Previews: Ray Morehart & the 1927 New York Yankees

Preview #1:

It’s Kevin Krause’s birthday! HBD Kevin. Krause is a former Kangaroo second baseman, Luckett Hall resident, and 1992 AC graduate. Just like Ray Morehart! Well, almost. Morehart is a former Kangaroo second baseman, Luckett Hall resident, and 1922 AC graduate. Yeah, watching baseball back in the 1990s sure does take me back……..

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It was a beautiful summer day in New York City. Frank Tooley and I were in town from Boston to visit Sridhar Yaratha. We got on the #6 train and headed south. The Baltimore Orioles were in the Big Apple to play the New York Yankees, and this group of Roos was on its way to “The House that Ruth Built”. The date was July 3rd, 1999.

The Yankees had gone 114-48 the previous year, winning the World Series in a sweep. Scott Brosius had been named Series MVP, and the baseball world was already comparing that team to the greatest in history: the 1927 New York Yankees. The 1998 team’s winning percentage was .703. Incredible yes, but still lower than the .714 percentage of that New York club with Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig.
Things looked bad for the home town team, as Baltimore built a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. But at that moment, the magic of that famous ballpark arrived. The big screen played John Belushi’s famous Animal House speech, and the crowd got fired up. New York put two men on with one out, and the fans got even louder.

And then, Scott Brosius. Brosius belted a 3-1 fastball like he was Babe Ruth into the left field stands. The Yankee crowd went nuts. So did the three Kangaroos in attendance. Cal Ripken, already having broken Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record back in 1995, slowly walked off the field.  The next day was Independence Day, July 4th, 1999. The papers reported on the game. Fireworks were watched on the East River. The country was at peace and in the middle of an unprecedented prosperity. It was a great time to be an American, and a great day to watch a game at Yankee Stadium.

Little did I know, but that ballpark was the site of Austin College Kangaroo glory exactly 72 years earlier.

The date was July 4th, 1927. America was at peace, and in the middle of an unprecedented prosperity. The New York Yankees had assembled the greatest team in history, and a Kangaroo was on the roster. For most of the 1927 season, AC’s Ray Morehart was a backup infielder and pinch hitter. But for 47 glorious games in June and July of 1927, the greatest Kangaroo baseball player ever was a starter at second base, a huge contributor to the team, and a member of the famed Murderer’s Row.

Nearly 73,000 fans flocked to the ballpark in the Bronx that July 4th. It was the largest crowd to ever see a baseball game in history. The Yankees owned a record of 52-21, and the Washington Senators had come to town. Manager Miller Huggins provided the day’s batting order to the umpire:

#1: Earle Combs (Baseball Hall of Famer)
#2: Ray Morehart (Austin College Kangaroo)
#3: Babe Ruth (The Sultan of Swat)
#4: Lou Gehrig (The Iron Horse)

Morehart walked in the bottom of the 1st. A Ruth single moved him to third, and a Gehrig double brought him home.

Morehart singled in the bottom of the 2nd. A Ruth triple brought him home.

Morehart singled in the bottom of the 4th. A Ruth single moved Morehart to third. A Gehrig walk advanced Ruth. Bases loaded in Yankee Stadium on Independence Day: Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and a Roo.

Morehart walked in the bottom of the 6th. A Ruth walk loaded the bases, and a Gehrig grand slam brought them all home.

Ray Morehart ended the July 4th game with 3 runs on 2 hits and 2 walks, America celebrated its 151st birthday, and New Yorkers watched the greatest team in history demolish the Senators.

Austin College alumni Ray Morehart and Charlie Robertson were part of the “Kid Coaches” that led the Kangaroos to a 1922 TIAA championship in football. Earlier that spring, Robertson had made national headlines after pitching a perfect game for the White Sox against Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers. The Major Leagues would not see another perfect game for another 34 years, when New York’s Don Larsen threw his gem at Yankee Stadium in the 1956 World Series.

Two weeks after the Brosius blast witnessed by those Roos in 1999, Yankee David Cone threw a perfect game at the Bronx. Scott Brosius caught the final out, and a 70-year old Don Larsen was in attendance. The movie “For Love of the Game”, about an aging pitcher throwing a perfect game at Yankee Stadium in his final start, was released that same summer.

The Scott Brosius homerun that Frank, Sridhar and I celebrated was not his most famous. That one came two years later. In Game #5 of a 2-2 World Series, the Yankees were again down two runs with one on and two out in the bottom of the ninth. Brosius slapped a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall to send the game into extras. The Yankees would eventually win in the 12th, when second baseman Chuck Knoblauch came home on a single. For those of you scoring at home, Knoblauch played second base at Texas A&M in 1989, the same year Kevin Krause played second base for the Roos.

“Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for General Motors”, as they say. Backing the most successful franchise in baseball can be difficult; for your humble author and life-long Red Sox fan, it’s darn near impossible. But back in 2001, in the immediate wake of 9/11, we were nearly all Yankees fans. We all rejoiced when the Astros brought a measure of joy to those suffering from Harvey in 2017, and would have done the same for Yankees fans that year had Mariano Rivera been able to strike out Luis Gonzalez in Game #7.

Brosius retired after the 2001 season, and returned to his alma mater Linfield College (McMinnville, OR) to coach D3 baseball. The Linfield baseball program achieved new heights under Brosius, winning the 2013 NCAA D3 national championship. In that NCAA tourney, the Wildcats sent AC rival Trinity University back home to San Antonio (sorry Dan & Jacob 😉 ). Brosius is now back coaching in Major League Baseball.

I enjoy writing these AC sports stories, and never, ever want a dime from anyone who reads them. However, if they make you “proud to be a Roo” (they do me!) and you want to find a way to say a simple thank you, then how about a contribution to the Austin College athletic enrichment fund? See the link in the comments. Every penny goes directly to AC athletics, and is managed by Athletics Director David Norman, Athletics Development Director JR Ohr, and staff. Tell ‘em “Roo Tales sent ya.”

But don’t just toss a coin in the bucket; spending money is the boring part. Attend Legends. Or Homecoming. Reconnect with Roos you know. Meet a whole bunch who are both older and younger, all of whom seem to have some great stories. We adults lose “community” as we take on greater “responsibility” over the years, and it’s important to fight that trend. It’s been a blast for me “coming back home” over the past three years, and there’s no reason why the same can’t be said for you. Come on in, the water’s fine.

The next Roo Tale will be about the greatest AC baseball player in history and his contributions to the greatest baseball team in history. It will be told on or around March 29th. Opening Day 2018. Hope to see you then.

Frank or Sridhar, post 1999 Yankee Stadium pics if you’ve got ‘em; I came up empty.

And…………….a big Happy Birthday to Kevin Krause. My condolences on the passing of your father-in-law, and my best to the Krause family.

 Brosius’ Hit Leaves Yanks In the Spirit of 1998 Season

Linfield wins 2013 D3 baseball national championship

Preview #2:

 I fell in love with sports on November 21, 1977.

Coach Mike Ash’s Blue Devils in the College Station Soccer Club (CSSC) were hungry. And young. And I mean REALLY young. We were all 8 years old.

That fall saw some good baseball. The New York Yankees beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games to take the 1977 World Series. Yankee Reggie Jackson earned the nickname “Mr. October” after he smashed three home runs on three pitches to propel New York to a Series clinching win at Yankee Stadium. The Series renewed one of baseball’s oldest rivalries between the Yankees and the (then) Brooklyn / (now) L.A. Dodgers.

What many do not know is that Jackson also hit a home run on the first pitch of his last at-bat in game #5 at Dodger Stadium. What even fewer realize is that Yankee catcher Thurman Munson smashed a home run on the first pitch of his at-bat just before Jackson. Two Yankees, five pitches, five home runs, and a World Series championship. Munson, the captain of the 1977 team, died tragically in a plane crash in 1979; all Yankee fans remember the sad day.

The 1977 Yankees in New York were good. But so were the 1977 Blue Devils in College Station. As the season wound down with one game left, we had secured 2nd place. But as Linda Parrish made clear to me in our kitchen the night before, 1st place was out of reach.

First place was occupied by the Aggies. They were undefeated. Their best player Neil McNamara (h/t Julianne McNamara) scored at will. They sent fear through opposing teams. We were scheduled to face them in the last game of the season. Their opponents were all roadkill, and we were next.

But Mom and Coach Ash would have none of it. Every team can be beaten. Why not now, and why not the Blue Devils? Why not shock the world? Well, the very small world of Brazos Valley elementary school soccer anyway.

The game began just like every other. McNamara scored, and the Aggies were up 1-0 at halftime.

But the tide turned in the second half. A Marc Parrish strike found the bottom right corner, and the champion staggered like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. A shot by our best player Rob Prall found the upper left corner, and just like that we had a lead. At that point, the Blue Devils defense (h/t Aimee Ash & Josh Busby) stiffened and counted down the minutes like the USA Olympic hockey team against the Soviets
three years later.

