Friday, October 26, 2012

When Marichal and Spahn Dueled for a Game and a Half

                                          Associated Press
A homer by the Giants’ Willie Mays, right, in the
16th inning gave Juan Marichal a 1-0 complete-game
victory over the Milwaukee Braves and Warren Spahn,
who also went the distance, on July 2, 1963.

From July 2, 2008, NY Times
By Richard Sandomir

From the ninth inning on, Juan Marichal pleaded with his manager, Alvin Dark, to stay in the game. Why shouldn’t he keep pitching? Marichal, the San Francisco Giants right-hander with the high leg kick, had held the Milwaukee Braves scoreless. And the Giants had not scored against the ancient left-hander Warren Spahn.

“I begged Mr. Dark to let me stay a few more innings, and he did,” Marichal said of the game 45 years ago Wednesday. “In the 12th or 13th, he wanted to take me out, and I said, ‘Please, please, let me stay.’ Then in the 14th, he said, ‘No more for you,’ and I said, ‘Do you see that man on the mound?’ and I was pointing at Warren. ‘That man is 42, and I’m 25. I’m not ready for you to take me out.’ ”

Marichal said his catcher, Ed Bailey, was telling him: “Don’t let him take you out. Win or lose, this is great.”

Marichal was tired of arguing with Dark — he said he told Willie Mays that he thought Dark was angry at him — but not of pitching as the innings piled up.

“I felt good,” Marichal said Tuesday by telephone from the Dominican Republic. “The weather was nice. It was cool. I was strong.”

Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey said in interviews that a delectable tension was building in the field behind Marichal at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

“They were the types of pitcher who kept you on your toes,” McCovey said.

McCovey nearly ended the game in the ninth with a fly ball he stroked far over the right-field foul pole that was ruled foul by the first-base umpire Chris Pelekoudas.

“It appeared to go out fair and wind up foul,” said Lon Simmons, who called the game for the Giants on radio with Russ Hodges. McCovey said: “I think Chris was admiring it so much that he forgot it was fair. You had to admire it. I hit it pretty good.”

The duel continued, with neither pitcher losing his control or leaving.

“After the 10th, they threw nothing but fastballs,” Cepeda said.

“Maybe,” McCovey said. “But I can’t imagine Juan throwing only fastballs.”

In the 16th, Marichal retired Frank Bolling and Hank Aaron on flyouts. Denis Menke singled to left, but Norm Larker grounded out to end the inning.

With one out in the bottom of the inning, Mays slammed Spahn’s first pitch over the left-field fence. The Giants won, 1-0. The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Spahn as saying that he threw Mays a screwball that “didn’t break worth a damn.”

Marichal told reporters that his back ached. “Oh, she hurts,” he said.

His pitching line: 16 innings, 8 hits, 0 runs, 4 walks and 10 strikeouts.

Spahn’s line: 15 1/3 innings, 9 hits, 1 run, 1 walk and 2 strikeouts.

Even by the standards of pitching in the 1960s, when complete games were common and pitch counts irrelevant, the Marichal-Spahn duel was extraordinary.

“In those days, nothing surprised us, but when you look back, it was amazing,” Cepeda said. “In those days, Juan was pitching 25, 26, 28 complete games every year.”

Marichal and Spahn’s performance nearly duplicated an August 1954 game when Jack Harshman of the Chicago White Sox pitched a 16-inning shutout against the Detroit Tigers. Detroit’s starter, Al Aber, gave up the only run of the game in the 16th.

“Pitchers of the generations up until Marichal had a belief that ‘this game is mine,’ ” said Steve Hirdt, executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau. He added, “The idea of doing permanent harm to a pitcher’s arm didn’t come into anyone’s mind.”

Spahn had previous experience in losing marathon complete games. According to Hirdt, he lost a game to Brooklyn in 1951 with two outs in the 16th, and a year later, after striking out 18 Cubs and hitting a home run, he lost with nobody out in the 16th.

Marichal’s victory in 16 innings that night in 1963 came less than three weeks after he threw a no-hitter against the Houston Colt .45’s that eluded perfection by two walks. A month before that, Marichal had been knocked out in the sixth inning of Sandy Koufax’s second no-hitter.

Whose no-hitter was better? Unhesitatingly, Marichal said: “He got eight runs and I got one. You work harder with one run.”

McCovey said Marichal’s 16-inning victory was more impressive than the no-hitter.

“Oh sure, to go that many innings, it was amazing,” he said, “but what I liked about the no-hitter was I played left field and made the catch that saved it.”

