Tag Archives: Lou Gehrig

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).”

Teachers Scott, Curtis make history come alive for students through baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Educators who value history and baseball have combined the two and stirred excitement about both subjects in their students.

Matt Scott is teaching a baseball history course this spring at Clinton Prairie Junior/Senior High School in Frankfort, Ind. He got the inspiration for the class a few years ago while attending a social studies technology conference in Lafayette. There he learned Shawn Curtis was teaching baseball history at North White Midde/High School in Monon, Ind.

Curtis has led a similar course at Connersville (Ind.) High School and now incorporates the diamond game into his social studies classes at Carmel (Ind.) High School.

“We go over time period and see how baseball is interwoven,” says Scott. “Some students may have a general knowledge, but don’t know history.

“We see what baseball has brought to the history of the United States.”

Using the Ken Burns’ “Baseball” series — now streaming free online by PBS during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has schools doing eLearning rather than in-person classes — Scott leads a semester-long project-based elective course.

Right now, his students are on “Inning 4 — A National Heirloom (1920-1930).”

Using MySimpleShow, pupils will create short videos about one of the World Series during the period when the “U.S. was coming out of World War I and getting back on its feet.”

Many have asked for 1927 with “Murderer’s Row” lineup that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and hot dogs started to be a staple at the ballpark.

“It will be interesting to see how different kids perceive (the Series),” says Scott. “Kids know Babe Ruth, but don’t know Christy Mathewson or Honus Wagner.

“It brings me joy to put a name with a face and how that person is important.”

Some of Scott’s students have used Book Creator to craft a flip book that comes from their research. Other tools include Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Publisher. Students have produced newscasts, podcasts and more.

Skype video conferencing allows for guest speakers. The Athletic senior writer C. Trent Rosecrans told about his baseball experiences, including those in Japan.

“It’s a big party over there,” says Scott of the atmosphere at a baseball game in the Land of the Rising Sun. “The way it is during the playoffs here is an average game in Japan.”

Attendees of Scott’s baseball history class have studied the contributions of people of color from Native Americans to Cubans to Latinos to the Negro Leagues.

Indianapolis native Oscar Charleston was one of the stars of the Negro Leagues, which celebrates its 100th year in 2020. Rube Foster helped establish the Negro National League in 1920 in Kansas City and that city is now the sight of the Negro League Baseball Museum.

The study goes from the Civil War to the civil rights movement.

“Some people don’t understand how far back it goes,” says Scott.

Zoom has been the way Scott — and so many other teachers including Curtis — have simultaneously communicated with students.

In Scott’s class, students have learned about common misconception that Civil War hero Abner Doubleday was the inventor of baseball.

Alexander Cartwright, who came up with the scorecard and help formalize a set of rules, is considered something of a modern-day inventor.

“But there’s no one person who should get the ‘Father of Baseball’ label,” says Scott.

A few years ago, Scott and his class took a field trip to see the Indianapolis Indians where they gained more knowledge about the heritage of that franchise plus baseball in Indiana’s capitol.

Scott is also head baseball coach at Clinton Prairie. With in-person classes ending because of COVID-19, the Indiana High School Athletic Association also put an end to spring sports.

“I’m bummed,” says Scott. “Not being able to play this year kind of breaks my heart.”

With three seniors and nine juniors back from a 2019 team that went 2019, the Gophers were looking to “do some damage” in 2020.

Curtis grew up in Wyoming, but rooted for the New York Yankees since his grandfather — Edwin Curtis — had been offered a chance to play in their system as well as that of the St. Louis Cardinals back in the 1930’s. When the expansion Colorado Rockies came along, Robert Curtis — Shawn’s father — purchased season tickets.

“I’m a huge baseball fan,” says Curtis. “(Baseball) is really the history of America.

“Baseball is the constant theme of things. I will find ways to tie baseball in.”

Curtis, who also used the Ken Burns documentary to frame some of his teaching, says that as cities grew, people needed recreation and baseball parks offered an escape.

“We see how baseball plays into World War II,” says Curtis. “We see how baseball plays into the Spanish Flu (1918 Pandemic).”

Over the years, Curtis has taken students to Anderson, Ind., to meet Carl Erskine, a Brooklyn Dodgers teammate of Jackie Robinson and a baseball ambassador.

Skype or in-person class guests have included civil rights leader John Lewis, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy and Harrison High School graduate and former minor leaguer Josh Loggins and many more.

