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Friday, November 21, 2014

Doesn't anyone else see that Obama is Nixon II?

I am more aligned with the President's view on immigration than I am with the Senate's. I think it is closer to a Biblical perspective (which is certainly ironic, with his twisting of what the Bible actually says into his own personal theology).

But I am flabbergasted that Democrats in America consistently heap praise on a president who, time after time, takes actions that echo those of Richard Nixon. The hypocrisy is mind numbing.

Nixon and Obama repeatedly displayed a blatant disregard for the US Constitution and several times exercised executive powers not granted their office.

Heck: they both had Attorney Generals who served their leader's political agendas, rather than carry out the actual duties of their positions. There are numerous similarities, and I don't mean good ones:

Abuse of the IRS to attack enemies, anyone?
Persecution of hostile press? Check.
Claims of executive privilege to shield subordinates from damaging testimony? Yep.

At least Nixon paid the price for his betrayal of his oath of office and was run out of the White House (though with Ford's pardon, he still got off easy, while his loyal underlings went to jail). How can there not be the same accountability for the current president?

Before you start blasting me in comments below, go read a critical book on Nixon's presidency, like Anthony Lukas' 'Nightmare,' Fred Emery's 'Watergate,' Theodore White's 'Breach of Faith' or Stanley Kutler's 'The Abuse of Power.' Then look at the current administration. It's right there.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Baseball Throwback Thursday - Now THAT'S a Trade!

December 8, 1977

The Texas Rangers traded Adrian Devine, Tommy Boggs and Eddie Miller to the Atlanta Braves.

The Atlanta Braves sent Willie Montanez to the New York Mets.

The Texas Rangers sent a player to be named later (see below) and Tom Grieve to the New York Mets.

The Texas Rangers sent Bert Blyleven to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pittsburgh Pirates sent Nelson Norman and Al Oliver to the Texas Rangers.

The New York Mets sent Jon Matlack to the Texas Rangers.

The New York Mets sent John Milner to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Texas Rangers sent Ken Henderson (March 15, 1978) to the New York Mets to complete the trade.

Eleven players, four teams. That's a lotta trading!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Baseball Throwback Thursday - Spahn & Sain and Pray for Rain - The 1948 Boston Braves

Did you know that the Braves didn't start out in Atlanta? That they moved there from Milwaukee? And that they actually began in Boston? Well, that's all true. And in 1948, they had their last hurrah in Beantown.

In 1914, 'The Miracle Braves' of Boston, behind Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville, unexpectedly won the World Series. They finished second the following season. In 1916 and again in 1947, they managed to finish third. From 1917 through 1946, THIRTY consecutive seasons, they finished fourth or worse. And it was usually worse. Twenty three times out of thirty seasons, they finished under .500 (and finished .500 once).

That’s only six winning seasons out of thirty years. Forgot the Red Sox: The Braves fans were the long suffering ones. They broke the century mark in losses five times. And in 1935, the Braves managed an execrable 38-115 record, averaging less than 3,100 fans per game.

In 1946, the team showed signs of life, improving from 67 to 81 wins and nearly tripling attendance. In 1947, they had their best season since 1916, finished third and broke the million mark in attendance for the first time ever. With many fans excited for Braves baseball for the first times in their lives, what would 1948 hold in store?

“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”

Warren Spahn finished serving in World War II and in 1947, his first full season in the majors, won 21 games and led the league in ERA and innings pitched. He would go on to be the winningest left handed pitcher in baseball history.

Johnny Sain returned from his military service and won 20 games in 1946 and 21 more in 1947. Though his career was much less successful than that of Spahn’s, he finished second in the 1948 MVP voting.

The Braves found themselves, surprisingly enough, in a three-way pennant race with the Cardinals and Dodgers as summer wound down in 1948. Those two squads had won six of the seven prior National League pennants.

 As Boston raced to the flag, Boston Post sportswriter Gerald Hearn overheard manager Billy Southworth say, “From here on I will rotate my pitching staff. Spahn one day, Sain the next.”

How fortunate for Hearn that ‘Sain’ and ‘rain’ rhymed! On September 14, the following poem appeared in the Post:

First we'll use Spahn, then we'll use Sain
Then an off day, followed by rain
Back will come
Spahn, followed by Sain
And followed, we hope by two days of rain.

It was paraphrased as “Spahn and Sain, then pray for rain” and is still recognizable to baseball fans today.

