SABR

Dave Gregg

This article was written by Eric Sallee.

The baseball career of right-handed pitcher David Charles Gregg is best described as a failed experiment. Any story about Dave Gregg must mention his older brother Vean, who was employed on Cleveland's pitching staff during the years Dave played professional baseball. The Cleveland Naps had aspirations that Dave would blossom into the pitcher that Vean had become, but, as so often is the case, the younger sibling never lived up to the elder's glory. Unlike Vean, who pitched for eight seasons and was one of the finest left-handers in the American League from 1911 through 1913, Dave's entire major league career consisted of one wild, laborious inning on June 15, 1913.

Dave and Vean's father, Charles Carroll Gregg, was a western pioneer. A third-generation United States citizen of Scotch and Irish descent, Charles migrated in 1876 to Chehalis, Washington Territory, from Pennsylvania, where he had been born at Monongahela in 1854. In 1880 he married 17-year old Chehalis native Mary Adelia Phillips, a union that eventually produced seven daughters (six survived to adulthood) and two sons. The sons were born at Chehalis: Vean on April 13, 1885, and Dave on March 14, 1891.

Charles was a farmer near Chehalis for almost 20 years before deciding the opportunities were better near the Snake River in southeast Washington state (Washington became a state in 1889). In January 1896 the Gregg family relocated to Lewiston, Idaho, and then in August of that same year settled across the river in what is now known as Clarkston, Washington. At the time Charles and his family arrived in Clarkston, it was a little board-shanty town sprouting up amongst the sagebrush. They were the third family to settle the area initially known as Jawbone Flats.

Charles acquired 10 acres of Clarkston land where he eventually cultivated one of the largest individual cherry orchards in the Lewiston-Clarkston valley. When not tending to his cherry trees, he was a plastering contractor, a vocation that he trained both his boys to follow. Before leaving home to play ball, both Vean and Dave spent several years assisting their father on Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington plastering jobs.

The Gregg daughters recognized the value of a good education and spent their time focused on school. Three of them eventually became teachers. The oldest, Kate, earned a Master's degree from Yale and was the first female to receive a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Washington. She was a college professor and also taught at several high schools during a long teaching career.

Perhaps influenced by their father, who began working at a young age, the Gregg sons' educations went unfulfilled. Both Dave and Vean attended school at Lewiston and Clarkston, although neither completed high school. In discussing Dave's schooling, his sister, Tima, later recounted:

"While Kate was still in Mt. Vernon [Washington], she tried to get my brother David, two years older than I, to finish high school. He was a very intelligent boy - quit against mother's wishes but father didn't seem to rank knowledge of books too important. Kate offered to pay half his education in a military academy. Father was not interested."

Dave's name as a baseball player began to show-up in the Clarkston Republic newspaper as early as March 1907, when he was 16 years old. He started out primarily as an outfielder on the local school and town teams, and did not pitch much until later, when Vean convinced him that he might have a future in baseball if he were to change his focus. His 6-foot-4 inch, 195-pound frame and his live arm were ideal qualities that everyone looked for in a pitcher.

By the summer of 1911, Dave was pitching with some success for the nearby Vollmer, Idaho, town team. Vean, on the other hand, was in the midst of setting the American League on fire as a rookie pitcher for Cleveland, finishing the season with a 23-7 record and a league leading 1.80 ERA. On Vean's recommendation, which included the ultimately preposterous suggestion that Dave was a bigger man and a better pitcher than he, the Naps pursued the younger Gregg. By late June, Dave agreed to follow in his brother's footsteps and give professional baseball a try.

While there were no formal working agreements with minor league teams in 1911, Cleveland and Portland of the Pacific Coast League shared players. As his brother had done in 1910, Dave pitched with the Portland team to gain some experience before making his way to Cleveland. At that time, Walter McCredie and his uncle, W.W. "Judge" McCredie, owners of the Portland PCL team, also owned a second Portland team that was a member of the Class B Northwestern League. The McCredies used the Northwestern League team as a farm team for their PCL team. After a week or so of practice with the PCL team, it was decided Dave was a little too green for such fast company. At a salary of $115 per month, plus expenses, Dave joined the Portland Northwestern League team.

