An Owner Correctly Predicted His Stadium Would Be Home to the World Series of 1926…It Just Wasn’t His Team!

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: An owner correctly predicted that his stadium would be home to a World Series by 1926 – he just predicted the wrong team!

Guarantees and bold predictions are nothing new in sports and they really tend not to be remembered all that much (who really remembers Patrick Ewing guaranteeing that the Knicks would win Game 7 against the Pacers in 1995?). Really, unless the guarantees or bold predictions come TRUE, they’re forgotten. But when they DO come true, then we have a different story.

That was the problem with Philip DeCatesby Ball – he made a correct prediction, but his correct prediction looked awful for him!
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Were Leicester City Chances of Winning the Premier League Really 5,000 to 1?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about soccer/football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the soccer/football urban legends featured so far.

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The chances of Leicester City winning the English Premier League were 5,000 to 1.

The Leicester City Football Club (the “Foxes”) shocked the sports world recently by winning the English Premier League this year, despite having never once winning the top honors in the Premier League or Division One (which was what the predecessor to the Premier League). Before winning the championship this year, their highest placing was second place once…in the 1928-29 Division One season!!

leicestercity

It’s a remarkable achievement. People have been making a big deal out of the odds of them winning the championship. Gambling houses were paying out the victory on 5,000 to 1 odds. So if you bet a pound, you’d win 5,000 pounds. Thus, this is one of the greatest longshots in sports history.

However, the question then becomes, were their actual chances of them winning the title really that low?
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How Did a Bookkeeper Who Had Never Played Organized Baseball Become a Hall of Famer?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: A series of fortuitous events turned an 18-year-old bookkeeper who had never played organized baseball into a Hall of Famer.

With the fact that both Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, two of the best baseball players of the 1940s (or really any decade), hailed from California, it is somewhat easy to forget that in the early days of professional baseball, California was a bit of a no man’s land. From the beginnings of professional baseball up through the first quarter of the 20th Century, baseball did not venture much further west than St. Louis. Of the first 39 inductees into the Hall of Fame, the furthest west any of them were born were a fellow we talked about last week, Grover Cleveland Alexander, who was born in the middle of Nebraska (two other players were born in Kansas and Texas, respectively, but both were on the far east sides of their states).

The first California-born player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame was the fortieth inductee, Frank Chance (of “Tinker to Evers to Chance” fame).

So the geographical odds were already against San Francisco native Harry Heilmann, and yet, through a series of fortuitous breaks that occurred when he was 18 years old (and working as a bookkeeper) Heilmann made his way from never playing organized baseball to being a professional ballplayer, then a Major Leaguer and, eventually, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

heilmann

Harry Heilmann was born in 1894 in San Francisco, California. He attended Sacred Heart High School (the same school that future Hall of Famer Joe Cronin later attended). Interestingly enough, Heilmann did not play baseball in high school. While there was a dearth of major league players from California, the sport was still quite popular in the state. In fact, Heilmann’s older brother, Walter, was an acclaimed pitcher whose career (and life) was cut short when he died in a boating accident. I have seen conflicting reports on whether Heilmann chose not to play high school baseball or whether he just could did not make the team (shades of the story of Michael Jordan getting cut by his high school basketball team, a legend I’ve explored in the past here). Whatever the case may be, Heilmann played football, track and field and basketball (he was All-State as a basketball player) but not organized baseball (although he certainly played baseball for fun).

In 1913, Heilmann was almost 19 years old and he was working as a bookkeeper for the Mutual Biscuit Company in San Francisco when a former classmate from Sacred Heart asked Heilmann if he would fill in for him during a semi-pro game in Hanford, California (in the San Joaquin Valley). Often, this story mentions that the game was part of the San Joaquin Valley League, but I am not sure if that’s absolutely true (the San Joaquin Valley League had a Hanford team, I just don’t know if it was in operation in 1913), but suffice it to say that it was a semi-professional baseball game in Hanford, California. For the game, Heilmann was paid $10.

Unbeknownst to Heilmann when he agreed to fill-in was that that game would change his life forever.

You see, Heilmann won the game with an eleventh-inning double, and that (and presumably the rest of his play during the game) drew the interest of a scout from the Northwest League, who signed Heilmann to a professional contract to play for the Portland Beavers. Years later, Heilmann would recount that they treated him to a spaghetti dinner as a “signing bonus.” The Northwest League was pretty much the lowest professional league you could be a part of at that point in time (it should not be confused with the Single-A Northwest League that exists to this day). You see, the Northwest League (now known as the Pacific Coast International League) was the minor leagues of the minor leagues. These Portland Beavers were the farm team for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League which, of course, was itself a minor league for the Major Leagues. However, in the 1910s, the Pacific Coast League was the league in California.

