1925 World Series Game 3: Instant Replay Edition

March 12, 2014

What if Commissioner Landis had instituted a manager’s challenge system for instant replay prior to the 1925 season? Here is a new account of Sam Rice’s famous catch in Game 3 of the World Series.

Saturday October 10, 1925

Nats Lose in Late Innings, Local Man Called Goat

Stephen Jeffrey Bartmaier wasn’t looking to be famous. All he wanted was a ball to commemorate his trip to Griffith Stadium for Game 3 of the World Series.

When replay cameras caught the 17-year-old removing the ball from the glove of a temporarily incapacitated Sam Rice, everything changed. Bartmaier was caught on camera trying to replace the ball in Rice’s glove, but it was too little too late for the life-long Nats fan who may not be able to show his face in the DC area again.

With two outs in the top of the eighth inning, Pittsburgh catcher Earl Smith hit a drive deep into the right field corner of Griffith Stadium. Right fielder Sam Rice sprinted toward the right field line, leapt, and backhanded the ball in his glove as he tumbled into the stands. Moments later, Rice emerged with ball in hand. Smith was called out. Immediately Pittsburgh manager Bill McKechnie threw the white hanky to get the attention of the umpire.

The game was delayed while the umpire crew looked over the various camera angles. Initial angles were inconclusive, but a hand held camera stationed in the outfield bleachers caught Bartmaier’s act. Before the Fox broadcasters could show the incident a second time, there was already a Wikipedia entry for Bartmaier calling him, among other things, “Washington’s biggest palooka”  and the “goat” of the 1925 World Series.

Further delayed followed as the crew tried to determine whether the ball was foul or not. After about 20 minutes total, the ruling was that Smith had earned a ground rule double and the Nats were forced to retake the field.

The next batter was Carson Bigbee, who pinch hit for pitcher Ray Kremer. Bigbee singled off of a cooled-off Firpo Marberry to plate Smith with the game-tying run. The Pirates went on to win the game in the bottom of the ninth when Pie Traynor’s sacrifice fly knocked in Max Carey.

Though there were plenty of on field heroes in the game, all of the talk afterwards was about McKechnie’s challenge and Bartmaier’s mistake.

 

 

 


Clint Courtney vs. Billy Martin

March 9, 2014

Part of why I like digging through old newspapers to research baseball history is that a find so many interesting rabbit trails to explore along the way. Among the things I found about the spring of 1956 was a blurb in The Sporting News in which Don Gutteridge named the five current players he likened to the original Gashouse Gang. It turns out there was a significant history between two of the five named players.

Courtney and Martin first got into it in 1952 when Courtney was a catcher for the St. Louis Browns. In the second inning of a game on July 12, Courtney slid spikes high into Martin at second base to break up a potential double play. Yankee players were also upset with a spikes high slide by Courtney at Yogi Berra in the sixth inning. The Yankees had enough, and Martin had his revenge in the eighth inning Courtney attempted a delayed steal of second base. Martin received the ball before Courtney reached the base, and proceeded to plant the ball between the catcher’s eyes.

After the ensuing brawl, Courtney claimed that it was the fact that his glasses broke that caused him to react in anger. He charged at the Yankee second baseman, who promptly threw his glove away and landed two rights to Courtney’s jaw. Benches cleared into what was described as a “quite interesting” brawl by reporter Dan Daniel. Three umpires hit the dirt in the melee. Despite the fact that by all accounts Martin was the only participant who landed a punch, Courtney was the only player ejected from the game. He was later suspended for three games and fined $100.

It took less than a year before the rematch. On April 28, 1953, Courtney found himself on the defensive when Gil McDougald slid hard into home and knocked the ball out of Courtney’s hand in the top of the tenth inning. The fiery catcher responded with a spikes-high slide into second in an attempt to stretch a single into a double in the bottom of the same inning. Courtney lamented after the game that it was shortstop Phil Rizzuto covering second.* The slide once again touched off a bench-clearing brawl.

*Courtney’s words as quoted in The Sporting News: “I’m sorry it happened – particularly sorry it was Rizzuto I ran into instead of that —– —— Martin.” I can’t tell from the scan exactly how many blanks the author left for the expletives.

Rather than being “interesting” like the first brawl, this one got particularly nasty. Umpire Bill Summers (one of the umpires involved in round one) said it was the most fist-swinging he had seen in his 20 years. It was reported that there were separate brawls all over the field. Courtney accused the Yankees of teaming up, with a few holding him while others got their shots in. When it was all over, a total of six players were punished with fines totaling $850, including $250 for Courtney, who, according to AL president Will Harridge, violated “all rules of sportsmanship.”

