Monday, June 30, 2014

1982 Topps Traded Tony Gwynn custom card . . . but I digress

I really hadn't intended to create this 1982 Topps Traded-style Tony Gwynn custom card.

There are already a lot of other cards on my to-do list that I've been trying to find time for.

However, Gwynn's recent death got me to poking around his career and cards and it occurred to me that -- at least theoretically -- Topps could have included Gwynn in its Traded set.

I don't know what Topps' cutoff for inclusion was, but I did note that the back of Cal Ripken's 82TT card mentions his April 5, 1982, home run. While I expect Gwynn's July 19 call-up from Hawaii was too late to make the set's deadline, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt.

I see that I'm not the only custom card guy who's done a 1982 Topps-style Tony Gwynn card. Most of the other creators don't do the card backs, so I can't tell if their are the Traded format.

Using that logic, a 1981 Traded Cal Ripken, Jr. card is possible in my universe. So is an 81TT of Ryne Sandberg as a Phillie, or an 82TT Don Mattingly. I'm going to try to stick to working on customs that appeal more to my personal interest in players and cards of pre-1980 vintage, but you never know when the urge might strike to try something more modern.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

DiMag's streak bat raffled for 25c

A lucky fan in San Francisco won the bat with
which DiMaggio set a new consecutive-game
hitting streak in a 25c raffle.

What would be today be one of  the most valuable pieces of baseball memorabilia – the bat with which Joe DiMaggio set a new major league consecutive-game hitting streak – originally went to a fan for the price of a 25-cent raffle ticket.

I’m sure this has all been covered in one of the many books about the Yankee Clipper, but since I’m unlikely to ever read one of those – in my view he was an insufferable prick – it was news to me when I read the account in the July 17, 1941 issue of The Sporting News.

In an article headlined, “DiMag’s Bat Brings $1,678,” the paper reported,. . .

SAN FRANCISCO, Cal.—A Louisville Slugger bat that sells for $2 proved to be wood of gold here. The stick was the one with which Joe DiMaggio established his new major league batting record, and in a raffle, at 25 cents a chance, it netted $1,678 to the San Francisco branch of the United Service Organizations.
The precious bit of lumber, bringing new fame to a San Francisco born and bred player, was disposed of between games of a Sunday double-header at Seal Stadium, July 6. James Osborne of San Francisco is the new owner and the presentation was made by Miss Mary Beth Snyder, comely stewardess of United Airlines.

The bat was used by DiMaggio on June 29 when he hit safely in the second game of the double-header Washington in the 42nd game of what would become his likely unbreakable 56-game streak. That hit, and that bat, broke the previous major league mark of 41 games set by George Sisler in 1922.

In 1941 there were calls from the press
and fans for DiMaggio's number
to be changed to 56.
 Uniform switch to 56 proposed
 Just four days after DiMaggio’s hit streak ended, St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor John. E. Wray, suggested in remarks made to Yankees manager Joe McCarthy that DiMaggio adopt uniform number 56 in place of his familiar 5.

“Let’s add a 6 and make it 56,” Wray suggested. “That record he made is likely to stand longer than Joe will remain in baseball. And it will be a reminder of a truly great feat.”

Wray continued by saying, “That isn’t the whole of it. The 56 was earned in other ways. For instance, during that streak Joe drove in 56 runs. And he scored 56 runs himself.

“Think it over,” Wray concluded, “A 5 means nothing . . . a 56 puts DiMaggio right smack in the Hall of Fame, for all who read to remember.”

In the July 31 issue of The Sporting News, Yankees beat writer Dan Daniel in his “Over the Fence” column reported . . .

 Yankees Turn Down “56” Proposition
You’d be surprised how much pressure was brought to bear on the Yankees to change DiMaggio’s number from 5 to 56, to memorialize his great hitting streak. Letters and telegrams came in from all over.
            But Ed Barrow voted against the suggestion, Joe McCarthy seconded the motion. And then the player himself announced that he was opposed to the idea.
            “It would be like boasting, and I would hate to carry that number,” said Giuseppe.
            “It would be circus stuff,” said Barrow.
            “I don’t see any call for using that type of publicity in the serious business of winning a pennant,” said McCarthy. “DiMaggio put on a great streak and now it’s over.”
            Those who boosted the idea still think it was a good one and berate the Yankees for their hidebound methods.
            I am inclined to believe that turning down the stunt was sound, conservative business. The Yankees will have to pay high enough for that 56 when paying time comes around. They don’t want to keep reminding the player every day he puts on that monkey suit.

Daniel hit the nail on the head when he opined that the Yankees didn’t want to inflate DiMaggio’s demand for his next year’s contract. As it was, the Yankees had to bump him from an MLB-leading $37,500 in 1941 to $43,750 in 1942, a 16.67% increase.

New York baseball writers, however, indicated the Yankees profited aplenty on DiMaggio’s streak. They figured that burgeoning attendance at home generated at least $50,000 in increased ticket sales, not to mention a jump in their visiting-team take on the road.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

1941 stars autographs analyzed

I’d guess that few autograph collectors give any thought to analysis of the penmanship exhibited in a player’s signature.

In the May 23, 1940, issue of The Sporting News there was a feature of such analysis of a number of then-prominent baseball signatures. The feature had the subtitle: “Interesting Deductions of Personality Traits of Players.” A promised follow-up appeared in the March 19, 1942, edition.

The articles prefaced the revelations by explaining . . .

“Hand-writing, it is said, sometimes reveals traits of character and personality. Believing that fans would be interested in analyses of the hand-writing of prominent players and managers, THE SPORTING NEWS asked Mary Ann Peck, who in private life is Mrs. Fred J. Lieb, wife of the well-known baseball writer, to inspect the signatures of a number of diamond notables. For some years, she has occasionally made such analyses for her own diversion and the entertainment of her friends, and her work in this line has attracted wide attention. In forwarding Mrs. Lieb’s deductions as given here, her husband states: ‘She doesn’t know one player from another. I gave her no help on them, but think they are real good. Was especially impressed with Gehringer.’”

Since today’s collector is not likely to be well versed with the personalities of most of the subjects of the analysis, I’ll just hit a few of the highlights.

“JOE CRONIN—This writing shows a friendly spirit, a desire to be liked, and he goes out of his way to accomplish this. Strong executive ability. A man whom other men would respect, because he has control of his emotions and does not live entirely on the physical plane. No matter what he would undertake he would do it well and carefully think it out. He is able to think his way through things without getting into arguments or rages. A very likable, capable man to have as a friend or business partner. Balanced.”

“LEO (GABBY) HARTNETT—This shows a nature inherently genial. The capital letters tell that he is a lovable character, cheerful disposition, kind, fond of people, should have many friends. Apt to argue very strongly, causing bad feeling against him at times. Perhaps he wants to make good at the thing he is doing and feels strong tactics are needed, but his own inward nature will bring him betters results in the end.”

“BOB FELLER—Should have tremendous physical endurance. In fact he has so much natural strength that he might not always put it to good use, therefore, he should always be active in something that requires nearly all of his time. This type loves life, to laugh, eat, etc. He is anxious to make good, even if not for himself—for a cause, or for somebody. He has a sense of humor, loves things to go fast. Very likable.”

