You may have enjoyed some of Gary Livacari’s articles and essays that I have posted here on Back Home with Baseball and Beyond. If you haven’t read them, take a moment to scroll back and check them out. You will see Gary has a talent for uncovering some of baseball’s most entertaining stories and he truly does make baseball history come alive.His new book is full of these stories.
Here’s an excerpt from the Amazon description of the book:
Over the years, baseball historian Gary L. Livacari has written over one thousand essays for his Baseball History Comes Alive website. Covering all historical eras of the National Pastime, this volume is a collection of over one hundred of his most well-received essays.
There’s a certain romanticism to the “Old Days” of baseball that the current game lacks. The author tries to recapture that lost charm in these essays. If you’re looking for writing on the modern game, you won’t find it here. What you will find is entertaining, interesting essays, stories, and out-right gossip from the Golden Days of baseball. It is a book that will appeal to baseball history fans of all stripes and also to those interested to learn the impact baseball has had on American history and culture. All who love baseball and its glorious past will find the collection to be a source of enjoyable reading. As the author says in his introduction, “If you love baseball history, you’ve come to the right place!”
And by the way: Gary’s has graciously included my essay about Yogi Berra in the book, so I know you won’t want to miss that!
Seventy-one years ago today, the New York Yankees squared off against the Chicago White Sox on a cool day in Comiskey Park. Yankee starter Vic Raschi was matched up against Chicago lefty Bob Cain. Nineteen-year-old Mickey Mantle was batting leadoff and playing right field. Jackie Jensen was in center field for the injured Joe DiMaggio.
The Yankees got off to an early 5-2 lead and Cain left for a pinch hitter. His replacement, the grizzled right hander Randy Gumpert, took over in the top of the sixth. With one out and Raschi on second after a double, Mantle stepped to the plate batting lefty. Gumpert had faced many sluggers in his day, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and he knew the expectations placed on the young Mickey Mantle. He realized the rookie was under intense pressure to perform and he thought he would be overanxious at the plate. So Gumbert served up a changeup. But the talented phenom wasn’t fooled and blasted the ball more than 400 feet into the center field bull pen.
It was Mickey Mantle’s first home run and according to the Mick his most memorable. Yankee backup catcher Charley Silvera was in the outfield bullpen where the ball landed and thoughtfully retrieved it. The Mick would inscribe the ball:
“My first home run in the majors May 1,1951 4:50 PM in Chicago 6th inning off Randy Gumpert.”
Mantle would later display the ball in his Holiday Inn in Joplin Missouri. The town of Joplin was significant to Mickey because it was there that he launched his career with a scorching .383 batting average in 1950 that caught the eyes of the Yankee brass. Mantle went on to hit 535 more home runs and 18 additional home runs in the World Series. When he hit his last home run in September 1968, he was number three on the all-time home run list behind only Babe Ruth at 714 and Willie Mays at 587.
In honor of Mickey Mantle’s first home run and his iconic #7, I will be giving away 7 copies of my novel Mickey Mantle’s Last Home Run. My book has been described by Kirkus Reviews as “an emotionally satisfying story of friendship and a well written sports tale with excellent, detailed scenes of characters observing and playing the game, and will appeal to fans of good sports writing.”
Just contact me via email email@example.com or the comment section and I’ll mail you the book postage free.
James P. Dawson THE NEW YORK TIMES Associated Press (1951, May 02).
Smokey Joe Wood began his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1908. His best season was in 1912 when he led Boston to the American League pennant with 34 wins. He had a 1.91 ERA and topped the league with 10 shut outs. Incredibly, he was only fifth in the MVP voting and was the second-best pitcher behind Walter Johnson who had 33 wins, a 1.39 ERA and 303 strikeouts. Wood and Johnson both won 16 games in a row during the 1912 season. With a stellar performance in the World Series Wood added three more victories as the Sox claimed the championship.
Then in 1913, Smokey Joe Wood slipped and broke his thumb. When he tried to come back too soon, he hurt his shoulder—so badly, that by 1915, he couldn’t raise his right arm high enough to put it on the arm rest at the movie theater. By 1916, Wood retired and went back to the farm, washed up at 26 years old. But Smokey Joe said, “Doggone it, I am a ballplayer, not just a pitcher.” Wood fought his way back to the big leagues as an outfielder and played for the Cleveland Indians for five years, batting .366 in 1921.
