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!

      

A Whole Different League - buy here

The Legend of Molly Bolin: Women’s Pro Basketball Trailblazer - buy here

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!

League Park: Historic Home of Cleveland Baseball 1891-1946 - buy here

 

League Park classic T-shirt by OldSchoolShirts.com - 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!

The Nats and the Grays: How Baseball in the Nation's Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever - buy here

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Homestead Grays classic T-shirt from OldSchoolShirts.com - buy here

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 #54: Effa Manley & the Negro National League’s Newark Eagles with Biographer Bob Luke

Baseball historian Bob Luke (The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues) joins host Tim Hanlon to delve into the intriguing story of the first (and still only) woman to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame – and the second Negro National League’s Newark Eagles franchise she successfully co-owned (with husband Abe) and general managed from 1936-48.  

A student of the sport since early childhood with a keen sense of promotion, marketing and player welfare, Manley blended a strong baseball operations IQ with a savvy aptitude for local politics and African-American community issues to become a dominant front office force in the Negro Leagues, and a persistent champion of player integration that ultimately transformed the white-male-dominated National and American “major” leagues in the late 1940s. 

Manley’s Eagles teams consistently performed well on the field and at the gate, and her deft management style culminated in a Negro World Series championship for the Eagles in 1946, and fueled the careers of no less than six eventual baseball Hall of Famers (Larry Doby, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Monte Irvin, Biz Mackey, and Willie Wells), as well as dozens of other players who soon found their way into the majors after the demise of the team and the Negro Leagues in the early 1950s.   

Manley, herself, gained Hall of Fame induction in 2006 – albeit posthumously – alongside a number of her fellow Negro League pioneers.

Thanks to Podfly, Audible and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for supporting this episode!

The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues - buy book here

EPISODE #13: Author Bill Young & the Legacy of J.L. Wilkinson's Kansas City Monarchs

Religious studies professor-turned-baseball-historian Bill Young (J.L. Wilkinson & the Kansas City Monarchs: Trailblazers in Black Baseball) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the life and legacy of one of baseball’s most overlooked and underappreciated executive figures.  Young recalls the photograph at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City that inspired him to pursue the telling of Wilkinson’s story, and describes how the quiet-yet-influential pioneer affectionately known as “Wilkie”: built one of the Negro Leagues’ most formidable franchises from modest Midwestern barnstorming beginnings; ingeniously kept his club relevant during lean Depression-era times through innovations such as portable night-time lighting; and nurtured a stunning array of all-star players that transcended both Negro and Major league rosters – 11 of whom were ultimately enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Audible!

J.L. Wilkinson & the Kansas City Monarchs: Trailblazers in Black Baseball - buy book here