Results tagged ‘ World War II ’

New books on the Library shelves

By Freddy Berowski

Known as the “Master of Alternate History,” New York Times best selling author Harry Turtledove has delighted fans for decades with his fantastic “what if?” tales.

Stories such as “World War” and “Colonization,” a series of books which follow the invasion of Earth by a Race of alien lizards during World War II and the hundred years that follow (with quite a few baseball references too, including a couple of lizard middle infielders and Mickey Mantle playing in the Major Leagues against the Yankees for the Kansas City Blues) and “The House that George Built,” a novella about Babe Ruth and baseball, if the Babe never made it. 

Recently, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library has added to its permanent collection the manuscripts for two of Harry Turtledove’s alternate history works, the aforementioned “The House that George Built” and “The Stars and Rockets.” 

The Hall of Fame Library contains more than three million documents on baseball, including a file for every player who has appeared in a major league game and thousands of books on the National Pastime.

“The House that George Built” follows an alternate timeline where the Federal League never established a presence in Baltimore in 1914, thus Orioles owner Jack Dunn never felt the need to sell Babe Ruth’s contract.  In this reality, Ruth’s role in the game’s history was flipped with that of 1920s Pacific Coast League superstar Buzz Arlett, who became the game’s “Babe Ruth” with the Babe only getting Buzz’s cup of coffee. 

“The Stars and Rockets” is a fantastical tale that connects the Roswell incident of 1947 with Joe Bauman’s 72 home run season for the Class-C Roswell Rockets in 1954, and some fans that are out of this world. 

Harry Turtledove grew up on the West Coast and began his love affair with our National Pastime when his father began taking him to Pacific Coast League games of the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels. His Major League allegiance was to the Yankees originally, but that changed when the Angels became an MLB franchise.

“I was a Yankee fan before the majors came to L.A.; I’ve pretty much but not entirely got over that, but still generally root for the AL over the NL. The AL Angels, I like.  Dunno why, but I do.  When they finally won the Series in 2002 . . . It’s very strange getting something in your 50s that you’ve wanted since you were eleven.”

In his critically acclaimed World War/Colonization series which began in the 1990s, among those characters featured were several members of the Decatur Commodores, a Three-I league minor league baseball team in 1942. Although he didn’t know it at the time, one of those ballplayers, Sam Yeager, would become the central character in all eight books.

“I thought it would be interesting” Turtledove said. “I didn’t know what all would happen to Sam when I started writing about him – I tend to work by the seat of my pants. And it gave me an excuse to research Minor League Baseball and actually do something with what I found out, so that was cool, too. Back in the day, of course, a lot more guys made careers of the minor leagues than happens now, but there are still a few.”

Although he has no current plans for a full length alternate history baseball novel, Mr. Turtledove says “I’ll go for it in a heartbeat” if he develops “any ideas along those lines that I think people would buy.” 

When he first got out of college, before finding his true calling, he tried to get a job in baseball with the Dodgers and Angels. Turtledove described the type of work he was searching for as “Something – anything – involving PR and stats, which were the kind of things a guy who wrote halfway decently and was a stat geek could do.  I struck out twice, but at least I struck out swinging.” 

Who knows, maybe in some other reality Harry Turtledove did get a job in baseball.

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

A timeless hero


Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

As I sat in the press box at Chain O’ Lakes Park in Winter Haven, Fla. that morning in 1996, a rumbling of applause jolted me out of the story I was writing.

It grew louder and louder – cresting in a full-fledged ovation – as the man in the Cleveland Indians uniform strode to home plate and doffed his cap. An older gentleman, but still thick with muscle tone and apparently ready to play at a moment’s notice.

12-16-10-Muder_FellerClassic.jpg“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the public address announcer, “please welcome Hall of Famer Bob Feller!”

For a moment, I couldn’t believe it. It was my first time at Spring Training, so I wasn’t accustomed to Feller’s omnipresent appearance.

I bolted for my baseball encyclopedia: How old was Bob Feller? And he’s still in uniform?

That day, Feller was 77. But when he threw out the first pitch before that day’s exhibition game, it seemed he was practically ageless.

He would remain so for the next 14 years.

Feller’s passing on Wednesday brings to a close one of the most remarkable American lives of the 20th Century. An archetypical farm boy turned athlete, Feller imparted force onto a baseball that had not been seen before and rarely since. But it was his personal magnetism that made him a household name before he reached his 20th birthday.

