Baseball Vignettes - XII
Making of a Team
The Baltimore Orioles of the National League traveled to Macon GA for spring training in 1894.
  • During a miserable '92 season when his team finished twelfth (last), owner Har­ry von der Horst traded for 34-year-old Ned Hanlon, the player-manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates who had worn out his welcome with his hard-drinking players because he was too tough on them. Hanlon insisted that Harry grant him full authority to run the ballclub, including signing and releasing players.
  • From Day One, Ned stressed that the team had enough talent to win but only if they worked as a unit with no regard for individual glory.
  • He made numerous roster changes in the off-season with the result that the Orioles moved up four places in the standings in '93.

Following additional personnel changes for '94, Ned's spring training would be like none baseball had ever seen.

  • He conducted a daily three-hour morning workout that included lots of running and drills.
  • After dinner at the hotel and a nap, the players returned to the ballfield for an afternoon game.
  • The day ended with a mile run at a nearby race track followed by a bath and a rubdown.
Obergruppenführer Hanlon didn't waste the evenings either.
  • He gave each player a copy of the Spaulding Guide and quizzed them on rules and strategies.
  • He taught his team a complicated set of hand signals that guided batters, field­ers, and pitchers. One writer said Hanlon's system would put the Princeton foot­ball eleven to shame.

The Orioles' skipper had each player work hardest on his biggest weakness.

  • He instructed his charges on running the bases with particular attention to one of his pet plays, the hit-and-run.
  • He drilled them on bunting for base hits and fouling off pitches to extend at-bats. Batters worked on what came to be known as the "Baltimore chop," swinging down on the ball to make it hit in front of the plate and bounce so high the bat­ter beat the throw to first.
  • Pitchers practiced picking off runners and covering 1B on grounders.
  • The only time the players didn't think about baseball was Sunday mornings when Hanlon led his men to church.
  • One reporter at the training camp wired back to Baltimore: It is eminently a case of the survival of the fittest. It is one of the most gratifying signs of the times that the men are beginning to realize this. No more loafing, drinking and carousing. Only sober, hard-working men have any chance in fin de siecle baseball. [Fin de siecle = end of the century]
  • Prognosticators expected Baltimore to be much improved, finishing as high as fifth or sixth.

The Orioles opened the season at home against New York on Thursday, April 19.

  • Manager-captain Montgomery Ward led his Giants into Baltimore the night be­fore complaining that his team was not in as good condition as the Orioles due to the bad weather in the New York area. When we were practically snow-bound the Baltimores were playing daily games in the South.
  • The weather cooperated as the two teams donned their uniforms for the 1 pm parade from the Eutaw House hotel where the Giants stayed to the ball park. For the first time, black and orange bunting bedraped buildings along the route. A crowd estimated at 5,000 gathered for the event as the Maryland Naval Re­serve Band played from a barge as small black boys danced.
  • The rival managers shared a carriage as did the players at corresponding posi­tions for the teams - catchers in one carriage, pitchers in the next, etc.
  • The fans, called "cranks" in those days, followed the parade to Union Park where they were joined by other rooters who traveled on the new electric streetcars, cable cars, horse-drawn carriages, and bicycles.
  • At 3 pm, an hour before game time, management shut down ticket sales for the grandstand, but fans kept paying their quarters until the bleacheries (another term of the time) were filled. Then a gate was opened to allow spectators to stand along the outfield fence. Any ball hit into the crowd in fair territory would be a ground rule double.
  • Altogether, 15,234 tickets were sold to create the largest crowd to watch a game in Baltimore.
 Union Park, Baltimore
Union Park, Baltimore
Baltimore's groundskeeper Tom Murphy had spruced up the four-year-old ballpark and tailored the field to Hanlon's specifications.
  • Black and orange bunting hung from the upper deck while a line of flags flew above.
  • More importantly, the grass had been allowed to grow thicker along the first and third base lines to keep bunts from rolling foul.
  • Also, concrete slabs were embedded in the dirt in front of home plate to enhance the success of the Baltimore chops.
  • The standees in RF blocked the view of the strangest trait of the park, the fact that the field sloped downward as it neared the fence. The overflow crowd also deprived the Orioles of another of their home field tricks, hiding an extra ball in the high grass in front of the fences.

Hanlon turned in this batting order.

  1. 3B John McGraw, a scrawny 20-year-old who took no guff from anyone and played each game like it was life and death;
  2. RF Willie Keeler, all 5'4" 140 lb, acquired from Brooklyn in the off-season after hitting .321 and .317 in his first two ML seasons;
  3. CF Steve Brodie, the eccentric son of a Confederate cavalry officer who possess­ed the uncanny knack of breaking at the crack of the bat to the very spot where the ball landed;

    After his first Orioles practice, Keeler asked to be moved to the infield be­cause Brodie didn't like him. When Hanlon asked him why he thought that, Willie replied, He keeps yelling, "I'll get you, you dirty dog!" Ned explained that Brodie screamed that at every ball hit his way.

  4. 1B Dan Brouthers, 6'2" 207 lb, 35 year old slugger whom Hanlon acquired from Brooklyn in the belief that he still had a good year or two in him after leading the league in hitting five times and in RBIs twice;
  5. LF Joe Kelley, aggressive at bat and daring on the basepaths but a 23-year-old who wanted to have his own way;
  6. 2B Henry "Heinie" Reitz, recommended to Hanlon by a friend who saw Heinie play in the California League and came away impressed by his lightning quick hands;
  7. SS Hughie Jennings, the ninth of twelve children of a Pennsylvania coal miner who as much as anyone embodied his manager's vision of a ballplayer who breathed, ate, thought, and slept baseball;
  8. C Wilbert "Robbie" Robinson, another 215 pounder, an excellent handler of pitchers and a hitter whose average wasn't that high but who came through in the clutch;
  9. P John "Sadie" McMahon (who acquired his nickname when a teammate called to a girl on a street corner and McMahon answered), a 215 lb righty who had forged a reputation as a big-game pitcher who won 36 games in '90 and then 35 in '91 after being traded to Baltimore.

    All pitching statistics before 1893 had to be evaluated in light of the fact that the pitching distance was 55' 6" before the owners voted to move the rubber back 5' before the '93 season.

As home team, the Orioles chose to bat first to get a crack at the brand new baseball before it got bludgeoned.

  • Someone on the Baltimore bench pulled the cord to ring the big bell on the front of the upper stands, and the Giants took the field in their baggy gray flannel uni­forms that contrasted with the Orioles' bright new white ones.
  • Umpire Tom Lynch, entrusted with running the game all by his lonesome, tossed the ball to Amos Rusie, the stocky righty who had been the Giants ace since 1890. He had led the league in '93 in games (56), games started (52), complete games (50), shutouts (4), innings pitched (482), strikeouts (208) and walks (218).
  • Vendors in the grandstand hawked ginger ale, lemonade, cigars, peanuts, and cigarettes while their counterparts in the bleachers added beer to their offerings.
  • Cranks in their black coats and derbies and ladies in their own section wearing their bustle skirts and billowy sleeves could also purchase sausage-like sand­wiches known to German-Americans as weckers to eat amid the smoke and stench emitted by the cigars, pipes, and cigarettes that most patrons smoked.
  • The black scoreboard in CF detailed the progress of the other league games.
1894 Orioles Big Four
L: The Orioles Big Four: Standing - Willie Keeler, John McGraw, seated - Joe Kelley, Hughie Jennings;
R: 1894 Player with Glove
Baltimore squandered an opportunity in the opening inning.
  • McGraw picked out one of Rusie's shoots and curves and lined it into LF. Eddie Burke raced in, got his small glove on the ball, and muffed it.
  • Keeler stepped to the dish choking up on his 30", 29 oz bottle bat. He smashed a pitch on the ground to SS Yale Murphy, who fumbled it.
  • But Rusie bore down and retired Kelley, Brouthers, and Brodie with no runs crossing the plate.

The game continued scoreless through two innings.

  • In the second, Keeler demonstrated his defensive prowess by streaking deep into RCF, leaping over the rope in front of the standees, who scurried out of his path, and snagging the ball.
  • Minutes later, Robbie showed off his arm, nailing George Van Haltren trying to steal 2B.

The Orioles broke through in the third as the Giants showed their lack of preseason practice.

  • McGraw led off with a base on balls, then stole second. C Duke Farrell threw wildly, but 2B Ward blocked Mac from advancing to 3B.
  • Keeler struck out, but Farrell muffed the third strike, then threw badly to 1B to allow Willie to reach safely, McGraw taking third.
  • Brodie forced Keeler at 2B, but John scored. Steve then pilfered 2B before ad­vancing to 3B on Brouthers' ground out.
  • Kelley grounded to 3B George Davis for what should have been the third out, but 1B Roger Connor dropped the throw.

Both sides scored in the fifth.

  • Keeler walked and took 2B on Brodie's single. Brouthers banged the ball over the CF rope for two bases. Kelley's fly to the edge of the crowd in CF plated Brodie. Reitz's hit to RF sent Big Dan home with the third tally of the frame.
  • The visitors finally got to Sadie on a single, a steal, and successive sacrifices.
  • McMahon pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth to keep the score 5-1.

Hanlon's men put the contest away in the eighth.

  • As Robinson stepped to the plate, admirers presented him with a silver-handled umbrella inscribed "Robbie." He responded by lining one that caromed off Mur­phy's shins.
  • After Sadie flied out, McGraw lined a single to RF that sent Robbie to 3B. Keel­er's double scored a run and put men at second and third.
  • Following Brodie's short fly to LF, Brouthers clouted the biggest blow of the game, over the crowd and off the CF wall 3' from the top for his second double to score the second and third runs of the inning. No one could recall a longer clout in Union Park.
  • New York tallied two in the 8th to make the final count 8-3.

The Orioles swept the three-game series, a harbinger of their pennant-winning season that vindicated Hanlon's methods. Baseball would never be the same.

