Tag Archives: Appalachian League

“Baseball can be Drab and Dreary, Filled with Disillusionment”

7 Nov

George Sosnak was known for creating incredible works of art on baseballs.  Sosnak started painting baseballs while working as a minor league umpire in the 50s and early 60s, and occasionally worked as an umpire at Detroit Tigers spring training games in Lakeland, Florida until his death in 1992.  His work has been displayed at the Hall of Fame and multiple museums. As of 1979 Sosnak told The Tampa Tribune had had painted more than 3000 balls.

sosnak1962

Sosnak, 1962

When his work appeared at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia last year, the museum quoted Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, who said after Sosnak’s death:

“He did the most wonderful job of hand-painting a baseball. He was the best I’ve ever seen at doing his job. He also did a good job of umpiring.”

A Pittsburgh native, Sosnak began his career as an umpire in Class D Appalachian League in 1954.  He provided a glimpse into the life of an umpire in the low minors in a 1957 interview with Les Biederman, who covered baseball for The Pittsburgh Press for nearly 40 years.  Biederman said:

“Baseball is an exciting business all right, if you’re on top.  Or even if you’re about half-way, looking upward, it still hold a great deal of hope.

But if you happen to be an umpire in a Class D league—lowest in baseball—then baseball can be drab and dreary, filled with disillusionment.”

sosnak59mckeon.jpg

Jack McKeon argues a call with Sosnak, Three I League, 1959

Biederman called umpires in the low minors “One of the tragedies” of baseball:

“Playing in Class D is bad enough but when you’re young, can absorb quite a bit of punishment, knowing the parent club has an eye on you and will protect you.

“As a player in Class D you have a chance for advancement within a year or two…But an umpire in Class D must have a good bank account , a strong constitution, memorize the rules, and another requirement is that he should own a car.”

Sosnak told Biederman he became an umpire by mistake while serving in the military in Germany after WWII:

“I was in charge of a labor platoon and the First Sergeant told me he was going to send me to an ‘umpire’s school.’ He thought it had something to do with field maneuvers but it was a baseball school all right.

“I liked it right away and never returned to the labor platoon.  I spent six years in the service and (after returning to the states) umpired in the Bill McGowan Umpire School in Florida, and they got me a job.”

Sosnak said in D ball he earned just $250 a month, “And out of this the umpire pays for his uniforms, his meals, room, laundry, and incidentals.”

sosnak.jpg

Earl Weaver argues with Sosnak in 1961 that Joe Pulliam of the Fox Cities Foxes was hit by a pitch, Sosnak disagreed

Sosnak said it was necessary for one of the two umpires to own a car:

“Each umpire receives three cents per mile for transportation, so the umpire without a car turns over his three cents per mile to his more affluent brother umpire.”

Sosnak said:

“In Class D I had a room at the YMCA for $4 a week, I ate two meals a day and got by on $1.50 each day.”

When he was moved up to the Pioneer League, a C league his salary increased to $400 a month and:

“He roomed in hotels, paying between $2.25 and $2.50 a day.  He ate a little better food and a little more food on his $400 a month.”

Biederman noted that some umpires, like Larry Goetz, who had just retired:

“(S)pent 15 years in the minors before reaching the National League in 1936, yet he was rated among the most competent, even in the minors.”

The “tragedy” of the life of the minor league umpire, Biederman concluded:

“No one aids the umpire like the manager, the coaches, or the veterans.  The umpire must stand on his own two feet.

“Nobody really appreciates the fine points of the work of umpire, except other umpires.”

Sosnak made it as far as the Class A Florida State League before giving up full-time umpiring in 1964.

Several excellent examples of Sosnak’s work can be seen here.

“Loved Baseball More than He Feared Death”

2 Dec

Robert William “Bob” Osgood was told by doctors that he couldn’t play high school baseball because of a heart ailment.  He was also told he wouldn’t live long.

According to The Associated Press, he begged his parents for a chance to play and “(T)he youth’s parents thought it better that Bob’s playing be supervised and permission was granted.”  By his senior year in 1946, was named to several Massachusetts All-State teams.

After graduation, Osgood signed with the Chicago Cubs.  His older brother Charles was then playing in the Cubs organization after appearing in one game as a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944 as a 17-year-old.

Charles Osgood

Charles Osgood

 

Bob hit .280 in 25 at-bats split between the Cubs’ North Carolina and Appalachian League teams.

No official records exist for Bob Osgood after that, but he was a member of the Visalia Cubs in 1947.

He was assigned to the Springfield Cubs in the New England League in 1948 but missed most of spring training when he was hospitalized with the flu.  On May 7, 1948, Bob Osgood became a member of the Marion Cubs in the Ohio-Indiana League; he was sent to Marion from Springfield after the club’s manager/catcher Lew “Zeke” Bekeza broke a bone in his hand.

Osgood appeared in two games behind the plate; he hit .500 with five singles in ten at-bats.

On May 11, 1948, Osgood was sitting on the bench with teammates during a rain delay in Richmond, Indiana.  The Marion Star said:

“Osgood, a catcher who played his first game for the Cubs last Sunday, collapsed and died in the Cubs’ dugout…The heart attack came as the Cubs team took shelter from a rain storm…At 8:03 p.m. after more than an hour of artificial respiration (two doctors) declared the boy dead.”

His manager, Bezeka told the paper “Osgood had not looked well in his few days with the Cubs and had a blue coloring to his face.”

A postscript:

 According to Jack Durant of The Associated Press,  former Reds and Dodgers catcher Clyde Sukeforth, a Dodger scout,  was in the stands and “Seeing the commotion around the bench, rushed out the stands to the dugout,” upon arriving “He knelt beside the boy who loved baseball more than he feared death and when he looked into the stilled features, well he knew who it was—Bobby Osgood, his own nephew.”

Clyde Sukeforth

A shorter version of this post appeared on August 17, 2012.

The Man who Dried up Memphis

4 Jan

Finis Albert “Fin” Wilson had a brief, unsuccessful Major League career.  After four minor league seasons—two with the Knoxville Reds in the Appalachian League and two with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association—and a brief spring trial with the Cleveland Indians, Wilson signed a contract to play with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops in the Federal League in September of 1914.

Appearing in two games that September, Wilson went 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA.  Despite a respectable 3.78 ERA in 1915, Wilson‘s Major League career was over after a 1-8 season for the Tip-Tops.

Wilson signed with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association in 1916, but became sick in April and missed most of the first half of the season.  He returned to the team in July and ended the season with a 4-6 record.

Finis Wilson 1914

Finis Wilson 1914

He returned home to Greensburg. Kentucky and served two terms in the Kentucky General Assembly.  In 1928 he was appointed as a federal prohibition administrator in Memphis, Tennessee, primarily responsible for stopping the transportation of illegal liquor on the Mississippi River.

Wilson was very popular in Atlanta because while pitching for New Orleans in 1913 he beat the Mobile Sea Gulls on the last day of the 1913 season securing the championship for the Crackers and shortly after his appointment he was the subject of a glowing profile in The Atlanta Constitution:

“In an office at the custom-house here in old Shelby County with the Mississippi meandering by just outside the window I found the man who won the 1913 pennant for the Atlanta Crackers. Finis E. Wilson, who left a bank presidency in Kentucky to battle Shelby county bootleggers, does not look like the young left-handed pitcher who gave the greatest exhibition of courage the Southern Association ever saw. His hair is gray now and he looks positively genial.”

He was on the front line of the government’s battle with moonshiners.  In one raid Wilson, according to The Associated Press he:

 “Dried Memphis up… (Wilson) directed the greatest cleanup Memphis ever experienced…more than 150 persons were arrested and confiscated 1,500 gallons of whiskey, 800 gallons of wine and 20,000 quarts of home-brew.

In another raid two of Wilson’s boats were bombed as agents destroyed 1300 gallons of liquor and arrested six men.  Wilson told The Associated Press:

“If it’s war the moonshiners want it’s war they’ll get.”

And it was a war; 16 agents were killed and 183 were injured in 1928 and ’29 alone; and while corruption among agents was widespread, it appears that no agents under Wilson were charged with any wrongdoing.

Wilson left government service sometime after the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, and died in Coral Gables, Florida in 1959.

Finis Wilson circa 1930

Finis Wilson circa 1930

Filling in the Blanks—Fletcher Hodge, Fletcher Hodges

29 Aug

Baseball Reference lists Fletcher Hodge, a pitcher for Cleveland, Tennessee in the Appalachian League in 1921 and Grand Rapids in the Michigan-Ohio League in 1924, and Fletcher Hodges appearing in six games with the Rochester Tribe in the International League in 1924.   He was the same player, with a life that spiraled out of control after an arm injury.

Born Ernest Fletcher Hodge (various sources give his birth date between 1898 and 1900) in Advance, Missouri, Hodge pitched for local teams around Sikeston, Missouri. There’s no record of how big Hodge was, but newspaper stories described him as “The giant righthander.”

He went 8-11 in the Appalachian League in 1921 and there is no record of him in professional baseball again until 1924.  Hodge was 9-6 with 3.00 ERA in 16 games at Grand Rapids when his contract was purchased by Rochester.

Hodge appeared in six games with Rochester.  Although no statistics exist, it is clear Hodge did not pitch well in the International League.  When his contract was sold to Terre Haute in the Three-I League in August the Rochester Journal said “In all his starts with the Tribe he was wild as a tornado.”  Hodge also reportedly injured his arm while with the Tribe.

Shortly after his contract was sold to Terre Haute, Hodge had his first confirmed brush with the law; he was arrested in Cincinnati for attempting to pass several bad checks drawn on a Rochester bank.  There’s no record of the disposition of the case, but it was reported that Rochester owner Walter Hapgood had interceded to get the charges either reduced or dropped (depending on the source).

In either case, Hodge never played for Terre Haute or Rochester and it appears he never played professionally again, although there were at least five pitchers identified only as “Hodge” who pitched for various teams from 1925-27. (here, here, here, here, and here)

By 1930 Hodge was living in Sikeston, Missouri.  On the evening of June 13 he went to a rooming house in Blytheville, Arkansas where his wife was visiting her mother.  Hodge shot and killed his wife Anna and fired four shots at his mother-in-law, who escaped injury.  He escaped to Sikeston and then Poplar Bluff, Mo before being taken into custody.

Hodge’s trial was scheduled to begin on November 4, 1930 when he instead pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.  There is no record of Hodge’s death, or if he was ever released from prison.