Today we paused to observe Veterans Day in the United States. Yesterday, November 11th marked 100 years since the end of World War I, the war to end all wars. More than 15 million people, military and civilian, lost their lives during the four years the war raged in Europe.
The conflict broke out on July 24, 1914 following the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the July Crisis. The web of secret alliances and miscalculations by leaders on both sides led to all out war. The United States did not enter the conflict until the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram. Germany was encouraging Mexico to attack the United States if America entered the war in Europe. Germany promised Mexico support in regaining lost territories including Texas. The admission by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann of the authenticity of the telegram hastened American entry into the war on April 6, 1917.
The United States mobilized more than 4 million military personnel during the war. Among them were 788 former, current, or future Major League players. Players did not receive special treatment as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, George Sisler, and Branch Rickey were assigned to the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson contracted tuberculous and died from the disease in 1925 at 45 years old. Cobb, Mathewson, Sisler, and Rickey were among 28 future Hall of Famers who served during World War I.
Christy Mathewson (L) and Ty Cobb (R) while serving in the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson died from contracting tuberculous while serving. (Frank Ceresi Collection)
The brutality of the war led to more than 8.5 million military deaths among the belligerents. The United States alone suffered 116,708 military dead in the 20 months it was involved in the conflict. Eight Major League players lost their lives: Eddie Grant (Killed in Action), Tom Burr (Died in Training Accident Plane Crash), Bun Troy (Killed in Action), Ralph Sharman (Drowned in Training), Larry Chappell (Spanish Flu), Harry Glenn (Spanish Flu), Newt Halliday (Tuberculosis), and Harry Chapman (Died from Wounds). Three Negro League players lost their lives: Ted Kimbro (Spanish Flu), Norman Triplett (Pneumonia), and Pearl Webster (Spanish Flu). 26 minor league players also lost their lives during the conflict.
When World War I came to a halt on November 11, 1918, the concussive noise of shells stopped and soldiers could hear the birds chirping. One year later, President Woodrow Wilson spoke in remembrance of the sacrifice and lose, and of those returning home. On June 4, 1926 the United States Congress adopted a resolution that President Calvin Coolidge issue an annual proclamation calling for observances on November 11th in remembrance of the end of World War I. More than a decade later, on May 13, 1938, November 11th becomes an American holiday to promote world peace. Following two more devastating wars, World War II and the Korean War, on May 26, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law that henceforth November 11th would be known as Armistice Day. Later that summer on June 1, Congress amended the law, changing the name to Veterans Day.
On Veterans Day we honor the sacrifices made by the men and women who served or are serving in the military. Their sacrifices are up to and including laying down their lives. Deployments overseas and the separation from family and friends. The physical, mental, and emotional tolls of their jobs. The military protects the nation from enemies, both foreign and domestic. The military is not a nameless, faceless entity. It is ordinary people giving their time, skills, and sometimes lives so their fellow citizens can live in peace. On this Veterans Day, 100 years after the war to end all wars, take a moment to reflect on those who have sacrificed for us all. We should not waste their sacrifice on petty squabbles, but work together to create a more peaceful nation and world so that war becomes a thing of the past.
One of the many reasons I am not a big football fan is due to the lack of games. I understand why there are so few games each year, but the lack of action leaves plenty to be desired. The dead time between games results in hours and days of continuous talking about what happened in the last game and the matchups for the next game. There is only so much anyone can talk about a game before or after it is played until you begin to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is no justification that I can find to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the upcoming Week 6 football game between the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars unless it is to recreate the Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans skits. Sadly, dozens of hours will be spent discussing a game that will most likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. In baseball you might spend 30 minutes before and after each game discussing the match up and what happened, but even that can be a stretch.
Not much to do between games but talk about DA BEARS. (nbc.com)
Football kills time between games by talking in circles about the same thing week after week. The beauty of baseball is once the post-game armchair manager talk is wrapped up, the discussion may continue to the future by looking at the minor leagues or reframe the present with a look to the past. Sometimes a quirky event about the game warrants a focused look on the great players in baseball history for an interesting connection.
