Monday, December 31, 2012

Rule-Bending Moundsmen

No one knows who invented the spitball, (multiple individuals have been credited) but one thing is for certain: Pitchers have been trying to gain any edge over batters since the game's early days. Though 19th century rules prevented players from defacing baseballs, penalties for doing so were weak and regulations were very rarely enforced by umpires. In the first two decades of American League play, those restrictions were ignored or forgotten altogether.

Jack Chesbro of the New York Highlanders was among the first to gain success by doctoring the baseball, winning 41 games in 1904. Ed Walsh of the White Sox used "the wet one" to fashion the lowest career ERA of all-time at 1.82. By 1910, pitchers were using any means necessary to deface the ball with mud and tobacco being the most commonly employed methods.

With pitchers enjoying a number of unfair advantages, managers voted to partially ban the spitball in the winter of 1919-'20. After the tragic Ray Chapman incident of 1920 (in which the Indians' shortstop was struck in the head and killed by a Carl Mays offering), the pitch was universally outlawed with the exception of a handful of hurlers who were allowed to throw it under a grandfather clause.

Moundsmen continued to tamper with balls anyway, employing various deceptive techniques. In 1942, Leo Durocher fined Bobo Newsom for throwing spitballs and lying to him about it. During his prime years of the 1950s, Whitey Ford was known to cut or scuff balls to get them to break more dramatically. Gaylord Perry, who arrived on the scene during the 1960s, used the spitter to assemble a Hall of Fame career. He proclaimed his innocence until 1974, when his autobiography was published.

Since most pitchers prefer to outwit batters by more conventional means, the act of doctoring the ball has remained a relatively rare occurrence. Even so, there was an inexplicable rash of scuffing incidents as recently as 1987. On August 3rd of that year, Minnesota's Joe Neikro got caught with a nail file on the mound and was thrown out of a game against the Angels. AL President Bobby Brown rejected the argument that he was innocently filing his nails on the bench and suspended the hurler for ten days. A week later, Philadlephia's Kevin Gross was ejected in the fifth inning of a game against the Cubs when sandpaper was discovered inside his mitt. He too was suspended for ten days and his glove was impounded by league officials.

Sporadic incidents have occurred into the 21st century, the most infamous being the controversial "Smudge-gate" fiasco during the 2006 World Series, in which Tigers hurler Kenny Rogers was accused of applying a foreign substance to balls during a 23-inning scoreless postseason stretch. As long as there are rules, there will always be rule-benders. For certain, we haven't heard the last of baseball's deceptive ball doctors.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Gee Walker: The Running Man

Outfielder Gee Walker began his career with the Tigers in 1931. He would remain in the Motor City through the '37 campaign, topping the .300 mark five times in that span. This included a career-best average of .353 in 1936. The Mississippi-native had good speed, swiping 223 bags in fifteen seasons, but developed a reputation for being impulsive and inattentive on the base paths. In fact, there were times when Walker seemed unable to control himself.

Not only was he thrown out trying to steal during an intentional walk one afternoon, but on June 30, 1934, he got picked off twice in the same inning. After Hank Greenberg singled, Walker reached base on an error. Edging too far off the bag, he got hung up when the opposing catcher made a snap throw to first. Greenberg attempted to bail him out by bolting for third, but ended up being thrown out. Walker moved to second on the play and, less than a minute later, got caught off base again. Detroit Manager Mickey Cochrane was furious, suspending Walker for ten days and fining him $20. This failed to curb Walker's impetuous ways.

Hall of Famer Luke Appling remembered Walker’s exploits that season vividly, sharing the following incident with a Chicago Daily News reporter: “We were in Detroit one day. It seemed that (player/Manager) Mickey Cochrane had just informed the erratic base running Walker that the next time he got caught it would cost him $50. Halfway through the game, Gee was footloose again. There was a peg to second base and Walker knew he was a goner. ‘Drop it!’ he yelled at the Sox infielder. ‘Drop it and I’ll give you twenty five bucks!’”

Despite hitting at an even-.300 clip in '34, Walker was limited to just 98 games during the regular season. When the Tigers claimed the AL pennant and moved on to the World Series against the Cardinals, Cochrane used the reckless outfielder exclusively a pinch-hitter. Even in a diminished role, Walker managed to get himself into trouble. After delivering a game-tying single in the ninth inning of Game 2, he was picked off by pitcher Bill Walker (no relation) while engaged in a shouting match with St. Louis bench jockeys. He would make just one more appearance in the remaining five games.

Traded to the White Sox in 1938, Walker finished his career with the Reds in 1945. According to a 1976 Baseball Digest article, he suffered from severe arthritis during the latter part of his career.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Controversial Batting Titles (Concluded)

In 1950, the National League finally caught up with the junior circuit, adopting a 2.6 at-bat per game requirement for the batting title (which was equivalent to 400 at-bats). This rule persisted until 1957, when a 3.1 plate appearance per-game rule was installed. That rule has remained in place to the present day. Currently, if the player with the highest average in the league fails to meet the minimum plate appearance requirement (502), the difference is made up by adding hitless at-bats to his totals. If the player still leads the league with a recalculated average, he is declared the winner. This happened to Bill Madlock in 1981 and Tony Gwynn in 1996. While the present regulations have discouraged part-timers from copping cheap batting crowns, controversy has continued to rear its ugly head.

In 1976, George Brett trailed teammate Hal McRae by a slender margin entering the last day of the season (.33073 to .33078). McRae and Brett both started the game 2-for-3. In the ninth inning, Brett hit a fly to left field which might have been catchable had Twins outfielder Steve Brye kept digging for it. Instead, Brye stopped short and allowed the ball to drop roughly ten feet in front of him. It bounced over his head for an inside-the-park homer. McRae then grounded out. Irritated with this turn of events, he insinuated that Twins manager Gene Mauch was a racist who had told his players to lay up so Brett could claim the batting title. Brett may have fueled the fire when he offered the following quote after the game: "I think maybe the Twins made me a present of the batting championship and if they did, I feel just as bad about it as Hal does." Mauch denied McRae's claim, stating that he would "never do anything to harm the integrity of baseball."

In 2011, another prickly situation arose when Jose Reyes became the first Mets player to win a bating title. After leading off with a bunt single in the last game of the season, it appeared as if he held a secure lead over Ryan Braun of the Brewers. In the interest of maintaining that lead, Reyes allowed himself to be removed from the game. This drew a chorus of boos from the Citi Field crowd and some harsh reviews from certain press members, who referred to his actions as "classless" and "selfish." Reyes remained humbled by the honor nevertheless, commenting: "It means so much to my family and my country, the Dominican Republic."

Controversy marred the National League batting race in 2012 as well, when Giants slugger Melky Cabrera tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Before being slapped with a fifty-game suspension, Cabrera had been MVP of the All-Star Game. He remained the top contender for the batting crown at season's end with a .346 average in 501 plate appearances. Had the hitless at-bat rule been applied, he still would have captured the honor over teammate Buster Posey. But rather than invoke controversy, Cabrera did the right thing, voluntarily removing himself from contention. "I personally have no wish to win an award that would widely be seen as tainted," he said in an official statement made through his agent. You have to give him his props for that at least.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the batting races in 2013.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Controversial Batting Crowns (Part II)

Prior to the 1920 campaign, rules required that players appear in just 100 games to qualify for the annual batting title. This led to some pretty interesting results.

In 1926, Cincinnati backstop Bubbles Hargrave captured the crown with a .353 average. This placed him 3 percentage points above the runner-up, outfielder (and teammate) Cuckoo Christensen. Third in line for the honor that year was catcher Earl Smith of the Pirates, who posted a .346 mark.  None of the named players logged more than 385 plate appearances, prompting many to argue that the NL title should go to rookie outfielder (and future Hall of Famer) Paul Waner, who had hit .336 in 144 games.

A similar situation arose in 1932, when infielder Dale Alexander compiled a .367 average with the Tigers and Red Sox. A notoriously ham-fisted first baseman, Alexander had languished on the Detroit bench until a June trade sent him to Boston. In the cozy confines of Fenway, his bat caught fire as he hit at a .372 clip the rest of the way. Despite making just 103 defensive appearances and logging a paltry total of 392 official at-bats, he wrestled a triple crown away from slugger Jimmie Foxx, who had a monster year with 58 homers, 169 RBI and a .369 average. Needless to say, this made quite a few people unhappy.

In 1936, the American League attempted to discourage a repeat of the '32 fiasco by changing the requirement to 400 at-bats. The National League lagged behind and consequently suffered another round of controversy in 1940, when outfielder/ third baseman Debs Garms of Pittsburgh snatched the crown with a .355 mark in 103 games--many as a pinch-hitter. Since neither of his closest competitors (Ernie Lombardi and Johnny Cooney) had recorded more than 376 at-bats,  numerous writers complained that the batting championship should be awarded to Stan Hack, who finished fourth with a .317 mark in 694 plate appearances.

Though the rules would change more than once over the next several decades, controversy emerged nevertheless. I'll conclude this discussion in my next post.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Controversial Batting Crowns (Part I)

Some of baseball's most prestigious awards have been steeped in controversy over the years. The annual batting title has been a source of hot debate on numerous  occasions. The most infamous dispute occurred in 1910,when Napolean Lajoie (through no fault of his own) practically stole the honor from Ty Cobb.

