Results tagged ‘ St. Louis Browns ’

The oldest major leaguer

Berowski_90.jpgBy Freddy Berowski

Art Mahan was born 13 months before Babe Ruth made his big league debut.

By the time Mahan died – on Tuesday at the age of 97 – Mahan had lived to see baseball evolve from a simple game to a national treasure.

Mahan, who played in 146 games for the Phillies in his only big league season in 1940, was the fourth-oldest living major leaguer at the time of his death. Ranking first on that chart is Tony Malinosky, who played 35 games for Brooklyn in 1937 and today stands at 101 years and 63 days old.

But Malinosky has a ways to go before he can lay claim to being the oldest major leaguer ever. 

12-09-10-Berowski_Hilltop.jpgThe Sept. 7, 1911 New York Times said of Chet “Red” Hoff’s major league debut against the Washington Senators: “Pitcher Hoff was in the game long enough to have his picture taken.”

This contemporary account is contrary to most published reports nearly 90 years later, largely based on the tales told by Hoff himself. But after a lifetime – the longest lifetime of any former big league player – Chet Hoff earned the right to tell a few stories.  

Chester Cornelius Hoff was born May 8, 1891 in Ossining, N.Y., and lived 107 years, 4 months and 9 days, making him the longest living major leaguer. He pitched in five games his rookie season, going straight from the sandlots of Ossining to the top of the hill in New York City, playing for the Highlanders who would become the Yankees in 1913. He even met up with Ty Cobb that season, but not in his major league debut. 

In the years shortly before his death, Hoff recalled his debut, getting the call from his manager Hal Chase in the ninth inning of a blow-out game, and striking out Cobb on three straight pitches. Hoff claimed he didn’t know who he had faced until the next day when he read the newspaper and was stunned when he read a headline “Hoff Strikes out Ty Cobb.”

12-09-10-Berowski_Cobb.jpgHoff’s actual debut came on Sept. 6, throwing a scoreless frame in a 6-2 loss against the Washington Senators. Hoff got his action against the Tigers 12 days later. The Sept. 19, 1911 New York Times stated, “Hoff pitched the last four innings and did good work.”

In his four innings of one-run ball, Hoff faced Ty Cobb and according to the Times, “fooled Ty with a roundhouse curve, which crossed the center of the plate for the third strike”. It was a rare two-strikeout day for the legendary Cobb, who also fanned in his first at bat of the day against Yankee ace Russ Ford.

Hoff pitched in 12 games for the Highlanders and Yankees over the course of three seasons and compiled an 0-2 record, with a 3.89 ERA. Hoff pitched one season for the St. Louis Browns, 1915, and went 2-2 with a 1.24 ERA. He retired from professional baseball in 1918, but his love for the game never diminished. 

He returned home to Ossining, where he went to work as a paper cutter for Rand-McNally, continued to play semi-pro ball on weekends and continued to follow the Yankees. Chet Hoff’s story made national news when he turned 100 and appeared on The Today Show in 1993. He followed up that appearance with some appearances for his old ballclub, including an appearance alongside Gene Michael and Willie Randolph at a ceremony dedicating a plaque on the site of Hilltop Park, the Yankees original home, where Hoff made his major league debut. 

Hoff passed away on Sept. 17, 1998.

Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

A little anniversary: Veeck sent Gaedel to bat 58 years ago

Bielefeld_90.jpgBy Bridget Bielefeld

Bill Veeck always found ways to lure fans to the ballpark, using elaborate giveaways and exploding scoreboards.

Yet perhaps the most well-known stunt of his career as baseball executive could hardly be seen by the fans in the upper deck. The memory of that promotion, however, will live forever in baseball lore.

Veeck, then the owner of the St. Louis Browns, sent 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat 58 years ago today.

