Saturday, January 3, 2015

I Didn't Know He Played For: Reading

To many people living outside of Pennsylvania, the city of Reading, Pennsylvania may only be known for being featured as part of the original Monopoly board game as the "Reading Railroad" location.  Since the decline of the railroad industry the city of Reading has become known more for the signature Pagoda that sits on top of Mount Penn or for the reality T.V. show couple Jon and Kate.

I grew up in the greater Reading area and I can tell you personally what a great city it is.  There is of course the pretzels.  There are great family diners (Arner's and Paolo's) and the summer festivals ( Mifflin Days but my favorite was always Apple Dumpling Festival).  I can't leave out the Farmer's Markets where you can go and get Shoo-Fly Pie for a great price.  Reading from top to bottom is a great area.

One of the greatest traditions of Reading that many overlook is the Reading baseball team.  Since 1967 the team has been associated with the Philadelphia Phillies, however, prior to that they were also associated with the Red Sox, Indians and Dodgers.  The history of the Reading minor league franchise dates back to 1883 when the Reading Actives played in the Interstate League.  Since then they have been known as the Coal Heavers, Pretzels, Coal Barons, Aces, Keystones, Red Sox, Brooks, Chicks, Indians, Phillies and (currently) Fightin' Phils.

Throughout the tradition some big names have come through the city and gone on to big time baseball fame.  Names like Roger Maris, Earl Averill, Herb Score, Mudcat Grant, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Schmidt, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and many other legends that everyone associates with the team's rich history.  Today's article will be the start of an ongoing series to point out some of the people you never knew or may have forgotten made their way through the organizations of baseball.  We start with the great area known as Reading, PA.:

Morrie Rath:

Morrie Rath made his major league debut for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in 1909.  Having attended Swarthmore College,just 11 miles outside Philadelphia, Connie Mack would have had the inside track on finding him.  Mack had a great scouting system (especially for local talent), spent money when needed (the cross town Phillies rarely did) and loved signing college bred players (most other managers over looked these players). Rath split the 1908 season between the East Carolina League and the Virginia League before moving on to Reading, PA for the 1909 season.  While there he would play in 114 games and end the year with a .315 average.  It was good enough for a call up to the big leagues with Mack's Athletics.  Rath was not an All Star calibre player but would spend six seasons in the big leagues.  After 2 years with the A's, Rath was sent to the Indians during the 1910 season.  He landed in Chicago with the White Sox for 1912 and 1913.  While there he would play with six playes who would later be a part of the infamous 1919 season.  This would  be a connection oddly overlooked conisidering his claim to fame came as a member of the 1919 Reds team.  When the eight (or seven if you take out Buck Weaver) Black Sox agreed to throw the World Series, the gamblers needed a sign that they were going to go through with the plan.  The decided sign to the gamblers was that Eddie Cicotte would hit the first batter.  That batter, who took a fast ball to the middle of his back, was Morrie Rath.  Rath would play just one more year in the major leagues.

Dixie Walker:
Ewart Gladstone Walker, better known as Dixie, was actually born in Brownsville, PA.  Brownsville is a small town in southwest Pennsylvania in Fayette County.  He made his major league debut in September of 1909 and played parts of four Major League seasons, all with the Senators.  As a team mate of the great Walter Johnson, Walker  finished his major league career with a 25-31 record and a 3.52 ERA (fairly high for the dead ball era). After his final days in Washington Walker bounced around the minors playing a part of one season with the Albany Senators who shifted midseason 1916 and joined the Reading Pretzels.  Walker played a total of 43 games that year going  25-18.  Walker's career may not have been tremendous but baseball was a family business.  His brother Ernie played three years (1913-1915) with the St.Louis Browns.  He also had two sons that made large impacts on the Major Leagues.  His son Harry "the Hat" Walker was a big part of the St.Louis Cardinals' dynasty during the 1940's and would go on to manage for nine years.  His other son adopted the father's nickname of Dixie and would have a long successful career.  He would be the only player to spend time on the field with both Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson and he would be forever remembered as the player who led the petition against Jackie Robinson.

