July 20, 2017

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: Return to Normalcy

January 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Spend enough time researching in the newspapers and magazines of 1919-1920, and the phrase “Return to Normalcy” is drummed into your head. It won the presidential election for Warren Gamaliel Harding some 88 years ago, which demonstrated that candidates’ middle names need not be obstacles, and that change is a promise that usually strikes a chord in America.

It has been hard for me to get “back to normal” here in Notes, for a couple reasons. First, although 2009 marks the twentieth year I’ve been writing baseball (Notes #1 was mailed out March 12, 1993, about three years and five months later), there is no normal to return to. Up until issue #267, Notes was a variety show, a kaleidoscope, each issue rarely focusing on a single topic or theme. Then, inexplicably, it became a kind of Black Sox Digest, and posting my research in Notes was a very fortunate thing, as it turned out.

Harding didn’t really return the country to normalcy, the twenties roared in, and especially in baseball, it was a whole new ballgame. What Harding wanted, of course, was to put the first world war in the past. And what I want to do here in Notes is to escape from the fantasyland of APBA simulations, where I have been reporting from, since #459. And I’ll do that, but not before tacking on one last report.

For those following these simulations, you may be expecting a series played with the top players of all time, the two sides chosen pick-up style by Captains Ruth and Gehrig. But that’s not going to happen, although I will report on who their picks were. Instead, there’s a report on a terrific series that went seven games, that will be hard to top, even if I still had the interest in letting the Bustin’ Babes go at the Larrupin’ Lous. The truth is, I don’t — not right now. (I am thinking of playing some with just those nines, sandlot style — you know, the way we did as kids, don’t keep track of the innings, just play ball and if the score gets lop-sided, start all over, maybe swap a player or two. I can let each gang draft a pitcher, and the 10th men out get to chase down the foul balls.)

CHOOSING SIDES

There was a time when small-town America got a close look at two of the game’s greatest. After the season and the World Series ended, there were a number of summers when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig “barnstormed” around the country. The essential Dickson BB Dictionary says the term was borrowed from the theater and politics, where traveling actors or would-be legislators would perform or speak wherever they could find a venue, even if it was a barn. For ballplayers, barnstorming meant adding to their salary, by playing for or against any team that any town could put together, to draw a crowd.

When it was just Ruth and Gehrig arriving, they played against each other — the Bustin’ Babes versus the Larrupin’ Lous. The eight others on each team might be major or minor leaguers, semi-pros, or amateurs. The idea was to give the crowd a chance to see Babe and Lou clout the ball, probably in an extended batting practice, and sometimes after the game, they would swat another bucketful of souvenirs.

For my last simulated series of 2008, I tossed the bat to Ruth and Gehrig one more time. Hand over hand, and Lou wins. He will choose first, from all of the ballplayers in my Field of Dreams — deadball era stars, Negro league stars, sluggers, you name it. They will each pick 24 men to fill out their rosters, then they will go at it.

Lou picks — Ty Cobb. An obvious choice? Not really, not when Hugh Duffy is available; in 1894, Duffy hit .438, with 50 2Bs, 13 3Bs, 18 HRs. Cobb has the better lifetime average, but may hit a few points below Duffy, while stealing more bases. Babe Ruth signals for Josh Gibson as his first pick; Ruth is building from the center of his lineup.

Gehrig’s next pick is Honus Wagner, another deadballer, who may have the best glove of all time, and Honus can play almost anywhere. Ruth doesn’t want to see Wagner and Lajoie choking off the middle against his team, and he picks Nap next.

Gehrig takes Al Simmons, a slugger with some speed and who can hit a ton. Ruth answers by taking A’s partner, Jimmie Foxx. Gehrig picks George Sisler to hold down his first sack — The Sizzler (1922, .420) is like another Cobb. Ruth answers by taking Mule Suttles — the Mule, with Foxx, Gibson and Ruth himself, gives the Bustin’ Babes a definite edge in the power department.

Gehrig’s next picks raises some eyebrows — Charlie Gehringer, second base. But it’s a good call, solid defense and a hit-and-run man behind his speedsters. Ruth passes up Duffy for Sam Thompson.

Gehrig takes another Deadballer with a big bat and a lot of flexibility, like Wagner — Big Ed Delahanty. Ruth responds by snapping up Tris Speaker, a gold glove with a lot of doubles in his bat. Gehrig takes Mike Schmidt to play third — great power and defense. Ruth’s pick is a bit of a surprise — Cal Ripken will play short. Cal will not hit as many HRs as Ernie Banks, but he is solid in the field and can hit the long ball.

For his 8th and last pick of the first round, Gehrig selects Biz Mackey to be his catcher; he passes up Roger Bresnahan, a great OBA, and the sluggers Hartnett, Campanella and Bench. Ruth picks Pie Traynor, gold in his glove and a pretty good hitter.

