Tag Archives: Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Baseball Writers Association of America’s Annual ‘Ribs and Roasts’ Shows

Back in the olden days, it was very common for a city’s BBWAA chapter to have a banquet—or perhaps, more accurately, a bacchanalia—at which they present various awards and recognition of the mighty deeds of bat, ball and pen that took place during the regular season.

Some chapters had highly theatrical affairs. Leonard Koppett provided a detailed description of the New York chapters’ affairs in his terrific book, The Rise and Fall of the Press Box.  But research from Media Committee member Lou Boyd contends that the banquets held by the Cleveland writers’ chapter were at least the equal of that of New York’s.


The Cleveland Baseball Writers Association of America’s Annual ‘Ribs and Roasts’ Shows

‘The Forgotten Cleveland Indian MVP’s’

by Lou Boyd

 “Our Dinners Are Terrible”, screamed the headline in a February 1, 1949 article in the Boston Herald, written by Bill Cunningham[i]. This pronouncement was related to the midwinter baseball awards dinner season that was held annually in major baseball cities across the United States to celebrate and skewer their baseball heroes, managers, owners and anyone else who dared to have an impact on the previous year’s baseball season.

Invariably, these presentations were the responsibility of the local baseball writers from the various big league cities. The events ranged from a host of speakers and awards being presented to the winners of select categories up to massive productions of theatrical skits. These so-called skits could take the form of gentle taps on the wrist of their target all the way up to outright embarrassment for the subject.

The article went on to indicate that different cities were producing considerably different shows. New York, as expected, was considered the ‘most stylish of the lot’, yet, there was another city that seemed to be taking the crown away from the Big Apple. It was Cleveland.

The article goes on to say, “To put on a show such as the Clevelanders staged, you need some newspaper men who can really be funny. You need some, or somebody, who can write clever parodies and, if you’re going to lampoon the leading baseball characters of your immediate locality, you need scribes who bear, or who can manufacture, reasonable resemblances to the gentlemen being given the business. That type of affair takes a real talent and a lot of hard work. Maybe it’s worth it. The customers generally think so. Sometimes the organizers have their doubts. Such shenanigans, however, have to be good. Nothing can fall flatter than a string of these firecrackers that fall to explode. All of us have seen some that were utterly awful. It’s hard to foresee what’s going to be done about Cleveland. The place is taking all the honors that exist. It has the world championship in baseball. Its professional football team is the pace-setter and crowd collector of its particular division. Now its literary section is challenging for top honors in the field of Hammerstein, Booth and Barrymore.”

While the 1948 Cleveland baseball season was monumental, the baseball writers exploits during this off-season celebration in early 1949 was not their first. The Cleveland Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) had been conducting these dinners for the local American League representative Indians beginning in 1938, and each year they selected a ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the Cleveland Indians.

1939 Cleveland BBWAA Ribs & Roasts show, their second annual awards dinner. Mel Harder was elected team MVP.
1939 Cleveland BBWAA Ribs & Roasts show, their second annual awards dinner. Mel Harder was elected team MVP.

1938 – 1944 Ribs & Roasts Shows

On November 9, 1937, the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America met at the sports offices of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to hold their annual elections for officers.[ii] It is very probable that the genesis of the Cleveland version of a sportswriter’s dinner awards show began at that meeting. The following day, it was announced that Stuart Bell, Sports Editor of the Cleveland Press was elected chairman of the chapter. Eugene Whitney was re-elected secretary and Herm Goldstein was chosen as treasurer.

According to ‘The Sporting News’ on December 30, 1937, “The Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association will hold its annual dinner on January 4 with Steve O’Neill as the guest of honor. In addition to this affair, the chapter has decided to have monthly dinner meetings and to investigate the possibility of a major party along the lines already popular in several other cities.”[iii]

The Cleveland Chapter did decide to hold a major party and award the honor of “Most Valuable Player” for the 1937 season. The award was presented on February 23, 1938 to Johnny Allen at the first annual banquet referred to as the ‘Ribs and Roasts of 1938’. The awards and banquets continued uninterrupted through the 1943 season. It is assumed that due to the war, no shows or awards were given for the 1944 and 1945 seasons.

Throughout the early years, the formal event to honor these individuals was more often than not known as the annual “Ribs and Roasts” show, with the intent behind the name to present an enjoyable evening of poking fun at the members of the Cleveland sporting community, including the writers, players and management of not only the Cleveland Indians, but also on occasion, the Browns, Barons and any other organization rooted in local Cleveland sports.

