Monthly Archives: May 2011

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 Global warming has been replaced by global rain.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.

Any player/Any era: Joe Posnanski

What he did: As regulars to this site may know, I had the opportunity last September to interview Posnanski, the baseball blogosphere’s favorite son and Sports Illustrated writer. Gracious as he’s been with many other bloggers, Posnanski spoke with me for almost an hour. I got much more material than I used here, and among the outtakes, I asked Posnanski what other era he’d have liked to have been a sportswriter in. It’s an odd question, granted, but bear with me a minute.

I’ve long had an interest in the history of sports journalism, which dates back formally in America to the late 19th century. I like Fred Lieb’s stories of beginning as a young baseball writer in New York in the early 1910s. I like longtime Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich talking of traveling with ball clubs by train, when maybe three road trips occurred per season, each a multi-week long jag. “There you were with the ballplayers,” Povich remembered years later. “You got to know them. You got to be friendly with those you wanted to be friendly with, and you learned which ballplayers didn’t like baseball writers. A great many!”

So the question is what other era might have best suited Posnanski.

Era he might have thrived in: With the literary flourishes evident in his work, Posnanski might have done well in the 1920s when sportswriters like Grantland Rice published books of poetry in down time. But as a married man with two school age daughters, it seems Posnanski might have a hard time enduring the long train trips. He told me he’d have opted for the 1960s.

Why: I’ll start by relaying what Posnanski told me. He said:

I really like the ’60s. I just think there was so much going on, and there was so much crossover between sports and culture. It was a very trying time, and it was a difficult time, and I just think there were a lot of great stories right then.

There are other reasons Posnanski might have excelled. The ’60s were a time when the arts thrived and took on new life, when the studio system of film production gave way to more independent works, when rock music and Motown came into its own, and when there was perhaps no better time to be a magazine writer. Long before the Internet slammed print revenues, more magazines existed and offered good opportunities. The ’60s also saw the development of New Journalism, and seeing as Posnanski has diverged from many of his contemporaries and embraced blogging and used it to reach more readers, I think he’d have been an innovator.

It’s worth noting that if Posnanski were covering baseball in the 1960s, he’d be doing it ahead of the 1970 publication of Ball Four, the landmark success of which significantly changed the reporting style of the sport, making it acceptable to print risque locker room tales. But considering how gentle Posnanski comes across, I doubt he’d mind milder subject matter. And seeing as he writes often about the likes of Hall of Fame standard bearer Willie Mays and his SI cover subject last August, Stan Musial, I can only imagine Posnanski’s thrill at the chance to cover them in action.

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, 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

Baseball’s First “Babe” Was Pittsburgh Pirates Pitcher Adams

Baseball’s first “Babe” wasn’t Ruth but rather Charles Benjamin Adams, a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who won three 1909 World Series games as a 27-year-old rookie.

According to baseball historians, Adams acquired his nickname because of his popularity with female fans. During a 1907 minor league stint in Louisville, more than five years before Ruth debuted with the Boston Red Sox, women cried out “Oh you babe” whenever Adams took the mound.

Adams was one of the best control pitchers ever. His record low of 1.29 walks per nine innings during his 19 major league years ranks second on the modern day list behind only teammate Deacon Phillippe’s 1.25 mark. On his stingiest day, July 17, 1914, against the New York Giants and its ace Rube Marquard, Adams pitched 21 innings, walked none but still lost a 3-1 decision.

In his first season, Adams pitched mostly in relief and led the Pirates to the National League pennant by tossing 130 innings and compiling a 12-3 record with a microscopic 1.11 ERA, a rookie record that still stands.

Adams followed up his 1909 brilliance with an 18-9 season in 1910 and back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1911 and 1912 to establish himself as one of the baseballs best pitchers.

In the 1909 World Series, Adams fired three consecutive, complete game 6-hitters to shut down the Detroit Tigers in games one, five and seven. As evidence of his dominance Adams held Ty Cobb, a .366 lifetime hitter, to lone single in his eleven plate appearances.

Adams stuck around baseball long enough to throw a single shut out inning in the 1925 World Series at age 43 against the Washington Senators.

