Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame Profiles

October 30, 2019 – Elwood Vernon “Kettle” Wirts

1920_wirts_kettle2cWhen I first saw the name “Kettle Wirts” it immediately made me time-travel back to my mid 20’s. I was fresh out of college and living with 3 buddies in a house near Greenlake, that was about halfway between Leny’s (in what is now known as Tangletown), and Murphy’s Pub on 45th. I spent a lot of time in bars back then, in large part because I worked in the wine and craft beer business… and in a (much) larger part, because I liked drinking beer and watching baseball.

We were also regulars at the Kingdome in those days (usually after a stop at the King Street Alehouse and followed by a trip to the Owl n’ Thistle) and were first-hand witnesses to the rise of the Seattle Mariners and their brief heyday, including their historic playoff run in 1995.

Looking back on my life back then, it could very much be defined by Baseball and Beer. Beginning 1994, each spring and summer I played baseball in the NABA, and on several competitive and rec-league men’s and co-ed slow-pitch softball teams. I even played on a men’s fastpitch softball team for two summers.

The first year I got my old Little League and High School teammates back together to play in the NABA…our team name was the Bothell Brewers.

In fact, I did indeed make a brief foray into homebrewing back then, making several batches of shitty beer before giving up after a carboy exploded its yeasty muck all over our Greenlake rental kitchen.

As I recall, the first step in homebrewing, is to boil malt, sugar and water in a kettle. The resulting mixtures are called “worts”.?

Kettle. Worts. Kettle Wirts.

Elwood Vernon “Kettle” Wirts was born on this day in 1897 and played in 49 Major League games over 4 seasons between 1921-24. The right-handed catcher played 43 of those games with the Chicago Cubs, before moving to the southside and playing his final 6 with the White Sox. His professional baseball career began in the minors in 1918 with the class B Spokane Indians and extended until 1935.

Wirts was certainly a better ballplayer than I, but it seems our love of baseball wasn’t the only thing we had in common…

Later in life Kettle ran a baseball school and also worked for himself … as a beer distributor.

Cheers to Kettle Wirts for that winding trip down memory lane – and welcome to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

July 25, 2019 – Biff Pocoroba

The Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame has become a fun exercise for me on many levels, but the very best part is the time traveling I do every time I see a name that makes me recall my first baseball card collection. In fact, now that I think about it, without that first shoebox-full of cards there wouldn’t be a Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame at all.

When I took-over the collection from my older brother, it had trading cards of all sorts, including 2 or 3 fat stacks of 1978 Topps Baseball. The set is known to collectors for its simple design with the team names emblazoned across the bottom of the cards in an iconic script. To me, they were my first real introduction to the game and the characters who played it. I was captivated by the funny names, colorful uniforms, bad hair and big mustaches. I sorted, re-sorted and studied the cards as if there was going to be a test.

I remember Mike Schmidt’s wide collar and Phil Niekro’s windbreaker… Bill Bonham’s terrible hair and Oscar Gamble’s magnificent afro… the weird Greg Minton pre-Photoshop, hand-painted portrait/snapshot hybrid…

I was 8 years old…Dick Pole made me giggle (still does at 48). I was still too young to think Bobby Cox was funny, but Dick Drago was. So was Don Aase (until several years later when I first heard his name pronounced ‘AH-see’.) But the funniest name of all to me had nothing to do with body parts. I just didn’t know what to make of Biff Pocoroba.

thBiff Benedict Pocoroba was born on July 25, 1953 and played 10 years in the Majors with the Atlanta Braves. Selected by the Braves in the 17th round of the 1971 amateur draft, Pocoroba spent the majority of his career as a backup catcher, with one good season (1977) and one all-star appearance (1978).  He only hit .242 in 1978 but made the all-star team as the personal catcher of his knuckle-baller battery-mate, Phil Neikro.

About all Pocoroba accomplished after rotator cuff surgery in 1979, was to grow one of the worst mustaches in baseball. As forgettable as he was on the field, he developed a much-deserved cult following in Atlanta, to which we hope his induction in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame will add!

July 16, 2009 – Nellie Pott and Hi Bell

Whoa, Nellie…I’m still a little foggy after last night’s induction of Jung Bong into the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame. I just found my laptop under a pizza box but I’m sitting here staring at my screen in a daze… I think I might need a little “hair of the dog” to get me back in the swing of things today… Maybe a little Nellie Pott will do the trick…

Wait a minute…I’m freaking out here, man…Of the former MLB players born on July 16th, Hi Bell was born in 1897 and Nellie Pott was born 2 years LATER, in 1899. How do you get Hi BEFORE Pott??

Actually Pott first appeared in the Major Leagues 2 years before Bell, on 4/19/22 for the Cleveland Indians. His teammates would tell you Pott wasn’t very potent, but he definitely fired-up the opposing St. Louis Browns. He threw one inning in his debut, igniting a blazing 15-1 victory for the visiting Browns, by giving up 2 walks and 3 hits, including a home run by opposing pitcher Elam Vangilder.

Pott was equally shaky in his next (and last) inning in the big leagues on May 1st. Facing the Browns again, he gave up another 4 hits and 3 runs, before receiving his papers and rolling back to the minor leagues. To put it bluntly, Pott wasn’t very good. Like a cloud of smoke, he disappeared from pro baseball after the 1928 season.

While Pott was burning-out for Cleveland in 1922, Hi Bell was on his way up, playing his first season of pro ball with the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League. Bell made his MLB debut for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1924, and on July 19th became the last Major Leaguer to start and win both games of a doubleheader. Despite his initial effectiveness, Bell clanged back and forth between the minors and majors until his trade to the New York Giants in 1932.

220px-HiBellGoudeycardHaving already experienced the euphoria of a World Series Championship with the Cardinals in 1926, Hi reached the top again with the Giants in 1933. Of course, what goes up must come down. Hi played only one more year for the Giants in 1934, before being relegated back to the minors for the final two years of his playing career.

So yeah…yesterday, we got a great-hitting Bong and today we found some Pott and got Hi. Welcome to the *coughcoughcough* Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame, dudes! Pass the Doritos!

July 15, 2019 – Jung Bong

In Korea, only a small percentage of high schools have baseball programs and the players for those that do, train year ‘round and play at all-star level compared to their counterparts in the US and Japan. Each year, there are five major tournaments held, including the Blue Dragon Flag and Golden Lion Flag National Championships in Seoul. [Wikipedia]

In 1996, freshman Jung Bong stormed onto Korea’s national stage, winning 4 games and earning Best Pitcher honors in the Golden Lion Flag. He also hit .353 as his team’s leadoff batter in the prestigious tournament. With his performance in 1997, Bong bubbled-up on the international radar.

That spring, Bong proved he could rip it too, batting .688 (11 for 16) with 9 RBI, while leading his school to the Blue Dragon Flag National Championship. Both of those marks led the tournament, as did his 3 wins on the mound, making him the unanimous choice for MVP. He’d win the same honor that August after batting .500 with 4 home runs (in consecutive games) and 14 RBI for South Korea in the World Junior Baseball Championships. The next month, he was once again named best pitcher of the Golden Lion Flag, earning another four wins, while batting .571 and leading his team to another championship. On November 6, 1997, he signed as an amateur free agent with the Atlanta Braves.

In 1998, when he made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League, it was as a starting pitcher.

Now look man… I’m not one to second-guess the wisdom of major league scouts and talent evaluators, but it seems to me that Bong was waaaaaayy too good of a hitter to only use once every five days.

AEN20180928008700315_06_iYoung but well-seasoned, Bong actually blew some pretty good smoke his first couple years in the lower-level minors but ultimately, he coughed and sputtered through nine years of pro ball in the states. He flamed-out in parts of 3 seasons with the Braves and Reds and returned to Korea in 2007. Back home, he enjoyed a 10-year career with the LG Twins in the Korean Baseball Organization. He retired at the end of last season.

To this day, Jung Bong, born July 15, 1980 is considered one of the best-hitting pitchers in Korean High School baseball history. I think we could all use a good-hitting Bong, couldn’t we? Sure we could!

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em! Jung Bong is in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

July 13, 2019 – No Induction In Memory of Tyler Skaggs

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July 12, 2019 – Johnny Wyrostek

Born July 12, 1919, there are no stats available for John Barney Wyrostek’s 19-year mayor-ing career. Nor are there any for the eight years he spent on his hometown Fairmont City, IL’s Board of Trustees; the two he spent as Deputy Sherriff of St. Clair County, IL; or the two he spent in the US Army during WWII.

Actually, BaseballinWartime.com tells us that after the end of hostilities in Europe, Wyrostek played with the 71st Infantry Division Red Circlers baseball team that was stacked with Major Leaguers, in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) World Series in September of 1945. At Soldier’s Field in Nurnberg, Germany, the heavily-favored Red Circlers lost to the OISE All-Stars from France, who were led by Negro Leaguers Leon Day and Willard Brown.

Johnny%20Wyrostek%20Front.jpgMaking his Major League debut three years earlier on 9/10/42, the crowd at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park would have paled in comparison to the 50,000 that saw “Johnny” Wyrostek play in Gemany. Batting 3rd for the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates, Wyrostek went 0-5 that day. Facing Phillies righthander Johnny Podgajny in his first Major League at-bat, he grounded out to second base, and would go hitless in his first 4 at-bats against the Van Lingle Mungo Hall-of-Famer.

Oddly enough, Podgajny and Wyrostek wound-up teammates on the Pirates the following season and were traded together to the Cardinals for southpaw pitching prospect Preacher Roe. Just a skipped stone across the Mississippi River from his hometown of Fairmont City, IL, Wyrostek would never play for St. Louis, as WWII interrupted his career.

Returning from the war in 1946, Wyrostek resumed his career with the Phillies for two seasons before he was traded to Cincinnati. Mainly an outfielder, he played for the Reds for 4 full seasons, earning All-Star recognition in ’50 and ’51, before being traded back to the Phillies in ’52.

