Category Archives: Baseball History

Matty and Me

My first professional writing job came 30 years ago this month when, with the Blue Jays in the playoffs for the first time, I wrote a month-long “World Series Flashback” feature for the Toronto Sun and CHEX Radio in Peterborough.

Friday of this week (October 9) until Wednesday of next week (October 14) marks the 110th anniversary of probably the greatest pitching performance in baseball history. In games one, three, and five of the 1905 World Series, Christy Mathewson pitched three straight complete game shutouts in the space of six days. He tossed a total of 27 innings, while allowing just 13 hits and striking out 18 against only a single walk. Mathewson’s New York Giants defeated the Philadelphia Athletics four games to one.

Mathewson

In an era when baseball players were mostly roughnecks and hooligans, Christy Mathewson was a true gentleman. College-bred, tall, handsome, honest and articulate – not to mention one of the greatest pitchers in history – Mathewson helped make baseball respectable. Had there been a World Series MVP award in 1905, there’s no doubt who would have won it. Had I been alive at the time, I don’t think there’s any doubt who my favorite baseball player would have been. (I’ve always been a fan of great pitching.)

If you’ve read any of the articles I’ve posted on this web site over the past year – or anything I’ve written over the past 30 years – you’ve got a pretty good idea that I love sports history. As a boy, I played hockey and football and loved the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Argonauts. I was a horrible baseball player, but I’d watch the Expos on TV and began following the World Series in 1972 when I was still only eight years old. I saw my first live game in 1973 and was watching on TV in 1974 when Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth with his 715th home run. Still, I didn’t really understand baseball and didn’t care much about it. It wasn’t until the Blue Jays came along in 1977 that everything changed.

I knew that both my parents had gone to minor league Maple Leafs baseball games when they were young. My mother, especially, loved baseball, and was the reason why my family got (and still has) our Blue Jays season tickets. I was first hooked late in the summer of 1976. There was a tent that year at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto hyping the city’s entry into the American League. In it, they were showing the official film of the 1975 World Series. Like so many people, I’d been captivated by that series the previous fall, and this was the first time I’d ever seen one of those “all access”-style films. By the time the Blue Jays took the field on April 7, 1977, I was more than ready to fall in love with baseball. Soon, every radio in the house was tuned to the Blue Jays broadcast. (Not a lot of television in those days!)

Superstar

With friends who were just as crazy for the fledgling team – and the most inexpensive tickets easy to come by at just two and thee dollars (sometimes less) – it was fun to follow the Jays even if they lost 100 games every season. We also picked pennant contenders to root for and tease each other about, but what really took my interest “to the next level” was my discovery of baseball’s rich history. That began with two things in 1978.

One thing was that my mother bought us Big-Time Baseball by Maury Allen. “A potpourri of major league happenings between 1900 and 1978,” says Google Books. “Includes records, anecdotes, photographs, and biographical information.” My brothers and I devoured it! (And, really, many of the books on hockey I’ve written for children haven’t been all that different from it.)

Big-Time Baseball is where I first learned of Christy Mathewson, but where I came to really know him was as the star pitcher on my own team in Superstar Baseball … the Sports Illustrated/Avalon Hill board game my brothers and I ordered by mail and received at the Christmas holidays in December of 1978. As the box says, Superstar Baseball lets you manage the greatest players of all time (though it’s an admittedly strange mix of all-time megastars and quirky oldtimers). In addition to the number and letter codes on the front of the player cards that let you play the game, the backs of the cards contained career numbers and interesting write-ups about the players’ careers. I read them all, and then started reading all I could about baseball history.

Christy cards

Perhaps Superstar Baseball isn’t the greatest of the dice-rolling/simulation games (I played ABPA Baseball and Football with my friends). Still, my brothers and I played it till we wore it out, ordered another, bought the second player set, and wore them out too. Almost 40 years later, we still play it when we have the time together, and are often joined now by my brother Jonathan’s son.

Over the years, we’ve traded players so many times it’s impossible to keep track of who’s had who, but David has always had Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson on his team, and Jonathan has always had Honus Wagner and Bob Gibson. My all-time all-timers are Rogers Hornsby and …Christy Mathewson.

Me and Matty

If you’ve got a story about what hooked you on sports, or sports history, I’d love to hear it. Please feel free to comment. And GO JAYS GO!

