Results tagged ‘ Philadelphia Athletics ’

The Philadelphia Athletics and their hunchbacked mascot.

louis van zelst

Louis Van Zelst

Louis Van Zelst was born in 1895 and was disfigured, the result of an early childhood fall. However, while Van Zelst grew to have a humpback, he was never particularly self-conscious about it, and willingly served as a mascot for a few teams at the University of Pennsylvania.

The University of Pennsylvania happened to share a city with the Philadelphia Athletics, and Van Zelst came to know some of the team’s players and its manager, Connie Mack. Van Zelst approached Mack in 1909 saying he was lucky, and after giving him a tryout, Mack was sufficiently superstitious to believe him and bring him on in an official capacity.

Van Zelst began as the Athletics’ bat boy in 1910, and while the team had been good the year before, in 1910 it won the World Series, and Van Zelst was paid a substantial bonus. The Athletics would then win the World Series again in 1911 and again in 1913, before losing in 1914. Still, Van Zelst had four Series appearances and three championships to his name as a mascot, which is about as good as it gets.

In the day-to-day, Van Zelst was on hand for pretty much every home game and many road games. Prior to each game, players would walk over and rub his humpback for good luck. Such practices were not rare in those days. They stemmed from the rather out-of-control belief in superstitions which resulted in midgets, humpbacks and other unfortunates joining the ranks of youngsters in the dugouts of major league baseball teams. In Baseball: The Golden Age, Harold Seymour explains that “Lefthanders, hunchbacks and cross-eyed people were all considered (lucky). …Touching a hunchback was popularly believed to bring good luck…. Brownie Burke, a midget to whom Gary Herrmann took a fancy was in uniform daily with the Cincinnati Reds.” There are countless other examples from Ty Cobb’s unfortunate black boy mascot Li’l Rastus to Babe Ruth’s not-so-unfortunate Little Ray Kelly. Indeed, the crosstown Phillies would soon match the A’s with a hunchback mascot of their own. Van Zelst was popular with both Athletics players and visitors, and was even invited to second baseman Eddie Collins’ wedding. At one point Mack tried to send him out to coach first base before the umpire told him to return to the dugout.

Unfortunately, Van Zelst fell ill after the 1914 season and soon died of kidney disease. After advancing to the World Series with Van Zelst in 1914, the Athletics finished in last place in 1915, the first of seven consecutive years they’d finish in the basement.

“Home Run” Baker had a huge dong.

The following was re-printed from Robert W. Creamer’s book, Babe: A Legend Come to Life.

hr baker cardBecause of the Babe’s prowess, there were the inevitable stories that Ruth was exceptionally well equipped sexually, and a male nurse who took care of him in his terminal illness was impressed by the size of Ruth’s genitals. One teammate, asked if he had an exceptionally big penis, frowned a little and searched his memory and shook his head. “No,” he said, “It was normal size, judging from locker room observation. Nothing extraordinary. Del Pratt’s was. And Home Run Baker’s. My god, you wouldn’t believe Home Run Baker’s. It looked like it belonged to a horse. But Babe’s wasn’t noticeably big. What was extraordinary was how he kept doing it all the time. He was continually with women morning and night. I don’t know how he kept going.”He was very noisy in bed, visceral grunts and gasps and whoops accompanying his erotic exertions.  “He was the noisiest fucker in North America,” a whimsical friend recalled.

1953 Philadelphia Athletics…and POP culture.

yearbook Hello everyone! I thought I’d take you on a virtual time travel…to 1953! The Athletics were residing in their original home, Philadelphia at the time and finished in 7th place in the American League with an embarrassing 59 wins and 95 losses. This was to be their second to last season in that city before moving to Kansas City in 1955. Outfielder Gus Zernial had an amazing 42 home runs with 108 R.B.I.s that season, but unfortunately the Athletics drew only 362,000 paying customers, all but assuring their move two years later.

Some of the popular novels at the time were Ray Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451” and J.D. Salinger’s “4 Stories,” other notables were C.S. Lewis, William Burroughs, James Baldwin, Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie.