For more on “Scrap Iron” Courtney read Rory Costello’s biography at SABR Bioproject.


Spring Training Notes, 1956

March 8, 2014

Orlando, Florida

The Senators opened camp in 1956 coming off of a miserable 53-101 season. There might have been some hope that 1956 would look different, but it was the hope of the “wait ’til next year” variety that all fans feel in the spring when their favorite team is still undefeated.

Calvin Uses Technology

There was some buzz surrounding the team for an innovative use of television during the winter months. January marked the start of the 15-minute “Washington Nationals Show”* that aired every Sunday evening. The first episode showed highlights of Walter Johnson and the 1925 World Series. Later episodes included interviews with current and former players, discussions about the Hall of Fame, and a feature on the show Damn Yankees. The show was such a success that other clubs planned to copy it in their own markets.

*even though the team’s name was formally changed to Senators in 1955

Dressen Second Guesses Reporters

Manager Chuck Dressen, fresh off his first season managing the Nats, made some waves when he invited two of the reporters to manage opposite teams during an intra-squad scrimmage early in the spring. Burton Hawkins of the Washington Evening Star and Bob Addie of The Washington Post were required by Dressen to wear the uniform and coach at 3rd base. Addie’s report included a base running snafu* for which he took the blame. Addie’s team won, with the reporter claiming his best decision was having Ernie Oravetz deliver a pinch single with the bases loaded.

*His exact words: “one of my men singled into a double play!”

Four Eyes

The Sporting News included a blurb about 1956 spring training stating that glasses had become common for ballplayers league wide, but particularly for the Senators, who proudly boasted six bespectacled players. The six were pictured, with glasses and giant grins.

Get Off My Lawn!

White Sox coach and original member of the “Gashouse Gang” member Don Gutteridge mused about today’s players, claiming only five players in the league in 1956 had the “spirit” of the original gang. Among the players he listed was Senators catcher Clint Courtney (specs and all). Also on the list was Billy Martin and Hank Bauer of the Yankees, Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals, and Nellie Fox of Gutteridge’s own White Sox.

 


1944: Elmer Gedeon

May 28, 2012

Because it is Memorial Day, I am reposting this blurb on Elmer Gedeon that I originally published in April 2008.

April 20, 1944

Elmer Gedeon was part of an athletic family from the beginning. His uncle Joe was a major league ballplayer who made a little history of his own by being the only player banned as a result of the Black Sox scandal that wasn’t actually a member of the team that threw the games.

Elmer followed in his uncle’s athletic footsteps, however, and became a multi-sport athlete at the University of Michigan. He lettered in three different sports, but his best was probably track and field, in which he was a two-time Big Ten Champion, helping his team to earn multiple National Championships. Elmer also played football and baseball in college.

Upon graduation in 1939, Gedeon signed with the Washington Nationals. After spending the first part of that season in the minors, he was called up in mid-September and appeared in five games for Washington. He spent the 1940 season playing in Charlotte, and though he received another September call to Washington he did not appear in any games. Gedeon was set to return to spring training in 1941, but was drafted to the military in January of that year instead.

Gedeon joined the Air Force and ended up flying missions as a captain in France. Gary Bedingfield chronicled the events of April 20 at Baseballlibrary.com:

On April 20, Gedeon piloted one of 30 B-26 Marauders that left Boreham to attack construction works at Bois de Esquerdes. It was the group’s thirteenth mission. Gedeon’s bomber was severely hit by flak over France, and co-pilot Lieutenant James Taaffe, who had been sitting alongside Gedeon when the airplane was hit, was the only crew member able to escape as the bomber plunged to the earth, carrying Gedeon and five others. He is buried at St Pol, France.

Gedeon was listed as MIA for more than a year. Finally, in May of 1945, his father received confirmation of Elmer’s death from a commanding officer who explained that his burial site had been located.

Gedeon was one of two major league players who were killed in action during World War II. The other was Harry O’Neill of the Philadelphia Athletics, who was killed at Iwo Jima in March 1945.