Smokey Joe Wood—the best pitcher you never heard of and an inspiration for us all.
Four of the greatest hurlers from the early decades of the 20th Century: Smokey Joe Wood, Cy Young, Lefty Grove and The Big Train, Walter Johnson. Each of these pitchers won 30 games or more in a season at least once.
Jackie Robinson made his professional debut not in Brooklyn in 1947, but 76 years ago today in Jersey City, when the Dodgers’ Triple A team, the Montreal Royals opened their minor league season in Roosevelt Stadium, the home park of the Jersey City Giants.
Mayor Hague declared Opening Day in Jersey City a holiday for city employees and school children. On April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson, wearing a Montreal Royals jersey (#9) stepped to the plate in front of 51,837 raucous fans at the over-capacity Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. Jackie Robinson settled in for his first official at-bat as a professional in an integrated baseball game. Nervous? Perhaps, but not for long. On a full count pitch in his first at-bat, Robinson grounded out to the shortstop. It was the only out he’d make that day. His next plate appearance was a three-run homer, and he was met at home plate with an outstretched hand by teammate George “Shotgun” Shuba – fixed in time by the famed photograph of the moment when black and white teammates saluted each other on the diamond. Robinson followed up the dinger with a bunt single, a steal of second, and ultimately a balk home after rattling the pitcher dancing down the third base line. Robinson’s final stat line was 4-5 with four RBIs in a 14-1 victory.
The Mets had a wonderful opening day ceremony today honoring Jackie Robinson who made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers 75 years ago. It reminds me of the great song by Garland Jeffreys, “Color Line” which was very appropriate for today’s celebration in Queens. The song is from Jeffreys’ 1991 album, Don’t Call Me Buckwheat. Check out the YouTube link below. It shows the album cover which has Jeffreys as a young kid in front of what appears to be Ebbets Field. Garland Jeffreys is now retired. I last saw him in a sold-out concert about seven years ago at Rahway’s Hamilton Stage and he was still rockin’ and rollin’.
The Dodgers were the first major league team to sign a black player. The Boston Red Sox were the last. Elijah “Pumpsie” Green made his debut with Boston on July 1, 1959. He was the brother of Cornell Green who starred with the Dallas Cowboys playing 13 years as a defensive back and appearing in two Super Bowls.
Jackie Robinson had a Hall of Fame career with a lifetime batting average of .313. He was a seven-time All Star, Rookie of the Year in 1947, and the National League MVP and NL Batting Title winner in 1949. He appeared in six World Series with the Dodgers including their World Championship in 1955. Pumpsie Green played four years with the Boston and finished his career in 1963 with the New York Mets.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in Major League Baseball. Robinson’s appearance that day in a Brooklyn Dodgers’ uniform, wearing his iconic number 42, allowed Major League Baseball to begin the process of overcoming its devastating and immoral white man problem. And because of Robinson’s remarkable grit and grace Major League Baseball would free itself from the bondage of its “white men only” policy and begin to welcome in some of the greatest American athletes. Such brilliant players as Larry Doby, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente would soon don major league uniforms and enable baseball to truly become America’s pastime.
Last night Alyssa Nakken became the first female in baseball history to appear on the field during a major league game as she took over the first base coaching duties for the San Francisco Giants. She took over when Antoan Richardson was ejected from the game in the third inning. Nakken was greeted with a warm handshake at first base by San Francisco base runner Eric Hosmer. The Giants went on to beat the San Diego Padres 13-2.
The historic moment was a long time in the making. Nakken, 31, had a stellar collegiate career winning the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Scholar-Athlete grant multiple times. She was also on the Pacific Coast Softball Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll multiple times. She was the Scholar Athlete of the year while attending Sacramento State in 2012.
Hired by the Giants in 2014 as an intern, through determination and hard work she earned her way to a fulltime coaching position in 2014 becoming the first female to reach that position.
Nakken’s historic moment was preceded earlier this month by the first appearance of a female manager in an MLB-affiliated game when Rachel Balkovec took the reins for the New York Yankees’ Single A Tarpons.
