Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Bill Hands
Courtesy of BaseballSavvy.com
By Damon Peter Rallis

Drive two hours east of New York city, to the rural hamlet of Orient, Long Island. There, you’ll likely need to make a pit stop at the only gas station for miles. If you’re lucky, the tall, skinny man pumping your gas won’t be just any local. He’ll be former Chicago Cubs pitcher, William “Froggy” Hands, Jr.

On any given morning, Bill Hands shows up at his old service station, to work and chat with an array of locals who gather inside a small office, its walls adorned with baseball memorabilia.

They talk about fishing, golf and of course, baseball.

A player on one of Chicago’s most memorable teams, the 1969 Cubs, Bill Hands began his professional baseball career with the 1965 San Francisco Giants. After one season, Hands was traded to the Chicago Cubs, along with Randy Hundley, for Lindy McDaniel and Don Landrum, and by 1968 was an integral part of the Chicago squad.

That year, the 185 lb., 6’2” right-hander posted a solid 16-10 record, with a 2.89 ERA. In 1969, when the Cubs were overtaken by the team that would become known as the “Miracle Mets,” Hands was 20-14, with a glittering 2.49 ERA, 18 complete games, and 300 innings pitched.
“I beat the Pirates for my 20th win in ’69,” Bill remembers. “For me, that was quite an accomplishment. I mean, most pitchers are measured by that [20th victory].”

Actually, there were other wins to measure Bill Hands by; games that he is too modest to mention. Like the game, earlier in 1969, in which Hands out-pitched future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and the Mets, 1-0. Or the one on August 3, 1972, when Hands had his finest outing, beating the Montreal Expos 3-0.

“I had a no-hitter with two out in the ninth inning, and [Ken Singleton] hit a little ground ball that went off my glove. Well, [Paul] Popovich was playing second, and he said, ‘you should’ve let it go, I had it.’

“But,” Hands recalls, shrugging his shoulders, “it’s a reaction.”

Hands was traded to the Minnesota Twins the next season, and by 1975, his career had ended, in part because of ongoing back ailments and muscle spasms. But Hands, not one to take responsibilities lightly, felt that there was more to life than baseball.

“I worked for an oil company in all my off seasons. After [each season] I went fishing for ten days. But the guys that I played ball with; all they did was go hunting and fishing all the time. I had a family to feed, and we didn’t make the kind of money they make today. I had to go to work.”

That work became Bill’s life, and a decade later he decided to purchase Orient’s only service station, and help his son set up shop as a mechanic. Concerned that they wouldn’t make enough money to put food on the table, he started a retail oil business on the property. Both endeavors proved successful and continue to operate today.

Hands grew up in Rutherford, NJ, but the small tight-knit community of Orient is in his blood, and he considers it his true home.

“I was a summer kid here. I had been coming out here since World War II, until I got out of high school in 1958. Then, when I started playing ball, I always came out here to go bass fishing after the season was over. I bought a piece of property in the mid-Seventies, and built a little summer house.”

Along with the work and a little fishing, Hands plays at least two rounds of golf per week, and while he was famous in the clubhouse for his chess skills, he doesn’t find many worthy opponents these days. And he always makes time to talk baseball.

Hands talks about the effect free agency has had on the game, his distaste for the designated hitter, and the changing role of pitchers.

“They have so many specialists. Where they have a seventh inning guy, an eighth inning guy, a ninth inning guy. We didn’t have anything like that.”

Hands was a New York Giants fan as a youngster, but he doesn’t play favorites anymore. Not really. He just loves the game.

“I root for the Cubs, but they’re hard to root for,” he says. “First of all you don’t get to see them that often [on television in Orient], and they never win. I mean, I’m a Cubs fan. I follow them, but I’m just a baseball fan in general. I like to watch a good ball game.”

When asked if he thinks the Cubs will ever win another World Series, Hands replies: “They’re due. I mean, the Red Sox won one, the White Sox won one; why not the Cubs?”

A modest man, Hands dismisses the various newspaper articles about his life posted on his office walls, the baseball cards that bear his name, and the autographed photos of old teammates.
But when Froggy pauses in front of a picture of him and his son on the field, sporting matching Twins uniforms, he smiles knowingly. “I really like that one.”

Damon Peter Rallis is a baseball fan, a freelance writer, and a dad, from Long Island, NY.

Courtesy of BaseballSavvy.com

Monday, January 30, 2006

Minnie Minoso for the Hall of Fame

It's time to honor baseball's first black Cuban major-leaguer
Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune
By Cory Franklin, Chicago Tribune
January 27, 2006

Would the White Sox have won the World Series last October without the clutch late-season pitching of Jose Contreras or the phenomenal relief effort of Orlando Hernandez in the Boston playoff? How about Game 4 of the Series when shortstop Juan Uribe went into the stands, made a tumbling catch preserving a 1-0 lead, and ended the game with a great glove-to-hand transfer play? Besides their heroics for the White Sox, what do those three players have in common?

The answer is they are all black Latin players, a group whose style and skill have elevated baseball for two generations--from the unique delivery of Juan Marichal and the cannon arm of Roberto Clemente to the likes of Pedro, El Duque and Vlad today.

The first black Latin major-leaguer, who pioneered the way, was one Saturnino Orestes Armas Minoso Arrieta, a.k.a. Minnie Minoso, coincidentally the first black to play for the Sox. Less heralded than Jackie Robinson, Minoso was every bit the groundbreaker Robinson was. For 15 years Minoso faced not only racial discrimination, but the unique frustrations and difficulties Latin players were forced to endure. Minnie is among the nominees for the Baseball Hall of Fame in a special vote to be held next month. Though Minnie is rarely mentioned in discussions of prospective Hall of Famers, few are more deserving of the honor.

His career goes back as far as the Negro leagues with the New York Cubans until 1949, when Bill Veeck bought his contract for the Cleveland Indians. As it was with Jackie Robinson, racism cost Minnie his most productive years. Minoso didn't begin his major-league career until he was 26. His playing record after that age compares favorably to that of Robinson and most Hall of Fame outfielders. Traded to the White Sox, he won a Gold Glove, drove in 100 or more runs four times and was a phenomenal base runner. At different times he led the league in hits, doubles, triples, total bases and stolen bases. Baseball analyst Bill James believes that if Minoso had been allowed to begin his major-league career at 21, he would be among the 30 greatest players ever.

In 1976, Veeck brought 53-year-old Minnie out of retirement to be the Sox's designated hitter. In his first game, after going hitless against an All-Star pitcher, he publicly apologized to the fans. The next day he atoned and became the oldest player in major-league history to get a hit. In 1980, at 57, he became the oldest player ever to play in the majors. If baseball bigwigs hadn't nixed the idea, Minnie would have made an appearance in 1990 and become the only major-leaguer to play in six decades. Undaunted, at age 80, in 2003 he became the oldest professional baseball player ever by drawing a walk for the minor-league St. Paul Saints. Had the Saints not replaced him with a pinch runner, he'd undoubtedly have stolen second.

A consummate team player, no one hustled more in the field or on the bases than Minnie. He had one of the best senses of humor in baseball, arguing bad calls in a unique hybrid of English and Spanish designed specifically to confuse umpires and players alike. As an Indian, he was the most popular player in Cleveland. With the White Sox, his popularity in Chicago was second only to that of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks.

Minnie remains an ambassador of the game, regularly attending events, chatting up fans and giving autographs. Around 2010, don't be surprised to see him offered a contract to play in his eighth decade. Look for him standing on second, smiling, after hitting a double to left-center.

Someone once said of Ginger Rogers that she did everything Fred Astaire did except she did it backward and in high heels.

Minnie Minoso may not have faced the intense pressure experienced by Jackie Robinson, but he did everything Jackie did while facing the added burdens of a Latino in 1950s America. Despite all that, he maintained a perspective sadly lacking in today's athlete. He once said, "What more could I ask of life? I came from nowhere. I worked in sugar fields as a boy. It was a tough life. I had one pair of pants. But I always had a smile on my face. My mother and father ... taught me to be a good citizen, a good human being and to love life."

Never mind Pete Rose--the real travesty will be if Minnie Minoso doesn't get into the Hall of Fame.

Cory Franklin lives in Wilmette.
Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Sunday, January 29, 2006

CLU Honors Sparky

Courtesy of the L.A. Daily News
Hall of Fame manager has field named in his honor
By Kevin Connelly, Staff Writer
L.A. Daily News
Inside SOCAL

THOUSAND OAKS - Four-time manager of the year Sparky Anderson skipped, jumped and hopped his way to the pitcher's mound Saturday afternoon at California Lutheran University's inauguration of George 'Sparky' Anderson Field.

With a standing-room-only crowd looking on, Anderson - the fourth winningest manager in major league history - laughed as he short-hopped home plate with the ceremonial first pitch at CLU's annual alumni game.

Anderson, a longtime Thousand Oaks resident, then satisfied countless autograph requests and joked with coaches, players, umpires and fans. He equated CLU baseball to his experiences in the major leagues.

