The Field of Dreams Game: A Nice Nod to Nostalgia

Field of Dreams Game 8/12/21

The inaugural Field of Dreams Game was simply a success. And it succeeded because it was simple.

The newly built stadium was unsurprisingly packed (despite the astronomical ticket prices), and the whole rural setting – coveted movie site or not – looked amazing. Mother Nature also dished out a key assist with absolutely idyllic weather, complete with a gorgeous Iowan sunset.

FOX Sports delivered it all with a sterling production that was neither overblown nor underwrought. It was just right. In fact, it may have been one of the smoothest and best-produced ballgames you’ll ever see, again in part because of it’s scaled-back simplicity.

Then there was the game itself, which was outstanding.

Two classic franchises in awesome retro-styled, though with a modern twist, uniforms engaged in a power barrage. The slugfest featured eight home runs, including three in the ninth inning. Facing a 7-4 deficit, Yankee sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton gave their squad an 8-7 lead after each tagged Liam Hendriks with 2-run shots.

But then, in true Hollywood fashion, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson walked it off in the bottom of the ninth with a 2-run blast of his own, setting off fireworks in the cornfield as he and his White Sox celebrated the 9-8 victory. (On a fun personal note, I called this walk-off on Twitter mere seconds before it happened.)

In all, it was a great game in a perfect setting. As an event, it was stellar. But did MLB hit its mark with it?

In their ongoing effort to attract and retain younger fans, it might seem counterintuitive to hype up a game at a site (and with plenty of hoopla) honoring a movie that came out before most of them were born. Perhaps not surprisingly, the 35+ crowd loved it all. But there were plenty of younger folks in the stands, and there were a lot of social media posts from parents saying that their kids loved the game and are now experiencing the movie – or vice versa – and so that is great in MLB’s eyes. Time will tell about the whole impact.

Big picture-wise, Major League Baseball stumbled onto a great possibility.

In another case of what’s old is new again, MLB may have dug up the chance to develop a modern form of barnstorming. While future games in Dyersville, Iowa would/will be great, imagine having an MLB game in random places across the country. They could take the show on the road to the four corners of the country, exhibiting big league baseball in states and markets who don’t have their own team. Cheyenne, Billings, Albuquerque, New Orleans…the list goes on of terrific cities and landscapes where an MLB game would have a huge and enjoyable impact for both players and fans. We’ll see where it goes from here, but the opportunity may exist.

With regard to the movie, its presence was obvious the whole time, playing on the same site notwithstanding. James Earl Jones delivered another great soliloquy during the pregame video, and Kevin Costner was in attendance, leading the players out of the cornfield and providing a couple great innings’ worth of discussion in the broadcast booth.

One of the more underappreciated parts of this whole event was the acknowledgments to the late WP Kinsella, the genius who brought us the novel Shoeless Joe, from which all of this magic originated. One could imagine his estate saw an uptick in book sales this week, and justifiably so. On a similar note, Fox Sports playing snippets of the also-late James Horner’s incredible score throughout the broadcast added a nice touch, for without his music the film would not have had remotely the same impact.

But taking it back to the game and the atmosphere for a moment…

If you strip away all the associations to the film and all the hype and ballyhoo, what you had was a simplified, few-frills exhibition of baseball. It was MLB-Unplugged. No cavernous stadium, massive video boards, fancy effects and other in-game visuals that accompany today’s big league games. It was just baseball in the middle of a field. With a manual scoreboard and dugouts built from distressed lumber. It looked and felt far less modern – which was the point – for baseball is a nostalgic game, and that aura was captured quite well last night.

It wasn’t corny (sorry, couldn’t resist), though it easily could have been.

Sometimes you just have to let baseball be baseball and it was something that I think fans appreciated.

Photo Source: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.si.com%2Fmlb%2F2021%2F08%2F13%2Ffield-of-dreams-game-the-opener&psig=AOvVaw3ZQxS1pepC9C0dWsSR7CEH&ust=1628958637906000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAsQjRxqFwoTCJjH5IO2rvICFQAAAAAdAAAAABAQ


Release Date Has Arrived!

Funny how things sneak up on you, even when you think you’re prepared.

Such was the case first thing this morning when I received the email notification that (Not) Just Another Ballgame is now available! (The Kindle version is coming soon as well.)

Special thanks to fellow SABR member and baseball historian Gary Livacari for the wonderful Foreword. Also big thanks to Molly Errek, Denise Baran-Unland and Rebekah Baran and Todd Calcaterra for helping cover all things from design to editing to production and some crucial creative assistance.

Click the image below to visit Amazon and order your copy!

And of course, thanks to YOU, the baseball fan who may get a kick out of this project.


Chapter List and Official Artwork Revealed!

The manuscript for (Not) Just Another Ballgame is in the can, and the final editing process is underway.

We’re shooting for an early spring release, which is obviously just around the corner!

Designer Molly Errek once again delivers stunning cover art, which can be seen right here:

(Not) Just Another Ballgame, edited by Denise Baran-Unland and featuring a foreword by longtime SABR member, baseball historian and author Gary Livacari, is a collection of essays that highlight just a tiny few of baseball’s compelling moments from days long gone – with a couple more recent tales inside as well.

Here is the full chapter list:

  1. A Lucky Bounce or Three: Washington’s Wild World Series Win in 1924
  2. The AAGBBL Turns on the Lights at Wrigley Field
  3. The Greatest Game Babe Ruth Ever Pitched?
  4. The Brakeman Completes Another One
  5. A Perfect Game, Perfected
  6. The Clowning of Germany Schaefer
  7. The Mays Malaise
  8. Silence of the Bats: The 1917 White Sox Go Hitless Two Days In a Row
  9. The Great Zim, Cocky Collins, and one Daring Dash for the Dish
  10. Ruth’s Mysterious Gambit: The Final Out of the 1926 World Series
  11. Johnson vs. Williams: The Forgotten Duel of 1918
  12. The 1919 World Series: Did the White Sox Lose, or Did the Reds Win?
  13. Mathewson’s Monumental Marvel of 1905
  14. A Great Game Seven Finally Ends the Greatest Drought
  15. Field of Dreams: Is the Beloved Classic Really a Baseball Movie?

Official release info is on deck!

(Not) Just Another Update

Well, okay, yeah it is.

Nevertheless, happy and excited to announce that the manuscript for (Not) Just Another Ballgame is complete. I submitted it to my editor yesterday, so the editing/revision process is officially underway.

The cover art for the book was completed yesterday as well, so stay tuned for that reveal.

Still hoping for an early spring release. More updates coming soon!


(Not) Just Another Ballgame – Coming Spring 2021!

Excited to announce the initial details of my forthcoming collection of baseball essays, slated for a Spring release!

This collection focuses mostly on the Deadball Era of America’s pastime, but will include some more modern tales sprinkled in for fun. Many of the chapters in the book are built from earlier, condensed versions that appeared on this blog over the years. They have been expanded and enhanced for inclusion. As you stroll down hardball memory lane in this book, you’ll discover some fun bits of info such as:

  • Who played the actual first night game at Wrigley Field?
  • What happened with the mysterious final out of the 1926 World Series?
  • Has there ever been such a thing as a perfect perfect game?
  • Did the Chicago White Sox lose the 1919 World Series? Or did the Cincinnati Reds actually beat them?
  • What was the best game Babe Ruth ever pitched?
  • Is Field of Dreams really a baseball movie?

…and much more.

(Not) Just Another Ballgame will feature cover art by Molly Errek and a foreword by SABR member and baseball historian, Gary L. Livacari.

Final revisions are tentatively scheduled for early March, leading to a spring release.

More details coming soon!

Completely unofficial and far from final cover art


New Book Project In the Works

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.

Thanks all, Happy New Year!


Sisler Sizzles in Final Big League Win

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.

George Sisler | Sisler's 1922 season — during which he batted .420, hit  safely in a then-record 41 con… | Famous baseball players, Baseball star,  Cardinals baseball
George Sisler, early 1920s

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.








Photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/452752568771330267/

The AAGBBL Turns on the Lights at Wrigley

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).

July 1, 1943 box score
Box score from the July 1, 1943 AAGBBL All Star Game from the July 2 edition of the Kenosha Evening News


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.




Notes and sources

  1. https://www.aagpbl.org/history/league-history
  2. https://baseballhall.org/discover/1943-aagpbl-all-star-game-played-under-lights-at-wrigley-field
  3. https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-1-1943-all-american-girls-play-first-game-under-the-lights-at-wrigley-field/ (article appearing in “Wrigley Field: The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison, (SABR 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf)


Image Source:

https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-1-1943-all-american-girls-play-first-game-under-the-lights-at-wrigley-field/ (image originally from the Jul 2, 1943 edition of the Kenosha Evening News.)



Forgotten Silence: 1917 World Series Champion White Sox No-Hit Twice In a Row

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.

Sportsman's Park, 1931 | Preservation Research Office
Sportsman’s Park in the glory days

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.



Sources: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHW/1917-schedule-scores.shtml











Photo Credit: http://preservationresearch.com/north-st-louis/sportsmans-park-1931/



One More Trip ‘Round the Bags: Cravath’s Cunning in New York

1920 was a fascinating year in baseball.

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.

Before Babe Ruth, there was Gavvy Cravath | Escondido Grapevine
Gavvy Cravath, circa 1920

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.







Sources: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/PHI/1920.shtml



Photo credits: https://escondidograpevine.com/2019/10/03/before-babe-ruth-there-was-escondidos-gavvy-cravath/