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

Bert Shepard Was A One-Legged WWII Hero who Pitched for Washington Senators

Bert Shepard Was A One-Legged WWII Hero who Pitched for Washington Senators

By Joe Guzzardi

Between August 1 and August 5, 1945, the Washington Senators played five consecutive double headers. In a normal season, a scheduling burden of that magnitude wouldn’t have mattered much to the lowly Senators. But in 1945, the “first in love, first in war, and last in the American League” Senators were in a neck-and-neck pennant race with the Detroit Tigers.

The Senators won nine of the 10 double header games, losing the August 4 night cap 15-4 to the Boston Red Sox. Motivated by the lopsided score, and unwilling to stretch his exhausted pitching staff further, Senators’ manager Ossie Bluege summoned his lefty Lt. Bert Shepard to the mound. In his Baseball in Wartime account of Shepard’s heroism, Gary Bedingfield wrote that on his 34th European Theater mission and while his P-38J Lightening was bombing an airfield near Ludwigslust, east of Hamburg, Shepard’s plane was hit by enemy flak. The shells blew Shepard’s foot off and tore through his right leg. Shepard: “I could feel my foot coming loose at the boot.” The 55th Fighter Group’s pilot’s plane hit the ground at an estimated 380 mph.

Angry German farmers rushed out of their homes, wielding pitchforks, determined to kill Shepard, the American enemy. Luckily for Shepard, First Lieutenant Ladislaus Loidl, a physician in the German Luftwaffe, saw the wreckage’s smoke, and hurried to the site in time to hold off the incensed farmers. Loidl drove the critically injured Shepard to a hospital, but the “terror flyer” wasn’t allowed admittance. Eventually another hospital accepted patient Shepard, and his leg was amputated 11-inches below his knee. After recuperating, Shepard spent the next eight months in POW camps where a Canadian medic and fellow prisoner made Shepard a crude artificial leg from scrap iron, wood and rivets.

Slowly, Shepard, who as a youth moved from Indiana to California to play semi-pro baseball, began tossing the bulb around to get back a baseball’s feel. In California, Shepard’s skills were good enough to land contracts first with the Chicago White Sox and then the St. Louis Cardinals. His goal before and after his life-threatening WWII injuries was to pitch major league baseball.

A prisoner exchange returned Shepard to the U.S., and he was helped along the way to achieving his lifelong dream. At Walter Reed Hospital, Shepard met with Under Secretary of War Robert Patterson who asked about his future plans. Without hesitation, Shepard replied “to play baseball.” A skeptical but impressed Patterson contacted his friend and Senators’ owner Clark Griffith who agreed to give Shepard, now fitted with a new prothesis, a look.

As Shepard recalled, “Mr. Griffith did it out of sympathy more than anything.” But pitching in exhibition games, Shepard impressed – “got ‘em out each time,” he said. On the strength of his outstanding spring training, the Senators offered Shepard a contract with the promise that once he mastered his control, he’d be given a roster spot.

On August 4, Shepard’s big moment arrived. With the Senators getting hammered in game two 14-2 in the fourth inning and with the bases loaded, manager Bluege signaled for Shepard who promptly struck out George Metkovich for the last out. The 13,000 assembled fans, who had followed Shepard’s progress through the nonstop media coverage of the war hero’s progress, rose to their feet to applaud. Over the next five innings, Shepard surrendered only one run on three hits, and fielded his position flawlessly.

In a perfect world, Shepard’s saga would have continued to include his promotion to the starting rotation where he would have helped carry the Senators past the Tigers to win the AL pennant, and then defeat the Chicago Cubs in the October Classic. But the world is imperfect, and 5-1/3 innings with a 1.69 ERA were Shepard’s career MLB totals.

Bert Shepard Was A One-Legged WWII Hero who Pitched for Washington Senators

Bluege, hoping to eke out the AL flag from the Tigers, decided to finish the year with his established starters. In 1946, players returned from active WWII duty; Shepard didn’t make the team, but was offered a coaching job. Bored, Shepard asked to be sent to the minors where he pitched for several years at Chattanooga, Waterbury and Modesto. Along his minor league journey, Shepard returned to Walter Reed to have more of his leg amputated.

