EPISODE #121: More Milwaukee Braves Baseball – With Patrick Steele

It’s been nearly two years since our first look at baseball’s still-revered Milwaukee Braves, and this week – courtesy of author/historian Patrick Steele (Home of the Braves: The Battle for Baseball in Milwaukee) – we finally get the chance to go deeper into the team that, in its brief 13-season run: never posted a losing season, won two National League pennants, and, in 1957, brought “Cream City” its first and only World Series championship. 

Featuring a stellar lineup of mostly Braves farm club-developed players (including eventual Hall of Famers Henry [Hank] Aaron, Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, Red Schoendienst, and Phil Niekro) the team immediately won the hearts of Wisconsin sports fans upon its hasty arrival from Boston in the midst of the 1953 pre-season – shattering then-modern-day attendance records, and ushering the city of Milwaukee into the world of America’s proverbial “big leagues.”

The Braves' surprising success in Milwaukee during the mid-1950’s prompted Major League Baseball to redefine itself as a big business, clearing the path for: franchises to relocate beyond the sport’s Northeast and Midwest strongholds; its two leagues to expand; and teams to leverage cities in high-stakes battles for local government-subsidized facilities.  

All of which, ironically, helped sowed the seeds for the club’s eventual relocation to Atlanta in 1966 – an acrimonious departure that generations of Milwaukee baseball fans still haven’t forgotten.  

PLUS: “There’s No Joy Left” – polka music king Frankie Yankovic’s song of “good riddance”!

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EPISODE #117: The Chicago Cubs Origin Story – With Jack Bales

University of Mary Washington research librarian and baseball historian Jack Bales (Before They Were the Cubs: The Early Years of Chicago's First Professional Baseball Team) joins the podcast to help us dig into the surprisingly rich history of Major League Baseball’s long-time North Side Chicago franchise well prior to 1903, when they formally adopted their now-signature nickname. 

While even some of the most ardent of Chicago Cubs fans unwittingly believe that year to be the team’s first season (it was actually their 28th in the National League, as well as 34th as a professional baseball club); and the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field to be their original and only home (in fact, not until 1916 when they adopted the former Federal League Chicago Whales’ Weeghman Park, their sixth place of residence dating back to 1870) – the history of the “Cubs” long predates their apocryphal launch.

Bales touches on some of the cornerstones of primordial Cubs history including:

  • Their actual start in 1870 as the Chicago White Stockings – one of the nation’s first professional baseball clubs – playing in the largely amateur National Association of Base Ball Players (and winning the championship);

  • Segueing into a new, first-ever all-pro National Association (of Professional Base Ball Players) as a charter member the following year;

  • Launching as a charter member of the 1876 National League – winning its first title behind ace pitcher (and future sporting goods baron) Albert Spalding, and capturing six of the league’s first ten pennants behind baseball’s first superstar Adrian “Cap” Anson;

  • Becoming colloquially known as “Anson’s Colts” – until fully adopting the new nickname circa 1890;

  • Anson’s abrupt firing in 1897, leaving sportswriters to rebrand the suddenly star-less Colts as the “Orphans”; AND

  • The informal early 1900s origins of the now-iconic “Cubs” moniker, and how it officially stuck by the 1903 season.

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EPISODE #116: A Thinking Man’s Guide to Defunct Leagues – With Stephen Provost

This week, we offer a refresher course in the history of forgotten pro sports leagues with veteran newspaper editor, current long-form author and fellow defunct sports enthusiast Stephen Provost – whose recent book A Whole Different League is an essential primer for anyone seeking an entrée into the genre.

Provost serves up a smorgasbord of highlights gleaned from his personal memories of and research into the various nooks and crannies of what “used-to-be” in professional team sports, including:

  • The curiosity of 9,000 Los Angeles Aztecs NASL soccer fans in a cavernous 100,000-seat Rose Bowl;

  • The oft-forgotten Continental Football League of the late 1960s, operating in the shadows of the mighty NFL and colorful AFL;

  • The enigmatic one-season wonder of the 1961-62 National Bowling League;

  • Jackie Robinson’s almost pro football career;

  • Federal League all-star Benny Kauff and the major league baseball career-ending auto theft he didn’t commit; AND

  • The legend of the World Football League’s Jim “King” Corcoran – the “poor man’s Joe Namath.”

