The 1935 Airplane Death of Dodgers Outfielder Len Koenecke

The Toronto Star in 1991 described this incident:

One of the sadder episodes in major league baseball was played out in the skies above Toronto more than a half-century ago.

In the very early morning of Sept. 17, 1935, Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Len Koenecke was beaten to death by the pilot after becoming rowdy in a chartered airplane.

A few Dodgers were flying home from St. Louis to New York, rather than take the train. The 30-year-old Koenecke, who had a history of depression and a recent arm injury hampering his .283 season, had been put off a commercial airliner in Detroit for drunkenness.

He chartered a plane there, but would pay for it to go only as far as Buffalo.

Nearing Toronto, Koenecke suddenly attacked the pilot and then commenced a battle with the co-pilot, whom he bit and punched.

As the plane pitched around the sky out of control above what now is Etobicoke, the three men wrestled before pilot Joseph Mulqueeny finally was forced to hit the player over the head with a fire extinguisher. Repeated blows fractured Koenecke’s skull and he was dead before the plane crash-landed on the infield of the old Long Branch Race Track, around what now is Kipling and Evans Ave.

I’ve seen a few other news stories claiming Koenecke was the first airplane terrorist ever, but this episode hardly seems like terrorism to me. I first read about it in Bill James’ Historical Abstract from the mid-’80s, with James noting that Mulqueeny also had to fight off some angry dogs as he left the plane following the landing. Baseball players have been involved in a lot of ugly, violent incidents, but this one is maybe the most bizarre baseball death I’ve ever heard of.

Published in: on December 14, 2011 at 11:36 am  Comments (2)  
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A Charity Baseball Game Between the Boston Red Sox and Boston Braves in 1931

This game happened on September 23, 1931. It did not get much notice in the New York Times, which said that “About 20,000 persons attended the game played by the Red Sox and the Braves in the National League park today for the benefit of the city of Boston unemployment fund.

“Approximately $25,000 was realized from the gate receipts and the sale of baseballs signed by the Mayor of Boston, Babe Ruth, Earl Webb and the entire Athletic team.”

Here’s the headline:

As a way to mark the good deed the two Boston teams performed, here’s the box score. The only name I really recognize is that of umpire Bill Klem, although the Red Sox’s Webb was in the midst of setting the single-season doubles record with 67. He did not hit any of the three doubles in this game, though:

Published in: on July 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Charity Major League Baseball Games in New York During the Great Depression

While reading through a book on life during the Depression, and the numerous cases of cities setting up funds to aid the unemployed and destitute, it occurred to me that MLB teams probably put on charity baseball games to contribute toward such funds. I started looking, and discovered that it did happen. The New York Times archives turned up four games between MLB teams in New York and Boston in 1931 and 1932. I’m sure there were other charity games during the Depression, but here’s the Times’ coverage of the three games I found involving the New York City teams (you can read about the Boston game in another post).

The Times reported that on September 9, 1931, the Giants and Yankees

met in a charity game for the benefit of the Mayor’s unemployment fund at the Yankee Stadium. . . .

The first meeting of the two New York teams since the 1923 world’s series, linked as it was with the cause of unemployment relief, had an appeal that led 60,549 fans through the Stadium gates in a tidal wave that inundated the stands and bleachers. . .

The curtain in front of the centre-field bleachers was raised for the first time since exactly three years before, Sept. 9, 1928, when the greatest baseball crowd in history saw a Sunday doubleheader between the Yankees and Athletics with first place at stake.

Yesterday’s receipts totaled $59,642.50 but the sentiment of metropolitan fandom, as voted at the Stadium turnstiles, recorded so definite a demand for intra-city baseball battles that the Mayor’s committee, when it meets tomorrow, is expected to prescribe a post-season resumption of charity baseball . . . and devoting half the receipts of all six games to the unemployment cause. . . .

Chapman won the pre-game foot race finishing first in a field of four. Combs, Healy and Parmelee finished in that order.

The game featured a lead-off homer by Babe Ruth in the eighth inning. Here’s the headline:

Here’s the box score: note that the Giants and Yankees fielded their regular squads, which featured 11 Hall of Famers: 7 of the 9 Yankee players would make the HOF (and yet the A’s easily won the 1931 A.L. pennant). The 11 were Earle Combs, Joe Sewell, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez, Bill Terry, Mel Ott, Freddie Lindstrom, and Travis Jackson. Joe McCarthy and John McGraw, two more Hall of Famers, presumably managed their squads, and the two-league set of four umpires included Bill Klem, another Hall of Famer:

The “intra-city baseball battles” the Times mentioned apparently occurred not after the 1931 season but on September 24, 1931, in a double-header at the Polo Grounds, with the Dodgers and Giants playing in the first game, followed by the Yankees vs. the Dodgers in the second. Here’s some of how the Times reported the games:

New York’s ranking baseball fan, Mayor James J. Walker, and the fans of the five boroughs filled the Polo Grounds almost to capacity yesterday for the second of the two benefit baseball programs conducted to aid the Mayor’s unemployment relief fund.

The attendance of 44,119 paid at the turnstiles $48,135, all of which goes to the fund. . .