1894 Baltimore Orioles

References: Where They Ain't: The Fabled Life and Untimely Death of the Original Baltimore Orioles, the Team That Gave Birth to Modern Baseball, Burt Solomon (1999)
Top of Page

Harry Von der Horst
Harry von der Horst

Orioles Manager Ned Hanlon
Ned Hanlon

Giants Manager Montgomery Ward
Montgomery Ward

Baltimore Groundskeeper Tom Murphy
Tom Murphy

Orioles P Sadie McMahon and CF Steve Brodie
Sadie McMahon and Steve Brodie

Orioles 2B Heinie Reitz
Heinie Reitz

Orioles C Wilbert Robinson
Wilbert Robinson

Giants P Amos Rusie
Amos Rusie

Umpire Tom Lynch
Tom Lynch

Giants LF Eddie Burke
Eddie Burke

Giants SS Yale Murphy
Yale Murphy

George Van Haltren, Giants
George Van Haltren

Orioles 1B Dan Brouthers
Dan Brouthers

Giants 3B George Davis
George Davis

Giants 1B Roger Conner

Lajoie's Lousy 1905
Look at Hall of Famer Napoleon ("Nap" or "Larry") Lajoie's year-by-year statistics and you'll notice something different about 1905 in addition to the fact that he served as Cleveland's manager for that season.
  • The undisputed best second baseman in baseball played in only 65 games after appearing in 140 in 1904 and 125 in '03.
  • The reason was a spike wound that became infected.
  • The injury not only ruined his season but that of his team as well, a team whose nickname, "Naps," was taken from Lajoie's first name.

An article in the Bellingham (WA) Herald July 1 describes a play that Lajoie made against Boston that illustrated why he was held in such high esteem in the baseball world.

Lajoie's play in the fifth was easily the best seen at Huntington avenue this season; no one could remember ever seeing such a play before. Lajoie did it so easily that its greatness was lost sight of for a second, and rob­bing Boston as it did of a run, the big crowd rose like one man and loudly cheered Lajoie. It is impossible to describe the play and do Lajoie justice.
Parent was on third, Burkett on second, and Collins at the bat. Collins smashed a hot grounder past [pitcher] Rhoades and Parent started for home amid loud cheering. It didn't seem possible for Lajoie to reach the ball, but he did with his bare hand and never seeming to stop or adjust himself, he literally snapped the ball to [catcher] Bemis. Unable because of his position to throw the ball in the air to the plate, did not deter Lajoie from trying. The throw was weak to Bemis, but it bounced into his hands and Parent was out.
Not till then did the crowd appreciate what Lajoie had done and sadly dis­appointed as they were that Parent was out, men and women arose and paid Lajoie tribute. Lajoie did not seem to strain a muscle in pulling off a play that would make any man famous.

The first mention of a problem came in the July 4, 1905, issue of the Cleveland Leader.

LAJOIE OUT OF THE GAME WITH BAD LEG
Threatened With Blood Poisoning, Manager Must Remain in His Room
SERIOUS BLOW TO NAPS AT THIS TIME
Larry Lajoie, Cleveland's proud manager, will be out of the game for at least a week with cellulitis, a primary stage of blood poisoning. Coming just at the time of the Chicago series, Lajoie's absence will be keenly felt.
Lajoie has been looking forward to the White Sox games with the keenest interest, for he wanted to take two out of three, thus keeping the Cleve­lands on top. With this important series on hand and nine games in the next six days with the manager at his home, the outlook is anything but assuring for the team's success. It was said last night that Lajoie would not be able to leave his room for several days.
How long Lajoie has been bothered with this disease is not known, but it was brought to a focus last Friday when he was kicked on the left ankle by O'Leary, of the Detroit team, in sliding to second base. That night it did not bother him much, but on Saturday night, after the game, he began to complain of the soreness, believing that it was just a slight sprain.
On Sunday morning, he used liniment to reduce the swelling, but the pain increased and he did not go to the park. Right after the game Secretary Barnard called a doctor and he declared that his leg was threatened with blood poisoning. When the team left for Cleveland [from St. Louis] he was driven to the train with his leg bandaged up from the ankle, as the swelling had gone far above the knee. He was taken to his home here and put right in bed. Should the disease be held in control Lajoie will be able to play next week, but if it should spread he may be out of the game for the rest of the season.
"Bill" Bradley has been made temporary captain of the Larrupers, while Nick Kahl will cover the manager's position at second base.

A report from Cleveland that appeared in newspapers across the land suggested a possible source of the infection in the wound.

Boston Herald, July 4
Manager Lajoie of the Cleveland club will be out of the game for five days. He is troubled with cellulitis, an accompaniment of blood poisoning, in his left ankle. He sustained a scratch in Friday's game, and it is thought the dye of his stocking penetrated the wound.

The American League standings looked like this after the White Sox and the Naps split their Independence Day morning-afternoon doubleheader at League Park. A total of 27,251 turned out for the two games despite threatening weather.

American League July 4, 1905
Team W L % GB
Chicago White Sox 39 22 .639 --
Cleveland Naps 39 22 .639 --
Philadelphia Athletics 38 24 .613 1.5
Detroit Tigers 30 33 .476 10
Boston Americans 27 30 .474 10
New York Highlanders 26 33 .441 12
St. Louis Browns 23 40 .365 17
Washington Senators 22 40 .355 17.5

Cleveland League Park 1905

Lajoie's condition worsened.

Cleveland Leader, July 6
Five incisions were made while the Naps' leader was under the influence of chloroform. It was necessary for two of the players to hold him during the operation, which was said to be successful. Lajoie's injury comes at a bad time for the Eastern teams travel westward next Monday, Cleveland's op­ening with the Athletics. It is in this series that Lajoie would be needed, although Kahl is playing a good game for a substitute.
Dr. Castle, who is treating Lajoie, claims that it will be ten days at least before the manager will be able to get on the field again. "He had a bad leg," remarked Dr. Castle, "but all danger is now past. All that is needed is rest." Those who know Larry believe that he will be out inside of one week. When the announcement was brought to him of the victory last night, he was well pleased.

Unfortunately, Lajoie was not the only player on the mend.

  • Ace pitcher Addie Joss was confined to bed with a bad cold. But it must have been more than that because he missed the rest of July.
  • Nap's replacement at 2B, Nick Kahl, went out with an injury July 10.
  • Bradley would soon be diagnosed with "autotoxicity," a stomach ailment. Weakened by the illness, he became a shadow of the player who was considered the most capable replacement for Nap as leader of the Clevelands.
  • In late July, George Stovall, "Cleveland's popular first baseman," also was confined at home suffering from blood poisoning resulting from a carbuncle on his ankle.

Cleveland Leader, July 8
If Larry Lajoie cannot make the next Eastern trip with the Clevelands, commencing on July 29, he may consider himself lucky. Dr. Castle ... stated last evening that with everything in Lajoie's favor and not a semblance of a setback, he could get back into the game in three weeks. A slight setback and it may take six weeks or two months before the great ball player could get back in the game.
That Lajoie's condition is causing a great deal of concern to Dr. Castle was shown yesterday when he made two visits to Lajoie's rooms on Belvidere street. In the afternoon he made another incision and drew away consid­erable pus, and called again last evening.
"He was resting finely to-night and has no fever," remarked Dr. Castle. "He will not be able to play for three weeks at the very earliest. No, I don't con­sider that there will be any unfavorable developments, although I cannot tell for several days. He is getting along as well as expected under the cir­cumstances."

Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 10
Lajoie Getting Better Rapidly
Manager Lajoie showed marked improvement yesterday and the physi­cians in charge said that he would be able to get out on his porch tomor­row. Perhaps in a few days he will be able to take a carriage for the base­ball park and direct the work of the Clevelands from a box. Crutches, how­ever, will come in handy for a few days. Barring any unexpected relapses, no more operations will be necessary. The news of the Clevelands' double victory at St. Louis yesterday acted like a tonic to the big fellow and he was all smiles as he sat smoking a big cigar and having a friend tell him who made all the hits.

Not all reports were as optimistic. This one repeated the dye theory as the source of is problems.

Grand Rapids Press, July 11
SPORT DOPE AND GOSSIP. (BY DICK.)
Are Lajoie's Playing Days Over?
Napoleon Lajoie, ... the greatest baseball player in the world today, is a very sick man, and possibly may never play another game of baseball. A spike penetrated his shoe one day when he was playing with coloring stockings on his No. 11 feet and the dye poisoned the blood so that the ankle swelled up to twice its size and pus formed rapidly. Three times it has been lanced and each time the injury has swelled up again, seemingly as bad as ever. When Lajoie became ill the Cleveland team was leading the American league largely through his great playing on second base and at the bat. He is the idol of Cleveland baseball fans, one of the greatest drawing cards that ever stepped onto a diamond, and worth thousands of dollars to the Cleveland club. Will the game lose its most skillful performer? Even with the most rapid recovery Lajoie likely will not be able to play for several weeks.

The same day, Nap got some unexpected visitors July 12 after the home game was rained out.

Cleveland Leader, July 13
The Athletics arrived at the grounds and waited around a few minutes. Then Rube Waddell thought it would be an opportune time for the mem­bers of the team to visit Larry Lajoie at his home on Belvedere street. When the game was officially called off the Athletics were driven over to Lajoie's home in their uniforms, and spent a happy hour with the Naps' chieftain. As Lajoie was greatly improved and could sit up, he saw to it that his guests did not want for the big black cigars. It was a happy bond for the players as well as for Lajoie.

On July 19, the Cincinnati Post published a picture of Lajoie on his porch. The caption is reproduced below.


Nap Lajoie, king of bingle-makers and second basemen, captain and manager of the Cleveland American League team, has been out of the game for the past 10 days, suffering from an attack of blood poisoning, resulting from being spiked. During Larry's absence Cleveland's playing has lost some of its dash and considerable of its brilliancy. ...
For a time it was thought the accident might affect Lajoie permanently, but the best of care and a magnificent constitution have overcome this fear. This photograph of the king bee was made at his residence, upon his first appearance out of doors since the accident.
Through July 18, the Naps had won nine and lost eight without Lajoie in the lineup. Yet they still led the league by 1.5 games thanks to the White Sox going 6-8-1 over the same period.

New Orleans Item, July 22
Cleveland is looking for someone to take the place of Napoleon Lajoie, captain and manager of that club, who is laid up with blood poisoning. President Kilfoyl offers to pay $2500 to $3000 for a second baseman who can temporarily fill the shoes worn by the greatest ball player in the world.
Lajoie will be out of the game three weeks or a month longer. In the meantime his club will have met all of the Eastern teams and will be ready to go East for a second swing around that division of the circuit, if it has not already gone.

Kalamazoo Gazette, July 23
Manager Lajoie of the Cleveland team said today that it would be August 1 before he could step on his injured foot, that he would not be able to play before the middle of August at the very earliest and that he might not be back in the game this season.
One of his wounds was cut open yesterday, as it was showing a tendency to heal from the outside instead of the inside.

