Tag Archives: Phil Rizzuto

“The Most Graceful Player of All-Time”

25 Jun

Writing in The New York Herald Tribune in 1952, Grantland Rice, in his 51st year covering baseball, set out to choose his all-time “Most graceful” team.

The idea was borne out of a conversation with Charles Ambrose Hughes, who covered baseball for several Chicago and Detroit papers during a career that started one year after Rice’s–Hughes left the newspaper business to serve as secretary of the Detroit Athletic Club, he published the club’s magazine and led the group of investors who founded the National Hockey League Detroit Cougers in 1926–the team became the Red Wings in 1932 .

hughes

Hughes

In an earlier column that year, Rice quoted Hughes on Napoleon Lajoie:

“Big Nap, or Larry, was the most graceful player of all time.  Every move he made was a poem in action.  He was even more graceful in the infield than Joe DiMaggio was in the outfield—and that means something.”

Rice agreed:

“I was another Lajoie admirer.  I never say Larry make a hard play.  Every play looked easy—just as it so often looked to DiMaggio, (Tris) Speaker, and Terry Moore.”

The comments apparently caused a spike in the volume of mail Rice received, and he said in a later column:

“Old timers in baseball still have the keener memories.  This thought developed in the number of letters received by admirers of Napoleon Lajoie, the Woonsocket cab driver…they were writing of baseball’s most graceful player. But almost as many modern fans stuck with Joe DiMaggio.”

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Rice

Rice said the issue caused him to think about “grace or rhythm” among players:

“(It) does not mean everything.  Honus Wagner looked like a huge land crab scooping up everything in sight.  He had a peculiar grace of his own, but it was hardly grace as we know it. Yet he was the game’s greatest shortstop”

Rice based his team on “the beauty of movement,” on the field:

Rice’s team:

Pitchers—Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Bugs Raymond

Catcher—Johnny Kling

First Base—Hal Chase

Second Base—Lajoie

Third Base—Jimmy Collins

Shortstop—Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion

Outfield—Speaker, DiMaggio, Moore

Rice said:

“(T)his is the team we’d rather see play.  This doesn’t mean the greatest team in baseball…it leaves out many a star.

“But for beauty of action this team would be a standout…Looking back I can see now some of the plays Lajoie, Chase, DiMaggio, Speaker, Collins, Moore, Rizzuto, and Marion made without effort.”

Rice said Kling was not as good as Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey, “But he was a fine, smooth workman—smart and keen.”

He said he chose Raymond as one of the pitchers because of John McGraw:

“In an argument far away and long ago, I named Walter Johnson.  McGraw picked Raymond.

“’Raymond has the finest pitching motion I ever say,’ he said.  ‘It is perfect motion from start to finish—no wasted effort anywhere.”

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Bugs

Rice reiterated that the  “Woonsocket cab driver” was the most graceful of the graceful:

“The all-time top was Lajoie.  Here was the final word in grace, in the field or with a bat.  After Lajoie the next two selections belong to Hal Chase and Joe DiMaggio.  Speaker isn’t too far away.”

Rice concluded:

“Gracefulness does not mean greatness.  It means Jim Corbett in boxing, Hobey Baker in hockey, Bobby Jones in golf, Red Grange in football, Lajoie in baseball, (Paavo) Nurmi in running, It means (Eddie) Arcaro in the saddle. It means smoothness, ease, lack of effort where sensational plays are reduced to normal efforts.”

The First Jackie Robinson All-Stars

31 Aug

jackierobinsonas

The above advertisement is from the first, and least successful, of Jackie Robinson’s post season barnstorming tours.

In August of 1946, The Pittsburgh Courier said, “Jackie Robinson’s All-Stars” would play in several Eastern and Midwest cities after the Montreal Royals’ season ended.

The tour got off to bad start because the promoters—said to be from Pittsburgh, but never named in newspaper accounts—scheduled games to begin at the close of the International League season, failing to take into account that Robinson and Montreal would be playing in the Little World Series against the Louisville Colonels, the American Association champions.  East Coast games, including one at the Polo Grounds and one in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania were cancelled as a result.

After Robinson’s season ended, his “All-Stars” made up the game in Harrisburg and then played a handful of games in the Midwest before heading to California.

The All-Stars included Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons, John Scott of the Kansas City Monarchs. Ernie Smith, a one-time member of the Chicago American Giants, who played in 1946 with the Boston Blues in Branch Rickey’s U.S. Baseball League, and Bill “Wee Willie” Pope of the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

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              Wee Willie Pope

Robinson’s All-Stars did not win a game in California.  They lost three games to Bob Feller‘s All-Stars—a team which included Bob Lemon, Stan Musial, Charlie Keller, Ken Keltner and Phil Rizzuto.  Feller’s club won 6 to 0 in San Francisco, 4 to 2 in San Diego, and 4 to 3 in Los Angeles.  Feller pitched five innings each in the San Diego and Los Angeles games—striking out 11 in the first game, and 10 in the second (he left that game having not allowed a hit through five innings).

One of those games was the impetus of the long-term animosity between Robinson and Feller that came to a head before the 1969 All-Star game.  At a press luncheon, Robinson noted the lack of black managers and front office personnel in major league baseball.  Feller criticized Robinson saying “The trouble with Jackie is that he thinks baseball owes him something.”  Feller told The Associated Press (AP) the bad feelings between the two started during the San Diego game on the 1946 tour:

“Jackie was getting a lot of publicity at the time since it was known he was being groomed to be the first Negro in big league baseball (and) threatened not to go on the field unless he got more money.”

Robinson told The AP Feller’s charge was “A damned lie.”

In 1975, Feller told The AP they “buried the hatchet,” before Robinson died in 1972:

“We discovered that out arguments were petty.  Both of us admitted our errors.  When Jackie died, we were good friends.”

Others claimed Feller never let the feud go.

The advertisement above is for the final game Robinson’s All-Stars played.  They faced the Oakland Larks, the champions of Abe Saperstein’s short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball Association (Negro Pacific Coast League) who posted a 14-3 record—the team barnstormed after the league folded and claimed a 56-12 record for all games played that season.

The teams played at San Bernardino’s Perris Hill Park; Robinson played center field.  The San Bernardino County Sun said he made “two stellar catches,” and was 3 for 4 with a double.  Despite Robinson’s efforts, the Larks won 8 to 5.

After Robinson’s final game with the All-Stars, he wasn’t quite finished for the year.  He joined the Los Angeles Red Devils, an integrated professional basketball team –three other well-known baseball players were members of the Red Devils: George Crowe, Irv Noren, and Everett “Ziggy” Marcel (the son of Oliver Marcelle).

Robinson’s brief professional basketball career ended in January of 1947.