“CHAS. GEHRINGER—Here is a type that needs to expand a little more in appreciating his ability. His writing shows that he is far better than he allows himself to believe. His nature is methodical, reticent, reliable. Has a sense of rhythm that should show itself in a smooth grace when in any game of action. Sort of a musical timing in perfect action.”

CARL HUBBELL—This signature appeals to me because it is strong, brave, withstands defeat, never blaming the other fellow. His inward strength is great than physical endurance. Original and not one to stick to pattern. Possibly sensitive, therefore reticent, not caring to have people become too familiar. He has the capacity of overcome difficulties because he has splendid mental qualities. He always is on the level.

BILL DICKEY—A very good signature; portrays sensitiveness, kindness, generosity. Despite love of outdoors and dislike to being cooped up, he is mental, rather than a physical, type. Much success achieved by study and concentration. He must be most careful of the law of suggestion, that it is the right kind, as he is sympathetic to the troubles of others. Aggressive on ball field, but not in life in general. He is a friend in need; never seeks a quarrel. His writing ranks tops in character.

I don’t think autograph analysis could be performed on most of the signatures of today’s athletes, since so many of them seem to be a random assemblage of a few capital letters and indecipherable squiggles.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cobb beat Ruth in 1941 golf challenge

In the summer of 1941, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth met for a best-of-three match-play charity golf challenge.

Like many former ballplayers, Cobb and Ruth spent considerable time in their retirement on the links. And like many former ballplayers, the competitive fires still burned.

At the time of their meeting, Cobb was 55 years old and Ruth was 46.

The July 3, 1941 issue of The Sporting News reported . . .

After Ty Cobb won the first of their two golf matches at Newton, Mass., June 25, by a 3 and 2 margin, Babe Ruth came back on the Fresh Meadow course at Flushing, Long Island, June 27, to finish ahead, 1-up, on the nineteenth hole.

About 700 persons paid $1 each to witness the first match, but not more than 250 turned out at the Long Island meeting. The proceeds from the Massachusetts affair were donated to the Golden Rule Farm for boys at Franklin, N.H., while the receipts in New York went to the United Service Organizations.

Both of the famous one-time diamond stars battled with grim determination in their matches. Neither gave the “needle” to the other, although Ruth tried to talk things up in the first meeting, finally subsiding when Ty maintained his intense concentration on the game. Cobb’s putting, as a rule, was better than Babe’s in the two matches.

Wiping buckets of perspiration from their brows after the close of the second match, the pair agreed to meet again in a third and final match later in the summer, or early fall, probably at Detroit. Fred Corcoran, tournament manager of the Professional Golfers’ Association, arranged the matches.

By winning the first match, Cobb gained possession of a silver loving cup, donated by Bette Davis, film actress.

“In all my life I never competed under such pressure,” Ty declared, after the initial meeting. “In my 25 years of baseball, I never had to bear down as hard as I did in that match. Well, I beat Ruth and so I have something good to tell my children. I have finally beaten the Babe at something.”

In the rubber game of the series, played July 29 at Grosse Isle Golf and Country Club in Detroit, Cobb again defeated Ruth by 3 and 2.

A Sporting News writer commented, “Neither diamond star played good golf.” Cobb was 15 strokes over par after 16 holes, when the match was ended.

Admission proceeds from a crowd of 2,500 again benefited the USO.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

REA auction finally pegs Baas premiums value

One lot among the post-war baseball cards in the April 26 sale by Robert Edward Auctions sold for over four times its "book" value . . . and I believe it is underpriced even at that level.

The lot was a set (so far as is known) of five premium pictures from Baas Cheri-Cola Drink, attributed to 1949. 

The pictures were apparently issued by a soft drink maker, but as far as I have ever been able to determine, that company's location is unknown today. 

The date attributed to the set is somewhat speculative, based on the players included, who were all members of the 1948 National League Champion Boston Braves (Johnny Sain), the World's Champion Cleveland Indians (Bob Feller, Ken Keltner) or the American League runners-up Boston Red Sox (Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr).

Inclusion of the second-place Red Sox players leads me to believe the Baas premiums were distributed in the northeast.

I was involved in the baseball card hobby on a professional day-to-day basis for some 25 years, between 1980-2006 as editor and publisher of the hobby's leading trade papers, magazines and reference catalogs. Those are my bona fides for telling you that the Baas premiums are among the rarest post-war baseball "cards" I ever encountered.

I believe they were listed, but not pictured, in the 1970s Bert Sugar "bible." The one and only time I ever saw a Baas premium in person was in the mid-1980s when I made a trip to Maryland to catalog and photograph the collection of Al Strumpf, a very advanced collector.

Now, 30 years later, I no longer recall whether Al had the complete set or just the Johnny Sain picture that has illustrated the Baas set listing in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards for decades. On a side note . . . you may notice that the photo in the catalog is not particularly good. There was a camera malfunction during my photo shoot and some of the film became overexposed. Upon reflection, I tend to think that Al did not have the other players in the set, or I probably would have chosen the Williams or Feller to appear in the "big book."

For all the years that the Baas premiums have been listed in the Standard Catalog the prices attributed have been nothing but wild-ass guesses. I believe Al gave me a ballpark figure of value originally. However, because not a single example of a Baas premium EVER appeared (to my knowledge) in the baseball card market, either by fixed price or in a card auction, there was never any firm basis on which to change price in subsequent editions of the catalog. Every couple of years during my tenure as editor, I would bump the book prices by my estimation of the pieces' relative value to other rarities of their era.

If I was still involved with the catalog today, thanks to the Robert Edward Auction result, I would at last have a real-world dollar figure to work with. 

With the buyer's fee, the set of five Baas pictures sold for $7,702.50. They were described as being in Excellent condition. The "book value" in the SCBC for the five in EX has been $1,860 for a number of years now.

While the REA sale settled, at least generally, the question of current market value, it raise a couple of questions that intrigue the retired card-researcher in me.

Probably because I had never seen any picture from the series except Johnny Sain, prior to this auction I had not realized that the Baas premiums use the same player pictures that are found on the several 1947 Bond bread baseball cards and related issues. In the case of each of the five Baas players, the photos are identical, except that the Baas pictures show more background to the left and right of the player. Like the Bond et. al. cards, the Baas pictures have the player name in script, right down to the misspelling "Bobbie" on Doerr's card/picture.

Another question raised by the auction listing is the actual size of the Baas premiums. The Standard Catalog has always listed the size at 7-5/8" x 9-1/2". I now believe this is incorrect. Those dimensions were based on hastily made notes during the photography process. I'm going to trust that Rob Lifson and his auction crew were more meticulous in writing up their catalog description, which identifies the premiums as 6-3/4" x 9".

And that brings up another mystery. Were the Baas Cheri-Cola premiums merely overprints on existing "Bond Bread" premiums? 

The Standard Catalog has for some 10+ years carried a listing for a set of 48 "Bond Bread Premiums," the checklist of which corresponds to the bread insert cards, including the five figures found on Baas premiums.

