Posts Tagged ‘Chavez Ravine’

Don Drysdale: Once a Bum, Almost a Pirate

Friday, April 28th, 2017

Imagining Don Drysdale playing for a team other than the Dodgers is like imagining Hershey’s making products without chocolate.  Drysdale, he of the cannon disguised as a right arm firing baseballs through National League lineups in the 1950s and the 1960s, spent his career as a Dodger—first in Brooklyn, later in Los Angeles, where he grew up on the San Fernando Valley.  But the communal aura of Ebbets Field and the sun-soaked environs of Chavez Ravine might never have been blessed with Drysdale had Branch Rickey’s brethren signed him in Pittsburgh; Rickey served as the Pirates GM after notching four World Series titles for the Cardinals and leading baseball’s integration by signing Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers organization.

Rickey’s 1954 scouting report on Drysdale—nestled in the pitcher’ file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown—indicated prescience bordering on psychic.  The 18-year-old Drysdale impressed Rickey with his fast ball and his curve ball, both of which “needs no coaching.”  Rickey also expressed confidence that Drysdale could take down the speed on his change-up.  In short, Drysdale was “a definite prospect” with “an unusual amount of perfection.”

As a comparison, Rickey mentioned Don Dangleis, a minor league hurler who never made it out of the Pittsburgh farm system; Drysdale had faster pitches but Dangleis was more well-rounded.  The sticking point for Rickey was money, as is often the case with a team’s front office—Rickey wanted to keep Drysdale’s salary at a maximum of $4,000.  Although Rickey acknowledged that Drysdale was worth “whatever it takes,” he wanted to avoid singing Drysdale under a “bonus baby” rule, which mandated an immediate vault to a major league tenure of at least two years for a salary exceeding $4,000.  It was a tempting option establishing a new financial plateau for the player and eliminate a stopover in the minor leagues.  If a “bonus baby” needed seasoning before going to “the show,” however, the then the rule could be a detriment.

In his 1990 autobiography Once a Bum, Always a Dodger, Drysdale revealed that Rickey actually offered $6,000 while proclaiming an evasion of the rule’s tentacles without disclosing his methods to the pitcher or his dad, Scott, an ex-minor leaguer advising the young pitcher on what came to be a joyous choice for fans of the Dodgers.  There were other options—Drysdale received pitches—no pun intended—from the White Sox, the Yankees, and the Braves.  Drysdale’s father offered a view based in value.  “Look, if you’re going to get a lot of money—like Billy Consolo, a $60,000 bonus baby—then it makes sense to take it and go to the major leagues and take your chances,” recalled Drysdale of his father’s opining.  “But if you’re not going to get a lot of money—and $2,000 isn’t a lot of money—then why not go where you have the best chance to learn?”

And so, the definite prospect from Van Nuys, California joined the Dodgers farm system.  Drysdale remembered that he signed in “the first week of June 1954” but Rickey’s scouting report was dated June 15th.  Either Drysdale’s memory was incorrect or Rickey was unaware of the signing.  The latter is a reach, considering Rickey’s legendary attention to detail.  At the bottom of Rickey’s missive is a handwritten postscript:  “Signed with Brooklyn.  Father is a bird dog for them.”

Drysdale played for the Bakersfield Indians, a Class C team in the California State League for the 1954 season; he went 8-5, then played for Montreal in 1955, where he compiled an 11-11 record.  On April 23, 1956, Drysdale made his first appearance with Brooklyn, unleashing the supremacy with which he taught master classes in intimidation, control, and reliability throughout his major league career, which ended in 1969.  In this game against the Phillies, Drysdale struck out the first three batters, notched nine strikeouts for the day, and showed “big league poise,” according to United Press, when he got out of a bases loaded jam in the second inning by inducing Murry Dickson to fly out.

