Posts Tagged ‘Boston Globe’

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.

The Trade That Shocked the Hockey World

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

1975 was a year of shocks in popular culture.  M*A*S*H killed off Henry Blake, the lovable, goofy, and semi-competent lieutenant colonel in charge of Mobile Army Surgical Hospital 4077; Jaws injected fear into filmgoers thinking about going to the beach for summer recreation, lest they be shark attack victims like the ones portrayed on screen; and the Boston Bruins traded Phil Esposito to the New York Rangers.

Esposito going to New York was not, to be certain, a global event.  Or even a national one.  For Bostonians whose devotion to sports knows no boundaries of faith, though, it was an upset of the natural order of things.  Sure, Esposito started his career with the Chicago Blackhawks, but he flourished in Boston—milestones include two Stanley Cup wins, a perennial NHL All-Star selection, and two-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy, which honors the player most valuable to his team.  Not since the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season had betrayal pervaded the city, from Beacon Street to Boston Harbor.

“I’m crushed.  I thought I had found a home in Boston,” lamented Esposito, quoted by Tom Fitzgerald in the Boston Globe.

Esposito emerged as a New York City icon, much like his fellow Boston transplant.

Boston sent defenseman Carol Vadnais to the Rangers with Esposito, who played center.  In return, New York let go defenseman Brad Park, center Jean Ratelle, and Joe Zanuss—a defenseman for the Providence Reds, the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Boston Globe sports columnist Leigh Montville ascribed the term “garbageman” to Esposito because he scored goals that were neither flashy nor dramatic, thereby igniting a touch of scorn.  But when Esposito journeyed down I-95 toward his new home, scorn gave way to unease.  “One difference already has surfaced here,” wrote Montville.  “The people—the same people who were cold toward Esposito and his records—now seem worried.  They see a big hole in the scoring totals.  They see a lot of goals that aren’t going to be scored.  They see a lot of things that might not be done.

“That is the way it is with a garbageman.  You never miss him until he’s not around.”

Esposito led the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup—the marauders of Madison Square Garden lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

Still, decades later, the trade causes angst for Esposito.  Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons chronicled Esposito’s viewpoint in 2013:  “I didn’t choose to leave Chicago.  I didn’t choose to leave Boston.  I signed a contract in Boston for less money than I could have gotten from going to the WHA.  I could have made millions doing that.  And you know how they repaid me?  Three weeks later, they traded me (to the New York Rangers).”

Retiring after the 1980-81 season, Esposito transitioned to being an assistant coach for the Rangers—his post-retirement duties also included general manager, head coach, and analyst for televised games on MSG Network.

Esposito spearheaded the founding of the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with his brother, Tony, a fellow NHL standout; in 1992, the Lightning débuted in a 7-3 victory against the Blackhawks.  Phil Esposito and Tony Esposito are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, inducted in 1984 and 1988, respectively.  Notably, the former’s biography page on the Hall of Fame web site depicts him in a Boston Bruins uniform.  And so it is in the memories, imagination, and Bruins lore for fans of a certain age.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 18, 2017.

When the Braves Left Boston

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Until 1953, New Englanders split their major league loyalties between two teams—the Braves and the Red Sox.  With a Beantown pedigree predating the National League’s formation in 1876, the former trekked to the land of beer and bratwurst—Milwaukee—while the latter, consequently, provides a single major league outlet from Boston to Bangor.

St. Patrick’s Day, an unofficial holiday for Irish folks, especially in heavily clover-laden metropolises, brought the luck of the Irish to Bostonians in 1953.  Bad luck.  Readers of the March 17th edition of the Boston Globe absorbed the words of Joseph F. Dinneen, Jr., who chronicled a last-ditch effort to keep Braves owner Lou Perini in the environs of Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, and Beacon Hill.  From the powerful came the pleas—Governor Christian Herter, Mayor John Hynes, and the Boston Chamber of Commerce.  Braves fans, of course, chimed in.

“Treated like an orphan son until news of the threatened transfer broke last weekend, the Braves suddenly became the prodigal son everyone wanted to return home—to Boston,” wrote Dinneen.