PLUS: we revisit the story of women’s pro basketball pioneer (and “Good Seats” episode #28 guest) “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin (Kazmer), the subject of Provost’s new biography, The Legend of Molly Bolin: Women's Pro Basketball Trailblazer.

Indulge all of your defunct league memories at SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, and Streaker Sports!

      

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EPISODE #114: New York's Polo Grounds - With Stew Thornley

We cap off the long Memorial Day holiday weekend with a look back at one of the New York metropolitan area’s most memorable sports stadiums of yore – the Polo Grounds – with author and Minnesota Twins official scorer Stew Thornley (The Polo Grounds: Essays and Memories of New York City's Historic Ballpark, 1880-1963).

The “Polo Grounds” was actually the name of multiple structures across upper Manhattan during its history.  As its name suggests, the original venue (1876-1889) was built for, well, polo.  Located between Fifth and Sixth (Lenox) Avenues just north of Central Park, it was converted to a baseball stadium in 1880, soon becoming home to the city’s first major league pro teams – the Metropolitans of the American Association and the Gothams (later, Giants) of the National League.

Pushed out by a re-gridding of the borough in 1889, the Giants relocated northward to what became the second incarnation of the park in the Coogan’s Hollow section of Washington Heights in 1890.  Coincidentally, it was also the year that most of the team’s best players bolted to the upstart Players’ League – also called the Giants, playing in their own new (and larger) stadium (called Brotherhood Park) right next door. 

When the PL folded at the end of the season, the recombined NL Giants moved over to Brotherhood Park, rechristening it the “Polo Grounds.”  This third version – later renovated after a fire in 1911 (technically becoming the stadium’s fourth version) – became the structure most remembered by long-time baseball fans, especially for its distinctive “bathtub” shape, very short distances to the left and right field walls, and unusually deep center field.

While synonymous with the history of baseball’s Giants (including Bobby Thompson’s 1951 historic playoff “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” and Willie Mays’ dramatic over-the-shoulder catch during the team’s 1954 World Series run), the Polo Grounds was also home to the New York Yankees from 1913-1922 – and the first two seasons of the NL expansion New York Mets from 1962-63, while waiting for the new Shea Stadium in Queens to be completed.

The Polo Grounds was also the center of New York’s burgeoning professional football scene – notably the National Football League’s New York Giants from 1925-55 – but also the NFL’s oft-forgotten Brickley Giants (1922) and Bulldogs (1949).  

In later years, it also became the temporary home of the fledgling American Football League’s New York Titans from 1960-62, and the renamed “Jets” in 1963 – including the last-ever sporting event to be played there – a late-season (and typical) loss to the Buffalo Bills on December 14, 1963, in front of only 6,526 diehards.

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EPISODE #110: Cleveland’s Historic League Park – With Ken Krsolovic

Author Ken Krsolovic (League Park: Historic Home of Cleveland Baseball, 1891-1946) joins the podcast to go deep into the history and legacy of Cleveland’s first major league sports stadium.

Originally built for the National League’s Cleveland Spiders, team owner Frank Robison strategically built the wood-constructed League Park at the corner of Lexington Avenue and Dunham (now East 66th) Street in the city’s Hough neighborhood, where the streetcar line he owned conveniently stopped.  It debuted on 5/1/1891 with a Spiders 12-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, with the legendary Cy Young throwing the first pitch.  Despite being competitive during the decade (including a Temple Cup in 1895), the Spiders drew poorly, leading Robison to ship his best players to his new fledgling St. Louis Browns franchise in 1899 – and the Spiders to on-field (20-134) and off-field (6,088 fans for the season) collapse.

After a year of minor league play, League Park became the home of the Cleveland Bluebirds (aka Blues) of the new “major” American League in 1901 – the team that would ultimately evolve (1902: Broncos; 1903-14: Naps) into today’s Cleveland Indians.  The park was rebuilt in 1910 as a then-state-of-the-art concrete-and-steel stadium, debuting on 4/21/1910 (a 5-0 Naps loss to the Detroit Tigers before 18,832) – a game also started by Cy Young.

