Thursday, August 30, 2007


In keeping with the spirit of Crash Davis, the Kevin Costner character in the 1988 movie, Bull Durham, who set the minor league record for homers, here are a few more career minor league stars who never got the big break or chose not to take it.


Generally considered the greatest player in the history of the Mexican League, Espino hit 484 home runs in the minor leagues. He had an opportunity to play in the bigs and in fact signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 after he broke the Mexican League record with 46 homers while playing for Monterrey. Espino played 32 games with the Cardinals farm team in Jacksonville in the Southern Association, batting .300 with 3 homers. However, he was said to be homesick and preferred to play in Mexico, and he never returned to the U.S. to play. The Cards invited him to spring training in 1965, but he refused to report, supposedly because he wanted a share of the sale price which was paid to his Mexican League team. He was also repeatedly courted by the California Angels, but he refused to sign. There is disagreement about his reasons for not attempting to play in the majors, as Espino himself gave conflicting stories. It was said that he liked being the big fish in the small pond, or, more ominously, he disliked the racism he experienced in the U.S.

A brief synopsis of his career in Mexico shows him as Rookie of the Year in 1962 when he batted .358 with 23 homers. He won the league batting championship in 1964 (.371 with 46 homers), 1966 (.369 with 31 HR's), 1967 (.379 with 34 HR's) and 1968 (.365 with 27 HR's). He won his fifth batting title in 1973 with a .377 average, but "only" 22 homers and 107 RBI's. He held the all time Mexican League record in batting average, runs, hits, home runs, RBI's, and doubles. Over his career, he received 408 intentional walks, another record. Many of his records were later broken, as offensive levels in the league (and in the Majors also) increased significantly after Espino retired.

If all that wasn't enough, he played winter league baseball in the Caribbean, where he won 13 batting titles in 24 seasons there, along with 299 home runs.

Espino was elected to the Salon de la Fama, the Mexican Hall of Fame in 1988, and was also elected to the Caribbean Hall of Fame.

Espino played until age 45, although he was not productive in his last few seasons. He died in 1997 at age 58. His son, Daniel Espino also played for several years in the Mexican League in the 1990's, but never matched his father's success.


Born in 1917, Pinkston started off in the old Negro Leagues, playing sporadically between 1936 and the late 1940's. His career didn't take off until he was well past age 30, which is relatively old for an athlete. In 1952, he won the Triple Crown in the Provincial League with the St. Hyacinthe A's, batting .360 with 30 homers and 121 RBI's. He moved up the ladder and hit .360 with 27 homers at Savannah in 1955. Then in 1957, playing for Amarillo Gold Sox, he batted .372 with 133 RBI's. He drove in 126 runs the following year at Amarillo. Unfortunately for Pinkston, major league teams saw limited upside potential for 40 year old black players in that era, and he never got a chance to play in the big leagues.

The big leagues missed out, big time, as Pinkston became an even bigger star in his 40's. He signed with the Mexico City Red Devils in 1959 and led the league in batting with a .359 average. In 1960, he batted an incredible .397 with a record 225 hits, breaking his own record of the previous season. He also had 144 RBI's, another record. Moving to the Veracruz Eagles, he led the league in batting in 1961 (.374) and in 1962 (.381). In 1963, he finished second in batting average (.368), and in 1964, he lost the batting title to Hector Espino (see above), 22 years younger, although he batted .364. In 1965, Pinkston wrapped up his career, batting .345, at age 48.

Pinkston's overall minor league batting average was .352 over 15 seasons, with 6 batting titles. He also lead his league in RBI's on 4 occasions. He was elected to the Mexican Salon de la Fama in 1974, the fourth American to be selected (after Roy Campanella, Josh Gibson and Monte Irvin--all former Negro League stars).


Unlike the two stars above, the left handed Brunet pitched in parts of 15 seasons in the major leagues with Kansas City, the California Angels, and a host of other teams. He was known for his wildness in his early years, and for his hard luck in later years when he led the American League in losses in 1967 and 1968 despite pitching well for a bad team. In 1957, pitching for Little Rock in the Southern Association, he had the misfortune of playing for a team which failed to score a run for 52 innings (almost 6 games) when he was on the mound. He lost 8 straight games during that stretch, although he led the league in strikeouts. His final game in the majors was in 1971, at age 36, and he was just starting his Mexican League career.

In Mexico, he became a legend, pitching through 1985, when he was 50. On the whole, his professional baseball career spanned the years from 1953 through 1985, and hopefully he received a gold watch for his efforts.

