Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Steve Yeager – Lucky to be Alive

Steve Yeager, right, shown with Dodger catcher Russell Martin

Steve Yeager is a right-handed former major league catcher who had a brush with death on the baseball field. He played for the Los Angeles Dodgers for most of his career.

It happened on September 6, 1976, while playing the San Diego Padres. Yeager was in the on-deck circle in the 7th inning at Dodger Stadium with Bill Russell at bat. A piece of Russell's bat shattered and hit Yeager in the neck, piercing his esophagus. He had nine pieces of wood removed from his neck in 98 minutes of surgery.

Because of this injury there was some concern whether Yeager could continue his career as a catcher; he couldn't risk getting hit in the neck again. To protect himself Yeager invented the catcher's throat protector flap that hangs from the catcher's mask.

Yeager was born in Huntington West Virginia on November 24, 1948, and spent 14 of the 15 seasons of his Major League Baseball career, from 1972 through 1985, with the Dodgers. His last year, 1986, he played for the Seattle Mariners. Yeager once hit two grand slams in one high school game at Meadowdale High School (Ohio) in Dayton, Ohio.

Major League Career
In the beginning of August 1972, Yeager got "the call" to the majors, and made his major league debut on the 2nd. In his first-third of a season he would make 106 plate appearances in 35 games, bat .274, and drive in 15 runs on 29 hits, while scoring 18 total runs.

He contributed to four national league pennants with the Dodgers, helping take them to the 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1981 World Series. In the final one, Yeager shared the World Series Most Valuable Player award with Dodger teammates Pedro Guerrero and Ron Cey.

Lou Brock called Yeager "the best-throwing catcher in the game." His specialty was defense and his command of the game on the field. He was very good at managing the game from his position, and was even more highly regarded for his abilities with young pitchers. In 1974 he led National League catchers in putouts with 806.

This compensated for subpar offense, as illustrated by arguably his best offensive year occurring in 1974 when he batted .266 in fewer than 100 games. He did, however, bat .321 with the bases loaded during his career. Four of his last five hits against Ken Forsch were home runs; he did not hit more than two home runs against any other pitcher in his career.

Minor league Coaching Career
In 1999, Yeager was the hitting coach for the Dodgers’ Single-A San Bernardino Stampede, which won the California League championship. In 2000-01 he managed the Long Beach Breakers. He was hitting coach for the Jacksonville Suns in 2004, and in 2005-06 he was the hitting instructor/coach for the Dodgers AAA farm club, the Las Vegas 51s. In 2007, he serves as the hitting coach for the Inland Empire 66ers.

Minor League Career
Yeager was drafted by Los Angeles on 6 June, 1967, in the 4th round of the amateur draft. After one game with the Ogden Spikers, in the Rookie Level - Pioneer League, Yeager was sent to the Dubuque Packers - Single-A -Midwest League for 14 games. The following season, 1968, he played 59 games for the Daytona Beach Dodgers - Single-A Florida State League.

In 1969 he played 22 games in Bakersfield - Single-A - California League, throwing out 26 runners, and 1 game in Albuquerque - Double-A - Texas League. He spent the next two-and-2/3rds seasons in Albuquerque. 1970 and 1971 in "AA" - Texas League, for 162 games, where he batted .276, with 77 RBIs in 490 at bats.

For 1971 he threw out 84 runners (second in the Texas League), and was named to the All Star team as a member of the Texas League, or Dixie Association - Western Division, catching for the Albuquerque Dukes (67-75), along with teammates Lee Lacy (2B) and Paul Johnston (OF). The following season, 1972, he played 82 games in Albuquerque (Triple-A - Pacific Coast League), with 45 RBIs in 257 at bats, while hitting .280.

Outside Baseball
--Yeager is a nephew of pilot Chuck Yeager.

--Known for his flashy lifestyle as a player, when he got married on the steps of LA's City Hall, then Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley was best man at his wedding.

--Yeager was famous for having posed nude for Playgirl magazine in their October 1982 issue.

--Yeager served as technical advisor and also had a small role, as Coach Duke Temple, in Major League, Major League II, and Major League: Back to the Minors.

--In September 1979, he and his family appeared on Family Feud with Richard Dawson. They played for a total of 6 days.

--After his playing career, Yeager converted to Judaism.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

'Just Another Day' for Female Umpire

Umpire Ria Cortesio makes the call as the Cubs' Tyler Colvin
grounds out in the sixth inning. (Roy Dabner/AP)

By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- For Ria Cortesio, Thursday was just another day on the job, and hopefully another step toward becoming a Major League umpire.

