Baseball Short Stories - 9
July 9, 1915 - Comedy of Errors
SABR Games Project, sabr.org, Warren Corbett

The 1915 Cleveland Indians, in their first year with that nickname after Napoleon Lajoie retired, were a woeful team with a near-bankrupt owner. They were in last place on July 19 when they made unwanted history as they lost their fifth straight to the Washington Senators, 11-4. Washington ran away with eight stolen bases in the first inning, still the major-league record — though it is a tainted one.
The Senators, who were on the fringe of the pennant race tied for fourth place, started their nonpareil, Walter Johnson at League Park in Cleveland, against a right-hander decorated with the name Zerah Zequiel Hagerman, who preferred to be called "Rip" for obvious reasons. Hagerman was a lanky Kansas farm boy like Johnson, but the resemblance ended there.
Hagerman opened the top of the first by walking Washington leadoff man Danny Moeller. After Eddie Foster flied out, Moeller took second on a balk. By the rules of the time, he was credited with a stolen base; it is not a steal today. (The scoring rule was changed in 1955.) Clyde Milan walked, and he and Moeller executed a double steal. When Cleveland catcher Steve O'Neill threw to second, Milan got into a rundown while Moeller kept going around third to score, credited with two steals on the play. Milan escaped the pickle to complete a successful theft of second.
Hagerman doled out his third walk, to Howie Shanks. Then the pitcher, asleep or shell-shocked, held the ball while Milan swiped third. Chick Gandil delivered Washington's first hit, a triple to left-center that brought home Milan and Shanks. Cleveland left fielder Jack Graney's poor throw allowed Gandil to score as well. At this point manager Lee Fohl mercifully relieved Hagerman, who had been ripped for four runs on one hit, three walks, an error, and five stolen bases.

L-R: Rip Hagerman, Walter Johnson, Steve O'Neill, George McBride
The new pitcher, lefty Sam Jones, got Tom Connolly to fly to left for the second out. But Eddie Ainsmith singled to center, then stole second and went to third on catcher O'Neill's wild throw. Jones walked George McBride to keep the line moving. When Jones tried to pick McBride off first, the runner fled toward second and first baseman Jay Kirke's throw hit him in the back. Ainsmith raced home on the play, and Kirke's error allowed McBride to keep running. Center fielder Billy Southworth retrieved the ball, but his throw to third was wild, and McBride scored.
The official scorer ruled the Little League play a double steal, Washington's seventh and eighth thefts of the inning, with the Indians' third and fourth errors charged to Indians and Indians. Indians, the Senators' ninth batter, flied out to end the farce.
Johnson walked to the mound with a 6-0 lead. The "King of Pitchers" had roiled the baseball world in the offseason when he signed with Chicago of the outlaw Federal League, then turned around and re-signed with Washington. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey had kicked in $6,000 to sweeten the Senators' offer and keep Johnson from joining the rival Chicago club.
Pitching just 18 days after the birth of his first child, Walter Jr., Johnson knew what to do with a big lead: He coasted. "Johnson didn't exert himself in the least — he just shoved the ball over the pan and let the Indians hit it," the Cleveland Leader's Charles W. Swan wrote. Cleveland managed only two singles in six innings while the Senators built their lead to 8-0. Assured of his 15th win, Johnson retired to rest his arm. Indicative of his effort, he did not strike out a single batter for the only time in any of his starts that season
What's Old Is New Again
Sports Illustrated Spring 2020, Jack Dickey

