Captain Hank Greenberg, A Rosh Hashanah Remembrance

Captain Hank Greenberg, A Rosh Hashanah Remembrance

By Joe Guzzardi

Simply put, Hank Greenberg is the most prodigious Jewish Major League Baseball slugger ever. Greenberg’s .313 career batting average, four AL home runs and four RBI titles plus two MVP awards earned the 12-year Detroit Tigers’ first baseman a Hall of Fame plaque in 1956 as the first Jew to enter Cooperstown. Had Greenberg not lost the entire 1942-1944 seasons, about 2,000 at bats missed during his peak performance years, Hank’s totals would have been loftier.

Few sacrificed a larger percentage of their careers to serve and protect their country than Greenberg. Hank played for nine and a half seasons, and was in uniform for four and a half years. Had Greenberg played during those war years, Sabermetrics indicates that he would have ended his career with 525 homers and 550 RBIs, instead of 331 and 1,274.

Greenberg always excelled athletically. At the Bronx’s James Madison High School, the 6’4” Greenberg dominated in baseball, basketball and soccer. After a year at New York University, in 1929 Greenberg signed with the Tigers for $9,000. Hank quickly worked his way through the minors with stops in Hartford, Evansville and Beaumont.

Captain Hank Greenberg, A Rosh Hashanah Remembrance

By September 1930, Greenberg was up for a cup of coffee with the Tigers, then hit .301 in his 1931 rookie season. By 1935, he was the American League’s MVP, helping steer the Tigers to the World Series title. In 1938, Greenberg’s 58 home runs were just two shy of Babe Ruth’s then-record. Greenberg achieved his diamond feats even though once outside the heavily Jewish Bronx, he was targeted for anti-Semitic, Jew-baiting slurs. Few were more vociferous than Detroit’s Henry Ford who blamed Jews for problems in the U.S. and Europe.

Throughout his career, Greenberg played baseball on the Sabbath, but never on the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But in 1934, with the Tigers clinging to a narrow lead over the surging New York Yankees, a crucial game fell on Rosh Hashanah. Torn between his faith and his teammates, Greenberg, after consulting a rabbi, chose to play. Hank socked two homers to lead the Tigers to a 2-1 victory.

While Greenberg may have been conflicted about playing ball on High Holy Days, he had no reservations about enlisting to defend his country. In his book “Baseball in Wartime,” Gary Bedingfield wrote that after Greenberg was drafted in 1941, he was honorably discharged when Congress released servicemen age 28 years and older. After Pearl Harbor, Sergeant Greenberg volunteered to join the U.S. Army Air Corps. “We are in trouble,” Greenberg told The Sporting News, “and there is only one thing for me to do – return to the service.” Greenberg predicted, incorrectly, that his enlistment meant the end of his baseball days, and that he was leaving the game with a “pang.” Assigned to the first Boeing B-29 Superfortresses’ group to go overseas, Greenberg spent 1944 flying in the India-China-Burma theater.

On July 1, 1945, Greenberg returned to Detroit’s starting lineup, and before 47,729 fans, homered to lead the Tigers over the Philadelphia A’s, 9-5. Greenberg’s presence in the daily lineup propelled the Tigers to a come-from-behind A.L. pennant. Greenberg kept on slugging. In 1946, he led the league with 44 home runs and 127 RBIs. After a contract dispute, Greenberg spent his final 1947 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After his retirement, Greenberg inexplicably fell short for Hall of Fame induction for nine consecutive years until Cooperstown elected him in 1956.

In 1986, at age 75, Greenberg, an American patriot, baseball superstar and inspiration to Christians and Jews alike, died from liver cancer. Before Greenberg passed, he wrote his wife Mary Jo a love letter that he stored in a safe deposit box for her to read after his death. When Mary Jo gathered the emotional strength to open Hank’s letter, she read his words of thankfulness to God that for 25 years he had been blessed with her devoted companionship, and of his gratitude for his Detroit Tigers’ heyday. Greenberg left Mary Jo this message: “Shed no tear for me…I’ve had a wonderful life, filled with personal success, and good health.”

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

NFL Starts Second Century; George Halas Remembered

NFL Starts Second Century; George Halas Remembered

By Joe Guzzardi

The National Football League has started its second century as the gridiron world’s highest achievable professional level. Formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (APFA), it rebranded itself in 1922 as the NFL. Going back to the APFA’s birth, George Halas has been football’s most prominent and creative head coach. Moreover, had George Herman “Babe” Ruth not been slamming baseballs into outer space, Halas might have been the New York Yankees’ regular right fielder.

