Clay Bryant – The Alabaman From Virginia

When a ballplayer’s career in the majors is brief – just a game or two – he is said to have had just “a cup of coffee” in the big leagues.

So, if your time in the town where you were born was brief, does it become your “cup of coffee” hometown?

Clay Bryant had more than a “cup of coffee” with the Chicago Cubs.

clay-bryant-chicago-cubs

The right-handed fastball pitcher spent about six seasons with the Cubs – from 1935 through 1940 – including their pennant-winning and World Series-losing 1938 season.

It’s his birthplace that’s the cup of coffee in this story.

Bryant was born in 1911 in Madison Heights, Virginia.

madison-heights-virginia

He wasn’t there long. Maybe a year – or a couple of years at most – before the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where his father found work as a pipe fitter. And, that’s where they stayed.

But, being born in Virginia, cup of coffee or not, gets you on my Virginia-Born Project list, even if everyone in baseball forever knows you as “the big, curly-headed kid from Alabama.”

Bryant dropped out of high school when he was 16, and left Birmingham to work his way through the minors. He was called up and played a few games for the Cubs in 1935, and settled there in 1936, where he played until his arm finally gave out in 1940.

Cubs fans who know their history remember Bryant for just one season – 1938.

Toward the end of August, with just a couple weeks left in the ’38 season, the Cubs were stuck in 4th place, nine games out of first. They were so far out of the running that the Pittsburgh Pirates had already begun printing tickets and making arrangements for their trip to the World Series.

Out of nowhere – and behind the pitching of their ace Bill Lee, Bryant, and Dizzy Dean – the Cubs rallied. They went 19-3-1 in September and captured the pennant.

Bryant, in a radio broadcast, told Cubs fans: “We showed you we could come through in a pinch, didn’t we? Now watch us take the Yanks apart.” (New York Times, 10/2/1938)

1938-world-series-program-yankees-vs-cubs

You don’t have to know much about baseball to know that the Cubs didn’t take the Yanks apart. They were swept by the Yankees, who were huge favorites and are still considered one of the best teams ever.

Everyone knew that Chicago’s arms were tired from the pennant chase. When pressed, player-manager Gabby Hartnett insisted they’d be fine. “All they need is a good sleep, a couple of steaks under their belts and some batters to stand up in front of ’em,” he told reporters.

After two losses at Wrigley, Bryant started Game 3 of the Series in New York. He didn’t give up a hit until, with two out in the 5th, he gave up a home run to Yankees infielder Joe Gordon.  He gave up one more run before getting out of the inning. Then, with one-out and bases loaded in the 6th, it was Gordon again, this time singling in two runs.

Bryant went 5-1/3, giving up 4 earned runs. The Cubs lost 5-2.

cubs-yankees-game-3-october-8-1938

“Clay [pitched] his arm off and his heart out,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the next morning.

Strangely, I can find the complete radio broadcasts of Games 1, 2, and 4 online, video even of Bill Lee and Dizzy Dean. But, no Game 3. No Clay Bryant. Nothing.

Bryant went 19-11 in 1938, and his 3.10 ERA was 11th-best in the National League. He led the NL in strikeouts with 135. (He also led the NL in walks with 125.) He came in 15th in MVP voting.

Here’s rare home-movie footage of a 1938 Cubs game. (Dear Youngster, home movies are like cell phone videos, only the camera is bulky and you have to pretend you can hear sound.) I can tell you nothing about this game except that Cubs fans sure liked cigars.

 

A bad shoulder, a never-quite-healed-right fractured elbow in the minors, and bouts with a dead arm made Bryant’s seasons in Chicago spotty.  His 40 games and 270 innings* pitched in 1938 may have carried the Cubs to the World Series, but it did his arm no favors. By 1941, not yet 30, Bryant’s major league career was over.

* That’s 40 innings more than David Price’s MLB-leading 230 innings pitched in 2016.

Bryant settled in the minors, becoming a successful minor league manager, mostly in the Dodgers and Indians farm systems, until his retirement in 1974.

Bryant, managing the minor league Los Angeles Angels in 1957, poses with Betty White as a promo for her television series A Date With The Angels.

Bryant and his wife had settled in Zanesville, Ohio during his career, and they retired to Florida. He died there in 1999 at the age of 87.

