Posts Tagged ‘1966’

The Kid from Sudlersville

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

In a Hall of Fame Strat-O-Matic matchup between the Boston Red Sox and the American League, the former prevailed 10-3.  The lineups were:

American League

Tony Lazzeri (2b)

Larry Doby (CF)

Al Simmons (LF)

Hank Greenberg (1B)

Reggie Jackson (RF)

Harmon Killebrew (3B)

Lou Boudreau (SS)

Mickey Cochrane (C)

Bob Feller (P)

Boston Red Sox

Bobby Doerr (2B)

Carlton Fisk (C)

Jimmie Foxx (1B)

Babe Ruth (LF)

Wade Boggs (3B)

Carl Yastrzemski (CF)

Harry Hooper (RF)

Joe Cronin (SS)

Lefty Grove (P)

Jimmie Foxx slugged Bob Feller’s pitching in this simulation, notching three home runs and six RBI:

  • 1st inning:  Solo home run
  • 3rd inning:  Three-run home run (Doerr and Fisk on base—each singled)
  • 7th inning:  Two-run home run (Fisk on base—single)

Foxx also walked in the 5th inning and scored on Babe Ruth’s two-run home run; he singled in the 8th but got stranded when Ruth struck out to end the inning.  The other runs for the Red Sox Hall of Famers came from:

  • 4th inning:  Carl Yastrzemski solo home run
  • 7th inning:  Babe Ruth solo home run

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, Foxx began his career with the Philadelphia A’s in 1925.  Helmed by Connie Mack for the first half of the 20th century, the A’s won the World Series in 1929 and 1930.  A third consecutive World Series championship was not to be—the A’s lost to the Cardinals in 1931.

Foxx won back-to-back MVP awards in 1932 and 1933; a third MVP award came in 1938.

It was a nearly unanimous tally for the first award—voters at the Baseball Writers’ Association of American gave him 75 out of 80 possible points; Lou Gehrig had the next highest total—55 points.  1932 was the year that Foxx scored 58 dingers, just two shy of Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60.

On November 2, 1938, Foxx became the first player to win the MVP three times.  Now with the Boston Red Sox, Foxx surprised the baseball world with his ascent.  Associated Press noted that the slugger “made a gallant comeback after being considered on the downward trail a year ago, and bothered all this year by a sinus infection.”

In his MVP seasons, Foxx led the major leagues in several offensive categories:

  • Home runs (except for 1938)
  • RBI
  • Slugging percentage
  • On-Base + Slugging percentage
  • Total Bases

Foxx led the American League in batting average in 1933 and 1938; his 50 home runs trailed Hank Greenberg’s 58 in 1938.  When Foxx’s career ended in 1945, staggering numbers joined the annals of baseball’s greatest players—534 home runs, .325 batting average, .609 slugging percentage.

Foxx biographer W. Harrison Daniel, in his 1996 book Jimmie Foxx:  The Life and Times of a Baseball Hall of Fame, 1907-1967, notes that 1938 presented a turning point for the farm-raised ballplayer from Sudlersville, Maryland—a rural town with a population that has hovered around the 500 mark for the past 100 years.

Citing a title search at the Sudlersville Memorial Library, Daniel wrote, “Although 1938 was a memorable year in Foxx’s career, it was also the year that he abandoned any interest in returning to the farm.  Ten years earlier Jimmie had made a down payment on a farm near Sudlersville and he was quoted as saying this was an investment for the future and that he hoped to retire to the farm after his playing days.  It appears that Foxx’s parents lived on the farm until around 1938, when they moved into a house in the village of Sudlersville which they had purchased in 1925 and formerly rented out.  Jimmie’s farm, in 1938, had a mortgage of $7,000.00 which he had not paid off.  In this year the mortgage was paid and the property was transferred to J.C. Jones on June 8, 1938.”

Upon Foxx’s election to the Hall of Fame in 1951, Boston Globe sportswriter Harold Kaese noted the slugger’s urbanity off the field.  “Foxx was a gentleman all right, even though he was raised on a farm and good-naturedly squirted tobacco juice on the shoes of his friends when they walked into the dugout,” wrote Kaese.  “I know he was a gentleman because as the Red Sox broke training camp one Spring, and headed for Boston, he said, ‘I’ll be glad to get out of the South.  You can’t even get a decent manicure down here.'”

