Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hall of Fame Approves Election Process for Negro Leagues and Pre-Negro Leagues Candidates

July 26, 2005

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.: The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's Board of Directors approved holding a special election of Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues candidates to the Hall of Fame in 2006. The announcement comes on the heels of the completion of a landmark study on the history of African Americans in Baseball, from 1860-1960. Based on the results of that important study, the Board of Directors felt it was the right time to hold a special election.

"The record of the African-American contribution to our National Pastime was largely missing until recently," said Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark. "With extensive research and a statistical analysis now complete, the Board felt it was the right time to review Negro Leagues and pre-Negro leagues individuals with regards to Hall of Fame election. The guidelines
adopted will allow for any worthy candidates to have another chance at election in 2006."

Earlier this month, the Board appointed screening and voting committees. Under the guidelines established, a Screening Committee will construct ballots and a Voting Committee will meet to vote on the ballots. Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent will serve as the non-voting chairman of both committees. Frank Robinson, a Hall of Famer and Board member, has been asked to offer his advice and assistance to Vincent and both committees. Any candidates elected by the Voting Committee in February 2006 would be inducted in Cooperstown during Hall of Fame Weekend in July 2006.

Written recommendations for inclusion on the ballots from fans, and historians not a part of the committees, will be accepted through the month of October. Recommendations can be sent by e-mail to, or can be submitted by mail to: Committee on African-American Baseball, 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326. A letter or e-mail of receipt will acknowledge all proposals. All proposals will be made available to the Screening Committee and a final set will be kept for archival purposes.

The five-member Screening Committee appointed by the Board of Directors will meet in November to develop two ballots: One ballot of Negro leagues players, managers, umpires, executives; and one ballot of candidates who preceded the formation of Negro leagues. The Screening Committee will use the statistics and narrative from the landmark study to determine the ballots. The Screening Committee members include Adrian Burgos, Dick Clark, Larry Hogan, Larry Lester and Jim Overmyer, each of whom contributed to the reports and have a deep knowledge of the subject matter. Complete biographies of the five committee members can be found at

A 12-member Voting Committee, inclusive of the Screening Committee, appointed by the Board of Directors, will meet in February 2006 to review the final ballots of candidates. After open discussions over two days, committee members will cast paper ballots and vote "yes" or "no" for each candidate. Any candidate with "yes" votes on at least 75% of ballots cast will earn election to the Hall of Fame. The twelve voting committee members and their areas of expertise in African-American baseball history include:

Todd Bolton, Latin America
Larry Hogan, overall knowledge
Greg Bond, 19th Century
Neil Lanctot, Negro leagues eastern teams
Adrian Burgos, Latin America
Larry Lester, Negro leagues
Dick Clark, Negro leagues
Sammy Miller, Eastern and Western teams
Ray Doswell, overall knowledge
Jim Overmyer, Eastern teams and 19th Century
Leslie Heaphy, women's history, Negro leagues
Robert Peterson, overall knowledge

In July 2000, the Baseball Hall of Fame was granted $250,000 from Major League Baseball in order to initiate a comprehensive study on the history of African Americans in Baseball, from 1860-1960. The funds were to allow the Museum to expand the scope and depth of its knowledge and historical collection on this aspect of Baseball and American culture.

In February 2001, the Board selected "The Negro Leagues Researchers/Authors Group" research team, led by Dr. Hogan of Union County College (NJ), Dick Clark, and Larry Lester, to conduct the comprehensive study. The three historians led a diverse group of more than 50 other authors, researcher and historians in this first-of-its-kind academic study.

The research resulted in a raw narrative and bibliography of nearly 800 pages and a statistical database, which includes 3,000 day-by-day records, league leaders and all-time leaders. The research was culled from box scores from 128 newspapers of sanctioned league games played from 1920-1954. With the research now complete, the study includes sanctioned league game
box scores from almost 100% of games played in the 1920s, in excess of 90% of the box scores from games played in the 1930s and box scores from 50-70% of games played in the 1940s and 50s, during which time the various leagues began to disband and newspapers ceased to report game information. The end result is the most comprehensive compilation of statistics on the Negro leagues that have ever been accumulated.

Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

X Marks the Baseball Team

Why the White Sox Aren't the White Socks

By Daniel Engber
Posted Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005, at 4:11 PM PT

If the Chicago White Sox beat the Astros tonight, they'll be just one victory away from their first World Series title since 1917. Last season, the Boston Red Sox won their first championship since 1918. Why are these teams "Sox" rather than "Socks"?

They followed the fashion of the times. Many early baseball teams were named after their uniform colors. In the 19th century, there were clubs called the Red Stockings, Brown Stockings, and Blue Stockings. Newspapers like the Chicago Tribune often shortened these nicknames to "Sox."

When Charlie Comiskey founded the American League's Chicago White Stockings in 1901, the Tribune wasted no time in dubbing them the White Sox. Boston's AL franchise seems not to have had an official name during its first few years. Reporters called them different names on different days, including the Americans (to distinguish them from Boston's National League team), the Bostons, the Plymouth Rocks, and the Beaneaters. In late 1907, the club's owner settled on Red Sox.

Why the love affair with the letter "x"? The formation of the modern baseball leagues coincides, more or less, with a broad movement to simplify English spelling. The father of the movement, Noah Webster, had pushed to create a "national language" a century earlier.

Webster wanted to distinguish American English from British English by correcting irregular spellings and eliminating silent letters. Some of Webster's suggestions took—"jail" for "gaol"—while others haven't caught on—"groop" for "group."

Near the turn of the century, advocacy groups like the Spelling Simplification Board pushed for spelling reform with renewed vigor; they argued that millions of dollars were wasted on printing useless letters. The editor of the Chicago Tribune, Joseph Medill, supported the idea. Medill stripped final "e"s from words like "favorite" in the pages of his newspaper and even suggested more wholesale changes that would have made written English look something like e-mail spam.

In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt ordered the government printer to adopt some simplified spellings—such as replacing the suffix "-ed" with "-t" at the end of many words—for official correspondence. Congress responded by passing a bill in support of standard orthography later that year.

By the first decade of the 1900s, "sox" was already a common way to shorten "socks." The "x" version of the word frequently appeared in advertisements for hosiery, for example. And in his 1921 tome The American Language, H.L. Mencken described "sox" as a "vigorous newcomer." "The White Sox are known to all Americans; the White Socks would seem strange," he wrote.
The spelling reform movement weakened over the course of the 20th century. But by the time "sox" fell out of fashion, the baseball nicknames were already entrenched in the sports pages and in the hearts of the teams' fans.

The White Sox and Red Sox weren't the only early-20th century teams not to have a steady nickname. Interchangeable nicknames were common in old-time baseball. Before becoming universally known as the Yankees, New York's American League team was also known as the Highlanders, the Invaders, and the Porchclimbers in the early 1900s.

Courtesy of Slate

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Stocking Feat

The White Sox had a great run in 1959 in their last trip to the World Series, but they were done in by a large case of Sherry against the Dodgers

By Mike DiGiovanna
L.A. Times Staff Writer
October 21, 2005

The last time the Chicago White Sox reached the World Series, the "Go-Go Sox" looked more like the No-Go Sox, four strong servings of Sherry left their batters woozy, and the only player doused with an adult beverage was left fielder Al Smith, who had a giant cup of beer fall on his head while pursuing a home run in Game 2.

It has been 46 years since the White Sox made it to the World Series, and several players from that 1959 team, including Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio, who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, will be honored at U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday when Chicago opens the 2005 World Series at home against the Houston Astros.

"It's kind of changed my life," Bob Shaw, a pitcher who went 18-6 with a 2.69 earned-run average for the 1959 team and now lives in Jupiter, Fla., said of the White Sox returning to the World Series." I've had two local television crews come to my home. Here I am, 72 years old, and all of a sudden I'm getting all these calls from radio stations and newspapers, I'm going to Chicago…. Holy cow, all these years go by, you almost forget you did all that stuff. It's ego-boosting. It really is quite pleasant."

Even if all the memories from 1959 are not. A feisty Chicago team that had more stolen bases than home runs — hence, the "Go-Go Sox" label — and had superb up-the-middle defense with Aparicio, second baseman Nellie Fox, who won the American League most-valuable-player award that year, and center fielder Jim Landis, ended a 40-year World Series drought in 1959.

