P.S.: Mets Get Busted in ’86 Houston Bar Fight

July 11, 2014
Art Richman and his famous Browns cap with Marty Marion, St. Louis, 1953.

Art Richman and his famous Browns cap with Marty Marion, St. Louis, 2003.

The 1986 Mets Houston arrest story will make a little different impression upon you if you also know a little more about the man who was travel secretary for the club back in 1986.

The late Arthur Richman. a former New York writer, Yankee executive, and, earlier, travel secretary for the New York Mets during our heartbreaking 1986 Astros season, was quite a guy. He and his brother Milton Richman, a former Ford C. Frick Award winner, had grown up as Bronx street urchins back in the 1930’s who lived and breathed playing street ball and seeking the attention of big leaguers before and after games at Yankee Stadium. And that’s how they became Browns fans of players like 3rd baseman Harland Clift and, later, catcher Frank Mancuso of Houston.

I was fortunate to have met and become friends of Art Richman through our mutual membership in the St. Louis Browns club. His answer to how he and Milton became Browns always rolled easily off the tongue in that “Guys and Dolls” way of speaking that most Texans recognize as “you’re not from here, are you?”

“The Browns were an easy pick for Milton and me,” Arthur would say. “The Yankees walked right past us. The Browns stopped to shake hands, sign autographs, and talk with us on the way from the subway to the stadium. Sometimes they even bought us a meal from some street place, if they saw that we were hungry. It was an easy choice.”

“By the time that Milton was off in the service during WWII, and I was a teenager, the league went bad and the Browns got good enough to win the 1944 American League pennant. So, guess what? I took off on bus and hitchhike trip to St. Louis, just hoping to catch up with some of the Browns to see if they could me in to watch the Series games there. I found Frank Mancuso at home at his apartment – and why not? – I had his address all along. Frank and the guys took me in and worked it. I was able to see the Browns play in the World Series, even though they lost to the Cardinals, 4 games to 2.”

Arthur spent his early years as a young adult working as a sportswriter for the New York Daily Mirror. It was then that he finally had a chance to hob-nob with some of the Yankees – and one of those was pitcher Don Larsen, a former Brown. Arthur enjoyed his peripheral role in setting the table for the 1956 and the only perfect game in World Series history. So what was Arthur’s claim in this regard? “I was Larsen’s drinking buddy deep into the New York night before his big game. Didn’t hurt him a bit.”

Later in life, Arthur was hired by George Steinbrenner as a vice-president of media relaions for the New York Yankees. With a slight pause for appropriate modesty of expression, Arthur also enjoyed giving himself credit in the mid-1990’s that the Yankees name Joe Torre as their new manager. – Not a bad pick, Arthur. Not a bad pick.

Over the years prior to his  2009 death in his sleep at age 84, Arthur Richman still attended our annual Browns club banquets in St. Louis. He invariably came around to telling people a familiar line: “You see this cap?” He’d ask, as he removed it from his head and pointed at it. “This is a real 1944 St. Louis Browns cap ad it’s going with me in the casket whenever it’s my time to go ‘Bye, Bye Babylon!” I’ve given my wife, Martha, clear instructions to guard it with her eyes until they’ve closed and locked my casket too. I don’t want some S.O.B. souvenir hunter snatching it away from its rightful ride with me into eternity.

One banquet year, Don Larsen also came to St. Louis and, even though I no longer drink, I went out to the hotel bar with Arthur Richman to the hotel club and bar to talk some more baseball and old times. I got more bang for my Shirley Temple buck than I ever might have hoped for in my younger drinking day. Books on baseball literally drifted away in the air of hanging out with those two guys holding court. Wish I had been smart enough to get the whole thing on tape too. By the two o’clock AM closing time, Larsen was still begging the waitress to let us stay for another round. It wasn’t to be. And I was ready check in too, but not without realizing that I had just been treated to probably my greatest night in baseball of all time.

Goodbye again, Arthur. Hope you got away with your cap OK.

One more story here leads into the inclusion below of a news report on the time in 1986 that three New York Mets pitchers and second baseman Tim Teufel for a post-Astros game bar fight they got into with Houston police. In compliance with Houston’s “hit a cop/go to jail policy” the NY boys quickly found themselves locked up downtown.

Then Mets travel secretary Richman got on the phone right away and placed a middle of the night call to his old St. Louis Browns buddy, Frank Mancuso, who by that time in life had been well established in his post-baseball career as a Houston City Council member.

“Frank,” the desperate Richman pleaded. “You gotta help me out here. I can’t wait 24 hours to get these guys out and still have enough men left to handle our needs.on the field. Frank Mancuso just listened and promised to do what he could.

Early the next morning, all four Mets players were released on bail and they were made available for immediate play. I’m not sure what happened to the charges against the men, but they somehow just went away.