The Chamber of Commerce’s attempt sourced in dollars and cents, naturally.  If the Braves stayed, ticket sales would increase.  Or so the theory went.  Herter and Hynes joined forces, outlining a strategy for Perini to sell the team so it could remain in Boston.  Dinneen recounted the politicos’ missive sent by telegram, which stated, “Removal of the Braves’ franchise from Boston will have a disturbing and far-reaching effect on the city.  We appeal to you to reconsider the proposed removal, at least for 1953, so that other arrangements may be worked out and so that an opportunity may be provided other interests to purchase and retain the franchise in Boston.”

The Braves’ autumnal annum in Boston had numbers supporting Perini’s bottom line reasoning for the move to Milwaukee—the team finished last in National League attendance; a 64-89 record was not sufficient to draw the crowds necessary to sustain operations.

Russell Lynch, sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal, ignited Perini’s transplant to the Midwest, which was facilitated, in no small part, by the Braves’ AAA team being in Milwaukee—the Brewers.  Perini had vetoed attempts by Bill Veeck to buy the minor league franchise, including one deal that would have resulted in Veeck clearing Milwaukee for the St. Louis Browns by moving the Brewers to Toledo; ultimately, the Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season and became the Orioles.

Inspired, Lynch began a back-and-forth series of telegrams with Perini about blocking Milwaukee from becoming a major league city.  In the Globe, Roger Birtwell wrote, “Next Mr. Lynch turned to his typewriter and batted out a few columns.  The Milwaukee Journal has 350,000 readers each afternoon and half a million on Sunday.  Lynch informed them and their neighbors that Perini—the villain—was keeping major league ball out of Milwaukee.”

Perini, in turn, came to a fork in the road.  Keeping the status quo risked heightening the ire of Milwaukeeans and Bostonians alike—the former because their grasp of being a major league city exceeded their reach and the latter because the Braves continued to drain money by underperforming in the National League.

“We had made up our mind that, regardless if we had won the pennant we would go to Milwaukee next year,” said Perini, quoted in the Globe by Clif Keane.  Veeck’s maneuvers, however, ignited the transition’s rapidity.  Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley said, “I’m sorry it happened.  I’m not at all happy about it.  If it hadn’t been for that other thing (Veeck) it never would have come to this.”  After the 1957 season, O’Malley moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

Milwaukee County Municipal Stadium, initially constructed for the Brewers, became the Braves’ new home.  Meanwhile, Perini paid the American Association $50,000 for compensation in moving the Brewers from Milwaukee to Toledo, where the team changed its name to Mud Hens.

Braves field became the habitat for ghosts of Boston baseball milestones, including the 1914 “Miracle Braves,” a brief name change to Bees in the 1930s, and Babe Ruth hitting his last three home runs in one game.  A 2012 article by Patrick L. Kennedy on Boston University’s web site states that BU purchased the property for $430,000 in 1953; it was the home stadium for the AFL’s Boston Patriots from 1960 to 1962.  Renamed Nickerson Field, the facility hosts the BU men’s and women’s varsity soccer and lacrosse teams.  While the right field pavilion endures for Nickerson’s seating, Kennedy explains that BU demolished the grandstands and the left field pavilion—three dormitories and Walter Brown Arena occupy the space.  Additionally, the university’s police department inhabits the gatehouse and the Braves front office.

After the 1965 season, the Braves abdicated Milwaukee for Atlanta.

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

Ted Williams’s MVP Years

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

If Boston ever establishes a Mount Rushmore of sports, the four visages will likely be those of Robert Gordon Orr, Larry Joe Bird, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr., and Theodore Samuel Williams.

Bobby.  Larry.  Tom.  Ted.

When Ted Williams swung his bat, a hit was not a foregone conclusion—pretty close, though.  After a 19-year career, Williams retired with a .344 batting average, 521 home runs, and two American League Most Valuable Player Awards.

In 1946, Williams won his first MVP Award, all the more remarkable because a three-year absence from ballparks to serve as a Marine pilot in World War II had, apparently, no impact—the Red Sox slugger nicknamed “The Splendid Splinter” led the major leagues in:

  • Runs Scored (142)
  • Walks (156)
  • On-Base Percentage (.497)
  • Slugging Percentage (.667)

Williams eclipsed Detroit Tigers left-hander Hal Newhouser, who won the AL MVP in 1944 and 1945. It was bittersweet, though.  The Red Sox lost the 1946 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games; Williams batted a Mendoza-like .200.

