Sunday, August 29, 2010

47. "Happy" Felsch: Life After The Black Sox

As a White Sox fan (and I mean a REAL ONE, not a politically-motivated one like the president who, when pressed, could not name a single friggin' player on the team he supposedly was a die-hard fan of), I don't glamorize the infamous 1919 team. They were what they were, damn good ballplayers who succumbed to temptation and betrayed the game they loved and violated the simple understood trust between players and fans that when they pay to see a game, each team tries their best to win. In my view, betraying this basic pillar of sportsmanship is a forfeiture of the right to continue playing that game. I don't care that Joe Jackson was underpaid. I don't give a damn Eddie Cicotte was cheated out of his 1919 bonus money. It is not an excuse that Chick Gandil felt he deserved more money from the White Sox. What those 7 men (I leave Weaver out of this as he was probably clean) did was wrong. Plain and simple. All that said, I was always fascinated by what happened to those players post-1920. Where did they go, what did they do? Did baseball still play a part in their lives? The answer as we have seen in my Eddie Cicotte post a few months ago is yes. Each player, in their own way kept baseball in their lives even though they had to do it secretly or in an un-organized way. This post is about the White Sox's centerfielder, "Happy" Felsch.

Oscar Felsh was born and raised in Milwaukee and he earned his nickname honestly, he really was a happy-go-lucky fella. "Hap" was the quintessential American success story. The son of German immigrants, he rose from his humble origins and with the support of his baseball-playing father, Charles, Oscar soon attracted the attention of scouts and after playing on a succession of semi-pro teams he was signed by the hometown Milwaukee Brewers. Quick with a smile and joke, popular with his teammates, Felsch was also blossoming into a superior outfielder. It was only a matter of time before he caught the attention of the majors and after a bidding war between Cincinnati, Washington, New York and both Chicago teams he was sold to the White Sox for the 1915 season. It is at this point in his career that sympathetic fans try to make a point for Felsch being just a victim of circumstances that eventually lead to the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Felsch had but a sixth grade education and as such it has been argued that he was at the mercy of smarter, more cunning team owners when it came to contract negotiations. That may be true but thousands of other players came from comparable or even more disadvantaged backgrounds and did not succumb to the temptation to throw a game for money.

After a pretty good rookie season marred by leg injuries, Felsch developed into a first-class centerfielder, recognized as among the best in the American League. In the White Sox's magnificent 1917 season Felsch really came into his own batting .308, being first among outfielders in put-outs, second in RBI's and fourth in home runs. The Sox went on to win the series that year and many rank that team among the best in history. It was also during this season that Happy came upon a hunch-back kid in New York hanging around the Polo Grounds and adopted him as the White Sox mascot that year. That hunch-back was Eddie Bennett who later went on to be batboy for Brooklyn in 1920 and then the Yankees from 1921-32.

The White Sox of this period was a club divided by class-consciousness. One part of the club was dominated by Eddie Collins, a college educated ballplayer who knew what he was worth and how to extract it from the crafty club owners. The other half of the team was run by Swede Risberg and Chick Gandil, uneducated, street-smart ballplayers who were close with the shady gamblers who were an all-too frequent part of the sporting scene back then. Felsch, with his limited education and zest for fun naturally found himself with the later group.

The full story Black Sox scandal is a tale that need no elaboration in this entry, but suffice it to say it was partly Felsch's uncharacteristically shoddy fielding that gave the first inclination that something was just not right with the series. The collaborators stories quickly fell apart and after the 1920 season Joe Jackson, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, Lefty Williams, Eddie Cicotte, Fred McMullin and Happy Felsch were banished from organised baseball. All the 8 players with the exception of Williams and Felsch were probably past their prime. Fesch was just reaching his peak as a ballplayer and with that, he was out of a livelihood.

