Make

A Wordless Wednesday gallery of public-domain images

Make
Carving wooden shoes (Image by Raoul Ortega)
pottery
(Image by Lubos Houska)
glass blower
(Image by Quino Al)
painter
(Image by Eddy Klaus)
make
(Image by Kevin Slater)
cappuccino maker
(Image by Daryan Shamkhali)
making a drink
(Image by Jeremy Christ Jordan)
Israeli factory
(Image by Remy Gieling)
make
(Image by Piotr Siedlecki)

(Images from unsplash.com, pixabay.com and publicdomainpictures.net)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Finding Sculpture on the Seligman Farm

Three Spirals at Seligman Center
Three Spirals, Julius Medwin. Medwin, who passed away in 2019, maintained a studio in nearby Warwick, N.Y.

The Swiss painter Kurt Seligman was born in Basel in 1900, the son of a furniture store owner. He became a member of the Paris surrealist group and came to New York City in 1939 for an exhibition of his paintings. Europe in 1939 was not a good place to be for a surrealist painter and Seligman and his wife Arlette made a home for themselves on 40th Street in Manhattan. Seligman taught for many years at Brooklyn College. The couple bought a farm in Sugar Loaf, a small artsy village in Orange County, N.Y., where they moved after Kurt retired.

Kurt and Arlette Seligman homestead
Kurt and Arlette Seligman homestead
Seligman guest house
Max Ernst once slept in this guest house on the Seligman property

Seligman died in 1962. Arlette bequeathed the Sugar Loaf estate to the Orange County Citizens Foundation, a local non-profit. The OCCF maintains an office at the Seligman site. The homestead is used for galleries, events and performances. Across the street from the main house is the Seligman Center, founded in 2010 by the foundation to display Seligman’s paintings and prints.

All of that is closed during the pandemic. But on the grounds of the old Seligman property are a number of sculptures, many by local artists. They are open to the public, but don’t expect a sculpture park. This is more like a scavenger hunt, finding the works of art behind the buildings and around the 50-acre property.

Here’s what I found:

Book Tree, Jed Bark
Book Tree, Jed Bark
Headless Woman, Michael Jamieson
Headless Woman, Michael Jamieson, Sloatsburg, N.Y.
The Eventual Outcome of an Instant, Sue Wrbican
The Eventual Outcome of an Instant, Sue Wrbican
Kurt and Arlette; Sky and Ground, Maxine Leu and Michael Asbil
Kurt and Arlette; Sky and Ground, Maxine Leu and Michael Asbil, a graduate student and professor, respectively, at SUNY New Paltz
Crazy Column, Bernard Kirschenbaum
Crazy Column, Bernard Kirschenbaum
Leopards, Shayne Hayson
Leopards, Shayne Hayson (member of the OCCF)
Woods behind Seligman house
Found in the woods behind the homestead
Seligman birdhouses
Birdhouses
Seligman Center
The Seligman Center where, during normal times, Kurt’s paintings and prints are on display
Seligman graveyard
Small graveyard behind the main building where the Seligmans are buried
Posted in Art | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Work

A Wordless Wednesday gallery of public-domain images.

Work
Salt harvesting in Vietnam (Image by Quangpraha)
(Image by shouravsheikh)
Shi-men Ting, Taiwan (Image by Henry & Co.)
(Image by Clark Young)
(Image by Katerina Babaieva)
(Image by Joko Narimo)
(Image by MarkoLovric)
Work
(Image by Oladimeji Ajegbile)
Work
(Image by mindandi)
(Image by Avi Richards)

(images downloaded from Unsplash, freepik, Pixabay and Pexels)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Gardens Aglow

New York Botanical Garden

on a winter’s night in January

Glow, New York Botanical Garden
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

One Man’s Vision in Stone

Opus 40

In 1928, Harvey Fite paid $250 to buy an abandoned bluestone quarry in the middle of the woods in Saugerties, N.Y. Fite, a former actor, had come to the Catskills region of New York to assume a teaching position at Bard. He taught theater as well as his newest pursuit, sculpture. He became the founder of Bard’s College of Fine Arts. The old rock quarry would become Opus 40, the name based on Fite’s expectation that it would be 40 years of work. Fite worked on it for 37 years before suffering an accidental death at age 73 in 1976.