Brunet holds the Mexican League record for shutouts with 55. He also holds the minor league strikeout record with 3,175 which includes his early years plus the years in the Mexican League.

Like Espino and Pinkston, Brunet was selected to the Salon de la Fama in 1999, several years after his death.



Sunday, August 26, 2007


Most Americans are familiar with major league baseball stars, but several minor leaguers stand out because they were so dominating at the minor league level that, in some cases, they were perfectly happy to stay where they were, rather than move up to the majors. Some prefer to be the big fish in a small pond.

Some minor league stars moved on to greatness in the majors. For example, the great Joe DiMaggio of the NY Yankees, who hit safely in a record 56 straight games, did even better in the minors. Playing for San Francisco, then in the Pacific Coast League, in 1933, the 18 year old DiMaggio hit safely in 63 straight games, and then played brilliantly for 2 more seasons in the minors before the Yankees brought him up to the big show. Another was Willie Mays, the great center fielder for the Giants, who batted .467 at Minneapolis, then in the American Association, for about 50 games before the Giants brought to the majors where he was instrumental in the Giants miracle pennant drive of 1951.

Some names you may be less familiar with are minor league greats who played at the major league level with little or no success.


Here was a portly first baseman who, in parts of 10 seasons in the majors, was known more for his strikeouts than his home runs. In 1953, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, he entered the record books when he struck out 5 times in a row in a 10 inning game. In his only major league season with more than 300 at bats, he did bat .251 with 21 homers. However, with 125 strikeouts, the Cardinals grew impatient and traded him to the Chicago Cubs where he had an uneventful season and was released to play for the Cubs minor league team in Los Angeles, which was then part of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).

With the Los Angeles Angels, playing in the other Wrigley Field, Bilko became a legend when he led the league in homers three years in a row, with home run totals of 37, 55 and 56. In 1956, he also led the PCL in batting average(.360) and RBI's (164), winning the Triple Crown. Did I mention that the slow footed Bilko also managed to score 163 runs? He was voted Most Valuable Player in the PCL all three seasons (1955-57), and was the Minor League Player of the Year in 1956. According to the PCL Historical Society , Bilko was the most popular player in Los Angeles history up to the time the Big Leagues arrived there. Bilko hit a total of 313 homers in the minor leagues.

In 1955, a television show called the Phil Silvers Show (one of my favorites) debuted, and the Phil Silvers character was called Sergeant Bilko. The writer had named the character after Steve Bilko. A publicity photo showing Silvers and Bilko made the rounds of Hollywood.


He was a minor league star who became a legend in Japanese baseball. He was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 1972 amateur draft and led in homers virtually every league he played in. He led the Florida East Coast League in 1972, The Midwest League in 1973, and the Carolina League in 1974. He then played three seasons at Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League where he hit well, but did not lead the league, although he hit 25 homers and had 117 RBI's with a .321 average in 1977.

He played briefly for the 1977 Minnesota Twins and the 1978 Kansas City Royals. The Royals sold his contract to the Montreal Expos where he played very briefly, but was sent down to Denver of the American Association, where he hit 36 homers, batted .333 and led the league in on-base percentage and slugging average. The following season with Denver, he led the American Association with 37 homers and 143 RBI's and was voted Most Valuable Player. They traded him to the San Diego Padres where he played sparingly, hit few homers and a low batting average.

He was invited to play in Japan, for the Hanshin Tigers, where he became a superstar, winning the Japanese Central League Triple Crown in 1985 and 1986. In 1985 he hit 54 home runs, one shy of the record held by the legendary Sadaharu Oh. In the final few games of the season, when he had a chance to break the record, the Tokyo Giants pitchers, who were managed by Mr. Oh, refused to pitch to Bass--giving him intentional walks. AFter 4 intentional walks in one game, Bass reached for a pitch 2 feet outside and hit a single.

He was voted Most Valuable Player in the Central League--only the second foreigner to win the award. In 1986, he batted .389, which is still the Japanese record. In 5 seasons in Japan, he hit 202 homers, and is a strong candidate to become the second American to be elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Hanshin released him in 1988, over a dispute over who would pay his son's medical bills. Bass retired from pro ball at that time. In 2004, he was elected to the Oklahome State Senate as a Democrat.





This one comes under the heading of "be careful what you wish for," in this era of global warming.

People nowadays don't read too much history, and most are not aware of this, but the year 1816 was regarded around the world as "The Year Without a Summer". Throughout the Northern Hemisphere that summer, record cold, frosts and even snow were reported in every month of the year, including June, July and August.

