Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Manuel Cueto: The Cuban Potato

In the early 20th Century, the United States more or less treated Cuba as a protectorate. The Cuban republic had been set up after the Treaty of Paris ended the Spanish-American War in 1898 and young country's constitution contained a clause that allowed the U.S. to interfere in Cuban finances and foreign affairs.

The open policy and American dealings in the country allowed Americans to export baseball to Cuba, where professional leagues quickly developed. In short order, the Cuban leagues integrated, and by 1915, black American players traveled to Cuba to play on integrated teams, while white American clubs signed light-skinned Cubans to play in the big leagues1.

Manuel "Potato" Cueto2 was just the ninth Cuban-born player in the major leagues, debuting in the middle of the 1914 season for the St. Louis Terriers of the newly-formed Federal League. He struggled in 19 games as a Terriers' infielder, reaching base just nine times in 53 plate appearances. The Terriers dropped him (and the Federal League folded in 1915), and Cueto played a couple of seasons in American semi-pro leagues.

In 1917, the Cincinnati Reds took a chance on the Cuban. This was not at all unusual; five of the first 10 Cubans in the majors played for the Reds at some point. Cueto would play three seasons from the bench for Cincinnati. He primarily played the outfield, but also filled in at second base, shortstop, and catcher. His traditional numbers paint him as a pretty good defender with 11 assists in just 82 games in the corner outfield. He also batted respectably (.244/.323/.266 with the Reds) for a backup outfielder playing behind Hall of Famer Edd Roush, future GNIB-er Greasy Neale and pretty-good-player Tommy Griffith.

After the 1919 season, Potato Cueto played in the minor leagues until 1930, including several years with the Mobile Bears and the Tampa Krewes. Cueto then played and managed in Cuba and elsewhere in Central America, but he reappeared in 1938 at the age of 46 for 16 games with the Portsmouth Cubs, a Chicago Cubs affiliate of the Piedmont League.

Potato died in Cuba in 1942; he was 50 years old. Cueto was inducted into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1950.

Cuban players were the first Hispanics to play for major league teams3, though the influx of Cubans changed in the late 1950s for some reason4. Can anybody offer some insight into this?

For more information on Manuel Cueto, click on this Internet Web site, which claims Cueto's actual nickname was "El Hombre Diablo" (The Devil Man!).

NPR recently broadcast a story on "skin tones" of Cuban players. It can be read and/or heard here. For a more comprehensive view of Cuban baseball history, read this 1984 article from The Atlantic on the subject.

2 The nickname almost certainly stems from a collective American inability to grasp Spanish pronunciation. The result was an obvious "sounds like" nickname. One Alternate nickname explanation includes the early baseball cure for a hangover, which involved cursing and/or murdering the barkeep who served you cheap potato vodka by the bucket the night before.

3 Players didn't really arrive from other Hispanic countries
en masse until the 1950s, though a handful of Mexicans (1930s), Puerto Ricans (1940s) and Venezuelans (1940s) appeared before or during World War II.

4 The flow of Cuban players debuting in the major leagues actually didn't slow until the late 1960s. It remained relatively slow (though with a few notable exceptions) until the mid-1990s, when pitchers like brothers Livan and Orlando Hernandez found success. The success of this generation of Cuban players has led to a resurgence of Cubans in Major League Baseball, all of whom have been nicknamed "The Cuban Missile."

Germany Schaefer: The Fatherland of Baseball Comedy

An international trio, of sorts: Germany Schaefer (center) with Cuban players
Jacinto Calvo (left) and Merito Acosta (right) in 1913 with the Washington Senators

Having only been out of country once, I have yet to see much of the world first-hand. As such, my opinion of most of the world derives from popular media's stereotypes of nations. So it's only natural that I consider Germans austere and precise. If any absurdity exists in the country, it is expressed through artistic statements that, while humorous, are unsettling1. Of course, given proper circumstances, Germans become quite affable. So the stereotypes go, anyway.

Yet, history regards early 1900s infielder Herman "Germany" Schaefer as a clown and one of the most hilarious and entertaining chaps to don a baseball uniform. His exploits mirror those of many other wacky baseball players, but he was actually a pioneer amongst goof-offs: He was once ejected for coming to bat with a fake mustache. He pretended to be the disembodied voice of God to an umpire who had gotten sauced after a game. He tight-rope walked the first-base line. And he pioneered the art of stealing first base2. And he wasn't a bad baseball player, either.

William Herman Schaefer was born in Chicago in 1876 to German immigrants (hence the nickname3). His family lived in the so-called Vice-Districts of the city. Herman played baseball in the local sandlots as a kid, then found his way into semi-pro ball. Accounts of Schaefer's career suggest that the stout infielder was surprisingly agile and a terrific defender. Despite his unimpressive career batting numbers (.257/.319/.320), Germany put up a few good years at the plate.

The Chicago Orphans inked him in 1901, and he played two games that year. 1902 found him at third base for the Orphans, completing an infield that included Tinkers, Evers and Chance4. His struggles at the plate that year (.196/.250/.223) led the Orphans to cut him, and he wandered back to the American Association until 1905, when the Detroit Tigers came calling. Detroit, in need of infielders, took a chance on Germany. Schaefer played well and was a valuable asset to the Tigers, who made him their captain. Schaefer would play in the 1907 and 1908 World Series, alongside baseball's biggest jerk. He hit eight of nine career home runs with Detroit, famously showing up Doc White and Rube Marquard in two separate incidents. In the offseason, Schaefer paired with Charley O'Leary, Detroit's shortstop and a fellow Chicagoan, to perform a vaudeville act.