Now, here’s one Associated Press treatment of the incident as it played out in real time:

___________________________________________________________

Ron Darling didn't exactly live up to his name in the wee hours of July 19, 1986, but no big harm came of it.

Ron Darling didn’t exactly live up to his name in the wee hours of July 19, 1986, but no big harm came of it.

FOUR METS ARRESTED (Saturday, 19, 1986, 2:00 AM)

HOUSTON (AP) - Four New York Mets – starting pitchers Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, and Rick Aguilera, and second baseman Tim Teufel were arrested early Saturday after a disturbance at a Houston disco.

Darling and Teufel were charged with aggravated assault on a policemen and Ojeda and Aguilera with hindering an arrest.

All were released on bond, each after spending the night in the Houston  city jail.

The incident took place at about 2 a.m. in a disco called Cooter’s after the Mets lost to the Houston Astros 3-0 Friday night. Darling was the losing pitcher for the Mets who have a 12 game lead in the National League East.

According to Houston Police Sgt. Daniel Moorman, Teufel was creating a disturbance and was asked to leave by the club’s management.

“On his way out, he attempted to carry the beer he was drinking outside,” said Moorman.Texas law prohibits the drinking of alcoholic beverages outside public establishments.

Moorman said Teufel, who appeared to be intoxicated, “was released to his friends so they could take him home,” Moorman said. Instead, Teufel went outside and started another disturbance, according to the police spokesman.

When police tried to arrest him, Moorman said Teufel started hitting the arresting police officers and Darling joined in.

“Teufel and Darling actually hit the arresting officers, Moorman said. The officers, however, were not seriously hurt.

Teufel and Darling were released on $2,000 bond each about 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Ojeda ad Aguilar were released on $800 bond each.

~ Elyria (OH) Chronicle Telegram, July 20, 1986, Page 28.

——————————————————————————————————-

Ron Darling had been the losing pitcher in the 3-0 loss by the Mets to the Astros in the Friday night game that preceded their Cooter’s bust. None of the four players got into the Saturday night game that followed their bonding out of jail. And only Tim Teufel participated in the Sunday,  July 20, 1986 game that the Astros also captured for a 9-8 win and series sweep. Teufel went 2 for 2 at 2nd base in the final game of the weekend.

 

Big Easy Baseball

July 10, 2014
Pelican Stadium in New Orleans with an insert shot of the great Mel Ott.

Pelican Stadium in New Orleans with an insert shot of the great Mel Ott.

 

A friend in New Orleans has sent me a baseball history clipping that unfortunately contains no news source or publication date, something I’ve patiently learned to almost expect from the scrapbooks of many former ballplayers. Players, or their book-building wives, often save big game and personal accomplishment reports without saving the source or date from the clippings on the floor. After all, they know where and when they read the keeper and see no need for this other documentation until …. sixty years later you are viewing the same material with one of their surviving adult children and the best answer to time and date comes back as “sometime in the late 1930’s in either Savannah or Memphis or, maybe, St. Paul.

This interesting piece wasn’t that hard to figure. I’d give my guess, based upon the other items and time references, that it was taken from the New Orleans Times-Picayune in either June or possibly May. The data it contains, although limited and incomplete, was too good to pass by without notice. It’s only a short two column history synopsis by Matt Farah of baseball in New Orleans as it is now being remembered by The New Orleans Collection group.

Here’s how the article reads by scan:

NO 04

Although I make no claim of expertise on the history of baseball in New Orleans, one error of omission jumps out at me from the above synopsis and it was noted in our recently completed three-year SABR study (2011-14) and publication (2014) of “Houston Baseball, The Early Years, 1861-1961.”  The article neglects to mention that New Orleans was under consideration for membership in the 1888 inaugural Texas League season, but that they elected to remain with the Southern Association group. Then, when the Southern Association briefly collapsed around New Orleans in the same 1888 season, the team joined up temporarily with the 1888 Texas League for the sake of meeting their mutual needs for games to play.

PELICAN STADIUM, 1957.

PELICAN STADIUM, 1957.

All I’m saying is this. – If one ever takes on the history of New Orleans baseball on the level of high research standards, they will most probably find both their missing pieces, their lingering mysteries, and more than a few myths that fail to bear up as provable facts. It’s what makes the effort sometimes difficult, but always fun. Along the way, there are many assassins of the truth in any unexamined history – and many of the myth makers were the same people who drove large parts of  fundamental change in the subject of study.

———————————————

DON'T FORGET THE WEST END PARK HISTORIC PLAQUE DEDICATION THIS SATURDAY, JULY 12, @ 10 AM.

DON’T FORGET THE WEST END PARK HISTORIC PLAQUE DEDICATION THIS SATURDAY, JULY 12, @ 10 AM.

