Posts Tagged ‘Triple Crown’

The Year the Yankees Won the Tonys

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

In 1956, Mickey Mantle won the American League Triple Crown, Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series, and Whitey Ford led the major leagues in Earned Run Average.  It was also the year of another World Series championship for the Bronx Bombers, further emphasizing the team’s dominance in the 20-year period after World War II.

The Yankees represented a source of drama beyond ballparks in 1956—Damn Yankees, based on Douglas Wallop’s novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, got a plethora of recognition in the form of Tony Awards for:

  • Best Musical
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Ray Walston)
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Gwen Verdon)
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Russ Brown)
  • Best Conductor and Musical Director (Hal Hastings)
  • Best Choreography (Bob Fosse)
  • Best Stage Technician (Harry Green)

Damn Yankees also got a nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Rae Allen).

Ray Walston played the Devil, also known as Applegate, in Damn Yankees. Convincing a hapless Washington Senators fan to sell his soul for the chance to lead the Senators to baseball glory made Applegate an epic character in popular culture.  “Mr. Walston was satanic with a wry twist, underplaying a role that could have become villainous and singing wistfully about death and destruction in ‘Those Were the Good Old Days,'” wrote Mel Gussow in his 2001 obituary of Walston for the New York Times.  Lewis Funke praised Walston in his analysis of Damn Yankees when the show débuted in 1955:  “Authoritative and persuasive, he does not overdo a role that easily could become irritating in less expert hands.”

Gwen Verdon was a theater touchstone, winning four Tony Awards in her career.  Married to legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, Vernon had abundant work as a guest star on television, including roles on WebsterGimme a Break!M*A*S*HFameDream OnThe Equalizer, and Touched by an Angel.  Verdon’s body of work in movies includes The Cotton Club and Cocoon.

Los Angeles Times Theater Writer Don Shirley quoted Times dance critic Lewis Segal in his 2000 obituary of the dancer:  “Verdon was to Broadway dance what Ethel Merman was to Broadway song; an archetypal personality whose talents inspired the best from those who created works for her.  More than anyone, Fosse continually mined her saucy yet vulnerable stage persona for new facets, using her as a living anthology of show-dance style.”

Shirley wrote, “Her dancing was characterized by her ability to make the most intricate technical choreography look spontaneous and almost carefree.”

Walston and Vernon reprised their roles for the 1958 movie version of Damn Yankees.  Tab Hunter took on the role of Joe Hardy, a standout with the Senators, thanks to the machinations of Applegate.  Stephen Douglass played the role on Broadway.

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

Al Rosen, Mickey Vernon, and the 1953 American League Batting Championship

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

During the summer that William Holden escaped Stalag 17, Audrey Hepburn gallivanted around Rome, and Burt Lancaster kissed Deborah Kerr on a Hawaiian beach, two sluggers edged toward a batting championship decided by one thousandth of a point—Al Rosen and Mickey Vernon.

Clevelanders celebrated Rosen’s 1953 trek, culminating in leading the American League in:

  • Runs Scored (115)
  • Home Runs (43)
  • Slugging Percentage (.613)
  • On Base plus Slugging Percentage (1.034)
  • Total Bases (367)
  • RBI (145—led the major leagues)

A hard-charging third baseman sacrificing prime years by serving in the Navy during World War II, Rosen was as prominent to Cleveland as Lake Erie, Public Auditorium, and the Park Building.

In Good Enough to Dream, his 1985 chronicle of owning the Utica Blue Sox of the New York-Penn League, sports writer Roger Kahn described an encounter with Rosen—at the time, Rosen was a baseball executive with the Houston Astros.  Rosen visited Kahn to see a game between the Blue Sox and the Astros’ minor league team based in Auburn, New York.

“‘You know, except for tonight’s score, I can enjoy this more than major league ball,’ Rosen told Kahn.  ‘The way the kids are so young and fresh.  The way you get so close to the game and to the fans.’  Rosen made his way toward the Auburn bus, offering me a wave, a man who lived each day fully and well and who would have to say ‘if only’ fewer times than almost anyone I knew.”

Mickey Vernon played most of his 20-year career in a Washington Senators uniform.  With a keen eye for baseball talent combined with blindness to prejudice, Vernon saw an emerging icon that could have made history with the Senators.  Matt Schudel’s 2008 obituary of Vernon in the Washington Post explained, “Mr. Vernon met an impressive young player, Larry Doby, whom he recommended to the Senators.  But because Doby was black, he went unsigned until Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s racial barrier in 1947.  When Mr. Vernon was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1949, Doby was one of his teammates.”  Vernon played all of 1949 and part of 1950 in a Cleveland uniform.

Rosen came within a Chief Wahoo feather of winning the Triple Crown in 1953—he had a .333 batting average to Vernon’s .336 going into the last game of the season.  In a 2013 article, Tim Warsinskey of the Cleveland Plain Dealer recounted that Rosen had a prolific day at the plate, boosting his average to .336 by knocking two singles and a double against Detroit Tigers hurler Al Aber.  “Aber started the game for Detroit and was trying to finish it against Rosen, leading 7-3,” wrote Warsinskey.  “Rosen knew Aber well, because Cleveland had traded him to Detroit in June.  The infield was playing deep, almost inviting Rosen to bunt.  Rosen was a fairly good runner, but didn’t want to win the batting title on a bunt.”

A ground ball to Indians third baseman Ray Boone ended a Triple Crown possibility; while Rosen finished the season at .336, Vernon had a good game against the Philadelphia A’s.  Going 2-for-4, Vernon crossed the finish line of the 1953 season with:

  • .337 batting average
  • 205 hits
  • 115 RBI
  • 43 doubles (led American League)

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 29, 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.

