Tagged: A’s

Billy Martin fought on and off the field

Billy Martin hit .257 as a player and won five division titles as a manager.

Billy Martin hit .257 as a player and won five division titles as a manager.

By Glen Sparks

The Minnesota Twins gave a 40-year-old, self-made ballplayer his first chance at managing in the majors in 1969.

What did the Twins expect from Billy Martin? He relied on modest tools and battled in every game as a player. The tough guy from Berkeley, Calif., hit .257 over 11 big-league seasons, mostly with the New York Yankees. He knocked 64 career home runs and drove in 75 runs in 1953. Martin played in five World Series while in the Bronx (batting .333, 33-for-99) and made a shoestring catch with the bases loaded in Game 7 of the ’52 Series.

Once, he fought Red Sox shortstop Jimmy Piersall underneath the grandstand at Fenway Park. He also duked it out with catcher Clint Courtney of the St. Louis Browns. The word got around: Billy Martin, who did some boxing as a teenager, liked to brawl.

New York shipped Billy out of town midway through the 1957 campaign. Or, about a month after that famous incident at the Copacabana night club in Manhattan. It was Martin’s 29th birthday. He, along with teammate Hank Bauer, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, decided to celebrate. The evening turned into a mess. Bauer, for instance, slugged a patron.

Yankee brass blamed Martin for being a bad influence. The team shipped him to the Kansas City A’s, a perennial loser. Over his final 4 ½ years in the majors, Martin played on six teams. He drank and fought and got fined and suspended.

Martin did some scouting and minor-league managing after his playing career ended in 1961. He served as skipper of the Twins’ Triple-A team in Denver before getting the major-league gig. Martin ended up managing five different squads and did five tours as the Yankees skipper. He won five division titles, two pennants and one World Series. Then, there was all that other stuff … Once, he battled it out with a marshmallow salesman.

This is a brief rundown of Billy Martin the manager, in the Twin Cities and elsewhere:

Minnesota Twins (1969): Martin’s squad compiled an admirable 97-65 mark in the skipper’s rookie season, 17 games better than in ’68. The Twins finished in first place after sinking to seventh the previous year. Hamon Killebrew pounded 49 home runs; Tony Oliva slugged 24. Rod Carew hit .332 and won the first of his seven batting titles. Jim Perry (20-6, 2.82 ERA) and Dave Boswell (20-12, 3.23) led the pitching staff.

The Baltimore Orioles swept the Twins in three games in the playoffs. Martin started Bob Miller, 5-5 during the regular season, in the final game. Owner Calvin Griffith asked Martin why he would do such a thing. “Because I’m the manager,” Billy replied. Griffith fired him.

Detroit Tigers (1971-73): Detroit, fresh off a 79-83 campaign, hired Martin in the fall of 1971. The new skipper led his squad to 91 victories and to second place in the American League East. The next year, Detroit dropped to 86 wins but still won the division. Veterans like Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton, Bill Freehan and Mickey Lolich led Detroit on the field.

Once again, Martin lost in the playoffs. This team, the Oakland A’s beat him. In Game 2, Bert Campaneris, angry at being hit by a pitch, flung his bat at Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow. Martin practically came out his underwear trying to get to Campy.

Detroit fired Martin on Sept. 2, 1973. The team was 71-63, but Billy was wearing out his welcome, as he would so often do. He already had gotten himself arrested during a public disturbance at spring training. Later in the season, he told reporters that he wanted his pitchers to throw spitballs. He also ripped management, the commissioner and everyone else in the newspapers. Billy was great ink.

Texas Rangers (1973-75): Well, it didn’t take Billy long to find a job. The Rangers nabbed him before the season was up. Martin guided the team to a 9-14 mark in the closing weeks (Texas ended up 57-105 after going 54-100 in 72.). Even better, Texas improved to 84-76  in ’74, good for second place in the A.L. West. Young outfielder Jeff Burroughs hit 25 homers, drove in 118 and hit .301 to win the A.L. MVP award. Future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins won 25 games.

Expectations were high going into ’75. The Rangers, though, struggled. On July 20, with the team 44-51, team owner Brad Corbett fired Martin.

New York Yankees I (1975-78): Once again, Martin didn’t stay out of work for long. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired Billy on Aug. 1. The skipper would be going back to his baseball roots. His team went 30-26 to close the season.

The Yankees won the pennant in 1976 and met the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Cincy swept the Yankees in four games. Billy didn’t even have to watch the final out from the dugout. First-base umpire Bruce Froemming tossed him out in the ninth inning after Martin threw a baseball at home-plate ump Bill Deegan.

New York signed Reggie Jackson as a free agent before the 1977 campaign, won 100 games in the regular season and knocked off the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games in the World Series. Steinbrenner, a.k.a. The Boss, gave Billy a fat bonus and a new car. Everything looked good until midway through ’78. Martin uttered his famous quote on Jackson and George: “One’s a born liar (Jackson) and the other’s convicted (George, who pleaded guilty in 1974 to making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign).” Martin resigned July 24. … (Billy kept a mustache for much of his managerial career. He looked a bit like cartoon villain Snidely Whiplash, famed nemesis of Dudley Do-Right.)

New York Yankees II (1979): Well, why stay mad? Steinbrenner hired Billy to right the ship after the Yanks got off to a slow start in ’79. Billy led the team to a 55-40 mark. New York finished 89-71 overall, good but not good enough to make the playoffs. Steinbrenner fired him at the end of the year. (This was the year that Billy clobbered the marshmallow salesman during a bar brawl. The guy, Joseph Cooper, required 15 stiches to close up his injury.)

