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

Posts Tagged ‘Ted Williams’

Birdie Tebbetts & Ted, Rudy York & Lou

Posted by athomeatfenway on April 10, 2011

Birdie Tebbetts was from 1936 to 1952 a platoon catcher for the Tigers, Red Sox and Indians.  In his time, he played with Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane & Ted Williams. Though he batted over .300 just once (BOS 1950), Birdie was a 4x All Star — 1941, ‘42, ‘48 & ‘49.


After his playing days ended he managed in the minors and later at the highest level with the Redlegs, Indians and Braves.  He never reached the post season but he was named 1956 Manager of The Year in the National League.


It wasn’t his batting that made him an All Star.  The Vermont native was an excellent defensive catcher.  He twice led the AL in throwing out base stealers.


It wasn’t his playing skills that earned him a coaching and scouting career that lasted until he was 79 years old.


Birdie Tebbetts was a hale fellow well met.  He had a lively and charismatic charm about him. He was direct, decent and funny.  Birdie was someone that everyone liked to be around.  His personal charisma helped his career.  His joie de vivre comes across plainly in “BIRDIE, Confessions of a Baseball Nomad.”  (Triumph, 2002.)


This 196 page hardcover book was published 3 years after his death at age 87.  It is written entirely in his voice, as if co-author James Morrison worked straight from a series of tape recordings.


Let Ted do it.


He tells a great one about how Ted Williams was second guessing his ability to call a game when they were Boston teammates.  Cleveland’s Lou Boudreau had hit Boston pitching pretty hard with Birdie behind the plate so Ted  suggested incompetence relentlessly.  To his credit, Tebbetts didn’t argue.  He told Ted, “OK, let’s see how you do.”.  And he told Ted how to signal the pitches to him from his position in left field the next time Boudreau batted.  Sure enough, the next time the Indian player-manager stepped into the box, Ted signaled the pitches to Birdie, Birdie signaled them to the pitcher, and Ted was calling the game.  Whack !  A Double !  Next time Boudreau was up Ted called them again.  Whack !  Another Double.  That shut up Mr. Williams.



A gritty era.


Tebbetts arrived in the majors a bit ahead of schedule due to a horrific beaning of Mickey Cochrane.  On May 25, 1937, Irving Darius Hadley threw to Gordon M. Cochrane an inside fastball that came out of the white shirts in the Yankee Stadium bleachers, striking Cochrane on the skull and fracturing his cranium.  The incident was the beginning of the end for Cochrane’s playing days.  It gave rise to Hadley’s nickname: Bump.  It caused the gradual establishment of dark batting backgrounds in the major leagues.  And it propelled Birdie Tebbetts from minor leagues into the Tigers catching platoon, a role he shared with Rudy York, a slow footed, ham-handed Indian that could not catch a lick but could surely bang 35 home runs a year.



The Big Indian liked to hit & he liked to drink.  He wasn’t the only character around.  The authors paint a picture of the radio era, when the Depression was on and America needed heroes like DiMaggio, Feller, Gehrig, Williams, Boudreau, plus a few square pegs like York.


It was a simpler and more straight-forward time populated with poverty-hardened characters.  When Ben Chapman left the Yankees for the Senators in 1936, Gehrig told Tebbetts to punch the Nats new outfielder if he got the chance.  If Tebbets would punch Chapman twice, Lou would buy Birdie two suits.


Birdie lost three years to military service during World War II.  He was approached during the 1942 season to volunteer, and put together a morale team consisting entirely of major league players.  Tex Hughson, Joe Gordon, Sid Hudson, Max West, Enos Slaughter, Ferris Fain and Howie Pollet were all on Lieutenant Tebbets’ team.  At first, they played all around Texas but were later deployed to the South Pacific.  They flew secretly to Iwo Jima the day after the Marines raised the flag.  Before 12,000 dirty, bloody, hardened Marines, they played a game of baseball to create normalcy within the context of insanity.  Birdie Tebbets called it the most important game he ever played.



He’s on to something.


The authors make one claim about a relief pitching tandem that should spark a SABR research presentation if it already has not.  Tebbets refers to Don Mossi and Ray Narleski as “the two best relief pitchers of all time in a tandem.”


I chuckled when I read that, realizing that the baseball cards of these two guys (for the most part) fill the common boxes and bargain bins at sports collectible shows.  Further, not only are they largely unknown and unrecalled, but Mossi’s baseball cards revealed that his ears were bigger than any other mammal known to humanity.


“The two best relief pitchers in tandem of all time ?”


Is he kidding ?


So, I looked it up.