Halas’ success as a head coach began in 1921 when he led the Chicago Staleys to a 10-7 victory over the Buffalo All-Americans in an end-of-season league championship contest. For the next half-century, Halas was a player, head coach, owner and front office executive. Most well-known for leading the Chicago Bears, the “Monsters of the Midway,” to eight NFL titles, Halas also took credit for renaming his team. Halas had a close personal relationship with Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley. In rebranding the Staleys, Halas concluded that since football players are much bigger than baseball’s Cubs, they must be “Bears.”

NFL Starts Second Century; George Halas Remembered
George Halas baseball card

But Halas’ long run as NFL icon may never have happened – or would have been delayed by a decade or so – if he had won a New York Yankees’ starting outfield slot. The Yankees had been following Halas’ baseball career since his junior year at the University of Illinois. A three major sports star, Halas played end on the football team, could shoot a basketball and starred on the baseball team, where he hit for average, knew his way around the basepaths, and excelled in the outfield. Halas hit .350 during his sophomore season, good enough to impress Yankees’ scout Bob Connery, who invited him to join the Yankees at spring training. Halas declined, but promised to keep in touch after he earned his university engineering degree. Then, World War I intervened, and Halas enlisted in the Navy.

Discharged after the war, Halas honored his pledge to Connery, signing with the Yankees for a $500 bonus and a $400 monthly salary. Earlier, Illinois awarded Halas his diploma as a tribute for his war service. His college education completed, in the spring of 1919, Halas reported to the Yankees where he made an immediate impression. The New York Times scouting report: “He is swift afoot and is a heady and proficient base runner. He covers a lot of ground in the outfield, and best of all he is a world of enthusiasm for the game.”

But from the outset, Halas had cursed luck. In a spring training game, batting against the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer Rube Marquard, Halas, trying to stretch a double into a triple, injured his hip sliding hard into third, which put him out of commission for the season’s first few months. As Halas recalled: “That slide was the beginning of the end of my baseball career.” Halas’ bum hip slowly healed. In May 1919, he led off against the Philadelphia A’s and connected for his first hit, one of only two singles in his brief MLB career. In 22 at-bats, Halas hit .091 and was demoted to the AAA St. Paul Saints. By 1920, Ruth, a blossoming superstar, was a Yankee, and Halas was embroiled in a contract dispute with the Saints. Halas then accepted an offer from the A.E. Staley Co. to form football’s best semi-pro team.

Halas lived a rich and rewarding life. Not only did Halas co-create the NFL, but he also compiled a .671 professional coaching record and was named an All-Pro end. He served in World Wars I and II, earned the rank of Captain and was awarded a Bronze Star. With his unique T-formation, Halas’ 1940 Bears trounced the Washington Redskins 73-0 in history’s most lopsided NFL Championship game. And, however briefly, Halas proudly wore a Yankees’ uniform.

In 1983, at age 88, “Papa Bear,” as Halas was lovingly called, died after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, one of his few losing fights.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

NFL Starts Second Century; George Halas Remembered

Minor League Victory Was Major Labor Win

Minor League Victory Was Major Labor Win

By Joe Guzzardi

Midway during the Major League Baseball owners’ lockout of its players, I promised myself that I was done. No more universal DH, ghost runner, launch angles, tender limbs, watered down Hall of Fame standards and – most of all – no more haggling between the billionaire owners, the multimillionaire players and meddlesome, anti-baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. I pledged not to watch or listen to one-third of any inning of any 2022 game. Unlike more important self-help vows I’ve made, I stuck to my pledge – no small feat for a fan whose summers for the last seven decades have included daily baseball doses.

But another constant disappointment is the principal reason I’ve steadfastly refused to contribute one thin dime to baseball – its years-long miserly, shameful treatment of minor league players. Advocates for Minor Leaguers (AML) crunched numbers and found that the median annual salary for a minor league player today is $12,000. The federal poverty level is $12,800, and the 2021 average MLB franchise has a $1.9 billion value.

MLB team owners pay their minor hopefuls a standard $400 weekly salary at the Complex League level, $500 per week in Single-A, $600 per week in Double-A and $700 per week in Triple-A. Players are paid only during the regular season and playoffs, despite being required to perform year-round in off-the-field duties. Minor leaguers, whose numbers were slashed when Manfred mandated that 42 teams be eliminated, make an annual salary of between $4,800 and $15,400. Weekly payments for entry-level minor leaguers are less than what minimum-wage workers earn in some states for a 40-hour workweek.

Minor League Victory Was Major Labor Win

Unlike major-leaguers, minor leaguers don’t draw checks until their first regular season game. Professional baseball is specifically exempted from federal labor protections. However, teams still are subject to state wage laws which owners routinely ignored. Instead, owners contended that players should be classified as short-term seasonal apprentices similar to farm laborers, a specious argument that a federal judge rejected.

