Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mexican-American Baseball In Los Angeles:From the Barrios to the Big Leagues

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Exhibition: March 26-June 9, 2006
John F. Kennedy Memorial Library
California State University, Los Angeles
5151 State University Dr., Los Angeles, CA
Information: (323) 343-3953 or (626) 791-7647

The Baseball Reliquary, in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, California State University, Los Angeles, will present the culmination of a year of scholarship in the form of an exhibition, Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues, to be held from March 26-June 9, 2006. The exhibition, featuring artworks, artifacts, and photographs which document and interpret the historic role that baseball has played as a cohesive element and as a social and cultural force within the Mexican-American communities of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, will be in the display cases in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library. The library is located on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, California. Library hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:00 AM-10:00 PM; Friday, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM; Saturday, 9:00 AM-7:00 PM; and Sunday, 10:00 AM-8:00 PM. For further information, phone the Baseball Reliquary at (626) 791-7647; for directions and parking information, phone the Office of the University Librarian at (323) 343-3953.

The exhibition is a component of a multi-faceted project, Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues, which also includes the recording and preservation of oral histories and the establishment of an archive dedicated to Mexican-American baseball history as part of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library’s Special Collections. This project is made possible, in part, by a grant to the Baseball Reliquary from the California Council for the Humanities as part of the Council’s statewide California Stories Initiative (, and from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

The grand opening reception for the exhibition, Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues, will be held on Sunday, March 26, from 2:00-4:00 PM, in the Courtyard of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library on the Cal State L.A. campus. Refreshments will be served and the event is open to the public and free of charge. The reception will feature several speakers who will address various aspects of this comprehensive humanities-based project, including Cesar Caballero, Acting University Librarian, John F. Kennerdy Memorial Library; Francisco E. Balderrama, Professor of Chicano Studies and History, Cal State L.A.; and Richard Santillan, Professor Emeritus, Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Their remarks will be followed by a ribbon-cutting and first viewing of the library exhibition.

California State University, Los Angeles is located at the Eastern Ave. exit, San Bernardino (I-10) Freeway, at the interchange of the 10 and 710 Freeways. Public parking is available in Lot F or the top level of North Parking Structure II. A campus map can be viewed at For additional directions or parking information, phone the Office of the University Librarian at (323) 343-3953.

RELATED EVENT:Sunday, April 23, 2:00 PM
In conjunction with the exhibition, Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues, Dr. Samuel Regalado, an advisor to the project and Professor of History, California State University, Stanislaus, will present a lecture entitled “Fernando Valenzuela and Beyond” and sign copies of his book Viva Baseball. This event, which is open to the public and free of charge, is sponsored by the Friends of the Cal State L.A. Library and will be held in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Building Lecture Hall II. For further information, directions, or parking instructions, phone the Office of the University Librarian at (323) 343-3953.

Pitcher Elias Baca, seen in this photograph ca. 1932, was the first Mexican-American baseball player at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Baca is one of many Mexican-American ballplayers highlighted in the exhibition, Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Reynaldo Baca.)

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Young's Losing Streak Snapped at 27

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July 28, 1993 / Shea Stadium
By Hogan Chen and James G. Robinson

As the New York Mets began the 1992 season, one of the few bright spots on their pitching staff was a young right-handed Texan named Anthony Young. Young, who had been named the Texas League pitcher of the year after winning his last nine games in 1990 -- a Mets minor-league record -- went the distance with a six-hitter in his first start of the season. He followed it up with another win on April 19th.

It would be his last victory for fifteen months.

Young didn't pitch badly. He was moved to the bullpen when Mets closer John Franco went on the DL in midseason and converted twelve straight save chances. At one point, he threw 23 2/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. But Young started to falter in his new role, and Young finished the season with 14 straight losses as the Mets ended up in fifth place in the NL East.

Young dropped his first decision of the 1993 season on April 9th, pulling him within three losses of the club record set by Roger Craig in 1963. "The first game last year I won and then started losing," an optimistic Young announced after the loss. "Maybe now I'll start a winning streak."

His line of reasoning proved erroneous. Young lost to the Padres twice in April, and tied Craig's record with another defeat on May 16. (After that game, Young nearly broke his toe when he tried to kick a roll of toilet paper and hit the toilet instead.) The team record fell less than two weeks later, when Young lost to John Smiley and the Cincinnati Reds on May 28th.