Upon retiring from his 11-year baseball career after the 1954 season, “Barney” Wyrostek – as he was known to friends – was welcomed back home to his beloved Fairmont City. He spent nearly 30 years in service to his little community, including five terms as mayor from 1967 until his death in 1986.

With images of Mayberry in my head, I’m happy to welcome John Barney Wyrostek to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

July 11, 2019 – Verle Tiefenthaler

Verle Tiefenthaler should have cheated. While Major League Baseball officially outlawed the “spitball” in 1920, pitchers continued doctoring baseballs with foreign substances so often that by the 60’s there was a significant amount of support for its legalization.

Picture2Tiefenthaler was signed as an amateur free agent and played his first season of minor league ball in the Giants organization in 1955. By 1959, he had worked up to AA Corpus Christi in the Texas League, where despite finishing dead-last in the standings, he was one of three promising young pitchers to win 10 games. Between the trio of Gaylord Perry, Dick LeMay, and himself, Tiefenthaler had the best ERA but managed about half as many strikeouts, while walking five more batters (58) than he whiffed (53).

The following season, the team was moved to Harlingen, TX but after appearing in only 18 games, Tiefenthaler was promoted to AAA Tacoma, while Perry and LeMay stayed behind to contribute to the team’s worst-to-first Texas League championship. In Tacoma, he saw action in 10 games, throwing 19 innings of relief, while another 22 year-old – Juan Marichal – dazzled in his last minor league stop before embarking on his Hall of Fame career. Perry eventually made his AAA debut with Tacoma in 1960 as well, throwing 1 inning and giving up a gopher-ball.

pWBHLwHb6omz2j1sZRE0lhIEo1_500The 1961 season in Tacoma would be a turning-point for the two teammates. That season, Perry anchored the Pacific Coast League champions’ rotation, throwing 219 innings with a 2.55 ERA and winning 16 games. Meanwhile, Tiefenthaler was relegated to the bullpen but still managed to win 13 games, good enough for second-best on the team. In 1962, the two would make their Major League debuts.

Having been traded in the offseason with teammate Dom Zanni, Tiefenthaler appeared in three games for the White Sox that August. On the 19th, Zanni relieved starter Juan Pizarro in the bottom of the 4th inning and immediately gave up a 2-run home run to the Tigers’ Rocky Colavito. He then walked the next three batters before giving way to Tiefenthaler, who recorded two quick outs. On the verge of wiggling off the hook and preserving a tie score, he then walked the next batter before giving up a grand slam home run to centerfielder Bill Bruton.

In the Sox’ next game he pitched three innings, walking four Orioles, while giving up three more hits and two runs. Then on August 31st, in what would be his last appearance in a big league uniform, Tiefenthaler entered the game against the Tigers after another Colavito home run with one out in the top of the 5th inning. He walked the first batter he faced, gave up a single to Dick McAuliffe, and walked the next batter to load the bases.
He was removed from the game, demoted and only pitched one more year of professional baseball – back at AAA in 1963.

Pick Six Pitching Scandals BaseballMeanwhile, his old roommate Gaylord Perry had enough success to stick around the Giants organization long enough to meet newly acquired spit-baller Bob Shaw in 1964. After adding the banned “grease-ball” to his repertoire, Perry would pitch nearly 20 more years in the majors. He was a 2-time Cy Young Award-winner, a 5-time All-Star, and ended his career with 314 career wins and a plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Verle Matthew Tiefenthaler, born July 11, 1937, should have cheated too – but he didn’t and we respect that. We don’t have a plaque for you, but there’s a tube of Brylcreem around here somewhere… Welcome to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame, Verle!

July 10, 2019 – Jim Bouton

Jim Bouton was born on March 8, 1939. He was an All-Star, a Maverick, a Renaissance Man, and a pariah after his 1970 tell-all book “Ball Four” cast light into Major League Baseball’s darkest shadows. He died today, July 10, 2019 at the age of 80.

BallFourAfter being blackballed from the majors and shunned by former teammates and friends, Bouton continued writing, dabbled in acting, and embarked upon a career in sportscasting. He wasn’t done with the game, however…or perhaps more accurately, the game wasn’t done with him. In Ball Four, he wrote “A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball and in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

With the blazing fastball that made him an All-Star with the Yankees long gone, Bouton continued pitching in adult leagues in his home state of New Jersey, featuring the knuckleball he used in 1969 with the Seattle Pilots. (It was during that season in the Jet City, that Bouton kept the diary around which Ball Four was written.) In 1975, Bouton mounted a concerted comeback attempt, starting with the independent Portland Mavericks of the Northwest League (sidenote: watch “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” on Netflix if you haven’t already.)

bbbboutonBouton’s performance for the Mavericks over parts of the ‘75 and ’77 seasons helped lead to a final 5-game curtain call in The Show with Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves in 1978, but it was his fortuitous meeting of Portland teammate Rob Nelson that would put them both “on the bubble” of the Hall of Fame.

Sitting together in the Maverick dugout and watching with disgust as teammates spat tobacco juice for sport, Nelson shared with Bouton his idea for a shredded bubble gum alternative to chewing tobacco. The “Bulldog” loved the idea that Nelson said should be called “Something like … Big League Chew,” so after they had a suitable prototype, he began barking up the trees of candy-makers like Topps and Fleer. [Fox Sports]

big-league-chew-originalIn 1980, they licensed and began distributing Big League Chew with a subsidiary of the Wrigley Company. When discussing their first year in the candy business with Fox Sports, Bouton asked rhetorically, “Who knew you could make $18 million from shredded bubble gum?” With over 800 million pouches of bubble gum sold since then, the favorite chew of young ballplayers worldwide now boasts the official endorsement of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

With its tales of peeping toms, carousing, rampant boozing and widespread drug-abuse among baseball’s biggest stars, Ball Four is definitely not meant for 13-year-old Little Leaguers. With its delicious lineup of flavors and fun foil pouch, Big League Chew bubble gum most definitely is. I devoured them both.

For the wide eyes and big bubbles he gave this 13-year-old kid, I happily welcome Jim Bouton to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame. May he rest in peace.

July 9, 2019 – Coot Veal

169859It’s said that Coot Veal made such an impression during his 1958 rookie season with the Tigers, that Yankee skipper Casey Stengel asked his Detroit counterpart Bill Norman, “Where ya’ been hidin’ that Cooter Veal?” [Baseball Reference]

Six years earlier, the versatile Inman Veal made a name for himself on both the diamond AND the hardwood at Auburn University. He led the Tigers basketball team in scoring and assists, earning all-conference honors, while his play for the baseball team earned him a pro contract. After leaving Auburn in the spring of 1952, Veal quickly advanced through three levels of the minor leagues.

Perhaps his outstanding defense at shortstop could be traced back to the footwork he learned playing roundball, but Veal’s willowy frame was definitely built for hoops, not homers. He played parts of six seasons in the majors from 1958-’63 but managed only one long ball and a feeble .288 slugging percentage.

After the hot start that caught the eye of the “Ol’ Perfesser” in ’58, Veal’s career with the Tigers fizzled-out over three seasons and he was selected by the re-booted Washington Senators in the 1961 expansion draft.

President Kennedy threw out the first pitch before the Senators played their first game against the Chicago White Sox at Washington’s Griffith Stadium on April 10, 1961. Leading-off for the hometown nine against future Hall-of-Famer Early Wynn, Coot Veal got the first base hit in franchise history and true to form, it was a dribbler down the 3rd base line that never left the infield. He’d come around to score the team’s first run four batters later.

That might have been the last meaningful game Orville Inman “Coot” Veal played in the Major Leagues, but his body of work eventually gained him entry to his hometown Macon, GA Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. Now today, on his 87th birthday, we welcome him to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame too!

July 8, 2019 – Ivey Wingo

wingo1915aBorn July 8, 1890, Ivey Brown Wingo was a baseball unicorn. The left-handed hitting but righty-throwing catcher plied his rare combination of skills during a productive 17-season MLB playing career beginning in 1911.

After breaking into the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals, Wingo spent 14 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds as a part-time starter. In 1919, he started the season ill but finished with 30 more at-bats than right-handed platoon-mate Bill Rariden. His performance helped lead the Reds to their first-ever National League pennant and a date with the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.

Facing right-hander Eddie Cicotte in Game 1 of the Fall Classic, Wingo had the game-winning RBI when his 2-out single to right field broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the 4th inning. He would go 4 for 7 against Cicotte in games 1, 4 and 7, but sat-out the other 5 games against Lefty Williams and fellow southpaw Dickie Kerr. As it turns-out, it didn’t matter who the Reds started behind the plate – or anywhere else for that matter – as 8 members of the infamous “Black Sox” – including Cicotte and Williams – had conspired with gamblers to throw the series.

In a 2009 article, The Hardball Times produces data that shows only about 20% of all Major League catcher at-bats going to pure left-handed hitters since the middle of last century. Starting with the great Yogi Berra, the same article lists its 25 best left-handed hitting catchers of all-time. 18th on their list is Ivey Wingo, just 4 spots behind recently retired Minnesota Twins legend Joe Mauer.

His legacy on the diamond got him inducted into his home state of Georgia’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, and today we welcome baseball unicorn Ivey Wingo, to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame as well!

July 5, 2019 – “The Major League Mob” Mario Picone, Arnie Portocarrerro, Rick Lancellotti, and Tony Cingrani

Goodfellas(L-R) The Major League Mob: Tony Cingrani, Rick Lancelotti, Mario Picone and Arnie Portocarrero

Hailing from Brooklyn, Mario Picone (July 5, 1926) was so gangster he took George Herman Ruth’s nickname. Called “Babe”, the righthanded pitcher saw action in 13 games in the major leagues, first appearing with the New York Giants in 1947. He started the game on September 27th vs. the Phillies and in game 2 of a double-header the next day, pitched the final 2 innings of the season. He’d make it back to the Giants briefly in ’52 before splitting time with them and the Reds in ’54.

