Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First in War, First in Peace, Last in the American League

The 1944 Washington Senators exemplified the refrain of first in war, first in peace, and last in the standings of the American League. They finished eighth, also known as last.

About the only interesting thing about the team was their cadre of five knuckleball pitchers:

Dutch Leonard (14-14, 3.06 ERA, 31 GS, 229-1/3 IP),
Mickey Haefner (12-15, 3.04, 25, 228),
Johnny Niggeling (10-8, 2.32, 24, 206),
Roger Wolff (4-15, 4.99, 21, 155), and
Bill Lefebvre (2-4, 4.52, 4, 69-2/3).

But the 1945 Senators are #2 in the chronological list of best major-league knuckleball seasons.

Lefebvre was out of major league baseball in 1945, but each of the other four had good seasons. Haefner set a career high for wins. Leonard posted the best ERA of his career. Wolff had an amazing season. And even though Niggeling did worse in 1945 than 1944, his won-loss record was worse than the rest of his numbers would suggest (32 unearned runs did not help his cause).

Leonard: 17-7, 29 GS, 2.12 ERA, 12 CG, 216 IP
Wolff: 20-10, 29 GS, 2.12 ERA, 21 CG, 250 IP
Haefner: 16-14, 28 GS, 3.47 ERA, 19 CG, 238-1/3 IP
Niggeling: 7-12, 25 GS, 3.16 ERA, 14 CG 176-2/3 IP

Leonard made the All-Star team (for a game that was cancelled due to war); Wolff was fifth in the league in strikeouts, and third in complete games; and Leonard and Wolff tied for third in ERA in the League. In the league MVP voting, Wolff placed 7th, and Leonard 18th. The four horsemen of the butterfly ball started 111 of the team's 156 games, finished 66 of them, and posted a 60-43 record.

Due largely to their heroics, Washington led the league in ERA and finished second in the league, 1-1/2 games behind the Tigers, who won the World Series that year. Who knows what would have happened had Clark Griffith scheduled fewer doubleheaders and allowed any of his starters to log even 30 starts?

And who was their catcher that year and played in 99 games and ended up in the Baseball Hall of Fame? None other than Rick Ferrell.

Ex-Angels star Bostock, murdered 30 years ago, still has impact on CSUN

By Jill Painter, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Daily News

Lyman Bostock and his San Fernando Valley State teammates were sweating it out in dormitories with no air conditioning before the championship game of the 1972 NCAA Division II College World Series.

They weren't scheduled to play until that evening, so Bostock and a couple of teammates asked coach Bob Hiegert if they could host an impromptu clinic for some of the youngsters in a Springfield, Ill., park across the street. The kids had been watching the Matadors practice all week, and Hiegert thought it was a great idea. He asked players to return by 1 p.m. for batting practice.

"In those days of college baseball, we didn't have a lot of money or resources," Hiegert said. "(Bostock) picked up the ballbag we were going to use for batting practice and infield, and I put a dozen baseballs in my bag that we needed for the bullpen. When he came back, there were no baseballs in the bag. None. I said, `Lyman, what's going on?' He said, `Hey coach, they needed them more than we do.' That was true. He gave kids who were 6, 7, 8 and 9 the baseballs. That's pretty much the way the guy was."

Hiegert's eyes welled up with tears when he retold the story recently in Woodland Hills. Hiegert, who was a longtime athletic director at the school, which is now known as Cal State Northridge, was in town Sunday to attend events for the school's 50-year anniversary. In the same week he celebrated the school's legacy, he retold the legacy of Bostock, who was murdered 30 years ago today.

Bostock had a sweet smile, smooth swing and a penchant for helping others. As a professional baseball player, he returned to Northridge to play in the school's alumni game - which later was renamed the Lyman Bostock Memorial Game - and for four years it was a big event. The Angels used to bring their position players.

Bostock loved to return to Northridge in his offseason. On the days Bostock showed up unannounced, Hiegert happily canceled his practice and Bostock took over for the day.

