Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day in Baseball History

It is Leap Day.  Since today only happens once every four years, one is curious if there has been any significant moments in baseball history.  The biggest news item happened back in 1972 when Hank Aaron signed then the richest deal in baseball with the Braves.  The contract was for 3 years/$600,000 and thus keeping him in the Braves uniform for his record breaking 715th home run in 1974.

There has a been a few deaths and about a dozen births of former Major League players.  I will elaborate on a couple Leap Day births.
1933 Goudey

"Pepper" Martin was a star outfielder and third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals (1928-1944).  His hustling style of play drew him comparisons to Ty Cobb and gave him the nickname Wild Horse of the Osage.  Due to his aggressive play and subsequent injuries, Martin never really fulfilled his potential.
Martin was a key member of the Cardinals' Gashouse Gang that won two World Series titles (1931 and 1934).  Martin has a MLB best career World Series batting average of .414.   Martin's other accomplishments include leading the league in stolen bases three times and playing in four All Star games.
1951 Bowman

Al Rosen was one of the top third basemen in the American League during his career (1947-56).  After serving in the Navy during World War II, Rosen began his MLB career with the Cleveland Indians.  The Cleveland Slugger led the league in home runs and runs batted in twice each.  Rosen played in four All Star games and won the AL MVP in 1953.  He also was a part of the last Indians World Series title in 1948.
After his playing day, Rosen worked in the front office.  His work as a General Manager for the San Francisco Giants led him to being named Executive of the Year in 1987.  To this day, Rosen is still the only person ever to win the MVP and Executive of the Year honors.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Top 10 Negro League Nicknames

I was thinking awhile back, where has all the great nicknames in baseball have gone? Of course, we do have "El Oso Blanco" (Evan Gattis), but most are just shortened versions of their full names like MadBum, ARod, and Miggy.  Rather boring.
In the past, we had the Iron Horse, Dizzy, Fordham Flash, Splendid Splinter and Oil Can.  The Negro Leagues had the best nicknames though.  I will give you my top 10 from the old Negro Leagues.

10)  Norman "Turkey" Stearnes.  Much like former Dodger Ron Cey (Penguin) or the Cardinals' Joe "Ducky" Medwick, Stearnes got his nickname because he moved around like the bird.
1952 Topps

9) Sam "The Jet' Jethroe.  He got his moniker because of his speed. He led the Negro Leagues in stolen bases three times and the National League twice.

8)Herbert "Rap" Dixon  Even though you might think he got the nickname from his hitting prowess, he actually acquired it because Dixon is from the area near Rappahannock River in Virginia.  Still cool enough to my make my list

7) "Bullet" Joe Rogan  His blazing fastball and solid bat helped him become a great pitcher and outfielder and later a Hall of Famer.

6) James "Cool Papa" Bell.  The Hall of Fame outfielder started out as a pitcher where he struck out the great Oscar Charleston as a 19 year old under pressure.
1960 Leaf
5)Bob "Rope" Boyd.  He played only a few years in the Negro Leagues before a decade long career in the bigs. Boyd acquired his moniker because of the line drive hitting

4) John "Mule" Miles  His manager said he hit like a mule kicks

3) Dick "Cannonball" Redding.  One of the top pitchers in the 1910s much to thanks from his great fastball

2) Jud Wilson.  Got the nickname "Boojum" from his teammates after the sound of the ball when it hit the outfield walls.
2001 Fleer Tradition Stitches In Time
1) Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe  . Got the nickname because he would pitch one end of the double header and catch the other.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

5 Negro League Greats You Should Know But Don't

February is Black History Month and to coincide with it, I am going to write a few Negro League based editions.
Every baseball fan knows of the old negro leagues and some of its' great players.  We all know who Satchel Paige, James "Cool Papa" Bell, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard are.  Many know of Ray Dandridge, Oscar Charleston and Rube Foster.  But there is several players who were great that many baseball fans have never heard of. 
I will tell you briefly about five of these players.

1) Willie Wells (1924-48).  Wells is considered to be the top shortstop in the negro leagues in the 1930s and early 40s.  Known for his good range, sure hands and accurate arm.  He was a solid hitter also, hitting over .300 consistently.  As many Negro League stars did, he played during the winter months in Latin America.  In Cuba he won multiple MVPs and league titles and later in Mexico he won another pennant and became known as "El Diablo" or "The Devil". 
Here in the USA, he played primarily with St. Louis Stars and Newark Eagles.  With the Eagles, he was the part of the Million Dollar Infield.  Wells played in eight Negro League All Star games.  Near the end of his career, he taught a young Jackie Robinson how to turn the double play.  Wells was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
2001 Topps Chrome What Could Have Been
2)George "Mule" Suttles"  (1918-44).  Despite using a 50 ounce bat, Suttles was known for his prodigious home runs and all the while maintaining a high batting average.  Suttles was also a member of the Million Dollar Infield and played in five all star games where he hit .412 for his career.  For exhibition games against white ball clubs, Suttles hit .374 and hit five career home runs.  His teammates would yell "Kick Mule" while he was the plate in hoping for a big hit.  Suttles was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006

3)Raleigh "Biz" Mackey (1920-47) Widely considered the greatest defensive catcher in Negro League history.  He studied the hitters' tendencies, worked well with the pitchers and was able to frame pitches in order to get calls in his favor.  Mackey had the ability to throw a strike to gun out would be base stealers at second base from the crouch just as well as many standing up. 
At the plate, he was able to hit for power and average from both sides of the plate.  Mackey was selected to play in four all star games and was even picked to start over a young slugging Josh Gibson.  Mackey later taught the finer points of catching to Roy Campanella.  He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2006.

4)Norman "Turkey" Stearnes (1920-40) The outfielder played mostly for the Detroit Stars,  Stearnes had both great power and speed.   Stearnes is considered one of the greatest home run hitters in the negro leagues.  He also led the league in triples and stolen bases each at one point in his career.  Stearnes was also a very good fielder.  He was the top vote getter in the inaugural Negro League East-West All Star game and later played in three other games.  He is credited with a career. 351 average against white ball clubs in exhibition play.  He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2000.
1994 Ted Willams Co.
5) Willard Brown (1935-50). A could do it all outfielder that was best known for his power and ability to step up his play in big games.  While playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, he won three batting and home run titles and garnered the nickname "Esse Hombre".
In the USA, Brown played on the great Kansas City Monarch teams that five pennants in a six year span.  "Home Run" Brown played on several all star games before called to duty for World War II.  After his return, he helped lead the Monarchs to another pennant.  Months after Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the color barriers in 1947, Brown and Hank Thompson was signed to play for the lowly St. Louis Browns of the American League.  Without any minor league adjustment, both Brown and Thompson struggled in the major leagues.  Brown returned to the Monarchs soon after, but managed to hit the first ever home run in AL history by a black player.  Brown was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2006.