1930: One Hack of a season

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Sept. 7, 2010.

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

The story of Hack Wilson’s incredible 1930 season began the previous autumn, on Oct. 12, 1929 at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.

Wilson and his Cubs teammates led the Philadelphia Athletics 8-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 4 of the World Series. The North Siders appeared well on their way to evening the series at two games apiece – and with the final two games scheduled at Wrigley Field – they had to like their chances of rewarding their long-suffering fans with their first world championship in 21 years.

Wilson was an odd-looking man. He stood 5-foot-6 and weighed 190 pounds. The hard-drinking Wilson was described as looking like a beer barrell and not being unfamiliar with its contents. He had a size 18 neck; bulging biceps; stumpy, muscular legs; and wore size 6 shoes.

He may not have looked swift, but Wilson was athletic enough to patrol center field – and he did so adequately – committing 12 errors in 406 chances for the ’29 Cubs.

But Wilson’s defensive reputation was forever tarnished on that sunny Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

The Athletics finally scored against Cubs starter Charlie Root, who up to that point had only surrendered three hits, when Al Simmons led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run.

Jimmie Foxx followed with an opposite-field single to right and Bing Miller hit a fly ball to center that Wilson lost in the sun. It dropped in for a single. Jimmy Dykes singled in Foxx and Joe Boley singled in Miller to make it 8-3.

Pinch hitter George Burns popped out to short, but an RBI single by Max Bishop cut the Cubs’ once seemingly insurmountable lead in half.

With two runners on base, manager Joe McCarthy called upon veteran left-hander Art Nehf to relieve Root. Up stepped Mule Haas.

Haas hit a looper to shallow center. Wilson started in on it, but suddenly froze. Seemingly blinded by the sun, Wilson ducked away as the ball shot past him and rolled into the deep recesses of center field. By the time right fielder Kiki Cuyler chased the ball down and relayed it to the infield, Haas had circled the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park homer and trimmed the lead to 8-7. A once quiet Shibe Park was up for grabs.

After walking Mickey Cochrane, Nehf was replaced by Sheriff Blake. A Simmons single advanced Cochrane to third and a Foxx safety drove him in with the tying run.

Pat Malone became the fourth Cubs pitcher of the inning, but he hit Haas in the ribs with a pitch to load the bases and surrendered a two-run, go-ahead double to Dykes. The 10-run inning remains a World Series record.

The Cubs lost that game 10-8 and then allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth to lose Game 5, 3-2, to close out the series.

Wilson, despite hitting .471 in the World Series, was tagged by Cubs fans as the goat and apparently he entered the 1930 season determined to win the Wrigley faithful over.

In 1930, major league owners introduced a livlier baseball in hopes of promoting offense and increasing sagging attendance, Many hitters obliged, but none more impressively than Wilson.

Wilson’s 1930 stat line on http://www.baseball-reference.com is astounding.He hit .356; smashed 56 homers (an NL record that stood for 68 years); had an incredible, major league record 191 RBI; scored 146 runs, collected 423 total bases, and amassed a .723 slugging percentage. He also was credited with 18 sacrifice hits and walked 105 times.

Of Wilson’s 208 hits, 111 were singles, 35 were doubles, and six were triples.

He was a fearsome sight to opposing pitchers and his batting style was described by The Bleacher Report’s Cliff Eastham:

“At the plate he was a sight to see, squat, stumpy, and menacing, with an earnest, clenched-jaw look on the square face. He loved the high fastball and brought the bat around from the right side to meet it with little grace and mighty effort.”

Warren Brown of the Chicago Herald-Examiner called Wilson, “A highball hitter, on and off the field.”

Wilson’s season highlights included:

* On June 23, he hit for the cycle and drove in six runs as the Cubs routed the Phillies 21-8 at Wrigley Field.

* On July 26, he homered three times in the Cubs’ 16-2 victory over host Philadelphia at Baker Bowl.