Beginning in 1946, the Cleveland writers renamed the award as the “Man of the Year” and presented the honor to Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians. The name of the award was changed in order to include “non-players such as owners and other more sedentary personnel”.[iv] In addition to Bill Veeck, the only other non-players awarded the honor were Mel Harder for the 1961 season when he was the pitching coach and Dave Garcia in 1979 when he was manager of the team. The award was officially changed to the “Bob Feller Man of the Year” award beginning in 2010.

For some reason, the MVPs recognized by the sportswriters beginning with the 1937 season through 1943 were forgotten by the local record books and publications. An article by long time Cleveland writer Howard Preston was published in 1969 that said “Late last month the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America presented another ‘Ribs and Roasts Show’ which it dubbed the 23rd annual affair, designed to put the spotlight on the previous year’s sports activities in Cleveland. Somebody can’t count. I have in my possession the program from the first annual Ribs and Roasts show and the date is 31 years ago last night, Feb. 23, 1938.”[v]

Even the Cleveland Indians publicity department somehow forgot about these player awards. Beginning with the 1968 Cleveland Indians Pressbook, the organization started to expand the historical information included in the booklet given to sportswriters covering major league baseball. Included was a list of members of the organization chosen as the Cleveland ‘Man of the Year’ award beginning in 1946. It can be surmised that Marshall Samuel, long time Indians publicist joined the Tribe with Bill Veeck in 1946 from Chicago and was not aware of the previous awards and shows since there had been a lapse of two years.

The Forgotten MVP’s

 In addition to Johnny Allen, the 1937 MVP, another six Indians have been lost to the record books for their accomplishments in the annals of Cleveland Indian history. Here is a list of those Tribesmen who should be recognized for their achievements recognized by the Cleveland BBWAA.[vi]

Indians Season         Date of Ribs & Roast Show                     “MVP”

1937                                       February 23, 1938                           Johnny Allen

1938                                       February 8, 1939                              Mel Harder

1939                                       February 6, 1940                              Bob Feller

1940                                       January 14, 1941                              Lou Boudreau

1941                                       January 20, 1942                              Jeff Heath

1942                                       January 26, 1943                              Ken Keltner

1943                                       May 23, 1944                                      Al Smith

Hopefully, this information will someday be recognized by the historians for the outstanding contributions these men made on the field for the Cleveland Indians.

[i] Cunningham, Bill. “Our Dinners Are Terrible,” The Boston Herald, February 1, 1949.

[ii] Unknown, “Writers Elect Bell”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 10, 1937.

[iii] Unknown, “In the Press Box”, The Sporting News, December 30, 1937.

[iv] Preston, Howard, “Who’s Where, 31 Years Later”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 24, 1969.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Unknown, “Honor Bearden at Banquet Here”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 19, 1948.

Further confirmation of MVP awardees and Ribs & Roasts shows for the years 1938 – 1944 were compiled primarily from articles written in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and other various Cleveland newspapers during the timeframe of the awards shows.

The Excellent Case for Jack Graney to be Enshrined in the Hall of Fame

Barbara Gregorich is a long-time SABR member who has written a boatload of books on a number of subjects ranging from women in baseball to children’s books to mystery novels. I don’t know whether she types her output on an old Remington Rand, which would be really cool, but either way, she’s a prodigious author of repute.

Barbara is also a big champion of Jack Graney, the Canadian-born slick-fielding outfielder for the Cleveland Indians during the heart of, and then the waning days of, the dead ball era.  Upon his retirement he remained in The Forest City to sell Fords during the roaring 20s, before moving into investments and eventually back to auto sales. Once the Depression hit, car sales started to evaporate, but fortuitously, the business of broadcasting baseball games was just starting to take hold.  The Tribe hired Graney on as the first-ever ex-ballplayer play-by-play announcer for a major league team.

Graney held onto the mike as the first great Cleveland Indians radio broadcaster until 1953, and he is currently memorialized in the press box at Progressive Field, as well as having been enshrined in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

And this is where Barbara comes in. She believes that Graney deserves the top honor any baseball broadcaster can achieve: enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown as winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting excellence.  She made the excellent case for this on her blog last week, and with her permission, we are reproducing the piece in its entirety below.

If you would prefer to read it on her original blog, click here.


