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Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category

On May 30, 1935, the greatest career in the history of major league baseball came to an end.  It was Memorial Day in Philadelphia, but there were no fireworks to bid farewell, just a weak ground ball to Phillies’ first baseman Dolph Camilli and a mournful walk back to the dugout.  The immortal Babe Ruth was finished.

Ruth, pictured here with long-time Yankees’ teammate Lou Gehrig, finished his career as a member of the Boston Braves.

At the time, no one knew they had seen the last of the Bambino. After the Memorial Day loss to the Phillies, Ruth, who had been nursing a sore knee for most of the season, decided that he needed some time to rest. So, during the next series against the Giants, the Babe put on a suit instead of a uniform and watched his Boston Braves’ teammates lose two of the next three. An idle Ruth was of no use to the Braves, however, so a confrontation was inevitable.

Ruth’s return to Boston was precipitated by a disagreement between the legendary slugger and Yankees owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert and chief executive Ed Barrow. Following the 1934 season, the team’s second straight campaign without a pennant, Ruth all but demanded that the Yankees’ brass fire manager Joe McCarthy. Ruppert and Barrow refused, so Ruth angrily declared that he’d never play for them again. It was an unfortunate threat because that suited the Yankees just fine. Instead of having to make what would have been an incredibly unpopular decision, the temperamental Ruth had gone ahead and done it for them.

Nowhere in the land are you more admired than in the territory of New England that has always claimed you as its own and where you started your career to fame.” – Judge Emil Fuchs, Boston Braves owners, February 26, 1935

While Ruth was abroad on a trip around the world, Judge Emil Fuchs approached Colonel Ruppert about having the Bambino return to Boston to play for his Braves. Fuchs desperately needed a gate attraction for his woeful team, and Ruppert was eager to rid himself of the increasingly troublesome slugger. So, the two owners hatched a plan to ensure a smooth transfer. In addition to a 25,000 salary, Fuchs offered Ruth a laundry list of hollow inducements, including an implied opportunity to manage. In response, Ruppert feigned surprise and agreed to not stand in Ruth’s way. Finally, on February 26, 1935, the three men held a press conference to announce that Babe Ruth was now a member of the Boston Braves.

Waived out of the American League after fifteen glamorous seasons with the New York Yankees, the one and only Bambino thrilled 25,000 frozen fans at Braves Field in his first game as a National Leaguer.” – James P. Dawson, New York Times, April 16, 1935

Judge Fuchs hands Ruth a pen so he can sign his new contract with the Braves.

At first, it seemed like the move might revitalize both the aging Ruth and the financially strapped Braves’ franchise. During spring training, the team played to large crowds as it  barnstormed up north, and then on Opening Day, 25,000 people jammed Braves Field to watch the Sultan of Swat take Carl Hubbell deep in a 4-2 victory over the New York Giants. However, that initial euphoria would quickly give way to acrimony as a developing contentious relationship between Ruth and Fuchs came to ahead just after Memorial Day.

After getting off to a hot start in the first five games of the season, Ruth suffered through a nightmarish 17-game stretch in which he hit .068 with only one home run in 57 plate appearances. What’s worse, the hobbled and overweight Ruth could barely field his position, subjecting the once invincible figure to jeers, laughter and, worst of all, pity. In the middle of that horrendous stretch, Ruth finally decided to call it quits, but Fuchs, who was desperate to squeeze as many gates as possible out his sideshow attraction, convinced him to stick around for at least the upcoming road trip, which was to feature a Babe Ruth Day in all five cities on the tour.

As Ruth struggled through sickness, injury and the rapid decline of his skill, he also gradually came to realize that all of Fuchs’ promises were empty. Because the Braves were in such poor economic condition, it soon became apparent that the financial inducements in his contract were worthless. However, what bothered Ruth most was the realization that he would never be given a chance to manage.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

After missing almost two weeks of action with a groin injury, Andrew Brackman finally made his spring debut for the Yankees in yesterday’s exhibition game against the Braves. Even before the setback, it was going to be a tall order for the young right hander to head north with the club, but his eventual promotion seems to be less about if and more about when and in what role.

When Brackman finally does get the call, history will be waiting for him, and all he’ll need to do is throw one pitch. At 6’ 11”, Brackman would not only become the tallest Yankees’ pitcher of all time, but he would join the Blue Jays’ Jon Rauch as the tallest player in major league history. Of course, to accomplish that feat, Brackman will have to beat Loek Van Mil to the majors. At 7’ 1”, Van Mil would blow away the competition, but considering his 6.37 ERA with the Twins’ double-A affiliate last year, he isn’t likely to make the major leagues.

If Brackman does join Rauch as the tallest pitcher in baseball history, he’ll become only the second Yankee to hold that distinction. The first was a 6’ 7” lefthander named Edward Haughton Love, but better known as Slim.

