Babe Ruth as a boxer/prizefighter 1919 Boston Red Sox

It was December 18th, 1919 – just a week before Christmas.  Harry Frazee, owner of the Boston Red Sox, picked up his morning newspaper to find a holiday gift he really didn’t want. He was stunned when he turned to the sports section and found out that the star of his team was going to quit baseball and become a prizefighter.  It is not for us to repeat the profanity which emanated from Frazee on that morning nearly 100 years ago.

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To Frazee, Ruth was a headache. His continued inability or outright refusal to obey curfew earned him suspensions, and his escalating salary demands infuriated Harry. The Red Sox owner spoke publicly about trading Ruth while Babe was holding out for double his existing salary and threatening to become a boxer. Eventually, he did trade Ruth to New York, in order (so it has been said) to raise money to invest in a Broadway play called “No No Nannette” and thus brought about the “Curse of the Bambino” era, in which the Red Sox waited 86 years to win a championship.

This card was issued by Monarch Corona

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Umpires Ed Runge, Bill McKinley, and unknown stripper blackmail plot

It was August 26th of 1960, and umpires Ed Runge and Bill McKinley were in Baltimore, where they had just worked a doubleheader between the Orioles and the visiting Kansas City Athletics.  After the second game ended, the two married men went out on the town, ending up at a strip joint called the “Gaiety Club” where they met a 21 year-old stripper who specialized in Egyptian Belly Dancing.

umps1As students of human and social behavior, the umpires decided that belly dancing was something they should investigate more fully. They arranged to meet the young dancer and a friend at a local motel a couple of days later to conduct further research.

umps2On the 28th, a Sunday, the dancers met the umpires at a suburban Maryland motel.  They started exhibiting their dancing. Suddenly, the door to the motel room burst open, and two men with cameras rushed in snapping photos with flashbulbs popping.  The men left, saying “We’ll see you fellows in court” as they exited the room.  The umps were stunned.  The dancers protested that they had no idea who the men were, and all four parties hurriedly checked out of the motel.

Back in Baltimore, the umpires found that a copy of one of the photos had been slipped under the door of their hotel room with a phone number attached.  They called the number and were told that it would cost $5,000 cash to silence the photographers.  Arrangements were made for the payoff to occur the following day at the airport.

Runge and McKinley decided they would have to call the police, and the next day at the airport the two extortionists were arrested.  The 21 year-old stripper was also charged.

There were not any long-term consequences to McKinley’s and Runge’s umpiring careers arising from the indiscretion. McKinley continued to serve as an American League umpire until 1965, Runge until 1970.

This card was issued by Monarch Corona

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Johnny Bench 1968 Cincinnati Reds Rookie Stars series

Johnny Bench was one of the last great role models for American boys.  In spite of being a talented athlete and super-intelligent, he was (and still is) a down-to-Earth guy

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When Johnny was in the eighth grade, he had size 12 feet, huge hands that eventually could grip six baseballs each and a self-described huge head. But he stood just 5-foot-2.  “The only people scouting me was Barnum & Bailey,” Bench cracked.  Last year, the Johnny Bench Museum opened in his hometown of Binger, Oklahoma.  Johnny joked at the time, “It ought to bring in eight to ten people a day!”

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George Blanda 1961 Houston Oilers, AFL Most Valuable Player

George was unlikely to succeed. Bear Bryant, his college coach at the University of Kentucky in the late 1940s, told his first pro coach, George Halas of the Chicago Bears, that Blanda would never make it in the National Football League. Bryant, it later became apparent, was occasionally wrong.

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Blanda was the starting quarterback his last two seasons at Kentucky (1947-48), compiling rather ordinary numbers: 120 completions in 242 passes (.496 percentage), 1,451 yards, 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.  When he finished his Kentucky career, he thought his football days were over. But the Bears drafted Blanda in the 12th round, and after some negotiating, Halas signed him to a $6,000 contract with a $600 bonus.  Little did Blanda know that he’d battle with Halas over his contract for years to come. After four years and no raises, Blanda almost bolted to Hamilton of the Canadian Football League in December 1952, but Halas kept him by raising his salary to $11,600.  Blanda responded by leading the NFL in attempts (362) and completions (169) in 1953. However, he threw 14 TD passes and 24 interceptions as Chicago (3-8-1) lost seven games by seven points or fewer.  He threw for 15 touchdowns in eight games the next season before he suffered a separated shoulder against the Cleveland Browns and missed the last four games. It was the only significant injury for Blanda in his first 21 pro seasons. The Bears won those four games with Zeke Bratkowski at quarterback and finished 8-4.  From 1955 to ’58, Blanda was primarily a kicker and a backup to quarterback Ed Brown. In 1959, weary of his difficult dealings with Bears’ management, Blanda retired, only to emerge a year later with Houston of the brand new AFL.