RUTH’S LINEUP:

Lajoie 2B
Speaker CF
Ruth RF/DH
Gibson C
Foxx 1B
Suttles DH/RF
Thompson LF
Ripken SS
Traynor 3B

GEHRIG’S LINEUP:

Sisler 1B
Gehringer 2B
Cobb LF
Simmons RF
Gehrig DH
Wagner SS
Delahanty CF
Schmidt 3B
Mackey C

THE SLUGGERS VS. THE MONARCHS

The Sluggers want to challenge the winners of the rematch, under the same conditions — I knew they would.

That note above is from NOTES #470, where I announced that the Deadball Era champs (AKA the Gray Sox) were going to play the Negro League stars (the Monarchs) again, with the pitching being equalized. They did, and in #471 I reported that the Monarchs emerged triumphant, taking the Gray Sox in six games.

My team of Sluggers (all position players having the potential for 40+ HRs over a season) — see Notes 470 — lost to the Gray Sox in six. They were an awkward bunch to manage, being kind of one-dimensional, not nearly as much fun as the Deadball guys or the Negro Leaguers. But I figured they deserved their shot, so one more time, the Sluggers went at it, this time with the reigning champion Monarchs, pitching equalized.

The result was a pleasant surprise. The series went seven games, to my delight. I’ll abbreviate the game summaries.

GAME ONE

The Monarchs won the coin toss and were home team. Satchel Paige took the mound, facing off with Bob Gibson. The Sluggers went up 4-0 (Ruth a 2-run shot), before the Monarchs batted around in the 4th, scoring six runs, four on a slam by Pete Hill. The Sluggers came back with three, to go up 7-6, but the Monarchs continued to pummel the S’s bullpen, scoring five more in the fifth and four in the sixth, winning the opener 16-7 and out-hitting the big guys 18-8. Rain made it an eight-inning game.

GAME TWO

After five innings, it looked like more of the same. The Monarchs jumped on Koufax for seven runs in the first three innings and led 7-2. But the Sluggers got good relief pitching this time, four innings by Dizzy Dean and two by Dennis Eckersley, and snuck back into the game. Johnny Bench and Al Simmons had hit solo HRs for their first runs, Ruth connected with one on in the sixth. Bench another solo in the 7th to make it 7-5. Buck Leonard homered in the 8th to stretch the lead to three runs. Back-to-back doubles with two out in the 8th by Ruth and Gehrig made it 8-6. Then in the ninth, Eddie Mathews went deep with one out, Bench walked, and Hank Aaron (batting leadoff) connected to give the Sluggers a 9-8 lead that held up.

GAME THREE

Carl Hubbell started for the Sluggers and barely survived a rocky first inning. Josh Gibson homered after an Oscar Charleston double, and a hit and walk followed, but no more scoring. Hubbell then allowed just two hits the rest of the game, fanning eight, including Charleston, Gibson and Buck Leonard in the fifth. His teammates took a while to catch onto Cannonball Redding, going ahead on Foxx’ 6th inning HR, then piling on with two in the 7th (Ruth, with one on) and four in the 8th (Ruth, two on). Ruth had six RBIs and was denied a third HR in the 3rd (wind gusting in).

GAME FOUR

Satchel Paige, who was roughed up in all three starts against the Gray Sox, and was not impressive in winning Game One in this series, finally tossed a semi-gem. The Monarchs gave him a 10-0 lead after five innings, and I could see Satch wave off his teammates at that point. Rap Dixon, batting leadoff, had six RBIs and a HR. The Sluggers did get to Paige for a couple runs, but the 14-5 win evened the series.

GAME FIVE

This was a curious game. The Monarchs jumped out to a 4-0 lead, saw it shrink to 4-3, then grow to 8-3 and 9-5, then 9-7, and it finally ended with the Monarchs on top by 11-8. Mule Suttles was the offensive star with a pair of HRs and five RBI, and the pitching heroes were Cyclone Williams (six innings, 4 ER, 6 hits) and Willie Foster (3 IP, 1 ER, 1 hit). The Sluggers were in this game, despite getting no offense at all from their 1-5 positions: Aaron, Hornsby, Simmons, Ruth and Gehrig were a collective 1-for-22. Jimmie Foxx had a double, triple, two HRs and 4 RBI, Campanella two doubles and 3 RBI. Strange.

GAME SIX

Do-or-die time for the Sluggers, and they sent out Carl Hubbell, who pitched so well in Game Three. He picked up right where he left off, holding the Monarchs scoreless until Josh Gibson connected in the sixth, his solo shot making it 3-1. When Gibson connected again in the 8th, with one on, the score was 4-3, but the Sluggers added an insurance run in their ninth and held on for the 5-3 win. Carl Yastrzemski batted leadoff and got on base four times, three hits and a walk, scored three runs and was tossed out at home trying to score a 4th. The game ended with Monte Irvin, who had pinch-hit a single with two out, being thrown out trying to steal, with Turkey Stearnes at bat.

