Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bob Feller still has strong pitches

Mar 16, 5:34 PM EDT
AP Sports Writer

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- Even at 88, Bob Feller still brings the heat. On a rain-drenched Friday morning, the Hall of Fame pitcher was sitting under a large umbrella in the picnic area at Chain of Lakes Park, the Cleveland Indians' cozy spring training home.

As black clouds rolled in and the wind picked up off nearby Lake Lulu, Feller was sheltered from drops coming down faster and harder by the second.

"I'll sign anything you want. But we'll go upstairs, where it's dry," Feller told fans standing in a long line snaking through tables.

Feller was dressed in his No. 19 Indians uniform, the one he has worn dutifully each spring training since 1995, the one he still pitches in during winter fantasy camp, and the one he puts on for every Cleveland home game in Florida to sign autographs.

With a steady hand, he carefully wrote "Bob Feller HOF 62" on a baseball's sweet spot or bat's barrel.

After hurriedly packing up an assortment of ballpoint pens, Sharpies and photographs of himself and the U.S.S. Alabama - the battleship he served on during World War II - Feller paused to discuss a variety of topics such as the war in Iraq, Pete Rose and former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who died on Thursday.

As always, Feller didn't refrain from giving a strong opinion on any subject.

-On Rose, who earlier this week admitted betting on the Cincinnati Reds to win every game while he was their manager: "He'll do anything to get his name in the paper or get attention. He's a self-admitted liar. Great hitter, good fielder, pretty fair base runner, but an average manager. He'll never get in the Hall of Fame. He'll never get the votes."

-On Iraq: "We should have gone in there with 450,000 troops - half with guns and half for support. We should have said, 'We're going to take your oil, we're going to give you the going price and we're going to set up martial law. You are going to do what we tell you, like we did in Japan after World War II. And if you don't do what we tell you to do, you may not be around tomorrow.'"

-On President Bush: "We haven't had good leaders in a while. I voted for Bush. He would have been a good president of a college, but that's it. Instead of getting better, he's got worse."

-On Kuhn: "I spoke with him three days ago. The last thing he said to me was that he would see me in Cooperstown this summer. Bowie was a great man, a good friend and a good commissioner."

Feller can be gruff, no doubt. But there's a softer side to him as well.

As Indians fans and those of the visiting Washington Nationals walked up to get his signature, almost every one had a story to tell Feller.

"Remember me?" one fan asked before handing Feller a glossy photo of the right-hander taken a few springs back.

"Sure do," Feller said. "Nice to see you again."

Indians fans have a special fondness for Feller, who won 266 games during a 20-year career that began in 1936 - when the Van Meter, Iowa, native was just 17. Fans want to shake his hand, take a photo with him and listen to his baseball tales.

Arguably the game's best right-handed pitcher, he is unquestionably the greatest Cleveland Indian, immortalized with a bronze statue - his leg kicking high in mid-delivery - outside the gates of Jacobs Field.

"There is no one like him," said Brian Jaskiewicz, a Clevelander now living in Viera. "It's great that he's still around and he can make that connection with the old and new Indians teams."

Jaskiewicz came to the park with his father, Richard, and 19-year-old daughter, Ashley, who didn't know what to make of her father and grandfather's affection for the elderly man sitting a few feet away.

"She didn't have a clue who he was," Jaskiewicz said. "But she knows who Albert Pujols is. I'm not quite sure this generation understands that Ted Williams and Bob Feller took time out of their careers to fight in the war. They didn't do it for money, they did it for their country, which is tremendous."

Jaskiewicz brought a replica No. 19 Feller jersey to have signed. It was a gift from his son.

"I wore it to the game last night, but I don't think I'll ever wear it again," he said. "I'm going to take it home and get it framed."

Marlene Zirin got her own special memento from Feller, who asked her to join him under cover from the downpour.

"Bob?" she said. "You knew my father, Alex Zirin."

"You darn right I did," Feller said, recalling the late Cleveland sports writer. "I remember the time he fell and broke his leg. He was a good writer."

Later, Zirin, who came to the game along with her husband and grandson, was amazed by Feller's memory and his grace.

"I was thrilled," she said. "He was a doll to me. I know he can be tough sometimes."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dock Ellis - Qualified as a Character

Dock Ellis

Baseball Today — March 11, 2007

In the button-downed world of baseball Dock Ellis qualified as a character.

In 1970, he pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres and later claimed he performed that day under the influence of LSD. On May 1, 1974, frustrated over how the Cincinnati Reds had manhandled his Pittsburgh Pirates in crucial games over the years, Ellis decided to teach the Big Red Machine a lesson. His idea of a lesson was to start the game with his team one run down and the bases loaded. Ellis hit the the first three Reds--Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Dan Driessen, --he faced in the top of the first, and then walked Tony Perez , who spent most of the at-bat dodging Ellis's pitches.

