December, 2008

Those of you who read this blog regularly know how much I love baseball, and you also know how much I love the Philadelphia Phillies.

As some of you may know, Michael Aubrecht and I are working on bringing to fruition an idea for a book on baseball that I cooked up in 1974, when I was 13. I came up with the idea of doing a study of the worst teams in the history of Major League Baseball, which I wanted to call The Losers. I picked out some teams and thought it would be fun to do the research for a project like this. I even wrote a letter to Joe Garagiola, then a star announcer for NBC, asking for permission to quote from his book, Baseball Is a Funny Game. I still have his letter denying me that permission tucked inside an album full of sports autographs I’ve had since childhood.

I wanted my project to be celebration of the very worst teams in the history of Major League Baseball, a lighthearted look at the worst that the National Pastime has had to offer. My problem was that I was only 13 years old when I came up with this concept, and I had absolutely no idea what was involved in researching and writing a book like this.

Consequently, I stored this idea away years ago, never figuring I would ever get a chance to do anything about it. I just didn’t have the resources or knowledge how to do that sort of research, and I always had other projects. I continued to harbor the hope that I might someday find a way to bring the project to fruition, but with each passing year, the likelihood of doing so grew less and less.

I met Michael Aubrecht as a consequence of our mutual interest in the American Civil War. I knew that Michael had done a great deal of writing on baseball over the years for Baseball Almanac, and I also knew that he knew how to do this sort of research. In the course of a few exchanges of e-mails some months ago, I mentioned my idea for a study of the worst that Major League Baseball had to offer to Michael, who fell in love with the concept once he learned more about it. That clinched it. After further discussion, we decided to find a way to bring my long-dormant dream to fruition.

Here’s a taste of the project. This is a piece that I wrote for the book on the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies, which was one of the teams that I identified in 1974:

The Philadelphia Phillies called tiny Baker Bowl home during the 1930’s. The little stadium featured tin-covered outfield fences, meaning that baseballs rebounded off them with a loud “boom”. The tiny bandbox featured a right field fence that loomed only 272 feet away from home plate, meaning that it was a hitter’s paradise. A routine pop fly would end up a home run in the nearby right field stands. And the 1930 Phillies could hit. They took advantage of new baseball that featured a hitter-friendly resilient core and flatter seams. Featuring future Hall of Fame leftfielder Chuck Klein, the 1930 Phils posted a team batting average of .315. Every regular position player on the team hit at least .282 that season.

Klein had a monster year. He hit .386, with 250 base hits, including 59 doubles and 40 homers. He scored 158 runs and drove in a staggering 170. Right fielder Lefty O’Doul, a failed pitcher who had been converted to the outfield, nearly matched him. O’Doul hit .383, with 202 hits, 37 doubles, and 22 homers. He scored 122 runs and drove in 97. Third baseman Pinky Whitney hit .342 with 207 hits and 117 RBI’s. The team scored 944 runs and just pounded the ball all over their friendly little ball park. This Phillies team set franchise records for hits, singles, doubles, total bases, runs, and runs batted in, all of which still stand, nearly 80 years later.

With that kind of offense, one would think that the Phils would have won the National League. Wrong. This team posted a 52-102 record and finished dead last. Why? Because opposing teams hit a staggering .350 against what has to be the worst pitching staff in the history of Major League Baseball. The team ERA was an incredible 6.71. The Phillies also made matters much worse by leading the National League with 239 errors, 23 more than the next worse fielding team. The wretched pitching and awful fielding combined for a total of 1,199 runs being scored against the Phillies that year, a record for wretchedness that stands to this day. The Phightin’ Phils would regularly score 10 runs a game and still lose.

