Monday, April 30, 2012

Russ Miller died 50 years ago today

Russell Lewis Miller, born at Etna, Ohio on March 25, 1900, became a pitcher with the Columbus Senators of the American Association in 1930, the last year the club was known as the Senators; they were renamed the Columbus Red Birds in 1931. Miller was one of a handful of players who appeared on the very last Senators' team.

He died at Bucyrus, Ohio at the age of 62, the result of a heart attack.

As a member of the Columbus club in 1930, Miller played under Harry Leibold, a feisty and colorful manager who was a long-time veteran of the game. Miller had a respectable season that year, winning nine of 20 decisions with 147 inning of work in 43 games. The Senators landed in sixth place under Leibold that year with a record of 67-86. Miller was teammates with Emmett McCann whose suicide was reported a few weeks ago in this blog.

Miller's statistics indicate he had control problems that year, walking 59 while striking out only 23 with a 5.81 ERA. With numbers like those it's a wonder his won-loss record wasn't worse.

In 1931, Miller split the season between the Indianapolis Indians and Columbus Senators, compiling a 4-2 record while appearing in 29 games combined.

His combined minor league career consisted of seven seasons with a record of 53-45 in 191 games. He appeared in the major leagues as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927-28 where his record was a dubious 1-13 in 35 appearances.

After baseball, Miller spent 28 years as an agricultural county agent for Crawford County, Ohio. He is buried at Glen Rest Memorial Estates in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, a cemetery I have visited with my wife some years back.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Today marks the 110th anniversary of the first games played in the old American Association, a league which was originally created in November 1901. On April 23, 1902, the eight new teams took the field in four American Association cities, donning new togs and creating a new baseball tradition which would last through 1952 in its original form (with exceptions).

Here are the results of the games from the first day of American Association play:

At Columbus, Ohio
Site: Neil Park

Minneapolis Millers....0
Columbus Senators.....5

Winning pitcher: Wiley Dunham
Losing pitcher: Ted Corbett

Synopsis: While both teams had only three hits apiece, the Millers committed eight errors. According to Sporting Life: "Both pitchers were in great form, and batting honors were even. The locals, however, gave Dunham superb support, while the fielding behind Corbett was very ragged. Not a Minneapolis runner reached third, and only one got as far as second."

At Indianapolis, Indiana
Site: East Washington Street Park

Milwaukee Brewers....4
Indianapolis Indians....5

Winning Pitcher: Win Kellum
Losing Pitcher: Claude Elliott

Synopsis: Milwaukee held the advantage throughout the game until the Indians' eighth when they scored three runs. As reported in Sporting Life, "Over 3,500 people attended the opening game of the American Association campaign. Indianapolis pulled out a victory in the eighth on clean hitting and a couple of gifts. Elliott went in the air and Altrock could not save the game. Kellum pitched strong ball and won his game on stick work." In fact, Kellum had three hits in four at-bats to aid in his own cause, including a double. The Brewers had a home run from lead-off man Bill Hallman, their left-fielder. The Indians committed five errors, while the Brewers muffed two plays.

Ironically, Hallman died on April 23, 1950.

At Louisville, Kentucky
Site: Eclipse Park

Kansas City Blues.....16
Louisville Colonels.....6

Winning Pitcher: Wilbert "Barney" Wolfe
Losing Pitcher: Ed "Davy" Dunkle

Synopsis: The visiting Kansas City Blues knocked the air out of Louisville's Opening Day sails by putting a snowman up in the first frame off starter Dunkle. The Colonels scored three in their half and after one full frame the score was 8-3, Kansas City. But the Blues had a penchant for scoring that day, and after three innings, the advantage continued to grow to a 12-4 lead. In the sixth, the Blues added four more, and by that time the Colonels pretty much had the life sucked out of them. On the day, the Blues had 14 hits to Louisville's ten. Left-fielder Elmer "Mike" Smith homered for the Blues for his only hit of the day. Attendance: 5,000

At Toledo, Ohio
Site: Armory Park

St. Paul Saints............7
Toledo Mud Hens......8

Winning Pitcher: Homer Mock
Losing Pitcher: Charlie Chech

Red Kleinow's walk-off home run in the 11th inning secured the victory for Mock and the Mud Hens in this dramatic opening contest. St. Paul opened the scoring with a pair of runs in the opening frame, then tacked on another in the second and another pair in the third. The Hens, down 5-0, struck back in the third and made it a 5-4 game. Toledo caught up with two runs in the ninth inning, sending the game into extras in front of a crowd of 1,500. Kleinow's long-ball was his third hit in five at-bats that day. St. Paul out-flubbed the Hens, 4-2 in a game which required two hours, thirty minutes to execute, the longest tilt of the afternoon.