Marichal was not finished with spectacular long games. In 1966, he beat the Phillies, 1-0, in 14 innings, but in 1969 suffered a fate similar to Spahn’s: he lost to the Mets, 1-0, with one out in the 14th, on a home run by Tommie Agee.

“When I close my eyes,” Marichal said, “I can still see the ball, floating in the air, leaving the park.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Even in Autumn of Life, You Can Be a Ball Boy for the Giants

The Giants Are Partial to Senior Citizens Who Shag Fouls; Mr. Zarzana's Blooper

                                    Jim Carlton / The Wall Street Journal
Balldudes Daryl Gault (left) and George Zarzana
Sunday at the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park.
By Jim Carlton, Wall Street Journal
October 18, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO—The San Francisco Giants have fielded their top talent for the Major League Baseball playoffs this week, but even some of their most elite have made errors.

There was, for example, veteran George Zarzana's blooper in Sunday's opener in the National League Championship Series. Mr. Zarzana suited up for the game against the St. Louis Cardinals, jogged confidently onto the field and settled into his position.

Then he promptly fell off the stool.

Mr. Zarzana's position was next to the dugout behind first base, and he would be called a ball boy if he were a little younger. At age 72, he last played baseball when Jimmy Carter was president, and that makes him a balldude in Giants parlance.

He is in good company in this club. Most Major League teams field the familiar teenage ball boys and ball girls to shag fouls outside the outfield foul lines. The Giants are partial to a cadre of foul-chasers mostly over the age of 60.

Now, the Giants' most elite balldudes are getting coveted starting positions in the postseason. That sometimes means, said Mr. Zarzana after his tumble, that "we've got 42,000 people watching us make fools of ourselves."

The Giants' roster of about 70 balldudes and 20 balldudettes take to their stools during the regular season. But the postseason dudes are a cut above, says Sue Petersen, who manages the dudes and says she chose the ones she considers her most reliable to take the field for the championship series.

"It's a thrill I only thought about as a kid," says balldude Gary Fralick, 62, who built the wooden stools. "You get the best seats in the house, and people want your autograph, too."

San Francisco is believed to be the first team in the Majors to start using old ball boys, in 1993, and since then some other clubs have copied parts of the program. The club originally called them the "Spry Seniors," but the team, fans and broadcasters now all call them balldudes. "The team was under new ownership back then, and they were looking for creative ways to do things," says Ms. Petersen, executive director of the Giants' Community Fund nonprofit arm.

The dudes program, which the team expanded to include some younger friends and relatives of old-timers, has attracted some controversy. The two dudes who work the games—one behind first base and the other behind third—used to sit on folding chairs. But after season-ticket holders complained that their views were being obstructed, Ms. Petersen put the dudes on tiny milking stools that make them look even funnier to some.

"You've got these 73-year-old men sitting in these ridiculous little chairs like 5-year-olds," says Jon Miller, Giants broadcaster for radio station KNBR-AM, who often points out balldude antics during his broadcasts.

"You try not to make a fool out of yourself, but the more you do, the more the crowd loves it," says Mr. Zarzana, the balldude manning the first Giants-Cardinals game.

For the balldudes, though, this is serious business. Some pay up to $500 to attend Giants' Balldude Camp, usually in June, at the team's AT&T Park, where as many as 60 balldude hopefuls shag pop-ups and grounders and answer Giants trivia questions. Training includes sitting on the balldude stools while batters hit grounders down the line to them.

Camp also instills balldude rules. Example: Never approach a player or official on the field. Still, there are some dude faux pas. Once, a dudette accidentally grabbed the glove belonging to former star outfielder Barry Bonds when she trotted off to take her post behind third base, Ms. Petersen says; "We can laugh about it, now."

Balldudes can make $15 for each of the three or four games they work each season. For the most part, they are on hand to shag fouls and give the balls to children. But some add a personal touch. Until he retired at age 88 this year, balldude Len Herztein was famous for dancing and preening between innings.

No balldudes have been seriously hurt so far. "It's fun watching them make plays," says Giants right fielder Hunter Pence. "They help us out a lot."

Ms. Petersen chooses her balldudes from several hundred applicants each year. She looks for team loyalty, and something unique.

"I once had an organ donor and an organ recipient on the field at the same time," she says.

Knowledge of the game and quick reflexes are prerequisites, Ms. Petersen says, although actual playing skills are not. "I want them to have enough experience to know what to do—or not to do—in a variety of situations," she says.

