Fred Kipp: An Overlooked Dodger


No wonder Fred Kipp is a member of the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame.

Signed in 1953, the left-hander won 15 games and a Tri-State ERA title his first year as a pro. Kipp missed most of 1954-55 in the Army, only to distinguish himself with a team-leading 20 wins for the 1956 Montreal Royals. His teammates included Sparky Anderson and Dick Williams, who watched Kipp snatch league Rookie of the Year honors.

After a one-game debut with the 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers, Kipp joined the team in Los Angeles. His season in the sun came in 1958, going 6-6 in 40 appearances.

Kipp had mixed feelings about the team’s Los Angeles home, the made-for-football Coliseum.

How did he feel in the “ballpark” with a left field screen just 250 feet away begging for home runs?

“I didn’t get to pitch a lot (there), due to being left-handed,” Kipp wrote. Still, his assessment of manager Walter Alston took only two words:

“Good man.”

Ironically, Kipp relished swinging the bat in Los Angeles and elsewhere. His 9-for-36 offense wasn’t typical for any pitcher.

“The first time up in the Coliseum,” Kipp remembered, “I hit one off the screen in short left-center.”

After a partial season with the 1959 Dodgers, Kipp’s big-league days ended with an abbreviated stay with the 1960 Yankees. Without the interruption for military service, without being buried in the talent-deep Dodgers farm system, the Kansas lefty’s fortunes may have been far different.

Nelson Chittum’s Three-Year Adventure

Pitcher Nelson Chittum packed a fair share of history into a three-year career.

His first pro season produced a 23-7 record and California League Rookie of the Year status in 1956. Chittum debuted with St. Louis in August, 1958.

When asked about Stan Musial, Chittum wrote:

“Stan was a great player and a very outgoing person.”

Chittum didn’t add about Musial’s penchant for forgiveness. Chittum earlier told the fantastic website www.baseball-reference.com that, upon failing to cover first base on a bunt, Musial told the young hurler, “Don’t worry about it, kid.”

Swapped to Boston in the off-season, Chittum paid immediate dividends: a 3-0 record and 1.19 ERA.

From being a teammate of a St. Louis superstar, Chittum became another supporting cast member for Ted Williams.

“Ted was also a great player and really an outgoing person only to other ballplayers,” Chittum noted. “He did not like sports writers.”
Chittum was in uniform July 21, when teammate “Pumpsie” Green ended the last chapter of baseball’s segregation. Boston became the last club to use African-American talent.

The color barrier came down after former manager Pinky Higgins vowed he’d field an all-white lineup as long as he had anything to say about it. Higgins was replaced less than a month before Green’s debut.

“I did not know how Higgins felt,” Chittum added. “Pumpsie was a really nice person.”

Three history makers in three years. Chittum remembers and appreciates them all.

Casey Stengel: The Ultimate Inscription

Letters get read!

I still remember the return envelope from Glendale, CA. He used
his own address label. Hall of Famer Casey Stengel read the letter
my brother Matt and I sent him.

“To Tom and Matt. Good luck, Ducks!”

I’m sure he offered the same encouragement before each World Series
game to his Yankees.

Ever since age 11, I’ve believed in baseball.

The humble gratitude of Fred Valentine


I wanted to share another response from my rookie year of blogging. Fred is now 85. I’m sure his humility remains healthy. If the autograph hobby ever has a Hall of Fame, I’d put Mr. V in it.

*********

A shoulder injury convinced Tennessee A&I quarterback Fred Valentine to pursue baseball.

Did he ever!

He debuted with Baltimore at age 24 in 1959. The speedy outfielder’s “cup of coffee” wasn’t served again for nearly four years. Valentine returned to Baltimore in 1963, but wouldn’t get the chance at a starting right field job until 1966. His ultimate year came as a Washington Senator, tallying 16 homers, 59 RBI, a .276 average and 22 steals.

How did he battle back from the minors? How does he view his job battle in Baltimore?

Valentine wrote:

“1. The period 1959-63, I had prayer, guts and determination. I felt I had the tools to play in the majors and I realized I had to wait my turn and opportunity. During those years there were many good ball players and few teams. I always believed in practice and good conditioning.

2. Baltimore gave me opportunity to go into pro baseball. The Orioles changed as the league changed. They always had a good farm system.

I felt Earl Weaver (a rookie skipper during Valentine’s last season)was always a good manager. He stood for perfection and supported his players.”

Even though Valentine’s Day is past, I’m glad Fred had his day. He earned it.

Witty Wally Westlake

Wally Westlake’s major league career stretched from 1947 to 1956. The 1951 All-Star pounded 127 career home runs. Beginning with some dismal Pirates teams, Westlake endured a six-year stretch with six different clubs. Obviously, he did it with a sense of humor.

As a rookie, Westlake encountered future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg in Pittsburgh at the end of his career. When Greenberg moved to the front office in Cleveland, he invested in Westlake’s potential. In Westlake’s note, he referred to Greenberg as “Big Hank, a great hitter, a fine person.”

Dealing with general manager Branch Rickey in Pittsburgh, Westlake summarized: “Rickey = tight with the money. It was all business.”

Rickey may have lobbied for Westlake to audition at third base in 1951 to increase his trade value. Westlake endured 12 errors in 34 games.

“I played third base briefly,” Westlake wrote. “I ranked among the top three = game’s worst.”

Westlake included a picture with an unforgettable notation. Being dubbed a “prime time dude” by a 1950s slugger is an honor I never would have imagined in Little League. I shall do my best to live up to the title, fellow dudes.

What’s the best autograph inscription you’ve ever gotten?

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