Friday, July 30, 2010

Jim Gentile awarded 1961 American League RBI crown almost 50 years later

At age 76, Jim Gentile has moved into the record books. He now owns his rightful share of the 1961 RBI crown due to the work of some faithful researchers. No, the Orioles didn't put Gentile in the way-back machine to have him add to his league leading RBI total in 1961; however, SABR records committee chairman Lyle Spatz found that Ron Rakowski discovered the official scorer of the July 5, 1961 game between the Indians and Yankees erroneously gave Roger Maris two RBIs instead of the one that he earned that day.

Forty-nine years later the change has become official, much to Gentile's chagrin.

“Well, I wish it would have happened 49 years ago, but you know I guess they have these people that go back and check things," Gentile said via telephone from his home in Edmond, Oklahoma. "I was told of this 15 years ago, but nothing was ever done. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it. A sportswriter told me that he had gone back and checked and found where the error was made, the scorekeeper sent in two instead of one. I said, 'Well that's fine, but there is nothing you can do about that now.' I guess they decided to change it. It's nice, nice for my kids and grand kids. They can look it up years from now and say that my granddad did something.”

Jim Gentile / Topps
The year 1961 holds a special place for baseball fans, as Roger Maris made baseball history by surpassing Babe Ruth's single season home run record with 61 round-trippers. For Gentile, it earmarked a career year long after toiling in the minor leagues.

“It seemed like just about everything clicked," he said. "It seemed like when I hit a ball, it went out of the park. Everything was going right.”

With six players hitting over 40 home runs that season, some fans speculated to Gentile that the surge in power was caused by the addition of the Los Angeles Angels to the American League. Gentile strongly refutes that claim.
“People asked me over the years about the home runs [that season], and that it was on the account of the league being expanded with L.A., it made the pitching easier. For years, I said, 'Maybe you're right, I don't know.' Now I tell them, 'If six guys hit over 40 homers and the six are all home run hitters, now the seventh place home run hitter should be hitting in the 30s right?' Has anyone checked to see who that was? It was Bob Allison, he hit 29. I think he hit 25-30 home runs every year. If it was so easy to hit, why wasn't he in the 30s or other guys in the 30s? It just happened that those six had career years more or less; it was a career year for Maris right? I asked a sportswriter, 'If the seventh hit 28, how come there was nobody who hit over 30 that year?'”
Gentile had a long climb to the big leagues, as he started out as a pitcher and first baseman in Class C Santa Barbara after signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952. He quickly discovered that there was a tremendous difference in having success as a pitcher in professional baseball compared to facing high school lineups.

“I signed in 1952 out of high school," he said. "I got a good bonus as a pitcher. I wasn't a pitcher. I could throw hard. I didn't know anything about a curve ball. In high school, you know you could throw hard and get away with it. They sent me to Santa Barbara. I didn't do well as a starter. I did better as a reliever and I still only had a three-something ERA. The next year they asked me if I wanted to come back as a first baseman or pitcher. I told them I would come back as a first baseman.”

After a few seasons of leading his clubs in home runs and RBIs, Gentile thought that management would deem him worth of a look in Brooklyn. He recalled a spirited exchange with general manager Buzzie Bavasi that was typical of the an executive attempting to shuffle a crowded minor league system.
"In 1955 they send me to Class AA Mobile," Gentile recalled. "I lead the league in RBIs, hit 28 homers and batted .290. I go to Spring Training in 1956 and they send me to Double-A again — Fort Worth! I asked Buzzie why. These are the things they tell you. He said, 'You played in the Southern League and they use a 97 ball.' And I said, 'Yeah?' And he said, 'Well that ball takes off.' So after three years, I'm a little cocky, I say, 'Look, I'm going to hit 25-35 every place I play.' Buzzie said, 'Well at Forth Worth, you won't because the wind blows in over right field, you won't hit it.' He made a deal, for every home run that I hit over 25, he'd give me $100 and every point that I hit over .300 he'd pay me $100. I hit .296 but I hit 40 home runs. He paid me the $1,500!”
The next season held tremendous significance for both Gentile and the New York baseball faithful. Nineteen-fifty-seven marked the last season that the Dodgers and Giants would call New York their home. For Gentile, it was the humble beginnings of a nine-year big league career.

