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Gary Carter, a dream fulfilled

Posted by athomeatfenway on March 22, 2012

 

You really shouldn’t mess with Ray Knight.  At 6 ft 1” and 185 wiry strong pounds, the former gold glove boxer had a fast and stunning jab.  On July 22, 1986 in the 10th inning at Riverfront Stadium, that is exactly what Eric Davis did.  Davis stole third and laid on top of the Mets third baseman.  As they separated, Ray popped Davis on the chin.  Chaos ensued.  The dugouts and bullpens emptied.  Catcher Gary Carter pinned Davis to the ground as shouts and threats poured from the Reds outfielder.  After a 10 minute delay things settled down.  Knight, Davis and Mets outfielder Kevin Mitchell were ejected.

 

 

 

The score was tied.  The Mets were out of 3rd basemen and back-up outfielders.  Manager Davey Johnson placed Gary Carter at 3rd base, where he had not played since sandlot days.  Johnson sent lefty reliever Jesse Orosco to the outfield.  He placed righty reliever Roger McDowell on the mound.  For the next 5 innings, Johnson shuffled Orosco and McDowell back and forth from the mound to the outfield depending on who was hitting.  Meanwhile, Gary Carter had the time of his life playing 3rd base as the Mets won it with 3 runs in the 14th.

 

 

 

Carter gleefully embraced that chance to play 3rd.  He grabbed a fielder’s glove, whipped off his catchers gear and thought, “This is great !  I get to play Brooks Robinson’s position.”

 

 

 

That was how Mr. Carter approached life.  All of it.

 

 

 

A Dream Season.  Gary Carter with John Hough.  Harcourt Brace.  1987.

 

 

 

Dream Season is the story of a dream fulfilled.  Gary Carter grew up in Fullerton, California, playing wiffle ball with his older brother, Gordy, in back of their home.  He spent a lot of time standing at the plate, dreaming he was Mickey Mantle. 

 

 

 

World Series.  2 outs. 2 men on.  Bottom of the 9th.   Team down by 2.

 

 

 

He spent a lot of time thinking about Ernie Banks.  19 MLB seasons.  512 homeruns.  Two time MVP.  He thought of how Ernie Banks never played in a World Series.

 

 

 

Young Carter would give anything to play in a World Series, he thought.

 

 

 

After being drafted and signed by the Expos in 1973, Carter progressed through 3 minor league seasons and landed in Montreal.  There he established himself as an All Star catcher with a big smile and a knack for hitting with men on base.

 

Clubhouse haters were jealous of Carter’s popularity.  The Hawk, HOF’er Andre Dawson, kept his distance.  Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie, among others, mocked the catcher.

 

Carter earned numerous accolades & achievements while an Expo, including 7 All Star appearances, 4 Gold Gloves, 2 Silver Sluggers, 1 RBI title, 2 All Star Game MVP awards, and 5 times garnering NL MVP votes.

 

 

 

Team owner Charles Bronfman resented his All Star catcher.  Expos President John McHale had talked Bronfman into signing Carter for $14 million over 7 years in February of 1982 to preclude Carter from leaving via free agency.

 

 

 

$2 Million may be what a mediocre reliever earns today but it was top dollar in 1982.  Only Dave Winfield and George Foster were pulling down $2 Mill at that time.

 

 

 

Bronfman was dissatisfied with Carter.  He hit well, averaging .285 B.A., with 24 or more homers and 94 RBI from 1982 to 1984.  Bronfman wanted more. 

 

 

 

LA Times columnist Jim Murray wrote, “What does Gary Carter have to do to be appreciated ?  If he were to save an infant from a burning building, the mother would ask, Where is my kid’s hat ?”.

 

 

 

Bronfman wanted Carter to lead the Expos to the World Series. It didn’t happen. In successive years after the contract signing, the Expos finished third, third and fifth.

 

 

 

On Dec. 10, 1984, the Expos sent Carter to the Mets for four players including Hubie Brooks.

 

 

 

The Expos finished no better than third for the 7 seasons that followed.

 

 

 

The book details his days as an Expo, the departure from the dysfunctional Montreal locker room and the arrival in the nirvana of the Mets organization, studded with young hitting and pitching stars.

 

 

 

Carter takes us through the championship season, one of the last years before the widespread tainting of MLB by performance enhancing drug use.  It’s a story from a slightly more innocent time, told to us by a God fearing family man.

 

 

 

Carter captures the demise of the 1986 Boston Red Sox in great clarity.  Some golden nuggets:

 

 

 

The guilt of the monumental “passed ball” in Game 6 is placed on Rich Gedman’s shoulders.  The pitch was wild but it was obvious exactly where that ball was headed.  It was a catchable ball.  That is why Wilson, the batter, was able to get out of its way. 

 

 

 

Carter repeatedly calls Marty Barrett “a little pest.”  Barrett earned the sobriquet.  He batted .433 in the 2-hole between Boggs and Buckner.

 

 

 

Bruce Hurst did not live up to Bob Ojeda’s scouting report as “soft”.  Carter said that Hurst could pitch in any league.  He was super.

 

 

 

Calvin Schiradi had been the stopper in the Sox bullpen all year.  But Calvin’s former team mates on the Mets knew they could hit Cal.  They did, hanging 2 losses and a 13.50 ERA on him in the Series.  Schiraldi’s failures were the key to the World Series defeat.

 

 

 

Interestingly, Carter cites Mookie Wilson’s desire and positive energy as a reason that the ball slipped between Buckner’s legs.  Wilson played all out as a sub in 1986 after having lost his starting job in the outfield.  When Wilson weakly hit a Bob Stanley pitch up the line in the bottom of the 10th in Game 6, he busted to 1st base with everything he had.  Wilson’s speed was on Buckner’s mind when he took his eye off the ball for a micro-second, at exactly the wrong time, according to Carter.  It made all the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carter closes this book by recognizing that he had reached the World Series, his promised land, and that he would not end up as Ernie Banks did.  He thanked Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

With the passing of Gary Carter on Feb. 16 came multitudes of praise for a decent, wholesome, fun loving man, a man who loved his wife, Sandy, and children.  There is nothing in this 25 year old book to make you think otherwise.  He takes his shots in a fair manner and keeps this very interesting book positive.

