Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman put it all together on this date in 1953. They were the best nine innings of his 65.1 inning major league career.
Holloman, a right-hander for the St. Louis Browns, no-hit the Philadelphia A’s at Sportsman’s Park. He did it on a rainy night with 2,473 fans taking in the action.
St. Louis Manager Marty Marion ordered Holloman to the mound after the rookie had thrown four times in relief for the Browns. Nothing that Bobo had done before inspired any confidence. Over 5.1 innings, he had given up five runs on 10 hits and three walks.
But, Holloman had started in the minors, and he wanted to start in the majors. During the 1952 season, with the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League, Bobo compiled an impressive 16-7 won-loss record with a 2.51 ERA.
And, he was already 29-year-old ballplayer. Bob missed time while serving in the Navy during World War II. Back home in 1946, he signed with the Macon Peaches, a Class A team, and began making slow progress toward the majors.
On May 6, 1953, Marion started Bobo against the A’s because they were “the softest competition,” out there, according to Browns owner Bill Veeck in his best-seller Veeck as in Wreck. And, he didn’t exactly fool too many Philly batters. Wee Willie Keeler told batters that a secret to successful batting was to “hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Well, Bobo made ‘em hit it where they were. Or, at least it happened that way.
“Everything he threw up was belted,” Veeck wrote. “And everywhere the ball went, there was a Brownie there to catch it.”
Good defense helped Bobo. So, too, did the humid night in St. Louis that held up Philadelphia flyballs. One A’s hitter reached on a Holloman error. Bobo also walked five, including three in the ninth inning. The rookie held on, though, as the Browns won 6-0.
A few months later, Bobo was out of baseball. He never threw another no-hitter, of course. He didn’t throw another shutout or even another complete game, either. Holloman retired with a 3-7 mark as a big leaguer with a 5.23 ERA (81 ERA+). He pitched his last game July 19 and was out of baseball for good, following a stint in the winter leagues and in the minors, by the close of the 1954 season.
Bobo battled the bottle, opened an advertising business and died May 1, 1987, at the age of 64. For one night in the big leagues, he was both lucky and good.
By Glen Sparks
Pitcher Johnny Allen featured a fastball, a curveball and a temper. New York Yankees trainer Earle “Doc” Painter once said, “He expects to win every time he pitches, and if he doesn’t win, he may turn on anybody.”
Fortunately, Allen did a lot of winning, especially early in his 13-year career. He put up some snazzy won-loss marks. In his rookie season of 1932, the right-hander went 17-4 (.810 winning percentage) for the Yanks. The following year, he finished 15-7 (.682).
Allen put together a 20-10 season (.667) for the Cleveland Indians in 1936 and a 15-1 campaign (.938) in 1937 for the Tribe. Through his first seven seasons, he was 99-38. The native of Thomasville, N.C., retired with a 142-75 (.654) career mark.
Now, the hurler did get some help. His New York teammates included the original bash brothers, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Allen didn’t worry about losing 1-0 or 2-1. He could give up some runs and still win.
In fact, after recording a solid ERA of 3.70 in his rookie campaign (ERA+ 110), he posted a tepid 4.39 number in his sophomore year (ERA+ 89). Of course, Allen fans can point out that the pitcher finished with a 3.44 ERA in ’36 (149 ERA+, second in the American League) and a 2.55 ERA in 37 (176 ERA+, third in the A.L.). So, yes, Johnny Allen could pitch.
He could also throw a fit. Allen’s “sour attitude” led the Yanks to trade him following the 1935 season despite going 50-19 in four seasons with the Bronx Bombers. He didn’t work and play with others.
Allen was at his most stubborn on June 7, 1938, pitching against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. Boston’s Jimmie Foxx ripped a two-run home run in the first inning, one of 534 dingers that “Double X” would hit in his great career.
When the inning ended, Boston’s player/manager Joe Cronin walked out to umpire-in-chief Bill McGowan. Those tattered sleeves on the sweatshirt Allen is wearing underneath his jersey are a distraction to the batter, Cronin said. (Apparently, they didn’t bother Foxx.) McGowan agreed; he told Allen to get rid of the sweatshirt.
