Monday, November 12, 2018

Baseball on the frontlines - The five best books about baseball during World War II

As we celebrate Veterans Day across the country, here is a look at the top five books about baseball during World War II. At a time when our entire nation was focused on the war, President Roosevelt ordered the game to continue for the morale of citizens everywhere. These five books illuminate the efforts to preserve the game on the home front, as well as the experiences of those who traded their baseball uniforms for military ones.

5) Bluejackets of Summer: The History of the Great Lakes Naval Baseball Team 1942-1945


Roger Gogan’s “Bluejackets of Summer,” details the Great Lakes Naval Baseball team, a unit so strong that it was often referred to as the “17th Major League team.” The Great Lakes Naval Station hosted an array of All-Star talent from 1942-1945, led by Hall of Fame manager Mickey Cochrane. The team included Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Johnny Mize, and Pee Wee Reese, as well as All-Stars Schoolboy Rowe, Virgil Trucks, and Dom DiMaggio.

4) Hardball on the Home Front: Major League Replacement Players of World War II


When the draft took many of the major leaguers from their teams, players who were exempt from service stepped up to the plate. These included teenagers such as Joe Nuxhall and Tommy Brown, as well as post-retirement forty-somethings Babe Herman and Clyde Sukeforth. Craig Allen Cleve interviewed nine wartime baseball players for "Hardball on the Home Front," who generously shared their experiences playing baseball after President Roosevelt ordered Judge Landis to keep baseball going.

3) The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray, and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII


When President Roosevelt made his decree, players mulled the decision to enlist (before they were drafted) or to stay home and play. Author John Klima penned “The Game Must Go On,” to tell the story of American baseball during World War II - of both the players who left to join the war and the ones who kept the game alive stateside. Klima provides a deep look at the stars that left and the players like one-armed Pete Gray, who fought to inspire others on the field. The book finishes with the 1945 pennant race where Gray’s St. Louis Browns fought mightily to upstage Hank Greenberg’s Detroit Tigers.

2) The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg


Moe Berg was a major league catcher for 19 seasons, but his true fame came for his work as a spy during World War II. The Office of Strategic Services sent Berg to investigate Germany’s Atomic Bomb developments. After the war, he helped draw European scientists to the United States. The President awarded Berg the Presidential Medal of Freedom; however, he refused to accept the honor. Author Nicholas Dawidoff digs deeply into the mysterious life of one of baseball’s enigmas with "The Catcher Was a Spy."

1) The Corporal Was a Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie


Lou Brissie was an All-Star pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1949, but his road to stardom was marred with hurdles unlike any other major leaguer has ever faced. To call Brissie's experience in the war remarkable would be an understatement. Life changed drastically for Brissie on December 7, 1944. While serving in Italy, an artillery shell exploded on his squad leaving him for dead with his left leg tattered from the explosion. Doctors wanted to amputate, but Brissie pleaded with them to save his injured appendage.

The Corporal Was a Pitcher,” is an intense look at the horrors of war, as Brissie waited over sixty-years to tell the painful details of the carnage he witnessed while he managed his own suffering.



Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ron Negray, pitcher in the first ever Los Angeles Dodgers game, dies at 88

Ron Negray, a former pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers, passed away November 8, 2018, in Akron, Ohio after a brief illness. He was 88.

Negray signed with the Dodgers in 1949 after briefly attending Kent State University. Although only 19 in his debut season, he looked like an experienced veteran with a 21-6 record for Class D Valdosta. Over the next three years, Negray battled his way up the crowded ranks of Brooklyn’s farm system en route to the major leagues.

Ron Negray / Author's Collection
The Dodgers finally reached for Negray once their roster expanded in September 1952. Fresh off an 11-7 performance with their Triple-A club in St. Paul, Negray entered a Brooklyn clubhouse anonymous to a Hall of Fame roster.

“The first day I came to Brooklyn, I came in during the morning,” Negray recalled during a 2008 phone interview his Ohio home. “We were playing Cincinnati and Charlie Dressen told me to go to the bullpen. Nobody even knew me; I wasn't even introduced to anybody.”

Negray's anonymous September 14, 1952 debut

After the Reds chased starter Johnny Rutherford, Dressen summoned Negray to start the fourth inning. Hidden among the throng of September call-ups, his Brooklyn teammates met Negray with surprise as he approached the mound. (Ed. Note – Some names were corrected from Negray’s recall of the following events.)