With nineteen losses in a row, Young was headed for immortality -- Cliff Curtis' major-league record of 23 consecutive losses, set with the Boston Braves in 1910-11. Manager Dallas Green, desperate for pitching and eager to help Young end his streak, promptly moved him back into the starting rotation.

Young made five starts in June. He lost all of them. (During one start, he burst into tears on the mound -- a problem that Young attributed to an allergic reaction.) The last loss, a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium on June 27th, broke Curtis' record. Young threw seven strong innings in front of 36,911 cheering fans, and his tension showed when he spoke to the press after the game. "Now that I have a record, I hope that all you leave me alone," he told reporters.

Even though the Mets did their best to protect Young from barbs ("All throughout, he battled an injured knee," explained one Mets bigwig) the invective during the streak had been bitter. "Maybe two Young awards should be presented in each league," wrote Allan Malamud in the Los Angeles Times. "The Cy for the best pitcher and the Anthony for the worst." But Mets fans empathized with their star-crossed starter, who received a bundle of good-luck charms in the mail each day.

After two more starts -- both tough-luck losses -- Young was dropped from the Mets' rotation. His next loss came on June 24th, when he walked in the winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning after 2 2/3 innings of work against the Dodgers. The streak stood at 27 straight losses.

On July 28th against Florida, it looked like Young would be a loser again when he allowed an unearned run in the top of the ninth to give the Marlins a 4-3 lead. But the Mets finally came through for their embattled teammate, scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth against closer Bryan Harvey to win the game 5-4.

The streak had ended, and Young was showered with Champagne and roses. "You've got to be strong to handle something like that," said Young, who was so unprepared for his first win in over a year that he forgot to retrieve the ball from the last play of the game. "I don't think a lot of people could handle what I went through... This is almost like winning the World Series." During the losing streak, Young made 74 appearances. He was 0-14 as a starter and 0-13 in relief.

Young's streak had made him a minor celebrity -- a week after his first win, he appeared on The Tonight Show -- but the win would be his last with the Mets. Young lost his next three decisions to finish the year 1-16, and the hard-luck hurler was traded the following spring to the Chicago Cubs for infielder Jose Vizcaino.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Orosco to Carter in Opener

Courtesy of Newsday
Newsday Staff Writer
March 21, 2006

Jesse Orosco will throw the ceremonial first pitch to Gary Carter before the April 3 opener at Shea Stadium, kicking off a season-long celebration of the 1986 Mets on the 20-year anniversary of their world championship. Orosco had two of the biggest strikeouts in franchise history that October, whiffing the Astros' Kevin Bass in the 16th inning to close out the NLCS and fanning the Red Sox's Marty Barrett to end Game 7 of the World Series.

Asked about staging a re-enactment of his famous glove toss, Orosco said, "I'll keep everyone in suspense. But I'm not going down on my knees, I can tell you that." As for Carter, who leaped into Orosco's arms afterward, he thinks there might have to be a slight adjustment."Jesse said his back's not real good," Carter said. "He can jump into my arms." The Mets also have invited the entire '86 team back for an on-field reunion Aug. 19 at Shea.

Courtesy of Newsday

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Hall of Doubt?

by Michael Hoban

Baseball is our greatest game. I think it is quite clear.
Its wondrous past and following, it really has no peer.

The hit, the catch, the stolen base, the variety within.
Where else does someone "sacrifice" to help his team to win?

When I was young, we played the sport right on a city street,
Or at least a variation -- where a bunch of us would meet.

To us it was the sense of joy that's why we played the game.
We never dreamed great players would ever bring us shame.

It was a time of heroes ­ Mickey, Willie and the Duke.
Knights in shining armor, not a single one a fluke.

Baseball was the purest sport, of that we had no doubt.
Our sorrow was the Black Sox (or when Casey did strike out).

(See the complete poem at The Hall of Doubt? by Michael Hoban)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Faces in the Crowd: Remembering Puck

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Mar 9 2006 2:59PM
by T. Scott Brandon

I was shocked on Sunday to hear from a friend that Kirby Puckett had suffered a stroke in his Scottsdale, AZ home. The next day, news of his passing brought back a flood of memories from throughout his career.

I first started following Puck in 1984, after my father returned from a business trip to Minneapolis. While there, he went to a Twins game where he saw a "little guy" playing center field. Being on the short side myself, I was interested in the success of a small man in Major League baseball. From that point on he replaced Eddie Murray as my favorite player. My choice of favorite players could not have been more dissimilar: Murray, the big, quiet, stern slugger and Puck, the small bundle of baseball joy did not outwardly share much in common other than a superior talent for baseball. I loved the way they played the game, though.

