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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).