Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Moe Berg: catcher, lawyer, spy

Moe Berg with the Red Sox. During his second season, Hall of Famer Ted Williams asked Berg what made hitters like Ruth and Gehrig great. Berg told him, “Gehrig would wait and wait and wait until he hit the pitch almost out of the catcher’s glove. As to Ruth he had no weaknesses, he had a good eye and laid off pitches out of the strike zone. Ted, you most resemble a hitter like Shoeless Joe Jackson. But you are better than all of them. When it comes to wrists you have the best.”

On this day in 1934, Washington Senator’s backup catcher Morris “Moe” Berg’s streak of 117 games in a row without committing an error comes to an end, setting an American League record.

Berg wasn’t your typical athlete: before signing with the Brooklyn Robins (they wouldn’t become the Dodgers until 1932), he graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. magna cum laude in modern languages. Ted Lyons, Berg’s teammate with the White Sox, would say that “he can speak seven languages but can’t hit in any of them.”

Berg didn’t have a great bat, but when every one of manager Ray Shalk’s White Sox that could catch were out with injuries in 1927, Shalk – a player/manager who himself was one of the injured catchers – asked the right fielder to suit up, and it turned out he had a great arm and was a fantastic defensive catcher. He stayed behind the plate for the rest of his career. He worked around his baseball schedule to complete a law degree from Columbia University and passed the New York State bar exam. He would work for a Wall Street law firm during the off season.

In 1934, a group of future Hall of Famers traveled to Japan for a series of exhibition games against a Japanese all-star team. Somehow the inconspicuous Berg made the roster along with Babe Ruth (whom Berg became friends with on the trip), Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Lefty Gomez. While the team was in Toyko, Berg tricked the Japanese into thinking he was going to visit the American ambassador and instead made his way to the rooftop of one of the tallest buildings, taking photos and video of the city and port. The footage Berg shot was reportedly used for bombing missions during World War II.

His playing career ended in 1939, and he began a brief coaching career with the Boston Red Sox. When the United States entered World War II, William “Wild Bill” Donovan recruited Berg to join the Office of Strategic Services. He parachuted behind enemy lines on a mission to evaluate which Yugoslavian resistance movement the United States should back. After meeting and evaluating Draza Mihajlovic and Tito (Josip Broz)’s forces, Berg determined that Tito’s Communist partisans were the best bet.

(more…)

Posted on April 22, 2018 at 10:07 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Baseball, Military History · Tagged with: 

Ted Williams’ debut and the first baseball player KIA in World War II

On this day in 1939 at Yankee Stadium, a young rookie named Ted Williams makes his big league debut. He faces New York ace Red Ruffing, striking out twice but slapping a double as Ruffing shuts out the visiting Boston Red Sox 2-0.

Ted Williams being sworn into the Naval Reserve on May 24, 1942.

Williams will spend three baseball seasons serving his country during World War II, earning his Naval aviators wings and then as an instructor pilot at Pensacola Naval Air Station (Fla.) for the Vought F4U Corsair fighter plane. While he awaited assignment for combat duty, the war in the Pacific ended before Williams had to fight.

When war breaks out in Korea, the Marines recall Capt. Williams in 1952. He trains on the Grumman F9F Panther jet fighter and ships out with Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMF-311) to Pohang, South Korea. Williams will often fly as wingman for fellow Marine and future astronaut John Glenn.

On one of his 39 combat missions, damage from enemy flak forces Williams crash-lands his crippled jet at Suwon’s K-13 airstrip. During a massive 200-plane raid on a troop encampment, Williams was hit by enemy ground fire which knocked out his instrument panel, landing gear, and hydraulic system; damaged his control surfaces; and set the plane on fire.

Rather than eject (and risk damaging his knees) Williams brings the plane down on its belly and skids down the runway for over a mile before the mortally wounded plane comes to a stop. A bout with pneumonia will disqualify Williams from flight duty and he is able to return for the final stretch of the 1953 season and resume the rest of his Hall of Fame baseball career.