On January 13, 1967, Foxx received the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association’s Sultan of Swat Crown retroactively at the annual Tops in Sports banquet in Baltimore for Outstanding Batting Achievement.  Illness forced Foxx to accept the award in absentia; former Orioles manager and former Foxx teammate Jimmy Dykes accepted on his behalf.  Frank Robinson, a key cog in the Orioles’ machine that brought down the Dodgers in a four-game sweep of the previous year’s World Series received the Sultan of Swat Crown for 1966 and fellow Maryland native Lefty Grove also received an award at the event.  Foxx passed away six months later.

Today, Foxx’s Sultan of Swat Crown sits in Sudlersville Memorial Library as a testament to the farm boy who became a baseball superstar but never forgot where he came from.  Generations of Sudlersville families remain in town, offering continuity of community—if a Sudlersvillean goes to the library, the grocery store, or the bank, he or she is likely to triple the time allotted for the task because conversations, serious and casual, will commence.  In a town where everybody knows everybody else, gossip is not the watchword.  Rather, the verbal exchanges ignite the thoughtful question “How can I help?” rather than the judgmental statement “That’s too bad.”

If a trek occurs near the intersection of Main Street and Church Street, the conversation may include the topic of baseball, specifically, the man embodied by the statue there.  It’s a pose of a baseball player after one of his mighty right-handed swings—the one who decimated American League pitching, became a baseball hero to Philadelphians and Bostonians, and inspired the character Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, in A League of Their Own.

James Emory Foxx.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 4, 2017.

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Bruins Fan Scorned

Friday, May 5th, 2017

For fans of the Boston Bruins, there are two types of hockey players—Bobby Orr and everyone else.  A product of Ontario—Parry Sound in Georgian Bay, to be precise—Orr ignited his hockey destiny the moment he laced up his first pair of skates.  Bostonians, fiercely loyal, welcomed Orr in 1966 with a storm of applause, adoration, and acclaim.  Hockey writers, too, noted Orr’s excellence with the Calder Memorial Trophy—the award for the “most proficient in his his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

Orr, he of the destructible knees and indestructible fortitude, soon became a legend.  When #4 took the ice, the Boston Garden shook with promise of victory; in his first season, Orr helped lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers.  It resulted in a loss; nevertheless, the Bruins won hockey’s greatest honor twice during the Orr era, which ended after the 1975-76 season.  Orr shot the winning goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues to capture the Stanley Cup for the 1969-70 season.

After two seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Orr retired after the 1978-79 season with 264 career goals, 624 career assists, and a collection of trophies marking excellence.  Orr’s boyish grin off the ice and steely exterior on it imprinted the kid from Parry Sound with a stamp reading “legend” in hockey annals.

When a legend gets injured, fans worry.

When a legend gets disparaged, fans defend.

When a legend gets mistreated on the field of play, fans react.  Violently, sometimes.  Such was the case on January 24, 1974 in a Bruins-Blackhawks game.  With less than a minute to go, defenseman Bill White stuck out his stick, tripped Orr, and began a wave of protest not seen since the nation’s forefathers dumped tea into Boston Harbor.  White’s action was purposeful, as clear as a cloudless sky on a spring day at Fenway Park.  At least it was, according to the Boston Garden crowd.

Orr, in a protest that could be heard in the parking lot, confronted referee Wally Harris, who acted promptly—he ejected Orr from the game for a 10-minute misconduct penalty.  White received no penalty.  Bruins fans, in turn, showed their displeasure by throwing garbage onto the ice—it took a little more than 30 minutes to clean the ice, cool tempers, and resume the game.  “I’ve been through a few things like that,” said Blackhawks centerman Stan Mikita, whose views were documented in the media, including, of course, the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe.  “But never as bad as this.  I never thought it would happen in Boston.  But it shows how people can get when the big man (Orr) gets flattened.  They want blood.”

Chicago sportswriter Bob Verdi posed a whiff of indictment against Orr in the Tribune.  “On the particular play, White dropped to the ice and knocked the puck away from Orr with a reaching stick sweep,” wrote Verdi.  “Orr’s momentum then carried him into contact with White’s right arm and stick.  There’s no way to prove it, but it looked as tho [sic] Orr was trying to force the penalty; he looked like Stan Mikita taking one of his famous swan dives.  Mikita, tho [sic], is more convincing.”

Alas, the Boston press felt differently about the penalty.  A Globe editorial stated, “Television reruns of the play made it clear what ignited the violence, but surely no one can believe that it was worth endangering the physical safety of the men on both teams or the officials to vent that fury.”

