Friday, May 29, 2020

Flashback Friday: Biscuits & Barons at Rickwood 5.29.2019

It was just twelve months ago that the Biscuits made their true return to the oldest ballpark in the country - Birmingham's Rickwood Field. A rainout and rescheduled makeup were ventured years ago but for many fans the true re-match of the inaugural game didn't come until last year.

While going through files I found these pics and hope they impart the same good feelings that they did for me. So excuse me as I dump a whole folder of pictures on the table here and reminisce....

The players arrived early, dressed in their snazzy 1910-era throwback togs. The Rickwood ballpark doesn't offer much in the way of spacious clubhouse rooms so teams often find it easier to show up dressed and ready to play.

Locker rooms are provided but are the same open front cubbyhole that have been used for over a hundred years. Rickwood hasn't had much in the way of upgrades, offering classic amenities over modern convenience. Classic amenities like the lighting standards salvaged from old Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

The very first game at Rickwood Field pitted the Birmingham Barons against the visiting Montgomery Highlanders way back in 1910. The Montgomery lineup:

Named for the team's majority stockholder and president, Rick Woodward was feted by city officials before the first game and ejected by league officials during it. Woodward and the Barons manager were given the heave-ho by the home plate umpire in the 3-2 Birmingham victory back in 1910.

The Biscuits arrived and began warmups on the third base side of the field, the traditional dugout offered to the visiting team provides an enhanced view of the afternoon sun.

Coaching offers a link to the past, passing knowledge from one generation to the next in the form of verbal instruction and spoken lessons. Pregame discussions cover many aspects of the game and come from teammates as well as coaches.

Pitcher and catchers played long toss, infielders stretched and outfielders jogged to get loose.

 Getting a billboard in the outfield has been a standard way of putting a local business names in front of potential customers, including visiting players.

Players took in the scene with interest, playing in a ballpark older than dirt has a charm all its own. High fives were out, handshakes are the order of the day and everyone gets one.

Being seen is part of wearing the uniform representing the clubs home city, offering a professional attitude with proper game face is showing respect to the efforts of those who toiled to hone their craft over the past century in this house of base ball.

Lineups are exchanged.
Even the umpires are dressed for the occasion.

Baseball will be played at the old yard once again this day.
  A ball is thrown, a bat is swung.

The game hasn't changed much since the first orb was heaved by a Barons moundsman towards a waiting batsman from Montgomery on that August afternoon in 1910.

The sound of the bat as it strikes the ball, the collective gasp of the crowd as the leather sphere bends across the horizon, the shouts as the official signals that the ball has cleared the outfield wall remains the same, resonating across this diamond for more than a century.

 The Barons have one of the longest and most noble pedigrees of any team in baseball, rostering greats from Satchel Paige to Michael Jordan.

The game continues here.

The fabric of baseball history is woven with sights and sounds, built up, one upon another like the rings of an aged tree, repeating itself by wrapping a new layer around the old over time.

people walk, legends stride - the Barons manager is Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel

The game is polished bit by bit, hewn from rough rock into gems suited to complement a perfect diamond.

Taking in the game is as much a part of being a player as playing in the game, with special attention paid in special circumstances.

Rounding the bag without letting up is a long-standing baseball tradition and Rickwood Field has tradition down pat.

Winding down at the end of an afternoon at the park, letting the sun set on the game and enjoying the fellowship of the game is easier when your team locks up the win.

Monday, May 25, 2020

A Pitchless Win, MLB player Dies in MGM, History Sleuthing

Frustration and depression can strike a baseball researcher for many reasons. One happens when a great story disintegrates as it is held up to the light. The flowering beauty falls apart in the full sun and was in fact, not what it appeared to be, if it was ever anything at all.

Of course, that is part of the joy and exhilaration of history, isn't it?

Such was the situation for a pair of recent articles I took the opportunity to study.

Case 1:
House of David Slays Montgomery in Twin Bill

In 1931, the House of David team comes to Montgomery, playing a double header against the Rebels and winning both games by scores of 21-1 and 9-7.

That was all we had to go on. I don't even recall where the one-sentence article originated. Fact-checking hasn't always been a strong suit in local baseball reporting, so it was time to hit the books!

The beswhiskered ballclub from Benton Harbor, Michigan, House of David, was a barnstorming staple. They often played in and around the south and often appeared in Montgomery in the 1930s.

Known as much for their mid-game antics as their baseball acumen, the HOD was often known to build a lead and then let the home team come back to win the game in order to boost the local fans excitement. These agreements were often pre-arranged with a "its game on til the seventh, then let the home team come back" and a cash bonus would offer both teams happy players as well as fans.

Seeing the House of David team pile on thirty runs was a curious note. The HOD teams rarely embarrassed teams to that extent.

The team was captained by former major league star Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of the top pitchers of the era and hugely popular for filling grandstands.

But with no box score to prove the game and no mention of the House of David in the local newspaper, it is tough to think the game in the story took place without so much as a single newspaper advert. So that means the thirty runs didn't happen, right?

Or did they?

