Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bob Uecker Is Still On the Active Roster

Associated Press
Johnny Carson dubbed him 'Mr. Baseball.'
But it is in Milwaukee that the 76-year-old has achieved icon status.

Wall Street Journal
Maryvale, Ariz.

'Who's chuckin' today?"

That's all the pregame preparation Milwaukee Brewers radio broadcaster Bob Uecker put in before the start of a recent spring-training game between the Brewers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But entering his 41st season in the booth for his hometown ball club, he was more than ready.

"It's all up here," he said, tapping the side of his head.

"Up here" can be an interesting place. Mr. Uecker is in a league of his own when it comes to baseball play-by-play men. Part comic, part encyclopedia, he can recall an amazing number of pertinent facts when the game is on the line, and have a heck of a lot of fun when it isn't. His crazy side tends to win out more often than not.

Most of his humor is self-deprecating, like his oft-repeated line that during his playing career he once went "O-for-June."

"I never make fun of the players," he said. "I make fun of situations and try and find the humor in things, but it's never at the expense of the other guy."

No one's more amazed than Mr. Uecker that he's hung around baseball this long. When he speaks to Little League groups, he says to parents, "Hey, if I can make it, your kid's got a shot."

Mr. Uecker was born in Milwaukee, but in the Uecker mind simple facts take on a life of their own. By his telling, he was born on an oleo run to Illinois because the family couldn't get colored margarine in Wisconsin.

"I remember it was a nativity-type setting," he said during his 2003 acceptance speech for the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. "An exit light shining down. There were three truck drivers there. One guy was carrying butter, one guy had frankfurters and the other guy was a retired baseball scout who told my folks that I probably had a chance to play somewhere down the line."

He grew up watching the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers. In 1956, he signed with the major-league Milwaukee Braves, which had relocated from Boston in 1953. His playing career, which spanned four teams, including the 1964 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, was less than stellar. He's still in the top 10 for most passed balls by a catcher in a season (1967). But in his defense, he was catching for Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro, whose specialty was the knuckleball, a very difficult ball to catch. After retiring in 1967, Mr. Uecker was briefly a scout for the Brewers. But he was notorious for turning in reports that were unreadable and covered with food stains.

"I knew then that he wasn't going to make it as a scout," said former Brewers team owner Bud Selig, now the commissioner of Major League Baseball. "So we decided to try him as a broadcaster."

Mr. Uecker quickly became a fan favorite. He gained nationwide fame as one of the Miller Lite All Stars in an ad campaign during the 1970s and '80s for Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Co.; as Harry Doyle, the play-by-play man in all three "Major League" films; as George Owens on the 1985-90 sitcom "Mr. Belvedere"; and as a frequent guest on "The Tonight Show," where Johnny Carson dubbed him "Mr. Baseball."

But that national recognition pales next to the icon status Mr. Uecker has achieved in Milwaukee, which he dismisses with an "aw shucks" wave of the hand.

"He's such a big part of summer in Wisconsin," said Brewers infielder Craig Counsell, who grew up in Whitefish Bay. "It's really almost like he's a friend or a member of your family."

His "family" was shaken last year when Mr. Uecker announced the first of two heart surgeries on April 27. In classic Ueckerian fashion, he started the press conference by saying, "I have been added to the active roster."

He was out for three months and underwent a second heart operation in October, but is now "doing better than I was a few months ago." And by all measures, for a guy who just turned 76, he is.

Walking into the radio booth at the Brewers' spring-training facility about a half hour before game time, Mr. Uecker was well tanned and wearing white slacks, a polo shirt, ball cap and sunglasses. It wasn't until about 10 seconds before airtime that he turned to his on-air partner and straight man, 32-year-old Cory Provus, and asked who was pitching.

A foul tip to catcher Wil Nieves started a half-inning dialogue about how catching—and the game—has changed. In Mr. Uecker's day, he told Mr. Provus and the listening audience, catchers caught with two hands, and the mitts were rounder but didn't provide much padding.

"I used to soak my mitts in a bucket of water for about two days. Then I'd put a couple of baseballs in the pocket and wrap it up with a rubber band," Mr. Uecker said before updating the pitch count. "Today you don't have to do that, because catchers' mitts are more like first baseman's gloves."

And that's how each broadcast goes. A bevy of classic Uecker stories, interspersed with facts and figures—batting averages, RBIs, home runs—that he doesn't need to look up.

"The game hasn't changed," Mr. Uecker said in a pregame interview, "but the circumstances around it have."

He doesn't like the playoff system, thinks fans expect their team to win "more than is humanly possible," and thinks St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Albert Pujols's request for a $300 million, 10-year contract is no more ridiculous than some of the pay CEOs receive.

"Do the CEOs deserve all the money they make? If Albert can get it, good for him. But I wouldn't want to be paying him $30 million when he's 41."

Forget 10 years. What does he want fans to think about Bob Uecker in 100 years?

"That I'm still workin'."

Asked what it's like to work alongside Mr. Uecker, Mr. Provus said, "He's the best remedy for a bad day."

I suspect that's how a lot of the listeners back in Milwaukee feel.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A screwball chain of events led the Dodgers to Fernando Valenzuela

A 1976 semipro game in East L.A. in which Bobby Castillo, left, struck out
Mike Brito ultimately led to Brito's discovering Fernando Valenzuela.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
The Dodgers might never have discovered the pitcher who inspired Fernandomania and helped them to World Series glory 30 years ago, if not for an unlikely string of occurrences that began in 1976 during a semipro game at an East L.A. rec center.

Jerry Crowe, Los Angeles Times

March 27, 2011

One of the most pivotal at-bats in Dodgers history also ranks among the least known.

Had it never happened, Fernando Valenzuela might never have pitched for the Dodgers and Fernandomania might never have gripped the Southland as it did 30 years ago this spring.

"It's like a movie script," Mike Brito says.

Brito played a starring role in a 1976 drama that unfolded not in Dodger Stadium or any other major league park, but rather on a dusty diamond in East Los Angeles.

The batter was Brito, the pitcher Bobby "Babo" Castillo.

Castillo would later pitch for the Dodgers and Brito, he of the ubiquitous cigar and Panama hat, would gain fame as perhaps the most recognizable scout in baseball.

But at the time, Castillo was a recently released ex-minor leaguer. He'd been told by the Kansas City Royals that, as a third-base prospect, he was no longer wanted and that, despite his success at Lincoln High and L.A. Valley College, he was too short at 5 feet 10 to pitch in the major leagues.

Brito, a Mexican League scout, was a former Washington Senators farmhand and Mexican League veteran.

They were playing in a semipro game at Evergreen Recreation Center in Boyle Heights when Brito, 21 years older than the pitcher, stepped to the plate in the ninth inning.

What happened next, they say, not only altered their lives but would eventually affect Valenzuela too. It triggered a series of events that landed both Castillo and Valenzuela in the majors, provided a plum assignment for Brito and led to Valenzuela's learning his signature pitch from Castillo.

After Brito laced a long drive into left field that landed only inches foul, Castillo struck him out with a screwball that fooled Brito so badly, Castillo says, "He almost hurt his back."

