Trying Not to Go Batty Over Matt Batts

I own more than one Bill Nowlin baseball title. He’s one of SABR’s finest researchers and interviewers. Enjoy his profile of Matt Batts on the SABR website here.

Nowlin got Batts to move beyond complaining about the Browns record in 1951. The catcher enjoyed hitting .300 there. Plus, Batts seemed to savor the team of characters, from Bill Veeck and Satchel Paige to Eddie Gaedel.

I tip my cap to my insightful wife for that educated guess on Batts’ cryptic autograph. Thankfully, Batts didn’t write, “Rosebud.”

Seeking the Secret of Matt Batts, Circa 1951

Matt’s Favorite Year. Why?

Catcher Matt Batts threw me a curve!

I sent him three questions, along with a sheet to reply. All he signed was…

Matt Batts
1951

The records aren’t helping. The Red Sox shipped him to the St. Louis Browns in 1951.

Batts led the American League in errors AND passed balls in 1951.

Offensively, he had more homers and RBI in other seasons. Batts debuted in 1947. Detroit used him as a starter in 1953.

Why 1951? I’d welcome any suggestions, please. To quote my baseball-wise wife:

Think outside the box SCORE!

Batts was a World War II vet. What was going on in his off-the-field life in 1951?

Boston Pitcher Frank Baumann Still Dreams of Being a St. Louis Hometown Hero

Pitcher Frank Baumann grew up in St. Louis. Although he hurled for the Red Sox, White Sox and Cubs, I wondered if he hoped to work for his hometown team. He wrote:

“I had the chance and am sorry I didn’t sign with them.”

I read about Baumann’s seven-hit win against the Tigers in 1961. Baumann banged out three hits and three RBI to help his own cause. Based on his batsmanship, might he have strong feelings about the designated hitter rule?

“I DON’T LIKE IT.”

Talk about heartbreak! On July 13, 1961, Baumann threw 6.1 innings of scoreless relief against the Yankees, adding his second homer of the year. The team’s loss overshadowed his day, bailing out future Hall of Famer Early Wynn. What stands out from that day?

“The home run with Sherm Lollar.”

You’ve got to love http://www.retrosheet.org/. They were the source of unraveling this mystery. Baumann was referring to the home run HE hit. However, the pitcher’s blast was back-to-back after his batterymate, following Sherm Lollar’s no-out homer to lead off the fifth inning against Bill Stafford. It’s easy to imagine the glee on the White Sox bench, seeing the #8 hitter then their pitcher break the Yankee shutout with two unlikely dingers.

Baumann (whose name has been misspelled with just one N on some hobby websites — be careful when sending your fan mail) summed up his career succinctly:

“I loved it and wish I was still in some place with it.”

In other words, Baumann, like yesterday’s featured Ernie Fazio, misses being a part of the game. A team’s speaker’s bureau? A card show guest signer? These men still have stories to tell. Someone needs to tap into this wealth of living history.

What Did Willie Mays and Ernie Fazio Share?

Ernie Fazio is remembered as a steady infielder of the 1960s. However, on August 18, 1963, he shared the same path of a future Hall of Famer.

 “I will never forget my first major league home run off Warren Spahn. It was a great thrill and an accomplishment by another great ballplayer, Willie Mays.”

(Thanks to the fine folks at http://www.retrosheet.org/, you can remember Fazio’s historic dinger here!)

In a sense, Fazio began the Houston franchise. The team signed Fazio first, hours before they made a deal with Rusty Staub. I asked Fazio about a seldom-mentioned topic in the pre-Astrodome days.

“The humidity and mosquitoes in Houston in 1962 was unbearable. The mosquitoes ate you alive. what I did try was to eat a lot of peanut butter to keep the mosquitoes away. It helped a little. Johnny temple supplied the peanut butter.”

Just as Curt Flood stood up for free agency, Fazio is on the front line in the battle for pension rights. He’s one of the slighted major leaguers who, prior to 1980, needed four full seasons to qualify for a pension. Baseball signed a new contract granting pensions to anyone with only 43 days of service, but never provided retroactive acknowledgement of the hundreds who deserved the same benefit from seasons past.

“As for the pension plan, I still represent about 1,000 players who played in the major leagues but are not vested in the pension. We are finally making some progress. It is not about money. We are part of history.”

Despite baseball’s unwillingness to recognize Fazio’s service, he harbors no bitterness.

“Baseball was great. I do not think I was ready for the big leagues, going straight from college and playing against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a matter of five days. I wish I was still connected to baseball in some way. The pension is a problem. But I would not change anything. I love the game and always will.”

Playing in Houston and Kansas City, Fazio flew under the radar of most baseball media. I found but one account of his Houston toiling at this fun Astros history website.

For the whole picture of the pension fight Fazio and his compatriots are waging, be sure to read Douglas Gladstone’s A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve

Yankee Frank Tepedino’s Wish for America

Frank Tepedino is a classic. The former Yankee has maintained his calligraphy-quality penmanship. His signature is even more elegant than that captured on his 1971 and 1975 Topps cards. I was dazzled by the content and presentation of his thoughts on the page.

Not known for his power, Tepedino tallied six dingers in his career. Most memorable?

 “First homer off Catfish. Always your first stands out.”

Huzzah for the http://www.retrosheet.org/ team, finders of Tepedino’s blast off Hunter, June 18, 1971.

He played his first game in 1967 at the age of 19 for the Yankees. How did he cope with the New York media circus?

“In the 1960s, coverage was nowhere like it is now. We were part of history, so we all enjoyed it.”

Tepedino joined another fabled New York team after his major league career ended. He’s worked as an NYC firefighter. The Brooklyn-born Tepedino was the ideal choice to throw out the first pitch before a playoff game. What memory lingers from that game?

“To see New York and the country stand up as one because of 9/11. I hope we still will do it as a nation.”

Tepedino has worked as a motivational speaker, serving with the group Winning Beyond Winning. He’s found new meaning in his career in later years.

“My life in baseball was great, but like life, we don’t let it sink in till later in life.”

Two worthwhile books detailing Tepedino’s service to baseball and his city would be
Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times into Home Runs
and
Yankees: Where Have You Gone?

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