When the White Sox beat the Cleveland Indians for their first American League pennant since 1919, the year of the infamous "Black Sox" scandal, air-raid sirens went off in the city, about 50,000 fans greeted the team at Midway Airport at 2 a.m., and parties broke out all over town. The White Sox rode that momentum into the World Series, beating the Dodgers, 11-0, in Game 1 in Comiskey Park behind slugger Ted Kluszewski, who had two home runs and five runs batted in and left a lasting impression on an 11-year-old boy from Gardena who grew up to be a special assistant to current White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. "He rolled his sleeves up, and all you saw were those big arms of his — he was intimidating as hell," said Dennis Gilbert, the former agent who is now Reinsdorf's right-hand man. "Kluszewski was huge."Kluszewski went on to hit .391 with three homers and 10 RBIs, a record for a six-game World Series, and Fox, whom Gilbert recalled as having "the biggest wad of tobacco in his cheek I'd ever seen," hit .375.

But the Dodgers cut the rest of the White Sox down to size, winning Games 2, 3 and 4. Shaw outdueled Sandy Koufax in the White Sox's 1-0 Game 5 victory, which was played in front of 92,706 in the Coliseum, the largest crowd to witness a World Series game. But when the Series shifted back to Chicago, the Dodgers whipped the White Sox, 9-3, in Game 6 to win their first championship on the West Coast after moving from Brooklyn.

Decades later, the White Sox are still looking for their first World Series title since 1917."There were some good things and some bad things that happened in that series, but I tell you what — it was the unexpected things that beat us," said Landis, who lives in Napa, Calif. "Chuck Essegian had two pinch-hit home runs, and Larry Sherry came out of nowhere and was a ball of fire as a reliever."On a Dodger pitching staff that featured Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, Roger Craig and a 23-year-old Koufax, it was Sherry, the 24-year-old rookie right-hander who was called up from St. Paul that July, who was the Series MVP, going 2-0 with an ERA of 0.71 and two saves, giving up one run in 12 2/3 innings and closing out all four Dodger victories.

"I was starting, but in mid-September, [bench coach] Charlie Dressen talked [Manager] Walter Alston into putting me in the bullpen," said Sherry, who is 70 and lives in Mission Viejo. "Clem Labine and Art Fowler weren't doing the job, and they didn't really have a short man. That was about the time they started making relievers out of younger pitchers."Starting pitchers were everything, and when you came in at the end of a game, you were a mop-up man. But all of a sudden, the short reliever became an entity."

In Game 2, Sherry gave up one run in three innings in relief of Podres to earn the save. Trailing, 2-1, the Dodgers rallied for three runs in the seventh on Essegian's two-out, pinch-hit solo homer and Charlie Neal's two-run homer against Shaw. Smith went to the wall at Comiskey on Neal's shot, and a fan reaching for the ball knocked a beer from the top of the wall onto the White Sox left fielder, a clip that has already been replayed in Fox's preview commercials for the World Series this week."He got a bath," Shaw said. "It was not intentional. The beer was sitting on top of the fence, and the fan knocked it over. In the picture, it looks like a waterfall fell on Al's head. Unfortunately, I'm the guy who threw the ball to Neal, who hit the home run."

The White Sox had a chance to tie the score in the eighth, but Sherm Lollar, one of the few Chicago players who couldn't run well, was tagged out at the plate by John Roseboro when the White Sox catcher tried to score from first on Smith's RBI double.

The Series shifted to Los Angeles, where Drysdale threw seven scoreless innings, giving up 11 hits, in a 3-1 Game 3 victory, and the Dodgers won despite being out-hit, 12-5. Carl Furillo's pinch-hit, two-run single in the seventh was the key blow, and Sherry threw the final two innings for the save. Gil Hodges' solo home run broke a tie in the eighth inning of Game 4, lifting the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory, and Shaw (7 1/3 innings) and Dick Donovan (1 2/3 innings) combined to shut out Koufax and the Dodgers, 1-0, in Game 5, the only run scoring on Lollar's double-play grounder in the fourth.

"It was very exciting playing in front of 92,000 people, but the background for hitting was horrible in the Coliseum," Landis said. "All you saw were white shirts. It was bad for both teams."Defense was tricky too."The noise was deafening, it bounced from one side of the Coliseum off the other," Sherry recalled. "The infielders and outfielders had a tough time communicating. You couldn't hear anyone yell … it was awesome."

Lucky for Sherry, there was a soothing presence over at first base: Hodges, the veteran Dodger."He'd come to the mound and say, 'Hey, is this restaurant any good?' " Sherry said. "He'd calm you down."Back at Comiskey for Game 6, the Dodgers took an 8-0 lead in the fourth, but when Kluszewski hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth, Alston pulled Podres in favor of Sherry, who threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings to gain the Series-clinching victory."If you look at the games, they were tight, they could have gone either way," Landis said. "There was good pitching on both sides, and Sherry closed the door on their wins; he was spectacular. … In crunch time, our hitters didn't deliver. And they cut our speed down."

Indeed, a White Sox team that led the league with 113 stolen bases, 56 of them by Aparicio, stole only two bases in two attempts in six World Series games."Roseboro had a heck of an arm, and our pitching staff did a good job holding runners," Sherry said. "They didn't get a chance to run too much."Because of the three crowds of more than 92,000 in the Coliseum, the World Series share made a big leap to more than $11,000 a player."I was laughing all the way to the bank," Sherry said.

Four and a half decades later, the pain on the losing side isn't as acute."As a kid, the bottom line is you love baseball, and that was your dream, to be in the World Series," said Landis, whose son, Craig, is an agent who represents three current White Sox players, Paul Konerko, Aaron Rowand and Jon Garland. "It happened, and win, lose or draw, it was great to be in the World Series."

Last Sox Series
Game by game in the 1959 World Series, the first in California and the last to include the Chicago White Sox:

GAME 1 at Chicago
Ted Kluszewski, muscular and sleeveless, hit two home runs, and 39-year-old Early Wynn pitched seven shutout innings for Chicago.

GAME 2 at Chicago
Lumbering Sherm Lollar was thrown out trying to score the tying run for Chicago from first on an eighth-inning double, as the Dodgers tied the Series.

GAME 3 at the Coliseum
Don Drysdale and Dick Donovan matched shutout innings until Carl Furillo's two-run pinch single in the seventh lifted the Dodgers.

GAME 4 at the Coliseum
Chicago rallied for four runs in the seventh to tie the score; Gil Hodges untied it with an eighth-inning home run.

GAME 5 at the Coliseum
The lone run scored on a double play, as Bob Shaw outdueled Sandy Koufax; the three Los Angeles games drew a combined attendance of 277,750.

GAME 6 at Chicago
Larry Sherry wrapped up Series MVP honors with 5 2/3 innings of shutout relief, his second victory to go with two saves.

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

Friday, October 21, 2005

Tal Smith and the Houston Astros

Tal Smith
You simply can't talk about most any facet of Major League Baseball in Houston without touching on Tal Smith. Be it assistant GM to Gabe Paul, the development of the Astrodome, General Manager of the Astros, the development of Minute Maid Park, President of Baseball Operations, as well as, contract negotiations and the salary arbitration process, Smith has touched on it all.

Smith is a sage. He's also a longtime member of SABR. If there's such thing as a Baseball Man's Baseball Man, Smith fits the bill. To be involved in the birth of not one, but two ballparks, is extraordinary. His work with Judge Roy Hofheinz on the Astrodome paved the way for countless attributes and amenities of the modern ballpark. Tal's Hill, the 10 degree incline at Minute Maid Park in centerfield, was but one of his ideas for the current home of the Astros. Talk salary structure and you get an insight into how methodical his approach has been when it came to setting contracts based on solid analysis. Smith is legendary in baseball for his ability to see how crucial statistical analysis would be when salary arbitration came into play in the '70's.

Talbot Smith was born in 1933 in Framington, Mass. He attended Culver Military Academy (IN) and Duke University where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in business administration in 1955. Before entering Duke (at the age of 16) Tal spent the summer as a staff announcer for the ABC radio affiliate in Durham, N.C. While at Duke, he broadcast Blue Devil basketball for stations in the region. During the summer recess in 1953, he worked as an assistant for the editorial staff at The Sporting News in St. Louis. Following graduation, he served as an officer in the United States Air Force for two years while continuing his radio work with various sports programs on a part-time basis. Upon completion of his military service, he worked as a news reporter for the Cape Cod (MA) Standard-Times before joining the Cincinnati Reds in December of 1957 as an administrative assistant for scouting and minor league operations.