Cleveland Leader, July 28
George Stovall is out of the game for at least three more weeks. Dr. Castle, who is treating his poisoned foot, stated yesterday that it would be at least two more weeks before the wound would heal up, and another week before he could take violent exercise. This practically means that Stovall will not get back in the game until the team returns home.
For the first time since his leg was operated on, Manager Lajoie was able to put his shoe on yesterday afternoon and take things easy. He will probably join the team in New York on Monday or Tuesday, but does not expect to play until the team returns home.

Canton (OH) Repository, July 30
The Cleveland Americans are the champion hard luck finders. Last year when high up in the race for pennant honors, their great leader, Napoleon Lajoie, was forced to seek hospital treatment for one of his ankles. This season the same thing has happened. With the team at the top of the ladder, "Larry" was confident of being able to corral first honors, for there seemed to be no reason why the Blues should not keep up their winning streak. But the old ankle trouble swooped down on him, and for a time blood poisoning was feared. One physician suggested that amputation would be necessary. Happily that misfortune was spared the best ball player of the country.

Cleveland fans finally got the news they were waiting for.

Cleveland Leader, August 2
LAJOIE TO JOIN THE TEAM
Larry Lajoie has improved greatly the last few days, and was able to put his shoe on for a few minutes yesterday, and incidentally throw away his crutches. He now walks with the assistance of a cane and expects to be strong enough to make the trip to Boston. He will leave to-morrow after­noon, accompanied by George Stovall. With Lajoie's presence, it is expect­ed that the Clevelands will fight hard for the remaining games of the East­ern trip. So far, the Clevelands have lost all four that have been played, but the Naps have plenty of time to make an even break.

 


Napoleon Lajoie


Freddy Parent


Bob Rhoades


Harry Bemis


Charley O'Leary


Bill Bradley


Nick Kahl


Addie Joss


George Stovall


Rube Waddell


Harry Bay

American League August 3, 1905
Team W L % GB
Philadelphia Athletics 52 35 .598 --
Chicago White Sox 51 35 .593 0.5
Cleveland Naps 53 38 .582 1
New York Highlanders 42 41 .506 8
Boston Americans 42 43 .494 9
Detroit Tigers 43 46 .483 10
Washington Senators 33 55 .375 19.5
St. Louis Browns 32 55 .301 20
Cleveland Leader, August 5
LAJOIE MAY PLAY THIS MONTH.

"Larry Lajoie should be able to get back into the game before September 1."
This statement was made by Dr. Castle last evening after the question was asked whether Lajoie would be able to play at all this season. There have been rumors afloat that Lajoie would not be able to play this season, and it was even intimated that Lajoie had played his last professional game of ball.
"No, there is no truth in the rumors," replied Dr. Castle. "For an injury of Lajoie's sort he has improved fast, and all that is necessary is for the ankle to regain its strength and this will take work. The recent insertion has heal­ed over completely. There is no more danger."

Notice that Dr. Castle is never quoted as citing the dye in Lajoie's uniform stocking as the source of his infection.

Cleveland Leader, August 17
The battle scarred Clevelands will reach Cleveland at noon from Washing­ton, accompanied by the Nationals, and this afternoon the Napoleons will be seen for the first time in three weeks against the New York Highland­ers. There is sure to be an immense crowd present to give the Clevelands a joyous welcome, for this game will also be notable for the return of Harry Bay to his position in center field, while Larry Lajoie will don a uniform for the first time since July 9. While Cleveland's celebrated player will be un­able to participate in the game for at least ten more days, he will be out on the bench in uniform, and furthermore may take his regular position on the coaching line, as well as taking one chance at the bat in a pinch.

Cleveland Leader, August 18
Lajoie sat in his accustomed place on the bench in uniform, but the hardest work he did was to toss the balls out to [umpire Tim] O'Loughlin. During the preliminary practice Lajoie worked out with the players, but did not go on the diamond. He says that his leg is fast recovering its strength, and he expects to be back in the game in the near future.

Cleveland Leader, August 28
MANAGER LAJOIE AT FIRST BASE FOR A TIME
Leader of Naps Refuses to Do Bench Duty Any Longer and Will Replace Carr.
Clark Griffith's band of Highlanders, who refuse to be counted out of the scrap for the pennant, and Cleveland's flag chasers will meet for the last time at League Park this afternoon. The game will probably be marked by the reappearance of Manager Lajoie in the game, as the Nap leader said yesterday that this was his intention.
It will not be at the keystone position that King Larry will be seen, but instead will hold down the initial corner, replacing [1B Charlie] Carr. Larry figures that it will be easier on his still lame leg for him to play first, where he will not have so much running to do as at second. The return of Larry to the game is very likely to put some ginger into the work of the Naps, some­thing sadly lacking of late, barring Saturday's splendid work.

Cleveland Leader, August 29
Lajoie Makes His Reappearance in the Game
The game was marked by the reappearance of Lajoie. Larry was stationed on the initial sack and covered himself with glory. Had it not been for his game leg he would have made short work of two pop foul flies. He was un­able to get a hit, but his presence had a great deal to do with the ginger shown by the other members of the team. With Lajoie's return the batting order was given a shaking up that worked well.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 29
Again it can be said that while Larry did not personally promulgate any­thing sensational, he seemed to bring so much ginger into the struggle that it appeared as if an entirely new set of men were wearing Cleveland suits. They were up and doing all the time and took chances on the bases, to which they had given the frosted glare during the last few weeks.

  • Lajoie went 0 for 4 batting cleanup in the 5-4 victory over New York August 28. In the field, he made eight putouts with one assist.
  • The next day, he got a single in four trips to the plate in Game One of a double­header. Then he had two more singles in three ABs in the nightcap. However, the Athletics swept the twinbill. One report on the game said, "Lajoie saved [catch­er] Clarke an error in the third by a one-handed catch of 'Nig's' high throw."
  • The A's won again August 30. Nap went hitless in four trips, with seven putouts and one assist.

His return didn't last long, however.

Cincinnati Post, September 1
LAJOIE HURT AGAIN; IS OUT OF GAME
Napoleon Lajoie
received another injury that will probably keep him out of the game for the balance of the season. A foul tip yesterday hit him on his injured ankle. Lajoie almost fainted from the pain.

Cleveland Leader, September 1
LARRY IS AGAIN OUT OF THE GAME.
The foul tip from Lajoie's bat in the first inning of yesterday’s game which rebounded and hit him on the injured ankle has again put the big fellow out of the game, and no one knows how long the time will be. Larry continued in the game after the wallop, but his bad ankle was bothering him through­out. After the game he gave it a hot bath, but it was still sore and much swollen. Later in the evening the swelling increased and Dr. Castle was called, with the result that the big fellow was ordered to bed. Dr. Castle could not say last night just how long it would be before Larry would be able to use his ankle again, but it is doubtful if the Nap leader will be of much use to the team for the balance of the season. With Bradley on the sick list there is liable to be a big shake-up in the team to-day, and also a new manager, presumably Charlie Carr, unless Bradley is able to play. Carr will go to first base in any event.

Cleveland Leader, September 4
LAJOIE'S BAD ANKLE IS SLOWLY HEALING.
Although no longer confined to his bed, Manager Lajoie is hobbling about on crutches. His injured foot is mending nicely, according to the statement made last night by Dr. Castle, who is attending him, and if the improve­ment continues Larry will undoubtedly be able to accompany the team East September 21, when the Naps begin, at Philadelphia, their last tussle with the eastern clubs.
It is doubtful if the manager's foot will be strong enough to permit of his playing, but Dr. Castle expects he will be able to wear a uniform and man­age the team from the bench.
Asked whether he thought Larry would be out of the game the rest of the season, Dr. Castle said: "That is a hard matter to determine now. The ball which incapacitated him struck with such force as to cause much pain to a healthy foot. The incisions made in Lajoie's foot had just been healed and the ball struck right in the center of them. This morning nearly all pain had left, but much inflammation remains."

Lajoie returned to the bench September 5, only to be ejected from the game in the third inning by Umpire Tom Connolly for arguing a call.

Cleveland Leader, September 6
Lajoie refused to leave the field when ordered to do so. He had left his sick room to cheer the Naps up, and was sitting on the bench. The crowd hiss­ed Connolly when he pulled out his watch, while Lajoie was cheered as he left the field, hobbling along with the assistance of his cane.

Cleveland Leader, September 8
For the first time since his injury on July 1, Larry will make a trip with the team and his presence is sure to be of benefit to the players. Although it is not possible that he will be able to get in the game until the Eastern trip is started, Larry took his uniform along.
"You can never tell how soon I may be needed in the game," he said yes­terday afternoon at baseball headquarters. "Yes, my foot is weak and sore, but it is not from the first injury, when blood poisoning set in. It is the result of being hit on the instep, and I would have been forced to take a rest of several days, even if I did not have the old injury True, my leg bothers me some, so I will remain on the bench in uniform and take the regular work­out with the players so that I can be in shape in case of an emergency.”

"An emergency" finally occurred September 22 at Philadelphia.

Cleveland Leader, September 23
FLICK IS HURT, AND LAJOIE GETS INTO GAME

Flick, at second base, was a disappointment ... But the new Lajoie [Flick] got his in the eighth. A bounder from Seybold knocked his thumb out of gear and the only genuine Lajoie finished the job. Flick is now in the repair shop.

Lajoie finished the game at his old position, 2B. He didn't come to bat but had one putout and one assist. Since the game was outfielder Flick's first at the keystone sack, his difficulties were understandable.

Cleveland finished the season in fifth place, 19 games behind Philadelphia.

Final 1905 American League Standings
Team W L % GB
Philadelphia Athletics 92 56 .622 --
Chicago White Sox 92 60 .605 2
Detroit Tigers 79 74 .516 15.5
Boston Americans 78 74 .513 16
Cleveland Naps 76 78 .493 19
New York Highlanders 71 78 .476 21.5
Washington Senators 64 87 .424 29.5
St. Louis Browns 54 99 .353 40.5
  • On July 2, Cleveland was 38-21 and tied for first place.
  • So from the time Lajoie left the lineup, the Naps went 38-57 the rest of the season.

Postscript

On December 16, 1905, the following item appeared in the Washington Post and then in The Indianapolis four days later.

Cleveland players will hereafter wear pure white stockings to avoid the possibility of blood poisoning from injuries received in play.

The pictures at the right show the change in the Cleveland uniforms from 1905 to 1906.


Umpire Tim O'Loughlin


Charlie Carr


Jay "Nig" Clarke


Umpire Tom Connolly


Elmer Flick


1905 Cleveland Uniform


1905 Cleveland Uniform


1906 Cleveland Uniform


1906 Cleveland Uniform

Mickey Mantle I - "Go west, young man."

