Ted Williams Walks the Philly Streets

70 years ago tonight, the Red Sox were in Philadelphia, wrapping up their season at Shibe. The Sox were on their way to an impressive 84-70 finish, but that still left them 17 games behind the Yankees. Philadelphia, meanwhile, was resting at the bottom of the rankings. Mack’s boys would finish the year 64-90. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a meaningless late season matchup. But there was a personal goal on the line, so the games did mean something to Ted Williams. In the first game of the 3 game set, he had gone 1-4 in a 5-1 Red Sox win. That performance had dropped his average to .39955. Since baseball rounds up, he was guaranteed a .400 average if he rested for the doubleheader on Sunday, and he would be the first major leaguer to achieve that distinction since Bill Terry of the Giants did it in 1930. But Williams told a reporter, “If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I want more than my toenails on the line.”

So he decided to play in that doubleheader on Sunday the 28th in Philly. But not without anxiety. This from a recent article in the New York Times:

Inside his room at Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Hotel (right) on Saturday, Sept. 27, 1941, Ted Williams was jumpy and impatient. That might have been an apt description of the mercurial Williams at most times, but on this evening he had good cause for his unease…waiting it out in the hotel was asking too much. Recruiting the clubhouse man Johnny Orlando for companionship, Williams marched into the streets of Philadelphia. They walked for more than three hours, with Orlando stopping at bars for occasional sustenance as Williams, who rarely drank alcohol, sipped a soft drink outside.

“I kept thinking about the thousands of swings I had taken to prepare myself,” Williams said years later. “I had practiced and practiced. I kept saying to myself, ‘You are ready.’ I went to the ballpark the next day more eager to hit than I had ever been.”

In the first game, Williams faced a young Dick Fowler, who had recently been called up from Toronto. Fowler would throw a no-hitter against the Browns in 1945, but on this day he was no match for Teddy Ballgame. Williams had 4 hits, and the .400 average was secure. In the 2nd game of the no-hitter, Number Nine faced Fred Caligiuri. This game would be the highlight of Caligiuiri’s career, as he would knock off Lefty Grove and the Red Sox 7-1, with Caligiuri going the distance for the first of 2 wins he would ever have in the Major Leagues. But Williams went 2-3, and at the end of the season Ted Williams sported a spiffy .406 average.

It was quite an accomplishment, but it didn’t make much of a splash. Only 10,000 Philly fans made it out to the ballpark that day, and it got limited national coverage. Williams didn’t even win MVP that year, as the honor went to Joe DiMaggio, whose 56-game streak that year had captivated the nation. But I’m sure that no-one in Shibe Park that day had any idea they were watching a drama unfold unlike any ohter that would happen in the 70 years since, a player battling to get above the .400 mark in the last week of the season.

If you’re curious, the closest anyone will come this year is Miguel Cabrera, who is batting .343. The only Philadelphia player since 1900 to hit .400 was Nap Lajoie of the Athletics in 1901. Incredibly, in 1894, the entire Phillies outfield of Ed Delahanty, Billy Hamilton, and Sam Thompson all hit .400.


Baseball’s First Strike

On May 18, 1912, the Detroit Tigers were in Philadelphia facing the Athletics at Shibe Park.  Just after warm-ups when the umpire called for the game to begin, the Tigers players walked off the field in unison into their clubhouse and refused to play.  In doing so, they effectuated the first strike in the history of major league baseball.

The reason for the work stoppage, which lasted only 3 days, is peculiar to say the least.  The strike was a showing of support for Ty Cobb, who was just as legendary for his talent and toughness as he was for his racist asshole douche-baggery.  Cobb had been suspended indefinitely by the league on March 16th and the Tigers didn’t think the suspension was warranted so they boycotted play.

Anyone supporting Ty Cobb for anything is shocking.  He was the guy two teams conspired against to cock block from the batting title; the guy who sharpened his spikes in the dugout and deliberately cleated other players, like “Homerun” Baker; the guy who drop-kicked catchers; and the  guy who used a knife on a hotel watchman which resulted in an attempted murder warrant.  Even the guys in Field of Dreams hated him.  So in order for players to rally around Cobb, his suspension had to have been a miscarriage of justice, right?  A completely baseless and patently unfair decision, right?  Well, you be the judge:

Three days prior to the boycott, Cobb’s Tigers were playing the New York Highlanders (they’d be renamed the Yankees one year later) at Hilltop Park in Washington Heights.  In the stands, seated in the 3rd row along the third base line, was Claude Lucker.  Lucker was an overzealous heckler and especially despised Cobb.  Lucker, who was maimed in a machine press injury as a youth which cost him one hand and three fingers on his other hand, relentlessly berated Cobb from the time he took the field.  Lucker got under Cobb’s skin quickly, and after the Tigers got out of the 2nd inning, Cobb stayed out in the field and sat in foul territory instead of returning to the dugout with the rest of his teammates.  He did so because he didn’t think he’d get a chance to bat in the 3rd and because he didn’t want to pass Lucker on his way back into the dugout.

