Fernando Valenzuela is one of the most memorable pitchers of the 1980's if not the modern era. With his body type suggesting that he was anything but a professional athlete, debuting when he was only 19, winning a Cy Young Award & Rookie of the Year award when he was 20, a delivery where he rolled his eyes back into his skull during the middle of his wind up, and a haircut that just can not be politely described.
Making his major league debut at the age 19 after being signed out Mexico at the age of 18 did not leave him much time to spend in the minor leagues (in fact he sstarted almost as many games in the minor leagues in rehab starts in his 30's). After 3 starts in 1979 with Lodi Dodgers (now the Rancho Cuamonga Quakes) in the Class A California League, Fernando was was promoted to the Double A San Antonio Dodgers (now San Antonio Missions) of the Texas League.
For someone that was 12 months away from a Cy Young worthy season, his transition to San Antonio was rough. Very rough. He could speak no English and there were only two-other Spanish speakers on his team and the Dodgers did not think to have them room together to help the young prospect adjust. This language barrior lead to isolation and Fernando had grown up in an extremely isolated Mexican village where there was not even running water, indoor restrooms, or paved roads in the area. This created problems when he initially refused to endorse to cash his paycheck because he did not understand what the document was and spent days in his sweltering apartment because he did not know he could report it to the building supervisor to get repaired.
Luckily he had teammates like Orel Hershiser and Alex Taveras to help him out and after a rocky 5 - 6 start the team found him one day out front of the stadium with his bags packed ready to return back to his hometown in Mexico. The team talked him through his homesickness and even made the effort to fly his girlfriend to San Antonio so they could spend some time together in the Alamo City. After her visit Fernando finished the season with a 9 - 3 record and even recording 6 wins with 0 losses for the month August, perfecting his devastating screwball in the process.
This caught the attention of Dodger's manager Tommy Lasorda and on September 10 the big league team called up the teenager to use in relief while they were in a tight race with the Houston Astros for the National League West playoff spot. During the rest of the season, Fernando pitched 17 2/3 innings in relief and gave up 0 earned runs and struck out 16 while only walking 5 batters. The Dodgers lost a one game playoff with the Astros and failed to reach the playoffs that season but in 1981 they had a legendary year whose highlights including winning the World Series with a pitching staff lead by a shy 20 year old with a haircut as unorthodox as his wind-up that found a way to shut down opposing teams and batters.
The Texan in me would like to think that our state and it's pride, bravery, and compassion was partly responsible for this success. But then again, maybe it wasn't that at all and that screwball played the bigger role.
- by Eric Robinson
I just finished reading Lucky Me by Eddie Robinson, who spent 65 years in baseball as an All Star 1st Baseman, a general manager, and as a scout. It has of great stories from winning the 1948 World Series with a Cleveland Indians that featured Bob Feller, Satchel Paige, and Larry Doby, the inner workings of how trades get made, and dating singing sensation Patti Page .
However, my favorite story in the book came in the foreword written by Tom Grieve, best known now as the voice of Texas Rangers television broadcasts for the past 20 years (or so) and prior to that as their General Manager.
What has been forgotten by many is that he was also a player that the began his pro career as the number 6 pick by the Washington Senators in the 1966 draft. Many people felt he was the number 2 talent going into the draft following Reggie Jackson. He had a 9 year career, primarily with Washington/Texas but also with a season each with the New York Mets and St Louis Cardinals. He had a respectable career batting over .300 once and hitting 20 home runs in 1976.
After finishing the 1979 season in the minor leagues, Grieve retired. Shortly after returning to his home in Texas he was invited to visit Robinson, then the General Manager with the Rangers, in owner Brad Corbett's suite for the final game of the 1979 to discuss future opportunities in the teams front office. They offered Grieve a salary of $20,000 a year to become head of group sales for the team, however, there was someone else in the suite also discussing job opportunities with the team the following season - Clayton Moore, the actor most famous for playing the original Lone Ranger. The team offered Moore to make six promotional appearances for the team the following summer. Moore had to leave the meeting early to catch a flight but the group found something later that the television cowboy hero left behind, one silver bullet inscribed "The Lone Ranger."
This year marks the 75th Anniversary of Lou Gehrig being forced to retire from baseball do to his battle with the neurological disorder ALS. This would be noteworthy if it happened to any baseball player but Gehrig was no ordinary baseball player. The (at-the-time) consecutive game holder, slugger, and quiet leader of 2 New York Yankee dynasties and a quiet, class act that many still consider the greatest first baseman to ever play the game.