Fortunately for the 8 men, baseball was the most popular sport in the land and every small town and decent sized company had a team of their own. It was a matter of pride to have a good team and some towns and companies stopped at nothing to field an unbeatable team. Former players who found themselves out of the big leagues but still a few more years of game left in them found employment with such teams looking for an edge over the competition. In addition to the town and company ballclubs, hundreds of travelling teams crossed the county playing against anyone who would take up the challenge and provide a decent day of ticket sales. It was in this atmosphere that the former White Sox players formed a team of their own called the "Ex-Major League Stars". The short, bitter history of this team was covered in my entry on Eddie Cicotte (

After the breakup of the team, the Sox went their separate ways. Felsch went back to Milwaukee where he remained a hometown favorite. He opened up a grocery store and engaged in numerous legal battles related to the fix of the world series and his attempts to get back pay from the Sox after being banned from baseball. Felsch was batted around mercilessly by smarter attorneys and he returned home to Milwaukee time after time defeated and humiliated. Now married with 2 children and realising his career as a major leaguer was over, Felsch migrated west and found a home with the Scobey, Montana baseball team. Swede Risberg was already a star player on the Scobey team and was the obvious reason Felsch found a home there. This was a low point of Felsch's life and in this rough and tumble world of outlaw baseball played out west, Felsch and Risberg made a reputation for themselves as two tough customers who should never be crossed when drinking, a tall compliment in the still wild west of 1925 Montana. The two banned players earned a nice $600 a month plus expenses and attracted huge crowds eager to see how real professional ballplayers played the game. Hap entertained the crowds by smacking tremendous homeruns all the while enduring taunts by opposing players and fans about being a crook. Arguments were often settled after the game with fists instead of words. He spent the following season in Montana and then turned north to Regina, Saskatchewan where he played on and managed the Balmorals. The following seasons were spent with a succession of lower quality semi-pro teams culminating in the 1930 season playing with the travelling American-Canadian Clown Team. The 39 year-old Felsch was at the end of his career as a ballplayer.

Returning home to Milwaukee as he always seemed to do, Felsch began a long career as a saloon keeper on the Northside where each bar he operated became a hangout for the local sandlot and semipro players who came to partake of Hap's jovial company. Not many brought themselves to ask the friendly barkeep of the famous scandal and he never brought it up. After his saloon owning days ended, Felsch became a crane operator and died at age 73, still an avid fan of the game he and his teammates betrayed.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

46. Lipman Pike: Somebody's Gotta Be First

Somebody has always got to be the first to do something, but not many people get that distinction multiple times. Lipman Pike is one of those people.

First of all, "Lipman" is his real name. I have no idea where that name derives from, but when Pike was born in New York City in 1845, his parents were Dutch Jews who owned a haberdashery so perhaps one of those things had something to do with the name. Whatever the origins, "Lip" as he was inevitably nicknamed, became a graceful athlete by his teens and he and his brothers took up the new sport of base-ball then popular with the young middle-class merchants in the city. As Pike's talents on the diamond became known, he switched from team to team continuously upgrading to better clubs. By the time he reached age 21 Lipman had travelled to Philadelphia where he joined the baseball team called the "Athletics". Pike was the prototype of a powerhitter and his early accomplishments at the plate includes a 6 home run game. The final score ended up being 67-25 so it remains a mystery how anyone noticed but 6 homers in 1 game is impressive none-the-less.

It was during this 1866 season that a horrific scandal enveloped the Philadelphia ballclub. Pike and two other teammates were discovered to be paid $20 a week to play ball for the Athletics. The sport was at that time a wholly gentlemanly amateur affair and to play for more than just glory, comradeship and exercise was just unthinkable. A hearing was set up by the National Association of Base Ball Players, the committee that oversaw the sport at the time. Apparently the controversy quickly subsided because no one showed up on the date the hearing was to be held and the whole matter dropped. Everyone knew some of the better players had been accepting cash secretly for years, it was just that Pike and his 2 teammates did it in the open. So with Pike accepting the money he became the first paid professional baseball player. With this distinction comes another first for Lipman Pike. Not only was he the first pro ballplayer, he was also the first Jewish ballplayer as well. This was not just an idle distinction, Pike was a true superstar of his time, almost 70 years before Hank Greenberg became the first modern Jewish baseball hero.

Philadelphia released Pike a year later because he was from New York and considered an outsider or foreigner by the Athletics, who I guess had conveniently forgotten this information the whole year he was on their payroll. Didn't matter much to Lip as he was a star and he played for the powerful Irvington, New Jersey team before being lured to the New York Mutuals. The next year, 1870, he crossed the East River and played for the Brooklyn Atlantics, the club that has the distinction of ending the Cincinnati Reds 89-game winning streak. Pike batted a tremendous .610.

