This day in baseball: Highlanders debut in New York

The New York Highlanders (later known as the Yankees) played their first game in as a New York City team on April 22, 1903. The Highlanders lost their opener to Washington, 3-1, at Hilltop Park in front of 11,950 fans. Pitcher Jack Chesbro took the loss, but he would finish the season with a 21-15 record (.583) and an ERA of 2.77.

Hilltop park 1903

Hilltop Park (Wikipedia)


Charley Horse

charley horse

If you’ve ever experienced a Charley (or Charlie) horse, you can vouch they are not pleasant experiences.  They do, however, have kind of a funny name.  And some say the etymology of that funny name is rooted in baseball.

A popular story revolves around a pitcher named Charley Esper. At the beginning of the twentieth century, groundskeepers often brought in old and lame horses to pull the equipment used to keep the playing field in good condition.  Charley Esper of the Baltimore Orioles walked with a bit of a limp, the result of years of injuries. Because his limp reminded his teammates of the groundskeeper’s lame horse, they called Esper “Charley Horse.”

A different origin story also involves the Orioles organization. Several players had gone to the racetrack and backed a horse named “Charlie.”  Unfortunately, Charlie ultimately pulled up lame and lost the race.  The next day, when one player pulled a tendon in his leg, his teammates likened him to “our old Charlie horse.”

As for the actual, true origins of the term, nobody knows for sure.  A number of stories, even beyond these, seem to relate to baseball and/or the racetrack, which makes sense since these were the primary American pastimes from the 1880s into the twentieth century.


This day in baseball: First game at Yankee Stadium

The New York Yankees played their first game at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923 in front of more than 72,000 fans. Babe Ruth hit the first home run of the new ballpark, a two-run shot off Red Sox pitcher Howard Ehmke, to help New York beat Boston, 4-1. The new $2.5 million ballpark was the first to feature three decks.

Yankee Stadium,1920s


Jackie Robinson, basketball player

Last year for Jackie Robinson Day, I took a closer look at Robinson’s career as a football player.  This year, I decided it would be fun to take a look at his career as a basketball player.  In addition to playing professional baseball and semi-professional football, I was impressed to learn that Robinson also played a season of professional basketball.

As many know, Jackie Robinson was, and remains to this day, the only four-sport varsity letterman in the history of UCLA, lettering in football, baseball, basketball, and track.  He played forward with the school’s basketball team and was a tremendous leaper, having also set the collegiate broad jump record.  In 1940 and 1941, Robinson led the Pacific Coast Conference Southern Division (now Pac-12) in scoring (12.4 average in 12 league games in 1940; 11.1 average in 12 league games in 1941).  In addition to his scoring, Robinson was known as a quick player with excellent ball handling skills.

After his basketball career at UCLA had ended in 1941, Robinson abandoned his senior year spring track season and left college to pursue outside athletic interests. After some time playing semi-professional football, Robinson found himself drafted into the Army as the United States entered World War II.  Following the war, Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, eventually being signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1946 to play for the club’s minor league franchise, the Montreal Royals.

After completing the season with Montreal, Robinson returned home to Pasadena, California.  In October 1946, Robinson signed a professional basketball contract with the Los Angeles Red Devils, a racially integrated professional basketball team.  The Red Devils only lasted two seasons, but with a lineup that included forwards Jackie Robinson, Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame member George Crowe, and Pasadena City College standout Irv Noren; guards Everett “Ziggy” Marcelle, a former Harlem Globetrotter, and USC All-American Eddie Oram; and Stanford star Art Stoefen at center, the team was a force to be reckoned with.

The Red Devils had been organized seeking to join the National Basketball League (NBL), which, in its merger talks with the NBA, wanted a West Coast franchise.  The team played home games at the Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles.  During the 1946-47 season, with Robinson on their roster, they crushed the Sheboygan Redskins of the NBL, on two occasions.  They also defeated the New York Renaissance, which had a lineup that included future New York City Basketball Hall of Fame member Clarence “Puggy” Bell and future NBA player Hank DeZonie.  Like the Sheboygan team, the Red Devils defeated the Renaissance twice.

Jackie Robinson left the Red Devils abruptly in January 1947.  At the time, few people understood why.  In retrospect, the reason becomes clear: Robinson parted ways with the Red Devils just after a Branch Rickey visit to Los Angeles.  A few months later, on April 15, 1947, Robinson made his Major League Baseball debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbetts Field and went on to be named the 1947 Rookie of the Year.

In spite of his success on the baseball diamond, basketball still reached out to Robinson from time to time.  Abe Saperstein offered Robinson a pro contract worth $10,000 with bonuses to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.  Though this amount was double what Robinson made with the Dodgers, he declined the offer.  He also received a pro basketball offer from the Canton Cushites, an all-black team that featured future Football Hall of Fame member Marion Motley and future Baseball Hall of Fame member Larry Doby.  Robinson declined that offer, also.

Though the Red Devils ultimately did not last, it does seem Robinson had some fond memories of his time with the team.  “There were some exceptionally good basketball players with name value on the squad,” he reminisced.  “We had, I think, a really fine team.”

Jackie Robinson basketball

blackfives.org


This day in baseball: First professional team at the White House

The first professional sports team to visit the White House was the Forest Cities ball club, a recently defunct franchise of the National Association, brought to Washington, D.C. by President Chester A. Arthur on April 13, 1883.  Later in the season, President Arthur also hosted the new National League’s New York Gothams (who would become known as the Giants in 1885).

Chester Arthur

Chester A. Arthur (Wikipedia)


This day in baseball: Ebbets debut

The Dodgers played their first game at Ebbets Field on April 5, 1913.  25,000 fans watched the exhibition against the Yankees as Brooklyn defeated New York, 3-2.  Casey Stengel hit the new ballpark’s first home run, an inside-the-parker.

1024px-Ray_Caldwell_pitching_in_the_first_game_at_Ebbets_Field,_April_5,_1913

The first exhibition game at Ebbets Field in 1913 (Wikimedia Commons)


Origins of the seventh inning stretch

I occasionally go on binges of television shows that I never watched when they were actually airing on television (for one example, see my posts here about various episodes of the Simpsons).  My parents didn’t condone a lot of TV-watching as I grew up, and as an adult, I don’t bother with wasting money on cable or even Netflix.  However, I do have a library card, and many public libraries have vast collections of DVDs, including television series.  This has afforded me the opportunity to do a tiny bit of catching up on some shows.

My current TV show project, The West Wing, has thoroughly captured my interest and attention.  As of this writing, I am about halfway through the third season of the series, and in the first minutes of episode 15, “Hartsfield’s Landing,” C.J. Cregg makes mention during a press briefing of the origins of the seventh inning stretch.  Stretch time, she informs reporters, was founded by President William Howard Taft.  Naturally this caught my attention, so I had to do a little poking around to find out whether this was true.

The West Wing

It seems the actual origins of the seventh inning have faded with time, but the story of President Taft does circulate.  According to the story, during a game he attended on April 4, 1910, the obese Taft stood up during the seventh inning to stretch his legs and find some respite from sitting in the small, wooden chair.  When other fans at the ballgame saw Taft stand, they also stood in a gesture of respect for the commander-in-chief.

taft

Another possibility for the tradition’s origins dates back to 1869.  According to an article in the New York Herald, following a particularly long second inning of a game between the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Brooklyn Eagles, the entire crowd at the park simply stood up to stretch.  Actual stretch time, of course, then was moved to later in the game.

A third story, this one also dating back to 1869, comes from a letter written by Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  According to Wright, “The spectators all arise between halves of the seventh inning, extend their legs and arms and sometimes walk about. In so doing they enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a long posture upon hard benches.”

Today, of course, stretch time comes with singing the chorus of Jack Norworth’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” as well as an end to alcohol sales for that game. Whatever the actual origins of the seventh inning stretch, there seems to be no doubt that it was borne out of a need for fans to take a break from the long period of sitting.