Thursday, November 29, 2007

Monte Irvin


After baseball's color line was broken in 1947, Monte Irvin was one of the first black players signed by the Giants. He could run, throw, field, hit, and hit with power, all brilliantly. He earned 16 letters and all-state honors in four sports at East Orange (NJ) High School. His outstanding athletic career was almost prematurely ended in 1938 when he scratched his hand in a basketball game; the resulting infection kept him near death for seven weeks. He recovered and returned to the Orange Triangles, a semi-pro team that he had joined in 1932. He began playing for the Newark Eagles on weekends under the name "Jimmy Nelson" to protect his amateur standing, a practice he continued while attending Lincoln University.

Irvin became one of the brightest stars in the Negro Leagues, playing in four East-West all-star games. After hitting league highs of .422 in 1940 and .396 in 1941, he won the triple crown in Mexico with a .398 average and 30 home runs in 68 games. Many Negro League owners felt Irvin was the best-qualified candidate to break the major league color line, but Irvin was drafted in 1942 and spent the next three years in the army.

Upon his return from the service, Irvin was tentatively contacted by the Dodgers' Branch Rickey, but felt he needed to play himself back into shape. He earned MVP honors in the 1945-46 Puerto Rican Winter League. He then led the Negro National League in RBI and hit .389, taking the Eagles to a victory over the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1946 Negro World Series. Irvin hit .462, slammed three HR, and scored the winning run in the seventh game. He was ready for the majors, but Rickey did not want to pay Eagles owner Effa Manley for the rights to Irvin's contract. Irvin remained with the Eagles and proceeded to lead the NNL in HR and RBI.

After Irvin spent the 1948-49 winter in Cuba, Rickey relinquished his claim, and the New York Giants paid Manley $5,000 for Irvin's contract. Assigned to Jersey City (International League), he batted .373. He debuted with the Giants on July 27, 1949 as a pinch hitter. Back with Jersey City in 1950, he was called up after hitting .510 with 10 HR in 18 games. He batted .299 for the Giants that season, playing first base and the outfield. In 1951 Irvin emerged as a star, hitting .312 with 24 HR, leading the National League with 121 RBI, and finishing third in MVP balloting. He hit .458 in the 1951 World Series and stole home off Yankee pitcher Allie Reynolds in the second game.

During an exhibition game in April 1952, Irvin broke his ankle sliding into third. He reinjured the leg in August 1953 and never regained his earlier form. He was sent down in mid-1955, and spent his final ML season with the Cubs. He scouted for the Mets in 1967-68, then joined the Commissioner's office as a public relations representative. The Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1973; he later became a member of that body and of the Hall of Fame Committee on Baseball Veterans. (JR)


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bruce Freomming - Roasted

Steve Costomiris, a member of Dodgertown West, reports from:

Bruce Froemming Roast,

Milwaukee Athletic Club

November 15, 2007

I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that found time for me to be able to attend this event, despite having heard about it at the last minute. Bruce has been a good friend to Dodgertowners and he appreciated us being represented. He says Harry Horowitz still has some unpaid Kangaroo Court fines. Harry?

Here’s some random tales from the evening I thought you guys might enjoy.

Note – there’s 2 photos at the very bottom of this so don’t miss them!

· Joe Buck was brilliant as MC: (Bruce and Jack Buck were great friends).

· “My job as MC tonight is not to stand up here and bore you to death but to introduce you to people who will”.

· One of the presenters had a bit to drink and used some very blue language in contrast to the rest of the presenters. After he sat down, Joe said, “I just wanted to let you know that Ken’s line of children’s books will be available in the lobby at the close of the program”.

· After a particularly dry presentation from a member of the dais – “And I thought 4 minutes on the treadmill was a long time”; “Let me know how that stand-up comedy career is going.

· After a grainy, ‘sorry-I-couldn’t-be-there-tonight’ DVD: “What was that?! That looked like a hostage video”. “Nice to know he thinks enough of you Bruce to spare absolutely no expense on the production.”

