Attic Find

I see an article in the NY Times this morning, about a pretty nice collection of old baseball cards that a guy found in his uncle’s attic, after his uncle passed away. The highlight? Nineteen unopened packs of Bowman baseball cards from 1948. That would be a pretty nice find. Especially as the article notes that finding one unopened pack is exceedingly rare.

The cards are up for auction now, with the Mile High Card Company, and I think it will probably more than I can afford. Currently the top bid is at $171,455, but there’s plenty of time left to get your bid in. They’re auctioning them off as a complete set, 19 of 24, and the display case is included.

I’ve never been a big fan of the 1948 Bowman set. I wouldn’t throw them away or anything, but there haven’t been many that have caught my eye. Here’s a nice example, though, the 1948 Bowman Stan Musial:

This card’s up for sale on ebay, and it goes for $12,500, being graded in mint condition. Stan was just 28 in 1948, but he looks younger in this picture.

The big question: I wonder if any of these packages will ever be opened?

 

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Crazy ’08

It seems like I’ve been reading a lot of baseball books of late. It’s all relative, I suppose. After reading almost no baseball books in 2016, anything would seem like a big increase.

I’ve recently finished Crazy ’08, by Cait Murphy, a recap of the madcap 1908 baseball season, focusing primarily on the National League race between the New York Giants, the Chicago Cubs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, while not ignoring the American League contest between the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, and the Cleveland Naps.

This book caught my eye primarily because of my own efforts at covering the Minneapolis Miller’s 1904 season, and I wanted to see how Murphy approached this project. Murphy has the advantage of having an abundance of primary source material, as she is covering the major leagues in the big cities, where there were probably a few newspapers in each city covering the story. Murphy uses her sources well, (and footnotes exhaustively, for those who like that sort of detail,) and we get to enjoy a number of little background stories to the season which add depth and color to the story — such as how particular umpires are viewed in the different cities, and about the huge controversy and final resolution of the in-famous Merkle game of 23 September.

While you might quibble with Murphy’s hyperbole regarding 1908 (“The best season in baseball history is 1908.”) 1908 certainly deserves consideration. The season is full of historic characters and exciting baseball. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Frank Chance, Cy Young, Nap LaJoie, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, Eddie Collins, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, and even Bull Durham were all playing in ’08, and with both pennant races going down to the final days, the baseball was fierce and frequently unbelievable. For example, in the October 2nd game between Cleveland and the White Sox. Cleveland is 1/2 game behind the Tigers, and the White Sox are 1 1/2 back, and they’re both running out of time. Ed Walsh pitches for the White Sox and he is nearly flawless. He strikes out 15, gives up just four hits and a single un-earned run. (Curiously, Murphy says that Walsh strikes out 16 in that game. All the other sources I’ve looked at say 15. Odd that Murphy would make an error like that covering such a big game. Perhaps the pennant-race pressure got to her.) Anyway, Walsh strikes out 15, but he loses anyway. Cleveland wins 1-0, as Addie Joss throws a perfect game for the Naps. Chicago drops 2 1/2 games back with only four games left to play.

As the ol’ perfesser used to say, you could look it up. In the end, the Cubs beat the Tigers in the World Series, four games to one, with both clubs probably exhausted from the pennant race. I like that about old-time baseball. There’s the regular season, everyone going all out to end up on top. And then there’s the World Series. Not 5 rounds of playoffs. The two league champions meet for the ultimate test. I wonder if we would have seen the Tigers and the Cubs in the ’08 series if they had had playoffs? Probably not. How often do the two teams with the best regular season record show up in the World Series? I’d be surprised if that’s ever happened since wild card teams were introduced. Some say that it makes baseball more exciting, the fact that in the playoffs – “Anything can happen!”  I guess I don’t see it that way. I’d like the regular season, the long campaign, to have more importance than it does.

That being said, I really enjoyed this book quite a lot! Murphy made the season and the players and the pennant races come alive. It would be a perfect read in the dark days of December, when baseball is most distant and most needed. And it would be a perfect read tomorrow, too. Nicely done, Cait Murphy!

Roger Kahn, Memories of Summer

I recently finished reading Memories of Summer, by Roger Kahn, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Kahn’s book is a memoir, and roughly the first third of the book tells of growing up in Brooklyn, going to Ebbets field with his father, playing ball and going to school and discovering that he wants to be a writer. His father happens to know the city editor of the New York Herald Tribune, and this gets 19-year-old Roger an interview and a job as a copy boy in 1946. I particularly enjoyed this part of the book, stories of how Roger learned about newspapers and sports writing from some of the greats, such as Red Smith and Heywood Broun. In 1950 he became a copyreader in the sports department ($48/week; do they still have copyreaders?), and soon after that he was out on general sports assignments, covering everything except major league baseball. (They wanted their baseball writer to be older than the players, and I suppose that’s a good general rule of thumb.) But just two years later, at the wise old age of 24, Kahn gets dispatched to Florida to cover the Brooklyn Dodgers spring training. Those were different times, obviously, but I think this speaks to Kahn’s ability as a writer, that they thought he was ready.