Harry Marino, who played four minor league seasons, and is now AML executive director, said: “Guys struggle with housing, nutrition and making ends meet on a fundamental level. The system is outdated, exploitative and needs to change.” Last year, one viral AML video showed how nearly a dozen St. Louis Cardinals Double-A affiliate Springfield players were forced to sleep on the floor of a hotel banquet room while on the road.

In 2014, three retired minor league players filed a lawsuit which claimed violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as abuses of state minimum wage and overtime requirements. Eight years later, MLB agreed in court to pay minor leaguers $185 million to settle. An early guesstimate is that as many as 23,000 players could share the money with an average payment to each of $5,000 to $5,500. MLB grudgingly told the court that it approves of the settlement.

Garrett Broshuis, the players’ lead lawyer and a one-time minor league pitcher, called the settlement a “monumental step” toward “fair and just” compensation for the players. Broshuis continued: “I’ve seen first-hand the financial struggle players face while earning poverty-level wages – or no wages at all – in pursuit of their major league dream.”

The minor leaguers’ court win is a refreshing victory for the good guys against the stuffed-pockets, Scrooge McDuck-type tycoons content to let their prospects subsist on a bologna sandwich and sleep on the floor while they eat wagyu beef aboard chartered jets. Good baseball is everywhere – high school, college, Little and Pony Leagues, and the Independent League. Fans shouldn’t support the MLB tightwads, and can find better, more enjoyable baseball outlets close to home.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

Minor League Victory Was Major Labor Win

Kenny Washington Forgotten Black Pioneer Of Football

Kenny Washington Forgotten Black Pioneer Of Football

By Joe Guzzardi

The multi-billion-dollar NCAA football business begins on Aug. 27 when 13 games will be nationally televised. Three PAC-12 schools are on the richest list: University of Southern California, University of Washington and the University of Oregon.

Not all the preseason headlines, however, involve speculation about which teams might reach the 2023 National Championship Game. UCLA and USC stunned the football world when they announced that, in 2024, they’ll leave the Pac-12. But since UCLA didn’t advise the University of California’s Board of Regents, which includes Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Bruins’ grandiose plan could be scuttled. The Board doesn’t affect USC, a private institution.

Once, back in the PAC-8 days when the pre-season buzz in Southern California was about football’s star players, and not TV billions, no player thrilled fans more than Los Angeles Lincoln High School dynamo and UCLA superstar Kenny Washington. During the 1930s and 1940s, Washington was the Los Angeles area’s most popular athlete. When Washington first donned a UCLA uniform, college football had only 25 black players nationwide; the UCLA campus was 3 percent black.

In his new book, “Walking Alone, the Untold Journey of Football Pioneer Kenny Washington,” Dan Taylor chronicles the tale of a groundbreaking black football star who could have been, had he so chosen, the first to break baseball’s color line. Jackie Robinson, Washington’s UCLA baseball and football teammate, readily acknowledged that Washington was his superior on the diamond.

Kenny Washington Forgotten Black Pioneer

Instead of breaking baseball’s black player ban, in 1946 Washington became the first African-American player in 13 years to join an NFL roster, the Los Angeles Rams. On the field, Washington withstood endless taunting and racist slurs, so ugly that he refused to play in games held in the south. His opponents blatantly fouled him, but referees refused to penalize the rule-breakers.

Washington’s pro-football debut was inauspicious. Playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 96-degree heat against the Philadelphia Eagles and before 30,000 excited fans – the Rams had just relocated from Cleveland – Washington entered the game when Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Waterfield left in the second half. Most of Washington’s passes sailed over receivers’ heads. His coach moved Washington to running back where his stats improved. In his first game at tailback, Washington was, despite knee injuries sustained earlier in his career, the Rams’ leading rusher against the Detroit Lions.

After the 1946 season ended, speculation abounded that Washington, encouraged by Robinson, would leave the Rams to pursue a baseball career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. When Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher passed on him because “his knee was on the bum,” Washington returned to the Rams, this time with more success. Through his first four 1947 games, Washington scored four touchdowns and had a 7.5 yards per carry average.

In 1948, Washington took another strong stand against bigotry. After its Hawaii training camp disbanded, the Rams headed to Dallas, Texas, a Jim Crow state, to play in an annual exhibition game. Washington refused to play. Eventually, Rams owner Dan Reeves worked out an agreement with the games’ organizers that would pave the way for Kenny and future blacks to play in the Dallas game. Washington played and became the first black to appear in Texas professional football.

Early in the 1948 season, Washington, beset by injuries, announced his football retirement. In previous off-seasons, Washington had starred in black films, and he opted to return to Hollywood. He also had another shot at baseball, a near miss.

