Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hippo Vaughn

The following is an excerpt from The Low Self-Esteem Club: Baseball's Most Unflattering Nicknames by C. Terry Walters

James Leslie Vaughn was a Texas-size pitcher worthy of the Lone Star state’s reputation for bigger-than-life everything. Standing on the raised mound, the 6’ 4” 215 pound lefty must have intimidated many of the small-framed players of the dead ball era. Later in his career he was reported to have ballooned to almost 300 pounds. But Vaughn was not named because of his weight or likeness to a hippopotamus, but for the ungainly way he carried his frame when he ran. [1]

One might think that a name like Hippo could fall into the cruel category. There is evidence that Vaughn more than acquiesced to his nickname. In a call to the Chicago police in October of 1921, his wife reported that Vaughn had been missing for several days and his three-year-old son, Little Hippo, was crying for his daddy. Vaughn was not only content be called Hippo, he passed on the nickname to his little boy. [2]

Vaughn debuted with the New York Highlanders (Yankees) in 1908 but could not stick with the team. After that false start, he was back with the Highlanders in 1910 and distinguished himself with a 13-11 record and sparkling 1.83 ERA.

After a few uneventful seasons in New York and Washington, he was purchased by the

Chicago Cubs in 1913. One year later his career took wings and Hippo was flying high. From 1915 through 1921 he averaged over twenty wins per seasons. In 1918, his league-leading twenty-two wins helped send the Cubs to the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. The Cubs, of course, lost to the Sox and a pitcher named Babe Ruth.

In 1917, pitching for the Cubs, Vaughn and Cincinnati’s Fred Toney tangled in a pitching duel for all time. After nine innings, both pitchers had not yielded a hit. In the top of the tenth, Vaughn retired the first batter before Larry Kopf singled. After an error and a stolen base. Jim Thorpe walked to the plate. Thorpe dropped a swing bunt down the third base line that Vaughn fielded. “I knew the minute it was hit that I couldn’t get Thorpe at first, “ reported Vaughn, “He was as fast as a race horse.” Vaughn threw to the plate but failed to get Kopf. [3] Toney retired the Cubs in the last of the tenth and preserved his no-hitter. The game was known as a double no hitter and was the defining moment of Vaughn’s life.

Vaughn, himself, proclaims the Toney matchup as the high point of his career. Even though 3,500 fans attended the game, Vaughn recalls over 10,00 people who claimed they were there that day. Vaughn refers to the game-winning batter as Indian Jim Thorpe, a comment that underscores the racial and ethnic stereo typing of that era. [4] Only Thorpe’s worldwide reputation spared him from becoming Chief Thorpe in the baseball world.

His major league career ended in 1921 amidst a flurry of mystery and drama. On July 9, he took the mound in the Polo Grounds with a dismal 3-10 record. In the fourth inning he surrendered a grand slam homer to Giants catcher Frank Snyder. Insult then joined injury as pitcher Phil Douglas followed with his first career homerun. Manager Johnny Evers then gave Vaughn the hook. Two days later, Vaughn was nowhere to be found and the Cubs announced that Vaughn would be suspended if and when he returned to the team. [5]

By early August, Vaughn was still AWOL and the Cubs reportedly suspended him for what the Chicago Tribune described as “failure to keep in fighting trim.” Furthermore, Vaughn had allegedly signed a contract to play for the Beloit Fairies, a non-affiliated team owned by the Fairbanks Morse Engine Company who manufactured everything from typewriters to locomotives. A Hippo becoming a member of the Fairies just does not present a pleasant visual image.

When Evers was suddenly fired as manager, his replacement Bill Killefer and Cubs president Bill Veeck Sr. agreed to reinstate Vaughn if Commissioner Landis agreed. Landis, however, decided to suspend Vaughn for the rest of the season for signing the contract with Beloit. Vaughn never returned to the Cubs or the major leagues again. Various reports list various reasons for his departure. He was fed up with Evers. He had a sore arm. His weight had finally affected his performance. Vaughn kept the reason or reasons to himself. His new career in semi-pro ball lasted another sixteen years and he finally hung up the cleats at age 49. [6]

Vaughn died in Chicago in 1966. At the time of his death, he still had bragging rights as the Cubs all-time leader in wins by a left-handed pitcher with 151 victories. Larry French was a distant second at 95. As of this writing, that distinction still belongs to the man called Hippo.