If a game has less than 10 minutes before completion, the player’s time off the ice for the 10-minute misconduct “Orr’s momentum then carried him into contact with White’s right arm and stick.  There’s no way to prove it, but it looked as tho [sic] Orr was trying to force the penalty; he looked like Stan Mikita taking one of his famous swan dives.  Mikita, tho [sic], is more convincing.”

If a game has less than 10 minutes before completion, the player’s time off the ice for the 10-minute misconduct penalty amounts to time served—the outstanding time will not be carried over, either to the next game on the schedule or the next game against the opponent.

The Blackhawks beat the Bruins 2-1.  But it was not the score that exhausted the crowd wearing Bruins paraphernalia to indicate their chosen team of worship, a trait designed by geography during one’s formative years, except in occasional instances.  It was treachery against a favorite son responsible, in Jupiterian fashion, for two Stanley Cups—treachery that pierced the hearts of college students in Cambridge; of cultured millionaires on Beacon Hill; of nature lovers in Boston Common; of civil servants at the Massachusetts State House; of gardeners in Brookline; of contractors in South Boston; of cab rivers ushering passengers to and from an airport named Logan; and of MBTA subway conductors.

A victory unites Bostonians of every stripe in society.  A betrayal, even more so.

 

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 24, 2017.

Baltimore, Frank Robinson, and the Year of the Orioles

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

It was the best of baseball.  It was the worst of baseball.

On the 9th day of the 10th month of the 66th year of the 20th century, it ended—the subject being the World Series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Baltimore emerged as champions, triggering elation throughout the metropolis named for Cecil Calvert, Second Lord Baltimore—the first Proprietor and Proprietary Governor of the Province of Maryland.  It was not supposed to happen.  At lest it was not supposed to happen the way it did, with the Orioles blanking the vaunted Dodgers squad for a 4-0 sweep—three games were shutouts:

  • Game 1:  5-2
  • Game 2:  6-0
  • Game 3:  1-0
  • Game 4:  1-0

In turn, the Orioles elevated their status in Baltimore’s sports hierarchy.  “This season’s feats of the Orioles, who leaped from crisis to crisis and still won the pennant, and who brought the exciting Frank Robinson to the city as a counter attraction to the demigod Johnny Unitas, balanced the ledger more than a bit.  The Colts may not have lost their eminence, but the city’s fans and newspapers have learned that there is another team in town,” wrote Shirley Povich, whose words in the Washington Post started the day for sports fans in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Ushered to Baltimore in a trade with Cincinnati after the 1965 season, Robinson swatted his way through American League pitching in his first year as an Oriole:

Led Major Leagues

  • Runs Scored (122)
  • Home Runs (49)
  • Slugging Percentage (.637)
  • On-Base + Slugging Percentage (1.047)
  • Total Bases (367)

Led American League

  • RBI (122)
  • Batting Average (.316)
  • On-Base Percentage (.410)
  • Sacrifice Flies (7)

Robinson won the American League Most Valuable Player Award and the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.  It was a vindication, of sorts.  “I wanted to have a good year especially to show the people in the front office there [in Cincinnati] that I wasn’t washed up, and I wanted to show them by having a good year,” said Robinson in an Associated Press article published in the Baltimore Sun on October 10th.

“And I wanted to show the people, the officials, the city of Baltimore they were getting a guy who still could play baseball.”

For the Dodgers, blaming and shaming arrived with gusto.  Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray, for example, lobbed verbal grenades spiked with sarcasm, as was his wont.  Murray’s piece titled “The Dodger Story:  A Classic Case of Ineptitude” brought forth a wheelbarrow full of bon mots.

On the Dodgers’ hitting woes:  “Their batting average cannot be seen with the naked eye or figured under the decimal system.  Guys who weigh that little get to ride horse races.”

On Don Drysdale:  “He deserved better, but the Dodgers’ invisible attack, the worst exercise in offensive futility since Mussolini’s invasion of Greece, left him like a guy who thinks his whole platoon is crawling through the brush with him until he whispers and gets no answer back.  The Dodger ‘attack’ would have to be twice as loud to be dignified as ‘whispering.’  They hit the ball as if it was a cantaloupe.”

On the Dodgers’ post-season Japan trip:  “They are now taking the act to Japan where, when the Japanese get a load of them, they may want to reopen World War II.”