After Ellis threw two more brushbacks near the head of Johnny Bench , manager Danny Murtaugh removed him from the game. Aside from the antics, the righthander was a solid major league pitcher, despite below average strikeout ratios. He won 19 games for the World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971, and 17 games with the American League champion New York Yankees in 1976. He also wrote (with Donald Hall) "In the Country of Baseball", one of the most revealing autobiographies ever to come out of a big-league locker room.

Ellis was born 63 years ago today.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dodgers' White Sitting on a Fortune

Richard Drew, AP
Like Jed Clampett of the "Beverly Hillbillies," pitcher
Matt White discovered a fortune on his property.
He could become baseball's first billionaire after seven outings.

Pitcher Finds Out Land Is Loaded With Mica Rock

The New York Times

VERO BEACH, Fla. (March 2) - Sharing a clubhouse with luminaries like Jeff Kent , Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Schmidt is Matt White, the Dodgers ' reluctant rock star.

The 29-year-old White, who is not a five-time All Star like Kent, a former Olympian and first-round draft pick like Garciaparra or a one-time Cy Young award runner-up like Schmidt, could not have looked more uncomfortable being interviewed Friday if his uniform were made of burlap.

A left-handed pitcher with seven major league appearances in nine professional seasons, White’s claim to fame is a 50-acre parcel of land in Hampshire County in western Massachusetts that is rich in mica schist, a slatelike rock that is used for hearths, patio decks, steps and walls. How rich? A geologist who inspected the property last summer told White that he was sitting on roughly 24 million tons of mica rock worth an estimated $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion.

As more people have heard about his quarry, it has created a quandary for White, whose dream is to be the next Billy Wagner , not some real-life Jed Clampett in the interview rotation of "Access Hollywood."

"I'm here to play baseball," White said. "Everybody wanting to talk about the rocks and everything is beyond me." He added: "I keep telling guys, I just don't want it to be a distraction for anybody. We're here to field the best team for the Dodgers and to win a World Series. I'm here to be part of that team and contribute, not talk about rocks."

White, a nonroster invitee, is trying to crack a Dodgers pitching rotation that has a wealth of talent. Schmidt, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf are the top four starters, and there are a handful of other legitimate contenders for the No. 5 spot. The club has three potential setup men in Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Meloan and Brett Tomko and two possible closers in Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito.

"He has a dream of being a major league pitcher and he's doing everything possible to make it happen," Manager Grady Little said. He added, "He keeps trying to get better and get back to the major leagues. I'll tell you what, that's admirable."

In his Dodgers debut Friday afternoon against the Washington Nationals , White faced four batters in one-and-a-third innings of relief and did not give up a hit. The last batter, catcher Brian Schneider, struck out swinging on a wicked slider, a pitch that White worked on while playing winter ball in Venezuela.

White’s debut went better than Schmidt's, who had given up a walk and a double after four batters and allowed two hits and two walks in his two innings of work.

"It felt good to show everybody what I can do," said White, who made his major league debut in May 2003, allowing six runs in two-thirds of an inning of relief for the Boston Red Sox in a loss to the Yankees . He also appeared in three games with the Seattle Mariners that season and made one start with the Nationals in 2005 before spending the 2006 season with Philadelphia 's Class AAA team.

White bought the land in Hampshire County a few years ago from an aunt who was moving to a nursing home. He paid $50,000 for the property and discovered the mica stones while clearing land for a house he intended to build on it. His aunt died last year before the family had a ballpark idea of the property's true value.

It is expensive to excavate mica, which is why White is considering selling the land. His father, Jim, a former logger, is overseeing the operation. White secured a $100,000 loan to pay for the excavating equipment and the diesel fuel that the equipment drinks like water.

In the first year of mining, he said they did not make enough to pay off the debt. "There's expenses that go into the process, and that's what everybody doesn't understand," White said. He added, "Things have just been blown up so far out of proportion."

Much like a homeowner whose house has been appraised at seven figures but is not a millionaire, White has yet to reap any true financial rewards from his valuable property.

White the journeyman was so fearful of being perceived by his new teammates as some kind of genteel man that he asked Little if he could clarify his situation during a team meeting last month, shortly after the pitchers and the catchers had reported.

"I wanted to make sure they knew that I'm not a billionaire and that I'm here trying to outwork everyone around me because my dream is to be a major league pitcher," White said.

Little, who was managing the Red Sox when White got his first major league start, said he understood. "What happened to him is like someone winning the state lottery," Little said. "That's naturally going to overshadow a lot of things in his life from the past."

It was a telephone call from Little that led to White's signing a minor league contract with the Dodgers. "I didn't know exactly where to go and who to sign with," White said. "But I got the call from Grady, and he said he'd like to have me come into camp and compete for a job. That's all I can ask for, a fair opportunity."

