Saturday, March 26, 2011

Brad Emaus and the history of the Mets Rule 5 draft

Brad Emaus
With signs pointing to Brad Emaus earning the nod for the second base position with the New York Mets this spring, click here to take a look at Emaus' career and the Mets recent history with their results in the Rule 5 draft.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spook Jacobs: 'He's worth $30,000 in the minor leagues!'

Former Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey scoffed at the possibility of losing fomer farmhand Spook Jacobs to another franchise. Jacobs was signed by the Dodgers in 1946 and quickly ascended the ranks of Brooklyn’s farm system, moving from Class-D Thomasville to Class-AA Mobile by 1949. After batting .304 for Mobile in 1950, the White Sox made a run for Jacobs.
Spook Jacobs / 1955 Topps
The recently deceased Jacobs discussed in a 2009 interview how Rickey would not sell Jacobs to the White Sox even though he was blocked at the major league level by Jackie Robinson.

“If you are behind Jackie Robinson, you don’t have much of a chance,” Jacobs lamented. “We had 28 farm teams; that’s 28 other second baseman and with two in the big leagues, that’s 30 second baseman. You don’t have much of a chance when they won’t let you go and you have to stay. The White Sox offered $30,000 for me and Branch Rickey said, ‘He’s worth that much in the minor leagues!’ Unbelievable!”

Bound by the reserve clause, there wasn’t much Jacobs could do except continue to play hard and hope for an injury at the big league level or a trade. After the 1953 season, the Dodgers left Jacobs unprotected and the Philadelphia A’s drafted him in what we now know as the Rule 5 draft. Jacobs started at second base for A’s the entire 1954 season, and continued with them for parts of the 1955 and 1956 seasons before being traded during the 1956 season to Pittsburgh where he appeared with them for 11 games. He finished with a career .247 batting average in 188 games played.

Marty Marion, former National League MVP, dies at 93

Marty Marion
Marty Marion, the 1944 National League MVP, nicknamed "The Octopus" for his tall build and long arms, died Tuesday night from natural causes. He was 93.

At 6'2" in height, Marion revolutionized the shortstop position when it was known primarily as a place for short and speedy defenders. His range and soft hands were his trademark, helping to pave the way for other tall shortstops such as Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

Marion was voted MVP of the National League in 1944, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series pennant. He would play 11 seasons for the Cardinals from 1940-50 and then two additional seasons as a player-manager for the St. Louis Browns from 1952-53.

As a manger, Marion managed the Cardinals in 1951 and then replaced Rogers Hornsby as manager of the Browns in 1952. He took over the reigns of the Chicago White Sox ballclub late in the 1954 season and managed them through the end of the 1956 season.

Marion received as high of 40% of the Hall of Fame vote when he was eligible. In later years, he received support from the Veterans Committee. Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda put Marion in the same class as two other Hall of Fame shortstops, stating, "He was an outstanding shortstop for the Cardinals on the same level as Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bill Deck's exciting journey through the Negro Leagues

About two weeks ago, I reported on the death of one of the oldest living alums from the Negro Leagues, former Philadelphia Stars pitcher Bill Deck. Deck passed away in Philadelphia at the age of 95 after an extended stay in a nursing home.

In November 2007 on a Friday afternoon after a long day of teaching, I decided to drive to Mr. Deck's home in North Philadelphia to see if he would be willing to talk about his baseball career. After a few knocks on the door, a tall, lithe man with a baritone voice appeared. He briefly questioned my purpose for the visit; when I told him what I was there for, he graciously invited me inside. I understood his initial skepticism as there was a horrific shooting of a cop the day prior about two blocks away at a nearby gas station. After entering, we spent close to two hours discussing his career in baseball, his World War II service, and his life after baseball. Upon discovering the news of his passing, I decided it was best to share visions of the career of another Negro Leaguer who has taken his stories to eternal rest.

Bill Deck - Philadelphia Stars
Deck became enamored with the national pastime after moving to Darby, PA from North Carolina at the age of ten.

“That’s when I became wrapped up in baseball," he said. "I would go to the games every day. We were what you would call ball chasers. We would get the foul balls and bring them back in. That was the good part.” A few years later, his family migrated across the Delaware County border into Southwest Philadelphia. It was there where he began playing baseball. “I started playing ball when I was 13 years old. We had moved to Southwest Philadelphia from Darby. They had a little team there, it was a mixed team, black and white. I was the only black on the team. When it came time to play against the other teams in our age group, they wouldn’t let me play. They said I was too good. I only played for special occasions, so I played with kids older than myself.”