It is interesting to note that the catalog description of the Bond premiums gives their size as 6-5/8" x 9". That's just 1/8" different than the auction company's description, a discrepancy that is likely attributable to faulty information used to create the SCB listing..

Since the Bond premiums were issued with blank backs, it is entirely possible that the Baas premiums were created simply by overprinting the backs in red with the soda company's advertising message. That, unfortunately, would make it easy for scammers to do the same. 

Given the complete absence of Baas premium pictures in the hobby marketplace in the past 30 years, any sudden appearance of examples of this rare issue should be viewed with skepticism. While it is possible for a trained eye to spot an overprint that has been applied 65 years after the fact, potential buyers should be sure of their own expertise in this regard or have implicit trust in the seller before plunking down five-figure money.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chuck Noll custom card 1954 Bowman

I can't tell you anything about Chuck Knoll that you haven't heard in the days since his death or that you can't easily find with a google search.

I can tell you that while I've seen no fewer than seven photos of Noll from the late 1950s in Topps Vault auctions in the past couple of years, he never appeared on a Topps card during his days as a guard-linebacker with the Cleveland Browns.

He was slighted by Bowman, as well. In those days when football card sets comprised fewer than 200 cards, the so-called "skills players" got most of the spots on the checklists.

Fortunately for today's collectors, the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s produced many team-issued picture sets, premium photos, etc. Chuck Noll can be found in such sets as:

  • 1954 Fisher Foods
  • 1955-56 Team-issue 8-1/2" x10" pictures
  • 1956 Team-issue 6-3/4" x 8-1/2" pictures
  • 1958-59 Team-issue 8-1/2" x 10-1/2" pictures
  • 1954 and 1958 Carling Beer premiums
Noll was also included in Kahn's Weiners card set of 1959, perhaps his most expensive card.

And, of course, since the early 1980s he's been on dozens of cards from second-tier card companies as Steelers coach.

My contribution to Noll's football card legacy is a custom card in the style of the 1954 Bowmans, one of my favorite football card sets from childhood.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cobb-Williams paired on '60-style custom

For some time now I've had several pictures in my files of Ty Cobb in his later years interacting with players of the 1950s. I figured that someday they would be the basis for a custom multi-player feature card.

Two of my photos show Cobb with Ted Williams. My initial thought was to create a card in the format of the 1959 Fleer Baseball's Greatest Ted Williams set.

I spent most of a day the other weekend trying to make that work. I discovered I couldn't get the "look" right. There is a flat or pastel quality to the colorized photos on the '59 Fleer cards that I couldn't faithfully duplicate.

As I was despairing of ever finishing a Cobb-Williams card, I realized that once colorized the photo would work well as the basis of a 1960-style Topps card. So I went with that. I had to rule out doing the custom in the style of 1958 or 1959 Topps multi-player cards as they were all horizontal format and I didn't want to "waste" too much of the original picture's detail.

I believe from what I read in a contemporary issue of The Sporting News that the photo of Cobb and Williams was probably taken on March 17, 1960, at Scottsdale, Ariz., at the city's second annual old-timers baseball brunch, where Cobb, then 73, spoke. The players then motored in antique autos to watch the Giants beat the Red Sox 4-3.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 1b, Gene Dale

Bees' pitcher stung Angels by throwing games

In 1919 Salt Lake City had clean air, clean-living people . . . and dirty ballplayers.

While the attention of baseball fans was focused on revelations of the dirty doings of the Black Sox in Chicago, a parallel scandal was unfolding on the West Coast involving several former major leaguers. Three of them were teammates on the Salt Lake City Bees.

The scandal had its genesis in the 1919 Pacific Coast League pennant race. Like the Black Sox thing, it would not become widely known until August of 1920 when one of the Salt Lake players was observed accepting a $300 pay-off. Before the season was over, a Los Angeles grand jury had begun an investigation into the attempts of gambler Nate Raymond to fix the 1919 season for the benefit of the Vernon Tigers.

Using Vernon first baseman Babe Borton to get to players on other teams, Raymond followed the Tigers up and down the Left Coast fixing ballgames. He later bragged that he had made $50,000 on crooked games.
             Vernon won the 1919 PCL pennant, finishing 2-1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles and 18 games in front of third-place Salt Lake City. In winning the championship, the Tigers split a $10,000 bonus pool put up by fans, plus the $8,000 winners’ share of the “Little World Series.” 
            While the Bees as a team missed out on a similar windfall promised for a pennant win, at least three of the team’s key players had collected personal bonus money amounting to something like two weeks’ salary for the average Coast Leaguer. A year later those private pension programs put the players beyond the pale of Organized Baseball; run out of the game by team and league officials with the wisdom and courage to protect the integrity of the Pacific Coast League.

            In this multi-part series we’ll look at the trio of 1919 Salt Lake City Bees who sold out, and the player who corrupted them. This presentation is an updating of a series of articles published in 1993 while I was publisher of Sports Collectors Digest.

Gene Dale
(Continued from yesterday)