The refrain is a bit misleading, though. Sain had a brilliant season, winning a league high 24 games. He would also lead the league in complete games and innings pitched. His ERA was a stellar 2.60. He certainly would have won the Cy Young Award if it existed yet.

But Warren Spahn actually had the worst season of his peak years. He only went 15-12 with a 3.71 ERA. Vern Bickford was 11-5 with a 3.27 ERA and even Bill Voiselle, 13-13 with a 3.63 ERA, was comparable. But Southworth knew he had a tough lefty who had just won 21 games the year before in Spahn. And of course, he would go on to win at least 20 games eleven of the next thirteen seasons.

Spahn and Sain started 74 games in 1948: the rest of the staff combined for 75. But the two started three of the six post season games (Spahn and Sain and somebody else…) as the Braves fell to the Indians.

It was nearly an all Boston World Series, as the Red Sox finished tied atop the AL with the Tribe, but lost a one-game playoff to the Tribe.

1948 was the last hurrah for the Boston Braves, who had joined the National Association in 1871 and moved to the National League in 1876. They would finish under .500 in three of the next four seasons, with attendance plummeting. It was only 281,278 in 1952: down almost one million from just four years before. So, the team packed up and moved to Milwaukee for 1953, drawing a stunning 1.8 million fans (Brooklyn owner Walter O’Malley paid attention to that!). They also got suddenly good, finishing first or second in seven of the next eight seasons.

However, the team struggled from 1961 to 1965, attendance declined and the Braves abandoned Milwaukee after only thirteen seasons, moving to Atlanta. Now they just abandon ballparks in the Atlanta area…

‘Casey at the Bat’ is baseball’s most famous poem. And dedicated fans will recognize ‘Tinkers to Evers to Chance.’ But "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" has certainly endured for close to seven decades.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

This Day In Baseball (Throwback Thursday) History , June 19,1940 - Ducky Medwick Beaned by Cards

The Slide
In 1940, baseball players did not wear batting helmets. Batters stood in there against pitchers throwing ninety-plus miles per hour, putting life and limb at risk. It’s amazing that only one player (Ray Chapman) died from being hit by a major league pitch.

In 1940, Cardinals outfielder Joe ‘Ducky’ Medwick was one of the best players in the game. After averaging .352 over the prior two seasons, he won the coveted triple crown in 1937, going .374 with 31 homers and 154 RBIs. Not surprisingly, he won the MVP award that year.
Landis ejects Medwick
The next year he hit .322 and led the league in doubles and RBIs. For this, he was rewarded with a 20% pay cut (in those days of the Reserve Clause, players took what was offered or had to quit baseball and get a real job). The outfielder voiced his displeasure over this. Medwick, who was generally unpleasant, had gotten into fights with several teammates over the years. But his lack of popularity wasn’t limited to St. Louis.

In Game 7 of the 1934 World Series, Medwick had slid into third base and was spiked by Tiger Marv Owen. Medwick responded by kicking Owen in the stomach with both his spikes and started a brawl. When Medwick took his position in left field, fans threw so much debris (bottles, fruit, rolled up hot dog buns) the game couldn’t be resumed. Commissioner Landis had a confab and ended up removing Medwick from the game (which the Cardinals won handily, surely contributing to the surly disposition of Tigers fans).
Joe Medwick was disliked by teammates, other players and fans. And since he was vocally unhappy with Cardinals owner Sam Breadon over his salary, he had an enemy at the top. Breadon had a low tolerance level for players he considered malcontents. Especially when it involved ungrateful attitudes towards their salaries.

Medwick, Durocher and Davis
On June 12, 1940, he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers along with pitcher Curt Davis. However, his problems with the Cardinals were about to get worse. On the morning of June 18, Medwick along with manager Leo Durocher, had a verbal confrontation in a hotel elevator with his ex-teammate, pitcher Bob Bowman, who yelled. “I’ll take care of you! I’ll take care of both of you!”
The following day, the first three Dodger batters got hits (two of them already scoring). Bowman then beaned Medwick in the temple and sent him to the hospital on a stretcher. Leo Durocher had to be restrained while team President Larry MacPhail went after Bowman and reportedly challenged the Cardinals bench to a fight.

That's Bowman on the left.
The pitcher was removed from the game and escorted by police back to the team’s hotel. Medwick (who had a concussion but no skull fracture) tried to get out of bed to go after Bowman but was kept in the hospital.

MacPhail fruitlessly tried to have National League President Ford Frick ban Bowman for life. The Old Redhead, known for his emotional responses to, well, just about everything, also attempted to have Bowman arrested for assault. The Brooklyn district attorney investigated the affair and found no evidence of criminal intent on the pitcher’s part.