Detroit sent Germany to Washington in 1909 for Jim Delahanty5. He played his best years for the Senators, hitting .334/.412/.398 in 1911. His playing time diminished after that year, and Germany spent increasing amounts of time coaching and in the dugout, which allowed Schaefer to dial his antics up a notch. Encouraged by teammate, fellow clown and Senators' coach Nick Altrock and Washington manager Clark Griffith, Schaefer used his free time to keep the team loose and provide some valuable PR for the club. He once helped a courtroom full of people on charges of public drunkenness have their cases dismissed, taking them out for a hot meal afterward.

Schaefer's career effectively ended after a stint with the Newark Pepper of the short-lived Federal League in 1915. He served as a coach for the New York Yankees in 1916 and the Cleveland Indians in 1918. With the United States' entrance into World War I, Schaefer denounced his nickname and insisted that he be called "Liberty" Schaefer, following the example of saurkraut being renamed "liberty cabbage.6"

The pugnacious John McGraw hired 42-year-old Schaefer as a scout in 1919, but Germany died suddenly that year7 while on a scouting trip. He was interred at a Northside cemetery in Chicago.

Read about Germany here. Read about Germany Schaefer's exploits in greater detail here.

1 Actually, my interpretation of Germans comes mainly through Saturday Night Live, particularly "Sprockets" and this gem.

2 This is actually not a metaphor. Schaefer literally stole first base after reaching second base to draw a throw from the catcher to allow the runner on third base a chance at scoring.

3 Obvious nickname is obvious.

4 Johnny Evers actually only played a handful of games at second base for the Cubs in 1902, so Germany probably only played with the most famous double-play combination in baseball history for a game or two.

5 If you didn't already look at it, check out Jim Delahanty's most famous photo, which is extremely unflattering. Leave a comment regarding what Big Jim is thinking, saying, or murdering when the photo was snapped.

6 Some baseball revisionist historians in the early 2000s similarly insisted that Stanley George Bordagaray be referred to as "Freedom" Bordagaray in all subsequent references. Jeff Francoeur was to be referred to as "Freedomy."

7 Coincidentally, the homeland of Schaefer's parents found ruin just a month after his death in 1919.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Whatever am I looking at?

You may notice that I've changed the background photo, which now looks like an old daguerrotype of The Blob.

Because I was not a design major and fail at the Internet, I can't seem to make it look OK. But I'll keep trying.

For the meantime, I'll just tell you it's a sepia-tone photo of an old baseball glove from my grandparents' basement. Here's what the photo actually looks like1:

1 You can also view the background better by zooming out in your browser. Ctrl + the mouse wheel or Ctrl + the plus/minus key will zoom, if you're not in the know. You also may not need to do so if you have a higher resolution than I do, which you almost certainly do. 15" CRT monitors aren't renown for their high resolution settings.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ray Farmer: Actual farmer (May not be actual farmer)

When I was a young'n and my oldest brother Phil was in high school, he and his friends took to calling me "Farmer Bill." I don't recall the exact reason, but I think it may have something to do with an old screen-printed T-shirt. Or maybe it was because my grandfather, a farmer, was named Bill, and at five years of age, I already resembled an old farmer. Or maybe it's because I was obsessed with big, loud things1 (like tractors) to the point where there's a photo of me in a miniature lawn chair watching my neighbors planting corn in the field across the road2.

Who knows where nicknames come from? Some names seem to be the product of a great namer in the sky, holding a pre-nicknamed divining rod over lists of names until they feel that unmistakable tug. But that doesn't make much sense. Then again, neither does anything I write. I digress...

Today's Great Name in Baseball is Robert Henry Ray, better known as Farmer Ray. Farmer was from Fort Lyon, Colorado, an unincorporated outpost in the foothills of the Rockies best known as a staging point for the Sand Creek Massacre4. Though there's no indication of it, Ray was almost certainly from an agricultural family, so there's no divining-rod mystery attached to his name. He was simply a farmer from a farm community whose baseball abilities took him all over the country in his twenties.

The good ol' Farmer first appeared in the Texas League in 1908, playing for both the Shreveport Pirates and Ft. Worth Panthers.

While his whereabouts in 1909 are not detailed and thus quite mysterious, the St. Louis Browns picked him up in 1910, which would turn out to be his only big-league season. He went 4-10 with a 3.58 ERA in that year, much worse than the Deadball Era average. As is well documented, the Browns if the Deadball Era were awful and 1910 was no exception: the team finished last in the American League with just 47 wins in 154 games. The team's leading hitter, Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace, batted a paltry .258/.324/.3235. A significant number of players on the roster were out of baseball after the season or a year or two after, including Farmer Ray, who had been merely a #4 starter on the worst team in the league.

In 1911, Farmer found himself playing for the Hartford Senators of the Connecticut State League, a league of surprising depth and good nomenclature. After 1911, Ray retreated to Texas, where he would spend (in order) two years with the Houston Buffaloes (Texas League), one with the Sherman Lions (Texas-Oklahoma League), one with the Sherman Hitters (Western Association) and his final season with the Denison Railroaders (Western Association). He generally found success in those leagues, though his stats from those years are incomplete.

After retiring from baseball in 1916, Farmer Ray abandoned his agrarian roots to work for Texaco, possibly in Electra, Texas, where he would die in 1963 at 76. Electra was the site of an oil discovery in 1911 and was growing around the time Ray hung up his spikes in nearby Denison6.

