Category Archives: Baseball History

A Bit of a Heartbreak

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone … but we’re talking baseball today. Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training, so no matter what the groundhog said (and, around these parts, I’ve always wondered why six more weeks of winter isn’t an early end) we know that summer can’t be too far away.

Still, the baseball news is sad for Canadian fans. After 36 years at the microphone for Toronto Blue Jays baseball on radio, Jerry Howarth announced his retirement yesterday. His health has not been great in recent years, and he just didn’t feel his voice could hold up over the long season anymore.

Thanks

Jerry didn’t have the “classic pipes” of a sports broadcaster, but he had a passion for baseball and wonderful way of telling stories. He always made the listener feel like they were part of every game he was calling. “Hello, friends.”

I was not a baseball fan before Toronto got its team in 1977. Tom Cheek, and later Jerry Howarth (he joined the team in 1981) certainly did their part to spread the Gospel of the Blue Jays to my brothers and me. My parents had loved the minor-league baseball Maple Leafs and we quickly came to love the Blue Jays in my family. All those 100-loss seasons in the early days didn’t dampen our enthusiasm at all. It was fun (and inexpensive!) to take in a game at the ballpark – even if Exhibition Stadium wasn’t much of a ballpark. Even in those early days, you could find a radio tuned into the game in almost every room in our house.

It’s funny, but here in Owen Sound, I can usually get the games on my car radio from anywhere in town … until I turn onto my own block. Can’t get the games on the radio in the house at all. So, I watch on television. I’m not the first to say this, but baseball is a perfect game for radio … and I haven’t been able to listen to Jerry as much as I’d have liked to in recent years. Now, I won’t get that chance anymore.

Tom
My father took this picture of the Blue Jays’ first broadcasting duo, Early Wynn and Tom Cheek, at a spring training game against the Phillies in Clearwater, Florida, in March of 1980.

It seems that no one has anything but nice things to say about Jerry Howarth. He’s widely regarded as a lovely person. I haven’t had a lot of experiences with him, but the ones that I’ve had certainly confirm that.

When I worked for the Blue Jays ground crew from 1981 to 1985, I always tried to hang around Tom and Jerry as much as I could get away with when they were on the field before games. I loved to listen to them telling stories. A few years later (it must have been the summer of 1987), when I was working for a small company called Digital Media, I was able to arrange for us to get the occasional press pass. The very first time I was on the field as a “reporter,” I re-introduced myself to Jerry. I doubt that he really remembered me, but he immediately marched me up to Jesse Barfield and set up a quick interview for us. He certainly didn’t have to do that, but that’s the kind of person Jerry Howarth is.

In 2001, when we published The Toronto Blue Jays Official 25th Anniversary Commemorative Book, I had a chance to be in the radio broadcast booth during a game to talk about the book. It was a thrill to be on the air with Tom Cheek, but I remember that when I was done, Jerry asked me quietly about my favourite parts of the book. I told him that while the Pennant-Winning and World Series years of 1985 to 1993 had, of course, been fun, my favourite story was something smaller. It came under the category titled “Oddities and Others” and was the story of the final game of the 1982 season.

Jesse

Until the baseball strike of 1981, even a diehard fan like me knew that the Blue Jays were terrible. Still, the team played better in the second half of 1981 and, with players like Willie Upshaw and Damaso Garcia, the outfield of George Bell, Jesse Barfield, and Lloyd Moseby, and platoon partners Rance Mulliniks and Garth Iorg and Ernie Whitt and Buck Martinez, we finally got a glimpse of the future in 1982. The team was 44–37 in the second half, and with a series-sweeping win over expansion cousins Seattle on the final day of the season, the Blue Jays  finished with nine wins in their last 12 games to escape last place for the first time in franchise history … sort of.

With a record of 78–84 in 1982, the Jay actually finished tied for sixth with Cleveland in the seven-team American League East. I can remember fans chanting “We’re Number Six!” in the stands after the game, and “Bring on the Indians!” knowing that we would beat them in this theoretically tiebreaking playoff and escape last place for real.