“I went in relief in about the 4th inning," he said. "Campanella [Rube Walker] came up and said, 'Who are you?' I said, 'Well, I'm Ron Negray.' Gil Hodges came up and asked if I was in the right ballpark. Campanella [Walker] then asked me if I knew the scoreboard signs. I said, ‘What scoreboard?’ They worked signs off the scoreboard, but I didn't know what he was talking about, because we didn't have that in St. Paul. That broke everybody up.”

After pitching a scoreless frame, he returned for the fifth to stare down the power-hitting Ted Kluszewski. With his bulging biceps exposed by his cut-off sleeves, Big Klu cut an intimidating figure just by standing in the batter’s box.

“He looked like Man Mountain Dean,” he said. “I guess Campanella [Walker] must have told him I threw really hard. The first pitch I threw him a change of pace, a low slow ball, and he popped it up. He cursed Campanella [Walker] because he must have told him I threw really hard.”

Negray left the game unscathed, hurling three clean innings in relief. He made another three appearances for the Dodgers down the stretch, pitching 13 innings without a decision.

Jackie Robinson's special gesture

As the Dodgers rejoiced for yet another opportunity to play in the World Series, the team skipped over Negray when they distributed watches to celebrate their National League victory. One teammate however, went out of his way to ensure that Negray felt like one of the regulars.

“When we won the pennant, they gave out watches,” he said. “Since I came up and I was a low-life rookie, I was the last man and didn't get a watch. Jackie [Robinson] came over and gave me his watch. He said, ‘You could have my watch.’ I gave it to my dad and I don't know what happened to it. … We talked a lot of baseball. He told me what I should and shouldn't do.”

After his sip of big league coffee, Negray stayed in the Dodgers minor league system until he was traded midseason in 1955 to the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent the remainder of 1955 and the entire 1956 campaign with Philadelphia on their big league roster.

The Dodgers reacquired Negray in 1957 as part of the Chico Fernandez trade. While he did not return to the majors for the Dodgers' farewell in Brooklyn, he made history when the team moved to California.

Breaking ground in California

When the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants squared off at Seals Stadium on April 14, 1958, it marked a frontier for baseball’s westward expansion. Both teams left New York to build a new legacy, and Negray made his mark on the inaugural contest. Appearing in relief, he pitched the final two innings in the Dodgers’ 8-0 loss. At the time of his death, he was the last player alive from the Dodgers lineup that groundbreaking day.

The Dodgers sent Negray back to the minors a month later, never again to return to the big leagues. He finished his career in 1963 after 15 seasons in professional baseball.

Negray stayed close to the game by selling uniforms and athletic equipment to local high schools for 34 years until his retirement. His death leaves only 18 living Brooklyn Dodgers alumni.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

2018 Topps Heritage Minor League Baseball Review - Why 2018 Topps Heritage Minors is right on time for the offseason

Now that the MLB postseason is finished and hot stove discussions are in full swing, fans are looking towards the top prospects honing their skills in the Arizona Fall League and the various winter leagues throughout the Caribbean for their baseball fix. Topps has saved their classy 2018 Topps Heritage Minor League Baseball set to coincide with baseball’s fall shift from now to next.

2018 Topps Heritage Minors / Topps

2018 Topps Heritage Minors Base Set and Parallels

Set in the design of its 2018 Topps Major League Heritage counterpart, 2018 Topps Heritage Minor League provides tomorrow’s stars with the big league stage that they have been waiting for. The 220-card base set features 20 short-prints, as well All-Star and League Leaders subsets.

2018 Topps Heritage Minors / Topps
Topps hits all of the major talents in the MLB pipeline in the base set, featuring the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez, Royce Lewis, Estevan Florial, and yes, even Tim Tebow. For those looking to corner the market on their favorite up-and-comer, colored serial numbered parallels run aplenty, and a new twist for 2018 Topps Heritage Minors is the inclusion of one three-card glossy card pack per box.