By random coincidence, Baseball-Reference's "Similarity Scores" rate Farmer Ray's Age-23 (and only season) as closest to the Age-23 season of one Oil Can Boyd. Maybe that divining rod was on to something.

But probably not.

1 I guess some things don't change. I still like things that are loud, big or both loud and big. Guess I should have been a civil engineer.

2 I was born, raised and played baseball in the rural Midwest. And yes, the pillars of my community congregated en masse mainly for basketball games, which, if I'm not mistaken, was where I was first referred to as "Farmer Bill." Which still doesn't make sense, because my name is not akin to "Bill" in any way. I blame a poor divining rod reading.

3 Not to be confused with (A) the character from World of Warcraft or (B) the main character of Field of Dreams, farmer Ray Kinsella3A. Both items are popular in google searches.

3A Not to be confused with Tim Kinsella.

4 The massacre has a disturbing parallel to several scenes from Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," which is one of the great unheralded pieces of American literature. Read it, but know that it is not a pretty or a nice novel.

5 To be fair, Bobby Wallace is generally not considered a Hall of Famer on the basis of his bat; he batted .268/.332/.358, though he accumulated 2,309 hits over 25 years. Rather, he was considered one of the finest defensive infielders of his era. Perhaps this set a precedent for other past defensive wizards to find their way into the Hall and for some at least one active glove man to have a chance at enshrinement. The point remains that Bobby Wallace probably shouldn't have led too many teams in hitting.

6 This is of course just some basic detective work and conjecture on my part, albeit it's likely more accurate than some of my previous conjecture6A.

6A But please indulge me as I speculate further. Working in the oil fields, it's only logical (according to that one movie I saw that one time) that Farmer Ray became a mighty captain of industry. As such, he certainly had nearly limitless amounts of power. While his records were all destroyed after the notorious Milkshake Murder of 1919, at least one author thinks that he may have had Baseball's Murder Machine Ossie Schrecengost's information stored on his speed-telegraph.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dooley Womack: A Horace a piece? I don't even know what that means...

Look at Dooley Womack! What a guy! He was a go-to reliever for 'mericuh's team1 from 1966-1968, better known as the years that the vaunted M&M boys melted. Or something like that.

He was born Horace Guy Womack2, but he picked up the nickname Dooley as a kid and it stuck.

But none of that's important. More pressing issues face the author.

Namely, what genus of owl is best. So let's have it. Which is the best owl? Look to the right to answer the poll question. Feel free to leave a comment about your pick or leave a comment berating me for overlooking the excellently named Fearful Owl, which is its own genus (the genus is Nesasio; but this is a "best" owl genus contest, not a best-named owl genus contest, which would probably be more appropriate given the kind-of purpose of this blog. Selah, as the Good Doctor says.)3.

The poll will be available until September 16 at midnight.

1 I, too, was confused by this Wikipedia sacrilege. I had always thought that the Yankees were "America's Team," even today. They are still America's Team in MLB, according to this extremely scientific-looking poll. And by the way, what is this "football" game that the Great and Powerful Wiki speaks of? Must be some passing fad.

2 Several baseball players before Dooley were named Horace, but many of them went by "Hod," which is apparently a shortened version of the name and also an excellent nickname in its own right. See here, here, here, here, here and here.

3 Go here to learn more about owl genuses (geni? genus? genie?)! Science is fun and exciting!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hank Arft: Bow Wow

Onomatopoeia can play a major role in dictating nicknames. And sometimes people's actual names are onomatopoeia. And sometimes people's actual names being onomatopoeia can lead to them earning a nickname that is also onomatopoeia. First baseman Hank Arft's last name earned him the nickname "Bow Wow1." It's pretty clever, if a bit self-evident.

Arft debuted in 1948 for the mid-century St. Louis Browns, one of the truly terrible teams in baseball history. From 1946 until the team left St. Louis in 1953, the Browns never finished higher than sixth place in the American League2. Bill Veeck bought the Browns in 1951, and the team turned into a circus for its final three years, as is well-documented.

Arft's career with the Browns was lackluster. In 300 games, he hit 13 home runs while batting .253/.352/.375. His numbers, however, fail to tell Bow Wow's whole story.

Arft, a Missouri native, signed with Browns in 1940 as an 18 year old. In his first three minor league seasons, Hank hit the ball well.

But Bow Wow's hardball ambitions were interrupted, like so many others', by World War 2. Arft enlisted in the Navy3 and served on the Destroyer Escort USS Goss. His vessel was present in Tokyo Bay on VJ Day (September 2, 1945) when the Japanese formally surrendered.

After the war, Hank returned to the Browns' organization. He had a tremendous minor league year in 1947, batting .366 while putting up an incredible slugging percentage of .615. He split the next two years between Browns' affiliates and the parent club before sticking with the club permanently in 1950. As a starter in 1951, Bow Wow batted .261, good for second on the Browns among players with 300 or more plate appearances . Unfortunately for Arft, his big-league career ended in 1952 after just 15 games with the Browns. He retreated to the Pacific Coast League, putting up decent numbers for the Portland Beavers.

After the PCL's 1954 season, Hank Arft returned to Missouri, where he went into business running a funeral home. His family still co-owns and operates the business today. Bow Wow died in 2002 at the age of 804.

1 At 5'10" Hank Arft was relatively short for a first baseman, a position where height typically matters. As such, Some5 say that Arft may have been the original Li'l Bow Wow.

