Sunday, March 28, 2010

22. Bullet Joe Rogan

The legend goes like this: A low-level barnstorming team of white minor league ballplayers wearily traveling through the American south-west pull up at a desolate, hot and dusty army post somewhere on the Arizona-Mexico border. The baseball team on this forgotten outpost turns out to be one of the greatest teams the young outfielder of the traveling white team has ever seen, especially a pitcher and catcher named Rogan. He mentally notes the names of the players and when he finally arrives back in his home town of Kansas City all he can do is talk about the great ballplayers he has seen. Unfortunately the great players he has witnessed were all black and the year is 1919. The only man in Kansas City who will listen to young Casey Stengel is J.L. Wilkinson, owner of the all-black Kansas City Monarchs. On his word Wilkinson hires 5 players Casey saw after they are discharged from the Army. These players go on to form the core of the great Monarch teams of the 1920's and 30's.

Makes a great story, but is it true? Not really. Stengel may have played against Rogan and his 25th Infantry Regiment team in Arizona but details are sketchy. Did he recommend the army ballplayers to Wilkinson? Maybe, but Joe Rogan, the pitcher and catcher that Stengel was especially amazed with was actually from Kansas City and had already played for a team owned by Wilkinson back in 1917 while on leave from the service. Chances are Rogan contacted Wilkinson or the other way around and Rogan brought along his other teammates to Kansas City. Black newspapers occasionally ran stories about the black Army baseball teams and Rogan and the 25th Infantry team was fairly well known by 1919. Whatever the truth behind the legend may be, Bullet Joe Rogan became one of the greatest players in history. He was an overpowering and smart pitcher who also hit for power. When ranking ballplayers, I always throw the great Babe Ruth out there to end the discussion for the simple fact that besides being the spectacular hitter he was, the first 5 years of his career was spent as a pitcher and not only did he pitch but he was the best left-hander in baseball. To me that versatility trumps anything any other player can boast and there is only one other player who had that kind of sheer talent, Joe Rogan. Unfortunately his color kept him from competing in the major leagues but we can piece together from the records available that he was every bit as talented as Ruth when it comes to pitching and his hitting became legendary all across the country wherever the Monarchs played ball.

In 1910 Joe Rogan joined the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment and served in the Philippine Islands where he became legendary for his catching and pitching for the regimental team. Discharged in 1914 he soon re-enlisted again, this time with the 25th Infantry at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii which had a powerful ballclub known as the Wreckers. While there he shut out the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League on 3 hits, struck out 13 and hit a double. In 1918 the regiment moved to Camp Little on the Arizona-Mexico border and the team continued its winning record with Sergeant Rogan of the machine gun company credited with an incredible 52 wins in one season. In 1920 Rogan, along with teammates Dobie Moore, Bob Fagan, Oscar Johnson, Hurly McNair and Lem Hawkins went onto form the nucleus of the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the most powerful negro league teams.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I really appreciate all the emails from you guys who enjoy what I am doing here and from time to time I'm asked if I take requests. Sure, why not? So, if you have a player you really want to see, drop me a line at and tell me who you think should be part of The Infinite Baseball Card Set. I can't promise I will draw it up any time soon, but I'd like to see who YOU want! Keep checking in, I may have an announcement in the next couple of weeks regarding real limited edition sets of cards available...

Monday, March 22, 2010

20. Lefty Grove

Back when there were only 16 major league teams and all were located east of the Mississippi River, the minor leagues were often a baseball fan's only option to see professional baseball. During the 1910's and 20's most minor league teams were unaffiliated with major league teams and because of this autonomy were able to keep players longer than just a year or two like today. The Baltimore Orioles were in the International League, arguably the highest and most professional of the minor leagues. Owned by Jack Dunn the Orioles created a powerful dynasty starting in 1919 that saw the O's win 7 straight league championships. It got to the point where in 1923 the other International League team owners forced Dunn to start selling off some of his players to the majors or else they would all sign a contract with major league baseball giving them the right to purchase any player at a flat fee. They were willing to sell short their profits rather than continue to keep losing to Baltimore! How good was the Orioles of the early twenties? Maybe not as great as the Yankees or the Giants, but they were certainly able to compete with the lower ranked major league teams at the time. Baltimore would often play exhibition games against major league all-star teams and win, so they were definitely up there in the talent department. Those Oriole teams had some great players back then, most of whom were eventually sold off to the Philadelphia Athletics, forming the nucleus of their dynasty of the late twenties and early thirties. George Earnshaw, Joe Boley, Max Bishop, Jack Bentley, Tommy Thomas, and others all went to the majors. The pitching on those teams were amazing, John Ogden going 31-8 in 1921, Jim Parnham winning 33 games in 1923, Tommy Thomas winning 32 in 1925 and of course the unrivaled Lefty Grove who lead the league in strike outs for 4 years in a row.

Signed by the independent Baltimore Orioles in 1920, Lefty Groves became a starter the next season and led the International League in strikeouts for the next four years. He quickly became an integral part of the great Baltimore Oriole dynasty and the team finished in first place every year he played with them. Oriole owner Jack Dunn refused to sell Grove to a major league team until after the 1924 season when he made the Philadelphia Athletics pay a record $100,500 for his services. It was around this time Lefty dropped the “s” at the end of his last name because newspaper sportswriters continually used “Grove” instead of “Groves”.

