Big League Stuff
THE MAN on the toughest spot in baseball today is a Canadian. He is George Selkirk and he was born in Huntsville, Ontario, on November 6, 1911. All George has to do is make the few hundred thousand New York fans forget Babe Ruth, the greatest figure the game has ever known.
For fifteen long years the Babe did glorious picket duty in the right field area for the Yanks. That section of the bleachers in the Yankee Stadium has long been known as Ruthville; it is still known by that name though Ruth has moved on to a playing-executive job in Boston. But Selkirk has a chance to come through for several reasons. First, he was a rookie last season, moving up from the Newark club in the International League, and fans like to see youngsters make good. Second, he has talent. And third, there is his attitude to the task at hand.
“I’ll be in there trying every minute,” he says. “Not trying to make the fans forget Ruth, but trying to fill his old post in bang-up fashion.”
That is the right mental attitude. It means that he will play the best ball he knows how and will forget about Ruth entirely. If he kept thinking about the great man’s exploits when he stepped into the batter’s box, the mental hazard would beat him every time. So admitting that he has talent, the right mental attitude, and that the fans are pulling for him, if he has courage and gets a fair share of the breaks he may get by. The Yanks’ manager, Joe McCarthy, has confidence in him.
“If he can hit left-hand pitching, he’s in,” McCarthy declares.
Here are some facts about this promising Canadian ball player. He is six-foot one, and weighs 185 pounds. Though only twenty-four years old, he has been playing professional ball for seven years. He hit .313 in forty-six games in the American League last year. He is married and has a baby daughter, Betty Louise, now almost two years old.
Developed in Canada
GEORGE SELKIRK is the only Canadian-born ball player in the major leagues at the present time, though many outstanding players in both the American and National Leagues have been developed by teams representing Canadian cities. The only other Canadian-born personage with a major league connection is Bob Emslie, the dean of all umpires. He was born in Guelph, Ontario, in 1859. He was a ball player for thirteen years before he started umpiring back in 1887. He worked in the old Eastern League and the American Association for several seasons, but in 1891 in mid-season he moved up to the National League, where he worked continuously until 1922, the year he retired from active service. He has been retained ever since in an advisory capacity. His encyclopedic knowledge of baseball is always consulted in settling protests and disputes. He lives now in St. Thomas.
On the Detroit club, last year’s American League champions. defeated by the St. Louis Cards in the World’s Series, are no less than seven players partially developed in Canada. At second base is Charlie Gehringer, team captain. Gehringer was with the London club in the old Canadian League in 1924 and the Toronto International League team in 1925. Baseball writers say he is the “best mechanical ball player” alive today. He is a dangerous and consistent hitter, a sure and stylish fielder; but what he lacks, or so they say, to make him the most valuable property in baseball, is spark. Day after day he turns in smooth, flawless performances, but he is unemotional and without those qualities of leadership that inspire team-mates.
On the other side of second base is the unlucky Bill
Rogell, who was with the Toronto team through the 1930 and ’31 seasons. Rogell has an unfortunate habit of crowding the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Last year he was reported to have drawn the fire of Mickey Cochrane, Detroit manager, for his play in the World’s Series. That series, you will remember, developed some of the earmarks ol a grudge fight before it was over. Medwick and Frisch and others of the St. Louis team were reported to be none too careful of who got in the way of their spikes as they slid into bases.
“Block ’em off,” the wrathful Cochrane is reported to have instructed his players.
“And get put through the grinder,” Rogell is supposed to have said.
Whether this incident is true or not, there were many who thought Rogell would not be in the Detroit line-up this season because Cochrane questioned his fighting qualities. But there he is, and the inference must be that the incident was more imaginary than actual. Incidentally. Marvin Owen, who was with Toronto in 1931 and ’32, was one of the men who started the World’s Series rumpus. He leaped in the air to take a throw from the outfield to third base. Coming down, his spikes came dangerously close to Medwick, who was sliding into the bag. Medwick thought Owen had tried to pin him; he took a kick at the third baseman and the row was on.
In the Detroit outfield is Gerald Walker, who was with Toronto in 1931. Walker is another who is supposed to have displeased Manager Cochrane, this time for dumbness on the bases. If all the stories about him are true, then his spiritual home should be Brooklyn, the paradise of crazy base-runners, where he and almost any member of the Stengel circus could put on an act that would be unintentionally funnier than anything Nick Altrock and Al Schacht could think up. Walker is a hard-hitting outfielder, but was benched last season for being caught off base so often that Cochrane was just a jump from the asylum. Injected as a pinch-hitter at a crucial point in the World’s Series, Walker came through with the hit that put Detroit back in the running. But before he had time to pose as a World’s Series hero he was caught asleep off the bag, the transformation from hero to dub being accomplished in something like record time, on or off a playing field. What the articulate Cochrane said on this occasion, witnesses state, was wonderful to listen to but might not look so well in type.
Catcher Ray Hayworth, with Toronto in 1926, is relief catcher with the Tigers. He has been playing second fiddle to Cochrane, the game’s leading backstop, but he is seeing more service this year as the strain of managing the club is beginning to tell on “the Mic.” The other members of the champion Detroit club are pitcheis Vic Sorrell, with Toronto in 1926 and ’27; and Chief Hogsett, with Toronto in 1926 and Montreal in 1929.
Spectacles Lose a Pennant
OTHER International League graduates in the American League are outfielder John Stone of the Washington Senators, with Toronto in 1929; pitcher Walter Stewart, also of the Senators, with Toronto in 1924, ’25 and ’26; pitcher John Allen, of the New York Yankees, a star with the Toronto Club in 1931 and a leading pitcher in the American League until last year, when he developed a sore arm; and pitcher John Michaels, of the Chicago White Sox, who was developed by the Montreal Royals in 1933.
Baseball fans in Edmonton still remember fondly outfielder Heine Manush, who was with the club in the old Western Canada League back in 1921. The pudgy Heine could powder the ball then almost as well as he can now. He has been up a long time, first with the Detroit Tigers and latterly with Washington, with which club he is today. He has made baseball history on two occasions, one rather glorious and the other not so good. He has been first twice—
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A quick glimpse of what the graduates of Canadian baseball are doing on the big time
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once when he led the American League in batting; the other, the last time Washington was in the World’s Series, when he was the first player ever to he ejected from a game in this classic contest. Second baseman, Oscar Melillo, of the St. Louis Browns, is another recruit from the same league, being a member of the Winnipeg club in 1920 and ’21.
The most illustrious graduate of a Canadian team now in the National League is Carl Ilubbell, who pitched for Toronto in 1926. Nor did the famous Carl look any too hot against International League batters; in fact, he went from Toronto to Decatur, and from there to Beaumont before landing with the New York Giants. But with the Giants he developed his now famous “screw ball” and became one of the all-time greats. The late John McGraw ranked him with the late Christy Mathewson. He gave his most astonishing performance in the All-Star benefit game last year when, with two men on bases and nobody out, he struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx in quick succession.
Owen Carroll, later with the Yanks and with Brooklyn, was the star of the Toronto pitching staff the year it included Hubbell. Carroll has never fulfilled the promise he made as an undergraduate at Holy Cross College, when he was the best-looking pitching prospect to appear in intercollegiate ranks in a decade. But the end of his story may not yet be written, as he is working in the International League this year and may still come through.
Mark Koenig, one of the most-traded men in baseball, spent a season early in his career with the Moose Jaw team in the Western Canada League. With the New York Yankees, he played brilliantly for a few seasons until he developed eye trouble. Back in the minors for a spell, he was rescued by the Chicago Cubs. At the end of last season, with the New York Giants fading badly in the home stretch. Bill Terry was said to be willing to pay any price for Koenig. The deal was delayed and the Giants were nosed out of the National League race. But Koenig went to the Giants in the off-season for a price reported to be $20.000, a record sum for a supposedly washed-up ball player. The tip-off, of course, is that Koenig has recovered his eyesight, and from the way he has been slugging the ball so iar this year that seems to be the truth. But the story goes that the president of the Giants saw Koenig riding in a train last September wearing spectacles and doubted that his eyes were any better. That doubt cost the Giants the National League pennant.
The one and only Babe Herman broke into professional baseball in 1921 with Edmonton. He is now with Pittsburgh, after many years with Brooklyn and the Chicago Cubs. He is, unwillingly, one of baseball’s greatest clowns. Always in deadly earnest, he just can’t help being funny. A leading
batter, he has never been able to learn to field, run bases, or hold his tongue in the presence of newspapermen. Some of Herman’s remarks are classics in the literature of baseball. Fans love to see him go after a fly ball; they never know whether he’s going to take it in his hip pocket or on top of his head.