I was invited to attend a talk by Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by my fiancée’s work colleague. The talk was at the Green Diamond Gallery, which is the largest privately held baseball collection in the world. The talk centered mainly on the Hall of Fame and its current efforts to preserve baseball history and educate the fans. After the talk, Jeff Idelson began answering questions from the audience. Several of the questions had to do with the election process and potential changes to the induction process. The standard Pete Rose questions were asked, as the Green Diamond Gallery is located in Cincinnati. Finally someone asked “Who do you [Jeff Idelson] think should be in the Hall of Fame that is not?” He did the appropriate tap dance around the question so as to not give a definite answer. Then he gave the best possible answer.
Is the Reds Hall of Fame the closest Pete Rose will ever get to Cooperstown? Probably (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)
There are 312 individuals enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires, 35 Negro League players, and 217 Major League players. There have been over 18,700 individual players in Major League history. This means only the top 1% of players are eventually enshrined. You can argue that every player that is in Cooperstown belongs there, plus many more who are not. However, there is little to be argued that the players enshrined do not deserve to be there.
There are plenty of players for whom the argument can be made that they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but more is not always better. The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 of those 30 teams (53%) will make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets made the playoffs this year with a 41-41 record, why is a .500 team going to the playoffs? Yes there have been some dreadful divisions in Major League Baseball, the 2005 National League West was won by the San Diego Padres with an 82-80 record, but those are rare. The more slots you have in the playoffs, the worse the competition. It is better to leave a good team at home than to have a terrible team advance, although this is tough to say when the team you root for is that good team. The same is true for the Hall of Fame. Admitting more players means detracting from the significance of the honor. This only serves to muddle the difference between greatness and the very good.
The Green Diamond Gallery is an amazing collection of any and everything that is baseball. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)
Eliminating the players who are known or highly suspected of using steroids and those who are on the permanently ineligible list, there are several players for whom a convincing argument can be made that they belong in Cooperstown. These are player who are no longer on the ballot for election by the baseball writers. Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Bret Saberhagen, Maury Wills, Thurman Munson, and the list goes on.
Would the Hall of Fame be better with these players enshrined, I would say so. Is the Hall of Fame seen as incomplete without these players, I do not think so. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the top 1% of players. Every generation has players who were spectacular on the field, yet begin to fade with time.
Multiple MVP Awards failed to get Dale Murphy enshrined in Cooperstown. (mlb.com)
Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Mo Vaughn, and Brett Butler were all outstanding players in the early to mid 1990’s. Were they as emblematic of baseball excellence as Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux? Those enshrined in Cooperstown should be the players who can be compared against players from every generation and hold their own. Joe DiMaggio was not the best or most powerful hitter, but his skills and statistics hold up against players from every generation.
Records and awards are designed to recognize greatness, not designed to settle debates. Ichiro now has more hits in professional baseball than Pete Rose. However, Rose got all of his hits in the Majors while Ichiro has split his time between the Majors and Japan. Who is the better hitter? It would be easy to insert Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Miguel Cabrera into the debate. Is Cy Young the greatest pitcher of all time because he has the most wins or Nolan Ryan because he has the most strikeouts? I doubt you will find many people so easily convinced. What about Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Bob Feller, or Old Hoss Radbourn?
What could Bob Feller have done on the mound had his service in World War II not cost him nearly four full seasons early in his career. (http://vanmeteria.gov/)
Jeff Idelson repeatedly pointed to the democratic way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame. He understands that the process is not perfect, but ultimately gets it right. The recent changes to the voting process, revoking the voting rights of writers who have not actively covered baseball in the past 10 years and reducing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, should help to reduce and then prevent a backlog of worthy players getting the look they deserve. This is not to say they will be elected, but that they will get a fair shot. The top 1% of players will rise to the top during voting as they did during their playing careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Players and their accomplishments are never cast aside regardless of how short or long their careers. Thousands of players have taken the field and many have made a case for their inclusion with the legends of the game. However, those enshrined in Cooperstown leave no doubt about their worthiness in the history of the game. It is those who came so close to joining this exclusive club, yet have come up just short, that allows the debate to flourish over what makes a Hall of Fame player.
The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming
1908 was a great year for baseball. It was more than just the most recent World Series title for the Chicago Cubs. The season was one of the most exciting pennant races in baseball history. The Chicago Cubs, the New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates fought each other from Opening Day throughout the season until the final day of the season. Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, (Joe) Tinker-to-(Johnny) Evers-to-(Frank) Chance, John McGraw played prominent roles throughout the season.
