Friday, January 15, 2010

We lose a link to Iowa sports history

Don Crawford with another Cascade native, Gary Dolphin, "Voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes," July 4, 2007.

I received a sad bit of news today, when Paul Crawford reported the passing of his Dad, Don Crawford. He was 95. I met Don in mid-2007, after he contacted me about my Red Faber biography. I visited him in his apartment in Des Moines.

Unfortunately, my book was already out; otherwise, Don could have helped round out my project. That's because Don had the distinction of likely being the last living person to have batted against Faber. It was in a 1933 exhibition in Dubuque, just a week or two after what turned out to be Faber's last major league game. Don was 18 at the time; Faber was 45.

Don, who grew up in Cascade, might be the only person to have ever batted against both Faber and another Hall of Famer with Iowa roots, Bob Feller. That contest occurred in an amateur tournament a few years later, when Feller was still a teen but soon to enter the majors.

On Independence Day 2007, when the Tri-County Historical Society unveiled its newly remodeled museum wing dedicated to Faber, officials asked Don to snip the ribbon. He was thrilled.

On the occasion of our visit in Des Moines, I wrote a blog post that ended: One of the great pleasures of writing the Faber biography is getting the opportunity to become acquainted with people I otherwise would never had occasion to meet. Don Crawford, a real gentleman, certainly is at the top of the list.

Some 2½ years later, I still feel that way. Peace, Don.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One fan's White Sox all-star team

Today I came across a YouTube slideshow of baseball fan avalsonline's picks for an all-time Chicago White Sox lineup. It's a fun little show, including the Sox fight song in the background.

I was glad to see that two of his starters are the subjects of my biographies, Red Faber and Ray Schalk. Though I don't claim to be an expert on White Sox history, in my opinion, these picks were for the most part solid -- lots of recognition for the old-timers -- with only a couple of questions.

Though I think Schalk deserves his place in the Hall of Fame and is under-recognized by the Sox and their fans, I wondered about Schalk and Sherman Lollar both coming in ahead of Carlton Fisk in the catcher's position. Also, Eddie Collins might deserve more recognition at second base.

Anyway, watch the slideshow and make your own judgment.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Authors take issue with Faber as source for "Eight Men Out"

Urban "Red" Faber in 1917

An extensive article in Chicago Lawyer challenges the account of the Black Sox Scandal as presented in the 1960s by the late Eliot Asinof in "Eight Men Out."

The article is making the case that Shoeless Joe Jackson was innocent in the 1919 World Series fix and should be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

It's an interesting article, but I'm not convinced.

That Red Faber was an Asinof source was affirmed when the late author's notes were reviewed. No surprise there.

However, the authors took issue with Faber as a source, apparently, because Faber did not actually pitch in the 1919 Series. They made it seem that Faber was laid up with the Spanish Flu, which had reached pandemic levels in 1918, and not in a position to observe.

That someone did not play does not mean he was not present. Faber was on the Sox roster for the Series, but after being ineffective or inactive for much of the last half of the 1919 season -- after-effects of the flu earlier in the year caused weight loss and no doubt contributed to his ineffectiveness -- he was not used. He attended each of the eight games of the series.

Further, the article does not address Asinof's contention that the Black Sox figures continued to lose some games in 1920. Faber himself told Asinof about it -- and Red was a victim of indifferent and bonehead play by the Black Sox figures, including Jackson.

Jackson's defenders point out that Shoeless Joe played errorless defense and hit the only home run of the 1919 Series. True. However, defenders can hurt their team without being charged with an error. A throw a little late to a base. Or thrown to a wrong base. Or missing a cutoff man. And the home run? It came in the third inning of the final game, when the Sox already trailed 5-0. Hardly a game-changing moment, but a homer nonetheless. Does that prove that Jackson played his best throughout the series? No one alive will ever know for sure.

Asinof is not necessary the last word in Black Sox research -- the recently deceased Gene Carney was a contemporary expert, and he expanded upon, affirmed and clarified Asinof's findings. I don't consider myself an expert. But after researching Faber and Ray Schalk, I am not ready to go along with the magazine article's authors, who focus on Asinof, overlook questionable events in 1920 games, disregard that Faber was present during the 1919 Series and ignore subsequent research and findings about the Black Sox.

