Monday, September 26, 2011

Ralph Branca: A Moment in Time - Book Review

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

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

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

Saturday, September 17, 2011

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bernie Williams placed among Latino baseball legends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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