In 1871 the National Association was formed, becoming the first professional baseball league. Pike of course became a player in this league and he signed with the Troy Haymakers. He batted a nice .377, good for 6th best in the league. It was with Troy that Pike grabbed another first when he led the National Association with 4 homers. Pike was now the first ever home run champion in baseball history. Pike continued to move around from team to team, Baltimore Canaries, Hartford Dark Blues, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds... his talents were always welcome at any location. He continued to hit for high averages including .574 with Hartford in 1874. But besides his hitting prowess, Pike was also a fast runner and often was a leader in steals at the season's end. So fast was Pike that he would challenge anyone to beat him for a cash prize. Seldom did he lose. In a famous 1873 incident he even raced a horse in a 100 yard dash, actually beating the challenger who happened to be a professional trotter.

By 1881 Pike was playing in the minors, having played the game for almost 20 years. Halfway through the 1881 season he was brought back to the big leagues when the National League Worchester Ruby Legs (I ain't making that up) needed a centerfielder. He played terribly and after a series of questionable lapse in the field, Pike was accused of throwing games. Unfortunately at the time this was a common occurrence and at the seasons end Pike and 8 other players were banned for life, effectively ending his career.

So Lipman Pike, first professional baseball player, first Jewish ballplayer, first home run champ, returned to New York City and opened up a haberdashery, dying at the age of 48 from heart disease. His funeral was a big event for the time, well attended by the baseball community who came to honor one of the first superstars of the game.

Friday, August 13, 2010

44. Slim Jones - The Greatest Pitcher of 1934

One of my favorite things about baseball, and history in general for that matter, is the big "what if..." question. You know, what if the South won the Civil War, what if Babe Ruth stayed a left- handed pitcher, questions that would have changed everything in a radically different way than events turned out. And then there are the little what if questions. Stuart "Slim" Jones is one of those nagging little questions and for a long time a player I have been fascinated with...

Jones was was a tall thin lefty from Baltimore and although he grew up playing softball, hardball was where the money was if you wanted to escape the grim depression then gripping the country back in the early 30's. Like Leon Day shortly after him, Jones tried joining the hometown Baltimore Black Sox. The once proud powerhouse had fallen on hard times and all its stars had fled to better paying teams, but the club still attracted the best black local talent and gave many players their start in professional baseball. So Stuart, now nicknamed "Slim" for obvious reasons, brought his 6'-6" frame to a tryout with the Sox but just didn't have enough to stick with the team. The next year he had developed a nice curve to compliment his blazing fastball and under manager Dick Lundy's watchful eye Jones stuck with the club and registered a 4-2 record for 1933.

Back before the 1960's most ballplayers, no matter how good they were, black or white, had to have a job during the winter to support themselves and family. Some of the most talented were able to get a berth on a team in the Cuban, Puerto Rican, California, Mexican or South American winter leagues. Because spaces on the teams were limited and players of all colors and nationalities were trying out, only the best were eligible to play down in paradise. In the winter of 1933, Slim Jones, with barely 1 year of professional experience with a marginal ballclub, made the Puerto Rican Winter League. It was down there that Jones really had his breakthrough. The reason for his dramatic rise is lost to history, maybe it was the experience of being around great veteran players in the islands or perhaps the 21 year-old just matured, but Jones struck out a resounding 210 men down there and the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League came looking for that tall lefty as soon as he and his luggage arrived back in the States.

1934 was all about Slim Jones. Right from the start of the season everyone that followed negro league baseball knew that someone special was in their midst. Jones simply dominated not only the various semi-pro and town teams the Stars played against, but the professional teams in the Negro National League as well. By mid-season Jones garnered enough fan votes for the annual East-West All-Star Game to eclipse the reining giant of negro league ball, Satchel Paige. Slim started the game instead of Satchel, a clear indication of his popularity with the fans and a nod to his talent on the mound. Pitching against the best players the West had to throw at him, Jones kept them hitless in the first inning but in the second he gave up a walk and a hit and now had runners on second and third with no outs. Slim bore down and struck out the powerful Sam Bankhead for the first out. Larry Brown of the Chicago American Giants was up next and hit a scorcher to third baseman Jud Wilson who knocked it down and threw out Mule Suttles at the plate as he tried to score. Two out, two men on base. Nashville's Sammy T. Hughes was up next. Hughes was one of the best clutch hitters who ever wore spikes but he too hit the ball to Wilson who made the long throw to first, inning over. Jones pitched the third inning as well and all told against the best negro league players of 1934 he pitched 3 innings, gave up 1 hit, walked 1 and fanned 4. Not bad for a 20 year-old in his first year in professional ball.

