June 12, 1928 The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

Sports reporter James Kahn wrote: “I think there is something wrong with him. Physically wrong, I mean. I don’t know what it is, but I am satisfied that it goes far beyond his ball-playing”.

The Lane Tech high school baseball team was at home on June 26, 1920. 10,000 spectators had assembled to watch the game at Cubs Park, now Wrigley Field. New York’s Commerce High was ahead 8–6 in the top of the 9th, when a left handed batter hit a grand slam out of the park. No 17-year-old had ever hit a baseball out of a major league park before, and I don’t believe it’s happened, since. It was the first time the country heard the name Lou Gehrig.

lou-gehrig-columbia-universityGehrig was pitching for Columbia University against Williams College on April 18, 1923, the day that Babe Ruth hit the first home run out of the brand new Yankee Stadium. Though Columbia would lose the game, Gehrig struck out seventeen batters to set a team record.

The loss didn’t matter to Paul Krichell, the Yankee scout who’d been following Gehrig. Krichell didn’t care about the arm either, as much as he did that powerful left-handed bat. He had seen Gehrig hit some of the longest home runs ever seen on several eastern campuses, including a 450′ home run at Columbia’s South Field that cleared the stands and landed at 116th Street and Broadway.

NY Giants manager John McGraw persuaded a young Gehrig to play pro ball under a false name, Henry Lewis, despite the fact that it could jeopardize his collegiate sports eligibility. Gehrig played only a dozen games for the Hartford Senators before being found out, and suspended for a time from college ball. This period, and a couple of brief stints in the minor leagues in the ’23 and ’24 seasons, were the only times Gehrig didn’t play for the New York team.

Gehrig started as a pinch hitter with the Yankees on June 15, 1923. He came into his own in the ‘26 season. In 1927 he batted fourth on “Murderers’ Row”, the first six hitters in the Yankee’s batting order: Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri.

Murderers--Row

He had one of the greatest seasons of any batter in history that year, hitting .373, with 218 hits: 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, a then-record 175 RBIs, and a .765 slugging percentage. Gehrig’s bat helped the 1927 Yankees to a 110–44 record, the American League pennant, and a four game World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

On this day in 1928, Gehrig hit 2 triples and a pair of home runs, leading the Yankees in a 15-7 victory over the Chicago White Sox.  At Comiskey Park, no less.

lou-gehrig

He was the “Iron Horse”, playing in more consecutive games than any player in history. It was an “unbreakable” record, standing for 56 years, until surpassed in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. Gehrig hit his 23rd and last major league grand slam in August 1938, a record that would stand until fellow Yankee Alex Rodriquez tied it in 2012.

lou-gehrig-5Lou Gehrig collapsed in 1939 spring training, going into an abrupt decline early in the season. The Yankees were in Detroit on May 2 when Gehrig told manager Joe McCarthy “I’m benching myself, Joe”. It’s “for the good of the team”. McCarthy put Babe Dahlgren in at first and the Yankees won 22-2, but that was it. The Iron Horse’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games, had come to an end.

Sports reporter James Kahn wrote: “I think there is something wrong with him. Physically wrong, I mean. I don’t know what it is, but I am satisfied that it goes far beyond his ball-playing”.

Gehrig left the team in June, arriving at the Mayo Clinic on the 13th. The diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) was confirmed six days later, on June 19. It was his 36th birthday. It was a cruel prognosis: rapidly increasing paralysis, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, and a life expectancy of fewer than three years.

Yankees Tigers Gehrig Ends Streak

Gehrig briefly rejoined the Yankees in Washington, D.C. He was greeted by a group of Boy Scouts at Union Station, happily waving and wishing him luck. Gehrig waved back, but he leaned forward to a reporter. “They’re wishing me luck”, he said, “and I’m dying.”

Gehrig appeared at Yankee Stadium on “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day”, July 4, 1939. He was awarded trophies and other tokens of affection by the New York sports media, fellow players and groundskeepers. He would place each one on the ground, already too weak to hold them. Addressing his fans, Gehrig described himself as “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth”.

Henry Louis Gehrig died on June 2, 1941.  He was 37.

I drove by Yankee Stadium back in 2013, the week after the Boston Marathon bombing. The sign out front said “United we Stand”. With it was a giant Red Sox logo. That night, thousands of Yankees fans interrupted a game with the Arizona Diamondbacks, to belt out Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” a staple of Red Sox home games since 1997.

terror30n-3-web

I thought about Lou Gehrig, and how the man compares with some of these guys today.  I’ve always been a Boston guy myself.  I think I’m required by state law, to hate the Yankees.  But, all kidding aside.  The man and the club.  They’re a pair of Class Acts.