Tal started his baseball career in earnest within the farm department of the Cincinnati Reds in 1958. He came to Houston in November of 1960 when he was named assistant to the general manager of the new National League Franchise. He was named team farm director of the Colt .45s in April of 1961, a position he held for two years. In April of 1963 he became assistant to the president of the Houston Sports Association, acting primarily as a liaison for the HSA during construction of the Astrodome. In the late 1960s, he also developed the formulas and pioneered the use of computerization of scouting reports and other player data. During the first of Tal's three terms with the Houston franchise, the club signed and developed more players that reached the Major Leagues than any other team.

Following completion of the Astrodome, Tal was named vice president and director of player personnel in December of 1965. In 1972, he was named vice president and director of operations for Astrodome-Astrohall Stadium corporation. In November of 1973, he left Houston to become executive vice president of the New York Yankees, serving in that capacity until his return to Houston as general manager of the Astros in August of 1975. He was named president of the club on Sept. 23, 1976.

Since 1961, he has been owner and operator of Tal Smith Enterprises, a firm which has provided consulting services to 26 of the 30 Major League clubs. The most recognized functions have been the preparation and presentation of salary arbitration cases, the financial appraisal of franchises and testimony as an expert witness in sports-related litigation. Tal also served as the sole arbitor in two disputes involving Major League Baseball where the Commissioner was recused.

In this interview, Tal talks of how he broke into baseball, his work with Judge Roy Hofheinz on the Astrodome, the development of Minute Maid Park, breaking down how he views the arbitration process, memorable cases with Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Don Mattingly, as well as touching on Roger Clemens, Carlos Beltran, and what it means to be a member of SABR.
– Maury Brown

Click here for the complete interview

Courtesy of the Business of Baseball

Monday, October 17, 2005


Colt 45s - Astros

1962: On April 10th the Colt .45's get off to a flying start winning their first game 11-2 over the Chicago Cubs. That first year to keep the Colt .45s from appearing bland, Judge Roy Hofheinz, the visionary who ran the franchise, got the inspired idea to deck them out in blue cowboy suits on road trips, with matching hats and boots. Passing through airports, they were a puzzling sight to travelers who did not get the connection to Texas. The players finally refused to wear the outfits and the Judge gave up. The Colts .45's would go on to finish in 8th Place with a 64-96 record.

1963: In their second season the Col .45s manage to avoid last place and 100 losses again as they post a 66-96 record while finishing in 9th place.

1964: Tragedy strikes the Colts as pitcher Jim Umbricht loses his battle with cancer, the team would go on to retire his number 32 in his honor. That year the Colt .45's also made history of dubious nature when, Ken Johnson became the first Major League pitcher ever to pitch a 9 inning No Hitter and lose in an April 23rd game against the Cincinnati Reds. The team would go on to finish in 9th Place with a 66-96 record in their final year known as the Colt .45's.

1965: The newly renamed Astros open up the Astrodome, and become the first professional team to play indoors. The Astros chose to play indoors because of unbearably hot summers in Texas, which in the past caused games to be held up until after sunset. The Astros peeled off a 10-game winning streak, an occurrence so unthinkable that their opponents accused them of tinkering with the air conditioning currents, causing the air to blow out when the home team was at bat. If only winning had been so simple, as the Astros still finished in 9th Place with a 65-97 record.

1966: At first the Astrodome used grass, which was allowed to grow with panels that allowed sun in for the grass to grow, but sunlight glare made seeing the ball impossible to see the roof is painted and the grass died. So the Astros had to search for a grass substitute, the Astros would make a deal for a new type for a surface that would become the Bain to traditional sports fans everywhere. The Astros allowed the new surface to be called Astroturf so the inventor could get more attention, as the Astros could get it for free. Astroturf would soon spread like an out of control virus throughout professional, and colligate sports. By 1986 10 Major League Parks would have Astroturf installed. Astroturf had the advantage of being easy to maintain it was easy to keep clean there was no need for constant mowing and watering. It was tough and durable it was not easily ripped up by cleats, and thus could be used continuously for 10 years or more. However Astroturf would get discolored by sunlight, it would develop creases, it was unforgiving to the bodies of players who attempt to slide on it, and it caused serve knee, and leg injuries that shortened many players' careers. The disadvantages would later hurt teams because many players when faced with free agency would chose to play elsewhere rather than having the burden of playing on Astroturf.

1967: Future Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews plays just half of season with Astros but manages to slam his 500th career HR, as the Astros finished 9th again with a 69-93 record.

1968: In the year of the pitcher the Astros have some highlights on the mound themselves. First came on April 15th when the Astros and the New York Mets looked horns in a game at the Astrodome that went 24 innings before the Astros scored the game's only run. On July 14th Don Wilson would make headlines when he struck out 18 batters in a 6-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds. The Astros would also 4 pitchers win 10 games Don Wilson (13), Larry Dierker (12) Dave Guisti (11) and Denny LeMaster (10). However the team would finish in last place with a 72-90 record.

1969: After being no hit by Jim Maloney and the Cincinnati Reds on April 30, Don Wilson returns the favor to the reds the next night. That year would see Larry Dierker become the first Astor pitcher to win 20 games, as the team finally achieved the .500 mark finishing 81-81 and in 5th Place in the NL West.

1970: The Astros still can't manage to put together a winning season as they finish in 4th place with a mediocre 79-83 record.

1971: Cesar Cedeño leads the league with 40 doubles and Roger Metzger and Joe Morgan share the league lead with 11 triples each. However, the Astros still struggle to finish in 4th Place with a 79-83 record.

1972: Jerry Reuss and Larry Dierker hurl back-to-back one hitters on June 18th against the Philadelphia Phillies and June 19th vs. the New York Mets, respectively. The Astros would go to finish with their first winning season at 84-69, and in 2nd Place.

1973: The Astros post their 2nd straight winning season as they post an 82-80 record while finishing in 4th place in what would end up Leo Durrocher's final season in a prestigious managerial career.

1974: Under new Manger Preston Gomez the Astros can only muster a .500 record while finishing in 4th place at 81-81.

1975: Tragedy strikes the Astros a month before spring training as Longtime Ace pitcher Don Wilson commits suicide using Carbon Monoxide Poising. It would be a year as heartache as the Astros finish with their worst record ever at 64-97. That year also saw the appointment of Tal Smith as Club President and General Manager. His first move was to bring in Bill Virdon to replace Preston Gomez as manager in the middle of the season.

1976: J.R. Richard becomes Houston's second 20-game winner, while Cesar Cedeño sets a club mark with 58 stolen bases and earns his fifth-straight Gold Glove. The Astros would go on to finish with a 3rd Place 80-82 record.

1977: Three Astros steal more than 40 bases (Cesar Cedeño, 61; Jose Cruz, 44; Enos Cabell, 42), as the Astros finish 3rd with an 81-81 break even record.

1978: J.R. Richard becomes the first National League right-handed pitcher to top the 300-strikeout mark in a season with 303. However the Astros would struggle to finish in 5th with a 74-88 record.

1979: J.R. Richard tops himself by striking out 313 batters. Meanwhile, Joe Niekro who sets a club record with 21 wins, as the Astros finish just a game and half out of first with an 89-73 record. Following the season the Astros make history by making Nolan Ryan the first player to make a million dollars in one season.

1980: The Astros who looked well on their way to a division title were dealt a serve blow midway through the season when star pitcher J.R. Richard suffers a stroke. The stroke would end Richard's promising career, which saw him win 107 games in his first 10 years. However, the Astros would overcome the loss of Richard and would end the season in a flatfooted tie with Los Angeles Dodgers with a record of 92-70. The Astros would easily defeat the Dodgers in a 1-game playoff to claim their first ever Division Title, and advance on t the playoffs. In the NLCS the Astros would take 2 of the first 3 games from the Philadelphia Phillies to put themselves one game away from a trip to the World Series. However the Astros could not hold leads in the final 2 games and would end up losing the series with a heartbreaking 10-inning loss in Game 5.