Uncle Sam Says…

Let’s face it. As Canadians, we so often like to feel ourselves superior to Americans when they get caught up in their latest national drama. But we also crave their approval when things are going well for us … such as with a certain baseball team!

In the Toronto Star last Sunday, Raju Mudhar, in his Sports Media column, brought up the issue of Bob Costas raising the ire of Toronto fans back in the 1989 playoff series against Oakland when he commented that: “Elvis has a better chance of coming back than the Jays.” Scott Moore, president of Sportnet, said, “when you get a [U.S.] network guy who is not as biased towards the Jays, people think they’re biased against them… Costas didn’t hate Toronto. He wasn’t a home-team broadcaster that our viewers are used to.”

Personally, I remember on the field during the afternoon before the 1985 Championship Series with the Royals got under way, Costas proudly speaking of how he planned to stick up for Canada. How? By mentioning that despite the cool weather in Toronto that night, there was already snow in Denver – which people at the time were touting as an obvious expansion site. Um, thanks … I guess.

I also remember how, the next day, at least one Blue Jay (it’s been 30 years, but I think it was Buck Martinez, who missed the end of the season and the playoffs that year with a broken leg,) was disappointed that Tony Kubek – who had been the analyst on Blue Jays broadcasts since nearly the very beginning – had not been supportive enough of the team in game one in his main job on the NBC broadcast. So it’s not just the fans.

Generally speaking, the U.S. media has gotten behind this year’s Blue Jays. It’s hard not to rally around a team that’s on such a roll. Still, there was that whole “Beer League” business back in August. Anyway, here’s the American view of past Blue Jays division championships in newspaper stories the following day. And here’s hoping there’s another one to add as soon as tomorrow!

Clinching Date: October 5, 1985. Blue Jays 5, Yankees 1
1985

Clinching Date: Septmber 30, 1989. Blue Jays 4, Orioles 3
1989

Clinching Date: October 2, 1991. Blue Jays 6, Angels 5
1991

Clinching Date: October 3, 1992. Blue Jays 3, Tigers 1
1992

Clinching Date: September 27, 1993. Blue Jays 2, Brewers 0
1993

Turk Broda, Yogi Berra and the Blue Jays

Last week, when the Toronto Maple Leafs opened training camp in Nova Scotia, both new coach Mike Babcock and new GM Lou Lamoriello talked about a “clean slate,” meaning they would have no preconceived notions on players based on last year’s woeful Leafs season. It’s probably just a coincidence, but that certainly seemed apropos for the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Among the many question marks for the Leafs heading into the season is (once again) who’s going to be the number-one goalie. “I like one guy to know he’s the guy,” said Babcock. “Someone’s gotta grab it.” He’s apparently prepared to let James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier fight it out. Bernier and Reimer both have their supporters among Toronto fans … but it’s not exactly like the Leafs are battling with the embarrassment of riches they faced at training camp back in the fall of 1936.

Goalies?

“Brilliant playing of some and more or less disappointing efforts by others have left several question marks hovering over the personnel of the Maple Leaf hockey team,” wrote Don Cowie of The Globe and Mail on November 4, 1936, as Toronto readied for the NHL season opener against Detroit the following night. “The big problem is in goal, and the question being asked on all sides; Will it be Hainsworth or Broda?”

George Hainsworth was a 41-year-old veteran who’d had his best years with the Montreal Canadiens in the late 1920s, but had certainly been solid during his three seasons in Toronto. He helped the Maple Leafs win three straight Canadian Division titles from 1933-34 to 1935-36 and make two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final. Turk Broda was a 22-year-old whom the Leafs had purchased from the Red Wings for $8,000 the previous spring – an unheard of sum for a raw rookie with no NHL experience during The Great Depression.

Conn Smythe, who had operated similarly with Lorne Chabot and Benny Grant in previous seasons despite the fact that teams of this era generally went with just one goalie, stated that the Leafs would carry both George Hainsworth and Turk Broda to begin the season and that they “would alternate until the better man was determined.”

Broda

It didn’t take long for the Leafs to make a decision. On November 25, Smythe announced that Hainsworth had been released outright. Turned out to be the right move. Hainsworth was all but done, whereas Broda would become the winningest goalie in franchise history with 302 regular-season victories, and five Stanley Cup championships.