Alshough that was almost 200 years ago, we have many contemporary newspaper accounts as well as the written records of numerous private citizens, especially those New England farmers who experienced crop failures because of the cold weather. Because of those crop failures, thousands left New England to settle the Midwestern states in search of a new life. A substantial number of the early settlers in the Chicagoland area came from New England at that time. The crop failures caused Mormon founder Joseph Smith to move his family to Illinois from Vermont.

According to the Decatur County (Ohio) Journal, for example, January and February, 1816, were relatively mild. The vegetation was coming up in April, when real winter set in. Sleet and snow fell on 17 different days in May. In June, there was either frost or snow every night but three. In upstate New York, the snow was 5 inches deep for several days in succession, and in Maine and Vermont, there was between 1 and 3 feet of snow on the ground. Snow and frost were common as far South as Virginia.

July wasn't much better. Although there were a few hot days, there was also unprecedented frost with ice forming on window panes throughout New England. August also saw ice forming on ponds, and whatever crops that had survived were killed off for good. To assist in the mass migration, the Erie Canal was built in 1817.

In Europe, the weather was just as bad. The authors Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary, along with John William Polidori went on vacation to Lord Byron's house on the banks of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The weather was cold and rainy, and the trio could not enjoy their holiday. So they decided to have a contest to see who could write the scariest story. Although she didn't live long enough to cash in on the movie rights, Mary Shelley won the contest with her work, now called Frankenstein. Polidori wrote the novel The Vampyre, which was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's later novel Dracula.

In Ireland, cold rain fell for 142 of the 153 summer days. The moist conditions were later blamed for the typhus epidemic of 1816-19, as well as Ireland's first famine, when the westher destryoed the potato, wheat and oat crops.

In Germany, because of the scarcity and high price of oats, people were motivated to come up with a way to replace the horse for transportation. Karl Drais invented the velocipede, a predecessor of the bicycle.

Although people didn't know it at the time, the cold was the result of the eruption of Mt. Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia). The eruption, which is considered the worst in the past 10,000 years, ejected about 150 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere, which, over several months, was dispersed around the world. By contrast, the infamous 1883 Krakatoa eruption ejected only about 20 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere, which created vivid sunsets worldwide. To put that into perspective, the disasterous 1980 Mount St.Helens eruption in Washington state threw only about 1 cubic kilometer of ash into the atmosphere.

The ash and sulfuric acid in the atmosphere blocked out a significant amount of solar radiation for several years after the eruption. The Mt. Tambora eruption had followed on the heels of two other major volcanic eruptions--Le Soufriere on the island of St. Vincent in 1812, and Mt. Mayon in the Philippines in 1814, both of which had already created a substantial amount of atmospheric dust. As a result, less sunlight penetrated the atmosphere, making it colder. The summers between 1811 and 1817 had below average temperatures, although 1816 was the lowest in that period. Interestingly, in 1817, the June average temperature in New England was even lower than that in June, 1816--1.3 degrees lower, but July and August moderated somewhat.

The summer of 1816 was not unprecedented in world history. In 1783, Mr. Laki in Iceland erupted, causing thousands of fatalities in Europe from the falling ash and the 120 million tons of sulfur dioxide ejected into the atmosphere, creating haze throughout Europe. In North America at the time, the winter of 1784 was one of the coldest on record. The Mississippi River froze over at New Orleans, and ice was present in the Gulf of Mexico. People went ice skating in Charleston harbor. Benjamin Franklin correctly surmised that the extreme cold was the result of volcanic activity.

Other historical events may have been caused or affected by volcanic eruptions. Mt. Kuwae in the South Pacific erupted in the mid-1400's, which caused climatic disruptions and had an effect on the morale of the defenders of Constantinople, which fell to the Ottoman invaders in 1453. In the years 535-36, the historian Procopius reported major climatic changes, which, based on modern analysis of ice cores and tree rings, could be traced to volcanic activity in the East Indies, probably Mt. Krakatoa. Even in modern times, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1992 caused our following summer to be relatively cool, with many days not getting out of the 60's.

To conclude, volcanic activity can and does dwarf the amount of pollution caused by mankind. Although people aren't aware of the causes at the time, major historical events are affected by the weather, which can cause famine and poverty. There's nothing humans can do about it except to be prepared. One thing is for sure, when the next major eruption comes, we won't have to worry about global warming.



