Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day, 2014

This morning I opened up my newspaper to see another famous person with a hang-dog look on their face, holding up a piece of paper with another "hash-tag" something written on it. Part of the article was dedicated to saying how these "selfies" were really doing "something" to affect "change" in the world. 

Today is Memorial Day, 2014, and before I spend some time outside, grilling something meaty, I wanted to re-introduce Sam Kau. Kau was the spit-ballin' ace of the Hawaiian Chinese Travelers, a semi-pro outfit that toured the States before WWI. Sam's story is below, but I wanted to put him up again today because after his playing career was over, Sam enlisted in the Army when WWI broke out, and although he was sent to Officer's training, Sam resigned in order to go to the front with his old outfit.

See, in the summer of 1918, Sam didn't pose with a "hash-tag" piece of paper in front of him and boldly post it on a Twitter account. Sam put down his books, took the white hat band officer's in training wore back then, boarded a ship and sailed across the U-Boat infested Atlantic to fight. When he met his end somewhere below Hill 378 no one posed for a "hash-tag" selfie to memorialize his violent end. But what he did get is the gratitude of millions of Americans, most of whom never even knew he existed. The greatest memorial Kau could receive is the deep thanks all us American's feel towards veterans who gave their lives so that our country can go forward, passing to us the greatest comfort and opportunity any country on the face of the earth could ever offer.

When you're outside today, and hear the sweet "slap" of a ball hitting the well-worn leather of a glove, give a little silent "thanks" to Sam Kau and all the other Americans who gave their lives over the past 238 years.

The son of Chinese immigrants, Sam Kau grew up playing ball in the fast paced Oahu League. Armed with a devastating spitball to go along with a good fastball and professional curve, Kau joined the All-Chinese Hawaiian Travelers that toured the U.S. mainland every summer from 1912 to 1915. When the All-Americans team came to Hawaii in 1914, Kau pitched against the major league stars, losing 5-2. The big leaguers were impressed with his spitball and noted that 4 of the runs came during one bad inning. On the Travelers’ 1915 American tour, Kau held the minor league San Antonio Bronchos to 6 hits (though he lost 3-2) and then tossed a perfect game against Baylor University, striking out 20. Kau moved permanently to Philadelphia where he continued to be a sought-after semi-pro pitcher. 

A former member of the Hawaiian National Guard (as were a good number of his teammates on the Travelers), Kau enlisted in the army in 1918. With his prior experience he made sergeant quickly and was sent to officer candidate school. Anxious to get to the fighting, the former spitballer voluntarily resigned from officer training in order to join his old regiment when it received orders to France.

The 315th Infantry was posted to the Verdun Sector during the last week of the war. On the night of November 4th they moved into the front lines to spearhead an attack on Hill 378 which was outside the town of Borne-du-Cornouiller. Going over the top at the head of his squad, Sergeant Kau was killed by German bullets. It was only six days until the war ended.

Though Kau never played in the majors or even the minor leagues, he was a big enough name that his death in battle was reported by the wire services.

I originally learned about Sam Kau from an update I received from Gary Bedinfield, proprietor of Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice. After reading Gary's fine bio on Apau Kau, I called up my old pal Scott Simkus, the man behind the now defunct Outsider Baseball Bulletin, who tapped into his vast OBB archives and supplied me with some hard-to-find newspaper photo's of Kau from which I did my drawing. Various old newspaper articles along with some background of the Hawaiian All-Chinese Travelers team from Joel Frank's book filled out the rest of Kau's story.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

171. Don Anderson: Speed on the Bases

I've been working on my book for the past few months, compiling, writing about and illustrating some really great and forgotten ballplayers. I'm really proud of where it's going so far and as the deadline looms, I will try to post some sneak peeks at some of the new characters (and some old ones I revisited and revamped). 

Today I thought I'd bring you something a little off the path usually tread here at The Infinite Baseball Card Set. A quick glance at the card to the left and you're probably thinking "what does 1950's auto racing have to do with baseball?". Well, bare with me. 

Remember the Brooklyn Bushwicks? I did a few of their players over the years and told the story about how they played in a magical place in Woodhaven, Queens called Dexter Park. During the 1920's through the early 1950's some of the best baseball outside the major leagues were played there. The home team, the Brooklyn Bushwicks, were an ever changing squad of future or former major leaguers, career minor leaguers or college stars. Their opponents were the best semi-pro teams and the cream of the Negro Leagues. On some days the Bushwicks would out-draw the neighboring Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. 

Dexter Park, besides being an outsider baseball mecca, was also home to boxing, football, soccer, rifle shooting, archery and auto racing. Yep, auto racing. In the early fifties the sport was in its infancy and Dexter Park, along with many other ballparks and stadiums were host to what would eventually evolve into NASCAR. About a year ago, the son of one of those early drivers contacted me to see if I was game for producing an illustration of his father, who often raced his '38 Plymouth named "Miss Charlotte" in Dexter Park. I love the tie in with the old Bushwicks, and with a stack of old photographs supplied by the son, created a card of Don Anderson. Don's son even had the great idea of including the Dexter Park scoreboard as a backdrop to the illustration, which besides being visually appealing, helped reinforce the baseball tie-in. Don's son one other request was that I post the story of his father as card number 171, his old man's car number.

So here he is, number 171: Don Anderson...

#171, “Miss Charlotte”, ‘38 Plymouth
Non-Ford, Jalopy, Claiming Divisions
Dexter Park & Freeport Stadium, N.Y.

Don was a member of The All State Racing Stock Car Club during the ’52 & ’53 seasons. Throttle pushers as they were called, “Raced around the Bases” of Max Rosner’s, Bushwick Baseball Club from ’51 to ‘55. Thursday and Sunday night racing was witnessed by thousands under the arc lights at the 1/3 mile Woodhaven N.Y. metro plant. With his gal Charlotte cheering from the bleachers Don won his Heats, Semi and Consi events here and at Freeport. Surviving to make the feature when over 100 cars are vying for it was no small feat. He competed against and beat veteran drivers like Zeke, Gouevia, Rocco, Coy, Brunnhoelzl and Tet. Luck shined on him in the Feature events too, taking second to veteran shoes Al DeAngelo, Axel Anderson and Jim Hendrickson. Co-Driver Mitch Harris of Richmond Hill did well too, winning it all in July ’52, taking the checkers!