Tuesday, December 18, 2007

One Fantasy Player Hangs Them Up

Editor's Note: Dodgertown West is a group of amateur baseball players in the Greater Los Angeles area who love to play hardball. Membership requires attending at least one baseball fantasy camp at Dodgertown in Vero Beach. Some players have attended dozens of camps over the years. The games are held on Sundays and the players wear their own Dodger uniforms, either home whites or away grays. The following is an open letter one participant wrote to his teammates recently.

TO: Dodgertown West
FROM: Don Volz

I have been agonizing over sending out this letter for about a year now. As I’m sure most of you know I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease about 2 years ago. I always intended to continue playing the great game of baseball as long as I could add something to my team and not embarrass myself with lousy play.

As much as I hate to say it, it looks like I am getting to that latter stage now. The legs still work good and I can run the bases, I don’t strike out often but don’t hit the ball very hard, and I can usually catch the ball. But I’m getting pretty shaky and it seems like my hand doesn’t know when to let go of the ball in throwing and I don’t know where it is going to go. And that is not acceptable to me. So, after 14 years with DTW, and as I approach my 75th year in a few weeks, I guess it is time to hang up the old Dodger uniform that is getting pretty snug anyway and go silently into retirement.

I almost did this at this time last year but gave it a few more games. It has been a great experience playing the real game with a bunch of great guys (and gals) and I want to thank all of you who have worked to make DTW a super organization.

Thanks for all the encouragement and support for one of the old guys. Hell, I never could catch Herbie’s record anyway. I intend to stay active as long as I can playing senior slowpitch softball locally three days a week (I can throw the larger ball acceptably well) and some tennis so that will keep me busy.

Maybe I can get to a few games and see some of you, and if I can ever get the throw back I’ll reserve the right to an occasional recall.

Best wishes to you all and watch out for the back door slider.

I’ll wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Super Kwanzaa and great holidays, and a Happy New Year for 2008.

Don Volz #60

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Larsen’s Feat Lives in Amateur Movies

Al Mengert
Al Mengert focused his 16-millimeter camera,
from a perch between home plate and third, on Don Larsen.
From New York Times

December 9, 2007

Larsen's Feat Lives in Amateur Movies


On Oct. 8, 1956, Saul Terry took his 8-millimeter camera to Yankee Stadium, where he and his wife settled into seats in the right-field bleachers, which would cast occasional clouds of darkness onto his film.

Terry was not the only amateur cinematographer at Game 5 of the World Series. Al Mengert, a nontouring golf pro then at Winged Foot, who finished in a four-way tie for ninth at the 1958 Masters, focused his 16-millimeter camera on the field from between home plate and third base.

Terry and his wife, Elissa, were native New Yorkers at the end of a cross-country trip in their Chevrolet Nomad from their adopted home in Los Angeles. They were not big baseball fans and hoped to see "My Fair Lady," but one of Terry's suppliers in the lighting business could only get them tickets to the game.

Mengert, living in Westfield, N.J., took his wife, Donna, and his father, Otto, who had flown in from Spokane, Wash.

Two men out of 64,519 fans were unknowingly producing the lost films of Don Larsen's perfect game, color home movies that complement the few newsreel clips of the game that are frequently replayed, and the NBC broadcast that has been seen only by small groups since it was carried live.

Whether Terry's and Mengert's films will be seen by fans depends on efforts to sell or license them. Terry rejected a deal with Major League Baseball last year that would have coincided with the perfect game's 50th anniversary.

Terry captured Mickey Mantle's great one-handed catch in left-center off Gil Hodges's bat in the fifth inning; Mengert followed Mantle's trot after his home run in the fourth, but not the swing itself. Duke Snider's tumbling catch in the fourth is in Terry's; Mengert's shows Yogi Berra tossing balls to Bill Dickey, who was hitting pregame fungoes. A few feet away, Sal Maglie, the Dodgers' starting pitcher, warmed up. Terry's film found the Yankees' bullpen with Whitey Ford and, it seemed, Bob Grim warming up.

Mengert easily zoomed in on Larsen's no-windup motion. "I felt like Cecil B. DeMille," he said recently from Scottsdale, Ariz.

Terry was the less-experienced filmmaker, having received his camera as a wedding gift that April. He was sitting far away, underneath a deck, and fired off shots of Hank Bauer's back in right field — and a few too many of the crowd. In a voice-over added to the film, Terry said, "I should have used my telephoto lens more to catch the batter more in the batter's box." The existence of his film was first reported last year.

Despite the history they recorded, Mengert and Terry rarely, if ever, showed their films. Terry kept his in a box marked "New York Trip" for nearly 50 years. "One day," Michael Abramowitz, Terry's son-in-law, recalled Terry telling him, "I was at Larsen's perfect game. If I only knew where I put the film." Terry seemed surprised that anyone would care about it.

Abramowitz added, "He didn't really know how much it was worth." Terry died in May, and Abramowitz said he was trying to interest auction houses, among others, in a sale.

The film's value is restricted by the fact that unlike artifacts like Barry Bonds's 756th home run ball, there is no active market for them. Kirk Kandle said he had never received a blockbuster offer for his great-grandfather's 16-millimeter film of Babe Ruth's called shot in the 1932 World Series, and has instead made various licensing deals for it.

Color home movies shot by players and fans were stitched together to create the "When It Was a Game" documentaries on HBO. George Roy, the co-producer, said: "When somebody has something nobody has seen, it's noteworthy and great to see. Beyond that, I can't tell you what it's worth."

A nearly complete copy of NBC's broadcast of the game was shown to a small audience at the Yogi Berra Museum earlier this year, but its owner, the collector Doak Ewing, has not made a deal for a broader showing.

Berra watched the Terry film at a cocktail party in Florida in late October with numerous other former Yankees, including Larsen, his batterymate in the game. "It was all right, but I liked the other one better," he said in reference to the broadcast.

Like most home movies, the films are personal. Mengert shows his wife and father outside the stadium and on the field afterward. The Terry film begins in Times Square, jumps to the Major Deegan Expressway, where his camera shows the Longines clock outside the Stadium reading 12:56.

"And there it is," Terry said in the narration. "The Yankee Stadium."

Later, he said he knew he didn't have enough shots of the field. "I was looking for friends of mine in the crowd," he said.

Elissa laughed. "You're funny," she said.

Each filmmaker had somewhat similar reactions to the possibility that Larsen would pitch a perfect game. Mengert, now 78, said, "I turned to my dad in the sixth, and said, 'Larsen's got a no-hitter going, and I have to save some film in case it happens.'"

He added: "In the final inning, it was hard to hold the camera steady, but I did. I was excited, but I was more nervous on the first tee with Sam Snead in the final round at Augusta."

Elissa Terry said in an interview from Jupiter, Fla., "There was really nothing happening, but about the seventh, my husband said, 'It looks like it's going to be a no-hitter.' So I woke up and got interested. I didn't realize the enormity of what happened, that it was a rare event."

When Berra leapt into Larsen's arms (the home movies show the moment from different angles and also portray the well-dressed fans who flooded the sun-splashed field), Saul Terry recognized the thrill.

"You didn't have to be a ball fan to know that," he said.

Monday, December 03, 2007

O'Malley family rejoices in Hall election

Walter O'Malley (left) shows Yankees owner
Del Webb a model of Dodger Stadium in 1960. (AP)

Late Dodgers owner's son calls announcement 'long overdue'

12/03/2007 By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Peter O'Malley said he knows how his late father would have reacted if he had lived long enough to see his Monday election to Baseball's Hall of Fame.

"The first thing he would have done if he was alive, he would have called all the people who worked with him and thanked them for making it all possible," said Peter O'Malley. "As president, the way he ran the business, he believed in stability and very little turnover. It was the strength of the organization. The management team worked as well as the team on the field." Tom Lasorda earned election to the Hall of Fame in 1997 after managing for the O'Malley Dodgers for two decades.

"All I can say is that it's about time," said Lasorda, who was at the press conference at which O'Malley's election was announced. "He deserves it. He's a pioneer. He made a tremendous change in the game, opening up the West Coast to Major League Baseball."

Peter O'Malley agreed that Monday's announcement was "long overdue," as Walter O'Malley died in 1979 at age 75. Peter O'Malley said his father served for 28 years on MLB's executive council and was instrumental in the early stages of the game's international growth.

Peter O'Malley, who turns 70 next week, said his father often spoke about the Hall of Fame, but not in the context of being elected to it. "He had the greatest respect for the Hall of Fame," he said. "He said it was so important, and not just for the game of baseball, but all sports, and not just in the United States, but all over the world."

Fred Claire, who eventually became the Dodgers' general manager, served as vice president of public relations for the senior O'Malley.

"He was a man of such great vision, more than anything," recalled Claire, who now writes a column for MLB.com.

"I remember Jim Cour of UPI in an interview asked Walter what he wanted to be remembered for. Walter spun that cigar and said he wanted to be remembered for planting a tree. As good as the question was, the answer was better. It all had to do with growth, the future and going beyond what currently was.

"Look at the building of Dodger Stadium, his view of television, of marketing, of free agency and the changing game. He just had the ability to see things so clearly."

Peter O'Malley and his sister, Terry Seidler, sold the Dodgers to News Corp in 1998. He has since established a Web site dedicated to his father, www.walteromalley.com, "featuring the words, works and achievements" of the former Dodgers owner, who moved the club from Brooklyn in 1958 and brought Major League Baseball to the West Coast.

Peter O'Malley said that his father's legacy was more encompassing that simply moving his team west.

"No. 1, he spent 10 years trying to find a way to stay, to build a ballpark that he would operate," Peter O'Malley said. "He made a tremendous effort to stay. The HBO special [The Brooklyn Dodgers: Ghosts of Flatbush] focused on that effort, on my father addressing the aging Ebbets Field situation, wondering where would they play, wondering what would he do and where would they go.

"Secondly, I think his building Dodger Stadium was a crowning achievement, and it's still a jewel. He designed it, built it and privately financed it. He did more than open up the West. When he opened Dodger Stadium, he got the attention of the world. The day he opened Dodger Stadium, April 10, 1962, that was the happiest day of his life."

Although Peter O'Malley is no longer affiliated with a baseball team, the O'Malley family retains a link to the game through the efforts of Peter's son, Kevin, and his nephew, Tom Seidler, the son of Terry. The cousins own and operate the Visalia Oaks of the Class A California League.

Seidler, in his role as president and general manager, is attending the Winter Meetings, and he said his grandfather's election to the Hall of Fame brought back memories of growing up as the grandson of the boss.

"I was lucky," said Seidler. "Today I'm thinking about all those springs at Dodgertown, of learning how to drive in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. It's a great day for our family and we're all proud. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a true pioneer. He was very good for the game.

"Now that we've got our long-term renovations at Visalia, it will allow the next generation of our family to stay connected to the game, on a smaller scale."

From Dodgers.com