Late in the summer of 1984 I put in a pre-order for the 1984 Topps Traded set at my local card shop. I anxiously awaited the set's arrival in anticipation of owning my first Kirby Puckett card. I was quite disappointed upon the release of the set to find out that Topps did not see fit to include Puck in its year-end update, and the Fleer Update set, which was quickly shooting through the $100 mark, would be my only chance to get one of his cards that fall. At that point I made it my quest to get at least one of every card made of my favorite player.

In the early 1990's I added a technological dimension to my collection, compiling a comprehensive list of Kirby Puckett cards and memorabilia. I made the list available to other collectors with similar interests and was pleased to meet Puck fans all over the country. By the mid-1990's I had catalogued well over 1,000 unique items and, when the Twins came to Salt Lake City to play an exhibition game against their AAA affiliate, I gave a copy of my list to Puck. He was surprised at the length of the list, asking, "wow, that's all me!?" Shortly after, he mentioned in an interview that, upon his retirement, the only gift he would ask for is "one of every baseball card ever made of me."

Sadly, he would not have to wait long to test his request. At the end of Spring Training, 1996 he awoke with blurred vision and was soon diagnosed with Glaucoma. The disease robbed him of the sight in his right eye and ended his career years early. After hearing of his retirement plans, I contacted Twins Vice President Dave St. Peter and discussed Puck's stated retirement wish with him. I offered to donate my entire collection of Kirby Puckett cards and, with the help of the Twins, track down the few items that I had not yet added to my collection in order to present Puck with a complete collection of his cards. During the ensuing months I received help from numerous collectors, many of whom made generous donations in order to give Puck a gift from his fans.

In December 1996 Beckett Baseball Monthly ran an article about my collection and my list of Kirby Puckett collectibles. This put me in touch with hundreds of other Puck fans, several of whom contributed to his retirement gift. In May 1997 the Twins flew my family out to Minneapolis for Puck's retirement ceremonies and hosted our stay there. During the weekend I arranged a meeting of Kirby Puckett collectors at the hotel I was staying in. More than 50 local collectors, and several others from neighboring states, came out to talk about our favorite player and share collecting tips. Yet others sent their regrets for being unable to attend.

The team and their employees were more than gracious the entire weekend. My son got to take batting practice with the team, and "work out" with pitching coach Dick Such. My family got to spend some time with Kirby, and I asked him to sign the Beckett Monthly article about my collection. When he saw it, he asked, "Well, now that I'm retired, what are you going to do?" Up to that point, I hadn't considered where my collection would go next.

My biggest thrill of the weekend was at the last game of the series, when the team honored Puck with a retirement ceremony, including the unveiling of a giant mural of him in the Metrodome outfield. I was fortunate enough to be down on the field during the ceremony, at which time he was presented with the collection of his cards, among other gifts. The Twins staff had mounted the cards beautifully into large collages that were arrayed neatly around the diamond.

After the series I returned to my home in Utah and contemplated the question Puck asked me about my collection: "What are you going to do?" I decided that, in addition to re-assembling my Puckett collection, I would start collecting cards of every player, manager, coach, umpire, commissioner and league president whose career ended like Puck's, "through no fault of their own." As a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), I relished the challenge of researching these men from baseball's past. Over the next two years I created a list of players and other baseball figures and, with the gracious help of Beckett's Rick Klein, compiled a checklist of cards to pursue. My new collection included such players as Minter Hayes, the only other player whose career ended due to Glaucoma; players who died suddenly, such as Thurman Munson and Ray Chapman; and those who had to retire due to physical limitations such as Roy Campanella and Sandy Koufax.

In 2001 I attended the Hall of Fame induction for Puck, Dave Winfield, Bill Mazeroski and Hilton Smith. While there, I got to see him briefly at the Hall of Fame game and was fortunate enough to be allowed into the Hall while Puck had his photo taken with his family next to his new Hall of Fame plaque. That weekend was the last time I would see him.

Puck was not the first baseball player to suffer a stroke; several notable players had their careers interrupted or ended by the effects of strokes, from 19th Century star Dave Orr to J.R. Richard in the 1980's and Jeff Gray in the 1990's…but Puck was different. His smile could light an entire ballpark, and even draw a grin out of the likes of the ever-dour Juan Gonzalez. He organized charity events, drew much-needed attention to Glaucoma testing and detection, and brought joy to everyone who saw him on a baseball diamond. His bubbly nature and ever-present smile will be sorely missed.