Medwick, who was expected to miss three weeks, was back in the lineup in one. Players were rushed back from injuries as a matter of habit (wrecking several promising careers over the years).
Though he helped the Daffiness Boys to their first World Series in over two decades in 1941, Ducky Medwick was never the same after being hit by that pitch. Before being traded to the Dodgers, he had hit .336 in his Cardinals career, leading the league in runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBIs or batting average a total of twelve times. He would never lead the league in any category again after The Pitch.

He hit .300, .318 and .300 for Brooklyn from 1940 through 1942: Which wasn’t bad, but certainly not up to his pre-beaning levels. He was batting only .272 when he was traded to the New York Giants during the 1943 season. Medwick was still a good hitter, but he was nowhere near one of the best players in the game. He had a brief return to form in 1944, hitting .323 for the Giants, but he would never again play in 100 games and after the Cards released him in 1948, he spent three years in the low minors as a manager-player.

Reportedly, upon his retirement, an ex-teammate said, “When he dies, half the National League will go to his wake just to make sure that son-of-a-bitch is dead.”

Likely due to Medwick’s brusque (read: rude) attitude towards reporters, he had to wait twenty years to be voted into the Hall of Fame, getting the nod from the Veteran’s Committee in 1968.  He was certainly deserving of the honor, even if pretty much nobody liked him during his career.

Medwick visited the Vatican with a group of servicemen during World War II. The Pope asked each man his vocation in civilian life. Medwick replied, “Your holiness, I’m Joseph Medwick. I, too, used to be a Cardinal.”
BATTING HELMETS – Ray Chapman was killed by a Joe Sewell pitch in 1920. In 1941, Larry MacPhail had his Dodgers wear the first batting helmets in a game. They were essentially the normal cloth caps with a hard liner. Major League Baseball did not make batting helmets mandatory until 1971, though some players were granted a grandfather clause and could continue using the caps with liners. Ear flaps were made mandatory in 1983, but players who had been using flapless helmets were allowed to continue batting without them. Beanings suffered by Medwick, teammate Pee Wee Reese and ‘Pistol’ Pete Reiser resulted in the Dodgers leading baseball to protecting their players with batting helmets.

Pete Reiser after getting beaned

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Baseball Throwback Thursday - Rudy Meoli

Rudolph Bartholomew Meoli (Mee-oh-lee) graduated from Royal Oak High School in Covina, CA in 1969. He was the fifth player taken in the fourth round of that 1969 June Amateur Draft. Other players taken in that round include fellow infielders Pete Mackanin and Bill Stein, who would appear in over 1,500 major league games combined.

The eighteen year-old Meoli, a shortstop, would start out in rookie ball that summer and work his way up to the Angel’s AAA team in Salt Lake City in 1972 (he appeared in 7 games with the Angels in 1971 as a late season call up). He played in 128 games, hitting .265. The prior year in AA he stole 19 bases, so he did have a little speed.
The Angels had traded six-time all-star starter Jim Fregosi to the Mets before the 1972 season. Veteran Leo Cardenas handled the position in 1972 but he was winding down his sixteen-year major league career. Meoli was handed the job in April of 1973 when Cardenas was traded to Cleveland for two minor leaguers.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t hold onto it. In 120 games, which also included a few starts at second and third, Meoli hit only .223 and made 27 errors. In 1974, second-year man Dave Chalk took over at short and made the All Star team. Meoli spent most of the season back at Salt Lake City (hitting .308!) while appearing in 36 games for the Angels, primarily as a defensive replacement. He did hit a career high .244.

In 1975, Meoli did spend the entire season with the Angels. However, he hit only .214 in 143 at-bats while Chalk was an All Star reserve again. Meoli’s window had closed. In September, the Angels traded former super prospect Bobby Valentine (yes, the manager and announcer) and the ubiquitous “player to be named later” to San Diego for Gary Ross. Gary. Ross. In November, Meoli became the latest player to be named later.
It was a short stay in southern California, as he was shipped to Cincinnati in April of 1976 for outfielder Merv Rettenmund (Rettenmund had a charmed career, appearing in the post season six out of ten years).

