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.

Gil Hodges / Bowman
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 after its inception in 1957.

To the small crop of Hodges’ remaining living Brooklyn teammates, his absence from the Hall of Fame remains a mystery. Ed Roebuck, who spent six seasons with Hodges in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, as well as another two playing for him in Washington, is perplexed by his absence.

“It’s unbelievable that Gil Hodges isn’t in," Roebuck said. "Even as a manager, how would you figure the 1969 Mets to beat Baltimore? That in itself should be admission to the Hall of Fame.”

Joe Pignatano, Hodges’ long-time coach with the Washington Senators and the New York Mets, also played five seasons with him in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and New York. Pignatano sees this year’s vote as a mere formality for something that should have been done a long time ago.

“It’s absurd," Pignatano said. "This is something that is long overdue. There isn’t anybody I know that doesn’t speak highly of him.”

Hodges’ tremendous character allowed him to positively impact everyone on the team, from the established veterans, to the newcomers on the block. One such newbie was pitcher Glenn Mickens. In 1953, Mickens was a rookie making the jump to Brooklyn from AA Fort Worth. It was Hodges that welcomed him to the fold.

“[He] made me feel like I belonged there … he was a complete gentleman in every respect,” Mickens said. “I never heard a negative word spoken about Gil Hodges and I don't think that he had an enemy in the world - except maybe those opposing pitchers who couldn't get him out, and theirs wasn't negativity, but actually respect for one of the best to ever play the game.”

Catcher Tim Thompson was another rookie who was a recipient of Hodges’ benevolence. Thompson made the club out of spring training in 1954 and needed a place to stay in Brooklyn. Hodges quickly came to the rescue.

“He was the most human being I ever been around in my life," Thompson said. "When I went to Brooklyn, he said, ‘I have a house for you to rent right beside me so you have somewhere to live.’ He used to pick me up and take me to the ballpark. He was a very good friend of mine.”

On the field, Hodges had a humble approach that resonated with his teammates. They saw him give the same respect to his opponents that he did to those in his own dugout.

“Gil would hit a grand slam and would have his head down all the way around the bases like he felt sorry for the pitcher," Roebuck said. "Now they point in the sky, jump up; so unprofessional! If you did that when I played, you would have been knocked down for sure.”

The newly formed Golden Era committee which is comprised of eight Hall of Famers (one being Hodges’ teammate Tommy Lasorda), five executives and three members of the media, has a tremendous task at hand to pare down the list to one or more candidates that 75% of them agree upon. Hodges’ candidacy has sparked debate for years; however, for Mickens, this vote should close the chapter on an honor Hodges should have received years ago.

“He was an outstanding clutch hitter and his record speaks for itself as far as his being in the Hall of Fame,”  Mickens said. “I believe that his induction is long overdue and it would be a terrible disservice if they pass him up.”