Sunday, November 25, 2007

New buzz on the Black Sox

While researching my biography on Ray Schalk, I learned that the Chicago Tribune today carried a blockbuster story -- at least for people interested in baseball and Chicago sports history -- reporting that a box full of letters, memos and documents related to the Black Sox scandal, heretofore thought lost forever, have resurfaced.

Scanning the few samples posted on the Tribune's web site, I saw Schalk's name mentioned once -- where apparently he was to come in to White Sox offices for an interview about what he know of the affair.

It was Schalk, perhaps before any other of the honest players, who smelled a rat during the team's 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. After all, if a pitcher isn't hitting his spots, showing his stuff or following signs, the catcher would be the first to know.

This is a fascinating event for folks interested in what went on in October 1919. But it doesn't necessarily help the cause trying to clear the names of two of the eight banned players, Buck Weaver and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Museum to assist

Ray Schalk recorded 1,811 assists in his major league baseball career (1912-29). Recently, I received an assist on his behalf.

The directors of the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum (Nokomis, Ill.) have agreed to allow me to publish the Ray Schalk photos in their collection in my Schalk biography.

The only hitch is working out the details of acquiring digital files of the images without the actual prints leaving the museum premises. However, that can be arranged, I'm sure.

Part of the collection is this shot of a young Ray Schalk.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Happy birthday, Ray

A belated note: Sunday marked Ray Schalk's birthday. The late White Sox catcher would have been 115 years old.

Raymond "Cracker" Schalk was born Aug. 12, 1892, in the downstate Illinois community of Harvel (not to be confused, as some people do, with the Chicago suburb of Harvey). He died in 1970.

After recently receiving positive feedback on my intention to write a full biography on Schalk, I need to get cracking on "Cracker." Otherwise, it will be 115 years before the book is completed.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Schalk part of Faber exhibit


I had the privilege of attending Monday's private preview of the Tri-County County Historical Society's new and improved Red Faber exhibit.

The exhibit makes note of Ray Schalk's connection to Faber's connection and his life, noting that Cracker caught in more than half of Faber's games -- by far the most of any White Sox receiver. The caption under Schalk's photo also notes that he and Faber were lifelong friends and neighbors in Chicago.

The official opening of the exhibit is Wednesday (Independence Day) morning, after the parade in Cascade.

The exhibition room exceeded my expectations. It's organized well, features beautiful specially made display cases, memorabilia and dozens of photos provided by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The instigator of the project was Lee Simon (at right in this photo), who, with Mary Lee Hostert (above) were extremely supportive of my Faber biography project.

Fans of baseball and local history should pay the museum a visit. Regular hours are on Sunday afternoons.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

40 years ago: "Fore!"

I know what Ray Schalk did 40 years ago today. This is not a monumental development, but whenever I can pick up a tidbit about the off-the-field activities of the baseball Hall-of-Famer, I enter it on the spreadsheet I use to track his life events. These items can help me weave the story that I intend to make into a full biography.

Thanks to Google Alerts, I was directed to a brief mention of Schalk toward the end of a Daily Southtown article. I now know that Schalk, then 74, played a round of golf at his home course, the Beverly Country Club in south suburban Chicago, on April 22, 1967.

At first glance, there is nothing terribly significant in that -- except that his round with Chris Smits occurred the day after the course and its facilities were severely damaged in a killer tornado. Dozens were killed and hundreds injured -- many of the victims not far from the course.

Apparently Smits and Schalk played around the debris-strewn course, which had nearly three dozen of its large trees uprooted in the twister. They were the only golfers that day.

No word on Schalk's score.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Deadball book subject of web interview

David Jones, editor of Deadball Stars of the American League, which includes my chapter of Red Faber, on Thursday was interviewed by Casey Stern on MLB.com Radio on Thursday. The 10-minute interview was archived. Though Faber, a spitball pitcher was not mentioned, Jones and Stern do discuss the spitball and its impact on the game. The book also has Brian Stevens' chapter on the subject of my next biography, White Sox star Ray Schalk.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Curve ball

After things started to quiet down around the house on Easter afternoon, I resumed my research on my Schalk biography.

Turns out that Ray and the New York Telegram, both deceased, threw me a couple of curve balls that cost me a couple of hours of research time.

In 1929, Schalk described for the New York paper one of the funniest things he ever observed on a baseball diamond.

The situation involved an apparent Washington Senators home run that wasn't. It seems that baserunner Frank Ellerbe hearing the crowd react after teammate Ed Gharrity sent a long drive to left field, thought Chicago's Shoeless Joe Jackson had made a great catch to end the inning. (Actually, the ball cleared the fence on the fly.) Ellerbe stopped running the bases and headed to his defensive position, shortstop, and passed Gharrity, who was making his home-run trot. Passing a teammate is an automatic out, and Gharrity was credited with being the first man to end an inning on a home run.

In the article, the year of the incident was wrong, and the names of the two Senators were misspelled. That makes it tough to do accurate Internet searches. Finally, after straightening out the name spellings, and re-thinking my search parameters, I found accounts of the incident -- which occurred two years later than Schalk stated (1920 instead of 1918). In addition, sportswriters' accounts at the time differed from Schalk's recollection more than eight years later.

The moral of the story is that even witnesses get their facts wrong and that journalists -- then, as now -- can be challenged by name spellings.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Tidbits among the reels

Though my time for such work has been limited, I took a day off Friday (I was "on duty" Saturday) and spent it researching Ray Schalk at the Chicago Public Library.

After about six hours of poring over a hot microfilm reader, I had a few dozen articles from Chicago newspapers (the ones I can't access over the Internet through the Carnegie-Stout subscription to ProQuest Historical Newspapers) about one of the greatest catchers ever.

I found sportswriter Bill Gleason's recollection in the Sun-Times of visiting Schalk's home for an informal get-together that included three aging Hall-of-Famers -- Schalk, Red Faber and special guest Ty Cobb.

I located more information about the tragic death of Schalk's son, Ray Jr., who took his own life just a few months before his father died.

My account of the brazen robbery of Schalk's bowling alley in 1948 -- during which the criminals locked up Schalk, his wife and a couple of dozen employees -- will be more descriptive now that I know the make of Schalk's car (which the robbers also stole).

There are just a few of the tidbits from that fuzzy microfilm that I hope to bring into focus in the Schalk biography.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Research boost

My intermittent research into my next biography subject, Ray Schalk, received a boost this weekend.

The wife of a Schalk relative mailed me a stack of photocopies. They were of all of the newspaper articles her husband had in his scrapbook concerning the late Hall of Famer.

Several of the articles, primarily those from the Chicago Tribune, I already had. However, there were many articles that I might never have uncovered. Particularly illuminating were those from his hometown paper in Litchfield, Ill. (Schalk was born in nearby Harvel and grew up in Litchfield.) The articles recounted Schalks early years and contained several details that can help round out a book. "Little things," such as the name, location and condition of the ballfield in Litchfield and the name of his first semi-pro team, the Arcos.

Also in the stack were articles from Schalk's days at manager in Buffalo and Milwaukee -- including a feature story on Schalk's wife.

This type of assistance is so important, and so appreciated. It helps build the foundation for telling the story of Schalk's boyhood and his family.