Thomas Marshall, Woodrow Wilson's vice president, threw out the first pitch at the Washington Senators' home opener against Boston; the Indians, behind CF Tris Speaker, got off to a 33-16 start. Yet it inaugurated a decade that remains one of the game's most memorable and dynamic. Small ball gave way to slugging. Total attendance, which had cleared 7 million just twice before, exceeded 9 million in seven of 10 seasons. Lou Gehrig, Paul Waner and Lefty Grove started their careers; Speaker, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson ended theirs. And the lowly Yankees, stirred to life by their purchase of Babe Ruth just five days into the decade, opened Yankee Stadium and won six pennants and three World Series, en route to becoming the sport's signature franchise.
Any history-minded baseball nut (which is to say, any baseball nut) would likely recall the 1920s here in 2020, round numbers being what they are. But the resonance between those '20s and our '20s doubled with MLB's substantiation, in mid-January, of the extensive sign-stealing operation the Astros used during their '17 title run. The reason there is a commissioner of baseball to investigate and sanction Houston dates to the revelation, in 1920, that the 1919 World Series had been fixed for gamblers' benefit.
As with the Astros, a year's worth of whispers preceded a formal probe. (After his heavily favored team lost the best-of-nine World Series 5-3 to the Reds, White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey offered a $20,000 bounty, nearly $300,000 in today's money, to anyone with evidence of malfeasance.) Conducting the inquiry was a grand jury in Cook County, Ill., which had been convened to investigate game-fixing in baseball and then spent the final stretch of the 1920 pennant race hauling various stars before it. Billy Maharg, a gambler and onetime replacement player for the Tigers and Phillies, served as the scandal's Mike Fiers, telling all to the Philadelphia North American, and days later Sox righty Eddie Cicotte spilled to the grand jury. Though none of Chicago's so-called Eight Men Out was ever convicted of a crime, new commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned them all for life in August '21.

L-R: Charlie Comiskey, Eddie Cicotte, Kenesaw Mountain Landis
There are at least two salient lessons here, one for Rob Manfred and another for anyone with a stake in baseball's well-being.
The first - obvious, one would think, though it has eluded the commissioner - goes to the merits of decisive action against cheaters. Manfred slapped the Astros with a $5 million fine, stripped them of four draft picks and suspended G.M. Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. But his choice to release only a sliver of the evidence and offer Houston's players blanket immunity in exchange for their testimony nurtures suspicion and damns the cheaters, who, unpunished, are unable to pay their debt to baseball.
The second, and, again, Q.E.D.: Give the people who play and coach and think about this game the space to do what they do best and they can lift baseball from the mire of scandal to exciting new heights.
Vexatious Veecks - I
Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick, Paul Dickson (2012)
Shortly after persuading recalcitrant NL and AL owners to support the playing of the first All-Star Game in 1933, Bill Veeck Sr., General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, proposed another radical idea.

Bill Veeck Sr.
Veeck senior was in New York City on August 22 (1933) for the Cubs-Giants game, but it was rained out. Gotham scribes were "looking for a rainy day story," which Veeck gave them. With an eye to Cubs attendance, which had shrunk by about 400,000 dur­ing the season, he proposed a series of mid-season games between American and National league teams as a means of stimulating interest in the game. He maintained that the game was in "critical condition" and that aggressive action had to be taken to revive interest before the 1934 season. "There is no use kid­ding ourselves any longer," Veeck told Alan Gould of the Associated Press. "Only one big league club of 16 made money last year." He pointed out that anyone who looked at the attendance figures from July 5 until the middle of August saw that the game was in the doldrums.
Calling these weeks the game's "dog days," Veeck urged their monotony be broken with interleague games that counted in the standings. Veeck's plan was quite specific: thirty-two interleague games for each club, with four against each team of other league - two home and two away.
Gould's story appeared in every major city. The reaction to what the Chicago Daily News called a "radical prescription" was immediate. Cleveland Indians president Alva Bradley and Brooklyn Dodgers president Stephen W. McKeever had declared themselves definitely in favor of the idea, and the Cardinals' Sam Brea­don and the Pirates' William Benswanger felt it was worth considering.
Soon though, the "Veeck Plan," as it was known, was attracting serious American League opposition. Opined Clark Griffith, the gray-haired president of the Wash­ington Senators, "Nobody thinks of that sort of stuff unless he's deaf, dumb, and blind." Col. Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the Yankees, dismissed the notion, saying he had not given it "a single thought." The American League believed itself the superior circuit and did not want to share the box office draw of Ruth, Gehrig, and others.

Tetelo Vargas
The day after Veeck's interview with Alan Gould was published, a letter dated August 23, 1933, was sent to Veeck's office from Syd Pollock, owner of the Cuban Stars, a semipro team playing in the Negro leagues. Addressing Veeck's statement that only one major-league club was profitable, Pollock urged that the ban on Negro teams be lifted, which would boost gate reve­nue throughout baseball. He proposed "pla­cing an en­tire Colored club to represent a city like Cincinnati in the National League and Boston in the American League." ...
Pollock based his argument on having sent his Cu­ban Stars to play in thirty-two states during the previous season, in the process beating every white minor-league team they faced. He wrote about one of his stars, Tetelo Vargas, who he predicted would steal more bases during the season than any two cur­rent major-league players combined. Vargas had also hit seven consecutive home runs in two days against top semipro competition in 1931, but this feat was entirely ignored by the white press. "With a colored club in either or both circuits, these feats, common among colored ballplayers, would not go unnoticed and bring greater interest in baseball, with the necessary publicity to go with it."
To bolster his argument, Pollock quoted Babe Ruth's comment that "the colorful­ness of Negroes in baseball and their sparkling brilliancy on the field would have a tendency to increase attendance at games," [and] Pirates coach Honus Wagner's assertion that "the good colored clubs played just as good as seen anywhere" ...
The letter ended with the assurance that Pollock was in a position to assemble such a team or teams for the 1934 season. ... Pollock sent a copy of the letter to the local North Tarrytown Daily News, which published it the day after it was mailed to Veeck. In due course, it was picked up by the Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier, Amsterdam News, and other Negro newspapers.
Whether Veeck had any thoughts of acting on the idea of a black team or teams in the majors is unknown. No surviving record exists of a response by Veeck to Pollock, which is most likely explained by the fact that Veeck was suffering the early stages of the illness [leukemia] that would take his life.
The Greatest Cardinal of Them All
"Player of the 1940s Decade: Stan Musial," St. Louis Cardinals 2017 Yearbook
The episodes that mark Stan Musial's performance in the 1940s have filled many pages in many books. He wasn't just the player of the decade for the Cardinals, he was the player of the decade in the National League, and arguably in all of baseball.
How he got to be that player was somewhat remarkable. Musial was a hard-throwing lefthanded pitcher growing up in Donora, Pa., so gifted that at 14, he was recruited to play for the semipro Donora Zincs. Standing all of 5-foot-4 and 140 pounds, Musial struck out 13 adult batters in his six-inning debut.
No question, Musial could throw hard. He just couldn't be certain where the ball was going. Michael Duda, who coached Musial in his only season of high school baseball at Donora High, recalled the quandary.
"The problem with him as a schoolboy pitcher was we couldn't find anyone who could catch him," Duda said. "He might strike out 18 men, but half of them would get to first on dropped third strikes."
The good news: Musial had a knack for hitting, too. During that same season at Donora High, he batted. 455 and led the school to the Mon Valley High School championship. Passing up a possible scholarship to play basketball at the University of Pittsburgh, Musial signed a Class D contract with the Cardinals before the 1938 season.
In his organizational report on Musial, scout Andrew French wrote: "ARM? ... Good. FIELDING? ... Good. SPEED? ... Fast. Good curve ball. Green Kid. PROSPECT NOW? ... No. PROSPECT LATER? ... Yes."
But Musial's transition from suspect to prospect - to Hall of Fame - would include a dramatic change of direction, a shift that blossomed in the 1940s, and began by fate.