April is Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness month, and the Amputee Coalition is an organization that would celebrate Shepard’s rewarding life that included the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Metal awards. Before he died in 2008 at age 87, Shepard worked as a Hughes Aircraft safety engineer and an IBM typewriter salesman, played in golf tournaments with his buddy New York Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto, and walked 18-hole golf courses. He flew his own plane to visit amputees across the nation. Part of Shepard’s visits included encouraging demonstrations like effortlessly running the 60-yard dash and dribbling a basketball. In his later years, Shepard advocated for amputee workers’ rights and designed an artificial ankle that allowed those with severe leg injuries like his more mobility.

Shepard’s remarkable story of perseverance and achievement has a heart-warming footnote. For years, Shepard wondered about the German physician who saved his life in Germany, “Who carried me from the wreck? Who saved my life?” In May 1993, a third party arranged a meeting between Dr. Loidl and Shepard. After they met, an emotionally overwhelmed Shepard said: “I prayed for this. And after half a century, my dream has incredibly come true.”

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

Bert Shepard Was A One-Legged WWII Hero who Pitched for Washington Senators

Bert Shepard

Opening Day 1939 Or When Athletes Really Were Heroes

Opening Day 1939 Or When Athletes Really Were Heroes


By Joe Guzzardi

To diehard baseball fans’ delight, but to traditionalists’ chagrin, Opening Day is here. But MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and the players union have agreed to so many preposterous rule changes that fans might have trouble recognizing the game they once revered as the national pastime.

The designated hitter, an American League abomination since 1973, will now be utilized in National League; the ghost runner, so-called even though he’s clearly visible to all, will begin the 10th inning on second base; post-season playoffs will be expanded to include 12 teams instead of 10, with the top two seeds getting a first-round bye, and, most laughable, special rules have been approved for individual players, the Shohei Ohtani rule.Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants 2014 World Series Most Valuable Player now pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks, best summed up the latest baseball nonsense. Said Bumgarner: “I don’t know, I’m sure we’ll have a different rule in three months, maybe the next year after that. We’ll just make it up as we go. We’ll see whatever they like, the flavor of the week.… Maybe we’ll start playing with a wiffle ball or something.”

None of the 2022 changes are surprising. The players, despite their average $4.5 million annual salaries, want to get off the field and to their awaiting post-game buffets ASAP. Expanded playoffs mean more money for the players and owners, and the Ohtani rule helps keeps baseball’s biggest draw on the field longer.

Opening Day 1939 Or When Athletes Really Were Heroes

Pity the beleaguered Cleveland cranks who must put up with MLB nonsense and their team’s woke new nickname, the Guardians. The Indians are gone, and their 100-plus year history down the memory hole where they’ll co-exist with their old mascot, Chief Wahoo. Indian fans can take comfort, however, in their rich past. Fire-balling 21-year-old Bob Feller, a World War II hero, started seven Opening Days, and in the 1940 game, he pitched a no-hitter. On the road in Chicago and at the White Sox Comiskey Park, Feller, in 40-degree weather, fired a 1-0 no hitter, the first of three in his career, along with 12 one-hitters.

More to the point about the former Indians, now Guardians, in 1939, Feller got the nod to open the season, this time at home in Cleveland Stadium against the Detroit Tigers. The Cleveland weather was so frigid that only about 24,000 fans showed up in a ball park that accommodated 80,000 to watch Feller dominate the Tigers 5-1, and shut down future Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg, although the pair did draw their team’s only two walks. In his compete game win, Feller struck out 10, and allowed three hits.

Those fans that braved the cold got a special treat. Judy Garland, only 16 but already an MGM contract player, sang the National Anthem. Garland had completed filming on The Wizard of Oz; the movie was in the can as they say in Hollywood, but had not been released. In Cleveland for a two-week performance at the old State Theater, Garland got her manager’s permission to attend the senior prom at the University School, a local prep school. Since young Judy’s schedule didn’t allow much time for socializing, her manager okayed the prom.

On game day, despite the bitter, wet weather, Garland willingly posed for photos with Indians’ manager Oscar Vit and the Tigers’ pilot Del Baker. And – get this – she also posed in a magnificent full-feathered Indian headdress.

Although both superstars in their respective professions, the lives of Feller and Garland took different directions. From an early age, relentless overwork that studio bosses forced upon her, despite her tender age, eventually led to Garland’s drug and alcohol abuse. Garland had financial trouble with the Internal Revenue Service for nonpayment of back taxes, and eventually died in London from a drug overdose at age 47.

