A Moment In Time – 7/28/25

https://i0.wp.com/i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj90/alpineinc/14225u_1.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj90/alpineinc/soxsens1.jpgBack we go to 1925, and back to Griffith Stadium, White Sox/Senators twin bill on Tuesday, July 28, third inning of Game 1. Johnny Mostil trots home standing up, as instructed by teammate Ray Schalk (the high-five had yet to be invented) as the Sens’ C Muddy Ruel looks to corral an errant throw or back up another play, as none other than Walter Johnson got roughed up by the Pale Hose this day (including 5 walks) and was sent to the showers by the 6th inning. And when the White Sox knocked Tom Zachary out of the box with four runs in the first in Game 2, the Senators were on their way to a double defeat, which would drop Washington 1 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia A’s, although the Senators would rebound to win the 1925 AL crown. And while the White Sox enjoyed the spoils that day, the franchise was in the midst of an extended period of inconsistency since the Black Sox scandal gutted the club in 1921, and wouldn’t return to the playoffs until 1959.

Johnson warming at Forbes during the 1925 WS

Johnson warming at Forbes during the 1925 WS

Johnson himself would otherwise have a stellar campaign in the Senators’ pennant winning season, winning 20, which would prove to be his last year with a winning record. He was also as good a hitter as a pitcher in 1925, batting an astounding .433 with 20 RBI’s. And facing the Pirates in the 1925 World Series, Johnson was the hero of Games 1 and 4, allowing only one run – but, like in 1924, Johnson was counted on by the Senators to come up big once again in Game 7, and “faced his Waterloo with head unbowed”, but turned out to have the worst post-season outing of his career, giving up 9 runs, including 3 in the bottom of the 8th (although there was a bit of bad luck as well – it was a muddy, rainy affair at Forbes Field, as night was falling in the late innings, and a Peckinpaugh error eventually allowed 2 unearned runs), to put the Bucs ahead 9-7 and virtually seal the championship for the Pirates.

Johnson would fall to 15-16 the next season, and then win only 5 games while pitching to a 5.10 E.R.A. in 1927, and his storied playing career was at an end.

Schalk in 1925

Schalk in 1925

White Sox Hall Of Fame catcher Ray Schalk had a storied career himself – he is considered to have revolutionized the position with his speed and quickness to redefine the capabilities of what a catcher could do, and was the best defensive catcher of his era. Thankfully, he also wasn’t one to give in to quick temptation, as he was among the “clean” White Sox players in the 1919 World Series, batting .304 and admitting later that he knew something was afoot when tainted hurlers Cicotte and Williams wouldn’t throw the pitches he was calling for.

In 1925, Schalk’s career was already in twilight – he had his last strong season that year, but after being slowed by injury the following season (which would be a typical lament for similar aggressive, defensive-minded catchers going forward), became a player-manager in 1927, limiting his playing time greatly, and after assuming the same role with the Giants, retired after the 1929 season.

Mostil in 1925

Mostil in 1925

Johnny Mostil may have joined the ranks of the above Hall of Famers if he hadn’t derailed his career prematurely due to an unfortunate incident off the field preceding the 1927 season. Mostil emerged as a budding star in the mid-1920’s, leading the league in runs, walks and stolen bases in ’25, and the slick fielding center fielder would be second in the MVP voting in 1926. However, the following March, during Spring Training in Shreveport, Louisiana, Mostil was found in a hotel room in a pool of blood due to many self-inflicted wounds throughout his body from a pocket knife and razor, and teammates, including Schalk, administered aid as help arrived. While initially he was not expected to survive, Mostil made a rapid physical recovery, but was put on the “voluntarily retired” list (likely recovering from emotional issues), and would not return to the White Sox until September of ’27. He did play a full season in 1928, but his speed was inexplicably slowed (with his stolen base percentage plummeting to near .500), and after breaking his ankle in May 1929, his career was over.

Mostil never did disclose the reason for the suicide attempt, but it may have stemmed from rumors circulating that he was having an affair with a teammate’s wife, or perhaps a result of painful neurological problems he was going through. While it’s sad that the event effectively ended his major league career, he did survive, was very successful in the minor leagues afterward, and was also a long time scout for the White Sox, and lived to 70 years of age.