Two innings later, Cobb sat on the bench with Lucker continuously yelling obscenities.  Teammates asked Cobb why he was letting the fan call him names, to which Cobb replied “I don’t know how much more I can take.”  When the Tigers were retired, Cobb got off the bench to return to the field when Lucker allegedly called Cobb a racial epithet.  That was it for Cobb, and as it turns out, for Lucker too.  Cobb turned around and jumped the barrier into the stands where he unleashed a beating on Lucker.  The Times described the scene as follows:

Everything was very pleasant…until Ty Cobb johnnykilbaned a spectator right on the place where he talks, started the claret, and stopped the flow of profane and vulgar words…Cobb led with a left jab and countered with a right kick to Mr. Spectator’s left Weisbach, which made his peeper look as if someone had drawn a curtain over it…. Jabs bounded off the spectator’s face like a golf ball from a rock.

Lucker’s account, found here, doesn’t include words like “johnnykilbaned” or “Weisbach,” but it is just as entertaining:

Cobb vaulted over the fence where I was sitting in the third row and made straight for me.  He struck me with his fists on the forehead over the left eye, and knocked me down.  Then he jumped on me and spiked me in the left leg and kicked me in the side, after which he booted me behind the left ear.  I was down and Cobb was kicking me when some one in the crowd shouted, “Don’t kick him, he has no hands.”  Cob answered, “I don’t care if he has no feet!”

Ban Johnson, president of the league, was actually at the game and suspended Cobb immediately.  Cobb was upset he didn’t get to tell his side of the story, and his teammates sided with him.  They sent a message to the league on May 17th, which read, in part “We want him reinstated for tomorrow’s game, May 18, or there will be no game. If the players cannot have protection we must protect ourselves.”  Johnson replied to team owner Frank Nevin threatening a $1,000 fine for each game the Tigers did not field a team.  Under the direction of Nevin, the Tigers coach Hughie Jennings went on a hunt for local amateur players as backup just in case the regulars did not take the field.

Jennings contacted St. Joseph’s College and recruited 7 bodies: Al Travers, Dan McGarvey, Jim McGarr, Vince Maney, Jack Smith, Hap Ward and Ed Irvin.  He also added the services of 2 local boxers: Bill Leinhauser and Billy Maharg; and rounded out the replacement squad with members of his coaching staff.  Jennings had the “misfits,” as they were described in the press, arrive to the ballpark early on May 18th and sit in the bleachers.

When the Tigers regulars walked onto the field for game, the umpires called Cobb in from center field and advised him that he was barred from playing.  As he walked off the field, the rest of his team followed and changed out of their uniforms in the clubhouse.  With that, the replacements were called in from their seats, quickly signed one-day contracts, and donned the uniforms of the regulars.  A bunch of college kids and 2 amateur boxers had just become major league baseball players.

The game turned out as one would expect, with the Athletics pummeling the Tigers 24-2.  Taking a look at the box score reveals the A’s didn’t take it easy on the “Tigers” with their lineup or with their play.  They started most regulars including Homerun Baker, Jack Barry, Eddie Collins, Amos Strunk, Hal Maggert and Stuffy McGinnis; and pitched aces Jack Coombs and Herb Pennock.  The A’s stat line included 4 doubles, 7 triples and 9 steals.  Taking a look at the box score also reveals that Jennings was forced to insert himself late into the game; he went 0-1.

