Category Archives: History

‘The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story’ makes Indianapolis premier

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” — a film by Ted Green — made its Indianapolis debut Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Tobias Theater aka The Toby.
After the screening presented by Heartland Film, Green told why he chose the documentary subject.
“I like to do films that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit,” said Green, a producer, director, writer and researcher who partnered with Indiana Historical Society and created a cinematic portrayal of the man who has impacted the baseball world and so much more. “I just found myself drawn to this 95-year old guy up in Anderson, Ind., who was able to sort of move social mountains — not through bombast, not through money, but through grace, through humility, through servant leadership — and I will tell you that the last two years spent during production were the greatest two years of education of my life.
“Maybe just maybe niceness and decency can win in the end.”
Esteemed broadcaster Bob Costas summed it up in his on-screen introduction: “It was a story told softly as you’re about to see and hear about a story that cumulatively speaks to a person who’s deeply admirable.”
Erskine, who became known as “The Gentleman from Indiana,” was born Dec. 13, 1926 in Anderson, won 122 games as a right-handed pitcher for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers.
Throwing an overhand curveball that Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully said could be seen in a snowstorm, Erskine struck out a then-record 14 batters in the 1953 World Series.
“Oisk” — as Brooklyn fans called him — is the last living member of the 1955 team that won the World Series. That group is part of Roger Kahn’s celebrated book, “The Boys of Summer.” Hall of Famer and Indiana native Gil Hodges was also on that team.
Erskine threw two no-hitters and the was the starting pitcher in the Dodgers’ first game in LA.
But that’s just a part of Erskine’s tale.
“When I was a little boy I had this feeling in my soul: Something good is going to happen to you,” said Erskine early in the film. I just had this feeling,”
Carl and Betty Erskine will celebrate 75 years of marriage on Oct. 5. They raised four children — Danny, Gary, Susan and Jimmy.
The latter was born in 1960 — less than a year after Carl retired from baseball — with Down syndrome. Rather than put Jimmy away in an institution, the Erskine showered him with love and treated him like the rest of the children.
“We were an active family,” said Gary Erskine. “Jimmy was not left behind.”
Jimmy got on to a school bus for the first time in 1972 and has gone on to lead an independent life.
When Carl and Betty’s fourth child came along, Indiana had long took a dim view of the “feeble-minded” and in 1907 was the nation’s first state to enact compulsory sterilization to “prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists.”
Expected to live to around 35, Jimmy Erskine turned 62 this year. He worked at Applebee’s in Anderson for two decades and competed in Special Olympics for 50 (starting with the Indiana State Special Olympic Games in Terre Haute in 1970).
The Carl and Betty Erskine Society raises money for the Special Olympics.
The Erskine Personal Impact Curriculum (EPIC) is a set of materials for elementary, middle and high school students that uses stories from Carl’s life to “create lessons and activities with themes including empowerment, friendship, inclusion and leadership.”
Thursday’s event was also a celebration of the Erskine connection to Special Olympics Indiana and helping to promote grace, humility, diversity, inclusion and servant leadership.
When Carl was 10 and playing basketball in the alley with friends, 9-year-old Johnny Wilson wandered in.
Carl’s question to the boy who happen to be black was, “Do you want to play?”
It was the start of long friendship that lasted more than eight decades — one that will be commemorated with a mural in downtown Anderson in 2023.
The boy who went on to be known as “Jumpin’” Johnny Wilson came from a family on welfare so he often ate at the Erskine house.
Blacks were not welcome in some Anderson restaurants. They could not join the YMCA. They were restricted to the balcony of the movie theater.
The Ted Green film made its world premier Aug. 11 at Anderson’s Paramount Theatre with an encore on Aug. 13.
“Blacks were expected to be where they were supposed to be and the whites on the other side,” said Erskine.
Carl’s parents — Matt and Berths — did not show that prejudice.
General Motors Delco Remy inspector Matt Erskine “walked as easily among blacks as whites.”
Bertha Erskine “was known for seeing the best in everyone and everything.”
Said Carl, “She gave me the feeling that beauty is all around us. Don’t forget to look at it.”
Carl went to the blacks-only swimming pool with Johnny Wilson. He didn’t go to places Johnny couldn’t and he sat in the balcony with his pal.
They later played together on the Anderson High School basketball team. Wilson was chosen as Indiana Mr. Basketball in 1946 and went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters and is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. He competed in baseball, basketball, football and track and field at Anderson College (now Anderson University) and is in that school’s athletic hall of fame.
Erskine, who was later head baseball coach at Anderson College for 12 years and is also in the Ravens Hall of Fame, shined on the diamond for Anderson High and Anderson American Legion Post 127.
Throwing a tennis ball against a barn with a strike zone marked in chalk, Carl continually fanned his hero.
Said Erskine, “I can’t count how many times I struck out Babe Ruth.”
First discovered by Indianapolis scout Stan Feezle, Carl landed with the Dodgers after a stint in the U.S. Navy.
The Dodgers were run by Branch Rickey, who signed the Hoosier hurler for $5,000.
“I think there was an esteem there,” said Branch Rickey III of the relationship between his grandfather and Erskine. “He just had a deep, deep appreciation for what character could do individually. We loved what character could do for teams.”
As a minor leaguer pitching against the big club, Erskine first met Jackie Robinson, who made a point of encouraging him his outing.
Erskine made his Dodgers debut in 1948 and went on to toe the rubber for the franchise 335 times.
Two Erskine-penned books are “Tales from the Dodgers Dugout” and “What I Learned from Jackie Robinson” and has been involved with Jackie Robinson Day activities with The Base Indy.
One day after Erskine had shown kindness to wife and son — Rachel Robinson and Jackie Jr. — Robinson expressed his appreciation.
“‘Come on, Jackie, it’s as natural to me as breathing,’” said Erskine of his response. But Jackie was always kind of surprised. He said to me, ‘this black and white thing doesn’t seem to bother you.’ I told him about Johnny my buddy. He said, ‘Carl, I see life divided. You seem to see life connected.’”
When Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella was paralyzed in an auto accident in 1958, the first teammate to visit him in the hospital was Erskine.
A man of faith who met Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Erskine was there at the start of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Erskine lent his talent to Dale McMillen aka “Mr. Mac” with the Wildcat League for youth in Fort Wayne, Ind.
An insurance salesman and a bank president in his hometown, Carl has been a civic leader along with Betty.
Anderson has Erskine Elementary School (a video message from Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda at the dedication appears in the film).
There’s also was is now known as Anderson Youth Baseball & Softball at Erskine Park.
The broadcast premier of “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” is slated for 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22 on WFYI in Indianapolis with PBS stations around Indiana expected to follow.
As well as being part of the Heartland International Film Festival Oct. 6-16 in Indianapolis, screenings are planned for Sept. 29 at Eagles Theater in Wabash, Ind., Oct. 13 at Muncie Civic Center with dates to be determined at Artcraft Theater in Franklin, Ind., and Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis premier of the Ted Green film “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” was Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Tobias Theater aka The Toby. (Steve Krah Photo)
A memento from the Indianapolis premier of the Ted Green film “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story.” (Steve Krah Photo)

Reunion gives Jasper Reds chance to reminisce about the past, get excited for 2022 season

