Showing posts with label Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Carl Scheib, 91, was a two-way phenom long before Shohei Ohtani

Carl Scheib, the youngest player ever in the history of the American League, passed away March 24, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. He was 91.

Scheib first tried out with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1942 at age 15 and the legendary Connie Mack told him to come back the next spring for another look. With the encouragement of his father, Scheib left high school after spring break in 1943 to sign with the A’s as a batting practice pitcher.

Carl Scheib batting / Sunbury Press

As the World War II draft started to deplete the Athletics roster, Scheib’s prospects for being a major leaguer looked brighter. He started to travel with the team in the summer to away contests and after pitching well in an August exhibition game, Mack was ready to make history.

“Don't you think it's about time?” Mack asked Scheib.

On Monday September 6th, 1943, Mack signed Scheib to a contract right before they were to play a doubleheader against the New York Yankees. In the final inning of the second game, Scheib relieved with one out in the ninth, pitching two-thirds of an inning to close the contest. At the age of 16 years, 8 months, and 5 days, Scheib made history as the youngest player in the major leagues, a record he held until Joe Nuxhall took the mound for the Cincinnati Reds in 1944.

Scheib proved he was not a publicity stunt, pitching respectably in five more games with a 4.34 ERA to finish off 1943. Mack decided to make good on his investment and brought Scheib along slowly in 1944, pitching him exclusively in relief for all 15 of his appearances. As 1945 approached, he hoped for an expanded role, but now that he was 18, Uncle Sam had different plans for the young hurler.

“I was drafted,” Scheib told me during a 2009 interview from his home in San Antonio. “We had started the season in 1945 in Washington. A couple of guys came up from the Air Base there in Pennsylvania and picked me up in an airplane. They wanted me to [be] stationed with the Air Force. Evidently, I didn't have enough education to stick with them so I went in the Army. I did my basic training in Macon, Georgia.”

Once his base commander discovered he pitched in the majors, Scheib was put on the base team. He continued to pitch with the 60th Reigment when he went overseas.

“We played quite a bit after we got overseas,” he said. “The war was over and we were kind of occupation troops. There were was one guy who tried to get a baseball team together. I was in a good position there; I didn't want to get transferred. We won the European Theater championships over there. … Baseball was big there overseas. We had 50,000 people at one game. The Germans didn't play much baseball, but when we were done they were playing in the streets.”

When he returned to Philadelphia in 1947, he started an eight-year run as one of the most reliable pitchers on the A’s staff, appearing in 239 games as both a starter and reliever. As much as Mack valued Schieb on the mound, he also sparkled at the plate, batting a robust .298 in 1948 and a team leading .396 in 1951.

As Mack tinkered with his pitching rotation and the A’s struggled at the hit, he looked to Scheib to boost the team’s offensive production. Coming off the bench as a pinch hitter when he wasn’t pitching, Scheib had two game-winning pinch hits in 1948, giving Mack the idea to try him in the outfield. During the last two games in 1948, Scheib started in the outfield, plating one runner in six at-bats.

While the A’s continued to use Scheib as a pinch hitter, he never made another outfield appearance in the major leagues. He relished the opportunity to get another chance, but with pitching at a premium, the A’s could not afford to sacrifice his arm for his bat.

“I wanted to play the outfield so bad,” he said. “I done very good pinch hitting and I did play a couple of games in the outfield, but they always needed pitchers. [It was] back to the pitching mound. It was tough to get a good [rotation] of pitchers.”

In his 11 big league seasons, Scheib put up a 45-65 record in 267 games primarily for the A’s from 1943-1954, save for three games with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Carl Scheib (7th from left) at Bobby Shantz's field dedication in 2007 / N. Diunte

After his baseball career, he ran a car wash for 12 years and then worked in sales and installations for the same car wash owner according to his SABR bio until his retirement at age sixty-two.

In retirement, he was a fixture at the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society reunions, and in 2016 he published his memoirs, “Wonder Boy - The Story of Carl Scheib” with author Lawrence Knorr.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Trying to hit Bob Feller - 'All you saw was a leg, a face, and an arm!'

For any major league hitter, facing Bob Feller was never an easy task. Armed with a fastball that hovered around 100 miles per hour, Feller made even the most dangerous hitters just another notch in his rising strikeout totals.

Philadelphia Athletics shortstop Al Brancato was barely 19 years old when he first squared off against Feller during 1939 spring training. During a visit to the late Brancato's Upper Darby, Pennsylvania home in 2007, he shared just how difficult it was to hit Feller, who was then a grizzled veteran of three major league seasons at the ripe age of 20.

