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Archive for January, 2009

REVIEW: PRIDE AND PINSTRIPES MEL STOTTLEMYRE

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 11, 2009

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PRIDE AND PINSTRIPES, The Yankees, Mets, and surviving life’s challenges.  By Mel Stottlemyre with John Harper.   Harper, 2007. 269 pages.

 

 

Mel’s baseball journey broaches three baseball dynasties:  one that was ending (’64 Yankees), one that should have happened but did not (the 1980’s Mets), and one that did come to full fruition (the Jeter era Yankees.).

 

The portrait he paints of what the Mets could have been and should have been alone makes the book worth reading.

 

*************

 

Stottlemyre doesn’t waste anytime painting George Steinbrenner as a meddling, former Assistant Football Coach (Northwestern 1955, Purdue 1956) who secretly believes the Yankees “….should win all 162 games in a season, or at least come close, the way a powerhouse football team might go 11-1 in college, or say 14-2 in the NFL.”

 

Stot dances right up to the cutting edge of brutal, fire-breathing honesty about George.  Then, so as not to totally offend, he backs off, softens his stance, and points out that George has a good side. 

 

Then he points out that the good side only comes out when things are generally going George’s way. 

 

The hatred burns quietly.

 

Mel joins the late Bobby Murcer in having written a recent memoir that reveals Steinbrenner as a Baseball amateur who attracts talent with his millions, and drives talent away with his personality.  

 

It appears that George has no loyalty to his team.  His true loyalty is to burnishing his legacy as the Yankee owner who bought all the booze and then stirred the drink, too.

 

The only thing new about any of this is to hear it directly from a classy guy like Stottlemyre.

 

 *************

 

Mel Stottlemyre’s playing career is well known to 50-something fans.  Hailing from little old Mabton, Washington, he excelled in High School Baseball while avoiding Football, which his disciplinarian Dad simply forbid.

 

Mel threw in the mid-80’s while at Mabton High where his Class of 1959 numbered 24 Seniors.  Yankee Scout Eddie Taylor signed Mel out of Yakima Junior College, signed him right in a Mabton mint field in the midst of crop workers and farm equipment, for no bonus, $400 a month, and a roster spot on the 1961 Harlan (KY) entry in the Appalachian League.

 

God granted Mel a naturally occurring sinker.  He put it together with a little slider and minor league hitters were flummoxed from Day 1.  He went 9-4 in Harlan and Auburn in 1961.  Them he notched a 17-9 record with 8 shutouts in Greensboro (1962).  He spent the 1963 season in AAA Richmond adjusting to the demands of pitching to adults, producing a 7-7 mark.  Then in 1964, emerging from the Richmond Bullpen to which he had been demoted, Mel notched 10 consecutive wins as a starter.  He had learned to set up hitters, getting them to think slider and then throwing sinker.

 

By July, 1964, the Yankees were in a pennant race with the Orioles and White Sox and were in need of pitching.  On Aug. 12, 1964, Stottlemyre walked form the Concourse Plaza Hotel to Yankee Stadium, where he made his MLB debut.  He induced 19 ground ball outs, winning a complete game 7-3 victory over the White Sox.  Mantle, who hit two home runs that day, one a 500 footer, graciously stood with Mel for photos.

 

An untouted rookie in a pennant race, Mel became a sensation.  He finished 9-3. He made 3 World Series starts, all against Bob Gibson

 

1964 was the last good year for the Yankees until 1970.  Aging stars, the first MLB draft, and a lack of young talent all took their toll on Yankee fortunes.

 

Mel was instantly the ace on a bad team.  How do these number sound to you ?  20-9, 2.63 in ’65.  12-20, 3.80 in ’66.  15-15, 2.96 in ’67.  21-12, 2.45 in ’68.  20-14, 2.82 in ’69.  15-13, 3.09 in ’70.  16-12, 2.87 in ’71.  14-18, 3.22 in ’72.  16-16, 3.07 in ’73.

