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M Kates’ SABR Books, Part 1

March 4, 2019

THE SABR CONVENTION BOOKSHELF

AKA: M Kates’ SABR BOOKS, Part 1

(Part I: 2001 to 2007)

By Maxwell Kates

Maxwell Kates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. (Tax season!)

First of all, it occurred to me that one of my earlier columns contained an error worth exorcizing. One year when the Blue Jays were in the playoffs, Harold Reynolds admonished Canadians for our inability to catch foul balls. I would most certainly support that stereotype. We’re equally skilled at missing players in columns about Astros Hall of Famers. I missed Ivan Rodriguez, who played briefly for the Astros in 2009 and was inducted into Cooperstown in 2017. Pudge hit his 300th career home run in a Houston uniform at Wrigley Field off the Cubs’ Rich Harden (now there’s a Canadian – he may have even caught a foul ball or two).

Ivan Rodriguez and Greg Lucas

Last year at this time, I wrote a two-part essay for the Pecan Park Eagle about twelve reasons to attend a SABR convention. This year, I am also writing about SABR conventions, but this article is about books associated with the twelve I have attended. After preparing a short review of each of the twelve books, I relate it back to the convention in order to justify the association. Now “books associated with SABR conventions” are not necessarily the same as “books on the history of the team from the host city.” There is one team history but otherwise the books are drawn from genres as diverse as biography, fiction, law, and even a couple that are not about baseball. So without further interruption, may I introduce to you the SABR convention bookshelf.

DOWN IN THE VALLEY

SABR 31 – Milwaukee, WI – 2001

Down in the Valley

For the 2001 SABR convention, the first I attended, I have selected Down in the Valley: The History of Milwaukee County Stadium by Gregg Hoffmann. First authorized in 1938, Milwaukee County Stadium was built in the early 1950s in order to attract a major league team. The operation succeeded in spring training 1953 when the Boston Braves announced the move west to Wisconsin. Over the next 48 years, County Stadium became home to the Milwaukee Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, and for a very brief time, the Chicago White Sox. Being a Wisconsin book, there is also a requisite chapter on the Green Bay Packers. Until 1994, the Packers split their home schedule between Green Bay and Milwaukee.

By the time the Ken Keltner chapter hosted the SABR convention in July 2001, Milwaukee County Stadium had been demolished. Not only was 2001 the maiden campaign of Miller Park, but it also marked the centenary of the American League The SABR convention included a bus trip to Pere Marquette Park in downtown Milwaukee to celebrate the birthday of the junior circuit. Chuck Comiskey II had travelled north from Chicago to unveil an historical marker on the site of the Republican House Hotel. Meanwhile another Chuck – Chuck Brodsky – performed a baseball music concert. I may have been the only one who didn’t attend the unveiling ceremony, opting instead to spend time chatting with Hoffmann and former Brewers outfielder Gorman Thomas at a vendors’ table. Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Hassenpfeffer Incorporated!

HUB FANS BID KID ADIEU

SABR 32 – Boston, MA – 2002

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

Literary giant John Updike was 28 years old when on September 28, 1960, he took a break from his writing to attend a baseball game in his adopted hometown of Boston. It would be the final opportunity for the Fenway faithful to watch their hero clad in his flannel uniform wearing number 9. And he did not disappoint. With the Red Sox trailing the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 4-2, Ted Williams stepped to the plate with one out and bases empty. He sliced a Jack Fisher fastball over the centre field fence for his 521st and final home run.

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu is a personal essay about Updike’s impressions of Ted Williams, focusing on his tenure with the Red Sox and his monumental final game. It was in the context of this essay that Updike penned the timeless phrase, “gods don’t answer letters.” Perhaps not, though it is worth noting that the Splendid Splinter uncharacteristically doffed his cap after the round tripper. Williams’ home run proved to be the margin of victory, as the Red Sox came from behind to win 5-4.

As the Boston chapter prepared to host the convention in 2002, Teddy Ballgame did not have much time left. Williams labelled SABR as “the best kept secret in baseball” as was the Society’s highest profile member. For the first time since 1971, a convention forewent the standard keynote address. Instead, the banquet was followed by a panel called “Talkin’ Ted Williams.” Moderated by Bill Nowlin, author of many books about ‘the Thumper and indeed his SABR biography, the panel held on June 29 featured Red Sox teammates Johnny Pesky and Dominic DiMaggio, along with Joe Cronin’s daughter Maureen.

Once again, the Hub fans had bid the Kid adieu. Ted Williams passed away less than one week later, on June 5, 2002. John Updike died seven years later, on January 27, 2009. A decade later, Bill Nowlin’s Ted Williams biography appears in The Team That Couldn’t Hit, a new book about the 1972 Texas Rangers which he co-edited with Steve West.

The Team That Couldn’t Hit (1)

RED LEGS AND BLACK SOX

SABR 34 – Cincinnati, OH – 2004

Red Legs and Black Sox

Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series was Susan Dellinger’s second book. In 1989, Susan had written Communicating Beyond Our Differences, a business manual on how ‘Psychogeometics’ may manage office personalities to maximize effective teamwork. Fifteen years later in Cincinnati, Susan attended her first convention, along with her husband Bob. Roush, who in 1969 was voted the Greatest Reds’ Player of the Century, was born Oakland City, Indiana in 1893 and died suddenly at a spring training game in Florida in 1988. Red Legs and Black Sox focuses on the infamous 1919 World Series, ‘throwing’ complexities to narratives proposed in earlier tomes such as Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out. Susan relies upon interviews and other primary source material to offer Roush’s interpretation to what actually happened in 1919. The book alludes to possible fixes on both teams, associating certain individuals such as Hal Chase who were neither identified in the newspapers nor banned from baseball, and whether two Cincinnati pitchers were themselves corrupted by the gamblers.