Adding this sum to the proceeds of the Sept. 9 game at the Yankee Stadium, when a crowd of 60,549 saw the game, the total contribution of Greater New York’s baseball fans this year to the cause of unemployment relief reached $107,777.50.

[In the seventh inning of the second game] Lou Gehrig, with one on base, thundered the highest and longest homer of the day, a mighty blast which bounced the ball off the eaves of the upper right-field stands far out toward centre.

Between games a program of five field events kept the fans keyed up for more than half an hour. Lefty O’Doul of Brooklyn won the sprint to first base [3.3 seconds]. Ethan Allen of the Giants beat the field of five in circling the bases [13.8 seconds]. Babe Ruth hit the longest fungo drive ["421 feet and 8 inches, breaking Ed Walsh's record of twenty years standing"] and Ben Chapman, also of the Yankees, made the longest throw [392 feet 10 inches].

In the 100-yard dash no Giant or Robin toed the mark with Chapman, so the Alabama Arrow did an exhibition century, the Olympic timing team announcing 10 3-5 seconds, believed to be the record for a grass track.

The Times’ headline:

The box score for the first game:

And for the second game:

Published in: on July 9, 2011 at 4:03 am  Comments (1)  
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A Charity Baseball Game Between the New York City Police and Firemen in 1932

Sometimes baseball researchers spend too much time hunting down game and player statistics from past decades, without considering the context in which baseball existed. Obviously the Depression was far more important than the question of whether people can come up with a formula that will definitively, objectively tell us who was the best player in baseball in 1931 or 1932. Or whether we can find out exactly what Tony Lazzeri did in a game vs. the Chicago White Sox on May 9, 1929.

So, instead of trying to figure out such issues, this post will present the New York Times’ coverage of a charity game between the NYC police and firemen played at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, September 25, 1932. The results show up in no professional baseball record, but I think it’s quite safe to say that it was a more important and better remembered game than any played in the National League or American League on the same day (it was the last day of the regular season). With that, here’s some of how the Times reported the action between the police and fire squads at the Stadium:

The Police Department baseball team defeated its traditional rival, the Fire Department, in their annual game at the Yankee Stadium yesterday and thereby gained possession of the Mayor’s Cup. A crowd of 40,000 that included Mayor McKee [Acting Mayor Joseph V. McKee, who'd been installed when disgraced Mayor Jimmy Walker resigned on Sept. 1] attended and saw the policemen triumph by virtue of a three-run rally in the eighth inning, 5 to 4.

The contest was played for charity, the net proceeds of the game going to the Mayor’s committee for the relief of the unemployed and needy. While no official figures were announced, it was unofficially estimated that the receipts would compare favorably with last year’s sum of $63,000.

The Mayor assumed the role of a non-partisan spectator by sitting with Police Commissioner Edward P. Mulrooney for the first four and a half innings and then crossing the field to join Fire Commissioner John J. Dorman for the remainder of the game. . .

The firemen were unfortunate in the fifth inning when McCrystal sprinted home from third base while Fahey was at bat. He was off to a flying start from a huge lead and had the base nearly stolen, only to have the batter angle off a foul. Fahey then popped up to retire the side.

Here’s the Times’ headline:

The pre-game notice:

And the box score:

Note that Ruddy got the win for the cops, with two hits and two runs scored to help his team, and Auer getting the last two outs (the final one with the bases loaded) for what would have been a save if people were keeping that statistic.

Published in: on July 3, 2011 at 4:45 am  Comments (1)  
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Babe Ruth’s Three-Homer Game at Forbes Field in 1935

This was Ruth’s last great game, and it came in his last week as a major-leaguer, playing for the Boston Braves. Here’s the headline, from the Boston Globe. The one record-setting, extra-long homer left Forbes Field, clearing its right-field roof, but the Pittsburgh Pirates still won, 11-7:

And here’s a cartoon of Ruth emerging from baseball’s cemetery to crush his three homers:

Published in: on June 23, 2011 at 5:50 am  Comments (1)  
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Ted Williams as a Rookie in 1939

Here’s Ted with Jimmie Foxx and manager Joe Cronin:

And Williams at bat (both pictures are from the Boston Globe):

Published in: on June 8, 2011 at 3:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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Babe Ruth’s Last Game, on May 30, 1935

It was an 11-6 win for the Philadelphia Phillies, who played at home, in the Baker Bowl. Ruth played the first inning for the Boston Braves. Here’s the box score, and you can read an account of what Babe did as well. To briefly summarize: Ruth batted third and played left field for the inning. In the top of the first, he grounded out to first baseman Dolph Camilli on a pitch from Phillies’ pitcher Jim Bivin. In the bottom of the first, he apparently misplayed a fly ball from Phillies’ second baseman Lou Chiozza, failing to catch the ball and having the ball roll by him to the wall. Chiozza was thrown out trying for an inside-the-park home run, but a baserunner scored.