1981: The Astros get off to a slow start and sit at 28-29, and are 8 games out of 1st on June 15t when a strike halts the season. When the players returned 50 days later it was determined that they would play a split season giving the Astros new hope for a division title. The Astros would take advantage of their second chance and would win the 2nd half title with a 33-20 record. During the second half run Nolan Ryan breaks Sandy Koufax record by hurling his 5th career No Hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Astros would face the Dodgers again in a 5-game series for the Western Division Title. The Astros jump out quickly in the series winning the first 2 at the Astrodome, and head to Los Angeles needing just 1 win to advance to the NLCS for the second year in a row. However, the Astros would end up letting the lead slip away as the eventual World Champion Dodgers won all three games at home.

1982: The Astros get off to a slow start, and never recover as Manager Bill Virdon is fired. Bob Lillis would take over in August and the Astros would play 28-23 under Lillis, to slightly improve their season, which ends with a disappointing 77-85 record.

1983: The Astros stumble out of the gate losing their first 9 games. However the team would recover nicely to finish with a solid 85-77 record. During the season Nolan Ryan would pass Walter Johnson in career strikeouts, although at the time he is the 2nd player to do so in the season Ryan would eventual go on to become the all-time strikeout king.

1984: The Astros get off to a slow start again as star SS Dickie Thon is lost for the season after he is struck in the head by a Mike Torrez fastball. The Astros would go on to finish with an 80-82 record, in a 2nd Place tie.

1985: On July 11th Nolan Ryan strikes out Danny Heep of the New York to get his 4,000th career strike out. The Astros would go on to finish in 3rd Place with an 83-79 record.

1986: With Mike Scott dominating the NL on the way to a Cy Young award the Astros easily win the Division with a 96-66 record. The highlight of the season would come on September 25th when Mike Scott pitches a No Hitter to clinch the NL Western Division. In the NLCS the Astros have the heavily favored New York Mets on the ropes with a 3- 0 lead in the 9th inning of Game 6, with Mike Scott who twice shut down the Mets in the series, poised to start game 7. However, the Mets would rally to send the game to extra innings. The Astros would fall behind in the 14th but Billy Hatcher hit a towering HR off the foul poll to send the game to the 15th. The Mets would than score 3 runs in the 16th Inning, and the never say die Astros would score 2 runs in the bottom of the inning, and set up Kevin Bass with tying and winning runs on base. However, Bass would strike out as the Mets went on play in the World Series.

1987: Nolan Ryan leads the majors in strikeouts with 270 and ties for the lead in ERA with a 2.76 mark. However, the Astros would struggle to a 3rd Pace 76-86 finish.

1988: The Astros hover around .500 all season as they finish in 5th place with a record of 82-80.

1989: Despite the loss of Nolan Ryan to their Lone Star State rival Texas Rangers, the Astros manage to put together a strong season finishing 86-76 in 3rd place just 6 games out of 1st.

1990: Despite the superb pitching of Danny Darwin who has the best ERA in the National League, the Astros struggle with a 75-87 record that lands them in 4th Place.

1991: In what is clearly a rebuilding year, the Astros trade away what's left of their 1986 Playoff team, and become one of the worst teams in baseball with a 65-97 record. However, bright days are clearly ahead for the team as 1B Jeff Bagwell wins ten Rookie of the Year, and Craig Biggio make the All-Star team for the first time.

1992: With the Astrodome hosting the 1992 Republican Convention the Astros are forced to go on the road for a grueling 26 days. Despite the long road trip, the Astros have a solid second half, and place 4th with an 81-81 record. That same year the Astros name Bob Watson General Manager making him the first African American to hold such a position in Major League Baseball history. Watson would remain in the post until 1995.

1993: The Astros set several new team records in hitting, as the team continues to improve finishing in 3rd Place with an 85-77 record.

1994: On August 12th the Astros sit at 66-49, only a half game out of 1st in the newly formed NL Central. However, that would end u being the final day of the season as the players went on a strike that would wipe out the entire postseason. Despite the shortened season Jeff Bagwell sets team records in HR with 39, and RBI with 116. Bagwell would go on to become the 3rd player in NL history to be voted MVP unanimously.

1995: The Astros hurt their chances of winning the Division Title by performing poorly in head-to-head match ups with Cincinnati Reds. However the Astros have the Wild Card to fall back on and battle the Colorado Rockies until the last day of the season for the first ever Wild Card spot in the NL. However the Astros would come up 1 game short with a solid 76-68 record.

1996: The Astros hold a two and a half game lead for the NL Central and the end of August. However the Astros would suffer a terrible 8-17 September, and would end the season with an 82-80 record 6 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

1997: The Astros are able to win a weak NL Central with an average 84-78 record. By the time the postseason rolled around it was clear the Astros were overmatched, as they are swept in a 3 game NLDS white washing at the hands of the Atlanta Braves.

1998: The Astros acquire Randy Johnson at the trade deadline and run away from the pack in the final 2 months winning a club record 102 games on the way to their second straight division. Johnson would be unbeatable winning double digits in just months in Houston. However in the NLDS Randy Johnson would lose 2 pitchers duels, as the Astros are stunned in 4 games by the San Diego Padres. Following the season the Astros would also lose the Big Unit to Free Agency.

1999: The Astros bid farewell to the Astrodome in dramatic fashion, clinching their 3rd straight NL Central title with a 97-65 record on the final day of the season before a sold out crowd. Standing-room only crowds were commonplace during the last year of baseball in the Dome as a record 2.7 million fans flocked to the "8th Wonder of the World". In the NLDS the Astros take the first game against the Braves in Atlanta. After the Braves won Game 2 the series shifted to Houston, where the Astros let a bases loaded- no-out opportunity slip through their fingers in the 9th Inning, before the Braves won in extra innings. The deflated Astros would not recover losing the series on the next day in the final baseball game at The Astrodome.

2000: The new state of the art Enron Field opens up as an Astros record 3,056,139 fans passed through the turnstiles. However, the Astros would struggle with their new surroundings, as Enron Field was a polar opposite of The Astrodome. Where in the past the Astros was a pitcher friendly stadium, the new Enron Field was a homer haven. The Astros would suffer through a miserable 1st half as their pitchers were victimized by the longball. The season would go from bad to worse when 2B Craig Biggio suffered a knee injury at the start of August. The Astros would go on to finish with a terrible 72-90 record in 4th Place. However, not all was lost as Jeff Bagwell benefited for Enron by smashing a team record 47 HR.

2001: The Astros rebound nicely, and surge to the front of the NL Central at the end of August, and establish a 6 game lead. However the Astros would struggle down the stretch, and would enter a 3-game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals with division o n the line. However, the series would lose importance as the San Francisco Giants lost on Friday Night assuring the loser of the series the Wild Card Spot. None-the less the Astros take 2 of 3 to end up in a tie for 1st with a 93-69. However, winning that last game would prove important since it gave the Astros the tiebreaker and the number 1 seed in the playoffs. In the NLDS the Astros would face the Atlanta Braves for the 3rd time in 5 years. The Astros would hold a lead in Game 1, but their bullpen could not hold it as the Braves would go on to foil the Astros again sweeping them in 3 straight. Following the season manager Larry Dierker who guided the Astros to 4 division titles in 5 years resigns, as all 4 trips ended with a loss in the Division Series. In those 4 trips the Astros hold a woeful 2-12 record in 14 games.

2002: The Astros get off to a slow start as their young pitching staff suffers early season growing pains. However, OF Lance Berkman would have a breakout year with 42 HR, and 128 RBI, as the Astros had a strong 2nd half to finish in 2nd place with a record of 84-78. Following the season the Astros would strengthen their lineup by signing Free Agent Jeff Kent.

2003: The Astros would get off to a shaky start as Craig Biggio struggled with the transition to CF, as Lance Berkman and Jeff Bagwell sputtered at the plate early in the season. As the weather began to heat up so did the Astros as the rose from a mediocre start to find themselves in the thick of a 3-team race for the NL Central Division Title. On June 11th the Astros made history as 6 pitchers combined to no hit the New York Yankees. The Astros were forced to use the pen early after start Roy Oswalt was forced out of the game with pulled groin. From there Peter Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner each pitched in to keep the Yankees hitless. However over the next few weeks the Astros would miss Oswalt as the struggled badly over the next few weeks. As the season wore on the Astros continued to battle the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals for the division title. As September began the Astros and Cubs would pull away from the Cardinals, but the Cardinals would hurt the Astros taking 2 of 3 in the next to last weekend of the season. Those losses would send the Astros reeling as they lost 6 of their last 9 games including 2 home losses to the last place Milwaukee Brewers dropping them 1 game out of first place with a record of 87-75. Following the season the Astros would sign Houston natives Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens who won a combined 38 games with the Yankees in 2003.

