Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eddie Robinson goes to bat for his baseball family

Eddie Robinson, the 90-year-old All-Star first baseman who played for seven franchises during his 13 year major league career, saw one of his life-long crusades come to fruition with last week's agreement to extend pension payments to the group of MLB alumni that fell into the pension gap between 1947-1979.

Robinson appeared in New York for the announcement of payments to the MLB veterans. He spoke from his Fort Worth, Texas home about the excitement of his 20-year journey to get benefits for these retirees.

"I’m getting a pension and I’m happy, but it just didn’t seem fair," Robinson said. "I was in the group of the first player representatives that was formed, so I’ve had a great interest in what’s happened to players over the years, so when they dropped it back, I just didn’t think that was fair and I began to crusade to get something done about it."
Eddie Robinson / SMU Press

Fueled by recent media interest from Douglas Gladstone's book, "A Bitter Cup of Coffee," which spotlights the plight of many of the retirees caught in this pension gap, Major League Baseball was more receptive of a meeting with Robinson's group of alumni. A meeting at the MLB offices in New York City helped to make their cause clearer to baseball's top brass.

"Our services committee of the MLB players alumni became more active," he said. "We got a couple of players on our committee who were lacking in years to get a pension and they added a lot of exuberance and get go to our committee. We had a meeting in New York with Michael Weiner and Rob Manfred, and after that, I think they saw the seriousness of it and that something should be done."

The lack of parity in service time needed for a pension after the 1980 agreement ate at Robinson for the past thirty years, even more so in recent time as more alumni passed away. 

"The last year-and-a-half it’s been a real issue with us," he said. "It was so unfair to some players. Rich Hand, he just lacked a few days of having his four years and the reason he didn’t get those days was because there was a player’s strike. That robbed him of his pension. There were guys in World War II who had a year or two in the big leagues and when they came out they were too old or couldn’t win their job back. Even though they had their years, being in the service robbed them of getting a pension."

Robinson beamed with pride over the current agreement. While it isn't a true pension for those retirees, the annuity payments they will receive will not only help with their standard of living, but does something greater by validating their time as a major leaguer.

"Of course there are all of those guys in between who weren’t recognized and they couldn’t say, ‘I’m a big leaguer, I’m getting a pension.' This really authenticates it for those guys. That’s been one of my major goals since I’ve retired and fortunately I was able to achieve it."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tony Oliva still on "cloud nine" about his baseball career

Legendary Minnesota Twins outfielder Tony Oliva recently made an appearance in New York City at a baseball card show. Oliva, who just had a statue dedicated to himself at Target Field on opening day, took some time to reflect on his 50 years with the organization. Click here to read the entire interview with Oliva, as well as view video from the interview.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reactions from retired Mets, Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers to new pension deal

The cups of coffee for many retired players just got a bit sweeter: Major League Baseball announced Thursday in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association an agreement to make annual payments to retired players who played before 1980 that did not have enough service time to qualify for a retirement benefit.

Since the 1980 season, all Major League players have vested as members of the benefit plan after just one day of service in the Major Leagues. Prior to 1980, players secured a pension benefit only after completing at least four years of Major League service. While these payments are not truly a pension for these retirees, it is income that will go a long way for many.

Author Doug Gladstone illuminated the plight of the 874 retirees that fell into the pension gap with his 2010 book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee.” In the book he details the struggle of the many veterans who have worked tirelessly to get the powers in baseball to change their stance on this issue of pension benefits. All of these alumni paid into the pension fund without receiving anything in return while MLB made record profits. All they wanted was a piece of what they helped to start.


“We don't live in a perfect world, and this is far from a perfect solution to this problem," Gladstone said in a release on Thursday. "What was announced today doesn't provide health insurance coverage, nor will any player's spouse or loved one receive a designated beneficiary payment after the man passes.”

While the arrangements may not be ideal for Gladstone, he does acknowledge that the men that he advocated for will be receiving payments for their service.

"However, I am elated that these men are at long last finally going to be compensated for their service and contributions to the national pastime. This was a wrong that should have been righted years ago.”

Steve Grilli / Youtube

Steve Grilli, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays from 1975-1979 is one of the younger players included in this agreement. At the age of 61, he missed the full pension by one game. He was on the 40-man roster for the entire 1980 season with the Blue Jays. Unfortunately for Grilli, his phone never rang.