So impressed was Brito that he cornered Castillo afterward to inquire about the pitch that had made him look foolish.

"Next thing I know," Castillo says, "I get a phone call from him asking if I want to go to Mexico as a pitcher."

When Castillo thrived in Mexico, Brito says, it didn't sit well with then-Dodgers general manager Al Campanis, who wondered how a local kid who'd grown up practically in the shadow of Dodger Stadium could escape from under the Dodgers' noses.

Campanis called Brito and offered him a job as a scout — provided Brito could deliver Castillo to the Dodgers.

Castillo made his Dodgers debut in 1977. A year later, in Mexico, Brito caught his first glimpse of Valenzuela, leading to the Dodgers' buying the pitcher out of his contract in 1979 and assigning him to Lodi of the Class-A California League.

Brito, however, says that Campanis was angered anew when Brito told the executive he was worried about Valenzuela's velocity and suggested that he needed to develop an off-speed pitch.

"Campanis got [ticked] off," Brito says, laughing. "He said, 'How come you didn't tell me that before when you made a good report on him and you were in love with him so much?'"

Brito calmed his boss by suggesting that a possible option for Valenzuela would be to learn a screwball from Castillo.

Castillo says he first learned the pitch from his Lincoln High coaches, Carl Brio and Dave Chavez, and in Arizona after the 1979 season, he taught it to Valenzuela.

"He didn't speak English and I didn't speak Spanish that well," Castillo says, "but we did communicate. He caught on quickly. It was like it was meant for him."

Says Brito, "I'm not lying to you: Within a week, Fernando was throwing the screwball as good as Babo."

In 1980, after a trip to Texas to check on Valenzuela's progress at double-A San Antonio, Brito reported to Campanis that the left-hander's mastery of the pitch was "unbelievable."

Valenzuela, though, says it wasn't all that simple.

"The first half [in 1980], it wasn't going that well," he told Times reporter Dylan Hernandez. "I said, 'I don't want to throw it anymore. I want to go back to what I do.' They told me, 'No. We don't care about your record. We don't care how many games you win. We want you to keep practicing it.'

"By the second half, it was a lot better. By then, I had good rotation on it and good control."

Called up to the majors in September 1980, Valenzuela made 10 relief appearances down the stretch and did not give up an earned run in 172/3 innings. In 1981, as a 20-year-old rookie, he touched off a cultural phenomenon when he opened the season with a shutout and won his first eight decisions, five by shutout.

Carl Hubbell, a Hall of Famer who'd retired in the early 1940s, told reporters, "He's got the best screwball since mine."

By season's end, the Mexican icon was the National League's rookie of the year and Cy Young Award winner and the Dodgers were World Series champions.

"To have a teammate be as successful as he was, and to know I had something to do with it," Castillo says, "it was awesome."

But it might never have happened if Castillo hadn't retired Brito on a Sunday in Boyle Heights five years earlier.

"If I would have got a hit, I never would have signed Babo," says Brito, who has since signed about 90 other players, 31 of whom have reached the majors. "And if I hadn't signed Babo, I would never have worked for the Dodgers and maybe Fernando never would have been in the picture."

Back then, of course, nobody could have known that — and Castillo says his only motivation was to avoid embarrassment.

"I didn't want this old man to beat me," he says.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Joe DiMaggio, A Star With The Power of Silence

Hulton Archive/Getty Images - In a new biography of Joe DiMaggio, author
Jerome Charyn writes that "there was a kind of heartbreak, as we worried that he
might disappear in that enormous expanse of space ... that the leaping gazelle we
saw was some aberration, a phantom put there by our own wish to create some
creature more perfect than ourselves. No fellow human being could
possibly look that good, but DiMaggio did."
NPR - March 26, 2011
For a couple of generations, Joe DiMaggio symbolized the word class. He was called the Yankee Clipper because he seemed to glide across the baseball field: stately, graceful and powerful. He set an untouchable baseball record of hits in 56 consecutive games, and he married Marilyn Monroe, who quickly jilted him even as he remained devoted to her through sickness, health and death.
But DiMaggio never appeared to be anxious, troubled or unruffled; he didn't bare his soul on talk shows and refused millions to write his autobiography. As Paul Simon, who put his name into a song, once said, "Joe DiMaggio understood the power of silence."
Jerome Charyn tries to find the key to soft-spoken DiMaggio's inner life in a new book, Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil. In the book, Charyn uses the phrase "idiot savant" to describe DiMaggio on more than one occasion: His magic was born on the baseball field, and abandoned him once he left it.
"Joe really couldn't function away from baseball," Charyn says. "That was his language; that was his beauty; that was his grace."
When he stepped on the field, everybody fell silent; but Charyn refers to DiMaggio's inability to cope outside baseball as "the sadness of his life," as DiMaggio fell into a state of being as "a legend without a purpose."
He'd met Monroe as his star descended and hers was rising, and Charyn argues that DiMaggio rescued her career at a time when she was faltering and lies about her past were being uncovered. At that moment, Charyn says, Monroe's first date with DiMaggio rescued her image, and they soon became the "prince and princess" of America.
Their relationship was tumultuous, to say the least, and with their lives in the spotlight it's difficult to say who loved whom, or who used whom. Charyn believes that their relationship ran into troubles because she suddenly had a sparkling career ahead of her just as his was ending.
"He wanted her to become a housewife, and she was very much involved with films and wanted to keep her career," Charyn says. "And he never could understand that."
DiMaggio's own career, in its time, reached impressive heights — he was the first baseball player to earn over $100,000. It wasn't the monstrous heights of salary reached by professional athletes nowadays, and so he still had to earn some extra income after retiring. Instead of shilling for a local bank, DiMaggio turned to selling his memorabilia, a choice that some found undignified.
"The sad thing about it," Charyn explains, "is that he could earn more in one day signing baseballs and bats than he did in his entire career as a Yankee."
DiMaggio earned that income during the memorabilia craze of the 1980s, and Charyn points to it as a sign of baseball's transformation from sport to big business.
Sports fans can put unrealistic expectations on their idols — "he was a hero, and we expect our heroes to remain heroic," Charyn says. At one point, DiMaggio had a television show and needed a cue card in front of him even to say, "Hello, this is Joe DiMaggio"; he was a communicator on the field, not in front of a camera. He had no language outside his form as a ballplayer, Charyn says:
"And that's why he was so spectacular," he continues. "Because you suddenly see a very silent man begin to dance on the field. And there's nothing more beautiful than that."
[Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Baseball comes together to take care of its own

Dodgers scout John Green helped the baseball fraternity rally to support minor league advisor P.J. Carey and his wife, who were diagnosed with cancer last year. On Friday, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks played a charity game to raise funds for Tucson shooting victims, one of whom was Green's daughter Christina.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, center, talks to Dodgers scout John Green, right,
and his son Dallas Green (left) prior to a charity exhibition game against the
Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday. (Chris Morrison / U.S. Presswire / March 25, 2011)
Los Angeles Times
March 26, 2011

Reporting from Tucson — The season is long, and the road is lonely. The fraternity of baseball lifers bonds in creaky old ballparks and chain restaurants, scouts and coaches leaning on one another when the comforts of home are far away.