 

Stottlemyre would make $13 million a year today.  Regardless of the W’s and L’s, his ERA and 272 IP average per year would make him a #1 starter almost anywhere.

 

 

 *************

 

 

A torn rotator cuff ended his career 16 games into the 1974 season.

 

The Yankee Doctor caring for Mel’s shoulder was woefully inadequate.  First, they rested him, then they ordered him to pitch through the injury.  Later, in Spring of ’75, the Yankees sent Mel for dangerous X-Ray therapy.

 

Perhaps fostering what would become a full blown grudge against George later in life, the reckless X-Ray therapy became in Mel’s mind the potential cause of his son Jason’s death in 1981 from Leukemia, and his own Multiple Myloema in 2000.

 

 

 *************

 

Stotlemyre’s story also includes 10-years stints with the Mets and Yankees as their pitching coach.

 

He reminds us of what a cocky and powerful team played at Shea in 1986……..

 

“….Davey set the tone….the players took it from there, playing with a swagger that rubbed some people the wrong way, making us a hated club as the wins began to pile up, but we weren’t interested in making friends that year.  In fact, our guys were more than happy to brawl…”

 

Mel brings us back to young Doc Gooden, before the drugs, when he threw a 97 mph heater and a 12-to-6 curveball that froze batters.  At age 21, he simply made men look like boys.  He looked to be a sure fire HOF’er, no doubt.

 

Stot also recalls the improbable Mets comeback in game 6 of the 1986 World Series  — a little too clearly for this Red Sox fan.

 

 

 *************

 

The Yankee Years were glorious.  He was tight with Zim, had a great relationship with Torre, was close to the Pettitte’s and Jeter’s while getting along with the David Wells types.

 

On David Wells:  “Sometimes perfect, sometimes perfectly exasperating.”

 

 

On Andy Pettitte:  Anti-Pettitte ramblings reverberated constantly within the Yankee organization, dating back to the very start of his career and emanating from Tampa.  His soft body must mean that he is lazy.  No matter Andy’s real world results, the whisper campaign persisted:  He could not be counted on to be a consistent winner.  The whisper continued right up until he left in 2003.

 

When Pettitte was at a low point in his Yankee career circa June 1999, meddling George wanted to trade the lefty.  Stottlemyre went to Cashman.  “Brian…look at Andy Pettitte as if he was on another team, not the Yankees.  Look at what he has done during the season and in the post-season, and let’s say you had the opportunity to make a deal for him and have him pitch in Yankee Stadium, where you love having left handers.  You’d give up almost anything to get a guy like him.  Yet, we already have him and there’s this talk about trading him.  I can’t understand it.”

 

Cashman:  “I can’t argue your point.”

 

After lobbying by Mel and Torre, Pettitte survived the trading deadline.  And George’s comment to the press was none too supportive:

 

“He should be very relieved…Certain people put a lot of faith in him.  Now we’ll see what kind of man he is.  This is a very defining moment for him.”

 

That was classic George, trying to motivate people by challenging their manhood.

 

 

*************

 

 

Stottlemyre crosses an entire era of baseball history in this memoir.  There is much more on his sons Todd and Mel, Jr., the Mets, Zimmer, Jeter and Joe.

 

He also shares his personal ordeal of losing his son, Jason to leukemia.  Stottlemyre is a man of character.   He explains how he made it through the loss and then continued on to more challenges and conquests.

 

When facing his own cancer challenge in 2000, he received letters from others with multiple myloema.  They said they watched the Yankee games hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the dugout.  They wanted to see the man who had the disease that they had, who did his cell therapy and chemo, and now was back at work trying to win a championship.

 

At first, Mel wrote letters back to these people.  Then, it occurred to him that a telephone call would have a greater effect.  His call startled them.  Who would think that the Yankee Coach would take the time to reflect on their letter, never mind respond to it ?

 

He chatted with them, exchanging info on how their cancer treatment was going and how they were feeling.

