Category Archives: baseball

Shikoku Island League Team Names

In 2005, entrepreneurs on the island of Shikoku created an independent professional minor league designed to appeal to local baseball fans. Shikoku is not home to any of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) teams. The two main sponsors of the initiative were JR Shikoku and Shikoku’s Coca-Cola Bottling Company. (Japanese railway companies public and private have long been major sponsors of professional baseball teams.) Among the strategies for building a local fan base are uniquely localized names and the hiring of Shikoku natives for fill-in roles like designated hitters, pinch hitters, and such. Like NPB’s Pacific League, the Shikoku Island League employs DHs. The team names are just as quirky and unique as those of North American minor league teams like the Albuquerque Isotopes, Lansing Lugnuts, Montgomery Biscuits, or Savannah Sand Gnats. All the team names are written in katakana but abbreviated in roman capital letters. The Island League (IL) logo and mascot is a blue and white Manta Ray, for its baseball-diamond shape.

Tokushima IndigoSocks (IS) – Tokushima Prefecture is famous for its indigo, so it’s not surprising that the team color is blue. The mascot is a spider, who wears four pairs of socks. The IndigoSocks won the 2019 league championship, but lost to the Tochigi Golden Braves in the interleague championship.

Kagawa Olive Guyners (OG) – Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture is the league headquarters, and the Olive Guyners have won the most league championships so far. Kagawa is famous in Japan for its olives and olive oils, home games are played in Olive Stadium, and the team color is green. Guyners is an anglicized rendering of the local Sanuki dialect word gaina ‘strong’.

Kochi Fighting Dogs (FD) – Kochi Prefecture (once known as Tosa Domain) is famous for its Tosa fighting dogs, Japanese mastiffs, so its team name and mascot were easy to choose. The team color is black and their gray mascot wears a yokozuna belt like that of sumo champions. The FD won the first league championship in 2005, but haven’t done so well since then. In 2017 they hired Manny Ramirez but he left in mid-August with a knee injury.

Ehime Mandarin Pirates (MP) – Ehime Prefecture is famous for its mandarin oranges (mikan), and its seafaring heritage. Their basketball team is the Ehime Orange Vikings. The team color is orange in both cases.

In 2007, the league expanded to include two teams on Kyushu and changed its name to the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League. But the Nagasaki Saints (named for the prefecture’s long Roman Catholic heritage) and Fukuoka Red Warblers (named for the color of ume and the Japanese bush warbler) didn’t last long. Nor did the Three Arrows team from Mie (三重 ‘three weights’) Prefecture, on Honshu across the Kii Channel from Tokushima. So now the official name of the league is Shikoku Island League plus, presumably to allow for other expansion attempts.

In 2014, two independent baseball leagues, Shikoku Island League plus and Route Inn Baseball Challenge League, formed the Japan Independent Baseball League Organization. The champions of each league play each other at the end of each season. Shikoku Island League plus has also sent all-star teams to play all-stars from the independent Can-Am League in North America.

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Finding the Real Ty Cobb

Last month, City Journal published a review by Paul Beston of a book published last year, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, by Charles Leerhsen (Simon & Schuster, 2015). Beston’s review, titled A Wronged Man: Taking the spikes off Ty Cobb, outlines how the legend of Ty Cobb made him out to be someone far worse than he was, as each “documentary” account repeated and embellished stories that were completely fictional. Here’s a taste of the review:

Consider Ty Cobb, one of American sports’ legendary characters, whose greatness on the baseball diamond—he played from 1905 to 1928, mostly for the Detroit Tigers—was eventually overshadowed by stories about his fanatical racism and violence, which, in some accounts, even included homicide. Over two generations, Cobb has been portrayed as a virtual psychotic in articles, books, and films, including Ron Shelton’s 1994 feature starring Tommy Lee Jones and Ken Burns’s epic, 18-hour documentary, Baseball, in which Cobb plays the villain to Jackie Robinson’s hero.