Gehrig

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

May 24, 1935 Under the Lights

The first minor league game played under the lights drew 12,000 spectators, at a time when the host club was averaging only 600 per game. As the Great Depression dragged on, minor league owners were finding night games a key to staying in business. Even then, the Poobahs of Major League Baseball were slow to catch on.

The-lamplighterIn 18th century London, it was a bad idea to go out at night. Not without a lantern in one hand, and a club in the other.

The city introduced its first gas-lit street in 1807 on the Central London Pall Mall, between St. James’s Street & Trafalgar Square. Before long, hundreds of “Lamp Lighters” could be seen with their ladders, gas lights bathing the city in a soft, green glow.

The Westminster Review newspaper opined that gas lamps had done more to eliminate immorality and criminality on the streets, than any number of church sermons.

The United States followed nine years later, when the city of Baltimore lit up in 1816.

Thomas Edison patented the first carbon-thread incandescent lamp in 1879.  The first baseball game played “under the lights” took place the following year near Nantasket Beach, in the ‘south shore’ town of Hull, Massachusetts.

It was September 2, 1880 when two teams, sponsored by the RH White & Co. and Jordan Marsh department stores of Boston, played a full nine innings to a 16-all tie.  The era of the night game had arrived, and the lamp lighters of London, can be seen to this day.

Except, no, it didn’t work out that way.  The lamp lighter part is true enough.  Today, five gas engineers keep the Victorian era alive, winding and checking the mechanisms, polishing the glass and replacing the mantles of some 1,500 – 2,000 gas lamps.

00E97E09000004B0-2848038-It_is_one_of_the_rare_places_in_the_city_where_a_walker_can_imag-4_1416898177238
Modern-day “Lamp Lighter” H/T UK Guardian

Across the pond, organized baseball would take another fifty years to give the arc light another try.

Evidence exists of other 19th-century night games, but these were little more than novelties. Holyoke Massachusetts inventor George F. Cahill, creator of the pitching machine, devised a portable lighting system in 1909. With the blessing of Garry Herrmann, President of the Cincinnati Reds, Cahill staged an exhibition game on the night of June 19, between the Elk Lodges of Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky.

The crowd of 3,000  had little trouble following the ball and Cahill was an enthusiastic salesman for his invention, but the man was doomed to frustration and disappointment.  Night-time exhibition games were regularly met with great enthusiasm, yet Organized Baseball was slow to catch on.

The Class B New England league played a night exhibition game on June 24, 1927 before a crowd of 5,000, sponsored by the General Electric Employees’ Athletic Association. The Washington Senators were in town at that time to play the Boston Red Sox.  Delegations from both clubs were on-hand to watch Lynn defeat Salem in a seven-inning game, 7-2. Washington manager Bucky Harris and Boston manager Bill Carrigan, were impressed. Senator’s star outfielder Goose Goslin expressed a desire to play a night game. Claude Johnson, President of the New England League, predicted that all leagues would have night baseball within five years, including the majors.

Lighting_Baseball2When the Great Depression descended across the land, minor league clubs folded by the bushel. Small town owners were desperate to innovate. The first-ever night game in professional baseball was played on May 2, 1930, when Des Moines, Iowa hosted Wichita for a Western League game.

The game drew 12,000 spectators at a time when Des Moines was averaging just 600 per game.  Soon, minor league owners were finding night games a key to staying in business.

Even then, the Poobahs of Major League Baseball were slow to catch on.  Five years later, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the first-ever big league game played under the lights.

A crowd of 25,000 spectators waited on this day in 1935, as President Roosevelt symbolically turned on the lights from Washington DC.  The Reds played a night game that year against every National League opponent and, despite a losing record of 68-85, enjoyed an increase in paid attendance of 117%.

6DZG7YeE
The first night game in Major League Baseball was played on this day in 1935, when the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 2-1

Thoughought the ’30s and ’40s, teams upgraded facilities to include lights and, before long, most of Major League Baseball had night games on the schedule. Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs and the second-oldest MLB stadium after Fenway Park, was the last to begin hosting night games. To this day, the Cubbies remain the only major league team to host the majority of its games, during the day.

Wrigley’s first officially recorded night game ended in a 6-4 win over the New York Mets on August 8, 1988.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

March 12, 1901 A Two-Team Town

1901 saw no series at all, as the startup American League fought the National League for control of the business. The following year, the top two major league baseball teams switched sports, opting instead to compete in a football championship.

The first all-professional team in baseball history was established in 1869:  ten salaried  teammates, playing to a perfect 65-0 record as the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  To date, it’s the only perfect season in major league baseball history.  The club voted to dissolve after the 1870 season, when player-manager Harry Wright went to Boston, at the invitation of Ashburnham businessman and Boston Red Stockings founder, Ivers Whitney Adams.

