down to attend college. A year later, he signed with the Detroit Tigers.

The tall, handsome, and good-natured Greenberg broke into the majors at the age of 19. Four years later he made headlines by announcing he wouldn’t play on the Jewish Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah during the midst of a tight pennant race. He eventually changed his mind after counseling with a rabbi and hit two home runs that day to clinch the pennant.

While hugely respected by his community who called him “The Baseball Moses,” bigotry may have cost him an appearance on the All-Star Team the following year, and he had to endure catcalls that season from the Cubs bench during the World Series.

The slurs got louder during the 1938 season when, while Hitler was sending Jews in Europe to concentration camps, Greenberg was challenging Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record of 60 (he fell two dingers short).

Greenberg joined the armed forces in World War II and sacrificed several seasons during the prime of his career to service in the Far East. He homered in his first game back with the Tigers in 1945, and in the final game of that season, he hit a dramatic ninth-inning grand slam that sealed the American League crown for Detroit.

In 1947, Greenberg’s contract was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates. That same season, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Greenberg, sensitive to how he had been treated by players and fans for being different, became one of the few opposing players to publicly welcome Robinson into the league, and the two men became good friends.

Greenberg retired at the end of the 1947 season. He became a baseball executive and owner who was noted for promoting minority players into the big leagues. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956 and died thirty years later. He was the subject of a great documentary entitled The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg in 1998.

It makes you wonder how long it will be before an openly gay baseball superstar appears on the scene. When he does, let’s hope his fellow major-leaguers follow Greenberg’s example with Jackie Robinson, and welcome him to the Show.


Lucky 3000

Rickey and Tony.

Yesterday, while Roy Halladay was pitching the second no-hitter in postseason history, I was reminded of one of the most historic games I ever saw.

The date was October 7, 2001, nine years ago today, and less than a month after the tragedy of 9/11.

Tony Gwynn, one of baseball’s true “good guys” was scheduled to appear in the final game of his career that day in San Diego. His teammate Rickey Henderson was sitting on 2,999 career hits that morning, with a chance at joining the 3000-hit club during the same game.

The so-called “War On Terror” began that day, when the United States and Britain launched air strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Like the rest of America, I was still getting my land-legs back after the Twin Towers disaster. I had recently been culled from the Disney herd when caught in the wake of their post-9/11 layoffs. I had a big severance check in my pocket, and no place I had to be.

The game was completely sold out. I was three hours away in Pasadena debating whether the chance at seeing history was worth the possible frustration of walking away disappointed if I couldn’t scalp a ticket. I had to try.

The 5 Freeway was forgiving that morning, and I made it to Qualcomm in record time. The game was still a good half-hour away from starting when I arrived and I lucked out when the Padres scheduled a special pre-game tribute to the troops, which gave me a few precious added minutes to land a ticket. I knew that Rickey would be the lead-off hitter at the bottom of the first, so the clock was ticking. But no one was selling.

I found myself alone in the parking lot hearing the national anthem being sung from inside and the crowd’s response to the military fly-over that started the game.

The Padres were playing the Colorado Rockies that day and I heard the PA announcer introduce their first three batters who were relieved in order. It looked like I was out of luck.

Just then a pair of Japanese tourists approached me and in broken English said, “Ticket?”

I tried to explain that I needed one myself. With a confused look they produced a ticket. I realized they were actually trying to sell me a ticket, and asked how much. They said, “No, for you,” then forced the ticket into my hand, and walked away, refusing any payment.

I sprinted into the gate as the announcer introduced Rickey Henderson to a deafening applause. My free ticket was for a seat right behind the first base dugout, and I appeared in the walkway and caught a glimpse of Rickey seconds before he swatted a double to right field. I had seen a 3000th hit.

Later in the ninth, Tony Gwynn grounded out to shortstop for his very last official at-bat, the 9,288th of his career. I later learned that it was the first time that two players with 3000 hits played in the same game for the same team.

I never found out why the friendly Japanese couple gave me a ticket that day. It might simply have been the look of desperation on my face, or just their way to help out an American during one of our country’s darkest periods.

I prefer to think of it as a simple act of kindness; one which reminded me that bullies like Osama bin Laden can terrorize, but only the kind can truly elevate and inspire.

THIS JUST IN: Tony Gwynn just reported that he is battling cancer. Read about it here.


The Final Swing

Ted Williams crossing the plate after homering on his final big league at-bat on September 28, 1960.

Performers are remembered by how they exit the stage.

In the history of major league baseball, no one left the game in grander fashion than legendary hitter Ted Williams, who blasted a home run – his 521st – on his final at-bat, in front of a sparse crowd at Fenway Park, 50 years ago today. It was a moment that was immortalized by a young John Updike in his New Yorker essay entitled Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.

Williams, who was blessed with exceptional eyesight and hand-eye coordination coupled with an obsessive approach to hitting, had one of the most amazing careers in baseball history. The skinny left-fielder made an immediate impact after joining the Red Sox in 1939, placing fourth in the MVP voting as a rookie. Two years later he had one of the greatest seasons ever when he became the last man to bat .400, while setting the record for on-base percentage at .551 (since broken by a juiced-up Barry Bonds in 2002). That same year he won the All-Star Game for the American League with a walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning. (Unbelievably, Williams didn’t win the Most Valuable Player award in 1941, because his accomplishments were overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak that same year.)

Williams’ production remained steady throughout his entire career, and he actually led the league in hitting as a 40-year-old. He ended up playing twenty-one seasons for Boston, winning two MVP awards, despite missing most of five seasons during his prime to military service in World War II and Korea, where he was a decorated Marine Corps pilot. His absence prevented him from reaching 3,000 hits or challenging Babe Ruth for the home run title, two legitimate possibilities. As it was, he retired with a career batting average of .344, the highest for any player with over 500 home runs.

Williams had a contentious relationship with Boston’s media and fans who often found him to be tactless and high-strung. This situation undoubtedly cost him additional accolades, as he twice won baseball’s Triple Crown (highest batting average, most home runs, most runs batted in), yet was passed over for the MVP award both seasons!

After his dramatic final home run on September 28, 1960 off of Baltimore’s Jack Fisher, Williams left his playing career behind. He later managed the Washington Senators for three seasons (earning the Manager of the Year Award in 1969), along with an additional season in Texas, where the Senators relocated in 1972 to become the Texas Rangers. In retirement he became an accomplished sport fisherman and was inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, his success in these various endeavors didn’t come home with him. His family life was a shambles, with three failed marriages producing children who sullied their father’s reputation after his death in 2002 by having his body cryogenically frozen instead of cremated as he wished, making him the butt of countless late-night monologue jokes.

In my opinion, Ted Williams hit one final home run in his baseball career after his final plate appearance. It came in 1966 during his induction ceremony for the Baseball Hall of Fame, when he called on Hall of Fame voters to include former Negro Leagues players like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Leigh Montville of the Boston Globe later wrote that this powerful statement from one of the greatest white players of all time was “a first crack in the door that ultimately would open and include Paige and Gibson and other Negro League stars in the shrine.” Largely because of Williams’ endorsement, Satchel Paige (who I wrote about yesterday in “Deadwrite’s Dailies”) became the first Negro Leaguer inducted into the Hall in 1971.


How Old Would You Be?

It took pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige longer to climb to the big leagues than anybody in history, and he was in no hurry to leave the Show behind.

It was on this date 45 years ago that Paige came out of retirement for one final appearance at age 59, to become the oldest man to ever play in a major league baseball game.

Paige, a “larger-than-life” personality who got his nickname from carrying satchels at the post office as a boy, had begun his playing career over four decades(!) earlier when he first took the mound in semi-pro leagues in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. He threw right-handed with a high leg kick, and had only one pitch, the fastball, which he altered, giving names to the variations like “Bat Dodger,” “Trouble Ball,” and “Midnight Creeper.” He quickly moved up the ranks to become the top pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues, becoming a five-time All-Star, posting a record of 31-4 in 1933, his best season, with 21 consecutive victories. Much of his early career was spent barnstorming around the country, often playing white teams in exhibition matches. Joe DiMaggio, called him the “best pitcher he ever faced” after one of these games.

When Kansas City Monarchs teammate Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier” in 1947, Paige was publicly elated, but privately disappointed not to be the one chosen for the honor. No matter, as there were many major league “firsts” in store for Paige, beginning with becoming the oldest “rookie” in history, when he was signed to his first big league contract by Cleveland on his 42nd birthday in 1948. He helped the Indians win the pennant that year and pitched in the World Series. He would later pitch in two major league all-star games for the St. Louis Browns (becoming the first black pitcher to do so) before ending his career in 1953.

Kansas City Athletics manager Charles O. Finley brought Paige back for his sole appearance in 1965 as a publicity stunt to honor several former Negro League players who were in attendance. Paige played his role perfectly, resting in a rocking chair in the dugout before the game, having liniment rubbed onto his joints by a nurse. When Satchel took the mound, he still had the juice, throwing three scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox, allowing only one hit, a double to future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.

He pitched in more games in more places than anyone in history. It is estimated that Paige appeared in 2600 games, pitching 300 shut-outs, and 55 no-hitters. He became the first Negro Leagues player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.

Paige, who was as known for his quips as for his pitching, attributed his longevity in the sport to “six maxims” on “How To Stay Young,” which were carved on his headstone at Forest Hills Cemetery in Kansas City after his passing in 1982.

  1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
  2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
  4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.
  5. Avoid running at all times.
  6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Remarkably, Paige may have been much older than 59 when he last pitched. Birth records were spotty in the Paige family and some believe he was several years older than he stated. Whenever he was questioned about this, Paige would say that he wasn’t certain of his age and ask, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”