* On Aug. 10, he had three homers and seven RBI in a doubleheader sweep of the Boston Braves at the Friendly Confines.

* On Aug. 30, Wilson capped a monster 53-RBI month with two homers and six knocked in against St. Louis at Wrigley.

* On Sept. 20, he drove in his 176th run in a 3-2 loss at Boston to break Lou Gehrig’s three-year-old major league record.

Can Wilson’s record be broken?

Bill James thinks it’s possible, but concedes in The New Bill James Historical Abstract (The Free Press, 2001):

“In 1930, most teams had one or two power hitters, surrounded by players who slapped at the ball and tried to get on base. That meant lots of RBI opportunities for the one or two power hitters.

“In modern baseball, everybody tries to hit home runs, spreading the offense top to bottom, but creating no ‘clusters’ of RBI opportunities.”

Wilson’s “clusters” were mostly created by Woody English and Cuyler.

Wilson batted cleanup in all 155 of his games in 1930. English, who batted second 118 times and first on 38 occasions, had a .430 on-base percentage and scored 152 runs. Cuyler, who hit third 133 times, had a .428 OBP and scored 155 runs.

And despite Wilson’s heroics, the Cubs failed to defend their NL title, finishing in second, two games behind the pennant-winning Cardinals.

One more Wilson story.

McCarthy was concerned about his slugger’s drinking habits and summoned him over to a table in the Cubs clubhouse. He placed a glass of water next to a glass of whiskey and dropped a worm into each beverage. The worm in the water bounced around the glass while the worm submerged in whiskey went limp and floated to the top.

“What does this demonstrate, Wilson?” the manager asked.

“That if I drink whiskey, I won’t get worms,” Hack responded.

A better way to select Hall of Famers

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

Baseball Lives by Mike Bryan was a wonderful book that I read while attending college.

Each of the book’s 55 chapters was devoted to first-person accounts of men and women who make a living working in professional baseball. The spectrum was immense and their perspectives were diverse. Bryan provided a forum for an owner, a general manager, a coach, a scout, and players who fulfilled various roles on a team. He spoke with a sportswriter, a broadcaster, and a public address announcer. He also talked to a bus driver, a team doctor, a seat vendor, and a groundskeeper.

All of Bryan’s subjects were thoughtful and intelligent and some were quite opinionated.

The book made me aware that the wide world of baseball extends far past the field. These diverse groups of people stitched together are what make up the game of baseball. Each group has its own perspective and its own biases.

So how silly is it that the writers, specifically active members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, a tiny sliver of the baseball universe, are the sole arbiters of who gains membership in sports’ ultimate club?

The system is flawed. Too many people who are part of the process are not qualified and too many people shut out of the process are highly qualified .

Some of the balloting rules are nonsensical.

The BBWAA tightened its voting eligibility rules in 2007, But still, 440 ballots were cast last year and that’s way too many. Membership in the BBWAA is reserved for those who have covered baseball for at least 10 or more consecutive years and who have been active within the last decade. Membership is extended to sports editors and general sports columnists.

Some are well informed and take their votes very seriously. Others don’t.

Some solutions?

The current versions of the veterans committee – there are three that represent different eras of the game’s history and consider players who may have been overlooked on the writers’ ballot – should be done away with. There should only be one way into the Hall. The 75 percent election requirement should be retained, but other ballot rules should be scrapped.

There shouldn’t be a five-year waiting period. Players should be eligible upon retirement. There shouldn’t be a minimum annual vote requirement to remain on the ballot nor a maximum of 10 years on the ballot. Anybody who has played in the majors or contributed to baseball in a significant way should beopen to consideration.

I like the idea of a committee participating in the voting and the processes the the Hall of Fame board of directors uses to select individuals to participate in the voting could be emulated on a greater scale.

The super committee should be a better cross section of baseball than is represented by the BBWAA.

The writers should be represented on the committee but so should former players, managers and coaches, executives, scouts, umpires, broadcasters, and historians.

