By Glen Sparks
Baseball in Cleveland harkens to the days of the Forest Citys of the 1860s. This baffling quiz does not travel quite so far back in time. Major League baseball in the city by Lake Erie began in 1901 with the Cleveland Bluebirds (often shortened to “Blues). By 1902, the Bluebirds had unofficially become the Bronchos (or Broncos). From 1903-14, the team was the Naps. Since 1915, they have been the Indians.
Cleveland has won five American League pennants and two World Series titles, in 1920 and 1948.
- Which Indians second baseman won four batting titles in Cleveland after batting a career-high .426 for the 1901 Philadelphia A’s?
- Which Indians shortstop died after being hit in the head with a pitch in 1920?
- Which Indians center fielder compiled a .345 lifetime batting average for the Tribe and three other teams?
- Which Indians ace once struck out 17 batters at the tender age of 17?
- Which Indians shortstop won the 1948 MVP?
- Which Indians batter flew out deep, and memorably, to Willie Mays in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series?
- Which Indians fire-baller was hit in the eye by a Gil McDougald line drive on May 7, 1957?
- Which Indians pitcher struck out 19 batters in a 10-inning game in 1968?
- Which Indians player-manager belted a home run on April 8, 1975?
- Which Indians pitcher hurled a perfect game on May 15, 1981.
- Napoleon Lajoie, out of Woonsocket, R.I., hit .338 during a 21-year Hall of Fame career. The Philadelphia Phillies signed Lajoie in 1906. The Frenchmen jumped to the A.L.’s Philadelphia A’s in 1901 before being traded to Cleveland early in the 1902 campaign.
- Ray Chapman liked to crowd the plate. Carl Mays liked to throw inside. On Aug. 16, 1920, that was a fatal combination late in the afternoon at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan. Mays’ pitch nailed Chapman in the head. His skull fractured, Chapman died about 12 hours later.
- Tris Speaker, from Hubbard, Texas, recorded 3,514 hits in his great career, 1,965 of them with Cleveland. The Grey Eagle also played nine years for the Boston Red Sox and one season apiece for the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia A’s,
- Signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1936, teenager Bob Feller made his Major League debut on July 19th of that year. On Sept. 13, he fanned 17 Philadelphia A’s batters. The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa) retired with 2,581 strikeouts in his Hall of Fame career.
- Lou Boudreau impressed baseball people with his talent and his intelligence. Before the 1942 season, Cleveland owner Alva Bradley promoted the 25-year-old shortstop to player-manager. Boudreau managed the team through the 1950 season and to a World Series title in 1948. The Hall of Famer batted .295 in his career, most of it spent with the Indians. He hit .355 in ’48 with a .453 on-base percentage.
- Vic Wertz batted .277 and made four All-Star teams during a 17-year career. He is most famous today, though, for a 450-foot drive that he hit in the 1954 World Series. New York Giants great Willie Mays tracked the ball down.
- Experts called Herb Score a left-handed Bob Feller, and it looked that way for a while. He struck out 245 batters in his rookie season of 1955 and followed that with 263 the following year. On May 7, 1957, a month shy of his 24th birthday, Gil McDougald of the New York Yankees ripped a line drive in the first inning that struck Score in the face. The damage to his eye eventually healed, but Score hurt his arm soon after the incident. He retired early in the 1962 season with a 55-46 won-loss record and 837 strikeouts in 858.1 innings.
- It was the year of the pitcher, 1968, and Luis Tiant was one of the best. The right-hander from Cuba went 21-9 with a 1.60 ERA (186 ERA+, 8.4 WAR) that season. He struck out 19 Minnesota Twins in a 1-0 victory on July 3.
- Frank Robinson enjoyed one of the greatest careers in baseball history. He batted .294 with 586 home runs and 1,812 RBI. The Indians hired him as the game’s first African-American manager in 1975. Robinson also served as the team’s designated hitter that year. In his first at-bat, he hit a home run off Doc Medich of the New York Yankees.