2004: Heading into the season the Astros were one of the top contenders for the World Series in the National League. However, Andy Pettitte would suffer an elbow injury in his first start and it would effect him the entire season as he spent most of the season on the DL posting a 6-4 record in just 15 starts. However Roger Clemens would not disappoint as he was dominant for the start of the season winning his first 9 decisions on the way to a 18-4 record with a 2.98 ERA and 218 strike outs, passing Steve Carlton for 2nd on the career strike out list on the way to winning his record 7th Cy Young. Despite the greatness of Clemens the Astros started struggling in mid May after getting off to a solid 21-11 start. After winning 21 games in their first 32 games they would win just 23 of their next 56. Hoping to jump start things the Astros would trade struggling OF Richard Hidalgo to the New York Mets while acquiring Carlos Beltran in a 3-team deal from the Kansas City Royals. Houston was the center of the Baseball world for the All-Star Game with their hometown hero Roger Clemens was on the mound to start the game for the NL. Meanwhile Astros Manager Jimy Williams a coach on the team got a less then warm reaction from the fans at Minute Maid Park who booed him during pre game introductions. A day after the game with the Astros record at 44-44 Williams would be fired and replaced by Phil Garner. Under Garner the Astros continued to struggle over the next month as they fell below .500 and seemingly out of contention with a 56-60 on August 14th. Slowly the Astros would begin to play better as Beltran began to become accustomed to the NL pitching. As September began the Astros were on fire in the middle of a 12-game winning streak as the Astros won 22 of 26 games to become a late entrant into the race for the Wild Card. Down the stretch the Astros were even hotter winning 9 of their last 10 including their final 7 games to capture the Wild Card berth by 1 game over the San Francisco Giants with a record of 92-70.

2004: Entering their 8th playoff appearance the Astros were still without a playoff series victory as they faced the Atlanta Braves who had beaten them in 1997, 1999, and 2001. The Astros would get off to a good start as they took Game 1 on the road behind Roger Clemens 9-3, with Carlos Beltran providing the offense going 3 for 3 with a Homer and 3 runs scored. After losing Game 2 in the 11th on a 2-run homer by Rafael Furcal 4-2, the Astros rebounded to win Game 3 in Houston behind the pitching of Brandon Backe and the continued hot hitting of Beltran who hit his second homer of the series in an 8-5 win. With a chance to close the series out at home the Astros let a 5-2 lead slip out of their fingers as the Braves won to force a decisive 5th game in Atlanta. Playing with heavy heart in Game 5 were Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell who were mourning the death of former teammate Ken Caminiti who died of a drug induced heart attacked in a run down part of New York. Both would play well in Game 5 as Bagwell homered, but the star of the game was once again Beltran who went 4 for 5 with 2 homers and 5 RBI as the Astros won the 5th game going away 12-3.

In the NLCS the Astros faced the St. Louis Cardinals who had run away with the NL Central. Beltran would stay hot in the NLCS homering in the first inning of the first 2 games. However the Astros lost both and needed a strong performance from Roger Clemens in Game 3 in Houston just to stay alive. Which, they would get as they won 5-2 with Beltran homering again.

In Game 4 the Astros fell behind early as the Cardinals scored 3 times in the first inning. However another amazing game by Carlos Beltran would see the Astros rally to win 6-5 to even the series as the star OF hit a homer for a postseason record 5th straight game while scoring 3 times. Beltran's bat would be kept quiet in Game 5, so were the other 17 hitters on both teams and starting pitchers Brandon Backe and Woody Williams allowed just 1 hit each. By the 9th inning both starters were gone when Beltran led off with a single off Jason Isringhausen then stole second. The steal forced the Cardinals to walk Lance Berkman to set up for the double play, but it would never come into play as Jeff Kent launched a 3-run homer to give the Astros a dramatic 3-0 win and 3-2 series lead.

With a chance to close the series out in Game 6 the Astros tied the game in 9th inning to force extra innings. However the Cards would win in the 12th inning 6-4 on a Jim Edmonds homer. In Game 7 the Astros would get off to a 2-0 lead as Roger Clemens tried to pitch them to the World Series.

However Clemens would tire in the 6th inning as the Cardinals scored 3 runs on the way to a 5-2 win. The Astros heartbreak would get worse in the off-season as the lost postseason hero Carlos Beltran in a free agent bidding war with the New York Mets, while Jeff Kent left to play with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers.

Friday, October 14, 2005

80 Year-Old Manager Terwilliger Retires

Associated Press
Courtesy of FOX Sports

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Wayne Terwilliger, the 80-year-old manager who was once Jackie Robinson's backup as a player, retired Tuesday after 57 seasons in professional baseball.

Terwilliger this season coached the independent Fort Worth Cats to the Central Baseball League championship. When the Cats won at Shreveport on June 27, his 80th birthday, the manager known as "Twig" joined Connie Mack as the only octogenarian managers in baseball history.
Winning the CBL title, which the Cats did with decisive Game 5 victories after falling behind in both of their playoff series, made Terwilliger's decision easier.

"If we hadn't won the whole thing, I think I would have come back. I know I would have," said Terwilliger, the Cats' manager the past three seasons. "It was a lot easier than I thought maybe."

Fort Worth was the 16th team Twig coached and his 12th minor league managerial job (1,224-1,089 record over 18 seasons). He has been out of baseball only one year since signing with the Chicago Cubs organization in 1948.

Twig got two World Series rings as first base coach for the Minnesota Twins (1986-94), and he was on Ted Williams' staffs with the Washington Senators (1969-71) and Texas Rangers (1972). He is the only person to wear the uniforms of the Senators and the two teams they spawned - the Rangers and Twins.

In 1951, Terwilliger was Robinson's backup for the Brooklyn Dodgers and on the opposing bench for Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run, the "Shot Heard 'Round The World."

During nine major league seasons, Terwilliger played in 666 games for five teams. He hit .240 with 22 home runs, one coming at Yankee Stadium off Hall of Famer Whitey Ford.

"A Hall of Famer that never hung a slider in his life except one pitch to me," Terwilliger said, a huge smile on his face. "Every time I see or hear about Whitey Ford, I think 'I got you."'
Terwilliger also had a game-winning single off Satchel Paige before he started coaching in 1961, the year after playing his last game.

"I still laugh about all the good things that have happened to me," he said. "I've been on championship teams as a player, manager and a coach. I played against the greatest, I coached for Ted Williams. It couldn't be any better."

Twig stepped aside as the Cats manager for one game in August, allowing 87-year-old Bobby Bragan to lead the team. That allowed Bragan to become the third octogenarian manager and surpass Mack as the oldest ever in a pro baseball game.

When Terwilliger first told his wife, Lin, late in the season that he was thinking about letting somebody else take over for good, she thought he was kidding.

"I know she's worried. I'm kind of one of those guys that has to be going," he said. "If I haven't got something to do, I get up and move around. She gets nervous."

So come next spring, don't be surprised to see Twig still involved with the Cats, without having to endure 12-hour bus rides to games.

"I'd like to be helping out at home games, spring training," Terwilliger said. "Even working the ground crew."

Courtesy of Fox Sports

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Man Who Threw Too Much

Robb Nen's Last Pitch

Courtesy of

The story of the 2002 World Series is written in ThunderStix and Rally Monkeys.

It's the story of the Anaheim Angels taking Games 6 and 7 and claiming their first world championship. There are pages on Scott Spiezio's improbable home run. There are long, rhapsodic passages written about Frankie Rodriguez's whipsaw motion and wicked breaking balls. And there are whole chapters dedicated to the power of Troy Glaus.
But there's a footnote to the story, too, a bit maybe only the folks in San Francisco still carry with them. It's a little something about losing heroically, about laying it all on the line and having everything you've got not be enough.

Call it the Robb Nen note.