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was plenty of remembering going on April 30 as the Jasper (Ind.) Reds hosted their semipro baseball reunion after two years off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former players — including the Alles brothers (Bob, Tom, Bill and Jerry) — and many others gathered at the Jaycee Clubhouse in Jasper to tell stories and pour over table after table of memorabilia. There was also some talk about the 2022 season.
The Jasper Reds have fielded a team in Dubois County for all but a handful of summers dating back to 1893, making them one of the nation’s oldest active amateur teams.
The latest reunion was the 28th. The first was held in 1993, which was also the first year the Reds (29-11) qualified for the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. The most-recent of seven visits was in 2019.
The 2018 Reds went to Louisville for the Bluegrass World Series, an event that featured several former big leaguers.
The 1893 team was called the Acmes. The next year the name was changed to Red Jackets and was eventually shortened to Reds (they were known as Jasper K of C when the Knights of Columbus sponsored the team in the early 1920’s).
Five Alles boys were represented at the 2022 reunion, including Joe. They are the sons of the late Jerome “Chick” Alles and wife Annie Alles.
Chick played for the Jasper Reds 1950-63 and was later served three terms as the town’s mayor. He died in 2016 at 90 — two years after the passing of his wife at 88. Chick and Annie also had two daughters — Bev and Eve.
Bob, Tom, Bill and Jerry were Reds teammates and in the lineup together, which a caption under a photo from 1978 proclaims.
Bob Alles managed 20 straight seasons (1974-93) and came back for one (1996). He now serves as the business manager/general manager. He makes out the schedule, recruits the players and hires the umpires can usually be found in the dugout on gameday.
According to a profile in the book, “Baseball Play America” by Don Weisskopf, the Jasper Reds were close to folding in 1974. College sophomore Bob Alles took on manager duties and recording many winning seasons.
Tom Alles, who recently turned 65, played until he was 37. He serves as team historian (he wrote a 10-part series as the team approached its centennial in 1993 in which he noted that organized baseball came to Jasper in 1868; he also located a clip where the Hodges brothers — Gil and Bob — played for the Reds in 1942 with their last name lacking a “s” in the newspaper account) and has chased his share of foul balls. Gil Hodges grew up nearby in Princeton and Petersburg. He is going into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer.
“I played 20 years and I loved every minute of it,” says Tom Alles. “I don’t mind saying I cried like a baby when i knew I couldn’t play anymore.”
Bill Alles took over as Jasper Reds manager in the late 1990’s. In the history of the Jasper Reds, only two men — Bob and Bill Alles — have managed for more than three consecutive seasons. Some of them had multiple short stints.
“We try to combine winning with fun,” says Bill Alles. “Nobody’s going to be running laps after a game.”
Jerry Alles was a Jasper Reds batboy at a young age played for the team from the late ’70s to the mid ’90s. He played at Jasper High for Ray Howard, who went on to enter the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame and is the director of the hall’s collection on display at Vincennes University-Jasper. He also provides color on Jasper baseball broadcasts on WITZ AM/FM. Walt Ferber is the play-by-play man.
“I was very fortunate (to play for Howard),” says Jerry Alles. “We practiced long and hard. He would never dress you down on the field.”
Building the roster starts with the previous year’s team.
“They are always welcome back and long as they are reliable,” says Bob Alles. “It didn’t matter if they were not the best player in the world if they were reliable and would show up.”
Alles also reaches out to some of his coaching contacts, including at the junior college level.
“I always stress that it has to be the player (making the decision to join the Reds),” says Bob Alles. “It can’t be his dad. It can’t be his coach. It can’t be us because it’s going to be hot, it’s going to take some time — we played doubleheaders — and there’s been a lot of people in the stands.”
Other than an out-of-town tournament, most of the Reds games — about 20 in June and July — are played in Jasper.
“We have a good field. We pay the umpires and we buy good baseballs (and the price has risen about $12 to $15 a dozen in the past year). A lot of teams will come in for that.”
Bob Alles has been a stickler for quality baseballs for a long time now and will take them to road games, offering them if the home team is using an inferior sphere.
In a baseball-crazy community, Alles sees the Reds continue to receive support.
“It takes a lot to people, donating money and doing a lot of little things.”
There’s purchasing uniforms and liability insurance.
Terry Gobert, who coached Jasper High to the 2021 IHSAA Class 4A state championship and is an Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Famer and Jasper American Legion Post 147 manager, has been known to cut the field on an early weekend morning before the Reds play.
The Jasper Reds have been in various leagues or their lengthy history, but now they play an independent schedule. There’s no league pennant to play for, but the teams wants to — and does — consistently win.
The last regular-season loss came in 2017 against the St. Louis Pros in Jasper.
Recently, most Jasper Reds players have been 22 or younger with many in college or coming off their high school seasons.
“We love it when some guys beyond college stay,” says Tom Alles. “There’s still that thing of experience and having somebody older around that’s been through a little bit more and can be a good influence on the younger players.”
Since 1942, the Jasper Reds have shared Recreation Field — given that name because of the recreation program ran on those grounds by Cabby O’Neill — with Jasper High School teams.
It’s been known as Alvin C. Ruxer Field since 1991. Local businessman and one-time Jasper Reds pitcher Ruxer was a baseball benefactor.
According to “Baseball Play America,” Ruxer The one-time Jasper Reds pitcher set up two $10,000 trust funds for the team in 1981.
The 2022 Jasper Reds season is to open the first weekend in June with early games on the junior varsity diamond at Jasper High since Ruxer Field will be used for IHSAA regional and semistate play.
A year ago, the Reds played in the College Division (22U) of the National Amateur Baseball Federation tournament and will return in 2022. The regional is to be staged in Fort Wayne.
The NABF World Series July 28-31 in Sandusky, Ohio. But going to that would be a considerable expense.
“I did some computing and it would be over $6,000 just for hotels,” says Bob Alles. “That’s a lot of money and I don’t know if we can justify that.”
The team will wear a memorial patch to honor Jacob Crabtree, who was killed in a automobile accident in November 2021 at 19.
The graduate of Daviess County High School in Owensboro, Ky., was a sophomore at Brescia University in Owensboro, where he was on the baseball team and studying to be a physical therapist. He hit .314 for the 2021 Jasper Reds.

A 2022 Jasper (Ind.) Reds cap (Steve Krah Photo)
The Alles brothers at the 2022 Jasper (Ind.) Reds semipro baseball reunion on April 30 (from left): Joe, Tom, Jerry, Bill and Bob. (Steve Krah Photo)
Four of the Alles boys from 1978. All played in the same lineup for the Jasper (Ind.) Reds.
The Jasper (Ind.) Reds held their first semipro baseball reunion and marked the team’s 100th year in 1993.

Jasper (Ind.) Reds of 1953, featuring Jerome “Chick” Alles. Four of his sons went on to play for the team.
Jasper (Ind.) Reds of 1948.
Jasper (Ind.) Reds of 1939.
Jasper (Ind.) Reds of 1937.
Jasper (Ind.) Reds of 1936.
Jasper (Ind.) Reds of 1903.
Jasper (Ind.) Red Jackets of 1897. The name was later shortened to Reds.Jas
Jasper (Ind.) Red Jackets of 1894. The name was later shortened to Reds.
Jasper (Ind.) Acmes (Reds) of 1893.
A collection of uniform tops on display at the 2022 Jasper (Ind.) Reds semipro baseball reunion April 30. (Steve Krah Photo)

