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.

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 since its inception in 1957.

Click here to read from Hodges' Brooklyn teammates about their feelings regarding his Hall of Fame chances.

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

Nick Strincevich
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.

Click here to read about how he pitched to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, as well as became a favorite of Casey Stengel.

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

Cole and 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, Md. 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.

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.

Click here to read the entire story and see photos and video from the event.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Former Brooklyn Dodgers Schmitz and Buker pass away

Two of the senior alums of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Johnny Schmitz and Cy Buker passed away this week at the ages of 90 and 93 respectively.

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.

Buker pitched for the Dodgers in 1945 during World War II, compiling a 7-2 record in his only season. He also passed away in Wisconsin on Tuesday, October 11th.

With their deaths, that leaves 44 living former major leaguers who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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, but 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. 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. 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,” he said.

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. 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."

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, Ga., Cash moved to Southwest Philadelphia as a youngster, where he would hone his baseball skills on the local sandlots.

Click here to read more about the life and career of Bill "Ready" Cash, including interviews with his teammates and a video tribute to boot.

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

Minnie Minoso, Felipe Alou, Tony Perez, Bernie Williams / N. Diunte
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.

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.

Click here to read more from Williams' big day, including live footage of Williams' speech and an interview with Alou.

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.



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Joe Caffie Indians outfielder that started in the Negro Leagues, dies at 80


Joe Caffie, the Cleveland Indians an outfielder who started with the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues in 1950, passed away at his home in Warren, OH, on August 1st, 2011. He was 80.

Click here to read more about his career, including words from his teammates and newspaper articles highlighting his career.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Negro League legend Willie 'Curly' Williams left a lasting impact on many

Another eagle has ascended to the soaring skies and taken the legend of the Negro Leagues with him. Willie “Curly” Williams, infielder for the Newark, Houston and New Orleans Eagles of the Negro Leagues from 1945-51, died Tuesday in Sarasota, Fla. He was 86.

I had the good fortune of spending an entire day with Williams in September, 2007 as the city of Newark, New Jersey featured an all-day tribute to the Newark Eagles. Streets in Newark were named after former Eagles legends and the players were honored by the mayor in a private ceremony at the baseball stadium in Newark. Later in the day, the players spoke at the New Jersey Historical Society before being celebrated on the field before a Newark Bears game.

Willie "Curly" Williams (r.) with the author in 2007
Williams radiated as he spoke about his glory days in Newark, holding nothing back about both the highlights and hardships of his career. For a few short hours, Williams transformed into a man of his youth sixty years prior, as he spoke with such vigor about his life in baseball.


Born May 25, 1925 in Holy Hill, SC, Williams was a shortstop for the 1946 Negro League Champion Newark Eagles which featured future Hall of Famers Leon Day, Larry Doby, and Monte Irvin. The departure of Irvin to the New York Giants in the following years opened up the shortstop position for Williams.

With the reins of shortstop secured in his hands, Williams flourished, earning a selection to the 1950 East-West All-Star game in Comiskey Park. By the following season, Williams signed with the Chicago White Sox organization and reported to their Class-A Colorado Springs affiliate.

For Williams, like many black players in the 1950’s, playing minor league baseball in a small town was a cold reminder of the isolation they faced due to Jim Crow segregation.

“I went out to Colorado Springs, ain’t too many black people in Colorado," Williams said during a 2007 interview in Newark. “They found a preacher’s house for me to stay in. One black preacher was in that town; they found that house and that’s where I stayed the whole season.”

Williams climbed the ladder of the White Sox system, advancing to AAA the following season. He thought that an invitation to spring training with the parent club would follow in 1953. Sadly, that invite never arrived.

"I thought I should have got a better shot at the Major Leagues, and I didn't get it. I was madder than anything about it. I didn't even get an opportunity to go to spring training with a Major League team. After playing in Toledo I thought I could have gone to spring training the following year,” Williams said in a 2008 interview with MLB.com.

Williams headlines with the Toledo Mud Hens / April 4, 1952 Toledo Blade

As one door closed for Williams, another opened, this time in a distant place, Canada. He played north of the border from 1953-1963, including an eight-year run with Lloydminster that earned him the title Mr. Baseball. He found something in Canada that he couldn’t find in the United States, peace.

“We had so much fun there and everybody was accepted, you know, didn't have problems going any place we wanted to eat. [They were] just wonderful people.  [I] may not have made a whole lot of money, but people were excited and they enjoyed you and would invite you to their homes,” Williams said in an interview with Jay Dell-Mah.

In addition to playing in the Negro Leagues, minor leagues, and Canada, Williams also starred for the Mayaguez team in the Puerto Rican Winter League from 1949-50. Upon his retirement from baseball, he moved to Sarasota, working 27 years as a crime scene investigator for the coroner’s office. In 2009, Topps gave Williams his first baseball card ever in their Allen and Ginter set.

