Recently I completed my book about spring training in Sarasota and Bradenton Florida. It will be released on March 9, 2013.
My attraction to this subject is the fact that McKechnie Field in Bradenton, which opened in 1923, is the oldest, still functioning spring training facility in the country. The following year the New York Giants traveled to Sarasota to prepare for their season and today both these cities continue to host spring training.
Ted Williams in left field at Payne Park in Sarasota, circa 1948.
I also learned that the Sox spent a bit of time in Bradenton as well, training there when the team was owned by Bob Quinn in 1928 and 29. And it is there where todays story lies.
To begin, the Red Sox were in the midst of the worst stretch in their history. You think this past year was bad? You think the late 50s and early 60s were bad? They were spectacular compared to the 1920s and early 30s. Try this on for size.
In 1918, the Red Sox won the World Series! They would not have another winning season until 1935! In the midst of that horrific run, 1923 to be exact, Mr. Quinn purchased the team from Mr. Harry Frazee, remember him? All Mr. Quinn did was turn Fenway Park into the castle of despair as the Red Sox began an unprecedented run of futility.
Throughout Mr. Quinn’s tenure the Red Sox won 544 games while losing a whopping 988. That translates to a winning percentage of .355. Impressive heh? They had five seasons of 100 plus losses including three in a row and a record-setting 111 in 1932. They finished in last place in eight of the eleven years, next to last twice and climbed all the way up to sixth place once! Don’t forget, there were only eight teams in each league, so the Old Town Team was firmly entrenched as celler dwellers.
Despite the fact that they were a terrible, terrible baseball team, the City of Bradenton welcomed them in the spring of 1928. In my search for photos for the book of the Red Sox training there, I came across the story of a young phenom from New Jersey who was with the Red Sox that spring. His name was Joe Cicero.
Joe Cicero was 17 years old when he came to his first Red Sox spring training in 1928. In fact he had to get his mom’s permission to do so. A first cousin of matinée idol Clark Gable, “Dody” would make his major league debut in September of 1929. He played 10 games for the Red Sox in ’29’ and 18 games in 1930.
Following the 1930 season, the kid from Atlantic City New Jersey languished in the minors for the better part of the decade, never rising above the level of double A ball. In 1937 he left the minor leagues and headed north of the border and played some Canadian baseball and even gave the Canadian Football League a whirl.
Cicero in 1929.
He played semi-pro ball into the forties, served a year in the military and on Valentine’s Day 1945, the Philadelphia A’s signed him to a contract. He made their squad that year and when he took the field on opening day he etched his name into the annals of baseball history. It had been 15 years since he last appeared in a major league uniform, a record which today still stands!
Yours Truly, Luis Tiant and Kerry Keene at Curtis Liquors in Weymouth Massachusetts in August of 2012.
Fast forward to last week. I was talking to my good friend, baseball historian, and sometimes collaborator Kerry Keene. I was telling him about my “find”. He laughed and said, “I can’t believe you’re telling me this today.” “Why” I asked. “Well just yesterday I was on one of my SABR posts and the topic was the longest time between major league appearances.” Apparently the SABRites were bantering about various names as possibilities for this record holder. “I happen to know” said Kerry, “it’s Joe Cicero”.
I quickly contacted my publisher with a stop the presses plea. “I have something important to add to the book before it goes to final print.”
“I happened to know it is Joe Cicero.” Of course you do, the guy did after all play a grand total of 40 games between the years of 1929 and 1945.
Oh, and by the way, Cicero wore the number 10, but Kerry probably knows that too.
The mind of my friend never ceases to amaze and amuse me!
Joe Cicero, major league record holder, just one of the reasons I Love This Game!