Just what every home and office needs, 12" x 18" frameable prints of select illustrations from The Infinite Baseball Card Set! Each full color poster features 20 illustrations seen here on the Infinite Baseball Card Set, and a few that haven't seen the light of day until now. These look really sharp framed and hanging on a wall, I actually had some printed just for my own office and though others might like them as well. These are the first 3 sets of 20 that I could fill up, as there are more cards added to this site I will make another poster available. $25 each, postage included, or all 3 for $70, postage included. Now accepting pre-orders, they will be shipped the 2nd week of May.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
The freshman who tried out for the baseball team at Yale in the Spring of 1947 wasn't your typical college kid. The 22 year-old was just recently discharged from the U.S. Navy where he spent the last 3 years on an aircraft carrier flying torpedo bombers against the Japanese. On one of his 58 combat missions, his Grumman Avenger was hit by flak and ignoring his burning engine, completed his bombing run before bailing out over the Pacific. His two other crew member killed, he floated on a raft alone for hours before a dramatic rescue by an American submarine. He was discharged in September with a Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals, married his long-time girlfriend Barbara and entered Yale University and tried out for the baseball team, just like his father before him.
Under the coaching of former major leaguer Ethan Allen, George Bush became the Yale Bulldog's varsity first baseman. From the start he caused quite a stir because he fielded left-handed - an extreme rarity in the baseball world. By all accounts George was a flashy fielder - coach Allen was quoted as calling Bush "...a one-handed artist at first base." His offensive skills were another matter. In the 1947 season he is credited with a .239 average with a homer and a couple of doubles. The next year he did a little better, going .264 with 6 doubles, 2 triples and a single homer. Since first base is usually a spot where you put your big, slow-fielding slugger, the fact that Coach Allen left the mediocre-hitting Bush there as a starter speaks much to his defensive skills.
In Bush's first season with Yale, the team's record of 19-8 earned them the honor of playing in the very first college World Series. Held at Hyames Field in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Ivy League Yale Bulldogs faced the University of California at Berkley Bears. UC's squad was led by its ace pitcher, Jackie Jensen, who later starred for the Boston Red Sox as an outfielder.
That Yale even made the series was quite an accomplishment. The Ivy League universities had once been a hot-bed of athletic ability, but in the years after the first world war more and more promising young athletes were able to attend state colleges and the former powerhouse schools like Yale, Princeton and Harvard no longer dominated collegiate sports.
The first College World Series was designed to be a best-of-three series. Major League Baseball commissioner Happy Chandler was on hand to throw out the first ball and the game was officiated by two umpires on loan from the major leagues. Yale led 4-2 through 7 innings until Coach Allen tripped over his own strategy. He had his pitcher intentionally walk the Bears' 8th place hitter to face pitcher Jackie Jensen. Normally a sound move as pitchers are generally not known for their hitting prowess, in this case it was a terrible over site as Jensen, the future American League MVP in 1958, tied the game. The Bears took the lead in the 8th and really put it to bed with an 11 run 9th inning.
Jackie Jensen took the mound for UC Berkley in the second game as well and was cruising along with a 7-2 lead when Yale came roaring back in the 6th and tied it up. The next inning bad fielding allowed the Bears to scratch out a run and they held on the win the game and World Series, 8-7.
It was a disappointing end to Yale's season, but like millions of baseball fans have muttered over the years, there's always next year, and the Bulldog's didn't disappoint.
In 1948, first baseman George Bush improved his hitting by over 20 points and his fielding continued to sparkle. Yale teammate Dick Tettlebach, who went on to play in the big leagues with the Yankees and Senators, called Bush's play at first base: "Absolutely superb. A real fancy Dan." Coach Ethan Allen, whose major league career in the 20's and 30's enabled him to observe up close some of the greatest first basemen of all-time, like Lou Gehrig and Bill Terry, said Bush was one of the best he'd ever seen.