Mossi & Narleski pitched for the Indians from 1954 to 1958.  Ears was named an All Star in 1957.  Mossi was an All Star in 1956 & 1958.  Interestingly BOTH received MVP votes in 1955.


Could their MVP ballot worthy year indicate their best combined contribution ?


In 1955, Mossi appeared in 57 games and Narleski in 60, their respective ERA’s being 2.42 and 3.71.  Narleski led the major leagues with 19 saves in ’55, and Mossi had the 5th most in the A.L. that year with 9.  No other two bullpen team mates had as many combined saves in either league.  Their combined won-lost record was 13 – 4.


Pretty damn good.  And, it was pretty damn good team they played for.


Their team mates were Hegan, Wertz, Rosen, Kiner, Doby.  A rookie named Rocky Colavito would make a late debut, too.  Plus Wynn, Score, Lemon, Garcia & Feller.  The 1955 Indians finished 93 – 61 in 2nd place, 3 games behind the Yankees, winning 13 of 22 vs. New York.



Old Birdie was onto something.




Breaking the code.


If you love Ted, or if you love head games, you’ll love this one.  No longer teammates, Ted & Birdie squared off in regular play beginning in 1951.  Now an Indian, Birdie had just as much trouble getting Ted out as anyone.  He decided to “break the code”.  Birdie would break Ted’s focus on the cat-and-mouse guessing game of what pitch was coming by simply telling Ted what was on the way.  “It’s a curveball Ted.”  And, “It’s a fastball, Ted.”   When Ted took those pitches and they were exactly what Tebbets said they would be, Ted became enraged and stayed mentally out-of-whack for the next 2 days. The distraction worked.  He couldn’t buy a hit.



This book is a great & fast read.  Birdie passed 12 years ago but this little book conveys his good will and energy.  I think you’ll like it.

Posted in BASEBALL, BASEBALL BOOKS, Ted Williams | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The journey of Bill Monbouquette : from Billy Martin to Jacoby Ellsbury

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 20, 2010

The Ace in his Prime.

Jacoby Ellsbury could act terribly dumb when he was 22 years old.

“You have to be dumb to try to steal a base when your team is winning 14 – 2.”, said Bill Monbouquette.

So, he talked to him about it.

“If you do that again, you’re going to get drilled right in the flippin’ coconut.’”, Monbouquette told Ellsbury that day in 2005.

Monbo was coaching for Oneonta against Ellsbury and his Lowell team mates at the time.

“And when I told him that, this is what he did –“, Monbouquette mimed Ellsbury’s reaction with the drop of a jaw and the jump of both brows.

I imagined that this dose of inelegant but visceral wisdom made a lasting impression on Ellsbury.

You only need to spend 5 minutes with Bill Monbouquette to know that he is thoughtful and rough-edged, like many men were in the 1940’s and 50’s, and quite politically incorrect in 2010.

Honest, working class guys.  Guys who take no shit, but will take prisoners.  They’ll fight you when you are wrong, and stop just short of pounding a stake through your heart.

I am grateful to have spent time with him at the Boston S.A.B.R. meeting on MLK Day.


Bill Monbouquette won 114 games and registered a 3.68 ERA over an 11 year career, 8 of them with the Red Sox.

Ask 10 RSN members under 55 years old who Bill Monbouquette is and they typically will not know.  He doesn’t get his due.

He was the Ace of the Sox staff.  A four-time All-Star, he pitched a no-hitter in 1962 against the White Sox.   He tossed three one-hit games.  He set a club record with a 17 strikeout-game against the Washington Senators in 1961.

He played during an extended period of Sox failure.

He departed Boston after the ’65 season for Detroit, New York & San Francisco, thus missing the Impossible Resuscitation by a mere 2 years.

And that, my friends, is why few know who he is today.  He was not there when Yaz set New England ablaze.


When Fenway was Monbo’s home, the Sox were 581 – 688, finishing in 7th, 8th, or 9th place five times.

There was not a lot to look forward to then.   Ted Williams was there for the first 3 seasons.  The excellence of Dick Radatz was on display for a while.  Yaz was a budding star, a doubles guy, and a hit-for-average man.

Of course, Frank Malzone’s was there, too.  Malzone’s run in Boston parallels that of Monbouquette.  From 1955 to 1965, Malzone starred at 3rd Base.  He went to 6 ASG’s, hit .274, registered 239 doubles, and was cheated out of the 1957 ROY by Yankee fans that complained his 133 At Bats in 55-56 disqualified him.

And every 4th day, Monbo got his start and the Sox had a chance of getting a W.