“I wasn’t getting rich playing ball," said Grilli during a phone interview Friday evening. "I drove a UPS truck in between seasons. I just wanted baseball to do the right thing. That’s been my mantra throughout all of this.

"I’m not going to say they did the right thing; they did something. I’m very sympathetic for the guys that passed on that didn’t get at shot at this. They’re making the gesture of giving us the same thing they gave the Negro Leaguers a few years back. It shows you they made a mistake. If they offered it to them, why wait all this time to do it for us?”

Grilli feels that this offer from MLB and the MLBPA is an appeal to get the retirees away from the bargaining table.

“There was a dam with a hole in it which was us; that was the problem," he said. "I think they just put their finger in it to hold it off and didn’t permanently fix it. I’m more appeased than satisfied. Let’s just give them this and they’ll go away. Should I die tomorrow, my wife isn’t going to get the small amount that I will be getting."

Alumni from the New York area teams that fell into this “pension gap” were pleased to hear that they will finally be compensated for their years of service. Former New York Yankee pitcher Johnny James, who pitched from 1958-1961, was excited to hear the news.

“About two months ago, Eli Grba had sent me an article from the Chicago papers that they were talking about it. It's exciting to think about because it's just nice,” James said from his Arizona home. “I don't expect it to be a lot, but the fact that it is something, is very nice. I knew what the deal was when I played and the fact that I didn't play long enough wasn't Major League Baseball's fault, it was mine. I will admit when I saw the article, it gave me a good feeling.”

Former Brooklyn Dodger and New York Yankee pitcher Fred Kipp, whose ten year career yielded stints in the big leagues from 1957-1960, echoed similar sentiments.

“We can use it.," Kipp said. "I'm not destitute. I played about a year and a half in the majors and about 10 years in pro ball. I'm not bitter or anything. That was the rule, you had to have five years."

Fortunately for the 79-year-old Kipp, he had a construction business for 40 years that provided support for his family after baseball.

Playing for the New York Mets from 1973-1974, George “The Stork” Theodore was a favorite in many Queens households. Now living in Salt Lake City, Utah, Theodore shared his appreciation for the work that Gladstone performed to promote the cause.

“I know Doug Gladstone has been our greatest ally in this with his book A Bitter Cup of Coffee," Theodore said. "I think it is wonderful. Like I said, he's been fighting for us for quite a while and I know about four or five other players in the Utah area that are in the same boat as me. We're appreciative and it will be a nice help.”

With praise from players like Theodore, Gladstone is glad that his work did not fall on deaf ears.

“My sole purpose in writing this book was to do right by the boyhood heroes of my youth, who gave me numerous hours of enjoyment and pleasure while growing up. If in some small way my book helped bring this issue to light, I couldn't be more pleased."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

MLB awards pension benefits to a "new" group of retirees

In an official announcement that is expected to be made at 2PM EST today, MLB and the MLBPA have reached an agreement that will award pension benefits to the approximately 870 retirees that did not play the required four years between 1947-1979 for vesting.

Much of their plight is detailed in Doug Gladstone's book, "A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve."

More information will be provided after the press conference.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Follow Baseball Happenings on Twtitter

Follow ExamineBaseball on Twitter
Now you can follow the writings of Baseball Happenings as well as my other site for Examiner.com via Twitter. Click on the link on this page or on the right menu bar to follow on Twitter. I hope that this will increase the level of interactivity on this site between the readers and myself.

So long Brad Emaus

Brad Emaus / Xyku / Flickr
The Brad Emaus experiment lasted 42 at-bats. The Mets announced yesterday that they were designating the second baseman for assignment. They recalled Justin Turner from AAA Buffalo. As part of his waiver, the Mets have to offer Emaus back to the Toronto Blue Jays for $25,000, half of his draft fee.