Opus 40 was built by Fite using dry stone construction, carefully fitting the stones together without mortar or cement. The technique makes it not susceptible to cracking, frost or erosion. Fite originally conceived of the site as a setting for his rock sculpture. He later came to the conclusion that the setting itself was the sculpture and he moved his rock sculpture into the surrounding wooded areas.  The centerpiece of Opus 40 is the monolith. Fite had found the nine-ton bluestone column that sits atop the rock sculpture embedded in a nearby creek.

Monolith
Opus 40
Opus 40

In normal times Opus 40 hosts some 20,000 visitors a year. In addition to the rock formation and sculptures there is a museum and gift shop. It has hosted concerts and weddings. Sonny Rollins and Richie Havens both played there and they each have parking lots at Opus 40 named after them. It is currently closed to the public although private tours can be arranged. Reopening of the sculpture park will depend on COVID regulations in the state.

Opus 40 museum
Opus 40
Build your own area
Build your own area
Saugerties sculpture park
Posted in Art | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Best Books I Read in 2020

As always this list has nothing to do with when these books were written or published. I just happened to read them in 2020, a year when, like most of us, I had plenty of time available to read. Was going to do a top five, but couldn’t decide which to these six to cut. I tried to list them in order, starting with the best, but they are all books that I would highly recommend.

Deacon King Kong, James McBride

Deacon King Kong

A fun and lively read. That may seem like a strange statement considering the book is set in the 1960’s in a housing project in Brooklyn. African-Americans from the south have moved in. The Italian and Irish-Americans who proceeded them onto this surf are shipping out. There’s poverty and racism, housing discrimination, official corruption, mobsters and drugs, lots of them. So why is it fun and lively? Because James McBride has injected all of his characters with an overdose of humanity.

The Deacon part of the title refers to an old drunk named Sportcoat who is a deacon at the small, dilapidated Baptist Church which serves the residents of the housing project where he lives. Sportcoat is described as “a walking genius, a human disaster, a sod, a medical miracle, and the greatest baseball umpire that the Cause Houses had ever seen.” The King Kong part is the rotgut that his best friend Hot Sausage keeps him supplied with. It’s what keeps this old drunk drunk.

The plot revolves around one incident. Sportcoat, carrying some sort of ancient, rusted firearm, moseys on out to the main square and plugs the 19-year old who has been ruthlessly dominating the local drug distribution scene. Several subplots spin off from that. There’s even a couple of unlikely love stories, live the one between the near retired cop and the church matriarch who avoids answering his questions when he comes to investigate the shooting.

This is a unique and original story skillfully told. McBride has concocted a heart-warming tale out of heart-wrenching circumstances.

The City Game: Triumph, Scandal and a Legendary Basketball Team, Mathew Goodman

The City Game book cover

On the surface this is a piece of New York City college basketball history. It’s 1949. City College of New York (CCNY) is the best basketball team in the city. Madison Square Garden is on 49th Street and 8th Avenue. The NIT is the most important championship tournament. And Marty Glickman is calling the games on the radio.

But it’s a story that goes beyond basketball. It’s an historical portrait of New York City. It’s about immigrants and race, housing segregation and educational opportunity, bookies and gangsters, crooked cops and crooked politicians.

The CCNY basketball team was a fitting representative of its city and its time. The 15-member team included 11 Jews and 4 blacks. They were not pampered prep school prima donnas, they take the subway home after practice to row houses and tenements. Their parents were truck drivers, janitors, house painters and domestics. This at a time when there was still not a single black player in the NBA and when no NCAA championship team had ever included a black player.

My favorite basketball moment in the book is the 1950 NIT quarterfinal game between CCNY and the much more heralded University of Kentucky. Kentucky is a state that at the time still had a law on the books enforcing segregation in education. Adoph Rupp’s team not only didn’t have a black basketball player, the university didn’t have a black student. When they took the court against a CCNY team with three black starters, the Kentucky players refused to shake the hands of the black CCNY players. You know what happened next? The CCNY kids blew the racists off the court and out of the tournament, 89-50. Sixteen years later in the 1966 NCAA championship final Kentucky was still all white and when they faced an unfancied Texas Western team with five black starters, they again came out losers.