2018 Topps Heritage Minors Parallels / Topps

2018 Topps Heritage Minors Inserts

The inserts are where 2018 Topps Heritage Minors starts to percolate. The 1969 Deckle Edge inserts cast the prime performers in vintage black and white shots, and limited edition color parallels even further spice up the design. The 1969 Collectors Cards inserts capture the quick and dirty about the next 20 minor league stars that you need to follow. Each box also contains two chances to win a one-day contract with the Richmond Flying Squirrels that includes your own Topps Pro Debut baseball card.

2018 Topps Heritage Minors Inserts / Topps


2018 Topps Heritage Minors Autographs and Relics

Each box guarantees one relic card and one autographed card. The Real One autographs are the most common, and as with the base set, there are colored serial numbered parallels of each. Collectors with a luckier hand can score signed base image variations numbered to 50, autographed deckle edge inserts, and signed 1969 Mint Coin relics.

2018 Topps Heritage Minors Brendan McKay Autograph / Topps
The box Topps provided for this review uncovered a Brendan McKay Real One autograph, and a Justus Sheffield Clubhouse Collection relic. McKay, the Tampa Bay Rays 2017 first-round selection, is following Shohei Ohtani’s footsteps as a two-way threat on the mound and at the plate.

2018 Topps Heritage Minors Justus Sheffield Relic / Topps
This year’s Topps Heritage Minors is an enjoyable break due to the exciting future stars, the sleek insert sets, and the guarantee of both an autograph and a relic from next season’s coveted prospects. With boxes of 2018 Topps Heritage Minors under $50, now is a great time to get familiar with the next wave of MLB talent.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Why teammates hold Roy Halladay in elite company a year after his tragic death

The baseball world lost Roy Halladay one year ago when a plane that he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. Frank Catalanotto, his former Blue Jays teammate and friend, told us just what it was like to play behind the elite pitcher shortly after hearing the news of his death.

Roy Halladay / Keith Allison - Flickr
"He always seemed like he was dedicated to his craft and left no stone unturned," Catalanotto said in November 2017. "For me, he was the biggest competitor that I have ever played with and it rubbed off on other guys on the team."

More of Catalanotto's interview is featured in the video below.



Sunday, November 4, 2018

Satchel Paige shows why he was the master of the no-look throw

Flagstaff Films recently released a rare video of Satchel Paige warming up in the infield during the 1953 All-Star Game. During this clip, Paige made two throws by the flick of his wrist, opening a brief window into his hallmark control and flair for the dramatic.



Earl Hunsinger was Paige's teammate with the Miami Marlins in 1956 and 1957. He explained how Paige would routinely make no-look throws during infield practice as his way of staying loose.

"A lot of times he'd show up early at the ballpark during batting practice," Hunsinger said via telephone in 2009 from his Alabama home. "He'd go out and take ground balls and he was a pretty good infielder. He used to take balls and throw to first without looking. That was his way of getting in shape."

Satchel Paige / Topps

During the course of a six-month season, players are apt fool around with trick plays to break the monotony of pre-game practice, but rarely would one dare to improvise during a Major League game. Ol' Satch however, marched to a different drummer as his St. Louis Browns teammate Jim Dyck noted.

"We brought Satch in relief to pitch to one hitter, like with the bases loaded with two outs, and we had to get the hitter out or they were either going to tie or win the game." Dyck told Gene Fehler in "When Baseball Was Still King."

"The guy hit a one-hopper right back to Satch. He fielded the ball, and he never even glanced towards first. He threw it under his left arm and he threw a perfect strike to the first baseman."

Paige, ever the showman, added to the drama by walking off the field as his throw was en route to first base. While his antics certainly captured the crowd's attention, he also grabbed that of his manager Rogers Hornsby. The curmudgeonly Hall of Famer immediately let Satchel know he wasn't happy.

"When he threw the ball, he turned and started walking to the dugout, never looked to see where it went, and of course he threw it right, a perfect throw, without looking," Dyck recalled. "I followed him from third base into the dugout. Hornsby was on the top step and he said, 'That just cost you five hundred dollars. You ever do that again and I'll see that you never play for me again.'"

Most players would have exchanged heated words with their manager over such a significant fine; however, Paige defied convention. Without breaking stride, he continued down his path and let out one of his signature lines.

"Satch never even slowed down," Dyck said. "He just walked on by, and I walked up the runway behind him, and I could hear Satch saying, 'That crazy old man, what'd he think, they's going to move first base? It's been there ever since I've played.'"