Stocked with blue chips nearly as strong as the Dow 30, the Dodgers suffered a downturn that was unavoidable, arguably—Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Tommy Davis, Ron Fairly, Maury Wills, Wes Parker et al. faced an opponent that needed to be quashed before taking on the O’s.  In his 2006 book Black and Blue:  Sandy Koufax, the Robinson Boys, and the World Series That Stunned America, Tom Adelman posited that exhaustion—or something close to it—affected the Dodgers after a merciless pennant race.  “Unlike the Orioles, they’d [sic] had no chance to adjust to the idea of a post-season contest—to catch their breath, raise their sights, and ready themselves for a fight,” wrote Adelman, who interviewed several players from both squads.  Ron Fairly, among others, confirmed the toll created by the quick turnaround from the end of the season to the beginning of the World Series.

That is not to take anything away from the Orioles, managed by Hank Bauer, who knew a thing or two thousand about winning—he played for the Yankees during the Mantle era, which saw World Series titles in:

  • 1949
  • 1950
  • 1951
  • 1952
  • 1953
  • 1956
  • 1958

American League pennant flew unaccompanied in the Bronx in 1955 and 1957.

Bauer won the Associated Press Manager of the Year Award and the Sporting News Manager of the Year Award in 1966.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 23, 2017.

Boog Powell’s MVP Season

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

A native of Key West—the place where Pan Am began, the U.S.S. Maine sailed from on its last journey before exploding in Havana Harbor, and Ernest Hemingway maintained a legendary home—John Wesley Powell, also known as Boog, spent most of his 17-season career in an Orioles uniform.  One of those seasons—1970—resulted in him winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Powell ran away with the MVP voting, gaining 11 of 24 first-place votes and 234 points.  The next four contestants weren’t even close:

  • Tony Oliva, Minnesota Twins (157)
  • Harmon Killebrew, Minnesota Twins (152)
  • Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (136)
  • Frank Howard, Washington Senators (91)

Memorial Stadium rocked with the cheers of Oriole Nation as Powell marched toward the coveted .300 batting average barrier, falling just short at .297.  Powell’s dominance at the plate reflected in 35 home runs, 114 RBI, and a .549 slugging percentage.

It was a banner year for Baltimore’s birds—they won the World Series after getting upset by the Miracle Mets in 1969.  Powell’s fellow Orioles did not fare as well with awards, despite outstanding seasons.  Baltimore’s legendary pitching staff boasted three 20-game winners—Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Jim Palmer scored in the top five for the American League Cy Young Award voting, but got eclipsed by Jim Perry of the Twins.

Powell said, “I think it’s a shame we were neglected for the other awards.  All of our three pitchers certainly deserved the Cy Young.  But I’m still elated at being chosen the MVP.  I feel it’s the highest honor in sports.”

Yankee skipper Ralph Houk won the American League Manager of the Year title rather than Earl Weaver, who helmed the O’s to two straight World Series.  A third consecutive appearance happened against the Pittsburgh Pirates in ’71—ultimately a losing affair in seven games.

Cheers, an NBC prime time powerhouse in the 1980s, used Powell to cement verisimilitude of Sam “Mayday” Malone—a fictional relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, a recovering alcoholic, and the owner of Cheers.  As the show’s theme song declares, Cheers is a bar, near the Boston Commons, where everybody knows your name.

In the first season episode “Sam at Eleven,” Sam’s former ballplayer pal Dave Richards, now a sportscaster, wants to interview the ex-Red Sox reliever at Cheers.  Sam talks about a dramatic moment when he faced Powell in the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game of a doubleheader.  During the middle of Sam’s story, Dave abandons for an interview with John McEnroe.  Diane Chambers, an intellectual waitress having an undercurrent of highly significant sexual tension with Sam, which gets resolved in a later episode when they succumb to their respective differences—he, a dumb jock stereotype and she, a condescending sort—asks what happened to “the Boog person” and Sam, obviously suffering from a punch to his ego, casually tells her that Powell grounded to third to end the game.

After some gentle and not-so-gentle verbal prodding from Diane, Sam talks about the injury to his psyche.  Then, perhaps in a moment of catharsis, he tells Diane about the end of the second game, which also found him facing Powell in the bottom of the ninth.

Sam’s story could not have taken place during Powell’s MVP year, however.  When Cheers left prime time in 1993, after 11 seasons, Sports Illustrated ran a biography of America’s favorite barkeep.  “Everybody Knows His Name” recounted Malone’s career based on dialogue throughout the series.  Sam Malone entered professional baseball in 1966, débuted in the major leagues in 1972, and ended his career in 1978.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 15, 2016.

Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, and the Olympics

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Baseball’s nexus with Hollywood had a center point in Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field on February 28, 1932 for a charity game benefitting America’s Olympians; the ’32 Summer Olympics—which took place in Los Angeles—inspired two comedy icons to combine their celebrity and passion for baseball in a civic minded cause.  Joe E. Brown and Buster Keaton spearheaded the teams.

