Alternate-universe 1938 Pirates: Opening day of the baseball revolution

Not quite 1938 Opening Day – that was April 18, the previous day, with the traditional Washington Senators home opener and a Red Sox-Yankees meeting – but for many Americans, the true Opening Day came day later with the Pittsburgh Pirates-St. Louis Cardinals opener.

Sportsman’s Park overflowed past its 34,000-plus capacity, standing room only for those breathless with anticipation greater than even the usual inaugural Cardinals game.

For the Pirates brought their newly-acquired quintet who collectively smashed the color barrier held in place since the 19th century by tacit agreement among Major League Baseball clubs’ ownership: perpetual Negro League all-star first baseman Buck Leonard; the speedy outfielder known as Cool Papa Bell; segregated America’s own Sultan of Swat, catcher Josh Gibson; fastball pitcher Ray Brown; and that near-mythical character and alleged master of a dozen distinct pitches, Satchel Paige.

Most came to cheer on the hometown Cardinals of Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter and Ducky Medwick to the pennant contender’s first win of many in ’38, but all were there for the curiosity of history in the making, to see the famed stars of Negro League Baseball that few white fans had actually ever seen play. Indeed, a certain section of the leftfield bleachers cheered equally loudly during Cool Papa’s at-bats and they did for the Big Cat’s.

The air buzzed with the thrill of one hundred opening days, the giddy excitement of a new chapter begun for the entire nation. Baseball, ever the bastion of the old days, was now leading a social revolution.

The lineup
For the starting lineup to face Cardinals lefty Bob Weiland, Pirates manager Alternate-Universe Pie Traynor was on the wavelength of Paul Francis “Sully” Sullivan’s 2011 piece for The Hardball Times, The telegram to Pie Traynor and the lost Pirates pennant of 1938 and constructed a lineup with Hall of Famers in the top six spots.

That starting lineup for the AU ’38 Pirates in facing St. Louis lefty Bob Weiland:

Cool Papa Bell, LF
Lloyd Waner, CF
Arky Vaughan, SS
Buck Leonard, 1B
Josh Gibson, C
Paul Waner, RF
Johnny Rizzo, 1B
Lee Handley, 3B
Pep Young, 2B
Russ Bauers, P

The game
Perhaps it was the pressure, the overbearing presence of photographers and reporters, the jeering the Pirates took for nearly every plate appearance, bats on both sides stayed as ice-cold as though they’d missed the spring training games the players hadn’t.

Opening the game for the Pirates to a cacophony of competing noise, Cool Papa Bell worked Weiland to a full count before drawing a walk. Surely fearing Bell’s lightning speed, Weiland held him tight to the bag; twice Bell looked set to bolt, only to be denied a jump.

The Redbirds finally cut loose in the bottom of the 6th with a couple of walks, back-to-back doubles and a passed ball muffed by Gibson resulted in four runs and Brown coming in for relief. The Bucs fought back with three runs in the top of the 7th, with all heroics due to unexpected sources: Doubles from Handley and Young ultimately led to three runs in the half-inning.

The Pirates bats again would again go silent, though, with the sole baserunner in their final two innings coming on Leonard’s first MLB hit, a single to right, a runner quickly erased with a GIDP on the subsequent at-bat.

Opening Day for the AU ’38 Pirates will forever go down in baseball history, but unfortunately not for an outstanding result on-field. Pittsburgh’s three new batters went a combined 1-for-11 with a walk; indeed, the Pirates’ big six managed just four hits and a walk in 23 plate appearances with zero RBI and zero runs scored. A disappointing result for would-be world-conquerors, to be sure, but it’s a long season.

And Satchel starts tomorrow…

– Os Davis, April 19, 1938

 

The 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates that never were – until now

Jackie Robinson, as we all know, broke the so-called “color barrier” established within professional baseball by taking the field for first the Montreal Royals, then the Brooklyn Dodgers both therefore clubs with all-white rosters playing in all-white leagues – though it’s hardly as though Dodgers club president Branch Rickey invented the idea of pioneering baseball’s integration when no one had dreamt so audaciously before.

For more than a decade, sportswriter (and later sportswriter/editor)  Chester Washington was one of the most strident voices for the sport’s racial integration. Washington worked for the Pittsburgh Courier, at one time the highest-circulated newspaper among those for African-American readership. The paper’s location in Pittsburgh meant that not only did Washington cover the Pirates, he also had the beats of two of the Negro National League’s more successful franchises, the Crawfords and the Homestead Grays.

This gave Washington an idea in late 1937, prompting him to send a telegram to Pirates manager/president Pie Traynor with an offer he figured Traynor couldn’t refuse (or at very least seriously consider)…

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Sir Charles: Politicians are all about divide-and-conquer

Not even a GOAT quotable Dream Teamer like Charles Barkley can proffer a simple, honestly-expressed thought on the state of US society without the piranha-like forces of social media scrutinization going to work in tweet-sized bites.

Truly The GOATs supposes that the good news – okay, the pragmatic take – is Barkley’s b-bon mots will soon be forgotten, what with a new news cycle beginning on the Monday after the holiday. So we’re recording this for posterity. Below runs the Profound Mound of Resound’s “controversial” opinion in prose as well as taped off the NCAA basketball coverage he and the usual TNT lot were covering.

(Incidentally, my name is Os Davis and I approve this message.)

“…man, i think most white people and black people are great people. I really believe that. But i think our system is set up for oru politicians, whether Republicans or Democrats, [is] designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power. They divide and conquer.