Cortesio, 30, worked the bases as part of the umpire crew for the Chicago Cubs-Arizona Diamondbacks game at HoHoKam Park, the first female umpire to work a Major League exhibition game in nearly 20 years.

"When I found out I had this game, my plan was to sneak in, work the game, and sneak out and go unnoticed," Cortesio said. "That didn't happen."

Nothing happened in the game to draw attention to Cortesio until afterward when she was surrounded by the media. The reason? A female umpire has never worked in the Major Leagues during the regular season. Pam Postema was the last woman to call big-league exhibition games, doing so in 1989.

"I think it's good, I really do," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "I think there's a place for women in the umpiring ranks. They're certainly as qualified as anybody else. I'm sure if they get the same opportunities, and the same schooling that the male counterparts get, they'll do a really nice job.

"I'm not going to go visit her today," Piniella said. "I'll stay right in the dugout."

And he did just that. Cortesio started at first base, and switched places with Major League umpire Mike Winters every two innings. She said it was normal procedure in Spring Training games for base umpires to switch sides. Minor League umpire Jason Kiser worked the plate.

She was clear signaling her calls and quick on her feet. In the Cubs' sixth, Tyler Colvin bounced a grounder toward Arizona first baseman Jesus Cota, who flipped to pitcher Brandon Lyon, who was covering the bag. Cortesio called the ball fair, and got in position to call Colvin out on the bang-bang play.

"That happens," she said about getting out of the way. "I'm glad Cota came up with the ball. It was just another day on the job."

The Rock Island, Ill., native is the only female umpire in professional baseball, and has been assigned to Double-A this year. This will be her ninth season overall and fifth in Double-A. Triple-A and Double-A umpires routinely work Spring Training games. She knew quite a few of the Cubs players because she had worked the Southern League. The Cubs' Double-A team was based in West Tenn.

"I got a lot of, 'Hey, Ria, where are you going to be this year?'" she said of her conversations with the players.

"She's been through a lot," Cubs second baseman Ryan Theriot said. "It's a rough road. It's kind of different to see a woman out there. Where I would think the challenging part would be is a close call. She always seemed to get them right call.

"When I stole second today [in the third], I was visibly out," Theriot said, "but she was on top of it and saw that he missed the tag and I came back around and grabbed the base and was safe. She's good. She makes all the right calls, and that's what she's supposed to do. I just couldn't imagine being in her shoes."

She has been working Minor League exhibition games this month in Arizona. Last July, Cortesio called the Futures Game for Minor League prospects, then worked the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh.

She's been an instructor for several years at the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, and is in line for a promotion to Triple-A when the next vacancy occurs. Thursday marked the first time she worked a game with a Major League umpire, joining Winters' crew.

"This means nothing for me to work this game," Cortesio said. "Someone like Micah Hoffpauir can hit a three-run homer and he might get called up later in the season. For an umpire, it means nothing. There's no way on the face of the earth that I can get called up."

Hoffpauir did hit a three-run homer to give the Cubs a 7-4 win over the Diamondbacks in front of a HoHoKam Park record crowd of 12,917. A few of them knew a woman umpire was on the field.

"You always knew," Theriot said. "But, for me, it was never an issue, and not for our team. All we want as players is somebody to make the right call."

There is no set timetable as to when Cortesio could get to the Major Leagues. She will have to be both patient and persistent.

"It's not up to me," she said.

First, she has to be promoted to Triple-A. Then, she'll be evaluated by a Major League umpire supervisor. If they like the way she does her job in Triple-A, she could be assigned to the Arizona Fall League. If, after two seasons in the AFL, they still like her, she could get a Major League Spring Training schedule. Then, she could be in line to fill in during the big-league season.

"Absolute, absolute best-case scenario, we're looking at 2009 to get a couple games," she said. "That's the absolute best-case scenario."

So, why do it?

"The challenge," Cortesio said. "It's fun for one thing. A game like today, when I didn't really have anything, it's fun. During the season when you're working a game every single night, night after night after night, week after week, month after month after month after month, it's a lot more of a challenge than people realize."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

The Baseball Index

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Remember, TBI is an index to baseball literature. It is a guide to what has been written about baseball subjects. It does not include the full-text of the sources referenced.

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Started in 1990, The Baseball Index project is the product of dozens of volunteers who have indexed over 200,000 baseball sources in order to facilitate baseball research. The Baseball Index is part of the Society for American Baseball Research's commitment to advance and support baseball research.