Polyarteritis, a heart and lung disease, took Washington, only 51, in 1971. In 1957, speaking on behalf of the NAACP’s Fight for Freedom Fund, Robinson spoke about his friend Washington, calling him “the greatest.” Author Taylor concluded that Washington was a football trailblazer who helped the NFL reintegrate.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

Kenny Washington Forgotten Black Pioneer

Jackie Robinson Museum Opening Sept. 5 In New York

Jackie Robinson Museum Opening Sept. 5 In New York

By Joe Guzzardi

After a 14-year delay, the Jackie Robinson Museum will open to the public in New York on Sept. 5. For baseball fans, the 20,000 square foot museum at One Hudson Square Building, 75 Varick St. will offer interactive exhibits including one of Ebbets Field, 4,500 rare artifacts, and other displays that evoke Robinson’s baseball and civil rights activist experiences. The Jackie Robinson Foundation, founded in 1975 by Jackie’s wife Rachel, will oversee the museum.

Every year, Jackie’s heroic tale is told nationwide in classrooms, and he’s had schools, parkways, streets and apartment houses named in his honor. While Jackie’s story as Major League Baseball’s first black player is well known even to non-fans, Rachel’s biography is equally compelling and inspiring. Her life serves as a universal example for young women who want to succeed.

On July 19, 2022, Rachel Annetta Isum Robinson celebrated her 100th birthday; she was only 50 when Jackie died from a heart attack brought on by acute diabetes. Writing in the Society for American Baseball Research, journalist Ralph Carhart told of Rachel’s early upbringing in Los Angeles. Her mother Zellee took Rachel to violin lessons, museums and the Exposition Park Rose Garden. Rachel attended the acclaimed Manual Arts High School, which included among its notable alumni three-time Oscar winner Frank Capra and California Governor Goodwin Knight. Zellee and her husband Charles provided Rachel with opportunities that paved her way to accomplishment.

Jackie Robinson Museum Opening Sept. 5 In New York
Rachel Robinson

Rachel enrolled in UCLA where she met Jackie. Sparks didn’t fly! Rachel thought the popular Bruins football star was “cocky, conceited and self-centered.” Eventually, however, Rachel’s opinion softened, and on their first formal date, Jack took her to the Bruins football homecoming dinner, an affair at the exclusive Biltmore Hotel. While Jack was serving in the U.S. Army, Rachel studied at the U.C. San Francisco School of Nursing, and worked eight-hour shifts in hospital wards. After graduating and earning the Florence Nightingale Award for excellence in nursing, Rachel and Jack married in Los Angeles in 1946, and the couple had Jackie, Jr. in November. Two other children followed, Sharon in 1950, and David in 1952.

Rachel later earned an M.S. degree in psychiatric nursing from New York University, became a Yale University Assistant Professor of nursing, a researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and directed the Connecticut Mental Health Center.

On April 15, 1947, Rachel was at Ebbets Field with Jackie, Jr., to watch her husband make history. Rachel later commented on how much Jack’s elevation from the Triple-A Montreal Royals to the Brooklyn Dodgers meant to “Black America, and how much we symbolized its hunger for opportunity and its determination to make dreams long deferred possible.”

After Jack died at age 52 in 1972, Rachel immediately took over as the protector of her husband’s legacy. Within weeks of his death, Rachel resigned from Yale and managed Jack’s various financial interests. One of Jackie’s dreams was to start a construction company that built affordable housing for underserved families. Although Rachel didn’t have adequate funding to pursue that project, she founded the Jack Robinson Development Corporation. Working with the Halpern Building Corporation, the JRDC built and managed more than 1,300 units of low- and moderate-income housing in New York City and Yonkers. Rachel supervised the property managers’ training.

Since the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s inception nearly half a century ago, Rachel has received 12 honorary doctorates, including one from her alma mater, New York University. Her first alma mater presented her with the UCLA Medal in 2009, the university’s highest honor. In 2017, Rachel was given the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, presented every three years to a person who enhances baseball’s positive image in society.

In 2020, Rachel and daughter Sharon moved to Delray Beach, Fla. where she’ll continue to provide a guiding hand to the museum curators and to promote Jackie’s legacy to all who visit, old fans and new.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writer Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

Jackie Robinson Museum Opening Sept. 5 In New York

All-Star Game Few Saw and Fewer Remember

All-Star Game Few Saw and Fewer Remember

By Joe Guzzardi

In 1963, an All-Star game was played that few fans watched, and 59 years later, nobody remembers. The game, comprised exclusively of Latino players from the American and National Leagues, took place at the New York Giants’ historic Polo Grounds – the last game played at Coogan’s Bluff. The exhibition game, played before 14,235 fans, was a charity event to benefit a new Latin American Hall of Fame.

The Polo Grounds, temporary home to the New York Mets during their first two seasons, 1962 and 1963, had showcased some of baseball’s greatest players – 373-game winning pitcher Christie Mathewson, right fielder Mel Ott who came up as a rookie at age 17 and retired, still a Giants, 22 years and 511 home runs later, and Willie Mays, the “Say Hey Kid.” Baseball’s most dramatic moment, Bobby Thompson’s 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” thrilled Polo Grounds’ bugs.