For the 1949-50 season, CCNY became the only team to win both the NIT and NCAA championships in the same year. It was an amazing accomplishment that elicited euphoria on campus and in the city. It didn’t last. That’s the other half of this story. One year later, seven CCNY players were arrested for taking money to shave points. That’s the practice whereby a team assures that, even if they win, it will be by less than the point spread, thus making winners of the gamblers who bet on the other team. They were not alone. Players from NYU, LIU and Manhattan were also involved. None would ever really have big-time programs again.

This was a time when college recruiters offered players packages that included weekly spending money. One of the City players had received an offer from the University of Cincinnati that included full scholarships for him and his brother, $50 a month spending money, a rent-free apartment and free use of a car. It was also a time when some of the players, before a big game at Madison Square Garden, would throw their coats on and go out in the street to scalp their two free tickets.


These scandals and others that were to follow resulted in decades of no tolerance by the NCAA for either gambling or for under-the-table payments of any kind, however selectively the rules were enforced. It begs a question which is still an issue for college sports. It is the players that the fans want to see, the players who are ultimately responsible for the enormous amount of money that is produced by big-time college basketball and football. It seems as though everyone gets a piece of that pie, everyone but the players who baked it. While all of the City players who took the bribes later regretted it (some even before they got caught), the pitch the set up men gave them was all about “why shouldn’t you get a piece of the action?”

While I’m an avid sports fan, I don’t often read sports books. Unbridled adulation and manufactured controversy are outside my realm of interest. But every now and then there’s a sports book that transcends the usual sport talk. Hoop Dreams and The Blind Side are two that come to mind. The City Game belongs in the same category. Goodman seems to not only have discovered what all the key players said, but also what they were thinking and how they felt. He can write about basketball with the verve of a play-by-play announcer while also presenting legal issues with the meticulousness of a DA. And put it all in context, the context of New York City at the mid-point of the 20th century. A terrific book.

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex book cover

This is a big American history of a novel. Three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family moves through Ellis Island, survives Prohibition, the Depression and war; is touched by the 60’s counter-culture, the Detroit riots, white flight, the Nation of Islam and more war.

It’s also the story of Cal, nee Calliope, Stephanides. Spending the first 14 years of life as a girl, at that age she finds that while her friends have grown breasts and had their first period, she’s growing something akin to male genitalia. And hence the name Middlesex, which also happens to be the name of the home where Calliope grew up in Grosse Pointe, Mich. Cal’s condition, apparently resulting from a mutant gene, relates back to the family history. Grandma and grandpa were brother and sister, mother and father were cousins.

At some point the story stops being about the events that shaped the country and the Stephanides family and becomes the personal story of Calliope/Cal. Given the usual angst of being a teen, and particularly a socially awkward one, it is hard to imagine someone so young also dealing with being of indeterminate gender. Don’t imagine it would be easy for an author to research the sensitivities and emotions of a hermaphrodite, but Eugenides surely seems to have captured them. Not to mention the attendant parental anxiety.

While this book is now closing in on being 20 years old, it remains current in its consideration of questions of gender identity. Ultimately it is a story about humanity. This person with this rare and unusual condition, a monster to some, a freak to others, has the same highs and lows, the same worries and desires as the rest of us. Middlesex is thoughtful, engaging and interesting. Reading it makes you feel rewarded.

California, Edan Lepucki

California book cover

A story that begins near the end. Earthquakes have destroyed California. Colorado and Utah were consumed by wildfires. Snowstorms took out the Midwest and the East Coast. As one of Lepucki’s characters notes, even IKEA “took their meatballs and headed back to Sweden.” And if climate change hasn’t made things bad enough, income inequality is off the charts. The well off live in isolated and guarded “communities,” enjoying some semblance of their previous lives luxuries. Everyone else is in the woods.

