I spent a muggy Saturday afternoon indoors recently, reading microfilm of Sporting News issues from March-April, 1938, just before and during spring training. I didn't find anything earth shaking, but did find a number of tidbits that seem worth sharing.
As a kid in the early 1960s I remember being impressed by the fact that Jethro's pa -- Max Baer, Sr., not Jed Clampett -- had once killed a man in the boxing ring. Jethro, of course, was the character played in The Beverly Hillbillies by Max Baer, Jr.
Back then you could occasionally win a nickel or dime bet with some neighborhood know-it-all who mistakenly believed it was the affable actor who had killed a man.
Here's a good recap of the fatal fight: Baer-Campbell fight .
Until I read it in a 1938 Sporting News column, however, I did not know that the ill-fated boxer Frankie Campbell was the nom de guerre of Francisco Camilli, and that he was the older brother of 12-year major league veteran first baseman Dolph Camilli.
* * *In the years I've been reading back-issue microfilm of The Sporting News, I've learned not to take everything prnted therein as gospel.
For example, it appears TSN editor and publisher J.G. Taylor Spink wasn't correct when he told the readers in a March, 1938, column that actress Arleen Whelan was the daughter of former professional catcher Bert Whaling.
Whaling is best remember, when he is remembered at all, as the back-up catcher for the "Miracle Braves" of 1914. He caught part-time for Boston 1913-15 and played 11 seasons between 1908-25 in the minor leagues, mostly in Class A and B leagues in the West and Northwest.
Whaling is found on a couple of baseball sets over the years, notably 1915 Cracker Jack and 1914 B-18 felt blankets,
Arleen Whelan was a stunning red-headed actress whose prime years in the movies were 1938-53, with some minor TV work through the 1950s.
None of the actress's biographies mention any connection with baseball player Bert Whaling. She is most often described as the daughter of a Los Angeles electric shop owner.
In his book on the Miracle Braves, editor Bill Nowlin says that Whaling and his wife had no children.
* * *I'm also not buying wholeheartedly the assertion made by a Brooklyn beat writer concerning Dodgers pitcher Van Mungo's thirst.
When Mungo reported to spring training for 1938, he told reporters that he had not had a drop of liquor -- not even beer -- since a few days prior to Christmas.
Mungo said that during the previous season he had spent $2,000 on liquor. At a time when $5,000 was a good annual salary for a big-league pitcher, Mungo's bar bill has to be exaggerated . . . doesn't it? According to an inflation calculator, $2,000 in 1937 was equivalent to more than $33,000 today.
Thirty-three grand is certainly not unheard of for a top athlete's bottle service behind the velvet ropes at a club today, but $2,000 in bar tabs in 1937 beggars belief.
If, indeed, Mungo did stay on the wagon for 1938, it doesn't seem to have helped his pitching performance. He'd been 9-11 in 1937 with a team-leading 2.91 ERA. In 1938 he was 4-11 with a 3.92 ERA.
* * *With spring training barely underway, TSN writers cast a wide net in March-April, 1938, looking to fill their columns. One writer tells us of the "exotic" family origins of some of the day's players.
Pete and Joe Coscarart were Basque. Career (1935-41) minor league outfielder Bill Sodd, who struck out in his one major league at-bat with the Cleveland Indians in 1937 was Syrian. Cubs outfielder Frank Demaree (born DiMaria) was Portugese.
NFL halfback John Doehring (Chicago Bears 1932-34, 1936-37; Pittsburgh Steelers 1935) was wrestling professionally around Florida during the off-season.
When the Cincinnati Reds arrived in Tampa for spring training, Doehring asked manager Bill McKechnie if he could work out with the team to improve his physical conditioning.
McKechnie liked what he saw of Doehring's throwing and hitting and signed him to a contract with the Reds' Class B (Sally League) team at Columbia, S.C.
Doehring appeared in four games as a left-handed relief pitcher, winning two and losing one, before being sent down to Class D Palatka, where his dreams of a pro baseball career died.