If there was anyone to have the authority to write the life story of Edd Roush, it was Susan Dellinger. She happened to be Roush’s granddaughter. Susan participated in a Baseball Relatives panel in Cincinnati; two years later in Seattle, she gave a research presentation on her historiographical methods used in Red Legs and Black Sox. Also appearing on the Baseball Relatives panel were surviving family members of Cincinnati baseball legends Gus Bell, Ted Kluszewski, Cy Rigler, and Slim Sallee.

Bizarre as it may sound, as the Baseball Relatives panel was taking place, I was researching whether I would have qualified to participate. When my uncle, the late Sidney Green, passed away in April 2001, we were told in the rabbi’s eulogy that in 1944, he received a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds. If 15 year old Joe Nuxhall could graduate from high school to the Reds, then why not a 24 year old righthander with a proven record pitching in His Majesty’s service. The only problem was that we knew my uncle was a storyteller. None of his six surviving sisters had ever heard this story before and nowhere was the invitation ever written or documented. My curiosity directed me to write Irwin Weil, a professor of Slavic Studies at Northwestern University. Born in Cincinnati in 1928, Irwin was the son of Sidney Weil, who owned the Reds from 1929 to 1933. Irwin had a 101 year old aunt who had worked for the Red and could access their archives. Her name was Lee Levy and Irwin encouraged me to write her my research request. Was Sid Green ever invited to attend a tryout with the Reds? The results were returned inconclusive.

Edd Roush and the Class of ’62

DIAMONDS OF THE NORTH

SABR 35 – Toronto, ON – 2005

Diamonds of the North

The history of baseball in Toronto from 1886 to 2001 may be reviewed in just two books: Louis Cauz’ Baseball’s Back in Town and Eric Zweig’s Toronto Blue Jays’ Official 25th Anniversary Commemorative Book. When SABR awarded Toronto the convention for 2005, the host committee made it clear that it would celebrate baseball not just in ‘the Big Smoke’ but all across Canada.

Which is why I’ve selected Diamonds of the North by William Humber as the baseball book for SABR 35. Beginning in 1979, Bill Humber taught a community college course in Toronto called ‘Spring Training for Fans.’ He has written several books on baseball in Canada besides Diamonds, became the first Canadian to sit on SABR’s Board of Directors in 1983, and engineered the “Let’s Play Ball” exhibit at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum in 1989. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.

Written in 1995, Diamonds is best described as “a concise history of baseball in Canada.” The title even alludes to Donald Creighton’s Dominions of the North, which for decades was considered the definitive history of Canada. Besides chapters on the Toronto Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos, Diamonds explores minor league baseball ‘from sea to shining sea,’ Canadian members of the All American Girls’ Professional Baseball League, Canada’s role in the integration of baseball, a glossary of Canadian players – even a few words on Terry Puhl – and the Vancouver Asahi, an all-Japanese team which played from 1914 to 1941.

The Toronto convention featured presentations and delegates from all across Canada. George Bowering, a poet laureate from Penticton, British Columbia, attended the convention, as did John Carter of the St. John’s, Newfoundland Carters. Presentation subjects included the Canadian connection to the Black Sox Scandal, Elston Howard’s 1954 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and yes, Bill Humber answering “How Baseball Explains Canada.” There was even a pancake breakfast with Sam Holman, the Ottawa man who sold his maple bats to Barry Bonds each winter.

If you ask Bill Humber to sign a copy of Diamonds, don’t be surprised if he inscribes it “Keep cheering for the home team.” On the surface, it might seem like an encouragement to support local sports. But no, he’s telling people not to throw away his first book, which was called Cheering for the Home Team!

Bill Humber and Cheering for the Home Team

BECOMING BIG LEAGUE

SABR 36 – Seattle, WA – 2006

Becoming Big League

There have been several books written specifically about the Seattle Pilots. Most recently, Bill Mullins authored Becoming Big League: Seattle, the Pilots, and Stadium Politics. Mullins links the Pilots and their short history back to 1962, when dreams of a major league team emerged after Seattle hosted the World’s Fair. The American League gambled when in 1968, it placed an expansion franchise in Seattle. The ownership contingent, led by British Columbia-born Dewey and Max Soriano and underwritten by Cleveland railroad magnate William Daley, was grossly underfunded. The Pilots boasted the highest ticket prices at a time Boeing was slashing 25,000 jobs from the local economy. Protracted wrangling by local politicians about the construction of a domed facility relegated the Pilots to play in a moribund venue aptly named Sick’s Stadium. After finishing in last place in the American League West with a record of 64-98 in 1969, the Pilots did not know where they would open the 1970 season. Only on March 31, one week before Opening Day, was the decision made to transfer the Pilots to Milwaukee. The King County Domed Stadium was completed in 1976; only after the threat of an antitrust lawsuit did the American League vote to expand once again to Seattle for 1977.

The Pilots became a strong focus at the Seattle convention. Jim Bouton appeared both as the keynote speaker and as a member of the Seattle Pilots panel. Mike Marshall participated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement panel and also presented a workshop on kinesiology. Dave Baldwin, a systems engineer who went to spring training with the Pilots in 1970, presented a research project entitled “Nickel Patterns on Pitches,” while Pilots’ pitching coach Sal Maglie was the focus of a second research project.

A precis of Mullins’ book appears in Time for Expansion Baseball.

