How I spent my Saturday

Today was a good day.

For one thing, my first check from this site arrived today: $147.10, courtesy of a few advertisers.  I’d write here for free, happily, but it’s cool to know I can make a few bucks.  My goal is to eventually pay my Internet bill through proceeds from this site.

I also did some research on Joe Marty, a former player I’m considering writing a book on.  Marty played in the majors from 1937 to 1941, and I have been wondering if any of his former teammates are still alive.  Well, through the magic of Baseball Reference, Baseball Almanac, Wikipedia and the willingness to spend a few hours in front of the computer, I checked the bios of every single one of his teammates and confirmed that four are still alive.  Better, they all have listed phone numbers.  They’re all in their nineties, among the oldest former players still living, but I’m hopeful I can get at least one or two good interviews out of the group.  Old players love to reminisce, I learned early on.  I think it’s one reason many have listed numbers.

Feeling invigorated after getting the first four numbers, I went one step further and checked the biographies of every one of Marty’s teammates from the Pacific Coast League.  He begun with the San Francisco Seals from 1934 to 1936, where he teamed with Joe DiMaggio.  Later, following his career in the big leagues and a few years thereafter serving in World War II, Marty returned to his hometown to play for the Sacramento Solons from 1946 to 1952.  I was unable to confirm if any of his Seals teammates are still alive (the chance of which seems slim), though I found at least 13 former Solon teammates that are still around.  A few of those guys definitely have listed numbers as well.

If possible, I’d like to interview all of Marty’s living teammates.  I’m undecided if this will ultimately be a book or just an awesome post for this site, but I’m hopeful about the road I’m embarking on.

The upshot is that I literally spent nine hours in front of my computer punching in names.  My eyes are weary from the flicker of my laptop.  It was the kind of day where I had something I needed to do in the evening, and I didn’t want to leave my computer and couldn’t wait to return home.  I don’t work this hard at my typical day job.

The best $5 I ever spent

Over the past few years, I have increasingly begun to use, an encyclopedia of players and their career numbers.  With this blog, I now use the website pretty much constantly.  In a pinch, I can, among other things, look up the stats of a player I’m writing about, see who he was similar to and even check what percentage of the Hall of Fame vote he received. I actually find it difficult to write without being able to access the site. I don’t know what sportswriters did without the Internet.

On the site, visitors are allowed to sponsor the page of any player for a nominal sum.  With the sponsorship, one can post a personal message and a link to their site.  The lowest fee to sponsor is $5, though I’ve seen asking prices over $100 for top players.  Most of the game’s immortals are taken, but interestingly, the pages for a number of figures from the Steroid Era are available.  Currently, Roger Clemens’ page is free for $80, Sammy Sosa’s for $75, Rafael Palmeiro’s for $40 and Jose Canseco’s for $56 (though for some reason, Ozzie Canseco is taken.)

That’s all more than I can afford or could justify spending on this sort of thing, though the idea of getting a $5 player has long appealed.  I considered sponsoring Aloysius Travers, after I wrote a post on him back in May and saw his page free for $5.  However, I didn’t jump and kicked myself (not literally) after another sponsor stepped forward. Over this past weekend, however, I finally grabbed another player.

I will preface this by saying that I’ve started thinking I should write a book.  Recently, I read a baseball book by a first-time author and couldn’t help thinking: Man, I am totally as good of a writer as this guy.  The only thing separating him and me is that he put the work in. Fear has held me back in the past, coupled with the idea that I am not a good enough writer, would never finish a book and, even if I did, would get rejected by publishers.

I’ve realized, however, that regardless of the outcome, I enjoy the process of writing and talking to old baseball players.  Also, I’d rather try and fail at something than spend my life wondering what might have been.  If the most that comes out of my effort is a self-published book that few people read, it will still be a baseball book with my name on it, and that’s pretty cool.

The player I might like to do a book on is named Joe Marty, who I wrote about here back in June. Injuries and World War II robbed Marty of a long career, though when he was coming up with the San Francisco Seals in the 1930s, scouts thought him more talented than his teammate Joe DiMaggio.  DiMaggio of course went on to a Hall of Fame career.  Marty opened a bar in Sacramento and became, as an old-timer told me, “his own best customer.”  Thematically, the book seems rife with possibilities, and I also like being able to write about Sacramento, my hometown.