Attendance was only 19,064 (in my memory, the crowd was bigger … but not much) yet everyone stuck around to the end. When Jim Clancy finished up his complete-game victory, he was cheered off the field and threw his hat and his glove into the seats. Alfredo Griffin brought a bag of balls out of the dugout, and he and his teammates began tossing them to the fans too.

1982

There would be bigger celebrations in the years to come, but that one always felt special to me – a treat for the real fans. I can recall Jerry smiling as I reminded him off it. I don’t know what (or if) he remembered of it personally, but he certainly seemed to appreciate the story.

Best of luck wherever the future takes you, Jerry.

Your retirement certainly marks the end of an era.

Who’s The Fastest?

This past Sunday (January 28, 2018), The Nature of Things on CBC aired an interesting episode called Champions vs Legends. In it, sports scientist Steve Haake investigated the question: “What if the greatest elite (winter) athletes – present and past – could compete against each other on a level playing field? If competitive conditions were made equal, would today’s stars come out on top? Or would they be beaten by the heroes of the past?”

It’s impossible to truly make the conditions equal, but it was very interesting. If you’re in Canada, you should be able to click here to watch it all online if you choose to. Also, although it DID air last Sunday, the CBC web site currently shows it as airing THIS Sunday. It was joined in progress due to the NHL All-Star Game, so maybe they’re planning to run it again in its entirety?

Weber
Don’t bother clicking on the arrow. It’s just a screen shot, not a video link. Sorry!

Among the six segments in the episode was one in which Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens tried to match Bobby Hull’s shooting prowess with a retro wooden stick. Weber had his slap shot clocked by radar at 108.5 miles per hour at the NHL All-Star Game a few years ago. But when he used leather gloves and a wooden stick in this episode, the fastest he could manage was 91 miles per hour. When he switched back to his current stick, his shot jumped to 103 mph.

Bobby Hull, as the episode notes, is said to have had his slap shot clocked at 118.3 miles per hour during the 1960s. This was a prominent feature of an article in Popular Mechanics in February of 1968 … though as the show also notes, nothing is said about how Hull’s shot was actually measured. These days, it’s generally conceded that Hull’s shot was never accurately measured, and that any timing device from his era would be unreliable. No doubt he had the hardest slap shot of his era, and likely the hardest of all time up to that point, but it’s hard to believe that Bobby Hull could really have approached 120 mph with a wooden stick in the 1960s. On the other hand, what might have been able to do with a modern carbon fibre stick?!?

Hull

This Popular Mechanics article reports Bobby Hull’s slap shot being clocked at 118.3 mph.

But all this is really just a roundabout way for me to show off a fun clip I found recently in an old newspaper. The article is from The Ottawa Journal on March 30, 1917, picking up a story from The Vancouver Sun. It compares the hockey shot of Didier Pitre to the baseball pitch of Walter Johnson. (Recall that in August of 2016, I posted a story about the documentary Fastball featuring Walter Johnson and the history of measuring baseball’s fastest pitchers.) The comparison is made by Harry Cheek, a journeyman minor league catcher with just two games in the Majors who had recently retired after playing three years in Vancouver.

Didier Pitre is not a particularly well-known name these days, but he was one of the biggest stars in hockey during a 20-year career beginning in 1903. He starred mainly with the Montreal Canadiens from the team’s inaugural season in the National Hockey Association in 1909-10 through 1922-23 in the NHL. In his heyday, he was widely regarded as having the hardest shot in hockey.

Pitre

It does make sense that the lever quality of a hockey stick would allow a hockey player to shoot harder than a pitcher can throw. Still, it’s hard to imagine Didier Pitre could shoot a puck in 1917 faster than than the 83 miles per hour Walter Johnson had been measured at in 1912 … not to mention the 93 mph the Fastball documentary says that actually translates to. And it’s interesting that Nolan Ryan’s fastball upgrades to the same 108.5 miles per hour as Shea Weber’s best slap shot. These days, I think it would be interesting to know how many players in the NHL can approach 100 miles per hour with their best shot compared to the number of pitchers who can approach 100 mph with their best fastball.