"It's all the same to me," Anderson said. "It's still 60 feet from the pitchers mound to home and 90 feet from home to first. I've been on plenty of baseball fields in the major leagues and some of them don't look as good as this (field)."

"What I miss about coaching is the players," said Anderson, who won championships with Cincinnati's `Big Red Machine' in 1975 and 1976 and another with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. "It's so much fun to be a part of that. I remember having players who thought they were con-men, but I'm the biggest con-man there is."

In attendance was Ernie Harwell, broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers from 1960-91 and 1993-2002. Harwell, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and winner of broadcasting's Ford Frick Award in 1981, covered the Anderson-coached Tigers from 1979-91 and 1993-95.

"Sparky is one of the great managers of all time," Harwell said. "(But) too much emphasis is placed on the major leagues. Real baseball happens in places like this, where (the game) can take place in its purest form."

Anderson was born Feb. 22, 1934 in Bridgewater, S.D. He made his major league debut in 1959 as the starting second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, hitting .218. He never played another season.

Anderson began his coaching career in 1964 with a Triple-A team in Toronto, winning four International League pennants from 1964-68. After one year as a coach for the San Diego Padres, Anderson was named manager of the Reds in 1970. He managed the next 35 years with the Reds and Tigers, finishing 2194-1834 (.545) overall.

Anderson retired in 1995 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

Courtesy of the L.A. Daily News

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Injury Slows Kapler Down - A Little

Courtesy of L.A. Daily News
Ramona Shelburne, Columnist - L.A. Daily News
Inside SOCAL
January 28, 2006

To the crowd at the Skydome that day last September, it looked like Boston's Tony Graffanino had hit a home run to left-center field. So why was Red Sox baserunner Gabe Kapler lying in pain on the ground at second base?

"I thought it was going to be a double, so I was pushing hard around the bases," Kapler explained. "But just as I'm rounding second base, I see it clear the fence. That's when I felt my Achilles' pop."

Boston was permitted to insert pinch-runner Alejandro Machado to complete Kapler's trip around the bases, since Graffanino never passed Kapler.

The play made highlight reels across the country for all the wrong reasons. In that one moment, Kapler's baseball career flashed before his eyes.

Of course, if you're going to suffer a serious injury like that, you might as well do it at full speed, hustling around the bases. That play, despite the unfortunate result, is the quintessential Kapler - hard-nosed, all-out, consequences be damned.

It's how the former standout at Taft [High School] of Woodland Hills always has been, on and off the field. Kapler's wife Lisa says he is up every morning by 6:30 and working business deals by 7.

He's a workout nut, a perfectionist at everything. A zealous multi-tasker.

A regular offseason for Kapler is barely a downshift in intensity from the baseball season. This winter has been no exception. Only this year, his energy has been poured into different things.
"I can't make this injury heal any faster than it's going to heal," he said. "It's forced me to slow down, to let my body rest. But it's blessed me with the opportunity to spend more time with my family and to throw myself into other things, like my foundation."

Kapler and his wife started the Gabe Kapler Foundation in 2004. It is a non-profit dedicated to stopping domestic violence and empowering victims of abuse. The cause is close to their hearts. Lisa was a victim of domestic violence in high school, before she met Gabe.

"He's working around the clock," Lisa Kapler said. "It's a full-time job, what he's doing for the foundation. Every time you see him he's on the computer or on the phone, doing something to fundraise for the foundation."

He also is involved in a custom baseball equipment company, called NV Baseball, along with friends and former baseball players Sam Voita (Granada Hills/Tampa Bay Devil Rays) and John Novak (El Camino Real/Texas Rangers).

Tonight, Kapler will be among 15 athletes being inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame at the West Valley Jewish Community Center in Woodland Hills.

"I looked at the injury as the biggest challenge of my career," Kapler said. "I've never had an injury like this. But it's turned this offseason into the best offseason of my career."

Kapler said he's able to hit and throw, but not run at full speed. Barring any setbacks, he expects to be back to top form by late April or early May and has every intention of returning to the Red Sox this season.

The Achilles' injury and his renaissance offseason are just the latest in a line of learning experiences for Kapler.

He lived his lifelong dream of winning a World Series, in 2004 with the Red Sox, then spent the beginning of the following season playing for the Tomiuri Giants in Tokyo, Japan.

The Giants offered a reported one-year, $3 million contract and Kapler and his wife seemed enthused about the idea of playing in another country and traveling with their two young sons, Chase, 6, and Dane, 4.

But soon after he arrived in Japan, Kapler realized how much he had left behind in Boston. At night, he often would go online to check in on the Red Sox.

"I'd follow them over the Internet and it would just break my heart not to be there," he said. "I missed the ring ceremony and I knew all my teammates were there, enjoying the moment of being world champions one more time."

And it didn't help that he struggled to get his bat going against Japanese pitching. In July, he was granted his release and re-signed with the Red Sox.

"At the time, I felt like (playing in Japan) was the right decision for me and my family. But in hindsight, it probably wasn't," Kapler said. "But I wouldn't trade the experience we had in Japan for anything. We learned so much. Japan is an amazing country. It's impeccably clean. I always felt very safe. ... and it was very empowering for my wife. She was able to conquer the Tokyo subway system with two young kids, where the signs are all in Japanese."

But in the end, Kapler missed Boston too much. Especially, Boston in the afterglow of winning its first World Series since 1918.

"Gabe loves the Red Sox more than anything and the fact that we had left Japan and got to come back to Boston was really a miracle," Lisa Kapler said. "The organization and the guys on his team are just his best friends. We knew how lucky we were to find an organization like the Red Sox."

In 2004, Kapler was in right field in the ninth inning of Game 4 as Boston completed its sweep of the Cardinals. He caught the first out of the ninth, a flyball by Scott Rolen.

As soon as he was back in Boston after returning from Japan, all of the joy from that World Series run returned.

"That ball went up and I remember, literally, not having a drop of moisture in my mouth," he said.

When Kapler relives these moments, his voice quickens and fills with emotion.

"I was really trying to savor every moment. To be totally present. ... It was the most magical experience of my baseball career by far," he said. "Nothing even touches the intensity or the nerves. ... Even if the Red Sox win the World Series again, I don't think anything will ever match the intensity of that 2004 team."

Except, of course, the intensity that Kapler brings to everything he does.

Staff Writer Ramona Shelburne's column appears on Saturdays.
She can be reached at (818) 713-3617 or ramona.shelburne@dailynews.com.

Taft of Woodland Hills product Gabe Kapler is one of 17 people being inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame tonight at the West Valley Jewish Community Center.

Here is the complete list:
Robert M. Barnes, DPM - Sports Medicine
David Bluthenthal - Basketball
Cindy Bortz-Gould - Skating
Nick Bravin - Fencing
Harold Hal Charnofsky - Baseball
Stan Charnofsky - Baseball
Thelma Tiby Eisen - Baseball
Max Gold - Handball
Gabe Kapler - Baseball
Merton Isaacman - Lawn Bowling
Jim Rome - Media
Donald Sterling - Basketball
Brian Teacher - Tennis
Rachel Wacholder - Volleyball
Lawrence B. Wein - Football
Joel Rubenstein - Pillar of Achievement
Vicki Wolf - Pillar of Achievement Award

For more information on the Gabe Kapler Foundation, please visit www.thekaplerfoundation.org
School: Taft '93, Moorpark College '95
Teams: Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Yomiuri Giants (Japan)
Position: OF
Bats/Throws: R/R
Notable: .271 lifetime batting average, 62 home runs, 290 RBI, 67 steals.
As a member of the World Champion Red Sox of 2004, Kapler batted .272 with six home runs and 33 RBI in 136 games.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Memories Pay On, 10 Years Later

A look back at the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played
Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun
By Dan Connolly, Roch Kubatko and Bill Ordine
Sun Staff
September 6, 2005

The record-breaking evening of Sept. 6, 1995, wasn't just Cal Ripken's night to pass Lou Gehrig on the consecutive games list. It was also a celebration of baseball, of Baltimore, of a favorite son. For many, it was the most memorable night ever spent at a ballpark. Here are the sights, sounds and thoughts of 15 people who were there that evening, told in their own words.

Kelly Ripken
The Dulaney High School and University of Maryland graduate has been married to Cal for nearly 18 years.
That morning, there was a lot of energy and excitement in the house because he had already tied it and we knew that tonight he would hopefully break it. There was a lot of excitement, but my kids were young then and I was trying to get a 2-year-old [Ryan], a 5-year-old [Rachel] and myself organized. It was exciting, but at the same time I went into event mode, making sure we had everything together.

In the fifth inning [when the game became official and the record was broken], I remember looking over at him. It was such a proud moment. I was so proud that he had done this. There was a look between the two of us, husband and wife, like, "Wow, can you believe this?" We had had quite a few [threats] during the six to eight months leading up to it. Some folks out there didn't want to see him break the record for whatever reason. It was a very trying time. So, at the stadium, Cal and I knew at that moment that that part of our lives would go away. It was a sense of pride and a sense of relief.