The defending world champs had perennial all-star Dave Concepcion. Meoli may have hoped to land a utility infielder role with the team, but he failed to supplant Doug Flynn and was the starting shortstop at AAA Indianapolis in 1976 and at second in 1977. He hit .274 over the two years (Meoli was a career .281 hitter in the minors. He just could not handle major league pitching).
Still only 27 years old, the Cubs purchased him at the end of 1977. Steve Ontiveros was the Cubs’ starting third baseman and Meoli was one of a half-dozen backups who saw time at the position in ’78. He hit only .103 in 35 at bats, faring better at AAA Wichita, where he hit .293. The Cubs released him outright after the season ended.

The Phillies brought him to spring training in 1979. He started twelve games at short and ten at second. However, he hit only .178 in his last shot at the majors. He appeared in 20 games at AAA Oklahoma City when he was purchased by the Minnesota Twins: who promptly assigned him to AAA Toledo. He got in 51 games (hitting .265) before the season ended. And he was released.
The San Francisco Giants signed him in March of 1980 and released him three weeks later. His career was over. His nomadic days of playing baseball were done. During his last two seasons, as he tried to keep his career alive, Meoli played for Chicago, Wichita, Toledo, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City. That’s five cities, in five states, in three different leagues. Professional baseball isn’t all glamour.

Rudy Meoli played six years in the majors, appearing in 310 games and batting  .212 with 2 homers and 10 stolen bases. And 48 errors (a .942 fielding average).  

But you know what: he was on the field for three of Nolan Ryan’s four no-hitters. And he saved one of them. Ryan’s first no hitter was on May 5, 1973, against the Kansas City Royals. In the bottom of the eighth, pinch hitter Gail Hopkins hit a looper into shallow left. Meoli turned his back to the plate and sprinted into shallow left field and made an over-the-shoulder catch. It was the closest the Royals got to a hit all day.

When we give our best, even if we aren’t superstars, good things result.
Why did I decide to write about the non-descript Rudy Meoli? Because I’ve got his 1975 Topps card and I’ve always liked that one. Sadly, popping the ball straight up in the air typifies his batting career.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

RIP Bob Welch - For One Moment...

Bob Welch has passed away from an apparent heart attack. Welch won the Cy Young with 27 wins for Oakland in 1990. No pitcher has won more than 24 games since then.

He struggled with alcoholism during his career, which was unknown until he wrote a book about it in 1981. Obviously, he overcame it.

 But if you're of an age, what stands out was his classic showdown with Reggie Jackson in Game Two of the 1978 World Series. The hard throwing rookie vs. the game's biggest star. It was the kind of moment that makes the World Series The Fall Classic.

 The Confrontation:

As this article tells, Reggie got even in Game Six (that shot almost went to the moon!), but oh, it was a scintillating nine-pitch at bat in Game Two.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

This Day in Baseball History (June 8, 1961) - MacPhail's Reds Fly

'The Reds becomes the first team to travel in an airplane when Cincinnati GM Larry MacPhail flies 19 of his players to Chicago for a series against the Cubs. In 1946, New York will be the first team to fly on a regular basis, using a chartered a Douglas DC-4, that will become known as the 'Yankee Mainliner'.'

Larry MacPhail was a great baseball innovator. Along with introducing air travel (which opened America up to expansion), he brought night baseball to the major leagues (also in Cincy). He also began broadcasting Dodger games on radio, breaking a pre-existing agreement with the Giants and Yankees to not do so, fearing people would stop coming to the ballpark.

Initially a lawyer here in Columbus, OH who became owner and President of the AAA Red Birds, MacPhail went from Cincinnati to Brooklyn and converted the pathetic Daffiness Boys into a World Series squad.

MacPhail is (rightfully) in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame announcer Red Barber's book, "1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball" is primarily about the relationship (and feud) between MacPhail and Branch Rickey during Jackie Robinson's rookie season. Here's my review of that one.

This Day in Baseball History (June 8, 1961) - Lew Krausse Signs with A's

'The A's sign Lew Krausse, who hurled 19 no-hitters and struck out 24 batters in one game on the scholastic level, as an amateur free agent the day after he graduates from high school for $125,000. Eight days from now, the 18 year-old fireballing phenom will throw a three-hit shutout against L.A. in his major league debut.'

Krausse was a sixties version of David Clyde (What? Never heard of him! There's a future post). Krausse proved over matched by major league hitters, was banished to the bullpen and then the minors. It was 1966 before he would stick in the majors.

He never lived up to expectations, playing with five teams over twelve years and compiling a record of 68-91 with an ERA of 4.00. Being trotted out to a major league mound at age 18, combined with surgery the next year surely played large parts in his mediocre career.

