Thursday, January 31, 2008

MLB sets first Urban Invitational


By Jim Molony /

Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy will host the first Urban Invitational baseball tournament, Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday.

The inaugural event will feature Southern University, Bethune-Cookman, UCLA and USC in a six-game tournament to be played at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., USC's Dedeaux Field and UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium beginning Friday, Feb. 29, and continuing through Sunday, March 2. Both games on Saturday, March 1, will be played at the MLB Urban Youth Academy and broadcast live on ESPN2.

The participation of historically black universities Bethune-Cookman of Daytona Beach, Fla., and Southern (Baton Rouge, La.) in the tournament is part of MLB's ongoing diversity and youth initiatives.

"The Urban Invitational Baseball Tournament is a part of our continued focus on reviving the majesty of baseball in the African-American community," Major League Baseball executive vice president of operations Jimmie Lee Solomon said in the press release announcing the event. "This tournament, along with the other programs at the MLB Urban Youth Academy, the Civil Rights Game and many of our other efforts, is reflective of the League's commitment to diversity, inclusion and engagement of our nation's young people. Our goal is to make sure that every child who wants to play baseball has an opportunity to do so."

Fans attending the tournament games on March 1 will also be entertained by live performances of Southern University's "Human Jukebox" and USC's Trojan Marching Band. Bethune-Cookman University and Southern University will play each other at 1 p.m. PT on Sunday at the academy.

"ESPN is proud to be associated with Major League Baseball's urban initiatives," Len DeLuca, ESPN senior vice president, programming and acquisitions, said in the press release. "The second Civil Rights Game and new Urban Invitational -- 40 years since the tragic death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- are on the heels of our observance last year of the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. ESPN is honored to join with MLB to celebrate baseball's cultural history."

The MLB Urban Youth Baseball Academy encompasses more than 15 acres on the campus of El Camino College, Compton Center. The academy is a state-of-the-art facility featuring four fields, including a show field, batting cages and other training facilities. The academy operates on a year-round basis, offering free baseball and softball instruction, as well as clinics to youth throughout Southern California.

"On behalf of our team, I would like to say how honored we are to have been invited to an event like this, especially in its first year," Bethune-Cookman Coach Mervyl Melendez said in the press release. "We hope that the Urban Invitational Baseball Tournament continues to grow and more people notice what Major League Baseball is doing for college baseball and historically black colleges."

Tickets to the games being played at the MLB Urban Youth Academy will be available for purchase on gameday for $5.00. Proceeds from the ticket sale will benefit the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy, which is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation.

The tournament schedule (all times Pacific):

• Friday, Feb. 29, UCLA vs. Southern University, 6 p.m. at UCLA; USC vs. Bethune-Cookman, 6 p.m. at USC.

• Saturday, March 1, UCLA vs. Bethune-Cookman, 5 p.m. at MLB Urban Youth Academy; *Battle of the Bands -- Southern's "Human Jukebox" and USC Trojan Marching Band; Southern vs. USC, 8 p.m. at MLB Urban Youth Academy.

• Sunday, March 2, Southern vs. Bethune-Cookman, 1 p.m. at MLB Urban Youth Academy; USC vs. UCLA, 1 p.m. at USC.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs

Monday, January 21, 2008

Scouts hold fifth annual fundraiser

Larry King (left) and Tony Gwynn both received
awards at Saturday's event. (Branimir Kvartuc/AP)

Helps raise money for scouts who are in financial need

By John Klima / Special to
LOS ANGELES -- In an event that has evolved into a successful mixture of show business, star power and scouting, The Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation Fifth Annual "In the Spirit of the Game" dinner and World's Largest Auction of Sports Memorabilia was held Saturday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

The fundraiser, which has become a winter tradition in the baseball world, raises money to help scouts who have fallen on hard times. Many longtime scouts, especially elderly ones, lack basic needs such as health care and savings, and sometimes get less support from the teams to which they were devoted for several years.

On another level, the Baseball Hall of Fame does not recognize baseball scouts in an official capacity, so the PBSF has honored scouts who the Hall of Fame has not.

The foundation's George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award in Scouting was given this year to venerable Northern California scout Eddie Bockman and Cuban-born scout Ralph Avila.

Bockman began his playing career in 1939 and lost three years of playing time because of World War II. He found his way to the Major Leagues for 199 games in 1946-49 before embarking on a scouting career with the Philadelphia Phillies. The crowning achievement of Bockman's career was the 1980 Philadelphia World Series championship team, in which Bockman was involved in the signing of seven players on that club -- shortstop Larry Bowa, catcher Bob Boone, right-handed pitchers Dick Ruthven, Bob Walk and Warren Brusstar, left-handed pitcher Randy Lerch, and infielder John Vukovich.

Avila developed the doctrine of the late Dodgers general manager Al Campanis to develop talent in the Dominican Republic. As a result, Campo las Palmas, the Dodgers' academy in the Dominican Republic, produced players such as pitchers Ramon and Pedro Martinez, Raul Mondesi, Jose Offerman and Mariano Duncan.

The Foundation also recognized longtime scouts Joe Lewis, Al LaMacchia, Tom Giordano, Joe DiCarlo and Stan Benjamin with Special Recognition Awards.
Lewis had an eye for pitching, signing Joe Coleman, Ken Hill, Ron Darling, Walt Terrell and others. LaMacchia, a former Major League pitcher with the St. Louis Browns, helped make the 1980s-early 90s Blue Jays a powerhouse with positive recommendations on players such as Dave Stieb, David Wells, Lloyd Moseby, George Bell and Kelly Gruber.

Benjamin, a longtime scout for the Houston Astros, insisted that then-Double-A third baseman Jeff Bagwell was the player his club wanted to ask for from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for veteran right-hander Larry Andersen in an August 1990 trade.

Longtime baseball executive Roland Hemond, currently the special assistant to the president with the Arizona Diamondbacks, is a member of the Foundation's Board of Directors. For years, Hemond has been a champion of scouts. The Foundation began five years ago, when Hemond helped recruit co-founder Dennis Gilbert, and has grown each year.

"This has brought attention to the scouting profession on a global basis," Hemond said. "People are now recognizing and are becoming educated on the value of scouting beyond what I have seen prior to this function. Scouts are being recognized and complimented. The appearance of the Commissioner here means everybody has a greater respect and understanding for what scouting means."

Commissioner Bud Selig was on hand to present the Executive Leadership Award named in his honor to Bill Bartholomay of the Atlanta Braves. Selig said he has fond memories of former scout Dee Fondy.

Newly minted Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was presented the Player Lifetime Achievement Award by Rod Carew.

Gwynn said scouts are a baseball player's first insight into the reality of playing as a professional.

"Younger guys see the big league life at first, but they don't see the bus rides in the Minor Leagues or getting in the batting cage at 8 a.m. to get ready for a day game," he said. "The scout is the first guy to tell you what's in store."
The "A Scout's Dream" Award was presented to Dave Winfield by the scout who signed him, Donny Williams.

Winfield for years has thanked Williams and did so again Saturday night, calling his influence one of the most important factors in Winfield choosing to play baseball instead of football or basketball.

"You don't know [Williams's name]," Winfield told the audience, "But I wouldn't have anyone else hand me this award."

Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox earned the Tommy Lasorda Managers Award and recalled scout Red Adams, who signed him in 1960, and Yankees executive Lee MacPhail, who offered him his first Minor League managerial job.
The Buddy Bell family was honored with the Ray Boone Family Award. Ray Boone was a longtime scout for the Boston Red Sox after his playing career. In addition, baseball fan and Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Larry King was honored with the In the Spirit of the Game Award.

TV personality Mary Hart and comedian Tim Allen served as co-hosts of the event.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Johnny Podres Dies at 75

Lefty Podres, who clinched Brooklyn's only Series title, dies at 75

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. -- As soon as he heard Johnny Podres had died, Don Newcombe recalled that famous moment more than a half-century ago. "My mind went back to Yankee Stadium, 1955, the seventh game of the World Series," said Newcombe, also a member of that Brooklyn Dodgers championship team. "I thank God for Johnny Podres. I remember how confident he was in the clubhouse before Game 7. [Manager] Walter Alston called a meeting and Johnny said, 'Just give me one run.' Well, they gave him two, and we were champs. He was a man of his word, he lived up to his word, and I appreciate it."