Vi Ripken
She watched from a skybox with her husband, Cal Sr., who died in 1999.

You were in a dream watching everything unfold. I think it was the first time I could ever say that the whole stadium had a love affair with him. We were very fortunate to have shared that moment with [Cal Sr.]. He didn't say much. He stood there. Cal looked up at his father and waved. His father waved back, and he had that silly little grin on his face. You had to drink it all in.

When they pushed him out on the field, that was a shocker, that took my breath away. I guess I was really frightened at that moment. I had never thought about it before. "Oh my God, he is in the middle of everything by himself." Once he started making the lap, those fears disappeared. When they pushed him out and he started that, it was a couple seconds of pure trauma.

We live in a crazy world. I understand there were anonymous threats from city to city. I just hadn't thought about it in Baltimore. When that happened, that shot through my mind. It was scary for a few seconds.

Rachel Ripken
She is now a 15-year-old sophomore at St. Paul's School for Girls. She'll be remembered for wiping her face after her father kissed her on national television.

I remember that was the first day of pre-first [between kindergarten and first grade], and my dad took me to school. I remember going to the ballpark later, and I didn't really understand it was a big deal until the numbers on the warehouse turned. It didn't hit me until then that this was a really big moment and was something to go down in history.

When he kissed me, I know I didn't like it at all because he was so sweaty. That's why I wiped it off. I guess that was my 5-year-old reaction. He was all gross and sweaty.

When he came over, he took off his jersey and he was wearing the shirt we made for him [it said "2,130+ Hugs and Kisses For Daddy"]. I was one of the only ones that knew about the "hugs and kisses Daddy" shirt. That was so cool. I was so happy because it said, "Daddy" and that was my dad's shirt.

Bill Ripken
He played next to his brother for seven seasons with the Orioles, watched part of the game in a skybox, but saw the fifth inning from the front row.

Just coming into the ballpark, there was a certain buzz I don't think I ever experienced before. The Orioles were out of the running that September, yet there was something very big that was going to happen and you knew that going into the ballpark. You could feel it.

I wanted to be down there for that for sure. I worked enough magic and power to be in the seats during the victory lap. I played quite a few games with him and watched some important things on the field with him, and I wanted to be with him then. I wanted to be looking at it on the field; I didn't want to see it from the box.

When he was doing the lap, I was like, "Damn, let's go." It was what, 22 minutes? A standing ovation for 22 minutes? Everybody, I think, was spent from that lap. I was tired. I was like, "Let's speed it up and let's sit your butt back down in the dugout."

Bobby Bonilla
A former Orioles outfielder and now a special assistant for the baseball players union, he helped push Ripken out onto the field for his famous lap.

I was taking video myself and trying to capture it for my own library of special moments. All of us were sitting down and we were all kind of talking and one thing led to another. Cal was trying to let it die a little bit. That's how Cal is. He wasn't going to do anything to add to it.

They wanted more of Cal. Everybody was so caught up in the whole thing. I myself was one. I didn't want that fifth inning to stop myself. It kept going, and Raffy [Palmeiro] and I said, "This might not stop until Cal does something special." All it took was a little shove. The rest is history.

I had never personally seen that myself. And I played in a World Series in Florida in front of 57,000 and it wasn't as loud as that night. You could feel it everywhere. Like the people watching at home, you could almost hear them clapping.

Phil Regan
The Orioles manager in 1995 is a TV analyst for the West Michigan Whitecaps in Grand Rapids, Mich.

They had all those numbers up on the warehouse, but there weren't any moments of tension or excitement until maybe the last week broke. Then, all of our players started to stand up when they dropped the numbers. The crowd was outstanding, and the music they were playing was like a tribute to a king.

That night, everybody was on the top step, and it was pretty emotional. They stopped the game, and everybody had tears in their eyes. I know I did. And then just to see Cal, the way he handled it. To go around the outfield and shake hands and take that time, for me it really was a night that saved baseball for that year.

The other thing I focused on was his dad coming back. We hadn't seen him around much, and being an older manager, I could relate with the father-and-son aspect. I knew Cal Sr. had some hard feelings [with the Orioles], and it was nice that he was there to see that.

Larry Barnett
Now retired, he was behind home plate for the record-breaker.

In a 31-year career, that was the highlight. It was historic. I've worked World Series and playoff games, and this was the most exciting. I really believe that Cal Ripken is what baseball is all about.

When he did it, and the visitors' inning was over and it became official and he did that lap around the stadium, it just gave you goose bumps. President Clinton was there, and the head of Clinton's Secret Service detail behind home plate asked me when Cal was going around, "How long are you going to let this go on?" And I said, "When he's finished. That's when we'll restart the game."

Shawn Boskie
Later an Oriole, he was the California Angels' starter that night and gave up a home run to Ripken in the fourth inning.

People will see the game on ESPN Classic every year and say, "Hey, I saw you," and it's because I gave up a home run. I don't take credit for the night. I'm just grateful for being part of it.

Warming up in the bullpen, I remember all the extra adrenaline I had. I don't think I threw a strike in my first 10 pitches. The catcher was diving all over the place. I finally stepped off the mound and told myself to calm down, and then I was all right.

People still say they're sorry about the home run, and I tell them, "Look, I gave up a billion home runs. That's not a bad one." As he was circling the bases, I thought to myself, "Whatever. It's his night."

Ken Rosenthal
A former Sun columnist, he covers baseball for Fox Sports.

I remember being terrified. I had covered Olympic Games, World Series, you name it, but this would be by far the most important column I had ever written. I sought out Mike Littwin, who had preceded me as a sports columnist at The Sun, and Mike reminded me of Ripken's importance to Baltimore, to the Orioles and to baseball in the wake of the players' strike. As always, he had it just right.

I wrote some early material before the game. And then everything just flowed. When Ripken took the victory lap, it was obvious that would form the basis of the column. I just wrote what happened. You could see Ripken shaking hands with fans, President Clinton applauding, Ripken's father, Cal Ripken Sr., fighting back tears. It was so powerful. I had tears in my eyes. I'm sure others in the press box did, too.

When I got home that night, my wife said to me, "You have to write about so many negative things. I'm really glad you got to cover that." I felt exactly the same way.

Chris Berman
As ESPN's play-by-play man, he and broadcast partner Buck Martinez stayed silent during the 22-minute Ripken tribute in the fifth inning.

You had the distinct feeling that there were eyes watching well beyond the people in the ballpark. Cal was hardly a construction worker, I realize, but it had the feeling of someone who packed their lunch and went to work every day for years and years regardless of how they felt. It was a celebration of the game. And it was a celebration of America. It was a flag-waving night.

[Ripken] was circling the stadium and shaking hands with fans and security guards and teammates. Make no mistake, it hit Buck and me and we were just about crying, too. But we thought, "Let everyone just see this." If we had spoken, we couldn't have made it any better.

And we wound up winning an Emmy for that broadcast. I've probably gotten more praise for those 22 minutes when I didn't speak than for the 26 years when I did have something to say. So there's probably a message in there somewhere.

John Maroon
Formerly the Orioles' public relations director, he now performs a similar role for Ripken Baseball.

I remember it being the most intense media coverage of any event I have ever been involved in. It seemed to pick up a lot of steam after the All-Star break. There was something every day for Cal, and what helped a lot was that Cal gave into the process. He decided to roll with it. And when that happened, it certainly made my job easier.

Once the night was there upon you and all the credentials [between 600 and 700] were issued and all the seating and the press releases were done and the interview rooms were set up, there was just a game to be played. I made a promise to myself that once the fifth inning came and that number dropped, I wasn't going to answer any more questions or take any phone calls.

Everybody was just watching, even in the press box. I looked around, and no one was writing, no one was on the phone. Everybody was taking it in. They were taking minutes away from their job to take in a heartwarming, historical moment.

Mark Jacobson
He is still one of two primary official scorers at Camden Yards.

As a scorer, you go into the game having a couple of feelings: what a great night this is, and I hope he doesn't have three errors. But, with Cal, you didn't really need to worry. He was so solid. Out of the 40-something games I scored that year, he made two errors. And none of the other plays were even questionable.

You knew you were creating a document that would document history. I asked what would happen to the score sheet. Normally, Elias [Sports Bureau] saves it until the end of the year, then puts it on microfilm and throws it away. But this one's in the Hall of Fame.

It's kind of neat. It makes me a bit player in history. In the remarks section, where you'd normally put that Terry Clark faced one batter in the eighth, I just wrote 2,131 and left it at that.

Lisa Lorden
Now a registered nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital, she was the first to greet Ripken during his lap.

I spent pretty much the time in between every inning taking [fans'] cameras and I would take pictures of them in their seats. Flashes were going off everywhere. It was fabulous.

