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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.

Indiana State Hall of Famer Grapenthin enjoys baseball from the business side

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Midwest weather didn’t always allow for ideal training conditions.

But that didn’t stop Indiana State University coach Bob Warn from fielding competitive baseball teams back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Dick Grapenthin knows because he was there.

Grapenthin has been a sporting goods executive for the better part of the past 30 years. But as a right-handed pitcher from Iowa, he began his college experience at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College then toed the rubber for the ISU Sycamores in 1979 (leading the Missouri Valley Conference champions and NCAA regional qualifiers with 45 strikeouts) and 1980 (pacing the squad with nine wins, 53 strikeouts and 76 innings).

Grapenthin then went into pro ball and made it to the majors with the Montreal Expos.

“Bob had a lot of success bringing in blue collar grinders,” says Grapenthin of Hall of Famer Warn. “We had a really, really nice team and great work habits.”

To get time in the physical education center in the winter, the team often practiced from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. then players went to their 8 a.m. classes.

Warn was very organized.

“We’d use every part of an indoor facility for some type of drills,” says Grapenthin. “We always had something going on.”

Grapenthin, who was inducted into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame as an individual in 2016 after being honored for his involvement with the 1986 College World Series team in 2002, remembers ISU traveling to Florida to play the vaunted Miami Hurricanes.

“We didn’t have the talent those guys had, but we were very well-schooled in fundamentals,” says Grapenthin. “You had to do that. You couldn’t play as much (in the north) because it was cold out.”

On nicer days, the team would practice on the turf at Memorial Stadium (football).

Mitch Hannahs was on the 1986 ISU team and is now head coach. Grapenthin saw the team play last season at Vanderbilt, the team that went on to the win the College World Series. While the Commodores had the lights-out pitching arms, he saw more skill from the Sycamores.

“Mitch has done such a great job,” says Grapenthin.

After his playing days at ISU concluded in 1980, Grapenthin signed with the Expos as a minor league free agent. He came back to Terre Haute in the fall and winter to work out with and coach the Sycamores.

He made his Major League Baseball debut in 1983. He split the 1984 and 1985 seasons between Montreal and the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, managed by Buck Rodgers and then Felipe Alou.

“A lot of those guys are still there,” says Grapenthin, noting that former president and chairman Max Schumacher remains involved with the club and radio voice Howard Kellman is still calling games for the Tribe — only its now downtown at Victory Field and not on 16th Street at Bush Stadium.

Grapenthin’s playing career concluded in 1989 and he spent two seasons as pitching coach to Bill Wilhelm at Clemson University.

Much of his focus with his pitchers was on mechanics.

“I focused a lot on trying to try to get kids in a position to make repeatable actions and be consistent,” says Grapenthin. “I taught from the feet up.”

Grapenthin learned much about baseball from Warn and Wilhelm. He also found out about how tough it can be to coach.

“That is a very hard lifestyle,” says Grapenthin. “Coaches make an unbelievable amount of sacrifices to be really good.

“I wanted more of a controlled family life.”

Dick and Cindy Grapenthin live in Alpharetta, Ga., north of Atlanta, and have three children — two daughters and a son. Alex is a Clemson graduate. Kristi is an Auburn University graduate. Trevor Grapenthin is a economics major and baseball player at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Cindy Grapenthin holds a doctorate in psychology from Indiana State and has a individual and family psychology practice as well as being an assistant professor of psychology at Brenau University in Gainesville, Ga.

Dick Grapenthin earned his Master of Business Administration degree from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in 1993.

He worked for Easton for seven years then Mizuno for seven. In 2015, he started his own sports management and consulting business — BoneChip Enterprises — and consulted for Louisville Slugger for three threes then spent another nine with Mizuno.

He started PBPro (PlayersBrandPro) two years ago. The company makes custom game gloves and infield trainers ranging from $120 to $300. Infield guru and top instructor Ron Washington teaches with the PBPro WashDonutTrainer and 9.5-inch PBPro WashTrainer.

Grapenthin appears at MLB Winter Meetings clubhouse show, American Baseball Coaches Association trade show, state coaches clinics, spring training and at grass roots events around the Atlanta area.

“I love working with people who are passionate about the game,” says Grapenthin. “It’s a lot of fun.

“I’ve done that basically my whole life. It’s like you’re not going to work.”

Why gloves?

“I wanted to do something unique,” says Grapenthin. “There’s not a lot of people focused on baseball/softball training gloves at a high end.”

He says one of the strengths of company is its knowledge of production and factories.

“I knew people in that industry and I just kind of like baseball gloves,” says Grapenthin. “I enjoy making nice stuff.”

Grapenthin does not consider himself to be a designer, but he does bring ideas to craftsmen and they make the adjustments in patterns and gloves. He relays feedback from players an coaches.

“There are always ways we can make gloves better,” says Grapenthin.

The PBPro website offers a custom feature that allows the buyer to build their own glove.

With 18 different thread colors and many webs and leathers, the options go on and on and on.

For Grapenthin, the game of baseball has to be fun.