Though the Indians were League Park’s primary team, they were not the only tenants over the stadium’s later decades.  In 1914-15, the Naps/Indians shared the stadium with the minor league Cleveland Bearcats/Spiders (actually, the temporarily relocated minor league Toledo Mud Hens) to discourage the upstart Federal League from placing a franchise in Cleveland.  The Negro American League’s Cleveland Buckeyes held court at the park during much of the 1940s – including a Negro World Series title in 1945. 

And the fledgling sport of professional football also called League Park home during the NFL’s formative 1920s in the forms of the Cleveland Tigers (1920-22), Indians (1923), Bulldogs (1924-27) – and most famously with the Cleveland Rams of the late 1930s/early 1940s.

Like the Rams, the baseball Indians began moonlighting games and eventually full seasons with the larger, more modern (and lighted) Municipal Stadium during the WWII and post-war eras – ultimately sealing the venerable League Park’s fate by 1946. 

After years of neglect and urbanization, a modern restoration of League Park and its original ticket house was completed in 2014, where fans can now play on the original field where Cleveland’s pro players once roamed.

Get your great classic style League Park T-shirt at OldSchoolShirts.com!

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EPISODE #108: The “Almost Yankees” of 1981 – With David Herman

We’re stuck in the minors again this week – this time with Microsoft News senior managing editor and former newspaper sportswriter David Herman (Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of) – as we discuss the memorable story and unique circumstances of the 1981 championship season of the International League’s Columbus Clippers, the then-flagship farm club of the New York Yankees.

Longtime baseball fans will remember 1981, of course, as the year Major League Baseball experienced its first-ever mid-season interruption of play, as players took to the picket lines against ownership beginning on June 12th – just over two months into the schedule.

Once big-league play stopped, fans and sports reporters alike scrambled to fill the void – with organized baseball’s robust minor league system as the immediate beneficiary.  And suddenly, the heavily Yankee-influenced Triple-A Clippers found themselves basking in the unexpected spotlight of New York and national media attention, as the newfound best team in baseball.

The Clippers’ mix of raw recruits, MLB prospects, and minor league journeymen responded to opportunity by playing some of the greatest baseball of their lives – on what would be, arguably, the greatest team most of them would ever belong to.

Yet, almost as suddenly as the strike began, it ended (roughly two months later on August 9th) – leaving most of the Clippers to return to their ordinary aspirational lives and to be just as quickly forgotten.

Herman walks host Tim Hanlon through the previously untold story of a baseball team and its players (including the likes of once and future major leaguers like Steve Balboni, Dave Righetti, Buck Showalter, and Pat Tabler) performing in the shadow of one of the MLB’s most famous teams and infamous owners, George Steinbrenner – becoming a launching pad for some, a last chance for others, and the end of the major league dream for most.

Thanks mightily to our wonderful sponsors: 503 Sports, Streaker Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, and Audible!

Almost Yankees: The Summer of ‘81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of - buy here

EPISODE #107: The Havana Sugar Kings & Cuban League Baseball – With César Brioso

Longtime USA Today sports writer/producer César Brioso (Last Seasons in Havana: The Castro Revolution and the End of Professional Baseball in Cuba) joins the show to explore the rich parallel histories of America’s and Cuba’s shared national pastime – and the colorful period of the late 1950s/early 1960s when it appeared baseball in the island nation was mainstreaming its way into eventual US major league status.

During much of the ‘50s, baseball in pre‑Castro Cuba was enjoying a golden age. The Cuban League – founded in 1878, just two years after the formation of the National League – was thriving under the auspices of American organized baseball. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, players regularly came from the US major, minor and Negro leagues to play in what was the country’s wholly integrated winter baseball league.  In addition, native-born Cuban teams routinely dominated annual Caribbean Series regional tournaments.

In 1946, Havana’s El Gran Estadio del Cerro became home to its own “regular season” US-domiciled (Class C Florida League) minor league franchise called the Sugar Kings.  By 1954, the club had grown to become a competitive member of the AAA International League as an official affiliate of the National League’s Cincinnati Reds (featuring future major league standouts such as Leo Cárdenas, Mike Cuellar, Vic Davalillo, Julián Javier, and Cookie Rojas) – eventually culminating in league and Junior World Series (over the AAA American Association’s Minneapolis Millers) titles in 1959. 

