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 #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!

Show some love for the show by making a purchase from one of our great sponsors: Streaker Sports, Old School Shirts, 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and/or Audible!

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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.

Be sure to check out our awesome sponsors: Audible, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, MyBookie, 503 Sports, and OldSchoolShirts.com!

When Shea Was Home: The Story of the 1975 Mets, Yankees, Giants, and Jets - buy here

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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

EPISODE #50: National League Baseball’s Detroit Wolverines with Author Brian “Chip” Martin

While the Detroit Tigers hold the record as the oldest continuous one-name, one-city franchise in the American League (debuting as one of the league’s “Classic Eight” charter clubs in 1901), they were not the first team to play major league baseball in the Motor City.  That distinction actually goes to the Detroit Wolverines of the late 19th-century National League, which took to the field for the first time against the visiting Buffalo Bisons on May 2, 1881 in front of a curious crowd of 1,286 at Recreation Park – land now occupied by today’s Detroit Medical Center in the city’s Midtown.

Playing in what was then one of the best professional ballparks in America – and during a pre-automotive era when Detroit was known more sumptuously as the "Paris of the West" – the Wolverines traipsed through eight seasons of big league ball, including its final three under the brash and ambitious ownership of pharmaceutical baron Frederick Stearns that produced 1887 National League and “World Championship” titles, boasted a gaggle of the sport’s best players (including four eventual Hall of Famers), and rankled competing owners with unprecedentedly aggressive approaches to raiding talent and splitting gate receipts.

The Wolverines were also a product of their time: an era when baseball’s formative transition to professionalism was still rough and uncharted, players were rowdy and roguish, and owners were eager to profit by whatever means necessary – including collusively restricting player movement, a mechanism that would continue to haunt the sport well into the next millennium.

Author/journalist Brian “Chip” Martin (The Detroit Wolverines: The Rise and Wreck of a National League Champion) regales host Tim Hanlon with the curious tale of Detroit’s first and oft-forgotten major league baseball franchise.  Plus: the immortal "Pretzels" Getzein!

Thanks mightily to our sponsors Audible, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com and Podfly!

The Detroit Wolverines: The Rise and Wreck of a National League Champion - buy book here

EPISODE #32: Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Braves with Documentarian/Writer Bill Povletich

The lineage behind what is today’s Atlanta Braves is one of the longest, deepest and most uniquely enduring in all of professional baseball.  With early roots dating back to the launch of 1871’s National Association (when they were based in Boston, and known simply as the “Red Stockings”), the later-renamed Braves franchise boldly moved to the greener pastures of Milwaukee in 1953 – where for 13 years, the team never endured a losing season, won two National League pennants, and, in 1957, brought the city its first and only World Series championship.  With a talented lineup featuring future Hall of Famers Henry Aaron, Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, Red Schoendienst, and Phil Niekro, the team immediately won the hearts of fans, shattered modern-day attendance records, and ushered the city of Milwaukee into the world of the “big leagues.”  In the process, the Milwaukee Braves' success prompted Major League Baseball to redefine itself as a big business—clearing the path for franchises to  relocate west, its two leagues to expand, and teams to leverage cities in high-stakes battles for civically funded facilities.  But the Braves' instant success made their rapid fall from grace in the early 1960s all the more stunning, as declining attendance and local political greed led the team to Atlanta in one of the ugliest divorces between a city and baseball franchise in sports history.    

In this supremely revelatory conversation, TV documentary director/producer and author (and Wisconsin native) Bill Povletich (Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak; A Braves New World) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the historical importance of the Braves’ time in Milwaukee, and some of the specific events and personalities that shaped it.

Our continued thanks to our friends at Podfly and Audible for their support of the show!

     

Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak - buy book here

A Braves New World - buy DVD here

EPISODE #21: Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics with Author David Jordan

Author/historian David Jordan (The Athletics of Philadelphia: Connie Mack's White Elephants; The A's: A Baseball History) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the first incarnation of one of Major League Baseball’s most enigmatic franchises.  Jordan discusses how the Philadelphia As:

  • Helped launch the American League as a charter franchise in 1901;
  • Dominated the majors with six league pennants, three World Series titles and two 100+ win seasons in its first 15 years;
  • Were dismantled by long-time manager Connie Mack in the 1914 off-season after losing (or throwing?) the Fall Classic to the “Miracle” Boston Braves;
  • Posted the worst-ever record (36-117; .235) in baseball history two years later, and finished last every season thereafter until 1922;
  • Rose from the ashes to again become baseball’s most dynastic team in the late 1920s/early 1930s – rivaling that of the vaunted New York Yankees; AND
  • Succumbed to Depression-era economic realities that slowly drained the team’s talent and challenged management’s finances enough to push the team to ultimately relocate to greener pastures in 1954. 

We thank our friends at Audible for helping sponsor this week’s episode! 

The Athletics of Philadelphia: Connie Mack's White Elephants - buy book here

The A's: A Baseball Historybuy book here