Saturday, December 31, 2011

Major League Baseball lost over 90 alumni in 2011

Dick Williams
Duke Snider
Always one of the sadder pieces that I write annually, reflecting on the major league alumni that died during the past year. In 2011, over 90 former big leaguers passed away including Hall of Famers Duke Snider, Harmon Killebrew, and Dick Williams.

The amount of living Negro League players continued to dwindle with the deaths of veterans Bill "Ready" Cash, Stanley Glenn, Millito Navarro, George Crowe and Butch McCord.

Tito Landrum was generous enough to share his thoughts on "Macho Man" Randy Savage (Poffo) who was his teammate in the Cardinals organization.

I feel fortunate to have been able to speak with many of these legends and get their memories on tape.

Below are a recap of the articles that I have penned this year, many containing personal photos and excerpts from interviews that I conducted with them during the course of my research. Feel free to share your memories of these legends that have moved on to greener pastures in 2011.

Major League Alumni
Marty Marion
Dick Williams kindled special friendship with his lunch crew
Nick Strincevich, 3rd oldest major league player dies at 96
Cole and Smalley Jr's deaths link a history started 57 years prior
Former Brooklyn Dodgers Schmitz and Buker pass away
Eddie Bockman, scout that signed Larry Bowa and four year MLB veteran, dies at 91
Joe Caffie Indians outfielder that started in the Negro Leagues, dies at 80
Ernie Johnson, 87, Braves pitcher, announcer and World War II veteran
Bob "Tex" Nelson's career a golden example of the flawed bonus rule
Federoff's influence has a lasting impact on the Tigers organization
Wes Covington, 79, 1957 World Series hero
Jose A. Pagan, 76, played 15 seasons with three clubs
Billy Harris, 79, former Brooklyn Dodger
Wes Covington
Duane Pillette, 88, teammate of Satchel Paige on St. Louis Browns
Eddie Joost, 94, last manager of the Philadelphia Athletics dies
Spook Jacobs: "He's worth $30,000 in the minor leagues!"
Marty Marion, former National League MVP, dies at 93
Duke Snider's Philadelphia grab eclipsed that of Willie Mays in the World Series
Former New York Mets catcher Greg Goossen passes away at 65
Recent Brooklyn Dodger passings - Tony Malinosky, Gino Cimoli, Cliff Dapper
Tony Malinosky,101, former Brooklyn Dodger passes away
George Crowe, 89, former Negro League player and Major League All-Star
Roy Hartsfield, 85, First Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, 1925-2011
Ryne Duren, 81, 3-time All-Star, 1929-2011

Negro League Alumni
Butch McCord

Bill 'Ready' Cash, veteran of eight Negro League seasons dies at 91
Negro League legend Willie "Curly" Williams left a lasting impact on many
Emilio 'Millito' Navarro, 105, world's oldest living baseball player
Stanley Glenn, 84, Negro League catcher and president
Bill Deck's exciting journey through the Negro Leagues
Butch McCord leaves behind a baseball legacy of a lifetime

Minor League Stars
"Macho Man" Randy Savage remembered by his baseball teammate Tito Landrum
Andres Fleitas, 95, Cuban Baseball Great (1916-2011)
Russell Rac, 81, hit four home runs in one game while with the St. Louis Cardinals organization
Bill Tosheff, first NBA rookie of the year, moonlighted as a strong armed pitcher
Bill Deck

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dick Williams kindled a special friendship with his lunch crew

As Lou Rodophele went to lunch this week, one seat at the table remained empty. Thursday was the day the “Lunch Bunch” met, and for years without fail, one of baseball’s legendary managers was at the helm of the gathering. This holiday season was a painful reminder that their skipper, Dick Williams, is no longer around to hold court at their weekly get-togethers.

Click here to read the friendship the two kindled as a result of their lunch meeting and the legacy Williams left behind.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mets pitcher Pedro Beato looks to build on his rookie season

Pedro Beato giving a clinic at the 5 Tool Baseball Academy
New York Mets pitcher Pedro Beato brought spring training early to an eager group of aspiring ballplayers Tuesday afternoon at the Five Tool Baseball Academy & G2 Training Center in Ozone Park, N.Y. The Xaverian High School graduate instructed the players on the finer points of pitching, sharing a bit of what he has learned after completing his first year in the big leagues.

Click here to read Beato's reflections on his rookie season in the majors with the New York Mets and his thoughts on 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

New York Mets pitcher Pedro Beato to give holiday pitching clinics in Queens and Manhattan

Pedro Beato, fresh off of his rookie season with the New York Mets, will be helping kids get back into baseball mode after all of the holiday festivities, leading a series of youth baseball clinics next week in Queens and Manhattan. Beato’s first stop next week will be right in his backyard of Ozone Park at the Five Tool Baseball Academy (100-02 Rockaway Blvd.) on Tuesday December 27th.

Pedro Beato giving pitching tips

Appearing as part of a two-day clinic, Beato will lead pitching instruction at the newly minted Queens training facility on Rockaway Blvd. The clinic will cover all aspects of pitching and hitting, as well as physical training in this intimate setting. The clinic is for children ages 9-18 and will run from 9am-3pm on Tuesday December 27th and Thursday December 29th. For more information, including pricing for the two-day clinic, call Giovanni Zapata at 917-373-2286.

In between the days of his clinic in Ozone Park, Beato is making a return appearance Wednesday December 28th at the 5th annual Lou DeMartino Memorial Christmas Baseball Clinic. The free clinic is hosted by the Greater New York Sandlot Athletic Alliance and takes place at the John Jay College Gymnasium (899 Tenth Avenue) in Manhattan. Beato will appear for the second time at the clinic along with a pair of Archbishop Molloy grads turned prospects, Matt Rizzotti (Philadelphia Phillies) and Dennis O’Grady (San Diego Padres). Registration for the clinic is from 8am-9am, with the clinic running from 9am-1pm. To register in advance for the clinic, e-mail Tom Sylvester – tsylvester@gnysaa.org

Andres Fleitas, 95, Cuban baseball great (1916-2011)

Andres Fleitas (r.) pictured with his brother Angel in Chattanooga
Andres Fleitas, one of the oldest living players from the Cuban Baseball League, passed away in Miami last week at the age of 95.