Allen left the mound and headed to the clubhouse. But, he didn’t go in there to change. He went in there to simmer. He had no intention of changing. Indians Manager Ossie Vitt fined Allen $250 and put in Bill Zuber to pitch.
Later, Allen said Cronin only complained as a gag. He also said McGowan was out to get him. “Whenever McGowan works a game I pitch, there’s always been a lot of petty, sniveling stuff going on.” McGowan, for his part, said he read the rulebook word-for-word to Allen. No tattered sleeves allowed.
The following season, during the 1938 All-Star break, Allen suffered an arm injury. He was 12-1 at the time, but he went just 2-7 the rest of the way with an ugly 6.29 ERA. In the final six years of his career, Allen pitched for Cleveland, the St. Louis Browns, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. He went a combined 43-37 and once attacked an umpire on May 27, 1943, in Forbes Field. Of all the loose cannons in the baseball world, Johnny Allen was among the loosest.
Allen left baseball to get into the real estate business in Florida. He also became a part-time minor-league umpire, much to the shock and delight of some sportswriters. One guy wrote that Allen in an ump’s uniform looked “about as much at home as a camel in a camel’s-hair coat.”
The temperamental pitcher/umpire died March 29, 1959, at the age of 54. His famous sweatshirt, tattered indeed, is part of the permanent collection at Cooperstown. Allen sold it to Higbee’s, a Cleveland department store, for something between $50 and $600. The store wanted to put the quickly famous garment on display in a window. “This is the shirt that cost Johnny Allen $250,” a sign read. Higbee’s donated the sweatshirt to the Hall of Fame in the offseason.
McGowan, elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1992, said he fined Allen $250, that in addition to the club fine. The umpire said later that Allen sold the sweatshirt for $600, on the high end of the estimates. “So,” McGowan concluded, “he made $100 on the deal.”
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.
By Glen Sparks
Harry Howell, you were all wet.
Howell threw one of the soggiest spitballs of all-time. Not that there was anything wrong with that. Every pitch Howell tossed, no matter how soaked, was perfectly legal.
Born on this date in 1876, Howell grew up playing baseball in Brooklyn. He debuted in 1898 with the hometown Bridegrooms (the forerunner of the Dodgers). The stocky right-hander bounced around a bit in his early days, going back and forth from Brooklyn to Baltimore and finally to the Yankees. New York teammate Jack Chesbro taught Howell the spitball.
On March 5, 1904, the Yanks traded Howell to the St. Louis Browns. The pitcher enjoyed a solid, and wet, five-year run in St. Louis from 1904-08. He only went 77-90, but his ERA ranged from a tiny 2.19 to a teeny-tiny 1.89. Howell finished in the top 10 in ERA four times in the run-suppressed Dead Ball Era. He also led the American League in complete games in 1905 with 35. Supposedly, Howell threw one spitter after another.
Who exactly invented the spitter is still up for debate. Some say it was Elmer Stricklett, some say Frank Corrigan. Ed Walsh, a Hall of Famer for the Chicago White Sox, relied on spitballs. “Dutch” Leonard, “Urban” Shocker and Burleigh Grimes also threw lots of wet pitches.
The idea behind the spitball was that gunk put on one side of the ball–spittle or something else—made the pitch do some loopy things. Also, owing again to the gunk, pitchers could make the ball sort of slip out of their hands with little or no movement. Hence, the pitch looked like a fastball with some crazy knuckleball action.
The problem with the spitball wasn’t simply that batters had a hard time hitting it. A tailing fastball and sweeping curveball were hard to hit, too.
Another problem was that batters couldn’t see it. Pitchers loaded up the ball with tobacco, licorice and other dark substances. Howell liked to chew the soft bark from slippery elm trees, mix it with spittle and rub up the ball. Batters lost track of the pitch in dim light.
On Aug. 16, 1920, Yankee pitcher Carl Mays hit Cleveland’s Ray Chapman in the head with a spitball on a dark, cloudy afternoon. Chapman probably never saw the pitch. Tragically, he died 12 hours later.