The experiment got off to a rocky start. His 1911 record shows that Dave pitched in only one inning of one ball game. The results of this inning would foreshadow his entire professional career. On Sunday, July 30, in front of a relatively large Portland crowd, he started a game against the tough Vancouver Beavers, the eventual 1911 Northwestern League pennant winners. Obviously intimidated by his surroundings, Dave finished his one inning of work losing, 3-0. He had given up two hits, walked three, and tossed a wild pitch. Vancouver did not score off the Portland relief pitcher, but they held on to win the game, 3-2, giving Dave a loss in his first game.

On August 10, the Clarkston Republic reported, "Dave Gregg returned from Portland Saturday where he has been in training for expert ball pitching. The Portland manager was so well pleased with him that he paid in full to the end of the season and allowed him to come home as his arm was slightly lame. Dave goes back in the spring at a salary of $150 per month and expenses, and will probably go to California in early spring for practice."

Despite a humbling beginning in the Northwestern League, Dave seemed to be on a fast track and moved up to the Portland PCL team for 1912. An early season Portland Oregonian newspaper article provided:

"That Dave Gregg, the long and lanky right-hand twirler who was bequeathed to Walter McCredie by Manager Nick Williams, of the Portland Northwestern club, has greater speed than his sensational brother Vean, now with the Cleveland Americans, is the declaration of Manager McCredie and several of his veterans who have been working out against the younger Gregg in morning practice the past week.

"'He looks fine,' said Manager McCredie yesterday. 'I may take him along with me on the next trip, and if I do I will start him sure. He has curves, speed and plenty of confidence, and the boy is picking up in experience every day. Of course he doesn't know all the insides of pitching yet, but Vean taught him a lot last winter up at his home.'

"Artie Krueger and Captain Bill Rodgers, of the Beavers, are loud in their praise of the six-footer.

"'All he has to do is to get that pill over and nobody can hit him,' declared Artie. 'Vean isn't in it with him for speed. Whew! He scorches the horsehide every time he whizzes that ball at a batter.' "

While he pitched some good games in a more advanced league in 1912, his lack of experience and control left him an unpolished pitcher. He finished the year with five wins and seven losses in 24 games on the mound. He started 13 games, completing five of them; however, he was used primarily as a long reliever by Manager McCredie. His 67 walks, seven hit batters, and four wild pitches in 125 1/3 innings tells the tale.

The next year, 1913, turned out to be the most eventful year of Dave Gregg's life. In late February, Portland traded him and pitcher Ben Henderson to Toledo, of the American Association, for one-time Philadelphia A's phenom Harry Krause. Dave was now geographically closer to Cleveland, and that spring he received his initial invitation to train with the Naps in Pensacola, Florida. It would seem that the plan to unite Dave with his brother Vean on the Cleveland pitching staff was drawing near.

The Cleveland Press sportswriter covering the Naps in spring training wrote in the March 22 edition:

"It's a good thing for the Cleveland and Toledo ball clubs that Clark Griffith has never seen Dave Gregg perform. For if Griff ever got a peep at this lanky right-hander in action he would commit kidnapery just as sure as he has gray hairs on his head.

"Dave Gregg is Griffith's ideal of a pitcher. Tall, strong, with a free motion and the ability to bring the ball up from the vicinity of his rear pocket when working at his best, he looks like a prize.

"Young Gregg's delivery is a dream. Few major league pitchers, including all the great stars, have such an easy, graceful motion.

"It's a treat to see him work. When he winds up those gorilla-like arms, carries the hand in which the ball nestles behind his back, and then steams it at the batter with that rare, free, easy motion, it makes a fellow feel like throwing pepper in Topsy Hartsel's [Toledo's manager] eyes and running off with the young giant.

"Young Gregg has many admirers, but there's one whose eyes pop out of his head every time he sees him warm up, and this person says never a word. It's our friend Birmy [Cleveland manager Joe Birmingham]. He would commit kidnapery, too, if he had a chance, but he would be robbing his own employer, and therefore must keep his hands off.

"Dave's going to be a Nap soon. How soon no one can tell. When Charley Somers sees him work out at the Pelican park he probably will hire a dozen pickaninnies to kick him around several blocks for a week or more for not getting him for the Naps instead of Toledo."

