27 February 1904: Watkins Returns to Our Fair City

27 February 1904, Saturday Evening

WH Watkins cThe Journal reports on the 27th that President Watkins has returned from Magnate meetings in Columbus; he reports that the Magnates at the meeting are generally satisfied with the results of the meeting and the agreement with the Pacific league, and he seems happy to have it settled, even thought the Millers lost two players to the Coast – outfielder Mike Lynch and pitcher Dick Williams.  “We could not have got those men back in any case,” Watkins says, so better to let them go to the Coast league than dicker about it. The Toledo club lost six players to the Pacific league, so they weren’t too happy, but the general sense is that the Magnates wanted to move on and get down to “business.” (There are players salaries that need cutting!)

Watkins further reports that Frosty Thomas and Harvey Bailey have said that they would sign their contracts, and Watkins has also signed two other men, but did not disclose their names at this time. Watkins is a guy who does not dispense information before it is time. Finally, Watkins also stopped in Chicago on the way home and tried to cut a deal for two other players, but was unsuccessful. However, “You can rest assured there will not be a man on the team this year who is not a ball player.”

Watkins will now be in Minneapolis until the March 7th meeting of the American association in Chicago, and then will be back in Minneapolis until spring training begins in Champaign, Ill., March 31st.

“keen, sparkling, outrageous, hilarious…”

Well, I just finished rereading one of my old Jim Bouton book’s, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally.

bouton - glad you didn't take it personally sm

$1.25? When could you get a paperback for $1.25?

1973 is when.

This is only the second time I’ve read this. Despite the cover blurbs, I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was “uproarious.” The hype on the back cover says “…Bouton rips the covers off a whole new set of big names and sacred cows – to leave his victims howling and the public cheering!” And I wouldn’t go that far either. But I guess they’ll say anything to sell a book.

I did enjoy the book – Bouton talks about the trouble he got into by writing the Ball Four book, how that book came to be, and how he started out in his broadcasting career. He also looks at how some of the people he wrote about in the first book reacted to it, and that was an interesting mix. While the most upsetting thing, for a lot of folks, seemed to be his criticism of Mickey Mantle, Mantle’s only public comment about the book was “Jim who?” Reaction among the players seemed to run the gamut, but at the same time there seemed to be a lot of institutional pressure to slam the book and slam the author. Which wasn’t very pleasant for Jim. But I’m sure some of the players also had a difficult time with their portrayal in the book, and I could see how some players might have felt betrayed. As I get older, I find that I try not to take things so seriously – I guess that’s the perspective you get with aging, and not one readily available when you are in your 20s and 30s.

There’s a healthy dose of introspection in this Bouton book – and it seemed refreshing, someone asking questions of themselves, asking why they are the way they are. We all probably do some of this, but I don’t seem to see a lot of it in print. (Probably just the books I choose to read.) In this book Bouton talks about some of his experiences, growing up, which have led him down the path of someone who questions the status quo, and who stands up for things he believes in. bouton c sm fr

I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally was a nice little follow-up to Ball Four, and a fairly quick read.  Finishing that first book, it did leave you with questions about, well, what happened next? This one tells you what happened next, and gives a bit more insight into Mr. Bouton.

For later this year, I have the Bouton book I haven’t read yet – Foul Ball – about his efforts to save an old, small-town ballpark. I am looking forward to that. Plus, I think there’s an updated edition of it out there, telling us… what happened next.

Thanks for keeping us updated, Jim.

1904 Miller News: Welcome Rusty!

24th February – back pages:Rusty Owens - MJ

Also on the 24th, Manager Watkins announced the signing of another pitcher, one Rusty Owens, “…the star pitcher of the Three-I league last year.” Owens pitched last year for Rockford, winning 19 games, while the year before he was 24-14. Apparently Indianapolis (run by Watkins) drafted Owens sometime last year, and now Watkins has purchased his contract from Indianapolis. Besides pitching, Owens is a utility player, and played every position last year but for catcher.

Perhaps Owens is seen as a replacement for Dick Williams, who seems to be moving  to the Pacific Coast league?

Happy Birthday Preacher Roe!

Happy Birthday to Elwin Charles Roe, born on this date in 1915, in Ash Flats, Arkansas. It just so happens that I’ve just acquired a Preacher Roe baseball card, Topps, 1952, one of the nicest looking cards in the set, in my opinion.

Preacher Roe - 1952 Topps d

That seems like the face of the guy you want on the mound in the key game.

Plus he’s got one of the better nicknames in the game. There’s a number of stories how he got it; the one I prefer is that when he was very young he used to ride around in a buggy with a local Methodist preacher, and once, when one of his uncles asked the 3-year-old Elwin what his name was, he replied “Preacher” – perhaps people would see him ride by and say “Hello, Preacher,” and they thought they were talking to him?

Preacher could bring some heat. Playing for Harding college, he once struck out 26 in a 13 inning game. (Or perhaps it was 11 innings. Again, stories vary.) The Cardinals signed him just before he graduated, in 1938, and he used some of the bonus money to buy new uniforms for the Harding College team. He also married his childhood sweetheart, Mozee Vida Clay.