1. Tales From the Cubs Dugout by Pete Cava p. 239

2. Hippo Vaughn by Jan Finkel – the Baseball Biography Project

3. Tales From the Cubs Dugout by Pete Cava p. 239

4. Jim Thorpe, a comment that underscores the racial and ethnic stereo typing of that era. [My greatest day in baseball; forty-seven dramatic stories by forty-seven stars by John P. Carmichael and Jerome Holtzman

5. Hippo Vaughn by Jan Finkel – the Baseball Biography Project

6. Ibid.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Minor and a Babe

What do Ryan Minor and Babe Dahlgren have in common?

Here is some background information while you think about it.

Ellsworth Tenney "Babe" Dahlgren enjoyed a twelve-year career as a corner infielder. He debuted in the majors in 1935 with the Boston Red Sox before moving on to the Yankees, Bees (Braves), Cubs, Browns, Dodgers, Phillies and Pirates. He returned to the Browns in 1946 for his final year as a big leaguer.

Ryan Minor had a four-year career in the major leagues. He played for the Baltimore Orioles from 1998 to 2000 and the Montreal Expos in 2001. He was a corner infielder and sometimes outfielder. His best year was 1999 when he appeared in 46 games and made 133 plate appearances.

Do you have an answer yet?

Okay, more information then.

Minor's claim to fame happened on September 20, 1998, in Baltimore. Minor batting sixth managed a single in four at bats as the Orioles fell to the Yankees 5-4.

Dahlgren's red-letter day was May 2, 1939, at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. He played first base that day. Dahlgren batting eighth went 2 for 5 with a double and a home run as the Yankees prevailed over the Tigers 22-2.

Got it yet?

One last hint: Wally Pipp.

Popular baseball history holds that Wally Pipp pulled himself from the Yankees lineup on June 2, 1925, due to a headache. He was replaced in the lineup by Lou Gehrig who proceeded to play in the next 2,130 games. When the ravages of ALS no longer allowed Gehrig to play at the level he demanded of himself, he pulled himself from the lineup. Babe Dahlgren took his place.

Many pundits called Gehrig's streak unbeatable.

Beginning on May 20, 1982, Cal Ripken Jr. stayed in the Orioles lineup everyday and eventually surpassed and crushed Gehrig's record, playing in 2632 consecutive games. On September 20, 1998, Ripken's mind could no longer talk his body into taking the field. He was replaced by Ryan Minor.

Dahlgren died in September of 1996. He had lived long enough to see his teammate's record broken. I wish Ryan Minor a long fruitful life. But I am taking bets that he will not live long enough to see Ripken's record fall.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Trade of the Century (Almost)

The Joe DiMaggio-Ted Williams Trade

One night in 1946, or early 1947, Larry MacPhail, general manager and part owner of the Yankees, and Tom Yawkey, the sole Red Sox owner, started drinking and talking about their two star players. Red Barber summarizes the conversation in his great book 1947 - When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball: "MacPhail recounted for Yawkey what DiMaggio had done by hitting balls against and over the Green electric DiMaggio would be to Italians in Boston...that Williams was having strained relations with the Boston writers...that DiMaggio got along splendidly with the press. MacPhail was a very persuasive man." "Yawkey agreed to the trade--Williams for DiMaggio. They shook hands on the deal, had another drink, and both men went to bed."

The deal was done, but the next morning Yawkey personally sought out MacPhail and very apologetically cancelled the trade, even though he had given his word. He couldn't bear to see Williams leave the Red Sox. Was this typical Tom Yawkey decision-making? He treated the Red Sox as his family as much as he did a business.

A sober Tom Yawkey saw the risks more clearly the next day. My theory is that Yawkey did not want to be the author of another Babe Ruth debacle. Harry Frazee had incurred the eternal wrath of Boston fans for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees. If DiMaggio did not return to his all-star form after his recent ankle surgery, Yawkey would wear the goat horns. Williams would no doubt continue to be baseball's premier left-handed hitter, especially with Yankee Stadium's short right-field fence just 296 feet away.

