Nick Altrock was arguably one of the best southpaws in baseball at one time, but a love for malt liquor, and a happy-go-lucky attitude, contributed to his increasing ineffectiveness. Several years after being the hero of the World Series, he found himself struggling in the Minors.
Clark Griffith, owner/Manager of the Washington Senators, picked up his contract, but Altrock was ensconced deep in the rotation. On one occasion, the Senators were getting pummeled by the Indians, and Griffith turned to his newest acquisition and said, “What good are you?”
Nick replied, “I’m the king’s jester.” Then he asked, “Do you really want to win this game?”
Griffith said, “With your pitching I suppose?”
Altrock said, “No. With my coaching. Just let me coach first base and see what happens.” A puzzled Griffith reluctantly allowed Altrock his request. After a few pitches, Griffith turned to first base, and observed Altrock writhing on the ground, performing a pantomime of a player who had spiked himself with his own shoe. The Cleveland hurler, Vean Gregg, laughed so hard that he completely lost his focus, grooving strikes right over the plate. The Senators began stroking the ball, and slowly putting some runs on the board. Altrock then started wrestling with himself, finally pinning himself for a victory. Finally, the home plate umpire, Silk O’Laughlin, himself laughing uncontrollably, ordered Altrock to cease and desist. Several days later, American League President Ban Johnson observed Altrock’s antics, and decided to allow him to continue in a brand new capacity. And with that, a new career was born — Johnson appointed Altrock as the “Clown Prince of Baseball.” Altrock continued to perform as court jester, along with his side-kick, Al Schact, for many years. He never missed a game. In fact, he performed in more consecutive games than Cal Ripken.
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According to legend, Philadelphia Athletic scout Home Run Baker was roaming the Maryland Backwoods one day in search of prospects. He got lost, and stopped to ask directions of a boy walking a plow behind a mule. “Where’s the nearest town?” asked Baker. “Over that way, “said Jimmie Foxx, and pointed – with his plow! Baker said: “Hey, you don’t happen to play baseball, do you?”
In 1937, Foxx, whose nickname was “The Beast”, hit a ball into the third deck of the left-field stands at Yankee Stadium, a very rare feat because of the distance and the angle of the stands. The ball was hit with such savagery that it broke a seat in the next to last row just to the left of the bullpen area. Lefty Gomez, the pitcher who gave up the blast, later said of Foxx that “He has muscles in his hair.”
In 1932, Double X hit 58 home runs, two shy of the mark set by the Great Bambino five years earlier. The next season, he won the Triple Crown. He was certain that this effort would garner him a considerable increase in salary. However, when he received his contract offer in the mail, he discovered that he was being offered a decrease in salary. When an irate Foxx questioned Connie Mack, the owner of the A’s, why his income was being decreased, Mack stated that his power had decreased, as his home run total had dropped to 48.
Foxx fought a losing battle with John Barleycorn throughout most of his adult life. The Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan in the movie A League of Their Own was largely based on Foxx, (with typical Hollywood liberties) who coached the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. At the age of 59, Foxx had a tragic death, choking on a piece of meat.
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In a prior article I wrote for Razzball, a commenter suggested that I write a piece about Steve Lyons. So, for my anonymous fan, here is a snippet of one of the more idiosyncratic players of the last 24 years.
Lyons was a poor man’s version of Dustin Pedroia, a Sparky Anklebiter with an eccentric streak. Although he spent a career as a utility player, he was known for his hustling, gutsy, impetuous, and at times madcap style of play. Whenever he made the last out of the inning, he would throw a tantrum on the field. On one occasion, Lyons slid safely into first base. In front of a national television audience, Lyons preceded to unbuckle his pants and pull them down to his ankles in order to remove the dust and grime from his uniform. It was this type of behavior which inspired Red Sox teammate Marc Sullivan to give him the moniker of “Psycho.”
During one game, a fan began razzing Lyons while he was waiting to bat in the on-deck circle. Lyons paid no attention to the taunting until the fan threw a pretzel at him. Lyons turned to look at the fan, picked up the pretzel, and began eating it.
Lyons also liked to play in the dirt. He would use his spikes to leave messages for opposing players in the infield –”What’s new?” “Can you get to a ball way out here?” — or carve games like hangman and tic-tac-toe in the dirt behind first or second base hoping his opponents would play along. “Only two guys wouldn’t play with me,” Lyons once recalled. “Fred McGriff and a guy from Baltimore whose name I can’t remember.”
Lyons didn’t shy away from the episode that cemented his reputation. After pulling his pants down in 1990, the Steve Lyons Fan Club was born. It was affectionately called The Psycho Ward. Oh yeah, did Lyons ever think about why he pulled his pants down that night? “Brain cramp,” he replied.