Drysdale found a home in Brooklyn before voyaging back to the Los Angeles sunshine when the Dodgers left Brooklyn after the 1957 season.  “There was an intimacy about Ebbets Field that you don’t forget,” wrote Drysdale.  “If you are a starting pitcher, you warmed up in front of the dugout before the game, not in the bullpen.  You felt as though the fans were right on top of you, because they almost were.  It was a carnival atmosphere, small and always jumping.”

Rickey’s analysis of Drysdale proved correct:

  • 1962 National League Cy Young Award
  • Led the major leagues in strikeouts three times
  • 2,486 career strikeouts
  • Led the major leagues in games started for four consecutive years
  • Led the major league in innings pitched twice
  • Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984

 

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 16, 2016.

Hank Aaron’s Last Home Run

Monday, April 10th, 2017

As America recovered from its Bicentennial hangover, Hank Aaron clubbed a home run in the Brewers-Angels game on July 20, 1976.  It was not, in any way, a cause for ceremony.  It was, however, highly significant.

Aaron’s solo smash off the Angels’ Dick Drago was his last home run, though nobody knew it at the time.  Hammerin’ Hank followed George Scott’s solo home run, one of 18 blasts that Scott swatted in 1976.  Jerry Augustine got the win for the Brewers—his first in more than a month—scattering five Angel hits in seven innings.  It capped a streak of five consecutive losses for Augustine, who had a 9-12 record, 3.30 Earned Run Average, and WHIP of 1.299.

Aaron, Scott, et al. belted 12 hits against the Angels; Von Joshua, Tim Johnson, Darrell Porter, and Robin Yount scored the other Brewer runs.  Johnson, the Brewer second baseman, had an outstanding 3-for-3 day.  In the eighth inning, relief pitcher Danny Frisella replaced Augustine.

When Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record on April 8, 1974 by hitting his 715th home run, every dinger afterward became, simply, icing on top of frosting.  His round-tripper in the Brewers’ 6-2 victory over the boys from Anaheim was his 755th home run; Aaron hit 10 home runs, batted .229, and racked up 62 hits in a rather uneventful 1976 season for the Brewers—a 66-96 record garnered 6th place in the American League East.

At age 42, Aaron retired after the 1976 season with outstanding career statistics:

  • 3,771 hits
  • 2,174 runs scored
  • 13,941 plate appearances
  • .305 batting average
  • 2,287 RBI (major league record)
  • Led the major leagues in RBI four times

Henry Louis Aaron clocked his first major league home run on April 23, 1954.  Throughout the next two decades and change, Aaron faced the pitching gods of Major League Baseball—Don Sutton, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Don Gullett, Roy Face, Don Drysdale, Nolan Ryan, Vida Blue, Sandy Koufax, Robin Roberts.  When he went yard, it was the definition of power against power.  Tom Seaver’s page on the Baseball Hall of Fame web site recalls Aaron’s statement of Seaver being “the toughest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”

Aaron’s last home run occurred during the year that the Yankees reached the World Series for the first time since 1964; Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday snatched an American flag from two trespassers about to burn it in the Dodger Stadium outfield; the Chicago White Sox played in shorts for one game; Ted Turner became the sole owner of the Atlanta Braves; the second incarnation of Yankee Stadium débuted after two years of renovations; Philadelphia Phillies third baseball Mike Schmidt knocked four home runs in a game against the Cubs; original Houston Astros owner Judge Roy Hofheinz sold the team that began its life as the Colt .45s; Dodgers manager Walter Alston resigned after 23 years at the helm in Ebbets Field and Chavez Ravine; and the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays began selecting players for the following year’s American League expansion.

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

The Great Holdout of 1966

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Durocher, Drysdale, and the Duke

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Hollywood’s cup of glamour runneth over with lore, the most significant likely being, in terms of endurance, the story of Lana Turner, she of the tight-fitting sweater, busty figure, and platinum blonde hair.  Turner’s genesis as a star began at Schwab’s Pharmacy in Hollywood, where the future star played hooky from Hollywood High School.  Or so the legend went.  It was, in fact, the Top Hat Malt Shop that served as the locale for Turner’s discovery by a talent agent in the late 1930s.

