Baseball History: George Case
Connecting through social media sites like Facebook has become commonplace in today’s world.
Like most people, it’s allowed me to stay in contact with many friends from high school and college.
But there is something that social media has done for me, which was hard to imagine as I began writing about baseball history on the Internet. It has allowed me to connect with former major league players.
Someone that I follow is Fritz Peterson, who posts nearly every day wishing players a happy birthday or telling a story about a teammate. He is always very entertaining.
An all-star pitcher in 1970, Peterson played for 11 seasons with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers.
Another one of my connections is with the son of George Case. Despite all of the reading and research I’ve done over the years, admittedly, Case was unknown to me. With a few conversations with his son George III, I’ve been able to learn quite a bit.
Baseball history is my favorite subject. I’m consumed by it on a daily basis. So naturally, I had to get on the Case.
The short version is that Case played from 1937 to 1947 with the Washington (Nationals) Senators and Cleveland Indians. He was only with the Indians in 1946, but more about that later.
Tracking down more information started with a few items in my library of Sporting News Baseball Guides.
Case was a lifetime .282 hitter with 21 homers. Not really numbers most people are going to remember, but he was good enough to be named an American League all-star four times in 1939 and from 1943 to 1945. He started in right field in 1943, but two years later the game wasn’t played due to World War II.
However, it was Case’s speed that puts him in a category all by himself among baseball players.
Born in New Jersey, Case finished his career with 349 stolen bases. That total is currently at №112 on the all-time list with Eric Davis, who spent nine of his 17 years in the majors with the Cincinnati Reds.
Case led the Al in stolen bases six times from 1939 to 1943 and in 1946. The first five times he accomplished the feat, he also led the majors in the category.
Here’s where things start to get amazing. Case is the only player in the history of baseball to lead the majors in stolen bases five straight seasons. That’s right. You can look it up, but I’ll save some time here.
National Baseball Hall of Fame member Luis Aparicio topped the AL in steals nine years in a row from 1956 to 1964 with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
Aparico’s problem was that in the National League Willie Mays and Maury Wills took turns leading the majors in thefts.
All-time steals leader Rickey Henderson led the AL seven straight times, but one of his competitors was Vince Coleman, who led the NL six times in a row. This duo and Tim Raines battled for a decade as they each topped the majors in steals.
That leaves Case alone as the only player with five titles in a row. He was never challenged during the run. The closest anyone came was in 1940 when Lonnie Frey of the Cincinnati Reds stole 22 bases. Case finished with 35.
Yes, that Jesse Owens. You’ve not been directed to a different story.
After the 1945 season, Case was traded to Cleveland. Bill Veeck was the owner of the Indians and though out his life was quite a promoter. For those who aren’t familiar, search for the Chicago White Sox of the 1970s wearing shorts or better yet Disco Demolition Night.
In 1946, Veeck was just getting started. One of his first big promotions was to have Case race the 1936 Olympic champion between games of a doubleheader.
Owens won, but it was very close. For many baseball fans, it has become a forgotten moment.
Owens and Baseball
This is where the true beauty of the Internet comes into play.
While trying to check on some information about Case, the Wilmington Morning Star showed up during a search.
In a UPI story from the North Carolina newspaper on Feb. 11, 1965, it was announced that Owens would be joining the New York Mets as a running coach. It was stated in the article, the Owens “will provide the Mets with tips on how to improve their running form and how to gain an extra step on the base paths.”
A former shareholder of the Pittsburgh Crawfords according to the story, Owens was even quoted. “If a ball player keeps his knee higher and his arm carried forward, it can make a difference between him getting a hit and being out.”
All of that sounds great, but were are talking about the Mets of the 1960s. They were 53–109 in 1964 and fell to 50–112 in 1965. They also stole just 28 bases in 70 attempts.
In my interpretation of those numbers, don’t think anyone could blame Owens, after all, he was working for the Mets.
Perhaps it would have been a better decision to hire Owens and Case as designated runners for the Mets, but they may not have had a lot of work on the bases due to a lack of opportunity.