Negro League baseball has always been known for its showmanship as well as talent and in 1934 fans had the perfect storm. Everyone wanted a duel between the one and only Satchel Paige and the young upstart Slim Jones. On September 9th, the stars aligned at Yankee Stadium in New York City as the Paige's Pittsburgh Crawfords met Jone's Philadelphia Stars. Paige drove all night from a freelance pitching assignment and slept in his car outside the stadium. Jones told his teammates before the game "get me 2 runs and I'll win."

From the start everyone knew they were watching something special. Paige and Jones fanned batter after batter, double plays were turned as if it were a life or death battle and through 6 innings both men were pitching 1 hit shutouts. Then in the top of the 7th Dewey Creacy got a hit off Paige and scored on a double by Slim's catcher Biz Mackey. With 2 outs Jake Dunn hit a long fly to right fielder Ted Trent to made a spectacular shoe-string catch. The base umpire called it a trapped ball however and Mackey scored from second but then the home plate umpire ruled it a legit catch. No run scored, inning over and the score remained 1-0 Philadelphia.

For Slim's half of the 7th an error by second baseman Dick Seay and 2 singles tied the ballgame before he could extradite himself out of the inning. The next inning both pitchers ran into trouble but each time they pitched themselves out of it. Night was starting to descend on Yankee Stadium and going into the 9th each pitcher bore down harder. Fans were already calling it the greatest game ever played and Slim Jones retired the Crawfords in the top of the inning. Satch took the mound in the bottom of the ninth and set the Stars down one after another to end the inning. By now it was too dark to continue and fans ran on the field. Slim Jones had struck out 9 and gave up 3 hits, Paige wiffed 12 and relinquished 6 hits. The greatest game ever played was frozen for all eternity in a 1-1 tie.

Press coverage was incredible and the fans clamored for more. This is America after all, there has to be a winner and a loser. There must be a re-match! One week later, the two teams met again at Yankee Stadium in front of 30,000 fans. Dancer and honorary Mayor of Harlem Bill "Bojangles" Robinson presented both pitchers with a set of leather luggage - a very thoughtful gift seeing how much traveling the negro league teams did at the time. Jones struck out 6 and spread 5 hits over 9 innings, but Paige and the Crawfords bested the Stars, winning by a score of 3-1. Paige struck out 18 that day, gave up but 2 hits and forever sealed his reputation as the best clutch pitcher in the negro leagues.

So by the end of the 1934 season Jones had racked up the wins going 22-3 in league games and winning an additional 10 more games against semi-pros and lesser competition. In the hot pennant race of 1934 the Stars won the second half of the split season and now faced the first half winners, the venerable Chicago American Giants. In game one Jones came on in the ninth inning of a tie 1-1 game. Dewey Creacy made a bad throw on an easy out and Mule Suttles got a cheap hit through the infield scoring the winning run. Jones started game two but lost to Chicago's Ted Trent 3-0. Philly then evened the series forcing an eighth game after the 7th game ended in a tie due to darkness. Jones was at his best spreading 5 hits over the course of 9 innings and even smashed a double in the seventh scoring a run as the Stars cruised to a 2-0 shutout championship.

What else could top off such a spectacular year for a 20 year-old? How about pitching against the best pitcher in the white major leagues? The great Dizzy Dean, fresh off his 30 win season and marvelous world series performance against Detroit was barnstorming around the country with his brother Paul, also a star pitcher (19 wins) and a pick-up team of semi-pro players. Although the quality of Deans backing players may be suspect, Slim Jones still beat the Dizzy Dean All-Stars at Shibe Park capping off what may be the single greatest season ever recorded by a pitcher in baseball history.

