Billy-Ball Daily: 2007-9-12

Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Top of the 1st
Sam Mellinger wrote a terrific article in this past Sunday’s Kansas City Star about the complex relationship the Yankees have had with the teams based in Kansas City. There was a time in which Kansas City was the Yankees’ top minor-league affiliate as Mellinger aptly writes, “first in the traditional sense, and then in something closer to collusion.”

Lou Gehrig played his final game in Kansas City, Yogi Berra’s last home run came against Kansas City, and Babe Ruth barnstormed against the Negro League Monarchs.
Hall of Famer Casey Stengel is from Kansas City, Roger Maris longed for his simpler life in Kansas City. Dick Howser and Charley Lau, coached or managed for both the Royals and the Yankees. Phil Rizzuto played for the minor league 1939 Kansas City Blues who ended up with an astounding record of 107 wins and just 47 losses.

When Kansas City acquired the A’s from Philadelphia in 1955, most of the front office came from the Yankee organization. There are many who would say that they never stopped working for New York. From 1955-59, the A’s made 29 trades — 12 of them with the Yankees (see Top of the 3rd for players who played in KC and NY). So many deals were made that the major league Kansas City A’s were still regarded as the Yanks farm club. Mellinger quotes baseball’s official historian Jerome Holtzman, “It was a bad thing for baseball. You shouldn’t have one team constantly funneling its best players to one team.”

The deal that created the most ire was made on December 11, 1959 when New York sent Don Larsen, Hank Bauer, Norm Siebern, and Marv Throneberry to the Athletics for Joe DeMaestri, Kent Hadley, and…Roger Maris. In 1960, the season after the Maris trade, average attendance for the A’s was below 10,000 — a 45 percent drop since the team arrived just five years before.

In his article Mellinger quotes Marty Appel, a Yankees historian who used to do PR for the club. I contacted Marty and he pointed out that other than the omission of Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, the article was “perfect.” The name “Suitcase Simpson” was familiar to me, and a favorite name of Marty’s, but I knew very little about him other than he was an outfielder.

It turns out that Simpson was one of the early black ballplayers in the American League. He began his baseball career in the Negro Leagues as a member of the Philadelphia Stars, where he was a teammate of Satchel Paige (1946-48) after having been scouted by Eddie Gottlieb (a founder of the National Basketball Association) and Abe Saperstein (founder, owner, and coach of the Harlem Globetrotters).

After three years with the Stars, Simpson was able to enter organized baseball and in 1949 led the Eastern League in home runs, RBI and runs scored. The following year playing for the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League, he led the league in triples and RBI.

In 1951, he made it to the Cleveland Indians as a 25-year old rookie. He hit only .229. He did a bit better the following season as a regular hitting .266, with 21 doubles, 10 triples and 10 home runs. Simpson’s highlight that season was on April 26, when he broke up the Detroit Tigers’ Art Houtteman’s no-hit bid with two-outs in the 9th.

After he got off to a poor start the following season he went back to the minors playing the 1954 season with the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association. That winter he played with Mariano in the Cuban League and in spite of struggling, his contract was purchased by the Kansas City A’s on May 11, 1955 and he hit an even .300 for the year. In 1956, he led the AL in triples and was the Athletics representative on the All-Star team. In the 1956 All Star game, he pinch hit and struck out. In June, he homered over the right field wall of Municipal Stadium in Kansas City and on to Brooklyn Avenue. It was the first of only two home runs to ever be hit on to that street. The second came nine years later when Larry Stahl did it again in 1965. 1956 was Simpson’s best year, hitting .293 with 105 RBI’s and 21 homers.

He started the 1957 season hitting .293 for the A’s and that was good enough for him to be included in a trade to the Yankees on June 15, 1957 with Ryne Duren and Jim Pisoni for Billy Martin, Ralph Terry, Woodie Held and Bob Marty as the Yankees broke Martin’s heart for his involvement in the Copacabana episode along with The Mick, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer, et al. In the 1957 World Series against the Milwaukee Braves, he played in 5 games and was 1 for 12 with 4 strikeouts.

After exactly one year, t the trading deadline of June 15, 1958, he was traded by the first place Yankees, along with Bob Grim back to last-place Kansas City for Duke Maas and Virgil Trucks. The trade was announced in the middle of a Yankees game with the Detroit Tigers but when the Yankees ran out of players, this new Athletic was sent up as a pinch hitter. He didn’t stay too long in Kansas City this time either. On May 2, 1959 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Ray Boone. That didn’t last long either, although he made an important contribution to Sox appearance in the World Series that season. By being traded on August 25 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the White Sox were able to acquire big Ted Kluszewski who hit .297 during the season and .391 in the World Series against the Dodgers.

On October 13, 1959, he was re-purchased by the White Sox from the Pirates, but never played for them. His final major league game was on September 27 1959, batting second in the lineup, followed by Roberto Clemente. In his last at bat he grounded out to second against Bob Purkey of the Reds. In his previous at bat he got his final hit, a single off of Joe Nuxhall. Overall in the majors, he had 752 hits, 343 runs, 101 doubles, 41 triples, 73 home runs, 381 RBI, 17 stolen bases with a .266 lifetime average in 888 games.

But the 33-year old was not finished playing baseball. He ended up with San Diego for the 1960 and 1961 seasons and in 1962 he hit .279 with 19 home runs for Indianapolis. In 1963 and 1964 he hit .334 and .306 with 21 and 14 homers for the Mexico City Red Devils, ending his baseball career at age 38.

Finally, you may have figured out by now how Harry got his nickname of “Suitcase.” A popular comic strip in the first half of the 20th century was Toonerville Trolley featuring the characters Mickey McGuire, Powerful Katrinka, the Terrible Tempered Mr. Bang, Aunt Eppie Hog, and yes, Suitcase Simpson who had feet the size of suitcases. While Harry had normal size feet, the fact that he played for 17 different Negro, Major and Minor League teams during his professional career made him a natural for the nickname.

There you go, Marty.

Top of the 2nd
As we hurry to the end of the season, we rush to judgment:

If the season ended today:
The Yankees would play at the Angels
The Indians would play the Red Sox
The Brewers would play at the Diamondbacks
The Padres would play at the Mets

* Tampa Bay blew a seven-run fourth-inning lead as the Red Sox unleashed a 20-hit attack against six different pitchers, coming back for a 16-10 win over the Rays (61-84) at Fenway. Tim Wakefield, who remains 19-2 against Tampa Bay, was charged with seven runs on 10 hits. Two runs came off inherited runners who scored when Carlos Pena hit his Rays-high 39th homer, a three-run shot off Kyle Snyder to give Tampa Bay an 8-1 lead. The Rays 18 hits would tie a team record for a loss. Every Red Sox starter had a hit. Eight had multiple hits. All but one, catcher Kevin Cash, scored a run. Between the 4th and 6th innings, the Red Sox put 17 runners on base. Fourteen of them scored. Mike Lowell had four hits and Kevin Youkilis hit a bases-loaded triple during a six-run sixth inning as the Red Sox rallied from an 8-1 deficit for their biggest comeback victory since 2000. David Ortiz, J.D. Drew (!!!!!), Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia homered for Boston, which set a season high for runs
* The Red Sox this season are 28-20 in series openers and 29-17 series finales
* Ortiz won’t come close to the franchise-record 54 home runs he hit last season, but he’s one shy of his fifth straight 30-homer season, achieved only by Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx and Ram