Click on the titles below for information on my six published baseball books:
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Books to which I contributed:
This work contains 140 biographies on all the National League's starting players of the Deadball (1901-1919) Era. I wrote the chapter on former Pirates and Reds first baseman Jake Beckley, whom I profiled in my Ghosts in the Gallery book.
This companion volume to the preceding book contains 140 biographies on all the American League's starting players of the Deadball Era. I wrote three chapters, on Shoeless Joe Jackson and two St. Louis Browns mainstays, pitcher Jack Powell and manager Jimmy McAleer.
This book has biographies of all playing, managing, coaching, front-office, and other personnel on the world champion 1968 Detroit Tigers. I wrote the chapter on Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews.
This book celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1959 White Sox, who won Chicago's first American League pennant in 40 years (but lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers). I wrote the chapter on Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, who won the Cy Young Award that year at age 39.
November 2, 2010
Sorry I haven't been posting lately, but I have been hard at work on my seventh book for McFarland. I finished it in late October, and it should be out next spring. It's about controversial batting races, and deals not only the Cobb-Lajoie race of 1910, but many others where some level of shenanigans was involved. We're still batting around possible titles (no pun intended).
August 20, 2010
An article I wrote about early Irish-American umpires appears in the latest Baseball Research Journal. It's titled "The Green and the Blue: The Irish-American Umpire, 1880-1965."
August 12, 2010
At SABR 40, I was on a panel with several other players in the Shoeless Joe Jackson controversy. Two of them were lawyers from Chicago who studied the Black Sox trial transcripts and looked through Eliot Asinof's research notes for Eight Men Out. Another panelist was Mike Nola, who runs the Virtual Hall of Fame website that honors Jackson, and the other was Furman Bisher, longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who interviewed Jackson in 1949.
We had a great discussion that could have lasted longer. Mr. Bisher looks like he's about 80, and I was shocked to look him up on the Internet and see that he's actually 92 years old. He was sharp and entertaining, and as nice as could be. I'm gointg to send him my Shoeless book.
I was the only one on the panel that said that Joe should not be in the Hall of Fame (because he took the money, and there's no way around it), but people were fine with that. They liked one of the points I made - that not being in the Hall keeps Joe's name alive. If he had been voted in decades ago, people would think of him like they think of Harry Heilmann or Paul Waner. They were both great ballplayers, but few outside of SABR would recognize their names.
Mike Nola, with permission from Jackson's estate, sells replicas of Black Betsy, Joe's favorite bat. I picked one up and could not believe how thick its handle is. Joe had big hands and liked a thick handle, but players today would not know how to swing a bat that thick and heavy (37 3/8 ounces). Now I see why so few bats broke back then.
August 10, 2010
SABR40 in Atlanta was a lot of fun, despite the heat and the rain. Atlanta is a great city, and the people there are unfailingly polite to everyone.
We went to the Braves game Friday night, but there was a 2-hour rain delay and a ceremony to retire Tom Glavine's number that put off the start of the game until about 9:20 or so. It went into extra innings, and we all got back to the hotel at about 1 a.m. I had my presentation and my panel the next morning, but they both went very well.
I'll post more about the panel later, but one of the other panelists was Mike Nola, who runs the Virtual Hall of Fame website in honor of Shoeless Joe Jackson. He was as nice as could be, though we have some opposing viewpoints on Joe and the scandal, and he gave me this replica of Joe Jackson's business card for the liquor store he owned in his later years.
I'll post here later about our side trip to Greeneville, South Carolina, and our visit to the Joe Jackson Museum.
July 30, 2010
The Tigers, with Brandon Inge out for the next six weeks or so, got Jhonny Peralta from Cleveland to fill the gap.
No, that was not a typo. His first name is really spelled "Jhonny." I don't know why, though apparently his parents spelled it that way on his birth certificate.
This brings up something that came to mind while watching the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson long ago. What grownup calls himself "Johnny"? It's kind of a child's name, isn't it? My older brother's name is John, but he stopped being Johnny when he was about six years old.
Here's the all-time team of Johnnies (and Jhonnies, too).
Catcher - Johnny Bench. The best catcher I ever saw, no competition here.
First base - Johnny Mize. Hall of Famer, and a very underrated player. He won a batting title in 1939, and once hit 51 homers in a season.
Second base - Johnny Evers. Also in the Hall of Fame, and was the 1914 MVP.
