Friday, January 16, 2015

Book Announcement

Preview of  KING of the HALL of FLAKES a baseball novel based on the extraordinary life and career of Rube Waddell.
Available in soft cover at, as a Nook Book via Barnes & Noble, and as a Kobo at Soon to be available in both hard and soft cover.

You normally pay 50 cents to see a big league ball game, though sometimes you decide to be thrifty and pay two bits to sit on the bleacher benches. But today you splurge and shell out a dollar to sit in a box seat. You know you’re in for a treat. Rube Waddell, the most exciting twirler in baseball, will be in the pitcher’s box.
It turns out you’ve wasted your money. The phenom does not pitch. In fact, he’s not even in the stadium. You later learn that he chose to play sandlot ball with some kids he passed on his walk from the hotel to the ballpark.

You’re delighted the next time you go to see him and Rube actually shows up, though a bit late - he was playing miggles with kids under the grandstand. But in the second inning, after breezily striking out the side in the first and then doing handsprings off the mound, he suddenly and inexplicably drops the ball and his glove and runs off the mound and straight out the centerfield exit. You have neither seen nor heard anything that might explain such bizarre behavior. But then, outside the stadium walls, you hear what he has heard – the clanging of the bell of a fire wagon. Rube is off to save more lives.
You try one more time and the twirler is late again. You ask the booster sitting beside you what might be the holdup. He matter-of-factly tells you that Rube often soaks his pitching arm in cold water.

Before the game?” you ask.
“Ya, he says he needs to take some of the speed out of it, otherwise his shoots’ll burn up the catcher’s mitt.”

When the star takes the mound he is virtually untouchable. When his fastball smacks into the catcher’s mitt the sound echoes through the seats as if a gun’s been fired. His curveball seems to break two feet and batters just watch helplessly as it drops over the plate. Then he curves one just as sharply the opposite way! He blazes two more incredibly fast pitches over the plate and the hitter barely gets his bat off his shoulder. The next pitch seems to dance up to the plate and the crowd roars in delight as the batter actually swings at it twice. Somehow, this lovable, unsophisticated twirler has taught himself how to throw a knuckleball. “He calls it a wobbler,” the booster next to you explains.

“Is there anything he can’t do?” you ask the cranks around you.
A man with a red handlebar moustache says, “Ya. Rube can’t throw at batters to keep them off the plate like other twirlers do. He’s afraid of killing somebody. And he refuses to throw spitters. Says it ain’t sanitary.”

Instead of resting between innings the phenom coaches first base. He makes faces, does spot-on impressions of the opposing pitcher and the umpire, and pretends to drive the runners around the bases like dogies in a cattle drive. Then he goes up and sits in the stands and shares a bag of peanuts with some of the rooters. You’re close enough to see that he has clear blue eyes, a permanent grin, and huge hands. He compliments a pretty girl on her bonnet and parasol before heading back to work. She blushes.
The Tigers try to distract him by holding up kittens. They know how much Rube loves animals. He does his best to focus. Ty Cobb comes off the bench holding an adorable little tabby.

“You like this one, hayseed? Well I’m gonna drown the little fucker!”

You’ve heard stories of Rube’s incredible strength and wonder if he’ll go after Cobb and throw him over the fence.

In the ninth inning Rube calls time and instructs the infielders and outfielders to sit on the grass and he effortlessly fires nine straight strikes as the hitters stand and stare. Then he does cartwheels all the way to the bench.
“No wonder the stands are full on a Wednesday,” you say to yourself on your way out.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Greatest Lineup Ever?

