Monday, May 31, 2010

Eddie Carnett: At 93 memories of a baseball player and soldier in World War II are as clear as ever

World War II veteran and retired major league baseball player Eddie Carnett holds the unique distinction of being one of only a handful of players to make their debut as a pitcher and later return to play full time as a position player. Others on this short list include Smokey Joe Wood, Lefty O'Doul, and someone named Babe Ruth. While Carnett did not put up Ruthian-like numbers, he was an excellent mentor, teaching Warren Spahn his pick-off move and tutoring Bob Feller on how to throw a slider.
Eddie Carnett / Author's Collection
Carnett is one of the few living members of the legendary Great Lakes Naval baseball team. On this Memorial Day in 2010, he recalled his entrance into the Navy 65 years ago.

"I'm pretty old, I'll be 94 pretty soon," Carnett said via telephone. "I went to Great Lakes in 1945, 65 years ago today. I was 28, heck I was an old man in the service. It was very interesting. Bob Feller was our manager, Walker Cooper was our catcher, I played first base and Johnny Groth was in center field. Pinky Higgins was there too. We were all big league ballplayers."

A few days into his service, Carnett played in an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers. He recalled an entertaining exchange between Hall of Fame manager Mickey Cochrane and famed pitcher Schoolboy Rowe over the decision to pitch that day.

"In fact, on June 6th we had an exhibition game; the Detroit Tigers came into Great Lakes and I hadn't been there too long," he recalled. "I remember Mickey Cochrane was the manager, and before the game, Schoolboy said [to Cochrane], 'Skip, it's kinda cold out there today.' Cochrane shot him a look and said, 'It's pretty warm over in the South Pacific.' Rowe quickly said, 'Give me the damn ball skip!' Rowe and Virgil Trucks pitched and we beat them. In fact, we beat every big league club we played."

A year prior to entering the Navy while playing with the Chicago White Sox, a visit to a Philadelphia area hospital proved to be a sobering experience for Carnett about the realities of war.

"We went around and played quite a few exhibition games across the country," he said. "We went into the Valley Forge Hospital in Philadelphia with all of the guys from the White Sox. All of the guys from Normandy were sent back shot up. I never seen such a bloody mess in my life. That was when they went across the channel and got shot up. One big kid, his idol was Hal Trosky. The nurse told me he had both eyes shot out, he had a bandage over his face so I didn't know that. Trosky was in a batting slump, and the kid got up and said, 'I can see ol' Hal Trosky now.' He just stood there perfect in Trosky's stance, and Trosky got white a sheet. Trosky then said, "It takes a blind kid to tell me what I was doing wrong." There wasn't a dry eye in the room; he wasn't worried about his eyes, he was worried about his buddy Trosky, his baseball idol. I'll tell ya, I would have rather been over there than see what I seen coming back at Valley Forge Hospital. Those guys that came back, I'm telling you, they were shot up."

Carnett explained why many of these horror stories never reached the public consciousness.

"The public never sees any of this stuff," he said. "And I can understand why the government hides this stuff from them. I don't know whether the public can take it or not. War is hell! There ain't nothing fair about war. If I know you are going to try to shoot me, I am going to shoot you first and ask questions later."

He also acknowledged that some of the players took heat from their fellow servicemen because they were shielded from combat duty as they traveled the country playing exhibition games for the troops.

"I was fortunate," he said. "I was in the Navy, scheduled to go out in a bunker hill and [instead] the Commodore of our Naval District wanted us to go around. We went to Fort Dix and played some exhibition games. There were a couple of soldiers that called me a draft dodger because I was playing ball. The guys over there in the Army told me not to worry and they picked those guys up and threw them out of the ballpark."

Far removed from his military service, Carnett suggested enlisting the services of the retired veterans to help put an end to battle.

"I'll tell you how to stop war," he said. "Take guys like me, 80-90 years old and put us in the service, on the front lines, and after four or five shots, you know what we're going to say, 'What in the hell are we doing here?'"

While the current administration may not be knocking down his door anytime soon, Carnett is glad to be around to continue to tell his story.

"I had a lot of good friends in baseball and I miss them," he lamented. "I love the fans. A lot of my buddies lost their lives, the only thing I lost was money and my big league career. That was fine; I came back alive."

Carnett is featured in the following books about World War II and baseball:

Hardball on the Home Front: Major League Replacement Players of World War II - Craig Allen Cleve

Bluejackets of Summer: The History of the Great Lakes Naval Baseball Team 1942-1945 - Roger Gogan

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book Review: The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 more baseball heroes

The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 More Baseball Heroes

Brent Kelley
McFarland Publishing, 2010
389 pp.