 

 

 

There’s no better time to pick this book up for a read.  It helps to put Gary’s life, now complete, in perspective.  And helps us do the same with our own.

 

 

 

Go Sox.

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Bob Welch: In search of a better life

Posted by athomeatfenway on March 12, 2012

Glorious things come to mind when thinking of Bob Welch, the right handed power pitcher with a 211 – 146 record & 3.47 ERA over 17 years.  He is the last major leaguer to win 27 games.  He pitched in 4 World Series, earning rings in ’81 and ’89.

Welch is the winner of the 1990 Cy Young, trumping Roger Clemens even though his E.R.A. was 2.95 and Roger’s was 1.93.

As a Dodger he played with Garvey, Baker, Sutcliffe and Fernando.  As an Athletic he teamed with Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley, Ricky and Jose.

As a 21 year old, he struck out Reggie Jackson in the ’78 Series.

I did not used to think of Bob Welch as a former alcoholic who was on a sure fire path to an early death. Doomed until Fred Claire and Tommy LaSorda intervened.

Reading this book changed that perception.

Five O’Clock Comes Early.  A Cy Young Award Winner Recounts His Greatest Victory.  Bob Welch and George Vecsey.  (1982).  1991/Fireside edition.

“Of course, the Welches are a drinking family.”, writes Welch.

The Welches lived in Ferndale, MI and sent Bob to Hazel Park High School.   His family came from Paducah, KY.  They were driven by the Great Depression and WWII employment opportunities in the Motor City.

The Welches came north in search of a better life.

“Of course, the Welches are a drinking family.”

He remembers talking his first drinks at age 10 at a wedding, when he and a cousin guzzled down abandoned 7 & 7’s.

He got drunk for the first time at age 15, when he chugged a bottle of Mogen David before attending a football game with a bunch of friends who each slugged down a bottle of pre-game booze.

“Some of the other kids couldn’t keep it down…I was a good drinker.  I could guzzle down a lot of beer, too, more than most guys.”

“Pot or cocaine made me jump around, want to eat, want to go to sleep…I liked depressants and I liked the feeling of getting drunk…You could sit in a bar all night and drink and tell stories and laugh your ass off.”

Young Welch’s daily passion for drinking became a daily habit early on.  He suffered from frequent black outs, not remembering his verbal abuse of family, friends and strangers, or his physical destruction of property, or the embarrassing scenes in restaurants.

By the time he reached the major leagues he was lost; a 21 year old reliever for Tom LaSorda’s Dodgers, drinking beer during games and kicking in hotel doors at night.

Welch was set up to fail.  He grew up in a drinking home.  His habit grew unchecked until he was on the path of self-destruction.

The search for a better life is Mr. Welch’s journey.

Hazel Park kids were tough.  They were greatly competitive in sports, and equally competitive when chasing women, drinking beer or playing pool.  After a game, Hazel Park folk head for the Rainbow Bar to trade insults, cuss up a storm, eat pizza, and buy a round.  “And drink some of those beers just to show I was one of the guys.”, says Welch.

Raised on Howard, Giff and Dandy, bred on McLain, Kaline, Harwell and Lolich, Bob Welch was equal parts Detroit fan and local sports star.

It wasn’t all about baseball, though.

He loved to shoot the basketball.  He was so confident that he sought games against black players in the city.  He won the Detroit City P.A.L. Championship while moonlighting on the West Side Cubs.

He was unable to sit still.

He was an often injured kid.  By the time he was 8, he broke his arm, fractured his collar bone and took 10 stitches in the head in 3 separate instances.  Parrot fever threatening his life at age 11, causing a 39 day hospital stay and requiring Bob to wear drainage tubes in his ears for 1 year. 

His injuries persisted until his sophomore year in college, when he tore up his knee and committed to stop taking risks with his body.

“I thought the scouts were interested and I got it in my mind to be the next Mickey Lolich.  I kept waiting for the Tigers to draft me.”

But, the Cubs took him in the 14th round of the 1974 draft and offered $5,000.  “…hell, I could have cleared 5 grand selling marijuana in the neighborhood.”, wrote Bob.

Welch chose college instead of the Cubs.  Many schools wanted him, but Eastern Michigan State’s Ron Oestrike and Roger Coryell cared the most about him.

Welch drank his way through EMU.  He drank right through freshman and sophomore years and into the subsequent off season when he toured Japan with a college all star team coached by the famed Ron Dedeaux of U.S.C..

“You’ve got to stop drinking.  You act just like an alcoholic when you’ve had a drink.”, Deadeaux told him.

That was the first time anyone had confronted him about his drinking.  He denied and deflected Dedeaux.  But he never forgot what the Coach said.

As a junior, Welch progressed well toward the June draft until his elbow exploded.  Surgery was required.  As he rehabbed, most of the scouts disappeared.  All of them except for the Dodgers’ Dale McReynolds, that is.  McReynolds kept showing up. He liked what he saw. 

He was picked by the Dodgers in the 1st round of the 1977 Draft.  The team flew Welch to L.A..  They wined him, dined him and had Dr. Frank Jobe examine him. They suited him up for a tossing session at Dodger Stadium.

Welch remembers Dodgers Stadium being so bright and clean that day that you could eat off the floors.  (A striking contrast to the dirty, run down park operated now by Frank McCourt.)

Nobe Kawano gave him a uniform.  He dressed silently near Don Sutton, Tommy John and Davey Lopes.

The Dodger brass watched Welch throw in the bullpen.  “…and I knew I had some really nasty shit.”

His agent, Bob Fenton arranged a $55,000 signing bonus and off to AA San Antonio went Welch.