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With the Oilers, he had three seasons of more than 3,000 yards passing, and he directed Houston to league championships in the AFL’s first two years (1960-61).  Blanda passed for 301 yards and three touchdowns in the 1960 championship game, a 24-16 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.  He led the AFL in passing in 1961, posting a personal-high 91.3 rating, and was the United Press International and Sporting News AFL Player of the Year. He threw for 3,330 yards and his 36 touchdown passes stood as the pro record for 23 years until Marino broke it in 1984.

In 1967, at age 39, he was traded to Oakland, where he kicked 201 consecutive extra points over five seasons (1967-71) and played on the 1968 AFL championship team that lost 33-14 to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II.  His most celebrated Raider season was 1970. As a replacement for starting quarterback Daryle Lamonica, who kept getting hurt, the 43-year-old led Oakland to four wins and a tie in a remarkable five-game stretch in midseason.  Coach John Madden called for Blanda late in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the veteran threw two touchdown passes and kicked a field goal in a 31-14 victory. The next Sunday, his 48-yard field goal on the game’s next-to-last play brought Oakland a 17-17 tie with the Kansas City Chiefs.  He also had a tying touchdown pass and deciding kick against Cleveland in a 23-20 win and produced an 80-yard drive in the final four minutes at Denver that ended with a 20-yard scoring pass to Fred Biletnikoff giving the Raiders a 24-19 victory. The next week he helped them defeat the San Diego Chargers, 20-17.  Though he threw only 55 passes all season, Blanda’s reserve role won him the UPI and Sporting News Player of the Year awards in the AFC.

He played nine seasons with Oakland, retiring one month shy of his 49th birthday in August 1976. In his 26-year career, he threw for 26,920 yards, completing 1,911-of-4,007 attempts, with 236 touchdown passes.  He was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, his first year of eligibility.

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Pete Rose 1961 Tampa Tarpons Florida State League

It was a balmy afternoon at Al Lopez Field in Tampa, Florida on June 10th of 1961. The Tampa Tarpons were playing a doubleheader against the Leesburg Orioles.  The Tarpons had a famous and popular manager, Johnny Vander Meer. They had been playing some exciting baseball, and the stands were filled with over 8,000 fans – a very nice sized crowd for the minor leagues in that era.  To Tarpons 2nd baseman Pete Rose, it was a very important game. His parents were both there, along with several relatives.  He had been batting in the .375 range since the season started in April, but he wasn’t doing well as a fielder.  The hardest move a 2nd baseman must master is the pivot and throw to first with a runner sliding. Some got it, and some didn’t. Pete didn’t, at least not yet.  But at least he was hitting well.  Still, he was two points behind Jim Livesey of Leesburg in the batting race, and statistics like that were very important to Pete.

pete1The first two times at bat in the first game, he grounded out and struck out.  In the 2nd inning he made an error throwing to first. Livesey got one hit.

The catcher for the Leesburg team in both games was a veteran, and he razzed Pete each time he came to the plate.  “Hey Hot Shot, you need a hanky?”  “A Rose by an other name would still smell like Sh*t!” You get the idea.

pete2On his third time up Pete hit a line drive deep into the pocket in left center, and took off at full speed. By the time the ball made it to home plate, Pete had crossed it with a rare inside the park home run!  On his next time up, he hit a single. So much for the first game.

In the second game, Pete did the following: He grounded out, struck out, hit another inside the park home run to the exact same spot, then singled.  Oh, and he was charged with an error on a bad throw in the 2nd inning!  And Jim Livesey for Leesburg got a hit. It was almost an exact repeat of game #1!

But what about that Leesburg catcher with the smart mouth? Oh, that guy? It was Cal Ripken, Senior!

 

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Marvelous Marv Throneberry 1962 New York Mets first season

It was July 30th, 1962.  Mets manager Casey Stengel was celebrating his 72nd birthday in the team clubhouse with a cake bought by the players and coaches.  He carved off a slice for Richie Ashburn, Felix Mantilla, Gil Hodges, Frank Thomas, Jim Hickman, Roger Craig, Jay Hook, and so on.  Finally, each player in the clubhouse had their piece of cake except one. First baseman Marvin Throneberry.  Every time he tried to get a piece, Stengel seemed to be blocking him, until the exasperated Throneberry asked, “Why don’t I get a slice Casey?”  Stengel stopped and looked up at Marvin with a twinkle in his eye, and said, “Sorry Marv, but I figured you would drop it!”

marv1Throneberry had his best season that year, on a team which set a new record for losing.

marv2The Mets had picked Marv up in a trade early in the season.  Originally signed by the Yankees, he hit 118 home runs in three seasons with Denver, leading the American Association in HRs and RBIs three years in a row.  Throneberry looked like a cinch to make it in the big leagues.   Along with veterans Frank Thomas and Richie Ashburn, he was going to give the brand new Mets some punch in the lineup.

