March 13 in baseball history: Aaron catches a "break"

Current star out, future star in

ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA | MARCH 13, 1954 - A nasty break for a veteran opened the door for a future superstar on this date in 1954. In an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, Milwaukee Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson was trying to beat a throw to second base. The former New York Giant slid awkwardly and broke his ankle in three places. Thomson would be out of the lineup until July.

Put into the lineup was a skinny, 20-year old kid from Mobile, Alabama by the name of Henry Louis Aaron. He would be a regular in the Braves outfield for the next 21 years (He played 2 more years for the Milwaukee Brewers).

With Thomson's injury many thought the Braves were out of the 1954 pennant race before the season started. Sportswriter Henry McCormick wrote, "With him [Thomson] may go the Braves' hopes of staying in the thick of the pennant fight." But the Braves stayed in the ‘54 race almost until the end. They were only four games out on September 15th, finishing 8 games out in third place, 89-65. Aaron played 122 games, hit .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI.

Hammerin Hank would become the all-time home run king in 1974. He finished his career with 755 HR's, wearing the crown until 2007 when Barry Bonds set a new record. Aaron remains (as of this date) the all-time RBI leader (2,297), and he was voted to 25 all-star games (they used to play two each season).

Contributing sources:
Bobby Thomson
Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin, by Henry McCormick, March 14, 1954
1954 NL pennant race

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March 12 in baseball history: New York joins the AL

‘I didn't know that'

YankeesNEW YORK, NEW YORK | MARCH 12, 1903 - The New York Yankees are synonymous with Major League Baseball, especially the American League. Did you know they were not one of the original American League teams (actually they were, but why let the facts stand in the way of a good story?). Let me explain:

This much is true; there was no American League team in New York City when the AL was established in 1901. New York officially got a team on this date in 1903 when the owners approved a franchise move. The franchise that would become the New York Yankees (The team was known as the New York Highlanders until 1913) existed in Baltimore as the Orioles, not the Orioles currently taking up residence by Chesapeake Bay. Those Orioles trace their origins back to Milwaukee as the Brewers. No not the current Brewers. The Brewers of old that became the St. Louis Browns, which then moved to Baltimore and became the current Orioles. Clear as pine tar?

This is a list of the charter American League franchises and what became of them:

Cleveland Blues - Name changed to Bronchos in 1902, Naps in 1903 and finally Indians, which they remain, in 1914.
Milwaukee Brewers - Franchise moved to St. Louis in 1902 and became the Browns, moved to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Orioles, which they remain to this day.
Baltimore Orioles - Moved to New York in 1903 and became the Highlanders. Name changed to Yankees in 1913, which they remain.
Chicago White Stockings - officially became the White Sox in 1903 and are still known by that name.
Boston Americans - became the Red Sox in 1906, which they remain.
Philadelphia Athletics - moved to Kansas City in 1956. Moved to Oakland in 1968. Name reduced to A's over time, which they remain.
Washington Senators - moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins, which they remain.
Detroit Tigers - remain in Detroit as the Tigers.

It appears the Detroit Tigers is the only charter AL franchise to neither move nor change its name in the slightest.

Contributing sources:
Baseball-Reference "Leagues"

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March 11th in baseball history: McGraw pulls a fast one

Travels with Charlie

HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS | MARCH 11,1901 - Arrogant, ornery and extremely successful Baltimore Orioles manager John McGraw attempted to pull one over on the rest of major league baseball on this date in 1901. Charlie GrantAccording to The Cincinnati Enquirer McGraw tried to sign Charlie Tokohoma, a Cherokee Indian, to a major league contract. McGraw first saw him working as a bellhop at a Hot Springs, Arkansas hotel during spring training. The problem wasn't that Tokohoma was a Native American, the problem was, he was Black.

By this time a well entrenched "gentlemen's agreement" dictated that no team would sign Black players.

Several sources including James A. Riley, author of The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, say Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey let the cat out of the bag. He recognized "Tokohoma" as Charlie Grant, second baseman for the Columbia Giants, a Chicago based Negro Leagues team.

For a few weeks, McGraw insisted that Tokohoma (Grant) was Native American, and had him in the lineup for a few spring training games, but Grant never saw regular season major league action.

Contributing sources:
The Cincinnati Enquirer, Hot Springs, Arkansas, March 11, 1901 
More on Charlie Grant
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

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March 10th in baseball history - Michael Jordan strikes out

Michael's experiment ends

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS | MARCH 10, 1995 - Basketball superstar Michael Jordan's foray into baseball ended on this date in 1995. The former Chicago Bull gave up his dream of becoming a major league baseball player after one minor league season. Jordan said a players' strike, which was going on at the time, was blocking his development, "As a 32-year-old minor leaguer who lacks the benefit of valuable baseball experience over the past 15 years, I am no longer comfortable that there is a meaningful opportunity to continue my improvement."

Thanks to the fact that Bulls' owner Jerry Reinsdorf also owned the Chicago White Sox, when Jordan retired from basketball in 1994 he was given an opportunity to play for the Birmingham Barons, a White Sox Double-A farm team. He played one season:

Michael Jordan, Birmingham Barons - 1994
Games  -  127
Average  -  .202
Home Runs  -  3
RBI  -  51
Stolen bases  -  30

While his stats were mediocre, 51 runs batted in and 30 stolen bases in 127 games against professional baseball players weren't bad for a guy who hadn't played baseball since he was a kid.

The basketball world now awaited the inevitable - Jordan's return to the National Basketball Association where he led the Chicago Bulls to three championships before retiring in 1993 to try baseball. Michael Jordan returned to the NBA a month after he announced his retirement from baseball. He went on to lead the Bulls to three more world championships - 6 in all.

Contributing sources:
Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, March 11, 1995
More Michael Jordan stats
More MJ

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March 9th in baseball history: a real Cleveland Indian

The "Indian" who played for Cleveland

Louis SockalexisCLEVELAND, OHIO | MARCH 9, 1897 - A member of the Penobscot Indian tribe was signed by the National League Cleveland Spiders on this date in 1897, and some later claimed that's where Cleveland's American League franchise got its name.

Louis Sockalexis showed superb athletic ability and ferocious power playing baseball as a kid on the Penobscot reservation in Maine. Stories, some of them apocryphal, had him throwing a ball 600 feet over the Penobscot River and hitting a baseball just as far.

He went on to play ball at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts before transfering to the University of Notre Dame in 1897.

Sockalexis didn't stay long at Notre Dame. He was signed by the Cleveland Spiders in August of 1897.be. His career didn't last long, before the turn the century he was no longer a major league baseball player. Heavy drinking reportedly took its toll. Sockalexis died in 1913 at age 42.

A year after Sockalexis died Cleveland's American League team was in need of a new name. They had been called the Naps, after star player Nap Lajoie, but he was traded in 1914. The name "Indians" was chosen. As time went by the story that the team was named in honor of a real Indian, Louis Sockalexis, was allowed to surface.

Ithaca College Professor Ellen Staurowsky, among others, looked into the issue and wrote in the Sociology of Sport Journal, in 1998 that the name "Indians" was more likely chosen for exploitative purposes. The real story of why "Indians" was chosen was that it was a take off on the Boston Braves which were a baseball sensation that year for going from last place on July 4th to winning the World Series.

Contributing sources:
"An Act of Honor or Exploitation?: The Cleveland Indians' Use of the Louis Francis Sockalexis Story," by Ellen Staurowsky, Sociology of Sport Journal, 1998
The American Indian Quarterly
Baseball Reliquary

[Photo source: State of Maine]

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