Joe Medwick

Joe Medwick

Medwick (Wikimedia Commons)

Joseph Michael Medwick was born on November 24, 1911 in Cateret, New Jersey. His parents, John and Elizabeth Medwick, were Hungarian immigrants, having immigrated to the United States in 1893.

He attended Cateret High School, where he was a star athlete in track, baseball, basketball, and football. In fact, Medwick was offered scholarships to play football at the college level. He turned down the scholarships, however, in favor of pursuing a career in baseball, signing with the St. Louis Cardinals.

After spending a few seasons in the minor leagues, Medwick made his Major League debut on September 2, 1932 at the age of twenty. He had an unusual waddle, earning himself the nickname “Ducky” or “Ducky Wucky,” though Medwick (understandably) preferred his other nickname, “Muscles.” With the Cardinals, he earned a reputation as a hard-nosed and mean-spirited player. Fortunately for Medwick, he also proved to be an excellent hitter, producing a batting average of .300 or better for most of the seasons he played as a major leaguer, finishing with a lifetime average of .324.

During the early 1930s, the St. Louis Cardinals became known as the “Gas House Gang,” a nickname that reflected not only their enjoyment in playing baseball, but also the aggressive style with which they played. Their uniforms, always dirty, came to resemble the grease-stained clothing worn by car mechanics — hence the nickname. Besides Joe Medwick, prominent members of the Gas House Gang included Frankie Frisch, Ripper Collins, Leo Durocher, Pepper Martin, and brothers Dizzy Dean and Paul Dean.

Joe Medwick was perhaps the most aggressive of the aggressive Gas House Gang members, not hesitating to brawl even with his own teammates. He was known to punch his own teammates for infractions such as scolding him for a lack of hustle (Ed Heusser) or walking in front of him too many times while being photographed (Tex Carlton). Pitcher Dizzy Dean once commented, “Dawgonnit. That Medwick don’t fight fair at all. You argue with him for a bit and then he beats you before you’ve even had a chance to speak your piece.”

The most infamous display of Medwick’s demeanor came during the 1934 World Series between the Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers — a Series that went into Game Seven. In the sixth inning of that deciding game, Medwick hit a triple into centerfield, sliding into third base with his spikes high. Medwick then proceeded to start kicking at Tiger third baseman Marv Owen, resulting in punches being thrown. Umpire Bill Klem broke up the scuffle, though neither player was ejected. However, when Medwick jogged out to left field in the bottom of the inning, Detroit fans made their feelings known by throwing fruit and pop bottles in Medwick’s direction. From his box at the ballpark, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis called a meeting with the umpires, the two managers, and Medwick. When it became evident that Medwick felt no remorse for his actions, Landis decided to remove Medwick from the game. The Cardinals went on to win the game, and the Series, 11-0, but the incident did nothing good for Medwick’s reputation.

In June 1940, Medwick was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in a multiplayer deal, as the Cardinals were no longer willing to tolerate Medwick’s temper. Just days after the trade, the Dodgers and the Cardinals faced off against one another, and St. Louis pitcher Bob Bowman beaned Medwick in the temple. Brooklyn players rushed the field, believing the beaning to be intentional, as Bowman and Medwick had exchanged words in the hotel elevator just that morning. Bowman ended up being escorted from the game by policemen. Medwick, meanwhile, was carried away on a stretcher.

Medwick was found to have a concussion as a result of the beaning, though he stubbornly made his way back into the Dodger lineup just four days later.  The beaning, however, would reignite interest throughout the league in the use of batting helmets, and Spalding Sporting Goods took advantage of the incident to start advertising a batting helmet with ear flaps.

For the rest of the career following the beaning, Medwick displayed a noticeable drop in power at the plate, though he did continue to rack up multiple seasons with a .300 or better batting average. He bounced around between teams, including the Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the Boston Braves, before finishing his major league career where he started, with the St. Louis Cardinals. Medwick played his final Major League game on July 25, 1948, though he continued to play minor league baseball until 1951.

Over the course of his career, Medwick was named to the National League All-Star team ten times. In 1936, he set a National League record with 64 doubles. In 1937, won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award, as well as the Triple Crown.

Joe Medwick was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968. He died of a heart attack on March 21, 1975 in St. Petersburg, Florida.


This day in baseball: Campanella’s first MVP

Roy Campanella won the first of his three National League MVP Awards on November 1, 1951.  The Dodger catcher went on to also receive the honor in 1953 and 1955.

campanella


This day in baseball: New high score

The Brooklyn Superbas established a new franchise record for runs scored in a game on September 23, 1901.  In a game played at League Park in Cincinnati, Brooklyn scored 11 times in the fifth inning, blowing out the Reds, 25-6.