The excitement of the pennant race is retold through newspaper articles that were published during the great 1908 season in The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming. This approach to the retelling of the pennant race allows the reader to be transported back in time. The use of the newspaper articles prevents the book from taking on too much of an academic tone, but rather it exudes the storytelling of every man. Fleming only inserts necessary background information, which helps to bridge the gap over the years and prevents any information from going by without understood. The daily notes regarding the previous day’s action show the dominance of the Pirates, Cubs, and Giants over the rest of the National League. The ebb and flow of these three great teams only built the tension and excitement of the season the closer it drew to October.
The most infamous play of the 1908 season surrounded the actions of Fred Merkle. While I knew the story of Merkle prior to reading The Unforgettable Season, Fleming allows the newspapers to paint a much clearer picture of the man prior to his gaining infamy. This clearer picture of what he could have become as a player before the newspapers and fans used him as a scapegoat for why the Giants did not reach the World Series. (Keith Olbermann of ESPN recounts Merkle’s story well).
Fleming does an excellent job of stay out of the way of history. He allows the story to tell itself. This is a refreshing approach, as it would be easy for any author to unintentionally get into the middle of the story. Modern day analysis of the season could shed more light on the details of the 1908 season. However, I believe Fleming was smart to simply stay out of the way of the history. The Unforgettable Season provides a glimpse of how great a pennant race can be, however the pennant race is not the same as it once was as the playoffs have expanded beyond just the World Series. The expanded playoffs are not better or worse, just different. The expanded playoffs allow more teams and fans to stay engaged in the baseball season later in the season than they might otherwise. Fleming provides an excellent read for anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of baseball and its history.
More from The Winning Run library.
Long winters without baseball are awful. However, one of the best ways to keep your love of the game alive and well is by reading baseball. My library has plenty and I wanted to share a few with you.
One of Mickey Mantle’s many biographies. In The Mick you get a view of his life during his career but not so much on the field. He talks about teammates, parties, his family, and career moments. You get a feel for his love of the game, but also the hatred of things that occurred in his career. It is an enjoyable and quick read.
Yes this one is about the Red Sox and their championship season in 2004. Yes it was painful to read (as the resident Yankee fan). Despite this, authors Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King make you keep reading as they chronicle the Red Sox through email and blog posts and their knowledge. They are true friends and true fans of baseball. They remind me of my two partners in this blog and their knowledge and passion. This is a great read and a great part of history.
A chronicling of Joe DiMaggio’s record 56 game hitting streak. This is a great book about DiMaggio’s life to that point and what he went through during that time. It looks into what pressures and stress, and how DiMaggio dealt with them, his family, and teammates. Books like 56 help to show the personal side to these legends we will never be able to meet in real life.
Why haven’t you read this? The movie is great, and the book is amazing. I didn’t want to even put it here but figured it deserved recognition. Read this or you will never get on base.
40 years ago today, April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth as the all-time home run king with his 715th career home run. The most revered record in Major League Baseball, perhaps in sports, passed from arguably the greatest player ever to a man who faced increasing racism with every home run he hit as he approached Ruth. The grace which Aaron displayed in the face of the ever increasing threats and media pressure showed the true character of the man. He was, and remains, a well-spoken and confident man, but you would never confuse his confidence for arrogance, he let his greatness speak for itself. Hank Aaron remains one of the great ambassadors for the game of baseball.
Aaron’s 715th home run is one of the most memorable moments in baseball history. The packed house at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with the Atlanta Braves playing the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers before a crowd of 53,775. Al Downing pitching for the Dodgers. The high kick and Downing delivered to Hank Aaron. The ball flying over the ball over the left-centerfield fence with the quick and easy swing. Announcer Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully each giving their own infamous call of the home run. Braves centerfielder Dusty Baker pointing towards the fence as he rose from a knee on the on-deck circle. Dodger leftfielder Bill Buckner climbing the wall trying to make a play. Braves relief pitcher Tom House catching the ball, and eventually returning it to Aaron. Davey Lopes, the Dodgers second baseman, and Bill Russell, the Dodgers shortstop, congratulating him as he rounded second base. The two fans running onto the field and running along with Aaron as he headed for third. The mob of people who greeted Aaron at home plate, the bear hug his mother gave him. The short, yet eloquent speech,
~“Thank God it’s over.”
