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The Roll Players of Baseball
Baseball on roller skates? It sounds preposterous, but in the mid-1880s the unlikely combination of sports was a popular off-season pastime. Clubs (even leagues) formed in big league locales such as Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, while organizations in minor league cities such as Rochester and Binghamton also took to the rink.
In 1885, Sporting Life, a popular sports weekly of the day, described the game as “exciting and funny – to the spectators. To the players it is bruising, exhilarating and acrobatic. The trick is to stand still, and no one can do the trick. Men fall when they throw the ball, fall when they make a catch or a pick-up, and fall when they want to stop on a base. Base ball on roller skates is therefore a game of falls.”
Pictured here is the club that the Detroit Free Press billed as “the first professional ball players on rollers in the West.” Playing in a league at the city’s newly opened Princess Rink in the months prior to the 1885 regular season, the club featured a number of members of the old Detroit Wolverines of the National League, including catcher Charlie Bennett (middle row, third from left), pitcher Stump Wiedman (lying on floor), and Hall of Famer Ned Hanlon (middle row, second from left). In 1887, the trio of ballplayers was integral members of Detroit’s first World Champions of baseball … on grass.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum features a collection of nearly 500,000 photographs like this one. Reproductions are available for purchase. To purchase a reprint of this photograph or others from the Photo Archive collections, please call (607) 547-0375 or fill out a reproduction request form (Right click and save as). Hall of Fame members receive a 10-percent discount.
Weird Baseball History: An Interview with Bob Lipski, One of the Few To Go 0-For-1 with 1 Strikeout
On a recent Sunday afternoon, while doing my usual tinkering with Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I came upon one of baseball’s many strange quirks. In the history of Major League Baseball, stretching all the way back to 1900, and among the hundreds upon hundreds to ever play the game, only 21 non-pitchers have come up to the big leagues, been put into the field, and struck out in their lone at-bat. In the cosmic lotto, that’s like getting the first five numbers, but when the PowerBall is dropped, it comes up with an imaginary digit.
Here is that list of players who came up and had to sit right back down (Include pinch-hitters and the total number still sits at only 47):
- Claude Gouzzie, 2B, 1904
- Tom Walsh, C, 1906
- Larry McClure, LF, 1910
- Ed “Irish” Conwell, 3B, 1911
- Buck Sweeney, LF, 1914
- Al Cypert, 3B, 1914
- Charlie “Dutch” Bold, 1B, 1914
- Newt Halliday, 1B, 1916
- Ed Murray, SS, 1917
- John Cavanaugh, 3B, 1919
- Reuben Ewing, SS, 1921
- Uke “Cat” Clanton, 1B, 1922
- Ollie “Babe” Klee, CF, 1925
- Joe “Lumber” Price, CF, 1928
- Freddie Monciewicz, SS, 1928
- Dutch Fehring, C, 1934
- Walter Alston, 1B, 1936
- Pat Capri, 2B, 1944
- Bill DeKoning, C, 1945
- Don Eaddy, 3B, 1959
- Bob Lipski, C, 1963
While getting one whole at-bat and striking out isn’t nearly as depressing as Adam Greenberg’s one pitch plunking of a career, I don’t think anyone is including this scenario on their dream board. Even stranger, despite more teams and more games being played than ever before, the feat hasn’t been accomplished since Bob Lipski, a catcher for the Cleveland Indians, pulled it off nearly 50 years ago. (The tale of Don Eaddy is a strange one as he made it into 15 games and scored three runs as a pinch-runner, though he only ever received that one measly at-bat.)
(image via Vintage Card Prices)
I went to Google and searched for Mr. Lipski—did he know about his dubious achievement? Perhaps he had coached some Division II school to victory or had been a catching instructor for 30 years. Nothing baseball related came up, but I quickly found an article in a Scranton newspaper from this past October that celebrated his 50-year anniversary with his wife. If you’re still worried about Big Brother, don’t be, because the internet already holds all of your secrets.
Curious, I looked up his phone number. There it was. I called and Bob Lipski was kind enough to speak with me. Sure enough, he did remember that at-bat.
As a graduating high school senior in 1956, Bob Lipski was asked to come down to Philadelphia and try out for the club. Despite having a few other offers on the table, “money didn’t mean anything” to Lipski who said that he “would have offered them money.” Lipski recalls:
“As a matter of fact, my parents came down to Philadelphia and we went into a room somewhere under Connie Mack Stadium. Cy Morgan was the scout who signed me [perhaps best remembered for signing Richie Ashburn and Curt Simmons] and they laid it right on the line, we’ll offer you $500 bucks and send you to Kifton, Georgia.”
27 October 2004: Red Sox win first championship since 1918.
On October 27, 2004, the Boston Red Sox win the World Series for the first time since 1918, finally vanquishing the so-called “Curse of the Bambino” that had plagued them for 86 years. “This is for anyone who has ever rooted for the Red Sox,” the team’s GM told reporters after the game. “This is for all of Red Sox Nation, past and present.”
Ever since team owner and Broadway producer Harry Frazee sold the great Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920—he got $125,000 and a $300,000 loan, which he used to pay Fenway’s mortgage and put on the musical No, No, Nannette—the Sox had been tragically unable to win the World Series. People said that the team was cursed. Before 1920, the Sox had won five championships and the Yanks hadn’t won any; after the Babe left, Boston’s well ran dry. The Yankees, meanwhile, won a record 26 times after 1920.
Over and over, the hapless Sox almost won—and over and over, they didn’t. In 1946, they were winning Game 7 with two outs in the eighth—until shortstop Johnny Pesky held onto a relay throw just long enough for Enos Slaughter to score the winning run (from first base). They lost in 1967 and 1975. Three years after that, in a one-game playoff for the AL championship, they lost when Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent, not exactly a reliable slugger, cranked one over the Green Monster with two men on base. (The Bombers won the game and went on to win their 22nd World Series.) And in the sixth game of the 1986 series against the Mets, just one out away from the championship, the Sox defense managed to bungle a series of easy plays so badly that they lost the game—and the next one, and the series. The Curse of the Bambino, it seemed, would never die.
But in 2004, the team’s luck changed. The Yanks had been three games up in the American League Championship Series, but Boston made a miraculous comeback and swept the last four. After that, it turned out, the Series itself was pretty dull. The St. Louis Cardinals were the NL champs and they had the best regular-season record in the majors, but in the series, their pitching was weak and their batting was worse. The Sox won the first three games handily. By the fourth, the Sox were playing like they won the Series every year. Johnny Damon led off with a homer that smashed into the St. Louis bullpen; Trot Nixon’s bases-loaded double in the third scored two more; pitcher Derek Lowe gave up just three hits in seven innings. The game’s end was as mundane as the rest of the series had been: Edgar Renteria plunked an easy grounder to closer Keith Foulke, who tossed the ball to first baseman Doug Mientkeiwicz in plenty of time for the out. The team mobbed the field; the crowd went wild. “This,” wrote a columnist for the Globe, “is what it must have felt like in 1918.”
In the 2007 World Series, the Sox did it again—they swept the Rockies for another easy victory. For now, they’ve won more championships in the 21st century than any other team.