Oct 01 2020

The Sports Legacy Of Mary Pratt

Mary Pratt passed away earlier this year at the age of 101. She had been identified as the last surviving member of the 1943 Rockford (Illinois) Peaches. Mary was a left-handed pitcher and hitter who also played for the Kenosha (Wisconsin) Comets.

The teams were part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that existed from 1943 until 1954. The league was immortalized in the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.”

Mary was born on November 30, 1918, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts. She attended Boston University’s Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. During her college years, Mary participated in numerous sports — basketball, softball, volleyball, lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, archery and sailing. She earned a degree in physical education and began her career as an instructor in Quincy.

Mary joined the Peaches at the start of the league’s inaugural season, playing in 24 games with a 5–11 win-loss record on the mound and a .235 batting average. She played five years in the league, which had a unique competitive rule. To maintain a high level of competition, players were shifted or traded at the discretion of league officials. After one year with the Peaches, Mary played for Kenosha.

During her first year with the Comets, Mary won 21 games and pitched a no-hitter. She led Kenosha to the league championship series. According to an article for the Society of American Baseball Research, Mary “was very effective using a controlled slingshot or windmill windup to get hitters out.” Unfortunately, her subsequent years with Kenosha were not as successful as the 1944 season. Mary won just one game during the final two years she played in the league.

Back home, Mary continued to teach physical education classes until 1986. She coached the school softball, basketball, soccer and tennis teams, and her softball teams won 10 state championships. Mary also officiated basketball, softball, field hockey and lacrosse games.

Mary Pratt enjoyed a stellar athletic career. She was a trailblazer for the many women who have enjoyed athletic competition over the last eight decades. Her legacy is secured with induction into the New England Sports Museum, Boston University Hall of Fame and the Boston Garden Hall of Fame.

Sep 15 2020

Babe Ruth Always Drew Crowds…Even During A Health Crisis

Baseball has been here before – playing its games during a national health crisis.

It was 1918. The nation was at war. The people of Hartford, Connecticut, decided to raise money for sports equipment they would send to France, hoping the local boys in the U.S. Army could occupy their idle time with baseball and football.

James Clarkin owned the Eastern League’s Hartford Senators. On September 9, he traveled to Boston to see the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs finish the World Series at Fenway Park. The series was played early that year, following the regular season that had been reduced to 130 games due to The Great War. The Hartford owner pitched an idea to the players, offering each team $1,000 and a share of the gate, for a quick post-series trip to Hartford for a game or two to raise money for Hartford’s Doughboys.

The proposal struck out. Many players were going into the service, or fulfilling “work or fight” orders in factories. Others just wanted to return home. Babe Ruth, however, liked the idea. So, with Babe in his pocket, James Clarkin created a weeklong barnstorming trip through New England, with stops in Hartford at the beginning and again at the end of the series.

Babe already was a huge attraction for the game. He would fill the stands. Never mind that the pandemic – the Spanish Flu – was spreading through New England at the time. “The grip” had caused panic during the spring and now it had returned in a more deadly second wave.

Warnings from health officials in Connecticut attempted to separate Ruth from his fans. However, his personality was not compatible with “social distancing.” While we know a lot about Ruth’s life, many people are not aware that earlier that year he was hospitalized with a rough case of the Spanish Flu. He suffered with a 104-degree fever and a swelled larynx. He nearly died but enjoyed a successful season with 13 wins and 11 home runs (tying the league record) following his recovery.

The first game in Hartford was scheduled for 4 p.m. Trolleys were added to the schedule to get about 5,000 people to the ballpark. As fans flocked to the game, doctors made house calls (remember these?) and the city’s hospitals were crowded with victims of the flu. When the players returned to Hartford a week later, Ruth again packed fans into the park. Local newspapers pleaded with the public to avoid crowds but also tempted them to see Babe play in a doubleheader.

About 3,000 fans were in the park for the twin bill while 500 convalesced in hospitals and others remained in bed at home. An unknown number of fans who attended the Hartford games were infected with the flu, but they just didn’t understand that avoiding crowds would suppress the spread of the disease. Most of them, luckily, recovered from the illness and bragged for years that they saw 23-year-old Babe Ruth storm through Hartford to raise funds for the local boys “over there.”

Aug 15 2020

From Rookie Extraordinaire To The Hall Of Fame

Earlier this month, I wrote about the death of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman from a pitched ball during a game on August 16, 1920 at the Polo Grounds. Following Chappie’s funeral, dazed Indians players, management and fans somehow continued their emotional drive for a pennant.

At first, the Indians placed several other roster players at shortstop. But, no one could play the position as well as Chappie. So, Indians owners dug into their minor league system for a 21-year-old who was a standout on the New Orleans Pelicans. Joe never had seen a major league game. In fact, he never had visited a major league city. By his own admission, Joe never had ventured outside of the south and now he was selected to replace a baseball icon in Cleveland during a pennant race.