A WELL-PAID SLAVE

SABR 37 – St. Louis, MO – 2007

A Well-Paid Slave

One of the more popular topics of discussion at the St. Louis convention was a new book called A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports. Written by Washington lawyer Brad Snyder, A Well-Paid Slave provides a thorough examination of the Flood v. Kuhn lawsuit. Born in Houston and raised in Oakland, the 31 year old Flood was at the top of his game in 1969. One morning in October, he was awoken by a telephone call from St. Louis sportswriter Jim Toomey. This is how Flood learned that the Cardinals had traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood sat out the entire 1970 season and forfeited his $100,000 salary in the process. Instead, he sued major league baseball on the grounds that the reserve clause violated federal antitrust laws. Ultimately, the Supreme Court voted to stand by things decided, ruling 5-3 (with one abstention) in favour of Major League Baseball.

Snyder appeared at the convention and copies of his book sold like hotcakes. Moreover, in 1993, two years before Flood passed away, George Will wrote a famous essay about the case called “Dred Scott in Spikes.” Dred Scott was a slave who in 1846, unsuccessfully sued his master, by the name of Sandford, on the grounds that he and his family had lived in Illinois and Wisconsin where slavery was illegal. The St. Louis court house where Scott v. Sandford was heard is located only blocks from the Adam’s Mark Hotel which hosted the St. Louis convention.

Tune in next month as we look at Part II.

 

Editorial Note: Thanks for another great piece of reporting, Maxwell Kates. Tax season or not, the world of baseball researchers and readers reap the dividends from your passionate investment in the history of the great game.

~ Bill McCurdy, The Pecan Park Eagle

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

What I Loved About The Sporting News

February 28, 2019

THE SPORTING NEWS
Wearing the Face of Its Glory Years

 

We didn’t have anything like ESPN ~ or the Internet ~ or even like the future Pecan Park Eagle when I was a kid, growing up in Post World War II Houston, but ~ if we were lucky, we had a grandmother like Elizabeth McCurdy, down in Beeville, Texas ~ west of Victoria and east of Laredo ~ and north of Corpus Christi and south of San Antonio.

I never had a chance to meet my writer/newspaper man grandfather, William O. McCurdy, the originator, publisher and editor of a little South Texas buzz newspaper called The Beeville Bee because he had died a little more than 24 years prior to my 1937 birth, but I had grown up with Grandmother McCurdy ~ and she had accurately done the early call on my interest in reading, writing and baseball from my earliest of times in her company. And that led her to give me a birthday gift one year that grew into one of those gifts that keeps on giving over the years ~ even to this day.

On my 12th birthday, December 31, 1949, Grandmother sent me a card that said from now on, I would be receiving a once a week mail delivery of The Sporting News out of St. Louis, Missouri.

It was news that was only slightly more exciting to me than the news of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the surface of the moon ~ nearly 20 years later ~ in 1969. Back then, TSN came weekly in newspaper print and page sufficiency that would have been bulky enough to pass for a small city’s Sunday edition take on all the news in the world ~ and TSN was a baseball topic rag back then ~ for 12 months a year. Everything about the big leagues and minors ~ down to all that good and gooey statistical minutiae ~ it was always there to gleam one’s hungry eyes away ~ as, indeed, I invariably did ~ until social change ~ many years later ~ turned TSN into something I no longer cared to support.

None of that eventual demise matters now. Now one can see it again as it was in its time of baseball glory. And its pretty broadly available through an Internet source site called “Newspaper Archives” that is available to subscribers.

Here’s a link to a page on the Texas League from the August 1, 1951 edition:

https://newspaperarchive.com/st-louis-sporting-news-aug-01-1951-p-29/

(My apologies if the newspaperarchive.com home site does anything that blocks your access.)

Some tidbits from Page 29 …

Low Run Totals/Fast Game Pace. A sidebar story shows how the 8 Texas League teams played 4 full games on July 20, 1951 and only scored a grand total of 11 runs in the process. ~ Two of the games resulted in shutouts and none of the four contests required more than one hour and fifty-five minutes to complete. ~ No one had to be concerned about the speed of play and clock solutions back in 1951. ~ So what has happened over the years since that time? ~ Did television commercials and the human ego’s need for attention ~ when they know the game camera is upon them ~ do all that damage to the pace of our beautiful game?

Harry Craft was the manager of the Beaumont Exporters in 1951. He’s only eleven years away from his historic role as Houston’s first major league manager of the 1962 Houston Colt .45s.

The 1951 Houston Buffs (70-43, .619) have an 8-game lead over the Beaumont Exporters (61-50, .550) for first place in the Texas League race. The Buffs will finish first and win the playoffs for the 1951 Texas League pennant, but they will go on to lose the Dixie Series to the Birmingham Barons.

Buff Pitchers Looking Good. Through July 25, 1951, Buff Reliever DIck Bokelmann (9-1, .900) sports the best winning percentage record in the ’51 TL season. Buff Starter Octavio Rubert (13-4, .765) ranks 5th and Buff Starter Al Papai (15-8, .652) ranks 8th as the race heads into the stretch.

Buff Hitters? Not So Much. Over the same stat period, the Houston Buffs don’t have a single .300 hitter. Buff Third Baseman Eddie Kazak is the 1951 TL’s 20th best percentage hitter (71 for 249) at .285.

Kudos to 1951 San Antonio Missions 3rd Baseman Jim Dyck for his July 22nd contribution to a 9-run 8th inning his club had against the Shreveport Sports in their 16-1 runaway win. Dyck blasted 2 home runs in the big inning. In the same sidebar, TSN notes that back on August 3, 1930, Gene Rye of Waco set the TL record for most HR in one inning by a single batter when he crunched 3 round-trippers in the 8th inning of a game against Beaumont. ~ Almost, almost unbelievable!

