Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Baseball and Fishing: Bush-Feezle of Indianapolis

Baseball and Fishing: Bush-Feezle of Indianapolis

I am a massive baseball fan who is certainly in a very, very good place as my childhood team (the Minnesota Twins) and my adopted team (the Cincinnati Reds) have both won their respective divisions. To honor the start of the baseball playoffs, and a possible Twins-Reds World Series, I would like to relate a recent tackle find involving a very famous major league baseball player.

My story begins with a line spool. As many know I particularly like trade house tackle, and when I saw this "B.F. Monogram" line spool marked with a Bush-Feezle Sporting Goods Co. of Indianapolis, IN label I knew I had to have it. Luckily, I was able to purchase it, and while I awaited its arrival I began to dig around and try and find some information about this sporting goods merchant I had never heard of before.

It didn't take long to identify the Feezle in the company name. When it comes to research, it's always easier to track down an unusual name such as Feezle than it is to find a Smith or a Jones. So it was very easy to discover that the man in question was Stanley Feezle of Indianapolis. His name appeared all over the internet in large part because this sporting goods merchant was also a part time scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Feezle was very good at his scouting job, so good in fact he was responsible for discovering two great players. The first was Carl Erskine, who according to one biography of this pitcher on the fine SABR baseball research site was scouted by "Stanley Feezle, who owned a sporting goods business in Indianapolis and was sent by the Dodgers to scout him." Erskine turned out to be a steady righthanded pitcher who in his twelve year major league career won 122 games.

But if Feezle found a gem in Erskine, he took home a true diamond when, in 1943, he discovered a lanky power-hitting shortstop at St. Joseph's College in Indiana. He convinced the nineteen year old Gil Hodges to sign a contract with the Dodgers, and soon after the Dodger GM Branch Rickey suggested he try first base, where he'd spent the vast majority of his career. After a stint in the army (where he fought at both Tinian and Okinawa), he eventually developed into one of the best players in the game. A Gold Glove fielder with significant power, he ended his eighteen year major league career with 370 home runs and three gold gloves.

So Stanley Feezle played a small but important role in major league baseball history. Born in 1897, despite his diminutive stature, Feezle made a name for himself very early on in the budding sport of basketball. As early as 1915 his exploits were being chronicled by the Indianapolis Star, his home-town newspaper. By the late 1920s his playing career was behind him, and he embarked on a very successful career as a professional basketball referee, often holding clinics attended by 500 people or more.

From a refereeing standpoint, Feezle believed that since the game was designed as a "no contact" sport, it should be officiated as such. Here's a commentary from nationally syndicated sports columnist Edward J. Neil of the on the 16 February 1935 Purdue-Long Island University game played at Madison Square Garden:

"The work of Stanley Feezle, diminutive Indianapolis referee who officiated the Purdue-Fordham game, may have been a revelation to those who are interested in making basket ball more popular in the East. Stanley went right to work from the opening tipoff, pounced on the first two instances of contact that could possible be interpreted as holding fouls (they were fouls, too, but of the sort too often overlooked in the East) and the boys on both teams immediately settled down to play by far the cleanest game of any produced in six Garden double-headers to date. The fact that it was the most entertaining game as well as the cleanest ought to give Eastern coaches an idea of what a good show basketball can be when it is played with due regard for the theory that it is a no-contact game, as the rule book says it is. And I'll never be annoyed again at Hoosiers bragging about their kind of basket ball. It's swell."

By this time he was widely considered not only basketball-mad Indiana's finest referee, but the best referee in the Big 10 and one of the best in the nation. This may be why in 1937 he decided to enter the sporting goods business. As The Logansport Pharos-Tribune declared on 13 December 1937:

Stanley Feezle, the ref, and Donie Bush, the hot-stove man, now co-proprietors of a sporting goods store in Indianapolis, are sponsoring a Thursday night basketball league there. The lads in that league shouldn't wait for equipment!

So we now get the second partner in the sporting goods store, and like Feezle, he's an important figure in the history of baseball. Unlike Feezle, though, he was an actual major league ballplayer!

Owen "Donie" Bush (1887-1972) was an outstanding sixteen year veteran of the big leagues with the Tigers and Senators. At just 5' 6" and 130 pounds, Bush was one of the smallest players in the league but played shortstop better than anyone during his tenure. A decent hitter with a great eye at the plate (when he retired he ranked #2 in career walks), Bush is most noted for setting the American League record for stolen bases with 52 in 1909--a record that stood 83 years until Kenny Lofton broke it in 1992. He also ranks #5 all-time with 337 sacrifice hits, setting the plate on numerous occasions for his Tiger teammate Ty Cobb. Later, Bush would become a manager of note, leading the Senators, Pirates, White Sox, and Reds at various times between 1923-1933. As a manager, his greatest success came in AAA as the skipper of the Minneapolis Millers, where he managed Ted Williams the year before the lanky slugger was called up by the Red Sox.

A native Indianapolis boy, it is not a surprise that he got into the sporting goods business with Feezle in 1937. Their association was short-lived because in 1941, Bush became co-owner of the Indianapolis Indians. He would remain owner, manager, or president of his home-town Indians until 1969. Due to his executive position, he divested his partnership in the sporting goods store with Feezle, likely around 1942 or 1943. They remained close; Feezle was scouting for the Indians throughout the 1950s while Bush was president of the by then community-owned club.

The nifty line spool that bears both of these baseball legend's names is a great piece of fishing history, harkening back to the golden age of baseball. John Etchieson writes that the Monogram brand line was made by Gladding between 1938-1941, which makes it a nifty pre-World War II relic and a wonderful reminder of the connection between fishing and baseball.

-- Dr. Todd


Dan Basore said...

I remember the baseball park name as Busch Gardens. It wasn't to far from my home and I saw Herb Score pitch there. Great memories.

Dan Basore

Dan Basore said...

Memory can be tricky. I found it was really named Bush Stadium.