Emaus looked overmatched by major league pitching, batting a lithe .162 during his tenure. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson justified Emaus' brief trial in Flushing. "We just decided that based on what we'd seen in spring training and what we'd seen so far this season, that we'd given it enough time."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stanley Glenn, 84, Negro League catcher and president

Stanley "Doc" Glenn, a catcher with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues died Saturday, April 16, 2011 due to natural causes at his home in Yeadon, Pennsylvania. He was 84.
Born Sept 19, 1926 in Wachatreague, VA, Glenn was a star at John Bartram High School in Philadelphia where he quickly drew the attention of the Stars Hall of Fame player / manager Oscar Charleston. Charleston signed him off of the sandlots in 1944 shortly after graduating from high school. Within a week of graduating, he was making $175 per month playing in the Negro Leagues.
Stanley Glenn (r.) at 2007 Judy Johnson Night / N. Diunte
Glenn played with the Stars through 1950, facing the likes of countless Hall of Famers in the Negro Leagues including: Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Monte Irvin, Ray Dandridge, Roy Campanella, Hilton Smith, and Willard Brown. He expertly detailed his recollections of not only his career, but of all of the greats he encountered in the Negro Leagues team-by-team in his 2006 autobiography entitled, "Don't Let Anyone Take Your Joy Away: An Inside Look at Negro League Baseball and Its Legacy."
His career, like many ballplayers at the time, was interrupted by World War II. He served as a technician in the Army Medical Corps during from September 1945 through November 1946, taking time off to play with the Stars when the opportunity presented itself. Upon his return from military service, he earned the nickname "Doc" for his physical therapy work performed during the war.
Glenn as a member of the Philly Stars
After Jackie Robinson's signing with the Brooklyn Dodger organization, many teams saw their top talent raided by major league organizations looking for the next baseball superstar. During the 1950 season, the hands of the Boston Braves scout Honey Russell reached down and signed Glenn to their Class-A affiliate in Hartford. As a catcher in the Braves organization, he faced stiff competition from the likes of Walker Cooper and Del Crandall. Nonetheless, Glenn played four seasons with Braves minor league outfits in Quebec, Lincoln, as well as Hartford before moving on to a career in the electrical supply business.
Glenn's Hartford teammate Gene Conley, who would go on to win championships in both MLB (Milwaukee Braves) and the NBA (Boston Celtics), was in his first year in pro ball when he pitched a game with Glenn as his catcher. Conley's performance that night was reminiscent of another lanky Negro League hurler.
"Stanley was my catcher the first season I played in A-ball," Conley recalled in a 2008 interview. "I liked him. I pitched a lot to him. I won my 20th game against Wilkes Barre. He was behind the plate when they gave me a night in Hartford. It was Gene Conley night. I pitched a shutout and beat Wilkes Barre 2-0 that night. After the last out, Stanley comes running out to the mound. Remember Podres jumping into Campanella's arms? He jumped up on me and said, 'I love you like a brother. You reminded me of Satch tonight!' He used to catch ol' Satch. I'll never forget that. It was a warm feeling. It was a good thing that he did; it made me feel good. The whole thing was nice. It was my 20th win, they gave me a night, and Stanley came out there and grabbed me. I tell people my first catcher told me I reminded him of Satchel Paige!"
Later in life with the resurgence of interest in the Negro Leagues, Glenn took the position as the president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association. He advocated for the rights of many of the former players and helped to create opportunities for them to share in the profits that many companies were making off of the renewed interest in the former league. He was a fixture at many events in the Philadelphia area, generously appearing to spread the word about the league and its history. 
Stanley Glenn Negro League Art Card / Author's Collection
Glenn was ceremoniously given his first baseball card by the Topps Company in 2007, when he was included in their Allen and Ginter set. His inclusion in the set opened up his career to a new generation of fans and collectors alike. He received a tremendous amount of fan mail after the printing of the card with requests for his signature and information on his career.
Mr. Glenn often appeared at the Delaware Blue Rocks annual Judy Johnson Tribute Night, where he graciously signed autographs and spoke about the history of Negro League baseball for many hours throughout the ballgame, often giving fans his home phone number to contact him with their questions. He was honored by the club in 2008 with special artwork bearing his image that was given to fans entering the stadium that evening. His passing dims another beacon that was able to illuminate the rich history of the Negro Leagues.
2010 Judy Johnson Tribute Night

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eddie Joost, 94, last manager of the Philadelphia Athletics dies

Eddie Joost with the author @ Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society 8/2008
Two-time All-Star shortstop and the last manager of the Philadelphia Athletics franchise Eddie Joost passed away Tuesday in Fair Oaks, CA. He was 94.

Joost began his major league career in 1936 with the Cincinnati Reds after starting only three seasons prior with the San Francisco Missions of the Pacific Coast League. Quickly disregarded by manager Charlie Dressen, who said Joost, "will never be a major league player," he became the starting second baseman for the Reds when they won the World Series in 1940.

