Hello all! Hope everyone had/is having a good holiday season!
As has been the case for the past year, I’ve been a bit bogged down with other projects which has kept me from posting as much here. I’ve recently considered writing about the current state of the Cubs, but that’s a sad road I’d rather not travel at this moment in time.
Rather, I’ll just announce a new project that is underway.
I’m compiling some of the greatest hits of this here site, and adding a few new tidbits for inclusion in a little book. I’m hoping to have this ragtag collection of baseball essays out sometime this coming spring, 2021.
Title, release info, and chapter teasers forthcoming.
Normally, a tilt between the fifth and seventh-place teams with just two weeks remaining in the season wouldn’t be grounds for excitement, much less remarkableness.
On Sunday, September 17, 1916 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis however, there was a game that was thoroughly exciting. It was also quite remarkable.
On this day, “Gorgeous” George Sisler of the home team Browns out-dueled the great Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators 1-0 for the final win of his pitching career.
But wait, isn’t Sisler a Hall of Fame first basemen? Yes, he is. But like several other ballplayers of that era, notably Babe Ruth and Smoky Joe Wood, Sisler enjoyed some success on the hill, albeit in a smaller capacity, comparatively.
Sisler started just 12 games with 28 appearances on the mound in his 15-year MLB career, compiling a mark of 5-6 with a 2.35 ERA over 111 innings pitched. Included in those outings were nine complete games, three saves, and one shutout – coming against Johnson, no less. He started three games for his Browns in ’16, completing all of them, with a record of 1-2 and an ERA of an even 1.00. These pitching marks went alongside a strong offensive campaign for the 23-year old in which he hit .305 with 11 triples, 76 RBI and 34 steals.
His final, and lone pitching victory of 1916 was a dandy.
In a game late in the season with both teams long out of pennant contention, the young Sisler took the bump opposite the Big Train himself. In an otherwise meaningless contest, the two pitchers locked horns in an epic standoff. The solitary run of the game crossed the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning. Browns center fielder Armando Marsans drew a walk by Johnson and was shortly thereafter singled home by catcher Grover Hartley. It was the only threat the Browns mustered all day, as Johnson was his typical brilliant self, scattering four hits while striking out eight. One of his two walks on the day, that to Marsans, would be the difference in the game.
For his part, Sisler allowed six Senators hits, while walking two and striking out six in a game that took just one hour, forty-seven minutes.
Although this was the last time Sisler would throw a complete game victory, it was not the first time he did so against Walter Johnson. Almost a year earlier to the day, on August 29, 1915, Sisler went the distance in a 2-1 victory over Johnson and the Senators, in a contest that was also at Sportsman’s Park and made famous by a brilliant eighth-inning execution of the hidden ball trick.
The St. Louis Browns would finish 79-75 in 1916, good enough for fifth place in the eight-team American League. The Washington Senators ended up 7th, with a mark of 76-77.
Sisler made just six more pitching appearances in his career after the Johnson shutout. He would go on to be the greatest player in Browns history and one of the best first basemen of his era. He finished with a lifetime batting average of .340, hit over .300 in 13 of his 15 MLB seasons, was the 1922 MVP and won batting titles in 1920 and 1922, hitting over .400 each time.
An excellent hitter, baserunner and defensive player, Sisler was not surprisingly part of the inaugural class at Cooperstown. But notching two of five career pitching wins against Walter Johnson, hurling the full nine each time, deserves a doff of the cap too.
Baseball is the oddest game of numbers, dates, funny hops and bizarre coincidences.
9 August, 1988
The Chicago Cubs earn a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets in the first official night game at Wrigley Field — except it wasn’t supposed to be the first. It just became the first official completed night game there. Sort of.
8 August, 1988
On a windy and stormy evening, a game between the Cubs and visiting Philadelphia Phillies was called midway through the fourth inning after a lengthy rain delay. Mother Nature had other plans for the would-be first official night game at Wrigley Field — only that it was considered the first professional night game at Wrigley wasn’t exactly true either.
For the actual first pro game under the lights at Clark & Addison, you have to journey back to July 1, 1943.
On that night, an All Star game of the All-American Girls Base Ball League (AAGBBL), then in its inaugural season and long before being immortalized by the smash hit film A League of Their Own, first graced the ivy in the twilight.
Night games in professional baseball began in 1935 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. On May 24 of that year, the Phillies ventured across the Ohio River for a late-spring matchup against the Reds. In a grand ceremony overseen by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, night baseball was officially underway. MLB teams began adding lights to their ballparks over the next several years, including the Cubs, but the events of December 7, 1941 changed their north side installation. The Cubs were set to have night games beginning in the 1942 season, but the day after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, the Cubs donated all the steel and useful parts of the lights to the ensuing war effort. Despite a lot of back and forth for the next several years, the Cubs still wouldn’t play a night game until nearly five decades later.