Mickey Mantle 1951
Mickey Mantle 1951

Yankees Manager Casey Stengel 1951
Casey Stengel 1951

Joe DiMaggio 1951
Joe DiMaggio 1951

Yankees OF Tommy Henrich
Tommy Henrich

Yankees P Tommy Byrne
Tommy Byrne

Yankees C Yogi Berra

Yankees rookie Gil McDougald
Gil McDougald

A young fan once heckled Al Kaline for not being "half the player Mickey Mantle is!" The Tigers star replied, "Son, nobody is half the player Mickey Mantle is." This is a series of Vignettes tracing Mickey's early career.

The New York Yankees moved their training camp to Arizona in 1951 for the first and last time, swapping their traditional St. Petersburg site with the New York Giants' Phoenix location.

  • Third-year manager Casey Stengel, two-for-two in World Series championships, invited a group of 25 rookies to an instructional school in Phoenix before the veterans reported.
  • With the luxury of consistently fielding talented teams, the Yanks traditionally brought young players along slowly. It didn't take Stengel long to think that 19-year-old Mickey Mantle from Commerce OK might be an exception to that rule.

Mick was already being touted as "the number one kid player in organized baseball" and "the apple of Casey Stengel's eye."

  • Playing SS for Joplin MO in the Class C Western Association in 1950, Mantle led the league in hits (199 in 137 games), total bases (331), runs (141), and batting (.383). He also drove in 136 runs in his second year of pro ball.
  • At the beginning of 1951, the Yankees received the good news that the young phenom was classified 4-F by his local draft board. The reason? Acute osteomyelitis, an inflammation of a bone in his left ankle.

The first indication that Mantle was the real deal came when the players were timed from home to first. He covered the 90' in an astonishing 3.1 seconds. Hank Workman, a 1B prospect, recalled:

Nobody noticed Mantle up to that point. He was very quiet and extremely shy. He would pull his cap down so far over his brow that you could hardly see his face. Then he ran. And I swear he was going so fast you could still see the tufts of dust in the air from his footprints a couple of feet back from where he was.

  • Stengel exclaimed: My God, the boy runs faster than Cobb.
  • Mantle also made a strong impression in the first intrasquad game. Workman:

The first time Mantle came up, he hit one a mile outta that ballpark. About three innings later he comes up again. The pitcher's changed, and he hits one a mile out the other way And all he does after is, he trots out to SS in his non-ostenatious way with his hat pulled way down.

  • It didn't take long for Casey to shift his thoroughbred to the OF. The Yankee skipper probably knew about another league-leading stat from Mickey's 1950 ledger: 55 errors.
  • Since Old Case had roamed the outfield for 14 ML seasons, he tutored his prized pupil himself.

However, Commissioner Happy Chandler shut down Stengel's camp as a violation of the approved starting date for spring training, but Mantle was invited back to Phoenix for the Yankees' own spring training.

  • However, when camp opened, no Mickey. The Yankees hadn't sent him a train ticket, and he couldn't afford the expense because he had received no big signing bonus two years earlier. The ticket was quickly on its way.
  • Club management didn't plan to rush him to the majors, and the teenager had no expectations of making the roster. No player in the Yankee system had ever jumped from Class C to the majors after only two years of pro ball.
  • On March 2, Stengel announced that he was switching Mantle to the OF. The next day, aging CF Joe DiMaggio revealed that he expected 1951 to be his last season.
  • The clubhouse man issued Mickey uniform #6, putting him in a great sequence: Ruth #3, Gehrig #4, and DiMaggio #5. Clearly, Mantle was the Yankee Clipper's heir apparent.

The Yankee veterans marveled at the rookie's raw talent.

  • Tommy Henrich, whom Stengel appointed to turn Mickey into an outfielder, raved about his arm. After Mantle, playing RF, doubled up the runner on third after he wandered too far off the bag, Old Reliable pronounced it, Best throw I've ever seen.
  • P Tommy Byrne after watching Mantle in the batting cage: It was like he was hittin' golf balls.
  • C Yogi Berra: Who in the heck is this kid?
  • In his own inimitable way, Casey opined: He has more speed than any glugger and more slug than any speedster - and nobody has ever had more of both of 'em together. This kid ain't logical. He's too good. It's very confusing.

No one could figure out how the 5'10" 185-pounder generated so much power. However, seeing his muscular body in the locker room revealed the secret. Said P Eddie Lopat: That kid gets bigger the more clothes he takes off.

Mickey was all the reporters wanted to write about. In fact, their colleague Stan Isaacs back in New York complained:

Since the start of spring training, the typewriter keys out of the training camps have been pounding out one name to the people back home. No matter what paper you read, or what day, you'll get Mickey Mantle, more Mickey Mantle and still more Mickey Mantle. Never in the history of baseball has the game known the wonder to equal this Yankee rookie. Every day there's some other glorious phrase as the baseball writers outdo themselves in attempts to describe the antics of this wonder: "He's faster than Cobb ... he hits with power from both sides of the plate the way Frankie Frisch used to ... he takes all the publicity in stride, an unspoiled kid ... sure to go down as one of the real greats of baseball.

The Yankees flew to California for eleven days of exhibition games.

  • Mantle hit a "mammoth HR" against the Hollywood Stars at Wrigley Field (Los Angeles version). Rookie Gil McDougald recalled: Mickey hit a two-iron shot, and this guy come runnin' in over in CF thinkin' he was gonna catch it. He leaps up, and that ball took off like an airplane over the fence. The CF was in a state of shock.
  • The next day, Mickey made the crowd gasp with his speed from first to third.
  • On March 19, the New York Daily News writer gushed: Mantle very well could be the key to the pennant.
  • When the Yankee tour moved north to the Bay Area, DiMaggio's bailwick, Mantle hit a 400' HR against a strong wind blowing in from RF at Seals Stadium.
  • A hint of Joe's attitude toward his alledged successor came at a private dinner he hosted when a guest asked him if he would consider moving to LF to make room for Mantle: There's nobody taking center from me until I give it up.
  • Returning to L.A., the Yankees faced the USC Trojans. Mantle swatted one far over the fence that landed in the middle of the adjacent field where the Men of Troy footballers held their spring practice. The ball bounced into the huddle where it hit the foot of a young back named Frank Gifford.
  • Mickey wasn't through, whacking another shot high over the LF fence and a triple to the deepest part of CF. To show his versatility, he also beat out an infield hit on a simple ground ball that was cleanly played by the SS.
  • Trojans coach Ron Dedeaux, who frequently referred to seeing Mickey Mantle hit 500' HRs from each side of the plate in March of 1951, called it, The greatest show in history.

Reporters assumed there was no way the Yankees could farm out such a talent. But word from back home in Oklahoma interrupted Mickey's magical spring.

To be continued ...
References: The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle And the End of America's Childhood, Jane Leavy (2010)
"Yankees Go West in 1951," springtrainingmagazine.com
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Mickey Mantle II - "The next great ballplayer"
When the Yankees returned to their 1951 training camp in Phoenix AZ following a sojourn in California, Mickey Mantle found a letter from his father telling him that his local draft board wanted to reexamine him within the next ten days.
  • After having his medically unfit to serve status reviewed and confirmed in Tulsa, Mantle boarded a flight from Kansas City to New York on Friday the 13th of April.
  • "Generally hailed as the greatest rookie to come along since Joe DiMaggio" (James Dawson in The New York Times), Mickey joined the Yankees for their annual exhibition series with the Giants and Dodgers. After showing his phenom how to play the tricky RF corner in Ebbets Field, manager Casey Stengel put Mickey in the starting lineup. He went 4 for 4 with a HR over the 38' scoreboard in RF.
  • As a result, GM George Weiss gave Stengel what he had been lobbying for. He placed Mickey on the opening day roster. However, the boy himself preferred to go to AA Beaumont for more seasoning.
  • Weiss had planned to farm out Mantle for a year and bring him up in '52 after DiMaggio retired. Having both on the roster together created some tension between them.
  • DiMag pointed out the phenom to a writer on the field before the opening game against Boston at Yankee Stadium. "This is the next great ballplayer."
  • Growing up in Oklahoma, Mickey's hero had been Stan Musial of the nearby Cardinals. However, Weiss had instructed Mantle almost from the day he signed him to tell the press that Joe D. was his idol.

19-year-old Mick from Commerce OK was way out of his league in the Big Apple.

  • "I was shy, scared," he admitted decades later.
  • Hank Bauer and his roommate, Johnny Hopp, took on Mickey as a project. They supervised the purchase of a new wardrobe and introduced him to New York food. The rookie gained 20 pounds (170 to 190) that first season.
 Hank Bauer, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Hopp
"Green-Pea kid" with Hank Bauer (L) and Johnny Hopp (New York Times)
  • A Times piece on Mickey June 3, 1951 by Gilbert Millstein said this:

Having become a legend before he came of age and a commercial product of considerable speculative value in less than six months, Mantle has been subjected to a series of pressures, both on and off the baseball field, for which nothing in his life, either professionally or privately, had prepared him. ... he has been interviewed and photographed almost daily, invited out to dinner every night, asked to appear on radio and television programs (which he has done in moderation), questioned closely about the state of his health ..., and approached even more closely by promoters of one kind or another seeking to make money for him and only incidentally for themselves, they all said. ...

His physical appearance serves to evoke the image, traditional and dear to Americans, of the clean-living country boy grappling, at great odds but ultimately in triumph, with the big city and its perils. ... When he smiles, even on request, as phogoraphers are continually asking him to do, he looks a good deal younger than 19 and just as vulnerable.

It's possible that this image was on Stengel's mind a couple of weeks ago when he discussed Mantle with an acquaintance ... "This publicity isn't too much good for him. He's bothered by it. Any kid coming up would be. Here he is with all those interviews, trying to enlighten other people about himself rather than tending to baseball business. I don't think it's hurt him. I don't think it will, but if he reads all those press notices he'll ruin his eyesight.

But it all did hurt him.

  • On May 18, Mantle went 3-for-5 with a triple to raise his average to .316. He had four HRs, two from each side of the plate, and was leading the American League in RBIs with 26.
  • He didn't register another circuit clout until June 19 when he hit one in each half of a DH. His averaged had dropped to .259.
  • He had another HR drought until July 7 at Fenway when he hit one as a pinch-hitter to make his average .264.
  • On July 14, Mickey broke up Bob Feller's attempt at his second no-hitter in two weeks with a sixth-inning double. It would be Mick's last hurrah for awhile.

