At home at fenway

Keeping an eye on Chaim, Raffy & a few good books

Archive for the ‘BASEBALL BOOKS’ Category


Posted by athomeatfenway on April 16, 2014

Eric Gregg

Here’s a great quick read by a man who conjured smiles.

Working The Plate by Eric Gregg with Marty Appel. 1990, Morrow.

Almost any Umpire autobiography is likely to be interesting. They have much in common with the ballplayers. Travel. Teammates. The uncanny ability to block out distraction. And they have daily exposure to rookies, journeymen, superstars, and — major league managers.

There is plenty of inside stuff to share, and Mr. Gregg does it well. Even better, this is Gregg’s story of success. Gregg made it to the top in spite of growing up in a West Philly family that lost 2 children to drugs and street crime, and a third who became a career criminal.

Now how could a guy as sweet as the 350 pound Gregg come from a dysfunctional cauldron like that?

Gregg had charisma, my friends. Gregg was magnetic. He charmed and scuffled his way into Barney Dreary’s Florida umpire school as a kid. He moved through the minors in record time and began his MLB run at age 24. His personality brought him more than his share of commercials and PR jobs. Gregg was a winner.

His on field resume of historic games including the first night game at Wrigley, 2 Perfectos, the 1986 All Star Game., the historic Reds-Mets brawl of the same year, and the 1989 World Series Earthquake game.

One of my favorite passages in this book is when Gregg pays homage to Jackie Robinson, writing that all black men in the Game, himself included, owe Jackie a debt of gratitude. Further, Gregg expands on how the NL was years ahead of the AL when it came to signing blacks. He observes that of the 16 black HOF’ers (as of 1990), only Satchel Paige was signed by an American League Club. “The others all began in the National League – Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Roberto Clemente, Monte Irvin, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Juan Marichal, Lou Brock, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan and Billy Williams.”

I would add that the American League’s failure to ink African Americans in the ‘50’s helped (at least in part) to make the National League the superior circuit in 18 of 19 All Star Games between ’63 and ’82.

In another favorite part of Mr. Gregg’s book he described Jose Canseco as a big guy, and so talented that he would likely dominate the next decade.

Might have happened had Jose’s muscles been as natural as Gregg’s girth.

Never intending to leave the Game, Gregg voluntarily resigned in ’99.

At the behest of his union, Gregg was one of 22 Umps that tendered their resignations to leverage a negotiation and were shocked when the MLB accepted. That occurred 9 years after Working The Plate was published.

Clearly, Eric Gregg loved the Game, was part of the Game, and could never really leave the Game.

Bud Selig refused to rehire Gregg even after 25 Members of Congress requested his reinstatement. That says something about MLB’s resolve to drop the unhealthy big man, whose weight approached 400 pounds frequently.

Oh yes, this book captures the moment when he umpired 3rd base and a hero sandwich had been anonymously left atop that sack for him.

And then there was the time that a player entertained the crowd at one of Eric’s games by stuffing pillows into his uniform and making out and safe calls at second base.

Good times.

Many fans will chuckle at the mention of Eric Gregg.

They are thinking of the big, fat guy who somehow umpired in the bigs for 22 seasons.

As is usually the case, if you know the man at all you have more respect than that.

He was a talented Umpire and a devoted family man.

He did not undervalue all the good things that life brought to him.

Mr. Gregg passed at age 55 after a stroke in 2006. He left behind a wife and 4 children.

Rest in Peace, Eric Gregg.

Thanks for representing Philly and adding some cheer to the Game.

Go Sox. And Happy Jackie Robinson Day to you.

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Francona & Shaughnessy explain 2011….finally

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 18, 2013


On Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, Terry Francona stood in front of the Palace Hotel in Manhattan waiting for DeMarlo Hale. His team had lost 12 out of their last 15 games and were hanging onto a playoff spot by a thread.

Francona was approached by a stranger with a foreign accent who said, “You must win today.”

“Hey asshole, what do you think we’re trying to do?” said the stressed out manager.

Security intervened. The foreigner turned out to be a diplomat. Apologies, introductions and a friendly photo taking followed. No damage done. But the incident speaks volumes. Tito had flared in a way not inconsistent with the captain on a sinking ship — and for good reason.

The Sox had blown a 9 game lead over Tampa in a disastrous September during which the pitchers didn’t pitch, the hitters didn’t hit and the fielders didn’t field.

And unlike earlier rough spots, Francona, who is usually a master at damage control, only made things worse.

But why?

That is the question some Red Sox fans, myself included, have been asking since Sept. 28, 2011. How could a team that was capable of 100 wins be 39 games over .500 from May 1 through August 31 and play like the ’62 Mets in September?

Francona, The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy goes a long way to providing the answers. It may be fair to say that the answers have been previously spoken or written many times by others. But this book lays out the chronology and context for the narrative in a way no one has before.

The trick the authors turn is in making the reader understand the forces that were acting upon Tito and the team.  It was not just that something was wrong with the Sox, it was that most everything was wrong.