DiMaggio did recover from his injury and lead the Yankees to 1947 World Series victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers and their new star Jackie Robinson.

MacPhail most likely knew that Williams would not greatly exceed DiMaggio's impact on the Yankees. Nor would he perform significantly worse than DiMaggio. Williams would have been an insurance policy against DiMaggio's sudden demise as a superstar.

Had the trade been consummated, Paul Simon would have to take a whole different approach to his most famous song:

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

New York turns its lonely eyes to you.

Whats that you say, Mrs. Robinson

Joltin Joe has left us for the Bay

One last thought on DiMaggio and Williams. Imagine if you will, Ted Williams AND Joe DiMaggio in the same line up. That scenario is not as improbable as it seems. In 1935, Yankee scout Bill Essick offered a young Ted Williams $200 a month to sign with the Yankees. Teds mother nixed the deal to keep the 17-year-old in hometown San Diego to finish school. While still in high school, he signed a contract to play for the minor league San Diego Padres where he was noticed, and later signed by the Boston Red Sox.

The magical year of 1941 may have seen baseballs last .400 season and longest hitting streak captured by Yankee teammates. Anti-trust legislation would have been needed to break up the Yankee juggernaut that would have dominated the major leagues the 1940s.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Pride of Sledge, Mississippi

I bought a used juke box many years ago stocked with a hundred 45 rpm records. I never was a country western music fan, but one of those songs was Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone by Charley Pride. I knew a little bit about Charley Pride because he had a couple of big hits such as Kiss an Angel Good Morning, a dreadful song (sorry Charley).

Charley made it big in C&W despite that fact that he was an African-American from Sledge, Mississippi. A Black making it big in C&W was as special as a White kid being accepted into the Rap music fraternity. Charley went on to score more than thirty top-ten singles.

I replaced most of the juke box records with "my stuff" but I kept the Charley Pride disc. The song seemed familiar and it became one of those tunes that sticks in your brain and surfaces whenever it pleases. After several years I realized that it was originally sung by the Sir Douglas Quintet, a group that sounded British but came from Texas. As a youth I was quite fond of their biggest hit, She's About a Mover, written by group leader, Doug Sahm.

How does this relate to baseball? One day I was leafing through a book about the Negro Leagues. I did a double take when I came across a photo from 1953 of a Memphis Red Sox pitcher named Charley Pride. I thought it must have been a coincidence. Further reading disclosed that Charley Pride the Memphis pitcher had indeed become Charley Pride the country music superstar.

According to the photo caption, an injury derailed his baseball career and pushed him toward his other love, music. The California Angels (1961) and New York Mets (1962) granted him tryouts but he no longer had any "mustard" on his fastball. Failing to make the woeful 1962 Mets, the worst major league team of all time, was a sign that a change of direction was needed.

After the Mets tryout, he passed through Nashville before heading home to Montana. He met a producer who recorded him and managed to put two demos into the hands of Chet Atkins. Atkins helped make it happen for Pride. A single was released and his C&W career was launched.

During the 1950's, major league baseball was slowly opening its doors to the Negro League star players. Blacks athletes dreamed of making the big leagues and becoming stars, maybe even reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In one of life's sweetest ironies, Charley made the Hall in 2000, the Country Music Hall of Fame. One other accolade resonates in the baseball world. In 1967, he performed at the Grand Ole Opry, the first artist of color to appear there in its 70-year history. In 1993, he accepted an invitation to join the permanent ranks of the Opry. Charley Pride was the Jackie Robinson of country music, and the pride of Sledge, Mississippi.

Photo by Ernest C. Withers

Thursday, January 21, 2010

American League History 101

There are currently fourteen teams in the American League. Nine of these clubs are still located in their birthplace. Of those nine, the Angels, Royals, Mariners, Blue Jays and Rays are expansion clubs. The remaining four teams that have thrived (or resisted relocation) are the Detroit Tigers (1901), Chicago White Sox (1902), Cleveland Indians (1901), and the Boston Red Sox (1901).

