100 years ago today..

The Chronicling America database, from the Library of Congress, is a rich source of old baseball stuff. For instance, 100 years ago today in the Ogden Standard, an article about a favorite, the Great Lajoie.

Ogden standard 20 March 1915 - Lajoie


Because I have been living under a rock for the last few months, and for December in particular, I totally absolutely missed the news about:

a. Chris Colabello, being claimed by Toronto off waivers (December 8th! Where was I?)


b. Colabello being outrighted to the Triple A Buffalo Bisons.(February11th! Where was I?)

And so, here I am, suddenly thinking to myself, “Hey, wha… where… where’s Colabello? What happened to Colabello?”

Crap.chris colabello - Worcester Tornados

Yes, this kind of brings me down, even though I probably should have been preparing for it, lo these many months. For the Twins have a first baseman name of Mauer, and once Joe picked up the first baseman’s glove, that probably indicated that all the other first baseman better start to pack their bags. (Goodbye, Justin Morneau. So long, Chris Colabello.)

Justin went to Pittsburgh, of course. (Who did we get for him? Oh, yes, Alex Presley, and, momentarily, Duke Welker. The Twins then waived Presley, and Houston picked him up, and it looks like he’s still with the Astros. The Twins quickly traded Welker back to Pittsburgh for Kris Johnson. Pittsburgh then released Welker, and then, later, the Twins released Johnson. Such are the wily machinations of the executive suite.) Meanwhile, of course,Pittsburgh let Morneau walk at the end of the season, and Colorado signed him, and I guess he had a pretty fine season up there in the mountains of Colorado.(.319, (leading the NL), 17hr, 82 rbi, and a .860 OPS.

(Trivia question: Who had the highest OPS on the Twins in 2014? Answer: young center fielder / shortstop Danny Santana: .824, followed by young DH Kennys Vargas (.772) and then young second baseman Bull Dozier (.762). Perhaps this bodes well for the future?)

So Mr. Colabello is gone, and I’m sorry to see him go. I liked the way he came up from the independent leagues to make the majors, and I like the fact that he turned down big money to play in Korea, because “Going to Korea would mean giving up the dream of being a big-leaguer.” How can you not root for a guy like that? Plus he broke Kirby Puckett’s record for most RBIs in the month of April (26), and he hit a home run for his mother on her birthday. With her sitting up in the stands. I really wanted Colabello to hit so well that they had to play him. But he didn’t, and they didn’t, and now he’s in Toronto. (Starting first baseman last year, Edward Encarnacion. 34 home runs there.)

Good luck, Chris Colabello. You’re a hero.

colabello c gs red  fr - mtpmcg714 sm - 5599


The Big Show; more of Charles M Conlon

Tonight I finished reading my other bargain baseball book find – The Big Show, a beautiful collection of early twentieth century baseball photographs taken by Charles M. Conlon.The Big Show

I’ve already reviewed the first volume of Conlon photographs assembled by Neal and Constance McCabe, so I won’t go into a lot of details here about the Conlon story. I noted tonight, though, that McCabe, in the afterword, says that he thinks this volume is better than the first, as this time “I actually had some idea of what I was doing.”

Well, he might be right. Overall, of course, the main thing is the pictures, and I couldn’t pick based on that. Both books are great collections. The text accompanying the pictures, though, did seem a bit stronger in this edition. I may need to review the previous edition to be sure about that. But the text is really secondary. The pictures stand on their own. At some point in this edition, McCabe draws a comparion to the great German photographer, August Sander. I would have to agree. Conlon never got the attention from the photography community, and he wasn’t aspiring to high art.

None the less, it is. I highly recommend both these books.

los dos Santanas

Well, the Twins have missed out on the golden opportunity, as the Toronto Blue Jays sign Johan Santana to a minor league contract, with an invite to spring training.

Johan Santana mets sad

Hard to believe those free-spending Twins couldn’t shell out a minor league contract for Johan.

