Thursday, April 14, 2016

Is the Blue Jays’ Pat Venditte the First?

This is my first post for quite some time due to my work on a second historical novel, Babe Ruth & the '27 Yankees Have the Best Summer Ever and the accompanying screenplay " '27: the Best Season Ever", but I hope followers know that they can count on me to relate modern diamond phenomena to earlier times. My latest step back into a simpler, no steroids/batting gloves/player agents era follows.

The Baltimore Orioles had gone 0-for-June and were mired in the league basement with a 6–30 record as the Louisville Eclipse pulled into town for a four-game mid-July series in 1882.

Playing second base for Louisville was a native son, "Gladiator" Pete Browning, who would retire with a .341 lifetime average. He was known for his refusal to slide, his one-legged defensive posture, and his penchant for staring into the sun to increase the power of his eyes. Early in the 1884 season Browning broke his barrel-shaped bat. He was approached by a young apprentice wood-maker named John “Bud” Hillerich who offered to custom-make him a new one. When Browning led the majors with a .402 average in ’87 the shop was inundated with orders from other players for the bats that came to be known as Louisville Sluggers.

The fans at Newington Park that Tuesday afternoon would witness a rare sight. The Eclipse’s dashing young pitcher, Tony Mullane, who was en route to the first of five consecutive 30-victory seasons, gave up seven runs in the first two innings. But the cranks would see something much more startling than that.

Mullane was well-known for his intimidation tactics. When Jack Leary once dared to hit a home run off Mullane he was sent a painful message. The next time Leary batted, Mullane's first pitch struck him in the hand, "mashing two fingers and disabling him so that he will not be able to play for a month," the Louisville Commercial reported. Leary swore that Mullane had thrown the ball at him so as to disable him.

Eleven days later Mullane slammed Joe Gerhardt with a fast pitch (the term 'fastball' was not yet in use) in the ribs. "It sounded like a drum, and poor Joe staggered and fell, stretched out unconscious with pain," the Missouri Republican told its readers. "The poor fellow uttered a groan, and stiffened out like a dead man." A Louisville reporter had no doubt as to Mullane's evil intent. "It is a well-known fact that Mullane has a desire to cripple any man who can bat him." After he hit Long John Reilly in the head, leaving a bump the size of a walnut, the Cincinnati Enquirer warned that "one of these days he will get his neck broken."

The 23-year-old Irish-born Mullane, who was nicknamed the Apollo of the Box for his ability to draw big crowds on Ladies Days, had injured his right arm in a distance-throwing contest a few years earlier and had taught himself to throw left-handed.

Mullane was not used to being bullied this way, certainly not by the likes of the lowly Baltimores. The right-hander got so frustrated that he did something no one had ever seen in a big-league game before. He switched pitching hands.

“Mullane, of the Eclipse club, changed hands in the fourth inning and pitched with his left,” the Baltimore Sun reported, "retiring the Baltimores in good style. Mullane’s ambidextrous turn lit a little fire for the Eclipse, who scored four runs in the fifth by heavy batting, aided by wild throwing.”

Mullane mostly kept Baltimore off balance, switching back and forth, throwing right-handed to left-handed hitters and lefty to righties. Less than two months later, on September 11, Mullane pitched a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first of its kind in the American Association. Two years later, Mullane would complete 65 of his 67 starts for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association and lead the league with seven shutouts and 67 wild pitches.

But Mullane is still remembered most for switching hands in a game he lost. He was not the last to pitch with both hands, nor was that game in Baltimore the last time he tried. He did it twice more: on July 5, 1892,and again on July 14, 1893, throwing left-handed in the final inning of a 10–2 loss to the Chicago Colts.

He wasn’t even the last Louisville pitcher to do it. On May 9, 1888, Elton “Icebox” Chamberlain, a right-hander, threw shutout ball with his left hand over the final two innings of an 18–6 win over the Kansas City Cowboys. Two years after Mullane did it, on June 16, 1884, right-handed Larry Corcoran, pitching for the Chicago White Stockings, became the first ambidextrous hurler in the National League, alternating arms in a 20–9 loss to the Buffalo Bisons.

Speaking of cowboys and bisons, during a game the next spring a band of Indians watched over a small herd of buffalo that grazed in centerfield at the Cowboys’ ballpark. (No, they were not looking for the bullpen, wise guys. They were no bullpens in those days.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Your Chance to Win a Copy of King of the Hall of Flakes

Your Chance to Win a Copy of King of the Hall of Flakes

Author W. G. (Will) Braund

Decide which of these crazy things Rube did was the nuttiest and you could win a copy of King of the Hall of Flakes. The tenth submission will be chosen.

