By Glen Sparks
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.”
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?”
By Glen Sparks
James Vaughn pitched quite well for a man named “Hippo.”
The left-hander from Weatherford, Texas, won 178 games in his 13-year big league career. He fashioned a 2.49 ERA (119 ERA+) and tossed 41 shutouts. Many fans of baseball history know him for being on the losing end of a so-called “double no-hitter.”
Vaughn, born on this date in 1888, did most of his best work with the Chicago Cubs. He went 151-105 in nine seasons on the north side. Conversely, he compiled just a 27-32 won-loss record in five seasons with the New York Highlanders (forerunner of the Yankees) and Washington Senators.
The Highlanders discovered Vaughn while he was pitching for Temple in the hot, dusty Texas League. Scouts liked the way the youngster chucked fastballs and fooled hitters. Vaughn tossed a couple of major league innings in 1908, hurled a minor-league no-hitter in 1909 and put together a solid 1910 season on the big club. His 13-11 record barely told the story. He added a 1.83 ERA (159 ERA+) and five shutouts to that.
New York figured it had a star. But, the star faded fast. Vaughn followed up with an 8-10 year in 1911 and an unfavorable 4.39 ERA (82 ERA+). He split 1912 as a Highlander and Senator, going 6-11 with a 3.88 ERA (90 ERA+).
Washington sent Vaughn to Chicago. And, things really clicked. Vaughn turned into one of the game’s top lefties. He won at least 20 games five times as a Cub and 19 games once. In 1918, he led the National League in wins (22), ERA (1.74), ERA+ (159), shutouts (eight) innings pitched (290.1) and strikeouts (148). Vaughn also led the NL in innings pitched (306.2) and strikeouts (141) in 1919.
Vaughn’s most famous game came two seasons before, May 2, 1917, at Weeghman Park, the original name for Wrigley Field. Vaughn hooked up with Fred Toney of the Cincinnati Reds. Both pitchers threw nine innings of no-hit ball. Vaughn had struck out 10 and walked two through nine. With one out in the 10th, the Reds’ Larry Kopf broke up the no-no with a single to right-field. Kopf ended up scoring, and Toney and the Reds prevailed 1-0. (Toney retired the side in order in the bottom of the 10th inning to preserve his no-hitter. Vaughn’s game is no longer considered a no-hitter, as it once was. It remains, though, the only big league game when both starters completed nine innings without giving up a hit.)
Through the years, the Cubs counted on Vaughn to win big games. And, Vaughn was a big guy. They didn’t call him “Hippo” for nothing. Svelte he was not. Baseball-reference.com lists Vaughn at a rock-solid 6-feet-4, 215 pounds, good size for an NFL quarterback of today and larger-than-life for a big-league pitcher in the World War I era. Some sources say Vaughn checked in at almost 300 pounds near the end of his productive career.
Vaughn retired after losing a game July 9, 1921 and falling to just 3-11 with a 6.01 ERA. It was his only bad season in Chicago. The problem is, Hippo didn’t hold a press conference to call it quits. He just left. The Cubs suspended Hippo; so did Commissioner/Baseball Czar Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
Things just got worse for Vaughn. His wife reported him missing. She called the police. The couple’s son, “Little Hippo,” missed his dad. Could the police please find the man, Mrs. Vaughn asked. Actually, Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn had planned to go their separate ways. Hippo had accused his wife of being unfaithful. Harry Debold defended his daughter’s honor by stabbing his son-in-law outside a bar in Kenosha, Wisc. Hippo quickly and quietly recovered from his wounds.
Following his career in the majors, Hippo began pitching semi-pro ball. He did this for years. In the majors, he won 178 games. He came out on top 223 more times in the minors and in semi-pro leagues, giving him 401 total victories.
He left baseball at age 49 to become a refrigerator assembler in Chicago and died May 29, 1966. Vaughn never garnered any Hall of Fame support. Still, he remains one of the greatest pitchers in Cubs history. He was awfully good for a “Hippo.”