Oakland A’s (1980-82): Billy, who grew up near Oakland, was going home. Charlie Finley, one of baseball’s most eccentric owners (orange baseballs, a mechanical rabbit that would pop up near home plate and deliver new baseballs to the umpire, etc.) hired him to lead a team filled with talented pitchers like Mike Norris, Brian Langford and Matt Keough. The three combined for 72 complete games in 1980; Oakland finished second at 83-79.

The next year, the split season of 1981, Oakland made the playoffs but got bounced out by the Yankees. Once again, the A’s starters threw a ton of complete games. Following a disappointing 1982 season (68-94, fifth place in the A.L. West), Billy got the boot. The biggest criticism? He burned out those starting pitchers.

New York Yankees III (1983): The third time is a charm, right? Well, sorta. The Yanks did manage to go 91-71. The problem was, that was only good for third place in the division. This was the year of the infamous pine-tar game, by the way. The Kansas City Royals’ George Brett hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium to give K.C. the lead. Or, so everyone though. Martin, a stickler for details, knew that Brett liked to lather up the bat with pine-tar, even more so than the rules allowed. The umps agreed, took the runs off the board, and Brett—as the video shows—went berserk. (Baseball later overruled the umps.) Anyway, Steinbrenner canned Martin about a week before Christmas this time.

New York Yankees IV (1985): This is when it got funny. George fired team icon Yogi Berra 16 games into the season and hired Billy. The Yanks got into a groove and went 91-54 under the new/old skipper. They were only 6-10 under Berra, though, and missed the playoffs. This time, Steinbrenner cut Martin loose on Oct. 27, a few days before Halloween. Things were getting scary.

New York Yankees V (1988): This is when it got farcical. Martin replaced Lou Piniella as skipper nearly 100 games into the season, went 40-28 and got fired. Most people didn’t care at this point. It was getting silly.

There was no Billy Martin VI. Martin died Dec. 25, 1989, in a one-vehicle accident in Fenton, N.Y. He was 61 years old. The man who once dubbed himself “the proudest Yankee of them all” is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., not far from the greatest Yankee of them all, Babe Ruth.

They were simply Pathetic


By Glen Sparks

The 1916 Philadelphia A’s probably weren’t the worst team ever.

The 2008 Detroit Lions ended the season 0-16, one of many NFL teams that have suffered through a winless autumn. Philadelphia’s 76ers, meanwhile, dribbled their way to a 9-73 NBA horror show in 1972-73. In the NHL, the 1974-75 Washington Capitals skated, and slipped, to an 8-67-5 mark.

So, the competition for worst sports team ever is awfully tough. But, the ’16 A’s were pretty bad. In fact, they were worse than bad. They were pathetic. That’s what some people called them. The Pathetics.

Just two seasons removed from winning the American League pennant and three years removed from celebrating a World Series title, the Philadelphia A’s of 1916 took a beating. By time it was all over, and it had to be a long wait for players and fans, this Connie Mack-led squad finished 36-117, 54 ½ games out of first place. And, get this … 40 games behind the next feeblest team in the A.L., the Washington Senators.

Just how bad was it? Well …

  • The A’s winning percentage of .235 remains the lowest in modern baseball history. (We use that term “winning” loosely.)
  • Philadelphia scored 447 runs in 153 games, or 87 fewer runs than the second-weakest offensive collection, the Senators.
  • The A’s finished last or next-to-last in hits, doubles, RBI, stolen bases, batting average, on-base percentage and total bases.
  • Pitchers Jack Nabors and Tom Sheehan finished a combined 2-36.
  • Shortstop Whitey Whitt committed a league-high 78 errors in 142 games. Oops. All told, Philadelphia led the A.L. with 314 miscues.

The pitching staff didn’t help things. Philly compiled a team ERA of 3.92, nearly a run higher than the next most pitching-poor squad, the Detroit Tigers at 2.97. As a staff, the A’s walked 715 batters, 137 more than any other team. Relievers saved just three games.

How did all this happen? The A’s, after all, were one of the early powerhouses of 20th century baseball. Mack, along with some business partners, founded the franchise in 1901. Over the next 13 seasons, the A’s finished first six times and earned three World Series titles. They won more than 100 games in 1910 and 1911 and 99 in 1914.

Philly featured the “$100,000 infield.” That group included Stuffy McInnis (first base), Eddie Collins (second base), Jack Barry (shortstop) and Frank “Home Run” Baker (third base). Collins and Baker eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. Eddie Plank, Charles “Chief” Bender and Rube Waddell—Hall of Famers all–led the pitching staff.

After losing the 1905 World Series to the New York Giants in five games, the A’s won their first Fall Classic by knocking off the Chicago Cubs in five games in 1910. Philly went back-to-back in 1911 by defeating the Giants in six.

The A’s returned to the World Series in 1913. Thanks in part to seven RBI each from Baker and catcher Wally Schang, Philly beat the Giants four games to one. That brings us to 1914.

Bender finished 17-3, and Baker topped the league in homers as Philly finished 99-53, 8 ½ games ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox. The Boston Braves celebrated the National League pennant with a 94-59 won-loss mark.

Jack Berry went just 1-for-14 (.071) for Philadelphia; Rube Oldring did even worse (1-for-15, .067)). The A’s hit only 172 as a team; the pitchers compiled a 3.41 ERA. (The Red Sox put up a 1.15 mark.) Boston swept the Series in four games.