P.J. Carey gave his adult life to baseball, more than three decades of working with young players from Casper, Wyo., to Spartanburg, S.C. Carey was working in the Dodgers' front office last year, as an advisor in the minor league department, when he and his wife each were diagnosed with cancer.

The baseball fraternity rallied behind Carey, led by a Dodgers scout and longtime friend. The scout collected autographed jerseys, bats and baseballs from his contacts across the major leagues, for an auction last fall that would help the Careys cover medical expenses.

This is how baseball lifers treat one another, and not for a spotlight that seldom shines on them anyway. Little did the scout know that the baseball world, and a larger world, would rally behind him just two months later.

The scout's name is John Green. His 9-year-old daughter, Christina, was among six people killed in a shooting rampage in Tucson on Jan. 8.

The Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks played a charity game before a sellout crowd here Friday, generating $100,000 to benefit the families of those affected by the tragedy. It was a blessed reminder of how baseball can be a force for good.

"It is pretty amazing what this game does in bringing people together for causes that are much bigger than the game," said Trey Hillman, the Dodgers' bench coach.

Hillman walked through the Dodgers clubhouse a couple weeks ago, soliciting volunteers for this game. No one relished a two-hour bus trip two days before the team breaks camp, but no one told Hillman no.

The Dodgers split their team between two games Friday, so all the veterans could not come. Andre Ethier came here, and so did James Loney and Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jay Gibbons and Jamey Carroll.

It's the least we can do," Carroll said.

Justin Sellers, the Dodgers' third baseman for the game, rushed over to a man handing out the memorial wristbands, white ones for all the victims and purple ones just for Christina. Sellers took one of each.

"They'll be on me in the game, I promise," he said.

John Green, a onetime pitcher in the New York Yankees' minor league system, embraced Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly and introduced his 12-year-old son, Dallas.

His wife, Roxanna, pulled out a baseball and a Sharpie for her son.

"Ask him to sign it for you," she said.

There was a moment of silence to honor the six people killed, each of whom had a banner with his or her name draped on the outfield wall. There was a fly-by, not by a military plane but by the helicopter that shuttled victims from the shooting site to the hospital.

Dallas Green threw out the ceremonial first pitch, with Mattingly catching. The real pitches soon followed, and with them a three-hour semblance of normalcy.

John Green has gone back to work, back on the road scouting for the Dodgers. If he would like some time off, or if he would like his wife and son to join him on the road, all he has to do is ask.

"It's on us," General Manager Ned Colletti said. "They can do whatever they need to do."

Said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt: "The way they have conducted themselves — the grace, the dignity, the composure, the strength — has given those of us around them strength."

The baseball family helped the Greens, just as the Greens had encouraged the baseball family to help the Careys.

"They had cancer, and our community came together to help them," John Green said. "As we needed our help, people stepped up right away.

"That really provides a level of comfort when things happen to you that are that tragic. Initially, you don't know how you are going to handle it."

P.J. Carey and his wife, Katherine, don't get around easily these days. But the Careys showed up at the ballpark to support the Greens.

"They extended themselves to us, and now they have extended themselves to the rest of the country," P.J. Carey said. "I couldn't be prouder of them."

On Nov. 11, the Greens tossed all that autographed memorabilia — from Matt Kemp and Fernando Valenzuela, from Derek Jeter and Roy Halladay and many more — into their car. They drove two hours, to the Arizona Fall League game where the memorabilia was displayed for auction.

Christina Green came along too. She sat behind the display table, munching on cookies and smiling as she told a volunteer how special it was to skip school for a day.

That was a lovely Friday, and so was this one.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The home run that launched the myth of Mickey Mantle

Diagram of the two historic Mickey Mantle home runs he switch-hit on March 26, 1951 at Bovard Field, USC. 
His left-handed homer traveled 656 feet, crossing a football field adjacent to the ballpark. 
The right-handed home run went out of the park, crossed a street behind left field,
flew over two houses and then hit a second-floor porch on the third house.
Sixty years ago in an exhibition game against USC, a young Mickey Mantle hit a home run that became baseball legend and spawned a mystery: Just how far did it go?

By Baxter Holmes, L.A. Times
March 25, 2011

It was the first inning, one runner aboard, the count at two balls and two strikes, and Tom Lovrich stared down the 19-year-old rookie batter.

USC's junior ace didn't know much about him, except that he more than filled out his gray New York Yankees uniform.

"He was a strong, country kid from Oklahoma," Lovrich said, recalling the legendary at-bat that took place 60 years ago Saturday. "Very strong."

Lovrich figured the rookie would chase something low and away for strike three, so the 6-foot-5 right-hander known as "Tall Tom" began his sidearm windup and fired.

His head sank as soon he heard the devastating crack of the wooden bat.

"My God," said USC second baseman Stan Charnofsky, watching the ball scream over the wire fence in right-center field. "Look at that."

USC's football practice field ran adjacent to Bovard Field. The ball bounced at midfield and rolled into a huddle.

"Who the hell hit that?" one player asked.

And as they walked off the field, their spring practice complete, another football player learned the answer to that question and told the others.

"Some kid named Mickey Mantle."

Introducing himself

The black-and-white clip is grainy, but the narrator's voice is sharp and upbeat:

"It's big league baseball on Bovard Field as the Trojans become the first college team ever to host a world champion," he begins. "The guests of the day: the New York Yankees."

The myth of Mantle and the legend of "The Mick" began at USC that day.

The Yankees visited as a favor to USC Coach Rod Dedeaux, who played for Yankees Manager Casey Stengel when Stengel managed the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dedeaux also had three former players who were Yankees rookies.

The afternoon game was the finale in the Yankees' rare, 13-game spring-training swing in California. They drew huge crowds at every stop — about 140,000 fans in all, according to The Times' account — and extra seating had been erected at Bovard to increase capacity to 3,000.

The 1-minute 13-second newsreel clip from the 1951 Trojan Review shows at least that many.

They sat shoulder-to-shoulder, men in collared shirts and women in full skirts. Many wide-eyed students leaned over railings.

Some came to see the big names, catcher Yogi Berra, shortstop Phil Rizzuto and center fielder Joe DiMaggio. The trio of stars were on the cover of the game scorecard, just below a large illustration of Stengel's face.

But there was also plenty of curiosity about the player being groomed to fill DiMaggio's shoes, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder who made the uncommon leap to the Yankees from Class C baseball in Joplin, Mo.

Mantle had yet to take an official major league swing, but he had astonished fans all spring, hitting one tape-measure home run after another, going from unknown to boy wonder with every awesome drive.

"Even the players gathered when he took batting practices every day, and they were as awed as the people in the seats," author David Halberstam wrote in the book "October 1964."

Mantle didn't disappoint against the Trojans, going four for five with a single, a triple, two home runs and seven runs batted in.

"Mickey Mantle practically dismantled the Trojans all by himself," The Times' story began the next morning, under the headline "Yankees Dismantle Troy in 15-1 Rout."

"The greatest show in history," Dedeaux later said.