At Monday's Game 2 of the Championship Series, for example, balldude Glenn Casias, 54, jumped up from his stool when he saw a pop fly foul from a Cardinals batter hurtling his way. "We're told to grab the stool and get out of the way," says Mr. Casias, a technology executive from Sonoma, Calif. He threw himself partway over a rail—backside protruding—in time for Giants first baseman Brandon Belt to make the catch. "That was one of the best plays we have ever seen by a balldude," says Mike Krukow, a TV commentator for the Giants.

At the Sunday game, after falling off his stool, Mr. Zarzana settled in for the game. He made one play in the second inning, scooping up a grounder from a Giants batter and handing it off to a young boy. Ms. Petersen, observing nearby, said he "looked solid."

Mr. Zarzana, a retired elementary school principal from Fair Oaks, Calif., got his big break when a buddy, Daryl Gault, put his name in to become a balldude about eight years ago as a surprise retirement gift. In 2008, Mr. Zarzana's name came off the waiting list, and Ms. Petersen later selected Mr. Gault, 65, too, so they could work games together.

Mr. Zarzana has family ties to pro baseball. A nephew from a former marriage is Mark McGwire, the Cardinals' hitting coach and former all-star slugger. Mr. McGwire didn't know Mr. Zarzana was a balldude until this week.

"I think it's awesome" Mr. McGwire said before Monday's game, which the Giants went on to win. "It makes them feel young. Where else can you do that?"

After Thursday night's game, the Giants trailed the Cardinals 3-1 in the best of seven series.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bob Uecker Is Still On the Active Roster

Mark Yost, Wall Street Journal
March 31, 2011
Maryvale, Arizona

'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.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Eddie Mayo - 1945 World Series MVP

Eddie in 1945 with the Tigers - photo courtesy
of Wikipedia
A famous athlete becomes my stepfather.
By Mary McGrath
October 20, 2012

Baseball is in full bloom right now. We’re rooting for the Tigers. Why? Among other reasons, my stepfather, Eddie Mayo also played for them. In fact, he was World Series MVP in 1945. How cool is that?

My mom started seeing Eddie around 1975, after his wife passed away. Eddie had always admired his “Ginny”, largely because he was also her brother-in-law. Yes, you guessed it. Eddie married his wife’s sister.

Hey, it kept the family intact. If you marry your sister-in-law, you don’t have to explain yourself over and over again. Mom and Eddie had known each other for decades, so it made perfect sense. After the wedding, they spent many years on Pacoima Court, spending summers in Maryland where Eddie had a home, before they finally moved to the desert in 1989.

In watching these riveting baseball games, I wonder what it must have been like for Eddie to be a professional athlete. There’s the discipline, the traveling, the fans, and all the pressures from the crowds. I’m sure the celebrity status was trying at times, along with the challenges of raising a family and supporting a wife.

Eddie used to say that baseball was the most difficult sport. You had 1/10th of a second to assess the pitch and decide whether to swing or let it go by. As I watch the pitchers on TV, I wonder about the recipe of a ball before it is thrown. Will it be a fastball, a curve, slider, changeup or something else? Teresa and I used to play softball, and even those slow pitches were sometimes impossible to hit.

Imagine a hardball hurling toward you at 100+ mph, and you can see how difficult it would be for any professional athlete to execute a swing correctly.
One of Eddie's many baseball cards. Photo
courtesy of Morguefile

According to the Internet, Edward Joseph Mayo, nicknamed "Hotshot" and "Steady Eddie," was an infielder for nine seasons in Major League Baseball, playing for the New York Giants, Boston Braves, Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers.

But Eddie’s best years were with the Tigers, where he played second base from 1944 through 1948. In 1945, he helped lead the Tigers to the American League pennant and to victory over the Cubs in the seven-game World Series. That year, the Sporting News crowned him MVP. The gold and diamond ring he wore was like a large satellite on his hand, and a physical tribute to his athletic accomplishments.

After his career in baseball ended, Eddie ran a very successful tile business, and then did very well as a restaurateur. The competitive spirit was always with him, and after marrying my mom, he even taught my twin sister Teresa and I the fundamentals of golf. Now that’s the toughest game in my book!

Eddie was married to my mom for about 24 years and deeply devoted to her. After she passed in 2000, he continued with life without her, until he passed away in 2006 in Banning, California. At the time, he was 96, and considered the oldest living former Detroit Tiger, and the eighth oldest living former Major League Baseball player.

Eddie and I had our tough moments at times, especially after my mom died, but for the most part, we got along pretty well. And it’s the good times that I try to remember. Life’s too short to harbor negativity.