Jersey-tough Rick Lancelotti (July 5, 1956) is the muscle of this crew. In 15 seasons of professional baseball, he led his league in home runs four times. Lancellotti mashed 268 career minor league round-trippers and another 58 in two seasons with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. His 39 four-baggers in 1987 paced the Japan Central League. Alas, he managed just two dingers in 36 career Major League games, played over parts of three seasons between 1982 and 1990. With a flair for the dramatic, both of his big league blasts came as 9th inning pinch-hits for the 1986 San Francisco Giants.

A second-generation Puerto Rican who grew up in New York, Arnie Portocarrero (July 5, 1931) is our hired gun. After serving two years with the US Army in the Korean War, the big right-handed fireballer broke into the Major Leagues with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1954. Immediately striking fear into opposing batters, he paced the Majors with nine wild pitches and finished 6th in the American League with 132 strikeouts.

From just south of Chicago, Tony Cingrani (July 5, 1989) has pitched in the Majors for the Reds and Dodgers since 2012 but is missing the 2019 season after attempting a return from a shoulder injury in the minors earlier this season. Last year on May 4th, he became part baseball lore by combining with 3 other Dodger pitchers to mow-down Joey Lucchesi and the San Diego Padres in front of nearly 22,000 stunned fans at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico. The combined effort was the very first no-hitter played outside the US.

Welcome to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame, yous guys! We have a table waiting right up front for you.

July 4, 2019 – Pinky Swander

In 1904, Pinky Swander had a “season” for the St. Louis Browns that his old minor league teammate “Moonlight” Graham dreamed of. He got one at-bat – and was never heard from in the Major Leagues again.

Made famous in the movie “Field of Dreams”, Moonlight Graham got into one game for the 1905 New York Giants but never got a chance to “stare down a big league pitcher.” In 1901, both Graham and Pinky Swander played their first recorded season of professional baseball together, for the Portstmouth (VA) Browns of the level-C, Virgina-North Carolina League.

I’m not sure if Graham was a ballplayer moonlighting as a med student or vice-versa, but he earned his medical degree in 1905 and retired from pro ball after 1908 to pursue his career in medicine. His old teammate on the other hand, was all ballplayer.

150px-Pinky_Swander_(1)Fortunately for Swander, his big league debut came in 1903, when he had 63 plate appearances over 14 games for the Browns. The 5’9” firecracker banged-out 14 hits for a respectable .275 batting average in just his 3rd year of professional baseball but his performance earned him only the single 1904 at-bat as an encore.

Edward Ottis “Pinky” Swander was born on July 4, 1880 in Portsmouth, OH. His 15-year professional baseball career started in his hometown’s Virginia-namesake and included stops in 10 different leagues across 8 states on both coasts. After his last Major League at-bat for the Browns in 1904, he played another 11 years in the minors before finally hanging-up his spikes and fading away into obscurity.

Today, we’re re-lighting his fuse! July 4th at the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame is all about the Red, White, and … Pinky!

July 3, 2019 – Bunny Brief and Heinie Sand

If you’ve been following along, you already know I have a thing for Baseball and Heinies. Not yet revealed but equally enthusiastic, is my affinity for Bunnies. I just love ‘em. I make no apologies.

I had no idea that July 3rd would be my lucky day, but here I am, fresh lottery tickets in-hand, inducting both Heinie Sand and Bunny Brief into the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame. I’m going to keep today’s profiles on Sand and Brief…short…so I can get to the casino in time for happy hour!

  • Bunny Brief

Bunny Brief’s MLB career was…short..but his long career in the minor leagues left him with a legacy much the same as that of baseball vagabond Crash Davis from the film Bull Durham.

51tHHj63-lL._SY445_QL70_Based on Crash’s impassioned speech to Annie Savoy, we can assume a couple of similarities such as a fondness of good scotch and hanging curveballs, but I also suspect some glaring differences. Whereas Crash outs himself as a soft-core porn enthusiast and gentle lover, I bet Bunny liked the rough stuff. He hit more dingers too.

In the movie, Crash hits his 247th career minor league home run to set a fictional record. Between 1910-’28, Bunny hopped around the country playing for five minor league teams in three different leagues. With 16 of those seasons logged in the American Association, Bunny hit 256 round-trippers – nine more than Crash.

Anthony Vincent “Bunny” Brief, born Anthony John Greszkowski on July 3, 1892 enjoyed parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates between 1912-’17, while Crash Davis described his brief experience in “The Show” as the “Best 21 days of his life.” Who’s “Meat” now?

I think it’s pretty clear that Annie would be WAY more into Bunny than Crash. After all, he’s in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

  • Heinie Sand

HeinieSandGoudeycardHave you ever seen one Heinie pinch another? I haven’t either but that’s exactly what happened in a May 1924 game between Philadelphia and the New York Giants, when Phillies shortstop Heinie Sand helped turn a triple play that bumped Heinie Groh off the bases.
Oddly, it seems Sand had a propensity for the trifecta. In fact, playing for the Pacific Coast League’s Salt Lake Bees 1 day after his 24th birthday, he turned a rare unassisted triple play on Independence Day, 1921. During his six-year MLB career, all with the Phillies, Sand was involved in three triple plays (including the one that pinched the other Heinie.)

After punching-in for the Phillies from 1923-’28, the workman-like Heinie played one more year in the minors before hitching-up his britches and embarking on a long career in the plumbing business.

They say good things come in threes and we couldn’t agree more! John Henry Sand, born July 3, 1897 now gives the Van Lingle Hall of Fame three Heinies!

July 2, 2019 – Ángel Pagán

CaptureThis really only works if we agree to pronounce Ángel Pagán’s name without regard to the accents, and like an Anglo who doesn’t know any better. “Angel Pagan” provides a paradoxical and colorful descriptor to how “el Caballo Loco” was perceived at different times throughout his MLB career.

When he was healthy, he could drive fans (and coaches) crazy one game, and bring them to their feet in celebration, the next. Whatever Pagan may have lacked in skill and ability, he made up for with hustle and a flair for the dramatic.

Personally, I like a guy who plays with a sense of fire and reckless abandon but in their tribute to the native of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, Together We’re Giants posits that perhaps Pagan’s detractors in San Francisco simply didn’t care for his “extroverted passion.” As far as I can see, the only problem with Pagan was his ability to stay in the lineup. He spent time on the disabled list in 9 of his 11 big league seasons.

On May 25, 2013, nearly 42,000 Giants-faithful witnessed one of Angel’s most divine moments, when he hit a walk-off, inside-the-park home run, scoring two runs to win the game over the Rockies. As the Devil’s own luck would have it, Pagan was placed on the disabled list soon afterward, having been injured earlier in the game.

After winning World Series championships with the team in 2012 and ’14, Angel last suited up for the Giants in the 2016 ALDS vs. the Cubs. In April of ‘17, he announced he would not be playing that season, and it seems he may still be at odds with whatever voices were whispering in his ears. While Pagan has yet to return to the church of baseball, nor has he officially retired…

Fortunately our decision is much clearer. Ángel Manuel Pagán, born July 2, 1981, is in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

July 1, 2019 – Boots Poffenberger

Often compared to Huckleberry Finn by the writers of his time, the untamed and eccentric Boots Poffenberger was as talented as he was endearing, earning his promotion to the Major Leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1937. Also called “The Baron” for his ‘hillbilly-regal’ given name of Cletus Elwood Poffenberger, the stocky right-hander earned another, less-flattering moniker that helps explain why his promising big league career lasted only 57 games over parts of 3 seasons.

In a time when most games were played during the day, many major leaguers earned a reputation for their exploits after dark – none more notorious than “The Prince of Pilsner.” Having grown up fatherless and feral on the banks of the Potomac river in rural Williamsport, Maryland, Poffenberger’s antics off the field ensured he stayed in the headlines despite his minimal contributions on it.

scan0013-3Spotted with missed curfews and violations of every team rule imaginable, his truncated Major League career included parts of the 1937 and ’38 seasons with the Tigers, and just 5 innings pitched over 3 games with the Brooklyn Dodgers in May of 1939. He gave management fits but as biographer Austin Gisriel put it, “no one ever seemed to actually get mad at Boots. He was honest and never made excuses for himself. He was a true innocent.” [SABR]

Decades before “Manny being Manny”, there was Boots… being Boots. After making a promising splash with the Tigers in ’37, he earned a deal with General Mills to promote Wheaties. For a live radio spot, Boots was to have emerged from his hotel room for breakfast in the dining room, asking for the “Breakfast of Champions” when prompted. Instead, when asked what he was having for breakfast, the presumably foggy-headed hurler replied, “A beer and a steak!”

Denying the event ever took place in a 1967 interview, Poffenberger said “Anybody who knows me knows that isn’t true. I’d either be icing a case of beer in the bathtub or be out at a bar.” [SABR]

Sharing a long list of the right-hander’s eccentricities in an undated Detroit Free Press article, Bud Shaver called Poffenberger a “3-Ring Circus.” I wonder what happened when he was sitting in the bullpen and heard the telephone ring for a relief pitcher. Among his oddest behaviors was a complete aversion to the phone. One of his friends said, “I never ever seen him use a telephone” and his stepson confirmed it. “He’d let it ring or he’d just get up and walk out. I have no idea [why]. Boots was Boots.” [Austin Gisriel, SABR]

After his release by the Tigers, Poffenberger got a chance to redeem himself with the Dodgers in 1939. Even among player/manager Leo Durocher’s ragtag team of “Bums” and “Daffiness Boys,” Poffenberger stood out like a sore thumb, missing his first curfew in April, before he made his first start on May 4th.

Facing the Chicago Cubs that day, Poffenberger gave up a leadoff single to start the game, then walked the number two batter. A bunt single by Stan Hack loaded the bases, and another walk to cleanup hitter Hank Lieber plated the first run of the game. From his position at Shortstop, “Leo the Lip” had seen enough and beckoned veteran Van Lingle Mungo from the bullpen to thwart the early rally.

(Like a Boss, Mungo shut down the Cubs uprising with 2 strikeouts and an infield pop-up, then pitched 7 more innings, picking up the win for the Dodgers.)