Shortstop - Johnny Pesky. A pretty good player for Boston and Detroit. I could also put him at third.
Third base - Jhonny Peralta.
Left field - Johnny Damon. He's the second member of the 2010 Tigers on this team.
Center field - Johnny Mostil. Played for the White Sox in the 1920s, and once, while playing center, caught a foul ball near the left field line.
Right field - Johnny Callison. I was eight years old and watched on TV as he hit the homer that won the 1964 All-Star Game.
Pitchers - Johnny Sain won 24 for the Braves in 1948; Johnny Antonelli was a star for the Giants in the 1950s; Johnny Vander Meer threw two consecutive no-hitters; and Johnny Allen and Johnny Murphy were two of the first great relievers.
Manager - Johnny Oates won the most games, but there haven't been many managers named Johnny.
July 27, 2010
I watched Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays throw his no-hitter against the Tigers last night, and I remembered an article that I wrote on the topic of no-hitters back in 2000.
I wrote that no-hitters are clustered at the beginning and at the end of the season. This one was in the middle, but it fit most of the other criteria I mentioned ten years ago. Garza is a pretty good pitcher with a very good fastball, pitching at home for a very good team against a club that has been decimated by injuries. The Tigers were a prime candidate to be no-hit, as one of the announcers said on the broadcast that 11 of the 25 men on the roster had played for the Toledo Mud Hens, their top farm club, at some point of this season. Indeed, the lineup, with Ordonez, Inge, Zumaya, and Guillen out, looks like a Mud Hens reunion. And the Mud Hens weren't winning many games this year.
I updated the article on no-hitters, and you can see it here.
June 23, 2010
I've got a lot to do at the SABR convention this year.
The convention, called SABR 40, will be held in Atlanta from Thursday, August 5 to Sunday, August 8. On Friday night SABR is going en masse to the game between the Braves and the Giants, and on Saturday we're going on a trip to Greenville, South Carolina to visit the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and see a local minor league contest.
I've got a book signing set for Friday afternoon, and on Saturday I give a presentation about Joe Jackson's first professional team, the 1908 Greenville Spinners. Immediately after that is a panel discussion of Joe and that little problem he had in 1919. I'm on the panel, as is Furman Bisher, the old-time Atlanta sportswriter who interviewed Jackson in 1949.
It ought to be fun, and I'll let you know how it turns out.
June 14, 2010
So, will Stephen Strasburg be a Hall of Famer or not?
That might sound like a premature question for a pitcher with only two major league games under his belt, but Strasburg has been so sensational (two wins, 22 strikeouts) that people are actually talking about it. A year ago, Strasburg was blowing away hitters at San Diego State, and now he has major league stardom in his grasp.
I think, however, that Strasburg has a much better chance at lasting a long time than did many young phenoms in the past. For every Bob Feller, who arrived in the majors at 17 and proceeded straight to stardom, there are truckloads of people like Mark Fidrych, Karl Spooner, and Von McDaniel, to name only a few. Put Wally Bunker, Jerry Walker, Dave Stenhouse, Bob Grim, Gary Nolan, Wayne Simpson, etc. in there too, and I'm sure you can name plenty more.
I have hopes for Strasburg based on only one thing - that managers and coaches know now that pitching arms are fragile, and they know (or should know) to keep their young stars from blowing out their arms at an early age.
Karl Spooner joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in September 1955 at age 24. He had won 21 games in the Texas League that summer, so his arm was probably already tired, but the Dodgers threw him right into action. Spooner pitched two complete-game wins (striking out 15 in his debut) and threw 270 pitches. He was never the same after that, and by 1956 he was back in the minors, never to return.
Mark Fidrych was a 21 year old rookie for Detroit in 1976. He was a sensation, winning 19 games, but I remember Paul Richards saying that his mechanics were going to be a problem down the line. Nonetheless, the Tigers had Fidrych throw 24 complete games in 29 starts, and three of those complete games went 11 innings apiece. His arm wasn't that strong anyway (he did not strike out many batters) and by mid-1977, Fidrych was essentially finished as a pitcher.
Sandy Koufax, though he made the Hall of Fame, is in the same category. He was pitching 300 or more innings every year, even though his arm pain was utterly excruciating. The Dodgers could have pitched him less, and while he might have won 18 games a year instead of 26 or 27, he probably would have lasted longer. As it was, he quit the game at age 30, unable to pitch any more. Denny McLain was done at 27 for pretty much the same reasons.