Bob Feller at the 2009 MLBPAA Dinner / N. Diunte

"With Feller you never knew where the ball was going to be," Brancato recalled. "He hid the ball behind his body and all you saw was a leg and an arm coming. His ball moved a lot and he threw very hard; he had everything. ... The first time I faced him, I was on the bench and Mr. Mack called me to pinch hit. I went up, he threw three balls past me and I’m standing like a statue. You saw a leg, a face, and an arm. ... You didn’t see it until the last minute. He hid the ball and you never saw it until the last moment, and then boom!" 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Al Brancato, 93, one of the last links to the major leagues in the 1930s

Al Brancato, shortstop for Philadelphia Athletics in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, passed away Thursday June 14, 2012, at the age of 93 at an assisted-living facility in Granite Run, Pennsylvania. In 2008, I visited Brancato at his home in Upper Darby, where he graciously shared the details of his career over lunch at his dining room table.

Al Brancato
Growing up in South Philadelphia, it was on the sandlots where he cut his teeth playing against other professionals.

“I would play semi-pro with all of the local players who would come back from playing pro ball who couldn’t make any money there,” Brancato said. “I played for [a team] at 58th and Elmwood. That’s how I honed my skills, playing with the older guys and playing against the black teams in Chester. You learned from being around those guys. The talk, how they played, you watched all of this. The leagues around Philadelphia were very good.”

Bolstered by his experience against these veteran players, Brancato caught the attention of the legendary Connie Mack and fulfilled every child’s dream of playing for their hometown team, when he signed with the Philadelphia Athletics for a $1,000 bonus while still a senior at Southern High School.

“I started in 1938 with Mr. Mack" he said. "He took me right out of high school and to spring training before I finished high school.” 

Eager to make an impression during spring training, Brancato’s career was quickly derailed after a battle with the foul line.

“I didn’t even have much of a spring training," he said. "In those days, the white lines were made out of powder with lye. I got some powder in my eyes after diving for a ball so I was out for a few weeks.”

After recovering from his injury, he was sent to Class A in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, but the competition for the rookie proved too stiff. He only batted .160 in 25 at-bats and they sent him down to Class B Greenville, where he finished the 1938 season with a respectable .281 average.

Ready to tackle a full year of competition in A ball, Brancato entered 1939 hoping to make good on last season’s failure. He stayed with the team all season, and responded by hitting .279 as their full-time third baseman. In an unexpected move, Brancato was called in September by Mack to join the team in Philadelphia.

“He brought me up at the end of the season in 1939," he said. "I was just about 20. That was a big deal to be a hometown boy up that quick."

Brancato played third base for the month of September while Mack tried out a variety of youngsters in the infield. He put up a .206 average which included his first major league home run during the last game of the season against Washington Senators pitcher Joe Haynes.

He stuck with the club the next two years and emerged as their starting shortstop in 1941. Given the chance to play regularly, Brancato had his best season at the plate, batting .234 in 530 at-bats. His fielding, however, needed work, as he committed 61 errors at shortstop. It is a single-season record that still stands today. Despite his troubles in the field, Brancato felt that he could match up with any other fielder in the majors.

“I thought as an infielder, I threw as well as anyone in the league. I had that kind of an arm.”

Nineteen-forty-one was also memorable for two other reasons, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’ batting record of .406. Williams entered the last day of the season with a .3995 average, which would have rounded up to .400 if he chose sit out the forthcoming doubleheader against Brancato’s Athletics. Williams wanted the mark with no questions asked and played in both games of the doubleheader. He responded by going six-for-eight in both games. Brancato was the starting third baseman in the second contest.

“In 1941, I played the second game where he hit the .400 mark,” he said. "It was the last day of the season. He swung the bat and hit the scoreboard in Philadelphia. You didn’t need a third baseman when he was hitting, he never bunted. They played half the field for him. Nobody had the shift we did with Williams. Not that I remember. … Ted Williams knew what ball was coming and how it was coming. If I was playing third base against him, I was [really] playing short stop with him. He hit that scoreboard like [it was] nothing.”

Just as the 22-year-old Brancato was getting a toe-hold in the major leagues, his career was interrupted when he enlisted in the Navy shortly after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Rumors swirled that Brancato had a special deal that he would be assigned to a Navy supply store in Philadelphia so that he could continue to play for the Athletics. The Naval office in Philadelphia quickly refuted this idea, stating, "Brancato is going into the Navy to fight."

Brancato saw active duty in the Pacific and was later part of a Navy baseball team that included Hall of Famers Bill Dickey, Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese. and Phil Rizzuto. He spent almost four years in the military and returned in time to join the Athletics at the end of the 1945 season.

“I was broke coming out from the Navy for four years," he said. "I didn’t have any money; I had no place to go, so I went back without even thinking. They had a rule that they had to keep you a whole year, which he [Mack] didn’t keep. I should have squawked, but I went back just to make a paycheck for the last [few] weeks that the season was ending. I was up the creek with that deal. During the winter he sold me to Toronto.” 

Brancato walked right into another historical occurrence during the 1946 season. Just as he was at the intersection of Ted Williams' record setting efforts a few years prior, his 1946 campaign put him up close with the tribulations Jackie Robinson faced in the minor leagues.

“They shipped me to Toronto, and then to Louisville where we were in the Little World Series against Jackie Robinson,” he said. “When I was with Louisville and Montreal came into town for the Little World Series, they wouldn’t let him stay at the hotel. That was a big problem. They were going to go back to Canada because he didn’t have a place to stay. That was a big ‘to do.’ The two hotels we stayed at wouldn’t allow them in there. … He didn’t do much during the series. He was a bit upset over the hotel situation, and he was a big deal in Montreal.”

Ironically, Brancato was traded in 1947 to the Dodgers AAA team in St. Paul. Robinson and his former teammate Reese would block whatever shot he had at returning to the major leagues. Despite putting up solid numbers, the call never came.

“I never got a good chance to get back up even though I had a few good years at St. Paul,” Brancato lamented. “It was a case of too many young guys coming too fast from all over the place. I was a good guy to have around. That’s what it seemed like. If they needed someone to play, I was there and could do a good job of playing. I don’t know why I got that reputation, because I played well in St. Paul.”

He played eight more seasons in the minor leagues. His career came to an abrupt end in 1953 while serving as a player-manager in Elmira.
“That was a mistake," Brancato said. "I got hurt when one of the guys from the Philadelphia teams banged into me while sliding. I had to try to manage from the bench, hurt on crutches. I just faded out the next year. That was my big mistake, trying to play and manage. It didn’t go to well. You had to think too much. I was more of a player. I liked to play and make the plays.” Looking back in 2008, Brancato wondered if he had missed an opportunity. “That was a good chance for me. That’s how the Dodgers got all of their managers, through the system that way. I didn’t acclimate myself that well. I had 14 years of playing; I didn’t fall apart, I just gave it up. They wanted me to go down and manage in the D league, which maybe I should have done. I was married with three kids. I had a tough time deciding what to do.”
Returning to Philadelphia, Brancato couldn’t shake his love for baseball. He worked at St. Josephs University as an assistant baseball coach under Jack Ramsay, who later was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame for his basketball coaching exploits. After two seasons as an assistant, he took over the program for six years as the head coach.

“I coached at St. Joe’s for six years, and then I gave it up," he said. "College guys now are getting a lot of money coaching a team. When I was coaching at St. Joe’s that was the last year they had their field on City Line Avenue. They gave that up. We had to practice in the park; we never had a field to play with. We had to go all over the place to play games. And I was working too. I had to make a living. If my company knew I was doing both and taking time out, I would have been up the creek. It was a tough job trying to juggle both. You can’t work, hold a family and run a ball club. I would have had to be a full-time coach, but the money wasn’t there; you were making $2,000 for the season. If we had to travel, I had to take a full day off from work. It was tough after awhile.”

Brancato eventually settled into a quiet life in Delaware County and was a favorite at card shows, especially with the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society. He remained a fan of the game, but acknowledged there are clear differences in game he played 70 years after his debut.

“I still watch here and there," he said. "It’s a different kind of a game. Look at the size of them; they’re all 200-250. When I played, you had a few 6’2”- 6’3” guys, now everyone is. I was 180 when I played. I never saw so many big guys. Little guys like me wouldn’t have a chance today."

While he acknowledged that some might dismiss his opinion as another disgruntled old timer, what he couldn't deny was the decline in fundamentals he saw on the field.
“When I played, you had all of the guys who knew how to play," he said. "From the late 1930s and up, they came up the long way. If we complain, they say, ‘You’re old-time, you don’t know what you are talking about.’ Defensively, I’ve never saw so many one-handed catches. How often do you see a two-handed outfield catch? They say baseball is baseball, but it’s different; it’s changed. … They say, 'You’re an old-timer.' Well, it’s the truth. We are old-timers. They can’t say it’s the same. There are more teams. How many of these guys would be there if there were still 16 teams?”
Brancato’s passing represents a rapidly closing window of an era, as now only four major leaguers remain that played in the 1930s. The time spent with Brancato provided a peek into the major leagues prior to World War II. With the absence of an abundance of video footage from this era, only the stories remain to illustrate what baseball was like at the time.