As in almost every other dystopian novel I’ve read, a charismatic leader emerges who turns out to be at best deceptive if not outright evil. That’s not all. There’s a group of bomb making terrorists with big plans and a commune making a go of it in the wild. Pirates make life even riskier.

Having said all that you might be surprised when I say this is a story about marriage. Cal and Frida leave a ruined LA and head into the unknown to build a new life together. This is a couple that loves each other and depends on each other. Yet we learn their secrets, how they misread each other’s intent, their mistrust and their conflicts between spouse and family. It’s a lot tougher than just being home together because of a pandemic, as there seems no end in sight for the maladies afflicting this post-apocalyptic world

This is a great story well told. Full of interesting characters, there seems to be a surprise at every turn, most of which I’ve tried to avoiding mentioning here.

The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom

Yellow House book cover

Ivory Mae Soule (or Webb or Broom) bought the yellow house before it was yellow. It was in a section of New Orleans that they left off the tourist maps. She paid $3,200 for it in 1961. It was rendered uninhabitable 44 years later by Hurricane Katrina.

In between, Ivory Mae saw her second husband die, as did the first. She raised 12 kids, the twelfth of which was the author Sarah Broom. Sarah has a sister who tried not to make friends because she was afraid they would want to visit the house she was ashamed of. She had a drug-addicted brother who broke into the house and stole everything from his mother’s wedding ring to the microwave. Her older brothers went to a school where the teachers would call students niggers. And two of them were in the backyard grilling while much of the rest of the city was evacuating in the face of the impending storm. Yet it was a home lacking neither love nor warmth.

The Yellow House is Sarah Broom’s personal memoir of her and her family. It’s also a book about New Orleans, about racism and about Hurricane Katrina. Broom’s account of the days and nights of the storm is compelling reading as she describes it through the eyes of each of her family members, some in New Orleans and some outside. For the most part Broom recounts her family history with neither sentiment nor resentment. Rather it is written much like the journalist she was trained as. But that changes in the aftermath of Katrina when her emotions become part of the narrative. She realizes that the house she left when she headed off to college never expecting to turn back would in fact always remain a part of her.

This is one of the most interesting and well-written memoirs I’ve read. It is Broom’s first book and you get the feeling she’s put everything she has into it. Having read it, I was left with the feeling that I know a little more about the world and what matters than I did before.

The Plotters, Un-su Kim

The Plotters book cover

“Ironically, the overthrow of three decades of military dictatorships and a return to democratically elected civilian presidencies, and the brisk advent of democratization led to a major boom in the assassination industry.” And so we have a story about the assassination industry in Korea. Plotters are secretive blokes who get orders from their clients, maybe government or corporations, and put together detailed plans that they micromanage an assassin to execute. Un-su Kim’s story is also populated with targets, self explanatory, and trackers, a kind of private detective supplying the plotters with data.

Is the author suggesting that this is how Korean society works? The orders come from up high to a group of enablers who then set up the folks at the bottom of the pyramid to do the dirty work, assume the risks, take the blame and pay the price.

This is a book of many mysteries. Assassins become targets, as do some plotters. And there’s territorial warfare at the top rungs of the industry. Nary a chapter goes by without raising a new question about who killed who and who’s on whose list.

This is a novel about violence, but the author focuses more on the psychological than the brutal. There’s even one or two empowered women working their way into this field and the suggestion that maybe killers have feelings too. It all makes for a fast-paced, engaging read.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hear a Book, See a Country

When it comes to books, I’m pretty much a traditionalist. No Kindle for me. I’ve maybe read two or three books digitally because that was the only way they were available, but for the most part I want a printed book in hand.

I had never tried listening to a book, but the idea occurred to me as during the pandemic my eyes have sometimes felt strained or tired. Sitting at home I’m reading from a screen or book for a good part of my day. So I decided to try Audible. They offer a low cost subscription with a limited number of choices which is a good way to try it out. Those choices include a lot of classics and I chose as my first audiobook Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.

Cry, the Beloved Country book cover

This is perhaps the most famous novel ever to come out of South Africa. It is, of course, about race. It’s also about the disintegration of tribal society, urbanization, exploitation of the country’s national resources and its human resources. It’s about income inequality, housing inequality, educational inequality and just about any other type of inequality you can think of.

The book was written in 1948. That is before apartheid, but certainly not before racism and segregation. That seems to have arrived with the first Europeans. Paton, who is a white man, does a pretty good job of expressing the viewpoint of different races, social groups and generations.

The story is told through the eyes of two men from a rural area whose sons find their way to Johannesburg. One is a Zulu pastor. His son is involved in a botched house robbery during which he accidentally shoots the son of the other man, who is literally the white man who lives up on the hill. Without spoiling the story, I can say that both of these men overcome their adversity and rise above their situation.

Having listened to this book, rather than read it, you’ll notice I make no attempt to spell the names of the people or places. Perhaps one advantage of having a book read to you is you don’t have to struggle with pronunciations while you are reading. 

Cry, the Beloved Country is old, more than 70 years now. The language is a bit dated and somewhat formal. But Paton’s book has remained relevant through all these decades because it’s a history that still helps to understand South Africa. I was only in the country for about 10 days several years ago but it was the most interesting places I’ve ever been. It is also beautiful and full of warm, friendly people. I am, however, afraid that some of the issues in Cry, the Beloved Country are not so different today.

As for Audible, it surpassed my expectations. I originally thought of it as something I would listen to for an hour or so before going to bed. I did that. My concentration wasn’t as good as it would be if I were reading, I did find my thoughts drifting off from time to time and once I nodded out and had to backtrack a chapter. But I also listened on headphones at the gym and it made my workout time seem to go faster. Also listened in the car and found it surprisingly engaging, to the point where one time I sat in my driveway continuing to listen for a bit. So I’m ready to try another.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

History of the Minors: El Comandante on the Mound

When the Rochester Red Wings headed to Havana for a four game series against the homestanding Sugar Kings, July 24-26, 1959, they had every reason to expect a raucous crowd. July 26 was an important holiday in revolutionary Cuba. It marked the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, the start of the insurrection. Before the Red Wings even took the field on Friday night they got a taste of what the atmosphere would be like. There was a pre-game exhibition between Los Barbudos (the bearded ones) and a military police team. Camilo Cienfuegos, a revolutionary leader who later became head of the armed forces, was the beardos shortstop. On the mound was El Comandante himself.

Here’s how the Chicago Tribune described the scene:

Castro and Cienfuegos
Cienfuegos and Castro take the field for Los Barbudos

“HAVANA, Cuba, July 24 — Fidel Castro made his debut as a revolutionary pitcher Friday night before a crowd of 23,000 at Havana stadium. He pitched to three men, striking out two. The third hit to the first baseman.

“The crowd, which included President Osvaldo Dorticos, arose and sang the 26th of July victory march as Castro went to the mound in the third inning. In the second half of the inning, Castro hit to the shortstop and was thrown out at first base.

“He was presented a check for the proceeds of the game receipts by Bobby Maduro, manager of the Havana Cuban Sugar Kings, for his agrarian reform fund. Several Cuban firms also gave him checks for the fund.”

The Havana Sugar Kings got their start in 1946 when they were called the Havana Cubans and were members of the Class C Florida International League. Maduro bought the team in 1954, changed the name to the Sugar Kings and brought them into the Class AAA International League. They became an affiliate of the Cincinnati Redlegs.

The Batista government was ousted in January 1959. Castro was a Sugar Kings fan and it didn’t take long for him to arrange a meeting with Maduro. Castro supported Maduro’s plans to bring Major League Baseball to Cuba. He guaranteed the Sugar Kings a home in Havana and offered the franchise a $70,000 cash injection to help get their finances in order. 

It turns out raucous was an understatement of what the Red Wings would encounter in Havana. The Saturday night game extended into extra innings and, as the clock ticked past midnight marking the beginning of the anniversary celebration, all hell broke loose. A United Press International wire dispatch recounted the scene:

“A Red Wing spokesman said more the 500 Rebel soldiers poured onto the playing field at the stroke of midnight Saturday, signalling the beginning of a July 26th celebration commemorating the attack on Moncada Army Headquarters that launched the revolution in 1953. He said the soldiers fired machine guns, rifles and pistols into the air and ‘everything was in a terrible state of confusion.’

