The Brea Bowl commencement held this morning went well; it was a great event, according to Scott Neal, Board Member of the Brea Museum and Heritage Center. Mayor Don Schweitzer was on hand to congratulate local Boy Scout, Matt Breneman, who did an excellent job in creating the Brea Bowl plaque as an Eagle Scout project to commensurate the famous baseball game played on October 21, 1924, featuring Brea’s famous baseball player Walter Johnson facing Babe Ruth at the Brea Bowl! Scott, a former Eagle Scout from Brea, showed his “Scout Spirit” by dressing in his Boy Scout uniform. Scott’s daughters, Samantha and Angelina, were in the moment, too!
Most Breans are aware, and very proud, of the fact that on October 31, 1924, New York Yankee slugger Babe Ruth and hometown pitching sensation Walter "The Train" Johnson played in an exhibition game near what is now the corner of Lambert Rd. and Brea Blvd. Both of these legends, along with Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner, were the first players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
After the exhibition game, Ruth and Johnson signed a baseball for Ted Craig that is currently housed at the Brea Museum. Another player present at that game was New York outfielder, "Long Bob" Meusel. And just as his career was eclipsed by such luminaries as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, this other member of the legendary "Murderers Row" signed the baseball that day. His is one of the other names on the baseball.
Even advertisements for the game printed in the Brea Progress newspaper relegated Meusel to second billing, listing his name in smaller type, under Johnson and Ruth. A handbill from the actual game doesn’t mention him at all.
Although his name is seldom brought up when Breans and baseball historians recall that Fall day in 1924, the statistics he accumulated in his 11-year major league career give us a better glimpse as to why he was included on that barnstorming tour in the first place.
At 6'3", the muscular Meusel was a feared outfielder and considered a solid, all-around player, power-hitting .313 or better in seven of his first eight major league seasons. Hitting behind Babe Ruth in the order, Meusel became the first Yankee right-hander to win a batting title in 1925 with 33 home runs. That same year, he was also the American League RBI champion, with 138. His accurate and powerful throwing arm earned the outfielder his other nickname; "The Rifle", and on September 5, 1921, Meusel tied a major league record with four outfield assists in a single game.
In 1924, Meusel had a career high of 26 stolen bases and was two hits shy of his career high of 190, with 188. From 1920 through 1930, his on-base percentage career high was .393. Appearing in six World Series, "Long Bob" stole home twice and in a regular season game played on May 16, 1927, he stole second, third and home.
Bob Meusel and Babe Ruth are the only Yankee players to hit for the cycle three times. Career-wise, Meusel ranks among the all-time Yankee leaders in doubles (338), triples (87), RBI's (1,005) and batting average (.311).
With statistical superiority to many players in the Hall of Fame, Bob Meusel was considered "grim and unpopular" by fans and Yankee Manager Miller Huggins felt he played with an "indifferent attitude" and "could have done better".
Looking back at some of Meusel’s exploits during his career, it’s still difficult to understand why he is an almost forgotten character in baseball lore.
On October 16, 1921, with baseball pals Babe Ruth and Bill Piercy, he embarked on a barnstorming tour of Buffalo, NY, contrary to Baseball Commissioner Landis’ ban against the World Series participants playing in post-season exhibitions. Five days after the tour began, they cut it short in Scranton, PA, but Babe Ruth challenged Landis to act against them....which he did - fining the players their World Series shares, $3,362.26 each, and suspending the players until May 20th the following season.
On June 13, 1924, with New York leading 10 - 6 in the ninth inning, Tigers pitcher Bert Cole hit Meusel in the back with a pitch. Meusel threw his bat at Cole and charged the pitchers mound, setting off a 30-minute near-riot at the Detroit Stadium that included both players benches, fans, ushers and the police. Umpire Billy Evans, unable to clear the field to complete the game, forfeited it to New York. Cole and Meusel were both suspended for 10 days. Meusel was fined $100, Cole and Ruth were fined $50 each.
Playing for Cincinnati, Meusel’s final season in the major leagues, on September 12, 1930 during a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Brooklyn catcher Al Lopez drove a ball over the head of left-fielder Meusel. The ball bounced over the wall and into the bleachers at Ebbets Field. Ruled a homerun, this is the last recorded bounce homerun in National League history, as the rules changed the following season to rule bounced HR’s as doubles.
"Long Bob" Meusel, born in San Jose, CA on July 19, 1896, died of natural causes in California on November 28, 1977 and is buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier. Not much is known of his life after the end of his baseball career. We do know, however, that there was a reason he was on the barnstorming tour and why he signed that baseball, with Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson, on that celebrated day in 1924.