"The Negro Leagues Revisited"
is Brent Kelley's follow-up to his successful collection of Negro League interviews "Voices from the Negro Leagues". Originally published in 2000, McFarland is celebrating its 10 year anniversary by releasing it in paperback form. Sadly, as of this writing less than one-third of the 66 players interviewed for this collection are deceased. The interviews span the careers of Negro League players from the 1920's through the 1960's.

Even though many of the legends are no longer with us, Kelley has managed to capture an important time in both baseball and American history by letting these men who played in the Negro Leagues tell their stories of competing in an era of segregation. Many are unaware that the Negro Leagues had a collection of veterans that made the league run in addition to the likes of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard.

He brings to life the voices of such colorful players as Buck O'Neil, "The Human Vacuum Cleaner" Bobby Robinson, Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, Andy "Pullman" Porter, and Buster Haywood who was Hank Aaron's manager in the Negro Leagues. Listen and enjoy their tales of traveling the United States and the Caribbean playing against all of the greats of baseball. It's a compelling look into the lives of the men who for most of their career, played in obscurity solely due to the color of their skin.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Hall of Famer and MVP give back at youth clinic in Long Island

Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry and former National League MVP George Foster led a group of retired Major League baseball players that delivered a wonderful baseball clinic at Hofstra University on May 22nd. Click here to see pictures and to read a full recap of the event.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Morrie Martin, former Brooklyn Dodger and World War II hero passes away at 87

Morris "Morrie" Martin, former left-handed pitcher and World War II veteran passed away Tuesday at the age of 87 due to complications from cancer. The above link has a retrospective on his career and quotations from a 2008 interview with Martin about his World War II service.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rogelio Martinez, 91, Cuban baseball legend and Washington Senator

Former Cuban pitcher and Washington Senator Rogelio "Limonar" Martinez died Monday at his home in Connecticut at the age of 91 after suffering a fall that caused severe internal bleeding.

A legend in the Matanzas province, Martinez was just the seventh pitcher in Cuban baseball history to pitch a no-hitter, spinning the gem while a member of the Marianao club in 1950 against Almendares.

He briefly made two appearances for the Washington Senators in 1950, posting an 0-1 record with a 27.00 ERA. Martinez at the time was plagued by knee injuries which would affect him for the rest of his career and into retirement.

He lived for many years in Queens, New York after moving from Cuba in 1962 with his family. He was inducted into the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. He spent the last few years of his life living in Connecticut with his daughter.

More Information -
He died a legend of Cuban Baseball - El Nuevo Herald (Translated)


Limonar Martinez Dies - Jesus Alberto Rubio (Spanish)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Jose Lima, former All-Star pitcher dies at 37 of a heart attack

With the passing of Jose Lima, "Lima Time" is officially over at the age of 37. The colorful right-hander died of an apparent heart attack on Sunday.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ted Kazanski recalls his magical moment in the wake of Angel Pagan's feats

Earlier this week, Angel Pagan of the New York Mets made baseball history against the Washington Nationals, being the first player in 55 years to hit an inside the park homerun and start a triple play in the same game. The last player to accomplish that feat was shortstop Ted Kazanski of the Philadelphia Phillies on September 25, 1955 against the New York Giants on the final game of the season at the Polo Grounds.

The 76-year-old Kazanski, living in Northern Michigan, was reached via telephone Friday evening to discuss his memorable day in Manhattan. Ironically, he remembers the triple play much clearer than the home run.

Ted Kazanski / 1954 Topps
“I remember the triple play because it ended the season," Kazanski said. "It was the last play of the season and I think it was the last game that Leo Durocher managed the Giants. I remember that part of it. They got the first two men on. [Joey Amalfitano singled and Whitey Lockman walked.] We were winning the game 3-1. I think Bobby Hofman pinch hit. I was playing closer to second base for a possible double play. He hit a line shot right at me, I flipped to Bobby Morgan and he threw to first [Marv Blaylock] and the season was over! I don't remember the home run too much. The left and right center gaps were a mile away.”

The New York Times account of the game details his inside-the-park homerun as a result of a crash between Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes.

“Kazanski's round-tripper was an inside-the-park affair that was somewhat of a gift. Kazanski drove deep to left center. Mays raced over and caught the ball, but Dusty Rhodes ran into Willie. The ball, Mays and Rhodes hit the ground and Kazanski crossed the plate.”

