This day in baseball: Connor’s switch-hit debut

Though he had been hitting as a lefty throughout his career, on August 7, 1893, New York Giants first baseman Roger Connor stepped up to the plate right-handed for the first time against a left-handed Brooklyn Bridegrooms pitcher.  The right side of the plate turned out to be lucky for Connor that day, as he belted two homers and a single en route to a 10-3 win.

I did a small bit of poking around regarding Connor’s switch-hitting, and while specific details seem hard to find, I notice that some sites have him listed as a left-handed hitter while others list him as a switch-hitter.  A case can be made either way, it seems.

Roger Connor SABR.jpg

Roger Connor (sabr.org)


Polo Grounds documentary

Here’s a delightful little documentary about the Polo Grounds.  I’ve always loved the metaphor of a baseball stadium as a church or cathedral.  I feel the same way about Kauffman Stadium every time I attend a Royals game.

It’s always a shame when stadiums like this get torn down.  I understand that progress sometimes dictates the need for such things, but so much history gets lost in the process, too.


This day in baseball: Inside the park home run fest

The New York Giants hit four inside-the-park home runs at Braves Field on April 29, 1922, en route to a 15-4 victory over Boston.  George Kelly collected a pair of inside-the-parkers, and Ross Youngs and Dave Bancroft contributed the other two scoring dashes around the bases.  You can find the box score and play-by-play recap of the game here.

George Kelly

George Kelly in 1916 (baseballhalloffame.org)


“Spring Training,” by Lynn Rigney Schott

I’m still holding out hope that Spring Training won’t be the only baseball we get this year.  In the meantime, we look for other ways to stay engaged with baseball.  This piece by Lynn Rigney Schott was first published in The New Yorker on March 26, 1984.  The author’s father, Bill Rigney, had played Major League Baseball with the New York Giants from 1946 to 1953.  He then went on to serve as the manager for the Giants, making him their last manager in New York as well as the team’s first manager when they moved to San Francisco.  Rigney would also manage the Los Angeles/California Angels and the Minnesota Twins.

*

The last of the birds has returned —
the bluebird, shy and flashy.
The bees carry fat baskets of pollen
from the alders around the pond.
The wasps in the attic venture downstairs,
where they congregate on warm windowpanes.
Every few days it rains.

This is my thirty-fifth spring;
still I am a novice at my work,
confused and frightened and angry.
Unlike me, the buds do not hesitate,
the hills are confident they will be
perfectly reflected
in the glass of the river.

I oiled my glove yesterday.
Half the season is over.
When will I be ready?

On my desk sits a black-and-white postcard picture
of my father — skinny, determined,
in a New York Giants uniform —
ears protruding, eyes riveted.
Handsome, single-minded, he looks ready.

Thirty-five years of warmups.
Like glancing down at the scorecard
in your lap for half a second
and when you look up it’s done —
a long fly ball, moonlike,
into the night
over the fence,
way out of reach.

Bill_Rigney_1953

Bill Rigney, 1953 (Wikipedia)


King Kelly

Kingkellyphoto

Wikimedia Commons

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d take a moment to look at the life of Michael Joseph “King” Kelly: outfielder, catcher, baseball manager, and the son of Irish immigrants.  Many even consider Kelly to be the game’s first true superstar.

Michael Joseph Kelly was born on December 31, 1857 in Troy, New York.  He was the son of Mike and Catherine Kelly, who had left Ireland during the 1840s to escape the potato famine. In 1862, when little Mike was four years old, his father joined the Union army in the American Civil War, leaving Catherine to raise Mike and his older brother, James.  Following the war, the family moved to the Washington, D.C. area.  However, after his father fell ill, he left the army, and the Kelly family moved to Paterson, New Jersey.  Sadly, the older Mike’s health continued to decline, and in the early 1870s, he passed away.  His wife followed him in death shortly thereafter.

The now-orphaned Mike Kelly found work in a factory to support himself.  At the end of each work day, he would spend his evenings playing baseball around town.  Paterson was home to several amateur clubs, and in 1873, the fifteen-year-old Kelly was invited to play baseball on Blondie Purcell’s amateur team, which played teams throughout the New York metro area. From 1875 to 1877, he played three seasons of semi-pro ball in Paterson and in other cities.

In 1878, the Cincinnati Red Stockings offered Kelly a contract, making him a major league ballplayer at the age of twenty. The Red Stockings signed Kelly as a catcher and an outfielder, but he played primarily in the outfield since the Red Stockings already had an established catcher in Deacon White. After playing in Cincinnati for two years as an outfielder and backup catcher, Kelly took part as players from the Cincinnati team and the Chicago White Stockings went on a barnstorming tour of California. During the tour, Cap Anson invited Kelly to join the Chicago team for the 1880 season.