After drinking and carousing himself back to the minors in 1940, Poffenberger had the most productive season of his career, winning 26 games for the Dixie Series Champion Nashville Vols. When his performance failed to earn him another chance with the Dodgers, Boots’ career hit bottom the following year. Still drunk from the night before, he was called upon to make an emergency start for the Vols on June 24, 1941. Unhappy with plate umpire Dutch Hoffman’s interpretation of the strike zone, a surly Poffenberger berated him through the first 4 innings. By the 5th frame, Hoffman had enough and gave Boots the thumb, ejecting him from the game. Enraged, the normally happy-go-lucky Boots responded by firing the baseball back at Hoffman, who deflected it with his chest protector.

The outburst led to a 90-game suspension and ensured Poffenberger would never pitch in the Majors again. Looking back on his unlikely career years later, the baseball bumpkin said, “I have no regrets. You gotta figure where I was at. I didn’t have nothing. I didn’t have a nickel! This guy got me, put me on a train, got me a suit of clothes, met me up there, bought me more clothes, and gave me $600. I was the King of Detroit for a while!”

Raise your glasses for the King of Detroit! Cletus Elwood “Boots” Poffenberger, born July 1, 1915, is in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 30, 2019 – Pompeyo “Yo-Yo” Davalillo

Each day’s research uncovers several Major Leaguers who are considered for the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame largely on their colorful nicknames. I would have never noticed David Barron, had he not been called “Red.” “Thomas” Esterbrook would not likely have piqued my interest – but “Dude” has been duly enshrined…and I find myself admiring Heinies like Sir-Mix-a-Lot.

Pompeyo-DavalilloPompeyo Antonio “Yo-Yo” Davalillo Romero, born June 30, 1928 is the rare player who would be considered no matter what you want to call him. The baseball lifer was known by his given name “Pompeyo” throughout his homeland of Venezuela and Mexico, where he played and managed through the 70’s. He played 14 seasons for los Leones del Caracas of the Venezuelan Winter League, and was inducted into the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2006.

Only the 4th player from Venezuela in Major League History, he picked-up the nickname “Yo-Yo” once he started playing stateside. The diminutive Davalillo first appeared with the Washington Senators on August 1, 1953. He didn’t make it to the end of the month, lasting only 19 games before being relegated to the minors.

The slick-fielding but light-hitting Davalillo spent 6 years in the Cincinnati Reds organization, playing 5 seasons in AAA with the Havana Sugar Kings. A badly broken leg eventually stifled his playing career, and he moved to the bench. His long managing career includes serving as skipper of the 1979 Venezuelan National team in the 1979 Pan-American Games.

Our collection of characters and curiosities is quickly proving to be a place to celebrate baseball’s “little guys” and underdogs. With the 3’7” Eddie Gaedel already on our roster, Yo-Yo Davalillo, at 5’3” and 140lb, now gives the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame the two smallest players in the history of Major League Baseball!

June 29, 2019 – Heinie Reitz

Heinie_ReitzHeinie Reitz played so long ago that he holds the distinction of being the first former major leaguer killed in an automobile accident.

There’s certainly more to the story with Henry Peter (yes, that’s “Heinie Peter” *teehee*) Reitz, but that’s honestly good enough for me. I’ve said it before, I’m a Heinie-guy. He’s in.

The rest of the story is that Reitz was the second baseman for the infamous Baltimore Orioles teams of the 1890’s that bullied their way to 3 first-place finishes in a row. Playing in a lineup that featured six future Major League Hall of Famers like Dan Brouthers and “Wee” Willie Keeler, Reitz stood out in 1894 by leading the league in triples.

Inaugural Baseball Hall-of-Fame member and tough-guy in his own right, Honus Wagner is said to have told a tall tale about those Baltimore teams that BaseballReference.com imagines went like this: “I hit a ball that should have been a homer, but when I got to first base Jack Doyle tried to trip me. When I got to second base Heinie Reitz blocked me, and (then) shortstop Hughie Jennings threw himself at me, knocking me flat. Finally, when I got up and ran to third, there was John McGraw holding a shotgun, saying “you stop right here!”.

All fine and dandy, Honus but REALLY, “Heinie” is plenty. Born June 29, 1867, Heinie Peter *teehee* Reitz is a Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Famer!

June 28, 2019 – Bert Shepard

It’s really not that hard to get into the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame. Generally all it takes is a goofy name and a good back story. It’s not like you have to give your right leg or anything…

I’ve quickly developed a soft spot for the baseball-playing troubadours, who’ve crisscrossed the country and globe in pursuit of their major league dreams. So sure was Bert Shepard that he was Major League material, that he quit high school and hopped a freight train from his hometown in Dana, IN to the baseball-friendly climes of California to get noticed.

None to the confident young hurler’s surprise, his plan worked and he was soon signed to a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox. After cutting his teeth in semi-pro ball, Shepard drew his first professional paycheck in 1939, playing for the class-D Jeanerette (LA) Blues in the old Evangeline League. After two erratic years where he walked more than a batter per inning, he was released and picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals organization. In 1941 the lefty pitched for the Anaheim Aces and in 1942 for the LaCrosse (WI) Blackhawks, where his control problems followed. Spring training the following year would be much different.

According to baseballinwartime.com, more than 4,500 men who played professional baseball, traded in their spikes for combat boots during WWII. On March 18, 1943, Bert Shepard enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force. One year later, 2nd Lieutenant Shepard flew his Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter in the first allied daytime pass over Berlin.

Having flown 33 total missions over Germany, Shepard scheduled a baseball game to be played in the afternoon on May 21, 1944. When a large air assault was planned that morning, Shepard volunteered for his 34th, believing he’d be back in time to toe the rubber.

After a successful mission, Shepard’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft artillery during the low-altitude, return trip home. One of the shells ripped through his right foot and lower leg. Another “clipped his chin” leaving him unconscious. It was estimated that his plane was traveling at 380 MPH when it crash-landed in German farmland. [SABR]

Having survived the barrage and crash, Shepard was saved from death-by-pitchfork, when a former Luftwaffe doctor interceded before German farmers could dispatch the enemy pilot. His leg was soon amputated below the knee and he was transferred to a POW camp in Meiningen. Here, Shepard met a Canadian doctor, who fashioned a crude prosthetic for him. Soon, the determined 24-year-old was playing catch with a cricket ball and re-learning how to pitch.

!!BurtShepardOTD!!After 8 months as a POW, Shepard was returned home in 1945 and continued practicing his pitching. Believing he could still play professionally, a chance encounter at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., led to a tryout with the Washington Senators. Impressed by his determination and skill, he was signed to a Major League contract by owner Clark Griffith, who believed Shepard’s control would improve during exhibition play.

On July 10th, the Senators played the Brooklyn Dodgers in an exhibition game for the war relief effort. Named Washington’s starting pitcher for the affair, Shepard was awarded the Airman’s Medal by General Omar Bradley in a ceremony at home plate before he took the mound. After pitching effectively into the 4th inning, Shepard was lifted for a relief pitcher and added to the Senators active roster.

Bert Shepard, Robert T. Patterson, Jacob Devers, Omar Bradley

Over the next several weeks, he made promotional appearances and pitched in exhibition games on the prosthetic leg he’d received 5 months prior. Then on August 4, 1945 – only 6 months after being returned from a POW camp, and just over 14 months after having his leg shot off and crash-landing his plane at nearly 400 MPH – Bert Shepard achieved the dream he shared with thousands of American boys.

Most would actually call the circumstances of Shepard’s historic relief appearance a nightmare. Playing their fourth double-header in a row, the beleaguered Senators gave up 12 runs to the Red Sox in the top of the 4th inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, they were threatening for more, when manager Ossie Bluege made the call to the bullpen for the eager southpaw.

Unfazed or perhaps energized by the gravity of the situation, war hero Bert Shepard struck out centerfielder George Metkovich to end the Sox’ assault. In the bottom of the inning, he got his first major league at-bat, ironically drawing a walk. He finished the game for Washington by tossing 5.1 innings, surrendering only 3 hits and 1 run. Despite his effectiveness and potential draw at the box-office, this was Shepard’s only appearance in the Major Leagues.

Retired from baseball, he took up golf, often playing tournaments with good friend and Major League Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto. Surprising virtually no one, Shepard won the US Amputee Golf Championship in 1968 and ’71.

Robert Earl “Bert” Shepard, born June 28, 1920, is the one-legged man who would beat you in a butt-kicking contest. We humbly welcome him to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 27, 2019 – Elmo Plaskett

If there were a movie made about the life of former Major Leaguer Elmo Plaskett – and there ought to be – it’s title should be “Elmo Plaskett, Baseball Player.” It would open with the triumphant scene described by Anne Salafia in her March 2019 article on stcroixsource.com, in which she recounts this spring’s 50th Anniversary celebration of the Virgin Islands’ Little League named in his honor.

Elmo Plaskett Little League’s namesake would have certainly been flashing his “300-tooth” smile to see the great fanfare, complete with dignitaries, marching band, and parade marshaled by local softball legend Luz Armstrong. If he were still with us, perhaps Elmo would have been behind the plate, umpiring that afternoon’s games. Or more likely, he would have been sitting in the sun with his old friends Horace Clarke, Al McBean and Joe Christopher, regaling eager young ballplayers with tales of their days in the Major Leagues.