During his career, all but a single game of it with the Pirates, Adams logged a 194-140 record with a 2.76 ERA.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Roger Maris

Claim to fame: This October will mark the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris’s 61st home run in the 1961 season. It broke Babe Ruth’s 34-year single season record and stood another 37 years until Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998, and it remains the defining achievement for Maris. He was a back-to-back MVP, four-time All Star, and one can only wonder what he might have accomplished had he not had just one healthy season after the age of 27. Still, 61 is the number people remember about Maris, and if he’s ever elected to the Hall of Fame, I doubt it will be for any other reason.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Maris went the full 15 years on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America, and while his vote totals peaked slightly after his death from cancer in 1985, he never received anywhere close to the 75 percent of votes needed for enshrinement. That leaves the Veterans Committee as Maris’s sole option for earning a plaque today.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? There are lots of directions I could probably go with this one. I’ll start with a quote I’ve used before here. In 1978, late, great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote a column arguing that Dodger stolen base great Maury Wills belonged in the Hall of Fame. Toward the end of the piece, Murray wrote:

The baseball writers are sometimes loathe to reward a guy for a single, incandescent, virtuoso performance over one season. They prefer a guy who keeps doing a predictable thing over and over again. Henry Aaron, who piled up 755 home runs, 30 to 40 at a time over 20 years, will go in the hall by acclamation. Roger Maris, who hit 61 one season, more than anyone ever hit in one season, will never make it.

I like Murray, though it’s hard to believe Maris will never make the Hall of Fame. I don’t know if there are many absolutes in life, particularly when it comes to the Veterans Committee. Players with solid lifetime stats but relatively low profiles are sometimes overlooked by the committee in favor of big names from great teams. That could favor Maris, who did his best work in Yankee pinstripes and remains beloved more than a decade since his record fell. He’s another player whose induction could offer good PR for the Hall of Fame as more and more steroid users become eligible with the writers.

The question is whether that’s enough, because I don’t know what else could get Maris enshrined. By no lifetime statistical measure does he appear worthy of Cooperstown, not through any of the Hall of Fame monitoring metrics on Baseball-Reference.com nor any traditional stat. His 275 home runs ranks far down the charts, as does his 39.8 career WAR, and .260 batting average. He never hit .300 in a season, retired with just 1,325 hits, and had barely more than 5,000 at bats. The list goes on. If not for the 61 home runs, I suppose Maris might be largely forgotten today.

But Maris isn’t a sentinel in baseball history, and here’s what I think the argument could come down to. There are roughly 300 people in the Hall of Fame, the majority obscure to modern fans. To most who pass through Cooperstown, names on plaques like Vic Willis and Tim Keefe and Buck Ewing are essentially meaningless. Maris is a name many if not most fans know and care about. If we isolate the word Fame in Hall of Fame, there may be no more deserving, eligible player than Roger Maris.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is 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, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark

Higher batting average than strikeouts

I was reading through Ken Burns Baseball over the weekend, and I was struck by a passage that noted Ty Cobb struck out 357 times in his career and sported a .367 lifetime average. While this passage turned out to be incorrect, since it didn’t count the first eight seasons of the Georgia Peach’s career, it got me thinking. Treating batting average as a round number, I wondered how many players who had at least 5,000 plate appearances retired with a higher batting average than number of strikeouts. From what I can tell, it’s a rare feat, and it might be unheard of today.

Baseball’s undergone many shifts over the years, and one of them is that players strike out much more these days. Joe Sewell played from 1920 to 1933 and fanned just 114 times in his career. Mark Reynolds almost did twice that in 2009. Heck, Sewell had whole seasons where he struck out less than Reynolds does in a day. Granted, Reynolds is far from the only player seemingly less concerned with making contact than swinging for power. The trend seems to go back to at least the 1950s. I don’t know what it is, if pitching has gotten better or coaches have de-emphasized contact hitting, but batters like Sewell are long gone from baseball.

The following is a list of players with at least 5,000 plate appearances who retired with a higher batting average than number of strikeouts. The list is by no means comprehensive, and I invite anyone to add to it. I organized the list by year of debut, and I think it’s worth noting that I didn’t find anyone who has played in the last 50 years or retired with a batting average below .300 and accomplished this feat. This exercise would also appear to favor lighter-hitting players, though Joe DiMaggio may deserve an honorable mention for his 369 lifetime strikeouts against a .325 batting average and 361 home runs.