Jack of All Trades Was a Master Too

I thought this story would be quick and easy. But I was wrong.

A week ago, on November 29, a statue of Jackie Robinson was unveiled at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. What makes this new statue different from others commemorating the man who broke modern baseball’s racial barrier is that this one honours Jackie Robinson’s contributions to football in Southern California where he grew up.

Statue
Jackie Robinson wearing the #55 he sported while starring at Pasadena Junior College.

Robinson was a four-sport star, excelling at football, baseball, basketball and track, at Pasadena Junior College in 1937 and 1938 and then at UCLA in 1939 and 1940. The stories I saw about the unveiling of the football statue mentioned that Robinson played many games at the Rose Bowl and that his 104-yard kickoff return there is still thought to be the longest touchdown run in the history of the storied stadium.

I thought it would be fun to find a newspaper clipping about that run and set out to hunt one down. Generally speaking, the many books and articles written about Robinson over the years seemed to agree that the play happened during the final game of Pasadena’s perfect 11-and-0 season in 1938.

Pasadena
Jackie Robinson and teammates with he Pasadena Junior College baseball team.
(Photo courtesy of John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball.)

Jackie Robinson was a remarkable athlete, and football may well have been his best sport. He played quarterback and safety at Pasadena Junior College and during that undefeated season in 1938 he rushed for over 1,000 yards. Older sources say he scored 17 touchdowns, but newer research claims he had 18. Robinson also threw seven touchdown passes, kicked one field goal and converted many of his team’s touchdowns too. In all, he scored 131 of his team’s 369 points.

So, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find evidence of a 104-yard touchdown run. Then again, Robinson was playing at a Junior College in an area of the United States with more universities than anywhere else. His games did get covered in many of the California newspapers I can find online, but there’s not always a lot of detail.

There’s likely more in a Pasadena paper hiding in a library somewhere, but I couldn’t find much from the 39-6 win over lowly Cal Tech on Wednesday night, November 23, 1938. There’s nothing about a 104-yard touchdown, and though I’ve seen stories and books putting the attendance anywhere from 18,000 to 30,000 that night, the newspapers I’ve found show only 3,500.

Both
United Press stories on the Cal Tech game from newspapers in Berkley and Bakersfield.

As I expanded my search, I found several references over the years saying that Jackie Robinson had run for “only” a 99-yard touchdown in the Cal Tech game. However, in the description I found for the 1939 Junior College Annual of Pasadena City College available online at Abebooks (you can buy it for US$540 if you choose!), there’s a very detailed account of the 1938 football season. Of the game in question, it says: “Jack Robinson and 16 other seniors rang down the curtain on their Pasadena football careers as they walloped cross town rival Cal Tech 39-6…. Robinson’s closing chapter was a 104-yard run to the touchdown, climaxing the greatest individual career in jaysee history.”

Beyond that, the next mention I could find of Robinson running for a 104-yard touchdown doesn’t appear until an April 12, 1977, story in the Los Angeles Times marking the upcoming 30th anniversary of Robinson’s Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“The season ended,” wrote Shav Glick of Robinson’s 1938 Pasadena football campaign, “with Cal Tech and another 30,000 in the Rose Bowl and Robinson’s final contribution was a 104-yard kickoff return.”

Shav Glick knew Robinson personally. They both attended Pasadena Junior College together. Glick first started reporting sports in Pasadena as a 14-year-old in 1935 and wrote his final column for the Los Angeles Times in January of 2006 at the age of 85. He was likely at the Cal Tech game, and may have been writing from memory, or from old newspaper stories he himself had written and saved. He may well have written that recap from 1939.

Sun
Brief coverage of the Cal Tech game in the San Bernadino County Sun.

Interviewed for a 1997 story in the New York Daily News, Glick said of Robinson’s football skills, “He was so spectacular. In a game against Cal Tech, Robinson returned a kickoff 104 yards and collapsed in the end zone.” Added Hank Ives, longtime publisher of JC Grid-Wire and the foremost authority on Junior College football: “He must have run 200-plus yards. He reversed his field twice, running back and forth.”