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2019 Elmo Plaskett Little League Opening Day game. (Linda Morland photo)

Or perhaps the movie begins with young Elmo, called “Mumps” by his family for his cherubic cheeks, skipping-out on his morning chores and banging on the window of Christopher. “Wake up Joe! Let’s go play ball!” His mother said baseball was Elmo’s “tea, breakfast, and dinner.” [SABR]

Recalling the lasting impression Plaskett made during his first spring training camp with the Pirates in 1958, scout Howie Haak said, “There’s a kid who really came to play ball.” Elmo slept at the airport and skipped breakfast so he could get to the ballpark early! [mightycaseybaseball.com]

To this day, only 14 men from the US Virgin Islands have played Major League Baseball. In 1962, the sweet-swinging Elmo Plaskett became the 4th of those, after winning the Southern League batting title for the Asheville Tourists and earning a September 8 promotion to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Making his first start on September 17, he blasted the one and only home run of his playing career off the right field foul pole at Forbes Field. The 3-run shot off Giants starter Mike McCormick provided the winning margin in the 5-2 Pirates victory.

elmo_plaskett_1963_toppsPlaskett played 13 productive seasons in the minor leagues but was blocked in Pittsburgh by established players at his natural positions. He was switched to catcher and struggled mightily with the transition, playing only 17 big league games over two seasons. While Plaskett’s experience in the Major Leagues was otherwise forgettable, his legacy looms large in the Caribbean where he starred in the Dominican and Puerto Rican winter leagues. Drawing comparisons to Mickey Mantle, he had his best seasons for the Ponce Leones, winning the Puerto Rican League Triple Crown in 1960/61.

After his playing career came to an end in 1971, Plaskett led a group of pioneering Major Leaguers from the Virgin Islands, including Clarke and Valmy Thomas (the VI’s 1st Major Leaguer), to revitalize youth baseball there. Their efforts and instruction helped pave the way for a new generation of major leaguers from the tiny Caribbean archipelago, such as Jerry Browne, Midre Cummings, and Calvin Pickering.

In Ponce, his legacy on the field earned his induction into el Museo de Francisco “Pancho” Coimbre – their local Hall of Fame. In his homeland, Elmo’s legacy off the field is very much alive and well but the last Little League Opening Day he would have seen for himself was in 1998. By then his health was failing and he did his best to hide it from his old friends.

Elmo Plaskett died on November 2, 1998 at the far too young age of 60. Admitting him to the hospital 10 days prior, his old pal Horace Clarke said Plaskett was very ill and “not so conscious-minded.” Asked several questions during the registration process, he replied to them all, saying “I am Elmo Plaskett, baseball player.” [SABR]

For being one of the greatest ambassadors the game has ever known, we gladly welcome Elmo Alexander Plaskett, born June 27, 1938, to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame.

June 26, 2019 – Debs Garms

As we’re quickly uncovering, many of baseball’s characters and curiosities are known for a single moment in time. In the case of Johnny Vander Meer, he’s technically known for two. On June 11th and 15th 1938, the otherwise erratic left-hander pitched consecutive no-hitters, blanking the Boston Bees and Brooklyn Dodgers. A feat that he alone has accomplished in Major League Baseball history.

On Sunday June 19, 1938 at National League Park in Boston, the crowd had swollen from just over 6,000 for Saturday’s contest to more than 30,000, in anticipation of witnessing baseball history. Including the last out of his June 5 start against the Giants, Vander Meer was already in the midst of a record number of consecutive innings pitched, standing at 18-1/3 when the game began. Every out he’d record on the way to a potential 3rd consecutive no-hitter, would add to the history books.

The hometown team was already talking a beating, down 0-6 when Vander Meer toed the rubber to start the bottom of the 4th inning. He had effortlessly worked through the first three frames, surrendering only two walks. With his record extended to 21-2/3 by a Johnny Cooney groundout to start the 4th, the Bees fans must have been buzzing with mixed emotions as 3rd baseman Debs Garms stepped to the plate.

Hillerich & Bradsby AdvertisementLargely unknown at the time, Garms could never get regular playing time despite good numbers during four seasons with the St. Louis Browns. Then in his second season with the Bees, the left-handed-hitting Garms was batting 3rd in manager Casey Stengel’s lineup against the similarly south-pawed Vander-Meer that day. The “Ol’ Perfesser’s” unconventional strategy paid off, when in his second at-bat of the day, Garms singled to center field. Vander Meer’s record hitless streak was stopped, and Garms’ name would forever be attached to the impressive feat.

Not intent on being a footnote in baseball lore, Garms went on to add an impressive asterisk to his name in 1940. In 358 part-time at-bats for the Pittsburgh Pirates that season, he posted a robust .355 batting average and was controversially awarded the National League batting title. NL President Ford Frick, seemingly gave no f***s, saying “The batting title is simply unofficial and never has been subject for league legislation.” [Wikipedia]

Again relegated to part-time duty in 1941 for the Bucs, Garms officially left his mark on the MLB record books when he recorded 7 consecutive pinch hits. When he retired after the 1945 season with the St. Louis Cardinals, he was the proud owner of one MLB record (which was broken 17 years later), one batting title*, and one footnote that will likely last forever.

Quite an impressive resume but frankly, you had me at “Debs.” Named for prominent 19th century U.S. socialist, political activist and union organizer Eugene Debs, Debs, C. Garms, born June 26, 1907, was good enough for Casey and that’s good enough for us! Welcome to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame, Debs!

June 25, 2019 – Joe Kuhel

The inaugural Major League Baseball All-Star game was played in 1933, and the two first basemen for the American League squad were Lou Gehrig of the Yankees and Jimmie Foxx of the Athletics. Between the two of them, Gehrig and Foxx were chosen for 16 All-Star teams, “The Iron Horse” for the first seven contests, and “Double X” for the first nine.

So good were these two future Hall-of-Famers, that their dominance of the American League limited fellow Cooperstown inductee Hank Greenberg of the Tigers to just four All-Star appearances in his career. Gehrig was so good that Foxx usually played 3rd base in the All-Star games.

163926In 1936, Joe Kuhel of the 3rd place Washington Senators had his best season as a Major Leaguer, batting .321 with 118 RBI and finishing 6th in AL MVP voting. That same year, Gehrig batted .354 with 154 RBI and a league-leading 49 home runs for the world champion Yankees. He was the only 1st baseman listed on the AL All-Star roster that season, and the runaway winner of the MVP.

So cool he didn’t need a nickname, Joe Anthony Kuhel, born June 25, 1906, is probably one of the better Major Leaguers you’ve never heard of. Including his outstanding 1936 season, he finished in the top-15 in AL MVP voting 4 times, finishing his career with 2,212 hits and a solid .277 batting average. Had he played most of his games anywhere but the cavernous Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., perhaps he would have made at least one All-Star appearance in his 18-year big league career.

A change of home address would have certainly helped his home run numbers. So pasture-esque was the Griffith Stadium outfield that in 1945, the home team Senators managed to hit only one home run there – an inside-the-park four-bagger by Joe Kuhel. He played 32% of his career games at Griffith Stadium but hit only 18% of his longballs there. Data varies, but it looks like at least 5 of his 18 career home runs at Griffith were inside-the-park.

Instead, the hometown handicap and the looming presence of hall-of-famers Gehrig, Foxx, and Greenberg made certain that Joe Kuhel would get the cold shoulder by All-Star voters throughout his career. As Van Lingle Mungo Hall-of-Famer Dude Esterbrook might say “This aggression will not stand, man.”

He may not have been Cool enough for the “Mid-Summer Classic” but he’s Cool enough for us! Welcome to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame, Joe Kuhel!

June 24, 2019 – Rollie Hemsley

Rollie Hemsley is a testament to perseverance and second (through fourth) chances. A tough-as-nails journeyman catcher for 19 seasons in the big leagues, he was a five-time All-Star while playing for seven different teams in his major league career.

After serving as a backup to all-stars Gabby Hartnett in Chicago and Ernie Lombardi in Cincinnati, Hemsley became an All-Star for the first time with the St. Louis Browns. He played five good seasons in St. Louis, but was let go after the 1937 season.

Picture1In Cleveland the next year, Hemsley quickly became the favorite catcher of hard-throwing future Hall of Famer, Bob Feller. As one interview put it, Hemsley was “the only guy on the team who COULD catch that 100 mph fastball.” But what follows that accolade, makes it clear why a guy with such solid career credentials bounced-around between so many teams in those pre-free agency days. “The problem is, Rollie Hemsley was a drunk! There were lots of days where he couldn’t go out and play because he was so drunk.”

Chances are good that in 1936, when this Wheaties cereal baseball card was made, “Rollicking” Rollie Hemsley would have downed a few bloody marys with his Breakfast of Champions. Baseballlibrary.com says Hemsley “drank himself off four teams.”

During an April 1968 event, Hemsley himself recounted drunken episodes, disgusted managers, suspensions, and fines throughout much of his big league career. Fortunately for Rollie, the event at which he was speaking was a celebration of his old Alcoholics Anonymous group.

According to one account, Rollie Hemsley, born June 24, 1907, was the 77th member of Alcoholics Anonymous. In typical AA anonymity, he gained his sobriety on April 16, 1939. One year later – to the day – he would catch Feller’s Opening Day no-hitter, knocking in the winning run of the 1-0 victory over the White Sox with an RBI triple.

Immediately after the game, the guy they used to call “Rollicking” Rollie, called a press conference where he broke from protocol and gave recognition to the group that helped him turn his life around. “I’ve quit drinking” he said. “I’ll admit I must have been quite a problem for a while. But that’s over now. I haven’t had a drink in a year and I want others to know the reason why, so they can be helped.” [Seamheads.com]

Hemsley was an All-Star for the 3rd time in that transformative 1939 season, and played 8 more years in the majors, losing the 1945 season to service with the US Navy. He went on to a long minor league coaching career, twice winning The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year Award.

We’re not going to ask “what if” Rollie never Rollicked(?) and wonder what his playing career could have been. Instead, we’re going to celebrate it for exactly what it was – a lasting example of self-awareness and perseverance.

For that, we gladly welcome Ralston Burdett “Rollie” Hemsley into the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 23, 2019 – Mark Hendrickson

Throughout history, only 67 men have played in both the NFL and MLB. Despite the rarity, when we hear the term “2-sport athlete”, we inevitably think of guys like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who captured the nation’s attention like the great Jim Thorpe did, generations before them.

5059fd185d81c12090aa03d3fe8c513a06e0a9e5_hqIndeed, much less common are Major Leaguers who have also played basketball in the NBA. In fact, only 12 men in history have suited up on both the hardwood and the diamond. The most recent of those is 6’9” Mark Hendrickson, who was born on June 23, 1974.