The list is as follows:

Player Strikeouts Batting Avg.
Plate App.
Career Span
Cap Anson 330 .334 11331 1871-1897
Dan Brouthers 238 .342 7676 1879-1904
Buck Ewing 294 .303 5772 1880-1897
Pete Browning 168 .341 5315 1882-1894
Willie Keeler 136 .341 9610 1892-1910
Nap Lajoie 304 .338 10460 1896-1916
Tris Speaker 283 .345 11988 1907-1928
Shoeless Joe Jackson 164 .356 5690 1908-1920
George Sisler 327 .340 9013 1915-1930
Sam Rice 275 .322 10246 1915-1934
Joe Sewell 114 .312 8329 1920-1933
Pie Traynor 278 .320 8293 1920-1937
Riggs Stephenson 247 .336 5134 1921-1934
Freddie Lindstrom 276 .311 6104 1924-1936
Mickey Cochrane 217 .320 6206 1925-1937
Lloyd Waner 173 .316 8326 1927-1945
Joe Vosmik 272 .307 6084 1930-1944
Arky Vaughan 276 .318 7721 1932-1948
Cecil Travis 291 .314 5414 1933-1947
George Kell 287 .306 7528 1943-1957
Jackie Robinson 291 .311 5802 1947-1956


I wonder if any current or future player will eventually make this list.

It’s The Year of the Picher and I’m Loving It

I’m decidedly old school when it comes to baseball and definitely DH free National League, the league where defense and pitching seem to be of a greater necessity than the American League.

Thus far, the 2011 major league baseball season has two no hitters, (ironically both in the American League), and almost nightly pitching duels.

From the opening night matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum to the as good as advertised Philadelphia Phillies-Florida Marlins dual this past Tuesday, we’ve been seeing some terrifically pitched games.

The May 10th pitching matchup between Josh Johnson and Doc Halladay was indeed something to write home about.

The final tally combined for the two starters read three runs total allowed (Florida won 2-1) 15 innings pitched 11 hits and 16 Ks. This has been typical of many games around both leagues this season and isn’t showing any signs of letting up.

But what are the reason(s) for this pitcher dominated season and will major league baseball panic as they did after the 1968 season and make changes with the belief those fans want to see offense?

Let’s examine some possible answers for this year of the pitcher.

Pitchers are traditionally ahead of hitters in the early going of any season and the cold and wet weather in many parks thus far hasn’t helped the offenses any. But many previously robust hitters in both leagues are off to very slow starts; too many to be explained away by early season catching up and poor weather.

Many scouts seem to be of the opinion that the widespread use of the cut fastball is one of the major factors. The cut fastball looks like a regular fastball coming to the plate but unlike a slider, it won’t hang tantalizing over the plate if thrown incorrectly. It is also much easier to control than a slider or a split finger and allows a pitcher to not have to be so fine with his control. The pitch can be aimed at the middle of the plate or just off on either side or the natural movement of the pitch will result in balls hit off centre of the sweet spot.

Pitchers seem to be learning that hitters continue to be in a swing for the fence mentality and seem to be throwing more high strikes and umpires are now calling the high strike. Until last year, despite the fact that a pitch letter high was technically a strike, few umpires called it as such, forcing pitchers to throw belt high and down. While most pitching experts will tell you that pitching low in the zone is the best way to go, this has allowed batters to look in one zone only making solid contact much easier. It eliminated the climb the ladder with fastballs approach that can be very effective for a pitcher. Now batters are being forced to cover the entire strike zone and unfamiliarness with the high strike seems to be working to the pitchers’ advantage.

These things go in cycles and many starting pitchers are 25 and under but with a few years of major league experience already under their belt. Scouts seem to be going after pitchers who are hard throwers more so than those who get by with finesse and guile and this use your fastball or something as hard thrown seems to be more in favor. With starting pitchers seemingly only needing to go six innings, there is less than a need to conserve their arm.

Hitters still seem to be in the go for the fence mentality which pitchers are taking advantage of. Scoring has been decidedly down and a transition to small ball hasn’t caught on as of yet. There is a greater emphasis on team defense with offensive players with poor defensive abilities being subject to greater criticism and more scrutiny.

Baseball seems to be getting back to its original premise, run prevention. For the pure fan like me, it’s a welcome happening.

Double the fun: Cards Sweep Dodgers in May; Sew Up Pennant?

During the double header’s heyday, a fan could buy one ticket, see two games and spend an enjoyable, if somewhat long, afternoon at the ball park. On a perfect day, his team would take both ends and his favorite player would stand out.

May 3, 1942 was such a day for the 23, 871 St. Louis Cardinals’ fans as the Birds swept two from the Brooklyn Dodgers, 14-10 and 4-2 in a darkness shortened six inning affair. Not surprisingly Stan Musial, every fan’s favorite, tore the ball off the cover. His combined line: AB: 5; H: 4; R:3, RBI: 2 including two doubles and two walks.

