Thursday, May 15, 2014


All You Have To Do Is Dream

Every kid whoever picked up a baseball has dreamed that one day he would pitch in the major leagues.   Tens of millions of tried, only a dozen thousand or so have ever toed the rubber of a big league mound and thrown his best pitch toward an awaiting slugger.  This is the story of Larry Foss, a former Dublin Irish pitcher, and who he achieved his dream of becoming a major league pitcher and in the process winning his very first game against one of the game's most feared and revered pitchers, only to lose all of his remaining games on the worst team in professional baseball history.

Larry Curtis Foss was born in Castleton, Kansas on April 18, 1936, seventy years ago today.  Foss was drafted out of West High School in Wichita by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Inthe summer before his senior year at West High, Foss grew an amazing eight inches to a height of six feet two inches, a stature which greatly helped the speed of his pitches.   The young pitcher was assigned to the Dublin Irish, the organization's Class D entry in the Georgia State League.

During the 1955 season Foss appeared in 23 games posting an average record of four wins and four losses.  His earned run average of 5.51 runs per game was not good and his future in baseball was in doubt.  In eighty innings of pitching, he gave up 72 hits and 82 bases on balls.  His strikeout ratio of seven per game was not too bad for a 19-year-old hurler more than a thousand miles away from home.  There were no designated hitters in that era and Foss was expected to hit as well as pitch. In 28 at bats, he managed to bat a respectable .250 with seven runs batted in.  In a sign of times to come, Foss ended his first year in professional baseball playing on one of the worst minor league teams ever assembled in Dublin.  The Irish finished fifth out of six teams that season under the helm of George Kinnamon.  George Arent, the team's best offensive player that year, couldn't break the .300 mark, finishing with a batting average of .294.  Jim Hardison was one of the league's best pitchers, but couldn't help Foss from the bench.

Foss bounced around the minor leagues for six more seasons.  His first taste of being in the major leagues came on March 11, 1960 when he came in relief against the Baltimore Orioles.  He had control problems, but managed to give up only one run in two innings. Four days later he was brought in relief against the Kansas City Athletics.  The first eight Athletics batters reached base.  Ten runs scored.  Foss's teammates got him off the hook when they scored eleven more runs to win the game. A March 25th appearance wasn't much better.  He gave up four straight walks against the Senators before being pulled from the game.  But Larry Foss refused to give up. He worked hard and pitched well for the Asheville Pirates of the Sally League.

Just when it looked as if he would never pitch in the majors, Larry got a call from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the last weeks of September 1961. He was numb and exhilarated at the same time.  Foss drove from Asheville, North Carolina to join the Pirates.  The Pirates, the 1960 World Series Champions, were in a slump.  With the memories of Bill Mazeroski's championship winning walk off home run against the Yankees still fresh in their minds, the Bucs lingered in sixth place in the eight team National League.

Foss remembered, "I get into the clubhouse and Danny Murtaugh, (the Pirates manager), says, "You're pitching tonight."   Not only was he pitching, but he was starting. What the young pitcher didn't realize was that his opponent that night was a another 25- year-old pitcher for the Cardinals, Bob Gibson.  Though he was still striving for his abominable hard driving style which catapulted him to the position as the National League's best pitcher and eventually into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Gibson was still an imposing opponent.

It was a cool evening in Pittsburgh on September 18th.   As he took his warmup pitches, Foss peered around the vast confines of Forbes Field.  Tradition was all around him.  The pressure was on.  It must have seemed to Larry that it was now or never.   He walked Curt Flood, Julian Javier and Bill White to load the bases.  The first three pitches to the cleanup hitter Ken Boyer veered outside the strike zone.  Then somehow Larry gathered himself and managed to get out of the inning without a single Cardinal runner crossing the plate.  The Pirates took the lead, which they held until the fifth inning when Foss gave up the first run of his career.  The Pirates bounced back with two runs in the bottom of the inning and five more in the seventh stanza.  Foss pitched to two batters in the eight before being relieved by Harvey Haddix and Elroy Face, two of the game's best relievers.  The Pirates held on to win 8-6.  Foss gave up three runs, two of them earned.  He struck out five and walked six. Larry had done it. He won his very first major league game and beat Bob Gibson and held the legendary Stan Musial to one hit  in the process. He never won another regular season game.

Two weeks later, Larry took the mound against the Cincinnati Reds.  Foss gave up three runs in the first inning and three more in the sixth lowering his record to 1 and 1. A third start resulted in a no decision.  At the end of his first season, Larry Foss had accumulated a record of 1-1 with an ERA of 5.87.

