Wednesday, October 19, 2016

224. Fred Clarke:

I've said it before many times, but I'll say it again: one of the best benefits about writing/illustrating The Infinite Baseball Card Set is all the baseball historians, writers and artists I've met. I've asked a few to be a "Guest Author" on here and this week I'm pleased to have Angelo Louisa. You may have heard of him, he's been the author, co-author or editor of a bunch of solid baseball books, and there's a good chance one of them sits on your bookshelf right now. I know his book on the 1926 Pirates sits on mine, and Angelo chose a character from that very book as the subject of this week's story...

With virtually the same personnel that had won both the National League pennant and the World Series the previous season, the 1926 Pittsburgh Pirates were favored by the majority of preseason prognosticators to capture the pennant for the second year in a row.  But they ended up in third place, four and a half games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

That failure has largely been attributed to the alleged dissension caused by the presence of vice president and assistant to the manager Fred Clarke on the Pirate bench and to the ramifications of an attempt by several players to remove him, known as the "ABC Affair."   

For the casual fan of baseball history, the name Fred Clarke may not mean anything.  But for the knowledgeable fan or the baseball historian, it may conjure up images of the fiery player-manager of the Louisville Colonels and Pittsburgh Pirates, someone who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a left fielder but who could have been elected as either a player or a manager.  As a player, Clarke was an excellent hitter, an aggressive base runner, a daring defender, and a fierce competitor who, according to (as of September 18, 2016), placed in the final seasonal top 10 in positive offensive and defensive statistical categories 194 times (not including games played, defensive games played as an outfielder, at bats, and plate appearances) throughout his 21-year career in the National League.  As a manager, he led his teams to four pennants, one World Series championship out of two appearances, a remarkable 14 straight first-division finishes, and a .576 regular-season winning percentage (.595 with the Pirates).  And he accomplished these feats while managing against such notable skippers as Ned Hanlon, Frank Selee, George Stallings, John McGraw, and Frank Chance.

However, even the knowledgeable fan or the baseball historian may not be aware that Clarke was much more than a baseball personage.  The ninth of 12 children of a blacksmith-farmer and his homemaker wife, Clarke used his dual passions of baseball and working the soil, his athletic and mechanical talents, and his optimistic nature and belief in fate to become an outdoorsy Renaissance man and a multimillionaire.  During his nearly 88 years in this world, Clarke was an innovative and highly successful rancher whose income skyrocketed when oil was discovered on his land; a Kansas state champion amateur trapshooter; an outstanding equestrian who did riding tricks from the back of his horse; an avid hunter, fisherman, and golfer; and a skillful inventor who created and held patents for, among other things, flip-down sunglasses, sliding pads, and a mechanical apparatus for putting the tarpaulin over the baseball field.

In addition, Clarke was a community leader in Winfield, Kansas, who co-founded the area’s country club, helped to build the town’s current Holy Name Catholic Church, and stood up to the Ku Klux Klan when it tried to harass him for being a Roman Catholic.

Nor would the knowledgeable fan or the baseball historian necessarily be aware that, at the request of Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss, Clarke returned to the Pirates in 1925 as assistant to the owner, assistant to the manager, and head of scouting and was one of the key people responsible for the Bucs winning the National League pennant and the World Series championship that year.  Clarke remained with the Pirates in 1926, having become vice president of the club during the offseason while retaining his positions as assistant to the manager and head of scouting, and endeavored to aid them in seizing another pennant.  But his efforts came to naught.  A talented Pirate team did not live up to expectations and a scapegoat had to be found to explain the bronze medal finish.  For certain Pittsburgh sportswriters and fans, that scapegoat was Clarke, a belief that some later writers have also held.         

However, in 2006, I began to research the ’26 Pirates in general and the ABC Affair in particular, looking at all five mainstream Pittsburgh newspapers—not just those that criticized Clarke or those that have been digitized—as well as various player interviews and other primary sources and discovered that the blame assigned to Clarke has been mostly misplaced and that the reasons for the Bucs' failure were far more complex.  The result of my research is a book titled The Pirates Unraveled:Pittsburgh’s 1926 Season, which was published last October by McFarland.  But I’ll resist temptation to say anything else about it because I want you to read the details for yourself.  To order a copy of the book, go to 

Angelo J. Louisa is a researcher, writer, and community educator who lives in Omaha, Nebraska.  A member of the Society for American Baseball Research, he has contributed articles to books, periodicals, and websites, is co-editor of ForbesField: Essays and Memories of the Pirates’ Historic Ballpark, 1909-1971 and Mysteries from Baseball’s Past:Investigations of Nine Unsettled Questions, and is series co-editor of McFarland Historic Ballparks.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

223. Bill Crouch: One for the Record Books

Baseball is completely governed by statistics and records. It's the one thing that makes the game unique when compared to other sports. While football, hockey and (especially) basketball have radically evolved over the years in both playing style and equipment, since the introduction of the juiced up ball in 1920 baseball is essentially the same. That means you can pretty much compare a guy like Dazzy Vance, Brooklyn pitching star of the 1920's with Sandy Koufax of the 1960s and then with Orel Hershiser of the 1990's. There's differences of course, like mound height, watered-down talent pool, etc., but much less so than any other big-money sport. That's why baseball's records are more sacred than other sports. Home run totals, hitting streaks, etc, are all measuring sticks we use to gauge how good a ballplayer is. Some records are ever changing, like career home run totals or stolen bases. Others, like single season wins by a pitcher will never be topped because we've learned (and been told by agents and the Player's Union) not to over-use a player. A 30 game season is simply unreachable these days, let alone Hoss Radburn's 59 set in 1884. Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters is one that theoretically could be matched, but the odds are radically against it. Heck, even complete games are rare. Today it's newsworthy when a pitcher makes it past the 7th inning stretch, and that's why the record set in today's story - most strikeouts in one game - will never be broken. Most fans know that Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood and Max Scherzer hold the MLB record for most K's in 9 inning game: 20. When the game gets extended into extra innings, the totals go a bit higher: Tom Cheney struck out 21 in a 16 inning game back in 1962. Trudge into the wild and woolly recesses of the minor leagues and it gets even better: in 1952 Ron Necciai whiffed 27 batters in a 9 inning Appalachian League game and Hooks Iott struck out 30 batters in a 16 inning Class D game in 1941. But one semi-pro pitcher topped even that, in both innings pitched and K's recorded...

