Posts Tagged ‘September’

Indians, Red Sox, and the 1948 American League Playoff

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Cleveland’s baseball curriculum vitae has many bright points.  Examples include Bob Feller hurling three no-hitters, Larry Doby breaking the color line in the American League, and Quincy Trouppe leading the Buckeyes to a Negro League World Series championship in 1945.

There is also, of course, the fictional Indians team led by Rick Vaughn, Jake Taylor, and Pedro Cerrano in the 1989 film Major League.  This squad won the American League Eastern Division in a one-game playoff against the Yankees; it lost the league championship, a fact that occurred off-screen—audiences found out in Major League II, which depicted the captains of the Cuyahoga exorcising the previous season’s ghosts by winning the AL championship against the Chicago White Sox.

In 1948, under the leadership of player-manager Lou Boudreau, the Indians brought a World Series title to northeast Ohio.  But the road to victory had more curves than the Cuyahoga River.

An aura of anxiety covered Cleveland on the evening of September 24th, like the fog at the beginning of Dickens’s novel Bleak House—the Indians, the Yankees, and the Red Sox stood atop the American League in a triple tie.  Bostonians, meanwhile, savored the possibility of an all-Beantown World Series between the Red Dox and the Braves when the latter clinched the National League title on September 26th, thanks to a three-run blast by Bob Elliott agains the New York Giants in the first inning.  It was a sufficient cushion for a 3-2 victory; the win gave the Braves a National League pennant for the first time since the “Miracle Braves” accomplished the feat in 1914.

At the end of the season, the Indians and the Red Sox shared the top spot in the American League; the Yankees trailed by two games.  A one-game playoff at Fenway Park determined which team would represent the league in the World Series against the Braves.  On the morning of October 4th, the date of the playoff, Harold Kaese of the Boston Daily Globe acknowledged the emotional impact of the pennant race.  “When today’s game is played, this town figures to be flat on its back from nervous exhaustion,” wrote Kaese.  “Before the patient recovers enough to take sports nourishment, the entire football season is likely to have passed unnoticed and The Country Club curlers will be getting ready for the Stockton Cup bonspiel.”

Gene Bearden, a rookie hurler, held back the Red Sox in an 8-3 victory for the Indians.  A 20-7 pitcher with a league-leading 2.43 ERA in 1948, Bearden struck out six, walked five, and allowed five hit in the triumph for the Tribe.  Boudreau had a career day—four-for-four with two RBI, three runs scored, and a walk; two hits were home runs.

Indians third baseman Ken Keltner knocked in three runs, scored one run, and went three-for-five.  Center fielder Larry Doby had a two-for-five day with one run scored.

The 1948 World Series between the Indians and the Braves culminated with the crown going to the former in six games.  Boudreau tipped his cap to Bearden, who won one game in the series and saved the sixth and deciding game.  “It was his series all the way,” declared Boudreau in Clif Keane’s account for the Globe.  “That’s all I can say.  It was his year.  Don’t give me any credit.  It was Bearden.”

Kaese, meanwhile, urged Red Sox rooters to avoid disgust, dismay, and disappointment, particularly if those emotions targeted utility player Sibby Sisti, who bunted into a double play to end the series.  “Think not unkindly” was Kaese’s repeated admonition.  For succor, Kaese pointed out deficits automatically placing the Red Sox at a disadvantage.  Plus, the Red Sox matched or surpassed the Indians in some areas.

“The Indians had to play National League ball to beat the Braves,” rationalized Kaese.  “They won because the had three excellent pitchers, whereas the Braves had only two—John Sain and Warren Spahn.  They won because they were a little sharper in the field, a little more timely at bat.

“The Braves scored as many runs (17) as the Indians.  They out-hit the Indians (.231 to .199).  They out-slugged the Indians (61 total bases to 57).”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 12, 2016.

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

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

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

Connors also played for the Boston Celtics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September, 1965

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

In the ninth month of 1965, baseball fans reveled in the aura of excellence displayed at major league ballparks.

Ernie Banks, the jovial Cubs shortstop, whose trademark suggestion “Let’s play two!” indicates pure delight in playing baseball, knocked his 400th home run.  Appropriately, it happened in Wrigley Field rather than during an away game for Chicago’s beloved Cubbies.

Dave Morehead came within a baseball stitch of pitching a perfect game for the Red Sox.  Rocky Colavito punctured the hopes of Bostonians when he drew a walk in the second inning of an Indians-Red Sox game, which had a measly attendance of 2,370.  A no-hitter remained in sight as Vic Davalillo strode to the batter’s box in the top of the ninth, pinch hitting for Dick Howser.  When Davalillo’s grounder bounced off Morehead’s glove, the no-hitter flirted with jeopardy.