Fleitas was a catcher / first baseman, who went pro in Cuba during the 1942-43 winter league season. His performance attracted the attention of major league scouts, and he was signed to the New York Giants organization.

After playing two years at the AAA level, he was lured by the large coffers of Mexican owner Jorge Pasquel, and spent three years in the Mexican League. This put him on the banned list by commissioner Happy Chandler, and when the ban was lifted, Fleitas still carried the stigma of playing in the outlaw league.

He continued to play in the minor leagues through 1954, even having the opportunity to play with his brother Angel in Chattanooga in the late 1940's (see above photo).

Award winning author George Vecsey praises Musial at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse

George Vecsey (r.) with metroBASEBALL editor Nick D'Arienzo
George Vecsey, the long-standing New York Times writer, who recently stepped down from his column, appeared last week at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse to discuss the great Stan Musial. The Hall of Famer is the subject of Vecsey's latest book, An American Life (ESPN, 2011). The event, which was sponsored in partnership with metroBASEBALL magazine, attracted a full house of enthusiasts who participated with Vecsey in a podcast from the store.

Click here to see photos and read a full review of Vecsey's appearance and thoughts on the St. Louis Cardinal legend.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gil Hodges' Brooklyn Dodger teammates make a pitch for his Hall of Fame honors

The Golden Era Committee meets this weekend in Dallas at the winter baseball meetings to decide the worthiness of ten veterans and executives for Hall of Fame enshrinement. One of those ten candidates is beloved Brooklyn Dodger first baseman and manager of the 1969 New York Mets World Series championship team, Gil Hodges.

During the 15 years he was eligible for the BBWAA vote, Hodges finished as high as third in the voting on three occasions, while the next nine finishing below him (1976, 1977) eventually made the Hall of Fame. Later, various incarnations of the Veterans Committee failed to elect Hodges, while comparable players such as Orlando Cepeda (VC) and Tony Perez (BBWAA) received the call in back-to-back years.

Gil Hodges / Bowman
At the time of his retirement, Hodges’ 370 home runs were the most in the National League by a right-handed hitter. He cemented the clean-up spot in Brooklyn’s lineup, guiding them to their only World Series in 1955. At first base, his glove work was outstanding, winning the Gold Glove during for three straight years after its inception in 1957.

To the small crop of Hodges’ remaining living Brooklyn teammates, his absence from the Hall of Fame remains a mystery. Ed Roebuck, who spent six seasons with Hodges in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, as well as another two playing for him in Washington, is perplexed by his absence.

“It’s unbelievable that Gil Hodges isn’t in," Roebuck said. "Even as a manager, how would you figure the 1969 Mets to beat Baltimore? That in itself should be admission to the Hall of Fame.”

Joe Pignatano, Hodges’ long-time coach with the Washington Senators and the New York Mets, also played five seasons with him in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and New York. Pignatano sees this year’s vote as a mere formality for something that should have been done a long time ago.

“It’s absurd," Pignatano said. "This is something that is long overdue. There isn’t anybody I know that doesn’t speak highly of him.”

Hodges’ tremendous character allowed him to positively impact everyone on the team, from the established veterans, to the newcomers on the block. One such newbie was pitcher Glenn Mickens. In 1953, Mickens was a rookie making the jump to Brooklyn from AA Fort Worth. It was Hodges that welcomed him to the fold.

“[He] made me feel like I belonged there … he was a complete gentleman in every respect,” Mickens said. “I never heard a negative word spoken about Gil Hodges and I don't think that he had an enemy in the world - except maybe those opposing pitchers who couldn't get him out, and theirs wasn't negativity, but actually respect for one of the best to ever play the game.”

Catcher Tim Thompson was another rookie who was a recipient of Hodges’ benevolence. Thompson made the club out of spring training in 1954 and needed a place to stay in Brooklyn. Hodges quickly came to the rescue.

“He was the most human being I ever been around in my life," Thompson said. "When I went to Brooklyn, he said, ‘I have a house for you to rent right beside me so you have somewhere to live.’ He used to pick me up and take me to the ballpark. He was a very good friend of mine.”

On the field, Hodges had a humble approach that resonated with his teammates. They saw him give the same respect to his opponents that he did to those in his own dugout.

“Gil would hit a grand slam and would have his head down all the way around the bases like he felt sorry for the pitcher," Roebuck said. "Now they point in the sky, jump up; so unprofessional! If you did that when I played, you would have been knocked down for sure.”

The newly formed Golden Era committee which is comprised of eight Hall of Famers (one being Hodges’ teammate Tommy Lasorda), five executives and three members of the media, has a tremendous task at hand to pare down the list to one or more candidates that 75% of them agree upon. Hodges’ candidacy has sparked debate for years; however, for Mickens, this vote should close the chapter on an honor Hodges should have received years ago.

“He was an outstanding clutch hitter and his record speaks for itself as far as his being in the Hall of Fame,”  Mickens said. “I believe that his induction is long overdue and it would be a terrible disservice if they pass him up.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lenny Dykstra settles in at Strawberry's restaurant

Lenny Dykstra, the much maligned center fielder for the 1986 New York Mets World Series championship team, appeared Saturday evening at Darryl Strawberry's Sports Grill in Queens. Click here to read about Dykstra's appearance and see photos from the event.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Did MLB short its retirees with the new collective barganing agreement?

A provision of the new collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association included an extension through 2016 of what was deemed "charitable payments” delivered to non-vested retired MLB players who played prior to 1980.

These players, who played less than four or five seasons in the majors depending upon their debuts, are eligible for up to $10,000 in annual payments, as agreed upon earlier this season. For some players who just barely missed the cutoff for vesting, they receive checks of close to $10,000 per year; others who played the minimum required 43 days, are receiving as little as $625 per year. This payment is in stark contrast to the $30,000 annual pension payment to a player who debuted after 1980 that was on an active major league roster for the 43-day minimum.

The question remains; however, did MLB do the right thing by its retirees with the new CBA? Click here to read a compelling argument by Douglas Gladstone, the author of, "A Bitter Cup of Coffee."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gil Hodges' disciples speak up on his Hall of Fame chances

The topic of inductions was a hot item during Thursday night’s Winning Beyond Winning’s 14th annual Gil Hodges Legacy Dinner at the Chateau Briand in Carle Place.