Despite playing his entire career

during the tobacco and caramel

card heyday, Dale appears only
on the 1916 Felix Mendelsohn
issue. They're sometimes found
with ads on back for The Sporting
News and other companies.
Back with Indianapolis in 1919, Dale was tagged with two losses in the two games he pitched before being sent to Salt Lake City.
Dale saw his first action for the Bees when he started on May 15. He threw 2.1 innings before the home crowd in an 8-7 loss to Seattle, giving up six hits, five runs and striking out one. He played his next three games for Salt Lake City in the outfield, subbing for injured right fielder (and fellow conspirator) Bill Rumler. In the three games in the garden, Dale hit at a 4-for-14 pace (.286) with a double and a home run.  The Sporting News commented, “Jean Dale hasn’t been a shining light as a pitcher with Salt Lake, but he looked pretty good in the outfield.” Rumler returned to the lineup on May 23, and Dale returned to the mound.
Over 30 games for the Bees, Dale earned a break-even record of 13-13 though he had an unenviable 4.48 ERA. In 217 innings he gave up 243 hits and struck out and walked 85 each.
Naturally, it’s hard to say what Dale’s record might have been if he hadn’t had a side job of helping the Vernon team win. (In games against the Tigers in which he appeared, Dale’s team was 1-4 in 1919.) Interestingly, Dale had one of his better-batting seasons with S.L.C. in 1919, hitting .325 with two home runs; when he played Vernon, he hit .308. Of the six errors charged to Dale in 1919, one-third were in games against Vernon.
It was on the mound, however, that Dale seemingly did his part to throw the pennant Vernon’s way. The two teams met in 13 straight games between Sept. 16-28. When that important series opened, Vernon was in a tie with Los Angeles for first place in the P.C.L.; Salt Lake City was third, 10 games back.
The Bees stung the Tigers in the first two games of the series, then Dale did his dirty work. He started three of the next seven games and lost all of them.
On Sept. 18 he gave up 10 hits and a pair of passes in a 7-4 loss. It cannot be determined from the box score how many of the four hits in the fifth inning were charged to Dale, who was yanked after 4-1/3 frames, but he was responsible for the three runs scattered across the first three innings by Vernon.
Dale came back for the second game of a double-header on the 20th. He took a complete game loss that afternoon 6-3 walking only one Tiger, but allowing 13 hits and making an error.
In Vernon on Sept. 24, he again pitched – and lost – a complete game by a 6-2 score. He gave up nine hits and eight walks in that effort.
Through the efforts of Dale and his accomplices, Salt Lake City lost nine of the 13 games with Vernon. While Vernon was winning fixed games, Los Angeles was winning (presumably) honestly. When the Sunday double-headers were over on Sept. 28, the Angels had a 2-1/2-game lead over Vernon.
The 1919 Coast League pennant race came down to what should have been an incredibly dramatic finish, Vernon and L.A. playing a seven-game series at Vernon for all the marbles. The teams split a double-header on Oct. 1, then Vernon ran away with the pennant, sweeping the final five contests.
The Vernon team collected its promised $10,000 championship bonus, then split another $8,000 as its share of the gate from the “Junior World Series,” besting St. Paul, champions of the American Association in a best-of-nine series.
On Oct. 18, Dale unwisely accepted a $500 check from Babe Borton, allegedly for services rendered during the season.
The 1920 season, as mentioned, found Gene Dale back in Dallas. Though he had an excellent 2.61 ERA over 39 games, his record was a disappointing 15-18 for the sixth-place Marines.
At least two of Dale’s performances that year were stellar to a degree that earned special mention in The Sporting News. On June 17, Dallas was in the bottom of the 11th inning at San Antonio when Dale hit his sole season triple to win it for himself. He had allowed only one hit in the game through the first six innings.
Against Wichita Falls on Sept. 5, Dale pitched no-hit ball through nine innings but lost 1-0 when a teammate made two errors behind him in the 12th.
By the time Dale’s 1920 season was over, the scandal had surfaced on the Coast and a grand jury was soon convened.
Borton was amazingly forthcoming before the panel and consequently Dale’s name came up. The grand jury naturally wished to interrogate the pitcher. P.C.L. president William McCarthy wired Dale at his home in St. Louis to speed to Los Angeles to appear. McCarthy promised Dale his round-trip travel expenses and hotel fare for his time in L.A.
Dale responded that he would need an additional $300 cash payment over and above expenses. McCarthy balked at this, saying that he didn’t consider it proper procedure. At that, Dale declined to make the trip. He excused himself by saying the proximity of the presidential election, “which will demand by presence in St. Louis.” Dale did provide the grand jury with an affidavit in which he averred that the $500 he received from Borton was repayment of a loan made the previous year.
In its efforts to get Dale on the witness stand, the grand jury sought the assistance of President J. Walter Morris of the Texas League. Morris told Coast authorities that he would do his best to get Dale before the panel, and if he did not get a clean bill of health “he need never show his face in Texas again.”
In mid-November, Dale did travel to Kansas City to meet with McCarthy, who then returned with Dale to St. Louis for further investigation.
On Dec. 10, the Los Angeles County grand jury returned indictments against Borton and Raymond, and against Dale’s 1919 Salt Lake City teammates Bill Rumler and Harl Maggert. Dale emerged unscathed. On Dec. 24 a California judge dismissed the indictments. As it turned out, conspiring to throw ballgames was not a criminal offense in the Golden State. Merry Christmas!
While most of ballplayers involved in the 1919 P.C.L. scandal never played another game in Organized Baseball, Gene Dale may have – literally.
On Aug. 13, 1921, a pitcher named Dale appeared in the box score as having pitched four innings of relief for the Newark Bears of the International League against Buffalo. He gave up three hits and a walk and struck out three, but did not participate in the decision. He was 0-for-2 at the plate. There was no fanfare in the sporting press about this Dale’s appearance in the game, or his disappearance thereafter.
It has been written elsewhere that the Dale who pitched for Newark on Aug. 13, 1921, was a collegian, not the then-32-year-old Gene Dale. It was not unusual for minor league teams to give trials to amateur players in that era, especially second-division teams such as Newark in 1921, so the pitcher could have been a college player who never again appeared in an O.B. game.
But it’s not impossible that Gene Dale had taken the mound for Newark that day. He was pitching Sunday ball in a fast semi-pro league in Missouri in 1921. He had not officially banned from Organized Baseball, so Newark may have decided to take a chance on him. It must be assumed that if it was Gene Dale, pressure was brought on the Newark team to return him to the blacklist. Perhaps a study of local newspapers box scores for the Cape Giradeau Capahas around that date would be informative as to Gene Dale’s whereabouts on Aug. 13, 1921. In 1921, August 13 was a Saturday, so if Gene Dale had pitched in Newark that day, he would not have been in southeastern Missouri the next day.
Dale died in 1958 at the age of 68 in St. Louis.

Further reading
There is an excellent biography of Gene Dale in the Society for American Baseball Research biography file. It’s written by Bill Lamb. .

Continued next month
Check back here in mid-July for the second installment of The Bad News Bees, detailing the involvement of Har Maggert in the 1919 scandal.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 1a, Gene Dale

Bees' pitcher stung Angels by throwing games

In 1919 Salt Lake City had clean air, clean-living people . . . and dirty ballplayers.

While the attention of baseball fans was focused on revelations of the dirty doings of the Black Sox in Chicago, a parallel scandal was unfolding on the West Coast involving several former major leaguers. Three of them were teammates on the Salt Lake City Bees.

The scandal had its genesis in the 1919 Pacific Coast League pennant race. Like the Black Sox thing, it would not become widely known until August of 1920 when one of the Salt Lake players was observed accepting a $300 pay-off. Before the season was over, a Los Angeles grand jury had begun an investigation into the attempts of gambler Nate Raymond to fix the 1919 season for the benefit of the Vernon Tigers.

Using Vernon first baseman Babe Borton to get to players on other teams, Raymond followed the Tigers up and down the Left Coast fixing ballgames. He later bragged that he had made $50,000 on crooked games.

Vernon won the 1919 PCL pennant, finishing 2-1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles and 18 games in front of third-place Salt Lake City. In winning the championship, the Tigers split a $10,000 bonus pool put up by fans, plus the $8,000 winners’ share of the “Little World Series.” 
            While the Bees as a team missed out on a similar windfall promised for a pennant win, at least three of the team’s key players had collected personal bonus money amounting to something like two weeks’ salary for the average Coast Leaguer. A year later those private pension programs put the players beyond the pale of Organized Baseball; run out of the game by team and league officials with the wisdom and courage to protect the integrity of the Pacific Coast League.

            In this multi-part series we’ll look at the trio of 1919 Salt Lake City Bees who sold out, and the player who corrupted them. This presentation is an updating of a series of articles published in 1993 while I was publisher of Sports Collectors Digest.

Gene Dale

When the fun hit the fan in the Pacific Coast League, Gene (or Jean, as he sometimes identified himself) Dale may have thought he was out of harm's way. For the 1920 season, Dale had been dealt to Dallas, where he had begun his professional career a decade earlier.

