New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Baseball

Lon Warneke


Lon Warneke (Baseball.  Born, Mount Ida, AR, Mar. 28, 1909; died, Hot Springs, AR, June 23, 1976.)  A three-time 20-game winner during his 16-season career with the Cubs and Cardinals, Lonnie Warneke became known to another generation of fans as an N.L. umpire (1949-55).  Warneke was known as the “Arkansas Hummingbird” for his sing-song voice.  While he umpired only seven seasons, he worked the 1952 All-Star game and the 1954 World Series.  During his playing career (1930-45), Warneke won 20 games in 1932 (22-6), 1934 (22-10), and 1935 (20-13), helping pitch the Cubs to the pennant in 1932 and 1935.  The righthander had a lifetime 193-121 record.

Monte Ward


Monte Ward (Baseball.  Bellefonte, PA, Mar. 3, 1860; died, Augusta, GA, Mar. 4, 1925.)  Few, if any, players cast as long a shadow for as many years as John Montgomery Ward.  Then again, Ward was a most unusual character for the 19th century anywhere in America, let alone baseball.  A graduate of Penn State and, later, Columbia Law, he was a pitcher, star shortstop, manager, union activist, and front office executive, as well as an attorney.  As a pitcher, Ward propelled Providence to the N.L. pennant in 1879, winning 47 of the Grays’ 59 victories.  He had a career 161-101 record, including 40-23 in 1880 (when he pitched the second perfect game ever thrown in the majors), and led the league in strikeouts (239 in 70 games) in 1879.  Arm troubles made him a shortstop after joining the Giants when they first came to New York in 1883.  Ward led the N.L. in stolen bases (111) in 1887 and was the regular shortstop for the 1888 and 1889 pennant and World Series winners.  He was a prime mover in the formation of the players’ union in 1888 and the Players League of 1890, when he hit .369 as playing manager of Brooklyn.  After the P.L. collapsed, he was the player-manager for the Dodgers (1891-92) and the Giants (1893-94).  Ward then retired to his flourishing New York law practice.  He resurfaced as president of the Boston Braves (1911) and business manager of the Brooklyn Federal League club in 1914.  Twice, Ward faced off in court against notorious Giants owner Andrew Freedman and won both times.  He was married to Helen Deuvray, a popular actress of the day.

Dixie Walker


Dixie Walker (Baseball.  Born, Villa Rica, GA, Sept. 24, 1910; died, Birmingham, AL, May 17, 1982.)  Another Yankees reject who made his name in Brooklyn, Fred Walker was doubtless one of the best $10,000 investments in baseball history.  After parts of five seasons with the Yankees, Walker was sent to the White Sox via waivers (May 4, 1936) and following the 1937 season was shipped to Detroit as part of a six-player deal.  He was hitting .305 for the Tigers when Larry MacPhail paid the $10,000 waiver price to bring him to Brooklyn on July 24, 1939.  Walker won his first game with a pinch single and was on his way to becoming a Brooklyn hero.  From 1940-47 he never hit less than .290, hit .311 for the 1941 pennant winners, and won the N.L. batting crown in 1944 (.357).  Often injured early in his career and past prime draft age, Walker was exempt from World War II military service and drove in a league-leading 124 runs in 1945.  He became a skilled technician in handling the tricky rightfield wall at Ebbets Field and also battered the wall with line-drive doubles (28 or more in each full season in Brooklyn).  Walker was truly “the Peepul’s Cherce” as the team’s most popular player.  However, his Southern upbringing imbued him with racial prejudice and he complained to general manager Branch Rickey (q.v.) when Brooklyn signed Jackie Robinson (q.v.).  Rickey promised to trade him to the team that finished last in the N.L. in 1947 and did.  Walker went to Pittsburgh Dec. 8, 1947, in a six-man deal that brought lefthander Preacher Roe and great-fielding third baseman Billy Cox (as well as infielder Gene Mauch) to Flatbush.  But Brooklyn fans threw a “day” for Walker in 1948 anyhow.

Frank Viola


Frank Viola (College and pro baseball.  Born, Hempstead, NY, Apr. 19, 1960.)  Probably the finest lefthander produced by St. John’s, Frank John Viola was 26-2 in his three collegiate seasons with a 1.67 e.r.a.  Viola pitched the Redmen into the 1980 College World Series and the 1981 N.C.A.A. playoffs.  He was the winning pitcher in the famed 1-0, 12-inning victory over Yale on May 21, 1981, when the Bulldogs’ Ron Darling (q.v.) threw a no-hitter for 11 innings.  Viola was a Baseball America first team all-America choice in 1981 and then was drafted by Minnesota.  He made the majors June 6, 1982, after just two partial minor league seasons.  During his years with Minnesota (1982-89), Viola helped the Twins with the 1987 World Series, getting the win in the first and seventh games of the Series, and won the A.L. Cy Young Award in 1988, when he was 24-7.  On July 31, 1989, the Mets sent five pitchers (including Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera) to Minnesota to obtain Viola.  He was 20-12 for the Mets in 1990, becoming just the 18th pitcher to win 20 or more games in a season in both major leagues.  Viola was an N.L. All-Star in 1990 and 1991 with the Mets but was just 38-32 for them before signing with Boston as a free agent Dec. 20, 1991.  In May 1994, he tore a ligament in his left shoulder, ending his season.  After surgery on the elbow, Viola pitched briefly for Cincinnati in 1995 (0-1) and Toronto in 1996 (1-3) before retiring.  He was 176-150 overall for 15 big league seasons.

Dazzy Vance


Dazzy Vance (Baseball.  Born, Orient, IA, Mar. 4, 1891; died, Homosassa Springs, FL, Feb. 16, 1961.)  Given up on by the Yankees, Clarence Arthur Vance became a Brooklyn legend and nearly pitched the Dodgers to the 1924 pennant.  After being 0-4 with Pittsburgh and the Yankees (1915, 1918) and knocking around the minors, Vance was signed by Brooklyn in 1922.  He immediately, at age 31, became a star.  The 6’2” righthander was 18-12 and 18-15 in his first two years with the Dodgers.  Then came two sensational seasons.  In 1924, Vance was 28-6 (including a 15-game winning streak) with an earned-run average of 2.16 and 30 complete games in 34 starts.  He and Burleigh Grimes led Brooklyn to a second-place finish, just 1½ games behind the Giants.  Vance struck out 14 Cubs (including seven in a row) on Aug. 1 and on Aug. 23 fanned 15 Cubs, the most in the N.L. in four decades.  Vance was the N.L. M.V.P. that season, selected by a panel of sportswriters.  In 1925, he was 22-5, led the N.L. in wins again, and hurled a no-hitter Sept. 13 against Philadelphia, winning 10-1.  Vance led the N.L. in strikeouts his first seven seasons with Brooklyn (1922-28) and was 22-10 in 1928.  Overall, he had a 197-140 career record (190-131 with the Dodgers, 1922-32, 1935).

Bobby Valentine


Bobby Valentine (Baseball.  Born, Stamford, CT, May 13, 1950.)  Though his relationship with the press was often tempestuous, Robert John Valentine presided over the development of the Mets into one of baseball’s most exciting teams in the late 1990s.  He became the first Mets manager ever to guide the club into the post-season in successive years by winning the wild card with a 94-68 record in 2000.  He then took the Mets to their fourth N.L. pennant.  In 1999, the team’s stirring run into the wild-card playoff game (in which the Mets beat Cincinnati, 5-0), the Division Series victory over Arizona, and the N.L. championship series against Atlanta were among the highlights of the baseball season.  By creating a tie for the wild-card berth on the last day of the season, the Mets salvaged a season that had seemed lost only three days before. But after a disastrous 75-86 season in 2002, Valentine was fired Oct. 1.  He had an overall 536-467 record as Mets field boss.  Valentine became the Mets’ 16th manager on Aug. 26, 1996, when Dallas Green was fired and he was promoted from the Triple-A club at Norfolk. Valentine had managed at Texas nearly eight seasons (1985-92) in addition to an earlier hitch at Norfolk (1994) and a one-year stint in Japan. He returned to Japan in 2004 after serving a year as an ESPN baseball analyst.  Among the most celebrated scholastic athletes in Connecticut sports, he played football (three times all-state) and baseball, as well as running track at Rippowan H.S. in Stamford. Son-in-law of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca, Valentine was a major-league infielder, primarily a shortstop, who began his career in the Los Angeles organization. He played 639 major-league games from 1969-79 in a career curtailed by a severely broken leg. He played parts of two years (1977 and 1978) with the Mets. He owned three restaurants (Norwalk and Stamford, Conn., and Newport, R.I.), and, briefly, another in Queens.

Frank Umont


Frank Umont (Pro football, baseball.  Born Staten Island, NY, Nov. 17, 1917; died, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Jan. 20, 1991.)  Even without the benefit of college, Frank William Umont was good enough to be a lineman with the wartime Football Giants (1943-45).  In 1944, the 5’11”, 220-pound Umont was also employed as a blocking fullback.  One of his teammates on the Giants was Hank Soar (q.v.), who helped him with some coaching work and encouraged him to be a baseball umpire.  Umont started in 1950 (in the Western Carolina League), advanced to the Piedmont League and then the American Association.  He umpired in the A.L. for 20 seasons (1954-73).

Joe Torre


Joe Torre (Baseball.  Born Brooklyn, NY, July 18, 1940.) On November 2, 1995, Joseph Paul Torre became the 31st field manager of the Yankees and, within less than a year, he was only the eighth to manage the team to a World Series championship. The Yankees won four World Series and six A.L. pennants in his first eight years at the helm. Torre had an 18-year playing career with the Braves, Cardinals, and Mets, primarily as a catcher and third baseman before becoming the Mets’ playing manager on May 31, 1977. He was a lifetime .297 hitter in 2,209 big league games and was the N.L. M.V.P. in 1971 with St. Louis, when he led the league in batting (.363) and r.b.i. (137). After managing the Mets through 1981, Torre was Manager of the Year with the division-winning Braves in 1982. Following five years as a broadcaster for the then-California Angels, he returned to managing with St. Louis during the 1990 season. He was fired by the Cardinals on June 16, 1995. After managing the Yankees into the playoffs in 1997, Torre guided them through their magical 125-win season in 1998 and the first of three straight world championships.  The Yankees made the playoffs in each of Torre’s 12 seasons at the helm, finishing first 10 times, but his contract was not renewed, despite an 1173-767 (.605).  Torre then managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for three seasons (2008-10) before leaving the dugout for good.  In Feb. 2011, he was appointed Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball.

Dan Topping


Dan Topping (Baseball, pro football.  Born, Grennwich, CT, June 11, 1912; died, Miami, FL, May 18, 1974.)  Grandson of a former president of Republic Steel on his father’s side and a tin millionaire on his mother’s, Daniel Reid Topping was an above-average amateur golfer, owner of two pro football teams, and an owner of the Yankees for 22 years.  Topping played football, golf, baseball, and hockey at various times during his school years at The Hun and Penn.  It was in golf that he made his only serious athletic impression, reaching the quarterfinals of the British Amateur in 1935 and playing in the U.S. Amateur three times.  Topping started his business career at Bankers Trust in 1930, briefly ran an advertising agency, and, in 1934, bought the N.F.L. Brooklyn Football Dodgers.  He owned the club for 11 years (1934-44), hiring famed coach Dr. John B. Sutherland in 1940 (for the then-huge salary of $17,500) and beating the Football Giants on Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7, 1941) at the Polo Grounds.  His pro sports ownership was then mixed with a 42-month hitch in the Marines during World War II (26 months in the Pacific Theater).  In 1945, Topping announced that his Brooklyn team was leaving the N.F.L. to join the new, rival league then being formed.  Earlier that year, he had joined the triumvirate that bought the Yankees from the Ruppert estate (Jan. 25).  Topping, construction magnate Del Webb, and baseball executive Larry MacPhail paid $2.8 million for the team and Yankee Stadium.  The N.F.L. stripped his team of its players but Topping joined the All-America Football Conference anyway, placing the Football Yankees in the Stadium (1946-49).  The football team made the playoffs three times in four years and twice lost the league title game to the Cleveland Browns.  It was for the Football Yankees public-address position that Topping hired Bob Sheppard (1949), who later became famous as the baseball Yankees p.a. announcer for almost 60 years.  Topping’s baseball teams were much more effective, winning 14 American League pennants and nine World Series in his first 17 years as president after MacPhail was bought out following the 1947 Series.  He sold most of his interest to C.B.S. (for $11.2 million) in 1964 and the balance two years later when he resigned as president.  Earlier, Topping and Webb had sold Yankee Stadium (1953).  Lean, handsome, and always tanned, Topping led an active personal life.  He was married six times (including to actress Arline Judge in 1937, Olympic figure skating champion Sonja Henie in 1940 and actress Kay Sutton in 1947).  Five of the marriages ended in divorce, but he had nine children.  Topping summed up his feelings when he said, “Being in sports is the only way you can work and enjoy yourself while working.”  He also once observed, “Friends are the guys who are still around when you’re not winning.”  Topping also served on the boards of several companies, including Madison Square Garden.

Bobby Thomson


Bobby Thomson (Baseball.  Born, Glasgow, Scotland, Oct. 25, 1923; died, Savannah, GA, Aug. 16, 2010.)  In his 15-year career, Robert Brown Thomson had 1,705 hits and 264 home runs, but he will be remembered as long as baseball history is recalled for only one.  On Oct. 3, 1951, Thomson’s three-run, ninth-inning homer, won the N.L. pennant for the New York Giants.  They had trailed their arch-rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, by 13½ games on August 11 and 4-1 starting the bottom of the ninth inning of the third (and deciding) playoff game against Brooklyn, which they had forced after catching the Dodgers in the pennant race in the last week of the season and splitting the first two games of the playoff series.  With one out, two on, and a run in, Thomson drilled reliever Ralph Branca’s 0-1 pitch into the lower leftfield stands of the Polo Grounds to end the season.  Thomson’s homer was his second of the playoff (both off Branca) and his 32nd of the season.  Thomson came to the Giants in 1946 for 18 games and the righthand hitter became a regular outfielder in 1947, hitting 179 homers in his first seven full seasons.  He was traded to the Milwaukee Braves Feb. 1, 1954, and was scheduled to be a regular outfielder, but a broken ankle in spring training opened the door for a rookie named Henry Aaron.  Thomson briefly returned to the Giants (1957) and then played for three other clubs before retiring after the 1960 season.  He was a lifetime .270 hitter.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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