So, the rumors began. Was this Series played on the up and up? Some observers have insisted that the A’s, supposedly upset at Mack for being a tightwad, didn’t give it their all against a team that has since been dubbed “The Miracle Braves.” Big shots like George M. Cohan were placing heavy money against the A’s, according to Bruce Kuklick in his book To Every Thing a Season. To further gin up suspicion, Cohan and some others put down their bets by contacting Joseph “Sport” Sullivan, a Boston gambler and bookmaker implicated in the famous Black Sox scandal of 1919.

By 1915, many of Philly’s top players were gone, mostly due to the emergence of the Federal League. This upstart competitor to Major League Baseball raided several teams, including Mack’s Athletics. Mack let ‘em go. Bender left, Baker sat out the season due to a contract dispute, Mack sold Collins to the White Sox, etc. Mack called them all a bunch of “prima donnas.”

The A’s settled into last place for the next seven seasons. They didn’t make it to the postseason again until 1929. Led by Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Lefty Grove, they won two straight World Series and three consecutive pennants. Once again, Mack stood atop the baseball world.

But not for long. Star ballplayers cost money, money that Mack didn’t want to spend. Another sell-off began. Al Simmons ended up with the White Sox, Cochrane with the Detroit Tigers, Foxx and Grove with the Boston Red Sox.

The A’s finished in the second division for the next 14 seasons. They finished last nine times. They were pathetic again.

“Home Run” Baker Smacked 96


By Glen Sparks

Frank Baker swung a mighty bat.

The dead-ball slugger wielded a 52-ounce piece of lumber (nearly 20 ounces heavier than the typical major-league bat used today). Just 5-feet-11 and 173 pounds, Baker took a solid rip. He credited the strong wrists he developed while working on the family farm in Maryland.

Baker, born March 13, 1886, signed a pro baseball contract in 1905 for $5 a week. He tripled that figure one year later by cutting a deal with the Sparrows Point Club in Baltimore. Baker, a third baseman, hit .299 in 1908 for the Reading (Pa.) Pretzels of Class B Tri-State League. Philadelphia A’s manager and executive Connie Mack liked what he saw and bought Baker’s contract.

The left-handed batter hit .305 and led the American League in triples (19) in his rookie season of 1909. He popped four home runs and drove in 85 runs. Baker’s numbers dipped across the board in 1910; he still tripled 15 times, hit .283 and drove in 74. Baker also hit .409 (9-for-22) in the World Series as the A’s beat the Chicago Cubs.

Now, baseball historians call the dead-ball era the “dead-ball era” for a reason. Teams counted on stolen bases, hit-and-run players and other “small-ball” tactics to score runs. Between 1900 and 1920, the league leader in home runs hit 20 or more just four times. Thirteen times, the leader finished in single digits.

Ballparks were huge (635 feet to the center-field fence at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston), the ball was mushy and pitchers loaded up those mushy balls with spit, tobacco juice and anything else to make it dip and do other funny things. Some baseball people sneered at “show-off” home runs. Fans marveled at the rare sightings.

That brings us back to Frank Baker. He played on the $100,000 infield with the A’s, along with first baseman Stuffy McInnis, second baseman Eddie Collins and shortstop Jack Berry. (Note: Yes, being part of a $100,000 infield in the early years of the 20th century was quite a compliment.) In 1911, Baker was as good as anyone in that quartet.

Baker drove in 115 runs and batted .344. He also hit an AL-leading 11 home runs. The A’s once again made it to the World Series, this time against the New York Giants and skipper John McGraw. Always looking for an advantage, McGraw wanted to intimidate Baker.

A few years before, Ty Cobb had spiked Baker while sliding into third. Mack stood up for Baker and accused Cobb of playing dirty. A photograph, though, showed that Baker had reached across the base to tag the Detroit Tigers superstar. Some people thought Baker was soft.

McGraw ordered his runners to go hard into third base. Rough up this Baker guy, McGraw said. Get him off his game. The Giants tried. It didn’t work. Baker at least did not let the Giants’ antics bother him at the plate.

Baker smashed a home run in the sixth inning of Game 2 as the A’s evened the Series at a game apiece. The next day, Baker belted a ninth-inning homer off the great Christy Mathewson. That round-tripper tied the game 1-1. Philly won the game 3-2 in 11 innings.

The A’s celebrated their second straight World Series championship by beating the Giants in six games. The Series included a week-long rain delay. Baker hit .375 (9-for-24). He didn’t hit any more homers after those first two, but that was enough. He would be forever known as “Home Run” Baker.

And, Baker did his best to live up to his new nickname. He slugged one more World Series homer, in 1913 as the A’s beat the Giants again. He also led the league in homers in 1912 (10), 1913 (12) and 1914 (nine).

“Home Run” Baker retired after the 1922 season with 96 career homers. He is 870th on the all-time list, with Bernie Carbo, Rick Dempsey and a handful of other guys. Baker hit one fewer career home run than Tim McCarver. Only, Baker, though played dead-ball baseball.

“Tuck” Stuck Around for 13 Seasons


By Glen Sparks

George “Tuck” Stainback wasn’t blessed with the most musical surname. Nor did he enjoy the most accomplished career as a Major League baseball player.

Over 13 seasons, from 1934 through 1946, Stainback put on the uniform of seven different teams. He didn’t star for any of them. In fact, he retired with just a .259 career batting average and hit only 17 home runs.

