Posts Tagged ‘Paul Blair’

Sometimes You Just Gotta Take the Money

January 3, 2013
Brooks Robinson in the field

Brooks Robinson in the field

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been conned a few times, usually for something like who drives or who buys the beer. And I’m also basically an honest type so I don’t do a lot of that kind of thing myself. But sometimes you just got to take the money.

Way back in 1970 I was in the US Army and stationed in Germany. It was October and my interest turned to the World Series. For those of you too young to remember, that’s the Series that cemented Brooks Robinson’s reputation as the greatest gloveman of all time among third basemen. He won the Series MVP and the Baltimore Orioles rolled over the Cincinnati Reds to post Earl Weaver’s only World Series victory. And every bit as important for my purposes is that the Series was still played in the afternoon. That meant that I got to listen to it during the overnight period (I worked the graveyard shift), then could go to the enlisted  club and watch the tape-delay game in the afternoon without having to worry about who was going to win. I could just watch and enjoy the great (and not-so-great) plays.

But we had this guy, he was fairly new, who just simply didn’t understand what was going on. He never quite understood that the game had been played the previous night (our time) and that if you listened to AFN (Armed Forces Network) radio you already knew the score. It just never seemed to make sense that if you were watching a game being played in the daytime, it just couldn’t be daytime where we were.

With the Orioles up three games to none, a bunch of us sat down to watch game four.  The dolt mentioned above was one of them. He began by telling us “his” Orioles were going to sweep. I told him Cincy was going to win game four. He told me I was crazy. I told him the score was going to be 6-5 (I looked the score up on Retrosheet a few minutes ago). He laughed, informing me that Palmer was going to close out the Series.

“No, he isn’t.” (All conversations cleaned up from GI English and after 40 years, approximated.)

“Sure he is. Wanna bet?”

“Why not? Five bucks?” OK, so I’m a jerk, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself. Let’s face it, when someone is being that willfully stupid you just gotta take the money.

“Deal. Two to one.”

“OK by me.”

So I handed a five to the bartender, he gave the bartender a ten, and the rest of the guys at the table snickered. Well, sure enough the Reds won 6-5 and I picked up an easy ten dollars. The other guy was  stunned. We tried to explain to him about tape-delays and listening to the game in the middle of the night, but it just didn’t sink in.

The next night, Baltimore wrapped up the Series, Brooks Robinson was named MVP, and we all met in the afternoon to watch the crowning. Of course the guy was there, ready to put up money again that this time Baltimore would win it all.

“No bet, slick, because you’re right, the Orioles are going to win (9-3 according to Retrosheet). By the way (we wouldn’t have dared to say “BTW” back then), Brooks Robinson was the MVP.”

It seems he didn’t understand the nature of the past tense meant by the word “was”.

“That makes sense, but I’m not sure it won’t go to Blair (Paul).”

“Trust me, Robinson wins.”

Here came the deathless line again, “Wanna bet?”

Well, now I’ve got this terrible dilemma. What do I do? I’ve taken the poor fool’s money once. Do I do it again? You know the answer, don’t you?

“Sure. Five bucks again?”

“Deal, but no two to one.”

“Fine by me.”

So the bartender got two fives and we waited. The O’s won, Robinson was MVP and I was fifteen total dollars richer. I don’t know that he ever figured out how the turning of the Earth and tape-delay worked. I had a few months left and he had a couple of years to go. I was gone before the Super Bowl, but, geez, I wish I coulda got a bet down with him.

Clank

March 23, 2011

This is not a pretty story. It is the story of a good player, a player who was, in his time, one of the best at his position. For the most part his teammates liked him. He was well-respected. Then he made an error, actually three of them, and he went to his grave known among a lot of fans for one inning of one game. Unfortunately for Willie Davis it was a World Series game.

In 1961 Davis became the regular center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was no Duke Snider, but he was pretty good. More known for his glove than his bat, he roamed the outfield with LA through 1973. He made some errors, but had great range. He led the league in putouts once and was in the top three in assists twice. He hit well enough to bat second for much of his career, had little power, but good speed and was perfect for hitting behind Maury Wills. He helped the Dodgers to World Series wins in 1963 and 1965.