The rock business is White's fallback plan. Baseball remains his passion.

"Trust me," he said, "I'm going to ride out baseball as long as I can. I want to make my career in this."

Copyright © 2007 The New York Times Company
2007-03-03 09:57:14

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The 1967 Red Sox: The Impossible Dream and The Birth of Red Sox Nation

Bill Nowlin and Dan Desrochers:
The 1967 Red Sox: The Impossible Dream and
The Birth of Red Sox Nation
Released 02/25/2007

When Jim Lonborg induced Minnesota's Rich Rollins to pop up, and shortstop Rico Petrocelli stepped back and cradled the softly-looped fly ball, the '67 Sox had done the impossible - they had overcome 100-to-1 odds, climbing out of ninth place the year before to capture the American League pennant. It had been 21 years since the Sox last reached the post-season.

Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of fans streamed out onto the Fenway infield mobbing Lonborg, who lost a shirt and his shoelaces as he struggled through the delirious crowd to get to the clubhouse. Two or three dozen fans climbed the backstop screen toward the broadcast booth. Others dismantled the scoreboard in left field. Many just tore out handfuls of grass and stuffed their pockets. It truly was, in the words of Red Sox radio announcer Ned Martin, "pandemonium on the field."

As Peter Gammons once wrote on this great season, "The Red Sox were always New England's team, yes, but it took the Impossible Dream of 1967 to turn it into a romanticized mystique and keep the legion of fans coming by the millions.... It wasn't always the way it is now, and might never have been but for '67."

This book is a tribute to the men of the Impossible Dream team, comprised of individual original biographies (many based on fresh interviews) of all 39 players that year, plus each of the four coaches, manager Dick Williams, and GM Dick O'Connell. The bios are supplemented with appreciations of this remarkable season by an all-star lineup featuring Andy Andres, Gerry Beirne, Joe Castiglione, Ken Coleman, Dan Desrochers, Gordon Edes, Peter Gammons, Tom Harkins, Dick Johnson, Jim Lonborg, Bill Nowlin, Harvey Soolman, Glenn Stout, Dan Valenti, Tom Werner, and Saul Wisnia.

Contains a selection of over 150 rare photographs and memorabilia from this special Red Sox season.

With Forewords by: Tom Werner, current chairman of the Boston Red Sox and Jim Lonborg, 1967 Cy Young Award winner.

A project of the Boston chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, this volume gathers the collective efforts of more than 60 SABR members and friends of the non-profit research society.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ex-Dodgers Pitcher Labine Dies at 80

Clem Labine

Published - Mar 02 2007
04:26PM Eastern Writer - AP

VERO BEACH, Fla.(AP) Clem Labine, a relief pitcher who threw two of baseball's most significant shutouts in his role as a part-time starter and pitched for two Dodgers World Series championship teams in the 1950s, died Friday. He was 80.

Labine had been in a coma at Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach for more than a week following brain surgery to explore a mass in his head, the team announced, and hospital spokeswoman Kim Leach-Wright confirmed his death.

Labine was hospitalized Feb. 13 because of pneumonia, shortly after completing a stint as an instructor at an adult "fantasy camp" at the Dodgers' training camp.

"He was not recognized the way he should have been. He was a great pitcher, but he was surrounded by too many stars," said Tommy Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager who was Labine's teammate. "He played the game the way it was supposed to be played. He gave it everything he had, he got along with everyone and everyone loved him."

Labine spent 13 seasons in the major leagues, mostly as a bullpen specialist with the Dodgers, first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles. He also pitched with Detroit and Pittsburgh, and briefly for the New York Mets.

"I always thought Clem would've had a great career as a starting pitcher," former teammate Carl Erskine said. "But he told me, `I didn't want to start. I liked the pressure of coming into the game with everything on the line.'"

In 1951, his first full major league season, Labine was thrust in the middle of the three-game National League pennant playoff between the Dodgers and New York Giants. After the Giants won the opener, Brooklyn had no regular starter available for Game 2. Labine got the assignment by default and threw a six-hit shutout to keep the Dodgers alive in the best-of-three series. Bobby Thomson's ninth-inning home run won the pennant for the Giants the next day.

The playoff shutout came in just Labine's sixth major league start and 15th game. He would throw another one, allowing just seven hits in Game 6 of the 1956 World Series and beating the New York Yankees 1-0 in 10 innings to force a seventh game, which the Yankees won. That shutout came a day after Don Larsen's perfect game, the only no-hitter in World Series history.

"He had the heart of a lion and the intelligence of a wily fox, and he was a nice guy, too," Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said. "He will be truly missed by all who knew him."