His career was derailed after his World Series victory as he committed 45 errors at shortstop for the next two consecutive seasons. Joost was jettisoned to the Boston Braves in 1943 where he hit .185 in 496 at-bats. He skipped the 1944 season to work for a meatpacker that was an essential service to the war efforts. Returning to Boston in 1945 rested and refreshed, Joost was off to a good start when his wrist was broken by Billy Jurges sliding into second base.

The Braves suspended Joost after they claimed he deserted the club once they let him go home following his injury. With his career stalled on the suspended list, Joost thought his days were over. Rescued by the Rochester Red Wings of the AAA International League, Joost flourished. In 1946, he had career highs in home runs and RBI's. This tremendous showing piqued the interest of the legendary Connie Mack.

Mack, 84, was looking for a shortstop after a dismal finish to the 1946 season. When Mack contacted Joost, he reassured the veteran that he wasn't concerned with his rocky past. "You can play. That's all I care about," Mack said. Nineteen-forty-seven would begin a eight-year stay with the Athletics that would see Joost earn MVP considerations five times along with two All-Star selections. Between 1947 and 1952, Joost slugged 109 home runs, while walking over 100 times in each of the six seasons.

At the end of the 1953 season with Joost now 37 and the Athletics in financial disarray, he was offered the position of player-manager in a cost-cutting move. Once again, Joost was unsure of his abilities. New to managing, Joost expressed his concerns to Mr. Mack. Mack reassured his faith in Joost by saying, "You've been a great player for me. I know you'll do well." The Athletics, who had only one starter that hit over .300 that season, finished in last place in the American League with 103 losses. When the Athletics moved to Kansas City following the 1954 season, Joost was not asked to go west with the team.

Seeking a large bonus to continue his career, Joost signed with the Boston Red Sox for $10,000 in 1955. Joost suffered a broken hand early in the season and never effectively recovered to regain his old form. He briefly managed in the Red Sox farm system the following season with the San Francisco Seals, but quit the team quickly when he was turned off by the individualistic nature of their young bonus players. "They were all individual players, all great, but we kept losing. I quit, and walked away from baseball," said Joost.

After his baseball career had ended, Joost moved to Hawaii, where he worked for Wilson Sporting Goods before retiring. I had the opportunity to meet Joost in 2008 (pictured above) at the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society Museum. Joost was a frequent supporter of the society and at the time was extremely lucid and pleasant. I was impressed by the vigor and firm handshake he displayed at the age of 92 that represented a man much younger than his years. It was this youthful spirit that he exuded that kept him going much longer when many others would have perished.

More Info -
Big-leaguer Eddie Joost dies at 94 - SFGate.com
Eddie Joost recalls how Connie Mack revived his big league career - Baseball Digest
Baseball History Podcast: Eddie Joost - Baseball History Podcast

Monday, April 11, 2011

Eddie Robinson: "Lucky Me: My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball"

Anyone who is involved in the game of professional baseball for sixty-five years is more than lucky; they’re blessed. Eddie Robinson, now 90, recounts his lengthy career as a player, coach and executive in his autobiography, “Lucky Me: My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball,” which is currently available via SMU Press.

Eddie Robinson - Lucky Me / SMU Press
Robinson, along with help from co-author C. Paul Rogers III, speaks eloquently about his six-plus decades in baseball. Growing up in Paris, TX, Robinson had his start from humble beginnings in the farming community during the Great Depression. Signed into professional ball in 1939, he began a career that saw Robinson make stops with seven different American League ball clubs from 1942-1957, as well as three years of World War II Service that almost stopped his playing days dead in its tracks.

Recovering from a botched surgery to remove a bone tumor during World War II, Robinson endured a long and hard road to return to baseball in 1946. Not only did Robinson come back, he excelled. Robinson had a banner year that season, winning the MVP of the Triple-A International League, beating out an upstart Jackie Robinson, who was on his quest to make baseball history. This wouldn’t be the first time that the Indians farmhand would have a brush with baseball’s integration, as he was involved in some controversy surrounding the debut of Larry Doby the following season.

Robinson was the only right-handed first baseman on the club, and was asked to defer to Doby by lending the rookie his glove to play the position. Only days before, manager Lou Boudreau has assured Robinson that he was the team’s primary first baseman. A flummoxed Robinson threatened to quit after lending Doby his glove; however, he explained his reasoning was not due to Doby’s race.

