Category Archives: Baseball

New York Yankees Old Timer’s Day Has Become Mediocre Ex-Yankee Day

Why The New York Yankees Old Timer’s Day Has Become A Joke

1955 Old Timer’s Day (l-r) Frank Home Run Baker, Ray Schalk, Dazzy Vance, Ted Lyons, Gabby Hartnett and Joe DiMaggio (photo: Acme)

Sunday June 25, 2017 the New York Yankees will hold their 71st Old TImer’s Day.

There was a time when baseball’s immortals and Gods showed up at Old Timer’s Day games. Take a look at this video below and you can understand my disappointment at what passes today for Yankees Old Timer’s Day. If  you have any sense of the history of baseball, this assemblage of players at Yankee Stadium taped on the field by Greg Peterson in 1982 will blow you away.

Maybe the disappointment stems from the fact that with a few exceptions there are almost no former Yankee players of the Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Lefty Gomez, Waite Hoyt; Allie Reynolds; Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra caliber still living. The pomp and ceremony of recent Yankees Old Timer’s Day is now somewhat revolting to watch.

Old-Timers Day started with a gathering unlike any other. In 1939 former Yankee teammates of Lou Gehrig gathered to honor him after he had stopped playing due to contracting the illness, (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) that would eventually take his life and now bears his name. It was at this occasion that Gehrig made his “luckiest man on the face of the earth,” speech.

Starting in the 1940s, Yankees Old Timer’s Day became an annual event where former baseball stars from other teams squared off against former Yankee greats. The players who graced the field at Yankee Stadium to play in a spirited and fun exhibition game were among the best to ever play the game. Over the years other teams held their own Old Timer’s Day. Now the Yankees are the only team in baseball that still holds an Old Timer’s Day .

At previous Old Timer’s Day fans would see opponents such as; Ty Cobb; Lefty Grove; Dizzy Dean; Al Kaline; Stan Musial; Ted Williams; Warren Spahn; Hank Greenberg; Bob Feller; Bill Terry; Pee Wee Reese; Duke Snider; Willie Mays and dozens of other “real” stars.

A collection of Hall Of Fame participants at the 1968 Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium (l-r) Red Ruffing; Bill Terry; Luke Appling; Bill Dickey; Joe Medwick; Frankie Frisch; Pie Traynor; Joe DiMaggio; Bob Feller and Lefty Grove.

As the Hall-of Famer’s and greats started passing away the names showing up at Old Timer’s Day gradually became less glamorous, until they started delving into quasi-stars and then marginal players.

I am not certain when exactly it ended, but the Yankees stopped inviting players from other teams to participate in Old Timer’s Day.

Over the last 15 years, you may have noticed Old Timer’s Day has become a Yankee love-fest of a few former stars such as Paul O’Neil, Roy White, Willie Randolph, Joe Pepitone and a lot of what can best be described as one season wonders or ordinary ex-Yankee players.

There are still some great former Yankee players who show up to participate in the festivities most notably Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and this year a rare visit by Sparky Lyle.

Many of players the Yankees invite to Old Timer’s Day are nondescript. Yankee management must feel that today’s fans prefer seeing some of these “greats” that have participated in Old Timer’s Day over the last few years:

Brian Boehringer; Scott Bradley; Homer Bush; Bubba Crosby; Chad Curtis; Brian Dorsett;  Dave Eiland; John Flaherty; Bobby Meacham; Jerry Narron; Matt Nokes; Dan Pasqua; Gil Patterson; Andy Phillips; Aaron Small; Tanyon Sturtze; Marcus Thames and others of that ilk. Continue reading

How Don Hoak Scared The Hell Out Of Me When I Was A Kid

Don Hoak Becomes The Bogeyman

Don Hoak was a professional baseball player for 11 seasons. From 1954-1964 Hoak played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies. By all accounts he was a nice man and a decent player who had a career .265 batting average.

In real life Don Hoak probably never intentionally scared a child. Little did he know one day this baseball card would affect one superstitious, naive, ignorant kid.

One day when I was about 7-years-old I acquired some old baseball cards from the 1960s from my grandfather. I showed them to an older boy and when he came to Don Hoak  he said, “you know, he’s dead,” as he handed the card back to me.

Well I stared at the card and I got the willies. An actual shudder ran down my spine.

“Dead? What do you mean, dead?” I said.

My simpleton mind knew what dead meant, but I did not have much real life experience with death.