Given the fact that Hendrickson grew-up a short drive up I-5 from me in Mount Vernon, WA, and starred in college at my alma mater Washington State University, I might be accused of being a “homer” for considering someone with such a plain-sounding name for induction into the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame. But this is where we celebrate baseball’s characters AND curiosities, so consider this:

  • Starting in 1992, when he was selected out of Mount Vernon High School in the 13th round by the Atlanta Braves, Hendrickson was chosen in the MLB Amateur draft SIX years in a row!
  • He was All-Pac-10 in basketball two times and is still #10 on the all-time conference scoring list.
  • Hendrickson was the 2nd pick of the 2nd round, chosen 30th overall in the 1996 NBA draft. Oddly enough, the guy chosen right after him also went on to a professional baseball career. Ryan Minor never played in the NBA but he did play parts of 4 seasons in the Majors with the Orioles and Expos.
  • In 2017 both Hendrickson and Minor were coaching in the Baltimore Orioles organization, Hendrickson with the Aberdeen Ironbirds, and Minor with the Delmarva Shorebirds
  • In 2003, he became the first Toronto Blue Jays pitcher to hit a home run in a game
  • Of the 12 players in history who have played in both the NBA and MLB, two of them were WSU Cougars. The other is Gene Conley, who won world championships on the diamond with the Braves, and on the hardwood with the Boston Celtics.
  • He played for 9 different teams in 14 years between the NBA (4) and MLB (10).

Am I a homer? Hell yes, I am but he could box you out for a tough rebound, or strike you out with a knee-buckling curve. He could take you deep, or dunk in your face.

For this rare combination of skills (and outstanding choice in higher education) we say, Go Cougs! Mark Hendrickson is in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 22, 2019 – Faye Throneberry

From Hank and Tommie Aaron, to Jeff and Jordan Zimmerman, Baseball Almanac lists 393 sets of brothers who have played in the Major Leagues. Someday I’ll research who holds the all-time sibling rivalry statistical advantage, but the quick spot-check of Aarons and Zimmermans, shows the big brothers coming out on top.

Not so with Faye Throneberry, whose  baby brother turned-down an opportunity to play with him on the Boston Red Sox, to sign with the rival New York Yankees, and would later be known as “Marvelous Marv” to thousands of adoring fans.

Maynard Faye Throneberry was born on June 22, 1931 – two years before his younger sibling. He made his Major League debut for the Red Sox in 1952, three years before Marv made it to the big leagues, and he played for one more year than his little brother, despite missing two seasons to military service.

In 1962 his “Marvelous” brother bumbled his way to infamy with the historically bad expansion New York Mets, while Faye played his first full year in the minors since 1951. In 8 seasons in the Majors, Faye Throneberry recorded a lifetime .236 batting average. His little brother hit .237.

While Marv later parlayed his baseball buffoonery into a series of Miller Lite commercials, Faye was called “less than highly exciting” by the great Washington Post writer Shirley Povich, and his workmanlike demeanor was too dry for columnist Bob Addie, who called him “the Calvin Coolidge of baseball… a reticent young man who feels cheated if he can’t answer every question with ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” [SABR]

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Hmmm …OK, if we consider those two quotes along with Faye’s 1960 Topps no. 9 Baseball Card, maybe we can see their point but enough is enough! Step aside Marv! Today, big brother gets his due recognition.

It’s time for “Just Fine” Faye to take his place in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 21, 2019 – Red Barron

Looking through early sports and entertainment history, it seems to be close to a 100% certainty that if you had red hair, only your mother would call you by the name she gave you. To everyone else, you’d be called “Red”.

If David Irenus Barron, wasn’t already called “Red” Barron for his carrot-top, he was likely given the nickname for the way he struck fear in his opponents as a 3-sport superstar at Georgia Tech, the way flying ace Manfred von Richtofen did over the skies of WWI. He lettered in football for 5 years and baseball for four, serving as captain of both squads in 1922. He also lettered in track. As a halfback in football, he was named All-Southern Conference 4 times and All-American twice.

barronswingsIt seemed that Barron, born June 21, 1900, had a bright career in professional football ahead of him, and in 1925 he was part of a college all-star team that played against the great (and fellow ginger) Red Grange’s traveling team. However, the next year he found himself on the diamond not the gridiron, playing professional baseball with the Providence Rubes of the Eastern League.

Batting a solid .299 but with only 3 home runs over 4 seasons in the Eastern League, the swift outfielder debuted with the Boston Braves on June 10, 1929 as a pinch runner. He’d receive 21 at-bats with 4 hits and 2 stolen bases over 10 games between then and July 7th, when he struck out in what would be his final big league at bat.

After 4 years playing and managing the Southern League’s Atlanta Crackers back in his home state of Georgia, Barron’s baseball playing career came to an end in 1933. He’d go on to a long high school football coaching career at four different schools and was inducted into both the Georgia Tech Athletics and the state of Georgia Sports Halls of Fame.

Because you give a whole new meaning to “Ace” of the team, make room on the mantle for one more, Red. You’re in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 20, 2019 – Touki Toussaint

The great Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver once quipped “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.” However, the cantankerous old skipper would also concede “Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull, but the reason you win or lose, is darn near always the same – pitching.”

If there’s any modern franchise that knows a thing or two about building a dynasty around pitching, it’s the Atlanta Braves. Throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s, the Braves pieced together their team around a pitching staff that featured three future Hall of Famers: Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux. For 15 straight seasons beginning in 1991, the Braves dominated their division, finishing in 1st place every year except the strike-shortened 1994 season when they finished 2nd.

Including 3 in a row by Maddux from ’93-’95, the Braves’ “Big 3” won a total of 6 National League Cy Young Awards during the historic run that saw the team reach the World Series 5 times and win it once. In the 13 years since, Atlanta has managed to win their division only twice – including last year.

While today’s growing excitement in Atlanta has been largely focused on young hitters like Ronald Acuna, Austin Riley, and Ozzie Albies, the real reason for optimism appears to be all of the young pitching they’re stockpiling. Heading into last season, 14 of the Braves top 20 prospects were pitchers. Their top four prospects, including hard-throwing Touki Toussaint (Braves #4 / MLB #40) were among the top 40 prospects in all of Major League Baseball.

Panini America Diamond Kings Relic Baseball Card

Dany Gilbert Kiti “Touki” Toussaint was born on June 20, 1996. His unique nickname is a mashup of the surnames of his Haitian father and Kenyan mother. Raised in Haiti for his first 6 years, Touissant returned to the states with his mother and first played baseball at the age of 9, striking out so often that he quit in favor of soccer. Returning to the game 3 years later, Touissant would soon find himself on the other end of all those strikeout pitches. “Since then” he said, “I fell in love.” [MLB.com]

A top-20 prospect out of high school, Toussaint was chosen #16 in the first round of the 2014 amateur draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, before being traded to the Braves the following year. Because he found the game at a relatively later age, Toussaint’s raw ability has been on display throughout his climb through the minor leagues, as has a lack of command that is often the last thing to develop for young pitchers. For the last two seasons, he has bounced back and forth between the minors and the 1st-place Braves, for whom he has made spot starts and currently works out of the bullpen.

As a WTBS-made Braves fan in the Pacific Northwest, I remember a similar feeling back in the late 80’s, when Zane Smith, Pete Smith, and Glavine first came up. They were joined by Smoltz in 1988 (when Glavine led the National League in losses) and then guys like Derek Lilliquist and Steve Avery in subsequent years. Cy Young winner Greg Maddux was signed as a free agent in ’93 and the rest is history.

Will Dallas Keuchel’s recent signing have a similar effect on this year’s team? Will a new “Big 3” (or more) emerge for Atlanta? If so, our bet is on Touki Toussaint to help lead the next Braves dynasty into the 2020’s.

With possibilities like “Toussaint, Soroka, Foltynewicz and Keuchel”, we may even induct the whole rotation someday – but for now, we welcome Dany Gilbert Kiti “Touki” Toussaint to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 19, 2019 – Casper Asbjornson

Williamsport, PA is the unofficial hometown of hometown heroes. Called the “Birthplace of Little League Baseball”, the small Pennsylvania town and neighboring S. Williamsport have hosted the Little League World Series every year since 1947. It’s estimated that over 3 million kids around the world play Little League baseball every year, and each August the very best of them descend upon central PA to play for one of the only true “World” Championships in all of sports.

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Our young ballplayers can quickly become a major source of community pride and identity. It’s impossible to say how many of those 3 million youngsters (and their parents) have Major League dreams but the fact for most, is the glory of their playing days won’t extend beyond their own hometown. Whether a ballplayer tops-out in Little League, High School, or the Hall of Fame, those cheering most-loudly are always those who claim them as “one of their own”.

Despite a miniscule conversion rate of Little Leaguers to Major Leaguers, it seems to be the unfortunate nature of fans to mock those who achieve less than the highest levels of success. Whatever triumphs a player achieved to get them to the point of their perceived failure are typically remembered and revered only by those closest to them.

In 1927, “Casper” Asbjornson was a multi-sport star athlete at Concord High School in Concord, Mass. I have to believe the Fenway Park bleachers were packed with adoring fans from his small hometown of 7,000, when just one year later – and only 25 miles away – Asbjornson made his debut with the Boston Red Sox. Four years later on June 19, 1932, hundreds of them came back to Boston to celebrate their hometown hero’s 23rd birthday. [Society for Baseball Research]

AsbjornsonBobBy that time, Robert Anthony Asbjornson (also called Bob, “Asby” and “Casper”), born June 19, 1909, was only about 20 games away from the end of his MLB career. He had spent parts of 4 seasons in the majors (and one back in the minors) as a backup catcher, compiling a very “Caspar Milquetoast” stat line in about 200 career big league at-bats.

Playing then for Cincinnati, the birthday boy was presented with a check for $1,000 by his hometown fans before the game with the Boston Braves that day. Batting 5th for the visiting Reds, and perhaps motivated by the extra attention from his loving fans, Asbjornson had his greatest day as a Major Leaguer, smashing the lone Home Run of his career, while going 2 for 3 with 2RBI. After the game, the people of Concord held a banquet in honor of their hometown hero.