Television producers in the 1950s and the 1960s need not have looked further than Chavez Ravine to discover talent for verisimilitude in their baseball-themed episodes.  Leo Durocher, no stranger to show business because of his marriage to Laraine Day—which ended in divorce in 1960—appears as himself in The Beverly Hillbillies and The Munsters.  In both appearances, Durocher, a coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers, scouts baseball talent—Jethro Clampett in the former and Herman Munster in the latter.

The Beverly Hillbillies uses the classic “fish out of water” format to depict country bumpkins living in Beverly Hills after striking oil accidentally.  Audiences delighted in the misunderstandings between the Clampett kinfolk and their neighbor—and banker—Milburn Drysdale.  Jethro, the slow-witted but joyful nephew of Jed Clampett, has a throwing arm that the more famous Drysdale would envy.  Unfortunately for Durocher, Jethro’s pitching ability flourishes only when he puts possum fat on the ball, clearly an illegal maneuver.  Dodgers executive Buzzie Bavasi does not appear as himself, rather, Wally Cassell portrays him.

In the Munsters episode “Herman the Rookie,” which aired in 1965, Durocher eyes Herman Munster, a comedic Frankenstein-looking fellow, as the Dodgers’ next great slugger.  While playing with his son, Eddie, Herman grabs the attention of Durocher, who thinks he’s found the next Babe Ruth.  A ball hit by Herman from a ballpark eight blocks away knocks Durocher on his noggin.

Again, Durocher’s scouting exploits amount to naught.  During a tryout, Herman hits a ground ball that tears through the infield dirt like a drill.  Toppling like a house of cards, the scoreboard falls after a home run ball smashes it.  “Mr. O’Malley said it would cost him $75,000 to put the Dodger Stadium back in shape every time I played,” explains Herman to his family.

Herman’s tryout takes place at Wrigley Field—in Los Angeles—which provided the site for several television programs and movies, including Home Run Derby; Wrigley Field was the home ballpark for the California Angels in their inaugural year, 1961.

Durocher also plays himself in episodes of Mr. Ed and The Donna Reed Show.

Don Drysdale made four appearances on Donna Reed in addition to guest starring on Leave It To Beaver and Our Man Higgins; his infamous appearance in The Brady Bunch occurred in 1970.  A post-baseball career in front of the camera beckoned during the contract holdout that joined Drysdale and fellow Dodgers hurler Sandy Koufax before the 1966 season.

In his 1990 autobiography Once A Bum, Always A Dodger, Drysdale revealed that a movie with David Janssen was in the works.  “Sandy and I assumed that we wouldn’t be with the Dodgers during the summer, so we geared up to do a movie instead.  It was to be called Warning Shot, directed by Buzz Kulik.  Janssen was going to be the star, Sandy was going to play a detective sergeant, and I was going to be a television commentator.  We had planned to start filming at just about the time the baseball season would begin.  Sandy and I had signed contracts and all systems were go.”

Drysdale and Koufax resolved their differences with the Dodgers, thereby excluding the Janssen movie from their calendar.

Before the Dodgers established a beachhead in southern California, beginning with the 1968 season, Ebbets Field was their home.  During his tenure as one of the marshals of McKeever Place, Duke Snider guest starred as himself on Father Knows Best in the 1956 episode “Hero Father.”  Father Knows Best is set in Springfield, presumably somewhere in the Midwest.

The story’s premise revolves around Bud, the middle of the Andersons’ three children.  Duke Snider’s All Stars are scheduled for exhibition games in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Duluth, Omaha, and Los Angeles.  “The All Stars come right through Springfield on their way to Duluth,” offers Bud, a teenager, to his two pals.

Anderson matriarch Margaret points out to her husband, Jim, that Duke Snider’s team would be a good draw to raise money for the new hospital wing; Him is the chairman of the committee for the addition.

