Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gasbags To Honey Bugs: Baseball's Nutty Team Names

The Poughkeepsie Honey Bugs (1913-1914) may not sound
intimidating, but their name does reflect the town's spirit. According
to author and sportscaster Tim Hagerty, when Poughkeepsie, N.Y.,
 officially became a city in 1854, its seal featured a beehive as a nod to
the town's industrial and entrepreneurial beginnings.
[Cider Mill Press/National Baseball Hall of Fame Library]
by NPR Staff
NPR - July 24, 2012

In 1911, the Missouri State League baseball team in Kirksville — home of the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine — called iself the Kirksville Osteopaths. In 1899, the New York State League included a team based in Auburn — home to a state penitentiary — called the Auburn Prisoners. In 1903, that same New York minor league included a team from Schenectady called the Schenectady Frog Alleys.
According to Hagerty, Kansas' Iola Gasbags (1902, 1904) adopted
their name after becoming widely known as braggers: "They traveled
to these other cities, and they'd be bragging that they were the champion,
 so people started giving them the nickname Gasbags. And they said,
 'You know what? Yeah, we are. We're the Gasbags.' "
[Cider Mill Press/National Baseball Hall of Fame Library]

Do you see a pattern emerging? In Root for the Home Team, sportscaster Tim Hagerty explores the weirdly wonderful world of minor league baseball's team names. He joins NPR's Robert Siegel to discuss the stories behind some of the most off-the-wall names he encountered.

Hagerty writes that Fresno, Calif., and its surrounding towns
produce 60 percent of the world's raisins, so maybe it makes
sense that in 1906 the local minor league team went by the Fresno
Raisin Eaters. They used the name for only one season, but the
now-Fresno Grizzlies commemorated the name by wearing Fresno
Raisin Eater jerseys every Wednesday of their 2006 season.
[Cider Mill Press/Courtesy of Fresno Grizzlies]

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Minor league baseball team celebrates 'Atheist Night'

By Kimberly Winston,
Religion News Service
From USA Today
July 17, 2012

For one hot August night, the St. Paul Saints, a Minnesota minor league baseball team, will become the "Mr. Paul Aints" in a game sponsored by a local atheist group.Dubbed "A Night of Unbelievable Fun," the Aug. 10 game against the Amarillo Sox will include an auction of players' special "Aints" jerseys, fireworks and a ceremonial first pitch by David Silverman, president of American Atheists.

The letter "S" in all Saints signs and logos around the stadium will be covered, and there are planned references to Big Foot, UFOs and other targets of the skeptical community, team officials said.

"We want to show that atheists can have fun," said August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists, which is sponsoring the event with American Atheists a day before its regional conference in downtown St. Paul.

"We picked the name not as a political statement, but just as something that was fun," Berkshire said. "We thought everybody ain't got a belief in something so it was a word everybody could relate to. Obviously, we ain't got a belief in God."One atheist blogger wondered if the seventh inning stretch would include the singing of "Dog Bless America."

Saints General Manager Derek Sharrer told The Associated Press the team has "no intention of mocking or making fun of anyone's faith."

The Saints have hosted several religiously themed events before, including Christian concerts and a Jewish Heritage Night. It would be "hypocritical" to tell the atheists no, Sharrer said.

The team, which is partly owned by actor Bill Murray, has a history of unusual promotions and events. The team's mascots are two pigs named Kim Lardashian and Kris Hamphries who carry baseballs to the umpires.