After a stint in the winter Dominican League in 1961, Larry returned to the Pirates spring training camp in 1962 with high hopes of making the team's roster.  Larry returned to his superb form of his first start when he pitched three scoreless innings against the Mets. His blazing fastball caught the eye of the venerable Met manager Casey Stengel, who had led the New York Yankees to an unprecedented string of World Championships, but who was then managing the cross town Mets in their inaugural season.  Foss won his next game against the Twins.   Larry didn't make the roster, but enjoyed a good season at Asheville with a record of 10-5. He was placed on waivers by the Pirates.  Stengel, one of the game's greatest sages, remembered Foss, whom he called "Foos"  and convinced the team's general manager to pick up the promising rookie for the $20,000.00 wavier price.

Larry Foss pitched his first game for the 1962 Mets.  He lost to the Colt .45s on September 19th.    Larry pitched well in relief in a 3-2 loss to the Cubs 9 days later.  The Mets lost 120 of 160 games that year, the worst team record in the history of major league baseball.  He returned to training camp in 1963.  His last appearance for the Mets came on April 3, 1963, when he gave up one run in one inning against the Reds.  He was picked up by the Milwaukee Braves and assigned to their Denver AAA team.  Larry left professional baseball with arm problems, but pitched his hometown Service Auto Glass team to the 1964 National Baseball Congress World Series championship.   He worked in the oil and gas business for twenty plus years before moving to the mountains of Colorado, where he enjoyed fishing and hunting. Larry Foss returned to Wichita in 1993 to open a sporting goods store.  

Larry Foss loved baseball.   Despite his short major league career he fondly remembers his victory against Bob Gibson, his favorite pitcher, and being a member of  the hapless 1962 Mets.  He told a reporter from the Wichita Eagle, I had no idea that team would become as legendary as it has.  I would have grabbed a jersey or something or gotten some balls autographed."  All he has to remind him of being a member of baseball's worst team is his old cap.  But dreams do come true.  Hard work and determination can take you  to high places.   All you have to do is dream. Happy Birthday Larry!


During eight weeks in the spring of 1914, brawny behemoths climbed into the ring on the stage of Dublin’s elegant Bertha Theater to battle each other to determine just who was the best wrestler in the land.  In April and May 1914, several of the country’s greatest wrestlers fought it out in a series of matches under the promotion of Harry P. Diggs, the Bertha’s manager and an amateur song writer.

Big time wrestling debuted in the Middle Georgia area in the autumn of 1913 when “Big Jack” Leon defeated Gus Kerveras at the Old Armory in Macon. For the next seven months, Diggs’ wrestlers fought it out in Macon, Columbus and Dublin.

The first match at the Bertha came on the evening of April 3, 1914 in a bout which pitted Dr. Ben F. Roller, (LEFT) a real physician, against Billy Jenkins and Mort Henderson.  Handicapped from the start, Roller  had to wrestle the men back to back - Henderson being his greatest nemesis.  Roller,  a former professional football player, easily took Jenkins in 16 minutes.  Still weary from wrestling Zbyszko in Birmingham the week before, Henderson held his own against his famous opponent Roller, a three time American Heavyweight Champion.

The following year, Henderson would try something new in the wrestling arena.  He was credited with being the first wrestler to don a mask to hide his identity, wrestling as “The Masked Marvel.”

A rematch was set for April 9 in what promoter Diggs proclaimed as “The American Championship.”  With several Maconites who had come down on a special M.D. & S. train in attendance,   Roller was “at his best from start to finish, and the champion’s best is about the best there is in the wrestling business,” wrote the Courier Herald.  Roller took the first round in 51 minutes with a leg and arm hold.  In the second round, a Courier Herald writer wrote, “The doctor went after Mort like a large sized tornado” in defeating Henderson, who had gone toe to toe with Jack Leon in Macon the night before, in less than ten minutes before a near capacity crowd.

Greek wrestler Gus Kerveras jumped into the ring and urged the champion to go another round.  Roller’s manager, Billy Sandow, a professional wrestler himself and one of the sport’s most well known managers, objected as Roller had already fought enough during the evening.  Sandow did agree to allow his champ, to return to the ring the following night to fight the grandiose Greek.

Roller, a clean sportsman and of Greek ancestry himself, kept his word and climbed into the ring the next evening.  “The bout was a cross between science on one side and plain every day ‘head buttin’ on the other,” a Courier Herald writer reported.  Despite his aggressive manner, the powerful Kervarus, not exactly a fan favorite by the small crowd,  was defeated for the first time by Roller, who won the first fall in 48 minutes and the second one in only 4 minutes.

The third week of the season featured a match in which Henderson, Dublin’s favorite wrestler, defeated  Paul Sampson, a giant German journeyman wrestler.