By Glen Sparks
The Chicago White Stockings played their first game in 1870 and took off two seasons following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The club played as the Colts from 1890-97 and the Orphans from 1898-1902. They have been the Cubs ever since. The franchise has won 16 pennants (10 since 1900) and two World Series. (None since 1908, but you knew that.) Wrigley Field opened in 1914 on the city’s north side. It’s worth a visit or two.
1. This pitcher retired in 1878 with a sparkling won-loss record of 252-65.
2. Before joining the Cubs, he enrolled at the University of California with the intention of becoming a dentist.
3. He shut out he Detroit Tigers in the clinching game of the 1908 World Series.
4. This catcher left the team in 1909 to become a professional pool player.
5. He gave up Babe Ruth’s supposed called-shot home run in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.
6. This player hit the home run that would go down in history as the Homer in the Gloamin’.
7. He played fast-pitch softball for a church league because his high school did not field a baseball team.
8. This pitcher went 7-19 in his three seasons with the team after being traded for one of baseball’s all-time greats?
9. Name the pitcher who was acquired, along with Adolfo Phillips and John Hernstein, for Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl?
10. He once held the National League record for consecutive games played.
1. Al Spalding. The right-hander packed plenty of wins into just six full seasons and a couple of weeks of another. Spalding actually accumulated 204 of his career victories with the Boston Red Stockings (forerunner of the Braves), then went 47-12 with the 1876 White Stockings. He retired early in the 1877 campaign but stayed on as manager and part-owner of the Cubs. He later co-founded the prominent sporting goods company that bears his name.
2. Frank Chance. Chance, a first baseman, did not play organized ball until he enrolled at Cal in the late 1890s. Cubs scouts saw him playing for an independent league team in California in 1897 and signed him to a deal. Chance became a Hall of Famer instead of a dentist. He was one/third of the Tinker to Evers to Chance combination in Chicago.
3. Orval Overall (one of my favorite names). The pitcher from Farmersville, Calif., (He attended Cal just like Chance) compiled a 108-71 life-time mark with Cincinnati and Chicago. He won a game in the 1907 World Series, helping the Cubs to their first title, and two in 1908 against Detroit, including the three-hit shutout in the clincher. The Cubs were the first team to win back-to-back Series.
4. Johnny Kling. One of the great defensive catchers, the Kansas City, Mo., native also played a great game of pool. During exhausting contract disputes, Kling usually threatened to retire from baseball and become a professional billiards player. He made good on his threat in 1909 but returned to the Cubs in 1910.
5. Charlie Root. This episode, played out at Wrigley Field on Oct. 1, 1932, remains a source of mystery and controversy. Ruth did point, grainy film attests to that. But was he pointing to the center-field bleachers, to Root, or to something else? We do know that the score was 4-4 and in the fifth inning of Game 3. Root had one strike against Ruth when the Babe pointed. Root hung a curveball on the next pitch. Ruth crushed the ball to the deepest part of centerfield. The legend of the “called shot” began shortly thereafter. Root was in the midway point of his career at that point. He won 201 games before retiring after the ’41 season. He broke in with the St. Louis Browns in 1923 but won all of his big league games as a Cub.
6. Gabby Hartnett. The Hall of Fame catcher out of Woonsocket, R.I., hit 236 home runs in his career. None is more famous than the one he blasted Sept. 28, 1938, as a player-manager with the Cubs. It was edging toward darkness at lightless Wrigley Field with the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates tied 5-5. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the count against him at 0-2, Harnett connected on a pitch from Mace Brown. The ball headed straight for the bleachers, a Homer in the Gloamin’. The expression was a take-off of a popular play, Roamin in the Gloamin. “Gloamin” is a region term for twilight.
7. Ernie Banks. The man who made “Let’s play two” lettered in football, basketball and track at Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas. Booker T. did not offer baseball. Instead, Banks played fast-pitch softball for a local church and baseball for a semipro team in Amarillo. Banks played his entire 19-year career with the Cubs and hit 512 home runs. He was a two-time National League MVP and first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1977.