It was about as good a debut a rookie could ask for. For five years Bill Crouch had been toiling in relative obscurity on the sandlots of his native Wilmington, Delaware when suddenly in July of 1910 he was signed by the St. Louis Browns. Crouch was twenty-three years old, a hefty lefthander with a good fastball and a serviceable curve who'd carved out an admirable record playing in Wilmington's semi-pro industrial leagues. The first professional baseball contract Bill Crouch signed his name to was the one he'd just signed with St. Louis. Now, the St. Louis Browns in 1910 were a pretty miserable lot. They'd finish the year 47-107, and when a ball club reaches that low a point they'll try just about anything to right the ship. Indeed, twenty different pitchers appeared for St. Louis that summer, and on July 12, 1910, it was Bill Crouch's turn. 

The Browns were in Washington to face the Senators at American League Park. It was a grey, rain-swept afternoon in the nation's capital as the 23 year-old southpaw prepared for his first professional baseball game. For a guy catapulted from the sandlots right into to the big leagues, it must have been a nerve-racking prospect. Pitching on weekends for the DuPont Powder Company baseball team was one thing, suiting up for the St. Louis Browns was quite another. I'm sure it made him even more unnerved when he discovered his opponent that afternoon would be Walter Johnson - on his way to becoming the greatest right handed pitcher in the history of the game. Johnson was in his fourth big league season and would win 25 games for Washington that year. 

The game was scoreless through two frames before St. Louis scored two off Johnson in the third. Washington got to Crouch in the fourth inning, plating three runs. The rookie was a bit wild, walking seven, and he struggled when it came to fielding his position. Washington used this to their advantage and bunted often, resulting in two errors by the hefty lefty. The young Walter Johnson was firing on all cylinders, striking out 13 Brownies until the fifth when his throwing error let in two runs for a 4-3 St. Louis lead. After a pair of rain delays the evening gloom was setting in and just when it looked like Crouch would have his first big lead victory, a few walks capped off with an error by the shortstop let in the tying run. By this time the ballpark was wrapped in darkness and the game was called, forever locked in a 4-4 tie.

It wasn't a bad debut. Dueling Walter Johnson to a tie is never something to sneeze at, and the newspapers the next morning said as much. Considering the Browns' deplorable mound corps, it was expected that Crouch would get another start, but it wasn't to be. Citing his "inexperience", Browns manager Jack Reynolds released the southpaw to the Richmond Colts of the Virginia League. But life in the Bush Leagues wasn't what Bill Crouch had in mind. Telling St. Louis' manager "it's the major leagues or nothing", Crouch took the train back to Wilmington. He had a wife, Effie, and three year-old boy, Bill Jr., and besides, he made more making explosives and pitching on weekends for DuPont than an anonymous minor league pitcher ever could. His one-and-done big league career makes Bill Crouch one of the very few ballplayers to go from the semi-pros directly to the majors without spending any time in the minors. It's quite an accomplishment, and that's where history would have left Bill Crouch, had it not been for an even more extraordinary mound appearance six years after his one and only big league game.

Back in Wilmington Crouch resumed his position as the local sandlot hero. With a big league game under his belt, the southpaw was in high demand, but fate intervened. Arm trouble and an operation sidelined him for all of 1911 and when he came back in 1912 his left arm was useless. Still, his natural talent and name recognition kept him in the lineup as a first baseman on lower-tiered clubs through 1915. Then, the old wing started to come around and by 1916 Bill Crouch was back on the mound. Now thirty and a little bit on the portly side, Crouch took up mound duties for the Brandywine Athletic Association team in the All-Wilmington League. 

The game that would set a world record for Bill Crouch wasn't supposed to even take place. The May 30, 1916 game was an unscheduled make-up tilt between Eastlake and Crouch's Brandywine club. Eastlake scored a run off the old lefthander in the second inning but Brandywine took the lead the next inning with two runs. Eastlake tied it up in the sixth. Crouch hummed along, striking out Eastlake player after Eastlake player. And as good as Crouch was, Ennis, Eastlake's pitcher, was keeping pace with the veteran. The zeros piled up as the afternoon wore on. Eight, nine, ten innings and still no score. Both pitchers has great control with only two walks apiece. While Ennis was retiring the Brandywine players on ground balls and fly outs, Crouch was blowing the ball past the Eastlake bats. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen innings ticked by and no runs. The crowd stayed put in their seats, everyone knowing they were watching the greatest baseball game ever played in Wilmington. Three hours and forty-five minutes and nineteen innings after the game's start, Wilmington finally got a rally started. A single and some good base running got Brandywine three runs. Crouch came on in the bottom of the 19th and retired the side for the win. When the scorebook was tallied, Bill Crouch had faced 70 batters, given up only a pair of walks and scattered ten hits over 19 innings. But the most remarkable thing was that e has struck out 31 batters - a new world record and one that will most likely never be broken. Crouch's feat made newspapers coast-to-coast but failed to bring any offers to resume his short big league career. With just 16 major league teams in 1916, no club was willing to take a chance on a middle-aged pitcher with a history of arm trouble - world record or no world record. Besides, chances are Bill Crouch didn't want the hassle of starting a new career. He had carved out a nice niche for himself and like many semi-pro stars of the pre-WWII period, made good money on his own terms. 

That was pretty much the extent of Bill Crouch's career in baseball. During the 1930's the Crouch's moved to Michigan where the old ballplayer worked for Cadillac. He passed away a few days before Christmas, 1945, at the age of 59. 

If you look up Bill Crouch in the Baseball Encyclopedia (sorry, that's a force of habit - of course today everyone uses, you'll find his one-line career. But right below you'll see that in 1939, another pitcher named Bill Crouch, this one a righty, made his big league debut for Brooklyn. This was Bill Crouch Jr., son of the old lefthander. Junior had a three year career with the Dodgers, Phillies and Cardinals, posting a 5-3 career record.

I hope you enjoyed this little story. I really enjoy plucking these players from baseball's hidden corners, dusting off the obscurity and letting their stories come to life again. There's ten thousand books and articles on Ty Cobb, and you can find them in any bookstore. To find a Bill Crouch you have to stumble over his story in the dim light of baseball's past. That's what I like, and I hope you do, too.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

222. Hack Wilson: Stouts takes the field

Last year I began to write a story about the early career of Hack Wilson. I was always fascinated by the guy, ever since I saw a photo of him standing with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in a book I had as a kid. His odd physique (5'-6" with a Ruthian barrel chest wearing a size 5 1/2 shoe) made me do a double-take, and when I learned of his amazing 191 RBI season in 1930 it made me want to learn more about this odd guy. Wilson and the other 1920's Cubs really came alive for me in "Mr. Wrigley's Ballclub" by Roberts Ehrgott (a must-read for any pre-war baseball fan, I can't recommend this book enough!) and I drew up a few versions of a Hack Wilson minor league card. However, to use a real flaky artist term, none of them "felt" right to me and I never got around to finishing the story. Instead, I stumbled upon a newspaper story from the opposite end of his career and got gleefully side tracked. You can read that story HERE, it's become one of my favorites. So, the pre-big league Hack Wilson story got put on the shelf - that is until now. This weekend I put the finishing touches on an illustration of Hack that I felt fit him perfectly and dug up my stack of 1921-1922 newspaper clippings and notes and got to work...