And, the hometown listed in the obituaries that ran on sports pages around the country?

clay-bryant-obituary-chicago-tribune-4-10-1999

Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1999

“A native of Birmingham, Alabama.”

(You can read a much more detailed bio of Bryant here.)

He may not have ever called it “home,” but Madison Heights, Virginia was where Bryant was born – despite what his obituary tells you – so that’s where we went.

Madison Heights today is a city of about 11,000.

It isn’t much of its own thing anymore. Instead, it presses so hard up against Lynchburg, its nearest neighbor, that you can’t really tell where Lynchburg stops and Madison Heights starts.

We were there just long enough to follow the GPS to a spooky part of town where we found a rundown ball field partly under water.

Every city has its own version of Madison Heights – it’s that place that time has absorbed until it’s become the outskirts of another place and not really its own place anymore. It’s a highway lined by old businesses, fast food places, dollar stores, and Jiffy Lubes.

Sort of forgettable.

Except for Biscuitville.

biscuitville

I’d never heard of Biscuitville. It’s a North Carolina chain that has a few scattered locations in Virginia – the northern-most one is in Madison Heights.

It’s a fast food joint. That’s all.

biscuitville-logo

I just like the name. Biscuitville.

I could live in a place called Biscuitville.

When I was small, my parents and I would go out to breakfast every Sunday after Mass. It was a place in Modesto, California called the Sundial.

sundial-in-modesto

It was the restaurant in Modesto back then. Errol Flynn, Emperor Haile Selassie, and Vida Blue all ate there at one time (presumably not together).

But, they didn’t eat there every Sunday like we did. The Sundial made biscuits which they served occasionally with their omelets and such. I didn’t want an omelet. I just wanted biscuits. So every Sunday, even though it wasn’t on the menu, the staff filled a basket with hot biscuits, and served it to me. Just me. I was the only person who got a basket of biscuits for breakfast at the Sundial. (I’m sure if Vida Blue had asked they might have made an exception for him.)

I know what you’re asking. How was Biscuitville? I don’t know. Biscuitville should be a place that only serves biscuits. With a side of butter, or maybe jelly. Possibly gravy, but let’s not get all crazy.

In the case of Biscuitville, they cover every single one of their biscuits in meat. Chicken, catfish, barbeque, and something called the Cackalacky Chop which is pork marinated in, hang on, Cheerwine.  (If you don’t know Cheerwine, it’s a Southern thing … think, cherry cola with more cherry than you think proper.)

So, yeh, Biscuitville was a tease. They might as well put a big neon sign out front that said MEATVILLE.

But, I could still live in a place called Biscuitville.

 

And, here’s one more look at the ’38 Cubs …

 

For more on The Virginia-Born Baseball Project visit here.

Stevie. BFF.

It’s really no surprise that the first national recognition I ever received on this blog was for a post that also included the first photo of our cat Stevie.

Stevie Dew

 Stevie, in 2012, illustrating how Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) can come in different forms.

She was a stray, not-quite-feral cat who turned up in our barn five years ago and quickly moved in.

stevie votes

The second time my blog received national recognition, there was Stevie again. This time, in 2013, showing how cheaters have manipulated All-Star Game balloting. 

I had not only a friend, but an excellent Baseball Bloggess co-pilot.

She came along as I read War & Peace a few off-seasons ago …

Stevie Reads War And Peace

She wrongly picked the Atlanta Braves to win the 2015 World Series …

stevie says 2015

She complained about the very few cats featured in the annual Baltimore Orioles “Pet” calendar … Stevie & Jim Johnson

And, sometimes she was plunked into a post for no reason, other than she was just so damn cute …

stevie relaxing

She was one of the sweetest, friendliest, purringest cats I’ve ever known. (And, I’ve known a lot of cats.)

She was my BFF.

She got along with the other cats in the house. She was a “no drama” kitty.

She didn’t mind people and wasn’t one of those run-and-hide-in-the-box-springs cats when strangers walked in.

She got sick a couple days ago, although it was hard to tell because she kept purring and carrying on with her regular routine. She slept every night right next to my head. Just like always. She purred.

But, her favorite thing in the world was a meal (she was pretty starved when she turned up at our house those years ago, so it was no wonder that she delighted in a bowl of food more than anything else).  And, when she stopped eating we knew that something was wrong.

