Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe is considered by many to be the greatest athlete of the early twentieth century. He was a multi-sport athlete who particularly shined in track and field, though he also had professional careers in both baseball and football.

The details surrounding the birth of Jim Thorpe aren’t entirely clear. It is generally accepted that James Francis Thorpe was born May 22 or 28, 1887, with no birth certificate found to confirm an exact date. He was born in Indian Territory near present-day Prague, Oklahoma to Hiram Thorpe, who was of Sac and Fox descent, and Charlotte Vieux, who was of Potawatomi descent. Jim Thorpe had a twin brother, Charlie, who died of pneumonia when the pair was nine years old.

Both of Thorpe’s parents were Roman Catholic, and in the Catholic Church, he was baptized Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe. Growing up, Thorpe was raised as a Sac and Fox, and his native name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translates as “Bright Path.” Six year after his brother Charlie’s death, Thorpe’s mother also passed away, and his father would follow when Jim was just sixteen years old.

Thorpe was sent to many boarding schools and academies throughout his youth, including Sac and Fox Indian Agency School near Tecumseh, Oklahoma, Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, and Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Jim Thorpe hated his experiences in these institutions, which were set up to teach racial integration, banning students from speaking their native languages and imposing the dress of the average white American. Thorpe’s academic performance was less than stellar, but he showed tremendous promise as an athlete.

Jim Thorpe with the Canton Bulldogs c 1915-1920 - Wikipedia

Jim Thorpe with the Canton Bulldogs, c. 1915-1920 (Wikipedia)

While attending Carlisle, Thorpe competed not only in track and field, but also in football, baseball, lacrosse, and even ballroom dancing. It was here that Thorpe’s athletic abilities started to garner nationwide attention, especially on the football field, where he earned All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912. However, it was in track and field that Thorpe would really leave his mark.

In 1912, Thorpe represented the United States in the Summer Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden. He dominated in both the pentathlon and the decathlon, winning gold medals in both events. He remains the only athlete in history to accomplish this feat. What makes this accomplishment even more incredible is that Thorpe competed wearing mismatched shoes. Ahead of competition, Thorpe’s own shoes were stolen. The culprit behind the theft was never identified, but it goes to show how rampantly racism continued to persist against indigenous peoples. With no other options, Thorpe found two old, different shoes in a dumpster, one of which was larger than the other. He wore an extra sock on one foot to help the larger shoe fit better.

Jim_Thorpe,_1912_Summer_Olympics - Wikipedia

Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Summer Olympics (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately for Jim Thorpe, in 1912, strict rules regarding amateurism were in effect for athletes participating in the Olympics. Thorpe had played professional baseball in the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1909 and 1910, receiving meager pay. College players, in fact, regularly spent summers playing professionally in order to earn some money, but most used aliases, which Thorpe, unfortunately, did not do. When reports of Thorpe’s past activities were leaked by the press in early 1913, the Amateur Athletic Union decided to withdraw Thorpe’s amateur status retroactively. Later that year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously decided to strip Thorpe of his Olympic titles, medals, and awards, and declare him a professional.

In 1913, Thorpe signed to play professional baseball with the New York Giants. Thorpe played sporadically with the team for three seasons as an outfielder. After playing in the minor leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1916, he returned to the Giants in 1917 and was sold to the Cincinnati Reds early in the season. Late in that same season, he was sold back to the Giants. Once again, Thorpe played sporadically for the Giants in 1918 before being traded to the Boston Braves in May 1919.

In his major league career, Thorpe amassed 91 runs scored and 82 RBIs. Thorpe struggled against the curveball, however, and batted just .252 over his six-year big league career. In his final season, however, Thorpe did manage to attain an impressive .327 average for the season. He would continue to play minor league baseball until 1922.

Jim_Thorpe_Giants

Thorpe as a member of the New York Giants (The Sporting News)

In 1915, Jim Thorpe signed a deal to play football with the Canton Bulldogs for $250 per game under general manager Jack Cusack.  Thorpe would play and coach the Canton Bulldogs during his time with the team and was considered one of the best players in the sport at the time. The Bulldogs would claim an unofficial three world championships in 1916, 1917, and 1919. When the National Football League (NFL) was officially formed in 1920, Thorpe was selected to be the league’s first president. Thorpe retired from professional football at age 41, having played 52 NFL games for six teams from 1920 to 1928.