Morehead retrieved the ball, threw to first baseman Lee Thomas, and watched with relief as first baseman Lee Thomas scooped the lowly thrown sphere from the dirt.

Bert Campaneris played all nine positions in a game for the A’s, Willie Mays reached the milestone of 500 home runs, and Mickey Mantle enjoyed a day in his honor to commemorate his 2,000th major league game.

Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game against the Cubs, relying on a scant 1-0 lead—it was the fourth no-hitter for the Dodgers phenom.  In his account, Charles Maher of the Los Angeles Times quoted Koufax:  “You always know when you’ve got a no-hitter going, but you don’t particularly pay any attention to it early in the game.  In the seventh, I really started to feel as though I had a shot at it.

“But I still had only one run to work on.  I still had to win the game.”

Koufax offered compassion to his Cubs counterpart, Bob Hendley.  In his 1966 autobiography Koufax, written with Ed Linn, the legendary hurler wrote, “I sympathized with him only as a fellow pitcher, only in retrospect, and—most of all—only when we were in the locker room with the game safely won.”

In Maher’s report, Koufax said, “It’s a shame Hendley had to get beaten that way.  But I’m glad we got the run or we might have been here all night.”

Vin Scully, the Dodgers announcer for generations since the team’s last days at Ebbets Field, cemented the occasion in his radio broadcast by highlighting the time.  In her 2002 book Sandy Koufax:  A Lefty’s Legacy, Jane Leavy wrote, “Baseball is distinguished by its lack of temporal imperatives.  Nine innings take what they take.  Scully intuitively understood that locating the game in time would attest to its timelessness.  Always, he gave the date.  This time, he decided to give the time on the clock, too, so that Koufax would remember the exact moment he made history.”

In the Midwest, joy enveloped one major league city while wistfulness dominated another one.  The Minnesota Twins—formerly the Washington Senators until the 1961 season—won their first American League title.  Milwaukeeans, meanwhile, said goodbye to the Braves as the team headed to its third major league city—Atlanta.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 24, 2016.

1934, Dizzy Dean, and the Cardinals of St. Louis

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

When Dizzy Dean pitched for the Cardinals in 1934, St. Louisans rested as easy as a stray feather landing on a duck’s backside—the Arkansas native led the major leagues in wins, strikeouts, and complete games.  With a 30-7 record, Dean marked the Cardinals as an irresistible force, propelling the team toward a World Series championship.

Dean’s brilliance on the mound fueled his confidence.  Before the series, Chicago Daily Tribune sports writer Edward Burns spotlighted this trademark, which Dean evidenced at a self-created press conference.  “Among other things the elder Dean revealed that he had told Manager Frankie Frisch of the Cardinals that he not only was prepared to pitch the opener of the world series [sic] here but that he could, and would, if Frisch desired, pitch the first four games of the series.  He conceded, however, that this, perhaps, would be unfair to his brother Paul and other St. Louis pitchers whose names have slipped us just now.”

Indeed, the Cardinals’ outstanding pitching was often a fraternal affair in ’34, with Paul Dean going 19-11.  Though they shared the same bloodline, Paul and Dizzy differed greatly in their approaches to life.  St. Louis sports writer J. Roy Stockton chronicled the exploits of the Cardinals in his 1945 book The Gashouse Gang and a couple of other guys, including the famed Dean brothers.  “Dizzy reeked with color and was the answer to a baseball writer’s prayer as soon as he broke into organized baseball.  Paul, without Dizzy, would have been just another good pitcher.  He wouldn’t go on strikes and he wouldn’t miss any trains.  He’d just pitch, attend to business and save his money.  Dizzy was a bundle of nerves, always raring to go, never still a minute.  Sit Paul down in an easy chair and he’s stay put for hours.”

All was not smooth, however.  The Dean brothers squared off against Cardinals management in the ’34 season.  A salary dispute caused the Deans to sit out and, consequently, suffer a financial penalty and 10-day suspension issued by the front office.  Thankfully, the brothers resolved their quarrel with the brass after a judicial ruling backed the Cardinals’ fine and suspension.  On September 21, 1934, Paul Dean pitched a no-hitter against the Dodgers.