Implausibly, Jim gets in touch with Duke.  Money proves to be a sticking point; Brooklyn’s iconic centerfielder explains, “My boys have to make a living.”  All is not lost, though.  Duke offers a deal that would give his team 25% of the profit from the ticket sales—instead of the usual 50%—plus expenses in advance.

Jack Braymer, the father of Sandy, one of Bud’s friends, approaches Jim with a deal—he’ll pick up the cost of the expenses and guarantee the tickets if Springfield’s zoning commission allows him to to build a manufacturing plant on the site of his choice.  Initially, Braymer wants to look like a hero to his son, with whom he has a somewhat fractured relationship.  When Jim shows that his integrity is unassailable, Braymer withdraws the offer.

After his conscience hits him with the force of a Duke Snider home run, Braymer comes clean to his son.  In the episode’s tag, Duke plays catch with the Andersons’ younger daughter, Kathy.

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

Oy Vey! Sandy Koufax, Yom Kippur, and the 1965 World Series

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Sandy Koufax had a left arm envied by southpaws from Malibu to Miami, a curveball rivaling Mulholland Drive’s bends for arc intensity, and a fastball comparable to a bullet shot from a Winchester.

None of these assets were on display, however, during Game 1 of the 1965 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Because the game took place on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, Koufax opted not to play.  It was a choice that reverberated in synagogues from, well, Malibu to Miami.  And Seattle to Syracuse.  And Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine.

“I tried to deflect questions about my intentions through the last couple of weeks of the season by saying that I was praying for rain,” wrote the left-hander in his 1966 autobiography Koufax with Ed Linn.  “There was never any decision to make, though, because there was never any possibility that I would pitch.

“Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish religion.  The club knows that I don’t work that day.  When Yom Kippur falls during the season, as it usually does, it has always been a simple matter of pitching a day earlier, with two days’ rest, when my turn happened to be coming up.”

Don Drysdale started the game for the Dodgers.  “Most all of them are high-ball hitters, so I’ll naturally try to keep the ball down on them.  I don’t want to give them a chance to get the ball up in the air,” said Drysdale in a Los Angeles Times article by Charles Maher.  Instead, the fireballer encountered a vicious but rare pummeling—Dodgers skipper Walter Alston pulled Drysdale in the third inning, after the Twins tallied six runs, in addition to their one run in the second inning.

The story goes that Drysdale, indicating a self-effacing manner, told Alston, “I bet you wish I was Jewish, too.”

Final score:  Twins 8, Dodgers 2.

Although the fellas from the Land of 10,000 Lakes surpassed the heroes of Chavez Ravine by a six-run margin, both teams had an equal number of hits—10.  Every Dodger starter but Drysdale hit safely, as did pinch hitter Willie Crawford.

Times sports writer Paul Zimmerman wrote that Drysdale showed “surprising complacency” in explaining what happened.  “It simply was a case of bad command,” said Drysdale.  “I couldn’t get the ball anywhere near where I wanted it and when you can’t do that you don’t deserve to win.”

Mudcat Grant pitched a complete game for the Twins.  It was, indeed, a glorious year for the Florida native—Grant led the American League in wins (21), pitched 14 complete games, and scored two World Series victories.

The 1965 World Series was a seven-game affair ending with the Dodgers returning baseball glory to southern California after overcoming an 0-2 deficit.  Koufax went 2-1 in the series, Drysdale evened his record at 1-1, and Claude Osteen also had a 1-1 output.

In 1965, Koufax led the major leagues in:

  • Wins (26)
  • Earned Run Average (2.04)
  • Win-Loss percentage (.765)
  • Complete Games (27)
  • Innings Pitched (335.2)
  • Strikeouts (382)

But it is what he did during Game One of the ’65 series that is talked about five decades later at Passover seders, in Hebrew school classes, and in sermons during the High Holidays.

Or, rather, what he didn’t do.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 28, 2016.