 

He set a great example.  He used his special status as a baseball hero to bring hope.

 

The inclusion of his cancer battle in this book was intentionall.  He wanted to help others with multiple myloema resist giving in to the fear of imminent death.

 

Mel is a character guy.  That come through loud and clear.

 

Always focused.  Always professional.  Loyalty.  Family.  Perseverance. 

 

*********.

 

 

I give the book 4 stars out of five.  Regardless of your team loyalty, you’ll find this book worth reading if you remember watching Joe Pepitone or Thurman Munson play.

 

Younger Yankee devotees will enjoy the insights from the 90’s.

 

Current Mets fans, having suffered unspeakably for the last two years, should wait until the Mets win another Division before reading this book.  The memories of what should have been are only salt in the wound, at present.

 

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Posted in BASEBALL BOOKS, NEW YORK YANKEES, yankees | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

THE ESSENTIAL BRAD PENNY FOR RED SOX FANS

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 6, 2009

11 Keys to understanding Brad

No doubt, this guy is a double-wide.

No doubt, this guy is a double-wide.

Brad is the new Booty King. Brad is 6 ft 4 inches tall and 260 pounds.  Same height as Ortiz — and 30 pounds heavier.

 

Welcome to New England. Brad Penny is from Blackwell, OK., where Katharine Hepburn was stopped for speeding in 1950.  Hepburn told the cop that he was a moron, and that if she ever came across a car with Oklahoma plates in Connecticut she would let the air out of its tires.

Penny clichés will be everywhere. Penny Wise and Pounded Foolish.  Posada Pinches Penny.  A Pretty Penny.  A Bad Penny.  A Penny Saved, a Penny Spurned.  Bad Penny Comes Back.  In for a Penny, In for a Pounding.

Brad Penny is single: Brad has dated Alyssa Milano and Eliza Dushku.  He is going to like Boston.  The Irish landed there, you know.

Brad has no kids: “One guy (from the 2003 Florida Marlins) gets up and votes a (playoff) share for the baby-sitter. They already get paid to baby-sit. And I don’t have any kids. No way, no chance, no share. That got shot down real quick.” – Brad Penny in The Miami Herald (February 28, 2004)

Brad can surprise you: He struck out 4 batters in one inning (dropped 3rd strike).  He also gave up a Homer, a double and 3 runs in the same inning.

Everybody thinks Beckett was the Big Fish:  Actually, Brad beat the Yankees TWICE in the 2003 World Series, winning Games 1 & 5.  Jack McKeon had a feeling about Brad.  When Aaron Boone delivered the Yankees to the Classic, McKeon started Penny instead of Dontrelle Willis.

He really does throw hard. Brad hit Umpire Kerwin Danley with a 96 mph heater when he missed Russell Martin’s call for a curve.  Danley was knocked out for 18 minutes. He likened the impact to a left hook that he could see coming but could not dodge.  A week later, Danley lay in his Arizona home trying to stop the headache.

His Draft Day could have been worse. Brad was picked 155th by the D-Backs in the 1996 Draft.  That was well after Kris Benson, Travis Lee, and Eric Chavez.  But ahead of Jeremy Giambi (#169), Shea Hillenbrand (#301), Ted Lilly (#688), and well ahead of Roy Oswalt  (#684), and the very patient Aron Amundson (#1,739).

Brad is colorful. He’s been interviewed ringside making predictions at Ultimate Fighting Championships and has great respect for Kimbo.  There is also a lovely You Tube video of Brad in a Hollywood donnybrook in which you hear a concerned partier asking, “Are you going to taze me ?”.

Brad at the #5 is a gift.  This is the real key.  Brad is a great upgrade.  I mean I liked Paul Byrd.  He was to 2008 what John Burkett was to 2003.  But Brad will be a blistering  fifth starter following Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka and Wakefield.  Are you kidding me ?  Let Masterson be the bridge to Oki and/or Pap.  Let Buchholz find his Wa in peace.  I’m glad this Penny turned up.