- No pitcher had thrown a perfect game since Catfish Hunter tossed one May 8, 1968, against the Minnesota Twins. Len Barker tossed his perfecto, the 10th in MLB history (eighth of the modern era), on May 15, 1981, against the Toronto Blue Jays.
By Glen Sparks
Unless you follow Canadian baseball history, or you’re a long-time Cleveland Indians fan, you might not know much about Jack Graney of St. Thomas, Ont.
Fair disclosure: I am neither Canadian nor a die-hard Indians supporter. But, I did click on Graney’s name this afternoon on the Today in Baseball History web site. I’m glad I did. Just a few clicks later, I had found a life story worth reading about.
But first, are you familiar with Today in Baseball History? The site offers a summary of baseball goings-on for any particular date, in-season and off-season, Jan. 1- Dec. 31. Just fill in a date and select “Historical Baseball Events,” “Baseball Birthdays” and “Baseball Deaths.”
For instance, if you fill in “Sept 10, ALL YEARS” (or, you can fill in a specific year), you’ll find out that, among other things, Ted Kluszewski was born on that date (1924), Shano Collins died (1955), and Joe DiMaggio hit three home runs at Griffith Stadium (1950).
Anyway, back to Jack Graney, born June 10, 1886. I clicked on his name and saw that he played several seasons for the Cleveland Naps/Indians (1908-22). He only batted .250, but he did have a .354 on-base percentage. He even pitched a few innings.
So, I went to a few other web sites, including Baseball-Reference.com and SABR.org, in search of more information about Graney, his life and career. What an interesting guy. To wit:
- In 1908, he took part in the first tour of Asia by Major League ballplayers.
- Graney stepped into the batter’s box on July 11, 1914, for Cleveland. He looked to the pitcher’s mound. About to go into his wind-up was 19-year-old Babe Ruth. Graney was the first hitter the Babe ever faced. He got a hit.
- Graney came up to bat on June 26, 1916. The Indians had decided to wear uniform numbers on their sleeves that year. Graney, a lead-off hitter, was the first batter to bat in a Major League game while wearing a uniform number. (Graney wore No. 1, corresponding to his position in the batting order. Cleveland discontinued this innovation after just one season.)
- Following his retirement, Graney became the first former player to enter the broadcast booth. He called Indians game from 1932-53. Later, he broadcast games for the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League. (I’m guessing that Graney was the first former ballplayer to call minor league hockey games.)
I thought that Graney might also have been the first Canadian to play in the Major Leagues. I was way off on that one. Baseball has a long and rich tradition in Canada. Apparently, the first Canadian to play in the Majors was Bill Phillips of St. John’s, New Brunswick. Phillips made his debut May 1, 1879, for the Cleveland Blues, a now-defunct National League team. He’ll be the subject of a future post.
Graney’s parents hailed from Buffalo, N.Y. James Graney worked for a rail line and was a big baseball fan. Young Jack starred in both baseball and hockey as a boy. A former National League umpire saw him throw a semi-pro game and recommended him to a scout. From there, the 5-foot-10-inch right-hander went off to the minor leagues.
He only pitched in two games and for 3 1/3 innings for Cleveland. Graney made his mark in baseball as spray hitter with a good eye at the plate. He led the league in walks two times. In 1919, he only batted .234, but thanks to 105 free passes, he had an impressive on-base percentage of .380.
Graney never hit better than .269 in any full season. He did lead the league in double in 1916 with 41, and he stole more than 20 bases three times. But, he was best known for working the count. Some players called him “Three-and-two Jack.”
Following his playing career and broadcasting stint, Graney, along with his wife, moved to Bowling Green, Mo. He died April 20, 1978, at the age of 91. “Three-and-two Jack” was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, one year after the Hall was founded in St. Mary’s, Ont., less than an hour from Graney’s boyhood hometown.
By Glen Sparks
They say that a record is made to be broken. Even a Dazzy Vance record.
Cleveland Indians’ ace Corey Kluber struck out 18 St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday evening at Progressive Field in Cleveland. No pitcher has ever fanned that many Redbirds in one game. Dazzy Vance held the previous mark with 17.