The impact of the Sugar Kings’ championships that year went far beyond mere baseball titles; they became de facto moments of national civic pride, as well as indisputable evidence that Havana and Cuba were more than ready for and deserving of a place in America’s major leagues.

Of course, the club’s achievements fatefully coincided with – and were ultimately undermined by – the events that year of the Fidel Castro-led Communist revolution over Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. 

By the end of 1960, the baseball landscape in the country looked much different: professional play was converted to an amateur state-sponsored model; American players stopped participating in the winter Cuban League; and the International League extracted the Sugar Kings from Havana and moved them to US soil, where they became the soon-to-be forgotten (after the 1961 season) Jersey City (NJ) Jerseys. 

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EPISODE #104: Big League Baseball in WWII Wartime Washington – With David Hubler & Josh Drazen

On a cold and ominous Sunday, December 7, 1941, Major League Baseball’s owners were gathered in Chicago for their annual winter meetings, just two months after one of the sport’s greatest seasons. For the owners, the dramatic news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor earlier that morning was not only an assault on the United States, but also a direct threat to the future of the national pastime itself.

League owners were immediately worried about the players they were likely to lose to military service, but also feared a complete shutdown of the looming 1942 season – and perhaps beyond.  But with the carefully cultivated support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, organized baseball continued uninterrupted – despite numerous calls to shut it down.

Authors David Hubler and Josh Drazen (The Nats and the Grays: How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever) join host Tim Hanlon to discuss the impact of World World II on the two major professional teams in Washington, DC – the American League’s Senators (aka Nationals), and the Negro National League’s Homestead Grays – as well as the impact of the war on big league baseball as a whole, including:

  • How a strong friendship between Senators owner Clark Griffith and Roosevelt kept the game alive during the war years, often in the face of strong opposition for doing so;

  • The continual uncertainties clubs faced as things like the military draft, national resources rationing and other wartime regulations affected both the sport and American day-to-day life; AND

  • The Negro Leagues’ constant struggle for recognition, solvency, and integration.

PLUS: The origin of the twi-night doubleheader!

AND: The ceremonial first-pitch ambidexterity of President Harry Truman!

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EPISODE #101: New York Yankees Broadcaster John Sterling

Legendary New York Yankees baseball play-by-play man John Sterling joins host Tim Hanlon for a cavalcade of career memories from his 50+ year journey in sports broadcasting – including a treasure trove of stops along the way with previously incarnated or otherwise defunct teams (and leagues).

Now celebrating his 30th consecutive season with the Bronx Bombers, Sterling’s unique vocal stylings have become synonymous with some of the Yankees’ most signature moments during that time – including the team’s dominant run of American League and World Series championships across the late 1990s and much of the 2000s. 

The path to becoming one of baseball’s marquee team broadcasters was far from direct, however, and we (naturally) obsess over some of Sterling’s more memorable “forgotten” gigs along the way, including:

  • Falling into radio play-by-play with the NBA Baltimore Bullets as a late fill-in for Jim Karvellas;

  • Becoming the almost-voice of the ABA Washington Caps (until a hasty move to Virginia to become the Squires);

  • Hustling to secure radio rights to the upstart WHA New York Raiders for Gotham’s talk powerhouse WMCA - and the irony of later calling games for the NHL Islanders;

  • The highs of the ABA New York, and lows of the NBA New Jersey Nets;

  • “Phoning it in” for the World Football League’s short-lived New York Stars; AND

  • The ahead-of-its-time Enterprise Sports Radio Network.

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Classic John Sterling audio clips courtesy of Eric Paddon; follow him on YouTube here

EPISODE #99: Sports Broadcaster Bob Carpenter

You know him today as the long-time television play-by-play voice of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals. 