8. Ernie Broglio. Brock for Broglio. You hear it all the time in St. Louis. “Brock for Broglio. HA! HA! HA! What a steal.” And, of course, Lou Brock did steal 888 of his 938 bases as a Cardinal, en route to the Hall of Fame. But, Broglio was a good pitcher in St. Louis. He went 21-9 in 1960 with a 2.74 ERA (league-leading 148 ERA+) and finished 18-8 in 1963 with a 2.99 ERA (119 ERA+). Brock, meanwhile, was still learning the game in Chicago. When the two were traded for one another (There were other players involved, but it was essentially indeed Brock for Broglio), on June 15, 1964, Brock learned fast, helping his new team to a pennant. Broglio, meanwhile, had a sore arm and couldn’t do much for the Cubs. He had gone 70-55 in St. Louis. … Apparently, he is a pretty good sport about the whole “Brock for Broglio. HA! HA! HA!” thing.
9. Ferguson Jenkins. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was originally a Philadelphia Phillie. He played on four other teams in his career, but won 167 of his 284 games with the Cubs. Jenkins put up six straight 20 win seasons in Chicago (1967 to 1972. He also won 25 games for the Texas Rangers in 1974.) In 1971, Fergie earned an N.L. Cy Young Award, going 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA (141 ERA+). He threw more than 300 innings five times in his career and finished in the top six in the Cy Young voting six times. The first person born in Canada to be elected to the Hall of Fame, he made it on the third ballot.
10. Billy Williams. Williams was a part of that Hall of Fame quartet that the Cubs had during much of the 1960s and early ‘70s. Along with Jenkins, Banks and Ron Santo, Williams kept the Cubs in the race but the team could never quite make it over the hump. Williams hit 426 career home runs (392 with the Cubs) and was a six-time All-Star. Twice he was runner-up in the MVP voting. He played in 1,117 straight games from 1962-71, a mark that stood until Steve Garvey broke it. Williams was elected to Cooperstown on the third ballot in 1991.
By Glen Sparks
You’re probably familiar with the term “built like a fireplug.” Caveman comic Barney Rubble, second banana to Fred Flintstone, fits the description. So did Chicago Cubs slugger Hack Wilson.
Baseball-reference.com, the Internet’s reason for being, lists Wilson at 5-foot-6, 190 pounds. He probably checked in well over that by the sad ending. A sportswriter put it this way: “He was built like a beer keg and not entirely unfamiliar with its contents.” Hack Wilson liked to drink. A lot.
For a handful of seasons, though, and for one glorious one in particular, Wilson punished fastballs and curveballs from even the best pitchers. One year, he set a record that still stands. More on that later. On this date in 1979, Hack was selected to enter the Hall of Fame. More on that in a bit, too.
Wilson grew up in western Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh, to alcoholic parents who never married. He quit school at age 16 to swing a sledgehammer for a locomotive company. He was a clean-up hitter in the making, his forearms getting bigger every day.
The following year, in 1917, Wilson signed with the Leipersville, Pa., Field Club. By then, he wore size 5 ½ shoes but had an 18-inch-neck. He probably was stronger than anyone else in town. At first a catcher, he later moved to the outfield.
Hack made it to the majors in 1923 with the New York Giants. He spent three seasons in New York, mostly as a part-time player, and hit a total of 16 home runs. Apparently, he got the nickname “Hack” while with the Giants. Manager John McGraw, another person determined to best describe Lewis Robert Wilson, said his young player looked like a “hack,” an early name for a taxi. The name stuck.
Wilson, though, left New York in 1926 for Chicago and his glory days. The Giants, impatient with the young talent, had put him on waivers. The Cubs picked him up. Soon, Hack was blasting tape-measure home runs at Wrigley Field and enjoying his time as a fan favorite. He led the National League in home runs (21), drove in 109 and hit .321 with a .406 on-base percentage. He also got himself arrested early in the season, caught trying to leave a speakeasy ahead of the cop. It was a sign.