2009 Allen and Ginter Willie Williams / Topps
His image and voice continue to resonate in my mind as I reflect on our day together in Newark. The clearest memory I have of Williams, besides the open invite to be a guest at his home in Sarasota, is the story he told that moved everyone in the room to tears. The picture he painted about enduring the harsh realities of segregation while in Colorado had a profound impact on all who were within earshot of his interview.

“I went to spring training in Avon Park with the Colorado team. They had a place with a preacher for me to stay. [There was] a café with my table in the kitchen. Every time that door swung open, all I could see [was] all my teammates out there. They had a table for me set up in the kitchen. That hurt. And what hurt so bad, they had a Mexican guy for my roommate; he could go in there. At night, I just cried and it made me feel better,” said Williams.

I cried a bit and gave Williams a hug after he told the story. He pulled out a kerchief and dried his eye. The memory of him sitting in the kitchen of the restaurant, only to see his teammates in the dining area while the door swung open has stuck with me every time I’ve thought about our meeting. I hope that the opportunity to tell his story, while painful, made him feel better to share it with us.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Carl Erskine tells the story of his first major league home run

 This is Part 1 of a series of interviews with Brooklyn Dodger great Carl Erskine about his experiences playing with the storied franchise. Erskine appeared recently in New York on behalf of the Bob Feller Museum and was kind enough to grant us access to produce this series of vignettes regarding his career.

Nineteen-fifty-five was a banner season in Brooklyn. The Dodgers finally won the pennant, proclaiming themselves bums no more. Johnny Podres shut down the heralded Yankees in Game 7, rightfully placing the champagne on the Brooklyn side of the dugout. Roy Campanella edged out teammate Duke Snider for National League MVP honors. The Dodgers, for once, were the sole kings of New York.


For pitcher Carl Erskine, 1955 holds a more special distinction in his heart. Click here to read about and see video of Erskine discussing his first (and only) major league home run.






Monday, August 15, 2011

Strawberry brings Mets magic to Douglaston for Community Day

Darryl Strawberry was able to make a little more Mets magic happen in Queens, only this time it wasn't at the ballpark, but at his restaurant Strawberry's Sports Grill in Douglaston. This weekend saw Strawberry's former teammates Terry Leach, Barry Lyons and Kevin Mitchell as well as 1986 Mets coach Bud Harrelson, and ex-New York Giants punter Sean Landeta appear to raise money for Strawberry's Foundation for Autism Awareness.

Hundreds of supporters came to the small enclave near the Long Island Rail Road to see their Mets alums, participate in the many events and partake in the excellent cuisine of Strawberry's restaurant. Below are articles featuring video and interviews with the aforementioned members of the 1986 World Series Championship Mets team.

Kevin Mitchell returns to his baseball roots at Douglaston Community Day




Terry Leach delivers for autism awarness at Douglaston Community Day

Barry Lyons shares how B.A.T. sheltered him from Hurricane Katrina's destruction

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ernie Johnson, 87, Braves pitcher, announcer and World War II veteran

Earlier this evening, it was reported during the Atlanta Braves telecast that their legendary announcer Ernie Johnson Sr. died Friday after spending time in hospice care. He was 87.

One of the friendliest voices in baseball, Johnson spent over 50 years with the organization as a player, executive and broadcaster.Johnson was one of a handful of players who are left from the Braves’ playing days in Boston. After getting a cup of coffee in 1950, his 15-4 record at AAA Milwaukee the next season paved the way for his full-time role with the Braves pitching staff in 1952.

He stayed with the Braves through the end of the 1958 season, playing one more year for the Baltimore Orioles after being released. Johnson was a key factor in the Braves 1957 World Series victory over the New York Yankees, pitching effectively in relief for three games.



In 2008, I had the opportunity to interview Johnson via a telephone call from his home in Cummings, GA. Johnson spoke with an unparalleled level of clarity and familiarity about his experiences in baseball and his service in World War II.

Click here to read Johnson's recollections of serving in World War II.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Federoff's influence has a lasting impact on the Tigers organization

“He was the best manager I ever had,” said current Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland in the Detroit News. Al Federoff was Leyland’s manager during his 1964 rookie campaign in Lakeland, Fla. It was also Federoff who rescued Leyland a few years later when the Tigers weren’t sure what to do with him while filling out their minor league rosters.

“Leyland was my good luck charm. I took him everywhere I could,” said Federoff during a 2008 interview I conducted with him from his home in Taylor, Mich.

While Federoff has received notoriety for mentoring Leyland, many are unaware that he was a sure-handed, light-hitting second baseman for the Tigers in the early 1950s. He died in Glibert, Ariz. last week at the age of 87.

Al Federoff / Author's Collection
Federoff was one of the fastest players in major league baseball in the 1950s, clocking a 3.8 second time from home to first batting right handed, placing him sixth in major league baseball according to the September 3rd, 1952 issue of The Sporting News.