GAME SEVEN

In one of those fluke events, Satchel Paige was ill and unable to pitch in the deciding contest. That gave Rats Henderson the chance to be a hero, and he was, tossing a CG 8-3 win, giving up just eight hits (and no HR). The Monarchs struck early with four in the first (Gibson a 2-run HR off Koufax), then three in the fifth, Mule Suttles’ 2-run double breaking it open.

So the Monarchs remain champions. For now.

The above is an excerpt from Issue #472 of Gene’s Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown. To read the rest of the issue (or past issues), click here.

(Editor’s note: Gene’s cat Frisky recently passed away so we’re honoring Frisky by posting an excerpt from Gene’s Notes #260 from May, 2002).

OF CATS AND MEN

I could have used as the headline for this essay, “It’s Too Early!” — because I use that phrase almost daily. On weekdays, I use it when I get home from work, and one of my cats starts to nag me for dinner. “It’s too early,” I say, and usually receive back a protesting growl. On weekends, the nagging starts in earlier. My cat’s dim sense of time is thrown off when the visitors in his house — my wife and I — are home all day.

The last time I wrote here at any length about cats was back in July 1996 — issue #140 had the title One Old Cat, and I’ll post it in the Notes Archive along with this issue. There is an old baseball game called One Old Cat, but in the summer of ’96 I wrote about Frisky, who went missing for eleven days. The story had a happy ending, Frisky came home, safe and sound and a bit thinner. Just where Frisky was, remains a deep secret. If we get answers to our questions when we die and go to heaven, “Where the hell was Frisky?” is near the top of my list, although I’ll probably phrase it a little differently for St Pete.

This time, I want to tell you a little bit about Frisky’s sibling, Pippi. (Pippi had the misfortune to join the family when my daughter was into Pippi Longstocking — never mind that both he and Frisky are males. Or were.) Pippi is about eighteen pounds and midnight black. It is hard to believe he is even related to Frisky, who has white on all fours, and on his face; he weighs in at about twelve pounds.

Here is the link to baseball: I believe Pippi is a Yankee fan. Frisky, I’m certain, roots for the Pirates.

Pippi takes good care of himself, and is plainly smug. Frisky doesn’t care much about looks, and requires a lot of brushing. Pippi is like a Steinbrenner, in total control, holding all the trump cards. Frisky is small-market poor, perpetually nervous about everything.

Pippi would look good in pinstripes, and keep his uniform immaculate. Frisky’s uniform would always be Gashouse-Gang dirty, from head to tail.

Both cats are affectionate, and enjoy the laps of family and strangers alike. But Pippi forces himself onto you (it is increasingly hard for him to leap onto laps, beds or window sills; he is a fat cat.) Frisky charms his way into place, and scratching and petting him is irresistible. He is an undercat.

Pippi is regal; his genes must contain memories of ruling in Egypt, once upon a time. He does a good sphinx impression. Pippi is aa Aristocat. Frisky has not an ounce of royal blood in evidence; he is a cat for the people, a populist Democat.

Pippi oozes self-confidence. He purrs loudly, self-satisfied and conceited. He counts on winning, like he counts on me having his next plate of food served up. Frisky darts, paranoid and unsure of himself. He mews pathetically. He counts on nothing, as if each next win or meal is in jeopardy and doubt.

Pippi trusts his slaves — we are sure that is how he regards all others on the planet — with the security of an owner with a deep farm system, and deep pockets if things go awry there. Frisky is dubious about life, and lives day to day, his plate always subject to invasion by his brother if he eats too slowly or shows up late.

Pippi lives to eat; Frisky eats only to live. Pippi would never leave his castle, nor stray too far from his favorite room, the kitchen. Frisky will choose adventure every time.

Pippi knows and loves his place in the universe — why should anything change? What does “share” mean? Frisky is on the lookout to escape the house at any and every opportunity. He lurks near doors, on the hunch that he’ll do better in some other world out there. (Since his 1996 break-out, he wears a collar and tag; no need to fasten one on Pippi — although my experience says most cats should carry some I.D.)

Pippi embraces his waking moments (which are not all that many) with the swagger of a Babe Ruth; I’m sure he’d smoke and drink to excess, if we let him. Frisky is a working cat, who dutifully patrols all our windows, like a Honus Wagner safeguarding the infield. He sleeps a lot, too, but you can tell he wants to be out there on that grass.

I am pleased to report that Pippi and Frisky, as different as they are from each other, are not only brothers, but friends. They take care of each other, huddle together on cool, sunless days or wintry nights. They love to spar with each other from time to time — often right after dinner, when Pippi must feel that he deserved more, instead of an equal portion. But they have never really hurt each other.

They are in this together, and are more than just good company for each other, and for us. Don’t you wish more baseball owners had their good sense?

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!