It was Opening Day in the Blue Ridge League, 1921. 

The Martinsburg Blue Sox, a league powerhouse since the loop was founded, looked like they had another pennant winner. But besides the hold overs from last season like Reggie Rawlings and Johnny Neun, there was a new kid in town, about as odd a looking ballplayer to ever step foot on a diamond.

The kid (and I'm using that term loosely now) sprang forth from the rough factory towns of Western Pennsylvania. The illegitimate son of part-time laborer and full-time drunk and a wandering prostitute, Lewis Wilson grew up more or less on his own. His mother died of appendicitis when he was seven and his father entrusted the boy to the care of the woman who ran the boarding house they lived in. Fortunately the proprietor and her son were a huge baseball fans and both tutored the young boy in the finer points of the game. 

Like I mentioned earlier, Lew was an odd looking fella - he was short, had a big, flat, moon face, a stocky torso perched on dainty ankles that terminated at even daintier feet. He also perspired - a lot. Modern scholars of the game have speculated that Lew's appearance and later actions as an adult had the hallmarks of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a birth defect brought on by excessive drinking during pregnancy. With his parents track record, it could very well be the case. Being such an ungainly looking figure made him the object of every bully in town, so Lew grew up knowing how to use his fists. With no good male role models except his booze-hound of a father, he also took to drinking at a young age, a habit that would have serious consequences to both his career and personal life (see my earlier story HERE). At 16 he quit school and worked first in a locomotive factory, then a shipyard. The intense physical labor not only hardened his rough physique, but it also gave him the chance to showcase his baseball skills in the highly competitive industrial leagues in operation at that time. 

Now at his full adult height of 5'-6", 190 pounds with a size 5 1/2 foot, Lew billed himself as a catcher and his prowess with a bat earned him a $175 a month contract to play ball for the Martisburg Blue Sox. Martinsburg was a mid-sized mill and railroad town in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. It was an unpolished, homey kind of place and Lew took to it like it was the home he never had. Indeed, Martinsburg would be his primary residence for most of his life and the town still proudly claims him as one of their own. 

The Blue Sox had a pretty good veteran core in 1921. The team already had a starting backstop, but by the time spring training ended Lew had edged his way into the starting lineup. So, that Opening Day in 1921, Martinsburg fans were expecting great things from Lewis Wilson. 

They'd have to wait. 

Sliding into home plate that Opening Day, Wilson suffered a compound fracture of his right tibia. Back in 1921 this was a very serious injury that often left a man with a limp for the rest of his life. A gimp leg would mean no professional baseball career. Somehow Wilson kept himself positive during the long hospital stay. This was no doubt helped when he made the acquaintance of the friend of one of his nurses. Wilson and Virginia Riddleburger hit it off and soon the pair were seriously dating. Virginia was a good dozen years older than the 21 year-old ballplayer, and it would not be out of line to suspect that Wilson saw her as part mother-figure. Virginia had been married before, and at age 34 might have felt that this colorful young ballplayer was her chance to shake off grim prospect of living the rest of her days as a small town spinster divorcee. Whatever the reason, the two were devoted to one another and soon Virginia was a baseball fan.

After two months out of the action, Wilson played the last 30 games of the season, his new girl in the stands cheering him on. Now hobbled with a slight limp he'd have the rest of his life, Wilson pounded out 36 hits in 101 at bats for a nice .356 average. His total of five home runs were but a tiny taste of what was to come. When the season ended Wilson stayed in Martinsburg to work in the mills and court Virginia. Wilson was a jovial, good natured fella who soon became a favorite character around town. His odd barrel chested frame earned him the nickname "Stouts" and every Blue Sox fan looked forward to the 1922 season. 

From the start Wilson pounded the ball. By July he broke the Blue Ridge League record for single season home runs and had doubled it by the end of the summer. He hit the ball at a .366 clip and eventually adjusted to his new position of outfielder. The Blue Sox won the pennant and then league Championship. Home run champ of the Blue Ridge League was swell, but Wilson wanted to be a big leaguer. The only way to reach that goal was to keep posting good numbers until someone from a higher up league took notice. Lucky for him, someone did.

After hearing of a big little fella making a whole lot of noise up in the Blue Ridge Mountains all season, Frank Lawrence traveled to Martinsburg to have himself a look. Lawrence owned the Portsmouth Truckers of the Virginia League, a rung or two higher up the ladder than Martinsburg. Impressed and quite satisfied, Lawrence wrote a $500 check to the Blue Sox ownership and Stouts Wilson became a Trucker. 

He was one step closer to his dream.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

221. Wild Bill Wright: The Neglected Negro League Star

It's been a busy summer. Even though I tried to deny it, I wound up taking the summer off from writing this blog. It's not like I've been idle - on the contrary I've been both writing and drawing up a storm. It's just that every time I finish a story, I decide to include it in the issue of "21" that I'm preparing. I wish I could just go ahead and run some of the articles I've been cooking up - Lou Gehrig's Columbia days, Steve Bilko and the Summer of '56, Al Gizelbach (who? - you'll see!), spitballer and civil rights pioneer Doc Sykes - and the illustrations? Man, they're some of my finest yet. So anyway, I know this blog has been neglected too long. Summer Break is over and it's time to get back to basics. 

It's time to resume "The Infinite Baseball Card Set!

 Ever since I was a kid researching the Negro Leagues on microfilm and ancient bound newspaper volumes, I always wondered how certain players would have done had there not been a color barrier. I'm not talking about guys like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Leon Day or Martin Dihigo - those guys were sure-fire big league stars. I'm talking about those second-tier stars, you know, the Dale Murphy's to the Wade Boggs'.

One of those players I often wondered about was a fella named Wild Bill Wright. I had first discovered Wright through old box scores, but it wasn't until I met a few oldsters in Baltimore who saw him play firsthand that I really came to appreciate him. For a time Wright was one of the premier stars of the Negro National League, and looking at his numbers and testimony from his peers, the name "Wild Bill Wright" should be well-known today. Yet for a few reasons it isn't.

Burnis Wright was born in Milan, Tennessee in 1914. By the time he reached his teens he grew to the then enormous height of 6'-4". Because of his imposing stature, Wright was put to work as a pitcher where he earned the moniker "Wild Bill" from his inability to find the strike zone. In spite of being built like a football player he possessed lightening speed and graceful agility, making him perfect for covering outfield pastures.