Thorpe married three times throughout his life and had a total of eight children.  After his athletic career came to an end, Thorpe struggled to provide for his family. He found it difficult to work a non-sports-related job and never held a job for an extended period of time.  On March 28, 1953, Jim Thorpe died of heart failure.

Over the years, supporters of Thorpe attempted to have his Olympic titles reinstated. On January 18, 1983, almost 30 years after his death, the International Olympic Committee officially reinstated Thorpe’s medals from the 1912 Games at a ceremony attended by two of his children.

In addition, Jim Thorpe was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. He was a Charter Enshrinee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. In 1950, he was named AP’s Most Outstanding Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century, America’s Greatest Football Player of the half-century, and the national press selected him the most outstanding athlete of the first half of the 20th Century. Thorpe was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975, and from 1996-2001, he was continuously awarded ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Century award.


RIP Hank Aaron

This one truly breaks my heart. I have been a Hank Aaron fan for almost as long as I have been a baseball fan. I Had A Hammer is one of the first baseball biographies I ever picked up. When I attempted to play high school basketball one year (I was terrible at it), I was assigned jersey #44. And even though it was a different sport altogether, I still felt honored to wear the same number as the great Henry Aaron.

Henry Louis Aaron was born February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama. He played a total of 23 seasons in Major League Baseball, from 1954 through 1976. Twenty-one of those seasons he played with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and two seasons were with the Milwaukee Brewers. His 755 career home runs broke the long-standing MLB record set by Babe Ruth and stood for 33 years. Aaron also hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973 and is one of only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least fifteen times.

Aaron’s chase after Babe Ruth’s career home run record stands as a notable period during his career, and not just because he ultimately did break the record. Aaron received thousands of letters every week during the summer of 1973; and during the 1973-1974 offseason, he received death threats and a large assortment of hate mail from people who did not want to see him break Ruth’s home run mark. Fortunately, Aaron also received mounds of of public support in response to the bigotry. As his autobiography demonstrates, Aaron handled himself with a tremendous amount of dignity throughout this period of undeserved hardship.

Hank Aaron holds the record for the most All-Star selections, with twenty-five, while sharing the record for most All-Star Games played (24) with Willie Mays and Stan Musial. He was a three-time Gold Glove winner, and in 1957, he won the NL MVP Award when the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series. Aaron also holds MLB records for the most career RBIs (2,297), extra base hits (1,477), and total bases (6,856).

After his retirement, Aaron held front office roles with the Atlanta Braves, including senior vice president. Hank Aaron was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility, with an astonishing 97.8% of the vote. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.

Henry Aaron died in his sleep on January 22, 2021. Rest in peace.

hank aaron

Washington Post


RIP Don Sutton

Donald Howard Sutton was born on April 2, 1945 in Clio, Alabama. In a career that spanned 23 years, Sutton had a career record of 324-256 and an ERA of 3.26 while pitching for the Dodgers, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, and California Angels. 58 of his wins were shutouts, five of them one-hitters, and 10 were two-hitters. He is seventh on baseball’s all-time strikeout list with 3,574, and he was named to the All-Star team four times.

Sutton entered broadcasting after his retirement as a player. He worked in this capacity for a number of teams, the majority of which were with the Atlanta Braves. Sutton was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 with 81.61% of the vote. Sutton was also inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in July 2015 for his work as a broadcaster.

According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Sutton died at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, after a long struggle with cancer. He was 75 years old.

Rest in peace.

Sutton in 2008 (Wikimedia Commons)


Quote of the day

When I was a young boy I used to play baseball in my back yard or in the street with my brothers or the neighborhood kids. We used broken bats and plastic golf balls and played for hours and hours.

~Robin Yount

Yount Robin MB74-359_FL_NBLMcWilliams

Robin Yount, 1974 (Baseball Hall of Fame)


This day in baseball: Connie Mack to the Brewers

On September 21, 1896, Connie Mack announced his intention to leave the Pirates in order to manage the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers of the Western League. Mack thus retired as a full-time player to accept his new role, which included a $3,000 a year salary and 25% ownership of the club. He managed the Brewers for four seasons from 1897 to 1900, their best year coming in 1900, when they finished second. 

ConnieMack1887

Connie Mack baseball card, 1887 (Wikimedia Commons)


Socializing versus baseball

Every now and then, I’ll go out and do things with other people, whether it be for a work function or just hanging out with friends or colleagues in general.  Certainly this partaking in social rituals is a normal part of being a member of society and the human race, although, introvert that I am, I often do so begrudgingly and with a sense of discomfort and dread.