Elmer Gedeon played five games for the Washington Senators in 1939.

Also on this date in 1944, a B-26 Marauder flown by Capt. Elmer Gedeon of the 586th Bombardment Squadron is shot down while attacking a V-1 flying bomb site in France. The former Washington Senators outfielder becomes the first of two professional baseball players to be killed during World War II.

In 1942, while Gedeon served as navigator aboard a B-25 Mitchell during training in the United States, his bomber crashed in North Carolina shortly after takeoff, killing two of his fellow crew. After managing to escape the burning aircraft, Gedeon ignored severe burns and broken ribs and crawled back into the fuselage to rescue another comrade. For his actions, Gedeon was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.

While not related to military history, it is interesting to note that the April 20, 1939 Red Sox-Yankee game marks the only time Williams will face Yankee Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. The “Iron Horse” goes 0-for-4 and grounds into two double plays.

In just ten days (April 30) Gehrig will take the field for the last game, setting a remarkable streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. After the team enjoys a day off, Gehrig informs Yankee manager Joe McCarthy that he is benching himself.

He will never play again.

Posted on April 20, 2018 at 11:03 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Baseball, Military History · Tagged with: ,

Opening day at the House that Private Ruth Built

On this day in 1923, a newly built Yankee Stadium – nicknamed “The House that Ruth Built” hosted its first game. Over 74,000 fans packed the stands to watch the New York Yankees defeat the Boston Red Sox 4-1. Taking the field were several military veterans of World War I.

Yankee Stadium on opening day, 1923. (Library of Congress photo)

Red Sox leftfielder Joe Harris fought in France with the 320th Infantry Regiment (alongside future Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Johnny “Big Serb” Miljus) and was gassed. Boston shortstop Chick Fewster, who went 0-3 but reached first after being hit by a pitch, served in the Merchant Marine during World War I.

On the mound for the Yankees was “Sailor Bob” Shawkey, who struck out five Red Sox during his nine innings. The hurler served aboard the battleship USS Arkansas and witnessed the surrender of the German fleet. His opponent was Red Sox’ 20-game winner Howard Ehmke, who missed the 1918 season while serving in the Navy on a West Coast submarine base.

Private George H. “Babe” Ruth salutes Gen. John J. Pershing after enlisting in the New York National Guard in 1924. (Library of Congress photo)

Although he didn’t serve during the Great War, Babe Ruth – who hit a homerun and drove in three of the Yankee’s four runs – would join the New York National Guard in 1924, serving in the 104th Field Artillery Division. Centerfielder “Whitey” Witt – 1 for 3 with a walk and a run scored – also served in the Army.

Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert – who enlisted in the New York National Guard’s 7th Regiment in 1886, ultimately reaching the rank of colonel and serving as aide-de-camp to the governor – paid for the ballpark himself. Prior to the 1923 season, the Yankees shared the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants, who defeated the Yankees in the last two straight World Series.

Ruppert and former co-owner Tillinghast L’Hommedieu “Cap” Huston bought the Yankees in 1915 for just $480,000. Huston served in the 16th Regiment of Engineers (Railway) as a captain during the Spanish- American War and later as a colonel when the outfit went to France for World War I. Prior to the 1923 season, Huston sold his share of the Yankees to Ruppert for $1.5 million.

Posted on April 18, 2018 at 11:11 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Baseball, Military History

Aug. 24 in U.S. military history

British troops burn Washington, D.C.

1814: The British Army routs the Americans in the Battle of Bladensburg, then marches into Washington, D.C. in what is considered “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms.” Gen. Robert Ross’ exhausted troops – several died during the battle from exhaustion after long marches – avenge the American destruction of Port Dover (in present-day Ontario) in May by setting fire to the Presidential Mansion (now called the White House), Capitol Building, and numerous other government and military facilities.

However, the British only hold Washington for one day before a massive storm blows through, severely damaging the British ships and causes the occupiers to abandon the area.

1912: The Navy’s first electrically powered ship, USS Jupiter (AC-3) is launched. Ten years later, a flight deck is added to the 542-ft. vessel, and the renamed USS Langley becomes America’s first aircraft carrier.

1942: Vice Adm. Frank J. Fletcher’s Task Force 61 and a Japanese carrier division converge in the Solomon Islands as Japanese troops attempt to reinforce Guadalcanal. The Battle of the Eastern Solomons is fought entirely by aircraft; the Japanese inflict serious damage on USS Enterprise (CV-6), while the Americans sink several vessels, including the light carrier Ryujo.

Over Guadalcanal, Japanese warplanes clash with Army and Marine aircraft of the “Cactus Air Force,” with Capt. Marion E. Carl in his F4F “Wildcat” scores four of the day’s ten Allied victories , becoming the Marine Corps’ first ace.

Bob Feller

1945: Just two days after being discharged from the service, Chief Petty Officer Bob Feller returns to Cleveland and is honored by a parade before pitching in his first major league game since becoming the first professional athlete to enlist in the Armed Forces during World War II. Despite losing nearly four years to his military service – Feller served aboard the battleship USS Alabama – the future Hall of Famer strikes out 12 batters and only allows four hits in the Indians 4-2 win over the Detroit Tigers.

Posted on August 24, 2017 at 09:18 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Baseball, Military History · Tagged with: ,

Today in baseball history: brand new ballparks (and what Babe Ruth did to them)

Fenway Park in Boston

Today in 1912, the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Highlanders (renamed the Yankees in 1921) 7-6 in 11 innings in the first baseball game played at Fenway Park. It is the oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues. The famous “Green Monster,” the 37-ft wall in left field, was a new addition in 1934. Prior to that, the field sloped up ten feet to a 25-ft wall. The incline was named “Duffy’s Cliff,” after Boston’s star left fielder that mastered fielding balls on the incline. Babe Ruth (a former Red Sox pitcher) hit the first home run over the new left field wall in 1934, which had been replaced after a fire destroyed the left field bleachers in 1926.

Also on April 20, 1912, the Detroit Tigers beat the Cleveland Naps 6-5 in 11 innings in the first game at Navin Field – later named Tiger Stadium, until the park closed in 1999. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson scored the very first run at the park, and Ty Cobb would steal home (his first of a still-standing record of eight that year). Ruth would model his swing after the hard-hitting left hander, calling Jackson “the percectest.” Grounds crews kept the dirt area in front of home plate wet in order to slow down Cobb’s bunts and foul opposing fielders trying to throw him out. Babe Ruth is believed to have hit the longest home run in baseball history (575 ft) on July 18, 1921 at Navin Field, and Lou Gehrig benched himself, ending his streak of 2,130 consecutive games on May 2, 1939 at Navin.

On April 20, 1916, the Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 7-6, also in 11 innings, in their new stadium, Weeghman Park. In 1927, Weeghman would be renamed Wrigley Field. While not home to many World Series championships, Wrigley was the site of one of the most famous moments in baseball history: In Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth is said to have pointed towards center field before taking the next pitch deep into the seats. The famous ivy and scoreboard didn’t make their appearace until 1937. Wrigley Field is home to stubborn holdouts: the Chicago Cubs hold the record for a major professional sports team without a championship (108 years) and were the last team to install night lights in 1988 – 49 years after the Chicago White Sox began playing under the lights.

Posted on April 20, 2017 at 06:00 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Baseball

Military veterans of the MLB

[Note: this post is updated frequently]

Elmer Gedeon played five games for the Washington Senators before becoming a bomber pilot for the Army Air Force. In 1944, Gedeon is killed during a bombing mission against a German V-1 site in France, becoming one of two professional baseball players killed during World War II.

Before he was a four-time World Series champion second baseman for the New York Yankees and the voice of the San Diego Padres, Jerry Coleman was the only Major League baseball player to fight in both World War II and Korea. Between the two wars, Lt. Col. Coleman (USMC) flew 120 combat missions, earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 13 Air Medals.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hank Bauer (right, pictured with fellow World War II veteran Yogi Berra) walked away from his gig as a minor league ballplayer and enlisted the Marine Corps, volunteering for the famed Marine Raiders – the predecessor of the modern Corps’ special operations component. Bauer spent 32 months in combat, including action in the Guadalcanal, Guam, and Okinawa campaigns. On Okinawa, Bauer commanded a platoon that was nearly wiped out by a Japanese assault – he was one of only six survivors of his 64-man platoon to survive the battle. Bauer earned two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts prior to his return to baseball after the war, where he would win seven World Series championships with the Yankees – and another as manager of the Baltimore Orioles.

Before becoming a Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, a 19-year-old Double-A ballplayer named Lawrence P. “Yogi” Berra served aboard a 36-ft. rocket boat during the Normandy Invasion. He also saw service during the invasion of southern France, two months after D-Day. Berra stayed in the Navy until 1946.

After earning the American League batting title in 1918, Ty Cobb joined the Army and served overseas with the Chemical Corps at the Allied Expeditionary Headquarters in Chaumont, France. His unit commander was Maj. Branch Rickey and he served alongside fellow officers Christy Matthewson and George Sisler – Hall of Famers, all. Capt. Cobb received an honorable discharge and returned to baseball in time to win his third straight AL batting title in 1919.

After playing eight games with the 1963 World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers – getting a double in his only major league at-bat – Roy Gleason was drafted and sent to Vietnam. He became the only major league baseball player wounded in the conflict when he was wounded with shrapnel from a Viet Cong attack in 1968. Gleason would earn the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his service.

UCLA sports extraodinaire Jackie Robinson (the school’s first student athlete to letter in baseball, football, basketball, and track) is drafted into a segregated cavalry unit in 1942.  Robinson entered Officer Candidate School and served in the 761st “Black Panthers” Tank Battalion after earning his commission. Robinson went on to break baseball’s color barrier, becoming the first black player in the Major Leagues on April 15, 1946.

Following graduation from Virginia State University (on a basketball scholarship), Al Bumbry deployed to Vietnam as a platoon leader, earning the Bronze Star. After completing his service commitment, he would become the American League Rookie of the Year in 1973 and go on to win two World Series with the Baltimore Orioles.

68b1e520-c287-11e4-adb7-a1c97d6db9cf_AP858593037636After five years active duty service, Mitch Harris became the first Naval Academy graduate to pitch in the major leagues in almost 100 years. Mitch debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015, pitching in 26 games, earning a 2-1 record. He is currently on the disabled list but expects to return to the mound in 2017.

smusialAfter hitting .347 for the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in 1944, Stan “The Man” Musial enlisted in the Navy where he served in a ship launch unit, ferrying sailors from damaged ships to shore at Pearl Harbor. He received his discharge in March, 1946 and returned to the majors in time to lead the Cardinals to another World Series title and his second league MVP title, batting .365.

Posted on July 13, 2016 at 17:16 by Chris Carter · Permalink · 2 Comments
In: Baseball, Military History

Random baseball knowledge

Fernando Tatis as a Cardinal

On Apr. 23, 1999, Cardinals third baseman Fernando Tatis hit two grand slams against the Dodgers… in the same inning! Tatis is the only baseball player in major league history to ever do that. Every time my dad and I went to a game, Tatis somehow always came through with an incredible performance.

And this from Twitter for all you Albert Pujols fans: the Angels have paid Pujols $1,377,049 for no homers & 4 RBIs. Although he’s no longer a Cardinal, he is still the best player in the game and a great guy. Glad he’s getting a new start with the Angels. I just hope he goes into the Hall of Fame as a Cardinal.

Posted on April 24, 2012 at 18:22 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Baseball

West Side Park, the Cubs’ old stadium

The Cubs haven’t won a title since moving to their “new” stadium 99 years ago. In fact, the last time they won the World Series was in 1908 – they also won in 1907. In fact, from 1906-1910 the Cubs went to the series four out of five years, winning twice. But that was a long time ago. A very long time ago.

But enough Cub-bashing – I came across an old panoramic photo of the Cubs’ last stadium, West Side Park, a wooden ballpark which stood just west of Little Italy. The photo’s caption reads “City Championship Series” – Oct. 10, 1909. Cap Anson was long gone and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson wasn’t playing yet, but it would have been something to watch Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance (of the famous Tinkers – to Evers – to Chance double play combination) in action.

Panoramic photo of Chicago's West Side Park in 1909. Click on the photo to see the high-resolution version. (Source: Library of Congress)

Posted on April 20, 2012 at 12:00 by Chris Carter · Permalink · 2 Comments
In: Baseball

Wrigley Field marks anniversaries

Weeghman Park in 1914 (source: Library of Congress)

The “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field marks two noteworthy anniversaries this season: the ballpark turns 99 this season, while the bleachers, manually operated scoreboard, and ivy are turning 75.

Wrigley – originally Weeghman Park – hosted its first baseball game on Apr. 23, 1914, the Chicago Federals beating the Kansas City Packers 9-1. The teams were part of the Federal League, a third major league that lasted only two seasons.

When the Federal League folded, owner Charles Weeghman bought up the Chicago Cubs and moved them from the aging, wooden West Side Park to the recently vacated Federals’ field. The Cubs played their first game in the stadium on Apr. 20, 1916.

The ballpark went by the name “Cubs Park” from 1920 – 1926, when it was renamed to Wrigley Field after William Wrigley Jr. gained the controlling interest.

In 1937, the park was renovated to add the bleachers and scoreboard. The original scoreboard is still operating today – a staff of four climbs up and down ladders behind the board throughout the game, changing numbers for the 318 openings. That September, ivy was planted at the base of the outfield wall.

Wrigley Field is the only Federal League stadium still in use, the oldest National League stadium, and the second-oldest Major League stadium behind Fenway Park, which opened its doors in 1912.

It is the last Major League stadium to install lights – the Cubs played all their home games during the day until 1988.

The Cubs haven’t managed to win the World Series in their “new” stadium in 98 seasons, although they did go five times – most recently in 1945. The longest championship drought in professional sports dates all the way back to 1908 – an incredible 104 years!

In case you can’t tell, I am a Cardinals fan. Maybe next year, Cubbies. But happy anniversary to the other half of one of sports’ best rivalries.

More on the history of Wrigley Field here.

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 21:46 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Baseball

Rick Ankiel: Best arm in baseball?

Rick Ankiel is one of my favorite athletes. I remember watching the playoff game in 2000 against the Atlanta Braves where he had one of – if not the most – epic collapses in baseball. After having a spectacular rookie season as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, finishing second in rookie of the year voting, Ankiel walked more batters and threw more wild pitches during three disastrous playoff appearances than perhaps anyone in the history of baseball. After a lengthy stay in the minor leagues, Ankiel did come back to the majors – as an outfielder.

An outfielder with an incredible arm. No one should ever run on Rick Ankiel, but every now and then someone does.

Two phenomenal throws during the same game from Ankiel in 2008:

And another in 2011:

Monday, Ankiel made the highlight reel and earned a standing ovation – on a play where he didn’t even throw anyone out. Bases loaded with no outs, the Astros batter pops up to Ankiel, who throws a perfect strike from 300 feet away from home plate in center field – holding the Astros’ fastest runner at third base. The catcher didn’t even have to move his glove.

Posted on April 18, 2012 at 22:29 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Baseball