All-Star Game Few Saw and Fewer Remember

Nearly six decades ago, on that warm and sunny October 13th day, a week after the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the New York Yankees in the World Series, the lineups were filled with Latin American and Caribbean nations’ players – Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama and Mexico. Black or multiracial, they endured the same bigotry as African Americans.

Among them were future Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Luis Aparicio. Others honored included a Minnesota Twins’ future three-time batting champion Tony Oliva, and his teammates MVP Zoilo Versalles and Vic Power, San Francisco Giants star outfielder and future manager Felipe Alou, the Washington Senators’ Minnie Minoso and the New York Yankees’ Hector Lopez, coming off his fourth straight World Series appearance. Unlike the 2022 All-Star Game, the Latinos played their game in obscurity – no television, no media hoopla and no promotional advertisement. Three of Latin music’s biggest talents, however, performed on field before the game – bandleaders Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez and Cuban bombshell singer La Lupe.

For the Latin stars, the game was emotionally charged. Marichal, the “Dominican Dandy,” remembered: “There was a lot of emotion among all the players, and you could tell the fans were excited about it, too.” Manny Mota, a Dominican and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder then in his second major league season, stressed how proud the players were to represent their countries – “prestige and pride” were his words.

For all its historical importance, the game was a snoozer with the NL, who had won the official 1963 All-Star Game in Cleveland 5-3, pulled away by the ninth inning, 5-0. Alou, Mota, the St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Julian Javier, and the Pirates’ Alvin O’Neal McBean contributed the winning RBIs. Alou’s single came off the Twin’s losing pitcher, the Cuban Pedro Ramos.

Giants ace Marichal, a 25-game winner in 1963, hurled four innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits, no walks and fanning six. But the win went to McBean who followed Marichal to the mound with four shutout innings of his own. After the game, the players lined up in the clubhouse to collect their $175 stipend, a far cry from what today’s ASG participants receive. While not paid in folding green, the 2022 All-Stars get six free tickets to the game and to the Home Run Derby, free first-class airfare and hotel, the daily $117.50 MLB meal stipend, and a swag bag. Don’t forget that the crème de la crème ASG players have negotiated into their contract’s bonuses for up to $500,000 just for being chosen.

But at least three of the Latin players had the last laugh. Cepeda, Clemente and Power were such unfamiliar faces that after getting paid the first time, they went to the back of the line, and unrecognized, collected a second time. Said Cepeda, “The guy never realized he paid us twice.”

This year’s game is 7:30 tonight and will be broadcast on Fox.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

All-Star Game Few Saw and Fewer Remember

Jim Bunning Dad To Nine Threw Perfect Game On Father’s Day ’64

Jim Bunning Dad To Nine Threw Perfect Game On Father’s Day ’64

By Joe Guzzardi

On Father’s Day, 1964, Philadelphia Phillies’ right-hander Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game against the New York Mets in Shea Stadium. Bunning’s two-hour, 10-minute masterpiece – 90 pitches, 10 strike outs – during a double-header’s first game had special significance. At the time, Bunning and his wife Mary Theis had seven children. Eventually, the Bunnings, married 60 years, would have nine children, 35 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Few in baseball history have lived as rewarding a life as Bunning who represented Kentucky as a U.S. representative from 1987 to 1999, and then as a two-term U.S. senator from 1999 until 2011. Bunning’s baseball achievements put him in the Hall of Fame. Along his way, Bunning racked up 224 wins, 2,855 strike outs and was chosen to participate in nine All-Star Games. The fire-balling righty led the league in strike outs three times, and when he retired Bunning ranked second among all-time strikeout leaders behind Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators.

Jim Bunning Dad To Nine Threw Perfect Game On Father's Day '64
Perfect on Father’s Day 1964

In 1955, Bunning debuted with the Detroit Tigers, and in 1958, he threw a 3-0 no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox. Bunning was then traded to the Phillies, his second stop in a career that also included brief stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Long after Bunning hung up his glove, he recalled in detail how he set down 27 consecutive Mets, the first National League perfect game since 1880 when John Montgomery Ward, throwing underhand and from 45 feet, defeated the Buffalo Bisons, 5-0. After attending Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and eating a hearty sausage and egg breakfast, Bunning headed out to Shea where the temperature and humidity would hit 90 by game time. Although Bunning said that he felt no better or no worse than usual as he warmed up, Phillies’ manager Gene Mauch disagreed. Mauch told Sport Magazine’s Larry Merchant, “We knew when he [Bunning] was warming up that this was something special. The way he was throwing so live and as high as he was. Not high with his pitches. High himself.”

