Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Little Hurler, Big Name, Weak Heart

“Pembroke Finlayson” was surely a mouthful of a name for a 5’-6,” 140-pound lad. Known as the “Midget Twirler,” young Mr. Finlayson made two very brief appearances in major league baseball, pitching for the Brooklyn club, before reaching the age of 22. He might have worked his way back to the bigs if he’d only made it to age 23.

Pembroke Finlayson was born in Cheraw, South Carolina on this day in 1888, the son of Henry Wright Finlayson and his wife Charity. Among Pembroke’s siblings were brothers Richmond Tooks Finlayson, Henry Angus Finlayson and Jennings Finlayson, and sisters Daisy, Sallie, Mammie Lou, Carrie Isabel and Winnie Kennedy Finlayson. The Finlaysons had a penchant for colorful monikers.

South Carolina was hardly a bastion of big league baseball talent in those days; there weren’t many South Carolinians who had played in the big leagues. The first was Charleston native John Bass, who started at shortstop (batting ninth, three spots behind the pitcher) for the Cleveland Forest Citys against the Fort Wayne Keokuks in the very first game of the National Association on May 4, 1871 – said by some to be the very first professional ballgame ever.

After that, there were very few other Palmetto Staters in the majors during the early days of baseball. Charleston briefly had a ball club in the Southern League during the 1890s, the Seagulls; and from out of that city came Tom Colcolough, who had a winning record (8-5) despite an ERA of 7.08 for the 1894 Pittsburgh Pirates, and Pat Luby, who pitched over a 100 games during the 1890s with the Chicago Colts and the Louisville club. Luby equalled a record in 1890 for most hit batsmen in an inning (3). Doc McJames from Williamsburg County, a graduate of the South Carolina Medical College in Charleston, was in and out of the majors for a few years before dying in 1901 from injuries suffered in a horse buggy accident at the age of 28.

Later, of course, there was a promising rookie breaking into the majors in 1908, a contemporary of Finlayson’s from Pickens County, who went by the name of Shoeless Joe Jackson. But baseball around the turn of the 20th century was still a game dominated by Northeastern city boys, and Pembroke Finlayson might not have commanded much attention as a ballplayer had his father not moved the family to Brooklyn in 1901, where Henry Finlayson plied his trade as a dry goods wholesaler.

In Brooklyn, young Pembroke was surrounded by baseball. You could hardly swing a bat without hitting an industrial or commercial team -- collections of laborers who toiled at their labor during weekdays but put on company colors on summer evenings and Saturdays to play for bragging rights – or some other “diamond nine” sponsored by a church or a gentlemen’s lodge. As a teenager, Finlayson showed enough prowess on the mound to be tapped to pitch for a club called the Marquettes, sponsored by the Church of Thomas Aquinas, who played their home games at the Marquette Oval at 4th Avenue and 8th Street in South Brooklyn. He also caught on with the Missouri-Pacific ballclub, a commercial team sponsored by the colorful railroad magnate George Jay Gould, though it is unclear whether Finlayson ever actually worked for the line; he may have been a ringer, which would have been consistent with Gould’s business practices.

Finlayson apparently commanded enough attention as a local phenom to be signed, at the tender age of 19, by the Lynn Shoemakers in Lynn, Massachusetts. Despite sounding like another industrial team, the Lynn Shoemakers were a franchise of the New England League, a Class B rookie circuit whose president was Tim Murnane, an old hand who had been a regular on Harry Wright’s champion Boston clubs during the 1870s. The league had some bona fide stars, including owner/manager Jesse Burkett of the Worcester Busters and player/manager Sliding Billy Hamilton of the Haverhill Hustlers – aging heavyweights who settled in New England to play out the final days of their Hall of Fame careers. Finlayson’s club dragged in at the end of the 1907 season in a distant second place to Burkett’s Busters for the New England championship.

It must have been a heady atmosphere for young Finlayson, who acquitted himself well enough to be noticed by the scouts of Brooklyn owner Charley Ebbets, who signed him along with a former Brown University second-sacker named Harry Partee, on February 22, 1908.

Unfortunately, the Brooklyn ballclub of the National League in 1907 was not the heralded Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s and 50s, the ballclub of Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson. The Brooklyn Superbas of 1907, as they were then known, had been on a slow and steady slide since Ned Hanlon led them to the National League pennant in 1899 and 1900. Under the guidance of a new manager, Patsy Donovan, they went from finishing 5th in 1906, to 5th again in 1907.

