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A base ball excursion.

Another of the random perseverations I tend to write when it’s not baseball season.

Imagine taking a job knowing ahead of time that only the most superhuman of success will prevent your prompt dismissal — and the clock starts anew every year.

I was thinking about that today while wading through the latest round of chatter about Philadelphia’s sports teams.

The Phillies managing job pretty much ate the well-regarded Ryne Sandberg alive; he was let go late last season. Now the pundits have moved on to call for the dismissal of Eagles coach Chip Kelly, apparently for the eternal sin of being unable to win big with modest talent.

It turns out that a guy with local ties tackled the challenge of managing in Philadelphia earlier than almost everyone else. This being a temperate day off, and thoughts of baseball very much with me, I decided to track him down.

Unlike today’s managers, Lew Simmons did not come to the dugout after years of experience with hit-and-runs, double plays and pitching changes.

Instead, he came to baseball from the blackface minstrel-show stage. According to a book called Monarchs of MinstrelsySimmons began as a blackface performer in Ohio in 1849 and became a hit performer in Philadelphia in the 1860s and 1870s, operating his own minstrel company and touring abroad.

Simmons did well enough to buy in, around 1881, as a partner in the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association.

(This was the second team to do business as the Philadelphia Athletics. The familiar Philadelphia A’s of Connie Mack, founded in 1901, were the fourth. What we know today as major league baseball traces its roots to 1871, so Simmons was in on the ground floor.)

The A’s main owner at the time, Bill Sharsig, was a theater producer who likely knew Simmons from the world of Philadelphia stages.

While Sharsig also lacked an on-the-field baseball background — at least, in the modern Ryne Sandberg sense — he served as field manager of his own team for parts of four seasons.

John Shiffert’s book Base Ball in Philadelphia indicates that the Athletics’ business partners tended to rotate front-office roles from year to year. That, presumably, is how former minstrel showman Simmons was at the helm of the team when it opened the 1886 season against the New York Metropolitans.

Simmons’s A’s won that first game, 10-3, and the rookie leader managed to keep his team at or above .500 through the end of June. On May 2, they played a 19-19 tie against Brooklyn that must have been a sight to see.

But the losses stacked up in July and August. And, although the Athletics won their last five games under Simmons, he was either fired or agreed to rotate out of the job on Aug. 25, with a 41-55 managerial record.

Sharsig took over the rest of the year, posting a 22-17 record. All told, the A’s finished sixth in an eight-team league.

(The 1886 Athletics’ noteworthy players included rookie catcher Wilbert Robinson, later to be the longtime manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers; second baseman Louis Bierbauer, whose signing by the Pittsburgh National League team would cause them to be nicknamed the Pirates; and pitcher Al Atkinson, who started 45 games and completed 44.)

Simmons never returned to the dugout. Shiffert’s book says Sharsig bought out his partners after the 1887 season, ending the vaudevillian’s connection to the fledgling world of major league baseball.

Monarchs of Minstrelsy, meanwhile, says Simmons returned to the stage in the early 1890s and was still performing as of 1910, when the book was written.

Simmons died at age 73 in Reading, Pa., September 1911. According to various sources, he is buried in Fairview Cemetery on the south side of Allentown. I decided to go look him up there; it seemed like an interesting excursion for a day off.

Fairview Cemetery is not the best-maintained graveyard I’ve ever visited. Falling branches have caused havoc in one area of the grounds, and every section is plagued by sliding or buckling stones, occasional bursts of overgrowth, a reluctance on the part of the lawnmower to clean off the stones afterward, and the occasional grim sunken patch.

(It’s enough to remind a visitor that one of the great horror movies of all time begins in a real-life Pennsylvania cemetery — not this one, but one out in the western part of the state, not tremendously far from Lew Simmons’s birthplace.)

I found a baseball, of all things — a blue-and-white child’s novelty model — but in a walk that took in every path on the grounds, I couldn’t find Lew Simmons’s gravesite.

I tried a building or two at the front of the property, but no one was there. I tried some Googling, in case a full list of burials had been posted online by some resourceful genealogist, but no luck there either.

If Lew Simmons is there, he perhaps has a flat stone, or one that has been undermined by the forces of time.

Or perhaps he is rested far from even the dedicated searcher, in some peaceful corner.

That would be fitting. Anyone who has managed a ballclub in Philadelphia has earned a quiet rest.


100 years of early showers.

The hell with the Super Bowl; I’ve got baseball on my mind.

Sometime in the past few months, the online baseball encyclopedia Retrosheet added information on ejections to its statistical pages.

The site lists the date of each ejection for player, coach or manager; the umpire doing the deed; and, where available, the reason.

It took the passing of Earl Weaver for me to truly appreciate this font of information. The Earl of Baltimore was ejected from games 94 times — before the game had even started, on several occasions. Truly, Weaver was to ejections what Paganini was to caprices.

That set me wandering at random through the managerial records, wondering about the craziest, silliest or most unique ejections of all time. Seemed like a fitting activity for a slow, cold winter’s day — even Super Bowl Sunday.

So, with just a week or two until pitchers and catchers (and managers) report, here’s the best of baseball’s bad behavior:

Sept. 6, 1895: Connie Mack, then a young player-manager with Pittsburgh, is ejected by umpire Hank O’Day for arguing a call at third base. It is Mack’s only recorded ejection during his 53 years as a major league manager.

May 19, 1905: New York Giants manager John McGraw is thumbed from a game against Pittsburgh by ump Jim Johnstone for “abusing Pirates owner Barney Dreyfus.”

June 8, 1917: Ejected by umpire Lord Byron for the second time in four days, McGraw punches the arbiter in the nose.

June 13, 1919: Cincinnati manager Pat Moran is ejected by umpire Ernie Quigley for intentionally discoloring a new ball.

1937-38: Brooklyn manager Burleigh Grimes is ejected at various times for complaining about loose tape on a bat and covering his face with a cloth while arguing a call.

Aug. 19, 1941: Pittsburgh manager Frankie Frisch gets the boot for bringing an umbrella onto the field to protest the weather. Umpire Jocko Conlan rings him up.

Aug. 25, 1942: Cleveland’s Lou Boudreau is neither the first nor the last manager to be ejected before a game for continuing an argument from the previous game. (Forty years later to the day, the Mets’ George Bamberger does the exact same thing, with the exact same result.)

July 17, 1951: Philadelphia A’s manager Jimmy Dykes is thumbed by ump Bill McGowan for arguing strike calls. It is the first managerial ejection in the 50-year history of the franchise — since Connie Mack, who ran the team from 1901 to 1950, was never ejected in that time.

Sept. 3, 1951: Pittsburgh third baseman Pete Castiglione is ejected by third-base umpire Bill Stewart after stalling during a visit to the mound, probably to buy time for a reliever to warm up. Pittsburgh manager Billy Meyer takes a different stall tactic: He refuses to send in a replacement for Castiglione. Stewart ejects Meyer as well.

April 18, 1957: Cleveland manager Kerby Farrell is ejected by ump Jim Honochick for criticizing ball and strike calls. It is Farrell’s second game as a major league manager.

Aug. 30, 1959: Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer is thumbed by umpire Al Barlick for complaining that the teams were not given enough time between games of a doubleheader.

May 4, 1963: White Sox manager Al Lopez is run for arguing a procedural point, insisting to ump Bill McKinley that the stadium lights were turned on while Chicago’s Bill Nicholson was in the batter’s box.

Aug. 11, 1963: Mets manager Casey Stengel is ejected for refusing to tell umpire Stan Landes the name of New York’s incoming relief pitcher.

July 18, 1965: Minnesota manager Sam Mele is run from the game after throwing a punch at first-base umpire Bill Valentine.

May 16, 1969: Cincinnati manager Dave Bristol somehow manages to get himself ejected during a rain delay.

Aug. 2, 1969: Of course there has to be at least one Weaver classic on this list. In the first inning of a game against Minnesota, umpire Bill Haller runs Weaver for smoking in the dugout.

Sept. 6, 1971: Oakland manager Dick Williams is ejected by ump Dave Phillips for “profanity for arguing play at 1B.” Given the ready use of profanity in baseball, Williams must have really gone on a blinder. (Or perhaps he resorted to the magic word that, reputedly, is an instant ticket out of the game when spoken to an umpire.)

July 7, 1972: Boston manager Eddie Kasko pretends to faint on the field while protesting a call at home plate and is ejected by umpire John Rice.

June 26, 1973: Houston manager Leo Durocher is thumbed by umpire John Kibler for protesting a tag call on a steal by Cincinnati’s Bobby Tolan. After being ejected, Durocher kicks Tolan’s helmet into Kibler’s shins. This would be the final ejection of Durocher’s storied career: Between July 1929 and June 1973, he was run from games 93 times as a manager, 21 times as a player and 10 times as a coach.

May 17, 1975: Cleveland’s Frank Robinson becomes the first black manager to be ejected from a big-league ballgame when he gets into a shoving match with first-base umpire Jerry Neudecker over a fan-interference call.

Oct. 21, 1976: In the fourth and final game of the World Series, Yankees manager Billy Martin is ejected by first-base umpire Bruce Froemming for throwing a ball out of the Yankees’ dugout toward home-plate ump Bill Deegan. The Yankees lose the game, and the Series, an inning-and-a-half later.

May 1, 1978: Braves manager Bobby Cox gets ejected by ump Nick Colosi for bench jockeying. It is the first of 159 ejections Cox will collect as a big-league manager. (He was never ejected in two seasons as a player.)

May 18, 1983: Montreal manager Bill Virdon goes out to the mound for a pitching change, starts jawing about umpire Joe West’s ball and strike calls, and gets ejected.

Oct. 6, 1985: Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who should have known better, gets ejected by crew chief Harry Wendelstedt for trying to undo a pinch-hitting substitution after the other team changes pitchers.

July 22, 1986: Giants manager Roger Craig and Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog get into a shoving match during a bench-clearing brawl and are both thumbed by umpire Bob Davidson. This is only the second ejection of Craig’s lengthy career as a pitcher, coach and manager — and the first ejection happened July 15, 1956, 30 years earlier almost to the week.

Aug. 4, 1986: Chicago Cubs manager Gene Michael turns the cap around on umpire Dave Pallone’s head so the brim of Pallone’s cap won’t bump him during an argument. Not surprisingly, Michael is ejected.

Sept. 28, 1987: Baltimore manager Cal Ripken Sr. is thumbed by home plate umpire Durwood Merrill for arguing a called third strike — on his son, Cal Ripken Jr.

Aug. 27, 1993: Houston manager Art Howe is ejected by ump Steve Rippley after the Astros’ pitcher almost hits a baserunner with an exceedingly errant pickoff throw.

July 22, 1995: White Sox manager Terry Bevington gets Brewers manager Phil Garner in a headlock during a bench-clearing dispute. Both are ejected by umpire Larry Young.

June 9, 1999: Mets manager Bobby Valentine gets run by home-plate ump Randy Marsh for arguing a catcher’s interference call. Valentine then returns to the dugout wearing a fake mustache and sunglasses.

July 10, 2010: Boston manager Terry Francona, who was once ejected as a player for arguing while receiving an intentional walk, “ejects” umpire Jeff Kellogg after Kellogg runs him. Needless to say, only one of the ejections counts.

Oct. 3, 2010: Florida manager Edwin Rodriguez becomes the first major-league manager to be ejected for protesting the results of a replay decision, which is illegal. The aforementioned Joe West does the honors.

Encore Performances: Bleu, blanc et rouge.

I used to have a quiet blog where I would hold forth on anything and everything. It’s gone now, but I still have the content, and every so often I’ll repost something that holds up over time.

The following post, written in June 2008, is presented in slightly updated form in memory of Gary Carter and the equipe for which he shone.


I totally shoulda bought this T-shirt.

I found it in the racks of the gift shop at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., while mucking around waiting for the museum to open.

I took a pass because it was much too small for me, and I’m moving past the point in my life (I think) where I accumulate essentially useless stuff just because it’s cool.

What we have here is Charlie Brown — wearing the “MANAGER” T-shirt that occasionally replaced his familiar zig-zag getup — voicing his support for the Montreal Expos.

What makes this great, for my baseball-illiterate readers, is that the Expos were one of baseball’s all-time snakebitten teams.
They scraped into the postseason once, in 1981, only to lose on a ninth-inning home run in the deciding game of their playoff series.
They racked up baseball’s best record in 1994, then lost their best shot at a World Series title to the players’ strike.
And in 2003, with the Expos in an unlikely playoff hunt, Major League Baseball — which owned the financially struggling team — decided to save money and not call up players from the minor leagues for the traditional end-of-season push.

That pretty much killed the city’s remaining interest in its team, which was already playing one-quarter of its home games in Puerto Rico as a marketing move.
The Expos left Montreal for Washington, D.C., after the 2004 season.

MLB’s choice to manage the Expos during their ward-of-the-state final years was Frank Robinson. He was, in most respects, the right man for the job — a hard-nosed baseball veteran with little to lose.

But this T-shirt made me think:
Maybe a better choice for manager would have been someone who was used to being kicked in the junk again and again.
Someone who had learned years before to get nothing and like it.

Someone who would have seen the bright side — the tiny glimmer of hope — in the fifth pitching change of the day in a temporary home stadium in a foreign country.

Someone who would have been perfectly used to 95 losses a year, and for whom 67 wins would have been an unimaginable carnival of joy.

Someone who would have welcomed the chance to manage in a sterile, dimly-lit dome, because it meant his players could not embarrass him by planting trees and shrubs all over the field.

Someone who would not have been afraid to give Joe Shlabotnik regular work in right.

In fact, I think this would have been a wonderful plot line for Charles Schulz, had he lived long enough. The Expos call to request permission to talk to Charlie Brown about their managing job … but Snoopy, concerned about going unfed while his master is out of town, rebuffs them.

Schulz is gone, of course; as are Charlie Brown, Snoopy, the Expos, and now even some of the Expos’ star players. (Charlie Lea and Gary Carter have both died within the past year.)

I hope, at least, that some kid is wearing the hell out of that Charlie Brown Expos T-shirt.