Night baseball did happen at Wrigley Field, however, courtesy of the AAGBBL (before the name was changed prior to the 1944 season to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or AAGPBL) (1). For the occasion, portable lights were placed “behind home plate, first base, and third base.” (2).
The first season of the AAGBBL featured four teams, playing standard baseball rules but using a 12-inch softball to create a sort of hybrid-style game. While the first official AAGPBL All Star Game wouldn’t occur until 1946, the league’s stars were assembled on this forgotten July night in ’43 for a special contest — on nearly the 10 year anniversary of the first MLB All Star Game, which was held at Chicago’s other legendary ball yard, Comiskey Park.
The two 1943 AAGBBL All Star teams consisted of combined rosters of the Rockford Peaches and South Bend Blue Sox on one side, and the Racine Belles and Kenosha Comets on the other.
The game itself was the headline event of the evening, and the Wisconsin squad blanked the Illinois-Indiana group by a tally of 16-0. The opener featured a softball game by the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps), wherein Fort Sheridan defeated Camp Grant 11-5.
Researcher Jay Feldman acquired some AAGBBL player feedback on the contest.
“The lights weren’t all that great, but we were used to that — we had to play with whatever we had,” said Shirley Jameson of the Kenosha Comets. “Besides, just the fact that we were playing in Wrigley Field was enough. We’d have done it whether it was light or dark, because we were all on Cloud Nine.” (3).
Center fielder Betsy “Sock ‘Em” Jochum of the South Bend Blue Sox went about the game as usual. “I didn’t realize at the time that they didn’t have lights at Wrigley Field,” she said. “I just thought those lights were there all the time. We showed up for the game, the lights were on, and we played. (3).
The league returned to Wrigley Field a year later, once again using portable lights, when on July 18, 1944 the now-named AAGPBL played a twi-night doubleheader to benefit the Red Cross. (2).
These overlooked night contests further signify the remarkable role these women played in not only keeping baseball going during the war years, but planting the seeds for a significant cultural impact that would be felt for decades to come.
Oh, and speaking of those bizarre coincidences, A League of Their Own debuted on July 1, 1992 – which was 49 years later, to the day, of when the AAGBBL became the first professional group to play ball under the lights at the friendly confines.
The Chicago White Sox enjoyed a banner season in 1917, one of the best in franchise history.
The pale hosers from the south side led the league in attendance, finished with a sterling record of 100-54 to take the American League pennant, and then went on to defeat the powerful New York Giants four games to two in the World Series.
But it was a rather rocky start for Commy’s crew when they found themselves with just an 11-10 mark on May 6, two and a half games back early in a season that was rife with promise.
Worse yet, the formidable White Sox batsmen had just been inexplicably no-hit for the second consecutive day by the St. Louis Browns.
Sox skipper Clarence “Pants” Rowland took his squad southwest on what was originally a four-game series at venerable Sportsman’s Park against the Browns, but the Saturday-Wednesday tilt was extended to six games to make up for two earlier rainouts. As such, doubleheaders were played on Sunday and Tuesday.
The series opened on Saturday, May 5th with a little slap of controversy. Famed Sox hurler Eddie Cicotte took the bump against Ernie Koob, a young lefty from Michigan who only played four major league seasons, though he generated a solid 3.13 lifetime ERA. The next day’s Chicago Tribune erroneously printed a headline stating the Sox were one-hit, the result of the official scorer at Sportsman’s Park initially recording a hit on what seemed like an obvious error in the opening frame.
With one out in the top of the first, White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver smacked a grounder toward Browns second baseman Ernie Johnson. The 29-year old, who came up with the White Sox in 1912 and would re-join them from 1921-23, was making his first Browns start for the nicked up Del Pratt, considered among the best second-sackers in the American League. Johnson played a bad hop in the muddy field correctly, keeping the ball in front of him with plenty of time to get Weaver at first. But the mucked-up ball slipped from his hand on the attempted throw to hall of fame first baseman George Sisler, and rolled behind him – a clear error. How anyone could have thought otherwise is a mystery, but somehow the recorded play was confused, ruled a hit, and newspaper accounts followed. After the game, the official scorer, John Sheridan, sought input from the umpires, coaches and some players. The majority felt the play was in fact an error, and the official record was changed. This prompted the Baseball Writers Association of America to file a protest with both leagues, and set forth a mandate that the official scorer cannot reverse a decision unless a clear violation of the rules was evident.
In the end, the reversed ruling stood. Cicotte battled to the distance, allowing just five hits and striking out three in the effort. Koob out-dueled the would-have-been hall of famer though, and his gem became the first Browns no-hitter at Sportsman’s Park.
As the inaccurate headline landed on doorsteps in Chicago on Sunday, May 6, the first of two doubleheaders in the Sox/Browns extended series was getting underway in the ‘Lou.
In the first game, the St. Louis offense peppered Sox starter Reb Russel for five runs in 3.2 innings and never looked back. Though the Sox would do some makeup damage against Browns pitcher Allan Sothoron, the gap couldn’t be closed and St. Louis wound up 8-4 victors. Bob Groom grabbed the six-out save for Fielder Jones’ Brownies, throwing two innings of no-hit ball.
He wasn’t done yet – not by a long shot.
The Belleville, Illinois native had a fair 10-year career, all in the American League with the Senators, Browns and Indians, except for a two-year stint with the short-lived Federal League’s St. Louis Terriers. The career 119-game winner compiled a 3.10 ERA with 157 complete games in 288 starts – nothing to scoff at.
Groom took the mound in game two, and picked up right where he left off in the opener, going the distance in a 3-0 no-hitter while striking out four.
Opposing him was Joe Benz of the White Sox, a veteran back end righty who only appeared in 19 games in the ’17 season. Benz was stout on this day though, going the full contest, but allowing three earned runs on eight scattered hits.
For Groom, the 11 innings of no-hit ball on the same day was a career highlight, adding to the oddity of no-hitting the potent White Sox twice on consecutive days.
The decent spring start for the Browns wouldn’t last though, as they trudged to a 57-97 record, good for seventh place in the eight-team American League.
The Sox on the other hand, bounced back rather quickly, taking the next three games in the series to be a little brighter-eyed at 14-10 and just 1.5 games back. They would race on from there to the century mark in wins, capturing the flag and then a ring at season’s end.
The deadball era was over, and before season’s end the world would see some extraordinary happenings: Eight members of the Chicago White Sox suspended by their owner just before capturing their second consecutive pennant, sluggers like Babe Ruth redefining power numbers and the first and only death to occur from an injury in a major league game.
The roaring twenties got off to a raucous start.
The official beginning of the live ball era also promised to bring about a lot of change. It had to for the good of the game, particularly in the wake of rumors that the 1919 World Series was tainted. The owners had to ensure that the public’s trust in the integrity of the game would keep going – along with the turnstiles at the ballparks.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Including some timely strategy by managers – or more specifically, player-managers like Clifford Carlton “Gavvy” Cravath of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Cravath was a solid player. The 11-year veteran amassed a career slash of .287/.380/.478 and was in the final year of his career in 1920 where he also assumed managerial duties of the hapless Phillies. His career as a skipper wasn’t much to gloat about though, having taken over for Jack Coombs in 1919 and continuing through 1920 where the Phillies finished in last place both years.
But early on in the ’20 season, there was a spark of promise from the Baker Bowl dwellers. After splitting the season-opening series in Brooklyn, the Phils traveled to the Polo Grounds for three games against the powerful John McGraw-led New York Giants. After dropping the first game 2-1, Philadelphia sent future hall of famer Eppa Rixey to the bump in game two to face the Giants’ Rube Benton, coming off one of the better seasons of his career in ’19.
A terrific duel ensued on a frigid April 20, with Rixey and Benton blanking each other’s batsmen through seven frames.
Singles by Dots Miller and Ralph Miller sparked the Phillies to begin their half of the eighth. With two men on, the 39-year old Cravath, in a surprise move not unlike the (fictional) Indians’ Jake Taylor’s genius use of general manager Roger Dorn 70 years later, inserted himself as a pinch hitter for Rixey. The strategy was bold, given that the Giants had only touched the cunning lefty for one hit.
Cravath, by this time in his career no stranger to tense situations, had other options on his bench. But something struck a chord of confidence in him in this circumstance. The gamble worked, as he unloaded on a regrettable Benton pitch and deposited it deep into the left field bleachers, giving his club a 3-0 lead they would not relinquish. It was the final round-tripper that Cravath would hit, the 119th of his career. George Smith emerged from the Phillies’ bullpen to record the two inning save and seal the heroic deed for the road team.
The tightly contested game took just one hour and twenty-five minutes.
Cravath’s cronies would win the next day as well, to snag two out of three against the Giants, who fell to a bewildering 1-4. The Phillies then followed that up with a win in their home opener against the Dodgers to sit at 4-2 and the Philly nationals were enjoying some signs of early life. But that’s where the turbulence began in earnest. A streaky season ensued, resulting in a 62-91 last-place finish and the end of Cravath’s big league career.
The Giants had a much more successful campaign at 86-68, finishing in second place, seven games behind the pennant-winning Brooklyn Dodgers.
Staring out my home office window at the newly snow-covered ground on this frigid March day, I wonder to myself: Just how the hell did we get here?
Oh yeah, the thing.
That thing that we don’t need to mention because we all know what the thing is that’s affecting everyone on the globe.
Instead of getting ready for the MLB Opening Day in a few days, we’re all stuck working at home, trying to find a store that has toilet paper, and practicing social distancing for the next couple weeks, at least.
The thing is not good.