So, here’s to you Eddie, wherever you may be. May your Tigers be victorious!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Babe Ruth's Lincoln - Bought by Baseball and Car-loving Texan

Lonnie Shelton, a baseball fan and car collector, poses
for photos with the 1948 Lincoln Continental he recently
bought in Amarillo, Texas. The car belonged to baseball
great Babe Ruth. (Photo: Roberto Rodriguez/AP)

October 18. 2012
USA Today & The Associated Press

Lonnie Shelton finally owns the car that hits it out of the park when it comes to fulfilling fantasies — a regal blue 1948 Lincoln Continental two-door hardtop coupe. It was Babe Ruth's last car.

"The first time I saw the car," Shelton said, "I fell in love with it. I bet I stayed there two hours looking at it, sitting in it, asking questions about it. There are several 1948 Lincoln Continentals out there, but none like this one."

George Herman Ruth owned the car before his death on Aug. 16, 1948. You couldn't get more famous than the Babe. Old Yankee Stadium was called "The House That Ruth Built."

Ford Motor presented Ruth, who retired from baseball in 1935, with a new Lincoln Continental in 1948 as a measure of its appreciation for his tireless devotion to Little Leaguers and baseball.

Before he died of cancer, Ruth spent many of his final days traveling across the country in his Lincoln, giving speeches and hitting lessons to Little Leaguers.

"The car has 81,000 miles on it," Shelton said. "That's not so many miles now, but back then that was a lot of miles for a car. So The Babe did some traveling. And then after he passed away the car was driven all over to county fairs and all kinds of places."

Shelton, 61, of Pampas, Texas, is semiretired, and his passions in life include grandchildren, wife, baseball and car-collecting. His love of cars mainly reaches out to mint-condition muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s.

But when Shelton found out The Babe's last-known owned car was parked in the Texas Museum of Automotive History near the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, he had to see the beautifully maintained machine in person.

Shelton first saw Babe's car three years ago. Recently, he was looking for parts for some of his older cars on the Internet and found a Dallas-area man who had parts in stock.

"We got to talking and he was also the curator for the car museum," Shelton said.

Once in Dallas to pick up the car parts, Shelton learned the car's owner was serious about selling.

Shelton jumped at the chance to own a piece of baseball lore. Shelton said he signed a non-disclosure agreement with the man who previously owned the car and is not allowed to divulge his name. Shelton did say the man is a Texan.

Shelton said he has signed information from Ford Motor confirming the car was a gift to Babe Ruth in 1948. Shelton said he also has documentation from Claire Ruth, Babe's wife, writing about the car. Claire Ruth died in October 1976.

"Buying it had nothing to do with the car," Shelton said. "It had all to do with the love of baseball. And the history of baseball and that gentleman who was involved with it. There was nobody that rivaled Babe Ruth back then."

The car is in pristine shape with original interior and car color — "I call it Yankee blue," Shelton said.

The speedometer reaches 110 miles per hour. The radio works and takes about 15 minutes to warm up because of the glass vacuum tubes used in that era. The doors and windows work by hydraulics. The steering wheel is huge by today's standards. The license plates are black and feature the orange words: THE BABE.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ybor Exhibit Chronicles Tampa's Passion for Baseball

                                                         [Joseph Brown III/Staff]
Among the exhibits will be this glove
and signed baseball from Al Lopez.

Tampa's love of baseball began more than 100 years before the Tampa Bay Rays came to the area. It began before Ybor City was founded.

"Tampa itself had a baseball team they fielded in the early 1880s, when Tampa was a fishing village of about 1,000," said Elizabeth McCoy, curator of a new baseball exhibit at the Ybor City Museum State Park.

It grew from there and "sort of exploded" when the first flock of Cuban immigrants migrated to the Tampa area to work in Ybor City's cigar factories, McCoy said. It grew not just because of the Cubans' passion for baseball but also in conjunction with the population boom.

The growing, diverse Tampa community – which included Cubans, Italians, Spaniards and the Anglo population – used baseball to find common ground, McCoy said.

"The immigrant communities came together, using baseball as a common language to have fun with each other," McCoy said.

Through the years many great players and coaches have come from the area, including Hall of Famer Al Lopez, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Tino Martinez, Dwight Gooden, Wade Boggs and Gary Sheffield.

The exhibit at the Ybor museum – BĂ©isbol: Tampa's Love of the Game – explores Tampa's longtime passion for the sport. Much of the focus is on Ybor City and West Tampa; that's where, in the beginning, everyone played.

The exhibit addresses everything from the area's early inter-social leagues to the West Tampa Little League to the Rays.

"It shows the progression of baseball through the years," said Chantal Hevia, president and CEO of the Ybor City Museum Society. "But our real focus is showing this is how we started and this is how we got here."

The exhibit includes 30 to 40 pieces of memorabilia in two large cases, McCoy said.

Among the items: a catcher's mitt worn and signed by Lopez and a 1988 Team USA baseball hat worn by Martinez.

There also is a digital copy of an 1885 letter from a Tampa baseball organization that just was getting off the ground, McCoy said.

Hevia said the exhibit is a great learning experience. She said she learned the role baseball played in Tampa's early days and how it ultimately helped lead to the successes of many great players.

"We want the exhibit to serve as an inspiration for the younger players," Hevia said. "Here are the everyday people who became heroes and stars and prominent people in the field of baseball."

The yearlong exhibit opens Thursday and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through September.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why You Should Root, Root, Root For The Home Team

                                                                          Nick Wass/AP
Baltimore Orioles Nate McLouth (from left), J.J. Hardy,
Robert Andino and Manny Machado high-five teammates after
Game 2 of Major League Baseball's American League Division
Series against the New York Yankees. Somewhere, commentator
and Orioles fan Frank Deford is also giving high-fives.

By Frank Deford
NPR - October 10, 2012

My first protocol on rooting in sports is that you should stick with the teams that you grew up with. I know we're a transient society, but that's just it: Continuing to cheer for your original hometown teams is one way of displaying the old-fashioned value of allegiance.

If you grew up in Cleveland, say, and moved somewhere Sun Belt-ish, I know how hard it is, but the measure of whether you are a good person is that you must remain loyal to the Browns and Indians and that team that LeBron James left behind.

That's what's left of roots in America. You must root where your roots were laid down.

Now don't worry. Sports love is a two-way street. There is a proviso in this lifetime contract that allows you the right to get mad at your team. The problem with you Cubs fans, for example, is that you are too tolerant. But no, you must never leave your precious Cubbies for a more seductive team. No! Be steadfast for another century or so.

But us hard-bitten sports journalists, we have a problem. We're supposed to look down at you sappy fans, getting all worked up about your silly teams, while we must be neutered, remain above the fray. "No cheering in the press box!" is our equivalent of "Don't mention bombs when you're in the airport security line."

But, on the QT here, entre nous, just between us chickens, pretending to make emotional sports eunuchs of sports journalists is a charade, reminiscent of Tallulah Bankhead's saying: "I'm as pure as the driven slush."

You see, despite what most athletes think, we sportswriters really are human beings (well, at least on the side). At the Ryder Cup a couple of weeks ago, the terrific story was the spectacular European comeback from virtual defeat, but, surely, every American golf journalist was rooting for our team instead of the story.
OK, everybody is coming out these days, so, now, yes, I am too.

I have known since I was a child that I loved the Baltimore Orioles. I loved them before they were the O's, as they are, regrettably, known today. They were called "the Birds" then, or even better, "the Flock." So, no, I don't care what it does for my reputation as a hardhearted sports scribe who has always kept his true feelings to himself in the press box. I have suffered with my beloved Flock losing for 14 years in a row, and now that they are actually in the playoffs, I must go public and reveal that, yes, I am an actual fan.

Also, I'm not crazy about the New York Yankees either.

But never fear. Next week I will once again refrain from being a giddy Bird lover and return to my ugly, bloodless, objective self. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Veteran Returns to the Mound: The Bullpen Car

Dodger Bullpen Car []
October 11, 2012
By Dave Caldwell
New York Times

BULLPEN cars last roamed ballparks nearly 20 years ago, whisking relief pitchers to the mound during games. Christopher Hill never forgot them.

As vice president for business development of the Sugar Land Skeeters outside Houston, Mr. Hill works for a team keenly interested in putting fans in the seats; it just finished first in average attendance in its first season in the eight-team Atlantic League.

The Skeeters lured Roger Clemens, 50, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, out of retirement to pitch twice for the team. To entertain the home crowds, Mr. Hill came up with not one but two furry mosquito mascots: Swatson and Moe. Then he went to work on finding a bullpen car.