Saturday, August 18, 2007

Philadelphia Phillies--Land of 10,000 Losses

Here in Chicago, baseball fans are long accustomed to futility. The Cubs have gone 99 years without a championship, and the White Sox went 88 years without one until 2005. That's 187 years of futility. If it makes us feel any better, this season, on July 15th, the Philadelphia Phillies achieved a dubious distinction by becoming the first baseball team to lose 10,000 games. The Cubs have not lost 10,000 although they've been in the league 6 years longer. The saga began in 1883 as the Philadelphia Quakers lost their first 8 games and continued to lose 81 or their 98 games. Their best pitcher, John Coleman, won 12, but unfortunately, lost 48, a major league record unlikely to be broken anytime soon.

In the Phillies 125 year history, they managed to win one championship--in 1980. Over the years, the Phils have been so bad that if they were to win every game for the next 7 seasons, they still won't reach the .500 mark. Their combined record as of August 13, 2007, was 8823 wins and 10,010 losses, which, to put it in perspective, means that every season, on average, the team lost 10 games more than it won.

The Phillies finished in last place more than any other team in history--approximately 30 times. Between 1919 and 1947, for example, they finished last 17 times and next to last 7 times.

People may have sympathy for the Chicago Cubs for all those fruitless years, but at least the Cubs were competitive many of those years, appearing in the World Series (and losing) in 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945.

Some of the Phillies noteworthy low points include:

In the 1950 season, they had a good team and led the National League by 7 games with 11 left to play. They lost 8 of the next 10 and found themselves playing the Dodgers in the final game with the pennant on the line. Their star center fielder Richie Ashburn threw out the Dodgers Cal Abrams at the plate in the 9th inning to save the game, and the Phils won in the 10th inning on Dick Sisler's home run. The Phils went on to lose 4 straight games in the World Series to the NY Yankees.

In the 1964 season, the Phillies led the National League by 6 1/2 games with 12 left to play. They appeared to be a shoo in for the pennant, but in true Phillie fashion, went on to lose 10 games in a row (7 of them at home) and finish in third place behind both St. Louis and Cincinnati.

In the 1930 season, the Phillies lost 102 games, despite a team batting average of .315. Incidentally, the last team to hit over .300 did so 57 years ago. Despite their lusty hitting, the Phillies finished in last place because of awful pitching and fielding, as the team allowed 1199 runs, almost 8 runs per game. Some notable players were right fielder Chuck Klein who batted .386 with 40 homers and 170 RBI's, left fielder Lefty O'Doul, a converted pitcher, who batted .383 with 22 homers, and third baseman Pinky Whitney, who hit .342 with 117 RBI's. The Phils did have one decent pitcher, Phil Collins, who won 16 and lost 11, before he turned to singing.

In 1933, the aforementioned Klein, a Hall of Famer, won the Triple Crown, leading the league in homers, RBI's and batting average, but the Phils still lost 92 games, finishing 7th out of 8 teams.

In 1961, they lost 23 games in a row, sandwiched between wins by ex-Cubs and White Sox pitcher John Buzhardt. For the season, the Phillies lost 107 games and finished in last place for the 4th straight year. Buzhardt, who hailed from Prosperity, South Carolina, won 6 and lost 18 for the season.

In 1972, they won only 59 and lost 97 (and finished last) despite star pitcher Steve (Lefty) Carlton who won 27 and lost 10. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, May 21, 2007--Great Ballplayers on Awful Teams).

In the five years between 1938 and 1942, they averaged 107 losses each season (in a 154 game schedule).

In 1923, they lost to the Chicago Cubs 26 to 23 at the infamous Baker Bowl, which I'll cover in a moment. The Phillies didn't get revenge for that game until 1979 in Chicago's Wrigley Field when they blew a 12 run lead but rallied to beat the Cubs 23-22 in 10 innings. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, May 10, 2007).

The Phillies stadium, the tiny, decrepit Baker Bowl, named after owner William Baker, was their home field from 1887 to 1938. It was a state of the art stadium when it was built, but in 1903, the bleachers collapsed when the fans crowded to one end to watch a street fight, and 12 fans were killed and 232 injured. It happened again in 1927, but nobody was killed although 50 were injured.

At the Baker Bowl, the home run distance to left field was 335 feet, but in right field was only 272 feet with a 60 foot wall, similar to that at Boston's Fenway Park, but 30 feet closer to home plate. That almost guaranteed that the Phillies would hit many home runs--but the opposition usually hit more. The team had a 99 year lease on the stadium they couldn't get out of, and they were finally able to do so when the City condemned it.

