Friday, October 20, 2006

Walter Alston Biography

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Walter Alston Biography
by Dennis Yuhasz
"Individual grievances and pet peeves have got to go by the wayside. Generally, you don't have to worry about the guys who are playing every day, it's the guys who are sitting on the bench that are the ones that get needles in their pants." - Walt Alston
It has been often written and said in baseball circles that ballplayers judged with having less than distinguished playing careers make the best managers. Perhaps the ultimate example of that theory and belief is Walter Alston, whose player record consists of one Major League appearance that resulted in an error and a strikeout in just three innings. While his career as a player was brief, his managerial record of winning over two-thousand games, seven pennants, and four World Series is one of the top marks in baseball history.
As a youngster growing up in Ohio, Alston earned his nickname of "Smokey" due to his exceptional fastball while a high school pitcher. He went on to attend the Miami University where he captained the baseball and basketball teams. Alston earned his degree in 1932, taught for a few years, and then signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1935. After leading the Mid-Atlantic League with thirty-five home runs in 1936 he was called up to the big league club and made his lone appearance for the Redbirds on September 27, 1936, when St. Louis first baseman Johnny Mize was ejected. Alston was sent back to the minor leagues the next season and never returned to the majors.

In 1940, when it became apparent he wasn't in the Cardinals future plans as a player, Alston was given the opportunity to play and manage Portsmouth in the Mid-Atlantic League where he guided them to a sixth place finish. After two more years as Player/Manager for Portsmouth, Alston was promoted to Rochester as a player only. He was released by St. Louis in 1944, but was signed by former Cardinals General Manager and now Brooklyn President Branch Rickey to play and manage in the Dodger minor league system. He led St. Paul to the Junior World Series Championship in 1949 and was immediately promoted to the Dodgers top minor league job in Montreal. Alston spent four seasons with Montreal and managed many players that went on to help win pennants for the big league club

Following the 1953 season, Brooklyn Skipper Charlie Dressen insisted on a multi-year contract to continue as Dodger manager. Brooklyn Owner Walter O'Malley balked at the demand and to everyone's surprise chose the little known Alston to pilot the club. Walt led the Dodgers to a second place finish in 1954, then won the pennant and Brooklyn's only World Series Championship in 1955, defeating the Yankees in seven games. He followed that with another pennant in 1956 securing his position as Dodger field boss, and continued his ritual of extending his stay as manager on a one year contract basis.
Upon the Dodgers move to Los Angeles in 1958, Alston oversaw the rebuilding of the Dodgers as former Brooklyn stars faded away and were replaced with a new breed that included Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills and others. The Dodgers won their first pennant in Los Angeles in 1959, defeating the Milwaukee Braves in a playoff, and then went on to beat the Chicago White Sox in six games to capture the World Series. In 1962 he presided over a Dodger collapse that saw Los Angeles get caught and tied for first place by the Giants, and then lose the pennant to San Francisco in a playoff, blowing a 4-2 ninth inning league in the third and deciding game. It was here the Alston's patient, by the book, loyalty to his players managerial style was put to the extreme test, as calls went out for his dismissal, and even players questioned his leadership, saying the Dodgers may not have lost the 1962 pennant had they been guided by someone more fiery, such as former Dodger and Giant manager, and current LA coach Leo Durocher.

