Archive for November, 2016

Robinson vs. Buckley

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Jackie Robinson, the black knight who rescued baseball from the claws of segregation, accomplished his mission neither immediately nor solitarily.  His was a burden of entrenched bigotry, racial taunts, and blind ignorance.  When Branch Rickey selected Robinson, his decision turned a corner of racism in baseball previously thought impossible to navigate. Robinson chose to do his talking with his bat, his glove, and his legs.  A man of unyielding dedication, he endured the bad so that others could benefit from the good.

After Robinson’s début year of 1947, major league teams siphoned players from the Negro Leagues, leading to their dismantling by the end of the 1950s.  The Boston Red Sox integrated last when Elijah “Pumpsie” Green took the field in 1959.  Latino players also became bedrock members of major league teams.  No longer under the umbrella of exclusion, minority players broadened the prospects for scouts and owners looking to amplify lineups with the best available players.

When Robinson retired after the 1956 season, one of his several post-baseball paths involved civil rights.  Robinson voiced his opinions in newspaper columns for the New York Post and the New York Amsterdam News.  Michael G. Long compiled an anthology of these pieces in the 2013 book Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life After Baseball.  Long’s annotations give context to Robinson’s missives.

In his August 22, 1960 Post column for titled “Just How Important Is Civil Rights,” Robinson wrote, “It seems to me it is very easy to tell others to stop rocking the boat and concentrate on the passing scenery when you are comfortably riding inside and the ‘others’ are struggling to get on board.  It should take no special spectacles to be able to see that people who are barred—often by law—from full and equal participation in our national life are naturally going to be more concerned about removing those bars than they are in joining the debate over eliminating the national debt or what shall we do about Castro.”

Robinson, a civil rights pioneer, chose to continue his battle for equality by leaning on his writing, speaking, and celebrity status.  On August 4, 1964, Robinson appeared on The Les Crane Show with Shelley Winters and William F. Buckley for a discussion about Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.  Robinson was a Rockefeller Republican, i.e., a moderate conservative.

In his autobiography I Never Had It Made, Robinson explained his encounter with Buckley, a harbinger of the right wing, and his reliance on a sports strategy: “When you know that you are going to face a tough, tricky opponent, you don’t let him get the first lick.  Jump him before he can do anything and stay on him, keeping him on the defensive.  Never let up and you rattle him effectively.  When the show opened up—before Buckley could get into his devastating act of using snide remarks, big words, and the superior manner—I lit right into him with the charge that many influential Goldwaterites were racists.  Shelley Winters piled in behind me, and Buckley scarcely got a chance to collect his considerable wit.”

The Les Crane Show was a late night talk program on ABC during the 1964-65 television season.  Though the pioneer of a format later embraced by television icon Phil Donahue, Crane fell to NBC’s The Tonight Show, a national brand with a decade of broadcasting tenure, proved its dominance.  Donahue began his legendary career in Dayton in 1967, evolving into a daytime programming staple for nearly 30 years.

Crane’s daughter Caprice wears several writer hats, including screenwriter, television writer for the sequels of Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210, and author of five novels, including Confessions of a Hater and Stupid and Contagious.  She points out that her father used journalism to cover topics and people that others feared to explore.  “He created the shotgun mike,” says Crane of her dad, who passed away in 2008.  “He had guests who did not provide the typical fluff, for example, Malcolm X, Bob Dylan, and the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald.  He had the first publicly gay man on his show.  He was also an amazing listener who helped create a new television format that demanded more information for the listener.  The Les Crane Show didn’t last long because the person who tries the new thing always gets penalized.  People are afraid of the unknown until it becomes mainstream.”

A renaissance media man for the second half of the 20th century, Crane held interests and influences beyond journalism.  “My dad gave The Mamas and the Papas group its name,” reminds Caprice Crane.  “Casey Kasem credited him with inventing the Top 40 radio format at KRLA.  He also got into the computer business before it was big.  His company was Software Tool Works, which produced the Chess Master computer program.  He was always before his time.”

