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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Harder to Like Than A-Rod

What a sweet guy. So shy.
I know what you were thinking when you read this title. How, in the world, could anyone be harder to like than Alex Rodriguez? It is just not humanly possible.

Yes it is. Read Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams about the BALCO steroid users and suppliers and you will be able to answer the question in two words. And the words are ... Barry Bonds. He was such a contemptible jerk he makes A-Rod seem like a prince.

Bonds was a terrific ball player. His dad Bobby wasn't too bad either. Barry took advantage of his dad's fame to get him things, such as the privilege of doing less work than every other player on his little league and college teams, while at the same time resenting him. "What bat did he ever swing for me?" he told a Playboy interviewer in 1993 when he went to the Giants.

In high school the other players would always run out to their positions. Barry would saunter out, fiddling with his glove or sunglasses. "I'd work half as hard as the other kids," he admitted, "and I was better. Why work hard when I had all that ability?"

An attitude like that did not endear him to anyone at Arizona State. "I never saw a teammate care about him," said his coach Jim Brock. "Part of it would be his being rude, inconsiderate, and self-centered. He bragged about the money he had turned down. He demanded and got a whole different set of rules than everyone else.”

The first time the players saw Bonds' new Pontiac Trans Am, it was parked in Brock's parking space. When Bonds and some other players got in trouble for missing curfew he mouthed off at Brock who kicked him off the team. A vote was held to decide if he should be allowed to return. Every player voted No.

Pre-juice Barry Bonds.
When he played for the Pirates he quickly developed a reputation for not running out groundballs, for not signing autographs, and for not being polite to reporters, He seemed to care only about his personal stats. The fans considered him greedy, unpleasant, and a choke artist. After Bonds won his second MVP, the writers voted him MDP, Most Despised Pirate.  

"Why should I buy my grandmother a wheelchair you can drive like a car when she's gonna die anyway?" he told one reporter. 

After Bonds threatened a TV crew in Spring Training the Pirate press secretary tried to smooth things over. "I'll make my own rules," he told him. Bill Virdon tried to calm him down and was told, "Nobody's going tell me what to do." 

Bonds then got in the face of the beloved hero of 1960 which brought Jim Leyland out to intervene. "I've kissed your butt for three years. No one player is going to run this camp," Leyland yelled. Of course Bonds yelled back at him, to which Leyland said, "Don't fuck with me, I'm the manager of this fucking team!" 

"Everybody makes me out to be the bad guy," said Bonds. Then he accused the Pirates of baiting the TV crew to bother him.

In 1990 he hit .167 in the playoffs and drove in just one run. In '91 he batted .148 with no RBIs. In '92 he did better, hitting .261 with a home run. In Game Seven the Pirates were an out away from beating the Braves. Andy Van Slyke, their center fielder, motioned for Bonds, who was playing in left, to move in and to his left. Bonds always called Van Slyke the Great White Hope. He looked at Van Slyke and stayed put, deep and guarding the line. The next batter hit the ball right where Van Slyke had wanted Bonds to be. One might suppose that the Pittsburgh fans were not overly upset when Bonds went to San Francisco.

Before getting him fired, Bonds made Giants manager Dusty Baker's life hell. Players were not allowed to have anyone in the clubhouse. Bonds had three of his own trainers there constantly (one was his steroid provider) even though the Giants could have been in big trouble if he got hurt and was not being handled by their trainers.

Bonds continually denied using steroids even though
his body had morphed into that of a comic book figure.
Bonds insisted on being pampered. He refused to run out routine grounders and wouldn't show up for the team picture. When Baker tried to give him a day off Bonds would throw a tantrum. "Baker is disrespecting a three-time MVP winner," he'd tell the press. Bonds wanted days off – but only when he dictated. 

He was irate when his teammate Jeff Kent won the MVP award. He complained to reporters who told him that he had lost because his manager had told everyone that Kent should win it.

In spite of all the money and attention and pampering Bonds got he still managed to play the race card. He believed Mark McGwire got more attention because he was white. He claimed he was a black man in a white man’s game.

San Francisco fans rooted for Bonds. No one else did.
There may be a small chance that it had something to do with Bond's personality. His handlers advised him to be a bit friendlier to reporters. When one said, "Barry they seem to be pitching around you. Are you getting frustrated by all the walks?" Bonds said, "Can we talk about something besides my fucking walks?"

He had to be paid to sign autographs so when a group of kids came up to him in Spring Training Bonds shooed them away and said, "What the fuck are you doing here? You're supposed to be in school."

I could go on, but I think you are probably getting an idea of just how warm, kind, humble, and considerate Barry Bonds really was. As much as Yankee fans like me hate having A-Rod on our team, it could be worse. We could have Barry Bonds.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The most-storied trade of all times

I sometimes amuse myself (as many do, I’m sure) just cruising around the Internet. Often, it’s baseball related. You know the sort of thing: looking up interesting players’ histories, fact-checking something, reading coverage of classic games, etc.).

Well, this past week I hit the motherlode in a sense. It is the legal document trading Babe Ruth, hero and ace pitcher for the Red Sox, to their hated rivals, the Yankees. The rest, as they say, is history as the Bambino went from being one of the best pitchers in the game into the most feared hitter (arguably of all times).

What really makes the document interesting is the amounts of money involved. It was a lot in those days, but still not what you would have expected for such a game-changing player. No other player changed hands. Yes, you did read that correctly. The Yankees just paid cash for Ruth.

Now why would Boston trade away one of their most valuable players for just a bag of cash? There are two reasons (but I imagine one weighed much more heavily than the other). First, Ruth was a pain in the ass for Red Sox management. He had a bad temper. He smoked, drank and overate. Basically, they viewed him as an accident waiting to happen. When the team tanked in 1919 and ownership began getting rid of star players, it was the perfect excuse to jettison Ruth, too.

But why just cash? Well, that’s the other reason. Sox owner Harry Frasee needed money to finance a Broadway-bound show he was producing. The money he got for Ruth (and others, I’m sure) financed his show.

Obviously, Frasee wasn’t a baseball guy...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Falling Fast

The New York Yankees are falling faster than Kirstie Alley's weight during Dancing With the Stars. For their fans, their rapid descent invokes painful memories of 1965, a year in which the Bronx Bombers turned into duds.

The 1964 season had been yet another banner year. They had won the AL pennant – again, just as they had in 1960, and 1961, and 1962, and 1963, even though their margin over the second place White Sox was a scary one game instead of the 10 1/2 it had been in '63.

Mickey Mantle hit 35 home runs and Joe Pepitone hit 28. Elston Howard had emerged as a terrific replacement for Yogi Berra. Mick's outfield mates, Roger Maris and Tom Tresh, had done okay. The infield was solid defensively, even if Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek, and Bobby Richardson had not exactly torn the cover off the ball. Ralph Terry had slumped badly and been exiled to Cleveland but the team still  had solid pitching with Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, Al Downing, Mel Stottlemyer, and Phil Mikkleson.

In a bizarre move, the Columbia Broadcasting System who were the Yankees' new owners and obviously knew a lot about baseball, replaced pennant-winning manager Berra with Johnny Keane, the Cardinal skipper because he had won one more game than Berra in the World Series but six fewer during the regular season.

The wheels fell off in '65. The Yankees were ten games back by the middle of May and never recovered, finishing an embarrassing 21 1/2 out for sixth place. Ellie Howard hit .233. Roger Maris swatted eight home runs and hit. 239. (Hector Lopez took over for him.) Tony Kubek, who had hit .314 in '62 but was in his last year in baseball, batted .218. Bobby Richardson, who had hit .302 in '62, hit .249. Worst of all Mickey Mantle, who was now a very old 33, hit .255 with a paltry 19 homers.

But '65 was a dream compared to '66. They were ten games out by May 3rd this time. They finished 26 1/2 back. It was their worst year since 1925, the year of the Babe's bellyache.

Pepitone (35 homers) and Tresh (27) did all right but that was about it. Mantle went 23, 56, .288. Howard rebounded to just .256. Maris rose to 13 home runs and .233. The once mighty pitchers had seen better days. Ford was 2-5. Bouton was 3-8. Downing was 10-11 and poor Mel Stottlemyre, who had won 20 in '65 thanks to a whole bunch of double plays in '65, now lost 20.

In researching for this entry I saw how bad the Yankees had been in the early nineties. I'd mercifully forgotten. In '90 they won only 67 games and in '91 only 71.  That team featured perennial all-stars Kevin Maas, Matt Nokes, Andy Stankiewicz, Melido Perez (loser of 16 in '92), Scott Kamieniecki, Tim Leary (loser of 19 in '92), Jeff Johnson, who was having his best year at 6-11, and one-year wonder Wade Taylor.

By '94 they still hadn't improved, winning just 70. They recovered nicely from those painful seasons. And they certainly recovered in 1926. Maybe they'll do it again. But for now, the Yanks have won just six of their last eighteen games while Boston and Tampa Bay are absolutely tearing the league apart, these are indeed painful times. Just like the summer of '65.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

More baseball video clips

The first pitch ceremony has long been a part of baseball. Sometimes they’re heart-warming, sometimes they’re funny, and occasionally, they’re simply jaw-dropping. Here’s the jaw-dropping-est of all:

If you watch baseball long enough, you’ll see your share of amazing plays. (Trout vs the Orioles with that sensational catch against the wall last year comes to mind.) But I doubt if you’ve ever seen a play like this one:

And then there are those moments in a game that are just so bizarrely memorable, they’re talked about for years. Probably one of the most famous of these is the Pine Tar Bat Incident. I wrote about this last year. This past week was the 30th anniversary of that iconic moment. George Brett, who’s now that batting coach for the Royals was interviewed about it. It’s a great clip. George always has been worth the price of admission...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Can Chris Berman Get Any More Annoying?

The Sultan of Swat
He has a great voice and he is certainly enthusiastic, but someone has to get Chris Berman to stop wetting himself over every ball hit more than 350 feet in the Home Run Derby.

Obviously his job is to make the event exciting for the television viewers but come on, many of the 'shots' hit during the competition do not really travel all that far. And the guys are hitting batting practice pitches thrown exactly where they want them or they don't swing at them. 

In last night's competition there were a few balls hit more than 400 feet. That is pretty impressive. By comparison you can check out how far Babe Ruth hit balls during league play, with grey, four inning old, spat on baseballs and remember that opposing managers absolutely forbade their pitchers from throwing a ball in the strike zone to the Bambino.

Here are the lengths of some of Ruth’s consecutive home runs hit over spans of a few days in various years.

May of 1921 - 460 feet, 450, 490, 520, 460
June of 1921 - 490, 500, 510
August 1924 - 475, 460, 425, 355, 500, 510
July of 1925 -  470, 450, 575, 440, 560, 435, 465
May of 1926 - 475, 515, 365, 545
Harmon Killebrew

Frank Howard
How did those puny 355 and 365 foot ones get in there? The Babe mustn't have gotten much of them.

Wouldn't it be fun to see former sluggers – as they were in their primes – in a Home Run Derby.

From the 30s we would have Ruth take on Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Mel Ott.

From the 50s we would have Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, and Eddie Matthews.

From the 60s we would have Willie Mays, Dick Allen, Willie McCovey, Frank Howard, and Harmon Killebrew (Aaron didn’t hit them all that far).

We couldn't have guys from the 90s ’cuz needles aren't allowed on the field.