Monday, February 08, 2010

'Black' History

Since baseball began only eight Blacks (Bill, Bob, Bud, Bud, Dave, Don, Joe, John) have ever played the game. The first Black, Bob, debuted in 1884, the latest one, Harry Ralston (a.k.a. Bud), played his final game in 1995, and is currently the manager of the San Diego Padres. None of the Blacks who played left an indelible mark on baseball; there are no Black All Stars, nor are there any Blacks in the Hall of Fame.

There have, however, been a number of players whose nicknames incorporated the word 'black.' Nine players bore the nickname Blackie, including All Stars Gus Mancuso and Alvin Dark.

- Gus Mancuso (1928-1945), was often called Blackie in reference to his Sicilian Italian roots. He and his younger brother, Frank, were the first Italian American brothers in the major leagues. A two-time All Star catcher for the New York Giants (1935, 1937), Mancuso made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928. While hitting a mediocre .265 in his career, Mancuso is considered one of the best catchers of the 1930's, being a key player in five pennant wins (two with the Cardinals, three with the Giants) and two World Series Championships (1931 - Cardinals, 1933 - Giants). He became a full-time pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds in 1950, and became a sports broadcaster in 1951, where he often worked alongside Harry Caray. In 1962 he was instrumental in scouting for the new expansion team, the Houston Colt 45's. He was elected to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1981, and into the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame three years later.

- Alvin Dark (1946 - 1960), was known as Blackie, partially as a play on his last name, but mostly because he preferred to use a black bat. Dark was named the Major League's Rookie of the Year in 1948 while playing for the Boston Braves. Over his 14 season career, he picked up three All Star awards, all while playing for the New York Giants. Dark was considered an aggressive player and a star shortstop. In 1951, he led the league with 41 doubles. As a shortstop, he led the league three times for double plays and putouts. In 1955, he was the first recipient of the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for his character both on and off the field. He retired in 1960 with a career total of .289 batting average, 2089 hits, 126 home runs, and 757 rbi.In 1961, Dark became the manager for the San Francisco Giants, and in 1962, he led them to their first pennant win. Dark was accused of being a racist when, in 1964, he was quoted as denouncing the "mental alertness" of Black and Hispanic players. Claiming he was misquoted, and having players like Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson attest to his character, Dark weathered the fallout of this scandal only to be brought down by his own marital infidelity. Fired by the Giants in 1964, he went on to manage the Kansas City Athletics (1966-1967), Cleveland Indians (1968–1971), Oakland Athletics (1974–1975), and the San Diego Padres (1977).

Another, more recent player, is 'Black Jack' McDowell. According to an interview with Mark Liptak of White Sox, McDowell was given the nickname by White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson:
"The first time I even found out about it was when we were in the Metrodome. I was stretching out before the game when Kirby Puckett came over and said, ‘‘Hi, Black Jack!'' I said, ‘‘Hi Puck.'' Then I stopped and thought, ‘‘What did he call me?'' I went back to the dugout and asked the guys and that's when they told me that "Hawk" was calling me that."

A phenomenal pitcher with a wicked splitball, McDowell caught the eye of Sox scouts after leading the Stanford Cardinals to the College World Series Championship in June of 1987. He made his debut with the Chicago White Sox in September. However, after two less-than-stellar seasons, he was returned to the minors. By 1990, he returned to baseball with renewed vigor and went on to pick up three successive All Star Awards (1991-1993), and a Cy Young Award in 1993 after dominating the league with 22 wins, and four shutouts. Unfortunately, McDowell's luminous career slowly began to unravel shortly thereafter. After his award-winning season, he went 10-9. In 1995, he was traded to the Yankees, where he gained notarity for flipping off unhappy Yankees fans. He was then traded to the Indians, where he spent the following two seasons, and spent the last two seasons with the Anaheim Angels. While with the Indians, McDowell suffered severe forearm and elbow inflamation that necessitated surgery. Never able to fully recover, he retired in 1999. Out of 12 seasons, it is estimated that he only played six full seasons. Out of 1889 innings pitched, McDowell earned 127 wins, 87 losses, 3.85 era, 1311 strike outs, and a 1.302 whip. Throughout his career, McDowell also managed to record 5 albums for two different bands, and toured with them during the off season. In 1992, he formed the group 'stickfigure' who, as of June 2007 realeased four albums and has enjoyed moderate success.

The Hall of Fame does have two Black representatives in the form of "Black Mike" Mickey Cochrane and Don Sutton (a.k.a. Black and Decker).

- Mickey Cochrane (1925-1937) became known as 'Black Mike' while playing with the Detroit Tigers during the Great Depression. Generally known for being a good natured and genial individual, he took personal failures to heart, and his mood could become very surly. According to SABR's Baseball Biography Project, the nickname also reflected Cochrane's working man image, one that garnered a great amount of respect among many in Depression-era Detroit. Cochrane began his stellar career as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics. Almost immediately, the left-handed slugger caught the eye of the MVP committee with a first year batting average of .331. He earned his first MVP Award in 1928 while with the Athletics. In 1934, he was traded to Detroit where he also added the responsibility of being the team's manager. That season, he picked up his second MVP Award and played on the first of two All Star teams. He became the GM for the Tigers in 1936, but this promotion caused him to suffer from a nervous breakdown. Shortly after recovering from this incident a year later, Cochrane was hit in the head with a fastball, and nearly killed. This event prematurely ended his career. He returned to Detroit in 1938 as a bench manager, but was fired shortly thereafter for being unsuccessful. In his 13 year career, Cochrane saw post-season action in five World Series Championships. He was a critical element in the Athletics back-to-back championship wins in 1929 and 1930. Cochrane also assisted the Tigers in clinching the title in 1935. Cochrane only saw four seasons with a batting average below .300 (his lowest being a .270). His career average of .320 is the highest among any catcher in baseball history. This fact, combined with a fielding percentage of .980 helped Cochrane to become the first catcher to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947. Cochrane's prowess on the field inspired a young semi-professional ball player, Elvin 'Mutt' Mantle to name his son Mickey in the hopes that the boy would become a great baseball player.

- Don Sutton (1966-1988) earned the nickname 'Black and Decker' due to his rumored propensity for 'fixing' baseballs. Sutton is the epitome of longevity, spending 23 seasons remaining conditioned and consistent. He never spent a single day on the disabled list, and pitched an impressive 100+ strikeouts in 21 consecutive seasons. (In 1987, he earned 99 strikeouts, and 44 in 1988). In his astonishing career, Sutton went 324-256, 3.26 era, 178 complete games, 58 shutouts, and struck out 3574 batters in 5282.1 innings pitched. He picked up four All Star Awards, and was considered five times for the Cy Young Award, though never received this distinction. He made 9 post-season appearances with 4 World Series wins. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Despite his later success, Sutton started his career in a less than auspicious manner, going only 51-60 in his first four seasons with the LA Dodgers. In 1970, however, Sutton earned an era of 3.26, and went on to have nine seasons averaging 2.86. In 1978, he was ejected from a game for defacing a baseball, but was later let off with a warning after threatening to sue. After his baseball career ended in 1988, he became a commentator for the Braves in 1989, a position he held until 2006. After that, he went on to be a color commentator for the Nationals until January of 2009, when he went back to announcing for the Braves.

Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun


GM-Carson said...

That Black Hole Sun video always freaked me out.

Burton said...

That song reminds me of my sophomore year in High School.

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