So with no new baseball news, and after being bogged down with work and life and therefore only able to post a few times here in recent months (sorry, all), I figured why not have some mindless fun: Baseball names.
There’s been some real laughers, head-scratchers and oddballs over the years. I’m not talking about the Johnny Dickshot’s, Dick Pole’s and Rusty Kuntz’s of the world – those fellas have been mentioned to death. Instead, I thought it’d be kind of enjoyable to list some of the lesser-known ballplayers of times past who carried strange, if unfortunate monikers.
And for whatever reason, a lot of these guys played for the Phillies…
Cannonball Titcomb. Pitcher from 1886-1890 with several teams. Not to be confused with Cannonball Crane, another pitcher of that era, or the hit song by the boy band Menudo in 1984.
Pussy Tebeau. This guy’s career spanned just two games in 1895 but he was productive, going 3 for 6 with three runs, an RBI and a stolen base. Ridiculous name.
Lil Stoner. Unclear if he liked the green stuff, but he compiled an unremarkable 50-58 record from 1922-1931 pitching for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies.
Mysterious Walker. A multi-sport athlete and coach at several colleges, he went 7-23 through parts of five MLB seasons from 1910-1915, with multiple teams.
Pete LaCock. Enough said.
Razor Shines. First baseman for the Montreal Expos during parts of the 1983-87 seasons. Later became a promising minor league manager, his last stint coming in 2015.
Chicken Hawks. No relation to Lincoln Hawk(s) of Hawk & Son Trucking Co., this dashing gent debuted with the New York Yankees in 1921 and hit .288 in 41 games. After a solid 4-year tour in the minors, he reemerged to MLB with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1925 and hit .322 in 105 games while breaking up multiple no-hitters and shutouts. He bounced around the minors until retiring in 1931.
Tony Suck. This Chicago native was a catcher, playing parts of the 1883 and 1884 seasons. He wasn’t that good.
Wonderful Terrific Monds. Whether his name was the inspiration for Larry Tremendous-Ridiculous is unknown.
Losing Pitcher Mulcahy. Pitching for, you guessed it, the Phillies from 1935-40 and again from 1945-46 before finishing up with the Pirates in ’47, Hugh Mulcahy earned his unfortunate nickname from having never pitched a season where he won more games than he lost.
Harry Cheek. Another guy who only played two games in his career, but went 2 for 4 with a run for who else – the Phillies – in 1910.
Phenomenal Smith. Playing for multiple teams from 1884-1891, he amassed a not-so-phenomenal record of 54-74.
Greetings, all. It’s been over two months since my last post, as work and a myriad of other projects continue to take precedence (and somewhat of a shortage of ideas, I admit. Wait, a shortage of baseball stuff to write about? Nah, that’s only an excuse. Digressing now.) On this final day of 2019, I figure it is a good time to pen something – another odd coincidence in over 150 years’ worth of them in our game.
“If I could teach myself how to play baseball with one arm, I sure as hell could handle a rifle.”
– Pete Gray, 1941
Pete Gray was no stranger to challenges.
A right arm amputee following a childhood accident in 1923, Gray was told repeatedly throughout his life that he would never make it as a professional ballplayer. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was told he’d never be a soldier, either.
Breaking into professional baseball in 1942, due, in part to the manpower shortage from the war effort, Gray began to produce immediately. While it may have been easy for some to say he was playing due not only to the limit of available players – but also to boost ticket sales – he was in reality a lightning fast base runner with excellent outfield range. He was more than a capable hitter as well, amassing a lifetime minor league average of .308.
He eventually broke into the majors in 1945 with the St. Louis Browns, hitting .218 in 77 games. During those years, Gray bashfully became considered something of a stateside hero. The continuation of baseball served to be an important boost to national morale, and something for the troops overseas to hold onto, and Gray was a not-so-small part of that.
1944 was a big year for Pete. As a member of the Class A Memphis Chicks, he was awarded MVP of the Southern Association, after a season in which he batted .333 with 68 stolen bases. He was also recognized as the “Most Courageous Athlete” by the Philadelphia Sports Writers, to which he immediately replied with “Boys, I can’t fight, and there is no courage about me. Courage belongs on the battlefield, not the baseball diamond.”
Stoic almost to a fault, Gray would still achieve one singular personal milestone that season.
Visiting Chattanooga, TN to take on the rival Lookouts at historic Engel Stadium, this was to be a highlight, if overlooked, day for Pete Gray. With the score tied 3-3 in the eighth, Gray stepped into the box to face Bob Albertson, a career minor leaguer who never made the show. Albertson uncorked a fastball, and Gray dropped the barrel of his club on the pill, launching it over the 20-foot high right field fence, 330 feet away from home plate.
Pete Gray, the one-armed ballplayer from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, had finally hit his first career home run as a professional ballplayer – another thing they told him he could never do.
