Did the Yankees Briefly Have a Costumed Mascot?

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: The Yankees had a costumed mascot during the 1970s.

On July 10, 1979, the famous costumed mascot the San Diego Chicken (who was working for the Seattle Mariners that day), put a hex on New York Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry during a Mariners/Yankees game in Seattle. This upset Yankee outfielder Lou Piniella, who then chased the mascot and even threw his glove at the giant costumed bird. After the game, Piniella remarked regarding his irritation at the mascot trend, “If people want to pay to see a chicken, they should dress the players up in chicken suits.” New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner supported his player, deriding the then-nascent trend of baseball teams having costumed mascots (a trend started in large part by the San Diego Chicken). Steinbrenner noted, “These characters don’t belong in the ballpark.” This was an especially notable statement by Steinbrenner since two weeks later the Yankees debuted their own costumed mascot. Thus began the short-lived and ultimately quite forgettable career of Dandy, the only costume mascot in Yankees history.
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Did Joe Namath Pose for His Topps Rookie Card While Still in the Hospital?

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: Joe Namath posed for his Topps rookie card while still in the hospital.

One of the notable differences in the world of sports cards nowadays as opposed to the early days of Topps sports cards is the pictures on the fronts of the cards. Today, you routinely get detailed shots of the players in action – hitting home runs, dunking the basketball, throwing a touchdown pass, shooting the puck and more. Early on, though, almost all cards were just simple head shots of a player or, for variety’s sake, players posed in a few different standard “action” shots (like a player crouched over as if they were fielding a ball). Heck, sometimes Topps even re-used the photos for some players in multiple years! While it did not always make for the most interesting looking cards, it was at least very simple to get the necessary shots for the cards. In fact, since they often used a blank background, you could get a shot for a card pretty much anywhere – it did not have to come on the actual field and/or court. Never was this more evident than with the 1965 Topps rookie card of Joe Namath – a card posed for by Namath while he was in the hospital!

joenamath

Read on to see how this strange event came about…

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Did Branch Rickey Really Believe Yogi Berra Would Never be a Major League Ballplayer?

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: Branch Rickey did not think Yogi Berra would be a major league ballplayer.

STATUS: I’m Going With False

Joe Garagiola, while never really having a great career in the Major Leagues, still stuck around for nine seasons in the big leagues as a catcher before embarking on a much more successful career post-baseball as a sports announcer and then panelist on The Today Show (he would also serve as the host of a number of game shows, including To Tell the Truth).

However, interestingly enough, while Garagiola might not have been the best catcher in the major leagues, he turned out not to even be the best catcher on his STREET, as he grew up on the same street in St. Louis with future Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra (who sadly passed away this week at the age of 90)!

In 1942, both teenagers were seen as roughly equitable, with Garagiola actually receiving slightly more favorable reviews from most scouts.

In that same year, the St. Louis Cardinals and their then General Managers Branch Rickey signed Garagiola to a contract along with a $500 signing bonus (which was a nice chunk of change in 1942).

At the same time, Rickey seemed quite dismissive towards Berra as a ballplayer, including reportedly saying that Berra was too awkward and would never make it in the big leagues.

Ultimately, the Cardinals did offer Berra half of what Garagiola was offered, which Berra turned down.

The next year, the New York Yankees ended up throwing their money around and made Berra the same bonus offer (although, as it turned out, he would have to stick with the team all season to get the bonus money, something that was not made all that clear when he was first signed) and Berra, naturally, went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Yankees.

Here is Berra and Garagiola together in 1947…

Berra held a grudge against Rickey for years, bitter over Rickey’s dismissive attitude toward him.

However, I don’t believe Rickey WAS really that dismissive toward him, and even Berra, much much later in his life, seemed to come around to that way of thinking, as well.
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Did a Teenage Female Pitcher Strike Out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Back-to-Back?

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 LEGEND: A female baseball pitcher struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back!

Joe Engel was associated with Clark Griffith for nearly his entire professional career (Engel’s career ended about eight years after Griffith passed away), playing for Griffith’s Washington Senators in his first four years in the Major Leagues as a pitcher (1912-1915) as well as his final year in the majors (1920). Engel then went to work as a minor league scout for Griffith throughout the 1920s. In late 1928/early 1929, Griffith purchased a baseball team in Chattanooga, Tennesse called the Chattanooga Lookouts to be a minor league affiliate for the Senators. Griffith put Engel in charge of the franchise, and Engel embarked on a three decade-long stint as the head of the Lookouts. In those three decades, Engel worked on dozens of publicity stunts designed to raise attendance. While the intent of these stunts were nothing more noble than to get people into the seats, one of those stunts managed to result in a remarkable and little-known piece of feminist history.

Read on to learn about the teenage girl who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back!

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How Did an Injury at a Poker Game at the Age of 29 START a Hall of Famer’s MLB 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 LEGEND: A bizarre mix of circumstances (including an injury at a poker game) allowed Dazzy Vance to resurrect his (at the time failed) career at the age of 31 for the Dodgers.

STATUS: True

Charles “Dazzy” Vance probably does not have the ODDEST career in Major League history, but it sure is up there.

Vance pitched for 16 seasons in the big leagues, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

That’s not particularly odd, but what IS odd is WHEN his career started and HOW it started.
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Did Major League and Minor League Baseball Ban a Female Player From Playing in the Minors?