1957 American League MVP Controversy

Friday, January 6th, 2017

One was a lanky outfielder whose presence in the batter’s box automatically elicited cheers from the Fenway Faithful.  The other, a mainstay in pinstripes, compiling legendary statistics while riddled by injuries throughout his career.

Ted Williams.  Mickey Mantle.

Coming off his Triple Crown season of 1956, Mantle won the 1957 American League Most Valuable Player Award.  But the Yankee slugger from Commerce, Oklahoma didn’t think he had a shot compared to the venerable outfielder who wore #9 for the Red Sox.  “Mantle Felt Williams Won Award With East” blared the headline at the top of an Associated Press story in the Boston Globe, underscoring the confusion of many—and the resentment in Red Sox Nation—concerning Mantle’s achievement.

In 1957, Williams led the American League in Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, and Slugging Percentage; Mantle led in Runs and Walks while achieving a .365 batting average, second to Williams’s .388.  According to the calculations of baseball-reference.com, Mantle dominated Wins Above Replacement (WAR) categories, placing first in WAR-Position Players, WAR-Offensive War, and War-All.  Williams trailed in second place.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America bestowed the MVP honor after the tallying of votes belonging to a tribunal of 24 scribes ended in an overall score.  Mantle led his American League peers with six votes for first place, resulting in a score of 233.  Williams followed with a 209 score, supported by five votes for first place.  The next highest score—204—belonged to Roy Sievers, a formidable run producer garnering four first place MVP votes with the last place Washington Senators; Sievers led the American League in Home Runs and Runs Batted In.  Other contenders included Nellie Fox with five first place votes and Gil McDougald with four.

Williams’s bristly relationship with the press may have influenced the balloting.  Harold Rosenthal of the New York Herald Tribune wrote, “The face for first would have been an eyelash proposition if personalities hadn’t entered into the balloting.  On two ballots Williams dre no better than a ninth and a tenth, a flagrant abuse of the electorate.”

Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey concurred, offering praise of the Yankee centerfielder while protecting the Splendid Splinter.  Hy Hurwitz of the Boston Daily Globe wrote, “Yawkey pointed out he admired Mantle as a wonderful ball player but stated that anyone who allows ‘personalities’ to enter into his voting should not be allowed to vote.”

Williams, as the numbers showed, had the respect of all but those two voters assigning him a ninth place vote and a tenth place vote—this, despite a season of stellar statistics.  Hurwitz commented, “There is little question—not only with the fans—but with more than 90 percent of the committee—that Williams didn’t belong lower than fourth place on any ballot.  Twenty-two of the 24 voters had Ted first, second, third or fourth.”

A media conspiracy theory concerning the 1957 American League Most Valuable Player Award offers lucrative fodder for debate amongst baseball enthusiasts, especially those in Boston and the Bronx.  Williams received laughter from the audience at his Hall of Fame induction in 1966, when he poked fun at his relationship with the press, followed by his appreciation:  “I received two hundred and eighty-odd votes from the writers.  I know I didn’t have two hundred and eighty-odd close friends among the writers.  I know they voted for me because they felt in their minds, and some in their hearts, that I rated it, and I want to say to them: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 14, 2015.

New Jersey’s Hall of Famers

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

New Jersey is more than the land of Bruce Springsteen, Tony Soprano, and the Meadowlands.  It is also the home state for three players in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In a career spanning 1888 to 1901, Billy Hamilton played for the Kansas City Cowboys, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Beaneaters.  The Newark native holds the record for most runs scored in a single season—198 in 1894.  During that season, Hamilton also tied George Gore’s record of most stolen bases in one game—7.  Gore set the record in 1881 with the Chicago White Stockings.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Hamilton in 1961.

Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin and Joseph Michael “Ducky” Medwick received their inductions in 1968.  Goslin, a native of Salem—in the southern part of New Jersey—grew up shouldering chores on his family’s 500-acre farm in nearby Fort Mott.  For Larry Ritter’s book The Glory of Their Times, Goslin recalled baseball interfering with farm work.  “I always played ball around the sandlots here when I was a kid,” said Goslin.  “I’d ride 10 miles on my bike to play ball, play all day long, and then get a spanking when I got back ’cause I’d get home too late to milk the cows.”

When he got to the major leagues, Goslin received the nickname “Goose” from sports editor Denman Thompson, according to Goslin’s Society for American Baseball Research biography.  A left fielder for the Washington Senators, Goslin won the 1928 American League batting title with a .379 batting average.  He beat Heinie Manush of the St. Louis Browns by .001.

Goslin played for the Senators, the Detroit Tigers, and the Browns in a career lasting from 1921 to 1938.  His pedigree includes a .316 lifetime batting average, 1,609 RBI, and two World Series championships—1924 Senators and 1935 Tigers.

Medwick, a native of Carteret, New Jersey, enjoyed a 17-season career, including stints with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the Boston Braves.  Also a left fielder, Medwick compiled a .324 lifetime batting average that includes 2,471 hits, 540 doubles, and 1383 RBI.  In 1937, Medwick won the Triple Crown Award and the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  Medwick’s Cardinals and Goslin’s Tigers faced each other in the 1934 World Series; the Cardinals won.

Medwick’s hometown furthers the legacy of its favorite baseball son with Joseph Medwick Park.  It is Carteret’s largest recreational facility—88 acres, including two Little League fields.  One is synthetic, the other has natural grass.  Medwick’s portrait hangs in Carteret’s Borough Hall.

A version of this article originally appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 1, 2013.