Even more prominent than the triple play from that game, were his memories of a teammate that had fallen asleep despite all of the commotion. Saul Rogovin was a pitcher for the Phillies who would later become a standout teacher at Brooklyn's Eastern District High School, where he would mentor future Major League pitcher Frankie Rodriguez. Rogovin was out cold as his team ran off the field.

“The thing I remember the most about that day is Saul sleeping in the bullpen," he said. "He was a funny guy, a great guy. Saul had narcolepsy, you know, where you fall asleep anytime. So that day, Saul is in the bullpen. Bang, the triple play happens, the season's over! We're all running off the field. You had to go all the way to center field and up the steps in the Polo Grounds to the clubhouse; that's where our clubhouse was. People were running onto the field. Meanwhile, we're all in the clubhouse showering and Pete the clubhouse guy looks out on the field and says, 'Holy ----, Saul is still out there in the bullpen sleeping!' So they had to send the batboy out there to tell him the season's over. That was a classic, I'll always remember that. He was still sleeping in the bullpen!”

Kazanski said that his efforts went with little media coverage, as compared to the coverage of Pagan's play.

“Every time I turned on Baseball Tonight, they showed his play. In our day, I don't even think they made a big deal of it in the newspaper.”

Kazanski played six seasons in the majors from 1953-58, and another six in the minors, retiring after the 1964 season at 30 after multiple surgeries on his left shoulder. This is the second time this season one of Kazanski's feats has been in the papers. In April, Atlanta's Jason Heyward became one of only ten Major Leaguers to have 4 RBIs in their Major League debut. One of those other ten was Kazanski who collected four in his first game on June 25, 1953.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry to lead baseball clinic at Hofstra University

The RPS Treiber Agency Group, today announced that it will host a Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA) Legends for Youth clinic at Hofstra University on Saturday, May 22. The clinic will feature Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, and other former players as instructors, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hofstra University Intramural Field.

The Hofstra clinic is the first New York stop in the 2010 “Legends for Youth Clinic Series. In addition to helping promote the game of baseball and developing basic baseball skills, the clinics also will focus on building kids’ confidence and self-respect, and their sense of responsibility for themselves and their team, important skills and abilities that will benefit them at home and at school.

While participation in the event is free and open to all boys and girls ages 6-16, spots are limited to the first 175 children. Internet registration for this event is taking place at www.baseballalumni.com. The Agency is also donating dozens of tickets to the clinic to local youth organizations.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring the Legends for Youth Clinic to our community,” said John Paterno, Area President for RPS Treiber Agency Group. “As an agency dedicated to helping youth reach their full potential, we hope that through these positive role models, children who attend will walk away inspired to give it there their all when it comes to playing sports and maximizing the educational opportunities available to them.”

Co-sponsored by The Hartford, the Hofstra event will also feature former greats: All Stars George Foster and Steve Rogers as well as several other former big leaguers.

“We are very excited to co-host this clinic with RPS Treiber Agency,” said Brooks Robinson, president of the MLBPAA. “Our former players understand how important it is to donate their time to provide fun-filled, educational opportunities to children who can benefit from the influence of positive sports role models.”

About the MLBPAA Legends for Youth Program
Each year, the MLBPAA Legends for Youth Program gives thousands of children across the country a chance to learn baseball fundamentals and life skills from former Major League Legends. This year alone, the program will conduct over 40 free events around the United States and will also visit international locations such as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Celebrating its 28th year in existence, the Alumni Association is a non-profit organization that was formed to promote the game of baseball, raise money for charity, inspire and educate youth through positive sport images and protect the dignity of the game through its former players.

To find out more about the MLBPAA’s Legends for Youth program, you can visit their website at, www.baseballalumni.com.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bobby Thomson says he's had enough of Ralph Branca

New York Giants hero, Bobby Thomson in a recent interview with the New York Post, said that he's had "enough". Enough of the talk about "The Shot Heard 'Round the World". "I've had enough of Ralph Branca talk, and I'm sure he's had enough of Thomson talk," Thomson said in his chat with Steve Serby.

While Joshua Prager's book, "The Echoing Green" quotes multiple sources that the Giants were stealing signals all season, Thomson vehemently denies that he knew what was coming during that fateful at-bat. "Oh no, I didn't know. (Giants manager Leo) Durocher started stealing signs, and I stole signs the early part of the year. It didn't take long to realize if I've gotta steal signs to know what's coming to stay in the big leagues, I better try something else."