Outside of the attendees at Engel Stadium that day, few people knew of this feat, and even fewer cared, even though this was the only professional ballgame played in the country on this particular date. After years of unwanted attention and suffering endless ridicule, nobody cared what Pete Gray did during this game. It was ironic.
All other pro games had been cancelled, with flags everywhere flying at half-staff.
Greetings once again from the southwest Chicago suburbs, friends.
It’s been some time since my last post, as work and myriad other projects have leapfrogged the production of any new content here for a bit.
Hey, it happens.
With the 2019 MLB postseason just days away (and without my Cubs for the first time in four years thanks to an epic collapse that brings about confusion, embarrassment and other inexplicable things, but that’s a whole other monster), I felt it we should again touch base on the 1919 World Series.
Plus I didn’t have anything else to write at this time.
As the anniversary of that ill-fated Sox/Reds matchup reaches it’s centennial crescendo, this is an opportune time to point you to an excellent new work by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), appropriately titled Eight Myths Out. This project was orchestrated and edited by SABR’s Director of Editorial Content, and the foremost Black Sox historian, Jacob Pomrenke.
Most casual fans who know anything of the 1919 World Series instantly cite, or quote from the film Eight Men Out – a good one, yes – but largely untrue and unsubstantiated.
In fact, the film and book are mostly glossed over malarkey.
Pomrenke brings this fantastic research project to life with fascinating and newly uncovered facts that debunk virtually everything you thought you knew about that infamous Chicago White Sox team.
As with nearly every aspect of the infamous scandal, most facts uncover even more questions, which ironically mimics the confusion of the original events themselves. Nobody truly knows what happened during that fateful autumn 100 years ago, and probably never will. Research will be ongoing and more light shed on each facet, but Eight Myths Out has established a new foundation, a stronger starting point to uncover the truth than any other over the last century has.
Anyone who has ever held a shred of interest in the 1919 White Sox story won’t want to miss this.
The World Series. The Super Bowl. The Daytona 500.
Every major sport has its own seminal event(s).
On July 2, 1989, the Walker Wiffleball League, still in its infancy, featured its own monumental contest:
The Ultimate Uncles vs. The Nuclear Nephews.
It was an epic game that addressed challenges from both sides head-on and cemented bragging rights for decades to come. The scene was buzzing. An electric atmosphere on the grounds of what would become Hank Gathers Memorial Stadium was theretofore unheard of in wiffleball – highlighted by a live performance of our national anthem, two beer commercials, stunning video production, and shit-talking galore.
In this comprehensive, uncensored 30th Anniversary recap, we will take a close look at the game itself along with input and anecdotes directly from those who participated in the glory of that July day.
A couple years back, we visited with Chris Walker, founder of the WWL (you can view that interview here), to talk about his highly organized 3 on 3 league that featured an authentic mini-stadium, full recordkeeping, night games, and bold player nicknames like ‘Doobie” and “Buttpick” among others.
Although the league was just getting started in 1989, many felt that it needed a special event to really commemorate and celebrate the simplistic joys of wiffleball and summertime.
And settle some scores.
Rumblings of such a game were rampant for over a year, before the gauntlet was officially thrown down and agreed upon. Details are little sketchy, but the actual deal may have been struck during a family Christmas gathering in 1988. (Whether or not the discussion about the game stemmed from a certain gag-gifted toilet plunger is debatable to this day.)
“It may have been brought about at a recent family engagement,” recalls Nuclear Nephews outfielder Shawn Trusty. “It was mutually agreed upon and the Fourth of July seemed the perfect fit.”
Teams were then chosen, and the stage was set for the game as part of the upcoming Fourth of July Weekend festivities.
Ultimate Uncles vs. Nuclear Nephews: The Game
The Ultimate Uncles consisted of a grizzly mix of veteran talent. Trickster twirler William “Rollie” Walker took the bump, flanked by fleetfooted outfielders Larry Walker and Shoeless Paul “Thor” Mackey.
The younger, piss and vinegar-filled Nuclear Nephews, never ones to miss an opportunity to make a statement, countered as an elite trio. The Trusty brothers – Brian and Shawn – along with league founder Chris Walker comprised a team chock full of speed, power, and attitude.
Ok let’s face it. They were being dicks.
A perfect summer day greeted the attendees at the David Avenue grounds. As the holiday festivities that included a cookout, swimming and beer drinking gave way to an afternoon haze, the game was set to start. Opening ceremonies commenced, as Rollie Walker thrilled the throng with a stirring, Hendrix-esque rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Rollin and Rose Walker each threw out ceremonial first pitches, and the teams were ready to square off – save for a preordained delay whilst the Nephews cockily dashed off to the clubhouse to don their faux-Boston Red Sox uniforms.
Umpire John Trusty and cameraman/commentator Bruce Darin, himself a legendary third baseman in his day, rounded out the gameday crew.
The ground rules were explained well ahead of time, but it didn’t take long for some tempers to flare over misunderstandings regarding the provided statutes.