SABR's excellent biography of Krausse can be found at the link.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Don Newcombe - Almost a Hall of Famer?

The Dodgers and Yankees met in the World Series in 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956. Brooklyn managed to win only the 1955 match up. The greatest advantage that the Yankees had was their starting pitching. Whether it was Eddie Lopat, Allie Reynolds, Whitey Ford, Bob Kuzava or Don Larsen, the Bronx Bombers always seemed to come up with somebody in big moments (if not for Cookie Lavagetto, Bill Bevens would be included on that list).

During this era, Don Newcombe rose above the other Dodger would-be aces, such as Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca and Johnny Podres (though the latter certainly carried the flag in the 1955 Series). Big Newk missed the 1952 and 1953 seasons, as he was serving his country, fighting in Korea. And his 1954 season was a poor one: it took him a year to get back to form after being released from service.

But in 1949-1951 and  1955-1956, Newcombe went a combined 103-40, with 92 complete games. Those are some impressive numbers for the 1949 Rookie of the Year.

However, he got a reputation as a choker in big games. He went all ten innings against the Phillies on the final day of the 1950 season, with the Dodgers needing a win to force a playoff. But he gave up a three run homer to Dick Sisler in the top of the tenth in the season-ending 4-1 loss (which would have been a win if third base coach Milt Stock had simply held Cal Abrams at third in the bottom of the ninth).

He carried a 4-1 lead into the ninth inning of that famous game three playoff against the Giants in 1951. But he couldn't hold on and he had been relieved by Ralph Branca when Bobby Thomson hit the home run heard round the world.

And in three World Series', he just couldn't get the job done for the Dodgers. He started 5 games, going 0-4 with an ERA of 8.59 and lasting about 4 innings a start.

Yogi Berra hit a pair of two-run
homers off Newcombe in
Game 7 in 1956
In 1956, he won the (very first) Cy Young Award and the NL MVP, going 27-7. But in the World Series he couldn't make it out of the second inning of game two or the fourth in game seven. And he climbed into the bottle after that World Series. His career was effectively done, as he went a combined 37-42 in the four years after that Cy Young season. He spent 1961 in the minors and quit the game.

A Trail Blazer

Newcombe was one of the first black players signed by the Dodgers. He and Roy Campanella played with Nashua of the New England League (B) in 1946 and 1947. Newcombe was dominant, going 33-10 with an ERA well under 3.  He probably would have played in AA ball in 1947 but the Dodgers' two AA teams were in the south and not yet ready to be integrated.

In 1948 he went 17-6 at AAA Montreal and got called up to the Dodgers early in 1949. He was the second black pitcher in the major leagues and the first good one (Dan Bankhead pitched in four games for the Dodgers in 1947).

Close to Cooperstown

Newcombe lost a season or two to baseball's color barrier.

And he lost nearly three peak seasons to the Korean War.

Finally, had Newcombe pitched better in the World Series (especially in 1956), he might well have continued on as one of the NL's top pitchers instead of spiraling into alcoholism.

The third factor was certainly within his control. But if the last two had been a bit different, Don Newcombe might well be in the Hall of Fame today.

He and Justin Verlander are the only players to win the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP awards.
Four pioneers: Roy Campanella, Larry Doby,
Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson at the 1949 All Star Game

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Greatest Pitcher You Never Heard Of

Twenty-year old Karl Spooner joined the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Class D farm club in Hornell of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York (PONY) League in 1951 He went 10-12 with an ERA of 4.18

By 1954, he had moved up through the C, B and A leagues and started the season with AA Fort Worth in the Texas League. Spooner walked nearly as many as he struck out, but he could dominate, as evidenced by a no-hitter in 1953.

He brought to mind Rex Barney, a young Dodgers fire baller from the previous decade whose fastball was compared to Walter Johnson’s, But Barney had major control issues. Sportswriter Bob Cooke said, “Rex Barney though that the plate was high and outside.” Spooner’s control compared favorably with Barney’s.

Spooner went a stellar 21-9, with a 3.14 ERA at Ft. Worth. He struck out 10 per nine innings, but also walked 6 per.  

He got a late season call up to the Dodgers. Manager Walter Alston had no intention of using Spooner, but changed his mind and sent him to the mound on September 22 to take on the Giants, who had clinched the pennant the prior game, ending the Dodgers’ hopes of a third consecutive World Series appearance.

In front of only 3,256 Ebbets Field faithful, Spooner took on 21-6 Johnny Antonelli. With Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Monte Irvin in the lineup, Karl Spooner had one of the greatest debuts in major league history.

Going the distance, Spooner scattered 3 hits and 3 walks while striking out 15 batters! And 2 of the walks and 1 hit came in the first inning. Spooner would destroy the Giants over the final 8 innings. The final two outs of the game were strikeouts. And he even scored a run himself!

A twenty-three year old who had never even pitched in AAA dominated the Giants, who would win the World Series in just a few weeks. It’s hard to imagine a more impressive start to a major league career.

The final game of the season saw the last place Pirates come to Ebbets Field on September 26. With only three days rest, Spooner was given the ball again. The hapless Pirates were 38 games behind the second place Dodgers. 9,344 showed up to see Spooner: nearly three times as many as for his first outing.

The Pirates had a couple good hitters: slugger Frank Thomas and Sid Gordon. But this was a weak lineup on a team that would lose 101 games. Still, Spooner had pitched only one game above AA and likely had just caught lightning in a bottle against the Giants. He would surely struggle in his second major league start. Nope.

Another complete game shut out: 4 hits, 3 walks, 12 strikeouts. Gil Hodges’ home run in the seventh provided all the scoring in the 1-0 win.

Karl Spooner appeared in two games in the final week of 1954. He tossed two complete game shutouts, giving up 7 hits, 6 walks and striking out 27 batters. After spending the season in AA ball! Only Hall of Famer Bob Feller had ever struck out more batters in back-to-back games (28).

Brooklyn fans were always waiting for that superstar pitcher who would carry them to World Series success. Don Newcombe, Ralph Branca, Carl Erskine, Rex Barney: the applicants were many but there was no Sandy Koufax (actually, there was, but he just wasn’t any good until a few years later in Los Angeles). Karl Spooner was going to be the one.

Except, he would pitch his last major league game barely one year later. On March 9, 1955, in spring training, Spooner was rushed into a game one inning earlier than he was scheduled to pitch. He hurried his warm-ups and something popped in his shoulder as he threw a curve ball. He kept pitching. The season would be a month old before Spooner and his sore shoulder would take to the mound in a real game.
But the magic was gone.  He was shelled in his first start in May and again in his second. In 1955, Spooner would appear in 29 games, starting 14 of them. He went 8-6 with an ERA of 3.65. Walter Alston turned to him to start game six of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. There was no fairy tale finish: 3 hits, 2 walks and 5 earned runs in one-third of inning. The last pitch he threw in the majors was a home run ball to Bill Skowron.

Spooner would appear in 39 minor league games over the next three seasons, with an unsuccessful surgery in 1957. Once a superstar in the making, he hung up his spikes at age 26. His meteoric rise was equaled by his abrupt fall. He died in 1984 at the age of 52.

Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella said, “The pitcher who was absolutely the fastest I ever caught was Karl Spooner. Nobody ever threw harder than that kid did in those first two games he pitched in the majors.”

Unexpectedly, for two wonderful days in the final week of the 1954 season, as the faithful said, “We shoulda had Spoona soona!” Karl Spooner was the greatest pitcher in Brooklyn Dodger history.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

RIP DON ZIMMER - He'll always be a Bum (that's a compliment)

Classy guy, that Pedro
Don Zimmer passed away. Most folks know Zim from his days as a Yankees coach under Joe Torre as a Bug-eyed, giant wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek. And for Pedro Martinez tossing him to the ground during a Yankees – Red Sox brawl (I never liked Martinez). But Zimmer began his career as a member of 'Dem Bums' - those beloved Dodgers of Brooklyn.

Zimmer was a power hitting shortstop who signed with the Dodgers at 18. In 1953, twenty-two years old and just one step away from the majors, Zimmer was hit in the head with a pitch while playing for the AAA St. Paul Millers. It was thirteen days before he regained total consciousness and they had drilled holes in his head to relieve the swelling. It looked like his career was done.

But Zimmer was a fighter and he actually worked his way up to Brooklyn late in the 1954 season. Jackie Robinson, whose legs were starting to give out, was moved to third base and rookie Jim Gilliam took over at second base for the 1955 season. Zimmer made the team out of spring training and appeared in 88 games, playing at both second and third. He hit 15 homers as the team's power threat off of the bench. Brooklyn brought home its only World Series title in 1955. 1955 was Next Year (if you don’t get that reference, please go read a book on the history of the Dodgers. Or even the Yankees).