Nor is this the Saints' first dip into the religion and science debate. In 2010, the team gave away a rotating Cro-Magnon/Charles Darwin bobblehead doll to salute the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

With Replay Being Debated, Missed Call in ’85 Resonates

Patriotism on Display - Every fan attending the All-Star Game was
greeted by a packet containing either a red, white or blue T-shirt. (AP)
July 10, 2012
NY Times

Kansas City, Mo.
Visitors to the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, beyond left field at Kauffman Stadium, can watch a short film about the history of the franchise. Nowhere in the film is the name Don Denkinger mentioned.
Denkinger was the first-base umpire for Game 6 of the 1985 World Series between the Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals. He missed a crucial call at first base that sparked a ninth-inning comeback for the Royals, who won the championship the next night. It was probably the most significant missed call in baseball history.
“I went down to the Cardinal clubhouse, and I was on the platforms and everything for the Denkinger call,” said the broadcaster Tim McCarver, then working his first World Series, for ABC. “And a horde came out of the woodwork to disassemble what I was standing on. So I figured I’ve got to get out of here, because they are actually moving the stuff underneath me.”
Perhaps the Royals were due for such a cosmic break; they had reached the postseason five times without winning before 1985 and have not returned. In any case, they benefited from the so-called human element, the imperfection in umpiring that baseball seems so eager to preserve.
All these years since the Denkinger call, baseball still resists the wide implementation of instant replay. Home run calls have been reviewable since 2009, but blatant mistakes by umpires have become so pervasive that even “The Simpsons” recently poked fun at them.
Commissioner Bud Selig should be lauded, to a point, for proceeding carefully with technology and wanting to preserve the traditional rhythms and pacing of the game. But Selig also seemed out of touch Tuesday when he insisted that nobody really wanted expanded replay, anyway.
“We’ve added some more, we’re going to continue to do that,” Selig said. “But I can tell you very candidly, the appetite for more instant replay in the sport is very low. Everyone. There are some people who think we’ve maybe gone too far already.”
It is hard to accept that, though, when viewers at home clearly see Todd Helton being awarded a putout while standing three feet off first base, or Dewayne Wise getting credit for a catch he never made.
The recent missed call with the most historical impact, of course, was the one that cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2010. The first-base umpire who blew that call, Jim Joyce, worked the same spot at the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
For the moment, safe-or-out calls on the bases are not a priority. More realistic, Selig said, was making fair-or-foul calls reviewable for balls down the line. This was the kind of play that preserved a no-hitter in June for the Mets’ Johan Santana. Balls trapped by a fielder could also soon be reviewed.
“We’re in the process of reviewing the most efficient ways to gather the camera angles we need for calls down the line,” said Rob Manfred, the executive vice president for labor relations and human resources. “Obviously with trap plays, the issues associated with that are different, placing runners and things like that. The technology issue really relates to down the line.”
The issue of placing runners after an overturned call is no small matter. If an umpire called a ball foul, or ruled that a trap was actually a catch, the runners would not advance. But if those calls were overturned, there would need to be some mechanism for where the runners should go.
“All those rules would have to be laid out, to try and see every kind of play that can happen, so there’s no discussion: this is what happens, this guy goes back, this guy scores,” said Paul Konerko, the Chicago White Sox first baseman. “You’ll have to know all those answers.
“What if there’s a guy at second with two outs and a guy hits the ball to left-center field, and the guy dives and they call it a catch — and then they review it and it’s a trap? Does that guy just go from second to third? Everybody in the ballpark knows he’s going to score on that ball, because with two outs he’s running.
“It doesn’t bother me, just as a general statement, to say, ‘More replay.’ We’re here all day. It doesn’t matter to me if the game takes another 10 minutes, cumulative or whatever it is, to get calls right.

That doesn’t bother me as a concept. But it’s going to be hard to figure all that out.”
True enough, but there would seem to be an easy solution: why not have an extra umpire — in the press box or centralized at, say, the MLB Network studios — with access to camera angles that could instantly determine if the call on the field is wrong?
Joe Torre, who oversees umpires for Selig, said that concept was under consideration. But Torre does not seem to have much enthusiasm for it, and he sounds willing to accept more Denkinger and Joyce moments as part of baseball’s charm, no matter what the cameras say.
“The game isn’t perfect,” Torre said. “For all of us that want everything to be right all the time, it’s not going to the case no matter how much replay we do. I don’t know why we want everything to be perfect, because it’s just not a perfect game, it really isn’t. Life isn’t perfect. I think this is a game of life.”