His success on the baseball diamond was nearly total. But six years into his big league career, Feller dropped everything and enlisted in the Navy the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He spent almost four years fighting in World War II, earning eight battle stars aboard the U.S.S. Alabama. 

When he returned to the Indians, he quickly regained the form that made him the best pitcher in baseball.

12-16-10-Muder_Feller.jpgFor many, 266 big league victories and military honors would be a lifetime. But for Feller, the second act of his life – as a Hall of Famer and baseball emissary – was yet to come. After his election to the Hall in 1962, Feller thrilled fans for the next five decades with his homespun wit and passion for the game.

He would sign autographs until the last fan was satisfied – and he never tired of spreading the gospel of baseball. He would, it seemed, never grow old.

In 2009, I sat in the press box at Doubleday Field when a rumbling of applause jolted me out of the blog I was writing. It grew louder and louder – cresting in a full-fledged ovation – as the man in the Cleveland Indians uniform strode to home plate and doffed his cap. An older gentleman, but still thick with muscle tone and apparently ready to play at a moment’s notice.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the public address announcer, “please welcome Hall of Famer Bob Feller!”

Florida or Cooperstown, 1996 or 2009. Spring Training game or Hall of Fame Classic. Bob Feller never lost that ability to thrill baseball fans.

I cannot believe he is not here today.

His like will not be seen again.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Hall Monitor: Prodigies, perfection and the past

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes


06-11-10-Hayes_Waner.jpgPirate Prodigy:
Not since 1928 has a Pirate had as many hits at his one-year anniversary as center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Currently riding a .302 average, the 23-year-old celebrated passed the one year mark since his major-league debut last week. He had 185 hits, the most by a Buc since Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner collected 225 in his first year.

Rare day for the all-time leader: Ivan Rodriguez has caught 2,322 games – the all-time leader among catchers after having passed greats like Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk. But only three times in his career has Pudge caught a pitcher who racked up 14 strikeouts like Stephen Strasburg did on Tuesday in Washington. Strasburg joins Jeremy Bonderman in 2004 and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in 1991 as the only pitchers to dominate their opponents that much with Rodriguez behind the plate. Pudge’s Astros jersey from the game in which he broke the games caught record last season is on display in the Museum in the Today’s Game exhibit.


06-11-10-Hayes_BanksWilliamsDawson.jpgCubbies and 300:
One-hundred and twenty-seven players have hit 300 home runs in the history of the majors. Wednesday, Derek Lee added his name to that list and this afternoon, Alfonso Soriano clubbed his 300th. Both join an impressive group of names to do so while playing on the North-side. Six other players have belted No. 300 with the Cubs including Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Andre Dawson. The most recent before Lee was Sammy Sosa who the 300th of 609 career home runs in June of 1999.

Boston’s newest Fenway attraction: Two Hall of Famers and two other Red Sox legends were honored this week, as the team dedicated a new statue Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams. The four were staples in the Sox lineups in the 1940s and into the 50s. All four were All-Stars and all four served in the military during World War II. The lifelong friends and Sox legends had their story told in David Halberstam’s book The Teammates – Portrait of a Friendship. The new statue is a tribute to their legacy and features the four standing shoulder to shoulder holding bats. It is outside Fenway’s Gate B at Van Ness and Ipswich.

06-11-10-Hayes_Stearnes.jpgPerfection and the Hall-aday: Roy Halladay threw the major’s 20th perfect game on May 29, beating Marlins ace Josh Johnson 1-0 in the process. The two matched up again Thursday and Johnson got the win. 1965 marks the last time a perfect pitcher faced his opponent again in the same season, as Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax and Chicago’s Bob Hendley squared off in back-to-back starts. Koufax mastered the Cubs on Sept. 9, and like Halladay in a 1-0 win, but like Johnson, Hendley got the win in the rematch.

Remembering the past: The Tigers will play host to a weekend long celebration of the Negro leagues, highlighted by their 16th annual Negro Leagues Tribute Game, Saturday. The Tigers will don Detroit Stars uniforms while the Pirates will pay homage to the Pittsburgh Crawfords. During the series, Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes – a former Star – will be recognized with a video about his plaque, which was dedicated at Comerica Park in 2007. Stearnes’ grandson will throw one of the ceremonial first pitches, while Stearnes daughters will perform the national anthem. Former Negro leaguers Frank Crosson, Joe Douse, Buck Duncan, Bee-Bop Gordon, Bill Hill, Gene Johnson, Cecil Kaiser, Alton King, Bullet Moore and Schoolboy Teasley will be on hand throughout the weekend.