“I threatened to quit because of my anger at Boudreau, not because he was a black guy coming in,” he said.

After winning the World Series with the Indians in 1948, he was traded to the Washington Senators for Mickey Vernon. This would begin the merry-go-round that would see him visit seven teams in the next nine seasons. It is through these travels where the book takes shape.

Robinson adds colorful tidbits about his career at the end of extra chapter entitled, “Extra Innings,” which are anecdotes that enliven the stories of his career. Through his play with seven different franchises, Robinson details many innings that illustrate the depth of his career. Robinson has a story for seemingly every “name” player from the 1940s and 1950s and tells them in a manner that keeps the pages turning.

For the New York fans, Robinson expertly details his time as a member of the New York Yankees from 1954-56, where he helped man first base under Casey Stengel’s platoon. Robinson would later return to the Yankees in the early 1980s as a scout.

While not a Hall of Famer, Robinson merits a lot of credit for his long relationship with the national pastime. Whether it was as a player, coach or executive, Robinson put his best foot forward and reaped the rewards of a long-time association with the sport. “Lucky Me,” allows the reader to ride along with Robinson through his sixty years in baseball, taking in the scenery every stop of the way.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bill White explains the making behind his book 'Uppity'

Former New York Yankees broadcaster Bill White made an appearance this Saturday at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey to promote his memoir, Uppity: My Untold Story of the Games People Play. Legions of Yankee fans are familiar with White only from his work in the broadcast booth alongside Phil Rizzuto; however, White was a pioneer in baseball, a member of a select group of African-American players to debut in the 1950s. White endured racial taunts and the laws of Jim Crow segregation to achieve a celebrated 13-year major league career with the Giants, Cardinals, and Phillies.

Bill White signing copies of his book Uppity / N. Diunte

White attempted to redirect all of the negativity he faced from the fans and the opposition into his output on the field. He explained how he turned the racial epithets hurled at him as the only African-American player in the Carolina League in 1953 into fuel against the opposing pitchers.

"I was the lone African-American in the entire league," White recalled. "We played in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Durham. All of the teams were in the South. After I got down there and I figured out what I was going through, I'd rather I played someplace else, but I stayed there, overcame that, and it made me play harder. I hit almost .300 and drove in close to 100 runs. I think that what I went through, back to what my mother and grandmother taught me, it helped me do better. I took it out on the baseball."

Between 1956 and 1969, White was named to the All-Star team five times, won six Gold Gloves and a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. White then spent 18 seasons doing commentary for Yankees games from 1971-1988 before being named President of the National League in 1989. At the time, White was the highest ranking African-American in professional sports.

After his five-year tenure presiding over the National League, White washed his hands with baseball after a 40-year career as a player, broadcaster and executive. He became a recluse, staying far away from the spotlight of the media. Asked if he currently follows the major leagues, he responded with a resounding, “No.” So at 77, then why did he choose such a public display of his career?

"I think that there are a lot of young kids, not necessarily minorities that gotta realize they can do whatever they want to do if they work hard enough," he said. "It doesn't make much difference where you come from. I grew up in the South in a steel mill town. I took advantage of whatever opportunities were given to me. I had parents who said, ‘Hey you're going to get an education, you are somebody, you've gotta work twice as hard as the people you are competing with to be successful, so go out and do it.’ That's the way I've worked all my life and the way I've done things all my life. That’s why I wrote the book."

White’s title Uppity, which represented the then-white view of the educated, high-achieving blacks, stemmed from a comment he heard from Giants’ executive Chub Feeney.

"When I came out of the Army, two years later Orlando Cepeda was Rookie of the Year," he recalled. "Right behind him was Willie McCovey. I said to management, ‘Find me some place to play,’ and the GM said, 'Bill, you're too uppity.'"

At that time, the executives did not care for players giving them orders to be traded, especially from those that were black. White later received his wish, being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959. It is there where his career wflourished, beginning a string of five All-Star appearances in six seasons.

White, who spends much of his time traveling in his mobile home, reflected on the return to New York, where his big league career began in 1956. It was awe struck experience that has stayed close to him for over 50 years.

"Like any other young player, I was star struck playing with guys like Willie Mays and Alvin Dark," he said. "I lived right above the Polo Grounds and I walked to work. As a kid coming from a small town, I didn't really get a chance to see the great things in New York, the Statue of Liberty, plays, and museums. I didn't get a chance to see those things and I missed them."