I can remember watching some star-studded and dominant National League lineups in All-Star games in the 1960's. It was mostly due to the American League owners' tardiness in scouting and signing black players. (They probably still called them colored.) The NL got almost all of the best black players.
So, for instance, in 1963 here were the lineups, one mostly black, the other almost all white. Oh ya, Bill White doesn't count as white.
 The American League                                         The National League
  C  Elston Howard                                                 Joe Torre
1B  Joe Pepitone                                                    Bill White, Orlando Cepeda
2B  Nellie Fox                                                        Bill Mazeroski
3B  Brooks Robinson                                             Ron Santo
SS  Luis Aparicio                                                   Maury Wills
OF Mickey Mantle                                                 Willie Mays
OF Harmon Killebrew                                            Stan Musial
OF Al Kaline                                                          Hank Aaron
OF Carl Yaztrsemski                                              Roberto Clemente
  P  Jim Bunning                                                     Sandy Koufax
  P  Juan Pizarro                                                     Juan Marichal
  P  Mudcat Grant                                                   Don Drysdale
  P  Jim Bouton                                                       Warren Spahn
Torre, Mazeroski, Santo, Musial, Koufax, and Drysdale were the only white guys for the NL and Musial and Spahn were really from another era. Elston Howard was the exception that proved the rule for the AL.
That the National League won by just two runs seems amazing. Talk about the Al being overmatched. But there once was an American League lineup that might just have beaten that NL squad.
Long before there were all-star games, a game was played - on July 24 1911 in Cleveland - to benefit the widow of Addie Joss, the Cleveland Naps' outstanding pitcher. He had died suddenly after contracting tubercular meningitis in a day when there were no antibiotics.
Each AL club was asked to send a couple of its best players. Ty Cobb was the first star to indicate that he would play in the game. Without further ado, here is the lineup for the All-Stars.
  C   Gabby Street (the only stiff on the team)
1B   Hal Chase (crooked, but a gifted player)   
2B   Eddie Collins  (Hall of Fame)          for Cleveland  Napoleon Lajoie  (Hall of Fame)
3B   Frank Home Run Baker (Hall of Fame)
SS   Bobby Wallace  (Hall of Fame)    
OF  Ty Cobb  (Hall of Fame)                  for Cleveland, rookie Shoeless Joe Jackson
OF  Tris Speaker  (Hall of Fame)
OF  Sam Crawford  (Hall of Fame)
OF  Clyde Milan (an outstanding fielder who was averaging 30 assists a year)
  P   Walter Johnson  (Hall of Fame)       for Cleveland   Cy Young  (Hall of Fame)
  P   Ed Walsh   (Hall of Fame)
I'm not sure Bobby Wallace should be in the Hall of Fame, but maybe Clyde Milan should be. And, of course Joe Jackson should certainly be.
Trivia: Did Ty Cobb ever wear a uniform other than a Tiger uniform? Well, he played the last two years of his career in Philadelphia. Any others? Yes, for the game just described he wore a Cleveland uniform. He'd left his in Detroit. 
Speaking of Cobb, boy did he have a crummy year in 1916. He didn't even win the batting title! Well, he hadn't won it in 1910 either, but that was because the St. Louis Browns had their third baseman play in the outfield so the much more popular Nap Lajoie, "the Frenchman", could win the beautiful Chalmers automobile. (Hell, Larry was so popular the Cleveland Blues changed their name to the Naps.) The company was so thrilled by the publicity and scandal they gave each guy a car. The Browns' manager got fired over it.
Anyway, back to 1916 when Cobb stunk the place out. He had won the batting title in 1907, '08, '09, 1910, 1911 (he hit .420, Jackson hit just .408), 1912 (he hit .409, Jackson hit just .395), 1913 (he hit .390, Jackson hit just .373, ouch), 1914 and '15.
I know I digress - again - but my vote for the actor who looks the least like the guy he was portraying has to be Ray Liotta as Jackson in Field of Dreams. Joe wasn't quite that handsome. Of course Hollywood had lard arses William Bendix and John Goodman play the athletic Babe Ruth. (123 stolen bases)
Cobb won the batting title in 1917, 1918, and 1919. But in 1916 he hit just .371. Tris Speaker, the rough as nails cowboy who roamed centerfield in the still new Fenway park, batted .386.
After 1919 it was all downhill for Cobb. In 1920 He hit a measly .334. Gorgeous George Sisler hit .407.  In '21 Cobb batted .389. Not bad, but teammate Harry Heilmann hit .394. In 1922 Cobb hit .401. Sisler hit .422.
I am a fan of Baseball Reference as a quick source of stats. But I was looking up Cobb's numbers and I see that, apparently because a bunch of morons have gone on their site and voted against Cobb (of course everyone hated him when he played too) he is rated as the 29th best hitter in baseball history. PARDON?!!!
WTF. I don't have a problem with their top ten - Ruth, Wagner, Gehrig, Williams, Mays, Musial, Aaron, Speaker, Eddie Collins, and Hornsby, except that Cobb should be first second or third along with Ruth and Williams.
After Foxx and DiMaggio in 11th and 12th things get stupid. Ricky Henderson (13th) ? Cal Ripken (19th)? Chipper Jones (24th)?
Let me tell you something about Ty Cobb, forget about his ferocious all-out style (didn't get Pete Rose in the Hall) and forget about all his stolen bases. We're just talking batting here.
If he is not at the top because of a lack of power, in spite of a lot of RBIs before that was a big thing, remember he did lead the league a couple of times. And, the parks were cavernous when he played and the ball wasn't wound tightly until 1920 and it was almost black because of dirt and spit by the second inning - probably about three innings before it was taken out of play.
Cobb hated players like Ruth who swung for the fences. One time he said to some reporters, "Fine, I will show you that I could hit home runs if I chose to." In the next three games he had five.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Most Recent (and Dumbest) Cheater