Did Shoeless Joe get a raw deal? Let the debate continue.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Review: Spitball-Knuckleball Book

In his first two non-fiction books, historian Tom E. Mahl wrote about espionage. His third dealt with covert operations of a different sort - baseball's "trick pitches."

"The Spitball/Knuckleball Book: How They are Thrown, Those Who Threw Them" (Elyria, Ohio: Trick Pitch Press) has the shape and typography of a coffee-table book. However, it is jammed with so much information it qualifies as a serious history of the men who threw the spitball, knuckleball and its many variants - and shows how they did it.

Mahl, who earned a doctorate in diplomatic history from Kent State and teaches at Lorain County (Ohio) Community College, presents dozens of mini-biographies of trick-pitch practitioners, including Red Faber, about whom this author wrote a full biography.

Faber was one of 17 major leaguers grandfathered into the 1920 rule otherwise banning the spitter and trick pitches (such as the emery ball, grease ball and the like). When Faber retired after the 1933 season, he the last American League regular to legally throw the spitball in the majors.

Mahl hit a couple of bumps in the Faber chapter, falling prey to an error first published in the 1930s regarding Red's middle name (it is Clarence) and stating that the White Sox star had three 20-win seasons (he had four, not three). Still, those bobbles hardly detract from a nicely paced, compelling volume.

An interesting feature of the book is that it goes beyond who threw trick pitches, but shows how they threw them. Several pages of illustrations and diagrams show the techniques pitchers used to cause the ball to flutter and dive away from frustrated batters' furious swings.

Readers who love baseball history, with a particular interest in pitching, will enjoy Mahl's book.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ready to circulate

I was in Dubuque's Carnegie-Stout Public Library last weekend, researching a possible subject for my next book, and spotted two copies of Red Faber in the Iowa Books shelves.

So, if you had been waiting for the lines to die down before checking out the biography, now is the time. Two books, no waiting.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Faber clinched pennant 91 years ago today

Boston Globe, Sept. 22, 1917

The blog White Sox Journal reminds us that 91 years ago today (Sept. 21), the Chicagoans wrapped up the American League pennant in dramatic fashion.

Key players for the victors were the subjects of my past and future books.

Ray Schalk, whose biography I am currently writing, hit a double and scored the go-ahead run in the 10th inning in Boston.

Red Faber, the subject of my first book, pitched all 10 innings and ended the game by inducing Babe Ruth to hit into a double play.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Schalk and Faber statue-worthy

Steve on CHICAGO SPORTS LIVE takes issue with the Chicago White Sox' selection of former players to honor with statues at Comiskey Park U.S. Cellular Field.

On his list of players more deserving -- topping it, in fact -- is Ray Schalk.

Schalk, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame on this date 53 years ago, receives short shrift because of his low .253 batting average. Some "experts" don't look past that to consider his other attributes, starting with his defense, his hustle and his handling of pitchers (and, some might say, umpires).

Schalk is in the Hall of Fame and he doesn't need me to make his case. But he caught more than 100 games a year (when the seasons were 140-154 games) for 11 straight years. While being a workhorse, he suffered numerous broken fingers, bruises, etc., and kept at it. Playing hurt that often can't help one's batting average.

Anyway, considering how Schalk is so often overlooked, it is nice to see that Steve remembers.

I would add to his list Ted Lyons and Red Faber, still No. 1 and No. 2 on the Sox' all-time victories list.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Late-inning review

It's been about 16 months since the first copies of my Red Faber biography reached bookstores, so I sort of figured that the time for book reviews had passed.

As usual, I was wrong.

The book recently received a nice write-up in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture. The journal "seeks to promote the study of all historical aspects of baseball and centers on the cultural implications of the game wherever in the world baseball is played. The Journal reflects an eclectic approach and does not foster a particular ideological bias." It is published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Reviewer Harry Jebsen, a history professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, described the biography as "a nicely done, easy-to-follow book on one of the lesser-known residents of the Cooperstown museum."

