White Russians, Siberia, and Japanese Baseball

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Victor Starrfin, ca. 1955 (photo courtesy of Baseball Reference)

Eighty years ago today, a Japanese Professional Baseball League pitcher won his 42nd game of the season – a season of 96 games! Victor Starrfin played for the Yomiuri Giants, leading them to the pennant that year. Starrfin was also Japanese baseball’s first 300-game winner.

Starrfin was born as Viktor Konstantinovich Starukhin in Russia in 1916. The tale of his family’s flight from Russia to Japan is full of intrigue and, quite likely, exaggeration. Basically, however, Starrfin’s father, Konstantine Fedrovich Starukhin, was part of the pre-World War I aristocracy in Russia. Konstantine had attended a prestigious Russian military academy earning him a post in the army. During the Russian revolution, Konstantine sided with the White Russians supporting the czar. After Czar Nicholas II’s defeat and abdication, Konstantine sent his wife and son to stay with friends in Siberia where he eventually joined them. The family later fled to northeastern China and after several years finally received the appropriate documentation to immigrate to Japan.

It was in Japan that Victor went to school where he excelled in baseball. According to Peter Bjarkman, despite the backdrop of racism in Japan at the time, “Starffin’s status as an ethnic ‘outsider’ seemed to take a back seat to his unrivaled achievements as one of the game’s most popular pioneering heroes. His blond hair, blue eyes, and towering frame seemed more charming and engaging than frightening or culturally insulting, and his bulky size and resulting overpowering fastballs were seen primarily as exotic assets for a Tokyo Giants team that already claimed the nation’s widest fandom.” (Read more of the story by Peter C. Bjarkman on the SABR website.)

Starrfin began his professional career in 1936 with Tokyo Kyojin (who would later become the Yomiuri Giants); his final season for the Tombo Unions of the Japan Pacific League in 1955. His career ERA was 2.09 and his lifetime record was 303-177. Sadly, he passed away in 1957 as the result of a drunk driving accident.

~ baseballrebecca


Best of the Week: 10/27/2019 – 11/2/2019

The Best of the Week this past week? The Washington Nationals.

Congratulations to the Washington Nationals!

~ baseballrebecca





Films on Friday: Senior Professional Baseball Association

Thirty years ago today, the Senior Professional Baseball Association debuted. Check out the report from CNN (and that ’80s computer the reporter is sitting next to!):


The Senior League wouldn’t make it past two seasons – and I kind of miss it. It should bring a smile to any baseball fan’s face to watch these old videos…

Happy Friday!

~ baseballrebecca

Films on Friday: The Senators Win the Series

It’s been 95 years since the Nation’s Capital celebrated a World Series win. Ninety-five YEARS (1948 Negro World Series notwithstanding). Recently, the Library of Congress discovered this footage of the Washington Senators winning the 1924 World Series. Maybe it’ll bring the 2019 Nats some inspiration for Game 3 tonight!

Happy Friday! Go Nats!

~ baseballrebecca





T-Shirt Cannons: Delightful or Dangerous?

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T-shirt Cannon at a New York Mets game in 2011 (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Last week when I was watching the t-shirt toss at a Washington Nationals game, it occurred to me that we never see t-shirt cannons, or t-shirt launchers, at games any more. Team employees have to throw t-shirts into the stands with nothing but their own power. Thus, they generally throw them only as far as the first few rows, i.e., into the more expensive seats (where people probably don’t even need free t-shirts). I assumed that teams decided that t-shirts launchers were dangerous or something so they weren’t being used any more.

Thus, I was surprised to read this week that a fan is suing the New York Mets after being hit in the eye by a shirt launched via t-shirt cannon into the stands this past June. The man allegedly was knocked unconscious and suffered a detached retina and a concussion He is suing the team for damages and also wants the team to stop using t-shirt cannons.

Early this year, a woman sued the Houston Astros for pretty much the same thing – alleging that the t-shirt cannon used by team mascot Orbit broke her finger last season. In April, the Astros released a statement saying that they do not agree with the allegations and “will continue to use fan popular T-shirt launchers during games.”

