Sunday, January 31, 2010

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum experiencing financial problems

For years Buck O'Neil held court for the legions of fans and enthusiasts that passed through the doors of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO. A walking billboard for the history of the Negro Leagues, Buck was part retired player, part ambassador and part humanitarian. Starting in 1990, he helped to build the museum from a small office in Kansas City to the 10,000-square foot cathedral that exists today.

When he passed in 2006, baseball and the museum lost it's biggest advocate for the greatness of the Negro Leagues. Without O'Neil, the voice became quieter and the message didn't resonate the same way with fans across the country. O'Neil tirelessly traveled the United States to spread the word not only about the likes of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, but those such as Hilton Smith, Willard Brown, "Wild" Bill Wright, Henry Kimbro and other Negro League stars who came along prematurely. For many, he was the living and breathing image of the passion that the Negro Leagues encompassed.

Now that there are only a handful of Negro Leaguers still alive, most of them over the age of 80, they are no longer able to travel the country the same way O'Neil did to connect with the public about the lore of the Negro Leagues. The lack of attention is having a profound effect on the attendance at the museum in Kansas City. As Doug Tucker of the Canadian Press reports, the NLBM is facing a $200,00 deficit, and may be on the verge of moving or closing if they cannot raise more funding.

This announcement is on the heels of the 10th Annual Legacy Awards, which honors Major League players in Kansas City with awards bearing the names of the Negro League greats of the past.

Friday, January 29, 2010

30th annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner to benefit AHRC-NYC Foundation

Champions past and present will be honored at the 30th Anniversary Thurman Munson Awards Dinner, remembering the late, great New York Yankees catcher and captain on Tuesday night, February 2, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. New York Yankees 2009 World Champion pitcher Joba Chamberlain; Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella, Thurman’s teammate on the Bronx Bombers' 1977 and ’78 World Series title teams; 1986 New York Mets World Champion and Yankees 1996, ’98 and ‘99 champion outfielder Darryl Strawberry; Knicks starting point guard Chris Duhon, a member of Duke’s 2001 NCAA championship squad; and Yonkers Raceway’s two-time champion driver Jason Bartlett will be the recipients of Munson Awards from the AHRC-New York City Foundation.

Piniella, a previous Munson Award recipient, will receive the “Legend Award” for his long and meritorious service to baseball. Lynn Pike, the president of Capital One Bank, will receive the “Corporate Hero Award.”

Diana Munson, Thurman’s widow, has been involved in the benefit since its inception, raising nearly $9 million to assist children and adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Len Berman of NBC Sports will once again serve as the master of ceremonies. For tickets and information on the Munson Awards Dinner contact 212-249-6188. The honorees will be cited for their accomplishments on the field of play and philanthropic efforts.

The AHRC New York City Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that supports programs enabling children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to lead richer, more productive lives, including programs of AHRC New York City. AHRC New York City is one of the largest organizations of its kind, serving 11,000 children and adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries and other disabilities.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How Andre Dawson almost became a New York Met

We had the opportunity to sit down with newly crowned Hall of Famer Andre Dawson and former New York Mets manager Davey Johnson at the 2010 Baseball Assistance Team dinner to discuss how Dawson was nearly signed by the Mets during the 1986 off season. Click here to read the interview and see photos from the event.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mets acquire Gary Matthews Jr. - Will the second time around be a charm? reports that the New York Mets have acquired outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. from the Los Angeles Angels for relief pitcher Brian Stokes. In addition to paying off a $500,000 obligation for trading Matthews, the Angels will pick up $21.5 million of the $23.5 million remaining on his contract. Matthews signed an albatross of a contract after having a breakout season in 2006 with the Texas Rangers, batting .313 and earning a spot on the American League All-Star team. He has hit .252, .242. and .250 in the three seasons he played with the Angels after signing the $23.5 million dollar contract in the 2006 off-season.

This is Matthews' second tour of duty with the Mets, as he was signed in December of 2001 from the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played in two games for the Mets in 2002, going hitless in 1 at-bat before being traded to the Orioles for pitcher John Bale. Matthews was acquired to fill the centerfield void left by Carlos Beltran who will be out until May following knee surgery. He will be in competition with Angel Pagan for the starting centerfield spot throughout spring training.

Matthews initially spurned most trade requests this year because he couldn't be guaranteed playing time. Mets GM Omar Minaya said Friday during a conference call that Beltran's injury provided an opening for Matthews, "There's an opportunity for him to come into New York and hopefully be able to get more playing time," Minaya said. "I think the key for him is going to be playing time."

