Antebellum baseball card up for sale; could fetch $50,000+

brooklyn atlantics

Pro baseball as we know it today traces its history to 1869, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings were organized as the first fully professional club.

So-called “New York-style” baseball had grown quickly in the years following the Civil War as men from both the North and the South spread the game across the East and Midwest, having taken a great interest in the sport during their time in camp amid the 1861-65 conflict.

Yet baseball itself goes back further, although there is little to document the game’s antediluvian era.

However, one of the oldest bits of baseball memorabilia as yet uncovered has recently gone on the auction block – a baseball card dating to either 1859 or 1860 featuring the Brooklyn Atlantics, baseball’s first championship team.

The card features the entire team and is the only known card to have been printed before the War Between the States. Needless to say, it’s one of a kind.

Being offered by Heritage Auctions, bids have already reached $28,000 ($33,460 with buyer’s premium). It could fetch $50,000 or more by the time bidding ends later this month.

The featured item is a carte de visite, a studio photograph affixed to card stock to be handed out as a calling card. It is mounted on a 2.5 inch by 4 inch cardboard and was taken in a Brooklyn photo studio.

“The technology to print multiple copies of photographs at comparatively cost was developed in France in the 1850s, and calling cards with photographs depicting their owners soon followed, as did collectible ones featuring celebrities, military and political figures,” according to The History Blog. “Photography studios would take the pictures and produce the cartes. The Atlantics carte de visite was produced by the Farach & Lalumia Studio at 336 Fulton Street, Brooklyn.”

The Brooklyn Atlantics were established in 1855 and in 1857 would become one of the founding members of the National Association of Base Ball Players, the first official governing body of American baseball and made up of 16 New York City clubs.

In 1859, the first year that National Association of Base Ball Players teams played a full season, the Brooklyn Atlantics won the pennant. They won the title again in 1860 and in 1861.

Players on the Atlantics included Richard “Dickey” Pearce, a pioneer at shortstop and inventor of the bunt, and outfielder Archibald McMahon.

It was McMahon who kept the carte de visite of America’s first baseball champions.

From him it passed to his brother John, a Civil War veteran, and has remained with John McMahon’s descendants since.

Continue reading

Last living Cub to play in World Series dies at 98

Merullo

The Chicago Cubs are known for futility. How feeble have the Cubbies been over the decades? They’ve not only gone more than a century without winning a World Series, there is no longer anyone alive who participated in a World Series as a member of the Cubs.

Lennie Merullo, the last living individual to play for the Cubs in the World Series, died Saturday at age 98.

Merullo, a shortstop who played for Chicago from 1941 to 1947, took part in three games during the 1945 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Chicago, going up against a Tigers team that featured such stars as Hank Greenberg, Hal Newhouser and Virgil Trucks, lost in seven games. The Cubs haven’t been to a Fall Classic since.

Merullo recalled not too long ago that after the 1945 Series, the Cubs imagined they’d make it back soon enough.

“Yeah, sure,” he said. “We never gave up hope.”

Merullo’s career stats are hardly impressive: playing largely during World War II when many standout players had been drafted into the military, he compiled a career batting average of .240, with six homers, 152 runs batted in, and 191 runs scored.

He did manage to set at least one Major League record, however, committing four errors in one inning.

In mid-September 1942, following a game in New York, Merullo took a bus to Boston where his wife was expecting their first child. His son was born at 5 a.m. and, despite not having slept, Merullo went over to Braves Field in Boston, where the Cubs were scheduled to play a doubleheader that day.

By the second game, exhaustion caught up with Merullo, he told Ed Attanasio of the website thisgreatgame.com last year.

“I had no business being out there,” he recalled. “Almost immediately, I made an error at shortstop. I kicked the ball, and then threw it over the first baseman’s head. Then, they hit me another grounder, and I did the same thing again. If they hit me another ball, I would have booted that one, too.”

Although the record has been tied, it’s never been broken.