That’s it~ But only because other duties call. ~ I could sit on this single page and churn out stuff like you see here for the next 24 hours and still be scrambling when you called to remind me that time was up.

Anyway, good luck on the page access. If that does not work for you as a non-member, simply visit the site and take advantage of their look-see free opportunity to check out the place for yourself.

If you get in, all I can add is ~ Welcome to the history playground! ~ Allow leisure fun time to begin by turning your search options open to your own imagination.

What a way to spend the day!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

Indoor Baseball, Chicago Style, From 1887

February 27, 2019

This 1897 image is the earliest known photo of an indoor baseball team.
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

There’s a very interesting article by a fellow named Jeff Nichols in the January 30, 2019 Chicago Reader about the origins of a baseball derivative sport they called “indoor baseball” on the south side of Chicago back in 1887. It is, so far, the best description I’ve ever found on the root causes of the game’s invention and how the regular game of baseball had to be modified to work indoors – in spaces that were never designed to handle the zoom-and-go flight of an actual baseball ~ even in the deadball era.

I already knew that my birthplace home town of Beeville ~ along with several other small South Texas cities ~ had played a game they called “indoor baseball” for a brief time in the early 20th century. I just could not discover or envision how they could have played anything close in resemblance to the real game of baseball in the kinds of very small and limited spaces available to them at the Bee County Fairgrounds.

Nichols’ article answers any serious questions I may have harbored. It was more like stick ball, if the game were being played out in the lobby of a very small hotel.

It’s still a good read ~ and interesting to learn that a very young George Halas, the NFL icon founder and longtime coach of the Chicago Bears ~ along with his older brother, Walter Halas, ~ were two of the south side boys who also helped get indoor baseball off to a somewhat less roaring start.

https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-surprising-chicago-origins-of-indoor-baseball/Content?oid=67100853

The three photos from the article make it seem so much more real as something that actually happened. The first photo at the top features the oldest known photo of an indoor team. The next photo below features the Halas boys. The the last photo below speaks for itself on why indoor baseball never started a wildfire fan base.

 

The 1910 Crane High School team; the glum kid holding the ball in the front row is George Halas, the founder of the Chicago Bears. Above George is his older brother Walter, the captain of the team.
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SDN-008471, CHICAGO HISTORY MUSEUM, CHICAGO DAILY NEWS PHOTO COLLECTION

 

Young women playing indoor baseball in Pilsen
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BHNC_0044_0290_026, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT CHICAGO LIBRARY, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

 

Indoor baseball had a few brief runs in Texas during the early 20th century, but it lit no flames in the hearts and minds of Texans either until 1965 ~ when Judge Roy Hofheinz, the Houston Astros, and the Houston Astrodome came along and showed the world what had to be in place for the game of baseball to go viral in its support for the true indoor version.

If you want indoor baseball, you have to play the game in a place that feels like “The Eighth Wonder of the World!”

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

What Really Led to the DH?

February 20, 2019

Shane Reynolds

As one who has grown to appreciate and prefer the DH addition to baseball, I only became fully aware of how that major change in the rules for all, but the NL, came to be until last night ~ and it wasn’t really served up on a spoon. It came seeping into my old noggin from the peripheral answers I was getting to another direct question I had asked of two very sharp former Astros pitchers who spoke at the February 18, 2019 meeting of our Larry Dierker Houston SABR Chapter.

 

 

 

Those two former Astros pitchers were Shane Reynolds and Chris Sampson.

After hearing both speak separately on how closely they worked with different catchers. I asked both of them through Shane Reynolds for their thoughts on why catchers, who learn so much about the strike zone from their constant work with it on defense, could not also use that experience to be better hitters themselves. Both sort of shook their heads and smiled.

Reynolds got us past the “good question” leaning-in phase of this inquiry by offering his belief that the physical wear-and-tear of a catcher’s work, with all its labor on every defensive pitch and the heavy sweat-laden equipment that just got heavier as the game moved on ~ these things ~ simply wore the guys down from the primary efforts they were expected put in on the defensive demands of their position.

As I now later recall, Sampson pretty much gave a non-verbal wave of support to Reynolds’ wear-and-tear opinions. ~ i.e., even if a guy has talent for becoming better as a hitter, he gives all his major energy to the side of his job that his club needs him to serve on defense. Few hitters have enough talent to overcome the defensive demands of catcher. Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Roy Campanella, Carlton Fisk, and Johnny Bench jump to mind, but, as you know, those guys also are all members of the Hall of Fame.

Former Astros President and General Manager Tal Smith was in the SABR crowd. It was Tal Smith’s offering that MLB clubs historically were most often willing to give up a poor hitting catcher to the bottom of the lineup for the sake of his superior defensive skills. Chris Sampson followed Smith’s remarks with one of baseball’s oldest bromides of justification for the focus on defense: “Defensively, a club has to be strong up the middle.”

Even our 1950 Pecan Park Eagles remembered the “be strong up the middle” caveat, but our challenge was even more basic. It meant we had to have five guys show up early enough to pitch, catch, and play second, short, and center.

The Real Reason for the DH

Then it hit me. The answer to my unasked question at SABR Monday night has been dangling before my eyes all this time that the DH has been in place. I simply didn’t see it in its full glory. And I don’t think I’ve been alone in this missed deduction.

The DH didn’t take root in baseball simply because the pitcher alone could not hit. ~ It was generated by the notorious presence of usually three guys at the 7th, 8th, and 9th place bottom spots in the batting order who couldn’t hit a fly with a flit gun.