Thus, I plunked down $5 for Marty’s page.  For now, what I put on there is a placeholder.  If I ever do the book, it will be noted.

An interview with Matt Walbeck

I have found work recently as a painter and was in a town here in Northern California called Danville last week, doing interior work on a house.  I got to talking with one of the homeowners, and it turns out she is from Sacramento, like me and went to high school with Matt Walbeck, a future Major League Baseball player. Walbeck broke in with the Chicago Cubs in 1993, as a catcher, played with four other teams in an eleven-year career and is now a minor league coach.

The homeowner said she still knew Walbeck, and after I explained about this site and inquired about interviewing him, she gave me his email address.  I sent Walbeck questions on Thursday, and he got back to me today.

The interview is as follows:

Baseball: Past and Present: You’ve been coaching for six years now.  Do you hope to make it to the majors as a manager?

Matt Walbeck:  I think if I continue to improve as a manager and at developing players I will manage in the majors.

BP&P: Do you think being a catcher prepared you better for coaching than if you’d been, say, a third baseman?

MW:  Having not played any other positions, I can’t compare.  There are a lot of solid managers that have played different positions.  Catchers are closely connected with the pitching coach, manager, umpires, position players and the pitchers.  Understanding pitchers is a big part of managing a baseball team because they make up almost half of the team.  Also seeing the whole field from behind the plate helps too.

BP&P: Have any of the managers that you played for influenced your coaching style?

MW:  They all have, and so did my Dad who coached my little league teams growing up.  My high school coaches Don and Jim Graf were very helpful also.  I gleaned a little bit from each of them, which is how any coach creates his or her own style.

BP&P: What kind of advice do you give young players?

MW:  Take care of yourself, love what you do, play the game one pitch at a time. And do something every day to become a better player.

BP&P: You were an eighth round draft pick out of Sacramento High School in 1987 for the Chicago Cubs.  If you could do it over, would you have gone to play baseball in college and entered the draft later or would you still have signed out of high school?

MW:  I wouldn’t change anything.  I feel that I learned a lot about life when I signed as a 17 year old and learned how to live on my own.  Wytheville, Virginia, the city where I played my first pro season was a small town of about 10,000 people and was like whole new world.  Being away from home made me realize how great the Sacramento area is, and how important family is.

BP&P: says you earned over $4 million in your career.  How far does that sort of money go?

MW:  It will go as far as you let it.  If you spend a lot and don’t save you go broke.  It boils down to your spending habits and investing wisely.

BP&P: Do you think you reached your potential as a player?

MW:  No.  Nobody is perfect and it seems everyone can always improve.

BP&P: How prevalent was the steroid culture in baseball?  Was it rampant or has the media made it out to be something bigger than it was?

MW:  I guess it was pretty prevalent throughout the years that I played.  Fortunately, I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t try it.  The side effects scared me.  So, since I wasn’t interested in it, it wasn’t available.

BP&P: Do you still consider Sacramento home?  Are you still friends with a lot of people you grew up with?

MW:  I grew up in East Sac on 42nd and H and used to hang out at McKinley Park, Sutter Lawn, River Park, etc.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  My wife, three children and I now live in Old Fair Oaks which is near the American River.  There’s lots of outdoor activity and I love to Steelhead fish.  I still have lots of friends in the area, some who I went to high school with and others that I have met in Fair Oaks.

BP&P: Last question: Who is your all-time favorite baseball player from Sacramento?

MW:  Probably Derek Lee.  He’s a true  professional and is a tremendous talent both offensively and at first base.

Christmas sighting: Nick Johnson

Life can be oddly serendipitous sometimes.

I’ve been kicking around the idea recently of writing an entry here about Nick Johnson. The 31-year-old signed a $5.75 million one-year contract on Wednesday to rejoin the team that drafted him, the New York Yankees and be their designated hitter. Moreover, we graduated from the same high school, C.K. McClatchy in Sacramento, as did his uncle, Larry Bowa. Last I heard, Johnson is even married to the sister of a girl I grew up with. Come to think of it, Johnson’s wife once babysat my sister and me years and years ago. She put us to bed early on a Saturday night and proceeded to sit in my parents’ kitchen with one of her friends and make phone calls. She wasn’t asked back.