“I truly believe in my heart that most white people and black people are awesome people, but we’re so stupid, following our politicians, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, and their only job is ‘Hey, let’s make these people not like each other. We don’t live in their neighborhoods, we’ve all got money, let’s make the whites and blacks not like each other. Let’s make rich people and poor people not like each other, let’s scramble the middle class.’

“I truly believe that in my heart.”

“…man, i think most white people and black people are great people. I really believe that. But i think our system is set up for oru politicians, whether Republicans or Democrats, [is] designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power. They divide and conquer.

“I truly believe in my heart that most white people and black people are awesome people, but we’re so stupid, following our politicians, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, and their only job is ‘Hey, let’s make these people not like each other. We don’t live in their neighborhoods, we’ve all got money, let’s make the whites and blacks not like each other. Let’s make rich people and poor people not like each other, let’s scramble the middle class.’

“I truly believe that in my heart.”

Blast from the past: Rewatching ESPN’s “Matchup of the Millennium”

From our The 90s Were Weird Department comes a reminder of the 1999 ESPN mini-series entitled “Matchup of the Millennium” which pitted, in a tournament made possible after the invention of time travel, all-decade teams for four NFL franchises in the Super Bowl era: the 1960s Green Bay Packers host the 1980s San Francisco 49ers while the 1970s Pittsubrgh Steelers visit the 1990s Dallas Cowboys.

The series was essentially a more in-depth version of the “NFL Dream Season” series the network had run in 1989; NFLDS featured 20 great one-year teams playing a six-game scheuule followed by two rounds of playoffs.

The pretentious title is exactly the sort of aggrandizing that Truly the GOATs rails against – Come on, if this is really a “Matchup of the Millennium”, why are only 20th-century teams represented? But it an interesting enough idea to check out with sports off everywhere outside of Belarus.

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A completely fictional story about Jim Thorpe that thankfully disappeared

In researching 20th-century newspaper reportage for the stories of the great all-time athletes (thus far Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Angelo Mosca), it is becoming pointedly obvious that much sports journalism was not subject to, likesay, very rigorous editorial scrutiny.

As an example, check out the below story published in the Evening Star newspaper of Washington, D.C.,  following Thorpe’s incredible success at the 1912 Olympic Games.

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The Truly The GOATs MLB All-Defense Team (statistically)

A couple of weeks ago, the question was posed on Twitter: What’s your all-time all-defensive infield? In response, Truly the GOATs assembled such a list with the help of the miraculous Baseball-Reference.com.

A further extension to include the outfield results in quite an interesting lineup, indeed.

Before scrolling down, take a guess. Some positions are filled by pretty much who you figure – the names in the 2B, SS, 3B and RF spots will shock no one, but if anyone guesses who’s on first for the GOAT defensive team, well, Truly the GOATs tips our collective cap to you.
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Larry Bird’s comments at Dream Team HOF enshrinement clinched him GOAT trash-talker title

The entire premise of Truly the GOATs is about challenging the notion of labeling sports’ players, teams or events hastily and clichédly “Greatest of All-Time.” My theory – still doing research on this – is that the tendency began with Michael Jordan and/or the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team, a.k.a. The Dream Team.

One can easily see why: Not since the days of Pelé and his Team Brazil football sides of the 1950s and 60s had the wide world of sports so clearly witnessed once-in-a-century greatness. Team USA ultimately lived up to the pre-Olympics hype by winning every game – by an average score of 43.8. Even Brazil drew a couple of matches in their three World Cup-winning runs.

The Dream Team was so great that they even enjoyed one of the best Hall of Fame enshrinement speeches 20 years after the 1992 Olympics Games, courtesy Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Bird, in fact, solidifies his bid for the Greatest Trash-Talker of All-Time by closing out the speech with the last word on the ridiculous 1960 Team USA vs 1992 Team USA debates leading into both squads’ indubction in Springfield. Check it out: Even Jordan can’t maintain his cooler-than-thou demeanor when Larry starts dropping bombers like he was killing the Lakers with jumpers.

The complete transcript of the speech runs below the video.

1992 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team Hall of Fame Enshrinement Speech: Complete transcript
Emcee Ahmad Rashad: Welcoming the team to the Hell of Fame are three members of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team, Walt Bellamy, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West. Ladies and gentlemen, the gold medal winning 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team! Continue reading “Larry Bird’s comments at Dream Team HOF enshrinement clinched him GOAT trash-talker title”

Highlights of King Kong Mosca’s career – as a face

Due to the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus, Truly the GOATs will likely be calling an audible for episode 3, and instead of the regularly scheduled story of Raiden, Hakuhō and the centuries-old sport of sumo, we’ll probably instead drop our ep on Angelo Mosca.

In terms of a real mind-blowingly successful pro wrestling career, Angelo may have been born about five to 10 years too early, juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust missing the insane rise in popularity of pro wrestling in the 1980s as driven by Vince McMahon and Hulkamania.

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Secretariat and the most exciting, incredible three minutes in sports history

I always go back to this one. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the amazing performance of Secretariat (and his trusty jockey Ron Turcotte) in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. At 66½ years and counting, Secretariat’s world record time in this race has got to be the longest-held speed record in all of sports.

And while “dominance” cannot really be quantified – truth be told, this noun technically cannot carry qualifiers despite the evermore frequent use of terms such as “more dominant” and “the most dominant” – Secretariat certainly set a record in the category that will never be broken. Seriously, how does he win by this freakin’ much…?

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