“I pitched inside.  That’s how I made my living.  And you tried to get ahead of the batter.  What is it with these 2 – 0 and 3 – 1 counts with pitchers today ?  That’s when you’re forced to take something off your fastball and throw it over the plate, which is what they want.  You need to get ahead of the batter so you can get the out on your pitch, not his.”


He made his major league debut on July 18, 1958 against TheTigers.  Billy Martin stole home on him that day.  In  Billy’s third time at bat, Monbo threw at him, flipping Martin over backwards.  The Rookie Righty then induced a pop out.  Next, Billy took steps toward the mound.  Monbo slipped the glove off his hand and made two fists.  Then Billy quipped, “You owed me that Rook.”, turned, and trotted off to his dugout.

Billy The Kid didn’t just steal home on the righthanded Monbo, he did it with two out and the Tiger pitcher, Milt Bolling, at the plate.  Billy must have read the Sox rookie like a book.


This man from Medford was a control pitcher.  He had control of his pitches, and often his temper.

He walked 100 batters in 236 IP in 1961, but it was an aberration.  Typically, he made about 35 starts a year and walked 40 batters.

In 1965, he had a 3.70 ERA and somehow lost 18 games.

In 1963, he won 20 games and asked the Red Sox for a raise to bolster his $14,000 salary.

Even then, he didn’t get his due.

When he didn’t sign the contract for 1964 that GM Pinky Higgins had mailed to him, there was a public confrontation.  The fight ended with just one punch. Pinky hit the ground with his backside when Bill uncorked a right to the forehead.

Pinky got up and ordered Bill to meet him in his office the next day.  Bill reported as ordered.  A bodyguard was present.  Words were exchanged again.  Down to the floor went Pinky for a second time.

The fighting cost Monbo some of his leverage for 1964.

But Bill did negotiate a 33,000 salary for 1965, his last year in Boston.


In 2007, Monbouquette was diagnosed with leukemia.  Chemotherapy and drug treatment didn’t work, but in October 2009, he celebrated the one year anniversary of a successful bone marrow and stem cell transplant.

Monbo is grey now, his face peppered with age.  He walks with a stiff gait. He has lost 37 pounds in his battle with cancer.  He says he feels good.

He pauses before answering a question, and begins to speak in a whisper, his volume rising as he gets to the end of the story.

“I was there for Ted Williams last game.  There was nobody there.  Maybe 4,000. They say it was more than that but there wasn’t.   Everyone thought Ted would probably go to New York for the last series of the season.  But I knew he wouldn’t go.”

“Everyone knows he hit that home run on his last at bat.  I was in the bullpen.  I watched it all the way and thought I’d catch it, but it kept going.  I was nowhere near it where it came down.”

“The thing people forget is that there was a stiff wind blowing that day.  Ted hit three balls HARD into that wind, and the wind knocked down the first two.  The third one got out. But he could have hit three that day.  I saw it.”


Bill Monbouquette didn’t reach the post-season.  He missed the glory of ’67 by a smidge.  He is off the radar track of most Soxaholics.

But what he witnessed was wondrous.  And what he received, he earned.

And in the end, standing anonymously among us at age 73, traveled and wise, he is a strong and righteous man.

Posted in BASEBALL, Boston Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury, RED SOX, Ted Williams | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Dick Drago: on pitching, Ted Williams & the 1975 Red Sox

Posted by athomeatfenway on January 3, 2010

I had the pleasure of a Q & A with Dick Drago, a control pitcher who won 117 games mostly for the Royals and the Red Sox.

Dick Drago looks good these days, with salt and pepper hair and short, neatly cropped mustache like the one he wore in 1975, with accents of white.  His voice is deep & low, appropriate for someone who intimidated batters by living in the space between the batter and the plate.

Drago went 17 – 11 w a 2.98 ERA for K.C. in 1971, and earned a share of Cy Young votes.  He was the closer on the 1975 Red Sox and saved two critical games against Oakland without allowing a run to clinch the 1975 pennant.

He played for Joe Gordon, Charlie Metro, Bob Lemon, Jack McKeon in K.C., for Darrell Johnson, Don Zimmer and Johnny Pesky in Boston, for Dick Williams, Dave Garcia and Norm Sherry in Anaheim, for Maury Wills and Rene Lacheman in Seattle, and for Earl Weaver in Baltimore.

Since Dick worked for 13 managers over 13 seasons, I started out asking him about some of those skippers.

Your thoughts on Darrell Johnson ?