But before becoming one of the baseball’s most admired and durable broadcasters, Bob Carpenter cut his professional teeth in the burgeoning (but ultimately fleeting) American pro soccer scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s as the lead “man-behind-the-mic” for such iconic teams as the NASL's Tulsa Roughnecks and the MISL's St. Louis Steamers – as well as some less-than-memorable ones, like 1983’s ill-fated US Soccer/NASL hybrid, Team America.

His springboard into TV sports broadcasting’s “big leagues” – including 15 years of nationally televised baseball with ESPN, plus lead announcing duties for the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and his hometown St. Louis Cardinals – is rich in anecdotes, and we (naturally!) drag the versatile Carpenter back to some of the more “forgotten” stops made along the way, including:

  • A serendipitous segue from minor league baseball to “big time” pro soccer in Tulsa;

  • The Roughnecks’ gritty road to the 1983 NASL title as the league’s smallest-market team;

  • Leveraging national exposure from the NASL into soccer-centric gigs with the fledgling USA & ESPN cable networks;

  • The “invisible hand” of Anheuser-Busch’s soccer-mad executive Denny Long & his Bud Sports production division;

  • Returning home to call Steamers MISL indoor games at the often-packed St. Louis Arena (aka Checkerdome); AND

  • Masquerading as the “local” voice of the Washington, DC-based Team America – the de facto US National Team that played as an NASL franchise. 

Thanks to OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, Streaker Sports & SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of this week’s episode!

EPISODE #96: The National Pastime in the Nation's Capital – With Fred Frommer

We throw another chunk of firewood into our baseball hot stove this week, as we warm up with the surprisingly long and rich history of the National Pastime in the Nation’s Capital with sports PR veteran Fred Frommer (You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions).

While historically smaller in population than its more industrial neighbors to its north and west, Washington, DC was regularly represented in the highest levels of baseball dating back to the earliest professional circuits – including the 1871-75 National Association’s Olympics, Blue Legs, and two named the “Nationals”; two new and separate Nationals clubs in the competing Union and American Associations of 1884; and two teams each in the American Association (another Nationals in 1884; Statesmen in 1891), and early National League (yet another Nationals from 1886-89; and “Senators” from 1892-99).

But it was the creation of the American League in 1901 that solidified the city’s place in baseball’s top echelon, as the (second) Washington Senators launched as one of the junior circuit’s “Classic Eight” charter franchises – establishing an uninterrupted presence for Major League Baseball in the District that endured for more than seven decades.  (Technically, the original AL Senators stayed until 1960, when the franchise moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN to become the Minnesota Twins – only to be immediately replaced by a new expansion Senators the next season, that lasted 11 more seasons until they moved to Arlington, TX to become the Texas Rangers in 1971.)

Frommer joins host Tim Hanlon to look back on DC’s deep and oddly curious relationship with baseball, including:  

  • The Senators’ often-lamentable on-field performance that entrenched Washington as “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League;"

  • The advent of the ceremonial Presidential season-opening “first pitch” tradition;

  • New York’s rival “Damn Yankees;”

  • The Negro National League’s Homestead Grays’ second home; AND

  • Why it took 33 years for Major League Baseball to finally return to the Nation’s Capital.

Thanks to our great sponsors: 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Streaker Sports, and OldSchoolShirts.com!

You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions - buy here

EPISODE #94: Major League Baseball’s Seattle Pilots – With Bill Mullins

We kick off the New Year with our first-ever discussion about one of Major League Baseball’s most enduring enigmas – the ephemeral, one-season Seattle Pilots.

However, as we discover in our conversation with this week’s guest Bill Mullins (Becoming Big League: Seattle, The Pilots, and Stadium Politics), the story of the team’s 1969 American League misadventures has a much longer historical arc – one rooted in the decades-long success of the city’s minor league Rainiers prior – and extending years afterward, when a new expansion Mariners franchise took to the Kingdome turf in 1977.

In between, the story of the Pilots wends its way through the concentric worlds of pro sports economics (MLB’s blind zeal for expansion in the West Coast’s third-most populous market); municipal politics (Seattle’s quest for “major league” status, from the 1962 World’s Fair to a tortuous pursuit of a modern domed stadium); managerial challenges (an underfunded ownership group with limited resources and overly-optimistic revenue expectations); and logistical realities (a quaint-but-aging minor league Sicks’ Stadium, ill-prepared for the more pronounced demands of big league play and fan comfort).