I'll accept reviews such as those whenever they come.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Faber biography receives surprise nomination

I received a surprise in my e-mail this morning, when I learned that my Red Faber biography is among 10 finalists for the prestigious Larry Ritter Award of the Society for American Baseball Research.

The award honors "the best book published each year, primarily set in or primarily about the deadball era."

The award subcommittee announced the books under consideration. The other nine finalists:

Balloting begins this month, and award is presented at the SABR convention this summer.

You've heard it said, "It was an honor just to be nominated"? Well, that's my feeling here. And it's a surprise to be nominated, because I had no hand in it.

I haven't read the other eight books, but I'm just finishing Macht's biography of Connie Mack, and it's tremendous. (More on that soon.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More images uncovered!

A great-nephew of Red Faber has posted more of the snapshots that Red took on the World Tour of 1913-14, when he was a rookie-to-be with the Chicago White Sox. The pictures were just now uncovered from storage in the home of another relative.

I suspect that someone using Red's camera snapped the top one. It appears that the man seated in the middle of the front row (not looking at the camera) is Red himself.

The entourage also visited the Great Pyramids and sphinx.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Click here to see the rest of the images.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Who are these guys?

A distant relative of Red Faber recently reconnected with some snapshots that Red apparently took when he was on the World Tour of 1913-14.

He sent me this photo, looking for help with identifications. Aside from the fact that Red is not in the photo (I'd assume he was taking the photo), and it appears that we have two Chicago White Sox players and one member of the New York Giants, I'm not any help.

Anyone who can assist? (Click on the photo to enlarge the image.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Red's camera uncovered!

As I've mentioned here before, publication of my biography of Red Faber has put me into contact with a great many people -- folks I otherwise never would have met (in person or via the Internet).

My most recent episode apparently will result in a donation to the Red Faber wing of the Tri-County Historical Museum in Cascade, Iowa.

(I'll leave out the names and addresses, pending finalization of the arrangements, but I have to say SOMETHING about it now.)

During the off-season of 1913-14, before his rookie season with the White Sox, Faber joined the White Sox and NY Giants (and a few other major league teams) in an around-the-world exhibition tour. It lasted four months, and Faber saw Asia, Australia and Europe.

In the book, I wrote:

In his letter home, Faber indicated that he had a camera and promised to have many pictures to share with family and friends upon his return to Iowa. Unfortunately, his snapshots apparently have not survived the subsequent nine decades.

Well, that may not be the case. (Good thing I used the qualifier "apparently"!)

This week I opened an e-mail from a distant relative of Red's, who received my book as a Christmas gift from his wife. He read my passage mentioning the camera and contacted because, he has that camera!

Not only that, he thinks a close relative of his might still have some of Red's snapshots! He remembers seeing them many years ago.

This gets better: The gentleman would like to donate the camera to the museum in Cascade. And if some of Red's snapshots from the World Tour turn up, they might find their way to Cascade someday. What a boon that will be to the museum's collection.

The donor-to-be sent me a couple of images of Red's camera, now 95 years old.

What are your favorite nicknames?

Red Faber: Nickname too common.

An uncle in suburban St. Louis called my attention to a feature story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch concerning unusual nicknames for baseball players.

Among those the paper profiled is Hall of Famer Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourne, who, before hitting the National League played professionally in Dubuque in 1879. That team included Charles "The Old Roman" Comiskey, who later owned the Chicago White Sox and entered the Hall himself.

The article also lists "Cool Papa," "Ducky," "Big Poison" (and, of course, "Little Poison"), "Highpockets" and a host of others.

The Post-Dispatch didn't mention either of the two players I have spent the most time researching Urban "Red" Faber (pictured) or Ray "Cracker" Schalk. Not a surprise regarding Faber; it seemed that every team in every sport had a "Red" on its roster during the 20th century. "Cracker" is more unusual, and might have qualified for the Post-Dispatch, but, hey, it's a newspaper article, not a novel.

Audience participation time: What nicknames do you consider the most interesting or unusual? Send in your choices.

Photo credit: George Bain Collection, Library of Congress

Friday, November 02, 2007

10 libraries

Thanks to a new e-mail newsletter service from Carnegie-Stout Public Library, I was able to learn which Iowa libraries have copies of my Red Faber biography.