For nine innings, Bunning was so relaxed that he rejected the long-standing baseball tradition which forbade pitchers to talk to teammates about no hitters in progress – considered a jinx. “Dive for the ball,” Bunning laughingly told his infielders. “Don’t let anything fall in.” With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Bunning called catcher Gus Triandos to the mound and asked him to tell him a joke. Triandos shook his head in dismay and went back behind the plate. Bunning then struck out the last two Mets and pounded his glove as his teammates rushed to share his joy in his 6-0 win. Bunning’s was the fifth perfect game in major-league history and the first in the regular season since the Chicago White Sox Charlie Robertson blanked the Detroit Tigers, 2-0.

Later, Bunning said about his flawless performance: “Everything has to come together, good control, outstanding plays from your teammates, a whole lot of good fortune on your side and a lot of bad luck for the other guys. A million things could go wrong, but on this one particular day of your life none of them do.”

But when Bunning looked back at his 1964 season, disappointment superseded his perfect game’s thrills. By September 20, the Phillies led by 6½-games with 12 to play. But then the wheels fell off. The Phils lost ten in a row; Bunning, overworked by Mauch, was charged with three losses. The St. Louis Cardinals eked out the pennant by a game over the Phils and the Cincinnati Reds.

Before he died at age 85, Bunning said, “I am most proud of the fact I went through nearly 11 years without missing a start. They wrote my name down, and I went to the post.” In today’s era, Bunning’s consistency would be a marvel.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

Jim Bunning Dad To Nine Threw Perfect Game On Father’s Day ’64

D-Day Hero Morrie Martin Pitched For The Philadelphia A’s

D-Day Hero Morrie Martin Pitched For The Philadelphia A’s

By Joe Guzzardi

Baseball fans who came of age during the 1950s, the National Pastime’s Golden Era, remember Morrie Martin as a journeyman left-handed pitcher who had limited success during his ten-year career. Pitching mostly for the basement-dwelling Philadelphia A’s, Martin’s career record was 38-34. Martin was credited with 23 wins as an A’s; the remaining 15 were spread out among the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Chicago White Sox, the Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals. The stout lefty from Dixon, Mo., made brief appearances for the Chicago Cubs, but didn’t earn a decision.

Martin was much more than a middling MLB hurler who walked more batters, 252, than he struck out, 245. Before Martin was inducted into the U.S. Army on June 2, 1943, he compiled above-average minor league credentials, 16-7, in Grand Forks, N.D., with the Class C Chiefs and in St. Paul, Minn., with the American Association’s Saints, two Chicago White Sox affiliates. Martin’s pitching stints with the Saints represented the last times he touched a baseball until his return home from WWII in 1945.

As Gary Bedingfield reported on his “Baseball in Wartime” website and pursuant to information drawn from Stan Opdkye’s Society of American Baseball Research essay, “Morrie Martin,” Martin entered military service with the Army at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., and then served overseas with the 49th Engineer Combat Battalion where he took part in amphibious landings as part of Operation Torch at North Africa, Operation Husky at Sicily and Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

D-Day Hero Morrie Martin Pitched For The Philadelphia A's

As an engineer, Martin was among the first to reach shore. Shortly after the D-Day landing, and while on guard duty near Saint-Lô, France, Martin was hit by shrapnel in his neck, left hand and arm. Despite his injuries, Martin remained on the front lines. Late in 1944, he was engaged in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Mountains of Belgium and suffered frostbite in the bitterly cold temperatures. Nevertheless, Martin remained with his unit until 1945 when he suffered serious, near-fatal injuries.

After Martin took two more rounds of shrapnel wounds, he was buried alive in Germany when the house he took shelter in was shelled. Left for dead, Martin and two other soldiers clawed their way out to rejoin their battalion. At the Battle of the Bulge, Martin suffered a bullet wound to the thigh, and nearly lost his leg when gangrene set in.

Evacuated to a hospital in Saint-Quentin, France, Martin caught a big break. A nurse looked at his chart, saw that he was a professional ball player, and urged him to reject the doctors’ advice that he give his permission to amputate his leg. Instead, more than 150 penicillin shots saved Martin’s leg from amputation, and he slowly worked his way back to the big leagues. Discharged from the Army in October 1945, Martin joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, and worked his way up through Branch Rickey’s fiercely competitive minor league system.

On April 25, 1949, Martin made his first MLB start against the Boston Braves, the 1948 National League champions. Martin pitched seven quality innings, but his opponent, Bill Voiselle, who pitched a complete game shutout, was better. For the balance of his career, Martin shuffled back and forth between the majors and the minors. Martin peaked in 1951 with the A’s when he compiled an 11-4 record.