Emmett Eugene Dale was born June 16, 1889 in St. Louis. While his obituary mentions that he had a trial with Sacramento in the P.C.L., available records don’t show the results. His first real experience came with Dallas in the Texas League in 1910.

The tall (6’3”), thin (179 lbs.) right-hander contributed a 10-7 record to a narrow Dallas pennant win that season.

The Cleveland Indians drafted Dale from Dallas after the 1910 season, but turned him over to Providence in the Eastern League prior to the start of the 1911 campaign. Dale appeared in fewer than 10 games with the Grays before he was returned to Dallas.

In 103 innings with Dallas in 1911, Dale compiled an impressive 179 strikeouts on his way to a 12-8 season; the team finished in fourth place. Dale, however, finished in the National League, getting a five-game trial with his home-team Cardinals. In his 15 innings with St. Louis, Dale gave up a bit less than a hit per frame on average, while walking 16 and fanning 13. He ended his first major-league season with an 0-2 record on an ERA of 6.75. On the bright side, he did hit an even .400 – two singles in five at-bats.

Dale never did win a game for the Cardinals. With the team through July of the 1912 season, he appeared in 19 games, all but three in relief. He was 0-5 with a 6.57 ERA when he was sent out to Montreal of the International League in early August.

Dale pitched for the Royals the remainder of 1912 and throughout the following two seasons. Undoubtedly he adopted the Gallic spelling of his first name while among the Quebecois. He may also have acquired a propensity for perfidy there – one of his teammates was Chick Gandil, future ring-leader of the Black Sox.

The team never finished higher than fifth in Dale’s two-plus seasons with Montreal. His only winning season was 1913, when he went 13-10 with two ties. Overall for his time on the Royals, Dale compiled a 27-33 record in 83 appearances on the mound. In 528 innings of work, he gave up 523 hits, 260 runs and 203 walks while striking out 199.

It’s hard to imagine what, with a record like that, the Cincinnati Reds saw to indicate Dale could help their staff. Perhaps it was his hitting. According to available records, Dale had a professional career batting average of something on the order of .251, but he did have occasional flashes of batting brilliance. Three of his four hits for Montreal in 1912, for instance, were doubles. And in 1914 he out-hit and out-slugged another International League pitcher named Babe Ruth. That season, in 99 at-bats, Dale hit .263 with a pair of home runs. Ruth had 121 at-bats in 1914, hitting .231 with a single round-tripper.

Dale’s first season with Cincinnati in 1915 was the best of his pro career. For a seventh-place team he managed an 18-17 record on an ERA of only 2.46. He was also credited (by today’s standards) with three saves in relief. Dale led the Reds’ staff (and was tied for second in the league) with 49 pitching appearances. His 18 wins and 297 innings were also team-bests and his innings worked were fourth-highest in the league. Unfortunately, Dale’s 104 walks were also tops in the Senior Circuit.

Things didn’t work out so well between Dale and manager Buck Herzog in 1916. In early July Dale had a 3-4 record going with a 5.17 ERA The pitcher complained in the press that his teammates were giving him no “encouragement.”

When the team was preparing to leave for St. Louis for a series over the Fourth of July, Dale was ordered to remain in Cincinnati. Aggrieved at missing the road trip to his home town, Dale disobeyed orders and went home to celebrate the Fourth, causing him to be suspended from the team. “Indifferent work” was the reason cited. That same phrase would crop up several times in the coming years when major league teams got rid of players whom they suspected of being on the take. While it obviously cannot be proven at this juncture, Dale’s later record may indicate there was more to his suspension than just poor performance. Either way, Dale never got another chance in the major leagues.

With the Reds Dale also expanded the circle of his teammates who would eventually run afoul of gambling allegations. Teammates Hal Chase and Phil Douglas were run out of baseball altogether in later years, while manager Buck Herzog and mound-mate Rube Benton were unofficially black-balled from the major leagues a few years later. Sent to Indianapolis for the remainder of the season, Dale was 2-2 in six games.

The 1917 season saw Dale dropped back a class in baseball’s hierarchy, to the Western League. With sixth-place Denver, Dale had a sparkling 14-5 season going when he was called back to Indianapolis. In 11 games for the Indians, Dale had a 4-3 winning record and a 3.05 to help the team to the American Association pennant.

Despite playing his entire career

during the tobacco and caramel
card heyday, Dale appears only
on the 1916 Felix Mendelsohn
issue. They're sometimes found
with ads on back for The Sporting
News and other companies.
That year the winners of the A.A. and International League met in a best-of-seven “Junior World Series,” with Toronto representing the I.L. Surprisingly, Dale started the first game in right field. He was 2-for-5 at the plate to help the team to an 8-2 win. He appeared in the second game as a pinch-hitter, but failed to come through in a 4-0 loss. Indianapolis won the next two games to take a 3-1 lead.

A double-header was set for Sunday, Sept. 30. Indianapolis won the first game and the series. The teams played the second game of the twin-bill as an exhibition, with Dale on the mound for Indy. That game was called in a 4-4 tie after six innings.

An interesting side note to Gene Dale’s 1917 season is that he nominally led two minor leagues in hitting that year. Though he didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting crown, his .367 mark with Denver was tops in the Western League, while his .370 with Indianapolis was the best in the American Association.

Dale set another record with Indianapolis in 1918, though because of the war-shortened nature of the season, which closed on July 21, perhaps it should appear with an asterisk. Over nine games and despite the fact he had a 2.-3 losing record, Dale compi
led a 1.50 ERA, a mark that still stands as a season best in the American Association.

His last pitching assignment at Indy in 1918 was a pair of relief appearances in both ends of a Memorial Day double-header versus Louisville. He threw an inning in each game, but was not part of the decision in either Indianapolis loss. On June 5 , Dale made his final appearance of the season, playing right field and going 2-4 at the plate in a win over Minneapolis.

In mid-June, along with hundreds of other ballplayers, Dale felt the draft. He was assigned to military duty at Jefferson Barracks, near his home town of St. Louis, for the duration.

(Continued tomorrow)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Lou Novikoff Story, Part 2 (1941- )

Because there were no Cubs in the 1939-41 Play Ball bubblegum
card sets, I created this 1941-style custom of Lou Novikoff.

(Continued from yesterday)

Novikoff continued playing baseball throughout the 1940-41 winter months in Sunday-league play and against barnstorming teams including Negro Leagues stars.

While he kept in shape playing ball, the writers continued to spread his fame in national magazines including Collier’s (“Clouting Cossack,” Jan. 25, 1941) and Look (“Baseball Gets a New Screwball,” Jan. 14, 1941). I’ve seen internet citations to the effect that Novikoff was also featured in Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post at that time, but I’ve not been able to find specifics. Regardless, he was the most heavily promoted minors-to-majors ballplayer in the 1940-41 off-season.

On March 13, Novikoff was a guest on Bing Crosby’s nationwide radio program, singing and playing the harmonica. It was reported that Novikoff received $250 for the appearance, of which the radio artists’ union claimed $24. Novikoff also received a gift horse from the host. A month later he joined Cubs coach Charlie Grimm on the National Barn Dance radio show, playing harmonica and signing while Grimm played left-handed banjo.

Not only was Novikoff a league-leading batter, but he was also a proficient bowler. On Feb. 6 he led his Long Beach bowling league with a 692 series (267, 177, 248).

In January, 1941, Novikoff created a stir in the sporting press when he rebuffed the Cubs’ initial contract offer of $4,000. Declaring that he “had to eat” and feed his family, Novikoff took a job as a driller (a dangerous job) in Rodgers’ oil field and was duly photographed at work on a rig in stained coveralls.

Before he ever played a game in the
major leagues, Novikoff was a holdout,
declaring he'd rather work in the oil
fields than take the Cubs' initial offer.

As spring training opened on Catalina Island, veteran Chicago baseball writer Ed Burns reported in The Sporting News, “Lou Novikoff, the over-publicized rookie purchased from the Los Angeles Angels for a sum variously estimated at $10,000 to $100,000, with neither extreme having any elements of accuracy, surrendered March 2. He is believed to have settled for a $6,000 contract with some kind of bonus arrangement.”

Cubs management immediately denied that they had upped the contract offer or that Novikoff had any bonus plan; but they would, wouldn’t they?

Manager Jimmie Wilson gave the youngster a strong vote of confidence after the rookie’s first workout. “He’s my left fielder,” Wilson said, “He’ll be in there today and he’ll be in there in October.”

Wilson’s assessment provided to be accurate – for the most part. Novikoff was indeed the Cubs starting left fielder on opening day. And, while the Cubs didn’t make it to October, finishing 30 games out in sixth place, Novikoff was on the field for the season’s final game. However, he had spent most of the second half of June, all of July and August, and the first two weeks of September in the minor leagues.

As a Cubs rookie in 1941, Novikoff swung a big bat – literally. He used a 37-oz. Bill Terry model bat, the heaviest on the team.

Novikoff had a good, but not great, exhibition season. My reading of the box scores shows he played in 25 of the Cubs 27 games against major league opponents. He batted .306 with seven home runs. Novikoff played almost exclusively in left field, batting third.

After a slow start in California, Novikoff picked up the pace considerably as the Cubs and White Sox played their way north from Texas to Chicago in a seven-game series. He hit .375 with three home runs. He made his Wrigley Field debut on April 11, but went 0-for-4.

He opened the 1941 season with the Cubs, but when Bill Veeck bought the destitute Milwaukee Brewers on June 23, acquiring Charlie Grimm from Chicago as a part-owner and manager, Novikoff was also sent north on option.

The Cubs had been struggling to break the .500 mark, largely without help from Novikoff. He was batting .239 at the time, hadn’t started a game since June 11 and hadn’t had a home run since May 28. Critics attributed his slow start to the fact that he had reported to the team 20 pounds overweight.

Unlike his 1939 stint with Milwaukee, Novikoff thrived under Grimm’s management. He began his time with last-place Milwaukee with a 3-for-4 debut on June 24. He hit safely in his first 18 games for the Brewers; in his first two weeks he batted .475. In the June 29 Sunday double-header at Minneapolis, Novikoff was 5-for-7 in the first game with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs as Milwaukee won 19-12. In the second game he was 2-for-4 including a home run and three RBIs in a 12-5 win. In that two-game slugfest Milwaukee had 46 hits, the Millers had 22.

Attempting to explain Novikoff’s hot hitting in Milwaukee, Grimm said that in Chicago Novikoff had been trying to live up to his advance publicity and had been “pressing.” Also, in Milwaukee Grimm gave Novikoff a perpetual green light; he was free to hit in any situation.

While with Milwaukee in 1941, Veeck attempted to mitigate Novikoff’s notoriously bad handling of ground balls by leaving the outfield grass unmowed. Despite that effort, Novikoff made 11 errors in 90 games; his .934 fielding average was third-worst among regular outfielders in the American Association.

Novikoff won another batting title with Milwaukee in 1941, batting .370 to edge Columbus’ Lou Klein by three points. Novikoff claimed the title on the last day of the season in a doubleheader in which he had a single and two triples in the opener and a single in the second game—despite arriving at the ballpark more than 20 minutes after the scheduled time of the opener.

When the last-place Brewers ended their 1941 season (40 games out of first), Novikoff was recalled by sixth-place Chicago.
Novikoff appeared in the Chicago Cubs
team-issued picture packs each season
from 1941-44. This is the 1941 issue.

In his first game back in the bigs, Sept. 12 against the visiting Phillies, Novikoff showed the same batting prowess he had exhibited in Milwaukee. He was 3-for-4 with a double, a home run, two runs scored and an RBI in a 3-5 loss. That was his last home run of the season, though he hit safely in the next seven games, raising his season’s average to .255. After that, he was 1-for-15 in the last six games of the year, ending the season at .241.

Rather than sticking around for the Cubs-White Sox City Series, Novikoff returned to California immediately after the season. The Cubs lost their seventh straight intercity series in four straight games.

Cubs players made a reported $495.94 apiece for their participation. Novikoff probably did better than that out west. Blurbs found in TSN through the off-season reported him playing softball and, on Oct. 8, joining a Ted Williams-Jimmie Foxx all-star team to defeat the Royal Colored Giants 9-6 in L.A. Novikoff thrilled the hometown fans with a pair of doubles in the game.

Novikoff was the second player to sign his Cubs contract for 1942, saying it called for a “substantial increase.” Team general manager Jim Gallagher voiced his confidence in Novikoff by saying he wouldn’t take $100,000 for him.

Early winter reports from Novikoff’s home in Long Beach indicated he had gained more than 20 pounds. Through a vigorous program of running, however, “bundled in two sweat shirts and a rubber packet, until his tongue hung out,” according to one press account, by the time spring training was over, he was reported to be in better shape than at any time in his rookie year.

Novikoff also vowed to buckle down to baseball and minimize the outside distractions, saying there’d be no more clowning, harmonica playing and singing over the radio. “I couldn’t get in shape and I couldn’t concentrate on my game,” he said in February. “I knew I was getting in deeper all the time, but I couldn’t turn ‘em down, or they’d be saying, ‘Look, that Novikoff’s getting high-hat already.’”

The Cubs also worked on Novikoff’s base running during spring training. He had not stolen a single base with either the Cubs or Milwaukee in 1941. Chicago assigned former four-time National League stolen base leader Kiki Cuyler to work with Novikoff. The project was not a resounding success; Novikoff had only three (of his major league career four) steals in 1942.

Unlike the glowing testimonial Wilson had given Novikoff prior to the 1941 season, in the opening days of the 1942 campaign his assessment was decidedly dour. He told a Cincinnati baseball writer, “The way I figure it, Novikoff has to hit at least .340 to be of any real value. His fielding, throwing and base running are so far below major league caliber that only hitting, and plenty of it, can keep him in the starting lineup.”

Wilson forgot to factor in injury. The Cubs had planned to platoon Novikoff in left field with left-handed hitting Dom Dallessandro. When Dal sprained his ankle running into a wall in the season opener at St. Louis, the position fell to Novikoff by default.

Novikoff could not rise to the challenge. By May 13 he was struggling along at a .215 clip. Dallessandro was reinstalled as the regular left fielder and Novikoff was appearing more often as a pinch-hitter than in the field. His hitting continued to fall off and by May 30 his average had dropped below .200.

Another injury to Dallessandro forced Novikoff back onto the daily lineup and he responded quickly. By June 18 he had his average back to .243, then went on a real tear. In the next month he hit .389. By Aug. 6 he had raised his batting average 73 points in seven weeks, to a season-high .316.

The only explanation he could offer was to the effect, “the more hits I get, the looser I feel.”

From that point he dropped below .300 only once, when he went 0-for-3 in the first game of the season-ending doubleheader at St. Louis. His 2-for-4 performance in the nightcap allowed him to end the 1942 season at an even .300.

He later said that his failure to lead the league in batting in 1942 stemmed from being hit by a Bucky Walters’ pitch on Aug. 9, during the Cubs’ 18-inning 10-8 win over Cincinnati. “My should hurt so much I could hardly lift my bat,” Novikoff alibied.

Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley did his part to make Novikoff a more productive major league hitter in 1943. When Novikoff was mired in an early season slump, Wrigley came up with a bonus program.

Wrigley told Washington Post writer Shirley Povich, “I guess Novikoff’s my favorite ball player. On our minor league clubs, he led every league he played with in hitting, but one, but (when) we brought him up to the majors, he flopped.”

“I knew he’d be a great favorite with Chicago fans if he started hitting,” Wrigley continued, “by Jimmie Wilson, our manager, told me Novikoff was trying to outguess the National League pitchers.

“In the minors, Novikoff could try a guess with the pitchers,” the owner said.
“But up here the pitching was too smart for him. He took too many strikes through the middle. It sickened me to see him stand with his bat on his shoulder. I brought him up to my office one day and talked to him. I told Lou he was taking too many called strikes. He has a powerful swing and I wanted him to keep swinging, I said, and stop guessing.

“To encourage him, I said I’d give him $10 every time he struck out, if he struck out swinging. If he let a third strike pass with his bat on his shoulder he got nothing. He’s been hitting .370 ever since and the whole experiment has cost me only $30,” Wrigley revealed.

In 1943, Novikoff returned the Cubs contract offer of $6,500, seeking a raise to $10,000.
When negotiations stalled, the team suspended Novikoff and placed him on the ineligible list. However, mired in last place at 7-19, the Cubs reentered contract talks and on May 20, the parties came to terms.

Naturally manager Jimmie Wilson was displeased. A week before the holdout ended he told a reporter, “Novikoff wants to get paid before he produces. No, he didn’t produce last year. I know he hit .300, but up to July 15 he was hitting about .150.

“You know as well as I do,” Wilson warmed up, “that $3,000 or $4,000 means nothing to a club like ours when it’s a question of improving the team. Therefore, the whole thing is a question of principle. Baseball players are paid on the basis of previous performance. Novikoff wants to be paid before he produces.”

During Novikoff’s holdout, Milwaukee Sentinel columnist Stoney McGlynn wrote in his “The Sports Parade” column, “This reporter believes Lou is smart enough to know that a .300 hitter is a rarity in a Cubs uniform and that no matter his fielding flaws the Bruins need someone up there at the dish who can pickle the pellet.”

Tom Sheehan, manager of the American Association Minneapolis Millers, weighed in with his assessment of Novikoff’s hitting in 1943.

“Just from a batting standpoint Lou has his values,” Sheehan said, “but this year more than ever, he figured to be a more potent power at the plate. Why? Because pitching won’t be as good as other years. A number of the top-notchers have been called to service. They were the ones who could either blaze a fast ball past the batter, curve ‘em by or outsmart them with control.

“Control pitchers were the ones to bother Lou. But those without control were his dish. He’ll pick hits . . . off his ear, around his knees, outside and high or outside and low. You never knew what that crazy Russian would hit.

“The records bear this out. Lou led every minor league he ever played in at bat. Why? Because the minor league pitchers lack the finesse, the control the major league stars have. This year the majors will have some of their real stars around, but there will be enough of the others pitching so that Lou figures to have by far his greatest year.”

Novikoff himself agreed with Sheehan’s assessment of pitching prospects for 1943. He said, “With all those old-timers throwing big fat ones to the plate it ought to be easy. I’m going to click from the start.”
Novikoff's only major league baseball card was
in the 1943 M.P. & Co. strip-card set.

His major league days (1941-44, 1946) spanned the years when wartime restrictions severely curtailed the issue of baseball cards. His only real major league card is in the ugly little 1943 M.P. & Co. strip card set of 24, where his image is rendered more as a generic ballplayer than as an identifiable picture.

During the 1944-45 off-season, Novikoff worked in a war plant in Los Angeles and played Sunday ball in one of the fast semi-pro leagues in Southern California.

The Cubs sold Novikoff to the Los Angeles Angels prior to the opening of the 1945 spring training season. Novikoff expressed the belief that the fact that he cleared waivers by the other 15 major league teams during the war-time dearth of slugging was suspicious.

He declared he would play in the majors or nowhere. It is believed that the Angels signed him by making him the highest salaried player in the Pacific Coast League. The Angels could justify his salary because of his immense box office appeal.

In a column bidding farewell to Novikoff, Chicago Herald-Examiner baseball writer Edgar Munzel, speculated that the epitaph to Novikoff’s big league career would be along the lines of, “You may have been a headache, but you were never boring.”

Munzel summed up Novikoff’s appeal to fans as an appreciation of his “duck-waddling gait” his “murderous flailing at pitches whether over his head or in the dirt,” and his “clumsy fielding that was part of the fun for fans.”

Manager Grimm said of The Mad Russian, “I’ve seen worse outfielders; fielding was just a necessary evil in his life.”

Cubs shortstop Len Merullo, who was Novikoff’s teammate during the Mad Russian’s entire time in Chicago, reckoned that Novikoff’s inability to make a big splash in the big leagues was his love of the night life.

It does not appear that Novikoff was a heavy drinker or skirt-chaser, but Merullo related in an interview that Novikoff loved the night life.

            “He was not a hard drinker, but he loved to have as much beer as he could get in him and really enjoyed being around a crowd. He had that big moon face and a big smile, just a very likable type of guy.
            “People just loved to be around Louie and he loved to be around them. He had a good voice and loved to sing and imitate people, loved to entertain. They had radio stations going all the time, broadcasting from taverns, nightclubs and little local places. I remember turning on the radio at night and there would be Louie. He’d be introduced as somebody else, but we knew who he was. As soon as he saw that mike he’d be up there.
            “In the minor leagues you’re playing all night baseball. He could sleep all day and get out to the ballpark. In Wrigley Field, unfortunately we never had lights. Most of the time you’d be away from the ballpark before four-thirty. Louie would get a head start and he’d be up all night. Louie was as good a hitter as there was around in those days, but never in the condition they hoped he would stay in.”

As predicted, Novikoff drew fans to Wrigley Field (Los Angeles, not Chicago) in droves as the 1945 campaign opened. And, as expected, his big bat boomed.

In the first 11 games of the season, Novikoff was 11-for-45, batting .422 with a home run and 120 RBIs.

Moreover, his supposed deficiencies exposed at the major league level were not immediately apparent back on the Coast.

Seattle Rainiers manager Bill Skiff, after the team’s first series with the Angels, sang the praises of the Mad Russian.

“This is the first time I ever seen Novikoff play,” he was quoted. “From what I saw of him in six games there is certainly nothing wrong with his play. Afield I have always heard he was clumsy, but he did all you could ask of an outfielder. He went far to his right and left, came in fast and went far back as the ball demanded. His play of balls bouncing off the wall was superb and there isn’t anything wrong with his arm. He can really throw.

“As far as his hitting, he’s a natural—and what power!” Skiff concluded.

The Seattle manager was apparently so impressed with Novikoff that when the 1946 Pacific Coast League season opened, Novikoff was playing for him with the Rainiers.

When the military draft began in 1941, Novikoff was initially classified 3A, as a married man with dependents. In March of 1945, having earlier been deferred because of his wife’s ill health, Novikoff was called up for a pre-induction physical. He was inducted into the Army at Ft. MacArthur in Los Angeles on July 17, 1945. He’d played his last games two days earlier in a Sunday doubleheader, garnering just one hit in seven at-bats.

Novikoff was assigned to Sheppard Field, an Army Air Corps training center at Wichita Falls, Tex., and played for their service team, the Flyers.
In 1947 the Philadelphia Phillies were Novikoff's last stop in
the major leagues. He's shown here in a spring training wirephoto.

Though still in the Army, Novikoff was the second player picked in the major leagues’ Rule 5 draft of minor leaguers on Nov. 1, 1945. Though many observers expected Novikoff to be the first pick, the Philadelphia A’s chose 35-year-old outfielder Frank Demaree.
The Phillies snapped him up at the $7,500 draft price. Both the Yankees and Dodgers indicated they would have taken Novikoff if he’d been available when their turn came around.

“News that I’m going back to the major leagues is like being born again,” Novikoff said. “I feel the Phillies will give me a real chance and that’s all I want.”

The Phillies were desperate for power when they chose Novikoff. Only one player on the last-place team had hit more than seven home runs in 1945; Vince DiMaggio had 19.

The Phils were willing to overlook Novikoff’s eccentricities shortcomings in hopes his bat could give them some much needed power.

Philadelphia baseball writer Stan Baumgartner (himself a former Phillies pitcher) speculated that DiMaggio could compensate for Novikoff’s lack of range in left field.

“No one ever claimed Lou was a gazelle in the outfield,” Baumgartner wrote in The Sporting News, “but with Vince DiMaggio in center field the other two men need only be traffic officers to direct the Italian in his pilgrimages.”

Novikoff’s “real chance” with the Phillies lasted only from opening day through June 10.
He was used mostly as a pinch-hitter and while he hit .304 in 17 games, he showed none of the hoped-for power; among his seven hits in 23 at-bats, he had only one extra base.

Del Ennis, a rookie phenom, had usurped Novikoff’s spot in left field. Ennis led the team in virtually every hitting category, including home runs, with 17.

Despairing of ever realizing Novikoff’s power potential, on June 17 the Phillies sold him to Seattle in the Pacific Coast League. Novikoff had seen his last of the major leagues.

Many sportswriters, baseball officials and Novikoff himself tried to analyze his failure to hit in the major leagues, even during the wartime seasons. (One writer dubbed him Larrupless Lou.)

Among the possibilities that Novikoff advanced was that he couldn’t hit in Wrigley Field because the left-field foul line “ran at the wrong angle. It was crooked.”

He voiced another complaint about Wrigley Field after declaring that he would never return to the majors with Chicago, “ . . . that Cub park—ugh, you can have it. The background is murder on a batter.” He was referring, of course, to the center field bleachers where fans wearing white shirts made it difficult for batters to pick up the baseball from the pitcher’s hand.

The Phillies sold Novikoff to the Seattle Rainiers. For the remainder of the season he hit .301 against the Pacific Coast League pitching, but without any power; in 84 games he managed just two home runs in 312 at-bats.

Novikoff spent the entire 1947 season with Seattle. His .325 batting mark was in the PCL top 10. In the league's 187-game season, he was third in the circuit with 210 hits, 114 RBIs and 44 doubles. His 21 home runs were tied for fifth-best and equaled his total home run output from 1942-46.

With Seattle in 1947, Novikoff appeared in two card sets. While neither is common, they are not impossible. He was part of a 32-card team set of Rainiers issued by Centennial Flour. He was also in the 16-card Seattle team set that was part of Signal Gasoline's PCL issue.

Newark purchased him from Seattle halfway through the 1948 season. He was batting .327 but his home run production had dropped off again; he'd had only three in 64 games.

His first appearance for the Bears was in the July 18, 1948 doubleheader; he was 4-for-8 at Jersey City. He hit safely for Newark in his first 10 games, going 15-for-43 -- .349. By the end of the season, his batting mark was .327 and he'd found his power, hitting 15 home runs in 70 games.

In 1948-49, Novikoff played in the Mexican Winter League for the champion Los Mochis team. 

In 1949 Novikoff was given permission by Newark to make a deal for himself in the Pacific Coast League. Unable to do so, he returned to Newark. In his debut game with the Bears on May 13 he hit two home runs and a single, bringing in five RBIs. In his first nine games with Newark in 1949, Novikoff had four home runs.

Early in July, batting just .258 but having hit 16 home runs in 57 games, Newark sold Novikoff to Houston in the Texas League. In his last five games with the Little Giants, he was 8-for-18 with nine RBIs.

Novikoff debuted with the Buffaloes on July 9, going hitless in four at-bats with two strikeouts. The next night he was 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs. His season did not go well. He hit only .230 and had just one home run in 59 games.

Novikoff tried a comeback with the L.A. Angels in 1950, dropping 20 pounds in the off-season, reverting to his prime playing weight, but was unable to make the roster.

On June 5, he signed with the second-place Yakima Bears of the Western International League (Class B). The team was a farm club of the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals. Novikoff debuted on June 8 with a home run in a 4-1 win over Spokane.

He spent two months with Yakima, occasionally going to the mound to pitch in a mop-up role in blowout games.

By Aug. 5, Novikoff had been dealt to the Victoria Athletics, also of the Willy League, where he ended the season with his club in fifth place in the eight-team loop.

Novikoff retired from Organized Baseball after the 1950 season. He continued to play semi-pro ball and softball – once again with the Long Beach Nitehawks – in California while working as a longshoreman and in an auto plant until emphysema sidelined him for good.

In 1965, Novikoff was the first man selected to the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame.

Novikoff died in South Gate, Calif., on Sept. 30, 1970. He was 54.

FURTHER READING: Among the many places on the internet that you can read about Lou Novikoff, I especially recommend a 2012 blog from long-time hobby friend Dave Eskenazi.

Dave’s piece is well-illustrated and has much more details about Novikoff’s years in the Pacific Coast League than I have provided.