Somewhere along the way he taught himself to hit from both sides of the plate, and word got around that Wright was something special. Being from Tennessee, it was only natural that the big kid signed with Tom Wilson's Nashville Elite Giants in 1932. Wilson was a typical 1930's Negro League owner - he made his money through a combination of legit businesses and illegal enterprises like the illegal lottery, called "the numbers" back then. Although Wilson kept his base of operations firmly rooted in Nashville, he was forced to move his Elite Giants through a succession of different cities in search of the most lucrative market. The teenager they called "Wild Bill" began working out with the Elite Giants, then eased into exhibition games, all the while learning about professional Negro League ball by watching the veterans.  Finally, in 1933, he began playing against other top-shelf Blackball clubs. The 19 year-old hit .328 - today a respectable average - but in 1933 Negro League offensive numbers were sky-high, so Wright was considered still a novice. This changed when he went West during the winter and played in the California Winter League. This loose semi-pro circuit was made up of a few all-white teams that featured major and minor league stars who lived on the coast and one all-black club filled with the best talent Blackball had to offer. This time Wright held his own not just against the white professionals but also the Negro League stars - his .351 average was bested only by Cool Papa Bell and Willie Wells, two future Hall of Famers.

In 1935 Tom Wilson moved his Elites to Columbus, Ohio trying to find a larger black audience for his team. Wright was batting close to .300 when he was voted to his first East-West Game, the Negro League's All-Star classic held in Chicago's Comiskey Park. Representing the East, Wright struck out as a pinch hitter. 1936 saw the Elites relocate again, this time to Washington, D.C. and again Wright was voted to the East-West Game. As a nod to his burgeoning talent, the 22 year-old was asked to join a Blackball all-star team that competed at the 1936 Denver Post Tournament, the World Series of semi-pro baseball. Five of the players on the champion Negro League team - Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown and Buck Leonard, are now enshrined in Cooperstown. 1937 was probably Wright's best year, at least in the Negro Leagues. Besides hitting .387 and being among the leaders in all offensive categories, Wright had two singles and a double in the East-West Game and his running catch of Newt Allan's line drive saved the game for his team.

In 1938 the Elite Giants finally found a permanent home in Baltimore, Maryland. Wright had an off year, hitting under .300 and going hitless in four at bats in the East-West Game, but rebounded in 1939. Finishing second in batting with a .398 average, Wright and the Elites won their first and only Negro National League pennant. It was Wright's double in the final game that sparked an Elite Giants' rally that won them the Championship. Facing white big leaguers in a post-season exhibition game, Wright went 3 for 8 including a double off Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians. At this point Bill Wright was just reaching his prime as a ballplayer. Due to his gracefulness in the outfield, Sportswriters referred to him as the "Black DiMaggio" and his speed on the base paths saw him finish at or near the top in steals each season. While he didn't possess the slugging power one might expect from a 6'-4" giant, Wright was always among the leaders in extra base hits. He mastered the art of the drag bunt, using his speed to beat out any throw to first. Although it can't be definitively documented, legend has it Wright was clocked circling the bases in 13.2 seconds - the world record is 13.3 set by minor leaguer Evar Swanson in 1932. With a combined average of .371 against white big leaguers in post-season exhibition games, Wright undeniably demonstrated that he could not only hold his own against the best Blackball had to offer, but white professionals as well. Had he played out his entire career in the Negro Leagues it would be much easier for us to gauge the level of his talent and put it in easy to understand and translate figures. However, beginning in 1940, Wright left the Negro Leagues and went to Mexico to play ball.

Playing against the Negro League, Cuban and Puerto Rican stars who were lured south by lucrative contracts, Wright hit .360 and led the league with 30 doubles, finished second to Cool Papa Bell in hits and second to Sam Bankhead in steals. The following season his .390 average beat out Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Martin Dihigo, Cool Papa Bell, Willie Wells and Ray Dandridge for the batting crown. That winter Wright played for San Juan in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Again, playing against the best players outside the major Leagues, Wright was a standout, being named to the All-Star Team and hitting the home run that put his team ahead in game one of the two-game series.

Due to the war and draft regulations, Wright returned to the United States for the 1942 season. Having an off-year, he barely managed .300 as the Elites lost the second-half pennant in the last weekend of the season. Wright was off to Mexico again in 1943 where he won the Triple Crown and stayed the following season as well. He was back in Baltimore for the 1945 season where he finished second in the batting championship. This would be Wright's last season in America.

In interviews he gave after his retirement, Wright stated that he preferred the absence of racial animosity in Mexico. South of the border he was an acknowledged star, while in his own country, no matter how good he was, he was only a marginal figure, known only by those who followed segregated baseball. Besides, life was easy for a ballplayer in Mexico. Unlike the Negro Leagues where playing two games in different towns on the same day was not unheard of, the Liga Mexicana played only on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. The travel was by train or airplane, a world apart from the bone-rattling bus rides that were the normal mode of transport in the Negro Leagues. Age also has something to do with Wright's decision to stay in Mexico. When Jackie Robinson integrated organized baseball in 1946, Wright was 32, too old to be seriously considered for a shot at the majors. This, combined with the quick collapse of the Negro Leagues after 1946, kept Wild Bill Wright in Mexico. The Mexican League had one last great season, 1946, when not only Negro League players, but also white big leaguers, ventured south. In what can be called his last hurrah, Wild Bill outhit all the white major league imports. He played through 1951, then opened a restaurant with his Hawaiian-born wife in Aguascalientes. Called "Bill Wright's Dugout," the restaurant capitalized on the familiarity of his name to Mexican sports fans. Wright raised his family in Aguascalientes, venturing back to the States only later in life to attend Negro League reunions. For his contribution to Mexican baseball, Wright was elected to the Mexico's Salon de la Fama in 1982.

So that's the story of Wild Bill. It's always bothered me that not only was this fine athlete denied the big league career his skills surely merited, but he's not even widely known today because the same mindless racism that kept him from the majors also forced him to move to another country where he played out his career in relative obscurity. While his contemporaries who played the bulk of their career in the U.S. have belatedly received the recognition they deserved, Wright, despite his statistics, remains a largely forgotten figure. I think it's fair to say that it is his time spent alternating between the Negro and Mexican Leagues that hindered any late recognition of his career and rendered analysis of his talent difficult. I'd always wanted to do a story and illustration of Bill Wright, but it wasn't until I was at a book signing in Tennessee last summer that I put Wild Bill on the front burner. Among the people who turned out for the event was a nice group of Knoxville SABR members. One of the fellas struck up a conversation about Wild Bill Wright which, of course, peaked my interest. Turns out he was part of movement to get Wright elected to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, as of this writing, Bill Wright has not been elected to this organization. No doubt his career spent in the shadows of baseball history has everything to do with this oversight.

