From the mound to the altar

August 25, 2011

WARREN SPAHN

Since it was our 47th wedding anniversary, Pat and I went to dinner Monday night at that great Italian place in Clinton. We ate on the patio. In the opposite corner was a family of four — parents and a teenager of each gender. Before we got there, some guy who was riding a bike along the sidewalk recognized the family and stopped to talk. In fact, he parked the bike and sat down on the brick wall and made himself comfortable. The father in the family act, pretty much ignoring everyone else at the table, spend the time shooting baseball trivia questions at the visitor. I found this a little off-putting, both because he was talking loud enough for us to hear and because of the quality of the questions. What left-handed pitcher won the most games lifetime? Puh-leez! Give me something I can work with, will ya? (By the way, that was Warren Spahn with 363, which is also the greatest number of wins by any pitcher who spent his entire career in the live-ball era.)

Now, me? I would have asked him about Allen Travers, capisce? I was thinking about Travers the other night when the announcers on the Yankee broadcast were obsessing over the fact that Phil Hughes had thrown 106 pitches in a game for the first time this season.

EDDIE ROMMEL

Besides making me worry that Hughes might have to spend the rest of his life with a prosthetic arm, that conversation got me to thinking about all the great performances that would never have taken place if the pitch count had been a part of baseball from the beginning.

I was thinking, for example, about Eddie Rommel — later an American League umpire — who spent 12 years pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics and supposedly invented the knuckle ball as we now know it. In 1932, Rommel came in in relief against the Indians in the second inning, behind 3-2. He pitched 17 innings, gave up 29 hits and 15 runs, and won the game 18-17. The 29 hits allowed is still the single-game record.

Travers was a different matter. He was a student at St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia in 1912 when Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers went into the stands at Hilltop Park in New York to pummel a New York Highlanders fan who had been verbally abusing him during a game. It turned out that the fan had lost one hand and several fingers from the other hand in an industrial accident. Ban Johnson, president of the American League, suspended Cobb indefinitely. When the Tigers were supposed to play the Athletics in Philly a couple of days later the team announced that they wouldn’t take the field until Cobb was re-instated.

Fr ALOYSIUS TRAVERS

The League told the Tigers they faced a $5,000 fine and would forfeit every game until there were players. To avoid the penalties, the Tigers enlisted Allen Travers — non-playing manager of the St. Joseph baseball squad — to round up a team off the streets and sandlots of Philadelphia. The nine guys were signed by the Cardinals. Travers was on the mound, and no one counted his pitches. He pitched eight innings and gave up 24 runs, which is still the major league record. The Athletics won the game, 24-2.

Travers later became a Jesuit and taught in college and high school in New York and Philadelphia. The 24 runs allowed wasn’t his only record. He was also the only major league player to become a Catholic priest.

But who’s counting?

You can read a fuller account of Father Travers’ experience by clicking HERE.

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9 Responses to “From the mound to the altar”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    That article you linked is wonderful – I laughed all the way through. If I’d been introduced to baseball when the stories sounded more like human stories than reports from the corporate boardroom, I might have gotten into it a little more.

    I did relate to one detail. There was an impassioned discussion a couple of weeks ago on the radio about some team that had resorted to the bunt to add a couple of scores to a game that seemed well in hand – some listeners considered that poor form. I see that bunting played a role in Travers’ game, too.

    I will admit – you had me heading in a different direction with your title, which no doubt was your intent. 😉

    And by the way – there is a fellow named Ryan Maue who’s a crackerjack hurricane expert. Even if you don’t do the twitter thing, you might be interested in his tweets during the upcoming weekend. He provides clear, concise information and wonderful (if unnerving) graphics like this.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      Because of the amount of money involved now, baseball doesn’t have nearly as many characters or stunts as it did in earlier decades. That’s too bad. Money has made the game lifeless in some respects. It has also resulted in bizarre behavior. For example, A.J Burnett, who had been a very effective pitcher for the Yankees, crapped out last season and hasn’t done well this year either. When players didn’t make any more than the average middle class worker, the manager would have simply sent a guy like Burnett to the bullpen and tried someone else in the starting rotation. But the announcers on a recent Yankee game were speculating about who would be starting the next few games, and the matter-of-factly observed that Burnett would take his turn “because of his salary.” In other words, if a team pays a guy a salary as big as the Union Station, they can’t justify not playing him, even if he stinks. To take it a step further, the Times had a long story on a recent Sunday about a Japanese pitcher that the Yankees signed a few years ago for something like $50 million. The guy was a star in Japan, but it turned out he couldn’t win in the U.S. major leagues. He declined a couple of attempts to trade him back to a Japanese team, so he now lives in a luxury Manhattan apartment and commutes to either Trenton or Scranton to pitch for one of the Yankee farm teams until his contract runs out. As Ebenezer Scrooge said, “I’ll retire to Bedlam.”

      The discussion about bunting that you heard is part of a very volatile subject in baseball — what in other sports is known as “running up the score”or “piling it on.” Some baseball practitioners, such as the former manager Sparky Anderson, would get incensed if an opposing team stole a base or bunted when it already had a big lead. Others – and I agree with them – argue that because there is no clock in baseball, a lead has to be pretty substantial before the game is a lock. Any major league team is capable of scoring six or seven runs in an inning, so any other team is justified in scoring as many runs as possible, just to be sure. It’s not the same as having a 30-point league in a basketball game when there are only 50 second left on the clock.

  2. Ron Says:

    Money has made the pitch count a part of baseball now. Sad to see, when pitchers like Jenkins, Lolich, Gibson, Palmer, Seaver, Carlton etc. routinely topped 250 innings, sometimes over 300 innings pitched. I get furious seeing a manager pull a pitcher who’s cruising through the lineup for the uncertainty of the bullpen. “Quality start” my ass.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      I couldn’t agree more. And the guys you referred to were paid peanuts compared to what these delicate geniuses are paid today. Did you hear Joe Girardi recently saying that when teams play a double header the games should be only seven innings, or else the teams should be able to expand their rosters? He’s concerned about the wear and tear on his golden babies. In the Before Time, double headers were routinely scheduled on Sundays.

  3. Ron Says:

    That’s craziness, no I didn’t hear that from Girardi. I remember at least one scheduled doubleheader a year here (Toronto) up until around 1985. Finished the Mays book, he played every inning of a doubleheader in which one game went 22 or 23 innings. Sure Joe Girardi, Willie eventually wore down, (when he was 40!)

    • charlespaolino Says:

      When the Yankees and Tigers played a 7 1/2-hour. 22-inning game in 1962 or so, Yogi Berra caught the whole game. He was 36 or 37 at the time. (That was the game that Jack Reed won for the Yankees with the only home run of his career.)

      • Ron Says:

        Jack Reed, that’s the name, I knew there was a trivia question about that, but I forgot the context of it. You still see some catchers play 140 games or so behind the plate, but now there is a paranoia about ruining a good hitter by making him a catcher. Joe Mauer is already being phased out. Carlos Delgado was a catcher in the Blue Jays system, Craig Biggio was a catcher when he began with the Astros, several more like them.

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