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Happy B-day, Home Run Baker!

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On this day in 1886, John Franklin “Home Run” Baker was born in Trappe, Maryland, to this day a sleepy farm town not far from the Chesapeake Bay. 

Twenty-two and one-half years later, Frank would find himself playing with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics of the American League in Shibe Park – the first concrete-and-steel ballpark of the age – batting .290 and fielding thirdbase perfectly in nine late-season games in what would become the liftoff of a brilliant baseball career. 

His plaque in the Hall of Fame sums it up:

JOHN FRANKLIN BAKER
PHILADELPHIA A.L. 1908-1914
NEW YORK A.L. 1916-1922
MEMBER OF CONNIE MACK’S FAMOUS
$100,000 INFIELD. LED AMERICAN LEAGUE
IN HOME-RUNS 1911-12-13, TIED IN 1914.
WON TWO WORLD SERIES GAMES FROM
GIANTS IN 1911 WITH HOME-RUNS THUS
GETTING NAME “HOME RUN” BAKER. PLAYED
IN SIX WORLD SERIES 1910-11-13-14-21-22.

Frank earned the nickname “Home Run” after the 1911 World Series versus the New York Giants.  In game two, he slammed a two-run dinger off Rube Marquard to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning, capturing a lead that would not be given up that day and tying the series at 1-1.  The next game, Baker’s top-of-the-ninth solo shot off the great Christy Mathewson tied the game and sent it to extra innings.  The Athletics would win 2-1 in the eleventh, taking a lead in the series that would not be relinquished. 

Connie Mack and the other owners of the A’s would reward Frank’s great play in that series by making him a part of the “$100,000 Infield”.  That recipe of spectacular homeruns, high salaries, and marvelous concrete-and-steel ballparks would later become the big money formula for big money clubs in a game that, from its earliest time, was driven by speed, guile, stratagem, and glovework. 

Baker would lead the American League in homeruns in 1911 (11), and go on to capture that prize again in 1912 (10, tied with Texan slugger Tris Speaker), 1913 (12), and 1914 (9), always ranking highly in the major offensive categories.  Eventually, Connie Mack refused to sustain Baker’s salary;  his contract was purchased by none other than the New York Yankees in 1916, for $37,500.  In 1921, Baker, aggrieved by the passing of his wife, hobbled by age, and probably disinterested in the growing glamour of the game, was still present enough to pass the homerun baton to Babe Ruth – who hit an unheard-of 59 homeruns that year (from the Baseball Almanac):

“I hope he (Babe Ruth) lives to hit one-hundred homeruns in a season.  I wish him all the luck in the world.  He has everybody else, including myself, hopelessly outclassed.”

In 1922, Frank left the game for good, remarried, and reset himself in the farm town where he was born – and where he would eventually pass on at the age of seventy-seven.

For more reading on Frank “Home Run” Baker, hit the Baseball Almanac link above and be sure to also check out The Dead Ball Era’s obituary page on him.

Written by Ryan

March 13, 2010 at 7:00 am

On This Day in Yankee History…

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On this day in 1903, the leadership of the well-established National League and the three-year-old upstart American League met to talk unity and the reconciling of rules.  Two important outcomes of the meeting were the creation of the World Series and a 15-1 vote to install an American League franchise in New York (the lone dissenter was John T. Bush, whose National League New York Giants had enjoyed a near-monopoly over the city).

Shortly after, the flagging Baltimore Oriole franchise was purchased, uprooted, and imported to New York City by the (logical) duo of Frank Farrell, a pool-hall and gambling kingpin, and William Deverey, a former Police Chief.  A field (there were no stadiums yet) was hastily thrown together on Manhattan’s highest point, on Broadway between 165th and 168th Streets.  The local press dubbed the team “the Highlanders” and called the field “Hilltop Park”.  That neighborhood would eventually become Washington Heights, the birthplaces of Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.  The New York Highlanders would eventually become the New York Yankees.

Written by Ryan

March 12, 2010 at 7:00 am

Happy B-day, Aaron Boone!

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On this day 36 years ago, former Yankee infielder Aaron Boone was born in La Mesa, California.

Boone will always be remembered by Yankee fans for his walk-off homerun to clinch the ‘03 ALCS versus Boston.  Aaron led off the bottom of the 11th inning with the game tied 2-2 in a real nailbiter.  He launched the first offering from wiley knuckleballer Tim Wakefield into the leftfield seats, sending the home crowd into mania and the team to the World Series.

