Pirates’ Bigbee was a Big Hit for the Pirates

Carson “Skeeter” Bigbee

By Glen Sparks

He was Carson “Skeeter” Bigbee of Linn County, Oregon, born on March 31, 1895. He played 11 seasons in the big leagues, all of them with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was the younger brother of Lyle Bigbee, who also played ball and who met a tragic end.

Skeeter Bigbee, grew up in a lumber town. His dad, Claiborne Bigbee, from Missouri, played baseball and supposedly hurled the first curveball “in this section of the state,” per the July 24, 1912, edition of the Portland Oregonian. Skeeter’s mom, Callie (Morris) Bigbee, descended from a family of pioneers. Her dad and grandfather left Illinois in 1850 to go west via the Oregon Trail. Callie’s mom crossed the country in 1851, surviving an Indian attack en route to the coast.

Carson, along with Lyle and oldest brother Morris, starred at Albany, Oregon, High School.  The three also played sports at the University of Oregon. At one point, the Ducks’ lineup included all three Bigbee men—Morris at second base, Lyle on the mound, and Carson at shortstop.

Carson and Lyle signed with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League in early 1916. Team manager Walt McCredle, though, didn’t like what he saw from either of them. He released both after just a short time to the Tacoma, Washington, Tigers of the Class B Northwest League. Carson’s career took off.  He batted .340, good enough for the Pirates, who signed him for $5,000 and called him up to the big club.

As a rookie, Bigbee appeared in 43 games and batted .285 with a .314 on-base percentage. The following season, he set a Major League record.

The Pirates were playing the Brooklyn Robins (the forerunner of the Dodgers) on Aug. 22, 1917.  Wilbur Connor started on the mound for Pittsburgh, Leon Cadore for Brooklyn. Neither lasted very long. Cooper went five innings, Cadore stayed around for seven. The game, though, took 22 innings. The Robins, though, won 6-5. Bigbee came to bat 11 times, more than anyone ever up to that point.  He led all batters with six hits and drove in two runs. (Bigbee shares the record today for at-bats in an extra-inning game with 13 other players.)

Baseball people and sportswriters called him “Skeeter” because he liked to steal bases. Bigbee swiped 182 bags in his career, including a career-high of 31 in 1919 and 1920.

“Skeeter” appeared in just one World Series, in 1925, against the Washington Senators. Near the end of his career, he came to bat just three times and managed only one hit.  It was a big hit, though. He knocked a game-tying double in the eighth inning of Game 7 against the great Walter Johnson.  Bigbee’s two-base hit drove in Earl Smith to make the score 7-7. Pittsburgh won the game 9-7, and the Series.

The right-handed batter retired in 1926 with 17 home runs over his 11 seasons, playing much of his career during the deadball era. He hit retired .287 lifetime with an on-base percentage of .345, along with 139 doubles and 75 triples. Bigbee topped the 200-hit mark in 1921 and 1922.

Lyle Bigbee, meanwhile, played two seasons in the majors. He went 0-3 with an 8.00 ERA over 45 innings as a Philadelphia Athletic in 1920. The following year, he pitched for the Pirates as a teammate of Carson’s. Lyle got into just five game and pitched only eight innings. He gave up a lone run. The right-hander later spent time in minor-league ball, with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association and the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, among other teams.

Lyle’s pro baseball ended at the age of 30.  After that, he drifted through towns all over the west, from Bend, Oregon, to Kelso, Washington, to Casper, Wyoming, and to Santa Rita, New Mexico. He found a job as a night watchman at a copper mine in Santa Rita.  He committed suicide in Portland on August 4, 1942, at the age of 48.

Carson Bigbee did some managing after his playing career ended, in the All-American Girls Baseball League. Founded in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner and chewing gum magnate Phillip K Wrigley, the AAGPBL lasted until 1955. Most teams were located in smaller Midwest cities.

Bigbee led the Springfield, Illinois, Sallies in 1948 and the Muskegon, Michigan, Lassies in 1949. A biography of Bigbee on an AAGPBL historical site reports that the former major league was skeptical at first about women’s baseball.  He “later became the game’s biggest booster as he managed the Springfield Sallies. He had a fine competitive spirit and a pleasing personality made him popular with both players and managers throughout the League.”

“Skeeter” Bigbee died on Oct. 17, 1964, in Portland, Oregon. He was 69 years old. He is buried at the Willamette National Cemetery. Morris Bigbee passed away on May 29, 1978, in Portland, at the age of 88.

