Good bye to the Chairman

November 24, 2020

Whitey Ford

During all the problems developing in my life I failed to note here the loss of “The Chairman of the Board.” Whitey Ford died recently. He was the last great link to the New York Yankee dynasty of the 1950s and early 1960s.

Of the great pitchers of my youth, Ford was unique. He was the only one in the American League. Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Juan Marichal were all National Leaguers. And before them so were Warren Spahn and Don Newcombe. I really don’t remember Bob Lemon and Early Wynn was always, to me, an afterthought. Ford, on the other hand, was impossible to miss. Back in the mid-to late 1950s there were two games on Saturday, one on CBS, the other on NBC. You could almost guarantee the Yankees would be on one game. That meant your chances of seeing Ford work were pretty good.

He thrived under two managers who used him very differently. Casey Stengel, his 1950s manager, tended to hold Ford for big games rather than establish him in something like a modern rotation. Ralph Houk, on the other hand, put him in the rotation and Ford began putting up “ace” numbers (wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, etc.) and eventually picked up an early Cy Young Award (1961-back when there was only one award, not one in each league).

He was also unique in another way. The Dodgers were are great team in the 1960s because they had Drysdale and Koufax. The same was true for the Cardinals and Gibson. Marichal was part of a trio (Mays, McCovey) that made the Giants contenders. Ford, on the other hand, was part of a machine that spewed talent in every direction. That made him, in some ways, less renowned. He was just part of the Yankees. That’s kind of a shame, because he was more than “just part” of the best team of his era.

He made the Hall of Fame in 1974, along with Mickey Mantle (who overshadowed Ford because he Mantle). Yogi Berra was already enshrined there. It was a fitting conclusion to his career.

So adios to Whitey Ford, who, as “Chairman of the Board,” had one of the great nicknames of the era. RIP.

Finally

November 23, 2020

Well, I’ve been out of the loop for a while. In my defense, it’s been a lousy couple of months. So bear with me a moment.

First, my wife ended up in the hospital (non-Covid) which scared the heck out of me. Now she’s back home, well, and the normal pain-in-the-neck she usually is on a given day. My health took a tumble for a while, but I’m back to something like normal; at least what passed for normal for me. Then the Great Central Oklahoma Ice Storm of 2020 hit. We took major damage to the trees, the fence is a disaster, a water main broke, and the power was out for a week (along with the WiFi).

The power went out Monday night about 20 minutes after the Senate confirmed the latest Supreme Court Justice. The Senate Minority Leader warned us that confirming her would lead to disaster. Guess he was right (at least in the short term). Worse was that the power was still out on Tuesday night and I couldn’t find the World Series on a battery operated radio. I had to text my son the next morning to find out the Dodgers finally won one.

I suppose that’s just as well. Had I watched the game I might have jinxed the Bums, or worse, had a heart attack when they actually won the Series. After all, I’ve deteriorated in 32 years. But now at least I can tell my son the Twins fan that my guys have won as many times in his lifetime as his guys (2). I’m still looking to find the game on MLB network and will at some point.

Now Clayton Kershaw has a ring. Good for him. It’s nice to see him get the proverbial monkey off his back. I’ve never looked up the origin of that cliche, and will have to at some point. Now, if he can just win two more he can finally be compared to that other Dodger lefty whose last name begins with a “K.” And it was nice to see, in the age of social consciousness, Dave Roberts win the World Series as a manager.

I also missed commenting on the death of both Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford. They were two of the great pitchers of my youth and it reminds me of my aging. Now only Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax remain of the great pitchers before I left High School. I read on something that the Hall of Fame lost six members already this year. With a month and a half to go, let’s hope that number doesn’t change.

And Yet Another Loss

September 8, 2020

This is getting awful. I have another loss to report. Glen Slater died on the 1st of September. He was 60.

Now Glen wasn’t some famous ball player, nor a great educator, nor one of those people who changed the world overnight with some special invention. Glen was simply someone I considered a friend. He was an early reader of the stuff I wrote here and was generally encouraging of my stuff (which may say something about his mindset, but I’m not sure what). He had his own blog that produced some of the funniest humor on line. He had some trouble finishing a story, but then so do most of us. But what he wrote was wonderful; full of life, fun, and a certain amount of tragedy.