Don’t forget the West End Park Dedication! This Saturday, July 12th, at 10:00 AM, a plaque will be placed at the original site of West End Park. The site of the ceremony has now been changed to Antioch Park at Allen Center at the corner of Smith and Clay in downtown Houston. Please pass the word to any friends you know who are coming – and please make plans to be there. Mike Vance of HAM and our SABR chapter has worked long and hard to get this done and will be our MC for this victorious moment. As I’ve said previously, these kinds of days are always a moment of dual celebration – of an important memory of Houston history that is being saved for the ages, even when the wrecking ball of time and other priorities have wiped all physical evidence of its being from our sight.- and in appreciation for our fellow Houstonians who work so hard to make sure that important historical places are not lost to the bad memory of Father Time.

Unfortunately for me, a little home accident probably is going to keep me away on the “DL” Saturday, All the more reason for me asking of you: Please sign and send me your own photos and/or brief reports on the day. Do that much and I promise to make all contributors of my second-hand coverage of “Remembering West Park” the group co-authors of this story in The Pecan Park Eagle.

Just e-mail your WEP Ceremony pix and comments @ houston.buff37@gmail.com

 

 

TDECU Stadium. – Say What?

July 9, 2014
rtist Rendering of the new 40,000 seat football stadium at UH - but what do we call it?

Artist rendering of the new 40,000 seat football stadium at UH – but what do we call it?

With UH announcing that they have now sold the naming rights to their new football stadium to the Texas Dow Employees Credit Union, we Cougar alums are left to find the lyric of how the new name, TDECU Stadium, rings anything beyond the cash register when it comes to mystical aspirations of greatness on the gridiron. But that’s already covered by the money part, isn’t it? In the particular realm of amateur sports called college football and basketball, the only people who pay the price of amateurism are the athletes themselves. “No money for you,” sayest the holier than all NCAA governing board to the athletes. “Most of you are going to need that college education that came with your decision to play here once you figure out that only a handful of you are going to be good enough make it to the NFL or NBA.”

How about TDECU Stadium? For $15 million dollars over 10 years, that's pretty catchy and inspirational.

How about TDECU Stadium? For $15 million dollars over 10 years, that’s pretty catchy and inspirational.

Look. I get it. Everything in sports spins on big  money today. That TDECU deal guarantees UH an extra $1.5 million dollars per year for the next ten years that the Cougars, otherwise, would not have had. But as for the aspirational challenge of the “TDECU” name, It is doubtful that even the great Grantland Rice could do anything with that mostly consonant acronym mouthful.

 

Take me out to the TD-E-C-U,

Take me out with the CROWD!

Thanks for the money that we always LACK,

I’ll say the name if you then say it BACK!.

Let’s have fun at TDECU STADIUM!

If the COOGS don’t win it’s a SHAME,

‘Cause it’s ONE … TWO … THREE punts you’re OUT,

In the PARK … NAME… GAME!

 

The only thing worse than the acceptance of an unspeakable venue name would be those cases in which certain universities sold their venue names to inappropriately sounding sponsors.

For example, what if …

…. Rice played at Hooter’s Field?

…. Texas played at Whataburger Field? … Or even the Longhorn Steakhouse Park?

Army played at Old Navy Field? or,

Houston played at Kitty Litter Field?

I could sit here all day and watch the possibilities come to mind, but the point’s already made. This naming rights thing is not the biggest deal that ever  came down the pike and we shall all survive it’s growth, even if we cannot pronounce the name that’s been purchased for one of our facilities that we built as the funding alumni group.

 

Happy Hump Day!

 

 

 

Echoes of the Houston Eagles

July 8, 2014

Eddie Brooks In 1949-50, the old Newark Eagles of eastern seaboard negro league fame briefly housed themselves in this city as the Houston Eagles. Like all of the negro league teams, the future of this noble institution had been born on the sting of racial segregation and would now soon enough be driven into extinction once all the greatest black players started integrating MLB with a level of talent that previously had been denied them as an opportunity by racism and all of its various manifestations of cultural belief and stupidity.

The Eagles were already losing big at the gate in Newark. With stars like Monte Irvin now playing for the New York Giants of the MLB National League, former Eagles fans crossed the river in droves to watch the best of them all still play rather than continue to support for their hometown, lesser talented  Eagles.

The Eagles moved to Houston in 1949 in preference to folding their tent for all time. They barely captured a ripple of media or fan support as I recall from childhood,  Houston was five years away from Bob Boyd’s integration of the Texas League’s Houston Buffs in 1954., The Eagles were in flight from the inevitable when they got here. – And that kind of move was not one that even earned them a curious nod from local fans. There may have a brief flurry of support from black fans of the Third Ward area, which is right  across the freeway from Buff Stadium, where the Eagles played their games around the schedule of the Buffs, but I don’t think anyone has ever done any kind of detailed research into the flow of support that existed for the Eagles during their  moment in time at home in Houston.

