LONG FORGOTTEN NORRISTOWN BASEBALL PLAYER
One of the Great One’s to Ever Play the Game
John “Cub” Stricker
By Jack Coll
I’m sitting in my office on a Tuesday night, about the same time I would generally be turning on the Phillies game, but we’ve reached the All Star break. I’m excited that the Phillies are on top of the league with a six game lead over Atlanta, wait a minute, a senior moment, no, this isn’t 1980, or 2010, that’s right, the Phillies have only won 29 games so far this season and we stink, I mean stink.
So with a night off from suffering through a Phillies game I’ve rummaged through my files to find a more pleasant time on the baseball diamond. At first I thought I’ll tap into the Whitey Mellor file, now there was a ball player. I’m not sure Whitey was an inch over five feet, and certainly didn’t weigh more than 140 pounds in his prime but man could he play ball. Not just baseball, but football and basketball. I saw the contract Whitey signed with one time Philadelphia Eagles owner Bert Bell. Whitey signed on the dotted line giving him $100.00 for every game he played with the Eagles and guaranteed Whitey a job pumping gas in the off-season at a gas station. Whitey twice signed a contract with Bell but never played a down. Whitey told me that he was playing baseball in the old Southeastern Pennsylvania League and the playoffs would run into the fall. Whitey once told me that he was playing two to three baseball games a week at $75.00 per game and didn’t want to take a pay cut playing football. Experts of the day would later compare Mellor’s running style out of the backfield to Gail Sayers. He might be a good attention to a fantasy baseball team if you are interested in finding out more about fantasy baseball you can check out this website to learn more.
The Philadelphia Phillies recruited Mellor but he signed instead with the New York Giants. A few years later Mellor played with the Conshohocken Professionals in the Eastern Professional Football Conference and was twice selected the league’s Most Valuable Player. Mellor really excelled in basketball where he played for the Conshohocken Hi Club, (I doubt anyone around remembers that league) He also played with the Main Line League and later played with the Pottstown Pros in the professional Eastern League.
I could very well go on for a few more pages on Whitey Mellor and his wonderful athletic exploits over his 30 years of playing ball, but I want to talk about a little known Norristown legend named John “Cub” Stricker. Some-how I’m sure no one alive today would recognize his name, I’d really be surprised if anyone did. While running through my files of great athletes in the Montgomery County area I came across Cub’s file and decided it’s time to share a few of this guy’s feat’s from more than a century ago, when the results of a Philadelphia ball club made the fans proud.
Cub was born in Philadelphia on June 26, 1859, down around Twenty-Third Street and Ridge Avenue and grew up like most kids of the day playing ball of some sort, one of the many games similar to the regulation game of baseball played today. Remember this was around the time of the Civil War and there were many versions of the game of baseball back then. Cub’s family was in the milk business and although Cub went to work in the family business he also enjoyed playing baseball as a young teenager.
Cub and his family later moved to Norristown where Cub played his first game of importance as part of the Mutual Club in 1879, the game was played in Norristown behind the hotel at what was known as Oakview Park, Cub helped his team to a victory over the Alerts of Germantown. Cub also played games with the Mutual’s on Barbadoes Island against opponents like the Globe Market team of Philadelphia.
In later years a newspaper described Cub as a tough player, he played catcher and infield, during a game at Oakview Park, later known as Globe Park, Cub was struck in the mouth with a foul ball, most of his teeth were knocked out and both his upper and lower lips were bleeding. After securing a towel to wipe the blood off his mouth Cub finished the game.
It all started at Oakview Park in Norristown for Cub, and then the pros came calling where he secured a starting position at shortstop for the Athletic Club of Philadelphia in 1881. (Not to be confused with the Philadelphia Athletics, which were founded in 1901) Cub went on to play from 1881-1885 where he was a key component in helping the team win a championship in 1883, and up till that time was the only championship Philadelphia celebrated of any kind in professional sports. Cub played second base that season but during a key game at the end of the season against Louisville, with the championship on the line, Philadelphia’s catcher Jack O’Brien was sun-struck during the game and Cub suited up as the catcher to finish the game and secure the victory. It came at a critical time as the St. Louis team was on a hot streak looking to over-take the boys from Philly but the victory helped seal the championship.
In 1886 Cub played with the Atlantic Club of the Southern League, and then with Cleveland in the National League in 1887, 88, and 89. In 1890 the Brotherhood of Ball Players came into existence, Cub joined his brothers and played for the Cleveland Brotherhood and turned in a MVP type of year. However the league disbanded the following year and Cub joined the Boston Association Club, the team was considered to be the best ball club ever put together in the history of the game up to that point and the Boston team won the pennant in 1891.
The Boston Association was merged into the big leagues of the day and Cub signed with St. Louis in 1892, and then to Washington in 1893. The next couple of years he played and managed with the Providence team who also won the pennant both years. (It seemed like ball players moved around a lot back then. There were no long term contracts back then, as a matter of fact there were no contracts at all. Players signed on for a weekly paycheck, no guarantee, no health benefits, no travel expenses, just a weekly paycheck if the team raised enough money. Players who produced and would draw a crowd like Cub, were in high demand and were often offered more money to play elsewhere from season to season.)
In 1896 Cub was again on the move to Springfield of the Eastern League. While having a very successful season in Springfield he broke the third finger of his right hand causing him much trouble and pain. (Remember if you didn’t play, you didn’t get paid), so Cub played through the pain but realized that he wasn’t helping the team and returned home to Norristown in the late part of 1896. He continued to play for other organizations on and off but after playing for more than 20 years in the professional ranks he decided to stay home and play baseball where he started.
In later years he played for the Norristown Club and other local teams, Cub was known throughout the area as a gentleman and a great baseball player.
While I don’t have the entire Norristown sports history in front of me I can tell you in my time Norristown has produced more than their share of above average athletes. Name like Lasorda, Bono, Culbreath, Darden, Williams, Raymond, and Auriemma, among dozens of others. These athletes are or were all great in their time and they all called Norristown home.
No-one can ever point to a name and say he was the greatest athlete to ever come out of Norristown, but if you’re having that discussion, the name of John “Cub” Stricker should certainly be in the mix.
Now, back to the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies, sporting a 29-62 all-star break record, on second thought, let’s not ruin the night.