Bobby Valentine, Tommy Lasorda, and the 1970 Spokane Indians

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Among its symbols, Spokane boasts The Historic Davenport Hotel, the Bing Crosby Theatre, and the Monroe Street Bridge.  They are, to be sure, propellants of the city’s physical, cultural, and architectural landscapes.

Baseball contributes an equally significant identifier to this foothold of the Inland Northwest.

And so it was—and continues to be—with the 1970 Spokane Indians.

Indians shortstop Bobby Valentine won the Pacific Coast League MVP Award, with a .340 batting average, 211 hits, and 122 runs scored.  IN a 2015 Hartford Courant article by Owen Canfield, Valentine praised Tommy Lasorda, the Indians manager, for offering positive reinforcement at a low point.  “After one particularly tough fielding game for me, he came into the locker room and said to the other players, ‘Go and get yourselves a pen and paper and get Bobby’s autograph, because some day he’s going to be great.'”

At the time, the AAA Indians belonged in the Dodgers’ minor league hierarchy.  Lasorda, of course, succeeded Walter Alston as the Dodgers’ manager, stayed at the helm for the next 20 years, and became a Chavez Ravine icon.  Spokane was a highly significant facilitator for the Dodgers—Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Von Joshua, Joe Ferguson, and Charlie Hough played for the Indians before getting called up to “the show.”

In his 1985 autobiography The Artful Dodger, written with David Fisher, Lasorda described his strategy of converting ballplayers to different positions—Davey Lopes, for example.  “He was a bona fide, blue-chip, big league prospect,” explained Lasorda.  “His only problem was that he was an outfielder, and the organization had an abundance of talented outfielders.  We needed shortstops and second basemen.  Since Russell and Valentine were already working out at shortstop, I told Davey I wanted to make him a second baseman.  He resisted the idea at first, but once I’d convinced him he would get to the big leagues a lot faster as an infielder, he accepted it.”

Lopes became a mainstay of the Dodgers infield in the 1970s, along with Ron Cey at third base, Russell at shortstop, and Garvey at first base.

In 1970, the Indians notched a 94-52 record, captured the PCL’s Northern Division by 26 games, and won the PCL championship by defeating the Hawaii Islanders in a four-game sweep.

From 1958 to 1972, the Indians belonged in the Dodgers organization, with subsequent affiliations to Texas, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Kansas City.  The team’s genesis began, effectively, on December 2nd, when the Dodgers and the Giants agreed to pay $900,000 in damages to the PCL for transporting into the league’s territory upon their exoduses from Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively.

A three-team move followed, rearranging the Los Angeles Angels to Spokane, the San Francisco Seals to Phoenix, and the Hollywood Stars to Salt Lake City.  Hollywood and the other PCL teams—Vancouver, Seattle, Sacramento, Portland, San Diego—split the $900,000 equally, receiving $150,000 apiece.

Of the realignment, Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times clarified, “Long Beach, which has been a strong bidder for the Hollywood franchise, has no chance of landing it.  Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, among others, are solidly opposed to the beach city because of its proximity to Los Angeles.”

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

The Tragedy of Ken McMullen

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

When Dodgers third baseman Ken McMullen suited up for the 1974 season, he carried the weight of widowerhood on his 6’3″ frame—McMullen’s wife, Bobbie, died of cancer on April 6th, the day after the Dodgers opened the ’74 season.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in May, 1974, Bobbie McMullen had surgery, but her pregnancy with a third child posed a highly significant problem—cobalt treatments would necessitate an abortion, which the McMullens didn’t want.  She waited until after the birth for the cobalt treatments.  Additionally, Bobbie McMullen had chemotherapy and a dialysis machine when her kidneys weakened from the medication.  She passed five months after giving birth.