2 Ironically, the Browns were at their best during the height of World War 2, winning the American League pennant in 1944 but losing in the World Series to their crosstown rival St. Louis Cardinals. It was the Browns' only World Series appearance.

3 This is the story that historical records indicate. However, recently uncovered documents have led Some5 to say that Arft may have been a spy with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was a precursor to the modern CIA during World War 2. Because of his
espionage ability and last name , his OSS Code Name was, in fact, Snoop Dogg3A.

3A Fret not, I can actually hear the collective groan at this. I apologize accordingly.

4 It's not Ludacris to suggest that his funeral services were held at the family-owned funeral home.

5 Please note that "Some" is, in fact, properly capitalized here. Some news organizations maintain "Some" as a perfectly reasonable and reliable news source.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dick Cole: That's his name, don't wear it out

GNIB salutes players who have names that are, in retrospect, unfortunate. With the proliferation of the modern slang word "dick," a great many figures from the recent past have, unfortunately, become wiener jokes1. 1950s utility infielder Richard Roy Cole, better known as Dick Cole, could be added to that long list.

Cole was a passable defender, but he carried a light stick, as his career .249/.322/.312 attests to. Dick signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1943 as a 16-year-old kid. He would spend the next seven seasons in the minors before debuting with St. Louis in 1951. The Cardinals promptly traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates after 15 games. Cole would spend most of his career with Pittsburgh as a backup infielder, though he started most of the 1954 season at third base and shortstop. After a brief and unfortunate stint with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957, Dick Cole was out of baseball.

His appearance on this blog stems solely from what his name sounds like when you say it quickly. Some clever Wikipedia editor played on this by beginning a sentence with the phrase "[Dick] Cole wasn't plugged..." Perhaps that's innocent verb usage and I'm imaging something that isn't there2.

The real truth is that the glasses and baseball uniform were just an act; Dick Cole was actually a hunky ubermensch of sorts. When not on the field, Dick Cole could be found whipping Scar from the 'Lion King', corraling bucking broncos and, um, playing baseball. He was the all-American hero, and he's still alive today3, probably kicking communist Chewbacca in the face.

1 Like him. And him. And him. And especially him.1A

1A This also applies to people whose last names are unfortunate, given certain events.

2 Journalism schools teaches copy editors to think with a dirty mind to avoid embarrassing mistakes.

3 This Dick Cole is 85 years old. The Dick Cole comics were popular around the time the baseball player started playing the professional game.

Art Weaver: It's 'Six O'Clock' Down Under There

Great Names in Baseball1 enjoys celebrating early 20th Century catchers. This was an era where the position was seen as mostly defensive; catchers weren't expected to hit much. They were field generals with the only view of the entire field. And when they filled a roster spot as a backup, they frequently drank themselves stupid studied the game in depth.

Arthur Coggshall Weaver, better known as "Six O'Clock," was one such journeyman catcher who spent parts of five seasons from 1902-1908 with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox. Weaver hit only .183/.211/.218 in his 86-game career, but was a fine defender who threw out 46% of would-be base stealers.

Before, in-between and after his stints in the big leagues, Six O'Clock traveled through the minor leagues, chalking up season after season with some of the best-named teams in the world. As a 22-year-old kid from Wichita, Weaver found himself playing for the Omahogs of Omaha under legendary Pa Rourke in the Western League in 1901. He would later add the Terra Haute Hottentots, the Wichita Jobbers, the Salt Lake City Skyscrapers2 and the Boise Irrigators to his resume of employers.

His first two years in the minors found him playing under the natural moniker of Art "Basket" Weaver3. This was natural not because of his last name, but because he invented basketball only 10 years after James Naismith. However, he constantly referred to it as "butcherball," because he preferred to play the game with a freshly slaughtered hog's head4. He somehow never managed to find a team to begin a contest, though. His Cedar Rapids Rabbits' teammates mocked Weaver, who thought he'd invented an original game, by calling him "Basket5."

His subsequent two-year appearance as the St. Louis Cardinals' backup catcher saw Weaver earn his better-known nickname "Six O'Clock." His name derived from a custom, known as six o'clock swill, that his Australian ancestors had brought to the states6. However, Weaver insisted that he indulge in this practice at the same time it occurred in Sydney. In St. Louis, this meant that Weaver spent the hour between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. in a rush to "get his drink on."7 He defended his actions by claiming it as his cultural birthright and, upon commencing his practice with the team mascot, would loudly proclaim, "It's Six O'Clock Somewhere8." When Weaver was denied his Six O'Clock celebration, St. Louis player/manager/understanding Irishman Patsy Donovan discovered that Weaver actually played worse when sober and thusly permitted Six O'Clock's six o'clock suds9.

Scholars maintain that Weaver's influence can be felt most strongly in the middle-age party music aspect of Western culture, though his lasting legacy in baseball can be found today in the immediate vicinity, clubhouses and bullpens of Wrigley Field.

Six O'Clock Weaver died in 1917 at the age of 34. Some say that he died of asthma, while others maintain that he died in a tragic and fiery butcherball accident.

1 Great Names in Baseball (GNIB) is a blog that explores possibilities and then substitutes these possibilities for the unknown or, occasionally, The Truth. While some of what is written is undoubtedly fact, is is probably best to assume it's all fiction.

2 This was an interesting choice for a team name, given that the Salt Lake City skyline contained no skyscrapers to speak of.