Well, the season’s just beginning. It may happen yet. And good luck to Johan with them Blue Jays.

The Glory of Their Times

As I make ready for the 2015 season, fate drops a couple of great baseball books into my lap. I happen to work near a Half Price Books shop, and their clearance shelves offer occasional treasures for guys like myself, who love the heft and scent of massive old tomes.

A few weeks ago I happened upon a paperback copy of The Glory of Their Times. I once owned a hardcover edition, and after aging it on my bookshelf for a few years, I passed it along to its next owner, having never cracked it open. Much later, when I started this blog, I found repeated references to it as “The single best baseball book of all time.” (Red Barber, repeatedly.)

“Hey, I think I own that book,” I thought, and scurried happily into “my library” to peruse the crowded stacks. No such luck; a dusty empty slot on the shelf (between Roth’s Great American Novel and Neft’s Baseball) was all I found, which I dutifully filled with regret.

gott b sm

But, like a harbinger of spring, I came across a very nice paperback copy of this a few weeks ago, and, with the season just around the corner, I jumped in. I don’t think I’d call this the greatest baseball book of all time, but it’s certainly one of the best. Lawrence S. Ritter got the idea of tracking down old ballplayers and getting their stories on tape, and then spent five years and traveled 75,000 miles doing just that. It wasn’t easy; there was no reliable source of information back then on old ballplayers, and Ritter spent a lot of time at the library, looking through phone books, and just talking to folks, trying to track these players down.

It doesn’t really say how he chose the players. (Or else I missed that.) But he’s found some good ones here. My paperback is a 1984 “enlarged” edition, and thus includes four more players than the original valuable and probably rare and priceless ’66 hardcover edition. Ritter talks to legends and lesser-knowns, including Rube Marquard, Davy Jones, Smokey Joe Wood, Specs Toporcer, Chief Meyers, Babe Herman, Stan Coveleski, Goose Goslin, Willie Kamm, Paul Waner, and Hank Greenberg. He does a great job of letting the ballplayers tell their stories in their own words – it’s very much like Studs Terkel’s work, where you get only the players’ voices. About the only time we hear from Ritter is in the introduction, where he he talks about how he came to write the book, and relates this story about how he found a particular player:

A long drive and inquiries at post offices, real estate agencies, and grocery stores placed me, two days later, in the small town of Baywood Park, California, half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. For the next two day, however, I made no further progress. On the morning of the fifth day, frustrated and disappointed, I took some wash to the local laundromat and sat disgustedly sat watching the clothes spin. Seated next to me was a tall elderly gentleman, reading a frayed paperback. Idly, I asked if he had ever heard of Sam Crawford, the old ballplayer.
“Well I should certainly hope so,”he said, “bein’ as I’m him.”

I would have enjoyed hearing a few more tales about his searching for these guys.

The ballplayers, of course, have got great stories, about their backgrounds and the game. I’m about halfway through the book, and I’ve found out that Stan Coveleksi started working in the Pennsylvania coal mines when he was 12 years old. He was working from seven in the morning til seven in the evening, six days and 72 hours a week. For which he got paid $3.75 a week, about 5 cents an hour.

What was strange was that I ever got out of there. Like I said, I never played much baseball in those days. I couldn’t. Never saw the sunlight. Most of the year I went to work in the dark and came home in the dark. I would have been a natural for night baseball. Never knew the sun came up any day but Sunday.

There was also Davy Jones’ great story of how Germany Schaefer stole first base in a game against Cleveland in 1908, and Joe Wood talking about his great year of pitching and how he couldn’t give up the game after his arm injury, and how he got the chance to come back and play outfield. It’s one great story after another, the players are all well-spoken, and you can tell how they cherish these memories and enjoyed playing ball. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how rough the players were in the early days of the game, and this book is kind of a counterweight to that. Players speak with great appreciation and empathy about other players, and talk about who gave them the chances to get in the game, who impressed them, and who got unlucky breaks.

Well, it’s late. More on this later, and also on my other great discount bookstore find.