8-19-09-Bielefeld_Veeck.jpgThe American League was celebrating its 50th anniversary in 1951, and Veeck wanted to do something memorable. He partnered with a local brewery to deliver a big crowd, and they came through. The Browns recorded their highest attendance mark in four years, as 18,369 fans crammed into Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis for an August 19 doubleheader between the last place Detroit Tigers and the eventual cellar dwellers, the Browns.

He also hired Gaedel -a 26-year-old stunt performer. To keep his plan a secret, Veeck sent the contract to the league office late on Saturday, Aug. 18 – knowing it would not be delivered until Monday.

Between games Gaedel – sporting No. 1/8 – jumped out of a large papier-mch cake and scurried into the Browns dugout. Little did the fans know at the time – nor did anyone from the league office – that Veeck had discretely signed Gaedel to a major league contract. Gaedel, given strict orders from Veeck not to swing the bat, swapped his elf-like shoes for a pair of cleats.  

“When he heard what I wanted him to do, he was a little dubious,” Veeck wrote in his autobiography, Veeck – As in Wreck.  “I had to give him a sales pitch.  I said, ‘Eddie, you’ll be the only midget in the history of the game. You’ll be appearing before thousands of people. Your name will go in the record books for all-time. You’ll be famous, Eddie. You’ll be immortal.'”

Gaedel waited in the Browns tunnel until the bottom of the first inning, he heard public address announcer Bernie Ebert boom, “Batting for Frank Saucier, No. 1/8, Eddie Gaedel.”

8-19-09-Bielefeld_Keeler.jpgAs he approached the batters’ box, home plate umpire Ed Hurley summoned Browns manager Zack Taylor. Prepared by Veeck, Taylor brought with him a copy of Gaedel’s contract and a roster – proving they had room for him on the team. Appeased, Hurley called for play to resume.

“When Eddie went into that crouch, his strike zone was just about visible to the naked eye,” Veeck wrote. “I picked up a ruler and measured it for posterity. It was 1.5 inches.” 

Tigers pitcher Bob Cain walked Gaedel on four pitches – all high. At first base, Gaedel was lifted for pinch runner Jim Delsing and left to a roaring ovation from the crowd.

“For a minute, I felt like Babe Ruth,” Gaedel said after the game. 

American League president Will Harridge was not amused. He banned Gaedel from Major League Baseball and implemented a rule stating that all player contracts must be approved by the president prior to that player appearing in a game.

Gaedel’s walk also was expunged from the record books in 1951, but was later restored. His career stat line reads one game, one plate appearance, one walk and an on-base percentage of 1.000.

Veeck would own the Browns for two more seasons before selling. In 1959, he purchased the White Sox and would have two separate stints as the team’s owner. He passed away in 1986 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Bridget Bielefeld is the 2009 public relations intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

By the numbers

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

It’s been a great week for numbers in baseball. And here at the Baseball Hall of Fame, those numbers will be preserved forever.

A sample of the week that was:


7-31-09-Hayes_HeltonSpeaker.jpg500 for Todd:
Last week, Colorado’s Todd Helton became the 50th player to collect 500 doubles. Hall of Famer Tris Speaker holds the record with 792, while 32 of the men who have 500 or more doubles are also enshrined in Cooperstown. Five, including Helton, are active and six others aren’t yet eligible. One other note: Helton achieved the feat in his 1,749th game. Only two players reached 500 quicker: Hall of Famers Joe Medwick (1,714) and Nap Lajoie (1,730).

Dodger Details: Tuesday night marked the 2,000th regular-season contest between the Dodgers and Cardinals, dating back to 1892, when the St. Louis Browns first played the Brooklyn Grooms as members of the National League. Brooklyn/Los Angeles holds a slight edge over St. Louis at 993-992 – with 16 ties – after losing to the Redbirds on Wednesday. The match-up includes a two-game tiebreaker series in 1946 when the Cards swept the Dodgers for the NL pennant.

One man who’s probably seen more of those games than anyone else is Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. The 1982 Ford C. Frick winner announced this week that he may retire after the 2010 season – his 61st in the booth. The 81-year-old Scully started calling Dodger games in 1950, when they played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.


