Monday Baseball Motivation


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Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King, Jr. receiving the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Howard University in 1957. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

“Jackie Robinson made my success possible. Without him, I would never have been able to do what I did.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let’s remember the impact sports had on Dr. King and that King had on sports. Let his words and actions inspire us, just as Jackie Robinson inspired him (and us).

Happy MLK, Jr., Day!

~ baseballrebecca

 

 

 

 

Black Hockey History Tour


img_4675With the 100th birthday of the Negro Leagues just around the corner, the National Hockey League’s Black Hockey History Tour can help us get ready for it. The mobile tour will visit 14 NHL cities to: “celebrate today’s stars, while also looking back at the pioneers and trailblazers who helped shape NHL history.” The NHL Diversity and Hockey Is For Everyone ambassador, Willie O’Ree, will make appearances at selected stops. O’Ree was the first Black player in the NHL.  Since 1998, he has established 39 local grassroots hockey programs to get kids interested in the game.

img_4683The Black Hockey History Tour bus may contain only a small exhibit space, but it is just the right size to tell the story of the fewer then 100 black players in the history of the NHL, teach us about diversity, and celebrate the contributions of African American, African Canadian, and women hockey players. The exhibit includes information on current players as well as notable black players in the NHL and other leagues in Canada and the United States. It even includes a brief piece on women in hockey and a video comparing the experiences of black hockey players to the careers of Jackie Robinson and other black MLB players.

Like the Negro Leagues, hockey also experienced a color barrier. The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes was started in 1895 by black Baptist churches in Nova Scotia. By the turn of the century, individual all-black teams were operating in the Ontario Hockey League. The first black hockey star was Herb Carnegie, who began his career with the Toronto Young Rangers in 1938. Ten years later, Carnegie was given a tryout with the New York Rangers and was offered a contract to play in the img_4673Rangers’ minor league system. He turned them down, however, because by then he was already earning more money playing in the semi-pro Quebec Provincial League.

Approximately 10 years later, Willie O’Ree made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins. O’Ree, known as the “Jackie Robinson of ice hockey” was called up from the minors to replace an injured player. According to Wikipedia, “[p]laying a short career of only 45 games, O’Ree faced racism after being recalled from the Canadian minor leagues.  While in the minor leagues, O’Ree recalls the racism he faced as predominantly muted. However, as soon as O’Ree entered into the NHL, racist remarks and actions by hostile fans and players appeared.”

The NHL’s Black Hockey History Tour kicked-off its second season this week in Washington, DC, outside of the Embassy of Canada. Its next stop is in Detroit, MI (Jan. 18-19), before heading to St. Louis and Ferguson, MO (Jan. 23-26); Pittsburgh, PA (Jan. 31); Ottawa, Toronto, and Scarborough, Canada (Feb. 2-8); Newark, NJ (Feb. 10-11); Nashville, TN (Feb. 16); Anaheim, CA (Feb. 25); San Jose, CA (Feb 29); Seattle, WA (Mar. 7-10); Tempe and Glendale, AZ (Mar. 15-16); and Dallas, TX (Mar. 22). Check out the NHL website for complete details of the tour.

~ baseballrebecca

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Stat-urday, 12/21/2019


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Dean Kremer, shown above with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2018, played for the Norfolk Tides in 2019. He is one of eight Jewish AAA players (photo by Spanneraol via Wikipedia).

On Monday, I posted a quote by Al Schacht, a right-handed pitcher who played for the Washington Senators between 1919 and 1921. In the 53 games of his career, he posted an ERA of 4.48 and a win-loss percentage of .583. According to Wikipedia, “Schacht’s ability to mimic other players from the coaching lines, and his comedy routines with fellow Washington coach Nick Altrock, earned him the nickname of ‘The Clown Prince of Baseball.’” After his pitching career, Schacht was the Senators’ third base coach from 1924 to 1934 and then was the Boston Red Sox’ third base coach  from 1935 to 1936.

