At home at fenway

Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

Archive for January, 2012

Bill White: Freedom Fighter, All Star, Stand Up Guy

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 16, 2012

When you think of Bill White, do you think of a player that led integration of the Carolina League ?  A broadcaster who suffered & delighted in decades of cannoli talk in the Yankees broadcast booth with Scooter ?

 

How about the 4x all Star ?  The 6x Gold Glover ?  The announcer who had a good grip on (and kept a distance from) George Steinbrenner.  The N.L. President who was smack in the middle of the Pete Rose – Bart Giamatti pot boiler.  The guy who stopped the A.L. owners from blackmailing 50% of new franchise fees from their N.L. counterparts.

 

White is also the guy who watched from close range the self-destruction of Fay Vincent after Bart Giamatti’s sad passing, and the establishment of the Pseudo-Commissioner Era in which we currently live.

 

White’s life has been one successful string of accomplishments weaved through a sequence of important milestones for Our Game.

 

Uppity.  My life in Baseball.  My untold story about the games people play.  By Bill White with Gordon Dillow.  Grand Central, 2011.

 

Bill White titled his autobiography Uppity because as a black man that helped integrate Baseball, he carried an assertive attitude into the Carolina League in 1953 and maintained it until his playing career ended in 1969.  He was Uppity.  He likely still is.

 

In 1953, while batting on the road in Winston-Salem, he heard one obnoxious cracker chant, nigger ! nigger ! nigger !

 

White took his anger out on the ball, drilling it over the right field wall.

 

Then he heard the same cracker yell, “Well, Bill White, after that home run I guess I’ll have to call you Mister Nigger !”

 

The cracker crowd then chanted “Mister Nigger !  Mister Nigger !  Mister Nigger !”

 

Despite the ever present attempts at intimidation, White never backed down from a racist.  In fact, he found that every time he stood up for himself, the racists backed down.  Even on the road in the Carolina League.

 

White describes the impact that Jim Schoolboy Tugerson had on him as he suffered indignities in the minors. 

 

Tugerson, a 6’4” sidearm pitcher who roomed at one time with Hank Aaron in the Negro Leagues, signed with the Arkansas Bathers for the 1953 season.  The Cotton States League then kicked the Bathers out of the League for hiring black players.  The Bathers then moved to Knoxville in the Mountain States League. The Knoxville Smokies finished with a fine 70 – 55 record and Tugerson won 29 games.  He moved up to AA Dallas the next year, but he was already 31 years old and was destined to call it a career after 5 years in the Big D.

 

Tugerson’s advice was simple.

 

“Stay focused on the game.”, Jim would constantly tell me.  “Don’t react to those racist rednecks in the crowd calling you names.  They’re trying to sidetrack you, take your mind off the game.  Don’t let ‘em.”

 

It was good advice, from someone who had been there, and I took it.  I still heard the racist slurs coming from the stands, but I never let myself show any reaction to them.  I didn’t give the bastards the satisfaction.

 

XXXXXXXXX

 

In Uppity, White gives us more than his memories of racism and civil rights progress through which he lived.

 

Among the precious recollections is a trove of anecdotes from the 18 years he broadcasted Yankee games with the Scooter, Phil Rizzuto.

 

Here’s a great on-air exchange involving Scooter & part-time announcer Fran Healy:

 

They were in Seattle, and they and the team stayed in one of those tall, modern, cylindrically shaped hotels.

 

Healy (on-air):  What did you do last night, Phil ?

Rizzuto:  Well, I didn’t like the room I had.

Healy:  Why ?

Rizzuto:  Well, it was a round room and I couldn’t corner my wife.”

 

XXXXXXXXX

 

White shares how his family escaped poverty in the great black northern migration when he was a baby.  His mother insisted that African Americans came from a highly-evolved, even superior culture.  He was indifferent to a stingy contract offer by the NY Giants after Leo Durocher watched him whack home runs in Forbes Field during a private tryout.  (After 2 homers, Leo hustled White off the field in hopes that Rickey hadn’t seen him.)  But he signed after Leo OK’d a sweetener.