3 Unsubstantiated claim.

4 Unsubstantiated claim.

5 Unsubstantiated claim.

6 Unsubstantiated claim.

7 Unsubstantiated claim.

8 Unsubstantiated claim.

9 Unsubstantiated claim.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jouett Meekin: 'Hit 'em high, hit 'em often'

As is well-documented in my mind, baseball players in the past were frequently scoundrels and often foul and detestable human beings. They drank heavily, died early (usually of syphilis), used rancid language, and somehow found time to play baseball. There were some nice guys mixed in there, but most were downright frightening1.

I can't say which category George Jouett Meekin's personal life falls into, but he acted like a wretched bastard on the field. Reputed as one of the hardest-throwing pitchers of the era, the Hoosier fireballer is generally credited with being one of the pitchers who led to the National League to move the pitching mound to 60'6" in 1893. In Meekin's two years before the mound moved back2, he led the American Association in strikeouts per 9 innings once and recorded good strikeout numbers in his other season (for the era).

Throughout his career, however, Meekin suffered from what seems like abnormally high walk rates. This may indicate that Meekin had problems with control, but some additional information may help explain this. As a hard thrower, Meekin enjoyed intimidating opposing batters. The best way to do this, he explained, was by throwing the first two pitches to a good hitter "within an inch of his head or body." Yet his command wasn't too terrible, all things considered. In 2,605.1 innings pitched, Meekin only hit 89 hitters. By giving away a couple of balls in the count, though, Meekin controlled the at-bat through fear.

And why not? In an age when safety was a word for sissies, everything was dangerous. Helmets weren't mandatory for another 60 years, so if you wanted to show a hitter who was boss, the best way was surely by grazing his eyebrows with a 90 mph fastball. This was the era of surly, suds-soaked players; brushback pitches were merely the zeitgeist3. Old-time baseball players understood this and had no qualms about acting the part of tough guys. Leo Durocher wrote a book called "Nice Guys Finish Last" for a reason.

Meekin's tactics didn't always work, but he found some success with the New York Giants clubs from 1894-1898. In 1895, Meekin and fellow Indiana native Amos "The Hoosier Thunderbolt" Rusie won more than 30 games each for the Giants. It was by far Jouett's best year, racking up 418 innings and 137 strikeouts. He never recaptured that magic, though, and would spend the rest of his career as a league-average, but popular, pitcher.

In addition to his reputation as a heavy-handed, heat-heaving headhunter, Meekin is remembered for two other historical accomplishments:

1) Meekin is thought to have given one of the first, if not the first, intentional walk of all time, although there are two differing sources for this.

Baseball Library credits the date as July 11, 1890, against the great Chicago White Stockings' player Cap Anson. The description credits Anson as being filled with "impotent rage" at the free pass, which came in a tied game in the 12th inning. Meekin is alleged to have retired the next batter to end the inning. I am, however, dubious of this claim for several reasons, not least of which is that Meekin did not play professional baseball in 1890. If this claim is true, I suspect H.G. Wells may be involved.

However, late sportswriter and official MLB historian Jerome Holtzman wrote in Baseball Digest that Meekin issued an intentional walk to White Stockings' slugger Jimmy "Pony" Ryan in 1896 with two outs in the ninth inning of a game. Meekin supposedly retired the next batter, light-hitting "Gentleman" George Decker, to end the contest. There is no indication about Ryan's anger regarding his impotence4.

I'm not sure about you, but I'll take the official baseball historian's word for it. Rest assured, I'll be calling the FBI regarding this potential factual inaccuracy on the Internet. Fret not, this highly accurate and scientific-looking graph informs me that some people have experienced this phenomenon before. Still, you'd better watch it, Baseball Library.

2) In a June1, 1895, appearance, New York player/manager George Davis, likely drunk or hungover at first base5, left Meekin in for all nine innings of a 23-2 shellacking by the St. Louis Browns. Meekin surrendered 30 hits and four walks in the game. The Polo Grounds' crowd apparently clamored for a new twirler and the New York Times write-up of the game claimed Jouett "staggered when about to pitch." Jouett finished the game, likely with his arm hanging limp at his side6, but his arm troubles were soon cured by a fresh round of pitcher's juice and an attempted murder or two. A rough estimate would suggest that Meekin faced 60 batters that day and hurled at least 150 pitches, probably closer to 200. But, like safety, pitch counts are for sissies anyway.

The Giants dealt Meekin to the Boston Braves in 1899, reportedly for $3,500. This caused an uproar in New York, as Jouett enjoyed a wealth of popularity in the Big Apple. He found success in 13 starts with the Braves that year but was out of baseball after two poor starts with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900.

Meekin died in his hometown of New Albany, IN, in 1944. In the years since he played, all baseball players have become intensely clean, seldom-scrutinized and well-respected in society.

1 The nice guys were frequently pious in nature and had nicknames accordingly: Parson or Deacon were common. The most heinous players carried the moniker "Silent [Player's First Name]" for reasons explained in a previous post's footnotes. This fact is confirmed by my imagination.

2 Saying "the mound moved back" is actually misleading. Prior to 1893, there was no "pitching mound" to speak of. The previous arrangment had the pitcher throwing from a "box" 55' feet from the plate. In 1893, the National League moved the box 5 feet farther from the plate but created a mound from which the pitcher would throw. Here is the history of pitching distances, which is riveting for most of the general public and casual fandom.