Stainback went to bat 359 at-bats as a 22-year-old rookie for the Chicago Cubs. That was his career-high mark in the big leagues.

Even so, the right-handed batter made his mark, both on the field and off it, even if he did not possess the most powerful bat, the fastest feet or the strongest throwing arm.

Stainback, born in Los Angeles on this date in 1911, attended Fairfax High School, near Hollywood. He broke into pro ball in 1931 with the Bisbee, Ariz., Bees. From there, he played two years with the hometown Angels of the Pacific Coast League and signed with the Cubs.

The rookie outfielder batted .306 in 1934 with Chicago, the second-highest mark of his career. (He hit .327 in just 104 at-bats for the Brooklyn Dodgers.) Stainback lasted four seasons in Chicago and then went to the St. Louis Cardinals. He got into just six games in St. Louis being released. The Philadelphia Phillies picked him up on waivers. Midway through the year, Philadelphia sent Stainback to Brooklyn.

He later played with the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees and finished up with the Philadelphia A’s

  • As a Cub, Tuck led a bench-jockeying episode against umpire George Moriarty. The name calling so infuriated Moriarty that he cleared the Chicago bench.
  • That Stainback trade to the Cardinals also involved a pretty good pitcher, Dizzy Dean. On April 16, 1938, St. Louis sent future Hall of Famer Dean to Chicago for $185,000, plus hurlers Curt Davis and Clyde Shoun as well as Stainback.
  • The Phillies selected Stainback off waivers on May 28, 1938. Soon after, he single-handedly kept the great Carl Hubbell from tossing a perfect game. He drew a walk and hit a single, the only Phillies player to get on base.
  • Stainback played in two World Series, in 1942 and ’43 with the Yankees. He earned a ring in that second Series.
  • While the Great Depression was on, Stainback, along with Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti, helped put together the Majors’ first pension fund. The two solicited donations of $250 from each player as a way to start the fund and assist ballplayers down on their luck.

Stainback settled in the L.A. area after retiring. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn for southern California, he asked Dodgers executive Red Patterson for a job. Over the next few decades, Stainback worked in group sales for the Dodges and also ran the team’s Knothole program, providing free tickets for boys and girls.

Stainback died in 1992 at the age of 81.

The Tale of Two Reggies, Jackson and Smith

Reggie Jackson blasts another one.

Reggie Jackson blasts another one.

By Glen Sparks

Jackson or Smith, who was the better Reggie?

You probably know more about Reginald Martinez Jackson, born May 18, 1946, in Wyncote, Pa., near Philadelphia. He rarely lacked for attention, and he truly did spectacular, front-page, “the straw that stirs the drink” sort of stuff during his 21-year career. Before retiring following the 1987 season, Jackson hit 563 home runs and led the American League four times.

At the 1970 All-Star game in Detroit, the left-handed slugger rocketed a Dock Ellis pitch into a light-standard atop Tiger Stadium in right-field, 520 feet from home plate. He led the Oakland A’s to three World Series titles and the New York Yankees to two. In 1977, “Mr. October” blasted three home runs on three straight pitches in Game Six against the Los Angeles Dodgers (off Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa and Charlie Hough, in that order.)

Jackson made 14 All-Star teams and the writers, as they should have, elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1993, in his first year on the ballot. As much as anyone, he was the face of Major League Baseball in the 1970s.

Now, about that “the straw that stirs the drink” thing. He supposedly said that to sportswriter Dave Anderson in July of 1977, to the dismay of teammate Thurman Munson and others. Braggadocio and Reggie Jackson frequently knocked around together. Of course, Jackson did back it up more often than not. He once said that if he played in New York City, they’d name a candy bar after him. He did, and they did. (Catfish Hunter, a cut-up, said this about the Reggie Bar: “I unwrapped it, and it told me how good it was.”)

Jackson liked to take a mighty cut and frequently tied himself into a knot after missing a pitch badly. He struck out 2,596 times, more than anyone in the game’s history. He actually finished with 13 more K’s than hits. No. 44 accumulated 76.6 oWAR points but finished 17.2 points in the hole on dWAR.

One of the great scenes in the Bronx Zoo era of Yankee baseball happened June 18, 1977, during a Saturday afternoon nationally televised game versus the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Jim Rice hit a ball to shallow right field. Jackson jogged in to field it and Rice, hardly a speed burner, ended up on second base. A furious New York skipper, Billy Martin, yanked Reggie from the game. The NBC cameras caught the whole dugout rhubarb on videotape.

“The best thing about being a Yankee is getting to see Reggie Jackson play every day. … The worst thing about being a Yankee is getting to see Reggie Jackson play every day.” – Graig Nettles

The “Other” Reggie

Carl Reginald Smith, born April 2, 1945, in Shreveport, La., grew up in Compton, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles. He played on four Major League teams (the same number as Jackson) and one in Japan, the Yomiuri Giants, in the same era as the more famous Reggie.

Smith belted 314 home runs during a 17-year career, or 249 fewer than Jackson. He drove in 1,092 runs, or 610 fewer than Jackson. Yes, so far, this comparison seems awfully lopsided in favor of Reggie J.

But, let’s move on. Smith batted .287 to Jackson’s .262. His on-base percentage also beat out Jackson, .366 to .356. And, even though Jackson did out-homer Smith by a wide margin, he topped Smith in slugging percentage by just one point, .490 to .489, and in OPS+ by only two, 139 to 137.

