Baseball isn’t typically associated with Christmas but as I was driving north Sunday on I-75 to my mom’s house I realized my favorite sport has many connections to the holiday.
Let me count the ways. This list, alas, contains no Harry Lord a leaping. Lord, as I’m sure everybody recalls, was a third baseman and leftfielder who played in the majors from 1907 to 1915.
That’s a lot longer than a man named Christmas.
CHRISTMAS: That would be one Steve Christmas, a journeyman catcher who played 24 big-league games spread over three seasons in the mid-1980s. Christmas wasn’t a star or even a big-league regular but he did homer once in the majors.
HAPPY: His real first name was Albert but the one-time baseball commissioner was known far and wide as Happy Chandler. In 1945, he replaced as commissioner an inveterate racist named Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Happy Chandler was much more welcoming of Jackie Robinson and other black players than Landis, who it seemed was still fighting the Civil War and was upset about the whole Emancipation Proclamation thing.
BILLY SUNDAY: He was one of the fastest players in the majors in the 1880s but the man named after the day of worship for Christians later became best known as an evangelist. He was also the model for “Elmer Gantry,” a Sinclair Lewis novel that was made into a movie starring Burt Lancaster in the title role.
LUKE EASTER: It’s not Christmas but I think it’s cool there was a player with the name of perhaps the second-most important Christian holiday. Luke Easter was a 6-foot-4, 240-pound slugger who didn’t reach the majors until he was 34. He got to the bigs when Happy Chandler was commissioner.
Easter was black, which kept him out of the majors when he was younger. He had three really good seasons with the Indians in his mid-30s, hitting between 27 and 31 homers and knocking in between 97 and 107 runs each of those seasons.
What could Easter have accomplished if he had reached the majors in his early 20s?
TODD CLAUS: He’s a Red Sox scout.
JESUS ALOU: What would Christmas be without Jesus? The holiday celebrates, of course, the birth of Jesus Christ. I know of at least one big-league player named Jesus. That was outfielder Jesus Alou, the least known of the three Alou players. While Matty and Felipe are better known, Jesus Alou was a fine player, one good enough to play 15 years in the majors in the 1960s and 1970s and hit .280 over that long span.
SANTO CLAUS: That’s not a typo. It’s Santo, not Santa. Ron Santo was an outstanding Cubs third baseman some years back and a proviso in the standard major-league contract with players is named after Santo because he was the first to invoke it.
GOOGLE THIS: What did I miss? I had to miss something. Somebody somewhere must have written about baseball and Christmas.
So I Googled baseball and Christmas and in a quick search didn’t find either a scholarly study or a column or blog. That doesn’t mean others haven’t written about baseball and Christmas but whatever else has been written on the subject didn’t leap to the top of my Google search.
Instead, what I found were tidbits on baseball card sales, Christmas baseball camps for kid and Steve Christmas.
So Merry Steve Christmas to one and all and to all a Happy Chandler New Year.