Those who have met me in person know I'm not the kind of guy to toot my own horn. In fact, much to my detriment, I'm lousy about promoting myself. That's why it's hard for me to ask this, but this is something that needs to be done: if you bought a copy of The League of Outsider Baseball, can you please take the time to write a review of it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Good Reads? It would mean a lot to me and most importantly give future publishers an idea of what the book reading public thinks of my work. Almost all of the existing reader's reviews have been flattering, but every once in a while some crackpot writes a clunker and it throws off the real ratings. I for one often look at the reviews on those sites before I spend my money on a book. Reviews aren't the only thing I rely on in my purchasing process but it's certainly a factor, and that's why I'm asking you to please take the time to write your thoughts about my work.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

220. Ollie Carnegie: Still Shut Out of the Big Show

For anyone in the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Area - On Thursday, August 11th I'll be speaking and signing books at the Newport Branch of the Campbell County (Ky.) Public Library at 7pm. It's free, but you need to RSVP (the talk I did in Bowling Green last month was filled to capacity). I get a charge out of speaking before a group and this should be a lot of fun so I hope some of you in the area can stop by and talk some baseball history with me!

My wife and I just returned from a spectacular trip to Italy. It was my first time in the country, and seeing in person all the great masterpieces by Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Botticelli and the other fellas was very exciting and humbling for an artist like myself. Besides the 14-16th Century masters I was lucky to catch a superb exhibit in Rome of one of my favorite poster designers, Alphonse Mucha, as well as a stunning exhibit of 20th Century modern pieces from the Guggenheim collection in Florence. 

Among the wonders of Italy I was fortunate to see first hand was the Coliseum in Rome. Sure, you see it in books and movies, but in real life it truly is amazing - but besides the miracle that it still stands after hundreds of centuries is the fact that it is remarkably similar to modern baseball stadium design! The whole set up and plan of the Coliseum is still used today in modern sporting facilities, from the box seats and entry gates to the vending areas for souvenirs. And despite all the art and history that surrounded me as I toured the former gladiator palace, I of course, thought of baseball and the contributions to the game by descendants of that rich culture. Besides the original engineering ideas that inspired the very stadium that the sport is played in, men of Italian descent have left an indelible mark on the game. Imagine the history of baseball without seeing the names DiMaggio, Berra, Rizzuto, Piazza, Lasorda, Campanella, LaRussa - do I need to go on?

So anyway, on the long flight back home to Kentucky I got to thinking about the Italian-American ballplayers I have in my book and on this website. Off hand I recalled there was Billy Martin, Roy Campanella, the DiMaggio boys and lesser known figures like Marius Russo and Ollie Carnegie. When I got back in the studio I looked up what I had written about the last guy, Ollie Carnegie. He was one of the 50 or so fellas I had to cut from The League of Outsider Baseball when I ran over by about 100 pages. I always felt bad about cutting Ollie, his career was marked by being left out and passed over and to do that to him yet again seemed really cruel. From time to time I've posted some of the leftovers from the book and felt for sure I had done the same with Ollie - but when I looked on my website he was not there! 

Well, now he is...

A late start to his career and appendicitis kept Ollie Carnegie a minor league Babe Ruth. The son of Italian immigrants, Carnegie was a semi-pro superstar on the sandlots of his native Pittsburgh. The young slugger turned down contracts from the Pirates and Senators, preferring to keep his steady job in a steel mill. When he did give pro ball a shot in 1922, appendicitis ended his baseball dreams after just seven games. It wasn’t until Carnegie lost his job to The Depression and was well into his 30’s that he decided to give the game another try.
After a summer in the low minors, Carnegie joined the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, just one rung below the big leagues. He finished in the top five in home runs four out his first five seasons with the Bisons, and though he seemed perpetually on the verge of being signed by a Major League team, his age and a 1936 ankle injury kept him in Buffalo.
Just when the 39 year-old was being written off as over the hill, Carnegie finished first in home runs (54), RBI (136) and total bases (358) and was second in slugging percentage (.649) and third in hits (182). He was voted the 1938 International League’s Most Valuable Player but astonishingly, no Major League contract materialized. 

By then Carnegie had accepted that he’d never be a big leaguer and spent the next few years cementing his reputation as the greatest and most beloved ball player to ever play in Buffalo. After he hung up his spikes “The Bambino of Buffalo” tried his hand at managing the Bisons before becoming a scout, riding around in a personalized station wagon given to him by his grateful Buffalo fans.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

219. Jack Bentley: The "Second Coming of Babe Ruth"

Finding a ball player like Babe Ruth would seem like a once in a lifetime chance, but for Jack Dunn, it happened twice. 

Back in 1914, Jack Dunn, Baltimore Orioles owner and manager, had discovered a 19 year-old man-boy by the name of George Ruth. By the time spring training had ended the kid, nicknamed "Dunn's Baby" which was then shortened to just "Babe", became the core of what Dunn hoped would be a baseball dynasty. But it was not to be.

That year the Federal League came to Baltimore and set up a team right across the street from the Orioles ballpark. Since the Federal League was billed as the "Third Major League" Baltimore fans abandoned the minor league Orioles. Jack Dunn had to sell off all his stars just to stay afloat. Even after jettisoning Ruth, Ernie Shore and Ben Egan, the Orioles still had to leave town. After a season in Richmond, the Federal League collapsed and Dunn moved his team back to Baltimore and began rebuilding. One of his many trades yielded a mediocre pitcher named Jack Bentley.

Raised in an affluent Quaker farming family, Bentley went against his parent’s wishes and signed with the Washington Senators. Four years and an unremarkable 6-9 record later, Bentley was part of a three player package deal that sent him to Baltimore. No sooner had he arrived then Jack Bentley was off to France with the U.S. Army.

The former Major Leaguer spent 1918 fighting on the Western Front where his coolness under fire earned him two citations for bravery and a battlefield commission. By the time it was over he found that after the horrors of the Argonne Forrest, nothing on a baseball field could ever be as serious as combat. His new perspective paid dividends when he got back home in 1919.

Jack Dunn was putting the finishing touches on a team that would win an astounding seven consecutive pennants. With a solid pitching staff in place, something made Dunn stick Bentley at first base. It was the right move, because out of nowhere Bentley turned into a hitting machine.

From 1920 to 1922 his batting statistics were staggering. In 1921 Bentley put on the most impressive offensive performance in the history of the International League. His .412 average and his 246 hits are both still the single season league record, and his 24 home runs earned him the Triple Crown. But what is most remarkable about Jack Bentley’s Baltimore sojourn is that at the same time he was the International League’s leading hitter, he was also the league’s best pitcher!

