Friday, August 29, 2014

Tony Oliva takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Tony Oliva
Minnesota Twins legend, the 76-year old Tony Oliva, showed that you aren't too young to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The 1964 American League Rookie of the Year cheerfully took a dip in ice water in support of ALS research.

He calls out Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, and my good friend Paul Casanova to take the corresponding plunge.



A candid Willie Mays talking baseball with Billy Sample

Willie Mays
Billy Sample, former major league outfielder of nine major league seasons, talked shop with the legendary Willie Mays in the spring of 2004.

In this 15-minute interview, Mays is rather lucid as they discuss his career from humble beginnings in Alabama, making his way from the Negro Leagues all the way to the Hall of Fame.
 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Michael Conforto's outfield play turning heads in Brooklyn

Being a first-round draft pick carries high expectations from the moment a player signs their name on a million-dollar contract. In just over a month, Michael Conforto, the New York Mets 2014 first-round draft pick from Oregon State University, has been all that was advertised and then some.

Playing in thirty-six games thus far with the Brooklyn Cyclones in the short-season New York Penn League, Conforto has been a magician at the plate, batting .321 with two home runs and 18 RBIs. His prowess with the bat comes as little surprise to baseball insiders, as his hitting was the main factor in his nomination as a finalist for the 2014 Golden Spikes Award, the honor given to the top player in college baseball.

Going into the draft however, there was much speculation about Conforto’s abilities as an outfielder, with some analysts going as far as calling his outfield play, “a mess,” and saying that his arm strength leaves much to be desired.

Michael Conforto - N. Diunte
“He has a poor throwing arm that runners can take extra bases on,” said Christopher Crawford of MLB Draft Insider. 

In the short time that he has been in Brooklyn, he has laid the foundation to quell those naysayers about his defensive capabilities. He has five outfield assists and has made quite a few acrobatic plays in left field as well.

“The reports also said he was only an adequate defender; the same with his arm. But in the reports I've been sending back to the Mets, I'm telling them he's anything but that," Cyclones Manager Tom Gamboa said to the Staten Island Advance. "He threw out a runner trying to score (Monday night at RCCC), and tonight he made a diving catch. That's about the seventh or eighth diving catch he's made."

Conforto is glad that his defense is getting attention, as it was overshadowed by his strong bat throughout his entire college career. He recognizes that it is an area of his game that is continuing to be developed as he starts his journey in professional baseball.

“That's something that's been said that may be my weakness,” Conforto said to metroBASEBALL magazine, “so it's pretty cool that its been highlighted here. I've had the opportunity to be out there in left field every day and showcase my ability, so that's been pretty cool for me and it's helped me grow in a place where I really need to grow.”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dick Teed, former Brooklyn Dodger and longtime scout passes away at 88

Dick Teed wore the Brooklyn Dodger uniform for only one at-bat in the major leagues, but it left memories that lasted a lifetime. Teed struck out in his only plate appearance against Milwaukee Braves pitcher Max Surkont on July 24, 1953, but he didn’t go down without a fight.

''What I'll always remember,'' he said Richard Goldstein of the New York Times in 1982, ''is that I was up there challenging Surkont. I struck out, but I went down taking good cuts.''

Dick Teed Signed Photo / N. Diunte
Teed, who stayed with the Dodgers organization as a scout for 17 years, passed away August 17, 2014 in Newport, Rhode Island. He was 88.

A native of Windsor, Connecticut, Teed was a three-sport star at Windsor High, excelling in baseball, soccer and basketball. Shortly after his graduation in 1944, he entered the Marine Corps, serving for over two years during World War II. His tour included action in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Upon the completion of his military duty, he signed with the Dodgers in 1947. They started him at the bottom of their farm system with their Class D team in Thomasville, North Carolina.

He moved quickly through the ranks, reaching AAA with Montreal by 1950. Only one step away from the major leagues, Teed saw the light at the end of the tunnel approaching.

“If I improve my batting somewhat, I think I have a pretty good chance of sticking,” he said to the Sunday Herald in 1950. “They tell me my catching is satisfactory.”

While Teed was becoming a top-notch receiver, the Dodgers were looking for a way to remedy his struggles at the plate after he hit only .222 at St. Paul in 1951. During spring training, they found a solution – switch hitting.

