Tidbits From History (Pt. 2)

added 8/9/2010 by Gene Elston

(In the second of two installments, Gene Elston takes us through more of baseball history's less-noted moments and milestones. If you missed the first part, click the link provided to catch up.)

In the early days of baseball, a fan identified only as "Reuben" caught a ball in the stands and refused to give it back, contrary to baseball tradition at the time. Taken to court, he was found to be in the right and allowed to keep the ball. The decision became known as "Reuben's Law". During an average game, up to eight dozen balls are used. Over a season, the major leagues use more than 220,000 balls. That's good news for fans as well as Rawlings, maker of the official major league baseball.

On August 20, 1923, a fine weekday crowd showed up at Comiskey Park in Chicago, to see Babe Ruth and the Yankees in action. It was no contest as the Yanks thumped the White Sox, 16-5. With the game out of reach, the Babe did his best to entertain the fans. In the ninth inning, a pup wondered out to left field - Ruth's domain that day - and the Babe rose to the occasion. He got down on all fours to follow the dog around and then threw his glove at the animal. The pup grabbed the glove and took off with it. At the same time, Paul Castner, a Sox rookie pitcher, hit a fly ball to left field. The Babe loped over to it and nonchalantly caught the ball barehanded. Paul Gallico covered the game for the New York Daily News and, after describing Ruth's bare hand catch, ended his story thusly: "Four strong men were assisted from the park in 'hysterics'."

Brandon Gavett and Lee Ashendorf of Albany, New York, are due a great deal of credit for attempting to correct the label pinned on those players with a low batting average, stuck with what is called the "Mendoza Line". This was the letter written to the Baseball Digest some time ago, following what must have been a great deal of research concerning the topic.

"Since many people seem to be confused about the 'Mendoza Line', which is actually .215 and not .200, we decided to try to make things easier by suggesting a new standard for a poor batting average. We located information on a Leo Dixon, a player in the 1920s, who had a lifetime batting average of .206, and a 1970s infielder named Jim Mason whose lifetime batting average was .203. They combined for a career lifetime batting average of .204 which is much closer to the standard of .200. We therefore, propose their .204 as a new standard for poor batting average, calling it the 'Mason Dixon Line'."

I decided to look up Dixon and Mason and found some interesting facts. Dixon played three years with the St. Louis Browns as a catcher, starting in 1925, and one with Cincinnati (batting .224-.191-.194-.167). Mason played nine years with the Yankees, Texas, Washington and Montreal (1971-1979), three of those he hit (.206-.250-.218), the other six seasons were below .200. So, both were lousy hitters. Dixon was born in Chicago and Mason in Mobile, Alabama - one above and the other below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Mario Mendoza, a nine-year player in the majors, hit .215 and that average was much higher than Dixon's .206 and Mason's .203 and yet, Mendoza has carried the name all this time. There were two other Mendozas - Carlos, a .182 career hitter, and Minnie, a .188 hitter. Thanks to Brandon and Lee, for Dixon's and Mason's averages, "The Mason Dixon Line" was born.

When some sports writer of the Twenties used "Murderers' Row" to describe the awesome Ruth-Gehrig-Meusel-Lazzeri portion of the Yankees batting order, he probably drew praise from his boss for a fresh, vibrant phrase. Well, it had been used in a New York newspaper's account of a game a few years before that - just about 70 years, in fact. The 1858 writer got it from the name given the isolated row of cells containing dangerous criminals in the tombs prison in New York.

Years ago a group of former Negro stars gathered and exchanged tales of the many stories they recalled while playing in their own league. One was Hall-of-Famer Buck Leonard, who laughed his way into a bit about Satchel Page. "Satchel, was invariably late for some of his pitching assignments and, on this occasion, it had been advertised that he would pitch three innings. The game drew a huge crowd - but no Satchel. He finally showed up to pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth and he later explained that he never did say which three innings he'd pitch.

The Oshkosh Giants of the Class-D Wisconsin State League on August 23, 1949 played to a larger crowd than their parent New York Giants. While the Polo Grounds drew 3,845 in losing to the Chicago Cubs, their farmhands were attracting 4,101 for a game with Green Bay. Oshkosh won the pennant in 1949 and led the league in attendance - drawing 115,956.

Today, baseball fans born after 1935 have grown up knowing almost nothing but night games in the major leagues - May 24, 1935 to be exact - however, we must not forget that the first professional night game under a permanent lighting system took place in the minors in a Western League game in Des Moines on May 2, 1930. Let us say only at this time that night baseball saved the minor leagues - but here are some negative statements following what was said concerning the majors playing games at night:

Hall-of-Famer Clark Griffth, owner of the Washington Senators: "There is no chance of night baseball ever becoming popular in the bigger cities. People there are educated to see the best there is and will only stand for the best. High class baseball cannot be played at night. It is just a step above dog racing."

Commissioner K.M. Landis himself said to Larry MacPhail, general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, days before the playing of that first game, "Young man, not in my lifetime or yours will you ever see a baseball game played at night in the majors."

Frank Navin, owner of the Detroit Tigers: "Night games will be the ruination of baseball. It changes the players from athletes to actors."

Ford Frick, president of the National League: "It would be suicidal to play as many as ten games a season at night."

And, four years after the first game, Clark Griffith was still unconvinced: "This game wasn't meant to be played at night. It was meant to be played in the Lord's broad sunlight, just as it has been for 100 years. There's more to a ball game than just a ball game. There's fresh air, sunshine and every thing that goes to make a fine afternoon."

