Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych


AP Photo - Mark Fidrych was the American League Rookie of
the Year in 1976 when he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA
and 24 complete games in 29 starts.

Courtesy of thebaseballpage.com

As a virtually unknown rookie in 1976, Mark Fidrych posted a league leading 2.34 ERA and won 19 games despite spending the first month of the season in the minor leagues. "The Bird" became a media darling because of his crazy antics, such as talking to himself and aiming the ball, insisting that balls that had "hits in them" be taken out of the game, and smoothing cleat marks on the mound. He began the 1977 season where he left off, but injured his arm when he continued to pitch with a knee problem. For seven years he tried to make a comeback but he never could regain his old form. In 1985, it was revealed that he had torn his rotator cuff nearly all the way through.

"The Bird," because of his resemblance to "Big Bird" of Sesame Street.

Played For
Detroit Tigers (1976-1980)


World Champion?

All-Star 1976-1977; American League Rookie of the Year 1976

Go to baseball-reference.com

Similar Players
Dontrelle Willis

Players Linked
Jack Morris

Starting pitcher (all but two games)

Major League Debut
April 20, 1976; Fidrych relieved with the winning run on third base against the A's. Facing his first major league batter, Fidrych allowed a single to Don Baylor, as the Tigers lost, 6-5. His celebrated first start came on May 15, against the Indians at Tiger Stadium. Baffling hitters with his low fastball and antics on the mound, Fidrych took a perfect game into the 5th inning, and allowed his first hit to Buddy Bell to lead off the 7th frame. He finished with a two-hit, 2-1 win and the phenomenon was born.

Full Bio
On June 28, 1976, Mark Fidrych came to the attention of baseball fans worldwide. For the first three months of the '76 season, Fidrych was pretty much a local phenomenon, even though he was 8-1 with eight complete games. But Fidrych's performance against the New York Yankees on June 28 changed all that.

For the first time, a national television audience got to see Fidrych fidget around the mound, chatter to himself, congratulate teammates after outstanding plays — and pitch superbly. He took only an hour and 51 minutes in defeating the Yankees, 5-1, before 47,855 fans in Detroit. He allowed seven hits, with New York's lone run coming on Elrod Hendrick's home run. In stopping the Yankees' five-game winning streak, Fidrych struck out two and walked none in out-dueling Ken Holtzman. The festivities didn't end with the final out. The fans wouldn't leave. They kept clamoring for Fidrych, who insisted the rest of the team join him in a curtain call. Teammate Rusty Staub coaxed Fidrych out onto the field — in his stocking feet — to thunderous applause. "The Bird" had arrived.

As Fidrych racked up wins, his low salary ($16,500) caught the attention of appreciative fans. Many sent him money, which he returned. A Michigan state legislator submitted a resolution recommending that the Tigers give Fidrych a raise. Tigers GM Jim Campbell eventually increased Fidrych's salary; thanking him for the packed crowds he produced each time he pitched. Opposing teams requested that the Tigers juggle their rotation so Fidrych could pitch in front of their fans in their stadium. Campbell was so worried about the carefree pitcher's attitude that he gave Fidrych an allowance, fearful that the young flake would waste the money or give it away.

Fidrych threw a blazing fastball and a wicked slider and kept the ball low, but probably his greatest asset was his concentration. Centerfielder Mickey Stanley compared him favorably with Denny McLain, one of the game's most intense pitchers. In Fidrych's 1976 All-Star Game start, Pete Rose's single, Steve Garvey's triple, and George Foster's groundout produced two runs in the first inning, enough to make "The Bird" the loser in the National League's 7-1 victory in 1976.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn fined Fidrych $250 for using an obscenity on television after being asked if he was about to cry in a losing performance. To break his phenomenal run, the Minnesota Twins released 13 pigeons on the field on Fidrych's 13th start, on July 20. It didn't deter him, as he won 8-3 to boost his record to 11-2.

Though he was behind the plate for only 61 games in 1976, Bruce Kimm, like Fidrych a rookie, caught all 29 of The Bird's starts that season. Kimm hit one home run in his four-year major league career, and, of course, it won a game for Fidrych, 3-2 over the California Angels on August 17, 1976. Fidrych finished with a 19-9 record and a league-leading 2.34 ERA in 29 starts. He completed 24 of his starts (most in the AL) and threw four shutouts.

Prior to the 1977 season, Fidrych appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the second time, this time joined by Sesame Street's Big Bird. The 1977 season held big promise for the young pitcher, but everything changed in spring training. Shagging flies in the outfield in Lakeland, teammate Staub warned Fidrych to stop risking his safety by fooling and jumping around. On the next ball hit, Fidrych leaped and tore the cartilage in his knee when he landed.

Fidrych returned in late May and started 11 games, completing seven starts and going 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA. His abbreviated performance was enough to earn him an All-Star nod, but he did not go to the game as he was recuperating from knee surgery. In 1978, he announced in spring training that he felt fine and started three games and won two in dominating fashion (2.45 ERA). But in his April 17th start, his arm bothered him again, and he spent the rest of the season on the disabled list and rehabbing.

In 1979, still just 24 years old, Fidrych suffered his worst season at the major league level. After missing the first month on the DL recovering from surgery, Fidrych pitched less than 15 innings in May and was bombed to the tune of a 10.43 ERA and an 0-3 record, before being shelved for the rest of the season. He tried to fix his arm again, consulting specialists and having yet more surgery that caused him to miss the first four months of the 1980 season, but that season proved to be his swan song. In The Bird's last hurrah, he went 2-3 with a 5.68 ERA in nine starts for the Tigers in '80. He was released after the season and caught on with the Red Sox, for whom he struggled in the minor leagues for several years.

During one of his Red Sox attempts at a comeback, Fidrych faced Dave Righetti on July 1, 1982 in AAA action. The game set a record attendance of 9,389 at McCoy Field in Pawtucket. Fidrych finally gave up on a comeback in 1983, ending his career at the age of 29, when he should have been in his prime.

It wasn't until 1985 — after he had seen chiropractors, psychologists, and hypnotists as well as numerous doctors — that Dr. James Andrews discovered that Fidrych had torn his rotator cuff. Andrews operated and cleaned out his shoulder but it was too late for another comeback. Fidrych retired to New England and turned to farming, living a simple life except for the occasional old-timers game (or the The Last Game at Tiger Stadium).

In his brief career, Fidrych started 56 games, and completed 34 of them (61%). Five times he pitched into extra innings, winning games that he pitched into the 11th inning three times. Fidrych pitched a two-hitter, one three-hitter, one four-hitter, and seven five-hitters, among his 34 career complete games.

Uniform #'s
#20 (1976-1980)

Transaction Data (courtesy Retrosheet.org)
June 5, 1974: Drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 10th round of the 1974 amateur draft; October 5, 1981: Released by the Detroit Tigers;
February 25, 1982: Signed as a Free Agent with the Boston Red Sox.

Best Season, 1976
He went 19-9 with a league-leading 2.34 ERA. Three times he pitched six straight complete games, and he won eight straight games at one point. He was chosen to start the All-Star Game, which he lost. He hurled a two-hitter, a four-hitter, and five five-hitters. Fidrych was a distant second to Jim Palmer in Cy Young voting, but was named AL Rookie of the Year.

