A Moment In Time – 5/21/55

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Saturday, May 21, 1955, the Phillies are in town and it’s also Ladies Day at Ebbets Field. Bottom of the fifth inning, bases loaded, Brooks already up 3-1, Duke Snider up with a 3-1 count, and here’s good old Jackie Robinson – running the wrong way? Turns out he’s just trying to get back to third base after straying too far off the bag, from maybe a ball in the dirt, perhaps a missed squeeze, or was Jackie trying to steal home? Third base coach Billy Herman and Jim “Junior” Gilliam on second watch intently as Phillies third-sacker Willie Jones corrals the throw. Peanuts Lowrey is the distant Phillies’ right fielder.

Brooklyn was certainly going the right way in the early days of the 1955 campaign – they crashed out of the gate with 10 straight wins, and after dropping 2 of 3 to the Giants at home, reeled off 11 more to improve to 22-2 and go up 9 1/2 games on New York by May 10. In fact, the Dodgers were on a rare losing streak going into this game, having dropped 4 straight before this contest.

“Junior” Gilliam patrolling second base made sense – he took over the defensive position from Jackie Robinson in 1953 (after they moved Jackie to third to save his knees), and did well, leading the Dodgers in runs scored, the NL in triples, and claimed the NL Rookie Of The Year honors. Gilliam would be the Dodgers’ supersub for many years, even well after they moved to Los Angeles. Junior would have an off year in 1955 (.249), but he did bat .292 in the World Series as Brooklyn took their only crown. He would become a player-coach in 1964, a full-time coach in 1967, and would be one of the longest holdovers from Brooklyn, being a Dodger for over 25 years and most of his life; he would die of a cerebral hemorrhage late in the 1978 season at the age of 49.

An even better second baseman is standing along the coaching lines at third – Billy Herman was a 10-time All Star and a good wartime Dodger (1941-1946), batting .330 in 1943. He would be traded to the Boston Braves and then the Pirates, both in 1946, and  became the Pirates manager in 1947. After a subpar campaign, he resigned on the last day of the season, managed in the minor leagues for a while, and returned to the Dodgers as a coach in 1952, through the rest of their tenure in Brooklyn. He would later become the manager of the Red Sox in the 1960’s. Although he had a lengthy baseball career as a player, coach and manager, his only championship ring would come this season, with the 1955 Dodgers. He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 1975.

Willie (Puddin’ Head) Jones was the man for the job at third base that day – he was the Phillies’ third sacker throughout the 1950’s, and considered one of the best defensive third basemen of that decade. He had his best years in the 1950-1951 (including the 1950 Whiz Kids pennant winners), and was an All Star in those two seasons, but the lowly Phils wouldn’t return to the postseason for decades afterward. He also happens to be third on the Phillies’ all-time grand slam list (with 6), behind only Mike Schmidt and Ryan Howard. He also died in middle age, at 58 in 1983.

And our man Peanuts Lowery way out there in right was in his last major league season. The diminutive outfielder/third baseman/pinch hitter (who was briefly in the Our Gang comedies while growing up in Los Angeles in the 1920’s) would start only 6 more games before retiring at season’s end, and would eventually be a long time coach as well.

s-l500Jackie would rebound somewhat in ’56, but age and the onset of diabetes (a family trait) had depleted his once-great skills, and after he was traded to the New York Giants after the season, he announced his retirement from the game, which he had already planned to do after 1956. Sadly, he also died young, in 1972 at the age of 53, but clearly his legacy will always live on, as known to anyone taking the time to read this blog.

But back in a warm Saturday in May, to a gentleman and his lady (with a free ticket) sitting in two snug Ebbets Field seats in Brooklyn, NY, the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson were still the Boys Of Summer, and the Bums were going to live forever. Jackie did get back safely, and scored the 4th Dodger run as Snider also walked. Brooklyn would score 3 in the frame and win the game, 6-4, as Don Newcombe improved to 6-0 (in his first 20 win season) and the Dodgers would find themselves 6 1/2 games in first at the end of the day, with the majors’ best record at 26-8. And the Dodgers would go on to reach the pinnacle of Major League Baseball that fall, but like Jackie above, Brooklyn baseball had only a few stolen moments left.

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Pastime Portraiture, #4

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Richie Ashburn, Spring Training, March 1956. One word: color.

Ashburn would have another good year for the Phillies in 1956, batting .303, and would be the Fightins’ Iron Horse for the next few years, leading the lead in plate appearances in 1956, 1957 and 1958, and would only miss 8 games through the 1960 campaign.  He probably had his best year in 1958, leading the league in average (.350), hits, triples, walks, OBP and plate appearances. And of course, he was a lovable 1962 Met to round out his career. He was elected to the HOF by the Veteran’s Committee in 1995.

Yet another great Hy Peskin shot, check out his site and buy a classic photo or two:

Hy Peskin Collection – Baseball

Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks, #6 – Shibe Park

In 1937, Ed Burns, a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, penned a series of articles on every major league park at the time (15 articles in all, of 16 parks for 16 teams; the Cardinals and Browns shared Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, while the Indians played in both League Park and Cleveland Municipal Stadium that year, with one article for both), which were also published in the Sporting News that year.

A very interesting series, especially from the perspective of 1937, and the hand-drawn diagrams of interesting plays and quirks of each park are wonderful. I’ll post them in order of when they were originally published, and one at a time to make things interesting. Click the Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks category link to the right to see all the articles together.

Sixth in the series is Shibe Park, home to the Philadelphia Athletics. The Phillies were still up the street in smaller Baker Bowl, but since the late Mr. Shibe added accommodations for their Brotherly Love brethren  (including the then vacant “Phillyless Philly Clubhouse”, see and read below), they gave up on the old park and moved into beautiful Shibe for good in 1938. Although it looks like a “warehouse or brewery” from the outside, it’s hard to beat the best grass in the majors!

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Both parks together – Baker Bowl top, Shibe bottom. Pretty good looking brewery, lol. Click photo for much larger version.

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A Moment In Time – 9/17/32 (first in a series)

Often I come across old baseball photographs and try to find the story behind them, how the teams were playing, how important the game was, whether the players were rookies up for a cup of coffee or seasoned veterans. Sometimes it takes a little forensic work, sometimes the drama is evident. Either way, as I uncover these old gems, I’ll call each of them “A Moment In Time”, fleeting images captured long ago, and now, not forgotten.

First one needs nothing to build up the drama – this was back in the day when photographers used to group around home plate (would be unheard of today) to capture close-ups of batters, or in this case, an exciting play at home. This is one of the most dramatic early home plate action shots that I have seen, and a good way to kick off the series.

The setting is the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, Saturday, September 17, 1932 (almost exactly 80 years ago), first game of a doubleheader. Dick Bartell of the hometown Phillies is attempting an inside-the-park home run, baring down on eventual Hall Of Fame Chicago Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett. The entire crowd is rising in anticipation of the play, and the Cubs are watching from the first base dugout (Phillies were on the third base side until 1934). Bartell was gunned down on the play, and awarded a triple. Be sure to click on the image to link to a very large version of the photo.

Phillies won the game 9-2, but the Cubs took the nightcap, 5-1, putting them up 6 1/2 games in the National League, and they would go on to clinch the 1932 NL Pennant the next Tuesday, at home at Wrigley Field against the Pirates. Phillies would finish in 4th place. Cubs were eventually swept by the Yankees in the 1932 World Series, and still haven’t won one since 1908.

Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks, #2 – Baker Bowl

In 1937, Ed Burns, a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, penned a series of articles on every major league park at the time (15 articles in all, of 16 parks for 16 teams; the Cardinals and Browns shared Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, while the Indians played in both League Park and Cleveland Municipal Stadium that year, with one article for both), which were also published in the Sporting News that year.

A very interesting series, especially from the perspective of 1937, and the hand-drawn diagrams of interesting plays and quirks of each park are wonderful. I’ll post them in order of when they were originally published, and one at a time to make things interesting. Click the Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks category link to the right to see all the articles together.

Second in the series, the old Baker Bowl in Philly, one of two parks in Philadelphia in those days, home of the Phillies (the A’s played in nearby Shibe Park, soon to be Connie Mack Stadium), and was actually officially known as National League Park. A less than flattering review below, which must have rang true, as the Phillies abandoned the Baker Bowl midway through the following season (1938), to join their city brothers in larger, newer Shibe.

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