Chris Sampson

The DH was there to break up the three-man bottom of the batting order ~ the pitcher, the catcher, and one other player down the strong defensive middle who could usually sneak into another starter role as a defensive man ~ and this fellow was very often the “good field/no hit” shortstop. ~ The DH would take out the 9th batting pitcher and that improvement would promote the goal of building a batting order in which there also would be no 8th or 7th holes left to kill the offensive threat at the bottom of the lineup. Our 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros did a great job of doing exactly that ~ building a hitters’ lineup in which there was no place for opposing pitchers to relax.

The DH lives today as the key goal for every club’s primary bonus offensive aspiration ~ whenever possible ~ and that is to have a nine-man hitting lineup in which each player listed is capable of reaching base on an average to better-than-average percentage of the time.

We Also May Need to Re-Think the Way We Use Catchers

Maybe we need to re-think how we use catchers as another position in which their regular rotation, as it does with pitchers, helps their season performance level. After all, catchers are throwing the ball hard every game almost every pitch they return to the pitcher, plus a few others they throw on out plays ~ or other attempted steal plays. Why should we take a starting pitcher out after 100 pitches ~ and then leave catchers in the game for 200 pitches daily for as long as he says he can go in all the days that follow? It seems pretty clear that the ongoing exhaustion derived from the defensive chores of their job keep most catchers from developing as even average hitters.

If catcher hitting could improve with time off between starts, as we do with starting pitchers, how much time would he need ~ and how many catchers would be needed to create a situation in which a catcher went into most games with enough physical recovery time to maybe help them improve their hitting too. Again, the whole thing turns upon whether or not we believe that an ongoing state of exhaustion is the major culprit behind the priority the game places on catcher defense as the two major reasons why most catchers do not hit better than they do.

What do you think?

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

Greatest Movie Runs at MLB Incredibility

February 15, 2019

Perhaps our column title slightly overstates our case. Almost all baseball movies, whether they deserve the viewing time we give them or not, usually reach for and achieve the incredible on some level. And why not? Baseball is the sport which invites its fans and media to anticipate the improbable great joy, but to also find something magical about it.

For example: Once Upon a Time, the greatest legendary slugger, a fellow named Babe Ruth, not only blasted a home run to center field at Wrigley Field to deaden the spirits of the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series, he apparently also “called his shot” on the way to leading the New York Yankees to another victory in Game Three of a Four Game sweep of the World Series. ~ And there’s never been any argument that he didn’t forecast his actions either. …. Right?

These just happen to be nine of the many baseball movies that effected me deeply as a kid, but most-to-all of them required me to make a little credibility stretch that was vital to me loving them too.

My favorite baseball movies aren’t even on today’s list. In no particular order, my favorites include: The Natural ~ Field of Dreams ~ Bull Durham ~ League of Their Own ~ Eight Men Out and Major League. There were others, but this is more than enough for today.

Let us hear from you if you’ve ever been put off by bad acting, bad script, or the absence of baseball ability by an actor in a key role. I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.

 

9. Gary Cooper
as Lou Gehrig
Pride of the Yankees (1942)

 

Gary Cooper had the physical resemblance and personality for his role as Lou Gehrig and he did a masterful job of acting in both his delivery of Lou’s famous “happiest man” speech at Yankee Stadium and his portrayal of how this horrible disease that killed him takes over the body in the early stages.

Credibility Stretch: Cooper was not a ballplayer. We’ve all read the stories of how they reversed the jersey and allowed him to swing right-handed and run to third from home for film that would later make it appear that he had been hitting left-handed. He was just more at home riding horseback than he was hitting a horsehide ball.

 

 

 

8. Robert Young
as “Larry Evans”
Death on the Diamond (1934)

 

Well named. Ballplayers are dying faster than the guys pulling hamstrings, but this one ends well when the club’s star player, Larry Evans, both helps the club solve the crimes as he also leads his team to the championship in one of those typical fast-moving and fast-talking film adventures of the early tinny sound years of movie history.

Credibility Stretch: It’s a little hard to believe that ballpark security was that poor at the big league level, even if it is “only a movie” and the year was way back in the depression culture 1934. They could have renamed this one as “The Gashouse Gang Gets Gassed”.

 

 

 

7. Dan Dailey
as Dizzy Dean
Pride of St. Louis (1952)

 

I’ve always loved the fact that this movie features Dailey as Dean playing at a stadium that is supposed to be Buff Stadium in Houston (but is not) and that it features Dailey as Dean wearing what appears to be a ’51 Buffs uniform (about 20 years past the 1931 time of Dizzy’s big year in our town.)

Credibility Stretch: Dan Dailey was no Dizzy Dean. Speaking in “twang” is not enough to make an actor credible as this unique and funny personality. And Dailey’s movements on the mound are not enough to convince me that he could have thrown the ball for 60 feet, six inches on every pitch at any speed. The script also sucked.

 

 

6. James Stewart
as Monty Stratton
The Stratton Story (1949)

 

Jimmy Stewart does a good job as the small town Texas boy who sees his MLB pitching career ended by a hunting gunshot injury that costs him the loss of a leg. The movie is the story of the man’s rise from depression and despair to pitch again on a limited basis with the help of a prosthetic leg and a whole lot of heart and help from family and friends. And he does it at kind of semi-pro All Star Game, again, at another venue that is posing as Buff Stadium.

Credibility Stretch: On one leg or two, the Jimmy Stewart version of Monty Stratton just shows up again as proof that great actors are, more often not, pitchers who would not last more than a game or two at the Grade D ball level. Stewart, at least, has the power to convince his audiences to forget their “lying eyes” and to buy into what he’s trying to sell as the powers of the character he’s playing.