    Pick from among the following things.


chewed live snakes on a vaudeville stage
missed a start because he was home playing with his new puppy
married a girl he'd met two days before
did handsprings and cartwheels off the mound after striking out the side
blew up a stove when imprisoned by the National Guard (they let him go)
wrestled alligators
herded the runners around the bases like dogeys in a cattle drive when coaching first
ate more than 100 oysters in a contest
ordered everyone (but the catcher) off the field
sold wieners on a bun outside the crosstown stadium
often caught fish where no one had for years
knocked out several 'villains' in Stain of Guilt because he couldn't master the fake punch
soaked his arm in cold water BEFORE a game to take some of the speed out of his shoots
introduced himself to his all of his new teammates when he arrived in town - at 3 a.m.
never had a bank account
threw a slider, curve, screwball, and knuckleball
played with a lion on stage
ran into the stands and dragged a notorious gambler onto the diamond
picked up (by himself) and carried a woodstove from a burning store
jumped out a hotel window

Actually he did a lot more crazy things. They're in the book.

Send your choice to

Friday, January 16, 2015

Book Announcement

Preview of  KING of the HALL of FLAKES a baseball novel based on the extraordinary life and career of Rube Waddell.
Available in soft cover at, as a Nook Book via Barnes & Noble, and as a Kobo at Soon to be available in both hard and soft cover.

You normally pay 50 cents to see a big league ball game, though sometimes you decide to be thrifty and pay two bits to sit on the bleacher benches. But today you splurge and shell out a dollar to sit in a box seat. You know you’re in for a treat. Rube Waddell, the most exciting twirler in baseball, will be in the pitcher’s box.
It turns out you’ve wasted your money. The phenom does not pitch. In fact, he’s not even in the stadium. You later learn that he chose to play sandlot ball with some kids he passed on his walk from the hotel to the ballpark.

You’re delighted the next time you go to see him and Rube actually shows up, though a bit late - he was playing miggles with kids under the grandstand. But in the second inning, after breezily striking out the side in the first and then doing handsprings off the mound, he suddenly and inexplicably drops the ball and his glove and runs off the mound and straight out the centerfield exit. You have neither seen nor heard anything that might explain such bizarre behavior. But then, outside the stadium walls, you hear what he has heard – the clanging of the bell of a fire wagon. Rube is off to save more lives.
You try one more time and the twirler is late again. You ask the booster sitting beside you what might be the holdup. He matter-of-factly tells you that Rube often soaks his pitching arm in cold water.

Before the game?” you ask.
“Ya, he says he needs to take some of the speed out of it, otherwise his shoots’ll burn up the catcher’s mitt.”

When the star takes the mound he is virtually untouchable. When his fastball smacks into the catcher’s mitt the sound echoes through the seats as if a gun’s been fired. His curveball seems to break two feet and batters just watch helplessly as it drops over the plate. Then he curves one just as sharply the opposite way! He blazes two more incredibly fast pitches over the plate and the hitter barely gets his bat off his shoulder. The next pitch seems to dance up to the plate and the crowd roars in delight as the batter actually swings at it twice. Somehow, this lovable, unsophisticated twirler has taught himself how to throw a knuckleball. “He calls it a wobbler,” the booster next to you explains.

“Is there anything he can’t do?” you ask the cranks around you.
A man with a red handlebar moustache says, “Ya. Rube can’t throw at batters to keep them off the plate like other twirlers do. He’s afraid of killing somebody. And he refuses to throw spitters. Says it ain’t sanitary.”

Instead of resting between innings the phenom coaches first base. He makes faces, does spot-on impressions of the opposing pitcher and the umpire, and pretends to drive the runners around the bases like dogies in a cattle drive. Then he goes up and sits in the stands and shares a bag of peanuts with some of the rooters. You’re close enough to see that he has clear blue eyes, a permanent grin, and huge hands. He compliments a pretty girl on her bonnet and parasol before heading back to work. She blushes.
The Tigers try to distract him by holding up kittens. They know how much Rube loves animals. He does his best to focus. Ty Cobb comes off the bench holding an adorable little tabby.

“You like this one, hayseed? Well I’m gonna drown the little fucker!”

You’ve heard stories of Rube’s incredible strength and wonder if he’ll go after Cobb and throw him over the fence.

In the ninth inning Rube calls time and instructs the infielders and outfielders to sit on the grass and he effortlessly fires nine straight strikes as the hitters stand and stare. Then he does cartwheels all the way to the bench.
“No wonder the stands are full on a Wednesday,” you say to yourself on your way out.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Greatest Lineup Ever?