Not every House of David team was from Benton Harbor, Michigan. Not every Montgomery team were the Rebels. Several other teams copped the House of David moniker, borrowing the name as a way to fill ballparks while playing barnstorming games. In days before television, fans were hard pressed to know what most ballplayers looked like. The House of David was led by former MLB superstar Grover Cleveland Alexander but even he could pass unnoticed by many fans.

As a promotional ploy, in 1931 the Montgomery Grey Sox announced they would host the House of David team in a doubleheader pitting colored versus white teams.

It was a great controversy locally, having a mixed-race game was seen as overly progressive and protests were lodged by Montgomery area groups. People began to write letters to the editors and prepared to organize an effort against an event as progressive as a baseball game between local blacks and a touring group of devout white Christians. Not that it would be the first time the House of David had played against black players, but to have it happen in MONTGOMERY. was met with public outcry.

Grey Sox team leaders were forced to admit that the visiting team was the Cuban House of David, comprised of black and latin players. It was not the Grover Cleveland Alexander House of David, which would have been a huge news event and attracted a massive crowd both pro and con.


The House of David that did arrive were an impressive troupe in their own right.

Luis "Lefty" Tiant
Peppered with famous names of Mexican and Negro league baseball like Lefty Tiant, father of Red Sox great Luis Tiant Sr., Jacinto "Siki" Roque, along with veteran Negro leaguers like pitcher Stringbean Williams and Corporal Mason.

Known for their shadow ball and long beards, they showcased much never before seen talent in the United States. Organized by white promoter Syd Pollack, they were known as the Havana Red Sox until 1931 when they changed their name to barnstorm against teams in the USA.

And they brought it all to bear against the Montgomery Grey Sox on the 9th of May in 1931, piling up runs in a doubleheader.

Tiant and Stringbean Williams in game two are a special pairing of two pitching greats of the era.

Footage of the Cuban House of David playing against the original House of David (proving the Benton Harbor team wasn't at all upset about the use of their team name), likely from that same summer of 1931 includes many of the same players that were with the Cuban HOD on their trip to Montgomery. A rare opportunity to see the players involved in that 1931 game against the Grey Sox!

Montgomery manager fistfights player over "No Booze" rule

I came across this gem and finally had a chance to dig into the facts behind it....

MAY 23 1906? 1907?
Montgomery manager Mullaney recieves a broken nose in a fight with Mgm fielder Mike McCann during a game at Little Rock. the quarrel started when "mcann would not live up to the temperance rules" of the club.

It is true that the Montgomery skipper was adamant about his no drinking rules, as noted by a story that appears in the Slagtown Rag (note the beer ad in same column, a typesetters editorial no doubt!).

Sinking this great story is the lack of Mike McCann on the Montgomery roster during the tenure of the sober skipper Mullaney. McCann arrives in 1907 as Mullaney is leaving.

Also doing damage to the myth with an annoying dose of truth is that the story event takes place at a game in Little Rock, when in fact Montgomery was attending a series against the Pelicans in New Orleans on the date in question.

In fact, the New Orleans press mentions that the Montgomery boys are among the best behaved clubs in the circuit and that should they put together some wins would have few begrudge them having a good season.

So it looks like nobody had the cajones to take a swipe at the manager over his "no drinking" rule. Some may have wanted to do just that so badly, it started a story about how it (could have) happened.

But this one didn't.

Likely this myth is built around the stories of the manager Mullaney replaced, Ike Durrett, who was able to punch at least one umpire and at least one player during his time at Montgomery before being removed from his skippership.

MAY 23 1920 
"Colored Team Wins From Nashvilleans -
Montgomery Grey Sox Continue Their Winning Streak Here Sunday Afternoon - Before a crowd that overflowed to the field, the Montgomery Grey Sox beat the Nashville team of the Colored Southern League Sunday afternoon at Washington Park by the score of 9 to 6.

Red Cunningham
The features of the game was the hitting of "Red" Cunningham of the Montgomery team and a long running catch by Centerfielder Carpenter of the Nashville club, robbing Cunningham of a possible home run."

MAY 24, 1918 

Ralph Sharman, drowned while swimming in the Alabama River at Montgomery near Camp Sheridan.

Sharman was only 23 years old and had temporarily left a promising big league career with the Philadelphia Athletics to join the Army.

Sharman is the only former MLB player to die during WW1 in the United States and one of just a handful of former major leaguers to have given their life in the first world war. Sharman attempted to swim the Alabama River and was drowned.

Ralph Sharman was captain of the Camp Sheridan baseball team, which was photographed in August.
Camp Sheridan baseball team Aug 1918

MAY 25 1941

Hal Toenes
Selma Cloverleaf (Southeastern League) pitcher Harrel "Hal" Toenes relieves in the top of the ninth inning against the Jackson Mississipians with a runner on 1B and two out.

Without throwing a pitch, he picks the runner off 1B. Selma Cloverleafs, four runs down, scores six runs to give credit to Hal Toenes for the ultra-rare pitchless win.

MAY 26 1890 
Ben Meyers, catcher, is killed in a game at Montgomery when a ball hits him in the mouth by a pitched ball.
from Stevenson (AL) Chronicle