Umpire Trusty wasn’t about to deal with any quibbling over the rules, though.
Prior to first pitch he loudly and proudly delivered his simple edict (which was also printed on the back of his shirt): “When the ump says you’re out, you’re fucking OUT!”
“I didn’t want any questions or bullshit. I would rather have sat around and drank beers all day but fuck it.” John Trusty said.
Starting pitcher for the Nuclear Nephews, Brian Trusty, was incensed from the jump.
“I hated the way the Uncles ignored the rules, even though we gave them copies hours before the game,” he said.
Rumors that the physical copies of the rules given to the Uncles were defiantly used as kindling for the grill went largely unsubstantiated, but it nonetheless seemed to fuel a different fire – that of the game.
As the game began, it was clear that any ignorance or breaking of the rules wouldn’t matter. The Nephews set the tone early and exploded for seven runs in the first inning. Rollie Walker struggled to get outs, as the three-pronged attack from the Nephews was just too heavy. His effort ended after four innings, surrendering 18 earned runs on 19 hits.
Facing a large 18-2 deficit, it seemed the Uncles were doomed. Defensive struggles added to their uphill battle, despite the perceived outfield prowess of the L. Walker-Mackey duo.
Like the hull in Red Beckman’s boat, there were just too many holes.
Yet somehow, the light turned on and the Ultimates began to stage a furious charge.
Either their beer was getting warm, or they started to figure Brian Trusty’s pitches out, but the Uncles roared back with four runs in the fifth and five more in the sixth. Led by Mackey’s seven home run, eleven RBI barrage, (often one-handed, with a koozie’d Bud Light occupying the other), the score was now an interesting 23-11 heading to the seventh. In WWL games, even a 12-run lead was never safe.
The Uncles had officially boarded the comeback train.
“Uncle Paul was a great softball player in his day. He had a swing that generated a lot of power. His softball abilities transferred to the wiffleball field and he hit some bombs!” Shawn Trusty recounts.
Southpaw Larry Walker, on in relief for the Uncles since the fifth, had his struggles but kept the game from getting too far out of reach for the time being. The Nephews’ bats came back to life in the bottom of the seventh however, putting a five-spot on the board to once again establish comfort with a 28-11 lead.
Trusty’s day on the hill ended after 7.2 innings, having surrendered 21 hits and 12 runs. Chris Walker took the mound for the final 1.2 innings and completely shut down the Uncles; his unique submarine delivery an utter bafflement to the weary and buzzed veteran squad.
The late surge ended, and the miraculous comeback attempt was squeezed.
When the final out was recorded, the Nuclear Nephews were the 28-13 victors.
Fast-forward thirty years, and with some effort, we were able to gather an esteemed panel comprised of those who made this game happen – the players and officials.
In this special no-holds-barred, tell-all segment, sparks fly.
Alright, let’s cut the shit. How did the idea for this game really come about?
Chris Walker: My memory is fucked but we played 27 games of wiffleball in ’88 where we kept stats, so the league was operating by then. I really don’t know who is responsible for this, but I definitely would like to thank them because the fact that we did it and have video to document it is almost as cool as feeding squirrels.
Shawn Trusty: I don’t recall. It might’ve been brought about at a recent family engagement. Christmas probably.
Rollie Walker: We were challenged.
What was the process for team selection?
Shawn: Team representation was agreed upon quickly. 3 on 3 was the standard.
Chris: My guess is my dad and Uncle Larry were automatic because of the Walker name and they needed a third. Uncle Paul was the best player available. I suppose we could’ve let them bat four or five by adding Uncle John and Uncle Bruce and we could’ve had Angela and Kevin play on our team, but that was never discussed.
Rollie: We were challenged and just picked the team. You can’t have four against three, and it was at my house, so I was going to play!
Nephews – what was your strategy going into this game?
Shawn: We knew we were the better team and it was just a matter of us playing ball. The only chance the Uncles had is if one of us got injured.
Chris: Brian took it seriously and so the rest of us followed suit.
Shawn: I was and still am a very competitive person. When I’m in the midst of an athletic competition, I compete physically and verbally.
Why the Boston Red Sox-inspired uniforms?
Shawn: We had to pick an AL team as each of us were fans of the Cubs or Cardinals and all hated the Mets. We decided on the Red Sox because of players we liked. The Cleveland Indians were also considered.
Brian Trusty: Our Red Sox jersey numbers were based on their outfield of Mike Greenwell (39: me), Ellis Burks (12: Chris) and Dwight Evans (24: Shawn).
How were the umpire and cameraman chosen?
Chris: I’d like to know that as well. Like I said, I’m hazy on this being 30 years ago and really just being a 17-year old wiseass at the time.
Shawn: The roles had to be filled and there were two logical spots for the remaining uncles who weren’t playing.
John Trusty: (Shrugs). I had to do what I had to do. So fuck it.