"We had to design it," he said. "There is no product line for these, and it had been a long time since someone had done one."
According to a 2007 article for by Paul Lukas, the first bullpen car was believed to be a "little red auto" that the Cleveland Indians used in 1950 to transport relievers to the mound, saving time at their cavernous ballpark. The last bullpen car in the big leagues was actually a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a sidecar that the Milwaukee Brewers used in 1995, the article said.
But once nearly every big league team had a bullpen car; it was typically a tricked-out golf cart with a gigantic replica of the host team's cap as the roof. The Yankees used a pinstriped Datsun in the 1970s before rats chewed the engine cables. (The Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan once said: "I could never play in New York. The first time I ever came into a game there, I got in the bullpen car and they told me to lock the doors.") 
Looking for someone who could build a bullpen car with all the bells and whistles, Mr. Hill called Alex Restrepo, whose business in southeast Houston focuses on custom audio units for cars, boats and motorcycles.
Mr. Hill knew enough to suggest that Mr. Restrepo start with the chassis of a golf cart. Mr. Restrepo was up for the challenge — "It's a tough economy, and you've got to be imaginative," he said. But he was just a boy when bullpen cars were popular. "So I went to Google, like everybody else," Mr. Restrepo said.
He found photos of old bullpen cars and photos of die-cast toy bullpen cars that were being sold on eBay. Mr. Restrepo, in his late 20s, said, "So I start looking at the years, and I'm saying to myself, 'Man, some of these things are 30 years old!' "
Mr. Restrepo said the project took four or five months, and he often had his employees pitching in when they were not busy with other jobs. Finally, he pieced it all together: a battery-run golf cart with a baseball-shaped body, made from fiberglass and wood, with a replica of a Skeeters cap on top held up by two bats. Mr. Restrepo did not forget bells and whistles like leather seats, neon blue lights, a sound system, a backup camera — and a bubble machine.
Mr. Hill found a corporate sponsor for the car: Texas Direct Auto, an online automobile dealership with a showroom in nearby Stafford. The company happily paid the Skeeters to slap its logo on the front.
The car was a bigger hit than Mr. Hill imagined. Fans actually applauded when it took pitchers into the game the first weekend it was used, he said. The Skeeters have tried to use the car as much as possible in the community, for things like store openings.
Mr. Hill said "five or six" ball clubs, both major league and minor league teams, called to find out more.
Another who called was Mark Sofia, 46, of Tampa, Fla., a retired police sergeant from Rochester who for a time ran youth hockey programs for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a National Hockey League team.
A fan of the minor league Rochester Red Wings as a youngster, Mr. Sofia said he grew up with the Red Wings' gimmicks for wooing fans — like women in hot pants and go-go boots who swept the bases to the "William Tell" Overture. When he stopped working for the Lightning, Mr. Sofia picked up the idea of making bullpen cars as a marketing tool for baseball teams.
He flew to Houston to see the Skeeters' car. He found a golf-cart fabricator near his home in Florida that could make bullpen cars.
He floated his idea past Dan Mason, the longtime general manager of the Red Wings, who agreed that bullpen cars would be a way to market any team. "Many of your partners are looking for ways to get their messages out," Mr. Mason said.
Texas Direct Auto plans, for example, to park the Skeeters' bullpen car in its showroom during the off-season. Mr. Mason said the car could be driven up and down the street on the day of a game to help sell tickets.
Pitchers have never seemed to enjoy being driven into a game in a bullpen car, but Mr. Mason said that was practically beside the point. "There are plenty of other uses for a bullpen car if the pitchers themselves decide they'd rather run or jog in," he said.
Mr. Sofia, who has a Web site,, is optimistic that he will have a model to take in December to the Baseball Trade Show in Nashville, also the site of this year's winter meetings. He would not disclose his planned sticker price. (A new golf cart can be bought for around $7,000, so a customized bullpen car would most likely go for about twice that amount.) But teams, he said, should be able to afford one, especially if they can find a sponsor as the Skeeters did.
Jessica DeMarr, director of business development at Texas Direct Auto, said: "It's a real easy way to market, but it's not like, 'Hey, we're marketing this to you.' This was a real fun way to reach out to kids. They'll want to take pictures with the car."
Like the bobblehead doll, the bullpen car might make a comeback, becoming part of future baseball lore. When the Mets clinched the National League East division title in September 1986, a fan took over the bullpen car and drove around the outfield — before it conked out. Mr. Sofia is hoping for a much longer and prosperous run.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Longtime baseball manager never gave up, never gave in

By Paul Freeman
For The Daily News &
San Jose Mercury News
October 2, 2012
Even in this age of ultra-rich celebrity athletes, sports still can inspire us with rare, truly heroic moments. In baseball, over the past several decades, many of those moments have come from teams managed by Tony La Russa.

Bay Area sports fans recall La Russa guiding the Oakland A's to a 1989 crown. But it was with the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals that La Russa achieved his most miraculous feat.

That injury-riddled team was down 10 1/2 games with a month to go. The postseason seemed like a distant dream. But La Russa led his club to one of the most amazing comebacks in baseball history. They made the playoffs in the very last game of the regular season and, after being down to their last strike, twice, they won the World Series.