When things got a little tougher he seemed to tense up and he seemed to be intimidated by certain players, like when taking a pitcher out.  I would say that with Tiant and Bill Lee there were times when he would let them go a little further sometimes when maybe they should have come out of the game… all in all he did a decent job…

What he did in ’74 kind of cost us the pennant.   In the opposite way of today, he played guys a lot  when we were leading by a lot of games and he needed to get some of the guys on the bench in the game…but he did not.   Later in the season when a couple of guys got hurt none of these (bench) guys had played at all, and it really cost us.  You have to play them, you can’t let them rust, you got to play 162 games.  Somebody is going to get hurt.   That’s what happened.  Rick Burleson got hurt and we had to play Frank Duffy, who hadn’t played in 60 games.

Don Zimmer as a manager ?

I liked him.  He was a hard nosed guy, he played the game, he knew what was going on, I respect people who play the game.  He knows how we all felt.  He was one of the better managers I played for.  Boston was a tough place to manage.  They (the press) didn’t think he was sophisticated enough, but he was just a hard nosed guy.

Earl Weaver ?

I spent a half a season with Earl in 1977.  Playing against him (earlier), I always thought he was a positive guy who got the best out of every player…and when I went over there to play he seemed to be the complete opposite, sitting on the bench and listening to him make negative comments, it may have just been his way to get things done.  I remember watching him on the bench and when he’d get in a tight situation, you’d see him get down in the corner of that dugout with a cigarette, always smoking cigarettes, and he’d have Bamberger, the pitching coach, watching the game, telling him what happened.  He was afraid to watch in tight situations.  He was a lot different from what I thought he’d be like.

Does Weaver deserve the credit for making Palmer into an HOF’er ?

He may have pushed him a little bit further.  Jim had a lot of little aches and pains for whatever reasons.  He was a great pitcher, one of the best ones I have ever seen.  I faced him before there was a DH.  His fastball movement made him hard to hit.  He had a high fastball that had a little rise on it, and he had a straight overhand curveball and good control.

He had a great defense behind him.  Think about the team that he played for.  He was a great pitcher, but, there were a lot of great pitchers that played with bad teams.  He had Blair, Belanger, Powell, he had Brooks Robinson, Davey Johnson, he had a great defensive ballclub, and they knew how to play the game.   Defensively, Belanger was one of the very best.

You were with Kansas City in 1969 when the MLB came back to that town.  Thoughts on that ?

We had a lot of young kids.  It isn’t like it is now where you can stack an expansion team up with experienced guys.    Back then, most of the guys who were not protected for the expansion draft were from AA and AAA.   They were prospects who hadn’t played in the Big Leagues at all.   We had to jell as a team.  It was fun because we weren’t expected to do very much and we kind of all came together.  It was tough as a pitcher because we didn’t have the best defensive team and we didn’t have a lot of offense.   I was a starter there for 5 years and that effects your career numbers.  If I had started for the Red Sox those 5 years, with the offense that they had – and no pitching (it would have been a good fit.).  Don’t forget, Boston had very few good pitchers, like Lonborg.

In 1971 you were the 5th highest Cy Young vote getter.

Yeah, I’m proud of that, ya know, third year in the big leagues and I won 17 games.  You know I probably could have won 22 or 23 games with a better team, we still didn’t have a lot of offense by ‘71.  I guess it did make me a better pitcher because there were a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games.  Every night, when we went out there you knew we weren’t going to get a lot of runs.  We had just finally gotten Amos Otis to come over, Freddie Patek, Cookie Rojas, so we solidified our team defensively up the middle, which is good, but we didn’t have a lot of power until we got John Mayberry.

How would you start a guy off like Frank Robinson ?

It all depends on the situation.  If you face him with 2 outs and nobody on in the first inning, you are going to pitch him a lot differently than if you faced him in the 6th inning with men on first and second.  I always tried to challenge and get ahead of the good hitters.  There were few that were notoriously first pitch hitters.  A lot of your good hitters wanted to take the first pitch to see what you had, and that was your opportunity to get ahead of them in the count.  The better the hitter the harder I would try to go after them early.  If I am facing somebody with 2 outs and nobody on, I’d give him something (over the plate).  If I face him in the 6 or 7th inning with men on base, I am going to try to make a better pitch, and you gotta know where to get the guy out.

More than anything, you needed to know where the batter’s weakness was.  If there was one.  And you didn’t go there early.  If you needed to get a guy out inside, my thinking was, why go there early in the count, if he take the pitches, they are  balls.  But if you are ahead of him, and you come inside, he may swing at a pitch off the plate inside, you had to have a way to get them out.

