Author/historian Bill Young (John Tortes “Chief” Meyers: A Baseball Biography) returns to the podcast to discuss the life and legacy of one of Major League Baseball’s most intriguing personalities from the sport’s “dead-ball era” of the 1900s/10s. The sturdy, hard-hitting battery-mate (and eventual vaudeville stage partner) of Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Matthewson – as well as a fixture in some of legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw’s most successful teams – “Chief” Meyers was also one of the few true Native Americans to ever star in professional baseball, overcoming enormous prejudicial obstacles along the way. Unlike other Native American players who eschewed their tribal identities to escape bias and ridicule, Meyers—a member of the Santa Rosa Band of the Cahuilla Tribe of California—remained proud of his heritage, and endeared himself to fans and the press with his disarming, accessible and uniquely erudite personality. After retiring from the game in 1920, Meyers quietly returned to his roots to become a tribal leader, only to be rediscovered by a new generation of fans and scholars in 1966 with the publication of Lawrence Ritter’s acclaimed oral history of the early game, The Glory of Their Times.
Author Bill Ryczek (Blackguards and Red Stockings: A History of Baseball’s National Association) makes a return visit to the podcast – this time to regale host Tim Hanlon in the intriguing story of the raucous early days of organized baseball’s first attempt at forming and sustaining a true professional league. Birthed in early 1871 from a hodgepodge, post-Civil War-era amalgam of amateur teams, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players – or “National Association” – became both a novel experiment and decidedly imperfect beginning to bringing professional status not only to the game of baseball, but ultimately to the entire landscape of American sports. Despite persistent claims of gambling, contract jumping, player inebriation, and less-than-honest sportsmanship, the National Association quickly became an entertaining circuit that featured the world’s best baseball players – eventually producing eight National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees (though, glaringly, not the legendary “Iron Batter” Lip Pike); two modern-day franchises (the Atlanta Braves [née Boston Red Stockings]; and the Chicago Cubs [née Chicago White Stockings]); and the foundation for the first of baseball’s two “major” leagues – the National League – in 1876.
Blackguards and Red Stockings: A History of Baseball's National Association - buy book here
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.
Inc. Editor-at-Large David Whitford (Extra Innings: A Season in the Senior League) joins host Tim Hanlon to retrace his journalistic odyssey covering the inaugural season of the short-lived, Florida-based Senior Professional Baseball Association (SPBA) in the winter of 1989-90. Whitford recalls the early-career events leading up to his plum writing assignment, and the process by which he went about chronicling this unique, but ultimately ill-fated eight-team circuit for former pro players over 35 (32 for catchers). Despite half the franchises folding after the first 72-game season (and the rest of the league mid-way through the second), the Senior League, in Whitford’s view, afforded dozens of former big-league players and managers a "life-after-death fantasy" – one that attracted both stars and journeymen alike for a chance to either stay fresh for one last shot in the Show, recapture past on-field glories, or simply earn some needed money. Whitford highlights a wide array of characters he met while covering the SBPA, including:
- Founder Jim Morley , the thirty-something hustler who erroneously believed a senior league could generate cash flow sufficient to sustain his debt-ridden real-estate empire;
- Commissioner Curt Flood, the indefatigable player’s union representativewho broke Major League Baseball’s reserve clause, but sacrificed his career in the process;
- Pitcher Wayne Garland, the former Cleveland ace and early free-agent beneficiary who risked permanent shoulder damage by coming back to play pro ball after a five-year layoff;
- Ex-Padres/Astros fastballer (and pioneer descendant) Danny Boone, who reinvented himself into a knuckleball specialist, and improbably made it back to the bigs with Baltimore in 1990 following the SPBA season; AND
- A veritable who’s who of former big-name major league stars – each with their own personal reasons for returning to the diamonds: Bobby Bonds, Joaquin Andujar, Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, Dave Kingman, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, and even manager Earl Weaver – just to name a few.
Extra Innings: A Season in the Senior League - buy book here
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 History - buy book here
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
America’s most famous professional sports cheerleader “Krazy” George Henderson (Still Krazy After All These Cheers) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss some of the wackiest adventures from his 40+ years of live performances – and how a self-described shy, mediocre schoolteacher ultimately followed his passion to a unique and storied career converting passive game-day attendees into cheering fanatics. Henderson (along with his signature drum!) recounts how a school field trip to an Oakland Seals NHL hockey game led to his first sustaining professional gig; describes how he and the NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes changed the face of professional soccer in the mid-1970s; recalls how his success with the NFL’s Houston Oilers almost led to banishment from performing at pro football games; and breaks down the chronology of the formative elements of his most famous in-stadium creation – The Wave.