Steve O'Neill:

Steve O'Neill was born and raised in Minooka, PA, a small town just south of Scranton, in the heart of mining country. O'Neill would have a long Major League career spent mostly with the Indians.  As the Catcher for the Indians from 1911-1923 he became very close friends with Shortstop Ray Chapman and was one of the most devastated when Chapman was killed.  As his career was winding down O'Neill started to become a journeyman moving from city to city trying to keep the baseball career rolling.  O'Neill moved to the Red Sox for 1924.  O'Neill played for the Reading Keystones for 34 games in 1925 before being picked up by the Yankees to end the year.  He did not help greatly as the Keystones finished 4th that season.  O'Neill would go on to a very successful managerial career with the Indians, Tigers, Red Sox and Phillies.  His most successful managerial year was 1945 when he led  the Tigers to a World Series title.   O'Neill would also be a long time popular broadcaster for the Indians.

Everett Scott:

The minor leagues are sometimes a book end to a career. They can sometimes launch a player onto the national baseball stage and can sometimes be the cushion at the bottom when that career starts coming back to earth.  Everett Scott was a great player in the major leagues, mostly with the Red Sox and Yankees.  Scott played on the great Red Sox teams in the 1910's and was one of the many players shipped to the Yankees in the early 1920's which gave the Yankees their start of dominance.  Scott was good enough to play in 1307 consecutive games.  That would be a record until a guy named Lou Gehrig passed him.  Gehrig and Scott were actually team mates until mid 1925.  On June 17 of that year, just over two weeks after Gehrig started his streak, Scott was released by the Yankees and signed by the Washington Senators.  He would spend the 1926 season with the White Sox and Reds.  Trying to hang on Scott would play for Toledo in 1927.  He rounded out his career in 1928 and 1929 in Reading, who were at that time Chicago Cubs affiliates.  Reading would finish 6th in 1928.  Scott did fairly well hiting .316 with 156 hits in 131 games, including 39 doubles.  His numbers dropped dramatically in 1929, his final year in professional ball.  He hit only .287 with 54 hits (18 of them doubles). One reason for his lack of playing time in 1929 may have been the presence of Shortstop Billy Jurges, future star short stop for the Chicago Cubs.

Whitey Witt:

Whitey Witt had an interesting career. Of course he did! otherwise we wouldn't bother reviewing his brief stop in Reading here would we?  Witt started with the Philadelphia Athletics just as the Connie Mack dynasty in the early 1900s was being dismantled.  Instead of playing with the $100, 000 infield he played on one of the worst teams of all time.  From 1916-1921 Witt witnessed some of the worst baseball imaginable.  With this being an article about players in Reading you would think  his career would have started there.  It didn't.  Witt went right from the campus of Bowdoin College (the college where Civil War hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a professor) to Connie Mack Stadium.  Desperate for cash to keep the A's profitable, Mack sold one of his few stars to the Yankees before the 1922 season.  Witt joined a team that was just starting to become THE YANKEES.  It was a tough job.  He was joining an outfield with Bob Meusel and Babe Ruth and replacing popular power hitter Ping Bodie.  Witt would play a big part in that early Yankee success and was a key member of the Yankees first World Series team.  Midway through the 1925 season Witt was released.  His replacement would be Earle Combs, the next great Yankee Center Fielder.  Witt's career in the major leagues would end after the 1926 season with the Brooklyn Robins.  He would go on to play two years in the minors, the final one in 1929 with the Reading Keystones.  He would play in only 30 games but had 30 hits and batted .330.

Phil Cavarretta:

Cavarretta had a 22 year career with three All Star appearances and an MVP award.  He was the team leader for the Cubs for many years and was the star on the 1935, 1938 and 1945.  Cavaretta spent part of the 1934 season with Reading playing 85 games and hitting .308 with 4 Home Runs.  Cavarretta also spent three years as the Cubs Manager, never finishing higher than 5th.  He would continue to manage in the minor leagues until 1971 and had a one year managerial stint with the Lancaster Red Roses in 1960.

Joe Altobelli:

Joe Altobelli played parts of three seasons in the majors and had a mostly forgettable career.  He played 42 games for the 1955 Indians, 83 games for the 1957 Indians and 41 games for 1961 Twins. He spent much more time bouncing around the minor leagues, 18 seasons to be exact.  Two of those years were spent with the Reading Indians in the Eastern League.  Altobelli's mark on baseball was left more as a manager.  He managed the Giants for three seasons, never finishing higher than 4th.  In 1983 Altobelli took over for a retiring Earl Weaver in Baltimore and led the Orioles to their third (and so far last) World Series.