A major opportunity arose when the family moved back to Darby. His neighbor was Ed Bolden, who was the owner of the Hilldale Daises (who would later own the Philadelphia Stars).

“I had access to every game that came there," he said. "It taught you the basics of baseball, you learned everything. We had a kids team in Darby, and they would allow us to play like on a Monday, because the big time baseball was on the weekends. They would allow us to play in the park, provided we cut the grass and to put the lines down. I learned more about that than the players did. You learned how to put down a pitcher's mound, the batters box, etc. You learned a lot by just being around.”

His memories of watching the legends play in Hilldale Park were vivid. His lauded the merits of shortstop Dick Lundy, who many feel belongs in the Hall of Fame.

“There was a player with the Bacharach Giants, this was when I was still young," he said. "I used to watch him, he was a shortstop, Dick Lundy. He was the best shortstop I’ve ever seen. He was so smooth. He made hard plays look easy. His rival, Jake Stephens, played for Hilldale. I used to compare the two of them. Jake Stevens was a good shortstop. He’d make an easy play look hard, kicking up dust and everything, but Dick Lundy was the opposite. He made hard plays look easy.”

Deck also had the pleasure of watching Hall of Famer Judy Johnson operate on an up close and personal basis with the Hilldale team. While many are quick to sing the praises of Brooks Robinson and fellow Negro Leaguer Ray Dandridge as the best at the hot corner, Deck offered up the Delaware native.

“I’d rate him the number one against anybody," he said. "He was actually that good. Nothing got past him. Being a kid, I was around 13-14 years old watching guys like that play; just to have a catch with him was the highlight of your life.”

As Deck spent more time around Bolden's squad, the more he learned and matured as a player. He eventually had his shot with the Philadelphia Stars in 1939. Deck described how he made his way into the Negro Leagues.

“They way you made your way in, people would notice you playing," he noted. "I was a pitcher. Hilldale had a pitcher, Red Ryan. He taught me how to throw the curveball. I perfected it so good, it drew everyone’s attention. As I grew older, I developed a few pitches and that’s when they gave me a chance to play.”

The person that opened the door for him was his former neighbor, Bolden.

“Ed Bolden wrote me a letter, and asked me if I would come to talk to him. And that’s how I got started.”

While his stay with the Stars was brief, he most memorable moment came during a stop in Iowa.

“The best game I ever pitched was on a Tuesday night," Deck recalled. "We had played in Chicago, and we stopped in Des Moines, IA. We had a night game. I didn’t start the game. We were playing the St. Louis Stars, one of the big teams out West. In the 3rd inning, the manager came in and asked me, 'Could you come in and stop these guys from hitting?' I said, 'I just pitched Sunday, what are you talking about, that’s only two days rest!' He told me, 'They’re making us look like chumps.' I replied, 'Ok, I’ll give it a shot. I don’t know how long I’ll last, ‘cause you know I just pitched Sunday.' Anyway, it was very warm that night, and I guess that’s what did it. From the 3rd inning to the 9th inning, I didn’t give up a hit. It was the greatest moment of my life. It was in the papers. There were big write-ups in the Des Moines paper the next morning. I went to the restaurant the next day and the people asked, 'Are you the guy who pitched last night?' It was quite a crowd at the game, so I said 'Yeah, it was me.'” 

Deck found his manager Jud Wilson to be very difficult to deal with. Wilson was a grizzled veteran who was known for his short fuse. He knew his days were numbered with Wilson at the helm.

“The manager of the team was Jud Wilson," he said. "He was a great third baseman. He was very hard to get along with. He didn’t like me at all I don’t think. In those days, the jobs were hard to come by. A rookie coming in, they were very choosy about who they wanted to play with them. If I come in, they’ve gotta move one of the old-timers. All of a sudden, here comes this kid to take his place. Anyway, that’s when he said, 'I’m going to send you down to the Bacharach Giants.'”

He continued to play until 1950, playing for the lesser known all-black semi-pro teams.