 

White developed into a strong hitter and slick fielder through a 4 year progression through Danville, Sioux City, Dallas and Minneapolis.  He arrived in the Polo Grounds for MLB duty under Bill Rigney in 1956, where he rang up a .256, 22, 59 season.  In addition to those rookie totals, White made the NL Top 10 with 15 SB’s and 4 HBP’s.  Not a bad start, but Uncle Sam would delay his sophomore year in the Bigs.

 

White served his Country in 1957 and 1958, then returned eagerly to the Giants, then just relocated to San Fran.  He got only 29 at bats.  He was now stuck behind future HOF’er Orlando Cepeda, who was having one of the greatest ROY seasons in history with .312, 25, 96.

 

More competition was on the way.  San Francisco had another 1st Baseman killing it in AAA Phoenix with .319, 14, 89.   A 6’4” swatter named Willie McCovey.

 

In the Fall of 1958, Cepeda’s promise prompted the Giants to send White to St. Louis principally for Sam Jones.  McCovey would later inspire the Giants to trade Cepeda away, too.

 

The Giants thus played 3 young 1st Basemen successively in 9 years, a cluster that would produce a combined .283 BA, 1,102 Homeruns, and 3,760 RBI over the course of their careers.  Boy, could the Giants pick ‘em .

 

 

White’s trade to St. Louis was a dream come true.  Despite that city’s reputation for racial bias, White was well treated and team ownership had his back.  There was an overt act of discrimination when White tried to buy a house in the suburbs, but the Cardinals pushed the sale through.  Once settled, White found his white neighbors sane and friendly.  (The developer was the dog.)

 

White put up great numbers in St. Louis, batting over .300 4x, named to the All Star Team 5x, and capturing 6 Gold Gloves.  Even better, after the Cardinals hoodwinked the Cubs out of Lou Brock in 1964, the Cardinals became a hot team, moving from the middle of the pack to capture the NL pennant on the last day of the ’64 season, and knocking off the Yankees in a 7 game series.

 

The wine was sweet.  The adulation intoxicating.  All was swell in St. Loo, until White publically corrected GM Bob Howsam at a team celebration.  White openly attributed the Championship to former GM Bing Devine.  Moments earlier, Howsam had stood up and taken all the credit for himself.

 

White was goose hunting in mid-October, ’64, when his car radio carried the announcement that he had been traded to the Phillies with Dick Groat and Bob Uecker.

 

The best part of his playing career was done.  White’s Cardinal stats totaled a .299 B.A., 140 Home Runs, and 627 RBI in 7 years.  Plus the All Star appearances and GG’s.

 

He would play 4 more MLB seasons but his numbers declined steadily.

 

White was uncharacteristically accepting of the end of his playing career.  “The game will tell you when it is time to leave, if you are willing to listen.”  So rare.

 

He listened.  And he didn’t mind leaving.  He had things to do.

 

XXXXXXXXX

 

You get so much value in this book.  The player memoir.  The broadcaster memoir.  The Baseball Executive memoir.  13 years playing.  18 years broadcasting.  5 years as League President.

 

The 40 pages on his time with Rizzuto are a hoot.  The chapter on Steinbrenner confirms (once again) that George was a sociopath.   The Executive story shows how an honest man can hang on, barely, in the shark tank with billionaires proficient in the art of gain.

 

 This book is a pleasure to read and packed with history.

 

Don’t miss it.

 

Go Sox.

Posted in BASEBALL, BASEBALL BOOKS | Leave a Comment »

Hot Stove Pairings: Morgan-Bagwell, Lucchino-Valentine & Santo-Larkin

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 10, 2012

On November 28, the man who stabilized the Dysfunctional Sox came to Hartford.  Joe Morgan, the Red Sox  Manager who lifted the Sox from 4th  to 1st Place and won the first 12 games of his tenure, appeared  with current Sox game announcer Joe Castiglione at the World Series Club of Hartford County.

Castiglione acted as Morgan’s straight man.  Rather than make a prepared speech, the announcer threw questions to the manager in an easy, rehearsed manner.

And Walpole Joe was very entertaining.  He has that old New England accent heard in Eastern Mass. and Rhode Island.  He’s a down to earth wit.

Morgan spoke about the infamous Bagwell-Anderson trade of 1991 and how he tried to alter history.  When Joe attended a management meeting at which the boss, i.e. Lou Gorman, proposed Bagwell for Anderson, Morgan realized this was a clear mistake. He argued that Scott Cooper was a better bargaining chip; Cooper was young and highly ranked and the Astros would find him acceptable. Joe was poo pooed.  The group went with Gorman.  The Sox missed out on Bagwell’s career .297, 449, 1529.  They got Cooper’s career .265, 33, 211. 

A few years later, the Sox would let Wade Boggs leave Boston via Free Agency.  As Boggs would tell an interviewer in 1996, the Sox made him expendable because they thought they had a budding star in Cooper.  Cooper would be out of Baseball after 1997, while Boggs and Bagwell played on – and completed HOF careers.

Out of left field came a Morgan story about how he made a buck in the off seasons when he was the Paw Sox Manager.  He didn’t make much more than minimum wage driving a snowplow for the Commonwealth.  But he did figure out people were losing dollar bills at the toll booths when the winter winds whipped along the Mass Pike.  Morgan said he found hundreds of dollars along the Pike, pulling off the road and scampering down the banks to claim the lost bills, finding $100 in one spot alone.

Guys like Francona or Valentine, both bonus babies in their day, never hustled like that to make a buck.  Joe never made more than $7,000 a year as a player or a modest salary as a MLB Manager. 

He did get a few things right though.  One of them was his prediction at the WSC on Nov. 28 that Bobby Valentine would be the next Red Sox Manager.

SPEAKING OF BOBBY V,

Jeff Jacobs wrote in The Hartford Courant that the spontaneous combustion of Bobby Valentine in a Red Sox uniform is a future certainty.  Valentine will go up in flames, says Half Baked Jake.  Just a matter of time.

Not sure about that prediction, but Jacobs also says the Valentine candidacy for Manager began here in Hartford on Nov. 5 when Bobby Valentine and Larry Lucchino headlined a charitable dinner at World Affairs Council at the Hartford Club.  I was there.

I  spoke with Lucchino and Valentine at the function.  I made a bee line for Larry.  He was great to chit chat with and he signed a nice white Selig official ball for me. 

Soon enough I was standing near Valentine.  I contemplated getting his autograph as well.  I did not want this former Mets manager and disguise-wearing narcissist to ruin my Lucchino ball with his signature.  I decided to ask him to sign a program instead.  I half heartedly asked what he thought his chances were of getting the Manager job, a question I really felt was meaningless and specious.  He chuckled and said, “Yeah, right !” and strode away.  Truly, his vibe was that even he didn’t think he had a shot.

And that would help to explain his tears of joy and noted speechlessness when he got the job.

Good luck, Bobby.

Hey, Ron & Barry.

Sorry everyone.  I can’t appreciate Ron Santo.  I have tried.  I look at the stats and I see a good player.  He’s a local legend in Chicago.  If his 342 HR’s and 1331 RBI came with a .305 B.A. he’d have been a HOF selection 40 years ago.  But he batted .277.  The 9x AS and 4x Gold Gloves help, but there are no batting titles, RBI or HR crowns, either. Few stolen bases.  Led the league in walks four times.   This much loved Cub comes close.  But he doesn’t make it.

Santo’s BA/HR/RBI totals are similar to Dwight Evans, one of the best fielding right fielders ever.  Putting Santo in will inspire some people to make the case for Evans.  But, unfortunately, neither player should be in the HOF.  They are very good but not All Time Greats.

Barry Larkin’s .295, 198, 960 are terrific for a shortstop.  Ozzie Smith won 7 Gold Gloves in Larkin’s first 7 years, precluding the Cinci-born Barry from copping the award until he was 30 years old.  Still, Barry nailed 3 GG’s.  A 12x AS with 9 Silver Sluggers and 379 SB’s, I’d say the guy was the complete package.

Only 7 other shortstops in history have more RBI’s than Larkin — Hans Wagner, Joe Cronin, Miguel Tejada, Vern Stephens, Luke Appling, Alan Trammell and Ripken.  4 are in the HOF.

Hit.  Hit with power.  Speed.  Arm.  Field.  He had it all.

Congrats to Barry Larkin & to the late Ron Santo, and the families of both men.