In a game against the Chicago Cubs, he hit what appeared to be a game-winning triple with the bases loaded and two outs. The problem was that everybody in the dugout noticed that he missed touching first base. When the Cubs’ pitcher tossed the ball to the first baseman, the umpire called Throneberry out. The inning ended and the runs didn’t count. Casey Stengel, the grizzled manager of the Mets, couldn’t believe it and began arguing with the first-base umpire. As they exchanged words, another umpire walked over and said, “Casey, I hate to tell you this, but he also missed second.”

 

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Tony Perez, 1963 Macon Peaches, Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer

Tony Perez was coming of age in Cuba right in the middle of a revolution.  Fidel Castro was coming to power, and the island nation had very strained relations with the United States. But baseball is a different world, and those who played it in Cuba continued to do what they had always done: Play the game.  It was 1958, and the teenager was playing for a team representing the sugar refinery where he worked.  It was a Saturday afternoon, and his team was playing against a team from a coffee processing factory. A former player for the Havana Sugar Kings was in the bleachers that day, and watched young Perez go 7 for 7 with three home runs.  He also stole three bases during the game.  Word soon got back to Havana about a skinny kid named Tony Perez.

In 1960, young Tony was good enough to be signed by the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League, a team affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds.  When Reds scouts saw him hit, they liked him and paid the Havana team for his contract.  Tony was whisked out of Cuba on a flight just hours before the Cuban government suspended all travel to the United States. Unable to speak English, he was sent to Geneva in the New York – Penn. League to start his career.  He had a big year at Geneva in ’61 (27-132-.348)

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tp2There weren’t many people in Geneva who spoke Spanish. One of his teammates was outfielder Martin DiHigo Jr., the son of Hall Of Fame Negro League and Cuban League player Martin DiHigo Sr.

Over the next decades, Tony would make a name for himself and end up at Cooperstown, humbly accepting his inclusion in baseball’s most prestigious fraternity – the Hall Of Fame.

Tony Perez came from a foreign country, speaking in broken English, and became a success as a player, as a leader, and as a human being.

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1919 Chicago Black Sox set of 9, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Cicotte, Weaver

This is the best-written set I know of covering the White Sox players who were banned from baseball and events surrounding the ill-fated 1919 World Series.

0a0bThe White Sox were called “Black Sox” because the cheapskate team owner Charlie Comiskey had quit paying for their laundry, and the players weren’t keeping their uniforms very clean.  They were a ragged dirty bunch by all accounts, and fans started calling them Black Sox as early as 1917.

1a1bShoeless Joe Jackson passed out nickels and candy to kids who asked for his autograph, because he couldn’t write his name well enough to sign.

2a2bBuck Weaver played an errorless World Series at third base and batted .324 with 11 hits.

3a3bEd Cicotte played minor league ball with Ty Cobb, and was signed by Detroit on the same day Cobb was.  They didn’t get along well, and took separate trains to Detroit!

4a4bGetting kicked out of baseball was the tragedy of Fred McMullin’s life.  He loved baseball more than anything, more than all other things combined. He played baseball all year, participating in winter leagues, amateur baseball, semi-pro, you name it.  If he was riding past a vacant lot and there was a pick-up game going on, he would stop and get in on it.

5a5bChick Gandil was a bad boy. After running away from home at 17, he was involved in many scrapes and altercations. He once punched out an umpire, he once broke into the clubhouse and stole money from his own team, he traveled around the west as a professional boxer. After making a big payday from the gamblers, he petulantly demanded a $10,000 salary or else he would sit out the season.  He went on to sit out many seasons.

6a6bLefty Williams was Joe Jackson’s closest friend on the club, and his roommate. Lefty lost all three of his starts and pitched horribly. Only outstanding play in the outfield prevented matters from being much worse for Lefty, as Cincinnati batters teed off, slamming many long hits off Williams that were caught by outfielders Felsch and Jackson.

7a7bHappy Felsch was a contender for the heavyweight wrestling championship when he started his baseball career at Milwaukee in 1913.  He batted .192 in the Series and made several key errors.

8a8bSwede Risberg was Chick Gamdil’s roommate, and he was just as tough as Gandil. He was kicked out of school in the third grade for refusing to shave!

 

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Joe Cronin, 1933 Washington Senators, later Red Sox Manager & Hall Of Famer

Cronin was promoted to manager of the Senators before the ’33 season got underway, and became the youngest manager in baseball.  There was some resentment, because the manager who was fired to make room for Joe was Walter Johnson, the greatest Washington Senator of all time.