When the final whistle sounded, we were delirious with pride at having done the impossible. The upset was the highlight of our young athletic lives.

But not for Coach Ash; it wasn’t his first rodeo.

Mike Ash spent three years as a catcher with the New York Yankees organization from 1965 to 1968. He made it from Single A to Double A in 1967, landing a spot on the roster of the Yankees affiliate in Binghamton. In one of Mickey Mantle’s last years in the Bronx, Ash was tantalizingly close to joining him.

But every athlete has a ceiling. For Mike Ash, that ceiling was Binghamton. He was sent back down to Single A ball after 1967, replaced with a young, up-and-coming catcher in the Yankees organization named Thurman Munson. Joining Munson in 1968 at Binghamton was a pitcher named Al Downing. Six years later, Downing would deliver the pitch that allowed Hank Aaron to break 1927 Yankee Babe Ruth’s career home run record of 714.

Ash spent his final days of professional baseball with the Single A Fort Lauderdale Yankees. The Fort Lauderdale club had recently moved from St. Petersburg, the historic home of the Yankees. St. Petersburg, Florida was the site of spring training for the legendary 1927 Yankees of Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Austin College Kangaroo Ray Morehart.

Ash may have been a Yankee, but he got his start as a Dodger. As the era of Mantle was just getting going, Ash was a bat boy for the recently arrived L.A. Dodgers in Southern California. Ash did his work for the Dodgers in the L.A. Coliseum, before the Chavez Ravine home where Munson hit his 1977 World Series blast was built.

The Dodgers had come from Brooklyn, and their departure ended a decades long rivalry in New York with the Yankees. The Yankees usually ended their spring training with a series of games against the Brooklyn Dodgers in New York, and 1927 was no exception. Going into those exhibition games, Babe Ruth had the second highest spring training batting average on the Yankee team. The highest average? That honor belonged to Kangaroo Ray Morehart.

Ash retired from a career in Higher Education at Texas A&M, and now spends his time in Austin playing with his granddaughter Hannah. Those minor league days are long forgotten. That is, until a former Blue Devil decides to write a story about it.

Sports can teach valuable lessons. One of those lessons is that anything is possible. It’s possible for an Austin College Kangaroo to make the roster of the 1927 Yankees. It’s possible for a Mike Ash to come within a hair’s breadth of those same New York Yankees in the Bronx. Apparently, it’s even possible for a #16 seed to defeat a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament now.

And it’s possible, no matter how unlikely, for the 1977 Blue Devils to take out those previously untouchable Aggies. Thanks Coach Ash, for a pivotal moment in my young life.

The next Roo Tale will be about Ray Morehart and the 1927 Yankees: the greatest AC baseball player on the most famous baseball team in American history. One last preview next Monday, March 26th. Story begins on March 29th. Opening Day 2018. Hope to see you then.



Preview #3:

We all have to endure some pretty trying jobs in our 20s. Low pay. Long hours. Temporary, with no long-term prospects. I had such a job in 1995. It was all of these things. It was also pretty awesome.

After grad school in Boston, I headed for New York City in 1995 to begin a job search. To make ends meet while searching, I was a driver for a car service. Me, a yokel from Texas, spent 6 months driving clients in and around the Big Apple. As a result, I know New York City better than your average Joe DiMaggio in Brooklyn. Personally, I prefer the Queensboro and GWB to the tunnels, and the BQE is usually smooth sailing. Always, always avoid the Long Island Expressway. Never hit the Brooklyn Bridge unless you are a tourist.

Linda Parrish hated it, but not me. I love driving, and am pretty darn good with geography and directions. I drove a bunch of folks with great stories too. Susan Sarandon (she had a ball filming Bull Durham). Jim Lovell (survived Apollo 13, and also survived me driving him on the New Jersey Turnpike). Ian Ziering of Beverly Hills 90210 (pretty funny, and complimented me on not being a fan of the show). Yup, I was Andy Kaufman in the show Taxi during the year 1995.

1995 was also the resurgence of New York Yankees baseball.

The Yankees stunk for most of the 1980s. Their only bright spot that decade was an All-Star first baseman named Don Mattingly. In 1995, the Yankees finally had a playoff team. I even caught a few games that year, including a Red Sox loss at the House that Ruth built. Their ALDS series with the Seattle Mariners went the distance to a winner-take-all Game #5. The Yankees took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 11th.

