Tag Archives: Florida State 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.”

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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.

Tragic Exits

28 Apr

George Frazee

George Donald Frazee, listed on Baseball Reference as “G. Frazee” with the Shreveport Sports in the Texas League in 1928, was a three-sport star at Texas Christian University.

Born November 21, 1904 in Fort Worth, Texas, Frazee played outfield for the baseball team, halfback and fullback with the football team, and was a guard on the basketball team from 1923-1925.  After graduation he played basketball with a team representing the Fort Worth, Texas YMCA which played throughout the Southwest and Mexico.

It’s unclear where Frazee played baseball in 1926 and ’27, but in 1928 he started the season with the San Angelo Red Snappers in the West Texas League, there are no surviving statistics for his time there, but after being transferred to Shreveport he hit .301 in 32 games. Frazee signed with Shreveport for the following season.

On January 24, 1929 Frazee was flying from Ft. Worth with World War I flyer Willoughby Alvous “Al” Henley and another Fort Worth man, to attend the opening celebration for San Angelo’s new airport.  The United Press wire story said:

 “Tragedy marred the formal opening of the municipal airport today, claiming the life of Al Henley…one of the nation’s most skilled pilots.  Henley, Donald Frazee, professional baseball player, and W.E. Shytles…were killed when their cabin monoplane crashed in an attempted landing.”

The Brownsville Herald said:

 “He was an outfielder, fast, big and aggressive.  Shreveport lost an outfielder who was certain to make good this year.”

 

Chief Wano

William “Chief” Wano was born on Oklahoma’s Pottawatomie reservation on May 12, 1896.  He played semi-pro ball in Oklahoma City and in the army while serving with the 79th Infantry, 15th Division at Camp Logan, Texas.  After his discharge in early 1919 the twenty-three-year-old began his professional career with the Tulsa Oilers in the Western League.

Wano struggled during his first season, hitting just .195, but joined the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association the following season—and along with fellow Oklahoman, and former classmate and teammate at the Chilocco Indian School– Moses “Chief” Yellow Horse; he helped lead Little Rock to the pennant.

William Wano,

William Wano, back, fourth from right, at Chilocco Indian School

Wano was a consistent hitter throughout the 1920s (.317 in 11 seasons in class-A leagues), but was an erratic fielder and never made it to the major leagues.

After hitting .331 for the St. Joseph Saints in the Western League in 1930 Wano left organized baseball, first playing semi-pro then he accepted a position managing Ben Harjo’s All-Indian Baseball Club—Harjo was a millionaire and full-blooded Creek.   The team, based in Harjo’s hometown Holdenville, Oklahoma, barnstormed the Midwest and Southwest, and with Wano as player-manager won the Denver Post Tournament in July 1932.

Chief Wano

Chief Wano

Wano quit two months later after a dispute over two players Wano signed.  Harjo hired Jim Thorpe to manage the club the following season.

Wano moved to Dallas after his career.  According to The United Press he spent World War II working at the North American Aircraft plant in Dallas, and living at the home of Kal Hill Segrist Sr., his former Dallas Steers teammate (and father of Kal Segrist, who played with the New York Yankees in 1952 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1955).

On July 30, 1945 Wano was in the Dallas City Jail (reports varied on why he was there), when according to The Dallas Times-Herald another prisoner “slugged Wano on the chin, Wano fell, striking his head on the concrete floor.”  Other reports said Wano was trying to break up a fight when he was hit.

William “Chief” Wano died that night in Dallas’ Parkland Hospital.  A month later a grand jury chose not to indict the man who threw the punch.

 

Gene Gaffney

Eugene “Gene” Gaffney was one of the better hitters in the Florida State League during his brief career (1920-23), he was also a manager’s nightmare.

Gaffney hit .335 in 60 games for the league champion Orlando Tigers in 1921, but was suspended for several days in July by Manager Joe Tinker.

The following season he joined the Jacksonville Indians, managed by former major leaguer George Stovall.  The team struggled, and Gaffney, had his only sub .300 season, hitting just .277.  And, according to The St. Petersburg Evening Independent, a car caused a major riff between the outfielder and his manager:

“Has a baseball player a right to ride to and from the park in his own automobile?  George Stovall says no.  He suspended Gene Gaffney because Gaffney had bought an automobile and insisted on being his own bus.

