Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Only One Player Has Won MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year

And That Player is Don Newcombe

Dodger Pitcher Don Newcombe, center, pictured with
Jackie Robinson, left, and Roy Campanella


The first outstanding black pitcher in ML history, Newcombe is the only player to have won the Rookie of the Year, MVP, and Cy Young Awards. Physically imposing, the 6'4" 220-lb Newk was sometimes criticized as lethargic, but his explosive fastball was likened by Ted Williams to those of AL stars Bob Feller and Virgil Trucks. He anchored the pitching rotation for the "Boys of Summer" Dodgers and was one of baseball's dominant forces from 1949 to 1956.

After one season with the Negro League Newark Eagles, Newcombe signed with the Dodgers, arriving in Brooklyn in 1949. He immediately helped the Dodgers to a pennant. He shut out the Reds 3-0 in his May 22 debut and finished 17-8, 3.17, with a league-leading five shutouts. In the heat of the pennant race, which the Dodgers won by a single game over the Cardinals, Newcombe pitched 32 consecutive scoreless innings. He was named Rookie of the Year by both TSN and the BBWAA.

Newk was a strong 19-11 in his sophomore season, but on the last day of the season suffered the first of many late-season failures that would plague his otherwise outstanding career. Brooklyn needed a win to force a playoff with the Phillies when Newcombe served up a tenth-inning three-run homer to Dick Sisler to lose 4-1. Newk rebounded to go 20-9 in 1951, fanning a NL-high 164, and shut out the Phillies on the second-to-last day of the season to help force a three-game playoff with the Giants. He started Game Three, and appeared headed for a victory, the WS, and redemption from the previous year with a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth. He left the game with two runnners on base, and Bobby Thomson won the pennant for the Giants with a three-run home run.

After two years in the military, Brooklyn's number 36 suffered a disappointing 1954 (9-8, 4.55), but returned to form in 1955, going 20-5, 3.20. He peaked the following year, with a sterling 27-7 record, five shutouts, and a 3.06 ERA, and was named NL MVP and recipient of the first-ever Cy Young Award, then given to only one pitcher each year (rather than one from each league).

In addition to his success on the mound, Newk was a threat at the plate, with a powerful left-handed stroke and a lifetime .271 average (9th best ever among pitchers). In 1955 he hit .359 with 7 home runs (a NL record for pitchers), including two two-home-run games. He hit two homers in a game a third time the next year, and found a place as a first baseman in Japan when his ML pitching days were over.

Still, the postseason was a personal nightmare for the usually dominating Newcombe. He pitched well in his first WS outing, fanning 11 and allowing only 4 hits in Game One of the 1949 Series, only to lose 1-0 on Tommy Henrich's ninth-inning homer. In his four other WS starts he allowed 20 earned runs in 14 innings. (FK)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Keeper of Giants' Bats and of Team's History

Michael Maloney/San Francisco Chronicle
The Giants' equipment manager, Mike Murphy,
with the first pitch of the 2008 home opener.

New York Times; November 3, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — He has cleaned Willie Mays’s spikes, ordered bats for Barry Bonds, rubbed baseballs for Juan Marichal, and this week had Champagne poured on him by Matt Cain. If anyone embodies the 52-year endurance test the San Francisco Giants underwent to reach baseball’s summit, it is Mike Murphy.

Murph, as he is called, has been with the club since its first season in the Bay Area in 1958, first as a bat boy, later as a visiting clubhouse attendant and finally, from 1980 on, as the equipment manager. No one else can match his longevity, which is why the Giants owner Bill Neukom handed Murphy the World Series trophy in the hallway of The Ballpark in Arlington last Monday night and gave him the privilege of taking it to the crazed players waiting in the center of the clubhouse.

But as Cain, Tim Lincecum and the Series most valuable player, Edgar Renteria, danced and partied, Murphy retreated to a side hallway and thought about the young player he met on his first day on the job in 1958, the man he would come to embrace as a close friend for as many years and days as there has been a San Francisco Giants baseball team.

“I’m thinking about Willie Mays,” Murphy said through tears. “I met Willie that first day and we bonded for over 50 years now, and he calls me and I call him. In fact, I’m going to call him right now if I can find my phone. I’m going to tell him, ‘Willie, I’m on top of the world, just like you.’ ”

While some fans, and maybe even some former players, have witnessed every season of the San Francisco Giants’ history, no one has seen more of it than Murphy — not Willie McCovey, not even Mays.

No one has been through more of the heartbreak from a field-level perspective, from the Game 7 losses in the 1962 and 2002 World Series to the earthquake that turned the 1989 Series upside down. Murphy, 68, was here when the Giants lost 100 games in 1985, and for seven seasons, including 2008, when they lost 90 or more.

“I was here in the bad times,” said Murphy, who is a grandfather and lives in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco. “I wasn’t sure this would ever happen. Maybe someday in the future. I guess the future is now.”

A native of San Francisco, Murphy was a high school bat boy for the Class AAA San Francisco Seals from 1954-57. His life changed in 1958, when major league baseball arrived in the form of the Giants, who had migrated west from Manhattan and played for two seasons at Seals Stadium before moving into Candlestick Park in 1960.

“I was working with the Seals and we won the pennant that year,” Murphy said, “and the Giants came in and the next thing you know I was there. Imagine that.”

On his first day on the job with the Giants, Murphy met arguably the game’s greatest player in Mays. But there was also Marichal, McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou and, years later, Bonds. With so much talent on the Giants over the decades, there were any number of seasons when Murphy, like so many fans in San Francisco, had hope.

But in the end none of those stars could do what this team of retreads and great young pitchers did. And when San Francisco finally won, Murphy was as much a part of it as anyone.

Bonds, in a congratulatory note to the team on his Web site, made particular mention of Murphy, and General Manager Brian Sabean said he was almost brought to tears thinking of him.

“When I saw him on the field afterward, I got teary-eyed,” Sabean said in the jubilant clubhouse. “Murph is as important to this organization as anyone. He makes all the players feel so comfortable in a family way, and that should not be overlooked.”

A few minutes later, Murphy had made his phone call to Mays. Asked how Mays sounded, Murphy smiled and said, “Very happy.”

Then he turned to a clubhouse attendant and pointed to some bags. There was equipment to be loaded onto a truck. Still drenched from the champagne, Murphy was back at work.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Adios Pelota, Goodbye Baseball

Members of the San Francisco Giants gather on the pitching mound
as they celebrate defeating the Rangers in Game 5 on Monday
night, clinching the World Series title.
(Brian Snyder / Reuters / November 2, 2010)

Adios Pelota.  Those words were uttered by ESPN radio announcer Jon Miller when the San Francisco Giant Edgar Renteria's homerun cleared the left field fence. That three run blast, which broke the scoreless tie against the Texas Rangers in the seventh inning of game five of the 2010 World Series, was against the opposing ace Cliff Lee.

So the drought is over, San Francisco can now celebrate their World Series victory, the first ever in the 56 year history of baseball in the City by the Bay. Who are the players who struggled for years in San Francisco, getting close in 1962, 1989, and 2002; only to lose to the NY Yankees, Oakland A’s, and Anaheim Angels respectively?

Here is a sample list of players, some Hall of Famers, some no namers; a couple of fathers and sons too.  A few were lucky enough to win a title either before or after their stay in San Francisco.  Hopefully the others can enjoy a bit of the warmth that a World Series title can spread.

Willie Mays
Mike McCormick
Red Schoendienst
Bill White
Jim Davenport
Orlando Cepeda
Willie McCovey
Juan Marichal
Don Blasingame
Matty Alou
Felipe Alou and son Moises Alou
Jesus Alou
Manny Mota
Jim Ray Hart
Tom Haller
Gaylord Perry
Joe Morgan
Dave Dravecky
Jose Uribe
Steve Finley
Will Clark
Matt Williams
Brett Butler
Bob Brenly
Jeff Kent
J.T. Snow
Rich Aurilia
Bobby Bonds and son Barry Bonds

What do they say, timing is everything; while the city of San Francisco was celebrating shortly after the last out Monday evening, their former hero and home run hitter Barry Bonds was getting a traffic ticket in Beverly Hills for talking on his cell phone while driving.