February 2013

Cuba and Hemingway

February 28, 1941 – The Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Giants, 4-3, in their spring training opener in Havana, Cuba. During their training in Cuba, pitcher Hugh Casey got an extra workout by “boxing” with famed writer Ernest Hemingway. Casey and pitcher Kirby Higbe went to Hemmingway’s home for dinner. Later that evening, Hemingway brought out boxing gloves and challenged Casey. The pair sparred in the house and broke two chairs and a sofa. Hemingway suggested a “duel” the following day with guns, knives or swords. Casey declined.

Henry Cruz

On this date in 1952, future Dodger outfielder Henry Cruz was born in Christiansted, Virgin Islands. Cruz grew up in Puerto Rico and made his MLB debut at age 23 with Los Angeles in 1975. He hit his first career home run on 4/25/76, the same day Rick Monday saved the American flag from burning in center field at Dodger Stadium as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Cruz is the director of the Dodgers’ Campo Las Palmas Academy in the Dominican Republic.

Ernie Harwell

February 25, 2002 – Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell announced his plans to retire after the 2002 season, his 62nd season behind the microphone. It was Harwell whose departure from the Brooklyn Dodgers after the 1949 season for the New York Giants opened the door for a Fordham University graduate named Vin Scully to be hired as the club’s No. 3 announcer. Harwell is the only broadcaster ever traded for a player. Brooklyn acquired Harwell from the minor league Atlanta Crackers during the 1948 season in exchange for catcher Cliff Dapper after the Dodgers’ Red Barber was sidelined because of a bleeding ulcer.

West Coast Option

February 21, 1957 – The Brooklyn Dodgers acquire the territorial rights to the Los Angeles market from Cubs owner Phil Wrigley, who trades his Los Angeles Angels franchise in the Pacific Coast League in exchange for the Dodgers’ Ft. Worth club in the Texas League. The Dodgers also give the Cubs an undisclosed amount of cash and the deal includes the Wrigley Field ballpark located at 42nd Place and Avalon Blvd., which the Dodger president Walter O’Malley later will use as part of a deal for the Chavez Ravine property for the future Dodger Stadium.

New League Plans

February 20, 1943 – The All-America Girls Softball League is planned by Cubs owner Philip Wrigley and Brooklyn Dodger team president Branch Rickey. The league originally was envisioned as a backup in case Major League Baseball suspended play because of World War II. After President Franklin Roosevelt encouraged MLB to keep playing because of jobs and public interest, the softball league was changed to hardball. The Chicago-based All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) operated from 1943-54.

Roberto Clemente

February 19, 1954 – The Brooklyn Dodgers sign free agent outfielder Roberto Clemente from Puerto Rico to a one-year contract for $5,000 and a $10,000 signing bonus. At age 19, Clemente batted .257 in 87 games at Triple-A Montreal. The Dodgers tried to “hide” the prospect by not playing him full time and gambled by not protecting him in the Rule 5 Draft after the season. The ploy doesn’t work and Pittsburgh President Branch Rickey drafts Clemente to begin his eventually Hall of Fame journey with the Pirates.

Havana Spring

February 14, 1941 – The Brooklyn Dodgers left New York for Cuba to begin spring training in Havana. Team president Larry MacPhail scheduled a record 50 exhibition games and the team would travel 8,000 miles by boat, plane, rail and bus. The team arranged a Pan-Am Clipper to fly the players and staff to Havana. Those opting to travel by boat could do so “at their own risk.” MacPhail said the Cuba training site was a one-year proposition and hinted he might want to train in California in 1942.

Hideo Nomo

​February 13, 1995 – The Dodgers signed free agent pitcher Hideo
, a former star with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. Nomo will become the
first player from a Japanese professional league to appear in the Majors since
San Francisco’s Masanori Murakami of the 1964-65 San Francisco
Giants. En route to winning N.L. Rookie of the Year honors in 1995, Nomo’s
success will pave the way for other Japanese stars to play in the Majors.

Steve Yeager

​February 12, 1878 – Harvard University team captain Fredrick Thayer patents the
catcher’s mask. Nearly 100 years later, a throat guard becomes standard
protection after a Dodgers game in 1976 when Steve Yeager,
standing in the on-deck circle, was struck in the throat by a piece of
Russell’s broken bat. Yeager suffered a pierced
esophagus and nine pieces of wood were removed from the area during a 98-minute
surgical procedure. L.A. trainer Bill Buhler designed a plastic
guard to hang from the catcher’s mask.

The Superbas

February 7, 1899 – A joint ownership agreement between the Brooklyn Bridegrooms and Baltimore Orioles shift several Baltimore players to Brooklyn, including manager Ned Hanlon and Willie Keeler. Two players remain in Baltimore and later become rival managers – Wilbert Robinson (Brooklyn) and John McGraw (N.Y. Giants). The new Brooklyn team is renamed the “Superbas,” which is coined from a Vaudeville group named Hanlon’s Superbas.