His first year covering the Dodgers they win the National League pennant, and (no dilly-dallying in those day, no 8 rounds of playoff games) they play the lordly New York Yankees in the World Series, and Kahn covers this experience closely in the book, and brings home the drama and personalities in the story. And there are quite a few personalities involved: Jackie Robinson, Casey Stengel, Pee Wee Reese, Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Allie Reynolds. The Yankees win it in 7 games, a hard fought, well-played series. After the game, (and about a million years ago,) a reporter asked Mantle about his off season plans.

At the age of twenty, Mickey Mantle had arrived, batting .345 with two important home runs. “Nice Series, young man,” Rud Rennie said. “What are you up to now?”

“Headin’ back to Oklahoma. I got me a job working down in the mines.”

“Work in the mines? The winning share is more than $6,200. You don’t have to do that now.”

“Yes, I do,” Mantle said. “You know my dad died, and I got seven dependents who’re counting on me.” Mantle named three brothers, a sister, his mother, and his wife.

“That’s six,” Rennie said.

“A baby is due in March,” Mantle said. “I don’t know whether I’ll be in the electrical crew or the pump crew or whatever.” The Yankees’ slugging hero of the series smiled pleasantly. “I’m just lucky the mining company offered me a job.”

The second part of the book traces Kahn’s career after he leaves the newspaper, and features some chapters that focus on some individual players, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays in particular. These are thoughtful and personal character studies; Kahn tells us a lot about these legends, in a subtle and natural way.

Many of you baseball fans out there are familiar with Kahn’s other huge best-seller, The Boys of Summer. That seems like it was written a hundred years ago now, (published 1972, so, really, only 45 years ago) and it is well worth re-reading. Kahn brings the same care and skill to this book, and leaves me wanting more. And so I’m planning on tracking down another Kahn book, The Era, 1947-1957: When the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers Ruled the World. 

Nice to note that Roger is still with us, 89 years old, and I hope writing another book.

Good game, Roger!

It is Good to be in First

Well, the Twins won their first game of the season. We need to take a long moment to acknowledge that fact, and to appreciate it. When was the last time they won the opening game of the season? That was just back in 2008, only some 9 years ago. Some of you older readers might remember that game, a 3-2 triumph over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Livan Hernandez got the win for the Twins, and Mauer, Cuddyer, and Lamb got the RBIs. (Mike Lamb. Third base. Hit .233 in 81 games.)

Here’s to being in first, and getting that first win under our belt. Some of you may recall that the first win was a bit difficult to get last year. But this is a new year, and a new ball club. In their 7-1 win, the Twins put together an impressive rally in the seventh, scoring six runs on three consecutive bases-loaded walks, followed by a couple of singles. Way to be patient up there at the plate! Good eye, Good eye! Walks as good as a hit. Attaboy. I’ll bet the joint was rocking as the balls kept piling up, one after another, inexorably, and the runners slowly trotted from base to base to base. Oh, yeah: Baseball is back, my friends. Baseball is BACK.

In honor of the opening of baseball season, the Library of Congress has a post on their blog, “Champions of America: Early Baseball Card.” There’s a nice picture of the Brooklyn Atlantics in the post, which goes on to say that the Atlantics won championships in 1861, ’64, and ’65, and their season extended into the winter, when they put on skates and played on frozen ponds. I suppose that ice-baseball just didn’t catch on, or we’d be seeing it today.

The post also points to the Library’s collection of early baseball cards, which I believe I may have mentioned here previously. They have a fairly nice collection of about 2000 cards dating from 1887 to 1914. The original collector of these cards, Benjamin K. Edwards, gave the collection to poet Carl Sandburg, who donated the collection to the Library in 1954.

Which made me think that a Chicago guy like Sandburg must have written some poems about baseball. But I only find one tonight:

Hits and Runs

 

I REMEMBER the Chillicothe ball players grappling the Rock Island ball players in a sixteen-inning game ended by darkness.
And the shoulders of the Chillicothe players were a red smoke against the sundown and the shoulders of the Rock Island players were a yellow smoke against the sundown.
And the umpire’s voice was hoarse calling balls and strikes and outs and the umpire’s throat fought in the dust for a song.

 

Carl Sandburg, 1918

I haven’t been able to find any information on whether Mr. Sandburg rooted for the Cubs or the White Sox. It seems like a poet would most likely root for the Cubs. Nelson Algren, on the other hand, I could see him being a White Sox fan.