And, oh yes, a surprisingly competitive on-field performance filled with memorable highs (winning both their first-ever game [at the California Angels, 4/8/69], and their home debut [vs. the Chicago White Sox, 4/11/69]); forgettable lows (three home runs by Reggie Jackson in a 5-0 loss to the Oakland A’s, 7/2/69); and a deceivingly last-place finish in a tightly-bunched AL West cellar, only a handful of games behind the Angels, Royals and White Sox.

Despite the Pilots’ woes, the legacy of this quixotic franchise remains remarkably endearing to the Seattle fans who got to experience the city’s first taste of big-time major league sports fifty years hence.

Be sure to visit our new sponsor Streaker Sports – where, fittingly, you can order a beautiful baby blue classic Seattle Pilots logo T-shirt to commemorate this episode (and the team’s 50th anniversary)!

Becoming Big League: Seattle, The Pilots and Stadium Politics - buy here

EPISODE #87: New York’s Shea Stadium’s Curious 1975 – With Brett Topel

It was, unwittingly, the center of the New York professional sports universe in 1975.

The official home of both Major League Baseball’s Mets and AFL-then-NFL football’s Jets since 1964, Shea Stadium was always a busy venue.  But when the football Giants and baseball Yankees found themselves displaced by extensive renovations to their shared Bronx home of Yankee Stadium, Shea instantly became Mecca for Gotham sports fans – hosting all four teams over the course of their respective 1975 seasons. 

The Giants, of course, had already started their wayward journey away from the Bronx in 1973, when plans were announced for a brand new, state-of-the art facility in the Meadowlands of East Rutherford, New Jersey to open in time for Big Blue’s 1976 season.  After two miserable seasons at New Haven, Connecticut’s Yale Bowl (winning only one of 12 games there), the Giants were wooed by New York mayor Abe Beame to play one last season back inside the city limits before absconding for good across the Hudson.

The Yankees, meanwhile, set up temporary shop at Shea beginning in the spring of 1974 – the first of two seasons the Bronx Bombers would play “home” games there while awaiting their new digs, also to open in 1976. 

Thus, for one crazy 1975 season, all four New York teams – the Mets, Jets, Yankees, and Giants – called Shea Stadium home.  Four teams, 175 games, 3,738,546 fans, and one stadium – the only time in professional sports history that two baseball teams and two football teams shared the same facility in the same year.

Brett Topel (When Shea Was Home: The Story of the 1975 Mets, Yankees, Giants, and Jets) joins the pod to discuss the highlights – but mostly lowlights – of one of the oddest years in New York City sports history.

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EPISODE #85: Houston’s Iconic Astrodome – With Bob Trumpbour

When it debuted to the public on April 9, 1965 (with an exhibition Major League Baseball game featuring the newly-renamed Houston Astros and Mickey Mantle’s New York Yankees), the Astrodome – audaciously dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by its builders – immediately captured the attention of the sports, entertainment and architectural worlds.  

It was a Texas-sized vision of the future – a seemingly unimaginable feat of engineering, replete with breakthrough innovations such as premium luxury suites, theater-style seating, and the world’s first-ever animated stadium scoreboard.  At the time, it was the biggest-ever indoor space ever made by man – an immense cylinder nearly half-a-mile around and with a flying-saucer-like roofline – that evoked a modern space age that the city of Houston and a reach-the-Moon-obsessed nation envisioned for itself.

Amidst the ambition, not all was perfect: baseball outfielders were initially unable to see fly balls through the stadium’s clear Plexiglas roof panels, and attempts to grow natural grass for its playing surface failed repeatedly (ultimately leading to the development of artificial “AstroTurf”).    

Yet, unquestionably, the arrival of the Astrodome changed the way people viewed sporting events and – putting casual fans at the center of the experience, that would soon become the expected standard for all facets of live communal entertainment.

Penn State University professor Rob Trumpbour (The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the life, impact and ongoing legacy of the Astrodome’s signature role in transforming Houston as a city – and some of the memorable (and not so memorable) pro franchises that called it home during its 43-year run, including the AFL/NFL football Oilers, the NASL soccer Stars and Hurricane, and challenger-league football’s Texans (WFL) and Gamblers (USFL). 