Paul Haddad, author of High Fives, Pennant Drives, and Fernandomania, did an interesting comparison of Smith and Jackson. Over a 162-game average over their careers, the numbers look like this: Jackson: 32 home runs, 98 RBI, 89 runs scored, 27 doubles, 79 walks and 149 strikeouts. Smith: 26 home runs, 89 RBI, 92 runs scored, 30 doubles, 73 walks and 84 strikeouts. Wow, pretty close.

On defense, it isn’t even close. Smith won one Gold Glove, probably could have won another, had a great arm and finished with 2.6 dWAR points. (Jackson accumulated 76.6 oWAR points to 55.9 for Smith, which seems like a greater margin than it should be. Even so Smith’s figure is 5.6 points higher than Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda and 7.4 points than inductee Lou Brock.)

What might the difference be? For one, Smith didn’t last as long as Jackson. He retired, or, rather, left for Japan after the 1982 season. (It should be said that he clearly had something left in the tank. He hit .284 in ’82 for the San Francisco Giants and belted 18 homers in only 349 at-bats.) It didn’t help that Smith also suffered some serious injuries late in his career, missing chunks of the 1979-81 seasons.

Jackson won the MVP in 1973 with Oakland and finished in the top five two other times with the A’s and once with the Yankees. Smith finished fourth in the balloting with the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978.

Of course, Jackson lit up the postseason, as mentioned earlier. He hit 18 home runs in 77 playoff and World Series games. Smith hit six in 32.

Reggie Smith also didn’t lit up any reporter’s pens with his electrifying quotes. The man who made seven All-Star teams once said, according to Haddad, “I don’t concern myself with what people say about Reggie Smith.”

Smith stayed on the Hall of Fame ballot for one year, 1988. He grabbed 0.7 of the vote, and that was that. He subsequently did some coaching for the Dodgers and now runs youth baseball academies in the L.A. area.

Bill James rated Jackson as the seventh best right-fielder in baseball history in his 2003 Historical Baseball Abstract. He rated Smith the 20th best but gives him his due, even comparing him with Jackson. He calls him “almost as good, not quite.”

That seems fair. Smith didn’t always do the spectacular stuff that Jackson often did. He was a steady player, though, a complete player, and a very good player.

Fosse Still ‘Blessed’ after Colliding with Rose

By Glen Sparks

Pete Rose liked to say stuff like, “I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.” So, maybe it isn’t surprising that he barreled headfirst into home plate and tore apart Ray Fosse’s left shoulder at the 1970 All-Star game. Rose, after all, represented the winning run.

Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati hosted that memorable game. Rose, 29-years-old and in his eighth season with the Reds, was the local boy (Western Hills High School) who had made good. He was playing in his fifth All-Star game and had won National League batting titles the previous two seasons.

Fosse, 23, from Marion, Ill., was in his first full season with the Cleveland Indians, who had selected him with the seventh overall pick in the 1965 amateur draft. The good people of Marion sent Fosse a congratulatory telegram with 1,713 signatures on it when he made the All-Star team.

Tom Seaver started the 1970 Mid-Summer Classic for the National League, Jim Palmer started for the American League. The A.L. struck first, in the top of the sixth inning. Fosse singled off Gaylord Perry and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Sam McDowell. Carl Yastrzemski singled in Fosse two batters later.

The A.L. led 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning and with Catfish Hunter on the mound. Hunter gave up a solo home run to Dick Deitz and two more hits after that. Skipper Earl Weaver brought in Fritz Peterson to pitch. Peterson promptly gave up a run-scoring single to Willie McCovey and headed to the showers.

Weaver replaced Peterson with Mel Stottlemyre. Roberto Clemente, hitting for Bob Gibson, lofted a sacrifice fly to tie the game 4-4. Extra innings followed.

With two outs in the bottom of the 12th inning, Pete Rose and Billy Grabarkewitz rapped base hits off Clyde Wright, who was pitching his second inning of relief. Jim Hickman added another single, this one to center fielder Amos Otis, who fired the ball home, on the third base side of the plate.

Down the line raced Peter Edward Rose, stocky, barrel-chested and eager to win. He spread out his arms, lifted his legs and, like he probably did every other time during his 24-year career, he dove with full force. The collision broke and separated Fosse’s shoulder.

Rose, who grew up in a tough household, said later, “If I didn’t hit him the way I did, I couldn’t have talked to my father afterward.”

Fosse kept playing for the Indians. The X-rays didn’t show much. He batted .297 the rest of the season but with just two home runs after hitting 16 in the first half. The injury, he said, forced him to change his swing and robbed him of his power.

The following year, results of another round of X-rays confirmed a fracture and a separation. Even so, Fosse made the 1971 All-Star team, the last time he would be so honored. He would go on to play 12 seasons in the big leagues with four teams, batting .256 with 61 career homers. Since 1986, he has broadcast games for the Oakland A’s.

Rose, of course, retired with a major-league record 4,256 base hits. He managed the Reds for a few seasons before getting into a heap of trouble after betting on baseball games. Baseball’s all-time hits leaders remains ineligible for Hall of Fame induction.

He also served a short federal prison stint for tax evasion. Ironically, he served that time at a prison in Marion, Ill., Fosse’s hometown. The people of Marion got a kick out of that, Fosse said.

Every year at All-Star time, Fosse knows reporters will ask him about the most famous collision in the game’s history. He understands. And, he still feels the pain.