[In the fifth,] he was running up, waving, and he was very close to me. We just shook hands and I congratulated him and he kept going. That was a total shock like, "Oh, my God, I get to shake his hand and get to start this." I didn't know how far down the line he'd go. People were screaming, leaning over the rail to get a handshake.

The next day I started seeing the shot [of her and Ripken] and the replays on ESPN. A year and a half later, I was still working for the Orioles in another department and someone brought a baseball card to me with me on it. I couldn't believe it.

Rick Hubata
An Orioles partial-season ticket-holder who owns an Ellicott City sports memorabilia shop, he bought a special $5,000 seat along the right-field foul line.

Coming from my business, the '94 strike was tough, and certainly the sales of baseball cards and baseball items had really dropped off that Christmas season. The feeling [that night] was, "God, baseball is great again." I was one of the first that got to shake his hand, and I was very nervous. That's when he was riding in the convertible and I was afraid I'd pull him out of there, I was hanging on so tight. And that would have been the end of the streak.

It was just a solid standing ovation. People behind me did their best to jump over and get close, but not in the usually rude way that happens when people get autographs. This was pure adulation. Nobody pushed. Nobody shoved. Everybody just wanted to touch him.

Bud Selig
Baseball's ninth commissioner was in charge of the major leagues when the 1994 World Series was canceled.

We're now in a remarkable renaissance period for baseball. We're setting attendance records, and what started that was the night of Sept. 6, 1995. No question in my mind.

I have been to a lot of games and have seen a lot of emotions in my over-40-year career in baseball, and I don't know that I ever saw a night with more love and affection than there was in that ballpark that night. It was tremendous.

I was standing in the press box [for the victory lap] and I watched all of it, and just to watch it was unbelievable. It really was a great night because it was the manifestation not only of a great career, but of a man who understood so well and poignantly not only his role in baseball, but his role in society.
Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun

Monday, January 23, 2006

Safe at Home

Courtesy of Washington Post
25 Years Ago, a Gift From Major League Baseball
Helped Iran Hostages Reconnect With America

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 20, 2006

It was a small thing really, barely bigger than a credit card, tucked unpretentiously in a small black case. For each of the 52 American hostages who bounded off the plane, free at last, the ticket stuffed inside the box was another of the trinkets that piled up around them. A modest reward for the cold, metal muzzle of a shotgun pressed against their faces.

For 444 days they had been tied and blindfolded, held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Iran by student revolutionaries incensed at the United States' decision to admit Iran's ailing and deposed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, for medical treatment.

Long before 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq, there were the Iran hostages. Their plight paralyzed a country unaccustomed to such an affront and likely cost President Jimmy Carter reelection in 1980. Then, 25 years ago today, they were released the moment Ronald Reagan took the oath of office.

They returned to an adoring nation that gave them a ticker-tape parade and welcomed them as heroes. They were besieged with flags, yellow ribbons and countless gifts, among them the tiny box from Major League Baseball. Inside was a lifetime pass to any major or minor league game.

What each did with the pass says something about the group of 52 diplomats and military personnel. Some embraced it, using it often. Others tucked it away, rarely, if ever, pulling it out. The response was as varied as the ways they approached their notoriety and fame, back then and in the quarter-century that has passed, a quarter-century that has seen the number of living former hostages dwindle to 42.

Rocky Sickmann, a Marine guard from outside St. Louis, immediately put his in a safety deposit box. Bruce Laingen, the embassy's charge d'affaires, would later gush about the pass: "Not many people have that!" Steve Kirtley, another Marine guard who now lives in McLean, used it last June to take his two youngest sons to a Nationals game.

In the case of Barry Rosen, the embassy's press attache from New York, the little gold card helped to heal his family.

He stepped off the plane at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, N.Y., on Jan. 25 gaunt, weary and a disheveled mess. He scanned the crowd and found his wife, Barbara, "looking as beautiful as ever." Beside her stood their son, Alexander, dressed in a suit and their little girl, Ariana, an infant when he had left more than two years before, in a red coat and a matching red dress.

"The movie should have ended right there," Rosen said with a laugh.

But the hero to America was a mystery to his family. Alexander, just 2 1/2 when Rosen left for Iran, had only vague recollections of his father; Ariana didn't know him at all. His return was an intrusion.

"My children were very fearful of me," Rosen recalled. "It wasn't that I was an ogre, they didn't know who the hell I was. They were with their mother all the time and then this strange man walked in the house. I couldn't take them out of the house. They wouldn't go anywhere with me."

Then the baseball pass arrived. Rosen grew up in Brooklyn a Dodgers fan and loved National League baseball. Maybe his kids would, too. "If it's a way of bringing us together, let's use it," he remembered Barbara saying.

Their first game, at Shea Stadium in New York, was so wonderful, he couldn't have drawn it better himself. The sky was clear, the sun sparkled on the grass. They arrived early to watch batting practice and then didn't want to leave.

"They had never, never been to a baseball game," he said. "You see a baseball field for the first time and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. I got Alexander a glove, I got the kids hats. My little girl was squirming all over the place. But we were all together and that was the important thing."

For the next several years, the family fractured by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's revolutionary leader, went to baseball games together, often as many as 10 times a season. The ritual was always the same, as soon as the coming year's Mets schedule came out, Alexander and Barry picked the games they wanted to see. Then Barry called the Mets and the tickets would be waiting.

"It really cemented my family," said Rosen, who now runs Columbia University's Afghanistan Education Project. "Even now, my son is going to be 30 and we still go to games. It's a way to connect."

* * *

In the days after they came home, the gifts started arriving. It began with a rush of American flags, attached with overwrought missives insisting the flag had flown for 444 days over the sender's home and how they wanted the hostage to have this memento. "A lot of them looked like they had just been sewed," Laingen said.

But it was more than just flags. Soon, some or all began receiving an eclectic collection of presents -- a new Electrolux vacuum cleaner ("the really good one" recalled William Belk, an embassy communications and records officer), a Ducane grill, the promise of a new pair of jeans every year, free rentals from Budget Rent-a-car in Detroit, free dinners, trips to Mardi Gras, trips to Hawaii, trips to Puerto Rico.

There seemed no end to the glut of handouts.

It's hard to pinpoint the worst moment of the 444 days, but the mock executions seem a good place to start. For several days in late January and early February of 1980, the captors showed revolutionary films to the hostages, gory movies with scenes that always ended the same way: with a supposed enemy being tortured and shot.

Then, one morning, about a week later, Sickmann remembers being jostled awake at 2 a.m. by men wearing masks, just like the executioners in the revolutionary films. Sickmann was pulled out of bed and dragged by his hair to a hallway outside where, he said, the other hostages were lined up against the wall. His heart dropped.

"You thought instantly that there had been a military rescue and they're going to shoot us," he said. "You want to be tough in that situation, but everything changes. You lose body fluids. Some were praying, some were cursing left and right."

They took Sickmann into a room and told him to strip -- an act of shame in Islamic culture. His mind flew back to the films. There were three men with rifles and he was certain this was the end. They told him to turn around and put his arms in the air, then they blindfolded him, which in the films was the final act before the killing.

He braced himself and waited for the bullet to crash into his skull.

Only it never came. After a few minutes the guards told him to put on his clothes and go back to his room.

And while shots weren't fired, something died in him, in each of them that night.

"How does someone ever forget that?" Sickmann, now the director of military sales for Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, said all these years later. "Life was uncertain after that. You didn't know if you would live or die."

* * *

In the garage of his home outside Jacksonville, Fla., Alan Golacinski, an embassy security officer, keeps three boxes of things that were sent to him after his return from Iran. In the containers are football jerseys, sports memorabilia and letters. He hasn't opened them in years. His wife keeps after him about throwing away the cartons and one of these days he is sure he will.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful," he said. "I just don't remember all" the gifts.

But still they kept coming: a box of Idaho potatoes, tickets to a Broadway show, a VCR back when VCRs were cutting-edge technology.

Another Marine guard, Kevin Hermening, was given a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, though he later turned down the offer to study journalism at UW-Oshkosh. The Ducane grill he received was stolen off his porch several years ago.

What is the reward for suffering? Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn discussed the topic one day in the middle of the hostage crisis with Jeremiah Denton, a Navy admiral who had been held captive in Vietnam and later became a senator from Alabama, as they sat at a baseball game in Cincinnati. Sometime that afternoon, Kuhn is convinced, the idea of a lifetime baseball pass was discussed, though he can't remember the actual conversation. What he does know is that the gift is unique.

"You know, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you that we gave out passes to anyone other than them," Kuhn, who retired in 1984, said recently.

Charles Scott, an Army colonel who was the embassy military attache, often found himself face-to-face at Atlanta Braves games with the man most responsible for his captivity and ultimately his release -- Jimmy Carter. To this day, Scott, now a public speaker, can't forgive the former president for allowing the shah into the country.

Still, whenever he would run into Carter, he'd eschew the traditional handshake and bury the former president in a giant hug.

