When I was a young boy growing up on E.39th Street in Flatbush, most of my days were spent on wondering if the Mets dealing Tom Seaver to the Reds was somehow my fault. Perhaps if I had spoken directly to M Donald Grant, I could have told him that Doug Flynn would never hit a lick, Steve Henderson was simply not good enough, Dan Norman a suspect, not a prospect and that Pat Zachry was made of paper mache.
Why the passion? Blame my dad. After his first two sons showed little interest in sports, let’s just say that when I started to mime swinging a bat at two years old, he knew he’d have someone to watch a game with. Not that he loves me any more than he does my brothers or sister (he doesn’t; he’s a great dad to all of us), he just knows that when he wants to know who the Mets are planning on using as their left-handed specialist, he knows who to call. Otherwise, I’m just one of his four kids. That’s fine with me.
Maybe one of the reasons that my father is such a good one is because he grew up with nothing at all.
Ron Healey spent most of his childhood at St. Vincent’s Home for Boys. My siblings and I don’t know much about those days for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that he likely doesn’t remember them too fondly.
Most of what I know about his times there are the good things; playing ball with his buddies like Hank, Sep and Sarge, and getting to – on the weekends – go to their houses from time to time for a taste of a real home. I’ve often wondered what that must have been like, having to go back to the darkness after a glimpse of the light. But to his credit, and my everlasting gratitude, he never complained about it, never was consumed with bitterness about it, and sure as hell never took it out on any of us. He was adamant that his kids would have everything he didn’t.
For him, not being far from the shadows of Ebbets Field was an escape from loneliness. Cheering for his Brooks was probably the greatest joy he experienced during those dark days. It was during those rare afternoons of getting to go to a game that more than likely turned mere fandom into baseball fever.
He handed down that wonderful gift to me, the love of the Great Pastime, and it’s the main reason you’re reading these words right now.
Whether it was his story of running into a young, athletic “guy who looked like a ballplayer (Willie Mays) so we ran after him and got his autograph” or his taking me and my buddies (when he really couldn’t afford to do) in the 1974 Dodge Dart (Special Edition) to see the dreadful post-Seaver Mets of the late 70′s, I was hooked and hooked early.
My dad’s a Mets fan these days (and has been since the Dodgers left Brooklyn), and he still won’t read (or says he doesn’t) read anything I write about the Yankees. “I hate the Yankees,” he says, quite matter-of-factly, as if it were a natural state. ”I want them to lose every game they play.”
It’s quite possible he might not read this, but I suspect that even if this piece was about the Bombers, he’d sneak a peak to see what his “Markito” has written.
We still talk as much baseball as we ever did. He probably watches as many (if not more) games than I do, and given the fact that he’s a dead-ringer for Terry Collins, the Mets manager, I think he roots for the Mets just a little bit harder lately.
I don’t love my dad because we share a love for baseball. I love my dad because he went from being an orphan with nothing, to loving and supporting a family all of his life. He was a rough and tumble street kid that was never ashamed to hug his kids. Despite having a really good city job, still went to night school to get his degree from Brooklyn College, because he wanted to instill in his children the value of a college education.
I could go on and on. But all I really want to say is, Happy 75th birthday, Pop. You’re the best.
And thank you.
Appropriate to share today, which would have been Jackie Robinson’s 95th birthday, a archived podcast on which I talk about the roles that Negro League Legend Buck O’ Neil — including excerpts from my one-on-one interview with him just a few months before he passed away — and “Black Aces” author Jim “Mudcat” Grant played in the African-American journey to Major League Baseball.
I was the first player drug-tested in baseball, and I am the one who asked for it.” – Babe Dahlgren
The BBWAA’s stance on The Steroid Era is well-known. They have made that very clear. There are folks on both sides of the issue. Many feel that the lack of evidence supporting the exclusion of players like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell based on rumors they may have used PEDs is an injustice.
Let’s face it, we also live in an era where its hard to imagine people choosing integrity over the millions that can be made with the popping og a pill or the injecting of a needle. These players may indeed be innocent, and if they are, they have the power, resources and platform to defend themselves.
Some other players never got that opportunity.
There was another player who once took a drug test, the first one in known baseball history. It was paid for by then-MLB commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and it came back clean. For some reason, Landis and several of the commissioners that followed him, refused to make the results public, or provide the player with some level of justice.
Instead, Babe Dahlgren, once considered the best fielding first baseman in baseball, was sentenced to a life as a baseball vagabond, and even after his playing days, plagued with the inaction of a baseball industry that turned it back on him a long time ago.