Bird Fever
Fidrych so captured the imagination of Detroit fans in 1976 that at least one baby was named after him. Another manifestation of the mania Fidrych created in the city was that female fans raided barbershops he frequented in an effort to obtain souvenir locks of his curly hair. Other girls asked their hairdressers to make their coifs look like his. Even a model copied his hairdo, calling it her "Fidrych Frizzies."

No Frills
Fidrych was a simple man. Even at the height of his popularity he wore blue jeans, drove a beat-up old pickup truck, and claimed he had three dishes: a plate, a knife, and a fork.

Tigers' Rookies
In 1976 Fidrych became the second Tiger to be named Rookie of the Year (Harvey Kuenn, 1953). In 1977 Detroit added another fine rookie pitcher in Dave Rozema (who finished 4th in ROY voting). In '78 Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, and Lance Parrish formed a rookie trio, with "Sweet Lou" taking the AL Rookie of the Year honor.

Lerrin LaGrow

Replaced By
Jack Morris was given a chance in the Tigers' 1977 rotation due to Fidrych's injury.

Best Strength as a Player
Control, and crowd-appeal.

Largest Weakness as a Player

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Loss Beyond the Score

New York Times
April 11, 2009
Op-Ed Guest Columnist Heading Home


After hearing about the tragic death of the 22-year-old pitcher Nick Adenhart, my heart skipped a beat. Although I never met him, I still feel close to the baseball family and his loss was the loss of a brother.

Earlier this year, I lost a member of my family to kidney disease. Kevin Foster, who died at 39, was also not a blood relation: he was part of the baseball brotherhood. We played together on the Cubs for a season and a half, but were more than teammates. Kevin was my doppleganger.

Fans were baffled by our physical similarities. During my rookie year, I was called "Kevin" more times than I was called by my own name. In 1996, he was brought up to the big leagues and when the Cubs didn't have a uniform that fit him, they just gave him mine. Same size.

Our skinny frames put together meaty baseball careers in the face of a game that emphasized power. Together, we learned to accept that our pants could only stay up when we manually punched an extra hole in the belt. From this common ground our friendship grew. While we were teammates, fans saw us as twins and constantly mixed us up. After a while, we made a joke of it and just nodded even when we were called the wrong name.

I lost touch with Kevin after he left the game, but I was honore d that his family thought to contact me after he di ed.

Kevin was not the only brother taken from the family too soon. There was Cory Lidle, lost in a plane crash; Josh Hancock, in a highway accident; and Geremi Gonzalez, struck by lightning. Or Rod Beck, and one of my favorite players when I was a youngster, Tug McGraw. All died too young. So, too, did the consummate father-figure, my Phillies coach John Vukovich, to complications caused by a brain tumor.

Athletes are supposed to be invincible. Young and strong, we play the game confident that Death does not have a locker room pass. In truth, those on the field are not any more immune to kidney disease, plane or car crashes, lightning strikes, drug overdoses or brain cancer than those in the stands. We can be immortalized, but we are not immortal.

In my litany of the dearly departed, I left out one name. Fred White was the first teammate I lost. In many ways, the impact of his death remains the most enduring.

As a professional baseball player, it is not unusual to go through roommates like paper towels. There are your spring training roommates, your instructional league roommates, your roommate at home, your roommate on the road, not to mention your winter league roommate if you choose to play in the off-season. Most of the time, the transient nature of the business prevents you from getting too familiar with anyone. But we connected .

We met in 1993, two among the mob of players that descended on Mesa, Ariz., for the Cubs' minor leag ue spring training camp. Fred was 24, a talented pitcher from Compton, Calif. Charismatic and troubled, he was at that crossroads in his career where he had to advance quickly or be stuck for multiple seasons at the same level — a level light years away from the major leagues.

Once camp ended and the teams were finalized, Fred and I realized that we were both reporting to Daytona Beach for the regular season. Having hit it off in Mesa, we decided to be roommates. As this was the first team to play in Daytona Beach in many years, there was no infrastructure to help us get settled. After our three-day, rent-free hotel stay came to a close, we rented a car and drove around town blindly to find an apartment. Through sheer luck, we happened on the Anatole Apartments, off the main drag. We chose a simple two-bedroom with rooms on opposite ends of the space. As always, I was responsible for breakfast.

Early in the season, Fred had a nagging elbow injury that he was afraid to tell the team about. Players were afraid that coming up lame would be seen as a sign of weakness. Not to mention that being hurt is a surefire way to slow your progress up the ladder. So Fred just tried to make due with home remedies like numbing his arm with Dixie cups filled with ice.

It didn't work. By the time Fred finally decided to tell our manager about his compromised elbow, he was given his walking papers. In an instant, I no longer had a roommate and Fred n o longer had a career. No other team was interested in him.

His baseball life over, Fred moved to Orlando and began life as a "civilian." Coincidentally, Orlando was the next stop in the minor league progression for me. Once I got there, we reconnected. For the most part, I talked to Fred on the phone and in person about what he was going to do professionally, in this next phase of his life. But we both liked this one place to hang out with the team. Heroes. A night spot in Orlando.

After a night of hanging out, we'd go to our respective apartments. By then, Fred had his own place with his significant other, and I was rooming with my Double-A teammate, Paul Torres. I left on a road trip during the same week that Fred made a trip to California to pay his respects to his grandmother, who had passed away recently.

A few days later I walked into the Orlando Cubs locker room, as I had done after every other road trip. Tired of carrying a slew of bags, I dreamed of getting back to my apartment to get some rest. Then the words I heard from a teammate poured over me like the cold shower I probably needed: "Fred was killed while you guys were gone."

"Fred, as in my old roommate?"

One night in California, Fred had visited friends to play a harmless game of dominoes. While they were playing, someone started to break into a jee p belonging to one of the friends. Fred went down to inter vene.

Being a trained boxer, Fred soon was getting the best of the carjacker. Unfortunately, the thief had a gun. When he pulled it out, Fred ran. The coward chased him down and killed him at near-point-blank range.

Fred's senseless death was hard to understand. I was 23 years old, playing with a healthy bunch of young prospects. We had already seen death come to us in strange ways that season. Our catcher's sister was tragically killed in the Dominican Republic when she ran across a live wire. During batting practice we saw five construction workers killed when a draw bridge behind our home field in Daytona Beachmalfunctioned. But none of these victims had been ballplayers. We still felt invincible.

We were young kids doing what we loved to do, carrying the torches of our hometowns and baseball history. We were supposed to be protected from the pain of this world because we were supposed to be part of life's innocence. Loss only happened because the other team scored more runs, not because someone from our locker room family was taken from us.

In memory of Fred, I became the godfather to his infant son, Trevor. Now of high school age, he is old enough to ask questions about his dad. I try to give him as much information as I can remember.

I want my godson to know that his father was my teammate and therefore my family. In the game of baseball, you live an d fight together as a unit day after day. Gradually an unspok en truth emerges: we will look out for one another, even 15, 20 years down the road. It is an everlasting vigilance that protects our immediate and extended baseball family.