In 1915, the Phillies won the National League pennant, led by Gavvy Cravath who hit 24 homers to set the modern record (later broken by Babe Ruth), and legendary pitcher, Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander who won 31 games and over 30 the next two seasons also. He won pitching's triple crown all three years. He was later portrayed by Ronald Reagan in the movie, The Winning Team. The Phillies traded him to the Cubs in 1917 because owner William Baker didn't think Alexander would come back from World War I. After that, the Phils went into a tailspin which lasted over 30 years.

Many of the team's problems were financial. In fact, one season, the league had to advance the team money so the players could go to Spring Training. The paid attendance at the games was so low that visiting teams lost money whenever they had to play the Phillies.

In all fairness, the Phillies have been competitive in more recent years, with star players like pitcher Robin Roberts, 1964 Rookie of the Year Richie Allen; Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Steve Carlton in thee 1970's, Pete Rose and Bob Boone in the 1980's and, more recently, pitcher Curt Schilling, and, of course, Ryan Howard, who hit 58 homers last season.

Some celebrity Phillies fans include Art Garfunkel, Will Smith, Kevin Bacon, Bill Cosby, singers Hall and Oates, and that other dynamic duo, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia of the Supremes. Some of their interestingly named managers include Bill Murray (1907-09 who was reportedly fired on Groundhog Day; Kaiser Wilhelm (1921-22) who, after losing World War I, needed a job; and Terry Moore (1954), whose namesake became famous for her claim to have married Howard Hughes on a boat, but the marriage certificate was lost at sea. Hughes, being Hughes, was unavailable for comment. Also consider Bucky Harris, one of three Hall of Famers to die on his birthday (the others were the Cubs Gabby Hartnett and Joe Tinker).

Incidentally, some other notables who died on their birthdays included William Shakespeare, Moses, King David, Machine Gun Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, and the Italian painter Raphael.

Be that as it may, with the Phillies playing in a new stadium and bringing in promising young players, they have turned things around and are now making the good citizens of Philadelphia proud of their team.



Monday, August 13, 2007


This article appeared in the GLMV Chamber of Commerce ACTION NEWS, (Chairman's Report) for August, 2007. (WWW.GLMVCHAMBER.ORG)

People who know Dianne and me know that we like to travel quite a bit. A couple of years ago, I joined the Extra Miler Club (, a nationwide group whose goal is to travel to each of the 3141 counties in the U.S. Some are very difficult to reach. For example, you can't exactly drive to Aleutians West County in Alaska; you don't want to drive to Keweenaw County in Michigan in the Winter; and Texas has 254 counties, many of which are not anywhere near a major road. You can drive from Haines to Skagway, Alaska. It is more than 300 miles, although it is only 8 miles by boat.

I've traveled to approximately 760 counties in all 50 states, plus most of the Canadian provinces. I haven't been to Nunavut yet, in the Canadian Arctic, which has no roads. I think Dianne would say no to that one. One would have to fly there, to Iqualuit, which used to be called Frobisher Bay. Needless to say there is no Hilton or Marriott there.

Wherever we travel, we stop at the local Chamber of Commerce to find out the best restaurants and the local attractions. At the Alamogordo, NM Chamber, for example, the people directed us to a wonderful restaurant in Cloudcroft, NM, (the Cloudcroft Inn) which was 9000 feet up in the mountains in which we drove through a snowstorm to get there. It was worth it however. This past March, we visited the Barstow, CA. Chamber before dinner. The Chambers of Commerce in El Paso, TX and San Diego CA. helped us to find the respective bus trips into Mexico. We visited the attractions in Astoria, OR., last summer after obtaining information at the Chamber. Last year, the Chamber in Crescent City, CA. directed us to an exhibit about the tsunami, which leveled the town in 1964. The Chamber in Peshtigo, WI. told us about their great fire of October 9, 1871, the most destructive in history, they say. (Chicago had a fire that day, too, but that's another story.)

The point here is that the Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business in every community. It is supported by you, the business community. People who are new in town come to the Chamber to obtain information about the area. The GLMV Chamber has magazines, like the Community Guide and the area map, which are supported by the business community. If you belong to the Chamber, you have visibility in the community and people will seek you out to do business with you. Please support the GLMV Chamber by attending or helping out in the events.