Ives was born in Southern California in 1926, so perhaps he was at the game that night too. And yet…

Many of the biographies of Jackie Robinson mention his 104-yard touchdown run. Most note that it was a kickoff return. But not all. In his 1997 biography of Jackie Robinson, Arnold Rampersad wrote of that 39-6 win over Cal Tech: “In the next game, his last as a Bulldog, Jack said farewell with a masterpiece. Setting up behind his own goal line in punt formation, he gathered in the hiked ball, then raced 104 yards for a touchdown against a muddle of disbelieving Cal Tech players.”

UCLA
Jackie Robinson wore #28 while playing football at UCLA.
(Photo courtesy of John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball.)

That seems rather incredible. Perhaps even foolhardy, although no doubt the Pasadena team felt they could crush Cal Tech even if this gamble turned over the ball so close to their own goal line. And there’s a little corroborating evidence too. Jules Tygiel made no mention of it in his 1983 book The Great Experiment, but wrote of Robinson’s touchdown prowess in Pasadena in an article for the Los Angeles Times in 2006, “the last [came on] a 104-yard dash on a fake punt.”

At this point, it seems impossible to know for sure, but I’m leaning towards the fake punt rather than a kickoff return. If anyone knows of a detailed, first-hand account of the game, I’d love to see it.

Blue Monday

The World Series started last night. The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Houston Astros 3-1 in the quickest World Series contest since Game 4 in 1992 … which happens to be the first Word Series game I ever attended. Yesterday also marked 25 years since the Blue Jays wrapped up the 1992 World Series in Game 6 in Atlanta. That will tie into a story I’m planning for next week. Today, I’m using the Los Angeles victory over Houston to reminisce about my visit to Montreal during the Dodgers-Expos National League Championship Series in 1981. But first, a bit of back-story…

Blue 1
YouTube clip showing the fateful moment of impact on Blue Monday.

As I’ve posted on Facebook a couple of times recently, teenaged me was an Astros fan. Among my gang of friends at the time, we all quickly came to love the expansion Blue Jays. My guess is, none of us (I know I wasn’t) had been big baseball fans before the Blue Jays started in 1977 … but very soon we needed pennant contenders to follow too. I suppose we also needed a reason to boast that “my team is better than your team!”

Blue 2
In case you’re wondering, I’m the one on the right!

I can’t say that it was a conscious choice to steer clear of the American League, but our “other” teams were all in the National League. David became a Pirates fan in 1978 when they made a late run to battle the Phillies in the NL East. By 1979, they were World Series champions, and David has remained a Pirates fan to this day. Steve became a fan of the San Francisco Giants in 1978. They battled the Dodgers for the NL West that summer, but faded down the stretch. Jody and Rob were Dodgers fans because, well … the Dodgers were the Dodgers. They were the best team in the National League and I think Rob and Jody both saw themselves living in Los Angeles some day. (Jody lives in San Diego now.)

I liked the Astros. Yes, the garish, colourful uniforms were part of it, but I liked J.R. Richard. He was 6’8”, threw 100 mile per hour, and he struck out 303 batters in 1978 and 313 in 1979. The funny thing is, I don’t remember a single game I ever saw him pitch! I never saw the Astros live, and there was only one Game of the Week on television, and Houston didn’t get many of those. I must have seen him on This Week in Baseball, and I clearly remember the photograph of him holding eight baseballs in one hand.

Blue 3

By 1981, we’re all huge baseball fans, and all of us – except Pirates fan David – also like the Expos. And, of course, Montreal is a lot closer to Toronto than Houston, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. I don’t remember which of us decided we should go, but Rob’s family had connections in Montreal and he could get us tickets for Saturday and Sunday. So off we went.

We were all in Grade 13 (a foreign concept, I know, to any Americans reading this, and even to any younger Canadians) but we skipped the day of school on Friday and piled into Steve’s car. I don’t remember much about the drive, except that as we got to the end, the fact that Pie IX is pronounced like “Pee-Neuve” led to some problems getting to Olympic Stadium. But we did get there and we picked up our tickets.