Regardless of the press buildup, Dave began the 1913 season with Toledo. On April 21, while on the road in St. Paul, Minnesota, with the Toledo team, Dave married Margery Sangster, his Clarkston sweetheart. This took the local Clarkston people by surprise, as Margery first told them of her wedding plans just before boarding the train for St. Paul. Nonetheless, the Clarkston Republic headlined "Popular Clarkston Couple Is Wed," and reported "The many, many friends of Marjorie [sic] and Dave are wishing them the best things that life affords." Married for nearly five decades, Dave and Margery proved that this was anything but a hurried decision by two young lovers.

Unfortunately, on the same day Dave and Margery were married, Charles Gregg suffered a heart attack and died back in Clarkston. He had been ill with a weak heart for about a year and had quit working six months prior to his death. The Cleveland News, in its April 23 edition headlined, "Vean Gregg's Father Dies Suddenly of Heart Disease; Wanted to Live to See Dave Make Good in Big League." The article re-creates a conversation Charles had with Vean as he was leaving for spring training earlier that year:

" 'I want you to do better than last year, Vean,' he told the big southpaw as he was boarding the train. 'Just do as well as you did in 1911 and your old dad will be happy. And you will have to keep up a pretty good clip all the time, for it won't be long until your brother Dave will be vying for honors with you in the big league. And he'll make his mark in the majors, for he is made of the right stuff.' "

The article goes on to say, "It has been the hope and ambition of Charles Gregg's life since Vean debuted with the Naps two years ago to see the day when he could point with pride to both Vean and Dave as big league pitchers, but, as is often the case, the ambition was not realized."

In the meantime, Dave continued to struggle with his pitching. In five games with Toledo between April 13 and May 8, he yielded nine hits and 10 walks in 8 2/3 innings. He won a game and lost another, working out of the bullpen in four of the games. However, these results did not alter the Naps' plans. On May 13, Cleveland traded pitcher Jim Baskette to Toledo for Vean Gregg's kid brother. The moment of reckoning had arrived; ready or not, Dave Gregg was a major leaguer.

After sitting on the sidelines for a month observing and taking part in pre-game practices, Dave's major league career took place on Sunday afternoon, June 15, in Cleveland against the Washington Senators. He was the last of four pitchers to work that day, entering the game in the ninth inning with Washington leading, 8-5. The crowd of 20,000 was anxious to see how the younger Gregg would fare.

On June 16, the Cleveland Leader reported: "As a windup to the procession the Boy Manager [Birmingham] had Dave Gregg escorted to the pavilion for his big league debut. Dave achieved a world's record right off the tape. He made two balks in the inning which he toiled, as well as sinking one into the dining compartment of Tom Hughes. As the game was pretty well lost, Dave's theft of Buck O'Brien's stuff didn't matter much."

The Cleveland Plain Dealer said: "Washington made it safe by scoring two in the ninth. Dave Gregg went to the mound and [Fred] Carisch behind the bat. It was young Gregg's first appearance in a big league game and he was apparently rattled. [Chick] Gandil greeted him with a double to left. [Frank] Laporte flied to [Jack] Graney. When [Terry] Turner fumbled [Howie] Shanks' grounder, Gandil went to third. [George] McBride fouled to [Ivy] Olson. Then Shanks sent the boy hurler up in the air by darting to second while Gregg held the ball. With Gregg still in a daze, Gandil added to his great amazement by dashing home. Gregg threw but the run had been scored. Apparently bewildered David worked a balk out of his system, Shanks being sent to third. Carisch then threw wild to Turner and Shanks scored. [John] Henry singled to center. Gregg added one more incident to his maiden trip to the mound by hitting Hughes. Probably he didn't like the long man from Washington. Henry who was on second thought the young man had been ill-treated and began going to third on a jog trot. Then Gregg was out of his trouble. He threw to Olson and Henry was officially touched out, retiring the side and putting an end to the run getting."

In a "Features of Naps' Game" column, also in the Plain Dealer, the following observation was made: "Germany Schaefer worked the same old trick on Dave Gregg that he usually works on a green pitcher. In the ninth, with Gandil at third and Shanks at first, with Gregg winding up, Germany yells 'Hey' just as Shanks starts down. Gregg turned to watch Shanks while Gandil streaked for home. Too late. Gregg awoke and his throw to Land [Carisch] was useless. But Gregg had learned something."