He spent the whole season at Mobile in the Double-A Southern Association in 1952 working on hitting from both sides of the plate. A natural righty, Teed improved his batting average to .273.

“I’ve got more confidence this time after what I did at Mobile,” he said to the Sunday Herald in 1953.

With Roy Campanella and Rube Walker ahead of him and the Dodgers returning from a World Series appearance, there was little room for Teed on the roster. He returned to Mobile to start the 1953 season, but when Rube Walker injured his left hand in July, Teed finally got his chance in the majors.

“Everything seemed different in the big leagues - magnified,'' he said to the New York Times. ''The lights were brighter, the crowds were larger. I even thought the sound of the pitches hitting Campy's glove was louder.”

After striking out in his aforementioned debut, Teed remained positive that he would get another chance to redeem himself.

''I wasn't down, I figured there'd be another day,'' he said.

That opportunity never came. Teed rode out his stay with the Dodgers on the bench until Walker returned. The Dodgers sent Teed back to Mobile and despite spending over another decade in the minor leagues, it wasn’t enough to warrant another call to the big leagues.

"I went back to Mobile and finished the season," Teed told the Hartford Courant in 2013. "My only complaint is that I never really got a chance to show what I could do."

After finishing his playing career in 1963, Teed coached in the Philadelphia Phillies organization from 1964-1967, winning a division title with Spartanburg his final season as a manger. In 1968, he turned his attention to scouting, working with the Phillies until 1977, when he came home to the Dodgers organization.

As a Dodgers scout in the Northeast, his first major coup was Brooklyn’s own John Franco from St. John’s University.


He also helped the Dodgers to ink an unknown first baseman from Norristown, Pennsylvania, who was selected with the Dodgers’ last pick in the 1988 draft.

Teed, who was on his way to Montreal to sign another Dodgers’ prospect, met Mike Piazza in the Philadelphia airport to sign him for $15,000. An unlikely setting for a signing, but such was the life of a traveling scout.

He stayed with as a scout with the Dodgers until retiring in 1994. In 2001, he was inducted into the National Scouts Hall of Fame. His grandson Bryan Barnoswki kept the family tradition alive, playing minor league baseball for the Boston Red Sox from 1999-2003.

Even though his time as a major leaguer was brief, Teed said to me in a 2008 interview that being a member of such a legendary team was the highlight of his career.

“How could you get a better lineup than what they had?” he asked. “Campy, Hodges, Snider, Reese, Jackie ... what a team. I didn't play long, but I enjoyed it. I was in baseball 49 years and that was my best experience; being in the dugout and the locker room just for the short time I was there. It gave me a lot of memories.”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bob Wiesler, climbed the Yankee ranks with Mantle, passes away at 83

Bob Wiesler wasn't even 21 years old when he first stepped on the mound at Yankee Stadium on August, 3, 1951. Looking up at the large crowd, Wiesler admitted that his nerves had set in before he threw his first pitch.

“[I was nervous] in front of all of those people!” Wiesler said to Kenneth Hogan in Batting 10th for the Yankees. “We used to have 1,000 in the minors. In Kansas City, we‘d usually have about 4,000. In Yankee Stadium they used to almost have full houses.”
Bob Wiesler / Lonecadaver.net

Wiesler, who went on to enjoy six seasons in front of those packed crowds with the Yankees and Washington Senators in the 1950s, passed away August 10, 2014 at his home in Florissant, Missouri, just three days shy of his 84th birthday.

The 6’3” lefty pitcher was a star at Beaumont High School in St. Louis, the same school that also spawned major leaguers Roy Sievers, Bobby Hofman, and future Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. Many clubs aggressively pursued Wiesler in high school, but his admiration for Lou Gehrig drew him to the famous pinstripes.

“I read the book Pride of the Yankees and from that point Lou Gehrig was my idol,” he said. “I had the same kind of deal with each [team] so I picked the Yankees.”

He was assigned to their Class D team in Independence, Missouri, and was joined by another local sensation, Mickey Mantle. They played together for two seasons, working their way up the ladder of the Yankees system.

“He came out of high school in 1949 and joined us in Independence,” he told me in a 2008 interview. “He had a pretty good year, but in Joplin, he was tearing the ball up. [He] hit like .380 or .390, something like that and had a fabulous year.”