This would open up the process to former players who have a passionand appreciation for the game’s history like Ryne Sandberg, Lou Piniella, and Tim McCarver. Some of the game’s brightest minds like former managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre would have input. Umpires like Doug Harvey and Bruce Froemming, men who have witnessed so much of the game’s history first-hand, would get to weigh in. Vin Scully, who was announcing games long before most readers of this post were born, would be involved. Scully and fellow broadcaters like Bob Uecker and Marty Brennaman have witnessed many more games than most of the writers who voted this year. And it would be great to get input from knowledgable historian/scholars of the game like Bill James, John Thorn, Ken Burns, and even George Will.

That’s eight groups. Twelve individuals should be selected to each group. That’s enough to fit into a big conference room. The voting process could begin with each subcommittee meeting to discuss the merits of prospective Hall of Famers. Then the committees could come together, presentations to the entire group could be made, there could be time for more discussion and debate, and the voting could commence. Seventy-five percent of the vote would still be required for election.

The writers would still have their biases. So would the players (the pompous Joe Morgan comes to mind). And so would every group. But the different factions would work as a check-and-balance system and give everybody a more fair shake

Far too many of the BBWAA act as if their vote is a birth right. Under my proposal, it would become more of an honor. Individuals would be eligible to serve on the Hall of Fame voting committee only once every four years. A fresh perspective would be brought to the process on an annual basis.

It would be a more just way of determining Hall of Fame worthiness.
I also have many ideas of how to reform and improve the American political system. But I’ll save those ideas for another place and another time.

Teaching baseball’s most basic – and overlooked – skills

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

It’s true in baseball – true throughout sports – that the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will win the game.

So the goals of my youth baseball teams’ practices are to identify things we can do better and to figure out things that can go wrong in any particular game. We attempt to strengthen our weaknesses and take steps to prevent things that can go wrong.

Our teams spend roughly one-fifth of our practice time each season playing catch. That’s because the team that catches and throws the ball the best usually comes out on top. The secret to winning at the youth level is simple.We want each of our players to possess the ability to make a strong and accurate throw from any position on the diamond. Make the routine plays and you should come out on top.

Catching and throwing are the most basic – and overlooked – skills in baseball.

They are skills that need to be consistently emphasized.

Proper throwing mechanics improve a thrower’s velocity and accuracy, and diminish the likelihood of elbow or shoulder injuries.

The two coaches who have most influenced me in the development of our teams’ throwing program are Sean McDermott, the associate coach at the Univeristy of Illinois at Chicago, and Dave Rosene, the head varsity coach at Jones College Prep. I have borrowed heavily from both men and acknowledge that their influence has greatly contributed to our success.

Our catching drills are anything but casual. We play catch with a sense of purpose.

Our throwing drills stress efficiency which is the ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort. When machines don’t operate efficiently, their output is reduced, they become more expensive, and eventually over time will break down. Therefore the baseball player’s body must always work from rotational movement to linear movement in an efficient rhythm. We are striving to develop balance and coordination of the lower and upper body.

With the goal of achieving efficiency, we practice grip, arm action, and footwork over and over and over again.

The grip

We instruct our players to throw with a proper four-seam grip. Two fingers are placed over the top of the seams with the side of the thumb underneath the middle of the ball on a seam. The proper grip will enable the ball to get from Point A to Point B in a straight manner.

A player should work on perfecting this grip every time he pulls the ball from the glove.The ball should be on the fingertips and not the palm. When taking the ball out of the glove, the throwing hand thumb should be pointed down.

Image result for baseball wrist action drill
Performing the wrist drill.

The wrist drill

When the ball is brought back into the throwing position, the wrist should be cocked back. The culprit of many poorly thrown balls is a stiff wrist.

Players can practice proper wrist action by holding the throwing arm just below the wrist with the glove hand. The throwing arm should bend at the elbow with the forearm remaining vertical. Players will throw the ball with just the wrist and fingers.

