Images of America

Boston Braves

(Images of Sports series)
By Richard Johnson
Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing 2001

Arcadia Publishing publishes a series called Images of America which contains old photographs of your home town (there are over 1000 titles in the series). I was happy to discover that they’ve expanded into Images of Native America, Images of Canada, Images of Aviation, Images of Black America, etc. It wasn’t until I’d been perusing this book awhile that I noticed that the author was our friend Richard Johnson, who runs the New England Sports Museum. Needless to say, many of the photos are from the Museum’s collection, along with the collections of the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, George Sullivan and others. I only have one quibble—a picture being taken at the Congress Street Grounds is actually from the era of George Stallings. Otherwise, pictures and text are wonderful.

The Boston National League franchise, after its miraculous 1914 pennant, sank into poverty in the 1920’s and 30’s. Things got so bad that they changed the name of the ballclub to Boston Bees for awhile. But the fans still knew who they were, and stayed away.

Without real hopes of a pennant, Boston often hired as gate attractions aging veterans like Babe Ruth, Rube Marquard and the Waner brothers. But the guy the people really loved was little Rabbit Maranville, a 5’5" shortstop from Springfield, Mass. who was a Brave from 1912 to 1920, and then again from 1929 to 1935.

There are plenty of pictures of the most popular 20th century Braves, like Maranville, Wally Berger, Johnny Cooney, and Tommy Holmes. The pictures of Casey Stengel managing the Bees and Braves are priceless – included is Warren Spahn’s famous comment that he played for Casey before and after he was a genius (Boston and New York Mets). There’s a picture of Casey in his hospital bed after he was run over by a Boston taxi. A snide Boston sportswriter – the Dan Shaughnessy of his day, proposed to give the cabbie an award for his contribution to baseball.

Normie Roy (left) was one of the few major league baseball players produced by Waltham, Mass., which is more of a hockey and football town. I think there were five major league Walthamites in all, the best being Jack Leary, who played first base for the Browns under Branch Rickey. Norman Roy was born in Newton, but he grew up in the Bleachery section of Waltham and went to Waltham High. Normie spent only three years in the minors before arriving at Braves Field in 1950. The righthander posted a record of 4-3 with an ERA of 5.13 in his only big league season. Arm troubles ended his career prematurely. Normie was nicknamed "Jumbo". He was listed as 6’0, 200 lbs., which in the days before weight lifting probably wasn’t all muscle. He’s in the record books for giving up one of the four home runs Gil Hodges hit at Ebbets Field on August 31, 1950.

Elbie Fletcher (right) is another local name which still has an aura for the old-time Braves fan. The Braves seemed to have a knack for finding local talent which the Red Sox somehow overlooked. (They still have the knack—look at Tom Glavine.) Elbie was a star at Milton High and made his major league debut at age 18. He was a slick-fielding, left-handed first baseman who excelled hitting line drives and getting on base. Perhaps the Braves shouldn’t have brought him up so soon. He was traded to the Pirates at age 23, just when he was getting good. Elbie was the starting NL All Star first baseman in 1943. He returned after wartime service and eventually ended his career back with the Braves in 1949.

Vince DiMaggio was the oldest of the three brothers. He led the league in striking out six different times. He held the record for strikeouts in a season (134) for eighteen years until it was broken by Jim Lemon. He looks like Joe wearing Dom’s glasses. Vince was a Boston Bee in 1937 and 1938. Like Elbie Fletcher, Vince was more successful after being traded to the Pirates.

-Reviewed by David Nevard