 

Jack Graney and the Broadcasting Dawn Era

In September of this year a research team of the National Baseball Hall of Fame will release a list of candidates for the 2016 Ford C. Frick Award, to be given to a broadcaster who worked during the Broadcasting Dawn Era (roughly 1930-55). The award is given for “major contributions to baseball.” During the month of September fans will get to vote for their favorite candidate on the Hall of Fame’s Facebook Page; in October a final list of ten will be given to the Ford Frick Award Committee, who will make a decision in November. The committee members who cast ballots are asked to base their selection on the following criteria:

• longevity
• continuity with a club
• honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star games
• popularity with fans

When it comes to the 2016 Ford Frick Award, I don’t know who the Broadcasting Dawn candidates will be or who the committee will select. I do know who I think is most worthy of the Award, and that man is Jack Graney.

Jack Graney was born in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada on June 10, 1886. He grew up playing hockey and baseball. During Jack’s youth, Canada native Bob Emslie [Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, 1986], a former major leaguer turned major-league umpire, noticed Jack’s athletic abilities and later recommended to the Chicago Cubs that they sign him. [See Adam Ulrey’s SABR biography, Jack Graney.]

328px-Jack_Graney_baseball_cardIn 1907 the Cubs did just that, signing Graney as a pitcher. Despite pitching well in the minors, Jack was sold to the Cleveland Naps at the end of the season. Although he played a few games for the 1908 Cleveland team, he was sent to the minor league Portland Beavers. While there, he once pitched an 18-inning game that ended in a 1-1 tie due to darkness.

At the end of that season Graney was selected as a member of the Reach All-Americans, a team composed of minor and major leaguers [SeeVintageball article.] The team played in Japan (winning all 17 of its games) and in other Asian countries. The Reach All-Americans constituted the first-ever team of professional ballplayers to tour Japan. Thus one of Jack Graney’s many firsts was that he played on the first professional baseball team to tour Japan.

That word “first” is important because Jack Graney, by both disposition and happenstance, was a man of many, many firsts. He was called up to the majors in 1910 and assigned to play League Park’s left field, which at one spot extended 505 feet. He was assigned to the first position in the batting order. Graney had a keen eye for balls and strikes and, because of his discerning eye, often drew walks. [He led the league in walks in 1917 (94) and 1919 (105).] As leadoff batter Jack often posted the first hit of the season, or the first run of the season, for his team.

In 1914 Jack Graney was the first player to face a new Red Sox pitcher, George Herman Ruth. Graney was also the first player to collect a hit off Ruth. Because he was a productive player and a team builder, other teams expressed interest in Jack Graney. The Tigers were interested, as were the White Sox. But Graney did not want to be traded: he was loyal to Cleveland all his life.

hp_scanDS_882910575444_2When Cleveland trainer Doc White brought a young bull terrier to spring training in 1912 and gave it to the team as a mascot, Napoleon LaJoie ended up giving the dog to Graney. Thus Jack became the first (and only) player to own a dog which was also the team’s official mascot. Larry performed tricks before the game not only in Cleveland, but also in other American League cities. He was the first dog ever formally introduced to a President of the US [Woodrow Wilson]. Graney, of course, performed the introduction.

In 1916 Jack Graney and teammate Tris Speaker tied for the American League doubles record. And in 1920 they played on Cleveland’s first pennant-winning team, which became Cleveland’s first World Series-winning team.

These facts about Jack Graney are interesting but only partially relevant to why I believe he is worthy of the Ford Frick Award. I say “partially relevant” because all these things show what kind of person Jack Graney was — one totally unafraid of the new or unknown (Japan, bull terriers, Babe Ruth, Woodrow Wilson). One willing to step in and be the first, even when the results weren’t guaranteed.

It is due to Jack Graney’s courage, love of baseball, and character that he stepped into the future in 1932, when he became the first former major leaguer to become a baseball broadcaster. And that was for the team he had dedicated his playing life to: the Cleveland Indians.

jack-graney-jcu-collectionTeams did not send their broadcasters on the road in those days, so for away games Jack worked with tickertape. When the team was away, tickertape would tell the stay-at-home broadcaster what happened on each pitch. The broadcaster would then re-create the game as if it were live. Jack Graney, who had played in all the American League stadiums for more than a dozen years, re-created the games vividly. He was able to describe the stadiums, the fences, the grass, the dugouts, even the scoreboards that a long ball bounced off of. Through his player’s knowledge as well as his broadcaster’s knowledge, Graney was able to bring the game to life for radio listeners. In doing these things, Jack Graney set the standard for future play-by-play broadcasters. Ted Patterson, author of The Golden Voices of Baseball, wrote that Jack Graney’s “ability to re-create a game from just a telegraphic report has never been paralleled.” [See also Ted Patterson’sJack Graney, The First Player-Broadcaster.]