7-31-09-Hayes_MoyerNiekro.jpgAgeless Pitchers:
Jamie Moyer earned his 10th victory of the 2009 season in the Phillies’ 6-2 win over the Diamondbacks on Monday. At 46 years and 251 days, he is the second-oldest pitcher to reach double-digit wins in a season. Hall of Famer Phil Niekro holds the record, earning his 10th in 1986 for the Indians, at 47 years and 145 days. Knucksie won seven more games in 1987 for a total of 318 wins. Moyer’s most recent victory was his 256th.
 
Chasing Rickey: Curtis Granderson hit two home runs to lead off games this week at Texas. With 20 leadoff bombs, he has a long way to go to catch the leader. 2009 Hall of Fame Inductee Rickey Henderson holds the record with 81, followed by Alfonso Soriano, who tied Craig Biggio at 53 in May of this year.

Trevor Hayes is editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Colorful Browns memories

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

Bill Purdy was born and raised in St. Louis. But last week, he and his wife, Mary Beth, experienced what felt like a homecoming in Cooperstown.

For a few days at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Purdy relived a youth spent as close to the big leagues as you can get without being listed in a box score.

5-28-09-Hayes_PurdyHornsby.jpgPurdy grew up a fan of the St. Louis Browns and by the time he entered high school, they were his obsession. As a catcher during his teen years, Bill was a fan of Les Moss, who caught for the Browns from 1946-53. They shared a similar trait aside from catching.

“He was about as slow as a turtle running the bases, and I wasn’t fast either,” said Purdy, who supports the Hall of Fame as a Member of the Museum’s development program. “But I sure could hit the ball.”

It was Purdy’s catching ability, however, that dictated his baseball life after 1952. Bill Veeck, who purchased the Browns in 1951, was working to create greater interest in the team. So in 1952, the future Hall of Fame executive held a promotional contest to work as a bat boy for the Browns. Purdy won the contest.

During the middle of the season, the Browns needed someone to catch batting practice, so Purdy started doing that. For the rest of the season, he was the team’s bat boy and batting-practice catcher. In 1953, he served as just the batting-practice catcher and also traveled with the team.

As the bullpen catcher, he caught many legends, including the seemingly ageless Negro league great and future Hall of Famer Satchel Paige; an aging Virgil Trucks, who won 177 big league games; Harry Brecheen, who won three games in the 1946 World Series with the Cardinals; Don Larsen, who threw the only perfect game in World Series history; Bob Turley, who went on to win four World Series games, two rings and five pennants with the Yankees; Ned Garver, who won 20 games for the last-place Browns in 1951; and Tommy Byrne, a left-hander and part of the Yankees dynasty in the 1940s and ’50s.

5-28-09-Hayes_PurdyMug.jpgPurdy also has one great memory from a trip to Yankee Stadium in 1952. Like the players, Purdy kept his uniform, catcher’s mitt and the rest of his equipment in a trunk. The trunks were unloaded from the team’s train and taken straight to the clubhouse at the ballpark. Just before the team went to New York, the Browns were carrying three catchers, something the Yankees apparently knew. St. Louis’ third-string catcher, however, was sent to the Minors before the team arrived and another catcher wasn’t called up — something the Yankees apparently didn’t know.

“I’m assuming that the clubhouse man from the Yankees saw my stuff in there and thought I’d been activated,” Purdy said. “So they printed the scorecard with my name and number on it. I have it to this day, and it will baffle any historian here, because you won’t find my name on the list of active players. But my name is on the scorecard from Yankee Stadium — it’s the same scorecard that had Mantle, Berra and Casey Stengel on it.”

That scorecard, along with autographed balls and other artifacts — including seat frames from old Sportsman’s Park with original Busch Stadium seats in it — are among the memorabilia Purdy still has from his days with the Browns.

But the stories are what he treasures most.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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