A Moment In Time – 7/27/58

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Rocky Colavito of the Cleveland Indians “lets out a howl” (as the Sporting News put it) as he crosses home plate after crashing a grand slam in the bottom of the 6th inning off the Yankees ace (and eventual ’58 Cy Young winner) Bob Turley, putting the Tribe up 6-0 in the second game of a doubleheader at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, en route to a sweep of the defending AL champs, one of the highlights of an otherwise mediocre season on the shores of Lake Erie. Congratulating him are L-R Mickey Vernon, Russ Nixon with the handshake and Minnie Miñoso, who all scored on the blast, as pinch-hitter Bill Hunter (#7) steps up to bat next. While 1958 offered little promise at this point, could something be stirring for a Tribe insurgence in the years to come?

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1958 Topps card

While the Indians were flying high through the 1950’s, finishing at or near the top of the league for most of the decade, culminating in the 1954 AL pennant, 1957 saw a return to the second division, and more of the same in 1958, resulting in new manager Bobby Bragan being fired before the All-Star break. But things were looking up for Cleveland, as the 24-year-old Colavito was emerging as a superstar, with a stellar ’58 campaign that resulted in 41 home runs (1 behind HR champ Mickey Mantle) and leading the league with a .620 slugging percentage, finishing third in AL MVP voting (ironically, just behind Bob Turley).

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Colavito on the cover of Time, August 1959

And he continued his success in 1959, clouting 42 HRs (including 4 in 4 ABs in a row in Baltimore June 10, below), good enough to tie Harmon Killebrew for the AL crown, and was voted to his first All-Star game, as the Indians returned to the higher reaches of the American League, finishing only 5 games behind the destined Go-Go (White) Sox for the pennant.

Led by their young slugger, the 1960’s looked like high times for the Indians. But Cleveland’s GM Frank Lane had other ideas.

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Indians’ GM Frank Lane

While Lane had built a reputation by bringing the moribund White Sox from pretenders in the 40’s to contenders in the ’50’s, his was also an aggressive approach, averaging over 35 trades per season while with Chicago. And no star was safe; after joining the front office of St Louis after leaving the White Sox in 1955, he attempted to trade the Cardinals’ perennial superstar Stan Musial to the Philadelphia Phillies for Robin Roberts (an interesting trade in theory to say the least), but was quickly halted by Cards’ owner August Busch once it became public.

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Colavito with Detroit

Lane always favored consistent hitters over streaky sluggers, and while Colavito had had a great year, his late season slump (.207 in September) didn’t sit well with the GM, and despite his folk hero status in Cleveland, was dealt to Detroit in April 1960 for Harvey Kuenn, who won the AL batting crown in ’59. Tribe fans were irate, some swearing never to return to the ballpark, and to make matters worse, Kuenn was nagged by injuries that year; while having a fine season, his batting average fell over 40 points, and he was traded again at season’s end as the Indians stumbled to a mediocre finish under .500, 21 games behind the Yankees.

Colavito had some All-Star seasons with Detroit but was often derided for his inconsistency, even being benched on occasion. He did have an outstanding 1961 campaign with 45 HRs and 140 RBIs, both career highs, and helped the Tigers to 101 wins, although falling short (again) to the Yankees. He was strong but streaky in 1962, and after his power numbers fell further in 1963 and the Tigers tumbled to the second division, he was dealt to the Kansas City A’s in ’64. He finally returned “home” to Cleveland in 1965, having two All-Star seasons, but now on the tail end of his career.

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1958 Topps card

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1958 rookie card

As for the rest of the receiving party at home plate in 1958, unlike the HR hitter of honor, their times with the Indians were somewhat fleeting and nondescript. Mickey Vernon, at 40 years old, was enjoying his last starting season in the majors, playing 1B and hitting at a .293 clip, good for his last All-Star appearance. By 1960 he wound up as a 1B coach for the Pirates, being activated at year’s end for a few at-bats, and earning himself a WS ring.

Russ Nixon, a young catcher up from the Indian’s farm system in 1957, had his best year in 1958, catching 101 games for Cleveland and batting .301. He would be somewhat less consistent after that, catching part-time for primarily Boston until retiring in 1968, then on to a managing career in the 1980’s.

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Minnie Minoso and Billy Martin celebrate with Colavito after he hit 4 HRs in 4 consecutive at-bats at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, June 10, 1959

And lastly, Minnie Miñoso, who needs no introduction, came up in 1949 with the Cleveland Indians, becoming the first black Cuban player in the major leagues; but with the Tribe’s crowded outfield he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in early 1951, becoming their first black player overall, and socking his first pitch with the Pale Hose for a 2-run HR at Comiskey Park off the Yankees’ Vic Raschi. After many All-Star seasons he returned to the Indians for 1958-1959, missing out on the 1959 White Sox pennant (but coming up 5 games short, above), again returning to the South Side as his career wound down, becoming a legend in Chicago, and a statue in his honor stands at the White Sox’s park (whatever it is named at this time) today. Miñoso, at age 40, also had the interesting honor of playing the final baseball game at the Polo Grounds, the first (and last) Hispanic-American All-Star Game, October 12, 1963 (the NL stars beating the AL stars 5-2, with 14,235 on hand).