Labine played football, hockey and baseball growing up in Woonsocket, R.I., and volunteered for the paratroopers during World War II. He was signed by the Dodgers in 1946 almost by accident when a scheduled tryout with the Boston Braves fell through.

Labine came to Brooklyn in 1950, appearing in just one game. He was the handyman of the Dodgers staff in 1951, posting a 5-1 record with a 2.20 earned run average and was comfortable as both a reliever and occasional starter. He won eight games the next season and by 1953, he had become Brooklyn's main man out of the bullpen, with 10 of his 11 victories that year coming in relief.

That season had a disappointing ending when he appeared in three World Series games against the Yankees and was tagged with two losses, including the decisive sixth game when he gave up the winning hit to Billy Martin in the ninth inning.

Two years later, in 1955, Labine enjoyed his best season, leading the league with 60 appearances and going 13-5, with 10 victories and 11 saves out of the bullpen. The Dodgers captured their first World Series that year with Labine winning Game 4 with 4 1-3 innings of relief and coming back the next day to pitch three more innings and save Game 5. That season, Labine went 3-for-31 at bat and all three hits were home runs.

Labine led the league in saves each of the next two seasons with 19 in 1956 and 17 in 1957, making the All-Star team both years. Relying on a wicked curve ball and sinker, he had uncanny success against Stan Musial, retiring the Hall of Famer 49 straight times.

Labine accompanied the Dodgers on the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958 and was with the team when it won the World Series in 1959. He was dealt to Detroit and then on to Pittsburgh in 1960 and went 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA for the world champion Pirates.

After one more season with the Pirates, Labine was drafted by the expansion Mets in 1962. He appeared in just three games before retiring and returning to Rhode Island as a partner in a company that manufactured golf clothes and other sports wear.

Labine was a central character in "The Boys of Summer," Roger Kahn's book of reminiscences with the old Dodgers, which told of how the pitcher's son, Jay, lost a leg when he stepped on a land mine during the Vietnam War.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; son Clem Labine Jr. of Woonsocket, R.I.; daughters Barbara Grubbs of Reno Nev.; Gail Ponanski of Smithfield, R.I.; Kim Archambault of Smithfield; and Susan Gershkoff of Lincoln, R.I.; five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

AP Sports Writer Hal Bock in New York and Associated Press Writer Brian Skoloff in West Palm Beach contributed to this report.

Is This the First Time a Black Player Charged the Mound?

From Frank Vacarro:

Maxwell Kates asks if "anyone has recorded the first time a black player charged the mound?" This would be (I think!) the Doby-Ditmar fight, Thursday, June 13, 1957, first inning.

Chicago Tribune baseball writer Irving Vaughn, then in his forty-eighth year on the beat, called it "The best I have ever seen on the ball field." The second place New York Yankees 4-3 win became the first of a 29-6 spurt that turned a six game Chicago lead to a six game deficit.

Entering Chicago, Yankee pitchers had a beanball reputation. That Sunday, in Detroit, Ray Boone charged Tom Sturdivant after being brushed back after Sturdivant gave up back-to-back homers. "It slipped" Sturdivant said. Then in Chicago's Wednesday victory, Yankee pitcher Al Cicotte just missed Minnie Monoso's head in the sixth inning. Before the Doby-Ditmar game, Nellie Fox and Elston Howard nearly came to blows after Fox accused Howard of calling for beanballs.

So with two outs and two on in the bottom of the first round Larry Doby wasn't going to cut Art Ditmar any slack. When a fast ball brushed Doby back, Doby took steps toward the mound yelling at Ditmar. Home plate umpire Larry Napp jumped between the two and was getting jostled.

Looking at Chicago Tribune photographs, it seems Napp took a step toward thirdbase in an effort to call over another ump. Right then Doby launched a left behind Napps turned head and landed a punch so square on Ditmar's jaw that Ditmar collapsed like a sack straight down.

Then the benches cleared: mini-fights broke out all over and Billy Martin seemed to be in all of them. Bill Skowron floored Doby with a flying tackle; Walt Dropo sat on Skowron and put him in a head-lock; Enos Slaughter stood above them trying to lift the 230 pound Dropo up by pulling on his shirt. Dropo got up setting off a hockey-style punchfest with Slaughter. I 'm sure many on this list recall a photo of Slaughter dejectedly walking off a field; hat turned backwards and shirt ripped open to expose his chest and stomach. Well, that was from that day, right after he got ejected. In all five were ejected.

The June 26th Sporting News (page 2) also has this photo and refers to everything Doby did as part of the actions of the "first negro to fight on the diamond", etc, despite the fact that he was "not dusted off because of pigmentation differences."

I suppose Doby's actions might not qualify as a "charge". Nevertheless, it was a "small punch for mankind..."

Frank Vaccaro vaccol@EARTHLINK.NET