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 LEGEND: A minor league team signed a female baseball player but then saw her contract voided by the commissioners of the minor leagues and the major leagues!

STATUS: True

The Harrisburg Senators played in the Class B Interstate League during the 1950s and they were not doing particularly well in either the standings or attendance.

So for whatever reason, in June of 1952, the team offered a contract to Eleanor Engle, a local softball player and a stenographer with the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission.

She suited up and took batting practice with her teammates. Here she is in the dugout with the team (this image from The Sporting News was recently turned into a baseball card featuring Engle)…

However, Engle’s tenure as a member of the Senators was short-lived.
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What Rule Change Kept Famed Pulp Novelist Zane Grey From Ever Playing Professional Baseball?

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: Amos Rusie and Cy Young helped to keep Zane Grey from becoming a major league pitcher.

Pearl Zane Grey (better known as just Zane Grey) was one of the most prolific and popular pulp novelists of the 20th Century. His books have been adapted countless times for films and TV (he even had a TV series in the late 1950s based just on his stories), with perhaps his The Riders of the Purple Sage being his most popular story (both in terms of popularity with fans and with amounts of times adapted into other media).

Grey’s path to literary stardom was a circuitous one, though, and it was one that might have gone an entirely different way had it not been for the abilities of the best pitchers of the early 1890s, Amos Rusie and Cy Young in particular. How did these two future Hall of Famers alter the path of Zane Grey’s life? Read on to find out!
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How Did Theodore Roosevelt Help Save the Game of Football?

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 Army-Navy Game drew two separate U.S. Presidents directly into the planning of the game and, ultimately, the future of football itself.

Today, let us look back at a time when the highest elected official in the country, the President of the United States, ended the Army-Navy football rivalry nearly as soon as it began! And then marvel at how a later President both saved the rivalry and, in many ways, the game of football itself!
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Did the Philadelphia Phillies Move to Philadelphia From Worchester, Pennsylvania?

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/MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: The Worcester professional baseball team moved to Philadelphia to become the Philadelphia Phillies.

Let’s say that you own a franchise of a company that only gives out limited amounts of franchises. You open your franchise in Cleveland. It fails.

The company then decides to give your spot to me, and I open a franchise in Duluth (where Bob Dylan was born).

Did I purchase your franchise and move it from Cleveland to Duluth? Or is the only connection between the two of us the fact that your franchise going under made an opportunity for me to get a franchise?

That’s the question that is at the heart of the great “Are the Philadelphia Phillies descended from the Worcester baseball team?” debate.
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Did Lee McPhail Go Against the Written Rules When He Made His Ruling in the “Pine Tar 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/MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: American League President Lee MacPhail went against the letter of the law when he overturned the umpire’s decision in the famous “Pine Tar Game.”

It seemed like the entire sports world was shocked on June 2, 2010 when Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga seemed poised to pitch a perfect game (which would have been a record three in one year, following Oakland’s Dallas Braden and Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay). After retiring the previous 26 Cleveland Indians, the 27th man to face Galarraga, rookie shortstop Jason Donald, hit a grounder that was fielded by Tiger first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who threw to Galarraga covering first base. The ball went into Galarraga’s glove a good full step before Donald touched first base, and yet first base umpire Jim Joyce missed the call, calling Donald safe and turning Galarraga’s perfect game into perhaps the most famous one-hitter in baseball history (as Galarraga promptly retired the 28th batter to finish the game).

After the game, many fans and sportswriters wished for Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Bud Selig to overturn Joyce’s call and rule Galarraga’s game an official perfect game. Whether one agrees with that position or not, I think it’s important to note the misconceptions that exist with the major example cited by most of these fans and sportswriters – American League President Lee MacPhail’s decision in the (im)famous 1983 “Pine Tar Game.”

The Pine Tar Game is the shining beacon that pretty much all sportswriters (or fans) will point to when they wish to make an argument about why a sports league should make a certain decision that, while not necessarily according to the rules of the game, seems to be the “fair” decision. In the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Pine Tar Game was cited during the 1996-97 Playoffs as well as the 2006-07 Playoffs, when key players of two teams (the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns, respectively) were suspended due to a rule stating that players cannot leave their bench during an altercation on the court. The rule is clear on that point, but sportswriters would compare the situation to the Pine Tar Game and ask for the NBA Commissioner David Stern to make the same decision that Lee MacPhail did in 1983, and look past the rule and let the players play (in both instances, Stern chose not to).

But exactly what decision did MacPhail actually make?

The famous New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica described the Pine Tar Game in a June 3, 2010 column about why Selig should overturn Joyce’s call:

Overturning Joyce’s call would not have made the stars fall out of the sky or made the earth stop spinning on its axis. This would have been a proud variation of what Lee MacPhail, then the American League president, did with the Pine Tar Game, Yankees vs. Royals, back in the 80s.

You remember the game. George Brett hit a home run with a bat that had too much pine tar on it. Technically, the umpires were right, going by the letter of the law, to take what turned out to be a game-winning home run from Brett out of the stands.

MacPhail said no.

He invoked the spirit of the law in sports, not the letter of it. He said that the rule about pine tar HADN’T been written to take game-winning home runs out of the stands. The home run stood. You bet it did. The Yankees and Royals came back later on a Monday afternoon and finished the game, which the Royals did end up winning.

Lupica’s take on the game echo many fans and sportswriters. But is that really an accurate description of the Pine Tar Game? I don’t believe it is.
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