Graney, who had a family to support, also worked as a car salesman in Cleveland, and some of his WHK broadcasts were from a glass-enclosed room within the dealership. People could stop by and watch Jack broadcasting games. He, in turn, could keep an eye on customers.

A caring, gregarious person, Graney shared his knowledge of the broadcasting booth with others. Jimmy Dudley [Ford C. Frick Award, 1997] was relatively new to broadcasting when, in 1947, Bill Veeck teamed him with Jack Graney. Dudley recalled his association with Jack as “one of the greatest I have ever known.”

As a broadcaster Jack Graney brought the same professionalism and dedication to his new baseball career as he had to his previous one. In 1934 CBS asked him to do the national broadcast for the World Series. But Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who ruled with an iron hand, forbid it on the grounds that a former baseball player could not broadcast impartially.

Baseball, Graney sketch.jpegJack Graney wrote a letter to Landis, protesting the decision and stating that he was now a broadcaster, not a player: that he was a professional and knew how to behave as an impartial broadcaster. The result was that Landis relented. (I don’t know, but perhaps Jack Graney getting Landis to relent was also a “first.”) In 1935 Graney broadcast the All-Star Game for CBS and then, along with Bob Elson [Ford C. Frick Award, 1979] and Red Barber [Ford C. Frick Award, 1978], he broadcast the 1935 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers.

Thus Jack Graney was the first former baseball player to nationally broadcast a World Series. Through his letter to Landis and his professional behavior in the broadcasting booth, he opened the door for other players-turned-broadcasters, such as Joe Garagiolo [Ford C. Frick Award, 1991] and Bob Uecker [Ford C. Frick Award, 2003]. These player-broadcasters stand on the innovative and helpful shoulders of Jack Graney.

Print Courtesy of AndersonsClevelandDesign.com

Throughout Cleveland, and also throughout southern Ontario, Jack Graney was a much-loved broadcaster. His voice came over the radio all summer long. His daughter, Margot Graney Mudd, remembers that on summer days you could walk down every block in Cleveland, and from every porch came the voice of Jack Graney on the radio. Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Bob Dolgan wrote: “When he [Graney] talked you could smell the resin in the dugouts, feel the clean smack of ball against bat and see the hawkers in the stands. He was a careful reporter and observer. He was short on ego and long on talent. His voice dripped with sincerity and crackled with vitality.”

On April 16, 1940, Jack Graney was behind the mike when Bob Feller threw his first no-hitter. That was on Opening Day, Comiskey Park. Feller’s feat remains the only Opening Day no-hitter. And Jack Graney was behind the mike during the 1948 World Series, when the Indians won their second World Series, this one against the Boston Braves.

Bob Feller and Jack Graney, on Jack Graney Day

After 23 years of play-by-play broadcasting, Jack Graney retired in September, 1953. In his honor, the Cleveland Indians celebrated Jack Graney Day, and fans paid their respects. Today the Indians honor Jack Graney with a large mural of him broadcasting a game. The mural is in the press room at Progressive Field, and its presence ties the Cleveland team of today to the Cleveland teams of the past, including the team that won the 1948 World Series and the 1920 World Series-winning team that Graney played on.

Jack Graney's Plaque, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Jack Graney was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a player in 1984, the second year of the Hall’s existence. And in 1987 the CBHOF instituted the Jack Graney Award, to be given to a member of the media for their contributions to baseball in Canada. This is a double-sided award: it honors not only the recipient, but each time it’s given it honors Jack Graney — his character and his baseball contributions. American broadcaster Ernie Harwell [Ford C. Frick Award, 1981] received the Jack Graney Award in 2002. In 2011 the Jack Graney Award was given to W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, on which the movie Field of Dreams was based.

In 2012 Jack Graney was elected to the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. In bestowing the award, the Cleveland Indians used their electronic scoreboard to show photos of Jack Graney as both a baseball player and as a broadcaster.

Looking at the criteria for the Ford C. Frick Award once again, it is clear that Jack Graney qualifies on all counts:

• longevity — Yes, 23 years as a broadcaster
• continuity with a club — Yes, 23 years with the Cleveland Indians
• honors — Yes, broadcasting the 1935 All-Star Game, the 1935 World Series, induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, namesake of the Jack Graney Award
• popularity with fans — Yes, he was very popular during his Broadcasting Dawn days, with fans throughout northeastern and even southern Ohio and also northwestern Pennsylvania and southern Ontario. Many of these fans still remember Jack Graney’s broadcasting today

Jack Graney's 1920 World Series ring, 1948 World Series ring, and 1984 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame ring, Photo Courtesy of Margot Graney Mudd and Perry Mudd Smith

If Jack Graney should be awarded the 2016 Ford Frick Award, which he so highly deserves, his name would take its rightful place alongside the other awardees. By his presence he would expand the breadth of the Ford Frick Award. Jack Graney would be the first Canadian-born broadcaster given the award. Someday there may be others: but Jack would be the first.

