Rain, Rain Everywhere

Another week and another day of rain.  I can remember a couple of days of sunshine this year so far if I try really hard and it’s putting me and everyone else I know in one of those perpetual bad moods. Even my cat is getting depressed and we both wonder when, if ever, the sun will shine for more than a day or two. Global warming has been replaced by global rain. If my hometown still had its Triple-A baseball team, we would be in line for doubleheaders every day until Christmas. Which I suppose would be only a couple of days after the World Series ended if Bud Selig and Fox had their way.

Ah but let’s cheer up and talk about what has been happening in the majors after almost two months of the 2011 season.

The Cleveland Indians are still winning most of their games and nobody can really figure out how they are doing it unless it’s because  every team which signs Orlando Cabrera seems to do well when they didn’t before  (except for his first team the Montreal Expos). Tampa Bay lost almost all of their players last winter and no one can figure out how they are winning game after game after game.  Can Evan Longoria really be that good? The Cubs look awful even when they win (and  are stuck with some terrible contracts (Fukadome, Soriano, Pena, Ramirez, Zambrano  etc.) and Whitesox manager Ozzie Guillen, despite his team’s troubles, has been quiet.  The Minnesota Twins without bad luck wouldn’t have any luck at all especially with Joe Mauer injured again, Justin Morneau still feeling the effects of last seasons’ concussion, and Joe Nathan with arm trouble again.

I watched the San Diego Padres today and recognized hardly anyone on the team. Albert Pujols is hitting like a mere mortal.  Jose Bautista continues to be the best hitter in baseball  and I keep waiting for him to revert back to the 4 A player he had been before. Jered Weaver continues to throw 120 pitch complete games just like in the olden days.  Atlanta doesn’t give up any runs but can’t score any runs either but their pitching coach has been entertaining. Almost every young pitcher throws near 100 mph and home plate umpires seem to be finally calling true balls and strikes.  No one is talking about the Florida Marlins. No one is going to see the Florida Marlins.

Billionaires Fred Wilpon and Frank McCourt are having money troubles and  the former is publicly criticizing the very players he need s to trade and the latter is threatening major league baseball. Wilpon has sold a minority interest in the New York Mets even though he has billions in real estate holdings and Frank McCourt’s wife is yelling to anyone who will listen that the Dodgers should be sold. Major League Baseball keeps threatening to buy it. Fox wants to buy the Dodgers. Mrs. McCourt keeps yelling. Does this mean the Dodgers will be moving to Puerto Rico next season?

Bryce Harper was found to have had vision problems throughout his career.  What is he going to do now that he can see?  A couple of the potential top draft picks on June 6 have publicly stated that they will not sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals  but would consider it, maybe, for a $30 million contract.  That sounds more than reasonable although the Pirates are near .500 and the Royals recently brought up Eric Hosmer to save the franchise.  He has turned into a Yankee killer much to the delight of non Yankee fans everywhere.  Pete Rose wants to manage again.  Maybe Triple A Las Vegas?

Maybe it’s all the rain and late October type weather but most of the preceding seems to make little sense or is a pleasant surprise to me.  I can’t tell which.  Oh yeah, don’t forget to vote 25 times for the All Star of your choice.  Maybe federal elections should be run the same way.

I must mention, very sadly, the passing of Harmon Killebrew.  Harmon looked like a warehouse worker and hit like a Hall of Famer.  A great player and from all accounts, a wonderful man and ambassador for the game.  He will be missed by everyone.  My condolences to the family.

On this day in baseball history: May 30, 1911

With Memorial Day-themed posts abounding elsewhere, I figured I’d do something different here. I’ve had an idea for an occasional post examining a random date in baseball past and finding a story in it. Part of the magic of the Web is that such baseball research is made easy by sites like Retrosheet.org, which offers box scores dating to 1871. I looked at the schedule from May 30, 1911, and something stuck out. One hundred years ago today, a troubled, young pitcher named Bugs Raymond won the last game of his big league career. He’d be dead barely a year later.

Fans who’ve read Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times or watched the Ken Burns Baseball miniseries, may be familiar with Raymond, who pitched six years in the majors between 1904 and 1911, going 45-57 with a 2.49 ERA. Former New York Giants teammate Fred Snodgrass told Ritter, “Bugs drank too much and came to an early tragic end, but when he was sober, and sometimes when he wasn’t, he was one of the greatest spitball pitchers who ever lived.”