1908 wasn’t looking much better. After a 13-22 start, Ebbets reassured reporters on May 30: “[Outfielder Harry] Lumley and [First Baseman Tim] Jordan will get to hitting, and then Brooklyn will begin to crawl up.” Staff aces Irvin “Kaiser” Wilhelm and Nap Rucker, a 34-year old spitball specialist and his 23-year old knuckleballing protégé, were pitching well enough, but none of Brooklyn’s starting batsmen were showing much promise at that point. The fact that you’ve never heard of Harry Lumley or Tim Jordan should be a clue to the outcome of Ebbets’ prediction …

At any rate, a little over a week later, Pembroke Finlayson made his major league debut before a hometown crowd of about 5,000 patrons. Cincinnati, holding second place in the National League in a close race with the Cubs, had already beaten the Superbas in the first two outings of the series at Brooklyn’s home field, Washington Park – located a mere five blocks north of where Finlayson used to pitch for the Marquettes. On June 6, the third game in the series, Brooklyn scored first, in the second inning; but Nap Rucker gave up two runs to the Reds as he struggled through the third inning. At the start of the fourth inning, Donovan sent Finlayson to the mound.

It was a bit of a disaster, unfortunately. In 1/3 of an inning, Finlayson walked four straight Reds, leaving the score at 3-1 when Donovan pulled him and replaced him with George Bell. Bell would do no better; by the end of the 4th inning, Bell had given up 5 more runs. The final score was 8-2, and soon Finlayson was sent packing, back to the minors for the remainder of the season.

That was June. Brooklyn finished the season in 7th place with a dismal record of 53-101, only a handful of games ahead of the basement-dwelling St. Louis club. The Superbas pitchers had three 20-game losers among them (Wilhelm, 16-22; Jim Pastorius, 4-20; and Harry McIntire, 11-20), and were a mere six more losses away from having five 20-game losers (Rucker lost 19, and Bell lost 15). The team batting average for the 1908 season was an appalling .213.

In some ways, Finlayson’s return to the minors was the best thing that could have happened to him. Ultimately, during the 1908 season, Finlayson apparently managed to get innings and good practice with the Rochester Bronchos in the Eastern League, the Nashville Volunteers of the Southern Association, and the Brockton Tigers in the New England League, where Brooklyn kept an option on his contract.

While Burkett and his Busters coasted to another New England championship that year, the Tigers finished in 4th place under the management of Steve Flanagan. Finlayson could perhaps be forgiven for not focusing on his game as the 1908 season drew to a close, for in February of 1909 it was reported that Finlayson had eloped with his hometown sweetheart, Catherine Hoff, daughter of a Brooklyn merchant, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a month ahead of their planned March 6 wedding. “Call it off, we are married,” they are alleged to have wired home. The couple leased an apartment in Brockton, where Finlayson would be playing in the Spring.

The Superbas had done little in the off-season to improve their lineup. Jordan, Lumley, Rucker and Wilhelm were all on hand for what promised to be a veritable repeat of the 1908 season. By September, the Superbas were a joke, in 7th place again with a 41-75 record through the end of August. Finlayson was brought into Washington Park again on September 1, just in time for a whopper of a loss against pitcher Orval Overall and the 2nd place Chicago Cubs. As the Chicago Tribune whimsically reported it:

The Cubs crossed the great divide which separates Manhattan from Martini, and whaled the life out of Charley Ebbet’s pets, 12 to 0, by way of trying to keep from freezing in the ocean blasts, which felt as if they were Dr. Cook’s advance agents from the north.

[Player-manager Frank] Chance’s men kept up their vengeful record on this trip by beating Mr. Bell, who was responsible for ringing down the curtain on their winning streak during the last series with the eastern clubs in Chicago. What the Cubs did to Bell is plainly to be seen in the score by innings, which show eight large tallies in the first two rounds, which were Bell’s limit. In that time we slaughtered his delivery for nine clean hard swats, of which [leftfielder Joe] Stanley and Chance got two apiece, and were helped out by some bush league work behind the belfry.

Finlayson, one of thirty odd stars gathered by Brooklyn’s dragnet from the minors this year, was asked to finish Bell’s job, and, without having much in the way of pitching wares, he was a lot better than Bell.

Finlayson gave up a double to Chance in the 4th inning, who scored on third baseman Harry Steinfeldt’s bunt. He then pitched four spotless innings, before giving up three runs in the 9th. Overall gave up only two hits on the day.