Posted in BASEBALL, Boston Red Sox, RED SOX | Leave a Comment »

Wild About Harry 4 Ever

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 9, 2012

 

The imperfectly perfect life of Harry Kalas was a non-stop show.  He was the man in the bar that draws a crowd and stays until last call.  The man who never uttered a disparaging word about anyone.  A drinker and an addicted smoker.  A force of nature with a marvelous baritone voice.  He loved everyone. He followed the fun where it led him, which in Harry’s case was into the hearts of nearly everyone he ever met, including ballplayers, bartenders and pop icons.

HARRY THE K, the remarkable life of Harry Kalas.  Randy Miller.  2010.  Running Press.

He was a young man that wanted a degree but got the boot after freshman year from Cornell College, then subsequently graduated on time after partying through 3 more years at IOWA.

He was a man who never wanted to hurt anyone but somehow dumped his wife at age 49 for a younger woman, choosing a Partier (like himself) over a classic Mom and Wife.

Harry was born in 1936, the son of Harry Sr., at the time the Minister at Trinity Evangelical Church in Chicago.  His first home was three blocks from Wrigley Field.  But it was a certain Washington Senator that made Harry into a hard core baseball fan.  Under a drizzling sky at Comiskey Park in 1946, 10 year old Harry was seated next to the visiting Washington dugout.  Batting Practice was rained out.  Senator first baseman Mickey Vernon noticed the boy and pulled him into the dugout.  Vernon, a 7x AS and 2x batting champion, entertained little Kalas for 10 minutes, introducing him to players and giving him a ball.

Vernon touched Kalas’ heart.  Incredibly, they reconnected 25 years later in 1971 and remained in contact for the rest of their lives, speaking on the phone and visiting regularly.

Baseball was Harry’s #1 sport.  His true love.  He would become one of the hardest working and best prepared Baseball announcers in the U.S.. But he was also damn good at announcing football and hoops.

Harry’s career must rank as one of the most productive in history.  He broadcast collegiate sports at Iowa, simultaneously working high school basketball for a Quad Cities radio station.  He did play-by-play for High School Football & Hoops on KGU Radio in Hawaii, and later announced PCL AAA Hawaiian Islanders games from 1961 to 1964.  In 1965, he arrived in Houston to broadcast MLB games from the spankin’ new “5th Wonder of the World”, the Houston Astrodome, and worked University of Houston Football games as well.  In 1971, Harry joined the Phillies broadcast team, first picking up Eagles Games in the offseason, and then traveling widely to do NFL games from San Francisco to New York, plus Notre Dame Football & Basketball games. He also broadcast Philadelphia Big 5 Basketball (LaSalle, Penn, St Joseph’s, Temple & Nova.) 

And he was continuously busy with commercial work.  Beginning in 1975 Harry became the #2 voice to John Facenda at NFL Films, where he worked until his death in 2009 on such programs as NFL Review and Preview, Pro Magazine, NFL Films Presents, and This is the NFL.  His gigs included work for General Motors, Campbell Soup, Coors Light, Animal Planet, movie trailers, narrated self-guided tours at the U.S. Mint, character profiles on the Cartoon Network and much more.

His resonant voice, keen intelligence, and social graces magnetically drew work to Harry just as they enchanted new friends.

His national identity will always be linked to his work with the Phillies and NFL Films, but it was in the  Philadelphia market where his fame first grew.  It is where his family took root, where he melded with the community and where Harry came to represent Philadelphia itself. 

He came to the Phillies in 1971, when they were a last place team in the NL East.  That’s where they stayed until 1974, when they rode Carlton, Schmidt & Luzinski to the start of 9 consecutive winning seasons, including 5 NL East Flags. Harry saw the transformation. The opening of The Vet. The firing of Frank Lucchesi.  The hiring of Danny Ozark.  The arrival of Pete Rose and the first world championship in 88 years of Philly baseball.   The Pennant in ’93.  The World Championship in 2008.

But it wasn’t all sunshine.  Far from it.

1993 was a sandwich year.  A Pennant, preceded by 6 losing seasons and followed by 7 more of them.  Those Kruk-Dykstra-Schilling Phils won at a .599 clip.  But the 13 years adjacent years carried an average winning percentage of .444, including 6 last place finishes.

Harry was the heart and voice of Philly baseball through bad and good.