 

5. Edward G Robinson
as Hans Lobert
Big Leaguer (1953)

 

As former big leaguer Hans Lobert, “Edward G” conducts a spring training camp for young prospects of the NY Giants, managing to get into all kinds of mentoring ship problems the young 18-22 year olds may be having finding the key to their futures. Lobert weaves his way into becoming the Darth Vader of either their success or vexation paths as serious baseball players. Edward G’s character is cool, calm and deliberate. Very convincing in a soap opera kind of way. They could have titled this one “Days of Our Diamond.”

Credibility Stretch: Remember. This is Edward G. Robinson in the lead role. Whenever one of the rookies reacts by word or action in opposition to leader Lobert, you keep waiting for him to light up a cigar and hit back with that famous, “Oh, a wise guy, huh?” It simply never happens. But neither does the story line. You can’t fix all their aches and pains by helping them find a girl.

 

4. William Bendix
as Babe Ruth
The Babe Ruth Story (1948)

 

We’ve been over this road in mind and print here more often than I care to remember, but this first animated version of my 10-year old lives still contains points that make me cry in sadness, appreciation and longing for Babe Ruth. That closing scene in which Ruth is in the hospital, the kids are singing the baseball anthem outside his window, and they are now wheeling the Bambino out of his room and down the hall for experimental drug treatment ~ and the whole thing ends on scenes from a kids’ sandlot game while an angelic chorus concludes “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” As the film ends, even now, it’s still hard for me to type and also think about that moment too much at the same time.

Credibility Stretch: What stretch? Everything in the movie looked absolutely real to me. And that includes the time a teenage Babe left a round hole in a St. Mary’s School window glass with an errantly thrown baseball and, a few minutes later, throws it back outside through the same hole from 60 feet away inside ~ without shedding even one extra sliver of glass.

 

3. Ronald Reagan as
Grover Cleveland Alexander (1952)

 

One thing can be said for Ronald Reagan for sure. He may not have been able to act like Lawrence Olivier, or worse, even come close to pitching with all the ability of the real Grover Cleveland Alexander, but. like him or not, he was keen enough as a major politician to have gotten himself elected President of the United States and the worldwide leader of the real “Winning Team” ~ The United States of America.

Credibility Stretch: It’s the same one that came with every film we may have watched featuring Ronald Reagan. ~ As a viewer, and if you’re really honest with yourself, you will have to admit that you never really get over the fact that you are watching Ronald Reagan in any movie he makes ~ and not the character he is supposed to be playing. By looks, behavior, or skill, Reagan was no Alexander.

 

2. Ray Milland
as Mike “King” Kelly
It Happens Every Spring (1949)

 

A baseball fan/university research chemist accidentally invents a wood-repellant liquid. He cuts a quarter size hole in the pocket of a baseball glove and loads it up with the “stuff” in a sponge placed strategically behind the glove-pocket-hole and then rushes off to the big leagues with a few bottles of his magic to try to win a World Series for “St. Louis” under an assumed name. Although the movie never clarifies if Mike Kelly’s team is NL or AL, assume it to be the Cardinals. This kind of luck never fell into the hungering laps of the old Browns club.

Credibility Stretch: Not once do the befuddled batters ask for or simply receive any help from the umpires on a requested inspection of Kelly’s glove and that doozy of a pocket hole. For that matter, the St. Louis management or other players ever seem to notice or raise any question about Kelly’s possible use of a foreign substance.

 

9. Anthony Perkins
as Jimmy Piersall
Fear Strikes Out (1957)

 

Jimmy Piersall: “Pop, I hit .346 at Birmingham this year. (1951)

Piersall’s Father: “Well, that’s not Boston, is it, Son?”

That paraphrased exchange between Piersall and his dad was pretty much the dynamo of “Fear Strikes Out.” Piersall keeps trying to please his dad, but never quite makes it. Then finally explodes from his mortal fear of failure and has a full-blown psychotic mental breakdown ~ one that includes running the bases backwards on the heels of a home run and then climbing the screen behind home and yelling all the anger that had been building. Perkins’ ability to act far out runs his inability to play baseball with even a smidgeon of credibility.

Credibility Stretch: Anytime actor Perkins was shown throwing a baseball.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Montreal With Love

February 13, 2019

Montreal red-hearts-

Tomorrow just happens to be Valentines Day so this little homecoming story fits in fine.

Years ago, while Norma and I were meandering through the Strand Area in downtown Galveston ~ closer to the beginning of their reign in Canada than the end, I ran across this Montreal Expos bobblehead in one of the little loose ends gift shops that still exist to bait the appetites of Sunday afternoon Houston tourist perusers.

It reminded me of two close friends from Montreal that I have known for nearly fifty years ~ and longer than my quite lengthy marriage to Norma. Their names are Serge and Ginette Masse’ ~ and they were my apartment neighbors back in the day that Serge and I were just getting started with our health careers in the Texas Medical Center.

Serge was finishing his residency at MD Anderson. The same Dr. Serge Masse recently retired as one of Canada’s foremost oncologists. Now Serge and Ginette live out the life of grandparents, world travelers and passionate contributors to the arts and needs of their beloved Montreal.

The bobblehead I once found in Galveston, which flew from the USA as “Le Grand Orange,” is now on the ground in Montreal and on his way to his new, but permanent home with my good friends. They know that he’s coming and they’ve seen what he looks like. And I get the satisfaction of assurance that this little special item will avoid any garage sales that my wife and son may plan for my stored things, should I be called upon to make an unexpected trip of my own anytime and eventually in the nearby or far-reaching future.

It is better to give those things that we love ~ to the people we love ~ while we still have the options of conscious decision-making at our disposal.