Baseball Reference page

Another Bio


1905: Washington Nationals

March 30, 2012

March 29, 1905

Prior to the introduction of the American League onto the sporting public in 1901, there was a National League franchise in Washington that from 1891-1899 went by the nickname “Senators.” Before settling on Senators, the team went by “Statesmen” and “Nationals” in previous incarnations, but neither of those names stuck longer than a few years. By the time the National League Washington Senators disappeared in 1899, the name “Washington Senators” was established as the name for the baseball team in the D.C. area.

When the Washington American League club was established, they were essentially without an official nickname. Newspapers didn’t really go for the name “Washington American League club” so, out of habit perhaps, they were stuck with the label “Senators.”

In 1905, the team’s owner Thomas C. Noyes made an effort to distance his team from the National League version of the Senators by allowing a committee of writers to vote for a new nickname. On March 29, 1905, just prior to the start of the team’s fifth season, the writers voted to call the team “Washington Nationals.”

For 50 years, the club’s official nickname was “Nationals.” They were rarely called that, however, in large part because the very writers who voted for the new nickname had such trouble applying it the actual team. Through the years the references to the Senators in the newspapers outnumbered the references to the official nickname. Finally, in 1955, Calvin Griffith made the name official, changing the team from the “Nationals” to the “Senators.”

For more on the history and a little of my personal venting, here is my original post on the matter.


1938: Nats Swap First Basemen with White Sox

March 14, 2012

Originally posted March 18, 2008

March 17, 1938

Joe Kuhel came up with the Washington Nationals in 1930. By 1931, he had taken over as the every day first baseman, a position that had been held by Joe Judge since 1916. Kuhel had some solid offensive numbers with the Nats, though it is likely that he was held down a bit in that regard by playing his home games in Griffith Stadium. Still, it was Kuhel’s defense that made him a popular player with Clark Griffith. He was widely considered the best fielding first baseman in the league. Kuhel did his talking on the field, known as a quiet man off the field.

Kuhel’s direct opposite might have been Zeke Bonura. Bonura came up with the White Sox in 1934 and immediately hit for power in Comiskey Park. He set a team record for home runs in a season in his rookie year with 27 and knocked in more than 90 RBI’s in each of his first four seasons. Bonura generated interest amongst fans with his bat, but was a headache for management, particularly due to his statuesque play at first. Bonura managed to lead the league in fielding percentage in 1936, largely due to the fact that he didn’t move his feet. As if his “effort” fielding wasn’t bad enough, Bonura further alienated himself from White Sox management by being a problem off the field. Between frequent hold outs he was rumored to have had a romantic interest in the owner’s daughter, which ultimately led to the need for the Sox to trade him before the 1938 season.

The trade went down in the spring of 1938. Both players had been popular with their cities’ respective fans, so the trade wasn’t greeted warmly in either city. Still, both players were able to win the fans over, Bonura with his hitting – 22 home runs in 1938, and Kuhel with his fielding.

Despite the fact that the trade seemed like a win-win, Washington had a young first baseman by the name of Mickey Vernon waiting in the wings, so Bonura’s tenure with the Nats lasted only a year. He was dealt to New York to play with the Giants for the 1939 season. He returned to Washington briefly for the beginning of the 1940 season, but was traded by Griffith once again, this time to the Cubs.

Kuhel showed that he could have some success hitting for power in a different ballpark. He was able to put together some very good seasons for the White Sox, though he too found his way back to Washington. Griffith purchased Kuhel back before the 1944 season. Joe had a couple of good seasons during his second stint with Washington, including what was probably his best season in 1945. The White Sox purchased him back in 1946 and Kuhel finished his playing career there after a few appearances at the age of 41 in 1947. Kuhel returned to the Washington organization as a manager the following year, though he was replaced after two losing seasons.


1916: Gandil Sold

February 14, 2012

February 15, 1916

Arnold Gandil, whose usefulness to the Washington Club ended when Manager Griffith declared that Joe Judge was the man for the job, finally has been disposed of …. had been sold outright to Cleveland.

Chick Gandil had been regarded as one of the best first basemen in baseball during his time in Washington, but managed to fall out of favor with Clark Griffith, possibly due to Gandil’s habit of smoking in between innings. Just four years prior, Griffith had called Gandil the “missing link” in his infield and gave him credit for turning the team around in 1912.

Griffith got $5,000 in exchange for Gandil, which was reportedly about half what he could have gotten had Gandil cleared American League waivers and landed with the Boston Braves. Though Chick had made a name for himself in Washington, he wasn’t the highest profile signing by Cleveland in the offseason. The Naps also brought in Tris Speaker.

