Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

Baseball, Humor, Home Runs, Healing, and 9/11

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Tragedy demands a release.  When David Letterman took his spot at the Ed Sullivan Theatre for his first show after the September 11, 2001 attacks, he let us know that it was okay to laugh.  The shock of the attacks was beyond immense, defying description of the emotional impact.  There were no words.  There are no words.  There will never be enough words.  Laughter, if only for a moments eased the pain.

Friends added an accessory to Chandler and Joey’s apartment—a big American flag.  Its presence, without mention, indicated the innate quality of patriotism that an attack on the homeland can generate.  We can give blood.  We can offer comfort.  We can wear a symbol showing that America is united.  E pluribus unum.  Out of many, one.

Mike Piazza’s home run in the first Major League Baseball game since the 9/11 attacks gave an escape sorely needed.  Would a game matter again?  Would we be able to cheer again?  When the Mets and the Braves took the field on September 21, 2001, those questions seemed unanswerable.  An extra shot of patriotic adrenaline moved through the veins of players, fans, and everyone else in attendance during The Star-Spangled Banner.  A game that may appear meaningless reminded us that sports and entertainment are distractions from the challenges, obstacles, failures, setbacks, stumbles, and disappointments of life.  During a national tragedy, sports and entertainment are vital to the national morale.  For just a few moments, we can remember what it’s like to cheer, to laugh, and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Saturday Night Live, a New York City institution, began its first post-9/11 show with Paul Simon singing The Boxer while the city’s first responders stood as stoic as oak trees.  Mayor Rudy Giuliani and SNL creator Lorne Michaels had an iconic moment after the song.  Michaels inquired, “Can we be funny now?”  Millions of viewers wondered the same thing.

“Why start now?” responded Giuiliani.

It was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek exchange perfectly suited for an extremely tense period in the nation’s history that will never be forgotten.

In his address to Congress on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush said, “It is my hope that in the months and years ahead life will return almost to normal.  We’ll go back to our lies and routines and that is good.  Even grief recedes with time and grace.”  Learning to laugh again and cheer once more are the first steps of that recession.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 21, 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.

22 Innings, 7 Hours

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Baseball, unlike other sports, has no boundary of time.  On June 24, 1962, the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers issued a reminder at Tiger Stadium.  It took 22 innings, seven hours; an epic test of endurance inched the players toward completing the contest, which ended in a 9-7 Yankee victory.  At the time, it was the longest game in elapsed time, a record that has since been broken.

43 players participated—21 Yankees, 22 Tigers.  Each team used seven pitchers.  Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson had the most at bats (11), Tiger left fielder Rocky Colavito had the most hits (7), and Yankee third baseman Clete Boyer and Tiger right fielder Purnal Goldy tied for the most RBI (3).

Jack Reed punctured the standoff with a two-run homer, his only round-tripper in a three-year career.  Reed’s smash came off Phil Regan, “a righthander with a herky-jerk delivery,” as described by Tommy Holmes of the New York Herald-Tribune.

A replacement for Mickey Mantle in the later innings of Yankee games, Reed had a career batting average of .233 through 222 games.

In his “Ward to the Wise” column in the New York Daily News on April 18, 1963, Gene Ward highlighted Reed, with the subtitle “The Unknown Yankee.”  “It doesn’t seem possible a man can play with the Yankees and remain an unknown,” wrote Ward.  “But the 30-year-old Reed, in his 10th year with the organization, is unknown only in the sense that kids don’t gang up on him for autographs and his name isn’t emblazoned in headlines.  He never has been a regular, although he appeared in 88 games last year, compiling a .302 BA, and his chances to play come only when Mantle or Maris turn up ailing.

“But as far as the Yankee brass is concerned, and [Yankee manager Ralph] Houk in particular, Reed is a known and valuable quantity.”

