Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yogi Berra greets fans at the home of the New Jersey Jackals

Fresh off of his appearance at the New York Yankees Old Timers' Day, Yogi Berra made his annual appearance at Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair, home of the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League. Adjacent to the Museum and Learning Center that bears his name, Berra signed autographs for the few hundred fans who lined up since 8am to meet the Yankee Hall of Famer.

Click here to read more about the Hall of Famer's appearance at his stadium in New Jersey.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Old Timers' Day a series of firsts for Jose Cardenal

The age of 67 is unusually late to make a debut, but for Jose Cardenal, Sunday afternoon was his first appearance at Yankees Old Timers’ Day. Many fans from Cardenal’s playing days might be scratching their heads trying to remember when the speedy outfielder wore the Yankee pinstripes. It wasn’t as a player, but as a coach that Cardenal donned a Yankee uniform.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mitch Williams - Straight Talk from Wild Thing - Book Review

Admittedly, Mitch Williams’ best pitch was his fastball. No deception, just a high hard one that was at times, known to have a mind of its own. Earning the nickname “Wild Thing,” for his ornate pitching motion and resulting lack of control, Williams stays true to form with his new book, Straight Talk from Wild Thing co-authored by Darrell Berger.

Click here to read a full review of Williams' new book as well as watch video of him discussing the work on NBC 10 Philadelphia.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Willie Harris and Justin Turner greet Mets faithful at BJ's in Flushing

Two members of the New York Mets, Willie Harris and Justin Turner made an appearance Saturday afternoon at BJ's in Flushing. Harris and Turner greeted fans, posing for pictures and signing autographs for an hour. Click here for more photos and video interviews with Turner and Harris from the signing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review - Always a Yankee - By Douglas Williams and Jim Coates

The prestige, honor and infamy of wearing the Yankee pinstripes are some of the most magical forces in sports. Players who spent even a short time with the Bronx ballclub are often identified by their ties to baseball’s most storied franchise. Therefore, it is only right that Yankees World Series hero Jim Coates has titled his memoirs, "Always a Yankee: A Pitcher's Story; Jim Coates, He Beats the Odds to Become an All-Star and a World Champion". Co-authored with Doug Williams, Coates tells vivid tales of how he made it to the Yankees from the farms in Virginia.

Click here to read the entire review of Coates and Williams' "Always a Yankee."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hiram Bithorn created a path for Puerto Ricans to enter major league baseball

As thousands of Puerto Ricans rejoiced in New York City this weekend for the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, many flocked to stadiums across the country to watch professional baseball games. The Commonwealth that has produced such greats as Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, and Roberto Alomar, should offer a tip of the cap to a pioneer that opened the door for these talented names to follow.

Five years before Jackie Robinson, Hiram Bithorn blazed new pathways in major league baseball. Suiting up with the Chicago Cubs on April 15, 1942, he became the first Puerto Rican in MLB history.

Born March 18, 1916 in Santurce, Bithorn excelled in athletics from a young age despite missing his right big toe. In addition to starring in baseball, he represented Puerto Rico in basketball and volleyball at the Juegos Centroamericanos y del Caribe (Central American and Caribbean Games) in 1935.

Bithorn made his 1936 debut in organized baseball with the Class-B Norfolk Tars of the New York Yankees organization. He moved up the ranks playing for Norfolk and Binghamton before moving to the Yankees AA Newark club in 1938. This season proved to be an important one for Bithorn in more ways than one.

Already a star in the Puerto Rican winter leagues with the San Juan Senadores, Bithorn created history of his own there, making his mark as the youngest manager in league history at the age of 22 that winter. Returning with the confidence of managing his own club, Bithorn moved to the veteran laced Pacific Coast League in 1939, playing with the Oakland Oaks. He had a 13-14 record and spent the following two seasons playing with Hollywood, posting 27 wins during that span and drawing the attention of the Chicago Cubs scouts.

He was purchased from Hollywood at the end of the 1941 season and was quickly inserted into the Cubs pitching rotation at the start of 1942. He went 9-14 pitching in 38 games, starting 16 of them. Lennie Merullo, the shortstop on the 1942 team, had clear memories of Bithorn’s acquisition.

“I can remember that Hiram was brought along in the Yankee organization and the Cubs got him in some sort of a deal," Merullo said in a 2009 interview from his Massachusetts home. "Boy he was a big help in our organization!”

Bithorn’s value would manifest the following season when he was 18-12 with a league leading seven shutouts in 249 innings. Merullo explained how Bithorn's control was the key to his success that season.

“He was a hard thrower and had a great curveball," he said. "He had a natural sinker that he would throw from a low three-quarter position. When he pitched, we knew as infielders we were going to get a lot of work. He was always good, but you knew you were going to be busy.”

As a Latin player on the Cubs, "Hi" as he was nicknamed by reporters, wasn’t alone in his journey. The Cubs brought in Cuban catcher Chico Hernandez to work with Bithorn. Hernandez played both the 1942 and 1943 seasons alongside the trailblazing Puerto Rican. They were only the second Latino battery in major league history. The duo was well-liked in the clubhouse.

“They were both very popular with the rest of the ballplayers," Merullo said. "We got along great with them. We kidded them quite a bit, because they were both big handsome guys and spoke with mostly broken English. They took it gracefully.”

Bithorn’s playful nature allowed him to roll with the ribbing he received from his teammates.