Alston's response was predictable and he wasn't going to change. "Look at misfortune the same way you look at success…Don't panic! Do your best and forget the consequences", he said prior to the start of the 1963 season. Once again his philosophy and approach paid off. The Dodgers fought off the surging Cardinals, won the pennant and faced the Yankees in the 1963 World Series. With Koufax, Drysdale and Johnny Podres leading the way with their excellent pitching, Los Angeles swept the mighty Bronx Bombers four straight. After slipping to seventh place in 1964, the Dodgers eked out the 1965 NL pennant and faced off against the powerful Minnesota Twins in the Fall Classic. The Series went to a seventh and deciding game and Alston was faced with one of the most difficult and controversial decisions in World Series history. He had to choose a starting pitcher for the biggest game of the year, and had to decide either on twenty-three game winner Don Drysdale, on his full three days rest, or twenty-six game winner Sandy Koufax, on a short rest of two days. Walt waited until just before game time before announcing in his trademark quiet way that "it will be the lefthander" (meaning Koufax). Sandy justified his Skipper's confidence, and somewhat of a gamble, by shutting out the Twins, 2-0, to win the Series.
The Dodgers repeated their pennant success in 1966, but were surprisingly swept in four games by the Orioles, as they fell victim to the same dominant pitching they had inflicted on the Yankees in 1963. The Dodgers then began another transition as their stars of the sixties were replaced by a new group of young Dodgers, such as Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, and others. Sprinkled in were some veterans such as Jimmy Wynn and Mike Marshall. The result was a 1974 pennant, Alston's seventh at the helm. He had now won League Championships with three diverse clubs, a veteran power and pitching team in the 50's, a club based on pitching and speed in the 60's, and a youthful team blessed with hitting and pitching balance in the 70's.
On July 17, 1976, Walt Alston became only the sixth manager in Major League history to win 2,000 games. Just before the end of that season he retired as Dodger skipper with 2,040 wins (currently seventh all-time). He ranks 17th in winning percentage (.558), was named National League Manager of the Year six times, and led NL All-Star teams to seven victories. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1983 by the Committee on Baseball Veterans and passed away in 1984, in Ohio, at the age of seventy-two.
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Monday, October 16, 2006

Humbly, A Baseball Legend Turns 111

From the St Petersburg Times

Silas Simmons might not tell you, but his secret is out: He’s the oldest former professional baseball player of all time.

By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 13, 2006
St. Petersburg Times

ST. PETERSBURG — The gentle, soft-spoken man living at Westminster Suncoast retirement community rarely talked about his baseball past.

All his caregivers knew was that he loved to watch ball games on the little color television in the corner of his two-person room. Every so often, Silas Simmons mentioned that he once played ball as a young man in Philadelphia.

To them, he was just Si, a popular resident who has seen life unfold in three centuries, the recipient of a letter from President Bill Clinton when he turned 100 in 1995 and from President Bush last year, marking his 110th birthday.But all that changed one day this summer.

Simmons had a visitor: Dr. Layton Revel, the founder of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research.

“I know you grew up in the Philadelphia area and there were a lot of good ballplayers there,” Revel said. “There was a Si Simmons that played ball back then.’’

“Well,’’ Simmons replied in a voice strained and raspy from the years, “that was me.’’
Revel showed Simmons a stack of old professional team photos, including a sepia-toned print of the 1913 Homestead Grays. It was filled with three rows of African-American players and coaches from an era predating the Negro Leagues by almost a decade.

Simmons studied the photo, picked out a few players.

Then he pointed to a young man with a roundish face, his arms crossed, looking back at the camera with a confident visage.

“That’s me,’’ he said. “Right there.’’

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

October 14 in Baseball History

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2004 - The Mariners beat the Athletics‚ 6-3. Ichiro Suzuki gets his 199th single of the season to break Wee Willie Keeler's old mark.

1990 - The Blue Jays' 6-4 win over the Yankees is watched by 49‚902 at the SkyDome‚ giving Toronto a ML-season attendance record. The Jays will finish the season with 58 consecutive sellouts and a total attendance of 3‚885‚284.

1986 - The Mets clinch the NL East Championship with a 4-2 win over the Cubs at Shea Stadium as Dwight Gooden tosses a 6-hitter. The Mets will win 108 games this season‚ most in the NL since the 1975 Reds.

1984 - Reggie Jackson hits his 500th career home run in the 7th inning off Bud Black‚ but the Royals beat California 10-1 to move into first place in the AL West. Jackson is the 13th player in ML history to hit 500 home runs.

1947 - Second place Boston splits with the Browns‚ losing 9-4‚ then winning 4-0 on Joe Dobson's 1-hitter. Judnich's single is the only hit.

1935 - Dodger OF Len Koenecke‚ dropped by the team‚ and put off an American Airline flight for drunkenness in Detroit‚ hires a private plane to fly him to Buffalo‚ where he had played previously. During the flight he tries to take over the controls and gets into a fight with the pilot. He dies after the co-pilot hits him over the head with a fire extinguisher.

1934 - At Cleveland‚ 18-year-old Senators rookie Reese Diggs stops the Indians‚ 13-6. Pete Sosko leads the 21-hit Nat attack with 5 hits. Diggs allows 8 hits‚ including homers by Averill and P Bob Weiland to win the complete game. It'll be Diggsy's only ML win.