“I played for the Bacharach Giants and the [Philadelphia] Stars from 1939-1942," he said. "We played all up and down the East Coast. We’d go up to Connecticut and play. I got married in between. You had to have a job to boost the money up. We’d play in New Haven, come down the coast, play different teams. Around 1950, I finally stopped. I didn’t have that high hard one anymore. I played a little semi-pro after that. When I came out of the service, we moved to a little place called Lamont. I played with them in the Suburban League, to show them how to play ball. They’ve seen it [baseball], but they didn’t understand it.”

His playing career was interrupted by his military service in World War II. Deck spoke about how he was part of one of the pioneering Marine units in the service.

“I was one of the first black Marines in 1942," he said. "When they opened up the Marine Corp for Black Marines, I went to sign up in 1942 and became a Marine in 1943. It was separate. You could go in the Marines. They took three black guys from Germantown in the Marines. We were segregated right then. We had a different training camp. We went to Camp LeJune, and that’s where we took boot camp training.”

After returning from World War II, Deck moved to Lamont, PA. It was there where he was visited by another pioneer, Jackie Robinson.

“There was much buzz going on after Jackie Robinson. Jackie came to visit us in Lamont and explained to us about baseball. One of the fellows that lived up there knew someone who knew Jackie Robinson and he asked if Jackie could come to speak to us. That was in 1947.”

He also sensed that Robinson's breaking of the color line spelled the end for Negro League baseball.

“I knew that would break the Negro Leagues down. Everyone from kids on up they were thriving to go into the majors, black and whites. That little team we started in Lamont, a lot of those kids, the big leagues would look at them, send scouts out, and send them to farm clubs.”

After baseball, Deck went into the field of masonry, which he attributed to his longevity.

“[After baseball] I took up bricklaying," he said. "I put in 25 years. When I got married, I bought a farm in Wildwood, NJ. I bought that place in 1952. We kept it until 1993. We’d go out there and spend time on the shore, Rio Grande, NJ. It was getting too much for me to keep the place looking decent. My wife told me to sell it, and we went back to Philadelphia. After that I’ve just been retired.”

At the time of the interview, the 92-year-old Deck still felt that he could get around pretty well.

“I like to go around places. I had to stop driving. That’s a drawback. I’m going back to the doctors to see if they can help my eyes to see if I can get licensed again. My doctor told me physically I am in good enough shape. The years of bricklaying helped.”

In the mid 1990s, Deck ran into a familiar face while visiting a museum in downtown Philadelphia. He couldn't believe what he saw.

“I went down the museum once, down at 7th and Arch, the Negro Museum," he said. "I saw this big picture on the wall, I said, 'That’s a picture taken at Parkside in 1939.' This lady that ran the museum at the time, she told me to come into her office, she wanted to talk to me. She asked me a lot of questions, almost like you are doing. I told her, 'On this picture there, that’s me right there! She asked, 'Do you mind if we keep this?' I said, 'Sure.' I had seen this picture before, but I hadn’t noticed it this closely. They enlarged it and had it hanging up. A few guys I knew down there said, 'Deck, do you know they have your picture hanging at the museum?' This was about ten years ago. I remember when that picture was taken. Right away, it brought my mind back to 1939.”

Long after Deck threw his final pitch, he admitted that baseball had never left him.

“You get it in your blood and it stays there forever," he said. "I watch spring training when they televise it. I followed baseball all of these years. I’ll turn away something else to get to a baseball game. And you almost know what’s going to happen. It’s instinct or something.”

Only later in his life did Deck gain some fanfare for his accomplishments almost 60 years prior.

“Lately, I get a lot of mail," he said. "I never would have believed it. When it first started, they used to send us letters from Buck O’Neil. They used to send us a check twice a year. All of the black players, the ones that were living, but they stopped that.”

When asked about how he wanted to be remembered, Deck was humbled by the thought of it.

“I just want to be remembered as being out there trying to play. The thought of being remembered means a lot.”


Monday, March 7, 2011

Duke Snider's Philadelphia grab eclipsed that of Willie Mays in the World Series

As detailed in Jason Aronoff's "Going, Going ... Caught!: Baseball's Great Outfield Catches as Described by Those Who Saw Them, 1887-1964" Duke Snider made an award winning grab on Memorial Day in 1954 that still stands as the best ever, yes, even better than Willie Mays' grab in the World Series later that year.

Click here to read an interview with two of the players involved in that game, that affirmed that Snider's catch was the best ever.