That was 110 years ago today in the American Association!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hank Gehring Died 100 Years Ago Today

Hank Gehring, pitcher

Minneapolis: 1906
St. Paul: 1908-11

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the early death of Henry “Hank” Gehring, the son of Swiss immigrants who grew up in the Dayton’s Bluff area of St. Paul, Minnesota. He died April 18, 1912 at a hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. He was only 31 years of age.

Gehring was a St. Paul community icon as a baseball professional in the late 1890s and early 1900s as he climbed the ladder of success until reaching the pinnacle as a member of the American League’s Washington Senators in 1907, the year Walter “Big Train” Johnson got his start in the big leagues with the same team. The two would most certainly have sat together on the same bench or even warmed each other up along the sidelines.

Born January 24, 1881 at St. Paul, Gehring first year in organized baseball came in 1901 at the age of 20 when he appeared with the St. Paul Saints of the Western League in four games. He finished his short stint with a record of two wins and two losses. The following season he found himself a member of the Winnipeg Maroons of the Northern League, and his career was off and running. Compiling a record of 10-8 in 18 games, Gehring helped push the Maroons to the league championship in 1902 during a shortened season.

Gehring’s first season in the American Association came after a walapaloosa year with the Wichita Jobbers of the Western Association when he posted 32 wins against only five losses (.865) in 37 games and a total of 323 innings of work. He was picked up by the Minneapolis Millers for the 1906 season when he appeared in 31 games and finished the season with a record of 12-13.

Hank’s best season in the American Association came as a member of his hometown St. Paul Saints in 1910 when he won 18 games, lost 20 in a combined 54 games. His 343 innings of work that year was among the league leaders--in fact, he ranked second behind Milwaukee stalwart Stoney McGlynn who compiled 392 innings as a pitcher for the Brewers.

The 1911 season would be Gehring’s last year pitching for his hometown Saints. He attended spring camp with the Kansas City Blues in 1912, but he never traveled with the team for exhibition games on account of his health. Finally, in mid-April of 1912, he was became so ill at his hotel room that he had to be taken to the hospital in Kansas City. He died of Bright’s disease during the early morning hours of April 12, 1912.

A pedestal containing a planter marked “Gehring” is situated on his grave plot at Forest Hill Cemetery in St. Paul where a small gathering of people will meet today to commemorate his death and reflect upon his career in baseball.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Emmett McCann Killed Himself 75 years ago Today

Emmett McCann, second-baseman/first-baseman

Louisville Colonels: 1923
Columbus Senators: 1926-30
Indianapolis Indians: 1931-32
St. Paul Saints: 1933

Today is the 75th anniversary of the tragic suicide of an American Association standout. Emmett McCann killed himself on April 15, 1937 at the age of 35 in Philadelphia, Pennsyvania, his home town. He reportedly shot himself at the Karakung Golf Course at Cobbs Creek Park, according to Baseball Necrology. He had been ill for some time, according to reports.

McCann was 21 years of age when he first joined the ranks of the American Association as a member of the Louisville Colonels in 1923, according to A second-baseman throughout the first half of his 15-year minor league career, McCann became a first-baseman with the Columbus Senators in 1928. He also managed the Indianapolis Indians as a player-manager from 1931-32 and the St. Paul Saints in 1933 when he appeared in 14 games as a second baseman.

McCann’s best season in the Association came as a Senator in 1930 when he batted .335 in 617 at-bats. That year he hit four home runs, nine triples and 37 doubles, ranking ninth in the league.

His cumulative minor league batting average stood at .307 in his 15 seasons, posting a .309 mark in service to Class AA clubs, including his four American Association clubs. He was also an adept base stealer, committing 23 swipes in 1926 to lead Columbus, and again at the top of the heap for the Senators with 28 steals in 1930, leading the club that year as well.

May we recall Robert Emmett McCann as a tragic figure in baseball on the 75th anniversary of his death.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tom "Cyclops" Sunkel, authored no-hitter

Tom “Cyclops” Sunkel, pitcher

1940 Columbus Red Birds
1945-46 St. Paul Saints

A belated commemoration: Thomas Jacob “Cyclops” Sunkel died ten years ago on April 6, 2002 at the age of 89 in his hometown of Paris, Illinois.