Arm motion

Beginning with when the player removes the ball from the glove and ending with the follow through, the throwing arm should move in a circular motion. The size of the arc should be in direct relation to the distance of the throw. An outfielder’s arc will be greater than an infielder’s.

The Complete Pitcher's FREE Baseball Pitching Drills: The Knee Drill
Performing the ready, break, throw drill.

Ready, break, throw drill

This drill is performed on one knee. A player will start in the ready position.

When the coach says, “break,” the player reaches back with the throwing arm – elbow at ear level and fingers on top of the ball. The player’s shoulders, hip, and glove should be pointed directly at the target.

When the coach says, “throw,” the player releases the ball and follows through so that the throwing wrist lands on the opposite hip with the elbow resting on the upright knee.The player’s head remains upright.

Front shoulder

Shoulders should be pointed toward the target. After the ball is caught, the player should turn sideways and point his front shoulder in the direction of the throw.

Lower body

The lower body should be lined up in the same manner as the shoulders – directly at the target. The back foot should be perpendicular to the target and the hips should be closed and pointing in the direction of the target.

Once the ball is removed from the glove, the front leg should lift. The lead foot should land just before the throwing arm is ready to move forward. The landing of the front foot signals the arm to initiate the forward movement. A player should step toward the target with the lead foot., push off the back foot, and obtain throwing power from his entire body.

Once the ball is released, the turning of the hips and the transfer of weight over the front side should pull the rear leg up and around, enabling the player to finish in a squared-off position with both feet lined up perpendicular to the target.

The head

The head must stay in the center of the body throughout the entire throwing motion.

A steady head is essential for balance. In addition, the eyes must remain focused on the target, even after the follow through.

Rotation

The player must throw it across the seams with a “12-6” rotation so that the throw does not tail.

AROUND THE MAJORS

Photo of Danny DuffyThe Kansas City Royals avoided arbitration with Danny Duffy (right) by signing the 27-year-old left-hander to a  a $65 million, five-year contract. Duffy was 12-3 and set career highs in wins, starts and innings pitched with the Royals last year. … MLB. com repoirted that the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista were close to a deal that would keep the free-agent slugger in Toronto. … The Philadelphia Phillies and free-agent outfielder Michael Saunders agreed to a one-year deal worth $9 million. Saunders hit a career-high 24 home runs with the Blue Jays last year.

STATS OF THE DAY

Over the last three seasons, Danny Duffy has pitched 490 innings with a 3.29 ERA and has struck out 7.8 per nine innings – one of just 18 pitchers to reach that threshold over the same period.

The others:

Clayton Kershaw
Max Scherzer
Chris Sale
David Price
Corey Kluber
Jon Lester
Madison Bumgarner
Jake Arrieta
Cole Hamels
Felix Hernandez
Zack Greinke
Stephen Strasburg
Johnny Cueto
Gerrit Cole
Lance Lynn
Masahiro Tanaka
Tyson Ross

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“They said this day would never come. I will say to the Cubs, it took you long enough. I only have four days left. You’re just making it under the wire.Even I was not crazy enough to suggest that during these eight years we would see the Cubs win the Worlds Series. But I did say there has never been anything false about hope.”

  • President Obama during a White House ceremony honoring the world champion Cubs

PHOTO OF THE DAY

Image result for obama cubs

Menu biggest hit at Stella’s

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

As anyone who has been to a major league ballgame in recent years well knows, ballpark fare is no longer consists of just hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack.

A walk down a modern ballpark concourse provides fans with a plethora of food options. The traditional options remain, but concession items today reflect the more sophisticated palates of modern fans. Regional culinary favorites are showcased – such as Chicago-style hot dogs at Wrigley Field, bratwursts in Milwaukee, garlic fries in San Francisco, fish tacos in San Diego, and cheese steak sandwiches in Philadelphia.

Stella’s Restaurant and Batting Cages in Lyons, Ill., 12 miles southwest of downtown Chicago is a celebration of baseball’s recent culinary revolution.

Since it opened in 1986, Stella’s has provided ballplayers with the area’s only year-round batting cage facility that is open to the public. The indoor facility includes nine automated cages with baseball and softball options with pitch speeds ranging from 38 MPH to over 80 MPH.

cages

Adjacent to the batting cages is a full-service pro shop with a selection of bats, gloves, and other baseball equipment for sale, a modestly-sized dining room, and a small patio area.

Stella’s food offerings were fairly typical until Chef Robin Choi and his wife, Rhonda, took over kitchen operations last February. Robin, with 17 years of culinary experience and an extensive background in fine dining restaurants as a sushi chef, seemed overqualified and out of place for a casual joint like Stella’s.

“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life making hot dogs and burgers,” Robin said. “I wanted to tie in some kind of concept and be a little more creative.”

Choi, a passionate baseball fan, visited ballparks throughout the country and was inspired to recreate many of the food items he enjoyed during his travels. He calls his cuisine “ballpark centric street food.”

stellas-counter

The food at Stella’s, once an afterthought, has now become the main attraction to many visitors.

My son, Will, and I are long-time Stella’s regulars but last year, on many of our visits, we didn’t even venture into the batting range.

“A lot of people come here to eat,” said Choi proudly.

Standard fare – like nachos, pizza puffs, and soft pretzels – are still available as are local favorites like Italian beef, Polish sausage, and corned beef.

But it’s the newcomers to the menu that distinguish Stella’s. And with most menu items priced under $7, it offers a family of four a culinary tour de force for less than $30.

Ordering at Stella’s is not an easy task. So many choices.

In the mood for sushi?

Spicy tuna rolls and California rolls are made to order.

Craving a taste of Miami on a frigid January day?

Stella’s offers “The Canseco,” a juicy pressed and toasted Cuban sandwich with generous amounts of Mojo-marinated pork shoulder, smoke ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles.

Or how about some Korean-style barbecue?

“The Texas Rangers Choomongousi” features barbecued steak topped with a cabbage Kimchee slaw, Siracha mayo, green onions, thin-sliced radishes and sesame seeds.

Other “ballpark specials” include:

  • The “MTL@CHI Poutine” tops french fries with cheddar cheese curds, chopped Italian beef, gravy, and giardiniera.
  • “Houston’s Fried Chicken in a Waffle Cone” consists of crispy buttermilk fried chicken thighs and mashed potatoes with salted maple honey butter in a waffle cone.
  • “The Phillies Schmitter” is a hot roast beef sandwich topped with grilled onions, grilled tomato, a seared slice of salami, Cheese Whiz, Swiss cheese, and a “special” sauce served on a potato bun.

It’s a winning lineup, for sure.

Stella’s is located at 3903 Joliet Ave,; Lyons, Ill. It is open from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. For more information, call (708) 447-0405.

1969: Holtzman’s no-strikeout no-hitter

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Jan. 19, 2011.)

Whenever I watch footage of Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field on Aug. 19, 1969, I am struck by the smiles on the faces of the Cubs players as they mobbed Holtzman after the final out.

holtzman no-hitter.jpg

The sports pages of the Sun-Times on Aug. 20, 1969 reported the news of Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter the previous day against the Atlanta Braves.

Those players – who included Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, and Glenn Beckert – probably thought the fun was just beginning. Little did they know that Holtzman’s gem was the last good thing that would happen to the Cubs that incredible season. It was all downhill from there.

Santo smashed a three-run homer in the first inning off Atlanta starter Phil Niekro to account for all the game’s scoring, and Holtzman took it from there.

A stiff 15 MPH breeze was blowing in from the northeast and Holtzman took full advantage of the conditions. The 23-year-old left-hander walked two – Gil Garrido in the third inning and Bob Didier in the fifth – and struck out none. Of the 27 outs Holtzman recorded, 15 were flyouts.

