Rabbit Maranville Chapter meeting recap – 4/25/2022

From left: Bill Ryczek, Daniel Curren, Chris Gionta, and Marty Dobrow speak at the April 25, 2022, meeting of the SABR Rabbit Maranville Chapter in Springfield, MA.

By Karl Cicitto

Twenty-four people attended the April 25, 2022, general meeting of the SABR Rabbit Maranville Chapter at Springfield College where they heard presentations about Les Mann, Dick Stuart, Charlie Zink and Doug Clark.

President Jim Winston welcomed all to the chapter’s first meeting in the spacious and comfy Dodge Room in the Campus Union building.  Jim shared personal memories of learning to swim at the college at the Linkletter Natatorium.

Springfield College Baseball Coach Mark Simeone attended, as did the family and friends of presenters.

Save this date: Jim announced that the tentative date for our next general meeting is Oct. 3.  Expect our next and future meetings to be at the College.

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Marty Dobrow, author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, spoke about the long odds of making the majors.  He focused on two players from his book; Doug Clark and Charlie Zink.  Clark, a three-sport athlete at Springfield Central High, played professional ball for 10 years in the Giants and Athletics organizations.  He batted .335 and .315 in his first two seasons and notched a .293 lifetime average with 200 doubles in the minors.  Even though he hit in seven minor league cities and in Mexico, too, he languished in the bushes.  He slept in his parent’s basement and did substitute teaching in the off seasons.  Endowed with confidence and a positive attitude, he endured. After years of terrible pay and a fast-food diet on a $20 per diem, Clark was promoted.  He appeared in eight games with the Giants in 2005 and six with the A’s in 2006. Even better, he made six figure salaries from 2008 through 2010, playing for Hanwha Eagles and Woori/Nexen Heroes of the KBO.  Today, Clark is the batting coach of the Red Sox AA affiliate Portland Seadogs. At age 46, he looks to have many years of employment in pro ball ahead.

Charlie Zink’s baseball journey was improbable according to Dobrow.  The son of prison guards at Folsom Prison, he was not drafted out of Oak Ridge High in El Dorado, CA. He was the staff ace for Sacramento City College, winning the 1998 State JC championship.  Before returning to school for 1999, he was offered a scholarship at an art school in the deep south by a former major league all-star.  Luis Tiant, the coach at Savannah College of Art and Design became his college coach at the D-III school.  After pitching for several seasons there and not being drafted, Zink was thinking about becoming a PGA professional.  That changed when Tiant, on behalf of the Red Sox, invited Zink to a tryout.  Zink spent 2002 with the Sarasota Red Sox and Augusta Greenjackets, performing acceptably but not with great promise. He was certain he would be cut.  Then one day while he was having a catch with pitching coordinator Goose Gregson he threw a knuckleball.  The pitch had a very good flight path. Gregson had him throw some more.  Zink was soon converted.  By 2004, he was regarded as one of the best young knuckleballers in the game. After six years of minor league service, Zink made his major league debut on August 12, 2008 at Fenway against the Rangers in an unforgettable game.  After setting down the Rangers in order in the first, the Red Sox scored 10 runs in their half of the frame, led by two David Ortiz home runs.  Zink could not stand the prosperity of a 10-0 lead, however. Boston won 19-17, as Zink allowed 11 hits and 8 runs in 4.1 innings.  Zink never appeared in a major league game again.

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Daniel Curren and Chris Gionta, juniors at Springfield College, presented on Les Mann.  The Nebraska-born Mann was a three-sport star at Springfield College before playing pro ball for six MLB teams (1913 to 1928).  He won a World Series with the 1914 Miracle Braves, lost a World Series to the Red Sox with the 1918 Cubs, and won a Federal League championship with the 1915 Whales.

Even while he was an active major league player, he coached basketball at Rice University and Indiana University from 1919 to 1924.  He finished his Bachelor degree at Springfield College in 1925 and coached basketball and baseball there from 1925 to 1928.   

In the 1920s he invented the MannScope, a combination motion and lantern projection machine. He created instructional baseball films and enlisted the help of Rogers Hornsby, Max Carey, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and many others to do so.  A MannScope is in the collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Some of these films are kept in the archives at Springfield College.  Gionta and Curren treated us to several clips of George Sisler batting in one of the films.

Mann was an advocate for baseball on several fronts.  He succeeded in securing the inclusion of baseball at the 1936 Berlin Olympics as an exhibition.  The game drew 90,000 Olympic spectators.

Mann founded the U.S. Amateur Baseball Association in 1931and was paid by both major leagues to tour the U.S. and promote amateur baseball coaching.

Mann was inducted into the Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame in 1957 and the Springfield College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1972.

Gionta and Curren produce a podcast called Above Replacement Radio and have recorded more than 170 episodes.

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William J. Ryczek, a long time SABR member who goes by Bill, has been introduced at SABR meetings as a prolific author.  He has had ten books published, seven of them being baseball books.  He is a highly respected 19th century baseball expert.

His latest book is Dr. Strangeglove, the Life and Times of All-Star Slugger Dick Stuart.

Stuart is widely known for hitting 66 home runs for Lincoln of the Western League in 1956.  His power potential was realized when he averaged 26 home runs for the Pirates and Red Sox over eight seasons. But he had a glaring downside.  He could not field his position and he did not care that this was the case.  He was even proud of his lack of glove talent, according to Ryczek.

Ryczek chose Stuart as his subject because the man was flat out interesting.  He couldn’t field and didn’t care, refusing to take fielding practice. He was a power hitter and led the league in total bases, rbi and strike outs.  He was a womanizer.  He divorced three times. He bounced from team to team.

Stuart had an ego and enjoyed attention.  When he hit 66 home runs for Lincoln the media showered him with attention.  “I’ll surpass Ruth”, he told them. 

Stuart had his own local TV show when he was with the Red Sox.  In a self-indulgent moment on air, he ripped up a photo of Yankee manager Ralph Houk for not selecting him for the 1963 All Star Game.

Stuart was fussy about his appearance, particularly his hair.  He wanted the world to know that he looked fabulous.

Stuart had a perfect view of Bill Mazeroski’s decisive home run in game 7 of the 1960 World Series.  He was in the on deck circle, waiting his turn to be the hero.  It’s been said that Stuart thought it should have been him.

Playing for Pittsburgh, his first team, from 1958 to 1962, he hit 117 home runs.  Just 48 of them (39%) were at home, Forbes Field. Traded to Boston for the 1963 season, he hit 75 home runs in two years, smacking 43 (57%) of them at Fenway. Ryczek suspects that had Stuart played his 1961 season for Boston, he’d have hit many more home runs, even taking a run at 60.

After the 1964 season, Boston traded Stuart to the Phillies for Dennis Bennett.  Although he hit 28 round trippers for the Phils in 1965, he was traded to the Mets for three bench players in 1966.  The Mets released him mid-season and he then signed with the Dodgers before heading to Japan to play for the Taiyo Whales in 1967 and 1968.  In 1969, he batted .157 in 51 at bats for the California Angels and said good bye to the major leagues as a player at age 36.

Stuart’s tendency to not work to improve himself followed him in various lines of work after baseball.  He failed as an investment broker.  He sold collection services.  He wanted to take clients to lunch rather than learn a business.

Stuart was a natural baseball talent.  He relished in telling stories and jokes.  He was not close to his family, even his children.  He was not a Hall of Fame player, but he was a good one.  Outwardly, he was a carefree, wise cracking stud; but it was an act.  He was a very interesting person, indeed.

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Coffee, hot chocolate, cookies and water bottles were enjoyed by all.

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