Completing the ceremonial first pitch in front of a crowd of 250-plus supporters, former New York Yankees Frank Tepedino and Rusty Torres accepted their inductions into the Winning Beyond Winning “Winners Circle.”
Mrs. Joan Hodges at the 2011 Gil Hodges Legacy Dinner

Torres along with attorney Tom Sabellico founded the organization which helps to educate kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, while promoting participation in athletics. Tepedino was one of their first recruits.

“At a time in my life, when I gave up alcohol, Rusty and Tom came into it. Winning Beyond Winning was a blessing,” Tepedino said.

New York Yankees relief pitcher David Robertson and his wife Erin were presented with the Great Americans Award for their community work with their charity High Socks for Hope in their home state of Alabama.

The dinner, which bears the name of the legendary Dodgers’ first baseman and New York Mets manager, served this year as an impromptu booster party for Hodges’ Hall of Fame candidacy. When Hodges’ wife Joan took the podium for the celebration of her 85th birthday, the buzz circulated about her late husband’s Hall of Fame credentials. Hodges is one of the ten candidates on the newly formed Golden Era ballot to be voted on December 4th in Dallas.

Long time New York Mets shortstop and Long Island Ducks owner Bud Harrelson spoke discussed Hodges’ paternal influence as his manager.

“When I was with him, I felt like I was a son and I think he made a lot of players feel like that,” Harrelson said. “I fell in love with this guy. He was not negative, always positive. … He was just a good man, a family man [with] really solid principles.”

Washington Senators outfielder Fred Valentine, who played under Hodges from 1964-67, also praised the character of his fallen manager. He felt that because Hodges treated him well, it brought out his best on the field every day.

“Throughout my whole playing career I think I gave him 100, 110 percent while I was on the field,” Valentine said. “I knew what type of person he was. He was a devoted person, a devoted manager and he treated all of the players equally well. All of the ballplayers seemed to like the way that he managed.”

He hopes that the upcoming vote will land Hodges in Cooperstown. Seeing Mrs. Hodges only reinforced his belief that it would happen soon.

“I can’t say enough about Gil Hodges about a manager. I’m just praying as I told Mrs. Hodges [today], that he will make it to the Hall of Fame where he deserves to be.”

Another disciple of the beloved Mets manager, Art Shamsky, felt that Hodges’ honor is long overdue. He to hopes that Mrs. Hodges will be alive to experience his induction.

“It’s certainly something that should have been done a number of years ago, especially if you look at his stats against guys like Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda; it’s very comparable,” Shamsky said. “I’m just not sure why it hasn’t happened before. Hopefully at this point while Mrs. Hodges is around to enjoy some good news; it will happen sooner than later.”

Mrs. Hodges took a rare public moment to reflect on this renewed opportunity for her late husband’s to gain entry to the Hall of Fame. While she feels he is certainly deserving, their bond is what she cherishes above his Hall of Fame status.

“I’m going to be truthfully, very very honest with you. I have never really discussed this … how I feel about him, how over deserving [he is]. If it happens, we’ll be eternally grateful; if not, he’ll be in my heart forever.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Strincevich, 3rd oldest major league player, dies at 96

While our country was celebrating the merits of our military veterans this Friday, the baseball family was mourning the loss of World War II era pitcher Nick Strincevich. He passed away November 11th in Valparaiso, Ind. At 96, he was the third oldest living major leaguer at the time of his death.

Nick Strincevich

The first player to make the majors from Gary, Indiana, his path started on the local sandlots. In 1934, “Jumbo” caught the attention of a local bird-dog scout in Indiana while playing semi-pro ball that led to him pitching batting practice for the New York Yankees in Chicago against the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. By the time he arrived home from his big day at the park, he received a telegram notifying him that he was now property of the Yankees.

Entering their organization in 1935, Strincevich advanced quickly through the Yankees minor league rank, closely following his manager Johnny Neun as they climbed their way to the major leagues. Strincevich was part of the dominant 1938 Newark Bears team that had almost exclusively a future major leaguer roster including Hall of Famer Joe Gordon. Despite his 11-4 record, the Yankees did not bring him up. With their pitching rich farm system, they saw Strincevich as expendable and sold him to the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League the following season. He pitched sparingly and was purchased by the Boston Bees at the end of the 1939 season.

Strincevich found a home in Boston under manager Casey Stengel, figuring prominently in their starting rotation, pitching in 32 games during his rookie season in the National League. “Casey liked me. He used to kid me up all the time,” said Strincevich in 2003 to Craig Allen Cleve's Hardball on the Home Front.
Even though he finished the season 4-8, he showed promise for the next season, going 3-1 in his last four decisions. This anticipation for an improved 1941; however, was quickly cut short when early in the season, Strincevich was hit in the face by a thrown ball during practice. He suffered headaches that would plague him the next two seasons.

Fortunately, during the aftermath of this injury, there was a silver lining for Strincevich. It came in the form of a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sent to the Pirates for Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner, his move to Pittsburgh would earn him 40 wins from 1944-46.

So popular was Strincevich in his hometown of Gary, that he was given a day in his honor in 1947 at Wrigley Field. It would be one of the last bright spots of his career. He would only earn one more victory in the majors and was back to the minors for good the following season. He walked away from baseball in 1950 with a record of 46-49 for Boston (NL), Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. He worked as a union steward in an auto parts factory for 30 years before his 1980 retirement.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tom Seaver steps up for veterans at Citi Pond in Bryant Park

Tom Seaver poses with Fordham's Color Guard at Bryant Park / N. Diunte
Hall of Fame pitcher and former United States Marine Tom Seaver stood proudly on the podium Friday morning as he saluted the veterans at Citi Pond in Bryant Park. The legendary New York Met pitcher served in the Marine Corps from 1962-63, and remained on reserve duty until 1970.

Seaver, who throughout the morning, repeatedly expressed his respect for the members on active duty, explained how his time in the military helped better prepare him for his baseball career.