Crane’s innovative format allowed one of baseball’s biggest heroes to debate one of conservatism’s biggest allies.  Nowhere on television in the mid-1960s could audiences see this type of television fodder.  Unfortunately, The Les Crane Show fell victim to a common policy of television networks destroying tapes because of the shortsighted view that future generations would not be interested.  How wrong they were.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on August 20, 2014.

August 4, 1985

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

Tom Seaver was no longer the pitching phenom with the boyish face, unparalleled precision, and Herculean right arm on August 4, 1985.  He was a legend with achievements guaranteeing a passport to Cooperstown.  From 1968 to 1976, for example, Seaver had nine straight seasons of notching at least 200 strikeouts.  He fell shy of the milestone by four games in 1977, the year of the Midnight Massacre trade that sent hi from the New York Mets to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Doug Flynn, Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman.

With the Mets, Seaver won three Cy Young Awards, the 1969 World Series, and the 1973 National League pennant.

When Seaver strode to the pitching mound of Yankee Stadium on the afternoon of August 4, 1985, he was in a different uniform and a different league.  Pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Seaver found serendipity in the baseball fates placing him in New York City on this particular day to stand on the precipice of a baseball milestone.  With 299 victories behind him, the 300th loomed beyond a potent Yankee lineup including Rickey Henderson Don Baylor, and Ken Griffey.  Seaver won, carving another milestone into his career that began with the Mets in 1967.

Michael Martinez of the New York Times described Seaver’s pitching showcase as “a smooth and efficient performance that indelibly etched his name among baseball’s finest pitchers.”  Seaver’s victory marked him as the 17th pitcher to reach 300 victories.

Approximately 3,000 miles west of Yankee Stadium, another baseball milestone occurred on August 4, 1985, when Rod Carew became the 16th player to get 3,000 hits.  His was a career based on consistency, talent, and adjustments.  Mike Downey of the Los Angeles Times said, “No matter how skillfully he might be hitting at the moment, or how expertly he has hit in the past, Carew generally considers it worthwhile to fine-tune his swing, rehearse it, fiddle with it, the way a mechanic would continue to tinker with a high-performance engine.  This is a craftsman at work, Carew in the cage.”

Observant of the milestones historic significance, Carew said, “When you get in the class with Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby and Pete Rose, it means a lot.  This is something I thought I’d never accomplish, but I’ve been around for 19 years, and if you stay around for 19 years, good things happen to you.”

Playing in a California Angels uniform against his old team, the Minnesota Twins, Carew inspired Angel teammate Reggie Jackson with the achievement.  “Three thousand is a brand they can’t take away,” said Jackson.  “It’s like winning an Oscar or graduating from college with a doctorate.  The critics can write what they want, that Rod Carew couldn’t drive in runs or couldn’t do this or that.  Somewhere in the same paragraph they’ll also have to write that he got 3,000 hits.”

In addition to the feats of Seaver and Carew, Dwight Gooden reached a new height of excellence on August 4, 1985.  The New York Mets pitching ace broke Seaver’s club record of 10 straight victories, scoring his 11th against the Chicago Cubs.

It was a day of symmetry.  Seaver won his 300th victory as one of his pitching records fell.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on August 1, 2015.

World’s Finest

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Baseball’s history is highlighted by its heroes.

Lou Gehrig revealed unimaginable courage in his “Luckiest Man” speech as he faced the debilitating, horrific, and fatal disease of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis that took his life nearly two years later.

Ted Williams sacrificed prime playing years to fly combat missions in World War II and the Korean War.

Jackie Robinson pioneered civil rights by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first black player in the major leagues during the 20th century.

Superheroes, as well, occupy a rung on baseball’s ladder of history.

In its nascent years, the DC Comics title World’s Finest featured Superman, Batman, and Robin playing baseball on two comic book covers.  Issue #3 (Fall 1941) depicts Batman batting, Robin catching, and Superman umpiring.  Issue #15 (Fall 1944) shows Superman sliding into home plate while Batman tries to tag him.  Robin scratches his head, looking perplexed as to whether Superman is safe at home.  It’s an illogical scenario, given Superman’s superhuman speed.

