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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Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks, #11 (and #11a) – Cleveland Municipal Stadium and League 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.

Eleventh in the series, and a bonus 2 for 1 here. The Indians were in the midst of a slow transition to cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium, where they had been playing some games since 1932, but the large size of the park coupled with the lingering Great Depression and lower attendance, kept the Tribe playing in smaller League Park as well. The cozier park had its charms, but according to Burns boasted “the silliest dimensions in the American League” and a “joke right field wall”, also noted in the drawn diagram as well. In fact, Burns even argued that League Park put the Indians at a disadvantage, as the locals tried to perfect the “ladle” of a batted ball over the short right field wall, which also resulted in easy pop flies on the road and made the team “all mixed up”. So, it only made sense that the Indians would eventually move full-time to the “best ball park in America”, and its symmetrical layout is also highly praised here; but, while Cleveland Municipal was a fine stadium in its own right, I’d guess that Burns and his cohorts spent little time in the park during blustery April contests.

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Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks, #10 – Comiskey 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.

Tenth in the series, Comiskey Park, or “greater Comiskey”, as Burns puts it. The South Side stadium contains “14 acres, the largest playing field devoted to baseball in the United States”, but through a loophole, as the larger Cleveland Stadium tract was also used for other purposes. And the windows (actually a telltale trademark of old Comiskey) “make (the) concrete stands breezy”. Lastly, don’t let anyone tell you this used to be a dump – just a truck garden. And although they reaped one WS crown in 1917 (and should’ve had another in 1919), they wouldn’t have another in the old park – but they did harvest an AL pennant in 1959.

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A Moment In Time – 7/5/37

5863547576_01f3412a56_oTurning back the clock to National League baseball in Boston, Monday, July 5, 1937, Braves Field (or the Bee Hive). NY Giants the visitors, second game of a doubleheader, bottom of the 7th inning, and Boston Bee RF Gene Moore, decked out in yellow (cap, “B” on chest and socks), is congratulated by 2B Tony Cuccinello after blasting a 2-run HR off the first pitch from Giant reliever Hal Schumacher (who just entered the game) as C Harry Danning looks on. All would have career highs and lows, and all would be affected by a war, both positively and negatively, that didn’t really seem possible in 1937.

The NL Boston franchise was a little over a year into the “Bees” experiment (1936-1940), done to shake things up a bit for the underachieving franchise. Personally, I think it would have been interesting for this moniker to follow the club through their various relocations – Milwaukee Bees, even the Atlanta Bees – how about a queen bee buzzing around instead of Chief Noc-A-Homa? Food for thought. Anyway…

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Moore in 1937

In 1937, Gene Moore himself had plenty to smile about, it seems. Interesting moniker aside, the Bees gave Gene Moore the chance he was hoping for. After slogging along as either a late season callup or early season failed experiment with the Reds and Cardinals for a few years, he played a full season for Boston upon his arrival in 1936, hitting .290 in 151 games. He would then go on to have his best season in 1937 as the Bees’ starting RF, along with the best numbers of his career overall (16 Hr, 70 RBI, .283 Avg), and making his only All Star appearance, which in fact would be right after the game above, the last before the break.

At the All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 7 at Griffith Stadium, he would have the only All-Star AB of his career, pinch-hitting for the pitcher in the 8th inning, hitting into a force play as the third out and quickly retreating back to the dugout, and as it would turn out, largely back into the ranks of the average ballplayer.

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Moore with the 1944 Browns

The 1938 campaign started well enough, but a severe leg injury in Cincinnati in July ended his season, and he was traded to Brooklyn in the offseason. 1939 was worse, as he started the season 0-for-23, and didn’t get over .200 until June and ended up at .225, with only 3 HRs. With his power now largely gone and largely a platoon player, he was traded back to Boston, then to Washington, and finally to the lowly Browns, where he would have one more shining moment – in a war-depleted league he would be a key contributor to their surprising pennant-winning drive in 1944, and was their starting RF in the 1944 World Series. While he hit well in the first 3 games, he went 0-for-10 in the last 3, as the Browns dropped those 3 to lose the Series to the Cardinals in 6 games. He had another decent year in 1945, but after the season, with the war finally ended and young able-bodied ballplayers returning from overseas, he retired at the age of 35, never to return to baseball in any capacity. The war had giveth, and the war had taken away.

Inaugural All-Star Cuccinello in 1933

Tony Cuccinello would have a better taste of stardom. Discovered playing semi-pro ball in NYC, with both defensive and offensive prowess, he was signed to a minor league contract as a teenager, and once he caught the eye of Branch Rickey (then with the Cardinals), he quickly rose through the ranks, and the Reds eventually purchased him for the 1930 campaign. He would have superb years in 1930 and 1931, batting .312 and .315, and set the Reds 2B mark with 93 RBIs in 1931, not broken until Joe Morgan over 40 years later. After holding out for a better contract, he was shipped to Brooklyn in 1932, and although he dropped to .285, had another strong year with 77 RBIs , playing every Dodgers game that year at second base. For his efforts he was selected to the very first NL squad for the inaugural All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in 1933, and Cuccinello just made it in, batting for Carl Hubbell with 2 outs in the top of the 9th and striking out to end it, the AL taking it 4-2. And like Moore, he would exit stage right from the bright spotlight for a time.

Cuccinello in 1939

He had more fine years for Brooklyn, but after a career low 102 games in 1935, was shipped off to Boston, where he was again an everyday 2B, and he responded with a .308 season with 86 RBIs, helping the then Braves to rebound from their historically dismal .248 mark in 1935. He would continue to start at 2B for Boston throughout the late ’30’s, helping Boston to their only winning season in the decade (1937, above), and making one last trip to the All-Star game at Crosley Field in 1938; unfortunately, this time, he did not make an appearance.

Unfortunately, also like Moore, the injury bug would hit, this time in 1939, a runner’s slide ruining his knee in the middle of another fine season. After the knee was slow to heal in 1940, he was shipped to the Giants, and frustrated, retired to manage the IL Jersey City Giants in 1941. But he would reach for the stars one more time as well, and again, WWII’s depletion of able ballplayers would again play a part.

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Cuccinello in 1945

Set to manage Jersey City again in 1942, Casey Stengel, now with the Braves, came calling for Tony as a player/coach. He was used primarily as a coach and pinch-hitter through mid-1943, when he was released to sign with the White Sox desperately short of players in the war years. A reserve infielder for Chicago, he was to retire after 1944, but the Southsiders asked him to re-up for one more season.

And what a season – Cuccinello said he felt the best he had in years, and exploded out of the gate, going 8-for-21 in April, eventually batting over .400 in May. While at age 37, he couldn’t keep up that torrid pace, and couldn’t play every day, he kept his league-leading average throughout the year, along the way earning himself one final All-Star selection (albeit through the AP and Sporting News), but he didn’t have a game appearance here either, as the actual 1945 game was cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions. Undaunted, he entered the final day of the season neck and neck in the batting race with Snuffy Stirnweiss of the Yankees, Tony at .308, Snuffy at .306. Alas, it was not to be, for as the rains came to wash out a White Sox doubleheader, 45battingraceStirnweiss went 3-5 in the Bronx against the Red Sox to win what remains the closest batting race in MLB history, .30854 to .30845, helped in no small part to the Yanks’ official scorer, who reversed an error call after the game had ended, and after the White Sox’s double rainout was confirmed.

But, as with Moore, with young men returning from war to enter the baseball ranks, the near-batting champ was no longer needed, and Cuccinello retired after the season. He did go on to be a long-time coach in the majors, achieving more success than that as a player, with AL pennants in Cleveland in 1954, Chicago in 1959, and the ultimate prize, a World Series ring as a Detroit in 1968, whereupon he retired for good.

Danning in the 1930’s

Harry Danning had the brightest of all the careers here – primarily due to his stellar defense, the catcher spent his entire career with the Giants, first as a reserve catcher (above) behind Gus Mancuso (since coming up for good in 1933), but when the All-Star catcher broke his finger just a few days after the All-Star break in 1937 (about a week after the photo above), Danning impressed so much that the two shared catching duties for the rest of the season, as the Giants won their second pennant in a row. Danning would also replace Mancuso (who had gone hitless in the first two games) in the 1937 World Series, and played the rest of the way, batting .250 with 2 RBIs, although the Giants again fell to the Yankees. Danning then moved to a full time role in 1938, and would become a legitimate All-Star in his own right, batting over .300 from 1938-1940, was even in the Top 10 in MVP voting in 1939 and 1940, and was elected to the NL All-Star roster for 4 years running, although his power numbers slipped precipitously in 1941. Although his average improved, his power continued to decline in 1942, although he was still the Giants’ primary catcher at 30.

Danning with Red Ruffing and the 6th Ferrying Group in 1944

With 1943, Danning put aside his Giant cleats and joined the Army to help in the war effort. As luck would have it, he was stationed in Long Beach, CA, as part of the Army Air Force 6th Ferrying Group, and would continue to play baseball during the war. However, whether he would be playing for New York or Uncle Sam, his knees started to wear from years of catching; he was advised to retire from playing baseball at all in spring 1945, and would not return to the Giants or dreams of any future glory.

But way back in 1937, no one was thinking of war on a sunny July day in Boston. Moore’s clout would put the Bees up 8-6, the eventual final score. Boston would take that nightcap to split the day, and push the Giants 2 games back of the Cubs. Boston would finish at a respectable .520, their best record as Bees, and best season until the mid-1940’s, but the Giants and Danning would take the aforementioned pennant that year, the only crown for all three.

And all three had their moments in the sun, some sunnier than others, and all had lives greatly affected and altered by World War II, just like in all other walks of life in America. And all, in various ways, did contribute to the war effort, albeit on the “front lines” at home.

Pastime Portraiture, #5

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Nellie Fox, Yankee Stadium, June 19, 1955.

The Pale Hose would drop a doubleheader to the Yanks that day, with 2B Fox going 3-8 with a double. The perennial All-Star had a good year in ’55, playing every game, leading the league in AB’s and finishing 7th in AL MVP voting, but the Sox would finish third behind the Yankees. Fox would finally win the MVP with the pennant-winning Go-Go Sox of 1959. He died young, of skin cancer, in 1975. He was elected into the HOF by the Veterans Committee in 1997.

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

Hy Peskin Collection – Baseball

A Moment In Time – 7/28/25

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soxsens1Back 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.

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Walter Johnson warming at Forbes Field prior to 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.

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Ray Schalk

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.

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Johnny Mostil

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.

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Muddy Ruel

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.

Veeck – as in wrecked?

I’ve already had an earlier post about the crazy genius Bill Veeck in this blog’s youth, and I expect to have a few more. This was probably one of his better promotions, which seemed to get a little crazier as he got older.

Veeck made the Cleveland Indians a quick success after becoming owner of the club in 1946 (first AL black player, Larry Doby, in 1947, and a championship in 1948), but it would be short-lived; after getting divorced in 1949, he had to sell the Tribe to fund the settlement, but wouldn’t stay on the sidelines for long.

Veeck remarried in 1951, and then promptly purchased 80% ownership in the St. Louis Browns. The Browns would be a tough test for the budding marketing whiz, as the Cardinals shared the same park, and were far more popular. His first moves were to hire legendary Cardinals Rogers Hornsby (as manager) and Dizzy Dean (as an announcer), although Veeck fired Hornsby by June.

Thinking of more ideas to get fans into the ballpark, Veeck held a “Drink On The House” Night at Sportsman’s, July 1951. In a press photo below, Veeck is seen himself passing out free brews to the surprised Browns’ faithful. Somehow, I can’t imagine Fred Wilpon coming down the aisle at Citi Field to hand me a free Brooklyn Lager any time soon.

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It was actually a good way to get the word out about one of the local beer sponsors, Falstaff, St. Louis’ own. Below, a Falstaff beer ad with ol’ Diz.

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Either way, it seems to have worked out better than future Veeck promotions, which grew increasingly unusual. Only a month later was the famous Eddie Gaedel game, in which Veeck used the services of a “little person” to go up for an at-bat for the Browns (he walked).

Unfortunately, Veeck’s grandstanding would have little effect, and he himself would be largely responsible for the demise of the St. Louis Browns. When beer giant Anheuser-Busch purchased the Cardinals in 1952, with endless resources, Veeck knew the writing was on the wall, and looked to bidders to move the franchise. Milwaukee was the first choice, but the Boston Braves beat them to it, so the next choice was Baltimore – and Veeck planned on remaining majority owner, but the other owners were not very keen on it, and voted him down, so he sold the team anyway, and the Orioles were born.

Landis ShortsVeeck would go on to bring success to the Chicago White Sox (during two tenures), but also more unusual ideas, both good and bad, including introducing the famous exploding scoreboard in Comiskey Park and putting players’ names on their uniforms for the first time, both in 1960, and later the infamous “shorts” uniform from the 1970’s, the beginning of Harry Caray (then White Sox announcer) singing Take Me Out To The Ball Game, and last but not least, Disco Demolition Night in 1979, in which disco records were blown up on the field, and resulted in a near riot and the forfeit of the second game of a doubleheader by the White Sox.

Veeck finally sold the White Sox in 1981 and retired from baseball, passing away in 1986. He is responsible for many of the craziest things that have happened on a baseball field, and I’d have to admit, baseball history would be a lot less interesting without him.