After striking out many and walking few in the minors, LaSorda called up Welch.  He debuted on June 12, 1978.  He was still 21 years old.

Lasorda used him in relief 10 times.  He started Welch in 13 games.  The pride of Hazel Park went 7 – 2, with a 2.02 ERA and 3 saves.  Welch did not deliver an overall good performance in the World Series, but he did have his star moment when striking out Reggie.

Welch would contribute in relief and as a starter in 1979, too, going 5 – 6, 3.98 with 5 saves.  But he was displaying risky behavior.  He learned that he could slip into the dugout during the game and down a can of beer before anyone noticed he was gone, or so he thought.  In addition to getting a buzz-on during games, he showed up for games hammered.  Team mate Rick Sutcliffe sobered him up more than once. 

Bob was getting drunk every day.  He was drunk as soon as he had one drink.  He frequently stayed up all night drinking.

None of this was new.  Bob had been acting this way since college.  No one except Rod Dedeaux had said anything to him about it.

That changed in January of 1980 when the Dodgers arranged an intervention.

The rest of the story is about how Welch stopped drinking and faced his fears during an extended stay at an Arizona rehab facility.

Hats off to LaSorda and Claire for making Welch the first participant in a newly established alcohol treatment program with The Dodgers.  They saved his life.  He owes the last 15 years of his baseball career and everything else to them.

You’ll find the balance of the book honest, ugly and renewing.  If you have a friend you suspect is an alcoholic this book is of special value.  You’ll learn there are 20 questions.  If you answer yes to 3 of them, you are an alcoholic. 

Baseball is life.  Baseball is about so much more than just baseball.

Choose your cliché.

This is one book that proves it.

This book is the story of how Bob Welch found a better life.

Go Sox !

Posted in BASEBALL, BASEBALL BOOKS | 2 Comments »

The History of Base Ball in 211 pages

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 11, 2012

I picked up a crisp new copy of George Vecsey’s 2006 book, BASEBALL, at a bargain book sale.  An intoxicating black & white vintage Yankee Stadium photo beckoned from the dust jacket.

It is a pathetically short book of just 211 pages.  The Glen Stouts and John Thorns of the world crank out BB history books 2 or 3 times that length as fast as Kevin Youkilis changes wives, legal or otherwise.  I wasn’t expecting much.

I met Mr. Vecsey at a SABR function at a time when I had read the first 40 pages of BASEBALL.  Looking like a bearded monk or philosophy professor and in jacket & tie, Vecsey smiled warmly when he recognized which title I was asking him to sign.  “Oh, god !  This little book.  Great.”, he gushed.  He signed the title page, “To Karl, Thanks for caring about my history book.”

I did not start out liking the book.  By the time I was done I was connected to George Vescey’s personal family link to Our Game, and enlightened with a concise view of where Baseball now resides with Bud Selig and the owners.

BASEBALL is organized into 20 chapters.  Each tells a significant part of baseball’s narrative, from the origin of a bat and ball game by the nomadic Berbers of Libya to the four scandals that rocked the game between 1980 and 2010.

The writing is elegant and concise.  Vecsey covers ground quickly.  He reveals that Baseball evolved rather than being invented.  He tracks A.G. Spalding’s entrepreneurial rise. Doubleday is dismissed. The Deadball Era explodes with roughnecks and the occasional gentleman.  And then…The Black Sox.

Vecsey’s opens his chapter on the 1919 White Sox with 53 words straight from heaven.

“They are the lost boys of baseball, lashed together, eight of them, in a ship that can never return to harbor.  Even today, as the eight exiles from the 1919 Chicago White Sox bob outside the boundaries of the sport, they are a living reminder of what can go wrong when leadership fails.”

The author spends just 6 pages on the big fix.  Anyone who has read the Eliot Asinof book and seen the John Sayles film will recognize this summation of all the players and parts.  This is the Cliff Notes.  It is not satisfying, but is still pretty good, and wonderfully written.

The author moves onward, focusing on the Babe, Branch Rickey, the Negro Leagues, Radio broadcasters, WW II, Integration, Westward Expansion, Free Agency, the historical context of the Yankee ballclub, the International game, labor-management strife, four scandals (recreational drugs, Pete rose, Collusion, and P.E.D’s.), and finally, the reversal of an 86 year-old-curse, and others.

George Vecsey brings it home in the end with a story about how his kid brother Chris, a distinguished Professor at Colgate, plays Town Ball on July 4th  in Hamilton , N.Y..  The annual game is played for fun with loose rules and teams made of men, boys and girls.  On one occasion, a batter was chased far from the diamond into a wooded stream in order not to be soaked, i.e., hit with the ball and made out.  After a wet crossing, the batter stood on the far bank, taunting his pursuers, who finally gave up and walked back.  The play that day on Colgate’s rugby lawn was all in fun, just as it was all in fun for Vecsey 50 years ago when he and his brother played the game as boys on the back lawn of their childhood home.

Vecsey has covered the game for 50 years.  He has lived with the game for 70 years.  He has shown us where the game lives in his heart.

Xxxxxxxxx

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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.

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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.

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Spahn & Juan & the thrill was on

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 31, 2011

On the same day that the media made me smile by reporting that Hal Steinbrenner tried to cheat the I.R.S. out of $460,000, author Jim Kaplan made me doubly happy when I read in his book that the Evil ones buried Vic Power in the minors for 5 years because his skin was too black.

That’s the kind of Yankee dirt for which I’m always looking.

I came across this factoid in Kaplan’s well-researched and eloquent book, The Greatest Game Ever Pitched, Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn and the Pitching Duel of the Century.  (Triumph, 2011.). 

The subject is the 16-inning duel on July 2, 1963 at Candlestick between 42-year old Warren Spahn and 25-year old Juan Marichal.  The old man and the kid, future Hall of Famers.  Both men pitched a complete game.  Spahn threw 201 pitches.  Marichal threw 227.  Willie Mays beat Spahn with a solo homer in the bottom of the 16th.  Final score Giants 1, Braves 0.