Old_Hoss_Radbourn_finger
Boston Beaneater Pitcher Charles Gardner “Old Hoss” Radbourn, standing, far left, giving the cameraman “the finger” in 1886, the earliest known photograph of the gesture.

Eight previously amateur clubs went pro for the 1871 season, including the Cubs organization, playing at that time as the “Chicago White stockings”, and not to be confused with the later American League franchise, Chicago White Sox.  Today, these are the only two left of the original nine, though the Red Stockings and successor organizations are the oldest continuously playing professional team in American sports, since the Cubbies missed two years, following the great Chicago fire of 1871.

Club names were more fluid in the 19th century than today, and teams were likely to be known by nicknames.  When the new Cincinnati Red Stockings formed in 1876, the Boston club was sometimes called the “Red Caps” and later, the “Beaneaters”.

40CF8A8B00000578-0-image-a-1_1495788770713
“Squad: A team photo of the now defunct Boston Reds. In its one and only year in the Players’ National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs the Reds won the 1890 title after accruing 81 wins fending off competition from the New York Giants. The Reds didn’t join the newly formed National League at the end of the season after the Boston Braves, soon to become the famous Atlanta Braves, were ushered into the new league and officials didn’t want the two Boston teams to face each other” H/T DailyMail.com

In those days, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players and its National League successor represented the pinnacle of professional baseball.  There was no post-season, championships were awarded based on the best record at the end of regular season.

Precursors to the modern World Series began with the formation of a second league in 1882, the American Association, but the series themselves were haphazard.  Terms of post-season play were negotiated between club owners, with as few as three games in 1884 when the Providence Grays defeated the New York Metropolitans 3-0, and as many as fifteen, when the Detroit Wolverines defeated the St. Louis Browns, 10 to 5.

Boston_Americans_Baseball_Team,_1902
Boston Americans, 1902

With the collapse of the American Association in 1891, major league baseball entered an eight-year single-league “monopoly”, where half-season winners squared off in a championship series called the Temple Cup.

1901 saw no series at all, as the startup American League fought the National League for business supremacy.  The two top teams in baseball changed sports in 1902, opting instead to compete in a football championship.

Boston_Americans_logo
Boston Americans logo, 1901-1907

The Red Caps/Beaneaters roster was decimated in 1901, with the formation of Boston’s American League franchise, the “Americans”.  Many stars jumped ship to the new AL club, which was offering contracts that it’s NL competitor couldn’t hope to match.

On this day in 1901, ground was broken for Boston’s 1st American League ballpark, the Huntington Avenue Grounds.  The stadium was the site of the first modern World Series in 1903, when the Boston Americans defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a best-of-nine series, five to three. The stadium saw the first perfect game of the modern era, thrown by Cy Young on May 5, 1904.

The playing field was built on what used to be a circus lot and was large by current standards: 530′ to center field, later expanded to 635′ in 1908. It had many quirks not seen in modern baseball stadia, including patches of sand in the outfield where grass wouldn’t grow, and a tool shed in play in deep center field.

WorldSeries1903-640
1903 World Series photograph, believed to be taken from the roof of a nearby warehouse

During the 1907 season, manager Fred Tenney removed the last bit of red from Red Caps/Beaneaters uniforms, believing that red dyes could cause injuries to become infected.  The all-white uniforms gave rise to the unfortunate sobriquet – “Doves”, while Americans’ owner John Taylor was quick to cash in with a name change of his own, a reference to the uniform hose worn by his franchise, since the beginning.  The Boston Red Sox, were born.

Fred-snodgrassIn 1912, the Doves adopted an official name of their own. National League franchise owner James Gaffney was a member of Tammany Hall, the political machine that ruled New York, between 1789 and 1967.  Tammany Hall’s symbol was an Indian chief, its headquarters called a “wigwam”. So it was that, the oldest franchise in major league baseball, came to be called “the Braves”.

The Boston Red Sox moved to their new stadium home that same year, ending the season in a dramatic victory over the New York Giants, four games to three.  Frederick “Snow” Snodgrass, one of the best outfielders of his day, dropped a routine fly ball in the 10th inning of the deciding game, allowing the winning run to stay on base, much to the dismay of generations of Giants fans.

Fred Snodgrass went on to become a successful banker, elected city councilman, and a popular mayor and rancher in Oxnard CA, but “Snodgrass’s Muff” would follow him, for the rest of his days. When the man died in April, 1974, the New York Times obituary was headlined “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” Move over, Billy Buckner.

1912_Boston_Red_Sox.jpeg

A Boston team won five out of six consecutive World Series championships between 1912-’18, with the NL franchise advancing from dead last to World Champions in 1914, and the Red Sox winning in 1912, ,15, ’16 and ’18.