Cleveland lost the game, 10-5. In one inning of work, officially Dave gave up two hits (a double to Chick Gandil and a single to John Henry), two runs (both earned), hit a batter (Long Tom Hughes), and committed two balks. He had one fielding chance and is credited with an assist (the throw to Ivy Olson which retired runner Henry). He never got an opportunity to bat in the major leagues.

Recognizing that they had rushed the 22-year old to the major leagues before he was ready, Cleveland soon sent Dave back to the minor leagues. But he did not return to Toledo. Instead, he was sent to the Waterbury, Connecticut, team in the Class B Eastern Association. He finished-up a roller-coaster season, not to mention year in general, with a 4-4 record in 11 games for Waterbury.

Dave was sold to Waterbury on an optional agreement and then repurchased at the conclusion of the 1913 season. The following spring he was invited to train with the Naps for the second year in a row. It is important to point out that in 1913 Vean completed his third straight 20-win season, running his three-year record with Cleveland to 63-33. Going into the 1914 season, Vean remained the ace of the staff. As such, Cleveland remained interested in developing his younger brother.

The experiment finally unraveled in 1914. Dave first reported to the Cleveland pitchers' training camp at New Orleans and then later joined the rest of the team at Athens, Georgia. Unfortunately, a roommate at Athens contracted smallpox, and Dave missed practice time when he had to be vaccinated and placed in quarantine. By the time spring training was over, Dave found himself headed back to the minor leagues.

Cleveland management found a spot for Dave on a team in the Southern Association, but he wanted no part of that. He and his wife desired to be closer to their Clarkston home, so he asked to be transferred to the Spokane team of the Northwestern League. This wish was granted and in early April he reported to the Indians.

Dave was greeted in Spokane with considerable fanfare, and once again his older brother was responsible. Vean was a Spokane fan favorite in 1909 when he pitched for the Indians, and it was the Spokane Indians who sold Vean to Cleveland. The April 19 Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper reported:

"Gregg warmed up for a few minutes before yesterday's game and the railbirds were buzzing with interest in his showing. He is an impressive looking chap, standing 6 feet 4 inches in height and weighing close to 200 pounds. He has the same big hands and raw-boned limbs that his brother Vean possessed."

Dave won his first two games for Spokane, beating Victoria 4-1 and Portland 4-2, giving up only three hits in each game. However, his old control problems continued. In the Victoria game he walked nine, including six in the first three innings, and against Portland he walked six and hit a batter. On April 29, he ran his record to 3-0 when he tossed a two-hitter and shutout Seattle, 5-0. But the winning streak soon became a thing of the past, and he lost three of his next four decisions. On May 2, Seattle revenged the earlier white-washing, scoring nine runs off of him in one inning.

By early June, Spokane manager Mike Lynch's patience had run thin. On June 15, in Spokane, in what turned out to be Dave Gregg's final appearance in organized professional baseball, he beat Portland, 4-3. He struck out 10 men and walked only three, but Lynch had to summon future Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski to close out the contest when Portland threatened in the ninth. The next morning Dave was optioned to Edmonton of the Class D Western Canada League.

The June 18 Spokesman-Review reported:

"Dave Gregg was supposed to leave yesterday morning for Edmonton, but told Mike [Lynch] he didn't think he'd go. 'I don't want to get you in bad,' he advised his chief, 'but I don't care about going up into that country. If I can't make good in this league I think I'll go back home to Clarkston to my old job plastering.' Mike hopes to talk Dave into going up with [Lou] Nordyke until September, when he will rejoin the Indians after the Twilight [Western Canada League] season ends."

Apparently, Lynch was not persuasive enough because Dave did not report to Edmonton. A significant event occurred on July 28, 1914, when Cleveland, fearing his career was on the slide (due to an arm problem), traded Vean to the Boston Red Sox for three players. Following the 1914 season, perhaps a more significant event occurred when Cleveland did not exercise its option on Dave's contract. The Naps had given up on Vean, therefore they were giving up on Dave, too. The experiment had officially run its course.