Vance enjoyed his big game on July 20, 1925. The Brooklyn ace set his career-high mark that day in a 10-inning 4-3 win. Vance also tied the 20th century single-game strikeout mark. The Chicago Cubs’ Jack Pfiester punched out 17 hitters in 17 innings on May 30, 1906.
In 1925, Vance fanned 221 batters to lead the National League for the fourth straight season. He would go on to finish first in K’s for the next three years, giving him seven strikeout titles in his career and ensuring his place as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history.
Kluber, meanwhile, continues to make his mark in baseball. Like Vance, Kluber is a late-bloomer. Dazzy really didn’t get things going until his age-31 season in 1922. Kluber, out of Coppell, Texas, near Dallas, is 29 years old. He attended Steton University in central Florida (home of the Hatters, of course) and didn’t make it to the majors until he was 25.
Kluber pitched a bit in his first two seasons (2011 and 2012), with some crummy results. In 2013, he broke out with an 11-5 won-loss mark and a 3.85 ERA (99 ERA+). Last season, he really hit the mark, going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA (155 ERA+) and taking home the A.L. Cy Young Award.
The 2015 season began in a rough way for Kluber. He went 0-5 in his first seven starts with a 5.04 ERA. Then on Wednesday, he pitched one of the best games in baseball history. The Cardinals’ Jhonny Peralta broke up Kluber’s no-hit bid with a single to center field with two outs in the seventh inning.
Kluber’s 18 strikeouts tied Bob Feller for the most strikeouts in one game by an Indians pitcher and were the most by any pitcher in the Majors since the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ben Sheets fanned 18 on May 16, 2004. He certainly mixed things up. Everything was working against the Cardinals. Kluber struck out six batters on curveballs, four on his four-seam fastball, four on his sinker and three on his slider. Kluber’s game score of 98 was the best in history for any pitcher in an eight-inning performance. (50 is average.) The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayon Kershaw is the last pitcher to exceed a 98 game score, recording a 102 on June 18 last season in his 15-strikout, no-walk no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium.
Kerry Wood is the only other pitcher with a game of 18 or more strikeouts, no walks and no more than one hit. Wood did that for the Cubs, against the Houston Astros, on May 6, 1998. He went the whole way, gave up a hit and struck out 20.
Cleveland Manager Terry Francona pulled Kluber after eight innings and 113 pitches. The starter had to watch Cody Allen, with a high-flying ERA of about 9.00, get the final three outs and preserve a 2-0 masterpiece.
By Glen Sparks
Ballparks made of wood posed at least one big problem. They didn’t take well to matches.
More than a few old wooden parks turned into kindling overnight. National League Park in Philadelphia burned to the ground in 1894. Fire broke out at Brooklyn’s Washington Park in 1889 and Cincinnati’s League Park in 1901. Several other parks, major league and minor, also went up in flames during this time.
Frank DeHaas Robinson, owner of the Cleveland Indians, didn’t take any chances. He upgraded League Park before the start of the 1910 season. Workers took out the wooden grandstand and installed a double-decked steel-and-concrete one.
Robinson, a street-car tycoon, built the original League Park in 1891. He put it at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 66th Street, a spot conveniently served by two of his trolley lines. On May 1, 1891, Cleveland, behind the great Cy Young, defeated Cincinnati 12-3 in front of a sellout crowd of 9,000 fans at game No. 1.
League Park, both the old and new versions, had some funky dimensions. Like most parks, it was built into the neighborhood. One saloon owner and two homeowners ensured that the park would not be symmetrical. The three decided not to sell; League was built around those sites.
The left-field foul pole stood a distant 375 feet from home plate. The right-field foul pole, much to the delight of left-handed pull hitters and to the dismay of pitchers, loomed just 290 feet from the plate, inviting any number of cheap-shot round-trippers every season.
Ernest S. Barnard, president of the Indians, made the new League a bit more challenging for hitters and a bit safer for pitchers. He ordered the installation of a 40-foot-high wall in right. (By comparison, the fabled Green Monster in left field at Boston’s Fenway Park stands just taller than 37 feet.)