At his peak, Raymond went 18-12 with a 2.47 ERA for the Giants in 1909, though he quit the team six weeks before the season ended to tend bar. Such behavior was emblematic of his short, mercurial career. “Bugs drank a lot, you know, and sometimes it seemed the more he drank the better he pitched,” another Giants teammate, Rube Marquard told Ritter. “They used to say he didn’t spit on the ball; he blew his breath on it, and the ball would come up drunk.”

By 1910, as Raymond’s SABR biography notes, his alcoholism had progressed enough that Giants manager John McGraw hired a former New York City policeman to track Raymond. The ex-cop quit after sustaining a black eye from the pitcher. McGraw became reluctant to give Raymond money for fear it would be spent on alcohol, and fellow Giants were forbidden from loaning to Raymond. McGraw refused even to give Raymond unopened packs of cigarettes, as they could be pawned to buy booze.

Nothing could keep Raymond sober long, not a wife, children, or a promising career, as it so often goes with alcoholics. The Giants sent Raymond off for treatment prior to the 1911 season, though he was kicked out for horseplay. He rallied physically and emotionally for a time, with a couple slips in spring training. Still, Raymond would fully relapse by mid-season and be booted in June from the Giants, who’d win the National League pennant in his absence. As Raymond’s career and life was bottoming out came the brilliance and madness of May 30, 1911.

Raymond got the start that day in the second end of a doubleheader against the Brooklyn Superbas, and he had a one-hit shutout going when he was lifted for Red Ames with two outs and no men on in the fifth. The New York Times reported Raymond had to go to the dressing room with stomach pains because he ate a strawberry sundae before the game (“It begins to look as if ice cream is another dish which Bugs will have to cut from his menu,” the Times noted in its writeup of the game.) Ames blanked Brooklyn the final 4-1/3 innings, giving New York a 3-0 win and Raymond his sixth and final victory that year.

Raymond pitched five more times in the next three weeks, with two losses to drop his record to 6-4. In his final appearance on June 16, Raymond went six innings against St. Louis in relief walking six and allowing four earned runs for the loss. McGraw later dismissed Raymond from the Giants after he disappeared from the bullpen during a game against Pittsburgh and turned up at a nearby saloon. It was the last of many clashes between the two men. When Raymond died, McGraw reportedly said, “That man took seven years off my life.”

Like another oft-inebriated ace from those days, Rube Waddell, Raymond didn’t live long after drinking his way out of the majors. By now separated from his wife, Raymond returned to his boyhood home of Chicago. He played some semi-pro and outlaw baseball, worked as a pressman, and on September 7, 1912, he was found dead in a meager hotel room. Raymond died from a cerebral hemorrhage, thought to be the result of two recent brawls. He was 30.

“On this day in baseball history” is a new, occasional feature here. Today marks the first appearance of this column.

War Hero Warren Spahn Returns; Wins Double Dip Opener

Warren Spahn, the Hall of Fame pitcher who won more games (363) than any left hander in baseball history, was much more than one of the sport’s iconic players. Spahn, who enlisted in the United States Army in December 1942, became a World War II hero. By December 1944, Spahn was sent to Europe with the 1159th Engineer Combat Group. As Spahn recalled it, he served with tough company. In the war years, prisoners were released so that they could be sent into battle.

During World War II, Spahn fought at the Battle of the Bulge and the Ludendorff Bridge battle at Remagen where his combat group was under constant attack from Nazis desperate to prevent the Allies from entering Germany. Spahn was wounded in the foot by shrapnel while working on the Ludendorff.

When the war ended Spahn, who won the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, was one of its most decorated soldiers. Spahn returned to the Boston Braves in 1946 and in 24 appearances posted an 8-5 record and a fine 2.94 ERA. On the rare occasions that Spahn didn’t pitch up to his high standards, he would joke to teammates that at least he knew no one was going to shoot at him.