The game of baseball was teetering. Soon after the death of Chappie, evidence emerged that the 1919 World Series had been fixed by gamblers and certain members of the Chicago White Sox. What became known as the Black Sox Scandal pulled another dark cloud over baseball as the Indians, Yankees and White Sox fought for a pennant.

The Indians eventually grabbed the American League flag and then headed to Brooklyn for a World Series that had been a baseball dream for Ray Chapman. As the series opened, The Cleveland Plain Dealer featured a three-column by eight-inch drawing of an Indians ballplayer holding his cap to his side while leaning on a bat. The player was gazing toward a giant pennant waving on the horizon. Looking down from the clouds was Ray Chapman. The inscription above him read, “Carry On.” In a reference to the gambling scandal, the caption below the illustration read, “It pays to play clean.”

Cleveland won the championship five games to two in a best-of-nine series to conclude an exciting yet painful baseball season. But, that’s not the end of the story. I am sure you are wondering about that young shortstop who replaced Chappie.

Joe certainly was an emerging star, but he made his share of rookie mistakes. He had only four hits in the series and he made three errors. Fate, though, looked upon Joe to close out the season for the Cleveland World Champs. At 3:57 p.m. in the seventh game, he fielded a grounder and flipped the ball to the second baseman for the final out.

Joe was known for patience and work ethic. He played 10 years at shortstop and third base for Cleveland and then another three seasons for the Yankees. He played 1,103 consecutive games from September 13, 1922 through April 30, 1930. Joe’s lifetime batting average was .312 and he gathered more than 2,200 hits. He always put the ball in play, striking out only 114 times in 7,132 career at-bats for an average of one strikeout every 62.5 at-bats. Joe was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during 1977.

Joe Sewell excelled as a major league baseball player when, at a tender age, he was asked to replace the beloved Ray Chapman under difficult circumstances for his team, the city of Cleveland and for baseball. A Cleveland sports writer recognized the player’s upside soon after he joined the Indians, writing near the end of the 1920 regular season, “Once more, doff the chapeau to Joey Sewell, rookie extraordinaire.”

Aug 01 2020

Remembering Fun-Loving Chappie

Though none of us recall one of the saddest days in American sports, all of us should pause for a moment on August 16 to reflect on the tragedy that occurred in Manhattan 100 years ago.

~ James C. Metzger

Chappie was known as a happy-go-lucky guy, always laughing, smiling and singing. Everyone who met him loved him. He wasn’t just a Major League Baseball player. He was a star.

All Chappie wanted was to bring a pennant and a World Series championship to Cleveland. If this could be accomplished now, Chappie hinted that this might be his final season as a ballplayer. At the age of 29, he planned to follow a business career with his new father-in-law’s company.

On August 16, 1920, the Cleveland Indians were in New York for a tense three-game series with the Yankees as the teams battled for first place. During the subway ride aboard the elevated train to the Polo Grounds for the first game, Chappie tried to ease the pressure on his teammates. The team had run into bad luck, their shortstop said, because the team had stopped singing as a group. Right there, in the subway car, Chappie began to sing “Dear Old Pal o’ Mine” in his sweet tenor voice.

Later that day, Ray Chapman, one of Cleveland’s baseball icons, was sprawled on the ground near home plate. He had been struck in the head with a pitch from Yankees pitcher Carl Mays. Chappie died in a hospital the next morning.

Many who arrived at the stadium for the scheduled second game of the series had heard about the events of the previous day but they did not yet know that Chappie had died. At the Polo Grounds gates, league officials and detectives told the fans that the game had been postponed. Hundreds of fans walked to the undertaker’s establishment, James F. McGowan at 153rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, where the player’s body had been transported from the hospital.

That evening, Chappie’s remains were brought to Grand Central Terminal by his widow and team officials. The casket was enclosed in a white pine box. On top was a bouquet of flowers. As the casket was carried through the terminal, hundreds of New Yorkers stopped during their evening rush home. Men removed their hats. Women wept.

News about the death of a major league baseball player from a pitched ball spread across the country. In a Cleveland newspaper, the words of a writer explained the sorrow: “Lawyers forgot to talk of cases, ministers found it hard to concentrate on their work, politicians neglected their interests for the time being, workmen stood at their tools, and all thought of Chapman and his loss.”

Across the city, flags hung at half-mast. At the corner of East Sixth Street and Superior Avenue, where the paperboy known as “Izzy” featured the baseball scores for his customers, game results did not appear that day on the boy’s poster. He was devastated.