Brad and his pal, Eliza.

Brad and his pal, Eliza.

 

Posted in BASEBALL, Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz, RED SOX, Youkilis | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Yankee For Life – Bobby Murcer

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 4, 2009

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YANKEE FOR LIFE. My 40 year journey in pinstripes.  By Bobby Murcer with Glen Waggoner.  Harper, 2008.  304 pages.


One begins this book knowing that Murcer passed away, but full of hope that his story will be a treasure box of 60’s and 70’s baseball and a testament to human character.

Within an hour, the reader’s heart breaks.  It becomes clear that Murcer was a terrific guy.  He loved Baseball, rocking chairs, his kids, and Kay, his wife of 41 years.  His death at age 62 is a tragedy.

*****

Opening Day, April 2, 2007


“…I knew I couldn’t handle any on-field introduction; I’d have broken down for sure…After I’d done my inning, the scoreboard in right-center flashed out the news that Bobby Murcer was in the house, and I received the loudest, most thrilling ovation  I have ever heard from 55,031 Yankee fans in attendance.  The giant scoreboard video screen flashed an image of me waving from the booth, and they cheered even louder.  I waved again, and they cheered even more.  Then Joe Torre and all the guys came out of the dugout, and all the guys in the bullpen came onto the outfield grass, and they all waved and clapped and took off their caps.

That’s when I cried.”


*****

Born a Boomer Sooner.  Heavily recruited by 8 Universities for Football, Murcer signed with Tom Greenwade, the scout who signed Mantle.

Murcer signed for $10,000 with the Yankees, turning away $20,000 from the Dodgers —because he was a Yankee fan.

On beginning in the minors in Johnson City, Tenn:  “Rookie ball back then was a lot like it is in (the movie) Bull Durham  — only without Susan Sarandon.”

Bobby spent two years in the minors proving that he had the tools and the makeup to be a pro.

Murcer alludes to a succinct formula for major league success.

TOOLS + MAKEUP = Success


In 17 MLB seasons, Murcer had only 1 DL stint (1965).

His first MLB hit was a game winning 2-run HR  on 9-14-65.

He spent two years in the military after two in the minors, was nipped by Lou Pinella for A.L. Rookie of the Year in 1969, was an All Star every year from 1971 to 1975, and garnered MVP votes every year from 1971 to 1974.

His playing career included a cup of joe with Mickey and Whitey during his MLB debut in 1965 and the arrival of Don Mattingly in 1983.

The Yankees declined, rose, and declined again over Murcer’s career.

Murcer’s description of the Yankees Great Depression of the 60’s and 70’s is cold and honest.  It is a set of phenomena that aptly tells how Baseball changed by leaps and bounds.

The Yankee Depression 1965 – 1975

Murcer’s contributing factors to what Red Sox fans may call a glorious Yankee drought:

*Charley Finley buys A’s (1960) & soon stops supplying talent to Yankees

*Mickey, Whitey & mates are injured and grow old

*Talent dries up in the Yankee minor league system

*CBS buys Yankees (late 1964)

*The First Year Player Draft debuts in 1965

Has anyone ever written a more concise summary of what killed the Yankees ?

**********

The Yankee teams of 1969-75 were populated by weak hitters.  They never finished first.  But for Murcer, those years that included a Gold Glove, 5 All Star Games and joining Mantle & DiMaggio as the only Yanks to earn $100,000.

These years were also marked by the only sale of an MLB team in which the seller, CBS, received less (by 20%) than the amount they originally paid for the team.

It was 1973.

Exit CBS.

Enter George.

**********


In 1974, Bobby was still the biggest Yankee star.  Tight with his mates, especially Munson and Pinella, Murcer was ripped away, betrayed by George and Gabe Paul.  They traded him for Bobby Bonds, condemning him to the chilly winds of Candlestick.  Once there, he immediately & quietly begged Horace Stoneham to trade him.  He spent three years in Yankee exile, one in San Fran, two in Cub land.