Feller, a teen standout like Garland, was so popular at such a young age that NBC broadcast his high school graduation to a national audience. “Rapid Robert,” as Feller was called, went on to a Hall of Fame career, and served as a U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer during World War II where he earned six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars. Ironically, because he was attending to his cancer-stricken, dying father, the patriotic Feller had a military deferment, but nevertheless enlisted only days after Pearl Harbor.

After Feller’s death at age 91, Mike Hegan, then-Indians’ broadcaster and son of former Feller battery mate Jim Hegan, said that the Indians of the 40s and 50s were the face of Cleveland, and Bob was the face of the Indians. Hegan continued: “But, Bob transcended more than that era. In this day of free agency and switching teams, Bob Feller remained loyal to the city and the team for over 70 years. You will likely not see that kind of mutual loyalty and admiration ever again.”

The Guardians’ woke ownership, the meddling, menacing Manfred and the selfish players union have little concept of loyalty or of honoring baseball’s rich tradition. As Bummy said, “It is what it is,” like it or lump it.


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

Opening Day 1939 Or When Athletes Really Were Heroes Opening Day 1939 Or When Athletes Really Were Heroes Opening Day 1939 Or When Athletes Really Were Heroes

Ruth Regains HR Title, Move Over Barry Bonds

Ruth Regains HR Title, Move Over Barry Bonds

By Joe Guzzardi

Major League Baseball has a new home run champion, and his name has been familiar to fans for more than a century: Babe Ruth. Forget about Barry Bonds, his 73 homers in 2001, and his career 762 round-trippers. Likewise, disremember Hank Aaron with his 755 career blasts. The new champion in both individual season and career categories is Ruth, the Big Bam.

In his 2007 book titled “The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs,” author Bill Jenkinson takes the reader through Ruth’s 1921 season when he hit a then-record 59 homers and sweetened the pot for Yankees’ manager Miller Huggins by hitting .378, and knocking in 168 runners. For good measure, Ruth’s on base percentage was .512; he slugged .846, racked up 457 total bases, scored 177 runs, and rang up 119 extra-base hits. Ruth’s plate production helped the Yankees win 98 games and finish in first place, 4-1/2 ahead of the Cleveland Indians.

Jenkinson made clear that his book isn’t a Ruth biography – dozens of those are available – but rather a recap of the slugger’s fearsome power, and how he dominated baseball during the 20th century’s early decades. The conclusion: in modern, smaller ballparks, with games played under different rules, more comfortable travel modes – specifically charter planes instead of rickety railroad cars – air-conditioned hotel rooms and the constant availability of skilled trainers, Ruth would have hit 104 home runs in 1921, 90 in some other seasons, and over 60 many times. In all, Ruth would have hit well over a thousand home runs in his career, Jenkinson’s research found, and obliterated Bonds’ record.

Ruth Regains HR Title, Move Over Barry Bonds

Fastidiously, Jenkinson listed every home run Ruth hit with estimated distance for each. Although the official record for the longest home run belongs to Mickey Mantle, 565 feet in Griffith Stadium in 1960, Jenkinson found that several Ruth blasts, when they finally came to rest, soared between 600 and 650 feet from home plate. As one Associated Press account recalled: “The ball cleared the right field fence 400 feet from the plate by more than 40 feet and was still ascending. The ball landed on the far side of the running track of a high school athletic field in Kirby Park [PA]. Officials estimated the length at 650 feet.”

No matter how many long-ago seasons are parsed or what analytical methods are relied upon to calculate who reigns as baseball’s most powerful and productive hitter, Ruth comes out on top. If he doesn’t, then the data was entered incorrectly or incompletely.

For those who may still doubt Ruth’s Ruthian batting greatness, consider these five comparisons to other baseball giants. First, for nine separate seasons, Ruth slugged .700 or better, more than Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Ted Williams and Stan Musial combined. Second, if Ruth came back from the dead, returned to baseball and struck out 3,187 straight times, he would still have a .500 slugging percentage, higher than Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. Third, if resurrected again, Ruth would have to go 0-for-1,147 for his slugging percentage to drop below Bonds’ .6069. Fourth, Ruth stole home plate ten times more than Lou Brock, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson who, combined, had nine. Fifth and finally, Ruth had three qualifying seasons in which his slash line – batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage – was .375/.500/.750; no other MLB player in history has had at least one such season.

Before baseball writers anoint Shohei Ohtani the next Ruth, consider that the American League’s 2021 Most Valuable Player’s best slash line came in 2018: .285/.361/.564. Dismantling Ruth from his well-deserved titled of baseball’s king will be impossible.