"Whatever he did was much more important than what I had planned," Hiegert said.

Bostock starred at San Fernando Valley State and was signed by the Minnesota Twins in 1975. He later signed a $2.25 million free-agent contract with the Angels in 1978 after turning down a deal from the New York Yankees that would've made him the highest paid player in sports. When the Bostock sweepstakes was in full swing, a magazine cover depicted Bostock with dollar signs in his eyes. Hiegert said those types of things made Bostock uneasy.

The outfielder was a successful major leaguer who finished second to teammate Rod Carew for the batting title in 1977.

But his life and career tragically ended on Sept.23, 1978.

Bostock had played in a game against the White Sox in Chicago, in which he went 2 for 4. After the game, Bostock and his uncle drove from Chicago to Gary, Ind., where they had dinner at a family home. Then they gave a ride to a friend and her sister, Barbara Smith.

Smith's estranged husband, Leonard Smith, followed the car and while both cars were stopped at an intersection, Smith shot at the car and hit Bostock in the temple. Bostock died later at a local hospital.

Bostock is still the only major leaguer to be murdered during the season.

That night, Hiegert was tired and turned on "Saturday Night Live" to get a few laughs before he went to bed. Twice, he saw a breaking news alert about Bostock's murder at the bottom of the screen. Hiegert figured it was a joke as part of the show - until the next day, when he received a call.

"It's hard," Hiegert said. "He's a special young man. He was 100 percent, whatever he did. He was a kick. If Lyman was without a smile, it was because he was in a competitive situation.

"He's the type of guy you don't forget. He just had that impact. He was a combination of a good kid and a good person. He was a good teammate. He played hard, and he was going to make you play hard."

Bostock was murdered when he was 27 and in the prime of his career. He was batting .296 when he died, but his legend wasn't built on statistics. Mired in an awful slump the first month of the season, Bostock told Angels owner Gene Autry he was giving back his salary for the month, because his batting average plummeted to .150.

Autry declined the offer, so Bostock donated the money to charity.

"I'd never heard of a professional athlete doing something like that," said C.J. Belanger, a sophomore outfielder at CSUN. "He said he didn't deserve and didn't earn his paycheck. The owner said no, and he still donated it to charity. That's unheard of."

Belanger was a recipient of the Lyman Bostock Scholarship Endowment last year. He received financial aid for living expenses, which was especially helpful for his family since he has two brothers, one of whom is also in college.

Bostock was set to start a scholarship in his name for CSUN athletes before he was gunned down. He chatted about that very thing with Heigert and Angels announcer Dick Enberg - a former San Fernando Valley State assistant baseball coach - around the batting cage during batting practice one day in 1978. Along with help from the Angels, Hiegert and Enberg helped carry out that wish.

The interest on the Bostock endowment is given to several worthy baseball players each year. Steve Rousey, the CSUN baseball coach, nominates players who are in need and show character and integrity as students, athletes and people.

"It's an honor to be mentioned in the same limelight as he is," junior pitcher Jimmy Jolicoeur said. "To be given a scholarship in his honor is to say I'm portraying his character. I see it as a challenge in a way. I try to be the best I can be and live up to the scholarship name."

Bostock's baseball career was off to a shaky start in 1968 when he showed up on campus at San Fernando Valley State via Manual Arts High in Los Angeles. He shelved baseball practice and workouts for sit-ins and demonstrations with the black student union. He was arrested once, too. Hiegert liked Bostock, but he said he had to kick him off the team in 1969 because he wasn't committed to baseball. Hiegert needed someone who would be there every day.

In the spring of 1970, Bostock spent three weeks in the county jail.

Hiegert picked him up from jail and took him out to breakfast while at the same time he was preparing for regional baseball playoffs. He still remembers their conversation.