In memory of fallen teammates, opponents, coaches, media members and administrators. My prayers and thoughts go out to the family, friends and teammates of Nick Adenhart.

New York Times
April 11, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Alone with his grief in baseball cathedral


Angels open stadium, and hearts, to Adenhart's father.

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times
April 10, 2009

As darkness gave way to dawn, the doctors delivered the awful news: There was nothing more they could do to save his son.

Jim Adenhart found his sanctuary where his son found joy.

The hospital was no place for a grieving father, not in the hour after death, not when there was solace in life, and in baseball. And so the Angels unlocked their stadium, and their clubhouse, for a private sunrise service Thursday morning.

Nick Adenhart had walked through those doors just eight hours before, all smiles. Jim Adenhart walked through those doors, just past 7 a.m., all tears.

Mike Butcher, the Angels' pitching coach, led Jim to his son's locker. Butcher stepped back, leaving a respectful distance.

This would be Jim's first memorial service for his son, all his own.

He saw. He touched. He prayed. He cried.

Ken Higdon, the Angels' clubhouse manager, handed him the jersey his son had worn Wednesday night, when Nick pitched six shutout innings, the finest game of his young life. He was 22.

Perhaps Jim thought about what his son had told him a few days ago. He lives in Maryland, but his son urged him to fly to California for his first start in this new season.

"You better come here, because something special is going to happen," Nick told his father, according to agent Scott Boras.

If the son had not been looking out for the father, then the father would not have been minutes away from the hospital when he got that 3 a.m. call, with the horrible news that his son had been critically injured in a traffic accident.

Jim was not alone in those predawn hours. Butcher was at the hospital. So was Tim Mead, the Angels' vice president of communications. So were Boras and two of his lieutenants, Mike Fiore and Jeff Musselman.

The men accompanied Jim to the stadium and into the clubhouse, then left him alone at his son's locker. Five minutes passed, then 10, then 15.

And then cellphones started ringing, almost all at once. The word had gotten out. The world demanded confirmation, details, reaction.

The Angels arranged a news conference. Jim chose not to attend. General Manager Tony Reagins and Manager Mike Scioscia spoke, not easily but without losing composure.

Boras lost his.

He is the agent fans love to hate, full of lengthy discourses on why his players deserve millions upon millions. He can speak dispassionately, almost robotically.

On this day, he could not suppress his raw emotions. He could barely get through a sentence.

He choked up. He paused, then spoke haltingly. He stopped midway through his first sentence, pulling out a tissue, wiping away his tears.

Boras, an agent for 25 years, said he'd never had a day like this one.

"As you could tell," he said. "This is an industry that is largely youth. We're just not very prepared. It's just shocking to get the phone call."

The Angels, sadly enough, get more than their share of those calls. They're already wearing a memorial patch this season in honor of scouting consultant Preston Gomez, who died this year at 86.

"It seems like, for a while there, something happened to the Angels every year," Cincinnati Reds Manager Dusty Baker said.

Pitcher Donnie Moore committed suicide at 35, three years after giving up the home run that kept the Angels out of the 1986 World Series.

Outfielder Lyman Bostock was murdered at 27. Michelle Carew, daughter of Hall of Famer Rod Carew, died of leukemia at 18. Coach Deron Johnson died of lung cancer at 53.

Pitcher Dick Wantz died of a brain tumor at 25. Three players died in car accidents in the 1970s: infielder Chico Ruiz at 33, infielder Mike Miley at 24, pitcher Bruce Heinbechner at 23.

This is not a curse. That is the stuff of feeble minds. This is a tragedy, not the loss of a baseball player but the loss of a son, the greatest tragedy that can befall any parent.

Jim Adenhart did speak Thursday, not to the media but in a closed-door team meeting. He made a second trip to the clubhouse, eight hours after his first, to thank the players and coaches who had befriended his son.

After a few minutes, Mead escorted him onto the field, where the flags had been lowered to half-staff.

This was the middle of the afternoon, when the players normally would be stretching, playing catch, taking batting practice.

There was no game on this day; the Angels were to have played the Oakland A's, but it was postponed.

There was no one else on the field.

Jim Adenhart, wearing a red Angels pullover, walked slowly to the pitcher's mound. He lingered for a few minutes. He crouched, appearing to cry.

He stood up and looked to the heavens. He fixed his gaze there for a few moments. He bid farewell to his son, from the very place that made him so happy.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A League of Their Own - In Israel

A League of Their Own
By Judy Labensohn
From Hadassah Magazine
April 2003 Vol. 84 No.8

When Americans settle in Israel they bring not only their material belongings, they also import their love of baseball.

"You gotta know how many outs and who’s on base. You never leave the base on a pop-up. Tag ’em low.”
Coach Ira Hauser is reeling off baseball rules to the 10- to 12-year-olds on the Jerusalem-Efrat All-Star team. The soccer-football field they are practicing on triples as a baseball field. Unfortunately, it is adjacent to the police orchestra headquarters and the trumpet section has just begun practicing, so concentrating on baseball is a challenge.

“Outfield’s gotta help the infield; infield’s gotta help the outfield. The third-base coach will tell you when to steal home. Remember our sign: two consecutive scratches on my belly.” And, Hauser adds after 50 minutes of rules, “If anyone kvetches, you can welcome yourself to the bench.” He assigns the boys their positions for the 5 P.M. practice, which lasts almost two hours. (The boys from Efrat have to return home in their bulletproof vehicle before dark.)

That was the scene last June at one Israeli Juvenile League practice game. Youth baseball in Israel resembles its American Little League cousin, but differs in language (a pitcher is a magish; a strike, though, is a strike); scheduling (there are no games on Shabbat); and infrastructure (the fields, except for three, Gezer, Yarkon Sports Complex and Sportek in Tel Aviv, are rocky, rolling and brown). But America’s export—its best, some claim—gets more than 1,000 Anglo-Israeli kids all over the country off their butts and onto the field. They play in regional leagues divided into four divisions: minors (8-10), juveniles (10-12), cadets (13-15) and seniors (16 plus).

In fact, talking to Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, one might think baseball is the quintessential Jewish game, based on the prophetic call for humility.

“Baseball is a humbling sport because most of the time you make outs—you learn quickly what failure is,” claims Maddy-Weitzman, who wants to raise half a million dollars for a flat, green field of dreams in hilly Jerusalem. “It is also a highly intellectual sport,” says the Ra’anana coach and member of the Israel Association of Baseball board of directors. “All that dead time on the field is really full of looking at options and thinking what your next move will be.” Maddy-Weitzman, who claims he was a mediocre Little League player in his native Syracuse, New York, returned to the sport in Israel in 1995 when his 8-year-old son’s team needed a coach. He got hooked, participated in baseball clinics with coaches from the United States and former major league players who came to Israel to promote the game. “I came to appreciate the game’s nuances,” he says, “how to teach a runner to take the first step, how to teach hitting, throwing, catching and fielding. It’s a science. A whole new world opened up for me.” He celebrated his fiftieth birthday in January at the Yankee Fantasy Camp in Tampa, Florida. For six days he was treated like a major league player—whirlpools, massages, personal trainers—and loved it. “It was a class act from beginning to end,” he says.