A red seat at Fenway Park shows the landing spot of a Williams home run on June 9, 1946—the longest dinger of his career.  To be precise, though, the ball landed on the head of the seat’s occupier—Joseph A. Boucher, a construction engineer.  Harold Kaese of the Boston Globe wrote, “He had never sat in the Fenway Park bleachers before.  There were 7897 fans besides [sic] himself perched on the sun-drenched wind-whipped concrete slope.  Indeed was the elderly Mr. Boucher honored when crowned by a five-ounce baseball that the game’s greatest hitter had socked some 450 feet.”

It happened during the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers; the Red Sox won both games.

Boucher’s brush with fame had a cost of slightly hurt noggin, barely protected by a straw hat.  It resulted; the “great baseball fan…and Red Sox rooter” received treatment from “Dr. Ralph McCarthy and two pretty nurses” in the stadium’s First Aid room.  Boucher did not recover the ball.

In 1949, Williams won his second MVP Award.  Once again, joy had a contrast of sorrow—the Yankees won the American League pennant by one game over the Red Sox.  It was an extraordinary year for Williams, even by MVP standards.  Williams led the major leagues in:

  • Runs Scored (150)
  • RBI (159)
  • Walks (162)
  • On-Base Percentage (.490)
  • On-Base plus Slugging Percentage (1.141)

Further, he led the American League in:

  • Doubles (39)
  • Home Runs (43)
  • Slugging Percentage (.650)

Though he did not achieve leadership in the following categories, his statistics were formidable:

  • Hits (194)
  • Strikeouts (48)
  • Batting Average (.343)

In Sports Illustrated‘s 2002 Special Commemorative Issue for Ted Williams, Tom Verducci wrote, “Trying to define Williams as a hitter is like studying one of those black-and-white optical illusions and trying to make out both a vase and the profiles of two people.  Do you see Williams as a high-average hitter with power or a power hitter who hit for a high average?  He was, of course, both.  Williams won six batting titles and four home run titles.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 6, 2016.

Vic Willis, the Boston Beaneaters, and the Last No-Hitter of the 20th Century

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Vic Willis, he of the assonant moniker, hurled with the intensity of a Nor’easter whipping across the Charles River.

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, Willis compiled a career 249-205 win-loss record, achieved a 2.63 Earned Run Average, and pitched in 513 games.  His 13-year career began with the Boston Beaneaters, for whom he played from 1898 to 1905.  Then, he called Pittsburgh home for four seasons, winning more than 20 games for the Pirates in each season.  Willis ended his career in 1906, with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Willis came charging out of the gate in his rookie year, notching a 25-13 record.  In addition to Willis’s performance, 1898 was an explosive year for Boston’s pitching staff:

  • Fred Klobedanz (19-10)
  • Ted Lewis (26-8)
  • Kid Nichols (31-12)

The Beaneaters won the 1898 National League pennant with a 102-47 record.

After his first two seasons, Willis had a record of 52 wins, 21 losses.  In 1900, he did not fare as well.  A 10-17 record belied Willis’s proficiency on the mound.  In his indispensable two-volume series Major League Baseball Profiles:  1871-1900, baseball historian David Nemec explains that rather than adhere to the ritual of spring training in southern climates, Willis opted for working out instead with Boston catcher Boileryard Clarke in the Princeton Gym.  “Arm trouble” resulted.

Further, a leap to the American League, perhaps prompted by Boston’s 66-72 record in 1900, failed to launch.  “Willis then made his critical career-changing mistake.  That winter, he agreed to jump to the rival American League and signed a contract with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s.  But in March TSN  [The Sporting News] observed that he had ‘flopped back to the big league,’ after Boston threatened legal reprisal and perhaps raised his salary to compete with the A’s offer,” writes Nemec.

Willis threw a no-hitter for Boston on August 7, 1899 against the Washington Senators.  Boston Globe sports writer Tim Murnane wrote, “The solitary hit off Willis was not worth the name. The ball went along the ground from [Senators pitcher Bill] Dineen’s [sic] bat as harmless as a robin at play until [Beaneaters third baseman Jimmy] Collins reached for it, when it jumped to one side and was safe.”

Although it stands as a no-hitter, the game’s box score in the Globe indicates a hit for Dinner.  Further, a headline for Murnane’s story states, “Only One Hit Off Willis in the Full Nine Innings.”

Boston beat Washington 7-1.  Murnane wrote, “The visitors scored their only run in the first, on two bases on balls, [Beaneaters catcher Marty] Bergen’s side throw to second and a putout.”

In 1899, Willis had the best Earned Run Average in the major leagues—2.50.

“Tall, graceful workhorse with sweeping curve” is the description of Willis on his Hall of Fame plaque.  Workhorse, indeed.  Willis scored at least 20 wins eight times.  In 1902, Willis led the major leagues in:

  • Games pitched (51)
  • Games started (46)
  • Complete games (45)
  • Innings pitched (410)
  • Saves (3)
  • Batters faced (1,652)
  • Strikeouts (225)

In addition to Willis, the Hall of Fame inducted Richie Ashburn, Leon Day, William Hulbert, and Mike Schmidt in 1995.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 19, 2016.

The Lone Star Years of Román Mejías

Friday, February 24th, 2017

During the Colt .45s’ inaugural season—1962—Houstonians could point to few bright spots in the team’s 64-96 record.  Román Mejías was one of them.

Mejías played in 146 games, swatted 162 hits, and finished the season with a .286 batting average.  Initially a product of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, the Cuban outfielder broke into the major leagues in 1955.  A year prior, he noticed a 55-game hitting streak for the Pirates’ minor league team in Waco, Texas.

In his article “Mejías of Waco Batting .345 of Pirate Farm Club” in the August 11, 1954 edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald, Oscar Larnce spotlighted the phenom’s talent.  “I don’t see how Mejías can miss.  He can do everything and is improving every day.  He was in Class D last year, then jumped into a tough Class B league and still gets better,” said Buster Chatham, the Pirates’ business manager, as quoted by Larnce.

Mejías spent six seasons with Pittsburgh, never playing in more than 96 games.  In 1960 and 1961, he played a total of seven games.

On Opening Day in 1962, Mejías clocked two home runs and notched six RBI to help the Colt .45s start Houston’s major league status with a victory over the Cubs. Mejías’s ability did not, however, result in selecting for the first All-Star game of 1962.  In an article for the Pittsburgh Press about Mejías’s All-Star situation, Les Biederman noted that Mejías led the Houston ball club at the plate—.317 batting average, 20 home runs, 54 RBI.

Little by little, Mejías learned English.  “New man.  I disgusted last year when Pirates send me to Columbus,” he explained in the Biederman article.  “I feel I can play in majors and never have real chance.  Figure no more chances but Houston take me and now new man.

“No swing bad balls anymore.  Not always strikes but no way to reach for ball can’t hit.  No more wait for ball over middle of plate.  Can’t get hit with bat on shoulder.”

Houston’s baseball fans embraced the slugger.  In his article “Mejías’ Season of Milk, Honey?” in the May 30, 1962 edition of the Houston Chronicle, Zarko Franks wrote, “Few will argue with Mejías’ popularity with the fans back home.  The roar of their voices when he comes to bat is sufficient testimony.”

Because of political strife in Cuba during the early years of Fidel Castro’s regime, Mejías suffered a separation from his wife, son, daughter, and two sisters for 14 months.

After the ’62 season, the Colt .45s traded Mejías to the Red Sox for Pete Runnels.  Fenway Park’s brain trust commenced brainstorming to bring the Mejías clan into the United States.  Boston Globe sports writer Hy Hurwitz reported, “The Red Sox very quietly went about assisting Mejías in his plight.  There was no publicity on the Mejías predicament by request of certain officials who felt that any publicity might endanger the family’s chance for release from the Castro-dominated island.

“Exactly how much the Red Sox and owner Tom Yawkey did for this 31-year-old man will never be told.  Yawkey won’t let it be told.”

However it was accomplished, the Red Sox organization did its legacy proud in securing safe transport for Mejías’s family in March 1963.