Wiesler did well himself at Joplin in 1950, going 15-7 with a 2.35 ERA. His performance attracted the attention of the Yankees management, earning him an invite to a special rookie school with Mantle for further development.

“Mantle and I, and quite a few others that they called prospects were down there in Arizona,” he said. “I impressed them that much to go to spring training in Kansas City and I stayed with them.”

With only two years under his belt, Wiesler was one step away from the major leagues in AAA with Kansas City. He continued to harness his control while in AAA, testing his stuff against those who had major league experience.

“There were some good ballplayers there,” he said. “There were a lot of veterans that were up.”

About halfway through the 1951 season, Mantle and another young pitcher Tom Morgan were not progressing fast enough at the Major League level as the Yankees desired. Looking for a change, the Yankees recalled Wiesler who was among the league leaders in strikeouts.

Playing for the division leaders, Wiesler only had the opportunity to pitch in four games, including an 8-0 loss in his debut against the St. Louis Browns. Forcing the Yankees hand was Mantle, who hit .364 in 40 games with 11 home runs. The two switched places again on August 21st.

“They sent me back down in August,” he said to Hogan, “but they did send me a little check at the end of the year after they split the World Series money.”

Wiesler had little time to enjoy his World Series share, as he was activated from his National Guard service in November. He was sent to Fort Allen, Vermont, where he spent the entire 1952 season on active duty.

After working his way back into playing shape with a full season in at AAA in 1953, the Yankees gave Wiesler another shot in 1954. Just as he was getting his footing in the major leagues, the rug was abruptly pulled from beneath him.

“I had won three games for them,” he said, “and I was supposed to pitch on a Sunday [against Baltimore]. They signed Ralph Branca who was released; he traveled with us and threw batting practice. George Weiss decided to sign him and sent me back down. I wasn't too happy about that.”

Displeased with the decision, Wiesler begrudgingly accepted his demotion. He worked his way back to the Yankees in 1955 and lasted the entire season, en route to a World Series showdown with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He did not pitch in the World Series, but was on the roster to unfortunately witness Johnny Podres help the Dodgers take Brooklyn’s only championship.

Wiesler was selected to go on a tour of Japan with the Yankees after the season, playing in Hawaii and Manila en route to the Land of the Rising Sun. That trip was the last time he wore a Yankee uniform. Early in spring training, he was involved in a seven-player trade with the Washington Senators that included Whitey Herzog. He took the baseball elevator all the way to the proverbial basement.

“I went from a first-place club to a last-place club. It was kind of disappointing,” he said; however, the move did have a small advantage. “I got to pitch more at Washington— I got to start every fourth day.”

He did the bulk of his pitching with Washington in 1956, appearing in 37 games, starting 21, but was plagued by a lack of control. He walked 112 batters in 123 innings on his way to a 3-12 record. It was his last season as a regular in the major leagues, save for cups of coffee in 1957 and 1958.

He finished his playing career in 1961 with Dallas Fort-Worth, ending with a 7-19 record in 70 major league games. He went to work for Anheuser-Busch, and stayed involved with baseball by pitching batting practice for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1964-1968. It didn’t take long for him to reconnect with his Yankee roots.

“I started throwing batting practice for the Cardinals in 1964 and here I am pitching for them and they’re playing the Yankees in the World Series!”

Tom Sowinksi, St. John's 1968 College World Series hero and former Queens College coach dies at 68

Tom Sowinski, St. John's University's all-time single-season wins leader in baseball, and the former head coach at Queens College (N.Y), passed away August 7, 2014 after suffering a massive heart attack while playing golf. He was 68.

Sowinski played three years in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system from 1968-70, getting as high as Double-A in their farm system.

Prior to his tenure at Queens College, he was the head coach at Queensborough Community College, as well as previously spending time as an assistant at Adelphi University and Manhattan College.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dwight Gooden comes clean about his addictions at Nassau County Health Fair

Dwight Gooden visited the Nassau County Health Fair and Expo on Saturday August 9, 2014 at Mitchell Field in Long Island to talk about his struggle with drug addiction during and after his baseball career and how he's kept himself clean for the past three years.

Below is video of Gooden's talk from the event.