Only the Tigers have maintained their original team nickname.

The White Sox made a minor alteration from the name White Stockings.

Cleveland began as the Blues and soon switched to the Broncos. In honor of the great Napoleon Lajoie, the team decided to be called the Naps until their star player/manager left the team in 1915. In keeping with the honorarium theme, they reached back into history and reclaimed the pre-American League name Cleveland Indians, for a player named Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian. I wonder if the descendants of Mr. Sockalexis have box seats at Jacobs Field.

The name Pilgrims has been ascribed to the early Boston players, although a theory exists that this is myth. Most vintage articles just refer to the the team as the Boston Americans. The co-nickname Somersets has been cited during the first several years, as well. Charles Somers was the president of the league at the time. In any event, the name Red Sox was adopted in 1907 and has stuck for more than a century.

Now let's discuss the teams that have migrated to greener pastures. The New York Yankees were once the New York Highlanders, it's true. But they began as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901. In 1903, the franchise moved from Baltimore to New York.

The New York Orioles sounded a bit peculiar and would have raised the ire of John James Audobon, so the name Highlanders was chosen. The team played its games at an elevated spot in Upper Manhattan, and team president Joe Gordon fancied the lore of a famous British fighting unit called the Gordon Highlanders.

In 1913, the name was changed to the Yankees, an unofficial nickname being used by a newspaperman who was tired of fitting Highlanders into his headlines.

For many years, Baltimore had no major league team, except for a brief fling with the Baltimore Terrapins of the short-lived Federal League. Following the 1953 season, the St. Louis Browns could no longer survive in the shadow of the National League Cardinals. They relocated to Baltimore and usurped the Orioles name from the existing minor league organization. The newly born Orioles needed about a decade before becoming a force in the American League.

Actually, the Baltimore story did not begin in St. Louis. In 1901, after just one year in operation, the Milwaukee Brewers moved to St. Louis to become the Browns.

So, the Yankees were once the Orioles, and the Orioles had been briefly called the Brewers. Okay, what about the modern Brewers? The 1969 expansion Seattle Pilots in their first year could not build attendance to an acceptable level, could not get funding for the new domed stadium that was part of the franchise agreement, and could not stop the banks from calling in their loans. A group from Milwaukee led by Bud Selig put together a deal and the Brewers were born in 1970.

The Brewers moved from the American League to the National in 1998. The addition of one expansion team to each league (Diamondbacks and Devil Rays), created a scheduling nightmare for the fifteen teams in each league. The Brewers alleviated that problem by switching leagues
and returning both circuits to an even number of clubs.

The Athletics have always been the Athletics. They were the Athletics in Philadelphia from 1901-1954 before moving to Kansas City. The KC franchise was sold to Charley Finley who publicly proclaimed that he would not move the team out of Missouri. He proceeded to contact almost every city in the U.S. to make a deal before scoring a hit in Oakland in 1968. If the current ownership can survive in the Bay Area until 2022, they will eclipse the Connie Mack tenure in Philly.

The Minnesota Twins moved their franchise from Washington in 1960 after being the Washington Senators since 1901.

With the Senators gone to the Twin Cities, an expansion team assumed the mantle of the Washington Senators in 1961. Eleven years later, they followed the Twins' blueprint and bolted for Texas, becoming the Rangers in 1972.

Until one of our small-market teams is seduced into another city with a burgeoning economy and tax money to build a nice stadium, the Major Leagues should stand pat for the time being.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

National League History 101

There are now sixteen teams in the National League. Only eleven of those teams still play in the same city where they started. Of those the eleven teams, six are expansion teams that came into existence since 1962. That leaves just five organizations that have not moved. The Phillies (1883), Cubs (1876), Pirates (1882), Cardinals (1882) and Reds (1882) still reside in the city of their birth.

Of the five teams above, only the Phillies name has endured from inception to current day. Even that fact must be denoted with an asterisk. There were two periods when the Phillies carried dual-names. Initially, they answered to the Quakers and Phillies. During World War II, a contest to rename the Phillies resulted in another split personality, the Blue Jays and the Phillies. Fan and press disdain for the new moniker killed the Blue Jay name after 1945.