T. Scott Brandon is a longtime Beckett reader and a life-long baseball fan currently living far from Major League Baseball in Layton, UT. Scott operates an opt-in baseball trivia list that readers can join by emailing Scott directly.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Stan Musial

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Few players in the history of baseball have matched the accomplishments and consistency of Stan Musial. Even fewer so engendered the admiration and affection of fans, not only at home but in every ballpark on the circuit, as did this Polish-American from a steel-mill town in Pennsylvania.

Signed as a pitcher when he was seventeen, Musial was 15-8 in two seasons with Williamson, West Virginia, but the scouting report filed on the young southpaw recommended his release because he was wild and inconsistent. Despite the report, he was sent to Daytona Beach as a pitcher for the 1940 season and, under the tutelage of former White Sox great Dickie Kerr, he compiled an 18-5 record. Kerr, who often had as few as 15 players on his roster, also played Musial in the outfield. Stan responded by batting .352. Late in the season, he made a diving catch in the outfield, crashing on his left shoulder, and the consequent injury finished him as a pitcher. Musial was convinced by Kerr to remain in baseball as an outfielder. The next year he ripped through Class C and the International League before hitting .426 in a September call-up with the Cardinals.

That was the beginning of a love affair with St. Louis that would keep Musial a Cardinal for 22 seasons, a team record. After his playing days he served as general manager, and senior vice president of the Cardinals for more than 25 years.

The lefthanded-hitting Musial had good speed and was famous for his compressed, closed batting crouch, from which he appeared to be peering at the pitcher around a corner. He won his first NL batting title in his second full year and led the NL in hits six times, doubles eight times, triples five times, runs five times, while winning five more batting titles. Preacher Roe claimed to have the best way to pitch Musial: "I throw him four wide ones and then I try to pick him off first base." Although not initially expected to be a long-ball hitter, Musial developed his power without increasing strikeouts, and averaged 31 home runs per season from 1948 to 1957. Musial once told Roger Kahn that he hit so well because he always knew what the pitch was by seeing the rotation of the ball as it approached the plate. When he retired, Musial owned or shared 29 NL records, 17 ML records, 9 All-Star records, including most home runs (6), and almost every Cardinals career offensive record. In 1956 TSN named Musial its first Player of the Decade.

For one who played so long, Musial was unbelievably consistent. He smacked 1,815 hits at home and the same number on the road. He scored 1,949 runs and drove in 1,951. He batted .310 or better 16 straight seasons and added a .330 season just short of his 42nd birthday. Over 21 full seasons he averaged a remarkable 172 hits, 92 runs scored, 92 RBI, 34 doubles, and 23 home runs per year. His best offensive season was 1948, when he hit a career-high .376 and missed the NL Triple Crown by a single homer. That year he led the NL in batting average, slugging, hits, doubles, triples, runs, and RBI.

On May 2, 1954, he set a ML record with five home runs in a doubleheader. And on July 12, 1955 his 12th-inning home run won the All-Star Game for the NL. Brooklyn fans labeled him "Stan the Man" for the havoc he wreaked on Dodger pitching every time he came to Ebbets Field. Musial rarely experienced long slumps; he put together strong starts, solid mid-seasons, and great finishes. He hit .323 or better in every month of the season, with September-October his best stretches. He was also the first man to play more than 1,000 games each at two positions.

Immediately following Musial's retirement as an active player in 1964, President Johnson named him director of the National Council on Physical Fitness. For a single season, 1967, Musial was St. Louis's general manager. With Musial's longtime roommate and close friend Red Schoendienst as field manager, the Cardinals romped to a pennant and beat the Red Sox in the World Series.

On or off the field he wore a smile and meant it. Although he obviously did not always agree with umpires or managers, he did not argue calls or tactical moves. He made time for his family, fans, church, and civic organizations. A bronze statue stands in front of Busch Stadium in St. Louis as a permanent tribute to the greatest Cardinal, Stan the Man. And in 1972 he achieved the unique distinction of becoming the first foreigner to receive the Polish government's Merited Champions Medal, their highest sports award. (FO)

Written by:
Francis J. "Frank" Olmstead is a theology teacher and cross country coach at De Smet Jesuit H.S. in St. Louis, Missouri. A SABR member since 1978, he contributed a dozen articles to the Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Baseball. (FJO, FO)
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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Remembering Lyman Bostock

Courtesy of the Black Athlete Sports Network
by Tony McClean
published on Feb 15, 2005

"We hear about Lyman Bostock. But not as much as we should. He deserves to be more than a footnote, more than a name on a morbid list of 'Ballplayers Who Died During A Season'. He deserves better, because he might have been among the best".-- Chad Finn, Concord News (2002)

Lyman Bostock Jr.
BRISTOL, CT.------He was born in the state of Alabama. A state that has given us such Hall of Famers as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Lyman Bostock Jr. could have been mentioned in the same breath.