Sources:

Carson Bigbee career statistics on baseball-reference.com

AAGPBL article on Carson Bigbee

Waterloo Democrat-Herald

1925 World Series, Washington Senators vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, Game 7

Lyle Bigbee SABR bio

 

 

 

 

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Monday Saves the Flag; The Bird Flies High

Mark Fidrych compiled a 19-9 won-loss mark during his magical year for the Tigers in 1976.

Mark Fidrych compiled a 19-9 won-loss mark during his magical year for the Tigers in 1976.

Look back at the 1976 MLB season.

By Glen Sparks

April 2 – The Oakland A’s trade star players Reggie Jackson Ken Holtzman, plus minor-league pitcher Bill Von Bommell, to the Baltimore Orioles for Don Baylor, Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell.

April 15 – A newly remodeled Yankee Stadium with 52,613 fans in attendance. Former Yankee Bob Shawkey, winner of the 1923 opener, throws out the first pitch. The Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins 11-4.

April 25 – Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday sprints over to grab an American flag that two men were about to set fire to at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers win the game 5-4 in 10 innings. The following day, the Illinois legislature proclaims May 4 as Rick Monday Day in the Prairie state.

May 15 – The Detroit Tigers’ Mark “The Bird” Fidrych throws a complete game in his major league start, beating the Cleveland Indians 2-1. He carries a no-hitter through six innings, gives up just two hits total and, yes, talks to the ball.

May 29 – Houston Astros pitcher Joe Niekro hits the only home runs in his 22-year big-league career. The victim? Phil Niekro, Joe’s brother. The seventh-inning homer tied the game, and the Astros go on to win 4-3.

June 4 – Tom Seaver and the New York Mets blank the Los Angeles Dodgers 11-0. The Mets get plenty of offense from slugger Dave Kingman, who pounds three home runs.

July 20 – Hank Aaron, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, hits the 755th and final home run his career. He smashes it of Dick Drago of the California Angles.

Sept. 10 – California Angels fireballer Nolan Ryan strikes out 18 Chicago White Sox and wins 3-2 at Comiskey Park.

Sept. 28 – Dodgers manager Walt Alston steps down after 23 seasons at the helm. “Smokey” led his teams to six National League pennants and four World Series titles. His replacement is third-base coach LaSorda.

Oct. 21 – The Cincinnati Reds wrap up their second straight World Series title by sweeping the New York Yankees in four games. The Series MVP is Johnny Bench, who bats .533 (8-for-15) with two home runs and six RBI.

What Year Did That Happen?

What year did Bob Feller hurl his opening-day no-hitter?

What year did Bob Feller hurl his opening-day no-hitter?

By Glen Sparks

The idea behind this quiz is simple. I provide an episode in baseball history. You just need to provide the year that it happened. Bonus points if you guess the correct month and day. The answers are at the bottom. Good luck

  1. Kansas City A’s shortstop Bert Campaneris plays all nine positions in a game against the California Angels at K.C.’s Municipal Stadium

2. While chasing a fly ball at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., Babe Ruth runs into a wall of concrete and knocks himself out cold.

3. St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial mashes five home runs and adds a single during a doubleheader against the New York Giants at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Stan the Man drives in nine runs.

4. In one of baseball’s greatest tragedies, New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays throws a pitch at the Polo Grounds that hits Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in the head. Chapman later dies from his injuries.

5. The San Francisco Giants belt five home runs and score 12 runs in the ninth inning to pummel the Cincinnati Reds, 14-0, at Crosley Field.

6. Cleveland Indians ace Bob Feller tosses an opening-day no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park.

7. The New York Giants’ Rube Marquard beats Babe Adams and the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-1 in a 21-inning game at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Both pitchers go the distance.

8. Dodger Stadium Pirates slugger Willie Stargell hits a ball that clears Dodger Stadium. He is the first player to do that.

9. Willie Mays hits career home run No. 500 at Houston’s Astrodome.

10. Wrigley Field/Fenway Park Brothers Cubs pitchers Rick Reuschel and Paul Reuschel combine to throw a shutout at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

 

1965 (Sept. 8)

1924 (July 5)

1954 (May 2)

1920 (Aug. 16)

1961 (Aug. 23)

1940 (April 16)

1914 (July 17)

1969 (Aug. 6) … He does it again on May 8, 1973

1965 (Sept. 13)

1975 (Aug. 21)

Faszholz Soared High with the Red Wings

Jack Faszholz

Jack Faszholz

By Glen Sparks

Jack Faszholz enjoyed just a simple cup of coffee, as the expression goes, in the major leagues. He pitched in four games and 11 2/3 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953. The right-hander started one game and relieved in three others.