In the nightcap, the teams couldn’t play a full nine innings because during the often delayed opener six players and the two managers, Leo Durocher and Billy Southworth, were ejected in the wild affair that saw the Cards go up 10-2 before the Dodgers rallied to tie the score. The Cards scored ten unearned runs on errors by two normally slick fielders, second baseman Billy Herman and shortstop Pee Wee Reese.

Game two was more subdued; only four Dodgers were tossed.

Although Musial had better individual seasons against the Dodgers than he did in 1942, his numbers against the Cards’ arch rival were nevertheless imposing, .308, .400 and .498 batting, slugging and on base percentage averages. As Dodger manager Durocher once said: “The best way to pitch to Musial is to roll the ball to the plate.

Just how important those two May Cardinals’ victories would be in the 1942 pennant race didn’t become clear until the end of the season. The Cardinals, 106-48, and led by Most Valuable Player Mort Cooper (22-7, 1.78 ERA) edged out the Dodgers, 104-50 by a mere two games.

The Cardinals entered the season with uncertainty. Slugger Johnny Mize had been traded to the New York Giants during the off season. But, behind Musial who despite playing his first full year more than compensated for Mize, the Cards’ prevailed. Musial made a solid impact with 10 homers, 72 RBI (tenth in the league), and a .315 average that was second to Slaughter’s league-best .318. Stan’s 32 doubles and 10 triples (third in the league) were the first of seven consecutive years he would reach double figures in triples. Musial proved that by getting out of the batter’s box quickly, he could compensate for his limited speed.

To cap off a fine year, the Cards’ upset the New York Yankees, winners of 103 games themselves, in a five-game Series.

Double the fun is a Saturday feature here that looks at one notable doubleheader each week.

Any player/Any era: Carl Mays

What he did: More than 80 years after his last game, Carl Mays remains one of baseball’s most notorious figures. Mays threw the pitch that resulted in the only death of a player in baseball history. He also might have intentionally lost games in the 1921 and 1922 World Series, and he wore out his welcome in New York shortly thereafter. Yankee manager Miller Huggins told longtime sportswriter Fred Lieb, “Any ballplayers that played for me on either the Cardinals or Yankees could come to me if he were in need and I would give him a helping hand. I made only two exceptions, Carl Mays and Joe Bush. If they were in the gutter, I’d kick them.”

It’s a strong statement, and it might be one of the reasons Mays never got serious consideration for the Hall of Fame despite boasting a 208-126 lifetime record and 2.92 ERA, not to mention five 20-win seasons and success in both the Deadball and Live Ball eras. Mays might have made some poor choices that curtailed an otherwise bright career and given him a sordid reputation almost a century later. That being said, pitching in the modern era, Mays might have 100 more wins and a whole different legacy.

Era: We’re sticking Mays in the majors of today, and since he won 20 games in two leagues, the idea here is that Mays would be fine in either current circuit. He did his best work with powerhouse franchises, the Boston Red Sox of the 1910s and the Yankees of the early ’20s, so it’s conceivable he could thrive on a large stage once more. And the issues that hampered his career wouldn’t exist today.

Why: A lot’s changed in baseball in nine decades. Perhaps most importantly for Mays’ sake, batters wear helmets and salaries are exponentially higher. Mays might have the same penchant for throwing the kind of inside pitch that killed Ray Chapman, the same greed to sell out his teammates for a quick payoff, but it’s unlikely the harm would be as great. There simply wouldn’t be the same opportunity.

Would Mays be a saint in the modern big leagues? Maybe not, though that’s never been a requirement f0r baseball stardom. It’d definitely be interesting to see if Mays could stick with one team. Upon waiving Mays out to Cincinnati in 1923, Huggins wrote to Reds president Garry Herrmann, “I may be sending you the best pitcher I have, but I warn you that Carl is a troublemaker and always will be a hard man to sign.” Perhaps in the modern era with free agency, Mays could have a better chance to pick the right organization for himself. He’d also have more incentive to behave. Whatever the case, it seems unlikely he’d wind up as much a pariah.

Lieb wrote, “Mays felt he never lived down the Chapman incident. Late in his life I heard him say, ‘I won over two hundred big league games, but no one remembers that. When they think of me, I’m the guy who killed Chapman with a fastball.'” The modern era could offer Mays so much more.

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, 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, 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

“Ginger” Beaumont and His Baseball Feat That Will Never Be Matched

On most days between April and September, I talk about Clarence H. “Ginger” Beaumont. Among my duties as a Pittsburgh Pirates PNC Park tour guide is to show guests the home team batting cage.

On the wall is the list of all the Pirates who have won batting championships—-eleven different players (see if you can name them; answer below*) for a total of 25 crowns.

Below Honus Wagner and next to the year 1902 Beaumont’s name is painted in white lettering.  I rarely gave Beaumont more than a passing thought until a visitor asked if “Ginger” was his real name. That simple question started my inquiry into Beaumont’s life and times.

“Ginger,” known on his birth certificate as Clarence, got his nickname because of his red hair. Beaumont holds a place in baseball history that can never be surpassed or outdone. In the 1903 first-ever World Series, the visiting Pirates faced the Boston Americans’ Cy Young. Beaumont, leading off, flew out to center field. Thus, Beaumont became the first batter in World Series history.

Beaumont, as I learned, was a great of a player—good enough so that when Honus Wagner and Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem made out their all-time teams both chose Ginger as their center fielder.

During the Deadball Era, Beaumont was considered baseball’s finest leadoff man, a lifetime .311 hitter. When Beaumont’s contemporaries praised him, they focused on his blazing speed (he was once clocked from home to first in 4.4 seconds), unusual for his 190 pound, 5’8″ frame.

According to famous Pittsburgh sportswriter John Gruber:

He [Beaumont] was an excellent base runner, being very fast on his feet, but nobody who saw him for the first time ambling along on his way to the batter’s box would admit this. A lazier or more indifferent-appearing player, emphasized by a burly body, could not be conceived. But when he hit the ball he was off like a streak, which astonished the uninitiated and made him one of the wonders of the century.

Beaumont began his career the old minor league Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers traded Beaumont to Pittsburgh in 1900 and he played for the Pirates for eight seasons.

In addition to his batting title, Beaumont also led the National League in hits three times and scored 100 runs four times, leading the league once. Ironically, one of the fastest players in his, bad knees ended Beaumont’s career in just 12 seasons.

Once out of baseball, Beaumont returned to his native Wisconsin and settled in Honey Creek where he owned a store, did some farming and auctioneering, conducted the church choir, became a grandfather and enjoyed his status as a local legend. Beaumont died on April 10, 1956 at the age of 79.

______

*Pittsburgh Pirates batting champions: Wagner (8), Beaumont (1). Paul Waner (3), Deb Garms (1), Arky Vaughn (1), Dick Groat (1), Roberto Clemente (4), Matty Alou (1), Bill Madlock (2), Dave Parker (2) and Freddie Sanchez (1)

The 80-and-up team

Willie Mays’ 80th birthday on Friday got me thinking. Baseball’s an interesting sport in that its top competitors often live into old age unlike, say, football which seems to take 20 years off the lives of its veterans. While a few elderly ballplayers like Bob Feller and Duke Snider have died in recent months, there is still at least one Hall of Famer over the age of 80 for nearly every position. Together, these men could comprise a dream team of sorts, even if I wouldn’t recommend this squad take the field today.

The follow lineup is strictly symbolic of how these men played during their careers, with their current ages in parentheses:

CF- Willie Mays (80): Mays could and should hit third, fourth, or fifth with his 660-home run power, though he gets the lead off spot since no one else on the team comes close to matching his speed. Mays might also be the best living Hall of Famer, though that’s fodder for another post.

RF- Monte Irvin (92): Who better to back up Mays than his mentor his rookie year with the New York Giants in 1951? Irvin was a Negro League star and elite contact hitter who’d have probably managed a higher peak batting average than .312 if he’d played somewhere besides the Polo Grounds that ’51 season.

1B- Stan Musial (90): Stan the Man, with his .331 lifetime average, 475 home runs, and seven batting titles, might be baseball’s best living hitter. Certainly, with Feller’s death in December, Musial is the greatest living ballplayer over 90. This earns him the nod at a position he played roughly a third of his career.

LF- Ralph Kiner (88): Playing in a pitcher’s park like Forbes Field, in baseball’s postwar period where hurlers were favored, Kiner managed to lead the National League in home runs each of his first seven seasons. If he played anytime in the last 20 years, his home run totals would be staggering. That being said, he seems a somewhat forgotten slugger to modern fans.

3B- Al Rosen (87): The only non-Hall of Famer on this team, Rosen may have been just as good at his peak. He became a regular player at 26 and played just seven full seasons, twice leading the American League in home runs and RBI and earning Most Valuable Player honors in 1953. Rosen walked away from baseball to take a sales job at 32, and one can only wonder what he might have done with a full career.