”Police reported that 17 people were treated for bullet wounds in Havana early Sunday morning.”

Leo Cardenas
Leo Cardenas 15 years later with the Texas Rangers

The Red Wings third base coach Frank Verdi took a stray bullet, as did the Sugar Kings shortstop Leonardo Cardenas. Neither was seriously injured. That was the end of the Saturday night game and the Sunday doubleheader was cancelled as well. The UPI report suggests that the Sugar Kings thought the Red Wings had ‘chickened out.’ “They accused the Red Wings of using an ‘unimportant incident’ to get out of playing yesterday’s double-header ‘because we are hot and they are cold.’ They pointed out Cardenas, one of their own players, also was hit by a bullet ‘and didn’t complain.’”

It was not the last time that the Sugar Kings would get hot during the 1959 season. They ended up finishing third with a 80-73 record. In the playoffs they swept second-place Columbus in four straight, then beat Richmond four games to two for the International League title. That put them in what was called the Junior World Series against the champions of the American Association, the Minneapolis Millers, a team that included future Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski.

When the series moved to Havana, 35,000 fans were in the stands, Fidel threw out the first ball, and Che Guevara watched from his box seat. When the Sugar Kings won on a walk off in game seven, the Gran Stadium field was again flooded with celebrating players, fans and soldiers. This time, nobody got shot.

The 1959 Sugar Kings had no less than 22 players who would go on to make the majors. Ted Wieand was ace of the pitching staff, winning 16 games. He was not that successful at the next level, making six appearances as a relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds and suffering an ERA of 9.95. Rogelio Alvarez led the Havana squad with 22 home runs. He also met with limited success in Cincinnati, playing parts of two seasons and accumulating a .211 batting average.

But several other Sugar Kings has long and successful major league careers including:

Luis Arroyo
Luis Arroyo
  • MIke Cuellar, who was Cuban, pitched in the major league for 18 years and was a member of the 1970 Baltimore Orioles championship team. He won 20 or more games four times and was the co-Cy Young Award winner in 1969. With the ‘59 Sugar Kings he had a 10-11 record and a .476 ERA.
  • Leo Cardenas, also from Cuba, had a 15-year major league career. The first eight years were with Cincinnati. He was a five-time all-star, a Gold Glove winner and was inducted into the Cincinnati Red Hall of Fame.
  • Luis Arroyo has an eight year major league career, the last four with the New York Yankees. He was the first Puerto Rican Yankee. The two-time all-star was a member of the 1961 World Champion Yankees. He led the American League in saves that year.
  • Another Cuban player Cookie Rojas had a 15 year major league career, including extended stints with the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals. He was a five-time all star and is a member of the Royals Hall of Fame. He later went on to become a major league manager with the California Angels and Florida Marlins. He currently is a color commentator for the Marlins.

Despite their success on the field, politics caught up with the Sugar Kings. The following year, Castro began to nationalize U.S. owned businesses in Cuba. Under pressure from the State Department, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick arranged a mid-season move of the franchise to Jersey City where they became a short-lived team called the Jersey City Jerseys.

-0-

Other History of the Minors posts:

Ty Cobb’s Side Hustle

Was This the Worst Team Ever?

When the Mighty Babe Struck Out in Chattanooga

There’s No Equal Rights in Baseball

Rochester Fans Step Up to the Plate

Posted in Baseball, History, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

History of the Minors: Rochester Fans Step Up to the Plate

If there is such a thing as a storied franchise in minor league baseball, it’s the Rochester Red Wings. In operation since 1899 they are considered to be the oldest continuously operating sports franchise in the United States. While others have seen a steady churn in affiliate agreements, the Red Wings have been uniquely stable. They were a Cardinals affiliate for 32 years, followed by 42 years with the Orioles and 18 with the Twins. A member of the International League since 1912, they have appeared in the league championship series 21 times, winning 10.