So where do you go from here? Unfortunately for Slim, it was all down hill, and fast. Feted as the greatest pitcher in generations, Jones made the rounds of the bars and taverns in the off-season basking in the attention and indulging way too much. When he reported to the Stars at the start of the 1935 season he was out of shape and his ego inflated to a monstrous porportion. He fought with the management demanding a higher salery and at one point left the team in protest. His skills had eroded over the winter and by the middle of the season had still not registered a win. The fans still loved Slim and he received the second highest amount of votes for a pitcher that year for the East-West Game. Slim performed magnificently throwing 3 shut-out innings and had 2 hits including a two-run homer. But while that one day in Chicago may have reminded everyone of Jone's great promise, he finished 1935 with a 5-10 record. Winter of 1935-6 was spent back in Baltimore making the rounds of the clubs and bars cashing in on his reputation and when he returned to Philadelphia in 1936 his drinking had spiraled out of control. He finished the year 1-2, was 1-1 in 1937 and then 2-1 in 1938.

By the winter of 1938 Slim Jones, now a hopeless alcoholic barely holding on to a career as a ballplayer was out of cash and desperate. That winter was one of the worst in Baltimore history and Jones wired the Philadelphia Stars owner Ed Bolden for an advance on his next years salary. Bolden refused, partly because of Jone's declining performance and partly because of the precarious financial position his club was in. Like all negro league clubs the Stars barely turned a profit year after year and money, especially in the off-season, was tight. So now Jones, formerly the greatest pitcher in the world was desperate and thirsty wandering the streets of Baltimore searching for a drink. He sold his only overcoat to buy a bottle of whiskey and caught pneumonia. He died just before New Years, aged just 25.

Baseball is littered with stories like Slim, players who for a little while seemed to be the greatest in the game, only to have it all go away in a flash. Dizzy Dean, who Slim bested in 1934 had his brilliant career curtailed in 1936 due to an arm injury as did his equally talented brother Paul. Countless players drank themselves out of the game or were used up too fast because the fans wanted to see their hero pitch every time they went to the ballpark. But not many players had such a remarkable single season as Jones did in 1934 and he remains, at least for me, one of the biggest "what if" questions in baseball history.

Monday, August 9, 2010

43. Dom DiMaggio: Brother Number Three

Well, when I initially posted the first DiMaggio brother's card, I said that I completed these quite some time ago and had promptly forgot about them. Said that for the life of me, I couldn't remember why I shelved them. Now I remember. For the past 7 months since I started this site, I have consistently received emails after each post I made, either people like it, dislike it, have suggestions, offer memories, all kinds of responses, but the point is, they were cards and players that elicited a response, the need to share a comment. Each and every message means a lot to me and I respect the people who take the time from their busy day to make a comment on my artwork. Since I started the DiMaggio series, nothing. Nada. Zip-o. Think I saw a tumbleweed blow by my studio window this morning. Now I know why I never posted these cards. Frankly, the DiMaggios are boring. Yeah, they were talented. Joe is in the Hall Of Fame and hit safely in 56 straight games, no one else is going to do that- but so what. Does Joe DiMaggio really give you that chill when you see him come to the plate in old footage? Nah. He just always looked distracted and bored. Vince, as mediocre a player as he was, has been more interesting to me than his more famous brothers. Well, anyway, with this last card I'm thankfully wrapping up this boring trilogy and after this I will promise to leave what ever old drawings I find in my files where I found them. Unseen.

So now ol' Giuseppe has 2 of his boys playing professional baseball. It ain't fishing, but heck, it's a living and it pays well. Now he starts to play the part of that most American of all fatherly types, the Dad that pushes you to play sports and lives his dreams through you. So the youngest DiMaggio, Dominic begins playing baseball. Despite being small, frail looking and wearing glasses, he ain't bad at all. In fact he's pretty darn good. Not as natural an athlete as Joe, Dom has to work harder, but it pays off as he makes the San Francisco Seals in 1937. A natural lead-off hitter he hits the ball at a .300 clip and gets on base consistently. Again, despite his diminutive size, Dom is a natural leader and after a spectacular 1939 season where he hit .360, the Boston Red Sox came knocking, purchasing his contract at the end of the year. By spring, 1940, all 3 DiMaggio boys were playing in the majors.

This concludes the DiMaggio trilogy. Next week I will get back to real stuff, forgotten minor leaguer's, negro league players that never got the chance to show what they got, guys trapped down in the low minors their entire career and hometown ballplayers who should've been someone, but just didn't. I'm talking about the real players that make up The Infinite Baseball Card Set.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

42. Joe DiMaggio: Brother Number Two

Going through my old drawings trying to find yet another thing I misplaced, I found the cards I did of the 3 DiMaggio Brothers depicting them on the San Francisco Seals. For the life of me I can't remember why I shelved them, but for some reason they never saw the light of day. I brought out Vince the other day, now it's his younger brother Joe's turn... maybe you've heard of him?

The eldest DiMaggio boy made the hometown San Francisco Seals team halfway through the '32 season and with three games left in the schedule, the team found itself short handed when a couple of the regulars jumped ship to barnstorm in Hawaii. Vince recommended his middle brother Joe to the manager as a fill-in shortstop. Just 17 at the time, he was already a neighborhood legend for the way he could hit the hell out of the ball. The younger DiMaggio batted just .222 in 9 at bats, but remember, he was still a teen and was playing in what could almost pass as a third major league. Anyway, it was good enough to merit a call back the next spring when the Seals went into their training camp.

The first thing the Seals did was move Joe to the outfield, he had a great arm but was wild. In the outfield they could make better use of his long legs and strong arm. Free from the pressure to perform in the infield, DiMaggio concentrated now at destroying the Pacific Coast League pitching. On May 28th he went 1 for 4 against the Portland Beavers, and continued to have a hit in every game for the next 61 games! The younger brother was becoming the star of San Francisco and along with the thousands of strangers who followed his career closely was his father Giuseppe, whose negative view of the game of baseball began to dissipate when he found out Joe was making more a month playing ball than he did as a fisherman. The old man welcomed the eldest brother Vince back into the family as well and Giuseppe remained a fan of the game until his dying day. On a side note, Vince, the reason Joe was even on the Seals to begin with, was released by the team after the start of the season. Fortunately he was quickly snatched up by the Hollywood club and his career remained on track, reaching the majors in 1937. But if you read the entry on Vince DiMaggio, you already knew that. Back to Joe...

So his first full season in organized ball not only shattered the league record for hitting safely in continuous games but he also hit and monstrous .340. Not bad for an 18 year-old! The country became transfixed by the young Italian from the coast as news of his great talent splashed across the sports pages. Italian-Americans, one of the biggest growing ethnic groups in the country, embraced Joe as a hero, much like Hank Greenberg did for the Jews in America at the same time, instilling pride that one of their own made good in America's Game. In the modern context it is hard for us to fully comprehend how important the sense of belonging was to recent immigrants and their children. Unlike today when too many people hyphenate their nationality and try to separate themselves from the fabric of the country, Joe DiMaggio gave Italians a star player of their own to rival any other player of what ever ethnic origin who came before him. Joe DiMaggio made them belong.

The next year Joe's career almost ended as quickly as it began. The official story was he was getting out of a cab while visiting his sister and twisted his knee in the gutter between the taxi and curb. Later stories came out he was injured while getting into his own car after a big night out at the Market Street nightclubs in San Francisco. Who knows what the real story was, the result was that he tore all the ligaments in his knee, a career-ending injury back in 1934. Surgery for such an injury didn't come about until decades later and all the doctors could do was put him in a cast and hope for the best. Because of his 61 game streak and great season the year before, Joe DiMaggio was already a known name in the baseball world, regarded as the next big thing. Now the scouts from the majors became nervous and kept their distance. All except one team. This particular ballclub, always the shrewd headhunter of talent, recognized that the best baseball prodigy in the land could now be had for a bargain price. The disappointed Seals agreed to sell their former star for a quarter of what they were asking before the accident. $25,000 and Joe DiMaggio became property of the New York Yankees.

Joe's knee healed up just fine and he played the last half of the 1934 season batting a promising .341. When the Yankees bought DiMaggio's contract they agreed to let him play the 1935 season with the Seals and he promptly hit a colossal .398 and smashed 34 home runs. Let there be no doubt, Joe DiMaggio was ready for the big time.

But waiting in the wings, urged on by his old man and the drive to be as good as his brothers was the youngest DiMaggio, Dominic...