“They brought me up in 1957," he said. "I was sitting in my locker after infield and all of a sudden, the captain Reese came up to me and said, 'Diamond, you're playing.' I said 'What!?' He said, 'Yeah Diamond, you're playing today.' We were playing the Phillies and Robin Roberts. First time up, I was safe on an error. The second time up, we were ahead by one and I hit my first home run off of him, upper deck center field in Ebbets Field. Years later in Baltimore, someone made a pencil drawing of Roberts pitching and he signed it for me and said, "So you won't forget who you hit your first home run off of.' I have it hanging in my office.”

Gentile had another cup of coffee in 1958 with the newly minted Los Angeles Dodgers, but didn't fare well in the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum. By that point, he knew a change of scenery was imminent.

“I knew the handwriting was on the wall," he said. "I was hoping they were going to trade me.”

The Dodgers almost granted his wish during the following spring training. He recounted an exchange with Bavasi that had him set to go to the Chicago White Sox until Bill Veeck pulled the plug at the final hour.
“In 1959, he traded me to the White Sox," Gentile said. "He told me, 'Bill Veeck took over the White Sox, and he wanted to trade for you. When we go to Chicago, you come with us on the Brooklyn plane.' That day, I'm sitting in the lobby at Vero Beach and my bags are packed. Max Macon, the manager of St. Paul walks by and says, 'Where are you going?' I said, 'Buzzie told me to take the Dodger plane, I'm going to Chicago.' He said, 'No, I was just talking to Buzzie, and Veeck says he doesn't want to make the trade until he really has control of the club, so you are supposed to work out with us until the trade is made.' Well, no trade ever came around and I spent the whole year at St. Paul. The thing that got me was that in 1959 when I didn't get traded, the White Sox and Dodgers were in the World Series. I was sitting home thinking, I was supposed to be with one of them!”
At the end of the 1959 season, Gentile finally was able to move on, via a trade to the Baltimore Orioles. This too wasn't without a hitch, which seemed to be a constant in Gentile's career until this point.

“Instead of trading me outright, they traded me on a look-see, a 30-day look," he said. "If I don't make it, I come back and they get $25,000 back. We had five guys at first base, Boog Powell an 18-year-old phenom, Walt Dropo, Bob Boyd, Johnny Powers, and me.”

Amidst all of the competition, Gentile got off to a slow start in spring training. He thought for sure that he was going back to the Dodgers.
“I had a terrible spring and the night before they were going to tell us who was going to Baltimore, Sparky Anderson called me," Gentile recalled. "He was managing Toronto. We were talking and he said, 'Jim, the Dodgers feel they're going to get a hard hitting first baseman back in a couple of days.' I said, 'Pardon, that's me!' He asked if I wanted to play for him, as long as there were no tantrums or tearing up clubhouses. I told him I'd play for him, but with eight years in the minors, I'm probably going to be labeled as a career minor leaguer. I'd play one year and then I'd like to try to go to Japan. For some reason Paul Richards then calls me in to his office and says, 'Son, you can't be as bad as you look. You have 208 home runs in seven years, with that power, I really need you on first base. You only have 36 times at bat in three years with the Dodgers. I'm going to give you 150 times at bat. On the 29th day, if you are hitting, you stay with me, if not, I'm going to send you back to the Dodgers.' Once the season started, things started to click."
Gentile finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to teammate Ron Hansen. Years removed his playing days, he is still referred to as “Diamond Jim” the nickname given to him by  Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella. Gentile explained how the named followed him throughout his career.