3 Brushback pitches and beanball wars were relatively normal and understood parts of the game for a long time. There were, of course, several career-ending injuries as a result of these tactics, including the death of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920 after he got drilled
by Yankees star Carl Mays for crowding the plate . Today, pitchers still occasionally go after hitters, but they frequently face early dismissal from the game and potential fines. Batters tend to take exception, too, but that might be 'roid rage.

4 Thank you, journalism classes, for teaching me that the dead cannot be libeled. That was clearly a monumentous4A court decision for all blogs that I've written about great names in baseball.

4A Not a real word.

5 Evidence does not support Davis being passed out, however, as he recorded 10 putouts at the position.

6 Greenies were great for grinding through these situations, 100% of 1950s baseball and horse trainers agree. Which means 200% of them agree on this.

Frank Howard: The Capital Punisher

Frank Howard in his pre-Punisher days with the Dodgers.

In 1965, Frank Howard joined forces with the Commanders Washington Senators to record a classic soul hit snuff out D.C.'s crime baseball problem. His mutant frame1, powered only by strange chemicals, and his ability to strike fear in weaker men's hearts earned him the moniker "The Capital Punisher." Women of the city adored him, and he was the city hero until the Senators left D.C. for Texas2. The Capital Punisher left behind only his spectacles, whose superpower was ineffective on lesser beings.

The city could only cheer for hogs thereafter.

1 Baseball Reference lists Howard as 6'7" and 255 lbs. Wikipedia lists Howard as 6'8." The Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining this discrepancy to determine if, for the first time in history, a factual inaccuracy may exist on the Internet.

2 Howard's Senators, the second such team, played in Washington from 1961-1972 before becoming the Texas Rangers. The original Washington Senators moved to the Twin Cities to become the Minnesota Twins after the 1960 season; they had played in the American League in D.C. from 1901-1960. An earlier Washington Senators club had played briefly in the National League, as had the Washington Nationals before them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tony Mullane: The Apollo of the Box

Nineteenth-century pitcher Tony Mullane was one of those people everyone loves to hate. Not because he's a jerk or a thug or someone who farts audibly and blames it on a non-existent dog. Rather, he was someone who was good at everything and looked good doing it.

In fact, he was so devilishly handsome that he was called "The Apollo1 of the Box," a reference to his appearance (similar to the deity) and his position (the pitching mound used to be called the box). His clubs frequently chose Mullane to pitch on the occasional Ladies' Night at the ball fields2. Maybe it was his moustache or perhaps it was the brogue he brought from the Emerald Isle, but Mullane was the pitcher women wanted to catch3.

And the Apollo of the Box wasn't too shabby as a player, either. From 1882-1887, Mullane notched 30+ wins and 400+ innings in five straight seasons. This was simple to do for a good pitcher of the era, because there was little consideration for things like "pitch counts," "players' health" or "magnitude of hangover and/or lingering drunkenness." Many teams had, at most, two pitchers; most of Mullane's teams had a pitching staff comprised of the Apollo of the Box and maybe an outfielder who could fill in for 8-10 games a year.

While generally successful, Mullane's control sometimes escaped him. He walked upwards of 5 hitters per nine innings toward the end of his career, threw as many as 63 wild pitches in 1884 and holds the all-time career record for wild pitches with 343. Despite this, he won 284 games over 13 seasons. His exploits failed to land him in the Hall of Fame, but his win total is second only to Bobby Mathews for non-Hall of Fame pitchers.

Mullane also played more than 200 career games at positions other than pitcher. His career .243 mark is excellent for pitchers of any era, and he hit as many as three (3!) home runs in a single season. His 661 hits ranks #1 in career hits by a pitcher, as well.

In case his sexy achievements weren't enough, Mullane was also ambidextrous, having thrown sinister-handed in at least a few appearances. He joined a very short list of ambidextrous pitchers in the annals of baseball history.

But it's not all good looks and Hall of Fame snubs for the Apollo of the Box. In 1884 in Toledo, Mullane played with the first (and last, along with his brother Welday, until 1947) black player in the major leagues, catcher Moses "Fleet" Walker. If you've paid attention, you'll notice this was the same year Mullane threw 63 wild pitches. This was, he later said, because he liked to mix up the black catcher. Basically, Mullane was an asshole and enjoyed making life difficult and painful for Walker4 (catchers at that time had incredibly inadequate safety gear). The Apollo of the Box was hardly the only player in the league averse to the presence of Fleet Walker; team owners in the league soon demanded that Toledo remove the black men from its roster.

Mullane sat out the duration of the 1885 season, having been blacklisted for trying to switch teams within the American Association (AA). The move would have earned him $5,000 with his new club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. But the AA suspended him for a year for breach of contract with the St. Louis Browns and fined him $1,000, but the AA let him throw for the Red Stockings in 18865.

Mullane was out of the big leagues by 1894, but appeared in the minors sporadically until 1902, when he made his final three starts for the Spokane Smoke Eaters of the Pacific Northwest League.

The Apollo of the Box moved to Chicago, where he became one of the few Irish police officers in the city. Mullane died in Chicago in 1944 at the age of 85.

1 Apollo was the Greek god of all kinds of crap. Seriously, one being was in charge of music, prophecy, colonization, medicine, archery, poetry, dance, intellectual inquiry, herds and flocks, light, plagues, and religious healing. Yet he still found time to do a bunch of nymphs. The author, by the way, has difficulty managing time between working eight hours, reheating moldy pizza, playing video games, and napping. Then again, Greek gods only sleep 20 minutes every 4 hours.