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

Baseball, U.S. Naval history intersect in Alabama

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I woke up Oct. 1 in Mobile, Ala. and looked at my itinerary. A morning meeting with the Mobile Baybears, the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by lunch. After that, about five hours to kill until my flight home.

10-5-09-Idelson_Feller.jpgErik Strohl, our senior director of exhibits and collections, and I, decided to take a tour of the battleship Alabama, a massive Navy ship that saw extensive action during World War II. I had wished to see the ship for many years, specifically because Hall of Famer Bob Feller served on it. It is now a museum of sorts, docked in Mobile Bay

Feller left the Cleveland Indians for the Navy, enlisting just two days after Pearl Harbor in 1941.He spent four years in the prime of his career as an anti-aircraft gun captain on the USS Alabama, part of a well-trained fleet that never lost one man to combat. Feller was decorated eight times with five battle stars.

As we boarded the ship, I had the chills. Walking the ship’s deck, I imagined a young Bob doing his part to make the team a success, just as so many other major leaguers had during World War II.

Erik and I walked the entire ship, on every level and were awestruck how it resembled a small town. Mess hall, post office, store, laundry, barber shop… it had everything. The battleship was home to more than 2,500 sailors, more than the population of Cooperstown. I know I would have been claustrophobic, bunking well below the ship’s surface.

10-5-09-Idelson_Alabama.jpgWe could also imagine how unsettling it must have been to be constantly on guard with the potential for attack. The battleship was painted several times, depending on the mission, to match the color of the sky and water.

We saw many photos of the soldiers. We even saw one of the baseball team, each player with a giant “A” on the front of his uniform, akin to the old Philadelphia A’s logo. No Bob in the photos, though he did play.

The Alabama would play other ships and was renowned for having the best team in the Pacific, playing in places like New Hebrides, the Fijis, Ulithi, Kwadulane, Eniwetok. I pictured Feller, between practicing combat exercises, playing catch on the ship’s massive deck.

I know how proud Bob is of his military service and touring the Alabama made me realize just how hard his job was, helping to protect America when a team effort was needed most. It also made me realize how fortunate we are to have the freedoms we do, because of soldiers like him who put his country first

Jeff Idelson is the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Sept. 16, 1960: Warren Spahn tosses no-hitter

Bielefeld_90.jpgBy Bridget Bielefeld

Warren Spahn had earned many accolades by the start of the 1960 season – the 16th of his career. He had won a Cy Young award, a World Series championship and was an 11-time all-star. He had 10 20-win seasons under his belt and a slew of other awards in his trophy case.

9-16-09-Bielefeld_Spahn.jpgYet one thing was still missing from his illustrious rsum – a no-hitter.

That void would be filled 49 years ago today: Sept. 16, 1960, when Spahn, at 39 years old, achieved baseball immortality against the Philadelphia Phillies at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Spahn, a crafty southpaw with a high leg kick, had been making quick work of the Phillies all evening. Coming into the top of the ninth inning, in a game that was barely two hours old, Spahn had only allowed two base runners – both of whom reached on walks.

With four runs of support from his Braves, Spahn was in a position to make history.

No. 9 hitter Bobby Gene Smith was the first to bat for the Phils in the ninth. Spahn promptly struck him out for his 14th K of the game – and proceeded to do the same to leadoff man Bobby Del Greco, elevating his total to 15 on the night.

Only one man now stood between Spahn and an accomplishment which few men achieve in a lifetime. Second baseman Bobby Malkmus stepped into the batter’s box, and just as quickly as the game had progressed up to that point, it ended – with a groundout to shortstop Johnny Logan.

9-16-09-Bielefeld_SpahnColor.jpg“He’s beyond comparison with any modern left-hander,” Hall of Famer Casey Stengel said “He has beaten every handicap – the live ball, second division teams. No one can ever say anything to deny his greatness.”

With the win, Spahn improved to 20-9 and lowered his ERA to 3.46.  He finished the season 21-10 and placed second in Cy Young award voting behind Vern Law of the Pirates.

Spahn would go on to throw his second no hitter April 28 of the following year – at 40 years old.