The pride of Concord, Mass, played only a few more years in the minors before retiring from the game at the age of 26. He later settled down with his wife in another small town – Williamsport, PA, – where he became a lathe operator. I find no record, but I like to imagine “Casper” at his lathe, making baseball bats for another generation of hometown heroes. Asbjornson passed away in 1970 – in the birthplace of Little League baseball and unofficial home of Hometown Heroes.

From Concord, to Williamsport, to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame – let’s hear it for “Casper” Asbjornson!

June 18, 2019 – Lisalverto Bonilla

Pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla (leez-ahl-BEHR-toh boh-NEE-ya) pitched a nice 3-up, 3-down inning in his Major League debut on 9/4/14 for the Texas Rangers. Unfortunately, it’s been an injury-riddled, downhill slide ever since.

After missing all of the 2015 season recovering from arm injuries, Bonilla pitched the 2016 season in the Dodgers Farm system, before briefly finding his way back to the Majors with the Reds in 2017. Ineffectiveness in Cincinnati led to his demotion to AAA Louisville, and he was eventually released later that year.

CaptureHoping to rekindle his career, Bonilla pitched all of 2018 with the Samsung Lions of the Korean Baseball Organization. While he stayed healthy (and inspired this great fan art by 340_Studio) he took a beating from the mound, and it only got worse for him in 3 games in the Dominican League this winter.

Bonilla just signed a contract with Los Tigres de Quintana Roo of the Mexican League about two months ago, on 4/21/19. Barely two weeks later he was injured again, and placed on the team’s reserve list. Time will only tell if he’ll ever make it back to pitch for Quintana Roo, let alone the majors.

Of course, it’s not Lisalverto Bonilla’s 7 career major league starts that caught my attention – It was his 7-syllable name. It’s just fun to say!

Lisalverto Bonilla, born June 18, 1990, is still fighting for his baseball life but when he’s ready to hang ‘em up, we have a spot waiting for him in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 17, 2019 – Joe Charboneau

If your name is Joe, the deck is heavily stacked against your chances for entry into the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball history is littered with far too many wacky names to give much consideration to a plain old “Joe”. It would take a list of antics so legendary they’d write a song about you…

Antics? In the case of Joe Charboneau (SHAR-buh-no), it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. When asked for help, he wryly replied “Well, that would ruin the magic.” [MLB.com]

What’s indisputable is the immediate impact Charboneau had on the Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball, running away with the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1980. His playing days came to an end 20 years later when he received ONE final professional at-bat as a promotion for the independent Frontier League Canton Crocodiles. Smoking a cigar on the bench while waiting for his turn at the plate, his teammates asked him, “Aren’t you nervous?”

“Why would I be nervous?” he asked in reply. “The worst I’m going to do is get a single.”

True to his word, the legendary Joe Charboneau stroked a hard base-hit, dropping the mic on his playing career at the age of 45. It’s what he did (and didn’t do) along the way that made it plain to the world, he was no plain old Joe.

superjoe-7He was said to have earned money in high school by fighting bare-knuckle boxing matches, and had friends break rocks on his chest.

He once fixed his own broken nose with a pair of pliers.

After a fight with team management, he quit 12 games into his second season of A-ball, returning home to play softball.

He routinely dyed his curly hair unnatural colors, opened beer bottles with his eye sockets, and drank them through his nose with a straw.

He was stabbed while playing exhibition games in Mexico, cut out a tattoo with a razor blade, and stitched himself up with fishing line.

He once won a bet by eating six lit cigarettes. Or did he?

In 1980 at the height of “Super-Joe” mania in Cleveland, a band called Section 36 released a song called “Go Joe Charboneau” that reached #3 on regional music charts. Shortly thereafter, back injuries tragically ended his MLB playing career after only 201 games, giving Joe Charboneau, born June 17, 1955, the unfortunate MLB record for fewest career games played by a Rookie of the Year award-winner.

Fortunately for him, it’s not what you do ON the field that matters most to us. He’s no ordinary Joe – He’s Super-Joe Charboneau, and he’s right at home in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 16, 2019 – Salome’ Barojas

I count myself lucky that as a kid, I “watched” more baseball on the radio than I did on TV or in-person. I count myself doubly lucky that the man painting all those brilliant pictures in my head was the late, great Seattle Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus. Like it or not (I liked it), Niehaus’ play-by-play provided the neighborhood soundtrack for most of my summer nights in the late 70’s and 80’s.

Working in his garden every night as we played hide-and-seek, our neighbor listened to the Mariners games on his big portable radio. He was a bit hard of hearing, so the volume was always loud enough to be heard from several houses away. Dave Niehaus’ smoky baritone would bounce off the houses and vibrate through the bushes to find me in even the most remote hiding places.

When I was 13 years old, my interest in baseball cards was starting to grow into a second shoe-box and one of the hottest cards from 1983 was the Fleer Ron Kittle rookie card. I was REALLY excited to get TWO of those cards in one lucky batch of wax packs but became much more intrigued by another Chicago White Sox rookie card.

51F+Q6xuIAL._SY445_I had no idea how to pronounce “Salome Barojas” but my best guess was “Suh-lome Buh-roh-juss.” I thought it was so weird. I was still two years away from my first year of Spanish, so even if his name on the card would have had the appropriate accent in place, I would have still never said “Salome’ Barojas” correctly.

Mr. Fuhrman was my first Spanish teacher but Dave Niehaus taught me how to say “Sah-low-MAY Bare-oh-hoss.” Actually, I think Dave added an extra accent to his last name. As I recall it, Dave’s pronunciation was more like “Sal-oh-MAY Buh-roh-HOSS.” When I first heard him say it, I had no idea who he was talking about. Having been traded to the Mariners by the White Sox for Jerry Don Gleaton (another Van Ling Mungo Hall of Fame candidate), It took me at least a few games to realize that the name I was hearing was Suh-Lome Buh-roh-jus from my old baseball card.

The very best thing about baseball cards are the memories they evoke, which can quickly move several degrees of separation beyond the players pictured on front. When I come across an old Mariners card, I realize that in many cases, the voice in my head as I read the player’s name isn’t my own – it’s quite often Dave’s.

To this day, every time I see the name Salome’ Barojas – who was born on June 16, 1957 – I hear Dave’s half-mispronunciation in my head. Similarly, every time I see Edgar Martinez’s name, I hear longtime Mariners PA announcer Tom Hutyler saying “ED-gaaaaaaaar Maar-TI-NEZ! I assume most baseball fans have similar “voices from on high” in their heads and oddly enough, Barojas also caught the fancy of one of the most famous of all-time.

For 56 years (1951-2007) and over 4,500 games, Bob Sheppard was the PA announcer at Yankee Stadium. As Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski (a mouthful in its own right) put it “You’re not in the big leagues until Bob Sheppard announces your name.” [NBC Sports] When asked to list his all-time favorite players to announce, “The Voice of God” (as  dubbed by Reggie Jackson) listed Salome’ Barojas among his top 3, with Mickey Mantle and Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

In whatever voice you hear in your head, please welcome Salome’ Barojas to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 15, 2019 – Heinie Beckendorf

Opponents of the Reserve Clause in professional baseball likened it to indentured servitude and slavery. Once signed to a contract of any length, the Reserve Clause gave teams exclusive and indefinite rights over their players. Without recourse, players could be traded, sold, demoted or cut.

The first version of the clause was introduced by the National League in 1879. Similar clauses existed in other professional leagues and would eventually extend to the minor leagues. In 1910, a later version of the clause was upheld in the Supreme Court, when professional baseball was granted immunity from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. It was upheld again in 1922 when Oliver Wendell Holmes concluded that baseball could not be defined as interstate commerce. Instead, it was deemed “amusement” and therefore not subject to anti-trust laws.

The Reserve Clause would stand with little credible opposition for nearly 50 years. It was most famously challenged in 1969 by St. Louis Cardinals All-Star Outfielder Curt Flood, and was finally struck down in 1975. From 1879 until then – nearly 100 years later – once a player signed a contract, the rights to his baseball playing career and salary were almost entirely out of their control. As a player, the only way to regain control of your own destiny was to be granted your outright release.

untitledOne early challenger to the professional baseball Reserve Clause was catcher Heinie Beckendorf. A year after winning the Hudson River League pennant with the Kingston Colonials in 1905, Beckendorf sought his release from the team in a 2-part claim which was upheld by the National Board.

His release allowed him to eventually sign with the Scranton Miners of the New York State League, with whom he won another pennant in 1907. His skill behind the plate and his handling of pitchers caught the attention of the Detroit Tigers, who signed him away in July of 1908, as well as the great Connie Mack. The Hall of Fame manager of the rival Philadelphia Athletics tried to sign him away from Detroit, saying “never in his experience had he seen a catcher get more out of his pitchers than this man Beckendorf did.” [Sporting Life, Nov 1908]

With a stamp of approval like that, you have to wonder what could have been for Henry Ward “Heinie” Beckendorf. Born on June 15, 1884, Beckendorf’s Major League Baseball career lasted only 55 games over the 1909 and ’10 seasons. At the plate, he was overwhelmed by big league pitchers, batting only .182 in 137 at-bats.

Behind the plate he was good. Signed away by the Washington Senators in 1910, Beckendorf caught three shutouts by Hall-of-Famer Walter Johnson before a fastball from the Big Train effectively ended his career. Having been previously injured while catching Senators hurler Dolly Gray, Beckendorf didn’t last past the first inning in his comeback game. As Sporting Life put it “Henry’s hands were hardly equal to the punishment inflicted by Johnson’s speed.”

While he attempted a comeback with the Tigers, it seems that Heinie’s propensity to party may have also led to his undoing as a big-leaguer. Showing up out of shape to spring training in 1911, a Detroit Free Press article stated that Beckendorf “was much sought as a companion by those who wished to enjoy life to the fullest. He always was ready for a lark and never lost any legitimate fun, even at the cost of keeping in condition.”