Perhaps Stephen Strasburg will flame out as well (like Kerry Wood or Mark Prior) and maybe he's headed for lasting stardom. I think he has a better chance now than he would have had a few years ago.
June 4, 2010
I'm the biggest Tigers fan of all, but I missed Armando Galarraga's near-perfect game.
We just moved into a new house, and my wife and I were dealing with a leaking (brand-new) washing machine while the game was on. I saw the first inning or two, then left to attend to the problems in the basement.
I turned the TV back on a few minutes after 9 and found out that the game was already over, because it lasted only 1 hour and 44 minutes. The Tigers won 3-0, but the announcers looked like they had just witnessed a terrible tragedy. The first words I heard our local announcer say was something along the lines of, "Everyone here is just sick to their stomachs right now."
What happened? Was someone hit in the head and killed by a pitch?
Well, I found out the story soon enough. Galarraga breezed through the first 26 batters, then lost his perfect game when the 27th batter beat out a roller to the infield. He didn't really beat it out, of course, because the call by the umpire was absolutely the worst I've ever seen at the major league level. It was not even close. Still, it turned into a good baseball story when umpire Jim Joyce (who went to Bowling Green State University at the same time I did) apologized, Galarraga accepted it gracefully, and everyone felt better about the whole thing.
I wish the commissioner could have overturned Joyce's call, but I understand why he could not do it. That might open up every close play to the possibility of being overruled due to fan pressure, and that would be an unhealthy situation. The commissioner would then be asked to go back in time and review things that happened eons ago. The people in St. Louis are still upset about the questionable call by Don Denkinger that cost the Cardinals the World Series in 1985, and pitcher Milt Pappas is still steaming about the perfect game he lost in 1972 with a borderline ball four call to the 27th batter. Pappas told a reporter that if the commissioner gave Galarraga a perfect game, he should get one as well 38 years after the fact.
So, instant replay is suddenly a hot topic, and I think that if baseball could simply put a fifth umpire in the TV booth and let him handle appeal plays, that would keep something like this from happening again. Instant replay might even make games faster, because there would be fewer managers arguing with the umpires over disputed calls. In the end, maybe something positive can come out of this situation.May 27, 2010
Well, I solved a mystery yesterday.
Jimmy McAleer was a prominent figure in my latest book, The Irish in Baseball: An Early History. A fine fielding center fielder for the Cleveland Spiders during the 1890s, McAleer managed the first Cleveland team in the new American League, then managed at St. Louis and Washington (where he initiated the custom of having the President throw out the first ball at the season opener) before rising to the presidency of the Red Sox in 1912. Though Boston opened Fenway Park and won the World Series under McAleer's leadership that year, he was forced out after the following season. He never got back into the game, and was quite bitter about it until he died in 1931.
McAleer's death at age 66 is often listed as a suicide, and that's how I referred to it when I wrote the McAleer biography for SABR's Deadball Stars of the American League in 2004. However, I could not find his death certificate in the online index provided by the Ohio Historical Society (he was a native of Youngstown). All the newspaper stories at the time referred to his death "after a long illness," and not one mentioned suicide. Therefore, I simply stated in the Irish book, and also in the bio I wrote for him on the SABR BioProject web site, that he died with no mention of suicide.
However, I decided to try the Ohio Historical Society index one more time. I found a man named "Ucalcer" with the same first name, who died on the same day (April 29, 1931) in the same county (Mahoning). These death records must have been transcribed into the index, and maybe someone mistook a swooping capital M for a U. Put an M in for the U, and put an E in for the second C, and "Ucalcer" becomes "McAleer." So, I sent for the death certificate for "Ucalcer."
I was right; Ucalcer was actually McAleer. Also, though not one newspaper at the time mentioned it, McAleer was indeed a suicide. He killed himself with a gunshot to the head, just as his old Cleveland Spiders manager, Patsy Tebeau, had done 13 years before.
Here is his death certificate here.
May 21, 2010
In 1982, I wrote a story for the Toledo Blade Sunday Magazine about Addie Joss, a Toledo native who pitched for Cleveland from 1902 to 1910. Joss died in 1911 at the age of 31, and was all but forgotten before he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978. On October 2, 1908 he pitched baseball's fourth perfect game, a 1-0 win over the Chicago White Sox at Cleveland's League Park.