It was the Golden Era of Boston baseball, and it all came to a halt in 1919.  On December 26, theater enthusiast and Red Sox franchise owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the arch-rival New York Yankees, to open a play called My Lady Friends, opening on Broadway that same month. Years later, My Lady Friends would become a musical, called No, No, Nanette.  The musical wouldn’t open until five years after Frazee’s infamous trade, but indeed, the forerunner was financed by the Ruth sale, to the Yankees.

1914 Miracle Braves

There ensued one of the longest championship droughts in baseball history, an 86-year period called the “Curse of the Bambino” before the Red Sox’ sixth Championship, in 2004.

With Braves Field under construction in 1914, the Miracle Braves played in the Red Sox’ home field at Fenway Park.  The Braves returned the favor the next two years, as Braves Field was the larger of the two.

il_340x270.893955742_3w451915 ushered in a 20-year losing streak for the Braves.  Ironically, it was Babe Ruth who was expected to pull it all together, when Braves President Emil Fuchs brought the Bambino back to Boston in 1935.

Things were looking up that opening day, with a 4-2 win over the Giants, and Ruth had something to do with all four runs.  Later that month, Ruth hit three home runs in a single game but, no one could know those were the last of his career.   Years of high living had done their work.  The Bambino’s best years were behind him.  The man couldn’t run, and his fielding was so bad that three Braves pitchers threatened to strike, if he remained in the lineup.  Babe Ruth retired on June 1, a short six days after one of the finest performances, of his career.

1948 almost saw an all-Boston World Series, but for a single game playoff loss to the Indians.

Boston remained a two-team town until March 13, 1953, when the Braves left, for good. The longest-running franchise in MLB history went to Milwaukee for a time before moving to Atlanta.  Brave’s Field was sold to Boston University.

The old Huntington Grounds were demolished in 1912, later replaced with the Cabot Center, an indoor athletic venue belonging to Northeastern University. A plaque and a statue of Cy Young were erected on the campus in 1993, where the pitchers mound and home plate used to be. A plaque on the side of the Cabot building marks the former location of the left field foul pole, about ¼ mile from Matthews Arena, the oldest multi-purpose athletic building still in use in the world, and the original home to the Boston Bruins.  But that must be a story, for another day.

Feature image, top of page: Fenway Park, October 12, 1914, third game of the 1914 World Series

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

February 27, 1992 The Founding Father & Son, of Golf

Young Tom Morris followed that first Open Championship in 1868 with three more, in 1869, 1870 and 1872. His record stands to this day, the only player ever to win four consecutive Open Golf Championships.   (There was no championship in 1871).

On this day in 1992, 16-year-old Tiger Woods became the youngest PGA golfer in 35 years, going on to become the first $100 million man on the Professional Tour.

article-2537121-1A8B0ADF00000578-386_470x741
“Young” Tom Morris

The youngest in thirty-five years, but not the youngest.  Andy Zhang made the US Open in 2012, at the ripe old age of fourteen years, six months, but even he wasn’t the youngest.

The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris  Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months.

Morris withdrew from that year’s tournament, at about the time General Robert E. Lee was meeting General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.  Young Tom went on to win the British Open three years later, winning the equivalent of $12 for the feat. Ironically, the victory came at the expense of his father “Old” Tom Morris, Greenkeeper and club pro at the famous ‘Old Course’ at St. Andrews.

Young Tom followed that first Open Championship in 1868 with three more, in 1869, 1870 and 1872. His record stands to this day, the only player ever to win four consecutive Open Golf Championships.   (There was no championship in 1871).

The 18th Green of the Old Course at St. Andrews looks much the same today, as it did in 1891.

Young Tom went on to win three more Open tournaments, the first of only two teenagers in history to win any of the majors.  In 1864, Young Tom attended a tournament with his father at the King James VI Golf Club.  With days to go before his 13th birthday, he was too young to compete in either the professional or amateur sections.  Local organizers set up a two-man tournament between himself and a local youth champion.  A large gallery followed the two young golf stars throughout their match.  Those who did so were rewarded by seeing young Tom win the match, by a score sufficient to have won the professional tournament.

a-golf-match-involving-willie-park-old-tom-morris-and-young-tom-morris-g3b8fhThe Father/Son team tee’d off in match against the brothers Willie and Mungo Park on September 11, 1875. With two holes to go, Young Tom received a telegram with upsetting news. His wife Margaret had gone into a difficult labor. The Morrises finished those last two holes winning the match, and hurried home by ship across the Firth of Forth and up the coast. Too late. Tom Morris Jr. got home to find that his young wife and newborn baby, had died in childbirth.

Weeks later, Young Tom played a marathon tournament in wretched weather, leaving him in a weakened state and bleeding from his lungs. He died at St. Andrews, the “Home of Golf” and place of his birth, twenty-four years earlier. It was Christmas day.

