Mantle’s Legend Born in Topeka

Topeka Capital Journal
June 14, 1995

In his second year in professional baseball, Mickey Charles Mantle, at age 19, played the entire season for Joplin, Mo., in the Western Association, a Class C league that included Topeka, Hutchinson and Salina. The year was 1950, and Mantle had the kind of season that left no doubt he was headed for fame and fortune in the majors.

It would be wrong to say he led the league in everything but stolen towels, a popular swift phrase of that day. In fact, he led only in runs, hits and batting average, but that gave you some idea of what he could do with a bat.

In 137 games, he hit .383, scored 141 runs and drove in 136 more. He had 199 hits, 26 of them home runs, and was walked 94 times. Obviously, he was a productive young man, very dangerous at the plate, so why didn’t he lead the league in homers, runs batted in and walks?

Considering the career he had, why didn’t he light up this minor league?

And if he didn’t, who did? Continue reading

Boys of Summer: 1959

Topeka Daily Capital
October 4, 1959

When the Dodgers were kicking the ball around in the third inning Thursday against the White Sox, it recalled the classic play Solly Hemus once engineered in the midst of similar disaster.

Hemus was at the plate with a runner on third when the catcher lost a low pitch and started looking frantically in all directions. Hemus pointed toward a distant dugout and said to the catcher, “Over there.”

As the catcher raced toward the dugout, Hemus waved home his teammate from third. The catcher discovered the trick — and the ball — too late. The runner scored while the ball lay within arm’s length of home plate.

Walter Johnson once hit Eddie Collins in the leg with one of his famed fireballs, and Collins dropped like he’d been shot. Johnson was genuinely concerned, and even helped Collins as he limped, painfully, to first.

On Johnson’s next pitch, Collins, running without a trace of a limp, stole second.

Trying to trick the opposition is old stuff in baseball, although it seldom works. I recall one occasion when it backfired. I’ve told this story often, but I still regard it as a classic. Continue reading

Among those whose dreams drowned in 1951 flood – Topeka Owls

Topeka Capital-Journal – July 11, 2001

It is not my intent to make light of the events that followed what historians call the worst chapter in Topeka’s history — 50 years ago this week — but there was some humor in that disastrous flood. One piece of it is a story that still makes me laugh, when I probably should weep.

It happened in the old Topeka Daily Capital newsroom at 8th and Jackson, when water 15 to 20 feet deep covered North Topeka, and nobody yet knew how bad it really was.

Some background: When the flood hit here, the Topeka Owls were in first place in the Class C Western Association pennant race and were drawing good crowds. Their ballpark was in North Topeka, near US-24 highway, east of where the China Inn is today.

Owls’ owner Link Norris was a happy man, because he was looking at his best season financially, which would make up for some that hadn’t gone so well. But suddenly, the flood turned his world upside down. Continue reading