I wouldn’t call myself a Johnson expert. I’ve never met the guy, as he graduated before I hit high school. I talked to some people, years ago, who watched him hit towering shots in practice at McClatchy, and I remember seeing a news story about him taped up in the locker room my freshman or sophomore year when he was tearing up the minors for the Yankees. All things considered, I probably don’t know that much more than the average good Yankee fan.

It’s worth noting, though, that Johnson’s mother-in-law is close friends with the mother of one of my best friends. Knowing I was a huge baseball fan, my friend’s mom used to feed me tidbits about Johnson: He was depressed about being traded from the Yankees to the Montreal Expos; a few years ago, he was thinking about signing with the San Diego Padres to be closer to home; he had a big new house in Sacramento and a kid on the way with his wife. I think I tried to request an interview with Johnson through my friend’s mom some years back, but nothing ever came of it.

One of my goals for 2010 is to get a press pass, with my site, for an Oakland Athletics or San Francisco Giants game. On this note, I got to thinking today, while over at my grandmother’s house in Sacramento for Christmas, that I should attempt to interview Johnson the next time the Yankees plays the A’s. I even mentioned something about this to my mom.

Well, about an hour later, my parents and I were at a stoplight on our way home, and I spotted Johnson. He was getting out of a cream Cadillac Escalade at a gas station not far from my parents’ home. I started to get out of the car to go approach him about an interview for here, but my parents stopped me. I’ll have to mention it if I ever do interview him.

Former Sacramento Solons owner, Fred David, dead at 100

A pioneering member in Sacramento sports history, Fred David died on October 17, at the age of 100.

David once owned a Pacific Coast League baseball team from my hometown, the Sacramento Solons, and I did my senior project in high school on it. I interviewed a number of former players and people associated with the club, including David who was 91 at the time. David first worked in the concession stand for the Solons at the age of 15 and became a stockholder in the team in 1944. He bought it ten years later at a time of uncertainty for the club, starting with $1,000, as he told me, “to keep baseball in Sacramento.” David owned the Solons from 1954 to 1960, when they moved to Honolulu. Their ballpark Edmonds Field was torn down in 1964, and a Target sits today on the site, with a plaque in the parking lot marking home plate.

A number of relics from Edmonds Field wound up in a warehouse David owned in downtown Sacramento at 10th and R Street for his primary business, The David Candy Company. David let me go inside the warehouse at the time of our interview and even gave me a score book from 1957 that I later got autographed by another interview subject, former Solon and Chicago Cubs catcher Cuno Barragan. Inside David’s warehouse was old seating, PA and scoreboard equipment. I gave David a list of written questions, asking among them why he still had so much of the memorabilia. “After we sold the stadium, I salvaged what I could,” David wrote. “It was a great memory.”

I learned recently from David’s niece, Diana Thomas of Santa Barbara, that he died 16 days after turning 100. He had wanted to make 100, Thomas explained, and after achieving this, his body went downhill rapidly. He was lucid up until the end. She said the warehouse is still in the family, which calls it The Building, and it hasn’t been gone through yet. An estate sale is pending.

Retired baseball scout Ronnie King, 82, knew David as a kid, before either man got into baseball. King last spoke with David about 15 years ago and learned of his passing through a mutual friend.

Asked if David made a meaningful contribution to Sacramento sports, King told Baseball Past and Present, “Oh, sure, sure. In fact if he didn’t buy it (in 1954), they probably would have left then, because there was a couple other cities that wanted the Solons.”

Another Sacramento franchise, the Monarchs of the Women’s National Basketball Association folded on November 20, seven weeks after David died. King didn’t hold back when asked what David would have made of the decision.

“I think he would have been a little shook up about it, because I think he always thought that sports did something for the city,” King said.

When I interviewed David in 2001, I asked him how the candy industry, which he worked in for much of his life differed from baseball. “Business is business– work,” he wrote. “But I loved baseball. I guess I was a good fan.”

