Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ed Blake, Former Reds and Athletics Pitcher, 83, 1925-2009

Former Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Athletics pitcher Ed Blake passed away at age 83 on April 15, 2009 in Swansea, IL after battling an extended illness. While only pitching 8 innings in the Major Leagues, Blake carved out a 15 year minor league career that included a stint as batting practice pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1943 World Series. Blake would later go on to say that experience was the most memorable of his career. Blake was fortunate enough to have a baseball card in arguably the most popular baseball card set ever, the famed 1952 Topps set. Up until his death, Blake still received many requests for his autograph on the eminent card. In addition to his baseball career, Blake proudly served in the United States Army during World War II. His son Eddie Blake Jr. was a minor league pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles system in the early 1970's.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ralph Branca Reflects On Jackie Robinson's Debut

I recently sat down with Ralph Branca to get his reflections on April 15, 1947, the day that Jackie Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branca was with Jackie that day, and was a key member of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers winning 21 games en route to a World Series appearance. Branca referred to it as, "not only a great moment for baseball, but a great moment for the rest of the world." To hear the rest of the interview, click the play button below.


Ralph Branca with Jackie Robinson (L) and Pee Wee Reese (R).
Courtesy of Walteromalley.com

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sports Angels 4th Annual Spring Kickoff and Sports Auction

Langans played host the Sports Angels 4th Annual Spring Kickoff and Sports Auction on April 21, 2009 to a welcome crowd of supporters of the sports based charity. The auction was a fundraiser for the foundation, which serves non-profit community based sports programs. The event was hosted by former Brooklyn Dodger hurler and vice-chairman Ralph Branca. Branca gleefully thanked the crowd for coming out, updated them on the future plans of the foundation, and sang God Bless America for the crowd.

The legendary Dodger discussed with us his involvement with Sports Angels.

"I was chairman of the board of the Baseball Assistance Team, and worked especially with the dinner committee," he said. "When I resigned, they all resigned at BAT. We worked together for 15 years. I said, 'Why don't we continue as another charity?' We decided to organize Sports Angels three-and-a-half years ago. We do different venues, like what we're doing tonight, and our big dinner is on September 23rd at Cipriani's, honoring Rod Gilbert for all of his charitable work. This Saturday we are sponsoring a seminar in Peekskill, for the Lapolla Little League. They needed some help, as they're running out of money, so we bought them some equipment and gave them money to hold a clinic by the Peekskill Tides. They're going to have a dozen guys running a clinic for the Little Leaguers. As we go along, we look for other agencies we can patronize."


Sports Angels chairman and former Hall of Fame president Ed Stack was there to greet the patrons and represent the foundation. Stack further explained the purpose of Sports Angels.

"We aim to be involved with all sports, not just baseball," Stack said. "Our focus is to bring sports to children and adolescents that might not be able to be engaged with sports without financial help to get the tools needed to be successful. In Brooklyn, at Jackie Robinson Middle School, we helped them to get started with a baseball program by supplying the uniforms and equipment. With the current economy, everyone is affected, but we can help identify needs in the community to help."

Another former Brooklyn Dodger, Joe Pignatano is also a board member of the Sports Angels foundation. Pignatano expressed that his love for helping kids is the reason he's involved with the organization.

"I've always worked with kids, I love kids," Pignatano said. "Kids keep me young. It's about the kids today."

He went on to talk about how Major League Baseball neglects its young fanbase and is losing out on a golden opportunity to develop lifelong supporters of the game.

"I don't think baseball has done anything for the kids, nothing," he said. "All they're doing is being greedy. A family cannot go to a baseball game. That's what it is all about [the family experience]. It's a shame. Unless the family is rich, the kids can't go to the game. The teams should have ticket prices separate for families that have kids. The kids have to go to the games. Without them, baseball ain't worth a damn. That's why we're here. To help the kids."

Sports Angels will have their 3rd Annual Inspiration Awards Gala on September 23, 2009 at Cipriani's Wall Street, honoring the aforementioned Rod Gilbert. More information will be provided as it becomes available. If you would like to learn more about Sports Angels, or make a donation, visit their website, SportsAngels.org.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca to Headline Sports Angels 4th Annual Sprint Kick-Off and Sports Auction 4/21/09


Sports Angels, a New York-based charity dedicated to making a difference in people’s lives through sports, is proud to announce its 4th Annual Sprint Kick-Off and Sports Auction.

A galaxy of New York sports heroes will be mingling with some of the city's biggest and most charitable sports fans, April 21st, 2009 at Langan's Restaurant and Bar at 150 W. 47th Street. For the fourth consecutive year, owner Des O'Brien and the rest of Sports Angels invites you to enjoy cocktails and his finest buffet with legendary Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca and a host of other favorite athletes. Past years' attendees include Rod Gilbert, Bud Harrelson, Ed Kranepool, Rick Cerone, Greg Buttle, and many more.

This year's benefit includes a silent auction featuring items such as a Joe Namath Hand Signed Limited Edition Super Bowl Football in a display case, Joe DiMaggio "56 Game Hit Streak" shadowbox and hand signed baseball, Derek Jeter autographed bat and display case, as well as many more fabulous items. Tickets for the event are $125, and includes all food and drink. If you would like to attend or need further information, please call 212-243-3265 or visit Sports Angels' website at www.sportsangels.org.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Minnie Minoso And Others To Be Honored In Philadelphia April 25, 2009 For Their Cuban Sports Hall of Fame Induction

Pioneering baseball legend Minnie Minoso will be appearing in Horsham, PA alongside Cholly Naranjo, Forrest "Spook" Jacobs and Tony Taylor starting at 10AM on Saturday April 25, 2009 to be honored for their recent induction into the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame. Minoso is a legendary figure in both Cuban and American professional baseball, and was a finalist for the 2006 Negro League inductees for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Taylor was an All-Star in 1960, playing 19 seasons in Major League Baseball. Jacobs, one of the last surviving members of the Philadelphia Athletics, played 11 years in the Cuban Winter Leagues. Naranjo was a curveball specialist who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956 and 9 seasons in the Cuban Winter Leagues.

Admission is free and the festivities are sponsored by the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society. There will be an autograph signing and silent auction will follow the festivities. You can register online for the auction via the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society website.

The proceeds from the auction and silent auction will benefit the Historical Society which is composed entirely of volunteers. They maintain an excellent museum in Horsham, PA which chronicles Philadelphia's vast baseball history.

Stay tuned to Baseball Happenings, as we will bring you photos from the event and interviews with the legends who are being honored.

Autograph Session Details
April 25, 2009 10AM-2PM - FREE Admission
In-Person Prices
Minnie Minoso (Only 7 decade player in baseball) - $20 any item
Tony Taylor (1958-76 Cubs, Phillies, Tigers) - $20 any item
Spook Jacobs - (1954-56 Philadelphia / KC's A's, Pirates) $10 any item
Cholly Naranjo - (1956 Pirates) One free item, $6 extras

Mail Order (Orders accepted until April 24th) - For mail order inquries, contact the Philadelphia A's historical society
Phone: (215)323-9901 Toll Free Phone: 1-800-318-0483
Email - yorkroad6@aol.com

Minnie Minoso:
Our signed baseball - $35, Our signed photo - $25, Your signed item - $25
Tony Taylor:
Our signed ball - $35, Our signed photo -$25, Your signed item - $20
Spook Jacobs:
Our baseball signed - $25, Our signed photo - $12, Your signed item -$10
Cholly Naranjo:
Our baseball signed - $15, Our signed photo - $8, Your signed item -$6

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Former Brooklyn Dodger Ray Hathaway remembers teammate Jackie Robinson

With Major League Baseball honoring Jackie Robinson today, 92-year-old former Brooklyn Dodger, Ray Hathaway looks back fondly on the time he spent with Robinson during his groundbreaking 1946 season in Montreal. Hathaway had appeared in four games in 1945 with Brooklyn after returning from World War II, and was trying to work his arm back into shape with Montreal.

Robinson impressed him from day one.

"After I saw him play the first game, I knew [he was going to be a star]," Hathaway said. "He fielded well, ran well and hit well. If you were scouting him, and [sitting] amongst the scouts, the question was 'What can't he do?' And if you saw him play, you would ask yourself the same question."

Hathaway thought Robinson wouldn't have to wait until 1947 to make his debut with the Dodgers.

"I thought he was ready," he said. "I thought he would be up [in Brooklyn] before the season was over."

Unfortunately, Hathaway didn't foresee a return to the major leagues. Plagued by a sore arm, he knew his window of opportunity was closing.

"I had already been there and I had arm trouble," he said. "I saw the writing on the wall."

He was about to embark on a 25 year long managing career the next season. At the end of spring training in 1947, he approached Branch Rickey about becoming a manager.