The gameday atmosphere was extravagant, complete with an incredible rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and not one but two beer commercials.
Chris: My dad always had something planned. How else would he have had the guitar, wig, and attire?
Brian: Grandpa [Rollin Walker] doing the Bob Uecker Miller Lite commercial was awesome.
Bruce Darin: Anything involving Pop that day was great.
Shawn: That might’ve been the 20th anniversary homage to Hendrix at Woodstock. Guitar supplied by the umpire. Grandpa impersonating Bob Uecker’s commercial was an awesome part of the day where he did his own thing, going way out into the field.
Rollie: It’s baseball so you got to have the Star-Spangled Banner to start a game. I just thought the Jimi Hendrix recording would be what I’d play. I had a wig and a guitar, so I improvised. Just acting goofy.
Rick Zelko’s “Miller Man” ad put Budweiser’s iconic “Bud Man” to shame, with him slamming a cold High Life and simply instructing viewers to go buy it.
Shawn: I like Rick and always have, and that commercial was hilarious. He was having a good time that day.
Chris: It was legendary and spontaneous which is Rick in a nutshell. I can watch that again and again (laughs).
Uncles – how did you plan to defend against the Nephews’ powerful bats, especially with a shoeless Paul Mackey roaming the outfield? Was that a hindrance at all?
Larry Walker: I tried to cover as much ground as possible. I was probably the speediest defender.
Paul Mackey: (Shrugs) I was faster than Larry because I was shoeless.
The Nephews started the game with a blistering seven-run first frame and never looked back. Talk about that initial assault.
Chris: We dominated. Those guys are fags (laughs.)
Shawn: Hard hit balls and aggressive baserunning were the keys.
Larry: Our outfield was speedy, but I didn’t expect the Nephews to come out with so much passion. Shit, I was just drinking beer at a picnic.
The Nephews plated runs in every inning but the eighth when Mackey came on in relief. Did you call off the dogs by then or was he legitimately fooling you?
Shawn: By that point he was feeling pretty good. We weren’t trying to slam more runs on the board. I’ll give Uncle Paul credit for that scoreless inning, but had he started the game, the final score wouldn’t have been any different.
Chris: No clue. He may have been mad because I was bragging about trying to buy Red’s boat.
Shoeless Paul did some serious swatting for the Uncles, with 7 of his 9 hits being home runs – many while holding a beer. What made him so tough to get out?
Brian: I could not get Uncle Paul out no matter what I threw him (laughs).
Paul: I was a tough out with my patented one beer/one-handed swing.
Chris: He had great shoeless footwork and the power became prodigious as the liquid gold continued to flow. He was a dominant softball player in those days too.
Paul: I was putting on a show for Bob Uecker in the front row (laughs).
Chris, you ended the game in relief with 1.2 innings pitched of no-hit, shutout ball, a rare feat in the WWL.
Chris: Basically, Uncle Paul was hammered by that time and my dad and Uncle Larry were probably tired and had just kind of given up. Everyone was ready to go eat potato salad.
Cameraman/commentator Bruce Darin had some salty takes throughout the game about both teams and the umpiring. What did that add to the narrative of this epic game?
Bruce: I mean, you have to have commentary to keep things interesting.
John: He did his job and I did mine. Fuck it.
Chris: It adds more than I think anyone realizes. It baffles me when I think of how it all happened but being unable to recall why it all happened that way, know what I mean? The commentator certainly wasn’t biased. Everyone was open game to his criticisms.
Shawn: The commentary was…weak. It reeked of a guy projecting his odd humor that was dripping with irony. But it was still great (laughs).
The comparison of Darin’s cinematography and gameday production to that of the legendary Arnie Harris was high praise.
Chris: Complete and utter bullshit, but it sounded good and funny at the time though (laughs). But he completed the job and I am extremely grateful that he was able to do it.
Bruce: I learned a lot from watching Cubs games on WGN in those days.
The commentator was also a big proponent of the squeeze play, which was an interesting idea given the short basepaths. Was that even allowed per league rules? Could strategy get as granular as regular baseball?
Bruce: I learned a lot from listening to Bob Uecker, too.
Shawn: Impossible for a squeeze play when all runners had to keep their foot on the base.
Chris: It would have to be a safety squeeze since you couldn’t run until contact was made. I think Doobie tried to squeeze in Buttpick from third once, but it was disallowed.
Why the hell wasn’t there ever a rematch?
Chris: I’ve always wondered why we didn’t do it (shrugs).
Shawn: Considering the shape we are in we’d probably lose a rematch.
Author’s note: I’d play this time.
Well, there it is folks. One tremendous ballgame many moons ago, and for three decades some of the goofy jabs have stuck around like a fart in a space suit. You may recall that Apollo Creed once told Rocky Balboa there wasn’t going to be a rematch.
