Guest blog article by Keith Spalding Robbins
Figure 1: Les Mann teaching a Miami local the art of being a Catcher. Sorry Toronto, but there no dresses worn in this baseball game.
Source: Baseball Hall of Fame Photo
Les Mann: baseball hero, football hero, basketball star, World Series hero, Track and Field hero, Wheaties Box Hero, Global Baseball Ambassador, Olympian and of course a Boston Brave.
He was a man of great athletic talents not seen since fellow Brave Dione Sanders.
His life was full, and his influence in baseball today albeit forgotten was paramount in making international baseball a reality.
Before the creation of US Baseball, Les Mann took US Select teams to Japan, Berlin, Havana, and throughout the world as amateur goodwill ambassadors for baseball.
By all accounts his best sport was probably football where he dominated the college gridiron of the Pre WWI era. He was classified as a football All-American in 1911 as a 19-year old and freshman at Springfield College. His most remarkable game was against Jim Thorpe and his Carlise School. And to stay busy and to pay bills he played professional baseball in the summer months. He played for the Braves in the summer and attended nearby Springfield College in winter months. By the time the Braves signed him in 1913 they forbid him from football, so Mann coached the football team and played basketball.
In the platoon system of George Stallings’ 1914 Miracle Braves, Mann did not start often but always seemed to be in thick of things and when a hit was needed, he delivered. In the World Series he knocked in the winning run in game two and scored the winning run in the twelve inning game three. He caught the game ending fly ball as well in game 4, and got his shirt ripped off his back by the excited beantowners as they stormed the field and celebrated the Braves miraculous victory.
Yet for all his on the field heroics, it was his advanced coaching and teaching that propelled him to greater success. For one he was the creator and inventor of film studies in sports.
He started a baseball school in Miami, along with Pirates Hall of Fame Center Fielder Max Carey and featured Jimmie Foxx as the headliner. With ads placed in Sporting News and other magazine the school had a national reach recruited the best baseball youth talent. The incentive was not MLB connections but the chance to be part of the foreign baseball and global travel. It was known as the Miami Baseball School.
This school served as springboard for Mann created what was later known as the National Baseball Congress which sponsored US National Travel teams.
In 1935 with sponsorship from Wheaties Cereal he took a select team adorned with the US letters on the front, and Wheaties on the left sleeve to Japan for a series of baseball exhibitions. This successful tour set the stage for an even greater baseball endeavor.
In 1936 Les Mann organized the US Olympic Baseball Team that played a demonstration game in front of Hitler himself and 100,000 baseball illiterate Germans. As part of making baseball a demonstration sport in the 1936 Games, Mann was promised that baseball would be a full sport in the 1940 and 1944 games. The 1940 Games were supposed to have be staged in Tokyo.
He did so with sponsorship from Louisville Slugger and other baseball companies but without any MLB support, nor US Olympic Team funding either.
So the connection between the Braves and the Olympics far extends back some 80 years ago this summer well beyond the confines of Turner Field, and rests with a former Miracle Braves part-timer centerfielder Les Mann.
Photo Source: Baseball Hall of Fame Photo