Mike Vance has written the most in-depth piece on negro league baseball in Houston as a chapter for our new multiple author SABR book, “Houston Baseball: The Early Years, 1861-1961.” As the only detailed and documented history of the game in Houston prior to the 1962 coming of major league baseball, ours is a book for all who desire an excellent resource on local baseball history that also happens to be an entertaining read.

Snippets of Information Seem to be What Remains

From what I can tell, we cannot go the major Houston news files of 1949-50 and turn up anything that looks like ongoing full coverage of the Eagles’ time in Houston. It is possible to pick little snippets of info about an upcoming game or the scores from a Sunday doubleheader, but the stuff I’ve found is very short on player information or team’s ebb and flow pattern over the long season. You know what I mean. – I’m talking about the kinds of articles and columns that we baseball fans consume as breakfast data on our favorite teams. – That condition apparently never took hold in Houston for the Eagles.

Here are some snippets from an article that appeared in The St. Joseph Herald Press on Page 10 of their July 19, 1949 edition:

“The Houston Eagles, reportedly one of the finest clubs in the Negro American league, will be at Edgewater park Thursday night (to play the hometown St. Joseph Auscos)………….

……….. The Houston Eagles, formerly the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League nut now affiliated with the Negro American League, are reported to be the top showmen in their circuit.

“Recently the Eagles defeated the Philadelphia Stars, 5 to 1, as Jehosie Heard gave up but four hits. The Texans finished the first half race, which ended July 4th, tied with the Birmingham Black Barons tied for third place.

“The Houston club, when going under the banner of the Newark Eagles, are proud of the fact that they sent Roy Campanella to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians, and Monte Irvin to the New York Giants.”

The Houston Eagles were done beyond 1950, but their pulse still beats in the stories told by their most famous living alumnus, Monte Irvin. Stay with us, Monte. We need the light your presence shines on all things baseball.

 

 

 

Born on July 4th to Also Pitch July 4th No-Hitter

July 6, 2014
Maybe it was George Mullin's way ahead of his time"Gagnum Style" delivery that helped him wrap up that July 4, 1912 no-hitter.

Maybe it was George Mullin’s way ahead of his time”gagnum style” delivery that helped him wrap up that July 4, 1912 no-hitter.

Thanks to Baseball Almanac this weekend for the great reminder that George Mullin of the Detroit Tigers. born July 4, 1880. is he only man of that special birth date to later pitch a no-hitter on the 4th of July, which, as things turn out, happened against the St. Louis Browns on July 4, 1912. Impressively, it was also the first no-hit win in Detroit Tiger history.

Mullin was only a 6 wins, 7 losses pitcher going into into that stellar performance game, but, as destiny sometimes prescribes, close calls and bad jams wee all going to go George’s way on that special date.

For his 14 year career (1902-13, Tigers), (1913, Senators), and (1914-15, Federal League) George Mullin finished with a record of 228 wins, 196 losses, and ERA of 2.82, with 1,482 strikeouts. He also won 20 or more games in five seasons with his 29-8, 2.22 ERA 1909 year standing as his highest win and lowest ERA year.

For a full description of the July 4th no-hitter by George Mullin, check out the account offered by Rich Westcott that also appears on Page 67 of the 2007 McFarland book “No Hitters” at the following link and scroll to the bottom of the career stats page:

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=mullige01

At any rate, back on July 4, 1912, it was Happy 4th of July, Happy Birthday, America, and Happy Birthday George Mullin – all rolled into one big happy All American baseball moment.

 

 

Bill Gilbert: Where Have All The Hitters Gone?

July 4, 2014
Have a Safe and Happy Independence Day!

Have a Safe and Happy Independence Day!

Happy 4th of July, Everyone! Today The Pecan Park Eagle is pleased to present  a second consecutive column by Bill Gilbert of the SABR Austin Chapter named for Rogers Hornsby. on how the triple milestone competition among batters and pitchers in MLB looks at mid-season. What an appropriate day it is to examine this material. On a day generally given over to celebration by fireworks, Bill Gilbert looks at the big leagues and invites the rest of us to join him in wondering: Where have all the fireworks gone?

Thanks, Bill for another fine job of analysis and clear writing.

 

Bill Gilbert is a vetrean member of SABR and a regular contributing writer for The Pecan Park Eagle,

Bill Gilbert is a vetrean member of SABR and a regular contributing writer for The Pecan Park Eagle,

Where Have All the Hitters Gone?

 By Bill Gilbert

With major league teams reaching the season’s mid-point by playing are on target for the triple milestones of a .300 batting average, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs and pitchers on target for 20 wins, 200 strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00.

Times have changed. In 2000, 26 hitters achieved all three triple milestones but no pitchers achieved all three of their milestones. Last year only three hitters and one pitcher (Max Scherzer) reached all three. Similar numbers are being recorded at mid-season in 2014 with 3 hitters and 2 pitchers on target.

