11th and Washington

11th and Washington: December 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

ND to MLB: Ed Walsh Jr.

1960 Fleer Ed Walsh

Back in August at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore, one of the many items I gazed upon and figuratively salivated over was a photo of Hall of Famer Ed Walsh and his sons, Ed Jr. and Bob, in Notre Dame uniforms. The boys were on the team and their father served as an occasional pitching coach during their years there. This Corbis photo and this one from the Notre Dame Archives -- neither of which is the one I contemplated buying but passed because of the cost in relation to my budget that day -- are just as intriguing for a fan like me. I suppose, in the back of my mind, that photo also helped inspire this ND to MLB project.

And so Ed Walsh Jr. becomes the third installment in the series because he was a teammate of the last featured player, Billy Sullivan Jr., on the 1932 White Sox. Sullivan caught Walsh on Sept. 11, 1932, in what Cappy Gagnon describes in Notre Dame Baseball Greats as a publicity stunt by Charles Comiskey. In reprising the roles their fathers had from 1904-12 -- Ed Walsh on the mound, Billy Sullivan behind the plate -- the younger pair established the quartet as the only father-son batteries in history, and for the same club. That one game was the only time that Billy Sullivan Jr. caught Ed Walsh Jr., though they appeared in three other games together, with Sullivan at first base.

Ed Jr.'s Major League career lasted only from 1928-32 (spending 1931 in the American Association), parts of four seasons in which he appeared in 79 games and compiled a record of just 11-24. He then found some success during his four seasons in the Pacific Coast League pitching for the Oakland Oaks. He went 19-15 in '32 and compiled a record of 39-38 before packing it in at the age of 30 in 1935. On July 26, 1933, he put an end to the 61-game hitting streak of an 18-year-old Joe DiMaggio, then playing with the San Francisco Seals. DiMaggio went 0-for-4, though his sacrifice fly in the ninth won the game for the Seals.

If Ed Walsh didn't have the same name as his father and hadn't pitched for the same team, he probably wouldn't have had a baseball card for me to pursue some 73 years after his death. (He died at just 32 in 1937 of "an acute heart ailment induced by chronic rheumatism," according to his obituary in The New York Times. He lapsed into a coma at his parents' home in Meriden, Conn., and is buried there.) This card, part of a 1960 Fleer set of "Baseball Greats," mistakenly shows Ed Jr. in the place of his father. The error was never corrected, and because my goal with this project is to first try to obtain an image (a period image if at all reasonable) of each former Notre Dame player with one of his big-league clubs, this card fits the bill, even if it is a mistake.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Setting impossible standards for the Phillies

If you're a Mets fan, you might want to sit down for this one. Heck, if you're the fan of any National League team, it's probably best that you not read this while on your feet, operating heavy machinery or holding any sharp objects.

Here are the career won-lost records and winning percentages of Philadelphia's new Phantastic Phour (they are not the Four Horsemen; as a Notre Dame alum, I won't allow it):

Roy Halladay, 169-86 (.663)
Cliff Lee, 102-61 (.626)
Roy Oswalt, 150-83 (.644)
Cole Hamels, 60-45 (.571)

Lee's signing does bring up the temptation to speculate on whether the Phillies should just go with a four-man rotation. As a throwback kind of guy, I'd love to see that. So what would that mean over the course of 162 games? Combined, their winning percentage comes out to 481-275 (.636). We're not going for an airtight scientific/sabermetric argument here; I'm simply throwing out numbers and seeing how scary the results can be. So multiplying that .636 by 162 (for a full season), Philadelphia would win 103 games -- and that's not accounting for games that the Phillies win after those starters have been removed and don't get credit for the decision.

So that's 103-59 just based on the Phour's combined career winning percentage and without using any other starters.

But a four-man -- or Phour-man -- rotation is not bloody likely, so what if Charlie Manuel only uses a fifth starter on days when he absolutely must? That is, what if Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels start every fifth day, not every fifth game, and a fifth starter only gets the ball when a string of games without off-days requires it? The starts would break down like this:

Halladay 36
Lee 34
Oswalt 34
Hamels 32
Fifth starter 26

Those numbers include a rotation reset after the All-Star break, when the Phillies benefit by getting the Thursday after the game off as well, meaning they'll have four full days from Sunday to Friday and can reset their rotation in order, one through five. Plus, under this setup with no deviations (not likely, but we're just speculating here), Halladay would pitch the Saturday before the All-Star Game and could presumably pitch three innings on two days' rest in the Midsummer Classic, then get two more days' rest before starting the second-half opener.