Here’s the “South of the Border” song parody I wrote that already has reached Serge and Ginette prior to the arrival of “Rusty” via e-mail.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Everybody!

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With All My Love to Serge and Ginette Masse’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North of the Border! ~ Up Montreal Way!

That’s Where We Fell in Love ~ ‘Neath the Stars Above,

To Watch the Expos Play!

 

Then We Were Abandoned! ~ Our Team Went Away!

South of the Border! ~ Down Washington Way!

 

Prepare My Homecoming! ~ Our Spirit Still Lives!

I’m Coming Home to You Two! ~ In a Late Passing Through! 

By the FedEx I Flew ~ Just for You ~ Both of You!

 

Look for Me Thursday! ~ Or by Friday for True!

Please Treat me Gently! ~ And I’ll Never Leave You!

 

My Name is now “Rusty” ~ Le Grand Orange One!

And if you find me a shelf! ~ I’ll be a Good Little Elf!

And Your New Shining Sun!

 

I Never Stop Smiling!  ~ Get Used to It Now!

I’m What You Might Call a ~ Bobble~Head~Sacred~Cow!

 

February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Love and Peace, Forever,

Your Ancient Houston Friend,

Bill McCurdy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

Bob Friend’s Curious Waco Start

February 5, 2019
Bob-Friend

Bob Friend Died February 3, 2019.

On one sometimes curiously magical level, life will always be a beautiful connect-the-dots experience. Today, and in honor of the great, but now deceased former Pittsburgh Pirate pitching legend, Bob Friend. we’d like to recall such a link that we don’t think enough people about. ~ It was one that involved him. ~ And who knows how much energy he absorbed and used as only one of the results:

Buddy Hancken
At Age 90

(1) It’s 1950 ~ and 19-year old pitcher Bob Friend is breaking into professional baseball with the Waco Pirates of the Class B Big State League.

(2) One of Friend’s teammates is a 24-year old pitcher named Jack Bumgarner of Norman, Oklahoma.

(3) Jack Bumgarner stays in touch by letter and telephone with a younger brother named Jim Bumgarner.

(4) The younger Bumgarner will move to Hollywood and change his name to “James Garner” as he is breaking into the movies on his way to becoming a major film and television star before the 1950s decade concludes.

James Garner

(5) 35-year old veteran catcher Buddy Hancken is the playing manager of the 1950 Waco Pirates.

(6) Hancken’s entire MLB career consisted of one inning of defensive work behind the plate in a May 14, 1940 game that the Philadelphia Athletics won over the Cleveland Indians by 9-7 ~ but without Buddy ever getting a chance to hit in the game ~ or in any other time from that moment thereafter in the big leagues.

(7) The likeable and sociable Hancken will go on to enjoy a long career as a  minor league player and manager, finishing his career as a coach and  administrative employee of the Houston Astros.

(8) Joe L. Brown, the son of famous film comedian Joe E. Brown. is the General Manager of the Waco Pirates. In 1955, we will take the reins as GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the meanwhile, he and his father’s baseball obsession, along with a connection to good old Buddy Hancken are the reasons for the famous Brown’s extensive trips to Waco. While he is there, he dresses  out in a Waco Pirates uniform ~ and he acts out in the dugout during games as though he were a member of the coaching staff, but one with a broad and loud flair for physical comedy.

 (9) Bob Friend (12-9, 3.08) leads all Waco pitchers in 1950. Jack Bumgarner (11-5, 4.90) and Norman Morton (12-12, 4.50) also so well, but the Pirates still finish with a losing record in 6th place.

(10) Bob Friend is the only man among those three named starters who makes it the big leagues for the major part of his time in the big leagues, mostly with the great rising Bucs of that era and a post-1966 career line of 197 wins, 230 losses and an ERA of 4.58. Friend’s best of 16 MLB seasons (1951-66) was the glorious 1960 Pittsburgh Pirate championship year when he won 18, lost 12 and registered a 3.00 ERA.

(11) How much did any of these connected energy dots have to do, if anything, with helping Bob Friend succeed as quickly and as well as he did. ~ Who know? All I know is that ~ years later ~ I may have picked up a lingering brush with some of them that still lingered, even this late in the game.

The date was August 20, 2004. I had driven to Orange, Texas for the 90th birthday party of Buddy Hancken at this large facility the family had retained to welcome all of us who wanted to be there on this special day for one of baseball’s nicest people.

I had just walked over to speak privately with Buddy at what appeared to be a good time when the phone rang and he answered it directly. ~ You could almost see the energy that poured both ways as they went on for quite a while, exchanging laughs, happy animated speech, and emotional hugs via the phone. I later learned from Buddy that he had just been told to wait there by the phone for someone who had to reach him, but could not make it in person. It had been a surprise call for Buddy too, but one that leaked of love and good will for anyone in the general vicinity.

“Wow!” Buddy exclaimed, as he finally got off the line.

“That was James Garner calling,” Buddy added. “Wasn’t that nice of him to call today!”

“Nice, Buddy?” I asked, as I quickly threw in an extra hug, while adding: “How could he forget you?”

May They All Rest in Peace ….

Joe E. Brown passed away on July 6, 1973 at the age of 80.

Buddy Hancken passed away on February 17, 2007 at the age of 92.

Jack Bumgarner passed away on September 11, 2011 at the age of 84.

James Garner passed away on July 19, 2014 at the age of 86.

Bob Friend passed away on February 3, 2019 at the age of 88.