Al Travers

Al Travers, who played violin in the student orchestra at St. Joe’s and who would be ordained as a priest a few years later, agreed to be the starting pitcher for Tigers when he was offered $50 (the position players received $25).  Up until that day, Travers baseball experience consisted wholly of  “some stick-ball” in his youth.  Pitching to the HOF caliber A’s lineup, Travers gave up 24 runs on 26 hits with 7 walks.  He did manage one strikeout.  Decades after the game, Travers discussed it in an interview:

I was throwing slow curves and the A’s were not used to them and couldn’t hit the ball. Hughie Jennings told me not to throw fast balls as he was afraid I might get killed. I was doing fine until they started bunting. The guy playing third base had never played baseball before. I just didn’t get any support…no one in the grandstands was safe! I threw a beautiful slow ball and the A’s were just hitting easy flies…trouble was, no one could catch them.

After this travesty and seeing that his teammates, coach and owner would be financially burdened with fines if the strike continued, Cobb urged the Tigers to get back on the field.  And on May 21st, they did, ending the first strike in baseball history.


A 1920s A’s Fan Reminisces

Just did an interview with Dr. John Rooney, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at La Salle University and former Philadelphia A’s fan. Rooney’s family lived on the block behind Shibe Field’s right field wall, and they used to charge admission for people to sit on the roof of their house and take in A’s games. This at a time when the A’s were the best team in the Majors, winning back to back championships in 1929 and 1930. Rooney has written a book about his experiences of being an A’s fan as a child, and is looking for a publisher. Here he shares a few memories with us. We at Philly Sports History thank Mr. Rooney for taking the time to respond to our questions. If you have any old memories of Shibe Park, or of old A’s and Phils teams, we’d love to hear them. Just send an email to johnny@johnnygoodtimes.com or contact us on facebook.

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Bobo Holloman: Baseball’s Most Spectacular Flash in the Pan Ever

I was thrilled when I realized that Bobo Holloman’s May 6th, 1953 no-hitter came against the Philadelphia A’s, because it meant I’d have an excuse to write about it. I have always found it to be one of the quirkiest, strangest anomalies in baseball history: a 29 year old rookie becomes the only man to ever throw a no-hitter in his first major league start, then is out of the league less than three months later, never to return. Here’s how it happened.

Following World War II, young Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman decided to try his hand at baseball. After 7 years of bouncing around the minors, he finally got his call to the Show. He threw a few innings of relief for the St. Louis Browns, and after a few weeks nagged manager Marty Marion into letting him start a game. On May 6th, he got his wish, as the Browns were taking on the Philadelphia A’s in a remarkably forgettable match-up; the A’s would finish the season 41.5 games out of first, the Browns 46.5 games out of first. St. Louis would move to Baltimore at the end of the season. The A’s would move to Kansas City after the 1954 season. Furthermore, the weather was lousy that night. Therefore a mere 2,473 fans ventured out to old Sportsman’s Park. Browns’ owner Bill Veeck described Bobo’s no-no:

Everything he threw up was belted and everywhere the ball went, there was a Brownie there to catch it. It was such a hot and humid heavy night that long fly balls that seemed to be heading out of the park would die and be caught against the fence. Just as Bobo looked as if he was tiring, a shower would sweep across the field, delaying the game long enough for him to get a rest. Allie Clark hit one into the left field stands that curved foul at the last second. A bunt just rolled foul on the last spin. Our fielding was superb. The game went into the final innings and nobody had got a base hit off Big Bobo. On the final out of the eighth inning, Billy Hunter made an impossibe diving stop on a ground ball behind second base and an even more impossible throw. With two out in the ninth, a ground ball was rifled down the first base line — right at our first baseman, Vic Wertz. Big Bobo had pitched the quaintest no-hitter in the history of the game.

And Holloman wasn’t only the pitching star that night. He had also 2 hits and 3 RBIs. Remarkably, they would be the only hits and RBIs of his career. He would pitch erratically over the next two months, recording 2 more wins but 7 losses, and in late July he was sold to a minor league team named the Toronto Maple Leafs (pretty original, eh?). He failed to regain his form, played for 5 minor league teams, and by the end of 1954, he was through with baseball. He went to work driving a truck and later started an advertising firm.

His career numbers are as pedestrian as you can get: 3-7, with a 5.23 ERA. But his legacy endures. Why? Because he is still considered the only MLB pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his first start (a couple of pitchers did it in the 1890s before the mound was moved back to its current 60’6″). Only one pitcher has come close since. In 1967, Red Sox pitcher Billy Rohr of the Boston Red Sox had  a no-hitter with two outs in the 9th, but Elston Howard singled to spoil his bid. And we’ll end with a trivia question: what current Major Leaguer threw a no-hitter in his 2nd start, in 2007?