Another “championship bout” was on the card for the fourth week.  Promoters, who expected Dublin’s largest wrestling crowd ever,  provided for a special train for fans  to leave Macon at 6:00 o’clock and return to Macon a half-hour after the match was over all for the sum of $3.00 for the train ride and a ringside ticket.

Mort Henderson’s  (LEFT AS THE MASKED MARVEL) throng of local supporters filled the Bertha Theater.  His opponent was Jack Leon, a wrestler on the rise, who was making his first appearance in Dublin.

Leon, a long-legged, ugly-looking, big boned, Swedish, bulldog of a  wrestler, was on his game, taking the offensive from the beginning.  Henderson’s supporters hoped that Leon (LEFT)  would wear himself out with his strong efforts.  Those hopes were dashed at the 49 minute point of the 60 minute round.  The second and deciding fall came when Henderson fell half way through the round.

The final match of the 1914 wrestling season came on May 22, 1914.  Jack Leon, still celebrating his championship victory over Mort Henderson three weeks before at the Bertha, was slated to fight Ed “The Strangler” Lewis.    Diggs, in order to boost the attendance in the final fight, offered a purse of $300.00 to the wrestlers in addition to their share of the gate receipts.  Diggs, backed by wealthy, prominent Dublin boosters, was once again boosting the encounter as the most sensational match ever held in Dublin.   All women were admitted free of charge.

“Eddie Lewis, who by the way is a handsome youngster, beside a strangler of international fame, is one of the classiest and fastest wrestlers in the business,” proclaimed  the Courier Herald.

The writer was correct. Lewis (LEFT) used his strangle hold to win six World Heavyweight Championships and a have dozen state and regional championships.  “The Strangler” was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002.  Lewis’ manager, Billy Sandow, once issued a $10,000 challenge to Jack Dempsey that Lewis could beat him in any ring anywhere in 20 minutes or less.

Lewis took the first round when he used his patented “strangle hold” on Leon a quarter of the way through the first round.  Leon turned the momentum in his favor, when he caught Lewis in a half Nelson nearly half way through the second stanza.

Referee Harry Diggs called the match for Lewis, when once again, the “Strangler” put his strangle hold on Leon at the twenty minute mark for the victory.

That summer, the voters of Dublin inexplicably decided to ban wrestling at the Bertha Theater.   Just when Wrestlemania was peaking and fans were thrilled every week, it was all but gone from the city.  Dr. Roller did return to Dublin two years later in 1916 to defeat the Frenchman, Constant Lemarin, (LEFT)

Wrestlemania never really returned to Dublin.  In the 1920s and throughout the 1930s, boxing became the pugilistic preference of Dublin’s contact sport fans.   Over the years, promoters booked matches in high school gyms and in the Laurens County Ag Center to entertain a new generation of wrestlemaniacs.

But, none of these overly fake wrestling matches can compare to those days of a century ago when Dublin, along with Macon and Columbus, featured some of the best wrestlers in the country in Wrestlemania 1914.


Baseball’s Barnstorming Belles

A century ago,  baseball teams with women players were somewhat of a novelty.  The all-women teams, with the exception of one or two essential male players, made a nearly modest living traveling throughout the country, playing in big cities and little towns against all  male teams, usually a squad formed from local boys and young men.  Such was the case with the Indianapolis Star Bloomer Girls, who traveled through Georgia in the spring of 1914, stopped in Dublin for a contest against our local team.

“Bloomer Girls” teams were formed in different parts of the country from New England to the Mid West.  The teams were not all women. Many hired a male player, “a topper”  to pitch or catch.  Among three of the most famous toppers, some of whom wore wavy wigs, were Hall of Fame infielder Rogers Hornsby, who would return to Dublin with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1933,  Smoky Joe Wood a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in the years before World War I and another Hall of Fame pitcher, Grover Cleveland Alexander. 

Named for Adelaide  Bloomer, a woman’s rights activist, the Bloomer Girls began in the 1890s and lasted for more than four decades when women’s professional baseball teams disbanded in the mid 1930s.  The Girls, who originally wore loose-fitting bloomer pants  before switching to more traditional baseball pants, helped to introduce night baseball games in the early 1900s.  Used to playing at night, the blinding glare of the arc lights often gave the Bloomer Girls a decided advantage to their daylight playing competitors. 

After spending the winter training in Cuba, the Bloomer Girls, managed by Frank Schmalz - the brother of former Cincinnati Reds owner George Schmalz,  began a grueling schedule in February 1914, playing first in New Orleans and then playing on most days across the Deep South.  