Saturday, August 11, 2007


Most baseball pitchers are proud of their fastballs, and their ability to throw it past the hitters. One of my favorites was Hoyt Wilhelm, who also threw the ball past the hitters but in slow motion. Often described as the greatest knuckleball pitcher of all time, Hoyt Wilhelm was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1985. While he didn't throw the ball hard enough to break a pane of glass, as announcer Harry Caray used to say, he was an outstanding pitcher for 21 years before retiring in 1972.

Born in 1922, the son of a North Carolina tobacco farmer with 10 kids in the family, Wilhelm, when in high school, read an article about a knuckleball pitcher named Emil "Dutch" Leonard and began to experiment with the pitch. Eventually, he got to be quite good in throwing it. After graduation, he signed a professional minor league contract, but shortly thereafter, World War II broke out, and Wilhelm went into the Army. He was awarded the Purple Heart for heroism in the Battle of the Bulge in 1945.

After the war and his recovery, he pitched two more seasons for Mooresville, NC, winning more than 20 games in each season, but didn't attract much attention from Major League scouts because the knuckleball was considered a trick pitch used by fading major leaguers to prolong their careers when they couldn't throw hard anymore.
The New York Giants signed him in 1948 and kept him in the minors for 4 more years until they called him up to the majors in 1952, as a relatively old 29 year old rookie.

He was a big hit with the Giants in his rookie season. A notoriously poor hitter, he hit a home run in his first time at bat, and never hit another in the next 21 years. (see KENSUSKINREPORT, May 27, 2007). But more importantly, he led the National League in pitching appearances, earned run average and winning percentage (15 wins, 3 losses). He followed that up with 12 wins and 4 losses in 1953. His poor catchers, meanwhile, had great difficulty in catching his knuckleball and set many records for passed balls. Giants catcher, Ray Katt, for example, entered the record books with 4 passed balls in one inning.

The knuckleball is a pitch whereby the baseball is thrown off the knuckles or fingertips with little or no spin, which causes it to float or flutter in the air. The ball changes direction with the air currents, making it difficult for the pitcher to control, and of course, for the batters to hit and catchers to catch. Wilhelm mastered the pitch, but even he couldn't tell where the pitch would go, although it was generally in or near the strike zone. Of course, the key here is that the hitters couldn't tell where the pitch was going either.

The advantage to a pitcher is that he doesn't have to throw very hard, creating very little stress on his arm, so he can pitch virtually every day and still get batters out. Knuckleball pitchers often pitch well into middle age and are still effective.

Some other noteworthy knuckleball pitchers over the years included Eddie Fisher (who was not the singer who married Elizabeth Taylor, but could do a good imitation of Donald Duck); Wilbur Wood of the Chicago White Sox, the last pitcher to win 20 games and lose 20 games in the same season and also the last to start both games of a doubleheader; Hector "Skinny" Brown, who, in 1963, walked only 8 batters in 144 innings, and the next year, pitched 36 consecutive scoreless innings; Jim Davis, who in his short stint with the Chicago Cubs, struck out 4 men in one inning (including a passed ball third strike); and Phil Niekro, of the Braves, who won over 300 games and pitched until he was about 48.

After a couple of lean years with the Giants, Wilhelm was traded to St. Louis and then to Baltimore where he came under the influence of Manager Paul Richards who was known for his creativity. Frustrated by the numerous passed balls getting by his catchers, Richards invented an oversized catcher's mitt so that his catchers could finally catch Wilhelm's pitches. He also made Wilhelm a starting pitcher.

In one of his first starts, in 1958, Wilhelm pitched a no-hitter against the World Champion New York Yankees. Yankees' superstar Mickey Mantle grew so frustrated trying to hit against Wilhelm that he switched over and batted righthanded instead of the lefthanded he would normally bat. It didn't help.

In August, 1959, against the Chicago White Sox, Wilhelm entered a game in the 9th inning and pitched 8 2/3 innings of no-hit ball before giving up a hit in the 17th inning.

Wilhelm pitched 4 successful seasons for Baltimore and then was traded to the White Sox in a 6 player trade for future Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio. As a relief pitcher for the Chisox, he compiled 6 outstanding seasons (1963-68). One season (1964) he saved 27 games. Another season (1967), his earned run average was a miniscule 1.31. In 1965, he pitched 144 innings and gave up only 68 hits and 32 walks, while striking out 106 batters, with an earned run average of only 1.81. Meanwhile, he pitched in 319 straight games without making an error, setting a record.

The White Sox left him unprotected in the 1968 expansion draft, figuring that nobody would want a 46 year old pitcher. But Kansas City did and claimed him. They later traded him to the Atlanta Braves in September, 1969, where, in 8 games down the stretch run, he won 2 and saved 4 in pitching the Braves to the National League West championship. Wilhelm was not eligible for the playoffs, and the Braves lost, because, without him, they couldn't hold the lead in the late innings.

Wilhelm even pitched a half season for the Chicago Cubs in 1971 before they traded him back to Atlanta for the immortal Hal Breeden (who, playing for the Expos, in 1973achieved a degree of fame by hitting 2 pinch hit homers in a doubleheader, but did little else in his 5 year career). Wilhelm's major league career ended in 1972, when the Los Angeles Dodgers released him, shortly before his 50th birthday.

The point I'm making is that, although many high school kids, and maybe even grade school kids could throw harder, nobody was a craftier pitcher than Hoyt Wilhelm. Watching him pitch was funny--he would lob the ball up to the plate and dare the hitters to hit it, and they couldn't. He was a 5 time All Star, but probably his most significant pitching achievement is the fact that since 1920, when the lively ball was introduced to Major League Baseball, Wilhelm has the lowest career earned run average of any pitcher--only 2.52 runs per game over 21 years.

Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek summed up the knuckleball well: "Catching the knuckleball is like trying to catch a fly with a chopstick."

Wilhelm died in 2002, and his gravestone in Sarasota, Florida reads: "JAMES H. WILHELM, U.S. ARMY, WORLD WAR II...PURPLE HEART" The irony there is his final resting place gives no indication that he ever played baseball.



Tuesday, August 7, 2007


To do well in business, as well as in life, persistence is a virtue. One who certainly exhibited that quality was Myra Colby Bradwell, who was the first female lawyer in Illinois, and perhaps in America. I'm not sure who was the first male lawyer, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't Abraham Lincoln. As a lawyer myself and a graduate of the Myra Bradwell School in Chicago (and the 8th grade spelling champ there), I developed an interest in her story.

She was born in 1831 in Vermont and moved with her family to Schaumburg, IL, when she was 12, a long time before anyone even dreamed of Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall. She attended finishing school in Kenosha, WI and completed her formal education at the Elgin (Illinois) Female Seminary. In 1852, she married James Bradwell who was a law student and later a successful lawyer and state legislator. While James was a law student, Myra began to study his law books and after he was admitted to the bar, Myra apprenticed as a lawyer in his office. Keep in mind that there were no law schools at that time.

Her legal training moved forward slowly because, during those years, she had 4 children, two of whom died in infancy. She helped wounded soldiers during the Civil War, and she founded the Chicago Legal News in 1868, which became the most widely circulated legal newspaper in the U.S. for many years. Mrs. Bradwell published information about court opinions, laws and ordinances, and was frequently cited in court cases. The newspaper also promoted women's suffrage and employment for female lawyers. She supported the 1869 bill which gave married women the right to retain their own wages and protect the rights of widows.

In 1869, she took and passed (with honors) the Illinois Bar Exam, and her qualifications were approved by a prominent judge and a states attorney, both of whom encouraged her to obtain her law license.

This is where it gets good. Shortly thereafter, she applied for admission to the bar to practice law, but she was turned down by the Illinois Supreme Court, not for being a woman, but because she was a married woman. At that time, women were required to be available to their husbands at all times, and the court was concerned that since she would be held responsible for her actions, she could be arrested and thus would not be available to her husband. It was not recorded whether the Supreme Court consulted her husband prior to making that determination.

Myra Bradwell was a determined woman, and she appealed. On appeal, she was denied admission to practice law because she was a woman, and the court gave four reasons, and this is incredible: First, the Illinois legislature was silent about women entering the legal profession; thus the court concluded that women would not be allowed to practice law. Second, the state worried about "opening the floodgates"--if one woman was allowed to hold a civil office, all civil offices would be filled with women. Third, some of the brutal cases would not be appropriate for a woman. And finally, the state was worried about the effect (negative, presumably) women would have on the administration of justice.

Mrs. Bradwell did not give up, and she took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous case of Bradwell vs. Illinois. Her attorney was the well regarded Senator Matthew Carpenter of Wisconsin who argued that women had the right to the law profession but not the right to vote. (Well you can't have everything.) Justice Joseph Bradley wrote the opinion denying Mrs. Bradwell the right to practice law in one of the all time low points in Supreme Court history.

"The civil law, as well as nature itself has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman's protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupantions of civil life. The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as to which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood. The harmony, not to say the identity, of interests and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution is repugnant to the idea for a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband...for these reasons I think the laws of Illinois now complained of are not obnoxious to the charge of any abridging any of the privileges and immunities of cities of the United States."

Justice Bradley threw in some other zingers in the opinion like contrasting "those energies and responsibilities and that decision and firmness which...predominate in the sterner sex" with "the peculiar characteristics, destiny and mission of women." which are "to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator."

And many people were worried about Clarence Thomas when he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

While some of my fellow (male) lawyers (and non-lawyers) may agree with the sentiments of that decision, ultimately Illinois did change its laws to allow women to practice law. The first woman admitted to the Bar was Mrs. Bradwell's friend and colleague, Alta Hulett in 1872. In 1890, Mrs. Bradwell, who felt that she had already prevailed, finally reapplied and was admitted to the Illinois Bar, nunc pro tunc to 1869, thus making her officially the first female lawyer in Illinois. She was later admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, but unfortunately, she did not live long to enjoy the privilege, as she died in 1894. Her daughter, Bessie Bradwell Helmer became a lawyer and continued to publish the Chicago Legal News.

In its 1894 tribute to Mrs. Bradwell, the Chicago Legal News stated, "The future historian will accord her the breaking of the chain that bound women to a life of household drudgery. She opened the door of the professions to her sex and compelled lawmakers and judges as well, to proclaim that it was not a crime to be born a woman."

So ladies, if you think the obstacles are high, remember Myra Bradwell's story, and keep pushing forward.



Wednesday, August 1, 2007


I was asked the trivia question--Who was the youngest general in U.S. military history? Most people I've talked to thought it was Gen. George A. Custer, who was appointed a Civil War general at age 23, under General Phil Sheridan. (Actually Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman, served as a major general on George Washington's staff in 1777, when he was 20, but he wasn't an American.)

General Custer's claim to fame, or was it notoriety, at least during his lifetime, was that he was the "goat" of his class at West Point, in which the bottom man in each year's class is singled out for acclaim or notoriety. Another well known "goat" at West Point was George Pickett, who led the Confederate Army in the ill-conceived Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, which proved to be the turning point in the Civil War. Perhaps Generals Custer and Pickett should have devoted more time to their studies and less to carousing. But I digress.

The youngest general in U.S. military history was the Civil War hero with the improbable name, Galusha Pennypacker. I'm not making that up. But there's a story behind him.

Pennypacker was born at Valley Forge, PA, the son of a Mexican War veteran and grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran. He enlisted in the Union Army in 1861, at the age of 17, as a captain in the 97th Pennsylvania Volunteers, and was promoted two months later to major. He had helped recruit many of the men in the company. During 1862 and 1863, he and his regiment participated in many combat operations in the Southeast such as the siege of Charleston and the capture of Fort Pulaski, Georgia. Pennypacker's regiment was transferred to Virginia to become part of the Army of the James in 1864, and he was promoted to Lt. Colonel and shortly thereafter, to full Colonel.

In May, 1864, he led his regiment in an assault upon the enemy's lines at Green Plains, Bermuda Hundred, Virginia, and received 3 severe wounds, while losing 175 men out of the 295 men taken into the charge. He returned to duty in August and saw action on several occasions, and in September, led his brigade in the successful assault on Fort Harrison where he was wounded and had his horse shot under him.

He continued to lead his brigade which consisted on New York and Pennsylvania regiments, and under Major General Terry, captured Fort Fisher, North Carolina in January, 1865, in one of the most brilliant assaults of the war. In his greatest moment of the war, Pennypacker led the charge to take the enemy position and was once again severely wounded. He was not expected to survive, and while in a miliary hospital, he was promoted to Brigadier General, and shortly thereafter, to Major General, Volunteers, in March, 1865. At 20 years old, he was the youngest general in American history.

More importantly, General Pennypacker was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, with a citation reading, "He gallantly led the charge over a traverse and planted the colors of one of his regiments thereon; and was severely wounded." His commanding general emphasized that Pennypacker, and not himself, was the real hero of Fort Fisher, and "without his bravery, the fort would not have been taken," and that his "great gallantry was only equaled by his modesty."

General Pennypacker remained in the Army, serving on the Western frontier and the southern states until the end of Reconstruction. He was retired in 1883 because of his wounds, and he lived out his life in Philadelphia, where he died peacefully in 1916. The citizens of Philadelphia erected a statue in his honor, but most people walk past it, unaward of the heroism of this great American.