Another father-cum-coach who sees the biblical values of baseball is Rabbi Howard Markose, 44, father of five and director of education of the Young Judaea Year Course. The former Minnesota Twins fan compares baseball rules to those of Jewish law. “The rules of halakha are the greatest avenue to self-fulfillment because they give you a framework in which to maneuver,” says the Jerusalem cadet-league coordinator. “Kids need to learn discipline. Baseball is a fun way to learn.”

If baseball has so much to offer, why aren’t more Israeli youngsters clamoring to play?

Billy Weisel—Jerusalem coach for eight years, member of the national executive board of the IAB and one-time Chicago White Sox fan from Champaign, Illinois (“A town where 49 percent rooted for the Chicago Cubs and 49 percent rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals,” he says)—has a theory.

“Israelis hate rules,” contends the father of three sons he taught to bat on a dirt field. “There are too many rules. That’s why non-American Israelis don’t go for it.”

Weisel’s son, Yehuda, 11, has been playing for five years and the rules don’t dampen his enjoyment. He is a pitcher in the juvenile division. “It’s just fun,” he says of baseball. “I like it.” Even though he plays soccer and basketball, the young Weisel, taking after his father, “likes baseball the most.”

The lack of appropriate infrastructure is another reason why baseball hasn’t become more popular. (Tennis only became popular after the Center for Tennis in Israel built regulation courts around the country.)

When Shana Mauer, a 33-year-old mother of three sons, volunteered to coach Ariel’s team of minors, she was shocked when a senior coach asked if she had a weapon to take to practice. The field is close to the main Bethlehem-Hebron road and there is no protective wall. “The best I can do is a Nerf gun,” she replied.

“Take it,” the Efrat resident was advised.

The biggest distraction for Mauer’s inexperienced team was in April 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield. An Israel Defense Forces tank battalion had parked next to the ball field.

“The soldiers watched us play, and the kids watched the tanks,” muses Mauer, a coordinator of public relations and grant writing at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. “The kids wanted to play on the armored troop carriers. It was a little daunting.” Nonetheless, she succeeded in bringing her team—which in October didn’t have rudimentary skills—to finish second in June. “I wanted every kid to have at least one hit this year,” she says, voicing a principle held by all Israeli coaches. “Even my most clumsy player got a hit.”

Leo Robbins, a 45-year-old quality-control supervisor with the Ministry of Housing, wants to expand the popular base.

“We need to go into the schools,” he says. “We have to teach Israeli kids the joys of hitting and throwing…. We need a catalyst, like an Israeli player making it into the major leagues, or if we could get a team to go to the Olympics or build fields in five or six places. It could happen.” Robbins was regional director of Jerusalem juvenile baseball for 1997-1998 and coached seven All-Star teams to win five out of the seven championships.

Those who live and breathe baseball, especially during the two-month season that begins after Passover, agree that Israeli society could profit from the game.

“Baseball is a sport [Israelis need because of] the idea of teamwork,” says Markose. “They learn not to blame someone else. They just say, ‘We’ll try harder and do better next time.’” He notes that in soccer and basketball, the popular Israeli team sports, “the best players spend an inordinate amount of time with the ball. The best American players, in contrast, pass the ball off to someone else.”

Another reason Israelis need baseball, says Robbins, who has coached his four children, is because “baseball prepares people mentally for the army. You’re standing around doing nothing and then you’re called on to act quickly, perfectly, and then you wait again. That’s the way the Israeli army works. It’s good mental training. It teaches them the patience of waiting. They think it’s boring because they don’t understand its intricacies. Strategies change almost every pitch. It is a cerebral game. The skills—throwing, catching, hitting and running—are minor. They are the tools, not the focus. The focus is the thinking.”

One man is so convinced that baseball is good for Israeli society that he left a 20-year career in banking in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and brought his wife and three children to Israel in October 2000 so he could build the first field of dreams in the Middle East. When Jeff Chestnut, 41, chief executive officer of International Sports Properties, says “team,” each letter seems to flash in neon caps.

“Teamwork is what baseball is all about: TEAM,” Chestnut explains. He looks out onto his baby, the Yarkon Sports Complex at the Baptist Village, the only regulation field in Israel. It is complete with night lighting, dugouts, fences, stands, a batting cage, pitching machines, scoreboards, bathrooms and a kiosk that sells hot dogs and hamburgers when there are more than two events going on simultaneously. “TEAM stands for Together Everyone Achieves More.” In a slow, Southern drawl, Chestnut continues to preach. “Sports help you get prepared for life. It teaches you integrity and morals. It builds character. It’s not about the score. It’s about PEOPLE.” This is another Chestnut word in neon caps: “People Encouraging Other People (to) Live Exemplarily.”

The Baptist Village, located between a national park and a strip mall on the outskirts of Petah Tikva, invited Chestnut to develop softball and baseball fields at the Christian retreat center. Today, Chestnut’s business is independent of the village. By 2011, he wants to see the national baseball teams of Russia, Poland and Slovakia come to Israel for their winter practice.

Howie Litz, computer analyst from Kfar Saba and internationally certified umpire, has only praise for Chestnut’s initiative. “Until this year the kids here grew up with Little League baseball, and then they had to go to softball, because they didn’t have anywhere to play,” he says. “Now, with this facility, the seniors can play baseball…. A combination of improving facilities and raising the level of umpiring will further baseball in Israel.” Softball is played on a smaller diamond with a larger ball that is pitched underhand.

Chestnut coaches the Anglican International School’s minor league team; he enjoys that there are children from all over the world on the team, including Jews and Arabs. “I’ve seen it work,” he says. “Sports brings people together.”

The desire to bring people together motivated the Peres Center for Peace, in conjunction with the IAB and Yarkon Sports Complex, to sponsor the first Baseball Peace Clinic at Tel Aviv’s Sportek field on June 19, 2002. Forty Muslim and Christian sixth graders from the Achva School in Jaffa, learned how to play ball with 40 Jewish sixth graders from the Nature, Society and Environment School in Tel Aviv. The Peres Center chose baseball for the multicultural intersection because neither the boys nor the girls knew how to play, and they could learn together as equals.

IAB provided coaches to teach the basic rules to the children in small groups. (“The idea is to hit the ball hard,” urged Maddy-Weitzman to his batting trainees.) For the first hour, each child got to bat, throw, catch and run around the bases, while parents and teachers chatted in the shade nearby. Right before the kids divided into teams, Daniel Kurtzer, the United States ambassador to Israel, visited the peace clinic. He played catch with some of the children and batted out a few high balls. One of the coaches noted his enthusiasm and called to him. “We got a 16-plus senior team in Tel Aviv. You gonna play for us?” Kurtzer, a Yankees fan, smiled, said he’d consider it, and admitted, “This is the most important thing I’m doing today.”

Ron Pundak, director general of the Peres Center, who was pitching to Kurtzer on the field, hopes the peace clinic project will be repeated with other groups. The center would like to develop a mixed Jewish-Arab team.

“This is a small island of sanity,” said sixth-grade teacher Zahava Yariah, describing the event that took place between two suicide bombings in Jerusalem. “The kids want a different kind of experience. They want peace and quiet. Perhaps a larger island will grow from this small island.”

Can playing baseball break down barriers? On Israel’s baseball teams, secular kids play with ultra-Orthodox, rich with poor, Christians with Jews and city kids with kibbutz children. Whether the baseball diamond can serve as the arena in which the conflicting sides in the Middle East struggle forge partnerships remains to be seen. But judging from the spirit and enthusiasm of those already involved, the idea of seeking peace on the diamond is certainly what an Israeli umpire would call a kadur hai, a live ball.

Have Bat, Will Travel
In July 2001, the first year 14- to 16-year-olds were to be included in the youth baseball Maccabiah games in Israel, the competition stayed home due to the intifada. At the last minute, the Israel Association of Baseball arranged for 20 players to participate in the Jewish Community Center Maccabiah Games in Philadelphia.

“We didn’t win any games,” says Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, the team’s coach, “but we were a big hit.”

Last August, Israel sent 14 kids to compete in Omaha, Nebraska, though they didn’t win there, either. Israeli players have represented Israel in tournaments in Poland, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Germany and Great Britain.

“There are more opportunities here than in America for kids,” says Maddy-Weitzman. “The first contact between Israel and Saudi Arabia was on a baseball field in a European Little League tournament. A month before the peace treaty with Jordan, the Israeli National Baseball Team played an exhibition game with the Jordanian National Team. How many Jewish kids in America get to go abroad to play baseball?” —J.L.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

"Talkin' Baseball" doesn't make the cut. Top 10 Baseball Songs

Magazine ranks the top baseball songs of all time, but Terry Cashman's tune is not among the top 10.

By Mike Penner, Los Angeles Times
April 7, 2009

Just in time for opening day, PasteMagazine.com offered its "10 Best Baseball Songs (That Aren't John Fogerty's 'Centerfield')."

And the winners are:
[No. 1] "The Ballad of Russell Perry" by Vigilantes of Love. Said the magazine: "Bill Mallonees' heartfelt tale of a wily, navel-gazing Tennessee fastballer."

[No. 2] "Baseball Dreams" by the Naturals with Mel Allen. "The Run-DMC of baseball music," the magazine said.

[No. 3] "Catfish" by Bob Dylan: "His Bob-ness waxes country-blues poetic on A's pitcher Jim 'Catfish' Hunter." Then,

[No. 4] "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" by Natalie Cole: "An ode to the man who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier." Followed by,

[No. 5] "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" by Steve Goodman: "The most perfect, heartbreaking baseball song ever written."

No. 6: "(Love Is Like a) Baseball Game" by the Intruders: "A curveball from Philly-soul producers Gamble & Huff."

No. 7: "Pete Rose Affinity" by Summer Hymns: "A classic tale of childhood autograph-seeking gone awry."

No. 8: "Say Hey (the Willie Mays Song)" by the Treniers: "Mays actually sings backup on this big-band romp, while Quincy Jones conducts."

No. 9: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" by the Hold Steady: "No one rocks this 7th-inning-stretch tradition like Craig Finn and Co."

No. 10: "Tessie" by Dropkick Murphys: "A punked-out shout-out to Boston's famed Royal Rooters."

From PasteMagazine.com

“Baseball” - Sam Baker

“Baseball Boogie” - Mabel Scott

“Cubs in 5” - Mountain Goats

“The D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song (Oh, Really? No, O’Malley)” - Danny Kaye

“The Fenway” - Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers

“Glory Days” - Bruce Springsteen

“I Love Mickey” - Mickey Mantle & Teresa Brewer

“If You Can’t Make a Hit at the Ballgame, You Can’t Make a Hit with Me” - The National Pastime Orchestra

“Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio” - Les Brown and His Orchestra

“Life is a Ballgame” - Sister Winona Carr

“Move Over Babe (Here Comes Henry)” - Bill Slayback

“Piazza, New York Catcher” - Belle & Sebastian

Many of the super-awesome songs highlighted here can be found on the equally super-awesome 1989 Rhino Records compilation Baseball’s Greatest Hits. Highly recommended for aficionados, this baby goes yard with ducks on the pond.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Telethon Helped Save Dodger Stadium Plan

The Dodgers staged a live, five-hour Dodgerthon on June 1, 1958,
two days before the election, explaining their side of the
“Proposition B” debate on KTTV Channel 11.
Courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of
the USC Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections

by Kitty Felde
From August 05, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website

What was the greatest day in the Dodgers' 50 years in Los Angeles? A fan today might think it was last Thursday, when the team grabbed slugger Manny Ramirez. Most might say the day Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run to win the first game of the 1988 World Series. But how about June 3, 1958? That's the day L.A. voters let Walter O'Malley do what he'd come west to do - build his team the greatest baseball stadium ever. KPCC Special Correspondent Kitty Felde says it's the next chapter in the story of how the Dodgers came to Los Angeles.

Kitty Felde: Fifty years ago, more than 60 percent of the voters in Los Angeles showed up at the polls for the June primary. You can explain that staggering turnout in a single letter – B.

Proposition B was the land swap deal between the city of L.A. and Dodger owner Walter O'Malley. Opponents called it a giveaway, and gathered enough signatures to put it before the taxpaying voters. The late L.A. county supervisor Kenneth Hahn said the battle lines were drawn almost immediately.

Kenneth Hahn:
You're either for O'Malley or against him. You know, you're either for taxes or against them. You're either for smog or against it. It was a really hot political thing.
It was black and white then.
Hahn: Oh, yes

In black and white, here's the deal: the city would hand over Chavez Ravine so O'Malley could build a 50,000 seat stadium. O'Malley would also build and maintain a public recreational area in Elysian Park for 20 years.

And he'd give the city the Wrigley Field ballpark property in South L.A. It was a win-win: a stadium on vacant Chavez Ravine land would produce tax revenue for the city, and profits for O'Malley. But the opposition said the deal would benefit only the Dodgers.

From that came Proposition B. Most of the campaigning was at the grassroots level: speeches at chamber of commerce or homeowners meetings. The Dodgers sent representatives. Politicians on both sides fanned out all over the city.

Roz Wyman:
But the greatest one of all: my little old mother was a spy.

Former L.A. city councilwoman Roz Wyman was the city's point person for the Yes on B campaign.

And we needed to try to know what was going on in the opposition. And when we would see an opposition's meeting we'd say, "Mom, do you want to go?" And she went. And she would sit at the meetings and listen, and maybe make a comment or whatever. And she was just, she was just the best! (laughs) And she was our big spy for what was going on in the referendum.
Walter O'Malley remembered the battle in this 30-year-old interview.

Walter O'Malley:
The campaign was really predicated on misinformation. And even to this day, I meet people and they say, "Well, that was a great gift you got, that land." We bought this land, and on the land which we bought, we changed the elevations of the land, moved 10 million tons of brick and dirt, and built our own stadium, with our own money, without any subsidy, direct or indirect, from Los Angeles.