This past Wednesday night I was watching the Yankees play the Red Sox and witnessed one of the dumbest things I had ever seen on a ball field. Michael Pineda 'hid' pine tar in plain sight on the side of his neck. Amazingly it was seen by the Red Sox bench and by hundreds of thousands of TV viewers. It was so obvious that I would imagine many people in the stands, except maybe those in the bleachers saw it too.

He got suspended for one game for cheating and another nine games for being an idiot. In fairness to Pineda, perhaps he believed them when his team mates and former managers claimed that umpires were blind.
I believe the most recent case in which a pitcher got caught for doing that was Tampa Bay Devil Rays reliever Joel Peralta in June 2012. He was found with "a significant amount of pine tar" in his glove.
Jim and Gaylord Perry
In 1986 Mike Scott was found to possess an emery board for the purpose of scratching the baseball. Emery has been used since the early 1900's. The infielders often concealed pieces of emery paper in their gloves.  In those days a fielder often left his glove on the field when he went in to bat. If a kindly opponent picked it up to hand it to him he might discover the implement.
In 1980 Rick Honeycutt was found to have a thumbtack in his glove after he accidentally cut himself with it. Gaylord Perry was famous for applying generous dabs of vaseline to baseballs. His brother Jim did likewise. Atlanta's Niekro was known to load them up too. 
Whitey Ford
In the ’60s Whitey Ford used his wedding ring to cut the ball or got his catcher Elston Howard to slice it for him with a buckle on his shin guard. Ford sometimes put mud on the baseball or made up a concoction of turpentine, resin, and baby oil to throw a "gunk ball".
Brooklyn's Preacher Roe admitted he had thrown spitballs, which were banned in 1920. Burleigh Grimes was the last hurler who legally spit on baseballs. Chicago's "Hitless Wonders" would not have won nearly as many games if Ed Walsh had not been loading them up.
Some hitters look to get an edge as well. In 1994 Albert Belle's bat was confiscated by umpire Dave Phillips. It contained cork. Billy Hatcher had been caught doing the same thing five years before. Craig Nettles put super balls in his bat. Not leaving anything to chance, Amos Otis used cork and super balls.
Two hundred miles away I can hear fellow blogger Honest John Trembath yelling, "Say it ain't so, Norm!" as he reads that Norm Cash admitted he would not have had such an amazing year at the plate in ’61 if he had not put cork in his Louisville Slugger.
That has to be the greatest instance I can call to mind where a player demonstrably benefited from cheating, perhaps excepting Sammy Sosa and company. Norm went 41, 132, .361 that year. Take a look at his numbers for other years. He hit .243 in ’62.
The 1950 New York Giants admitted that they had stolen signs all year. The sad sack St. Louis Browns were doing that way back in 1905.
Lots of groundskeepers have helped their teams, some by causing groundballs to roll fair if their team had speedy batters or foul if they were less fleet-footed. Got a team full of base stealers coming to town? Water down those basepaths. Oh, a team loaded with heavy hitters is coming in? Do what the Cleveland Indians did. Move your fences back 12 to 15 feet when the Yankees are coming. 
John McGraw
The Comiskey Park infield used to be known as 'Bossard's Swamp' because the groundskeeper kept it hosed down for sinkerball pitcher Dick Donovan, Tommy John, and Joel Horlen.
When he played for the Baltimore Orioles third baseman John McGraw used to grab runners by the belt to slow them down. Or he might trip them, or just stand in their way.
They didn't start using two umpires until 1910 so it was easier. Heck some players used to run straight from first to third if the umpire was looking the other way.
Of course you could just plain throw the game. As far back as 1877 four Providence Grays were accused of taking it easy. They almost never lost until somebody waved a lot of big bills in front of their noses. Then they went 1-10. Hal Chase was suspended by his manager, choir boy Christy Mathewson in 1917 for lying down. Some Chicago White Sox may have taken it easy in the 1919 World Series as well. I think I read something about that.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