So Heilmann began to play for the Portland Beavers, and his professional career got off to a rousing start with an 0 for 3 outing and an error at first base. By the end of the year, however, he hit over .300. Luckily, Fielder Jones (the president of the Northwest League) recommended Heilmann to Frank Lavin, owner of the Detroit Tigers. In September of 1913, the Tigers “drafted” Heilmann from the Beavers, paying a figure between $700 and $1,500.

Heilmann performed well for Detroit in Spring Training for the 1914 season, but during the year itself the 19 year old played pretty dreadfully. He hit .225 and, perhaps more importantly, played awful defense in the outfield (Heilmann was never the fastest fellow, eventually earning himself the nickname of “Slug,” so the outfield was probably not the best place for him), including one remarkable game where he committed three errors in a single inning, including pretty much each of the three possible errors that an outfielder can commit (he fumbled a single, allowing the runner to reach second, he then overthrew the second baseman to allow the runner to reach third and later dropped a fly ball)!

Detroit made a deal with Heilmann’s hometown San Francisco Seals, of the Pacific Coast League. The Tigers would release Heilmann to the Seals for the 1915 season under the condition that they would get him back after the season was through (and they promised not to recall him during the 1915 season).

Heilmann performed well for the Seals and was back in the Majors in 1916, playing all over the diamond (first base and all three outfield positions). Perhaps his most notable achievement that season was when he saved a young woman from drowning when the car her father was driving drove off of a cliff. Heilmann dove in and saved her, a heroic act that had to be even more inspiring knowing that his brother died from drowning.

Heilmann acquitted himself nicely as a hitter in 1916-1918, hitting between .276 and .282 all three years (he missed half of the 1918 season to World War I. He served on a submarine). In 1919, though, his career really began to turn around as he hit .320. Amazingly, though, his career really changed in 1921 when Heilmann’s legendary teammate, Ty Cobb, became his manager (Cobb continued to play, as well). Despite being teammates for over five years before becoming manager of the Tigers, Cobb never gave Heilmann advice on hitting, even though Cobb had discovered numerous correctable flaws in Heilmann’s hitting stance years earlier. Cobb would later claim that he did not feel right giving advice to a peer, but when he was the manager, that was his job, so he did so.

Whatever Cobb’s motivations, the results paid off immediately. Heilmann hit .309 in 1920. In 1921, he hit .394!!! Heilmann’s prowess surprised even Cobb, who came in second to Heilmann that season (and was not pleased about it). Not only was Heilmann hitting for average, but he was now hitting for power, as well, slugging over .600!

From 1921 through 1927, Heilmann hit a collective .380, including an astonishing .403 in 1923. From 1921 through 1927, Heilmann led the league in batting in each of the odd seasons, for four titles in total. Since Heilmann was under a series of two-year contracts, people, including Heilmann himself, used to joke that he would put in extra effort in his contract years, hence the higher averages. That was just a joke, of course, as Heilmann’s “off” years were still amazing (again, he hit a collective .380 from 1921-1927).

The Tigers sold Heilmann to the Cincinnati Reds after the 1929 season, as he had begun to suffer from arthritis in both of his hands. He had one last great season for the Reds in 1930, hitting .335, before the arthritis was just too much for him and he skipped the 1931 season entirely. He tried a comeback in 1932, but he retired for good after hitting .258 in 15 games for the Reds.

Heilmann became a play-by-play announcer for the Tigers radio broadcasts from 1934 until his retirement in 1950, when lung cancer forced him to retire. His former teammate Cobb valiantly stumped for Heilmann to be elected to the Hall of Fame before he passed away, but he came up just short for election in 1951. He died in July of 1951. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in January of 1952, the sixty-first member of the Hall and only the second California native (heck, in between Chance and Heilmann there had only been two other players born west of St. Louis, and both just barely so).

A pretty amazing career for a guy who was a bookkeeper for a biscuit company before ever playing organized baseball, huh?

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Thanks to Mike Lynch and Dan D’Addona for their tireless research efforts that provided much of the information about Heilmann in this piece.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is [email protected]

How Did a Lawsuit Lead to the Dallas/Houston Governor’s Cup?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the football urban legends featured so far.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The annual Governor’s Cup game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston team from the AFC began due to a legal settlement.

