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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Yankee Stadium Yogi

Returning to my blog after a long absence, but I’ll keep it short and sweet – on this day of memorials to the great Yogi Berra, a few rare photos of him at Yankee Stadium in the 1950’s, from various sources. Above, Yogi dons the tools of ignorance before a game against the White Sox in 1956.

 

 

Opening weekend, April 1956, either Saturday the 21th or Sunday the 22nd, Ted Williams steps to the plate in a pinch-hitting appearance. Yogi knocked in 5 over that weekend as the Yankees swept the series from the Red Sox to go to 5-1 on the short season.

 

 

Wednesday, June 6, 1956. Yanks beat the K.C. A’s 10-5 to improve to an MLB best 30-17, as Yogi goes 2-4 with a 2B and HR. Losing pitcher for the Athletics? Tommy Lasorda, who would only have 7 more appearances that season to close out his short playing career.

 

 

Friday, May 2, 1958, Moose Skowron looks on as Yogi catches a foul pop to help secure a CG 4-hitter for Bob Turley over the A’s, 8-1, as the Yankees improve to an MLB best 10-4.

 

 

Saturday, October 4, 1958, World Series Game 3, Don Larsen and on-deck batter Red Schoendienst watch Yogi gun out the Milwaukee Braves’ Bill Bruton on a bunt attempt for the first play of the game. Yankees would shut out Milwaukee 4-0 to get their first win in the Series, and would go on to win the crown in 7 games.

 

 

Nice shot of Yogi and Roy Campanella in action.

 

 
Yogi Berra Day, Saturday, September 19, 1959:




Yogi went 0-4 but caught Whitey Ford’s CG 4-hitter against the Red Sox. Likely unwillingly, Yogi would have more time to relax in that lounge chair that October, as it was a rare season in the Bronx with the Bombers missing the postseason for only the fourth time in his Yankee career.

That’s it for now, but to borrow from a classic Yogi-ism, thanks Yogi, for making this all necessary.

Hal Smith: Bucs Bridesmaid, World Series Hero

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What a moment! Roberto Clemente and Dick Groat celebrate as the Pirates’ Hal Smith hits an unbelievably clutch 2-strike, 2-out, 3-run blast off the Yankees’ Jim Coates in the bottom of the 8th inning of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, to put the Bucs up 9-7, and to put them only 3 outs away from their third championship. Certainly the biggest HR in the history of venerable Forbes Field, and for the Pittsburgh franchise for that matter, and Hal Smith went down as one of the biggest Pirate heroes of all time, and it is often cited as one of the most memorable performances in a World Series. Or at least that’s the way it should have played out.

Hal Smith was signed by the Yankees as a catching prospect in 1949, and while he was a pretty fair hitter for a few years in the minors (albeit with limited power), someone named Berra was to be behind the plate for the Bombers for quite a while, so Smith was eventually packaging up in a staggering 10 player-for 7-player trade with the Orioles. The trade turned out to be a shrewd one for New York, acquiring two very good pitchers, Bob Turley, who would be a strong starter for the Yanks and eventually win the Cy Young in 1958, and another gentleman by the name of Don Larsen.

halsmith55_zps75fb32eaHal would eventually get his big league chance with the Orioles, as their starting catcher in 1955, and had a fair season, batting .271, but with little pop, and also unfortunately led the league with 14 passed balls. With the emergence of slugging catcher Gus Triandos, Smith was relegated to part-time status for most of 1956, until he was sent to Kansas City in August, swapped for the left-handed hitting catcher Joe Ginsberg.

Hal returned to the starting catcher role in 1957 and batted .303, with new found power, hitting a career-high 13 home runes, but the passed balls got him again, leading the league with 16 this time, so his future was as a utility man, splitting time between C, 1B and 3B for the Athletics in 1958, and 1959. And then, as luck would have it, he was traded to the Pirates for the 1960 season.

The Pirates were already set at starting catcher, with lefty Smoky Burgess coming over from Cincinnati and having a strong 1959 season, batting .297 and making the All-Star team, and would go on to have very good years for Pittsburgh well into the 1960’s. But for 1960, the Pirates would looking to upgrade in the backup catcher’s spot, and Smith, who could play other positions as well (although he only caught on the field in 1960), got the nod.

halsmith60_zps18b6486fAnd this time, he flourished as a backup, hitting .295 with 11 HRs and 45 RBIs in only 77 games, and even cut his passed balls down a bit. Also, his appearances were not based on a strict lefty-righty platoon, but mostly to give Burgess breaks along the way, and Smith performed equally well against both left-handed and right-handed pitching. And as the Pirates marched to the NL pennant, Hal Smith was one of the “steady performers” that made the 1960 NL pennant drive a “solid team victory” (NYT).

In the World Series, with the Yankees going with two right-handed pitchers in the first two games at Forbes Field, lefty Burgess would catch both games, but with lefty Whitey Ford going in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, Smith got the start. Unfortunately, Hal would go 0-3 as the Yanks drubbed Vinegar Bend Mizell and the Pirates, 10-0. With two more rightys going in Games 4 and 5, Smith was back for Game 6, again against Ford, again a Yankee laugher, but Hal managed two hits off Whitey.

Game 7 saw rightly Bob Turley take the mound for the Yanks, so Smith started the game on the bench. Burgess was having a good game, and led off the bottom of the 7th inning with his second hit of the contest. But Smoky being slow afoot allowed fate to intervene for the first time, and with the Pirates down by a run, the catcher was pulled for a pinchrunner. The Pirates didn’t score in the frame, and when Smith took over the catching duties as the Yankees tallied two more in the top of the 8th to go up 7-4, it looked bleak for the locals. But fate was not nearly done this October day in Pittsburgh, PA.

In the bottom of the 8th, Gino Cimoli, pinch-hitting for Elroy Face, led off with a single. Bill Virdon then hit the perfect double play ball to Tony Kubek at short, but as many of us know, the ball hit the most intrusive pebble in MLB history, and smacked Kubek in the throat, and there was no play. As Kubek left the game due to injury, Yankee pitcher Bobby Shantz was rattled, and instead of going for the third out of the inning with the bases cleared, allowed a single to Dick Groat with two men on and still no one out, to score the first run of the inning, and he was done.

Enter Jim Coates. Coates was a very good young hurler for the Yanks, and had a stellar year in 1960 as a spot starter, going 13-3 and being selected as an All-Star. Coates had appeared in two games in the Series already, and was less than stellar; after Art Ditmar got knocked out in the 1st inning of Game 1 at Forbes, Coates came in to put out the fire, and did for a while – until a fellow by the name of Mazeroski hit a 2-run shot off him in the 4th inning to give the Pirates a healthy lead that they would not relinquish. He fared better in Game 4, pitching the final two innings at Yankee Stadium and only allowing 1 hit, but the Yankees could not muster anything off of Elroy Face, who allowed no hits after coming in in the 7th, and the Yankees lost 3-2. Speaking of fate, had the Yanks pushed across a run or two against Face in this pivotal Game 4, the Bombers could’ve went up 3 games to 1 in the Series, and may never have had to even return to Pittsburgh to win the Series. But, such is fate.

Coates again had a chance to be a hero, but had his work cut out for him. With the score now 7-5 Bob Skinner sacrificed the runners to second and third, but now there was one away. He then got Rocky Nelson to fly to Roger Maris in medium right field, and Bill Virdon had to hold third as Maris fired a perfect no-bounce throw to Johnny Blanchard at the plate. Two out. Again, fate would lend a hand.

Roberto Clemente was up next, and it looked like Coates gave him a pretty good pitch – with Clemente almost bailing out, he hit a slow dribbler to the right side, and with no one getting to the first base bag soon enough, Clemente was safe at first, and another run had scored, making it 7-6. Coates has been blamed throughout history for failing to cover first on this play, but as one can see (below), Coates did made a quick jaunt to first – it appeared no one would have been able to catch the speedy Clemente in that footrace.


First and third, still two outs. Up stepped Hal Smith. While he had some pop this year, he was .222 in the Series, with only a pair of singles. Although Ralph Terry was warmed up, he had started and lost Game 4 (all hands on deck for Game 7), and the Yankees felt Coates had a good of a chance as any to get the Yanks out of the inning with the lead.

But on a 2-2 count, what happened should have been a highlight that any baseball fan would have committed to memory all these years, and maybe even had known Mel Allen’s call word for word:


As Terry then did come in, and got Don Hoak on a fly to left, all that was needed for the Pirates was to retire the Yanks in the 9th, and the Bucs even had an insurance run in their pocket thanks to Hal’s homer. Bob Friend, the Pirates’ All-Star ace, with a stellar return to form for the 1960 regular season with 18 victories, and a red hot September, with 3 complete games and winning 4 out of 5 decisions, was called upon to finish the game and secure the crown for the locals. Unfortunately, Manager Danny Murtaugh may not have checked the stat sheet before calling on Friend – he had had an absolutely awful Series, losing Game 2 after lasting only 4 innings, then being positively tattooed in Game 6 (just the day before), allowing 5 runs in 2+ innings.

After Friend let the first two Yankees on with singles, and lefty Maris was coming up, Friend was done for 1960 and Harvey Haddix came in, in a tough spot. He got Maris to foul out, but when Mickey Mantle dunked one into short right, and Yogi Berra grounded a slow roller to first, the game was tied 9-9, and Smith’s heroics were quickly buried into the narrative of the game, instead of being its ultimate moment.

Of course, Ralph Terry, who came in the 8th, would have an even worse day than Friend and Coates, as he took the mound in the bottom of the 9th – and on his second pitch of the inning became part of the memory of Mazeroski’s historic blast over a drifting Yogi Berra to win the 1960 World Series, to the same spot where Hal Smith’s shot went. And Mazeroski became the hometown hero, complete with a nice statue, and a place in the MLB Hall Of Fame. And Hal Smith was largely forgotten, except to a few diehards in the Steel City.

But then fate intervened again.

In late 2009, in Bing Crosby’s old wine cellar in Hillsborough, CA, while an archivist was looking for footage of old holiday specials, he stumbled upon two dusty film canisters marked “1960 World Series”. And with that, the video of this long lost 7th game was available for the first time since it’s original TV broadcast, and legions of baseball fans and scholars could again revisit this classic contest, culminating in an exclusive screening of the game in Pittsburgh in November 2010, with many participants in attendance, including 79-year old Hal Smith himself. And as USA Today reported it, when his homer flashed on the screen, Hal Smith was given a standing ovation, not only from the fans in attendance, but from his fellow teammates as well, a gesture that brought Hal to near tears. And as fate would have it, Bill Mazeroski could not attend due to a short illness, so Smith, in effect, had the spotlight pretty much all to himself, at least for that day.

Catcher Hal Smith, Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate Game 7 heroics 50 years later

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So, as Mel Allen said on TV that day in 1960, Hal Smith’s home run will be “one of the most dramatic base hits in the history of the World Series…that base hit will long be remembered”. After a 50-year hiatus, and with a late-inning save from Der Bingle, I trust Mel was right, after all.

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

Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks, #7 – Yankee Stadium

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.

Seventh in the series, none other than the House That Ruth Built, Yankee Stadium itself. And as it remains today, much of the talk of the Yankees and their stadium is directly related to obscene amounts of money. Little else to complain about, especially with the “new construction this summer”; “the announcing was done by an inarticulate little man with a small megaphone…now they have a public address system”. Bob Sheppard was still decades away.

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Ruth in 1925; a gut-punch to the Yankees

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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).

ruth25aa.JPGThe 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!).

babe-ruth-hospitalizedThe 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.

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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.

ruth25cBy 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.

ruth25dWhen 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 Yankee first baseman from nearby Columbia University who finally came north with the club, and on June 1, the same day as the Babe’s first game of the season, pinch-hit for Pee Wee Wanninger in the 8th inning, and never came out – it was officially Game #1 of 2,130 straight for Lou Gehrig (box score below). 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.

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Pastime Portraiture, #2

Another in a series of great baseball portraits that almost no one knows. Mantle, Yankee Stadium, May 14, 1955. He went 2-4 against the Tigers that day, including a triple, and a single with 2 outs in the 9th to continue the game-winning rally as the Yanks scored 3 in the final frame to win it, 7-6, Mantle scoring the winning run. Just a day’s work for the consummate modern-day Yankee slugger.

This was the shot used on the June 18, 1956 Sports Illustrated cover, but with restrained color. Here’s the photo in it’s pre-magazine-processed glory; be sure to click through for a somewhat larger version.

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

Hy Peskin Collection – Baseball