It's been awhile, I know

We’re in the middle of trying to decide whether or not to keep the blog going. Obviously, it’s a very long discussion.

But in the meantime, I want to post this:

What kind of a knucklehead does something this blatant – especially when there has been something previous and recent.

Michael Pineda obviously needs to work on his cheating skills. Perhaps he should discuss it with iconic former Yankee, Whitey Ford, who – if you don’t remember – for nearly his whole career used a rasp cut into his wedding band to scuff up a ball. No one ever discovered what he was doing, until he “confessed” a number of years later.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sports Quotes

"Last year we  couldn't win at home and we were losing on the road. My failure as a coach was that I couldn't think of anyplace else to play."
- Harry Neale, professional hockey coach

"Blind people come  to the ballpark just to listen to him pitch."
- Reggie Jackson  commenting on Tom Seaver

"I'm working as hard  as I can to get my life and my cash to run out at the same time. If I can just die after lunch Tuesday, everything will be perfect."
- Doug Sanders, professional golfer

"All the fat guys  watch me and say to their wives 'See, there's a fat  guy doing okay. Bring me another beer."
- Mickey Lolich, Detroit Tigers  Pitcher
"When it's third and  ten, you can have the milk drinkers; I'll take the whiskey drinkers every time."

- Max McGee, Green Bay Packers  receiver

"I found out that  it's not good to talk about my troubles. Eighty percent of the people who hear them don't care and the other twenty percent are glad you're having them."
- Tommy LaSorda, LA Dodgers manager

"My knees look like  they lost a knife fight with a midget."
- E.J. Holub, Kansas City Chiefs  linebacker regarding his 12 knee operations
"My theory is that  if you buy an ice-cream cone and make it hit your mouth, you can learn  to play tennis. If you stick it on your forehead, your chances aren't as  good."

- Vic Braden, tennis instructor

"When they operated,  I told them to add in a Koufax fastball. They did – but unfortunately it was Mrs. Koufax's."
- Tommy John N.Y. Yankees, recalling his 1974  arm surgery

"I don't know. I only played there for nine years."
- Walt Garrison, Dallas Cowboys fullback when asked
if  CoachTom Landry ever smiles

"We were tipping off  our plays. Whenever we broke from the huddle, three backs were laughing and  one was pale as a ghost."
- John Breen, Houston  Oilers

"The film looks  suspiciously like the game itself."
- Bum Phillips, New Orleans Saints, after viewing a lopsided loss to the Atlanta  Falcons

"When I'm on the  road, my greatest ambition is to get a standing boo."
- Al Hrabosky, major league relief pitcher

"I have discovered  in 20 years of walking around the ball park, that the knowledge of the game is usually in inverse proportion to the price of the seats."
- Bill  Veeck, Chicago White Sox owner

"Because if it  didn't work out, I didn't want to blow the whole day."
- Paul Horning,  Green Bay Packers running back on why
his marriage ceremony was before noon.
"I have a lifetime  contract. That means I can't be fired during the third quarter if we're  ahead and moving the ball."