That’s right, when Bentley wasn’t playing first he was the team’s spot starter and most effective reliever. During those same three summers he was tearing up the International League pitching, his own mound record was an unbelievable 41-6 - a winning percentage of .872! By the time he wrapped up the 1922 season Bentley was hailed as the “Second Coming of Babe Ruth” and it was obvious he belonged back in the majors. But Jack Dunn never got over having to let the first Babe Ruth go for a song back in 1914 and there was no way in hell he was going to let that happen again. He hung a price tag of $75,000 on his star and waited. Meanwhile, Bentley was stuck watching his window of opportunity get smaller as his 27th birthday came and went. Everything came to a head in the 1922 Little World Series. When was knocked out of the box in the third game Bentley turned prima donna and refused to stay in the game as first baseman. The next day the loyal O’s fans booed their star and Jack Dunn knew the time had come to let him go.

The New York Giants paid $72,500 for the “Second Babe Ruth”, then turned around and used him as a starting pitcher. Bentley was the first to admit he was more useful as an everyday bat, but John McGraw was convinced his left arm was the key to the pennant. Indeed Bentley went 29-13  as the Giants went to the World Series in ‘23 and ‘24. The high point of his big league career was his epic Game 7 battle with Walter Johnson in the 1924 Series. After 12 innings tied at 3-3, Bentley lost the game and Series on a misplayed grounder to the third baseman.

Unfortunately, within two years age caught up with “The Second Babe Ruth” and he retired to a life of a “gentleman farmer” on his family’s Maryland farm.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Coming Soon...

Since the Chicago Cubs commission was completed, I've been working on something new - or actually - something old. If you've been following my blog since the beginning, you'll remember that I've been toying with creating a magazine/journal. About five years back I did a test version of this called "21: The Illustrated Journal of Outsider Baseball". Since then this idea turned into a few different iterations including the limited edition book and then my magnum opus "The League of Outsider Baseball". 

Well, I still haven't given up on the idea of a quarterly where I can do some longer stories along with book reviews and of course, my original artwork. Whenever work is slow, I tinker around with the journal and now I think I've finally got the format to a point I'm happy with. I still have some more stories to finish, but I am hoping sometime in late August I will have the edition finished and at the printer. I'm looking at about 60 pages so far an I'm really excited about the new stories I've researched - you can't imagine how hard it's has been not to post them as soon as I've finished one! But I've been holding back and keeping them for the journal where they can be seen and read the way the were meant. 

In the meantime, I thought I'd post the cover which features Lou Gehrig back when he was known as the "Babe Ruth of the Ivy League". If you haven't guessed, one of the stories will be about Columbia Lou's single season pitching for Columbia University. It'll be a great yarn, especially since his success on the baseball and football fields contrasted sharply with his campus and academic life. Some of the other stories include "A Tale of Two Mascots" which contrasts the vastly different lives of two mascots for the same team and "Ty Cobb's Brother" which is about, well, Ty Cobb's baseball playing brother.

Stay tuned and don't worry, I have some new stories and illustrations coming in a few days...

Monday, May 30, 2016

Bill Niemeyer: Memorial Day

By the morning of March 4th, 1945, the boys of G Company, 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division had become hardened veterans. Most had just arrived in Europe barely 3 months before and now those same freshly minted young soldiers had checked the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, chased their asses back across the Rhine and were now slugging their way into the Third Reich itself. The war was close to being over with, the Allies gaining more momentum everyday and the enemy knew it. If the Germans were only fighting the western powers they most likely would have caved in already. However, on the other side of Germany the Soviets were smashing towards Berlin and every day they held out meant more Germans could make their way west to be captured or at least get to an area occupied by the western Allies. No one wanted to be around when the Russians came so the war ground on.
The boys of G Company probably didn’t care much about the reason why the Germans still fought them tooth and nail. Each man had had his life interrupted and shipped half way around the globe to stop an evil that was threatening to swallow the whole world. The boys of G Company had left pretty young wives, anxious mothers, college classrooms or good jobs and took up a Garand Rifle to do their part. Complaining about what they were missing out on was pointless - the fella next to you had the same story. Maybe even better than yours. Nah, complaining wouldn’t do any good. Best thing was to keep marching forward and get this over with. As they wearily crossed the makeshift bridge built over the Kyll River they just cared about the fight they had ahead of them that afternoon and the one after that and the one after that until these Krauts threw in the towel.

If any of the boys in G Company were still sleepy, chances are the mortar fire that greeted them as the crossed the bridge woke them up. The enemy they’d been chasing since Luxembourg had dug in around the town of Erdorf. As the German lines collapsed and contracted the enemy became more dense, more desperate. Besides regular infantry, G Company was marching right into redeployed artillery and Panzer units. As they pushed forward the resistance became stiffer and more determined. Each gain was met with vicious counter-attacks and artillery barrages.

G Company was deployed to sweep the fields around the village of Erdorf. This was pleasant farm land of rolling little green hills and blooming trees. To the boys of G Company, the area they were clearing of enemy troops looked a lot like familiar places in the northeast and Midwest United States. Perhaps more than a few were suddenly lost in thoughts of an afternoon spent in surroundings much like this. The boys of G Company thought back to little places they left behind called Sussex County, Washington Courthouse, Mechanicsburg or Crescent Springs.

To the officers of G Company, this place was just called Hill 378.

The company spread out and took a low hill like they had countless other times in the last three months. All very textbook. Regrouping and moving forward, they entered a wooded area where entrenched German troops and the Panzer tanks were waiting. This obstacle, too, was eventually beaten aside by G Company and just like every other hill and wood and field G Company had cleared in the past three months, they left behind some of their own. As the troops emerged on the other side of the wood and continued eastward into Germany, one of the 32 boys they left behind that afternoon was 22 year-old Private First Class Bill Niemeyer of Crescent Springs, Kentucky. The life he had put on hold in order to beat back the evil that darkened the world consisted of his young wife Marie, infant daughters Deanna Gail and Mary Johanna and a promising pitching career in the Chicago Cubs organization.

Even though Bill Niemeyer never made it up to the Cubs, I wanted to depict Bill in a Chicago uniform. Was he good enough to have eventually made it to Wrigley Field? I don’t know. We will never know. The same as we will never know what any of the other boys in G Company who died that afternoon in Germany would have accomplished in their lives. The one thing I do know is that is their sacrifices, all veteran’s sacrifices, made it possible for me to have a good life in the greatest country in the world. As I sit here writing this, I can see and hear my neighbors enjoying this beautiful Memorial Day weekend. The shouts of the boys next door, the couple across the street putting a pair of mountain bikes in their SUV and the girl on the corner attempting to train her new puppy on her green front lawn. In a few hours I will be going over to see my fiancĂ© who I love very much, and share a nice, lazy summer evening. All that I see and hear right at this very moment was possible because of men and women like Bill Niemeyer, a 22 year-old promising ballplayer who once lived right down the street from where I sit right now, the place he left to go off to war and never saw again.