Hall of Famer Hodges may have I-69 bridge named in his honor

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana native Gil Hodges has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and he may be getting another posthumous honor.
Hodges was born in Princeton in 1924 and grew in Petersburg in southern Indiana. He attended Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Bronze Star recipient as a part of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. He was involved in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
He was a slugging first baseman for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers before managing the “Miracle Mets” to the World Series title in 1969 and dying of a heart attack in 1972.
In his 35 looks on a Hall of Fame ballot, Hodges obtained the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the Golden Days Period committee for enshrinement in Cooperstown. The induction ceremony is slated for July 24.
Hodges was in the inaugural class of Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in 1979.
A water-crossing structure in Columbus, Ind., might be among his next recognition.
A resolution passed through both chambers of the Indiana House to ask the Indiana Department of Transportation to ponder renaming the passageway on I-69 over the East Fork of the White River the “Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.” The bridge section is in Columbus.
The resolution was co-sponsored by State Representatives Cindy Ledbetter (R-Newburgh) and Shane Lindauer (R-Jasper).
“Resolutions don’t need to be signed by the governor,” says Adam Aasen, press secretary for Indiana House Republicans. “The bridge isn’t automatically renamed yet, although INDOT often takes these resolutions into strong consideration.”
The famed son of Indiana already has several places bearing his name:
• A bridge spanning the East Fork of the White River in northern Pike County on S.R. 57 is named for Hodges.
• Princeton Community High School plays on Gil Hodges Field.
• The diamond at Saint Joseph’s College, which closed in 2017, is also named for Hodges.
• A large mural of Hodges stands at the corner of S.R. 57 and S.R. 61 in Petersburg.
• There already is a Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and Gil Hodges Way in New York.
• Randy’s Americana Cafe’ in Petersburg has a huge Hodges memorabilia display. A baseball-style lunch is planned in Gil’s honor on April, which would have been his 98th birthday.
• Hodges wore 14. Both the Mets and Dodgers have retired that number.

Indiana native Gil Hodges has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and will be inducted posthumously in 2022.
Both chambers of the Indiana House have passed a resolution asking the Indiana Department of Transportation to name a span on the I-69 bridge the “Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.”
Gil Hodges Field in Princeton, Ind.
Gil Hodges Field at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. SJC closed in 2017.
The Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge in New York.
A New York street honoring Indiana native Gil Hodges.
A mural in Petersburg, Ind., for Gil Hodges.

Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League ‘Night of Memories’ to return in January

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After a one-year hiatus, Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League’s premier event is scheduled to return in 2022.
A non-profit organization organized in 1993 with more than 200 members, including Don Mattingly, Bob Griese, Andy Benes, Jamey Carroll, Clint Barmes, Marty Amsler, Evansville area high school and college baseball and softball coaches, area businessmen and community leaders, Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League provides financial assistance to youth organizations in baseball, softball, soccer, football, wrestling, basketball and youth ministry athletics.
Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League has distributed more than $2 million to over 100 youth organizations and a partial four-year college scholarship has been given for at least one area high school senior who has shown himself to be an outstanding athlete, student and citizen.
The primary fundraiser is the “Night of Memories.” It is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022 at the Carson Center on the campus of the University of Evansville.
Featured guests include National Baseball Hall of Famer Rich “Goose” Gossage, former big league outfielder Andruw Jones, hometown favorites Benes, Aaron Barrett and Jerad Eickhoff, Evansville Reitz graduate and New York Yankees prospect Elijah Dunham and 2021 Southridge High School graduate and Chicago White Sox draft selection Colson Montgomery. Wayne Hagin will serve as emcee.
Former University of Evansville head baseball coach Jim Brownlee will receive a Legend Award.
An autograph session is from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Central Time and open to all ages. Children 12-and-under are admitted free but must be accompanied by an adult with a paid admission and autograph purchase.
All items to be signed require autograph ticket (not available online, only sold at the door). Pricing per autograph varies by guest and will be posted at hotstoveleague.org when available.
A separate chat session and auction for guests 21-and-older is slated in the Meeks Family Fieldhouse.
Doors open at 5 with welcome/introductions at 6:15, presentation of awards at 6:30, chat session at 6:45 and live auction at 7:45. Admission to the main event is $25 per person. Admission tickets purchased for the autograph session will also grant entry into the main event as long as the guest is 21 or older.
A golf outing was held in September at Cambridge Golf Club in Evansville which funds the Bob Coleman-Joe Unfried Scholarship Award. Recent winners include Henry Brown (Evansville Central High School and Indiana State University) in 2021, Adam Euler (Evansville Reitz High School and University of Evansville) in 2020, Cory Bosecker (Evansville Central High School and Butler University) in 2019 and Zach Messinger (Castle High School and University of Virginia) in 2018.
Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League officers are president Ryan Berger, vice presidents Eric Millay, Tracy Archuleta and Cory Edwards, treasurer Steve Millay, historian Dave Johnson and secretary Steve Johnston.

Rich “Goose” Gossage (National Baseball Hall of Fame Photo)

Mannan out to change lives with Fort Wayne North Side Legends

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Austin Mannan has found his “why” and he pursues it on a daily basis as an educator and coach.

“I felt like I’ve had so many people pour their time and effort into me,” says Mannan, a special education teacher at Lane Middle School in Fort Wayne, Ind., and the head baseball coach at Fort Wayne North Side High School. “I have a duty to give that back to kids.

“I want to change somebody’s life. At the end of the day I don’t care what kind of baseball player you are, I want you to be a better person than when you got to me.

“I want them to look back and say he really cared about me. He really went the extra mile.”

Mannan has embraced his mindset and takes a cue from motivational speaker Eric Thomas, who asks “What’s Your Why?”

“Everybody has a reason to get out of bed everyday,” says Mannan. “You have to decide what that motivation is and what you can do to get there.

“(North Side) is an inner-city school. These kids have challenging backgrounds. We want to help them to be a better person.”

North Side (enrollment around 1,600) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne and Homestead).

The Legends are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Columbia City, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead and Huntington North. North Side is seeking its first sectional title.

Zach McKinstry is a 2014 North Side graduate. The middle infielder made his Major League Baseball debut for the eventual World Series-winning Los Angeles Dodgers Sept. 16, 2020.

North Side plays its home games at Carrington Field, located in Daryl B. Cobin Memorial Park on Coliseum Boulevard and about five miles from the school. 

With high schools in Fort Wayne Community Schools going from 9:10 a.m. to 4:10 p.m., games generally do not start before 5. 

Also the home of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation‘s Jackers, Carrington Field underwent renovations that the Legends did not get to enjoy in 2020 with the prep season being wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s pretty nice,” says Mannan, who notes that many previous games at Carrington were wiped out when it rained. 

Eight seniors were on the 2020 roster, including college recruits in left-handed pitcher Max Meisner (Huntington University), shortstop Cameron Woehnker (Grace College) and hurler Taegan Armey (Indiana Tech).

Mannan’s 2021 assistants are Jordan Young, Toni Georgi and Armey, who developed an arm injury that caused him to shut it down rather than play college ball.

North Side junior right-hander Nate Spurlock has been getting attention from college programs.

Mannan, who was born and raised in Putnam County, Ind., and played at Cloverdale (Ind.) High School before Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.), Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.) and the University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne). Until middle school, he split his time between third base and catcher. From high school on, he was a catcher.

Bryan Archer was Mannan’s high school head coach.

“I owe a lot to the person and player I am to him,” says Mannan, a 2013 Cloverdale graduate. “He never let feel sorry for myself. He just pushed, pushed, pushed.”

Spoon River head coach Ron Clark, who died in 2016, was an old school coach who embraced the fundamentals.

“By doing the little things right all the time that would lead to big things,” says Mannan. “My coaches were all fundamental guys. You can’t over-due fundamentals.

“I’ve broken down every aspect to try to give (North Side players) a solid foundation.”

A relationship built with Manny Lopez, owner of The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy in Fort Wayne, Mannan has been able to get indoor reps for his North Side players.

“We made huge strides,” says Mannan. “Last year was going to be a our ‘back on the map year.’”

Mannan appreciates the way Lopez deals with the North Side kids.