The beginning of it is an ending.

It's Saturday, October 26, 2002. Game 6 of the World Series in Anaheim. The San Francisco Giants lead the Angels 5-4 in the top half of the eighth. Barry Bonds has just misplayed a ball down the left-field line, allowing Chone Figgins to take third and Garret Anderson second, and 40,000 fans are rolling their ThunderStix and swinging their Rally Monkeys like they're exorcising demons. With nobody out and the game on the line, Giants manager Dusty Baker walks to the mound, takes the ball from reliever Tim Worrell and calls for his closer, Robb Nen.
Nen comes in with 43 saves on the season. He's nailed down two games in the World Series so far, plus three in the NLCS, and two more in the division series. He's money. He sports a big-time fastball, a slider known to make grown men cry and a funky toe-tap delivery that makes it impossible for guys to dig in because it messes with their timing. This much, the Giants know: When Nen takes the mound, in the words of first baseman J.T. Snow, you always feel "like you could relax, like it was over."

He told me, it must have been a thousand times, 'let everything you do show your respect for the game,' " Nen says. " 'Don't cheat yourself, and don't cheat your teammates.'

Troy Glaus, the Angels' Hoss of a third baseman who has three home runs in the Series and is one-for-two on the night, steps in. This is the closer's moment: Head-to-head with a bruising bat and the game, and the championship, on the line. My stuff against yours, no quarter and no holds barred. This is the time when Nen reaches back, not just to the reserves of strength in his arm, and not just to 300-plus saves worth of experience over a 10-year career, but all the way back, to the lessons his dad, former big-leaguer Dick Nen, taught him about always going hard. "He told me, it must have been a thousand times, 'let everything you do show your respect for the game,' " Nen says. " 'Don't cheat yourself, and don't cheat your teammates.' "

His first pitch is a cut fastball tailing out and away for ball one. His second is a slider, also outside, but Glaus hacks at it anxiously and the count is even at 1-1. The third pitch, another slider, cuts two feet outside, and Glaus, chastened by the last swing, holds back.

Two-one. Hitter's count. Enough with the slider; Nen is coming in and going all-out. "I knew Glaus was sitting dead-red, but I had to throw the inside fastball," he says. "I couldn't stand the idea that later I'd think maybe I hadn't thrown as hard as I could in that situation." He fires. The ball starts off inside, but it fades when it should bite. It comes out over the plate.

Nen sees the flight of the ball and winces.

Glaus tracks it and tattoos it.

His double, over the outstretched glove of Giants center fielder Kenny Lofton and off the wall, scores two. The Angels take a 6-5 lead.

Nen retires three of the next four hitters, striking out two of them, but the damage is done. The tide is turned. Twenty-four hours later the Angels -- not the Giants -- are World Series champs.
Troy Glaus is a hero.

Robb Nen never pitches again.

He wasn't right out there that night. Check that. He had nothing … nothing but a pitching shoulder full of torn labrum, torn rotator cuff and a whole lot of want-to.

His arm slot was slipping like a setting sun. His velocity was a memory. The Robb Nen who'd scared the bejeezus out of big-league hitters with 97-mile-an-hour nastiness for the last eight-and-a-half years was a ghost.

And he knew it.

He knew every time he jogged in from the pen that he ran a serious risk of getting hammered. He knew every time he threw that he was grinding an already traumatized area of his body. He knew every time he took the ball that it meant waking up in the morning, or waking up in the middle of the night, with a pain so basic and unrelenting that he had no words for it. And if he didn't know for sure, he at least had to wonder each and every time out: Was he doing irreparable damage? Would the next inning, next batter, or next pitch, be his last?

He threw anyway.

"It didn't matter what he was feeling," Giants bullpen coach and longtime friend Mark Gardner says. "He took the ball. He was a warrior."

Willis Reed, Shun Fujimoto, Curt Schilling, Emmitt Smith, Robb Nen ...
The list isn't long.

It's the rare athlete who raises his game, through the pain and beyond the risk, to some absolute, damn-the-torpedoes level of commitment. And while it's right, in these days of war and natural disaster, to keep sports in proper perspective, it's also right to say these athletes and their commitments elevate the games they play, make them resonate and inspire, make them matter.

Nen took the old, almost clichéd, idea about making sacrifices for the good of the club and brought it to life, stretching it to the nth degree. Some guys give up playing time. He gave up his shoulder.

And when he did it, he gave a word like "team" a real shape and weight, and transformed an abstract thing like "desire" into something palpable. He turned the game into a series of questions: What do you love? How much do you love it? What would you be willing to give up for it?

"You want to believe, if it were you, you'd do the same," says Kirk Reuter, who had the locker next to Nen's. "But I don't think any of us knows. All we know is that he did it, and we know we just respect him so much for it."

By the 2002 All-Star break, Nen had 24 saves and a sparkling 1.58 ERA. He'd walked six batters and struck out 40 in 40 innings of work. Opposing hitters had managed just a .182 batting average against him, and he'd given up only 26 hits and seven runs. In other words, he was Robb Nen, an elite closer, the same guy who'd saved 45 with an ERA of 3.01 in 2001, and 41 more with an ERA of 1.50 the year before that.

But numbers aside, things were changing.

"A few weeks before the break, in Toronto, something felt wrong," he says. "I'd pitched an inning and a third [and thrown 21 pitches] that night and I remember sleeping on the plane going home and waking up with the top of my shoulder just aching."

Pitching is a violent act. Every outing does some kind of muscular damage and leads to some degree of swelling from which a pitcher must recover before taking the hill again. "Every pitcher's MRI I've ever seen is 'irregular' in one way or another," Giants head trainer Stan Conte says. Major-league ball clubs have sophisticated approaches to preparation and rehab, and expert medical staffs dedicated to the players' physical well-being, so we tend to forget how traumatic and unnatural the ballistic motion is. Concentrating on results, on balls and strikes, on hits and outs, we don't think much about the thin line between fluid mechanical performance and painful mechanical failure.

Nen spent his entire career dancing on that line. "My mechanics were a mess," he says. "Everybody tried to coach me off them." He had a slide step instead of a leg kick on the wind-up, and a left-toe stutter-step in his delivery that held his arm and shoulder back a half-beat before they came slingshotting toward the plate. Not the sort of thing you'd train a guy to do. "There was some problem about my toe pointing down when I was coming up, and when I tried to correct it, I just literally stumbled into the tap thing. It was an accident. But when I did it, it felt right to me, and I could throw real hard that way so I stuck with it."

When you're going right, when you're racking up strikeouts and saves and reveling in the W's, you don't think about it much. But when Nen did think about it, he figured he was probably playing with fire with the pressure his delivery put on his body. "With those mechanics, to do what I did … I was lucky," he says.

Until his luck started to run out.

He talked to Conte about the soreness just before the All-Star break, after working three innings and throwing 53 pitches over back-to-back nights in Arizona. "I didn't think too much of it at first; pitchers are always sore," Conte says. "But as time went on, it just never got better." Ice, anti-inflammatories, therapeutic massage, stretching exercises, light lifting, an extra day off when the team could afford it -- nothing helped. The trend was downward. Each game, it took him longer to warm up and longer to cool down. "It would get really hot," Nen says. "And I could pinpoint the pain. It wasn't like the general crankiness you always deal with as a pitcher."

Though he did deal. And dealt, too. Despite the pain, and what had to be a growing sense of dread, Nen kept going to the mound and kept getting guys out. He logged 19 saves in the second half of the season and posted an ERA of 2.94 over 34 innings. "I'm not really sure how he did it," Conte says. "Beginning with about six weeks to go in the season, he had a real problem with velocity, and he was having a hard time coming back each day."

There's a Faustian bargain here. Nen and the Giants were dealing with the devil. They were willing to sacrifice his arm, the last two years of his $36 million contract with the club, and maybe the rest of his career, for a chance to play in and win the 2002 World Series.

"I remember we were trying, Sabes [general manager Brian Sabean] was trying, to bring someone else in so we could give Robbie a break," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti says. "I wished we could have protected him more."

We felt to continue pitching wasn't going to make it worse," Conte says. "It was just going to hurt.

Of course, they could have. They could have sat him down, put him on the DL and used someone else. But the short-term risk in that move was great -- blown saves, lost games and fast-fading hopes of winning the NL wild-card spot -- and so they didn't.