Roe worked through the Cardinals farm system for five years; Columbus manager Burt Shotton said of him, “He was fast as hell and wilder than any human I ever saw.” (Sounds like a dangerous combination.) When Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch moved on to manage the Pirates, he traded for Roe and brought him up to the majors to stay. Playing against weak war-time competition (Roe was deferred due to a back injury he sustained when a tree fell on him) Roe put together a couple of decent seasons for the Pirates, 13-11 and 3.11 in 1944, and 14-13 and 2.87 in 1945. But in the off-season before 1946, Roe, working his off-season job as a math teacher and basketball coach in Arkansas, disputed a referee’s call in a game. The ref slugged him, and Roe fractured his skull when he hit the floor.

Roe struggled to come back from this, suffered from weakness, headaches and dizzy spells. He quit playing in August of 1946, with a 3-8 record and a 5-14 ERA. His 1947 season was little better: 4-15, 5.25. However Branch Rickey saw something he liked, and traded for Roe in the off-season. While Roe was slowly regaining his health, his fastball was gone for good, and so Roe unleashed the spitball that he had learned in the minors. His 1948 record with the Dodgers was 12-8 with a 2.63 ERA. When Burt Shotton took over as manager of the Dodgers in 1949, he was surprised by the change in Roe: “He’d got to be a pitcher, because he knew where to throw the ball and he had a change of speed, though not his old speed. Didn’t seem like the same pitcher.”

In 1949 Roe went 15-6 with a 2.79 ERA, played in the All-Star game, and beat the Yankees in the World Series, the only win for the Dodgers in  the ’49 Series. In 1950 Roe went 19-11, with a 3.30 ERA, and was again an All-Star, and in 1951 Roe had his best season, 22-3, with a 3.04 ERA. The Sporting News named him as National League Pitcher of the Year, but the Dodgers lost in the playoff to the Giants, on Bobby Thomson’s home run, and so the year ended in disappointment.

Preacher was 35 years old when he had his great season in 1951, and after that his career slowly wound down. He got more rest between starts and had winning records with some great Brooklyn clubs, but finally retired after the 1954 season. One of the highlights of his later years came in 1953 when Roe – a notoriously bad hitter – hit a home run, his only home run, at Forbes Field. Afterwards he commented “I reckon it means that I’ve finally come out of my slump.”

Another favorite saying from the Preacher: “Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.”

Yes, indeed.

Preacher Roe

For more on the Preacher there’s the SABR biography here, and the NY Times obituary here.

Happy Birthday, Preacher Roe. Good game.

baseball birthdays: xtreme edition!

February 25th, 1863 was the birthday of Hezekiah Allen, who was a catcher for the Philadelphia Quakers in 1884. Below, a picture of the ’84 Quakers. (Not sure if Allen is among them; I suspect not, I guess.)

Philadelphia Quakers 1884

Hezekiah’s debut was 16 May 1884, against the Buffalo Bisons. Not a good game for the Quakers, as they went down to defeat, 9-0, but Allen had a pretty nice game, going 2 for 3, hitting a couple of singles. The previous day the Quakers had downed the Bison 25-5, and the day after they whupped the Cleveland club, 16-2. Perhaps Allen was demoralized by the team’s lackluster performance in the game he played? Perhaps he saw signs of coming disaster? Perhaps he was injured, or just filling in for a friend? In any case, the 2 for 3 performance ends up being Hezekiah Allen’s mark in baseball. One game played, a .667 lifetime batting average. Hezekiah Allen disappears from the baseball record books, and the Quakers who stood at 7-6 after their 16-2 trouncing of the Cleveland club, collapse without Allen’s presence, and finish the season with a 39-73 mark.Monte Irvin - 1952 Topps

On the other extreme, happy birthday today to Monte Irvin. Irvin was born on this day in 1919, had a brilliant career in the Negro leagues, hitting .422 and .396 in 1940 and 1941. After serving in WWII from 1943-45, Irvin came back to lead the Newark Eagles to the pennant, hitting .401 to win the batting title. In 1949 the NY Giants bought his rights, and Irvin made his major league debut as a pinch-hitter on July 8, 1949. (He drew a walk.)

Starting out again in the minors in 1950, Monte was called up after 18 games, hitting .510 with 10 home runs. He hit .299 that year with the Giants, playing first base and the outfield, and in ’51 he hit .312 with 24 home runs and 121 rbi, leading the Giants to a 3 game playoff against the Dodgers, and then into the World Series (where they lost to the Yankees, 4 games to 2).

Monte was 30 years old when he made his major league debut, and played 8 seasons in the majors, with a lifetime average of .293 and 99 home runs. Today, his birthday, he’s 95 and living in Houston, Texas. According to Wikipedia, he’s the oldest living African-American to have played in the major leagues, and the oldest living member of a World Series team, having won with the Giants in 1954.

Happy Birthday Monte!

Monte Irvin number retirement - 2010

Good game, Monte.

Good game, Hezekiah.