Saturday, October 31, 2009

Howie Schultz, former Brooklyn Dodger and Minneapolis Laker dies at 87

Howie Schultz, pictured second from left with Jackie Robinson two spots to his right, passed away on October 30, 2009 at the age of 87. Schultz was the Dodgers first baseman for four seasons until Robinson arrived in 1947. Schultz played in one game at first base after being displaced by Robinson. He was sold to the Phillies a month later.

"I'm a footnote in history -- the guy who was benched to allow baseball to be integrated," he said in a 2004 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Schultz compiled a lifetime batting average of .241 in siz seasons in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers, Phillies and Reds.

Schultz also played professionally in basketball, playing three seasons in the NBA after an All-American career at Hamline University. Schultz was a member of the 1951-52 and 1952-53 NBA Champion Minneapolis Lakers which included four Hall of Famers: George Mikan, Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen, and Jim Pollard.

After finishing his basketball career, he taught physical education and coached high school basketball in the St. Paul area as well as at Hamline University. To read a more detailed description of Schultz's career, check out Stew Thornley's SABR Bio of Howie Schultz.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Darren Oliver: Emerging From Baseball's Graveyard With The Angels in the ALCS

Darren OliverIn 2005, Darren Oliver couldn't find a Major League team. Fast forward 4 seasons later; Oliver played a prominent role for the Angels in the 2009 ALCS, appearing in 5 of the 6 games. Oliver pitched 2 2/3rd's innings of scoreless relief in Game 6, showing tremendous resilience after giving up 3 runs in Game 5 without retiring any batters. In 2009, Oliver lead the Angels staff in ERA (2.71) and was third in appearances with 63 games pitched. Oliver even started a game for the Halos.
After being released by the Cubs in 2005, Oliver found salvation with the Mets, signing with them for the 2006 season. Oliver became a mainstay in their bullpen, providing effective long and short relief. During the 2006 NLCS, he turned in arguably the most memorable performance by a Mets pitcher, when he relieved Steve Traschel in Game 3 to shut down the Cardinals for 6 innings. That would be Oliver's last appearance in a Mets uniform. The Mets did not resign Oliver, and he was swooped up by the Angels that off-season. He has since made three consecutive playoff appearances (2007-2009) and posted a combined record of 15-3. While fans may remember Oliver's bases clearing double he surrendered to Mark Teixeira in Game 5, don't let that overshadow Oliver's otherwise consistent production for the Angels. Not bad for a guy teams left for dead a short while ago.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Book Review: Early Wynn, the Go-Go White Sox and the 1959 World Series

Early Wynn CoverEarly Wynn, the Go-Go White Sox and the 1959 World Series"
Lew Freedman
McFarland Publishing, 2009
223 pages



A man so tenacious on the field that he threw at his own son after he hit one back up the middle, and claimed that he would knock down his own grandmother if she dug in against him, Early Wynn was the catalyst for the Chicago White Sox 1959 World Series appearance. A rare four decade player, an aging Wynn was brought to the White Sox at the end of the 1957 season in exchange for Minnie Minoso. Bill Veeck apparently thought that Wynn had one more great season left in his arm, and Veeck was correctly, as Wynn would be victorious 22 times en route to a Cy Young award and World Series appearance in 1959.

Freedman weaves in anecdotes from the few living players from that 1959 team to chronicle the season's happenings. Sadly, almost three-quarters of the team are deceased. An especially poignant moment is when the living players gather in Chicago in 2008 and they collectively acknowledge that their reunion reminds them of the many members of the team that have passed. We hear from the likes of Billy Pierce, Jim Rivera, Bob Shaw, Jim Landis and Turk Lown as they chime in on Wynn and their own ups and downs during their pennant winning journey.