The whole story is chronicled in the book, Rumor In Town: A Grandson’s Promise to Right a Wrong, written by Dahlgren’s grandson, Matt Dahlgren.
Sadly, two of the most respected figures in baseball history played a large role in Dahglren’s misery, and it is perhaps that reality which is responsible for the lack of coverage and discussion of these events.
From Gotham Baseball’s Spring 2011 Issue, “Going Nine: The Other Babe”
“The guy can do everything, and I have a hunch that he invents plays as he goes along. If an old-timer were to swear to me on a stack of testaments that there was every a greater defensive first baseman than Ellsworth ‘Babe’ Dahlgren of the Yankees I wouldn’t believe him.” John Lardner, The New Yorker, June 13, 1940
According to Matt Dahlgren, Babe was also the victim of a vicious rumor, that he was a marijuana smoker. Mike Lynch of Seamheads.com summarized it best, stating that the rumor was “started by a Hall Of Fame manager, perpetuated by a Hall of Fame executive, and buried by a Hall Of Fame Commissioner.”
Dahlgren started his career in the Boston Red Sox system and was poised to become the team’s first baseman until the Bosox got Philadelphia A’s slugger Jimmie Foxx. Babe hoped for a trade and got one, albeit to a worse situation; the Yankees, where Lou Gehrig was entrenched. Determined to prove that he belonged, Dahlgren took his game to the Yankees’ top farm team in Newark in 1937, where he hit. 340 for the Bears, one of the greatest minor league champions in baseball history.
He would make the Yankees in 1938 as a utilityman, but played in just 27 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter. In 1939, he would make the most of an opportunity he desperately wanted, he just hated the way it happened.
Replacing Gehrig, Dahlgren hit a home run, a double off the top of the fence and two drives that were caught against the fence in a 22-2 rout over Detroit. “I especially admired Gehrig because he was a first baseman like me,” Dahlgren told Newsday’s Joe Gergen in 1988. “I never dreamed one day I’d be in New York to take the man’s place.”
He would hit only .235 that year for the Yanks, but he would hit 15 home runs and drive in 89 runs batting seventh or eighth in a powerful lineup. In the World Series that year, Dahlgren would hit his only World Series home run, helping the Yankees sweep the Reds. The future looked bright for the 27-year old Dahlgren. Then he went home to San Francisco, and his life would never be the same.
Local legend Lefty O’Doul hated the fact the Joe McCarthy, and not he, was the manager of the New York Yankees. He was often telling anyone who would listen that “Ol’ Marse Joe” was a push-button manager and that “anyone could manage the Yankees”. An Associated Press photographer took a picture of Dahlgren receiving “batting tips” from O’Doul at a off-season workout (the reality was that they barely talked that day). Combine the cracks that O’Doul made that day to the media in ayyendance like, “The Yankees have to send me their players to learn how to hit.”, was the killer. The Yankee manager, albiet legend, was a thin-skinned heavy drinker. Throw in the fact that the now-veteran first baseman who was well-liked by his teammates and the local press, and you had the makings of a very bad situation.
Dahlgren had another solid year in 1940, hitting .263 / 12/ 73, and played a brilliant first base, but when the Yankees did not win the pennant. McCarthy seemed to blame Dahlgren, citing a key error down the stretch that cost the Yankees a ball game.
He was sent to the Boston Braves in 1941, was dealt midway in that season to the Cubs, where he really played well, hitting .263 / 23/ 89 for the season. While Dahlgren was having the best year of his career to date, McCarthy was telling the New York sportswriters – who all liked Dahlgren and thought he was a superb first baseman and were watching Johnny Sturm hit just .235 with no power and nowhere near the glove – that Dahlgren’s arms were too short to play first base.
The longer the season wore on, the longer it looked to the media like McCarthy must have had a personal beef with Dahlgren, and the writers pressed McCarthy on the trade. Now, remember, it was the 1941 season, and Joe DiMaggio was setting his magical streak and Ted Williams was hitting .406 for the Red Sox. Though sad he had left the Yankees, Dahlgren was happy in Chicago, playing well and finally getting the accolades he deserved.
Then, almost instantly, Dahlgren would spent the rest of his career as a tlanted and mysetrious vagabond. In 1942, he would get traded from Chicago to St. Louis to Brooklyn (where Branch Rickey would accuse him of smoking marijuana, the first time Dahlgren would hear of the rumor) to Philadelphia (where he became an All-Star) to Pittsburgh (where he would drive in 101 runs and hit .289 in 1944) and finally back to St. Louis, where he would finally be discarded.
In the midst of the incredulous rumor, Dahlgren informed then-Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis of the rumor, and the Judge, according to the book, paid all the expenses for what would prove to be a “clean” drug test for Dahlgren. But Landis and every subsequent Commissioner – up until his death in 1996 – failed to address Babe’s cause.