The Mets have taken a low risk option in acquiring Matthews, as the Angels have picked up most of his salary. They say things are better the second time around, but with Matthews' recent performance and his age (35), signs point to Matthews offering the Mets very little in terms of power and average.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bobby Bragan, 92, Former Brooklyn Dodger, 1917-2010

Former player and manager, Bobby Bragan has passed away at the age of 92 on Thursday in Fort Worth, TX.. Dubbed "Mr. Baseball" for his long time association with the game, Bragan became a manager for the Pirates and Braves after he retired as an active player with the Phillies and Dodgers. He later went on to start the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which provided scholarships to youngsters from the Dallas / Fort Worth area.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Satchel Paige: The Story Of An American Baseball Legend

NPR program Fresh Air recently conducted an interview with Larry Tye, the author of the biography, "Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend." Tye's book was a New York Times best-seller in 2009 and gives great insight into the life and career of one of baseball's greatest players and characters, Leroy "Satchel" Paige. Click here to listen to the audio of the interview.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Update: Jose Offerman banned for life from Dominican winter league reports that the Dominican Winter Baseball League has suspended Jose Offerman for life after he tried to hit umpire Daniel Rayburn during an argument last week. Due to the incident, Rayburn and three other American umpires working in the Dominican league resigned and left the country, forcing the league to use native umpires in the league's finals that start Monday between Cibao and the Escogido Lions.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jose Offerman throws a punch at an umpire reports that Jose Offerman threw a punch at an umpire during a Dominican winter league game Saturday night, the second time in 2½ years he has assaulted someone on a baseball field.

Offerman, who is the manager of the Licey Tigers, took a swing at the first base umpire during a heated exchange in the game against the Cibao Giants. Offerman came out onto the field after Ronny Paulino was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. He went to argue with the home plate umpire, but got entangled with the first base umpire Daniel Rayburn instead.

Offerman's previous fighting incident on the field occurred during the 2007 season when he was a member of the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. During the August 14, 2007 game against the Bridgeport Bluefish, pitcher Matt Beech hit him with a fastball. Offerman charged the mound with his bat and swung at least twice, striking Beech and Bluefish catcher John Nathans.

In February 2009, Nathans sued Offerman in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, seeking $4.8 million in damages. Nathans said the attack left him with permanent, career-ending injuries.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Art Rust Jr., author and radio host, dies at 82

Art Rust Jr., author of the pioneering baseball book "Get That Ni--er Off The Field" and WABC sports talk radio host, died Tuesday at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 82. The cause of death was from complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his daughter, Suzanne Rust. For more complete coverage of Rust's career, click here.

Get That Nigger Off the Field: An Oral History of Black Ballplayers from the Negro Leagues to the Present

Monday, January 11, 2010

Willie Mays and Ruben Gomez slugged it out 55 years ago in Puerto Rico

Willie Mays and Ruben Gomez were not only teammates on the New York Giants from 1954-58, but were teammates on arguably the greatest winter team ever assembled, the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers. Both were integral players on a team that would run away with the 1955 Carribbean Series championship. Mays anchored an outfield which included Roberto Clemente and Bob Thurman.

Gomez chiefed a staff which included "Sad" Sam Jones, Luis Arroyo and Bill Greason. With their infield including George Crowe, Ron Samford, Don Zimmer and Bus Clarkson, many experts have said that this team could hang with any of the great teams in baseball history.

Willie Mays and Ruben Gomez in Santurce
As wonderful as the team played, things were not harmonious between two of it's biggest stars, Gomez and Mays. Before a January exhibition game. Gomez and Mays engaged in a scuffle over a turn in batting practice. According to an Associated Press report, Santurce club president Pedrin Zorilla described the events as followed.

"Gomez started kidding Roberto Clemente, his teammates who was having  his swings," Zorillia recalled. "Gomez said he wanted to get in a couple of swings but batting practice pitcher Milton Ralat said Clemente wasn't through yet. Gomez still kidding, sat on home plate. Mays was behind the cage, watching the horseplay, and stepped out to ask Ralat to pitch to him while the other two decided their argument. ... Finally, Ralat threw some slow ones to Mays. He hit one directly at Ralat, knocking off his glove. Ralat got mad and said something like, 'What are you trying to do, kill me?'

"That led to arguing between Ralat and Mays and finally got to blows. Gomez tried to intervene to halt it. Mays apparently mistook Gomez' intentions and gave him a shove. Gomez, unexpecting it, went down."

Many other reports have Gomez going down as a result of one of Mays punches. Damage control quickly ensued and the two squashed their beef. The Associated Press reported that Gomez said, "There's nothing to it. We both consider the case closed and are good friends."