“Manny tells them you can thank me when you make it,” says Mannan. “He understands what my kids go through on a day-to-day basis.

“I’ve never forgotten that.”

Besides being an assistant at Woodlan Junior/Senior High School (Woodburn, Ind.) while doing his student teaching, Mannan has coached the Northern Indiana Elite, Chicago 29ers and Fort Wayne Diamondbacks in summer ball. He is currently a 16U coach for the Diamondbacks.

As a player, Mannan got to know the junior college baseball grind from two head coaches — Kevin Bowers at Lincoln Trail and Clark at Spoon River.

“As a JuCo Bandit you’re a grinder,” says Mannan. “You’re putting in the work and getting after it.

“The grind of being a junior college player is incredible. You become so tough playing at that level.”

A typical schedule began with conditioning at 5 a.m., followed by classes, practice, study table and more practice with it all winding up about 10 p.m. Then the same thing the next day.

To get in games against top early-season competition, the team would cram 10 players each in three vans and drive 14 hours to Texas. Meal money was capped at $5 a day.

Junior college baseball is full of potential professional players and they are all MLB First Year Player Draft-eligible.

Two of Mannan’s Lincoln Trail teammates — Damon Olds (Kansas City Royals out of Indiana State University) and Justin Watts (Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Southern Indiana) — were drafted in 2017.

In Mannan’s LTC recruiting class, 10 of 13 went on to NCAA Division I programs. Two went to NCAA Division II.

After a year at Spoon River (2014-15), Mannan landed at NAIA Saint Francis for two years (2015-16 and 2016-17). Greg Roberts was the Cougars head coach and his successor, Dustin Butcher, was an assistant.

Mannan, who also played summer ball for the Danville (Va.) Marlins in 2015 and Laramie (Wyo.) Colts in 2016, was honorable mention all-Crossroads League in the spring of 2016. 

At Saint Francis, Mannan earned a Secondary Education degree in 2018 and a Masters in Special Education in 2020. 

It was by coming to Fort Wayne that Mannan met an Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne student from Crown Point, Ind., named Adalyn. 

Austin and Adalyn Mannan were married in September 2020. She is a manager at Planet Fitness.

“We were supposed to go on our honeymoon during Christmas break,” says Mannan. Instead, the couple had a bout with COVID. Austin spent a week in the hospital. Except for occasional shortness of breath, he says that has recovered.

Austin Mannan was catcher with the Laramie (Wyo.) Colts in the summer of 2016.
Austin Mannan, who played at the University of Saint Francis in 2016 and 2017 and hold two degrees from the school in Fort Wayne, Ind., is the head baseball coach at Fort Wayne North Side High School. (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Namisnak reflects on Elkhart Central championship of ’13, today’s game

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was one special season and Mike Namisnak was a part of it.

Elkhart Central went 32-1 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state baseball championship in 2013.

“Not many people in this area can say they had the chance to go to the State Finals much less win State,” says Namisnak, who is now 26. 

The Blue Blazers reigned at the Elkhart Sectional, LaPorte Regional and South Bend Semistate before topping Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the right to dogpile at at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Namisnak was a designated hitter in the title game and one of nine seniors in the ECHS lineup.

Tanner Tully led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run — one of three Blazer hits off Ashe Russell — then pitched a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.

There was also left fielder Kaleb DeFreese, shortstop Cory Malcom, first baseman Riley Futterknecht, center fielder Matt Eppers, second baseman Casey Ianigro, third baseman Austin McArt and catcher Kyle Smith. Devin Prater and Nick Ponce were also seniors on that team.

Junior right fielder Jesse Zepeda was the lone non-senior in the starting combo (he went on to play at Bethel College and start the Indiana Black Caps travel organization). Junior Mike Wain was a pinch runner.

Look at the game program and you’ll see Central wearing baby blue uniforms. During the tournament run, they broke out “camouflage” tops and that’s what they wore in taking the title.

Tully pitched at Ohio State University and is now in the Cleveland Indians system.

DeFreese went on to play at Indiana Wesleyan University and become an athletic trainer.

Malcom pitched at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and became a regional sales manager.

Futterknecht pitched at DePauw University and became a regional sales manager.

Eppers, who was the 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2013, played at Ball State University and became a national sales and product manager.

Ianigro became an office with the Elkhart Police Department.

McArt went on to become a regional sales manager at Forest River. Malcom, Futterknecht, Eppers and McArt all landed at Forest River Inc.

Smith became a television news editor.

Namisnak played one year at Concordia University Ann Arbor, two at Goshen College and then ended his baseball career because of elbow surgeries (the third baseman hurt his arm while diving for a ball in the summer).

He earned his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Southern Indiana and recently became a purchasing agent at Heartland RV.

Namisnak grew up in Elkhart and played at Osolo Little League and in the Elkhart Babe Ruth system as well as travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers. Prater was a Babe Ruth and Scrappers teammate.

These days, Namisnak teaches baseball lessons in his spare time and plays slow pitch softball.

“I break it down with basic fundamental stuff,” says Namisnak of his lessons approach. “It got me into college. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Mike gives credit to older brother Andy (Elkhart Central Class of 2007) for first teaching him the game.

“From the time I could walk we were playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard,” says Namisnak. “I’d got to his games and we’d work on stuff together. He taught me how to understand the game.”

Andy Namisnak went on to play club baseball at Indiana University.

Steve Stutsman was the Elkhart Central coach that guided the champion Blazers in 2013.

“Coach Stuts was a laid-back coach to me,” says Namisnak. “He had his moments where he’d get fired up and get on us. 

“He knew he had a talented team. He gave us the right direction.”

Namisnak came along at a time where he played varsity baseball on the old and new fields at Elkhart Central. 

He liked having a clubhouse in the back of the dugout at the new field. But he appreciated the older diamond along Goshen Avenue.

“It’s an old classic field, which I enjoyed,” says Namisnak.

He recalls that when the Elkhart River overflowed its banks and water was lapping against the back of the dugout, the field was still playable.

Namisnak still follows Major League Baseball and is a long-time Chicago Cubs fan.

“It’s nice seeing they have a decent team this year,” says Namisnak. “This shorter season was something of a needed thing (during the COVID-19 pandemic).”

Namisnak has come to embrace the designated hitter in both leagues.

“It’s always fun to see a pitched hit a home run,” says Namisnak. “But the universal DH rule should be kept after this COVID stuff. 

“It just makes more sense to me.”

Count Namisnak a fan of expanded playoffs with a compacted schedule.

“More postseason baseball — I’m not going to complain about that,” says Namisnak. “There are no fans at the games so I don’t mind the no days off. Otherwise, you want that home field advantage.

“It plays like high school or Little League ball, not with 50,000 people screaming.”

CGI fans in the stands on TV is too much for Namisnak. But he’s on-board with the cardboard cut-outs. Some teams have taken to giving the fan the the ball if it strikes the cut-out.

Then there’s the extra-inning rule where a runner is placed at second base to start an inning.

“That reminds me of slow pitch softball,” says Namisnak. “It’s not a huge fan of that rule for MLB games.

“It’s just a weird season to sit down and watch baseball.”

It’s a different baseball world from 2013. Was that really only seven years ago?

Mike Namisnak plays slow pitch softball these days. He was a senior on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state baseball champions at Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School.

Bloomington-born Wolf brings 1932 back to life with ‘The Called Shot’

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Thomas Wolf knew he wanted to write about the compassionate prison warden who took an inmate serving a life sentence to the World Series.

It became so much more.

Charlie Ireland took charge at Anamosa (Iowa) Men’s Reformatory and soon bonded over baseball and the Chicago Cubs with convicted murderer Harry “Snap” Hortman. The warden made a promise that if the Cubs made it to the Series, Ireland and Hortman would attend games at Wrigley Field

That pledge was kept and they, Charles Ireland (the warden’s son) and inmate Shorty Wakefield were there to see the Cubs take on the New York Yankees in Games 3 and 4 on Oct. 1 and 2 in 1932.

In the fifth inning of Game 3, Babe Ruth ripped the fifth pitch from Charlie Root for a home run. Many of said that the Bambino predicted the blast and pointed to where he would deposit it.

Wolf’s book, “The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, & The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (Nebraska Press, 2020),” covers that the many events swirling around that fabled clout.

“1932 was such a fascinating year,” says Wolf. “It was a pretty pivotal year in American history.”

On the diamond, there was Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the powerful Yankees, Philadephia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx belting 58 home runs and a tight pennant race in the National League.

The 1932 World Series was Ruth’s last. That year was also the final time he hit 40 or more home runs and or drove in 130 or more runs in a season.

The Babe had a rather un-Ruthian 1925 campaign, hitting .290 with 25 home runs and 67 runs batted in over 98 games.

“People were writing him off, saying he was past his prime,” says Wolf. “But he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”

From 1926 through 1932, Ruth hit .353 with 343 homers and drove in 1,070 runs. In 1927, his slash line was .356/60/165.

The Cubs ended up taking the NL flag even though manager Rogers Hornsby was fired after 99 games and replaced by Charlie Grimm. Hornsby was at the end of his playing days and had many legal problems, some related to his gambling habits.

“The Rajah,” who hit .358 from 1915-37 with three .400 seasons (.401 in 1922, .424 in 1924 and .403 in 1925), was known to be a prickly character.

“He did not get along well with other players, managers or management,” says Wolf of Hornsby, who was not voted a World Series share by the ’32 Cubs.

Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot by his girlfriend/showgirl Violet Popovich at the Hotel Carlos on Sheffield Avenue near Wrigley and recovered in time to help Chicago down the stretch.

The Jurges story is likely an inspiration for the 1951 novel, “The Natural” by Bernard Malamude. The movie adaptation stars Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs.

Former player and AL umpire George Moriarty was suspended for a fight with the Chicago White Sox.

After making one big league appearance in 1930, colorful right-hander Dizzy Dean had a breakout year in 1932, winning 18 games for St. Louis Cardinals.

Guy Bush, Kiki Cuyler, Woody English, Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Mark Koenig, Pat Malone and Lon Warneke were among the other key performers for the 1932 Cubs.

The 1932 Yankees, managed by former Cubs skipper Joe McCarthy, also had Sammy Byrd, Ben Chapman, Earle Combs, Frank Crosetti, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Red Ruffing and Joe Sewell.

Away from baseball, 1932 was a presidential election year. Both the Democrat and Republican nominating conventions were held in Chicago thanks to mayor Anton Cermak

With the Great Depression swirling and World War I veterans staging a Bonus March and then camping out in Washington D.C., Franklin D. Roosevelt would replace Herbert Hoover in the White House. FDR was in attendance at Game 3 of the World Series. 

So was baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis with nephews Charlie and Lincoln Landis from Logansport, Ind., and entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Prohibition was on its way to be repealed in 1933.

Wolf weaves these and other details together in “The Called Shot.”

“It was fascinating to research the ’32 season and challenging to put all the stories together for the book,” says Wolf. “I wanted to tie in the world outside of baseball since 1932 was such an important year in the nation’s history — again, the research was eye-opening for me, and I learned a lot.

“I suppose that’s true for everyone who writes non-fiction — the research exposes us to facts and characters and perceptions about events that we only vaguely knew — in my case, for example, the history of the Bonus Army.”

Wolf enjoyed studying what it was like for ballplayers in the 1930’s. They spent many hours on trains, playing cards and talking baseball. Old players mentored new ones.

In that era, there were eight teams in each league with St. Louis being the farthest point west or south. Likely for monetary reasons, road trips would take weeks. For instance, the Cubs might play games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn, Boston and Cincinnati before coming back to Chicago.

As the Yankees travel from New York to Chicago during the World Series, they made a stop in Elkhart, Ind., to change engines.

“Fifty youngsters charged onto the train and searched for ballplayers,” wrote Wolf in “The Called Shot.” “They found Babe Ruth and mobbed him. Ruth and other players signed autographs for their young fans, and then the youths were shooed from the train.”

The routine and relationships between the press and the ballplayers were different in those days.

Wolf notes that today’s athletes will talk to reporters after a game and then tend to their social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter etc.

“Every player is his own brand,” says Wolf. “They’re in their own world with their own followers.”

Wolf says he first began taking notes for what would become “The Called Shot” around 2000, began the writing process around 2013. 

He began talking to literary agent Stacey Glick in 2007, began working on a book proposal after that and got contract with the University of Nebraska Press around 2013. He turned the manuscript over to UNP early in 2019 then did the bibliography and end notes. 

“It was about a six-year process,” says Wolf.

The book came out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not easy with book stores being closed, book festivals being canceled and newspapers doing less reviews on baseball books.

With the help of Adam Rifenberick of Press Box Publicity, Wolf did about 40 podcasts and radio interviews to promote the book in June and July. He has been on Baseball by the Book Podcast with Justin McGuire (Episode 258) and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schapp (ESPN).

Born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1947, Thomas Wolf is the son of Irvin and Jeanette “Jan” Wolf, who met at Indiana University. Irvin was born and raised in Wabash, Ind., attended Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., and then got a doctorate in psychology at IU. 

Irvin Wolf was a college professor. He was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill when Thomas was 1 to 7. From second grade through high school, his father taught at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Irvin’s brother, Jack, attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and lived most of his life after college in New York City.

Eugene “Gene” Wolf, grandfather of Thomas and father to Irvin and Jack, moved to Wabash from Germany and was a partner in the Beitman & Wolf department store and married to Rachel Simon Wolf. The Cubs began broadcasting their games on the radio and Gene Wolf became a big fan. He would travel to see games in Chicago.

The ’32 Series was aired by the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS and NBC.

Thomas Wolf has a bachelor’s degree from Knox College Galesburg, Ill., and a master’s in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa.

Wolf taught at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, UNC Chapel Hill and Santa Clara (Calif.) University and was a testing specialist and writing consultant before focusing on writing projects.

Patricia Bryan, Wolf’s wife, is a professor at the UNC School of Law and has been teaching at the university since 1982. She was a visiting professor at her alma mater — the University of Iowa — when she and her husband toured the prison grounds at Anamosa. 

Bryan and Wolf co-authored “Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland (University of Iowa Press, 2007).”

Wolf has produced several articles (many in conjunction with Bryan), including “The Warden Takes a Murderer to the World Series: A Tale of Depression-era Compassion,” “On the Brink: Babe Ruth in Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day,” “The Golden Era of Prison Baseball and the Revenge of Casey Coburn” and “Jack Kerouac and Fantasy Baseball.”

There are plans to write another true crime book set in Iowa.

Wolf has been a regular attendee of the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture and is a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) member. He says he tapped into the SABR Baseball Biography Project for background on many subjects and Retrosheet for game details in “The Called Shot.”

Thomas Wolf and Patricia Bryan have three sons — John and twins David and Mike. John Wolf (29) is a dog trainer living in North Carolina. David Wolf (27) works in the public relations department for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Wolf (27) is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Thomas Wolf, who was born in Bloomington, Ind., is the author of the book, “The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, & The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (Nebraska Press, 2020).”

Cy Young, 1980 Phillies latest in author Freedman’s long list of books

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Prolific author Lew Freedman has had two titles released during the summer of 2020.

The common thread is baseball. The subjects and the way he researched the books are very different.

“Phillies 1980!: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Philadelphia’s First World Series Championship (Sports Publishing)” came out in June and “Cy Young: The Baseball Life and Career (McFarland Books)” hit the market in August.

Freedman, a newspaperman for 50 years living in Columbus, Ind., serving as sports editor of the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune, has authored or co-authored about 110 books in the past three decades — about 60 on sports with two-thirds of them being on baseball. 

He lived the Phillies story as a Philadelphia Inquirer staffer in 1980 assigned to write the sidebar on World Series MVP and future Hall of Famer Schmidt. The journalist was able to draw from what he witnessed at the time plus research. Philadelphia topped the Kansas City Royals in six games as Schmidt hit .381 (8-of-21) with two home runs, seven runs batted in and six runs score. 

The seed that grew into the Cy Young book was decades in the making.

“I had it in my head for years and years and years — almost 30 years,” says Freedman. “I was getting more and more interested in baseball history.”

Even though he was serving as sports editor at the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News at the time, Freedman made a trip to the research library at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and gathered information on the man with 511 career pitching victories — far more than anyone in big league annals and wrote a column about Denton True Young — first known as Cyclone for clobbering a wooden fence with his pitches and then Cy.

“Nobody will ever come close,” says Freedman of durable right-hander Young’s win total. “There have been some Cy Young books, but not a lot. 

“This is the first time in 20 years there’s been a new look at Cy Young.”

With the advantage of being a better writer and researcher since writing “Dangerous Steps: Vernon Tejas And The Solo Winter Ascent Of Mount McMcKinley (Stackpole Books)” in 1990, Freedman went head-long into more Young research.

“(Cy Young is an) old story, but he never gets old,” says Freedman. “I wanted to get Cy Young’s voice as much as possible and get into what kind of guy he was.

“He was not a controversial guy. He did not get into trouble. He didn’t keep late hours. He didn’t party.”

Except for his time on a baseball field, Young spent his time as a farmer in northeast Ohio. 

Since Young’s 22-year-old career spans from 1890 to 1911, finding the pitcher’s voice was not easy.

“When Cy Young was playing sportswriters did not go to the locker room right after the game and get quotes,” says Freedman. The scribes were focused on getting play-by-play details into their stories and then meeting deadlines and often racing for the train station for the team’s next game. “Contemporaneous reports are missing.”

Luckily for Freedman and other baseball researchers, Young lived to be 88 and shared his thoughts freely for decades after the end of his career.

“His brains were picked about his highlights,” says Freedman. “That stuff was golden material for a guy like me.”

Young spent much of his Hall of Fame career with two primary catchers — Chief Zimmer and Lou Criger. The latter is an Elkhart, Ind., native who was with Young in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston from 1896 to 1908.

The Cy Young Award was first presented to the top pitcher in Major League Baseball in 1956 in honor of a man who not only won 94 more games than the second man on the list (Hall of Famer Walter Johnson), but tossed an astounding 7,356 innings with 29,565 batters faced and 749 complete games. Both the American and National leagues have handed out the Cy Young Award since 1967.

“I love baseball history,” says Freedman. “I learn something all the time when I do the research.

“I was very happy when I held the Cy Young book in my hand.”

Freedman’s newspaper career started when he was in high school in the Boston suburb of Newton, Mass.

He was with the Inquirer when an Alaskan vacation turned into 17 years as a sports editor there. He later was on the staff at the Chicago Tribune and Florida Times-Union and was sports editor at The Republic in Columbus, Ind. He has won more than 250 journalism awards.

Along the way, Freedman kept researching and writing books. There are many related to Alaska, even one that ties baseball to the remote 49th state.

One of his early baseball works is “Hard-Luck Harvey Haddix and the Greatest Game Ever Lost (McFarland Books).” The book chronicles the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 only to lose the perfecto, no-hitter and the game in the 13th.

In recent years, Freedman has seen the publishing of “Red Sox Legends: Pivotal Moments, Players & Personalities (Blue River Press)” in 2019, “Warren Spahn: A Biography of the Legendary Lefty (Sports Publishing)” in 2018 and “Connie Mack’s First Dynasty: The Philadelphia Athletics, 1910-1914 (McFarland Books)” in 2017.

Freedman, who has been featured multiple times on the Baseball by the Book Podcast hosted by Jeremy McGuire, has also contributed books on the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians‘, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees and more.

“Once I moved to Chicago, it was easier to write sports books,” says Freedman, who has created many titles on the Chicago Bears. He’s also written about basketball, hockey, auto racing, boxing, pro wrestling and even competitive lumber-jacking.

“As long as I can come up with a great topic in my mind and (a book publisher) also thinks it’s a good idea,” says Freedman.

When his books come out is not entirely up to Freedman. Done and awaiting editor’s approval is a something tentatively called “1930: When Everybody Was Babe Ruth.”

To Freedman, 1930 was the “Year of the Hitter” the way 1968 is referred to as the “Year of the Pitcher.”

“Hitting went crazy and pitching was atrocious,” says Freedman. “That year the seams were raised on the ball. Pitchers could not control it. (Hitters) had the years of their lives.

“After that, they changed the rules so it didn’t happen again.”

Lefty-swinging outfielder George “Showboat” Fisher played four major league seasons — hitting .261 in 1923, .220 in 1924 and .182 in 1931. His 1930 mark was .374 as a reserve for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Fisher lived to 95.

“He got to talk about (the 1930 season) for the rest of his life,” says Freedman, who notes that ’30 was the year of the National League’s last .400 hitter (Hall of Fame first baseman Bill Terry of the New York Giants at .401).

All eight position players in the St. Louis Cardinals regular starting lineup hit .300, including outfielder George Watkins at .373. 

It was hoped that the Phillies book would come out as part of a 40th-year anniversary and a celebration was planned during spring training in Clearwater, Fla.

Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and that changed everything about 2020. 

On March 16, Freedman was on his way home from a western trip to cover rodeo (he once spent three months in Wyoming researching a book on rodeo). He literally had businesses shutting down behind him as he drove back toward southern Indiana. 

One day he ate in a restaurant, the next day they were putting chairs on top of tables at a truck stop.

More recently, Freedman has been able to cover high school football for his paper and has been contemplating his next baseball book project.

First baseman Johnny Mize was a star for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and New York Yankees in the late 1930’s through early 1950’s.

“He’s been under-covered,” says Freedman of the Hall of Fame. 

He’s a Hall of Famer. “He was overshadowed with the Yankees (teammates included Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto plus Hank Bauer and Billy Martin). “He was a tremendous player.”

Lew Freedman has authored or co-authored around 110 books since 1990. Around 60 of those titles have been on sports. The 50-year newspaperman is now sports editor at the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune. He has won more than 250 journalism awards.
Prolific author Lew Freedman had two books come out this summer — “Phillies 1980!: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Philadelphia’s First World Series Championship (Sports Publishing)” and “Cy Young: The Baseball Life and Career (McFarland Books).” He has authored or co-authored about 110 books in the past 30 years. Of that number, about 40 are on baseball. He lives in Columbus, Ind., and is sports editor at the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune.

Wirthwein chronicles century of ‘Baseball in Evansville’ in new book

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Wirthwein fondly remembers when professional baseball came back to his hometown.

It was 1966 and his grandfather, attorney Wilbur Dassel, bought season tickets for the Evansville White Sox at Bosse Field

That meant that 12-year-old Kevin got to be a regular at games of the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. 

Evansville had not been a pro outpost since the Evansville Braves played their last Class B Three-I (Illinois-Iowa-Indiana) League season in 1957.

“I had been watching baseball on TV and now I was able to see a real ball game,” says Wirthwein. “I started loving baseball.”

Another way his grandfather fueled that love was by sharing The Sporting News with Kevin. After reading it cover to cover he turned it over to his grandson so he could do the same.

Two of the biggest names on the E-Sox in those years were Bill Melton and Ed Herrmann.

Melton was 21 when the corner infielder and outfielder came to Evansville in 1967 and hit nine home runs and drove in 72 runs. He made his Major League Baseball debut with Chicago in 1968 and led the American League in home runs in 1971 with 33.

Herrmann was a 19-year-old catcher in 1966 and was with Chicago briefly in 1967 before coming back to Evansville in 1967 and 1968. He stuck with the parent White Sox in 1969.

Cotton Nash, who had been a basketball All-American at the University of Kentucky and played in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warrior and ABA with the Kentucky Colonels, was played with Evansville in 1967, 1968 and 1970, belting 33 homers in the first season of the Triplets. 

As a defensive replacement for the Chicago White Sox, Nash caught the last out of Joe Horlen’s no-hitter on Sept. 10, 1967.

On Picture Day at Bosse Field, Wirthwein got to go in the field and snap shots of his diamond heroes with his little Brownie camera.

A few of those color images appear on the cover of Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).

In a group shot, left-handed pitcher Lester Clinkscales is in the middle of the frame. His son, Sherard Clinkscales, was a standout at Purdue who was selected in the first round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals and is now athletic director at Indiana State University.

Wirthwein captures roughly the first century of Evansville baseball in a book published March 2, 2020. 

Through library files, digitized publications and the resources of the Society for American Baseball Research, he uncovered details about teams and characters going back to the Civil War, which ended in 1865.

Bosse Field, which is now the third-oldest professional baseball park in use (behind Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field) came on the scene in 1915.

Wirthwein’s book goes through the Evansville White Sox era and highlights how Triple-A baseball came to town with the Triplets in 1970. The independent Evansville Otters have inhabited Bosse Field since 1995.

Growing up, Wirthwein played youth baseball and then plenty of slow pitch softball.

He graduated from Harrison High School in 1972. He earned a journalism degree at Butler University in Indianapolis in 1976 and took job at The Brownsburg (Ind.) Guide, where he covered everything from sports to the city council and was also a photographer.

After that, he covered trap shooting for Trap & Field Magazine and had a short stint as editor at the Zionsville (Ind.) Times.

Desiring more in his paycheck, Wirthwein went back to Butler and began preparing for his next chapter. He worked toward a Masters of Business Administration (which was completed in 1991) and worked a decade at AT&T and then more than 20 years managing several departments at CNO Financial Group (formerly Conseco) before retiring in June 2019.

“I got lost for 30-plus years,” says Wirthwein, who has returned to his writing roots.

About three years before his last day at CNO he began researching his Evansville baseball book.

“I slowly assembled and had a manuscript shortly before retirement,” says Wirthwein, who is married with four daughters and resides in Fishers, Ind. 

When it came time to find someone to produce the book, he found The History Press, a division of Arcadia Publishing that specializes in regional history.

Wirthwein says Willard Library in Evansville was very helpful in the process, scanning images that wound up in the book.

It took a bit of digging to unearth the treasures from the early years. He was amazed that little had been written about the pre-Bosse Field era.

He did find details on teams like Resolutes, Blues, Brewers, Hoosiers and Blackbirds — all of which seemed to have monetary difficulties and scandals swirling around them.

“The whole 1800’s was just a mess,” says Wirthwein. “Teams were coming and going. Financial failures were everywhere.”

Jumping contracts was very commonplace in 19th century baseball. They were often not worth the paper they were written on since a player could get an offer for more money and be on the next train to that city.

To try to combat this, Evansville joined the League Alliance in 1877. It was a group of major and minor league teams assembled to protect player contracts.

It always seemed to be about money.

The 1895 Evansville Blackbirds led the Class B Southern League for much of the season. But, being nearly destitute, the club began throwing games for a sum that Wirthwein discovered to be about $1,500.

The Atlanta Crackers were supposed to be the beneficiary of the blown ballgames, but it was the Nashville Seraphs who won the pennant. Evansville finished in third — 4 1/2 games back.

Blackbirds right fielder Hercules Burnett socked four home runs in a 25-10 win against the Memphis Giants at Louisiana Street Ball Park May 28, 1895. 

In 1901, catcher Frank Roth hit 36 home runs for the Evansville River Rats of the Three-I League. 

“The Evansville paper thought that to be a world record,” says Wirthwein.

The wooden park on Louisiana, which was built in 1889 near the Evansville stockyards, was in disrepair by 1914 when it collapsed and injured 42 spectators.

Seeing an opportunity, Evansville mayor Benjamin Bosse sprang into action.

“The city had bought this big plot of land,” says Wirthwein. “(Bosse Field) was built in a matter of months. 

“He was ready.”

Unusual for its time, Bosse Field was meant to be a multi-purpose facility from the beginning and became home not only to baseball, but football games, wrestling matches and more.

Wirthstein’s book tells the story of Evansville native Sylvester Simon, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1923 and 1924.

In the fall of 1926, he lost three fingers on his left hand and part of his palm while working in a furniture factory.

He came back to baseball using a customized grip on his bat and with a glove that was repaired using a football protector and played for the Evansville Hubs in 1927 and had pro stops with the Central League’s Fort Wayne (Ind.) Chiefs in 1928 and 1930 and played his last season with the Three-I League’s Quincy (Ill.) Indians in 1932. His bat and glove are at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Hall of Famers Edd Roush (1912-13 Yankees/River Rats), Chuck Klein (1927 Hubs), Hank Greenberg (1931 Hubs) and Warren Spahn (1941 Bees) also spent time in Evansville. Roush is from Oakland City, Ind. Klein hails from Indianapolis.

Huntingburg native Bob Coleman played three seasons in the majors and managed 35 years in the minors, including stints in Evansville.

The Limestone League came to town thanks to travel restrictions during World War II. The Detroit Tigers conducted spring training in Evansville. Indiana also hosted teams in Bloomington (Cincinnati Reds), French Lick (Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox), Lafayette (Cleveland Indians), Muncie (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Terre Haute (White Sox in 1945).

Wirthwein’s research found plenty about barnstorming black baseball teams in the early 1900’s.

In the 1920’s, the Reichert Giants represented Evansville in the Negro Southern League. The Reichert family was fanatic about baseball. Manson Reichert went on to be mayor (1943-48).

“(The Reichert Giants) played semipros when not playing league games,” says Wirthwein. “They lobbied hard to play at Bosse Field when the Class B (Hubs) were out of town, but they kept going turned down.

Games were played at the Louisiana Street park, Eagles Park or at Evansville’s all-black high school, Lincoln.

“They started playing games opposite the Hubs and outdrew them every single time. The Bosse Field people finally acquiesced.”

In the 1950’s, the Evansville Colored Braves were in the Negro Southern League and were rivals of an independent black team, the Evansville Dodgers. Games were played at Bosse Field and Lincoln High.

What about the “Global” disaster?

Evansville-based real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. conceived of the Global Baseball League in 1966. It was to be a third major circuit to compete with the American League and National League. There would be teams all over globe, including the Tokyo Dragons from Japan, and the GBL was headquartered in Evansviile.

“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” says Wirthwein. “The guy just wouldn’t give up.”

Happy Chandler, commissioner of baseball in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was brought in as GBL commissioner. 

Hall of Famers Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter as well as Chico Carrasquel were brought in as managers.

Dilbeck did get the league up and running with six teams and games in Latin America in 1969. Spring training was held in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“It ended up in financial debacle,” says Wirthwein. “(Dilbeck) was banking on getting a television contract. When he couldn’t get that, there was no money.

“The league crashed and burned.”

While he can’t say more now, Wirthwein’s next writing project centers on basketball.

Wirthwein has accepted invitations to talk about his baseball book on Two Main Street on WNIN and Eyewitness News in Evansville and on the Grueling Truth podcast (12:00-39:00).

A baseball advertisement from 1877 that appears in Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).
Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing) tells about River Rats slugger Frank Roth.
Evansville native Sylvester Simon played in the majors with the St. Louis Browns in 1923-24. An industrial accident in the fall of 1926 took three fingers of his left hand and part of the his palm. His pro career continued until 1932. His story is in Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).
The Global Baseball League was an idea hatched in 1966 by Evansville real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. It was to be a third major league and rival the American League and National League. The GBL played a few games in 1969 then collapsed. The story is in Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).
“Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing)” was published March 2, 2002 by Evansville native Kevin Wirthwein. The two color photos on the cover were taken by Wirthwein as a boy at Photo Day at Bosse Field.
Kevin Wirthwein is the author of the book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing). He is a graduate of Harrison High School in Evansville and earned journalism and MBA degrees from Butler University in Indianapolis. Retired from business in 2019, the Fishers, Ind., resident has returned to his writing roots.

Beer writes award-winning book on Negro Leaguer Charleston

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Beer grew up with an appreciation for baseball.

He played Little League and Pony League in Milford, Ind. (now the Wawasee Summer League).

The oldest child of the late Dr. Ken and Lynne Beer, Jeremy graduated from Wawasee High School in 1990 then earned psychology degrees at Indiana University and the University of Texas and read about the game’s past. He considered himself pretty knowledgable about baseball. 

One day Beer was going through the second edition of the Bill James Historical Abstract and the listing of all-time best players.

No. 4 in the James rankings was Oscar Charleston.

“I had never heard of Oscar Charleston,” says Beer. “When I found out he was from Indiana I was floored.”

The National Baseball Hall of Famer from Indianapolis and long-time Negro Leagues star just wasn’t on Beer’s radar.

With a sense of “Indiana patriotism,” Beer decided he wanted to know more. 

Much more.

Around 2012, he got serious about his research and decided to write a comprehensive book about the “Hoosier Comet” and his times.

“I had to learn everything about the Negro Leagues and African American culture and history in the early 20th Century,” says Beer, a Society for American Baseball Research member. “I was a baseball guy and had read a good deal of baseball history, but not black baseball. 

“I looked for every mention I could find of Charleston. I did a thorough investigative job. I wanted it to be pretty definitive. The thing about biography is you can’t make things up. It’s not like philosophy.”

The 456-page book — “Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Forgotten Player” (University of Nebraska Press) — came out late in 2019 and helped the author earn honors from SABR. 

Beer won the Seymour Medal that recognizes the author(s) of the best book of baseball history or biography first published during the preceding calendar year and the Larry Ritter Book Award presented for the best new book set primarily in the Deadball Era.

Charleston was born in Indianapolis in 1896 and died at 57 in Philadelphia in 1954. He is buried in Floral Park Cemetery on the west side of Indianapolis. As part of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s centennial celebration of the first Negro National League game (May 2, 1920, Chicago at Indianapolis), a new grave marker was placed for Charleston.

The lefty-swinging center fielder and first baseman played pro baseball first for the 1915 Indianapolis ABC’s and last for the 1941 Philadelphia Stars.

Paul Debono’s book “Indianapolis ABCs: History of a Premier Team in the Negro Leagues” (McFarland) tells much about the team and Indianapolis during that era.

Between 1924-48, he managed the Harrisburg Giants, Hilldale Club, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Toledo Crawfords, Toledo-Indianapolis Crawfords, Philadelphia Stars and Brooklyn Brown Dodgers plus East All-Stars, West All-Stars and Negro National League All-Stars.

Beer’s first reading about Charleston online showed him to be a bully and someone with an uncontrollable temper and not well-liked.

“That’s not true,” says Beer after much more research. “He got into fights on the field, but not that much more than other players did at the time.

“He was very well-liked and charming. He smiled and was charismatic.”

Beer learned that Charleston had an affinity for billiards and playing the piano. He taught himself Spanish when he was in Cuba.

“He was intellectual and socially ambitious,” says Beer. “He was fascinating. I expected a mean jock. That’s not who he was.”

An article by Beer appears in SABR’s Spring 2017 Baseball Research Journal entitled “Hothead: How the Oscar Charleston Myth Began.”

Beer, who has also published a blog about Charleston, discovered that Charleston broke the color line for paid big league scouts when Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey put him on the payroll in 1945 — two years before Jackie Robinson played for Rickey’s club.

Future Hall of Famer Rickey made Charleston the manager of the United States League’s Brooklyn Brown Dodgers and he was able to provide inside information about the Negro Leagues.

“I can’t find record of anyone who was paid to do that before that,” says Beer. “(Top Dodgers scout) Clyde Sukeforth is how we know about that.”

Sukeforth not only helped bring Robinson to the Dodgers, but another future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. Charleston knew well about the catcher since he played and managed in Campy’s hometown of Philadelphia.

Former Ball State University professor Geri Strecker has been researching Charleston for years and helped get a marker placed at the site of Washington Park during the 2011 Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference in Indianapolis.

With Strecker guiding BSU students came the documentary film, “Black Baseball in Indiana.” Beer said her findings were useful for his book.

Beer appeared on an author panel at the NINE Spring Training Conference in Tempe, Ariz., that also featured James Brunson and Ron Rapoport. That discussion plus another with just Beer can be heard on the Baseball by the Book with Justin McGuire podcast (episodes 242 and 225).

After getting his undergraduate degree at Indiana and master’s and doctorates at Texas, Beer worked as vice president of publications and editor in chief at Intercollegiate Studies Institute Books. ISI produces books written by academics intended for an audience outside their own disciplines.

Next Beer was the president at The American Conservative before landing at his current job in 2009.

Beer is the principal partner and co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC, a national firm that provides strategic consulting and services to non-profit organizations. His Phoenix office is three blocks from SABR headquarters at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and he helps SABR with fundraising. He also attends meetings of the Hemond-Flame Delhi chapter (the Indianapolis SABR chapter is named for Oscar Charleston).

While Beer is working on an anthology of Negro Leagues writing, his next book will not be about baseball. It will focus on Fr. Francisco Garces (1738-1781), a Spanish missionary priest who led an expedition across the Mojave Desert.

Jeremy is married to Kara, who is from the Phoenix area. Brother Jonah Beer is married (Sara) and lives in Napa, Calif. Sister Amanda Woodiel is married (Thomas) with five children and resides in Goshen, Ind. Ken Beer, who ran a real estate school and was a world traveler, died in 2018. Lynne Beer passed away in 2009.

Indianapolis native Oscar Charleston managed the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers in 1945 and 1946. He is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the subject of a book by Indiana native Jeremy Beer,  “Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Forgotten Player” (University of Nebraska Press).
Jeremy Beer, who grew up in Milford, Ind., graduated from Wawasee High School, Indiana University and the University of Texas, is principal partner and co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC and os based in Phoenix. He won the Society for American Baseball Research’s Seymour Medal and Larry Ritter Book Award for the book “Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Forgotten Player” (University of Nebraska Press).