Lou Gehrig passed away on June 2, 1941 and less than 2 years later MGM released The Pride of the Yankees directed by Sam Wood and starring Gary Cooper as Gehrig. This is one of the true classics of the baseball movie canon and featured cameos by such noted Yankees as Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey. The final scene, the classic "Luckiest Man on Earth" speech, is a tearjerker that shows the acting abilities of Gary Cooper while also showing the emotional pull of connecting to your heroes and their lives.
Many baseball organizations and leagues are doing various events this summer to honor Gehrig and contribute to ALS charities, including Major League Baseball. An event that is happening locally, that is if Austin is your local area, that is interesting is that the Round Rock Express will be wearing special occasion pinstripe jerseys with Gehrig's name stitched on back that will be auctioned off during the game to benefit MJ's Army, an Austin based ALS charity. I plan on attending and am not a jersey collector at all but ope to leave the Dell Diamond that night with a pinstriped jersey. More info can be found here.
Below you will find the clip containing Cooper's speech from The Pride of the Yankees.
What's in a Name is an ongoing feature where I document the stories behind some of the more unique team nicknames in baseball's history.
Oil town Beaumont, Texas first had it's foray into the world of professional baseball in 1903 with a team named the Blues. Through the years it was also called the Millionaires (when winning) and the Orphans, in a losing season that saw them move to Austin during the middle of the season. In 1912 they had advanced to the level where they could join the Texas League using the name Oilers and somewhere between 1918 - 1920 the moniker Exporters took hold and besides a brief flirtation with the name Roughnecks in the early 50's, Exporters is the name the team is associated with.
During the 1920's the team had a rough time in the Texas League but with the dynasty the Fort Worth Cats had under the leadership of Jake Atz, most teams did. Their fortunes changed in 1929 when the team formed an arrangement to act as a farm team of the Detroit Tigers and talent level improved, including future Hall of Fame & MVP caliber players like Hank Greenberg, Dizzy Trout, and Schoolboy Rowe spending parts of their formative baseball years in Texas Golden Triangle. The 1932 team featured Greenberg and won the Texas League championship before losing the Dixie Series against Southern Association champion Chattanooga Lookouts. In 1938 a talent loaded team once again won the Texas League championship and lost the Dixie Series, this time to the Atlanta Crackers.
In the ensuing decades the fortunes of the Exporters and their support in the local community waned and by 1955 the team was demoted down from the Texas League and by 1957 professional baseball had left Beaumont not to return until 1983 when Ted Moor, Jr bought the Amarillo Gold Sox and moved them to Southeast Texas, rechristened them the Beaumont Golden Gators. That initial team featured future All Star John Kruk and won the Texas League pennant. The 1986 team featured problems when best player Joey Cora was stabbed while in San Antonio and a hurricane damaged the teams stadium. In 1987 the team was sold and moved to Wichita, Kansas.
Among the important events to happen in Beaumont was that in 1928, future Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell found his groove - and by groove I mean he developed his infamous screwball. After up-and-down success over several seasons in the majors with the Detroit Tigers, Hubell's contract was sold to the Exporters prior to the 1928 season. That was when Beaumont manager Claude Robertson worked with and encouraged Hubbell to develop the screwball as a weapon that eventually helped him win 253 games as one of the top pitchers of the 1930's with the New York Giants.
Also, following a storm that left the field in sloppy conditions, the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Exporters on March 30, 1949 while on a barnstorming trip. The Dodgers starter was Ralph Branca, Duke Snider stole home, and thousands gathered to watch Jackie Robinson and the rest of the Dodgers beat the hometown team 14 - 2. During the rest of the trip the Dodgers played in San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Oklahoma City. That Brooklyn team proceeded to win the National League Pennant that year before losing to the Yankees in the World Series.
The Texas League: A Century of Baseball by Bill O'Neal
Brooklyn Beat Beaumont in '49 by Dan Wallach at www.beaumontenterprise.com
Carl Hubbell: SABR Bioproject by Fred Stein at http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/fd05403f
Beamount Exporters at www.wikipedia.com
I began my research on baseball history by stumbling across fleeting mentions of the Austin Black Senators negro team while reading about Central Texas players like hall-of-famers Willie Wells, Hilton Smith, and Smokey Joe Williams. This piqued my curiosity and then I starting trying to find all I could on the actual Austin Black Senators, and well, there isn't much out there at all. Some sources have them starting to play in the 1900's, others the 1920's. It is known that the originally played on Dobbs Field close to Tom Miller Dam and ended their existence playing on Downs Field which is still in use most spring and summer nights on E 12th Street. There are few, if any, players or people affiliated with the team alive to recollect on it. Besides a few interviews with players like Willie Wells, Hilton Smith, and a spattering of mentions in Central Texas newspapers over the decades (or more accurately, past century), the well of information on the Austin Black Senators is unfortunately shallow.
