Wacky Sports

Reflections
Record Catches
This probably isn't about the kind of record catches you have in mind, but it worth a quick read anyway. People will do almost anything on a dare or to "break an existing record" no matter what that record might be, and baseball players are no different. That is unless you've ever tried to catch a baseball dropped from several hundred feet.

Contrary to popular belief (read that myth), Gabby Street was not the first person to have caught and held on to a ball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument. He accomplished this feet on August 21, 1908. However, almost exactly 14 years earlier, on August 24, 1894, Pop Shriver of the Chicago White Stockings beat him to the honors. The ball was dropped from a window at the top of the 555 foot obelisk by pitcher and Shriver teammate, Clark Griffith. When Street's catch was publicized, Shriver's was never even mentioned and for years never got his due.

Hall of Famer, Gabby Hartnett and the Cubs were in Los Angeles on April Fool's Day (when else?) 1930, to play the Angels farm club in a pre-season match up. Before the game, a blimp flew over the ball field at 800 feet and tossed out a baseball. Gabby watched it drop and grabbed it, then he promptly caught a second ball that had been tossed out. Gabby still holds the record for catching a ball dropped from the greatest height.

In 1914, the Brooklyn Dodgers', Wilbert Robinson was talked into a challenge to catch a ball dropped from an airplane flying over the Dodger's training camp. Wilbert agreed to catch the ball, but what he didn't realize was, the pilot, Ruth Law forgot to take a baseball up with her. Not to worry. Our intrepid aviatrix substituted a fresh grapefruit for the baseball and "let 'er fly". The surprised Robinson was knocked down, but managed to hold on to the grapefruit to complete the catch. Some people say teammate Casey Stengel was behind the fruity substitution but, he wasn't even in camp yet. There goes another baseball myth.

Fordham/Cardinal Connection
Can you name two Fordham College second basemen became Cardinals? You'll remember these two gents as Frankie Frisch and Frankie Spellman. Well Frisch you know you remember but Spellman you don't realize you remember.

Frisch, known as the Fordham Flash, was a stand out athlete in college starring in football, baseball, basketball and track. Upon graduation, Frisch went directly to the New York Giants where he proved to be an accomplished field and hitter. He batted over .300 13 times in his career, was MVP in 1931, Runner-up another year and elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947. Frisch had played exactly 1,000 games for the Giants when he and Jimmy Ring were traded to the Cardinals for Rogers Hornsby.

A decade before Frisch's tenure as Fordham's second baseman, Jack Coffey held the position. Coffey's backup was Frankie Spellman. Coffey went on to play in the majors for two years and later became the athletic director for his alma mater. His backup entered the priesthood and was eventually became Francis Cardinal Spellman, head of the Archdiocese of New York City.

It’s Not Necessarily Good To Stand Out In A Crowd
Richie Ashburn, the long-time center fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies was known for his ability to foul off pitch after pitch until he found one he wanted to hit. On August 17, 1957 in a game against the Giants, Ashburn fouled a line drive into the box seats along the third base line. The ball hit Alice Roth, wife of the sports editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, and broke her nose. The game was stopped briefly as Alice was administered to, but was soon resumed as Alice was being taken from the stands. On the very next pitch, Ashburn fouled off another ball… on the third base side…into the box seat section . . . and hit Alice again as she was being carried out on a stretcher.
Lou Gehrig’s 1931 Bid For The Home Run Title
In the 13 years between 1918 and 1930, Babe Ruth had been the American League’s home run leader 11 times. In each year from 1927 to 1930, Ruth’s teammate, Lou Gehrig had finished a distant 2nd to Ruth in the home run derby. But, Gehrig was gaining ground. 1931 looked like it might be the year Gehrig could finally push past Ruth to grab the title.

