Sunday, September 30, 2012

Frank Saucier's promising career derailed by more than Veeck's midget intervention

Frank Saucier once batted an astonishing .446 in 1949 while playing with the Wichita Falls team of the Big State League; a total that to this day stands as one of the highest ever for a single professional season. Yet over 60 years later, Saucier’s claim to fame is not his towering feats at the plate, rather it is the distinction of being the only player in Major League Baseball’s history to be replaced by a midget.

On August 19, 1951, Saucier returned from right field to the bench of the St. Louis Browns at the bottom of the first inning after helping to hold the Detroit Tigers to a scoreless first frame. The events that transpired after Saucier went to grab a bat from the rack to face Tigers’ hurler Bob Cain permanently engrained Saucier’s name in the depths of baseball’s annals.
Frank Saucier Portrait / N. Diunte
Before revealing the details of Saucier’s historical moment, let’s go back a few months to the beginning of the 1951 season. He began the season on the suspended list when he held out for a bonus and refused to sign his contract. Saucier turned his attention to managing oil fields in Okmulgee, Okla., content with the money he was making away from baseball. With the season marching along and no attempt from management to make amends on his contract demands, Saucier donning a major league uniform in 1951 seemed almost as absurd as a midget taking the field. The thought of either happening at the time might have been a foregone conclusion, unless your name was Bill Veeck.

Veeck led a group of investors that bought the Browns midway through the 1951 season, and one of the first moves he made was to personally visit Saucier to persuade him to join the club. After an hour of discussions, Saucier penned his name on a major league contract worth $10,000. Veeck hoped that the popular Saucier would energize the fan base and get the turnstiles moving. Slightly over two weeks after he was signed, Saucier made his major league debut on July 22, 1951. Rusty after taking a three month break from playing, Saucier developed bloody blisters on his hands that made it hard for him to swing a bat, and acute bursitis that made it hard for him to throw. The World War II veteran soldiered on for the rest of the season, with most of his appearances coming as a pinch runner. So why was Saucier in the lineup on July 19th?

A week prior to the game, Veeck alerted the newspapers in Saucier's hometown of Washington, Mo., that he would be playing. The news of his appearance brought a few extra thousand people to the game, something the Browns desperately needed. Saucier hoped Cain didn’t have his best stuff that day because he was in no shape to take a hack.

"I go over to the bat rack and pick up my Louisville Slugger, model K44, and I step up to the plate. And I hope (Tigers pitcher) Bob Cain walks me because I sure can't swing the bat," Saucier said to ESPN.com.

He didn’t even get the opportunity to dig his cleats in the batter’s box when his at-bat was interrupted by a stark announcement that boomed across the stadium.

"When the announcer called Eddie, I was thinking this is both the greatest act of show business I've ever seen, plus it's the easiest money I've ever made," Saucier said.

Three-foot-seven-inch midget Eddie Gaedel waddled up to the plate, and true to Saucier’s hopes, Cain couldn’t find the plate. Thoroughly distracted by Gaedel’s miniscule strike zone, he walked him on four pitches. After a few waves to the crowd, Gaedel eventually made it to first base and was replaced by Jim Delsing. Gaedel walked off the field, never to be heard from again by his baseball teammates. He died at 36 in 1961 after suffering a heart attack.

As for Saucier, he finished the season with a .073 average (1-14); limited by the nagging injuries that plagued him all season. He was recalled to active duty by the United States Navy in April, 1952 to serve in the Korean War. Four years after starting his baseball career, it was over. He spent two years in the service, receiving his release from active duty in April, 1954. He returned to the oil business, and then became a financial consultant in Amarillo, Texas before his retirement. The baseball fields at his alma mater, Westminster College are named in his honor. At the age of 86, Saucier is living in Amarillo, the last living player from the St. Louis Browns that participated in the July 19th affair. Saucier has embraced his role in baseball history, generously sending out numerous articles about his career after recent correspondence with him via mail (pictured below).

A tip of the cap goes to Bob Lemke's article, Frank Saucier's brief but memorable career now commemorated, which provided valuable background information for this piece.


Frank Saucier Autographed Photo and Card / N. Diunte




Monday, September 24, 2012

Tom Umphlett, former outfielder for the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators passes away at 81

Tom Umphlett, former outfielder for the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators died Friday, September 21st, in Norfolk, Va. He was 81.

