2009 Season

Edition No. 2

March 6, 2009




Baseball brethren:


As we put the doldrums of January and February behind us and move into the Ides of March and Spring weather, I thought I would favor you all with a short From the Bullpen.  At least, the plan is to keep it short.


          BOOK REPORT:  A False Spring, by Pat Jordan


Speaking of spring, I just finished reading an excellent baseball book, A False Spring, written by former minor league player Pat Jordan.  This book was initially published in 1973, and I have heard it mentioned over the years, but never saw it in a bookstore and never had a reason to purchase it until recently, when I saw that the University of Nebraska Press was putting out a paperback edition.  To my delight, it is a very enjoyable and easy read. 


Jordan’s book was written by him in the early 1970s, more than a decade after he washed out of the minor leagues after three ignominious seasons in the low level minors.  I didn’t know this when I bought the book, but his first season in professional baseball was for the Class D McCook Braves of the Nebraska State League.  This home state flavor made it even more interesting to read than it otherwise would have been, but the book would still be worth reading even if it was McCook, Montana, or any other small town. 


The book begins with Jordan’s recounting of having his picture taken on June 27, 1959, at County Stadium in Milwaukee, with the greatest left-hander of all-time, Warren Spahn.  Jordan was 18 years old that day and just had signed his first professional baseball contract, which was to pay him a signing bonus of $35,000, four years of college education, and a salary of $500 per month, for a total bonus of a little more than $45,000 distributed over a four-year period.  According to Jordan, it was one of the largest bonuses, if not the largest, any young ballplayer had received from the Braves in 1959.  Because of this, Jordan had the status of a “bonus baby” among his coaches and peers. 


As Jordan describes in the early part of the book, he was a childhood phenom pitcher who at age 12 regularly made the headlines in the sports section of the Bridgeport, Connecticut Post-Telegram newspaper.  Four consecutive no-hitters, a season in which he struck out 110 of the 116 batters retired and gave up only 2 hits, 36 strikeouts in a row, and so forth and so on.  After his fourth consecutive no-hitter, his parents were called by a reporter working for Ripley’s Believe it or Not.  Such a talent was Jordan at that early age that he was invited with his parents to appear on Mel Allen’s television show prior to a Yankees-Red Sox doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, where they were treated like royalty. 


After signing with the Braves, the 18-year-old Jordan was flown to North Platte, Nebraska (by himself, no escort, no helicopter parents), and then driven to McCook where his minor league career began. 


There are so many interesting tidbits and excerpts from this book that I could share with you, but I will attempt to be circumspect so that you will have a reason to actually buy and read the book yourself.


At his first game as a McCook Brave, almost 800 people came to watch the McCook Braves in their third game of the season, against their nearby rival North Platte Indians.  Over the course of that summer, the Braves averaged 700 people per game, about 10% of the town’s population.  As pointed out by Jordan, this would be comparable to the New York Yankees drawing over 700,000 to each of their games. 


The Nebraska State League in 1959 consisted of six teams, the Holdrege White Sox, the Kearney Yankees, the Hastings Giants, the North Platte Indians, the Grand Island Athletics, and the McCook Braves.  As a rookie league, the teams played games only in July and August of each year. 


The manager of the McCook Braves in 1959 was Bill Steinecke, who was a catcher in the minors for years but never made it to the major leagues.  As reported by Jordan, Steinecke also played professional basketball with the “House of David” touring team which was supposedly made up of orthodox Jews, but actually was comprised primarily of Gentiles, like Steinecke, who was required to wear a fake rabbinical beard during games.   According to Jordan, Steinecke stood five feet five inches tall, weighed over 200 pounds--mostly in his stomach--and resembled Nikita Khrushchev. 


Jordan recounted an episode in McCook in which Steinecke was sitting on the top step of the dugout, berating the home plate umpire, all the while with a woman fan screaming epithets at him.  Jordan reported that “Steinie ignored her for a time.  She cast aspersions on his manhood.  ‘Can’t cut the mustard anymore, you old fart!’  He shouted back at her, ‘Not with an old piece of meat like you.’  At the end of the inning he returned to the dugout bench, out of the woman’s vision.  He was cackling to himself.  Julius, Overby, Brubaker and I thought he was mad.  ‘That old whore!’  He shook his head as if in admiration.  ‘Used to be one helluva lay in her day.  Yes sirree.  But so did we all, I guess.’”


The backup catcher on the McCook Braves in 1959 was Elrod Hendricks, described by Jordan as a “black, very limber native of the Virgin Islands,” who spoke a rhythmic calypso English.  After Jordan showed him up one time in front of the manager, he ran into Hendricks on the downtown streets of McCook, at which time Hendricks beat the holy daylights out of him, putting Jordan in bed for the next couple of games. 


The first baseman for the ’59 Braves was Frank Saia, who at that time was a student at Harvard Law School, just making money during the summertime, with no hopes of eventually making it to the majors. 


According to Jordan, the tenth-best pitcher on the ’59 McCook Braves was a 20-year-old from Blaine, Ohio, named Phil Niekro, who was the only pitcher on the team that ever had a major league career.  At that time, Niekro was ineffective because he could not throw his knuckleball over the plate, and was considered no more than a mop-up pitcher on the team. 


Some of the other players who played in the Nebraska State League in 1959 are well known to all of us:  Jose Santiago, later to pitch for the Red Sox; Jim Bouton, described as the fifth fastest pitcher on the Kearney Yankee team; Bill Hands, a future 20-game winner for the Cubs who was a seldom-used pitcher for the Hastings Giants; Al Weiss, who hit .200 for the Holdrege White Sox in 1959, but later played in the majors for over 10 years; and Duke Simms, who later helped the Detroit Tigers reach the 1972 American League playoffs, who was the North Platte Indians’ second string catcher in 1959. 


The following season, the summer of 1960, Jordan pitched for the Quad City Braves in Davenport in the Midwest League.  As he described it, Davenport Stadium held almost 13,000 people, but no more than 500 ever seemed to attend any one baseball game. 


Jordan’s manager at Davenport was Travis Calvin Stonewall Jackson, who was a major league shortstop with the New York Giants for many years, an All Star who retired with a .291 lifetime batting average.  He was 58 years old at that time, and there was talk that “Ol’ Travis” had "took sick" while he was out of baseball, a euphemism for heavy drinking.  Because of Jordan’s ineffectiveness while pitching at Davenport Stadium, and the tendency of the fans to boo him off the mound, manager Travis rarely started him at home, but instead put him out on the mound when they were visiting places like Dubuque, Decatur, Waterloo, Quincy and Keokuk.  At a game in Keokuk, when Travis visited the mound to talk with Jordan, he found him as he always did, boiling, cursing and kicking dirt.  “You’re not taking me out of this game, you old bastard!” said Jordon to Travis.  As Jordan recalled it, “Travis just smiled his toothless smile and laid his hand on my shoulder.  ‘Don’t you worry, son.  You can pitch as long as you like.  They love you in Keokuk.’” 


I loved Jordan’s description of the Torre brothers (Frank already in the major leagues with the Braves) “as dark and sinister-looking as a Mexican villain from a Grade B movie”; and Joe (age 19 and in the low minors) “Over 220 pounds, and his unbelievably dark skin and black brows were frightening.  He looked like a fierce Bedouin tribesman whose distrust for everything could be read in the shifting whites of his eyes.”



After his 1960 season in Davenport, Jordan went on to play in the Florida Instructional League that winter, followed by a brief tour in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, followed by his terminal assignment to Palatka in the Florida State League.  I will not spoil the ending for you by recounting how Jordan’s minor league career came to an end. 


Anyway, I’m quite sure that any of you who take the time to read this book will enjoy it immensely.  Happy reading. 




I had the pleasure last week of visiting Richmond, Virginia, on my way to Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia, where I traveled to meet with one of the top hose doctors in the country, Dr. Stuart Howards, and then to produce him for a deposition.  I had previously been to UVA, but had never before been to Richmond.  It is a city well worth visiting. 



I had a chance to tour the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, the second oldest continuously-serving capitol in the country.  While at this great building, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson, I stood where Robert E. Lee stood when he was named the head of the Confederate Army at the start of the Civil War.  I also stood where United States Supreme Court Justice John Marshall conducted the treason trial of Aaron Burr, in a courtroom in which the floor collapsed because of the capacity crowd, resulting in numerous deaths.  I admired the beautiful busts of the seven Virginia-born presidents which adorn the main floor under the great rotunda.  Outside the capitol, there is an enormous statue of George Washington on horseback, flanked by the busts of the Virginia giants of his day:  John Marshall, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, James Madison, Patrick Henry. 


I am tickled pink to have another state capitol building to chalk off on my list, No. 30 (should be 31, except for Itchie’s cruel rebuff in Albany).  If you are ever in Richmond, I highly recommend a trip to Capitol Square. 



Although I was a bit short of time and didn’t get to see nearly as many of the historical landmarks in the Richmond area that I would have liked, I did have a chance to visit St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty, or give me a death” speech, as well as the famous Civil War battlefield hospital which is said to be the precursor of the modern-day MASH surgical hospitals. 


All in all, a great trip.  One of these days, I recommend that we take a Hot Stove League trip to this area, catching the Richmond Braves and perhaps a couple of other nearby minor league teams, and soaking up some of the great history which this region has to offer. 


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Today is March 6.  Our Draft is on April 6.  Only 31 days left to prepare for the funnest day of the year.  My advice to you:  Get busy.