To mark his comeback, Spahn registered his first win on July 14 in the opener of a double dip against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field

The combat weary Spahn was nonchalant about his pitching challenges. When he looked back on his Army experiences, Spahn said that he never thought of anything he did in baseball as hard work compared to endless days sleeping in frozen tank tracks in enemy territory and going weeks without a change of clothes. Remarked Spahn, “The Army taught me something about challenges and about what’s important and what isn’t. Everything I tackle in baseball and in life I take as a challenge rather than work.”

In 1947 Spahn had the first of thirteen 20-win seasons with several spectacular games along the way. On September 16, 1960, Spahn pitched his first no-hitter against the Phillies. The 4-0 win was his 20th of the season. The following year, five days after his 40th birthday, Spahn no-hit the Giants 1-0. Then, in 1965 at age 44, Spahn pitched his last major league  game for the San Francisco Giants. That year with the Giants and the New York Mets, Spahn won seven games.

Spahn’s most masterful effort, however, came in Candlestick Park July 2, 1963 when he and fellow Hall of Famer Juan Marichal hooked up in a 16-inning, four hour marathon that ended when the Giants’ Willie Mays hit a home run.

Signed by the Braves in 1940 for $80 a month, Spahn during his 21-year career for was chosen for the All Star team 17 times, more than any other 20th Century pitcher and, in 1957, was named the National League’s Cy Young winner.

Spahn’s post-retirement life was good. Although he never graduated from high school, Spahn parlayed a modest $500 investment in Oklahoma real estate into a small fortune that included productive oil wells and property in Florida. Warren Spahn Enterprises cashed in on the memorabilia craze. At its peak, Spahn collected $2,000 a day signing autographs.

Thousands of outstanding ball players like Spahn severed with distinction and honor during World War II. On Memorial Day, we honor them and all the other valiant Americans who courageously served our country.

The Great Friday Linkout: Final Friday

Editor’s note: Due to scheduling changes that will take effect next week, future link posts will be an occasional Monday feature.

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  • I wouldn’t typically devote a bullet point to a past post from this blog, but something interesting happened in our back pages this week. A couple months ago, Joe Guzzardi wrote about his prep school friendship with Joe DiMaggio Jr. This caught the attention of a woman who said she was Joey D’s ex-wife. She left the most recent comment. It always interests me when we draw notice from friends and family members of the people we write about.
  • Cyril Morong analyzes Albert Pujols’ slow start (a .750 OPS being slow for him, granted, which is still better than every starter on the Oakland Athletics.)
  • Otis Anderson writes about the need for San Francisco Giants fans to have a talk with their inner Jeff Goldblum in the wake of Buster Posey’s disastrous injury.
  • SB Nation pokes fun at the New York Daily News for suggesting Jose Bautista might have used steroids.
  • Joe Posnanski wrote a guest piece for the Kansas City Star on Paul Splittorff who died of cancer Wednesday at 64. Posnanski wrote of Splittorff, “He did not talk about his declining health. He did not talk about the cancer that was ravaging his body. People will say that is because Splitt was an intensely private man, and that is so. But I think there was something else too. Paul did not want any favors, and he did not want special treatment, and he did not want to live anywhere but in the moment.” Good stuff. Would if I could do that more often.
  • Forbes.com includes Jim Thome among a handful of locks for the Hall of Fame. Seriously? Steroid speculation aside (and expect it for any slugger from the past 15 years), Thome seems like a poor man’s version of the recently-departed Harmon Killebrew who needed five ballots to get into the Hall of Fame. My two cents: Expect Thome to need at least a few more go-rounds with the writers before he comes close to Cooperstown.

Any player/Any era: Johnny Antonelli

What he did: I first knew of Antonelli as the ace of the 1954 New York Giants. A 24-year-old hurler who arrived in a trade before the season with the Milwaukee Braves, Antonelli proceeded to go 21-7 with a 2.30 ERA and help lead the Giants to a World Series title. Antonelli won 20 games again two years later and 19 games in 1959, on his way to 126 wins lifetime, but in another time he might have done far more. A couple of things limited Antonelli’s career, namely that he lost two seasons serving in the Korean War and, prior to that, his designation with a term that’s been defunct in baseball for decades: Bonus Baby.

From 1947 to 1965, baseball had a bonus rule that any prospect signed to a contract of more than $4,000 had to spend his first two years in the majors. A few Hall of Famers emerged from this group, including Sandy Koufax, Al Kaline, and Harmon Killebrew, but far more bonus babies wound up marginal and obscure, stunted by their lack of time in the minors. Antonelli very nearly was one of these players. On a 1948 Boston Braves team that went to the World Series with the mantra for its staff of, “Spahn, Sain, and pray for rain,” 18-year-old rookie Antonelli pitched but four innings all season and got more work throwing batting practice.

It’s a wonder Antonelli wasn’t a victim of the baseball times, and it makes me wonder what he’d do in an era better suited for developing young hurlers: the current.

Era he might have thrived in: With his precocious talent in high school, “by far the best big-league prospect I’ve ever seen” as one Braves scout put it, Antonelli would be a high pick today in the amateur draft, something that didn’t exist in his time. Luck of the draft might relegate Antonelli to a team like the Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals, or Pittsburgh Pirates, though he could still have a better start to his career than what he had.

Why: Times have changed a lot in baseball in 60 years. The bonus rule was abolished in 1965, and players need no longer go directly to the majors, though some like Jim Abbott have done it voluntarily. It’s also generally unprecedented that 18-year-old pitchers appear in the majors, ever since the 1973 Texas Rangers wrecked the career of high school phenom David Clyde. These days, it’s standard for any high school draft pick to spend his first two to three years in the minors, minimum. That’s assuming he doesn’t opt for college, which I’m assuming Antonelli wouldn’t, since his talent might assure him a seven-figure signing bonus.

Granted, surmounting the minors and eventually starring in the majors is no sure thing. Last year, I studied several years of top ten draft picks in football, basketball and baseball, and I found that while more than 90 percent of the picks in the NFL and NBA went on to play at least five years, only 70 percent of the picks in baseball did so. The difference seems to do with the fact that football and basketball teams look to draft pro-ready players generally, while baseball clubs opt for talented but young prospects.

It’s an inexact science, but it’s worked before even for lousy clubs like the Florida Marlins who staked their resurgence in the late 1990s on a high school pitcher they drafted second overall named Josh Beckett. Perhaps Antonelli could follow suit.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays

My Mother’s Fishing Trip with Ted Williams—Really!

This is a story about my mother, Ted Williams and a fishing trip they took together more than 50 years ago.

My tale is also about a wonderful kindness Williams did for Mom years after their chance meeting

In 1956, my family moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Los Angeles. Puerto Rico was encouraging American businesses to open on the island and the old Sears, Roebuck and Co. had just broken ground for its first store outside the continental U.S.

In the mid-1950s, Williams glad-handed for Sears. The company sent Williams to Puerto Rico to celebrate its grand opening with government officials and other U.S. investors. Williams’ visit would be highlighted by a deep-sea fishing trip with Sears’ friends and clients that included my father’s company.

One afternoon, when my mother picked me up from school, she announced, “I’m going fishing with Ted Williams.” You can only imagine the impact this had on a young teen-age avid baseball fan.

Ted Williams! The Kid! The Splendid Splinter! Teddy Ballgame!
Williams had just come off a great year, having hit .345. He narrowly lost the batting title to Triple Crown winning Mickey Mantle.

I tried every angle to con an invitation but kids flat-out weren’t allowed. And adding to my angst was the cruel fact that I had never seen a major league baseball game. My professional baseball experiences were limited to my former hometown Hollywood Stars and the Puerto Rican Winter League Santurce Cangrejeros.

The fateful day of the fishing trip came and went. My mother reported that everyone had a great time and that Williams could not have been more fun to be with.

In a futile attempt to appease me, Mom brought me a Sears sporting goods catalog with Williams picture on the cover. I threw it away.

I kept up with baseball as well as I could from Puerto Rico. There wasn’t much – incomplete line scores from the early editions of the New York Times, box scores from El Mundo and an infrequent Armed Forces Radio game of the week.

By 1959, I still hadn’t seen a major league game but by then I was going to school on the East Coast so I was getting closer. And in May, when Mom visited the school, she sprung me for the day to see the Yankees play the Red Sox in a mid-afternoon match up.