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The following is a link to the New York Times Obituary for Bob Friend;

Thank you, Paul Rogers, too for sending this information our way:

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For those of you with further interest in Joe E. Brown’s baseball movies and Buddy Hancken’s colorful contact with Hollywood types on the west coast, you may also enjoy this column of ours from several years back. Here’s the link:

https://bill37mccurdy.com/2012/05/02/joe-e-brown-was-a-baseball-man/

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Hall of Very Good” ~ Bryan T. Smith

January 23, 2019

 

hof 4 2019

NEWBIES FROM NOON: Edgar Martinez @12 Roy Halladay @3 Mario Rivera @6 Mike Mussina @9

Writer Bryan T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle put it very well, even if droves of others find themselves sitting in the same puddle of newly reenforced imagery this morning of what the Hall of Fame has been becoming and unabashedly now reached. ~ The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is now almost full bore into the practice of inducting famous players who once were “very good, but not great” ballplayers during their careers.

I would have to agree. Of the four men inducted by the BBWAA yesterday, only save king reliever Mariano Rivera was “great”. ~ Pitchers Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina ~ and designated hitter Edgar Martinez were only “very good”, but all were were very famous and also good enough to draw visitor crowds and a large TV audience to Cooperstown, New York for the annual induction celebration on the culturally pastoral lawns of upstate New York.

In earlier times, when there were no inductions due to the absence of any great player candidates, the kind of high dollar event that now stages itself each year would have been impossible. Now, however, inductees are necessary to draw attention and financial aid to the induction event. It is the event that is important now. The importance of the specific players being honored? ~ Not so much.

It’s not just a baseball thing.

This is the era of event importance over what is actually happening. One doesn’t have to be qualified to hold public office today at any level to find themselves elected by the voters to service. They just have to be able to make the voters think that their elections are going to make a difference either way, left or right.

Look at today’s movies, if you can sit through the special effects noise of a battle between two “who cares who wins” foes. Movies no longer have to be great or deep in storyline to win Academy Awards; movies based on video games have a chance to win awards today that once were reserved for great story and acting. Now it seems that they just have to succeed in luring the younger crowds and and all their dollars to the theaters ~ and the Academy Awards night simply becomes the event which celebrates their fame and not their greatness.

Please check out Smith’s column for a much more detailed and interesting look at how this is working in the way very good players now are finding their ways wide open through what we might call the “event window” and into the Hall of Fame.

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/sports/columnists/smith/article/There-s-no-correlation-between-Hall-of-Fame-13553618.php

As for these four 2019 BBWAA-inducted players, Mariano Rivera is the only “no-brainer” great one. The rest are obviously very good and only arguably “great” in the eyes of some ~ but enough to get well past the 75% vote total each needed from some of the voters who supported them ~ not because they were great ~ but because they were “good enough” to go in. That’s my read, anyway.

Rivera, in fact, was no surprise, even if his 100% first ever complete voter support was a little shocking in light of the fact that even Ruth never did that well. On the other hand, who could have honestly not voted for the greatest closer of all time ~ especially in light of the “good enough” names he shared space with on this ballot.

“And I say to myself ~ what a wonderful world!” ~ Louis Armstrong.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

 

 

Nine Years Ago on 1/21 in SABR Houston History

January 22, 2019
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JANUARY 21, 2010

While doing some photo file searching this morning on another piece I’m writing, I ran across a whole misplaced series of photos I had taken at one of the last, if not the final event itself, of the late and still missed winter baseball banquets that once were the acme moment of the Hot Stove League Season in Houston. All of these undescribed photos are of Larry Dierker SABR Chapter members who attended the January 21, 2010 dinner at one of the large luxury hotels near Minute Maid Park downtown.

Here they are ~ with no further identification than their individual numbers in this presentation. If you care to comment on any of them in particular ~ or upon the end of the dinners years ago as an annual event, please comment below. What we get from you will be move up to the body of this column by editorial discretion as the major thought content of this post.

Silence speaks volumes too. It’s not always right, but it’s always loud.

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Photo # 1

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PHOTO # 2

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PHOTO # 3

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PHOTO # 4

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PHOTO # 5

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PHOTO # 6

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PHOTO # 7

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PHOTO # 8

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PHOTO # 9

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PHOTO # 10

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

Historic Buildings in Sam Houston Park in Trouble

January 17, 2019

The Heritage Society
Sam Houston Park
Downtown Houston

Wow! What a shock, but not a surprise it was to learn this morning that public support for the downtown exhibit of historic homes and other places in the downtown Houston Sam Houston Park are in danger of being lost due to the fading away of private support.

In addition, the absence of operational funds has effectively caused all the conservatory professional and support staff of the Heritage Society that manages the showing of the old homes and thousands of other historic items to either remain as lightly paid, mostly volunteer staff ~ or else, look for other work. ~ And their departures from jobs they love are a double loss ~ both for them ~ and the community they serve so well.

Here’s the link to the story. And thanks again to frequent researcher/contributor Darrell Pittman for alerting The Pecan Park Eagle to this distressing development.

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Historic-Houston-buildings-threatened-by-budget-13539841.php

St. John Church
Sam Houston Park
Downtown Houston

If Houston is going to be successful with its preservation efforts downtown ~ or with a permanent design for showing the Astrodome to the world for what it actually is ~ it’s got to have the private sector support that those kinds of first class city projects require. It will never be enough to simply patch each thing along over time on the backs of small public fundings and short-term private interest usage contracts that first blur away and eventually discard any serious reliquarian reference to what’s really historically important about the saved entity.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the people and friends of the Historic Society ~ and for the future of the buildings and other important historical items under their care.

Hang in there, people! ~ It ain’t over til it’s over ~ and it’s going to get better. ~ Gotta happen!

We’re Houston Strong! ~ Remember?

Sincerely,

Bill McCurdy

The Pecan Park Eagle

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle