Thursday, March 26, 2020

Five Best Catchers in Pirates History

This one's pretty straightforward, I think.

MLB.com asked each of their beat reporters to rank their top 5 catchers in their franchise's history.

Otherwise, this was really just an excuse to show a 1910 PC796 Sepia post card showing the one and only George Gibson. Check out the sweet mitt, and complete lack of shin guards!

You can go here to see the full article for the Pirates. If you're in a hurry, just skip one-through-three, and five.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Opening day

The 2020 MLB season would be opening this Thursday, if not for the postponement as a result of the global pandemic we are all experiencing right now.

Since we can't quite start to look forward to opening day just yet, I figured instead we could look back at opening day. Or rather, opening days.

From 1906 to 1915, George Gibson made 10 consecutive opening day starts at catcher.
In those contests, the Pirates went 7-3.


Curiously, they never opened at home. In fact, if you look at the whole chart (found here), they didn't open at home from 1894 until 1953. Surely there's a reason. I know that before Forbes Field was built, they often had Spring flooding issues at their park(s), but over 50 years of opening on the road? Wow.

In case you were wondering, George's 10-consecutive opening day starts still stands as a Pirates record.

Want another interesting opening day fact?

Here's one:

In light of opening day having been postponed, McFarland is offering up a pretty awesome deal. Order any of their baseball books between today and April 5th, and you can use the coupon code POSTPONED40 to save 40% off of your order!

Obviously I'm telling you this because I think you should order the newly released biography about George "Mooney" Gibson, but why stop there? McFarland has published some absolutely phenomenal baseball books, written by some excellent authors. This is a great opportunity to get a jump start on acquiring some books for your Summer reading list.

And I'm not just saying that. I put an order in for 5 books already, and might not be done yet!


Stay safe, everyone, and thanks for reading!

Richard.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Mail Day!

Earlier this week, I received an email from UPS telling me a parcel would be dropped off at my house on Friday. Since I live in Canada, an email from UPS is rare at the best of times, notwithstanding the fact that I hadn't ordered anything recently. I almost deleted the email, just assuming it was some kind of phishing email.

Instead, I opened it. After carefully reading over the email, I was intrigued. It looked legit. I didn't click any of the links in the email, but instead went to the UPS site directly and pasted in the tracking number.

Sure enough, a parcel was mailed from North Carolina, and was destined for my house.
The publisher of our book, McFarland, is located in North Carolina. Coincidence?

Nope!

Marty and I knew the book was nearly published. We submitted our final edits last Monday (March 9th) and were told "it's imminent." We assumed that meant a few weeks. Turns out it meant a few days!

UPS emailed me again on Friday, just before lunch, to confirm the parcel had been delivered. I left work at lunch, came home, and sure enough, here is what I found:



Five copies of our book!

I immediately called Marty, unintentionally spoiling the surprise for him, as 5 books were headed his way too, but UPS hadn't tipped him off. Later in the day, he also got his copies.

What a day.

Pretty cool feeling to work on something for years, never really know if it'll see the light of day, and then receive an actual physical copy in your mailbox, and somewhat by surprise, too.

Special thanks to McFarland for taking on the project, but extra props for knowing how to make this a memorable experience for a couple of first-time authors.

Of course that also means the book is out!

Last night, Marty and I put in a large order for the book, and in the next few weeks we hope to have it for sale at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and some local book stores around the London area.

You can also order the book directly from McFarland, and while you're at it stock up on some of their other great baseball books.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Beck Cup

It has been nearly 120 years since George Gibson was actively playing in the London City League, competing at Tecumseh Park for a the Beck Cup.

Certainly much history has been lost to those passing 12 decades, especially since it was a city league, and surely at the time, nobody was considering that some of their own may go on to star for a Major League baseball team. Technically, I suppose, the MLB as we know it today, didn't even exist then.

But every now and again, something surprising happens.

Back in January of last year, Marty and I were at The University of Western Ontario researching George Gibson and trying to learn about his connections with the Labatt family. Among the archived items we looked at was a magazine about baseball in London.

There was nothing in the magazine that helped us further our research that day, but there was one thing: A picture of a rather old, somewhat ornate, looking baseball trophy: The Beck Cup.

Marty and I immediately recognized it as the trophy awarded annually to the team that won the London City League. More specifically, this trophy was won by George Gibson, and his team, in 1902. We were immediately intrigued.

Credit for the photo was given to Museum London, a museum that, as you can probably imagine, is located in London. The museum isn't open every day, but as luck would have it, it was set to open at noon on this day. We wrapped up our research, set the destination in our GPS, and headed out on a spontaneous little adventure.

The museum opened just before we arrived. When we got there, we immediately asked about the Beck Cup, and were met with blank stares. We explained what the Beck Cup was. More blank stares. Discouraged, but not yet ready to give up, we wandered the museum's three floors. After passing through exhibits on early fashion, and another on cutting hair, we walked through a room of paintings. Slowly starting to lose hope, we made our way to the basement of the museum. As we walked down the winding stairs, a glass case, tucked in a corner, very much off the beaten path caught our eye. It contained some early baseball jerseys, and a few team photos.

Our pace down the stairs picked up, and as we arrived in front of the case, there it was: The Beck Cup!

Less than an hour earlier, we had no idea this trophy still existed. But, thanks to an otherwise random photo in an otherwise random magazine, we were standing five feet away from it.

To think that some 117 years earlier, George Gibson and his teammates raised this trophy in celebration is pretty cool -- there certainly can't be much other memorabilia left from the early days of the London City League.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Introducing Mel Kerr

Photo credit: Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame
One of the things that I found most interesting while researching George Gibson was his encounters with other Canadians. George formed a battery with Dooney Hardy in Buffalo, he was behind the plate when Bill O'Hara took his first ever at bat with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he squared off crossed paths with Larry McLean numerous times in the majors. Stumbling on those encounters was cool, because I immediately recognized the names.

Finding out about Mel Kerr, however, was, in some ways, more interesting, but his name was new to me entirely. Mel Kerr was born in  Souris, Manitoba on May 22, 1903. By the early 1920s, he was living in Saskatchewan, and tearing up the sports scene. In both 1922 and 1923, Kerr was Saskatchewan's individual track and field champion, and Saskatoon's singles tennis champion. He was also very active in the local basketball scene, and in 1924, he teamed up with Madge Clark and added a mixed doubles tennis title to his resume. Following a dominant baseball season in the Saskatoon City League, Kerr joined the cities senior rugby team.

On January 6, 1925, Bill Veeck announced that Mel Kerr had been signed to play with the Chicago Cubs. Kerr was promoted as a seven-star athlete, and his sheer athleticism drew comparisons to Jim Thorpe. Mel joined the Cubs at the Catalina Islands for spring training and showed up well. His speed on the base paths caught the attention of Manager Bill Killefer, and Kerr made the club out of Spring Training. After about a week with the Cubs, Mel was optioned to Saginaw of the Michigan-Ontario League.

Mel played well enough there, to earn a fall call-up to the Cubs in September. By then, Bill Killefer had been relieved of his duties, Rabbit Marranville, who took his place, had resigned the position, leaving George Gibson -- originally hired by Killefer to be a bench coach -- had assumed the role. With the season well out of reach, Gibson was given orders to try out some of the new talent.

On September 16th, the Cubs were hosting the Boston Braves for a double header. Down 8-1 in the seventh inning of the second game, Gibson sent Tommy Griffith to pinch-hit when the pitcher, George Milstead, was due up. Griffith managed a single, and was lifted for pinch-runner Mel Kerr. Kerr eventually came around to score, bringing the score to 8-3. Kerr did not take the field following his baserunning, and the Cubs went on to lose the game, 8-6.

That single run scored, accounts for Kerr's entire major league career. And just like that, what began with comparisons to Jim Thorpe, ended with more similarity to Moonlight Graham.

Following the 1925 season, Kerr remained active in baseball, playing for various minor league teams until a shoulder injury forced his retirement in 1933. Mel Kerr was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 as a multi-sport athlete.

Mel Kerr passed away on August 9, 1980 in Vero Beach, Florida.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

From triple folders to triple headers

According to Baseball Almanac, there have been three triple headers played in the history of Major League Baseball.