I went out for dinner on Friday evening with some folks from work, though I was actually looking forward to this particular outing.  It had been a high stress week on the job, so the thought of some good food and a cocktail out with some company struck me as appealing.

The catch to this, I realize in retrospect, is that I am not the kind of person who can go out with just anybody solely for the sake of going out with somebody.  Granted, this is not a brand new epiphany that has only occurred to me in the last couple days — when it comes to dating, for example, I won’t just go out with anyone who happens to be available.  There has to be some level of interest already established, and my date certainly won’t be reaching any metaphorical bases until I deem an appropriate level of worthiness.  In non-dating scenarios, ironically, it becomes a bit more complicated.  Agreeing to go out for a casual not-date drink with a colleague or acquaintance does not generally come with the implication that someone might be looking for more.  It’s just about “hanging out” or “blowing off steam” or whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

The reason I find this more difficult is because it makes it harder to say no.  Saying no to a proposed date is socially acceptable.  If you don’t meet my standards, then I won’t date you, period.  Most people respect that equation.  Simply hanging out, however, comes with a more lax set of expectations.  It is a societal norm to hang out with folks even when we aren’t all that close to them.  We meet old acquaintances for lunch or we go out with co-workers during happy hour, even though we may not even like them.  If you say no to these invitations, you are dubbed “antisocial” or “unfriendly” or, most confusing of all, “stuck up.”

All that said, I agreed to this outing on Friday evening primarily due to the appeal of potentially letting go of the tensions brought about by the workweek.  I should have known better than to go out with a couple of co-workers in the attempt to accomplish this.  I wish I could say there was a high point to the conversation that commenced, but there really wasn’t.  I’ll own up to the fact that I didn’t do much to help matters: I made no effort to try to redirect the conversation, merely eating my food and sipping on my whiskey and Coke in relative silence.  As a quiet individual, I find that trying to steer a conversation being dominated by two or more other, louder people often feels like more effort than it’s worth.

Fortunately for me, we had decided on meeting at a local sports bar, which meant that Game Two of the NLDS was playing soundlessly on all the televisions in the establishment.  So while the conversation devolved from the exasperations of online dating to an all-out gossip/bitchfest about work (that topic I was hoping so much to avoid), I frequently glanced over to see how the Rockies and the Brewers were doing.  I confess that I had largely stopped watching the Royals as their 58-104 season dragged on — even as things started to pick up for them in September, I couldn’t bring myself to watch.  But no matter how distant my relationship with the game might seem at times, baseball always holds a greater appeal for me than listening to negativity from other humans.

I have family members living in Wisconsin.  Combine that with the opportunity to watch former Royals Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, I defaulted to rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers.  I was pleased to see that they were up 1-0, and the score remained that way until our dinner outing (thankfully) ended.  It made me smile a little to see that they did go on to win the game, and it was good to see both Cain and Moustakas at the plate again.  I miss having them in Kansas City, but I can’t help but be happy for them and their opportunity to play some more October baseball.  I hope the Brewers continue to do well.

All this, I guess, is just a long way of me saying that I like baseball infinitely better than I like most people, even though baseball obviously wouldn’t exist without people.  I meant to write a lot more about baseball itself here, which clearly did not happen, but at least I can still say that the “moral” of this post is that baseball continues to provide a nice escape whenever our lives throw us into these somewhat uncomfortable situations, no matter how distant we might feel from the game.


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Eighth Inning

8th inning

The Eighth Inning of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns brings us into the 1960s.  In this decade of the American Pastime, we find that it is being recognized less and less as such.  Football has risen to prominence, and a lot of folks come to argue that football, not baseball, has now become the true national game.  Additionally, the sixties were quite a stormy and unstable period in American history, filled with race riots, activism, anti-war protests, hippies, and Woodstock.

The game of baseball also finds itself experiencing some changes.  In 1961, Babe Ruth’s single season home run record is threatened, then broken, by a man who is far from being a fan favorite.  Roger Maris is described as moody and sullen, avoids talking to the press, and starts losing his hair as a result of the pressure he is under as he inadvertently finds himself chasing Ruth’s record.

Pitching sees a rise in dominance as the decade progresses, thanks to commissioner Ford Frick’s commandment that the strike zone be expanded to counter the explosion of home runs.  Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson are among those who rise to preeminence from their positions on the mound.  As pitching becomes the ruling force in the game, there comes a decline in home runs being hit.  This, in turn, contributes to the decline in fan interest in the game.