Peter Pan was the top grossing movie.

“The song from Moulin Rouge” by Percy Faith was the number one single.

Jackie Gleason had the top album.

The Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series for the 2nd year in a row…this was their 6th straight World Series title.

Bob Hope and the first televised Academy Awards.

A cold, boring day with Bris Lord

bris-lord-philadelphia-athletics-baseball-card-portrait

Robot Ham

Winter is upon us, baseball season is over, and despite my fervent following of the NFL in the past, I find that I just don’t have as much interest in the grid-iron anymore. But before I wax nostalgic about the change in seasons, I must admit living in Los Angeles doesn’t give you much opportunity to do so, and that is just as well as I don’t like snow, rain, or cold weather in general. I sadly (or joyously, depending on how you see it) sit around in my spare time, enjoying the small pleasures of existence, drinking beers and watching you tube videos of baseball games from the 60’s and 70’s. If I need a break from the constant blather of the television, I’ll turn the son of a bitch off and enjoy the silence while researching a few players from the past that may have had a unique, interesting or challenging life.

Bris Lord’s life wasn’t exactly unique or interesting. Mr. Lord’s nickname was “the human eyeball.” His middle name was Robot Ham. Ok, so it was Robotham, but bear with me here. Robot Ham was also involved in one of the most lop-sided trades in MLB history as he was acquired from the Cleveland Naps for “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.  I suppose “Bris” is an interesting name, which means the Jewish right of circumcision performed on the male child on the 8th day of his life. But before you start contemplating how strange it is/was to be named after your schlong getting butchered, the man’s actual name was Bristol. Perhaps Sarah Palin named her daughter after him. (I would insert a Palin dick -joke here but that would just be too obvious and out-dated.) Now before anyone gets any bright ideas, I want the readers to know that I just happen to be circumcised. I heard that it’s “cleaner,” but I was also told that my sex life wont be as intense because of the sensitivity of the foreskin that I now lack… so it’s a double-edged sword. You can’t win.

“The Ham” wasn’t much of a player, as he only had a career .256 average.  I found a newspaper from January 17th, 1912 that had a small article titled “Bris Lord is taught to bat by Connie.” I thought that was a bit laughable as Connie Mack retired with a career batting average of  .242, 16 points behind Robot Ham’s career mark. I much prefer the “dog days” of the baseball season, because the dog days of winter have you writing articles like this. I think I’ll go read that Paul Auster novel that I’ve put off for awhile. I’ll stop by the store for more beer and chat with the Indian guy about how L.A. needs a football team and how fucked up young people are today. Dog days, indeed.

Jimmie Foxx…greatest Athletics hitter of all time.

1985-topps-circle-k-7-jimmie-foxx-baseball-cards-n-2e8a X is the first
Of two x’s in Foxx
Who was right behind Ruth
With his powerful soxx.

Ogden Nash, Sport Magazine 

In the 1930’s, Jimmie Foxx socked more homers than any other player. A fearsome power hitter whose strength earned him the moniker “The Beast”, Jimmie Foxx was the anchor of an intimidating Philadelphia Athletics lineup that produced pennant winners from 1929-31. The second batter in history to top 500 home runs, Foxx belted 30 or more homers in 12 consecutive seasons and drove in more than 100 runs 13 consecutive years, including a career-best 175 with Boston in 1938. He won back-to-back MVP Awards in 1932 and ’33, capturing the Triple Crown in the latter year. Called “the right-handed Babe Ruth.” Foxx became a baseball legend because of his enormous strength. In Comiskey Park, he hit a ball over the double-decked stands, clearing 34th Street. His gigantic clout in Cleveland won the 1935 all-star Game. In Yankee Stadium, he hit one into the left field upper deck where it broke a seat! A strong, powerful hitter, he was menacing looking at the plate.

He had great powerful arms, and he used to wear his sleeves cut off way up, and when he dug in and raised that bat, his muscles would bulge and ripple.   

