Thursday, May 17, 2018

5/17 Birthdays & Deaths: Gunners Last Game; RIP Joe; HBD Cool Papa, Jose, Ozzie, Pascual, Hal, Harry, Elmer, Fred, Frank, Henry & Billy

  • 1857 - IF Billy Reid was born in London, Ontario. The second baseman was part of a wave of Ontario-born Canadian players that played in the majors around the turn of the 20th century. He had a brief career, spending his second and last season with the Alleghenys, batting .243 in 1884. Billy played in the minors until 1888 and returned to London to get on with his life. 
  • 1858 - UT Henry Oberbeck was born in St. Louis (maybe) Missouri (for sure). He played 66 matches for two leagues and four teams in two years for a short-lived but busy MLB career. Henry started out with two games at first base for the Alleghenys in 1883, going two-for-nine with a double and run scored before moving on to the hometown St. Louis Browns. Henry left an impact on baseball when he won a suit against the Browns (Henry Oberbeck v. Sportsman’s Park and Club Association) to collect his entire contracted salary of $738; the MO of the teams in that era was to quit paying a player that they released. It was one of the early court decisions that ruled contracts not only bound the player to the team, but that the team was bound to pay its players. 
Frank Mountain (Columbus team photo clip via No No Hitters)
  • 1860 - RHP Frank Mountain was born in Fort Edward, New York. Frank, who was coming off a 23-win campaign with a no-hitter, was one of 10 players the Alleghenys bought from the defunct Columbus Colts club after the 1884 season. Frank only got to pitch seven games in 1985-86, going 1-6, and saw more time in his second year at 1b. After hitting .145, his MLB days were done after that season. 
  • 1868 - LHP Fred Woodcock was born in Winchendon, Massachusetts. Fred’s MLB career consisted of five games (four starts) tossed for the 1892 Pirates; he went 1-2/3.35. He had signed out of Brown (he started at Dartmouth and there were suspicions that he was a pro at some point during his college career) by Bucco manager Bill McGunnigle, who was high on him. But alas for both Gunner and Fred, Tom Burns became the Pirates skipper and Woodcock was released. He later pitched for a couple of New England League teams and then became a successful insurance broker. 
  • 1886 - RHP Elmer Steele was born in Rhinebeck, New York. He spent the final two seasons of his five-year career with Pittsburgh in 1910-11, slashing 9-10-2/2.56 over that time. He left the team under unusual circumstances, being sold to Brooklyn in September although the Pirates were in a pennant race at the time. One school of thought believed he had a bad arm, though the likelier tale is that the fiery Steele had thrown several tantrums and finally pushed the Pirates to the brink when he tossed a sweater in the face of Pirates manager Fred Clarke per Bill Newlin of SABR. At any rate, 1911 was his last big league year. He played in the minors until 1914 and settled into being a player & manager in the local Hudson Valley leagues while spending 30 years as a mailman for his day job. 
Elmer Steele 1911 (photo Conlan Collection/Detroit Public Library)
  • 1892 - RHP Harold “Hal” Carlson was born in Rockford, Illinois. He worked for the Pirates from 1917-23 (with a year off as an infantryman in WW1) to a 42-55/3.64 line as a curve-ball specialist; he had started out as a spitballer, but wasn’t grandfathered in when the pitch was outlawed. Hal was fairly handy with a stick, too, hitting .224. Carlson died while still a player with the Cubs at the age of 38, the victim of a stomach hemorrhage that some suspect may have been a lingering effect from being gassed during the Battle of the Argonne Forest. 
  • 1897 - 3B Harry Riconda was born in New York City. He spent parts of six years in the majors, with a brief two-month stop in Pittsburgh in 1929, arriving as part of the Glenn Wright trade with Brooklyn. Harry got into eight games and went a pretty solid 7-for-15 with three runs scored and two RBI, but was still sent to the minors next season (Hall of Famer Pie Traynor owned third base at the time). He retired two years later. 
  • 1903 - James “Cool Papa” Bell was born in Starkville, Mississippi. He played for both the Homestead Grays (1932, 1943–1946) and Pittsburgh Crawfords (1933–1938), and compiled a .337 BA in the Negro Leagues. His speed was legendary. One Satch Paige story goes that when facing Bell, the outfielder hit a liner up that went zipping past Paige's ear and hit Bell in the butt as he was sliding into second base. He also claimed that when he roomed with Bell, Cool Papa hit the light switch one night and was in bed before the light went out. The first Mexican League Triple Crown winner (he played there for three years), Bell was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. Per “Mississippi History Now,” Bell told baseball writer John Holway about his nickname: “They said that ‘he’s so cool he don’t get excited.’ St. Louis Stars Manager Bill Gatewood said, ‘We’ve got to add something to it. We’ll call him Cool Papa.’” Thus was born the legendary name. The Negro League Museum has a slightly different take, saying that when Gatewood thought Bell might be nervous before a big game, Bell responded with a "Don't worry!" and thus became "Cool Papa." Yet a third goes back to his pitching days (yep, he started out on the hill) per Baseball Comes Alive: Teammates referred to him as “Cool” after he struck out out Oscar Charleston, and then he added “Papa” because he thought it sounded better. 
Cool Papa 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes
  • 1932 - Utilityman Osvaldo “Ozzie” Virgil Sr. was born in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. He spent nine campaigns playing off MLB benches, stopping in Pittsburgh in 1965 and hitting .265 while playing infield and catching. After his playing days, he coached for nearly 20 years. His son, Ozzie Jr., played in 11 MLB seasons (1980–90) and was a two-time NL All-Star. 
  • 1957 - RHP Pascual Perez was born in San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic. Pérez was signed by scout Neftalí Cruz in 1976. He pitched for the Pirates from 1980-81 with a slash of 2-8/3.94 before being sold to Atlanta where he took off. The 11-year vet was quite a character, using a hand motion to shoot down opposing batters, liberally buzzing batters, tossing a blooper pitch and peeking between his legs to check runners at first, even on occasion hiking the ball through his wickets as his pickoff. His last big league campaign was in 1991 with the Yankees. Perez’s colorful career came to a sad end when he was beaten to death in 2012 during a robbery in his homeland.
  • 1976 - OF Jose Guillen was born in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. Signed by the Bucs in 1992, he made the Opening Day roster in 1997 after tearing up the High A Carolina League with Lynchburg. The RF’er was traded after the 1999 season after hitting .267 in his three-year Bucco span. In 2003, he found his power stroke and was a solid MLB player for 14 seasons, finishing up with a .270 BA and 214 long balls. 
Jose Guillen 1998 Zenith
  • 1981 - Mt. Washington’s Joe Fabrizi passed away at the age of 82. You may never have heard of Joe, but he was a key member of the Pirates broadcast team: he was the last local Western Union telegrapher dedicated to sports. He was the man in the middle during the early days of radio when local broadcasters like Rosey Rowswell and Bob Prince didn’t go on road trips with the teams. Instead, they recreated the game from the blow-by-blow telegraph reports sent to Fabrizi from the out-of-town ballyard staffs, who would organize them and send them along to the announcers to pass on to the fans. 
  • 1985 - After waiting out a 2-1/2 hour rain delay before a Pirates-Cincinnati Reds game at TRS (the Reds won 6-3), Pirate announcer Bob Prince was admitted to the hospital for dehydration and pneumonia and never left. On June 10th, with his wife Betty at his side, he passed away at Presbyterian University Hospital, ending an era in Pittsburgh Pirate baseball.
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