Dahlgren also died not going who had started the rumor. He had always assumed that it was Rickey, because of the way the situation had played out. It wasn’t until his grandson Matt, who wanted to write the manuscript that would become “Rumor in Town” (Babe’s original manuscript, as well as a letter from Landis proving the rumor existed, were lost in a fire at Babe’s home in 1980), that the origin of the rumor surfaced.
Dahlgren was doing research for his book when someone suggested that Marty Appel, arguably the preeminent Yankees historian, for stories about his father.
Appel told him about a conversation he had with New York Times sportswriter John Drebinger in 1973, recalling McCarthy talking to a small group of baseball insiders at the end of the 1940 season. McCarthy, Appel remembered Drebinger telling him, noted that the Yankees would have won the pennant in 1940 had it not been for an error that Dahlgren made in a late-season game against Cleveland. “Dahlgren doesn’t screw up that play if he wasn’t a marijuana smoker.”
Tired of being made a fool for suggesting that the obviously proportionally limbed Dahlgren’s arms were more than long enough, McCarthy decided to spread a rumor so incredible, so scandalous that few would ever repeat it. But the ones that did cost a good man his career.
“Rumor in Town” might be a promise by a grandson to his grandfather to right a terrible wrong, but one would hope that it also motivate Major League Baseball or motivate the BBWAA to right a terrible injustice. To date, the case is one that MLB doesn’t feel needs to be reopened.. And that is a big a tragedy as was the rumor that cost Babe Dahlgren his career.
During my childhood in Brooklyn, my friends and I spent many a day on one of the stoops on East 39th Street arguing about whose favorite players were better. I know to the present day’s more sophisticated fanbase, this may seem trite, but armed with our newspapers or our memories from the previous night’s games, we made pretty good cases for our respective guys.
In the dark days following the inexplicable trade of Tom Seaver, those of us who were Mets fans could no longer claim the superiority of having the best pitcher in town. Maybe it’s because the post Seaver trade Mets were so awful is the reason I became so enamored with baseball history, particularly with NY baseball history. Oh, I still climbed into my dad’s 1974 Dodge Dart and went to Shea to root for Steve Henderson and my main man Lee Mazzilli, but wishing for the likes of players like Carl Furillo and Christy Mathewson also occupied my young mind.
Years later, while working at Associated Press, I came up with the idea (after reading a book about Jack Chesbro), that I wanted to create a destination for any baseball fan to read about the history of New York baseball, from the Mtuuals to the Ccylones, from the Babe to the Beltran, from Jackie to Jeter. So, Gotham Baseball was born.
This ballot is part of a long ongoing project that will be revealed later, but suffice it to say, it’s important we build the best team we can, so vote wisely!
Here is the complete ballot, from First Base to the ballpark. Please share with your baseball-loving friends.
You give us the pitching some of these clubs have and no one could touch us, but God has a way of not arranging that, because it’s not as much fun. – Sparky Anderson
Great pitching is a tradition in Gotham.
It’s hard to imagine any of New York’s World Series winning teams without thinking of their great starters, and as the game has progressed, it’s shut down closers.
We’ve assembled what we think is a collection of the best pitchers Gotham has had to offer, and we admit it was hard to leave off names like Ron Guidry, Sal Maglie, David Cone and John Franco. We have our reasons for each selection, as well as each omission, but you’re going to have to wait until the Winter 2013 issue of Gotham Baseball to hear why.
We’re asking you vote for 2 (two) left-handed starters, 2 (two) right-handed starters and a closer. Once the votes are tallied, the Gotham Baseball panel of experts from all over the realm of baseball will make the final selections, which will be announced at an upcoming event at Foley’s NY, which was named Best Baseball Bar in NY by Gotham Baseball magazine back in 2011.
You’ve heard the song plenty of times; Willie, Mickey and the Duke. Usually, when some outlets do this kind of an “all-time outfield” poll, there’s really no need to, as the three aforementioned HOFers are always penciled in. Sure, some folks will argue DiMaggio over Mantle, and some will debate whether or not Snider’s numbers are comparable because he played in a bandbox, etc.
However, Gotham Baseball is being a tad more selective; in addition to including more modern players to the mix, we’re also asking our readership to select our all-time outfield by position, rather than a general “OF” designation.
Once the votes are tallied, the Gotham Baseball panel of experts from all over the realm of baseball will make the final selections, which will be announced at an upcoming event at Foley’s NY, which was named Best Baseball Bar in NY by Gotham Baseball magazine back in 2011.