In his 2007 book The Gashouse Gang: How Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher, Branch Rickey, Pepper Martin, and their Colorful, Come-from-Behind Ball Club Won the World Series—and America’s Heart—During the Great Depression, John Heidenry described the silver linings in the clouds of discord.  “The ultimate result, though, was to strengthen the other players’ respect for Frisch,” wrote Heidenry.  “Before the revolt, the Cardinals had ability; after the rebellion, team spirit and determination coalesced.  Dizzy paid his fines and wrote a telegraphed apology to the fans in Detroit.  Though sympathetic supporters from around the country sent him money to help him pay his fines, he sent back every dime.

“Of course, it was not long before the two Deans are back in everyone’s good graces.  It was almost impossible to stay angry with those two fun-loving southern boys.  Best of all, during the final stretch, the Dean brothers became virtually invincible.”

Dizzy and Paul Dean won two games apiece against the Detroit Tigers in the 1934 World Seriesin the seventh game, Dizzy scattered six hits, went the full nine, and shut out the Tigers 11-0.

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

Expos and Excellence

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

On September 29, 2004, Montreal bid adieu to its beloved Expos ball club.  And so, a baseball legacy faded into finality as the Expos transitioned to become the Washington Nationals.

Montreal never celebrated a World Series championship, but moments of greatness sprinkled across its major league tenure, which began in 1969.  Bill Stoneman, for example, stands as a bright spot, achieving twice what some pitching legends achieved once and others not at all—a no-hitter; Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and Jim Palmer fall into the former category while Steve Carlton, Lefty Grove, and Whitey Ford reside in the latter.

In the Expos’ rookie season, Stoneman threw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies.  Although he walked seven batters, Stoneman retired the Mets with aplomb.  The New York Times noted, “There were no difficult plays by Stoneman’s teammates as only five balls were hit to the outfield.  Stoneman struck out nine.”

Both games had scores of 7-0.

Stoneman’s dual no-hitters belie a career win-loss record of 54-85 and 4.08 Earned Run Average.

Dennis Martinez retired 27 Dodgers on July 28, 1991 in a perfect game, the 15th time a major league pitcher reached that pinnacle of performance; 17 batters grounded out.  Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times noted the impact of the daytime schedule.  “Another factor, according to the Dodgers is that Dodger Stadium is toughest on hitters during afternoon games,” wrote Plaschke.  “It is even harder when Martinez is pitching, because in his windup he tucks the ball in his glove until the last possible moment.”

A recovering alcoholic, Martinez plodded through a minor league stint in the Expos organization after nine seasons as a favorite on the Orioles pitching staff.  “I look back and see the faith that I had, and the reaching out for help that I did, and I think, it is paying off now,” said Martinez.  Climbing his way back into the major leagues, Martinez kindled pride in his hometown—Granada, Nicaragua.  Kevin Baxter, also of the Los Angeles Times, explained, “Edgar Rodriguez, a sportswriter at El Nuevo Diario, said each of the country’s radio stations broke into their normal programming to report the perfect game.  That was cause for loud celebrating in the neighborhoods around his paper’s office.”

To call it a “masterful performance” is to do it injustice, like saying the Aurora Borealis is nice to look at.  “Though there weren’t advanced pitch-tracking systems back then to break down every Martinez offering that day, you’d swear he threw 50 of those trademark knee-buckling curveballs,” wrote Jonah Keri in his 2014 book Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball & the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos.

The perfect game was not an outlier for Martinez in 1991—he led the National League in Earned Run Average with 2.39.  And it was not the only marvel for Montreal during its series with Los Angeles.

Two days prior to Martinez’s accomplishment.  Mack Gardner threw nine no-hit innings; the Expos did not score either.  Los Angeles punctured hopes for the metropolis that Mark Twain dubbed “City of a Hundred Steeples” during a  visit in 1881.  Keri explained, “Dodger Lenny Harris opened the bottom of the 10th with a high chopper over Gardner’s head [Expos shortstop] Spike Owen charged, tried to field the ball…and dropped it.  A frustrating misplay, but with the ball hit that slowly, Owen would’ve had no chance to get Harris either way—it was an infield hit, busting the no-hitter.”

Daryl Strawberry won the game for the Dodgers with an RBI single in the 10th inning to bring Harris home.

Final score:  1-0.

Although Gardner cleared the Dodgers for nine innings, Major League Baseball’s scoring paradigm labels a game as a no-hitter when the pitcher’s team scores.  Hence, Gardner did not technically pitch a no-hitter.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 22, 2015.

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.

Sam Malone’s Lucky Bottle Cap

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

A guy walks into a bar.

It’s an introduction to the classic setup and punch line joke format.  It’s also the way that many episodes of Cheers began.

An NBC situation comedy set in an eponymous Boston bar modeled after the Bull & Finch Pub, Cheers took place largely within the confines of the bar where everybody knows your name.  Sam “Mayday” Malone, a former relief pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, owns Cheers.  There is a twist, however—Sam is a recovering alcoholic.

Débuting on September 30, 1982, Cheers boasted an ensemble cast featuring Ted Danson as Sam; Shelley Long as Diane Chambers, a waitress priding herself on her intellect, refinement, and appreciation for culture; George Wendt as beer-guzzling accountant Norm Peterson; John Ratzenberger as self-professed know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin; Nicholas Colasanto as endearing but absent-minded Ernie “Coach” Pantusso, Sam’s former coach; and Rhea Perlman as Carla Tortelli—a fierce advocate for Sam, a nasty nemesis of Diane, and a sarcastic talker to first-time customers and regulars alike.

Though it was not initially successful in the Nielsen ratings, Cheers evolved into a prime time powerhouse lasting for 11 seasons.  The guy who walks into Cheers in the first season episode “Endless Slumper” is Rick Walker, a Red Sox relief pitcher suffering a downturn on the pitching mound, worrying about his future in baseball, and receiving boos from the Cheers patrons upon his entrance.

Rick credits his coach with the idea of seeking advice from Sam about his recent travails.  “He said if anyone knows about slumps, it’s you,” explains Rick.  It is a dire situation, indeed.  Sam suggests finding a new ritual to break up his routine, perhaps carrying a lucky charm; a bottle cap was Sam’s talisman.  The former Red Sox pitcher turned bar owner reveals, “Well, it was a bottle cap that I found once.  For some reason, I picked it up and I started carrying it around with me.  After awhile, I guess I figured it had something to do with things going my way.”

Sam carries it with him, still.  Acceding to Rick’s plea to borrow the bottle cap, Sam suffers a notable setback.  Earlier in the episode, Sam demonstrated his bar slide—sending a mug of beer down the bar so it makes a 90-degree turn.  After Rick leaves Cheers, Cliff orders a beer.  Sam’s bar slide fails, the mug goes off the end of the bar, and the bar’s customers look aghast when the mug crashes on the floor.

Rick’s luck takes a 180-degree turn—he gets three saves and two wins in two weeks.  When Diane implores Coach about about the bottle cap’s import to Sam, Coach explains that Sam never won a game because of the bottle cap.  In fact, it had nothing to do with baseball.  But Coach refuses to divulge further.

Sam’s luck also does a 180-degree turn, but in the other direction—locking his keys in his car, exploding his television by leaving it too close to the heater, burning his hands on the coffee pot.  The bad luck streak inspires the Cheers gang to have a pool on mishaps, which includes scrapes and nicks while shaving.  Norm strongly encourages Sam to get the bottle cap returned.  “For the first time in my life, I’d rather be me than you,” declares Norm.

As Sam reaches for the phone to call Rick, Cliff informs him that Red Sox game just started.  It lasts 21 innings, thereby raising Sam’s tension because he’s increasingly desperate to get the bottle cap from Rick who wins the game.  When it ends, Sam calls Fenway Park and leaves a message for Rick.

With Carla, Coach, Norm, and Cliff having already called it a night, Sam and Diane are alone in the bar, leaving Sam the opportunity to tell the whole story about the bottle cap.  “It’s the cap off the last bottle of beer I ever drank.  Last anything I ever drank,” discloses Sam.  “I remember holding on to that bottle cap during some pretty rough nights.  I’d wake up in the morning and I’d have its imprint in my palm.  I mean it was flat because I was squeezing it so hard.  When I was tempted to have a drink, sometimes I’d look at the bottle cap.  And it would stop me.”

It’s a rare scene of raw emotion for Cheers, intensified when Sam says, “You want to know something really crazy?  Last couple of nights I have really had an urge to have a drink.”  When Rick returns the call, Sam discovers, to his terror, that the former slumping relief pitcher lost the bottle cap in Kansas City on a road trip.  It augments Sam’s urge to return to alcohol.  Diane tries to stop Sam, but to no avail.  He pours himself a mug of beer; a close-up shot of the mug enhances the dramatic moment.  To Diane’s relief, Sam attempts a bar slide, which succeeds.  “I guess I gave the wrong one to Rick,” says Sam.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 2, 2015.

The Midnight Massacre

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Not since 1957, when the Dodgers and the Giants vacated Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively, had baseball in New York City suffered an emotional blow equivalent to the impact on June 15, 1977, when the New York Mets committed an unpardonable sin in the eyes of the Flushing Faithful by trading Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds.