Johnny Podres, with Roy Campanella, right,
and Don Hoak, was at the center of Brooklyn's
celebration after winning Game 7 of 1955 World Series.

Podres, who became a storied figure in Dodgers lore for pitching Brooklyn to its only World Series title before the team moved West, died Sunday at Glens Falls Hospital. He was 75. His wife, Joan, said he was being treated for heart and kidney problems and a leg infection.
"I lost a dear friend and a former teammate who excelled in big games," Dodgers Hall of Fame outfielder Duke Snider said. "He was fun to play behind because he was always around the plate and he threw quality strikes when the game was on the line. He was a tremendous person and I'm going to miss him quite a bit."

The portly left-hander was picked for four All-Star games and was the first MVP in World Series history, becoming a hero to every baseball fan in Brooklyn when the Dodgers ended decades of frustration by beating the Yankees to win the 1955 World Series.

"He represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character," said Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who roomed with Podres. "He was a great roomie, a great teammate, and a great friend."

In 1955, Podres was overshadowed by many of his teammates, which included Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Snider in a star-studded lineup, and Newcombe and Carl Erskine on the pitching staff.

And Podres didn't give any indication during the regular season of the greatness that lay ahead. He was injured twice -- he hurt his left shoulder and later sustained bruised ribs when struck by the Ebbets Field batting cage while groundskeepers were moving it during a pregame workout -- and had a mediocre 9-10 record on a team that won the National League pennant by 13½ games.

The lament of 'Wait til next year' seemed ready to be uttered when the Dodgers lost the first two World Series games at Yankee Stadium. Then, on his 23rd birthday, Podres scattered seven hits, the Dodgers won 8-3 at Ebbets Field, and suddenly there was a ray of hope for the team that came to be known as the Boys of Summer.

The Dodgers won the next two games at home, then lost Game 6 at Yankee Stadium to set up the memorable finale between two left-handers -- Podres against Tommy Byrne, who died in December.

Hodges drove in two runs to stake the Dodgers to a 2-0 lead. The Yankees mounted a threat when they had runners on first and second in the sixth inning and nobody out, but left fielder Sandy Amoros then made one of the most memorable plays in Series history.

Yogi Berra lifted hit a high fly ball down the left-field line that seemed certain to drop for extra bases, but Amoros, a left-handed thrower who had just come into the game to replace the right-handed Jim Gilliam in left field, made a stunning one-handed grab in the corner and doubled Gil McDougald off first base to end the threat.

Relying on his fastball and changeup, Podres shut out the Yankees 2-0 on eight hits.
It was the first time a team had won a best-of-seven World Series after losing the first two games, and it was Brooklyn's first World Series triumph in eight tries, including five consecutive Series losses to the Yankees. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.

"He was one in a million," former Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi said. "I've had many good pitchers on my teams during my career, including the best in the business in Sandy Koufax, and I am sure that all these pitchers will agree that if a club had to win one game, it would be Podres that would get the call."

Podres, also a part of championship teams in 1959, 1963 and 1965, pitched for 15 years with the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, theDetroit Tigers and San Diego Padres. He retired in 1969 at 36 with a lifetime record of 148-116, an ERA of 3.68, and a 3-1 mark with a 2.11 ERA in six World Series starts.

Podres later served as a pitching coach with the Minnesota Twins and later with Philadelphia.
"Johnny made mound visits very interesting. I came in from first base just to listen," said former Phillies first baseman John Kruk, now an ESPN baseball analyst. "We might have had a pitcher on the mound who was getting lit up and Johnny would come out and say, 'You've got great stuff. I don't know how they are hitting you. Just go get them.'" As a coach, Podres helped develop current Red Sox star Curt Schilling when he was on the Phillies staff.

"No one ever cared about me more, or watched out for me as much as he did," Schilling said in a Phillies Magazine story last April. "There is no doubt in my mind that the career I've been blessed to enjoy is a direct result of this man's commitment to me and to my life. I'll be forever grateful for his love and his friendship and hope that when I've thrown my final pitch I'll be able to look back on my body of work and it will have been something he was proud of. The game lost a man that has truly made a difference."

Besides his wife, Podres is survived by two brothers and two sons. Funeral services are pending.