Check out the guns on
young Zim!
The next season, he took a pitch to the face, shattering his cheekbone. But Zimmer recovered and moved west with the Dodgers in 1958. He spent 12 seasons in the majors, playing with five different teams. He managed 13 years for three different teams (plus he was an interim manager for the Yankees once). He helmed the Red Sox when Bucky Dent went deep on Mike Torrez in the 1978 playoff game. And he led the hapless Cubs to the 1989 NL Championship Series (losing to the Giants in 5 games).
His long tenure with the Yankees came to an end because he was tired of seeing how George Steinbrenner treated people. He was working as special assistant with the Tampa Bay Rays at the time of his death.

I heard this morning that Zimmer never earned a paycheck for anything not related to baseball. Meaning he spent his entire working life as part of the game. That's pretty cool.
If you're listening to comments about Zimmer on sports radio today, there's nary a bad word said about the man. RIP Zim!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bob's Books - 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball by Red Barber

Barber and Robinson
Red Barber is a Hall of Fame baseball announcer who was broadcasting for the Brooklyn Dodgers during Jackie Robinson’s rookie year. From reading the cover and the dust jacket, you would think that 1947 – When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball was about Robinson. But it’s actually not.

To be sure, there’s much about the man who broke baseball’s color barrier. But this book is really about the relationship between Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Dodgers and Larry MacPhail, part owner and essentially GM of the Yankees; and their teams, which squared off in the World Series.

The two men had a long history; first as friends, and by the end of 1947, as enemies. Rickey and MacPhail were great baseball men who had dramatic, lasting impacts on the game. For example, Rickey invented the minor league farm system, while MacPhail created night baseball. This book, in looking at the 1947 pennant races, tells their story.

Any Dodgers or Yankees fan interested in the 1947 editions of their teams will enjoy this book. And of course, followers of Jackie Robinson will be interested in hearing from the man who broadcast Dodgers games that year.

MacPhail and Rickey in happier days
At least as early as 1943, Branch Rickey began preparing the way for adding a black man to the Dodgers roster. A committee, headed by Larry MacPhail, was appointed by Major League Baseball to look into the issue of signing Negro players to contracts. The group voted 15-1 against the idea. Branch Rickey, the lone dissenter, stormed out and knew that he would be going it alone. MacPhail reportedly was angry with his former mentor for defying the group.

Days before the first game of 1947, Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher for the season. Not only was it a blow to the Dodgers, who had finished two games behind the Cardinals in 1946, it was also a monkey wrench in Rickey’s plans for integrating baseball. For he was ready to install Jackie Robinson at first base for the Dodgers and he knew that the fiery Durocher would battle on Jackie’s behalf. And Larry MacPhail played a huge part in Leo’s suspension.

Barber takes us through that historic season, with Rickey and MacPhail usually at the center of the action. And they remain there to the last few pages. Barber also provides a look at the world of radio broadcasting in those days before television dominated the airwaves. In our modern era of ESPN highlights and digital channels, it’s like the Stone Age.

I find 1947 to be one of the most fascinating seasons in baseball history and this is a good accounting of it. However if you want a Robinson-centric look, this isn’t your best bet.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bob's Books - Branch Rickey by Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin has written a short, rather pithy biography of Branch Rickey. It’s sort of a wikipedia of Ricky bios. He feels the need to bring Barak Obama up in the very first paragraph. Which is rather amusing, since Rickey was a life-long Republican and Jackie Robinson supported Richard Nixon. Later in the prologue he gives you a list of the only Rickey books he considers worthwhile.

He seems determined to give you an, “aw shucks” approach to Rickey’s life; as if you were sitting on the front porch having a chat. Factually, I think he did pretty well, since he drew on a couple of the books on his approved list for his tome.

No book is expected to be error-free. But I sat up straight when I read Breslin’s statement that Jackie Robinson played in his first World Series in 1952. Any junior Robinson fan knows that he led the Dodgers to the Series in his rookie season of 1947, and most know that the team was back in 1949. Minimal research would have prevented this error.

Other than being a lot shorter than other Rickey bios, I don’t see why this was written. In the past month I’ve learned more about Branch Rickey (and the Robinson part of his tale) from books by Red Barber, Arthur Mann and Harvey Frommer. Breslin’s book absolutely isn’t worth the cover price (I bought it used). I can’t imagine using it as a resource in the future.

Jackie Robinson is my idol. And naturally, I hold Branch Rickey in great regard. There aren’t a lot of Rickey books out there, but the others are better than this one. And many of the Robinson books are more informative about Rickey than this one as well.