Muddy Ruel was also an outstanding defensive catcher in his own right, helping to usher in era of defensive-minded backstops that originated during the Deadball Era, and led the AL in assists and putouts in 1925, and was also Walter Johnson’s “personal” catcher in his later career. He also happened to score the winning run for Washington in the 1924 World Series. Ruel was also no stranger to baseball-related tragedy, this time on the field – he happened to be the catcher when the Yankees’ Carl Mays threw the pitch that struck and mortally wounded Cleveland’s Ray Chapman in 1920, still the only player to perish from an on-field injury.

Ruth in 1925; a gut-punch to the Yankees

Tuesday, June 23, 1925, Senators/Yankees at Griffith Stadium, Washington, DC. The Babe in action, as he advances to third on a flyout by Bob Meusel in the 4th inning after lashing a double off the right field wall, and would eventually score on a sac fly to tie the game at 1-1 (Ossie Bluege is the Sens’ third sacker). Unfortunately for the Yanks and Ruth, it was only the Babe’s 21st game of the season, and with the Yankees 1925 campaign already nearing the midpoint, and the Bombers sitting at 10 games under .500 and in 7th place as the day began (with only the lowly Red Sox behind them), the season was virtually already over, and in reality, Ruth really only had himself to blame.

After rising to prominence in the AL in 1921-22-23, the Yankees slipped to second in 1924, but just barely – after a neck-and-neck race for much of the second half, the Yanks were 2 games back of Washington with two to play, but the Nats split their last two, and a final day doubleheader for the Yankees at Shibe against the Phillies was washed out and eventually cancelled as the Senators mathematically clinched. But the spring of 1925 brought more gloomy skies: Ruth, who seemed to suffer a variety of ailments throughout the spring, shockingly collapsed unconscious coming off a train on April 7, a week before Opening Day (click graphic at right for full article).

The Babe, experiencing marital problems, really amped up his wanton ways that off-season, and showed up in Hot Springs, Arkansas in February (a yearly pre-spring training regimen) at anywhere from 243 to 256 pounds, depending on the source. Being overweight and out of shape was not unusual for Ruth, but coupled with a bout of the flu, and suffering a back ailment just after arriving in Arkansas, it was a long road back to playing shape. Then a groin injury in Atlanta in late March, culminating in sever chills added to his trouble – there is much speculation that his groin was the actual location of the malady, either “self-inflicted” or otherwise (he suffered a groin injury in playing that day), but as such things were not press-worthy at the time, the “Bellyache Heard ‘Round The World” was alluded to instead.

Being rushed to New York for examination, and even suffering a blow to the head on the train en route to arrive at Penn Station again unconscious, allowed the press around the world to speculate wildly on his condition (curse those fried potatoes!).

The London Times went so far as to announce that the great Ruth had in fact died, reported from rumors that were allowed to circulate unchecked due to the length of the Babe’s long train ride north. While he was far from death, he was more ill than Ruth’s handlers would admit, as they chalked it up to “influenza” and “severe indigestion”, despite needing an operation to treat an “abscess” on April 17.  In fact, many newspapers relayed his numerous severe convulsions upon his arrival in New York (further feeding the private speculation of syphilis), and one of his personal physicians offered some insight into his plight when asked if the Babe kept late hours or slowed down his social life in the off-season – “he’s very careless”, he said with a laugh.

As Ruth’s hospital stay continued to lengthen, the press started to speculate about its effect on the team – “Unless the bats of Ben Paschal and Bob Meusel are tuned to home run pitch, the result of the Babe’s absence may be disastrous”, and they were right. Without a Ruthian bat in the middle of the lineup, the Yankees stumbled out of the gate, going 4-7 in April, and then when it was announced on April 29 that Ruth would not play until June at the earliest, lost their first four in May as the season started to slip away.

Ruth’s physical therapy was certainly one from another era – on May 20th, and some days afterward, he motored to Yankee Stadium with his chauffeur and members of the Yankees’ staff and would don the Yankee uniform and take BP, with no hospital personnel in sight. It seemed to have helped, as Ruth was finally discharged from the hospital on May 27th, almost 7 weeks since arriving.

By the time Ruth finally returned to the Yankee lineup on June 1 against Washington at the Stadium, the Yanks were 15-25, in 7th place, 13 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia A’s, and 10 1/2 behind the Senators. And while Ruth made a fine catch in right, his presence alone wasn’t enough to stir his teammates to victory, a scenario that would continue to be repeated as the season continued.