Click here to read Seaver's recollections of his military service, as well as view video and photos from the event.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Russell Rac, 81, hit four home runs in one game while with the St. Louis Cardinals organization

Mark Whiten gained notoriety when, as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1993, he hit four home runs in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. While Whiten was the first Cardinal to achieve this feat, he wasn’t the first in the Cardinal family to do so. Long-time St. Louis farmhand Russell Rac set the single-game Venezuelan record when he hit four on January 8, 1956 while playing for Pastora. At the time, he was only the eighth player in professional baseball history to reach that mark.

Rac passed away October 11th in his hometown of Galveston, TX, with little fanfare at the age of 81. Some 55 years ago; however, he sat among the top of the prospects in the Cardinals organization.

Rac (c.) in between Don Blasingame (l.) and Rip Repluski (r.)
Rac’s power output in winter ball, combined with his .312 average at AA Houston in 1955, placed Rac on the cover of the March 1956 issue of Baseball Digest. The scout's take on Rac read as follows, “Murders fast ball, pulls inside pitch, but weak on curve. His bat will have to carry him, as fielding, throwing and running are only average.”

Interviewing Rac in 2008, he gave an assessment of his talents that mirrored that of the scout quoted in Baseball Digest.

“I just happened to be in the wrong organization, because I was fast, but I wasn’t fast enough for center fielders,” he said.

The momentum he built entering the 1956 season was put to a halt by Cardinals GM Frank “Trader” Lane. While playing in Venezuela, Rac picked up a copy of the Sporting News to find he had fallen out of favor with the new GM, without even talking to him.

“Frank Lane came to the Cardinals, and the Cardinals had set a record of signing all of their players way before spring training,” he said. “I pick up the Sporting News in Venezuela and he made some sort of ugly remark about not signing a contract. I never got a contract, that’s the truth. They sent it to Mexico City. Here I am playing in Maracaibo and they sent it to Mexico City. I go to spring training and everybody wants to know why I didn’t sign. I said, ‘I can’t sign a contract I never got.’”

Rac started out the winter playing in Mexico City, but switched to Venezuela without notifying the Cardinals. After some frantic searching, Lane found Rac in Venezuela and offered him a contract.

“The contract they offered me was $600 per month,” he said. “What was the big holdout? Hold out for what? I was tickled to death to go to spring training.” 

His difficulties with Lane, whether they were rightfully deserved, put him in the dog house during spring training. He received a limited chance to show that he was fit for the big leagues.

“[Lane] was a sorry guy in my book,” said Rac. “I never got an opportunity. Fred Hutchinson was the manager and I never got an opportunity to play.”

After 1956, Rac would never get another shot with the parent club, playing two more seasons until he retired in 1958, finishing up what was an 11-year minor league career. He didn’t go quietly; he batted .312 his final year, placing him among the leaders in Texas League in hitting. Back injuries, however, prevented him from continuing.

“I played [ten] seasons and I couldn’t play no more,” he said. “My back hurt and it wasn’t no fun playing.”

After baseball, Rac was fortunate enough to find work in his hometown of Galveston with the longshoremen. He was a clerk and a timekeeper. He worked in that position for 33 years until retiring in 1992.

Our 2008 conversation allowed him to reflect on some of the characters he met during his travels. The one that stood out the most was his teammate, a 19-year-old second baseman, Earl Weaver. Even as a rookie, Weaver showed traits as a player that made him such a great manager.

“You remember Earl Weaver?” Rack asked. “That was my roommate. … He was a helluva second baseman. He reminded you of [Eddie] Stanky. In other words, he couldn’t do anything great, but I tell you what, he was at the right place, at the right time, all the time.”

Rac held tight to the effects the reserve clause had on the players of his generation. With the Cardinals in full control of his destiny, he had little choice to play until they decided to promote him, trade him, or retire. He toiled in the minor leagues waiting for a chance that never came.

“Baseball is different today than it was back then,” he said. “In those days, you could be the number one player in the world and [if] they had a guy in front of you that’s been there and did a good job, you never would get an opportunity. … They held you forever.”

He paid tribute a fellow Cardinal Curt Flood and his crusade to challenge the reserve clause. He feels current players owe a debt of gratitude to Flood and should do more to honor his legacy.

“It was terrible [the reserve clause],” he said. “That’s why all [of] these players should pitch in a fund and send money to Curt Flood’s wife because of what he did. They wouldn’t have the opportunities they have today. Now they’re paying these guys three-to-four million to sign and they haven’t done anything.”

He stressed that even with free agency and million dollar contracts, the political nature of the sport has remained a constant.

“Baseball was politics and still is today,” he said. “It’s like jobs; you have to be in the right place at the right time.”

Well for Rac, one day in Venezuela, far away from the politics of American baseball, he found himself at the point where the right place and the right time met.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dave Cole and Roy Smalley Jr.'s deaths link a history started 57 years prior

Dave Cole and Roy Smalley Jr., remained linked long after the 1954 trade that saw them switch places on the Milwaukee Braves and the Chicago Cubs. After the late season emergence of Ernie Banks in 1953, the Cubs found Smalley Jr. expendable and sent him to the Braves for Cole during spring training. Both of their careers fizzled after the trade, neither showing the promise that either team expected after the swap.


Last week, they died four days apart. Smalley Jr. passed away at the age of 85 last Saturday in Arizona. Cole died in his hometown of Hagerstown, Maryland at 81 on Wednesday.

Their deaths, while coincidental, reminds us of the depth of baseball's connections. The news drums up nostalgia of the hope that each player brought to their new teams some 57 years ago.

Smalley began his career in 1944 with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Serving in the US Navy during World War II, Smalley returned to baseball in 1946. After some seasoning at the lower levels of minor league baseball, he became the starting shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in 1948, a position he would hold until the arrival of Ernie Banks in September 1953. Once spring training rolled around in 1954, Smalley saw the handwriting on the wall.

“Ernie had shown his talent for hitting at the end of the ’53 season. There was no hint from the club, but once into spring training in ’54, the trade didn’t come as a surprise,” Smalley in a letter he wrote to the author in 2009.


Smalley was traded to the Braves for Dave Cole in 1954 and was used sparingly as a reserve infielder. He was purchased by the Phillies the following spring, and spent parts of the next four seasons as their backup shortstop. He played in the minors through the 1960 season and then finished his career in baseball managing the Class C Reno Silver Sox from 1961-62.