The Cardinals began as the Browns, a name later claimed by the American League team in St. Louis.

The Cincinnati organization was originally the Red Stockings until 1890 before being simplified to the Reds. From 1953 to 1958, the McCarthy Communist witch hunt forced the name change from the Reds to the Redlegs.

The Pirates began life as the Alleghenies. People had a hard enough time spelling Pittsburg (I mean Pittsburgh) let alone Alleghenies. After a brief run as the Innocents, the Pirates name was assumed in 1891.

Finally, the Chicago team was, at birth, the White Stockings, followed by the Colts, Orphans, and finally Cubs in 1902. When the American League was created in 1902, the Southside team in Chicago grabbed the name White Stockings for themselves.

The Atlanta Braves began in Boston in 1876 as the Boston Red Caps. This team carries the honor of having played under the most team names. They have been called the Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers, Braves, Bees, and finally back to the Braves in 1953 when they fled Boston for greener pastures in Milwaukee. How proud it must have made a Boston player to call himself a Beaneater. In 1965, Braves ownership was lured away from Milwaukee to Atlanta.

The Los Angeles Dodgers may be the most famous city jumper even though they only moved once, in 1958. Walter O'Malley made a lucrative deal for himself in southern California after convincing Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move west with him. The Dodgers own the runner-up prize for most names. They started out in 1884, as the Grays, before morphing into the Bridegrooms, Superbas, Dodgers, Robins, and back to Dodgers in 1932. The original Dodger nickname came from Trolley Dodgers, which, if counted as an official name would tie them with the Braves for most name changes.

The San Francisco Giants began in 1883 as the New York Gothams and soon adopted the name Giants which has endured for more than a century.

Only one NL expansion team has moved. The Montreal Expos came into the league in 1969 as the first team to be based outside of the United States. The name Expos was borrowed from the World's Fair held in Montreal in 1967. After several years of rumored repatriation, the Expos came home to the U.S. in 2005 as the Washington Nationals.

Just one NL expansion team has changed its name. The Houston Colt .45s paid tribute to NASA's space command center in Houston by renaming the team the Astros and moving into the Astrodome.

American League History 101 will be presented in the next post.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How Castro Prepared Gene Mauch to Manage in Philadelphia

Gene Mauch had just completed an interesting year as manager of the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. At the end of each season the American Association champ would play the International League winner in the Junior World Series. In 1959, the series would feature the Millers against the Havana Cuba Sugar Kings, managed by Preston Gomez.

As told by Stew Thornley, author of On to Nicollet: The Glory and Fame of the Minneapolis Millers, an early Minnesota winter forced the series to be moved to Havana after two games. Students of history will remember that 1959 was not a great time to be in Havana. Fidel Castro had just successfully overthrown the government of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, who fled to Spain with a reported $300 million dollars.

Castro was in the process of forming a new provisional government, but that didnt prevent him from personally hosting the remainder of the Junior World Series. An incident in July underscored the danger of being in Cuba during 1959. The visiting Rochester Red Wings were batting when gunfire from a Rebel demonstration sent stray bullets onto the field and struck Rochester third base coach Frank Verdi and Havana shortstop Leo (Chico) Cardenas. Verdi received only a minor wound, but the Red Wings flew back to New York state thereby canceling the series.

During one of the Millers/Sugar Kings contests, 3,000 soldiers, many armed, ringed the field and the dugouts. Castro himself attended the games. Did the Millers have reason to fear for their lives? Mauch's team received several not-so-subtle threats. Thornley describes the seventh game: At this point, Castro decided to get into the act. After entering the stadium prior to Game Seven, he made his way around the warning track to get to his box seat. According to the Miller's Lefty Locklin, as Castro passed the Minneapolis bullpen, he paused, looked at the players, patted a large revolver on his hip and said, 'Tonight, we win.' "

Well, the Sugar Kings did rally to win the series in seven games. While Gene Mauch did not go home with a Junior World Series championship, he went home with his team in one piece. More importantly, he became the most qualified manager in the free world to manage in the city of Brotherly Love.