In the Foreword to Batman: The World’s Finest Comics, Archives, Volume 1, R.C. Harvey points out that the early World’s Finest covers featuring Batman, Superman,  and Robin concurred with the the uncertainty surrounding America’s involvement in World War II.  “Over the next several years, this trio engaged in a variety of activities on the covers together, playing sports at first and then, after the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, patriotically engaging in scrap paper drives or raising vegetables for victory,” states Harvey, who also notes a baseline attitude on the covers.

“They all look like they are having fun,” opines Harvey.  “And that brings us to the most significant difference separating these stories from those of more recent decades: back then, superheroicism was infected with an exhilarating spirit of adventure.  One did deeds of derring-do because it was exciting, and one went into battle against the Forces of Evil charged up with an invigorating zest for the Good Fight.”

When DC graced its early World’s Finest comic book covers with patriotic scenes involving Superman, Batman, and Robin, it aimed to boost morale among younger readers in an uncertain time.  The two baseball-themed covers of World’s Finest provided an additional attraction.  At the time, baseball dominated the recreation of Americans.  For example, President Roosevelt suggested to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that baseball continue for the country’s morale during World War II.

In a letter dated January 15, 1942, Roosevelt wrote, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.  There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.  And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

During a period fraught with peril, fear, and uncertainty, the World’s Finest superheroes reinforced the power of baseball to inspire.  And vice versa.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 15, 2014.

Now Pitching for the New York Yankees

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

There is another kind of pitching in baseball, one that has nothing to do with curveballs, strikeouts, or a catcher’s signs.  Pitching products is a cornerstone of the National Pastime.  As a spokesman, a baseball player uses his fame, personality, and excellence on the baseball diamond as currency of credibility in endorsing products.  The New York Yankees organization, in particular, boasts a deep roster of product endorsers.

Products.  Promotion.  Pinstripes.

Joe DiMaggio, for example, encouraged people to save at The Bowery Savings Bank.  It was, quite simply, a New York City baseball institution aligning with a New York City financial institution.  Appearing in television commercials from 1972 to 1992, DiMaggio translated his confidence in his hitting ability to his confidence in the best place for New Yorkers to park cash.  Mr. Coffee also benefited from DiMaggio’s skills as a pitch man.

Another former Yankee endorsed a company in the financial arena during his post-playing career.  Phil Rizzuto brought his enthusiasm in broadcasting Yankee games to television commercials for The Money Store, an alternative to traditional banking based in New Jersey.  The Money Store specialized in loans.

Reggie Jackson promoted his eponymous candy bar, though he claims the genesis of the idea was steeped in humor rather than ego.  In the 2013 book Becoming Mr. October, Jackson explains, “When I was still playing in Baltimore in 1976, I said, ‘ If I played in New York, they’d name a candy bar after me.’  I said it as a joke.  That same year, I was in Milwaukee, and I said, ‘I can’t come here.  There are only two newspapers and I don’t drink.’  All in the spirit of fun.

“When I went to New York, all summer Matt Merola kept calling every candy company he knew, asking, ‘Do you want to do a Reggie bar?’  He called every company, and the last one he called was Standard Brands—and they took the bait!  I got $250,000 a year for five years and a furnished apartment at Seventy-ninth and Fifth.”

Yogi Berra used his trademark double-speak in a television commercial for Aflac.  Naturally, the Aflac duck is confused by Yogi’s logic.  But Yogi may be better remembered as the spokesman for Yoo-Hoo.

Derek Jeter has appeared in television commercials for Ford, VISA, and Fleet before it merged with Bank of America.  Babe Ruth promoted Red Rock Cola, Mickey Mantle cried for his Maypo, and Lou Gehrig hawked Huskies cereal.  Mariano Rivera is synonymous with Acura.

Certainly, the Yankees ball club is not the only source of celebrity athlete endorsers.  It is, however, an unparalleled source.  And the string of commercialized Yankees includes portrayers in pinstripes.  Taking advantage of his title role in the 1948 film The Babe Ruth Story, William Bendix donned a Yankees uniform for a Chesterfield cigarettes magazine advertisement.

