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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March 8th in Baseball History: Baseball in Paris

Once you've seen Paris...

Spaldings World TourPARIS, FRANCE | MARCH 8, 1889 - A dream came true for Albert Spalding on this date in 1889. A team of touring American baseball players he organized played an exhibition baseball game in Paris, France.

There was some difficulty finding a suitable field. As Mark Lamster wrote in Spalding's World Tour, "Paris was endowed with countless formal parks and squares, but a large, enclosed space that would allow Spalding to charge admission was proving harder to come by." They finally settled on, and got permission to use, the Parc Aérostatique, a park in the shadow of Eiffel's rising tower, which would be completed later that year.

Albert Spalding, the fledgling sporting goods magnate, was a good ballplayer in his own right, and quite the promoter. He decided to tour the world to promote baseball and, in turn, get more business for his sporting goods venture.

He headed west from Chicago after the 1888 season with a group of 20-odd ballplayers, including stars Adrian "Cap" Anson and John Montgomery Ward. They barnstormed across the western states playing in cities like Omaha, Denver and Salt Lake City, eventually reaching San Francisco and settling sail for Hawaii and Australia.

Spalding's tour also played in Sydney, Cairo, Paris, London and numerous ports along the way. They would return in April 1889, more than a year after leaving.

Contributing sources:
Spalding's World Tour, by Mark Lamster, Published by Public Affairs, New York, 2006
Eiffel Tower

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