So adding them up, that's 136 games started by the Phour; a .636 winning percentage in those games is 86 wins. So if that percentage holds and they get nothing -- 0-26 -- from a fifth starter, they're still in contention for a division title and the wild card.

Clearly, what this means is that the pressure is entirely on the Phillies. They can only beat themselves. If this team doesn't win 120 games and go undefeated in the postseason, it's a failure, plain and simple. Anything less would be a letdown of immense proportions and they should just clean house, starting with Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel.

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The two times I met Bob Feller

I met Bob Feller twice, and in those two brief encounters, I saw a little of what all the stories and columns have been saying about him tonight.

The first meeting came when I was a young collector and he appeared at a local card show. I brought a cover of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly that had a drawing on the inside cover of Feller from the chest up, arms raised above his head in the first motion of his wind-up, over a background of a newspaper trumpeting his Opening Day no-hitter. Pulling the cover closer to him to sign in a rote motion repeated throughout the day, he paused when he saw the unique item and flipped it over to see what it was. We chatted about it for a moment after that -- I don't recall anything either of us said -- as he signed it. A great memory for a grade- or high-schooler with a Hall of Fame icon.

The second came in 2001 or '02, when I was covering the Lakewood BlueClaws. Feller spent most of the game signing on the concourse before he was led up to the press box to get something to eat. The few writers there took time out from watching the game to chat baseball with the legend. When a BlueClaws staff member asked what he would like to eat, he simply asked for two hot dogs with ketchup. For all his bravado and boastfulness, he could also be a man of simple tastes.

He'll be remembered for his blazing fastball, his three no-hitters and his Naval service, which began the day after Pearl Harbor when he enlisted of his own volition.

"I'm no hero," he said of his service. "Heroes don't come home from wars. Survivors come home from wars. I'm a survivor."

It's a comment that's been repeated often in these first few hours of remembrance, yet one that can't be said enough.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

ND to MLB: Billy Sullivan Jr.

Billy Sullivan autographed index card

I hadn't intended to go this long between my first and second post looking back at Notre Dame baseball players who reached the Majors, but other things -- other posts, other interests -- kept pushing it back. I do hope to take some time to work ahead on a few to have in written and in reserve to keep things fresh around here.

These "ND to MLB" posts won't have any particular order to them. I'll choose who to feature on a whim, or if something leads me to a certain player or inspires me. That's the case with Billy Sullivan -- actually, that would be Billy Sullivan Jr., as it turns out.

Somehow, when I first searched eBay for a Billy Sullivan item, I neglected to double-check the years involved. Most of the lots available are for the elder Sullivan, the catcher who made his name for the early-20th Century White Sox. So without cross-checking, I went ahead and bought a 1961 Fleer card showing Sullivan in a blue Chicago uniform, arms reaching out as if awaiting a hug, catcher's mitt on his left hand.

Somewhere along the line, though -- and after I'd received the Fleer card -- I realized that the famous Sullivan of the early 1900s was not the one who played at Notre Dame. Both played catcher, and both had stints with the White Sox, but the son debuted, with Chicago, in 1931, while his dad played his last game in 1916. Thankful that the Fleer card wasn't too expensive, I shrugged it off and came across a reasonably priced autographed index card to serve as my Billy Sullivan, ND '31, artifact. There was nearly another Sullivan for whom I would have had to track down a card or photo: Billy Jr.'s brother, Joseph (which is also the middle name of both Billy Sr. and Jr.), turned down a contract offer from the White Sox to pursue a law career (as noted in the penultimate paragraph of this bio).

Sullivan bounced around during his career, playing for the White Sox, Reds, Indians, Browns, Tigers, Dodgers and Pirates, with his longest stint the three years with Chicago to begin his career. With St. Louis in 1938, he had the lone hit (a bunt single, according to Cappy Gagnon in Notre Dame Baseball Greats) in the first of Bob Feller's 12 career one-hitters.

What prompted me to go with Sullivan now was a recent post on Seamheads discussing Sullivan Sr.'s curved bat, which had been passed down to Junior. It's a fascinating read, so I encourage you to check it out. I also learned from that post that the Sullivans were the first father-son duo to play in the World Series, Billy Sr. in 1906 with the White Sox, Junior in '40 with the Tigers. And because that bit of trivia couldn't happen until the offspring reached the Fall Classic, it was Billy Jr.'s accomplishment that established the precedent -- another notable Major League moment for a Notre Dame man.