The first one took place in Brooklyn, in in 1890. The home town Bridegrooms swept the visiting Pittsburgh Alleghenys.

The second took place in 1896 in Baltimore, and again, the home team swept the day, this time being the Louisville Colonels.

The third, and most recent triple header, was played in Pittsburgh, in 1921. The fourth place Pirates, and their 77-73 record, hosted the third place Cincinnati Reds, whose record stood at 80-69. A three game sweep by the Pirates would have pulled them within 1/2 a game of Cincinnati for third place, with a chance to catch them the next day.

But it just wasn't mean to be. Cincinnati took the first two games of the afternoon with ease, disposing of the Pirates by scores of 13-4 and 7-3. In the final game of the trifecta, the Pirates finally answered back, winning 6-0, but by then it was too late. The Reds had locked up third place, and the Pirates ended up in fourth.

No MLB triple headers have been played since, and according to Baseball Almanac, doing so is against the current CBA, so it's not likely to happen again anytime soon.

You can head over to Baseball Almanac to see the three box scores from 1921.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

You gotta know when to fold 'em

If you're familiar with pre-war baseball cards, then you almost certainly know about T206s. They were issued between 1909-11 by the American Tobacco Company, and contain what is probably the most famous, and most value, baseball card of them all: the famed T206 White Border Honus Wagner.

The ATC issued numerous other tobacco card issues as well. In 1912, under the Hassan Cork Tip brand, they issued a set known as T202 Triple Folders. At 132 cards, the set about 1/4th the size of the T206 offering, but the unique shape of the cards makes them about four times the size of a T206.

Distributed in packages of Hassan Cork Tip Cigarettes, the card measure 2 1/4" high by 5 1/2" wide. They contain a white bordered player card (about the size of a T206) on each end, with a black and white action photo (about the width of 2 T206s) in the middle. The cards were then folded in the places, to measure about the size of a T206 pack.

The back of the card contains three write-ups. A player write-up on the back of each "player portion" of the card, and then a write-up on the centre panel that explains the play happening on the front.


The set consists of 137 different players, arranged in 99 unique "player pairs", 33 of which are repeated, for a total of 132 cards. The end panel images resemble the T205 card, for players that are in the T205 set (not all T202 end panels are found in the T205 set).

The set is not particularly rare, though there are certain combinations that are difficult to track down. There are other cards that aren't particularly tough, but are expensive because of the combinations.

Examples include the Tinker/Chance player pair that contains a centre panel with Johnny Evers, and the Lord catches his man centre-panel that is believed to depict Shoeless Joe Jackson being tagged out as he slides into second.

For those of you out there that want to track down Gibson, he appears on 6 different cards, as follows:

Chase Dives into Third (Gibson, Clarke)
Chase Dives into Third (Phillippe, Gibson)
Chase Guarding First (Gibson, Clarke)
Chase Guarding First (Liefield, Gibson)
Donlin Out at First (Camnitz, Gibson)
Donlin Out at First (Phillipe, Gibson)

None is particularly difficult, though the Clarke versions are a little more expensive owing to the HOFers presence on an end panel.

You can see examples of all 6 Gibson cards here.

If you really want a challenge, there are three back variations of each Gibson in the set. One version is printed in red ink with a factory 30 designation, and two versions are printed in black ink. One black ink version was printed at factory 649 and the other at factory 30. No back, that I am aware of carries a pemium.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 3, 2020

August 5, 1921

For my last post, I tried to find additional photos of the 1921 Pirates, to see if I could find any others of Bill Warwick. I didn't find any. But while searching, I stumbled across something else from 1921 that was news to me: The first radio broadcast of a baseball game happened on August 5, 1921. The game featured the Pittsburgh Pirates, who beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-5 that day, at Forbes Field.

Back in those days, if you weren't watching a baseball game live, you might be able to attend a 'viewing party', where a large board was setup that contained players that had to be physically moved around the diamond. Somebody would be responsible for updating the board as they received updates via telegraph, using different lights to help relay the balls and strikes.