- Lou Holtz, Arkansas football  coach
"I won't know until  my barber tells me on Monday."

- Knute Rockne, when asked why Notre Dame  had lost a game

"I tell him 'Attaway  to hit, George.'"
- Jim Frey, K.C. Royals manager when asked what  advice
he gives George Brett on hitting

"I learned a long  time ago that 'minor surgery' is when they do the operation on someone else, not you."

- Bill Walton, Portland Trial  Blazers

"Our biggest concern  this season will be diaper rash."
- George MacIntyre, Vanderbilt football coach surveying the team roster that included 26 freshmen and  25 sophomores.

"The only difference  between me and General Custer is that I have to watch the films on Sunday."
- Rick Venturi, Northwestern football coach

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Busy Time of Year for the Gamblers

There is an assumption that Commissioner Keneshaw Mountain Landis banished Joe Jackson and the other 'Black Sox' from baseball after the 1919 World Series because what they did was so extraordinary. The truth is that they were banned because what they did, namely conspiring to throw the Series, had become all too ordinary. Gamblers commonly roamed baseball's grandstands taking bets in those days and they regularly hung out in the lobbies of hotels where ball players stayed. They frequented the same pool halls and the same bars.

There had been a multitude of allegations, including by Eddie Cicotte at the Black Sox trial two years later, that members of the Chicago Cubs had been offered $10,000 to lie down in the '18 Series. They would certainly have been susceptible, players' salaries had been cut in half and the 1919 season was in doubt due to World War I. Most players figured they would soon be fighting in Europe. After Game Three of the Series the Cubs and the Red Sox got together during their train ride together and calculated that the winners would likely get $1,100 and the losers $600, both numbers roughly half of what they had originally anticipated.

Record holder Max Flack
The first three games had been tightly played. Game Four would not be. In the very first inning Max Flack, the Cubs' leadoff hitter, lined a single off Boston starter Babe Ruth but then wandered off first base and was picked off. In the third inning Flack was picked off again, this time off second. He is the only player to have been picked off twice in a World Series game. 

When Ruth came to the plate in the bottom of the inning Flack played very shallow in right field. This was rather strange, since Ruth was already known as a powerful batsman. Flack was told to move back but did not. Ruth hit one over his head for a triple and two runs scored.

The Cubs tied things up in the top of the eighth but when Harry Hooper laid down a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the inning and Cub reliever Phil Douglas threw the ball into right field the eventual winning run scored.

After the game player reps tried to talk the owners into paying them more money. Anyone who knows anything about baseball's early days will be able to predict how that meeting went. In Game Five Charlie Pick got the first hit for Chicago but before a pitch was thrown to the next batter ... ya, you guessed it, he got picked off. Two innings later Flack was back at it, dripping an easy fly to right that allowed two runs to score. The game ended 2-1. The Red Sox celebration was subdued at best.

You could afford to go to a game in '03.
Cy Younger & Lou Criger
In 1903 the Red Sox and the 'Royal Rooters' wanted to bet big money that the Americans (no they were not called the Pilgrims) would win the first ever World Series. The problem was that no one was betting on Pittsburgh  because Honus Wagner and some other Pirates were all banged up. The solution: change the odds. Denton True Young, who had been nicknamed Cy as a teenager because he threw like a cyclone, would pitch the opener. Though old Cy had not had one of his best seasons (he'd won only 28 games) he could be counted on to shut down the depleted Pirates. 

Except that in the first inning he hit the first batter (a normal sign the fix is on) and then served up a series of pitches your grandma could have hit. Catcher Lou Criger and second baseman Hobe Ferris each dropped a ball they could have caught in their sleep and each threw a ball into the outfield. The result, four runs in, Pittsburgh wins, the odds change, and the Americans can go back to trying to win the Series.

Joe Wood threw smoke and burned out fast.
George M. Cohan was a close friend of New York Giant skipper John McGraw. It must have seemed very strange when he bet the modern equivalent of two million dollars on the Boston Red Sox, their rivals in the 1912 Series. Joe Wood, who had a fabulous but brief career, had won a record 16 straight games that year and ended up 34-5. He was set to pitch Game One for the Sox. Upon arrival in New York, Wood received no less than six death threats. One of them was written in blood red ink and said, "You will never pitch against the Giants." Wood was not intimidated. After the game, which the Sox won 4-3, he said I threw so hard I thought my arm would fly right off my body." (Unfortunately he did that too often, which was why his career was so short.)

The second game was tied after eleven hard fought and exciting innings and was called due to darkness. The owners huddled and decided the players would not get paid for it. (Where was Marvin Miller?) Both teams were in a foul mood.

John McGraw & Jake Stahl
With the Sox in the lead (3 games to 1) and Joe Wood rested the Boston management, in collusion with AL Commissioner Ban Johnson, decided to save Wood and start Bucky O'Brien, who was fifth of five on the staff in winning percentage,  in Game Six at the Polo Grounds. Jake Stahl, the Boston manager, begged the owners to reconsider. They said no. Should O'Brien happen to lose, Boston would get another home game and the owners would pocket a lot of money. No one told O'Brien he would pitch the next day and he went out and got rip-roaring drunk.

Thanks to a walk, a double steal, and back-to-back doubles, the Giants scored five runs in the first inning. Ownership got their Game Seven. Sport Sullivan (see 1919 World Series) had a talk with the Red Sox, who were in a really foul mood now. 

By 1912 you couldn't afford a ticket.
Joe Wood started Game Seven with Boston now up 3-2. Things should have looked good. They had 1912's best pitcher on the mound and perhaps the best defensive outfield ever behind him. Wood was not smoking this day, however, he lobbed pitch after pitch right over the plate. Josh Devore dribbled one up the middle and Heinie Wagner booted it. Larry Doyle hit a ball just a few feet from Harry Hooper, who could catch anything hit within a country mile. He couldn't reach it. Two runners on. Wood chose to pitch from the windup, meaning that he could not throw to any base. Both runners jogged to the next base. Fred Snodgrass hit a lazy fly to Duffy Lewis. He dropped it and then, with no chance to get the lead runner, threw wildly and to the wrong base. 

The Boston manager had seen enough, he replaced Wood with Sea Lion Hall, who hit the first batter he faced, walked the next, and then tried to pick off the runner at second. Surprise surprise ... Heinie Wagner missed the throw and the ball rolled into centerfield. No problem. Tris Speaker played so shallow in centerfield that he routinely made double plays at second. Somehow, he failed to come up with the ball. The Giants mauled Sea Lion for nine more hits. The final score was 11-4 New York. The give away was so obvious (and odious) that the 'Royal Rooters' staged a demonstration outside brand new Fenway Park after the game.

There was also talk that the 1914 and 1917 series had not been on the up-and-up. As for 1914, yes it was amazing that the 'Miracle Braves' were able to sweep Connie Mack's mighty A's with their terrific pitching staff and $100,000 infield, but the Braves had gone 70-19 to finish the season and they won three of the four games by just a run. There were no obviously dropped balls or oddly errant throws in the games.

The 1917 Series featured the White Sox against the Giants. New York's roster included Heine Zimmerman and Hal Chase, both of whom would later be kicked out of baseball for taking and offering bets. Joe Wood once said that Chase could deal himself or anyone else at the table four of a kind whenever he wanted. to.

Sell out artist Heinie Zimerman
Things seemed fine, with the home teams winning each game, until the fourth inning of Game Six. Eddie Collins led off and grounded to third.  Zimmerman threw wide of first base. Joe Jackson hit a routine fly to right. Dave Robertson dropped it. White Sox at first and third. Happy Felsh grounded to the mound and Eddie Collins was trapped off third between Zimmerman (the third baseman) and the pitcher. 

But the catcher left home uncovered for some reason. The speedy Collins got around the pitcher and Zimmerman chased him across the plate. Chick Gandil singled. Jackson scored, the Sox (still white at that point) won the series.

So it may take a while for the playoffs to be over with but at least when two teams square off in the 2013 Series, unlike a hundred years ago, there will be a pretty good chance that all of the players will actually be trying to win.