Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Garland Buckeye: The magic is gone


Garland Buckeye strode to the Yankee Stadium mound for a typical Saturday afternoon start against the mighty New York club. The June weather seemed decent enough for the Cleveland Indians southpaw, but he carried no illusions about this game's importance. He'd lost his last two starts and knew that Jack McAllister1 carried no allegiance to his starting rotation. A few bad starts would send you to the bullpen to redeem yourself and against this greatest team of all time, a bad start seemed .

He'd faced his fate in the game's first two innings, but Buckeye emptied his bag of tricks to work around four singles and a walk, keeping the game scoreless. In the third inning, however, Yankees second baseman Ray Morehart led off with a double and Garland had to face Babe Ruth. 1927 Babe Ruth. The Babe Ruth of 60 home runs.

The half-filled ballpark buzzed like bees as Ruth waddled to the plate. Buckeye, the former professional football player2, reared back and let loose.

Ruth stepped. Ruth swung. Ruth connected. The ball sailed high and deep to right. To the east. Seaward. Over Nick Cullop, freshly substituted in right field.

Home run3.

Garland held his weathered mitt to his face and shouted incoherently, though news accounts of the day claimed he'd shouted "Come On!" to no one in particular.

Buckeye managed to exit the third inning down only the two runs from the homer and he retired the side in order in the fourth. In the fifth, Morehart led off with a lazy fly Ike Eichrodt in center, bringing up Ruth again.

Garland flung the ball again to the round batsmen. The moment his fingertips broke from the seams, the pitcher called "Gob" cast his eyes to the ground. He never heard the bat bruising the ball so viciously and he never turned to watch it soar majestically into the right-field seats.

His eyes gazed to the middle-distance beyond the left-handed batters' box.

"I've made a huge mistake," Gob said4.

1 Jack McAllister would only manage the Indians for one year, 1927. His trust in his pitching proved fickle, no starter made more than 30 starts. Maybe that mistrust was merited; the Indians finished the year with just 66 wins. Ironically, this proved to be Garland Buckeye's best season. He'd be out of big-league ball in just over a year.

2 Buckeye played five years of professional football as an offensive guard with the Chicago Tigers and Chicago Cardinals from 1920 to 1924. He would tackle big-league baseball again in 1925 as a burly 260-pound pitcher.

3 Buckeye gave up 15 home runs in 564 career innings pitched, which is actually not too shabby for the home-run heyday of the 1920s. Of those 15, Hall of Famers hit 10 of them. So at least Garland usually only got beat on the long ball by the best.

4 Gob would leave more of a legacy behind than Banana Grabber's lost animation rights potential and a rain of pennies. Modern hurlers Drew and Stu Pomeranz are both his great-grandsons. And there was even a decent-if-vanilla rock band called Garland Buckeye.