There are 10 of them. Some, such as Dubuque and Cascade, where Faber once lived, are naturals. So too for Loras College, which houses the Center for Dubuque History and which named one of its athletic fields after Faber.

I'm proud that both libraries of the State Historical Society of Iowa (in Des Moines and Iowa City) also have the book.

Regarding some of the remaining libraries, I don't see a Faber connection -- but apparently they have an appreciation for Iowa history, and I commend them for their remarkably good judgment.

Anyway, here are the Iowa libraries with the biography in their collections:

  • Iowa State University, Ames
  • Cascade Public Library
  • Cresco Public Library
  • Des Moines Public Library
  • State Historical Society of Iowa Library, Des Moines
  • Carnegie-Stout Public Library, Dubuque
  • Loras College Library, Dubuque
  • State Historical Society of Iowa Library , Iowa City
  • Manchester Public Library
  • Pleasant Hill Public Library

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It was 90 years ago today (well, Monday)

The timing was coincidental, but it was fitting that I presented my Red Faber slideshow to the Cascade Lions Club on Monday.

Monday, Oct. 15, 2007, marked exactly the 90th anniversary of the Chicago White Sox' clinching victory the 1917 World Series.

The winning pitcher in that final game -- Game 6 -- was Urban "Red" Faber, native of Cascade. In fact, Faber was the pitching hero of the series, winning three games (a record for a six-game series).

Facing the New York Giants, Faber won Game 2, lost Game 4, won Game 5 in relief and then, after a travel day, turned around and won Game 6 in a complete-game clincher.

Things were quiet in Cascade on Monday, when the Lions heard my presentation, based on my biography, and then toured the newly reopened Faber wing of the Tri-County Historical Museum. The community was much livelier 90 years ago that evening, after news of the Cascade boy's accomplishments arrived at the telegraph office.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Favorable review

When I noticed that the newest edition of the Society for American Baseball Research's Deadball Era Committee newsletter included a review of my Red Faber biography, I held my breath.

SABR membership roll is full researchers, historians and sticklers for detail and accuracy. What would the reviewer think?

I exhaled when I got to the end of Les Masterson's review. He was quite generous.

Here is the review, in PDF format. It begins on Page 5.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Faber exhibit open for business

Independence Day 2007 marked the official opening of the renovated Red Faber exhibit at the Tri-County Historical Museum in Cascade, Iowa. Immediately after Cascade's July 4, the ribbon-cutting ceremony and exhibit opening enjoyed a strong turnout.

Cascade native Don Crawford, 92, who in October 1933 played in an exhibition game with Red Faber (the last competitive game in which Faber appeared) , cuts the ribbon to open the renovated Faber exhibit. At right is Lee Simon, historical society member and driving force behind the museum project.

Baseball and local history fans line up to enter the Faber exhibit. I estimate that 150-200 people came in during the first two hours.

Don Crawford, now of Des Moines, poses with another Cascade native, Gary Dolphin, "Voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes." Dolphin donated to the museum a simulated radio broadcast of the last half-inning of the 1917 World Series, when Red Faber of the White Sox closed out the New York Giants.

Most of the exhibit features photographs -- of Faber, his teammates (including the Black Sox), Hall of Fame opponents and other baseball notables of the era. Other features include Faber memorabilia; the most recent item came in as the museum opened -- the loan of a baseball that Faber autographed at the same October 1933 exhibition in which Crawford played!

If you would like to see the Faber exhibit, it might be wise to check ahead first. Regular hours are Sunday afternoons during baseball season, or by appointment (563-852-3589).

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Faber exhibit a hit

I had the privilege of attending Monday's private preview of the Tri-County County Historical Society's new and improved Red Faber exhibit.

The official opening of the exhibit is Wednesday (Independence Day) morning, after the parade in Cascade.

The exhibition room exceeded my expectations. It's organized well, features beautiful specially made display cases, memorabilia and dozens of photos provided by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The instigator of the project was Lee Simon (at right in this photo), who, with Mary Lee Hostert (above) were extremely supportive of my Faber biography project.