Despite Merullo’s limited success with the Cubs, he spent 22 years as a scout for Chicago, then another 30 with the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau before retiring in 2003 at age 85.

(Top: Lennie Merullo as a member of the Chicago Cubs.)

Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Elmer Lach dies at 97

lach stanley cup broken nose

Elmer Lach, one of the National Hockey League’s all-time great playmakers, died Saturday at age 97.

A three-time Stanley Cup champion who for a time centered the great Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Toe Blake on the famed “Punch Line,” Lach was the oldest-living former player to have donned the blue, blanc et rouge of Les Habitants.

Lach led the league in scoring twice and was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1945, despite the fact that Richard set a league record by scoring 50 goals in 50 games.

The Saskatchewan native retired after 14 seasons as the league’s all-time leading scorer in 1954, with 215 goals, 408 assists and 616 total points in 664 games.

He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966 and his No. 16 was retired in 2009 by the Canadiens.

Lach, who was easily recognized by his prominent nose, won his final Stanley Cup by scoring in overtime during the deciding game of the 1953 Cup Finals.

However, Lach’s nose was broken when he was struck by Richard’s stick during the on-ice celebration immediately afterward.

“I took the hardest check of my life when the Rocket jumped on top of me when the puck went in,” Lach later said.

(Top: Canadiens’ legend Elmer Lach, shown with Stanley Cup and the broken nose suffered after scoring winning goal in final game of 1953 Finals. Photo credit: CBC.)

Professional baseball team peddles tickets for 4 cents apiece

blue rocks

Opening Day for the Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks is still two months away, but Mother Nature didn’t do the Class A minor league baseball team any favors this week.

As a promotional offer, tickets for Blue Rocks’ first home game were aligned with the temperature. Whatever the thermostat read when the box office opened at 8 a.m. Monday, that’s what fans would pay for a ticket for the club’s April 16 home opener.

With the recent cold snap that’s moved through much of the Eastern United States recently, the temperature in Wilmington Monday morning was 4 degrees.

As a result, fans could snap up groups of eight tickets, which normally range for $48 to $88 total, for 32 cents in all, a discount of more than 99 percent, according to ESPN.

“It’s really cold here, and we want to get the fans thinking about us,” said Stefani Rash, director of tickets for the Carolina League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.

Fans could also order tickets by phone and through the Internet, although they were charged a $5 handling fee.

The Blue Rocks sold about 3,600 Opening Day seats, and more than 200 fans took advantage of the chance to buy eight tickets for a grand total of 32 cents.

This is the second year that the Blue Rocks have held the promotion. Last year the price was 20 cents a ticket, ESPN reported.

Although the team leaves money on the table in the short term, the promotion ensues that fans experience the ballpark on the first day it’s open, Rash said.

If the temperature had dropped to zero or below, the club would have given out tickets for free, according to Rash.

(Top: Wilmington Blue Rocks in action during a game in which a ticket promotion was apparently not being utilized.)

Duke student shown crying over spilt milk; wants image expunged

duke crybaby

One thing that has largely escaped my understanding is crying over the outcome of a sporting event.

I’ve been upset at the result of many a game – to this day I snap off the television whenever Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series is shown, to the point where I still have never seen it in its dastardly entirety – but I have never been moved to tears.

Of course, when I say there’s no crying in sports, I’m talking about adults, not small children, the latter of whom, a wee short on perspective, might understandably be overwrought when their team loses. (I’m also not referring to athletes, who, having trained their entire lives, have the right to display whatever emotion they want should they lose a crucial game.)

When it comes to fans, however, unless the individual shedding tears is a parent, spouse or possesses some very close bond to an athlete playing, crying because your team loses is ridiculous. Crying when you’re team loses a regular season game is flat-out absurd.

Thus, we have the above unnamed individual, who, as we can see, took Duke University’s 90-74 loss to the University of Miami last week rather hard.

But, as though bursting into tears wasn’t bad enough, she took it a step further.

After the histrionics were shown on television, the sports journalism site The Cauldron captured a screen grab of the weepy Duke follower and posted it on its Twitter site. Not surprisingly, the image was retweeted numerous times.

The next day a “rep” for the tearful fan contacted The Cauldron and told the site that the blubberer wanted the image “taken down.”

The Cauldron declined.

A couple of points: Beyond the sense of entitlement that the student exudes, one can’t help but be stunned that someone of college age would believe that asking a website to remove an image would actually eliminate said image from the Internet.

If you don’t want a photo of yourself bawling like a 7-year old who just witnessed her beloved pet being flattened by a semi floating around the ether for all eternity, then don’t burst into tears when a group of scholarship athletes lose a basketball game. And for goodness sakes, don’t do so when your team loses a regular season basketball game.

Just how sheltered has your life been when this is what causes you to go into meltdown mode, anyway?

Audi’s R18 hybrid: Beautiful and spectacular

WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps 2014

While there’s likely nowhere on Earth where the above Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro is street legal – except perhaps Antarctica, which isn’t known for its road system – one can dream of getting behind the wheel of this stunning vehicle and opening it up.

That is, until one comes across an older couple in a late-model Buick chugging along in the fast lane at 48 miles an hour.

The Audi R18, the first hybrid race car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is one of the favorites of this year’s race, not surprisingly.

The car possesses an unusual combination: It features a conventionally powered rear axle together with an electrically powered front axle. The system located in the front of the car contains two drive shafts and a motor generator unit, together with planetary gearbox, which retrieves its own energy from the electric flywheel accumulator mounted alongside the driver in the cockpit, according to Audi.

The energy is stored during deceleration, and then transferred to a flywheel that can shoot it back to the front axle for added acceleration.

In the process, the front wheels drive the motor generator unit. This accelerates a carbon-fiber flywheel, which runs in a high vacuum. Once the car takes a corner and the driver accelerates, the system delivers the energy to the front axle – but only above a speed of 75 mph, the manufacturer added.

The 3.7-litre V6 engine can muster 510 horsepower and speeds of more than 185 miles per hour.

As for price, if you have to ask, well, you know the rest …

Bidding adieu to one of hockey’s all-time greats

beliveau

Here a few words from the Montreal Gazette on the passing of Jean Béliveau, who, for all his skill and grace on the ice, was an even better person away from the rink:

He was an uncommon man with the common touch. A prince who walked among the people as though it were his job to clean up after the king’s horses.

He was at once regal and humble, magnificently talented and unfailingly generous, modest to a fault and fiercely proud of his team, and as gentle as a man could be in this most violent of sports.

He was Jean Béliveau — and his passing Tuesday night has left a void in the life of this city and this province that may never be filled. It’s conceivable that if they are very, very lucky, the Canadiens might one day draft another Rocket Richard. There will never be another Béliveau.

Le Gros Bill, as he was known, was 83. He will be missed, by fans of the Montreal Canadiens and all of hockeydom.

The iconoclast who could have sold guns to Gandhi

Eddie-Gaedel1

Quote of the day comes from baseball maverick Bill Veeck, who was born 100 years ago this year. Veeck, who lost part of his leg serving in World War II, loved to buck the system, a fact that often irritated the stuffed shirts who ran Major League baseball in post-war America.

Veeck, who was at various times the owner of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox, is remembered for a number of notable efforts, including:

Among the best baseball books ever written is Veeck As In Wreck, Veeck’s 1962 autobiography. In the work, Veeck, the consummate salesman, sums up his approach thusly:

“To give one can of beer to a thousand people is not nearly as much fun as to give 1,000 cans of beer to one guy. You give a thousand people a can of beer and each of them will drink it, smack his lips and go back to watching the game. You give 1,000 cans to one guy, and there is always the outside possibility that 50,000 people will talk about it.”

Veeck died in 1986; five years later the powers that be finally got with the program and elected him into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Falcons’ marketing department takes a short siesta

falcons graphic

It’s long been a running joke that football players are better known for brawn than brains. Apparently, the marketing department of at least one professional football team didn’t pay all that much attention in college, either.

The Atlanta Falcons will be in London this weekend to play the Detroit Lions, part of the National Football League’s effort to broaden its fan base.

To give Falcons fans an inside look at the team’s journey across the Atlantic, the club posted the above infographic detailing the travel schedule.

Someone’s lack of geography knowledge could have proven costly, as the graphic showed the team traveling first to Baltimore and then to somewhere in Spain, rather than London, which would have left them more than 900 miles south of Wembley Stadium.

Fortunately, the Falcons were alerted to the mistake and corrected the error, greatly diminishing chances that a group of extremely large, muscular and no doubt irate men would be left wandering the confines of Barcelona Airport.

(HT: Deadspin)

Death by football: Remembering a college friend 10 years later

justin Strzelczyk

It is not news to anyone who follows professional sports that the National Football League has some serious problems, including issues with domestic abuse, banned substances and players suffering debilitating and life-shortening injuries with all-too alarming frequency.

While this crisis seems to some a recent phenomenon, it’s not. The light has only been shined on it with greater intensity recently.

I remember when I got my first real inkling that something was wrong – really wrong – with professional football. It was perhaps 18 or 19 years ago, while watching a game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t remember who the Steelers were playing, but I do remember a specific play which was run toward the Steelers’ sideline, where Pittsburgh players not in the game were standing.

As one of the opposing players slowed up as he ran out of bounds at the end of the play, a Pittsburgh player standing along the sideline took the opportunity to deliver what in football parlance is known as a “forearm shiver,” clocking his opponent with a forearm to the head. As the opponent, not surprisingly, wasn’t expecting a blow, it had a powerful effect.

I remember the network catching the infraction and showing it again, and highlighting the culprit. It was Justin Strzelczyk, a grizzly bear of an offensive lineman. The incident was shocking not because of what happened – most every NFL game has cheap shots and late hits – but because of who committed the offense.

It stunned me because Strzelczyk, who I’d known in college, had been one of the most easygoing individuals I’d known during my time at the University of Maine. He may have been a 6-foot-6, 250-plus pound football player, but he was a genuinely good-natured guy.

I’d actually met him during his recruiting visit to Maine in 1986, when he was still a senior in high school. My dorm room was across the hall from that of one of the captains of the football team. Recruits are paired up with current team members when they visit campus and Strzelczyk spent the weekend of his recruiting visit across the hall, when he wasn’t out getting his first taste of college life.

That weekend, amid the beer, girls and good times of college, Strzelczyk was in hog heaven. I wasn’t surprised when he opted to attend Maine. We remained friends and would chat whenever we  bumped into each other on campus up until I graduated in 1988.

Strzelczyk continued to improve and was a starter and standout during the latter part of his career at Maine. The last time I saw him, ironically, was in April 1990. I’d gone back to Maine to visit some friends still in school and it happened to be the first day of that year’s NFL draft.

While walking on campus we saw each other and talked briefly; I asked him if he thought he’d be drafted. He replied that he hoped so, but he’d have to wait and see. He still had an easy way about him, despite the fact that he was hours away from learning what the future held for him.

In the end, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked him in the 11th round, No. 293 overall. Normally, 11th round draft choices don’t have much of chance of making it in the NFL, but Strzelczyk, who had size, aptitude and desire going for him, made the team.

Over the next nine seasons, Strzelczyk would play in 173 games for the Steelers, starting 75. He was versatile, starting at every position on the offensive line except center. He even played in Super Bowl XXX.

His career came to a close, as nearly all do in the NFL, because of an injury. He suffered a quadriceps tear during a game in 1998, and then was hurt the following year in bar fight. Finally, he suffered another injury during a celebrity hockey game in 2000 and was shortly afterward released by the Steelers.

Without football, Strzelczyk’s life seemed to come apart at the seams. He and his wife of eight years divorced in 2001; he was arrested for drinking and driving in 2003; and his behavior became increasingly erratic.

Continue reading