“Roy Campanella gave it to me in Japan," he said. "I led the club in everything. The Stars and Stripes asked Campanella, 'How about this Italian kid?' He replied, 'He's a diamond in the rough.' I came to Spring Training next year and Charlie "The Brow" the clubhouse guy had a big sign over my locker that read, 'Welcome home Diamond Jim, Ichiban #1.' In 1961, we went to Minneapolis, and the clubhouse boy who was with me at St. Paul is now in the visitors clubhouse. He's got a sign over my locker that read, 'Welcome home Diamond Jim.' I went out and hit grand slams in the first and second innings and the name stuck from there.”

While Gentile is enjoying the revived interest in his career and his “new” record, the former All-Star is still trying to keep things in proper perspective.

“I never considered myself in Mickey's status," he said. "I was just a mediocre ballplayer. I could hit the long ball, but I wasn't going to hit .350. In my nine years, I hit .260. That was pretty good for a long ball hitter. It [1961] was a great year for me, and to be in that category with those guys, it's quite a thrill. I'm very happy they found that RBI, but with the oil spills and whatnot, why are they worried about that RBI? It doesn't diminish Roger Maris' year in anyway, it just gives my grand kids something to talk about.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hank Presswood is honored with Topps baseball card

Former Negro League shortstop Hank "Baby" Presswood has finally received his first official baseball card 62 years after his debut. Presswood played with the Cleveland Buckeyes and Kansas City Monarchs between 1948 and 1952. He was honored with a card in the 2010 Topps Allen and Ginter set. This honor has been part of an ongoing attempt since 2007 by Topps to recognize the living Negro League greats that did not have the opportunity to be featured during their playing careers.

In a July 2010 phone interview with Presswood, he remarked about the excitement of having his "rookie" card at the age of 88.  The fan response has been overwhelming.

"I was really grateful for it," Presswood said. "It was really nice man. They even have when I played softball on that card. They had everything about my ballplaying. I get a pile of letters every day! Sometimes I can get them right in the mail, other days, it takes a day or so. I'm enjoying it. I'm proud that people are interested."

Hank Presswood / Topps
The increased popularity of the Negro Leagues has allowed Presswood to experience the adulation of the younger generation. He had just returned from giving an apperance at a local high school when we caught up on the phone.

"We get invited to these things," he said. "We were at Stevenson on the North Side today. I just got back from there. Seeing the kids is the best thing that ever happened. I feel really proud when we talk to the kids. It's really exciting. They get a big bang out of us being there. We're gone all the time, at different places and ball games."

While Presswood has outlived most of his peers, his nickname "Baby" still sticks. He explained how the legendary Buck O'Neil bestowed the youthful moniker upon him.

"I played two years with the Monarchs," he explained. "That's when I got my nickname. Buck O'Neil called me "Baby". Everyone calls me now Hank "Baby" Presswood and I'm two years younger than Santa Claus! He was the greatest. He was a good ballplayer himself. He was something else. When he passed, that really hurt because he was like a father to me."

Presswood continues to have the passion for the game of a wide eyed youngster, even after being far removed from his playing days.

"I'll tell you what, I just love the game," he said. "When the Cubs and the White Sox are playing, I don't care what I have to do, I finish what I have to do, get my seat and watch the game."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Negro Leaguers to discuss the first Negro League game at Yankees Stadium on July 25 in NYC

A panel of former Negro League players and historians will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the first Negro League baseball game at Yankee Stadium this Monday at the Museum of the City of New York on July 25th. For more details on the event, click here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

James Gammon aka Lou Brown from Major League dies at 70

Fan favorite James Gammon, who played the seasoned manager Lou Brown in the classic Major League died Friday at the age of 70 in California. What was your favorite line from Brown from Major League?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vicente Lopez, Cuban pitcher for Almendares dead at 83

Former Cuban League star and Brooklyn Dodger farmhand Vicente Lopez passed away Wednesday at the age of 83 in Miami. Lopez was signed by the Dodgers after an outstanding Cuban amateur league career in 1948. He won 18 and 20 games in 1949 and 1950 for their Class B Miami Sun Sox team.

Vicente Lopez
All signs pointed towards Lopez quickly advancing towards the major league level. During the winter league season of 1950-51, Lopez was the target of scrutiny by the Dodgers scouts. During a winter league game against another Dodger prospect Joe Black, Lopez battled for 10-innings during a 2-2 ballgame. After his brilliant display in front of the Dodgers brass, Lopez realized that he threw his arm out in the process. He would never regain the life on his fastball to supplement his knee buckling curve to become a major league prospect.

Lopez pitched for 13 seasons in the minor leagues, Mexico, and Cuba before settling in Miami. After his baseball career, he worked as a clerk in a food warehouse while working as an instructor at Carlos Pascual's Latin American Baseball Academy.

More Info -
El Lanzador - Vicente Lopez was almost the Cuban Koufax - Miami New Times
Muere en Miami el ex lanzador cubano Vicente López - Diario Las Americas

Negro Leagues honored with new stamp

The Negro Leagues are honored once again with a commemorative stamp from the United States Postal Service. The new stamp which was issued Thursday features an artistic rendition of a close play at home plate, and Hall of Famer Andrew "Rube" Foster, who is considered by many the "father" of the Negro Leagues.

Prominent living former Negro Leaguers include Hall of Famers Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron.

Stamps and first day cachets can be ordered online from

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Clint Hartung, New York Giant pitcher and outfielder, 87, 1922-2010

Former New York Giant pitcher and outfielder Clint Hartung died at the age of 87 in Sinton, Texas on Thursday. He was the runner on third base when Bobby Thomson hit the famous "Shot Heard 'Round The World."

Click here for a complete retrospective on Hartung's career.

Clint Hartung

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Yankee owner George Steinbrenner dies at 80 after heart attack

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner sits with an unidentified woman as he watches the Yankees home opening MLB American League baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Yankee Stadium in New York April 13, 2010.  REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
Famed New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner died Tuesday after suffering a massive heart attack at the age of 80. Feel free to share your recollections of "The Boss" and how he left his mark on the game of baseball.

Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 All-Star Game revives memories of 15 inning epic in 1967

As Major League Baseball finishes the first half of the regular season, fans and baseball's elite will descend upon Angel Stadium as it hosts its third All-Star Game. Anaheim's previous contests hold a tremendous amount of significance in the history of the midsummer classic. The first contest in Anaheim on July 11, 1967 went 15 innings with the 2-1 National League victory being decided by a 15th inning home run courtesy of Tony Perez. Ironically, each of the three third basemen playing in the game provided the scoring via home run. The 1967 game would mark a record for the longest game in All-Star Game history, which lasted for 41 years when the 2008 game also spanned 15 innings.

Freehan catches all 15 innings

As foreign as it sounds today in an All-Star Game, ten of the sixteen position players who started the game played the game in its entirety. American League catcher Bill Freehan of the Detroit Tigers was behind the dish for the whole game and recounted some of his experiences of that epic contest during a recent interview.

"If you look back to that All-Star Game, it reads like a who's who of the Hall of Fame," said Freehan from his Michigan home.

Manager Hank Bauer elected to keep Freehan in the game when he had two other catchers ready to go in.

"I was surprised," he said. "He came to me and asked, 'Are you okay? Are you okay? Can you keep going?' He was afraid that I was going to be worn out. In the papers, the next day Mayo Smith jokingly said that Bauer was trying to wear me out for the pennant race. I replied to Bauer, 'Heck yeah! [I can keep going.] We're trying to win this thing.' Unfortunately we didn't. It was fun to do it though, and that game is still a record. The other two catchers [Paul Casanova and Andy Etchebarren] were good players, but I think that it had something to do with me having prior All-Star experience that factored into Bauer sticking with me during a tight game."

A close view from the dugout

Freehan's iron man status left first-time All-Star Casanova on the outside looking in. That was Casanova's clearest memory of the game.

"They played 15 innings and I never got in the game," said Casanova via telephone. "You don't let a guy go to the All-Star Game and catch 15 innings. The only reason he [Bauer] never played me is because he didn't want Andy Etchebarren to feel bad about it. I was picked as the number two catcher. He brought Etchebarren on his own. He didn't want to play me ahead of Etchebarren. That's the only reason he did it."

Casanova recalled Senators manager Gil Hodges later approaching Bauer about Casanova's benching.

"Gil [Hodges] got mad at him," he said. "When we went back to Washington, we played Baltimore at home. Gil called him to the side and said, 'If you would have played Casanova, you guys would have won the game because he hit good in Anaheim. (Casanova hit .432 at Anaheim Stadium that year with two home runs.) He [Bauer] said, 'I don't want to him to feel bad about it because I don't want Andy to feel bad.'"

Another player who also watched from the bench was Indians pitcher Steve Hargan. A few of the pitchers didn't appear in the game because they had pitched the day before, but Hargan was the victim of a freak injury that prevented him from helping out the American League club.

"The last game with the Indians prior to the All-Star Game, I pulled a leg muscle rounding third," said Hargan speaking from his California home. "I got caught in the grass and pulled a hamstring, so I could hardly walk; that's the reason why I didn't pitch that day."

It dampened what was one of the highlights of Hargan's career.

"I felt bad about [the game] going that long and not being able to pitch. Catfish [Hunter] pitched five innings. Here it was one of the most important games in my life, [and I was hurt]. That was my biggest recollection of not being able to participate because of pulling a muscle. I don't think I've ever pulled a muscle before in my life and haven't since."

Hargan felt similarly to Casanova when regarding playing time in the All-Star Game.

"Everyone who makes the All-Star team should play if they're physically able."

The lone man at shortstop

National League shortstop Gene Alley was also another iron man going the distance, handling three errorless chances. The game in many ways exceeded his expectations.

"Well, I didn't expect it to go 15 innings," said Alley from his home in Glen Allen, Virginia. "I was ready to play nine. It was a thrill to play the whole game. I watched All-Star Games and they have at least two people at each position. I thought I might play five innings and someone else would play the rest. I don't know why they didn't substitute. The game was going along, there wasn't a lot of hitting in the game, so it went by pretty fast."

He didn't expect the Hall of Fame laden lineup to be silenced by the arms of the American League.

"There were a lot of great players," he said. "I'm not talking about myself; these guys who went into the Hall of Fame, they were great hitters and the pitching made everybody look bad."

Alley attributed the lack of hitting to the ominous backdrop of Anaheim Stadium.

"I remember the Angels said that at that time of the day [5pm] the ball would be hard to pick up. They were right, it was. The background wasn't that good that day. I think that had a lot to do with it. There were a lot of good hitters in that game and the pitching just dominated that game."

Perez gives the National League the winning run

Perez in the top of the 15th inning, hit a home run off of Catfish Hunter that led to the National League's victory. Alley said it sparked a great deal of emotion in their dugout.

"We were happy! Here we can finally maybe get the game over with and win. At that time the National League really went in trying to win them."

A young Tom Seaver would make his first of twelve All-Star appearances to close out the game. Alley went to the mound to offer the rookie some words of advice.

"I remember going up to talk to Tom Seaver and I told him, '"Look, just pitch the way you do against us and you'll be alright.'" 

Seaver blanked the American League in the bottom of the inning to preserve the victory.

While these All-Stars are past their playing days, they will be eagerly tuned into the game. For Hargan and Alley, the game will rekindle the spirits of the inaugural game at Anaheim Stadium.

"I'm going to be watching the game," said Hargan. "It brought back some old memories. My first win was against the Angels when they were playing in Chavez Ravine. I enjoyed pitching there because it was one of the newer stadiums at the time. Most of the parks were older."