During one game in Raleigh against North Carolina State he went 3 for 5 with a double and triple, accompanied by his usual first-rate defensive play. Walking off the field after the game a major league scout approached and inquired about George's interest in playing profession ball. This brush with the scout was as close to the big leagues as George would get as a player, but his 1948 season would be memorable in other ways.
The greatest baseball player of all-time, Babe Ruth, made the trek to Yale in the spring of that year to personally donate a signed copy of his autobiography to the University's library. George Bush, recently voted captain of Yale's ballclub, had the honor of accepting the book from the baseball legend. Years later Bush recalled his meeting with The Babe who was ravaged by the cancer that would shortly claim his life: "...he was dying. He was hoarse and could hardly talk. He kind of croaked when they set up the mike by the pitchers mound. It was tragic. He was hollow. His whole great shape was gaunt and hollowed out."
After going 20-7, The Bulldogs met another California team once again in Kalamazoo. This time it was the USC Trojans and the best-of-three series went the distance ending in another tough defeat for Yale. George Bush watched from the on-deck circle as the Bulldog's season ended on a rare triple play.
George Bush graduated from Yale that spring and went on to other things, though baseball always remained close to his heart. Each spring he tried to make it to an opening day game, alternating between leagues each year. When he took office as President of the United States in 1989, in the top drawer of his desk in the Oval Office was a well-oiled first baseman's mitt, just in case. To this day Bush loves to discuss his baseball career, but disputes his former coach's assessment of him as a "all-glove - no hit" player. Says Bush: "I think it was grossly unfair because I think my average was about .240 or .250 (actually .251). And I think if I were playing today in the bigs, I'd probably get about 8 million bucks a year for that."
His love of the game was passed down to his sons, and one, also named George, made his father proud by becoming part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Though he tried out for, but failed to make the Yale baseball team like his Dad, he did follow in his footsteps by becoming President of the United States.
Friday, May 20, 2011
This week I wanted to feature a ballplayer that is in the next issue of 21 which will focus on the 1933 Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Craws were such a great team with no shortage of superstar players - Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Judy Johnson, Ted Page... it was a veritable All-Star team (in fact 7 of the Crawfords were picked to play in the first Negro League East-West All-Star Game that year). The choice was difficult, but I decided to go with the man who seems to be at the center of some of the greatest myths and stories in baseball history.
Back before hard-core baseball researchers like Scott Simkus and Gary Ashwill started really getting the actual statistics on the Negro Leagues, the field of blackball was filled with wondrous stories of the mysterious players who played before Jackie Robinson. Robert Peterson's seminal book on the subject "Only The Ball Was White" started the whole modern era of Negro League research, followed up quickly by John Holway's still enjoyable and valuable books relating his interviews with early black players. This was the "dark ages" of Negro League research, way before computers and micro-film of defunct newspapers made research easier. The subject was wrapped in oral histories, passed down by players and fans from one generation to the next, like the Greek tales of the Gods were centuries before. There were no record books like the big leagues had and no coffee table picture books were available documenting these black players. As John Holway writes in the introduction to his book "Blackball Tales," in 1969 his research into the Negro Leagues took him naturally to the Baseball hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Asking to see the Hall's files on the Negro Leagues, be was disappointed to find its collection comprised of only a scorecard of the buffoonish Indianapolis Clowns and a Washington Post article on Josh Gibson written by... John Holway! The study of Negro League ball and other outsider teams and players have come a long way since then, but along with all the knowledge gained, we also lose much of the tall-taled fun that once encased blackball and separated itself from the cold, hard facts of organized baseball.
It was the Paul Bunyan-esque figures that originally attracted me to the Negro Leagues... there was the fella who was said to have hit 70 home runs in a season, a pitcher who during a Negro League World Series game had the bases loaded and called in his outfielders and struck out the side, and of course the guy who was said to be so fast he could turn the light switch off and be under the covers before the room went black.