Originally posted in 2012.

Many thanks to Gary Bedingfield who is the foremost authority on baseball and World war II. While looking around for a ballplayer to feature this Memorial Day I of course consulted his amazing website Consulting a page he constructed showing the many professional ballplayers who died fighting for our country, Bill Niemeyer jumped off the screen. He was born and raised right where I was sitting. I might even pass his relatives at the market or live next door. The fact that he came from this place made his sacrife a bit more personal for me, especially as I sat there with a nice fresh cup of coffee by an open window enjoying the beautiful Kentucky scenery he never saw again. The place of his death was even more interesting as that part of Germany looks very similar to what he had grown up in. I’m glad I found Bill’s name on that website and I encourage every other baseball fan to take a look at Gary Bedingfield’s monumental work. His site features in-depth articles about hundreds (actually it might even be thousands of entries by now!) of players who found themselves in the service during the war. Gary is also an author of two indispensable books on the subject, "Baseball's Dead of World War II: A Roster Of Professional Players Who Died" and one of my personal favorites, "Baseball In World War II Europe (part of the Images of Sports series)."

Friday, April 29, 2016

218. Harry M. Stevens: The Visionary

Just as I did when I was a kid, the first thing I do upon entering a ballpark is to buy a scorecard. Not a program, nor a yearbook - a scorecard. Even if I choose not to score the game, I always write down the day's lineup, pitchers, the date, weather conditions and who went with me to the game. It's just a thing I've always done. To me, a scorecard is the one thing I can't live without when going to a ball game. Same with a hot dog. If I have enough left over after buying the scorecard, I'll slap my money down for a Cincinnati Brat, Dodger Dog, White Sox Italian Sausage, a Nathan's frank, etc., depending what ballpark I'm at. It's just what I've always done, just like my Pop and his Pop before him. Until recently it never dawned on me just how those two things became so synonimus with baseball. That's how I found out about a man whose name I've seen all my life but never gave a second thought to, Harry M. Stevens.

Never heard of him? 

Well, no person in history has had a bigger impact on the way Americans experience a sporting event than Harry M. Stevens...

Columbus, Ohio Summer of 1887
  Harry M. Stevens was tired. He'd spent the morning and afternoon lugging a leather suitcase door-to-door trying to get the residents of Columbus, Ohio excited about what he had to offer. No one, it seemed, was interested in a subscription set of the collected works of William Shakespeare. When the famous mid-west summer humidity got to be too much, Harry decided to take a break. Half the town, it seemed, was headed into the city's ballpark where the Columbus Senators were playing a game.

Stevens had not grown up playing baseball. He was born in England and moved his wife and son over to America when he was 27 years-old. Back in England he was something of a child-prodigy - not in music or academics - but as a street corner kid preacher. Harry was blessed with a set of booming pipes that could make the walls of Jericho crumble and he was charismatic well beyond his age. But, despite the promising beginning, so far he'd been unable to turn these abilities into a secure living. That's why he packed up his family and moved across the pond. He had family in Niles, Ohio and quickly secured himself a job in a steel mill. That gig quickly ended when the workers went on strike and owners shut the mill down. After a few dead-end jobs Harry took to the roads of the mid-west hawking volumes of The Bard. At the time subscription book series were very popular and salesmen like Harry went door-to-door offering books on every subject imaginable. Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs were a hot item as was the biography of the recently massacred General Custer. But Shakespeare, Harry realized while flipping through his empty order book, seemed to be a dud.

Now as he sat in the stands watching the Columbus Senators play ball, he found himself surrounded by opportunity.

Like everyone else entering the ballpark that afternoon, Harry had bought a scorecard. Inside the single sheet of folded card stock was a grid upon which a fan could use an intricate system of initials and symbols to record all the action that unfolded on the field. As Harry turned the simple piece of ephemera around in his hands he saw unlimited profit where no one else did. Using his people skills honed years before as the kid preacher, Harry offered the Senators owner the princely sum of $500 for the rights to supply scorecards to the ballpark. Columbus' owner figured he was not only getting an unexpected bonus check but also ridding himself of the extra job getting scorecards printed up and sold. Harry thought he'd just won the Irish Sweepstakes.

Withing days Harry had not only made back his $500 investment but turned a $200 profit without printing a single card. Harry's brilliant idea was to sell advertising space on the scorecards. It was a stroke of genius. Everyone who went to a ballgame bought a scorecard. It was a perfect captured audience and that's the way Harry sold the idea to Columbus' shop and business owners. When the scorecards were printed up and ready to sell, Harry reached back to his street corner days and pulled out all his showman talents. Dressed in a bright red suit complete with a silk top hat he held his scorecards high and called out the now famous slogan: "You can't tell they players without a scorecard!"

Withing a few years Harry expanded his scorecard operation beyond Columbus into Toledo and Wheeling, West Virginia. Then he went big league into Pittsburgh, Boston and Washington, D.C. In 1893 he became partners with Ed Barrow, a Pittsburgh hotel manager and baseball fan. The partnership did not last long as Barrow wanted to pursue a career in baseball management. The two men remained strong friends and it was Harry who supplied the financing when his friend bought the Paterson Silk Stockings team in 1894. While owner of the team Barrow discovered an awkward infielder from the coal mines of Pennsylvania named Honus Wagner. Barrow went on to run a succession of successful ballclubs and his relationship with Harry would come to full fruition when he later became general manager of the New York Yankees.  

Always wanting to be part of the action, Harry was right there in the ballparks with his employees selling his ubiquious scorecards, always on the make for more opportunities. His next area of expansion was culinary. Most ballparks had independent vendors that sold items like peanuts and lemonade. There was no fixed percentage that was kicked back to the ballclub and the quality of the items sold varied. Harry changed all that. His approach was to not only handle the scorecard responsibilities but to also bring all the food concessions under one responsible and professional umbrella. Teams were paid a fixed percentage for the rights to sell in the ballpark and in turn the fans could expect reasonably priced fare of a consistent quality. Harry's vendor stands not only offered peanuts and lemonade but soda water, ice cream and chocolate. When he saw the clouds of tobacco smoke wafting above the field he saw opportunity and added cigar and cigarettes to his repertoire of tempting offerings. When the game began attracting women and young children he branched out by selling small souvenirs that these new fans could purchase as a memento of their day at the park.

By the 1893 Harry's work made a day at the ballpark quite enjoyable and people noticed. Although baseball was the game of the land, it was only played in the warm months. To fill the gaps Harry introduced his concession ideas to boxing, bicycle racing and horse tracks - anything that attracted a crowd. 