I was working that night and was in between rides. I parked the car somewhere in Tribeca and listened to the end of the game on the radio. In the bottom of the 11th, Edgar Martinez slapped a double to left, scoring two runs to win the game. Ken Griffey Jr. beat the throw home, and Don Mattingly walked off the field as a Yankee for the last time. The call on Yankee Radio that night in Brooklyn was less than enthusiastic.

Mattingly’s best year was 1987. That summer, he set a major league record by hitting a home run in 8 straight games. That record remains today, tied only by the man who raced home and ended Mattingly’s career……Ken Griffey Jr.

Mattingly also tied another MLB record during that incredible string of 8 games. In Game #6, the Yankees were at Arlington Stadium taking on the Texas Rangers. Mattingly had already smacked three grand slams that year. The MLB record was four, held by another Yankees first baseman named Lou Gehrig. The date was July 18, 1987.

In the top of the 2nd, Mattingly walked to the plate with the bases loaded. He launched a Charlie Hough knuckleball into right field, and trotted around the bases. Two Yankee first basemen now shared the record, one from 1927 and one from 1987. Tens of thousands of Rangers fans rose to their feet to applaud Mattingly.

And one Austin College Kangaroo.

87-year old Kangaroo Ray Morehart was in the stands watching the game. He was a member of the 1927 Yankees, and a starter at second base for 47 games that summer. The Texas press caught up with him that evening, and asked him about Mattingly (“he’s good!”) and Gehrig (“he was better”). Morehart was quite a find for sportswriters, a Texan who had played with the greatest Yankee team ever and was in attendance during Mattingly’s incredible run.

Lou Gehrig was the first 1927 Yankee to pass. The disease that bears his name took him in 1941. Two years earlier, on July 4th 1939, he said goodbye to a teary-eyed Yankee Stadium and told the world that he “considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” At the time of Mattingly’s blast in 1987, Morehart was only one of two 1927 Yankees left with us, the living.

Mattingly’s #23 was retired in 1997; he’s the only Yankee to have his jersey retired who did not win a World Series. The Yankees followed up their 1995 playoff appearance by winning the 1996 World Series; John Sterling finally got to call a “Yankees win…….THEEEEEEEE Yankees WIN!” title. It was the beginning of a run of 4 titles and 6 Series appearances in 8 years. By then, I had long since left the world of New York City car service. I was glad to leave it behind, and boy how I miss it.

Austin College and New York City go hand in hand. That includes today. AC President Steven O’Day and wife Cece are in the Upper East Side at a “Meet the President” event hosted by alumni Vee Volpe and Jeff Ward. Roos will be drinking and chatting not far from where Ray Morehart was the toast of the town in 1927 as a starter for the greatest Yankees team ever.

My 1995 New York City days are a good story. But not nearly as good as the story of Kangaroo Ray Morehart and his teammates Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig. That one kicks off in three days on Thursday, March 29th. Opening Day 2018. It’s almost baseball season! Hope to see you then.

Preview #4:

The 2014 Scottish Highland Games were held at Inverness, and attracted competitors from around the world. In the Masters Division, participants from North America, Europe, and elsewhere fell one by one, until only one guy was left standing: An Austin College Kangaroo. Michael Dickens (AC ’94) won the 2014 games in Scotland; he’s something of a Highland Games legend to fellow competitors from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and around the globe.

The Scottish Highland Games trace their history as far back as the 11th century, when King Malcolm III of Scotland inaugurated a race to the summit of Craig Choinnich in the Northern Highlands to find the fastest runner to be his royal messenger. Yes, well before William Wallace & Robert the Bruce, the Scots have been going at it in one form or another.

Presbyterianism found a foothold in Scotland and a leader in John Knox during the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Knox’s flock in Scotland was “encouraged” by London to emigrate west, first to Ireland in the 17th century and later to the Americas as “Scotch-Irish” in the 18th. After passing through New York City and settling along the eastern seaboard, these newly arrived Americans had no sympathy for London and the Church of England, and fervently backed a future American war for independence.

That war came in 1776, and General George Washington was determined to hold New York. His army was tasked in November with defending Fort Washington, located in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan island. To boost morale, American patriots adopted the song “Yankee Doodle” as their own and sang with fervor. A nickname was born.

The British, strengthened by effective Scottish infantry outfits such as the 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot, drove the Americans out of New York. They crossed the Harlem river from the Bronx into Washington Heights, and sent Washington’s army west to Valley Forge. In victory, the Brits mocked the defeated colonialists with their own satirical version of “Yankee Doodle”.