· As the Roast went on, some presenters better than others, many exceeding their allotted time, Joe said, “OK, what we’re going to do is go with some break-out sessions. Those who want to hear what Jimmy Leyland thinks of Bruce, go to Salon A; those who want to hear what his high school coach thinks of Bruce, Salon B…”

· Rosemary was reported to have said their 40-year marriage was destined to be a success because they both fell in love with the same man.

· The difference between God and Bruce Froemming? God doesn’t think he’s Bruce Froemming.

· Bruce has a brain like Einstein; it’s been dead since the 1950s.

· Jimmy Leyland said he overheard Bruce’s wife say to Bruce, “Let’s go upstairs and make love” and Bruce said, “One or the other honey, I can’t do both”. That’s when Bruce knew it was time to retire.

· Bruce is so old he has an autographed Bible.

· Groaner of the night: “What do you do if you’re facing a Rhino with 3 balls?”. Answer: “Walk him and pitch to the giraffe”.

· Don Zimmer said he’s enjoying life staying under the radar in Florida. He’s had lots of offers to return to the game in a more significant way but likes his low-key lifestyle. He said, “I think I’m some kind of advisor but I’ve been doing this 2 years and no one ever asks me nothin’”. Don feels the game today is too long.

· He congratulated Bruce on umping over 5200 games but said it’s odd that he has absolutely no friends.

About Bruce

When Bruce started in the major leagues Sandy Koufax had 4 wins. There was no “Tonight Show” yet. He got his start while at Vero Beach as a minor league umpire. The major league umps shared the same space of course and Bruce went up to a seasoned MLB ump and said he’d welcome the opportunity to work home plate in the next game.

You just didn’t ‘do’ that and this ump (Eddie Barlick?) went and vented to Mr. O’Malley, “Who does this kid think he is?”. O’Malley said to give him a shot. He did and Bruce did a great job and took a shortcut to the majors.

One of Bruce’s first jobs was helping the local undertaker. He got $7.50 per body he brought in. (That’s a true story, not a joke). Probably where Bruce got his personality (That ‘is’ a joke and a clear editorial cheap-shot).

Once, Bruce ejected the entire press box.

Bruce is known for protecting ‘his guys’. Once Lasorda was working over a young ump at the plate, [with] Froemming on third. Froemming told him that’s enough. Lasorda said he wasn’t even talking to him. Froemming said, “You look out for your team, I’ll look out for mine”.

Once a young ump was having a very hard time in Atlanta, lots of arguing from both sides. The ump called a strike on Chipper Jones who refused to get back in the batter’s box. After somewhat of an impasse, the ump, per the rules, directed the pitcher to pitch with a hand gesture. Of course, wherever the pitch is thrown, it’s called a strike, by the rules. Well, the pitcher thought the ump just wanted to look at the ball and the catcher was sort of preoccupied temporarily with the hitter so he rolls the ball to the plate. Ump calls ‘Strike three!’. Jones goes crazy, crowd goes crazy – Jones gets ejected. Even Bruce had his hands full keeping the peace.

When it was Bruce’s turn to speak, he ‘roasted’ right back. He went through the presenters basically saying, “I don’t know why he’s here” and “I think his bowling league must have been cancelled tonight”. Mike Winters, the ump involved in the Milton Bradley issue in San Diego, has worked with Bruce the most during Bruce’s career. Bruce, “Hey, he needed the help”. Anyway, typical Bruce.

A representative from the governor’s office declared it Bruce Froemming day and gave him a nice plaque. Bruce looks at it and goes, “Great, it’s Bruce Froemming Day and we have 90 minutes left before its tomorrow. You couldn’t have given this to me [this] morning?”.

That’s the ballgame fellas!

Editor's note: Thanks to Steve Costomiris for sharing this most memborable evening.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Maury Wills

Maury Wills

Excerpt from "After Jackie – Pride, Prejudice, and Baseball's Forgotten Heroes: An Oral History" by Cal Fussman, ESPN Books, 2007. Page 108

When I was going for the stolen base record in 1962, Sandy Koufax and I read each other's mail. His locker was right across from mine, and he'd open my mail for me, and I'd open his for him.

See, what with me being black and him being Jewish, we both got a lot of hate mail.

"Oh, you probably don't want to read this one," Sandy would say. Or, "Hey, this one's okay. Some little kid wants an autograph." And sometimes, "Oh my God! You don't want to see this…"

Every time he'd come across one of those, I'd always go, "C'mon, let me see it." And he'd say, "Nah, nah, it'll only mess you up."

So we had some fun with it.

We even got to the point where we could recognize the same guy writing different hate letters: "Look, he must use a ruler to get the margins so straight."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sweet Lou Johnson

Sweet Lou Johnson

Excerpt from “After Jackie – Pride, Prejudice, and Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes: An Oral History” by Cal Fussman, ESPN Books, 2007. Page 180

I went to the Dodgers, and I was home. You know the saying, “Died and gone to heaven”? Well, I walked in the front door to heaven, and there in the clubhouse was Sandy Koufax. He shook my hand and said, “Welcome.” Anybody could have done that. But it was Sandy Koufax who did it.

Everyone was saying, “You’ve got some big shoes to fill.” See, they called me up because Tommy Davis had broken his ankle.

I said, “I wear size 9.”

They said, “Tommy gave us size 12.”

So I gave them a 13. I had myself a year, man. If you look at the statistics in September, when we won 13 games in a row, you’ll see I was right in the middle of it with clutch hits.

My swing put a new sound to my voice. It was my voice that gave me my nickname. During an interview, I answered a question with six words: “Sweet Lou can do it all.” Next thing I know, I was Sweet Lou Johnson. What you have to do when that new voice starts to come out is you have to learn to live without so many lies.

Two hits. After all was said and done, two hits are the reason you’re reading my words right now. You never would have remembered me if I hadn’t got those hits, and I never would have gotten a job back with the Dodgers years later.

The first hit came on September 9, 1965. Sandy was pitching against Bob Hendley of the Chicago Cubs. They were both throwing perfect games until the fifth inning. I walked, got sacrificed to second, stole third, and when the catcher overthrew the base, I scored. We had a run, but still no hits. I got a double later in the game. And that was the only hit. If I hadn’t gotten that hit, there would have been a double no-hitter in a single game.

And Sandy was perfect.

The second hit came in the seventh game of the World Series that year. I hit a home run in the top of the fourth. Gave Koufax a 1-0 lead. That’s all he needed, and we won the Series.

Sandy said “Welcome” to me.

And I said “Thank you” to him.

Excerpt from “After Jackie – Pride, Prejudice, and Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes: An Oral History” by Cal Fussman, ESPN Books, 2007. Page 180

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Famous Larry Doby Steve Gromek Embrace

Caption reads:
Celebrating in triumph, Steve Gromek and Larry Doby embrace and laugh after the fourth game of the 1948 World Series in Cleveland. Doby hit the home run which decided the outcome, 2-1, making Gromek the winninig pitcher. The picture, one of the first to show affection between black and white athletes in the era of integration, became one of Doby's most cherished mementos. (Photo courtesy of Wide World)

From "Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy" by Jules Tygiel, p 239:

...The following day, the Indians won the sixth and concluding game of the Fall Classic, with Doby contributing two singles in four at-bats. The young outfielder paced the World Champion Indians in batting with a .318 average and emerged as one of the standout performers of the series.

A widely distributed photograph encapsulated the significance of Doby's World Series heroics. The picture showed Doby and winning pitcher Steve Gromek grinning and hugging each other in the aftermath of the fourth game. "That picture of Gromek and Doby has unmistakable flesh and blood cheeks pressed close together, brawny arms tightly clasped, equally wide grins," wrote columnist Marjorie Mackenzie in the Pittsburgh Courier. "The chief message of the Doby-Gromek picture is acceptance." This image, asserted Mackenzie "is capable of washing away with equal skill, long pent-up hatred in the hearts of men and the beginning of confusion in the minds of small boys."