The most memorable of those flyouts came off the bat of leadoff hitter Henry Aaron in the seventh inning.

“Should have been a home run,” Holtzman told Rick Talley in The Cubs of ’69 (Contemporary Books, 1989). “On any other day it would have been over the houses across Waveland Avenue. I remember the trajectory. It was one of those high ones headed for distant places, and I remember (left fielder) Billy (Williams) backing up into that corner in left field, just standing there with his right arm against the wall. He kept looking up and looking up, and he knew it was going to land on the sidewalk. The ball was suddenly suspended up there – it seemed like 40 seconds between the time it left the bat and the time it started coming down – and finally it just dropped down into Billy’s glove. Without the wind, that ball would have landed in Evanston.

“I’ll never forget the look Hammer (Aaron ) gave me. Let’s face it, when Hammer hits it, you know it’s gone. He had those wrists and that top hand coming through, and when he started into that trot, he knew. Well, he was almost to second base when he saw Billy catch the ball. He made a U-turn around second and ran about four feet from me as he came past the mound. He just looked at me, puzzled, quizzical, and I just looked back at him. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.”

Bill Heath was the starting catcher for the Cubs that afternoon, but had to leave the game in the eighth inning when he took a Tommie Aaron foul tip off his throwing hand. Heath, who broke a finger and never played in the major leagues again, was replaced by Gene Oliver.

Felipe Alou popped out to the shortstop, Kessinger, to open the ninth and Felix Milan grounded out to third baseman santo for the second out. All that separated Holtzman from a no-no was the dangerous Henry Aaron.

“Ollie runs out to the mound and says, ‘You want to walk him?’ I say, ‘If he gets a hit, he gets a hit,’ ” Holtzman recalled.

As the crowd chanted, “We want an out!” Holtzman fell behind in the count. Aaron sharply fouled off a 3-and-1 pitch into the seats down the right-field line.

“Holtzman in a demonstration of real pitching class, challenged Aaron with that pitch,” Cubs TV broadcaster Jack Brickhouse noted.

Aaron fouled the next pitch back to the screen and then on Holtzman’s 112th pitch of the afternoon, hit a sharp grounder to the right of second. Second baseman Beckert, who was shaded toward the middle, was perfectly positioned. An obviously nervous Beckert fielded it cleanly and then seemingly took forever to make the throw to first baseman Ernie Banks to retire Aaron for the final out.

With the victory, the Cubs improved to 77-45 and maintained an eight-game lead over the second-place New York Mets in the NL East.

But that seemingly comfortable lead evaporated in an amazingly short period of time. Following Holtzman’s no-hitter, the Cubs lost seven of their next nine and their lead over the Mets was down to just 2.5 games by Aug. 27. The Mets passed the Cubs on Sept. 10 and pulled away to win the division by eight games. The Cubs lost 25 of their final 40 in the aftermath of Holtzman’s gem while the Mets went 33-11.

Holtzman’s fortunes down the stretch mirrored his team’s. He went 3-6 in his final nine starts.

For Cubs fans, it’s a whole new ballgame

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

It dawned on me while I was watching an NFL playoff game last weekend.

The “Most Years in Professional Sports Without Winning a Championship” graphic appeared on the screen. There were the familiar logos of the Cleveland Indians, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Sacramento Kings, and Toronto Maple Leafs. But for the first time in television history, the familiar Cubs bulls eye logo of the Cubs was nowhere to be found.

As the Cubs attempt to become just the fourth National Leaguue team to win back-to-back world championships and the first to accomplish the feat in 41 years, there will be no more references to the “lovable losers; no more recollections of 1945 or 1908; and no more talk of curses or goats or black cats or Leon Durham or Steve Bartman or deceased relatives.

The focus will be where it belongs – on the present, on this team, and on these players.

For most of my life, there were always fleeting moments in which I questioned the time, money, energy, and passion that i put into following Cubs baseball. I always reassured myself with the thoughts of how great it would be when the Cubs finally recorded that final out.

Sometimes when I build something up in my head, it fails to live up to expectations, but the joy I felt as Kris Bryant scooped up a grounder and threw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to retire Michael Martinez was as euphoric as I had hoped. it would be. It will continue to be a reference point for the rest of my life.

I understand that the nature of being a Cubs fan will never be the same and that the first championship will always seem like the most special, but I’m hoping last year was only the beginning of what I am confident will be a golden age of Cubs baseball.

The Yankees had their time, the Dodgers had their moments in the sun, the Cardinals have claimed more than their fair share of World Series trophies, and the Giants most recently have enjoyed a sustained streak of success.

Now, finally, it is our turn.

Around the majors

General manager Jerry DiPoto continued his very active offseason by acquiring left-hander Drew Smyly from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for three minor leaguers. The 27-year-old Smyly was 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA in 30 starts with Tampa Bay last year. … The Oakland Athletics signed reliever Santiago Casilla to a two-year contract. Casilla, who spent the last seven seasons with the San Francisco Giants, had 31 saves last season but blew nine save opportunities. … Right-hander Zack Wheeler agreed to an $800,000, one-year contract with the New York Mets after missing two seasons because of a torn elbow ligament.

Photo of the day

Young fans perched atop a tree to watch the Cubs play
at Wrigley Field in 1932 (Vintage Baseball).

Best of the Web

“A bigger vote? Hall class size may drop jaws” by Barry M. Bloom (MLB.com)

 

Socks appeal: The colorful history of baseball hosery

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

For most of baseball’s history, socks were one of the most important uniform components.

But now, from T-ball to the major leagues, a part of the uniform that teams used to wear with pride has been reduced to a mere optional necessity. The downfall of baseball socks began in the 1960s and by the turn of the century, they had disappeared beneath baggy pajama-like pants.

Socks have made somewhat of a comeback in recent years, but to a guy like me, who appreciates structure and conformity, the state of sock style is an absolute mess.

Baseball teams experimented with a plethora of uniform styles during the sport’s infancy and by the team the game began being played professionally in the years following the Civil War, most teams had adopted military-style uniforms that featured long trousers that were held down by pant clips around the ankles.

Harry Wright, the manager of baseball’s first all-professional team, in Cincinnati, had experimented with several uniform styles but by 1869, finding that his players felt more comfortable and could move more quickly, he had adopted white or gray baggy knicker pants with long, wool red knee-high stockings.

The look, which became familiar to generations of baseball players and fans, became the team’s trademark. So much so, that “Red Stockings” had become the team’s nickname by the summer of ’69.

The Red Stockings, who went 65-0 in 1869, became a sensation. Photographs of the Red Stockings regularly appeared in newspapers from coast to coast. They traveled to play teams on the east coast, and thanks to the just completed Transcontinental Railroad, completed their undefeated campaign with a victory in San Francisco.

By the time the National League debuted in 1876, the Cincinnati look had become universal and a majority of professional teams were being identified by the color of their socks.

Wright’s team had relocated to Boston in 1871 and had continued to be called the Red Stockings. Charter National League teams also included the Chicago White Stockings, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Louisville Grays, Cincinnati Reds, and Hartford Dark Blues. Other nicknames that originated thanks to the color of hoisery in the late 19th century were the Detroit Tigers (the National League’s Detroit club in the 1880s wore black and yellow striped socks), the St. Louis Cardinals (cardinal red hose), and the Baltimore Orioles who had adopted black and orange striped socks by the 1890s.

The stirrup sock, the predominant look in baseball’s history originated in 1905 and had become baseball’s universal look – from sandlots to major league ballparks, within a few years.

Early in the 1905 season, Cleveland star Nap Lajoie was spiked by a sliding baserunner while covering second base. An infection set in and Lajoie missed most of the campaign with blood poisoning. At the time, since clothing dyes were not colorfast, it was widley believed that Lajoie’s infection had been caused by dye from his stocking seeping into his wound.

