Web Exclusives: Rally 'Round the Cannon -- Princeton history
by Gregg Lange '70

October 24, 2007:
Those championship seasons

No World Series ring, but a long list of sports trophies for alumni athletes

By Gregg Lange ’70

To our readers: PAW’s online column on Princeton history, called Under the Ivy since 2002, begins the fall 2007 term with a new name: Rally ’Round the Cannon.

In one of those lovely coincidences that make life enjoyable and the study of history addictive, in 1892 not only did Lord Stanley of Preston donate the Stanley Cup, now the most ancient of American sporting trophies, but Hobey Baker ’14 was born. These two pillars of North American hockey – the British aristocrat and the Philadelphia preppie – took their time getting together; not until 115 years later did the Cup make its first appearance at Baker Rink, the first college hockey arena built in the United States.

The conjunction of legends came about through the generosity of George Parros ’03 of the Stanley Cup champion Ducks (imagine what Lord Stanley or Baker would have thought of Anaheim). His role on the team is well established by his stats – one goal and 102 penalty minutes – but in the great Cup tradition, Parros had only 24 hours to keep the trophy, which went from Delbarton School to awestruck peewee players in Princeton to a family barbeque in Pittsburgh. He’s the Tigers’ first Stanley Cup winner in Princeton’s 107 years of ice hockey.

Parros joins a long and diverse line of professional sporting champions from Princeton, to be sure a curious sideline for the best-regarded undergraduate educational institution in the country. We have two Super Bowl rings in the family, courtesy of quarterbacks Bob Holly ’82 of the Redskins and Jason Garrett ’89 of the Cowboys. Not only does Bill Bradley ’65 sport two NBA championships among his multiple honors, including the Sullivan Trophy and captaincy of the gold medal 1964 Olympic basketball team, but for the diehard fans of the fun-and-gun American Basketball Association, the mesmerizing Brian Taylor ’84 also won two championships with the Nets in the ’70s.

Nor does the parade stop with the major sports: Jesse Marsch ’96 has three Major League Soccer championship rings, and current U.S. national soccer team coach Bob Bradley ’80 has one. In the seven-year-old Major Lacrosse League, Bill Tierney’s Princetonians are spread so thick it gets confusing: This year’s MLL champion Philadelphia Barrage included championship game MVP Matt Striebel ’01 and Ryan Boyle ’04, providing a third ring for each. Kevin Lowe ’94, Chris Massey ’98, Christian Cook ’98, Josh Sims ’00, Trevor Tierney ’01, B.J. Prager ’02, and Damien Davis ’03 also have picked up MLL championships along the way. League rosters are so infested with orange and black that I probably overlooked some other folks.

So what’s absent here? What’s the missing jewel in the crown? Believe it or not, no Princetonian has ever been on a World Series winner. Over 122 years, 24 Tigers have played in the majors, most recently Ross Ohlendorf ’05 debuting on the mound for the Yankees, but to date none has grasped the coveted gonfalon, as they used to say when men were men and sports columns were puzzling. Hitters, pitchers, long-timers like Dave Sisler ’53, cup-a-coffee-ers like Charlie Caldwell ’25 (Yes, that Charlie Caldwell, who pitched all of 2 2/3 innings, also with the Yankees), none. Only one Tiger even made it to a single odd Series, and he was the oddest of all.

Of course, it was Moe Berg ’23, who famously could speak several languages and hit in none of them. A magna cum laude graduate who had played in the infield as captain at Princeton – he switched to speaking Latin when the opposition had runners on base – he was the longest-tenured Tiger major leaguer of them all, spending 15 years as a catcher with a dizzying array of marginal ball clubs. In one of the great home-run eras ever (1923-39), he hit six dingers in 1,813 at-bats; he had 206 career RBIs while Hack Wilson had 191 in the 1930 season alone. Berg’s baseball smarts and catcher’s skills – a fine arm and good glove, he once went 117 games without an error – kept him around, despite the contention of a no-less-curious authority than Casey Stengel that the Columbia Law grad was “the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

So naturally, when Berg made it to the World Series, it was with the Washington “First in War, First in Peace, Last in the American League” Nationals in 1933. Although a rookie player-manager, the Nats’ Joe Cronin was not naïve, and Moe never left the bench during the Series, no doubt pondering the lessons of Greek tragedy – in Greek – while the Nats went down to the Giants 4-1.

Ten years later, after his playing days and a coaching stint with the Red Sox, he was in Europe spying on Nazi nuclear-weapons developments for the OSS. Maybe Casey really had a point there. After the war Berg became some shadowy combination of spy, recluse, and pathological unpublished writer.

The Princeton archives contain a tiny notebook of Berg’s from his mysterious latter days of 1960, in which he was detailing research material on two world topics vital to him: the history of Princeton baseball (which he traced back to the 18th century, long before Abner Doubleday), and Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, which he meticulously noted created not only a monopoly but a monopsony (quick, Edna, the dictionary!). This was a decade before the Curt Flood case that broke baseball’s reserve clause for that very reason. This was one bright dude. But until his death in 1972, he still would appear suddenly at Tiger baseball and football games (all-American catcher Arnie Holtberg ’70 recalls receiving compliments from the old catcher at a Penn doubleheader), then vanish back whence he came. P

Lange '70Gregg Lange '70 is a member of the Princetoniana Committee and the Alumni Council Committee on Reunions, an Alumni Schools Committee volunteer, and a trustee of WPRB radio.