More research is needed.

Finally, I just came across a nice article in the NY Times, about new Twins Executive Vice President and Chief Baseball officer Derek Falvey. The article gives me hope, unlike many of the articles in the NY Times these days.

Saturday evening, April 30th, 1904: “Brilliantly played Game”

The millers won a tight one in Louisville yesterday, 2-1, a “brilliantly played game,” according to our man in Louisville, though there were four errors in the game. Gene Ford got the win, giving up 6 hits and a walk while striking out five. Ford also scored the winning run in the sixth, getting a hit, going to second on a sacrifice, to third on an error, and coming home on a fielder’s choice. It’s miller time!

The colonels lone run came in the second. Brashear singled, then went from first to third on an infield out, a grounder to short. Not sure how that’s possible, but there it is, black and white. Brashear must have blazing speed? Anyway, he then scored (probably easily) on a fly-ball out. Denny Sullivan tied it up for the millers in the bottom of the frame (YES, the millers are batting last, though the game’s in Louisville. What’s up with that?) hitting a long home run (!) into the center field pasture.

Catcher Weaver has a cannon for an arm, apparently, catching four of the five colonels attempting to steal. McNichol was at third again, and handled eight changes without “a skip.” He also dazzled in a double play in the ninth: with runners on first and second, Hart hit a stinger down to McNichol. He stepped on third for one and tossed across to Lally, but too late to catch the speedy Hart. Lally, though, noted that the runner from first had rounded second and was headed to third, and he gunned the ball back across the diamond to McNichol, who applied the tag for the out. Score that 5-3-5, folks, and some heads-up ball by the millers. The colonels love to run too, apparently.

Meanwhile, our scribe gets a few column inches to provide analysis, and, yes, the millers are speedy. Speedy speedy speedy. Everybody agrees. Can we give it a rest for awhile?

Our scribe is highly optimistic that the club will come home from this road trip above the .500 mark. It’s a shame that they only got to play one game against the Columbus team, because the millers clearly outclassed the Ohioans, and they probably would have won two or three games, if they could only have been played. (Instead of just losing the one game, which was, I guess, an anomaly.)

The pitching has been good, though Ford reported late, so he’s still a question mark. (Analysis apparently done pre-game, as Ford rocked the colonels.) Katoll’s arm, meanwhile, is still said to be in good shape, but Watkins “intends to save Big Katoll until warm weather arrives.” But his arm is fine. But he doesn’t want to take any chances. But his arm is healthy. (Why do I think that Katoll’s got a bad arm? I don’t know, but I suspect he won’t make it through the season. Watty should be looking for more pitching.)

McNichol and Demontreville are having a good contest for third base, with McNichol playing a bit better, but Demontreville has not been released yet because of Fox’s sickness. It looks like Watty will hang onto them both for two or three weeks. Fox is in there playing, yesterday, but I guess Watkins like to have a little depth on the bench.

Hitting is a concern. Only 51 safeties in six games, our analyst reports, which, using a little 1904 sabremetrics, breaks out to just eight and a half hits per game: “This is not good enough batting to suit the fans entirely, but six games is hardly a criterion of the team’s real strength.”  Yes, I think I get what he’s trying to say. He’s right. Hardly a criterion.

Finally, catcher Weaver looks good, as does Leslie. Our reporter thinks that Leslie will probably play most of the games, as long as he keeps hitting.

—-

Meanwhile, at UW Madison, it’s the same old same old.

“Seranaded the professors?” I can imagine what that was like. But I’m not sure what happened with the “vaudeville performance.” Why do I suspect that beer was heavily involved with this? Anyway, thank the lord that the police were on hand to break up the shenanigans. I suspect that that’s the last we’ll hear of Mr. Larue of Chicago and Mr. Davies of Davenport.

29 April 1904 – Louisville

newsboy-minneapolis-1904-b“MILLERS FALL DOWN WITH STICK”

Read all about it!

The millers lost yesterday to the colonels in Louisville, by a 3-1 margin.

Watty’s colts only managed four hits off the colonel’s Egan, while the elongated Stimmel also tossed a fine game, giving up only six hits himself. Sad to say, poor base running may have played a part in the loss. Watkins can’t be happy about that. Apparently Maloney got caught napping at second base. I assume that billy-maloney-brg-bmeans he got picked off? Ouch! Maloney also got a couple of hits and sparkled out in right field, but I would think that Watkins will overlook those redeeming points and talk to him seriously about the importance of being highly alert while on the base paths.

I’m a bit concerned about the miller’s offence. (As I’m sure we all are.) Here’s the miller rally yesterday, as described by Our Man in the Field:

“The millers’ one score was secure in the fifth, when Oyler lined out a single, Stimmel sacrificed him along, and the shortstop stole third. McNichol bunted, and Dexter fielded the ball home, but Schriver dropped it, making the only miscue of the game.”