It was a perfect storm. Veteran coaches had left and with them went the established connection points to the team that Francona used to discuss bad behavior or poor play.    This was a critical change.  If you read Michael Holley’s book about Francona, Red Sox Rule, then you know that Tito used peers, coaches and team leaders to keep the team on track.

Problems emerged every where. Youkilis said there was a festering conflict between position players and the pitching staff. Three starters (Lackey, Lester & Beckett) had enormous egos, all having pitched a WS clincher by age 26, and they formed a narcissistic clique that became unconcerned with management and team. Aging players were in the final year of their contracts and grew discontented. Players placed personal rewards above team success. Rumors broke out about Theo Epstein going to the Cubs as G.M. Injuries abounded. The medical staff was cluttered and nervous. The owners were fixated on playing all 81 home dates in order to maximize revenue even as Hurricane Irene threatened. The bullpen ran out of gas. All of the above…..all at once.

The tipping point came on Saturday, August 27, the day before Irene punished the Massachusetts coast. After a long road trip the owners insisted that a day-night doubleheader be played. Not hiding their unhappiness, the players performances thereafter landed in the outhouse, never to rise again in 2011.  Or in 2012.

A lot has been said about how Francona criticizes Lucchino, Werner & Henry in the book. There are several instances in which the ex-manager reveals their shortcomings but I didn’t read anything new or surprising. I’d have been surprised if Tito had written that Larry is a paternal cuddlebunny, another Johnny Pesky.

Larry is a bit of a tough guy. Theo can be manipulative. Henry is a geek. Werner is best suited to running NESN. So what. That sounds like the expected case.

Terry comes off as a flexible and devoted boss.  He’s not going to quote Winston Churchill like Theo. He is going to drop F-bombs. He may even moon you, as he mooned Theo and the coaches in the privacy of the manager’s office one day (when PR chief Pam Ganley barged in).

He’s down to earth.   He honors the 15 men who managed him as a player, spelling out which valuable lesson he learned from each one in a lovely Acknowlegdement at the end of the book.  These men were his highschool, minor league and big league skippers.  Even the one that scared the heck out of him, Dick Williams.

I like that about Tito. He’s a true diamond lifer who will never take himself too seriously or place his value high above his brothers and sisters.

He is the greatest Boston Red Sox manager in my 47 years of fandom. He’s probably the best in the history of the Sox.

No one was better at handling the press. Or difficult personalities.

This book is a must read. Don’t miss it.

Go Sox.

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Jim Murray: Funny Man, Deep Man.

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 18, 2012

Jim Murray

I guess most Editors would say that Jim Murray’s fame & success as a columnist emanated from his clever ability to turn a phrase.  His depth of character and street-wise upbringing were equally important.


There is no doubt he was a phrase turner.


On George….

“I always regarded Steinbrenner as Heaven’s punishment visited on the arrogant Yankees for their sins of pride.”


On Pete Rose…

Pete liked his women flashy.  Just go find the nearest beehive hairdo, the shortest mini, the wad of chewing gum being cracked, and you would find Pete Rose’s women.  They had probably been cheerleaders in their youth and were not too intellectual.”


On the Indianapolis 500….

“Gentlemen, start your coffins.”


On John Wooden…

“He was so square he was divisible by 4.”


Jim Murray came from a unique place.


He grew up in Hartford and West Hartford, CT.  His uncle, a card playing, crap shooting, scamming hustler was his strongest role model.  He gave the kid quite an education on angle playing by the time he reached puberty.


Murray graduated from Hartford Public High and Trinity College.  He soon wrote for the Hartford Times and New Haven Register.  Fate brought him to Time magazine, where he was the Hollywood reporter in the glamorous 1940’s and ‘50’s. 


He lunched with Cary Grant.  He sunned poolside while his buddy went in a movie producer’s house to have anonymous, casual sex with Marilyn Monroe.  He knew that Bogie was the farthest thing from a thug.


While based in L.A., Time called upon him to write the odd profile or cover story about sports figures such as Ben Hogan, Mel Patton, Patty O’Brien, Bob Mathias, and Bobby Layne.


Thus was Murray drawn into Time-Life’s plans to launch a weekly Sports magazine.  He joined in the design, writing, photography and editing of the December 1953 and April 1954 Dummies of Sports Illustrated, and remained on hand from its debut in August 1954 to 1961, when he left to become a newspaperman again. 


His last S.I. story was about the Lakers and was titled Ten Tall Men Take a Trip.  In the years to come, he continued to write about roundball, the sport without audience.


His career as a columnist at the L.A. Times is legendary.  14 times he won the NSSA’s Sportswriter of the Year Award, 12 of them consecutively.


While doing so, he detailed many things, including, but not limited to, television’s transformation of sports from insignificant past time to the new American Religion; professional basketball’s evolution from a sport without a following into a powerhouse; the emergence of team owners who were more interested in celebrity than profitability; Boxing as it journeyed from blue collar entertainment to the Art of Ali.  Collegiate Coaching as it morphed from true scholar-athleticism to arrogant win-at-all-costs fuglyness.