All I knew was that I was holding a dead man in my hand. How could he be dead? This card is only a few years old and he couldn’t have been an old man?

“How’d he die?” I needed to know.

“I don’t know but he died a few years ago (1969)” my companion said. Then he added, “He may have been murdered.”

Wellllll  now I was transfixed for about a full minute. This simple 1964 Topps baseball card of a smiling ballplayer took on new meaning. Continue reading

President Trump And The First Pitch of The Baseball Season

President Trump Won’t Throw Out The Ceremonial First Pitch On Opening Day

Donald Trump in 2004 throws out the ceremonial first pitch photo: Kathy Willens AP via Newsday

The major league baseball season opens this weekend on Sunday, April 2, 2017.

Though it might have been “great” or “terrific,” President Trump will not throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals opening game on Monday, April 3.

Why?

Probably because rudeness has become our nation’s new normal.

President Barack Obama threw out ceremonial first pitches and was booed by thousands of fans. It’s almost certain that if President Trump were to show up at opening day, the jeers would be deafening.

There was a time in this country, not very long ago where the office of the President of the United States was shown respect, even if you vehemently disagreed with the president’s policies or even loathed him. The president showing up at baseball’s opening day was an occasion to celebrate our national pastime and have the president participate in a tradition. Continue reading

If MLB Really Wanted To Speed Up Baseball…

MLB About To Introduce Two Ridiculous Rule Changes To “Speed Up” The Game.

Why The Changes Are Bad And What They Should Do Instead.

These fans watching baseball in the 1940s don’t look bored at all. That may be because the average length of a 9 inning baseball game in the 1940s was about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Baseball is a slow and boring sport. The games are too long. There is not enough scoring.

These are some of the complaints that have been lodged against the National Pastime.

The only part I’ll agree with is that the games are definitely too long.

MLB executives and the players union are trying out two changes this year in the minor leagues to  speed up the game. After trial periods, it is likely these changes will be permanently adapted in the major leagues. They may indeed speed up games by a few seconds. For the vast majority of games these changes will have little effect and do more damage than good to the overall structure of baseball.

There are other changes that would be more practical and easy to implement to dramatically shorten all games without changing baseball itself. I’ll discuss that after we review the two proposed MLB rule changes.

The first proposed rule change is that a team will be able to declare an intentional walk without the pitcher throwing any pitches. The pitcher’s manager will just signal for an intentional walk and the batter will go to first.

The second rule change is even sillier. In extra inning games, starting in the tenth inning each team when they come to bat will start the inning with a man already on second base.

So why are these changes beyond foolish?

Let’s look at the first proposal, the announced intentional walk. Although it sounds like an easy strategy to walk a batter intentionally, it is sometimes not so simple to throw four balls that are nowhere near home plate.

There are pitchers, such as the Yankees Dellin Betances, who when called upon to execute an intentional walk, every ball they throw can be an adventure. A wild pitch is always a possibility. Lobbing the ball to the catcher is hard for some pitchers. There are also quite a number of pitchers who throw the ball too close to the plate, so the batter can swing at the ball. Every now and then you’ll see something that you rarely see. Here are just two recent examples.

Miguel Cabrera drives in a run on an intended intentional walk.

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees nearly hits a home run on a pitch that was meant to be a ball.

As I pointed out many pitchers really have a hard time throwing a ball intentionally outside of the strike zone when the situation is called for. This is far more common than you might imagine. Wild pitches can change the outcome of a ballgame, especially with runners on base as seen here in multiple cases:

Then there is the opposite effect, where the defense pulls a tricky play.

In the early 1970s I recall seeing Reds superstar Johnny Bench get fooled at the plate. It happened on the biggest stage possible; game three of the 1972 World Series.

Bench had a 3 and 2 count when A’s manager Dick Williams paid a visit to the mound. Williams talked with pitcher Rollie Fingers and catcher Gene Tenace and made it seem like Williams told Fingers to intentionally walk the dangerous slugger. Because as Tenace returned to the plate to await the next pitch from Fingers, Tenace, stood up, put his hand out calling for an intentional ball four.

And guess what? Tenace jumped right back behind the plate and Fingers threw a slider for strike three, stunning Bench and everyone watching. It was a deft move you don’t see very often.

I couldn’t believe that I found the moment on YouTube.