I got a note from his sister this morning telling me he was gone. That in itself is a tragedy. Certainly it’s terrible for his family and my wife and I give our deepest condolences to his sister and her family. But for the rest of us it’s also horrible. Glen was fun, a heck of a person to know, even if it was only over the ether and through something as ephemeral as a blog. I will miss him, his intelligent commentary, his humor, his down right endearing humanity. Beth, I’m sorry for your loss. The world is a poorer place now.

So I’m heading off to lift a glass of wine in his honor. Somehow, I think he’d understand that. RIP, Glen, we will miss you around here.

v

Another RIP

September 8, 2020

Lou Brock with his Hall of Fame plaque

With the last entry here being a farewell to Tom Seaver, I hoped I wouldn’t have to write another one of these. But then Lou Brock died. So here we go again.

Brock was never as special to me as Seaver, but he was also a great player. On that Cardinals team of the 1960s, I gravitated more toward Bob Gibson, Roger Maris, and Orlando Cepeda. But Brock was one of the stalwarts of the team and a clutch World Series player (except for one non-slide). He’s known today for two things: base stealing and lousy fielding. Both are true. He was a superb runner whose percent of successful steals was around 67%. That combined with 486 doubles (tied for 77th all-time) meant he was in scoring position a lot. But as stolen bases have a limited value (the caught stealing and dying at second because no one else gets a hit can cut down their value) he only shot above 5.0 WAR three times (1968 being the last time) and was at 4.2 once (1965). He had trouble in the outfield, another reason his WAR is low. He could have a lot of assists (peaking at 17 in 1963), but also could commit a lot of errors (19 in 1966). No body cares much about fielding percentage anymore, but .959 isn’t very good.

In retirement he did a lot of things, including run a florist shop which seems to have been very successful. He made the Hall of Fame in 1985, had some health problems and died this week. RIP, Lou.

Now, I need a favor from whatever great spirit there is. Don’t make it necessary for me to do another one of these for a while. Deal?

RIP Tom Terrific

September 2, 2020

Tom Seaver

Just saw that Tom Seaver died at age 75. He was a great, great pitcher and, apparently, even better human being. He was a personal favorite of mine, and I suppose, of most people who watched him pitch. Although I was a huge fan of the great pitchers of the 1960s (Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, and Marichal) if I were a manager and needed one pitcher to pitch one game for me, I might just pick Seaver over all of them.
RIP, Tom Terrific

60 Games

July 23, 2020

So it’s opening day, is it? I’m supposed to be excited. I’m not. Opening Day is in April, not July. The season is 162 games, not 60. All the teams in the National League are supposed to play all the other teams in the league. What’s wrong with this picture?

Having said all that, there are things I look forward to seeing this season. Here’s a few:

1. Mike Trout has played nine seasons. He needs one game to have 10 seasons in the big leagues. Ten seasons can get you a free trip to Cooperstown. So just one game cements his place in the Hall of Fame. And before you complain about “one game?” I’ll remind you Dizzy Dean played only one game in his first and both his last two seasons. If it’s good enough for “Ole Diz,” it’s good enough for Mike Trout.

2. I want to see how much the short schedule helps older players like Albert Pujols or Clayton Kershaw. Will the shorter season keep them from tiring in the last couple of months of the season or not? I remember Roger Clemens in his last few years, would sit out April and May and start pitching games in mid-season. He seemed to be about as strong in September as in June. Wonder if that will work for others?

3. Speaking of Pujols, this pretty much guarantees he doesn’t get to 700 home runs. He might not have gotten there anyway, but with only 60 games this season and, at most, 162 next, he’s probably going to be short. He should move passed Willie Mays in home runs, and maybe passed him in hits and beyond Alex Rodriguez in RBIs, but he should come up short of Babe Ruth in RBIs and just short of a top 10 spot in hits.