Mickey Mantle & Casey Stengel 1951
Mickey Mantle and Casey Stengel 1951

Joe DiMaggio & Mickey Mantle
Joe DiMaggio and Mantle in 1951

Mickey Mantle & Stan Musial
Mantle and Stan Musial

On July 15, the Yankees acquired LHP Art Schallock from Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. To make room on the roster, they optioned Mantle to AAA Kansas City subject to 24 hours' notice.

  • Stengel felt the move would benefit for Mickey. "This boy is good and make no mistake about that. He came up as a SS but we converted him into a rightfielder and overnight he showed me he could do everything, run, field, throw, and hit a long ball. They don't come any faster. However, he had one weakness in that he struck out too often, but I'm certain he'll overcome that and he'll be back."
  • Mantle compiled a .260 average in 69 games with seven HRs, nine doubles, five triples, and drove in 41 runs.
  • Mickey cried when Casey gave him the news. "This is gonna hurt me more than you," the manager told him.

The Mick's slump continued in KC.

  • His first game, he dragged a bunt for his only hit. Manager George Selkirk let him know in no uncertain terms that he was there to regain his swing, not bunt. Mantle took thirteen days to hit his first HR. He had only three hits in his first 18 ABs.
  • Naturally, he was downcast and lacking confidence. When teammate Johnny Blanchard was demoted to AA, Mickey told him, "Make room for me, Blanch, I'm coming down." And when a minor league buddy visited him, Mantle said, "I ain't never getting back up there."
  • Mickey unfortunately had already begun to exhibit the alcoholism that would plague his life.
  • He called his dad and told him he wanted to come home. Mutt Mantle immediately lit out for KC. Mickey later said, "I thought he was coming up to give me a pep talk. He comes up, walks in the hotel room, and starts throwing all my shit in a bag. I said, 'What's the matter?' He said, 'I thought I raised a man. You ain't nothing but a goddamn coward. ... you come and work with me in the mines. I didn't raise a man. I raised a baby.'" Mickey asked for another chance. Mutt told him, "I'm gone. If you can't play, get a bus and come home."
  • Mickey thought long and hard that night about whether he wanted to stay in baseball. Obviously, he decided to seek the future his father had always envisioned for him.
  • He finally began to hit: four hits in one game, eleven HRs in a month with 52 runs scored and 60 RBIs.

The Yankees recalled him in late August after 40 KC games.

  • First, he had to contend with the Selective Service System again. A spokesman in Washington said it was "standard procedure" to recall for new physical exams potential draftees who first had been classified 4-F. However, he conceded that special attendance was given to Mantle's case. Supposedly, the White House had received angry letters complaining that such a gifted athlete was considered disabled.
  • But since his osteomylitis remained, his status was not adjusted and he reported to the Yankees to find #7 jersey hanging in his locker. The clubhouse man had given away his previous #6 in his absence.
  • Mickey finished the season with these ML stats:
    96 G, .267 BA, 61 R, 65 RBI, 11 2B, 5 3B, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 43 BB, 74 SO

Stengel included his prize rookie on his World Series roster, which led to a pivotal incident in Mickey's career.

  • Mutt came to New York for the Series, and he and Mickey attended the famous Game 3 of the NL playoff in which Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" gave the Giants the pennant.
  • Mickey led off in Game One and went 0-for-3 as the Giants won 5-1. The Giants were impressed by his speed. "Fastest white guy we've ever seen to 1B," said SS Al Dark.
  • The next day, he again led off, dropping a bunt single in the first and scoring on Gil McDougald's hit two batters later. Larry Jansen struck out Mickey in the third. Two innings later came the fateful play.
  • Willie Mays, the Giants sensational rookie, lifted a flyball to RCF. Since Casey told him to try to take as much as he could because DiMaggio had slowed, Mickey charged over but, when he saw Joe camped under the ball, tried to stop quickly. "You don't want to run into Joe DiMaggio in CF in Yankee Stadium," Mickey explained years later. Unfortunately, his spikes caught in a rubber drain and, as he related it in later years, "my knee just went right out the front of my leg." He dropped so fast that DiMaggio and many in the crowd thought Mickey had been shot. Others thought it was a heart attack. They had to put him on a stretcher and carry him to the dugout, where his father waited.
  • When the Yankees wrapped up the 3-1 triumph, they found Mickey in the clubhouse with his right leg encased in a splint and bandages.
  • The headline in the Times the next day proclaimed, Yanks Joy Over Triumph Is Tempered by Loss of Mantle for Remaining Games."

Fallen Mickey Mantle Teammates Rush to Mantle
Mantle in Clubhouse after Injury

The next morning, the knee was so swollen, Mickey couldn't walk.
  • His father took him in a cab to Lenox Hill Hospital for x-rays. When they arrived, Mutt got out first and Mickey hoisted himself onto his dad as he got out. That caused Mutt to collapse onto the sidewalk.
  • So the hospital admitted both of them. Mutt's diagnosis was Hodgkins' disease. He had only months to live. They watched the remaining four games of the Series in their hospital room.
  • Medical science didn't know much about knee injuries at that time. The diagnosis was a sprained knee - no surgery needed.
  • In her 2010 biography of Mickey, Jane Leavy consulted with contemporary physicians to pinpoint what happened to Mickey. Her conclusion: he tore his meniscus, anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament.
  • As she wrote, "That October afternoon [1951 Game 2] was the last time Mantle set foot on a baseball field without pain."
Yankees fans, and indeed all baseball fans, have ever after speculated how great Mickey Mantle would have been had he not stepped on that drain.
 Mickey Mantle in Hospital
Mantle Watches Game 3 of 1951 World Series in Lenox Hill Hospital

 

Mickey Mantle & George Selkirk
Mantle and George Selkirk

Mutt Mantle & Baby Mickey
Elvin "Mutt" Mantle and little Mickey

Mantle Family
Mickey with his parents, sister, and three brothers

References: The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle And the End of America's Childhood, Jane Leavy (2010)
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How Ernie Banks Became a Cub
In the spring of 1953, the Chicago Cubs had a black OF in their farm system named Solly Drake.
  • A Little Rock AK native, Drake signed with the Cubs in 1951 but had to serve two years in the military during the Korean War.
  • Gene Lawing, Chicago's farm director, wanted to place Drake with the Macon (GA) Peaches of the South Atlantic League. He had learned that the Milwaukee Braves had assigned a young infielder named Hank Aaron and two other African-American players to Jacksonville (FL) in that Class A league.
  • However, Macon GM Tom Gordon didn't think his city was ready to integrate its baseball team.

Jacksonville's first visit to Macon changed Gordon's mind.

  • Fans packed the ballpark. As Aaron recalled in his autobiography, The colored section was filled up and they had to rope off more of the white section to get all of the black people in. They had the biggest crowds of the season when we were there, and suddenly the general manager decided that maybe a black player or two wouldn't be such a bad idea.
  • So Gordon called Lawing and told him he'd love to have Drake on his roster or another black player of similar talent. But Drake was no longer available, and Lawing had no one else to offer.
  • Gene did, however, come up with a suggestion. As he and Gordon talked, Lawing consulted the schedule of the Kansas City Monarchs, the top team in the Negro American League, and noticed they were headed to Columbus GA later that week. He suggested Gordon scout the Monarchs and talk to Tom Baird, the team's owner.

Gordon did take a look at the Monarchs and immediately fell in love with their 22-year-old SS.

  • Ernie Banks, from Dallas TX, had started playing semipro ball at age 17 before moving to Kansas City. Like Drake, Banks served two years in the military before rejoining the Monarchs.
  • Baird threw a monkey wrench into Gordon's plans, saying that Ernie wasn't available "at this time" and, when he was, Tom would deal only with ML clubs, not a minor league team.
  • Gordon relayed his enthusiasm for Banks to Lawing, who ordered his scouting staff to watch the prospect whenever possible.

Fast forward to September of that year when the Monarchs came to the Windy City for a series with the Chicago American Giants.

  • Cubs GM Wid Matthews decided it was a good time to make a move for Banks. One of his motivations was to give black IF Gene Baker, about to be promoted to the majors, a companion when he broke the Cubs' color barrier.
  • So Wid ordered two of his scouts to take one last look at Banks. They presented this joint report.

Good chance he is a major leaguer right now. Very good fielder with good hands and arm. Good runner. Hustles well, and is a good hitter with power. Holds bat rather high, but drops it when pitcher makes delivery. Does this fast enough so we don't think it's a hitch. Outstanding prospect.

So Matthews made a dinner date with Baird and brought his checkbook with him.

  • I like to trade fast, Wid told the Monarchs owner. We're either going to make this deal now or it's all off. We want Ernie Banks and that pitcher, Bill Dickey, in a package deal. Together, or not at all. Name the price.
  • Baird offered the duo for $20,000 or Banks alone for $15K. Matthews agreed to the $20K.

While the two men decided his future that Sunday night, Banks was with his teammates in a South Chicago hotel before leaving for Muskegon MI for a game at noon the next day.

  • Buck O'Neil, the Monarchs manager, told Ernie to contact Dickey and meet him in the lobby at 7 am. Since Buck didn't say why he wanted to meet them, Ernie had a nervous evening, wondering if he would be sent home.
  • The two players, with their luggage, met O'Neil, who still didn't reveal why he wanted to see them so early. Ernie recalled: I've always had this thing that ignorance is bliss. I didn't ask Buck where we were going ... Like I said, my life is like a miracle.
  • The three boarded an automobile and set out for an unknown destination. After awhile, Ernie spotted a big sign that said "Wrigley Field." What are we doing here?
  • They walked around the park and finally met the Cubs GM, who answered Ernie's question. The Chicago Cubs have arranged with Tom Baird to buy your contracts from the Kansas City Monarchs. Since the Monarchs aren't in organized baseball, we can't complete the deal until we receive your approval. Just answer yes or no.
  • Ernie recalled: I was hearing what the man said, but I wasn't believing it. Simply by saying one word - yes - we would become the property of a major-league baseball cllub. It was too good to be true. We both answered a very nervous "yes."
  • After telling Dickey to report to the Cedar Rapids club for spring training the following March, Wid turned to Ernie. Banks, most of our scouts and some of our coaches are of the opinion that you are ready to play major-league baseball right now. In support of their opinion, I am offering you a major-league contract. If you approve, we'll arrange with Baird and O'Neil to have you spend the next week playing with the Monarchs before reporting to us when the Cubs return to Wrigly Field.
  • Ernie: I was so nervous I had to hold my right hand with my left as I scribbled Ernest Banks ... on a document that seemed to be a mile long.
  • Banks was so shocked that he didn't ask O'Neil how much he would make with the Cubs until they headed back to the hotel. The amount was $800/month, almost triple his salary with the Monarchs. O'Neil told him, After your first full year in the majors, I want you to write me with news that your salary has been doubled.
  • When Ernie finally got a chance to call home, he didn't have to tell his father. He had already heard the news on the radio. We are all very happy for you, son." Ernie told his dad what his salary was and promised to buy him a new automobile.
  • Banks found out years later when writing his autobiography that the Cubs had paid the Monarchs $20,000 for him and Dickey.