He entered professional baseball in 1946 with the Jamestown Falcons of the Class-D PONY League after serving in the Air Force in World War II. After a few years of climbing the rungs of the minor league ladder, he was a late season call-up with the Detroit Tigers in 1951.

Inspired by his taste of the big league action, Federoff hit a solid .288 at AAA Buffalo in 1952 and was recalled in July when second baseman Jerry Priddy went down with a leg injury. It was during this time that he would bear witness to two of Virgil Trucks’ greatest pitching performances ever.

The first one happened August 6, 1952 against the ageless Satchel Paige and the St. Louis Browns. Trucks and Paige battled to a scoreless tie in the ninth inning when Trucks was lifted for a pinch-hitter. The 46-year old Paige pitched the entire 12 innings for the victory. Federoff took the collar twice against Paige in his five trips to the plate. Federoff insisted age wasn’t a factor in Paige’s performance.

“You can’t take nothing away from him [Paige]; if you’re good, you’re good,” said Federoff of the Hall of Fame hurler.

Federoff had a more involved role in Trucks’ August 25th masterpiece at Yankee Stadium. Hank Bauer, the Yankees strong left-fielder, stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth. Bauer squared up one of Trucks’ fastballs right in the direction of Federoff.

“I get my name mentioned in the paper every now and then when Trucks pitched that no-hitter against the Yankees," told Federoff. "I made the last put-out on a hard smash by Hank Bauer for the final out; I saved the no-hitter!”

He finished the season with a .242 average and did what he was expected to do, play good defense at second base. His sure hands attracted the attention of another Hall of Famer, Tigers GM Charlie Gehringer.

“He came to me personally and told me, ‘You did damn good, your fielding was terrific,’” recalled Federoff.

While his fielding impressed Gehringer, his overall play did not do enough to sway manager Fred Hutchinson to give him an extension for the 1953 season.
 
“I was disappointed when they sold me to San Diego in 1953,” said Federoff, who thought he could add some youth to an aging ballclub. “Johnny Pesky was a good ballplayer, but he was already in his mid 30s, [Billy] Hitchcock was in his mid 30s and [Jerry] Priddy couldn’t run after that broken leg. Hutchinson kept him and he couldn’t even run; I hadn’t even hit my prime!”

Federoff was caught in a numbers game that was typical of his era, one that was prior to expansion and free agency.

“Another thing people don’t consider is that each league only had eight teams," he said. "Now they have an additional 320 40-man roster spots in each league. In our day, they sent you down to AAA and you would get lost down there because they had so many good players. Who was going to replace Jackie Robinson or Pee Wee Reese? If you were a SS or 2B [behind them], you were out of luck!”

Detroit wanted to send him to Buffalo, but he didn’t want to go back up north again after playing there the previous season.

“They tried to send me to Buffalo, but I wouldn’t go. I stuck around for a few days and they sold me to San Diego,” he said.

Federoff enjoyed four solid years with the Padres, helping to lead them to the 1954 PCL championship, walking 108 times against only 34 strikeouts.  During that championship season, he enjoyed the company of yet another mystical baseball figure, Luke Easter.

“He was my buddy; I liked him very much," Federoff recalled. "He protected me at second base. Any time he stepped up to the plate, the other teams were hoping he didn’t hit the long one."

Even though he was no longer in the major leagues, Federoff, like many other veterans enjoyed the comforts of playing on the West Coast. The warmer weather and improved travel were attractive propositions for ballplayers that endured the long bus rides that came with years of beating the bushes.

“In the PCL at that time, the playing conditions were better," he said. "We had a lot of good older players coming from the big leagues because the conditions were wonderful. A lot of great ballplayers finished their careers there and they were paid better than the big leagues. We played a week at home and a week at each city. We flew by airplane, and the weather was wonderful, especially in San Diego."

The same door that opened the opportunity for him to enter the big leagues is also the same one that closed his career. Bit by the injury bug, Federoff was robbed one of of the key elements of his game, speed.

“During my last year in San Diego, I was over the hill," he said. "San Diego traded me to Seattle. I played a year there. Then they sent me to Louisville, I played a half year there. I was sold to Atlanta and that was the end of my career. At the end I was overcoming a broken leg; I lost a lot of my speed. They had me there to fill in and just to work with the kids. They were interested in playing kids that had a chance to get up to the big leagues. You seem to know when you’ve had enough.”

After he hung up his cleats as a player, he entered the Tigers minor league system as a manager in 1960. He managed ten seasons, ending his career in 1970 ironically in the PCL, the place where he spent the bulk of his minor league time.

Despite never returning to the majors after the 1952 season as a player or a coach, Federoff was satisfied with his baseball career.

“I enjoyed it. I had some good days and bad ones like everybody else.”