These two lawsuits aren’t the only ones. In 2009, a man sued the White Sox after he was injured by other fans vying for a shirt that was launched into the stands. His lawyer was quoted as saying the team was “engaging in an abnormally dangerous activity, namely, shooting free T-shirts as projectiles into an unsupervised crowd of spectators, some of whom may not have been sober.”

A 2016 study by researchers at the U.S Military Academy at West Point concluded that “advancements in air cannon technology have produced devices that can endanger the safety of those located near its muzzle. Although no definitive assertions can be made about the exact degree in which an air cannon can injure a bystander, the potential injuries can be speculated.”

I wasn’t able to find out what happened in the 2009 case, and its too soon to know the outcome of the two 2019 cases, but I’ll keep digging to see what else I can found out about the extent to which teams still use t-shirt cannons and similar contraptions.

Stay tuned!

~ baseballrebecca

The Browns’ Final Game in St. Louis

Sportsman’s Park, ca. 1902 (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Tomorrow marks the 66th anniversary of the St. Louis Browns’ final game in St. Louis and in Sportsman’s Park. (They would relocate to Baltimore and become the Baltimore Orioles in 1954). The game, attended by only 3,174 people, was also their 100th loss of the season. Though it went 11 innings, the game lasted only 2 hours and 14 minutes. The game featured Chicago White Sox greats, Minnie Miñoso and Nellie Fox, and no one I’ve heard of for the St. Louis Browns. Both pitchers – Chicago’s Billy Pierce and St. Louis’ Duane Pillette, pitched the entire 11 innings.

The Browns finished the season on that day with a record of 54-100. They wouldn’t fare much better the next year as the Baltimore Orioles. The finished the 1954 season with the same exact record (54-100), though they would slowly improve until their first winning record as the O’s in 1960.

It’s hard not to draw parallels to the current Baltimore Orioles. They played their last home game of the season last Sunday, drawing a crowd of 17,540. After that game, their record was 51-105, slightly worse than the 1953 Browns. Does this mean they’ll improve in a few years? One can only hope. (But I’m still mad they traded Manny.)

~ baseballrebecca

The Baltimore Robinsons

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Yank Robinson in 1888 with the St. Louis Browns

Of all the Robinsons that have played baseball (34 at my count), Baltimore has had two of the top three. (The top three being Jackie, Brooks, and Frank, naturally.) The other Robinsons that played for the Baltimore Orioles were: Earl (OF, 1961-64); Eddie (1B, 1957); and Jeff (P, 1991).

But did you know there was also Yank Robinson? And today is his birthday.

William H. “Yank” Robinson was born on September 19, 1859, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While his nickname conjures the name of Baltimore’s arch enemy, the New York Yankees, the origin of his nickname is unclear. According to SABR, the name “started to appear in print in 1886. Robinson was playing in St. Louis by then. The city had been divided on the slavery issue and was occupied by Union forces during the Civil War because of its strategic importance. The sympathies of the citizenry were split between the North and the South even after the conflict. This undoubtedly contributed to the nickname for a player with roots in Philadelphia and Boston.”

Yank played baseball back when teams had names like the Detroit Wolverines, the Pittsburgh Burghers, and Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers, three of the teams Yank played for. He also played for the Washington Senators, St. Louis Browns, and Baltimore Monumentals. Yank was with the Monumentals of the Union Association in 1884, where he was primarily the third baseman although he also played in 14 games as the shortstop, 11 games as catcher, and 11 as a pitcher. The Monumentals disbanded after the 1884 season, so Yank then signed with the St. Louis Browns (who would move to Baltimore a half a century later). Yank was with the Browns for 6 seasons, five of which were pennant-winning seasons for the team (1885-1889).

In 1890, Yank played for the Pittsburgh Burghers of the short-lived Players’ League, before returning to the American Association with Cincinnati in 1891. He was with the Senators in 1892, though his health was failing and played only 58 games that season.

Sadly, Yank Robinson died in August 1894 at the age of 34. But we are honored to consider him one of the Baltimore Robinsons.

~ baseballrebecca