Friday, July 13, 2012

After injury, Lucas Giolito hopes his arm is still considered golden

Lucas Giolito pitches in public for the first time since rehabilitation
from an elbow injury during a workout at O'Malley Family Field
in Encino. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / May 23, 2012)

Harvard-Westlake's Giolito was considered a top-three draft pick after throwing pitches clocked at 100 mph. Then an elbow injury shut him down for the season. He'll learn Monday how his draft status was affected.

By Gary Klein
L.A. Times
June 3, 2012

Nearly two dozen baseball scouts line up against a padded chain-link fence, mirrored sunglasses hiding their eyes, as the boy with the golden arm walks past.

They have congregated at an empty diamond in Encino for one reason: to watch Lucas Giolito play catch.

This spring, pitching for his high school team, Giolito unleashed a fastball that lighted up radar guns at 100 mph, the rare feat cementing his place among the top prospects in the United States.

A week later, the 17-year-old Giolito suffered a season-ending elbow injury.

Now, after months of rest and rehabilitation, he is about to participate in the first of several important auditions before Major League Baseball's draft on Monday. The scouts will take notes and then advise their bosses whether or when to select Giolito. A high pick carries a price tag in the millions.

So the scouts move en masse when Giolito arrives, unfolding his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame from a white Volkswagen coupe on a warm May afternoon. They tail him from the parking lot to the clubhouse, stationing themselves along the fence as he makes his way toward the immaculately manicured outfield grass.

Giolito, baseball glove in hand, glances over his shoulder.

He feels the scrutiny even as he hooks a band of rubber tubing to the fence and commences stretching his arms, shoulders and back.

"This," he says to a coach who will supervise his workout, "is kind of weird."

Major league pitchers routinely throw a baseball upward of 90 mph. Few reach 100.

Giolito, an affable senior at Harvard-Westlake High in Studio City, flashed golden-arm potential from an early age.

His first Halloween costume, at 4 months, was a baseball uniform and he started playing on his first team at the age of 5. He never wavered from the career goal stated for a fifth-grade class project: pro baseball player.

During Little League games near his family's home in Santa Monica, his mother, actress Lindsay Frost, watched with a mix of pride and fear as her oldest son tried to harness his gift.

"He did throw the ball very hard," she says, "and it wasn't always precise."

His pitches twice broke the thumb of his catcher and struck the bodies of many overmatched batters, sending a few to the hospital.

As he grew older, those pitches were hurled faster and more consistently closer to home plate. After Giolito's freshman season, scouts clocked his fastball at 91 mph. He turned 15 the next day.

"That was cool," says Giolito, who enjoys writing and playing the French horn. "But I also thought, 'I need to start throwing strikes too.'"

Toward the end of his sophomore season, it happened.

Giolito had struggled in his previous outing — "a total meltdown," he says — but as he warmed up for a game against Encino Crespi High, something felt different. Pitches that once evaded the strike zone suddenly lasered to their intended locations.

"That," he says, snapping his fingers, "was kind of like when things clicked."

Two years ago, Giolito's fastball reached 94 mph, then 96. He stayed in that range through his junior season and into last summer, traversing the country to take part in showcase events for high-profile prospects.

By the end of the tour, he had a scholarship commitment from UCLA and analysts tabbed him the best high school pitching prospect in this year's draft.

"He was a lock to be taken in the first three picks," says Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America magazine.

So few were surprised on Feb. 28 when Giolito's first pitches against Woodland Hills El Camino Real High registered 98 mph. But then he fired a fastball that became legend.

Scouts behind the backstop looked at the reading on their radar guns and did double takes, a murmur rising.

Did you get that?

A few pitches later, Giolito did it again.

Did you get THAT?

Giolito didn't notice the fuss. Neither did Harvard-Westlake Coach Matt LaCour, until a scout caught his eye.

"He held up three fingers," LaCour recalls. "Triple digits."

Another scout informed the right-hander's father, social media consultant Rick Giolito, who had only one thought: "Oh … my ... Lord."

There was no pain, no telltale "pop" indicating a problem. But a week after throwing 100 mph, something was amiss with that valuable right arm.

In a game against Mission Hills Alemany, Giolito clocked 98 mph in the early innings but struggled with control, walking three and hitting three batters.

With one out in the seventh, he delivered what turned out to be his final pitch.

"Ohhhh," Giolito thought to himself. "That didn't feel very good."

He summoned his coaches from the dugout.

"Everybody's stomach just dropped," pitching coach Ethan Katz said.

Giolito spent the rest of the game on the bench — "I was more upset that we ended up losing," he says — and doctors examined him that night. Tests the next day revealed a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, an injury that once spelled doom for pitchers young and old. But no more.

Torn elbow ligaments are now repaired almost routinely with surgery. Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, a former No. 1 overall draft pick and member of the 100-mph fraternity, recovered from a 2010 elbow procedure, regained his velocity and has enjoyed an All-Star-caliber start this season.

Doctors deemed Giolito's injury milder — no operation necessary. But they shut him down for the season, handicapping his draft status and his team's chance of winning a championship. Giolito and senior left-hander Max Fried, also projected as a top-10 draft choice, had formed a marquee one-two pitching punch.

"I was mad," Giolito says, "because I couldn't do my part."

The morning after the injury, Giolito holed up in his room for a few hours, seemingly upset about his misfortune, his mother recalled.

"It's important that you keep your head up," she said when he finally emerged to the kitchen. "Stay positive and don't feel sorry for yourself."

"Oh, that?" he responded. "I was over that an hour ago."

His mother knew then he would be OK.

Giolito stayed with his team while rehabilitating his injury, patrolling the dugout during games, encouraging teammates and "charming" their bats with a rubber toy snake named Dante.

He also attacked an aggressive training program. Work with light weights and other equipment three times a week strengthened weaknesses in Giolito's core, forearms, shoulder and back. Intense lower-body workouts six days a week kept him in shape.

The goal: Prove that he is sound, perhaps even stronger, and worth selecting with a high draft pick.

Back in Encino, with the scouts studying his every move, Giolito plays catch with a teammate in the outfield, moving back every few throws. First to 30 feet, then 40, then 50, until they are about 120 feet apart.

Gradually, he closes the distance again, finishing the half-hour workout by flashing a thumbs-up sign and sharing an embrace.

"It's hard to tell much just watching him play catch," one scout says. "We'll see."

After the workout Giolito briefly huddles with his father and an agent who is advising the family leading up to the draft.

Later, ice bags wrapped around his right elbow and shoulder, he's clearly relieved the first marker is behind.

"It feels good," he says of his arm. "It feels real good."

Giolito will not pitch from a mound until after the draft, clouding his status as a surefire first-round pick. When he does, he can expect scouts to again be there with their radar guns.

Most likely, the readings will start to climb ... 90 ... 92 … 95 ... ever faster.

Will he ever hit the magical 100 again?

The boy with the golden arm is in no hurry to find out.

[Editor's note: Lucal Giolito was chosen #16 in the first round by the Washington Nationals, the following is the National's Press Release, June 4, 2012:]

Nationals select RHP Lucas Giolito with 16th-overall selection in '12 First-Year Player Draft

The Washington Nationals today selected 17 year-old right-handed pitcher Lucas Giolito (Harvard-Westlake School, California) with the 16th-overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. Nationals Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, Nationals Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Personnel Roy Clark and Nationals Director of Scouting Kris Kline made the joint announcement.

The 6-foot-6, 230 lbs. Giolito is regarded as one of the most advanced right-handed prep prospects to come out of Southern California in the last 20 years.

He possesses a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and has touched triple digits on occasion, but it is his curve ball that sets his talents apart. Giolito’s work ethic is considered exemplary.

Giolito went 9-1 with 78 strikeouts and a 1.00 ERA in 70.1 innings as a senior at Harvard Westlake. He also threw three shutouts and tossed four complete games. In 2011, he was named a Perfect Game All-American for his efforts at Harvard-Westlake as a junior.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lou Gehrig baseball is nice, student debt isn't: Start the auction

The baseball hit by Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig in the
1928 World Series, which is expected to fetch more than
$100,000 when it is auctioned off to help pay off a Connecticut
man's student loans. (Charlie Riedel/AP / July 6, 2012)
By Tina Susman
Los Angeles Times
July 6, 2012

NEW YORK -- Like most medical students, Michael Gott has a lot of student debt. Unlike most medical students, his family possesses the baseball that Yankees slugger Lou Gehrig hit for a home run during the 1928 World Series. Not for long, though, because Gott's mother is selling the ball to help pay off her son's loans.

By early Friday, bidding for the famous ball had reached more than $33,000, but Hunt Auctions of Exton, Penn., which is handling the sale, expects to fetch $100,000 to $200,000 for the ball, which flew into the bleachers on Oct. 5, 1928, in the second game of the series.

"It should be in the hands of someone who really loves it and has a passion for it," Gott's mother, Elizabeth Gott, told the Associated Press. "Right now we have a passion for my son and his career."

According to a description of the ball on the Hunt Auctions website, the ball is extraordinarily valuable for a number of reasons: It has been in the hands of the same family for 84 years. It comes with accompanying newspaper articles detailing the famous hit and the manner in which the ball fell into the hands of a young man named Buddy Kurland, who was Elizabeth Gott's great-uncle. And it involved some of baseball's most legendary players.

Babe Ruth was among the Yankee teammates on base when Gehrig hit the three-run homer, helping the Yankees to a 9-3 victory over St. Louis. New York went on to win the series, but Gehrig's career was cut short when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease that killed him in 1941 and that is now referred to commonly as Lou Gehrig's disease.

For years, the baseball sat on display in the window of Buddy Kurland's shop in South Manchester, Conn., but eventually it ended up in a drawer in Elizabeth Gott's Stamford, Conn., home. With her 30-year-old son's medical school loans nearing $200,000, she said, it seemed like the right time to sell the ball.

While valuable, the ball isn't nearly as pricey as some other bits of baseball history. According to Hunt, its sales in recent years have included a 1933 All-Star Game inaugural home run baseball that sold for $805,000, as well as Babe Ruth's 702nd home run ball from 1934, which fetched $264,500 at auction.

“I think what we enjoy about handling pieces like this is they really … bear the significance of baseball within American culture in the last 100-plus years,” Hunt president David Hunt told the AP. "Unlike any other sport, baseball has that just unbelievably storied history.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Seinfeld on Why ‘Who’s on First?’ Worked

                                                                         Jon Soohoo/WireImage
Jerry Seinfeld, a Mets fan [at Dodger Stadium recently], said he started
watching Abbott & Costello reruns in the 1960s. They continue to inspire him.
By Richard Sandomir
New York Times
July 9, 2012

Jerry Seinfeld watches "Who's on First?" and sees the craft behind Abbott and Costello's routine: the rhythm he calls "musical math," the byplay between Bud Abbott's straight-man calm and Lou Costello's childlike exasperation, and the repetition that sustains Costello's confusion about the players' names.

"Any great comedy is how far can you take this silly idea," Seinfeld says in "Costas & Seinfeld: Who's on First?" a 30-minute special which has its premier Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern on the MLB Network and allows the comedian to deconstruct the comic magic of one of the most famous bits of all time. "I mean the initial idea is just a first baseman named Who. And then you get the What, then the I Don't Know, and it keeps going."

He adds, "You think it's out of gas, and it's not. That's what makes this great."

"Who's on First?" plays, of course, on a series of misunderstandings that is carried by rat-a-tat wordplay. Costello cannot grasp why Abbott's roster includes Who at first base, What at second, I Don't Know at third, a pitcher named Tomorrow and a catcher named Today.

Costello is as addled as Abbott is certain.

What makes it funny, Seinfeld says, is that neither man is listening to the other — and that each man is totally convinced of his perspective.

Costello: "You know the guys' names on the baseball team?"