Gandil, of course, is now known more for his role in the Black Sox scandal than his time with Washington. It was in his first season in Washington, 1912, that Gandil first met gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan, who would be a key figure in the scandal.

Read More:

BIOProject – biography by Daniel Ginsburg


Wednesday June 17, 1959 (Take Two)

January 30, 2012

Box

Senators 7, Athletics 2

Neither the Senators nor the Athletics figured to have much impact on the 1959 pennant race by the middle of June. Washington had lingered around the .500 mark until the last week in May when a 1-4 record on a five-game homestand against the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the latter of which swept three games by a total run tally of 25-2, dropped them to 21-26, 6.5 games out of first place.

By the time the A’s came into town in mid-June, Cookie Lavagetto’s men had a 3-8 record in the month, dropping the overall record to 24-34. The Seantors hoped an 8-5 win in the first game of the series was a sign of things to come.

Camilo Pascual took the ball for the second game of the series at Griffith Stadium. Though he allowed eight hits, the A’s managed only two runs in the game. The Senators fell behind early, but a fourth inning triple by Hal Naragon plated Jim Lemon to even the score. Naragon later came home on a Reno Bertoia single to give Washington a 2-1 lead. Bob Allison’s two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning made the score 4-1, and Bertoia capped off the 7-2 win with a two-run shot of his own in the bottom of the eighth.

Washington completed the sweep the next day, and were able to climb back to two games under .500 by the time the A’s returned to D.C. on July 17. The A’s took three out of four in that series, starting the ‘Nats on a landslide in which at one point they lost 18 games in a row and totaled 2-24 over the course of a month of baseball. They finished the season in last place, 31 games out of first.


1934: Rice signs with Cleveland

February 14, 2011

February 13, 1934

While Sam Rice’s playing career seemed to be winding down prior to the 1933 season, the long time Nat was looking to start has managing career. When Walter Johnson was dismissed as manager, Rice thought it might be his time. Clark Griffith went to the much younger Joe Cronin, however. Rice’s disappointment was likely exacerbated by the fact that he was, for the first time in decades, relegated to the bench full time.

After being used for only one pinch-hitting appearance in the 1933 series, the writing was on the wall for Rice. He was released by Washington in January of 1934, but jumped at the opportunity to join long-time teammate Walter Johnson, who was managing in Cleveland.

Rice saw a lot more playing time than he had in 1933. While he only saw 89 plate appearances in his final year in Washington, Rice compiled 367 in Cleveland. The wear and tear of near daily work got to Rice later in the summer, however. After a miserable August in which he batted less that .200, Rice decided to hang up his spikes. As a farewell, he went 3-for-5 in his final game – which just happened to come against his former team.


Elmer Valo

November 16, 2010

When Elmer Valo joined the Washington Senators in 1959, he was already a veteran of 19 baseball seasons. Though he spent his first 15 seasons with the Philadelphia/Kansas City A’s, by the time he was signed as a free agent by the Nats in May of 1960 he had spent the previous five seasons playing for six different teams in seven different cities.

It seemed that his major league career was over in 1959. After the Czechoslovakia native seemed to get no interest from major league teams in the offseason, he began the year as player-manager for the Seattle Raniers. He caught the eye of many during his short stint in the Pacific Northwest, including famous Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich who noted in a May roundup that Valo was leading the Pacific Coast League in hitting with a .340 average.

The Senators snatched him up when the 40-year-old became available after appearing just eight times for the New York Yankees before being cut when the rosters reduced in the early part of the season. The Sporting News report indicated that Washington was interested in Valo primarily as a pinch-hitter, which turned out to be an understatement. To make room for Valo, the team sent young first baseman Don Mincher to Charleston, though manager Cookie Lavagetto insisted that Mincher had a future as a major league player.

While he appeared in 76 games for the Nats that season, Valo started in a single game. By the end of the season, he had compiled all of 20 innings in the outfield. Of his 85 plate appearances, 75 came as a pinch-hitter. When combined with the seven pinch-hitting plate appearances with the Yankees, Valo still holds the single-season American League record with 82 pinch-hitting appearances.

Valo made the move with the franchise to Minnesota. He appeared in 33 games (all as a pinch hitter) before he was released in June. Valo was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies for the rest of the season before retiring at the age of 41.

In 108 games with the franchise, Valo made just the one start. His batting line was .240/.372/.292 thanks to a patient eye at the plate.


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