2 Ladies' Night is clearly a misnomer, as baseball games were all played during the day at this time. Accordingly, these promotions were actually called Ladies' Days, and Hollywood even made a movie about it. It was called Ladies' Day. The film likely contains at least 50% less syphilis than was found at or after actual Ladies' Day games.

3 In addition to containing [false] insinuations that Tony Mullane was not from Ireland, this sentence may also contain my best wordplay of all time. It works on so many levels.

4 Mullane was quoted as saying, "[Fleet Walker] was the best catcher I ever worked with, but I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals." While this kind of frank racism by the baseball establishment is appalling to us today, it openly existed in the big leagues in some places until the 1960s.

5 While not documented in writing anywhere, oral tradition maintains that the American Association was one carrier pigeon away from ending the Apollo of the Box at the hands of baseball's greatest killing machine.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Behold! Great Names in Minor League Baseball!

Minor League Baseball's site is having an amazing name tournament/bracket-contest. I'm a little late to the party (the first round is complete), but check out Minors Moniker Madness.

Can Taiwan Easterling carry his underdog momentum to win the Natty Nattress bracket? Who will emerge from the epic Shooter Hunt/Mark Hamburger battle?

You can help decide. Go there and vote!

* Hat tip to NotGraphs and Dayn Perry for bringing this to attention.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Cozy Dolans: Fabricated dynasty or hipster band?

The rule of Cozy Dolan I lasted from 1895-1906.

Cozy Dolan II ruled from 1909-1915. He unsuccessfully attempted coups in 1922 and 1924.

The Cozy Dolan Dynasty of the country of Baseball1 lasted from 1895-1915, with two monarchs ascending to the high title of Cozy Dolan. Like Henry VIII, Pope John Paul II and Wrestlemania VI2, the rulers Cozy Dolan I and Cozy Dolan II secured their place in history.

Patrick Henry Dolan accepted the noble title of Cozy in 1895, when he debuted as a 22-year-old sinister-handed pitcher for his hometown Boston Beaneaters. When compared with contemporary pitchers, Cozy Dolan I was average-to-above-average3 that season. He struggled the following season, and the Beaneaters banished him to the minor leagues to develop his ruling abilities out of the public eye.

Cozy Dolan I re-emerged for the new century in 19004, having moved his throne to the Chicago Orphans' West Side Park and having learned to rule the huge tracts of land in the Deadball Era outfield. This would be the first of many movements of the Cozy Dolan ruling house. 1901 found him relocating to the Brooklyn Superbas5 for two seasons. In 1902, he led the league in games played, plate appearances and at-bats while hitting a respectable .280. In the following four years, Cozy Dolan I returned to Chicago for a brief stay with the White Sox before moving to the Cincinnati Reds. In 1905, he moved for the final time back to the Boston Beaneaters. He played nearly all of the Beaneaters' games in 1906, including two relief pitching appearances.

1907, however, brought tragedy to the land of Baseball. Cozy Dolan I met his end as so many rulers had before him: by assassination typhoid. Cozy Dolan I fell ill during spring training of the season and died in Louisville on March 29, 1907. He was 34 years old.

The period Between Cozy Dolans (BCD) brought chaos to baseball: Ty Cobb continued to be a prick and the unthinkable happened.

But a successor was chosen quickly: Chicago native and third baseman Albert James Dolan (unrelated to Cozy Dolan I; like the papacy6) earned the title of Cozy Dolan II with his major-league debut in 1909 at the young age of 19. He had played minor-league ball since 1906 but was unready for the high title of Cozy. His brief appearance in 1909 served as his coronation. But like the first Cozy Dolan, Albert was sent to the minors to prepare for his rule.

Cozy Dolan II played again in 1911 as a New York Highlander7. After being sent to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1912, Cozy Dolan II learned to rule all of the field as a utility man in 1913. After a brief tenure at third base in Pittsburgh, Cozy Dolan moved to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1914, where he patrolled the outfield as his predecessor had done. He was forced from his rule in 1915, after which the Babe Dynasty8 began. Albert James Dolan, having lost his title, struggled in the minors until 1918 and then disappeared as a player for several years.

However, he would attempt two major coups of the Babe Dynasty. In 1922, Cozy Dolan II played a single game with the New York Giants, but he left the field without an at-bat. His final coup attempt would be his undoing. As a Giants' coach in 1924, Cozy Dolan II was implicated in a botched bribery attempt. Giants' outfielder Jimmy O'Connell attempted to convince Brooklyn Robins' second baseman Heinie Sand to throw a game in a close pennant race. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, commissioner of the high court of baseball, banned Dolan (and O'Connell) from Baseball for the rest of his (their) life9 (lives).

Dolan then moved to the island of Elba10, where he lived out his days with his name tarnished.

The Cozy Dolan Dynasty is known by some as the Deadball Era, when pitching and strategy ruled. The Cozy Dolans of the dynasty, while playing different numbers of games, ended their careers as decidedly average players for the era with very similar triple-slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) numbers:

Cozy Dolan I: .269/.322/.333
Cozy Dolan II: .252/.328/.339

Their career OPS+ numbers are one point apart, both close-to-but-short-of the league average.

However, neither ruler of the Cozy Dolan Dynasty will be remembered for his on-field performance. Their lasting legacies derive from their tragic downfalls.