Plus, the backstory of Major League Baseball’s 1962 expansion Houston Colt .45’s – the original catalyst behind the dome’s conception and construction.

Our appreciation to OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, 503 Sports, Audible, and MyBookie for sponsoring this week’s episode!

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EPISODE #83: The Baltimore Orioles, Boston Beaneaters & the 1897 NL Pennant Race – With Bill Felber

Career journalist and baseball history author Bill Felber (A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant) joins the big show to discuss the most cut-throat pennant race in American baseball history – a multi-level study in contrast that also symbolically set the course of how the modern-day game would ultimately be played.

On one side was the original incarnation of the Baltimore Orioles – a charter member of the 1882 American Association who migrated to the National League ten years later (and not genealogically connected to today’s current American League club).  Led by eventual baseball Hall of Famers John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler, and managerial innovator “Foxy” Ned Hanlon (no relation to your humble host?), the original O’s had a reputation as the dirtiest team in baseball – though many of the tactics they employed (e.g., tight pitching, base-stealing, hit-and-run plays, and precise bunting) were simply edgy approaches to the rules that later became strategic staples of the modern game.

On the other, the comparatively saintly Boston Beaneaters – part of the longest lineage in baseball history dating back to the earliest days of the professional game and predecessors of today’s Atlanta Braves – and eight-time National League champs over the course of the late 1800s.  Boasting five of their own Cooperstown enshrinees – pitcher Kid Nichols, outfielders Hugh Duffy and Billy Hamilton, third baseman Jimmy Collins, and manager Franke Selee – the 1897 Beaneaters were the latest installment of a franchise that largely dominated the NL for most of the 1890s.

A hotly contested battle throughout the season, the pursuit of the pennant was the most intensely watched team sporting event in the country’s history to that time, right down to the dramatic final week that climaxed with a decisive three-game series.  The effective championship match on the last day of the season saw 30,000+ crazed Boston fans – including a rabid self-appointed supporters group known as the “Royal Rooters” – break down the gates of the 10,000-capacity South End Grounds to watch the Beaneaters grind out a win and bring down baseball’s first and most notorious “evil empire.”

PLUS: soap suds on the pitcher’s mound; the Temple Cup; late-Senator Ted Kennedy’s grandfather; the “Baltimore Chop,” and "Nuf Ced" McGreevy!

AND, we fire up the old Victrola to hear one of (if not) the earliest known recordings of the Boston “Royal Rooters” de facto fight song, that originated with the Beaneaters during this memorable season!

Thanks to 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Audible, and MyBookie for their support of this week’s episode!

A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant - buy here

EPISODE #73: The Union Association’s Wilmington Quicksteps – with Jon Springer

Professional baseball was barely into its adolescence in 1884 when a hard-playing, hard-drinking minor league club out of tiny Wilmington, Delaware―the Quicksteps―got the opportunity of a lifetime.

Led by prototypical early era stars like loud-voiced outfielder/team captain Tommy “Oyster” Burns (aka the “Wilmington Growler,” who sold shellfish in the off-season), and Canadian-born curveball pioneer Edward “The Only” Nolan (who was briefly blacklisted from the National League for lying about missing a game to attend a funeral when he was, instead, out drinking) – the Quicksteps attacked opponents with a spike-sharpened, rough-and-tumble style befitting the major league style of the era.

Managed by a cricket-playing New Yorker and bankrolled by a cigar-chewing sporting goods dealer who ran illicit gambling rings by night, the Quicksteps were the talk of the town and the East Coast baseball establishment – accruing an .800 winning percentage in the minors and holding their own (and occasionally winning) in exhibitions with big league clubs. 

The National League was less than a decade old then, and the American Association, which had been established two years earlier, was nipping at its heels. But when a maverick millionaire named Henry Lucas established a third major league that year―the Union Association―the pro game erupted into chaos.

When the ensuing battle for players and fans overwhelmed the upstart circuit’s Philadelphia Keystones midway through its inaugural 1884 season, the Quicksteps were invited and abruptly promoted to the Union Association to take their place in a single mid-season fell swoop.  Their arrival in the majors, however, was anything but a dream come true.