The 1956 season concluded with the Red Wings winning their second straight title. They had finished second in the regular season with a record of 83-67. They beat the Miami Marlins four games to one in the playoff semifinals, then went on to best the Toronto Maple Leafs in a seven-game championship series. 

Off the field the outlook was not as rosy. Despite their winning ways, Rochester posted the second lowest attendance in the league. In his column in the local Democrat and Chronicle on Oct. 8, sportswriter George Beahon warned of trouble on the horizon: “Top brass of St. Louis Cardinal organization pulled out of this baseball capital (dateline New York) yesterday. High level meetings with brewery owners are scheduled this week in St. Louis. Biggest decision on docks is whether to drop Rochester Red Wings (and real estate) from list of farm affiliates. As matters stand now, Rochester figues to be guillotined along with Fresno (Class C), Peoria (B) and Allentown (A). Cardinal chieftains hope to keep the verdict a secret until December winter meetings. Right now the odds are 10-1 St. Louis will quit on Rochester.”

Like many other major league teams in the 1950’s, the Cardinals owned their minor league affiliates. They owned both the Red Wings and their home ballpark, Red Wing Stadium. But the mid-50’s were troubled times for minor league baseball. The growth of television and the availability of major league baseball games on TV resulted in a precipitous drop in attendance at minor league parks. Many major league teams were divesting of their farm system properties. In mid-November Cardinals general manager Frank Lane, noting that “the Rochester club has operated at a great deficit for the past several years,” made the announcement Rochester fans had been dreading.

The Cardinals did not pack up their bags and disappear. To their credit they left some time for a potential buyer to emerge and promised to maintain the affiliation agreement if a buyer was found. Beahon wrote in the Nov. 20 Democrat and Chronicle: “The fact remains, however, that if no Rochester individuals step into the picture, the only remaining hope is a public stock sale, which in recent experiments in other communities has had varying degrees of success — and failure.”

It is at that point that a Rochester native named Morrie Silver stepped into the picture. Silver was the president of M.E. Silver Corp., a local appliance distributorship. Rochester Mayor Peter Barry named Silver the head of Rochester Community Baseball Inc. The Nov. 20 Democrat and Chronicle quoted Silver announcing his intent: “I think Rochester can make baseball history by not only coming up with the $200,000 originally announced as the goal, but can go all the way and raise all the money needed to go into this project without a mortgage.” The cost of going ‘all the way’ was half a million.

Frontier Field statue
Statue of Morrie Silver outside Frontier Field, current home of the Red Wings.

In February 1957, Rochester Community Baseball placed the following ad in the Democrat and Chronicle with the headline “Rochester Writes Baseball History.” It read: “On Wednesday Feb. 27, the Rochester Red Wings officially become a ‘home-owned’ baseball club. Your splendid support has written a new chapter in sports history. Our hats are off to each and every one of you stockholders in Rochester and all of the area towns and villages who have made this home-owned team a reality.”

In what has been dubbed the “72 day miracle,” 8,222 shareholders bought shares priced at $10 per. Red Wings fans bought both their team and their stadium. The Cardinals would maintain their affiliation with the Red Wings until 1960.

The Rochester franchise would continue to be publicly owned. There are currently 5,100 shareholders and the $10 shares are now worth $90. The Red Wings franchise that the Cardinals sold for $500,000 was valued in 2016 at $27.5 million (Forbes).

After the sale Morrie Silver became president of the Red Wings in 1957 and later became general manager. Red Wing Stadium was renamed Silver Stadium and the team retired Silver’s number…8,222.

The franchise faced another potential crisis just last month when the Minnesota Twins announced they were dropping Rochester as an affiliate. But that crisis was quickly averted when the Washington Nationals added the Red Wings as their AAA team.

-0-

More History of the Minors:

There’s No Equal Rights in Baseball

When the Mighty Babe Struck Out in Chattanooga

Was This the Worst Team Ever?