Hundreds of people gathered at Cleveland’s Union Station to await the arrival of the Lake Shore Limited from New York. The crowd watched quietly as the widow and her father stepped from the train along with the casket. Following a church funeral, Ray Chapman was laid to rest on August 20 at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

On September 3, when Cleveland again played at its home stadium, a lone bugler walked to the shortstop area of the infield at League Park. Fans removed their hats. Members of the Cleveland and visiting Detroit clubs stood at attention on the field. A sailor, a member of the Cleveland naval reserves that was Chapman’s old unit, lifted the bugle to his lips and played taps.

Ray Chapman is the only Major League Baseball player to die from an injury received during a game. The official boxscore from the August 16, 1920 game at the Polo Grounds simply recorded the incident as “Hit by pitched ball—By Mays (Chapman.)”

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The epilogue to this story will be featured in the post to appear later this month.

Jul 16 2020

Beginners Baseball Clinic Makes The Game Fun

It appears that this year’s professional baseball season soon will begin, but yet to be determined is when and how it will end. Cancellation of sports on all levels has devastated our amateur programs, too. Even the clinics that teach the game to the youngest of fans have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

In Westchester County, the Baseball United Foundation engages young boys and girls in the game. Director John Fitzgerald believes that capturing the interest of children when they are five or six years old is more critical today than for previous generations as baseball now competes with so many other action-filled options.

John leads the Small Ball Indoor Baseball Clinic for Beginners. Each group consists of about a dozen children that meet at an elementary school gymnasium. They learn the basic skills of throwing, fielding, hitting and baserunning, and John knows how to ensure that learning is fun.

The kids at the clinic do not stand around until it is their turn to step into the batter’s box – they hit with whiffle balls and plastic bats. Instead, John’s emphasis is to keep them engaged in the action. Small groups work on skillsets while plenty of running during the hourlong sessions keeps each child interested, excited and laughing. The children hit off a tee, swing at soft toss pitching and learn proper throwing and fielding techniques. John usually ends each session with a quick game of kickball.

Among John’s coaches are several young players from the Briarcliff High School team, allowing these budding players to obtain coaching skills as they teach the game to children.

Let’s hope John soon will be able to resume these clinics. If you know anyone with young children in Westchester, tell them about the foundation –https://baseballunitedfoundation.org/small-ball/ Don’t forget to ask how to organize similar clinics in the city and on Long Island.

May 15 2020

From Feeding Umpires To A Multi-Million Dollar Cookie Business

You just never know when an opportunity will appear and where it will lead you.

Debra Sivyer was raised in Oakland, California, the youngest of eight daughters. Her father was a welder for the U.S. Navy. Her mother was a housewife.

During the 1968 baseball season, innovative Charles O. Finley, the owner of MLB’s Oakland Athletics, introduced ball girls to the game. The young ladies were placed in foul territory during games to retrieve grounded foul balls. When Debbi was just 13, she became a ball girl with the help of an older sister, who was a secretary in the A’s corporate office. Debbi received five dollars an hour when she was on the field.

Debbi was an entrepreneur at that tender age, using her earnings to purchase ingredients to bake chocolate chip cookies. She created a “milk-and-cookies” break for umpires at the park, perfecting her cookie recipe that she found on the back of a package of Toll House chocolate morsels. Fast forwarding a few years to 1977, Debbi married her first husband, Randall Keith Fields. She began marketing these homemade cookies that same year, grossing $75 the first day. Eventually, the cookies would make her a millionaire.

With little investment enthusiasm from outside sources, Debbi secured a loan and supervised operations, brand management, public relations, customer service and product development to grow the business. At its peak under her leadership, the company featured more than 900 owned and franchised stores in the U.S. and in 11 other countries. Debbi eventually sold the business to an investment group, but she has remained the company’s spokesperson while concentrating on her philanthropic interests.

So, who is this cookie girl whose idea was such a success on a major league baseball field when she was just 13? You know her as the founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies.

Nov 02 2019

Nick Varano Has Figured Out All the Alleys

In New York, baseball has Aaron Judge and Pete Alonso while hockey has Henrik Lundquist and Mathew Barzal. As for bowling, we have Nick Varano. At only 17, the North Rockland High School student is the best bowler in the Lower Hudson Valley of any age or gender.

Earlier this year, Nick showcased a 242 average in a local league and a 235 average for the high school season. He threw two 800 series and one perfect game late last year.

Nick’s varsity accomplishments become more impressive when you learn that the Rockland County high school league is spread among three different bowling alleys in three different communities. No home alley advantage for this bowling star.

“He’s like a freak,” stated a former coach who was very successful during his bowling career. “But in a good way.”

The freak analogy must run in the family. Nick’s sister, Danielle, is an eight-time member of Team USA and she currently is one of the leading women bowlers in the world for the Professional Women’s Bowlers Association Tour. Even she stated what has become obvious: “He’s a freak of nature,” she said lovingly of her 6-foot-3 brother.

Though he has been so successful at such a young age, Nick has little interest in headlines and accolades. His personal goal always is a team goal—win the state championship.