In 2016, the historical drama “Tommy’s Honour” opened the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival, based on “Tommy’s Honor:  The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son” by Kevin Cook, one of five books voted 2007 “Book of the Year”, by Sports Illustrated.  Journalist and film critic Ross Miller wrote in The National newspaper of Scotland, calling the film “emotional, inspiring and deeply heartfelt.  You don’t have to be a golf fan” Miller wrote, ” to be taken in by this engrossing, quietly passionate film that not only brings something new to the sports biopic table but also serves as a poignant, often heartbreaking portrait of paternal love and pursuing your passion with everything you have.

The feature image at the top of the page depicting Old and Young Tom was shot at St. Mary’s Studio, and recently sold for $19,850.

February 10, 1920  Lena Blackburne’s Famous Baseball Rubbing Mud

The age of one-ball-per-game died with Ray Chapman, the only player in the history of Major League Baseball, to die from injuries sustained during a game.. The lively ball era had begun. Batters loved it, but pitchers complained about having to handle all those shiny new balls.

Max_Surkont_1953
Max Surkont, 1953

The former Boston Braves pitcher Max Surkont, once said “Baseball was never meant to be taken seriously — if it were, we would play it with a javelin instead of a ball”.

I’m not sure about javelins, but this I know.  There’s nothing more fun at a baseball game, than watching a home run head for the bleachers.

Yet, as much as we all like to see a home run, that’s not always how the game was played. The “Hitless Wonders” of the Chicago White Sox won the 1906 World Series with a .230 club batting average. Manager Fielder Jones said “This should prove that leather is mightier than wood”.  Fielder Allison Jones, that’s the man’s real name.  If that’s not the greatest baseball name ever, it’s got to be one of the top five.

This was the “dead-ball” era, when an “inside baseball” style of play relied on stolen bases, hit-and-run plays and, more than anything else, speed.  Cumulative Major League batting averages stayed between .239 and .279 in the National League.  American League averages remained between .239 and .283.  In 1908, every team in Major League Baseball combined for an average of only 3.4 runs per game.

That’s not to say there were no power hitters. In some ways, a triple may be more difficult than a home run, requiring a runner to cover three bases in the face of a defense still in possession of the ball. Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Owen “Chief” Wilson set a record of 36 triples in 1912. “Wahoo” Sam Crawford hit a career record 309 triples in his 18 years in Major League Baseball, playing for the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit tigers between 1899 and 1917. 100 years later, it’s unlikely that either record will ever be broken.

In a time when Barry Bonds holds the single season home record at 73, it’s hard to get your head around what a spectacular feat it was, when Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919.

ty-cobb_shoeless-joe-jackson_only-400-hitters-in-1902-1919-dead-ball-era_b

In his 1994 television miniseries “Baseball”, Ken Burns explains “The moment a new ball was thrown onto the field, part of every pitchers job was to dirty it up. By turns they smeared it with mud, licorice, tobacco juice, it was deliberately scuffed, sandpapered, cut, even spiked. The result was a misshapen earth-colored ball that traveled through the air erratically, tended to soften in the later innings. And as it came over the plate, was very hard to see.”

8195979Spitballs lessened the natural friction with a pitcher’s fingers, reducing backspin and causing the ball to drop. Sandpapered, cut or scarred balls tended to “break” to the side of the scuff mark.

Balls were rarely replaced in those days.  By the end of a game, the ball was scarred, misshapen and entirely unpredictable.  Major League Baseball outlawed “doctored” pitches on February 10, 1920, though entire games continued to be played with the same ball.

The first-ever game to be played “under the lights” was forty years in the past in 1920, but it would be another 15 before the practice became widespread.

On the late afternoon of August 16, the Cleveland Indians were playing the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman took the plate in the top of the 5th, facing “submarine” pitcher Carl Mays.

15pitchers.spanSubmarine pitches are not to be confused with the windmill underhand pitches we see in softball.  Submarine pitchers throw side-arm to under-handed, their upper bodies so low that some of them scuff their knuckles on the ground, the ball rising as it approaches the strike zone.

Chapman may not have seen the pitch coming, because he never moved.  The crack of the ball as it hit his head was so loud that Mays thought he had hit the end of the bat, fielding the ball and throwing to first for the out. Wally Pipp, the first baseman best known for getting a headache and losing his starting position to Lou Gehrig, immediately knew something was wrong. The batter made no effort to run, collapsing slowly to the ground with blood streaming out of his ear.

YNBiMiB29-year-old Ray Chapman had said this was his last year playing ball.  He wanted to spend more time in the family business he had just married into. The man was right.  Raymond Johnson Chapman died 12 hours later, the only player in the history of Major League Baseball, to die from injuries sustained during a game.

The age of one-ball-per-game died with Ray Chapman, and with it the era of the dead ball. The lively ball era, had begun. Batters loved it, but pitchers complained about having to handle all those shiny new balls.