L-R: Young Stan Musial at Rochester; Stan and Lillian with their son Dick;
One of the most iconic stances in baseball history.
Musial was still considered a pitcher by trade in 1940, and seemed to be progressing in Class D Daytona Beach. Manager Dickie Kerr was employing Musial as an outfielder on days he wasn't pitching, an approach that was working well as Musial won 18 games and batted over .300. But in August, Musial was playing in the outfield and hurt his left shoulder diving for a ball.
It was a bad break, probably the best bad break in the history of the franchise. His career as a pitcher would soon be over, and he was not disappointed. "More and more, I wanted to be a hitter," Musial said years later.
The die, which would be underlined by 3,630 career hits, was cast. During the same season in which Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games and Ted Williams batted .406, Stan Musial the hitter was born. In 1941, a 20-year-old Musial batted .379 at Class C Springfield, .326 at Class AA Rochester, and finally .426 in 12 late-season games in St. Louis.
During that September promotion, the Cardinals played a doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs in which Musial played left field in the first game and right field in the nightcap. In the first game, he made two diving catches, threw out a runner at the plate and collected four hits. In the nightcap, he stroked two more hits and made two more notable catches. Afterward, Chicago manager Jimmie Wilson offered, "Nobody can be that good. Nobody."
But Musial was just getting started.
Over the rest of the decade, Musial became the first player in baseball history to win three MVP awards and assumed his place as the National League's dominant gene. He won three batting titles and led the Cardinals to four World Series appearances (1942, '43, '44 and '46) in five years. In fact, the only year the club missed a pennant during that stretch - second-place in 1945 - Musial missed the season serving in the Navy.
From 1942 through '49, baseball's "perfect warrior" batted .346 with a .427 on-base percentage and .578 slugging average. He averaged 21 homers, 43 doubles, 100 RBIs and led the league in triples four times, and in doubles and hits five times.
"You could scout Musial by the sound of the ball hitting the bat," former teammate Joe Garagiola said. "You didn't even have to watch him."
You didn't have to watch him, no. But you couldn't help but watch him. While DiMaggio dated Hollywood starlets and Williams fought battles with the press, Musial was to baseball what Andy was to Mayberry. He married his high school sweetheart, signed countless autographs and represented wholesome values of his Midwestern surroundings.
"I remember one spring training I caught him entering the hotel lobby at 7 a.m.," recalled Kerr. "I thought he'd been out all night roaming the town. When I asked him about it, he said, 'No, sir. I'm coming back from morning Mass.'"
Bouts with appendicitis and tonsillitis pulled Musial down in 1947, as he "slumped" to a .312 average. He was determined to bounce back in 1948 and changed his batting approach to hit for more power. The result was one of the greatest seasons ever registered by a big-league player.
His .376 average won the batting title by 43 points. His .702 slugging average topped the category by 138 points. His 131 RBIs led the league, too, while his home run total (39) fell on shy of Ralph Kiner's and Johnny Mize's 40, denying Musial the Triple Crown. It was the only meaningful offensive category in which Musial did not rank first.
Perhaps one game in '48 best underscores the zone in which Musial was operating. The Cardinals were clinging to their pennant hopes when they faced the first-place Boston Braves on Sept. 22 and Stan was dealing with two swollen wrists. Carefully picking his spots, he took only five swings that game. And he went 5-for-5 with a home run, double and two RBIs. It was his fourth five-hit game of the season, tying a record set by Ty Cobb 26 years earlier.
The Cardinals didn't catch the Braves that season (not for lack of effort by Musial, who hit .443 against them in 22 games), and they finished one game behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949. A remarkable decade in Cardinals baseball had come to an end, but the legend of "Stan the Man" was just beginning.

 

 

CONTENTS

July 9, 1915 - Comedy of Errors

What's Old Is New Again

Vexatious Veecks

The Greatest Cardinal of Them All

 

Baseball Short Stories - 1

Baseball Short Stories - 2

Baseball Short Stories - 3

Baseball Short Stories - 4

Baseball Short Stories - 5

Baseball Short Stories - 6

Baseball Short Stories - 7

Baseball Short Stories - 8

 

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