Abbott: "Yes."

Costello: "Well, go ahead. Who's on first?"

Abbott: "Yes."

Costello: "I mean the guy's name."

Abbott: "Who."

Costello: "The guy playing first base."

Abbott: "Who."

Costello: "The guy on first base."

Abbott: "Who is on first."

They performed the routine hundreds, maybe thousand of times in vaudeville theaters and on the set of the 1945 film "The Naughty Nineties."

Seinfeld said by telephone Monday: "You think about how they worked. They did eight shows a day in vaudeville, five, six days a week."

As a stand-up comic, he said that he could not fathom being part of a two-man team, let alone one that worked together for decades. "I think it's pretty well acknowledged that it's way tougher than marriage," he said. From the 1930s on, they honed "Who's on First?" so deftly and so often, Seinfeld said, that all the air was sucked out of it, leaving a sketch with near-perfect timing. The less air, the funnier it gets, he said.

"When the laugh happens," he said, "you want that next line right up against it, and again, right up against it. It creates a compression that makes your mind work faster, which makes you laugh."

Seinfeld's fascination with Abbott and Costello began in the 1960s when he started to watch reruns of the comedy team's syndicated TV series. He plucked some of what he admired for his own series: a short routine to open each episode; playing the Abbott-like straight man to the other characters, and emphasizing the physical differences between Kramer's lean physique and Newman's porcine one.

And George Costanza's middle name, Louis, paid homage to Costello.

Seinfeld said he experienced a "Who's on First?" moment in an episode, "The Package," in which Kramer says the Postal Service will take a write-off if Jerry files a fraudulent claim that his stereo was damaged during delivery.

Jerry: "You don't even know what a write-off is."

Kramer: "Do you?"

Jerry: "No, I don't."

Kramer: "But they do, and they are the ones writing it off."

"It was," Seinfeld said by telephone, "like being in heaven."

The "Who's on First?" version in Thursday's program was performed in 1953 by Abbott and Costello for their TV series. When irritated, Costello pounded a bat on the stage.

"See how close they are," Seinfeld tells Costas. "The words are tight. They're physically tight. Energy is high. It's banging off each other like pool balls." Separate them a few inches and the energy dissipates.

Costello: "Look, when you pay off the first baseman every month, you get a receipt from the guy?"

Abbott: "Sure."

Costello: "How's he sign his name?"

Abbott: "Who."

Costello: "The guy you gave the money to."

Abbott: "Who."

Costello: "The guy you gave the money to."

Abbott: "Well, that's how he signs it."

Costello: "That's how who signs it?"

Abbott: "Yes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Doris Sams dies at 85; star in women's baseball league

Sams was an all-star for at least five of her eight seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and pitched a perfect game in 1947.

This undated photo taken circa 1946-1950 shows Doris Sams,
a leading player in the All-American Girls Base Ball League,
in her Muskegon Lassies uniform during her playing days.
Sams, a fast-pitch player from Knoxville who helped inspire
the movie "A League of Their Own," has died at the
age of 85. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel)

By Valerie J. Nelson,
Los Angeles Times
July 8, 2012

She was one of the few women to pitch a perfect professional baseball game, a 1947 achievement that she downplayed decades later by saying: "I just got lucky."

Baseball records present a less-humble account of the career of Doris Sams. She was an all-star for at least five of her eight seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, established in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley to keep ballparks filled while men were away at war.

While on the roster of Michigan's Muskegon Lassies, Sams was named player of the year in 1947, making the all-star team as both a pitcher and outfielder. Throwing sidearm, she pitched her perfect game that year against the Fort Wayne Daisies in front of thousands of fans. She also set the league record for home runs with 12 in 1952.

When the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., unveiled an exhibit in 1988 honoring women in baseball, it brought Sams and her league-mates renewed attention and helped inspire the 1992 film "A League of Their Own," according to a hall of fame history.

Sams, who was 85 and had Alzheimer's disease, died June 28 in Knoxville, Tenn. Her death was confirmed by Stevens Mortuary Chapel in Knoxville.

As a player she was "always calm, cool and collected," according to the All-American Girls Professional League Players Assn., founded to preserve the league's history. Another historical account called Sams "a fine defender and a gazelle in the outfield."

A standout fast-pitch softball player, Sams sought a tryout in 1946 when a pair of league teams were passing through Knoxville. At 19, she was sent to Muskegon to join the Lassies, an expansion team that moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1950.

The teams played "in these factory towns where the people were making good money, but they had gas rationing and couldn't go anywhere," Sams told the Associated Press in 1988. "After the war they went other directions … but we entertained them for a while."

After playing two positions for about three years, Sams later said she told her coach to "make up his mind about where to play me or pay me two salaries. I pretty much played outfield after that."

On Aug. 18, 1947, Sams pitched her perfect game, when not a single Daisy reached base and the Lassies won 2-0. Sams later recalled that the game "wasn't so perfect."

"They hit me like a drum. But it was one of those days when everybody was on their toes. … You know, the pitcher doesn't do it alone," Sams told the Society for American Baseball Research in 1997.

In 1949, Sams was again singled out as player of the year. She was one of the league's best hitters, averaging above .300 during each of her last four seasons. She retired after the 1953 season, and the league folded the next year.

In interviews, Sams invariably pointed out a key difference between the men's and women's game — the uniforms.

"We wore skirts, you know," Sams said in the 1988 AP interview. "Believe me, you haven't lived until you've slid on skin. You talk about strawberries. One of the girls dated a Triple-A player who used to say there wasn't enough money to get him to slide on skin, and he was right."

Doris Jane Sams was born Feb. 2, 1927, in Knoxville to Robert and Pauline Sams. Her grandfather and father both played semi-professional baseball, according to Doris, and she grew up playing sports with her two older brothers.

In 1938, Sams won a regional marbles tournament and became the Knoxville badminton champion in 1942.

Upon retiring from professional baseball, she returned home and worked in the offices of the Knoxville Utilities Board. She never married and had no immediate survivors.

After viewing "A League of Their Own," which starred Tom Hanks as the manager who says "there's no crying in baseball," Sams declared the film "about 30% truth and 70% Hollywood."

In Cooperstown, memorabilia belonging to "Sammye"— as players called her — also helped tell the league's story. One of her MVP trophies, a Louisville Slugger bat that she wielded and a photograph of her hitting the ball have been featured in the display.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Best baseball mom a kid could have

By Woody Woodburn
Ventura County Star
Friday, July 6, 2012

The object in baseball is to make it home and that is exactly what Robin Kathleen Kumferman wanted to do.

Last summer, lying in a bed in the very same hospital where she had given birth to John 34 years prior, she did not want her own life to end here. Her dying wish was to do so at home in Oak Park.

In truth, she had one more make-a-wish.

But mother and son both knew this one could not be granted because her cancer was advanced and aggressive and promised to take her life before the book he was reading aloud to her daily, the book he was still writing with a fast-approaching deadline from his New York publisher would be released.

Four days ago that terrific book, "Bushville Wins!: The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the Screwballs, Sluggers, and Beer Swiggers Who Canned the New York Yankees and Changed Baseball," made it to bookstores — 11 months after Robin died at age 63.

John Klima, who graduated from Oak Park High in 1993 and wrote sports for The Star from 1994 through 2001, says his mom is as much a part of "Bushville Wins!" as are Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn.

"Other kids had baseball dads but I had a baseball mom," John says. "She passed her love for the game on to me."

One way she did so was by scouring used bookstores for baseball books to give her son, who notes: "I've been reading baseball history since I was 8."

But, Robin never stopped searching.

"Her last summer she brought me an old book on guys who have hit 500 home runs," John rejoins. "She was dying and she found this book for me. I remember thinking, 'This is the last book I'll ever get from my mom.' That was sad."

Here is a happier moment from when John was 12 and his mom took him to a baseball card show at the Pasadena Civic Center. In "Bushville Wins!" he shares the memory:

"She spotted a short elderly man with a bald head and a round tummy waiting for his taxicab. He was 30 pounds heavier than his playing weight, but she instantly recognized him. She tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'That's Warren Spahn.'

"Wiseguy that I was, I immediately said, nope, lady, you got the wrong guy. Alas, little did I know that my mom grew up in Milwaukee during the 1950s, the heyday of what fans called 'Brave Land.' She walked me over and said, 'Hello, Mr. Spahn,' as if she had known him for years.

" 'Hello, ma'am,' he said, as if he, too, had known her for years.

"Milwaukee and its fans had that connection, and as for me, it wasn't every day that I said hello to a 363-game winner. Spahnie had a feel for kids, put me at ease, and asked me if I wanted to see his 1957 World Series ring.

"I sure did, so Spahnie pulled it off his finger and to my great amazement, dropped it into my palm and said, 'Here you go.' "

"Where do you need to go?" is a question John's mother often asked him when he was a senior in high school and covering prep sports as a newspaper stringer. Because he didn't yet have a driver's license she would chauffeur him to assignments far and near.

"After the games my mom would sit with me in the car while I wrote my stories and then drive to find a pay phone so I could phone in dictation," John recalls. "She always supported my writing."

John is thankful his mom got to read his first book, "Willie's Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend," which was published three years ago.

He also is thankful he was able to read much of "Bushville Wins!" to her in her final days, including his narrative of Henry Aaron's pennant-winning home run.

Too, the son is thankful that "the best baseball mom a kid could have" was able to make it home one last time as she wished.

Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Star. You can follow him on Twitter @WoodyWoodburn or contact him at

Nats Will Use 1924 Baseball Before Turn Back the Clock Night

(Photo Courtesy Washington Nationals
Baseball On Loan from The Phil Wood Collection)
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post
July 5, 2012

I’ve mentioned several times that Thursday night is turn-back-the-clock night at Nats Park, complete with organ music, 1924 concession prices (after you buy one, restrictions apply) and sweet throwback uniforms.

Now here are some nuggets about the baseball that will be used for the night’s first pitch, which will be tossed by Walter Johnson’s grandson, Hank Thomas. The first pitch “will be thrown from behind the Nationals dugout, similar to how it was traditionally performed,” according to the Nats.

The ball is an actual game-used ball from the 1924 World Series, on loan from Phil Wood. The D.C. baseball historian wrote a brief summary on the ball, which the Nats passed along:

--This ball was last used on October 9, 1924 in game 6 of the 1924 World Series. Senators first baseman Joe Judge fouled this ball into the stands at Griffith Stadium off of New York starting pitcher Art Nehf. Washington starting pitcher Tom Zachary allowed 7 hits and pitched a complete game that day in a 2-1 victory over the Giants that tied the series at 3 games apiece.

--The next day — Friday, October 10 — Washington came from behind to tie the game with 2 runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. In the bottom of the 12th, catcher Muddy Ruel doubled to left off of Giants’ reliever Jack Bentley. Two batters later, outfielder Earl McNeely hit a ground ball that some say hit a pebble in front of New York third baseman Freddie Lindstrom and bounced over his head, allowing Ruel to score the game — and Series — winning run in a 4-3 victory, Washington’s only World Series championship. The winning pitcher that day was Walter Johnson.

Other features from the night, via press release:

--“Both teams will wear 1924 replica jerseys, while the grounds crew will be dressed in full 1920’s attire and gameday staff will don newsie caps and skimmer hats.”

--The first 10,000 fans who enter through the center field gate will receive a commemorative replica of a 1924 World Series scorecard, seen here.

--A 1920s-themed jazz orchestra will perform on the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk from 5:30 to 7:00.

--The Racing Presidents and Screech will wear 1924 Senators jerseys.

--The big screen’s Nats HD graphics “will reflect how the scoreboard would have appeared in 1924.”

--“Video tributes of the 1924 Senators will be highlighted throughout the game.”

--“Traditional organ music will be played between innings.”