Advertising allows a product owner to align the product with credibility.  The Yankees offer credibility backed by excellence.  They make the buyer feel an emotional bond with the product based on the supposition that if a member of the most storied team in baseball endorses the product, then it must be worth having.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 2, 2014.

Coca-Cola and Baseball

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

The Pause That Refreshes.  The Real Thing.  The Best Friend Thirst Ever had.

Coca-Cola.

With slogans changing nearly every year, Coca-Cola is entrenched in American culture through a barrage of advertising campaigns, marketing strategies, and celebrity endorsements.  During the height of American pride—some say jingoism— in Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” presidency, Coca-Cola plucked the country’s patriotic heartstrings in the 1980s with its Red, White & You slogan.

Naturally, baseball provides a fantastic distribution outlet for Coca-Cola to target thirsty consumers who want a cold beverage as a companion for hot dogs, Cracker Jack, and peanuts.  But Coca-Cola’s relationship with baseball goes beyond exclusive pouring rights in America’s ballparks and stadia.

AT&T park in San Francisco boasts an 80-foot Coca-Cola bottle.  Citi Field has Coca-Cola Corner.  In Buffalo, Coca-Cola Field is the home ballpark for the Bisons, a Triple-A team in the International League.  According to the Bisons web site, Coca-Cola Field has a seating capacity of 18,025.  Designed by HOK Architects, Coca-Cola Field débuted in 1988.  The Lehigh Valley IronPigs call Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania their home.

Beyond stadium naming rights, Coca-Cola ventured into the front office with ownership of the Atlanta Crackers, a team in the Negro Leagues.  The soft drink giant rescued the team from financial oblivion.  Honoring its history, Coca-Cola recounts the genesis on its web site coca-colacompany.com:  “When the Great Depression began, the economic slowdown hit baseball hard.  The Atlanta Crackers were floundering in a sea of debt and bad management.  By the end of the 1929 season, the team was sold to several local businesses, including the Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company and The Coca-Cola Company.  Famed golfer (and lawyer) Bobby Jones acting as vice president.”

The Crackers needed an investor with the financial strength to shoulder this financial burden.  With its headquarters in Atlanta, Coca-Cola saw an opportunity, perhaps an obligation, to invest in the hometown team:  “When the condition continued to worsen, Robert Woodruff, Coca-Cola’s president, stepped forward to buy the Crackers to keep the team in Atlanta.”

Coca-Cola also sweetened the investment portfolio of a baseball legend to epic proportions.  As shrewd with investments as he was in the batter’s box, Ty Cobb used his frugality to launch his roster of stocks.  In a 1991 Los Angeles Times article titled “A Money Player: Ty Cobb Was a Peach When It Came to Investments, Too,” Cobb’s autobiography ghostwriter Al Stump explained Cobb’s financial prowess, claiming that Cobb was worth $12.1 million when he died in July 1961.  He cited a Cobb quote regarding the initial Coca-Cola investment: “For example, Coca-Cola was a new drink on the market in 1918.  Wall Street didn’t think much of it.  I gambled the other way with a small 300-shares buy, then with bigger buys and then Coke jumped out of sight.  It brought me more than $4 million as time went by.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 15, 2014.

Brooklyn, Baseball, and the Aurora Borealis

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Brooklynites tuning their radios to WOR for the Dodgers-Pirates broadcast on September 18, 1941 encountered an unexpected delay in Red Barber’s recounting of balls and strikes.  A natural phenomenon triggered the interruption and, consequently, the ire of Dodger fans.  The New York Times reported, “Sun spots and the aurora borealis yesterday and lat night played havoc with radio communications, but treated New York and the Eastern Seaboard as far south as Virginia to a display of light unparalleled in recent years.”

The Dodgers and the Pirates were in a scoreless tie at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field when the event happened at 4:00 p.m., preventing the broadcast from continuing for about 15 minutes.  During the delay, the Pirates scored four runs.  The source of the delay had no import for the Brooklyn faithful, though.  “Thousands of Brooklyn followers meanwhile had telephoned the station and displayed little satisfaction with the explanation that the sun was to blame,” explained the Times.