But hey, it’s still baseball season and the Blue Jays are in a pennant race! The Yankees kept things interesting this week … just as they did back in 1985. Yogi Berra – who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 90 – briefly served as Yankees manager that season. (And all season in 1984.) Though I did see him around Exhibition Stadium during my ground crew days, I have no personal memories to share. However, please enjoy these Yogi Berra-isms from my 2006 quote book for Firefly Books, Home Plate Don’t Move. And remember a 3-1/2 game lead is great, but it isn’t over til it’s over!

Yogi

Mixed Memories…

With the launch of my new book Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins this Saturday, and with the Blue Jays in the heat of a pennant race for the first time since 1993, I’m a little bit torn over what to write about this week. Hockey history? Blue Jays nostalgia? Fortunately, I have one memory that combines both nicely.

I don’t recall the exact date, but it was mid September in 1986. (Looking it up, it was either September 9, 1986 or the doubleheader on September 11 after a rainout the night before. It was definitely a wet night.) The Jays were playing the Yankees at Exhibition Stadium, and I was there with my Dad. Soon, an elderly gentleman sat down next to us. To any sports fan from Toronto at the time, he was instantly recognizable. It was King Clancy.

Clancy Auto

He couldn’t have been any nicer. He signed the autograph above for me that night, and really seemed to enjoy talking baseball with the people around us. Turned out, Clancy was a big fan of the Yankees’ Dave Winfield, but we were all trying to convince him that Jesse Barfield had the better arm.

On Facebook last week, after the Blue Jays swept the Yankees in New York, I posted a story about the August 2, 1983 Blue Jays doubleheader sweep of the Yankees at Exhibition Stadium. There was a record-setting crowd that night, and the joint was jumpin’! It’s one of my best memories from my Ground Crew days. As I pointed out on Facebook, the game the next night was a great one too, featuring Jesse Barfield nailing Ken Griffey at the plate on what I remember as the greatest throw I’ve ever seen.

Barfield

The other day, I found a YouTube clip that shows the throw. Looking at the grainy footage (the play begins at the 17-second mark), it’s a little hard to appreciate just how great that throw really was. But coming as it did in the summer of the Blue Jays’ very first pennant race, just after the Jays had gone out in front 5-1, but with the Yankees immediately threatening to get right back in the game (have a look at the Baseball-Reference summary), I’ll stick with my memory!

Oh, and by the way, it was the very next night that Dave Winfield killed that seagull. I don’t remember what King Clancy had to say about that…

Stieb and Henke

A week from today will mark the 25th anniversary of the first (and so far only) no-hitter in Blue Jays history. Dave Stieb blanked the Indians for a 3-0 victory in Cleveland on September 2, 1990. Sportsnet marks the anniversary this Sunday with Dave Stieb: Almost Perfect. I’m sure it will be good, as all their special features have been.

As anyone who knows Blue Jays history is aware, Stieb had a reputation for being prickly. In the early days, when he was so much better than most of the players around him, he often glared at teammates who made errors when he was on the mound. You still hear stories that the rest of the Jays never liked him much. I must say, though, for whatever it’s worth, he was always perfectly nice to me when I was on the ground crew.

For example, my brother Jonathan had a girlfriend he wanted to impress by getting Stieb’s autograph. When I asked him if he’d sign a piece of paper for her, and he said, “don’t you think she’d like a baseball better?” He signed a ball for her, and also gave me an autographed picture. I gave the ball to Jonathan to give to the girl. I kept the picture (which I still have!) for myself.

Stieb autograph

As anyone who knows Blue Jays history is also aware, Stieb had several heart-breaking near-misses en route to finally throwing his no-hitter. The first of those came 30 years ago this week, on August 24, 1985. Facing 300-game winner Tom Seaver of the White Sox in Chicago, Stieb had a no-hitter through eight innings. He’d walked three, and only two runners had gotten as far as second base, but on the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth, Rudy Law took Stieb deep. No-hitter gone. Shutout too. Three pitches later, Bryan Little hit another home run.