Rico Petrocelli:

In the early to mid 1960's the Boston Red Sox had a strong farm system that started to produce quite a few talented players including Tony Conigliarro and Carl Yastrzemski.  Another important piece of that young group was the man known as "Petro".  Petrocelli was a product of Brooklyn, NY and started his minor league career in 1962 with the Winston-Salem Red Sox. After one year in Winston-Salem he was moved to the Red Sox AA team in Reading.  He spent the 1963 season with the Reading Red Sox and played 137 games.  He hit only .237 but showed good power with 19 Home Runs.  He would play the 1964 season in Seattle before being called up to Boston for good in 1965.  A two time All Star, Petrocelli helped lead two of the most famous Red Sox teams of all time: the 1967 "Impossible Dream" team and the 1975 Red Sox.

Ray Fosse;

Ray Fosse's major league career started ramping up in 1967 with the Indians but took off in full flight in 1970.  In his first full season with Cleveland he was an All Star and a Gold Glove winner at Catcher.  Fosse would make the All Star team again in 1971 and would be injured in an infamous collision with Pete Rose at the end of that game.  He would go on to help the A's win back to back championships in 1973 and 1974 (he was not there for the first of the three straight World Series) and is still an announcer for the Oakland Athletics.  But before all that, in 1965, Fosse played 55 games for the Reading Indians.  He hit only .219 but his defense helped him move along in the minor league ranks.

Dallas Green:

Dallas Green grew up in Delaware, not far from Phillies territory.  In 8 Major League seasons with the Phillies, Senators and Mets, Green was 20-22 as a pitcher.  Similar to Joe Altobelli, Green's claim to fame came as a manager.  Under Green's leadership the Philadelphia Phillies won their first ever World Series in 1980.  Green would also manage the Yankees for one year and the Mets for several seasons.  Green spent ten seasons in the minor leagues working his way up to the majors.  His final stop as a player was in Reading in 1967. Green started 8 games for the Reading Phillies that year and went 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA.

Stump Merrill:

Stump Merrill was a career minor leaguer. He did spend six seasons in the Phillies organization bouncing around their minor league ranks from 1966-1971. He made two stops in Reading.  The first was in 1968 where he played 42 games and hit .189.  He was then sent to the Phillies' San Diego affiliate (one year before the birth of the Padres) to finish the season.  Merrill then was sent back to Reading for the 1969 season. He played in 80  games that year and hit .252. He never reached the majors.  So who the hell is he?  Stump Merrill went from a minor league player to a minor league manager and spent a large amount of time in the Yankees minor league system.  At the end of the 1989 season Bucky Dent replaced Dallas Green as Yankees manager.  Near the end of the 1990 season, with the Yankees struggling again, Stump Merrill was named manager of the New York Yankees.  Merrill would manage the end of 1990 and all of 1991.  At the end of the year Merrill was replaced by Buck Showalter as Yankes manager.

Andre Thornton:
Andre Thornton was a highly under rated player in the 1970s and 1980s. Thornton spent most of his 14 year career with the Indians, not the best place to play in the 1980s.  He also spent time with the Cubs and Expos.  In 1565 career games Thornton made two All Star Games, won a Silver Slugger award and three times received MVP votes but he never played in a post season game.  Thornton played 116 games with the 1971 Phillies where he hit only .267 but he hit 26 Home Runs.  So if he was in the Phllies organization why did he end up with the Cubs?  On June 15, 1972 Thornton and Joe Hoerner were traded to the Atlanta Braves.  The Braves then traded Thornton to the Cubs in exchange for Joe Pepitone.  Midway through the 1976 season he was shipped to Montreal who then sent him to Cleveland in the offseason of 1976-77.  Thornton would play 10 years in Cleveland and would make a major impact on their organization.

Mike LaValiiere:

Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates know Mike LaValliere better as "Spanky", the gritty Catcher for the Bucs during their stretch of success in from 1990-1992.  Spanky got his start in the Phillies organization in 1981 and he steadily moved his way up the organizational chart.  By 1983 he landed in Reading. He played in 83 games there the first year playing some at Third Base but also splitting time behind the plate with Darren Daulton.    When the Phillies signed Lance Parrish a few years later and decided on Daulton as their Catcher of the future, LaValliere was expendable and released. He signed with the Cardinals where he played during the 1985 and 1986 seasons.  Before the 1987 season the Pirates traded Andy Van Slyke, and Mike Dunne along with LaValliere to the Pirates for Catcher Tony Pena.  LaValliere would be a sometimes overlooked key in the Pirates' three straight division titles.  He worked with Don Slaught, the Pirates other Catcher, to direct the Pirate pitchers.  LaValliere moved on to the White Sox in 1993 where he gave veteran presence to a White Sox team who made the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