On September 17, 1953, Banks became the first African-American to appear in a game for Chicago.

  • It took him awhile to acclimate himself to the idea of being a ML ballplayer, as he told an audience of Cubs fans in 2010.

I really didn't want to come here. Do you believe that? I said, "What am I doing? I'm playing for the Kansas City Monarchs. I'm very familiar with all the players. We got along well." But they said you've got to go to Wrigley Field, I said, "For what?' They said, "You are with the team. You have to go." I said, "Who are the people on the team?" They said, "Ralph Kiner, Hank Sauer ..." Who are those people?

Ernie, of course, adjusted to the challenge.

  • After hitting .314 in ten games for the Cubs at the end of that '53 season, he spent 18 full seasons with the club.
  • He retired with 512 HRs, 1636 RBIs, and a .274 BA for a franchise that had very few winning seasons.
  • He is so beloved in Chicago that he is known as "Mr. Cub."

And it all began with the Georgia GM who wanted to integrate his Class A team.

References: "1950s," Phil Rogers, Baseball Digest, Sept/Oct 2012
I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story, Hank Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler (1991)
"Mr. CUb," Ernie Banks and Jim Enright (1971)
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Solly Drake, Cubs
Solly Drake

Hank Aaron, Jacksonville
Hank Aaron, Jacksonville

Ernie Banks, KC Monarchs
Ernie Banks, KC Monarchs

Gene Baker, Cubs
Gene Baker

KC Monarchs Manager Buck O'Neil
Buck O'Neil

 

 

 

 

 

Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs
Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs

Thank a Football Game for Vince Scully


Vincent Scully, Fordham

Red Barber
Red Barber

Ernie Harwell
Ernie Harwell
Dodgers GM Branch Rickey
Branch Rickey
Vince Scully 1960
Vince Scully in 1960

In 1950, a year before Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle made their major league debuts, Vince Scully started broadcasting Dodger games.
  • Scully studied journalism and broadcasting at Fordham University in the Bronx, hoping to become either a sportswriter or, better yet, a sports announcer.
  • He helped found the university's FM station for which he broadcast the Rams' football and basketball teams. He didn't call the baseball contests because he played CF.
  • When he graduated in 1949, he sent about 150 letters to stations along the Eastern seaboard. The only response came from the CBS Radio affiliate in Washington, which hired him as a fill-in.
  • The famous Dodgers announcer Red Barber hired Vince to do a football broadcast for CBS - Vince's alma mater playing at Boston College.

However, a chance event caused a change in plans and sent him across town to do a different game.

  • Vince recalled to Baseball Digest: The big game that day was North Carolina and Notre Dame. North Carolina had an all-American named Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice, and the fellow who was going to call that game fell ill. So they took Ernie Harwell off the game in Boston and gave him that big game at Yankee Stadium with North Carolinaa, and then they rushed me into the breach to do Boston University and Maryland.
  • Since the game was at Fenway Park, Scully expected to work from the press box. So he left his coat, hat, and gloves at the hotel.
  • However, when he arrived at the park, he was led to his broadcasting spot - a card table on the roof outside the press box with an engineer and a microphone.
  • As he remembers: It wound up being a terrific game, with BUy driving for a touchdown when time ran out. But the big thing was, it was freezing. By the third quarter, the wind was coming off the Charles River, and here I am with my hat and my topcoat and gloves back in my hotel room. I tried as best I could, but I was miserable.
  • The following Monday, a Boston U. official called Barber to apologize for the conditions under which Scully had to work. Red, who hadn't known about the challenges Vince faced, was impressed with the young announcer.

Scully got another break later that Fall.

  • Harwell, whom Dodgers GM Branch Rickey had obtained from the Atlanta Crackers to substitute for Barber in 1948 when Red suffered from a bleeding ulcer, left the Dodgers broadcast team to work for the New York Giants.
  • Barber decided to take a chance on the kid who valiantly broadcast from the roof of Fenway Park. Red looked forward to molding the young announcer.
  • Scully: I couldn't believe I got the job. I had to go over and see Branch Rickey, and I was scared to death, but he was very kind. ... Then I went to spring training (in 1950) on a one-month option to Vero Beach, so they could listen to me do a couple of innings every day. And then they would make a decision to either bring me north or feed me to the alligators.
  • He made the cut and joined Barber and Connie Desmond in the Dodgers' radio and TV booths. When Barber got into a salary dispute with Gillette, the sponsor of the 1953 World Series broadcast, Scully took Red's place, becoming, at age 25, the youngest man to broadcast a Fall Classic - a record that still stands.
  • When Barber left the Dodgers after that season for the Yankees, Vince became Brooklyn's principal announcer.
  • He made the move to Los Angeles with the club in 1958.

Scully also had opportunities to return to his first love, football.

  • Vince broadcast NFL games for CBS from 1975-82. He also contributed to CBS's coverage of tennis and PGA golf, including the Masters.
  • In 1983, Vince left CBS in order to call baseball games for NBC. For six seasons, he broadcast the Saturday Game of the Week as well as the '84, '86, and '88 World Series, four NLCS's, and four All-Star games. He also did PGA Golf.
  • After the 1989 NLCS, Scully did not renew his contract with NBC so that he could focus on his duties with the Dodgers. He did the World Series broadcasts on radio for CBS when Jack Buck became the TV announcer for the network.
  • In 1982, Scully received the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame, earning induction into the broadcasting wing that also includes Barber and Harwell.
  • Vince won a Life Achievement Emmy award and induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

Sixty-two years after his debut, Vince still broadcasts Dodger games, albeit on a reduced schedule - games in California and Arizona only.

Reference: "Voice of the Game," Tony Jackson, Baseball Digest, Nov/Dec 2012
Top of Page
"The Next Bob Feller"
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Vander Meer sat in a box seat at Ebbets Field on the evening of June 15, 1938.
  • Along with their daughter Garberdina and their son's girlfriend, they prepared to watch Johnny Vander Meer pitch in the first night game at any park other than his home park of Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
  • The Vander Meers were among the Dutch immigrants who settled in Midland Park NJ, near Paterson where Johnny was born in 1914. Jacob Vander Meer didn't un­derstand baseball and didn't take kindly to his younger son dropping out of high school to sign a professional contract with the Boston Bees.
  • The overflow crowd of 38,748 (with the fire department turning away an estimated 10,000) included 1/4 of the 2,000 residents from John's hometown 30 miles NW of Brooklyn. Patrons paid $1.10 for grandstand seats and 55 cents for the bleachers.
  • What promised to be an exciting night in Brooklyn turned out more memorable that anyone could have expected.
Johnny Vander Meer's family
Young Johnny with his parents, younger sister, and aunt
In his first full season with the Reds, Johnny Vander Meer had leaped from obscurity to nationwide fame just four days earlier.
  • The lefty had thrown a no-hitter against the Boston Bees before 5,214 on the af­ternoon of June 11 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. It was the first NL no-hitter since Paul Dean in 1934 and the first by a Redleg P since Hod Eller in 1919.
  • He had already achieved a reputation for a blazing fastball. However, a lack of con­trol had caused two other NL organizations, Boston and Brooklyn, to give up on him since he turned pro at age 18 in 1933.
  • Johnny worked on a new delivery with Manager Bill McKechnie in spring training before the '38 campaign to improve his control. And it worked as he compiled a 5-2 record entering the game against the Bees.
  • On June 11, he struck out only four but, more importantly, walked only three. And C Ernie Lombardi picked off two of the three. So Johnny didn't have to throw from the stretch much as no runner reached 2B. He had a reputation for losing some of his stuff when holding runners.
  • Lombardi reported that Johnny's hard one was not quite as fast as on previous occasions but had more movement, tailing away from right-handed hitters.
  • Almost every no-hitter includes at least one outstanding defensive play to preserve the gem. That came in the 2nd inning when rookie CF Harry Craft ran down a line drive to deep CF by Gil English. Craft ran up the embankment in front of the wall with his back to the diamond to snag the horsehide over his shoulder. That was one of only five flyouts by Bees batters.
  • The 4th saw Johnny dodge another bullet when Vince DiMaggio lined a shot off his glove that deflected to 3B Lew Riggs, whose throw to 1B just beat the runner.
  • Since the Crosley Field scoreboard had no column for hits, those in attendance had to be paying close attention or keeping score to realize what was transpiring.
  • I knew I was gunning for a no-hitter from the seventh on, said Johnny after the game. I wouldn't have realized it unless the Bees' manager Casey Stengel had passed me on the way to the bench and told me: "So you've got a no-hitter on your hands? Well, you won't get it because we are going to get you in the next inning. But Johnny didn't weaken, retiring the last 13 batters he faced.
  • After the last out, teammates and fans carried their hero off the field on their shoulders. Gee, I had no idea of pitching a no-hitter, he recalled about his thoughts before the 3-0 victory. My arm felt better as I went along, and I bore down harder ... I had excellent control of my curve in the final four rounds, which made by fastball doub­ly effective. I put everything I had on every pitch in the ninth against [three] pinch-hitters.

Four nights later, the lights came on precisely at 8:35, flooding the field with lumination from 615 lighting unit with 92,000 candlepower. Almost all seats had been filled for an hour.

  • They had been installed by GM Larry MacPhail, the same executive who put lights in Crosley Field in 1935 when he was GM for the Reds. The Yankees and Giants protested that the three New York area teams had an agreement against night baseball, but MacPhail replied that the directors of the Brooklyn club advised him that there was no understanding of any kind in that regard.
  • John Kieran in his "Sports of the Times" column in the New York Times wrote this the day of the game:

    It seems to this observer that Laughing Larry is taking a wild chance in selecting Cincinnati as the guest club for this first night game in Brooklyn. Mild Will McKech­nie might send Johnny Vander Meer to the mound against them if he was in the mood to put over a mean trick. The last time out this Vander Meer didn't give the Boston Bees a single hit in broad daylight. What chance would Brooklyn have against him after the sun went down?

MacPhail always did things in a big way and this night of nights was no exception.

