Tag Archives: Jackie Robinson

‘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)

Veteran baseball coach Smith assisting travel ball space with Diamond Allegiance

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

Tracy Smith became a head coach in NCAA Division I baseball at 30.
For the next quarter century, the Indiana native taught the game and developed relationships with players, families and others.
Smith grew up in Kentland — a small town of less than 2,000 folks in Newton County — learning fundamentals from Donald “Tater” Blankenship and then playing baseball and basketball for Denny Stitz at South Newton High School.
Other mentors include (college baseball coach) Jon Pavlisko, (minor league manager and coach) Brad Mills and Bill Harford, (Miami University Middleton basketball coach) Jim Sliger and (father-in-law and former MUM athletic director) Lynn Darbyshire.
Tracy and wife Jaime have three sons — Casey (as in Casey At The Bat), Ty (as in Ty Cobb) and Jack (as in Jackie Robinson) — and are grandparents.
Smith, who played at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and in the Chicago Cubs system, led programs at Miami Middletown, Miami and Indiana University — taking to the Hoosiers to the College World Series and receiving National Coach of the Year honors in 2013 — before becoming head coach at Arizona State University. Not including the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign, he took the Sun Devils to four NCAA regional appearances in six seasons. His ASU teams won 201 games.
In June 2021, Smith was let go at Arizona State. He saw it as an opportunity to focus his energy on a venture called Diamond Allegiance — an organization dedicated to reimagining travel baseball. He had been serving on its board for a couple of years.
“I looked at it as my way of giving back to help the game of baseball bigger and more impactful than maybe the 35 guys in the locker room that I’ve coached over my entire career,” says Smith of his reason for diving in full-time with Diamond Allegiance. “I’ve been working hard and pulling in some of my friends.
“You’ve got this army of former professional players and big league players that want to give back to the game as well.”
Smith, 56, is CEO for Diamond Allegiance and works with an Executive and Advisory Board committee that features current collegiate coaches Erik Bakich (University of Michigan) and Kevin O’Sullivan (University of Florida) and former Oregon State University coach Pat Casey. Matt Gerber is head of player business and development. Two-time softball gold medalist and ESPN analyst Michele Smith is also board member.
The OSU Beavers won three CWS titles on Casey’s watch (2006, 2007 and 2018) while O’Sullivan’s Gators reigned in 2017.
According to its website, Diamond Allegiance “helps members run better businesses, augments their player development capabilities, provides more career opportunities for coaches, reduces the cost for families/players, and increases participation of underrepresented communities. We generate this impact through a powerful mix of partnerships, services, technology, and philanthropy.”
Partners include Canes Baseball, the Indiana Bulls and many more.
Says Smith, who grew up playing Babe Ruth ball and for Remington (Ind.) American Legion Post 280: “As a coach you’re always on the receiving end of kids coming up through the travel ball system. I don’t want to say the system was broken because it’s not. People in the travel ball business do an unbelievable job. The industry itself has become more of a showcase/exposure industry and not as much development.
“We want to focus on the development piece.”
Diamond Allegiance, which was officially launched at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, offers a 12-month development system with text designed by Bakich that is currently not on the market.
At Chicago came the first chance for feedback from the baseball industry. High school coaches without access to travel baseball in their areas approached asking if they can tap into Diamond Allegiance resources.
“They will have access to a version of what we’re doing,” says Smith.
A predictive mechanism powered by CURVE, which creates a score taking into account brain, ball and body data that tells how high a player might go is another Diamond Allegiance perk.
Partners receive the ability to reach college conferences and coaches, push content to their coaches and team while building brand and culture. There is also access to top baseball industry leaders and the best tech providers.
Sandy Ogg, a CEO developer for Fortune 500 companies who Smith met through former Indiana University senior associate athletic director and current Diamond Sports Foundation CEO Tim Fitzpatrick, is part of Diamond Allegiance.
Members get marketing and branding services and assistance with their businesses.
“Owners can run better businesses and be more efficient in those practices,” says Smith. “They can make money that they’ll reinvest into creating and providing opportunities for kids who can’t afford to play.
“I’m very passionate and have always been very passionate about creating opportunities for kids who can’t be a part of it. When you look at our rosters over time we’ve tried to have a diverse roster. We really made a conscious effort to beat the bushes to find kids to play.”
The idea is to provide value and assistance in making important decisions.
“I see the amount of money families spend on getting their kid a college scholarship,” says Smith. “On a $5,000 college scholarship they’re spending $20,000 a year.
“We want to provide direction. It’s OK to spend that money, but let’s spend it wisely.”
Diamond Sports Foundation allows families an opportunity to apply for help to offset or — in some cases — totally fund the travel ball experience.
Diamond Allegiance will share knowledge to help guide parents and players through this recruiting process
“There’s this myth out there that if you don’t play Power Five baseball (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) that in some way, share or form you have failed. I’ve always hated that,” says Smith. “Anytime I would talk to groups, families and kids I would say every one of you can play beyond high school. There’s a place for you to do that. You just have to find the right fit.
“One of the things we’re going to be doing with Diamond Allegiance is giving families and kids true direction so that they can reach their aspiration.”
Knowing that others have attempted to do the same thing, Smith addresses question about the Diamond Allegiance difference.
“We’ve got a really, really good group of people that are passionate about making this game better,” says Smith, who has been talking with up to 10 travel programs a week. “You have people that are motivated to do right and do well by the game.
“It will not fail.”
To learn more, visit diamondallegiance.com. To apply for a partnership, email hello@diamondallegiance.com.

A video on the Diamond Allegiance organization.
Tracy Smith, former head baseball coach at Miami University Hamilton, Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), Indiana University and Arizona State University, is now CEO for Diamond Alliance, a group which assists in the travel ball world. (Arizona State University Photo)

McClendon would like another chance to manage, coach in the bigs

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

Lloyd McClendon first burst onto the baseball consciousness of America 50 years ago and he’s been involved in pro ball for four decades.
At 63, McClendon says he would like another shot as a manager or bench coach at the big league level.
“Hopefully an opportunity comes my way one more time,” says McClendon, who lives in Valparaiso, Ind. “I’m at a point in my career where I’ve paid my dues and earned the opportunity to do it again.
“I’m enjoying life.”
McClendon became known as “Legendary Lloyd” when he smacked five home runs in five swings at the 1971 Little League World Series. He played in Willamsport, Pa., on the first LLWS team comprised completely of black players.
“Over five or 10 years, I’ve really started to realize what a tremendous impact we had on this country,” says McClendon. “I’ve come to realize you did do something kind of special.”
Speaking to IndiandRBI on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 17, 2022), McClendon talked about the civil rights icon.
“Dr. King was not only a tremendous leader, motivator and speaker, but he lived his life in such a manor that it’s hard not to admire,” says McClendon, who was also a guest of MLB Network Monday. “The moment that we stop giving and caring for others is the moment we start to die.
“It just lets you know what your life should be all about.”
McClendon also recalls the famous quote by Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
McClendon grew up in Gary, Ind. — a town that has also produced big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins and Wallace Johnson — and played football, basketball and baseball at Roosevelt High School, graduating in 1977 and playing three seasons at Valparaiso University. His head coaches were Walt Taliaferro (football), Ron Heflin (basketball) and Benny Dorsey (Roosevelt baseball) and Emory Bauer (Valpo baseball).
“These guys were so influential in my life,” says McClendon. “It’s hard to imagine where I’d be with without them.”
From Taliaferro, McClendon learned about responsibility and being a teammate. A passion for competition was imparted by Heflin. Dorsey showed how to win and how to lose, humility, respect and compassion.
“(Bauer) took me over the top and taught me about being a professional and how to go about my business,” says McClendon, who hit .330 with 18 homers, 73 runs batted in and twice received all-conference honors for the Crusaders before being selected in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets. The righty-swinging catcher, outfielder and first baseman made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1987. He hit a combined .244 with 35 homers and 154 RBIs for the Reds (1987-88), Chicago Cubs (1989-90) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1990-94).
McClendon, who is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Valparaiso University Athletics Hall of Fame and due to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame (May 13-14, 2022 in Evansville), was manager of the Pirates (2001-05) and Seattle Mariners (2014-15 and served as the interim manager for the Detroit Tigers (2020).
A Detroit player won the American League batting title in four of McClendon’s seven seasons as the team’s hitting coach — Magglio Ordonez (2007) and Miguel Cabrera (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015).
McClendon marvels at the .363 posted by Ordonez.
“This guy was just phenomenal,” says McClendon. “He did not have one infield hit. Running the bases was not his forte.’”
What did McClendon do to help Cabrera?
“I just made sure they had a cab to get the ball park,” says McClendon. “The coach is only as good as the talent he has not he field.
“I did try to instill was good work ethic and knowing how to grind things out.”
Cabrera became the majors’ first Triple Crown winner (leader in average, homers, RBIs) since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 when he hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs in 2012.
The next season, Miggy went .348/44/137 — and was nine homers and one RBI of shy of a second straight Triple Crown (Baltimore’s Chris Davis bashed 53 homers and knocked in 138).
As a hitter himself and a hitting coach, McClendon saw the worth in studying opposing pitchers.
“Do your homework,” says McClendon. “Knowledge is power. I was a grinder. I wanted to know my opponents and what they were going to do in big situations. I hit to all fields. If (the pitcher) made a mistake I hit it out of the ball park.
“Cabrera has a memory like an elephant. He would just keep it simple. He had that consistency and ability to grind it out. He wasn’t going to get much. He saw so few pitches (where he could do damage) per game and was tremendous.”
What McClendon enjoys most about managing in the leadership factor. That bug first bit him as a 9-year-old Little Leaguer.
“I enjoy working with young men and seeing talent come to life,” says McClendon, who also manager the Triple-A Toledo Mudhens in the Tigers system in 2016 and 2017. “Adrenaline flows at the head of the ship and moving through tough waters at times. It was a lot of fun.”
If McClendon got the call to manage again who would he call to be on his staff? He declines to name specific names.
“Baseball is so dynamic especially with analytics,” says McClendon. “You have to make sure you have the right people in place.”
In 2021, the San Francisco Giants won 107 regular-season games with an on-field coaching staff of 14 led by manager Gabe Kapler.
“It’s nice to have that many people and that type of budget,” says McClendon. “It’s hard to argue with success.
“They did something right.”
For the past decade, McClendon has been teaching hitting to youngsters — most age 12 to 18. He works at Triple Crown Valparaiso Baseball & Softball Training Center as does son Bo, who instructs the younger ages.
Bo McClendon, 34, played at Merrillville High School, where he set stolen base records, and Valparaiso U., as well as in the Tigers organization.
Married for 40 years to Ingrid (the couple met at Valpo U.), they also have a daughter — Schenell — living with her husband and their granddaughter — Bryn (2 1/2) — near Washington D.C.
Say McClendon of the little one, “She’s got Grandpa wrapped around her finger.”

Lloyd McClendon hit five home runs in five swings at the 1971 Little League World Series.
Lloyd McClendon went to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
Lloyd McClendon went to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
Lloyd McClendon (Detroit Tigers Photo)

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).