And fun is what he’s having after all these years.

DICKGRAPENTHIN

Dick Grapenthin, an Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Famer, pitched for the Montreal Expos 1983-85. He has long been a sporting goods executive and is the founder of BoneChip Enterprises and PBPro.

 

Ball State assistant Beemer looks to show players how much he cares

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The apple didn’t fall too far from the baseball tree.

“I’ve always known I wanted to coach,” says Blake Beemer, a Ball State University assistant and second-generation college baseball coach.

Blake’s father, Gregg Beemer, was on the staffs at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He is now the recruiting director for the Dayton Classics travel baseball organization.

“He loves baseball and passed it down to me,” says Blake. “I think when I was 11 I decided that college would be ideal for me. I’m fortunate to be living the dream.”

Beemer, 28, was born in Dayton, played for Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chuck Harlow at Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio, and played four seasons at Ball State (2010-13) for head coaches Greg Beals, Alex Marconi and Rich Maloney. He was a team captain in his final three seasons with the Cardinals. For his career, he hit .286 with 108 runs scored and 94 driven in.

He also served two years on the Student-Athletic Advisory Committee executive committee as an undergraduate and was one of 30 finalists for the 2013 Senior CLASS Award. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sport Administration and Master of Business Administration from Ball State.

“I understand game operations and what goes on behind the scenes,” says Beemer. “That goes into planning a practice and the time commitments of a coach.

“Part of our job is managing a budget and scholarships and being good with numbers. That’s where the (MBA) has helped me in this job.”

His first coaching position was with a Dayton Classics high school age team in the summer of 2013.

“We were very average,” says Beemer. “It was very humbling to realize that the game is out of your control at that point and you are just trying to put guys in good positions.

“It’s a lot of fun when guys have success. I learned a lot that summer. I really did.”

Beemer was an assistant to head coach Jason Anderson at Eastern Illinois University (2016-18) before joining Maloney’s BSU coaching crew. He is also the Cards’ recruiting coordinator.

He has learned that to make an impact, it takes an investment.

“The biggest thing we do as college coaches is that we have to care,” says Beemer. “You have to try to create relationships and get to know your guys and what they’re going through off the field as well as on it.”

It just doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.

“As you create that trust, that understanding, that love, I think that’s when you can start to open up and coach guys a little bit harder or find what makes guys tick,” says Beemer. “When they know you really care that’s when it really can be special.”

In addition to Harlow in high school, Beemer says Beals, Marconi and Maloney all made their mark on him in different ways.

“(Beals) was a very tough, demanding coach,” says Beemer. “But he was quick to make sure you knew he was on your side. (Marconi) was more laid-back, a guy you could really talk to. You didn’t feel intimidated by him.

“(Maloney) has that professionalism, caring and love. When you have that, you can really do a lot of things. He brought that back (to Ball State) when he came in 2013.

“We weren’t talented the year before. He told us he loved us and we were going to be good. The power of belief got us there (the Cards went from 14-36 in 2012 to 31-24 in 2013).”

Beemer says Maloney is “ultra-competitive.”

“He’s still fiery,” says Beemer. “He’s competitive. He wants to win. He challenges myself to bring energy everyday and he challenges our guys.

“It’s fun when we have that coming down from the top. It gets the best out of everybody in the group.”

In his role as recruiting coordinator, Beemer, who addressed the 2020 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches State Clinic about investing time outfield development, has come to see that recruiting never really stops.

“With social media today, you can find players all the time,” says Beemer. “Our recruiting time from an NCAA standpoint is March 1 to Nov. 1. That’s the time period we can be out on the road everyday and go watch players.

“When November comes, we dial it back and can only recruit at camps on our campus.”

It becomes a projectable exercise. The BSU staff has to consider who might be taken in Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft from their roster or their commits from high school and whether or not they are likely to sign with professional teams. They might need to fill a need at the junior college level.

“It’s a balancing act,” says Beemer of juggling the current team with the future of the program. “Recruiting has sped up so much. We’re recruiting (high school) sophomores and juniors pretty regularly now.

“We pride ourselves in being a mid-major team that finds under-the-radar-type guys that may develop a little bit later.”

Beemer notes that 2019 first-rounder Drey Jameson was an undersized right-hander when he came to Ball State out of Greenfield-Central High School and that current junior right-hander Kyle Nicolas has steadily developed since arriving in Muncie from Ohio.

“Typically, we don’t get that blue chip recruit who’s a freshman stud in high school. We get the guy who’s getting better as a junior and senior. Hopefully we aren’t missing and don’t have to over-recruit.

“We want good players wherever they’re at,” says Beemer. “There’s a lot of really good baseball in Indiana. Grand Park (in Westfield, Ind.) is a great complex to recruit (for recruiting). We can go 45 minutes and see just about everything.”

Beemer says as Maloney and Ball State builds the brand, they can go get players from California and other places.

Baseball Head shots

Former Ball State University baseball player Blake Beemer is now an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator for the Cardinals. (Ball State University Photo)