But we all know how that turned out…
Special thanks to all who participated, and to Chris Walker for providing the official box score, and recent special edition interview content with William “Rollie” Walker, which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHFX4yFOBjc
Our nation celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The Centennial Exposition, essentially the first World’s Fair, was held in Philadelphia, drawing as many as 10,000,000 visitors (1.)
The National League was officially formed. And in Chicago, a young lad named Herman “Germany” Schaefer was born to German immigrant parents.
Growing up on the city’s south side, Schaefer was drawn to baseball, where his fine defensive skills began to the draw attention of pro scouts by the time he was 18. After stints in semi-pro ball and upward through the Western League, he finally made his Major League debut in 1901 with the Chicago Cubs.
He would go on to become a valued player throughout his 15-year MLB career, playing with the Cubs, Detroit Tigers (where he was an important factor on two World Series-appearing teams in 1907 and 1908), Washington Senators and New York Yankees. He was a defensive wizard, with great range and hands that befitted a sharp baseball mind and brilliant sense of timing. He was a master of deception and grace, even successfully pulling off the hidden ball trick in the 1907 World Series.
But it wasn’t just his solid play that earned him notoriety in the big leagues; it was his antics. In short, Germany Schaefer was an absolute clown.
Some of his well-known goofy highlights include:
Wearing a raincoat and galoshes to the plate during a drizzle
Hiding and scaring a drunken umpire at a bar as a voice from above – only to be ejected from a game later by that umpire when he fessed up
Sporting a fake mustache to the plate, possibly in an attempt to re-enter a game, pretending to be another player
Homering off a fellow jester, Rube Waddell, only to carry his bat around the bases as if a rifle and pretend to “shoot” the pitcher repeatedly, with both men laughing at the skit
Changing his nickname from “Germany” to “Liberty” when World War I began
Additionally, Schaefer was an adept trash-talker and sign-taker. But perhaps his two greatest hits, were his called shot off Doc White in Chicago in 1906, and his stealing of first base in 1911.
On June 24, 1906, Schaefer and his Tigers were in Chicago to play the White Sox. Detroit was down 2-1 in the top of the 9th with a man on first and two outs. Detroit skipper Bill Armour inserted Schaefer to pinch-hit for pitcher Red Donahue. After storming back to the dugout, upset that he’d been taken out, Donahue watched as salt was poured into his wound by the stunt Schaefer pulled. What happened next is best, (if perhaps hyperbole’d), accounted for by Tigers outfielder Davy Jones, in Lawrence Ritter’s excellent The Glory of Their Times:
Just as he was about to get into the batter’s box, he removed his cap and faced the grandstand, bellowing “Ladies and gentlemen, you are now looking at Herman Schaefer, better known as Herman the Great, acknowledged by one and all to be the greatest pinch hitter in the world. I am now going to hit the ball into the left field bleachers. Thank you.”
Much to the dismay of the chagrinning Chicago crowd, Schaefer blasted the second pitch from Doc White into the left field seats. Just like he said he would.
He stood there watching the ball, and after it left the yard, he sprinted to first and slid head first into the bag. He leaped up, yelling “Schaefer leads at the Quarter!” Then he took off and slid into second and yelled “Schaefer leads at the Half!” as if he were a prized race horse. He did the same thing at third and finally home, where he declared “Schaefer wins by a nose!” He walked over to the grandstand again, saying “Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention.”
In the Tigers dugout, every player was laughing so hard – except Donahue – that it was a chaotic scene (2.)
As the only one able to outdo himself, Schaefer would launch another gem in 1911, also against the White Sox. Only this one was so profound that it would prompt a rule change: He stole first base.
Schaefer had one of the best seasons of his career in 1911. The 35-year old hit .334 with an .809 OPS in 125 games. And on August 4th, he would change baseball. It was the bottom of the ninth in a scoreless tie at Griffith Stadium in Washington. Clyde Milan was on third, with Schaefer on first. He stole second, in an attempt to draw a throw to get Milan to break for home. Fred Payne, the Sox catcher, didn’t take the bait and now it was second and third.
On the next pitch, Schaefer led off in the other direction and broke for first, swiping the bag back and drawing confused looks from everyone.
Hugh Duffy, managing the Sox that year, came out to argue with the umpire. Since play hadn’t been officially stopped, Schaefer took off for second again, this time getting caught in the rundown that he originally wanted. But Milan was pegged at the plate, the plan having backfired. In typical Schaefer-esque comedy, he and his teammates tried to argue that it should’ve been a dead ball since the Sox had 10 men on the field when Duffy came out to protest the play (2.)
In the end, the Senators would win 1-0 in extra innings.
Needless to say, a few years later MLB introduced the rule that you could not steal a previous base once you advanced.
All things considered, Schaefer had a remarkable career. Though his statistics weren’t flashy (they were far from bad either), he provided immense worth to each team he played on. Not only for his defensive prowess and quick-thinking, but for the immeasurable intangibles in the forms of humor, wit, and silliness.