MLB rule #3.01(c) states that “Before the game begins the umpire shall…Receive from the home club a supply of regulation baseballs, the number and make to be certified to the home club by the league president. The umpire shall inspect the baseballs and ensure they are regulation baseballs and that they are properly rubbed so that the gloss is removed. The umpire shall be the sole judge of the fitness of the balls to be used in the game”.

Umpires would “prep” the ball using a mixture of water and dirt from the field, but this resulted in too-soft covers, vulnerable to tampering. Something had to take the shine off the ball without softening the cover.

Rubbing Mud

Philadelphia Athletics third base coach Russell Aubrey “Lena” Blackburne took up the challenge in 1938, scouring the riverbanks of New Jersey for just the right mud. Blackburne found his mud hole on the banks of the Delaware River, describing the stuff as “resembling a cross between chocolate pudding and whipped cold cream”. By the time of his death in the late 1950s, Blackburne was selling his “Baseball Rubbing Mud” to every major league ball club in the country, and most minor league teams.

Rubbing Mud 2In a world where classified government information is kept on personal email servers, there are still some secrets so pinky-swear-double-probation-secret that the truth may Never be known. Among them Facebook “Community Standards” algorithms, the formula for Coca Cola, and the secret fishing hole where Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud comes from.

Nobody knows, but one thing is certain. The first pitchers will show up to the first spring training camp, a few short days from now. Every baseball thrown from pre-season to the last pitch of the 2018 World Series, will first have been de-glossed with Lena Blackburne’s famous, Baseball Rubbing Mud.

Go Sox.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

December 23, 1972 Miracle in the Andes

Warm and well-fed members of the media made a hysterical fuss in the days that followed, about the manner in which those last few had survived. There were lurid headlines and grisly images of cannibalism, while others treated the whole thing like it had been some kind of glorious adventure. It was neither.

On October 12, 1972, Uruguayan Air Force turboprop flight #571 departed from Carrasco International Airport. On board were 5 crew, and 40 members of the Old Christians Club rugby team from Montevideo, on the way to a match in Santiago, Chile. It’s a relatively short flight, equivalent to a trip from Boston to Chicago, with one major difference.

This flight has to get over the Andes Mountains.

andes_mountains

Poor mountain weather forced an overnight stop. The flight resumed on Friday the 13th, making its way through a mountain pass that afternoon. The pilot notified air controllers that he was over Curicó, Chile, but it was a fatal error. With zero visibility, he was forced to rely on dead reckoning, but strong headwinds had slowed them significantly. Cleared to descend 55 miles east of where he thought he was, the aircraft clipped two peaks at 13,800′, first losing one wing and then the vertical stabilizer, and finally the other wing.

The battered fuselage crashed down on an unnamed peak, later called “La Glaciar de las Lágrimas”, “Glacier of Tears”.

andes_18olujp-18oluks

12 died instantly or shortly after the crash, including the team doctor. By the next morning another five were gone. Several had their legs broken, as the plane’s seats tore loose and piled together. Those who could move built walls of suitcases to shut out the cold.

For a week they waited for rescue, while aircraft from three countries searched in vain for a white aircraft in snow covered mountains.

You can only imagine the despair they must have felt on the 8th day, when survivors heard on their small transistor radio that the search had been called off.

andes-crash-b-800Stranded and alone in the high Andes, meager supplies soon gave out. A few chocolate bars, assorted snacks and several bottles of wine. It was gone within days, as the survivors scoured the wreckage for crumbs. They ate leather from suitcases, tore apart seats hoping to find straw, finding nothing but inedible foam. Nothing grew at this altitude. There were no animals. There was nothing in that desolate place but metal, glass, ice and rock.  And the frozen bodies of the dead.

The conclusion was unavoidable.  One by one the survivors agreed. They had to eat their dead friends, or none of them would survive.

An avalanche swept down on October 29, killing another 8 and burying the fuselage under several feet of hard packed snow. The survivors were buried alive, compressed into a horrifyingly small space from which it took three full days to claw their way out.

The days were above freezing as what passes for summer spread over the Andean highlands, but nights were bitter cold. Several set out soon after the avalanche, but had to return to the crash site after nearly freezing to death in the open.

314FC1C800000578-0-image-a-31_1455929137194

They spent several weeks scrounging materials and sewing them into a makeshift sleeping bag for three. Three of the strongest, Nando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintín, began their trek out of the mountains on December 12, 1972. It was two months after the crash.

It soon became clear that the distances were vastly greater than they had believed. Three were rapidly going through their meager rations, so Vizintín left the small expedition and returned to the crash site. This hike down the mountains was their only chance, and now there were two.

viven5The Juan Valdez of the coffee commercials is an “Arriero”, a man who transports goods using pack animals.  Parrado and Canessa had hiked for almost two weeks when they were building a fire by a river, and spotted such a man on the other side. Sergio Catalán probably didn’t believe his eyes at first, but he shouted across the river. “Tomorrow”.

The 14 survivors waiting and hoping at the crash site heard the news on their transistor on December 22.  They were saved. The first helicopters arrived that afternoon, flying out with the weakest of the survivors. Altitude sickness, dehydration, frostbite, broken bones, scurvy and malnutrition had all taken their toll. They were one decrepit bunch, but they were alive. The second expedition arrived on the morning of December 23, removing the last survivors around daybreak.

Warm and well-fed members of the media made a hysterical fuss in the days that followed, about the manner in which those last few had survived. There were lurid headlines and grisly images of cannibalism, while others treated the whole thing like it had been some kind of glorious adventure. It was neither.

Nando Parrado later wrote “There was no glory in those mountains. It was all ugliness and fear and desperation, and the obscenity of watching so many innocent people die”.

November 29, 1890 Singing Second

In 1944 and ’45 with the country at war, Army and Navy both entered that final game of the season,with perfect records.  Army finished both of those seasons, undefeated.

Bull Reeves
Admiral Joseph Mason “Bull” Reeves

Sometime during the 1893 football season, a navy doctor told Midshipman Joseph Reeves that another kick to the head could result in “instant insanity”, even death.

Reeves commissioned an Annapolis-area shoemaker to build him a leather covering, thus making himself the father of the modern football helmet. Years later, this man of the battleship era became an ardent supporter of naval air power. Today, Admiral “Bull” Reeves is widely known as the “Father of Carrier Aviation”.

The naval academy’s football program is one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1879.

The Army got into the game in November 1890, when Navy challenged Army cadets in what was then a relatively new sport.

First College Football Uniform
The naval academy introduced a canvas jersey in 1879, believed to be the first college football uniform, in history. Photo by Caspar W. Whitney – Whitney, Caspar W. (May 21, 1892). “The Athletic Development at West Point and Annapolis”. Harper’s Weekly XXXVI (1848): 496., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51990735

That first Army-Navy game was played on November 29, when the Midshipmen humiliated the Army cadets at West Point, 24-0.

The Black Knights had their revenge the following year, defeating Navy at Annapolis, 32-16.

The two teams met some 30 times between 1890 and 1930, when the game became an annual event.

More than inter-service “bragging rights” are at stake.  Only 17 schools can boast Heisman Trophy winners. Army and Navy, combine for five.

West Point and Annapolis fielded some of the best teams in college football, during the first half of the 20th century.  In 1944 and ’45 with the country at war, Army and Navy both entered that final game of the season,with perfect records.  Army finished both seasons, undefeated.

Today, size and weight restrictions combine with a five-year military service commitment, while dreams of NFL careers draw some of the best football talent in college ball away from the service academies.  Since 1963, only four seasons have seen both teams enter the Army-Navy game with winning records.   Yet, the  game remains a college football institution, receiving radio coverage every year since the late ’20s, and broadcast on national television, since 1945.

The first instant replay in American football history, made its debut during the 1963 Army–Navy game.

Arguably, the Army-Navy game may be the purest such event, in all of college sports.  These are the kids who play for the love of the game, knowing that their next years are unlikely to lead to careers in sports, business, or academia.  These young men have given the next few years of their lives, to the United Sates military.

Staubach
Roger Staubach

Five-year post-graduation military service commitments preclude the NFL career aspirations of most Army-Navy game veterans, but not all.  Notable exceptions include Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Roger Staubach (Navy, 1965), New York Giants Wide Receiver and Return Specialist Phil McConkey (Navy, 1979), and (then) LA Raiders Running back Napoleon McCallum (Navy, 1985).

President Dwight Eisenhower earned the distinction of being the only future President in history to play the Army-Navy game in 1912, alongside future General of the Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and teammate, Omar Bradley.

Most games are played in a neutral city, almost always on the east coast. Most often in Philadelphia.  The Army-Navy game has appeared west of the Mississippi only twice, first for the national dedication of Chicago’s Soldier Field, in 1926.  The second was in 1983, when the Department of Defense earned Wisconsin Democratic Senator William Proxmire’s not-so-coveted “Golden Fleece” award, for spending $100,000 to transport cadets, midshipmen and mascots, to play in Pasadena, California’s Rose Bowl.

HeismanOh, for the days when the government pretended to look out for our money.

With capacities of only 38,000 and 34,000 respectively, Army’s Michie Stadium and Navy’s Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium are far too small, to hold the assembled crowd.  Out of 117 games, only six have been played on either campus.  Two of those (1942-’43), were due to WWII travel restrictions.

In 1963, the Army-Navy game was canceled in observation of a 30-day period of mourning, following the assassination of president John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  Knowing her now-deceased husband to be a big fan, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy requested that the game go on, and so it was, quarterback Roger Staubach leading his #2 nationally ranked team in a 34-14 Navy romp.

Kennedy, army navy game

For most seniors, the “First Classmen” of either academy, the Army-Navy game carries special meaning.   Some may go on to play in a bowl game, but for most, this is the last regular season football game, each will ever play.  In times of war, they and others like themselves will be among the first to go, in defense of the country.  Some will not return home, alive.

Navy FootballThe game is particularly emotional for this reason.  Despite intense rivalry, it would be hard to find a duel in all of  sports, where the two sides hold the other in higher respect and esteem.

The game is steeped in tradition.  As their opposites cheer them on, each side takes the field in a spectacle of precision drill, unmatched in any venue outside of the military.  After the game, both teams assemble to sing the almae matres (‘On Brave Old Army Team’ and ‘Anchors Aweigh’) of each institution, to the assembled students and fans.

Precision
Navy marches on the field, 1950

The first such serenade is always performed for those of the losing academy, hence the coveted position of “singing second”, signifying the victor of this, the oldest sports rivalry in service academy history.

Respect and tradition is all well and good, but such rivalries do not come without a share of debauchery. During junior year, selected “Middies” and Cadets attend courses with the opposite military academy. On game day, each is restored in a “prisoner exchange”, returning from their semester in “enemy territory”.

Billthegoat
“Bill the goat”, mascot of BB-17 USS Rhode Island, circa 1913

Goats have a long history with all things maritime, having gone to sea since the age of sail and eating all manner of garbage and other undesirable food, in exchange for which, usually “she”, provided companionship, milk and butter. Sir Joseph Bank’s nanny goat was the first creature two-legged or four, to circumnavigate the planet, twice.

Navy had multiple mascots during the early years, including a gorilla, two cats, a bulldog, and a carrier pigeon. Legend has it that a beloved goat once died aboard a Navy cruise, and two ensigns cavorted about wearing the skin during half-time, before making their way to the taxidermist.

Navy won that game, and a live goat named “El Cid” (The Chief) appeared at the fourth Army-Navy game, in 1893. Navy won that game too, its third victory of those first four games. Small wonder that Billy goats have been the Navy mascot, since 1904.

The 2016 matchup was attended by “Bill” the Goat #XXXVI and his backup, Bill #XXXVII.bill-01

Small wonder too, why Army cadets will go to any length, to kidnap that goat.  The first such kidnapping of the modern era, took place in 1953.

On November 5, 1995, US Military Academy cadets staged a pre-dawn raid at the Naval Academy Dairy Farm in Gambrills, Maryland, kidnapping Bill the Goat #s XXVI, XXVII and XXIX.  The Pentagon was notified, and the goats were returned under a joint Army/Navy policy, stipulating that the “kidnapping of cadets, midshipmen or mascots will not be tolerated”.

Cadets pulled off the caper in 2002, disguised in Grateful Dead T-shirts.  “Operation Good Shepherd” launched in 2007, to kidnap Bill #XXXII, XXXIII, and XXXIV.   The whole thing was posted, on You Tube. 

It’s been said that only the Army, would mount a military operation to kidnap a goat, and only the Navy would involve the Pentagon, to get him back.

Army MuleThe Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot decided in 1899, that Army needed a mascot in response to the Navy’s goat.  Mules have a long history with the United Sates Army, going back to George Washington, the “Father of the American Mule“.  The question was self-answering.  Little is known of the “official” Army mules prior to 1936, when former pack mule “Mr. Jackson” (named for Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson), arrived from Front Royal, Virginia.

Mr. Jackson served twelve years, the first of seventeen “official” Army mules. Only one, “Buckshot”, was a female. Currently, the “Mule Corps” consists of “Ranger III”, the son of a Percheron mare standing at 16.2 hands (66″) high, his only slightly shorter half-brother “Stryker”, and “Paladin”, a half-thoroughbred, standing a full two hands shorter than either of his counterparts

Army FootballAlways the last regular-season game in Division I-A football, the next four Army-Navy games are scheduled in Philadelphia. The game site will then move to Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey, to mark the twenty-year anniversary of the Islamist terror attacks on the World Trade Center. The 2022 game moves back to Philadelphia, marking the 91st time Army and Navy have played there.

To date, Navy leads Army in the series 60-50-7, with Army’s Black Knights ending Navy’s 14-game winning streak in 2016.  The 2017 edition is scheduled for Saturday, December 9, at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.

This son and grandson of Army veterans going back to the Revolution and beyond, is compelled to say,  ‘Beat Navy’.

Meeting of the mascots
Meeting of the Mascots, 1939

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy the same. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.

Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.