In the early days of the existence of the American Football League, then a rival to the National Football League, there were many battles over college players. In fact, the existence of the AFL was, in many ways, one of the biggest boons to players’ salaries in the history of professional football. Until the AFL came along, there was no way of truly demonstrating how much a given player was worth on the open market because there WASN’T an open market. Once the AFL came along, they were desperate for relevance, and the quickest way to get to relevance was to get star players. So the AFL paid through the nose for the best of the college graduates. As a result, salaries soared. One of the reasons the NFL was willing to merge with the AFL was that they couldn’t afford to continue fighting with the AFL for players.

One of these players was Ralph Neely, the standout offensive tackle from the University of Oklahoma. The beginning of his professional career led to a great battle between the two pro teams from Texas, the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL and the Houston Oilers of the AFL.
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How Did Trying to Prove He Could Dunk a Basketball Ruin a Pitcher’s Career?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: A top closer had his career de-railed by an attempt to show how he could dunk.

Cecil Upshaw was a major part of the success of the 1969 Atlanta Braves, who made it to the playoffs in 1969 only to lose to the “Miracle Mets.” The 26-year-old Upshaw was a dominant closer for the Braves, back in the days that a closer was more of a “fireman” than a traditional “enter the game in the ninth inning up three runs” pitcher. He threw 105 innings with a 2.91 ERA and 27 saves. This followed his 1968 campaign where he put up similar numbers (in 1967, he did much of the same, but in limited time as it was his rookie season). He looked to become a major part of the Braves’ future.

Then came 1970.
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Did a Player Get a Yellow Card for Faking an Injury…When Said Player Was DEAD?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about soccer/football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the soccer/football urban legends featured so far.

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: A player got a yellow card for faking an injury – however, the player was DEAD!

Something that football often gets criticized for is the way that players attempt to draw fouls on each other by acting as though simple contact (that happens as a matter-of-fact in a game of football) was egregious contact. You know, someone bumps a player and the said player goes flying as if he were just hit by a truck.

The common term for it is “flopping” and while it is a problem in the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, it is most associated with the world of association football.

It is seen as such a problem that they even came up with rules against it.

Soccer uses a “yellow card” system, where every time an egregious rule violation takes place the referee gives the player a “yellow card.”

If you get two yellow cards, you are then given a red card and you are ejected from the game and your team must play with one less player (in other words, unlike a basketball player who has been ejected from the game, you cannot substitute a replacement for the ejected player).

Here’s England star player Wayne Rooney getting a yellow card…

Here are the things you can give a yellow card for…

1. Unsporting behaviour
2. Dissent by word or action
3. Persistently infringing the laws of the game
4. Delaying the restart of play
5. Failing to respect the required distance of a corner kick or free kick
6. Entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission
7. Deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission

“Flopping” is specifically codified under rule 1. However, it’s one thing to SAY that you’re going to punish people for flopping and it’s a whole other thing to actually CALL it, as it can often be quite difficult to determine whether a player legitimately fell or is just pretending to be hurt.

That uncertainty was at play in May of 2010 in a fifth division match between Eastern European club Mladost FC and their local rival team, Hrvatski Sokol.
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Did the Coach of Harvard’s Football Team Once Strangle a Bulldog to Inspire His Team to Defeat the Yale Bulldogs?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the football urban legends featured so far.

FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The coach of Harvard once strangled a live bulldog to death to motivate his team to defeat the Yale Bulldogs.

Percy Haughton was, without a doubt, the most successful football coach in the history of Harvard Crimson football.

One of the first professional head coaches (initially the job was either done by seniors or volunteers), Haughton (a former Harvard football player himself) led the team to a 72-7 record (with 5 ties) in his nine seasons as head coach of the Crimson. The team also claimed three national championships during his tenure. A major factor by Harvard (and perhaps more importantly, the boosters of the team) in deciding to bring in Haughton was Harvard’s record against Yale in the end of the year game (which eventually became referred to as simply “The Game”) the two rival schools had played since 1875 (with some gaps, like when The Game has become so violent that it was canceled for two years. Check out this old Football Urban Legend for a similar situation in the Army-Navy game of the same era). In the 28 games that they had played prior to the 1908 season, Yale had won 21 of them, including the last six (all shutouts!). So Haughton had a strong desire to defeat the Yale Bulldogs in the 1908 match, not just because of the pressure from his new position but because he, himself (as a Harvard alum) hated the Elis as much as anyone. The legend goes that Haughton actually strangled a live bulldog before the game in front of his players to motivate them to victory. They did, in fact, win the game 4-0 (field goals counted for 4 points back then) and the Harvard/Yale rivalry would no longer be a one-sided one from then on (they have basically split the series since 1908). It is one of the most famous pieces of motivation in college football history (right up there with “Win one for the Gipper!”). But is it true?
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Was Grover Cleveland Alexander Either Drunk or Asleep When He Was Brought in to Pitch in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Grover Cleveland Alexander was drunk and/or asleep in the bullpen when he was called out to face Tony Lazerri in the 7th inning of Game 7 of the 1926 World Series.