Alley is excited to see how the new park looks.

"I'm anxious to see this year's game," he said. "I don't remember too much about the stadium, but it doesn't look the same now as it did when I played there when I see it on TV."

The 81st annual MLB All-Star game will be televised July 13, 2010 8:00 PM EST on Fox.

More Info
1967 All-Star Game Box Score and Play by Play -
Anaheim ready to make more ASG memories -
1967 All-Star Game: A different world - Orange County Register
Casanova didn't get in the game - The Free Lance-Star
A chance for underdogs - St. Petersburg Times

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is Jason Heyward the second coming of Hank Aaron?

With all of the talk surrounding Jason Heyward making the National League all-star team, his rookie season bears many comparisons to another 20-year-old Braves phenom, Hank Aaron. While Heyward has another 20 years to go to fill the shoes of his mentor, one can't help but compare the two right fielders as rookies. Similar in their strong builds, youthful exuberance, sweet swings and position; this generation could quite possibly be watching the second coming of Aaron develop before their eyes.

Both players spent minimal time in the minor leagues, with Aaron playing 224 games and Heyward playing 238 before entering the majors at the age of 20. After torrid spring trainings (Aaron's aided by the injury of Bobby Thomson's ankle) they were named the starting right fielders for their clubs and quickly captivated the attention of the fans, media and their teammates.

Again, while premature, as we approach the all-star break, here is a statistical comparison of the first halves of Aaron and Heyward's rookie seasons. If this is any indicator of what lies ahead for Heyward, we very well might be seeing greatness in the making.

Hank Aaron 1954 rookie year first and second half splits
1st Half 76 74 325 297 40 85 20 3 11 45 1 2 22 24 .286 .337 .485 .822 144 8 2 2 2 0 4 .280 113 123
2nd Half 46 39 184 171 18 46 7 3 2 24 1 0 6 15 .269 .294 .380 .675 65 5 1 4 2 0 3 .282 76 87
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/7/2010.

Jason Heyward 2010 rookie year first half stats as of 7/7/10
1st Half 71 67 303 255 41 64 13 3 11 45 5 4 42 68 .251 .366 .455 .821 116 5 5 0 1 2 9 .299 100 124
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/7/2010.

Johan Santana homers enroute to a complete game shutout against the Cincinnati Reds

New York Mets Johan Santana and Henry Blanco react after Blanco hits a 2-run homer in the second inning against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field in New York City on June 10, 2010.  UPI/John Angelillo Photo via Newscom
Johan Santana hit his first major league home run last night for the New York Mets, capping a 3-0 shutout victory against the Cincinnati Reds. He was the first Mets pitcher to homer since John Maine in 2007 and the first lefty since Sid Fernandez in 1989. Click here to see video of Santana's home run and highlights from the game.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reggie Jackson and Tommy Lasorda ignite Yankee - Dodger rivalry

At last week's Yankee - Dodger game, with the aid of announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, the legendary Yankee - Dodger rivalry from the late 1970's was ignited between Hall of Famers Tommy Lasorda and Reggie Jackson. Click here to read commentary and see the exchange of barbs between the two legends.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Giants retire New York legend Monte Irvin's number 20

June 26, 2010 - San Francisco, CALIFORNIA, United States - epa02225845 Former New York Giants and Hall of Fame Monte Irvin (R) gets a kiss from former San Francisco Giants' and Hall of Fame Orlando Cepeda (L), after the Giants retired Irvin's number during a ceremony before the game against the Boston Red Sox at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California, USA, 26 June 2010.

A long overdue tribute to one of baseball's pioneer's, and the last living superstar of the Negro Leagues. At 91, Irvin is the last living player who was a superstar in the Negro Leagues before getting to the major leagues. He was the first black on the Giants in 1949, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973. Click here to read the article and see video regarding the wonderful, albeit late, ceremony to retire Irvin's number 20 this past weekend.