C- Yogi Berra (85): At first, my fear was that there were no great catchers over 80, that the rigors of the position made this impossible. Then I remembered Yogi, the three-time MVP and seemingly ageless Yankee legend. He’s not the greatest catcher of all-time, though with Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle long dead, Berra he may be the most famous living Yankee, one of the final remaining links to a classic era for the Bronx Bombers.

SS- Ernie Banks (80): Mr. Cub gets the nod at the position he spent the first half of his career at, a lithe superstar before becoming a broke-down first baseman in later years.

2B- Bobby Doerr (93): One of the final remaining men who played in the 1930s, Doerr was a nine-time All Star, great supporting teammate for Ted Williams on the Boston Red Sox, and a Veterans Committee selection to the Hall of Fame in 1986.

P- Whitey Ford (82): Ford, Billy Martin, and Mickey Mantle set a standard for carousing as Yankee teammates in the 1950s. Martin died in a drunk driving accident on Christmas Day 1989, and Mantle passed of liver cancer five years later, though Ford has lived into old age.

To My Mom

Moms got us to school every day, made sure we had our lunch or money for lunch, fixed our hair and made sure our socks matched.  They always had a shoulder we could cry on and could fix even the most serious injury with a kiss and a “you’ll be alright”.  They straightened us out when needed and looked the other way and pretended they didn’t see something we did that wasn’t allowed. They pretended to believe our stories and pleas of innocence no matter how farfetched and unlikely they might have sounded even managing to look sympathetic to our “plight”.

In my house, Mom had another job as well and that was the keeping together of her baseball player.  Pre Little league was the easiest for her as we were not old enough to wear uniforms, (that was Little League baseball when we got to the mature old age of nine).  We were given t shirts with our team name and logo on the front and our sponsors name on back.  I say given but I think I dragged my father down, (or perhaps Mom insisted so I would stop bothering her about it), to the local registration centre where he handed over some money to a scary looking man sitting behind a table who scribbled my name down and told me which team I was going to play for and who my coach was.

There were no numbers on the “uniform” backs and spikes, sliding and leading off the base were not allowed.  Chewing massive amounts of gum, cleaning the dirt from the bottom of our spotless and shiny new running shoes and getting ourselves as dirty as possible diving into bases and for groundballs was allowed.

We rode our bicycles to the game always with the sound of our mother’s advice of being careful when riding, look both ways when crossing the street and lock your bike ringing in our ear. An embarrassing kiss good luck and have fun, (ballplayers don’t want kisses from girls, and baseball isn’t for fun), and it’s off I went.  I managed to lock my bike most times but I usually forgot the other words of motherly concern.

After the battle was over, Mom would ask me how the game was all the while checking me out for blood and dirt and gum in my hair. This was all before multi tasking became a buzz word.  Then it was off to the bath while mom tried to clean my t shirt and wash my jeans.  After my bath any necessary repairs were done to my scrapped skin or bruised facial features and it was off to bed.

Mom also had one more baseball job.  There were three ways to get baseball cards in those days.  Bubblegum cards, friends and on the back of cereal boxes. As I had no allowance to speak of and even though packs of bubble gum baseball cards were about five cents a pack for ten cards and that wonderful soapy tasting gum, my main method of collecting was post cereal.  On the back of each box of cereal were six baseball cards.  Among my first cards were Vada Pinson of the Cincinnati Reds and Lee Maye of the Atlanta Braves, the 1962 Post cereal baseball card set. Although I had no idea who these players were or knew anything about the teams they played for, they instantly became my two favorite players.

The type of cereal purchased had nothing to do with what I wanted or what was good for me.  Only players I was missing from my probably 40 or 50 card collection mattered.  Mom would patiently wait for me to go through every cereal box in the store until I found a box with six cards on the back I didn’t have. But instead of showing her deserved impatience with me or her insistence that I at least pick a type of cereal that I at least liked, she waited and purchased my final choice.  She always agreed and I brought the box home, found the scissors and quickly emptied the box into a bowl so I could cut out my beloved new cards right away. I kept them all in an old shoe box she had given me.

There was no one else who would clean my dirty uniform or lengthen my stirrups just right and tell me an oh-fer with four strikeouts was okay. There was no one else who would understand my love of the game.

I lost my mom to an aneurism in 1973.  I still miss her terribly. Thanks Mom.