I've now read two books by Jimmy Breslin and wasn't impressed with either of them.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Uncool Dodgers during the 1994 MLB Strike - Bob Costas Tells it Like it Is

In early August of 1994, major league baseball players went on strike, which resulted in the cancellation of the rest of the season and of the World Series. They remained on strike as spring raining began and some minor league players came to camp as replacement players. One such player was Mike Busch of the Dodgers system. The strike ended the week before opening day and all the regular players returned. Busch did not play a regular season game as a replacement player.

On August 29, with the Dodgers barely hanging on to first place, GM Fred Claire called Bush up from AAA. When Busch got to the clubhouse, the players told him to leave and voted to return him to the minors. Claire refused to buckle so they refused to play catch with him before the game and refused to take batting practice with him. When he took infield practice at third base, there was no one standing at first base for him to throw to. No one got in Busch's face, however, as he was 6'5", 220 pounds and had played college football.

I still remember Brett Butler, my favorite Dodger, sounding like a complete jerk as the Player Rep for the Union. I really liked what Bob Costas had to say about the situation when interviewed years later for the book True Blue by Steve Delsohn:

I think it's an indication of how totally lacking in perspective the Players Association has become and the payer as a group are. If your team acquires a felon, here are guys who, literally, say, "Hey, it's okay with us. Everyone deserves a second chance. As long as he can help us, we're happy to have him n the clubhouse."
 These are guys who happily dress next to multiple-time drug offenders. Next to some of the biggest horse's asses who've ever walked the earth in any walk of life. Next to guys who have beaten their wives, showed up late, and tanked on their team in big games. I'm not saying these guys are universally popular, but you don't hear anyone publicly condemning them.
 But the single greatest pariah is a replacement player. "We couldn't possibly play catch before a game with a replacement player. We'd sooner come in proximity with Typhoid Mary." I mean, this is so intellectually bankrupt that it's a joke. My God, a replacement player! Oh, the most odious of individuals. And hey, you know, we'd love to have Albert Belle. We have no problem with Albret Belle. But my God, do we have to hang around with Mike Busch?
Albert (don't call me Joey) Belle
was sort of Manny before
Manny was being Manny
You go Bob!

Butler and the other vocal Dodgers eventually publicly (and insincerely) kissed and made up with Busch because they were getting hammered by the public and some of the press. Butler was getting booed at home.

I remember sitting in the back of an Ohio Legislative subcomittee as Eddie Murray and Kenny Lofton of the Indians testified during that same strike. And the legislators fawned all over them, practically knocking each other out of the way to kiss their behinds. I was a big Eddie Murray fan before that, but not after. These guys, who made over a million dollars a year, at a job every little boy dreams of, not only didn't want to show up for work, they wanted to punish anybody else who did.

Darryl Strawberry? Sure! But
not that horrible Mike Busch
Busch, who had a wife and newborn daughter, had 105 plate appearances over the 1995 and 1996 seasons for the Dodgers, hitting .220 with 7 homers. He made about as much money for that 1995 spring training as he would for an entire season in AAA.

Brett Butler was crossed off my list of favorite Dodgers in 1995.

Bob's Books - True Blue by Steve Delsohn

Several years ago, I read Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidency by Gerald & Deborah Hart Strober. The book was broken down into different topics and included comments from various people on those topics. They interviewed nearly a hundred people who had insights on various parts of Nixon’s Presidency. And it’s a fascinating inside look. I found it an excellent approach.

Steve Delsohn’s True Blue (subtitled The Dramatic History of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Told by the Men Who Lived It) is just such a book. After a chapter discussing the end of the days in Brooklyn, he looks at every Dodger season in Los Angeles, through 2000. And he interviewed over 100 persons, including scores of former players and coaches, to tell the story.

This is unlike any other Dodger history book on my shelves. Hear Stan Williams talk about Leo Durocher’s backstabbing of Walter Alston in 1962. Read the behind the scenes feelings that led to the famed Don Sutton-Steve Garvey fight. Get inside the clubhouse for Kirk Gibson’s team transformation in 1988.

I’ve always considered Juan Marichal a thug for hitting Johnny Roseboro in the head with a bat. But after reading Roseboro’s comments, I realize the catcher sort of brought the situation on (which his wife has said he admitted to).

Frank Howard, Rick Monday, Tommy Davis, Dave Lopes, Brett Butler, Ron Fairly, Kevin Kennedy: the guys who were there, on the field, in the dugout and up in the front office all tell you just like it was. I’m surprised there aren’t more books out there like this. An excellent read about the Los Angeles Dodgers