Friday, May 13, 2011

75. Guy Zinn: Going Rogue

There was some problems with Blogger yesterday and my last post on Guy Zinn was wiped off the face of the earth, so here it is again...

After finally completing the design of the next issue of 21: The Illustrated Journal of Outsider Baseball in a coffee-fueled Jack Kerouac-like marathon work session, I was in the process of saving the file to my online back up when my screen went blue. Now I'm computer literate enough to know that blue is bad and that field diagnosis was confirmed when I took the machine to a tech guy. I spent a few agonizing days waiting to hear if the file that held the new 21 issue could be salvaged and was relieved to hear that it was. So after buying a whole new machine and all the accompanying software, I am back up and running. So why do I share my problems with you? Well, I was unable to write a good story this week for this site. Following up Bill Staples' great Kenichi Zenimura story would have been hard enough, but I thought I'd throw out the story of a fella I found while researching the first issue of 21, Guy Zinn...

Prior to 1914, when a major league team sent a player down to the minor leagues there was nothing the player could do about it unless he wanted to be blacklisted from organized baseball forever. But in the winter of 1914 when Guy Zinn found out the Boston Braves had sold him to Louisville, he never showed up. He went rogue.

Founded in 1913 as an unaffiliated minor league, the Federal League emerged the next year as an aspiring third major league. The 8 team league strategically placed their clubs all around the eastern half of the country, selecting major league cities like Chicago, Brooklyn, St. Louis and Pittsburgh as well as the big minor league markets of Baltimore, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Buffalo. The league then commenced a raiding spree on the major leagues. Aging and underpaid stars like Three-Finger Brown, Germany Schaefer and Eddie Plank joined viable young talent like Benny Kaugh and Ed Rouch. Many other stars of both major leagues used the threat of signing with the Federals as leverage to get better pay. For a veteran like Guy Zinn, the Federal League was a way to hold on to the dream.

Born in Holbrook, West Virginia, Zinn started out in the local Pennsylvania-West Virginia League in 1909 and quickly worked his way up through Macon, Memphis, Toledo and Altoona before he was signed by the New York Highlanders, now known as the Yankees. The young outfielder batted only .148 in 9 games during the 1911 season but he made the starting lineup the following year. Batting leadoff on Opening Day in Boston, Zinn became the first batter ever to step up to the plate in Fenway Park. After drawing a walk he later scored a run, also becoming the first player to score a run at Fenway. On August 15, 1912 the speedy Zinn made a name for himself again by stealing home twice in one game, a record that has been equalled 10 times but never surpassed. He also pounded a team record 6 home runs earning himself the formidable nickname “The Gunner”. Despite his memorable season, New York sold him to the Rochester Hustlers of the International League. Although the International League was the highest minor league at the time, it was still the minors. A disappointed Zinn batted .287 and hit 4 home runs. The Boston Braves noticed and purchased his contract at the tail end of the 1913 season. Guy batted .297 in 36 games including 8 doubles 2 triples and a home run but during the winter break he found out he had been sent down to the minors again, this time to Louisville.

Baltimore of the Federal League eagerly signed the proven Zinn. The Terrapins were heavily favored to win the pennant and they started out strong, outdrawing the established Baltimore Orioles so much that they were forced to sell their biggest star, 19 year-old pitcher Babe Ruth, and relocate to another city. The Gunner started great as well but then after batting .280 with 10 doubles, 6 triples and 4 homers as well as 6 steals, he broke his ankle running the bases. The team tanked during the second half and finished a disappointing third. Zinn recovered and the next year hit .269 and had 18 doubles, 3 triples and 5 homers despite the Terrapins finishing dead last in the league. But the league’s days were numbered.

Baltimore as well as the rest of the club’s attendance had dropped substantially and the Federal League finished the season in the red. The Major Leagues recognized victory over the upstart league but made a few concessions to some of the Federal League club owners: St. Louis Terriers owner Phil Ball purchased the St. Louis Browns while Chicago Whales owner Charles Weeghman was allowed to buy the Chicago Cubs. Weeghman moved the Cubs into the more modern stadium he had built for the Whales which years later would be known as Wrigley Field. The American and National Leagues skimmed off the best of the Federal League’s talent and cast adrift the remaining players.

With the demise of the Federal League, the aging Zinn bumped around the minors again, stopping off at Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, New Orleans, Louisville, Bridgeport, Newark, Jersey City and finally Hamilton, Ontario. He retired in 1922 and returned to his family in West Virginia.

Now go back up your files!

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