Murray comments on all this in 21 short chapters. 


It isn’t all sports and roses.  He explains how he lost a son to the drug culture of the 1970’s.  Ricky Murray failed to wake up after drinking a soda that had been laced with codeine for recreational purposes at a party. 


He shares how just months after Ricky’s death stole the light from the eyes of his wife Gerry, she was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed within a year of her son. 


He describes how he lost his left eye and later the vision in his right eye, and how the L.A. Times supplied him with an assistant to make his life feasible and his work meaningful.


Murray is patently honest.  He admits his shortcomings.  He knows what mistakes he made.


He has Sports in perspective, as shown in his concluding paragraph.


“The ancient Romans described the secret of successful rule as ‘Bread and Circuses’…..I covered the Circus.  I felt privileged to do so.   Some of the happiest hours of my life were spent in a pressbox.  Sure, I helped keep the hype going, the calliope playing.  I can live with that.  That’s what I am…I would have made a lousy President.”


Jim Murray, An Autobiography, was published in 1993.  This book supports the theory that if you want to read a well written, funny, enlightening sports book instead of a dull research-laden one, or a disastrous speak-into-the-microphone player autobio, you need only stick to the guys and gals who wrangle words for a living.


Don’t miss this book.  It’s an A+.


RIP, Mr. Murray.


Go Sox.



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A Mostly Baseball Winter Reading List

Posted by athomeatfenway on November 23, 2012

As I finish reading books about the Union Pacific Railroad, The Calhoun era at UConn, and Babe Ruth’s short ghosted book about his early life & career, I have stopped to make reading plans for the chilly winter.

Within the stack there are titles I want to read and others I feel compelled to read.

Below are the titles and a few words as to why I chose them.  Good luck building your own list.

A Great & Glorious Game.  The Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti.

Published 9 years after his death, this little book is a thoughtful meditation on baseball and character and life.  I feel that I owe it to the man to read it. 

Women At Play:  The Story of Women in Baseball.  Barbara Gregorich.

A comprehensive history of the roles that women have played in pro ball, beginning in 1869.  The author is a lively member of a facebook group in which I chat.  The subject is fairly interesting.  But I want to sample Barbara’s writing first and foremost.

Balldom:  The Britannica of Baseball.  George Moreland.

The full title includes, “Comprising Growth of the Game in Detail. A Complete History of the National and American Leagues. First and Only Authentic Chronology Ever Published. Voluminous Records and Absolutely Accurate Statistics. Fascinating Facts for Fans of America’s Greatest Sport from 1845 to 1914”.

I was lucky to pick up a worn copy of this 98 year old book inexpensively.  I’m a sucker for pre-1930 bargain BB books.  I don’t know why they are intoxicating.  They just are.

Baseball in the Big Leagues.  Johnny Evers.

Originally published as “Touching second”, this 102 year old book is a round-up of Base Ball in Evers’ era, with 15 photos of the greats, like Cobb, Mathewson & Wagner.  Again, lucky me, I picked this up cheaply.  I expect to be transported into an era of rough play and fancy talk.

The Student Loan Scam: the most oppressive debt in U.S History and how we can fight back.  Alan Michael Collinge.

I’m reading this book and it is personal.  My kids are 19, 21 and 25.  We have had to navigate college debt in 3 waves.  Ironically, if my kids were 26, 28 and 32, we’d be sailing along without too much pressure.  College costs doubled from 2003 to 2009.  This book tells the tale of one young man who got deeply in debt, defaulted on his loans, was nailed by hideous added penalties in the multiple 5-figures, and found that the Government provides no support for the indentured.

Hearts of Darkness.  James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens and the unlikely rise of the singer songwriter.  Dave Thompson.

This is a new book.  There is nostalgic appeal for me.  I’d pay to see James Taylor.  In my college years, they taught with Taylor’s lyrics in English classes.  Browne & Stevens are also intruiging. 

The Juju Rules. Or, How to Win Ballgames from Your Couch: A Memoir of a Fan Obsessed.  Hart Seeley.

Do you believe in not saying “this guy’s pitching a no-hitter.” when a no-no is in progress ?  I do.  I don’t care what Dennis Eckersley says.  Tradition and superstition cross paths in baseball. You have to be crazy to mess with that.  This book is about a guy (granted, a funny guy) who works his juju for the Evil Empire.

One Last Strike.  Tony LaRussa.

A must read.  This is the man who took bullpen management to the next level.  The guy who mananged 2 fallen mega stars in Canseco & McGwire.  The dude who managed HOF’ers Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, and briefly, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton.  Not to mention studs George Foster, Ozzie Guillen, Chris Carpenter, Harold Baines, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols.  33 years of managing, with 9 Division flags, 6 pennants & 6 World Championships should tell quite a story.