His entire professional baseball career, though, lasted from 1944 through 1956. Faszholz spent much of that time with the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. He won 80 games as a Red Wing, more than anyone before or since. All told, Faszholz won 128 professional games, all in the minors. He went 0-0 with a 6.94 during his short tenure with the Cardinals. He did, however, strike out a young Mickey Mantle during spring training in 1955.

Born April 11, 1927, in St. Louis, Faszholz primarily grew up in Seattle and Berkeley, Calif. He starred on the local sandlots and was signed by the Boston Red Sox as a high school junior in 1944. The Cardinals drafted him in 1949.

During the offseason, Faszholz attended classes at the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod seminary in St. Louis. Not surprisingly, writers and teammates began calling him the Preacher. Fellow players also learned of Faszholz’ religious studies. With that in mind, here is an excerpt from my bio on Faszholz, recently published by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR):

His fastball was rarely blazing. “I think some people surmised that I was getting some help from above,” he says. Red Wings manager Harry “The Hat” Walker, maybe with a sense of superstition, liked to pitch Faszholz on the Sabbath. He reasoned, Faszholz said, “You can’t beat the Preacher on Sundays.”

The Montreal Royals, Brooklyn’s top farm team, couldn’t defeat Faszholz on Sunday or almost any other day in 1954. Faszholz said he prevailed against the Royals five or six times that season. He recalled one particular at-bat that thoroughly frustrated International League slugger Glenn “Rocky” Nelson.

The left-handed hitter walked to the plate late in one game with Montreal trailing. Faszholz got behind in the count and didn’t want to surrender a walk. He grooved a pitch to Nelson, who hit a sharp liner to Red Wings first baseman Tom Alston. The hot shot ricocheted off the top of Alston’s glove and right into the glove of second baseman Lou Ortiz for an out. Moments later, Faszholz heard a ruckus coming from the Montreal dugout. Bats were flying, profanity filled the air. Suddenly, Nelson yelled out toward Faszholz, “You’re sure making a believer out of me.”

Following his retirement as a player, Faszholz and his family moved to St. Louis. Jack served several years as baseball coach and athletic director at Lutheran South High School. Later, he worked in similar roles at Concordia University Texas in Austin. Now 89 years old, Faszholz remains a faithful member of Salem Lutheran Church in Affton. He still follows the game he loves and still enjoys taking about those great games from days gone by. Just ask him about the time he fanned Jimmie Foxx.

You can read my entire bio of Faszholz by clicking here: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/53250da7

The Indians Hire a Wonder Boy

Most famous as a player-manager for the Cleveland Indians, Lou Boudreau led the Boston Red Sox from1952-54.

Most famous as a player-manager for the Cleveland Indians, Lou Boudreau led the Boston Red Sox from1952-54.

By Glen Sparks

Well, why not Lou Boudreau?

The Cleveland Indians needed a manager. Team owner Alva Bradley fired skipper Oscar Vitt following the 1940 season, hired Roger Peckinpaugh to replace him and then moved Peckinpaugh to a front-office job after the ’41 campaign.

Boudreau, born July 17, 1917, was 24 years old in the winter of 1941-42 and Cleveland’s star shortstop. He had already made two All-Star teams. Boudreau batted .295 (.370 on-base percentage) in 1940 and drove in 101 runs. His batting average dropped to .257 (.355 on-base) in 1941, but he still led the league in doubles with 45.

The Harvey, Ill., native thought about it. So what if he would be the youngest manager in major-league history. “Why not me?” he said to himself, according to Baseball’s Most Valuable Players by George Vescey.

Boudreau was a leader, a natural. At age 13 he helped coach his grammar school basketball team. A few years later, the guard led Thornton High School in suburban Chicago to the Illinois state championship. Boudreau played baseball and basketball at the University of Illinois.

Boudreau called Bradley. “Why not me?” Bradley, shocked, mulled it over. On the one hand, Boudreau had never managed in the majors. Would the players respect a 24-year-old skipper? And how would the pressure of managing a team affect Boudreau’s play in the field? No, this might not be a good idea.

A golf game with 83-year-old George Martin, a member of the Indians’ board of directors, went a long way in changing Bradley’s mind. Heck, Martin said, Lou is the team leader right now. Why not just give him the job. He can do it, Martin insisted.

Bradley called Boudreau. Get on the next train, the owner said. The Indians hired the man who was quickly tabbed by reporters as “The Boy Wonder.”