To his credit, Dave did hang onto the periphery of professional baseball for a while longer. Because he had failed to report to Edmonton, he was placed on the suspended list. After the 1914 season, he was reserved by both Edmonton and Spokane. By January 1915, his rights belonged solely to Spokane. The Spokesman-Review on January 8 reports:

"[Spokane team] President Farr announced yesterday that he has sent pitcher Dave Gregg a contract for 1915 duty, and the 'Wild Man from Clarkston' may try once again to conquer his besetting sin. Once let this brother of the great Boston-Cleveland southpaw gain command of his sizzling shoots and he can win in any company."

For whatever reason, Dave did not respond. On February 1, the Spokesman-Review reported:

"Pitcher Dave Gregg was sent his release last night. Gregg did not think it worth while to either send back his contract to Farr or to acknowledge its receipt and Farr does not care to worry along with the erratic fellow."

While no corroborating evidence has been found to-date, Dave's 1965 obituary in the Lewiston Morning Tribune newspaper states that his professional baseball career ended after a bout with typhoid fever. Unfortunately, the obituary does not provide a clear indication when this occurred. Could it be that Dave did not respond to Spokane's 1915 contract offer because he was bedridden with typhoid? No matter the reason, Dave did not play in 1915.

Attempting a comeback, Dave found himself signing a contract with the Portland PCL team in January 1916. He went to spring training with the Beavers in Sacramento, but could not crack a veteran Portland pitching staff that included the likes of Allen Sothoron, Win Noyes, Irv Higginbotham, Rip Hagerman and Oscar Harstad. He was then sold to the Spokane Northwestern League team where history repeated itself. On April 10, in a pre-season exhibition game against Oregon Agricultural College, Dave walked three, hit a batter, and hurled a wild pitch in two innings of work. Six days later he was loaned to the Lewiston town team to face his Spokane team in another exhibition game. He was beat, 8-3. At that point, Dave recognized that he was never going to overcome the control problems that had defined his career. Two days later, on April 18, he asked for his release. It was granted and Dave walked away from organized baseball for the final time.

Harry A. Williams, one-time Pacific Coast League president and most-of-the time sportswriter, summed up Dave Gregg's pitching career best. In a prophetic article in the Los Angeles Times on October 23, 1913, he said, "Dave did not make good, and no one ever predicted that he would ... Dave shone entirely by a reflected greatness. Being a brother of the illustrious Vean, many took it for granted that he would attain the same degree of pitching greatness. Big and rangy, Dave looked like a fine pitching prospect. In that way he resembled his brother, but beyond that the likeness ceased."

When patriarch Charles Gregg died in 1913, matriarch Mary Gregg returned to Chehalis to live out her life. With two of the Gregg daughters also living at Chehalis, Dave and Margery decided to join his mother and sisters there. By 1920 Dave was a clerk for the Palmer Lumber Company in Chehalis, and Margery was employed as a librarian. They also spent some time in the early 1920's living in Kelso, Washington, Dave continuing to work in the lumber business with Building Materials, Inc.

In 1925, Dave agreed to manage the Vean Gregg Service Station on Rainier Avenue in Seattle, a stone's throw from Dugdale Park, the first double-decked stadium on the West Coast and home of the Pacific Coast League Seattle Indians. This partnership with his brother was designed to take advantage of Vean's tremendous local popularity. Vean had returned to baseball with Seattle in 1922 after a three-year retirement, and, by many accounts, was primarily responsible for the city's first Pacific Coast League championship in 1924. When Seattle sold Vean to the Washington Senators after the 1924 season, Vean felt he was due some of the money Seattle had received for him. Always a difficult salary negotiator, Vean used the service station business as hard evidence he had other things to do besides play baseball. Eventually, he agreed to join the Senators, returning to the major leagues at the age of 40 and after a seven-year absence. While Vean was away, Dave ran the service station.

In 1928, Dave and Margery packed-up their house again and moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon, where Dave returned to the lumber business. He was a lumber broker in Klamath Falls for 26 years, until 1954, when he retired. The Greggs then returned to Chehalis where they lived in retirement until 1957. Finally, they made their last move, returning to Clarkson, where Dave and Margery had first met 45 years earlier.