Dion James: Another ballplayer I knew

A few years ago, I worked at an elementary school in Sacramento.  As it was in an upper-middle class neighborhood, not far from the State Capitol, the school attracted the children of the well-to-do: Legislators, attorneys and also C-level local celebrities.  Among this latter crowd was a former Major League Baseball player who I got to know, Dion James.

I actually met James years before when he came to sign autographs for my Little League team.  A Sacramento product and 1980 graduate of C.K. McClatchy High School, where Nick Johnson and Larry Bowa also went, James played in the majors between 1983 and 1996 with four different teams.  His best year came in 1987 with the Atlanta Braves when he hit .312 with 154 hits, six triples, and 10 home runs.  James never became a star, though he was a key reserve in 1995 with the New York Yankees, even meriting a mention in Sports Illustrated.  He visited my Little League practice that year and signed a Japanese card for me from his days with the Chunichi Dragons.

By the time I met James again a decade later, he was a 40-something-year-old father, raising a few sons in Sacramento, including one prodigy.  We talked once or twice at the elementary school I worked at as a recreation aid.  While he waited to pick up his son one time, James told me about his playing days, including his stint in the Japanese League.  Like a lot of players, including Kevin Mitchell and Rob Deer, James went to play in Japan in the wake of the 1994 strike.  Apparently, the Japanese training regimen is no joke.  James told me about having to do exercises in gale-force winds, hunching down to show me how he and other Dragons players scooted into the wind.

Not surprisingly, James only lasted a year in Japan before returning to the majors.

Jerry Weinstein: The Best Baseball Coach I Ever Knew

When I was a kid, growing up in Sacramento, I went a couple of summers to a baseball day camp hosted at Sacramento City College. Designed for elementary school-aged children and led by the City College players, the camp let us focus on fundamentals, filming our batting stances, having us hit against pitching machines, and then showing us fine documentaries on baseball history at lunch. I was never a very good player (I look like I have my feet inside two buckets in the black-and-white photos we got of our batting stances) but I have positive memories from the camps. I also got to meet City College’s legendary coach, Jerry Weinstein.

At the time, Weinstein was in the midst of a remarkable 23-season run as City College’s coach. He guided his teams to an 831-208 record, 16 conference championships and one national title over the course of his tenure. He also helped develop a veritable assembly line of future Major Leaguers, including four-time All Star outfielder Greg Vaughn and former Atlanta Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser. Weinstein capped his career in Sacramento with the national title, in 1998, then left to take a job working with catchers in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

Our paths crossed again in 2003. I was a sophomore at Cal Poly and had just started covering the school’s baseball team when I learned that Weinstein coached the squad’s catchers and pitchers (he didn’t last long with the Dodgers.) We talked extensively on a feature story I did about Garrett Olson, a true freshman who had just cracked the starting rotation for Cal Poly and now pitches for the Seattle Mariners. Weinstein didn’t remember me from the camps, not that I blame him, though we hit it off. I told him how I had worked at an ice cream store in our neighborhood in Sacramento, and we talked at length about Bill Conlin, a sportswriter who spent over half a century at the Sacramento Bee. Weinstein chided me once for scribbling notes during an interview, telling me Conlin never wrote anything down.

Weinstein became my preferred quote among the Mustang coaching staff, much more talkative certainly than head coach Larry Lee, who was a fine manager but may as well have been deaf-mute. I even later advised a fellow writer to seek out Weinstein rather than Lee for a quote. The writer later came back laughing, saying that he and Weinstein had talked at length about Jewish ballplayers before getting to their interview. His story turned out great if I remember correctly.

Weinstein and I have both since moved on from Cal Poly. I graduated in 2005 and Weinstein now coaches the Class A team for the Colorado Rockies, the Modesto Nuts. I saw a story a few years ago that when the Rockies signed former All Star catcher Javy Lopez, who was attempting a comeback at the time, they “encouraged Lopez to visit Jerry Weinstein in San Luis Obispo, Calif.” The story made me smile, even if Lopez’s comeback didn’t work out.