But things looked bad for O'Malley. An Associated Press poll published 10 days before the election showed Proposition B going down to defeat by a slim margin. O'Malley fought back, using a weapon appreciated in a media savvy town like Los Angeles: television. On the Sunday before the election, O'Malley staged a live five-hour "Dodgerthon" on KTTV, channel 11. Guests included Ronald Reagan, Debbie Reynolds, Jack Benny, Dean Martin...

We really thought that it was terribly important to show broad-based support in the community for baseball. And we really had a wide range of people, not just celebrities.

Again, Roz Wyman.

We put on a fairly good telethon. And it was helpful to get that final vote.

The election on June 3rd, 1958 was just as close as the polls predicted. By a margin of only 25,000 votes out of more than a million cast, Proposition B passed. Chavez Ravine was finally O'Malley's. Next week, the final chapter in our series about how the Dodgers came to Los Angeles.

by Kitty Felde From
August 05, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website
and walteromalley.com

Tense Political Vote Preceded Dodgers' Move West Fifty Years Ago

Chavez Ravine before construction began for Dodger Stadium.
by Kitty Felde
From July 22, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website

It seemed like such a good idea at the time: LA wanted the Dodgers; Brooklyn Dodger owner Walter O'Malley wanted Chavez Ravine for a new stadium; and the city now owned Chavez Ravine, after the plan to build public housing there failed. What could go wrong? KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde continues her series about how the Dodgers came west 50 years ago.

Kitty Felde: When the voters of Los Angeles said "no" to public housing in Chavez Ravine, the city didn't know what to do with the 300 acres there. Build a park, a zoo, a college campus, maybe a cemetery? But then a sheriff's deputy took Dodger owner Walter O'Malley on a helicopter ride in 1957.

The chopper's doors were off, and the pilot tilted the craft so O'Malley could get a better view. He said he'd never been so scared in his life. But as O'Malley peered down at Chavez Ravine, he saw the possibilities for a ballpark.

Bob Hunter: I remember the first time I came out here with him to Chavez Ravine at the time.

Felde: The late "Herald-Examiner" sportswriter Bob Hunter says it was O'Malley who first introduced him to the area.

Hunter: And he said, "Come on. Let's go out there." And I said, "Well I don't know where it is," which is the truth. We had to get some instructions, how to– I remember a little gas station on Sunset Boulevard, we inquired, and drove down into it.

Felde: O'Malley had worked as an engineer for the city of New York. He envisioned a stadium carved into the ravine's hillsides. He even envisioned, accurately, as it turned out, that eight-million cubic yards of dirt would have to be moved to build that stadium. The L.A. City Council could envision the tax revenue it would get. So the city proposed selling Chavez Ravine to the Dodger owner. Former City Councilwoman Roz Wyman says that's when the fireworks began.

Roz Wyman: This land was, on one breath, the most valuable land in the world. And then in another breath, it was worth nothing.

Felde: Bob Hunter spent nearly a year at City Hall covering the story.

Hunter: And they argued about, not only the oil rights, and then they argued about the air rights, whatever the air rights are, maybe the airplane flying over, I don't know, but they argued about everything.

Felde: The fight culminated in a showdown on October 7th, 1957. The City Council proposed a land swap. O'Malley would get 300 acres of Chavez Ravine in exchange for Wrigley Field, the ballpark at 42nd and Avalon, for the minor league L.A. Angels. O'Malley agreed to spend up to half a million dollars for a recreation area in Elysian Park.

The city agreed to spend two million to prep Chavez Ravine for construction. L.A. County agreed to spend three million for roads. The deal needed 10 votes out the 15 city council members to pass, but those 10 were hard to find. For one thing, O'Malley was being cagey about cutting off all his ties to New York. Again, Roz Wyman.

Wyman: We had never had a definitive thing that said, "I am coming." It was never that clear. And any statement, you can go through anything he ever said, and you won't find it in New York, or our papers, or anywhere.

Felde: The night of the vote, Wyman spoke on the phone to O'Malley.

Wyman: And that last night I said, Walter – I said Mr. O'Malley. I said tell us, I'm going to the floor, we are– it was a night, we had a night session. And I said I'd like to say you're coming. And he said, Mrs. Wyman, I'm grateful for everything you've done. I'm grateful for everything the mayor has done. But I have to tell you, if I could get my deal in New York, I'd rather stay in New York.

I said, "My God! I can't go to the council." And he said, "I think everything's right for me there, in L.A." He said a lot of positive things. So I decided that I never would really tell the council, to tell you the truth, what that conversation was, unless I was asked. But my colleagues never said, "Well, did he say he was absolutely coming?" so I never had to answer it. 'Cause I really felt, if I had to say that, I would not have gotten the 10 votes.

Felde: Wyman got the 10 votes. And on the next day, October 8th, 1957, Dodger executive Red Patterson broke the news to Brooklyn that the team was moving to Los Angeles. But the fight wasn't over for O'Malley yet. There were lawsuits to be settled. A handful of families refused to leave their homes in Chavez Ravine and had to be removed, on television. And the land swap ended up on the ballot for a vote. The late County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn put it this way:

Kenneth Hahn: To be for baseball was at that time, in certain council districts, would be almost be for putting a toxic dump in your backyard.

Felde: Next week, we'll look at L.A.'s mixed emotions about bringing the Dodgers to Chavez Ravine.

by Kitty Felde
From July 22, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website

and walteromalley.com

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Chavez Ravine Residents Fought to Save Homes

by Kitty Felde
From July 08, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website

One of the wonders of Dodger Stadium is the fact that it's surrounded by freeways. Fans leaving the stadium can jump on the Pasadena, the Golden State or Hollywood Freeways. It was those freeways that first attracted Walter O'Malley to the land; but it would be a long battle before the Dodger owner could finally build in Chavez Ravine. In part five of her series, KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde tells the tale of the battle of Chavez Ravine.

Kitty Felde: There was a housing boom in Southern California after the Second World War, and not just the dozens of suburbs that sprung up like mushrooms. There was also a public housing boom, courtesy of the federal government.

Los Angeles decided to spend some of its money on high rises in the hills of Chavez Ravine. But there already were homes in Chavez Ravine, and homeowners who weren't happy about getting evicted to make room for those high rises. Charlotte Negrete-White wrote her doctoral thesis on the ravine.

Charlotte Negrete-White: Often times in history books we hear about families or certain ethnicities just being bowled over, but in fact, the people of Chavez Ravine, they banded together.

Felde: Many of them were poor, the children of Mexican immigrants. They collected signatures on petitions and went to city hall meetings. And they found an unlikely ally in real estate developers. Negrete-White says the group called itself CASH.

Negrete-White: The Citizens Against Socialist Housing, it was just really an interesting acronym. And they sided with the residents because real estate, for one, didn't want what they termed "socialist housing," nor federally subsidized housing.

Felde: It was the era of Joe McCarthy, stoking fears that Communists lurking around every corner. Even in L.A. City Hall. The late Frank Wilkinson was the city's Assistant Housing Director. Wilkinson said he was at another in a long series of eminent domain hearings, when a question was aimed at him.