Thomson moved to a retirement community in Savannah, Georgia a few years ago, and is happy with the solace it provides him from the Metropolitan area. "I just got a little tired of having that home run taken away from me. I was glad to get down here in Savannah and get away from it."

More Info -

Steve Serby's Q+A with Bobby Thomson - New York Post


Friday, May 14, 2010

Gene Hermanski turns 90, the former Brooklyn Dodger recalls his time with the Bushwicks

Former Brooklyn Dodger outfielder Gene Hermanski, now residing in Homosassa, Florida, celebrated his 90th birthday this past week. A WWII veteran, Hermanski made his debut with Brooklyn in 1943, after receiving two months of leave from the Coast Guard. He would continue to serve with the Coast Guard after a failed stint in the Navy until 1945.

While in the Coast Guard, Hermanski had the opportunity to play for another famous Brooklyn ballclub, the semipro Brooklyn Bushwicks. During a 2009 interview, Hermanski recalled that he used an assumed name to avoid being shipped out to combat in Europe.

"I played a few years with the Bushwicks," he said. "I was in the service then, stationed at Fort Bennett Field with the Coast Guard. I played under the name of Gene Walsh. I had to change it [my name]. It was the smartest thing I ever did in my life. If my commanding officer ever found out that I was playing ball in some ball park, he'd ship me overseas."

Gene Hermanski (2nd from left front row) with Brooklyn Bushwicks / Author's Collection

At the time he was playing for the Bushwicks, Hermanski encountered some of the greats of the Negro Leagues prior to playing with Jackie Robinson.

"We used to play teams like the Black Yankees, Philadelphia Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, and Homestead Grays," he recalled. "I played against Josh Gibson, as well as Satchel Paige. I got a hit or two off of Paige. I may have faced him seven or eight times and got two hits. He wasn't easy to hit, but it just so happened that I swung the bat and something happened and it was a base hit.

"We played all the black teams and we were all white," he said. "We were the home team from Brooklyn at Dexter Park, and the fans would root for the black [visiting] teams! Listen to this, we used to draw 10,000 on a Sunday for a doubleheader. It was inexpensive. They charged a buck to get in. ... We had a good reputation and we won. We played about .700 ball."

As we discussed his experiences playing against the likes of the famed Gibson and Paige, the conversation turned to Robinson. Hermanski was in the lineup the day that Robinson made his debut for the Dodgers. While Hermanski was a supporter of Robinson, having once proclaimed that the whole team wear number 42 after Robinson began to receive death threats, he recalled that there were dissenters in the Dodger clubhouse.

"Most of the ballplayers took to liking him," he said. "There were a few guys, the rednecks, who didn't care for blacks. It was only natural though the more I thought about it. These kids from the South were brought up to dislike the blacks, so they continued to do so. Some of them asked to be traded, Dixie Walker, Kirby Higbe and Hugh Casey."

After helping the Dodgers to two National League pennants in 1947 and 1949, Hermanski was traded to the Cubs during the 1951 season. He would also play with the Pittsburgh Pirates before finishing his career in 1954 with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League where he was reunited with Charlie Dressen.

"Buzzie Bavasi fixed me up with Oakland," he said. "I called him and he said, 'I could get you a job with Oakland, but the big leagues, forget it!' It was in Spring Training, so I said, 'I'll take it'. When he told me Charlie was the manager, I decided to go out there."

After his playing career was over, he worked as a sales representative for Tose Incorporated. At the age of 90, he still receives about ten autograph requests per week from fans across the country and enjoys the contact with those that still remember him. At the end of the interview when he inquired about my age, he felt that recalling his memories of playing with the Bushwicks for a short time allowed him to feel as young as the person interviewing him. It seems no matter what our age is, baseball is the true fountain of youth.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bobby Bonilla due $28 million over the next 25 years from the New York Mets

According to a recent report, the New York Mets are on the hook for over $28 million to Bobby Bonilla based on his 2000 contract where he was owed $5.9 million after being released. It is ironic that Bonilla was a member of "The Worst Team Money Could Buy", and will continue to haunt the Mets for the next 25 years starting in 2011. Many would like to know what management was thinking when they signed this contract.