Finally, just as I was finishing up this post, I went searching for a photo of Billy Jr. to include and came across an amazing collection of artifacts obtained at an estate sale after Sullivan's death in Sarasota, Fla. (scroll down below the photos or search for "Billy Sullivan Jr." for the beginning of the archive).

Among the highlights:

If I ever needed confirmation that the index card I bought was signed by Billy Sullivan Jr., I think this contract provides a pretty strong case.

A new phone number announcement from Hank Greenberg's wife, Caral (nee Gimbel, of the Gimbel's Department Store family).

There's so much more to look at it could take all afternoon. It's amazing, some of the things you can find when you're least expecting it.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The erosion of The Sandcastle

Things are not looking good in Atlantic City. In some ways, that's true of many aspects of the Boardwalk Empire (great show, by the way), but it's especially true of the old ballpark where the Surf used to play.

Just two seasons after the club folded, The Sandcastle (I always preferred that moniker to its corporate-jeweler name) is fading fast. This great article (and video) in the Press of Atlantic City documents the stadium's heartbreaking decay, including graffiti on the murals (one of which is shown above) that line the main stairway. I'm amazed that the pictures of the park just 21 months into its hibernation are quite similar to those of Paterson's Hinchliffe Stadium. Perhaps the salt air accelerates the damage when the structure is not regularly maintained.

I visited The Sandcastle just once, in August 1999 during my "Summer of Dan" -- the eight weeks I spent visiting and reviewing minor league ballparks in New Jersey, Staten Island and Fayetteville, N.C., where I looked at the state of the Cape Fear Crocs, who had been sold and would become the Lakewood BlueClaws in 2001. The Sandcastle was my last stop, park eight of eight, and I loved ending the series with the southernmost team in the state after all my previous trips (other than North Carolina) had taken me north.

The series appeared in the paper I was working for at the time, and while some of the headlines on the columns were a little to heavy on the puns for my tastes, the one used for the Atlantic City column now seems rather apt: "Traveling to Atlantic City for baseball is worth the gamble." Even though the team didn't make it in the end, I think it was worth the gamble. Atlantic City, once a more family-friendly resort, is now an adult playground, the place for bachelor parties and senior-citizen day trips by the busload. The baseball team provided an option that allowed the kids to come along.

From 1998-2006, the Surf played in the Atlantic League, winning the circuit's inaugural championship. In 2007, they moved to the Can-Am League, in part because the shorter schedule -- which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day -- would better fit the tourist season in A.C. (and would cut operating costs). Despite increased attendance and a playoff appearance in 2007 and Cecil Fielder managing the team in 2008, the organization ceased operations in March 2009, just two months before the start of the Can-Am season.

Perhaps baseball can't last in Atlantic City, despite overwhelming support for other clubs across the Garden State. Or maybe independent baseball was the problem. Unfortunately, the unaffiliated ranks are likely the only option for another go at it in the Jersey Shore's southern capital. Though I can't find a reliable source, I would presume that Atlantic City lies within the Phillies' territorial rights, so they would have to approve any affiliated team that moved into the region. The best fits among the affiliated ranks would be the South Atlantic League, with the BlueClaws as a rival, or the Eastern League, of which the Trenton Thunder are a part. But the Phillies already have affiliates in those leagues, in Lakewood itself and Reading, Pa., respectively, and they're not likely to change.

So Atlantic City's Sandcastle will likely continue to decay until the economy improves and some enterprising developer buys the ballpark and the land and turns it into a strip mall or go-cart track or some other attraction. And I'll have just that one night at the yard and the photos in the slideshow below, presented with the melodramatic crooning of Ol' Blue Eyes. A bit cheesy, yes, but it feels appropriate this time. Or you can just view the photos here.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Jamie Moyer HAS played a long time

I was reading this piece on Jamie Moyer over at Seamheads and was struck by a remarkable occurrence, prompted by a tidbit I hadn't remembered: Moyer was one of the players who went with Rafael Palmeiro to the Rangers in the deal that brought Mitch Williams to Chicago. Palmeiro, like Moyer, came up in 1986, but he's now been retired five years and is on the Hall of Fame ballot.

So now get this: Should Roberto Alomar or Jeff Bagwell be elected when the results are announced in January, both players will have started and finished their careers and been elected to the Hall of Fame within the span of Moyer's career. That is, those players debuted after Moyer did (1988 for Alomar, 1991 for Bagwell), retired before he did (2004 for Alomar, 2005 for Bagwell) and were elected before Moyer's retirement. Even though the results are announced in January and the players are inducted in July 2011, the voting takes place in 2010. And even if Moyer's last Major League pitch came on July 20, 2010, he still pitched in the year of election for those players (should they get in). Of course, if Moyer comes back as he hopes in 2012, that will make this whole exercise that much easier.