The Pirates won the game 6-5, but the Dodgers won the National League pennant, vaulting to the World Series after a two-decaf drought.  History repeated itself as a World Series championship proved elusive.  The Dodgers lost the World Series to the Red Sox in 1916 and again in 1920 to the Indians; in ’41, they lost to the Yankees.

The most memorable moment of the 1941 World Series occurred in Game 4 with a 4-3 Dodger lead and two outs in the ninth inning.  Yankee outfielder Tommy Henrich sprinted to first base after Hugh Casey’s pitch hit Mickey Owen’s glove and a called third strike became a passed ball.  A succession of hits guided the Yankees to a 7-4 comeback victory and a 3-1 lead in the World Series.  The next day, the Yankees won the World Series in Game 5.

In Owen’s 2005 obituary, Richard Goldstein of the New York Times described the moment’s effect.  “Owen played for 13 seasons in the major leagues and was an outstanding catcher with a strong, accurate arm.  But he has been linked in baseball history with figures like Fred Merkle, Ralph Branca and Bill Buckner, all outstanding players defined by a single moment of misfortune.”

The Dodgers had three players who cracked the .300 batting average barrier in 1941: Dixie Walker, Pete Reiser, and Joe Medwick.  Reiser was Brooklyn’s powerhouse in the batter’s box, leading the National League with a .343 batting average.  He scored 117 runs, smashed 184 hits, and reached second place in the voting for National League Most Valuable Player.  Reiser’s teammate Dolph Camilli won the MVP, giving Brooklyn a one-two MVP punch in 1941.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 1, 2014.

The Decade of Baseball Migration

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

The 1950s was a decade of change.

Elvis Presley spearheaded the introduction of rock and roll, television replaced radio as the preferred mass medium for news and entertainment, and several baseball teams migrated westward—way westward for two teams, mid-westward for two others.

With a pedigree dating back to 1871, the Braves resided in Boston until moving to Milwaukee after the 1952 season.  Milwaukee offered abundant parking spaces, a welcoming fan base, and a new stadium.  When the Braves went on the migration warpath from Braves Field to Milwaukee County Stadium, it ignited Midwestern pride throughout a minor league city elated at graduating to the next level of professional baseball.  Boston still had the Red Sox, though.

Until it lost the Athletics to Kansas City, Philadelphia was also a two-team town.  After the 1954 season, the A’s said goodbye to Shibe Park, bolted the City of Brotherly Love, and left the Phillies behind for the folks from the Liberty Bell to the Main Line suburbs.

Once a bedrock of baseball, the Philadelphia A’s racked up nine National League pennants and five World Series championships.  Connie Mack managed the A’s from 1901 to 1950.  It is the longest managerial tenure in Major League Baseball.

After the 1967 season, the A’s left Kansas City for Oakland.

New York City suffered the loss of two teams when the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants moved to California after the 1957 season.  The Giants played in the cavernous Polo Grounds, with a distance of 483 feet between home plate and the center field fence.  The distances down the foul lines were 279 feet for left field and 258 for right field.

As manager of the Giants, John McGraw defined a pugnacious approach to early 20th century baseball at the Polo Grounds.  It was, indeed, a site synonymous with baseball history.  Bobby Thomson hit his Shot Heard ‘Round the World to win the 1951 National League pennant against the Dodgers.  Willie Mays made his famous catch of a Vic Wertz drive in the 1954 World Series with his back to home plate while sprinting toward the center field fence.

San Francisco inherited the rich history of the Giants, opened its arms, and helped further set the Manifest Destiny mentality of baseball.

When the Dodgers left Brooklyn, they found an exploding southern California population base ready to move up the ranks of professional sports.  In their first 10 years with “Los Angeles” as part of the team’s full name, the Dodgers won three National League pennants and two World Series championships.

From 1958 to 1961, the Dodgers played at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  In 1962, Dodger Stadium débuted in Chavez Ravine once a massive abyss in the middle of Los Angeles.

Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley thought about staying in Brooklyn, albeit with a new stadium to replace aging Ebbets Field.  He evaluated proposals, but ultimately chose to move 3,000 miles west of the baseball nirvana where Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and several others became, as author Roger Kahn knighted them, the boys of summer.

Not all migrating teams planted their flags in the Pacific time zone.  After the 1953 season, the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 15, 2014.

The Man Who Made the Mud Hens Famous

Monday, November 21st, 2016

As Corporal—later Sergeant—Maxwell Q. Klinger on M*A*S*H, Jamie Farr brought laughter to millions and fame to the Toledo Mud Hens as he incorporated his hometown of Toledo, Ohio into the Klinger character.

On his web site www.jamiefarr.com, Farr explains the nexus between actor and character:  “Klinger’s back story was, in part, my back story.  I came from Toledo.  So, too, did Klinger. I never forgot some of my old neighborhood haunts, like Packo’s Hot Dogs.  Neither did Klinger.  I rooted for a minor league baseball club called the Toledo Mud Hens.  So, too, did Klinger.”

Indeed, Farr often wore a Mud Hens jersey and donned the team’s cap as a wink and a nod to his hometown.  Consequently, Toledo and Mud Hens became household names to a national television viewing audience.

Like his fictional counterpart, Farr saw the Mud Hens play at Swayne Field.  Noah H. Swayne donated the land for the ballpark.  Wayne’s father was United States Supreme Court Justice Noah H. Swayne, appointed by President Lincoln.

John R. Husman’s article for the Society for American Baseball Research web site discusses Swayne Field’s genesis:  “Swayne Field was privately financed and as fine and modern a baseball park as there was in America when it rose out of an old fairgrounds in west Toledo.  It was the largest baseball playing field in the world.  Construction of Swayne Field began on March 6, 1909.  Less than four months later, baseball was played there.  The concrete and steel plant was the apparent brainchild and investment of William R. Armour and Noah H. Swayne, Jr.”

M*A*S*H ran on CBS for 11 seasons—from 1972 to 1983—giving Farr ample opportunity to promote his Toledo heritage and Mud Hens fandom.  From the beginning, Farr was in the cast as a member of the United States Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077 during the Korean War.  First, though, he had a supporting role.  In the early seasons, Klinger tried to get a section 8 discharge requiring an assessment of him having a mental disorder.  His modus operandi was wearing women’s clothes to persuade doctors, especially psychiatrists, to authorize the discharge.  It never happened.

Gary Burghoff played Corporal Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly, the Company Clerk for the 4077th.  After Burghoff departed the show, Farr stepped into his shoes as Klinger took over the clerical duties that kept the 4077th operating.  Before M*A*S*H, Farr found regular work as a guest star on network television shows, including Room 222The Flying NunFamily AffairGomer Pyle: USMCGet SmartGarrison’s GorillasThe Dick Van Dyke ShowDeath Valley DaysMy Favorite Martian, and F Troop.

Farr got his show business break as Santini, a mentally challenged student in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier as a teacher and a rebel student, respectively, in an urban high school.  Farr said, “For its time, Blackboard Jungle was pretty shocking, so shocking that MGM thought it best to put a pious disclaimer on the screen at the beginning of the film stating that all schools were not like this—so as not to alienate hundreds of thousands of school teachers all over America.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 1, 2014.

Jackie Robinson and the Hall of Fame

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Though not technically the first black player in the major leagues—that distinction belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker of the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884—Jackie Robinson destroyed the unspoken yet visible barrier constructed in the late 1880s preventing blacks from joining a major league team.

Mr. Robinson’s début is no less a civil rights moment than Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus, or President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Walking on to the diamond at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947 preceded these civil rights hallmarks, marking a historic day, not only for baseball, but also for America.  But there are other dates that are highly significant in Jackie Robinson’s career.

Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers organization on October 23, 1945 at the team’s headquarters—215 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Jackie Robinson played his first game in Organized Baseball on April 18, 1946, when the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers minor league team, played the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Field in Jersey City.

The Baseball Writers Association of America elected Robinson to the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 23, 1962, a fact that he learned after coming home to 95 Cascade Road in Stamford, Connecticut, after spending the day in Manhattan’s corporate jungle as an executive with Chock full o’ Nuts; 1962 was Robinson’s first year of eligibility.

Excitement in the Robinson household was akin to the excitement that the Dodgers’ #42 generated at Ebbets Field.  “When I came home from work Rachel was on the phone telling David, our nine-year-old, about it,” said Robinson in the Christian Science Monitor.  “When she was me, she dropped the receiver and squealed that I had made it.”

Robinson’s Hall of Fame election was not automatic, however.  For example, Joe DiMaggio did not get elected in his first year of eligibility.  Neither did Bill Terry.  Needing a minimum of 75% of the ballots, Robinson got 124 of 160.  It was four more than necessary.

Jackie Robinson was the first black player elected to the Hall of Fame.  Arthur Daley of the New York Times addressed the issue of Robinson’s Hall of Fame election being based on his career or his color.  “It really doesn’t matter much,” declared Daley.  “Both factors undoubtedly entered into consideration because they are so intertwined that separation is impossible.  The feeling here is that he rated on both counts and no conscious effort was made to split them.  Now he has blazed another trail and it will be easier henceforth for other Negroes to follow him into Cooperstown.”

His 10-year career with the Brooklyn Dodgers yielded Robinson a .311 batting average, 1,518 hits, and 734 RBI.  Robinson’s contribution to the game cannot be measured in numbers alone, however.  Pioneering the path of integration littered with jeers, boos, and death threats required an unimaginable strength of the soul.  After Jackie Robinson came Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Henry Aaron, Don Newcombe, Elston Howard, and scores of other black players.

Baseball would never be the same.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 15, 2014.

Bob Feller’s Three No-Hitters

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

If Zeus were a pitcher, he’d be jealous of Bob Feller.  After getting noticed by Cleveland Indians scout and fellow Iowan Cy Slapnicka, Feller left the family farm to mow down American League opponents instead of grass.  Beginning his career as a teenager in 1936, Feller earned the nickname “The Heater From Van Meter” because of his blazing fastball and his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa.

Feller might not have played with the Indians had his father not taken action, though.  Written by Richard Goldstein, Feller’s 2010 obituary in the New York Times states, “The owner of the independent Des Moines minor league team, which had coveted him, contended that Feller had been acquired by the Indians in violation of baseball rules that governed the signing of amateurs.  The baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, could have made Feller a free agent who would have commanded huge contract offers in a bidding frenzy.  But Feller wanted to stay with the Indians, and his father threatened to sue if Landis did not allow that.”

Feller spent his entire career in a Cleveland Indians uniform, pitching three no-hitters in his career.  The first one happened on April 16, 1940 in the Opening Day game at Comiskey Park against the Chicago White Sox.  Feller’s career took a side turn toward the Pacific Theater in World War II.  After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Feller enlisted in the United States Navy.  Because of a sense of duty, honor, and patriotism, Feller put his career on hold during his early 20s, arguably the time of peak physical condition for an athlete.

Returning to the Indians in the latter part of the 1945 season, Feller prompted cheers from the Cleveland faithful.  In the 1946 season, it was as if he never left the pitching mound—Feller struck out 348 batters and pitched a no-hitter against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium; Feller’s third no-hitter came in 1951 against the Detroit Tigers.

Also known as “Rapid Robert,” Feller was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, the same year of Jackie Robinson’s entry.  Selected on 150 of 160 ballots, Feller used his induction speech to talk about the history of baseball’s origins.  “I was just thinking a moment ago that occasionally, when you’re in some outlying community outside here, there’s been a little controversy whether the first baseball game was ever played in Cooperstown, or elsewhere,” said Feller.  “I’m not concerned where the first one was played as long as it was played, and it certainly made a great deal of difference in the lives of most all Americans.”

In addition to his three no-hitters, Feller racked up other statistics that place him at the top of the pitching pyramid, including thrown 12 one-hitters, winning 20 games six times, and leading the American League in victories six times.  Feller’s career ended in 1956.

Finding a parallel to Feller in Indians history is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, an apt metaphor considering Feller’s farming roots.  He set the standard for excellence under Chief Wahoo’s aegis, hence the Bob Feller statue outside Progressive Field.  No hurler for the Indians ever matched Feller’s speed, accuracy, and endurance—except, perhaps, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.

 A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 1, 2014.