"He was scared to death," Hiegert said. "Three weeks in jail really woke him up and scared him. He was squared away before that, but he had a lot of time to think about things. He really wanted to concentrate on baseball and get himself through school.

"He was finally settled in. He was a sociology major. He met his wife in school then. They were dating. He put 100 percent of his energies to baseball and campus life. He was one of the true leaders on the team. He wound up all-conference and an All-American."

Bostock wound up in CSUN's Hall of Fame, too. He and Enberg were two members of the first class in 1981. Bostock, however, wasn't a part of the 1970 Division II championship team. In the fall of that year, Bostock asked Hiegert for a second chance, and Hiegert told him he'd have to earn his way back on the team. He did and became a star, batting .344 as a junior and .296 as a senior.

"People wanted to come to (CSUN) and be someone like Lyman Bostock," former assistant coach Tony Davila said. "They wanted to be somewhere where they knew they were going to get a fair shot at playing for us based on talent and nothing to do with where they came from. They knew they'd get a fair shot with us.

"Those were touchy times on college campuses. Word got around. He was someone I would want a whole baseball team of."

Bostock's legacy at CSUN resonated with all student athletes. He made time for the black student union and its causes, academics and the baseball team.

When Hiegert's tenure as athletic director ended, there was a revolving door in the athletic department. The department was troubled and scholarships and goals and plans were often forgotten.

Mike Batesole, who was a successful baseball coach for seven years until he left for Fresno State in 2003, had never even heard of the Lyman Bostock Scholarship Endowment. And he was a huge fan of Bostock.

"I was probably 13 or 14 years old when he signed with the Angels," Batesole said. "I remember his sweet stroke. I was born in Anaheim and lived there, so we were really excited when the Angels got him. Those teams had so much heart."

Just like Bostock, who returned an empty ballbag to Hiegert on the day of a championship game.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Jim Abbott - Anniversary of a No Hitter

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Jim Abbott's no-hitter pitching for the NY Yankees against the Cleveland Indians. Jim has been an inspiration to many people and below are some memorable quotes by him and about him, courtesy of baseball-almanac.com.

By Jim Abbott:
"The no-hitter was the highlight of my career. The specialness of it, I didn't know how lasting it would be when it happened. Everywhere I go, people talk about that game, how exciting it was. That makes me very proud. I'm awfully happy that a ball didn't bloop in somewhere."

"I had an incredible experience living in New York, playing for the Yankees, to go through all of the things I did, including the no-hitter. It was a very memorable time."

"Some of you may know that my career statistics weren't that great. There were some incredible highlights and some agonizing lowlights. The truth is, I won't go to the hall of fame. But if a career can be measured by special moments, lessons learned, and a connection with people then I would stack mine up with anyone's. So that's why I stand here. To share. Maybe there is an obligation to share. To try and learn from the experiences life puts us through."

"One of the beautiful things about baseball is the history."

About Jim Abbott:
"Born without a right hand, southpaw Jim Abbott went directly from the University of Michigan to the Angels' starting rotation in the spring of 1989 without spending a day in the minor leagues. Many considered the move a publicity stunt by manager Doug Rader, but after struggling early, Abbott proved his doubters wrong by winning 12 games with a 3.92 ERA in his rookie season. On the mound, Abbott wore a right-hander's fielder's glove over the stump at the end of his right arm. While completing his follow-through after delivering a pitch, he rapidly switched the glove to his left hand so he could handle any balls hit back to him. Abbott's career had its ups and downs. In 1991 he looked like one of the best young left-handers in the game after winning 18 games for the Angels while posting a 2.89 ERA. He was traded to the Yankees in December 1992 and in the heat of the pennant race tossed a 4-0 no-hitter against Cleveland. He only rarely recaptured his early promise, however, and suffered a horrific 2-18, 7.48 ERA season in 1996. Given that he could only swing with one arm, his most impressive accomplishments may have been his two hits in 23 career at-bats." - Warner Oliver Rockford in the BaseballLibrary (website: link)