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  Athletics    
         
    From Fitton Field to The Big Show

The College has a long and rich baseball history, which includes 77 Crusaders who have made it to the majors.

By Michael Reardon

Holy Cross had never seen anything quite like Louis F. Sockalexis. The full-blooded Penobscot Indian was already a legend for his athletic prowess in and around his native Old Town, Maine. But, when Sockalexis traveled to Worcester to play baseball for Holy Cross in 1895 and 1896, his reputation achieved mythological status.

As a student at Mount Saint James preparatory school in 1895, Sockalexis batted .436 on a Holy Cross team that finished with a 17-5-2 record. The next year, he topped that by hitting .444. On April 19, 1895, the centerfielder slugged two home runs, including a grand slam, hit two doubles and stole six bases to beat a great Brown University team in Providence, R.I. One of Sockalexis’ home runs was a towering shot that cleared the field and shattered a fourth-story window in the Brown University Baptist Chapel.

Ed Rice, author of the 2003 Sockalexis biography, Baseball’s First Indian, calls him the ultimate “pure baseball player.” Sockalexis left such a mark on Holy Cross athletics that he was inaugurated into the Holy Cross Hall of Fame upon its creation in 1956, with such luminaries as Jack Barry ’10 and Bob Cousy ’50.

“Holy Cross is the one place where Sockalexis is held in the proper esteem,” Rice says. “He was playing at the height of his talent at Holy Cross.”

Sockalexis was showered with accolades during his Holy Cross baseball career. In 1897 he transferred to Notre Dame, and, after only one month, signed to play major league baseball with the Cleveland Spiders. But a severe drinking problem forced Sockalexis out of major league baseball after only 94 games spread across three seasons.

Sockalexis is one of 77 Holy Cross baseball players to make it to the major leagues. Some, like Bill Carrigan ’09, Jack Barry and Joe Dugan ’20 had long, successful careers. Others, like Mike Pazik ’72, had their promising careers cut short by injury. Some, like Gordon Massa ’57, left the game for other careers.

Besides Barry, Carrigan, Dugan, Massa, Pazik and Sockalexis, Holy Cross has sent dozens of other former stars to the major leagues including: Jimmy Ryan ’(18)85, Andrew Coakley ’(19)06, Wilfred “Rosy” Ryan ’20, Arnold “Jigger” Statz ’21, Owen “Ownie” Carroll ’25, Gene Desautels ’30, William Lefebvre ’38, Peter Naton ’53 and Donald Prohovich ’56.

Richard A. Johnson, New England Sports Museum curator and co-author of the book, Red Sox Century, says: “From about 1890 to 1930, Holy Cross and Notre Dame were among the top five colleges to send players to the major leagues. Holy Cross baseball was a big deal. Holy Cross was a de facto minor league team with a great following.”

Rice speculates that, had Sockalexis not been forced out of baseball because of alcoholism and related injuries, he would have one day been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Sockalexis’ most famous game came in June 1897 when he hit a home run off of New York Giants pitcher Amos Rusie, regarded by baseball historians as the fastest and most intimidating pitcher of his era. Sockalexis had to endure racist taunts and war whoops by fans on a regular basis, and that day was no exception.

“It’s awful what he had to put up with,” Rice says. “Sportswriters called him a savage. They were allowed to use the most racist language imaginable. But he won them over. This is Jackie Robinson 50 years before, and he never gets recognized for it.”

Carrigan, a member of both the Holy Cross Varsity Club Hall of Fame and the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame, earned the nickname “Rough” for playing hard and going toe-to-toe with the likes of Ty Cobb. Another native of Maine, Carrigan was a catcher for the Red Sox from 1906-16. When Cobb, the most vicious player of his time, slid into home plate against the Red Sox with his sharpened spikes high, Carrigan would tag him with a catcher’s mitt to the face. Despite the intense on-field rivalry, the two were friends away from the game, and Cobb would make frequent trips to Carrigan’s Maine hunting cabin in the off-season.

Johnson calls Carrigan “the most underrated figure in the history of the Red Sox.” As player-manager, Carrigan guided the Red Sox to world championships in 1915 and 1916. None other than Babe Ruth called Carrigan the greatest manager under whom he ever played.