Which brings us to June 23 and the contest against the Senators in Washington, as shown in the top photo(s). It turns out this particular game may have had an effect on further developments later in this lost Yankee season.

While Ruth’s line shot off the right field wall set up the tying run in the 4th inning, it was the developments in the 8th inning that would reverberate for a while. With the Yankees down 2 runs in the 8th and the bases loaded, Ruth stepped up against Fred “Firpo” Marberry, who “looked Babe right in the eye and then threw three straight strikes over the plate. Ruth swung, but he did not see.”

After the disappointing at bat, and also beginning to suffer ankle pain that day, Yankee manager Miller Huggins announced the next morning that Ruth would be given a few days off, and perhaps “may play only at intervals this season”. “I am not going to take a chance of ruining Ruth as a player simply because he is a great box office asset,” stated Huggins. Although it appeared that the manager had the Babe’s best interests in mind, Ruth did not appear to take it as such, and was seen “brooding gloomily in a dark corner of the dug-out” that afternoon. While Ruth returned to the lineup on June 27, and again on the 30th, whether it was his disappointment regarding his inability to perform to a high level, or the continued lack of success of the team, he wasn’t a happy camper, and Huggins’ drastic measures didn’t appear to sit well with the Babe.

Ruth did play regularly throughout the summer, but as the team continued to languish, and after a 1-0 loss to the Browns in St. Louis on Friday, August 29th to run a current road trip to a 3-10 mark, it all came to a head.

When the Yankees took the field on Saturday, Ruth was not present, and initial reports were that Ruth simply deserted the club and had left for New York, but when confronted with this information, manager Huggins disclosed that he had fined (a then record $5000) and suspended the Babe indefinitely, for misconduct “off the field”. “No use putting on that uniform.” he had told Ruth when informing him of the fine and suspension, who promptly left the park.

“Of course it means drinking – and it means a lot of other things besides,” relayed Huggins to the press. “There are various kinds of misconduct. Patience has ceased to be a virtue. I have tried to overlook Ruth’s behavior for a while, but I have decided to take summary action to bring the big fellow to his senses…when he started playing the first of June he was on probation more or less, bound to take care of himself physically and live up to the rules of club discipline. He has forgotten all about these restrictions on this trip, hence the fine and suspension.”

Word was that Ruth was keeping time at a St. Louis house of ill repute each night that week, and Huggins had had enough.

Ruth lashed out at his manager in the press the following day. “If Huggins is manager, I am through with the Yankees. I will not play for him. Either he quits or I quit.”

“Huggins is making me the ‘goat’ for the rotten showing of the team,” Ruth continued. “…he has been laying for a chance to get me and I gave it to him by staying out until 2:30 Saturday morning in St. Louis.As for the drinking charge, he’s all wrong…The truth of the matter is that Huggins is incompetent…last year he lost the pennant to Washington when we could have won by 15 games.”

However, after Yankees owner Colonel Ruppert backed his manager, Ruth had no choice but to swallow his words a few days later. “I made a fool of myself. I don’t know what made me talk about Huggins the way I did.” said Ruth.

In light of the Babe’s attack against his superior, the press and fans alike were forced to examine the blind adulation that was given sports stars and famous figures without compromise. In an editorial, the New York Times, for one, was pretty clear in their changing opinion of the once-untouchable Ruth:

“Ruth…is emerging in a less favorable light. The man…can hardly be viewed as an heroic figure in any argument. …The vitriolic remarks he was quoted as making…were the utterances of a man in a violent temper. Moreover, the Babe…had twice failed to follow orders in a game…and Ruth, in attempting to defend his impromptu tactics on the grounds of good baseball, made out a bad case for himself. The ring of authority and discipline is growing tighter around the playboy of baseball.

He returned to the lineup on September 7, but by that time, the Yankees were a dismal 54-72, still in the now-familiar 7th place, 27 1/2 games behind the Senators, and the season that could be called the Mess That Ruth Built (whether purposely or not) was for all intents and purposes, over.

Of course, Ruth and the Yankees rebounded splendidly, and the Yankees’ long-standing dominance of the American League would begin in earnest in 1926, with Ruth hitting 47 clouts for the AL Pennant winners, and then of course his long-standing record of 60 in 1927 for one of the best teams of all time, by which point his off-field exploits were likely again tolerated or outright ignored, and perhaps content of character again took a back seat to unbridled success. And maybe with good reason – the Yankees themselves would not have another losing season for another 40 years.


Lost in all the Ruth-induced drama of 1925 was the emergence of a young first baseman from nearby Columbia University who made his major league debut on June 1, the same day as the Babe’s first game of the season, pinch-hitting for Pee Wee Wanninger in the 8th inning, making it officially Game #1 of 2,130 straight for Lou Gehrig. And, like Ruth, Mr. Gehrig would also be the subject of a well-publicized illness of his own that would dramatically play out in the press many years later. Unlike Ruth, however, Gehrig’s struggle would be seen in a somewhat more empathetic, albeit tragic, light.

A Moment In Time – 8/16/25

Sunday, August 16, 1925, Griffith Stadium Washington, DC. A young Lou Gehrig, in his first full season, barrels into home in the 4th inning to score from third on a safety (or suicide?) squeeze off the bat of Benny Bengough, to plate the Yankees’ second run of the afternoon to go up 2-0, as P Vean Gregg’s throw is wide to C Hank Severeid. Umpire Dick Nallin looks on. Gehrig had led off the inning with a double, and was sacrificed to third. Yankees would go on to win the contest by a 3-2 score, with Larrupin’ Lou going 4-5 with a double and HR, only the second 4-hit game of his illustrious career, to raise his average to .322 for the year.

The Senators, not the Yankees, were flying high in 1925, being the reigning World Champions with the Series victory of 1924, and Washington was again in the middle of a successful campaign, although the loss above would drop the Senators 2 full games behind the league leading A’s. Washington would eventually overtake Philadelphia and win their second AL crown in a row, but lose to the Pirates in the 1925 World Series. The Yankees were deep into the second division at this point, but their dominance of the American League would begin in 1926 (thanks in no small part to the emergence of Gehrig), and the Senators wouldn’t get back to the Fall Classic until 1933 (and lost again, never to win another pennant or championship).

NYT article from the game, below. Gehrig was still so young that they still referred to him as “Columbia Lou” or the “Columbia savant” (as in Columbia Univerisity in upper Manhattan, just a quick subway ride to the Bronx and the new Yankee Stadium). Either way, he was already a star.

Vean Gregg, the pitcher who allowed the run above, was referred to as the “Old Man” and “ancient southpaw” with good reason. A rookie with the Cleveland Naps in 1911 (with teammates such as Joe Jackson, Nap Lajoie and 44-year old Cy Young), and a key hurler for the 1915 and 1916 Champion Red Sox, he had recurring arm trouble and was out of the game by 1919. Years later, when his farm fell on hard times, he returned to baseball in 1922 in the Pacific Coast League, culminating an impressive comeback by eventually returning to the majors in 1925 with the Senators, at the age of 40, certainly ancient for a ballplayer in those days. Alas, his comeback would be short-lived – appearing in 26 games for Washington, August 16 above would be his last home game, and after 4 more road appearances, was returned to the minors, never to return to the big show – but he was probably one of the few MLB pitchers that pitched to both a young Ty Cobb and a young Lou Gehrig.

C Hank Severeid was an MVP candidate for the St. Louis Browns in 1924, but was relegated to part-time status and then traded to the Nats in 1925, making the postseason for the first time. He would end his career, ironically, as a reserve catcher for the Yankees in 1926, winning his second AL pennant in a row, and when their starting catcher Pat Collins went down, caught all 7 games against the Cardinals in the 1926 World Series. In the final at bat of his career, in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, he doubled in a run in the 6th inning to pull the Yanks to within 3-2, but the scoring would end there, thanks to Grover Cleveland Alexander’s celebrated relief appearance later in the game (came in to strike out Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the 7th, and got the save when Babe Ruth inexplicably tried to steal second with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th), and the Yanks would lose the game and the series, and Severeid never got a World Series ring.

And as for Dick Nallin, he was only one of two umpires in MLB history to be behind the plate for two no-hitters in the same month (in 1917), and was also the home plate umpire for Ty Cobb’s last game in 1928.

Griffith Glory

Just a quick post to show off these glorious color fan photos from the 1956 All-Star Game in Griffith Stadium, Washington, DC. It’s all here – the classic dark green of the stands, the beautiful National Bohemian beer ad so prominent in the old park, the striking colors of the uniforms, especially the backs of the National Leaguers (a lot of Reds present with their sleeveless unis, and especially Ted Kluszewski, with no undershirt at all – also a lot of Yankees lined up along the other side), all the pomp and circumstance, and lastly what would have to be Duke Snider batting in the 7th or 8th inning, with the White Sox’ Sherm Lollar catching, and ol’ Casey looking on from the dugout. So pop open a cold “Natty Boh” and enjoy, and don’t forget to click the photos for larger versions. Box score link at bottom.


http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1956/B07100ALS1956.htm

Big Train, In Vain

One of the interesting discoveries in delving into the smaller details of the classic baseball era, is how many times personalities seem to intersect with one another, even indirectly, sort of filling in the gaps in the unique tapestry of the sport. A player goes down, allowing another to rise, or an owner or sponsor otherwise upsets the best laid plans by putting their foot down or pushing through a pet project of theirs, and changing history in the process.

One such instance that few people know about occurred in 1939. Fresh off doing football games while attending Alabama in the ’30’s, a young man by the name of Melvin Israel auditioned for CBS while on vacation in New York in 1937, and was hired to do a variety of work with the station, eventually doing color commentary for the 1938 World Series (although not exclusive to a single network in those days, a plum job nonetheless).

Mel broadcasting for CBS in 1938

Meanwhile, Wheaties, who sponsored the Washington Senators’ broadcasts, were in the market for a new announcer, as Arch McDonald was in the process of moving to New York to call both Yankees’ and Giants’ home games for the 1939 campaign, and they were confident that this young Crimson Tide up-and-comer would be a perfect fit for them. Unfortunately, Senators’ owner Clark Griffith had other ideas – with the Senators being largely “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League” for many years, Griffith thought he had a plan to stir fans’ interests.

Walter Johnson with Calvin Coolidge at Griffith Stadium in 1925

Walter Johnson, “The Big Train”, was the best pitcher in the franchise’s existence, and had been out of baseball since managing the Cleveland Indians in 1935. In addition, although part of the initial 1936 class, he was slated to be officially inducted into the newly dedicated Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown that summer, so why not? Surely he would be a more popular choice than some young guy virtually no one knew about.

Original HOF induction of the first 4 classes, 1939 (Johnson top right)

And it did work for a while. Johnson again became the most popular Senator, with fans at Griffith Stadium marveling at hearing their old hero’s voice through the PA system (he was also the park’s announcer), and both home and away ballparks clamoring for his autograph over any other.

Johnson behind the mike for WJSV in 1939

Arch McDonald with Johnson, before McDonald’s full-time move to New York

Unfortunately, while Johnson was a natural on the mound, he was much less so behind the microphone. His delivery was slow, stilted and largely indifferent, especially over the course of another long season in the second division. Also, he was not possessed with what one would call a classic broadcaster’s voice – high, thin, nasal and ordinary, it belied his stature as one of the game’s giant figures. What is possibly the only radio broadcast of Johnson’s work to exist, is linked below – starting at 1:45 until after the 44 minute mark, than again for the last 12 minutes or so. A fascinating document, including sounds from the fans, vendors, etc., but it sounds like Walter would rather be anywhere else than at the park that day.

September 21, 1939, Senators vs Indians at Griffith Stadium

After the 1939 season was over, Johnson was ready for greener pastures, although his lack of oratory skill would follow – in an unsuccessful run for Congress in the 1940’s, he was known for  his lack of experience as a public speaker, and would often read the wrong speeches to the wrong constituents, etc. Sadly, 1939 was his last direct involvement with baseball – he died in 1946 of a brain tumor at age 59.

And what became of young Melvin? Well he of course was the legendary broadcaster Mel Allen, who ended up being paired with Arch McDonald in New York in June of 1939 after McDonald’s partner, Garnett Marks, was fired after mispronouncing on multiple occasions a key sponsor over the air, extolling the virtues of “Ovary Soap” to millions of New York baseball fans. And what of McDonald? Well, his broadcasting style was considered too homespun for the New York listeners (Allen’s Alabama twang would not fully emerge for a few years, when I suppose New York, having gotten used to Red Barber, was just fine with it), and he returned to Washington in 1940 (remaining there well into the ’50’s), as Mr. Allen moved into the Yankees’ play-by-play seat, stayed there for almost 25 years, and became a legend in the process.

So, if not for the insistence of one Clark Griffith to hire his old buddy Walter way back when, Mel Allen may very well have become the “Voice of the Washington Senators”! How about that!