This is the Boston Globe’s headline for the game:

Published in: on May 26, 2011 at 6:08 am  Comments (2)  
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The First Game at Seattle’s Sick’s Stadium

Some months back I looked up the last baseball game at Sick’s Stadium, mostly because I was interested in finding out what happened to it after the Pilots left Seattle. I’ve since gone back and looked up the first baseball game at Sick’s Stadium, which is maybe too arcane to be of much interest: an awful lot of minor league stadiums were built and torn down in the 1900s, and it seems that Sick’s was not especially unique. But, since I got some pictures from Seattle newspapers about the game, which was on June 15, 1938, and featured the Rainiers vs. the Portland Beavers, I’m presenting them here. A preview feature:

The sports section cover and illustration:

A vantage from the left-field stands:

And the game’s hard-to-make-out box score: the Beavers won, 3-1:

The construction of Sick’s cost $500,000, with 13,000 in attendance, and a couple hundred more sitting on “Tightwad Hill” outside the leftfield fence.

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lou Gehrig’s Farewell Speech on July 4, 1939

Here is the full text of Gehrig’s speech. The start and end are very well known, but I’m not sure how easy it is to find the middle of what Gehrig had to say about retiring. So, here is the speech in its entirety:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

You can watch and listen to the speech at the lougehrig.com website.

As background for the speech, here’s part of a feature in the Bill Mazeroski Baseball Annual for 1995 that told the story of Gehrig’s career and, in this excerpt, the end of his consecutive games played streak on May Day 1939:

On May 1st, in Detroit, he went to see McCarthy in his hotel room. Gehrig was McCarthy’s favorite; he loved him like a son and it tore at him to see this great man so down. McCarthy wouldn’t remove Gehrig from the lineup and left it up to Lou. That night Gehrig asked to be taken out of the lineup and McCarthy agreed. At Briggs Stadium the next day, it was announced that Babe Dahlgren would be at first base in place of Gehrig. An unbelieving hush settled over the crowd. As captain of the Yankees, Gehrig brought the lineup card out to the umpires at home plate. He walked back to the dugout to an ovation—a tribute from the fans to a remarkable man. Gehrig went over to the water fountain and, taking a drink, started to cry. He sat in the dugout as the Yankees took the field and for the first time in fifteen years he was not one of them. McCarthy and Gehrig explained to the press after the game.

“I knew there was something wrong with him,” McCarthy said, “but I didn’t know what it was. His reflexes were shot. I was afraid of his getting hit with a pitched ball. That was my chief concern, to get him out of there before he was hurt. Lou just told me he felt it would, be best for the club if he took himself out. I asked him if he really felt that way, He told me he was serious. He feels blue. He is dejected. I told him it would be as he wished. Like everybody else, I’m sorry to see it happen. Fellows like him come along once in a hundred years.”

“I decided last Sunday night on this move,” Gehrig said. “I haven’t been a bit of good to the team since the season started. It wouldn’t be fair to the boys, to Joe, or to myself. It’s tough to see your mates on base and have a chance to win a ballgame and not be able to do anything about it. McCarthy has been swell about it all the time. He’d let me go until the cows came home; he is that considerate of my feelings. But I knew in Sunday’s game that I should get out of there. I went up four times with men on base. A hit would have won the game for the Yankees, but I missed, leaving five stranded. Maybe a rest will do me some good. Maybe it won’t, who knows? Who can tell? I’m just hoping.”

You can take a look at Gehrig’s performance in the eight games he played in 1939.

(There’s also a post on this blog about Gehrig’s prep career and Yankees debut, the time when he looked more like the man you see above.)

Published in: on April 26, 2011 at 10:30 pm  Comments (18)  
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An Interesting Philadelphia A’s-Cleveland Indians Game at League Park in 1932

There was an 18-17 game played between the Philadelphia A’s and Cleveland Indians on Sunday, July 10, 1932 at League Park in Cleveland. The interesting things about this game include: it lasted 18 innings, with the A’s and Indians both scoring twice in the 16th to keep it going for two more innings.

The Indians got 33 hits (one homer and nine doubles), leaving 24 runners on; the A’s had 25 hits (three homers, four doubles, and the game’s only triple) and left 15 on. Cleveland’s Johnny Burnett went 9-11, setting a single-game hits record that hasn’t even been approached since (the runners-up, with 7 hits each, are Wilbert Robinson and Ronnie Stennett). The A’s were led by Jimmie Foxx’s 6-hit, 3-homer game (the 6 hits match the N.L. extra-inning record for one game). Foxx’s two-run 16th inning homer tied it up before the A’s got a run to win in the 18th.

The A’s had only 11 hitters for the entire game; the Indians had 10 hitters. The A’s started Lew Krausse and, when he lasted just one inning, brought in Eddie Rommel to pitch the last 17 innings in relief. That’s probably a major league record, as is Rommel allowing 29 hits and 14 runs and winding up with a win despite it. Wes Ferrell, the excellent pitcher and hitter, pitched “only” the last 11 1/3rd innings in relief to take the loss, and went 0-5 at the plate. There were 95 Indians at-bats and 87 A’s at-bats; Rommel alone faced 87 Indians.

The game apparently took only four hours and five minutes, although that’s very hard to believe. And, only two umpires handled the play calls: George Hildebrand at home and Brick Owens on the infield.

Look at the box score here.

Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 4:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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