Schacht is one of 170 Jewish baseball players that have played Major League Baseball. In 2019, there were 82 baseball players in leagues around the U.S. who were Jewish:

  • 8 in Major League Baseball
  • 8 on triple-A teams
  • 12 on double-A teams
  • 5 on single-A teams
  • 5 on short season A teams
  • 21 in the rookie leagues
  • 22 in the independent leagues

Happy Stat-urday!

~ baseballrebecca

 

 

 

Players Born in Russia


Image result for victor coleYesterday, I told the story of Victor Starrfin, who was born in Russia, moved to Japan as a child, and became the first 300-game winner in Japanese professional baseball. While I was unable to determine how many Russian-born players have played in Japan, the list of Russian-born players in Major League Baseball is rather short. So far, there have been eight players who were born in Russia or the former Soviet Union. (Check out the list below.)

The most recent to play was Victor Cole, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992. Cole’s mother is from Russia; his father is from Sierra Leone. The family moved to the U.S. when Cole was four. He played baseball at Santa Clara University, and was drafted by the Royals in 1988. After one season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cole played in the Brewers, Padres, Cubs, and Cardinals’ organizations. He also played in the Taiwan Major League and the Korea Baseball Organization. In 2003 and 2007, he played for the Russia national baseball team. His son, Victor Cole, Jr., currently plays baseball for Liberty University.

If Phillies’ minor leaguer Anton Kuznetsov gets the call up, he’ll be the ninth player born in Russia to make it to the Major Leagues, and the first to also have grown up in Russia. Kuznetsov was born in 1998 in Moscow. He spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons in short-season A with the Williamsport Crosscutters.

~ baseballrebecca

 

MLB Players Born in Russia

Player Birthplace Years Played Team(s)
Jake Gettman Frank, Russian Federation 1897-99 Washington Senators
Jake Livingstone St. Petersburg, Russian Fed. 1901 New York Giants
Bill Cristall Odessa, Russian Federation 1901 Cleveland Blues
Eddie Ainsmith Russian Federation 1910-24 Washington Senators, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Robins, New York Giants
Rube Schauer Kamenka, Russian Federation 1913-17 New York Giants, Philadelphia A’s
Reuben Ewing Odessa, Russian Federation 1921 St. Louis Cardinals
Izzy Goldstein Odessa, Russian Federation 1932 Detroit Tigers
Victor Cole Leningrad, Russian Federation 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates

 

 

 

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

A Revised All-Samoan Lineup


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Isiah Kiner-Falefa with the Frisco RoughRiders in 2017. Photo by Th3TruthPhotos via Wikipedia.

Recently, a kind reader identified another player of Samoan descent for my “All-Samoan Lineup” that I put together a little over a year ago. The latest member of the lineup: Isiah Kiner-Falefa, infielder and catcher with the Texas Rangers.

Kiner-Falefa was born on March 23, 1995, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 2013 draft and started his professional career that year with the Arizona League Rangers. In 2014, he played for the Arizona Rangers, the Spokane Indians, and the Hickory Crawdads. He started the following year with the Crawdads before being promoted to the High Desert Mavericks. He was promoted again in 2016 to the Frisco RoughRiders, where he also played in 2017. In 2018, he was assigned to the triple-A Round Rock Express and made his MLB debut on April 10, 2018. In 2019, Kiner-Falefa spent time with the Rangers, the Nashville Sounds, and the Frisco Rough Riders.

The other Samoan players are/were:

  • Tony Solaita – (1/15/1947 – 2/10/1990), 1B; the first (and only) baseball player from American Samoa
  • Benny Agbayani, LF
  • Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B, OF, and 1B
  • Chris Aguila, OF
  • Mike Fetters, Pitcher
  • Wes Littleton, Pitcher
  • Sean Manaea, Pitcher

Hopefully, there will be more players to add in the future! Let me know if you know of any more!

~ baseballrebecca