“Stovall insisted he should parade to the park in the team bus.  Gaffney told Stovall to go jump; that if the team would win enough games so that he wouldn’t be ashamed to wear the uniform on parade it might be different.  At last accounts Gaffney was off the ballclub, but riding his automobile to his own intents and purposes, while Stovall still was trying to get the rest of the Jacksonville team somewhere on the field.”

Gaffney played just one more season; he hit .357 for the Daytona Beach Islanders in 1923.

After baseball, Gaffney tended bar in Orlando until August 12, 1937—The Associated Press said:

“Gene Gaffney, about 43, local bartender who once led the old Florida State League in batting, was believed today to have been the victim of foul play.

“His automobile, its windshield shattered and other windows broken, was found mired in mud on the shores of an almost inaccessible lake just across the Orange County line in Seminole County, with evidence of a struggle having taken place.

“His eye glasses were found in the mud about 20 feet from the car.”

Gaffney’s body was found the following day.  His death was ruled a homicide.

“Father isn’t Disappointed because I took up Dancing”

4 Apr

In the spring of 1916 Joe Tinker Jr., ten-year-old son of Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Tinker “wrote” a series of articles that appeared in newspapers across the country.  Tinker’s articles provided tips for playing each position:

“To be a winning pitcher you must have control…The best way to gain control is to get another boy to get in position as a batter then pitch to him.  Don’t throw at a stationary target.”

“(Catchers) Stand up close to the batter and don’t lose your head if the pitcher becomes wild.  Try to steady him with a cheerful line of talk.  Practice every spare moment.”

“Stand close to the plate when batting.  Don’t lose your nerve if the pitcher tries to bean you. Some fellows like to choke their bats or grip the handles about four inches from the end.  My father don’t approve of the style…Don’t argue with the umpire.  If you are hot-headed you hurt your chances to connect with cool-headed pitching.”

“Learn to start in a jiffy.  That is the first point emphasized by my dad in teaching me to run bases.”

“Playing short offers many chances for individual star plays and the work of a good man will have a great effect on the score card.”

Photos of Joe Tinker Jr. demonstrating what his dad taught him

Photos of Joe Tinker Jr. demonstrating what his dad taught him

Joe Tinker Jr. and his younger brother Roland were the Cubs mascots during their father’s season as manager in 1916.  In 1924 Chicago newspapers reported that Tinker Jr. was headed to the University of Illinois to play baseball for Coach Carl Lundgren, the former Cub pitcher.  There is no record of Tinker ever playing at the school.

1916 Chicago Cubs.  Joe Tinker Jr. seated right, Roland Tinker seated left.

1916 Chicago Cubs. Joe Tinker Jr. seated right, Roland Tinker seated left.

Younger brother Roland played for two seasons in the Florida State League.

In 1938 newspapers reported that Joe Tinker Jr. had become a dancer with a vaudeville group called the Sophistocrats.  Tinker Jr. told reporters:

“Father isn’t disappointed because I took up dancing.  In fact he approves.”

It’s unclear whether “Joe Tinker Jr.” was actually Joe Tinker Jr.  The newspaper articles all said he was 22-years-old.  Joe Tinker Jr. would have been in his thirties; however his brother William Jay Tinker would have been 22 in 1938.

 

joetinkerjrdance

 

joetinkerjr1938

When Joe Tinker was elected to the Hall of Fame he compiled his all-time team for Ernest Lanigan, then curator of the Hall:

Pitchers: Mordecai Brown, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson and Ed Walsh

Catchers: Johnny Kling and Roger Bresnahan

First Base: Frank Chance

Second Base: Eddie Collins

Third Base: Harry Steinfeldt

Shortstop: Honus Wagner

Outfield: Artie “Solly’ Hofman, Ty Cobb, Fred Clarke, and Sam Crawford.

Though he named several Cubs, Tinker did not include his former teammate Johnny Evers.  In 1914 Evers had famously slighted Tinker, with whom he was engaged with in a long-term feud, after Evers and his Boston Braves teammates won the World Series. William Peet wrote in The Boston Post :

“(Walter “Rabbit” Maranville’s) the best shortstop the game has ever known.

“Better than Joe Tinker; your old side partner?

“Yes, he’s better than Tinker.”

While the two finally broke their silence at Frank Chance’s deathbed in 1924, they never reconciled.

Evers died in 1947, Tinker in 1948.

Joe Tinker circa 1946

Joe Tinker circa 1946

Joe Tinker Jr. died in 1981, Roland “Rollie” Tinker died in 1980, and William Tinker died in 1996.

 

Filling in the Blanks—”Wee Willie” Wilson

21 Sep

Baseball Reference includes listings for “H. Wilson,” “Herbert Wilson,” “W. Wilson” and another  “W. Wilson”, all playing at various times during the 1920s.  All four listings are actually for the same player:  Herbert Emanuel “Wee Willie” Wilson.

Born in Florida in 1896, Wilson began his professional career in 1920 after serving in World War I and playing semi-pro ball.  He was a member of the inaugural St. Petersburg Saints in the Florida State League along with Dexter “Legs” Rambo who I previously profiled.

Herbert “Wee Willie” Wilson

Wilson was 5’ 10” and said to weigh no more than 150 pounds and as little as 125 in various newspaper accounts.

Wilson was a pitcher and middle infielder during the Saints mediocre seasons in 1920 and 1921 (he was 12-20 for the ’21 Saints).  In 1922 the Saints hired veteran minor leaguer George Block to manage the team (Baseball Reference does not cite Block’s time with the Saints, but does have an unrelated listing for a “Block” with the ’22 Saints).

Block kept very few players from the previous Saints teams, and built a formidable ball club.  Wilson was one of the few players who remained from the earlier team.

Led by future Major Leaguers Bunny Roser (the 20 year old earned his short 1922 shot at the major with the Saint Louis Browns after the Saints season), Elliot Bigelow (who hit .343), and manager Block who hit .411, the 1922 won their first Florida State League championship.

Wilson contributed a 13-10 record to the championship team.  Wilson followed with a 12-11 record in 1923.  In 1924 he broke out as star for the Saints, going 26-7.  The financially troubled league didn’t finish the season, however; and Wilson ended up with the Scranton Miners in the New York Penn League for the remainder of 1924 (the Herbert Walker listing on Baseball Reference also shows 7 games for Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association that season, I can find nothing to indicate it’s the same player).

Where Wilson spent 1925 is uncertain.  Contemporaneous newspaper accounts seem to indicate he was back with the Saints, but no records are available for that team.   Some later accounts put him with Scranton but there are no records for him that season with the team.  He was in Scranton from 1926 to ’28 posting 14-7, 12-10 and 7-7 records.  Wilson finished his career with the High Point Pointers of the Piedmont League, where spent the last two months of the 1928 season.

Wilson returned to St. Petersburg after his playing days.   In 1942 The St. Petersburg Evening Independent reported that Wilson, despite being 46 years old, had volunteered to serve in the US Navy and was due to report to Norfolk, Virginia for training.

Wilson passed away in St. Petersburg in 1956.

Filling in the Blanks–D. Rambo

22 Aug

Baseball Reference lists D. Rambo as a first baseman for Greenville in the South Atlantic League in 1919, and for St. Petersburg and Tampa in the Florida State League during the 1920s.

Dexter Lovelle “Legs” Rambo was born in Sumter, South Carolina on April 10, 1900.

Rambo hit .146 in 13 games with Greenville in 1919 and became one of the original St. Petersburg Saints in 1920.

An excellent fielder with a weak bat, Rambo was a fan favorite in St. Petersburg and played on and off for the Saints until the team disbanded after the 1928 season.

Rambo was also was a pioneer in the popularization of “Diamond Ball” or softball in Florida.  Rambo managed and played for the St. Petersburg Saints Diamond Ball team throughout the 1930s, including the state championship team in 1931.

Dexter Rambo (Standing 5th from left) with his Florida State Diamond Ball Championship team

Rambo worked for the United States Post office until his death on September 2, 1952 in St. Petersburg.