Frank Wilkinson: One of the lawyers for the slum landlords turned to me, and this man turned to me and said "Now, Mr. Wilkinson, will you please tell us all organizations, political or otherwise, you've belonged to since 1931."

Felde: Wilkinson said he was surprised since he was a Republican, even a Youth for Herbert Hoover organizer in the 1930s. He suspected it was racial politics at play. The U.S. Supreme Court had just struck down race-based property rules that said who could live where.

Wilkinson, who was the driving force behind the public housing high rises planned for Chavez Ravine, had vowed they would be integrated. Whatever the motive, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI put Wilkinson under a microscope. He was drummed out of L.A.'s housing department. Former L.A. City Councilwoman Roz Wyman says the war was on.

Roz Wyman: That public housing fight got involved in the mayor's race of 1953 between Mayor Bowron, who was the incumbent, and Congressman Paulson, who ran against him. And there was a referendum on the ballot at the same time of that mayoralty election. The referendum was over the public housing site in the ravine. And anyway, to make a long story short on that, the people of the city voted down, at that time, that form of public housing.

Felde: But for the families of Chavez Ravine, it was too late. The federal government had already used eminent domain to take their land. Most houses were vacant. Only about a dozen families remained. But their memories of that community are still strong and clear. Next week, we'll hear stories from some of the former residents of Chavez Ravine.

by Kitty Felde
From July 08, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website
and walteromalley.com

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Helicopter Ride Led Dodgers to Chavez Ravine

On May 2, 1957, Dodger owner Walter O'Malley takes a 50-minute helicopter ride to view prospective sites for Dodger Stadium. From left is Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn; Undersheriff Peter Pitchess; Del Webb, co-owner of the New York Yankees; O'Malley; and pilot Capt. Sewell Griggers at Biscailuz Center. Only O'Malley and Capt. Griggers took the helicopter ride over the Los Angeles area in the two-seat Sheriff's helicopter. It was only O'Malley's third visit to Los Angeles.
by Kitty Felde
From July 01, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website

Fifty years ago this week, more than 66,000 fans showed up at the Coliseum to watch the Dodgers play the St. Louis Cardinals in a doubleheader. In their first season in L.A., the Dodgers were a box office hit at the Coliseum; but they figured to be a bigger sensation near the Arroyo Seco, a few miles north. In part four of her series about the Dodgers' move west, KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde explains how Dodger Stadium ended up in Chavez Ravine.

Kitty Felde: In early 1957, Walter O'Malley wasn't telling the world he planned to move the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. But he took a big step in that direction. He bought the minor league L.A. Angels, and with them, the right to put a team in Los Angeles.

He bought the ballpark, too: Wrigley Field in South L.A. But it held less than 20,000 fans. Not enough for the Dodgers. So in May of 1957, O'Malley came to L.A. to scout locations for a new ballpark. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn drafted a sheriff's helicopter to give O'Malley the grand tour.

Jim Hahn: They flew the helicopter over Wrigley Field and looked at it, and as they were turning around also they flew over the Coliseum, but then they flew over Chavez Ravine.

Felde: Former L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn is the son of the late county supervisor. He remembers his father's stories about that day.

Jim Hahn:What was amazing to me, what my dad said was amazing to him, is that he thought O'Malley, being from New York City, wouldn't understand what freeways were. But he instantly saw all these freeways coming together at the famous four level, or "the stack" as we call it here downtown, and saw this big piece of vacant land, kind of a big hole there, and he said, "Well what's that?" And my dad said, "Well, that's Chavez Ravine. The city was going to build public housing there, but nothing ever happened with it." And O'Malley said, "I think you could put a ballpark in there."

Felde: The only problem was the 300 acres of Chavez Ravine weren't quite vacant. The ravine was named for Julian Chavez, who got it through a Mexican land grant. Chavez came to Los Angeles in the 1830s, after backing the wrong side in a revolution. Two decades later, when California joined the United States, Chavez became a successful L.A. city councilman and a county supervisor.

Charlotte Negrete-White: A man of honor in the city.

Felde: Charlotte Negrete-White was born in Chavez Ravine and wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on its history. She says it was another revolution that sent the next wave of immigrants to Chavez Ravine. When Mexican President Porfirio Diaz was overthrown in 1911, Negrete-White says a flood of refugees streamed over the U.S. border.

Negrete-White: If a family happened to ally themselves either with the revolutionarios or the federalistas, if you said the wrong one, you could be shot right on the spot. So people left.

Felde: Many of those refugees came to Los Angeles, and camped out on the banks of the L.A. River. L.A. lawyer Marshal Stimson, who owned property in Chavez Ravine, sold parcels of land very cheaply to these new immigrants. Negrete-White says the immigrants built houses and created a tight-knit community.

Negrete-White: Chavez Ravine was a rural, remote area somewhat removed from downtown. And they didn't seem to be bothering anybody, the city wasn't that interested in that region. So they came and they settled.

Felde: Electricity, sewers, and other services were spotty, and political clout at city hall was nil. Chavez Ravine was largely ignored. Until 1949. After the Second World War, the nation faced a severe housing shortage.

Congress passed a bill to tear down slums and build nearly a million new low income housing units all over the U.S. Los Angeles was promised $110 million. The late Frank Wilkinson was L.A.'s Assistant Housing Director.

Frank Wilkinson: We went out for three months and toured the city of L.A. both by air and by land to pick sites for the new housing. We wanted to look with our own eyes to make decisions.

Felde: Just like O'Malley would a few years later, Wilkinson focused on Chavez Ravine. Architect Richard Neutra designed two dozen 13-story towers that would rise above the city. The "Elysian Park Heights" project would house 17,000 Angelenos.

In July of 1950, a letter to the families of Chavez Ravine said surveyors would drop by to assess the value of their homes. For those who qualified for public housing, Wilkinson dangled the possibility of a brand new, Neutra-designed high rise apartment.

Wilkinson: I promised every person on that land, a letter, you'll be first in line.

Felde: But most residents didn't want to leave. Next week, we'll talk about the battle for Chavez Ravine.

by Kitty Felde
From July 01, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website
and walteromalley.com

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Walter O'Malley Was Influential in Bringing Dodgers to LA

by Kitty Felde
From June 24, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website

Lots of people helped bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles 50 years ago, but the late Dodger owner Walter O'Malley was the only one with the vision and the business smarts to make it happen. The New York Irishman, who's still loathed in Brooklyn, out-maneuvered politicians on both coasts to find a bigger audience for his "Boys in Blue." In part three of her series on the Dodgers' move west, KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde profiles the old Irishman who brought big league baseball to L.A.

Kitty Felde: The late Dodger owner Walter Francis O'Malley grew up in New York cheering for... the Giants. He watched games at the Giants' home park, the old Polo Grounds, near his boyhood home in the Bronx. O'Malley played some baseball in school, until he was hit in the nose with a ball and gave it up for good.

Walter O'Malley: I also was handicapped by the fact that I wore glasses, and at that time, there weren't many ballplayers who wore glasses.