There’s only one problem: this venomous character is predominantly fictional. In Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, published last year, Charles Leerhsen documents how Cobb’s wicked reputation largely dates to the years after his death in 1961, when sportswriter Al Stump created a mythical Cobb—“Ty the Ripper,” Leerhsen calls him—who displaced the real man in the public mind. Stump’s motives for spinning tall tales seem to have been financial. He had ghostwritten a careless autobiography for Cobb, who tried to stop its publication before his death. The book sold poorly, but Stump earned a handsome fee for a lurid magazine article filled with falsehoods, dubious quotes, and made-up incidents. Other writers repeated or expanded on these untruths over the years. “The repetition felt like evidence,” Leerhsen says. It was “well known,” director Shelton told Leerhsen, that Cobb had killed “as many as” three people, though the director didn’t explain how this was known. Drawing on Stump’s work, as well as a 1984 biography by Charles Alexander, Burns also helped enshrine Cobb’s demonic image.

Time and again, what Leerhsen discovered through exhaustive research undermined the Cobb created by Stump, who didn’t source his work (“because he produced fiction,” as a contemporary said). Leerhsen could find no tangible evidence that Cobb hated blacks. On the contrary, he spoke in support of baseball’s integration when asked—and he wasn’t asked, as best Leerhsen can tell, until 1952. “The Negro should be accepted and not grudgingly but wholeheartedly,” Cobb said then. “The Negro has the right to compete in sports and who’s to say they have not?” On another occasion that year, he said: “No white man has the right to be less of a gentleman than a colored man. In my book, that goes not just for baseball but for all walks of life.” The virulent racist of legend, supposedly driven to derangement if even touched by a black man, attended Negro League games, threw out a first pitch, and often sat in the dugouts with black players. He came from a family of abolitionists. He endowed educational scholarships for students of all races.

Leerhsen concedes that Cobb was complex and troubled, and while he debunks many incidents, he confirms others, such as an awful episode in 1912, when Cobb rushed into the stands to pummel a handicapped fan who had abused him verbally. Cobb was no one’s idea of easygoing, and his notoriety as a fiery (and fighting) competitor was well earned. But he didn’t sharpen his spikes before games to slash his opponents, as the myth has it. His peers didn’t regard him as a dirty player and they didn’t universally despise him, though many disliked him. The old ballplayers whom Lawrence Ritter spoke with for his 1966 oral history of baseball’s early days, The Glory of Their Times, criticize Cobb—mostly for being short-tempered and too quick to take offense—but none suggests that he was racist or otherwise hateful, and some liked him fine.

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Center Fielder Makes Unassisted Triple Play, 1911

The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 834-843:

The defensive play of 1911, or indeed any other year, was made by twenty-eight-year-old Vernon Tigers center fielder Walter Carlisle, whose name should be synonymous with the term “circus catch.” One of the fastest players in the league, he was known for his peculiar method of diving for fly balls. After making the catch, he rolled into a forward somersault before popping back to his feet to execute the return throw to the infield.

Carlisle’s unmatched feat occurred in the sixth inning of a July 19 game between the Tigers and Angels. With the scored tied, 3-3, and Angels base runners George Metzger and Charlie Moore at first and second with no one out, Tigers manager Happy Hogan brought Harry Stewart in to relieve starting pitcher Alex “Soldier” Carson.

The Angels’ next batter, Roy Akin, hit a low line drive just beyond the reach of the infielders. Certain the ball would drop, Metzger and Moore took off immediately. Playing in center field, Carlisle had positioned himself extremely shallow, directly behind second base, and got a terrific jump. At the last moment he dove, snagging the ball before it touched the ground and tumbling into a double somersault. Neither Angels base runner realized Carlisle had made the catch. When he popped back to his feet, Carlisle saw that Moore had already rounded third, so he ran in and touched second base for another out. Realizing the other runner, Metzger, had passed second base and could be easily beaten back to first, Carlisle calmly trotted over to complete what remains the only unassisted triple play by an outfielder in the history of professional baseball.