Jane Leavy, in her book about Mantle titled "The Last Boy," called it "the day Mantle announced himself to the world."

He did it with that first-inning drive that might have been the longest home run of his career.

'We'll see what happens'

In the Yankees' dugout before the game, Rizzuto, the 1950 American League MVP, called down the bench to Mantle.

"Hey, rook," Rizzuto said, "I've got someone down here about your age."

Mantle came over and plopped down next to Justin Dedeaux. Rod's 7-year-old son was USC's bat boy.

The two joked around, but Justin didn't know a thing about Mantle and was really waiting to to see his favorite player, DiMaggio.

And when DiMaggio emerged from the building where the Yankees dressed, Justin trembled. "It was like God, God himself, walked out," he recalled.

Mantle, the son of a coal miner, was far from that, looking more like one of USC's players with his blond hair and boyish smile.

But physically he was stocky, broad through the chest with thick arms and legs. He was built more like a running back than an outfielder.

"Everything about him looked powerful," said Dave Rankin, then a sophomore reliever for USC.

Rod Dedeaux didn't tell his pitchers much except that Mantle could hit for power.

"So he said what he said about every power hitter," Rankin remembered. "'Keep the ball down, and we'll see what happens.'"

Nothing worked. Both of Mantle's two-run home runs — one from each side of the plate — traveled at least 500 feet, according to legend.

The longer of the two was Mantle's first, and it came on a pitch about eight inches off the ground, Lovrich said.

Bob Hertel, who started in left field for USC that day, swore that ball became flat on one side after the barrel of Mantle's bat made contact.

"It had to be, to hit a ball that hard and that far," said Hertel, 81.

The question is, how far?

Going the distance

Like caught fish, home runs grow as tales are told. The distance of Mantle's first-inning home run has long been debated.

Satellite imagery was even used in an effort to pinpoint the ball's trajectory.

Interviews with witnesses to Mantle's display that day reveal different estimates. Some are as long as 660 feet, and most concede the blast went at least 550.

Home plate at Bovard, which closed in 1974, is now the site of a grassy gully behind USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

The dimensions at Bovard were 307 feet down the left-field line, 351 to left-center, 439 to center, 344 to right-center and 318 down the right-field line, Justin Dedeaux said.

Most witnesses say Mantle hit the ball to right-center, toward the corner of what is now Watt Way and West 34th Street. If it landed near there, an estimate of 600 or more feet would be reasonable.

Frank Gifford, then a USC tailback, said the ball landed near the middle of the football practice field.

"No one had ever done that before," he said.

Gifford's testimony debunks myths that it hit the street or the Methodist church beyond the street, and he laughed at one particularly gaudy 656-foot estimate.

Whatever the exact length, it is said to be the longest home run in the history of Bovard.

As soon as Mantle hit it, Justin Dedeaux's allegiance switched from DiMaggio to "Mick," and he wore No. 7 as a second baseman at USC in Mantle's honor.

"After that day, he was my man," said Justin, 67. "I followed him every day for the rest of his career."

A picture commemorating Mantle's feat hangs in USC's Baseball Hall of Fame.

Mantle returned to USC for a celebrity game in the mid-'70s, Justin remembered. Mantle had retired from baseball in 1968, finishing his 18-season career with 536 home runs.

But Mantle still looked in shape and even hit a few out of USC's new Dedeaux Field, named after Justin's father, where the Trojans began playing in 1974.

Justin remembered Mantle laughing as he recalled his first game on campus, thinking of all the coeds who adored him and joking that he should have gone to school at USC.

Mantle talked about his home runs too.

"I really got a hold of a couple," he told Justin. "Man, that was fun."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor & Ralph Kiner?

Elizabeth Taylor
Ralph Kiner

How are these two famous people connected?  Below is an excerpt from the Sabr Baseball Biography Project on Ralph Kiner by Warren Corbett on just this subject.

Ralph Kiner
by Warren Corbett
Read Complete Bio Here

Kiner also led the league with 127 RBI [1949]. He placed fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting by baseball writers, his highest finish ever; Jackie Robinson, the batting champion for pennant-winning Brooklyn, won the award.

The Pirates signed him to a two-year contract, highly unusual at the time, at $65,000 a season. He was the highest-paid player in the National League; American Leaguers Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Bob Feller made more. Kiner said club owner John Galbreath also cut him in on some real estate investments.

But that was far less than he was worth, as big-league players would find out when free agency arrived a quarter-century later. A Pittsburgh theatrical booking agent remarked, "If Kiner were as big a figure in show business as he is in baseball, he would draw down a stipend of $30,000 a week."

At that time Kiner was still living with his mother in Alhambra. The singer Bing Crosby, a minority owner of the Pirates, drew the young, single star into his Hollywood circle, even arranging for Kiner to escort 17-year-old actress Elizabeth Taylor to a movie premiere. He built a house in Palm Springs, California, then just emerging as a golf and tennis resort for the Hollywood set; Kiner was now an avid golfer. Friends and neighbors included Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball and her husband and co-star, Desi Arnaz.

He dated other Hollywood starlets, but on October 13, 1951, he married 22-year-old tennis star Nancy Chaffee, the sixth-ranked American player. Greenberg served as best man at the wedding. Kiner proudly recounted that, after two years of lessons, he was able to beat Nancy at tennis - two weeks before she gave birth to their first child.

In 1950 Branch Rickey, the baseball legend who had built dynasties with the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers, became the Pirates' general manager, but the club fell to last place.

Monday, March 21, 2011

US homer king Bonds goes on trial


By Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP
Barry Bonds arrives at the federal courthouse
 in San Francisco for the first day of his trial.