While I was not even born yet when this happened, I have seen and heard about Aaron’s 715th home run enough to feel like I was there. Just watching a video of it gives me a bit of butterflies in my stomach. It is a truly magical moment in baseball history.
The man who broke Aaron’s record had a very different experience as he marched towards the record. The closer Barry Bonds came to hitting 756, the louder the noise become regarding his use of performance-enhancing drugs. More and more debate about whether he should even be, playing or if he should be suspended for his transgressions, or if his accomplishments should have an asterisk next to them. Yes Aaron faced an onslaught of racism, and no doubt Bonds did too from similarly ignorant people, although it seems less so which showed the progress of American society during the in the 33 years which Aaron held the record. However, I believe much of the ridicule and animosity against Bonds was due to his own actions. Aaron is by no means a perfect person, but Bonds epitomizes the steroid era and its assault on the record books. This for many baseball fans was, and is, unforgiveable.
Bonds is the all-time home run record holder, I do not dispute this. I was alive when it happened, so you would think I would remember more of the details of his breaking Hank Aaron’s record. It happened less than seven years ago, so it has not been that long ago. However, if I were to be put on the spot all I could tell you is the game was played in San Francisco in 2007. Not much else.
The story of Bonds’ historic night is much less romantic. On August 7, 2007 Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record during the Giants game against the Washington Nationals. He hit the home run off of Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik, before a crowd of 43,154. Bengie Molina was on deck. It was not nearly the same celebration of the game and its records which Aaron passing Ruth elicited. Bonds passing Aaron should be a moment that is played over and over again by Major League Baseball, but it is not. Putting it mildly, Bonds is a polarizing figure in baseball, ask Jeff Kent. His mere presence at Giants Spring Training this year set off a media frenzy about whether he should be there. He was also asked again about his performance-enhancing drug use, which he still tap dances around. Bonds will never be the beloved figure that Aaron is; it is just not in his personality.
Where does this leave us? In my opinion the Home Run King remains Hank Aaron, even though Barry Bonds has hit more home runs. The performance-enhancing drug cloud which surrounded Bonds’ career, especially after he became a San Francisco Giant, has led to cries for him to be stripped of his records. I am strongly against the use of PEDs, and believe those who are found guilty of using them should be punished, as I have previously stated here. Throwing someone out of baseball is not the same as removing their records and statistics from the game. Pete Rose was thrown out of baseball, but his records remain. Pose like Bonds is an integral part of baseball history which should not be forgotten, good or bad. Bonds, judging by the 36.2% and 34.7% of votes he received in his first two years of eligibility for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, will never receive the ultimate honor of being enshrined with the immortals of baseball. This will have to suffice as his punishment.
Like Pete Rose, Bonds will be remembered but never honored in Cooperstown for his accomplishments. The argument against removing Bonds from the record book is simple, if you start with him, where do you stop? Do you remove Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, what about Leo Durocher for his relationship with known gamblers, or Ty Cobb for his pronounced racism, and the list goes on and on. If baseball does decide to throw all these players, coaches, and other associates of baseball out, who plays the judge and jury? This is an entire other debate. You can ban someone from baseball, but you cannot change what they did. It would alter the outcomes of games, and there would be no end to revising the history of the game. Revising history makes the record book a mockery and without any value to be reverenced. Bonds and the steroid era are a part of the history of baseball, not necessarily a good part, but nonetheless it is a part that should be remembered.
Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds are two very different people. Aaron goes about his business with a quiet confidence and people truly listen when he speaks, as they have respect for his insights and opinions. Bonds has always had more flair and more of a demonstrative personality, which has rubbed many people the wrong way, just ask Bonds’ Pirates Manager Jim Leyland. People tend to only listen when Bonds speaks because they are waiting for a confession, not because they respect him. Neither Aaron’s or Bonds’ approach are completely right or wrong, they are just different. Both players were among the elite when they played. Both were clearly Hall of Fame caliber players, however Bonds chose to hang on to his youthful strength a little longer than father time would naturally allow. While Major League Baseball and the Players Union have in recent years become serious about weeding out the cheaters in the game, Bonds was like many players before him and after him seeking an advantage. Some players use a corked bat, like Sammy Sosa, or a foreign substance on the baseball, like Gaylord Perry, Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. While I wish all sports could rid themselves of these drugs, the past is the past. It happened. Baseball, and sports in general, has two choices. They can remember the past, both good and bad, and learn from it. The other option is to revise or erase the past and over time repeat the same mistakes. There are two options, but only one should ever be taken. It is best to remember the past and its blemishes and to work to never repeat those mistakes.