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Advent of Night Baseball

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 2436-2453:

The concept of baseball played at night was nothing new; barnstorming teams had done so for years. There had been experiments with temporary lighting beginning in the late 1800s, including an exhibition held at Athletic Park in Los Angeles in 1893. In June 1927, two New England League teams played a seven-inning game at Lynn, Massachusetts, under temporary lights before several thousand people who were surprised at how well they could follow the action and noted that players seemed able to react quite well to the ball.

Lee Keyser, owner of the Des Moines Demons in the Western League, had attended a number of college and high school football games at night and was impressed with the quality of lighting at those events. Confident that a permanent set-up would work for baseball, he invested twenty thousand dollars to install 146 floodlights mounted atop a half-dozen ninety-foot-tall poles at the Demons’ stadium and then announced that Des Moines would open its 1930 home season on May 2 at night against Wichita. “If the game is successful … I look for most of the minor leagues to follow the example of Des Moines and install floodlights for night baseball,” said Keyser. “If it is unsuccessful, it will mean that sooner or later the minor league clubs will have to go out of business due to steady decrease in patronage.” Several major league executives made plans to attend the game and a national radio audience tuned in to the contest, which was carried by the National Broadcasting Company.

Twelve thousand fans crowded into the stadium, and while the game was a less-than-artistic Moines jumped out to a 12-0 lead after three general consensus was that the quality of baseball was as good as it would have been during the day. Problems remained to be solved, including dark spots along the foul lines, and a fielder lost one pop foul in the lights, but Lee Keyser was undeterred. He addressed the national radio audience between the sixth and seventh innings and declared, “My reaction to night baseball is that it is glorious and wonderful. The players are happy, the crowd perfectly satisfied, and it means that baseball in the minor leagues will now live.” The Chicago Tribune agreed with Keyser that night baseball might well be a “life saver” for the minor leagues.

Continuing to struggle in Sacramento, Lew Moreing took notice. He quickly ordered lights and had them installed. On the night of June 4, 1930, at precisely 8:31 P.M., Moreing flipped a switch, generating a buzz from forty banks of lights, each carrying a trio of sixty-thousand-watt bulbs. The lights slowly grew brighter, illuminating the playing field as hundreds of people in their automobiles, surrounding the stadium to witness the spectacle, began honking their horns in celebration.

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Early Days of Baseball Radio Broadcasts

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 2224-2241:

Radio was becoming wildly popular, and in 1927 two important developments accelerated growth in the fledgling industry. First, radio manufacturers reached agreement with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) to use company patents that were essential in mass production of radio sets. Second was the development of the alternating current radio tube, which made it possible to manufacture radios that could be plugged into a standard electrical outlet.

Mass broadcasting to the general public was on the horizon and sports were to be a major beneficiary of this new technology. Baseball had been broadcast on radio since 1921, and the New York Yankees had aired the World Series for several years, more or less in the same play-by-play fashion as today. However, most baseball coverage consisted of a simple recitation of wire accounts sent by telegraph to the local station, providing only the actual details of the game without commentary.

KHJ in Los Angeles broadcast play-by-play results of the World Series in 1925 to great fanfare, relaying results from three thousand miles away almost as they happened. By 1927 KPO radio in San Francisco was using a direct line from Recreation Park to provide play-by-play details of every game. In Oakland and Seattle, game accounts and scores were provided nearly every day except Sunday. William Wrigley, who had a direct telegraph wire into his home on Catalina Island so he could keep abreast of his Chicago Cubs, took notice of radio’s potential to promote the last-place Los Angeles Angels. Hoping broadcasts would drum up interest in an otherwise uninteresting team, Wrigley announced that KHJ would cover the Angels every day.

There would be lively debate about radio in the PCL [= Pacific Coast League] over the next few seasons – Bill Lane for one remained there was no turning back. At the league meeting following the 1928 season, a resolution was defeated that would have banned radio from the ballparks. Though yet in its infancy, radio would soon become as inseparable from baseball as newspapers were.