I have recently written about many of the lopsided trades in Major League Baseball history. Today, I would like to highlight the December 9, 1965 trade of the great slugger, Frank Robinson, from the Reds to the Orioles for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldshun, and Dick Simpson. The trade is generally regarded as one of the worst in baseball history, especially considering that Robinson was only 30 years old and appeared to have many productive years ahead of him. The skeptics were proven right: he did indeed have many productive years ahead of him!
Reds’ GM Bill DeWitt, the architect of the trade, attempted to downplay the fiasco by famously referring to Robinson as “not a young 30.” Outrage over the deal made it difficult for Milt Pappas to adjust to his new team, and he was traded out of town after only three seasons.
Frank’s great 1966 Triple Crown season, one of the best individual offensive seasons ever, immediately followed this ill-advised swap. It’s actually frightening to speculate just how good the “Big Red Machine” of the early 1970s would have been if this deal had never been made.
Frank Robinson’s Career Stats Are Staggering
Check out these numbers!
Frank Robinson played for five teams from 1956 to 1976 and is the only player to win league MVP honors in both the National League and American League. Over his 21 seasons in the majors, Robby compiled a .294 batting average, with 2943 hits, 1829 runs, 528 doubles, 72 triples, 588 home runs (currently tenth all-time), 1812 RBIs, .389 OBP, .537 slugging average, and a 154 career OPS+ (100 being the major league average).
Other career highlights include: 14-time All-Star, Triple Crown winner (1966), two World Series championships (1966 and 1970), World Series MVP (1966), Rookie of the Year (1956), and All-Star Game MVP (1971).
In his rookie year, 1956, he tied the rookie record of 38 home runs and received Rookie of the Year honors. Although the Reds won the National League pennant in 1961 and Frank won his first MVP that year, he had arguably an even better offensive year in
1962 when he hit .342 with 39 home runs, 51 doubles, 208 hits, 136 RBIs, and 134 runs. It’s hard to understand how a player of this caliber could soon end up on the “trading block,” but that’s exactly what happened a couple years later.
Frank Robinson’s Great 1966 Season
In Robinson’s first year in Baltimore, following the 1965 trade, all he did was win the Triple Crown, leading the American League with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs, and 122 RBIs. But that hardly tells the story of this remarkable season. He led the American League in virtually every offensive category: 122 runs, .410 on-base percentage, 367 total bases, an incredible .637 slugging average, 1.047 OPS, and a Ruthian 198 OPS+. It was definitely a season for the record books.
With Frank Robinson leading the way, the Orioles went on to win the 1966 pennant and World Series, and Frank was named the World Series MVP. In the Orioles’ four-game sweep of the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Robinson hit two home runs, the first in Game One, which Baltimore won 5–2; and the second in Game Four, the only run of the game in a 1–0 series-clinching victory. Both home runs were hit off Don Drysdale.
A True Baseball Pioneer
Following his playing career, Frank managed for 16 seasons in the majors for the Indians, Giants, Orioles, and Expos/Nationals, and was named American League Manager of the Year in 1989. A truly historic baseball pioneer, he became the game’s first black manager when he took the Indians’ helm in 1975.
Milt Pappas Was a Fine Pitcher
Although there’s no doubt that the Orioles got the better end of this deal, what’s often overlooked is that Milt Pappas was a fine pitcher with a 17-year Big League career (1957-1973) during which he went 209-164 (.560), with a 3.40 ERA. Prior to the trade, he had spent nine seasons with the Orioles, posting an outstanding 110-74, 3.24 ERA record. His tenure in Cincinnati was short-lived, but he still had some productive years ahead of him. After three mediocre seasons with the Braves, he had four solid years with the Cubs, going 51-41, 3.33 ERA. It’s a shame that most baseball historians remember Milt for being on the wrong side of this Bill DeWitt orchestrated trade. He deserves much better.
So today, we’re glad to shine our baseball spotlight on one of the game’s all-time greats, Frank Robinson, as we recall a lopsided trade that definitely went the Orioles’ way. Frank’s #20 has been retired by both the Reds and the Orioles. He received his well-deserved plaque in Cooperstown in 1982. Frank passed away on February 7, 2019.