For a recent immigrant, Harry was doing very well for himself and his growing family. Many men would have been quite happy to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his hard work, but not Harry. Boston, Washington and Pittsburgh were swell, but there was one place that so far eluded the Harry M. Stevens empire: New York City. That changed one day in 1894 when the New York Giants came to Pittsburgh for a series. "Scorecard Harry's" mug was by now familiar to the ballplayers and the affable Brit had befriended many of the game's top stars. The Giants manager John Montgomery Ward was one of his high profile pals and it was he who convinced Harry that his talents were sorely needed in New York.

As it is today, New York City at the time was the gleaming beacon of opportunity. With two major league and a dozen minor league teams plus countless other sporting venues all within a 60 mile radius, New York City was epicenter of American sport. Harry moved his base of operations to Manhattan and immediately secured the scorecard and food concessions for New York Giants and Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. Then he secured the year-round contract for all the events held at Madison Square Garden and the other indoor sporting venues. Like a web, Harry's empire spread forth. Don't be mistaken, Harry wasn't getting these lucrative contracts because of a silver tongue presentation or well-placed bribes - he was offering a quality service that was greatly appreciated by the fans. The smart owners realized that a good experience at a game brought a fan back again and again. And those owners also knew that with Harry they were dealing with a man of strong character, a fair professional. For instance, in 1901 millionaire William Collins Whitney bought the Saratoga Race Course. The venue had long been neglected and Whitney wanted to remake the area into the country's premier horse racing attraction. When his horse Volodyowski won the English Derby, Whitney held court in the track's clubhouse. In celebration, the proud owner ordered champagne for everyone in the club. When it came time to present Whitney with the bill, the track's concessionaire took the opportunity to charge full market price for the expensive bubbly. A smart businessman would have given a thoughtful discount on the huge order, keeping this important client happy, thus likely to repeat the expensive gesture. But this concessionaire was not of the smart mindset. His big paycheck turned out to be his last - Whitney called in Harry M. Stevens to come take over the lucrative Saratoga concessions. 

And so it went all over the country. But again, while lesser men would have rested, Harry trudged forward, searching for opportunity. One day while working an event at Madison Square Garden he realized that in order to take a swig from a bottle, a fan had to take his eyes off the action for an instant - and the modern drinking straw was born. When he witnessed one fan too many become frustrated because he missed a great play because he left his seat to buy a snack, Harry dispatched his vendors into the stands to bring the food to them. As a true sports fan, Harry was able to recognize the different needs that fans of each sport desired. Boxing meant cigars and mineral water. Baseball was peanuts. Horse racing aficionados required a menu of heavy food. And while he provided tried and true staples, Harry was able to adapt when necessity and opportunity presented itself. This led to the invention of the one thing that is now indelibly intertwined with our National Pastime.

It was a cold day at the Polo Grounds, sometime in April of 1901. The crowd was bundled up trying to concentrate on the game. For several innings Harry watched as his vendors returned with their unsold consignments of lemonade and chocolates. No one wanted something that was cool and refreshing in this weather. As a sports fan, Harry thought about what he would want to eat if it was he who was sitting in the bleachers. He turned to one group of vendors and dispatched them to buy all the sausages they could find. He deployed a second group to purchase rolls and French bread. When they returned Harry had his men boil the sausages and put them into the rolls - a perfect hot sandwich that was easy to hold and eat. With his old street preacher flair he dispatched his men back into the stands and instructed them to call out "Get your red hots! Get 'em while they're hot!" And just like that an American culinary classic was born.

Granted, some food historians disagree that Harry was the first person to put a sausage and roll together, however he is the man who found the perfect venue for its consumption. And baseball being the most popular spectator event in the nation ensured that the hotdog's fame would quickly spread by word of mouth. The naming of the snack is a whole other story. The most popular one is that Harry named it a "Dachshund Sandwich" after the dog it resembles. Somehow it was shortened to "hot dog", some say because a cartoonist couldn't spell "dachshund", though the cartoon in question has never been found as far as I know. And as popular as the treat was with cold, hungry sportsmen it took a bit of reassuring before it became a staple outside the ballpark - many people took the name literally and  believed it was made from real dog meat!

Harry soon moved into opulent Manhattan hotel suites and circulated in the city's top sporting circles. As one of the most respected sportsmen in the nation, Harry became a trusted confidant to the athletes. Babe Ruth himself called Harry "his second Dad". Turns out that early in the Babe's Yankee career Harry convinced the slugger to invest a portion of his savings for the future. While many of his contemporaries found themselves struggling financially once their careers ended, the Babe led a life of luxury due to his wise investments. Sportswriters, too, flocked to the ebullient Brit who liked to quote Shakespeare at he drop of a hat. In the era before team owners got smart and provided a press club stocked with free food and booze, it was Harry's office that offered the scribes a much welcomed snack and drink after the game. 

In his private time Harry was a well-read man, specializing in his beloved Shakespeare whose works he was unable to sell back in the 1880's. Contemporary newspapers remarked on being well-versed in English literature and a keen amateur historian. He was also a very generous man for whenever baseball moguls were reported to have made donations to various charities, "Harry M. Stevens" was always listed along side the more familiar names. When his children came of age he brought them into the family business, learning the ropes from the bottom up.

After a few nasty bouts of pneumonia, Harry passed away in May of 1934, aged 78. More than 500 people turned out for his funeral service including Babe Ruth, Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy, Giants owner Charles Stoneham, National League President John Heydler and many other luminaries of the sporting world. By that time his sons had taken over running his company. In his absence the family took The Harry M. Stevens Company to new heights. Besides expanding the reach of his food, souvenirs and scorecard empire, the company operated fancier dining options, pioneering what today we call Stadium Clubs. When the Giants moved west in 1958, they brought Harry M. Stevens with them to handle their concessions. No sports victory was complete without the Harry M. Stevens people setting up a spread in the locker room. When I was going to Shea Stadium in the 1970's and 80's, the Harry M. Stevens people were selling more than 40,000 hotdogs at each and every Mets game. Every scorecard, beer cup and souvenir pennant bore the name of the man who embodied The American Dream. Remember that Saratoga contract inked back in 1901? It was renewed every season until 1994 when the company was finally swallowed up by the giant international conglomerate, Aramark.

Those who have met me in person know I'm not the kind of guy to toot my own horn. In fact, much to my detriment, I'm lousy about promoting myself. That's why it's hard for me to ask this, but this is something that needs to be done: if you bought a copy of The League of Outsider Baseball, can you please take the time to write a review of it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Good Reads? It would mean a lot to me and most importantly give future publishers an idea of what the book reading public thinks of my work. Almost all of the existing reader's reviews have been flattering, but every once in a while some crackpot writes a clunker out of jealousy or boredom. I for one often look at the reviews on those sites before I spend my money on a book. Reviews aren't the only thing I rely on in my purchasing process but it's certainly a factor, and that's why I'm asking you to please take the time to write your thoughts about my work.