Felde: At the University of Pennsylvania, O'Malley was elected president of the junior and senior classes. He didn't dance, but he ran the school dances and made quite a profit. The late L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn remembered O'Malley as a tough negotiator.

Kenneth Hahn: A very tough business man. Work out with the pencils in dollars and cents. Very shrewd. You couldn't put anything over him. And he had an eye on the game, but an eye on the cash register, too.

Felde: O'Malley's engineering classes in college came in handy. He got a job as an engineer for the City of New York during the day and attended law school at Fordham University at night. Former L.A. City Councilwoman Roz Wyman says that's where he met the love of his life, Kay Hanson.

Roz Wyman: They were engaged, and she had a cancerous throat thing and she had to remove her box, her larynx, her speaking. And I'm sure a young man, many young men in that day and age, would say, what do I want to get into this? You know, maybe marriage, and how will it work? I mean, it was a beautiful love affair between Kay and Walter O'Malley. It was beautiful.

Felde: O'Malley's legal work introduced him to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He'd had season tickets for years so he could entertain clients. But in the late 1930s the ball club owed money to a lot of people, including some clients of O'Malley's law firm.

In 1943, O'Malley became the Dodgers' general counsel. He started buying stock in the ball club, and in 1950, O'Malley bought out Branch Rickey to become the majority owner of the Dodgers. That was the same year the team hired a new broadcaster, a red-headed college kid fresh out of Fordham named Vin Scully.

Vin Scully: Walter O'Malley was everybody's best friend. He was like my extra father. He was warm, genial, jovial. His favorite day, if anybody asked me about a Walter O'Malley favorite day, would be to get up very early and plant. He loved the earth, he loved to grow things, he was an orchid fancier.

He loved to be out on his hands and knees, digging and planting bushes, and doing all of that. Then, he would love to play golf, he would love to watch a ballgame, he would love to have maybe a steak dinner, and then he'd love to play poker with the boys. I mean, he was just that kind of a man.

Wyman: Walter O'Malley was a Democrat. Never changed, the richest, the richer he got.

Felde: Again, Roz Wyman.

Wyman: Walter O'Malley and I used to love to talk Democratic politics. He, as I say, was devoted to his family, but yet he was a hunter, and a golfer, and a storyteller, and an Irish drinker! (laughs) I mean, he had it all.

Felde: All except a new ballpark with enough parking for Dodger fans. In October of 1956, Walter O'Malley stopped off in Los Angeles on his way back from a Brooklyn Dodger exhibition tour in Japan. He met secretly with L.A. County Supervisor Hahn. It was the first of several clandestine meetings to discuss exactly where the Dodgers might build a ballpark if they came west.

Hahn: Walter O'Malley said to me, I'll deny even meeting you, and I'll deny even saying we're gonna go, because, he says, the Brooklyn Dodger fans, the bums, are so loyal or vicious, or whatever he said, I think, he said they'll murder me if I tell them I'm leaving. So he says I have another season to play, and I'm gonna deny it, because I got a whole 'nother season to go there.

Felde: Hahn and O'Malley started talking, and a plan to move to Los Angeles began to take shape. Next Tuesday, we'll find out exactly how the Dodgers ended up building a stadium just north of Chinatown, in Chavez Ravine.

by Kitty Felde
From June 24, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website
and walteromalley.com

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

LA's Baseball Team Almost Became the 'Senators'

by Kitty Felde
From June 10, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website

Most of us in Southern California came here from someplace else. Fifty years ago, L.A.'s most famous sports transplants, the Dodgers, unpacked their bats and gloves to settle in the Southland from Brooklyn. In the second of a seven-part series, KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde tells the tale of how the Dodgers came to L.A. fifty years ago.

Kitty Felde: In the 1950s, Manhattan was the center of the universe. Chicago was "Second City." And Los Angeles? Well, L.A. boosters, like former City Councilwoman Roz Wyman, had big plans.
Roz Wyman: I felt that you were not a big league city unless you had big league sports. Because I had done some studying, and I found that major corporations especially, one of the things that they ask before they come and settle in your community was what kind of arts and what kind of sports did you have?

Felde: But not everyone was a true believer. The late L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn talked about that in an interview 20 years ago.

Kenneth Hahn: Everybody said Los Angeles was not ready to be a big city. Not ready for major league baseball. But there was a baseball writer named Vincent X. Flaherty at the old "Los Angeles Examiner" who was an absolute fan. And everything he wrote, thought, and talked about was bringing a major league team.

Felde: By the fall of 1956, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors got into the act. Hahn, the youngest board member, was dispatched to the World Series to see if he could bring a major league team to Southern California. Hahn flew to New York for the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Hahn: Vincent Flaherty was going back to cover, so we went back together. And he says, "Now, Kenny, you'll never get a winner to come to Los Angeles. Let's go for the bottom of the league." I said, "Great." He said, "Well I know Calvin Griffith."

Felde: Calvin Griffith owned the hapless Washington Senators. The team was so awful, it inspired "Damn Yankees," the Broadway musical about a Washington fan who sells his soul to the devil to get his team to the World Series.

Felde: Griffith, like every baseball owner, had taken note of the Braves' move from Boston to Milwaukee a few years earlier. The team was now drawing a National League record two-million fans a year.

A secret meeting was set up at Toots Shor's, the famous Manhattan sports saloon. Griffith seemed interested in L.A. and Hahn was ready to head home with news that the Senators might come west. But at the ballpark the next day, Hahn said he was handed a message on a napkin.

Hahn: He said, "Don't make any deal with Calvin Griffith. I want to see you when I come to Los Angeles. I'm interested." And it was signed "Walter O'Malley."

Felde: That might not be exactly the way it happened. But Hahn, somehow or another, came back to Los Angeles with the idea that O'Malley might be interested in coming west. The Dodger boss had been touting a futuristic domed stadium in Brooklyn to replace the cramped and aging Ebbets Field.

But New York's powerful city planner Robert Moses wanted O'Malley to build in Queens. Queens! The owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers was appalled. Here's Walter O'Malley in an interview 30 years ago:

Walter O'Malley: We wanted to stay in Brooklyn, but we had exhausted a 10-year campaign to make it possible for us to buy land and to build a ballpark with adequate parking. When we struck out on that, it appeared that we had our choice of going to San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Felde: Horace Stoneham, the owner of the New York Giants, had his own attendance and parking lot problems. O'Malley said he heard Stoneham was closing in on a deal to move his ballpark to Minnesota.

O'Malley: And I told him if he went to Minneapolis and I stayed in Brooklyn, the old Giant-Dodger rivalry would be dead. And maybe both of us should consider moving, and I told him there were possibilities in both San Francisco and in Los Angeles. He expressed a strong feeling toward San Francisco. I said, "Well, that's fine. We'll go to Los Angeles."

Felde: Again, that's not exactly how it happened. O'Malley was talking to L.A. officials before he heard that the Giants might leave town. But the telling of the tale says a lot about Walter O'Malley. Next Tuesday, we'll tell you more about the old Irishman, the most hated man in Brooklyn.

by Kitty Felde
From June 10, 2008
89.3 KPCC Website
and walteromalley.com