This time period also sees changes as far as the growth of the league.  The success and profitability of the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the west brings the league to consider other ways in which to spread the game throughout the country.  Four new teams were added to Major League Baseball.  We see the birth of the California Angels, the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins, then a newer Senators team moved to Arlington and became the Texas Rangers.  The New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros) also joined the National League.  The Braves would move from Milwaukee to Atlanta and the Athletics moved to Oakland.  After just one season, the Seattle Pilots left for Milwaukee and became the Brewers, and towards the end of the decade the Royals were established in Kansas City and the Expos in Montreal.  (I’m sure I must be missing one or more others here, and for that, I apologize.)

At the beginning of the decade, Ebbets Field met its fate with a wrecking ball painted to resemble a baseball.  Jackie Robinson, who had once played at Ebbets, now worked and fought for civil rights, and Branch Rickey, who was the force behind integration in Major League Baseball, passed away in 1965.  The Polo Grounds became the home of the New York Metropolitans, led by the one and only Casey Stengel, now getting along in years.  Suffices to say, the Mets weren’t very good in those early years.  Eventually, Stengel would retire from baseball.  After that, the same wrecking ball that took out Ebbets Field would also bring down the Polo Grounds.  The Mets moved into Shea Stadium, and by the end of the decade transformed into the “Miracle Mets,” winning the 1969 World Series.

In this inning, we meet Pete Rose and see bits about Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Whitey Ford, Roberto Clemente, and many, many others.  Sandy Koufax seemingly retires almost as quickly as he broke into the league and became the youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.  In Baltimore, Earl Weaver became manager of the Orioles.  One of the greatest managers of all time, the Orioles became the dynasty of the decade under Weaver.

In this decade, we also meet Marvin Miller.  Miller became the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966.  The players loved having Miller speaking on their behalf, but baseball owners, unsurprisingly, hated having Miller around.  He was a man who Red Barber would call “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.”

By the end of the disc, we learn about Curt Flood’s battle against the reserve clause, which at this point is only just beginning.  Flood learned that he was to be traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia, and in the face of the racism he knew he would face in Philadelphia, he decided to oppose the trade.  This flew in the face of the entire history of baseball business.

I think my favorite feature of this disc comes in all the arguments defending baseball.  In spite of George Carlin’s comedy routine that makes baseball seem like a slow, sissy sport, baseball continues to be referred to as America’s National Pastime for good reason.  Sure, football is faster and perhaps more suitable to the 30-second attention span that now dominates our culture (though, more recently, football also seems to be declining in popularity).  But baseball’s place in the American psyche runs deep, and in a lot of ways, it is the very nature of its leisurely pace that makes it so appealing.


This day in baseball: Waddell pulls double duty

On August 19, 1900, Milwaukee pitcher Rube Waddell pitched two complete games in both contests of a doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox.  He threw 17 innings in the first game, then was coaxed (with a promise of a few days off to go fishing) by manager Connie Mack to pitch the nightcap, in which Waddell threw a five-inning one-hitter.  Milwaukee won both games, 2-1 and 1-0.

WaddellRubePlaque182_NB

National Baseball Hall of Fame


Martin Maldonado knocks cover off a baseball

In April of last year, Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado hit a ground ball to third in a game against the Pirates.  Third baseman Pedro Alvarez noticed something was off about the ball as soon as he fielded it, but had the presence of mind to throw to first anyways.  Unfortunately for Alvarez, Maldonado’s hit had literally caused the cover of the ball to peel back, which prevented him from being able to put any speed on his throw.  As the broadcasters point out, Maldonado had literally knocked the cover off the ball!


“What To Do, Brew Crew?” by Stuart Shea

Given how well they started the season last year, the way the Brewers’ second half of 2014 and the way this season has been going so far has, on more than one occasion, caused me to shake my head in disbelief.  But that’s baseball, right?  Stuart Shea’s poem below captures the frustration that I’m sure all Brewers fans are experiencing these days.

*

The team wasn’t good
Before Lucroy went down.
Then they fired the skipper
In hopes of a rebound.
But it’s all in vain,
It’s rebuild time again,
Let’s burn the whole thing to the ground.

Trade Garza, Segura,
Ramirez, and Lind,
And think about Braun,
If a deal’s in the wind.
But just don’t deal Scooter,
There ain’t no one cuter,
And as far as we know, he ain’t sinned.