40 years ago, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’ record for most career home runs in Major League Baseball. While Aaron no longer holds the record he is still the Home Run King. Simply having the most of something does not make you the king of something in sports; rather you are the record holder. Cy Young holds the record for most career wins, but he is not the King of Pitching. Arguments can be made for Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver, and a few others. The title of King is reserved for those who are among the elites, yet also receive the reverence of the fans. Aaron had the record and lost it. However, Bonds has not been enthroned as the Home Run King because he lacks the admiration from the fans, and I doubt he ever will, and he has only himself to blame.
Born on September 11, 1886 in Narrows, Georgia, Ty Cobb would become one of the greatest players in baseball history. During his 24 year playing career, 22 with the Detroit Tigers and two with the Philadelphia Athletics, Cobb hit over .300 23 times. His rookie year in 1905, Cobb hit .240 in 150 at bats, however he would never hit below .316 (his second season) again for the rest of his career. His .367 career batting average remains a Major League record, which is unlikely to be surpassed. He hit over .400 three times during his career (1911-.420, 1912-.409, and 1922-.401). Remarkably Cobb did not win the batting title in 1922, as George Sisler hit .420 for the St. Louis Browns. In 1909, Cobb won the Triple Crown leading the American League with a .377 batting average, 9 home runs, and 107 RBI. The 1911 season was one of Cobb’s best seasons, and arguably one of the greatest of all time. Cobb hit .420, collected 248 hits, 47 doubles, 24 triples, 127 RBI, scored 147 runs, 83 stolen bases, SLG .621, and OPS 1.088; all of which led the American League. Cobb’s efforts earned him the Chalmers Award, the precursor to the MVP.
The legendary tales of Cobb sharpening his spikes to intimidate others shows how intense of a competitor Cobb was on the field. Cobb knew the strike zone as well as any hitter to have ever played the game. He had only 680 strikeouts during his career, striking out over 50 times in a season only once. His incredible plate discipline along with his speed on the base path presented a major problem to opposing teams. Cobb was almost sure to make contact with any pitch, which made the hit and run play possible any time a runner was on base. If the defense tried to prevent the runner from advancing, Cobb could hit the ball to foil the defenses plans. Once he was on base, Cobb could distract the pitcher from the hitter. Few, if any, infielders wanted to get in his way as he advanced around the bases for fear of injury from his spikes. Cobb had 898 stolen bases during his career. It was nearly impossible to keep Cobb off the bases and once he was there between his speed and intelligence opponents were unlikely to get him out.
Cobb’s fierce nature on the field was unsurpassed during his playing career, most notably with his high spikes. However, Cobb’s intensity extended beyond the field, as in 1912 he went into the stands in New York while playing the Highlanders and beat a man after the fan hurled insults at Cobb during a game.
Away from the baseball field Cobb was a shrewd investor, investing heavily in Coca Cola during its early years. He was also a generous man, and his generosity off the field continues to be felt today. Cobb founded the Ty Cobb Educational foundation, which has helped thousands of Georgia students to attend college by awarding scholarships. To date, more than thirteen million dollars have been awarded to students. Cobb also established the Cobb Memorial Hospital in 1950. This hospital has become the Ty Cobb Healthcare System which continues to serve rural areas of Northwest Georgia.
Cobb was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. He received 222 out of 226 votes. He received more votes than the other members of the 1936 class: Honus Wagner (215), Babe Ruth (215), Christy Mathewson (205), and Walter Johnson (189). Cobb earned the honor of being the first inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This honor was bestowed upon him as he received the highest vote total among those in the first class in 1936. Cobb’s 98.23% of the Voting for the Hall of Fame remains the fourth best all time, behind only Tom Seaver (98.84%), Nolan Ryan (98.79%), and Cal Ripken Jr. (98.53%).