On May 25, 2010, in Washington, Mo., Martin died from lung cancer at age 87. For his service in World War II, he was awarded two Purple Hearts, four battle stars and an Oak Leaf Cluster. Prior to his death, Martin told a newspaper reporter how much he valued his wartime service to his country: “We had a job to do, and we did it. I don’t have regrets about the time I missed in baseball. I’m proud of what we did. I’d do it again.” Until that interview, Martin, like most of the Great Generation, was always willing to talk about baseball, but refused to speak about his war heroism.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

D-Day Hero Morrie Martin Pitched For The Philadelphia A’s

Harvard Eddie Grant Was MLB’s First Fatality In WWI

Harvard Eddie Grant Was MLB’s First Fatality In WWI

By Joe Guzzardi

Eddie Grant, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants third baseman, was the first major league baseball player killed in World War I. In all, seven other major league players lost their lives in the Great War. They are Lt. Tom Burr, plane crash; Lt. Harry Chapman, illness; Lt. Larry Chappell, influenza; Pvt. Harry Glenn, pneumonia; Cpt. Newton Halliday, hemorrhages; Cpl. Ralph Sherman, drowned, and Purple Heart winner Sgt. Robert “Bun” Troy, shot.
 
Known affectionately among his teammates as “Harvard Eddie,” Grant debuted in the majors in 1905 after he graduated from Harvard where he starred at baseball and was the basketball team’s top scorer. Grant eventually would play 990 games as an infielder through 1915. An average dead ball era hitter, neither spectacular nor a detriment, Grant’s career average was .249 with five home runs. Grant’s best big-league season came in 1909 when he hit .269 as Philadelphia’s leadoff hitter and finished second in the National League with 170 hits. Opposition players considered him an above average fielder and particularly adept at handling bunts. In the 1913 World Series which the Giants lost to the Philadelphia Athletics, 4-1, Grant saw limited action. He pinch-ran and scored in Game 2, and in Game 4, he hit a foul ball pop up that the A’s catcher easily snagged.

Harvard Eddie Grant Was MLB's First Fatality In WWI
Harvard Eddie Grant

On April 6, 1917, two years after his baseball career ended at age 33, and with his law practice barely underway, Grant enlisted in the U.S. Army, the first major league player to sign up. In a letter to a friend, Grant proudly wrote: “I had determined from the start to be in this war should it come to us…I believe there is no greater duty than I owe for being that which I am — an American citizen.’’
 
Tom Simon, writing for the Society for American Baseball Research, recounts Grant’s fateful demise in his defense of America against the advancing Germans. On October 2, 1918, Grant’s 307th Regiment launched an attack in France’s Argonne Forest, a rugged, heavily wooded area with thick underbrush, deep ravines and marshes. Soon, Grant’s superior officers were killed, and Eddie took command. By the morning of the third day, October 5, Grant was exhausted. He hadn’t slept since the offensive’s beginning, and his fellow officers noticed him sitting on a stump with a cup of coffee in front of him, too weak to lift the cup.
 
One of Grant’s troops, a former Polo Grounds policeman, remembered: “Eddie was dog-tired but he stepped off at the head of his outfit with no more concern than if he were walking to his old place at third base after his side had finished its turn at the bat. He staggered from weakness when he first started off, but pretty soon he was marching briskly with his head up.”
 
When the Germans pressed forward, Grant yelled at his men to seek cover while he remained standing, waving his arms to call for stretchers. Grant’s courageous effort to save his fellow soldiers cost him his life. Maj. Charles Wittlesey, Grant’s friend who led the 77th Division in the battle historians call “the Lost Battalion,” said: “When that shell burst and killed that boy, America lost one of the finest types of manhood I have ever known.’’ When the battle ended, Grant’s fellow soldiers, realizing their leader had been killed, were overheard saying, “The best man in the entire regiment is gone.”
 
Grant is interred at France’s Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery along with more than 14,000 American soldiers. World War I historian Mike Hanlon has led tours of the war’s battlefields and the cemetery where he talks about Purple Heart recipient Grant.
 
Then-MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wanted Grant added to the Hall of Fame for his service to the country. Although Landis’ fine idea was rejected, Grant had a Bronx highway named after him, and a ball yard in his hometown Franklin, Mass. The Giants, Grant’s last major league team, placed a bronze plaque in his honor on the center field fence of the Polo Grounds on Memorial Day 1921. The plaque identified Grant as Soldier – Scholar – Athlete, doubtless the order in which Eddie would like them listed.
 
 
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

DiMaggios Credited Mom With Their Successes

DiMaggios Credited Mom With Their Successes

By Joe Guzzardi 

Rosalie Mercurio DiMaggio, a Sicilian immigrant, bore nine children, three of whom became Major League center fielders. Since the boys’ father, San Francisco fisherman Giuseppe, considered baseball a “a bum’s game,” Rosalie covered for the Vince, Dominic and Joe Jr. so they could practice with other local boys. Then and now, the Bay Area was a hotbed of baseball talent that included Barry Bonds, Billy Martin, Keith Hernandez, Gil McDougald, seven-time All-Star Joe Cronin, and four-time AL batting champion Harry Heilmann.