Donald MacGregor was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1818. He enlisted in the same 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot, right around the (fictional) account of the 1839 invention of baseball by New Yorker Abner Doubleday. MacGregor eventually made his way to the Americas, and became a Presbyterian minister. The final act in the play of his life occurred in 1885; he accepted the presidency of Austin College.

The school had struggled to survive for 36 years, and was suffering from high debt and low morale. However, in the short span of three years, MacGregor succeeded in putting the school on the solid financial footing it had never enjoyed in its brief history. According to professor of history Dr. Light Cummins, “it is not an exaggeration to say that Donald MacGregor finally brought to Austin College the financial stability that it had lacked from its founding in 1849.”

Macgregor had help. Faculty member J.C. Edmonds was formally tasked by the Board of Trustees with managing the day-to-day affairs of the school, and “worked very hard during the MacGregor Presidency to save the college.” Edmonds was also a standout baseball player at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in the late 1860s, and had brought the game to the school in an informal setting during the late 1880s. In doing so, Austin College became the first college in Texas to participate in the game of baseball.

A Scot and his ballplayer had saved Austin College.

Professional baseball in New York City was dominated by the New York Giants of the National League at the turn of the century, but Joseph Gordon was determined to change that. The New York entrepreneur of Scottish descent convinced the owners of an American League squad in Baltimore to elect him president in 1901. He succeeded in acquiring land for a ballpark in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, and moved the team to Manhattan in 1903.

The 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment of Foot was a Scottish infantry unit with ties to Donald MacGregor’s old 42nd. It was named in honor of General George Gordon, a Scottish soldier born in Edinburgh. Because of Joseph Gordon’s last name and Scottish ancestry, his New York baseball club was renamed the “New York Highlanders”. There, in Washington Heights, the Highlanders and the Giants (who played at the nearby Polo Grounds) began a rivalry that would last a quarter century.

Over time, the Highlanders would supplant the Giants as New York’s team. They began to lure better players, win more games, and draw more fans. They also changed their name, from the New York “Highlanders” to the New York “Yankees”. In 1919, the Yankees traded for the best player in baseball, George Herman Ruth. In 1923, the organization crossed the Harlem River in the exact opposite direction as the 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot back in 1776 and began playing in the newly constructed “House that Ruth Built.” In 1927, the New York Yankees had the best team in history.

A Scot and his ballplayers had saved the New York Yankees.

Ray Morehart was born in 1899, just before the Yankees franchise moved to New York and soon after baseball officially began at AC. That same year, Austin College officially considered a name change to “John Knox College”. The school’s Texas roots won and allegiance to the “Father of Texas” remained. AC’s Scottish roots, however, put up a good fight. 28 years later, the greatest Kangaroo baseball player ever from “almost” John Knox College would be a starter, contributor, and Murderer’s Row member of the “almost” 1927 New York Highlanders.

Excitement is high in the Bronx again, as the 2018 version of the New York Yankees are hoping to make a run at World Series title #28. If you are a Yankees fan, then I have some good news:
In 2016, just before the start of the MLB playoffs, I wrote a Roo Tale about 1908 Roo baseball, the 1908 NY Giants, Merkle’s Boner, and the last Cubs team to win the Series. I wondered aloud whether this might finally be the year for the Cubs. It was. Chicago won game #7 of the World Series. The 108-year streak of futility was over.

In 2017, with the Astros down 3-2 in the ALCS, I wrote a Roo Tale about the ties between AC baseball and professional baseball in Houston. I wondered aloud whether this might finally be the year for the Astros. It was. Houston won game #7 of the 2017 World Series. The 55-year streak of futility was over.

In 2018, a Roo Tale about the New York Yankees will kick off the season. You may not be rooting for a Yankees 2018 World Series Title, but hey, sorry buddy………now it’s gonna happen. The Roo Tales have spoken.

The Roo Tale of Ray Morehart and the 1927 Yankees will be told in 9 chapters over 9 days. Chapter 1 begins tomorrow.

Chapter 1: Terrill
Chapter 2: Sherman
Chapter 3: Chicago
Chapter 4: St. Petersburg
Chapter 5: New York
Chapter 6: MurderROOS Row, Part 1.
Chapter 7: MurderROOS Row, Part 2.
Chapter 8: MurderROOS Row, Part 3.
Chapter 9: Texas

Great Scot Michael Dickens! It’s a Yankee Roo Tale! Go see Mike at the San Antonio Highland Games on April 7-8, and we’ll see the rest of y’all tomorrow. Alba Gu Brath!