Two of the features are audio: Gary Dolphin's simulation play-by-play broadcast of the 1917 World Series' conclusion, and Faber's brief and modest acceptance speech upon his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.

Fans of baseball and local history should pay the museum a visit. Regular hours are on Sunday afternoons.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Improved Faber exhibit in Cascade taking shape

Volunteers are working feverishly to finish the building renovation and displays for the new Red Faber exhibit at the Tri-County Historical Society's museum in Cascade, Iowa.

If all goes as planned, the exhibit will open on Independence Day.

Lee Simon is heading the project, which moves the Faber exhibit to the ground floor of the museum, 608 Second Ave. SW. It will feature more photographs, more Faber memorabilia and even a simulated radio play-by-play of the final half-inning of the 1917 World Series, where Faber shut down the New York Giants to secure the championship for the Chicago White Sox. The play-by-play is provided by sportscaster Gary Dolphin, a Cascade native and Voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

The historical society has invited me, as Faber's biographer, to take part in the re-opening the morning of July 4 by autographing copies of the book. With pleasure!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Faber to be topic at symposium

Folks interested in Iowa history and in baseball might want to check out a two-day symposium at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Aug. 17-18 in West Branch, Iowa.

"Farm Team: Iowa's Contributions to Baseball," will open at 1 p.m. Friday, August 17 with a panel discussion entitled, "Hard Ball: Memories of Life in the Major Leagues," featuring former catchers Bruce Kimm and Bob Oldis, umpire Don Denkinger and former Negro Leagues player Art Pennington.

I'm honored to be part of the lineup. I've been asked to discuss the Hall of Fame career of Dubuque County native Red Faber. at 10 a.m. Saturday, August 18.

Other programs include the Rise of the Midwest League and fall of the Three-I League (of which Dubuque was once a member), African-Americans' influence on baseball, Rudy Laskowski and the Keokuk Kernels of 1952-53, Ozzie Smith and the Clarinda Cardinals, development of the baseball cartoon, Ray Doan (the P.T. Barnum of Baseball), Iowa's historic ballfields, 19th century lithographs and photos, barnstorming teams, the Iowa state baseball championship of 1870, an all-time, all-Iowa team, Cal McVey, Iowa's first pro baseball player, and a look at the recent making of the movie, "The Final Season."

For more information about the seminar, contact the Herbert Hoover Museum 319-643-5301. Registration is required and the cost is $25.

Monday, June 18, 2007

This Moe no Stooge

Red Faber (left), Moe Berg and Chuck Comiskey

I was in Carnegie-Stout Library over my lunch hour today, working on some baseball research (for the Tri-County Historical Museum) when another patron, a man in his mid-20s to early 30s, spied baseball photos spread on the desk in front of me.

He mentioned that he had just finished reading a book about Moe Berg. He asked if I had heard of Moe Berg.

Indeed I had. Berg is one of the most interesting, intelligent and complex men to have ever worn the uniform. Just a backup catcher for the Chicago White Sox and some other major league teams over 15 seasons, Berg was a genius and a spy for the U.S. Government. He is the subject of at least two biographies.

Berg and Red Faber, the subject of my biography, were teammates on the White Sox from 1927 through 1930.

A player of modest abilities, it was said of Moe Berg, "He could speak seven languages -- but couldn't hit in any of 'em." That wasn't exactly true. He knew 12 languages.

(Photo courtesy of the Tri-County Historical Society, Cascade, Iowa)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Faber program Saturday afternoon

After being snowed out of a public presentation Wednesday (Dubuque County-Key City Genealogy Society), I am next scheduled to present my Red Faber slideshow and sign books 1 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at Borders bookstore, Kennedy Mall in Dubuque.

I plan to be there until 3 p.m. Hope to see you there!

Deadball book subject of web interview

David Jones, editor of Deadball Stars of the American League, which includes my chapter of Red Faber, on Thursday was interviewed by Casey Stern on Radio on Thursday. The 10-minute interview was archived. Though Faber, a spitball pitcher was not mentioned, Jones and Stern do discuss the spitball and its impact on the game.