7 HOF’ers saw action.  Spahn, Marichal, Mays, McCovey, Aaron, Matthews and Cepeda.

There were 256 warm up pitches.  427 pitches thrown to batters.  Great fielding plays and errors.  Stolen bases and pickoffs.  Singles, doubles, and a final culminating confrontation between 2 All Time Greats, Mays and Spahn.

The game itself is a 16 inning delight.  But if the telling of the game were all the story, this book would be very short — or so stretched out it would be boring.

So Kaplan gives us much more than the game.  He intersperses Marichal and Spahn’s life stories.  He writes sidebars about other notable pitching duels, record games and other studies.  He recreates Jack Morris’ 10-inning complete game in the 7th game of the 1991 World Series, Harvey Haddix’s 1959 13-inning perfect game loss to Lou Burdette & the Braves, the 1981 duel between Yale’s Ron Darling and St. John’s Frank Viola in which the former pitched a no-hitter for 11 innings while the latter pitched a shutout for 12.  He lobbies for Johnny Sain’s HOF-worthy career as a pitcher and a coach, and details the 33 inning game in 1981 between the Rochester Redwings (with Cal Ripken) and the Pawtucket Red Sox (with Wade Boggs).  All of these diversions are crisp and riveting.

One thing that Kaplan does singularly well is to meld in germane insights from other authors to illuminate a point — or render one poetic.

For instance, Kaplan first compares the MLB crowds of today to those of 1963.   In 2011, they rock to rap music, semi-aware a game is being played.  In 1963, they are focused on play completely.  Kaplan borrows a line to transport us:  “Immersed as they were, the fans reflected Paul Gallico’s description of baseball onlookers.  ‘The crowd as a whole plays the role of Greek chorus to the actors on the field below.  It reflects every action, every moment, every changing phase of the game.  It keens.  It rejoices.  It moans.’”.

Seamless.  Smooth.  Brilliant.

Bullpen

There were many golden nuggets.  Here are two of my favorites.

Willie Mays hit 22 extra inning HR’s in his career.  He is the only player to have homered in every inning from 1 through 16.  I say, with everything else we know that makes Mays worthy of the title “Greatest Player of All Time”, these two additional facts help to make the case complete. 

When Spahn entered the post-game locker room, his team mates applauded.  There were tears in his eyes and everyone else’s.  His mates lined up to shake his hand.  After the game, Carl Hubbell, Hall of Fame screwballer and minor league supervisor for the Giants, remarked, “Here is a guy 42 years old who still has a fastball.  He just kept busting them in on the hands of our guys and kept getting them out….He ought to will his body to medical science.”

Last thoughts

One thing stopped me in my tracks.  Ken Burns’ 1994 landmark Baseball documentary is breathtaking in its scope, arresting with its images, and fascinating through its use of historians, writers and artists.  Kaplan makes the point that Burns all but ignored Latino ballplayers in that 10 volume work.  That seems undeniable.  Think about it.  Burns shined the light briefly on Clemente.  Marichal was absent.  Tiant.  Aparicio.  Cepeda.  Carew.  Perez.  All largely MIA or without emphasis.  This absence in the Burns’ work is ironic given how important the film maker positions race in Baseball history.  I suspect most of us watched the documentary and never even noticed.

Howard Bryant’s fine recent biography of Henry Aaron brings to life the extraordinary Braves teams of 1956 to 1959, among others.  Because Spahn’s MLB timeline starts fully 8 years before that of Aaron, Kaplan gives us the other end of a talented Braves continuum that stretched from Spahn/Sain/Holmes to Aaron/Matthews/Spahn.  I hope Atlantans appreciate the majesty of the bloodline that connects to Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz. They should read both books.

I heartily recommend Greatest Game to you. 

And if you have any good Yankee dirt, a la Vic Power, by all means send it my way.

Go Sox.

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Joe & Marilyn, the impossibilities

Posted by athomeatfenway on October 22, 2011

“Joe and Marilyn”, by Roger Kahn.

I picked this book off the sale rack for 50 cents.  The second book in a 2 for $1 sale.  I didn’t want to have the cashier make change for a $1.  I wasn’t expecting much.

Wrong again.

It is a great book from the start.  The Clipper is reclusive but polite, defensive but uninhibited with his friends; a lady hound but one who wants to be a one woman man.

It’s a sad story about an impossible love between two impossible people.

Joe and Marilyn are two people to whom it would be difficult to remain married by the most tolerant of us.  Marilyn was a depressive.  She was unceasingly flirtatious, even when married. She had mental illness in her gene pool, and it became manifest.  DiMaggio had a thing for pretty showgirls, liked to spend every night socializing with the boys, was unskilled in the ways of friendship.  He moodily and silently moved only within a sphere of trusted family and friends.  Neither one of them was a day at the beach.

Joe’s father, Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, emigrated from Western Sicily, near Palermo, where only 1 in 10 natives could read.  He took a ship to New York and a train to the San Francisco area in 1898, travelling 7,300 miles alone.  Giuseppe got a job, learned to read and write, saved enough money to send for his wife Rosalee & daughter Nellie in 1903, and raised 9 kids in a two room cottage.  In the DiMaggio family, the Father was all powerful and the Mother called the shots within the home.

Joe was #8 in the birth order, 3 years younger than his predecessor, Vince, and 3 years older than baby Dominic.

The DiMaggios came from a long line of fisherman and Giuseppe continued in that line.  He bought a boat and pressed his sons into service.  One of them did not cooperate.   Joe had no interest in fishing.  No interest in Fishing.  No interest in school either.  He was a drop out.  Had Baseball not come to Joe so easily, his family would have been shocked had he ever amounted to anything.

Young Joe D. lived in a world bounded by neighborhood, family and friends.  He trusted the familiar.  He inherited his father’s skepticism. He was hyper vigilant about being cheated.  After all, uneducated Dagos could be an easy mark for the unscrupulous.

