From 2002–2010 Gabriel Schechter was a researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. His first book, Victory Faust, published in 2000, was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) prestigious Seymour Medal Award. He is also a dedicated blogger and the author of Unhittable! Baseball’s Greatest Pitching Seasons, as well as This Bad Day in Yankees History. Gabe also wrote the captions for collections of Neil Leifer’s baseball and football photos as well as photographs from the lens of baseball photographer Charles Conlon.
Why don’t more catchers become umpires? The majority seem to be former pitchers, who are used to controlling the tempo and flavor of the game. But catchers are the field generals, calling defensive signals and selecting pitches. There’s a bond between catchers and umpires behind the plate, sharing the same wide-angle view of the field action and the same vulnerability to stray pitches and foul tips.
“I am as proud of my record as an umpire,” George Pipgras told historian Larry Gerlach, “as my achievements as a player. . . . I am very proud to have been an umpire.” That’s a forthright and remarkable declaration from a man who played on the legendary 1927 New York Yankees and went undefeated in three World Series starts.
Much has been made of the Indiana farm boy who ran afoul of a corn thresher that tried to separate the boy’s right hand from his wrist. Little Mordecai Brown grew up to be “Three Finger” Brown. Mangled fingers forced him to find a unique grip that gave him the most unhittable curveball of his generation, leading to a Hall of Fame career.
When Hank O’Day was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013, he was ballyhooed as the first Hall of Famer who played, managed, and umpired (full-time) in the Major Leagues. That’s an impressive trifecta, but it represents only half the baseball roles performed by one baseball lifer in more than 50 years in the game. Add columnist/poet, goodwill ambassador, and scout, and now we’re talking about George Joseph Moriarty.
The average Major League umpire learned early in life that he didn’t have the talent to make the big time as a player. Love of the game made him pursue the less glamorous path to the most thankless job in baseball—but one that would put him in the center of the action.
An oasis of offense in an era of great pitching, the 1911 season stands out as one of the most dramatic of the Deadball Era. Great players performed at their peak, and two powerhouse teams, stuck in second place at the end of July, pushed forward to claim league pennants. A classic World Series matching the two premier managers of the era capped a year in which only five of the sixteen Major League teams finished under .500.
The baseball book that changed my life was published in 1966, when I was 15 years old. Before then, my education in baseball history had come from talking to my father and reading, over and over again, the compilation titled My Greatest Day in Baseball. Long-ago legends like Cy Young, Honus Wagner, and Rogers Hornsby recounted their most memorable games, “as told to” editor John P. Carmichael and other sportswriters.
I defy you to find a more bizarre pitching season than Virgil Trucks had in 1952. The affable right-hander from Alabama was in his eighth full season with the Detroit Tigers, for whom he had recorded his first Major League victory a decade earlier, on his 25th birthday. A 14-game winner as a rookie, he had established himself on the Tigers’ dominant “T-N-T” starting trio of the late 1940s, along with Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout.
The list of successful Major Leaguers who batted right-handed and threw left-handed is a short one. Taken collectively, they have never won a batting title or led a league in home runs. Only one—Rickey Henderson—is in the Hall of Fame. Only two with significant playing time managed a career average over .300. The leader in that regard is Jimmy Ryan, star of the 1890s Chicago Colts (Cubs), whose strong Hall of Fame credentials include a .308 average, 2,513 hits, and 1,643 runs scored.