I don’t think any of us ever considered getting a hotel room. Rob’s family had friends that he and Jody stayed with, and I asked a cousin-in-law of mine if Steve and I could stay with relatives she still had in Montreal. No problems for Rob and Jody, but when Steve and I showed up, it was clear this family we were staying with had only been expecting me … and they certainly weren’t prepared to feed dinner to the two of us! Steve and I found somewhere cheap nearby, then met up with Rob and Jody so – even though only Steve and Jody were actually of legal drinking age – we could go downtown and watch the Friday game in a bar.

The Dodgers and Expos had split the first two games of the series in Los Angeles. The Expos won game three in Montreal that night 4-1 on the strength of a complete game pitching performance from Steve Rogers and a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth by light-hitting Jerry White. I do remember the excitement in the bar … but what I remember even more was our waitress throwing back the change we had left her as a tip on our first round of drinks!

Blue 4

Game 4 was on Saturday afternoon. It was close, and tense … until the Dodgers blew it open with two runs in the eighth and four in the ninth for a 7-1 victory. It was cold and dank, but for me (and I’ve been to at least one postseason game every time the Blue Jays have made the playoffs) this was still the single best fan experience I’ve ever had at a game! The joint was jumpin’, and singing along to The Happy Wanderer (“Valder-ee, Valder-ah, Valder-EEEE, Valder-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah”) was a blast! Even the loss wasn’t so bad, because now we could be at the fifth and final game on Sunday.

Only it rained on Sunday, and the game was cancelled.

We’d already skipped school on Friday, so Jody, Rob and Steve decided we should go home. I was beyond angry. I don’t think I spoke a word to any of them for the first few hours on the drive back to Toronto. So, we weren’t there for Blue Monday when Rick Monday took Steve Rogers deep in the top of the ninth to give the Dodgers a 2-1 series-winning victory. Of course I watched it all on television … but when all is said and done, I think I’m glad I wasn’t there.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Spring is here. Baseball season is under way. Hockey playoffs are just around the corner. Can’t beat it! No real story this week. Just some fun images from this day in history. Click on each one to see it in greater detail.

On this date 85 years ago in 1932, April 4 was a Monday and Toronto newspapers were reporting on Saturday night’s win by the Maple Leafs in overtime against the Montreal Maroons to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. You don’t see many action photos from this era.

Leafs 1932

April 4 was also a Monday 40 years ago in 1977. The Blue Jays would wrap up spring training  in Dunedin that day and fly to Toronto at night ahead of the franchise’s first Opening Day on April 7.

April 4 Star

April 4 Globe

Rock and a Hard Place…

Right up front, let me say that I hope Tim Raines makes it on Wednesday when this year’s election results for the Baseball Hall of Fame are announced. All the early indications are that in his tenth and final year on the ballot (players used to get 15 years, but that’s no longer the case), Raines will finally top the 75 percent of votes needed for induction.

It’s a strange thing. After waiting the required five years to qualify for the Hall of Fame ballot, what suddenly makes a player worthy after being forced to wait another 10 years? Many are saying it’s a triumph of the new voting rules that have phased out older sportswriters who are no longer actively covering the game. The younger writers are more open to modern statistical interpretations.

Expos
Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Steve Rogers, Tim Raines and Al Oliver at the 1982
All-Star Game in Montreal. Raines was only 5’8″ and 160 pounds, but his
solid physique earned him the nickname “Rock” at an Expos rookie camp.

For a player like Tim Raines, who didn’t reach the big milestones such as 3,000 hits, younger voters are more likely to be impressed by the fact that when Raines’ hit total of 2,605 is combined with his 1,330 walks, he actually reached base more often (3,935 to 3,931) than eight-time National League batting champion Tony Gwynn. (Gwynn’s lifetime batting average was .338 to Raines’ .294, but his on-base percentage is .388 to Raines’ .385) . And though Raines’ career total of 808 steals is well behind all-time leader Rickey Henderson’s 1,406, the fact that Raines was caught only 146 times to Henderson’s 335 means Raines’ success rate of 84.7 percent is better than Henderson’s (80.8). It’s also better than the only other players from the 20th Century who had more steals than Raines: Lou Brock (938 / 75.3%) and Ty Cobb (897 / incomplete data).

In the New York Post recently, baseball writer and Hall of Fame voter Ken Davidoff said, “Raines’ admittance, if it happens, would serve as a triumph of facts and statistics over emotions and memories.” But, as Richard Griffin in the Toronto Star has written (and I’m paraphrasing), “if all you did was feed the numbers into a computer, it would be easy to decide who makes it in.” Obviously, statistics play a huge part in this, but I, for one, would hate to see memory discounted entirely.

1981

For example, I know that Jack Morris didn’t put up the career numbers of recent Hall of Fame pitching inductees like Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. But I watched him pitch his whole career; hating him as a Tiger, impressed by his one year as a Twin, and then amazed by his 1992 season in Toronto. Yes, he had a 4.04 ERA that year, but he was every bit as good as his 21-6 record indicates. When he needed to shut you down, he did. His complete-game, four-hitter 4-0 win over Boston on June 11, 1992, when he outpitched Roger Clemens (and yes, I remember it well … but I had to look up the date!) was a masterpiece. Though he never received more than 67 percent of the vote in his 15 years on the ballot between 2000 and 2014, for me, Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer.

As for Tim Raines, my thoughts are this… In the first 13 years of his career (basically 11 full seasons) with the Expos, he was definitely a Hall of Fame-calibre player. He was the kind of guy, like Roberto Alomar, that when he was at the plate, you expected something good to happen. But I’m not sure fans of the teams he spent his final 10 years with (mainly the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees) felt the same way. Sure, he was a good teammate and a good role player, but as a Blue Jays fan in those years, I don’t recall having any fear of him coming to the plate like the excitement I’d felt when he was batting for the Expos … although he did put up some pretty good numbers against Toronto in the 1993 American League Championship Series.

1982

All in all, I’d say for Tim Raines the good years outweigh the mediocre ones, but this has to be a big reason why his candidacy has gone right down to the wire. Another reason, so I’ve read, is that some writers have refused to vote for him because of his cocaine suspension. To me, that’s ridiculous. How can you hold it against someone who served his time, kicked the habit, and never relapsed?

Which brings us to Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and others of the steroid era. If I had a vote, I’d vote for them.

Do I wish there was no such thing as drugs in sports? Yes. Still, I think the world has been pretty hypocritical about performance enhancing drugs. Athletes have been using whatever they could to get an advantage for a very long time. Caffeine to get up; nicotine to calm down; oxygen; cold medications; amphetamines. What is it that makes a guy a hero for taking a shot of cortisone and playing through the pain versus a guy taking a shot of something else?

1983

Yes, I know it’s illegal to use one without a prescription. So, that’s where we draw the line? But what makes something a medical miracle and something else an abomination? Why isn’t it cheating to take a tendon from a cadaver, or another part of your own body, and sew it into a pitcher’s elbow? What if doctors could figure out a way to do the same thing with muscles? Would THAT be cheating? We certainly don’t say pitchers can’t have Tommy John surgery because is wasn’t available in the old days. We don’t say today’s hockey players can’t have their knees scoped because they didn’t have that medical advancement in Bobby Orr’s day.

We’re pretty quick to jump on professional athletes who we perceive as not trying hard enough. But we seem to be even harder on the athletes who felt they had to take drugs to be the best they could be. What if Bobby Orr could have taken a shot of something and it saved his career? Would we look back on it as cheating … or would we see it as one of the greatest athletes of all time doing whatever it took to stay at the top of his game?

I Love A Parade

Well, after 108 years of waiting, Cubs fans couldn’t have asked for a much nicer day for a parade last Friday. They say there was a total of 5 million people who lined the streets or were on hand for the “Cub-stock” rally at Grant Park.

Parade

According to Major League Baseball’s web site, it was the seventh-largest gathering of human beings in world history… and the largest ever in the Western Hemisphere.

  1. Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, India, 2013 (30 million)
  2. Arba’een festival, Iraq, 2014 (17 million)
  3. Funeral of C.N. Annadurai, India, 1969 (15 million)
  4. Funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran, 1989 (10 million)
  5. Pope Francis in the Philippines, 2015 (6 million)
  6. World Youth Day, 1995 (5 million)
  7. Cubs World Series parade (5 million)
  8. Funeral of Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1970 (5 million)
  9. Rod Stewart concert, Brazil, 1994 (3.5 million)
  10. Hajj pilgrimage, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 2012 (3 million)

Since the parade, Cubs players have been to Disney World, appeared on Saturday Night Live, and taken the World Series Trophy to a Blackhawks game. None of them, however, have attempted to duplicate the old Blackhawks’ celebratory feat of rolling a star player through the downtown business area in a wheelbarrow.

Hawks Clips

Not only did Roger Jenkins do this with goalie Chuck Gardiner in 1934,

Hawks Pic

He did it again with Mike Karakas in 1938.

But it seems that this odd wheelbarrow tradition dates back nearly as far as the Cubs’ last World Series win in 1908, as it may well have begun with hockey’s Quebec Bulldogs in 1912 – a story that appears in a couple of my children’s books and which I often tell when I’m visiting classrooms.

Quebec

Tuning In Over Time

Game Seven of the World Series. As classic phrases go, it doesn’t get much better than that! I don’t really have a favorite in this one, but it’s hard not to be rooting for the Cubs. Still, if they do win it, it’ll certainly be tough not to feel bad for fans in Cleveland.

 Cleveland
These fans in Cleveland are reacting to the game played in Chicago.

The Indians drew more than 67,000 fans to Progressive Field for games three, four and five of the series … which were played at Wrigley Field in Chicago! These fans paid $5 for a ticket (proceeds going to local charities) to watch the game on the giant video board. This has become something of a thing in recent years, but fans have been gathering to follow their teams on the road like this for more than a century!

When the Winnipeg Victorias hockey team traveled to Montreal to play their Victorias for the Stanley Cup in February of 1896, telegraph wires were run to local hotels so that Winnipeg fans could receive play-by-play updates during the game. Soon, fans all across Canada were showing up at train stations or outside of newspaper offices to “listen in” on these telegraphed reports. As early as 1907, fans gathered inside the rink in Kenora, Ontario, to receive updates from Montreal as the Thistles battled the Wanderers for the Stanley Cup.

Crowds
Fans gather in the street to follow the World Series.

Baseball has similar traditions, with a history of elaborate electronic scoreboard devices set up in American cities to follow the action of the World Series. Often, these devices drew big crowds in the streets outside of newspaper offices, but there were also set ups in theaters, armories, and other reception halls.

Ads
Ads in the New York Times in 1915.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I find it amazing how much the Gameday display on the web site for Major League Baseball…

MLB

looks like one of those old-fashion scoreboard machines…

1912

My favorite of these old-time devices is something call the Jackson Manikin Baseball Indicator. It was like a giant arcade game which used mechanical men to re-enact each play in a game as it was received via telegraph. For more on this one, you can see a story I wrote a few years ago for the Society for American Baseball Research.

Manikin Field
The Jackson Manikin Baseball Indicator, circa 1913.

Manikins
Details of the Manikins from Thomas Jackson’s patent application.

And during the 1926 Junior World Series when the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Louisville Colonels, fans in Louisville had a unique way of following the action when their team was in Toronto.

1926
From The Globe in Toronto, October 5, 1926.

So, as it so often seems to be, the more things change, they more they stay the same!

It Only Feels Like Forever!

Well, I’d still like to have seen the Blue Jays in it, but fans in Chicago and Cleveland have been waiting for a World Series championship a lot longer than Toronto baseball fans, who haven’t seen a title since 1993. Their droughts make even the Toronto Maple Leafs’ last Stanley Cup win in 1967 seem pretty recent!

Cleveland just got to celebrate the Cavaliers’ NBA championship, and the city’s first of any kind since 1964, but they haven’t seen their baseball team win the World Series since 1948. And even that, of course, pales in comparison to the mother of all championship droughts. The Chicago Cubs haven’t even been to the World Series since 1945, and they haven’t won it since their back-to-back titles in 1907 and 1908! Both wins came over the Detroit Tigers.

Not surprisingly, some of the coverage of those Cubs wins looks a little bit different than what we’re used to today…

Cubs 1
From the Chicago Tribune on October 6, 1907. Prices go up, but the dilemma remains.

Cubs 2
Cubs fans roared when their team scored two in the bottom of the ninth
to tie Game 1 at 3-3 on October 8, 1907 as depicted in the Tribune the
next day. The game was called after 12 innings, still tied 3-3.

Cubs 3
Because of the tie game, it took five for the Cubs to sweep the Detroit Tigers in 1907.
This cartoon appeared in the Tribune on October 13, 1907.

Cubs 4
A year and a day later, October 14, 1908, the Tribune commemorated
the previous day’s 3-0 victory of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown that
gave Chicago a 3-1 lead over Detroit in the 1908 Series.

Cubs 5
The Cubs then made it two in a row, as noted in the Tribune on October 15, 1908.

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And in the Detroit Free Press the same day.

It Could Have Been Worse

Winning last night certainly takes a lot of the sting out of it! I still can’t explain the hitting woes (except that I think we’ll find out that Josh Donaldson has been hurt worse than they’ve let on), but before you go saying what a horrible collapse the Blue Jays had this September, consider this. At no point during the 2016 season did Toronto ever have more than a 2-game lead in the American League East  – and they only led by that much for four days. Four! They only led the division at all for 32 days during the entire season. That’s basically one month out of six.

Now, admittedly, the Jays did hold that 2-game lead from August 28 through August 31, and 29 of their 32 games in first came after July 30. Obviously, that makes their September slide feel all the more painful. But even if they hadn’t won last night, I really think it seems a lot worse than it actually was.

Edwin
Edwin Encarnacion reacts to his game-winning three-run blast in the 11th inning.

Not convinced? Well, consider this. The Jays spent 111 days in either second or third place this year. That’s three times more time than they spent in first. And, really, they were never more than about 5 games from falling completely out of the playoff picture. So, hanging on for that home wild card berth was probably where they should have ended up anyway.

Since the two-team wild card format was introduced in 2012, I’ve always wondered how much qualifying for that wild card game would really feel like making the playoffs. Well, having gone through it now,  I think it really does … and I’m not saying this just because we won! Still, it does seems strange to have the fate of an entire season come down to a single game. The baseball season has always been a marathon, not a sprint. But then again, it’s not like this never happened before the advent of the wild card.

Back in 1908 – the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series! – the fate of the National League season came down to just one postseason game. It wasn’t actually a playoff. It was a makeup game made necessary by the fact that the Cubs and the New York Giants had finished the season tied in first place and now had to replay a tie game from a few days earlier, on September 23, 1908.

Dunnell
Milt Dunnell of the Toronto Star didn’t get much out of Fred Merkle even 40 years later.

Even now, 108 years later, that tie game is one of the most famous in baseball history. If you don’t already know the story, in a nutshell, the Giants should have won that day with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, but the baserunner on first base, 19-year-old rookie Fred Merkle, never touched second. When the Cubs made a play to force him out, the ruling was made that the Giants apparent winning run didn’t count. For plenty more, you can Google Fred Merkle, or watch this clip of Keith Olbermann from 2013.

Merkle was dubbed “Bonehead” for his baserunning blunder and after the Giants lost the makeup game on October 8, 1908, his so-called “boner” would literally haunt him until his dying day. And beyond, really, because anyone who knows his name today is likely to know it because of that play.

Headlines
A sample of some of the headlines that appeared above his obituary in
newspapers across North America the day after Fred Merkle died on March 2, 1956.

You may have heard Sandy Koufax recently, lauding Vin Scully and telling about how when Scully was covering the Dodgers in the World Series, he would say a prayer before it got started. Scully didn’t pray for the Dodgers to win, but for no one to make the type of mistake that would live on in infamy. No doubt Vin Scully had Fred Merkle in mind.