More home runs followed. So, did fights (with teammates, heckling fans, etc.) and more booze parties. Hack famously said that he never played drunk, though. “Hung over, yes; drunk, no.” Anyway, Hack kept going. The booze didn’t get in the way of the blasts. Wilson led the league in home runs in 1927 (30) and again in ’28 (31). A Chicago reporter wrote that Wilson, “was built like a Bulgarian wrestler, unacquainted with the poets and a laborer by trade.”
In 1929, Hack slugged 39 round-trippers, but that was good for just third. He also hit .345 (.425 on-base percentage) and drove in 159 runs (best in the league.)
All this was mere prelude to Wilson’s record-setting season in 1930. Not only did Wilson club 56 home runs to set a league record (since broken), he finished with 190 RBI (Modern-day historians did some research and have added one RBI to Hack’s previous total. The number to shoot for now is 191.)
And that was pretty much it. In 112 games in 1931, Wilson hit just 13 home runs, 43 fewer than he had hit the previous year. He drove in 61 runs, down 130 from ’30. His batting average, .356 in 1930, plummeted to .261.
The Cubs sent their superstar to Brooklyn where he did mount something of a one-season comeback. He hit 23 home runs for the Dodgers in 1932 and drove in 123 with a .297 batting average. In his final year, split between Brooklyn and the Pittsburgh Pirates, the former superstar knocked just six out of the park. He was done at 34.
In his 12-year career, Wilson launched 244 home runs with 1,063 RBI and a 307 batting average, .395 on-base percentage and .545 slugging average. Out of baseball, Wilson did what many ex-players did. He struggled. His business ventures never worked, he couldn’t get a job in baseball and finally found work as a laborer for the city of Baltimore. Until someone found out he was a former star baseball. Boy, that did it. They made him the manager of a city pool.
Hack Wilson died after he fell at home on Nov. 23, 1948, age 48. He didn’t have any money. Ford Frick, National League president, picked up the funeral bill. The undertaker donated a burial suit. Just before he died, a CBS reporter interviewed Wilson.
An excerpt from that interview remains posted in the Cubs’ clubhouse. It reads in part: “Talent isn’t enough. You need common sense and good advice. If anyone tells you different, tell them the story of Hack Wilson. … Kids don’t be too big to ask advice. Don’t let what happened to me happen to you.”
Hack Wilson was one of the great ones, albeit not for long. There was almost always a sad turn to his story. Often, it was right around at the corner tavern.
Many people forgot about Hack Wilson through the years. He never drew anything close to the needed 75 percent for Hall of Fame induction. Support for the slugger picked in the 1970s. Publications such as The Sporting News championed his cause. A 1978 biography probably also helped. The Veterans Committee finally voted in Wilson.
Baseball executive Bill Veeck, took a sentimental turn when talking about the talented fireplug. “For years,” he said, “it was impossible for me to look at any round outfielder who could hit a long ball without deciding I had found myself another Hack Wilson.”
(Interested in reading more about Hack Wilson? Go to hackwilson.com. The pictures are great, too.)
By Glen Sparks
Johnny Kling may have been the Yadier Molina of his day.
Kling played 13 seasons in the big leagues, from 1900 to 1913 (He missed the 1909 season due to a contract dispute.), mostly with the Chicago Cubs. Experts on Dead Ball baseball consider him the era’s top defensive catcher.
The Kansas City, Mo. native, born on this date in 1875, started on two World Series championship teams and four pennant winners. Nimble behind the plate, he also possessed a strong throwing arm. From 1902-08, Kling led the National League in putouts six times, fielding percentage twice and assists and double plays one time each.
He threw out four would-be St. Louis Cardinal base stealers in a game June 21, 1907, and, a few months later in the World Series, nailed five of 11 Detroit Tiger runners. He even shut out the great base stealer Ty Cobb.
By Glen Sparks
Ernie Banks, baseball’s greatest optimist and one of its most prolific sluggers, died Friday in Chicago at the age of 83.
The Cubs infielder belted 512 home runs (tied with Eddie Mathews for 22nd all-time) during his Hall of Fame career. He may be most famous, though, for his big smile and his cheerful call of “Let’s play two!” No one liked a doubleheader quite like Banks did. No one wanted to keep playing, to keep hitting, to keep fielding like he did. Banks wanted to keep going. And, it wasn’t a put-on.
“From the minute he woke up to the minute he went to bed, he’s the same person with a positive attitude and a joy to be around,” Cubs teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Billy Williams once said about Banks.
Born in Dallas on Jan. 31, 1931, Banks graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1950. He lettered in basketball, football and track. Booker T. didn’t offer baseball. Instead, Banks competed on a fast-pitch softball team during the summer and played semi-pro baseball.
Following a tour in the Army, Banks signed with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. The Cubs inked him to a deal in 1953, and Banks skipped the minors. He hit .314 in just 35 at-bats in ’53 and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting the following year.
Banks ripped more than 40 home runs in a season five times in his career (in 1955 and four straight years, 1957-60) and topped 30 homers three other times. He made 11 All-Star teams and was voted National League MVP in 1958 and ’59, years he finished with 9.4 and 10.2 WARs, respectively.
In his 19-year career, Banks hit .274 with a .330 on-base percentage. He drove in 1,636 runs and collected 2,583 hits. His lifetime OPS was .830 with an OPS+ of 122.
Banks, as mentioned, was famously optimistic although he never played in a postseason game. He came closest in 1969. The Cubs, under Manager Leo Durocher, held onto first place for 155 games but lost 17 of 25 games in September. The Miracle Mets of ’69 charged ahead and won the N.L. East by a comfortable eight games.
By that point in his career, Banks was a first baseman. He hit 23 home runs and drove in 106 runs in ’69, but he batted just .253 with an on-base percentage of .309. He had an OPS+ of just 92, and it was his last full season. Banks played part-time in 1970 and ’71 before retiring. The writers voted him into the Hall of Fame In 1977, in his first year of eligibility.
During his induction speech at Cooperstown, N.Y., Banks—to no one’s surprise, assuredly—said, “We’ve got the setting, sunshine, fresh air, the team behind us. So, let’s play two.”
After retiring, Banks did some work as a car salesman, a coach, an investment professional and more. He lived in Los Angeles for several years. This native Texan was a Chicago guy more than anything, of course. Eventually, he left L.A. and spent the last part of his life in a Windy City apartment, a hero in his adopted hometown.
President Obama awarded Banks a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, just four years after the greatest Cub of all was named a Library of Congress Living Legend, given for making “significant contributions to America’s diverse cultural, scientific and social heritage.” In 1999, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) had named him the 27th best baseball player of all-time. The Cubs put up an Ernie Banks statue outside of Wrigley Field.
Banks taught us about the importance of keeping on the sunny side of life. He taught us the value of optimism and that losing with class has its own reward. Williams hopes that even as we mourn Banks’ death, we also celebrate his life.
“I know nobody’s happy all the time,” Williams said. “But I’ve never seen Ernie have a down day.”
By Glen Sparks
Can you name the first team to make three straight World Series appearances and also the first to win back-to-back Series? Hint: The team has not won a World Series since those two straight titles. Second hint: Baseball people like to point out this long drought and, yes, snicker a bit over it. Third hint: Look at the headline.
Yes, it’s the Chicago Cubs. Starring Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and (Joe) Tinker to (Johnny) Evers to (Frank) Chance. The Cubs lost to the crosstown White Sox in 1906 before beating the Detroit Tigers in 1907 and ’08.
How do you put 106 years of wait-‘til-next-year into perspective? In 1908:
- Leo Tolstoy was still alive. So was Mark Twain.
- Machine Gun Kelly turned 8. Bugsy Siegel turned 2.
- The start of World War I was still six years away. The Spanish-American War had been over for just a decade.
- Winston Churchill married Clementine.
- The movie, In the Sultan’s Power, was released. It was the first film completely made in Los Angeles. The city of L.A. had about 300,000 residents when the cameras started rolling.
- Henry Ford introduced the Model T.