Many years ago, Scott offered the Carter Library several boxes of letters he received in the days after his return, but when the library told him he would have to catalogue each envelope, he took the package to the back of his yard and burned it.

"Life does go on," he said.

Hermening, the youngest hostage who celebrated his 21st birthday in captivity, came home to the Milwaukee area and immediately into the best years of the Brewers. He loved going to the games in those days. So much so that he and his wife drove from Milwaukee to Baltimore the last weekend of the 1982 season for a showdown that would determine the winner of the American League East.

Belk settled in Bellingham, Wash., not far from the Canadian border and fell in love with the local minor league team, going to games on a regular basis. He brought the pass when he traveled, watching games in Seattle, Baltimore and Los Angeles.

He now has a home in Georgia. "In fact, from here I'll probably go down to Atlanta quite a bit; I can use it there," he said.

Laingen, who lives in Bethesda, used it to go to Orioles games but gave up after the franchise seemed to spiral into disarray. Embassy political officer John Limbert, who grew up watching the Washington Senators in Griffith Stadium, used the pass in Baltimore as well, but he lost interest.

Like many of his colleagues, he got busy and fell into work, in Limbert's case as president of the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents active and retired foreign service officers. He held the post until last year.

* * *

In Marin County north of San Francisco, an Iranian immigrant and oriental rug dealer named Taghi Rezaian made a public declaration: He would give each hostage a $1,000 oriental rug. All they had to do was call.

"I wanted to welcome them back," Rezaian said. "I'm Persian by birth but by choice I'm American. I'm a proud American."

The hostage crisis had not been good for Rezaian or his business. Several times people threw rocks through his window. The first few times he called the police but after the police reports of the attacks on his store started to appear in the papers, he stopped calling.

"I wanted to tell everyone that I'm an American no matter how long I've been an American citizen and a taxpayer," he said.

When asked how many hostages had taken him up on his offer, Rezaian said he thinks 48 or 49 eventually got rugs. However, none of the 10 hostages reached for this story said he took one of Rezaian's carpets.

When he first returned from Iran, Kirtley went to baseball games all the time. He was a Marine drill instructor stationed in San Diego. Sometimes in the evenings, he'd drive over to where the Padres played, flashed the pass and spent the rest of the night sitting in the bleachers.

"I used it to just go down and watch the San Diego Chicken," he said.

But eventually life took over. He became a father and moved to a new, stable life in McLean, working as an information technology consultant. He turned out to be more of a football fan than baseball, but it was hard not to notice the new baseball team that came to Washington last year.

Only Kirtley didn't know how to go about using the card at the Nationals games.

"It took me literally weeks of research," he said. Finally he stumbled across a site for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. He called and the woman who answered told him to just come to the game. So one night last June, Kirtley brought his two youngest sons to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. They showed up early to the main gate only to discover the ticket takers had no idea who he was or why he had this strange pass. Some calls were made and suddenly the woman he had talked to on the phone came racing up shouting, "Mr. Kirtley! Mr. Kirtley!"

She led them inside and brought them to a section of seats 12 rows from the field, just to the third base side of the Nationals' dugout. But the woman didn't leave; instead she walked to the bottom of the section, spoke to a security guard and then waved Kirtley's two boys down, giving them seats in the front row right next to the dugout. About 15 minutes later, the guard came up to Kirtley and said, "You can go down too."

"It was amazing," Kirtley said. "But the thing that was too bad is I don't think my kids knew what a big deal it was. I did know but it was their first game, they didn't know that this didn't normally happen."

After all, how many fathers get a lifetime ticket to baseball?

Courtesy of the Washington Post

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Harvey's Wallbangers

Milwaukee Brewers - Also Known As Harvey's Wallbangers

Courtesy of BaseballLibrary.com

The Brewers appeared on the scene when the expansion Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee after just one season, seeking better attendance. The Brewers maintained the Pilot's dismal level of performance for their first eight seasons (switching to the Eastern Division in 1972), but the hiring of Harry Dalton as GM after the 1977 season produced immediate results. He appointed former Baltimore colleague George Bamberger manager, and Bamberger, a successful pitching coach, made Mike Caldwell into a 20-game winner.

First-round 1977 draft pick Paul Molitor made the team in spring training and was TSN AL Rookie of the Year. Larry Hisle was signed as a free agent. Ben Oglivie was acquired in exchange for two mediocre pitchers. Slugging outfielder Gorman Thomas was purchased from the Rangers in February 1978. They all joined a core of Robin Yount, Sixto Lezcano, and Cecil Cooper in propelling the Brewers to their first winning season, a 93-69 mark good for third place. The Brewers contended the next two years, and won the second-half crown in the strike-split 1981 season, but lost to the Yankees in the divisional playoff. The key to this success was a seven-player deal that brought Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons, and Pete Vuckovich from the Cardinals in December 1980. Fingers won the MVP and Cy Young awards for his 28 saves and 1.04 ERA, and Vuckovich led the league in winning percentage.

The Brewers won the AL pennant in 1982 after Harvey Kuenn took over from Buck Rodgers when the team was 23-24; they went 72-43 the rest of the way. Stretch-drive acquisition Don Sutton beat the Orioles on the final day of the season to win the division title by one game. Yount ran away with the MVP award, Vuckovich was the Cy Young winner, and Molitor led the AL with 136 runs. In the LCS, Milwaukee came back from a 2-0 deficit to sweep the last three games and defeat the Angels. The Brewers took the Cardinals to seven games in the World Series before losing. In subsequent years, they declined, but a bright spot was the outstanding performance of rookie Ted Higuera in 1985. In 1987 the Brewers got off to a record-tying start when they won their first 13 games of the season. A short while later they had a 12-game losing streak after Paul Molitor went on the DL. His 37-game hitting streak was the highlight of the second half of the season.

Written by Warner Oliver Rockford

Courtesy of BaseballLibrary.com

Wycliffe "Bubba" Morton

Courtesy of The Seattle Times
Former UW coach Morton dies at 74

By Larry Stone
Seattle Times staff reporter
January 18, 2006

Wycliffe "Bubba" Morton, a baseball pioneer who played seven years in the major leagues before becoming the University of Washington's first African-American head coach in 1972, has died at age 74 after a long illness.

Mr. Morton, who grew up in a row house in Washington D.C., was a member of the Seattle Angels team that won the Pacific Coast League pennant in 1966, and also played the 1970 season in Japan.

He was the first black player signed by the Detroit Tigers (though others beat him to the major leagues), and in 1957 became the first black player on the Durham Bulls in the then-Class B Carolina League, leading them to their first championship.

"[Black players] always had to stay in private homes on the road," he told a reporter in 1997. "But I'll tell you what kind of teammates I had in Durham — they wouldn't go and eat in a restaurant without me. Somebody would always go in and get sandwiches for everybody, then they'd bring them to the bus and we'd go on our way."

A long-time Seattle-area resident after his retirement from baseball, Mr. Morton worked for Boeing and was a retired Coast Guard reservist.

"He had a great life," said friend Mark Rogers. "He did a lot of wonderful things, not only in sports but in the community. He was a real gentleman."

Mr. Morton, an outfielder, played in the major leagues from 1961-69, including stints with the Tigers, Milwaukee Braves and California Angels. During his 15-game tenure with Milwaukee in 1963, his roommate was Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

In 451 games, Mr. Morton had a career .267 average with 14 home runs and 128 runs batted in. A prime pinch-hitter, his best season was 1967 with the Angels, when he hit .313 in 80 games." I got to be very close friends with him," said former first baseman Don Mincher, a teammate with the Angels. "He was a great player, and a great person. We talked about a lot of different aspects of life. He was so intelligent — I would classify him as a perfect teammate."

In 1965, Mr. Morton nearly retired when the Angels sent him to Seattle's PCL team, but according to newspaper reports, was talked out of it by Angels manager Bob Lemon and the team's general manager, Edo Vanni. He wound up playing four seasons with the Angels, 1966-69, then moved to Tokyo to play the '70 season with the Toei Flyers.

In 1972, Mr. Morton succeeded Ken Lehman as the Huskies' head baseball coach. He had already settled in Seattle and was working as director of boys' sports at Bush School. He continued to work at Bush while also coaching at Washington. In five seasons at UW marked by financial problems in the athletic department that limited scholarships, he compiled a 48-101 record.

Courtesy of The Seattle Times

Friday, January 20, 2006

USS Maine Baseball

Courtesy of the Library of C0ngress, American Memory
"The Maine Base Ball Club." All blown up at Havana except no. 1, J.H. Bloomer.
Photographic print, copyright by Geo. C. Mages, Chicago, May, 1898.
(Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-26149 (b&w))
This proud but ultimately tragic assemblage of players, coaches, and mascot is the baseball squad from the battleship USS Maine. The team had just won the Navy baseball championship held in Key West, Florida, in December 1897, beating a team from the cruiser USS Marblehead eighteen to three.
The Maine's star was a black pitcher named William Lambert (upper right), and engine stoker from Hampton, Virginia, who was described by one shipmate as "a master of speed, curves, and control."