Head and Shoulders Above the Rest: Progression of Tallest Yankee Pitchers

Year Pitcher Height
1901 Frank Foreman 6′ 0″
1902 Crese Heismann 6′ 2″
1903 Ambrose Puttman 6′ 4″
1908 Hippo Vaughn 6′ 4″
1916 Slim Love* 6′ 7″
1982 Stefan Wever 6′ 8″
1988 Lee Guetterman 6′ 8″
1996 Jeff Nelson 6′ 8″
1996 Graeme Lloyd 6′ 8″
2005 Randy Johnson 6′ 10″
2011? Andrew Brackman* 6′ 11″

*Tallest in major league history to date.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Slim Love was born in, where else, Love, Mississippi on August 1, 1890. Otherwise, little is known about the early life of the tall and lanky southpaw. In fact, it seems as if he just dropped out of the sky onto the baseball landscape. Considering his height, Love would have been a perfect bridge between the two.

Maybe it isn’t a stretch to suggest he just materialized out of thin air? Unlike most major leaguers, Love wasn’t a highly sought after prospect uncovered by a scout beating the bushes. He wasn’t even a journeyman who first opened eyes pitching for a local squad. If Love was playing baseball somewhere as a youth, no one knew anything about it, and considering his abnormal height, he would have been hard to miss.

According to an account in The Washington Post, Love’s baseball career evolved from his own barroom bragging. As the story goes, Love, who had traveled up from his hometown to Memphis, Tennessee, walked into a local watering hole, took a seat at the bar, and ordered everyone a drink. Then, the affable giant boasted about his prowess on the mound and boldly claimed that he had come to Memphis with the sole purpose of leading the town’s ballclub to the pennant.

Slim made his advent into professional ball via Memphis, and the way he happened to land with the Turtles was on account of his bucolic disposition and odd appearance.”The Washington Post, August 31, 1913

Although Slim wasn’t the first guy to walk into a bar and start spinning yarns, he must have been very convincing. Impressed by both his confident demeanor and commanding size, the proprietor of the tavern reached out to Bill Bernhard, a friend who also happened to be the manager of the Memphis Turtles (known as the Chickasaws starting in 1912). In no time, the lanky lefty found himself working out with the Memphis team, and soon thereafter was given the chance to prove that he was more than just a fast talker.

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Who says there’s no crying in baseball?

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra’s suggestion that a couple of his players were “crying in the locker room” after a recent loss to the Chicago Bulls sent the media into a frenzy. Not surprisingly, humor was the most prominent method employed in the around-the-clock coverage of Crygate. In particular, the classic Tom Hanks’ scene from the movie “A League of Their Own” was splashed all over TV and the internet as all forms of media sought to poke fun at the Heat.

Contrary to the now often repeated line, there is crying in baseball. In fact, the sport has produced enough tears to rainout a season’s worth of games. Just ask a Cubs’ fan.

All kidding aside, there have been so many poignant moments in baseball history covering everything from tragedy to joy. Yankees fans, in particular, have been witness to numerous example of this outward display of emotion. From Lou Gehrig’s gut wrenching “Luckiest Man” speech to Joe Torre’s frequent displays of emotion, the Bronx Bombers’ high and lows have often been punctuated by tears. However, whenever I think of crying and baseball, two Hall of Fame third basemen prominently come to mind.

When the Boston Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series, enough tears were shed to fill the Charles River. However, no one epitomized that collective pain better than Wade Boggs. As the Mets finished off their miraculous comeback in the series, Boggs alternately sat with his face in a towel and his red eyes blankly staring at the field. Although most people correctly identify Bill Buckner as the tragic figure from that World Series, the video of Boggs’ anguish best defined the Red Sox’ agony.

Most people didn’t know it at the time, but in Boggs’ tears was more than just extreme disappointment about letting a championship slip away. Earlier in the 1986 season, his mother was killed in a car accident, and from that point until the final out of the 1986 World Series, the perennial .300 hitter suppressed the pain by immersing himself in baseball. Once there were no more games to be played, however, Boggs could no longer hold back his emotions.

The finality of the season tore me up. I’d been OK as long as I had the game to preoccupy myself with. Then, when it was over, I was thinking, ‘Now I’ve got to go home and when I walk in the house, she’s not going to be there.’ That’s what’s going on when you see the image of me in the dugout.” – Wade Boggs, quoted in the Boston Globe, July 31, 2005

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Where was Ralph Kramden really going on October 3, 1954?

In the Honeymooners sketch, “Game Called on Account of Marriage”, which debuted on the October 2, 1954 installment of the Jackie Gleason Show, Ralph tries to beg out of Alice’s sister’s wedding because he has tickets to the “Wooorld Series!” that was being played between the Cleveland Indians and New York Giants. Needless to say, this revelation leads to yet another classic battle between Ralph and Alice as each one tries to get in the last word. As usual, Alice has the upperhand.