 

Table 1: HITTERS IN LINE TO GET 3X MILESTONE IN 2014

1ST TIME TRIPLE MILESTONERS BA HR RBI
VICTOR MARTINEZ .328 20 52
MIKE TROUT .313 `8 59
GIANCARLO STANTON .312 21 59

 

TABLE 2: OTHER HITTERS CLOSE TO 3X MILESTONE NOW

CLOSE TO 3Milestones BA HR RBI NEEDS
TROY TULOWITZKI .351 18 45 MORE RBI
MIGUEL CABRERA .321 13 64 GOING FOR 8; HR
JOSE BATISTA .305 15 49 SHOULD MAKE IT
ADAM JONES .302 14 47 STRONG 2ND HALF
PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT .299 15 53 Made it last year
NELSON CRUZ .289 25 66 BOOST BA

 

TABLE 3: PITCHERS IN LINE FOR 3X MILESTONE IN 2014

3X MILESTONE PITCHERS W K ERA COMMENT
MASAHIRO TANAKA 11 119 2.11 ROOKIE
ADAM WAINWRIGHT 10 105 2.01 CLOSE IN 2013

 

TABLE 4: OTHER PITCHERS WHO ARE CLOSE, BUT NEED W’S

CLOSE = NO CIGAR W K ERA COMMENT
FELIX HERNANDEZ 9 128 2.24 NEVER WON 20
ZACK GREINKE 9 101 2.89 GOING FOR 1ST
MADISON BUMGARNER 9 114 2.90 ANOTHER 1ST TIMER
CLAYTON KERSHAW 8 94 2.24 DID IT IN 2012
JOHNNY CUETO 8 122 1.88 CAREER YEAR
YU DARVISH 7 118 2.62 20 WINS A REACH
JULIO TEHERAN 7 103 2.34 ACE OF BRAVES

 

The most difficult targets to hit are the .300 batting average for hitters and 20 wins for pitchers. There are reasons for both. Hitters are now generally more inclined to go for power rather than average which results in more strikeouts and lower batting averages. Most analysts would agree that we are in a strong pitching era. However, pitcher’s wins are frequently not necessarily controllable by the starting pitcher, especially if he pitches only 6 or 7 innings, which is now frequently the case.

 

Bill Gilbert

bgilbert35@yahoo.com

7/4/14

 

Hope your 2014 4th of July  weekend is healthy and happy, peaceful, and free.

Hope your 2014 4th of July weekend is healthy and happy, peaceful, and free.

Bill Gilbert: Astros Remain Competitive in June

July 3, 2014
Bill Gilbert is a vetrean member of SABR and a regular contributing writer for The Pecan Park Eagle,

Bill Gilbert is a veteran member of SABR and a regular contributing writer for The Pecan Park Eagle,

­Astros Remain Competitive in June

By Bill Gilbert

After posting their first winning month in May since September, 2010, the Astros didn’t quite duplicate the feat in June with a 12-15 record. The strong finish in May carried over to the beginning of June as the team started the month with a record of 7-5, including a streak of winning or splitting 7 straight series. However two 4-game losing streaks later in the month brought the club back to earth. The biggest thorn in their side was the only team in the American League with a record worse than the Astros, the Tampa Bay Rays, who came out on top in 5 of 7 games with the Astros in June.

The Astros completed the first half of their 162-game season last Friday with a record of 35-46 putting them on a pace for 70-92, an improvement of 19 games over the   51-111 record last year. The improvement can be largely attributed to much better starting pitching, a spectacular season from Jose Altuve and the arrival of prospects, George Springer and Jon Singleton from the minor leagues.

Altuve had an exceptional month in June, batting .411 with an on-base percentage of .447 and a slugging average of .495. He stole 17 bases and struck out only 4 times and leads the American league in batting average, stolen bases and hits at the midway point. Dexter Fowler, now on the disabled list with a rib cage strain, also had an excellent month in June batting .307 with an on-base percentage of .377. Unfortunately, Altuve and Fowler are the only Astro regulars with batting averages over .250 for the season.

The prospects acquired by former General Manager, Ed Wade, notably Springer, Singleton and pitcher Jarred Cosart, are making their presence felt and another, Domingo Santana, a slugging outfielder, is joining the team for the second half of the season. To take the next step, a wave of prospects from the Jeff Luhnow era will be needed.

The Astros still have some glaring weaknesses at the bottom of the lineup and in the bullpen. Releasing J. D. Martinez appears to have been a mistake as he has played very well after being picked up by Detroit while left field has been a black hole for the Astros (that hopefully Santana will fill). The bullpen has been hurt by lengthy injury downtimes by pitchers Jesse Crain, Matt Albers and Anthony Bass. If they can return for most of the second half, the Astros may be able to hold their own.