On April 26, 1931, the Yankees were playing the Senators in Washington. Lyn Lary was on first with two out when Gehrig came to bat. Gehrig drove a pitch to center that landed in the stands. The centerfielder, Harry Rice, caught the ball as it bounced out of the stands back into the playing field. Just at that moment, Lyn Lary looks up as he’s rounding second. He sees Rice catch the ball and assumes Gehrig’s drive was just a long fly for the last out of the inning. While third base coach Joe McCarthy was intent on watching Gehrig round the bases, Lary trotted right past him unnoticed, heading for the dugout. Gehrig then gets called out for passing the runner and the home run is nulified.

Gehrig won the home run title in 1931 but he had to share it with Ruth. They both ended the season with 46 home runs.

The Last Of The Spitballers
Get caught throwing a spitball today and you’ll likely get thrown out of the game, but that wasn’t always the case. Before 1920, it was completely within the rules for pitchers to apply all kinds of “foreign substances” to affect the flight of the ball. Vaseline, tar and saliva were just a few of the tricks of the trade. Marty O’Toole pitched between 1908-14 and had a habit of giving the ball a good “lick” before hurtling it toward the plate. Fred Luderus played first base for the Phils in 1912 and thought of a way to get even with O’Toole’s doctored pitches. Fred stuck a tube of liniment in his pocket and rubbed the ball with it every time he got his hands on it, which, being the first baseman, was often. In those days, the same ball remained in play much longer than it does today, sometimes for innings at a time so Fred’s “doctored” ball was getting to O’Toole over and over again. Within 2 or 3 innings, O’Toole’s tongue was burning so badly, he had to leave the game.

In 1920 the league passed a rule outlawing foreign substances being applied to baseballs. However, they didn’t want to take away the livelihood of existing pitchers, so they also passed a grandfather clause allowing each team to designate two spitballers. The rest of the pitching staff had to pitch clean. Any new pitchers coming into the league were also barred from loading up baseballs. The last of the spitballers, Burleigh Grimes, was released by the Yankees in 1934. Burleigh won 270 games in his career and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, not far from a drinking fountain.

Triple Play!!!

The unassisted triple play is one of the most rare plays in baseball. In the twentieth century there have only been 10 and only 3 of those were turned since 1920.

On May 31st, 1927, the Detroit Tigers’ first baseman, Johnny Neun read in the morning paper that Jimmy Cooney, the Chicago Cubs shortstop, had made it into the record books the day before by completing an unassisted three-way putout. That afternoon, Neun duplicated the feat. With runners on first and second, Neun snagged a line drive, getting the batter for out #1. Neun then stepped on first base to get a force on the runner who was just off first base for out #2. The runner at second was far off the bag and Neun, clearly with visions of a triple play in mind, ran over and tagged the runner before he could get back to second, completing the unassisted triple.

By the way, the 3rd unassisted triple play since 1920 was executed in 1925 by Glenn Wright. One of the hapless baserunners was the afore mentioned Jimmy Cooney.

Basil Papademos called our attention to the fact that George Burns, a 1st baseman for the Boston Red Sox also completed an unassisted triple play on September 14, 1923. When we began digging into the files to verify Basil's "catch", we found four more players who have turned unassisted triple plays since 1920. These other players include; Ernie Padgett on Oct. 6, 1923 when he was with the Boston Braves, Ron Hansen on July 30, 1968 while he was with the Orioles, Mickey Morandini on Sept. 20, 1992 with the Phillies and John Valentin with the Red Sox on July 8, 1994.

Nice play Basil.

Two For The Price Of One
In 1922, fans rooted for the batting title winner from both the American and National League, in the same city and in the same home ballpark.

Between 1898 and 1953, St. Louis had two major league baseball teams. The St. Louis Browns played in the American League and the St. Louis Cardinals played in the National League. In the 1922 season, the Cardinals’ Rogers Hornsby and the Browns’ George Sisler won the batting title for their respective leagues while both teams played their home games at Sportsman’s Park. The Cardinals had vacated St. Louis’ timeworn Robinson Field in 1920.