Anyone wanting to learn more about the Baltimore Orioles from 1903 to 1953 should pick up a copy of Jimmy Keenan's book called "The Lystons" about his grandfather who played on the 1921 Orioles and is a great narrative of the minor leagues and semi-pro circuit during the 1920's. Available at

Friday, March 19, 2010

18. Overton Tremper

Overton who? Overton Tremper, that's who. Never heard of him? Well, don't feel so bad, unless you lived in Brooklyn in the 1930's chances are you would have never heard of him or his team, the Bushwicks of Brooklyn. Back during the 1920's up until the advent of televised games in the 1950's semi-pro baseball was a big thing for many parts of the country where there was no chance of seeing a real major league game in person. Thousands of real talented teams sprung up all over the land and most major league players began their careers playing for teams like the Bushwicks. Semi-pro teams were also a place where over-the-hill major leaguers could wring a few extra dollars more out of their career before retiring from the game. Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby and Dazzy Vance are 3 Hall of Famers who did just that. But the Brooklyn Bushwicks were a little bit better than most semi-pro outfits. Owner Max Rosner put lots of money into his team and even had their own stadium, Dexter Park. Teams travelled far and wide to challenge the Bushwicks, more often than not returning in defeat but slightly richer as Dexter Park regularly drew crowds of 12,000 during its heyday. The Bushwicks battles with the best negro league teams were legendary and real big league stars often stopped by to play a game or two with the "Kandy Kids" as they were known for their blue and orange uniforms. Dazzy Vance, Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio all played games for the Bushwicks and a young college kid, Lou Gehrig tried out but failed to make the team. But the regular roster players, such as Overton Tremper, were as equally well known and idolized.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in economics, Tremper played parts of 2 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers before being sent down to the minors. Deciding that it wasn’t the lifestyle he wanted he returned to Brooklyn where he became a high school teacher. On weekends and nights from 1931 to 1934, Tremper was the star outfielder for the semi-pro powerhouse Brooklyn Bushwicks who played major league caliber baseball against all levels of teams. Many ballplayers were actually able to earn more money playing for the Bushwicks than they could playing in the majors as well as having a regular paycheck from their day job. Many major league stars played for or against the Bushwicks and their games against the best negro league teams were legendary. Tremper later earned a master's in education from N.Y.U. in 1938 and coached various semi-pro teams on Long Island. He died in 1996.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

17. Jackie Robinson

It often happens that an historical figure gets so obscured by their own fame that we fail to truly see and appreciate the things that made them so famous in the first place. Jackie Robinson falls into that category. Sure, his famous number 42 is officially retired on all major league teams and everyone celebrates him every season. But man, if you really look closely at Jackie Robinson, you get acquainted with a talented, brave, complicated man the likes of which no other country than America can produce. This was a guy who put human nature aside and kept his mouth shut when confronted with the worst slights and actions ignorant racist fans and players could throw at him. It was his sheer will that enabled blacks to get back into organized baseball and it was on Jackie's broad shoulders that the cause for civil rights was brought forward by leaps and bounds. I can't think of anyone that had more of a direct impact on civil rights than this man. In the course of maybe 3 years he brought blacks into American homes that were once kept negligent of them. In a precious few short years it became alright for a white boy to have as his sports idol a black man and for once a black boy growing up in America could look upon Jackie Robinson and know that with the right amount of talent and drive he too could become a major league ballplayer. Or anything else for that matter. America was taught that people of all color could sit together in one place without rioting and a person of color is just as talented as a white man. In today's day and age it is hard to relate to the way people thought back then. Jackie had to overcome things like his manager in Montreal saying that he wasn't even sure a negro was a human being or opposing players in Baltimore releasing a black cat onto the field to taunt him. In those few years Jackie bore all that weight and pressure and in turn changed the mindset and outlook of both his fellow players and fans. Clay Hopper, his Montreal manager later became instrumental in bringing up and tutoring black ballplayers in the Dodger organization. Southerners like Pee Wee Reese had their eyes opened to the racism Robinson had to endure and came to his side as a friend. I don't know, I could go on forever singing the praises of this man and what he did for this country of ours and how sometime everyone should sit back and thank God we have men like Jackie Robinson. As my tribute to this giant of a man, I give you Jackie Robinson in his first season of organized baseball playing for the Montreal Royals of the International League.

Signed by Brooklyn, Jackie Robinson spent 1946 with the Dodgers’ AAA minor league team, the Montreal Royals and on April 18, 1946 in Jersey City, N.J. Jackie Robinson became the first black ballplayer in the 20th century to play in organized baseball. He promptly went 4 for 5, including a three-run home run, scored four runs, drove in three, and stole two bases. Overcoming immense racial pressure, Jackie won over his teammates and fans with his natural physical ability and immense drive to win. Sparked by his play the Montreal Royals won the International League Championship and then went on to beat Louisville in the Little World Series of 1946. Through his sheer determination Jackie Robinson paved the way for the desegregation of the Major Leagues.