Friday, August 6, 2010

41. Vince DiMaggio: Brother Number One

Going through my old drawings trying to find yet another thing I misplaced, I found the cards I did of the 3 DiMaggio Brothers depicting them on the San Francisco Seals. For the life of me I can't remember why I shelved them, but for some reason they never saw the light of day until now. Or at least Vince will today.

Everyone knows Joe DiMaggio. Stupid novelty songs were written about him, his 56 game hitting streak is legend and his dour mug hawked Mr. Coffee machines to a whole generation of coffee fiends in those simple, care-free days before the fancy coffee-drink revolution. And those urban folksters Simon and Garfunkel even mentioned him in a hit song for Christ's sake! And speaking of Christ, that brings me to Joe's older brother Vince. Why mention the Son of God and the DiMaggio boys in the same sentence? Well, I'm guessing that being the sibling of Joltin' Joe DiMaggio was a bit like being Jesus' brother. "Why can't you be more like your brother?" Must have been rough for the oldest, Vince, and the youngest, Dom. But each had a good career in baseball, however overshadowed by Joe. See, there I go talking about Joe when I really am focusing on Vince.

As a boy, Vince DiMaggio had two dreams in life: to become an opera singer or a professional baseball player. The opera career remained elusive, but young Vince excelled at baseball. Being the eldest boy of a strict, uneducated Italian immigrant, Vince had to leave home in order to pursue his diamond dreams, bringing down the wrath of his father who disowned the wayward son. Undaunted, Vince made the Tucson Lizards ballclub in 1932 and later that season after hitting .347 with 25 home runs he was brought up to his hometown San Francisco Seals, batting .270 for them. The Seals played in the Pacific Coast League. In the days before the Dodgers and Giants moved west, the Pacific Coast League was regarded as almost a third major league. In fact many players played their whole career on the coast despite having the talent to interest major league clubs. The pay, play and of course weather was sometimes better than the big leagues could offer.

Vince quickly became known as a speedy and talented outfielder and though he sometimes connected for power, struck out a lot. The next year Vince convinced his manager, Ike Caveney to take a look at his younger brother Joe, also an outfielder. This must have really burned up his old man, who had effectively shunned Vince. Now two of his boys were turning away from the life of a fisherman. Joe's natural talent suitably impressed the Seals and he was signed to a contract. In order to make room for their new outfielder Vince was traded to Hollywood and Joe went on to hit .340 for the Seals. Vince knocked around the high minors for a few years and finally got his chance in the big leagues with the Boston Braves in 1937. By this time his father, realizing that his boys playing that crazy game of baseball wasn't going to lead them down a path to ruin, repaired his relationship with Vince and became an avid follower of the game.

With Boston he was a mediocre batter but was 10th in the league in home runs and also led the league in strike outs. In 1938 after setting a record for strike outs that would stand for almost 30 years he was traded to the Yankees who sent him to their top farm team in Kansas City where he hit a league leading 46 home runs. Cincinnati picked him up at the end of the year though he was quickly traded to the Pirates where he spent the majority of his career.

Starring for Pittsburgh during the war years, Vince was one of the few sluggers who was able to pound the special deadened baseballs used during the war. Because rubber was essential to the war effort, a substance called "balata" was used and the usual high-grade cork and rubber mixture at the center of the ball was replaced by granulated cork. The result was a dead ball with no bounce. None-the-less, Vince finished in the top 10 home run leaders 6 times during his 10 major league seasons. It ain't no Joe DiMaggio numbers, but it ain't nothing to sniff at either.

Vince, despite being shunned by his father and over shadowed by his more talented younger brothers, was a laid-back and good-natured player and well liked throughout the National League. Besides a great personality he was blessed with a superb singing voice and often sang arias to amuse himself while playing the outfield. After his career ended in the majors, Vince played minor league ball for another 6 seasons and became the manager of the Pittsburg, California Diamonds. On July 14, 1949, "Vince DiMaggio Night" at City Park, both Vince and opposing manager Ray Perry of the Reading Browns played all 9 positions for their respective teams. Each player-manager made one error and Pittsburg won 11-2.

Unlike his brother Joe who became practically a recluse after his playing days ended, Vince DiMaggio remained an affable fellow and lived with his family in California until his death from stomach cancer in 1986 at age 74.