For the season, Astro starting pitchers have an ERA of 3.78 compared to the major league average of 3.90. However, the relief pitchers have an ERA of 4.83 compared to the major league average of 3.58, a difference of over one run per game

A cover story in Sports Illustrated in June with a headline that suggested the Astros as 2017 World Champions, received a great deal of attention. It was largely pitched to highlight the analytical approach taken by Luhnow and his staff. This would appear to be premature since the results are not yet evident.

June was not a good month in the minor leagues for the Astros. Oklahoma City (AAA) and Lancaster (Class A+) still have winning records but have slipped back. Corpus Christi (AA) and Quad Cities (Class A-) had disappointing months and dropped back in their races. The three short-season clubs that began play after the recent first-year player draft are off to so-so starts. However, the biggest blow was the broken leg suffered by top prospect, Carlos Correa, which ended his season and may delay his development. He was having an outstanding season at Lancaster.

The second half of the season should be interesting to determine if the Astros can build on their modest success in the first half and also to see if it results in growth in the fan base. In my blueprint for the future after the 2012 season, I projected the Astros to be “respectable” in 2014 with 70-80 wins. After a significant setback in 2013, this now seems to be a reasonable projection.

 

Bill Gilbert

bgilbert35@yahoo.com

7/3/14

 

An Early Squint at Biggio/Altuve at 2B

July 2, 2014
Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio

It’s way too early to make any big calls on a comparison of Craig Biggio and Jose Altuve as the potentially greatest second baseman in Astros franchise history, but the speculation aspect is still a lot fun when we look at the kind of offensive year that Altuve is having in his fourth season (2011-14) as the club’s keystone man. Little in physical stature only, Jose Altuve is hitting a hot, league-leading  .344. His 116  hits and 37 stolen bases also led the AL in all games through 7/01/14. By comparison, Craig Biggio had yet to even sniff the .300 plus territory by his fourth season and only had played a handful of games at second base, playing mostly as a highly regarded young catcher and a once-in-a-while experimental outfielder.

The little box table comparisons say a lot, even if the numbers through 2014 can speak nothing but early statistical probability about the long term wind of young Altuve’s actual ability to keep playing at the level he as reached today by the middle of his fourth season. Check out the following box tables and note. At mid-season 2014, Jose Altuve even leads Craig Biggio in his cherished doubles and hit-by-the pitcher (HBP) categories.

Tabular Comparisons of Craig Biggio and Jose Altuve through July 1, 2014 of the latter’s fourth MLB season:

NAME MLB TIME G AB R H RBI 2BH 3BH HR BA
CRAIG BIGGIO 1988-91 483 1667 210 454 153 74 9 24 .272
JOSE ALTUVE 2011-14 437 1760 211 521 127 100 9 16 ..296
Jose Altuve

Jose Altuve

 

NAME MLB TIME BB SO SB CS HBP
CRAIG BIGGIO 1988-91 162 243 71 21 11
JOSE ALTUVE 2011-14 98 211 112 30 13

The truth still rests down the line. Too bad some of us will have to live well into ancient human antiquity to hear the arguments twenty years from now over “who was the greatest second baseman in Houston MLB franchise history?”

Who’s your pick, if you have one? Hall of Famer Craig Biggio? Or little Jose Altuve? And we also need to remember – Who’s to say the Astros won’t trade Altuve before he even has a chance to establish himself here long enough as the greatest second baseman in Houston franchise history?

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time in Monessen

June 30, 2014
Monesen, PA ~ as it always shall be ~

Monesen, PA
~ as it always shall be ~

Most young men who play their first professional baseball game in the lower minors ever get good enough to even smell a cup of coffee in the big leagues. My guess, nevertheless, that they still come in new waves of hope for the reason I just posed. They’re hoping to be the ones that catch lightning in a bottle, or a firm grip on the tail of some suddenly exploding talent that powers them into notice in the skies of baseball as if they were riding their way to the Hall of Fame by the energy-thrust of their very own signature-signed bottle rocket.

What brought this prosaic wishfulness thought into mind was a nice note I received Sunday from Ron Paglia, a new long-time free-lance writing colleague I met through Ron Necciai, the legendary author of the 27 K no-hitter as a pitcher for Bristol, Tennessee back on May 13, 1952. After all this time, Ron Necciai is being inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2014 for doing something in baseball that no one else had ever done before him or has done since him – strike out 27 in one nine-inning no-hitter. To my knowledge, no one else has done it in a game than carried a variable spray of hits either – but that’s a story for another day that I’ve already covered in previous columns.

Ron Paglia is a resident of Charleroi, PA, a town located about thirty miles south of Pittsburgh. He is also the consummate historian of that special region in western Pennsylvania known as the Monongahela Valley. That’s that not-so- little, but culturally tied area in coal mining country that includes little towns like Donora – the birthplace of Stan Musial, and later, both generations of the Ken Griffey father-son tandem, among several others from baseball and other sports.