These stories were so fascinating to me as a young teen that it made me search for more and more and that quest eventually turned into 25 plus years of researching the old Negro Leagues. The one dangerous part of learning more is sometimes the truth behind a story is not what you want to hear. The fella who supposedly hit 70 home runs in a season was Josh Gibson in 1931. No one denies Gibson was a superstar and he'd be worth his weight in gold had he been white, but the story of those 70 home runs was just that - a story. Phil Dixon wrote The Book on the famed '31 Grays and figured out he hit 40 round-trippers, but these were against ALL levels of competition from chintzy-little town teams to top-notch black clubs and white minor league ballclubs. The pitcher who called in his outfield and struck out the side with the bases loaded in a Negro World Series game? Of course that had to be Satchel Paige. The story was colorfully related many times by his teammate Buck O'Neil, later known as the elder statesman of blackball due to his longevity and featured place in Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary. Unfortunately, it just didn't happen. Besides being untrue, the story in my opinion makes Satchel Paige, who may have been one the greatest pitchers of all-time, look like a careless fool. While Paige undoubtedly had fun on the mound and could showboat and trash-talk better than anyone else, he was also a true professional and in games that counted he would never have done such a risky thing as call in his outfielders.
So that brings us to the third story, the one about the guy who was so fast he could turn the light switch off and get under the covers before the room went black. That was none other than James "Cool Papa" Bell.
He was born down south in Starkesville, Mississippi, his father a black farmer and his mother an Oklahoma Indian. Bell learned baseball like most young boys, did but did not consider it as a career until he left home in 1920 to join his older brothers in St. Louis so he could go to high school - Starkesville didn't have any schools above 8th grade for Negros back then.
Once in St. Louis, Bell began pitching for the local Compton Hills Cubs where the professional St. Louis Stars noticed him. For $90 a month, Bell dropped out of high school and became their new left-handed pitcher. Armed with a repertoire of screwball, knuckler and curve, Bell gained his priceless nickname "Cool Papa" when with a game on the line, he struck out the great and fearsome Oscar Charleston. After the game Bell's manager Bill Gatewood called him "one cool papa" for not being rattled when facing one of the greatest clutch hitters of all time. Like all great nicknames, "Cool Papa" stuck to Bell like it was dipped in Super Glue.
A sore arm ended Bell's promising career on the mound, but he quickly adapted by teaching himself to hit from both sides of the plate and utilising his greatest asset - his speed.
See, Cool Papa was fast! The game as it was played back in the 1920's was much different than today. There was much more aggressive base running and stealing and the blackball version of the game was even faster paced that the white one. The St. Louis Stars developed into a dynasty in the late 1920's and Cool Papa was their lead-off hitter. He didn't have much power, but when he made contact with the ball he was off like a bullet. This quickness pushed his batting average above the .300 mark in most years, higher in many others. It's hard to say for sure, the research isn't complete yet, however Scott Simkus' work on the 1933 Crawfords attributes a .307 average in 63 league games against the best black players. In exhibitions against white major leaguers Bell is verified to have batted .391 - his speed working to his benefit when playing against guys who were not used to the aggressive base running the Negro League teams displayed.
His speed out of the box surprised even veteran players and it is no exaggeration that Bell could beat out a ball hit in the infield for a single. One proven story about Bell's base running skills and speed took place during an exhibition game against Bob Lemon's white all-star team in 1948. The Cardinal's Murray Dickson was on the mound and Bell singled. The next batter, Satchel Paige, bunted in a bunt-and-run play. Bell, who was running as the ball left Dickson's hand, watched as the catcher , pitcher and third baseman all left their positions to field the ball. As Bell reached second he saw that no one was covering third so he kept going. The ball, now fielded, was sent to first base and Bell, watching all this unfold, reached third. Seeing the catcher making his way to cover third leaving home plate uncovered, flew right by him and crossed the plate before anyone else knew what was happening.
What that story proves, besides giving proof to Cool Papa's speed on the base path, is that he not only was quick, but more importantly, he was smart. It takes a very observant man to assess the situation and not only adapt to it but think one or two steps in advance. In that game in 1948, Bell wasn't playing against a rinky-dink town team but against major league players. He also 43 years-old at the time!