Aaron was born into a baseball family.  Grandfather Ray Boone (d. Oct. 17, 2004) was an infielder with Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago (he was traded there in a move that included Red Sox mgr. Terry Francona’s father Tito), Milwaukee, Kansas City, and finally Boston.  His 2-time All Star career spanned from 1948 to 1960.  Father Bob Boone was a 7-time Gold Glove catcher who spent 19 seasons with Philadelphia, California, and Kansas City, throwing out an impressive 40% of attempted steals over his career and earning 4 All Star selections.  Brother Bret Boone was a slugging secondbaseman by trade, leading all Boones with 252 career HRs.  The 4-time Gold Glover, 3-time All Star, and 2-time Silver Slugger led the American League with 141 RBIs in 2001. 

Aaron would later gain some fame as being the first player in MLB history to have open heart surgery and return to play within the same season, going under the knife on March 26th, 2009 to replace his bicuspid aortic valve and returning to the batter’s box on August 10th (he was 0-3).

Quote:  “”Just to have the opportunity, to be in that spot, get that chance, it’s humbling…This game humbles you all the time in good and bad ways. It’s been humbling a little bit lately in a bad way, and this is just the same. It’s humbling.”

Written by Ryan

March 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm

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Happy B-day, Myril Hoag!

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On this day in 1908, Myril Hoag (d. July 28, 1971) was born in Davis, California.

Hoag came up with the Yankees in 1931 after an outstanding season in the Pacific Coast League, where he batted .337.  An excellent article in Baseball in Wartime perfectly defines his career with the Yanks:

Hoag failed to live up to the hype his first two years with the Yankees and saw only limited duty as a back-up outfielder. He was back in the minors in 1933 playing a full season with Newark of the International League before returning to New York in 1934.

Hoag remained in a utility role with the Yankees and suffered serious head injuries when a collision in the outfield with Joe DiMaggio resulted in brain surgery. However, he apparently made a full recovery and played 106 games and batted .301 the following year.

Hoag was traded to the Browns in 1939 and enjoyed his best major league season playing a career-high 129 games and batting .295 with 75 RBIs as well as being an American League all-star selection.

Hoag also went 6-for-20 in the 1937 World Series versus the Giants.  In the fifth and final game, he hit a solo homer in the second inning to start the scoring.  That series is notable as the last series in which Lou Gehrig homered (that season was possibly the last that the “Iron Horse” was completely healthy before drifting into illness).

Myril was the last Yankee to get 6 hits in a single game until Johnny Damon matched it versus Kansas City on June 7th of last year.

Hoag is finally notable for having one of the smallest shoes in Major League history, size 4 (R) and 4 1/2 (L).

Written by Ryan

March 9, 2010 at 7:00 am

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Happy B-day, Johnny Blanchard!

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Johnny Blanchard spent seven seasons with the Yankees on the great clubs of the early 60’s and was born on this day in 1933 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He died of a sudden heart attack on March 23rd, 2009, in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.

Blanchard was primarily a back-up catcher to Yogi Berra and Elston Howard but saw action in the outfield and at third base.  He was also favored by manager Casey Stengel as a pinch hitter.

Mike Silva of NY Baseball Digest interviewed Johnny not long before he passed.  Here’s an excerpt of the excellent hour-long interview:

Mike:  Did you ever what if you played every day what kind of career you would have had?

Johnny:  No, Mike it never entered my mind…We had such a good relationship, and a good team, good bunch of guys, that it never entered my mind about “play me or trade me”…I was in five straight world series, how can you complain about that?…I knew that when I got to NY there was no way that anybody, I don’t care who it is, are gonna beat them [Howard and Berra, both MVPs] out behind the plate.  So on my own, what I did in batting practice I would go in to right field, left field, and all the pitchers were shagging in batting practice you know Mike,  and I would tell them ‘hey guys let me get every ball I can get to’…I played batting practice just like a game, I would simulate in my mind – ‘ball hit down the right field line, where do I go with it if there was man on first base, hit the cutoff’ and so forth.  I was never told to do that, I did that on my own.

His tenacious approach to his role with the club and his humble bearing earned him both the respect and friendship of more widely-known and talented players.  Mickey Mantle and John were great friends.  In All My Octobers (co-authored by Mickey Herskowitz),  Mickey wrote:

When John Blanchard was a rookie, and nervous about getting around, I talked him into staying with me.  When he checked into the hotel, the desk clerk told him the room rate was $125 a night.  The next thing I knew he had picked up his bags and was heading for the door.  “I’m gonna ease on down the street, Mick,” he said.  “This place is too rich for my blood.”  I said, “Tell you what.  I’ll pay the hundred and you pay the twenty-five.”  That’s how we did it.

Of the death, Yogi Berra told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com:

This is a sad day.  Johnny was a good friend and a great teammate.  He was proud of being a Yankee and always fun to be around.  We’ll miss him.

Although John never had 250 at-bats in a single season, he nonetheless made an offensive mark by hitting four home runs in four at-bats over three games in 1961, tying a Major League record.  Later that season, he would have a great performance in the World Series versus the Cincinnati Reds, which the Yankes won in five games.  In the final game, John had a double and a home run out of the cleanup spot (that year, Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and Mantle followed with 54; on their off-days, there were very big shoes that needed filling).  Johnny would finish that season with a career high 21 home runs.  He would later tell Baseball Digest in 1986:

“It was a team (1961 New York Yankees) that had a lot of pride and confidence. It didn’t matter if we were ever behind in a ball game. The team always felt they could come back and win. We never went into a game thinking we could lose.”

The Yanks traded Johnny in 1965, and he would not return to the majors in 1966 for an eighth season in the sun.  He was widely regarded as tried-and-true Yankee and the fans showed him a special recognition in the many Old Timers’ Games that he returned to Yankee Stadium for.  He planned to return to the South Bronx for Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium in April, 2009.  His son Tim told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

He lived a life people would dream of living.  He had a good life.

Read Johnny’s obituary in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and then hit his Baseball Almanac page for a baseball card picture and more facts.

Written by Ryan

February 26, 2010 at 7:00 am

Happy Birthday, Babe Ruth!

Happy 115th Birthday to the Sultan of Swat, the Bambino, the great #3 …George Herman “Babe” Ruth!

Some selected reading:

Official Site

“The only real game, I think, in the world is baseball.”

Quotes from the Baseball Almanac

“Don’t ever forget two things I am going to tell you.  One, don’t believe everything that’s written about you.  Two, don’t pick up too many checks.”

Stats from Baseball Reference

162 game average: .342/.474/.690, 46/143

The Moneyballin’ Press, circa 1932

“Many rumors concerning the likely salary Babe Ruth will draw with the New York Yankees in 1933 are floating around Gotham, but neither the Bambino nor Col Jacob Ruppert, the club owner, has intimated what the figure might be.”

To hell with Babe Ruth!

During World War II, when Japanese soldiers charged American troops, they would sometimes scream, “To hell with Babe Ruth.” Not “to hell with FDR” or “to hell with Douglas MacArthur,” but “to hell with Babe Ruth.”

Babe the Revolutionary (the Babe Ruth Times)

The batter who hits a ball into the stands cannot possibly be caught napping off any base.” (the Babe Ruth Times)

Babe Ruth Saves the Day:

“He was a circus, a play and a movie, all rolled into one,” said teammate Lefty Gomez. “Kids adored him, Men idolized him. Women loved him. There was something about him that made him great.” Babe Ruth was more than a great baseball player, he was an American hero who became a legend and an icon. Long after his last home run, his name has come to signify greatness and strength.

Written by Ryan

February 6, 2010 at 9:29 am

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Happy Birthday, Major League Baseball; William Hulbert, In Memorium

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You won’t find his name on MLB.com in a blustery article, and you won’t find today’s date mentioned in any major baseball article today.  Bud Selig won’t designate a day to honor his memory.  He was overlooked for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame until an act of the veteran’s committee in 1995 recognized him, ignored by Cooperstown for 113 years even though he was born two miles away in Burlington Flats, NY.  “Major League Baseball” would not exist in its current form without his contribution.  On February 2nd, 1876, in New York City, William Hulbert, of what would become the Chicago Cubs, called together the principle owners of the seminal baseball clubs in order to form what would become the National League.

Hulbert established the central authority of the league to enforce schedules, hire umpires, ensure compliance both by the owners and by the players (who, until then, habitually “jumped” contracts), and promote the integrity of the sport in the practice of the clubs and in the eyes of the buying public.  One of his early steps was to banish clubs from the two most popular baseball towns – Philadelphia and New York City – for not submitting their schedules in a timely matter.  There was to be no drinking, no gambling, and no games on Sunday.  Players would be bound to team for their entire careers, a novel concept surprisingly accepted broadly by fan, owner, and player alike, as it lent a continuity to the game never before realized.  Four men on the Louisville squad were banned for life after it was revealed they tried to throw the 1877 championship series.

The man who saved baseball” “ruled with an iron fist“, was a “pitiless coal baron” and a “pirater of players“, and is buried beneath a baseball.  No, really.

By far the best chain of events to be found lays out the progression of reserve clauses and contracts and unions and minors, and is a great read to put the current chaos of baseball in its proper perspective.

Please enjoy, and remember, the way things are are because someone made them that way.

Written by Ryan

February 2, 2010 at 8:55 pm