In 1996 Dennis Martinez and Tony Pena of the Indians, successfully pulled the same move on Blue Jays star John Olerud.

It’s true, these flubs are extremely rare, but they do occur. The automatic intentional walk is a shortsighted rule change and ends up removing strategy from the game.

One other thing: how does the new rule go down in the record books? Will the pitcher be credited with four pitches thrown? What happens when you are at three balls and one strike, do you just declare the walk when you want to intentionally pass a batter or does the pitcher still have to throw a pitch?

The second rule change of starting the inning of an extra inning game with a man placed on second base to begin the inning is simply ludicrous.

No nail-biters anymore, no strategy – it’s just get this game over with. This is what MLB is saying.

Joe Torre, MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, is in favor of bringing the rule to the major leagues if the minor league experiment works.

Torre said, “Let’s see what it looks like. It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.”

Really Joe? How many games went to 18 innings or more in the past ten years? How many times did a manager use their whole pitching staff?

In the entire history of Major League Baseball there have only been 46 games that have gone more than 19 innings. On average less than 10 games per year last 15 innings or more. If a manager goes through his entire pitching staff, well he’s not a good manager. Believe it or not many fans enjoy marathon games. It’s the time of those exciting games that gets people sleepy, not the number of innings.

If you want to ruin baseball then this rule change is perfect.

By the way: how would the scoring work for putting a runner on second? Idiotically.

The pitcher didn’t allow the runner on, so why penalize him and the team when a ground ball to second for an out advancing the runner to third and then a fly ball can result in a run. The pitcher and the team was essentially defensively effective, but could lose the game.

This rule is MLB being lazy and coming up with a dumb solution just to shorten games and appeal to younger fans with limited attention spans. It’s like MLB took a page out of the NHL rule book with hockey’s overtime shootout to decide tie games. That adjustment has been horrible for hockey and its fans.

Now what are the ways to speed up baseball games significantly?

Change # 1 – Enforce rule 5.07 (c) of the Major League Baseball rule book which states:
“When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”

The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball. The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.

Did you realize rule 6.02a (8) says:

If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when: The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game;

Have you ever seen that enforced? I haven’t. But I’ve seen pitchers call the catcher to the mound six separate times for one batter or take over 30 seconds between each and every pitch.

I’ve noticed and counted the time between pitches in many games. Most pitchers take between 22 -27 seconds to throw a pitch after receiving the ball back from the catcher. Some pitchers are agonizingly slow, like the Dodgers Pedro Baez (over 30 seconds between pitches) and Kenley Jansen (27 seconds between pitches). There are many hurlers who can transform their own fielders into a trance-like state with all that inactivity.

There’s no excuse for this. Watch R.A. Dickey or Mark Buehrle pitch and the game moves at a brisk pace. Unfortunately they are the exceptions. Most pitchers take wayyyyy too long between pitches. Put up a pitch clock and give the pitchers a little leeway- 15 seconds and have them throw the pitch or call it a ball. Figure saving at least 5  seconds per pitch with 260 total pitches being thrown. total time shortened per game: minimum 26 minutes
Continue reading

He Didn’t Play Baseball With Fidel Castro

Not One Of Fidel Castro’s Baseball Teammates

The Havana Baseball Monkey 1950s

The Havana Baseball Monkey 1950s

There is a myth that the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was an excellent baseball player during his collegiate years. It was claimed he was so good that major league scouts were following him. He was even offered a major league contract.

The whole story is untrue. There is one known photograph of Fidel Castro in a baseball uniform.

One thing Fidel Castro did do with baseball was effectively kill off the flow of major league talent from Cuba to the United States.

So how does this monkey photograph relate to Fidel Castro? Was the baseball monkey a mascot of one of Fidel’s teams?

There is no relationship except we thought it was a very strange photograph.

This 1950s news photograph above has lost its original caption. the note on the back says “Havana baseball monkey.”

Several things to ponder:
If this is your mascot, what is the name of your team?
That is one terrible place to lay out a baseball field. Continue reading

Ralph Branca’s Least Favorite Record

Ralph Branca Probably Never Played This LP Record

Ralph Branca, the Brooklyn Dodgers hurler who gave up the 1951 home run known as the “Shot Heard Round The World” died at the age of 90 on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 in Rye Brook, NY.

After giving up the home run, Branca was unjustly made a poster boy for failure. A three time All-Star, Branca was a very good pitcher and had won 75 games by the age of 25. An injury in 1953 cut short his promising career.

giants-win-pennant-lp-front-cover

The Giants Win The Pennant! 1952 Chesterfield cigarettes limited edition LP record

The home run that Bobby Thomson of the Giants hit off Branca to win the third and deciding playoff game, was very likely a pitch that Thomson knew was coming.

The Giants had been stealing signs from opposing teams catchers and relaying them to their hitters with a telescope and a buzzer system at home games at the Polo Grounds during the season. It was confirmed years later that the Giants had tipped batters during the playoff game as well. Thomson though never admitted to having been tipped to what the pitch would be that won the game.

When Thomson hit his home run, Giants announcer Russ Hodges Continue reading

1945 Cubs Sluggers and A 1948 Indians Championship

The Last Time:

Cubs In World Series, 1945; Indians Were World Champions, 1948

Cubs May Have Had Sluggers, But They Still Lost to Tigers in ’45; Indians Prevailed Over Braves in ’48

1945 Cubs Sluggers: Lowery, Secory, Nicholson, Pafko and Sauer photo: William Greene

1945 Cubs Sluggers: (l-r) Lowery, Secory, Nicholson, Pafko and Sauer photo: William Greene

The news photograph above was captioned “1945 Cubs Sluggers.” That may be a bit of a misnomer as Harry “Peanuts” Lowery hit seven home runs in 143 games, the most he ever hit in his 13 year career.

Frank Secory hit no homers in 35 games. Bill “Swish” Nicholson, the only true slugger in this photograph led the National League in homers in 1943 and 1944 with 29 and 33 home runs respectively. In 1945 Nicholson led the Cubs with a mere 13 home runs in 151 games. Andy Pafko hit 12 home runs and drove in 110 runs in 144 games. And Ed Sauer had two homers in 49 games.

As a team the 1945 Cubs hit only 57 home runs. On the other hand their pitchers allowed only 57 home runs.

In the closely contested World Series, none of the “Cubs sluggers” hit a home run. National League MVP Phil Caverretta hit the only homer and led the Cubs with a .423 batting average.

Claude Passeau and Rudy York before game 1 1945 World Series photo: International News

Claude Passeau and Rudy York before game 1 1945 World Series photo: International News

Before game 4 of the World Series began, this photo was taken. The caption reads: Continue reading

These Are The World Champion 1908 Chicago Cubs

Players on the 1908 World Champion Chicago Cubs In High Definition Photographs

Joe Tinker Second Baseman of the 1908 Chicago Cubs

Joe Tinker, Shortstop 1908 Chicago Cubs

For the moment it seems all of America is talking about the Chicago Cubs. As everyone now knows it has been 108 years since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series four games to one against the Detroit Tigers.

But what do you know of the 1908 Cubs team?

Maybe you’ve heard of Tinker to Evers to Chance the famous Cubs double play combination immortalized in a newspaper poem by the once legendary Franklin P. Adams. It should be noted that off the field Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers refused to speak to one another. Besides the trio of Cubs Hall-of Famers, you probably know little of the 1908 Cubbies.

Johnny Kling, Catcher 1908 Chicago Cubs

Johnny Kling, Catcher 1908 Chicago Cubs (check out that bat!)

The 1908 Cubs are comprised of forgotten names. Their achievements are just dusty remnants that reside only in the record books. There is no one alive today who actually saw the 1908 Chicago Cubs play.

They were a hardened lot, these players. They usually had to work at other jobs in the off-season. It was a time when baseball players scrambled for a job on one of 16 ball clubs. They had to be constantly looking over their shoulder because there was always some youngster trying to take their $2,000 a year baseball job.

At least we can see what they looked like. We’re bringing the Chicago Cubs of 1908 back to you in high definition photographs. All photographs are from the Library of Congress and can be clicked on for enlargement in great detail.

With their heavy flannel uniforms, small fingered gloves, heavy bats and grizzled looks, here are some of the 1908 Chicago Cubs:

Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, Pitcher 1908 Chicago Cubs

Mordecai “Three Fingered” Brown, Pitcher 1908 Chicago Cubs

Mordecai “Three Fingered” Brown, really only had three fingers, his index finger was a stump that was the result of catching his hand in a corn shredder when he was seven-years-old. That accident gave Brown an odd spin on his fastball which confounded hitters. He won 239 games while losing only 130 in his career. His ERA was 2.06, the third lowest in history for pitchers with over 2,000 innings.