Umphlett played three seasons in the major leagues from 1953-55, finishing second in the 1953 American League Rookie of the Year voting to Harvey Kuenn. He was part of a youth movement by the Red Sox in the early 1950’s to fill the voids left by Ted Williams’ military service and Dom DiMaggio’s retirement. “[Lou] Boudreau, the manager, was going for the young talent even in spring training. You had Ted Lepcio at third base, Milt Bolling at short, Goodman at second, and Dick Gernert at first base. I played center field and Jimmy Piersall played right,” he said during a 2008 interview from his home in Ahoskie, N.C.

Click here to read more about Umphlett's career including his memories of playing with the greatest hitter that ever lived.

 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dwight Gooden to appear at Greenwich Citibank on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dwight Gooden / N. Diunte
Dwight “Doc” Gooden, a 2010 inductee into the New York Mets Hall of Fame and member of the of the New York Mets Alumni Association Presented by Citi, will be greeting fans and signing autographs from 12:00-1:30 pm on Tuesday, September 25th at the Citibank branch at 16-18 Railroad Avenue in Greenwich, Ct., in support of Citi Tuesdays.

Gooden was the 1984 National League Rookie of the Year, the 1985 National League Cy Young Award winner, and part of the Mets 1986 World Series championship team. He is ranks in the top 3 on the Mets all-time list in various pitching categories, including games won, strikeouts, inning pitched, won-loss percentage, and complete games.

Citi Tuesdays is a program designed to provide added value to Citi customers and Mets fans. For more information and details on all Citi Tuesday offers, please log on to www.Mets.com/CitiTuesdays or visit the Citi Tuesday information booth located by the Shea Bridge at Citi Field on every Citi Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mookie Wilson strongly endeared to Shea Stadium

Mookie Wilson at Citi Tuesdays - N. Diunte
For Mookie Wilson, he will always find comfort in the confines of Shea Stadium. For 10 years, Wilson was a fixture in center field, tracking down balls far and wide to the delight of the New York Mets faithful. It is no surprise that despite spending time as a coach for the Mets in their new digs at Citi Field, he remains loyal to its predecessor. “It’s interesting that you use the word home because that’s what Shea was. To me, Shea was home. Don’t get me wrong, Citi Field is a beautiful ballpark; I think that it is fan friendly. I would have loved played at Citi Field, but you can’t replace Shea. That was home for us,” said Wilson while making an appearance Tuesday afternoon as part of the Mets Citi Tuesdays promotion at Citibank in Lower Manhattan. “It was old, [and] yes it needed repairs, but it was home and we loved and enjoyed playing there. I don’t think you can compare the two. Shea has its history and Citi Field is in the process of making its own history and it’s going to take time.”

Click here to read more about and watch video of Wilson's thoughts about playing for the Mets, his trade to Toronto, and his desire to return to coaching. 

 

Tom Saffell, former MLB outfielder and WWII veteran dies at 91

Tom Saffell, an outfielder who played parts of four big league seasons from 1949-1955 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Athletics, passed away last week. He was 91.

Saffell was the president of the Gulf Coast Rookie League for 30 years from 1979-2009, working until he was 89 years old. That capped a career in baseball that started almost 70 years prior in 1941 in the Class D Newport Canners of the Appalachian League.

Click here to read more about Saffell's career which features excerpts from a 2008 interview and his SABR bio. 

 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Johnny Antonelli opens up the doors to his baseball life with 'A Baseball Memoir'

Johnny Antonelli has been out of baseball for 50 years, yet with the release of his new autobiography, "Johnny Antonelli: A Baseball Memoir," Antonelli finds himself back on the mound once again. “It feels pretty good. I’m not one that ever flaunted myself to be recognized. This has given me something that I probably missed since 1962 when I left. It’s something that kind of brings back memories,” said Antonelli during an August telephone interview. The southpaw collaborated with award winning journalist Scott Pitoniak to chronicle his story, one that he was initially reluctant to engage. “He was asking me for a few years about doing a book and it wasn’t really my cup of tea, so I kind of put him off for a while. Finally I agreed to do it,” said Antonelli.

Click here to read the rest of the exclusive interview with the 82-year-old Antonelli discussing not only his new book, but his playing career and his life after baseball. 
 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Negro Leaguer Bill Greason returns to Oklahoma City 60 years after barrier breaking debut

Bill Greason throwing out the first pitch in Oklahoma - Facebook
Rev. Bill Greason, former pitcher for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, (where he mentored a 16-year old Willie Mays) and later the St. Louis Cardinals, spoke during a tribute in his honor in Oklahoma City with NewsOK.com about becoming the first black player for the Oklahoma City Indians of the Texas League in 1952.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Greason in 2008 about his historical 1952 season in Oklahoma City. He was sold directly from the Black Barons to Oklahoma City shortly after returning from his service in the Korean War. He spoke frankly about the hardships he faced and how he handled them.