That’s probably going to be the nature of the millers’ offence this season: bunts, sacrifices, stolen bases, maybe an error thrown into the mix. I guess, in 1904, that was pretty much the nature of the game. Nowadays we think of the pre-Babe Ruth years as the Dead Ball Era, but back then it was just baseball. Nobody even noticed that the ball was dead. It was just part of the Great American Pastime. It’s a good thing that Watty has assembled a stable of speedsters.

On that note there was an interesting comment by Watty, in yesterday’s paper, I think it was. His theory is that it’s very difficult or impossible, really, to find much good hitting at this level of the game. If a guy shows he can hit, he gets snapped up by the big leagues. And that’s why he’s so focused on speed. Hitting across the league will be weak, and so he believes that the fastest team will create the most runs and thus come out as champions in the end. As long as they are awake out there on the base paths.

Yesterday, more bad weather, but they played anyway and played well. One error for the colonels, none for the boys from Minneapolis. Demontreville was sick, but McNichol played well at 3rd. Oyler was excellent at short. Watty says he will release both Ludwig excerpt-tacoma-times-12-april-1909-wm-ludwigand Roach shortly. Ludwig is apparently not fast enough, while Roach’s work “has been indifferent.” I wonder why he hasn’t released them already. Must be no fun for them. I hope he’s talked to them, and they don’t just read it in the papers. Maybe he’ll yet change his mind about Ludwig, who’s a fan favorite, a game player, and a fine young man, though perhaps not so fast.

Young Munch may twirl for the millers today. Census records seem to indicate that Gustave was born in 1876, which would make him about 28 in 1904. Which makes me wonder how old the rest of these guys are, if he’s “young” Munch?

millers-logo-tilt-glow-c

And in other news of the day:

excerpt-minneapolis-journal-29-april-1904-speed-mark-for-train-b

 

A long belated and apologetic return to 28 April 1904: Rain Out

Rain Rain Rain

“Speed of Watkins’ Men Elicits Favorable Comments”

Well, the rain continues in April of 1904, and yesterday’s scheduled game was a washout. Our scribe had thought that the millers would take two games in Columbus, but instead they drop one and are rained out of their other three opportunities. The club boarded the train last night for Louisville, where they will play a four-game series against the colonels. It looks like the colonels dropped yesterday’s game against Kansas City. (Oddly, the game was played in Louisville, but KC batted on the bottom of the card. So, really, they were the home club, it seems. Perhaps we’ll find out more about this later. Does KC not have a park? Are they like the fabled Rupert Mundy’s, wandering in the wilderness?)

The speed of Watkins’ men continues to astound all who witness their ambulatory talents. Apparently they excel at the bunt game — “…the slightest bobble by a senator on an infield hit meant that the runner would reach first.” I imagine other teams must be quite nervous about these millers and their short-ball style of play. Veritable gazelles. The entire game played with the infield pulled in, guarding against the bunt. “The Minneapolis Shift.”

If this pennant chase comes down to a footrace, the boys quite have it all locked up.

This new catcher Weaver is apparently as tall as the team is fast. He stands well over six feet, a veritable towering Goliath of his day. This now means Watkins has four catchers on the club — Weaver, Leslie, Ludwig, and Roach, and our reporter hazards a guess that Ludwig and Roach are slated for Watkins’ bloody chopping block.

excerpt-tacoma-times-12-april-1909-wm-ludwig

Four backstops are probably too many, but I do hope he keeps Ludwig, who showed some pluck in spring training. Watkins famously said he was going to instruct him in “all the finer points of the game.” I’m sure Ludwig was kidded about that quite a bit. Did Ludwig turn out to be a poor student, or was Watkins just talking a good game? Well, we’ll probably never know.

Frankly, I would not be at all surprised if the club picked up another new catcher in Louisville in the next day or two. Watkins seems to have some sort of weird obsession with the position. It seems like there’s always someone better waiting in the wings. Tomorrow perhaps we’ll hear about catcher Slumhaggen, a seven-footer who can run like a jaguar and is a wand master of the highest degree. If I was catcher Weaver or catcher Leslie, I would not be feeling too comfortable.

Perhaps you’re wondering about the standings? Especially given the extended lay-off between our visits to 1904. Our last visit being, (embarrassingly) in November of 2015. 2015? Yes, 2015. My apologies.

Well, keep in mind that it’s early yet, and far, far too early to make any serious prognostications about future success. Especially given the amount of rain we’ve been having. But here’s the scoop:

04-28-04-standings-b

Tomorrow we’ll find out how we fared against those colonels in Louisville.