Entries Tagged as 'history'

Book Review: Campy: the Two Lives of Roy Campanella

campysimonschusterThe last three years have been a major boon for the publication of significant baseball biographies featuring one of baseball’s most neglected positions- the catcher.

The much maligned defensive spot featuring the uniquely named tools of ignorance has come into its own since 2009. For that was the first year that launched a triple crown of baseball backstop biographies with the publication of The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain- the Biography of Thurman Munson by Marty Appel.

In 2010, another all- time Yankee and the subject of numerous books in the past Yogi Berra was covered in a very thorough and excellent biography- Yogi Berra- The Eternal Yankee by Allan Barra.

Now in 2011, completing the baseball biography trilogy of great backstops and not insignificantly the third player from New York, the Brooklyn Dodger great and Hall of Famer Roy Campanella is profiled. Neil Lanctot’s new biography called Campy The Two Lives of Roy Campanella (Simon and Schuster 2011 516 pages) came out in March and is a nice addition to anyone’s baseball shelf.

The two lives of Campanella refers to his life before and after his tragic automobile accident in early 1958 that nearly took his life but did leave him paralyzed, although the book spends relatively little time on that particular aspect of Campy’s life.

Since Campanella appeared to have had several contrasting phases in his life, the two lives might also have referenced his baseball life in the Negro Leagues (while still in high school at that) and his second life in the major leagues for the powerful Brooklyn Dodgers. Perhaps the two lives encompassed Campanella’s status as arguably becoming the most popular black superstar in baseball in the 1950’s after languishing in the shadow of his teammate the great Jackie Robinson for the early part of his career.

Whichever the case, I especially enjoyed Lanctot’s look at Campy’s early years in the Negro League with Baltimore and also his many winters in the Mexican League.

Lanctot also brought to life what to me was relatively unknown aspect of Campanella’s life, his on-going feud later in his career with his long time teammate and former good friend Jackie Robinson . Lanctot discovered that it’s really difficult to know the real Roy Campanella, since he made every effort to avoid any shred of controversy, unlike Jackie Robinson . Campanella’s failure to take a significant stand on race relations Lanctot intimates, may have been at the root of his disagreements with Robinson, although it is also suggested and possible that Jackie may have simply resented some of Campy’s growing popularity, once reserved for Robinson himself.

After Campanella’s tragedy, his upbeat personality and his love of and involvement in the game of baseball kept him in the public’s subconscious until his death in 1993. This three- time MVP should be remembered fondly as not just one of baseball’s all time great catchers but as one of baseball’s all time greats – period! Lanctot succeeds at doing just that.

Lanctot’s book should bring back fond memories for those who still remember those times as well as new insights into Campanella and his impact on the national pastime and Brooklyn baseball in the1940’s and 50’s

Gaedel’s name continues on in baseball

All baseball history buffs know about Eddie Gaedel, the man who stood 3 foot 7 inches and was brought in as a pinch hitter for the St Louis Browns on August 19, 1951.  It was a stunt by Browns owner Bill Veeck, known for his off-the-wall publicity moves.  Gaedel walked, of course and his mark as the shortest man to ever play baseball still stands. 

But I learned something the other day that kinda blew my mind.  There is a descendant of Gaedel’s that is playing the game of baseball today. Kyle Gaedel is Eddie’s great-nephew and plays for Valparaiso University.  

The irony of it all?  Not only is Kyle Gaedel a fine ballplayer (he was drafted by the Rays out of high school in 2008) but he is a statuesque 6 foot 4 inches. 

The Valparaiso University athletics web site did a spotlight on him last year. 

MLB’s “Baseball Origins Committee” choose members

In his first official act of MLB’s Official Historian, John Thorn will serve as chairperson of the “Baseball Origins Committee”.  The purpose, according to mlb.com simply put is to:

“seek to determine the facts of baseball’s beginnings and its evolution. The Committee will compile and evaluate information that pertains to the game’s founding and its growth. Following the study period, the panel will seek to tell the story of baseball’s beginnings and explore not only the game’s broadest origins”.

Fortunately for me, we have one of the members of the committee here on the University of Illinois campus in Dr Adrian Burgos. 

Here is the full list of the committee membership:

DAVID BLOCK, an early baseball historian, author of Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game, and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

JAMES EDWARD BRUNSON III, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at Northern Illinois University and author of The Early Image of Black Baseball: Race and Representation in the Popular Press, 1871-1890.

ADRIAN BURGOS, JR., Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois; author of Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line and Cuban Star: How One Negro League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball; a consultant to Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Tenth Inning; and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

KEN BURNS, award-winning filmmaker of Ken Burns’s Baseball, Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Tenth Inning, The Civil War, Jazz, The War, and many other highly acclaimed documentaries.

LEN COLEMAN, the former President of the National League.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, Presidential Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir.

STEVE HIRDT, Executive Vice President of the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician of Major League Baseball, and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

JANE LEAVY, Former staff writer of the Washington Post; author of Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy and The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and The End of America’s Childhood; and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

LARRY McCRAY, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who, since 2005, has coordinated "Project Protoball," a record of print references to baseball and parallel bat and ball games prior to 1860, and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

GEORGE F. WILL, Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator, Washington Post and Newsweek columnist, ABC News analyst and author of Men At Work: The Craft of Baseball.

Part of me is excited of me to find out what this esteemed group will reveal and part of me is wary.  I guess I’m concerned because of the inherent nature of an organization discovering its own history. 

Will this committee’s findings be public?  Or will it be subject to MLB’s spin?  Time will tell.  In either case, I’ll be interested what comes out of it. 

Grant Smith paintings

I’ve just been perusing Grant Smith’s paintings on his website (http://grant9smith.com).  As the saying goes, I don’t know art but I know what I like.  And I like these.  It helps that a good portion of Smith’s work is devoted to baseball (see his Fine Prints section for a good representation of his work). 

Again, I’m no art critic but even I can appreciate the way that Smith uses symbolism in his paintings.  See his Rube Foster work entitled “We Can Dream” for an example of this.  Smith uses a bit of dark humor in the selection of his titles.  You’ll see what I mean. 

Why the ‘9’ in his domain name?  Smith addresses this on his ‘about’ page:

I made reference to the number 9 originally because of Ted Williams. As I grew older I sensed added meaning in the number, seeing it as the highest number before additional digits are added.

Minnie Minoso: ‘Respect the Game’

pioneering latinos 050

(From L to R:  Bernardo Ruiz, Dr Adrian Burgos, Orestes ‘Minnie’ Minoso, and Fernando Perez)

I went to tonight’s ‘Fireside Chat’ put on by the University of Illinois Latino/Latina Studies program.  The topic was Pioneering Latinos: Building a Legacy on and Beyond the Playing Field.  Hosted by U of I professor Adrian Burgos, the panelists on the stage were impressive. 

pioneering latinos 048Orestes ‘Minnie’ Minoso, who played for the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians during the integration of baseball, headlined the event.  At age 86, he’s still pretty vivacious.  Minoso (left), a Cuban national and was the first black to play baseball in town of Chicago (He received an award presented by Dr Burgos on behalf of the U of I Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Planning Committee marking the 60th  anniversary of that event), told a lot of stories from his days with the White Sox.  A overriding theme throughout the night with Mr Minoso was ‘respect the game’. 


Another panelist came from a slightly different perspective.  Fernando Perez is a current baseball player drafted by the Tampa Rays and was recently traded to the Chicago Cubs.  Perez (right) is no dumb jock.  He graduated pioneering latinos 056-1 from Columbia in American  Studies and Creative Writing.  Not only that, he’s apparently put some of that learnin’ to good use.  He’s published a couple essays in the past few years and written for a blog for the New York Times (here’s an example of his work from 2009).  I found Perez quite thoughtful and well-reasoned especially considering his youth.  Seeing that he’s been traded to the Cubs, now I just hope he can hit.  


pioneering latinos 044Finally, Bernardo Ruiz is the director of the film ‘Roberto Clemente’.  I must admit I have not seen ‘Clemente’ yet but now I want to.  Ruiz (left) said that he made the movie  because there was not a film out that adequately addressed Clemente and his life.  He wanted to tell his story.  He encouraged people to not stop there as there other stories around Latino baseball that still need to be told. 


It was nice to see former Negro League pitcher and Champaign native Ernie Westfield in the audience.  It was even better when Dr Burgos introduced him  pioneering latinos 033and had him read a poem before the panel discussion.  Westfield (right) is a hidden treasure in Champaign-Urbana.  No, I’m not a big poetry fan but I could listen to Westfield’s poems any day. 

Thanks to the Department of Latina/Latino Studies and Dr Burgos for putting on the Pioneering Latinos event.  I know Burgos is a great fan of Mr Minoso (and he said so at the event).  This must have been a fulfilling project for him. 

  More photos of the event here.

Pioneering Latinos event coming soon

Another local note:  A collaboration billed as “Pioneering Latinos: Building a Legacy on and Beyond the Playing Field is coming up soon here at the University of Illinois.  It’s generating some real interest among baseball fans and Latino activists alike. 

Events will span a couple days… January 19-20 and will include a movie showing of Roberto Clemente, a lunchtime speaker plus a nightly “fireside chat” with former Sox player Minnie Minoso

It will feature some other big names, too.  Besides Minoso, 2008 Rays’ Minor League Player of the Year Fernando Perez is speaking  Perez is now with the Cubs’ organization.  Bernardo Ruiz who directed the film, Roberto Clemente will also speak. 

For more information, browse to the University of Illinois Latina/Latino Studies web site where they have more details. 

Zealot friend and U of I professor, Adrian Burgos will be facilitating the event and was key in putting this all together. 

All events are free to the public.

Spalding’s Base Ball Guide online at the Library of Congress


Baseball history buffs should check out the Library of Congress’ archives of Spalding Base Ball Guides.  These archives range from 1889 to 1939 and contain a wealth of historical information on National and American League base ball when the game we loved was spelled with two words) as well as some minor league info too. 

Be forewarned, the pages of Spalding’s are scanned images and therefore not searchable or indexed.  If you want to find something you’ll have look for it,  But I guarantee if you’re a fan of old time base ball, the search itself will be worth it. You’ll run across some neat news tidbits and photos along the way.

Thanks to Cluke for passing this along!  He wrote:

I was just geeky enough as a 14 year old and then later to spend many hours looking up old microfilm of newspapers and getting into the sports section (and other stuff) for hours at a time.If it’s old baseball stats- I never tire of it. The digital age is great for browsing from home but there’s nothing like the old micro film of the Trib and the times to follow along with past seasons of the Sox.
Funny, I remember using microfilm back in the days before the Internet, too.  I was replaying the 1970 National League using the APBA Baseball Game while in college and the University of Illinois library archives allowed me to look up the box scores of that year.  Not unlike browsing the Spalding Guides, in the process of searching for the box scores, I ran across some gems of articles. 

Good info on the Three-I League

Charles Braxton points out in a TBZ comment that there is a nice summary  on the Three-I League in Baseball Reference’s Bullpen section. 

tileagueYou usually don’t find a lot of documentation on the now defunct Midwest-based league anymore so I’m happy to see this.  Indeed, you’ll find standings and league leaders for each year of its sixty-year history at the BR Bullpen. 

If you browse the page, baseball historians will most likely find names they recognize.  Hank Majeski, Joe Vosmik, Tony Kubek, Mudcat Grant,.. and some pitcher named Warren Spahn.

And only in the early-to-mid 1900s Midwest would have team names like the Peoria Tractors, Moline Ploughboys and Bloomington Bloomers.

thanks for passing this on, Charles!  A real gem!

Game 7 of 1960 World Series to be shown on MLB Network

Pirate fans, Yankee-haters and baseball history buffs rejoice!  Game Seven of the 1960 World Series will be shown on television this off-season

All thanks to Bing Crosby who reportedly had the last copy of the game:

The copy had been in a vault Crosby built in his home and was discovered last year by an executive of Bing Crosby Enterprises. No other copy is known to have existed for nearly 40 years.

The game will be broadcast on MLB Network sometime this off-season.

Meaningless manager streaks

I’m still on this manager kick.  Bear with me. 

Has anyone heard of Jim Clinton or Joe Miller?  Yeah, me either.  They share the distinction of having lost the most games as a manager without a win.  Interestingly, they both did it in 1872 and managed eleven games without taking home a win.  Clinton did it with the Brooklyn Eckfords as a player/manager.  He did go on to have a ten year career after that. 

While Germany-born Miller did technically bat for the Washington Nationals (yeah, haha) in 1872, it was only four times so calling him a player/manager would be a misnomer.  Calling him a ballplayer would almost be a stretch since he only played one more year after 1872.

To look at the other side, you won’t find as extravagant streaks on the winning end.  You only have to go as far as Mel Harder.  Yes, THAT Mel Harder.  The All-Star Cleveland Indian pitcher managed three games and won them all.  And that’s as the most games a anyone has managed without losing a game. 

Harder did this over a period of two years, 1961-62. 

I guess this proves that it’s easier to lose than to win.