League Park Cincinnati

League Park (thedeadballera.com)


Quote of the day

School work and intellectual interests such as music and the arts were not especially important to me while I was growing up, although mathematics, my favorite subject, was fun. Baseball was my first passion: I played sand lot and Little League and rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

~Robert C. Merton

Robert Merton

Wikipedia


42 Faith, by Ed Henry

Last weekend, I finished 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book, going into it.  I don’t consider myself a religious individual, and the thought of a book — even one about baseball — trying to shove faith down its readers’ throats was not an appealing possibility.  But I’m glad I gave the book a shot in spite of my hesitation, because it really didn’t do that at all.  Yes, it talked about religion quite a bit, but more from an objective, this-is-how-religion-factored-into-these-events kind of approach.

42 Faith

This book isn’t just about Jackie Robinson, but just as much about Branch Rickey and about the rest of the Brooklyn Dodgers team during Robinson’s time with them. It serves a biographical purpose when it comes to the lives of both Robinson and Rickey, while also, of course, highlighting the role of religion and faith for both men, both in their everyday lives and in the steps they took in breaking baseball’s color barrier.

His religious convictions, Henry writes, are a big part of what prompted Branch Rickey in his determination to bring a black player into the big leagues. Based on his research, Henry insists that Rickey was not as certain about his decision to break the color barrier as history now suggests, but rather his faith provided him with the resolve to move forward with the undertaking. And it was Robinson’s faith that sustained him through the slings and arrows flung at him on the diamond, even as he kept his promise to Rickey not to fight back.

The scope of the book doesn’t stop with these two men. Most notably, Henry also takes a long look at Ralph Branca, a devout Catholic and good friend to Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers team. Branca, fans might recall, also happens to be the pitcher who gave up the “Shot Heard Round to the World” to Bobby Thomson in the 1951 National League pennant race. Ed Henry delves into the role Branca’s religious beliefs played in his friendship with Robinson and in how he responded to the aftermath of the 1951 pennant race.

Ed Henry references Robinson’s unpublished memoirs to a great extent in this book.  In his research, he also drew from previously uncovered sermons and traveled to perform interviews with Robinson’s and Rickey’s family and friends. Overall, I’d say this book is worth the read. True, it is another Jackie Robinson book in an already-large collection of Jackie Robinson books, but I think that Ed Henry does a great job looking at this story from a different angle, even talking about faith and religion without getting preachy.


“A Change of Heart,” by Barbara Feeney

This poem, published by the New York Daily News in 1958, was written from the perspective of a Dodgers fan.  Understandably, she’s feeling a bit conflicted about the team’s move to the west coast.

*

The Bums are gone; good, I’m
glad!
O’Malley used to make me
mad.
Those old short fences, ciggie
ads
And bright beer signs were
passing fads.
That winning spirit couldn’t
last
When Robby’s playing days
were past.
The ecstacy of
’55
When Podres kept our hopes
alive
Are locked with scorecards,
photographs
Forgotten — with the million
laughs
Of bleacher days. But who
cares now?
I’ll never miss them,
anyhow.

But, then — a bulletin comes
through
A flash from
WNEW
It’s Campanella! And they
say
That Roy was nearly
killed today.
Paralysis! The tragic
end
Of Campy’s ever-winning
bend.
Who can forget the impish
grin
Accompanying every Dodger
win?
The ever-crouching
“39”
Assuring fans that all is
fine
Thrice MVP, the catching
ace
Who figured in each pennant
race
Was loved by each and every
fan
Who rooted for that Brooklyn
clan.
And now, the world has tumbled
down,
The prayers of a united
town
Today are flooding heaven’s
gate
For Brooklyn’s favorite
battery mate.

We never thought we’d feel this
way
When first they took out for
LA
But Campy’s crash has taught
us all
We’re Dodger fans still,
Spring to Fall.
No matter where they choose to
roam,
The hearts of Brooklyn are
their home.


This day in baseball: Introduction of the spitball

According to legend, the spitball made its debut on May 29, 1905, introduced by Dodger hurler Elmer Stricklett in a game against the New York Giants. Stricklett managed to defeat the Giants, 4-3.

While it is widely accepted that Stricklett was one of the early pioneers of the spitball, Stricklett himself denied that he actually invented the pitch. Stricklett did, however, claim to be the first pitcher to master the pitch and to feature it as the key pitch in his arsenal.

ElmerStricklettLOC

Elmer Stricklett (Wikipedia)