Modern baseball fans certainly recall the heroics of Jack Morris pitching a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series and Randy Johnson pitching an inning and a third of scoreless relief on one day’s rest in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series and Madison Bumgarner pitching five innings of scoreless relief on two days’ rest in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. Well, right up there in the annals of World Series pitching heroics is Grover Cleveland Alexander’s performance in the 1926 World Series.

The 39-year-old Alexander had joined the Cardinals earlier in 1926 after being cut by the Chicago Cubs (Alexander was still a pretty productive pitcher for a bad Cubs team, but he did not get along with the manager of the Cubs and the thought was that the next good Cubs team likely would not have Alexander on it due to his age, so why not just cut ties with him now?) and had won Game 2 of the ’26 Series against the New York Yankees. In Game 6 of the Series, with the Cardinals trailing 3 games to 2, Alexander pitching nine innings in a 10-2 Cardinal victory.

Now, in Game 7, played the very next day, the Cardinals were clinging to a 3-2 lead when the Yankees loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh inning with future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri (the Yankees’ #6 hitter) at bat with two outs. Cardinals player/manager Rogers Hornsby went to Alexander. Alexander came in and struck Lazzeri out. Alexander then proceeded to retire the Yankees over the next two innings, with the last out famously coming on an attempted steal of second base by Babe Ruth, for a Cardinals World Series victory.

Great story, no? Well, over the years, the story has almost always included the extra “fact” that Alexander, figuring he was not going to be pitching Game 7, spent the night of Game 6 drinking so much that by Game 7 he was dozing off in the bullpen with a bottle of whiskey in his pocket when he was roused to go save the Cardinals’ season. Supposedly, Hornsby met him in left field as he entered from the bullpen to see if he could even see straight, noted that he was hammered but figured that a drunk Alexander was better than a sober anyone else, so stuck with the future Hall of Famer. Even better story, right?

But is is true?
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Did FIFA Change the Rules of a Contest When Diego Maradona Was Voted Player of the Century?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about soccer/football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the soccer/football urban legends featured so far.

SOCCER/FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: FIFA changed the rules of a contest when Diego Maradona was voted Player of the Century in 2000.

In 2000, FIFA decided to let fans vote on who would be given the title of the “Player of the Century.” The voting was done online, and in overwhelming fashion, the winner was Argentine star Diego Maradona.

Maradona certainly had a case for the honor. Most historians agree he’s at least among the five best players of the 20th Century.

However, he is also not Pelé.

The Brazilian star is perhaps the most famous soccer/football player of the 20th Century, and when the fans voted for Maradona, FIFA panicked and hilarity ensued.
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Why Were Two Little League Teams Each Trying to Lose in the Final Inning of a Playoff Game?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: Two teams playing in the Little League World Series were both trying to intentionally fail in the last inning of their match-up so that they could advance to the final of their region.

The idea of strategically losing is a well ingrained concept in the world of sports. In most leagues, the team with the worst record in the regular season will have the first pick of the next season’s draft (or in the NBA, the team with the worst record will have the best odds of getting the first pick in a lottery drawing held after the season). Therefore, if there is a particularly heralded prospect available in the upcoming draft, it actually makes a certain amount of sense for a mediocre team to try to become as bad as they can to give themselves the best chance to snare the number one pick. It is such a well known strategy that there is even a phrase for it – “tanking the season.” We have seen it work well for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Pittsburgh Penguins (who netted themselves Lebron James and Mario Lemeiux, respectively), but we have also seen it backfire horribly, as it did for the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics when they had the worst two records in the NBA in 1996-97, but saw the 3rd worst team, the San Antonio Spurs, end up with Tim Duncan in the 1997 NBA Draft.

Beyond losing to get a good draft pick, teams also often intentionally lose to affect where they are seeded in the playoffs. I have written in the past about an amusing incident where the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks both tried to lose their final meeting of the 1999 NBA season because the Heat wanted the Knicks to be the #7 team and face the #2 seeded Pacers while the Knicks wanted to be the #8 team so that they could face the #1 seeded Heat.

So the idea of stragetically losing is normal. However, what is abnormal is seeing two teams that were playing in the final inning of the game that decided who would go to the finals of their region in the Little League World Series (where the winning team would advance to the Little League World Series) where one team was trying to let the other team score and the other team was trying intentionally to make outs!
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