Nick has thought about turning pro during the last few years. First, though, he wants to complete college and think about his options not just for bowling but for his life. Many coaches feel that Nick can be a PBA Tour titlist. We’ll just have to wait to learn what Nick decides.

Oct 01 2019

Where Young Patients Can “Just Be Kids Again”

Tim Tebow made a splash on the college football field but he has not enjoyed the same success on the professional football and baseball levels. His good and open heart continues to beat strong, however, and this includes his work with ill children.

Earlier this year, the Tim Tebow Foundation opened its 10th Timmy’s Playroom. This new playroom is located at AdventHealth Daytona Beach, a children’s hospital in Florida. The space allows kids to escape from their medical conditions and enjoy life. Tim gives children in hospitals a chance to “just be kids again.”

“Hopefully, it can bring a brighter day for so many in their darkest hour of need,” Tim said in a video posted by AdventHealth. “That is our goal, to encourage and uplift people, especially when they’re going through such a tough time…”

The playrooms include a football field floor, specialized lockers for seating, tables for arts and crafts, flat-screen televisions, video games, toys, interactive games and other activities. The playrooms also display Tim’s favorite Bible verse: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

The foundation’s mission delivers faith, hope and love to pediatric patients and their families. The playrooms are “creating a space where children can heal in a very unique way,” according to the foundation. Timmy’s Playrooms can be found at other hospitals in Florida and at hospitals in Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and the Philippines.

Each playroom has been recorded as a huge touchdown in all the scorebooks. Tim Tebow certainly is a star off the field!

Aug 01 2019

The Seawolf Who Became a Met

The New York Mets bullpen has been a huge problem, one of several, the last few seasons. No matter which pitcher is brought into a game, players, coaches, the manager and fans have held their collective breaths and crossed their fingers, hoping to salvage a win.

Daniel Zamora has spent some time in the Mets bullpen. He throws sliders. He continues to work to control his fastball. To start his major league career, he won several battles against the game’s premier players, including Bryce Harper.

Daniel grew up in California, but he didn’t have many opportunities to play for a top-tier college team. Drafted out of high school by Toronto in the 27th round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft, Daniel opted for college through a connection between his high school coach and then-Stony Brook University pitching coach Mike Marron.

While playing Division I ball at Stony Brook, Daniel was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 40th round of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft. The organization didn’t move him through the system, so he was traded to the Mets. Within less than a year, he got the call to the big club, becoming the first Stony Brook Seawolf to play in Flushing.

Daniel’s trip to the big club was a proud moment for Stony Brook. The university’s director of athletics, Shawn Heilborn, said Daniel’s journey proves that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.

Over the last two seasons, Daniel has made a few round trips between the Syracuse Mets, the organization’s top minor league squad, and Queens. Right now, he is toeing the rubber in northern New York. Daniel hopes to receive another call-up soon, stating that the most exciting moment is when the phone rings and your name is called to join the big club.

May 01 2019

The Athletic Talent Of “A Little Fat Man”

He was athletic during his boyhood years, playing sandlot baseball and basketball. Then, during his late teens, he got into the ring under the promotional name of “Lou King.”

It is not known if the young man would have continued to pursue a successful boxing career. The plan unraveled soon after his Uncle Pete brought the boxer’s father to see “this new kid in the ring.” The next morning, the father waited for his son to arrive at the breakfast table. Then, he lowered his newspaper and greeted his son with “Good Morning, LOU KING!”

So, the young man concentrated on basketball. He loved the game and played on a semi-pro team in Paterson, New Jersey. During an exhibition game against the Boston Celtics, Lou defended against Nate Holman, later a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He held Nate to a few points and outscored him.

Though he was small in size compared to the other players, many teammates recalled that Lou was fast on his feet and performed foot and basket-throwing maneuvers similar to players for the Harlem Globetrotters. He even won a 1926 shooting contest with 24 baskets out of 25 shots.

Years later, after he had moved away from sports to build a successful career in the entertainment field, Lou’s athletic talent was featured in hit films such as “Buck Privates,” “Here Come the Co-eds” and others. He was so skilled that the directors never substituted a stuntman for his boxing and basketball scenes. But, for “Co-eds,” Universal Studios did hire a renowned basketball star to stage a game for the cameras. This star also “coached” the gifted athlete in a condescending manner. The entertainer played along, asking, “How do I hold the ball?” and “Can’t I throw the ball from here?” The basketball star just smiled indulgently, then stared unbelievingly as the actor tossed a perfect shot into the basket!

According to “Co-Eds” writer Edmund Hartmann, “a little fat man is the last guy in the world you’d expect to be an athlete.”

That little fat man was comedian Lou Costello, who, by the way, made it all the way to Cooperstown with partner Bud Abbott and their hilarious routine about baseball.