In any case, it's pretty crazy that a player's career could see its genesis in the form of a Major League debut, conclusion with retirement and denouement in induction to the Hall of Fame. But it's happened before.

Nolan Ryan played in more seasons, 27, than any player in history. He debuted with the Mets in 1966 and retired with the Rangers in 1993, throwing his last pitch on Sept. 22, 1993. In between, five players came, went and were enshrined. Ryan's Mets teammate Tom Seaver debuted in 1967, last pitched in 1986 and was inducted in 1992; Johnny Bench came up in '67, retired in '83 and was inducted in '89; Rod Carew came on the scene in '67, retired in '85 and went into Cooperstown in 1991; Reggie Jackson debuted in '67, retired in '87 and received his plaque in '93; and finally, Rollie Fingers threw his first pitch in 1968, retired in 1985 and went into the Hall with Seaver in '92.

This is by no means a definitive list (for one thing, Roberto Clemente's untimely death and the waiver of the five-year waiting period that allowed his induction in 1973 meant that Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew and Hank Aaron all debuted before Clemente and were still playing the summer of his induction), but it's pretty remarkable that the careers of some players, like Moyer or Ryan, can span the career and induction of others.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Looking as closely as I've ever looked at the Brooklyn 'B'

Until reading a post over at Mets Police today, I had never realized that the Brooklyn Dodgers "B" logo that appears on caps sold today is different from those generally found in photographs and on authentic, game-worn caps of that era. I left a comment on the post, but my curiosity wasn't diminished.

The bulk of the post comes from an e-mail sent to Mets Police in which the writer accuses the Dodgers, Mets and New Era of duping consumers into buying what he calls Bakersfield Dodgers caps, not Brooklyn Dodgers caps, citing the photos on baseball cards of Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez from their Bakersfield days. Head on over to Mets Police to see those cards.

From the scans and an image of a retail cap, it sure looks like the logos are more similar to one another than they are to those on the caps of four Brooklyn Dodgers just below them in the post. Because the Piazza and Pedro Bakersfield card scans render the cap logos rather small, let's look at the retail cap and the four Brooklyn boys. It sure appears that the retail logo's B has a straighter line in the letter B and rounder loops as well. The reader says:

Look at any Brooklyn Dodger photo, and you’ll never see a B like the one the LA Dodgers/New Era are peddling. Nor is it similar to the one the Franchise collection is selling, which is a Boston B with a triangle cut out. But it’s a carbon copy of the Bakersfield B. It’s clear from photos of the Brooklyn Dodgers that although there were varients [sic] of their logo, it was never like these.

Me again. Now, it's true that the Franchise Collection cap has a B very similar to Boston's, something I'd never caught before, even though I have both clubs' Franchise caps. (Yet I did manage to catch that UCLA's on-field baseball caps use the Brooklyn Dodgers' logo -- and at a closer approximation to the '50s design than today's retail replicas.) Here we have a comparison of the Franchise cap logos (on the left) and those from a current fitted Red Sox cap and a 1932 Dodgers cap (on the right).

There are subtle differences to the point where it's not literally a Boston B with a triangle cut out, but it's easy to see where that comparison could be made. And so, using the logos found on Chris Creamer's site (note that the Brooklyn one has a straight line, not a curved one), I superimposed one over the other. The sizing is a little different (though I tried to get the individual image sizes as close to one another as possible), but they're definitely close enough to see a similarity.

As for those Bakersfield caps? Well, they're not exactly Boston B replicas, either. This card of Mike Siler, who was in Bakersfield in 1987, shows a cap logo much closer to Brooklyn's B, with curves in the vertical line and rounder loops. So not even all Bakersfield caps are Bakersfield replicas, as it were.

Now let's go back in time to compare logos further. Next up are two sets of three cap logos from actual players' lids. The first set are from three caps I've seen in person: Jackie Robinson's in Cooperstown and Cookie Lavagetto's and Sandy Koufax's in a Dodgers display at the Brooklyn Cyclones' Energy Company Park.

This second set comes from Corbis photos of Frederick Fitzsimmons and Duke Snider and another view of Jackie's cap in Cooperstown.

Two things stand out in these comparisons. First, the Lavagetto cap (middle B in top series) looks quite similar to the logo produced on replicas today. Second, the three in the second series all show a much more rounded B, to the point that they look like numeral 8's with embellishments added. That is clearly like nothing we see produced on today's retail caps.