“Like a knife sticking me in the shoulder,” he said in a recent article written by Scott Miller for cbssports.com. Even so, his marriage is still going strong after 43 years, and he has plenty of children and grandchildren. “I’m fortunate,” he says. “I’m blessed.”

Fifty Years Ago Today, Monday Was First

By Glen Sparks

Rick Monday went before anyone else 50 years ago today.

Rick Monday went before anyone else 50 years ago today.

Rick Monday went No. 1.

The Kansas City A’s selected Monday with the first pick overall in the inaugural Major League baseball draft, held in 1965, 50 years ago today. He really wasn’t a surprise choice. An outfielder at Arizona State University, Monday had been drawing comparisons to the great Mickey Mantle. He even had blond hair, just like the Mick.

Word sneaked out—or, rather got shouted out—that the A’s had taken Monday with the top pick while the powerhouse Sun Devils were at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., to play in the College World Series. The sportswriters wanted a story.

“Our guys were about to play the most important game of our lives, and here come a bunch of reporters. One of them said, ‘Rick, you’re the No. 1 pick by the A’s.’,” Monday said in a May 27 article written by Lyle Spencer for mlb.com.

Just a few years earlier, it looked like Monday would be a Dodger. Born in Batesville, Ark., Monday grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., a seaside suburb of Los Angeles. The Dodgers’ local scout was none other than future manager Tommy LaSorda.

The negotiations played out in the Monday household in the spring of 1963. Lasorda kept writing out figures on a signing paper. And, he kept ripping up the papers and increasing the number. Finally, the number got to $20,000, according to an article written by Mark Saxon for ESPN.com. That was a lot of money back then.

Nelda Monday wanted Rick to get an education. But, she was a Dodger fan, too.

Nelda told LaSorda that, of course, her son would sign with the Dodgers—just as soon as he got through with college. It was a deal. Then, the draft got in the way..

Baseball created a draft system as a way to keep wealthier teams, especially the Yankees and Cardinals, from stockpiling young talent. Until the draft, amateur prospects could sign as free agents with any team they wanted. Four teams at the 1964 Winter Meetings—the Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers and Mets—argued against a draft. Ultimately, only the Cardinals voted against it. And, that put an end to a handshake deal between Tommy LaSorda and Nelda Monday.

Monday never became Mickey Mantle, one of the greatest sluggers in the baseball history. But, he was still pretty good. The left-handed hitter played 19 years with the A’s, the Chicago Cubs, and, yes, eventually the Dodgers under LaSorda.

He knocked 241 home runs, including a high of 32 for the Cubs in 1976. He drove in 775 runs and only batted .264 but, thanks to a keen knowledge of the strike zone, he retired with an on-base percentage of .364. Monday made the American League All-Star team in 1968 and the National League team in 1978.

Baseball’s first No. 1 may be most famous for “saving the flag” while with the Cubs on April 25, 1976. The bottom of the fourth inning had just begun at Dodger Stadium. Monday noticed that two protesters had run onto the field and were about to set fire to an American flag. Monday, who had served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, sprinted over and grabbed the flag before the protester could set it ablaze. Fans gave Monday a standing ovation when he came to bat in the top of the fifth; a thank you on the message board at Chavez Ravine read “RICK MONDAY … YOU MADE A GREAT PLAY.”

Rick Monday captures the flag in 1976 at Dodger Stadium.

Rick Monday captures the flag in 1976 at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers traded for Monday before the start of the 1977 season, in exchange for Bill Buckner. Monday hit his most famous home run as a Dodger in Game 5 of the 1981 playoffs against the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium. He belted a pitch off Steve Rogers to put the Dodgers ahead 2-1 and send Los Angeles to the World Series. The big-hit event would go down as “Blue Monday.”

Back problems plagued Monday during his time with the Dodgers. He missed significant time during several of his eight seasons in Los Angeles. Monday retired following the 1984 campaign and got into broadcasting, a good career choice thanks to his baritone voice. He continues to do Dodger games, usually as a color man on the radio, with Charlie Steiner doing play-by-play.

On the golden anniversary of his selection in the draft, Monday reflected on the challenge of being No. 1. “Every year that No. 1 pick is selected, and I know what they’re going to go through,” Monday said on truebluela.com, a popular Dodger blog. “If you hit two home runs in a game, why didn’t you hit three? If you have four hits in a game, why didn’t you have five?”

Giants Helped Turn A’s into Elephant Fans

Elephants can live 70 years and eat more than 600 pounds of food every day.

By Glen Sparks

Look fast enough and you’ll notice an elephant figure stitched onto the left sleeve of the Oakland A’s uniform.

New York Giants Manager John McGraw set this design idea in motion more than a century ago. Philadelphia A’s skipper Connie Mack smiled and said “thank you very much”—or something like that.

The A’s elephant story goes back to 1901 and to the team’s first days in Philadelphia. McGraw wanted Baseball to stop skipper Mack and team owner Benjamin Shibe from buying up ballplayers fleeing the National League. The great hitter Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie, for instance, jumped from the Philadelphia Phillies to the brand-new A’s following the 1900 campaign.

Those A’s, McGraw said, they’re a bunch of “white elephants.” Or, as some sources say, McGraw told Mack that the A’s had “a white elephant on their hands.” A white elephant being, in this sense, something that costs more than it’s worth and is difficult to maintain. (The term originated long ago in Thailand, then called Siam. Kings there gave sacred white elephants to royalty in nearby countries. They were nice presents, but a bit impractical, elephants being so large and possessing enormous appetites.)

The A’s quickly adopted the white elephant figure as a mascot. In fact, before the start of the 1905 World Series between the A’s and Giants, Mack gave McGraw his very own stuffed elephant. McGraw, in the spirit of the occasion, accepted the gift.

In 1909, the A’s began wearing an elephant logo on their pre-game sweaters. Nine years later, the elephant made it onto the A’s actual game uniforms. Retired as a mascot in 1963, the pachyderm reappeared in 1988. Known in the mid-1980s as Harry Elephante (Get it?), the mascot now performs under the name of Stomper. And, yes, he works for peanuts.

(Doing research on the elephant and the A’s prompted me to look into the story behind the elephant mascot tradition at the University of Alabama. Here is the short-form version on that one: During at least one game in 1930, the Crimson Tide started their second team. At the beginning of the second quarter, Alabama Coach Wallace Wade ordered his first-team onto the field. Journalist Everett Strupper wrote that he could hear the rumble as the players bounded to their positions. A fan yelled, “Hold your horses, the elephants are coming.” Struper and others began referring to the team as “the Red Elephants.” The reference stuck. You often see elephants on Alabama gear. The name of the mascot is Big Al.)

Which Philly/K.C./Oakland Athletic …

He is the answer to question No. 4.

He is the answer to question No. 4.

By Glen Sparks

This is something you may not know: The A’s have won nine World Series during their far-flung history. Only the New York Yankees (27) and St. Louis Cardinals (11) have won more. This club has a history of being really good or really bad. One of baseball’s great franchises in the early 1900s, the team sold off its good players and finished last every season from 1915 through 1921. The A’s revved it up again, won more than 100 games for three straight years (1929-31) and then quickly went back into the cellar. Never very good in Kansas City, the A’s built a dynasty in Oakland, turned into a laughingstock for a few years and still hope to win their first “Moneyball” title.

  1. Which Philadelphia A’s star played third base for the so-called “$100,000 infield”?
  2. Which pitcher for the Philadelphia A’s once played semi-pro ball for the Los Angeles Looloos?

    He was a Looloo.

    He was a Looloo.

  3. Which Philadelphia A’s star also played for the Chicago White Sox from 1915-26?
  4. Which Philadelphia A’s Hall of Famer grew up on the White Earth Indian Reservation near Brainerd, Minn.?
  5. Which Philadelphia A’s manager is first on the all-time list for wins and also all-time losses?
  6. Which ace for the Philadelphia A’s led the A.L. in wins four times, ERA five times apiece and in strikeouts seven times?
  7. Which Kansas City A’s player pitched three innings for the team in 1965 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971?
  8. Which Kansas City A’s outfielder later managed a major league team in K.C.?
  9. Which Oakland A’s pitcher threw the ninth perfect game in major league history?
  10. Which Oakland’s A’s player was the first to hit home runs in his first two World Series at-bats? 
  • Frank “Home Run” Baker. John “Stuffy” McInnis played first base, Eddie Collins played second and Jack Barry was at shortstop. Baker, a Hall of Famer, slugged 96 home runs in his career, a strong number during the deadball era. Baker led the American League in home runs four straight years, 1911-14. He went into the Hall of Fame in 1955.
  • “Rube” Waddell. His life story was alternately funny and tragic. He was a heck of a pitcher, though. He threw for the Looloos one offseason. You can read more about the Hall of Famer in this post.
  • Eddie Collins. Collins was both athletic and brainy. He graduated from Columbia University in New York City. Collins led the league in stolen bases four times and won the MVP in 1914. The Hall of Famer played 13 seasons with the A’s and 12 with the Chicago White Sox. He retired with a .333 career batting average and 3,315 career hits.

    Eddie Collins is 11th on the all-time hits list 3,315.

    Eddie Collins is 11th on the all-time hits list 3,315.

  • Charles Albert “Chief” Bender. Bender was born in Crow Wing County, Minn., on May 5, 1884. They called him “Chief” because that’s what they usually called Native-American players back then. Bender compiled a 212-127 won-loss mark with the A’s. He the league in winning percentage three times and threw a no-hitter in 1910. Baseball writers elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1953.
  • Cornelius McGillicuddy Sr. You probably know him as Connie Mack. He started managing the A’s in 1901 and didn’t retire until 1950 at the age of 87. You can do that sort of thing when you own the team. His clubs won five World Series, but none after 1930. His career won loss mark of 3,731-3,948 over 53 years (including three seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates) made him a sub-.500 manager. His later teams were pretty bad. Mack never wore a uniform as skipper. He showed up for work in a suit and wearing a hat.
  • Moses “Lefty” Grove. He may be the greatest left-hander in baseball history. Anyway, the argument is among Grove, Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson. Grove won the A.L. MVP in 1931, going 31-4 with a 2.06 ERA. Later, he led the league in ERA four times with the Boston Red Sox. He is, of course, a Hall of Famer.
  • Leroy “Satchel” Paige. The legendary pitcher went 28-31 in the majors, and that’s embarrassing. He was a 42-year-old rookie in 1948 with the Cleveland Indians, and that’s also embarrassing. Paige, of course, earned his reputation in the Negro Leagues as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. The tall, slender right-hander out of Mobile, Ala., played in numerous exhibition games against some of the top big-league players. Joe DiMaggio supposedly said that Paige was the best pitcher he ever faced; Bob Feller said Paige was the best pitcher he ever saw. Satch, who warned everyone not to look back (“something might be gaining on you”), played for the Indians in 1948-49, the St. Louis Browns from 1951-53 and the A’s in ’65 for one game at the age of 58. Paige made it into the Hall of Fame in 1971.
  • Whitey Herzog. Herzog played 12 seasons in the majors, mostly as an outfielder. He hit .268 in three seasons with the Kansas City A’s. Later, he gained a reputation as one of baseball’s top managers, first with the Texas Rangers and, later, more notably with the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals. His teams won six division titles, three pennants and the 1982 World Series. The White Rat, as many affectionately called him, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • Gene Tenace. The hard-hitting catcher broke in with the A’s in 1969. He hit home runs in his first two at-bats in Game 1 of the 1972 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Tenace also slammed homers in games four and five and was named Series MVP. In eight other postseason series, Tenace went homerless. 10. He hit 201 round-trippers in his career.
  • Jim “Catfish” Hunter. The right-hander won 224 games in his career, relying on guile and off-speed stuff. On May 8, 1968, Hunter threw his perfecto against the Minnesota Twins. He tossed 107 pitches and struck out 11.