Two months after this celebratory photograph was taken, on February 15, 1898, all but one of these men died when the Maine exploded and sank in Havana harbor, killing 260 of the ship's crew and sparking the Spanish-American War. Other than the goat, which was left behind in Key West when the ship was ordered to Cuba, the lone survivor was John Bloomer (upper left).
Only minutes before this devastating--and still mysterious--explosion, C.H. Newton (middle row, second from left) had sounded taps for the crew at the usual time of 9:10 p.m.
Caption written by Alan Bisbort for the 1997 Library of Congress Baseball Calendar.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, American Memory

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Danny Graves

Courtesy of the Seattle Times; 1/18/2006

People in Sports: Cleveland's Graves returns to Vietnam

HANOI, Vietnam — Danny Graves traveled a long way to find his roots.

Just a baby when he left Vietnam in 1974, the Cleveland Indians reliever returned for the first time Tuesday to glean a sense of the country and teach baseball to kids.

"I'm definitely excited to be here," Graves said after arriving in Hanoi. "I don't really know much about the country."

Graves, the only Vietnamese-born player in the major leagues, left Saigon when he was only 14 months old. His mother, Thao, worked at the U.S. Embassy during the Vietnam War. That's when she met Graves' father, Jim, an American serviceman who died six years ago. The pitcher, accompanied by his mother and wife, Andrea, is visiting as part of a goodwill tour.

Few Vietnamese regularly follow American sports in a country where soccer is king. Graves is hoping his visit will help create curiosity about America's national pastime.

"Kids at schools in Vietnam here see another Vietnamese player has been able to play baseball his whole career," said Graves, a two-time NL All-Star with the Cincinnati Reds. "Maybe that would spark a little more interest."

The Associated Press

Courtesy of the Seattle Times; 1/18/2006

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Life by Jim 'Mudcat' Grant

Jim 'Mudcat' Grant led the league in wins during the 1965 season and had an alternate life as a singer! [Minnesota Twins] Owner Calvin Griffith was not so pleased and ordered Grant to stop singing and to stop being seen in public with white women. Grant demanded a trade and was sent to the Dodgers. Below is a very insightful poem appropriately called 'Life.'
Courtesy of baseball-almanac.com

Life by Jim 'Mudcat' Grant ©

Life is like a game of baseball,
You play it every day.
It isn't just the breaks you get,
But the kind of game you play.

So stop and look your whole team over,
And you'll find dedication there.
You're bound to be a winner,
With men who really care.

Your pitcher's name is courage,
You need him in the game.
For faith and trust your keystone men,
The grounders they will tame.

Your center fielder is very fast,
Though small and hard to see.
So watch him, son, when he gets,
The ball he's opportunity.

In left field there's ambition,
Never let him shirk.
For in right field there's a husky man,
I'm told his name is work.

At first base there's religion,
He's stood the test of time.
At third base there's brotherhood,
The stalwart of the nine.

Your catcher's name is humor,
He's important to the scheme.
For with honor warming in the bull pen,
The game is always clean.

With love on the bench,
You've perfection no less.
With a winning team,
And joy and happiness.

Your other team is strong, son,
Greed, hatred, envy and defeat.
Are for strong infielders,
You'll have to buck to make your game complete.

Deceitfulness and a man called waste,
Are always playing hard.
Selfishness and jealousy,
None can you disregard.

Carelessness and falsehood,
Are the big boys in the pen.
You'll have to swing hard, son,
When you come up to them.

There's one more man you'll have to watch,
He's always very near.
He's the pitcher on that team,
And I'm told his name is fear.

This game will not be easy,
There'll be trouble, there'll be strife.
To make the winning runs, my boy,
For this game is played on the field of life.

So stand behind your team, my boy,
There'll be many who'll applaud.
Just remember that you're the player,
And the umpire here is God.

Life by Jim 'Mudcat' Grant ©

Courtesy of baseball-almanac.com

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Time I Met Billy

Courtesy of BaseballLibrary.com
by Al Vick (Milwaukee, WI)

One late afternoon in New York City, I finished a business meeting at a company on 42nd street and 2nd avenue and walked across the street to the Grand Hyatt where I was staying for a couple of days. When I walked into the lobby, I paused to consider my options for the evening. I had wanted to see a Broadway show, but decided the large open air bar was just too inviting.

As I walked up the few stairs in that direction, I recognized Billy Martin - from the back. He was sitting alone and at first I was hesitant to disturb him, but having been a Billy Martin fan all of my life, I simply had to take a chance. I walked up and sat down next to him at the bar and quietly said, "Mr. Martin, I'm sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you would mind signing an autograph for me. I have been a fan of yours since I was seven years old watching the New York Yankees play the Milwaukee Braves."

Not only did Billy give me that autograph, but also posed for a picture with me as we proceeded to talk about baseball, life, our families, and we named every player on those great 1957 and 1958 Yankee and Braves teams. That picture is hanging on the wall right behind me as I type this.

Billy was in New York at this time making a commercial with Alexis Arguello for Miller Lite and although he told me he didn't want to spoil it for me by telling me what the commercial was about, he proceeded to act out the whole thing about five times - and I laughed harder every time ("Who is dis Billy Martin anyway" - "I got tomeet dis guy", maybe you remember it).

Billy invited me to have dinner with him and Alexis Arguello, but it didn't work out. I offered to buy him a drink several times, but Billy kept checking his watch and although I never saw him actually order a drink, the bartender seemed to never let his glass get empty.

The dinner plans fell through, but Billy had Tex, his driver, drive me around Manhattan in "Billy's Limo", which was really cool with baseball opera windows and the like.

Billy wasn't managing the Yankees at this time (March, 1985), but he assured me that George Steinbrenner would be hiring him again soon. When the season started and Yogi Berra was still the manager, all of the guys in Milwaukee figured I was full of you-know-what until 17 games into the season, George fired Yogi and, sure enough, hired Bill again.

Billy told me he wanted to meet my Dad, who was also a huge fan of his, when the Yanks came to Milwaukee that season. I took my Dad to the first game after Billy was named manager, but try as I might, I could not get his attention as he walked to the dugout while doing his best to ignore the dozens of people yelling at him.

I was terribly saddened when I learned of Billy's untimely passing. I don't know if I can be considered the authority on Billy Martin's behavior, but I don't believe Billy ever picked a fight in his life. I just think a lot of people picked fights with Billy. The two hours I spent with Billy showed me a generous, kind, entertaining, friendly, sincere, honest, and likable person.
And I'll fight anyone who says anything to the contrary.

Al Vick lives in Milwaukee.
Courtesy of BaseballLibrary.com

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Eddie Murray

Courtesy of BaseballLibrary.com Image provided byMatthew Fulling
One of the most productive and consistent hitters in baseball history, Eddie Murray's daunting statistical resume doesn't begin to describe the strange arc of a career which saw triumph and adoration dissolve into bitterness, acrimony, and eventually redemption.

For career offensive numbers, Murray had few peers in modern baseball. In 1996, he joined the legendary Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the only players to amass both 3,000 hits and 500 home-runs. For career offensive numbers, Murray had few peers in modern baseball. In 1996, he joined the legendary Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the only players to amass both 3,000 hits and 500 home-runs. A switch-hitter who was perhaps the most feared clutch hitter of his generation, Murray drove in at least 75 runs for a major league record twenty consecutive seasons. At the close of his playing career in 1997, Murray had played more games at first base than anyone else in history. Only Mickey Mantle had hit more home runs as a switch-hitter than Murray and only six players had driven in more runs than his 1,917. Murray played in three World Series during his 21 seasons, winning the title in 1983 as the first baseman and cleanup hitter for the Baltimore Orioles.

Yet after years of affectionate reverence from Baltimore that began in his Rookie of the Year season in 1977 and lasted until midway through 1986, Murray's relationship both to the fans and the media deteriorated rapidly. Before 1989 season, the Orioles' front office had little choice but to trade the man who held many of the offensive records for the only team he had ever played for. Throughout his post-Orioles career, the label of a selfish, lazy ballplayer with a bad attitude stuck to him as he played, always productively, for the Dodgers, Mets, and Indians. Not until 1996, when in mid-season Cleveland traded Murray back to Baltimore (where he hit his 500th homer and helped lead the Orioles to their first playoff appearance since the World Series of 1983) did he shake the negative perceptions that had trailed him for a decade.

Born in February, 1956 in Los Angeles, Murray grew up in a family of twelve children. In high school he excelled at both baseball and basketball, and in June of 1973 the Orioles selected him in the third round of the free agent draft. He progressed steadily through the minors, and after a torrid spring-training in 1977, Murray won himself a spot on Baltimore's opening day roster, where he quickly became a fixture as the team's DH and first baseman, wearing the number 33 he would keep his whole career. En route to winning the Orioles' fourth Rookie of the Year award, Murray smacked 27 home runs, batted .283 and drove in 88 runs, establishing a level of production that paced him throughout his career. The following year he virtually duplicated those numbers while moving to first base full-time and making the All-Star team for the first of eight occasions.

1979 saw Murray reach his first World Series, which the Orioles lost in heartbreaking fashion, dropping the final three games to the Pirates after leading three games to one. After a strong opening two games including first of his four career World Series home runs, Murray went hitless over the Series' final five games, including lining out with the tying runs on base in the eighth inning of Game 7.

The frustration would continue in 1980 as the Orioles won 100 games but -- thanks to a 103-win season by the New York Yankees -- failed to reach the post-season. For Murray, however, the season was a breakthrough one. He batted an even .300 with 32 homeruns and 116 RBIs. Murray had emerged as the Orioles biggest star and a beloved fan favorite who inspired chants of "Edd-ie! Edd-ie" to fill Memorial Stadium when he stood at the plate.

In the strike shortened 1981 season, Murray tied for the A.L. lead in home runs (22) with Bobby Grich, Dwight Evans and Tony Armas and led the league outright with 78 RBIs, which oddly enough would be the only time he would lead the league in a major offensive category besides bases on balls. Indeed, Murray never compiled the "monster season" that many always expected to come. To wit, he is the only member of the 500 HR club who never had a 40 HR season. He forged his awesome career numbers on steady production and phenomenal durability. In fact, when Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record in 1995, Murray (who at one point played in 444 consecutive games himself) was one of four people he specifically thanked, saying it was his teammate's professionalism which gave him the belief that one should be in the lineup every day without fail.

Murray concluded another brilliant but frustrating season in 1982, batting .316 with 32 homers and 110 RBIs, winning the first of three consecutive Gold Gloves for his defensive excellence at first base. However, the Orioles came up short again, losing the American League East title to Milwaukee on the last day of the season.

The following year, though, Murray and the Orioles ended their four-year tenure as bridesmaids, waltzing to the division title as Murray clubbed a career-high 33 homers. The club breezed through the playoffs and World Series to give Baltimore its first World Championship since 1970. Murray exorcised his own demons by blasting two homers in the Series-winning Game 5 victory against Philadelphia. For the second straight year he also finished second in the Most Valuable Player balloting, this time by a narrow 322 to 290 vote to his teammate Ripken.

The next two years saw Murray and Ripken put up big numbers (including a career high 124 RBIs for Murray in 1985) on mediocre Orioles teams. On August 26th, 1985, Murray tied several Baltimore records by hitting three homers (one of three occasions he did so), collecting nine RBIs and 13 total bases against the California Angels. The final home run was one of the 19 grand slams that Murray would hit during his career, a total exceeded only by Lou Gehrig's 23.

In June 1986, however, Murray's career changed drastically when a pulled hamstring placed him on the disabled list for the first time in his career. Unexpectedly, Murray found himself the very public target of critical remarks from Orioles owner Edward Bennet Williams about his conditioning and dedication to recovering from the injury. Ironically, his return coincided with a prolonged slump by the Orioles, which marked the start of a six-season slump during which the team had just one winning season. Almost overnight, Murray found himself held accountable for the club's sudden turn of fortune and was tagged as a souring influence in the clubhouse and a player who never hustled.

Considering himself betrayed by the community to which he had given so much, including millions of dollars to improve Baltimore's inner city, Murray worsened the situation by all but refusing to talk to the media. The decision was the beginning of a trend which would damage his public image for years to come. In Baltimore, he actually heard "boos" from the Memorial Stadium crowd, and openly asked to be traded. In December of 1988, after Baltimore had concluded an embarrassing 54-107 season, the Orioles granted him his wish, sending him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for pitchers Brian Holton, Ken Howell, and infielder Juan Bell.

Of his three seasons in L.A. the most notable was his 1990 campaign, where he batted a career high .330. Although his average was the highest in all of baseball, he failed to win the batting title because St. Louis' Willie McGee was traded to Oakland in August with his National League average frozen at .335. Although he was unable to keep up the torrid pace with the Athletics, McGee still had enough at-bats in the NL to win the batting crown. In 1992, Murray signed as a free agent with the New York Mets, where he had two solid years, including the sixth 100 RBI season of his career, but where his reputation and relationship to the media grew even worse.

In 1994, Murray returned to the American League, signing with Cleveland, where his veteran presence helped mold the talented but youthful Indians into a powerful team. On May 6th of that season, Murray played his first regular season game in Baltimore since October of 1988 -- although coincidentally, as a Met in 1992 Murray had played in the first exhibition game in Baltimore's new Camden Yards Stadium and actually driven in the first run in the stadium's history with a first-inning sacrifice fly. Greeted by a smattering of both "boos" and applause, Murray hit a fourth-inning homer which hit the rightfield foul pole, the same foul pole which had been transplanted to Camden Yards from Murray's old Memorial Stadium home.

The following year, the 39-year-old Murray, in one of the best lineups baseball had seen in years, batted .323 with 21 home runs, and collected his 3,000th hit on June 30th at Minnesota. Murray also appeared in his third World Series, which the Indians lost in six games to Atlanta. On July 21, 1996 Murray returned to Baltimore in a trade for pitcher Kent Mercker. He promptly slammed a home run in his first game back. On September 6th, Murray hammered his 500th career homer into Camden Yards' right field bleachers, exactly one year to the day Ripken had surpassed Gehrig's streak. Murray's return turned the season around for the underachieving Orioles, who went on a second half tear to grab the American League's wildcard spot and upset the Indians in the playoffs before bowing out to the eventual World Champion Yankees. In his last at bat as an Oriole, Murray homered to left field against Andy Pettitte in Game Five.

Murray's return had not only invigorated the Orioles, but had also finally rehabilitated his image. Many in the Orioles clubhouse credited Murray with teaching the Orioles how to win and pulling the disparate but talented elements of the team together. In addition, he had won back his place in Baltimore, restoring the mutual affection between himself and the fans. After a few last hurrahs playing for the Anaheim Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers in 1997, Murray announced his retirement before the 1998 season and rejoined the Orioles as a bench coach. On May 31st, the Orioles, who had already quietly retired Murray's number 33 following his trade to the Dodgers, held a formal ceremony to honor one of their greatest players, who was at long last back where he belonged. (AGL)

Courtesy of BaseballLibrary.com

Monday, January 09, 2006

Eddie Grant Plaque is Missing

Eddie Grant was killed in World War I, when he led a mission in the Argonne Forest to rescue the "Lost Battalion" trapped behind German lines. He became the only Major League player killed in wartime action, when he met with machine gun fire. A monument to his memory was placed in the Polo Grounds' deep centerfield.

The Eddie Grant Plaque was dedicated on May 30, 1921. Grant, a former Giant, was also a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School. Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice read a poem he had written for the occasion. The poem appeared in the book "OUT OF LEFT FIELD" (Three Rivers Press) and is repeated here:

Far from the Game and the cheering of old,
A cross in the Argonne will tell you the story
Where each one may read on its rain-battered mold
A final box score that is written in glory.
A final box score of a Player who gave
The flag that he fought for, his ghost-and his grave.

Green be his couch where the white lilies lean
Crimson the poppies that keep guard above him.
Gentle the darkness that gathers between
The Player at rest and the torn hearts that love him.
God give him refuge where Life's flag is furled
A dreamer gone back to the dust of the world.

Low be the lost winds of France that must creep
Over his rest in the Last Tavern lying.
Good send Thy dreams where the Darkness is deep,
Father, Thy care when the wild storms are flying.
No monarch there-but the soul of a Man-
We speak for a Brother-for One of the Clan!
by Grantland Rice

According to the July 5, 2005 Sports Illustrated article, "25 Lost Treasures" "after the Giants' final out in 1957, 11,000 New Yorkers ran on to the field to pillage -- their beloved team was forsaking the Polo Grounds for San Francisco. In deep center, three teens pried loose a plaque that memorialized third baseman Eddie Grant, the only major leaguer killed in World War I. Police nabbed the kids, but the plaque was never turned in to the precinct. ESTIMATED VALUE: $ 20,000.

To this day, the plaque is still missing.

Courtesy of SABR-L and Sports Illustrated

For more info on Eddie Grant, go to the SABR Bio Project list for Eddie Grant:

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dedeaux Had Special Qualities

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Anderson and Lasorda are among those who remember him for a positive approach to the game that inspired his players and friends.

By Steve Henson
Times Staff Writer
January 6, 2006

Few people have extracted more pure enjoyment out of coaching baseball than Rod Dedeaux. His exuberance was infectious, and at least three men who caught the bug were forever transformed.

Like their mentor, their names have become synonymous with dugout leadership: Sparky Anderson, Tom Lasorda and Mike Gillespie.Dedeaux, who died Thursday at 91, had a profound influence on each man.

Anderson and Lasorda, of course, are Hall of Fame major league managers. Gillespie played for Dedeaux, followed him as USC coach in 1987 and has never had a losing season. Anderson served as USC bat boy from 1942-48, and the young Trojan coach let him hold a bat signed by Babe Ruth — Dedeaux's prize for winning the city batting championship as a Hollywood High senior in 1931.

Every day was an adventure for Anderson, who grew up within walking distance of USC and worshiped the relentlessly positive Dedeaux."People like that are what sports need," Anderson said. "They don't need all those sourpusses."Dedeaux had only one rule for Anderson: Keep his grades up."He told me, 'You have to show me your report card every time,' " he said. "I said to myself, 'I might have to do a little cheating here.'

"One day, Anderson told Dedeaux that the kids in the neighborhood needed baseballs. Dedeaux told him he could have the ones with loose strings."So I got to loosening all the strings," Anderson said. "He told me later, 'I knew what you were doing. Can't fool me.' "

Gillespie was the left fielder when the Trojans won the third of their 11 national championships under Dedeaux in 1961. He didn't realize it then, but he was absorbing lessons that would serve him well when it was his turn to guide the Trojan program."His attention to detail and preparation for any and all eventualities that can occur in a game became a mantra for me," Gillespie said. "I can only dream to be as composed and poised as he was."

Dedeaux was a fixture at Trojan games after he retired, a constant source of optimism and a reminder that the game is supposed to be fun. Gillespie plans to honor Dedeaux's memory by playing a video of his life before a home game this season."

Among the people who played for Rod Dedeaux, it would be unanimous that they would regard it as one of the most special, enjoyable times in their life," he said. "It wasn't just about winning, which of course always helps. The environment was such that it was a never-ending, wonderful time."I treasured my relationship with him and he was a huge influence on me. It was an easy choice for me to pursue teaching and coaching. He impacted my career choice more than anyone."

Gillespie led the Trojans to their 12th title in 1998. Yet the most striking number associated with the program is 65 — the years since someone other than Dedeaux or Gillespie has been USC coach.

Then there is the number 1, which Dedeaux wore on his back. Unlike numbers worn by Trojan standouts Tom Seaver, Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson, Fred Lynn and the rest of the nearly 60 major league players coached by Dedeaux, only No. 1 has been retired at USC.

Gillespie said the team will wear patches bearing the number this season. Dedeaux frequently visited Chavez Ravine after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. In 1963 he met a Dodger scout who could match his gregariousness and enthusiasm. Dedeaux and Lasorda struck up a friendship that lasted more than 40 years.

"I loved that man," Lasorda said. "You'll never see another one like him. He was a remarkable guy. He was a hero to me." When Lasorda became Dodger manager in 1977, he asked Dedeaux to join his coaching staff. But Dedeaux wouldn't leave USC. "He loved it because he loved to develop players and he loved the purity of the amateur game," Lasorda said. "He was without a doubt the college baseball ambassador."

Maybe Dedeaux instinctively knew that his buoyant brand of coaching played better on campus than it would with professional players. "I met Pete Carroll once," Anderson said. "He's got the same personality. When you'd walk away from Coach Carroll or Coach Dedeaux, you'd say, 'Boy, that's a live wire.'"

He could have done anything he wanted in any part of this game. But he loved coaching at the college level and I don't blame him."

*Times staff writer Tim Brown contributed to this report.

Courtersy of the Los Angeles Times

Always a Love for the Game

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Always a Love for the Game
By Ross Newhan

Special to The Times
January 6, 2006

It was two years ago this month that I sat with Rod Dedeaux in a conference room of his Commerce trucking company, the walls plastered with letters, plaques and photographs from princes, paupers and presidents, testimonials to the man and his legacy.

He would soon celebrate his 90th birthday, and while his perpetual spirit and enthusiasm underscored a conviction that there was still much life to live, the montage of framed tributes represented the candles on an unparalleled career."I don't know what the future holds," Dedeaux said, scanning the walls that day, "but I've definitely had a great past."

Well, the future may have foreclosed on Dedeaux at 91 Thursday, but in the NCAA record book and the memory of anyone who ever met him, all those he greeted with a familiar "hey, Tiger" no matter what their name, occupation or title, that great past will live on.

He won 11 national titles in 45 years as the USC baseball coach, a period of dominance in which the Trojans won five straight NCAA titles at one point and served as the game's best farm system. More than 200 of his players entered pro ball and more than 50 reached the big leagues, a "Who's Who?" that included Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson, Mark McGwire, Dave Kingman, Fred Lynn and Ron Fairly.

It is not a stretch to say that he was a Los Angeles coaching icon in the towering context of John Wooden, the former and legendary UCLA basketball coach. Twenty years after being forced into retirement, acknowledging Mike Gillespie's ongoing success at the Trojan helm, Dedeaux remained the face of USC baseball. His name is on the field where the Trojans play, and he was always recognized simply as "Coach" when dropping by the Jonathon Club and other city institutions, as well as major league dugouts nationally, visiting alums.

Two of his most renowned, McGwire and Kingman, had arrived at USC as pitchers before Dedeaux helped convert them into feared sluggers. Noting how Dedeaux had also converted a $500 investment in the late '30s into a multifaceted, multimillion trucking conglomerate, former Angel manager Marcel Lachemann, who was a player under Dedeaux for three years and coached with him for five, reflected on his passing Thursday and said he was simply a great salesman.

"That was a large part of his success in baseball and business," Lachemann said by phone. "He could sell you on yourself, he could sell the program and he could sell the team on its ability to overcome any hurdle or deficit. We had a lot of great comebacks under Rod, and that was a major reason. He believed it and the team came to believe it, and he was also an unbelievable stickler on detail.

He had what he called the 'Bovard Boner Book' (Bovard was the name of the former USC field) in which he fined guys a dollar or so for failing to execute fundamentals. "Dedeaux and his book affected Lachemann, one of baseball's most respected pitching coaches, and, among others who would lead big league teams, two future Hall of Fame managers: Sparky Anderson, who began his career as a USC batboy, and Tom Lasorda, a lifelong friend.

Dedeaux and Lasorda were matched bookends to the extent that Lasorda's wife, Jo, had cards made that pictured Lasorda and Dedeaux and that carried an inscription that read, "three of a kind can't beat this pair."

Indeed, they were inseparable, irrepressible buddies, and if Dedeaux had some years on Lasorda, if his hair eventually turned white and he needed a cane shaped in the form of a bat and autographed by players, actors, politicians and even sportswriters (he had several of the autographed canes), he never lost the edge on "hey, Tiger" or his love of the game and USC.

It is a mere footnote in baseball history, but it could have been much different if Dedeaux had accepted coaching offers from the Yankees in the late '50s and the Dodgers in the early '70s with the possibility of succeeding Casey Stengel in New York and Walter Alston in Los Angeles.

Dedeaux stayed at USC, producing a 70-year affiliation during which he ultimately became a pioneer, visionary and active ambassador in baseball's Olympic and international growth, and an affiliation that never weakened despite the fact that his "retirement" as coach wasn't really that or what he wanted.

No matter how many times I saw Dedeaux in recent years the cardinal and gold showed through. He would make note of my son David's success in pro ball (he is approaching his third year with the Baltimore Orioles) and would say, "Tiger, I'll always regret that we weren't able to make him a Trojan."

The old coach fought on before ultimately bowing to a recent stroke. His great past and personality will always be with us.

Through the years Rod Dedeaux's USC baseball teams won five NCAA championships in a row from 1970 to '74:
• Years coaching USC: 1942 to 1986.
• National titles: 11.
• Winning seasons: 41 in 45 years.
• Record: 1,332-571-11 (sixth all-time in NCAA Division I).
• Among future major leaguers: Ron Fairly, Randy Johnson, Dave Kingman, Bill Lee, Fred Lynn, Mark McGwire, Tom Seaver, Roy Smalley.

*Tiger's tale
Rod Dedeaux won 11 College World Series titles at USC. No other school has won more than six. His 1961, 1968, 1973 and 1978 teams went undefeated (5-0) in the College World Series.

Mike Gillespie led USC to its 12th national title in 1998:
1948 — def. Yale, 9-2
1958 — def. Missouri, 8-7 (12 inn.)
1961 — def. Oklahoma State, 1-0
1963 — def. Arizona, 5-2
1968 — def. Southern Illinois, 4-3
1970 — def. Florida State, 2-1 (15 inn.)
1971 — def. Southern Illinois, 7-2
1972 — def. Arizona State, 1-0
1973 — def. Arizona State, 4-3
1974 — def. Miami, 7-3
1978 — def. Arizona State, 10-3

USC ...12 (1948, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1968, 1970-74, 1978, 1998)
Texas ...6 (1949, 1950, 1975, 1983, 2002, 2005)
Arizona State ...5 (1965, 1967, 1969, 1977, 1981)
Louisiana State ...5 (1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000)
Cal State Fullerton ...4 (1979, 1984, 1995, 2004)
Miami ...4 (1982, 1985, 1999, 2001)
Arizona ...3 (1976, 1980, 1986)

*Researched by Bob Cuomo

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times