And, it nearly didn’t work out. Cleveland stumbled to a 75-79 mark in 1942, the same record as in 1941. In both years, the Indians ended the campaign in fourth place. Boudreau led the team to a third-place finish in 1943 (82-71), but saw his squad fall to sixth place in 1944 (72-82), followed by a fifth-place showing the next year (73-72). Cleveland bottomed out at 68-86 in 1946, tumbling to sixth place, 36 games out of first.

The team rebounded in 1947 with an 80-74 won-loss record. Even so, owner Bill Veeck, who bought the Indians from Bradley in ’46, thought about making a change in the dugout.

Veeck loved Boudreau the shortstop. What was not to love? Lou made the All-Star team from 1942-44. He led the league in batting with a .327 mark in ’44 and followed that with .307, .293 and .307 marks from 1945-47. He made the All-Star team again in ’47 and topped the A.L. in doubles for a third time. From 1940-47, Boudreau finished in the top 10 in MVP voting every year but ’41.

Veeck just wasn’t sure about Boudreau the manager. He told Boudreau exactly that. The player-skipper went into 1948 on the hot seat.

Fortunately, the Indians responded. Both Bob Lemon and Gene Beardon won 20 games, while Bob Feller won 19. Satchell Paige, the Negro League legend and a major-league rookie at the age of 42, debuted with Cleveland on July 9 and helped out with a 6-1 won-loss record and 2.48 ERA in 72.2 innings. Joe Gordon (32 HR, 124 RBI), Ken Keltner (31 HR, 119 RBI) and Larry Doby (.301 BA, 14 HR, 66 RBI) battered A.L. pitching. Boudreau enjoyed the biggest year of all. He hit .355 (.453 on-base, .534 slugging, .987 OPS) with 18 HR and 106 RBI. Writers voted him the A.L. MVP. Cleveland won its first pennant since 1920, finishing at 97-58, one game better than the runner-up Boston Red Sox.

”It was quite a year,” Boudreau recalled, according to The New York Times. ”The pressure kept building and building, until I thought we’d all burst.”

The Indians went on to beat the Boston Braves in six games in the World Series. It was the high point of Boudreau’s managerial career. The skipper led Cleveland for two more seasons and managed the Boston Red Sox (1952-54), Kansas City Athletics (1955-57) and Chicago Cubs (1960) after that. None of his other teams advanced to the playoffs.

He gained some fame, of course, for implementing the Boudreau shift against Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. Boudreau placed all four infielders between first base and second base and moved his center fielder into right field against the left-handed hitter. Williams, always stubborn, kept pulling the ball. “The shift hurt me,” Williams said, according to The New York Times.

Handsome Lou, as some called him, retired as a player in 1952. He was just 34 years old. Boudreau batted .295 lifetime with a .380 on-base percentage. He hit 68 home runs and drove in 789 with a career OPS+ of 120.

The former Wonder Boy spent many years as a broadcaster with the Chicago Cubs. One of his daughters married pitcher and bad boy Denny McLain, baseball’s last 30-game winner. The baseball writers voted Boudreau into the Hall of Fame in 1970. He died in 2001 at the age of 84.

Sources:

The New York Times

Lou Boudreau SABR bio

Lou Boudreau career stats

Baseball’s Most Valuable Players

Dizzy wins 31; the Babe blasts No. 700

dizzyfreeLook back at the 1934 MLB season.

By Glen Sparks

Washington Senators catcher Moe Berg makes an error April 22. It is his first miscue in 117 games. Berg, a Princeton University grad, will work as a U.S. spy during World War II, traveling to Europe to investigate Germany’s nuclear weapons program.

Babe Ruth blasts career home run No. 700 on July 13, in his final season with the New York Yankees. Ruth hits another 14 homers before retiring the following year, with the Boston Braves.

Lou Gehrig win the Triple Crown in the American League. The great Yankees first baseman leads the league in batting average (.363), home runs (49) and RBI (165).

New York Giants screwball artist Carl Hubbell enjoys an All-Star game for the ages on July 10 at the Polo Grounds. In order, he strikes out Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, future Hall of Famers all.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ James “Ripper” Collins and the New York Giants’ Mel Ott tie for the National League lead in home runs with 35. Ott tops the N.L. in RBI with 135.

Cardinals ace Dizzy Dean shuts out the Cincinnati Reds 9-0 on Sept. 30. Dean finishes the year 30-7 and wins N.L. MVP honors. The Arkansas native follows up this great season with a 28-12 mark in 1935.