In the 1908 World Series Brown was one of two star pitchers, winning two games against the Detroit Tigers. Brown was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1949.

Orval Overall Pitcher 1908 Chicago Cubs

Orval Overall Pitcher 1908 Chicago Cubs

You would think anyone named Orval Overall would be remembered just because of his name. A short career doomed Orval to obscurity despite a 108-71 lifetime record with a 2.23 ERA. There was no Tommy John surgery when Overall hurt his arm and his career was over in 1913 at age 32.  Overall won the other two games for the Cubs in the 1908 World Series.

Johnny Evers Shortstop 1908 Chicago Cubs

Johnny Evers Second Baseman 1908 Chicago Cubs

Johnny Evers was considered one of the scrappiest and smartest players to ever play the game. Evers batted .300 in 1908 and .350 in the World Series. If you enlarge the photograph you will see a man who had lived quite a bit. This photograph of Evers is from 1913 when he was only 32. Continue reading

Pitchers Hitting In The Postseason

It Still Happens – Pitchers Hitting In The Postseason (And Making A Difference)

sandy-koufax-singles-world-series-october-12-1965This photograph of pitcher Sandy Koufax shows a rarity.

In 20 times at bat, Dodger great, Sandy Koufax got only one hit in postseason play.

Koufax is leaving the batters box after stroking a single in game six of the 1965 World Series driving in Ron Fairly. Koufax’s single gave the Dodgers a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh in an eventual 7-0 shutout over the Minnesota Twins. It wasn’t Koufax’s hitting that won the game, it was the complete game, four hitter with 10 strikeouts that he hurled. Still to everyone watching, sans Twin fans, Koufax’s hit was a pleasant surprise.

The Dodgers went on to win the seventh game and Koufax was named the series MVP.

Koufax was one of the worst hitters ever, compiling a miniscule .097 career batting average over 12 seasons. But no one ever came to see Koufax hit, they came to see him pitch. As bad as a hitter as Koufax was there was always the slim chance that he might get a base hit. And when he did guess what? It was exciting.

The use of the designated hitter in the American League and the DH’s use in World Series games only in American League ballparks has effectively eliminated the thrill out of watching the pitcher impacting the game with his bat.

So in this day and age when it is considered a shock when a pitcher comes to the plate and gets a hit, it is refreshing to see pitchers in the 2016 postseason hitting and making a difference in many games.

Travis Wood homers photo: Dennis Wierzbicki USA Today

Travis Wood homers photo: Dennis Wierzbicki USA Today

Giants starter Madison Bumgarner was actually used as a pinch-hitter in game two of the NLDS playoff game against the Cubs.  In that same game, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks singled in two runs and reliever Travis Wood blasted a home run against the Giants pitcher George Kontos.

Then in the next game of the series Cubs starter Jake Arrieta hit a three run homer against the Giants. In the fourth inning of game 4 Giants pitcher Matt Moore singled home the go ahead run in a losing effort.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw helped his own cause in game four against the Washington Nationals by doubling and scoring the go-ahead run in what ended up being a 6-5 L.A. victory.

If you polled baseball fans most would say they want more offense and never have pitchers bat. Continue reading

World Series Action 1950

October 6, 1950 World Series, Game Three – Yankees Hold off The Phillies in the Top of the Ninth

yogi-berra-granny-hamner-sequence-1-2-world-series-oct-6-1950yogi-berra-granny-hamner-sequence-3-4-world-series-oct-6-1950Remember when the World Series used to be played and concluded by early October? Of course you don’t unless you are over the age of 50.

The endless rounds of playoffs, a 162 game season and the elimination of scheduled doubleheaders during the regular season have lengthened baseball’s post-season to an interminable length. Baseball’s fall classic is moving closer to becoming a winter classic. If there is a game seven this year, the World Series will conclude November 2.

Maybe that’s okay if the game is played in Los Angeles, but if it ends up in Cleveland, Chicago or Boston you can rest assured the players will not be playing under the best possible conditions and the attendees will not be warm.

Let’s look back to a simpler time. The year was 1950. The date – October 6 and game three of the World Series was played at Yankee Stadium. The Philadelphia Phillies lost the first two games of the series to the New York Yankees by scores of 1-0 and 2-1. The sequence of photos from above capture exciting action that would probably be against the rules today Continue reading