Finlayson saw no further action in Brooklyn for the season. The Superbas managed to pull ahead of the Cardinals in the last two games of the season to eke out a 6th place finish. Charley Ebbets took no consolation from the Superbas relatively strong finish; in December of 1909, he put a score of his stable of players on the market – and among them was Pembroke Finlayson. It is unclear whether Ebbets had any firm bites for the little man, however. During the 1910 season, Finlayson pitched for the Lawrence Colts in the New England League, and the Providence Grays (managed by future Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins) and the Rochester Bronchos in the Eastern League.

At the end of the 1910 season, Brooklyn, again holding Finlayson’s contract, sold him outright to the Memphis Turtles in the Southern Association. There he again came under the tutelage of Strawberry Bill Bernhard, who managed Finlayson briefly while the boy made a stop in Nashville during 1908. Bernhard was a star pitcher with the Phillies around the turn of the century; in fact, he is credited with having earned the first major league save of the 20th century, in a 10-inning, 19-17 nail-biter between the Phillies and the Boston Beaneaters. He was a minor star with the Phillies until he joined Nap Lajoie and several others in a controversial jump in 1901 to the Athletics, the Philadelphia franchise of the new, renegade American League. Banned from playing in Philadelphia for his contract jump, he signed with Cleveland and became the first Cleveland pitcher to lead the league in win percentage, with .783 (18-5) in 1902. He retired from pitching in 1907, and earned a winning record as a manager for Nashville for three years (221-187) before moving to Memphis.

The Turtles, so-named for the shell-shaped infield at Memphis' Russwood Park, were in dire straits when Bernhard arrived, having suffered 8th and 7th place finishes for the prior two years. In his rebuilding effort, Bernhard apparently liked what he saw of Finlayson a few years before, and secured him as a key member of his pitching staff.

Finlayson, too, seemed to like playing for Bernhard. He earned a record of 11-4 with the Turtles until, in mid-summer, he was diagnosed with a serious heart ailment. After doctors’ consultations, it was decided that Finlayson required surgery, and on August 1, the Turtles put Finlayson on waivers, due to the uncertainty of his return to the lineup.

Finlayson went under the knife and began his recuperation. Anxious to return to baseball, however – especially in light of his happy situation in Memphis -- Finlayson jumped the gun on his recovery and began throwing pitches in the winter of 1912. The strain proved to be too much. Finlayson died of general peritonitis and myocardial adenitis at the Norwegian Hospital in Brooklyn on March 6, 1912 – what would have been his third wedding anniversary had he and Catherine not eloped. He left his wife with a son and a daughter. He was just 22.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pope Paul VI at Castello Gandolfo, 1977

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Death of Floyd Collins

"Young people, all take warning from Floyd Collin's fate,/ And get right with your maker before it is too late./ It may not be a Sand Cave in which we find our tomb,/ But on that day of judgment, we too must meet our doom." -- Vernon Dalhart, "The Death of Floyd Collins."

Floyd Collins, spelunker, was born on this day in 1887 in Flint Ridge, Kentucky.

The Collins family made their living farming in Kentucky, but a good living it was not, for the Southern sinkhole geology of the region was not ideal for agriculture. It was, however, ideal for underground caves with remarkable mineral formations, and many farming families supplemented their meager incomes by opening the caves to tourists.

Floyd Collins was particularly adept at finding and navigating underground caves, and discovered the Crystal Cave in 1917, opening it for tours shortly thereafter -- although because it was off the beaten path, it was not too lucrative. Collins continued exploring, caught up in the commercial "cave wars," hoping to find an underground connection between his own caves and the popular Mammoth Caves nearby.

While navigating through a new cave he had discovered, the Sand Cave, Floyd became trapped when a 27-pound stone pinned his leg against the cold wet cave wall 70 feet below the surface. A day later he was discovered by his brother Homer, who attempted to dig him out without success. As more help was required, crowds of onlookers and newspaper reporters began to form outside the cave, causing a traffic mess for 12 miles from the cave entrance. Soon, Collins’ rescue became front page news around the country, with diminutive Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Skeets Miller squeezing through the passageways to deliver Floyd food and keep his spirits up (Miller would ultimately win a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the story).

Rescue efforts went awry when the cave pathways began to collapse as miners attempted to dig a vertical shaft to reach Floyd. On the 18th day of digging, the rescuers finally got to Floyd, but he had died just 24 hours before they reached him, on February 17, 1925. The Collins family had a glass coffin encased around his body and placed it in Crystal Cave, where cavers paid their respects to Floyd for years afterward until his eventual burial in a nearby rural cemetery.

Campers at Mammoth Cave National Park occasionally report seeing the ghost of Floyd Collins there.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Parley Christensen

Parley P. Christensen was born on this day in 1869 in Weston, Idaho.

A Cornell law graduate, Christensen became the youngest ever county attorney for Salt Lake County, Utah, and was a prominent Republican organizer until 1912, when he defected to Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive or "Bull Moose" Party. In the aftermath of Roosevelt's defeat that year, Christensen found himself aligned with pro-labor independents, and as a founder of the Utah Labor Party became a staunch defender of members of the International Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies) against politically-motivated criminal charges brought against them during the period.

At the first convention of the Farmer-Labor Party in 1920, Christensen was nominated for president, and he campaigned largely on the platform of establishing the 8-hour work day, disarming the U.S. and nationalizing basic industries, but also prominently supported the release of political prisoners such as his rival, Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs, who had been imprisoned for sedition after giving a speech criticizing U.S. government crackdowns against political dissenters. More leftists saw fit to vote for Debs himself as the "real deal" rather than for Christensen; Christensen polled 265,411 votes (mainly in Montana, South Dakota and Washington) to Debs' 919,799 as Warren Harding easily won the election.

After a tour of Europe which included a meeting with V.I. Lenin, Christensen settled briefly in Chicago, where he ran for U.S. Senate as the candidate of the Illinois Progressive Party in 1926. Shortly thereafter he moved to California where he became involved in Upton Sinclair's campaign for governor in 1934, and eventually served as the most liberal member of the Los Angeles City Council (1935-37 and 1939-49), until he was defeated from the left by Edward Roybal, the first hispanic to be elected to Council since the 1880s. Christensen died on February 10, 1954 in Los Angeles.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Twist Slowly, Slowly in the Wind

L. Patrick Gray, III, acting director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (1972-3), was born on this day in 1916 in St. Louis, Missouri.

A Navy submarine captain and lawyer, Pat Gray served briefly as military assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before working on Richard Nixon's 1960 presidential campaign. In 1970, Nixon pulled Gray away from his quiet Connecticut law practice and appointed him assistant U.S. attorney general. After the death of the seemingly indestructible FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in 1972, Nixon seized the opportunity to try and re-make the FBI as an instrument of the White House by installing his loyal friend Pat Gray as acting director pending confirmation by the Senate.

Faced with the resentment of Hoover loyalists such as Associate Director Mark Felt, Gray nonetheless relied heavily upon the old guard to help him chart his course, even during the FBI's investigation of the Watergate break-in in 1972 that would ultimately be linked to the White House. When leaks about the investigation began showing up in the Washington Post, Nixon asked Gray to fire Mark Felt or at least submit him to a lie-detector test, but Gray refused to do so, failing to believe that Felt would be capable of destroying the FBI's credibility.

At Gray's Senate confirmation hearings, which were the first opportunity the Senate had to question an administration official about Watergate, Gray was candid; he revealed that he had disclosed information about the Watergate investigation to White House counsel John Dean after consulting with the FBI's general counsel, and that in turn Dean had provided him with files from Howard Hunt's White House safe (mainly relating to Hunt's covert investigations on the activities of the Kennedy family) that, in Dean's words, "should never see the light of day," with the request that Gray take charge of destroying them. The White House had denied for months that it had been attempting to interfere with the investigation, but Gray's revelations called the denials into question, escalating the Senate's interest in Watergate; the White House was so angry about Gray's admissions that John Ehrlichman famously remarked, in a taped conversation with Nixon that would be revealed later, that Gray ought to be left to "twist slowly, slowly in the wind." Shortly thereafter, Gray withdrew his name from consideration for the FBI directorate and resigned from the FBI, returning to private practice and maintaining his silence about Nixon and Watergate for more than 30 years.

In 1980, Gray was indicted for having approved illegal break-ins while serving in the Nixon administration, but the charges were dropped and he was given a full pardon by President Reagan (only after Gray had to sell his house to pay for his legal bills); it was brief moment of renewed notoriety for a man who wanted to be left alone.

When Mark Felt revealed that he was "Deep Throat," the source of FBI leaks in the Washington Post's coverage of Watergate, in a 2005 Vanity Fair article, however, Gray decided he could not remain silent any longer. Appearing in an ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos that aired only 12 days before his death, Gray -- terminally ill with pancreatic cancer -- said he felt betrayed by Mark Felt ("I could not be more shocked and disappointed in a man whom I trusted," he said), and that he had no reason at the time to feel that the White House was trying to sandbag him. All told, he said, "the gravest mistake of my 88 years" was getting involved with Nixon at all, and that for years afterward Gray refused all contact with him. Gray said: "If you could have known what was in my heart and mind then, you would have thought I was a vigilante. I was so hurt and so angry at this man, who had not only junked his own presidency, but junked the career of so many other people, many of whom had to go to jail."

Gray died on July 6, 2005 in Miami, Florida.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Edward the Elder

Edward the Elder, king of England (899-925), died on this day in 925 at Farndon-on-Dee, Mercia at the age of about 53.

The second and eldest surviving son of Alfred the Great, Edward grew up watching his father fight the Danes, and had developed a strong sense of mission as guardian of England's future by the time succeeded his father in October 899. Although the Witan (the Anglo-Saxon council of elders) moved quickly to proclaim him king, his cousin Athelwold (son of the late King Ethelred I, Alfred's brother and predecessor), upset about Alfred's last will and testament, had himself proclaimed king by the Danes and Angles in York and began to lead a revolt in East Anglia. Two years later, Athelwold died in battle, and Edward was able to broker an uneasy peace with the Danes in the East, but he would spend the next eight years shooing the pesky Danes out of the North. By 915, Edward had completed a chain of fortified towns from Chester to Witham, after which he pursued the equivocating Eastern Danes, finally getting them to submit to his rule in 920.

His success against the Danes attracted the attention of the kings of Scotland and Strathclyde, who declared their submission to Edward in exchange for his help with the Norse who were attacking them -- ultimately resulting in Edward having achieved overlord status over all of Britain (except for the Norse settlements in York, Orkney and the Western Isles) by 922. His sons Athelstan, Edmund and Edred would all succeed him.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Archdruid

"David Brower was the greatest environmentalist and conservationist of the 20th century." -- Ralph Nader.

David Brower was born on this day in 1912 in Berkeley, California.

Dubbed the "Archdruid" by environmental writer John McPhee, Brower was an iconoclast who started out as a shy kid who liked hiking and was transformed by his experiences into an evangelistic, single-minded campaigner on behalf of Earth conservation, the kind of fellow who could get kicked out of organizations he himself had activated for his sometimes maddening inflexibility.

During the 1930s, Brower made a number of first ascents of Western mountains, including Shiprock in New Mexico (1939), leading Camel Cigarettes to consider signing him as a handsome young athlete endorser. He drifted, however, into volunteering for a small organization of outdoor enthusiasts and day-trippers called the Sierra Club, guiding knapsack tours of the Sierra Nevadas. In 1941, he secured a job as an editor with the University of California Press as well as a seat on the board of directors of the Sierra Club.

The Club would never be the same. Using the Club as his pulpit, Brower launched an all-out assault against roads, bridges, tourist development, power lines and dams which threatened precious wilderness land. Funding the organization by producing and selling expensive coffee table books with his friend Ansel Adams' photos of Yosemite, as executive director of the Sierra Club (from 1952) Brower turned the Club into an environmental activism organization with a membership swelling from 2,000 to 77,000, fighting successfully against the damming of the Colorado at Dinosaur National Monument and at the Grand Canyon; getting the Wilderness Act of 1964 passed; and saving Point Reyes National Seashore.

In 1963, he bargained for the cancellation of dam projects at Echo Park and Split Mountain in Utah in exchange for agreeing not to oppose a project at Glen Canyon, but it was a loss for which he never forgave himself; "Glen Canyon died in 1963," he wrote in The Place No One Knew, his subsequent guilty documentation of the disappearing habitat there, "and I was partly responsible for its needless death. So were you." Meanwhile, the Sierra Club was stripped of its tax-exempt status for its political activities, and with financial losses mounting, Brower was fired by the Club in 1969.

He immediately formed Friends of the Earth (FOE) and broadened his efforts, taking on nuclear weapons and advocating solar energy and population control within a more media-directed format. Here, as before, Brower shined as a speaker: with his incantatory phrasing, lyrical evocations and sometimes biting humor, he appeared to college students and before fundraisers as a wild-eyed visionary-poet of the vanishing wilderness.

Although FOE raised lots of money and eventually took root in 68 countries, Brower's plans were always larger than his budgets, and in 1986, at the age of 74, he was fired by the FOE board. Within months, he was busy getting the Earth Island Institute off the ground, an umbrella organization for smaller self-funded projects concerning peace, environmental and social justice. He returned to the board of directors of the Sierra Club during the 1980s and 90s (by then possessed of a membership of 600,000), carping at hypocrisies and distractions as a relentless outsider. He was still busy at his work when he died at 88, on November 5, 2000.

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