The Commisioners:  Baseball’s Mid-life Crisis.  Jerome Holtzman.

For me, the façade has already been removed from K.M. Landis, F. Frick and all the others.  I see Bud Selig as little different from all of his predecessors, other than Landis, who might not have been a stooge but was certainly a racist.  I look forward to learning how Mr. Holtzman frames the discussion about a facinating subject.

Baseball’s Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus.  John Theodore & Ira Berkow.

The bio of the player who was shot in his hotel room by a deranged female fan, just like Robert Redford in that movie.

Hi, Everybody !  Herb Carneal with Stew Thornley.

Carneal was the radio broadcaster for the Minnesota Twins from ’62 to ’06.  From Killebrew to Joe Mauer, Carneal was an eye witness to expansion and world championships.  As an added attraction, his co-author, Thornley, is a brilliant guy and speaker.

Game Six.  Mark Frost.

As a Soxaholic, this book is required reading.  One entire book devoted to the Oct. 21, 1975 game in which Fisk hit the fabled home run.

You Can’t Hit the Ball with the Bat on your Shoulder. The Life and Times of Bobby Bragan.  Bobby Bragan with Jeff Guin.

The biography of a 1940’s ballplayer who clashed with Branch Rickey when he brought Robinson up in ’47 to break the color barrier.  Bragan, who passed in 2010, was known to be a wonderful raconteur. 

That’s my list for winter reading.  What is yours ?

Go Sox.

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Frank White, Royal Delight.

Posted by athomeatfenway on November 16, 2012

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In advance of Frank White’s appearance at the World Series Club last night, I surfed the internet. I learned about his 8 gold gloves, 3 All Star games, 1 ALCS MVP, 18 years with George Brett as a Royal, his education in the Royals Baseball Academy, the 1985 World Championship. 

I read about how in Cal Ripken’s first MLB at bat, Cal hit a chopper over the pitcher’s head and through the middle for an apparent single.  White flew in from the right side, pivoted, levitated, and nipped Ripken at first with his throw.  Returning to the O’s dugout, teammate Ken Singleton remarked, “Welcome to the big leagues.  That’s Mr. Frank White.”

I also learned that Frank, true blue KC Royal, had just written a book titled, “One Man’s Dream:  My Town, My Team, My Time.”  In it, he explains that he was fired from his broadcasting job earlier this year in retaliation for quitting  his  position on the Royals Community Team after they cut his pay from $150,000 to $50,000.

Frank made about $5,000,000 or more in his 18 year MLB career.  In case you were wondering.

There was some public squabbling, no doubt.  But Frank did not rip the Royals once last night as he spoke to over 100 members of the World Series Club of Hartford County.

Frank white, the man with a statue outside Kaufmann Stadium, the man from KC and for KC, the player enshrined in the Royals Hall of Fame threw no barbs.  He offered encouragement and insight.

When asked about George Brett he said the HOF’er was the best all around possible player and team leader.  One who did his leading on the field, though.  He wasn’t a locker room leader, like Hal McRae.   Frank explained that he made a decision not to try to stop Brett from charging umpire Tim McLelland in the Pine Tar game.  Brett thought he’d hit a game winning homer and headed for the dugout where White met him and said, “Hey, I wouldn’t be too happy if I were you.” 

“Why is that ?, Brett asked. 

“Because it looks like they are waving off your homer and calling you out.  Look !”

White felt Brett go stiff with anger and did not move a muscle to restrain him.  He let others do the job.  When he got back to the dugout Brett mentioned that White hadn’t tried to stop him, but he was happy that others did.  McLelland is 6’6” and 250 pounds.  “The closer I got to him, the more I started to worry.”

Proud to be a Royal, White described the arc of the franchise history, from expansion club in 1969 (69-93), to winning club in 1971 (85-76), just their third season.

When White joined the team as a shortstop in 1974 he got a good look at Freddie Patek and realized he would need to learn to play second base if he was going to stick with the Royals.  He soon played winter ball to learn that new position, and replaced Cookie Rojas in 1976, the year before Frank won his first gold glove.

Frank said the Royals were an expansion team that became good quickly, suffered a little mediocrity, and then reeled off winning seasons in 11 of 16 years, capturing 6 Division titles, 6 second places, 2 AL pennants and 1 World Championship.  That’s what good drafting & player development will do.

That was followed by a small market crunch in which the Royals did not sign or lock-up high-priced talent, even those they drafted like Johnny Damon.  In the last 23 years of Royals history the team recorded 19 losing seasons, including 16 in last place or next-to-last place.

Frank White doesn’t like the franchise failure.  He is physically and spiritually close to this town and team.  As a kid, he could see the A’s ballpark from his middle school and high school.  As a kid, the gate keeper would let him in for nothing to see the last 3 innings of any game.  KC baseball is in Frank’s DNA.