Gio Gonzalez:

Gio Gonzalez is currently a star pitcher for the Washington Nationals.  He landed in the nation's capital in 2012 and helped the Nationals to their first ever playoff appearance.  The Nationals obtained Gonzalez from the A's.  In fact, Gonzalez's path to stardom was one of constant movement.  Gio was drafted in 2004 by the White Sox.  On November 25, 2005, just after the White Sox had won the World Series, the Phillies sent Jim Thome to the White Sox for minor leaguer Daniel Haigwood, star outfielder Aaron Rowand and a player to be named later.  Gonzalez was the player to be named later.  He spent the 2006 season in Reading where he pitched 154 2/3 innings with a 7-12 record.  Among his teammates in Reading that year were Michael Bourne and J.A. Happ.  In December 2006 Gio was sent back to the White Sox along with Gavin Floyd for Pitcher Freddy Garcia.  Before he could make it to the Majors with Chicago he was traded to the Oakland Athletics and it was on to stardom from there.

The Reading Franchise had a one year affiliation with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  During the 1941 season the team was known as the Reading Brooks.  How many players from that 1941 team went on to play in the Major Leagues?

Answer to Last Week's Questions:
Hank Greenberg first played in the Major Leagues in 1930 but since he made only one appearance and there was no All Star Game we will leave that out as a year in the trivia question.  In total Greenberg made four All Star Games (1937, 1938, 1939 and 1940).  Of course he lost all but 19 games of 1941, all of 1942, 1943, 1944 and a significant amount of 1945 to the war.

Greenberg often made reference that he felt he had been snubbed in no being chosen for All Star Games so here is who made the team in his place, starting with the first All Star Game in 1933 (excluding the years he was out of the league for the war:
1933- Lou Gehrig (NYY), Jimmie Foxx (PHA)
1934- Lou Gehrig (NYY) (no other first basemen were on the roster)
1935-  Lou Gehrig (NYY) (no other first basemen were on the roster)
1936-Lou Gehrig (NYY), Jimmie Foxx (PHA)
1946- Mickey Vernon (WAS), Rudy York (BOS)
1947- Johnny Mize (NYG), Stan Musial (STL)
(1947 was Greenberg's final year in the league spent with the Pirates)


  1. Interesting trivia with Morrie Rath and the 1919 series.
    I had no idea there were two Dixie Walkers. The only one I remember is the one who played on the 40's. Also, did not know that Dixie and Harry were brothers. Interesting note about Dixie and Jackie Robinson. Guess there was a reason that he had a nickname of Dixie.
    At first read I didn't know that the Cubs had a team in Reading. Then I vaguely remembered that my dad mentioned it. He was a teenager in the 30's. He would tell me where they would play. It was called Lauers Park. It was located around 3rd and Buttonwood in the city of Reading. They have restored the field and it is now a youth field.
    Did Gabby Hartnett ever play for Reading?
    I have a autographed ball by the (1955?) Reading Indians. Two of the signatures on the ball are Joe Altabelli and Roger Maris.
    I remember Rico Petrocelli playing for Reading. Part of that team was Joe Foy, I forget the big first baseman, I think it was Scott or Smith and Mike Andrews.
    Do you know the trivial thing that happened to Mike Andrews when he played in the WS with Oakland?
    I don't remember Stump Merrill or Ray Fosse playing for Reading.
    Some other great players played for Reading. Rocky Colivito was on his way up to the Indians and Robin Roberts was trying to resurrect his career and I believe pitched his last professional game with Reading in 1967. I think I read in the paper several years ago the Robin Roberts was not to kind to the press during his time here in Reading.
    My guess on the trivia is one.


  2. I also didn't know there were two Dixie's until you said it. I also enjoyed reading more about the city itself at the top of the article. Mmmm shoo-fly pie!

  3. Hello! Fellow Reading, PA native here... Sorry for the HUGE time span since I last posted a comment. Just wanted to check in and say: The "I didn't know they played for..." series was great. Good idea and very interesting.


    1. It has been a long time since I saw your comments. Welcome back. I'm glad you liked the series. There is more to come in this series. Eventually every team in the league will be explored.


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