1921 - The Giants win their 10th in a row over the Pirates‚ and their 10th straight‚ 6-1. They will go on to finish 4 in front of the Pirates.

1920 - The Tigers Bobby Veach and the Giants George Burns hit for the cycle‚ the only time it has ever happened twice in the same day. The Giants beat Pittsburgh in 10 innings‚ 4-3‚ as Burns adds a 2nd double to his cycle. Detroit‚ behind Veach's 6-for-6‚ outlasts Boston‚ 14-13‚ in 12 innings‚ despite a major-league record 20 Bosox batters receiving walks. Eight Tigers walk off to set another ML record of 28 walks in an extra-inning game. Veach's hits come off Bosox hurlers Sam JonesHarry Harper‚ and Ben Karr.

1897 - Baltimore wins its 12th straight game‚ 11-6 over the Philadelphia Athletics.
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Monday, October 09, 2006

Don Larsen: Baseball Legend

Reprinted with permission from

This year’s postseason marks the 50th anniversary of the only perfect game ever thrown in a World Series

Larsen's connection to Chicago is that he pitched for both the White Sox and Cubs, as well as the Yankees and other teams. His years in the Windy City are described in a little more detail in one of the Saturday postings below the present essay.

Don Larsen never became a consistent winning pitcher in the major leagues. He never won more than 11 games in any year. He once lost 21 games in a single season. But 50 years ago today, on Oct. 8, 1956, the New York Yankee hurler thrilled—and amazed—the baseball world. He pitched a perfect game in the World Series.

The 1956 Series between the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers was tied at two games apiece. Larsen got the call to start the pivotal Game 5 in Yankee Stadium. He pitched magnificently and came to the mound in the ninth inning trying to protect a 2-0 Yankee lead and a no-hitter. And he did it, perfectly, walking off the mound a legend in his time. A perfect game—27 batters up and 27 batters down. No Dodger had reached base on a hit, a walk, an error, or any other way. The game also ranked as the only no-hitter in major league postseason play. It sparked the Yankees to victory in the Series in seven games. Larsen was named the Series’ Most Valuable Player.

Larsen’s career in the major leagues spanned 14 years. After his masterpiece, Larsen achieved little further success on the diamond. He ended his career in the majors with 81 wins and 91 losses. But then, there’s that perfect game. Because it occurred at the highest level of baseball competition—the World Series—experts still rate it among baseball’s greatest games.

Don James Larsen was born on Aug. 7, 1929, in Michigan City, Indiana. He grew up in San Diego, California, and began his professional baseball career with the St. Louis Browns. Larsen made his major league debut with the Browns on April 18, 1953. A big right-hander, Larsen stood 6 feet 4 inches and weighed about 225 pounds. In 1954, the Browns became the Baltimore Orioles. The 1954 season was disastrous for Larsen. He won 3 games and lost 21, leading the American League in losses. After the season, the Orioles traded Larsen to the New York Yankees in a multiplayer deal.

The 1956 Fall Classic renewed the crosstown rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yankees had beaten the Dodgers in the World Series in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953. The Dodgers had defeated the Yankees in 1955 and reigned as defending world champs.

The 27-year-old Larsen entered the 1956 Series with a regular season record of 11 wins and 5 losses, the best of his career. The Dodgers won Game 1 of the Series 6-3. Yankee manager Casey Stengel named Larsen to pitch Game 2. Larsen pitched poorly, walking four men and giving up four runs in 1 2/3 innings. The Dodgers won 13-8.

The Yankees beat Brooklyn 5-3 in Game 3 and 6-2 in Game 4. With the series tied, Stengel chose Larsen to pitch Game 5. “I threw mostly fastballs, with some sliders and a few curves,” Larsen later recalled in an interview with Baseball Digest magazine. “I never had such good control in my life…. Five of my seven strikeouts were called third strikes. I was throwing the ball right on the back of the plate.”