Baseball outlawed the spitball following the 1920 season. Spitballers needed to eat, too, though. Any remaining “wet” pitchers could keeping loading up.
Burleigh Grimes threw the last legal spitball, probably at some point in his final game, Sept. 20, 1934, for the Pirates. Lew Burdette, Gaylord Perry and several others supposedly threw plenty of illegal ones.
As for Howell, he retired after the 1910 season with a 131-146 career record and a 2.74 ERA. He is 82nd on the career ERA list, 87th in complete games (244) and 68th in hits batsman (97).
Howell left the baseball world to work as a steamfitter in the Seattle shipyards. He later migrated to Spokane where he took jobs as a hotel manager, bowling alley manger and more. Howell also worked with the Spokane minor league baseball team for several years. He died May 22, 1956, at age 79.
The “Red’ Reilly Sports Report
“Good afternoon, sports fans. Or, rather, good evening, from that bustling city by the Mississippi River, St. Louis, Missouri. This is Red Reilly, your roving correspondent with the American Radio Sports Network, reporting to you live from Sportsman’s Park, just a short trolley ride away from downtown St. Lou. Today, the St. Louis Cardinals, that National League powerhouse, defeated the perennial underdog St. Louis Browns, the American League champs, in the sixth and deciding game of the 1944 World Series. The Cardinals behind starter Max Lanier beat the Brownies and Nels Potter 3-1. This marks the second time in three seasons that the Cardinals can celebrate a World Series championship. And you can hear plenty of honking horns and see many smiling faces as you look up and down busy Grand Avenue.
It was a chilly day here in St. Louis, more indicative of the autumn sport of football than baseball. The bats were cold, too. The Browns scored their lone run in the third inning. Chet Laabs belted a triple and came home on a single from George McQuinn. The Redbirds plated all their runs in the fourth inning. Walker Cooper took four balls and scored on an error. Billy Verban and pitcher Lanier, helping his own cause, contributed the big hits in the inning. Both players drove in single runs.
The Mort Cooper tale doesn’t go the way you want. The story never takes that turn toward recovery.
Still, you pull for a happy ending. You hope he can quit the booze. You cheer for one of his business deals to finally go right. You pray he saves that last dollar and doesn’t spend it on something else dumb. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go that way. Mort Cooper keeps heading in the wrong direction.
Except, that is, on the field for three seasons in St. Louis. Cooper, a talented right-hander with a balky elbow and a blazing fastball, led the Cardinal pitching staff during the World War II era. He started two games in the 1944 Streetcar Series. After losing 2-1 in the opener, he shut out the Browns 2-0 in Game 5. Cooper, who struck out 12 and scattered seven hits, ended the game in dramatic fashion by striking out the side.
The teams were knotted up 0-0 going into the sixth inning. Ray Sanders, the Cardinals’ first baseman, ended the scoreless game with a solo home run. Outfielder Danny Litwhiler added another solo home run for the Cardinals in the eighth. The victory gave the National League pennant winners a 3-2 Series lead.
Stan Musial, Cardinal baseball immortal, retired at the age of 42. He played his last World Series game at age 25.
Musial—Stan the Man to you and me—played in four Series, all in his first four full seasons in St. Louis. The left-fielder who collected 1,815 career hits at home and that same number on the road, hit a pedestrian .256 in 86 October at-bats. (Musial batted .331 in his career with a single-season high of .376 in 1948.) He slammed his only World Series home run in Game 4 of the 1944 Classic.
Musial’s first-inning two-run dinger off Browns starter Sig Jakucki helped the Cardinals to a 5-1 victory that tied the Series at two games apiece. Musial also started the Cardinals’ two-run rally in the third inning, again off Jakucki. He singled, and Walker Cooper followed with an RBI base hit. Walker scored when Browns’ second baseman Don Gutteridge booted a groundball hit by Ray Sanders.
Al Hollingsworth, in relief of Jakucki, gave up the Cardinals’ final run. Sanders knocked a single and scored on a double by Marty Marion. Cardinal starter Harry Brecheen scattered nine hits in a complete-game effort. He gave up just a lone run, in the eighth inning.