Eastman was the first stop on the Georgia schedule for the Bloomer Girls, who billed themselves as the “Lady Champions of the World,”  on April 20, 1914.   One thousand or more baseball fans and curious spectators witnessed the Eastman Boys jump out to an early 5-0 lead at the end of three innings.  The Bloomer Girls committed eight errors in the game, but managed to pull within two runs with a three-run six inning. Eastman’s catcher Wright had a big day with three hits, while Eastman starting pitcher, Henry Skelton, held the Girls in check for most of the game. 

The Star Bloomer Girls traveled from Eastman to Dublin by train for a game  on the afternoon of April 21, 1914.  Under fair, warming skies the teams took the field, most likely at the 12th District Fairgrounds at the corner of Telfair and Troup Streets.  There may have been as many as 1500 fans on hand to see the game.

Although no specific accounts of the game have survived, the Dublin boys scored single runs in the first and third innings before plating four to take a commanding 6- 0lead in the bottom of the 5th inning.  With outstanding fielding, the Dublin boys held the Girls to a single run in the top of the 8th, taking an easy 7-1 victory with the pitching of Whetor.  Margaret “Peg” Cunningham,  the left-handed, nineteen-year-old,  star pitcher for the Girls,  started for the Bloomers until she was relieved by Loyd, who pitched well in relief.  The Dublin boys boasted that they had the second greatest victory by a Georgia team against the Bloomers, only a single run behind the boys from LaGrange. 

Margaret "Peg" Cunningham and Minnie Fay Phelan, Feb. 1914

Among the girls playing in Dublin that day were: Selma Wanbaum, an eight-year veteran at first base,  “Happy” Murphy, the team comedian and second baseman with six year’s experience, and third baseman Elizabeth “Lizzie” Fargo.  Playing left field was “Carrie Nation,” aka Mae Arbaugh, who reportedly played in 6,486 professional baseball games (and at least 4600 as reported by Baseball Magazine in 1931.)  If true, Arbaugh would have surpassed Pete Rose for the most games played by a professional baseball player. 

Marie  Dierl took center field and Watsworth, right field. Minnie Fay Phelan, sister of Chicago Cub infielder, Art Phelan, and the Girls’ right handed pitcher, once pitched a 3-2, 14-inning complete game against the men of Syracuse.  Jack Reilly, a semi-pro player, was the sole male member of the team and usually played the key stone position at shortstop.  

Margaret Cunningham was regarded as the best female pitcher of her day.  Seems that Margaret learned how to pitch under the mentorship of Ed Walsh, a Hall of Fame pitcher, who played with the Chicago White Sox for most of his career and who still holds the all time record lowest (1.82) career ERA.  One of Cunningham’s greatest pitching victories came in 1913 when she defeated Louisville, Kentucky’s male team 2-1 in an 11-inning complete game victory.  
The next stop on the swing through Central Georgia came on the 22nd of April in a game between the Star Bloomers and Hawkinsville. 

On the 24th, the Girls traveled to Macon to play an All Star team made up of members of the Central City League.  Margaret “Peg O’ My Heart” Cunningham started the game in front of more than a thousand men and their wives.

At the end of three innings, Cunningham, obviously exhausted from pitching too many innings on too many days, cried out, “Oh, my!  I am tired.  Take me out!”   With their star pitcher on the bench, things weren’t looking up for the Bloomers, who were playing their fourth straight day of baseball, all on the road and far, far from their homes.  

With three men playing against the powerful Macon team, the Bloomer Girls’ Mr. John came into pitch, holding the Macon nine scoreless for the rest of the game.  The Girls fought back scoring  one in the 6th inning and two runs in each of the next two stanzas to squeak by the Macon men, 5-4.

The next day, the girls traveled to Atlanta to face the Atlanta Federals, a semi-pro team, whom they upset in front of a stunned crowd.  

The Bloomer Girls continued their swing through Georgia in May playing teams from Columbus, Talbotton, LaGrange and the Bibb Mills team from Macon.  Bloomer boosters claim that the Bibb Mills team had to import players to keep the girls from sweeping the two-game series from Macon men. 

By the time the Star Girls made it to Montgomery, Alabama, they had won five games  in a row. Managers of the men’s capital city’s team scoured the countryside for men with semi-pro experience to prevent further embarrassment to the ego of the men of the “Yellowhammer State.”   The Montgomery team assembled a team which they deemed to have “the best amateur infield in the state.”    The bought and paid for  team won, but the Bloomer Girls kept right on playing throughout the summer and throughout the nation, playing as many as two hundred games a year.

Those who saw the “Star Bloomer Girls” went away believing that baseball’s  barnstorming belles in dark uniforms with a big star on the front were not just novelties, but an aggregation of good baseball players who could hold their own with the best men that any city or town could send out to beat them.