Mays went on to deny the fight.

"We want to make clear there was no fight and you can say without reservation that there is no difficulty between Gomez and myself."

Days after the incident, the Victoria Advocate reported that Mays left the Santurce team as a result of the fight. Mays told the International News Service that he was leaving Puerto Rico because, "it was just too much." He cited the 154 games he played with the Giants and the additional 62 games with Santurce as, "taking too much" and "not being fair to the Giants."

Mays left Puerto Rico and returned two weeks later for the playoffs. Mays went hitless in his first 13 at-bats in the series, until he hit a two-out, two-run walk-off homer in the 11th inning of Game Six. He then went 11-for-13 in the next three games to finish with a .462 average (12-for-26) and leading the series in RBIs.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Aroldis Chapman signs with the Reds reports that Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman has signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Chapman made headlines at last year's World Baseball Classic where he routinely hit 100 mph on the radar gun. The lefty fireballer was able establish residency in Andorra after he defected from the Cuban National Team in July. Since that time, he has switched agents and been a coveted target for many teams, with the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Marlins all making offers to Chapman in the winter months.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fallout over 2010 Baseball Hall of Fame voting

In light of Andre Dawson's election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, much attention has been given to the BBWAA writers whose votes put Dawson in, but kept out the likes of Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Barry Larkin. Many non-voting writers, fans and bloggers cried foul when some BBWAA writers said they didn't vote for the likes of Alomar and Larkin just to make them wait a year. There was also outrage over the reportedly five BBWAA writers who submitted blank ballots, including Jay Mariotti who said he didn't care if he was thrown out of the BBWAA.

Howard Bryant of wrote an excellent piece entitled, "Outrage at HOF voting baseless", where he reminds us the likes of Cy Young, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Rogers Hornsby, Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra weren't elected on the first try. Look at that list. Cy Young (the most wins ever), Rogers Hornsby (2nd highest career batting average all-time), Joe DiMaggio (arguably the best centerfielder ever) weren't "first-time" Hall of Famers. Bryant argues that, "Alomar cannot claim superiority over anyone on that list. Each was eventually inducted, and the free world survived." Bryant is right, the clock keeps turning and Alomar and Larkin will see their plaques next to these legends in the near future. This doesn't mean that the process isn't flawed.

While past transgressions in voting don't justify this year's results, maybe the publicity given to this year's vote will start a shift in voting where the BBWAA writers vote for candidates that are Hall of Fame material starting from the first year they are on the ballot. There is no need to make a candidate wait just because the sole reason for not voting is that it is their first year of eligibility. Let's begin to dissolve the mythical sanctity of the "first ballot" Hall of Famer by voting for players like Alomar and Larkin as soon as they're eligible.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Prediction: Nobody will be elected by the BBWAA to the Hall of Fame in 2010

In a poll of 17 baseball writers, none of them were able to reach a 75% consensus to elect any of the current nominees. Roberto Alomar placed first but didn't receive the required 75%. I am curious to see if Wednesday's totals match this. To see the full results, click the link above.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A pair of 10 year-old Boston twins discover the Negro Leagues

It is always endearing to find out when the next generation of baseball fans discover the Negro Leagues. A recent Boston Globe article details the journey of a pair of 10 year-old Brookline twins (Max and Lucas Kerman) into the history of the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues experienced a rise in popularity in the mid 1990's when Ken Burns put Buck O'Neil on a worldwide stage in the epic series Baseball. O'Neil captured the minds of many, including this writer, with the clarity and vigor he displayed in telling the story of the Negro Leagues. While the stories of Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige are retold by many, to loosely quote O'Neil, "there were many other Satchel's and Josh's that played in the league." It was the story of those "other" superstars that made me further investigate the great talents of the Negro Leagues.

During the 1990's, there were many of the league's great stars alive to share their experiences of playing in an era of segregation. Many of them wrote books, attended reunions and card shows, and gave countless interviews to authors and reporters. As many started to pass, the public started to lose their connection to the Negro Leagues, even though literature was plentiful.

Currently, there are approximately 30-40 living Negro Leaguers who played before 1950 (the last year that most historians qualify the league as having widespread major league talent) and a handful of others who played in the league through 1960. They are our last living connections to a league that provided some of the greatest baseball talent in the world while enduring the hardships of segregation.

I commend these youngsters for actively seeking out the players to hear their stories. Hopefully they will be advocates for the memory of the Negro Leagues to their generation of baseball fans. My only hope is that we will see not only white youth take this kind of interest in the Negro Leagues, but that we will also see African-American youth doing the same.