“Fidgety Phil” Collins was the only member of the pitching staff to have a decent season, posting a 16-11 record and an ERA of 4.78. The right-hander was the only hurler with an ERA less than 5.0. Supporting him was righty Claude Willoughby, who went 4-17 with a ghastly ERA of 7.59. Willoughby gave up a staggering 241 hits in only 153 innings. Southpaw Les Sweetland posted a 7-15 record with an ERA of 7.71. He surrendered 271 hits in 160 innings. Right-hander Ray Benge went 11-15 with a 5.70 ERA. Righty starter Hap Collard was 6-12 and 6.80, and right handed relief pitcher Hal Elliott was 6-11 with a 7.67 ERA, meaning that he gave up least one run in every relief appearance that season.

Even Grover Cleveland “Old Pete” Alexander, one of the greatest pitchers to ever toe the rubber, put up terrible numbers in his final major league season. Alexander, who had gone 31-10 with a 1.22 ERA for the National League champion 1915 Phillies, was now 43 years old and clearly at the end of the line of a glorious career that featured a record of 373-208 and a guaranteed spot in the Hall of Fame. In 9 appearances in 1930, Alexander went 0-3, with an astronomical 9.14 ERA. The ancient righty gave up an unfathomable 40 hits in just 22 1/3 innings. He wisely retired after 19 years in the major leagues before further tainting his otherwise magnificent career.

It’s difficult to imagine a pitching staff much worse than the one employed by the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies, which proved, beyond doubt, that a winning team needs quality pitching and not just unlimited offense. Indeed, the incendiary 1930 Phillies staff richly deserves the hard-earned title of worst pitching staff in the history of Major League Baseball, establishing a record for wretchedness that will probably never be eclipsed.

I have to admit that I’m having an absolute blast working on this, and Michael is doing a great job with his portion. Michael has a taste of one of his contributions in his blog entry of December 3. Check it out. Here’s a link to a basic site that Michael designed to describe the project and to update on its status.

I think that the final product will be great fun to read. I will keep you posted as to its progress.

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From today’s issue of the Chester, VA Village News:

Historical Park Soon to Close Doors to Public

Dec 3, 2008 – 12:32:55 PM

Effective January 2, 2009, Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Dinwiddie County will be open by reservation only. Guests wishing to visit the Park may do so by making a reservation forty-eight hours in advance. Admission fees for non-members will be $100 for a group of up to ten people, and $10 per adult for groups of more than ten. Park members may make reservations twenty-four hours in advance with no minimum numbers and no admission fee.

The Park will continue to offer all reservation-based programming as usual, including its popular school field trips, battlefield tours, Annual Symposium, Civil War Adventure Camps, Summer Teacher Institutes, and History Day Camps.

“The severe economic downturn has undercut the ability of the Pamplin Foundation to support the Park at current levels,” says Pamplin Historical Park President, A. Wilson Greene. “We deeply regret the necessity to curtail normal daily operations to meet this new fiscal reality.”

None of the Park’s four museums will be altered and the Park will continue to maintain its four historic structures, ten reconstructed buildings, and three miles of interpretive trails. There will be no changes to the Park’s extensive artifact collection. “Should economic conditions improve, we hope to restore some regular public operating hours next spring,” adds Greene.

The Park will continue to accelerate its use of the internet to fulfill its educational mission through on-line programming. Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier preserves 422 acres near Petersburg, Virginia, including the Breakthrough Battlefield, a National Historic Landmark. It is owned and operated by the Pamplin Foundation of Portland, Oregon. The Park opened in 1994 as Pamplin Park Civil War Site and debuted the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in 1999, when it adopted its current name.

Pamplin Park, which is funded by the Pamplin Family Foundation (the Pamplins are the majority shareholders of the company that owns and operates Boise Pacific), has, for more than a decade, been the model of an upscale Civil War battlefield with a state-of-the-art museum and an excellent bookstore. The park features the spot where Union troops broke Robert E. Lee’s lines at Petersburg on April 2, 1865, meaning it includes some critical ground. It always made its neighbor, the Petersburg National Battlefield, look like its poor red-headed stepchild little brother.

Now, even Pamplin Park is suffering as a consequence of the economy, which is tragic. The Petersburg Campaign, which gets little enough attention from historians and the public, will get even less attention now that Pamplin Park will no longer be available to the public on a regular basis. And that’s a tragedy.