Players from the Cubs, the Giants, and the Pirates took the field in front of approximately 8,500 fans, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Brown’s team won 10-3 in the six-inning contest.  It was nearly over as soon as it began—six Brown players scored in the first inning.  The Times reported, “The game was called to permit Rogers Hornsby and his Cubs to catch the Catalina Ferry.”  The rosters included Lloyd Waner, Pie Traynor, Carl Hubbell, and Grover Cleveland Alexander.  Keaton and Brown also participated, as did Jack Oakie, another member of Hollywood’s comedy group.

Brown and Keaton incorporated baseball into their respective bodies of work.  Fireman Save My ChildElmer the Great, and Alibi Ike offer Brown as a skilled rube.  Keaton filmed a legendary segment at Yankee Stadium for his silent film The Cameraman—he mimed players at different positions.  Brown’s love for the National Pastime stuck in his DNA—his son Joe L. Brown was the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1976, a period of Steel City baseball legends, including Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Roy Face, Willie Stargell, and Al Oliver.

Keaton’s comedy was universal, timeless, and groundbreaking.  The Muskegon, Michigan native formed the comedy cornerstone of the silent film industry, along with Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, W. C. Fields, and Fatty Arbuckle, to name a few.

A few months before he died, Keaton explained how he saw his comedy appeal to the current generation; Times writer Henry Sutherland chronicled this insight in the 1966 obituary for the filmmaker, nicknamed “The Great Stone Face”for his ability to maintain composure during chaos in his films.

“Two years ago we sent a picture to Munich, Germany using old-fahsioned subtitles with a written score,” Keaton said.  “This was ‘The General.’  It was made in 1926, and hell, that’s 39 years ago.

“But I sneaked into the theater and the laughs were exactly the same as on the day it was first release.”

Wrigley Field graced television and theaters before its demise in the 1960s.  It was where Herman Munster tried out for the Los Angeles Dodgers under the watchfulness of Leo Durocher.  It was where baseball scenes in The Pride of the Yankees were filmed.  It was where baseball’s greatest sluggers matched powers at the plate in Home Run Derby, a syndicated television show in 1960—Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Duke Snider, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, and Ernie Banks were among the competitors.

Considered a hitter’s park, Wrigley Field hosted its first game in 1925.  The California Angels played their home games at Wrigley Field in their début season—1961.  Dodger Stadium was the team’s home field for the next four seasons, until Angel Stadium’s début in 1966.

Today, Gilbert Lindsay Park stands on Wrigley’s grounds.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on August 5, 2016.

Batman, Baseball, and 1966

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

1966 was the year of the superhero, thanks to Batman.  After the camp version premiered on ABC in January, starring Adam West in the title role, Batman triggered a fascination that inspired a slew of iconic guest villains:

  • Cesar Romero as the Joker
  • Burgess Meredith as the Penguin
  • Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt as the Catwoman
  • Milton Berle as Louie the Lilac
  • Frank Gorshin and John Astin as the Riddler
  • Victor Buono as King Tut
  • Vincent Price as Egghead

Several others appeared in Gotham City’s Rogues Gallery.

Batman‘s format was simple.  A villain terrorizes Gotham City, igniting frustration of Police Commissioner Gordon and Police Chief O’Hara.  They call Batman on a secret telephone line which, unbeknownst to them, connects to a telephone at stately Wayne Manor, home of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his ward, Dick Grayson.  Batman and Robin.  The Dynamic Duo.  The Caped Crusaders.

Typically, Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne’s butler, answers the telephone and slyly tells his employer about the urgent call without revealing the identity of the caller.  This, so other people in the room, for example, Wayne’s Aunt Harriet, do not learn of Wayne’s alter ego.

Neil Hamilton played Gordon; Stafford Repp played O’Hara; and Burt Ward played Grayson/Robin.

On June 25, 1966, Batman and the Riddler went to New York City, Gotham City’s real-life counterpart; Adam West and Frank Gorshin reprised their roles for a “Batman Concert” in front of approximately 3,000 fans at Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets.  Seven rock and roll groups were also on the bill.

When Batman showed up, “the 3,000 sounded like 30,000 now—as Batman circled the field in a Cadillac (the Batmobile was in for repairs, no doubt,” wrote Robert Sherman in the New York Times.

Gorshin took aim at the Mets’ woeful play.  One example pointed out by Sherman:  “Why are the Mets like my mother-in-law’s biscuits?  They both need a better batter.

Batman‘s success led to a slew of superheroes.  CBS labeled its Saturday morning cartoon block Super Saturday for the 1966-67 television season; shows included UnderdogSpace Ghost, and The New Adventures of Superman.

Though it set off a trend, Batman faded in appeal almost as quick as it catapulted to the throne of the popular culture kingdom.  ABC canceled the show after its third season.  A film version premiered in the summer of 1966.  Lee Meriwether played Catwoman.  West, Ward, Romero, Meredith, and Gorshin reprised their roles.

Managed by Wes Westrum, the Mets compiled a 66-95 record in 1966.  It was, in a sense, a breakthrough season—1966 was the first year that the Mets did not lose 100 or more games.  The barons of blue and orange finished in 9th place in the National League, 28 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, who got swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the ’66 World Series.  Additionally, three teams débuted new stadiums in 1966:

  • Atlanta Stadium (Braves)
  • Anaheim Stadium (Angels)
  • Busch Memorial Stadium (Cardinals)

Though the Mets finished 9th, it notched 2nd place in attendance for the Senior Circuit—1,932,693 of the Flushing Faithful went to Shea Stadium in 1966.

Loyalty abounds for the Mets, no matter the tally on the scoreboard.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 25, 2016.

The Hall of Fame Case for Tommy John

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Forget about the 288 wins.

Forget about the four pennant-winning teams.

Forget about the pioneering surgery that bears his name.

You might as well.  The Baseball Hall of Fame voters have.

Thomas Edward John, Jr., the Terre Haute native who stayed in his hometown to attend college at Indiana State University, stands overlooked and undervalued for his contributions to baseball.

In his 26-year career, John pitched for:

  • Chicago White Sox
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • New York Yankees
  • California Angels
  • Oakland A’s

He led the National League in winning percentage in 1973 and the major leagues in 1974; played on the Dodgers’ National League pennant-winning teams in 1974, 1977, and 1978; played for the American League champs in the strike-shortened season of 1981—the Yankees.

In eras gone by, when more pitchers stayed on the mound for the entire game, John led the major leagues three times in shutouts:

  • 1966 (5)
  • 1967 (6)
  • 1980 (6)

With just 12 wins short of the magic number—300—John stands on the cusp of Cooperstown; peers Bert Blyleven and Jim Palmer were inducted with 287 and 268 wins, respectively.  One can presume that at least 12 games in a 26-year career fell victim to a combination of error, lack of prowess at the plate, and a manager’s strategic errors.  It’s an interesting point, but, in the end, you are what your record is.  And John’s 288 notches in the win column stand as impressive.

It is, perhaps, the breakthrough surgery that Dr. Frank Jobe performed on the hurler in 1974 that is the most significant factor in an argument for John’s Hall of Fame membership.  At the time, Jobe was the Dodgers’ orthopedist.

Tommy John surgery rebuilds the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) by using a tendon from another part of the body.  A torn or ruptured UCL can immediately put a period at the end of a pitcher’s career.  Only an injury warrants the surgery.  It is not a procedure for improving performance.

John won more games after the surgery than before it and played on three All-Star teams (1978-1980); his only other All-Star appearance happened in 1968.  To be a pioneering patient for a surgical procedure that’s become as much a cornerstone of the game as corporate-sponsored stadia.  Had Tommy John not gone under Dr. Jobe’s knife, somebody else would have.  Eventually.  But John took the risk.

When would another pitcher have been the first if John had stepped away from baseball?  1975?  1980?  How many careers have been saved because John opted for Jobe’s cutting edge idea?

Treating a UCL problem with Tommy John surgery has become de rigeur.  Hall of Famer John Smoltz sat out the 2000 season to recover from the surgery.  At his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2015, Smoltz warned teenage pitchers against going under the knife.  “I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old.  That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sports.  That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports.  Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way.”

Smoltz is the only Tommy John surgery patient inducted into the Hall of Fame.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 22, 2016.

Rick Monday’s Star-Spangled Play

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Old Glory.  Stars and Stripes.  Star-Spangled banner.

America’s flag is, for some, a sacred fabric.  Rick Monday represented those devotees during a Cubs-Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976, when he prevented a duo—father and son—from igniting the red, white, and blue banner on the outfield grass.

In a 2006 article by Ben Platt for mlb.com, Monday said, “My thoughts were reinforced with my six years in the Marine Corps Reserves.  It was also reinforced by a lot of friends who lost their lives protecting the rights and freedoms that flag represented.”

What followed put an exclamation point on the ribbon rescue, which received an extra infusion of national pride during America’s bicentennial year.  “It was a very quiet moment,” described Monday.  “A smattering of applause as they got these two guys off the field.  And it got quiet again.  And if memory serves correctly, from one part of the stadium, I don’t know where, and then from another part, and then from another part, and then kind of collectively, people began to sing ‘God Bless America.'”

When Monday swiped the flag, which had already been dosed with lighter fluid, America’s psyche had suffered a series of rabbit punches during the past two decades—more than 58,000 servicemen dead and thousands others wounded in the Vietnam War; the Watergate scandal leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon; the Cuban Missile Crisis; four students shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard during a war protest at Kent State University; two assassination attempts on President Gerald Ford; two oil crises; inflation; race riots; and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cynicism abounded, laced with fear.  Bobby Kennedy offered hope, which crumbled when Sirhan Sirhan murdered him in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after Kennedy’s victory in the California Democratic primary.  “Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence,” said Kennedy.  “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events.  And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.”

Would that it were so.  Optimism about America teetered with each headline.

Hence, Monday’s act, though only occupying a few seconds, triggered a patriotic catharsis for the 25,167 in attendance, plus those watching the game on television, listening to it on radio, or learning about it in the next day’s sports pages.

The Dodgers beat the Cubs 5-4 on that April day.  Monday knocked three hits, scored two runs, and notched one RBI.  But snatching the flag from imminent torching captured headlines and hearts—and continues to do so.

In a 2006 interview for mlb.com, Monday explained, “From time to time, people ask, ‘Are you upset because you spent 19 seasons in the major leagues and you’re known primarily for stopping two people from burning the flag?’  If that’s all you’re known for, it’s not a bad thing at all.  It solidified the thought process of hundreds of thousands of people that represented this country in fine fashion and lost their lives.”

Rick Monday played with three teams in his career:

  • 1966-1971:  Athletics
  • 1972-1976:  Cubs
  • 1977-1984:  Dodgers

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 25, 2016.

Kevin Kline, Dave Kovic, and President William Harrison Mitchell

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

When Ronald Reagan pursued the presidency, Jack Warner, his former boss, said, “No, Jimmy Stewart for President. Ronald Reagan for best friend.”  This story may be apocryphal a combination of political and Hollywood lore.

Reagan, the nation’s 40th president, stands at the crossroads of politics and show business as the ultimate example of the nexus between the two.  After an acting career that lasted nearly 30 years working for Warner and other studio heads, Reagan ran for Governor of California twice and won both times—1966 and 1970.  During the Reagan presidency in the 1980s, the actor-turned-politico reportedly said, “How can a president not be an actor?”

Such is the quandary of Dave Kovic, an impersonator of President William Harrison Mitchell in the 1993 movie Dave; Kevin Kline plays the title character.

After a speech at the Monroe Hotel, the president engages in a tryst with his secretary in a hotel room while Dave—also played by Kevin Kline—substitutes for him in the lobby, waving to people as he exits.  Mitchell’s staff procured Dave’s services after learning of a promotional appearance as the president at a car dealership.  Presidential impersonation is a side business to Dave’s job—running a temporary employee agency.

When President Mitchell suffers a stroke in flagrante delicto, Chief of Staff Bob Alexander and White House Media Advisor Alan Reed persuade Dave to continue impersonating the president, who lies in intensive care several feet below the White House in a super-secure area.  An appearance at Camden Yards appears in a montage of scenes showing the “new” President Mitchell rebounding from his stroke with positive energy.

Kline filmed Dave during 1992, a presidential election year that brought George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and Henry Ross Perot into the campaign arena where they were marred by blood, sweat, and late night television comedy.  “I really tried to avoid doing George Bush,” said Kline in an interview with Susan Lehman of the Washington Post.  “If I had, it would have put us in the realm of impersonation or parody.  And rather than do a parody of any conservative president of the last 12 years, I tried to understand the psychology of a guy whose popularity polls had hit bottom, who no longer enjoyed his job, who had bought into the whole public polling, image-creating aspect of his job and had lost touch with who he was.  You know, at one time, he may have had the best intentions when he entered politics, but ultimately it got the best of him.”

There is no designation of a political party in the movie.

Before an Orioles-Tigers game on August 3, 1992, Kline filmed the scene of him throwing out the first ball.  Baltimore’s birds won the game 6-3.  Storm Davis restricted the Tigers to no hits during his 2 1/3 innings of hurling.  Orioles first baseman Glenn Davis knocked a two-run home run in the fifth inning.

Storm and Glenn were not brothers—pretty close, though.  Storm’s family adopted Glenn, for all intents and purposes—though not formally—when the boys played baseball at Jacksonville’s University Christian High School.  Glenn Davis’s parents divorced just about when he was learning to walk, leaving the Davis matriarch struggling to raise three children on her own.

This difficult home situation made Storm’s family life a paradigm of structure, safety, and belonging.  “Glenn started coming over to the house his sophomore year, sometimes staying for dinner,” wrote Molly Dunham and Mike Klingaman in a 1991 article for the Baltimore Sun.  “He lived on the north side of Jacksonville; Storm’s family lived on the south side, about 15 miles away.  Sometimes Glenn took the bus.  He never really said how he got there other times.”

In his 13-year major league career (1982-1994), Storm Davis played for Baltimore, San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City, and Detroit; Davis’s career win-loss record is 113-96.  Glenn Davis played for two teams—Houston and Baltimore—in his 10-year major league career (1984-1993), compiling 965 hits, 190 home runs, and a .259 batting average.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 1, 2016.

The Great Holdout of 1966

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

In March of 1966, Bobby Hull set an NHL scoring record for a single season, Gemini 8 brought NASA one giant leap closer to a manned moon landing by completing the first docking with another space craft, and Julie Newmar set hearts of males from eight to eighty beating faster when she débuted as Catwoman in a skintight outfit on Batman.

For Dodger fans, however, there was not much to cheer about.  Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had a standoff against Walter O’Malley and Buzzie Bavasi—the Dodgers’ owner and general manager, respectively—just a few months after the Dodgers won the 1965 World Series in seven games against the Minnesota Twins; Drysdale had a 1-1 record in the series while Koufax went 2-1 and won the seventh game.

Drysdale and Koufax negotiated as a team, arguing that their combined 49 wins of the team’s 97 in 1965 warranted a boost in salaries; Koufax led the major leagues with 26 victories.

Prospects looked dire on the morning of March 30th.  Readers of the Los Angeles Times got a jolt when they read an article titled “Koufax, Drysdale reject $210,000 by Charles Maher and Frank Finch.  It quoted O’Malley:  “While I am sorry the incident is closed, I am pleased that it is ending on a note that is without any hard feelings.  They leave baseball with our very best wishes.”

Bavasi expressed a similar sentiment, though he noted a contrasting O’Malley viewpoint.  “Walter still thinks the boys are going to play.  But I don’t.  And I know these boys a little better than other people,” said Bavasi.

Later that day, the men with the power of the Pacific Ocean in their pitching arms resolved their contract dispute with the suits at Dodger Stadium.  Drysdale and Koufax signed for $120,000 and $105,000, respectively, for the 1966 season.  These figures were, according to Maher, “authoritative estimates” and quite a jump from each pitcher’s reported 1965 salary in the $75,000 range.

A summit of sorts took place at Nikola’s, a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, where Drysdale and Bavasi met.  “Don told me what he thought it would take to get both boys.  I came up with a figure.  Don talked to Sandy and they accepted,” explained Bavasi.

Drysdale and Koufax had the counsel of J. William Hayes, a prominent sports and entertainment attorney.  “There’s no telling what we would have done without him,” praised Drysdale.  “We’ve really got to thank him.  From a business standpoint, he didn’t need us at all.  This was just a drop in the bucket compared to some of the business negotiations he handles.”

In his 1966 autobiography Koufax, written with Ed Linn, the legendary left-hander concurred with Drysdale.  “And then something happened which, I think showed the value of having a third party involved in this kind of emotional dogfight,” wrote Koufax about the status of the negotiations on the day that the parties achieved resolution.  “Buzzie was quoted as having said that if only one of us signed—while the other presumably held out or quit—the player who signed would have to accept the original offer.

“Bill Hayes called early in the morning to warn Buzzie that if he made that kind of proposition to Don, he had very little chance of signing either of us.”

1966 was the last season for Koufax, who proved his worth by leading the major leagues in:

  • Wins (27)
  • ERA (1.73)
  • Games started (41)
  • Complete games (27)
  • Innings pitched (323)
  • Strikeouts (317)

Drysdale did not fare was well—his win-loss record was 13-16.  Three years later, the overpowering right-hander retired with a 209-166 career win-loss record.

It was a glorious season for the champions of Chavez Ravine—the Dodgers won the 1966 National League pennant.  Alas, they did not repeat as World Series victors; the Baltimore Orioles swept the Dodgers in four straight games.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 30, 1966.