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 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.