The Baseball Index is a project of the Bibliography Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research. The index has been created through the work of dozens of volunteers over the years. And we always need more volunteers.

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If you are interested in helping with magazines, newspapers and other periodicals, contact Ted Hathaway at ted@baseballindex.org

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Robinson's Voice is Letter Perfect

Daily News Los Angeles

Inside SOCAL

Michael Long was digging through the National Archives in Laguna Beach two years ago, researching a book project about former President Richard Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham.

Before he knew what hit him, Long became a Jackie Robinson fan.

An archivist showed Long a file they had kept full of Robinson's correspondence with Nixon that went back to the late '50s. Long, an assistant professor of religious studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College who had done books on politics and religion but nothing even remotely related to sports, said he felt as if someone had dropped "gems in my lap" as he immersed himself in Robinson's words about pursuing social justice.

But now, what to do with all this?

Long went back to his Anaheim hotel room. Not much of a sports fan, he happened to flip the TV on to ESPN. There, he saw another story involving an athlete gone bad.

"It was really an epiphanic moment," Long said. "The contrast between these athletes and Jackie could not have been more striking, or disappointing. Who other than Jackie Robinson, a national icon, to show there's still a need for a role model in the world of athletics?"

The result, after dozens more archive searches and the approval of Rachel Robinson, is the new book, "The Civil Rights Letters of Jackie Robinson: First Class Citizenship" (Times Books/Henry Holt and Company, $26, 384 pages).

Sixty years after he broke baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and 35 years after his death, Robinson's voice comes alive with pointed passion, direct anger, admitted frustration and unbowed determination as simply a person who wanted a better world for everyone.

Long found Robinson correspondence with JohnF.Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Malcolm X and Martin Luther KingJr. that focused on the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, segregation and discrimination.

Robinson and Nixon first met in 1952 at the Republican National Convention. Nixon shared a memory he had of Robinson playing football for UCLA in 1939. Robinson was more impressed with Nixon's pro-civil rights statements and ended up supporting him in the 1960 presidential campaign.

Robinson, however, would not side with either Republicans or Democrats in his quest for equality. He stumped for LBJ in '64, Nelson Rockefeller in '68 and Hubert Humphrey in '72. Robinson had respect for Kennedy but was critical of his motives. Robinson wasn't afraid to call Barry Goldwater a "bigot" and "white supremacist" during the '64 campaign, or to exchange ideas with Malcolm X about the right way for African Americans to have a voice in politics.

Robinson wrote to everyone, it seemed. In today's world of e-mails and text messages, it may be difficult to imagine how anyone left as much of an historic paper trail.

One letter in 1956 went to Bill Keefe, sports editor of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, who had written an editorial suggesting Robinson was the catalyst for a new Louisiana law that criminalized interracial sports.

"I am happy for you, that you were born white," Robinson concludes. "It would have been extremely difficult for you had it been otherwise."

The book also sheds more on Robinson's departure from the Dodgers in 1957, when he choose to retire rather than be traded to the rival Giants. Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi wrote to Robinson in '71 asking his thoughts about the Hall of Fame's decision to only allow one former Negro League player in per year. Robinson responded in agreement, and added: "Your action justifies the way I thought of you before the 1957 misunderstanding."

Robinson writes to Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley in '62, admitting his loyalty to Branch Rickey and his "being stubborn" had probably led to a deterioration in his relationship with the team after Rickey left.

Mark Langill, the Dodgers' team historian, said of the book: "I'm glad those other letters are being published because all the letters I've seen from Jackie over the years are always very thoughtful, insightful and sincere, no matter the topic."

Long, who never did his Nixon-Graham book, is more satisfied with this result.

"One of the disappointing things about the 60th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier was so much was ignored about his civil rights work outside of baseball," said Long. "It's easier to look at a smiling Robinson rather than one who was angry and wanted to change society. We've sort of sanitized him and kept him frozen in time. This expands his legacy with a new perspective.

"The media these days focuses so much on the negativity of sports. This is a positive story that Robinson reminds us of. It's really a story about the American dream in many ways."

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Scully gets his `who's on first'

By Sandy Sand – Los Angeles Daily News - 10/07/2007

Vin Scully

Vin Scully. The voice of the Dodgers. The voice of the San Fernando Valley. The voice of Los Angeles.
No doubt about it, one of the best things about living in L.A. is being able
to listen to Vin Scully broadcast Dodgers games.

The Los Angeles Dodgers might have ended the baseball season on a dismal note, but the award-winning Dodger sportscaster finished it off on a "high-larious" note, by smacking a grand-slam comedic homer out of the park.

Last Sunday, Scully completed his 58th season as the Dodgers' premiere broadcaster.

Magic is exactly what Scully has brought to baseball broadcasting. Doing both the play-by-play and the color, he saves the listeners from a montage of conflicting voices and unending, mind-numbing monotony of detailed analysis of every player's most nuanced gesture.

The only magic he hasn't been able to work is a pennant for the Dodgers.

Often he plays the Jewish or Italian momma and is a down right "noodge," telling people to drive carefully to and from the stadium. Not a day game goes by without him telling the fans to slather on the sun block.

No one knows how he does it. He probably doesn't know himself, but he can be in the middle of a story, call a play, and immediately pick up the thread of the story without missing a beat.

At season's end, it's not unusual to hear him give us the play-by-play of three games at once, while keeping us posted on which team is vying for what position in the standings for the playoffs, which is exactly what he did during the last three days of the season.

After 58 years of calling games, Scully has seen everything on the field and in the stands, from perfect games to no-hitters, from records broken to championships won and lost, from players rushing the field to fans behaving badly.

In all those years, there's only been one thing Scully couldn't do, one elusive thing that he confessed on-air that he's always wanted to do. Say three little words: Who's on first.

That was until Chin-Lung Hu, a native of Taiwan, joined the team at the beginning of September. Pronounced "who," Hu's first hit as a Dodger was a homer in a game with the San Diego Padres. Touching first base was all that was required, not visiting it.

Chin-Lung Hu

His second game appearance resulted in four round trips from the bench to the batter's box and back to the bench.

In the next game against the Arizona Diamondback, Scully uttered something that's still cracks me up, "Let's hope Hu get's a base hit, folks. I can't wait to say Hu's on first."

They say that three's the charm. Game three. The Dodgers were still in Arizona, and voila! Hu gets his first single. Scully took a deep breath and said, "OK everybody. All together ... Hu's on first!"

When Vinnie said he couldn't wait to say "Who's on first," I laughed for days and listened closely waiting for it to happen. The moment would be too priceless and it was.

I'm still laughing, and so is Scully. Chin-Lung Hu can't do anything without us being able to hear the chuckle in Scully's voice. The only times he suppresses it is when he says the shortstop's full name.

As long as Vin Scully calls Dodgers games and there are kids out there to listen, they will not only learn about America's pastime, but Scully will teach them about Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First," which is perhaps the most famous comedy routine that has been immortalized in comedy history.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are also the only two men who never put on a baseball uniform, or played for any professional baseball team, who have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Perched in the audience in comedy heaven, Abbott and Costello must be smiling down on Dodger Stadium, Vin Scully, Chin-Lung Hu and all the fans, because now an entirely new generation of fans will get in on the joke, and finally ... Hu's really on first!

Sandy Sand is a resident of West Hills and former editor of the Tolucan.
By Sandy Sand – Los Angeles Daily News - 10/07/2007

Friday, October 05, 2007

Rockies to share postseason payout with Coolbaugh's widow

From ESPN.com

Besides their surprising 14-1 finish to the season, the Colorado Rockies are giving baseball fans another reason to cheer for them this postseason.

The widow of Rockies minor league coach Mike Coolbaugh, who died after getting hit by a line drive this season, will be granted a full share of the team's playoff winnings after a team vote.

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said the gesture spoke volumes about the quality of the character in their locker room.

"I was passed on the information that they voted Amanda Coolbaugh a share, a full share, which I found speaks to their awareness, speaks to their passion, speaks to every good thing about them," Hurdle said.

Coolbaugh, who is 32 and pregnant, won't attend Saturday's Game 3 of the NLDS between the Phillies and Rockies at Coors Field. But her two sons, Joseph, 5, and Jacob, 3, will be in attendance and will throw out the first pitch.

"When I heard about what the players did, I almost cried," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "This was the players' idea. I think it's remarkable."

Mike Coolbaugh was a first base coach for the Tulsa Drillers. The former major leaguer was killed July 22.

Shaken by Coolbaugh's death, Rockies first base coach Glenallen Hill now wears a helmet.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said awarding the family a share was the right thing to do.

"We're obviously happy with the decision,'' Tulowitzki said on Thursday. "I hope they are, too, and I'm sure they will be.''