4.  I want to see the DH in both leagues. I like the DH. Nobody goes to a game to see the manager strategize (at least almost nobody) and few pitchers can hit the floor if they fall out of bed. I particularly want to see how National League rosters reconfigure to add in a DH.

5. I think the new man on second to start extra innings rule is gimmicky, but I’ll be interested to see it in action.

So bring on the season, what there is of it. And I’m already practicing my “Wait ’til next year” line if the Dodgers blow it again.

 

Oldies

June 21, 2020

1950s umpire’s attire (from the Brooklyn Public Library collection)

I miss baseball. I miss it a lot. So I’ve turned to new ways to get a “fix” on the game. One of the things I’ve started doing is looking at MLB Network. They are, among other things, running a lot of old games during the day (and occasionally in prime time). Most of these are fairly recent (1980s through 2019), but some go back into the 1960s (game 7  of the 1965 World Series) and some even further. I finally got to watch the complete (sans the first inning) game 5 of the 1956 World Series (Larsen’s perfect game). I’d gotten home from school in time to see the last one or two innings on the television and found out from my grandfather what a “perfect game” was (I’d never heard the term).

The oldest games I’ve run across are games 6 and 7 of the 1952 World Series (Yankees over Dodgers). I’d never seen either, even I’m not old enough to remember them (I was not yet in school when they were played) and we’d only had a radio at the time anyway, so it was interesting to watch them. In doing so, I noticed a number of changes in the way baseball was played in the 1950s from how it’s played today. In no particular order:

1. I noted how high the catcher sat up. Modern catchers are low in the strike zone, but the 1952 catchers (Berra and Campanella) were setting up much higher, especially Campy. Maybe it was the pillow mitt, but it was noticeable.

2. The umpires still wore suits and the small billed cap that has now disappeared (look at the picture of an old umpire shown above to see what I mean). And the home plate umpire still had the outside pillow protector. It really looks odd today.

3. Pitchers seem to pitch longer. In game 6 of 1952, the Dodgers Billy Loes was in trouble late and stayed in to face what would eventually be the critical at bats that cost Brooklyn the game. In today’s game, Loes would have never gotten to the eighth inning.

4. The male fans wore suits and ties and the announcer had to tell them not to hang their jackets over the railing in the outfield. Don’t see that much today (and I’d never heard the announcement about the jackets before).

5. There didn’t seem to be as much stepping out of the batters box as today. Now they’d edited the game for time purposes, so they may have cut out a lot of that, but it certainly seemed less.

6. The main camera was purchased high behind home plate, making it easy to see the pitcher, but difficult to make out the batter’s stance or where the ball hit the mitt when pitched. The center field camera is much better.

7. Not a helmet in sight.

8. You see many more of the outfielders going down on one knee to field a ground ball hit to them. Don’t see that technique much anymore.

9. And it was wonderful to hear Mel Allen and Red Barber call the game (they worked together). If I could put together a Mount Rushmore of play-by-play men, they’d both be there, probably along with Vin Scully and Jack Buck (sorry, Diz, but you’re not in the category).

If you get a chance to take in one of the games, especially one of the 1950s games, do so. Odds are you’ve never seen it and you should. Enjoy.

The Autograph

April 28, 2020

Got his autograph

Back when I was a kid, I, like most people I knew, had a group that I hung around with more than with others. Sam was on the same youth baseball team as I. He played second while I was in center field, then shifted to center when I moved to first base. I led off, he generally hit second. Jon played on one of the other teams, but I got to know him through school and he joined Sam and I on the junior high team. Jim was a guy who played street ball and school yard ball with us. We were a great group. Sam has gone on to whatever afterlife, if any, awaits. Jim I’m still in contact with, and I have no idea what happened to Jon.

One of the things we did was listen to the same nighttime radio station. Where we lived in West Texas the local stations played a lot of music, but shied away from anything too crazy, loud, or risky (this is about 1962, so crazy, loud, and risky is relative). In the evenings we could pick up a radio station in Juarez, Mexico (and after all this time, I don’t remember the call letters) that played crazy, loud, and risky music. So we listened and enjoyed.