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

Ruth Regains HR Title, Move Over Barry Bonds

Sgt Hank Bauer In Right Field

Sgt Hank Bauer In Right Field

By Joe Guzzardi 

During the New York Yankees’ unprecedented five consecutive World Series Championships, 1949-1953, manager Casey Stengel had an arsenal of stars and superstars he relied on. Some were icons like Mickey Mantle; others were interchangeable standouts like outfielders Irv Noren and Gene Woodling.

But a key Stengel cog was U.S. Marine Corp Sergeant Henry Albert “Hank” Bauer who survived the World War II battles of Guadalcanal, Guam and Okinawa. During the three encounters, more than 12,000 Americans perished, and thousands more were severely injured. Bauer was awarded two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and a Commendation Medal for sustained acts of bravery and meritorious service.

Bauer’s heroism came despite enduring 24 separate malaria attacks during his four years in the South Pacific. On Guam in 1944, shrapnel from an artillery shell torn open a hole in Bauer’s left thigh. As he was evacuated with his pal Richard C. Goss, Bauer muttered, “There goes my baseball career,” a prediction that proved false. Despite the severity of his wound, Bauer had a long, successful baseball life. More importantly, Bauer lived. Only six of the 64 men in Bauer’s platoon survived the brutal Guam battle. Bauer’s brother Herman, a catcher in the Chicago White Sox minor league system, was less fortunate; on July 12, 1944, Herman was killed in action in France.

Sgt Hank Bauer In Right Field

Bauer always claimed that he never fully understood why in 1942 he enlisted: “I saw the poster, and saw the blue uniform, and all that B.S….I hoped I could take up a trade, pipefitting perhaps, but the only thing I traded was a bat for a rifle.” From his East St. Louis childhood where he was the youngest of nine siblings, Bauer acquired a tough guy-persona. Young Bauer grew up admiring the St. Louis Cardinals Gas House Gang, and learned from a charter Gang member, Enos Slaughter, the importance of playing hard baseball. When pitchers walked Bauer, he ran full speed to first, just like Slaughter. “It’s no fun playing if you don’t make somebody else unhappy,” he told a Time Magazine reporter, “I do everything hard.”

Stengel admired Bauer’s grit. The Yankees manager said: “Too many people judge ballplayers solely by a hundred runs batted in or a .300 batting average. I like to judge my players in other ways, like the guy [Bauer] who happens to do everything right in a tough situation.” During the Yankees’ five-year championship streak, Bauer batted .298 with an OPS over .800. In 1953, Stengel named Bauer the Yankees’ leadoff hitter; his on-base percentage topped .350 for his first 10 full seasons during which time the Bronx Bombers won nine pennants and seven World Series. As the Yankee roster evolved from the pre-war DiMaggio generation to the Mantle era, only Bauer and Berra played in all nine Series. Fans voted Bauer to represent American League as the starting right fielder in the 1952-53-54 All-Star Games.

In 1959, the Yankees traded Bauer and 1956 perfect World Series game hurler Don Larsen to the Kansas City Athletics for future home run champion Roger Maris. Bauer learned about his trade on the radio, and felt that he deserved to hear the disappointing news in person. After his playing days ended, Bauer managed the Athletics, and then moved on to coach the Baltimore Orioles before, in 1962, he took the team’s helm. By 1966 the Orioles, anchored by Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Boog Powell, swept the favored Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, with their aces Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, 4-0. The following year, injuries devastated the Orioles, and their hampered play cost Bauer his job. He moved on briefly to manage the Oakland A’s before retiring to manage his Prairie View, Kan., liquor store. Bauer briefly took up golf, but quit: “Only time I ever hit to right field in my life was on that golf course,” he said.

Despite his reputation as quick to brawl – the most infamous episode involved a free-for-all at New York’s Copacabana night club during a 1957 Billy Martin birthday celebration, an incident which accelerated Bauer’s trade to Kansas City – his teammates and the media loved him. Orioles’ pitcher Milt Pappas recalled that Bauer: “had a raspy voice and scared the hell out of everyone. Underneath he was the nicest guy in the world.”

During his Yankees career, Bauer had the honor to play with several other military veterans: Whitey Ford, Army, Korean War; Yogi Berra, Navy, Purple Heart; Jerry Coleman, Marine Corp pilot, World War II and Korea, Distinguished Flying Cross (2); Phil Rizzuto, Navy, World War II; Joe DiMaggio, Army Air Forces, World War II, and Major Ralph Houk, Army Ranger, World War II, Purple Heart.

At age 84, his valor on America’s behalf esteemed and his diamond accomplishments admired by millions, Bauer died from lung cancer. Before passing, Bauer often said proudly: “The Yankee logo is like a Harvard degree.”

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

Sgt Hank Bauer In Right Field

Sgt Hank Bauer In Right Field

Braves Return To Series Brings Memories of ’57

Braves Return To Series Brings Memories of ’57

By Joe Guzzardi

The Braves, once Milwaukee’s pride and joy, who earlier called Boston home, and are now Atlanta’s National League champions, will take on the Houston Astros starting 8 tonight, Oct. 26, in the 2021 World Series.

The Braves have a rich history that’s largely lost in baseball’s sands of time. In his book “Boston Braves,” author Richard A. Johnson reminded readers that the Beaneaters pulled off one of baseball’s greatest upsets when, in 1914, they surprised Connie Mack’s heavily favored and powerful Philadelphia A’s in a four-game sweep. In all, the Braves’ New England version captured 10 National League pennants, and put 38 players in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, among them Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Casey Stengel, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn.

A near-miss for Cooperstown induction is Milwaukee’s Selva Lewis Burdette, a 203-game winner who dominated for the Braves in his team’s thrilling 1957 World Series triumph over the mighty New York Yankees. Burdette was commonly known in baseball circles by his hometown nickname, “Nitro Lew,” his West Virginia birthplace. In the seven-game 1957 series, Burdette hurled three complete game victories, including, on two-days’ rest, the 5-0 finale. Between the eight-game span between October 3 and 10, Burdette pitched 27 innings and allowed only two runs. In his three games, Burdette held slugging Yankees’ future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra to a harmless single between them and, for the series, posted a 0.67 ERA.

Burdette became the first pitcher to hurl three complete games, and two shutouts since 1905 when the New York Giants’ Christy Mathewson performed the remarkable feat. And Nitro Lew went about his Yankee domination quickly. The times of Burdette’s Game one, Game five and Game seven starts were, respectively, 2:26, 2:00 and 2:34, and included his 24 consecutive goose egg innings. Like the Yankees, the 1957 Braves players’ roster included four future Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Red Schoendienst and Spahn; for the Bronx Bombers, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Enos Slaughter and Whitey Ford.

Braves Return To Series Brings Memories of '57

Society for American Baseball Research historian Alex Kupfer remembers Burdette as a fidgety moundsman whose constant hat and jersey adjustment, forehead-wiping, lip-touching and muttering to himself distracted batters who were convinced that the hurler was throwing a spit ball. Once asked to identify his best pitch, Burdette replied that it’s “the one I do not throw,” a subtle denial that he moistened the bulb. Originally drafted by the Yankees, Burdette had a golden opportunity to learn how to throw the spitball. During early days in the Yankees system, Burdette occasionally worked with roving pitching coach Burleigh Grimes, one of the game’s great spitballers. But, he was concerned that if he showed Burdette how to throw a spitter, the promising young right-hander would be thrown out of professional baseball.

Two years after his World Series Most Valuable Player performance, Burdette was a key protagonist in one of baseball’s most extraordinary games. On a rainy May 26, 1959, Milwaukee night, Burdette faced off against the Pittsburgh Pirates’ crafty Harvey Haddix. For 12 innings, Haddix retired 36 consecutive Braves, while Burdette also tossed scoreless, but not perfect ball. Then, in the 13th inning Braves slugger Joe Adcock drove in Felix Mantilla, the winning run.

Mantilla had reached first on Pirates’ third baseman Don Hoak’s error. The imperfect Burdette nevertheless turned in an excellent performance; he threw 13 scoreless innings, allowed 12 hits and walked none. After the game Burdette phoned Haddix to sympathetically tell him, “You deserved to win, but I scattered all my hits, and you bunched your one.” Not appreciative of either Burdette’s sense of humor or his timing, the still-smarting Haddix hung up.

Before his 18-year career ended in 1967, Burdette had short, occasionally effective stints with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago Cubs and the California Angels. When his active career ended, Burdette scouted, rejoined the Braves as Atlanta’s pitching coach, worked in public relations for a Milwaukee brewery and broadcast on Florida cable television. Although Burdette appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for 15 consecutive years beginning in 1973, he always came up short.

In 2007, Burdette, a lung cancer victim, died at age 80 in Winter Garden, Fla., where he had taken up residency during his post-baseball career. At Burdette’s funeral, his World Series teammate, shortstop Johnny Logan, didn’t shed light on the decades-long unsolved mystery about crafty righty’s spitball. Logan, however, admitted in his eulogy that he couldn’t tell if Burdette threw a wet one, but he knew that his teammate “was a hell of a competitor.”

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

Braves Return To Series Brings Memories of ’57

Braves Return To Series Brings Memories of ’57

Remembering Stanczaks For Polish American Month

Remembering Stanczaks For Polish American Month

By Joe Guzzardi

October is Polish American Heritage Month, originally celebrated by congressional proclamation in August until it moved to October. Polish heritage month commemorates the first Polish settlers who arrived in America in 1608, and also honors Generals Kazimierz Pułaski and Tadeusz Kościuszko, two military leaders who bravely fought in the American Revolution. The change from August to October enabled schools to participate in traditional Polish festivities – singing, dancing and plenty of pierogi eating.

The list of accomplished Polish-Americans is long and impressive. In the baseball world, one of the most prominent is Aloysius Harry Szymanski, aka Al Simmons, the home run bashing outfielder for Connie Mack’s daunting 1920s Philadelphia Athletics, and later the Chicago White Sox, Washington Senators and Detroit Tigers. The slugging Hall of Famer Simmons had a 20-year .334 career batting average.

Remembering Stanczaks For Polish American Month

Simmons, well-known for his foot-in-the-bucket batting style, was involved in one of the World Series’ most unlikely incidents. A .329 hitter in his four World Series appearances, Simmons ignited a memorable and improbable development in the Fall Classic’s history, the seventh inning of the fourth game between the A’s and the Chicago Cubs in 1929. With the Cubs comfortably ahead 8-0, Simmons blasted a leadoff home run. The Athletics batted around and soon trailed by only one run, 8-7. Then, Simmons singled in his second at-bat of the seventh as the A’s completed a historic and unforgettable ten-run inning and went on to win, 10-8. The A’s, with six future Hall of Famers, took the 1929 series crown, 4-1.

Simmons is well known among baseball historians. But few are aware of Chicago’s late 1920s 10-man Stanczak brothers’ team, one of the most unusual semi-pro ball clubs to ever appear on a diamond. Polish immigrant Martin Stanczak was father to 10 sons, and one daughter, who covered nearly a 20-year age span. Martin’s ball playing sons included Joe, a county clerk; Mike, an ordained priest; Bill, a tobacco-chewing spitball pitcher, and high schoolers Martin and Julius. In his book, “The League of Outsider Baseball,” award-winning graphic artist Gary Cieradkowski wrote about how, after dominating the Chicago and Milwaukee sandlot teams, promoter Nick Keller became the guiding light for the Stanczak Brothers team, and led them to greater heights.

Keller’s first move was to, for phonetic purposes, eliminate the “c” from Stanczak. Keller renamed the siblings “The World Brother Champions,” issued challenges to other sibling-only ball clubs, and defied them to prove him wrong when he proclaimed his team as global sibling title-holders. From way out West, the Marlatt Brothers, having crushed the Skiano Brothers in 1925, accepted. Quick to strike while the iron was hot, Keller set up “The Brother Championship Series.” The first two games were played on the Marlatt Brothers’ home turf, Hot Springs, Wyoming. Bill’s wet one befuddled the Marlatts, and the Stanzaks swept the first two games. Back in Chicago for games three and four, the Stanzak brothers polished off the Marlatts to retain their title as undisputed sibling champions.

Wearing their crown proudly, the Stanzak brothers toured the Midwest, and dominated all comers. After winning the 1933 Lake County championship, the brothers received an invitation to travel to Wichita to take on the Deikes of Fredericksburg, Texas. The Texans, however, were not totally above board; the team was only eight-ninths all-siblings. The Deikes installed a ringer at first base – U.S. president-to-be Lyndon Baines Johnson. No matter. The Stanczak boys defended their championship title effortlessly, and breezed past the Deikes; future president Johnson made no difference in the outcome.

None of the brothers played major league baseball. Joe had a brief stint in the minors; Louis and Martin had unsuccessful tryouts with the Cincinnati Reds. Nevertheless, the brothers’ photograph is prominently on display at Cooperstown where the Hall of Fame declared them as the 10 best brothers ever to play baseball.

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

Remembering Stanczaks For Polish American Month

Remembering Stanczaks For Polish American Month

Terrible Towel Tender Back Story

Terrible Towel Tender Back Story

By Joe Guzzardi


The 2021 National Football League season is underway. In the Buffalo opener where two of last year’s AFC division champs faced off against each other, the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers dispatched the Bills 23-16.

Terrible Towel Tender Back Story

Even though the Steelers played on enemy turf in Buffalo’s Highmark Stadium, the Yinzers felt right at home. The Pittsburgh contingent among the 70,000 football-starved fans encouraged the Steelers by waving thousands of Terrible Towels. Wherever the Steelers play, loyal followers wave their black and gold towels with abandon. No matter the occasion, there’s a towel to match.

Around Pittsburgh or online, fans can buy towels for about $10 that celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Independence Day, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day. Steelers’ fans have taken their towels to Iraq, Afghanistan, the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest’s peak, the International Space Station, the South Pole, the Great Wall of China and Vatican City. A pink towel, introduced in 2009, promotes breast cancer awareness.

At Heinz Field, a Terrible Towel Wall displays each of the special edition towels for the Steelers’ worldwide, stadium-visiting fans to admire. The towel is hung over televisions and radios during game time, and is often used as a fun drape for pets and babies. When Steelers’ receiver Hines Ward won the 2011 Dancing with the Stars’ Mirrorball Trophy, his former teammate and Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris urged him on by twirling his Terrible Towel.

But few non-Yinzers know the touching legacy behind the towel, which is much more than evidence of Steelers’ excellence, and the team’s passionate fan base. Here’s the towel’s wonderful backstory: Myron Cope, a beloved Steelers’ broadcaster, the team’s voice for 35 years, and a National Radio Hall of Fame member, created the towel in 1975, and it debuted on December 27 in a winning playoff game against the Baltimore Colts. From that moment on, fans and players considered the towel the team’s lucky charm, as the Steelers, in the following weeks, defeated the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys, and then won Super Bowl IX, beating the Minnesota Vikings, 16-6. The Steelers’ successful play helped towel sales take off.

In 1996, Cope turned the towel’s trademark over to the Allegheny Valley School (AVS), which has several campuses and group homes throughout Pennsylvania, and operates more than 125 programs across Pennsylvania designed to help the developmentally disabled. Cope’s son, Danny, once attended. Danny, who has never spoken a word and is today 54, enrolled in 1992. Thanks to the loving care he received at AVS, Danny eventually moved on to a meaningful assembly line job at a major snack food company.

AVS receives each penny of profit from towel sales. Cope specifically outlined how the school must spend the proceeds. Each dollar goes to benefit residents and must not go into the general construction fund. The money is earmarked for, among other essentials, specialized wheelchairs and programs that will enable the most challenged to turn on lights or music by merely blinking their eyes. As the school’s then-chief executive officer, Regis Champ, said: “Our needs are daily.”

Steelers’ administration manages the marketing of towels and then cuts a check, usually in the low five figures, payable to the school. When the Steelers play in the Super Bowl, sales often exceed $1 million. Some eager fans have purchased 200 towels at a time. Since Cope donated the Terrible Towel’s trademark, sales have generated more than $3 million for AVS.

As Champ recalled the glorious day that the towel’s rights were transferred to AVS, Cope came into his office with a pile of documents, threw them down on his desk and said, “‘Regis, I’m giving you the Terrible Towel.’ I was speechless. I knew that this would be the legacy that outlived Myron.”

In 2008, Cope, age 79, passed away. His daughter Elizabeth draped Cope’s coffin with a quilt that a fan made out of Terrible Towels and sent to the Cope family. Whether you are a Steelers fan or not, remember that Terrible Towels promote a most worthy cause, helping autistic people get on the road to living normal lives.

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

Rose Bowl Memory From 1955

Rose Bowl Memory From 1955

By Joe Guzzardi

As a kid growing up in post-World War II Los Angeles, the Rose Bowl was the year’s single most anticipated event. In sports, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn; the Lakers in Minneapolis; and the Rams had only recently relocated from Cleveland. The thought that professional ice hockey might one day be played in sunny Southern California was too preposterous to take seriously. In some circles, but not the under-16 age group, the Academy Awards were Los Angeles’ annual highlight. Kids would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to Oscar-winning films like “From Here to Eternity” or “Around the World in 80 Days.”