  • The pregame show included music by a band and two American League drum and bugle corps.
  • Jesse Owens, hero of the 1936 Olympics, put on an exhibition of his skills.
    First, he ran a 100y dash against Ernie Koy of the Dodgers and Lee Gamble of the Reds. Giving the ballplayers a 10y head start, Jesse finished second by a yard to Koy, who had been an All-American football player at Texas.
    After broad jumping 23' 6", Owens ran a 120y low hurdles course against Dodger Gibby Brack who was running on the straightaway. Brack won by 10y, prompting one fan to exclaim, Brack should have given Owens a handicap.
  • Recently retired Babe Ruth received a royal welcome while the Dodgers took infield practice. Babe congratulated Vander Meer on his recent no-hitter. The mayor of Midland Park presented Johnny a gold watch.
  • The first pitch didn't come until 9:45. With all the delays, the starting pitchers warmed up three times.
Brass band before first night game at Ebbets Field.
Band entertains before the game.

Reds P Johnny Vander Meer
Johnny Vander Meer

Dodgers GM Larry MacPhail
Larry MacPhail

Cincinnati Manager Bill McKechnie
Bill McKechnie

Reds C Ernie Lombardi
Ernie Lombardi

Reds CF Harry Craft
Harry Craft

Bees Manager Casey Stengel
Casey Stengel

Vander Meer warms up before his second no-hitter.
Vander Meer warming up before facing Dodgers.

Dodgers OF Ernie Koy
Ernie Koy

Babe Ruth before the first night game at Ebbets FieldVander Meer pitches during his second no-hitter.
L: Babe Ruth before the game; R: Vander Meer at work.
Lombardi noticed right away that Johnny had his curve working again in addition to his crackler.
  • The Brooklyn fans, known for their boisterous support of their Bums, had mixed feelings, some booing, some cheering as Vander Meer breezed through the first two innings.
  • The Reds gave their southpaw a cushion with 4 in the 3rd after Max Butcher re­tired the first two hitters. The big blow was a HR by 1B Frank McCormick into the LF stands with LF Wally Berger and RF Ival Goodman aboard. Then a pass to Lombardi and singles by Craft and 3B Lew Riggs added another tally.
  • Vandy scattered three walks across the first six innings, but no Dodger came close to getting a hit.

In the 7th, a runner reached 2B for the first time in two games against The Dutch Master.

  • In the top of the inning, the Redlegs plated another run when Craft's third straight single sent home Goodman. Ival had literally knocked knuckleballer Tot Pressnell out of the game with a liner off the hurler's right kneecap.
  • In the bottom of the inning, Vander Meer issued free passes to Cookie Lavagetto and Dolf Camilli. But he pitched out of the jam as the vast crowd, with the game out of reach, pulled for him to achieve his milestone.
  • Cincy plated their sixth and final run in the top of the eighth on Vander Meer's sin­gle and Berger's triple.
  • Anyone fearing that running around the bases would affect Johnny's pitching had nothing to worry about. He mowed down pinch hitter Woody English, Kiki Cuyler, and Johnny Hudson in the 8th, the first and third outs coming on his sixth and seventh strikeouts.
  • Vito Tamulis, the fourth Brooklyn hurler, set down the Reds 1-2-3 in the top of the 9th to set the stage for history to be made.

More drama was crowded into the final inning than a baseball crowd has felt in many a moon. (Roscoe McGowen, New York Times)

  • Buddy Hassett hit a roller down the 1B line. Vander Meer grabbed the ball and tagged Buddy himself.
  • Then, with fans sitting froward tense and almost silent, Johnny lost control. He walked Babe Phelps on a 3-2 pitch. He fired three balls to Lavagetto, then two strikes, before passing him also. He got the first pitch over to Camilli over before throwing four straight wild ones.
  • McKechnie came out to talk to his hurler as the entire infield gathered at the mound. Bucky Walters started warming up, the first activity in the Reds bullpen all evening. The crowd yelled, "Don't take him out." But Bill had no intention of doing so.
  • All nerves were taut as Vandy faced Koy. Whatever the skipper said, it worked. As quickly as he lost control, Johnny regained it, breaking a strike over. After a ball, Ernie sent a bounder to Riggs who was so careful in making the throw to Lombar­di that a DP wasn't possible.

That brought up SS Leo Durocher, noted as a highly competitive player with a record of coming through in the clutch.

  • The crowd rose as one and cheered loudly, hoping to see a first in 100 years of baseball.
  • Vandy fired a ball, then a called strike. Leo swung and missed to make it 1-2. Just one strike away from immortality!
  • Pitcher and catcher thought the next pitch caught the outside corner, but diminu­tive umpire Bill Stewart, having a hard time seeing around big Lombardi, called it a ball.
  • Durocher swung at the next delivery and sent a lazy fly into short CF where Craft took it to complete 18 straight hitless innings and 26 consecutive scoreless frames.
  • Stewart later admitted that he was glad Johnny got Leo out because he knew he had blown the call on the next-to-last pitch.

    Several accounts have Durocher, to the groans of the crowd, hitting a sharp liner down the RF line that just curved foul. But two different wire service reports on the game do not mention any foul in their pitch-by-pitch log of the final AB.

  • The game took a relatively long 2:22 to complete, meaning the last out was made seven minutes after midnight.
  • As Johnny walked off the mound, his teammates smothered him. A few seconds later, a howling mob of fans engulfed them. Police guards, ushers, and players finally opened a path for him to reach the dugout, where Ruth greeted him.
  • Another group of spectators surrounded the Vander Meers in their box seat, ex­ulting but causing them discomfort for 15 minutes before they could escape. One fan clipped off the bottom of Mr. Vander Meer's tie as a souvenir.
  • Dad didn't know much about baseball and was probably the only person in the ballpark who didn't know I'd set a record, said Johnny in the clubhouse. He was wondering what all the fuss was about.
Crowd envelops Vander Meer after the game.
Fans storm the field after the no-hitter.

McGowen stated in his New York Times article the next day that Vander Meer had made baseball history that probably never will be duplicated.

  • At that point, only seven pitchers had recorded two no-hitters in their careers, and none achieved the feat even in the same season much less in consecutive starts.
  • Johnny broke Dazzy Vance's NL record of 17 1/3 consecutive hitless innings. How­ever, Cy Young, a guest at the game, still held the major league mark with a 23­inning stretch spread over four incomplete games in 1904.

Vander Meer surprised reporters when he named his highlight of the evening.

  • It was the Babe's "nice going, kid" afterwards. The Babe has always been my idol. Believe me, that was the biggest kick of all.
  • He admitted he was nervous before the game. I wish ma hadn't come. He referred to one of baseball's superstitions - that pitchers crack up after their great games especially when being honored by their hometown. So he hoped to spare his mother the sight of a dismal performance.
  • I was trying for it all the way. From the first batter on, I bore down. I tried to whip that ball past every one of 'em. No flies, no grounders. I wanted strikeouts. I was rattled in the 9th with the baes full. Bill McKechnie ran out, slapped my back and said, "Hell, kid, they're more scared of that ball than you are. Pour it in there!"
  • Reds' ace Paul Derringer called to Van in the clubhouse, You sure are making it tough for the rest of us pitchers!
  • Some loyal friends waited a long time after the game to escort him home.
  • A Cincinnati columnist called the feat the "Vander Meeracle" and suggested that a statue to Johnny replace the one of former President James Garfield in the down­town area. And then a thousand years from now the citizens will know that John pitched two no-hitters and pitched them in a row.
MacPhail invited Ruth to his apartment after the game, where he offered him $15,000 a year to serve as a 1B coach for the Dodgers. Ruth, anxious to get back in the game, accepted. He also knew that Grimes was planning to retire and wanted to get in line for the position, which went to Durocher for 1939.

America's hero went fishing with a warden the next morning on a secluded lake.

  • His father went to work as usual as a maintenance foreman at a dye works in Paterson.
  • John's little sister, Garberdina, after arriving home from the game at 1 a.m., skip­ped school. She recalls asking her father for a note. He just said, "Your teachers will know where you've been when they read the newspapers.
  • The next day, she had plenty to tell her classmates, especially the visit from Babe Ruth.
  • Reporters besieged the home. Photographers littered the yard. My father filled two baskets with the used flashbulbs, recalled "Gabby."
  • Congratulatory telegrams arrived from many dignitaries, including President Frank­lin Roosevelt and NL President Ford Frick. Letters would come from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the Mayor of Cincinnati, and Reds broadcaster Red Barber (who didn't call road games).
  • Father Vander Meer told the assemblage, My John will not return until dark, and I hope by then that these men will have gone, so that we have some peace and quiet ... like John likes, like my family and I like.
  • Gabby recalled her father telling Johnny, I hope it never spoils you. And it never did, I don't believe, added little sister.
  • Old man Vander Meer, imbued with Dutch frugality, must have been proud that his son earned an estimated $10,000 in endorsements following his unprecedented performance.
Vander Meers read all about Johnny.
Vander Meers read about Johnny's heroics.
Johnny extended his hitless streak three more innings in his next start in Boston the fol­lowing Sunday before a crowd of 34,511.
  • With one out in the 4th, 3B Debs Garms rapped a clean single to LF to end the string at 21 2/3 innings. Garms, a left-handed batter, had been benched when Vandy tossed his first no-hitter against the Bees eight days earlier.
  • John went the distance for his seventh straight win, 14-1, allowing four hits. His hitless streak ended at 21 2/3 innings, short of Young's record. The scoreless in­nings streak finished at 32.
  • I'm glad that's over, he said after the game. I only wish the first man up could have hit and ended the strain. I honestly could have run over and thanked Garms when he made that hit. Now maybe I can get a good night's sleep for a change.
  • Johnny started the 1938 All-Star Game at Crosley Field. He pitched three scoreless innings of one-hit ball, striking out one and walking none. He was credited with the win as the NL prevailed 4-1.
  • He finished the season with a 15-10 record and 3.12 ERA.
Bob Feller and Johnny Vander Meer
Bob Feller and Johnny Vander Meer, probably at the 1938 All Star Game in Cincinnati

The inevitable comparisons began with the AL's fireballing youngster, Bob Feller, who had burst on the AL scene two years earlier.

