Tidbits From History (Pt. 1)

added 8/2/2010 by Gene Elston

(This is the first of a two-part column of factoids and footnotes in baseball history. The second half will be posted next Monday. - editor)

After the close of the Texas League season in 1888, three members of the Houston team, Bill Joyce, Emmett Rogers and Art Sunday, were sold to Toledo of the American Association. In a game with Syracuse, all were getting on base by short hits to the outfield. Sunday was hitting .398 but a large percentage of his hits were those maddening low fly balls over the infield. A Toledo writer described one of Sunday’s hits, "another one of those Texas League hits". The phase caught on and was naturally changed to "Texas Leaguer", and been with us ever since.

The Browns and Cardinals shared Sportsman's Park from 1920 to 1953 and ticket prices were the same for both clubs - the Sporting News published the numbers in a 1934 ad - 55c, 80c, $1.10, $1.35, $1.65, $1.80 and $1.90. The Browns finished 7th in the AL and drew 115,305 fans, while the Cardinals in the NL finished 8th and brought in 325,050.

On September 16, 1885, two National League teams, Buffalo and Detroit, agreed to a trade that rocked the baseball world. Buffalo president Josiah Jewett sold his entire franchise to Detroit for $7,000. The truth was that Detroit wanted the "Big Four" of Deacan White, Dan Brouthers, Marty Richardson and Jack Rowe. The only way he could accomplish this was to buy the entire Buffalo club.

July, 1948 - When Brooklyn broadcaster Red Barber became ill, Dodger general manager Branch Rickey phoned Atlanta (Southern Association) owner Earl Mann asking for permission to talk to their young play-by-play man Ernie Harwell about joining Barber in Brooklyn. Harwell was currently broadcasting the Crackers games and owner Mann balked because he didn't want to lose his broadcaster in mid-season, but Rickey persisted. Finally, Mann said, "We really do need a catcher, if you can help me out I’ll release Ernie from his contract." The trade was completed when Rickey sent Cliff Dapper from Montreal (International) to Atlanta. Harwell came to Brooklyn to start his long major league career. After time with the Dodgers and later Baltimore, Ernie joined Detroit in 1960 and his stay with the Tigers lasted through September of 2009.

Weird trades were plentiful in the minor leagues over the years. The Reno Silver Fox of the Class-A California League traded pitcher Tim Fortugno to the Milwaukee organization. Negotiations began with Silver Fox co-owner and general manager Jack Patton asking for $4,000. He settled for $2,500 and 144 baseballs. Fortugno made it to the majors for two years with the Angels, Reds and White Sox.

In the 1920s, the owner of the Omaha club of the Class-A Western League traded a pitcher to St. Josephs of the same league for an airplane. The deal was subsequently cancelled because the plane, not the pitcher, was defective. Oyster Joe Martina, who won 355 games in a 22-year pro career, got the nickname because he was traded for a barrel of oysters. An infielder named Leonard Dondero was once swapped for a dozen doughnuts. Dondero made it to the majors with the Browns in 1929 (played 19 games and hit .194. Martina didn't make it to the bigs.

In Greensboro, North Carolina on June 1, 1950, in a class B Carolina League game, Ray Hickernell, the Patriots' first sacker, scattered dirt on the plate in arguing over a play against Burlington. Umpire Frank Anasti merely handed him the whisk broom and ordered Hickernell to clean the plate.

Ted Williams made his only appearance as a pitcher on August 24, 1940. Williams, in his usual position in left field, was called in by manager Joe Cronin to pitch the last two innings of the first game of a doubleheader against Detroit with the Red Sox trailing the Tigers, 11-1. He allowed one run, three hits and did not walk a batter while striking out one - slugger Rudy York.

In 1883, the rule regulating the color of uniforms in the National League was changed so that it applied only to the players' stockings. Boston was required to wear red socks, with gray for Buffalo, white for Chicago, blue for Cleveland, light blue for Providence, brown for Detroit, blue and white checks for Philadelphia and crimson and black for New York. Up to 1882, the league permitted the teams to wear uniforms of any color, but in that season a rule was adopted requiring distinctive color schemes for each team. The rule requiring the home team to wear white uniforms and permitting the visiting teams to appear in any color, except white, was adopted in the late eighties in order to avoid confusion among the fans.

In 1949, the labor commissioner of the state of Arkansas ruled that playing baseball is a seasonal occupation and that professional baseball players are not entitled to unemployment compensation during the off season.

World War II was all but over in 1945 and the shortage of manpower had been blamed for many things in the newspaper business - a lot of things were created and one of the many situations had editors of a Greenville, South Carolina paper rubbing their eyes over a teletype report from a press association serving papers throughout the state. A young woman, who knew little or nothing about baseball, was holding down the desk at the bureau's headquarters with nothing but a box score to work from. She tried to expand the lead and came up with the following masterful summary as a highlight of coincidence: "Each team piled up a total of 27 outs."

A World Series bet made in Harlan, Kentucky, was paid at home plate on Navin Field in Detroit on November 5, 1945. A 550-mile baby carriage ride ended with the rider being dumped out on the rubber. Arson Stephens of Harlan picked the Detroit Tigers to win the Series, and Jim Ridner, of the same Kentucky town, backed the Chicago Cubs, with the result that Ridner had to push Stephens all the way from the Blue Grass state to Michigan.

The lowest attendance figure at old Yankee Stadium was 413 during a game against the Chicago White Sox on September 22, 1966. Before the game began, the Yankees were in last place, trailing the first place Baltimore Orioles by 28 games. Yankees announcer Red Barber asked the TV cameras to pan the empty stands as he commented on the low attendance. Although denied the camera shots on orders from the Yankees' media relations, Barber said, "I don't know what the paid attendance is today, but whatever it is, it is the smallest crowd in the history of Yankee Stadium, and this crowd is the story, not the game". Barber's comments allegedly led to his dismissal as the Yankee broadcaster.

In 1857, Henry Chadwick, a writer for the New York Clipper, designed the first method of scoring a baseball game and for the next 30 years came up with the first baseball guide, box score and many other additions to the game that led to his entrance into the Hall of Fame. At one point he said, baseball has come a long way with relievers and questioned the courage of some pitchers who couldn't finish what they started.

On August 7, 1938 Alex Swails, pitching for Muskogee in the Class C Westerrn Association, set a record when he issued 32 bases on balls in eight innings of a night game against Ponca City. Ponca City won, 16-7 (as well as the pennant). The winners stranded 22 base runners. Hub Kittle, the Ponca City pitcher, walked 11 making a total of 43 for the game, setting another mark. Yes, Kittle is the same one that was pitching coach for the Houston Astros from 1971 to 1975.

I heard that Harmon Killebrew, had spent his entire 22 seasons in the majors without successfully laying down a bunt. I had the opportunity to ask him the question in our 2006 meeting at the Hall of Fame and he had no misgivings about telling me, "The story is true. I went to the plate 8,147 times and never got a bunt down successfully!" Later, I checked his record - 2,086 hits, 573 home runs, 1,584 runs batted in, stole 19 bases and was caught stealing 18 times. In 22 seasons, he made 11 All-Star games. Who needs a bunt?

One of the great sources of humor had to be the Negro Leagues. They had some characters, too. Joe Durham, listed as an outfielder, but a name I can not find in my files, used to tell of a story about a catcher (no name mentioned) who used to wear a chest protector that was something special. In big white letters on the front was a sign saying, "Thou Shall Not Steal". When a runner would try to steal on him, the catcher would come up throwing and yelling. "The speed cop'll get you." Durham added, and he was usually right. True or false, it's a great story!

It was recognized early on that avid followers of baseball were a breed apart. At least that was the way the Boston Globe put in 1884: "There is a man in the Government Hospital for the insane who is perfectly sane on every subject except baseball. He knows more about baseball than any other man in America. The Authorities have humored him so that he has been able to cover the walls of his large room with the intricate schedules of games played since baseball began its career. He has the record of every important club and the individual record of every individual player. He takes an astrological view of the game. He explains every defeat and every success on astrological principles. He has it all figured out. His sense has gone with it. He is the typical baseball crank." The man could be forgiven since neither the Baseball Register nor the internet had yet been invented.

Smead Powell Jolley, the "Guinea Smudge" (amongst his unique nicknames) played 1930-1933 for the White Sox and Red Sox - 473 games, 46 home runs, 313 RBI. and hit .305. Jolley was one of Chicago manager Lou Fonseca's problem children but heralded as a batsman of great prowess. He was one of baseball's most ludicrous defensive players with a fly ball or a drive hit along the ground in the outfield. In desperation, Fonseca tried to make a catcher out of Smead in order to get him somewhere in the lineup because of his potential batting strength. Playing there might be less likely to be ruined by a flying or bounding baseball. His most remembered play was at League Park in Cleveland in right field when a grounder went through his legs hit the wall and went through his legs again coming back!

I think it was in 1941 that manager Dusty Rhodes of the Charleston Rebels of the Class-B Sally League would like to get his hands on the club's "unknown admirer" who sent him a box of 18 bright yellow lemons, each bearing the name of a Charleston player. A note said "To the Rebels: any resemblance between you and this little token of admiration is not coincidental." The Rebels finished the 1941 season in 6th place, 27-1/2 games behind Macon, the pennant winner.

Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance played together in the Cubs' infield for several years in the early 1900s. The story has it that Tinker and Evers were best friends until a seemingly trivial incident in 1905 ruined their friendship. Evers reportedly caught a taxi ride one day and failed to ask Tinker if he wanted to come along. Tinker, angered, did not speak to Evers, who stubbornly refused to apologize. Although they continued to complete double plays together for many years, the silence between Tinker and Evers lasted more than three decades, until 1938, when the players, long retired, bumped into each other and issued their overdue apologies. All three players were inducted into the Hall of Fame together in 1946.

{For more historical features from Gene, visit Gene Elston's Journal found at Astros Daily.)