A bar I used to drink in

When I was a kid, growing up in Sacramento, I used to often visit a baseball card shop downtown.  It was two doors over from a building whose sign was a large, glowing baseball with the words, “Joe Marty’s” emblazoned over it.  I used to wonder what the place was.  As a baseball card junkie (I had a few thousand cards at one point), the ball caught my eye and as a kid, I once went in, thinking it maybe was a card shop.  The swaying drunks I encountered let me know otherwise.  Joe Marty’s was a bar.

Eventually, I learned Joe Marty had, in fact, been a real person, a ballplayer at that.  My senior year of high school, I did my final project on an old Pacific Coast League team that had played in my hometown, the Sacramento Solons.  As it turned out, Marty played for and managed the Solons back in the 1940s and ’50s.  Before that, he played in the major leagues, appearing with the Chicago Cubs in the 1938 World Series.  Injuries robbed him of a long big league career, though as a young man, he was once considered a better prospect than Joe DiMaggio.  The two came up together in the PCL with the San Francisco Seals and while DiMaggio missed the 1934 season with a career-threatening injury, Marty went to the Cubs for a large price.  In the end, though, as one old-timer told me, Marty returned to Sacramento, his hometown, and became his bar’s own best customer.  He died in 1984 at the age of 71.

Eventually, I drank in Joe Marty’s bar once or twice.  It had the coolest old black-and-white photos of famous players.  Sadly, fire gutted the place in 2005.  While the photos were reportedly saved from destruction, the bar hasn’t been open since.

The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame

1. Pete Rose: No surprise here. The all-time hits leader is easily the most-talented (and charismatic) player who doesn’t have a plaque hanging in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York. Rose was banned from baseball in 1989 for sports betting, a shame, considering racists like Ty Cobb and Cap Anson are in Cooperstown.

2. Joe Jackson: Babe Ruth is said to have modeled his swing off “Shoeless Joe,” who owns the third best batting average all-time, .356. Alas, the Chicago White Sox great was also banned for gambling, in the wake of the infamous 1919 World Series that he helped fix.


3. Dom DiMaggio: Ted Williams had a pamphlet in his museum about why DiMaggio should be in the Hall of Fame. The Boston Red Sox centerfielder was a seven-time All Star, renowned for his defense. The knock was that he had a relatively short career. Then again, so did Sandy Koufax.

4. Dave Parker: This guy’s a Veteran’s Committee pick waiting to happen. If Jim Rice and Orlando Cepeda can get into the Hall, Parker should too. He had better career numbers than those players for hits, doubles, runs batted in, runs scored, and stolen bases. However, just like Cepeda delayed his Cooperstown bid by going to prison for drug trafficking, Parker likely hurt his chances with well-publicized cocaine abuse.

5. Bert Blyleven: The poor man’s Nolan Ryan, Blyleven had 3701 strikeouts and 287 wins over the course of his career. Much like Ryan, though, Blyleven also lost a lot of games, 250 overall to Ryan’s 292. Still, he probably has the best credentials of any pitcher not in Cooperstown.

6. Hal Chase: Yet another great player banned for gambling, Chase made a name for himself with outstanding defense at first base in the early part of the 20th century. However, he was so shameless in his association with gamblers, Ken Burns’ Baseball noted, that fans took to chanting, “What’s the odds, Hal?” when he played.

7. Stan Hack: A solid Chicago Cubs third baseman from the 1930s and ’40s, this Sacramento native had 2193 lifetime hits and a .301 lifetime average.

8. Ron Santo: Much like Hack, Santo was a good Cubs third baseman who may get into the Hall before too long through the Veteran’s Committee.

9. Dale Murphy: If character counts, Murphy should have been a first-ballot inductee. The Atlanta Braves outfielder and devout Mormon deserves a spot on the All-Time Nice Guy squad, being a throw-back player who never drank and instead did things like answer children’s questions in a regular newspaper column. He also hit 398 home runs and won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards.

10. Dwight Gooden: Were it not for cocaine addiction derailing his career, this New York Mets phenom would have been on the inside track to Cooperstown. As it stands, his 194 victories are better than Hall of Fame hurlers Dizzy Dean and Koufax and all three pitchers had primes that lasted for similar, brief lengths.


Also check out the Tuesday feature, Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?