The photos below, which appeared in the article, were provided by Joss' daughter-in-law Arlene Joss, the widow of Addie's son Norman. I gave them back to her after the article was published, and she said she would give them to the Hall of Fame. I've never seen these pictures anywhere else, and I'm sure you'll find very few action photos of a Hall of Fame pitcher who played 100 years ago.
Click on the photos for an enlarged view.
May 20, 2010
I had never heard of Brooks Conrad, a 30-year-old Atlanta Braves bench-warmer, but today he walloped a pinch-hit, game-ending grand slam to wipe out a 3-run deficit and give the Braves a 10-9 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Only 23 other such "ultimate grand slams" have been hit in major league history. For an explanation of this phenomenon, click here. By the way, it was only the fourth major league home run of Conrad's career. Barry Bonds (762 home runs), Hank Aaron (755), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Junior (630), and Sammy Sosa (609) never did it.
April 30, 2010
Speaking of bad trades ...
I have always regarded the trade made on December 11, 1959 between the New York Yankees and Kansas City A's as perhaps the worst of all time. That's the one where the Yankees sent Norm Siebern, Marv Throneberry, Hank Bauer, and Don Larsen to the A's for Roger Maris, Joe DeMaestri, and Kent Hadley.
Now, I see there there is some revisionist history going on in the SABR world. Though Larsen was a disappointment in Kansas City, Bauer was at the end of the line, and Throneberry never lived up to his minor league slugging record, Siebern was actually a pretty good player, and some say that the trade was not really all that bad. Maris for Siebern, they say, was not the heist it appears to be at first glance.
I, for one, cannot agree with that assessment. Roger Maris joined the Yankees and immediately won two Most Valuable Player awards, leading the New York club (which had finished third in 1959) to five consecutive pennants beginning in 1960. The A's sank to the cellar of the American League, finishing last in 1960 and tying the expansion Senators club for last place in 1961.
The Yankees and the A's enjoyed a cozy relationship during the 1950s, and it's a well-established fact that many of the players on New York's 1961 World Series-winning club were stolen from the A's in lopsided trades. I made a study of the trade history between the two clubs a few years ago, and you can see the resulting article by clicking here.
April 17, 2010
Today is the 50th anniversary of the worst trade in Cleveland Indians history, and the best trade in Detroit Tigers history. On this day in 1960, the Indians sent Rocky Colavito to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn, even-up.
I was only four years old at the time, so I wasn't paying much attention, but within the next few years the awfulness of the trade from Cleveland's point of view was obvious to all. Kuenn, the 1959 batting champ, lasted only one year in Cleveland before the Tribe sent him packing to the National League. Colavito, the 1959 home run champ, hit 45 homers for Detroit in 1961 and gave them four solid seasons of power hitting.
Click here to see what I wrote about the trade in 2000.
April 13, 2010
Last Saturday, in a nationally televised game, Yankee pitcher C. C. Sabathia held the Tampa Bay Rays without a hit for seven and two-thirds innings.
I tuned in during the fifth inning, and stayed with the game when I saw that Tampa Bay did not have a hit. I watched Sabathia keep the no-hitter going through the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh. I knew that he was throwing a lot of pitches, and I wondered if he would be allowed to finish the game, no-hitter or not.
In the eighth, I could almost see what manager Joe Girardi was thinking: "Please, someone, get a hit so I can get C. C. out of there."
Sabathia threw 102 pitches in the first seven innings, and I could not imagine that Girardi would leave him in for 30 or 40 more pitches, especially this early in the season. Of course, the crowd would boo and the sportswriters would criticize if Sabathia came out with a no-hitter going, but Girardi did not want to jeopardize the whole season for a personal achievement. If Sabathia had gotten through the eighth, I would have to agree with the decision to remove him.
Finally, on Sabathia's 111th pitch, Tampa Bay's Kelly Shoppach singled, and Girardi immediately bounded out the dugout to call for a reliever. I'm sure that Girardi was the happiest man in the ballpark.
April 10, 2010
Well, I didn't win the Larry Ritter Award. It was nice to be nominated, though.
January 1, 2010
I've decided to re-design my page, and I've moved some of the more important recent stories here. Click on a title to see them.
And here's a few older ones:
I have now completed nine biographies for the SABR BioProject web site. Click on the name to see:
December 29, 2009
This is me presenting a paper on Irish-American umpires at SABR 39 in Washington, D. C. on July 31, 2009. I posted an article on this site that was based on that presentation; you can see it by clicking on The Green and the Blue.