Thursday, June 26, 2014

Check Out Some Vintage Dodger Photos at Lelands Auctions - the Story of Len Koeneche

Lelands has just put up their Spring 2014 Auction for collectors to peruse.  As always, there's a bunch of Dodger memorabilia to gawk at.  Take a look at some great vintage Dodger photographs I came across below.

Here is a large panoramic team photograph of the 1935 Brooklyn Dodgers taken in Orlando during Spring Training.  Some notable players include manager Casey Stengel and the infamous Van Lingle Mungo.  Also shown is an little-remembered outfielder by the name of Len Koeneche

Koeneche had all the promise of the world.  He was a former railroad fireman who was a hard hitting left-handed batter.  The great John McGraw had paid $75,000 for his services and remarked that he would be a star in the National League.  Unfortunately, that was not to be. 

By his early 30's, Koeneche found himself in Brooklyn as a failed ballplayer with possibly one last chance.  Under Stengel's tutelage he showed the promise of the past, but life has a way of throwing curves.  He was unceremoniously demoted near the end of the '35 season.  The exact reason is not well know, but some say it was due to his constant drinking.  Others say that the disappointment of the season caused management to lash out against him.  Whatever it was, Koeneche and some teammates were sent home mid-season, and boarded a plane in St. Louis for home.  He never made it back.

With whiskey bottle in hand, he and a couple of teammates decided to drink their problems away, and before their stop in Detroit Koeneche had become violently drunk.  He started a fight with another passenger, and had to be restrained.  In Detroit he was taken off and allowed to sleep in the terminal.  Once he woke, the still drunk ballplayer chartered a flight to Buffalo, and that's when events turned for the worse.

Now over the skies of Toronto Len Koeneche had became a madman.  He tried to wrestle control of the small chartered plane.  A fight ensued.  Soon, a fire extinguisher was used against his head; causing a cerebral hemorrhage.  That evening over the peaceful skies of Canada, Len Koeneche was dead.  The pilots emergency landed on a race track, and were immediately charged with manslaughter.  At trail, they were acquitted of any wrongdoing due to a self defense argument.

It is not known if his drunken stupor is to blame for his actions, or if this was a veiled attempt at suicide.  As Gary Joseph Cieradkowski notes in his excellent biography:
All that remained was a grieving widow, a fatherless daughter and one heck of a story that became a classic of baseball lore.
(Auction Link)

This next panoramic photograph is of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.  Fortunately, this team doesn't have the morbid story of the '35 team.  Instead, this Brooklyn club won their very first championship.
(Auction Link)

To finish on an even better note, featured below is Gil Hodges official wedding photo.  It came directly from the Hodges family.  Standing next to Gil is his best man and teammate Ralph Branca. 
(Auction Link)

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