Mejías ended his career in a Red Sox uniform after the 1964 season.

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

Yaz’s 3000th

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Carl Yastrzemski is synonymous with Boston, as significant in the city’s iconography as Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, and the Paul Revere House.  To be a Red Sox fan is to know pride in Yaz’s representation of New England’s greatest asset—doing a job without regard to glamour or grandeur.

On September 12, 1979, Red Sox Nation celebrated when Yaz knocked a ball through the right side of the Yankee infield—#8 had reached #3000.

Suspense filled Fenway Park after Yaz hit the first pitch thrown to him by Jim Beattie—himself a native of the slugger’s adopted home base of New England—towards the area patrolled by Yankee second baseman Willie Randolph.  Leigh Montville of the Boston Globe described, “Would Randolph field the ball?  Nobody could say he could.  Nobody could say he couldn’t.  Not Randolph.  Not the pitcher, Jim Beattie.  Not the diehard, the final group of 34,337 which was waiting on this clear September night.  Not Carl Yastrzemski.

“Certainly not Carl Yastrzemski.”

Approximately a millisecond after the ball passed Randolph, cheers erupted throughout New England, from Kennebunkport to Kenmore Square.

It was the only hit of the night for Carl Michael Yastrzemski, whose 3000th hit was one of 140 that he notched in 1979.  For Yaz, baseball receded after retirement.  “I find that everyone remembers more about it than I do.  I just never think about having played baseball.  I was very fortunate, very gifted.  I think once I retired, I kind of said, ‘That’s it, there’s another life out there,'” said Yastrzemski in a 2011 profile by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.

When Yaz reached the elusive 3,000 plateau, he did it against the backdrop of a legendary rivalry, one of the most heated in sports.  It was all the more dramatic in 1979 because of what happened the year prior.  When the Red Sox leaped to a lead the size of the Grand Canyon—14 games in mid-July—a pennant was as likely to be lost as a Kennedy becoming a Republican.  And yet, the Yankees chipped away at the lead, forcing a one-game playoff after both teams had the same record at the end of the season.

Yaz was the voice of reason, if not pessimism.  In a 1986 article for UPI, Richard L. Shook interviewed several members of the Red Sox squad, including Bob Stanley, who said, “I remember Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) coming in after one loss and saying, ‘I’ve got a feeling we’re going to blow this thing’ [and] I think a lot of guys felt that.  Plus we had a lot of individual guys on that team.  They played for themselves.  They didn’t pull for each other.  They didn’t care if we won.”

Indeed, the Yankees won the pennant, thanks to a home run by Bucky Dent, forever villainous in the hearts and minds of Red Sox fans.

Yaz inherited Fenway Park’s left field region from Red Sox icon Ted Williams, playing his rookie season in 1961, a year of other firsts—Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut in space, John F. Kennedy became the first American president born in the 20th century, and Six Flags Over Texas became the first them park in the Six Flags stable.

When he retired after the 1983 season, Yastrzemski counted a Triple Crown, 3,419 career hits, and 452 home runs among his many achievements, the most significant being his gentlemanly manner.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 21, 2016.

Ted Williams Hits His Final Home Run

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

When a lanky native of San Diego hit a home run on September 28, 1960, it was not, perhaps, the most significant happening in his career—and certainly not the most significant happening in world affairs during the ninth month of the 60th year of the 20th century.

Ted Williams won two MVP Awards, the Triple Crown, and The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award seven times.  His career statistics include 521 home runs, .344 batting average, and .634 slugging percentage.  On that late September day, for the last time, Williams donned his Red Sox uniform, heard the cheers from the Fenway Park denizens, and went yard in his last at bat in the major leagues.

Legendary sportswriter Shirley Povich of the Washington Post noted that the excellence of the Red Sox slugger negated any revelatory aspects of the milestone.  “It shouldn’t have been surprising.  Williams has been making a commonplace of the dramatic homer ever since he came into the majors,” wrote Povich.

Still, an emotional charge laced the moment as Williams placed a period at the end of a 22-year career, all in a Red Sox uniform.  Nicknamed “The Splendid Splinter” for his batting prowess, Williams understood the impact of the home run.  “The first thing he did after the game was to send the home run bat to Tom Yawkey upstairs by bat boy Bobby Sullivan.  Then he hung around and soaked up praise and adulation, the admiring glances of those who would not approach, the warmth of a winning clubhouse—as he never would again,” wrote Harold Kaese in the Boston Globe.

Nonetheless, Williams did not tip his hat to the crowd.

About three weeks after Williams’s last game, The New Yorker published John Updike’s account in its October 22, 1960 issue; “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” stands as a model of baseball writing.  It is an honest appraisal of the dynamic fostered in the Red Sox legend’s adopted city.  Updike wrote, “The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing of shared memories.”

Additionally, an unparalleled work ethic, according to Updike, set Williams apart from his peers.  “No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy,” opined Updike.

Invoking the theory of ceteris paribus—all things being equal—Williams’s home run might have been in the 600s rather than the 500s had he not served his country during World War II.  A hero for his service as a pilot, Williams did not play professional baseball from 1943 to 1945, losing three years in his prime.  When Williams returned in 1946, he showed no signs of slowing down—MVP Award, .342 batting average, and 123 RBI.  Additionally, he led the major leagues in walks (156), slugging percentage (.667), on-base percentage (.497), and runs scored (142).

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 16, 2015.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training

Friday, November 11th, 2016

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training gives the underdogs from southern California’s North Valley League a shot at the Houston Toros—a bigger, stronger, and faster team.  Where else could the climactic game take place but the Astrodome—the post-modern Eighth Wonder of the World.

With Tatum O’Neal and Walter Matthau from the 1976 movie The Bad News Bears absent in this 1977 sequel, the Bears need a pitcher, a coach, and a way to get to Houston.  Timmy Lupus, the team’s worst player, cannot travel with the team because he broke a leg while skateboarding.

Enter Carmen Ronzonni, a friend of Kelly Leak—the Bears’ star player.  Employing a maintenance worker bordering on mute, the Bears construct a scheme to have him masquerade as the coach with basic sentences to greet the parents.  After the parents drop off the kids, Kelly et al. take a van to Houston.  During the Bears’ voyage, the audience hears Looking Good, a song performed by James Rolleston, with lyrics by Norman Gimbel and music by Craig Safan.

A subplot reveals Kelly’s other reason for traveling to Houston—his long gone father.  Kelly confronts him at a factory.  Initially, Michael Leak agrees to be a figurehead so the team can have a legitimate coach, something they hadn’t considered.  But his status too changes; the Bears realize he can help them in their game against the Toros.  Kelly’s already strained relationship with his father continues to fracture during a tense moment in a practice where the father eclipses the son as the team’s leader.

Right before the game at the Astrodome, Tanner, the wise-cracking shortstop, gives a locker room speech mirroring the climactic “Win One for the Gipper” speech in Knute Rockne, All-American, a movie he saw late at night while the rest of the team was asleep in the hotel room.  Tanner’s speech could easily be titled “Win One for the Looper” in a nod to Lupus.

The four-inning game between the Toros and the Bears takes place between the games of a doubleheader at the Astrodome.  Only one problem, though.  The powers that be call the game on account of time.  Bob Watson and Cesar Cedeno of the Houston Astros appear in the dugout.  When they find out that the game ended prematurely, Watson exclaims, “Come on, let the kids play!”

Inspired, Michael Leak takes the field and shouts, “Let them play!  Let them play!”  Kelly joins him in the chant, signaling a new relationship between the two Leaks.  The Bears follow suit, as does the Astrodome crowd.  Meanwhile, Tanner refuses to leave the field, evading the two suited gentlemen trying to capture him.

Caving under the pressure, the decision makers resume the game.  Carmen slams an inside-the-park grand slam for a Bears victory.  The Bad News Bears in Japan followed, marking the end of this 1970s baseball movie trilogy.

Boston Globe film critic Bruce McCabe wrote, “The film is perhaps most successful when it stops trying to figure out exactly what it’s supposed to be and goes for a certain kind of laugh.  One such moment is when a loony groundskeeper is conned by the kids into pretending to be their manager.  Another is when the van, filled with adolescent and preadolescent boys, backs up on a freeway to give a ride to a comely young hitch-hiker who has decided she’d rather not be a passenger.”

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