"We went to a game in Cuba," he said, "Mr. Rickey was there. I asked to speak to him. About the fifth inning, he asked, 'What's on your mind?' I told him I would like to manage. He [Rickey] asked, 'How do I know you can manage?' I said, 'You don't and neither do I. All I can promise is that we'll work.'" Rickey's response was one that left Hathaway with little time to mutter his decision, "If you are going to manage a team for me, be on my plane. I'm leaving in the morning for Miami."

Hathaway spent his early seasons as a player/manager for the minor league affiliates of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"It was challenging [as a player/manager]," he said. "In spite of pitching, you always had to be ahead of the other manager by two innings."

After 1952, Hathaway took himself out of the rotation to focus primarily on running the ballclub.

"The only time I pitched after that [1952]," he said, "was if the pitching staff was getting their butt beat. I tried to save them."

Despite his previous arm troubles, Hathaway had something of a rubber arm, filling in from time to time until 1965 at the age of 48. He managed many legends including, Hall of Famers Dick Williams, Willie Stargell, and Bill Sharman. He has the second highest win total as manger of the Asheville Tourists minor league club, with his record broken only last season. He retired from baseball after managing the Wilson Pennants of the Carolina League in 1973. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mark Fidrych, 54, 1976 American League Rookie of the Year 1954-2009

It is with a heavy hand that I write this entry, as I spent time with former Detroit Tiger Mark "The Bird" Fidrych only a few months earlier at the BAT (Baseball Assistance Team) Dinner in New York City. The Huffington Post reports that Fidrych died in an accident while working on his pickup truck around 2:30PM on Monday. The colorful Fidrych was the 1976 American League Rookie of The Year after he posted a 19-9 record with an astounding 24 complete games. In an era of relief specialists and controlled pitch counts, that is a mark that will never be reached again. His career was cut short by both shoulder and knee injuries, pitching only 58 games in the Major Leagues over 5 seasons. Fidrych earned the nickname "The Bird" for his resemblance of the Sesame Street character. It was a moniker he embraced, not shying away from the title or the character as shown in the photo above. Fidrych was 54 at the time of death, leaving behind his wife Ann, and his daughter Jessica.

For a deeper look into Fidrych's career, read the following articles:
ESPN Classic: "In '76, Bird Was The Word"
Sports Illustrated: "The Bird Fell To Earth"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Now Pinch Hitting, The Pitcher! Micah Owings Does Double Duty

Imagine your feelings after you have spent your entire professional career honing your craft as a position player, only to find out that the manager looks past you on the bench to call on a pitcher for a pinch hitter! Such has been the case this season for the Cincinnati Reds, using pitcher Micah Owings twice in this fashion during the first four games. A throwback to the likes of Don Newcombe and more recently Brooks Kieschnick, Owings has proved valuable as both a pitcher and a pinch hitter Owings versatility has effectively freed up another roster space for Dusty Baker to use. Owings has been penciled in as the team's fifth starter, leaving him available to pinch hit the other four days in which he is not pitching. Owings is batting .322 in 118 career at-bats with five home runs. Now does this situation speak to Owings prowess as a hitter, or lack of depth on the bench? A full season as a pinch-hitter will give us a better idea of how Owings rates once the book begins to circulate on him. If this plan is successful, it could become a trend within the major leagues as management looks to maximize the value of the players on their rosters. Another candidate for this role is Colorado Rockies pitcher Jason Marquis who is 6-for-26 in his career as a pinch hitter.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bob Scherbarth, 83, Boston Red Sox Catcher 1926-2009

Bob Scherbarth
Former Boston Red Sox Catcher, Bob Scherbarth died January 31, 2009 according to the Villas County News. As you are reading this, you might scratch your head to remember the name, as it doesn't exactly sit among the likes of Doerr, Pesky and Williams. Scherbarth's career lasted exactly one inning, appearing as a defensive replacement for Birdie Tebbets on April 23, 1950.

Scherbarth entered the Boston Red Sox organization in 1946 in Class B Roanoke, and retired from baseball after splitting the 1952 season with Class A Scranton and Class AA Birmingham. Scherbarth is part of a handful of major league position players who never had an at-bat in a Major League game. While Scherbarth's career may equate to a "sip of coffee," he was able to do what many men aspire to do, and that is to get a taste of the majors. Scherbarth will forever be a part of the select group that can call themselves major league baseball players. I attempted in late 2008 to interview him about his experiences that day, to find out if he knew that was going to be the only chance he had in the "big show." Sadly, Scherbarth was recovering from a stay in the hospital and wasn't up to taking the interview. He told me to try back in a few weeks, and my hesitation led me to find his number disconnected and the subsequent obituary detailing his passing. A private service was held to honor Scherbarth in Presque Isle, WI.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nick Adenhart, 22, Angels Pitcher 1986-2009

On Thursday, April 9th, 2009, just hours after pitching six scoreless innings for the Los Angeles Angels, 22-year-old pitcher Nick Adenhart died along with two other people when their sports car was hit by a minivan that ran a red light. The sports car struck a light pole after being hit. Apparently, the driver of the minivan was driving with a suspended license due to previous drunk driving infractions.
At an age when young men are maturing into adults, and a time when ballplayers are just beginning to smell the freshly cut grass of a new season, the flame of career was extinguished just as it was being lit. Adenhart was living the dream of many young men his age, starting during the opening series of the Major League season, while most are finishing up their final semester of college. Expected to start the season at AAA, he was summoned to the rotation when the Angles had injuries to three of their pitchers. He seized the opportunity by pitching six innings of shutout ball against the Oakland Athletics. Sadly, due to the actions of an irresponsible driver, we will never know how long Adenhart would have kept his flame burning in the Major Leagues. The Angels postponed their April 10th game with the Oakland Athletics to mourn the loss of their fallen teammate. Gone, but not forgotten, Nick Adenhart rest in peace.

Below: A photo from the accident.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Where does Gary Sheffield fit in the Mets plans?

The New York Mets announced on Friday that they have signed outfielder Gary Sheffield to a one-year $400,000 contract, with the Detroit Tigers having to pay the remaining $14 million due to giving him his release last week. One homer shy of five hundred for his career, Sheffield looks to make history in a Mets uniform early this season. A few questions surround Sheffield's signing to the Mets. Will he be healthy enough to play the outfield consistently? Will he be a positive or negative influence in the clubhouse? Which outfielder will be affected the most by Sheffield's signing?

Currently, the Mets are carrying outfielder Nick Evans until Livan Hernandez makes his debut on April 11th. The Mets could send Evans down to the Minors to make room for Sheffield for opening day, however, that will lead to another roster move when Hernandez is activated for his scheduled start. Possible casualties when Hernandez returns include utility player Marlon Anderson and outfielder Ryan Church. Anderson provides a valuable left-handed bat off of the bench, and the ability to play both the infield and outfield. Church was envisioned to be platooned with Fernando Tatis in right field, but there are doubts that Church can hit left-handed pitching and whispers that he is not fully recovered from the multiple concussions he had last year. Tatis was expected to provide a right-handed power bat for the corner outfield positions, but that role will be greatly impacted with Sheffield's arrival.

Sheffield batted .225 in 114 games for Detroit in 2008, and .178 in Spring Training before his release. During the 2008 season, he only played 6 games in the outfield. How long will it take for Sheffield to get in shape to play the outfield regularly? With Sheffield expected to play alongside Daniel Murphy, that gives the Mets two below average defenders in the starting corner outfield positions.

Sheffield comes with a reputation for being outspoken and at times a polarizing figure in the clubhouse, suggesting that Joe Torre treated black and white players differently on the Yankees. A few Mets that were interviewed though, have positive remarks about Sheffield's presence.

"He's a great guy," said Hernandez, who played with Sheffield on the Marlins. "He's a great person. He plays hard every day. That's what I know."

"I've heard great things," third baseman David Wright said. "All the players that have played with him speak very highly of him. I'm sure we're going to welcome him. He's going to be a tremendous addition. He's a guy that just has a presence to him."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Herman Franks, 95, MLB Catcher and Manager (1914-2009)

Herman Franks, pictured left with Willie Mays in Santurce, Puerto Rico, died March 30, 2009 at the age of 95 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Franks played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Athletics and New York Giants over parts of 6 seasons from 1939-1949, compiling a .199 batting average in 403 career at-bats. He lost three-and-a-half years of his career due to his Naval service in World War 2. His playing career was overshadowed by his success as a coach and a manager at the major league level.

In Joshua Prager's book, "The Echoing Green", Franks was reportedly involved in relaying stolen signals from a hole in the New York Giants scoreboard to the hitters during the 1951 "Shot Heard 'Round The World" playoff between the Giants and the Dodgers. Franks managed what is arguably known as the best Winter League team ever, the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers. The team featured an all-star Major League and ex-Negro League lineup including: Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Bob Thurman, Bus Clarkson, Don Zimmer, Ron Samford, George Crowe, Valmy Thomas, Ruben Gomez and "Toothpick" Sam Jones. Franks went on to manage the Giants to four straight second place finishes (1965-68) and the Chicago Cubs to a .497 record (1977-79).