"We felt to continue pitching wasn't going to make it worse," Conte says. "It was just going to hurt."

If jealousy is the green-eyed monster, championship lust is the monster's big, bad beast of an older brother. And if Nen's sacrifice demonstrates something noble about sports, it also reveals something cold, something willing to press on despite the human cost. There was some all-consuming impulse that made Conte keep nodding his assent, Dusty keep picking up the bullpen phone and Nen keep taking the ball.

His dedication was singular and spectacular -- "We'd see him in the training room all the time, and what he went through, all the work, all the pain, just to throw one inning … I honestly don't know anyone else who would have done it," says teammate Scott Eyre -- but given the pennant-race circumstances and the intense longing of everyone in the organization, from the clubhouse to the front office to the fans in the stands, it was also, in a way, expected of him.

"You knew he wasn't going to use his arm as an excuse," Reuter says. "He was a team-all-the-way guy."

Down the stretch, Nen worked with guile and mystique as much as unhittable heat. His arm action was convincing ("I never stopped throwing all-out," he says), but the pitches weren't buzzing like they once had, so guys were often getting themselves out, gearing up to hit the Nen of old, the Nen who once clocked 102 miles-per-hour in the 1997 World Series, the Nen who'd always made them look slow.

Maybe he should have taken himself out of the mix. Maybe he should have let Worrell or Felix Rodriguez carry the load. But he was getting results, right up until the last, and, as Conte says, closers don't grow on trees. "It's a mental aspect. Some guys have it, some don't. A lot of guys can get three outs. Robb Nen could close."

Attitude was key. Fifty percent of closing is 100 percent mental, or something like that. "You had to believe to close," Nen says. "You had to know you were going to get people out every night, know that you were going to get their best guys out, every night." Which is why, somewhere in the midst of a stream of meetings with Conte, and visits to doctors for MRIs and diagnoses ("The doctor would say, 'I think it's this,' or, 'It could be that,'" he says), Nen stopped listening, stopped really trying to figure out what was wrong with the shoulder. No news was good news. The Giants were pushing for the NL wild-card spot. They needed a closer. What else did he need to know? "I got paid to close games, not watch them," he says. "I didn't want to know. I didn't want to know enough to have to make a decision."

His teammates knew he was hurting, but he didn't say much about it. Words weren't his way; talking wasn't his thing. He sat alone. He rode home from the ballpark in a quiet car with his wife, Jendi. He sipped a beer in a clubhouse corner. He woke up in the middle of the night gritting his teeth.

What was there to say? The arm felt lousy. Talking about it wasn't going to make it feel better and it wasn't going to get anyone out, either.

Was pitching with it making it worse? It's hard to know for sure, though Nen says: "I'm pretty sure I was doing more and more damage to it as we went along." Pitching certainly made it more painful. The shoulder needed rest. "We saw a labrum tear in the MRI, and we [Conte and Giants manager Dusty Baker] talked to him about shutting it down," Conte says. "At a certain point, seeing what he was going through physically, it was like watching a prize fighter who's getting teed-up, you know? We were like, 'Let's call it and go home.'"

Nen was having none of it. He saved nine games in September, the most he'd saved in any one month all season, striking out 14 in 10 innings. "It was just guts," Righetti says. "He got more precise with his location." Then, in the postseason, when the Giants turned off the speed gun in Pac Bell (now SBC) Park because he'd lost so much on the fastball, he somehow took his focus up a notch, registering seven saves in helping his club get past Atlanta and St. Louis, and on to the World Series and Anaheim.

Where Troy Glaus was waiting for him.

"I held it off for a while, but it went quick at the end," Nen says. "It just kept going down, down, down. In that last game, I wasn't throwing hard at all. I figured I could get him out somehow, but I could feel I was in trouble."

Officially, the Glaus at-bat is the last word. The last entry in the record book on Robb Nen is "Nen replaced Worrell; Glaus doubled to left."

Nen had always carried his losses with him, replayed them in his mind, used them for fuel the next day. "It's the last thing that happens," he says. "It stays with you."

Glaus' double, the finality of it, drove Nen on to three surgeries (to repair a torn labrum, torn rotator cuff and torn capsule cover around the shoulder joint) and three rehabs in two-and-a-half years. He sat in a wheelchair in the hospital lobby after the second surgery, listening to Conte tell him, "I think we can bring it back" [even though nobody has ever come back from a full cuff tear at the major-league level], and actually believed him. He washed windows and mirrors when Conte, making like Mr. Miyagi, thought it would help his range of motion. He threw when he wanted to rest and rested when he wanted to throw. One minute, he was just days from coming off the DL, and the next he was barely able to move. He was in ice, on meds, in the weight room and on the table.

None of which was quite enough. In February 2005, he announced his retirement.
"I just couldn't get back," he says.

Why did he do it?

Why, two years into a four-year contract, and with every nerve ending in his throwing shoulder screaming at him to take a seat, did he go down flinging, right up until that 2-1 pitch to Glaus?

It was a bunch of things …

It was the responsibility and the step-up he felt his big-ticket contract demanded.

It was that they asked him to.

It was a promise he made to himself back in the Triple-A days, when bone spurs and a stretched nerve cost him the better part of three seasons, to stay off the DL and in the action, at all costs.
It was his boys being on a roll, going 46-28 in the second half, including 18-7 in their last 25. You ignore what your body is saying at a time like that; you forget how cranky your shoulder is.

Your heart is the one doing the driving. "It was a phenomenal time," Nen says. "I kept imagining getting the final outs of every game and series, and it just kept happening."

It was the right time of year. "They were in the middle of a pennant race," Jendi, his wife, says. "There was just no way he would give up pitching then."

It was the fact that he could. Maybe he couldn't go like he once did; maybe he couldn't go like he'd like. But he could go. "If I could play catch before a game," he says, "I knew all I'd need was to get between the lines and then deal with the pain the next day."

The fantasy about the kind of commitment Nen made is that there is some defining moment, some particular instant in which, like Doyle Brunson at the tables at Binion's, or Gary Cooper in the streets of Hadleyville, he went all-in. The truth is more gradual than that. It's a decision he made bit by bit, warm-up by warm-up. Like a kid puffing anxiously into a balloon, he kept stretching the skin, wondering how much and how long it would hold.

It was the sense he had, never spoken but always clung to, that in this day and age, the doctors could fix him up when the season was over, no matter what he did. "You see what they do with Tommy John surgeries and things now," he says, "and you feel like there's nothing they can't do, you know?"

It was the indescribable giddiness he'd felt winning with the Marlins back in '97, and the fervent hope of sharing it with his Giants friends and teammates in '02. "When we beat St. Louis in the LCS, and guys were jumping around the clubhouse, laughing and shouting, pouring champagne everywhere," he says, "I remember I just sat at my locker for a minute and watched it. To see their faces light up like that … that's what I pitched for."

It was the personal high, too. Forty thousand screaming fans in the stands. TV cameras. Bright lights. The guy in the box wanting a piece of you, and you looking to take him down. The game in the balance. It's an intoxicating blend.

"I remember during my rehab, we were in L.A., and I drove to the stadium that afternoon and all I could think about was maybe I'd never get another chance to take the mound in front of a full house," he says. "I'd never get that adrenaline rush again. The little white towels waving in the air, the moment, everyone screaming. There's no better rush than that."

But I'm telling you, the guy is a gamer; he's an iron worker who goes up on a bridge.
And maybe more than any of those things, it was simply Nen being Nen, something not easily reduced to explanations, something intrinsic. "It sounds like a cliché, I know," Conte says. "But I'm telling you, the guy is a gamer; he's an iron worker who goes up on a bridge."

Closer is a job. Teammate is a role. But gamer is an identity. Somewhere along the way, gut-check becomes the principle by which you organize your life and stalwart becomes the prism through which you see the world.

Who knows when it starts? Maybe it's the first slap on the back from a Little League coach for a job well done. Maybe it's the wave of confidence and self-certainty that comes with your first strikeout or first save. Maybe it's something you see in your dad, and in your ball-playing idols, and try to model. Maybe, like perfect pitch in the ear of a musician or the deft touch in the hands of a sculptor, it's something you're blessed with -- and cursed with. However it comes to you, there comes a time when it's simply a part of you, when you can't remember being and wouldn't know how to be any other way.