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

Call In the Moving Vans … Or, Do the Major League Shuffle

Willie Mays began his incredible career with the New York Giants and continued it in San Francisco beginning in 1958.

Willie Mays began his incredible career with the New York Giants and continued it in San Francisco beginning in 1958.

This is the first of a two-part follow-up to my three-part series on the Boston-Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves. (Yep, the math gets crazy sometimes.) You can read parts I, II and III here. This post reports on the franchise shuffling in major league baseball that followed Boston’s departure to Milwaukee. My next post will cover the Seattle Pilots-Milwaukee Brewers drama/fiasco.

By Glen Sparks

Next stop …

The Boston Braves’ move to Milwaukee in 1953 ushered in a round of franchise relocations that lasted more than a decade. Suddenly, owners were looking at U.S. maps, trying to swap problem markets for shiny, new ones. The following is a rundown on the relocations that followed the Boston-to-Milwaukee move, the first one in major league baseball since the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York in 1903 and became the Hilltoppers, (later, the Yankees).

The St. Louis Browns. Oft-forgotten in a city with the powerful Cardinals and usually buried in the standings, St. Louis’s American League franchise called in the moving vans in 1954.  In this case, a bit against the prevailing grain, those vans headed east rather than south or west. The rechristened Baltimore Orioles played to great success following some early struggles.

The Philadelphia A’s. The team had fallen on hard times after winning five championships under legendary manager Connie Mack. Following a 107-45 campaign in 1931 and a 94-60 one in 1932, the A’s suffered through six 100-loss seasons (plus six with at least 95) over the next 20-plus seasons.  They moved to Kansas City in 1955. The Midwest’s version of the A’s never had a .500 season and lost at least 100 games four times in 13 years.

Brooklyn Dodgers/New York Giants. You could write an entire book on this, and many people have. The bottom line is this: Major League baseball was going to be in Los Angeles at some point. Dodger owner Walter O’Malley negotiated with New York City officials—faithfully or not—and couldn’t come to an agreement. L.A. officials opened their arms and offered O’Malley some premium property on a hill north of downtown. The Dodgers needed another team out west and invited the Giants, who were playing in the dilapidated Polo Grounds. The teams began play in L.A. and San Francisco in 1958. Each franchise draws more than three million fans every year. That’s the very, very short version. Roger Kahn can give you the long version. Be careful, though. He had a dog in this race.

Washington Senators. “First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.” That’s what many people said about Washington, D.C., and Senators baseball. The team that once boasted the great pitcher Walter Johnson, that won back-to-back World Series in 1924-25 and that took the pennant in 1933 (losing to the Giants in the Series) crashed hard. Plenty of losing seasons were wrapped around a few winning ones in the years following the ’33 campaign. Owner Calvin Griffith moved his club to Minneapolis-St. Paul before the 1961 season and changed the team name to the Twins.

Milwaukee Braves. The fun didn’t last forever. Before long, the team fell both in the standings and in the stands. The team left for Atlanta in 1966. Read more about it more in Part II.

Kansas City A’s. Like the Braves, the A’s played in their new home city for 13 seasons. The A’s, though, didn’t enjoy nearly as much success as the Braves did. Attendance in Kansas City topped out at nearly 1.4 million, in the team’s inaugural season of 1955, and began on a gradual slope downward after that. Eccentric owner Charles O. Finley took his team to Oakland in 1968. The result: 16 division titles, six A.L. pennants, five World Series titles and an organization synonymous with Moneyball.

Seattle Pilots. It didn’t work out. (More about this in my next post.)

Washington Senators II. The nation’s capital got a new team as soon as the old one left. From 1961-71, the latest version of the Senators lost an average of 90 games every season. Two cool things: Frank Howard, all 6-feet-7 of him, hit some monstrous home runs. The so-called “Capital Punisher” won two home run titles. Also, former Red Sox great Ted Williams managed the club for a few years. His tenure including an 86-76 (.531) campaign in 1969. The team still finished fourth, but it was the best year for a Washington Senators Part II squad. Before the 1972 campaign, the team left for Arlington, Texas, in suburban Dallas and became the Rangers.

Since then, just one baseball team has left its home city. The Expos departed Montreal for Washington, D.C., in 2005 to become the Nationals, the third team since 1900 to make a go of it in the District.