As an outfielder, once again Bell used his great ability to adapt to master his position. His sore arm never healed and in order to play his centerfield position he again utilized his speed to his own advantage. Bell was able to race to and catch fly balls where average players would not be able to make the play. He got around his weakened arm by developing a quick release once in possession of the ball, getting the it back to the infield faster as fast as most players who could rely on their powerful arms to get the ball there.
In our upcoming edition of 21 featuring the 1933 Pittsburgh Crawfords, Scott Simkus attributes Bell with only 2 errors during the '33 season, a cool .980 fielding percentage. In 63 verified Negro National League games that season, Simkus also recorded 12 stolen bases for Bell. 12 is a long way from the 175 he claimed to have stolen in 1933, but again these 12 were in league games against top black teams and at the same token, steals were not recorded very diligently at the time. So while it is highly unlikely Bell stole 175 bases in 1933, he probably stole more than 12 in the 63 league games and it is a given that he swiped plenty more while playing against town teams and amateur clubs that summer.
So how fast was Bell? Supposedly he was once clocked at running the bases in 11 seconds. The Baseball Hall Of Fame reportedly has some kind of documentation on this provided by Cool Papa's daughter, but I have been unable to find substantial proof of this. The official record, set in 1932 by Evar Swanson of the Columbus Red Birds, is 13.2 seconds. Official record or not, Bell was fast. While I was unable to find that all-important truth, there is something that may help validate his reputation as the fastest man in baseball. Olympian Jesse Owens was acknowledged to be the fastest man alive in the years leading up to World War II. Although he was the star of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the 4 gold medals he won didn't put food on the table so he often toured with Negro League teams, running pre-game exhibitions against local runners and sometimes even horses. On several occasions Bell's team played against a team Owens was with and each time the Olympian declined to race against Bell - as far as I can tell the only person he refused the opportunity to race. This speaks loudly of Bell's speed at the time. Owens, who was racing against horses for God's sake, was worried about losing a race to Bell!
So anyway, some tales about Bell were unfortunately not true (like the one where he hit a single, only to be called out when the ball he hit struck him in the keister as he slid into second), or there just isn't any documented proof (running the bases in 11 seconds). But wait, what about being so fast he could turn the light switch off and be under the covers before the room went black?
That one was one of Satchel Paige's favorite stories to tell and was one of the cornerstones of the mythology that encased blackball in the "dark ages." The way Paige told it, Bell showed how fast he was by the seemingly impossible act of being quicker than light-speed. Now that is a story that has to be false, right? Wrong. Back during their days with the Crawfords, Cool Papa and Satch were roommates on the road. Bell, who wasn't anywhere near the night owl Paige was, was in his hotel room one night when he noticed that the light switch on the wall had a short. It took a few seconds between the switch being flipped and the light actually going off. Sensing a great opportunity to mess with Satchel, Bell waited up for his roommate to return from a night on the town. When he came back, Cool Papa asked Satch if he thought he was fast. Satch of course said yes. Was he so fast he could get into bed before the room went black? Satch was sceptical, and Bell got up out of bed to prove it. Hitting the switch, Bell jumped into bed and under the covers as the room went dark, leaving Satchel standing in the dark, for once, speechless...
See Cool Papa and the rest of his teammates on the 1933 Crawfords in the next issue of 21: The Illustrated Journal of Outsider Baseball coming soon...
Friday, May 13, 2011
There was some problems with Blogger yesterday and my last post on Guy Zinn was wiped off the face of the earth, so here it is again...