Most diehard baseball fans can easily sympathize with Ralph’s plight. It is, after all, the “Wooorld Series!” However, before feeling too badly for Ralph, we first need to investigate the legitimacy of his claim. For starters, where did Ralph get the tickets? Are we to believe someone just gave them to him? Because we know that Ralph is going with Ed Norton, and Norton didn’t provide the ducats, we then must assume that Ralph was the beneficiary of a very generous gift. The alternative would be to assume that Ralph bought the tickets, but considering his salary, that doesn’t seem likely at all.

Let’s put that issue aside for a moment and get right to the point. Ralph couldn’t have had tickets to the World Series because only game 5 was scheduled to be played on Sunday, and that contest would have been in Cleveland. Considering that Ralph was spending Saturday night helping Alice’s sister elope, there is no way he would have had enough time to hop on a train and make it to Cleveland in time for the following afternoon’s game. In other words, Ralph wasn’t planning on seeing the game, so he must have had other plans.

When a police officer finally exposes Ralph’s charade by informing him that there won’t even be a game 5, Ralph takes the news in stride by acting surprised, but by this point, we know better. After all, if Ralph really was fixated on the World Series, but mistakenly thought game 5 was in New York (maybe that’s why he was able to get a hold of two tickets), are we to believe he wasn’t even following closely enough to know that the Giants had swept the Indians earlier that afternoon?

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Larry Granillo’s (Baseball Prospectus and Wezen-Ball) recent forensic investigation into Ferris Buehler’s whereabouts on his now infamous day off made for one of the more creative and entertaining blog posts in quite some time. For those who missed the piece, Granillo attempted (and succeeded) to determine the date of the game that Buehler attended with his fellow truants by analyzing the footage from WGN that was used in the movie.

In addition to being greatly amused by Granillo’s investigation, it got me to thinking about how many other unsolved baseball mysteries remain cloaked in movie clips from years gone by? The list of unidentified baseball references on the silver screen are probably too numerous to count, so let’s start at the beginning by examining one of the first movies to incorporate live baseball action into its script.

The movie in question is called Speedy (which will be featured at this year’s Rhode Island International Film Festival in August). Created by renowned silent-era funny man Harold Lloyd, the comedy tells the tale of hapless Harold “Speedy” Swift, whose addiction to the Yankees constantly interferes with his ability to remain employed. During the course of the movie, this compulsion causes Speedy to lose several jobs, including one as a taxi cab driver, but not before having the chance to chauffeur Babe Ruth in a harrowing ride from Manhattan to Yankee Stadium.

Speedy was Lloyd’s last silent film and resulted in his only Academy Award nomination, but more than anything, it is best remembered today for the spectacular footage filmed in 1927-era New York City. The extensive on-location filming pushed the movie’s price tag toward $1 million, an unheard of figure for the era, but  Lloyd’s expense immediately paid off thanks to the buzz his month-long stay in New York created.

Over the years, the movie’s archival footage has made it even more valuable as a historical reference. As Speedy whirls around the town, we get detailed glimpses of a city brimming with motor cars, horse-drawn carriages, trolleys, and elevated trains. The movie also includes vivid images of Luna Park in Coney Island, Columbus Circle, the Brooklyn Bridge, Penn Station, the Battery, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, and most importantly to baseball fans, Yankee Stadium, which is where the real point of this exercise begins.

The first glimpse of Yankee Stadium occurs early on in the movie (4:32 in the first clip). Unfortunately, the lack of clarity and detail prevents the date of the game from being indentified…at least to this point. In the meantime, we’re treated to several amusing scenes as Speedy endeavors to perform his duties while keeping tabs on the ongoing game via telephone calls to Yankee Stadium and a visit to a public scoreboard outside the local sporting goods store (which we’ll examine later).

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(This is the second in a series on infamous or controversial historical figures who also had a notable association with baseball. For the first installment on John Dillinger, click here. In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

Chicago, the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down” – Lyrics from “Chicago” by Fred Fisher

Before becoming a preacher, Billy Sunday was an outfielder.

During the early part of the 20th century, William Ashley “Billy” Sunday was one of the most influential social and political figures in the United States. The evangelical convert turned fundamentalist firebrand gradually built a nationwide following in cities big and small with a combination of biblical knowledge and homespun preaching that attracted thousands of people at a time. In addition to advancing a fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity, Sunday was also an advocate for American interventionism, progressive social justice and conservative cultural behavior. In particular regarding the latter, Sunday railed against the evils of drinking (as an influential advocate of Prohibition, Sunday’s impact on early-20th century history can’t be overstated), dancing, gambling, reading fiction and watching movies. To Sunday, these frivolous pursuits (“you can’t waltz into heaven,” he would frequently tell his audience) were a distraction from a person’s faith. One pastime, however, was excluded from Sunday’s black list…baseball.

Not only did Billy Sunday tolerate baseball (except when it was played on Sunday, which in many towns was against the law until the middle of the century), but he was actually a vocal proponent and often attended games. Considering the game’s culture, which at the time was rife with gambling, carousing and excessive consumption of alcohol, Sunday’s support of baseball seems contradictory at first glance. However, there really is no divine mystery behind this conflict. You see, before becoming a renowned preacher, the reverend enjoyed an earlier career as a professional baseball player.

Like more than a few athletes of the time, Billy Sunday was first introduced to baseball while growing up in an orphanage, where he was placed by his widowed and impoverished mother at the age of 10 years. After moving from Ames, Iowa to nearby Marshalltown at the age of 18 in 1880, Sunday was recruited to play for a baseball team organized by the local fire brigade. Over the next two seasons, he starred for the local squad and, in the process, caught the eye of a Marshalltown resident named Cap Anson. By 1882, Anson, the manager and first baseman of the Chicago White Stockings (eventually the Cubs), was firmly established as one of the best players in the game, so on his recommendation, team president A.G. Spalding signed Sunday to a contract in 1883.

Although his career was instigated by two luminaries, Sunday didn’t exactly shine brightly on the field, especially in his major league debut when he struck out four times. During his five years in Chicago, Sunday only came to bat 750 times and served mostly as a replacement for King Kelly when the Hall of Fame outfielder shifted to behind the plate. Still, he found more than enough ways to help out the team. In addition to being a competent defender as well as one of the fastest men in the National League, Sunday also developed a rapport with White Stocking’s fans, making him one of the team’s most popular players despite his limited role. Sunday also emerged as a trusted ally of Anson, who delegated to him several business responsibilities. In many ways, Sunday really was a valuable part of the White Stockings. However, his off-field experiences while in Chicago turned out to have a much more profound impact on his future.

Like now, an off day in Chicago was a ballplayer’s delight in the 1880s. Although never prone to excess, Sunday wasn’t immune to an occasional drink or game of cards, which is exactly what he found himself doing along with several teammates on a Sunday evening sometime in the mid-1880s. Soon, however, the evening of revelry was interrupted by the sound of hymns being sung by a curbside choir. Attracted to the familiar songs, which his mother used to sing, Sunday instantly had an emotional reaction and vowed to clean up his lifestyle.

I bowed my head in shame, and the tears rolled down my cheeks like rivers of water. When the song was ended, ‘Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight?’, the leader Harry Monroe of the Pacific Garden Mission, said: ‘Come, boys, down to the mission and listen to the speaking and singing’. I arose and said: ‘Boys, good-by; I’m done with this way of living’”. – Billy Sunday, quoted in The Washington Times, May 13, 1903

In the pulpit, Sunday was known for his fiery, homespun manner of speaking.

After weeks of attending the Pacific Garden Mission, Sunday eventually joined the Jefferson Park Presbyterian Church. When word of his conversion made news in the Chicago papers, Sunday feared the reception he would get from his hard-living teammates, saying, “I dreaded to report to practice that day for fear of ridicule”. Much to his surprise, however, his decision was met with encouragement, even from the likes of Anson and Kelly, whose sentiments were echoed throughout the team.

Following the 1887 season, Sunday was sold to Pittsburgh, where he played regularly for the first time in his career. Once again, Sunday became an instant fan favorite on the woeful Pirates, but by that time baseball had become his secondary pursuit. Toward the end of his playing career, Sunday attended Northwestern University during the offseason in preparation for a different calling. In 1890, Sunday was traded to Philadelphia, where he played out the season and then retired at the age of 27 to take a position as assistant secretary of the Chicago YMCA.

An advertisement for one of Sunday’s appearances makes reference to his baseball playing days.

Sunday’s retirement from baseball allowed him to more vigorously pursue his evangelical vision. By the turn of the century, the Baseball Evangelist, as he was frequently called, was gradually gaining prominence and honing the skills he would use to attract a nationwide following. At no point, however, did he put his baseball career behind him. In fact, Sunday would often promote his appearances by making reference to his playing career and use baseball parlance when relating the crowd. What’s more, Sunday could hardly resist the temptation to break out his bat and glove at local games organized in the towns where he was preaching. In 1918, Sunday even participated in one of the first known “Old Timer’s Days”, when he, along with other old veterans like Fred Pfeffer, Tony Mullane, Jimmy Ryan and Jake Stahl, entertained enlisted members of the navy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station.

Mr. Sunday never fails to take advantage of an opportunity to play ball, and he often is the star feature of the local games wherever he happens to be preaching. His gestures, and occasionally his language, savor of the game, although when he cares to he can preach as dignified a sermon as one would care to hear.”   The Washington Times’ Editorial Page, July 6, 1902

In addition to attending baseball games whenever his busy schedule would allow (in 1917, the New York Times wrote of the reverend lamenting a missed opportunity to see the Giants at the Polo Grounds because of a rainout), Sunday never passed up an opportunity to opine on the state of the sport. Like old timers before and after, he was fond of decrying the modern game. In a trip to New York in 1915, Sunday touted the supremacy of his old White Stockings team over the modern clubs, and even suggested that the style of ball played by Ty Cobb was inferior to the tactics used in his day. One can just imagine Cobb saying the very same thing after his retirement.

They crow nowadays when Ty Cobb gets home from second on an infield hit. Why, I pulled that twice in a series nearly thirty years ago. We pulled all the tricks they have today, although they have found new names for them since then.” – Billy Sunday, quoted in The New York Times, April 13, 1915

In another timeless screed, Sunday also railed against the greed of the modern player. When the Federal League sued the American and National leagues on the grounds they violated the Sherman Antitrust Laws, Sunday used the opportunity to sermonize on the economics of the game. “Without organization and a reserve clause…there isn’t a chance for the game to go on and be kept clean,” Sunday righteously proclaimed, adding “I blame the player of today for the condition of baseball. He should give his support to the men who have made the game prosperous and have put the players where they are”. Apparently, Sunday never met Charlie Comiskey.

Whether it was presiding over the funeral of a past colleague, sending a letter to be read at a mass honoring the start of the 1913 World Series, trumpeting baseball’s role in the war effort, or helping to celebrate the game’s 50th anniversary in 1926, Sunday always made time for baseball in between his sermons and political advocacy. The man who “saved a million souls” was always a baseball fan heart, which isn’t really a surprise when you consider that the most avid baseball fans often have a zeal that would be the envy of even the most ardent religious leader.

The site of games being played on Sundays, beer sponsorships and millionaire ballplayers opting for free agency certainly wouldn’t please Sunday if he was still around today, but then again, it isn’t hard to imagine him still sneaking in a game or two in between appearances. A controversial figure both then and now, Sunday’s devotion to baseball is just another example of the inseparable relationship between the nation and its pastime.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

Three of the most significant names in American sports history collide tonight when Army and Notre Dame not only play the fiftieth game in their historic rivalry (for a summary of every game, click here), but do so at Yankee Stadium for the first time in 41 years.

When Army first played Notre Dame on November 1, 1913, the game was really more of a warm-up for the upcoming clash with Navy later that month. However, the Westerners, as Notre Dame was labeled in the New York Times’ account of the game, upset the cadets with a revolutionary passing game that took the college football word by surprise. By the end of the afternoon, the Fighting Irish, who were captained by the legendary Knute Rockne, bested Army by a jaw dropping 35-13.

The East learned a lesson from the Middle West at West Point on Saturday, when Notre Dame showed a greater development of the possibilities of the forward pass than Eastern elevens have undertaken to master.” – New York Times, November 13, 1913

Over the next few seasons, the two teams began to develop an emerging rivalry that attracted increasing fan interest. By 1923, both teams had developed into top college programs, and the attendance at their annual matchup necessitated a move to larger stadiums in New York City. Because the Yankees and Giants were playing in the World Series that year, the first new home for the game was Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. The following year, the two teams laced up at the Polo Ground and then, in 1925, the game moved on to Yankee Stadium, where it found a home for 22 of the next 23 years (in 1930, the game was played at Chicago’s Soldier Field).

A scene from the first Army vs. Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium in 1925.

A lot of history was made by both teams during the 22-year period when the game was played at Yankee Stadium. In 1928, with the score tied 0-0 at the half, Rockne, now the coach of Notre Dame, gave his historic “win one for the Gipper” speech. The inspirational address spurred the Fighting Irish on to a 12-6 victory, and an American sports legend was born.

The effect of psychology on football teams was never more clearly demonstrated than at Yankee Stadium Saturday. The underdog, a glowing, determined Notre Dame team rose to the heights and played better than they knew how.” – Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, November 12, 1928, writing in an article distributed by the Christy Walsh Syndicate

Although fan interest was always heightened, the rivalry really intensified in the 1940s. Amid the backdrop of a World War, the two teams had emerged as elite, championship caliber programs, and their annual contest had evolved into a national event. From 1943 to 1946, Army and Notre Dame never ranked lower than fifth and at least one of the teams was ranked first in the country. Not surprisingly, the two teams split the four national titles in that span (Army winning in 1944 and 1945, and Notre Dame taking the crown in 1943 and 1946).

As Bill Pennington wrote in a retrospective for the New York Times, the Army vs. Notre Dame game became such a big deal that soldiers on the battle front would quiz suspected spies about the score of the most recent game in order to determine if they were really Americans. By 1946, the war had finally come to an end, and soon, so too would the game’s run at Yankee Stadium. Before saying good bye, however, the two teams engaged in what was even then being called the “Game of the Century”.

A scene from the "Game of the Century" in 1946.

In 1944 and 1945, Army outscored Notre Dame by a combined 107-0. In 1946, however, the game was being played in a new era of optimism. With many of each institutions’ war heroes back at home and in the stands for the game, the anticipation reached an unprecedented level, especially as each team entered the showdown undefeated. Because each team was averaging over 30 points per game, everyone expected a high scoring affair, but instead what occurred was an epic 0-0 tie with new names like Johnny Lujack and Doc Blanchard added to the legend.

The two foremost contenders for the mythical national college championship honors pitched camp on the outskirts today while an invading horde of thrill-seekers descended on the big town for football’s battle of century between Army and Notre Dame.” – AP, November 8, 1946

In 1947, the rivalry moved back on campus in South Bend before taking a 10-year hiatus and then resuming on a more sporadic basis. In 1969, the two teams reconvened at Yankee Stadium for one last time. However, although Notre Dame was still a powerhouse, Army’s program had faded. With Joe Theisman leading the way at QB, the Irish pummeled the Black Knights 45-0 and then closed the curtain on the rivalry’s time in the Bronx.

Over forty years later, Notre Dame and Army finally return to the grounds of a new Yankee Stadium. Even though the bloom has faded from both teams’ national profile, the powerful combination of their historic legacies and the rivalry reconvening at Yankee Stadium makes today’s game a highly anticipated event. Yankee Stadium has never been a stranger to legends, so who knows, maybe the echoes will be calling again tonight.

Army vs. Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium

Date   Score   Attendance 
 10/17/1925  Army 27, Notre Dame 0   65,000
 11/13/1926  Notre Dame 7, Army 0  63,029
 11/12/1927  Army 18, Notre Dame 0  65,678
 11/20/1928  Notre Dame 12, Army 6  78,188
11/30/1929  Notre Dame 7, Army 0  79,408
 11/28/1931  Army 12, Notre Dame 0  78,559
 11/26/1932  Notre Dame 21, Army 0  78,115
 12/2/1933  Notre Dame 13, Army 12   73,594
 11/24/1934  Notre Dame 12, Army 6  78,757
 11/16/1935  Notre Dame 6, Army 6  78,114
 11/14/1936  Notre Dame 20, Army 6  74,423
 11/13/1937  (18) Notre Dame 7, Army 0   76,359
 10/29/1938  (7) Notre Dame 19, Army 7  76,338
 11/4/1939  (4) Notre Dame 14, Army 0  75,632
 11/2/1940  (2) Notre Dame 7, Army 0  75,474
 11/1/1941  (6) Notre Dame 0, (14) Army 0   75,226
 11/7/1942  (4) Notre Dame 13, (19) Army 0   74,946
 11/6/1943  (1) Notre Dame 26, (3) Army 0  75,121
 11/11/1944  (1) Army 59, (5) Notre Dame 0  75,142
 11/10/1945  (1) Army 48, (2) Notre Dame 0  74,621
 11/9/1946  (1) Army 0, (2) Notre Dame 0  74,121
 10/11/1969  (15) Notre Dame 45, Army 0  63,786

Note: Notre Dame leads series 14-5-3 at Yankee Stadium and 37-8-4 overall.
Source: goarmysports.com

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Just days after the news that Sparky Anderson had entered a hospice, the legendary manager passed away at the age of 76.

Sparky Anderson in his playing days with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, where he spent four seasons from 1960 to 1963.

George Lee “Sparky” Anderson was a career minor leaguer who played in only one major league season with the Phillies in 1959. At his best considered a poor man’s Eddie Stanky, Anderson never lived up to his limited potential as a player, but slowly made a name for himself as a coach when his playing career ended in 1963.

After several seasons as a coach with various organizations (over the course of three days in the winter of 1970, he went from being a third base coach with the Padres to a similar role with the Angels before ending up an unlikely manager of the Reds), Anderson finally got his big break with Cincinnati.

Before Sparky signed on to lead the Reds, the team had won only one NL pennant in the previous 29 seasons, underperforming what were usually high expectations. Against that back drop, the 36-year old Anderson, who always seemed to look at least 10-years older, pragmatically told reporters “That’s why I’m not on the spot. If the Reds are supposed to win the pennant and don’t, it won’t be the first time it’s happened recently”.

In case anyone was disappointed by the hiring of the relatively unknown Anderson, the Reds sought to quickly ease the transition. In December, they issued a team Christmas Card featuring a caricature of Sparky Anderson driving a tractor. “Holiday Greetings from the Big Red Machine”, the card read.

I told Clyde King [manager of the Giants] that it’d really be something , me and him going out to the plate with lineups for the game of the day one of these weeks. Nobody’d know who either of one of us is.” – Sparky Anderson, speaking about his anonymity, The Pittsburgh Press, March 31, 1970

Going into his first season, Anderson knew he wasn’t exactly as well known as Santa Claus. During his first spring training, he quipped, “I told Clyde King [manager of the Giants] that it’s really be something , me and him going out to the plate with lineups for the game of the day one of these weeks. Nobody’d know who either of one of us is.”

Although unknown when he was hired, Sparky Anderson made a name for himself as manager of the Big Red Machine.

Those sentiments, which now seem so eerie considering the death of King and Anderson on consecutive days, quickly dissipated as the Reds won 100 games and returned to the World Series in 1970. After two more close calls in 1972 and 1973, Sparky’s Big Red Machine finally broke through with back-to-back championships in 1975 and 1976, the latter resulting in a commanding sweep of the New York Yankees.

Following the 1978 season, the Reds shocked the baseball world by dismissing Anderson. At the time, Reds’ president Dick Wagner cited the team’s complacency as reason for the change, but most signs pointed toward a personality clash between the two men.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner called the Reds’ decision “the biggest boo boo of the year”, leading many to speculate that Sparky’s next stop might be in the Bronx. At the time, Bob Lemon was serving as a lame duck manager during the 1979 season with Billy Martin waiting to take over in 1980. However, further indiscretions by Martin had the Yankees leery of their commitment, and rumors floated that Anderson would instead take over Lemon. As things turned out, the Yankees never got the chance because the Tigers, fearful that another team would snap him up, abruptly fired their manager in June and hired Sparky as the replacement.

“I made a bet with Sparky last January for dinner and a suit of clothes that he’d get a managing job before June 15. It looks like I won, doesn’t it”. – Reds’ pitcher Tom Seaver, speaking to AP/UPI after the Tigers hired Anderson to be their manager, June 13, 1979

After leaving the Reds, Anderson guided the Tigers for 16 seasons, including a World Series championship in 1984 (Photo: Detroit News).

Anderson slowly brought the struggling Tigers back to respectability before eventually winning it all in 1984 with a historic 35-5 start to a 104-win season, and in the process became the first manager to win a World Series in both leagues. Sparky remained with the Tigers for 11 more seasons, but only returned to the playoffs once more (in 1987) before retiring in 1995. He exited with 2,194 games won, good for sixth on the all-time list (and third at the time of his departure).

Always a character, Sparky Anderson was a true ambassador of the game. He was equal parts traditionalist, optimist and enthusiast, and always exuded a genuine sense of love for wearing a major league uniform. All of baseball is worse off for his loss, but infinitely better for his time in the game. He may have been a no-name when he first stepped onto the scene, but he departs as one of its legends.

The Traditionalist

In the early 1990s, the Yankees had become used to getting mauled by the Tigers, especially in Detroit. So, when the Yankees took a 6-0 lead in a game on May 7, 1993, Buck Showalter still wasn’t taking anything for granted. In an attempt to score a seventh run, Pat Kelly swiped second base in the top of the sixth. The Yankees’ aggressive posture with such a large lead seemed to upset Anderson, who could be seen gesticulating toward the Yankees’ bench. After the game, Sparky’s immediate response was to quote Branch Rickey’s old axiom about letting sleeping dogs lie, which seemed rather appropriate because his Tigers roared back to win the game 7-6.

Anderson eventually apologized to Showalter for his reaction, but as things turned out, the moment served as an invaluable lesson for the rookie Yankees manager. By sticking to his guns, Showalter not only earned Sparky’s respect, but raised eyebrows around the league. When Anderson eventually retired after the 1995 season, the first man he recommended as his replacement was Showalter.

The Optimist

Spring training has always been a haven for the optimist, and no one proved that more than Sparky Anderson. Without fail, Sparky would spend the entire camp touting one of his team’s young prospects. Whether it was Jim Walewander, Billy Bean, Scott Lusader or any number of other nondescript minor leaguers, Anderson would trumpet their ability, which usually meant they’d seldom be heard from again. The Tigers under Sparky were mostly a veteran club, but at least in March, youth was served.

The Motivator

Perhaps Sparky Anderson’s greatest talent as a manager was his ability to motivate, especially star players. His famous comment from the 1976 World Series about no one being comparable to Johnny Bench was often seen as a slight to Yankees backstop Thurman Munson, but the words were really meant as a tribute to his own catcher. Another classic example of motivation during the World Series occurred in game 5 of the 1984 World Series. In the eighth inning of that game, the Padres were clinging to life, trailing 5-4 with runners on second and third and Kirk Gibson coming to the plate. San Diego manager Dick Williams initially instructed Rich Gossage to walk the Tigers’ slugger, but the Goose talked him out of it. While manager and pitcher conferred, Sparky repeatedly shouted at Gibson, “He doesn’t want to walk you!” One pitch later, the ball was headed over the roof in right field and the Tigers were on their way to a World Championship.

For video of the Gibson homerun, click here.

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Honus Wagner has been dead for nearly 55 years, but a group of Baltimore-based nuns is hoping that the Hall of Fame shortstop can come up big one more time…on the auction block that is.

The photograph of Honus Wagner that was used to create the now widely sought after T206 baseball card (lower right). Note the incorrect spelling of “Pittsburgh” that was added across Wagner’s chest.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame are the latest in a long line of lucky owners who have found themselves in possession of what has become known as the baseball card collector’s Holy Grail: the T206 Honus Wagner.

The infamous card, which was originally produced by the American Tobacco Company between 1909 and 1911, was part of a set of 514 that the giant cigarette manufacturer distributed along with its many brands. Although most of the cards in the set are highly coveted, what sets the Wagner issue apart is its scarcity.

To date, there are only about 60 known examples of the Wagner T206 series. Most, like the one possessed by the Sisters, are not in very good condition, but still fetch six figures at auction. Better preserved versions, however, have regularly sold for over $1 million. In fact, the T206 Wagner purchased by Arizona Diamondbacks’ owner Ken Kendrick sold for $2.8 million, the highest amount ever paid for one baseball card.

As legend has it, Wagner objected to having his photo included in the T206. Some accounts have cited the Flying Dutchman’s objection to having his picture used to promote smoking among children, while others claim a dispute with ATC over compensation (after all, Wagner’s image had been used to promote tobacco products in the past). Either way, Wagner’s card was pulled from the set, making it the strongly sought after treasure that it is today.

Not long ago, a firm of tobacco manufacturers wrote to a local newspaper man and asked him to secure a picture of Hans Wagner to be given away with cigarettes [sic]… The scribe wrote to Wagner and asked him for the picture enclosing the tobacco company’s letter. A few days later he received a communication from Hans, saying that he did not care to have his picture in a package of cigarettes [sic], neither did he wish his friend to lose the chance to cop a little extra coin. “So,” he concluded, “I enclose my check for the amount promised you by the tobacco company in case you got my picture and hope you will excuse me if I refuse.” – Ralph S. Davis, excerpt from “Wagner A Wonder”, The Sporting News, October 24, 1912

Whether or not Wagner actually objected to his image being used to lure young boys to a life of smoking remains unknown, but by the time the set was produced, the relationship between baseball cards and tobacco had already become a cause for concern. In an attempt to curb the increase in underage smoking, several cities went so far as to ban the distribution of sports and actor cards along side tobacco products, but the overwhelming popularity of the giveaways was not abated by the limited legal actions.

I was allowed the first peep…to a sight of the Blessed Land and the gods, which, until then, we had only beheld in the lithographs which were given free with every pack of Duke’s Cameo cigarettes – I think that was the name of our choice vice.” – Benjamin De Casseres, writing about his youth and baseball, New York Times, April 18, 1920

A 1954 advertisement for Red Man tobacco that promotes a free baseball photo with every pack.

Ironically, the tobacco companies were just as eager for an exit from the picture card business. In an attempt to outdo the competition in terms of star power and production quality, manufacturing cardboard inserts quickly became one of the industry’s highest expenses. Eventually, it became hard to determine whether cigarettes were driving the picture card industry, or vice versa.

Finally fed up with their decreasing profit margins, the largest competitors in the tobacco industry consolidated under one umbrella, the aforementioned American Tobacco. One of the chief reasons for combining was to control costs, particularly marketing expenses associated with manufacturing picture cards. According to Dave Jamieson, author of Mint Condition: How Baseball Card Became an American Obsession, “the popularity of baseball cards had helped to spur the formation of one of the most powerful monopolies in American history”.

Beginning in 1907, the government began to take notice of American Tobacco’s dominance of the market place and brought suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act. By1911, the monopoly was forced to dissolve by decree of the Supreme Court. Not ironically, this period coincided with the rebirth of picture cards as a cigarette company marketing ploy, as evidenced by the now famous T206 series. Unintentionally, the federal government’s actions not only opened up the tobacco industry to increased competition, but also re-opened the market for underage smokers by once again making photo inserts relevant.

Cigarettes have always played a role in the national game. In many ways, both baseball and smoking were the defining pastimes of several American generations. Whether it was via picture card inserts, early television commercials or stadium billboard advertisements, cigarette companies strived to promote the idea that enjoying a smoke and watching baseball went hand in hand. In today’s smoke-free stadium environments, that may seem hard to believe, but curious relics of the past, like the Honus Wagner T206, help to serve as a reminder.

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He jogged around slowly, touched each bag firmly and carefully, and when he imbedded his spikes in the rubber disk to record officially Homer 60, hats were tossed into the air, papers were torn up and tossed liberally and the spirit of celebration permeated the place.” – New York Times, October 1, 1927

On September 30, 1927, Babe Ruth established a new record for homeruns in a single season by belting his 60th round tripper against the Senators’ Tom Zachary. Ruth’s milestone achievement not only bested his own mark of 59, set in 1921, but also surpassed the total of every other American League team as well as all but three in the National League.

In an era when the homerun has lost some of its luster, it’s easy to overlook the enormity of Ruth’s accomplishment, not to mention the entirety of his career, but for those who need a little reminder, and perspective, following is a unique leader board from the 1927 season.

1927 Homerun Leaders

  HR
New York Giants 109
St. Louis Cardinals 84
Chicago Cubs 74
Babe Ruth 60
Philadelphia Phillies 57
Philadelphia Athletics 56
St. Louis  Browns 55
Pittsburgh Pirates 54
Detroit Tigers 51
Lou Gehrig 47
Brooklyn Dodgers 39
Boston Braves 37
Chicago White Sox 36
Hack Wilson 30
Cy Williams 30
Washington Senators 29
Cincinnati Reds 29
Boston Red Sox 28
Cleveland Indians 26
Rogers Hornsby 26

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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