It also had the usual assortment of ads. One offered for $5.00 an autographed picture of Jesus Christ. All of us went “What the heck?” OK, we were hooked. We speculated on what it was and came up with some wild ideas but frankly drew a blank. Someone suggested we get it. Well, that was a problem. Five bucks was a lot of money for us. Jim was the rich guy. That meant that his family could park their car in their garage. All of us had a garage, but all of us had the thing so full of junk that we couldn’t park a car in it. Jim’s family was the same way, except they were rich enough to have a two car garage and one bay was open so the car could slide right inside. That was great in a West Texas hail storm.

So we decided to pool our resources (that sounds fancier than just scrounging around for a dollar) and get the genuine autograph of Jesus Christ. Sam, Jon, and I pitched in a buck and rich kid Jim tossed in two to make up the five. As Jim put in the most money, we decided he would get to keep whatever it was we got back.

He went to the post office, picked up a money order and the other three of us watched him address an envelope, stick in the money order and a note saying what he wanted, then watched him drop it in the mail box (I supplied the stamp). Then we waited. I don’t know how long we waited but each evening we’d call to see if the package arrived.

One evening it did. We were over at Jim’s as quick as we could and watched longingly as he opened our magic package. And there it was. It as an 8×10 black and white glossy shoulder shot of a man (that means you saw head and shoulders). He was dark haired, and a big dark moustache. All you could see of his attire was what appeared to be a white tunic of some sort. In the lower right-hand corner were the words “Best wishes, Jesus Christos Ramirez.”

As far as I know, Jim still has the autographed picture of Jesus Christ.

 

“I’m So Lonesome…”

March 26, 2020

Hank Williams (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

I Could Cry.”–Hank Williams

I miss the opening of the baseball season. I really do. I love Opening Day and all the pomp and ceremony that goes with it. I miss the anticipation, the sounds that make it special. I miss it “as heaven would miss the stars above.” (Bob Wills–“Faded Love”)

Usually when baseball stops, or, as in the 1970s, doesn’t start, it’s the fault of the game itself. Labor troubles are a scourge of baseball and they aren’t new (see Players League, 1890). But this isn’t the fault of either the players or the owners. It will pass, as did the other stoppages, and we’ll get back to the game. But until that happens, it’s back to Hank Williams. I feel like a dose of “Cold, Cold Heart.” 

An Anniversary and a Plea

February 13, 2020

Dick Lundy (photo from Baseball Reference.Com)

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the first Negro National League. In 1920, Rube Foster led a group of owners in trying to create order out of the chaos that was black baseball prior to 1920. With the help of others like J. L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs (originally the All Nations) he formed a viable league that would outlast Foster himself (he died in 1928) and fail only with the depths of the Great Depression in 1931. It is a moment we should all salute, particularly in Black History Month.

But I want to point out one more thing. This year will mark the initial vote of the pre-integration veterans committee (what I call the “Geezer Committee”) of the Hall of Fame. They meet once in 10 years and 2020 is that year. There will be a predetermined ballot handed to 16 voters who will then choose people worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. And that ballot (probably of 10 names) should include Negro League players.

In 2006, the Hall of Fame made a major effort to add former Negro Leaguers to the Hall of Fame, and by and large did a good job. But when they were done they closed the door of the Hall to other Negro League players. They never said that, they would probably deny it if asked, but they managed to do it anyway. Ask yourself how many Negro League stars appeared on ballots that covered the period prior to 1947 since 2006. I won’t give it away, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s a number less than one. Effectively, the Hall has said that they are through adding Negro League stars to Cooperstown.

Think about that for a minute. There is no room in the Hall of Fame for “Cannonball” Dick Redding or Dick Lundy or Dick Whitworth (just to stick with the name “Dick”). Maybe you won’t put all of them in (I’d probably leave out Whitworth), but to not consider them at all is just plain silly. And there are others (“Candy” Jim Taylor, Spottswood Poles, Gus Greenlee, Bud Fowler come to mind immediately) who need to be considered; at least considered.

So this is a plea for the Hall of Fame to insure that at least one Negro League stalwart gets on the ballot for the next Hall of Fame election. At least look at them, people.