Baseball Legends Revealed #2

This is the second in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous baseball legends.

Let’s begin!

BASEBALL LEGEND: Roger Bresnahan invented the shin guard.

STATUS: False

Although you may have never heard of him, Roger Bresnahan is in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

But don’t worry, Bresnahan really shouldn’t be IN the Hall of Fame, so you shouldn’t feel bad about knowing who he is.

Bresnahan was a fine catcher (he was versatile enough to have played all nine positions!) for many years (I believe 17 in total) and a good baseball player, just not one good enough to make the Hall of Fame.

He mostly made it because he was very popular among sportswriters and fans.

Heck, Ogden Nash even included him in his famous 1949 baseball poem, Lineup for Yesterday, for crying out loud!

B is for Bresnahan
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

Seriously, Nash, you couldn’t think of someone else for B? That‘s the letter you have trouble finding someone for? To put it into context, A was for Grover Cleveland Alexander, C was for Ty Cobb, D was for Dizzy Dean and B is for Roger Bresnahan?!!?

How odd.

In any event, Bresnahan passed away in 1944 and was elected to the Hall of Fame the next year by the Veterans Committee (if you’re thinking sympathy vote, you’re most likely correct).

However, the one thing that I suppose you could think of for his Hall of Fame case is that he invented the shin guards that catchers wore to protect their, you know, shins.

Here’s a player from the 1950s, Johnny Romano, putting on his shin guards…

Bresnahan was mocked when he began wearing shin guards.

The New York Sun said:

The latest protection for catchers looks rather clumsy, besides delaying a game while the guards are strapped above the knee and around the ankle, and it is doubtful that the fad will ever become popular.

The New York Times said:

Roger Bresnahan makes an entrance, accompanied by a dresser, who does him and undoes him in his natty mattress and knee pads.

Bresnahan got the idea from cricket players.

However, while he certainly appeared to come up with the idea on his own, Bresnahan was NOT the first baseball player to use shin guards.

Nig Clarke of the Detroit Tigers was using them in 1905, a full two years before Bresnahan came up with the idea.

And Chappie Johnson was using them in the Negro Leagues a full three years before THAT!

Not only that, but it’s likely that a number of OTHER players were using them before Bresnahan, they just wore them UNDER their pants (well, some approximation of shin guards, at least). He, though, wore them prominently.

And years later, he was the one to get the credit.

Do note that Bresnahan never took credit for the idea. In fact, he would say he did NOT invent them, but he would often point out the cricket connection, not the other Major Leaguers with the idea.

Thanks to Bill James’ Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame and David L. Fleitz’s Ghosts in the Gallery at Cooperstown: Sixteen Forgotten Members of the Hall of Fame for the information!

BASEBALL LEGEND: Wally Joyner was hit by a bowie knife thrown at him by a fan in Yankee Stadium.

STATUS: True

Wally Joyner came out of (seemingly) nowhere in 1986 to help lead the California Angels to the postseason for just the third time in club history.

Joyner was the starting first baseman in the 1986 All Star Game (how he got more votes than Don Mattingly is still beyond me) and if it weren’t for Jose Canseco, Joyner surely would have been named the Rookie of the Year (1986 was freaking STACKED with great rookies – other players who debuted in 1986 include Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux, Mark McGwire, Barry Larkin, Kevin Brown, Will Clark, David Cone, Rafael Palmeiro and a fellow who is STILL playing, Jamie Moyer – and that’s not even counting Andres Galarraga who, like Canseco, debuted in 1985 but was still technically a rookie in 1986).

In fact, heck, maybe it was a disgruntled Mattingly fan who was responsible for the shocking moment of violence that happened when the Angels were visiting the Yankees in August of 86.

During the game, a fan threw a BOWIE KNIFE at Joyner!!!

To get a grasp of how screwed up that is, here’s a Bowie knife…

You can thank the heavens, though, that the knife (as it twirled through the air) struck Joyner in the left arm with the hilt of the knife, so Joyner suffered only a slight cut as the blade hit arm a little bit when the back of it struck him.

Talk about a psycho fan.

BASEBALL LEGEND: Tony Horton had an amusing response to being retired by Steve Hamilton on a trick pitch.

STATUS: True

In a sort of follow-up to this week’s Basketball Legends Revealed, let’s talk about Steve Hamilton, who, like the men mentioned in this week’s Basketball Legends Revealed, played professional basketball and professional baseball.

Hamilton played for the Minneapolis Lakers for two seasons, 1958-1960, before going into professional baseball.

Hamilton had a decent career as a reliever and spot starter. Also, he was featured in Studs Turkel’s great book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, which was a survey of various jobs in America in the early 1970s.

In 1970, towards the end of his career (1972 was his last season), he pitched the ninth inning of a game at Yankee Stadium against the Cleveland Indians that the Yankees were losing 7-2.

With the game more or less out of reach, Hamilton had a little fun with the first batter, Tony Horton. Hamilton had a pitch that he called the “Folly Floater,” which is an “eephus” pitch, that is, a pitch that is, like the word “eephus,” basically nothing. It’s just a lobbed pitch – the idea is that if the batter is not expecting it, it sometimes catches him unaware and can go for a strike.

Even when a batter IS aware of it, it can cause problems, as was seen that June day in 1970. Horton fouled off the “Folly Floater” then actually asked Hamilton to throw it again! Hamilton, to the amusement of the crowd, complied and threw it again.

Hamilton popped it up and Yankee catcher Thurman Munson made a great catch on the pop up for the out.

The embarrassed Horton, though, played it as well as you could expect. When he returned to the Cleveland dugout, he actually got down on all fours and crawled into the dugout!!

A hilarious moment in Yankee Stadium history, and guess what?

Someone has it on YouTube!!!

I doubt this will last, so enjoy it while you can…

Thanks a lot to microferret for the clip!

And rest in peace, Steve Hamilton, who passed away from cancer in 1997.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com


4 Responses to “Baseball Legends Revealed #2”

  1. David Markham on July 6th, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    “Bresnahan really shouldn’t be IN the Hall of Fame…He mostly made it because he was very popular among sportswriters and fans.”

    It’s the ‘Hall of Fame’, not the ‘Hall of Great Stats’. If being popular among sportwriters and (especially) fans isn’t reason enough to be in the Hall of FAME, I don’t know what is. This tendency to be a stickler for numbers, as if they can tell the whole story of a player’s career and impact to the fans, is why the Hall of Fame has become such a joke in recent years. Now it’s all “but he’s .02 lower than the lowest current member…clearly he shouldn’t be in…”

    Bah.

    Really, I think the fact that Ogden Nash used him should tell *you* something about whether he deserved to be in there or not. I seriously doubt he was “stuck” for the letter ‘B’.

    He consistantly landed near the top of the regular balloting (fifth that year), was considered by both John McGraw and Branch Rickey to be the best catcher they had ever seen and if he isn’t the last catcher to steal over 200 bases in a career (it’s hard to get accurate numbers from those early days), he’s one of the very few.

  2. In the above story about Steve Hamilton, you mention in the headline that there was a reaction to being struck out, but then the story talks about a fly ball out.

  3. Err…..a foul pop up to Munson, not a fly ball out. I guess the ball was airborne so it could be a fly ball, but you know what I mean.

  4. Thanks, Steve, the headline of the legend was a typo, sorry about that! I fixed it.

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