I can remember watching some star-studded and dominant National League lineups in All-Star games in the 1960's. It was mostly due to the American League owners' tardiness in scouting and signing black players. (They probably still called them colored.) The NL got almost all of the best black players.
So, for instance, in 1963 here were the lineups, one mostly black, the other almost all white. Oh ya, Bill White doesn't count as white.
 The American League                                         The National League
  C  Elston Howard                                                 Joe Torre
1B  Joe Pepitone                                                    Bill White, Orlando Cepeda
2B  Nellie Fox                                                        Bill Mazeroski
3B  Brooks Robinson                                             Ron Santo
SS  Luis Aparicio                                                   Maury Wills
OF Mickey Mantle                                                 Willie Mays
OF Harmon Killebrew                                            Stan Musial
OF Al Kaline                                                          Hank Aaron
OF Carl Yaztrsemski                                              Roberto Clemente
  P  Jim Bunning                                                     Sandy Koufax
  P  Juan Pizarro                                                     Juan Marichal
  P  Mudcat Grant                                                   Don Drysdale
  P  Jim Bouton                                                       Warren Spahn
Torre, Mazeroski, Santo, Musial, Koufax, and Drysdale were the only white guys for the NL and Musial and Spahn were really from another era. Elston Howard was the exception that proved the rule for the AL.
That the National League won by just two runs seems amazing. Talk about the Al being overmatched. But there once was an American League lineup that might just have beaten that NL squad.
Long before there were all-star games, a game was played - on July 24 1911 in Cleveland - to benefit the widow of Addie Joss, the Cleveland Naps' outstanding pitcher. He had died suddenly after contracting tubercular meningitis in a day when there were no antibiotics.
Each AL club was asked to send a couple of its best players. Ty Cobb was the first star to indicate that he would play in the game. Without further ado, here is the lineup for the All-Stars.
  C   Gabby Street (the only stiff on the team)
1B   Hal Chase (crooked, but a gifted player)   
2B   Eddie Collins  (Hall of Fame)          for Cleveland  Napoleon Lajoie  (Hall of Fame)
3B   Frank Home Run Baker (Hall of Fame)
SS   Bobby Wallace  (Hall of Fame)    
OF  Ty Cobb  (Hall of Fame)                  for Cleveland, rookie Shoeless Joe Jackson
OF  Tris Speaker  (Hall of Fame)
OF  Sam Crawford  (Hall of Fame)
OF  Clyde Milan (an outstanding fielder who was averaging 30 assists a year)
  P   Walter Johnson  (Hall of Fame)       for Cleveland   Cy Young  (Hall of Fame)
  P   Ed Walsh   (Hall of Fame)
I'm not sure Bobby Wallace should be in the Hall of Fame, but maybe Clyde Milan should be. And, of course Joe Jackson should certainly be.
Trivia: Did Ty Cobb ever wear a uniform other than a Tiger uniform? Well, he played the last two years of his career in Philadelphia. Any others? Yes, for the game just described he wore a Cleveland uniform. He'd left his in Detroit. 
Speaking of Cobb, boy did he have a crummy year in 1916. He didn't even win the batting title! Well, he hadn't won it in 1910 either, but that was because the St. Louis Browns had their third baseman play in the outfield so the much more popular Nap Lajoie, "the Frenchman", could win the beautiful Chalmers automobile. (Hell, Larry was so popular the Cleveland Blues changed their name to the Naps.) The company was so thrilled by the publicity and scandal they gave each guy a car. The Browns' manager got fired over it.
Anyway, back to 1916 when Cobb stunk the place out. He had won the batting title in 1907, '08, '09, 1910, 1911 (he hit .420, Jackson hit just .408), 1912 (he hit .409, Jackson hit just .395), 1913 (he hit .390, Jackson hit just .373, ouch), 1914 and '15.
I know I digress - again - but my vote for the actor who looks the least like the guy he was portraying has to be Ray Liotta as Jackson in Field of Dreams. Joe wasn't quite that handsome. Of course Hollywood had lard arses William Bendix and John Goodman play the athletic Babe Ruth. (123 stolen bases)
Cobb won the batting title in 1917, 1918, and 1919. But in 1916 he hit just .371. Tris Speaker, the rough as nails cowboy who roamed centerfield in the still new Fenway park, batted .386.
After 1919 it was all downhill for Cobb. In 1920 He hit a measly .334. Gorgeous George Sisler hit .407.  In '21 Cobb batted .389. Not bad, but teammate Harry Heilmann hit .394. In 1922 Cobb hit .401. Sisler hit .422.
I am a fan of Baseball Reference as a quick source of stats. But I was looking up Cobb's numbers and I see that, apparently because a bunch of morons have gone on their site and voted against Cobb (of course everyone hated him when he played too) he is rated as the 29th best hitter in baseball history. PARDON?!!!
WTF. I don't have a problem with their top ten - Ruth, Wagner, Gehrig, Williams, Mays, Musial, Aaron, Speaker, Eddie Collins, and Hornsby, except that Cobb should be first second or third along with Ruth and Williams.
After Foxx and DiMaggio in 11th and 12th things get stupid. Ricky Henderson (13th) ? Cal Ripken (19th)? Chipper Jones (24th)?
Let me tell you something about Ty Cobb, forget about his ferocious all-out style (didn't get Pete Rose in the Hall) and forget about all his stolen bases. We're just talking batting here.
If he is not at the top because of a lack of power, in spite of a lot of RBIs before that was a big thing, remember he did lead the league a couple of times. And, the parks were cavernous when he played and the ball wasn't wound tightly until 1920 and it was almost black because of dirt and spit by the second inning - probably about three innings before it was taken out of play.
Cobb hated players like Ruth who swung for the fences. One time he said to some reporters, "Fine, I will show you that I could hit home runs if I chose to." In the next three games he had five.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Most Recent (and Dumbest) Cheater

This past Wednesday night I was watching the Yankees play the Red Sox and witnessed one of the dumbest things I had ever seen on a ball field. Michael Pineda 'hid' pine tar in plain sight on the side of his neck. Amazingly it was seen by the Red Sox bench and by hundreds of thousands of TV viewers. It was so obvious that I would imagine many people in the stands, except maybe those in the bleachers saw it too.

He got suspended for one game for cheating and another nine games for being an idiot. In fairness to Pineda, perhaps he believed them when his team mates and former managers claimed that umpires were blind.
I believe the most recent case in which a pitcher got caught for doing that was Tampa Bay Devil Rays reliever Joel Peralta in June 2012. He was found with "a significant amount of pine tar" in his glove.
Jim and Gaylord Perry
In 1986 Mike Scott was found to possess an emery board for the purpose of scratching the baseball. Emery has been used since the early 1900's. The infielders often concealed pieces of emery paper in their gloves.  In those days a fielder often left his glove on the field when he went in to bat. If a kindly opponent picked it up to hand it to him he might discover the implement.
In 1980 Rick Honeycutt was found to have a thumbtack in his glove after he accidentally cut himself with it. Gaylord Perry was famous for applying generous dabs of vaseline to baseballs. His brother Jim did likewise. Atlanta's Niekro was known to load them up too. 
Whitey Ford
In the ’60s Whitey Ford used his wedding ring to cut the ball or got his catcher Elston Howard to slice it for him with a buckle on his shin guard. Ford sometimes put mud on the baseball or made up a concoction of turpentine, resin, and baby oil to throw a "gunk ball".
Brooklyn's Preacher Roe admitted he had thrown spitballs, which were banned in 1920. Burleigh Grimes was the last hurler who legally spit on baseballs. Chicago's "Hitless Wonders" would not have won nearly as many games if Ed Walsh had not been loading them up.
Some hitters look to get an edge as well. In 1994 Albert Belle's bat was confiscated by umpire Dave Phillips. It contained cork. Billy Hatcher had been caught doing the same thing five years before. Craig Nettles put super balls in his bat. Not leaving anything to chance, Amos Otis used cork and super balls.
Two hundred miles away I can hear fellow blogger Honest John Trembath yelling, "Say it ain't so, Norm!" as he reads that Norm Cash admitted he would not have had such an amazing year at the plate in ’61 if he had not put cork in his Louisville Slugger.
That has to be the greatest instance I can call to mind where a player demonstrably benefited from cheating, perhaps excepting Sammy Sosa and company. Norm went 41, 132, .361 that year. Take a look at his numbers for other years. He hit .243 in ’62.
The 1950 New York Giants admitted that they had stolen signs all year. The sad sack St. Louis Browns were doing that way back in 1905.
Lots of groundskeepers have helped their teams, some by causing groundballs to roll fair if their team had speedy batters or foul if they were less fleet-footed. Got a team full of base stealers coming to town? Water down those basepaths. Oh, a team loaded with heavy hitters is coming in? Do what the Cleveland Indians did. Move your fences back 12 to 15 feet when the Yankees are coming. 
John McGraw
The Comiskey Park infield used to be known as 'Bossard's Swamp' because the groundskeeper kept it hosed down for sinkerball pitcher Dick Donovan, Tommy John, and Joel Horlen.
When he played for the Baltimore Orioles third baseman John McGraw used to grab runners by the belt to slow them down. Or he might trip them, or just stand in their way.
They didn't start using two umpires until 1910 so it was easier. Heck some players used to run straight from first to third if the umpire was looking the other way.
Of course you could just plain throw the game. As far back as 1877 four Providence Grays were accused of taking it easy. They almost never lost until somebody waved a lot of big bills in front of their noses. Then they went 1-10. Hal Chase was suspended by his manager, choir boy Christy Mathewson in 1917 for lying down. Some Chicago White Sox may have taken it easy in the 1919 World Series as well. I think I read something about that.