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

John Shiffert On: Switch-Pitching Tony Mullane, The Apollo of the Box

19 to 21
No, that’s not the number of times Tony Mullane threw left-handed, it’s... Baseball, Then and Now

News Item: August 27, 1881: Tony Mullane makes his major league debut with the Detroit Wolverines.

News Item: September 28, 1995: Greg Harris takes the mound left-handed for the Montreal Expos.

It would be a shame to let the 2007 season pass by without mentioning one of the year’s remarkable stories, a tale from the great state of Nebraska, of a college pitcher, who throws with both hands…

The called him “The Count” or “The Apollo of the Box” back when pitchers threw from a box, and not a mound. His name was Tony Mullane, and he was one of the better pitchers of the 19th Century, as well as one of baseball’s first great characters. He was also the first switch-pitcher, the first ambidextrous pitcher, in major league history.

Baseball has had innumerable switch-hitters over the years, starting with Bob Ferguson in 1870 up to the present day likes of Jimmy Rollins, Lance Berkman and even Raul Casanova. But, switch-pitchers? You may remember Greg Harris, in the penultimate appearance of his major league career, putting his special six-fingered, ambidextrous glove on his right hand, and throwing to two batters lefty during a scoreless ninth inning for the Montreal Expos. The date was just 12 years ago, September 28, 1995, when Harris became the only major league switch-pitcher of the 20th Century by facing the Reds’ Hal Morris (he walked him) and Eddie Taubensee (he grounded out) while pitching left-handed. (He also retired Reggie Sanders and Bret Boone in the same inning pitching right-handed.) This stunt was something Harris had wanted to do for years – he had the ambidextrous glove at least as far back as his days with the Phillies (1988-89) and he’d been lobbying the Red Sox to let him switch-pitch all during his 1989 to 1994 tenure in Boston. GM Lou Gorman forbade him from throwing lefty, saying it would make a mockery of the game.

But, would it? There actually is a rule that covers this – apparently the same one that states that a batter must declare his intention of batting either left-handed or right-handed before entering the batter’s box. In other words, he can’t jump back and forth from batting left to batting right between pitches. Similarly, a pitcher would have to declare his intention of pitching to a specific batter either left-handed or right-handed. As long as said pitcher knew which side of the plate was the weaker side for a switch-hitter, there’d be no problem at all. Thus, if Harris had the physical ability to throw at a major league level with both hands, why not let him so do? In effect, Harris could have been two pitchers in one. Imagine a reliever who could conceivably pitch in 160 games a year. Absurd? Not really, since Harris was in 80 games for the Red Sox, pitching strictly right-handed, in 1993 at the age of 37. If he could alternate hands in an inning, why not have him alternate hands by appearance? Even if that didn’t work, he could, by switch-pitching, always give his team the platoon advantage when he was on the mound.

It seems obvious that this sort of versatility would be a tremendous asset, especially in an era of extreme specialization among relief pitchers, wherein it’s become common for at least one pitcher on each team to have more appearances than innings pitched. But, Harris was still the only major league switch-pitcher of the 20th Century, maybe because of the tradition-bound thinking of the Lou Gorman’s of baseball, or maybe because Harris’ ability to throw with both hands isn’t exactly a common one. Indeed, records seem to indicate that the only other pitchers known to have used both hands in a professional game in the 20th Century were Bert Campaneris (yes, the Oakland Athletics shortstop who later played all nine positions in one major league game… another player with unusual abilities) in 1962 in the Florida State League, and Moxie Manuel in 1907 in the Southern Association.

While the feat of switch hitting is neither easy nor common, it is at least do-able on some level if the individual has some ability with both hands, or starts early enough. But, switch-pitching… the ability to throw at least close to equally well with either arm… now that’s tough. Anecdotal evidence indicates that Pete Reiser was ambidextrous enough to throw left-handed during his military ball-playing days when he’d injured his right arm, but, then again, Reiser was a one-in-a-million talent. (In case you’re interested, he came up to the majors as a switch-hitter, but ended up just batting lefty.) Among pitchers, Harris (the only relief pitcher – he had 54 career saves) was one of only five to actually pitch with both arms in the major leagues, the others being Mullane (the first time in 1882), Larry Corcoran (just once in 1884), Elton “Icebox” Chamberlain (at least one game in 1888) and George Wheeler (a handful of times between 1896 and 1899). Their careers…

(To continue, click this link: Apollo of the Box)