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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Ruppert Jones was an extremely talented and hard-working baseball player who made it to the major leagues with the Kansas City Royals in 1976. He was soon acquired by the new Seattle Mariners as their number one draft choice when Major League Baseball expanded in 1977. Jones went on to have several fine seasons and was the first Mariner to be selected to the American League All Star Team. He was a tremendous defensive outfielder who had a rare combination of speed and power, but his career was cut short by several injuries that he suffered. The worst of which occurred while playing with the New York Yankees in August 1980 when Jones crashed into the unpadded outfield wall in the Oakland Coliseum trying to chase down a long blast by Tony Armas. The effects of that injury went undiagnosed for many years as Ruppert’s talents deteriorated and his personal life suffered.
But as his title indicated Jones never gave up. He continued to have productive years in baseball, at one point helping the Detroit Tigers to the World Championship in 1984, but his major league career finally ended in 1987. It is at this point that the full importance of this memoir picks up. As Jones’ life spiraled out of control, he desperately searched for answers to the devastating effects of his loss of cognitive functions due to his head injury. To make matters worse he found himself self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
His memoir then continues as part mystery and part love story as Ruppert searches for answers with his loving wife Betty always at his side. It is a long and difficult journey, but Jones eventually finds answers and begins an effective treatment plan.
What is remarkable about this book is that traumatic brain injury is usually only associated with football. But Jones that is not always the case. He points out that traumatic brain injury can happen in baseball, soccer and many other walks of life and it can be terrible if it is not diagnosed properly and treated effectively. Ruppert Jones’s memoir is call for action to recognize and treat traumatic brain injury and is a testament that with determination and a “never give up” spirit even the worst afflictions can be overcome.
I highly recommend this well-written and inspirational book.
I recently received this book review for my novel Mickey Mantle’s Last Home Run. This is from OlineBookClub.org and is currently posted on their website.
Mickey Mantle’s Last Home Run by Steven A. Falco deserves a 4 out of 4 stars. There are different positive aspects of this book to justify this rating. First, the book is a product of good research and personal experience of Steven. This inference is made from the brief profile of the author on the last page of the book, which reveals that Steven had played baseball while growing up. Also, this book is professionally edited; I could only spot one error in it.
The book is a story of a 15-years old boy popularly known as T.J. who has a near-obsession with baseball. This book contains subplots that teach lessons against racial prejudice and discrimination. T.J’s obsession for the Mick makes him frequent Yankee Stadium, sometimes alone, with Jonathan, Frankie, and Phil, or at other times, with his father and brother. However, he breaks this practice when he has to wait at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, together with Jonathan, Maggie, and her friend, to pay his last respects to the slain Robert Kennedy.
Meanwhile, Jonathan devices ways to ease the pain of other students during boring classes by creating school clubs for interested students. The strife between the Blacks and the Whites is heightened when T.J mistakenly hit a Black kid named Darrell during baseball practice and when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. T.J’s life is endangered as it seems that the Black kids would like to take revenge for both incidents on him. Will he survive this plan, or will he be assassinated like Robert Kennedy?
This book is exceptional, and it is recommended to young adults because there are lessons contained in the book that would be of help to them. Lovers of fictional books would also have a fantastic time reading this book.
By guest blogger, baseball historian and author Gary Livacari
“Bell was so fast he could turn off the light and be under the covers before the room got dark!”-Satchel Paige, speaking of “Cool Papa” Bell.
“We played a different kind of baseball than the white teams. We played tricky baseball. We did things they didn’t expect.” -“Cool Papa” Bell
“Bell was an even better man off the field than he was on it. He was honest. He was kind. He was a clean liver.” -Teammate Ted Page, speaking of “Cool Papa” Bell.
James “Cool Papa” Bell was an eight-time All-Star center fielder who played in the Negro Leagues from 1922 to 1950. He’s considered by many baseball observers to have been one of the fastest men ever to play the game. Legends about the “fast as lightning” Bell and his remarkable speed are still widely circulated many years after his playing days.
Bell was born May 17, 1903, in Starkville, Mississippi, the fourth of seven children. At age 17, he moved to St. Louis to live with older brothers and attend high school. Bell spent most of his time playing baseball instead of studying. In 1921 he signed as a
knuckleball pitcher with the Compton Hill Cubs, a black semipro baseball team. He played with Compton Hill on Sundays and holidays while working for a packing company during the week. For 1922, Bell moved to another semi-pro team, the East St. Louis Cubs, which paid him $20 weekly to pitch on Sundays.
Bell signed with the St. Louis Stars of the Negro National League as a pitcher in 1922. He earned his nickname in his first season. Teammates referred to him as “Cool” after striking out Oscar Charleston, and then he added “Papa” because he thought it sounded better. At first, Bell made only occasional appearances in the outfield. By 1924 he began working on his defense and utilized his great speed. Pitchers tried to avoid issuing him walks as he often stole both second and third. Bell was known to score from first after a base hit.
Bell bounced around to many teams, typical of Negro League stars. Teams included the Kansas City Monarchs, Santo Domingo of the Dominican League, the Mexican winter leagues, the Homestead Grays, and finally the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the reorganized Negro National League.
The 1932-36 Pittsburgh Crawfords, named after the Crawford Grill, are considered some of the greatest teams ever. Cool Papa Bell, along with teammates Ted Page and Jimmie Crutchfield, formed possibly the best outfield in Negro League history. On the 1936 team, Bell was one of seven players who was later inducted into the Hall of Fame. Check out these names: Oscar Charleton, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Bill Foster, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson. The team also included stars Sam Bankhead, Jimmie Crutchfield, Leroy Matlock, and Ted Page. Bell finished his career with a .341 batting average and hit .391 in exhibitions against major leaguers.
Satchel Paige liked to relate stories about Cool Papa’s speed, especially a famous one from a hotel. Due to faulty wiring, there was a short delay between flipping a light switch off – and the lights actually going off. This was enough time for Bell to jump into bed after flipping the switch, and Paige’s famous quote about “Cool Papa’s” speed was born.
Another legend held that Bell once hit a ball up the middle and was struck by the ball as he slid into second base! He once circled the bases in 13.1 seconds on a soggy field in Chicago, claiming he did it in 12 seconds in dry conditions.
Amid all the tales of Bell’s speed, one aspect of his personality was never in doubt: his outstanding character, attested to by many who knew him.
Bell died on March 7, 1991, aged 87. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 by the Negro League Committee. In 1999 Bell ranked 66th on The Sporting News list of Baseball’s Greatest Players, one of five players so honored who played most of their careers in the Negro Leagues. He was also named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
So today we gladly shine our baseball spotlight on Hall-of-Famer James “Cool Papa” Bell, one of the great stars from the Negro Leagues.
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Photo Credits: All from Google search
Information: Excerpts edited from Cool Papa Bell Wikipedia page.