But there was one person in that moment who meant a great deal to the city and its fans, and leaves one to lament for what might have been for the Cleveland ball club as they moved into the 1960’s. Could the Tribe have quelled the Yankees’ dominance of that era with their own Bronx-born warrior Colavito leading the way? Hard to say, but I’ll defer to what Indians’ fans would confidently declare back in the late 50’s –  “Don’t Knock The Rock.”

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A Moment In Time – 6/14/32

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Navin Field, Detroit, Tuesday, June 14, 1932, Jimmie Foxx crosses the plate in the top of the 5th inning after hitting his first of two HRs on the day, a 3 run blast off Vic Sorrell with fellow future HOFers Al Simmons and Mickey Cochrane on base, and the A’s were out to an early 5-0 lead on the Tigers as dejected catcher Ray Hayworth looks on. The umpire is Roy Van Graflan.

Jimmie Foxx, of course, needs no introduction – almost midway through a prolific Hall Of Fame career, Foxx would probably have his best offensive season in 1932, at 58(a career high, just short of Ruth)/169/.364, also leading the league in slugging (no surprise), runs, and total bases. He garnered AL MVP honors, and by today’s rules (3.1 PA x team games played) he would have also had the AL Triple Crown, but Dale Alexander of Boston hit .367 in 454 plate appearances, and was recognized as the batting champ. Foxx would get the Triple Crown in earnest in 1933. Foxx already had two rings with the A’s in 1929 and 1930, but would never win another, nor even appear in another post-season, moving on to the Red Sox, Cubs and Phillies in his career.

Ray Hayworth was the starting backstop for the Tigers in 1932 and 1933, and a defensive specialist – at the game above, he was in the midst of an AL record for most consecutive chances by a catcher without an error at 439 (100 games), from 9/3/21 to 8/29/32 (a record later broken by Yogi Berra).

hayworth1Interestingly enough, the streak would end against the A’s (although at Shibe Park), and dubiously at that – as Jimmie Foxx was at bat, a dropped third strike allowing Foxx to Reach and Al Simmons to score. Today, that would be considered either a passed ball or a wild pitch, not an error, and a contemporary box score of the game does not show an error for Hayworth. Ultimately, it probably wouldn’t have secured the record for Ray – Yogi was able to reach 148 errorless games in 1959, and the current record is an astounding 253 games by Cleveland’s Mike Redmond, set in 2010.

Unfortunately, Hayworth didn’t have the power the Tigers were looking for to stay a regular, and when Detroit traded for Mickey Cochrane after the 1933 campaign, he was relegated to a backup role; but with Cochrane’s help, he made it to the World Series the next two seasons, winning his only ring in 1935, although he did not see any action in the ’35 classic.

BaseballBookVanGraflan9Umpire Roy Van Graflan had a bit of notoriety of his own – he was an AL umpire from 1927-1933, and participated in two World Series, one in 1932, and happened to be behind the plate when Babe Ruth had his “called shot”. Despite much controversy regarding this part of baseball lore, Van Graflan recalled, “Ruth looked over to the heckling Cubs bench and said, “Let him put this one over and I’ll knock it over the wall out there.”

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The A’s eventually took the Tigers 10-5 on that Tuesday in June of 1932. The win would put the second place A’s 2.5 games up on the third place Tigers, but no one was catching the Yankees that year.

Ray Hayworth had an interesting footnote to his years as a Tiger – in his rookie season he played alongside Ty Cobb in his final campaign. This bit of serendipity, and his eventual longevity, would result in an honor that he could not possibly have envisioned happening way back in 1932 – he was chosen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the final game at Tiger Stadium, on September 27, 1999, at 95 years of age, in effect representing virtually an entire century of Tigers baseball.

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Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks, #9 – Navin Field

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.

Ninth in the series, Navin Field, which would become Briggs Stadium (the new owner who just remodeled it as noted below, and who would eventually name it after himself in 1938) and eventually, good old Tiger Stadium. The expansion in 1936 resulted in the “only two-deck bleacher in the majors”, which would soon enough not be called bleachers at all, but simply a 2-tier deck in the outfield. And more importantly, a correction from Mr. Burns: Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis was not the only park of the day to have “luscious broiled hot dogs” instead of “soaked” ones – this newfangled broiled treat was also cheerfully served at Navin Field. And finally, in a bit of sad irony, Navin Field was considered the “best located park in the majors, from the viewpoint of proximity to the central business district”; unfortunately, the location of the park was considered less desirable decades later.

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A Moment In Time – 6/27/59

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Saturday, June 27, 1959, Briggs Stadium, Detroit. Orioles in town for the third game of a four game set. Tiger C Red Wilson awaits the pitch as SS Rocky Bridges waits on deck. Gus Triandos is the O’s catcher.

T2eC16FHJGkE9no8f0HgBP-qw6GyQ60_35A part-time catcher, Red made the most of his start this day, going 3-for-3 with a HR and 3 RBIs, raising his average to a season high .333, but would eventually tail off and ended the season at .263. He came close to .300 the previous year, finishing at .299, but would never have a .300 season. And the HR was a rare feat – he only hit 4 that year, and 24 in his 10 year career. His biggest claim to fame may be catching Jim Bunning’s first career no-hitter in 1958 against the Red Sox (Bunning’s second and last would be the 1964 perfect game at Shea Stadium against the Mets on Father’s Day).

Wilson, 30 years old in 1959, was at the tail end of his career, and was traded to the Indians in July of the following season, along with none other than Rocky Bridges, his teammate on deck above (both were traded for C Hank Foiles, who only lasted a half season in Detroit and was then shipped off to the Orioles). Red was then selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft for 1961, but instead chose to retire from baseball. He still lives in his hometown of Milwaukee, where he was a star football player for the Wisconsin Badgers (he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1950, but chose baseball instead).

65028Rocky Bridges, 1-4 that day, was also nearing the end of a fairly long career. He had his best year with the Senators in the previous campaign, earning his only career All-Star appearance. He had a fine year in 1959 for the Tigers, but was befelled by injury in 1960 and would only play 10 games for Detroit until being shipped off to Cleveland with Wilson, above. He then only played 10 games for the Indians and was dealt to the Cardinals, played 3 games and was then released after the season. Another parallel to Wilson is that the Angels also came calling for Bridges, but as a free agent – and unlike Wilson, Bridges took them up on their offer, making Los Angeles the 7th team of his career.

Rocky had a fair season for the expansion club in his typical utility infielder role, and then retired, becoming an Angels coach and then minor-league manager in their organization, as well as others, and would actually manage over 2,600 minor league games through 1989. In fact, the early beginnings of Rocky’s managerial career was the subject of an SI article in 1964, which was eventually included in Jim Bouton’s book of baseball essays under the same name, “I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad”.

65014Gus Triandos (who went 1-2 and came out in the 7th inning) was probably the most successful of our spotlighted trio, being a 3-time All-Star catcher for the Orioles (including in this 1959 season). And like Red Wilson, was in the right place at the right time for another first-time no-hitter, this time catching the first and only one thrown by Hoyt Wilhelm, also in 1958 – and it still remains the last no-hitter thrown by one pitcher against the Yankees to this day, over 50 years later. Triandos also had some pop – after a career peak of 30 HRs in ’58 (which tied Yogi Berra’s AL record for HRs by a catcher), Gus was off to the races in 1959, having 18 HRs by late June (above), and may have had a spring in his step before or definitely after the game pictured – the ballot results were announced the very same day, June 27th, and Gus was voted in for the second year in a row as the starting catcher in the (what would be the first of two in 1959) All-Star Game. However, a hand injury would slow his bat, he finished with only 25 HRs and a meek .216 average at season’s end, and would never fully regain his slugging prowess.

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Gus would rebound somewhat in ’60 and ’61, but with his power primarily behind him, he was traded to the Tigers in 1963. After a fine season, he was involved in what probably turned out to be one of the best trades the Phillies ever made, Triandos and Jim Bunning for slugger Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton (Demeter would have two decent seasons for the Tigers, but Hamilton would be a complete bust as Bunning went on to dominate the NL). And how about the kicker to tie this all together? The traded twosome were the battery for Bunning’s perfect game at Shea noted above – so Red Wilson caught Bunning’s first, and Triandos, Bunning’s second, and last, “no-hitter”. And with that, Gus also became the first player to catch no-hitters in both leagues. By 1965, however, he had mostly lost his hitting stroke, and after being traded to the Astros mid-year, retired at the end of the season.

But back in Briggs/Tiger Stadium on a beautiful, sunny, early summer Saturday afternoon (oddly enough before only 10,856 fans), Red Wilson’s 3-for-3 helped pace the Tigers to a 12-2 thrashing of the Birds of Baltimore. A 25-year old Al Kaline would hit one out. Tiger Gus Zernial would hit two more. Billy Hoeft, the Oriole pitcher who got knocked out of the box in the third inning, was just traded from Detroit to Baltimore, and maybe the Tiger batters knew the weaknesses of their old teammate. And at day’s end, the Tiger faithful went home happy, Detroit creeped back over .500 at 36-35, only 3 games behind the Indians, the Orioles held steady only 1 game back, and the rest of the last summer of 1950’s baseball had yet to be played; perfect games, long managerial careers and even hometown retirements would have to wait.

Radio Broadcast – 9/20/34, Yankees vs Tigers, Navin Field

As part of my ongoing efforts to bring classic baseball moments to the masses, lol, I have been creating videos of classic radio broadcasts and uploading them to YouTube, with this one the granddaddy of them all. I will continue to post more as time permits, so watch this space!

From the YT page details:

The oldest (virtually) complete radio broadcast of a regular season baseball game known to exist. September 20, 1934, Yankess vs Tigers at Navin Field (Briggs/Tiger Stadium) in Detroit, Ty Tyson the announcer. Great old time radio. Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti in the lineup for the Bombers, and Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane for the Bengals. Babe Ruth was in the ballpark, but unfortunately did not play due to injury. This was during the Tigers’ ’30’s heyday, on their way to the AL pennant.

Tyson includes many colorful ad spots along the way, a teletype machine can be heard through much of the broadcast, and Tyson even doubles as the PA announcer, but only for pitching changes and pinch hitters, which was likely the norm in those days. Just hearing the game as it slowly unfolded almost 80 years ago is a treasure (by the way, the YouTube thumbnail below is of course taken at Yankee Stadium, but was a cool shot of four of the biggest stars at this game, so I incorporated it into the video for fun). Enjoy.

(caution: clicking any time links below will jump you directly to the YT page)

7:57 – Comments on the Babe taking BP and sitting out
10:29 – Gehrig’s 1st AB (popout) – Lazzeri bats after Gehrig all game
18:30 – Gehringer 1st AB (flyout)
19:27 – Greenberg 1st AB (K) (bats after Gehringer all game)
36:06 – Gehrig’s 2nd AB (bases-loaded 2-run single, knocks Marberry out of the box – then Tyson uses the PA to announce the relief pitcher Hamlin into the game)
51:00 – Greenberg’s 2nd AB (groundout)
1:01:27 – Gehrig’s 3rd and final at bat (groundout)
1:11:50 – Greenberg’s 3rd AB (single)
1:44:09 – Greenberg’s 4th and final at bat (fielder’s choice, wild play, NYY CF Chapman thrown out of game, Tyson over PA announces his replacement)

Final score, Yankees 11, Tigers 7

NYY 2 0 6 0 0 0 1 2 0 – 11 17 4
DET 1 0 0 0 2 0 3 0 1 – 7 14 4

Retrosheet Box Score and Play-By-Play:http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1934/B09200DET1934.htm

Dizzy Bean

Dizzy Dean is known today as the outstanding Cardinals pitcher from the 30’s, but also became popular due to his unique, homespun personality. He really didn’t rise to fame until the 1934 season, where he won 30 games for the NL champs – but in using his “head” in the 1934 World Series, he became a baseball folk hero for all time.

 

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Even most casual baseball fans have heard of the supposed headline after St. Louis Cardinals ace Dizzy Dean got hit on the head by a thrown ball in Game 4 of the 1934 World Series, in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis – “X-Rays Of His Head Revealed Nothing”. Most sources state it came from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the next day, while there seems to be nothing to indicate that that is so. Also, a recent published post about Dean by the Post-Dispatch alluded to another paper entirely, and not their own. In any event, it’s part of the legend of the story, which has grown a little hazy with time, especially due to the fact that there is very little in the way of photographs of the incident that exist, or at least are not readily available. The one above, which appears to be the closest shot known, seemed to be the only one publicly available, until recently.

 

Here now are a few AP press shots that have recently been found (click photos for slightly larger versions):

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Fascinating to see the incident from this angle. And how did he get beaned all the way out there you ask? Well, Dean (somewhat foolishly, in hindsight) was put in as a pinch runner, and stormed into second to break up a double play, and he did alright – the shortshop’s toss to first plunked him right in the noggin. New York Times articles on the incident, including Manager Frisch took a lot of heat for putting Dean in:

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In any event, they did score the tying run on that play, and Dizzy was able to recover enough to pitch Game 5 – but was he 100%? Turns out he lost that game, putting the Cardinals down 3-2 in the series going to Detroit, but with his brother Daffy (Paul) Dean able to hold off the Tigers in Game 6, Dizzy stormed back in Game 7 and twirled a complete game shutout to win the championship for St Louis. As one paper noted, it was “A Dizzy spell in Detroit”, and he made of the Tigers “a fine animal rug for the Dean homestead.”

Dizzy would not return to the World Series until 1938 with the Cubs, by then hampered by injury, and the Cardinals themselves wouldn’t return until the 1940’s – but the “Gashouse Gang” of the 1934 World Series, along with Dizzy Dean, will always have a unique place in the annals of baseball lore.