It was. And, yesterday we had to say goodbye.

Someone once commented on one of my posts that I should change the name of my blog from The Baseball Bloggess to something more general, so I could write about other things.

They didn’t understand. The Baseball Bloggess can write about whatever she wants.

And, today she wants to write about Stevie.

BFF.

stevie-in-the-box

 

Tinker, Evers, the 1908 Cubs, & Why Am I Writing About Politics On Here?

These are the saddest of possible words:

“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,

Tinker and Evers and Chance.

Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,

Making a Giant hit into a double –

Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:

“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

~ Franklin Pierce Adams, New York Evening Mail, 1910

In 1908, it was the infield of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance – shortstop, second base, first base – who helped carry their Chicago Cubs to a World Series victory.

tinker evers chance

They weren’t the greatest double-play makers in history, but they sure make a good poem, don’t they?

And, they helped lead those 1908 Cubs to the Series.

You know what happens next. It takes 108 years before the Cubs win another World Series. Which they did just two weeks ago.

Which is what I should be writing about. Because Chicago put on a celebration that was beautiful and exciting and embraced us all.

 

But, that’s not what this is about.

I often tell my friends that part of my love of baseball is how it – and its long, rich history – reflect us. Both good and bad. Our society, our culture.  Who we are. Baseball is us.

Until this week.

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“No Baseball Beyond This Point”

no-baseball-beyond-this-point

© The Baseball Bloggess

Baseball is over.

The World Series went seven exciting games, which is as much baseball as one can have. A World Series only promises you four games, so to have the Series go the full seven – and an extra inning last night to boot! – is like taking two brownies from the buffet table. Sure, you know you were only supposed to take one, but the second one was so delicious.

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs who won their first World Series since 1908. It took a rain delay and an extra inning, but Cubs fans, no more sad-faces from you, you’re winners now.

And, chin up, Cleveland. You gave it your best.

(The Orioles haven’t been to a World Series in 33 years.)

your-stats-are-booming

And, thank you, Mother Nature for raining on Cleveland at midnight slowing down Game 7 even more. Baseball fans were exhausted, but a bunch of them were also reading my post from earlier this season that explained how long baseball rain delays last. (Short answer: Until it stops raining.)

So, now what? The brownies are gone and what are you going to do with yourself until baseball comes around again?

(Oh, I know, you freakish baseball nerds … the off-season calendar is loaded with stuff. Free agency and qualifying offers and the Rule 5 Draft and GM Meetings and the Winter Meetings and the awards, from Gold Gloves to Cy Youngs to MVPs. But, you know that’s not baseball. That’s just stuff.)

It’s only been a few hours. I miss baseball already.

(And, brownies. I could really use a brownie right now.)

(And, a good strong cup of coffee.)

Photo: 2016. © The Baseball Bloggess

Cubs vs Indians. Choosing The Right World Series Team For You.

world-series-2016

I’m going to have to watch someone play baseball this week. And, so are you. Let’s figure out which World Series team to root for.

The Chicago Cubs last won a World Series in 1908. The Cleveland Indians last won a World Series in 1948.

There’s a certain comfort in being able to shake your head at the end of a losing season and say, “Well, we always lose, that’s what we do.” Fans start to hang on to this excuse like a crutch. It becomes the excuse for every misplay, every error, every loss.

Just to be clear, Cubs and Indians fans, that ends today. No more are you “long-suffering.” You’re now winners. Enjoy the pressure that goes along with that.

A lot of thinking goes into choosing a World Series team to root for. Not by me, of course, but by other people.

You could spend hours poring over ERAs, WARs, FIPs, and Batting Averages.

You could.

You could study baseball stats and figures for the next seven hours and come out convinced that the Washington Nationals will beat the Red Sox in six.

Yup, and where does that put you? Back at square one.

Let’s look at more important things.

When choosing between the Cubs and Indians, here are some facts that may help you choose the best team for your needs.

First, let’s look at 1908, the last year the Cubs won the World Series, and 1948, the last year the Indians won.

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All Baseball Is Local.

Most of the world doesn’t have a team playing so late into baseball’s hallowed October post-season.

Los Angeles and Chicago do. Cleveland, too.