One of the more known things about the team is their 1933 barnstorming trip to Mexico, due to future Kansas City Monarchs ace Hilton Smith speaking of it in many interviews and this being viewed as one of the first time an American blackball team made a successful foray into Mexico for barnstorming purposes. Through the Austin History Center and their archives, there is one mention of this trip in the August 28, 1933 edition of the Austin American newspaper. Finding out the details behind this brief paragraph is currently my biggest mystery to be solved in the research projects I am working on:
Negro Ball Captain Dies - Sam Irvin, captain of the Austin Black Senators baseball team, dropped dead in Monterrey, Mexico, Saturday, according to a telegram received by L. D. Lyons from his son, Joe Lyons, business mannager of the Senators here Sunday.
Any information on this incident or the people involved would be appreciated and I will keep you posted on what, if anything, I can find on what happened to Sam Irvin in Monterrey during the summer of 1933.
Hello everyone, this is Eric. I am sorry for the 3 month gap between posts and I assure you that will never happen again unless this particular chain of events happens again - Following my last post I needed to take 2 weeks off from the site to finish an article I was submitting, then I went out of town to visit family for 1 1/2 weeks, and then following my return I had some medical issues pop up that limited me for too long. Once I started recovering from the medical issues my time was spent getting caught up at work. But, I am caught up now and feeling good so Lyndon Baseball Johnson will be back with 1 - 2 posts a week again.
And some excited updates of things that have happened in the time since my last post - the article I mentioned earlier will be published by The National Pastime in their issue coming out this July/August accompany the SABR 44 National Conference which will be held in Houston this year. Just as exciting is that I was selected to present a presentation at the same conference alongside some truly impressive people in the baseball research world. If you scroll down this link http://sabr.org/convention/sabr44-presentations to Saturday you will find this:
RP24: The Houston Eagles and Professional Negro League Baseball in Texas: Not Every Bird Soars when it Migrates South
When the storied Newark Eagles moved to Houston in 1949, they were attempting to compete with the integrating Major Leagues and win back fans in new markets with significant African-American populations. It was the only time that a major league Negro league team was based out of Texas. The result was disastrous as the team struggled with attendance, and after the end of the 1950 season moved to New Orleans. Robinson discusses the factors in Newark that led to the team moving to Houston, a history of blackball teams that were based out of Southeast Texas, and how the lack of success the team had in Texas was indicative of the Negro Leagues' dwindling popularity as a whole and could even be considered the symbolic end of the Negro League period.
Take care and keep checking back for some great stories and characters.
Hello folks, I promise writing about myself and my activities will not be a common part of the website but yesterday I got to take part in an event that I was proud to be part of and it fits with the goal of this page. In fact, a similar sort event last summer was part of the impetus for me to start writing this site as Lyndon Baseball Johnson.
I was given the chance to speak to a group of middle school students just east of downtown for Black History Month. I began with a speech about Austin during segregation, the Negro Leagues, Negro League stars from Central Texas like Willie Wells, Rube Foster, and Smokey Joe Williams. There were several minutes spent on Downs Field, a field many of the group were familiar with with an amazing history. The exciting thing is this same page Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, & Satchel Paige played on is still in use. I also included a plug for RBI Austin that does great work not just in providing a league for students to play in but in youth mentoring as well. I would support RBI Austin even if they were playing kickball, tennis, soccer, or basketball - the fact they teach the students baseball and then play in competitive leagues is just a bonus.
But unlike my typical presentation I added a new portion on Jackie Robinson and the nearly 2 years he spent in the Central Texas area.
This is something I will develop into a longer post later but the basics for Jackie Robinson in the Austin area are as follows. Following being drafted into the Army in 1942, Robinson was stationed at Fort Hood in 1943. A close friend and mentor from hist time in Pasadena, the Reverend Karl Downs, lived in Austin at the time working at Samuel Hutson College which is now Huston-Tillotson University. Robinson would come and visit Austin often and was known for playing pickup basketball games at the Anderson High School. The exciting thing about these pickup games is that following his stellar career at UCLA, Robinson was considered as potentially the best basketball player in America. Following hid discharge from the Army in 1944, due to an incident similar to the Rosa Parks bus incident on the base's bus system, Robinson accepted the position of Hutson College's Athletic Director & Basketball coach. He stayed at this position through the winter of 1944-1945 before leaving to join the Kansas City Monarchs in Spring Training in Houston, beginning his baseball career.