His best season was 1950 when he had career highs in home runs, runs batted in, and slugging percentage. Unfortunately, he also led the league in errors, committing 51 at the shortstop position. The year 1950 had added significance for Smalley, as he married his wife Jolene.

Smalley's new bride was the sister of major league shortstop and future manger Gene Mauch, whom he would ironically later play for in 1958 as a member of the Minneapolis Millers. Keeping the family baseball tradition alive, his son, Roy Smalley III, followed in his footsteps at shortstop, playing 13 major league seasons with the Twins, Yankees, Rangers, and White Sox.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

New York Mets celebrate the 25th anniversary of World Series victory at Strawberry's Sports Grill

Strawberry’s Sports Grill in Douglaston was the site of a glorious reunion of the 1986 New York Mets World Series Championship team Friday evening. Over 25 members showed up on the silver anniversary of their title run, as part of a weekend series of events and appearances for the crew.

Fans paid upwards of $500 to mingle with the entire team at this private event and enjoy a wonderful open bar and seemingly endless buffet of food served by Strawberry’s staff. Darryl Strawberry himself was the consummate host, posing for photos and signing autographs at every turn of the corner, while catching up with teammates who came from far and wide for the reunion.

Rafael Santana (r.) toasts the Mets 1986 victory / N. Diunte
One such player was shortstop Kevin Elster, who was a baby-faced 22-year-old rookie shortstop in 1986. Coming from Huntington Beach, California, Elster relished the opportunity to see his teammates once again.

“I was just a baby,” said Elster. “I love coming back here. It’s great to be around all of the guys. You couldn’t pick a better group.”


The list of those in attendance ranged from the stars such as Strawberry and Keith Hernandez, to lesser known members like John Gibbons and Bruce Berenyi, both who played in 1986, but didn’t make the World Series roster. On this evening, these designations didn’t matter; the Mets alumni were just ecstatic to be in each other’s company.

“I always look forward to any chance I can get to see all the guys again," Berenyi said. "I don’t get to see hardly anybody anymore. I’m not involved in baseball so it’s kind of tough. Not being part of the actual series is kind of a mixed emotion thing for me, but everyone always makes me feel like I was a big part of it.”

Game Six of the 1986 World Series played on the big screen televisions at the restaurant and many, including the players, watched and cheered like it was unfolding before their eyes. One could hear a player's name beckoned any time they were at the plate or made a play in the field. Most whose names were called stopped their mingling to fixate themselves on the TV screens when they had the spotlight.

“I never watched myself playing in this actual game until right now,” said Elster as he watched his at-bat against Roger Clemens in the seventh inning. “I don’t remember the details, but I remember that I flew out.” 

Right on cue, Elster lofted a fly ball to Dave Henderson that ended the inning, to which Elster remarked, “I battled pretty good, didn’t I?”

As both the game and the party went to the later innings, everyone in attendance cheered whenever a Met got a hit or scored a run. Kevin Mitchell was seen with a wide grin when he scored on Bob Stanley’s wild pitch. The cheering grew louder with each pitch that Mookie Wilson fouled off until he bounced one to first base that slipped under the glove of Bill Buckner. As Ray Knight came around to score, Jesse Orosco high fived Rick Aguilera to congratulate him on his win.

For a small fraction of time, one had the feeling that they were in the clubhouse with the Mets as they tasted the spoils of victory. A celebratory toast was in order and everyone raised their glasses to the Mets. Once again, the Mets triumph reigned supreme in Queens.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Former Brooklyn Dodger Johnny Schmitz passes away at 90

Johnny Schmitz, nicknamed Bear Tracks for his big feet, pitched 13 seasons in the majors, spending parts of the 1951 and 1952 seasons in Brooklyn. He passed away on October 5, 2011 in Wisconsin. He was 90.

Johnny Schmitz / Topps
Born November 27, 1920, Schmitz entered pro ball in 1938 at the age of 17 with Class D Hopkinsville of the Cleveland Indians organization. Earning a reputation for his sharp curveball, which fellow Dodgers hurler Rex Barney noted, “He could drop it in a coffee cup,” Schmitz earned a call to the big leagues only three years later with the Chicago Cubs.

Schmitz’s career was interrupted by his Naval service in World War II from 1943-45. Returning for the 1946 season, Schmitz didn’t lose a step, making the All-Star team and leading the National League in strikeouts. This would be the first of Schmitz’s two All-Star appearances, the other coming in 1948.


Schmitz came to Brooklyn from Chicago in 1951 as part of a mid-season eight-player trade that also brought heavy-hitting outfielder Andy Pafko to the Dodgers. As much as the focus was on the acquisition of Pafko, Schmitz was the key to the deal. He had great success against the Dodgers, winning 18 games against the Dodgers in his seven years with the Cubs. Now wearing the Dodger blue, they rested safely knowing they didn’t have to face Schmitz during their playoff run.

Schmitz watched helplessly from the bullpen as Ralph Branca surrendered “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to Bobby Thomson at the Polo Grounds during the final game of the season. With one swing of the bat, Schmitz’s World Series hopes were quickly extinguished.

“I thought, ‘There goes my World Series.’ To come so close, after being on teams on the bottom for so many years, and one pitch, there it went,” Schmitz said in a 1996 interview with Baseball Digest.

Schmitz had another chance for World Series glory the next season as he moved across town with the New York Yankees, but was traded to Cincinnati for Ewell Blackwell before the season ended. He pitched in the majors until 1956, also playing with the Senators, Red Sox, and Orioles.

After baseball, Schmitz became a greenskeeper on a local golf course until his retirement in 1990. He remained an avid fan of the game and was responsive to fan autograph requests up until the day of his passing, with members of the Sportscollectors.net website receiving signed fan mail from Schmitz only a few days before he died.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch found a friend in Tosheff

As the Detroit Tigers enter Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium tonight, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was once again reminded of his baseball roots. Ilitch was a minor league second baseman in the early 1950's with the Yankees, Senators and Tigers organizations. One of his teammates while playing for the Tampa Smokers of the Florida International League was the 1951-52 NBA Rookie of the Year, Bill Tosheff. Tosheff, like his contemporaries Bill Sharman and Gene Conley, was doing double duty holding down a NBA roster spot while trying to make the major leagues. Last week Tosheff succumed to cancer at the age of 85.