The Midnight Massacre.

Seaver in another team’s uniform did not compute.  It was an incongruous thought.  Blasphemous, even.  Imagine Mickey Mantle playing for the Cleveland Indians, Sandy Koufax playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, or Al Kaline playing for the Chicago White Sox.  Nicknamed “The Franchise” for his importance to the team, Seaver was synonymous with the Mets.  Beginning in 1967, the Mets flourished in Seaver’s glorious achievements in the National League, including Rookie of the Year Award in 1967, three Cy Young Awards, and five seasons leading the league in strikeouts.  Indeed, Seaver was a cornerstone of the 1969 World Series championship team and the 1973 National League championship team that pushed the World Series against the dynastic Oakland A’s to seven games.

But the relationship between Seaver and the Mets frayed by June of 1977.  A media item severed it.  During Seaver’s 1977 contract negotiations, New York Daily News columnist Dick Young wrote, “Nolan Ryan is getting more now than Seaver, and that galls Tom because Nancy Seaver and Ruth Ryan are very friendly and Tom Seaver long has treated Nolan Ryan like a little brother.”

Young doubled down by attacking Seaver’s integrity:  “It comes down to this: Tom Seaver is jealous of those who had the guts to play out their option or used the threat of playing it out as leverage for a big raise—while he was snug behind a three-year contract of his choosing.  He talks of being treated like a man.  A man lives up to his contract.”

Three decades after the trade that sent Seaver to the Reds—in exchange for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman—Daily News sports writer Bill Madden penned a retrospective of the events leading to the trade.  Seaver shared his insights for the piece:  “That Young column was the straw that broke the back.  Bringing your family into it with no truth whatsoever to what he wrote.  I could not abide that.  I had to go.”

It was the boiling point in a tumultuous relationship with Mets Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant, for whom Young advocated.  In the Madden article, Seaver said, “There are two things Grant said to me that I’ll never forget, but illustrate the kind of person he was and the total ‘plantation’ mentality he had.  During the labor negotiations, he came up to me in the clubhouse once and said: ‘What are you, some sort of Communist.’  Another time, and I’ve never told anyone this, he said to me: ‘Who do you think you are, joining the Greenwich Country Club?’  It was incomprehensible to him if you didn’t understand his feelings about your station in life.”

The Seaver trade devastated Mets fandom.  In the June 17, 1977 edition of the New York Times, Murray Schumach wrote, “The anger of New Yorkers was no secret at Shea Stadium, where the switchboard was flooded with telephone calls, mostly of protest, many of them very abusive in what was admittedly the strongest display of anger ever recorded in one day at the switchboard.”

Seaver returned to the Mets for the 1983 season, inspiring Young to revive the volcano that triggered Seaver’s demand for a trade.  In the December 22, 1982 edition of the New York Post, Young opined, “It took me half a column to get to this, didn’t it.  This is the tacky part when Tom Seaver asked the Mets to renegotiate his contract, which had two years to run.  Don Grant said no.  Tom Seaver had every right to ask for a new contract, and Don Grant had every right to say no.  Tom Seaver couldn’t accept that.

“That’s how I saw it, that’s how I wrote it.  You signed the contract, live with it.  Play the two years left at $225,000, then hit the free agent market and make your millions.  It’s there, waiting.”

Young’s analysis ignored Seaver’s honor, symbolized by acceptance of a 20% pay cut for the 1975 season after a lackluster 11-11 performance in 1974.  It was part of a “gentleman’s agreement” designed in September 1974 between Seaver and the Mets front office.  In the January 22, 1975 edition of the New York Times, Joseph Durso quoted Seaver in detailing the circumstances surrounding the salary drop:  “Don Grant and I were talking one day and he brought it up.  No, I wasn’t disturbed that I got a cut after one bad year.  The ball club’s been very good and honest with me, and I with them.  They paid me a good amount of money last year and I didn’t pitch up to that amount.”

In 1975, Tom Seaver went 22-9, won the National League Cy Young Award, and led the National League with 243 strikeouts.

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

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.

The Peacock Becomes a Phoenix

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

RemingtonIn the 1980s, NBC’s peacock rose like a phoenix after startling programming disasters, including Pink Lady and JeffSupertrain, and the departure of the original Not Ready for Prime Time cast of Saturday Night Live.  Under programming guru Brandon Tartikoff and his lieutenants, Warren Littlefield and Jeff Sagansky, NBC achieved prominence, success, and distinction.

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