The true tragedy of his short life is one of potential and promise. No one truly knows if Bostock would have become a Hall of Famer. The fact that he wasn't given the chance to reach that level is a shame.

Born on November 22, 1950 in Birmingham, Bostock was the son of Lyman Bostock, Sr. Lyman Sr. began his career in 1938 as a first baseman with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, and joined the Birmingham Black Barons in 1940.

The one dream Lyman had all the years he played baseball, was a chance to play in the Major Leagues with the white players.

This dream happened not for him, but for his son, Lyman Bostock, Jr., when he was drafted in the 26th round by the Minnesota Twins in the 1972 Amateur Draft.

Lyman Jr. made his Major League debut with the Twins in 1975 playing along side Hall of Famer Rod Carew. In 98 games, Bostock hit a respectable .282 with 29 RBIs in limited play.

In 1976, his first full season in the majors, Bostock finished fourth in the tight American League batting race (.323), just a few points behind his teammate Carew.

George Brett won the AL batting crown that year with a .333 clip. Bostock also received the Calvin R. Griffith Award for the most improved Twin.

After finishing second in the AL in batting in 1977 (a .336 mark that was bested by Carew's .388 BA), Bostock became one of baseball's earliest big-money free agents, signing with the California Angels.

Bostock immediately donated $10,000 of his newfound wealth to a church in his native city of Birmingham to rebuild a local church's Sunday school.

However, things on the field didn't start well for Bostock in 1978. After batting only .150 for the month of April, Bostock went to team owner Gene Autry and attempted to give back his April salary, saying he hadn't earned it.

Autry refused, so Bostock announced he would be donating his April salary to charity. Thousands of requests came in for the money, and Bostock went through each of them, trying to determine who needed it the most.

Bostock worked the rest of the season to get his batting average up over .300. On Sept. 23, 1978, with his batting average sitting at .296 after a game with the Chicago White Sox, Bostock visited his uncle in Gary, Indiana.

Sitting in the back seat of his uncle's car at a stoplight, a man walked up to the car and fired a shotgun blast that killed Bostock.By some accounts, the gunman was aiming for the woman sitting next to Bostock in the car, and by other accounts, it was a case of mistaken identity.

Tragically, a promising baseball career was ended by a senseless act of violence. A man named Leonard Smith would serve just over 21 months in prison for Bostock's death.

In fact, Smith was later acquitted of the crime by reason of insanity in June of 1980. He was released from Logansport State Hospital and allowed to return to his home in Gary because doctors said he was no longer mentally ill.

In a career that spanned four seasons and just over 500 games in the majors, Bostock's career batting average was .311. The number is signifigant because it also matches the career BA of a man who made Bostock's career possible.

That man's name is Jackie Roosevelt Robinson.

NOTE: The Baseball Library and both contributed to this story.

Anthony McClean is a reporter/writer for the Black Athlete Sports Network. You can hear his sports commentaries every Saturday morning at 11 a.m. on "Sports Talk" on WCLM-AM 1450 in Richmond, Virginia (

Courtesy of the Black Athlete Sports Network

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ray "Hooks" Dandridge

Ray Dandridge
Courtesy of
Born: 1913
Positions: 3B-2B-SS

Played Negro Leagues 1933-49
Teams: Detroit Stars, Newark Dodgers, Newark Eagles, New York Cubans
Hall Of Fame in 1987

Ray Dandridge was a masterful third baseman, a stylist who could make all the plays. He was smooth and relaxed, with soft hands, a strong arm, and the versatility to excel at any infield position. "People would pay their way in to the game just to see him field," claimed Monte Irvin. Roy Campanella said, "I never saw anyone better as a fielder." Hoyt Wilhelm, who played against Dandridge in Cuba and with him in Minneapolis (American Association), asserted, "No matter how the ball was hit, he always made the throw so that he just did get the man at first." Others observed that a train could go through Dandridge's bowlegs, but that a baseball never did.

