Sunday, January 1, 2017

1/1: HBD Gunner & Hank, Josh Breaks Down, Winter Ball

  • 1855 - Manager Bill “Gunner” McGunnigle was born in Boston. After his playing career was ended by a beanball that fractured his skull, McGunnigle stayed in the game as a manager. When the 1891 Pittsburgh Pirates (the first to officially use the Pirate nickname) got off to a 31–47 start on the heels of a 23–113 season, the club demoted captain/manager Ned Hanlon and hired McGunnigle, who had a prior stop at Brooklyn. He managed the club to a 24-33-2 record over the remainder of the year and was replaced by Tom Burns. The dapper Gunner was tough to miss on the field. He managed and coached the bases wearing black patent-leather shoes, a cutaway suit coat, lavender trousers, a silk tie and a derby hat. But he was street smart despite his foppish attire - he was the first to use signals from the bench and the first to steal opponent’s signs. His nickname, btw, wasn't a play on his surname; he earned it in the minors because of the strength of his arm, per McGunnigle's SABR bio written by Ronald Shafer.
Gunner (photo via the Brockton Post)
  • 1892 - In a promotion that never really caught on, two top Pittsburgh semi-pro clubs, the Keystones and Standards, played a New Year’s game at Exposition Park. The game was put together on fairly short notice during an uncharacteristic warm spell, and began with a fife-and-drum corp parading from town to the park with the players following in carriages. The contest drew 5,000 fans as the Standards won 8-3; the late afternoon game was called after 7-½ innings because of darkness. Fun fact: former pitcher turned North Side bar owner Ed “Cannonball” Morris umpired the game.
  • 1911 - Hall of Fame OF Hank Greenberg was born in New York City. He played for the Bucs in 1947, teaming up with Ralph Kiner in the middle of the Pirate order. The original Hammerin’ Hank signed for $90,000, the biggest contract inked to date. Team minority owner Bing Crosby recorded a song, "Goodbye, Mr. Ball, Goodbye" with Groucho Marx and Greenberg to celebrate Greenberg's arrival. The Pirates also brought in the left field fence at Forbes Field for him, calling it "Greenberg Gardens" and keeping it intact during the Kiner era as “Kiner’s Korner.” Though he hit just .249 in Pittsburgh, he had a .408 OBP (he was walked 104 times), launched 25 HR and tutored Kiner in his final MLB season.
  • 1943 - C Josh Gibson suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to St. Francis Hospital for rest and treatment. He was released in time to play for the Homestead Grays. The Pirates reportedly wanted to sign the future Hall of Famer that season as the first black player in baseball, but were thwarted by the commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The color line wouldn’t be crossed until Landis died in 1944 and Happy Chandler replaced him in 1945. Although he never got a MLB shot, Gibson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.

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