Paul “Big Poison” Waner, right-fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, hits .362 and wins his second N.L. batting crown. Waner earns a third title in 1936, finishing at .373, and bats .333 lifetime.

Mickey Cochrane knocks two home runs, drives in 75 and bats. 320. The Detroit Tigers catcher beats out Gehrig for A.L. MVP. (Gehrig won the junior circuit’s MVP honor in 1927. Rules back then prohibited players from winning a second award.)

The Cardinals crush the Detroit Tigers 11-0 in Game 7 of the World Series. The victory gives St. Louis its third world title. Dizzy wins two games for the Redbirds, and brother Daffy Dean wins two.

The Yankees buy the contract of Joe DiMaggio from the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League on Nov. 21. DiMaggio makes his debut with the Yanks in 1936.

Bob Feller Answered the Call

bobfellernavyfree

By Glen Sparks

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began at 7:48 a.m. Hawaii time, Dec. 7, 1941. Bob Feller, 22 years old and already a superstar flame-thrower for the Cleveland Indians, heard the shocking news while driving his shiny Buick Century from little Van Meter, Iowa, to Chicago.

More than 2,400 Americans were killed in the surprise strike in Honolulu. One bomb hit a powder magazine in the U.S.S. Arizona, sending that battleship to the bottom of the harbor, along with more than 1,100 officers and sailors.

Forget baseball. Feller wanted to fight the Japanese and the Germans. He signed up with the Navy on Tuesday, Dec. 9. He gave up the chance to make $100,000 as a baseball player in 1942, Feller wrote in a New York Times column in 2010. He didn’t care.

“I was mad as hell,” Feller said.

Feller’s dad, William, lay in a bed back home in Van Meter, terminally ill with cancer. Technically, Feller was exempt from military service. He joined the fight, anyway.

“We were losing that war, and most young men of my generation wanted to help push them back,” Feller said in the Times. “People today don’t understand, but that’s the way we felt in those days. We wanted to join the fighting.”

At that point, Feller had pitched in parts of six seasons in the majors and had compiled a 107-54 won-loss mark. William Feller had raised a ballplayer. He rolled baseballs to his baby boy; young Bobby could hurl a baseball 270 feet at the age of nine. He was 16 years old when Cleveland signed him to a contract.

The Heater from Van Meter struck out 15 batters in his major-league debut at age 17 and struck out 17 a few weeks later. He led the American League in strikeouts as a 19-year-old in 1938 and topped the A.L. in K’s four straight seasons (1938-41). Rapid Robert won a total of 80 games from 1939-41.

Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight boxing champion, swore Feller into the service at the Chicago courthouse. Navy officials told Feller to report to the training station in Norfolk, Va. The right-hander did some exercising and played on the station baseball team. On June 15, 1942, he pitched in an Army-Navy Relief fundraiser game at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Feller struck out five batters in five innings. But, that wasn’t why he signed up for action on Dec. 9. He wanted to go where the shooting was.

Feller entered gunnery school and left aboard the U.S.S. Alabama, a South Dakota-class battleship, in the fall of 1942. The great pitcher fired his guns during a south Pacific battle in 1944 known today as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. U.S. forces shot down 474 Japanese planes, sank three enemy carriers and crippled many more support crafts. “We made it look so easy,” Feller said.

The Alabama took part in several other battles, both in the Pacific and the North Atlantic, and was awarded nine battle stars. Chief Petty Officer Feller was aboard for eight of them. Following combat, Feller said, “the dangers of Yankee Stadium seemed trivial.”

Feller returned to the major leagues on Aug. 24, 1945, at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. He threw a complete game before 45,000 fans, struck out 12 and beat the Detroit Tigers 4-2. In his nine starts in 1945, Feller completed seven and went 5-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 72 innings.

Cleveland’s ace enjoyed probably his best season ever in 1946. He won 26 games and posted a career-low 2.18 ERA. Feller pitched an astonishing 377.1 innings and struck out 348 batters. Before retiring in 1956, he won 266 games and struck out 2,581 batters. The eight-time All-Star led the league in wins six times and in strikeouts seven times. He hurled three no-hitters. Writers voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1962, in his first year on the ballot, with 93.8 percent of the vote.

Feller missed three-plus seasons due to his service in World War II. How many wins did he lose? 80? 90? How many strikeouts? 900? Feller never complained.

“I have no regrets,” he said. “None at all. I did what any American could and should do: serve his country in its time of need.”