Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hank Gehring, Savvy St. Paul Spitball Artist

I'm currently working on a short biography of Henry "Hank" Gehring, a pitcher during the early years who pitched in various leagues, including the American Association. I wanted to write about him after being invited to write a different bio for a book the local SABR chapter is preparing on Minnesota-born ballplayers. It took some doing, but I convinced the group that Gehring was someone who should not be left out of this compendium, despite his limited experience in the major leagues. His story is both relevant and poignant.

Gehring became a major leaguer in 1907 when he was called up to the American League's Washington Senators. He'd been with Des Moines of the Western League where the manager, Mike Kelley, had a connection with Joe Cantillon, the manager of the Senators.

Born in the heart of St. Paul to a family of Swiss immigrants in 1881, Gehring was the sixth born of nine children, the first U.S.-born son of John and Annie Gehring. He was married to Bertha Horman sometime before the birth of their first child, Florence, in 1904. Hopefully the specific marriage date will be found at the Minnesota History Center when I go down there next week.

Gehring was a spitball artist who was quite successful with the pitch. Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes credited Gehring with inspiring him to use the spitter when he was a youngster growing up in northwestern Wisconsin near Emerald/Clam Lake. Grimes had attended a St. Paul Saints game at Lexington Park (sometime after mid-season 1909) with his uncle when he witnessed Gehring's work on the mound.

Gehring's American Association career began in 1906, somewhat ironically, as a pitcher for the Minneapolis Millers (being a St. Paul kid, Gehring was likely aware of the intense crosstown rivalry between the two river towns). He had a modestly successful season that year, winning 12 while losing 13. He tossed three shutouts and 20 complete games, showing maturity with excellent control in over 220 innings of work that season.

After a substantial stint with the St. Paul Saints, the talented righty was purchased by the Kansas City Blues in November, 1911 for the 1912 season. Spring training that year was going well, but during the week before the season opener, Gehring stayed in Kansas City, not feeling well. He was suffering from what was known then as Bright's disease, a combination of factors which leads to sudden kidney failure. He died just past his prime as a professional pitcher on April 18, 1912, leaving behind his wife Bertha and 8-year-old daughter Florence.

Bertha remarried, Florence grew up, and a new family was started. Florence married and adopted a son name Maurie, the grandson of Hank Gehring. Maurie lives with his wife Connie in Forest Lake, Minnesota, 30 miles west of wear I live. I've had a chance to visit with them twice, as they've graciously shared their family history with me through photos and stories. The photograph above is one of the items they donated to me.

Further information on the exploits of the savvy St. Paul spitballer will be contained in the Summer issue of the American Association Almanac, due out September 1, 2008.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Red Bird Stadium Issue

It's been a few weeks since I was finally able to get Volume 7, Number 1 of the American Association Almanac out the door. The big surprise was that I just happened to hit the exact first date of the new postal rate hike increase. So instead of it costing me 80 cents to send each issue to my roughly 100 subscribers, it cost me $1.38. Not sure how long I can sustain this business with costs like those. Needless to say there will be a rate increase starting with the summer issue which will be announced in a future blog here.

This is a very dense issue.

Basic Facts for Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 2008

The title is "Red Bird Stadium in Columbus, Ohio: A Comprehensive Early History."

63 pages; 34,000+ words

Set in Garamond 10 pt.

One-column format; a departure from the two-column format I've been using the last few years.

35 separate references listed.

Cost: $8.00 (you're getting your money's worth)

Table of Contents includes:

Player Introductions
Attendance Trends
Background Check
Pushed and Pulled
April Showers Bring
Excitement Building
Getting Underway
Game On!
The Post-Game Show
The Fences, Home Runs and League Attendance
Columbus and League Attendance
Run Scoring and Home Runs
Red Bird Stadium Season Summary in 1933
Statistical Breakdown of 1933 Home Season
A New Era: Night Baseball
Dedication and More
Player Birthdays Ahead

Firsts at Red Bird Stadium
Columbus Newspaper Headings
A Record of the First 100s

Pat Crawford
Phil Weinert
Nick Cullop
Ken Ash
Site of New Baseball Park
Red Bird Stadium and Surroundings
Box Score: June 3 Game vs. Louisville
Bevo LeBourveau
Table A: Field Distances
Attendance Patterns
Red Bird Attendance Rankings
Joe Hauser
Table B: Runs Per Game, 1920-33
Phil Todt
Bill Lee Autograph
Office Building
Footprint of Red Bird Stadium
Birds Eye Views
Photos of Otto Bluege, Mickey Heath, Terry Moore and Doug Taitt
Cartoon from the Columbus Citizen

This issue begins with a fictional public address announcer providing the player introductions for the Opening Game on June 3, 1932 between the Columbus Red Birds and the Louisville Colonels.

In the next section on "Attendance Trends" the following paragraph is provided:

"In fact, Columbus had not shown support for its home town team, contrary to later claims made by the front office. Attendance records from 1920-31 indicate the club ranked a cumulative average of 6.83 out of eight teams during that time frame at Neil Park, a nearly perfect correspondence to the 6.75 place they occupied in the standings, averaged over 12 seasons (1920-31). Its low point was during that dismal 1926 season when 93,000 fans attended Senators games. At the same time, Columbus finished in seventh or eighth place on eight occasions."

Following is a section concerned with the politics of site selection:

"To that point, the cost of the operation stood at $363,000, including the property, with a final price tag expected in the range of $400,000. The actual cost landed in the $450,000 range, a sum considerably higher than the original $350,000 projected, especially considering the value of 1932 dollars. But Cardinals president Sam Breadon had initiated this endeavor and was using his own money, the resources of the St. Louis Cardinals. It appeared he wasn’t about to cut corners building Red Bird Stadium."

The human interest element is fairly strong in this issue:

For some, crossing the emotional bridge between the old and the new, the familiar and the strange, just wasn’t done yet.
Consider the penultimate Columbus baseball fan. His name was Charles W.
Medick, Jr., age nine, and he admitted to Sarah L. Dush, sports reporter for the Ohio State Journal that he dreaded to leave the old field. Blind since birth, Charlie had stood witness to the finale at Neil Park and was very direct when he made it known he was dreading “saying good-bye to the old place.” A self-proclaimed Pat Crawford fan, he had missed only a handful of games in the past four years. Charlie was practically an icon at Neil Park, and he possessed unique talents to support his popularity.

Looking at the statistical component of this issue, great care was taken to establish the home record for offense by the Columbus Red Birds. Here is an example from page 47:

A breakdown of the 56 Red Bird wins at Red Bird Stadium illustrates how well the home team balanced its attack. By scoring an average of 5.94 RPG (394 runs/72 games) and holding the opposition to 2.67 RPG (282 runs), Columbus was dominant at home, both offensively and defensively. The Birds scored 495 runs in 80 games on the road, or 6.19 RPG, a very strong mark. Their combined RPG of 5.81 (889) holds up well in light of the figures achieved by these previous American Association champions, in the years following the advent of the live ball era (see table A). The Columbus offensive attack included 31 home runs which were reciprocated by 20 opponent home runs. For the Red Birds this averaged .55 home runs per game. The Birds ranked second with their 889 runs scored; only the Millers crossed the dish more often with 993 runs, a 6.49 RPG.

Overall, this is my best effort to date. Purchase a copy by July 1 and you will be able to subscribe at the current level of $18/year or $32/2 years. After that date it will be $22/1 year or $36/2 years. Get yours today!