"They gave you a hard time, even from the stands. A couple of places especially. When you know who you are and you have talent, you don’t worry about what people say. Sometimes it encourages you to do better and work harder. ... When people call you names, and you know who you are, you don’t worry about what they say. It gives you more determination to succeed."

The 87-year-old Greason was honored on August 30th by the Oklahoma City Redhawks, commemorating the 60th anniversary of his debut. Berry Tramel of NewsOK.com provides an excellent video interview with Greason about his barrier breaking entry into baseball, his military service, and career in the ministry.

His appearance was heavily covered by local media outlets, spearheaded by Tramel's coverage.
Celebrating a Deserving Pioneer in OKC - Jenni Carlson
The Reverend Returns - Brendan Hoover
Oklahoma City's Jackie Robinson returns - Berry Tramel 
Bill Greason: Owner Jimmie Humphries paved the way - Berry Tramel
Reverend Bill Greason: A memorable night at the ballpark - Berry Tramel

 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bob DiPietro, former Boston Red Sox outfielder, dies at 85

Bob DiPietro, a former outfielder for the Boston Red Sox who earned the nickname The Rigatoni Rifle because of his tremendous throwing arm, died two days after his 85th birthday in Yakima, Wash., on September 3, 2012.

A few years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview DiPietro for his SABR biography. Even though DiPietro only made it to the plate 12 times (all in 1951) during his major league career, it was one that included brushes with Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. In addition to being linked to some of the biggest stars that baseball has ever known, he proudly served the country in World War II, and went on to run a successful advertising business in Yakima.

He is survived by his wife Bertie, sons Bob and Mark and their wives Sheryl and Marcy, grandchildren Kiley, Joe, Lexi and Paul.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Potter tracking down the legend of Drungo Hazewood

A rare signed Drungo Hazewood 1991 Crown Orioles Card
Drungo Hazewood’s major league baseball career lasted five plate appearances, and if you weren't scouring box scores in 1980, chances are slim that you've ever heard of him. Yet when it comes to serious fans and collectors of Baltimore Orioles memorabilia, Hazewood has remained famous for more than his unique moniker. Just like the curve balls that baffled the highly touted outfielder, he has thrown some of his own to those seeking his signature, placing his name atop the want lists of collectors across the country.

In his travels connecting retired major leaguers with aficionados looking to further their autograph collections, Chris Potter met with the elusive Hazewood to discuss the prospects of facilitating a signing to add his penmanship to their prized paraphernalia. “I brought it up to him, I said, ‘You’ve been a pretty tough autograph for people that want it,’” said Potter. “He goes, ‘I just don’t understand why they want it.’ – He just doesn’t understand why people want his autograph from the career that he had. He didn’t have a long career. He’s kind of taken back by the fact that people want his autograph. He’s more than happy to do the signing with me; he was excited about it when I mentioned it to him. He wants to see what people are going to send in to be signed.”

Hazewood is one of 50 former major leaguers that Potter will visit during his next run of signings beginning September 30th that include a wide range of talents from Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, perennial All-Stars Del Crandall, Reggie Smith, and Don Kessinger, to such curiosities as Frank Baker, Rich Coggins, Johnny Jeter, and Ron Woods. The one-time Orioles prospect is not the first player to wonder why people still want their autograph long after their cup of coffee has been emptied. “I’ve run across that a few times where players are like, ‘Who remembers me and why do people want my autograph?’” said Potter. “The people who are really seeking their autograph know who they are, but it’s really hard to find someone who knows about the players I go and see unless you are a baseball enthusiast, historian or collector. We focus more on those guys.”

For many of the players Potter visits, they enjoy the convenience of being able to do the signing in a comfortable setting while obliging the fans. “Everybody I’ve worked with really enjoys this. If you look at it, they don’t have to go anywhere and guys their age, they don’t like to travel. Not only are we providing a service to the collectors, we are providing a service to the players as well. That’s what is appealing to a lot of these guys. They want to accommodate the fans and they want to go to these shows, but some are physically unable to do so. With the service we provide, they’re able to accommodate the fans and they’re happy to do so with what we provide,” said Potter.

As he continues with traversing the routes and highways of the United States, he finds the players revel in the uniqueness of the items they’re presented with. “We get it all the time. They’re taken a back from some of these items and by people who track this stuff down, are passionate enough to get it signed, and want their autograph on it. Some of the guys are really emotional about the things we bring them to be signed.” For more information on Potter’s next round of signings, check out his website – www.chrispottersports.com