  • One writer considered Johnny just wild enough to be more effective. He really has the average big league hitter looser than ever at the plate.
  • There were definitely people who were writing his ticket into Cooperstown, says Reds historian Greg Rhodes.
  • But Vander Meer never developed the control that Feller possessed and also had injury problems.
  • Early in the '39 season, returning to the mound after a rain delay, he slipped and tore muscles in his shoulder. He spent most of the season on the disabled list.
  • By 1941, he had regained his speed as evidenced by the fact that he lled the NL in strikeouts three straight seasons, 1941-42-43, during which he won 49 games.
  • He then served in the Navy for two years, returning to Cincinnati for four more seasons. But after winning 17 in '48, arm problems lowered his win total to 5 in '49 after which the club released him.
  • He retired during the 1951 season as a Cleveland Indian after a year with the Cubs.
  • His career stats show 119 wins against 121 losses with a 3.44 ERA. He fanned 1,294 but walked 1,132.
  • He never threw another ML no-hitter although he did get one as a player-manager at Tulsa of the Texas League in 1952. Ironically, his opposing manager was Harry Craft, whose great catch saved the first ML no-hitter and who grabbed the final out of the second one.

The rest of his life, Vander Meer followed what a pitcher did in his next start after a no-hitter.

  • He held his breath waiting to see whether the hurler would pitch a second con­secutive one.
  • He went to his grave in 1997 without seeing anyone repeat his feat.

Several tributes remain in his hometown.

  • The main field of the Midland Park Baseball Association is named for him, and the street alongside the park is Johnny Vander Meer Way.
  • A scholarship is awarded in his name to a high school senior ballplayer each year.
  • At least one member of each local team wore No. 57 during the 2013 season in honor of the 75th anniversary of the double no-hitter.
References: "Make His a Double," Bill Francis, Memories and Dreams:
The Official Magazine of the Hall of Fame
(Summer 2013)
"Double Dutch," Allison Duffy, MLB Insiders Club Magazine (July, 2013)
"Johnny Vander Meer," Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia (2000)
Top of Page

Reds OF Frank McCormick
Frank McCormick

Reds LF Wally Berger
Wally Berger

Reds 3B Lew Riggs
Lew Riggs

Dodgers SS Leo Durocher
Leo Durocher

Teammates escort Johnny into the dugout.
Teammates escort Johnny into the dugout.

 

 

 

 

Johnny Vander Meer with sign on park that bears his name
Vander Meer with the sign that says "Home of Johnny Vander Meer"

 

 

 

 

 

Crybaby Cleveland

Cleveland Manager Oscar Vitt
Oscar Vitt

Cleveland owner Alva Bradley
Alva Bradley

Cleveland P Bob Feller 1940
Bob Feller

Indians SS Lou Boudreau
Lou Boudreau

Indians P Mel Harder
Mel Harder

Indians Captain Hal Trosky
Hal Trosky

White Sox Manager Jimmy Dykes
Jimmy Dykes

Tigers P Floyd Giebell
Floyd Giebell

Cleveland Indians owner Alva Bradley hired Oscar "Ossie" Vitt to manage his team for the 1938.
  • The 48-year-old Vitt had managed the powerful Newark Bears to the Inter­national League penannt in 1937 to earn the call to the big leagues after thirteen years as a skipper in the minors.
  • The Indians improved from 83-71 and 4th place in '37 under Steve O'Neill to 86-66 in '38, good enough for third place.
  • Cleveland improved by one game in '39, 87-67, and stayed third behind the Yankees and Red Sox.
But the players didn't like Vitt's style of managing.
  • Ace P Bob Feller: Vitt had a habit of climbing all over his men when they made a mistake, of speaking with dripping sarcasm to the reporters about his players. When he was talking to our pitchers he said our hitters were killing us, and vice versa. He kept the team in turmoil, and his moves during games were something we disagreed with often ... He called us "cry babies" in the newspapers. It didn't help that his wife advised him in his managerial decisions by consulting the stars for signs about who should pitch the next day.
  • SS Lou Boudreau described Ossie as upbeat and inspirational to our face, but mean and spiteful behind our back.
  • Other players agreed with the charge of "double dealing." They were tired of the skipper showboating with the press, raging at them during games, and compa­ring them negatively to his '37 Newark team.
  • For a supposedly bright guy, Vitt was clueless when it came to handling men. As a result, he was flabbergasted whenever he received word that a player had taken exception to something he said or didn't like him.
As the Yankees' top farm team, the 1937 Newark Bears lineup included 3B Babe Dahlgren, 2B Joe Gordon, RF Tommy Henrich, LF Charlie Keller, 1B George McQuinn, C Buddy Rosar, C Willard Hershberger, and pitchers Atley Donald, who was 19-2, Spud Chandler, Marius Russo, and Steve Sundra, all of whom would play for the Yanks or be traded to other AL teams.) This club is usually mentioned in any discussion of greatest minor league teams.

The 1940 season started with a bang for the Indians.

  • Feller fired a no-hitter to beat the White Sox on a chilly afternoon at Comiskey Park. It remains the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history.
  • Despite dissatisfaction with their manager, the Indians started strong, winning ten of their first fourteen to seize first place.
  • They spent May in second place, close on the heels of the Red Sox as the Yank­ees, who had won four straight World Series, started slowly.

But the 1940 Indians have been called "the most miserable winning team in baseball history."

  • Their negative feelings about Vitt came to a head on June 13. Two days earlier, Feller had a rough start in Boston, allowing five runs in five innings. Vitt said loudly in the dugout, He's supposed to be my ace. I'm supposed to win a pennant with that kind of pitching? The next day, Ossie yanked 12-year veteran Mel Har­der after he pitched only 2/3 of an inning, telling him, It's about time you won, given the money you're getting.
  • So when the team returned home for a weekend series, a dozen players went to Bradley and asked him to fire Vitt and replace him with coach Luke Sewell. They didn't threaten to walk out but made it plain something had to be done.
  • Harder, known for being pleasant and easygoing and therefore not prone to gripe about just anything, spoke for the group. Mr. Bradley, we think we have a good chance to win the pennant. But we'll never win with Vitt.
  • The players told stories for an hour to illustrate their disillusionment until the owner ended the discussion by telling them, If this ever gets into the newspapers, you guys are in trouble. You'll be ridiculed for the rest of your life.
  • Bradley confided to an associate: Oscar hasn't got a friend on the club.

No one should have been surprised when Gordon Cobbledick broke the story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The article had two effects.

  • First, it put Bradley in a bind. He was leaning toward firing Vitt but didn't want to appear to be bowing to the pressure of his players. So by meeting with their owner, the players effectively saved Vitt's job.
  • The other outcome was immediate labeling of the Indians around the league, and indeed across the country, as "Crybabies."
  • Writers overwhelmingly sided with Vitt, further cementing Bradley's resolve to keep his manager. The Detroit News had a typical response. It could happen only in Cleveland. One manager [Steve O'Neill] lost his job because he didn't get mad at his players and another manager may lose his job because he did. If Alva Bradley were a baseball man, he'd tell his temperamental incompetents to get rid of their shortcomings and silence Vitt.
  • The fans also rallied around Vitt after booing him for two years. 18,000 gave him a standing ovation the day after the rebellion became public, and the Indians swept a doubleheader.
  • The players backed off, signing a statement that was published in the newspa­pers. We the undersigned publicly declare to withdraw all statements referring to the resignation of Oscar Vitt. We feel this action is for the betterment of the Cleveland Baseball Club.

Fans in every city the Indians visited let them have it.

  • In addition to verbal abuse, the fans threw baby bottles and rattles on the field. Some dressed in diapers and walked around with lollipops and suckers as the Indians took batting practice.
  • The fans didn't limit their abuse to the ballpark. Detroit fans stood in the street outside the Indians' hotel singing "Rockabye, Baby" most of the night. The next afternoon they hung diapers on a clothesline near the visitors' dugout. Feller: At the Michigan Central train station in Detroit, we were pelted with eggs and tomatoes and even stones.
  • In an era when bench jockeying had developed into a high art, opponents had a field day. Wrongly assuming Indians captain Hal Trosky was the leader of the rebellion, White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes called him "Trotsky" after one of the founders of Communism.
  • Newspapers around the league derided the Tribe as "boo hoo boys," "half Vitts," "lollypop boys," and a "bawl team." The Chicago Tribune printed a picture of Vitt with the caption, His boys have put away their rattles and teething rings.

Amid all the hubbub, Cleveland stayed in the race.

  • Starting the day of the players' meeting with Bradley, they won 13 of 16 to go into first place by 2.5 games.
  • They fell back to second in mid-July but regained the top spot August 12. By the 21st, the Tribe led by 5.5 games.

    One of the seven night games allotted teams with lights (with the lowly St. Louis Browns given permission to host 14 to earn needed money) on Aug­ust 14 attracted 59,058 to Municipal Stadium to watch the Indians beat the White Sox.

  • A huge factor in the success of the malcontent club was that Feller was on his way to a 27-win season in which he led the AL not only in wins but also in ERA, games, games started, shutouts, innings pitched, and strikeouts.
  • Early in September, several Indians met and decided to ignore Vitt's signals and use their own. As Feller recalled, We decided to go around Vitt. We worked with his coaches. ... We used our own set of signals, worked our own strategy during games, and ignored the head man as much as we could. But the new system didn't work very well because they lost six in a row.
  • Tied with the Tigers for the lead, the Indians traveled to Detroit for a crucial three-game series September 20-22. The Bengals won the first two games to seize the lead. They would never relinquish it, clinching the pennant on the last Friday of the season when they beat the Indians in Cleveland to take a three game lead with two to play.

    Friday, September 26 was ladies' day at Municipal Stadium, and nearly half the crowd of 45,553 consisted of women. But their presence didn't stop fans from retaliating against the Tigers for all that had been done to their Indians on the road. Fans threw fruit and vegetables at the Tigers during pregame practice. When Detroit LF Hank Greenberg caught a first inning fly, a bleacher section reserved for women barraged him with whatever they had brought. Two innings later, a Clevelander pushed a basket of to­matoes and beer bottles over the LCF fence into the Tigers bullpen. It landed on C Birdie Tebbets' head and knocked him out. At that point, Vitt got on the PA and pleaded for the fans to behave.
    Needing to win only one of the final three games, Detroit skipper Del Ba­ker decided to start rookie Floyd Giebell against Feller, in effect conce­ding the game. But the 30-year-old righthander, making only his second career start, shut out the Indians 2-0 to clinch the pennant.

  • With Baker resting some starters, the Indians won the last two games to finish only one game down in the final statements.

Cleveland fans from that era went to their graves swearing that, if the Indians could be that good while feuding with their manager, they could have won the pennant with ease if they had got along.

References: Breaking the Slump: Baseball in the Depression Era, Charles C. Alexander (2002)
Now Pitching Bob Feller, Bob Feller with Bill Gilbert (1990)