Waite Hoyt, the famous “school boy,” who was persuaded by John McGraw to. sign a contract with the New York Giants when he was fifteen years old and still at high school, made the grade in the International League with the Montreal Royals when he was only seventeen. A great deal of the credit for his development must go to Dan Howley, then manager and catcher for the Royals. After eighteen years of service, Hoyt is getting a new lease on life this year with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In theoff-season he has a strange profession for a ball player; he is an undertaker.
Fred Frankhouse, a reliable pitcher on National League teams for almost ten years, started with Ottawa in the old Canadian League back in 1922. Frank Shaughnessy, managing the Syracuse club in the International League, picked him up and brought him along to the point where the St. Louis Cards got interested. He became a regular member of the Cards’ staff in his first season and has been going along ever since winning a decent percentage of his games.
Tom Clarke, now a coach with the New York Giants and for many years manager of the Cincinnati Reds, began his career with the Montreal Royals in the old Eastern League. He spent three seasons with that club. But the newest recruit from the International League is Gene Schott, the star of Toronto’s pitching staff last year. He is making good this year with the Cincinnati j National League team.
Old Players and New Ones
THERE ARP! a number of stars with j major league clubs today who are only a J generation removed from Canada. Rabbit j Maranville, for instance, one of the greatest ¡ showmen the game has ever known, is the j son of PYench-Canadian parents, though the Rabbit himself was born in New England. Leo Durocher, the flashiest fielding shortj stop in either league, is also of French-1 Canadian extraction. So are LeonChagnon, : a recruit pitcher with the New York Giants j and Bordagaray, an outfielder with the j Brooklyn Dodgers.
In the past many Canadian-born players j have won a place in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Addie Joss, bom in Western Ontario, was one of the great pitchers of all time when he was with the Cleveland Indians. Jean Dubuc, giant French-Canadian, was one of the three best pitchers in the American League almost every year of his long service with Detroit. Leon Cadore, another PYenchCanadian, used to work about three games a week for Brooklyn and win most oí his
starts. Jimmy Archer, of Toronto, caught for the old Chicago Cubs, when the legendary Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance combination was at its peak. Archer introduced the snap throw to bases from a crouching position behind the bat and became the model for all modem backstops. Another great receiver was Mooney Gibson, bom in London, Ontario, who caught for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After retiring as a player he went into business in his home town, but was recalled to manage the Pittsburgh club.
Napoleon Lajoie, a French-Canadian, was perhaps the greatest second baseman who ever lived. He played with the Cleveland Indians, as did Glad Graney, of St. Thomas, a brilliant outfielder who was only shaded by the immortal Tris Speaker. Jacques Fournier, a husky habitant, was a slugging first baseman with Brooklyn. And here is something that is not generally known. Frank Shaughnessy, long a naturalized Canadian, was up once with the Philadelphia Athletics as an outfielder. He could hit, but his fielding was not the most polished ever seen in Shibe Park, nor was he any Ben Chapman on the bases. He dropped back into the minors to become conspicuously successful as a manager. He even had a turn at masterminding the Detroit Tigers when Ty Cobb took sick one mid-season. The team had a winning streak under Shaughnessy that petered out with the return of Cobb.
Remembering the feats of these ancient
natives our present representation on the Big Time seems somewhat less than meagre. But wait; there is an explanation. About ten years ago, when the youngsters who should be coming up now would have been learning things by watching the stars, the Canadian League folded up, Montreal had no team in the International League, and the boys just had no models to study. But with Montreal operating a franchise again, with the St. Lawrence Baseball League—a six-city organization—flourishing, and with the game on the upswing all over the country, Canada may soon be expected to have her usual quota of players for export. Already Frank Shaughnessy, managing the Montreal Royals, has picked up Clair Forster, a kid pitcher from the sand lots of Ottawa; Earl Cook and Steamer Lucas, two ! native born, are holding down jobs on the Toronto pitching corps; and Vince Barton, another graduate of Toronto’s Pit League, j is punching holes in International League fences batting in a clean-up position on the Baltimore line-up. There will be others along any minute.
“We haven’t any Canadian-born ball players in our league right now,” says Bill Brandt, manager of the National League Service Bureau, whose duty it is to worry about maintaining a plentiful supply of players. “But the way things are going in Canada, why, it’s jxjssible we’ll have several of them by this time next year.”