“Carrigan’s intelligence matched his toughness,” Johnson says. “He could mix it up, but he also called great games. It was like having a coach on the field. He was the boss. He was a great advertisement for the school.”

In Red Sox Century, Johnson and co-author Glenn Stout describe Carrigan’s relationship with the young Ruth as pivotal to the future Hall of Famer’s development as a player.

“Ruth’s emergence as a star was key to the team’s success, and no one was more responsible for his success than Carrigan,” Johnson says. “Carrigan served Ruth as a combination father confessor, drill sergeant, psychologist and Dutch uncle.”

In 1915, Carrigan managed the Red Sox to a regular season record of 101-50. After losing the first game of the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Red Sox went on to sweep the next four games. The clutch hitting of legendary Sox outfielders Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper—combined with the masterful fielding by Jack Barry—were instrumental in securing the championship.

The following year, Carrigan’s team posted a 91-63 regular season record. Babe Ruth, who compiled a pitching record of 23-12 during the season, was a hero during the World Series; in game two of the series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, he pitched a 14-inning, complete game, 2-1 win. The Red Sox also won that series 4-1.

A month later, when the Red Sox were sold, Carrigan returned to Lewiston, Maine, to raise a family and go into business. He was a promoter for several years with the Maine and New Hampshire Theater Corp. and also became a successful banker.

When Carrigan retired, fellow Holy Cross alumnus Barry took over as team player/manager through 1917; he was replaced by Ed Barrow in 1918 when Barry left the club to serve in the military.

At the urging of team owner Bob Quinn, Carrigan returned to manage the Red Sox in 1927; he stayed on as manager through the 1929 season, but the team’s talent was decimated; Carrigan finished last each year, with a combined record of 166-295.

Barry broke into the major leagues in 1908 with the American League Philadelphia Athletics, where, as a short stop, he was part of manager Connie Mack’s “$100,000 infield”—along with first baseman Stuffy McInnis, third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker, and second baseman Eddie Collins. Playing with the A’s through 1914, he was sold to the Red Sox on July 2, 1915 for $8,000—and was switched to second base.

Barry, who missed the 1918 season while serving in the U.S. Navy in World War I, returned to finish his career with the Red Sox in 1919. The Red Sox won the World Series again in 1918—Johnson observed that, had Barry not gone into the Navy and stayed on as Red Sox player/manager, “there could have been a run where all but one of the Red Sox championships during that era were won by Holy Cross men.”

During his time with the Red Sox, Barry became close friends with Babe Ruth, who was a frequent visitor in the Barry household. One day, Ruth dropped by to go ice skating with Barry in Worcester’s Elm Park. As he was leaving to go home, Barry’s wife, Margaret, commented that it was nice to see him and told him to come again. The Bambino came back the next day and stayed a month.

Barry went on to become the most storied baseball coach in Holy Cross history. His crowning achievement was leading the Crusaders to the 1952 NCAA baseball championship. Barry passed along the lessons he learned playing for Connie Mack—including the double steal—to his young Holy Cross players.

“He was a quiet, distinguished and dignified guy,” Johnson says. “Learning the game from Connie Mack was like learning blues guitar from Robert Johnson in the Delta. Imagine being a Holy Cross kid in the 1950s and having Jack Barry as your coach—the man who managed Babe Ruth.”

Gordy Massa, who was inducted into the Holy Cross Hall of Fame this year, remembers what it was like playing for Barry: He called his coach, “a no-nonsense guy.”

“He didn’t say a whole lot,” Massa recalls. “You knew what you were supposed to do, and you did it.”

After an outstanding sports career at Holy Cross, Massa was drafted by baseball’s Chicago Cubs and the New York Giants in football. An economics major, he opted to sign with the Cubs following graduation. After a stint in the Western League with the Des Moines Demons—where he endured long, dusty bus rides to play in places like Albuquerque, Topeka and Lincoln—Massa was called up to the Cubs as a backup catcher.

“I was excited and nervous as well,” Massa says of his 1957 season debut. “My first game was in Cincinnati, my hometown; it was a twi-night doubleheader. I was playing against all of my idols—Ted Kluzewski, Wally Post.

“All of my relatives were in the stands,” he remembers. “I dropped a pop-up, and my dad was so nervous he spilled a beer on some guy.”

Massa played in six games in 1957 and collected seven hits in 15 times at bat.