Cobb was among the most universally despised figures in the game. Hazed mercilessly by teammates upon his arrival in the majors, he became angry and bitter, vowing to get even with all who dared oppose him."They were all against me," he said later in life, "but I beat the bastards and left them lying in a ditch." His ruthless style of play came back to bite him in 1910 when members of the St. Louis Browns plotted to rob him of a batting crown.

Believing he held a secure lead over Lajoie of Cleveland, Cobb sat out the last game of the season. Chalmers Automotive, a Detroit-based company, had offered a new car to the winner, making the  title especially appealing that year. With his team slated to face the Naps (later known as the Indians) at home, St. Louis manager Jack O'Connor saw an opportunity to get back at baseball's reigning schoolyard bully. He instructed rookie third baseman Red Corriden to play back near the edge of the outfield grass every time Lajoie came to bat. Taking advantage of this charitable gesture, Lajoie beat out several bunts, boosting his average considerably. Browns pitching coach Harry Howell reportedly attempted to bribe the official scorer into giving Lajoie an extra hit, but the offer was refused. It appeared to be of no consequence when newpapers prematurely declared Lajoie the batting champ by less than a percentage point over Cobb.

Smelling a rat, AL President Ban Johnson detained O'Connor and Corriden for questioning. Corriden was absolved, but Howell and O'Connor were blacklisted from the majors. When the Sporting News published the official seasonal averages, Cobb was declared the winner by a small margin. In a gesture of good faith, the Chalmers Company gave cars to both contenders. Lajoie later joked:"The automobile I got ran a lot better than the one they gave Ty."

...More about disputed batting titles in my next post.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ancient Proverbs and the World Series

According to the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, the old adage "history repeats itself" can be traced back to ancient times. The author obviously didn't live long enough to witness a World Series, but if he had, he would have been genuinely pleased with himself as scenes from the 1957 and 1969 Fall Classics played out in remarkably similar fashion.

In Game 4 of the '57 Series, Braves pinch-hitter Nippy Jones persuaded home plate umpire Augie Donatelli to award him first base on a pitch that was initially ruled a ball. Using his astute observational skills, Jones drew Donatelli's attention to a spot of shoe polish on the baseball and offered it as evidence that the pitch had nicked him in the foot. Donatelli was swayed by this appeal and promptly granted Jones a free pass. The call proved to be pivotal as Jones was promptly replaced with a pinch-runner. Trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the tenth, the Braves rallied for three runs to win the game over the Yankees, 7-5. They would eventually take the Series in seven games.

Mets manager Gil Hodges must have been well-versed in Series lore when he provoked a similar ruling in the '69 October showcase. It should come as no surprise to those who subscribe to the old proverb that the play in question involved another man named Jones. With the Orioles leading 3-0 in the sixth inning of Game 5, Mets outfielder Cleon Jones (no relation to Nippy) tried to avoid a pitch in the dirt from Baltimore's Dave McNally. Umpire Lou Dimuro signaled for a hit-by-pitch after Hodges advised him to inspect the ball, which clearly had a smudge of shoe polish on it. Perhaps rattled by the sequence of events, McNally gave up a 2-run homer to the next batter, Donn Clendenon. The Mets won the game, 5-3, claiming the first championship in franchise history.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Glamour of the Long Ball

Fans have long been captivated by tape measure homers--the game's most dramatic display of power and dominance. The fact that MLB's annual Home Run Derby has become nearly as popular as the All-Star Game that follows is a testament to the enduring allure of circuit blasts. Like a famous Nike commercial once said: "Chicks dig the long ball."

Some of the game's most epic homers are recounted here:

May 4, 1894:
At Union Park in Baltimore, Hall of Famer "Big Dan" Brouthers of the Orioles hit a line drive that cleared the fence in right center and rolled two blocks up the street. He would later be credited with a 500-foot homer, though it seems very likely (given the soft, misshapen balls of the era) that the distance was exaggerated.

June 8, 1926:
Babe Ruth launched a rocket to center field in Detroit that allegedly traveled more than 600 feet. Most historians agree that the ball sailed 500 feet in the air, but there is no definitive proof of the additional mileage. In 1921, it was alleged that Ruth hit 500-foot homers in all eight major league ballparks. Given the sizable number of reports on the topic, there is little reason to doubt this claim. In 1927, "The Bambino" is said to have cleared the 52-foot wide grandstand at Comiskey Park--a feat duplicated by Jimmie Foxx.

April 17, 1953:
Mickey Mantle propelled a ball past the left center field bleachers, nicking the National Bohemian Beer sign at Griffith Stadium in Washington. The shot was reported at 565 feet, but that was actually the spot where the ball was retrieved. This should in no way detract from Mantle's majestic display of strength since experts agree that his blast traveled about 510 feet in the air.

May 22, 1963:
Baseball's preeminent slugger was at it again as "The Mick" hit the facade of the right field roof at Yankee Stadium, roughly 370 feet from home plate and 115 feet above the field. Many witnesses reported that the ball was rising before the facade halted its progress, but that was actually an optical illusion. Initial 620-foot estimates are therefore very likely exaggerated. Mantle hit the Yankee Stadium facade two or three times, but never cleared it. He did clear the roof at Comiskey (as Ruth and Foxx did before him) on the fly in June of 1955. The ball reportedly landed on 34th Street and broke the windshield of a car.

July 13, 1971:
In the bottom of the third inning at the All-Star Game, Reggie Jackson (then with the A's) crushed a Dock Ellis pitch, sending the ball 380 feet in the air into a transformer located 100 feet above the field. Reliable estimates considering trajectory, time elapsed and atmospheric factors have placed the shot at roughly 532 feet.

July 6, 1974:
Dick Allen, a prodigious slugger who is rarely given enough credit for it, slammed a ball that collided with the roof facade in deep left center at Tiger Stadium. The ball was lifted 85 feet in the air and 415 feet from home plate. As was so often the case with these types of homers, witnesses claimed that the ball was still climbing when it hit the facade. It would have taken a demonstration of superhuman strength to produce this effect. Still, Allen's bomb traveled at least 500 feet.  

September 14, 1991:
Detroit's Cecil Fielder smashed a 502-foot drive at Milwaukee County Stadium that cleared the bleachers. Estimates of this shot are highly accurate.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wuthering Heights

A superficial glance through the Guiness Book of World Records should prove to anyone that some folks are willing to go to great lengths to carve a small niche in history. The game of baseball has witnessed some odd publicity stunts over the years. In 1894, Chicago Colts catcher Pops Schriver caught a ball dropped 555 feet from the top of the Washington Monument. Since then, the feat has been duplicated and ramped up several times.

To settle a bet, Washington Senators catcher Gabby Street attempted the same stunt in 1908. He missed in his first several tries then finally snared a ball to collect a wager of $500. Two years later, Bill Sullivan of the Chicago White Sox gained entry into the exclusive club, catching three baseballs in more than fifty attempts. He had passed on an offer to snag balls dropped from a low-flying airplane, commenting that he may as well try to catch a bullet. In 1915, Wilbert Robinson--fifty-two year-old manager of the Dodgers--agreed to turn the airplane trick after several of his players declined. At the last minute, however, a grapefruit was substituted. It allegedly hit Robinson in the chest and exploded, knocking him to the ground. Believing that he was covered in his own blood, the horrified Brooklyn skipper cried out for help as his players stood there howling with laughter (or so the story goes).

After the skyscaper boom of the 1920s/'30s, it was only a matter of time before someone upped the ante. In the interest of promoting civic growth, some Cleveland city officials arranged to have balls dropped from the Terminal Tower, which was at one time the tallest building between Chicago and New York at 708 feet. On August 20th, 1938, a crowd  of nearly ten thousand people turned out to see a platoon of major league catchers attempt a record catch. Assembled were Frankie Pytlak, Rollie Hemsley, Henry Helf, Wally Schang and Johnny Bassler. Indians rookie Ken Keltner climbed to the top of the tower and aimed for a circular target painted on the ground, which he later admitted he could barely see. Engineers estimated the speed of the baseballs to be around 138 miles per hour. Cleveland's third-stringer Helf was the first to make a catch. Three tries later, the Tribe's starting backstop (Pytlak) snagged one for himself. According to eyewitness accounts, missed balls bounced as high as six stories.

The following year, Joe Sprinz of the Pacific Coast League Seals couldn't leave well enough alone as he attempted to catch baseballs dropped from a blimp hovering 800 feet above Treasure Island in San Francisco. Sprinz's stunt was one of many offbeat attractions at the Golden Gate Exposition, which included an auto race track for monkeys. The blimp dumped four balls that missed the mark by a wide margin. On the fifth try, Sprinz got his glove in place but couldn't hang on as the force of the sphere severely fractured his jaw and knocked out several teeth. After that, players more or less stopped trying to raise the bar.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tall Tales From the Negro Leagues

Although the games frequently drew sizeable crowds, Negro League players received little attention from the mainstream press. Verbal accounts were often deliberately exaggerated with the subjects being elevated to superhuman status. No one doubts that Josh Gibson was one of the greatest power hitters of all-time. His Hall of Fame plaque states that he hit almost 800 home runs in his seventeen-year career. But due to the absence of reliable statistics, we will never know the exact number. We can assume the following fable never actually took place, though it makes for fascinating reading. The stocky catcher once hit a ball so hard that it allegedly disappeared from sight into the summer sky. In Philadelphia the next day, the ball dropped into the mitt of an opposing center fielder. The umpire pointed to Gibson and cried: "Yer Out! Yesterday, in Pittsburgh!"

A number of myths surround center fielder Cool Papa Bell, who was reputed to be the fastest man ever to step onto a diamond. In one account, he scored from second base on a sacrifice fly. In another, he came all the way around from first on a sac bunt. The tallest tale of all: Satchell Paige once alleged that Bell hit a line drive past his ear one day and, as Paige turned to track the flight of the ball, he saw it hit Bell in the buttocks as he was sliding into second base. Paige famously bragged that Bell was so fast you could turn out the lights and he'd be under the covers before the room got dark.

Paige himself is at the center of many imaginative fables--Some true and some open to debate. He had funny names for all of his pitches and was fond of pulling his teammates off the field to make it more dramatic when he struck out the side. In essence, he was a one man traveling sideshow. By his own estimation, he lost just two games over the course of his first two years of professional service. Enamored with his talents, Chattanooga Lookouts owner Sammy Nicklin allegedly offered Paige $500 to paint his face white so he could play in an exhibition against Chattanooga's arch rivals, the Atlanta Crackers. (There was a ban on blacks in the Southern Association as well as the majors at the time.) As the story goes, Paige seriously considered the offer before one of his coaches talked him out of it. It would be interesting to know what would have happened had he agreed to the crackpot scheme.

Effa Manley played numerous roles in her lifetime--owner, business manager, civic activist. The first woman elected to the Hall of Fame, she allegedly drove players to distraction with her disarming beauty. One Negro League yarn alleges that the bewitching Newark Eagles owner would sit in the stands and flash signs to her players by crossing and uncrossing her shapely legs. Enjoying the show a bit too much one day, Eagles infielder Willie Wells was allegedly knocked unconscious by a pitch from Bill Byrd of the Baltimore Elite Giants.

As previously stated, some of these stories may be factual. Others are obviously fluff. But one thing is for certain: The history of the Negro Leagues is just as rich in detail as that of the Majors (if not more so).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Nine Lives of Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings is remembered as one of the game's most lively characters--and one of the luckiest. A lifetime .312 hitter, he escaped debilitating injury and death on numerous occasions. His major league career began in 1891 with the Lousville Colonels of the American Association. He put up pedestrian numbers until a trade sent him to Baltimore at the end of the 1893 slate. It was there that his career really took off. Serving primarily as a shortstop, he led the Orioles to three NL pennants and was eventually named team captain. In 1896, he collected 121 RBI's without the benefit of a single homer--a highly unusual major league record.

Jennings would move onto a long and prosperous managerial career, guiding the Tigers to three straight AL championships beginning in 1907. He displayed a host of odd behaviors on the diamond. When his players were at bat, he would stand in the coaching box and needle opposing pitchers with an ongoing dialog punctuated by piercing shouts and whistles. A famous photo shows him standing on one leg with his fists in the air and his mouth agape. His nickname "EE-YAH!" is derived from the sound he would make when one of his players did something that pleased him. According to a 1910 article in Outing magazine, Jennings was fond of plucking large patches of turf and stuffing them into his mouth. "During the course of the season, he eats enough grass to stuff a mattress," wrote C.E. Van Loan. "He is a thorn in the side of all greenskeepers. Some of them say they are going to sprinkle Paris Green (a toxic insecticide) around the coaching lines to discourage Hughie's appetite."

Jennings' career was marred by critical injuries. He tempted the fates time and again by leaning into pitches. Between 1894 and 1898, he was beaned more than 200 times. He didn't always get off so easily as his skull was fractured on three separate occasions. In 1897, he was unconscious for four days after being hit by an offering from Giants ace Amos Rusie. His career continued nevertheless. In 1904, Jennings was seriously hurt again when he dove into Cornell University's pool after it had been drained of water. Players often reminded him of this whenever he scolded them for boneheaded plays.

The resilient Detroit pilot suffered yet another perilous mishap in 1911, when his car plummeted ten feet from a bridge over the Lehigh River. He narrowly escaped drowning and was left with two broken legs and a broken arm. A few years later, serious health problems began to surface. In 1925, he was afflicted with tuberculosis. The illness ended his baseball career, but he hung on until a bout of meningitis finally claimed his life at the age of fifty-eight. He was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Managerial Meltdown

There are few things more entertaining in baseball than watching a manager completely lose it. When I think of epic meltdowns, two names instantly come to mind: Earl Weaver and Billy Martin.

Weaver, Hall of Fame Orioles skipper, was tossed out more than ninety times during in his career (twice before games had even started). He became infamous not only for his profanity laden tirades but also for the tactic of turning his cap around backwards so he could get closer to umpires in the heat of battle without making physical contact.

Martin, fired five times by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, patented the act of kicking dirt on the shoes of men in blue. Ejected forty-six times as a manager, he occasionally bullied umps into changing their calls (as was the case in the notorious Pine Tar Game of 1983). "The day I become a good loser, I'm quitting baseball," he once said.

Volatile as these two men were, the award for most bizarre and amusing tantrum in history goes to a little known skipper by the name of Philip Wellman. Manager of the Double-A Mississippi Braves, Wellman let sanity fall by the wayside during a game in June of 2007. When his pitcher was ejected for allegedly applying a foreign substance to the ball, the veteran dugout boss temporarily took leave of his senses. After covering home plate with dirt and drawing an outline of a larger one in its place, he sauntered over to third base, uprooted the bag and launched it into the outfield. Not finished with his theatrics, he crawled on his hands and knees to the pitcher's mound, where he grabbed the rosin bag, pulled an imaginary pin with his teeth and tossed it like a grenade at the home plate umpire. Before exiting the game, he ejected the ump at third, moved second base into right center field then blew a kiss to the wildly cheering crowd. Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" blared on the PA system throughout.

To date, Wellman's one man Vaudeville act has drawn more than 600,000 views on YouTube.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Miracle of Motion Pictures

Shortly after Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech, movie producer Samuel Goldwyn purchased the rights to the story. The ultra-suave Gary Cooper was recruited to play the role of Gehrig, but his baseball skills were limited and adjustments had to be made. A natural righty, Cooper was too awkward to pull off a convincing facsimile of Gehrig’s powerful left-handed swing. Despite technical assistance from former NL batting champ Lefty O’Doul, the sequences had to be shot right-handed with Cooper instructed to run to third base when he hit the ball. The film was later “flopped” with the number on Cooper’s back reversed.
In an attempt to add some authenticity to the film, Babe Ruth was recruited to play himself on screen. Unfortunately, “The Sultan of Swat” didn’t have much swat left in him at the age of forty seven. With the Babe unable to generate the titanic blasts of his glory years, director Sam Wood called upon another former big league great, Babe Herman, who at thirty-nine was finishing up his career in the Pacific Coast League. Herman was also used as a stand-in for Cooper in faraway shots. Wood’s efforts paid off as The Pride of the Yankees was nominated for eleven Academy Awards.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Diamond Deaths (Concluded)

A question that sporadically appears on various baseball trivia sites is as follows: Has anyone ever died on a baseball field? I addressed the answer (to some extent) in two previous posts and will attempt to put the topic to rest in this installment.

Chapter One of my book Cellar Dwellers provides anecdotal evidence of an on-field death that occurred during a nineteenth century game between the University of St. Joseph and the Chatham Stars at New Brunswick. The Stars were leading 2-0 in the ninth when a St. Joseph's player named O'Hara (reputedly the team's weakest hitter) doubled to left. The next batter, a man named Robidoux, slammed a ball over the center fielder's head. As O'Hara was rounding third, he suddenly collapsed and died of unknown causes. Upon encountering his fallen teammate, Robidoux picked up the lifeless form and carried it with him to home plate. The umpire reportedly counted both runs.

In June of 1916, former major leaguer Johnny Dodge was struck and killed by a pitch from Nahsville's Tom "Shotgun" Rogers in a Southern Association game. Rogers would reach the majors the following year and hang around long enough to compile a 15-30 record for the Browns, A's and Yankees.

Long after Dodge's on-field demise, another horrific scene unfolded during an Evangeline League game in Alexandria, Louisiana. On June 16, 1951, twenty-one year-old Andy Strong of the Crowley Millers was killed after being hit by a bolt of lightning. The game had been delayed due to a thunderstorm and, when Strong took his center field post in the sixth inning, he was struck down.

In a 1974 Carolina League contest, eighteen year-old prospect Alfredo Edmead of the Salem Pirates made a diving catch in right field. As he did so, he collided with second baseman Pablo Cruz. Specifically, Edmead's head slammed into Cruz's knee. According to numerous sources, the force of the blow killed the aspiring outfielder. The unfortunate incident happened in 1974.

Twenty-two years later, umpire John McSherry collapsed and died on opening day in Cincinnati. He called just seven pitches at Riverfront Stadium before walking back toward the stands and collapsing. The fifty-one year-old arbiter never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead of a massive heart attack at University Hospital.

Yet another on-field tragedy occurred in 2007. During a Texas League game between the Tulsa Drillers and Wichita Wranglers, Tulsa's third base coach Mike Coolbaugh was hit by a line drive while standing in the coach's box. The thirty-five year-old Coolbaugh had played briefly for the Cardinals and Brewers. Sadly, he left behind a pregnant wife and two sons. His death brought about a rule requiring coaches to wear helmets on the field.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Brief Reign of "Super Joe" Charboneau

Joe Charboneau's road to the majors was wrought with peril. While waiting for the Indians' team bus outside a Mexico City hotel during spring training of 1980, he was stabbed by a crazed autograph seeker with a BIC pen. The implement sank deep enough to strike a rib. Teammates restrained the assailant until police arrived and the dazed rookie was taken to a Mexico City Hospital. Charboneau later described the conditions there as "awful" and commented: "The closest I ever want to get to that country again is a Mexican restaurant." His attacker was fined a meager fifty pesos for his actions and released.

Back in the states, Charboneau endeared himself to Cleveland fans with a fine debut performance, hitting .289 with 23 homers and 87 RBI's. He captured Rookie of the Year honors on the strength of those numbers. Charboneau had some highly unusual talents off the diamond as he was known to open beer bottles with his eye sockets then drink the contents with a straw through his nose. He was also fond of dyeing his hair garish colors. Always good for a quote, he remarked of the incident in Mexico City: "I'm going to get a commercial with the BIC people. I can go on TV and say 'BIC pens are best. (They'll) even write under blood.'"

 It ended all too soon for "Super Joe."During spring training of '81, he hurt his back executing a headfirst slide. His numbers suffered immensely and he was demoted to Charleston. He fought his way back to the big club the following year, but managed an anemic .214 average in 22 games. He underwent two back surgeries during his brief career. "Baseball is full of peaks and valleys," he told one writer. "When you're hurt, it's even valley-er."

Charboneau had a non-speaking part in the 1984 Barry Levinson film, The Natural. This was fitting, since he knew plenty about being a short-lived phenom. Despite only having appeared in 201 games, he landed among the Top 100 Cleveland Indians when the club compiled an all-time all-star list in 2001.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Diamond Deaths (Cont'd)

Because of its picnic-like atmosphere, people sometimes forget how dangerous the game of baseball is. Major league hitters have less than a second to react to react to the 9-inch rawhide sphere, which weighs roughly 5 ounces and arrives at the plate in the blink of an eye. In August of 1920, the ball became a lethal projectile at the Polo Grounds at New York.

On a damp, overcast day, Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman stepped into the box to face Yankee hurler Carl Mays. The 29 year-old Chapman had decent speed but little power. He was just coming into his prime offensively, having hit .300 the previous year and carrying a .304 average into this game. Mays was a submariner with a good rising fastball. He could make the ball sink or curve depending on his arm angle at the time of release. He was known to throw an occasional spitball. Hitless in two appearances, Chapman crouched slightly and crowded the plate as Mays wound and fired. Camouflaged in a wet, hazy background, it's doubtful that Chapman even saw the pitch, which struck him squarely in the left temple. There was an audible crack.

Accounts of what happened next vary widely. According to a newspaper report, the ball rolled to Mays, who scooped it up and fired to Wally Pipp at first base. Pipp stepped on the bag, making the apparent out as Chapman staggered out of the box then collapsed in a heap. At some point, the Cleveland infielder regained consciousness and was helped to his feet. He tried to walk, but fell again before being transported to St. Lawrence Hospital. Eight hours later, he was dead. Just like that, major league baseball was dealing with the fallout of its first pitched ball fatality.

In the aftermath, the game "cleaned itself up"--literally. Umpires were encouraged to put fresh balls into play more often. Balls had previously been used  until they became lopsided and soggy as fans were pressured to throw foul pops back onto the field. As for Mays, well, he became one of the most universally disliked figures in the game, commenting after his retirement, "I won over 200 big league games. No one remembers that. When they think of me, I'm the guy that killed Ray Chapman."

More than ninety years later, we still remember him that way.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Keep Your Eye on the Ball!

Back in the early days, there were fewer baseballs to go around. Umpires kept balls in play even after they became tobacco-stained and lopsided. Fans were encouraged to throw foul balls back onto the field--sometimes under threat of arrest. This led  to some interesting events on the field.

In an 1891 game between New York and Cincinnati, pitcher Bob Barr--making his Giants' debut that day--was injured in bizarre fashion when he was hit in the head by a ball thrown back over the grandstand by a conscientious fan.

Though no injury resulted, Pirates' third baseman Tommy Leach suffered an embarrassing moment during a 1904 exhibition game. Chasing a pop up behind the bag, he was temporarily blinded by the sun. "I seemed to see two specks of white up above the blinding rays, but I put my hands up as I ran and a few seconds later had the ball in my glove," he explained to a writer from the Cleveland Press. Immediately following the catch, he was surprised to see teammate Honus Wagner standing near third with another ball in his possession. Wagner explained that the ball Leach had caught was a foul thrown back onto the field by a fan. The other had dropped behind third base for a double.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Baker Bowl (Cont'd)

In 1929, Philadelphia's Baker Bowl witnessed an offensive explosion (nearly) unparalleled in baseball history. On July 6th of that year, the Cardinals dropped their eleventh straight with a 10-6 loss to the Phillies in the opening game of a doubleheader. The nightcap was a coming out party for the Redbirds.

Using the klunky dimensions of the Baker Bowl to an advantage, St. Louis scored 10 runs in the first and 10 more in the fifth on the way to a 28-6 thrashing of the home crew. The run and hit totals for this game were a National League record for the twentieth century. Other records were set as well with nine Cardinal players scoring at least 2 runs and five players collecting at least 4 hits apiece (one of them was Fresco Thompson of the Phillies).

For Philadelphia pitchers, it was a day to forget. Claude "Weeping" Willoughby and Elmer Miller were charged with 8 runs between them without retiring a single batter in the first inning. Right-hander June Greene, who took over in the disastrous 10-run fifth, gave up 11 runs on 12 hits the rest of the way. Not surprisingly, it was his last major league appearance.

Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley was the busiest Cardinal of all with a grand slam and 7 RBI's to go with his two homers in the opener. Together, the two clubs combined for 73 hits in the doubleheader, tying a major league record set by the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies on July 4, 1896. Can you guess where THAT game took place?

That's right--The Baker Bowl.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Sad Tale of Andrew "Rube" Foster

The best writers in Hollywood could not have crafted a better script than the true life story of Andrew “Rube” Foster. A barrel-chested giant with a devastating screwball, the sly right-hander kept batters at a severe disadvantage for nearly two decades. With an 18-strikeout performance and a 51-win season under his belt, he gained control of the Leland Giants in 1909, molding them into one of the most successful franchises in the history of black baseball. His power and influence reached a zenith in 1919, when he founded the Negro National League. Within four years, the circuit had developed a fan base in the millions.

A domineering presence in the dugout, Foster once hit a player over the head with his meerschaum pipe for tripling with a bunt sign on. In the boardroom, he was equally despotic. Dayton Marcos’ owner John Mathews made the mistake of falling asleep during a league meeting. He reportedly awoke to find that Foster had split up his team and divided the spoils amongst other owners.

Keeping the league afloat was a colossal undertaking—especially with the establishment of the rival Eastern Colored League. In 1924, Foster wrote that the pressure was “almost beyond endurance.” By 1926, the cracks were beginning to show. Two weeks before Christmas that year, the troubled executive had a manic outburst in his Chicago apartment. His wife phoned the police and, after a violent struggle, he was taken into custody. Declared incompetent, he was committed to a mental facility. Infielder Dave Malarcher assumed managerial responsibilities in Foster’s absence, leading the Giants to a Negro National League championship. Sadly, Foster was in no state of mind to savor news of the victory. He suffered from various delusions, among them the notion that he had been selected to throw out the first pitch at the major league World Series. He remained institutionalized until his death in 1930. He was just  fifty-one years old.    

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Philly's Ugly Duckling

Among the ugliest ballparks in major league history, the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia was home to the Phillies for over fifty years. Whenever I conduct research on pre-war baseball I find myself drawn to this place with its ungainly dimensions and crumbling interior. The right field foul line was situated just 280 feet from home plate and, although a sixty foot wall and screen barrier was installed to deter cheap home runs, outfielders spent many long afternoons chasing the unpredictable caroms. There was little that could be done to compensate for a "hump" in center field, which was created by a railroad tunnel underneath. With measurements more suitable for Wiffleball, a staggering total of 1,187 runs were scored there in 1930--an average of 15 per game. The career of any Philly pitcher was apt to be quite short as the staff compiled the highest ERA in the National League every year from 1923 through 1934. During the offensive explosion of 1930, the cumulative team ERA was an astonishing 6.71.

Sportswriter Red Smith once appropriately referred to the stadium as a "rusty, cobwebby house of horrors." In addition to its odd dimensions, the park was structurally unsound as sections of the bleachers collapsed on two separate occasions, killing a dozen while injuring more than two-hundred. Owner William F. Baker and his successor Gerry Nugent were notoriously frugal, trading away the club's best players year after year. Baker was so cheap that he prosecuted an eleven year-old fan named Reuben Berman in 1923 for not returning a foul ball he had caught. A judge sided with the poor kid, ruling that he couldn't be blamed for wanting a souvenir. Aside from a World Series appearance in 1915, the club fared quite poorly at the Baker Bowl, allegedly prompting a wise-cracking graffiti artist to spraypaint an editorial comment on the famous Lifebuoy billboard in right-center field. After the jokester had added his finishing touches, the sign read: "The Phillies Use Lifebuoy Soap...And They Still Stink."

Midway through the 1938 campaign, Nugent finally decided he had had enough, moving the club into Shibe Park, which was jointly occupied by the Athletics.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Nasty Little Ump

The first two chapters of Cellar Dwellers are dedicated to the topic of nineteenth century baseball--a wild and lawless era. Historian Bill James once described the tactics of the 1800's as "violent" and "criminal." Connie Mack astutely observed that: "Baseball historians dwell considerably on the 'days of violence.' These days make exciting reading, but it should be considered in proper perspective that during these same times there was violence everywhere. It was an age of violence."

During Mack's so-called "age of violence," even the umpires were nasty. Among the nastiest was Tim Hurst, whom I mentioned in an earlier post. Though he stood only 5-foot-5 and carried the nickname "Tiny Tim," he instilled fear in the hearts of players and managers. Among the most ill-tempered arbiters in history, Hurst once knocked New York Highlanders' manager Clark Griffith out cold during a heated debate. During an 1895 contest, a foul tip shattered Hurst's mask, driving a wire into his forehead and hitting an artery. To Hurst, it was merely a flesh wound. He remained in the game.

Hurst's first experience as an official happened by coincidence. While attending a Southern League championship game, he volunteered his services after one of the umpires suddenly quit. In the game's final inning, the freshly recruited Hurst called one of the home team's players out on a close play at the plate. The run would have tied the score and, realizing the call might be controversial, he allegedly pulled a pistol from his pocket. As the story goes, the play went uncontested.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Terrible Tigers of 2003

If you've picked up a copy of Cellar Dwellers, you may have had a chance to review Chapter 13, which recounts the exploits of the abominable Tiger squad of 2003. The team sputtered to a 43-119 record, narrowly missing the all-time mark for losses in a 162-game season. They were so bad, the VP in charge of roster management griped: "I was confident that I would be able to succeed in this organization. Then I looked at the roster...It was like being a kid in a candy store, except the store was full with candy nobody liked, like 800 year-old Tootsie Rolls that old guys would hand out on Halloween. Heck,that old guy probably could have made the team...I wanted to cry when I called Alan (Trammell) to let him know what we had to work with that year."

Grant Brisbee of the popular website SB Nation, more or less echoed those sentiments, commenting: "They were like a participant in the World Baseball Classic from a country that you didn't know played baseball. Luxembourg? Well, Okay. Astoundingly bad. Once in a generation bad."

As the season wore on, players themselves stopped believing in the team. After a humiliating string of defeats, first baseman Carlos Pena griped to reporters: "It's mind boggling. I would say, out of luck, somebody on the team would be contributing." Outfielder Bobby Higginson became equally frustrated, telling one writer: "We're a bad club right now. Nobody's helping us out." Veteran Dean Palmer felt the strain as well. "Everybody young and old feels responsible for this. And whether you're a rookie or a guy toward the end of your career, this feels awful."

Just how awful was it? Grab a copy of Cellar Dwellers and read more about it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

More Cellar Dwellers

In my first post back in August, I promised I would share some unpublished notes from my book, Cellar Dwellers. Since then, I have veered away from that pledge to an extent, but I would now like to add two teams to the ranks of baseball's all-time worst squads: the 1889 Louisville Colonels and the 1898 St. Louis Browns. I considered including both in the "Dishonorable Mention" chapter of Cellar Dwellers, but decided against it. Why? Well, because the Colonels played in the American Association and I was limiting my survey to National and American League clubs. The Browns were already mentioned (though briefly) in the book's second chapter, which covers the plight of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. At any rate, if Cellar Dwellers ever makes it to a second printing, I will be sure to add both clubs to the book's final chapter. Here are some fast facts about both teams.

The 1889 LOUISVILE COLONELS were managed by four different men that year, among them Dude Esterbrook and Chicken Wolf (gotta love the monikers of the 1800's). The team played 138 games, losing 111 of them and finishing 66.5 games out of first place. Their longest losing streak was an incredible 26 games and lasted for entire month. The man with the funny name--Chicken Wolf--was the most productive player on the squad, hitting .291 with 72 runs scored and 57 runs batted-in. Phil Tomney was the team's weakest link with 114 errors in 112 games, which may or may not be some kind of record (I haven't had a chance to look it up). He didn't help his cause with a bat much either, hitting .213 overall. Tomney played much better the following year for Louisville then defected to a team in Lincoln. He died in the spring of 1892 from a lung infection.

The 1898 ST. LOUIS BROWNS were managed by the colorful Tim Hurst, who had been fired from his NL umpiring job the previous year after he threw a beer stein into the stands and hit a fan in the head, opening a nasty cut. He would later be fired by the American League for spitting in the face of A's star second baseman Eddie Collins. Hurst's jaunt into managing wasn't terribly successful as he led the club to a 39-111 record, 63.5 games out of the running. About the only bright spot for the Browns that year was third baseman Lave Cross, who hit .317 while driving in 79 runs. Right-hander Kid Carsey was a candidate for least valuable player with a 2-12 record and 6.33 ERA in 25 games. He may or may not have been on the mound during the Browns most lopsided loss of the season, a 14-1 thrashing at the hands of the Colonels on July 27. To find out what happened to the Browns in 1899, one needs only to purchase a copy of my book.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Unorthodox Deliveries

Inspired by my last post, in which I became fixated upon unusual batting stances, I feel compelled to discuss the most unique pitching styles I've ever seen. Here are a few of my favorites:

LUIS TIANT: Reggie Jackson once commented that Tiant was the "Fred Astaire of Baseball." The Cuban-born right-hander used a quirky wind-up (which featured a series of head bobs and glove wags) with a pirouette dielivery, turning his back completely on the batter before wheeling around for the release. "The motion depends on how I think the batter is thinking," Tiant told writers one day."You can't use it too much or they will get used to it." Immensely popular among teammates and fans, Tiant won 229 games, mostly for the Red Sox, between 1964 and 1982.

MARK FIDRYCH: Rookie of the Year in 1976, Fidrych was one of the most unusual characters ever to pitch in the majors. Sensitive to the plight of each ball, the Tiger staff ace would often request new ones from umpires, believing that the old ones still "had hits in them" and needed to mix with fellow baseballs to "get right" again. Tall and lanky with blonde curly hair, he was nicknamed"The Bird" after a Sesame Street character. On the mound, he exhibited a host of odd behaviors, talking to balls and grooming the dirt with his bare hands.  An arm injury in '77 reduced his effectiveness and ended his career prematurely. An unfortunate farm accident ended his life prematurely in 2009.

AL HRABOSKY: Nicknamed "The Mad Hungarian," Hrabosky was an intimidating figure on the hill. Before facing each batter, he would walk to the back of the mound and meditate. When he was finished, he would slam the ball into his mitt as if he were furious with the hitter. Primarily a relief pitcher, he won 64% of his lifetime decisions and saved 97 games. "My goal when I'm on the road is to get a standing boo," he once said.

HIDEO NOMO: 'Fluid' is not a word to describe the pitching motion of Hideo Nomo. During the windup, he raised his arms so far above his head he resembled a contortionist. He would then twirl around with his back to the plate before feeding hitters a steady diet of heaters and forkballs. The entire routine was a series of abrupt starts and stops--as if someone were controlling him with a TV remote. Nomo became the second Japanese hurler to make it to the majors (after Masanari Murakami in 1964) when his agent exploited a loophole in his contract with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1995, but paid the price when his family disowned him for "shaming them" by defecting to the States.

KENT TEKULVE: Out of uniform, Tekulve would scarcely have been recognized as an athlete. At 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, he looked like a contemporary version of Ichabod Crane. Appearanes were deceiving as the gangly fireman with the tinted glasses kept hitters on their heels for 16 seasons with his unique slingshot delivery. What I remember most about him is that he threw from such a low angle, his knuckles appeared to scrape the ground on every pitch. By the time he retired in 1989, the durable side-winder had saved 184 games and led the Pirates to a World Championship.

FERNANDO VALENZUELA: A lefty screwball specialist, Valenzuela became famous for gazing toward the sky during his windup. His delivery was puncuated with a leg kick that appeared awkward because of his husky build. A Mexican import, Fernando didn't speak much English, but his appeal was universal. He smiled a lot and when he did, his pudgy face seemed almost cherubic. By the time he received Cy Young and Rookie of the Year honors in 1981, the jovial southpaw had given birth to a craze known as "Fernandomania."

ORLANDO HERNANDEZ: Anyone attending a game in which "El Duque" was the starter hopefully had plenty of time on their hands. The Cuban defector and former Yankee star was a notoriously slow worker, holding up games with a variety of tactics that included shaking off signs, throwing repeatedly to first and fixing imagined wardrobe malfunctions. If that wasn't enough to throw off a batter's timing, he would request new balls from umpires and ask to speak to his catcher. When he was finally ready to throw, he would bring his knee all the way up to his chin before releasing an assortment of sloppy curves and sliders. At one point, he was among the most successful pitchers in postseason history with an 8-0 record and a microscopic ERA.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Peculiar Batting Stances

As a kid playing recreational baseball in the backyards of Schenectady, New York, I would often imitate the various hitting styles of major league players. Batting stances are like fingerprints in that no two are exactly alike. Some are designed to intimidate or distract pitchers it seems while others arise from various mechanical weaknesses at the plate. Whatever the case, as a child of the '70's, I have seen some memorable batting stances in 40 years of following baseball. Here are some that come to mind:

MICKEY RIVERS: Nicknamed "Mick the Quick," Rivers had blazing speed at the top of the order yet hobbled around as if nursing sore hamstrings when he wasn't running the bases or tracking flies in center field. Best known for his time with the pennant-winning Yankee clubs of the late-'70's, he hit from a crouched position, wiggling the bat and shuffling his feet restlessly. His signature move was the twirling of his bat like a baton after he had swung through a pitch or fouled one off, a maneuver convincingly imitated by Yankee catcher Jim Leyritz years later.

JOEMORGAN: The Hall of Fame second baseman was known for flapping his left arm at the plate as if he were performing a modified version of the Chicken Dance. He won two MVP awards and helped guide the Reds to numerous World Series appearances during his long, productive career. He once said of his famous batting quirk: "It became a habit where I wasn't even aware I was doing it."

DWIGHT EVANS: Evans was dubbed "the Man of a Thousand Stances" because he was always tinkering with his mechanics. Hit by a pitch early in his career, he suffered from vertigo afterward and called upon Red Sox hitting coach Walt Hirniak to help him get comfortable at the plate. Before the windup, Evans would assume a knock-kneed position with the bat resting on his back and his hands on his right shoulder. Before the pitch was released, he would lean back and stretch outward, extending the bat above his head. This ungainly practice aided him in the collection of nearly 2,500 career hits.

JOHN WOCKENFUSS: His batting style was as weird as his name. The long-time Detroit backup catcher stood pigeon-toed at the plate with his back to the pitcher and fingers wiggling nervously on the bat as if it were a musical instrument. In his finest offensive campaign, (1980) he hit 16 homers and drove in 65 runs.

JEFF BAGWELL: Astros' hitting instructor Tom McCraw once said of Bagwell's cock-eyed stance: "It's something I've never seen in 40 years of baseball." Bagwell's exaggerated crouch with splayed legs and bent knees gave one the impression that he was riding an invisible horse at the plate. He made this awkward pose work for fifteen years, becoming one of few players with 1,500 runs scored and 1,500 RBI's.

That is just a small sampling. I could go on and on. If anyone out there has any favorites of their own, I would love to hear from you.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Nothing Like the Real Thing

Well, it's all over but the shouting for Yankee fans. On their way to being swept in the ALCS by the Tigers, the punchless New Yorkers managed just 2 runs in a 30-inning stretch. The most disappointing performance belonged to someone other than A-Rod for a change as Robinson Cano, arguably the club's best hitter when he's in a groove, managed just 1 hit in 18 at-bats against Detroit hurlers. While engaged in a lively water cooler discussion at work, a comrade of mine suggested that Yankee hitters may have been equally effective with Wiffle Ball bats in their hands. I assured him that this had indeed happened before.

In a 1982 exhibition game against the Padres, A's skipper Billy Martin sent pitcher Steve McCatty to the plate holding a 15-inch toy bat. Martin was unhappy with Major League Baseball's decision to ban designated hitters in NL parks during spring training that year and decided to lodge an unofficial protest. The toy was deemed inappropriate by plate umpire Jim Quick and McCatty struck out on three pitches.

Arguably, it was not the most unusual implement ever carried to the plate. Detroit infielder Norm Cash once stepped to the dish to face Nolan Ryan with a table leg he had acquired from the Tiger clubhouse. When umpire Ron Luciano told him to grab a more suitable piece of wood, Cash protested: "I can't hit him with a regular bat." He wasn't exaggerating as Ryan tossed a no-hitter that day.

...How's that for futility?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Epic Postseason Fails

It's an all too familiar scene in the Bronx: As the weather gets cooler and the leaves fall, so does Alex Rodriguez's batting average. At the close of play on Sunday, the man they call "A-Fraud" in some circles was hitting .130 in 6 playoff games and getting booed regularly by fans. Given his salary, it's difficult to feel sorry for the guy. But it's not as if he's the only October flop in history. Go ahead and look it up. In fact, you don't even have to go as far back as Buckner's infamous error in the '86 Series or Ty Cobb's failure to deliver in the 1907 Fall Classic.

In the 2011 World Series, when the Cardinals edged the Rangers 4 games to 3, Matt Holliday pulled a major disappearing act. The slugging left fielder had cracked at least 24 homers and reached the century mark in RBI's during 4 of the previous 6 seasons. He hit .158 in the Series with just 1 run scored and no ribbies.

In 2010, when the Giants rolled over the Rangers in 5 games, Pat Burrell was an offensive no show for San Francisco. A highly productive left fielder, Burrell had collected at least 30 long balls on four occasions between 2002 and 2008. In the 2010 postseason, he consistently failed to even put the ball in play, going 0 for 13 with 11 strikeouts. He performed so abominably, he was benched during Game 4.

In 2009, when the Yankees disposed of the Phillies in 6 games, it was Ryan Howard's turn to play the goat. Philly's big bopper, who had smashed 45 homers while leading the National League with 141 RBI's, gathered just 4 hits while striking out 13 times. He was in good company. In the winner's corner, Nick Swisher and Mark Texeira were a study in futility, collectively going 5 for 37 at the plate for a .135 mark.

By no means am I defending A-Rod. He gets paid an obscene amount of money to wave feebly at pitches in October. I'm just saying he's not even unique. Instead of showering him with contempt, fans should save their energy and treat him with depraved indifference. That's the opposite of love, folks. Every time the game's preeminent choke master strolls to the plate, you should be able to hear a pin drop in the Bronx.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Like Stevie Wonder Said... (The Final Chapter)

What a grind to be a Cubs' fan...
The last time they won a World Series, Theo Roosevelt was president and the Model T Ford had just been introduced. They've had their chances since 1908. They've been to the postseason on more than a dozen occasions and come out on the losing end each time. At this point, most reasonably informed fans have heard the one about the disgruntled tavern owner who was kicked out of Wrigley Field for bringing his goat to a 1945 World Series game. The curse he placed on the team allegedly still persists despite numerous attempts to drive it away. And just when things were looking up, the club got jinxed again. Ahead of the Mets by nine and a half games in early-August of '69, the lead began to slowly evaporate. During an important series of games between the two teams at Wrigley Field, a black cat that lived beneath the stands wandered in front of the Cubs' dugout in broad daylight. The Mets swept the series and stole the pennant. The Cubs would wait another 15 years to gain entry into the playoffs.

Another curse that has garnered some attention in recent years is the Sports Illustrated cover photo jinx. In 2002, researchers determinded that 37 % of all featured cover subjects had experienced "a demonstrable misfortune or decline in performance" following a cover appearance. This unfortunate run of bad luck allegedly began with Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, who hurt his hand shortly after gracing the cover of the magazine in 1954. Other players who have been afflicted include Nolan Ryan (who lost 8 consecutive decisions after a '75 cover shoot), Matt Williams (who broke his foot immediately following a '95 appearance) and Nomar Garciaparra (who ripped a tendon in his wrist days after posing shirtless in 2001). A total of 2,456 issues were surveyed from a 47-year period, revealing 916 "jinxes." And though a reasonable explanation has been offered by non-believers since the 2002 study took place, the curse appears to be alive and well nevertheless (at least in the realms of baseball).

--Shortly after appearing in April of 2004, Cubs' hurler Kerry Wood was diagnosed with tendinitis. He missed more than 10 starts that year and had a sub-par season overall.

--Ken Griffey Jr. bravely agreed to a cover shoot in June of 2004. He ruptured a hamstring a few weeks later and missed the remainder of the season.

--Generally considered to be among the most promising young pitchers in the majors, Dontrelle Willis was photographed in spring training of '07. He suffered through the worst campaign of his career to that point and never returned to previous form.

--Posing for a photograph in June of ''07, Mets' manager Willie Randolph watched his team collapse down the stretch, squandering a 7-game lead to the Phillies. He was fired the following year.

--Philly southpaw Cole Hamels appeared in February of '09 then performed inconsistently all year. MVP of the World Series and NLCS in '08, he was an October flop in '09, allowing 16 earned runs in 19 innings of work.

--Numerous cover subjects have been embroiled in steroid scandals since 2002. They include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.

And that is just a small sampling. Check it out for yourself and you'll see.
Have a happy and safe Halloween season everyone!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Like Stevie Wonder Said... (Part II)

As I stated in my last post, baseball players are among the most superstitious athletes in all of sports. For instance, the '34 Cardinals (a.k.a. "The Gashouse Gang") refused to change their uniforms when they were on a winning streak, creating a fragrant environment for reporters time and again as they captured a world championship that year. There are some who carried their belief in omens and luck to an even further extreme.

A series of arm injuries in the late-'30's/ early-'40's kept Tigers' hurler Schoolboy Rowe in search of any help he could get. This included wearing amulets, charms and placing a rabbit's foot in his pocket. He also considered his wife Edna a good luck charm, keeping her as close to him as possible. The extent to which this affected his lifetime victory total can never be accurately determined.

White Sox outfielder Minnie Minoso, a seven-time All-Star during the 1950's, held a firm belief in the occult. One day, after a particularly fruitless effort at the plate, he showered in full uniform to "wash away evil spirits." When he followed with a multi-hit game, several of his teammates soaped up with their clothes on as well.

Rangers' first baseman Mike Hargrove was referred to as "The Human Rain Delay" during the '70's and '80's because of his peculiar ritual at the plate, which was deeply rooted in superstition. Before each pitch, he would walk up the first baseline and take three swings. Once in the batter's box, he would pluck at his uniform in numerous places, wipe sweat from his brow with his elbow, dig a hole with his left foot and tap his helmet. If a pitcher began his windup before Hargrove was finished, the eccentric first-sacker would call for time and start over again.

Wade Boggs, a five-time AL batting champ, was another proponent of rituals. During baseball season, he would wake at the same time every morning and eat the same pre-game meal of chicken, a habit that earned him the nickname "Chicken Man" from teammate Jim Rice. Before each at-bat, Boggs would trace the Hebrew word "chai" in the dirt, which literally means "life."

An effective reliever for the Mets and Cubs, Turk Wendell was perhaps the most superstitious man ever to grace the diamond. Wendell exhibited a host of odd compulsions such as brushing his teeth between innings, chewing black licorice, drawing three crosses in the dirt and waving at his center fielder before his first  pitch. He also wore a necklace made of teeth and claws from animals he had slain while hunting. His luck finally ran out in 2004 when he compiled a 7.02 ERA for the Rockies.
In my next installment, we will discuss a pair of ongoing curses. (Not the one involving Babe Ruth--That one was more or less debunked in '04 when the Red Sox won the World Series.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Like Stevie Wonder Said... (Part I)

With Halloween just around the corner, there's no better time to talk about superstitions, which have become firmly embedded in baseball culture over the years. Some players will do just about anything to gain that competitive edge--from turning their pockets inside out during a slump to avoiding foul lines when stepping onto the field. Here is the first installment in a continuing series about players past and present who have been known to go to extremes with their superstitious practices:
Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Crawford (who played with the Reds and Tigers from 1899 to 1917) relied heavily upon “lucky” trinkets. As legend has it, Crawford gave teammate Harry Heilmann quite a scare as the two were riding to a home game one day. While stopped at a traffic light, Crawford hopped out of the car and was nearly run over as he frantically searched for an item left on the ground. Assuming it must be something important, Heilmann got out to help as angry drivers sounded their horns and careened around him. “Got It!” Crawford exclaimed suddenly, holding a hair pin. “Don’t you know that?" He said to Heilmann, "A lady’s hairpin means a two-base hit!”

Pepper Martin (sparkplug of the 1934 "Gashouse Gang" Cardinals) also believed that hairpins brought good luck and, when a pair of well-meaning reporters deliberately dumped a bunch of them in the lobby of  a Cincinnati hotel to give Martin a mental boost, outfielder Joe Medwick showed up first and started scooping them up. When beat writer Roy Stockton explained who the items were for, Medwick allegedly barked: "To hell with Martin! Let him find his own hairpins!"
For eighteen seasons, a man named Alexander George Washington Rivers served as Ty Cobb’s personal assistant and Detroit's team mascot. He was also entrusted with the task of “massaging good luck” into the bats of Tiger players. An expert on the topic of bad omens, he advised against the use of broken cups or plates and encouraged players to avoid looking at cross-eyed people on Mondays, which, according to Rivers, would result in "dead bad luck all week." 

 During the 1933 slate, Braves’ slugger Wally Berger adopted the peculiar habit of seeking out a particular refreshment steward (a young African American fellow named Jim Walton) before home games and rubbing the man’s head for luck. Berger hit .309 with 41 extra-base hits and 54 RBI's in 76 home games that season.
Many years later, Derek Jeter developed a similar relationship with Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer. From his earliest days in the majors, Jeter took to rubbing Zimmer’s bald dome before plate appearances. The paternal Zimmer even tolerated having his belly patted by the iconic shortstop and his shins pelted with soft tosses during infield drills. During Zimmer's eight years as bench coach, Jeter captured Rookie of the Year honors, scored 100 or more runs in 7 straight seasons and gathered 190 or more hits six times.
We'll continue to explore the topic of superstitions in baseball as Halloween draws closer...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Adam Greenberg and Novelty At-Bats in the Majors

Adam Greenberg, a once promising prospect, made his big league debut with the Cubs on July 9, 2005. He was hit in the back of the head by a Valerio De Los Santos fastball in his first at-bat and sustained a concussion. The after-effects dampened his major league hopes as he suffered from headaches, vertigo and vision problems for nearly two years. He eventually returned to action in the independent Atlantic League, but was never considered a serious candidate for big league reinstatement--until recently.

Thanks to an on-line campaign labled "One At Bat," the Marlins--in the midst of one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history--signed Greenberg to a 1-day contract as a pinch-hitter. The Cinderella story ended anticlimactically as Greenberg struck out on three pitches from Mets' knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. But the 31 year-old Greenberg received a warm ovation from an appreciative crowd and got to live out his big league fantasy if only for a day.

Greenberg's plate appearance calls to mind various other novelty at-bats from the past.

In 1935, a nightclub entertainer named Kitty Burke was allowed to bat against Paul "Daffy" Dean of the Cardinals during an oversold game at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. After grounding Dean's underhand toss back to the mound, she disappeared back into the crowd where she came from.

In perhaps the most bizarre episode in diamond history, a 3-foot-7, 65-pound circus performer named Eddie Gaedel was sent to the plate for the St. Louis Browns during the 1951 slate. Looking to boost sagging ticket sales, owner Bill Veeck allowed Gaedel to pinch-hit for Frank Saucier while wearing the number 1/8 on his jersey. Gaedel drew a four pitch walk from Tigers' hurler Bob Cain then was immediately replaced with a pinch-runner.

With the White Sox out of playoff contention and well-below the .500 mark during the 1980 campaign, Minnie Minoso became the third oldest player (at 54 years of age) to appear in the majors when he entered the last two games of the season on October 4th and 5th. He failed to reach base safely in 2 pinch-hitting assignments, but established himself as just the second player in history to make a major league appearance in five decades.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Series No One Cared About

The World Series has become such a staple of American culture, tickets can be quite difficult and costly to obtain for the average fan nowadays. But it wasn't always that way. In 1918, the hometown clubs couldn't give them away. 
With the United States fully committed to World War I, a “work or fight” order was issued, forcing all draft-age men into the military or “essential industries.” Baseball was considered expendable and the 1918 season was suspended after Labor Day. Played with special permission from U.S. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, the World Series that year, which pitted the Red Sox against the Cubs, yielded the lowest player’s share in history (less than $1,200 for members of the winning team).
The Series opened in Chicago, where the games had been shifted to Comiskey Park because of its spacious capacity of 32,000. Cubs Park (later known as Wrigley field) was much smaller, accomodating just 18,000 at the time. None of the three Windy City games came close to selling out. In fact, there were more than 10,000 seats available when the teams squared off in Games 1 and 2.  
Attendance in Boston was even worse as only 22,183 fans turned out for Game 4. Fenway Park--with a capacity of 35,000--must have looked pretty empty that day. Displeased with the low gate receipts, players from both teams threatened to strike shortly before Game 5. Offered no concessions, they took the field more than an hour late. The results were disastrous as fans stayed away in droves the following day. Only 15,238 paying customers showed up to see the Red Sox claim their last world championship of the 20th century.
Members of baseball’s National Commission showed their disapproval of the players' actions by withholding the emblems that were normally awarded to Series victors (rings would not be distributed until the 1930's). By the time the Red Sox organization handed out replica emblems during a pre-game ceremony seventy five years later, every member of the 1918 club had passed away.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pulling For the Little Guys!

It's a sad rule of thumb in baseball today: The teams that spend the most, win the most. A cursory examination of World Series victors over the last two decades confirms this depressing fact.

There have been 19 World Series played over the last 20 years (In case you have chosen to repress the memory, the '94 Fall Classic was cancelled due to a major fiscal dispute). In that span, the teams ranking among the top 3 in terms of payroll have emerged victorious 53% of the time. If you expand the statistic to include teams ranking among the top 10, the percentage increases to 68%.

So, what's different this year?
With the playoffs rapidly approaching, the Yankees (#1), Tigers (#5), Rangers (#6), Giants (#8) and Cardinals (#9) are all in contention. But there are some scattered instances of poetic justice as well (at least from the perspective of those who resent big market clubs). The 3rd ranked Red Sox--with a bloated payroll of $173million are floundering in fourth place with a 68-85 record. The 7th ranked Marlins are last in their division. The Phillies--second only to the Yankees with an obscene $174 million payroll--are scrabbling for a Wild Card spot as time is rapidly running out. They've been surging as of late and actually stand a chance, but at the All-Star break, they were well below .500 and sitting in last place.

The Feel Good stories this Year?
The lowly Washington Nationals, ranked 20th in terms of payroll have clinched a playoff spot. So have the Cincinnati Reds with a ranking of 17. Defying the odds in the city where Moneyball was created, the Oakland A's, with a modest payroll of $55 Million were second in the AL West and 2nd in the Wild Card race at the close of play on Sept. 22. Similarly, the no-name Orioles at #19 were breathing down the necks of the top-heavy Yankees, who shell out 15% of their payroll to fading superstar Alex Rodriguez.

This is fun to watch and good for the sport.
...Time to root for the underdogs!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Potty Mouths

The recent suspension of Toronto Blue Jays' shortstop Yunel Escobar for the inappropriate remark he wrote in his eye-black was probably well-deserved and it's good to see that baseball has become a kinder, gentler game. Such was not the case in the days of old.

In the 1890's, profanity was so rampant that the National League adopted a resolution (championed by Cincinnati owner John T. Brush) imposing mandatory expulsions upon players who used "villainously foul" language. An official document was drafted under the heading: "SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAYERS" and distributed. The document itself was laughably profane, citing numerous examples of commonly used insults that would be considered inappropriate even by today's standards. Several are unfit to print in this blog, but two are recounted here:

In an 1897 game between the Orioles and Spiders, a fan asked one of the players who was pitching and the player allegedly responded: "Go f--k yourself!" When teammates told the player that there were ladies present, he stated that he didn't give a damn since women had no business at the ballpark anyway.

On another occasion, an unnamed player had taunted an opponent with the following objectionable statement: "A dog must have f--d your mother when she made you." One can only imagine how stiff the penalty would have been for Yunel Escobar if he had written that in his eye-black.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Uninvited Guests

A common complaint among fans in Boston is that Fenway Park, despite all its charm, is too small with a capacity of less than 38,000. They don't know how good they've got it.

Fenway's predecessor--the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds--was even smaller with a seating capacity of roughly 9,000. This created some interesting  problems when the Boston Americans (later known as the Red Sox) made their first World Series appearance in 1903.

 With baseball’s first official Fall Classic knotted at one game apiece on October 3rd, eager fans mobbed the ticket office and quickly snatched up all the available seats. Throngs of Bean Town supporters kept showing up and, by mid-afternoon, the field was jammed with unpaid admissions. Thousands of trespassers eventually broke through a cordoned off area and headed toward the reserve grandstand, where they tangled with Boston players and police. Armed with a fire hose and bats (supplied by the home team’s business manager), police reinforcements were able to secure a fifty-foot stretch beyond the diamond and a thirty-foot swath behind home plate. The game started just a few minutes late with special ground rules in effect. It was agreed that balls hit into the crowd (a meager one hundred and fifty feet from home) would count as doubles. A total of seven two-baggers were hit that day as the Pirates notched a 4-2 victory. Pittsburgh eventually dropped the Series in eight games.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ghostman on First

In the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, fictional manager Jimmy Dugan (played by Tom Hanks) tells one of his players that baseball is "supposed to be hard. If it wasn't, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great." This is an insightful statement considering that most folks will play ball in one form or another during their lives while only a chosen few will actually play professionally. How far would you go to get a cup of coffee in the majors? A fan named Lou Proctor was willing to alter history.

Proctor, a telegraph operator from Cleveland, became a major leaguer without appearing in a single professional contest. While working for the Western Union Company in 1912, he  inserted his name into a Red Sox box score, crediting himself with a walk in a pinch-hit assignment for the Browns. The statistic was subsequently published by The Sporting News and The Baseball Encyclopedia. Proctor’s illusory career was discovered and erased during the 1980's, when the plate appearance was rightfully added to the lifetime totals of Pete Compton—an outfielder who played for five major league teams between 1911 and 1918. More than two dozen “phantom players” have been removed from popular baseball resources to date.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

With a Little Luck

It's time for some unusual trivia. Ready? Here Goes...
Question: How many hits can a pitcher allow in one inning without surrendering a run?
Incredibly, the answer is (at least) six. In a nineteenth century Indiana State League game between Muncie and Anderson City, the following events actually took place:

With Jot Goar on the mound for Muncie, a player named Ireland led off with a triple.  He attempted to score as a relay eluded Muncie’s catcher and was tagged out at the plate. The next batter, Wiswell, followed with a deep smash to center field. He was thrown out trying for an inside-the-park homer. With two out and nobody on, the three-hole hitter (Shumway) tripled to left. Unlike those who preceded him, he stayed put at third.  The clean-up man (Derby) bunted up the line and reached second as Muncie’s third-sacker waited for the ball to roll foul. He was credited with a double as Shumway was held at third. The fifth-slot hitter (Faats) followed with another bunt, loading the bases. This brought up a fellow known as “Kid” Fear, who scorched a liner between first and second. It took a bad hop and struck Faats on the leg for the third out (later being scored a base hit). Three triples, a double and two singles with nothing to show for it: The gods must have been smiling on Jot Goar that day. He was far less fortunate in portions of two seasons with the Reds and Pirates, allowing 27 earned runs in just 15 innings of work.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

McGraw's Good Luck Charm

One of the most fascinating tales of the deadball era is the saga of Charles"Victory" Faust. Born in Marion, Kansas, Faust had virtually no athletic ability and was suffering from some form of mental illness. In the summer of 1911, he introduced himself to New York Giants' Manager John McGraw. He told McGraw that a fortuneteller had predicted he would pitch the Giants to a championship. McGraw, who was highly superstitious, offered Faust a tryout, but it was clear that the 30 year-old right-hander was not major league material. When Faust kept showing up at the ballpark anyway, McGraw allowed him to participate in pre-game activities. The Giants responded positively to his presence and Faust was officially adopted as a team mascot.

What impressed McGraw most was Faust's self-proclaimed ability to jinx opposing teams. There may have been something to it as the Giants compiled an astonishing 36-2 record with Faust in uniform. McGraw often let him warm up in the bullpen, where his quirky windmill delivery delighted fans. Faust eventually became so popular that he was signed to a limited Vaudeville engagement. Determined to fulfull the fortuneteller's prophecy, he pestered McGraw constantly to let him pitch. McGraw finally conceded after the Giants had clinched the 1911 pennant. Faust appeared in two games and things could have gone much worse as he allowed just 2 hits and 1 run in 2 innings of work. He came to bat twice during his brief career, though his first plate appearance occurred after three outs had already been made. He was allowed to circle the bases before being tagged out at home plate. In his second big league at-bat, he was intentionally hit with a pitch and allowed to steal second and third.

In the 1911 World Series, Faust's jinxing powers were no match for the A's mascot, a hunch-backed dwarf named Louis Van Zelst. The Giants lost the affair in six games. In 1912, Faust continued to insist that he was a bona fide pitcher. McGraw grew tired of his frequent requests to take the hill and tried to dismiss him. In the end, it took some deception on the part of Giants' players to get Faust to return to Kansas. As soon as Faust left, the club went into a tailspin. Fortunately, they had built a comfortable lead in the NL and took the pennant anyway. They lost the Fall Classic to the Red Sox that year.

Faust spent the rest of his days trying to find his way back to the big leagues. In 1914, he walked from Seattle to Portland on a quest to "save" the Giants from the upstart Boston Braves. He was picked up by police  and sent to an institution, where he was diagnosed with "dementia." He eventually returned to Seattle and was committed to another state hospital. He died in June of 1915 from tuberculosis.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Misguided Sympathy

If you're anything like me, you get to thinking about the playoffs when September rolls around. As your mind meanders down the October road, you can't help feeling a bit sorry for the teams that haven't had a taste of the postseason in a dog's age. Unlike many other fans who tend to empathize with baseball's perennial losers, I know where to direct my sympathy. Every year, there is a lot of pity wasted on the Cubs and the Pirates. When you look at the franchise history of each club, neither has really had it all that bad when it comes to making appearances on the October stage.

Sure, the Pirates haven't finished over .500 since 1992 and that's a long time. But they actually have the highest World Series winning percentage among any franchise with at least 3 appearances (They've won 5 and lost 2). After winning their last Fall Classic in 1979, they made three consecutive appearances in the NLCS beginning in 1990. Furthermore, they dominated in the '70's before the wild card format was established, making the playoffs 6 times in that decade while capturing 2 world championships. I agree they've been in a long slump, but they do have an impressive history.

What about the Cubs? We've all heard about the billy goat thing. They haven't won a World Series since 1908, true, but at least they've had their chances. Entering the 2012 pennant stretch, the Cubs are currently ranked sixth among Major League franchises with 10 Fall Classic appearances. In the 2000's, they participated in 1 NLCS and 2 Division Series. During the '80's and '90's, they had three other chances to be the last club standing. And though it's true that a century is a long time to wait for a championship, it's hard to feel sorry for a team that has maintained a loyal fan base all along regardless of their order of finish.

So, who should we feel sorry for, you ask? In my opinion, there are at least three teams we should all develop a soft spot for:

1) The Milwaukee Brewers.
 Established in 1969 as the Seattle Pilots, the Brew Crew has never won a World Series. In fact, they haven't even participated in one since 1982. In 2011, they made it as far as the NLCS and in 2008, they dropped the League Division Series in 4 games. Their dry spells have been extensive. From 1983 through 2007--nothing. From 1969 through 1980--nothing. Talk about being due...

2) The San Diego Padres.
The Padres also made their debut in '69. Like the Brewers, they've never won a World Series, though they've lost 2--in 1984 and 1998. Aside from those two seasons, they've never made it beyond the LDS (they've dropped 3 of those). The most telling statistic: In 44 years of existence, they've finished below .500 27 times. Ouch!

3) The Seattle Mariners
Among the most star-crossed franchises in the majors, Seattle has never even played in a World Series. After joining the American League in 1977, they didn't crack the .500 mark for 14 years. Furthermore, it seems very likely that when the 2012 season is over, the Mariners will have been excluded from postseason play for 11 straight seasons Whisper a prayer for them, won't you?

Worth at least one tear:
The Toronto Blue Jays. Okay, so they dominated in the early '90's, but since then, the Jays have done absolutely nothing. They're about to miss the playoffs for the 19th consecutive year. -Sniff Sniff-