The iconoclast who could have sold guns to Gandhi


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.


Mize’s mix of power, control unheard of today


One hundred years ago today Johnny “Big Cat” Mize, was born in Demorest, Ga. Mize, above, played 15 seasons in the majors between 1936 and 1953, winning five World Series titles and being elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Mize, a 10-time All-Star, was a keen hitter and a smooth fielding first baseman who cracked 359 home runs, registered an overall .312 batting average and knocked in 1,337 runs during his career.

But perhaps his most astounding feat came in the 1947 season, when he hit 51 homers for the then-New York Giants while striking out just 42 times. Compare this with, say, Cecil Fielder, who hit 50 home runs for the Detroit Tigers in 1990 but struck out more than 180 times.

Fact is, free-swinging sluggers are part and parcel of major league baseball today. Mize had 524 career strikeouts in 15 seasons. By comparison, Sammy Sosa broke that figure in a little more than three seasons with the Chicago Cubs between 1998 and 2002.

Managers back 75 or even 50 years ago would have had a hard time tolerating a player who struck out 150 times a season. And players wouldn’t have let it happen, either.

Back then, a batter would often shorten his swing in order to make contact once a pitcher got two strikes on him; today they just let ‘er rip. The end result is a few more home runs and a lot more strikeouts.

As an example, look at what Babe Ruth accomplished: In the seasons in which Ruth hit 50 or more homers he never came close to striking out even 100 times. He demonstrated remarkable control, hitting for power and average, and also accumulating a sizeable number of bases on balls.

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Ty Cobb’s connection to Augusta, Georgia

You can’t swing a dead cat in Augusta, Ga., sports circles without hitting a reminder that the great Ty Cobb began his pro career in the Garden City.

The Georgia Peach made his pro debut as an 18-year old with the Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League on April 26, 1904, in a game against the Columbia (SC) Skyscrapers.

What’s conveniently forgotten is that Cobb’s first go-round with the Tourists lasted just two days, as the future Major League Hall of Famer was quickly cut.

He then signed with the Anniston (Ala.) Steelers for $50 a game and spent three months in the Tennessee-Alabama League before being recalled to Augusta in July by new owner and manager Harry Wingard.

Cobb’s first season with Augusta was less than auspicious, as he finished with a .237 batting average in 35 games.

The next year was a different story: by mid-summer Cobb was leading the Sally League in hitting and the Tourists sold him to the Detroit Tigers for $750.

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