“You would really have to be back in my time to see the difference," he said.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eddie Joost, 94, last manager of the Philadelphia Athletics dies

Two-time All-Star shortstop and the last manager of the Philadelphia Athletics franchise Eddie Joost passed away Tuesday in Fair Oaks, CA. He was 94.

Joost began his major league career in 1936 with the Cincinnati Reds after starting only three seasons prior with the San Francisco Missions of the Pacific Coast League. Quickly disregarded by manager Charlie Dressen, who said Joost, "will never be a major league player," he became the starting second baseman for the Reds when they won the World Series in 1940.

Eddie Joost with the author @ Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society 8/2008
After his World Series victory, his career was derailed as he committed 45 errors at shortstop for the next two consecutive seasons. Joost was jettisoned to the Boston Braves in 1943 where he hit .185 in 496 at-bats. He skipped the 1944 season to work for a meat packer that was an essential service to the war efforts. Returning to Boston in 1945 rested and refreshed, Joost was off to a strong start when his wrist was broken by Billy Jurges sliding into second base.

The Braves suspended Joost after they claimed he deserted the club once they let him go home following his injury. With his career stalled on the suspended list, Joost thought his days were over. Rescued by the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League, Joost flourished. In 1946, he had career highs in home runs and RBIs. This tremendous showing piqued the interest of the legendary Connie Mack.

The 84-year-old Mack was looking for a shortstop after a dismal finish to the 1946 season. When Mack contacted Joost, he reassured the veteran that he wasn't concerned with his rocky past.

"You can play. That's all I care about," Mack said.

Nineteen-forty-seven began a eight-year stay with the Athletics where Joost earned MVP considerations five times along with two All-Star selections. Between 1947 and 1952, Joost slugged 109 home runs, while walking over 100 times in each of the six seasons.

At the end of the 1953 season with Joost now 37 and the Athletics in financial disarray, he was offered the position of player-manager in a cost-cutting move. Once again, Joost was unsure of his abilities. New to managing, Joost expressed his concerns to Mr. Mack. Mack reassured his faith in Joost.

"You've been a great player for me," Mack said. "I know you'll do well."

The Athletics, who had only one starter that hit over .300 that season, finished in last place in the American League with 103 losses. When the Athletics moved to Kansas City following the 1954 season, Joost was not asked to go west with the team.

Seeking a large bonus to continue his career, Joost signed with the Boston Red Sox for $10,000 in 1955. Joost suffered a broken hand early in the season and never effectively recovered to regain his old form. He briefly managed in the Red Sox farm system the following season with the San Francisco Seals, but quit the team quickly when he was turned off by the individualistic nature of their young bonus players.

"They were all individual players, all great, but we kept losing. I quit, and walked away from baseball," Joost said.

After his baseball career had ended, Joost moved to Hawaii, where he worked for Wilson Sporting Goods before retiring. I had the opportunity to meet Joost in 2008 (pictured above) at the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society Museum. Joost was a frequent supporter of the society and at the time was extremely lucid and pleasant. I was impressed by the vigor and firm handshake he displayed at the age of 92 that represented a man much younger than his years. It was this youthful spirit he exuded that kept him going much longer when many others would have perished.

More Info -
Big-leaguer Eddie Joost dies at 94 -
Eddie Joost recalls how Connie Mack revived his big league career - Baseball Digest
Baseball History Podcast: Eddie Joost - Baseball History Podcast

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 27, 2009 All-American Girls Professional Baseball League To Be Honored in Horsham, PA

On Saturday, June 27, 2009, the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society will honor 8 living former players from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) at the Days Inn at 245 Easton Rd (Route 611) in Horsham, PA from 10am-1pm. Come and meet the women that inspired the movie "A League of Their Own" and hear their stories of playing baseball in the 1940's and 50's.