After finally completing the design of the next issue of 21: The Illustrated Journal of Outsider Baseball in a coffee-fueled Jack Kerouac-like marathon work session, I was in the process of saving the file to my online back up when my screen went blue. Now I'm computer literate enough to know that blue is bad and that field diagnosis was confirmed when I took the machine to a tech guy. I spent a few agonizing days waiting to hear if the file that held the new 21 issue could be salvaged and was relieved to hear that it was. So after buying a whole new machine and all the accompanying software, I am back up and running. So why do I share my problems with you? Well, I was unable to write a good story this week for this site. Following up Bill Staples' great Kenichi Zenimura story would have been hard enough, but I thought I'd throw out the story of a fella I found while researching the first issue of 21, Guy Zinn...
Prior to 1914, when a major league team sent a player down to the minor leagues there was nothing the player could do about it unless he wanted to be blacklisted from organized baseball forever. But in the winter of 1914 when Guy Zinn found out the Boston Braves had sold him to Louisville, he never showed up. He went rogue.
Founded in 1913 as an unaffiliated minor league, the Federal League emerged the next year as an aspiring third major league. The 8 team league strategically placed their clubs all around the eastern half of the country, selecting major league cities like Chicago, Brooklyn, St. Louis and Pittsburgh as well as the big minor league markets of Baltimore, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Buffalo. The league then commenced a raiding spree on the major leagues. Aging and underpaid stars like Three-Finger Brown, Germany Schaefer and Eddie Plank joined viable young talent like Benny Kaugh and Ed Rouch. Many other stars of both major leagues used the threat of signing with the Federals as leverage to get better pay. For a veteran like Guy Zinn, the Federal League was a way to hold on to the dream.
Born in Holbrook, West Virginia, Zinn started out in the local Pennsylvania-West Virginia League in 1909 and quickly worked his way up through Macon, Memphis, Toledo and Altoona before he was signed by the New York Highlanders, now known as the Yankees. The young outfielder batted only .148 in 9 games during the 1911 season but he made the starting lineup the following year. Batting leadoff on Opening Day in Boston, Zinn became the first batter ever to step up to the plate in Fenway Park. After drawing a walk he later scored a run, also becoming the first player to score a run at Fenway. On August 15, 1912 the speedy Zinn made a name for himself again by stealing home twice in one game, a record that has been equalled 10 times but never surpassed. He also pounded a team record 6 home runs earning himself the formidable nickname “The Gunner”. Despite his memorable season, New York sold him to the Rochester Hustlers of the International League. Although the International League was the highest minor league at the time, it was still the minors. A disappointed Zinn batted .287 and hit 4 home runs. The Boston Braves noticed and purchased his contract at the tail end of the 1913 season. Guy batted .297 in 36 games including 8 doubles 2 triples and a home run but during the winter break he found out he had been sent down to the minors again, this time to Louisville.
Baltimore of the Federal League eagerly signed the proven Zinn. The Terrapins were heavily favored to win the pennant and they started out strong, outdrawing the established Baltimore Orioles so much that they were forced to sell their biggest star, 19 year-old pitcher Babe Ruth, and relocate to another city. The Gunner started great as well but then after batting .280 with 10 doubles, 6 triples and 4 homers as well as 6 steals, he broke his ankle running the bases. The team tanked during the second half and finished a disappointing third. Zinn recovered and the next year hit .269 and had 18 doubles, 3 triples and 5 homers despite the Terrapins finishing dead last in the league. But the league’s days were numbered.
Baltimore as well as the rest of the club’s attendance had dropped substantially and the Federal League finished the season in the red. The Major Leagues recognized victory over the upstart league but made a few concessions to some of the Federal League club owners: St. Louis Terriers owner Phil Ball purchased the St. Louis Browns while Chicago Whales owner Charles Weeghman was allowed to buy the Chicago Cubs. Weeghman moved the Cubs into the more modern stadium he had built for the Whales which years later would be known as Wrigley Field. The American and National Leagues skimmed off the best of the Federal League’s talent and cast adrift the remaining players.
With the demise of the Federal League, the aging Zinn bumped around the minors again, stopping off at Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, New Orleans, Louisville, Bridgeport, Newark, Jersey City and finally Hamilton, Ontario. He retired in 1922 and returned to his family in West Virginia.
Now go back up your files!