Around San Francisco, scouts determined that, of the three brothers, Joe had the best bat; Dom, the best arm; and Vince, who wanted to become an opera singer, the best voice. Joe’s baseball achievements are legendary – his 56-game hitting streak, three MVP awards and his nine World Series championship rings. During the streak, the nation was obsessed with whether “Joltin’ Joe” had gotten a hit that day. An Army Air Force veteran, Joe soon became the talk of Hollywood and the national gossip sheets when he married screen starlet Marilyn Monroe.

DiMaggios Credited Mom With Their Successes
Joe DiMaggio with parents Roaslie and Giuseppi

For years after his Yankee career ended, DiMaggio remained an icon. Paul Simon’s 1968 hit song, “Mrs. Robinson,” contained this lyric which suggested that the nation yearned for the simpler America that DiMaggio represented: “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio; a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” DiMaggio’s reaction to the song: “What the hell does it mean?”

Dom, too, is well-known in the baseball world. For a decade, he ably flanked Ted Williams in the Boston Red Sox outfield, and hit with the best of them. An effective lead-off hitter, the “Little Professor,” so called because he was 5’9”, 160 lbs. and wore rimless spectacles, batted .300 four times, led the AL in runs twice and in triples and stolen bases once each. Dom also led AL center fielders in assists three times and in putouts and double plays twice each; he tied a league record by recording 400 putouts four times, and his 1948 totals of 503 putouts and 526 total chances stood as AL records for nearly 30 years.

Post-baseball, Dom founded several small companies that eventually merged into the Delaware Valley Corporation, a family-owned business still operational today. But despite teammate Ted Williams’ vigorous lobbying, Dom’s career stats, .298 average and 1,680 hits, they haven’t gotten him elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s veterans’ wing.

Vince, the oldest brother, had less plate success, but was more adept with his glove. He led the National League in strikeouts six times, and set what was then a single season record, 134 Ks for the Boston Bees in 1938. Vince compiled modest 10-year NL career stats with the Pirates, Reds, Phillies Bees and Giants: .249, 125 HRs and 584 RBIs. But Vince had a cannon arm, and said, immodestly, “Joe was a better batter, but I could play rings around him as far as knowledge of the game and plays in the outfield. I could smoke those throws. If you put a dime on second base, I could hit it from the outfield.”

In 1946, after splitting the season with the Phillies and Giants, Vince hung up his spikes, and meandered from one unassuming job to another – Fuller Brush salesman, milk truck delivery driver, and waiter at the family restaurant, DiMaggio’s Grotto on Fisherman’s Wharf. At the restaurant, customers urged Vince to sing. Without hesitation, Vince broke out in his tenor voice to sing operatic arias or popular love ballads. During those happy moments when Vince crooned to his customers, he rued his decision to play baseball instead of pursuing opera.

Vince, Joe and Dom were distant brothers, and often spent years-long periods when they rarely spoke. In a late-life interview, Vince said, “When the folks were alive, we were a lot closer.”

Rosalie was the DiMaggio family’s unifying force, always looking out for her children’s best interests. In their youth, Rosalie read Bible stories and set a high standard for moral behavior. At Rosalie’s insistence, the family moved from Martinez, Calif., to San Francisco. A school teacher in Sicily, Rosalie knew that the city had better schools; she wanted her children to have good educations, a benefit she knew would pay dividends throughout their lives. As Joe’s career was peaking, Rosalie traveled by train to New York to watch the Yankees. Once, she caught reporters off guard when she complained that the city was “boring,” and offered little to do. The truth was that Rosalie missed hearth and home.

In 1986, Dom convinced estranged brothers Vince and Joe to join him at a Fenway Park Old-Timers’ Game. A few months later Vince, whose final years were spent as a born-again Christian, died from colon cancer.

Joe was never out of the limelight. He appeared on television as a pitchman for New York’s Bowery Savings Bank and Mr. Coffee. Thereafter, the Yankee Clipper made occasional appearances at celebrity golf outings, card shows and Old-Timers’ games, where the public address announcer introduced him as “Baseball’s greatest living player.” After Marilyn’s death, Joe organized her funeral to ensure that it wouldn’t be besieged by autograph hounds, or craven Hollywood types. He ordered roses placed at her crypt twice a week. Always a chain smoker, in 1999, Joe died at home of lung cancer.

Dom, in addition to his business successes, cofounded the Boston Patriots AFL football franchise, and the BoSox Club, a fan organization that brings closer contact between the Red Sox’ players and the community. Dom died at age 92 after a bout with pneumonia.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

DiMaggios Credited Mom With Their Successes DiMaggios Credited Mom With Their Successes
%d bloggers like this: