Monday, July 28, 2014

'55T is my choice for Phil Paine custom card

A guy like me could make Phil Paine  custom cards 'til the cows come home.

Despite having pitched in the major leagues for six seasons (1951, 1954-57 Boston/Milwaukee Braves, 1958 St. Louis Cardinals) in the midst of the Topps-Bowman bubblegum card wars, Paine appeared in only one mainstream card set, 1958 Topps. He is also found in the 1954 and 1955 Johnston Cookies Braves regional issues.

As is my wont, rather than taking a lot of time rehashing Paine's career, I'll refer you to an online article by Nelson "Chip" Greene from the Society for American Baseball Research's player biography project: .

Just a couple of things that struck me . . .
  • Phil Paine's unusual name is the result of his first name being that of his father's best friend; his middle name, Steere, is an old Rhode Island colonial family name.
  • Many sources, including Greene, cite Paine as having been the first major leaguer to play in Japan's major leagues. Fellow SABR biographer Greg Erion, however, refutes that, saying that Leo Kiely was actually the first. According to Erion, Kiely debuted on Aug. 8, 1953, for the Mainichi Orions of Japan's Pacific League. Paine, he says, didn't pitch for the Nishitetsu Lions until Aug. 23.
Both Kiely, who had pitched for the Red Sox in 1951, and Paine, were in the Army at the time and pitched a game or two a week as their military schedule allowed. credits Kiely with a 6-0 record and 1.80 ERA, and Paine with a 4-3 record and 1.77 ERA.
  • The back of Paine's 1958 Topps card mentions that he was "traded during the last off-season" by the Braves to the Cubs. I can find no mention of that in various baseball references. On April 19, 1958, the Cardinals (with whom he is pictured on his 1958 Topps card) selected Paine off waivers from the Braves.
  • Paine almost returned to the Japanese professional leagues for 1959. He had toured Japan with the St. Louis Cardinals after the 1958 season. On Dec. 4, he was traded to the Dodgers with Wally Moon for Gino Cimoli. Los Angeles assigned him to their Spokane farm for '59 so Paine opted to sign with the Kintetsu Pearls for what he said was twice what he'd make in the U.S.
After figuring that he needed only a few more days of big league service to qualify for the major league pension, however, Paine decided to remain in the States. He never got those days. He spent the entire 1959 season at Spokane, then played with Vancouver in 1960-61 before retiring.
  • Paine never started a game in the major leagues. He does, however, have an enviable won-loss record of 10-1 in 95 games, a .909 win percentage. The acknowledged major league leader in that stat is Al Spalding's .795; among modern (career entirely post WWII) pitchers, Whitey Ford leads with .690. In his 11 seasons in the minor leagues, Paine's record was 75-63 with a 3.71 ERA.
Because he was a Milwaukee Brave active in the era of my greatest interest in the team and baseball cards, I won't rule out other Phil Paine custom cards in the future, though I have nothing currently on the drawing board. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Another Chuck Noll custom, 1956 Topps style

In this space on June 20 I presented my custom 1954 Bowman-style custom card of Hall of Fame Steelers coach Chuck Noll when he played for the Cleveland Browns.

I mentioned that I had more than a half-dozen scans of Noll from his playing days.

When I chose the '54B format for my Noll custom, I hadn't really intended to create more than one "card that never was." 

However, as sometimes happens, a visualization of a different Noll card kept haunting me. 

Last weekend I decided to do a second Noll custom, in the manner of 1956 Topps. I've mentioned before that '56T is one of the favorite football sets from my childhood, so I didn't need to stretch too far to make this card.

Noll is pictured on my custom in Cleveland's home brown jersey. Veteran vintage football card collectors may recall that all of the original 1956 Topps Cleveland Browns player cards -- there are nine of them -- show the players in their white away uniforms. 

As a nod to that tradition, I converted the photo I was using to a white jersey. It was more work than I expected; I can't seem to find a "reverse colors" button in my Elements 11.0 software. Because I've got nothing but time, and I view it as a learning process, I persevered and got the job done. 

There is another difference between my custom and "real" 1956 Topps football cards. On all of the '56s I've created (Unitas, McGee, Starr, Morrall), I've included a career-highlight cartoon on the back; genuine '56T had generic trivia cartoons not specific to the player.

With both a '54B and a '56T Chuck Noll custom under my belt, I don't think I'll feel compelled to do any others.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nazi fire resolved Rapp to bear down in baseball

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.

In the years immediately following World War II, many of the player features appearing in The Sporting News included information on the player’s time in the military.

One such that could have been the storyline in a war movie was that of Earl Rapp.

In late August, 1946, Rapp was batting .359 for Buffalo in the International League. He was featured in TSN on Aug. 28 in an article by Buffalo baseball writer Cy Kritzer. A large photo of Rapp accompanying the article made him look every inch the “lean, hungry-looking ex-infantryman” that Kritzer described in his lead . . . right down to his thousand-yard stare.

The headline almost dared you not to read the story: “Bison Slugger Rapp, Pinned by German Fire, Vowed He’d Learn to Hit Lefties if Spared”.

I may as well just go ahead and reprint Kritzer’s account . . .

Few rookies displaying more determination have appeared in the International League this season. Behind Rapp’s attitude is a horror-filled night when he won the Silver Star in the battle of the Colmar pocket. 

Rapp’s platoon of 48 men was cut of by the Schutzstaffel. The lieutenant in command ordered them to dig fox holes and lie low until early dawn to make a break for their own lines. A German sniper killed the officer with a bullet through the temple a few seconds after he gave the order. That put Sgt. Rapp in command.
Only seven men came back. The others were killed or lost.
“The only way we had a chance was to jump out of our holes, one man at a time, run like mad for ten yards, then hit the ground before the SS sharpshooters got the range,” Rapp said. He saw his buddies one by one killed before his eyes. As each one made his unsuccessful run for life, his mates tried to cover him with their own fire.
“I Never Ran So Hard”
            The last GI to leave his foxhole was Sgt. Rapp. No one covered him. “I never ran so hard in my life,” he said. “You never know how hard you can run until your life is at stake. I thought that night that I’d never play baseball again . . . and that’s what I thought mostly about . . . I said ‘Rapper, if you ever get through this, you’ll play baseball like you never played it . . . hustle . . . and fight every pitcher . . . and learn to hit lefthanders.’
            “Strange what thoughts run through your mind when you’re hugging the ground and just waiting for the hour, . . . I thought about baseball and how hard I’d work and go all-out if I ever had the opportunity to go to spring training again.”
Rapp finished the 1946 season with Buffalo batting .324, fifth-best in the International League.

He made the major leagues with Detroit in 1949, but after a month was traded to the White  Sox.

Rapp was never able to make it as a major league regular, but for a couple of years was able to catch on here and there as a left-handed pinch-hitter and fill-in right fielder.

He was with the Giants and Browns in 1951 and the Browns and Senators in 1952. 

Rapp never got into more than 76 big league games in any one season. His career mark was .262, with just two home runs in 135 games.

Between 1940 and 1958 he played 15 seasons in the minors, with a .313 batting average and as many as 30 homers a year.

As for his battlefield resolve to bear down if he made it through . . . from 1940 until he entered the Army in 1943, Rapp had been an even .300 batter, averaging half a dozen home runs a year.

From 1946-1957 he hit a cumulative .315 and averaged more than 15 home runs a year.

Earl Rapp has no mainstream baseball cards. He does appear on a few Pacific Coast League cards such as the 1949 and 1950 Remar bakery cards shown here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My custom 1978 Molitor improves on Topps

As I mentioned in my posting of July 18, I had one more 1978 Topps-style Brewers card on my drawing board. Here's my take on a '78T Paul Molitor.

Many of you know that Paul Molitor did have a card in the "real" 1978 Topps issue. He was one of four players pictured on card #707 Rookie Shortstops, the most valuable card in the set.

Topps also produced a handful of team sets in 1978 for distribution at Burger King outlets in each team's home area. The sets for the Astros, Rangers, Tigers and Yankees.

The Burger King cards were printed some time after the regular Topps cards. They use the same basic format as the Topps cards, except the backs are renumbered 1-22 and, in each team set, there are a number of cards that have different player pictures on front. In some cases, there are cards for players who did not appear with those teams in the regular set. Some cards have significant photo cropping differences from the Topps version. And some Burger King cards give players who earlier appeared in the four-in-one rookie cards their own card.

While Burger King did not produce a Milwaukee Brewers team set in 1978, this custom card is what such a card might have looked like.

Don't be perplexed by the "SS" position designation. Molitor was brought to Milwaukee after one years in the minors when Robin Yount announced that he was retiring from baseball to pursue a career as a pro golfer.

Molitor opened the 1978 season as the Brewers shortstop. He played the first 24 games of his big league career at short. Upon Yount's return to the field on May 16, Molitor moved over to second base, displacing Lenn Sakata, who was sent down. Molitor played just a handful of games at shortstop through the end of the season.

You know, now that I think on it, there may be one more 1978 Burger King Brewers card in my future. I just remembered that after debuting on a Rookie Infielders card in 1977 Topps, Jim Gantner did not have a card in 1978 Topps.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where's Dick Bartell's collection?

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.

As a collector, you have to wonder what became of the baseball memorabilia collection of former shortstop Dick Bartell, who played 18 years in the major leagues between 1927-46.

In the Jan. 30, 1941, issue of The Sporting News, an un-bylined article ran under the headline, “Bartell’s B.B. Museum”.

It’s reproduced here in its entirely.

            SAN FRANCISCO, Cal.—Next to the reliquary at Cooperstown, N.Y., Dick Bartell, shortstop of the Detroit Tigers, is believed to have the most varied museum of baseball trophies at his home in Alameda.
            The Bartell household is equipped with a private den for Dick and a rumpus room in the basement for guests. The walls and shelves are adorned with a collection of autographed pictures of big leaguers, bats that won World’s Series and baseballs that made many historical outs. He even has sound movies of critical series in the majors to entertain guests. Bartell saves everything, like a fussy housewife who collects pins and bits of string, and as a result, if he were commercial-minded, he could turn his home into a museum and charge the public 25 cents admission.
            Instead Dick takes pride in showing his souvenirs and frequently entertains his friends and visiting notables there.

Fred Stein has authored a comprehensive baseball biography of Bartell for the SABR biography project. You can find it at . . . .

Friday, July 18, 2014

Custom completes Gorman Thomas' "Topps" run

In 1977, when Gorman Thomas wasn't in the major leagues, he had a Topps card.

In 1978, when Thomas was in the majors, he didn't have a Topps card.

 I corrected that situation with my latest custom card, a 1978-style Gorman Thomas.

After batting just .188 in his first two full seasons with Milwaukee, the Brewers sent him down to Spokane (Pacific Coast League) for the entire 1977 season. He regained his batting form out west, hitting .322 with 41 doubles, 36 home runs (both second-best in the league) and 114 RBI (third-best).

On Oct. 25, 1977, the Brewers sent Thomas to the Texas Rangers as the player to be named later in an August deal that sent Ed Kirkpatrick to Milwaukee. Before spring training opened in 1978, the Brewers bought Thomas back from Texas.

There's no doubt Gorman was my all-time favorite Brewer. He was also my daughter's first baseball hero. On her 5th birthday in 1984 we went to Milwaukee County Stadium for a game during Thomas' first visit back to Milwaukee after he had been traded to the Indians. We even snagged a batting practice foul ball from our seats down past the visitors' dugout near field level.

Gorman was a big favorite in Milwaukee because of his blue-collar image and his big home runs. (We tended to quickly forget the many strikeouts.)

This is my third Gorman Thomas custom card. On March 15, 2011, I presented by custom Gorman Thomas "rookie" card in 1972 format. I showed you a 1973-style card on May 15, 2011.

At this point I expect this to be my last Gorman Thomas custom card . . . but I never say never.

I do have one more 1978-style Brewers card in the works; you can probably guess who that it. I should be posting it in a couple of days.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pop Schriver's Monumental catch

Pop Schriver can be found in at least five poses
in the 1887-1890 Old Judge cigarette cards.
 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.

I don’t know where baseball historians currently stand on who was the first to catch a baseball thrown from the top of the Washington Monument. Yesterday in this space I presented details of Senators catcher Gabby Street’s successful attainment of that feat.

His grab is certainly the most famous, but over the years I’ve read of other, earlier successes with the same stunt.

In its Feb. 29, 1940, issue, The Sporting News solicited information on earlier attempts in a boxed item headlined “The Sporting News / ? Wants to Know ?”

That article mentioned a Washington Post article of Aug. 26, 1894, that said Chicago catcher William Schriver performed the feat. Like Street’s catch, the Post reported that it was a sporting proposition between Colts manager Pop Anson and H.P. Burney, chief clerk of Washington’s Arlington hotel.

Schriver's catch was featured in the
1963 GAD Fun Cards baseball
trivia card set.
According to the newspaper, the witnesses to Schriver’s catch included, besides the wagering parties, Clark Griffith, president of the Washington Nationals, the hotel’s manager, Frank Bennett, and Schriver’s teammates Parrott, Decker, Stratton and Hutchinson.

The Sporting News in 1940 speculated that the reporter who “covered” the story was not actually in attendance.

The paper quoted Griffith as substantiating that suspicion, saying, “I dropped three balls. Only one of the three was reached by Schriver and he dropped it. The first man ever to catch a ball from the Washington monument was Gabby Street.”

TSN speculated that those actually present at Schriver’s attempt “kept their tongues in their cheeks in order to give Chicago some welcome advertising.”

The account of Street’s catch in the Aug. 21, 1908, Washington Evening Star, mentioned that earlier attempts – all unsuccessful – had been made by Paul Hines, Charley Snyder and Buck Ewing. Schriver was not mentioned in that piece.

In the 1940 TSN, the article concluded, “The evidence of other besides Griffith, who were present at the time Schriver is said to have made the catch, would help to solve the puzzle. If there are any of them who read The Sporting News, or anyone who knows them, The Sporting News would like to get their versions.”

Sprinz’ blimp drop went badly

I’m also unsure of what the accepted record for a baseball caught from a great height might be. I did read of an attempt from 800 feet that went awry.

At the New York World’s Fair on July 3, 1939, San Francisco Seals catcher Joe Sprinz attempted to catch a ball dropped from a blimp 800 feet in the air.

Prinz caught the ball, but the force of the impact drove his catcher’s mitt into his face breaking his jaw, cutting his lips and knocking out five teeth.
Earlier that year at the Golden Gate International Exposition, Sprinz had caught a ball dropped from the Tower of the Sun building. He had only been able to snag one of six balls dropped from the height of 437 feet. It was estimated the balls dropped at a speed of 100 miles per hour.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Turkey Red cabinet immortalizes Street's feat

The Washington Monument, from which
Gabby Street caught a baseball in 1908,
can be seen at far left on Street's
1910-11 Turkey Red cabinet card.
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.

Like most baseball fans, I’d long ago heard of Washington Senators catcher Gabby Street’s feat of catching a baseball thrown from the top of the Washington Monument on Aug. 21, 1908.

I’ve mentioned the event once before in this venue, on Feb 9, 2014, when I wrote of a less lofty recreation of the ball-drop Street accomplished 37 years later.

Beyond knowing that he had been successful in catching a couple of balls in 1908, I don’t recall ever hearing the details.

I found a first-hand account in an interview Street gave to New York Daily Mirror sports writer Bob Considine that was republished in the Oct. 12, 1944, issue of The Sporting News.

According to the Considine article, the idea for the feat originated—as such things often do—over drinks at the National Press Club. Washington Post society editor Preston Gibson repeatedly insisted that Street could, indeed, catch a ball thrown from atop the highest point in the nation’s Capital. He backed his belief with a number of not insignificant wagers with others among the ink-stained wretches around the bar.

On the appointed day, Gibson schlepped 13 baseballs to the top of the 555-foot obelisk, where a 20-foot long wooden trough had been erected. The newspaperman let the first few balls roll down the trough, but it was not long enough and the balls bounced off the sides of the tapered monument's base. 

Street then telephoned Gibson to abandon the trough and throw the balls out further so they would not be blown into the side of the structure. Gibson then began throwing the balls, which achieved the necessary clearance, but Street lost them in the sun—potentially a fatal failing.

Moving over to the shady side of the Monument, Street missed on a couple more. 

Street said that it had been his original intention to catch the balls waist-high, figuring that the worst that could happen would be a broken wrist or arm.

When the strain of looking that high into the air got to be too much, Street enlisted Washington shortstop George McBride to spot the falling baseballs for him. Street didn’t look up until the pellets were about 200 feet above him.

Under that system, Street reported, “I caught the fourth one I tried for, and the thirteenth and last one Gibson threw.

“Caught both of them right over my head,” Street recalled. “They’d have gone right through my head if I had missed them. Sure, they were ‘heavy,’ but not too heavy. I just used my regular mitt—no sponge or anything." Mathematicians estimated that Street caught 300 pounds of energy at the end of the balls' 550-foot drop.

“Gibson told me later that each catch I made sounded like a .38 revolver going off, even way up there at the top of the monument.”

Street reckoned that Gibson collected a lot of money from his bar bets. “I know he paid me $500,” he said.

Street reported that one of the spectators offered to buy the first ball he caught for another $500. “But I hung on to it for years and finally turned it over to the American Legion in Joplin, where I live, and they raffled it off in a war bond rally that brought $45,500.”

The ball that Street caught on the 13th attempt returned the public eye in 1964, when it was revealed to be in the possession of Gibson's son, James McMillan Gibson. 

The younger Gibson discovered the ball in his father's effects after his death in 1937. He told George Minot of the Washington Post that his father had not displayed the ball.

Gibson told the reporter that he bought a special plastic case for the ball and displayed it on a shelf in the study of his N Street home in Washington, D.C.

Curiously, the ball is an official National League ball. Printed in black ink on it is, "August 21, 1908, 11:30 a. m. Dropped from the Washington Monument by W.J. Preston Gibson, caught by Gabby Street, 550 feet, 135 feet per second."

James Gibson moved the ball when he and his wife vacated their Georgetown mansion after selling it to Jacqueline Kennedy.

The souvenir's current whereabouts are currently unreported.

Next time we’ll look at claims that others made successful catches of balls throw from the Washington Monument before Street’s feat.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Rehabilitating my Bobby Kennedy custom

The other day (July 4) I mentioned my ongoing process of "rehabilitating" some of my earlier custom card creations to take advantage of a better photo or my progress along the learning curve.

Today I undertook a new version of one of my more popular 1955 All-American-style football cards, Bobby Kennedy.

The Kennedy brothers -- Joe, John, Bobby and Ted -- all played at Harvard and I have created cards for each of them. I was hampered in that process by a dearth of decent photos of the boys in Crimson uniform.

I was spurred to re-do my Bobby Kennedy card while filling an order for a JFK card.

My Bobby Kennedy card was one of a handful of card images that I lost some years ago when a floppy disc (I told you it was some years ago!) failed. I've made do since then with an image created by scanning one of the actual cards. That's not a great solution.

Too, I never felt that the picture of RFK on my card was up to par. It almost doesn't look like the Kennedy scion who was so familiar to us in the 1960s. I spent some time scouring the internet for a replacement and found a photo that is a considerable improvement, though not ideal. Maybe someday the perfect photo will come my way and I'll revisit the project once again.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 2b, Harl Maggert

Caught red-handed taking bribe money

(Part 1 of this series, detailing the involvement of Gene Dale in the 1919 Pacific Coast League gambling scandal, was presented here on June 14-15. An introduction that will help you pick up the story was presented on those days.)

(Continued from yesterday)

Maggert appears in the Zeenuts candy cards of Pacific
Coast League players in 1911, 1913-17 and 1920.
Harl Maggert

Maggert spent the 1913-17 seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, generally playing center field and batting lead-off. He returned to the P.C.L. with a flourish, hitting .316 in 1913, second-best among players in more than 100 games. He either led the league or was tied in games played, runs scored and triples. His 18 home runs and 89 stolen bases were each second-best in the circuit. He was fourth in hits and doubles. His fielding was in the top half of the class. Despite Maggert’s stats, the Seraphs finished fifth in the six-team league.

In 1914 the Angels came in second though Maggert’s personal numbers were down in most categories. He still led the league with 127 runs, and was among the top six in games, hits and three-baggers. Batting .288, he fielded among the top 10.

Maggert rebounded to break the .300 batting barrier in 1915 (.307), leading the league with 14 triples and 147 runs plated. He was tied for third with 55 steals, was fourth-best in games and at-bats, tied for fifth with a dozen home runs and was ninth with 226 hits. Maggert also led the league’s outfielders with 24 errors, his fielding average the worst among outfielders in more than 75 games. The Angels finished third that season.

The 1916 season was again fairly undistinguished for Maggert, though the Angels copped the pennant that year. Batting .274, Maggert cracked the top 10 lists in only two categories. His 42 stolen bases were fourth, and he had the seventh-best fielding average for outfielders in more than 150 games.

The Angels dropped back to second place in 1917, and Maggert’s stats dropped in every category. He hit just .256. Maggert suffered from sore knees much of the season and also from a suspension by manager Frank Chance, who fined him and set him down for beating up the club’s trainer.

By the time the 1918 season rolled around, ballplayers were getting mighty scarce in the P.C.L., as in other pro leagues. Many of the players who were not volunteers or draftees into the armed forces for World War I had taken war-industry jobs either to keep out of Uncle Sam’s uniform or for the high pay, Maggert, at 35, was above draft age. He was sold to San Francisco in early April, just prior to the opening of the season. Los Angeles felt it could afford to let Maggert go as they had just signed 19-year major league veteran and future Hall of Famer Sam Crawford.

Again, The Sporting News was unenthusiastic. “Harl Maggert is not likely to be of much use to San Francisco,” the paper commented. “He has a bad knee, too susceptible to injury and the deal for him was just so much energy and money wasted.”

Maggert had no problems playing out the season with the Seals in 1918, but the season was cut short due to the war, ending in mid-July. His .247 batting average was the lowest in Maggert’s pro career since his debut season, though he did manage to steal 19 bases in 86 games. Fielding records were not released by the league for the war-shortened 1918 season.

With the P.C.L. season on hiatus, Maggert played semi-pro ball. Just prior to the opening of the 1919 season he was traded by San Francisco to Salt Lake City for third baseman Karl Crandall.

The Sporting News finally gave Maggert a positive review. S.L.C. baseball beat writer Walter Bratz said Maggert was “for years one of the best outfielders in the league. He has no superiors at fly chasing, and until last season he always hit well and was a demon on the bases. But an injured leg handicapped him in 1918 and he did not show his old-time class. His leg is bothering him no more and he looks to be as good as of old,” Bratz concluded.

Maggert rebounded in all offensive categories in 1919. He hit .274 and again led the league with 127 runs scored. He was tied for fifth with 37 doubles and fielded in the top half of the league’s outfielders.

While Maggert hit .274 against the league, he batted only .213 for the season against Vernon. When the teams first met in April in Utah, Maggert hit .263 as the Bees took three of the five games in the series.

In an eight-game set at Vernon in early July, Maggert hit just .176, though Salt Lake won five and tied one of the games. It is unlikely that Maggert and the Bees were trying to throw the pennant to Vernon at that point in the season. With more than two months remaining, Vernon was in second place and S.L.C. was still in the race, in fourth.

By mid-September the Bees had moved up to third place, less than 10 games behind Vernon and Los Angeles, who were tied for the league lead. In home-and-home series with Vernon between Sept. 16-28, the Bees had plenty of opportunity to shape their own destiny, especially after winning the first two games in Salt Lake City. 

Whether or not those first two games were on the square will never be known. They may have been intended as losses but won by luck or design. Maggert hit .333 with a triple in those contests. In the remainder of the games at hone against the Tigers, the Bees were 1-4; Maggert hit .227. At some point, however, Maggert and a few teammates decided to take the sure-thing money offered by Borton as opposed to taking a chance on winning the pennant with its attendant bonus pool promised by the local fans.

The series moved to Vernon on Sept. 23 for six games. The Bees won the opener, then lost the next five. Maggert was 4-for-24 (.167) with a double and an error in Vernon.
When the Bees and Tigers concluded their season series, Salt Lake City was 13-1/2 games out, but retained their hold on third place. Vernon and Los Angeles met in a season-ending series with the Tigers down by two and a half games. They put a hurt on the Angels in the final games of the season, however, splitting an Oct 1 doubleheader, then sweeping the final five games to win the pennant and a $10,000 bonus offered by their fans. The Vernon players also split an $8,000 winners’ share for beating St. Paul in the “Little World Series.” For their efforts, Maggert, Dale and Rumler got an under-the-table taste of the winnings.

There is evidence that Borton, abetting Nate Raymond and blackballed major leaguer Hal Chase, continued to fix games in the Pacific Coast League through the 1920 season. Whether or not Maggert was a party to the thrown games is unknown.

The record shows Maggert, at age 37, was having one of the best seasons of his career in 1920 prior to his banishment. Unofficial figures – the official P.C.L. stats were purged of the accomplishments of Maggert and other crooked ballplayers – show Maggert hit .370 in 115 games. Teammate Earl Sheeley led the league that season with a .371 mark.

With Maggert and Rumler removed from the team, Salt Lake City fell from first place on July 18 to fifth by the end of the season.

Little record of Maggert is found after he was banned from Organized Baseball. He went into the coal business in the L.A. area with his father-in-law, for whom he had worked in the off-seasons, and died in Fresno, Calif., just short of his 80th birthday in 1963.

Second-generation Maggert

also made the major leagues

Eighteen years after his father was blacklisted by Organized Baseball, Harl Warren Maggert, made it briefly to the major leagues.

The younger Maggert spent the 1938 season with Boston in the National League. Coincidentally, during the time when Maggert was with Boston, the team was known as the Bees. He’d earned the promotion after batting .339 with 30 homers in the Piedmont League in 1936 and .344 with 23 home runs in 1937.

Playing a little bit in the outfield and around third base, Maggert led the N.L. that season with 43 at-bats as a pinch-hitter, producing the desired result 10 times (a pinch-hit average of .233). Overall he batted .281 in 66 games. Three of his 25 major league hits were doubles and three were home runs. He had 19 RBIs, walked 10 times and struck out 20 times.

The younger Maggert played five seasons in the minors between 1933-39.

(Editor’s Note: This series on the disgraced Salt Lake City Bees of 1919 will conclude next month with Bill Rumler’s story, which somebody really should make into a movie.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 2a, Harl Maggert

Caught red-handed taking bribe money

(Part 1 of this series, detailing the involvement of Gene Dale in the 1919 Pacific Coast League gambling scandal, was presented here on June 14-15. An introduction that will help you pick up the story was presented on those days.)

Harl Maggert

By midway through the 1920 season, tensions in the Pacific Coast League were running high and nerves were chafing raw. Accusations once whispered in the locker rooms had become louder and spilled over onto the playing field.

The gist of it was that the Los Angeles Angels, who had lost the 1919 P.C.L. pennant to cross-town rival Vernon in the final days of the season, blamed Salt Lake City for laying down in a crucial late-season series with Vernon. When certain S.L.C. players could no longer stand the gaff, team management began to get the drift of the rumors.

On July 27 the Bees blew into L.A. for a series with Vernon. Apparently a tail was placed on one or more of the Salt Lake players. Whether the gumshoes were hired by the team or the league is unknown. The mists of nearly a century of passed time have obscured some of the details.

What is known is that a private detective spotted Salt Lake City center fielder Harl Maggert accepting $300 in cash from Vernon first baseman Babe Borton.

In what may have been a prearranged confrontation designed to get Maggert off the field while the investigation continued, he was thrown out of the July 29 game, fined and suspended for arguing with an umpire.

A bad-ass ballplayer all of his professional life, it was not Maggert’s first set-down – he had once been suspended for fighting with a P.C.L. umpire after accusing him of betting on a ballgame – but it would be his last. He demanded that the fine be lifted, threatening to quit the game. The more he protested, the deeper he dug himself into a hole. Eventually he said too much and Salt Lake City management dismissed him.

Maggert attempted to explain the $300 payoff as settlement of a year-old debt accrued by Borton in a card game. It was a story he would later attempt to peddle to a grand jury. Nobody was buying.

As the weeks wore on an investigation chaired by league president William McCarthy began to piece together the scandal. Borton and Maggert were joined on the suspended list by Salt Lake City right fielder Bill Rumler, effectively ending the team’s contention for the 1920 pennant. Gene Dale, who had pitched for the Bees in 1919, but moved on to Dallas in 1920 was also caught in the net and eventually (apparently unofficially) blackballed.

With his paychecks stopped, Maggert threatened to sue everyone in sight. McCarthy offered him a league hearing or the opportunity to defend himself in a civil action. Maggert never made good on his threats.

That, however, didn’t keep him out of the courtroom.

Among several Pacific Coast League baseball card sets in
which Harl Maggert appeared was the 1910 Bishop & Co.
(E99) candy issue.

In October a grand jury was convened in Los Angeles to determine whether criminal charges were warranted in connection with the baseball scandal. On Oct. 20 Maggert was called before the panel.

In a two-hour grilling he implicated teammates Dale, Rumler and Eddie Mulligan (who was never sanctioned in connection with the mess), along with Vernon’s Borton and second baseman Bobby Fisher (also exonerated).

After months of examination, the grand jury handed down indictments in early December charging Maggert, Borton, Rumler and West Coast gambler Nate Raymond with conspiracy to throw ballgames and bribe ballplayers. Shortly before Christmas a judge quashed the indictments for the very valid reason that fixing games was not illegal under California law. While that effectively ended the prosecution of Maggert, his professional baseball career was also ended.

That career had begun in 1906 when the 23-year-old Maggert split time between Sharon in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League and Ft. Wayne in the Interstate Association, both Class C circuits. Available records show Maggert his .244 for Sharon, the I.A. folded on July 8 without promulgating stats.

Maggert was not a big man. He stood 5'8" and in his prime weighed 155 pounds. He batted left and threw right.

A year later Maggert was in the Big Leagues. After playing most of the season with Wheeling in the Central League (Class B), where he hit .270 and stole 28 bases, Maggert was taken on for a trial with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In half a dozen at-bats over three games with the Bucs, Maggert failed to garner a hit, though he did walk twice and stole a base. He was turned back to Wheeling for the 1908 season.

Hitting .225 at mid-season, Maggert was released to Springfield in the Connecticut State League. In the final two months of the season he hit .312 to help the Ponies capture the pennant.

Maggert sent the first half of 1909 with Springfield, hitting .307. Though he played in only 94 games, his 30 doubles were tied for fourth in the league. With the team headed for a fifth-place finish, Maggert was sold to Oakland for $1,500.

In two months with the Oaks, Maggert hit .265. His fielding average was the worst among Pacific Coast League outfielders in more than 50 games.

While his batting average dropped off slightly, to .254, with Oakland in 1910, the rest of Maggert’s game improved considerably. His 34 doubles were tied for fourth and his nine home runs tied for fifth. With 91 runs scored he was in the top 10 in that category, and his 58 stolen bases were second-best in the circuit. Maggert’s glovework improved to the point that he was 10th in fielding average among outfielders  in more than 100 games. Oakland finished second in the P.C.L. that season.

Maggert’s 1911 season was limited to about half of the P.C.L.’s traditional 220-game schedule, through a combination of injuries and inability to get along with Oaks manager Harry Wolverton. He hit .314, which was third-best among batters in over 100 games or 300 at-bats, but the bottom again fell out of his fielding. He was third from last among outfielders in more than 100 games.

With only 75 games in the majors, it's not surprising that
all of Maggert's baseball cards depict him as a Pacific
Coast Leaguer. This 1911 Obak T212 cigarette issue
is the most common of Maggert's cards.
In December, Maggert was purchased by the Philadelphia A’s. The Sporting News sent him off to the American League with less than a ringing endorsement that attested to Maggert’s growing reputation as a difficult ballplayer. “Maggert is hard to handle, but withal is a fine sticker, base runner and fielder. He is fast, hits on a line and can cover ground like a lion. Connie Mack will probably have use for him if he behaves.

“This season Maggert batted among the leaders,” the paper continued, “but was banished from the game because he made trouble for Wolverton just as he had every other manager whom he had worked under. As a base runner Maggert is hard to beat. He’s a foxy, wide-awake player, and but for his ill-temper would easily be held as an idol by the public.”

The A’s, coming off consecutive World Series wins in 1910-11 were able to work Maggert into about half their games as a replacement for the regular garden trio of Bris Lord, Rube Oldring and Amos Strunk. Maggert responded by hitting a mediocre .256 and fielding in the bottom 40% of the league’s outfielders. The A’s finished third in the A.L. in 1912.

For 1913 Maggert was returned to the Pacific Coast League. He would never play Organized Baseball in any other circuit for the remainder of his career.

(Continued tomorrow)