Joe took a defensive edge with him to New York.  Writers got one chance to prove they were trustworthy.  The first time they misquoted him they went on the permanent shit list.

He arrived in New York City reserved, insulated, yet stable.  He came from a supportive family that stuck together.  And he certainly was arrogant about his baseball prowess.

He was the opposite of Marilyn.

She was born to a Mother that didn’t want to raise her.  Mom suffered from mental and emotional challenges.  Soon after birth, Norma Jean was in the care of her Grandmother.  The Grandmother, also with emotional challenges, soon delegated care of Madeline into a foster home, for which Marilyn’s mother paid a monthly fee of $25.  Marilyn stayed in this fairly stable environment until she was 9, at which time she began to live in a succession of foster homes where she was groped, perhaps assaulted, and denied the benevolent love of a Mom & Dad.  She married her neighbor to get out of foster care when she was 16 and he was 21.  She was soon left behind when her husband joined the Merchant Marines.  Soon, an independent, young & beautiful Marilyn began to work around Los Angeles as a calendar and photographic model, ultimately gaining an entrée into a series of film studios and contracts.

Kahn recounts that Marilyn was loose, rumored to be a prostitute and posed nude to pay her rent. She denied sex to studio executives who were obnoxiously forward, but gave it freely to execs who treated her like a friend.  Kahn sources say that Marilyn not only had the greatest bottom in Hollywood, but was also the most able at performing fellatio.  I kid you not.

Joe and Marilyn came from very different places, yes.

Joe was guarded and touched by arrogance.  He was strongly motivated by money, just like his contemporary, Ted Williams.

Marilyn was possessed with a desire to be rich and famous and acclaimed and was determined to use her sexuality to accomplish these things.

Joe had a wife before marrying Marilyn.  Dorothy Arnold and Joe DiMaggio met on the set of Manhattan Merry-Go-Round.  She was delighted to become famous by marrying the most famous ballplayer in America.  Although Joe & Dorothy fell in love at first sight, it was doomed.  “He wanted to live in San Francisco.  She preferred Los Angeles or New York.  He wanted a hausfrau, but picked a woman who had rejected domestic life for show business.  He wanted a pliant pinup.  Instead he found someone with strong ideas of her own.”  This would all resurface with Marilyn.

After giving us Joe and Marilyn’s childhood backgrounds, the author describes their ascendant careers, recapping the MVP awards he won, the pictures she made, the affairs in which they indulged. His hitting streak.  Her seduction of America.  Her studio contracts.  His contract holdouts.

Kahn takes us quickly through their courtship, a teeter totter of fixation by Joe, and resistance by Marilyn.  Resistance to marrying again, that is.  There was zero resistance to immediate sex with the Slugger.

The marriage lasted just 9 months, exploding along with DiMaggio’s temper on a Manhattan Street where MM was filming the “7th Year Itch”, at the very moment they recorded that iconic scene in which a subway wind blows Marilyn’s skirt up to her navel.

The divorce was only a matter of time.

Through it all, he loved her.

He could not tolerate her public sexuality.  But he cared for her deeply, taking control of her funeral plans upon her death in 1962.

As I said, It’s a sad story about an impossible love between two impossible people.

I hope you find the time read this book.  Kahn gives a view of Joe untainted by fan ardor.  The reader will find Joe to be both selfish and honorable.  The reader will find Marilyn to be a lost cause.

NUGGETS……..

On the subject of money, Kahn recounts Joe’s remarkable holdout of 1938.  Only 23 years old and with 2 seasons under his belt, Joe demanded a salary increase from $15,000 to $40,000.  He had the stats to back up the request.  But he did not have the cooperation of his feudal lord, Colonel Rupert.  One of the delicious tidbits of that holdout is that although DiMaggio was ridiculed & criticized publicly by Ruppert, the Colonel turned down an offer of $150,000 cash from the Browns for Joe.  Ruppert was determined that if Joe wouldn’t sign, would not play anywhere.

9 years after The Colonel turned down $150,000 for Joe, Ed Barrow acted similarly, turning down a straight trade with the Nats of Joe for  Mickey Vernon, who had just won the AL batting title with a .353 average.  Barrow and Rupert both knew how critical Joe was to their financial success.

Should have known it would be good when I saw the author was Roger Kahn.  When I was 15, two books made me love Baseball history.  One was Ball Four, the other was Kahn’s Boys of Summer, a book I not only read, but re-read, and savored.

Through Kahn’s telling, Joe’s legend stands tall off the playing field as well as on it.  “As no young ballplayer before him, he had elected to challenge the Yankees and with them the full feudal power of organized baseball.”

I love that about Joe.  Marvin Miller would love that.

Many years after he lost the salary battle, Joe reflected silently about how the men who once had all the power now complained that their players had too much power.  And in Kahn’s memory, silent Joe wore a grim look that said “The Bastards did it to themselves.”

True that.

+++++++

It is 1939.  DiMaggio is betting .408 on Sept. 8.  He comes down with an eye inflammation.  A man of his times, Joe refuses to take time off.  His average plummets 27 points.  He posts a .381 B.A., highest of his career.  But if not for an allergy that led to an inflammation….who knows?

Ineluctable.  Sonorous.  Protean.  Hoydenish.  These are the words of Kahn that sent me to the dictionary.  A good book should do that at least 4 times.

Thanks for the inspiring read, Roger.

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Moneyball: Smart & worth the wait.

Posted by athomeatfenway on September 24, 2011

My wife, Little Lee, spoke to me across the sheets & mattress as we made the bed the morning after seeing MONEYBALL.

“I enjoyed it.  I like Baseball movies.”, she said softly.

“There will be people who do not like it, Lee.  What about them ?  Why do you think they won’t like it ?”, I asked.

“They will say it was a movie about all that Baseball stuff, and to some people Baseball is boring.”  She paused.   “I like Baseball.  But I don’t like to sit and watch it.  It’s too slow.” 

MONEYBALL’S Director, Bennett Miller, isn’t a Baseball fan anymore.  He was a Yankee fan as a kid.  Perhaps he either moved away from Baseball to enjoy the instant gratification of some other sport, or to concentrate on his art.  Or girls.  Or pot.  Or whatever.  Point is, I ask you, could they not find a Baseball obsessed Director in these United States whose artistic gifts were equal to those of Miller?

MONEYBALL has its work cut out in terms of converting non-baseball fans into followers of what John Thorn refers reverentially to as Our Game.  And that will be true from New York to L.A..

This isn’t Jimmy Fallon charming the pants off Drew Barrymore in FEVER PITCH.

MONEYBALL is a cerebral movie.  And It excels at rendering the Michael Lewis book as film. 

As any Film As Literature college course may teach you, moving from book to video requires compression.  You must dramatize the story using half of the information due to time constraints.

MONEYBALL is top notch at telling this story.  Billy Beane, failed former high draft pick of the Mets is now the young GM at the small market Athletics.  After the 2001 season, the BoSox & Yankees raid the A’s via free agency, subtracting from Beane’s roster power, runs, speed and relief pitching.  Beane asks the owner for more budget to rebuild.  The answer is NO, and Beane puts into motion a plan to use Bill James’ SABRmetric analysis to uncover undervalued and undercompensated players.  Beane believes in this approach, in part, because he has no other choice, and because the other 29 MLB teams consider Bill James an oddity, a hoax, a laughable, chubby geek. 

Thus, 29 teams use archaic player selection criteria while Beane goes cutting edge.

Against much resistance, Beane wears down the old school thinkers around him on the A’s.  He must bully Art Howe, his manager, alienate his Scouts, and trade players to make it happen. 

In the heat of rebellion against him, Beane yells, I JUST DON”T GIVE A SHIT while fans call for his firing on talk radio.

That Cole Porter song is playing in my head.  They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.  They all laughed when Edison recorded sound.

It’s a beautiful story about finding a new and better way to do things and overcome great opposition. 

Make sure you read the book first.  It will ground you a little bit in simple and fascinating measurements.

Here’s a good one you will find only in the book.  Scott Hatteberg is at the center of the story.  Art Howe didn’t want to use him.  Billy Beane did want to because Hatte had a high OBP.  James’ postulates that getting on base is more important than anything else when it comes to producing Runs.  Paul DePodesta and Beane run a computer program that plays out an entire season with Scott Hatteberg getting all the at bats for the A’s.  That digitized team of Hattebergs scores more runs than the real New York Yankees.  It’s in the book.  Not the film.

So read the book before you see the movie.  The background is enlightening.  You shouldn’t be disappointed with anything from the book that they left out of the movie. 

I give MONEYBALL an A+++.  And I am amazed that Hollywood made the film at all.

*****

Little Lee squirmed in her seat at the movie during the trailers, adjusting her posture to minimize the pain from a lower back strain with which she has been dealing.

“Lee, if you’re not OK, we can go.  I’ll ask for a refund.  We’ll see the movie another day.”  I had waited for months to see it.  But MONEYBALL wasn’t more important than my wife.

“No, that’s OK.”, she said, her brows arching over beautiful brown eyes.  “I like a smart film.”

So that’s what this is, I thought to myself.  A smart film.

That ought to kill it at the box office.  Brad Pitt or not.

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Baseball: Loved by All. Invented by No one in particular.

Posted by athomeatfenway on August 8, 2011

It’s amazing how the Doubleday myth lingers.  I was watching an episode of PBS’ Antique Road Show on which an expert mentioned in passing that Abner Doubleday invented Base Ball.

My mouth dropped open. My cheesy hot pocket hit the floor.

How can anyone living in post-1913 America credit Doubleday ?

Abner was named the pastime’s inventor in 1903.  He was roundly discredited within a decade.

One thing John Thorn acknowledges in his new book, BASEBALL IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN”, is that the Doubleday myth has been hard to kill.

Doubleday, a West Point grad and the hero of the siege of Fort Sumter during the Civil War, was credited with creating our game in Cooperstown in 1839.  The “evidence” was the detailed memory of a 73 year old man, Abner Graves, who was 5 years old in 1839.  Graves later endured emotional challenges to put it politely, murdered his wife and spent his last years in an Asylum.

When Abner Graves came out of nowhere in 1903 to spin his yarn it didn’t take long for historians to present evidence to the contrary.  Doubleday was at West Point, not Cooperstown, in 1839.   Doubleday never spoke of any involvement in the creation of the sport.  Doubleday was never spoken of by early practitioners of the game, e.g., the Knickerbockers.  One of the Knicks, Alexander Cartwright, never spoke of Doubleday and that is significant given that Cartwright codified the game.

Still, the origins of Base Ball are unclear.  What do we know?

We know Base Ball resembles Rounders and Cricket.  We know that Cartwright codified it and that the Knicks and others played it as an intramural exercise in the 1840’s.  But we don’t really know how it started.

GARDEN OF EDEN goes deep in an effort to trace Base Ball’s origins.

Citing newspapers, magazines, and books dating back 250 years, Thorn pieces together a history that obligingly recognizes that the full story may never be known.

Thorn achieves great clarity and depth through research he began 28 years ago.

He traces Base Ball back to the 1700’s and then moves forward, showing that a colonial girl’s game evolved into one played by adult male-only exercise clubs in the 1830’s, into an extramural team game competed by amateurs in the 1850’s, into a professional team game in the 1860’s, into a professional game with organized leagues in the 1870’s, into a mania that gripped everyone in the 1880’s, into a corrupt monopoly in the 1890’s, and into a ship made right in the early 1900’s.

The names could fill a Pantheon.  Cartwright.  Spalding.  Wright.  Kelly.  Mills.

Speaking of Pantheons and other uncommon words Thorn sent me to the dictionary regularly.  I have a pretty good vocabulary but I wouldn’t pass a quiz on some of the words in his vocabulary including aver, theosophy, repine, nugatory and faux-naif.

Faux-naif is pronounced foh-nah-eef, which by the way means “marked by a pretense of simplicity or innocence”.

So in modern times, Alex Rodriguez was tres foh-nah-eef in his appearance on 60 Minutes in 2009.  (“I’ve never used steroids.”)

And George Steinbrenner was UBER faux-naif when posing as a hands-off owner upon purchasing the Yankees in ’73.  (“ I will stick to building ships.”)

OK.  Got it.

John Thorn, delicious vobacularian, gives us much to appreciate in the way of anecdotes so I’d like to share some of the golden nuggets and one-liners with you, in no particular order:

The Brooklyn Bridegrooms were named as such because of the several newlywed players on the roster.  Didn’t know that.

William C. Temple, industrial baron who was part owner of the Pirates was the first to come up with the idea of the Designated Hitter back in 1891.  The NL killed his idea by a 7-5 vote.

Lou Criger, catcher on the 1903 Red Sox, was offered $12,000 to throw the World Series.  Criger, whose salary was $4,000 that year, reported the would-be fixer.  The Beantowner was rewarded by the owners with a lifetime pension after baseball, a benefit that no other player would be offered for decades.

Sunday Base Ball remained illegal in New York City until 1919, in Boston until 1929, and in Philly until 1934.

The early famous baseball teams, The Mutuals, Atlantics, Excelsiors and Knicks played only intramural games.  They would get together in the late afternoon, warm up, and divide into two squads and play themselves.  This went on for years before they began to play the occasional game against another team.

A notable game was played in 1883 Philly in which the Snorkey Club played the Hoppers.  The Snorkeys were all one armed while the Hoppers were all one legged.  All of the players on both clubs were the former employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Chowder was served regularly at Knickerbocker  games in the 1840’s and 50’s.  Ingredients included fish, shellfish, sausage and potatoes.  A little Ball, a little brew, and a mug of chowder.  Mmm Mmm good.  It all gets back to food for some of us.

*********

Don’t miss this important book.  Thorn is the MLB’s Official Historian and a scholar.  You may not fly through this book because it thick with detail but it will all pull together and reward you in the end if you stick with it.

Happy reading.

-Karl

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PSYCHOLOGIST AT BAT with the 1950 Browns

Posted by athomeatfenway on May 15, 2011

Ferrick, Overmire, Lenhardt, Kokos, Tracy, Schacht, Reddy, Starr, Kretlow.

One Google search of the words “Baseball Psychologist”  yields 2.9 million results.  The download  includes contact info for practicing baseball psychologists as well as authors that have written how ball players need sharp cognitive skills to complement their physical abilities to succeed in the major leagues.

Boy how things have changed.

In late 1949 for the first time in recorded history, a MLB team in St. Louis contacted a practicing shrink in Manhattan and invited him to bring his skills in hypnotization and auto suggestion with him to Spring training in 1950.  Unfortunately, that team was the Browns and that Psychologist was over matched by an abundant lack of natural talent.  The Browns, with his help, improved their annual win total from 53 to 58, finishing 7th in both 1949 and 1950.

But, at least Dr. David Tracy had introduced the concepts of relaxation and positive expectations into the world of professional baseball.

He wrote a book about the experience.

THE PSYCHOLOGIST AT BAT.  Dr. David F. Tracy.  Sterling.  1951.  NY.  Forward by J.G. Taylor Spink of The Sporting News.

David F. Tracy, Psychologist to the St. Louis Browns, New York Rangers and the St. Francis College Basketball team.

Tracy was a Psychologist with a practice in Manhattan.  He was a devout Baseball fan.  The book is peppered with references to the Giants, Yankees and Dodgers of the 40’s.

In June of ’49, the UP’s Claire Cox authored a syndicated story in which Tracy was quoted, “I can help a baseball team with auto suggestion and hypnosis, preferably the Phillies or St. Louis Browns, young and down.”

In early September, St. Louis Browns Owner Charles DeWitt phoned and Tracy accepted an invitation to spring training in Burbank, CA. .

The subsequent header in Colliers read, “Tinkers to Evers to Freud”.   Other publications referred to Tracy as a “Whammy Man”.

The Browns management wasn’t completely united about the invitation.  Browns manager Zack Taylor was skeptical.  Tracy made progress at camp by sitting in on a poker game with the players.  He lost $35 and gained acceptance as one of the boys.  He also established his legitimacy by hypnotizing Owen Friend at the poker table right in front of everybody.

Soon, he trained the players to be more relaxed and self confident by teaching them to hypnotize themselves, each other, and their wives.

Owner De Witt concluded that the rookies played better in spring training as a result of the Tracy’s work.  He invited the Doctor to stay with the team after they left California for the first month of the 1950 season.

On the road from Burbank to St. Louis, They stopped in Pine Bluffs, Arkansas, giving Tracy a chance to check out the Browns’ Rookie Academy.  There were four diamonds and a battalion of Coaches in Pine Bluff.  A busher could pay $50 to receive 6 weeks of training.  The kids that demonstrated sufficient talent were shipped to a Browns minor league affiliate.

ELIMINATE FEAR – IMPROVE PERFORMANCE

The good Doctor ended up working a lot with the rookies.  (The veterans didn’t trust him right away. ) Tracy felt he came to quickly understand the newbies.

In Tracy’s mind, rookies most feared the Reporters and for good reason.  A story that creates high expectations on a young fellow can be stressful.  This was the case when Dodger management over-touted young infielder Eddie Miksis and Branch Rickey was quoted, “Miksis will Fix Us.”.  Miksis became a wandering utility player with a .236 BA.

Clint Hartung was another example, according to Tracy, who wrote,  “A potential great was thus ruined by overenthusiastic writers.”.  Hartung, a mounds man, would finish his career with a 29- 29 W-L record and a 5.02 ERA.

Tracy also cites Dick Wakefield, a $50,000 bonus baby of the Tigers in 1941, as another example of someone whose crushed confidence sidetracked a long and prosperous career.  “If he had worked his way up gradually, Dick would probably be a leading player…he might have made good.”  Wakefield batted .316 & .355 during the spartan WWII years of 1943-44, but was pretty much washed up by age 28 in 1949.

Rookies also fear Managers, writes Tracy.  They yell and criticize, they don’t encourage.  They insert rookies into pressure situations before they have succeeded in normal ones.  They do all this when in fact “the man who needs to be hypnotized most frequently is the Manager.”.

Pressure is a killer.  It stimulates muscle-paralyzing blood chemistry, it cuts thinking capacity by 50%.

He suggests that even Ted Williams was victimized by pressure as evidenced by Ted’s 5 for 25 in the ’46 Series, his 1 for 4 in the 1948 Cleveland tie breaker, and 1 for 5 in the pennant-deciding final games vs. The Yankees in 1949.  A .344 career hitter, and a.206 hitter with a title on the line.

Sometimes Sophomores can’t stand up to the pressure created by fabulous rookie seasons.  Boo Ferris is an example.

Tracy cites Jackie Robinson as an example of a sensational rookie who kept his confidence and fought through a sophomore slump.  He calls Jackie “A great player and a leader of his race.”

Roy Sievers was a failed Sophomore.  He hit .306 with 16 homers while winning the 1949 ROY with the Browns.  He pushed David Tracy away in Burbank the summer of ’50 and again as he failed at bat when the season began.  Sievers fell from .306 & 16 to .238 & 10. He would later struggle through 1951 and ’52 before realizing his very substantial potential.

Tracy blames Sievers for hurting himself, but he also blames the Browns for contributing to the demise of their young players by habitually selling/trading their veterans to pay the rent.  They “psychologically bankrupted the team.”  The 1950 infield of Arft, Friend, DeMars, Somers, Upton & Thomas had no veterans to advise and stabilize, to relieve the pressure and fear.

Fear of Crowds is another challenge.  “The crowds very presence…its raucous voice…creates a pressure that inexperienced and even veteran players feel much more than they or their manager or the sports writers realize.”  Roy Stockton and Ted Wiliiams were two who could not block it out.

“The lower leagues are full of men with this fear complex as the root of their troubles.”

“When fear strikes it reduces natural ability by 50%.”

Fear of Crowds can even strike MVP’s.  Tracy was an eye witness to the knee knocking and body shaking that Phil Rizzuto endured when he rose to the dais and made his acceptance speech for the 1950 American League MVP Award in New York.

Tracy’s methodology was simple to counter all this.  He taught all Brownie players to self-hypnotize and to hypnotize their teammates.  (Sherm Lollar and Less Moss “both were fine hypnotists”.)  He taught Brownie pitchers that when under stress step off the mound and take 3 deep breaths to clear their minds.

“I hypnotized the Browns out of their fear of crowds…Late in the 1950 season, I was pleased to see the Browns knock both the Tigers and the Indians out of the exciting pennant race by beating them unmercifully when the chips were down in the final series…”

Tracy couldn’t have foreseen how easy it would be to check the record in the age of Baseball-Reference.com.

The Browns did sweep 4 from the Indians late in the season but Cleveland went 12 – 4 thereafter and finished 6 games behind the Yankees.  His claim about the Tigers is even less on target.  Detroit took 3 of 4 from St. Louis in their last September series and finished 3 behind the Bombers.  Maybe Tracy should just have been proud of how much more confident he made the players feel.

A few of his other other claims don’t stand up to historical scrutiny.  He wrote that he “fixed” Brownie pitcher Eddie Albrecht.  “I’m certain you’ll hear more from Eddie.”

We did.  Albrecht returned to the Browns and appeared in 2 games in 1950, with an 0 – 1 W-L record and a 5.49 ERA.  He spent the next 3 years in the minors before returning to civilian life.

Tracy makes many claims about his ability to fix players though hypnosis & auto suggestion.  He said he fixed the curve baller whose ball would not curve, and the rookie pitcher who tipped his pitches, and the lefthander with a fear of lefty batters, plus the strike out master who cannot relax on the mound.

He claims he took the New York Rangers  NHL team from an 0 -13-0 start to a 18-23-20 conclusion.

Tracy felt he had the answers and recommended that a cluster of three people actually manage a baseball team:  A Manager, a bench coach, and a team psychologist.

He asks and answers the question why there were no Pyschologists working in baseball before he did in 1950.  He suggests the reason is the same as to why it took baseball so long to understand that electricity had popularized the game, and how night games might grow their audience, or why it might be beneficial to fly the team to games years after the general public had taken to the airlines.

Tracy says it is essential that the Manager have a team of managers with a Psychologist working alongside him.  He makes the point clear.  “A practicing Psychologist always limits himself to a small number of cases at a time, but a baseball manager assumes that he and his coaches (with no psychological training at all) can handle the problems of 25 nervous athletes, each bent on earning a living and reaching fame in a difficult competitive battle.”.

Never strident or critical, Tracy’s style is strictly observational.  He’s offering his opinions and recalling what he saw and experienced.

Baseball history points to an obsessive clinging to the past.   Keep out the blacks.  Don’t play on Sunday.  Block a Union.  Stick with train travel.   It is no surprise that it took decades to bring Pyschology into the game.

Baseball was bound to let Psychology in sooner or later, just as Psychology leaked into Pop Culture in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Today there is an industry.   Bob Tewksbury is the Sports Psychologist of the Boston Red Sox.  The NY Times reported that 10 MLB teams have a mental skills coach.  The late Dr. Harvey Dorfman elicited many testimonials including ones from Peter Gammons, Al Leiter, Kevin Brown and Roy Halladay.

Dave F. Tracy represents the starting point of Baseball’s involvement with Psychology.  Baseball didn’t welcome him with open arms.  It was a short trial.  But one that left a mark, and started the game on a path that would grow and bring improvement.

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