Chicago Tribune sportswriter John Husar interviewed Ken McMullen about his wife’s death for an article published on October 1, 1974, as the Dodgers headed into the post-season, eventually facing the Oakland A’s in the World Series; the boys from Chavez Ravine lost in five games.  McMullen clarified his openness about his wife’s death.  “I do get perturbed at people who think I just want sympathy or to have my name in print,” McMullen said.  “I don’t know why I talk about it.  I guess I just want people to know I had a wife who was the bravest and strongest person I’ve ever known—or ever will know.”

He also acknowledged the Dodgers’ success as a key point in confronting the tragedy.  “It was important to me to be on a team, winning, struggling and getting here to the World Series,” McMullen revealed in an article for the Associated Press.  “It helps to take your mind off things.”

Indeed, work can be a powerful antidote to emotional devastation caused by losing a loved one.  Although McMullen wanted to stay with his wife as spring training approached for the 1974 season, his wife urged him to go to the Dodgers’ facilities in Vero Beach, Florida.  In the Husar article, McMullen said, “I don’t know why.  I really didn’t ask her.  What she said was, ‘I would like you to stay but I know you can’t.’  If she would have said anything other than that, I would have stayed.  But now I think she was saying it was better to keep playing and not sit around and wait.”

Road trips, too, provided an escape.  In an October 8, 1974 article for the New York Post, Maury Allen highlighted McMullen’s emotion-filled odyssey.  “I had to get away,” McMullen said.  “That was the only place I could really relax.  For a while, the guys wouldn’t ask me to go out.  They didn’t want to do or say anything that would upset me. Then they realized things had to be as they were before.”

Though a formidable pinch hitter—McMullen had four game-winning hits in 1973—Ron Cey emerged as the Dodgers’ regular third baseman.  Tragedy diminished the importance of baseball to McMullen, who benefited from a support system including his sister, brother-in-law, and parents—they shared care taking duties concerning the McMullen children.  “After everything I’ve been through, worrying about playing regularly hardly seems important,” said McMullen.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 3, 2016.

A New Era in Chavez Ravine

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Los Angeles suffered a divorce worthy of soap opera status when the controversy of Dodgers ownership became public—Frank and Jamie McCourt engaged in a matrimonial battle that brought disgrace upon the vaunted Dodgers brand and disgust among the team’s loyal fan base.  Plus, their spending habits approximated using the team’s coffers as a personal ATM machine.  Bankruptcy forced a sale.  In the country’s second biggest market, Major League Baseball could not afford a continuous display of greed in an era already tarnished by steroid use.

In her 2015 book The Best Team Money Could Buy, Molly Knight wrote, “But after they moved to Los Angeles their aspirations morphed into an insatiable obsession with status and material possessions.  By 2009 the couple turned on each other, with Frank testing the limits of the amount of money he could borrow, and and Jamie instructing a Dodger executive to draw up a battle plan for her eventual ascendance to the office of president of the United States [sic].”

On May 1, 2012, a new era began in Chavez Ravine—Guggenheim Partners purchased the Dodgers for $2.15 billion.  Led by CEO Mark Walter, Guggenheim boasted Magic Johnson as a minority owner with the credibility required to allow Los Angelenos a sigh of relief when one of its favorite sons appeared ready to restore the Dodgers brand from garnishment to luster.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig offered respect to the devotees who saw more drama in the media’s recounting of the McCourt saga than in the games at Dodger Stadium.  “In addition, I want to personally thank all Dodger fans for their patience and loyalty during this trying period,” said Selig.  “I have said many times that we owed it to them to ensure that the club was being operated properly and would be guided appropriately in the future.  It is my great hope and firm expectation that today’s change in ownership marks the start of a new era for the Los Angeles Dodgers and that this historic franchise will once again make the city of Los Angeles proud.”

Indeed, new ownership cleansed the toxicity plaguing the team.  On 710 ESPN’s Mason & Ireland Show, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly noted, “It’s been a positive since the announcement of Magic and his group.  You could feel a difference with the fans instantly.  There’s been so much negative for the last few years that it just gets kind of old for guys that are playing because people aren’t showing up and it doesn’t have anything to do with if you win or not.”

In a 2015 profile titled “Who Is Dodgers Owner Mark Walter and Where Did He Get All That Money” for laweekly.com, Gene Maddause highlighted the financial health of the Dodgers resulting from an $8.35 billion television contract.  In turn, Walter’s Guggenheim team fought the ghosts of the McCourt era by strategically reinforcing the $2.15 billion investment. Maddaus wrote, “A hundred million for stadium improvements?  Sure.  An $85 million contract for Andre Ethier?  Uh, OK.  How about $18 million a year to Matt Kemp to play for another team?  Why not?”

Guggenheim prioritized the importance of repairing the tattered confidence of the Dodgers, beginning with signing Ethier.  Knight noted, “Even though he was on the decline, and arguably the club’s tenth-best player at that point, the Dodgers re-signed him to a five-year, $85 million extension that raised eyebrows around the league for its generosity.  But the new owners weren’t overpaying an aging outfielder as much as they were purchasing a citywide public service announcement letting fans know the bad times were over.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 15, 2015.

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.

Ebbets Field: More Than A Stadium

Friday, October 28th, 2016

A baseball shrine débuted in 1913, one in a string of ballparks ushering in a new era for the National Pastime.  Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, and Chicago offered modern facilities for the fans.    In Brooklyn, a new stadium became a second home for borough residents from Canarsie to Coney Island.  Ebbets Field.  Home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When the Dodgers left Brooklyn after the 1957 season, Ebbets Field’s days were numbered.  Their spirit amputated, Dodger fans mourned the loss represented by the soulless void of a silent Ebbets Field.

Obsolete and vacant as a once gloried dominion of baseball excellence, Ebbets Field no longer served a valuable function.  What began as the innovative brainchild of then owner Charles Ebbets in 1913 aged into an archaic edifice.  Once a nucleic fixture for Brooklyn, Ebbets Field balanced on the precipice of ignominy.  Its storied life ended in 1960 with demolition that placed an arctic exclamation point on the end of an already frosty sentence—the Brooklyn Dodgers are no more.

If fans run their fingers over the memories, they feel scars that never fully healed and, consequently, trigger a bittersweet though palpable aura.  Bitter for the abandonment.  Sweet for the memories.

Vividly, they recall Jackie Robinson’s fiery, pigeon-toed style of running, Carl Furillo’s master of baseball caroms off Ebbets Field’s idiosyncratic right field wall, and Roy Campanella’s powerful swaths of National League pitching.

But the memories are more than homages to a great baseball team that patrolled the verdant pasture at 55 Sullivan Place, an address that no longer appears on Brooklyn’s Post Office rolls.  For those who saw the Dodgers play in the Jackie Robinson era, the memories reveal a depth of love betrayed in Shakespearean proportions.

Walter O’Malley’s decision to move the Dodgers a continent away from Brooklyn, a felonious act in the hearts and minds of the Dodger faithful, anchored in a sweetheart deal—the power brokers of Los Angeles gave O’Malley the real estate of Chavez Ravine in an exchange for the environs of the city’s Wrigley Field.  Not since Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island for 60 guilders on behalf of the Dutch had a land deal bared incalculable value for the land’s new settlers.

Dodger Stadium eclipsed Ebbets Field in look, feel, and modernity.  Its wavy outfield roof, capacity for approximately 56,000, and seat colors evoking a southern California warmth—yellow, light orange, turquoise, and sky blue—did not look anything like Charles Ebbets’s brick-faced structure that was a breakthrough for pre-World War I baseball, but a relic for the Space Age.  O’Malley’s new facility represented the post-World War II era, when migration to newly created suburbs forced travel by car, thereby creating a need for parking spaces at stadium.  Ebbets Field was a ballpark sandwiched into one city block with a capacity hovering around 36,000 and approximately 700 parking spaces.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 15, 2013.