In fact, Larsen’s control was so good that he reached a ball-three count on only one Dodger, shortstop Pee Wee Reese in the first inning. In addition, only a few batted balls came close to being hits. The first one occurred in the second inning when Dodger second baseman Jackie Robinson smashed a grounder that bounced off the glove of third baseman Andy Carey. Luckily, however, the ball ricocheted right to shortstop Gil McDougald, who snagged it and threw out Robinson at first. In the fourth inning, center fielder Duke Snider blasted a ball with home-run distance, but it went foul.

In the fifth inning, Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges launched a ball deep into left center field that looked certain to fall for extra bases. But speedy Yankee center fielder Mickey Mantle, racing with his back to the infield, made an outstretched, over-the-shoulder, backhanded catch. Yankee fans cheered wildly. But their relief was short-lived.

The next batter, left fielder Sandy Amoros, crushed a ball with home-run potential to right. The ball, however, curved at the last moment and landed foul by about a foot. In the eighth inning, Hodges got robbed again when he hit a low infield liner. Carey stabbed it inches off the ground. But the catch was so close to the ground that Carey threw to first to erase any doubt.

The Yankees led 2-0 as they took the field in the ninth inning. Mantle had hit a solo homer in the fourth, and right fielder Hank Bauer had driven in Carey with a single in the sixth. The big righty knew he was pitching a no-hitter. As the game progressed, he had noticed his teammates and coaches moving away from him in the dugout and not speaking to him. Larsen later told Michael Aubrecht in an essay for Baseball Almanac that “nobody would sit by me, nobody would talk to me—like I had the plague.”

Larsen understood they were observing a baseball superstition demanding that no one talk to, or about, a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. However, Larsen didn’t believe in the superstition. After the seventh inning, he approached Mantle and suggested the possibility of a no-hitter. Mantle refused to say anything and walked away from Larsen. It was classic baseball.

A deafening roar of applause and screaming welcomed Larsen as he walked to the mound in the ninth inning. Right-fielder Carl Furillo led off the inning. In The Perfect Yankee, a book Larsen wrote about the game with Mark Shaw, Larsen admitted he was “a nervous wreck…with sweaty palms.” He also wrote: “Throw strikes,” I reminded myself, “throw strikes. But my brain was buzzing so much, and my arms felt heavy, and I wasn’t certain whether I’d throw the first pitch five feet short of home plate or five feet over Furillo’s head.” Furillo fouled off Larsen’s first two pitches. Then he took a ball and fouled off the following two offerings. Finally, he lifted a routine fly to Bauer in right. Next, Roy Campanella, the National League’s top hitting catcher, stepped up. He smashed Larsen’s first pitch foul to left. He then poked an easy grounder to second baseman Billy Martin for the second out.

Dodger pitcher Sal Maglie was due up, but Dale Mitchell came in to pinch-hit. Mitchell, like most of the Dodgers, possessed impressive batting credentials. In 1949, with the Cleveland Indians, he led the American League in hits with 203. In about 4,000 career at bats, he had struck out only 119 times and carried a lifetime batting average of .312. In his book Perfect, James Buckley Jr. describes Larsen’s recollection of his feelings when he faced Mitchell: “I was so weak in the knees out there, I thought I was going to faint. I was so nervous, I almost fell down. My legs felt rubbery, and my fingers didn’t feel like they were on my hand. I said to myself, ‘Please help me out, somebody.’”

Larsen’s first pitch to Mitchell was a ball. The next two were strikes, the first called and the second swinging. Mitchell fouled off the fourth pitch. Then Larsen launched his 97th pitch of the game. Mitchell thought it was wide and made a half swing before holding up. Plate umpire Babe Pinelli called it strike three.

The moment, as the more than 61,000 fans in attendance would say, was magical. The only no-hitter in major league postseason play. The only perfect game in World Series history. Don Larsen had become a baseball immortal.

For further information on Larsen's World Series perfect game:
Box score and photo of ticket stub
Play-by-play sheet
Link to listen to radio broadcast (see under inning-by-inning line score)

Reprinted with permission from

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Good Bye Tiger Stadium

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September 27, 1999 -- A sad and momentous day for all Tiger fans, saw the last Detroit Tiger baseball game played at "The Corner" after 87 years and 6,783 games.

The late 1970s featured the first of an American League record 1,918 appearances together by Tiger middle infielders Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.

The 1979 season saw another significant change in leadership when on June 14, Sparky Anderson took over the club's managerial reigns. For the next 16 seasons, Anderson would lead the Tigers from the dugout, claiming two division titles and a World Championship along the way.

After a second-place finish in 1983, success was expected for a talented Tiger club the following season. With Jack Morris tossing his first no-hitter on April 7 of 1984, the club vaulted into the division lead by winning its first nine games and going 35-5 through May 24, the best 40-game start in major league history. The Tigers went on to a 104-58 mark, 15 games in front of the pack, and continued by sweeping the Royals in the Championship Series. After defeating the Padres, four-games-to-one, in the World Series, the Tigers became the first major league team since the 1955 Dodgers to hold first place wire-to-wire and finish by winning the championship. In addition, a club-record 2,704,794 fans passed through the turnstiles.

The Tigers returned to glory in 1987 in dramatic fashion. The club struggled to an 11-19 start but closed strong and looked ready to make a move after first-place Toronto lost four straight entering the final weekend of play. Trailing the Blue Jays by just one game with a three-game set in Motown against Toronto to close the regular season, the Tigers took the first two. With a one-game lead, Detroit's Frank Tanana out-dueled the Jays' Jimmy Key on Sunday as Larry Herndon's solo homer proved the only scoring in a 1-0 triumph. After the dramatic ending to the regular season, Detroit bowed out of the playoffs to Minnesota, losing a best-of-seven series in five contests.

The 1992 season included the most recent change in ownership for the team as Mike Ilitch purchased sole interest in the team from Tom Monoghan, and other structural changes were not far down the road.

In 1995, Tiger President and CEO John McHale was hired, and the following off-season, Vice President/General Manager Randy Smith was brought on board. The organization began a process of rebuilding the franchise through scouting and player development, and the past four campaigns have seen the emergence of talented homegrown players such as Tony Clark, Brian Moehler and Juan Encarnacion.

September 27, 1999, saw the last Detroit Tiger baseball game played at Tiger Stadium. After an 87 year run, the Corner saw it's 6,783rd-and final-game with a sold-out crowd of 43,356 fans, many standing at their seats and dabbing tears from their eyes as 63 Tiger greats took the field one last time during the closing ceremonies of the park. The Tigers took that historic game, beating the Royals 8-2.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Going, going, gone: A Canadian baseball empire is up for sale on eBay

Courtesy of

OTTAWA -- The on-line auction site eBay is known for selling some unique items from the world of sport. But there's likely never been one quite like the one Sam Holman put up for sale over the weekend.

Holman, the Ottawa carpenter who turned a garage hobby into one of the most remarkable entrepreneurial stories in sport, is selling his nine-year-old bat-making company on-line.
For $3.5-million (U.S.), a buyer can own the Original Maple Bat Corp., the maker of Sam Bat and provider of tools to some of major-league baseball's greatest hitters, including Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard.

"There are two reasons I'm selling," Holman said. "One is that I'm underfunded and the corporation needs funding to reach capacity. It has a huge future in front of it. I'm sure of it.

"The other is that I'm 61 and I need an exit strategy that would dovetail with being 65. I'm willing to work for a few years to make this happen. I certainly have a vast knowledge of what I'm doing and some unbelievable contacts."

The advertisement on offers a 29,000-square-foot heated building in Gatineau, Que., kilns, machinery, trademark, patents, 888 telephone number, website and client list of the world's top hitters in baseball.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Koufax by Edward Gruver

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by Edward Gruver (Taylor, 2000)

Los Angeles catcher Johnny Roseboro's concern for Sandy Koufax at the end of the fifth inning of Game Seven was real, and stemmed from the realization that the Dodgers' ace, arm-sore and tired as he was, was trying to get by on just one pitch, his fastball.

"It can't be done," Roseboro said, "unless you're an exceptional pitcher."

In October of 1965, Roseboro considered Koufax the most exceptional pitcher in the game. On most occasions, the Dodgers' confidence in Koufax was so strong Roseboro said that the feeling in the clubhouse whenever he started a game was, "We're gonna kick some ass today."
Part of the reason for the Dodgers' seemingly unshakable belief in their ace was Koufax himself. Whether knocking down Giants' superstar Willie Mays with a purpose pitch or staring in at Yankees' slugger Roger Maris in Game One of the 1963 World Series, Koufax brought a combative nature to the mound whenever he pitched.

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