On this date in 1910, the Indians played their first game in the renovated League Park. The home team shut out the Detroit Tigers 5-0. League would serve as the Indians’ home until they moved to Municipal Stadium full-time in 1947. (The team began playing part of its schedule at Municipal in 1932.)
League stood as an impressive red brick building in the Hough neighborhood for decades. Much of the park was demolished in 1951, although the NFL’s Cleveland Browns still used it as a practice field for many years. Now, the site is a public park. The restored ticket house features a baseball heritage museum, while a new artificial turf field hosts youth baseball and softball games.
Babe Ruth walloped his 500th home run at League Park. Joe DiMaggio hit in his 56th consecutive game there. Bob Feller struck out 17 batters at League when he was 17 years old, and Johnny Burnett collected nine hits at League during an 18-ininng game on July 10, 1932.
Wes Ferrell, one of the all-time great Cleveland pitchers, remembered what it was like seeing League Park for the first time, as a 19-year-old in 1927.
“Biggest thing I ever saw in my life,” he said in the book Lost Ballparks by Lawrence Ritter. “They called this a ballpark? I couldn’t believe it. Then I heard a little noise in the back of my mind: major league.”
By Glen Sparks
Opening day, April 16, 1940, Comiskey Park in Chicago. Bob Feller, the bullet-tossing right-hander from little Van Meter, Iowa, takes the mound for the Cleveland Indians. Not surprisingly, a spring wind whips off Lake Michigan and around the park.
Feller, who learned to throw a curveball at the age of eight and who was, according to Ted Williams, “the fastest and best pitcher I ever saw in my career,” doesn’t mind the breeze. This 21-year-old enjoys the greatest opening day ever. The future Hall of Famer throws a no-hitter, the only opening-day no-hitter in baseball history.
“Rapid Robert”, a straight talker, said in a 2010 MLB.com article that he struggled a bit with his control in the early innings against the White Sox. “I was a little wild,” he said, a 91-year-old man looking back at a 70-year-old ballgame.
In fact, the White Sox loaded the bases in the second inning, and Feller walked five batters in the game. But, he struck out eight. His blazing fastball ruled the day. Only about 14,000 fans attended the game; two of them, though, were Feller’s parents. (William Feller had taught his son how to pitch. Supposedly, the family became Methodist after the parish priest scolded Mr. Feller for letting young Robert play baseball on Sundays.)
Feller joked that the season went downhill from opening day. “We lost the pennant by one game to Detroit,” he pointed out.
The Indians ace, though, finished with a career-high 27 wins and a 2.61 ERA. He led the American League in strikeouts for the third straight season (261) and also finished first in games started (37), complete games (31), shutouts (four) and innings pitched (320.1). Only the Detroit Tigers’ Hank Greenberg beat out Feller for MVP.
The Heater from Van Meter, a first ballot Hall of Famer, threw two more no-hitters in his career and insisted that none was better than the one he tossed in 1946 against the New York Yankees. He had to get out Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller and Joe DiMaggio in the ninth inning on the road.
Even so, throwing a no-hitter on opening day is special. Every team goes into the season with a sense of optimism, a feeling—however fleeting—that this may be the year, no matter what happened last year. Losing streaks may be still to come, but a no-no starts the season right.
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.”
By Glen Sparks
Chicago has lost another baseball legend. White Sox outfielder Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, one of the game’s most-complete players throughout the 1950s, died Sunday at the age of 89. Minoso’s death came just weeks after the passing of Cubs great Ernie Banks.
Banks was famous for his smile, humor and enthusiasm while playing for the north side Cubs. Minoso was the south side version of that. He played 12 of his 17-year career with the White Sox. Former teammate Billy Pierce said, “I don’t think he ever said a nasty thing about anybody. It was always good, always friendly.”
The baseball stats say Minoso hit .298 with a robust .389 on-base percentage. Bill James, one of baseball’s top analysts, rated Minoso as the 10th best left-fielder of all-time in 2001. I wrote a post in December about Minoso’s qualifications for the Hall of Fame. He was one of 10 so-called Golden Era nominees up for induction. Minnie got eight votes. He, like everyone else, needed 12. No one got elected.