But Frank White didn’t complain.  Which reminds me of what he said John Maybery told him when he joined the Royals in 1973.  “Kid, we all make mistakes.”, said the dude who would crash 255 career taters.  “But when someone on this team makes a mistake and is asked about it, we just say we made a mistake and move on.  We learn from it.  That’s it.  That’s what you need to do.”

Frank learned plenty.

He was a pleasure to listen to on this particular evening.  His new book is on my Christmas list.

Go Sox.

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Posted by athomeatfenway on July 15, 2012

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July 21 is a special date in Baseball history.  Some good things happened.  The Braves clinched a pennant in 1958.  Vida Blue tossed a no-no in 1971.

And some bad things happened, too. 

On Sept. 21, 1958, Ted Williams hit Joe Cronin’s housekeeper in the face with his bat after angrily flinging it into the stands.

Temperamental Ted added a chapter to his stormy career that day.  He struck out looking in the 3rd inning and whipped the bat 75 feet, giving Gladys Heffernan a left eye contusion, according to the NY Times.

Gladys immediately said she knew that Ted did not mean to do it.

Williams apologized profusely and squarely accepted the blame.  He visited Gladys in the 5th inning.  He pulled himself together and doubled in a run in the 6th.  Still, the incident added to Ted’s legacy of self-absorption and anger.

Ted’s behavior aside, July 21 is a day upon which another bad thing occurred, the very worst thing possible.  It happened to the Washington Senators & their fans.  And Ted was involved in that, too.

It was the day that Washington lost its baseball team. 

Shelby Whitfield’s 1973 book, Kiss it Goodbye, details how a trucking millionaire from greater Minneapolis sold a community of baseball fans down the river for some gold.  And not for the first time, either.

Ted Williams was the Manager of the Senators, having been recruited out of retirement by team owner Bob Short for the 1969 season.  This immediately worked out swell.  Ted won AL Manager of the Year in ’69.  His hitting techniques, his effusive support for all, and his intentional distancing of himself from the coaching of the pitching staff resulted in a sea change for the Senators.  They went from 65 – 96 WL in 1968 to 86 – 76 in 1969.  The Nats’ team BA jumped 27 points.

Unfortunately, Bob Short’s secret agenda was to move the Senators to Texas within 3 years, before the 1972 campaign, and end 71 years of baseball in the Nation’s Capital.  Hiring Ted was part of his plan.  With Ted as his field Manager, he not only had a keen baseball mind in the game, he also had a man who would call Tom Yawkey to ask for his support when the AL owners would vote to approve the Senators move to Texas.

Short purchased the Nats for $9 million.  He increased ticket prices by 125%.  He stopped donating tickets to kids and wounded servicemen.  He traded away his best young talent for has-beens with injuries or declining skills.  He signed faded stars.  After the resurgence of 1969, his player personnel moves sank the team back to the bottom of the AL East.

All the while Short complained about how much money he was losing because D.C. was a lousy baseball town.  He built his case for 3 years and forced a vote to approve the move.

In the weeks before the decisive owners’ meeting the outcome was in doubt.  A three-quarter majority vote among 12 voting teams was required.  The Orioles, Angels, Athletics and White Sox opposed the move.  The rest had their reasons for supporting it.  Cal Griffith of the Twins was a Yes because Short’s departure would make his own 1961 abandonment of D.C. seem more acceptable.  The Detroit Tigers had been bribed by Short’s sending of Joe Coleman, Aurelio Rodriguez and Eddie Brinkman in one-sided trades. New York, Kansas City and Cleveland owners were in the Yes column because they, too, were threatening to leave their homes for more lucrative pastures. Milwaukee was supportive because Short had supported them when they wanted to leave Seattle in 1970.  Counting Short’s vote, that made it 7 – 4 in favor, with Boston in play. 

In the days before the vote, writes Whitfield, Williams called Yawkey on Short’s behalf and secured his support.  That made it 8 – 4.

On Sept. 21, the AL owners met at the Sheraton Plaza Hotel in Boston to vote on whether Short could move.  Yawkey was in the bag.  Gene Autrey, lying in a hospital bed across Beantown, was persuaded to back Short, too.   The final vote came down 9 – 3.  Bowie Kuhn was soon advised not to overturn the vote.  He certainly could have blocked the move.  He was concerned he would lose support and his job in the long run.

Near the end of 1971, Short accepted a $7.5 Million payday from the City of Arlington, Texas.  Then, in 1973, Short sold 86% of the Rangers to Brad Corbett for $8.3 million.  It is safe to assume Short pocketed several millions in profits in the process by selling food and broadcasting rights in 1972, and his 14% ownership stake.

It was a premeditated shakedown.  Buy a team, cut salaries, cut staff and other operating costs, double ticket prices, stop paying rent & phone, stop paying vendors, complain about lack of fan support, and accept money to move the team to a new market in which you can reap millions through the sale of new media rights.  Bingo.

Whitfield does a great job explaining the progression of Short’s plan and he fills it with lots of colorful misbehavior by Short, Ted, Denny McLain and others.  Whitfield also devotes a chapter to The Gentle Giant, Frank Howard, so this book is not all about exposing dirty laundry.

The 40th anniversary of the vote to leave Washington will be on Sept. 21, just 62 days from today.  

33 painful years with no major league baseball followed that vote until the Expos decamped for D.C. in 2004, becoming the Nationals.

And 40 years have passed since the Rangers began play in Texas.

Are the Baseball Gods lining up a mystical World Series in 2012 between the Rangers and the Nationals, two teams related illegitimately by bribery and greed in a shady corner of baseball’s family tree?

I would love to see it.

Go Sox.


Here are a few nuggets about other events that went down on September 21 in BB history.

In 1916, rookie Tris Speaker went 4-for-6, helping the Indians down Walter Johnson and the Nats, 3 – 2.

In 1901, the Senators and Indians combined for a total of 22 errors in one game.

In 1907, Fred “Boner” Merkle made his first appearance in a NY Giant uniform.

In 1966, just 440 fans saw the Cubs beat the Reds at Wrigley.

In 1971, Dave McNally shuts out the Yankees for his 20th win.  4 O’s starters won 20 that year.

In 1963, Yogi Berra hit his 358th and last HR.

In 1958, The Braves clinched the pennant in Milwaukee.  The same date that Ted hit Gladys.  🙂

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A blurb or two about ‘Fire’ Trucks

Posted by athomeatfenway on June 12, 2012


There were several quick-read publications in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.  A magazine named Quick is the most memorable for many people.  But there were others.




I came across a 16 page booklet called Sports Shorts, sponsored by apparel maker Croll & Keck.  Published in June 1939.   Stanley B. Frank, Editor.  I had never seen it before.




Sports Shorts opens with 6 quick blurbs.  One is about how the Chicago Cubs signed a 12-year-old New York kid, Charley ‘Red’ Solomon.  And how the Boston Bruins bested that by signing 5-year-old Donald Clapper.  Red and Donald are not listed in the majors or minor leagues of Baseball and Hockey on    Only Donald’s Dad, Dit Clapper, the 20 year Bruins veteran defenseman and Hall of Famer, is listed.




Thus, some blurbs portend nothing.  Then again…….




There is one prescient blurb on the page.




“It was only in the Alabama-Florida League, of course, but 19-year-old Virgil ‘Fire’ Trucks gave the boys an all-time strikeout record to shoot at last year.  Pitching for Andalusia, Ala., Trucks fanned 418 batters in 273 innings – or more than 15 a game !  Among other things, Trucks pitched two no-hitters, scored 12 shutouts and won 25 games while losing 6.”




418 is a nice number.  It’s not the biggest.  Matt Kilroy of 1886 Orioles had 513 strikeouts.  Still, 418 is killer, and Trucks’ K/IP ratio of 1.53 is other worldly.


As auspicious as Mr. Trucks’ professional beginning seemed, he did not become a Cy Young winner or a Hall of Famer.  He was a very effective starter.  He completed a 17 year MLB career with a 177 – 135 record, led the league in shutouts and K’s once each, was a 2x All Star, a 3.39 career ERA, giving the majority of those years to the Tigers.




When he no-hit the Yankees in 1952, he joined Johnny Vandermeer and Allie Reynolds as the only pitchers to throw two no-no’s in one season.  (They were joined in 1973 by Nolan Ryan.)




Trucks served 2 years in the military during  WWII, rejoining the Tigers just in time to be inserted on the roster for the 1945 World Series.  Trucks started 2 Series games, getting a W, and registering a 3.38 ERA, similar to his career ERA.




He played for some bad Tigers teams after the ’45 World Series.  Run support was frequently woeful.  He was traded to the Browns and White Sox as a starter.  He was signed by the A’s and the Yankees to work out of the bullpen.  By the time he hung it up at age 42, he could still pitch but he just didn’t have the interest in playing any more.  He was done.




Done — except for one little barnstorming foray in 1960 at age 43.  Trucks and his old Browns teammate, Satchel Paige, signed on to be opposing starters in a tour of Cuban All Stars.  The tour started in Kansas and headed for Mexico.  All went well until the promoters failed to pay Trucks and Paige, causing them to leave the team.  Soon thereafter, the Castro revolution broke out and the Cubans departed for their island home, too.






The ever succeeding Mr. Trucks continues to succeed today.  The 95-year-old resides in Calera, Alabama with his 4th wife.




He may not have won a CY, but he surely is durable.




Go Sox.






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Racism, Radio & Baseball

Posted by athomeatfenway on June 1, 2012

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As I said in previous posts, one finds Baseball embedded in unlikely and surprising places.


I was in an Antiques Co-op scanning book spines when my eyes fell upon an orange colored hardcover titled, All about Amos & Andy and their Creators, Correll & Gosden.


Year of Publication:  1929.


Amos & Andy was a situation comedy set in the African American community that was hugely successful first on Radio in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, and later on TV in the early 50’s.


Two Caucasian men, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, played Amos & Andy, putting on blackface and affecting an African American period dialect.  Andy is the smart one.  He is the President of the Fresh Air Cab Company.  Andy is too lazy to even bait his own hook when fishing.  He persuades his less astute sidekick, Amos, to do the baiting as well as any other dirty work that needs be done.


“Crude, repetitious and moronic” was how the Pittsburgh Courier described Correll & Gosden’s portrayal of African Americans in a 1930 denunciation of the show.  At the time, The Courier was the largest circulation African American newspaper in the U.S..


 I expected this book to be offensive.  I saw photos, dialogue and text that exemplified how dumb, dishonest, greedy, uneducated and inarticulate these black folk were.


Meanwhile, Gosden & Correll are shown to be collegial, creative, hardworking, talented and even kind to black people.


“I am disgusted!” comes out of Amos as “I’se regusted !”  “Multiplying and dividing” is “Muslyfyin and reviden” when Andy says it.


Amos and Andy were a couple of dum dums.  So dumb they were hilarious to the superior white folks who accepted the stereotype.


When I turned to page 76 I found a sepia toned photo of Correll & Gosden, sans black face, surrounded by Ray Schalk and 8 uniformed members of the 1927 White Sox.  They were entertaining Schalk and the boys with tales of a recent Southern performance tour. 


I wondered what the connection could be between these performers and MLB.  Could they have been part owners of a team at one time ?  Or a minor league team ?  Or just enormous White Sox fans who made sure this photo was included ?


I searched the web, the NY Times archives, even Google Images for any documented connection between MLB and Correll and Gosden.


In the end, I found no connection whatsoever.  Until I do, I’ll presume that Amos & Andy were just associating their brand with the wildly popular sport of Baseball, just like Charlie Sheen in a photo op at Yankee Stadium.



In 1929, MLB likely didn’t mind the association with these performers of openly racist entertainment.


In 1912, Ty Cobb was suspended for beating a fan in the stands who had called him a “half-n****r”.  Cobb said he would not take that from any man.  He was quickly reinstated after his teammates didn’t show up for the next game in protest over Cobb’s treatment.


Leigh Montville’s fine book on Babe Ruth states that the Babe had to live with taunts about his heritage, frequently referred to by opposing players as “N****r Lips.” 


When you really wanted to insult a man to throw him off his game 90 years ago, you used the N word.


It was all cool in that day and age.


So Radio and Print weren’t the only part of American society that viewed African Americans as second class citizens in 1929 — 18 years before Jackie Robinson was allowed to play in a MLB game.


Amos & Andy fit into American Society right next to Baseball.  It was a perfect.  America loved all-white Baseball just as it loved Amos & Andy, who could be heard 6 nights a week all year long.


Racism.  Baseball.  Radio.  Publishing.  It all went together.


What our grandparents regarded as normal can be thought of as an abomination today.


But Racism has not been abolished.  You will hear it spoken aloud if you listen.  I have.


It is just spoken more quietly and by fewer people than in Correll & Gosden’s times.


Go Sox !


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Next time life bites, think of Zamperini

Posted by athomeatfenway on June 1, 2012

I felt fine when I went to sleep last night.  But I must have inhaled a pound of goldenrod yesterday because I woke up today with the impossible to miss signs of early stage bronchitis.  My post nasal had been dripping all night.  It felt like swallowing a swallow (or anything the size of a small boney bird) every time I took a slug of morning joe.

Aside from the sore throat, and a worn throaty speaking voice, I felt wiped out.  I felt like I had slept 2 hours when I had actually slept almost 7.

I decided it would be smart to take a sick day.  Nip this thing right in the bud.  Stay home, watch movies, eat popcorn, and heal up.

Such thoughts made me smile ear to ear.

And then I thought about Louie Zamperini.

Louie grew up a poor little thief in Torrance, California.  He constantly stole food, bikes, money, anything.  He ran away so fast with the booty that he could not be caught.  After flunking his way into the 10th grade, he began to run track.  By the time he was 20, he had broken every amateur miler record in the books and run the 1500 meters in the 1936 Olympics in Munich.

By 1946, he had been shot down in a B-24 over the Pacific, been marooned on a raft at sea for 47 days, and been interred in a series of Japanese P.O.W. camps over 3 years.  He was constantly tortured, denigrated, forced to haul fece, do push ups in fece, and live in fece.  He dropped 70 pounds.  Finally, he was allowed to soar on the wings of liberation just 7 days before he was to be executed with every other P.O.W. held in the waning days of WWII.

By 1952, Louis had staggered through years of despair.  He was fleeced in a series of sham investments, been married to a special woman but never felt psychologically well enough to make the marriage work.  By then he had also met Billy Graham.  The preacher helped Louie find peace, and the love to forgive the men who cut him, kicked him and punched him in the face every day for 3 years.  

I choked back tears when I read how Louie felt when the prison guards ran away from the prison in August of 1945, leaving the emaciated Allied GI’s free to watch American pilots tossing provisions from the sky into the prison yard.  I welled up again when Louie found withheld mail containing family photos, beloved that he had not seen in 5 years.  The Japanese had denied him his life, his family, and his dignity.

With all of that in mind, I thought, shoot, I can go to work.  If Zamperini could be knocked down 10,000 times and come up standing with feces and blood about him, how could I ever complain about the comparatively small problems that I endure?

Louis is 95 years old now.  I hope he lives long enough to see a movie made about his life, as was documented in Laura Hillenbrand’s acclaimed best selling book, Unbroken.  Universal bought the option last year.

Louie’s life is a testament to how much a person can endure, and how even the most heinous crimes can be forgiven by its victims.


Go Sox.

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Oil Can Boyd & the Red Menace: 2 we can do without

Posted by athomeatfenway on May 7, 2012

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On Nov. 19, 2007, Oil Can Boyd arrived late at the World Series Club dinner for which he was to be the featured speaker.  He wasn’t apologetic.  He strutted in with a big chip on his shoulder.

There was hope that the eccentric hurler would be insightful and entertaining.  Perhaps he’d explain why he became angry when he wasn’t selected for the 1986 All Star team, subsequently going AWOL and being suspended by the Sox.  Or maybe he would tell us how it felt to pitch the Division clincher at Fenway, propelling Boston into the ’86 playoffs.

No chance.  He was all working class braggadocio, asserting his greatness (in his own mind) and fudging his way through 30 minutes of innocuous and boring drivel.  His speaking skills were non-existent, his focus spun out of control.  Never again, I told myself.  The Can is a mess.

Boyd is all over the media this week promoting his new book, They call me Oil Can, co-written with Mike Shalin.

Can wasn’t any more coherent this week than he was in 2007.   He told WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan that…and I am paraphrasing…although he had smoked pot and crack cocaine while playing in the MLB, he was still the greatest athlete on any field when he was on it, so imagine just how great he could have been sober, but never second guess his right to smoke crack or pot before a game because doing drugs is an inalienable right, and even with the drug habit he was still better than everyone else, and his drinking and drugging was an abomination…but he doesn’t regret it…yada yada yada. 

He further told the EEI guys that he was blessed with “a super uncanny ability to play baseball”.  “I went 16 – 10 in ’86 but missed a month, I should have been 20 – 6.”

“I smoke pot…I’ve been doing that since I was 12 years old…I made it to the Major Leagues smoking weed…I made my high school baseball team smoking weed..I’m in my college Hall of Fame…I’m in my conference Hall of Fame.”

I think we can guess where Oil Can stands on legalization of marijuana.

And then there was his take on racism on the Red Sox.  Can is certain that one Hall of Fame 3rd Baseman and the front office that tolerated him were the tandem that fomented bigotry in Beantown.

“I know Wade Boggs was a bigot.  He was raised that way.  His Daddy was.  He was.  He used the word nigger every day.  I confronted him about it every time he did it.  But I would turn out to be the bad guy every time I did.”

You can listen to the 20 minute interview on  By the time it concludes, Can has dropped several F bombs and hung up on the radio hosts.

He’s out of control.

He is an embarrassment.


Speaking of embarrassments to Baseball, I am enjoying the Mike Bass book about the most eccentric owner in baseball history, Marge Schott Unleashed.

I like that title, with its leash reference. It recalls how the red menace would lead her German shepard, Schotzie, around Riverfront Stadium, where he one day peed in a luxury box near, but not upon, the Commissioner of Baseball.

Bass explains how MLB did not properly vet Marge Schott before approving her purchase of the Reds in 1984.  Had they dug a bit, they may have run away like a hound in a hornet’s nest.

Bass defines Marge’s constant and casual use of the N word.  She referred to Dave Parker at the Millionaire N****r.  She called Eric David the Trouble Maker N****r.  Her nickname for Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was The Little N****r.

Her bigotry wasn’t limited to African Americans.

When her GM was closing a lucrative deal with Ticketmaster for her, she instructed him to watch his back because she didn’t trust those “sneaky Jews”.

She also didn’t like homosexuals.

She also didn’t approve of pre-marital sex.  She fired Davey Johnson for living with his fiancé even though he won a Division title.

She didn’t like people purchasing “cars made by Japs”.  She didn’t like it that Asian American kids outdid others in school.

She had a Nazi armband.  She praised Adolf Hitler.  “He was good at the beginning but went too far.”

Great gal, wasn’t she ?  Marge Schott’s racism was so acute it bordered on the surreal.


Oil Can Boyd and Marge Schott are/were car wrecks.  Oil Can ruined his career with drink and drugs.  He made himself miserable.  Marge Schott, as far as I can tell, made everyone around her unhappy.

These are two rare and strange birds, indeed.

Let’s count our lucky stars they don’t make them like that anymore.

Go Sox.

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