1 It should be noted that this is entirely made up and 100% arbitrary. What the hell would a ruler of baseball (as a player, not a commissioner) even do, you ask? I have no clue, so tell me in the comments. But it seemed reasonable to write this as a dynasty since both players had the same (nick)name and played so close together in time. In all likelihood, the second player probably got his nickname from the first player's through some poor newspaper scribe trying to scrape up some extra change by padding his word count with a bit on the new Cozy in town, but the Internet doesn't say much about the nicknames' origins.

2 Wrestlemania's international debut in, uh, Toronto. Maybe they would have done better in Nova Scotia. I hear wrestling is big there.

3 For those interested in the stats, I'm using the stat of ERA+ as a measuring stick.

4 Yes, I'm aware that the century starts in 1901.

5 The Superbas were the predecessor to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Brooklyn club was known, in order, as the Atlantics (1884), the Grays (1885-1887), the Bridegrooms (1888-1890), the Grooms (1891-1895), the Bridgegrooms again (1896-1898), the Superbas5A (1899-1910), the Dodgers (1911-1912), the Superbas again (1913), the Robins (1914-1931) and finally the Dodgers again (1932-present).

5A I also read this as "Superbras."

6 I've always wondered why the Papacy hasn't been passed down from each generation. It would make things a lot easier.

7 As with Cozy Dolans, there can only be one.

8 Scholars debate the linguistics of baseball dynasties here. The Cozy Dolan Dynasty is the only one with identically named rulers. It was followed by the Babe dynasty, which consisted of players with different last names sharing a common first nickname/title. The difference is negligible, yet those in academia have little else to do but debate it. The Babe Dynasty consists of The Legendary and Plump Babe Ruth (1916-1935) and The Not-So-Bad Babe Dahlgren (1936-1946). The feud over the Babe Dynasty thereafter involved The Barely There Babe Martin, The Kind-Of OK Babe Wilber and Babe Picone the Impostor. The feud caused the kingdom of Baseball to nearly splinter and fall8A.

8A What the hell was I talking about? Jeez, all we need is another Ossie Schrecengost footnote to derail this farther.

9 The banishment was actual and probably sensible, given that it came in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

10 It was either Elba or Chicago...You know what? It was Chicago. Thanks Ossie Schrecongost and the Internet.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In Case of Emergency, Use Stairs

As you loyal baseball fans are probably aware, the great Matthew Wade Stairs has announced his retirement1 from baseball. He closes the book on a big league career that began with a brief call-up to the Montreal Expos in 1992. After beginning this season with his thirteenth different team2, the 43-year old wonder is stepping out.

I don’t want to spend too much of your time outlining the moves in Stairs’s career – let’s just say that in the unlikely event he were inducted into the Hall of Fame, he’d go in with a cap resembling this one. Instead, let’s just make a bulleted list of awesome things about Matt Stairs:

- Matt Stairs in no way had the build of a typical major league baseball player. However, in many ways, he did have the build of a typical rural Canadian3.

- He hit .262/.356/.477 with 265 HR in his career, a line that would’ve earned him FAR more than his career earnings of $19 million if he’d had the sense to be born about 10 years later.

- Stairs is almost certainly the second best Canadian power hitter in major league history, falling short only of the amazing Larry Walker.

- After having a solid career as an everyday outfielder, he capitalized on his uncanny pinch-hitting ability to catch on as a bench player for years.

- He holds the major league record for pinch-hit homeruns.

- Stairs is the only player I’m aware of who openly admitted to just trying to hit a homerun every single time he batted.

- He single-handedly ruined Jonathon Broxton’s career by hitting a 1,500 ft. moon shot4 to right in the playoffs.

- Not satisfied with merely ruining Broxton’s career and propelling the Phillies to victory, Stairs decided to test the limits of sports innuendo in the post-game press conference.

- His pinch-hit prowess and constant relocations earned him a reputation for being something of a hired gun off the bench. In turn, he became known by the outstanding, if simple, nickname “Matt Stairs: Professional Hitter.”

- His willingness to accept bench roles provided his teams with the luxury of a very strong bat to plug into the line-up in the event of injury to a regular player. Stairs’s ability to dull the pain of a lost starter in addition to his aforementioned pinch-hitting abilities spurred people to describe him using their favorite sign near elevators – “In case of emergency, use Stairs.”

- Finally, Matt Stairs did not put up with shenanigans. In a Yankees-Blue Jays game in which some doings were transpiring between Alex Rodriguez and the Blue Jays, Stairs took it upon himself to push through the Yankees and confront A-Rod on his own. Sorry, A-Rod, your nickname sucks and you’ll never get our support over the Professional Hitter.

Just to prove how Canadian he his, Matt Stairs plans to occupy his retirement by coaching hockey at his children’s high school in Maine. However, I will hold out hope that the Professional Hitter will decide he needs one last taste of the game and join Team Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Mr. Stairs, we wish you the best. May the powers that be shower you with the finest Molson and poutine.

1 I know sir, we’re all in denial.

2 This is a major league record. Yet, in an amazing feat of planning/coincidence, his career has managed to come full circle. By beginning his career with the Expos and ending it with the Nationals, he actually premiered and retired with the same franchise.

3 Stairs grew up in the not-especially-rural maritime city of Fredericton, New Brunswick. However, I’m American, so I’ve only heard of two Canadian cities (Toronto and Seattle) and assume everywhere else looks like this.

4 Distance approximated. I’ll bet you weren’t aware that the outfield stands at Dodger Stadium stretch over a quarter mile from home plate. Somewhere, Chris Berman was heard exclaiming that this one made it “clear to Sacramento.”