“I don’t think Spahn will ever get into the Hall of Fame,” Stan Musial once said.  “He’ll never stop pitching.”

After the 1960 season, Spahn would spend four more years with the Braves before joining the New York Mets and then San Francisco Giants in 1965 — the year he played his final big league game.

Spahn finished his career with 363 wins (a record for left-handers) and remains sixth on the all-time wins list. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 in his first year of eligibility. Only 10 other pitchers have accomplished that feat.

Just add it to his rsum.

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

Classic Hall of Famers thrill packed crowd, promise more

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

There were literally no empty seats in the Grandstand Theater for the Hall of Fame Classic Voices of the Game. And this special Father’s Day edition delivered with the same impact the four Hall of Famers on stage had during their careers.

The sellout crowd listened for as Triple-Crown winner Bob Feller, 300-game winner Phil Niekro, 3,000-hit Club member Paul Molitor and 16-time Gold Glove Award winner Brooks Robinson reflected on their careers and talked about the game they love.

6-20-09-Hayes_VOG.jpgAll four legends and fellow Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins headline the signature event of the weekend, the Hall of Fame Classic on Father’s Day at Doubleday Field.

The theme of fathers and sons has been a principal element throughout this inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend and was present during Voices of the Game. Niekro spoke vividly of his relationship. As a youngster in Ohio, he looked up to his father, who taught him the weapon that would be his bread and butter in a 24 season career.

“”If it wasn’t for the knuckleball, I probably would have ended up coal mining,” Niekro said. “I didn’t know what it was. I just had fun playing knuckle ball in the back yard. Then I was able to get Little League guys out.”

His success continued and he hitched a ride to a tryout with the Milwaukee Braves. He signed for $500. Early on, Knucksie as he became known, was unsure of his talents. When the Hall’s manager of museum programs Steve Light, who moderated the event asked Niekro how he fared against the two accomplished hitters on either side of him, Knucksie started laughing.

6-20-09-Hayes_RobinsonNiekro.jpg“I faced Brooks early on during a Spring Training game,” he recalled. “One of my 77-mph fastballs got away from me and I hit him in the head.”

Robinson countered, “Didn’t hurt a bit.”

“I thought I was going to be done the next day for hitting Brooks Robinson with a fastball,” Niekro said.

Robinson’s start wasn’t something to brag about either, though he did. He played most of the 1955 season for the York (Penn.) White Roses – a B-League team in the Piedmont League. Robinson got the call at the end of the season and got two hits in his first start.

“I called home and said, ‘This is cake. Why did I play in [the minors] all year? I should have been in the big leagues.'”

He then went 0-for-18. He recovered and became one of the cornerstones of the great Orioles teams of the 1960’s and 70’s. He appeared in four World Series, winning a pair of rings. Robinson played on a lot of great teams, but he feels one of the best didn’t achieve to the level that some of his other teams might have.

6-20-09-Hayes_Robinson.jpgIn honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Miracle Mets, Light asked Robinson about the 1969 World Series.

“I thought our ’62 team was our best,” he said. “But anything can happen in a seven-game series. We beat [Hall of Famer Tom] Seaver and lost the next four, straight.”

Baltimore was back in the Series again the next season and Robinson took the MVP honors, hitting .429 against the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati. He drove in six and hit a pair of home runs. Molitor like Robinson achieved October glory by winning the MVP Award in 1993 with the Blue Jays.

During that Fall Classic, he hit .500 with a pair of doubles, a pair of triples and a pair of homers while driving in eight against the Phillies. Molitor’s best memory of that Series however, was not one of his personal achievements.

“The ’93 Series, I was on first base when Joe Carter hit that ball over the wall,” he said. “I was thinking if it goes off the wall and I hustle, I can score and end this thing, but then it went out and it was all over anyway.”

Another highlight of Molitor’s career was reaching 3,000 hits. Pure consistency throughout his career allowed The Ignitor to retire with a career .306 batting average and 3,319 hits. In 1987, he took a run at one of the game’s longest standing records, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Molitor hit safely in 39 straight.

6-20-09-Hayes_Niekro.jpg“Whether it’s milestones or streaks, players don’t really play for those, but numbers are big in baseball,” he said. “Falling 17 games short is still a long way away from that number and my perspective changed after that streak.

“I always tell people: The way you handle success is directly related to the way you handle failure, because 3,000 hits means 7,000 outs.”