The cost of Nen being true to his identity (and, in the classic Brian Wilson way, true to his school) and of the Giants being true to their dreams of a first World Series championship in San Francisco, was steep.

It cost the team at least $18 million, the benefit of Nen's lights-out services over two years of the Barry Bonds era, and the day-in-day-out presence of someone Snow calls the "tone-setter" for the ballclub.

It cost Nen at least two years of pitching, another shot at the postseason (in 2003), a sense of belonging and a fitting end to his career.

It's July 9, 2005. Robb Nen Day at SBC Park in San Francisco. Nen stands awkwardly in the Giants' dugout, waiting to be introduced to the crowd. He's got one foot up on a step and he's nervously jamming and yanking his hands in and out of his pockets. He knows the park by heart, but he's out of his element now. He walked the clubhouse tunnel in street clothes and loafers. He's in the dugout and not the pen. There's a podium, not a hitter, waiting for him out on the field. It all feels wrong.

"You know you're not going to play forever," he says. "But you have this fantasy that, when the end comes, it will come on your terms. This was not the way I wanted to go."

Now Nen lives a full and happy life in Orange County with Jendi and their two daughters, Rylee and Taylor. His shoulder is considerably better. He can still move around, wrestle with the girls on the lawn, play golf with friends and work out at the gym. But he lives with the loss, too, with the sense that things are, and always will be, unfinished for him.

Maybe it would be easier to swallow if he'd gotten Glaus out, if there was a Series ring to show for his efforts, if the devil had paid up. More than rings, though, Nen tends to measure the loss in terms of connections. "I miss the clubhouse," he says. "I miss guys ragging on each other. I miss being there for each other. I miss being a part of that."

The guys miss him, too.

At the Nen-Day festivities, Gardner tears up.

Righetti, with a crack in his voice, tells you: "Without a doubt, my biggest high in this job was watching Robbie do what he did that fall, and without a doubt, my biggest low is knowing he can't ever do anything like it again."

Snow sits in front of his locker and puts his head down in the pregame clubhouse, almost three years after Game 6 and the disappointment of the Glaus at-bat, and says, "You just wish he could still be here."

Was it worth it?

Nen says, quickly, with the automatic voice of a man halfway trying to convince himself that it's true, that he has no regrets. "I was fortunate to get to play in the big leagues, and I was fortunate enough to be in the All-Star Game three times, and I was fortunate enough to get a World Series ring and to play in two World Series," he says. "Really, I was grateful for everything I got."

Listening to him, wondering at how he pushed his body when it was at its weakest, and feeling frustrated by the unquestioned will to win that drove him to pitch and drove the team to use him, you experience regret on his behalf.

But that's not the whole of it. In the end, it's a more complicated feeling than that. Because there he is at the podium between home plate and the pitcher's mound on that July afternoon, sun shining down and the bass-heavy opening bars of "Smoke on the Water," his bullpen theme song, ringing out, the crowd is rising to its feet. The lady with a hat made of Giants baseball cards takes it off and waves it wildly. The transplanted fan who drove from Portland just for this moment claps his hands above his head like he's at a Queen concert. Two women wearing "We Love Robb" T-shirts dance like joyful lunatics in the first row behind the dugout. Fathers point him out to their sons. Mothers whisper stories of his exploits to their daughters. It's been almost three years since he last pitched for them, but they haven't forgotten.

Nen waves and nods in appreciation. Then he puts his right hand to his chest, as if to keep it from bursting, and you can see it on his face … it's not a blush, it's a rush. And in that moment, you think, yes, there's been a loss, but he's gained something, too, something enviable and rare, something that might only come with the sort of sacrifice he made.

Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2. Comment on E-ticket at

Friday, October 07, 2005

Now Batting ... Babe Ruth

At First, Cliff Keeney Was Steamed When He Heard His Manager Say Take A Seat. Then He Heard ...

Courant Staff Writer

Courtesy of the Hartford Courant

September 28 2005
EAST HARTFORD -- Cliff Keeney peered at the yellowed sports cover of The Courant. In small type in the box score of the second game was this historical line:a - Ruth hit for Keeney in 3rd"Remember that old TV show with Garry Moore, `I've Got A Secret'? Well, I should have been on it because I've got a secret that no one else has," Keeney said.

It is believed that Babe Ruth, pinch hitting for Keeney, took his last swing in a game 60 years ago Friday at Bulkeley Stadium in Hartford."The Babe hit for me, how about that, and he never played again," said Keeney, 90, sitting in his home, surrounded by other newspaper articles and photographs of that Sept. 30, 1945, doubleheader.

That afternoon, Ruth had agreed to perform for the Savitt Gems semipro team in an exhibition. The 2,500 fans cheered when Ruth hit six home runs in batting practice. He also signed autographs before the Gems played the New Britain Codys."Now Babe was 50 and he certainly wasn't in playing shape," Keeney said. "So he was given some nice pitches to hit out."Ruth, appearing to weigh in excess of 250 pounds, had to wear a specially-stitched Gems uniform."He obviously was not in baseball shape, but in his day he was a massive, strong man," Keeney said.

"A guy today who reminds me of him is David Ortiz of the Red Sox. Ruth would have loved it because his former teams are playing in a huge series."Keeney is a Yankees fan. His respect for Joe DiMaggio and his connection with Ruth aided his conversion from his early allegiance to the St. Louis Cardinals."Way back I loved the Gas House Gang and Frankie Frisch, who was my idol," Keeney said.

Keeney was a second baseman, too. He played in 1935-50 in various Connecticut leagues, playing for teams that included the Bluefields, British-Americans, Gems and Polish-Americans. His best season was '49 when he batted .409, committed just three errors and was named MVP of the Manchester Twilight League.Keeney gently opened the delicate newspaper clippings with his thick, farmer hands."I milked cows, worked in the fields, did all the chores," he said of growing up at the family's 150-acre farm in Manchester.His powerful hands quickened his bat."If I wasn't working or playing a game, I'd hit stones with a bat," he said. "Just toss one up and hit it. I think that helped my swing and hitting eye."

Keeney played for the Gems in 1944-45."The Gems were the best semipro team in the state, and I loved playing at Bulkeley Stadium," Keeney said. "It had a grandstand and was a real nice park." But after the Hartford Chiefs' 1952 minor league season, the seats and lights of the ballpark were sold to minor league franchises in Albany and Richmond, Va.

The stadium was razed in the early '60s. But 60 years ago on a sunny Sunday, there was a doubleheader at the ballpark in Hartford's South End. Keeney was 2-for-3 in the first game. In Game 2 after making an out in the first inning, Keeney was in the on-deck circle."[Gems manager] Jigger Farrell called me back and said I'm getting pinch hit for," Kenney said. "Ruth was the guy. At first, I was a little mad because I was having a pretty good day, and I was getting hit for early in the game. All I could do was go back to the dugout."

Ruth, a man renowned for some prodigious home runs during his career, grounded out to the pitcher." After the game, he said he thought he should have hit one out," Kenney said. "I knew he wasn't happy because he slammed the bat down on his way back to the dugout, like it was the bat's fault."

Ruth maybe wanted to recapture what he had done 10 years earlier as a member of the Boston Braves, when he hit three homers, including his final one, No. 714, on May 25, 1935, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The last home run, at the time, was believed to be the longest in the history of Forbes Field. His last major league game was five days later against the Philadelphia Phillies." The fans at Bulkeley Stadium wanted to see him hit one more homer," Keeney said. "It just didn't work out that last time."Ruth's name never appeared in another box score.

In 1946, he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his neck. He underwent surgery, but the cancer couldn't be removed. He died Aug. 16, 1948. "He had gotten so sick and the cancer took him so fast," Keeney said. Keeney is an avid reader of baseball and Ruth history. Two such books were on a coffee table in Keeney's living room. From memory, he recited numerous statistics, dates and facts about Ruth. In Keeney's dining room is a framed team photograph taken before that Gems doubleheader 60 years ago. Keeney is kneeling in the front row. Ruth is standing in the row behind him.

"I didn't realize the magnitude of it all at the time because they were just some exhibitions," Keeney said. "But Ruth's last appearance in a game, he pinch hit for me. That's forever special."

Courtesy of the Hartford Courant
Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant