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:

Thanks for reading!