Mike Ilitch / DBusiness Magazine

Receiving the news of his fallen teammate, Ilitch via e-mail basked in the thought of how his fellow Macdeonian's benevolence put him on the right track with his future wife Marian.

“Bill was a good teammate,” he wrote. “I remember when he left one time to play baseball out of the country, he left his beautiful green Oldsmobile convertible. He let me borrow it to drive home to Michigan and that was the car I drove when I picked up Marian for our very first date! She thought I was really something pulling up in that car -- that car got me off to a good start with her, so I’ll always be appreciative of his generosity and friendship."

Although located on opposite sides of the country, they maintained contact, keeping a bond that was formed almost 60 years prior.

“I have wonderful memories of Bill. We kept in touch over the years, sharing stories of what we both were doing. I will miss him.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bill Tosheff, first NBA rookie of the year, moonlighted as a strong armed pitcher

Bill Tosheff, the 1951-52 NBA Co-Rookie of the Year, passed away this weekend due to complications from rectal cancer at the age 85 according to a statement by his daughter on his Facebook page.

Tosheff showing off his bling
“Tosh,” as he was affectionately known to seemingly everyone, actually left his burgeoning basketball career for another sport, baseball. For someone that didn't make the major leagues, during his seven-year minor league career, he was party to more than anyone could imagine.

A three-sport start at the University of Indiana, Tosheff helped lead the Hoosiers to a Big Nine title in 1949. Blessed with a strong arm and a powerful bat, Tosheff drew considerable attention playing semi-pro baseball during the offseason.

Playing for the Lafayette Blue Sox in 1952, Tosheff threw a no-hitter during the first game of a doubleheader and smacked two home runs during the second game. That was enough for Hall of Famer and Cleveland Indians scout “Red” Ruffing. After the game, Ruffing told Tosheff to write his own ticket to the show.

“He said, ‘What is it going to take?’ I said, ‘Well, give me a number.’ We kind of played around a bit and we came to $20,000 which was pretty good in those days,” Tosheff recalled in a 2009 interview I conducted with him via telephone.

A signing bonus of $20,000 would have gained considerable press at the time; however, there was one person standing in between the money and him, Indians General Manager Hank Greenberg.

“There was a battle going on in Cleveland between Hank Greenberg and a guy named Egan," he said.  "Greenberg refused my salary and Indianapolis wanted to sign me. I think I signed for $2,500 per month which wasn’t bad.”

Three days after his signing, he was the starting pitcher for the AAA Indianapolis Indians. One step away from the major leagues, Tosheff found himself surrounded by legends in the twilight of their careers, as well as stars on the rise. His catcher that evening was the legendary Negro Leaguer, Quincy Trouppe. A 20-year veteran, Trouppe had a cup of coffee earlier in the season with the Indians, forming the first black battery in the American League with Sam Jones. Ironically, both players would play with Tosheff in Indianapolis. Tosheff shared his memories of his debut with Trouppe as his battery mate.

“He was my catcher the first time I pitched," he said. "Let me tell you about the experience. I was the starting pitcher against Louisville on July 4th. They brought my parents in from Gary. When I got on the mound to throw the first pitch, it looked like the home plate was three miles away from me. It was one of those excitable things.”

At the age of 25 and a veteran of World War II, Tosheff was in the unique position as a rookie to serve as a mentor to the younger players on the club. One of the fellow pitchers he took under his wing was Herb Score. Tosheff would later use his experience with Score to serve as an advisor to current Colorado Rockies third baseman and fellow Macedonian Kevin Kouzmanoff.

“When I was there, Cleveland signed another kid for $75,000 [sic], his name was Herb Score," he recalled. "This guy was throwing aspirin tablets as a left-hander. We lived in the same apartment and I kind of mentored him because I was older. He had no father image. He was raised with his mother. We had a check on the table for $12,500 and he didn’t know what to do with it. I sent it to his mom in Florida.”

Incredibly in the same league, Tosheff wasn’t alone as an NBA player trying to crack a major league baseball roster. In 1952, The American Association was loaded with NBA stars. St. Paul had Boston Celtic and future Hall of Famer Bill Sharman. Milwaukee had Sharman’s Celtic teammate Gene Conley and another future Hall of Famer Andy Phillip played with Tosheff briefly in Indianapolis. Also, Milwaukee first baseman George Crowe was a professional basketball player for the New York Harlem Rens.

Released after the 1952 season as per the terms of his contract, Tosheff played the next three seasons at the Class B level, where he posted consecutive 20-win seasons. While with the Class B Tampa Smokers, another stop in Tosheff's baseball odyssey would occur in Cuba. It was there he rubbed elbows with author Ernest Hemmingway. After a chance meeting at Bar Cristal, he offered Hemmingway tickets to the ballgame. Sparking a conversation, the author invited him to imbibe, urging him to, “Sit down and have a taste.”

Running around Cuba with Tosheff was a second baseman from Detroit who would be better known for his pizza than his exploits with his glove. Mike Ilitch, the founder of the Little Caesar’s Pizza chain and owner of the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, was Tosheff’s teammate in Tampa. At the end of the season, Tosheff was offered an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Ilitch’s operation; however, he was occupied with leaving the country.

“I had a brand new Olds 98 convertible," he said. "After the season was over, I said, ‘Well, look I’m going to go to South America, I quit the NBA, take my car to Detroit."

Before they parted company, Ilitch posed him an offer.

"Before he left, he said to me, ‘Tosh, there is a guy who has a little bar in Detroit and my mom gets this great sauce and the secret is in the sauce. You and I will be partners.'”

Tosheff, focused on the prospect of playing ball out of the country, just wanted to leave as soon as possible.

“I said, ‘Mike take the car and go to Detroit. I want to go to South America.’ I went to Cartagena, Columbia and played baseball. A year later I came back and got my car; he got married.”

Chance would reunite them thirty years later. After watching Ilitch being interview by Howard Cosell on television about his purchase of the Detroit Red Wings, Tosheff picked up the phone.