Robin Roberts was for a short time a New York Yankee

Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts passed away this week at the age of 83 at his home in Temple Terrace, Florida. While his exploits for the Phillies have been lauded over the past 60 years, not many know that Roberts was extremely close to wearing the Yankees pinstripes. Here is an article that looks further in depth to Roberts' brief tenure with the Yankees.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ernie Harwell - Interview with the legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster

One of the legendary voices of baseball, Ernie Harwell, died on May 4, 2010 at the age of 92 after fighting a lengthy battle with cancer. Harwell began his major league broadcasting career in 1948 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, acquired from the Atlanta Crackers for backup catcher Cliff Dapper. He worked for the New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles until 1960, replacing Van Patrick in Detroit. Harwell would remain the voice of the Tigers through 2002, providing the soundtrack to many wonderful memories of baseball fans everywhere.

I had the opportunity to interview Harwell in 2008 and I can say that Harwell is everything that people said about him and more. A true gentleman, he called me in response to a letter that I had written him and started off the phone call by saying, "I'm glad we finally got together."

For a man who has met so many in his travels as a baseball luminary, he made the 30 minutes that he gave me on the phone seem as important as any interview he had conducted. While our conversation went in a few different directions, I wanted to provide a few excerpts that served to reveal Harwell's character.

We discussed his World War II service, and Harwell explain how the war helped to shape people's attitudes towards integration.

"I think World War II helped progress integration," he said. "I've always looked at it [integration] being helped by three things, music, jazz music, baseball and WWII. They all stem from one thing, you can judge a man on his ability rather than the color of his skin in each one of those. If a guy can play a great saxophone, you can recognize it and he can keep his job. Same thing in baseball, if he hits .350 you know he's pretty good. The same thing in combat, if a guy can save your life for you, you don't have to worry about what color he is. There are so many other jobs have nuances and politics, but, in those three categories, there is a pretty good accurate measurement that you can apply to all three."

He related another story regarding his early experiences of integration at Emory University in Atlanta during the late 1930's. Harwell was able to recruit an African American band to play at one of the dances that he chaired in the middle of the heavily segregated South.

"The big thing down there was dancing," he said. "We didn't have any intercollegiate sports except tennis and swimming. Dancing was a big thing. I was chairman of the dance committee. We were getting these bad bands that couldn't play very good because we didn't have any money and we couldn't pay to get a Glen Miller or Tommy Dorsey or anyone like that. I said [to the others on the committee], 'a lot of these black bands are very good and they'd make a great orchestra for us.' We have a three day thing where the bands would play different dances and it would last two to three days, and nobody objected. The band we got was Andy Kirk and the Clouds of Joy out of Kansas City and they loved them. There was never any protest at all, and this was in 1939! For some reason, nobody objected. There weren't any marches, no signs. They played and everybody loved them and that was it. You're talking about where the Marines wouldn't take black people [Atlanta]. I went into the Marines in 1942 and they didn't take African Americans until the war got going a little bit."

While Harwell was never championed as a crusader for civil rights, these anecdotes give a glimpse into the mind of a progressive younger Harwell, living in the deep South showing racial tolerance and acceptance in a place where it was uncommon to do so.

At the end of our talk, I had queried Harwell about his willingness to give interviews after spending so much time behind the microphone. Harwell answered in a way where he not only welcomed the opportunity, but relished it.

"I do a lot of radio interviews," he said. "They can't get ballplayers, so they call me and I'm happy to do it. It's enjoyable to me, I don't mind it at all. I'm glad to do it if anybody who is interested enough. I don't want to be an old guy sitting in the corner who forces himself on people talking about the old days. If someone has a question or a puzzlement that they want to solve, I'd be happy to."

Harwell left me saying that it was "his pleasure," to do the interview and wished me luck with my project. After re-examining our conversation today, Mr. Harwell, the pleasure was all mine. May you rest in peace.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

New York sports legends help give Sports Angels its wings

April 15th saw the fourth annual Sports Angels Spring Fundraiser take place at the Pig and Whistle on 36th Street. The dinner and auction served to support and raise awareness for Sports Angels' campaign to assist local youth sports organizations. Sports Angels is headed by former Baseball Hall of Fame president Ed Stack, Brooklyn Dodger great Ralph Branca and Joseph Salerno. Bobby Hoffman was honored at the event with the Community Service Award for his dedication to the Manhattan Youth Baseball program. To see photos and to read more about the event, including interviews with Jeff Nelson, Roberto Clemente Jr. and Branca, click here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ralph Branca to appear at Rye Library May 6, 2010 at 7PM

Ralph Branca will be appearing at the Rye Library on May 6, 2010 at 7PM alongside author Joshua Prager, who wrote: The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World. For details and more information on the event, click here.