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cronin2Cronin silenced his doubters when he led the Senators to the pennant, although they ended up losing to the New York Giants in the World Series.

The following year, the Red Sox offered Washington $250,000 for Joe. It was an unheard-of amount of money at that time, and it came with a five year contract as player-manager in Boston.  He managed the Bosox through some turbulent times, spending less time as a player and more as a manager.  He did write his name in the record books when he hit 5 pinch-hit home runs in ’43. At that stage of his career he was the best pinch hitter in baseball.  Connie Mack told a reporter that season, “”With a man on third and one out, I’d rather have Cronin hitting for me than anybody I’ve ever seen, and that includes Cobb, Simmons and the rest of them.”

Joe led the Red Sox through WW2, and dealt with some of the difficult personalities the team seemed to attract (Ted Williams, Jimmy Piersall, Lefty Grove, and Wes Ferrell to name a few).  In ’46 he led the Red Sox to the AL pennant.

Eventually Cronin was promoted to General Manager at Boston, where there were rampant rumors that he had a secret plan to move the team to San Francisco – which he always denied.  In ’58 he was named the President of the American League, an office which he held until he retired from baseball in 1973.

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Joe Bauman 1955 Roswell Rockets minor league slugger 72 HRs .400 Avg

After serving in the Navy during WW2, Joe was signed by the Braves organization, but he wasn’t very happy with the treatment he got.  At Amarillo in ’46 he had an outstanding 48-159-.301 season. He expected to get a raise and a promotion – but it didn’t happen.  The following year, again at Amarillo, he had another tremendous performance at the plate, 38-127-.350 and once more he thought he would get more money or a promotion.

bauman1He did not get a raise, but he was promoted to Hartford in the Eastern League, where he spent a lot of time riding the bench.  In a part-time role, he hit 10 home runs and batted .275 for the season. After that season ended, he was offered a pay cut.

bauman2He told the Braves executives he could make more money selling shoestrings on a street corner. The Braves didn’t improve their offer, and Joe took a hike.

He was immediately hired by a semi-pro team in Elk City, Oklahoma at $500 per month – nearly twice what the Braves had offered.  He was batting over .600 at Elk City when the Braves realized they had possibly made an error.  Their scouts swore Joe was the next Babe Ruth, and that with a year of seasoning he might be ready to come to Boston and make a name for himself.  They hurriedly sent Bauman a telegram offering a $100 raise and promoting him to their Southern League farm club, the Atlanta Crackers.  But it was too late.  Joe had signed a contract with the Elk City club, and he was a man who always kept his word.  With all due respect to the Braves, Joe Bauman was going to have to decline the Boston Braves’ generous offer.

Elk City was at the time in the middle of an oil boom, and they had a great semipro team.  While Joe was there, he led them to three straight national semi-pro championships.  After 3 years of batting cleanup and hitting tons of home runs while batting in the .400 to .500 range at Elk City, Joe accepted an offer to play for Artesia (New Mexico) in the Longhorn League.  He was back in pro baseball.  Joe accepted the offer because he intended to go into business in New Mexico. He now regarded baseball as a part time job, a serious hobby, doing something he enjoyed. His future wasn’t in baseball, it was in gas and oil. But he could still play pro ball and have a great time doing so, and the extra paycheck came in handy.  After two tremendous years with Artesia he had saved up enough money to open his own Texaco service station in Roswell, New Mexico, and just as important: To purchase his own contract from Artesia, making him one of the earliest free agents. He then offered his services to the Roswell Rockets, so he could play close to home.

During his two years at Artesia, Joe was the top hitter in the Longhorn League: 50-157-.375 and 53-141-.371   In ’53 he went over to Roswell, where he set records in ’54 with 72-228-.400  and had another big year in ’55 with 46-132-.336

Meanwhile, Bauman and his wife were starting a family and a new business.  Joe drove and maintained the team bus, and operated two full-service gas stations.  Occasionally he would leave the park after a game and head off to tow someone out of a ditch or provide other emergency car service.  He really was a respected man in Roswell.

It has been noted that the Longhorn League was a “hitters league” and that Joe’s feats weren’t as great as they seem. I disagree. He hit 29 more home runs that year than his closest competitor.  He had 72 more RBIs than the second place RBI man in the league. It was a monster performance which cannot be so easily discredited.

After his big year in ’54, Joe appeared on the cover of Life Magazine, and was offered a pretty good contract by San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, but by then his gas station business was starting to become successful, and he was a busy man.  He stayed in Roswell.  An ankle injury in ’56 ended his baseball career.

But it didn’t end his gas station career, and around Roswell the old timers will tell you that if there was a service station Hall Of Fame, Joe would be in it.

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