Pitch counts were never reported in those days, so it’s unclear how many pitches Stieb had thrown. He told reporters his arm had begun to tighten up and that manager Bobby Cox might not have sent him out for the ninth if not for the no-hitter. Now, Cox turned to Gary Lavelle … who promptly gave up a home run to Harold Baines. After finally recording the first out, Lavelle surrendered a single to Carlton Fisk. The near-blowout was in danger of getting away, bringing Cox back to the mound.

Since the Blue Jays had started to contend in 1983 the bullpen had aways been a weakness. Now, finally, Toronto had someone to turn to when the game got tight. Only it wasn’t the person we’d all expected when the 1985 season began.

I remember exactly where I was when I heard that the Blue Jays had acquired Bill Caudill from Oakland at the Winter Meetings in December of 1984. (The deal cost Toronto Dave Collins – a player I liked a lot – and Alfredo Griffin – whom everybody liked, but, paraphrasing Sports Illustrated, “who was Alfredo Griffin to keep Tony Fernandez in the minors?” … and, by the way, when the Blue Jays first called up Fernandez in September of 1983, I was sent to the airport to pick him up! He gave me a bat as a souvenir.)

Caudill signs

Caudill’s contract was expiring when the Blue Jays acquired him, and I also remember exactly where I was in February of 1985 when I heard they’d avoided going to arbitration with him. I was thrilled. Locking up Caudill was the move that was going to put us over the top, but it went bad right from the start.

Caudill struggled in spring training, and then pitched poorly (despite picking up a pair of wins) when Toronto opened the season in Kansas City. A few days later in Baltimore, the Blue Jays were leading the Orioles 7-3 in the bottom of the eighth when Caudill entered the game with two on and nobody out. (Remember when teams used their relief aces that way?) He promptly issued a walk to load the bases, gave up a run-scoring ground out, a single to make it 7-5 … and then a monster three-run homer to Eddie Murray. Jim Acker got out of the inning, but the Blue Jays lost 8-7.

“I’m no superman,” Caudill would say as his struggles continued … but fortunately, the Blue Jays had Clark Kent waiting in reserve!

Henke

I most decidedly do not remember where I was when the Blue Jays claimed Tom Henke from the Texas Rangers in January of 1985 as compensation for losing Cliff Johnson to free agency. But as Caudill struggled, I do remember the reports on Henke in the press notes I would read in the photographers dugout where we on the ground crew watched the games. The late-blooming 27-year-old bricklayer from Taos, Missouri was putting up stunning numbers in Syracuse. By the time he got to Toronto on July 28, Henke’s Triple-A numbers read: 51.1 innings, 13 hits, 18 walks and 60 strikeouts. He had a 2-1 record with 18 saves and had surrendered only five runs (all of them earned) for an ERA of 0.88.

Henke got a nerve-wracking win in a 4-3, 10-inning victory in Baltimore in his Blue Jays debut on July 29, 1985. He picked up a more efficient win two days later. His first save came at home versus Texas on August 2. Bill Caudill earned a sloppy save the following night, but it was the last one he got in 1985. Tom Henke ruled the back of the bullpen now, and it turned the franchise around. Henke got the final two outs to save Stieb’s near no-hitter 30 years ago this week, and kept on racking up saves until the Blue Jays were World Series champions in 1992.

Rhapsody in Blue Jay

I’ll admit it. I’ve been pretty pessimistic when it comes to the Blue Jays over say, the last 22 years. Can you blame me? But, to my credit (or maybe not), I’ve never bailed on them. Now that I live in Owen Sound, I don’t get to see them live nearly as much as I used to, but I keep watching on television night after night after night. I haven’t always been sure why I do. Sometimes, it felt like a strange kind of loyalty to my younger self.

Still, I kept watching. But any time I was foolish enough to even let myself start to believe for a short time, they’d break my heart. Now? I’m pumped! This past weekend in New York was amazing. And – even though it’s August and not September – it got me thinking back to the pennant race of 1985 … the first time Toronto won the American League East.

As many of you know, my family lived and died with this team in those days. (OK, we still do!) We still have the season tickets we’ve had since the moment they went on sale prior to the first season in 1977. I grew up with this team and it was a blast! In 1985, I was in my fifth and final year on the Blue Jays ground crew as the team made the journey from worst to first.

Jay Crew

On August 4, 1985, the Blue Jays were 67-39. They were 9 1/2 games up on the Yankees in the American League East. Over the next five weeks, the Jays went 21-12. They Yankees went 29-6. They had two seven-game winning streaks and an 11-game streak during that stretch. Every night, it seemed, they were trailing, only to rattle off a big inning late in the game to pull out a victory. It was testing my faith.

There was an old security guard who worked in the Blue Jays bullpen in those days. I’m very sorry I can’t remember his name. I loved talking with him. As a boy in 1930s, he’d lived in New York and worked at the Polo Grounds. As on old man (in the days long before the Internet), he carried papers in his pocket on which he tracked all of baseball’s all-time leaders and which current players were gaining on them.

I remember walking out to the bullpen one day and admitting to him how nervous I was getting. Dennis Lamp (who went 11-0 in relief that year) glared at me. People may remember a picture of him in the clubhouse after the Jays clinched, pointing to a sign he’d made that said something along the lines of, “People counted this team out, but we never heard the bell.” I’ve never told anyone this before, but I sort of felt he was talking to me. But that’s getting a little ahead of the story…

When the Blue Jays headed into New York to begin a four-game series on September 12, their once-big lead was down to 2 1/2 games. That Thursday night, the Jays were leading 4-1 through six innings. But as they had done for weeks, the Yankees rallied in the seventh. Two brutal errors by Tony Fernandez led to six runs on just three hits. The Yankees won the game 7-5.

Amazingly, the Blue Jays bounced back. They won the next three in a row, and stretched their lead back to 4 1/2 games. Though things got nervously tight again over the next couple of weeks, Toronto clinched the AL East Division on October 5, 1985, with a 5-1 victory over the Yankees.

I was right there on the field a few seconds later, assigned the job of protecting home plate in case any excited fans wanted to dig it up as a souvenir. In some of the film footage (unfortunately, not the TV footage you can find on YouTube) you can clearly see me running onto the field, hugging a fellow ground crew member, and then turning to face the stands, where my brother Jonathan had been sitting, and waiting for him to race onto the field to leap into my arms.

Jays 85

The World Series wins were great. My wife Barbara and I often remember the nervous feeling in our stomaches as Game Six in 1992 went into extra innings, and I remember wading through a room full of people after the game, struggling to reach and embrace my brother David. But for me, 1985 will always be special. It staggers me to think it was 30 years ago…

Visions of the Future

At the end of October, shortly after the World Series, I wrote a piece about Lester Patrick’s hockey vision for baseball’s future. With the All-Star Game tonight, we’ll check in on Frank Patrick’s thoughts on how to improve baseball. Frank is widely considered to have been the more inventive of the two Patrick brothers when it came to modern hockey rules, but his future vision for baseball didn’t pan out as well as Lester’s.

In his column in the Boston Globe on August 5,1953, Victor O. Jones recalled the days of 1934 to 1936, when Frank had served as coach of the Bruins during the depths of the Great Depression.

Bruins 1934-35
The 1934-35 Boston Bruins. Frank Patrick is seated third from the right.
Creator: Leslie Jones, 1886-1967 (photographer).
Publisher: Boston Public Library, Print Department BPL 08_06_011885
Leslie Jones-The Camera Man

He thought baseball could attract more interest if it marked the field a little more elaborately,” Jones recalled. “He want to lay down chalk lines dividing left, center and right field and also proposed that circular lines be drawn at every 100 foot radius from home plate. Frank got this idea from listening to a radio broadcast of a game. He thought if the announcer could say: ‘He hit that one beyond the 300 foot circle,’ the fans would get a better idea of just how far the batter hit the ball.”

Not much of a concern once television replaced radio, but Jones writes of another Frank Patrick brainchild that was much more visionary. “Soon after he came up with another idea – a covered building large enough to play football games inside it, with moveable sections of stands which could be rolled around to provide, from day to day, a field of play for any kind of sport from football and polo to swimming and boxing.”

FP Baseball

Jones wrote that “Frank Patrick went so far as to get an engineer to draw plans for such a stucture,” and that his domed stadium was “entirely possible from the engineering point of view.” Jones notes, however, that this was during the Depression and that “money was scarce.” Still: “Don’t be surprised someday, though, if you see such a structure.”

Interestingly, in his 1980 biography of the clan entitled The Patricks: Hockey’s Royal Family, Eric Whitehead writes that plans for Frank’s dome were drawn up around 1947 or 1948. He applied for copyrights in Ottawa and Washington, but couldn’t find any financial backers. On this one, he was truly ahead of his time.

Frank Patrick died on June 29, 1960. Ground was broken for construction of the Houston Astrodome on January 3, 1962. These days, few true domed stadiums remain, but you’d have to think that Frank would be impressed with the evolution of retractable roof stadiums since the SkyDome opened in 1989.


(NOTE: The front row in the top picture is comprised entirely by future members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Who can name them all in addition to Frank Patrick?)

Blue Jays & Babe Ruth

I attended the Blue Jays’ home opener on Monday, running my streak to 39-for-39 in franchise history. (Even when they were rained out in 1980, I skipped my last class to attend the 4 pm first game two days later.) Of all the books I’ve worked on, my favorite would be when we did the Toronto Blue Jays Official 25th Anniversary Commemorative Book at Dan Diamond & Associates. It’s hard to believe it was so long ago.

Our book came out about the same time that HBO released 61*, which was directed by Billy Crystal. He talked a lot about what a thrill it was for him to tell this story of his childhood heroes. Well, Billy Crystal got to worship Mickey Mantle, and Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford when he was a kid … but I’ve been watching for the ENTIRE HISTORY of the team I cheer for. Still, for this story, I’m borrowing from Billy’s team … though from a lot earlier than he remembers.

Recently, I came across Mark Truelove’s web site candiancolour.ca which displays digitally colourized historical Canadian photographs. It’s AMAZING. My only criticism is there aren’t enough pictures! (I imagine that’s because it takes time for him to do them so well.) The picture below is one of two on Mark’s site featuring Babe Ruth, and it got me wondering what he was doing on stage at the Pantages Theater in Vancouver on November 29, 1926.

Babe Pantages
On stage with Babe Ruth in Vancouver is mayor L.D. Taylor as catcher and
Chief of Police Long as umpire. For a larger image, see Mark’s web site.
For another original shot of Ruth on stage, see the Vancouver Archives
.

Babe Ruth had had a terrible season by his standards in 1925. That was the year of “The Bellyache Heard ’Round the World” when he arrived at spring training horribly overweight and eventually spent several weeks in hospital with a stomach ailment that has never really been explained. Back in shape for 1926, Ruth rebounded to hit .372 with 47 homers and 146 RBIs.

The Yankees won the American League pennant in 1926, but Ruth made the final out in game seven of the World Series against St. Louis when he was caught trying to steal second base. At the time, this actually seemed to increase his popularity! (Ruth also hit four home runs in the series, including three in game four alone, when he may or may not have promised to hit one for hospitalized 11-year-old Johnny Sylvester, which didn’t hurt his popularity either!) After the series, Ruth went on a short barnstorming baseball tour before hitting the western vaudeville circuit.

On August 31, 1926, Ruth had signed a $100,000 contract with Alexander Pantages. Others had been bidding for his services too, but Pantages, via a long-distance telephone call from Los Angeles, blew them all away with the largest offer in the history of vaudeville. It was generally reported, then and now, that the deal was for 12 weeks, though some stories that fall claimed it was a 15-week tour. Either way, it was a ton of money for a player who’d just earned $52,500 for the six-month baseball season. (Ruth would hold out for $100,000 a year for two years prior to the 1927 campaign, and eventually signed for $70,000.)

Medicine Hat

Ruth’s Pantages tour opened in Minneapolis on October 30, 1926 and made its way west, winding up in California in February of 1927. He seems to have spent several days in most of the cities he visited. Basically, Ruth went on stage, recited a somewhat fictionalized story of his life, talked baseball, demonstrated his swing, and invited boys up with him for autographs. Bill Oram, writing in The Salt Lake City Tribune on July 11, 2011, quotes some of Ruth’s patter from his visit to the Utah capital in late January:

“Mr. Dunn made a pitcher out of me,” Babe Ruth relayed to his hungry audience. He was baseball’s best left-hander early in his career, and that started with the minor-league Baltimore Orioles under the watchful eye of manager Jack Dunn.

“Then he traded me the same day to another club for a batboy,” he embellished. “I was feeling pretty bad in the clubhouse that day when I thought it over. But I figured I could do Mr. Dunn a favor. I went to him and told him the ceiling was leaking in his clubhouse.”

The audience sat rapt.

Ruth paused for the punchline to his tale. “[Dunn] said, ‘You darn boob, that ain’t a leak. That’s the shower bath!’”

In an era when most people could only expect to see him in newsreels, Ruth charmed the crowds everywhere he went. In Vancouver, he had lunch with orphans at a Children’s Aid Society home and visited a disabled boy in hospital. This seems typical of most of his stops, and in some cities he even wrote a column (or, likely had it ghost-written) in local newspapers. Not everyone was enamored of his stage performance, however. Yankee biographers Jonathan Eig and Harvey Frommer both quote Ruth’s teammate Mark Koenig as calling his set, “boring as hell.” Sixteen-year-old Doris Bailey of Portland, Oregon (whose “Doris Diaries” have been published and appear online) thought Ruth was “not so much to rave about. Terribly conceited.”

Babe Posters

Towards the end of the tour, Ruth was arrested in San Diego on January 23 because it was said that by calling up boys on stage with him so that he could sign autographs he had violated California’s Child Labor Laws! Regardless, kids stormed the stage in Long Beach the following night, and Ruth was later acquitted of the charges.

Before leaving California, Ruth lingered a little longer to film the movie Babe Comes Home, in which he plays a ballplayer whose love of a woman is threatened by his addiction to chewing tobacco. Soon after filming, Ruth signed his new contract with the Yankees, and though he got off to a slow start in 1927, he went on to hit .356 with 60 home runs and 164 RBIs (Lou Gehrig hit .373 / 47 / 175 and was named MVP) as the “Murders Row” team went 110-44 en route to winning the World Series.

The Odds on Pete Rose

Last week, USA Today reported that Pete Rose is hopeful the new Major League commissioner will meet with him to discuss his ban from baseball. Rose has already been cleared to take part in some of the All-Star festivities in Cincinnati this summer.

I came across the story below from the January 11, 1984 edition of the Montreal Gazette a little while back and found it very interesting. Particularly now. (Coincidentally, given my story two weeks ago about about the new Red Army film, the Gazette was also reporting that day that Canadiens GM Serge Savard was preparing for an upcoming trip to the Sarajevo Winter Olympics and was hopeful that Vladislav Tretiak would return to Montreal with him to play in the NHL after the Games. Tretiak, of course, never received the permission he needed from Soviet officials to join the Canadiens.)

Back in 1984, Pete Rose was a free agent after five years with the Philadelphia Phillies, which had followed his 16 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. Rose would turn 43 that April, and his batting average had dropped from .325 in 1981 to .271 in 1982 to .245 in 1983. Still, with 3,990 career hits, he was just 201 behind Ty Cobb’s all-time record at the time and there was little doubt he was going to sign with someone. The Expos and the Seattle Mariners were the only teams on record as showing any interest. Ian MacDonald wrote that Rose expected to know if he had a deal to come to Montreal within the week. (He signed with the Expos on January 20.) What I found most interesting is what MacDonald wrote next:

And a guy who picked both National Football League playoff games Sunday – and was “nine-for-twelve in the bowls” is worth heeding when he predicts that an announcement may be imminent.

Rose clip

Obviously, nobody had a problem with Rose’s gambling at this point! To insiders (though certainly not to fans like my 20-year-old self) Rose was known to be a big gambler, and was often seen at horse races.

Rose got his 4,000th hit with the Expos early in the season, but was traded to Cincinnati in August and became the Reds’ player-manager. He broke Cobb’s record the following year, on September 11, 1985. Rose gave up playing after 1986 but was still managing the Reds in 1989 when his gambling problem became known to all. That August, he was banned from baseball for life for gambling on the game. He denied for years that he’d bet on baseball, but Rose finally came clean in 2004 … though he says he only ever bet on his own team to win.

Despite the many records he holds (some of which are listed below), Rose remains ineligible for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is no indication yet that Commissioner Rob Manfred plans to change this. For more on whether or not Rose should be in Cooperstown, you can read a couple of interesting stories that appeared in The Atlantic in March and August of 2014.

Rose pic

Major League Records
• Most Career Hits 4,256
• Most Games Played 3,562
• Most AB’s 14,053
• Most Singles 3,315
• Most Total Bases Switch Hitter 5,752
• Most Season 200 or more hits 10
• Most Season 600 or more AB’s 17
• Most Season 150 or more games played 17
• Only Major League Player in History to Play 500 Games at 5 Positions

National League Records
• Most Doubles 746
• Longest Consecutive Game Hitting Steak (44 Games) 1978
• Batting Champ 1968-1969-1973

Hockey Stars Join Baseball’s Maple Leafs

Well, the big blizzard sort of skipped New York, though it hit pretty hard elsewhere. And it’s supposed to warm up – albeit briefly! – around here today. It is only the 28th of January, but pitchers and catchers begin to report for spring training in three weeks, so summer can’t be too far away! Hockey may be where my head is much of the year, but baseball is where my heart is … and, sometimes, you get to tell one story that combines both sports!

In late January of 1926, the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball club was already hard at work preparing for the International League season. This would be a big year for Toronto baseball. The team was leaving its old park on Hanlan’s Point and moving into the brand new Maple Leaf Stadium at the foot of Bathurst, near Fleet Street. (Behind what is now the Tip Top Tailor lofts near the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.) With a seating capacity of 20,000 the new stadium was considered the most modern facility in the minor leagues. Baltimore had won the International League pennant every year from 1919 to 1925, but in 1926, Toronto had a record of 109-57 to take the league title. They then swept five straight games from Louisville of the American Association to win the best-of-nine Junior World Series.

But all of this was still nine months into the future on January 29, 1926, when Maple Leafs manager Dan Howley signed a couple of locals boys for his team. Both also happened to be NHL stars: Cecil “Babe” Dye and Lionel Conacher.

Conny Dye

Babe Dye was one of the top scorers in the NHL during the 1920s and a future Hall of Famer, but he was also a minor league baseball star with a couple of offers from Major League teams over the years. He had his best baseball seasons with the Buffalo Bisons from 1922 to 1925, but injuries suffered in the NHL seemed to take their toll and he had a poor season with the baseball Maple Leafs in 1926. Released halfway through the schedule, he finished the year with Baltimore and never played baseball again.

Lionel Conacher was a great all-around athlete who was best known as a lacrosse and football player when he was younger, but willed himself to become a Hall of Fame hockey player because that’s where the money was in Canadian sports. Conacher also boxed and wrestled, but baseball was only a sport he’d dabbled in around the Toronto sandlots.

Still, according to the Toronto Star, Conacher’s contract with the Maple Leafs stipulated that he had to be carried for the entire season and could not be traded or sold. Having him on the roster meant added publicity, but Manager Howley was said to be sure that Conacher would make good. Given that Toronto had a working relationship with the Detroit Tigers and shared a spring training facility with them in Augusta, Georgia, it was hoped that Ty Cobb would help to make a star ballplayer out of Canada’s future Athlete of the Half-Century. Conacher saw action in the Maple Leafs outfield with Dye during spring training, but was pretty much glued to the bench once the season got under way. What statistics there are show him batting only three times all year. (In a quick search, I could only find him batting once, grounding out as a pinch hitter for future Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell in the eighth inning of a game on June 27.)

Conny

It seems unlikely that Conacher actually spent the entire season with the Maple Leafs, as a Toronto Star story on August 14 discusses him being on a trip to Sudbury with his wife and a brother and fishing with future Hockey Hall of Famer Shorty Green. Later, Conacher was playing lacrosse in St. Catharines on September 19 during the final weekend of the International League season.

Both Conacher and Dye made their biggest splash of the baseball season on June 19, 1926, when the Maple Leafs were on the road but they were allowed to return to Toronto for an exhibition game at Maple Leaf Stadium between the Toronto Semi Pros and Buffalo’s Pullman Colored Giants. The Semi Pros featured a third future Hockey Hall of Famer in Conacher’s buddy and longtime teammate Roy Worters. The baseball team also had two other Conacher-Worters hockey teammates in Duke McCurry and Jess Spring and another hockey player in Chris Speyer. Conacher had a single and a triple in this game, and made two sensational catches in the outfield, but the Colored Giants rallied for an 11-10 victory.