By Stephanie Rice (AFP)
SAN FRANCISCO — US home run king Barry Bonds faces perjury charges here Monday in a trial that will see testimony by a parade of baseball stars and an ex-girlfriend on his alleged use of performance enhancing steroids.
The former San Francisco Giants slugger, the target of a long-running federal probe, is alleged to have lied to a federal grand jury in 2003 when he said he never knowingly used banned drugs.
Bonds, 46, is charged with four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. He has pleaded not guilty.
The trial is the culmination of a saga that began more than seven years ago with an Internal Revenue Service raid on BALCO headquarters in Northern California.
What started as a tax evasion case quickly became a full-blown investigation of performance-enhancing drugs at the highest levels, ensnaring elites in baseball, athletics and American football.
The witness list is a who's who of athletes tainted by the BALCO steroid scandal, players who say Bonds' trainer and childhood friend, Greg Anderson, provided them with designer drugs from the strip-mall steroids lab known as the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative.
Bonds has insisted that his legacy -- shattering Hank Aaron?s home run record and garnering a record-setting seven Most Valuable Player awards -- was not accomplished with deliberate cheating.
Bonds set the all-time Major League Baseball homer record of 762 in 2007, breaking Aaron's prior mark of 755. Bonds hit a one-season record of 73 homers in 2001.
Because Anderson has refused to testify, prosecutors will call half a dozen players -- including first baseman Jason Giambi, currently with the Colorado Rockies, and his brother, Jeremy Giambi, who last played for the Boston Red Sox -- to testify about their interactions with Anderson and BALCO drugs.
Bobby Estalella, a former Bonds teammate, is expected to testify about several discussions he had with Bonds about Bonds' use of performance-enhancing drugs, court records show.
Anderson, an admitted steroid dealer, has already spent more than a year behind bars for refusing to testify before a grand jury about Bonds and banned drugs. He will likely be jailed during this trial as well.
The trial is expected to last three to four weeks and should be ongoing when the Major League Baseball season starts on March 31.
Despite objections from the defense, Bonds ex-girlfriend Kimberly Bell will take the stand to talk about changes she says she observed in Bonds' personality and physical appearance during their nine-year relationship.
Bell has told investigators that Bonds admitted his steroid use to her. Court filings show Bell will tell jurors that Bonds became increasingly "angry, threatening and violent" during the relationship and that he also experienced "sexual dysfunction and testicular shrinkage" -- all side effects of steroid use, prosecutors contend.
Bonds attorneys will attempt to discredit Bell by cross-examining her about her decision to pose nude for Playboy after her relationship with the Giants slugger ended.
US District Judge Susan Illston has ruled that the jury will not be allowed to view the photos, and thrown-out a slew of evidence prosecutors wanted to present.
The jury will, however, hear a secretly recorded conversation in which Anderson discusses injecting Bonds with banned drugs.
Several others will be called to testify about Bonds' allegedly expanding physique. Shoe representatives from Fila and Nike will tell jurors about the slugger's changing shoe size.
Giants clubhouse manager Mike Murphy is expected to testify "as to the increase in the defendant's hat size," according to court documents.
By Stephanie Rice (AFP)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The 'Secret History' Of Baseball's Earliest Days

Gray/New York Public Library
Jack Clements, a player on the Philadelphia Quakers,
poses at a photography studio in Boston in the days
before players carried mitts onto the baseball diamond.

[Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]
To learn more about the NPR iPad app, go to
NPR - March 16, 2011

In 1903, the British sportswriter Henry Chadwick published an article speculating that baseball derived from a British game called rounders, which Chadwick had played as a boy in England.

But baseball executive Albert Spalding disagreed. Baseball, said Spalding, was fundamentally an American sport and began on American soil.

To settle the matter, the two men appointed a commission, headed by Abraham Mills, the fourth president of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs. The commission, which also included six other sports executives, labored for three years, after which it declared that Abner Doubleday invented the national pastime.

This would have been a surprise to Doubleday. The late Civil War hero "never knew that he had invented baseball. [But] 15 years [after his death], he was anointed as the father of the game," says John Thorn.

Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, has just written Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, about the sport's earliest days. He says the myth about Doubleday inventing the game of baseball actually came from a Colorado mining engineer.

"He claimed to have been present at a schoolboy game at which Abner Doubleday took a stick and drew in the dust the diagram for a completely new ballgame," says Thorn. "In fact, the ballgame that this Colorado mining engineer describes was very similar to the game that had been played in many localities, for probably 100 years."

So why would the Colorado mining engineering make up the Doubleday myth?

"It is the great question," says Thorn. "What brought a mining engineer to Akron, Ohio, where he typed out this letter to Spalding's secretary? Last I heard, there's not much metallurgical opportunity in Akron. And then he went back west and continued to correspond with the Cooperstown newspaper, embellishing his tale to say that he had played in the game with Doubleday and that it was a rollicking game."

The Real Story Behind Baseball

The real story of baseball is far older than what the Mills Commission determined, says Thorn. Different variations of the game were played in the 18th century in different parts of the country — New York, Philadelphia and Massachusetts each had their own versions — but eventually something like the New York game, which featured the creation of a foul territory and made players stay on the base path while running, won out — though not necessarily because it was a better game.

Baseball in the Garden
of Eden By John Thorn
Hardcover, 384 pages
Simon & Schuster
List Price: $26
"I think the New York game won out through superior public relations because I have played recreation games of the Massachusetts game and it is a fantastically fun game both to play and watch," says Thorn. "The New York game, in many measures, is inferior. [In the Massachusetts game] you did not have to stay on the base path while you were running. So you could lead your opponents on a merry chase into the outfields and beyond."

But baseball — even the New York version — was still mainly considered a boys' game. For adults and the press to take notice, Thorn says, there needed to be another incentive: money.

From the beginning, baseball's rise coincided with professional gamblers taking notice. The people running gambling games realized that adults would be more interested in the game if they could make side bets during innings — and that the endeavor would also be profitable for the gambling halls themselves.

"I don't think you could have had the rise of baseball without gambling," says Thorn. "It was not worthy of press coverage. What made baseball seem important was when gamblers figured out a way to spur interest in it. ... In the beginning, there were people who turned their noses up at gambling but they recognized the necessity of it. You would not have had a box score. You would not have had an assessment of individual skills. You would not have had one player of skill moving to another club if there were not gambling in it."

But the gambling money soon entered the game itself. It was easy to approach a player and ask him to throw a game for a percentage of the coffers.

"Game-fixing, which we think of as the Black Sox scandal of 1919, dates back as early as 1865," says Thorn. "That is when we had our first scandal and three players were banned."

Thorn is the author and editor of many books about baseball, including Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball and The Armchair Book of Baseball. He was also the senior creative consultant for the Ken Burns documentary Baseball.

[Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Celebrating 40 Years of SABR!

The SABR Story

The Society for American Baseball Research had its beginnings in Cooperstown, New York. It was the brainchild of L. Robert Davids, who in August 1971 gathered 15 other baseball researchers at the National Baseball Hall of Fame to form the organization.

From this modest start, SABR membership has broadened steadily. A decade later, it had reached 1,500; today, it totals nearly 7,000 worldwide. Who belongs to SABR? Many major and minor league baseball officials, broadcasters and writers, as well as numerous former players. Primarily, the membership consists of "just plain fans" — anyone interested in baseball can join. While the original purpose of SABR was to band together baseball historians, statisticians and researchers, it is not necessary to engage in research to become a member.

Ernie Harwell, the late Detroit Tigers broadcaster, said: "SABR is the Phi Beta Kappa of baseball, providing scholarship which the sport has long needed. ... An excellent way for all of us to add to our enjoyment of the greatest game."

SABR members have a variety of interests, and this is reflected in the diversity of its research committees. There are more than two dozen groups devoted to the study of a specific area related to the game — from Baseball and the Arts to Statistical Analysis to the Deadball Era to Women in Baseball. In addition, many SABR members meet formally and informally in regional chapters throughout the year and hundreds come together for the annual national convention, the organization's premier event. These meetings often include panel discussions with former major league players and research presentations by members.