Dandridge started his pro career with the 1933 Detroit Stars and moved to the Negro National League's Newark Eagles, for whom he starred throughout the remainder of the 1930s. A spray hitter with good bat control, he seldom struck out, and skillfully executed the hit-and-run. In 1935, he hit .368. Looking for more money in 1939, he opted to play in Latin America. He went to Mexico in 1940, and spent most of the decade there. When he came back for a year in Newark in 1944, he batted .370, leading the NNL in hits, runs, and total bases. In 1945 he set a Mexican League record for hitting safely in the most consecutive games and managed his team to a pennant. In nine Mexican League seasons, he compiled a .343 average. Following the 1948 season, he returned to the States as player-manager of the New York Cubans.

During his time in the NNL, Dandridge registered a lifetime .355 average, and played in three East-West all-star games, hitting .545. He played winter ball in Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Cuba; in 11 seasons of Cuban Winter League action, he batted .282.

Soon after Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Bill Veeck contacted Dandridge about playing with the Cleveland Indians, but Dandridge refused to leave Mexico without a bonus. Later, in 1949, at age thirty-five, he was signed by the New York Giants and assigned to their Triple-A farm club at Minneapolis. He batted .363 his first year there, and won the league's MVP award in 1950, when he led Minneapolis to the league championship. Despite his achievements, the Giants would not promote him to the parent club.

While at Minneapolis, Dandridge provided advice and assistance to a young Willie Mays, who never forgot the help or the man. Returning to Cooperstown for Dandridge's induction into the Hall of Fame (he was elected by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1987), Mays stated, "Ray Dandridge helped me tremendously when I came through Minneapolis. Sometimes you just can't overlook those things. Ray was a part of me when I was coming along." (JR)

by James A. Riley
Author of Dandy, Day, and the Devil and an expert on the Negro Leagues. His articles have been featured in SABR publications.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett
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One of the most popular players of his (or any) time, Kirby Puckett radiated an effervescent joy both on and off the field that endeared him to fans, media and players alike. Built like a cross between a fireplug and a bowling ball, the 5'8" 210-lb Puckett collected more hits in his first 10 years than (2,040) than any player in the 20th century. When glaucoma prematurely ended his career before the 1996 season, his .318 lifetime batting average ranked as the highest for any right-handed batter since World War II.

Puckett was Baseball America's Appalachian League Player of the Year in 1982, California League Rookie of the Year in 1983, and Minnesota's Rookie of the Year in 1984, becoming the ninth player in major league history to debut with four hits in a nine-inning game and leading AL outfielders with 16 assists.

The ballhawking center fielder went almost one year, until April 22, 1985, before hitting his first big league homer. He exploded for 31 homers in 1986 however, making him the first player ever with 0- and 30-home run seasons (500 or more at-bats) in a career. He was starting centerfielder in the 1986 All-Star Game, received Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honors, and was the Twins' Most Valuable Player. His rise continued in 1987 with a .332 batting average (the best for Minnesota since Rod Carew's .333 in 1978) a league-best (tied) 207 hits, an unofficial eight home run-saving catches, and a .357 average in the Fall Classic as he led the Twins to a seven-game World Series triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals. The following year he turned in arguably his best offensive season when he complimented his 24 circuit blasts by setting career highs with a .356 batting average, 234 hits and 121 RBIs. An unrepentant free swinger who hacked at anything in the same area code as the strike zone, Puckett drew just 23 walks that year. In 1989 he hit only eight HR but led the AL with a .339 batting average -- only the second right-handed batter to do so in 20 years -- and also topped the league in hits for the third straight season.

Puckett's star burned brightest during Game Six of the 1991 World Series, which pitted the Twins against the Atlanta Braves in an unlikely matchup of teams that finished last in their division the season before. With the Twins trailing three games to two, Puckett collected three hits, three RBIs and two runs scored. He made a spectacular leaping catch against the Metrodome's center field plexiglass to rob Ron Gant of extra bases, and then led off the bottom of the 11th inning with a game-winning home run. The Twins claimed their second championship in four years the next day as ace Jack Morris tossed 10 shutout innings in a dramatic 1-0 win.