To Mom’s great disappointment, Williams didn’t start that day. Why is anyone’s guess since the Sox were having a typical lackluster season.
But in the eighth inning, the public address system blared out, “NOW BATTING FOR RED SOX PITCHER IKE DELOCK, NUMBER 9, TED WILLIAMS.”

While Williams gathered a handful of bats, Mom jumped to her feet and yelled, “Let’s go, Ted!”

I’ll never forget the sight of Williams striding toward the plate, swinging four bats over his head to limber up. Williams was the strongest good hitter baseball ever knew. No one has ever hit so many home runs (521) with such a high career batting average (.344).

Williams took his stance in the batter’s box. His gray, traveling flannels were baggy. As was the custom in those days, Williams wore no batting gloves or helmet.

I wish I could tell you that Williams hit the ball into the upper deck. But he grounded out weakly to first baseman Bill Skowron who made the out unassisted.

Since that early summer afternoon more than 50 years ago, my passion for baseball has waxed and waned. But I’ve told the tale about Williams and his fishing trip with my mother to anyone who would listen.

And the story had a heartwarming footnote. Years after our visit to Yankee Stadium, I wrote to Williams to tell him that Mom had been hospitalized. I reminded Williams of his Puerto Rico visit, the fishing trip and recounted for him the joy Mom had watching him at the plate that late spring afternoon.

I told Williams that Mom was recuperating from a hospital stay and suggested that her spirits would be lifted if he dropped her a note.

I never had a doubt that Williams would write. And sure enough, two weeks later, a pen and ink sketch of Williams taking his long, level swing arrived in the mail bearing the inscription: “To Betty, with every best wish, your friend, Ted.”

Both Williams and Mom are gone now. But when people ask me for my favorite baseball memory, I tell them the story about Williams, my mother and fishing that took place miles away from a baseball field.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Tony Oliva

This is the final edition of Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? due to scheduling changes for this site that will take effect next week. For more information, go here.

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Claim to fame: I don’t know if this rates for anything, but Oliva may have been the first player who I was surprised was not in the Hall of Fame. I started reading about baseball as a child, and when I was eight or nine, my dad gave me some of his books he’d had growing up in the 1960s. Oliva is profiled in one of the books, Heroes of the Major Leagues, and I suppose it’s fitting it was published in 1967. Little did the author know that in five years, Oliva would go from a perennial threat for the American League batting championship to an injury-plagued also-ran. As a kid, I didn’t know the difference and thought of Oliva in the same vein as his contemporary Roberto Clemente. I still do to some extent.

I recognize today that Oliva was a mortal, his 42.4 career WAR, 1,917 hits, and .304 lifetime batting average respectable, but hardly legendary. But that’s a holistic look at Oliva which includes the last four seasons of his career when he never topped .300 and averaged 118 games. His first eight full seasons, up to age 33 tell a different story, about a man who won three batting titles, led the league in hits five times, and doubles four times. More impressively, he did the bulk of this during one of the greatest ages for pitchers in baseball history, the 1960s. Knowing what we know today, it seems Oliva was even a tad underrated in his day.

The fact that Oliva was included in Heroes of the Major Leagues and not Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Bob Gibson, among other active stars at the time, seems a little absurd today. That being said, Oliva might not make a bad Veterans Committee pick.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Oliva exhausted his 15 possible years on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America and never came close to the needed 75 percent of the vote for induction. He topped out at 47.3 percent in 1988, an unusually weak year for the ballot and otherwise cracked 40 percent of the vote just one other time. That leaves the Veterans Committee as Oliva’s sole means for earning a plaque.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I’ll beat a drum I’ve sounded before for Gil Hodges, Ron Santo, and Roger Maris. In the next 10 to 15 years, I believe the Hall of Fame could face a public relations challenge, if not crisis, as more and more players suspected of using steroids become eligible for the Hall of Fame. The first time a Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Alex Rodriguez gets his inevitable induction ceremony (and realistically, what are the chances none of these men will make it?) it could reap dividends for Cooperstown to have someone like Oliva also onstage. It could be welcome interference to media and fans.

Oliva represents a connection to a seemingly purer time for baseball, players’ rampant use of amphetamines in the ’60s notwithstanding. The image for Oliva’s time is likely to get only more halcyon and distorted as time passes, nostalgia being what it is. That being said, Oliva might not make a bad statistical choice for Cooperstown either, seeing as he satisfies three of four Hall of Fame qualifying metrics on Baseball-Reference.com. If he’s not at the top of the list of Veterans Committee candidates, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not far off. Maybe Heroes of the Major Leagues had the idea on Oliva.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? was a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Allie Reynolds, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Bobby Grich, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Roger Maris, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark

New schedule here, effective May 30

Just a quick note to alert about some changes going on around these parts.

Since last fall, this blog has regularly featured new content seven days a week, and I’ve typically contributed four posts. However, I’ve been reassessing my priorities recently, and I’ve realized I’ve overloaded myself. While I’m in my twenties and relatively unencumbered, certain professional and personal obligations make it difficult to continue devoting the amount of time I have here over the last year.

I kicked around the idea of walking away from this site altogether, but after further consideration, I’ve opted to simply scale back my involvement here. Starting next Monday, May 30, this blog will go from seven entries a week to five. We’re doing away with weekend posts and will be on a Monday through Friday format for the remainder of the baseball season. I’ll write two posts a week and will retain editorial duties. Beyond that, I’m opting for a less is more approach.

The new schedule will look like this:

Monday: General post that I’ll write, with an occasional link post
Tuesday: Doug Bird’s column
Wednesday: Joe Guzzardi’s column
Thursday: Any player/Any era which I will continue to write
Friday: Joe Guzzardi’s column on doubleheaders

To that end, tomorrow will be the last edition of Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I may pick it up again in the future, as it doesn’t seem like a bad offseason project, but I’m fine with putting it on hiatus for now. The column simply doesn’t hold much creative possibility for me at the moment.

Given the choice between quantity and quality, I generally prefer the latter, and I’m confident our new schedule is in keeping with that. I’m also glad to remain part of things here. It’s a great part of my life, and I welcome the opportunity to keep working to make the site better.

Thanks to everyone who reads and supports what goes on here.

It's Tough to Age Gracefully

For we non professional athletes working nine to five or whatever the hours may be, aging gracefully is putting in 30 plus years and hoping to have the house paid off, the kids finished college, and having a bit of leftover cash to travel to exotic or not so exotic destinations with maybe some fishing or golf thrown in. Our job skills have probably improved over the years and being over the hill is often just a state of mind. We look forward to no traffic jams, no alarm clocks and t-shirts and shorts. We retire and soon after, we are usually forgotten in the collective office minds, replaced by a younger generation full of vim and eager to work hard and prove their worth. Yuh know-like most of us were way back then.

For the professional baseball elite, the story and result can be much different. Most of us would trade places in a minute being able to retire for life at 40, wealth beyond our imagination and many moments in the seemingly glorious spotlight. We would have a big home, a fancy car, money enough to take care of our grandchildren’s children’s children.

But for many baseball stars, those rewards can fall far short of why they sought out such a career in the first place. Baseball at the major league level is an extremely difficult game, mentally and physically.

When you possess every toy and necessity you could possibly use, why continue?

As the recent Jorge Posada blow-up illustrated, being successfully competitive and maintaining a personal pride in your ability to continue to be one of the elite players is the common drive. The belief that, despite your obvious to everyone else eroding of skills, you maintain the firm belief that father time catches up with all players, but not you. It’s only bad luck and bad breaks or a temporary mechanical problem which is the cause of you sub .200 with no power batting average. Those balls which you reached easily in the beginning of your career are simply being hit harder than you remember back then or the wind is more of a factor than ever before.

One of my more painful memories was watching the decline and stumble of the great Willie Mays in the 1973 season, the last of his Hall of Fame career. There have been many others who went on too long but his decline was particularly heart breaking. Routine fly balls and mediocre pitching made him look old and foolish. Players and fans who had been witness to his astonishing feats of years before could now only look away. Fortunately, Mays is far and away remembered for his brilliant play before his downfall and continues to be rightly revered but it could have been the opposite.

Many over the hill stars continue to demand salaries which might have been commiserate with their performance of the past and angrily declare that their team does not appreciate their talents and what they mean to the organization. Many of these same players move on to a lesser role with another team, ending a long and successful career with their original teams.

Present management are often reluctant to agree to such demands and hope that their aging former star will come to realize on his own that his skills are no longer among the elite and that he should retire gracefully and afford his team to accord him richly deserved accolades his final season. Players who realize that their productive playing days are over are rewarded and celebrated in parks throughout baseball for their stellar careers. They continue to be celebrated for years afterward.

Say what you want about those evil New York Yankees but this past winter, they agreed to salaries for Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter which did not reflect their current playing abilities but rather rewarded them for outstanding careers. Jeter has rebounded somewhat in the month of May but Posada is clearly finished. He has threatened to leave the Yankees and seek employment elsewhere but that would ruin his place among Yankee legends. Clearly, New York had no option when it came to Jeter. Clearly they are hoping that Posada realizes the inevitable and calls it a career. I don’t want to remember Posada as the player who was released by New York with a final season of hitting .145 with no power and unable to catch.

Players such as Posada have nothing to apologize for and everything to be proud of. Maybe I should send them a copy of the book written by the greatest National Football League running back ever, Jim Brown, Out of Bounds. Brown got out at the top of his profession. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.

Double the fun: Big Klu Goes on Slugging Rampage During Reds-Pirates Double Dip

During a recent Cincinnati Reds-Pittsburgh Pirates game, announcer Bob Walk waxed poetically about a former Reds great and one time Pirates bit player, Ted Kluszewski.

As Walk ticked off Big Klu’s achievements, seemingly in awe of them, I recalled what an imposing sight Kluszewski was at the plate.

For the first half of the 1950s, Big Klu hit for average and power as well as anyone. Toward the end of the decade, reduced to a bench role because of his bad back, Klu nonetheless turned in productive seasons for the Pirates and the Chicago White Sox.

Kluszewski came onto the Reds’ radar when he was an Indiana University standout tight end. During the war years, the Reds’ trained at IU. During a pick-up game, one of the scouts saw Klu blast balls beyond the reach of any Reds’ outfielder and tried to sign him on the spot. But Klu, more interested in his football career, resisted.

Eventually, the Reds prevailed. Sent to the minor leagues, Klu immediately rewarded his employers. While working his way up to the majors, Klu had a stint with the minor league Memphis Chicks. One afternoon double header against the New Orleans Pelicans, in ten times at bat Klu hit a home run, three triples, two doubles and two singles. His day’s work put him far out in front as the league’s best batter, boosted his average to .412 which was 55 points ahead of his nearest rival.

Kluszewski was selected as an All Star in four seasons and in 1718 games was a career.298 hitter with 279 homers and 1028 RBIs. Perhaps most amazingly for a power hitter, in ten of his fifteen seasons, Kluszewski walked more often than he struck out ending with a career ratio of 492:365. In 1955, he hit 47 homers while striking out only 40 times. No player since Klu has hit 40 homers and struck out 40 or fewer times in the same season.

“Big Klu” enjoyed his most productive years from 1953 through 1956, with home run totals of 40, 49, 47 and 35 while driving in over 100 base runners in each, including a league-leading 141 RBIs in 1954. He also hit .300 or better eight times. Kluszewski led National League first basemen in fielding percentage five straight years, a major league record.

In 1954, Klu enjoyed his best year came when he lead the National League in home runs (49), RBIs and narrowly lost out to Willie Mays in the MVP voting. Kluszewski batted .326, drew 78 walks, had a slugging percentage of .642 and scored 104 runs. He ranked third in the NL in total bases (368), fourth in extra base hits (80) and hit a home run every 11.7 at bats which made him the NL leader in that category.
Klu’s highlight game came on September 12, 1954. In the first game of a doubleheader, Klu hit two home runs and drove in six men in an 11-5 victory. It was one of his six 1954 multi-homer games with his first home run coming as one of his 33 go-ahead hits.

In the nightcap, also won by the Reds 13-2, Klu continued his batting rampage, going 3 for five with another 3 RBIs. His line for the day: AB: 10; R: 5; H: 6, RBI: 9

Kluszewski died in 1988 at age 63. The Reds’ honored Klu by retiring his number 18 and erecting a statue of the sleeveless giant in front of the Great American Ballpark.

“Double the fun” is a Saturday feature here that looks at one notable doubleheader in baseball history each week.