“I get to his secretary and I say, ‘Don’t tell him who I am.’ So he gets on the phone and goes, ‘Yeah?’ and I said, ‘The secret’s in the sauce!’ He starts laughing.”

After his playing days were over, he became an advocate for the forgotten old-timers of his era.

In the wake of the current NBA labor struggles, Tosheff was a driving force in helping the players who played in the NBA prior to the formation of the players’ union in 1965 to receive pension benefits. The group of players, dubbed the “Pre-65ers” became Tosheff’s fighting cause for over 30 years. Due to his efforts, in 2007, the NBA finally raised the pension amounts for those that had at least five years of service and expanded the benefits to include those with three of four years of service. Similarly, MLB followed suit this fall, making payments to those who fell into a similar pension gap. One can only think that Tosheff’s work had some level of influence on their union.

As he stated in the interview, he ended every talk and public appearance he made with the following bit of advice.

"The clock is always running on us," he said. "In the end result, all you have left are your memories. If they are not good one’s you’ll have a hard time sustaining the rest of your life. So pull out the good ones, show ‘em the bad ones if you have any, and get after it and talk about them because someone might be interested."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Eddie Bockman, MLB veteran and scout that signed Larry Bowa, dies at 91


On the eve of the opening game of the ALDS playoffs, Yankee fans had a moment to pause. Another one to wear the pinstripes left their ranks. Joseph “Eddie” Bockman, a rookie third baseman with 1946 Yankees, passed away Thursday at his home in Millbrae, Calif. He was 91.

Bockman’s career was almost over as soon as it started. He first signed with the Class D Bisbee Bees of the Chicago Cubs organization in 1939. After playing in 62 games with a .285 average, Bockman was nose-to-nose with one of baseball’s harshest realities, being released.

Eddie Bockman / Bowman
I wasn't doing that bad. … I sat around a whole day trying to figure out why,” said Bockman in a 2009 interview I conducted with him via telephone. “It was quite a while after I got released, two to three weeks before they went out and hired someone else. I couldn't understand it. You're just a kid at that time and you can't really put it together.”


Bockman dusted himself off and drew the attention of the New York Yankees, signing to their Class A team in Joplin the following season. As he started to move up the ranks, another team requested his services, the United States Navy.

Bockman joined the Navy in 1943 and was stationed in San Diego. It was here that Bockman would begin to mature as both a man and a ballplayer.

“As I got older, I did well in the Navy," he said. "Of course, you weren't playing against the competition as good as you did in professional baseball, but it was a ballgame. Over the course of two to three years, I played well, even if I say so myself!”

During his service time, Bockman would team up with many budding major league stars as a member of the Long Beach Service Stars.

“We had a good ballclub. Ray Boone, George Vico, Charlie Gilbert, Cliff Mapes and Bob Lemon were all with us.”

Returning to the Yankees organization in 1946, Bockman’s skills gained by playing in the Navy allowed him to make the jump to the Kansas City Blues of the Class AAA American Association. Bockman feasted on the league’s hurlers to the tune of a .303 average with 29 stolen bases. This led to a late September call-up by the Yankees that also included future Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.

Despite playing alongside such legends as Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, and Bill Dickey, it was Bockman’s trade to the Indians with Joe Gordon for Allie Reynolds during the offseason that would place him in a front row seat to an even bigger piece of baseball’s history.

On July 5th, 1947, Indians owner Bill Veeck ushered Larry Doby in to the clubhouse, seeking to integrate the American League. Bockman vividly recalled a timid Doby making his way into the fold.

“In the clubhouse, the day he walked in, in Chicago, he was scared to death," he said. "He didn't know what to expect.

“He was different than Jackie Robinson. Robinson was a cocky guy. If he disagreed with you, he'd be ready to fight you. Doby was the other way. [He was] kind of a laid back guy, a good kid. I got along with him well.”

Bockman was used sparingly for the remainder of the 1947 season and was then purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He spent two seasons as part of their third base platoon and then continued in the minors as a player-manager through the 1958 season.

He used his extensive career as a player and manager to transition into a scouting role with the Philadelphia Phillies. He left his mark on the 1980 World Series Championship team by signing seven of the members of that club, including his most prized recruit, Larry Bowa.

“He was very easy to sign," he said. "He wanted to play and nothing was going to stop him. When I went over to sign him, he jumped in the back seat of the car. That's the term we use when we didn't have any problems signing the player.”

Bowa carved out an All-Star career with the Phillies. He marveled at Bowa’s durability despite the shortstop's small stature.

“He played 16 years in the big leagues and I said he was pretty damn lucky to play that long in the big leagues and never was hurt," Bockman said. "He was always there, never a broken bone, a sore arm, or bad legs. There wasn't a hell of a lot on him to hurt! He got 100% out of his ability. He wasn't scared to work. You had a hell of a time getting him off the field. I had to pull him off the field a few times, he didn't want to leave.”

During our 2009 conversation, Bockman, using his scouting eye, took a humble assessment of his abilities.  As a scout, Bockman questioned whether he would sign himself.

“I wasn't that good of a player. I look back on myself now; I was good enough to get there,” said Bockman. “I scouted for 45 years and I would stop and think sometimes if I would scout myself [with] my abilities. I'd say to myself, ‘Shoot, I wouldn't sign myself.’”

Despite his post-playing reservations about his abilities, Bockman found a redeeming quality in his desire to be on the field.

“I liked to play and it bothered me when I wasn't in the lineup; I wanted to play," he said. "That was a factor of why I got signed in the first place. I had the ambition and I wanted to play. I didn't care where or who I was.”



Monday, September 26, 2011

Ralph Branca: A Moment in Time - Book Review

The essence of a man’s life cannot be captured by any singular event or circumstance. Ralph Branca’s new autobiography A Moment in Time: An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak and Grace (Scribner, 2011), attempts to quell the notion that his career is summarized by the high-inside fastball he threw to Bobby Thomson on October 3rd, 1951.

Informed by one of his Detroit Tiger teammates in 1954 of the Giants intricate sign-stealing system that included a buzzer system and telescopes, Branca held on to his secret for decades. Battling the burden of bearing the weight of the hopes of an entire city being dashed by one pitch, Branca finally felt that the time was right to illuminate his career after being quiet for so long.

Click here to see video of Branca discussing his new book, as well as to read the entire review.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bill 'Ready' Cash, veteran of eight Negro League seasons dies at 91

Bill “Ready” Cash, an All-Star catcher with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues from 1943-1950, passed away Monday at Roxborough Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 91.

Born February 21, 1919 in Round Oak, Georgia, Cash moved to Southwest Philadelphia as a youngster, where he honed his baseball skills on the local sandlots. After quitting his high school team, as he was the only black player on the squad, he starred on local semi-pro teams in the early 1940s. Under the tutelage of Negro League veteran Webster McDonald, he was brought to Philadelphia manager Goose Curry in 1943 and was invited to join the Stars.


Cash played eight seasons in the Negro Leagues, all with Philadelphia. He was selected to the East-West All-Star game in 1948 and 1949; during the latter which he caught the entire game. In demand for his prowess behind the plate, the well-traveled catcher played in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, and Canada.


I had the opportunity to meet Cash in 2008 at an event at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Even at his advanced age, he rattled off names and explicit details of legends such as Ray Dandridge, Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. I marveled at the size of his hands, which were not only huge, but disfigured from the multiple broken fingers due to the hazards of catching. I only wondered about the power of those hands during his prime.

He earned the nickname “Ready” after being taken out of a game early in his tenure.  He wasn’t happy about the benching and quickly told the manager, "When I put on the uniform, I'm ready to play." The moniker followed him the rest of his career.

A few years after major league baseball had been integrated; Cash was signed in 1952 at the age of 33 by the Chicago White Sox. Fueled by the promise of a spot with Class A Colorado Springs, Cash batted .375 during spring training, besting fellow Negro League alum Sam Hairston’s .214 average. Despite his torrid spring, the White Sox executives did not hold up their end of the bargain and sent Cash to Class B Waterloo. Infuriated, Cash asked for his release.

“I was mad because they lied to me,” he said in Brent P. Kelly’s Voices from the Negro Leagues.

Reluctantly, Cash stayed on with Waterloo, seeking to prove his major league worthiness. His aspirations were derailed when he broke his leg less than 40 games into the season and was shelved for nine weeks. Upon his return, he was reassigned to Class C Superior to help them in their playoff run. It would be the end of Cash’s quest to get to the major leagues. He played a few more years in the Mandak League as well as with a semi-pro outfit in Bismarck, North Dakota before finishing in 1955.

Even at the end of his career, Cash’s skills continued to impress. During a 2008 interview I conducted with his Bismarck manager Al Cihocki, the mention of his name elicited an excited response.

“How about Bill Cash? Holy Christ, boy could he hit and throw. If he was playing today, he would be worth a fortune.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Carl Erskine talks sign stealing that the 1951 Giants / Dodgers rivalry

Carl Erskine was one ill-placed curveball from possibly changing the fate of the 1951 playoff between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants.

When manager Charlie Dressen checked with his coach Clyde Sukeforth on the status of both Erskine and Ralph Branca to relieve a tiring Don Newcombe, Sukeforth replied, “He [Erskine] just bounced his curveball.” A few pitches later, Bobby Thomson stepped up to the plate and blasted the infamous home run off of Ralph Branca that became widely known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Erskine remained in the bullpen for a front row seat to one of baseball's most lauded moments. The moment; however, was not without controversy. Click here to read and watch Erskine's take on the alleged sign-stealing by the New York Giants.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bernie Williams placed among Latino baseball legends

The Latino Baseball Hall of Fame (Salon de Fama del Beisbol Latino), located in La Romana, Dominican Republic, announced its Class of 2012 selections at the MLB offices Thursday. Leading the class of 2012 was the much revered New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams. The Puerto Rican centerfielder was among a panel that included Latino Baseball Hall of Famers Felipe Alou, Minnie Miñoso and Tony Perez.

Minnie Minoso, Felipe Alou, Tony Perez, and Bernie Williams / N. Diunte
While much of the attention centered on the announcement of Williams’ selection, the San Juan native humbly deferred to the legends seated to his left. The first person he mentioned in his impromptu speech was Miñoso who is potentially a candidate for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with the introduction of the “Golden Era” ballot, which reviews the candidacy of players between the years of 1947-1972. Williams expressed fond memories of hearing the praises of the “Cuban Comet” in his household as a youngster.

“Everybody in my family knew about the great feats of Minnie Miñoso," Williams said. "When they talked about great baseball players in my household, they would say, ‘Minnie Miñoso es [un] tremendo pelotero.’ I always grew up listening about him even though I never saw him play, but I saw him through the eyes of my family."

Starting as a 16-year-old playing for Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League, Williams beamed with pride while speaking about his first manager who also happened to be fellow panel member, Felipe Alou.

“Felipe, he was my first manager," he said. "As a 16 year old, I remember taking off after high school going to Criollo de Caguas. It was my first team and he was my first manager. It was just a great experience and he was like a father figure to me.”

Alou has been a driving force in the formation of the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame. Enshrined in their first class, Alou is promoting the heritage of Latinos in baseball through the museum.

“This is probably my last baby in my career," he said. "I think this is big for many reasons; big because of all of the great players that are becoming and have become and will become part of this project. There are so many great Latin players who are really short in Cooperstown.”

Alou hopes to enlighten the younger players and the rest of world about the great players of the past. The Latin influence in baseball is one he feels that needs to be both preserved and celebrated.

“The Latinos, there are not a whole lot of history that today’s player know," he said. "We know, those of us that are here, that it took over 100 years to get all of these Latino players in the Hall of Fame. We would like for the Latino players and also the American people to know some of those players of Cooperstown quality, so they know where we all came from and where they came from and where we are going.”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Carl Erskine explains how he composed his curveball in Cuba

On the verge of his 21st birthday, fresh off his first full season in professional ball, Carl Erskine found himself in a place that was in stark contrast from his hometown of Anderson, Ind. In the winter of 1947, Erskine was sent to Cuba to play with the Cienfuegos team at the urges of Branch Rickey. Erskine would quickly be introduced to a different climate that had nothing to do with the weather.

Click here to read more about Erskine's experiences playing in Cuba.