The next year he was sent to a minor league club in Burlington, Iowa; called up to the Cubs during the season, he batted twice, without a hit. That was Massa’s last year playing in the big leagues—he was sent to San Antonio in the Texas League, where he played with up and coming Cubs stars Ron Santo and Billy Williams.

“My last year in baseball was 1963,” Massa says. “I was in Amarillo, Texas, and I wasn’t progressing. I had kids and needed to settle down—I was ready to move on, but I would do it over again the same way.”

Mike Pazik is another Holy Cross star who played a short time in the majors. Unlike Massa, who stayed in baseball as long as he could, Pazik’s career was cut tragically short by a devastating injury.

A left-handed pitcher, he was drafted by the Yankees in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft; traded to the Minnesota Twins in 1974, he made it to the major leagues the following year. Pazik pitched in 13 games over the next three years, finally winning his first game in April 1977; he worked eight innings and beat the Oakland A’s in their home park. The future looked bright for the hard-throwing 27-year-old.

Back in Minnesota—a few days before he was to make his second start—Pazik and a friend were driving along a highway in his Volkswagen van and took an off-ramp. A woman, driving her car up the ramp in the wrong direction, slammed head-on into Pazik’s van; both of his legs were broken in the accident.

“The doctors were shocked that I lived,” Pazik recalls. “I lost so much blood. The thing that helped me was that I was in such good condition.”

Although he tried to rehabilitate enough to launch a comeback, Pazik was unable to resume his pitching career. Another opportunity arose, however: In 1980, he landed his first coaching job with a Chicago White Sox minor league team in Glens Falls, N.Y.—by 1995, he was pitching coach with the White Sox, a position he held until May 1998.

Besides coaching, he has worked at a number of jobs in baseball—and is now a major league scout with the Kansas City Royals. Like Massa, Pazik expresses no regrets over how his career turned out.

“I would have lasted a while (in the major leagues),” he says. “Left-handers take a while to iron things out. I had done that and was going in the right direction. But doors close, doors open.”

Among the biggest thrills of Pazik’s life in baseball were his encounters with some of the greats of the game. He recalls his spring training days with the Yankees when a friend asked if he could give another player a ride from the hotel to the ballpark. Pazik said “sure,” but, after a while, grew impatient when the player did not show up. Finally, the elevator door opened, and Mickey Mantle stepped into the lobby with a set of golf clubs slung over his shoulder.

“So I drove Mickey Mantle to the ballpark for a few days,” Pazik says. “He would come in for a week, put on his uniform, go to the ballpark, sign autographs and then go play golf.”

Besides Mantle, Pazik got to meet other legendary Yankees, such as Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Elston Howard—all of whom he describes as “great guys.” He also encountered other baseball immortals like Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax, whom, Pazik says, once told him the secret of throwing his curveball.

One day, during spring training, a Yankee trainer opened a trunk and pulled out three uniforms—belonging to Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio—and showed them to Pazik.

“He said to me, ‘this is what you’re playing for,’” Pazik recalls. “It’s a little different playing for the Yankees.”

One former Holy Cross player became a legendary Yankee—Jumpin’ Joe Dugan. Beginning his major league baseball career with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1917, he joined the Red Sox team on Jan. 18, 1922; in July of that year, Dugan was traded to the New York Yankees, where he became the regular third baseman, through the 1928 season. The infielder played in five World Series as part of the Yankees’ legendary “Murderer’s Row” teams that included Ruth and Gehrig.

In 1923, Dugan led the league in at-bats; he finished his career with a .280 batting average.

Dugan and Ruth were close friends, roommates and drinking buddies. The former slugger sobbed to Dugan in the locker room before his 1947 Yankee Stadium farewell, “I’m gone, Joe. I’m gone.”

It was hot in New York the day in 1948 when Ruth was laid to rest. Dugan and other former teammates served as pallbearers. At one point Dugan said to Yankee pitcher, Waite Hoyt, “I’d give a hundred bucks for an ice-cold beer.” Hoyt replied, “So would the Babe.”

Baseball historian Johnson says of those old Yankee teammates: “They were a band of brothers, and Joe Dugan was one of them.”

Michael Reardon is a freelance writer from Southampton, Mass.

 

 

Louis F. Sockalexis

Louis F. Sockalexis

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