Most of all, SABR members love talking baseball with like-minded friends. What unites them all is an interest in the game and joy in learning more about it. Some member benefits include:
  • Two issues of the Baseball Research Journal, which includes articles on history, biography, statistics, personalities, book reviews, and other aspects of the game.
  • One issue of The National Pastime, which focuses on baseball in a particular city or region (in 2011, it's Southern California)
  • Regional chapter meetings, which include guest speakers, presentations and trips to ballgames
  • Online access to back issues of The Sporting News
  • Lending library
  • Online member directory to help locate other members with your interests
  • Discount on annual convention registration
  • The opportunity to be part of a passionate international community of baseball fans

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Duke of Flatbush was also a family man

Brooklyn Dodger's Duke Snider in the 1950s.
The funeral for Hall of Famer and Dodger great Duke Snider was held on Saturday March 12, 2011 at 2 pm at Fallbrook Presbyterian Church in his hometown, Fallbrook, CA.  Duke was a warm and charismatic fellow who just happend to play baseball extremely well.  He was also a family man.

The following is an excerpt from his 1988 biography "The Duke of Flatbush" by Duke Snider with Bill Gilbert from Zebra Books published by Kensington Publishing Corp, New York, NY.  Here Duke talks about his wife Bev and how supportive she was in their early years.  This provides a wonderful glimpse into Duke the private man and his family.

Bev and I had Kevin now, and when we left for spring training at the beginning of the '50 season, Kevin was not even four months old. Traveling across the country from California to Florida and then up the East Coast from Florida to live in New York with an infant, and with teh father gone half the days from April to October, certainly made things different.

Kevin, 2 1/2 years old
If you've never driven 2,500 miles from California to Florida with a baby and no air-conditioning and it takes three days and three nights just to get through Texas - don't.  We made frequent stops for gas, changing diapers, and warming up a new bottle of baby formula.  After that, Bev had the long drive north from Vero Beach to Brooklyn, another 1,200 miles, this time alone except for the infant on the seat beside her.  I had to travel with the team.

For Bev this was the start of an entirely new kind of life, filled iwth automobile trips thousands of miles long with only the children for company, and the two-week stretches in Brooklyn alone with the kids while I was away on road trips in my own role as the family breadwinner.

A baseball player's wife makes a contribution to husband's career that never shows up in the statistics, but it's just as real as it would be if she hit some of those home runs herself.  She's helping with work at home, driving to Little League games and Girl Scouts.  She's the parent in the audience at the school play, and the shoulder that's always there when the kids need one to cry on.  And she provides the athlete with thte peace of mind which is essential to his performance on the field.  When he calls home during a road trip and she says, "Everything's fine," the player knows not to ask any questions beyond that.  The two-word response means now you can concentrate on the next game.

Bev was and still is a homemaker, and the family home was wherever I was playing.  She pulled a 15-foot trailer to New York in 1963, San Francisco in 1964, and Spokane in 1965, when I managed in the minor leagues after my playing career.  In 1972, while I was managing in Alexandria, Louisiana, wwe upgraded the vehicle to a 25-foot motor home.  By then there were only two children at home - Kurt and Dawna - and Kurt could help with the driving.  Bev loved the adventure and wanted to show the children a type of camping life as opposed to motel living.

Duke poses with his wife and
high school sweetheart Beverly Null,
and their daughter Pam
They made a game of things.  The children made one up in Brooklyn while going through the tunnels.  The guards would wave the cars on, and the children would wave too, just to see if the guards would wave back.  They decided those who did were Dodger fans.  Those who didn't were Yankee fans.  They carried this game over to the ride back to California.  They would wave at the truck drivers, hoping to get them to blow their horns.  The same standards applied: Those who did were Dodger fans.

Bev took over-the-counter stay-awake pills to keep from getting mesmerized by the road.  She would stay with the kids in the less expensive motels, and thought nother of parking overnight at a gas station when they were pulling the trailer and no campground was available.  The service-station attendants were always helpful when they saw her pulling the trailer and handling the children by herself.

The attendant at one station in Tuxedo Junction, New York, gave her the restroom key to use overnight, and had a police officer come by to make sure Bev and the children were okay.

If there were a Hall of Fame somewhere for baseball wives, Bev would belong in it.

Duke, you will forever be in our hearts.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japanese baseball players in U.S. try to contact friends, family after deadly earthquake

Los Angeles Times
March 11, 2011

Ripples from the earthquake that devastated parts of Japan were being felt as far away as Arizona and Florida on Friday as Japanese players tried, sometimes in vain, to reach friends and family members.

The quake, the largest recorded temblor to strike Japan and the fifth-largest in history, caused power failures and fires, shuttered airports and paralyzed transit systems, killing hundreds and setting off a massive tsunami.

Former Dodgers pitcher Takashi Saito took an indefinite leave from the Milwaukee Brewers' facility in Phoenix after being unable to contact his parents. Saito was born and attended college in the northern city of Sendai, home to 1 million people. The city, on Japan's northeast coast, was the closest population center to the epicenter of the 8.9-magnitude quake. And though Saito has been in contact with his wife, Yukiko, and three daughters, he has been unable to reach his parents, team officials said.

Kei Igawa, in minor league camp with the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., also left the team after failing to get information about his family.

Igawa's family lives in Ibaraki, which was also hit hard.

Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki and Boston Red Sox pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima also spent much of Friday trying unsuccessful to get through to their relatives although they said they believed their families were safe. Matsuzaka said he made contact with friends in Japan through e-mail but not by phone.

"Cellphones and power are down. There are 4 million people without power in Tokyo," Suzuki told reporters at the Mariners' camp outside Phoenix. "I have not gotten ahold of my family yet."

Former Angel Hideki Matsui, now with the Oakland A's, has also been unable to reach relatives but said he was not worried because they were believed to be far from the epicenter.

Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda said early Friday that he hadn’t been able contact his brother yet, “but the rest of my family is OK.”

Kuroda's brother lives near Tokyo, about 240 miles from the epicenter, but he often travels north on business.

“I think he’s, OK but I don’t know his whereabouts so I’d really like to contact him,” Kuroda said through an interpreter.

Kuroda’s wife and children live with him in Los Angeles.

Kuroda also said he was “worried because there’s a baseball team in Sendai [Rakuten Golden Eagles] and there’s a lot of friends on that team, so I’m worried about them and their families. When I saw the pictures on TV I was really shocked, I didn’t expect that it was this big."

Among the players on the Golden Eagles' roster are former big-league infielders Kaz Matsui and Akinori Iwamura.

Angels reliever Hisanori Takahashi actually saw the quake hit because he was online using Skype to talk to his wife, Yeyol, in Tokyo. The quake struck in midafternoon Japanese time.

"The monitor was shaking," he said through interpreter Yoichi Terada. "Then this morning I checked the Internet again and I saw the video. It was horrible so I called them again. They’re fine.

"So I'm fortunate. I'm happy. Of course I worry about what happened in Japan. But I cannot do anything about it. So I'm just trying to focus on baseball."

But for Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, the news from Japan made baseball far less important.

"This is a livelihood and these guys take it serious," he said. "But there are things more important to everybody’s live. And it gives you perspective."

Fans and players at Friday's Angels-Arizona Diamondbacks game in Tempe, Ariz., observed a moment of silence for earthquake victims.

-- For the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Baxter in Tempe, Ariz., and James Peltz in Phoenix, Ariz.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Kim Ng bids farewell to L.A.

Kim Ng
By Jill Painter
L.A. Daily News Staff Writer
March 9, 2011

Kim Ng is leaving the Dodgers to work for Major League Baseball.
Ng (pronounced ANG), who has worked as an assistant general manager of the Dodgers since 2002, will become a senior vice president of operations at MLB and report to Joe Torre.
"It's going to be a great opportunity for me," Ng said in a phone interview. "I'm going to be involved in a lot of exciting things on the international side. I have a chance to contribute in a meaningful way to the game and try to have an impact. I'm going to be overseeing a lot of the international operations. There's a lot going on in the Dominican Republic and potentially a worldwide draft.
"It was gut wrenching. I have enjoyed my time with the Dodgers so much. Frank (McCourt) and (general manager) Ned (Colletti) have been so good to me."
Ng came to the Dodgers from the Yankees nine years ago. She was an assistant general manager in New York and worked Torre there and in L.A. Torre, who retired from managing the Dodgers after the season, recently took a job as the executive vice president of operations at MLB.
The Dodgers' future is uncertain with Frank and Jamie McCourt's court battle for team ownership. That wasn't a factor in her decision to leave the club, according to Ng.
"Absolutely not," Ng said. "I've taken a long-term perspective on decisions I've made in my career. This was an opportunity that was to fantastic to let pass by. These opportunities don't come along very often. You can see some of the stability that exists in the commissioner's office. Those don't come open very often. It was really about me looking forward and where I am and where I want to be."
Ng started her career with the Chicago White Sox and then worked for the American League for one year. She is considered the most qualified candidate to become the first female general manager in baseball. She has interviewed for general manager vacancies with the Dodgers, Padres and Mariners. Her move to the offices at MLB hasn't changed her goal to one day become a general manager.
"At some point I still hope I reach that goal," Ng sid. "My main mission now is to try to help Joe and the commissioner (Bud Selig) and baseball. If anything, this can make me a more well-rounded candidate.
Listen, there are people who are older than me who haven't gotten the chance to interview and probably should've. I feel fortunate in that respect. The fact that it hasn't happened to this point, that's just part of it. It's not frustrating for me. This is a new chapter. It's going to be a great challenge."
McCourt had high praise for Ng.
"I'm excited for Kim because this is a huge step in her career, but I'm disappointed that we are losing such a tremendous talent," McCourt said in a statement. "She has been a dedicated member of our organization for the last decade and has set herself apart with her integrity, her work ethic and her dedication to winning and always doing what is best for the Dodgers. I wish her all the best in her new role and I will always consider her part of the Dodger family."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

'Moneyball' films scenes in Dodger Stadium

L.A. Times; September 14, 2010 
The Dodgers have seen plenty of drama lately with the saga surrounding the divorce of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt.
But a different kind of drama was playing out at Dodger Stadium on Monday when hundreds of extras poured into the arena to film scenes for "Moneyball," a big-screen adaptation of Michael Lewis' 2003 best-seller about the revival of the Oakland A's and its maverick general manager, Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt.
About 700 extras participated in a variety of baseball scenes, including a 1984 game between the Dodgers and the Mets, when Beane played for the New York team, and a montage sequence set in 2002 that chronicles the Oakland A's memorable season.
Sony Pictures had to get special permission from Major League Baseball to shoot at the stadium on Friday and Monday.
"Being a Dodgers fan and being here at Dodger Stadium, it was just great," said Todd Christensen, location manager for "Moneyball."
"Moneyball" is just the latest project to shoot at Dodger Stadium, which for many years has been a popular site among filmmakers partly because of its grand vistas of downtown Los Angeles and large parking lots, which make it ideal for production base camps.
This year alone the stadium has been used as a location for 16 productions, including the TV series "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "Criminal Minds" as well as commercials for Wendy's, Ford and Microsoft. In addition to "Moneyball," the stadium has been the venue for more than a dozen movies, among them the latest "Star Trek" film and "Fast & Furious."
The stadium, which has relationships with location managers around Hollywood, charges anywhere from $10,000 a day for use of its parking space to $25,000 a day for a shot inside the stadium. Management views the filming activity as an important way to market the stadium.
"We welcome the movie shoots," said Jill DeStefano, manager of venue sales and services. "We love to have them and it's exciting for us."
"Moneyball," scheduled to be released next year, almost never made out of the ballpark. Sony last year halted production on the film just days before it was to begin shooting. The move came after director Steven Soderbergh turned in a script rewrite that Sony Pictures co-Chairman Amy Pascal was dissatisfied with. Sony tapped screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin ("The West Wing" and "Charlie Wilson's War") to revise the screenplay.
Sony began filming the movie, whichcost about $57 million to produce, on July 12 and has shot scenes in Los Angeles and Oakland. In addition to Dodger Stadium, filming locations included Chatsworth, Malibu, Blair Field in Long Beach and the aviation-themed studio Air Hollywood in Pacoima.
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: Dodger Stadium. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Monday, March 07, 2011

These girls are playing hardball with the boys

Birmingham pitcher Marti Sementelli, left, and San Marcos pitcher
Ghazaleh Sailors, right,  wish each other luck before their game on
Saturday at Birmingham High in Lake Balboa. It is believed to be
the first boys' baseball game at which girls were the starting pitchers.
(Bret Hartman / For The Times)

Marti Sementelli of Birmingham faces Ghazaleh Sailors of San Marcos in a historic pitching matchup. It's not a gimmick, as both are valued members of their teams.

Bill Plaschke, L.A. Times
March 5, 2011

The probable starting pitchers were two improbable dreams.

On the mound for the Lake Balboa Birmingham High boys' baseball team was a 5-foot-2 righty with a wicked changeup, a cut fastball, and a whole heap of black hair stuffed under her cap.

Her name was Marti Sementelli, and she does not throw like a girl.

"I've used that line," she said, giggling. "But I've used it on boys."

On the mound for the opposing San Marcos High boys' team from Santa Barbara was a 5-3 righty with a floating curve, a sneaky fastball, and two pink batting gloves.

Her name was Ghazaleh Sailors, and every heckler is but three swings from humiliation.

"The first time they see me, people say stuff," she said, grinning. "But then I strike them out, and that seems to quiet them down."

The several hundred fans scattered under the stately trees around the Birmingham Field roared at such proof Saturday, chanting and cheering for a cultural celebration that seemingly could happen only here.

For what is believed to be the first time in history, two high school boys' baseball teams played a game in which both starting pitchers were girls.

It was not an exhibition. It was not a joke. It was a serious seven-inning battle between two boys' teams led by girls who had fought to stand at their center.

"It was like everything turned upside down," Sailors said. "It was amazing."

It was boys struck out by girls. It was boys picked off by girls. It was a 6-1 Birmingham victory engineered almost entirely by a girl.

Sementelli, considered perhaps the best girl baseball player in a state with more girls baseball players than anywhere — about 400 — threw a complete-game five-hitter, giving up only the one earned run with four strikeouts and three walks.

"I couldn't stop shaking, " she said afterward. "I still can't stop shaking."

On the other side of the diamond, Sailors couldn't stop laughing, thrilled with giving up but three hits in 3 1/3 innings while striking out out two, walking one, and even chopping a single to center against Sementelli while batting in the seventh inning.

"I never thought this would happen," she said. "For me, this is about history, about creating more opportunities so girls won't have to go through what I went through."

In a world where softball is supposed to keep women quiet and happy, it indeed has been difficult for those who have insisted on making our national pastime truly national for everybody.

While the most famous women's baseball was played by the women in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League between 1943-54 — inspiring the movie, "A League of Their Own" — it hasn't been so glamorous for women trying to play with the men.

While women have played in the Negro Leagues, on independent teams, and have even pitched batting practice to major leaguers, no woman has ever played in the major leagues. Given the biological differences in strength and speed, the odds seem long, with the best chance given to a junk-ball pitcher who doesn't have to bat.

In fact, most girls who play youth league baseball are usually convinced to switch to softball when they realize that there is no future in hardball. Sementelli and Sailors, both seniors who hope to play at the next level, are clearly not most girls.

"I'm not one who takes the easy route if it means giving up something I love," Sementelli said.

They took the mound Saturday in a game that was scheduled with this matchup in mind. The girls are teammates on the U.S. National Women's baseball team, and the coaches agreed that the message was too big to ignore.

Said Birmingham Coach Matt Mowry: "It takes a special kind of kid to do this, and Marti is that kid."

Said San Marcos Coach Tony Vanetti: "Ghazaleh is the poster child for dreams really do come true."

They took the mound looking like small boys, purposely showing no hair under their caps, as Sementelli's hair was pinned up and Sailor's hair was cut. When they began pitching, their deliveries were so refined and their breaking balls moved so much, an unsuspecting fan would assume they were freshman phenoms.

"When Marti first joined our team, I was like, do we really want a girl around here?" said Kevin Torres, a Birmingham senior outfielder. "Then in batting practice she struck me out and I'm like, well, OK."

Sementelli has always been something of a local prodigy, even once striking out Jimmy Kimmel on his talk show, so her path has been fairly easy. Not so much for Sailors, who has endured much taunting in her journey.

There was the kid who took a ball and stuck it in her face and said, "I hate you, and I'm going to throw this ball at you." There were the kids who struck a razor on a string and wrapped it around her legs while she was sitting in the dugout. There was once even a kid who protested her appearance on the mound by purposely dropping a fly ball in center field.

"It hasn't always been so much fun for her," said her father, Robert. "But she is the kind of kid where the taunting just makes her tougher."

Like Sementelli at Birmingham, Sailors has finally found a home at San Marcos, where she is a valued member of the team even if she has to dress in a storage shed with a kid guarding the door. Together, Saturday, on a Birmingham field awash in the warmth of acceptance, the two pitchers reveled in a new and wondrous space.

"For a long time, we thought we were alone," Sailors said. "Today was a great reminder that we're not."

Throw like a girl? One could only hope.

Vizquel's Path to Shortstop at 40 Could Stand as a Test for Jeter

Left, Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images;
Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Omar Vizquel, with the Giants in 2006, is the career leader in games
at shortstop, with 2,690; Derek Jeter of the Yankees is fifth, with 2,274,
and says he intends to play through 2014, the option year in his contract.

March 1, 2011
By Tyler Kepner, NY Times

Omar Vizquel first played shortstop in the major leagues in 1989, when Derek Jeter was a freshman in high school. Now Vizquel is the only player on a roster who was active in the 1980s, the oldest man in baseball who does not throw a knuckleball.

Vizquel, who turns 44 next month, started at shortstop for the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday at Camelback Ranch. He does not play the position much anymore — just nine times last season — but his 2,690 games at shortstop rank first on the career list. Jeter is fifth with 2,274, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Jeter turns 37 in June, and to Vizquel, he is young. The master rejects the premise that Jeter’s performance is slipping.

“It’s really weird that I start reading a lot of stuff last year about people doubting him as a shortstop,” Vizquel said in the clubhouse Tuesday morning. “I just couldn’t believe what I was reading, because here I am playing shortstop at 41, 42 years old, and a guy that is 36 over there in New York, they’re talking about, ‘He can’t do it anymore.’ You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Vizquel may be incredulous because he is the only player in the last 90 years to do what Jeter is attempting now. Jeter’s new Yankees contract includes a player option for 2014, which he has said he will use. That would mean four more seasons as the starting shortstop, through age 40.

The Hall of Famer Honus Wagner played at least 100 games at shortstop from 1911 through 1915, when he was 41. Since then, Vizquel is the only man to play 100 games at the position for four consecutive seasons at age 37 or older. He did it for the Cleveland Indians and the San Francisco Giants from 2004 through 2007.

Luke Appling, another Hall of Famer, lost most of two seasons to military service during World War II, when he was 37 and 38, and returned to be a regular shortstop for three of the next four seasons.)

Vizquel listed all the reasons the position can be challenging for older players. To succeed, he said, a shortstop must have quickness and explosiveness, swift lateral movement and the ability to accelerate, decelerate and jump. He must also be diligent.

“You’ve got to stay on top of your game all the time,” Vizquel said. “If you let it go, your body’s going to let you know real quick. And when you’re going to try to come back, it might be too late.”

Jeter acknowledged as much last month in Tampa, Fla. He starts training earlier in the off-season than he used to, he said, and his workouts last longer. His efforts last season could not save him from the worst year of his career, when his average tumbled 64 points, to .270. His defense suffered despite winning a Gold Glove.

Vizquel also had a bumpy year at age 36, in 2003, when two knee operations cost him most of the season. He recovered to hit ..291 for the 2004 Indians, but when he became a free agent after the season, only the Giants offered him a three-year contract through age 40.

Vizquel won Gold Gloves in each of the first two seasons in San Francisco and hit at his career norms, if not a bit better. He did not feel his age in the field until 2007, when he was 40 and in his final season as an everyday player. It was an unwelcome sensation for a fielder once famous for range.

“The ball goes by you, and you start questioning yourself and doubting: ‘Wow, I saw the ball there, why couldn’t I just get it?’ ” Vizquel said. “Maybe it was a matter of first-step reaction, or a matter of leaning down to get that ball. Your mind is telling you that you can get to that ball, and your body’s not allowing you to get to that ball.”

Advanced fielding metrics show that Jeter improved his range for two seasons before last year’s steep decline. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has spoken about Jeter’s eventually leaving shortstop, but learning a position in his late 30s could be more challenging than simply staying put.

Vizquel did not start at another position until 2009, when he was 42. Jeter has never played another position, and Vizquel doubts he ever will.

“Let’s face it — are you going to see Derek Jeter playing another position?” Vizquel said. “I don’t see him playing third base or second base. He’s just a natural shortstop.”

Few have ever looked as natural or graceful in the field as Vizquel, who needs 201 hits for 3,000, a milestone Jeter should reach by midseason. Vizquel doubts he will get enough playing time to make it, but his glove is his legacy, anyway.

His glove and his enthusiasm.

“I see a lot of 32-, 33-year-olds talking about, ‘Oh my God, I’m tired today,’ ” Vizquel said. “That really pumps me up. Here you are at 43, trying to do the same, and you don’t feel that kind of tiredness or soreness. It just makes you feel so good.”