While his Bronx cronies were reaching three World Series from 1976 through 1978, Murcer’s teams never won more than they lost.

1976 – San Francisco finished  74-88 and in 4th place

1977 – The Cubs finished 81-81 and in 4th place

1978 – The Cubs finished 79-83 and in 3rd place

Meanwhile, Gabe, George and the boys collected rings for 1 AL Pennant and two World Championships.


**********

Bobby returned to the Yankees in 1979 and spent much of his last 5 seasons as a part time outfielder and platoon D.H.  He finished with a .277 B.A., 252 HR’s, 285 doubles, 1,862 hits in just 6,730 for his career.


A phone call from Steinbrenner in 1983 brought the end of Murcer’s playing career.  It also started a 25 year broadcasting career.


The obsessive, controlling owner gave Murcer 30 minutes to agree to leave the active roster to make room for rookie Don Mattingly and accept a job as a Yankee TV broadcaster, effective with that night’s broadcast.

He took it.  He was too experienced to not accept the Will of George.  He joined Scooter, White and Messer that night.

17 years as a player.  25 as a broadcaster.  42 years at the top level of Baseball.

**********

Murcer covers many topics aside from his playing days and cancer battle, including:

  • A compelling Munson tribute

  • The Bobby Murcer Professional Baseball School

  • The 1981 Strike Season

  • 12 pages of Scooter stories

  • 8 pages of Mantle reflections

  • His all time Yankee All Star team

  • personal recommendations for NYC tourists

  • the Peterson Kekich swap

  • the exact places that Gaylord hid dabs of K-Y Jelly on his uniform and cap

  • The consequences of tobacco use and his personal guilt about promoting Skoal

He also helps us understand the battle that took his life.  Bobby explains that the worst kind of brain tumor is Glioblastoma Multiforme 4.  It’s a death sentence with a 14-month window.  This memoir lets us understand how Bobby, wife Kay, kids Tori, Todd and family, battled against it.  They found hope.  They clung to hope.

An emotional return to Yankee Stadium

Murcer felt a special loyalty to The Yankees and closeness with Yankee fans.

4 months after his diagnosis and surgery to remove the malignant tumor, he returned to Yankee Stadium for a brief stint in the booth.

Here is how he describes it:

Opening Day, April 2, 2007…I knew I couldn’t handle any on-field introduction; I’d have broken down for sure.  So I came in under the radar, went up to the booth, and worked the third inning with my YES Network colleagues (Michael Kay, Ken Singleton, Joe Girardi.).

After I’d done my inning, the scoreboard in right-center flashed out the news that Bobby Murcer was in the house, and I received the loudest, most thrilling ovation  I have ever heard from 55,031 Yankee fans in attendance.  The giant scoreboard video screen flashed an image of me waving from the booth, and they cheered even louder.  I waved again, and they cheered even more.  Then Joe Torre and all the guys came out of the dugout, and all the guys in the bullpen came onto the outfield grass, and they all waved and clapped and took off their caps.

That’s when I cried.

It was a great game.  We fell behind 5-3 after five, but came back to win 9-5.  A-Rod and Jorge hit homers, Derek drove in two runs, and Mariano – of course – pitched a scoreless ninth.

Exactly the way you want to begin a new season.


MORE MURCER MEMORIES

Ralph Houk’s boat is named, “Thanks Yanks”.

**********

Gene Michael uses special lingo:

“Remember the time that M & M & M went B to B to B ?

“Huh ?”

“You know, the time Murcer and Munson and Michael went back-to-back-to-back ?”

Michael hit 15 career dingers in 10 seasons and remembers every one of them with perfect recall.


**********


Sometimes the trades you don’t make… Toronto agreed to send veteran starter Bill Singer to the Yankees for a little used lefty reliever in the Spring of 1977.  The deal was done until the Blue Jays realized they had already put Singer on the cover of their 1977 Media Guide.  They nixed the deal.  Thus, Ron Guidry, little used lefty reliever, stayed with the Yankees and fulfilled a spectacular destiny.