And, Toronto. (Even though we all know that no one likes baseball in Canada. And, yes, I’m still steamed about the fan who threw his beer at Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim earlier this month … and the other fan who threw his beer at Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth in 2013. Dear Canada, I don’t forget.)

But, that’s it. Dodgers, Cubs, Indians, Blue Jays.

The rest of us must find the local in our October baseball elsewhere.

Each fall, college baseball teams around the country hold “Fall Ball” seasons or “World Series” intra-squad competitions. It keeps veteran players sharp and gives freshmen a chance to show that they can play at the college level.  And, it gives the rest of us something to do until Spring Training rolls around.

The University of Virginia (UVA) Cavaliers are holding their seven-game Orange vs. Blue World Series this month.

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UVA’s Jake McCarthy, Team Orange, considering a steal. UVA’s Justin Novak, Team Blue, waits at short. Or, as Editor/Husband describes the Orange vs. Blue series: “Brother against Brother.”

The games are free and while the stands aren’t packed, you’ll find baseball fans, assorted scouts with radar guns, and the player’s parents, who often sit together and watch with the deep and seasoned concentration of loving moms and dads who have been watching from the sidelines since their sons were in tee-ball.

The games can be surreal. It’s hard to cobble together two full squads from just one team, so one team here plays without a DH or a 9th batter. There’s a “Designated Runner” who’s been sent in to run for a batter who can hit, but because of injury hasn’t been cleared to run. Games can go seven innings or eight … or less or more … depending on the time, the day, or the whims of the coaches. Games can end in a tie.

It is a game. But, the rules of the games get blurry sometimes.

haseley-first-pitch-of-fall-season-uva-2016

Outfielder/Pitcher Adam Haseley swings at the first pitch of the 2016 UVA Fall Ball Season. The 4 p.m. shadows creep over the infield and batter’s box much earlier, quicker, and thicker than in the spring.

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Team Orange’s Jack Weiller waits on second while Team Blue talks strategy on the mound.

The UVA Orange team has won two games and one game ended in a tie for those of you who keep track of those sorts of things. They play again on Friday.

At a time when the world – and our nation – seems so divided, angry, and divisive isn’t it nice to be able to root for everyone?

Because when your home team is playing your home team, all you can do is cheer.

And, you can’t get more local than that.

Photos: University of Virginia Orange vs. Blue “World Series”, Davenport Field. Charlottesville, Virginia. October 2016. © The Baseball Bloggess

In response to WordPress’s Weekly Photo Challenge “Local”. See lots more photos from this challenge here.

 

Garland Shifflett — The Pitcher From Elkton

Elkton, Virginia is the halfway point between where you are now and where you want to be.

elkton-virginia

It is snugged tight between the Blue Ridge Mountains on its east side and the Massanutten Mountains on its west side.

It is halfway between here … and there.

It’s an anonymous town. The town you pass through, but where you never stop unless you need gas, a snack, or a bathroom.

All my friends around here tell me they’ve been to Elkton. But, when pressed, I discover they mean they’ve been through Elkton, or driven past Elkton, or they’ve stopped out on the highway at the Dairy Queen, but they’ve never actually been to it.

Garland Shifflett, who pitched in the majors, but mostly the minors, from the 1950s into the 1970s, was born in Elkton in 1935.

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The Los Angeles Times once profiled him on their front page.

His major league career was brief, just 16 games. A few games in 1957, a few more in 1964. But, his minor league career, over 16 seasons, was much longer and richer.

But, there he is on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in the spring of 1972. Next to stories about the Hanoi Offensive, an indicted New Jersey Congressman, and President Nixon’s doctor’s enthusiasm for acupuncture.

Top of the fold. A story about Garland Shifflett and his long career in the minors.

anonymous-man-los-angeles-times-4-12-1972

“Anonymous Man.”

A front-page profile in the Los Angeles Times about a player I didn’t know should have made this story simple. Instead, it has bothered me for a couple weeks now. Ever since I found it and ever since we made our visit to Elkton.

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The Better Business Bureau Made Me Mad

It was a prim and stern woman’s voice on my office voice mail yesterday.

“Yesssss. [pregnant pause] This is the Better Business Bureau.  My name is [  ]. This message is for the owner of the company. Please return my call. My direct line is [  ]. I will be in my office until 4:30 p.m.” ((Click))

There was no “thank you.” No “goodbye.” No reason why this unfriendly person at the Better Business Bureau was calling me.

I’m just a one-person office. The “owner of the company” is me. The massage therapist and Yoga teacher is me. The bookkeeper and laundry washer and taxpayer and phone answerer and toilet paper buyer and Yoga mat roller and vacuum cleaner emptier and the one who carefully picks the ladybugs off of the office window and brings them outside to freedom? All me.

Did someone complain about me to the Better Business Bureau? Why else would they be calling?

Did I forget an appointment? Is someone upset that we did too many Down Dogs in class last week? (We didn’t, honest!)

Of course, I called them back. If someone was going to complain that the table warmer wasn’t warm enough during their last massage, I wanted the opportunity to explain.

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The Orioles Lose & The Dogs Won’t Stop Barking

My neighbors have dogs.

Not just a couple cute, shaggy, tail-wagging mutts from the local pound, but a kennel filled with hunting dogs.  Loud, hungry, and annoying dogs who start barking at about 5 each morning.

We live on a farm and by “neighbors,” I mean the people who live about a half-mile away through an old field that has too steep a drop to a creek bed to ever be a real pasture. (To reach these neighbors by road, you would have to drive out to the main road, take a right, and then another right, and then another right. By road, they are about five miles away. But, through the field, they’re much closer.)

I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure there are about 63 rabid wolf-hounds in that kennel and they haven’t eaten in days. They would probably chew your arm off if you got too close.

They don’t bark all the time, but when they do, they all do. They’re loud and their noisy discontent travels through the pasture like a storm cloud that opens up right over our house.

Some days they are louder than others. Like right now.

 

Last night in the AL Wild Card game, the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that no one loves from the country that doesn’t even like baseball.

They lost in the 11th on a three-run homer.

The Orioles season is over.

Those damn dogs are rattling the walls of our house right now.

Sometimes on the weekends when the dogs are especially depraved and hungry, you can hear the dude over there yell at them.  “SHUT UP!  SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”  There is momentary silence and then the barking gets even louder.  Every single time. He yells at the dogs and they just start barking louder.  If I’m sitting on the porch, I’ll sometimes look over at Hell Hound House and say – just a little louder than the last time – “Yeh, dude, that’s still not working.”

The Orioles made some mistakes last night. Their bats were cold and, sure, O’s fans will spend the next five months second-guessing the decision by Manager Buck Showalter not to bring in their Cy Young-deserving closer Zach Britton, who, we are 100 percent certain, would not have given up a three-run homer in the bottom of the 11th to the Blue Jays (a team that, I think I’ve mentioned, no one even likes).

Oh, wait … the dogs just stopped barking. Just like that, it’s quiet again.

But, my heart is still going to be sad for awhile.

 

My Experts Are Way Better Than Your Experts

Last April, I asked several non-baseball “experts” to predict the post-season. To be one of my experts, the bar was set pretty high (or low depending upon which direction you’re looking). You simply needed to not know anything about baseball and not be a fan.

That April post is here: My Experts Predict the 2016 World Series

When one of my experts complained that he didn’t understand why the NEW YORK Giants were in the NL West, and I had to explain that the New York Giants played football, which is an entirely different sport, I had just the crack team of unpaid, uncaring experts that would make my predictions perfect.

When some of “my team” insisted that not only did they not know anything about baseball, but that they actively “hated” the sport, I knew I’d done well.

As the regular season came to a close yesterday, I want to commend my team of experts, because, quite frankly, they were often spot-on better than the paid baseball “experts” on TV, and on blogs, and in Twitter-ville.

Not to brag, but my guys are way better than your guys.

Who had the Red Sox winning the AL East?

Did you? Of course, you didn’t.

But, Clinton did.

Clinton picks the Red Sox

Who had the Orioles in the Wild Card?

You didn’t. (I knew you were wrong about that, but you were being stubborn.)

Hats off to Lindsey. She knew.  (So did I.)

Lindsey and Sarah pick the Wild Cards

(Lindsey’s daughter Sarah had the Braves in the Wild Card, which is sort of sweet. Wrong, but sort of sweet.)

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