After years in Philadelphia playing under the penurious Connie Mack, he finally started making good when he was traded to Boston. Tom Yawkey, who always paid his players well, even gave Foxx a share in gate receipts. Universally liked, almost everyone loved him, from Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth to Ted Williams. (Ted Williams even claimed that Jimmie could drink 15 glasses of scotch whisky and not be affected) He always went out of the way to befriend new teammates and rookies.

In July of 1967, after years of bad investments and ill health, Foxx died on the way to the hospital after he choked on a piece of meat in the backyard of his brother. By that time, he was a beaten and broken man, and those close to him felt that Jimmie had finally just given up, and did not have the will to live anymore. It was a very sad ending to a simply great guy. 

jimmies grave

Rube Waddell…eccentric.

rube-waddell-signed-image-3The A’s were eliminated from the playoffs last week, which means baseball season is essentially over for me. The disappointment burns even deeper as I have absolutely zero interest in the Redsox/Tigers series; I’ve watched maybe one inning of the 4 games played in the series so far. 

Usually during the off-season, in order to get a fix, I’ll read up and polish my knowledge of baseball history. I’ve always had a keen interest in the history of the game, with a pretty healthy interest and focus on eccentrics…or weirdos. Rube Waddell is one of the more interesting characters I’ve come across during my readings. Never mind Rube’s induction into the Hall of Fame in 1946 or 193 career wins. It’s Mr. Waddell’s off the field habits that I found to be of the most interest…

Despite Rube’s drinking problems with the National League’s Louisville Colonels, in 1902 Owner/manager Connie Mack took a risk on the oddball and signed him to the Philadelphia Athletics. Waddell’s turnaround was a direct result of Connie Mack’s managing.  According to Mack, Waddell “had more stuff than any pitcher I ever saw. He had everything but a sense of responsibility.”  Because of this, Mack paid Waddell on an as-needed basis in singles so he wouldn’t blow his earnings on alcohol.  While Mack could control Waddell’s paychecks, he couldn’t control all of the idiosyncrasies.  Waddell’s fascination with fire departments continued throughout his time with the A’s and he routinely wore red under his clothing just in case a fire bell would ring.  He missed starts because he was fishing, or was late to games because he was playing marbles in the streets of Philadelphia with children.  He was married three times and was often put in jail for missing alimony payments.

Other examples of the bizarre with Waddell include:

  • He wrestled alligators during the off-season.
  • He played for two Philadelphia Athletics clubs in 1902: the baseball club and the Philadelphia Athletics of the first National Football League (at 6’2″ and 200 lbs. he was a fullback).
  • He almost shot Connie Mack in the head when a pistol fell out of his pocket and fired at the team hotel.
  • His contract included a clause, at his catcher’s insistence, that prohibited Waddell from eating crackers in bed.  During the early years, players would share beds on road trips and Ossee Schreckengost couldn’t sleep because of the crumbs.
  • In 1903, he climbed into the stands to beat up a spectator who was heckling him and was suspended for 5 games.
  • In one game, Waddell was at bat in the 8th inning with 2 outs and a man on second.  After a pitch, the catcher threw to second in a pick-off attempt, but the ball sailed into the outfield.  The A’s runner took off and was rounding home to score when the center fielder fired home.  Waddell, with bat still in hand, swung and hit the ball back into play.  He was called out for interference.  His explanation for the gaffe, “They’d been feeding me curves all afternoon, and this was the first straight ball I’d looked at!”

At the end of the 1907 season, Waddell was slumping badly and was then sold to St. Louis “in the interests of team unity.”  He pitched out the final three years of his major league career before drinking his way back to the minors in 1911.

The events surrounding Waddell’s death were just as memorable as those surrounding his life.  In the fall of 1912, he was living in Kentucky with friends when a nearby dam collapsed and caused devastating flooding in the region.  Waddell immediately went to help out in whatever way he could, by pulling people out of homes and by working for hours on end in cold water piling up sandbags.  Although his actions were heroic, they also proved costly as he developed pneumonia.  As a result, his body was severely weakened and he battled bouts of pneumonia and tuberculosis from which he never fully recovered.  He died in 1914 at the age of 37…on April Fool’s day  Waddell.Rube.Grave1