**********


THAT’S A RING TAILED TOOTER OF A WRIGLEY GAME. Never heard that one.  Put it in your esoteric baseball lexicon, file under “The charming Mid-West”.

**********

On Roger Clemens’ steroid denials and Andy Pettitte’s incrimination of The Rocket, Bobby Murcer wrote, “If I believe Andy, and I do, then I cannot also believe Roger.”


********.

How to describe Bobby Murcer after reading his book ?  Perhaps 3 words.

Generous.

Unpretentious.

Down-to-Earth.

That happens to be how Murcer describes Phil Rizzuto in Yankee For Life, but in fact, Murcer could have been holding up a mirror.


********.

Pick it up, if you can.  A great and fast read.  Beneficial for all fans, even Red Sox Nationals like me.


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Posted in BASEBALL BOOKS, NEW YORK YANKEES | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

2 PEAS IN A POD ? BOBBY MURCER & CARL YASTRZEMSKI

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 4, 2009

Both 5 ft 11" tall & 180 lbs.

Both 5 ft 11" tall & 180 lbs.

A QUICK ANALYSIS: MURCER & YAZ


Bobby Murcer’s physical attributes are uncannily like those of  Carl Yastrzemski.

Baseball-reference.com has Murcer at 5’11”, 180 lbs. and Yastrzemski at 5’11”, 182 lbs.  Both are left handed hitters.

Though not identical in their statistical totals, they were VERY similar in stats-per-at-bat.

 

Yaz homered every 26.5 AB’s.  Murcer tatered every 26.7 AB’s.

Yaz got a hit every 3.5 AB’s.  Murcer did so every 3.6 AB’s.

Yaz scored a run every 6.6 AB’s.  Murcer — every 6.9 AB’s.

Yaz drove in a run every 6.5 AB’s.  Murcer got an RBI every 6.45 AB’s.

Yaz struck out every 8.6 AB’s  — Murcer K’d every 8.0.

 

Look at the comparison of some offensive totals —

HR’s:     Yaz 452       Murcer 252

2B’s:      Yaz 646       Murcer 285

Hits:       Yaz 3,419    Murcer 1,862

At Bats:  Yaz 11,988  Murcer 6,730


Yaz had 78% more at bats than Murcer.


Had Murcer had as many at bats as Yaz, this is what his totals could have been:

HR’s:                          Murcer 448

2B’s:                           Murcer 507

Hits:                            Murcer 3,314

At Bats:                       Murcer 11,988


Could be that Murcer had the make up and tools to achieve Hall of Fame numbers.  He would be right with Yaz, given the missing at bats.


The objective is not to simplify Yaz’s career.  Yaz received MVP votes in 14 seasons, was an 18x All Star, won 7 gold gloves, 3 batting titles, one MVP.   He substantively helped, or drove, the Red Sox to two AL Pennants.


Murcer had one Gold Glove, no batting titles, was a 5x All Star and received MVP votes in 4 seasons.


Still, Murcer may very well have put up Yaz-like plate numbers had he played in Boston, with the Pesky Pole 302 feet away, where coddling ownership & fans cling to star players.  (I speak with self-admittance, as a Red Sox National.)


Bobby Murcer’s career numbers suffered from a lack of playing time before age 23 and after age 33.  He was short changed by two years of military service.  He was cheated by new ownership that cut his playing time and looked for new answers after the Yanks’ temporary move to Shea cut Bobby’s power totals. He became a platoon DH at an age when Yaz still had 5,000 at bats to come.

Given that Murcer was never on the D.L. from 1969 to 1983, the argument is plausible.


He certainly believed he had more to give.


The passing of Bobby Murcer in June, 2008 at age 62 was a tragedy.  He certainly had more to give to family and fans, too.

Rest in Peace, Bobby.

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Posted in Boston Red Sox, Carl Yastrzemski, NEW YORK YANKEES | Leave a Comment »