In 1966 the Dodgers got back to the World Series, playing Hank Bauer’s Baltimore Orioles. They lost game one, but with Sandy Koufax on the mound for game two, there was a reasonable chance at evening the Series. Through four innings neither team scored, then Boog Powell led off the fifth with a single. After a foul out, Paul Blair lifted a fly to center. The next sound you heard was “clank.” That’s the sound of a baseball hitting an iron glove. Davis lost the ball in the sun, couldn’t get good leather on it and the ball dropped in for a two-base error, Powell heading to third. So far, no harm. That brought up Andy Etchebarren who hit another fly to center. “Clank.” Davis dropped it, Powell scored. Then to compound the error, Davis picked up the ball and tossed it toward third base. It sailed. No, it didn’t sail, it flew. It flew all the way across the Milky Way. No one was going to catch it and Blair trotted home with Etchebarren to third. After a second out, Luis Aparicio hit a clean double to end the scoring with three unearned runs. The Orioles scored one more run off Koufax and another later in the game while the Dodgers were shut out by Jim Palmer. The team never recovered from the three consecutive errors and were swept in the Series. The three errors on two hit balls is still a World Series record. For your information, Davis had one more play in the game. He recorded the out.

Davis went on to have several more fine years in LA, hitting over .300 a couple of times after they lowered the mound, but he was always known for the errors. Koufax never blamed him, neither did the team. The fans were another story. By the end, many forgot it because he was too good a player to hold it against him forever and as luck would have it the game was Koufax’s last (and became much more famous for that than for Davis’ clanking). But others never forgot and there were some “boo”-birds in the stands on old-timers day.  When he died in 2010, it came up, but wasn’t the centerpiece of most of the articles about him. I guess that’s all Davis might have asked.

Willie Davis

The Center Fielders

March 11, 2011

The loss of Duke Snider and a spring training have gotten me to thinking about one of baseball’s glamour positions, center field. So for the next short while I’m going to turn to the position on this site. Some posts will be my standard bios with commentary, others will be on different issues.

Did you ever notice just how many really good center fielders there were? I didn’t say “great”, I said “really good.”  Jim Edmonds is one of those. He just retired and I have to admit I loved watching him play. It wasn’t his hitting that I enjoyed, although it was pretty good too, but it was his play in the field. It seem like the guy could catch everything, no matter how far he had to run or how far he had to stretch out. Torii Hunter is another of those that I simply love to watch field. I’ve been known to offer up a prayer to the effect of “Let someone hit a shot to center just so the world can see Edmonds  (or Hunter) go get it.” Sometimes it gets answered.

Those kinds of guys have existed for a long time. I remember the 1966 World Series pitted Paul Blair against Willie Davis, two truly fine enter fielders of the era. The Series turned on pitching (and three errors on two consecutive plays by Davis) but both were tremendous in the field (Ok, not Davis in game 2). In 1941 Joe DiMaggio faced off against Pete Reiser. In 1927 it was Earle Combs against Lloyd Waner. I could go further back.

But you know what? There aren’t really a lot of great center fielders. Now I suppose we’ll all have different definitions of “great” and that’s part of the joy of baseball. But to make a partial point about it, take a look at the last 30 years of Hall of Fame voting (1981-2010). In 1980 Duke Snider got in. In the 30 years since there have been only two or, depending on where you put Robin Yount and Andre Dawson, three or four center fielders make the Hall. The only two sure center fielders are Richie Ashburn in 1995 by the veteran’s committee and Kirby Puckett by the writers in 2001. To me Yount is a shortstop and Dawson plays right, but others may disagree.  Considering how many quality center fielders there have been in the last 30 years, that’s not a lot being defined as “great.”

Take a minute, sit down, and draw up your own list of the five greatest center fielders ever, leaving out 19th Century and Negro League players and concentrating on the players since 1901. Here’s mine alphabetically: Cobb, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, Speaker. Yours may vary and that’s not the point. I’ll bet it didn’t take long to come up with the list, did it? Now go to 10. See if it doesn’t get really harder as you get toward nine and ten (passing Griffey, Puckett, and Snider as examples). Mine did. And by 15 I was beginning to list guys like Edmonds and Hunter who I knew weren’t “great.”

This problem isn’t unique. Try it with first basemen or third basemen or left fielders. You get the same results. There are a few truly amazing players, then an entire truckload of very good ones.  But I want to stick with center fielders for a few days.