Freedman does his best to merge the three topics of his book, Wynn, the "Go-Go White Sox" and the 1959 World Series by examining the roles of Manager Al Lopez, General Manager Frank "Trader" Lane and owners Veeck and Charles Comiskey Jr.. What you are left with is a solid assembly of the 1959 White Sox and how Wynn led the charges all the way to the World Series.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2009 MLBPAA Legends for Youth Dinner November 6, 2009 - Hilton New York City



Established in 1999, the MLBPAA created the Legends for Youth Dinner recognizing former Major League players for their on-field accomplishments coupled with their off-field contributions to communities across the world. In addition, the MLBPAA recognizes current players by presenting the National and American League Pitcher and Player of the Year Awards, which is voted on by the former Major League players, and the Dick Schaap Memorial Player of the Year Award, voted on by baseball’s television and radio broadcasters and presented to Major League Baseball’s most valuable player irrespective of position or league. Finally, the Alumni Association created the Heart & Hustle Award, presented annually to a current player and voted on by former players. The winner is the player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game of baseball. Whether or not these players are named a Most Valuable Player, are a World Series Champion or simply play the game hard each time they take the field, these players win our admiration and respect.

The Legends for Youth Dinner, which will be held on November 6, 2009 at the Hilton in New York City, honors baseball’s legends with MLBPAA Lifetime Achievement Awards. This year's honoree is Hall of Fame pitcher, Gaylord Perry. In addition to the honorees, many of baseball’s greats attend the awards show to support their peers. “The MLBPAA is proud to recognize current and former Major League players for their accomplishments on this national stage,” said Brooks Robinson, Hall of Fame Third Baseman and MLBPAA President.

This event also serves as the primary fund-raiser for the Alumni Association’s youth programs. The MLBPAA allocates Legends for Youth Dinner proceeds to Alumni youth programming, which includes Legends for Youth Baseball Clinic Series. The Legends for Youth program is a series of FREE baseball clinics designed to talk to youth about life skills promote baseball and teach young players baseball fundamentals. “The life skills station carries the most weight for the long-term,” said Denny Doyle, chairman of the youth clinic series. “It carries a little more strength and power coming from a Hall of Famer. We realize that puts a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders.”

Confirmed guests at this year's dinner include Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Tony Perez, Brooks Robinson, as well as perennial all-stars John Franco, Steve Garvey and Al Leiter. To find out more information about the 2009 Legends for Youth Dinner at the Hilton in New York City, click here. To register directly for the dinner, click here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Larry Jansen, 89, 1920-2009 Two Time 20 Game Winner For the New York Giants

Two-time 20 game winner Larry Jansen passed away October 10, 2009 at his home in Oregon at the age of 89. MLB.com reported an article announcing Jansen's passing which featured remembrances from Cy Young Award winners Gaylord Perry and Mike McCormick, who received tutelage from Jansen while he coached the Giants from 1961-1971. Jansen pitched 8 seasons with the Giants from 1947-1954, recording the win in the infamous 1951 "Shot Heard 'Round The World" game between the Dodgers and Giants where Bobby Thomson homered off of Ralph Branca to put the Giants into the 1951 World Series. Jansen resurfaced briefly with the Reds in 1956 and continued to pitch until 1960 with Portland of the Pacific Coast League.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Humberto Robinson, 79, 1930-2009, paved the way for Mariano Rivera

While Mariano Rivera is closing the door on games for the Yankees during the 2009 postseason, a tribute must be paid to the man who opened the door for Panamanians to play in Major League Baseball. Humberto Robinson was the first Panama native to play in the major leagues, making his debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1955, posting a 3-1 record in 13 games that season. Robinson went on to pitch in the majors again in 1956 and then from 1958-1960 with the Braves, Indians, and Phillies. He also made multiple appearances in the Caribbean Series representing Panama, including the final one in 1960. Sadly, Robinson passed away in a Brooklyn, New York nursing home on September 29th, 2009 after a long battle with Alzheimer's.


Robinson's death was almost exactly 50 years after his brush with a gambler's attempt to fix a late season game in 1959 while pitching for the Phillies. Robinson was approached by Harold Friedman, a former operator of a Philadelphia night spot. Friedman reportedly offered Humberto $1,500 to throw the September 22, 1959 game against the Cincinnati Redlegs. Robinson would not accept the offer which was made at a hotel the day before the game.

"I didn't want to talk about it," Robinson said.

He confided his secret with teammate Ruben Gomez, who advised him to report the situation to manager Eddie Sawyer. Robinson remained quiet, but Gomez went to Sawyer during the fifth inning of the game. Robinson performed beautifully, pitching seven innings, striking out five while only giving up three hits. He also hit a double and scored the first run of the game. He would later be congratulated by Commissioner Ford Frick for quickly reporting the attempted bribe. Friedman was sentenced two-to-five years in prison for his attempt to fix the game.

So while you are watching Rivera pitch his way into the record books this October, envision a similarly lanky Panamanian of 50 years prior who displayed integrity in the face of corruption and endured hoards of racial taunts during baseball's era of desegregation to pave the way for other Panamanians to flourish in the major leagues.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Don Thompson, 85, former Brooklyn Dodger, 1923-2009

Don ThompsonThe Asheville Citizen-Times reports that former Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves outfielder Don Thompson passed away September 28, 2009 in Asheville, North Carolina after an extended illness. Thompson was originally signed by the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher in 1943, and pitched exclusively for 4 seasons until injuring his arm. During an April 2009 interview with Thompson, he recounted his transformation from a pitcher to an outfielder.

"I started out as a pitcher, but I hurt my arm," Thompson said. "I was in the Red Sox organization at that time with Louisville, and they sent me down to Roanoke. My arm got better but I stayed in the outfield. That’s when St. Louis drafted me (1948). I went to Columbus. I stayed as an outfielder. I didn’t have any desire to pitch."

Even though Thompson was a full-time outfielder, Brooklyn Dodger manager Charlie Dressen would often call on call on him when they were facing a tough lefty.

"Dressen, whenever we had a left handed pitcher pitching against us, he’d want me to throw batting practice to help the guys get ready. I still didn't want to pitch."

Once in the Cardinals organization, Thompson was immediately promoted to the AAA level, and sharpened his skills by playing two years of winter ball in Cuba under the watchful eye of Mike Gonzalez.

"The first year my manager was Mike Gonzalez. I played for Havana. Mike was an old catcher for St. Louis. I was playing in the International League with Rochester. After the 1949 season, he called me to come to Havana for the Winter. I went to Cuba, played for Havana the first year and then Almendares the second year. It helped me a great deal. I was already in shape going into Spring Training. It was sort of a circus down there. They really played hard and expected a lot out of the players."

Thompson's big break with the Dodgers came during the winter of 1949 when he was traded from the Boston Braves to the Dodgers for the legendary Sam Jethroe.

"I played against him in the International League. He was as fast as everyone said he was."

He entered a crowded Dodgers outfield, but managed to stick with the team for three seasons.

"We had seven left fielders in Brooklyn in Spring Training. I opened the season both years (1951 and 1953) in the starting lineup. I was a left-handed hitter, and Dressen, he was playing right-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers and switching things around. He had a platoon going. I wasn’t much of a hitter, but I was a very good fielder and I had good speed."

His defense played a memorable role in the 1953 World Series when he threw out Billy Martin at the plate in Game 4 after replacing Jackie Robinson in left field. During the aforementioned interview, Thompson clearly recounted how the inning unfolded.
"Clem Labine was pitching, he came in for relief. Martin was on second base with two outs. Mantle hit a line drive over Pee Wee’s head. He was hitting left-handed, so I was playing him a little around towards right. He hit the line drive and of course Martin took off, there being two outs. Anyway, I saw Martin running, [3rd base coach] Frankie Crosetti was waving him home. I looked up and I turned it loose. Billy Cox let it go or it would have hit him right in the head. It was about that high. Campy had him by several feet. Martin bent over and tried to knock Campy down. Campy sidestepped him with the ball in his mitt, hit him under the neck and turned him a flip. That was the last out of the game. I replaced Jackie Robinson both games. He could handle the outfield pretty well, but he wasn’t used to it."

Thompson retired after the 1954 season, but it wasn't before he had another brush with greatness. During most of the 1954 campaign, he played with Montreal. Under his wing was a 19 year-old outfielder from Puerto Rico by the name of Roberto Clemente. Thompson knew that the Dodgers had a gem on their hands as soon as Clemente hit the field.

"He worked out with me in center field to start. He had a great arm and he could hit; he hit a lot of bad pitches, like Berra, over his head. He was a wild swinger, but I could tell he was going to be a good ballplayer. I think he got a bonus of $25,000 from the Dodgers. They were trying to hide him. He was eligible for the big league draft. They knew that if they didn’t take him on Brooklyn that he would possibly be drafted. I knew he was going to be great. Roberto had a temper at times, but got along with us well."

After the 1954 season, Thompson returned to Asheville and effectively retired from baseball.

"I had an older brother in Asheville who had a Dodge / Plymouth franchise and I went into the automobile business. I stopped playing baseball completely after that."

He later became a real estate agent and one of the founders of Preferred Properties in Asheville. He was inducted into the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame in 1997.
Don Thompson
Don Thompson avoiding the tag of Ted Kluszewski



Sunday, October 4, 2009

Billy 'Benny' Felder, 84, Negro League Shortstop, 1925-2009

Former Newark Eagles and Indianapolis Clowns shortstop Billy "Benny" Felder died at his Tampa home Friday October 2, 2009. He was 84.

Felder became the shortstop for the Eagles at the start of the 1946 season after the departure of future Hall of Famer Willie Wells to Baltimore, putting him behind Leon Day during his opening day no-hitter in 1946 against the Philadelphia Stars.

Billy Felder 1946 Newark Eagles
Day's no-hitter foreshadowed what was to come, as the Eagles won the Negro World Series that year, defeating the Kansas City Monarchs in seven games. Felder told me that being on the field for that no-hitter and winning the World Series were his two proudest moments in baseball.

Felder played in the Negro Leagues from 1946-1948, spending the 1946 and 1947 campaigns with the Eagles and 1948 with the Indianapolis Clowns. As the doors to the major leagues started to slowly open to African-American baseball players in the early 1950s, Felder found his opportunity playing with Key West in the Florida International League in 1952 and Pampa of the West Texas-New Mexico League from 1953-1954. He finished out the 1954 season with Artesia in the Longhorn League. During the 1953 and 1954 seasons, Felder posted averages above .300.

Felder was part of a 2007 tribute to the Newark Eagles at Newark Bears and Eagles Stadium. The tribute was done by the Newark Historical Society, where during that day, streets in Newark were named after prominent members of the Newark Eagles. The Newark Bears inducted Hall of Famers from the Eagles into their Ring of Honor and the four members of the Newark Eagles threw out the first pitch at Bears and Eagles Stadium. Felder was honored along with Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, James "Red" Moore, and Willie "Curly" Williams.

Below are photos of Felder throwing out the first pitch, as well as another of him seated alongside the aforementioned members of the Eagles. The last photo is of Felder and myself at his Tampa home in August of 2008. We spent about 30 minutes talking baseball before my return flight home. He was extremely gracious and humble. May he rest peacefully.

Felder (far right) throwing out the first pitch at Newark Bears Stadium in  2007 / N. Diunte


Felder (far right) with Williams, Moore and Irvin in 2007 / N. Diunte


Benny Felder receiving honors at Newark Bears stadium in 2007 / N. Diunte


Felder (right) with author in 2008 / N. Diunte