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Regular readers of this blog know that I am constantly on the search for neo-Confederate idiocy, as I believe strongly that fighting this nonsense is one of the greatest services that I can provide.

On January 13, 2008, I made a declaration that the neo-Confederate grand champion for 2008 had been identified and crowned. Well, it turns out that that declaration was very premature, because the true grand champion has emerged. Thanks to Kevin Levin for finding this piece of work and bringing him to my attention.

From the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, I give you Olaf Childress, the 2008 neo-Confederate grand champion and grand champion hater of the year:

The Last Word
Neo-Confederate ‘Buries’ 14th Amendment
By Sonia Scherr
Intelligence Report
Winter 2008

Don’t expect Olaf Childress to shed any tears when he puts the 14th Amendment six feet under.

And Childress isn’t speaking metaphorically, either. The neo-Confederate stalwart plans to transport a casket bearing a copy of the 14th Amendment from his southern Alabama home to the shores of the Potomac River for burial.

“Naturally, we’ll conduct a little ceremony, and we’ll have a caravan going to Washington, D.C.,” Childress, 76, told the Intelligence Report. “There’ll probably be quite a convoy by the time we get there.”

The vehicle carrying the deceased will be none other than Childress’ “Death to the 14th Amendment” hearse. After buying the 1995 Buick Roadmaster about a year and a half ago, Childress outfitted it with magnetic Confederate battle flags on both front doors and the words “Death to the 14th Amendment” on the rear doors. The back of the hearse directs fellow travelers to his website, (The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, granted full citizenship rights to all people born in the United States, including former slaves, and barred states from denying any resident “equal protection” under the law. The amendment is one of the legal foundations for desegregation and other civil rights initiatives.)

Childress, a 32-year resident of Silverhill, Ala., population 616, announced the amendment’s upcoming interment in the September issue of his newspaper, The First Freedom (motto: “Inviting the Zionist-controlled media’cracy to meet a rising free South”). Once he’s decided on a date, he said, he’ll publicize the funeral there and in like-minded media sources, such as the white supremacist David Duke Report and “The Political Cesspool,” a white nationalist radio show.

Those looking for a carnival atmosphere need not attend. “Anytime you’re conducting a funeral it should be a somber affair,” he said, “and we’ll try to make it fitting for the occasion.”

For instance, the ceremony will include plenty of eulogies for the 14th Amendment, which according to Childress is illegitimate because it was never ratified. “The Yankee Senate decided they were simply going to ram this down our throats,” he fumed.

Yet Childress believes that states will regain the sovereignty they once enjoyed when the 14th goes to its final resting place. “When we get the thing buried and everybody sees that it’s dead, that’s going to be the end of the 14th Amendment and the end of the federal government as it has existed since 1865.”

His grand plans ran into a roadblock, literally, on the evening of May 29, when Childress, behind the wheel of his hearse, encountered a police checkpoint on Highway 5. As he tells it on his website in a post headlined, “Alabama’s Mossad-trained stooges capture politically-incorrect hearse,” when Silverhill’s police chief asked to see his license and insurance, he informed her that she had no legal right to stop him. He even offered to show her where it says so in the Constitution, a copy of which he just happens to keep in the hearse. But the police chief wasn’t interested. Instead, because Childress refused to sign some papers, she hauled him off to jail. Not only did Childress have to spend the night behind bars, but also police impounded the hearse at Dixie Auto Body Repair. He had to pay $135 to retrieve it two days later.

That wasn’t the end of his problems. According to Silverhill Municipal Court, a judge found Childress guilty on July 2 of resisting arrest, driving without insurance, failing to obey a police officer and driving with an expired tag. Childress has appealed the verdicts to the Baldwin County Circuit Court.

Though Childress says he’s been too busy with his court case to finalize plans for the funeral, he clearly relishes his role as undertaker. His “Death to the 14th Amendment” hearse is a familiar sight around Silverhill.

“Every time people wave at it,” he said, “I press the little button that plays ‘Dixie’ on the horns.”

Claiming that the 14th Amendment is illegal and was not legally enacted is, of course, a mainstay of neo-Confederate hooey, and which does not have a single leg to stand upon legally. It is, nevertheless, one of the main rallying cries of the neo-Confederate movement, which means it has to be dealt with. This guy obviously doesn’t get it. Indeed, if this sort of ignorance was not so inherently dangerous, it would be hilarious. However, it’s dangerous, and it’s downright pathetic, and that makes it not very funny at all.

I also had no idea that the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence service, for those unfamiliar with it) was training local gendarmes in Alabama. None. That’s a new one on me…and here I thought they were off dealing with Islamofascist terrorists and regimes sworn to the destruction of Israel, and not training local police forces to pick on neo-Confederates in southern Alabama……

I’m going to go out way on a limb here and guess that our grand champion was not an Obama voter….

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Downtown Cleveland features one of the most beautiful and impressive Civil War memorials anywhere in the country. The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial sits in the heart of downtown Cleveland, and it’s nothing short of spectacular. No visit to Cleveland is complete without at least driving by it and admiring it. It’s a can’t miss.

From today’s issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:


Civil War museum in Soldiers and Sailors Monument may find permanent home in former BP Tower

Relics housed on Public Square

Monday, December 01, 2008

Grant Segall
Plain Dealer Reporter

For 104 years, Cleveland’s beloved Soldiers and Sailors Monument has doubled as a crammed Civil War museum.

The Public Square fixture closed in June for interior renovations, but its leaders opened a slightly less crammed museum recently at 200 Public Square, the former BP Tower, and put many relics on display for the first time in memory.

They hope to reopen the monument next fall. But they’re thinking about keeping the museum, known as the Showcase, open indefinitely at 200 Public Square, if building management permits. Building management could not be reached for comment.

The newly displayed memorabilia includes:

A whiskey canteen found, appropriately, at Brandy Station, Va.

A pair of sharpshooters’ glasses with the left lens reversed, which forced the shooter to focus with just his right eye.

A soldier’s chessmen.

A remnant of a shrapnel shell.

A sword originally wielded by a sculpted soldier outside the monument.

The sword was replaced early on by a sheathed sword at the soldier’s side. Neil Evans, president of the monument trustees, speculates that the change might have happened because the original was unstable, swaying and clanging in the wind.

The Showcase also displays eight historic busts at eye level that perched too high inside the monument for a good view.

The busts honor local figures such as Capt. William Smith, who died of war wounds 22 years later.

The monument, owned by Cuyahoga County, contains a wealth of wartime symbols and figures, historic and fictional, military and civilian, black and white, male and female, North and South, human and animal. On top, a statue of Lady Liberty rises 125 feet above Public Square.

The monument is undergoing several years’ worth of interior and exterior renovations, estimated to cost $1.7 million in county, state and private money. A newly hired executive director and a curator will work on the project.

Among many other tasks, workers plan to remove the stained-glass windows today for renovations expected to take four months. They also plan to add a stronger protective layer of clear glass.

“We’ve had rocks thrown through the windows,” Evans said.

Workers already have fixed the sandstone roof and scrubbed the outer walls. They plan to install air conditioning, add gallery lighting and replace the steam radiators with hot-water ones.

The steam seems to be bowing interior tablets that bear the names of more than 9,000 Union soldiers from Cuyahoga County. Some famous surnames, including Rockefeller and Hanna, stand beside unknowns.

A specialist will repair, clean, restain and repaint the interior’s wealth of marble, restoring its once brilliant colors.

“It’s going to be gorgeous,” Evans said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4187

This is a real win-win scenario. That the monument is getting a facelift is wonderful. That the artifacts it houses will be on display and available to the public is even better still. I’m looking forward to visiting the artifacts on my next trip to Cleveland.

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