And Jack Graney, if given the award, would become the first Ford Frick recipient born in the 19th century. Not only the first, but most likely theonly. Ever. Think about the significance of that for a moment. Each and every one of the 39 Ford Frick Award honorees was born in the 20th century. Although baseball broadcasting did not come into being until the 20th century, baseball as we know it was born in the 19th century.

When Jack Graney was an infant, a batter needed five balls to take his base. When Jack was a toddler, the rule was changed to four balls. When Jack was just learning how to judge a pitch and swing a bat, major league pitching distance was increased from 50 feet to 60’6”. If young Jack happened to favor a bat with one flat side, he had to give it up at the age of seven: that’s when bats were required to be rounded.

During Jack’s major league days a cork center was added to the baseball. And the spitball was outlawed. Toward the end of his playing days, the first broadcast of a baseball game took place [August 5, 1921, on KDKA]. When asked to step into this new world of baseball broadcasting, Jack Graney met it with the same courage, attentiveness, and dedication he had met other challenges. He stepped into the broadcasting booth and brought the game to millions of fans. Not only that, he shared his hard-earned knowledge of how to do things on radio with newer and younger broadcasters.

Jack Graney is highly worthy of the Ford C. Frick Award.-dbe0d841fdddfcef

If You’re a Baseball TV Ratings Geek, You Will Really Enjoy This Story

I will totally cop to being a ratings geek.  Even when I was a kid and they would publish local TV or radio ratings once a quarter in the entertainment section of the paper, I would immediately glue myself to the story and memorize the numbers and rankings. I love ratings so much, I selected my college major and career path just so they could be a part of my work.  So when I see an article like Maury Brown’s in Forbes from the other day, it’s like handing me a pound of peanut M&Ms and saying, here you go, chow down.

Brown takes a good look at the Nielsen TV ratings for the 29 clubs based in the U.S. (Toronto is in Canada and thus is not measured by Nielsen, so they’re not included here.) I would recommend you go on over and read his story for yourself, but if you can’t make time, here are a few high points from it:

  • Local baseball telecasts continue to dominate their markets during prime time (defined as 8p-11p Eastern and Pacific, and 7p-10p Central and Mountain). Ten teams rank #1 in their markets, led by Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Another six come in at #2 or #3. This is amazing because almost all the telecasts run on cable regional sports networks, which do not have penetration into all the TV households in their markets, yet they routinely outpull even broadcast (aka “over-the-air”) stations in total viewers.
  • If you exclude broadcast stations from the analysis, baseball ranks #1 for 24 of the 25 local TV markets (except only Houston, who are handicapped by having to overcome a horrible TV situation with Comcast Sportsnet  from last year).
  • The Royals are riding their surprise World Series appearance and fast start this year to a +114% ratings increase versus last year, which puts them at the top with an astounding 12.7 household (HH) rating.  This means that 12.7% of all TV HH in Kansas City are tuned to the Royals at any given time. The Royals have both the highest rating and the greatest increase over last.  The Cardinals are second with a 10.2 HH rating. The Tigers (7.7), Pirates (7.6) and Mariners (6.3) round out the top five in ratings.
  • After the Royals, the  Cubs are riding a similar surge in win-loss record, plus exciting new young players, to a similar increase in ratings: +112% over last year, up to 3.1 from 1.5.  The Padres (+52%), Cardinals (+35%) and Nationals (+29%) round out this top five.  On the flip side, the White Sox are disappointing on TV as well as on the field, losing viewers at a -42% clip over 2014.  The Indians (-36%), Braves (-32%), Brewers (-27%) and Reds (-25%) have had similarly horrifying ratings losses, and yet, these latter four teams are still the #1 ratings grabbers in their markets.
  • In terms of total average viewers, big markets rule: The Yankees (206,000) and Mets (180,000) are 1-2, with the Red Sox (146,000), Tigers (141,000) and Cardinals (125,000) coming in at #3 through #5.

Here is the table from the Maury Brown story.  You can click through it to go directly to his story over at Forbes.

h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.
h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.