When my parents announced on Christmas Day that one of my gifts was tickets to attend the January 1, 1955, Rose Bowl game with my Dad, my excitement couldn’t be contained. That year, the Rose Bowl matchup pitted the No. 1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes against the #17 University of Southern California Trojans. While few gave the Trojans a chance, bowl games were always the perfect setting for major college upsets.

Fans of the then-Pac 8 eagerly anticipated watching the Big-10 conference representatives, considered more powerful than their West Coast rivals. The undefeated 8-0 Buckeyes, led by Hall of Fame coach Woody Hayes and Heisman Trophy winning running back Howard “Hopalong” Cassidy, faced the 6-3 Trojans who finished a dismal sixth in the Pac-8. Under the Rose Bowl era’s early rules, Pac-8 winner UCLA couldn’t represent the conference in back-to-back years.

Ask anyone who’s lived in Los Angeles to predict January 1 weather, and their replies will be the same. No matter how foul the weather is on the days leading up to the Rose Bowl or how awful during the following days, by kickoff, skies will be sunny, and the temperature warm. But for the first time in more than three decades, January 1, 1955, was not only rainy, but a torrent. No sooner had my father’s eyes opened on Rose Bowl morning than, as sheets of rain fell outside, he tried to beg off. Dad pleaded with Mom to intercede on his behalf. No dice, Mom said, the Rose Bowl is your son’s Christmas present, and he’s looked forward to the game for a week.

Off to Pasadena my father and I set; he somber, and me excited. With 90,000 fans sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, umbrellas were useless. The temperature was no day at the beach, either; it hovered in the mid-50s. As rain dripped down our cheeks, we sat through the entire lopsided game that, from the beginning, Ohio State dominated, 20-7. Here’s how the Cleveland Plain Dealer described the game: “Through mud, slime, murk and driving rain, Ohio State’s dauntless Buckeyes today reached the all-time zenith of the University’s football history. Ploughing through muck in the fog and semi-darkness, the Buckeyes vanquished Southern California, 20 to 7, in the worst weather conditions of Rose Bowl history.”

As bad as the day had been for my father, it was about to worsen. Finally drying off post-game in the family Ford, Dad turned the ignition key, and we heard the awful grinding sound that dead batteries emit. Driving from our house to Pasadena with his headlights on, Dad forgot to turn them off once we parked. Realizing that we would be stranded for at least a couple of hours, my father let out a string of profanities that turned the parking lot blue. Stadium security summoned AAA, and, eventually, redemption in tow truck form worked its way through the tens of thousands of vehicles trying to exit. Our long drive home was in stony silence. Years passed before my family could laugh about Rose Bowl 1955.

I left Los Angeles long ago, and on return visits I saw Rose Bowl games under Chamber of Commerce skies. But nothing will ever replace in my memory that rain-drenched January 1. As I look back on New Year’s Day more than 65 years ago, I realize that I’ve developed a deeper affection for my loving father who resisted going to the rain soaked-Rose Bowl, but in the end, took me anyway. As he did in 1955, and continued to do until the day he died, Dad always kept the promises he made to me.


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

Rose Bowl Memory From 1955

Nike Buys Slaves, You Don’t, Wake Up

Nike Buys Slaves, You Don’t, Wake Up — We reported this July 24 but we’ll reiterate. An investigation by Forbes has revealed that Nike literally buys slaves to make its products. This occurs in China and the slaves are Moslem Uighurs. Among the ways these slaves are advertised is from online postings proclaiming  The advantages of Xinjiang workers are: semi-military style management, can withstand hardship, no loss of personnel … Minimum order 100 workers! 

Does Nike brand its Uighur slaves with this? Just don’t it.

If you buy Nike products you support slavery. Before you read this maybe could plead ignorance but now, not so much.

Not everything made overseas is with slave labor, and there are things you have little choice in buying. Branded apparel is not one of them, though, especially when it comes from a brand that might be the biggest hypocrite in merchandising history.

It’s not hyperbole to say that if you buy Nike you support slavery.

Remember that next time someone talks about “white privilege”. Especially if it is from a guy who became an even bigger one-percenter when he figured out a new scam after he lost a step on the gridiron, or from a billionairess who got her wealth pandering and promoting perversion.

Really, how many slaves have you ever owned? Infinitely less than Nike.

Or John of God, for that matter.

Nike Buys Slaves, You Don’t, Wake Up
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