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.