Sunkel’s American Association career began with the Columbus Red Birds in 1940 when he won 13 against seven losses. The native of Paris, IL was blind in one eye, hence his nickname.

The southpaw nearly equalled his performance in 1940 with a 13-8 record in 1945 as a member of the St. Paul Saints, bringing distinction to his fine record by leading the American Association with 134 strikeouts in 170 innings of work. He started 28 games, completing eight and threw one shutout. In 1946 he went 6-6 with St. Paul. On September 12, 1946, Sunkel threw a no-hitter against the Louisville Colonels at Louisville, as the Saints won, 3-0.

Beginning his career in 1934, Sunkel made it to the Big Show in 1937 when he appeared in nine games with the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished his time in the Bigs with a 1-3 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943.

Sunkel wrapped up his career in pro ball managing the Paris (Ill.) Lakers of the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League (D) from 1951-54, guiding them to an overall 293-199 (.596) record.

A park in Paris is named after Sunkel and is located adjacent to the St. Mary’s Cemetery where he was laid to rest.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ray Jacobs died 60 years ago today

Ray Jacobs, shortstop

1928 Minneapolis Millers
1928 Toledo Mud Hens

Raymond Frederick Jacobs was born January 2, 1902 at Salt Lake City, Utah and died 60 years ago today as the result of an automobile accident in Los Angeles. He was only 50 years old at the time of his death.

Jacobs began his career in pro ball with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League in 1923 at the age of 21, appearing in only 15 games but smacking the cover off the ball at a .356 clip. He spent the next four full seasons with Los Angeles.

In 1928 he began his brief American Association interlude, spending 25 games with the Toledo Mud Hens during which he batted .322 before heading up to Minneapolis where he appeared in 15 games and played second base. His composite batting average for the two teams was .333 with a .511 slugging percentage.

Jacobs returned to the Angels in 1929 and continued his hot hitting ways, posting a mark of .332 at the plate in 591 at-bats.

By the time his career was over, Jacobs appeared in 20 seasons as an active player, batting .291 with 233 home runs, most of them in the Pacific Coast League. He managed during his final six of those twenty seasons.

Jacobs was killed in an accident when failed to negotiate a curve in his automobile as he headed down the Santa Ana Freeway, according to Baseball Necrology. A strange way for a man so athletic his entire life to die, indeed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Earl Howard died 75 years ago today

Earl Nycum Howard, pitcher

Milwaukee Brewers: 1918-20; 1925

Earl Nycum Howard, who died 75 years ago today, left this earth much too early, at the age of 40 as the result of pneumonia, according to Baseball Necrology. The same source indicates Howard was a US Army veteran of World War I.

Born June 25, 1896 at Everett, Pennsylvania, Howard’s three seasons in the American Association were each spent with one team: the Milwaukee Brewers.

His first three season with Milwaukee were from 1918-20, a particularly rough time for the club. Howard was 2-2 in eight games in 1918, posted a 12-20 record in 44 games in 1919, then went 2-7 in 11 games in 1920. He returned to appear in four games with the Brewers in 1925 at the age of 29 when he won one game, lost none.

Howard’s last of 10 seasons in organized ball was spent with the Newark Bears of the International League in 1928 when he put two wins on the board against three losses.

I count myself as fortunate to be in possession of a game-used bat which once belonged to Earl Howard.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dick Harley, an early Louisville Colonel, 60 years ago today

Dick Harley, outfielder-first baseman

1908 Louisville Colonels

Harley was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 25, 1872 and died at Philadelphia on April 3, 1952, sixty years ago today at the age of 79.

In his only season in the American Association, Harley batted .227 as a member of the Louisville Colonels, appearing in 65 games as an outfielder, 15 as a first baseman. Even at the lusty age of 35, Harley stole 19 bases in his 80 games with Louisville; it was his last season in organized ball. In 1900 as a member of the Detroit Tigers of the minor league American League, he’d stolen 47 bases at the age of 27.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dib Williams, Columbus Red Bird

Edwin Dibrell Williams, born January 19, 1910 at Greenbrier, Arkansas, passed away 20 years ago today at Searcy, Arkansas at the age of 82.

Williams performed as a second-baseman virtually his entire minor league career, but in 1942 the Columbus Red Birds stationed the 32-year-old at first-base where he appeared in 72 games, showing a very assured approach to defense as reflected by his .995 fielding percentage. He batted .264 with 72 hits in 85 games.

For the following few years Williams was performing for a different team, the US Army during World War II, returning to baseball at the Class A level in 1946.

He is buried at Thorn Cemetery in Greenbrier, Arkansas.