Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Hard luck" stifled Shinners' big league career

One of Ralph Shinners' few baseball
cards is this 1922 E120 American Caramel.

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Early in 1948, former N.Y. Giants outfielder Ralph Shinners was named road secretary for the Milwaukee Brewers, at that time a team in the Class AA American Association.

Shinners was a Milwaukee hometown favorite. He had played college ball at Marquette University, and to this day is the only former Warrior to have played major league ball.

In announcing Shinners’ appointment to the Brewers’ staff, The Sporting News ran a feature story by Sam Levy, the dean of Milwaukee baseball writers in that era. The article’s headline called Shinners the “Hard-Luck Guy of the Majors.” The angle was that Shinners had been denied a significant major league career by a run of bad luck that began in his rookie season.

Shinners had gone from Marquette right to the highest level of minor league baseball, joining the Indianapolis Indians (American Association) in 1920. He played 111 games that season, and in 1921, batted .346 and stole 70 bases.

Shinners was exceptionally fast for what was, at that time, a big man. He was 6' tall and played at 180 lbs.

Personally scouted by manager John McGraw, Shinners was purchased by the Giants for, depending on which source you believe, $65,000 and three players (1948 Sporting News) or $25,000 and four players (1922 N.Y. Times).

Let’s pick up the story as it ran in TSN . . .

            Shinners was a hard-luck guy. In 1922, his first year with the Giants, he was beaned in mid-season by Pitcher George Smith of the Phillies.
            “I was hitting around .390 at the time,” [actually, he was batting .282] Shinners recalls, “when I was knocked out of commission with a slight concussion. McGraw never forgave Smith for that. Some time later, when the Phils played us at the Polo Grounds, McGraw sent Smith a note: ‘Meet me back of the clubhouse after we knock you out of the box in the seventh inning.’ Sure enough, the Giants chased Smith in the seventh. McGraw headed for the battle site and told me to follow him a minute later, “because I may need some help.”
            ‘When I reached the battle ground, Smith and McGraw were sparring. Then I stepped in. I landed one punch and knocked Smith to the ground. That ended the fight.”
            "McGraw was a great guy," adds Shinners. Although he was farmed to Toledo after he recovered from the beaning, Ralph, through McGraw’s efforts, received a full World Series cut.       
            In 1923, when he rejoined the Giants, Shinners was again stalked by hard luck through a pennant-winning campaign.
            “I became ill in Cincinnati just after we clinched the pennant there and McGraw sent me back to New York to rest. I had Pleurisy, typhoid fever and the flu. The day the World Series opened the Giants players received word in the clubhouse before the game that I had died. I was unconscious for 21 days. No visitors were allowed in my hospital room.
            “The day the World’s Series ended, McGraw sneaked up the fire escape to my room. He brought me a dozen autographed baseballs and my World’s Series check for $4,500. Before he left, he said: ‘Keep fighting, boy, I’m figuring on you for my center fielder next year.’"
            “McGraw sailed for Europe that night. He wrote me from England: ‘You’ve had a run of tough luck since I bought you. We’ll win the championship again next year. Even if you don’t play a single inning, you’ll stay with my club.’”
            And Shinners was with the Giants the following season and collected another World’s Series check. [Levy was mistaken. Shinners was sent to Toledo in the American Association for the 1924 season].
            “There was only one John McGraw, a great guy and a great manager,” concluded Shinners.

In 1925 Shinners returned to the National League with the Cardinals, but not before suffering another bit of bad luck. In a spring training game in March he sprained his ankle and wasn't able to play (other than three pinch-hit appearances) for most of the first month of the season.

He was sent down to the Pacific Coast League in 1926 and spent six more seasons in the high minors, batting over .300 in three of those years. 

In 1947, Shinners was manager for the Kenosha Comets of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. He served athe Brewers traveling secretary for a couple of seasons. He died of a heart attack in 1962 at the age of 66.


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