Soon after the nature of Lajoie’s injury spread, players began the practice of wearing white “sanitary” socks beneath their baseball socks. The stirrup was developed to allow players to better fit into their cleats.

Joe Jackson (from left), Ty Cobb, and Nap Lajoie wearing the early version of the stirrup sock.

Most of the early stirrups were solid in color, but striping at the calf level became popular by the 1920s. By the mid-1930s, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals were wearing stripe patterns on their stirrups that would remain in vogue for the remainder of the century.

The styles of baseball hoisery, as well as the other components of the uniformremained fairly static from the early 1920s until the late 1960s.

By 1963, the days of Nap Lajoie were distant memories, and that year Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley broke from baseball tradition by introducing gold sanitaries under green stirrups.

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Reggie Jackson wearing the Athletics’ gold sanitary socks in 1969.

Players had pretty much worn their socks the same way for mist of the game’s history but that began to change when Hall of Famer Frank Robinson joined the Orioles in 1966. Robinson popularized the practice of “high cut” socks. He would stretch his socks higher and higher so that more of his sanitaries showed. Robinson even went to the extreme of cutting his socks and adding fabric to extend the stirrups.

Robinson would tape the stirrups to his sanitaries so that they wouldn’t sag. He would put on his pants inside out. When he pulled up his pants, his socks would remain in place.

Frank Robinson sporting his long stirrups.

“You’re not allowed to cut your baseball socks,” Seattle Pilots pitcher Jim Bouton wrote in Ball Four, his diary of the 1969 season. “But if you don’t cut your socks, you’re nothing … The higher your stirrups, the cooler you are. Your legs look long and cool instead of dumpy and hot.”

Polyester double knits replaced wool as the fabric of choice in the 1970s and the length of stirrups continued to lengthen. It became fashionable for players to wear a 2-in-1, a sanitary socks with stirrups stitched into them.

Slowly and steadily pants got longer. Many players of the ’70s and ’80s showed just a bit of their 2-in-1s. George Hendrick, who played for several major league teams, went to the extreme of showing no sock with his pants length reaching his shoe top.

During his tenure as general manager of the Chicago White Sox, Larry Himes instituted a dress code that required players to show enough sock so that striping would be visible but the players rebelled and the mandate was soon discontinued. Today, the basic agreement forbids teams from dictating sock length.

By the 1990s, most players wore their long, baggy trousers to their shoe tops with some players like Barry Bonds going to the extreme of strapping their pants to their cleats. But there were a few holdovers. Prominent players of the era who still showed stirrup included George Brett, Darryl Strawberry, Jim Thome, and Chipper Jones.

In the modern era, more and more players have began to show their socks, but stirrups have lost favor to solid-colored baseball socks. Brendan Ryan brought new life to the Cardinals stripes. Curtis Granderson and Adam Jones hiked up their pants in tribute to Negro League pioneers.

Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen often hikes up his pants on Sundays to sport striped socks that he designed himself.

Curtis Granderson rounds first after hitting a single

Curtis Granderson

Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, Orioles, and San Francisco Giants introduced striping, Andrew Toles became the first Dodgers player to feature striping on his socks since the 1930s. Jesse Chavez, while with Oakland, reintroduced the 2-in-1.

The problem is that the ankle portion of baseball uniform has become anything but uniform.Some players hide their socks. Others hike their pants to their knees. Some show stripes and other opt for solid hose. Some players feature stirrups and some don’t.

But at least one player doesn’t mind the variety of looks.

“I definitely do notice when guys on the other team wear (high socks),” Tampa Bay shortstop Brad Miller told MLB.com. “They look sharp. There’s a lot of good looks out there.”

Around the majors

The Washington Nationals announced on Twitter on Monday that NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer has a stress fracture on the knuckle of his right ring finger … ESPN reported that the Tampa Bay Rays have agreed to a contract with free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus who hit .206 in 107 games with Houston last year.