Ron wrote to let me know implicitly  that The Eagle’s  readership has spread to several new communities in the Mon Valley – and to remind me that Harry Craft, the last manager of the Houston Buffs and first manager of the Houston Colt.45’s, got his start as a rookie outfielder for the Monessen Reds of the Class D Penn State Association back in 1935. Monessen is located across the river, from that little town of Donora. This was, is, baseball country, folks., but they also like football, hockey, and basketball in the Mon Valley. How could they not? They live in the shadows of Pittsburgh, home of the Steelers, Penguins, and several elite college bounce ball teams back east.

Of course, I had to research Monessen as best I could from home with my accessible print and digital resources. Not surprisingly, I learned that the Monessen Reds were a farm club of the Cincinnati Reds back in 1935. And that made sense that Craft would have spent his rookie season at Monessen. He later broke into the big leagues  and played for the Cincinnati  Reds in the 1939 World Series –  and was always most identified with the Reds by most serious fans, – Thank you, Baseball Reference, for making that kind of research so easy these days. The “BR” research time-saving act and the nudge from Ron Paglia set in motion the idea that the 1935 Monessen Reds, chock-full of rookies roster that finished first and also won the Penn State Association  pennant that year would always be a good place to research how many mainly rookies (and all the rest second year men) that became champions from a Class D League because they had enough talent, luck, and ability to get all the way from there to the big leagues?

monessen bend

In a nutshell, here’s what The Pecan Park Eagle found out about the 1935 Monessen Reds::

1) Roster Demographics: 23 men participated as players for the ’35 Reds. 15 were position players; 8 were pitchers. Their age range was 18-23. The average age for position players was 21.1 years; the average age for pitchers was 20.3. 18 player were in their rookie professional seasons; 5 were sophomores. The Monessen Reds finished in first place in the six-team Penn State Association and then took the pennant in a six-game series with the Washington Generals. Their season record was 68 wins, 39 loses, and a winning percentage of .639.

2) The manager was 41-year old Milt Stock, a 14-season (1913-26) utility infielder for the Giants, Phillies, Cardinals, and Dodgers. Stock finished with a respectable career batting average of .289 and 22 home runs.

3) The eight best performers on the 1935 Reds included: catcher Clyde Chell (.308, 1 HR); center fielder Harry Craft (.317, 14 HR); first baseman Joe Mack (.321, 12 HR); shortstop Ashley McDaniel (.325, 5 HR); third base/utility man Al Rubeling (.312, 11 HR); pitcher Ralph Williams (16-8, 2.81); pitcher Walter Purcey (16-6, 3.50); and pitcher James McMullen, 14-6, 4.11).

4) Four of the best Monessen Reds players also led the league in various categories:

Ashley McDaniel led the league in runs batted in with 87;

Harry Craft led the league in home runs with 14; and,

Pitchers Ralph Williams and Walter Purcey tied for the league lead in pitching wins with 16 each.

5) Only 4 of the 1935 Monessen Reds out of 23 total possibilities, a percentage of 17.4%,  went on to any playing time in the big leagues;

Harry Craft

Harry Craft

 5a) Harry Craft Made it to the big leagues with the parent Cincinnati Reds in 1937. He was there to play center field for the 1939 National League champions Reds in their World Series loss to one of the greatest New York Yankee teams of all time, and he also picked up an historical footnote in baseball history when his disputable, but lasting home run call down the right field line at the Polo Grounds led to the installation of the interior pole screen as an aide to close fair/foul calls down the line. Harry Craft played six seasons for the Reds (1937-42) as his total big league experience, hitting .253 and a career 44 HR in which he was mainly noted for his defense. Craft entered military service in 1944-45 and afterward returned to play three final seasons of minor league ball with Kansas City (1946-48). Harry’s intelligence, amiability and baseball savvy led him into a pretty good run as a coach and manager and, today, he is probably best remembered as the first manager of the new 1962 Houston Colt ..45’s. Harry never forgot -that his fine baseball life all started for him as a 1935 rookie for the Monessen Reds.

 

Joe Mack

Joe Mack

 5b) Joe Mack managed to squeeze in a 66-game one-season MLB career with the 1945 Boston Braves, hitting .231 with 3 homers in 260 official times at bat. Mack’s MLB time was helped or completely caused by the numbers of qualified big leaguers who were still on leave for military service in the wrapping up of World War II. Still, by luck or not, the  Monessen first sacker from 1935 did get to realize his dream, if only for a short season.