All of that started to change, when, in 1921, 25-year-old Harold Arlin setup behind home plate at Forbes Field and broadcast that day's game over the wires of the then nine-month-old radio station, Pittsburgh's KDKA. Since commercial radio was very much in its infancy then, it's hard to say how many people even heard the broadcast, and it's likely that it wasn't nearly as colourful as the radio broadcasts we can hear today, but that's where it all began.

Now you can follow games any of ten different ways. We've come a long way.

If you want to read more about the first ever game, here are some interesting accounts:

https://www.philliedelphia.com/2016/08/august-5-1921-the-first-mlb-radio-broadcast.html

https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/3dgdaj/how-radio-changed-baseball-fandom-forever

http://www.baseballessential.com/news/2015/12/11/the-history-of-baseball-broadcasting-early-radio/

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

A 1921 Pittsburgh Pirates ... family photo?

While working on our book, Marty and I were able to make contact with some of George Gibson's family. Last summer, one of George's great nieces hosted an event that was attended by George's 90-year-old Granddaughter, and her four daughters, all of whom traveled from various points in the United States, to Southern Ontario. This experience was easily one of the highlights of this whole book experience, to be honest. The day started with a baseball game at London's historic Labatt Park -- that saw George's granddaughter, four great granddaughters, and great niece, lead a sell-out crowd in the singing of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, followed by a small gathering for dinner, drinks, and great conversation.

What was particularly cool about the experience, was how excited they were about the fact that we were writing a book about George, and, quite honestly, how welcoming they were to my wife, and son, who joined in on the festivities. It was fun to get to know all of them, besides the baseball, and of course, to be able to talk baseball as well.

One small detail that shouldn't get lost in all of this, is that George's Granddaughter is also the daughter of former big-leaguer Bill Warwick. Bill's career was brief, but he did play for the 1926 Cardinals -- the winners of the 1926 World Series. I always knew that George's daughters married a ball player, but what occurred to me while talking to some of George's great grand daughters, was this: There can't be very many people in the world who can claim that their grand father and their great grand father played in the major leagues, and won the world series.

That thought has stuck with me ever since. I haven't dug too deep to see how many "multi-generational" world series winners are out there but it has made me want to find an old vintage card of Bill Warwick. I haven't had much luck, and was near giving up, until I accidentally found this (on Amazon):



This is a 1921 M114 Baseball Magazines premium of the 1921 Pittsburgh Pirates. Sitting in the centre of the middle row, looking to his right, is George Gibson. Standing eighth from the left, in the back row, is Bill Warwick. Warwick only played 1 game with Pittsburgh in 1921 (according to baseball-reference.com), so it probably wouldn't be too difficult to narrow down when this photo was taken. He then spent a couple of years in the minor leagues, before re-appearing at the major league level with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1925 and 1926.

Whether or not either man knew at the time this photo was taken that one day they'd be family, I have no idea, but seeing this moment captured in time, having now met their extended families, makes this piece that much cooler to me.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 17, 2020

2020: The Year of the Book

Happy New Year! Clearly it's been a while since there has been any activity here -- but I feel it's been for good reason. Back in the Spring of 2016, Marty and I set out to write a book about George Gibson. Neither of us is a writer, but we were, and are, intrigued by Gibson, and his story, and felt it was one worth researching and sharing. In the late Summer / early Fall of 2018, we pitched the book to McFarland, and they agreed to work with us! We spent the new few months working feverishly to complete the manuscript, locate pictures, secure the rights to use them, get the book edited, and finally submitted.

Fast forward to this week, and the book has now also passed through the editing phase at McFarland. We are still a few months away from the book being readily available, but at this point, it has a cover, and is available for pre-order through McFarland or Amazon!

As you would expect, the book focuses on the life of George Gibson. It talks about how he found his way from the sandlots of London, Ontario, to the big stage of the World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The book follows his career as he establishes himself as one of the premier backstops in professional baseball, before retiring as a player and becoming a coach and manager with numerous teams.

In this book you'll see many never seen photos, and learn the story of George Gibson from period accounts, and many stories and anecdotes from George himself!

The book is set to be released in April, 2020!