How’s this for a lark, Heinie? You’re in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

There have been 23 guys (nick)named “Heinie” to have either coached or managed in the Major Leagues. While Heinie Beckendorf is the first of those to be inducted into the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame, it’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be the last – there’s always room for more Heinies on our bench!

June 14, 2019 – Fenton Mole

According to AnimalControlSolutions.com, there are seven species of moles in N. America – eight, if you count Fenton Mole – that all have the same thing in common: “They will wreck your yard in in a matter of days if not controlled.”

2b6d86e01a1157fbd5475d10dc508f32In all fairness, while he made 56 errors in 7 seasons of professional baseball, his .989 fielding percentage was pretty decent. Despite playing in only 10 games during the 1949 New York Yankees World Series championship season, the website sportspickle.com took a jab at Mole last year, identifying him as the worst Yankee to ever wear the #23, retired in honor of slick-fielding 1st Baseman Don Mattingly.

While he made no errors in his brief appearance in the Major Leagues, he only managed a .185 batting average with no home runs – showing none of the raw power that likely got him noticed in the minor leagues the previous year.

Fenton “Muscles” Mole likely earned that nickname during the best season of his professional career. For the 1948 Portland Beavers, he slugged a team-leading 22 home runs, with 83 RBI and a healthy .283 batting average.

While only 3 of the 8 teams in the old Pacific Coast League were affiliated with Major League clubs, the circuit was riddled with former and future big league stars. In 1948, future Hall-of-Fame manager Casey Stengel was in his third season at the helm of the Oakland Oaks. It was likely during this season that Mole caught the attention of “The Old Perfesser”, whose Oaks bested the PCL with a 114-74 record that year.

In 1949, Stengel found himself back in the Major Leagues with the Yankees and he brought Mole with him. Playing most of the season for the Yanks’ AAA affiliate Newark Bears, Mole was brought up to The Show on September 1st. He played 10 games in September, managing 5 hits and 2RBI in his 30 plate appearances before being demoted for the final two games of the regular season.

The Yankees went on to win the World Series that October, and six more during Stengel’s historic 12-year run as skipper. Fenton Leroy Mole, born June 14, 1925 played 3 more forgettable seasons in the minors before fading away into baseball obscurity.

Fortunately for him, baseball obscurity is exactly where we look for new members. Welcome to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame, “Muscles”!

June 13, 2019 – Marcel Lachemann

After a 12-year professional playing career, including parts of the 1969-71 seasons for the Oakland Athletics, Marcel Lachemann embarked on a long coaching career that included stops at his alma mater USC, the US Olympic Team, and the Anaheim Angels, who he managed to a 161-170 record from 1994-96. He, along with brother Rene are also one of 388 sets of brothers to have played Major League Baseball.

CaptureBorn on June 13, 1941, Marcel Ernest Lachemann always looked to me like a nice, folksy grandfather-type, and in my research I looked forward to finding a long list of engaging stories about the baseball lifer. Then on page-one of my search results, I discovered that he starred in a 30-second Budweiser Light commercial in 1984 and figured it probably wasn’t going to get any better than that.

This Bud’s for you, Marcel! Welcome to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 12, 2019 – Bitsy Mott

Around a one-year stint with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945, Elisha Matthew “Bitsy” Mott, played for 13 different minor league teams in 14 years. Beginning in 1939 with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ D-League affiliate Americus (GA) Pioneers, Mott played 3 years in the bush leagues before losing two to military service. He returned to action in 1944, with the A-League Utica Blue Sox and then, clearly desperate to fill out their roster, the parent-club Philadelphia Phillies made the diminutive Mott (5’8” 155lb) their starting shortstop in 1945.

His team-leading 27 errors for the last-place Phillies were more than the light-hitting Mott’s 6 extra base hits (all doubles), 21 runs scored, and 22 RBI. With the war over in 1946, Mott found himself back in Utica, and he’d ride the busses of the minor leagues for parts of 10 more seasons before hanging up his spikes for another team of sorts: The Memphis Mafia.

Born on June 12, 1918, perhaps the best thing that ever happened to him was when his sister married Tom Parker four years before Bitsy Mott began his 15-season baseball odyssey. As Mott was scuffling through his forgettable 1945 season for the Phillies, Parker became the manager of Grand Ole Opry star Eddy Arnold. While Mott was playing for the C-League Tampa Smokers in 1948, Parker received the title of Colonel in the honorary Louisiana State Militia. Then in 1956, right as Mott’s playing career was coming to an end, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker signed a young Elvis Presley to an exclusive management contract.

1957_april_3_arriving_3Presley’s inner-circle, known eventually as the Memphis Mafia, was made-up almost entirely of close family, friends and acquaintances. Mott assumed a role with Presley’s security detail and the former big league leadoff hitter would lead the way for the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll for much of his career. He also reportedly appeared (uncredited, it seems) in five of Elvis’ movies. Parker eventually fell out of favor with the Mafia but longtime Elvis confidante Marty Lacker said of Mott, “He was from the old school of Parker but a nice guy.” [elvisinfonet.com]

In his eventful life, Bitsy Mott was a member of the Americus Pioneers, Utica Blue Sox, United States Navy, Philadelphia Phillies, Palatka Azaleas, Tampa Smokers, Keokuk Kernels, and The Memphis Mafia. Now, he’s right at home in the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 11, 2019 – Yhency Brazoban

Born on June 11, 1980, the professional baseball career arc of Yhency Brazoban (YEN-see Brah-zo-BAHN) brings to mind an unfortunate colloquialism: “Flash in the Pan.” When he first appeared on this 2001 Bowman Chrome Refractor baseball card, he was a young, 3x All-Star as a hot-hitting outfielder prospect in the Yankees farm system.

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Brazoban’s hitting cooled-off enough by 2002, that the Yanks turned him into a pitcher.  He was traded to the Dodgers in December of 2003, and his meteoric rise began the following season in AA where he recorded 13 saves, earning a quick promotion to AAA. Defying all expectations, he made his MLB debut on August 5th, 2004 and finished the season as the setup man for All-Star closer Eric Gagne.

The 2005 season was both the zenith of his career and harbinger of its demise. Filling-in for an injured Gagne, Brazoban recorded Dodgers rookie records for most appearances by a pitcher (75) and saves (21). He also blew 6 saves and allowed nearly half (42%) of inherited runners to score on the way to a lofty 5.33 ERA.

An arm injury after only 5 innings pitched in 2006 required “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery, and a second injury in 2007 turned Brazoban into a baseball vagabond as he attempted to get back to the Major Leagues. From 2007-2014, Brazoban pitched for 20 teams in 14 leagues on 3 continents. This includes his last 6 innings pitched in the Majors, for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011.

Come to think of it, his career brings another colorful baseball saying to mind: “For Love of the Game.” For THAT, we welcome Yhency Brazoban to the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame!

June 10, 2019 – Johnny Podgajny

$_57The only thing distinctive about Johnny Podgajny’s (pronounced puh-JONNY…yes, Johnny Puh-Johnny) MLB baseball career, is that he had one at all. Born on June 10, 1920, Podgajny had two promising seasons in the minors before making his debut with the perennial cellar-dwelling Philadelphia Phillies in 1940 – the same year the selective service draft began.

Beginning in 1940, over 4,000 minor leaguers and 500 Major Leaguers enlisted or were drafted into military service. While the executive decision was made for MLB to continue during WWII, it was conceded that the quality of play would suffer as young players got their call to the big leagues and older players got to hang on for a few more years. While little information is available on Podgajny, it’s reasonable to assume that he was one of the young guys who got that chance.

Shown here on a 1976 reprint of a 1942 Play Ball baseball card, Johnny Puh-Johnny somehow avoided the draft and the call to serve, to scratch-out a meager professional baseball career that ended back in the minors after the war. His final Major League pitching statistics include a 20-37 win-loss record, 129 strikeouts, 165 walks, and a very high Earned Run Average (ERA) of 4.20.

June 9, 2019 – Dude Esterbrook

CaptureProfessional baseball history is littered with colorful characters from it’s start in post-civil war America.   For some perspective, the first entirely professional baseball team was formed in 1869 and BaseballReference.com keeps statistics beginning in 1876.

Dude Esterbrook began his professional career with the Buffalo Bisons in 1880 and last played in 3 games for for the Brooklyn Grooms in 1891. By the mid-1890’s, it finally became commonplace for players to wear baseball gloves in the field.

Esterbrook is featured here on this 1887 Buchner Gold Coin Chewing Tobacco baseball card as the third baseman for the New York Metropolitans of the old American Association. If you ask me, it doesn’t get any more Dude than playing the “Hot Corner” bare-handed.

June 8, 2019 – Van Lingle Mungo and Eddie Gaedel

The two inaugural inductees of the Van 44894Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame on June 8, 2019, are its namesake, Van Lingle Mungo and Eddie Gaedel.

Hall-of-Fame manager Casey Stengel said that he and Mungo, who was well-known for his drinking, fighting, and general combativeness, “Got along just fine. I won’t stand for no nonsense, and then I duck!”

Shown here on his #254 1938 Goudy “Heads-Up” Baseball Card, Van Lingle Mungo was said to have once been smuggled by a Dodgers executive in a laundry cart to a waiting seaplane, where he was safely flown out of Cuba back to the states. He had been caught in the act with a married woman, whose husband went after him with a machete!

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frontOf Eddie Gaedel, St. Louis Browns showman owner and promoter Bill Veeck said, “He was, by golly, the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball.”

As part of a publicity stunt to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American League, Veeck had secretly signed Gaedel and added him to the roster before a double-header with the Detroit Tigers.

Gaedel made a grand appearance by bursting from a papier-mâché cake between games. He pinch-hit for the leadoff batter in the bottom of the 1st inning, drawing a 4-pitch walk before being removed for a pinch runner. It was the only appearance of his “short” Major League career.

Gaedel is fittingly shown here on his #52 2014 Panini Golden Age Mini baseball card.