Author Jon Springer (Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps) joins the pod to describe the story of the briefly major league team loaded with colorful characters, highlight plays, comical misfortune, and behind-the-scenes drama that, for a tumultuous and remarkable summer, was driven and ultimately destroyed by its own dream of success – while yielding a virtually unassailable record for baseball futility.

Thanks to our new friends at OldSchoolShirts.com sponsoring this week’s show!

Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps - buy book here

EPISODE #72: Baseball’s “Miracle” Boston Braves with Historian Charlie Alexander

When you’re the oldest continuously operating franchise in baseball (or in all of American professional sports, for that matter), you’re bound to have some stories – and the proverbial dusty boxes of history sitting in the attic of the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park are certainly full of them. 

This week, we rope in noted baseball historian Charlie Alexander (The Miracle Braves, 1914-1916) to delve into one of the more interesting and oft-forgotten periods of Braves baseball history, when the then-Boston version of the franchise shocked the baseball establishment by rising from last place in the National League on July 4, 1914 to win the league pennant by an astonishing 10 ½ games by regular season’s end (going 68-17 over their final 87 games – a winning percentage of .782), and then sweeping the heavily favored Connie Mack-managed Philadelphia A’s four games to none in the 1914 World Series.

Although also uncharacteristically competitive in the next two seasons (finishing second in 1915 and third in 1916), the “Miracle Braves” of 1914 remained the high-water mark for the Boston franchise over the three decades that followed – finishing no higher than fourth in the eight-team NL during that time, including four seasons in dead last.   It wasn’t until 1948 that the team won another pennant (losing in the World Series to Cleveland) – the last hurrah of the Braves’ run in Boston until absconding to Milwaukee during the 1954 preseason.

Buckle up for stories featuring umpire-baiting and platoon-pioneering manager George Stallings, the double-play infield (and eventual baseball Hall of Fame) duo of Johnny Evers and “Rabbit” Maranville, and the ferocious pitching trio of Dick Rudolph, Bill James, and Lefty Tyler – and the curious stadium swap between the Braves and the rival cross-town Red Sox during their respective 1914 and 1915 World Series championships.

Thank you SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Podfly, and Audible for sponsoring this week’s show!

The Miracle Braves, 1914-1916 - buy book here

EPISODE #68: The Birth of Major League Baseball’s World Series with SABR Historian Steve Steinberg

At the beginning of the 20th century, the professional game of baseball had already taken on much of its modern shape – where pitching and managerial strategy dominated, and “manufactured” offense meant taught and tense contests, albeit often with limited scoring.  Stretching roughly from 1901-19, the period dubbed the “Deadball Era” by baseball historians saw teams play in expansive ball parks that limited hitting for power, while featuring baseballs that were, by modern-day comparison, more loosely wound, weakly bound and regularly overused. 

Against this backdrop, the established National and upstart American Leagues hammered out their seminal “National Agreement” in 1903, which not only proclaimed the competing circuits as equals, but also mandated a season-ending (and aspirationally titled) “World’s Championship Series” to determine annual supremacy in the sport – now known more simply as the World Series.

Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) historian Steve Steinberg (The World Series in the Deadball Era) joins the pod this week to discuss the October Classic’s eventful first years, as seen through the dramatically-licensed written journalistic accounts (featuring literary luminaries such as Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, and Damon Runyon, among others), and revealing black-and-white (and often uncredited) photography of the leading newspapers of the time – a media environment devoid of Internet, social media, television, or even radio coverage. 

Of course, we discuss the bevy of previously incarnated teams that featured prominently during the period, including the first-ever World Series champion Boston Americans (now Red Sox), the “miracle” Boston Braves of 1914, the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers, both in Brooklyn and then Los Angeles) – and the two most dominant clubs of the era: John McGraw’s New York (now San Francisco) Giants and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia (later Kansas City, and ultimately Oakland) Athletics. 

Thanks to SportisHistoryCollecibles.com, Audible and Podfly for their sponsorship of this episode!

The World Series in the Deadball Era - buy book here