While Minnesota fell on hard times in the seasons to come, Puckett continued to produce at a steady rate. He led the AL in hits (210) for the fourth and final time while batting .329 in 1992, and was leading the AL with 112 RBIs when the players' strike ended the 1994 season in mid-August. Puckett would certainly have amassed more impressive career totals than his 2,304 safeties or 207 round-trippers (he batted .314 with 23 home runs in his final season) had he not awoken one day during spring training in 1996 with blurred vision that left him unable to continue playing the game he loved. In 2001 Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, becoming the third-youngest living player (behind Sandy Koufax and Lou Gehrig) to receive baseball's highest honor. (ME)

By Morris A. Eckhouse ME
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Lasorda's Wild Start

Tom Lasorda (Allsport)
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May 5, 1955 / Ebbets Field
By Hogan Chen

One of the most famous -- but least heralded -- members of the World Champion 1955 Dodgers was a mediocre lefty who appeared in just four games. The addition of Sandy Koufax to the roster had ended his chances of making the starting rotation, and within three years his big-league career would be over. But in his first major-league start on this day in 1955, Tom Lasorda matched a National League record -- with three wild pitches in one inning.
A brash southpaw with a decent curveball, Lasorda was brimming with confidence when he was tried out for the club in 1954. "I don't intent to let anyone push me off this club," announced Lasorda in the spring, "regardless of the record he has." But the Dodgers were already well-stocked with twenty-game winner Carl Erskine, proven gamers Russ Meyer, Billy Loes, Clem Labine and emerging stars Koufax and Johnny Podres. Lasorda's first start didn't come until the following May.

He blew it. After taking the mound in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals, Lasorda walked leadoff batter Wally Moon and promptly threw a wild pitch to Bill Virdon. Shaken, he uncorked two more with Stan Musial at the plate to tie the National League record. Adding insult to injury, Moon took the opportunity to deliver a painful souvenir when the record-setting wild pitch rolled to the backstop, spiking Lasorda as the hurler covered home plate.

Despite the wounds to his leg and his psyche, Lasorda came back to strike out Musial and Rip Repulski and induced a groundout to end the inning, allowing only one run. But Dodgers manager Walter Alston had seen enough of Lasorda and pulled him out of the game. Lasorda's career as a starter with the Dodgers lasted one inning.

After his two forgettable seasons in Brooklyn, Lasorda bounced around the minor leagues and had one final major-league stint in Kansas City where he pitched in 18 games in 1956, starting 5 games and finishing 0-4. He had a career ERA of 6.52.

Shrugging off his ignominious debut, Lasorda gained fame in his second career with the Dodgers. After replacing his former manager in 1976, Lasorda led the club to seven division titles, four pennants, and two world championships -- a six-game victory over the Yankees in 1981 and a five-game upset over the Oakland Athletics in 1988.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

A New Home For 'Dem Bums'

Players hauling the flag on Opening Day
at Ebbets Field (The Library of Congress)
Courtesy of
Ebbets Field / April 9, 1913
By James G. Robinson

Despite a first-place finish in 1900 and a bona fide star in Zach Wheat, Charles Ebbets' Brooklyn Dodgers fell to the National League cellar in the first decade of the century. By 1911, Ebbets had decided that the best way to drag his second-class team out of the cellar was to build them a first-class facility, even though the only plot of land he could afford was in an unsavory area of Flatbush known as Pigtown. This malodorous garbage dump, surrounded by shantytowns, would become the future home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ebbets' quest for a new home had been partially motivated by jealousy; the New York Giants' brand-new, fireproof Polo Grounds was set to open in 1912 after the previous Polo Grounds burned down in 1911. Dwindling attendance at cheap-but-small Washington Park also provided justification for Ebbets to pursue his dream: a magnificent, state-of-the-art stadium that would finally bring his team some respect -- and perhaps even help the Dodgers catch up to their far-more-successful rivals across the East River. The vision was so grandiose that Ebbets soon found himself unable to finance the park alone; he was eventually forced to make up the difference by giving a half-share in the team to the two brothers contracted to build the stadium.
Construction was finally completed in time for an exhibition game against the Yankees in early April, although a host of fans were disappointed by the news that someone forgot to bring the keys to the outfield bleachers. Even worse, it was soon discovered that the architects inexplicably neglected to include a press box -- and for some reason, an American flag was nowhere to be found behind Ebbets Field's deep outfield fences. (The vast expanses of the outfield peaked at 476 feet from home plate in center and 420 in left, but the right field fence beckoned at 301 feet).

Everything except for the press box (incredibly, not constructed until 1929) was fixed in time for Opening Day on April 9th. The centerpiece of the stadium -- an impressive rotunda of Italian marble featuring a baseball-themed chandelier and various mosaics -- became a logjam of confused fans as 25,000 Brooklynites braved wet and chilly weather to see Red Dooin's Phillies shut out Bill Dahlen's Dodgers, 1-0.