You pitched 9 innings back then so you faced a guy 4 times a game.  There were fewer teams, so you played each other more often.  We faced Minnesota all the time with Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew, we went to Oakland and they had Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi, Sal Bando.  You’re facing them every four starts so you knew them and they knew you.  It became a matter of trying to throw them what they were not looking for.

You had 53 complete games.  Thoughts on pitch counts ?

I don’t think too highly of them.   The game has changed.   Money has changed it.  We didn’t make a lot of money back then.   There wasn’t a whole lot of money invested in us.  They didn’t want you to hurt your arm, of course.  But today if they overuse a guy and they have given him $5 million, the ball club stands to lose a lot of money, whereas back then they were only paying you $25,000, they can just bring up another guy to replace you.

We learned to pitch and build our arm strength up.  I remember early in the season they would let you go a little longer once you got through April, to let you try to get yourself out of jams.  They let you pitch through it, which built up your strength and confidence, so that if you got into trouble you would be able to get out of it.  Today, when guys get in trouble the first time, they have never been in it before, and they get pulled out of the game.  The next time they get in trouble, they are looking for help.  It was just a different game.  You had to get out of your own messes.

I think they had pitch counts of a sort back then, but it didn’t necessarily get you taken out of the game, and it may have effected whether you made your next start.

Pitch counts effect how your ball moves, too.  Sometimes your stuff wouldn’t be as good later in the game but your ball was moving differently.  Bob Stanley’s ball, for example, didn’t really move a lot, but when he was tired, his ball moved more, and he was more effective.

You lived in the age of pitching inside.

I made my living going inside.  That’s how I got guys out.  I had a ball that naturally moved in on right handed batters, so that’s where I was going to try to get a lot of guys out.  Unless they were a dead pull hitter, they would just bail.

There were certain guys you go could inside on all day.  Paul Blair, for instance, was hit in the head in 1970 (by Ken Tatum), and he bailed after that.  Anything inside, and he’s looking to get out.

I think you have to pitch inside to be effective.

Your career followed the arc of increasing salaries ushered in by Marvin Miller; does he belong in the HOF ?

From a player’s perspective I think he should be in.  He brought a union together in a way that we stayed together as a group.  He warned us in Spring Training when we were talking about lock outs and strikes.  He said that if not all of us were prepared to stay together and sit out the strike, than forget it, don’t do it.  As opposed to what happened with the NFL where they broke the union because guys started to cross the line.  We hung together.  It wasn’t all about fighting for salaries, it was fighting to have the right to sell our wares as a free agent, just like any other business.

Can you rate yourself as a hitter ?

(Laughing) I was not a good hitter.  I swung.  I never got cheated.  I was a good hitter until I got to the pro’s, where I only hit once a week…

Your personal highlight of 1975 ?

Saving game 2 and 3 in the playoffs.  Down the stretch, there were important games on the way to the pennant, but it would be the two games to get to the World Series.  That’s harder than the World Series because at the time the ALCS was a best of 5 series.  You have played 162 games, now lose 3 of 5 and you are going home.  Very tough.

Tiant really stood out in the 1975 ALCS.

That’s what I was saying about being over used.  Tiant should have never gone that long.  Giving up 12 or 13 hits and 5 runs, 165 pitches.

In ’74, did you anticipate what ’75 would be ?

1974 was a disaster at the end.  We had a big lead and we had guys who just could not play.  We were scoring so many runs, we had guys on the bases, so much so that they got tired.

I remember ’74 being a difficult year for me because I was starting and relieving.  I would come to the ballpark not knowing I was starting.  One day, Juan Marichaul’s arm was hurt so I had to start.  Another day, I came to the park and Rick Wise was hurt so the ball was in my locker.  I didn’t know I was starting until I came to the park, so I pitched 176 innings that year and it felt like 300.  By the end of that year I was as worn out as I had ever been.

When I went to Spring Training in ’75 and they talked to me about being the closer I said that I was either going to relieve or start.  They said they thought I could help the team by being the closer, though that’s not what they called it back then.  That worked for me.

Did you spend time with Ted Williams in Spring Training ?

Oh yeah, we had fun.  We used to sit and talk.  He was fun to talk to because he thought pitchers were all stupid.  But if you could sit and talk with him about pitching, like I could, it was good.  I mean, I threw good, I relied on what’s up here (pointing to head), and good control, and how to pitch, and we could talk about stuff, and Ted would say, “YOU KNOW, DICK, YOU’RE RIGHT !  YOU’RE RIGHT ! DAMN RIGHT, YOU ARE !.  You know how he was, he was loud.

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