While Waiting for the Stove to Get Hot
My god, it’s nearly 70 today in the Midwest, a great day for a ballgame. But there won’t be one for several more months. Still, the weather gets an old guy’s mind on baseball…
So it’s official. Ryne Sandberg won’t be back in Des Moines next year to reprise his role as the skipper of the Iowa Cubs. One and done. No matter; no surprise. Baseball fans in minor league outposts have been used to the transience of ballplayers since way before free agency came to the big leagues.
This town has headquartered the following teams going back to the 1890’s: Prohibitionists, Hawkeyes, Midgets, Undertakers, Underwriters, Champs, Colts, Boosters, Demons, Bruins, Oaks and Cubs.
Sandberg was just the latest in a series of luminaries to spend at least a summer here. Eddie Cicotte won 18 games for the 1906 Des Moines Champs [who were managed by the finely named Dirty Jack Doyle] before later gaining infamy at the center of the Black Sox scandal. Vida Blue fanned 16 in a game while pitching for the Iowa Oaks in 1970. That’s still a record in the American Association. I can remember watching Blue stand on the mound here grinning at the hitters. He was part of the guts of the Oakland A’s team that passed through here en route to a three-peat; one of the last of the great big league dynasties. Joe Rudi and Gene Tenace were Oak teammates of Blue’s. Tony LaRussa once played for the Oaks before becoming their manager in 1979, the same year when he was promoted to his first big league managerial post with the White Sox in midseason.
In between Cicotte and LaRussa, the Des Moines Demons hosted the first professional ballgame ever played under permanent lights in 1930. That club included a guy named Buckshot May and one Les Cox who hit a paltry .172 in only 58 AB’s – probably had a bad case of rabbit ears.
The ballpark where the town team finally settled over six decades ago was first christened Western Park, later renamed after a local sportswriter, rebuilt in the early 90’s with municipal assistance and then renamed again after its naming rights were sold to a local corporation, so the history of the place pretty well parallels the trend line of professional baseball itself since the latter half of the 20th century. Sportswriters have descended from balladeers to muckrakers and stadia in some cases can be seen as public/private whorehouses.
I’m one to decry the constant peripheral amusements that seem so obnoxious nowadays at sporting events of all stripes but my brief perusal of Des Moines’ background in professional baseball served as ample reminder that forerunners of the Jackass TV/movie franchise were commonplace even long before Bill Veeck and Charlie Finley arrived on the scene. As long ago as 1890 balloon ascensions and parachute jumps were used to lure people to games hereabouts.
Regarding that last one, were parachutes really around before airplanes? If so, couldn’t chickens have come before eggs?