Friday, August 20, 2010

The Man Who Taped Baseball's 'Shot Heard 'Round the World'

By Steve Goldberg, CNN
August 19, 2010

Bobby Thomson waves to the cheering crowd after his game- and pennant-winning home run.

Editor's Note: Steve Goldberg is a senior producer at

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- When I was a little boy, my dad and I would sit on the floor next to his old reel-to-reel tape deck, taking turns talking into it and playing our voices back -- the same reel-to-reel he unwittingly used to gain his 15 minutes of fame. 

It was October 3, 1951, when Larry Goldberg, a 26-year-old travel agent living with his parents in Brooklyn, set up the deck next to a radio before setting off to work in Manhattan.

He asked his mom to record the 9th inning of the third game of the Brooklyn Dodgers-New York Giants playoffs.

What he and my grandmother captured turned out to be the only known recording at the time of Russ Hodges' famous call of Bobby Thomson's game-winning home run, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

My dad's reward was a tape cartridge, $100 and access to box seats at the Polo Grounds the next season -- a pittance for which my mom often needled him.

Those memories came flooding back this week when I heard the news that Thomson had died at his Savannah, Georgia, home at age 86.

Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round The World" was heard often at our home, each time I asked my dad to tell me once more how he saved the call. He kept the original tape safely boxed up, instead playing one of the Chesterfield records of the call that Hodges' sponsor pressed as gifts to its dealers.

For a long time, no one but a handful of friends and family knew the real story of my dad's role in helping immortalize a bit of baseball history.

Then, on the 50th anniversary of the game, the New York Times ran an interview with Dad. His local paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, did a similar story. Accounts of his recording later appeared in books such as "The Golden Voices of Baseball" and Joshua Prager's "The Echoing Green." Don DeLillo even captured the event in his 1997 novel, "Underworld," referring to Dad only as "a man on 12th Street in Brooklyn."

Here's how Dad and The New York Times told the story:

" 'I knew I wouldn't be able to listen to the broadcast, and I knew something was going to happen,' said Goldberg. ... 'It was the third game of the playoffs. That kind of game had to be climactic, even if it was a blowout.'

"Was Goldberg's mother, Sylvia, a baseball fan? No. Was she paying strict attention to the game? No, he said, 'she was paying attention to her only son.' ...

"The night after the game, Goldberg wrote Hodges to ask if anyone at WMCA had recorded the game; if not, he would lend him his. Hodges replied quickly, and used the tape to make records as Christmas gifts. ...

"In later years, when Hodges related the tale of the tape, he would refer to Goldberg as a Dodger fan who made the tape so he could hear the voice of the Giants weep when Brooklyn won. A good yarn, but untrue.

'' 'I was a Giant fan from 1933 on, when I was 8,' Goldberg said."

I'd been thinking about Bobby Thomson, Russ Hodges and Dad just the other day when my son and I went to our first Braves game of the season -- our first game since Dad died a year ago in April.

It was a little before 7 p.m. at Atlanta's Turner Field, and the Braves were about to face the Giants -- now long since relocated to San Francisco. My son and I were sitting down to eat on the stadium's terrace when the matrix board began playing a video introducing the visitors.

Images of past pennants were flashing on the screen when it suddenly hit me -- these are the same Giants that once called New York's Polo Grounds home. And before I knew it, they were playing the call I've come to know so well -- Bobby Thomson hitting his "long fly ... into the lower deck of the left-field stands."

Once more, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! ... The Giants win the pennant! And they're going crazy. They're going crazy!''

I wanted to phone Dad and tell him about it, at the same time realizing I couldn't -- that I'd even told the story about the call at his funeral.

And then I knew he was with us there in the stadium, smiling down on a perfect summer evening of baseball.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Film review: Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story

Posted August 9th, 2010

In a town just north of San Francisco, I watched as Sandy Koufax got a round of applause.

No, I wasn’t in a room full of Dodger fans, a nightmare for any longtime Giants supporter who knows only too well how Koufax forged the best years of his Hall of Fame career keeping San Francisco mostly out of the World Series. I was at a screening in Marin County on Sunday of Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, a film about Jewish ballplayers from the 19th century to present day. For some reason, of the couple dozen players shown onscreen, Koufax got the loudest response. It happened right as my date was getting up to use the restroom, so I told her people were cheering for her, though of course, something else was at work here.

Greats like Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and some of the other Jewish ballplayers depicted in the film seemed to attract followings which transcended their teams and have inspired tributes even decades after retirement. Some of it is probably faith-related, and I noticed at least one person in a yarmulke. I suppose others, like myself, merely try to honor greatness in all its forms and can’t help but be touched by the grace of a Koufax or a Greenberg, who each stayed true to their faith and ideals and persevered through adversity. Their experience brings out the best in sports, no matter their team.

With that said, the film went well beyond the obvious. Last November, I re-watched The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a nice 1999 documentary about the Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer, but one that doesn’t explore much deeper than him. Jews and Baseball, on the other hand, features players as far back as the 1860s. There are of course the obligatory mentions of names that seemingly arise anytime there’s a discussion of Jewish ballplayers, stars like Koufax, Greenberg, and, in recent years, Shawn Green. But over the 91-minute running time, we learn of such forgotten heroes and would-be greats as Lip Pike, Andy Cohen and Mose Solomon who was touted as “The Rabbi of Swat,” when he joined the New York Giants in 1923. I enjoyed and was somewhat surprised at the history lesson.

Some of it may be a credit to screenwriter Ira Berkow, a retired sports columnist for the New York Times, who penned an engrossing biography of sportswriter Red Smith in my personal collection. The film, which screened as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, was directed by Peter Miller, a veteran of the documentary circuit. Miller’s biography shows no baseball-related works, though he has producing credits on three non-sports projects by Ken Burns, who directed the Baseball mini-series that aired on PBS in 1994. Whatever the methodology, the result is something better than a mere cobbling of Koufax, Greenberg and Green anecdotes, which could have been an easy out for this project. This also was a great movie to see with a non-baseball fan.

At least one former ballplayer was in attendance Sunday, a San Francisco native named Ed Mayer who pitched for the Cubs in 1957 and 1958. Mayer was passing out replicas of this card to moviegoers on Sunday:

I chatted with Mayer after the film, and he told a story that bears repeating here. The film drew parallels between black and Jewish ballplayers, who each faced stereotypes from opposing players and fans. While Mayer said that in the minor leagues he endured anti-Semitic taunts from a fan in Minneapolis and was denied entry to a members-only club in Phoenix, he said blacks had it tougher.

Mayer recalled a minor league bus trip in Georgia with future 22-game winner Earl Wilson. At a service station, Wilson attempted to buy a Coke and had a gun pulled on him by the station owner. Mayer wound up buying the coke for Wilson from the owner and noted to me, “If he knew I was a Jew, he would’ve shot me too.”

See the trailer below.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Jim Gentile Walks Off a Champ, as Do Baltimore Orioles

by Greg Couch
National Columnist

It's because something is just right about this, something simple. It just feels good, I guess, to see someone in today's huge-dollar sports world do a basic, right thing.

On Friday, the Baltimore Orioles had '60s slugger Jim Gentile come on the field to throw the ceremonial opening pitch and to honor him. And when he got there, Orioles president Andy MacPhail walked out onto the field with one of those big, phony checks they use to show a crowd that they're giving someone some money.

MacPhail told Gentile, "This will take care of what my father started."

The check was for $5,000.

"I couldn't ask for anything better," Gentile told me a few minutes later. "I'm overwhelmed.''

Congratulations to Gentile. And congrats to the Baltimore Orioles, too. You did the right thing, and you did it perfectly. It showed heart. It showed an honoring of the past. It showed class.


Gentile became the first 76-year old grandpa to win the AL season RBI title last week. In 1961, one of baseball's most cherished years, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chased down Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. Maris, as you know, passed him on the final day, hitting homer No. 61.
Well, Gentile was in that race too for most of the season, fading in the end and finishing with 46 homers. He also had 141 RBI, but Maris' 61st homer was his 142nd RBI.

So Gentile fell one short of the RBI title that year. But last week, baseball acknowledged that Maris had been credited for one RBI mistakenly. A run had scored on an error, not when he batted it in. So baseball took away that RBI, leaving him with 141.
And that made Gentile the RBI king -- tied with Maris -- for the year. Yet for all these years, Gentile's part in that great year was lost entirely. He wasn't even mentioned in the movie "61*" several years ago about that great season.

So I called Gentile -- admittedly, I'd never even heard of him -- and asked him about it, and he told the best story. See, he had been a longtime minor leaguer until 1960. And after 1961, he had to negotiate a new contract -- players didn't have agents back then -- with the Orioles GM at the time, Lee MacPhail.

Gentile got a raise, he said, from $15,000 to $30,000. And MacPhail told him at the time that if he had won that RBI title, it would have been worth an extra $5,000.

That's the $5,000 that MacPhail's son, Andy, gave him Friday night.

"I didn't expect anything like this," Gentile said. "You got it started.''

This is where I spend an immodest second to say that I did write that day that the Orioles should throw a Jim Gentile Day and give him the $5,000. The response from you readers was big, and frankly, you are the reason this happened.

But also, picked up on our story, and USA Today and the Baltimore Sun. Hundreds of you wrote me letters, mostly to say that Gentile deserved his money. Some said I was making too big of a deal of it, just one RBI, and just a single-season mark at that.

It took 49 years for the someone to make right by Gentile, and in these past few days, that's exactly what the Orioles did. He had never been able to celebrate his moment.

But in all honesty, what makes this special is that it was just a single-season RBI mark, and it was just $5,000.

Gentile represents a different era, a simpler one. Sure, that era was not all apple pie the way we celebrate it today. But that's how we feel about it.

And the reason I got so worked up over this – and many of you, too -- was that Gentile brought back that feel. So many of you wrote to talk about what Gentile meant back then, but plenty of you wrote about other baseball heroes from your childhood.

When Gentile was lost, so were those heroes. And when he was found last week, so were they.

On top of that, that whole era has been pushed back, knocked away by players who aren't happy making millions of dollars today, players who are entitled. And the great Maris record and so many other records, and feelings about that era? Ruined by steroids.

Gentile's 141 RBI that year were the most an Oriole had ever hit. That team record was beaten, and Gentile erased from the books, by ...

Rafael Palmeiro. Steroid cheat. That mark was passed in 2004 by Miguel Tejada, who had some issues, too.

You know about Maris' single-season home run record, surpassed by Mark McGwire and then Barry Bonds. Can you say steroids?

It's hard to know what to do. You can't just wipe away records and say they never happened. They did.

But for a few days, the Orioles made it right. It wasn't hard to do, as Gentile, who now lives in Edmond, Okla., and his son, Bo, and his grandson, Jim Gentille III (Tre) were planning to be in Baltimore anyway for an Orioles Hall of Fame weekend.

They wanted Tre, 15 1/2 months, to see what grandpa did.

Well, for the past several days, I've been getting emails from Gentile, his wife and his son, Bo. First, the Orioles announced that they would have Gentile throw out the opening pitch on Friday and honor his 1961 RBI record, as well as his career.

No mention of the $5,000.

On Thursday, Bo wrote to say that his dad had been swarmed for autographs at a team Hall of Fame signing event, and then was asked to go on TV.

Bo also has been sending me pictures, which you can see above.

Then, another email said that the Orioles had provided field passes for the family, and also for Jim's longtime friend, Scott Smith, for Friday night. What a thrill.
And on Friday, well, you already know.

"Tre was out on the field," Gentile said, "running around and smiling.''

You brought back a great era, Orioles. Jim Gentile, 1961 RBI champ.

One more thing: Jim, how did the opening pitch go? Did you hit the catcher?

"I didn't do it," he said. "I forgot to throw the ball. They gave me the check and I just walked off.



Monday, August 02, 2010

Joy in Mudville, Wherever It May Be

Michael McCollum/The Record
The Mudville Base Ball Club and
the Amador County Crushers
played a game under vintage
rules Saturday in Stockton, Calif


New York Times
Published: August 1, 2010
STOCKTON, Calif. — They stepped on the field dressed as ballplayers from a bygone era: the hats smaller, the pants baggier, the gloves tighter than those of today. The unlikely rivals shook hands and slapped backs, exchanging pleasantries and barbs as they warmed up for a game some had crossed the country to play.

The Mudville Base Ball Club, from Holliston, Mass., took the field Saturday while Northern California’s Amador County Crushers prepared to hit. Before barely 100 spectators, they began a game aimed at settling two cities’ identities and more than a century of history.

It all started with a poem.
“Casey at the Bat,” written in 1888 by Ernest L. Thayer and later popularized in vaudeville performances by DeWolf Hopper, is set in a place called Mudville and features a team known as the Mudville Nine.
For decades, Holliston residents have believed their town to be Mudville. So, too, have Stocktonians.

“As far as I’ve always been concerned, there was never any rivalry,” said Dave Alton, a former Stockton resident and now the manager of the Crushers, a recreational team that plays vintage-style baseball. “There wasn’t a dispute over who was Mudville. It was us.”

An article in The New York Times in 2004 highlighted the fact that the two cities, separated by about 2,600 miles, each claimed to be the real Mudville. Thayer covered Stockton baseball for The San Francisco Examiner, and locals have claimed that players from the area bore the same Irish names as those in the poem. In the Times article, the Holliston town historian, Joanne Hulbert, said that Thayer’s family owned a mill less than a mile from the town’s Mudville neighborhood, the home of a bustling baseball diamond. As in Stockton, some local players had the same Irish names as those in the poem.

Thayer insisted that Mudville was fictitious and that the poem had no basis in fact.

But that did not deter John Shannahan, the Mudville Base Ball Club captain, from looking for a Stockton team to challenge his vintage squad. Inspired by the Times article, Shannahan contacted Stockton’s parks and recreation department and a local city council member in efforts to find a willing opponent. After five years of effort, the promotions department at the Class A Stockton Ports baseball team helped Shannahan connect with the Crushers, who play in nearby Jackson. About nine months later, the teams finally met.

“It’s been a dream of ours,” Shannahan said. “We just really wanted to complete this Mudville rivalry, in a way.”

The Crushers won Saturday, 10-4, in a game that featured players born in at least four decades, an umpire dressed in suspenders and a bow tie, a public-address announcer who read from the famous poem between innings, and two sets of archaic rules. The Holliston club, which fields players with an average age of about 55 and has competed in cities throughout the East Coast and Midwest, decided that the first three innings would be played according to 1861 rules, which featured underhanded pitching, no gloves and a rule by which players are out when the ball is caught after only one bounce.

The Crushers, who had home-field advantage, decided that the next three innings would be played by 1886 National League rules, which allowed for small mitts, overhand pitching and base-stealing. Because the Crushers led entering the seventh, the final inning was also played by their rules.

Throughout the game, players from both teams helped each other understand the idiosyncrasies of the different eras. The umpire Mike Carey, the founder of the Gold Country Vintage Base Ball league in which the Crushers compete, was aided by each bench, as players were willing to make calls against their own team in the name of fairness.

“It’s a gentleman’s game,” Brian Hess of the Crushers said. “If you don’t respect it, don’t play it. So it’s not just about doing whatever it takes to win. It’s about enjoying and respecting the game and the other players.”

Both eras featured outdated terminology. Outfielders were known as gardeners, batters as strikers, pitchers as hurlers, and runs as tallies. By both rules, a foul ball did not count as a strike, a hit batsman counted only as a ball, and seven balls were required for a walk. But no matter the rules, the team representing Stockton dominated, surging to a 4-2 first-inning lead.

But the win did little to dispel the dispute over Mudville.

“This isn’t so much about determining who is Mudville as it is about two teams from different parts of the country getting together to play a great kind of baseball,” said Alton, the Crushers’ manager.

And so the rivalry continues.

“My feeling is that this can’t be settled until it goes both ways,” said Carl Damigella, a friend of the Holliston team and the squad’s figurehead owner. “Now it’s their turn to come to Holliston.”