Margery was the first to die, on April 17, 1960. She had been a very popular girl in her youth, the daughter of Robert Sangster, a prominent wheat farmer who had homesteaded near Anatone, Washington, in 1875. She attended schools in Clarkston before meeting and marrying Dave. Dave and Margery never had any children, a reality which did not dull their devotion to each other over nearly 47 years of marriage. Born July 2, 1893, Margery was 66 years old when she succumbed to cancer.

Dave held on for another five years, living out his life in a house located at 622 Seventh Street in Clarkston. He died there on November 12, 1965. His death certificate lists the cause of death as coronary occlusion, which, in short, is heart disease. He was 74 years old. Dave was laid to rest next to Margery at Vineland Cemetery in Clarkston.

Dave Gregg is one of only two players from the baseball rich Lewiston-Clarkston valley to make it to the major leagues. The valley typically has a temperate climate in early spring and late fall, allowing the local ballplayers to have a longer season than their Northwest brethren. They have had regional success with their American Legion program and have garnered national acclaim by being the home of Lewis-Clark State College, the perennial NAIA National Champions. For many years, first in the defunct Western International League and then later in both the Pioneer and Northwest leagues, Lewiston fielded an organized professional team. The game has always held a special place in the hearts of the Lewiston and Clarkston people. So it is a bit odd to realize that in over a century only two major league players have been home grown. Who is the other player? It is the man who must be mentioned in any re-telling of a Dave Gregg story and the person responsible for Dave getting his one inning of major league fame. It is brother Vean, one more time.


Sources

The Vean Gregg family scrapbooks, coupled with the generous assistance, cooperation, and reminiscences of Vean Gregg, Jr.

The Clarkston Republic, multiple issues, 1907-1913, coupled with the assistance and cooperation of the staff at the Asotin County Historical Society, Asotin, Washington.

The staff of the Nez Perce County Historical Society (NPCHS), Lewiston, Idaho, and particularly the research of SABR member Dick Riggs, who in 1998 published an article on Vean and Dave Gregg in the NPCHS newsletter ("The Golden Age," Vol. 18, No. 1).

The staff of the Vineland Cemetery, Clarkston, Washington.

The Lewiston Morning Tribune newspaper, obituaries dated March 21, 1936 (Mary Gregg), July 31, 1964 (Vean Gregg), and November 13, 1965 (Dave Gregg).

The Clarkston Herald, obituary dated April 21, 1960 (Margery Gregg).

The Portland Oregonian, multiple issues, 1911-1913, 1916.

Author unknown, "New Pitcher For Naps," Washington Post, June 28, 1911.

Author unknown, "You Should See Brother Dave Unwind Himself," Cleveland Press, March 22, 1913*.

The Cleveland News*:
- Ed Bang, "Vean Gregg's Father Dies Suddenly of Heart Disease; Wanted to Live to See Dave Make Good in Big League," April 23, 1913.
- Author unknown, "Trade Baskette For Dave Gregg," May 13, 1913.
- Author unknown, "Dave Gregg Didn't Have Much Of A Chance To Show With Hens," May 14, 1913.

The Cleveland Leader*:
- Author unknown, "On The Way To Become A Nap," February 26, 1913.
- Gordon Mackay, "Washington Outslugs Naps Winning Contest of Hippodrome Nature," June 16, 1913.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer*:
- Author unknown, "Weird Game Before Big Crowd Naps Meet Defeat," June 16, 1913.
- Author unknown, "Features Of Naps' Game," June 16, 1913.

* - The Cleveland newspaper articles were procured by SABR member Fred Schuld, who exhibited tremendous generosity and dedication to this endeavor.

Harry A. Williams, "Los Angeles Club May Trade Page for Leard," Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1913.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review, multiple issues, 1914 - 1916.

The Sporting News, multiple issues, 1911-1916.

Sporting Life, multiple issues, 1911-1916.

The Reach Guide, 1912, 1913.

The Spalding Base Ball Record, 1914, 1915.

The Coast League Cyclopedia, compiled by Carlos Bauer, Baseball Press Books, c. 2003.

The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd ed., edited by Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, Baseball America, Inc., c. 1997.

Author unknown, "Gregg Brothers in Oil Racket," Seattle Times, February 18, 1925.

State of Washington Department of Health - Vital Statistics certificate of death no. 22588 for David Charles Gregg.

United States Federal Census information, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.

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