After all of that, some unknown pitcher said, "Night ball makes it possible to cheat with the spitball - they passed the moisture off as dew - until the umps got suspicious!"

But for all the negativism, the minors did have a problem on August 12, 1938 when the Class-C Middle Atlantic League club had their lights turned off. Fans saw their last night game on order of sheriff Phil Kloos, all lights and poles were removed from the Ducks Park as a result of a judgment obtained against the Ducks by Harry A. Mack former vice president of the club to recover on a $2,093.75 note dated July 26, 1937.

With Fitzgerald trailing Statesboro, 13-0, in the eighth inning of a 1952 Class-D Georgia State League game, fans began taunting manager Charles Ridgeway with chants of "put in the batboy." So he did! 12-year-old Joe Relford entered the game as a pinch hitter and grounded out sharply to third. He stayed in the game in center field, fielded a hit cleanly and made an outstanding catch of a line drive. And he achieved two significant distinctions. He is (as far as we know) the youngest ever in organized baseball, and he was the first black player in the Georgia State League. Sadly, the league didn't have much use for history. The next day, the league fined and suspended Ridgeway and fired Ed Kubick, the umpire who approved Relford's entry into the game. Three days later, Relford was gone, too.

In 1908, when Dode Criss asked permission to leave the family farm in Sherman, Mississippi for a career in baseball, his father advised him not to sign for less than $1 a day. He did take his dad's advice and was soon playing for the St. Louis Browns - at what salary we do not know. However, he had a four-year career with St. Louis and was quite versatile. Criss was used mostly as a pinch hitter, but also saw action at first base, outfield and catcher and hit .276. He was a southpaw and pitched nine games, three complete, with a 3-9 record between 1908 and 1911.

Joe Overfield, poet laureate of the game at Buffalo, has located a strange reason for calling a game. He found a scorebook at the Buffalo Historical Society that has written across the score sheet of a game, "Called after five innings, Tom Shiels being completely filled with gas and unable to continue." No record could be found of his making the majors.

Of the 710 games played in the Class-A California League's regular season schedule, in 1987, only one was postponed because of weather - May 19, in Fresno. That means that 99.86% off the league's games were played as scheduled - better than Ivory Soap’s claim of purity!

Because of the failure to give out rain checks on April 27, 1905 when a storm broke up the New York-Washington American League game, the New York club opened the gates to the public on April 22, and 30,000 persons accepted the invitation to see the game that day without cost.

The now infamous reserve clause was enacted on September 29, 1879 at a meeting of National League magnates, at which time the owners made a secret pact to retain five players and keep them off the National Leagues' market. The reserve clause was designed to keep the Chicago club, the richest one in the league, from holding a monopoly on the sport. Boston owner, Arthur H. Soden, finally proposed that each delegate be allowed to name five players from his own club as a nucleus for the next season and those chosen not be allowed to sign with any other club without permission. The plan was approved.

However, during the first ten years or so, some clubs were not following the rules. Finally, in 1900, the National League's fourth president, Nicholas Young, set the record straight: "Any party or parties who attempt to tamper with his circuit's players will be taken to court under the terms of the reserve clause in each player's contract." This could prove interesting as many believe that the reserve clause is un-American and would never stand up in court.

In 1984, when American League umpire Bill Kunkel worked behind the plate, he had to give the ball to the catcher to throw back to the pitcher because he had a torn rotator cuff that stemmed from a separation he'd suffered making a particularly demonstrative strike call.

Many unusual happenings occurred in Philadelphia when the original Shibe Park, later known as Connie Mack Stadium, was being closed down on October 1, 1970 to make way for Veterans Stadium. The Philadelphia Inquirer recalled that many in the crowd of 31,822 came wearing tool belts, etc., to be ready to tear down the old stadium and remove items to remember the Old Lady. But, what I remember most was, after the last game when Veterans Stadium was meeting the wrecking ball to make room for Citizens Bank Park in 2004, police collared a woman who walked out of a restroom with a toilet seat around her neck. She was one of ten people charged with stealing signs and seats and other souvenirs.

A new rule was adopted by the International League before the 1914 season began. The league instructed its umpires that, should a game require two hours or more to play, they must file a report explaining the reason for such dawdling.

Former pitcher Clyde King, who spent all but one of his five seasons in the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was speaking of illegal pitches and admitted he once threw one in a game against the Giants. His catcher in this game was Roy Campanella, and there were two outs and Giant runners on first and second with Whitey Lockman at the plate. Campanella, on a trip to the mound, suggested King throw a "bubble gum" pitch to the Giants' outfielder since King was chewing gum at the time. The Dodger catcher told king to drop gum into his glove and attach it to the ball. King said he followed Campy's suggestion and Lockman swung and missed the pitch to end the game. Back in the clubhouse, Campanella yelled, "Hey professor, you can have the ball if you can get it out of my glove."

After the home run totals for the American League were released in 1927, it was discovered that Babe Ruth had out-homered the entire remaining seven teams. Ruth’s total was 60 home runs. While the also-rans were Philadelphia Athletics at 56 home runs, St.Louis Browns with 55, Detroit Tigers 51, Chicago White Sox 36, Washington Senators 29, Boston Red Sox 28 and Cleveland Indians 26. Meanwhile, the rest of the Yankees hit 98 home runs.

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