But not all of the retail caps sport the Boston-like straight-lined B. This shot and this press release both show New Era caps with the curved vertical line and more rounded B.

So what does this all mean? For one thing, I don't think the Mets or Dodgers have anything to do with how the caps look. That's up to New Era or whatever company is producing them. I wouldn't be surprised if the only thing the Major League clubs really look over closely in order to give their approval pre-production are the designs that are worn on the field -- uniforms and caps for games and batting practice.

I also suspect that New Era (and any other companies that have licenses to produce them; for the sake of simplicity, let's understand that "New Era" from here on out means any company that manufactures replica caps for retail sale) is merely working off of a template drawn from just one of several variations of Dodgers logos. Though the finished product might not look quite like what the Dodgers wore in the '50s, it was probably designed from a logo not unlike what is on Creamer's page.

Plus, the different eras should be taken into account. Technology, materials and manufacturing methods are much different today than they were in the '50s -- that alone could account for some differences. Today, computerized machines likely play a part in New Era's production line; back then, it was probably some company employee sitting at a machine to put the B on the Dodgers' caps.

Looking for some validation to my hunches in this aspect of it, I got this e-mail response from Paul Lukas, the Uni Watch guru: "Back in the day, things just weren't very standardized. There were LOTS of logo variations. And yes, the materials and manufacturing processes were very different than they are today."

Could all the manufacturers do a better job of reproducing the Brooklyn B on its retail caps? Sure. It's done pretty well on some, so why not all? But I think there are many more likely answers to the differences in 1950s Brooklyn caps and today's retail replicas before we get to a conspiracy on the part of any teams or New Era to hoodwink the fans.

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Those pesky Skeeters are back

It was considered a stretch when the South Atlantic League expanded northward into Lakewood, N.J. Then the Sally League went westward, adding Bowling Green, Ky., and Eastlake, Ohio, to the circut. Those clubs have since shifted to the Midwest League, a better fit for sure.

But now, with some upheaval among the independent league ranks, comes word of a new Atlantic League franchise in ... Sugar Land, Texas. I'm not going to get into the geography now, though.

Brought to my attention by the aptly named Paul from Paul's Random Stuff, the new club announced its nickname yesterday: the Skeeters. And now I'm torn. I love when teams come up with unique names, rather than recycling or sharing names. And it's even better when it's not something awkward or forced, like IronPigs or RailCats.

My hesitation comes from the fact that it's not the first time a team has been called the Skeeters. The original three incarnations played in Jersey City from 1887 to 1933. The 1903 club was one of the best ever. Check out this great old photo from shortly after that season. In 1920, the Skeeters lost to an Akron team that featured Jim Thorpe.

The Jersey City Skeeters actually still exist, though not as a professional minor league team. Be sure to read this great story about David Kerans' effort to keep vintage baseball alive in the Garden State. (I really should get in touch with that guy.)

It would have been nice to see the Skeeters reincarnated as a professional team in New Jersey, to keep such a great nickname here. It appears that today's Gwinnett Braves are the descendants of the Jersey City Skeeters (this entry on the International League's Miami Marlins, 1956-60, shows the lineage the best, but as a rule I don't trust Wikipedia as a primary source). Pending further research to confirm, we'll operate under the assumption that the Skeeters left Jersey City after the '33 season (when the Great Depression caused many teams and leagues to fold) for Syracuse, where they became the original Chiefs. In 1955, the club moved to Miami; then on to San Juan (for a month); Charleston, W.V.; and Atlanta, where they were the Crackers. When the Braves arrived in 1966, the Crackers decamped to Richmond and played as the R-Braves through the 2008 season, after which they moved back to Georgia, to Gwinnett County.

But it's highly unlikely that the Gwinnett club holds any rights to the Skeeters nickname, so it was there for Sugar Land to adopt. On a trademark-related note, back in January 2006, when the Sussex Skyhawks were holding a name-the-team contest, I posted some suggestions on my short-lived NJ.com minor league blog. One of them was the Sussex (or Augusta) Highlanders, a name that would fit the Skylands region, would touch on the history of the New York Highlanders and would be theirs for the taking so long as the Yankees didn't have the trademark on the name. Two months later, a college friend who works in copyright law did a little research and discovered that the Yankees had in fact trademarked the Highlanders name -- after I'd written that post.

So the Skeeters name was likely out there to be had, and Sugar Land got it. Congratulations, Texas. Wear it well.

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