After Harry’s sudden death in April 2009, his wife, Eileen received a poignant sympathy card that spoke to Harry’s ability to carry Phillienation through the ups and downs.  It came from 13-year-old Tyler Fortna.

“His voice always gave me inspiration.  I always wanted to be like him when I grew up, but I know I will never be like him.  When I watched Phillie games, Harry made me feel like they were winning when they were losing.”

The Man never stopped working, even as he aged.   He stood in stark contrast to Vin Scully, 9 years older than Harry, who premeditatedly cut down his gigs to select Dodger home games as he aged. Meanwhile, Harry almost never said No.  He continued with his weekly work with NFL Films, the commercial work  and the March-to-October Baseball grind.  He would NOT allow himself to miss any of it, not even after developing heart problems in 2007.

After learning that he had suffered 4 silent heart attacks and that he needed vascular surgery to compensate for dead heart tissue, Harry postponed the surgery for 14 months.  During those months, the Phillies won the 2008 Series, celebrated, and prepared to defend their title.

Harry was the Master of Ceremonies at the celebration but dropped dead just 6 games into the title defense. He passed in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park while filling out his scorecard.  He wrote in the first 4 names in the Nationals lineup and suffered a massive fatal heart attack. The fourth name he filled out was Adam Dunn.  Ironically, he wrote Dunn, and was done.

Harry couldn’t stop working.  He couldn’t stop living and he couldn’t stop giving. 

Miller notes that Harry taught his children, sons Todd, Brad and Kane, to befriend people of all races, religions and classes….Harry kept an emotional keel and never lashed out in anger….Harry always went out of his way to help strangers while expecting nothing in return.

He was a special guy.

As young Tyler Fortna wrote in that sympathy card, “I met him when I was 7….I told him that I wanted Baseball.  And he said, ‘Long drive, deep to center, that ball is outta here !  Home Run, Tyler Fortna ! Thank you for all of Harry’s memories, the great calls.  He’s the best broadcaster ever.  He’s up in Heaven now and still calling the Phillies.”.

Asides & Nuggets:

Harry’s Frat at IOWA, Phi Delta Theta, votes annually to give the Lou Gehrig Award, one of Baseball’s highest honors.  The award was started in 1955 by Phi Delta Alum and sportswriter Grantland Rice.  Harry was President of the Iowa Chapter and served for many years after graduating on the committee that did the selecting.

HOF anxiety.  The author refers to 3 or 4 broadcasters and journalists as having been inducted into the HOF.  He refers to the Writers and Broadcasters Wings in Cooperstown.  No such wings exist.  These folks are not inducted.  They receive the Frick and Spink Awards and are recognized for one year in an exhibit called “Scribes & Mikemen” at the Hall.  Much as I revere Pete Gammons & guys like him, calling these talented folks HOF’ers and referring to them as “inducted” is marketing talk.  It’s just wrong.

Speaking of Spink winners, 2011 winner Bill Conlin is widely quoted in this book.  The Hall is now struggling with whether to remove Conlin’s photo from the Scribe & Mikemen display due to the multiple pedophile charges lodged against him.  Only the current winner is displayed and it stays up for one year.  They can leave Conlin up for 6 more months, take it down now, or discontinue the practice for all Spink/Frick winners in the years to come.

HOF’er Richie Ashburn, a.k.a Whitey, or, His Whiteness, was Kalas’ on-air partner for 27 years until his sudden death by heart attack in 1997.  Whitey was the color man.  He got off a million solid gold lines.  Ashburn, who logged a .308 lifetime B.A. & two batting crowns often said, “I never would want my daughter to marry a pitcher.  You can’t trust ‘em.”  He and Ted Williams certainly agreed on that.  J

Reading into things

If you are a Philly phan you’ll likely love every scrap and morsel in this book.  I enjoyed it greatly but struggled with some of the minutiae.  It seems like the author had access to the key people in Harry’s life such as former wife Jasmine and current wife Eileen.  He interviewed an endless cast.  Broadcasters, Players, Journalists, businessmen, friends, highschool and college pals, neighbors, the cop who rode with Harry’s casket on the way from D.C. to Philly.  It is almost too much.  After finishing this book I jumped 100 pages into UPPITY, the autobiography of the outspoken and plain speaking Bill White.  A refreshing change.

Posted in BASEBALL BOOKS | Leave a Comment »