Indeed, Houk offered high praise about Reed’s baseball skills.  Intangibles received equal acclaim.  “He’s a college graduate and highly intelligent.  He likes to talk baseball.  I never receive bad reports on him and he never gripes.  He’ll pitch batting practice and he’ll take second infield,” said the Yankees skipper.

Reed’s dedication was apparent.  Ward quoted, “It’s a privilege to work for an organization like this and to play under a man like Mr. Houk,” said the man who wore #27 in pinstripes.

Five years after Reed homered into baseball history, Joe Falls of the Detroit Free Press revealed that the marathon game’s seven-hour length benefited from a slight nudge.  As the game’s official scorer, Falls held the power to change history.  And so he did.

In his April 1, 1967 column, subtitled “A Writer Discovers That Fame’s Fleeting,” Falls described looking at the clock after Reed’s dinger—it appeared to show 8:29 p.m., which gave the game a length of six hours, 59 minutes.  “But my clever little mind was still working sharply,” wrote Falls.  “I figured:  ‘Who’ll ever remember 6:59 as the longest game in baseball history.

“So I shouted out the time.  ‘Seven hours!’  All the guys applauded.”

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

Chuck Connors, Branch Rickey, and “What’s My Line?”

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Before he governed North Fork, New Mexico with a Winchester rifle on ABC’s The Rifleman, Chuck Connors played in the major leagues.  It was, however, a short stint—one game for the Brooklyn Dodgers and 66 games for the Chicago White Sox in 1949 and 1951, respectively.  His journey to Hollywood resulted from his geographic base.  In Connors’s 1992 obituary, Bruce Lambert of the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Connors had a lackluster sports career, but his towering height of 6 feet 5 inches and his square-jawed masculinity made him a natural for rugged acting roles.  When his struggling athletic career landed him with the Los Angeles Angels, a minor-league [sic] baseball team, he began picking up minor movie parts and soon gave up sports.”

Connors also played for the Boston Celtics.

The Rifleman ran for five years, from 1958 to 1963, starring Connors as rancher Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as Lucas’s son, Mark.  Lucas helped North Fork’s sheriff keep the peace from intruders seeking to do harm.  The Rifleman‘s popularity carved a prominent foothold in the vast array of western-themed television shows in the 1950s and the 1960s, including GunsmokeBonanza, and Rawhide.

In a 1959 profile of Crawford, the St. Petersburg Evening Independent explained the dynamic between Crawford and Connors.  “An avid baseball fan, Johnny doesn’t miss a chance to skip dancing, singing and acting lessons to root for the Los Angeles Dodgers, which, he tells you with much gusto, is his favorite team,” stated the Evening Independent.  “He particularly relishes working with Chuck Connors, who formerly played with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  As Johnny expressed it:  ‘Chuck has taught me lots of special little things about baseball.  Like how to hold my bat, and how to field the ball and run the bases.  he and I are real close.  I go out to his house to play ball with him and his sons and swim in their pool.”

Connors reunited with his former boss in the Dodgers organization—Branch Rickey—during the September 13, 1959 episode of What’s My Line?, a game show hosted by John daly, where panelists deduced a guest’s occupation through a series of “yes or no” questions.  On occasion, the panelists failed to guess correctly.  Celebrity guests often used fake voices while the panelists wore eye masks to prevent immediate identification.

At the time, Rickey devoted his energy, acumen, and stamina to forming the Continental League.  Although it ultimately failed to launch, the league’s demise caused the expansion of the National League to Houston and New York in 1962.

After panelist Arlene Francis correctly guessed Rickey’s identity, a conversation ensued regarding the new league.  Rickey the Continental League’s president, assured that the enterprise would flourish with a target start date of 1961 and a 154-game schedule.  “Inevitable as tomorrow morning,” declared Rickey.

New York, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, and Toronto already had Continental League rights.  When Daly asked about the remaining three slots and potential contenders, Rickey clarified, “More than we can fill.  The embarrassment is in the field of exclusion rather than inclusion.  We shall have a very difficult time in choosing the other three.  In fact, we are now laboring hard, at the moment, to choose a sixth one, which will be announced surely in the next few days.”

Connors graciously acknowledged Rickey’s impact on his life.  “I remember Mr. Rickey, who actually gave me my career in baseball,” stated Connors.  “And it’s a pleasure to see him again.”

“It’s a pleasure to see you, too,” responded Rickey.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 27, 2016.

Crash, Nuke, Annie, and the Bulls of Durham

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

“I believe in the Church of Baseball.”  So begins Bull Durham, a 1988 cinematic voyage exploring the charm of the minor leagues.

Written and directed by former minor league ballplayer Ron Shelton, Bull Durham expresses a journeyman’s wisdom and weariness honed by 12 years of striving to get to the majors.  Crash Davis played in “the show” for 21 days, but his career has mostly consisted of toiling around the minors as a catcher.  His odyssey to small towns and small ballparks brings him to the Durham Bulls of the Class A Carolina League for an assignment—tutor rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh on the finer points of pitching and life.

Played by Kevin Costner, Crash tosses condescension towards the hurler at every opportunity, but his frustration rises to volcanic proportions when LaLoosh defines success as a Porsche with a state-of-the-art stere0:  “Christ, you don’t need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt!  What you need is a curveball!  In the show, everyone can hit heat.”

LaLoosh taunts with sarcasm by questioning whether Crash has ever played in the major leagues.  Crash responds in the affirmative and to the wonder of his fellow Bulls:  “Yeah, I was in the show.  I was in the show for 21 days once, the 21 greatest days of my life.  You know, you never handle your luggage in the show.  Somebody else carries your bags.  It was great.  You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains.”

Los Angeles Times film critic Sheila Benson wrote, “On paper, Crash is the jock that women dream about, the sensitive, quirky, knowledgeable man’s man who will debate you the merits of Susan Sontag at the drop of a batting average and who knows his way around a garter belt as surely as he knows his way from first base to home.”

An early scene uses Costner’s narration to describe the inner workings of a batter’s mind during an at bat.  When Crash steps out of the batter’s box, the dialogue between him and the Bulls’ batboy shows that Bull Durham is not a conventional Hollywood movie; the batboy says, “Get a hit, Crash” and the veteran catcher responds, “Shut up.”

Annie Savoy complicates Crash’s mission to educate LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins.  Possessing a keen eye for the intricacies of baseball, Annie’s summer ritual is to “hook up with one guy a season.”  Initially, she narrows the pool to Crash and LaLoosh, who receives the nickname “Nuke” from the older, wiser, and sensual Bulls fan.  Crash abandons Annie’s romantic paradigm, arguing that his veteran status absolves him of trying out.

Shelton’s Crash-Annie-Nuke love triangle prompted Chicago Tribune film critic Dave Kehr to write, “With Crash functioning as Calvin’s surrogate father on the field and Annie as his domineering mother-goddess off it, Shelton creates a startlingly new variation on the traditional romantic triangle.  The predestined couple starts off with a child; they have to raise him and send him off before they can begin their own love story.”

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert praised Susan Sarandon’s portrayal of Annie.  “I don’t know who else they could have hired to play Annie Savoy, the Sarandon character who pledges her heart and her body to one player a season, but I doubt if the character would have worked without Sarandon’s wonderful performance,” wrote Ebert.  “Annie could have been portrayed as a lot of things—as a tramp, maybe, or a pathetic case study—but Sarandon portrays her as a woman who, quite simply, loves baseball and baseball players and wants to do her thing for the home team.”

Meeting on set triggered a romance between Sarandon and Robbins—though never married, their partnership ended in 2009.

One of the signature scenes of Bull Durham is the gathering of Crash, Nuke, and other players on the pitching mound during a game.  When Bulls coach Larry Hockett, played by Robert Wuhl, heads to the mound, he finds out the amalgam of problems causing the distraction.  Crash explains, “Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man is here.  We need a live rooster, is it a live rooster?  We need a live rooster to take the curse off José’s glove, and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.  Is that about right?  We’re dealing with a lot of shit.”

Larry answers, “Well, uh, candlesticks always make a nice gift.  Maybe you can find out where she’s registered, maybe a place setting or a silverware pattern.  Okay, let’s get two!”

Wuhl ad-libbed the line, based on a recent experience—he and his wife tried to find a wedding gift for a friend.  The studio wanted to cut the scene because it did not move the plot, but focus groups before the movie’s premiere highlighted the scene as one of their favorites.

Besides film immortality, Wuhl received another benefit.  In a 2013 interview on Sirius XM’s Raw Dog Comedy, Wuhl explained, “Plus, for me, I never have to worry about any time I’m invited to a wedding, what I’m gonna get somebody for a present.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 18, 2016.

Betting, Blindness, and Baseball

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Baseball is a game of sounds.

The crack of the bat.  The roar of the crowd.  The shouts of the vendors.

Radio announcers, of course, provide sonic backdrops from optimism lacing spring training to tension surrounding the World Series.  Ernie Harwell, Vin Scully, Red Barber, and scores of other broadcasters became civic fixtures by keeping fans informed of balls, strikes, and outs.

In the M*A*S*H episode “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce imitates an Armed Forces Radio Network announcer to deceive the deceiver—Major Frank Burns listens to a late night broadcast of a Dodgers-Giants game, makes bets with unknowing colleagues at Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077 before the rerun of the broadcast, and collects generous windfalls.

Blinded by an accident when an attempt to fix the nurses’ “temperamental gas heater” results in an explosion, Hawkeye adjusts to his newfound sightlessness after being treated by Major James Overman, the ophthalmologist from the 121st Evacuation Hospital.  A patient blinded by a grenade blast, Tom Straw, a high school English teacher from San Francisco, bonds with Hawkeye, who gets assistance from his colleagues in navigating the challenges of blindness—Radar, the Company Clerk, reads his mail; Maxwell Klinger, a corpsman trying to get a Section 8 discharge by dressing in women’s clothes and Margaret Houlihan, the 4077th’s Head Nurse, guide him around camp; and Dr. B. J. Hunnicutt, Hawkeye’s bunkmate and fellow surgeon, offers emotional support.

It’s a journey of revelation for Hawkeye, who queries Dr. Overman whether he would get to keep his nickname.  To Hawkeye’s wonder, blindness elevates the acuity of other senses.

“When Dr. Overman comes in here and unwraps my package, I hope to God I’ll have my sight back.  But something fascinating has been happening to me,” he reveals to B.J.  “One part of the world is closed down for me.  But another part has opened up.  Sure, I keep picturing myself on a corner with a tin cup selling thermometers, but I’m going through something here I didn’t expect.  This morning, I spent two incredible hours listening to that rainstorm.  And I didn’t just hear it, I was part of it.  I bet you have no idea that rain hitting the ground makes the same sound as steaks when they’re barbecuing.  Or that thunder seems to echo forever.  And you wouldn’t believe how funny it is to hear somebody slip and fall in the mud.  It had to be Burns.  Beej, this is full of trap doors, but I think there may also be some kind of advantage in this.  I’ve never spent a more conscious day in my life.”

Hawkeye deduces the gambling scheme devised by the persnickety Burns by recruiting B. J., Radar, and Klinger to broadcast a fictional play-by-play of an Indians-Yankees game through the camp’s electronic equipment.  The next day, Dr. Overman returns from the 121st Evac, removes Hawkeye’s bandages, and, along, with the 4077th’s staff, celebrates the restoration of sight.

When the bettors learn the real score of the game, they chase Burns for their winnings.  As B.J. and Hawkeye witness the pursuit, the former declares that the previously blinded surgeon is a lucky guy.

“Yeah, I got lucky twice,” responds Hawkeye.  “First, I got the chance to see without my eyes and then I got ’em back.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 14, 2016.

Cy Young’s Perfect Game

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

It’s appropriate the first perfect game in the 20th century belongs to the pitcher whose moniker adorns baseball’s most prestigious award for hurlers.  Denton True “Cy” Young.

Young’s feat on May 5, 1904 decimated the Philadelphia Athletics, secured a 3-0 victory for the Boston Americans, and provided the “treat of a lifetime” as described by the Boston Daily Globe.  Two pitchers threw perfect games in the 19th century, but the Globe drew distinction between their achievement and Young’s:  “Comparing the phenomenal performance of Cy Young to that of John M. Ward and Lee Richmond is like comparing the speed of a crew in a working boat to that of the same crew in a racing shell.”

The Globe continued, “The pitchers 20 years ago ran about the box with no restrictions and let the ball go from a distance of 45 feet, while now the pitcher is practically tied to the  pitching slab 60 feet distant.  Since the performances of Ward and Richmond every new rule has been made with a view to hampering the pitcher until now great performances are the result of head work [sic] and phenomenal skill, such as was shown by Young in the game against the hard hitting Athletics on Thursday.”

Richmond and Ward also benefited from the allowance for pitchers to run before releasing the ball and the granting of a walk after seven balls.  By the time Young threw his perfect game, baseball had both eliminated the running start and restricted a walk to four balls.  George Edward “Rube” Waddell pitched for Philadelphia—he flied out to centerfield for the last out of the game.  Though he dominated Boston in his most recent start—allowing one hit—Waddell scattered 10 hits and gave up two runs on Young’s perfect day.

A misconception about Young’s name manifested with the tag “Denton Tecumseh Young” in the press—a 1939 Associated Press article gave Young an opportunity to clarify:  “My dad, who soldiered with a captain named True in the civil war [sic], decided to call me ‘True’ in memory of his pal.  Back in the old days I always signed by name Denton T. Young.  It was in 1904 that Bob Unglaub, who played first and third base at Boston when I was there, started that ‘Tecumseh’ stuff.”

While training in Little Rock, Young’s teammates gave him a party for his 43rd birthday.  “The boys gave me a loving cup and the name on it was ‘Denton Tecumseh Young.’  I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by objections, so the newspapers carried my name the same way.  Unglaub said later, when I told him about it, that he thought my name was Tecumseh because he had heard some of the boys call me ‘The Chief,'” explained Young.

Cy, of course, became a shortened moniker for Cyclone, an indication of Young’s pitch speed.  In addition to the perfect game, Young pitched no-htiters in 1897 and 1908, led his league five times in number of wins for a season, and holds the record for most number of career wins—511.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Young in 1937.

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

The Great Groat

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Dick Groat does not have the fame of Bill Mazeroski, the immortality of Roberto Clemente, or the legend of Willie Stargell.  Nevertheless, he was a mainstay of the Pittsburgh Pirates for a majority of his major league career, which spanned 1952 to 1967.

In the October 1, 1952 edition of the Sporting News, Les Biederman honored the rookie shortstop’s special relationship with the city.  “Of all the bonus babies the Pirates scouted, signed and put into major league uniforms during the first two years of the Branch Rickey regime, the one standout has been Dick Groat, Pittsburgh native who leaped from the Duke University campus right to the Big Time in June,” wrote Biderman.  “Groat had a choice of many teams when he completed his baseball curriculum at the North Carolina breeding grounds, but now admits he chose well when he picked the Bucs.”

Groat’s best year was 1960, the year that the Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series; with a .325 batting average, Groat won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.  In his career, Groat compiled 2,138 hits and achieved a .268 batting average.

Though Groat displayed solidity in baseball, he might have had a career in basketball; at Duke, Groat was an All-American in both sports.  In a 2014 article for the magazine GoDuke, Groat explained, “Baseball was always like work for me.  Basketball was the sport that I loved, but it was baseball, where I knew I would make a living.  I made a deal with Mr. Rickey (Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates at that time).  I was a junior at Duke.  I went home and worked out for the Pirates in the summer before I went back to Duke.  After I had worked out he invited my mother and father to come to a game at Forbes Field where the Pirates played.  I was sitting in his booth and he turned to me, remember I am only 20, I’m still a minor, he says to me, ‘Young man, if you will sign a contract tonight, I’m going [to] start you against the Cincinnati Reds tomorrow night.’

“I said, ‘Mr. Rickey that’s not even fair.  You know I want to play major league baseball [sic], but I owe my senior year to Duke and I am going back to play basketball and baseball.  But I promise you, you make the same offer to me next spring and I will sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates.'”

Rickey relented.

After the 1962 season, the Pirates traded Groat to the Cardinals, where he became a vital part of the team’s infield.  In a 1963 Sports Illustrated article, Walter Bingham wrote, “Groat, still the same deadly opposite-field hitter he was when he won the National League batting title in 1960, uses a log for a bat and merely slaps the ball wherever it is pitched.  While [Cardinals manager Johnny] Keane admires Groat’s uncanny ability at performing the hit-and-run, he feels that Groat too often gives himself up to protect the runner.  ‘He’s too good a hitter to be sacrificing himself.'”

Groat added another World Series championship to his résumé in 1964, when the Cardinals beat the Yankees in seven games.

After three season with the Cardinals, Groat played for the Phillies and the Giants—1967 was his last season.

In 2007, the College Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Groat.  Four years later, the College Baseball Hall of Fame followed suit.  Groat, like many athletes, pursued a broadcasting career after his playing days, but he did not join the ranks of Bill White, Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez et al.  Rather, Groat went back to his first love—he provides the color commentary for the radio broadcasts of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball games.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 25, 2015.

The Hall of Fame Case for Steve Garvey

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Steve Garvey, to the consternation of certain factions of Dodger Nation, is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  A stalwart first baseman with the Los Angeles Dodgers and, in the latter years of his career, the San Diego Padres, Garvey accumulated career statistics meriting inspection for entry into baseball’s shrine.

In his 19-year career, Garvey notched 2,599 hits.  Though he did not reach the magic number of 3,000, the statistic is close enough when considered with excellence further reflected in his selection to the National League All-Star team 10 times—eight as a Dodger, twice as a Padre.  More pointedly, Garvey’s eight All-Star appearances as a Dodger were consecutive, indicating a rare consistency usually seen in those with careers crowned with a plaque in Cooperstown.  Additionally, Garvey won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1974 and four consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1974 to 1977.

Garvey’s career batting average of .294 adds weight to an endorsement for Hall of Fame inclusion.  A mere difference of .006 points from the hallowed .300 batting average barometer ought be considered unimportant, especially when combined with the other statistics.  Also significant is Garvey’s National League record of 1,207 consecutive games played.  Post-season play adds weight:  World Series appearances with the Dodgers in 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1981; the Dodgers won the World Series in the strike-shortened ’81 season.  Garvey won another World Series ring with the Padres in 1984.

A strong case can be made for Garvey’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It is, however, a case as yet unpersuasive to the voters.  In his 2012 ESPN.com article “Steve Garvey’s reliability forgotten” Steve Wulf declared that a Hall of Fame plaque for Garvey is unlikely, given off-the-field exploits.  “What happened to Garvey is partly schadenfreude:  Writers turned on him for a complicated personal life that smudged an image so golden that he once had a middle school named after him,” wrote Wulf.  “But he’s also one of the great players from that period who have been hurt by the inflation of statistics fueled by the increasing use of PEDs, which happened to coincide with the HOF eligibility for the earlier era.”

The “complicated personal life” involves extramarital affairs, two illegitimate children, strained relations with his two daughters from his marriage to television news personality Cindy Garvey, and a divorce that captured headlines.  Consequently, Garvey’s image, once thought to be purer than Ivory soap, shattered into shards.

In the November 27, 1989 issue of Sports Illustrated, the article “America’s Sweetheart” by Rick Reilly with Special Reporting by Kristina Rebelo depicts the foundation of Garvey’s “Mr. Clean” status.  “He had mail to answer, business contacts to cement, a moral obligation to be at every Cub Scout banquet and Kiwanis dinner.  He believed in doing the Right Thing.  His parents smoked, but he never did.  His teammates swore, but he never did.  Cyndy says that when he was having trouble throwing in his first years as a Dodger, people would call and scream insults at him.  He would listen to everything they had to say and then hang up.  Punishment is important.  Yet in 1983, when he broke the National League record for consecutive games, he took a $15,000 ad in the Los Angeles Times to thank the fans.

“But maybe sometimes he has confused responsibility to family with responsibility to fans.”

Whether Garvey’s denial of membership by the voters is sourced in scandal or statistics—or a bit of both—is a matter of debate.  If the former subject is believed to be inconsequential in future votes, the latter subject deserves another examination.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 27, 2015.

 

The Millionth Run

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

Baseball is a game marked by milestones of achievements—3,000 career hits, 300 career pitching victories, 100 RBI in a season.

It’s also a game marked by milestones reached when opportunity meets happenstance.  Players attain an illustrious position in the annals of baseball history simply by being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time—Mickey Mantle hitting the first home run in the Astrodome to inaugurate the facility known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Al Downing pitching the 715th home run ball to Hank Aaron, Bobby Thomson hitting the Shot Heard Round the World.

On May 4, 1975, Bob Watson stood on the precipice of a baseball milestone born from the opportunity-happenstance marriage.  Geographically speaking, he landed on second base in the first game of a Giants-Astros doubleheader at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

Thomas Rogers led his article “Astros’ Watson Scores Millionth Run” in the New York Times with an explanation of baseball’s trek to 1,000,000 runs.  “By a margin of approximately four seconds, Bob Watson of the Houston Astros yesterday scored major league baseball’s [sic] heavily publicized and eagerly anticipated one millionth run.  It came 99 years and 12 days after Wes Fisler of the National League’s Philadelphia team was the first to circle the bases successfully,” wrote Rogers.

Giants pitcher John Montefusco walked Watson, the Astros’ first baseman and cleanup hitter, to start the second inning.  Watson stole second base, then journeyman outfielder José Cruz followed with another walk, leaving catcher Milt May the opportunity to ignite history by hitting one of his four home runs for the 1975 season.  “As the ball rocketed off teammate Milt May’s bat and headed deep to right, Watson tagged up and held his breath.  Home run!  Elated, Watson forgot all about the record and started to jog home.  His teammates, alerted by a message flashed on the scoreboard that major league baseball’s [sic] 999,999th run already had been tallied, began to yell at him, and Watson started to spring.  He just beat Cincinnati’s Dave Concepcion, who was rounding third 2,000 miles away, to score the millionth run,” wrote Jim Kaplan in the article “All-American but not an All-Star” in the July 14, 1975 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Watson’s gifts included a $1,000 Seiko watch, a place at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for the shoes he wore during the historic moment, and, of course, notoriety.  MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart quoted Watson in his 2012 article “Game to Remember: Bob Watson” on the Houston Astros web site.  “When I really think back, the one thing that stands out for me is Houston, except maybe for Cesar Cedeno, we were off the beaten track,” Watson said.  “I think my fan mail was something like four or five letters a week, or something like that.  Scoring the 1,000,000th run, it increased to 50-100 per week.  It got me on the map a little bit, and I ended up being the answer to a trivia question.”

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