La Russa, 68, chronicles that incredible, dramatic run in his new book, "One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season."

The account of overcoming long odds and seemingly insurmountable obstacles can inspire readers from any walk of life.

La Russa tells The Daily News, "People who have read the manuscript say there are strong leadership lessons in it, applying that concept of never give in, never give up. There are stories in there that apply across the board."

After 33 years of managing, La Russa retired, having racked up four Manager of the Year awards, six pennants and three World Series rings. The 2011 season was the perfect way to cap an illustrious career.
"It was like a fairy tale. And it's now a book. If you couldn't actually hit the button to replay the truth, somebody would have said 'You made that up. It was fiction. Hollywood.' It was ridiculous how it all came together and we were living the dream, which is to play and win a world championship."

In the campaign, La Russa turned negatives into positives, embracing the role of underdog to build the team's character.

"Once we got into the playoffs, we thought, 'Hey, everybody's got some warts and we've got as many pluses as anybody. And we've been fighting for our life. As long as we don't back off, that's created a real good competitive toughness that we'll carry into this.'

"The dramatic Game 6 in the World Series, being down to the last strike, the reality is, we went through something very similar to that five times in the month of September and early in the playoffs. So, by the time we got to Game 6, we had built up a real healthy attitude that we were just not going to be denied. And anything was possible. We just got more and more determined, more and more confident every time we overcame one of those elimination times."

La Russa relished the pressure cooker nature of pro sports.

"It's tough. Believe me, it's easier to go out there, thinking, 'Whatever happens, happens.' But you never win anything that way. We talk about that in the book -- the way you deal with mistakes so that you can learn from them, the way that you deal with adversity, because it happens to everybody. It's important to develop this toughness. And it's there for any person, any group of players, if they're willing to dig deep."

Being a winner, La Russa doesn't take losing easily.

"One thing about baseball, you don't have undefeated seasons. Somebody's going to win. Somebody's going to lose. And what you want to do is take your best shot, so that you have a chance to go forward. If somebody beats you, when you took your best shot, you tip your cap. It's simple. But it's a constant struggle and challenge for teams to not give in.

"Baseball is a great equalizer. The famous example, if you're a great hitter, you fail seven out of 10 times. So baseball will teach you humbleness and it'll break your heart. That's how it tests you. And then it'll give you a handful of those magical moments to make it all worthwhile. You've just got to be tough enough. And that club was as tough as it had to be."

It can be tougher to fire up the players in the mega-salary era.

"With guaranteed money and security, it's not that, innately, the players changed. It's that human nature was messed with, because now you had people seeking that fame and fortune and being encouraged to by their family, friends and agents. 'And, oh, by the way, how'd the team do?' So it's how to break through that group of distractions players feel now and focus on being the best pro and the best teammate you can be. You don't pursue the fame and fortune ahead of the team and the professional excellence. It's a constant battle. Trust me. That's the key to leadership now, to understand that you're waging that war every day, to get players' attention and persuade them to go about it in the right priority."

The "Moneyball" concept is a pet peeve for La Russa, who has always balanced statistics with the human factor.

"The value of 'Moneyball' has been exaggerated to the point where people have lost jobs. The analytics is an important tool for preparation, for study. But to claim that you can predict, based on a lineup and all the different variables of our game strategy, how you do offense, how you handle your pitching staff, that's where it breaks down, because each game has its own totally human-nature kind of variables that are not available in that way. If you could only have one -- great analytics or a great sense of understanding humans -- understanding the human being would kick the ass of the analytical people every stinkin' season."
Team chemistry can be at least as important as talent.

"It's a critical piece. It's all about relationships and establishing that triangle of respect, trust and caring. Believe me, when you play 162 games, you're with your teammates more than you are with your family."
La Russa and wife Elaine, parents of Bianca and Devon, still reside in Northern California. They operate the Animal Rescue Foundation, a 38,000-square-foot facility in Walnut Creek.

"The players were on me for years about my working harder and being more passionate about ARF than anything else. I'd tell them, 'Well, the animals are more worthwhile than you are,'" he says, chuckling. "We're 22 years old and we're going strong. ARF is a wonderful and demanding mistress."

La Russa also keeps busy handling special assignments for Major League Baseball's commissioner.
"I'm fortunate to be staying close to the game. But when you've spent 50 years, waking up in the morning, your life revolving around the score of the next game, that winning and losing is part of your DNA. I do not miss the dugout at all. But I do miss being excited about the winning and being disappointed about the losing. That's an adjustment."
La Russa nurtures optimism and determination, within himself, as well as in others.

"I don't think you're born with that stuff. If you're fortunate, you're provided with opportunities. My folks worked really hard to provide opportunities. And then, if you continually are mentored throughout your life and you're open-minded and understand that you need to learn, then you learn. And those things become part of what you are."

Email Paul Freeman at
Author book signing
Who: Tony La Russa
Where: Kepler's Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Information: 650-324-4321;

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Farewell to a Mustache Forever Linked to the Mets

[Photographs by Joshua Bright for The New York Times]
Keith Hernandez had his mustache shaved for the first time
in 25 years on a small stage set up outside CitiField
on Thursday as 300 baseball fans looked on.

Without his mustache, would Clark Gable have been as silkily charming when he told Scarlett O'Hara he frankly did not give a damn? Would Groucho Marx have delivered his one-liners with the same zing?

And would Keith Hernandez have been as identifiable and beloved as a New York Met?

The latter question hung in the air Thursday, like a tightrope walker in a publicity stunt (which the event unashamedly was), as Mr. Hernandez had his now graying chevron-style mustache shaved off. A barber had been flown in for the occasion from Las Vegas, with 300 baseball fans ogling and recording Mr. Hernandez by iPhone in front of a small stage set up outside Citi Field.

The impetus for the public depilation was what Mr. Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster, said "was a flippant remark on the air" raising the prospect of shaving his mustache for charity. The event raised $10,000 (contributed by the Schick razor company) for a Brooklynday care center for Alzheimer's patients named in honor of Mr. Hernandez's mother, Jacquelyn, who died of the disease in 1989.

Stunt notwithstanding, some fans on the way to the Mets game to watch R. A. Dickey and his mustache win his 20th game lamented Mr. Hernandez's decision.

"He should keep it," said Marsha Landar, 54, a retired real estate broker from Queens Village, Queens. "My second husband looked like Keith Hernandez. That's why I married him. I wouldn't let him shave his mustache. C'mon, it's sexy."

But Sol Passik, 61, a retired social worker from Holliswood, Queens, said Mr. Hernandez, despite revealing his upper lip for the first time in a quarter century, still has "a recognizable nose and profile."

"As a friend suggested, he'll grow it back and do it again next year and make more money," Mr. Passik said.

Mustaches are believed by advocates, if not always by their spouses, to add dash and a touch of virility to their owners' faces. Yet they have a checkered cultural history. Americans have not voted for a mustachioed president since William Howard Taft and his handlebar.Thomas E. Dewey, with his neat mustache, lost the 1944 and 1948 elections.

But Hollywood has loved mustachioed actors like Gable, Tom Selleck and Burt Reynolds, and sports at times has loved mustaches, too.

Facial hair has been a feature of most New York teams, sometimes in their proudest eras. Phil Jackson and Walt Frazier were memorably mustachioed members of the Knicks' only two championship teams, though Patrick Ewing sported a mustache when he helped them return to the finals decades later. In football, the Jets' most celebrated quarterback, Joe Namath, had a mustache that arced as parabolically as his forward passes.

But it was in baseball where the mustache achieved its greatest stature.

In the early days of baseball, handlebar mustaches were common in a game that was long attributed to Abner Doubleday. (Doubleday, who never claimed to have invented baseball, had a mustache not too different from Mr. Hernandez's.)

By 1900, the clean-shaven look had the upper hand (and upper lip); legends like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb spurned facial ornament. Then in the early 1970s, when hair became associated with sexual freedom and hippie nonconformity, Charles Finley, the owner of the Oakland Athletics, offered players $300 each to grow mustaches, as some players had already done. Rollie Fingers sported a handlebar coiled at both ends, and Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, chevrons straining toward Fu-Manchus.

Mr. Jackson and Mr. Hunter went on to play for the Yankees, whose owner George Steinbrenner periodically — usually when his team was losing — banned facial hair, though he permitted neatly trimmed mustaches like those worn by the first baseman Don Mattingly and the catcher Thurman Munson.

Mr. Hernandez became one of the mustache's more famous exhibitors. In an interview before his shearing, Mr. Hernandez, now 58, said that he grew a mustache as a young man because he was raised on mustachioed tough guys like Paladin, the lead character played by Richard Boone on the late 1950s and early 1960s television show "Have Gun Will Travel," and John Wayne in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon."

He said he had shaved it off three or four times but not since 1988, when he was still a Met.

After the barber, Elliott Chester, took it off (using a battery-powered trimmer and only at the end picking up a Schick razor). Mr. Hernandez, groaning and chuckling at all the attention, said he "looked 20 years younger" but also pointed out portentously: "I can always grow it back."