Ironically, at the same time radio was becoming established, a new invention was being developed on the second floor of a warehouse at 202 Green Street in San Francisco, near Telegraph Hill. This new all-electric technology would further revolutionize broadcasting and the world of sports. In January 1927, Philo T. Farnsworth, the twenty-year-old son of an Idaho farmer, met with Crocker Bank vice president James J. Fagan and pitched his idea. Fagan, whose son would later own the San Francisco Seals, was able to convince W.W. Crocker, president of the bank, to invest in it. Nine months later, Farnsworth completed the first successful demonstration of his new technology at the Green Street warehouse. On that day in San Francisco, modern television was born.

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Grandfathering the Spitball, 1920–1934

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 1520-1526:

In late October 1919, American League president Ban Johnson proposed that “trick” deliveries, such as the spitball and shine ball, be declared illegal. At the major league meetings in February 1920, both the American and National leagues adopted the proposal, allowing a one-year grace period to pitchers identified by their teams as those relying on the spitter for their livelihood.” The Pacific Coast League followed suit, ruling that players currently in the league could continue to throw the spitter, but that pitchers new to the PCL could not. At the end of that first year, St. Louis Cardinals spitballer Bill Doak was among those asserting that banning himself and fellow spitballers from using their best pitch would likely end their careers.

Doak’s argument carried the day and the spitball remained a legal pitch for seventeen men during the remainder of their careers, including Ray Fisher, who did not play after 1920. This group continued as an endangered species of sorts until 1934, when Burleigh Grimes threw the last legal spitter in the major leagues.

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Ethnic Minorities in the Old Pacific Coast League

From The Greatest Minor League: A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling (McFarland, 2011), Kindle Loc. 1314-1328:

Although Asians were not welcome to play with or against whites on the Pacific Coast, mixed-blood Hawaiians could, provided they were of the right mix, unlike Lang Akana. Pitcher Barney Joy had been the first, joining the San Francisco Seals in 1907. “Honolulu” Johnnie Williams was a pitching sensation for Sacramento in 1913; the Detroit Tigers offered eleven thousand dollars for his contract and he played briefly for them the following year. Williams then returned to the Pacific Coast League until arm problems led to his release by Los Angeles during the first week of the 1916 season.

Latins had never been represented in numbers reflecting their interest in the game, although a few had been allowed to make their mark. Esteban Bellan, a native of Cuba, played in the National forerunner of the National 1871 to 1873. Sandy Nava caught Charlie Sweeney in the major leagues. Cuban Armando Marsans played in the majors even though he was fairly dark-skinned. Fellow countrymen Dolf Luque and Mike Gonzales had long careers in the major leagues. Pitchers Jose Acosta and Ignacio Rojas, outfielder Jacinto Calvo (whose father was a rich sugar planter in Havana) and infielder Louis Castro were among the few Latin-born players to appear in the Pacific Coast League during its first couple of decades. Pitchers Frank Arellanes and Sea Lion Hall (born Carlos Clolo [apparently not true; see note 27 at the link—J.]), also pitched in the PCL and were of Mexican heritage but born in the United States. Hall gained notoriety as one of the first relief pitchers in the major leagues and threw four no-hitters in the minors. He earned his nickname because of his loud, barking voice. He was also called “The Greaser” by those less genteel, who quickly learned those were fighting words.

Consistently derided about their racial heritage, Native Americans were nevertheless considered valuable drawing cards. Louis Sockalexis was one of the first, starring at both Holy Cross and Notre Dame and then with Cleveland in the National League in the late 1890s. The New York Giants employed catcher John “Chief” Meyers. Brooklyn’s star outfielder Zack Wheat was half-Cherokee, although he did not advertise that fact. Albert “Chief” Bender of the Philadelphia Athletics was one of the game’s best pitchers. The great Jim Thorpe was playing in the major leagues of both baseball and football. There had been several Indians in the PCL, most commonly pitchers, including Casey Smith, Ed Pinnance, Sammy Morris, Louis LeRoy and George “Chief” Johnson.

Because Indians enjoyed relative acceptance among the public and their teammates, there were occasional but almost universally unsuccessful attempts to masquerade black players as Native Americans.

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