“He was kind of a happy guy," he said. "He took a lot of kidding from the rest of his teammates over and over again, him and Chico,” acknowledged Merullo, adding that Bithorn and Hernandez had their own way of turning the tides on their teammates. “They would gang up on us. They were always happy to do it.”

Just as Bithorn’s career was beginning to take off, he was summoned by Uncle Sam to serve in the United States Navy. He served at the San Juan Naval Air Station beginning in 1943, where he was player-manager of the base team. Discharged just short of two full years of service, Bithorn eagerly anticipated his return to the Cubs.

Just before returning to the United States, Bithorn injured his hand during a winter league game. This delayed his return to the Cubs, and when he got back, he couldn’t recapture the enchantment that made him so special before entering the service.

He went 6-5 in 1946, primarily in relief, suffering from what was believed to be arm problems, weight gain and a possible nervous breakdown. He would pitch two more innings in the major leagues in 1947 with the Chicago White Sox and then never return to the big leagues. He unsuccessfully tried a comeback at the AA level in 1949, and retired as a player following the completion of that season.

Bithorn’s history is sealed in as much as his debut, as his tragic death. On December 30, 1951, Bithorn was shot by a police officer in Mexico after a dispute over selling his car. The officer, Ambrosio Castillo shot Bithorn and then drove him 84 miles away to the Ciudad Victoria hospital. Bithorn died shortly thereafter. Doctors claimed that if Bithorn had been treated earlier that he might have lived.

Castillo was convicted on homicide charges after his version of the dispute didn’t hold up in court. At age 35, one of Puerto Rico’s heroes was laid to rest in his hometown only after his body was exhumed from an improper burial in Mexico.

Ten years later after his burial in Puerto Rico, their largest baseball stadium was renamed Estadio Hiram Bithorn in his honor. The stadium, which is home to the Senadores, was also the home of the Montreal Expos for the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Maury Wills proudly represents the Dodger blue at the 2011 MLB draft

Sixty years after signing with the Dodgers, Maury Wills continues to bleed Dodger blue. Wills appeared in New York City at a pre-draft luncheon earlier this week as the official representative of the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2011 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. “El Fantasma” (The Ghost) as he was nicknamed in Venezuela for his base-stealing ability, spent a few minutes discussing his 1951 entry into the famed then-Brooklyn organization.

“I was signed out of a tryout camp,” Wills recalled during the festivities. “The guys in the projects saw this ad in the newspaper for Washington D.C. kids between the ages of 17-19 to come and bring your gloves and spikes.”

Maury Wills

His courtship by the Dodgers differed greatly from the hopefuls that awaited Monday evening’s selections.

“We went and performed in front of the scouts,” he said. “There was no such thing as a draft deal like now where they see you play and approach you for a nice bonus. I got $500 and I gave it to my dad. He never saw $500 at one time in his life.”

Wills thought his signing was going to bring life changing riches. He quickly learned that wasn't the case for a young ballplayer at the lowest level of professional baseball.

“At the time, before I signed, I thought I was going to get all of this money and take my family out of the projects, but that didn’t happen,” he said. “I signed for $130 per month and $1.50 per day meal money.”

Despite the rough road he faced toiling the minor leagues for nine years, climbing the ladder all the way from Class-D Hornell to the majors, Wills would repeat his journey.

“I would do it again today,” he said. “I would pay that price.”

It was that proverbial price Wills paid that allowed him to represent the Dodgers at the 2011 MLB Draft. Throughout all of his well chronicled battles with drug abuse, he acknowledged a divinely spirit guiding him along his continued path in baseball.

“Signing for that $130 per month and that meal money, that’s what got me here,” he said. “If I didn’t want to sign for that, I wouldn’t be here. I paid the price all the way, even after getting to the big leagues. That’s the only reason I’m here, not because of myself, but in spite of myself; it was God’s grace. For the Dodgers to ask me to come here to represent them, it’s really flattering.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Jose A. Pagan, 76, played 15 seasons with three clubs

Jose Pagan, who played 15 seasons in the majors between 1959 and 1973 with the San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies, passed away Tuesday at his home in Sebring, Fla. He was 76.

Click here to read more about Pagan's career and passing.

Jose Pagan

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mets alumni team up with City Harvest to help the hungry

Mets Alumni team up to assist City Harvest
In a continuing series of community based events, the Mets Alumni Association presented by Citi teamed up with City Harvest Friday evening before the Mets game against the Braves to package more than 25,000 lbs. of potatoes for New York area food charities.

The Mets brought out a roster of players from all of their teams that appeared in the World Series (1969, 1973, 1986 and 2000). Assisting in the packing efforts were Cleon Jones, Jim McAndrew, John Stearns, Rick Aguilera, Doug Sisk and Dennis Cook.

Gary Carter's teammates come together in support of "The Kid"

Gary Carter Mets HOF Plaque
"The Kid" might be facing his toughest opponent yet; however, he can continue to battle strongly knowing he has the full support of his teammates. Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher who is suffering from inoperable brain cancer was in the forefront of two of his teammates thoughts Friday evening. Two of Carter's World Champion 1986 New York Mets teammates Rick Aguilera and Doug Sisk were at Citi Field Friday night for a series of events sponsored by the New York Mets Alumni Association presented by Citi. It was very clear that throughout the evenings events, their thoughts were with their beloved catcher.

Click here to read Aguilera and Sisk's remarks regarding Carter when interviewed at Citi Field Friday evening.