Knucksie, a member of another elite club – the 300-game winners – applauded Molitor on the achievement. He said pitchers have help in winning games, but hitters are alone. 

Niekro’s 300th came in his last start of 1985 as a Yankee. It was a special moment for him and his father, who was faltering in health. Niekro was 46 at the time and at the end of his contract.

“If I didn’t win it, I would have had to wait until the next spring and he wasn’t going to hold on that long,” he said. “So really that was a blessing for both of us.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Feller.jpgFeller missed 300 wins by 34. But he recorded a career-high 27 in 1940 followed by 25 in 1941 before leaving baseball for most of four seasons to serve in the Navy during World War II. Light noted that the Grandstand Theater is a replica of Chicago’s Comiskey Park where Feller authored one of his three no-hitters and the only Opening Day no-no in the history of the game.

“Well it was 69 years ago and I remember it quite well,” the Indians ace recalled. “It wasn’t my best no-hitter. I didn’t have great stuff that day. I only struck out eight and we won 1-0. I remember that my catcher, Rollie Hemsley, hit a triple with my rommmate on base to score the only run.”

At 90, Feller’s memory is as sharp as if he were reading a box score. Light asked him about his famous high-leg kick and he laughed.

“That high leg kick…You’ve seen the picture taken in Yankee Stadium in 1936 or ’37 with my leg kicked over my head and the photographer laying flat on the ground,” Feller said. “That is all for show. It was just symbolism. But it’s the most popular picture they’ve got of me and it sells well at card shows.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Molitor.jpgAnother Feller myth was confirmed, when Light asked the former fireballer about the motorcycle and his fastball. Feller said that, that also happened in Chicago. He was wearing a tie and a dress shirt during the exhibition, but when he wound up with the motorcycle ten feet behind him, the ball beat the bike to the target. Using a timer and the vehicles speedometer, it was figured that he threw the ball 104 mph. Later a similar event was held and Feller clocked in at 107 mph.

Apparently worried by this, Molitor interrupted the story, “Can I ask him how his arm is feeling, since I have to leadoff against him tomorrow? I’ve heard stories of him hitting the first batter, so I’m just curious.”

Once the laughter subsided, and it was confirmed that Molitor would be the first batter to face the Classic’s starting pitcher – the 90-year-old Feller – Light asked Robinson how he felt knowing that he’d be the first guy to dig in against Knucksie in the bottom of the first.

6-20-09-Hayes_MolitorFeller.jpgRecalling their Spring Training encounter, Robinson looked worried and Niekro laughed, “Put your helmet on big boy, it’s coming.”

It is coming. In less than 24 hours, the legends will take the field at Doubleday and the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic will begin with Molitor facing Feller and Robinson against Niekro. Feller’s words seemed to sum up the entire weekend.

Baseball is a game of luck and there’s a lot of good and a lot of bad,” he said, noting the rain that fell on Cooperstown for most of Saturday. “We’re going to have a lot of fun tomorrow, rain or shine.”

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

Service on and off the field

Gates_90.jpgBy Jim Gates

Can you name the only Major League player whose record includes combat service in both World War II and the Korean War?

The answer is Gerald Francis “Jerry” Coleman of the New York Yankees. Coleman joined the United States Marine Corps in October of 1942, after spending just one season as a Minor Leaguer with the Wellsville Yankees of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League. Originally assigned to the V-12 Program in San Franciso, he soon received flight training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1944. Coleman was quickly shipped out to the Pacific theater, where he flew 57 combat missions over Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands and the Phillipines. He specialized in flying close air-support missions for his brother Marines involved in ground combat operations.

4-30-09-Gates_Coleman.jpgIn 1946, he resumed his baseball career and, after another stint in the Minors, was brought up to play the infield for the Yankees in 1949. However, like several others, he was recalled to duty with the outbreak of hostilities in Korea. He flew an additional 63 combat missions during this conflict, focusing on close air support, interdiction and strike missions. Coleman transferred back to the United States in 1953 and resumed his baseball career. He retired as a player after the 1957 season and went on to become a successful Major League broadcaster, winning the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award in 2005.

Coleman remained active in the Marine Corps Reserve until his retirement in 1964 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. It should be noted that during his 120 combat missions, he earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals and three Navy Citations.

Jerry Coleman is more than just a ballplayer. He is a true American hero.

Jim Gates is librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

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