 

Al Rubeling

Al Rubeling

 5c) Al Rubeling went forth as a Monessen sophomore to a four-season MLB utility man career with the Philadelphia Athletics (1940-41) and the Philadelphia Phillies (1943-44). His career stats included a a .249 batting average with 8 HR in 747 MLB times at bat. Like his other minor league Monessen Reds teammates, Harry Craft and Joe Mack, Al Rubeling did his best to both fulfill his own big league dream and also help Baseball Commissioner Landis keep his promise to the letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt requesting that MLB keep the major league seasons going for the morale of servicemen and citizens at home alike as we fought our way to victory over the Axis forces in World War II.

 

Gene Thompson

Gene Thompson

5d) Gene Thompson is the only 1935 Monessen Reds player whose abilities transcended the talent shortage created by WWII and still found some roster space for himself beyond the post-war talent return from service duty. In fact. Thompson was part of the talent resurgence, having served in the military between his his two tenures totaling 6 MLB seasons. He pitched four years for Cincinnati (1939-42), went in the service, and then returned to pitch two post WWII years (1946-47) with the New York Giants. Gene even had enough gas in the tank after he left the Giants to play minor league ball through the 1950 season. His MLB record included 47 wins, 35 losses, and an ERA of 3.26.

 

In Summary: What I learned about Monessen turned out to be what I already knew about my native home town of Beeville, Texas. That is, that the little towns and lesser players in little towns are just as important as the big stars and major cities of the big leagues. Beeville has produced five native major leaguers over the past 100 years, but look where the town of Monessen nestles. It’s right on the river and in that mountainous place in western Pennsylvania known as the Monongahela Valley. There’s the river of that hard to spell name bending all around the town and reaching out to places like the little town across the river they call Donora, the birthplace of Stan Musial and both generations of the great Ken Griffeys, as noted earlier.

Every one of these places are just as important to baseball history as Pittsburgh or Houston are today – and every member of the 1935 Monessen Reds is as important to the history of baseball as the stars of the 1927 New York Yankees or the 2004 Boston Red Sox ever will be. From the small backwater places that ever played Class D or town ball came the people, the nuances of change, and the pastime culture that remains the foundation of whatever baseball has become in its reshaping by our new technically-driven culture – the one we live in – the one that seems to care more about the business of baseball than the old foundational joy that brought the game to life just a few rural pasture and city street game generations ago.

If you doubt me, get involved in playing vintage baseball by 1860 rules. If you’re too old and infirm to play, just go hang out with those who can play. It’s the new Elysian Fields in my life. It’s like Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams although you don’t have to go to Iowa to feel that sandlot peace and joy again. And that anchors me to baseball in ways that the cold-blooded news about steroids and tv games blocked by greed ever will.

Come join those of us who have found the new old baseball joy. Too bad this isn’t 1935. We could have taken in a Monessen Reds game today.

——————————————————————————

Footnote: Two years ago, an 1800 word article of this scope would have been virtually impossible to research, write, and publish in a single day. Now, however, the minor league database provided by Baseball Reference.Com makes it possible for baseball writers to immediately access far-flung team and roster data on practically every man and team that has taken the field in the name of professional baseball, but the thanks don’t stop with “BBRef.Com”. Their minor league data is the product of SABR research and it was largely produced from the donated data collections of an iconic SABR baseball researcher named Ed Washuta.

Ed, thanks from me and all the thousands of others out here who are now benefiting from what you and your SABR colleagues have done.

Thanks too to my trusty old copy of the Minor League Baseball Encyclopedia, home library. – To all others, let it be known: “Don’t go back in baseball time without it!”

1961: Richards Picks Craft as 1st Colts Manager

June 29, 2014

 

Craft Named Manager of N.L.’s Houston Club

Harry Craft: Who said he was the only man for the job as first manager of the Houston Colt .45's?

Harry Craft: Who said he was the only man for the job as first manager of the Houston Colt .45’s?

 Houston, Tex, (UPI) – Houston Colt General Manager Paul Richards has named veteran Harry Craft as manager of the new Houston Colts of the National League.

Craft, currently manager of the Houston Buffs of the American Association and former manager of the Kansas City Athletics, was given a one-year contract.

Craft began the 1962 season (correction of print to 1961 season) as a coach with the Chicago Cubs. He took over at Houston July 16 and lifted the Buffs from fifth place in the American Assn. to the finals of the league playoffs.

 

Houston Colt .45 GM Paul Richards said it. That's who.

Houston Colt .45 GM Paul Richards said it. That’s who.

 Richards called Craft “the only man for the job.”

“Of all the managers I worked against in my years in the American League, Craft, while he was at Kansas City, impressed me most with his moves,” said Richards.

Craft managed three seventh-place Kansas City clubs from 1957-59.

“The only way I know to judge managers,” Richards said, “is how he handled his team and his resources in games I played against him.”

“Although there were better teams in the American League, Harry always made it tougher on us with his moves.”

“As it turned out, he was the only man for the job.”

~ United Press International, Pacific Stars and Stripes, September 22, 1961, Page 32.

 


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