“(Speakers) really bring history alive,” says Curtis. “Hearing from the people who made news in more impactful than a book.”

As a way of making history come alive for his students, Curtis launched The 1988 Project.

While teaching about that year, he contacted former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who was more than willing to talk electronically with his class.

“We planned for 40 minutes and he went on for probably two hours,” says Curtis. “The kids had a blast.”

The teacher’s aim was for his students to become historians and use 1988 as the focal point.

“We would take a year in the life of America and just pull it apart,” says Curtis. “It was transitional year between the old world and the new world.

“There were so many human interest. Tom Hanks made ‘Big.’ ‘Batman’ was filmed that year. There were magazine covers talking about the Internet coming.”

Students would critique movies and got to chat with online guests like pop star Debbie Gibson, actor Lou Diamond Phillips, The Cosby Show kid Malcom-Jamal Warner, Saturday Night Live cast member Joe Piscopo and “Miracle on Ice” hockey hero Mike Eruzione.

Of course, 1988 is also known for Kirk Gibson hobbling to the plate at Dodger Stadium and homering off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the World Series.

Independent of his teaching, Curtis has been working with the Negro League Baseball Museum — where Bob Kendrick is the president — and highlighting the history of black baseball in Indianapolis.

The best ballplayer of all-time?

“It’s definitely (Negro Leaguer) Josh Gibson,” says Curtis, who notes that old Bush Stadium in Indianapolis was site of a Negro League World Series game featuring Baseball Hall of Famer Gibson and the Homestead Grays in 1943.

Joe Posnanski, who wrote “The Soul of Baseball: A Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America,” is another former guest in a Curtis-taught class. Former Negro Leaguer player and Kansas City Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil was a central figure on the Ken Burns “Baseball” series.

This summer, the Curtis family is planning a visit to Fenway Park in Boston.

The Curtis family has also spent vacations going to historic baseball sites, including League Park in Cleveland, the former site of the Polo Grounds in New York and the boyhood home of Mickey Mantle in Oklahoma (Mantle is the favorite player of Robert Curtis) and many graves.

Curtis has produced short videos through 1945 for the World Series, Negro League World Series and All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1903 World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1945 World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1943 Negro League World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

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Carl Erskine came to visit the baseball history class taught by Shawn Curtis when Curtis was at North White High School in Monon, Ind.

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Author Joe Posnanski talks via Skype to a class taught by history teacher Shawn Curtis. Posnanski has written on many topics, including baseball.

CURTISGIBSONHistory teacher Shawn Curtis poses with the statue of his favorite player, Josh Gibson, at the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

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The Curtis family enjoys spending time at the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

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Among historical baseball sites visited by the Curtis family is League Park in Cleveland, Ohio.

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History teacher Shawn Curtis was able to get on the field at historic League Park in Cleveland, Ohio, during a family trip.

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Buck O’Neil is buried in Kansas City, Mo. The former Negro League player and manager’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Billy Martin is buried in Hawthorne, N.Y. The big league player and manager’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Babe Ruth is buried in Hawthorne, N.Y. The baseball legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Lou Gehrig is buried in Valhalla, N.Y. The baseball legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Mel Ott is buried in New Orleans. The Hall of Famer’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Mickey Mantle is buried in Dallas, Texas. The Hall of Famer’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Josh Gibson is buried in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Negro League legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

TRENTROSECRANSCLINTONPRAIRIESKYPE

The Clinton Prairie High School baseball history class of Matt Scott visits via Skype with baseball writer C. Trent Rosecrans. Scott is also head baseball coach at the school.

 

Technology meets training at Teddy Ballgames

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Taking technology and using it to train and entertain.

That’s what owner Mike Branch is doing with his baseball and softball training facility in South Bend called Teddy Ballgames.

Opened in 2016, the place features six indoor batting cages.

One cage is set up with the HitTrax Baseball Simulator, a state-of-the art video capture system capable of tracking the path of a batted ball and displaying it on a big screen monitor.

“This generation is visual,” says Branch. “They don’t realize how cool this is. For somebody our age, we didn’t have this when we were growing up. We didn’t have video. We didn’t have the information that made us better hitters. You either hit or didn’t.”

Branch said the system takes instruction and training from the old “keep your eye on the ball” and allows the player to see what the mechanics of a swing look like.

With patent pending HitTrax technology feedback data telling them the location and speed of the pitch and their average exit velocity plus distance and location of hits (spray chart), they learn things like taking the outside pitch the other way and what pitch they can strike with the biggest probability of getting a hit.

“Eventually, they become their best hitting coach,” says Branch. “My son is 13 and I still work with him quite a but I’ll have him go through some of his swings and assess himself.”

HitTrax users start out with a baseline assessment and can be tracked for progress over a period of time.

Branch notes that not all players and coaches will embrace the technology, preferring to stick with age-old methods.

“Men have egos,” says Branch. “The fact is you can’t see everything at full speed.”

But the lifelong baseball fan (the Bridgman (Mich.) High School graduate roots for the Detroit Tigers) says this is where the game is going.

“This is how the pros train (with video),” says Branch. “They use video of the pitcher and they use video of their own swing to determine what they’re doing so they can make those small adjustments.”

Because of the considerable investment in the system (there are not that many available to the public in Indiana), Branch charges more for the HitTrax cage, but has tried to keep it just a little higher than bowling alley fees.

HitTrax offers a data plan subscription where registered users can flag their videos and have access to them on a mobile device. Branch charges $12 a month for this service. Otherwise, players can see their videos at the facility.

Branch and Teddy Ballgames instructor Greg Harris (head coach at South Bend Riley High School) are both certified through the Mike Epstein rotational hitting program (TB throwing instructors include John Coddington and Jeff Jackowiak).

In teaching with HitTrax, Branch has learned a few things about working with young hitters.

“You can use cues positively now so they can start to make those improvements,” says Branch. “And you want them to become engaged. If I’m showing a kid this video and he’s staring at the ground, he’s really not picking it up.

Every kid is different in how they take coaching. You want to try to make it a positive thing.”

Branch emphasizes that this tool is being used to make them better and to identify where improvement is needed.

“‘I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m trying to make you understand what you’re doing wrong,’’’ says Branch is repeating his message to his players.

Staying positive is important. The idea is to uplift and not discourage.

“You can’t be all negative, especially with younger hitters,” says Branch.

Similar to golf simulators that allow players to tee it up at Augusta or Pebble Beach, HitTrax entertainment features include the ability to hit in any Major League Baseball park and even the site of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Sessions can be set up for birthday parties, where attendees can go for the fences in a “Home Run Derby.”

Remote games can be played. Teddy Ballgames recently got 12U and 14U players to take on C-Side Sports in Washington, Pa., another facility with HitTrax.

Leaderboards are kept in-house and on the regional level to let players see how their scores — mostly tied to exit velocity — stack up with others. A Quality Hit Club competition is underway that pays $250 to the winner.

Branch started going to the batting cages for therapy after an accident about 15 years ago and began wondering where his solid strikes would have landed. He then did extensive study into video analysis technology, including discussions with Wayne State University about developing such a system.

“I knew it was going to take cameras, but then it got out of my wheelhouse,” says Branch.

Cost and the time it would take to process feedback caused him to back off. Then came word from his brother that the technology had been advanced by HitTrax.

“When I found out about it, I got very excited about it,” says Branch. “They took it a little farther on the training side.

“I was thinking more of the entertainment side. I wanted to be able to do remote tournaments and leaderboards and those things.”

Branch says the technology expedited his decision to transition from the rental business to the baseball training business.

The name of his facility pays homage to Hall of Famer Ted Williams aka “Teddy Ballgame.” The cages are surrounded with photos and books on Williams and others from baseball’s storied past.

“When we were kids, we listened to baseball on the radio,” says Branch. “Today, a lot of kids don’t follow the game. There are a lot more distractions for kids. I wanted to educate the younger generation on players like Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig.”

Of course it’s his business, but Branch sees the real worth in having a place to train — not just during the winter months — but spring, summer and fall, too.

“This may be a little controversial, but I believe the people in the south work at it harder than we do in the north,” says Branch. “We continually give the excuses that it’s nice year-round down there.

“Why are there more indoor facilities in the south than there are here? We go to our team practices and our games, but we don’t go back to our individual work. That’s just my opinion.”

Branch notes that one family visiting from the south came to him during Christmas break, saying their son could not go two weeks without batting practice because all the kids where he came from were still practicing.

“It has to be a cultural change,” says Branch. “We have to  get out of our paradigm of what we think is enough. I look at this and I’m excited about, but not everybody has that reaction to it.”