Attendees will include the following players:
Gert Alderfer
Gloria Cordes
Ruth Kramer
Mary Moore
Joanne McComb
Ruth Richard
Sarah Jane Sands
Norma Whitney

Special Show Autograph Price - $5 each

Mail Order Prices:
Your item $6 + Proper return postage

Our photo $10
Our Special 34 inch ring BAT $ $25
Our items please add s&h $6.00

For more information on the appearance, please contact the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society or call 800-318-0483.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spook Jacobs steals the show at the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society Cuban Baseball celebration

Forrest "Spook" Jacobs is back stealing again; this time it's not bases, but the spotlight from two prominent former major leaguers. Nine-time All-Star Minnie Minoso, 19-year veteran Tony Taylor, as well as former Pirate Cholly Naranjo spoke the highest praises of "Spook" Jacobs at the recent Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society tribute to these former stars of the Cuban League. While Jacobs only played parts of three seasons from 1954-1956 with the A's and Pirates, his play south of the border left an indelible impression on those that watched him.

Spook Jacobs
"[Jacobs] was a guy I've known for many years from when I was a young man in Cuba," Taylor said. "He played baseball in Cuba many years there. I remember watching him and I used to say, 'Someday I wish I could play baseball like that man.' I remember him playing in Cuba as a good hitter, a good second baseman with a lot of speed. One thing I liked about him, he hustled. He played baseball how you're supposed to play baseball. I enjoyed watching him play. When I signed into professional baseball, I was a reserve in Havana. I got traded to the same team where he played second base, and I finally got to practice with him to learn how to play second base."
Tony Taylor
Minoso cited Jacobs as his reason for attending the event. A friendship made over 50 years ago lured the Cuban great to the reunion.

"It's beautiful to be here," Minoso said. "I didn't come here for money, not for anything. [I came for] a good friend, Spook Jacobs, the second baseman. I remember him very well because I used to hate the way he hit us! He used to be a crazy hitter in Cuba. I used to hit .260, .280, he used to hit .300 easy! [It amazed me] he wasn't in the big leagues. I used to say, 'Geez this guy is a hell of a hitter. How does nobody take him in the big leagues?' Finally, he made it. He's a good person. That's the reason I am here."

Minnie Minoso
Naranjo had the opportunity to host Jacobs while he was in Florida for the recent Cuban Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Naranjo recounted how he reunited with Jacobs.

"I had a call from some time back that Spook Jacobs was coming to Miami because he was being nominated into the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame," Naranjo said. "Bobby Bragan called me and let me know he was coming to Florida, for me to give him a call. Bob, Spook and I met for the first time 1952. Spook went to play second base for us, Bobby was our manager and it was my first year in winter ball in Cuba. I told Spook he was welcome to stay with me for this occasion. Spook was kind enough to visit. In response to that, Spook called to invite me to come to Philadelphia, and here I am."

Cholly Naranjo
For these players, this event was an opportunity to reconnect with men whom they shared a special bond from playing in Cuba together over 50 years ago. Jacobs was delighted to spend precious time the other three players over the reunion weekend.

"I was very happy they could come up from Florida and Chicago for me," Jacobs said. "I was excited to see Minnie. We played against each other in Havana for six winters. We battled back and forth, good-naturedly of course. Being in Havana, most of the American players stayed with each other and didn't associate with the Cuban players, not because we didn't want to, but that is where we were supposed to stay. The only time we got to talk with the Cuban players was either during the ballgame or at the ballpark. I thought it was a shame that we didn't associate with the Cuban players while we were there. It was very nice to be able to spend time with the Cuban players here today."

Minoso relished his recent encounter in Miami with Jacobs for the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame induction. They spent many hours reminiscing about their playing days and their lives after baseball.

"We met again in Miami for the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame Banquet," Minoso said. "It was the first time through all of those years that we were together. We ate dinner together with Naranjo. We played dominoes and I cooked chicken and rice. It was great to have the opportunity to talk so long with Jacobs. He has a great family, his wife and his son."

The event, which was sponsored by the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society served to not only celebrate the merits of their efforts in Cuba over a half-century ago, but to raise funds for the volunteer organization. The Historical Society is a tremendous resource for the fan and researcher alike, with a wonderful museum in Hatboro that showcases the history of the Philadelphia Athletics as well as the baseball from that time period. The members of the society went through great efforts to organize the event and should be commended for a job well done. The atmosphere was friendly and inviting. One could gain a sense that they were surrounded by many others who shared the same love for the national pastime. Naranjo summed up his feelings for the event, which were also shared by the other three former Major Leaguers in attendance.

"I've been away so long, it's like coming back again to the old times when people really know about you, and you find out that you are still welcome."

Bobby Shantz, Minnie Minoso, Tony Taylor