The Dodgers began to improve in 1914 (thanks more to new manager Wilbert Robinson than to their new surroundings) and would win pennants in 1916 and 1920 before Ebbets died in 1925. He would not live to see the team's first championship in 1955. Walter O'Malley moved the team to Los Angeles three years later, leaving the empty stadium to be demolished in 1960 to make room for a block of apartment buildings.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Hall of Fame Still Has Time to Honor Buck O'Neil

March 2, 2006
Sports of The Times
Courtesy of The New York Times

IT would have been a wonderful day for baseball if Buck O'Neil had been elected to the Hall of Fame on Monday. The grand old man of his sport, O'Neil could have been inducted into the Hall on July 30, the living symbol of deprivation turned into victory.

O'Neil plans to be there this summer, despite the firestorm over his exclusion in a special election. Keith Olbermann is blasting the vote on MSNBC and bloggers are whacking away on the Web, demanding a recount that is not going to happen. Meanwhile, O'Neil is reacting with the grace that has marked his entire 94 years.

"That committee, I know they were voting just like they felt it should be," O'Neil said in the first disappointing hours Monday.

O'Neil and Minnie Minoso were turned down by a special committee that voted 17 — count 'em, 17 — new members to represent black and Latino figures of the past.

Anybody considering the good of the game would have recognized the fiesta that would have been touched off by the election of two living icons — O'Neil, the star of the epic Ken Burns baseball documentary, and Minoso, the hero of the South Side of Chicago. What a no-brainer.

When at least 4 of the 12 voters chose to exclude O'Neil and Minoso, I called the decision lamentable. Lately my mood swings have gone from thinking the voters were mean-spirited and shortsighted to thinking they were intellectually faithful to their instructions.

You know the saying about no good deed going unpunished. The Hall, which is separate from Major League Baseball, was holding the one-time vote in response to the slow trickle of Negro league people into the Hall. Here was a chance to get it right.

The Hall certainly chose the perfect person to lead the group. Fay Vincent, as commissioner, apologized in 1991 for the many decades of segregation in the major leagues that finally ended in 1947. Vincent has a keen mind and a thriving conscience, and he has been involved with many corporate boards. Yesterday, before heading out for a day at Dodgertown in Florida, Vincent spoke on the phone, explaining the role of this highly controversial panel.

"It wasn't our job to address American history," said Vincent, who is not a voting member. "It was our job to address performance. People were hard-edged about it."

Vincent said he never told the 12 voters to consider the feel-good energy that living inductees would surely generate. He said he challenged the panel to include only Negro leaguers that might have been better than some superb players still not in the Hall — Cecil Travis, Marty Marion, Tommy Henrich, who was known as Old Reliable, Joe Gordon, Allie Reynolds, Dominic DiMaggio.

Given the vagueness of records and the lack of public exposure for Negro and Latino players in those days, all comparisons are difficult. Ultimately, the voters chose 12 players and 5 officials, but not O'Neil, a good player and a successful manager in the Negro leagues and a scout and the first black coach in the major leagues, and not Minoso, the first dark-skinned Latino player in the majors as well as a career .298 hitter.

Vincent defended the decision that the 12 voters would not discuss their ballots, but he praised O'Neil and Minoso. "You'd have to put a lot of weight on Citizen Buck," Vincent said, adding, "I was surprised Buck didn't make it."

So were a lot of people. Charles Margulis, an ecology activist in Oakland, Calif., was moved to set up a blog ( comparing O'Neil favorably to members of the Hall.

Olbermann, who has a long sports background, complained that two men of color were excluded while two white officials, J. L. Wilkinson of Kansas City and Effa Manley of Newark, were voted in. This argument is inappropriate because Wilkinson held Negro baseball together for a long time, and Manley was a lifelong member of black society as well as a prominent team operator.

Last night, in an interview with Olbermann on MSNBC, O'Neil said: "Don't weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful."

O'Neil said he was grateful for the chance to be voted into the Hall.

"As a human being, I love Buck O'Neil," Dale A. Petroskey, the president of the Hall, said yesterday. "I knew he would be disappointed. But as president of the Hall of Fame, I had faith in the process."

O'Neil will have a role at the Hall on July 30, Petroskey promised. "We're looking at the best way to sort it out," he said.

At the very least, the Hall could create a Buck O'Neil lifetime achievement award — and give him the first one, to honor all the others who had to wait, and wait.

For that matter, the board could find a way to include O'Neil, straight in the front door. Much more rigid rules have been broken down in Buck O'Neil's long and honorable life.


Courtesy of The New York Times