We ended the class by having an uniform design contest for the Austin Black Senators. The Black Senators were an Austin-based blackball team with few historical records existing. The students had fun with the contest with consistently good designs. The winner received a new copy of the movie "42" and the runners-up receiving "Heroes of the Negro Leagues" by Mark Chiarello & Jack Morelli. However, I was informed that the winner of the dvd and one of the winners of the book later traded because the student that won wanted to read about more players and see the pictures. I wrote the kid a college recommendation letter on the spot. (Sidenote: "Heroes of the Negro Leagues" is the book that started my research into the Texas Negro League history. I received the book for Christmas 2011 and while going through it I was amazed how many of the players came not just from Texas but Central Texas. The illustrations are beautiful watercolors and the one-page biographies of the players have turned into my starting point when researching a player).
It was exciting to combine aspects of my career in education with my work in baseball history, and the students were more receptive to hearing these stories from 65+ years ago than I thought they would be. One employee of the school I spoke with afterwards told me how got to met Satchel Paige and Buck O'Neill when he lived in Kansas City and knew some of the men that worked with Jackie Robinson during his time at Huston College. This conversation was a great way for me to end the day and I could have listened to his stories for a long while.
I am attaching a copy of the slide show that accompanied my presentation should any one be interested in a brief introduction to Jackie Robinson and his time in the Central Texas area. I am also including some of the pictures the students drew for the uniform design contest and the winner. If you work for or know someone that works for an organization that would be interested in a presentation like this, feel free to contact me and ask.
If the past several decades of movies have taught us anything, it's that robots are not to be trusted. During that same time, movies were telling to not trust the French as well. However, despite America's misgivings over robots and the French, Daft Punk has spent the past 15 years becoming one of the biggest bands on the music scene and their song "Get Lucky" was considered by many to be the top song of 2013.
However, rumors stating that Daft Punk are not actually mysterious robots from a funky but mysterious planet but are actual French adults wearing costumes have been leaking out for years now and on January 29, 2014 the chart-topping duo was pictured out of their costumes landing at LAX and most significantly, the tall robot...errrr....human was wearing a Texas Rangers hat. This proves several things in this writers opinion - people that make good music have good taste, Japanese pitcher and heartthrob Yu Darvish has helped the international profile of the team, and the appeal of the Texas Rangers is universal enough to include men that might actually may not be men but robots instead.
Stay tuned at this hook-laden story develops and we will see in Ranger's PA Announcer will replace the 7th Inning "Cotton Eyed Joe" tradition with "Around the World."
Many actors that were teen sensations spend their early 20's doing whatever they can to lose the image they had established in their adolescent years. Many take edgier, more adult roles while others seem to just disappear for a while and then hope to come back. Kurt Russell, teenage Disney heartthrob and later the man who it seemed like the action-comedy genre was created for, decided to use his early 20 years the best way just about anyone can - playing baseball. Russell's father Bing Russell was a former player for the Yankees and Cubs before becoming a actor on westerns. He would later play an even larger role in his son's baseball career, and on minor league baseball in general.
Kurt Russel spent 1971 with the Bend Rainbows of the Northwest League where in 51 games he hit a respectable .285 and was named an All Star that season. The following year he suited up for the Walla Walla Islanders and while he only played 29 games that season the future Elvis impersonator still hit well enough to justify him progressing up several steps in the Minor League ladder to play with the El Paso Sun Kings. Unfortunately for Russell and his baseball career, after only 6 games for El Paso, he suffered a rotator cuff injury, ending his time in the Texas League.
It was after this injury that Kurt Russell entered a piece of Minor League irreverence and oddness that his father had been creating in the Pacific Northwest. After the Portland Beavers relocated to Spokane, Bing Russell stepped in and created the Portland Mavericks, a team fitted in garish uniforms with the official colors of Streetwalker Red, Dig Black, & Snow White. To give you an idea of the sort of team the Mavericks were, pitcher Rob Nelson developed Big League Chew in while in the bullpen on days he was not pitching. In 1973 Russell made several appearances with the Mavericks while mainly helping his father in the front office. He even came back in 1977 for one final at bat to end his career.
By the mid 70's Russel's acting career was progressing to the point where he had to give up his part time baseball career. In 1978 the pacific Coast League officially returned a team to the Portland area and bought out Bing Russell and the Portland Mavericks were no more. Luckily for fans of offbeat baseball history (and I assume that is anyone that reads this far down one of my articles), Bing's grandsons (Kurt's nephew's) are in the process of releasing a movie on the team titled The Battered Bastards of Baseball. You can find an interview with the filmmakers and Kurt here.
Kurt Russell's Stats
Best Kurt Russell Movie - The Thing
Best Action Movie Character - Snake Plissken
Portland Mavericks - Fun While it Lasted