As a member of the White Stockings, King Kelly was among the league leaders in most offensive categories every year, including leading the league in runs from 1884 through 1886 and in batting in 1884 and 1886. He was also one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, becoming one of the first to use a glove, mask, and wear a chest protector. Cap Anson even gave credit to Kelly for inventing the hit-and-run, and he participated in devising strategies for the game that are now considered commonplace, including playing off first and third base, adjusting the outfield positions according to the player batting, the double steal, and the infield shift. Chicago won five pennants while Kelly played for the White Stockings.

Off the field, however, Kelly was known for his drinking, his charm, and his tendency to bend the rules. Kelly’s off-the-field behavior did not hurt his popularity with the fans, but he frequently was fined by team owners for disorderly conduct. Anson tried, but generally failed, to try to keep Kelly in line behaviorally, and to keep him physically fit.

After the 1886 season Chicago sold Kelly to the Boston Beaneaters for a then-record $10,000. By this time, the 28-year-old Kelly was arguably the biggest star in the National League. Newspapers and fans called him “King” Kelly or “The Only” Kelly. As a member of the Beaneaters, Kelly continued to produce offensively, scoring 120 runs in 1887 and 1889. He also continued to draw large crowds to games, even though Boston didn’t win any pennants. In addition, now that he was no longer under Cap Anson’s supervision, Kelly became even less self-disciplined, especially off the field.

During the 1890 season, Kelly managed and played for the Boston Reds in the Players’ League, and the Reds won the only Players’ League title under his leadership. Then, in 1891, Kelly returned to Cincinnati as the captain of a newly established American Association Reds. However, by August, the team folded, and Kelly signed back with the Boston Reds, who had moved to the American Association after the Players’ League folded. Kelly spent just four games with the Reds before returning to the Beaneaters to finish out the season.

After spending the 1892 season with the Beaneaters, batting a career-worst .189, his contract was assigned to the New York Giants for 1893. He played just twenty games for the Giants, batting .269 and driving in 15 runs.

Kelly’s big league career ended after the 1893 season, having collected 1,357 runs, 69 home runs, 950 RBIs, and a .308 batting average. He won eight pennants with various teams during his sixteen seasons, and he also hit better than .300 eight times. He led the league three times in both doubles and runs scored, and is one of the few NL players to have scored a record six runs in a game. In his career Kelly played every position on the diamond, even making appearances on the mound. Kelly was also known throughout the game for making controversial plays, including this play that led to the creation of Rule 3.03.

Off the field, King Kelly took on an acting career shortly after he first arrived in Boston. In March 1888, Kelly made his regular play debut, as Dusty Bob in Charley Hoyt’s “A Rag Baby.” He was also popular enough to book a vaudeville act during the 1892-1893 off season, where he was billed as “King Kelly, the Monarch of the Baseball Field.” In the off season of 1893-94, Kelly performed in “O’Dowd’s Neighbors.” Additionally, in 1889, he was the subject of the popular song, “Slide, Kelly, Slide.” Kelly’s autobiography, Play Ball was published while he was with the Beaneaters in 1888, the first autobiography by a baseball player.

King Kelly died of pneumonia in November 1894 in Boston. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.


This day in baseball: Charles Stoneham dies

Charles Stoneham, the owner of the New York Giants baseball team, passed away on January 6, 1936.  Stoneham was the last remaining owner of the trio (along with John McGraw and Frank McQuade) that purchased the team in 1919.  He passed the team on to his son, Horace Stoneham, upon his death.  During his time as owner, Stoneham saw the Giants win the World Series in 1921, 1922 and 1933.

Frank McQuade - Charles Stoneham - John McGraw

sabr.org


This day in baseball: Carl Mays sold to Reds

Yankees submarine pitcher Carl Mays was sold to the Reds for $85,000 on December 23, 1923.  Mays had a personality that tended to clash with most people, and he never really got along with manager Miller Huggins in New York.  Mays would go 49-34 in Cincinnati before ending his career with the New York Giants.

Carl Mays

sabr.org


This day in baseball: A Series of shutouts

The 1905 World Series was the only World Series in history in which every game ended as a shutout.  Game 5 of the Series, played on October 14th, featured Christy Mathewson of New York against Chief Bender of Philadelphia on the mound.  Mathewson defeated the A’s 2-0,  marking his third victory of the Series to secure the Giants’ World Series victory.

Christy_Mathewson_Baseball

Christy Mathewson (Chicago Historical Society)


This day in baseball: Lavender stumps the Giants

In the first game of a doubleheader on August 31, 1915, Cubs pitcher Jimmy Lavender threw a no-hitter against the New York Giants, a 2–0 victory. He struck out eight batters and walked just one. On June 14 of the following year, again against the Giants, Lavender pitched a one-hitter, allowing only an infield single to Benny Kauff.

Jimmy Lavender 1912

Jimmy Lavender, 1912 (Library of Congress)


This day in baseball: Welch wins 300

Pitcher Mickey Welch of the New York Giants reached the 300-victory milestone on July 28, 1890, making him the third pitcher in baseball history to reach the mark.  Welch defeated Pittsburgh 4-2 that day, and would go on to record seven more victories before retiring from the game.

800px-Mickey_Welch_plaque_HOF

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum