Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Thomson’

Age Is Just a Number: Luke Appling and the 1982 Cracker Jack Old Timers Baseball Classic

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

It was a moment of nostalgia, surprise, and joy.  More than 30 years after hanging up his spikes, Luke Appling went yard at the age of 75 in the 1982 Cracker Jack Old Timers Baseball Classic at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Far from a power hitter, Luke Appling bashed 45 home runs in his career, which was one of, as Wee Willie Keeler said, hitting them where they ain’t.  Appling fell shy of the magic mark of 3,000 hits, ending his career with 2,749 hits, including:

  • 440 doubles
  • 102 triples

He played his entire career in a White Sox uniform—1930 to 1950.

The Cracker Jack game was a shot of adrenaline to baseball fans suffering the psychic wounds created by the previous year’s strike, which shortened the 1981 baseball season.  Appling’s home run off Warren Spahn washed away, if only for a jiffy, the festering stench of despair felt across the fan spectrum, from Tee-ball players first learning the basics to senior citizens reminiscing about ballparks that no longer exist.

Appling was the oldest player in the Cracker Jack game, which ended with the American League beating the National League 7-2.

Nearly 30,000 fans poured into RFK on July 19, 1982 to watch baseball’s heroes of days gone by.  Though the ex-players wore the uniforms so familiar to baseball fans, their appearances showed the slights of age.  A little grayer.  A touch heavier.  A bit slower.  None of that mattered.  Old Timers games are affairs of the heart.  Baseball is, after all, a sentimental game, at once wistful and exciting.

Appling’s homer punctuated the pleasure at seeing a game where icons, though far from their prime, can recapture the feeling that anything is possible.

Bobby Thomson proved it when he knocked a Ralph Branch pitch over the left field fence at the Polo Grounds to win the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants.

The 1969 Mets proved it when they beat the favored Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series.

Cal Ripken, Jr. proved it when he broke Lou Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games played.

A .310 career hitter, Appling suffered injuries that came faster than a street hustler moving the cards in Three Card Monte.  “Old Aches and Pains” became his moniker.  Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964, Appling’s career achievements were:

  • 528 strikeouts
  • 1,302 walks
  • .399 On-base percentage
  • Led major leagues with a .388 batting average in 1936 (Lou Gehrig eclipsed Appling in the voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award)
  • Led American League with a .328 batting average and a .419 On-base percentage in 1943

On the morning of the Cracker Jack game, in a harbinger of the home run, an Appling quote appeared in Denis Collins’s article “Old Timers:  Memories Are as Strong as Ever” for the Washington Post:  “I can still slap the ball around here and there.”

Indeed.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 20, 2016.

What if…

Friday, April 21st, 2017

What if…

Charlie Finley hadn’t broken up the 1970s Oakland A’s dynasty?

Bob Uecker hadn’t appeared in Major League?

there was no Designated Hitter position?

the Mets had never traded Nolan Ryan to the Angels?

Yogi Berra had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers?

George Steinbrenner had never bought the Yankees?

the Dodgers had never moved from Brooklyn?

the Giants had moved to Minneapolis instead of San Francisco?

the Red Sox had never sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees?

Walter O’Malley had never owned the Brooklyn Dodgers?

the Red Sox had integrated in 1949 instead of 1959?

Satchel Paige had pitched against Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and other Hall of Famers in their prime?

Bob Feller and Ted Williams had never lost years to military service in World War II?

Mickey Mantle hadn’t blown out his knee in the 1951 World Series?

Bobby Thomson had struck out against Ralph Branch?

Commissioner William Eckert had never invalidated Tom Seaver’s contract with the Atlanta Braves?

Major League Baseball banned synthetic grass?

the Mets had never traded Tom Seaver to the Reds?

Reggie Jackson had never played for the Yankees?

Thurman Munson hadn’t died in a plane crash?

Mickey Mantle had stayed healthy in the home stretch of 1961?

The Natural had ended the same was as the eponymous novel?

the Indians hadn’t traded Chris Chambliss, Dennis Eckersley, Buddy Bell, and Graig Nettles?

the Braves hadn’t never left Boston for Milwaukee?

the first incarnation of the Washington Senators hadn’t left for Minnesota to become the Twins?

the second incarnation of the Washington Senators hadn’t left for Texas to become the Rangers?

the Seattle Pilots hadn’t left for Milwaukee to become the Brewers?

Jim Bouton hadn’t written Ball Four?

Roger Kahn hadn’t written The Boys of Summer?

Mark Harris hadn’t written Bang the Drum Slowly?

Jackie Robinson had sought a football career instead of a baseball career?

Billy Martin hadn’t managed the Yankees in the late 1970s?

Gil Hodges hadn’t died in 1972, during a high point in the history of the Mets?

Vin Scully had stayed in New York City and announced for the Yankees or the Mets?

Bob Feller had pitched for the Yankees?

Ted Williams had played for the Yankees?

Joe DiMaggio had played for the Red Sox?

Charles Ebbets hadn’t owned the Brooklyn Dodgers?

Honolulu had a Major League Baseball team?

Pete Rose were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

the commissioner’s office rescinded the lifetime banishment of the 1919 Black Sox from Major League Baseball?

Hank Aaron had played in the same outfield as Willie Mays?

Wiffle Ball hadn’t been invented?

Nashville had a Major League Baseball team?

Dwight Goodman and Darryl Strawberry had stayed away from drugs?

Roberto Clemente had played for the Dodgers instead of the Pirates?

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 17, 2016.

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.

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.

Mays As A Met

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

Willie Mays ended his career where he began it.  New York City.

His was a career of milestones.  As a rookie, Mays was a witness to baseball history.  On October 3, 1951, he was in the New York Giants on-deck circle when Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard ‘Round the World.  In the 1954 World Series, he made baseball history when he caught a Vic Wertz fly ball to center field in the Polo Grounds while he sprinted with his back toward home plate.

Mays became a Giants cornerstone, frustrating National League opponents with his running, fielding, and hitting.  But the days of wearing black and and orange, the colors of the Giants, came to an end for Willie Howard Mays on May 11, 1972, when the San Francisco Giants traded him to the New York Mets for minor league pitcher Charlie Williams.  Stories indicated the Mets also paid $100,000 in the deal.  In the Mays biography Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, James S. Hirsch discounted the cash component.  “[Giants owner Horace] Stoneham, however, later acknowledged that he didn’t accept any money,” stated Hirsch.  “Ultimately, all that mattered was that Willie would be taken care of, and the Mets agreed to pay him $165,000 that year and the next.  Mays said the Mets also agreed to pay him, on his retirement, $50,000 a year for ten years.”

Though he was in the twilight of his career, Mays in a Mets uniform provided a sense of continuity in a nation shattered by the Vietnam War, Watergate, assassinations, and riots.  When he donned a Mets cap with the familiar NY insignia borrowed from the Giants log, order seemed restored for those who grew up watching Mays patrol the Polo Grounds outfield in the 1950s.  He was back home.  Not in the same ballpark and not for the same time.  But in New York City, nonetheless.

On September 25, 1973, the Mets hosted Willie Mays Night; Mays retired after the ’73 season.  “I hope that with my farewell tonight, you’ll understand what I’m going through right now,” revealed Mays.  “Something that I never feared: that I were ever to quit baseball.  But as you know, there always comes a time for someone to get out.  And I look at these kids over there, the way they are playing, and the way they are fighting for themselves, and it tells me one thing: Willie, say goodbye to America.  Thank you very much.”

Mays’s return to New York City culminated with the 1973 World Series, a seven-game affair that saw the Oakland A’s dynasty defeat the Mets.  Meanwhile, the Big Apple’s other baseball team saw its share of drama in ’73.  Yankee pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson swapped wives, Ron Blomberg became baseball’s first designated hitter, and Ohio ship builder George Steinbrenner led a group purchasing the Yankees.

Yankee Stadium also said goodbye to America in 1973, undergoing a renovation that lasted two years.

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

Brooklyn Baseball

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

RemingtonIn the summer of 2007, HBO aired The Ghosts of Flatbush, a documentary about one baseball’s most beloved teams.  The Brooklyn Dodgers.  This two-part documentary drilled into the passion, celebrity, and heartbreak surrounding the team that gave the borough an emotional anchor.

The Ghosts of Flatbush told the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers through interviews with players, reporters, and fans.

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The Glory Years of Baseball

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

RemingtonToday marks the anniversary of a turning point in baseball.  On May 9, 1883, Brooklyn hosted its first home game in professional baseball, playing to a 7-1 victory against Harrisburg in the Interstate Baseball Association.

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Thomson Hit the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, But Who Was the Winning Pitcher?

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

1951.  The Giants Win the Pennant!  Ralph Branca.  Brooklyn Dodgers.  Bobby Thomson.  New York Giants.  Leo Durocher.  Polo Grounds.    Russ Hodges.  The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.  Larry Jansen.

Larry Who?

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How Did the Giants Win the Pennant, Anyway?

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

1951 was supposed to be the Dodgers’ year, a vengeance-filled riposte of burgeoning against the baseball fates that determined the previous year’s National League pennant go to the Philadelphia Phillies on the last day of the 1950 season.   (more…)

“The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant!”

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

On October 3, 1951, in the 75th year of the National League, the cross-town Giants-Dodgers rivalry provided a finish that belonged on a storyboard in the office of a Hollywood producer debating whether he should take his wife to Ciro’s and his latest casting couch conquest to the Trocadero.  Or vice versa.

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