Ty Cobb’s Side Hustle

Posted in Baseball, History, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

History of the Minors: There’s No Equal Rights in Baseball

As the summer of 1952 approached in Harrisburg, Pa., it looked like it was going to be a long season for local baseball fans. The current iteration of the Harrisburg Senators, one of several teams to adopt that name over the years, were on their way to a 26-94 season, good for dead last in the Interstate League. That Class B league itself would not survive beyond the ‘52 season. The Senators were averaging just over 400 fans a game and would see their attendance drop from 90,000 in 1947 to 30,000 in 1952.

Eleanor Engle

But in June, Senators president Dr. Jay Smith had an idea. He decided that the person to turn things around for his sagging team was a 26-year old Pennsylvania Utilities Commission stenographer by the name of Eleanor Engle. The Senators signed Engle to a contract on June 21. She had been a softball and basketball player in high school and team general manager Howard Gorden claimed she had tried out for the Senators. Smith commented that she could “hit the ball a lot better than some of the fellas on the club.”

She never got to demonstrate that as along came a former Ohio State University basketball coach George Trautman, who at the time was head of the governing association of minor league baseball.  Engle suited up and took part in pre-game workouts before the Senators June 22 game against Lancaster, but in her words, “I guess Trautman threw me a curve and I struck out.”

An AP story on June 23 had the details: “Trautman, in a telephone conversation from San Francisco, said today that ‘such travesties’ as the signing of women players will not be tolerated, and that clubs signing, or attempting to sign, women players will be subject to severe penalties.”

Likewise, the male enclave of minor league baseball reacted in a less than egalitarian manner. The same AP story quotes Senators manager Buck Etchinson, he who guided the Senators to a last place finish and in nearly-dead league, as saying “I won’t have a girl playing for me. This is no-woman’s land and believe me, I mean it.”

Umpire Bill Angstadt said, “If I was umpiring at the plate and she walked up to bat, I’d quit umpiring. That’s all. I’d quit.”

The AP also interviewed Engle. “I’m sure I would have been able to remain as a player with the Senators,” she said. “Why, women are good for a lot of things, like golf, politics, track and all other sports. Why not baseball? After all there has to be a first time for everything, doesn’t there?”

Not all the men were so unenlightened. Oscar Fraley, author of the syndicated UP column, Sports Parade, offered a different perspective: 

“Baseball is agog today over the fungo fable of ‘Beauty and the Beasts’–and Fearless Fraley has just got to say that the baseball boys seem to be a bit stuffy.

“Times, as any reinstated recluse will tell you, have changed. The ladies came out of the pantry a few years back and frozen food stock has been jumping ever since. We have women welders, curvaceous cops and lassies who tool taxicabs with all the reckless abandon which marks the male of the species.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch interviewed fans to find out how they felt about women in baseball. They got a mixed reaction. Howard McColley of Wichita, said, “Of course women should be allowed to play. It would be good for baseball crowds and therefore good for baseball.”

Not so in the eyes of a dude from Oakland, Calif., named Dirk Schwartz. “I don’t pay to see a bunch of powder puffs,” he declared.

One might have thought Engle would get some support from Jackie Mitchell, the 17-year old Tennessee girl whose career with the Chattanooga Lookouts included a three batter appearance against the New York Yankees in 1931 (see History of the Minors: When the Mighty Babe Struck Out in Chattanooga). But alas, in an interview with UP, Mitchell lamented, ”Baseball is really too hard for a girl.”

Eleanor Engle baseball card
Eleanor Engle said of the image that was used for her baseball card, “I look like a skunk at a picnic.”

Engle went back to her stenographer job. In 1963 she got a job with IBM and stayed there for 27 years until her retirement in 1990. She generally shied away from publicity and avoided interview seekers for decades, although she did allow Topps to make a baseball card and was usually generous with those who sought to have their’s autographed. She passed away in 2012 at age 86.

And as for the Senators, they trotted their exclusively male entourage onto the field on June 22, 1952, and, true to form, got thumped by Lancaster 9-4.

-0-

Other History of the Minors posts:

Ty Cobb’s Side Hustle

Was This the Worst Team Ever

When the Mighty Babe Struck Out in Chattanooga

Posted in Baseball, History, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments