Sunday, January 22, 2012

Choo Choo Coleman interview

Clarence "Choo Choo" Coleman has been an elusive figure since his playing days with the New York Mets. Returning to New York after 45 years, Coleman sat down for an interview about his career starting from Class D with the Orlando club of the Washington Senators in 1955, through his time with the Dodgers and Phillies organizations before landing with the Mets in 1962.

Click here to read this rare interview with one of the favorites of the 1962 Mets.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review - A Pirate's Journey - The Life Story of Major League Catcher Hank Foiles with Douglas Williams

Spending 16 years behind the plate in professional baseball, Henry “Hank” Foiles saw more than his share of fastballs and foul tips. Along with the many games logged on his aching knees, his travels allowed him to forge relationships with many of the greats of the golden era, not only in baseball, but also pop culture. It is these experiences that comprise Foiles’ recently released autobiography, A Pirate’s Journey, which is co-authored by Douglas Williams.

The Virginia native grew up as the son of a former minor league baseball player and developed into multi-sport star at Granby High, where he paired with future major leaguer Chuck Stobbs to dominate prep competition in baseball and football. In addition to his prowess in the aforementioned sports, Foiles found time to earn All-American honors in the javelin throw.

A Pirate's Journey / Hank Foiles

Baseball, however, was Foiles’ first love, and he signed with the New York Yankees in the fall of 1947. Earning his baptism by fire, he entered major league camp in 1948 to serve as a batting practice catcher while the regulars played their way into shape. Foiles relished this opportunity, anonymously baking in the hot sun behind his catcher’s mask, dutifully catching an endless stream of pitches.

A chance encounter in the locker room allowed him to befriend the biggest star in baseball, Joe DiMaggio. Foiles reveals a gentler side of, “The Big Dago,” who took the young catcher under his wing while he was an awe-struck Yankee farmhand. He pays a touching tribute to DiMaggio in a chapter devoted to their friendship they developed that spring.

Hank Foiles
Foiles doesn’t dwell on painstaking details about every happening of his career. He has chosen to keep it light with entertaining stories about travels in baseball, such as the one with DiMaggio. Another golden nugget is when Foiles reveals the special antics he used to silence the bat of the mighty Willie Mays, gained from their encounters during military competition.

The autobiography is filled with these type of anecdotes that further shine light on the rich experiences of players in the 1950s and 60s, ones that happened far away from the eyes of full-time sports network programming and social media. They reveal layers of the private lives of the ballplayers that make you wish you had a seat next to them during the experience. Williams expertly has you riding shotgun while Foiles serves as your guide on this magical expedition.

The long-time catcher played for seven major league clubs during his major league career, sometimes getting traded so often that he didn't know if he was coming or going. Even though he made the All-Star team in 1957, his name may not resonate with baseball fans the same way as his cronies DiMaggio and Mays, but it is his journey through these various organizations that is special and worth investigating.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Al Van Alstyne, 84, followed in the family baseball tradition

Al Van Alstyne found himself in spring training with the Red Sox in 1952 surrounded by their 15 best prospects, all trying to fill the void of Ted Williams pending leave for active duty in the Korean War. The Red Sox paraded 14 different players to the outfield after Williams departed for service at the end of April; unfortunately, Van Alstyne wasn’t one of them.

Al Van Alsytne

Van Alstyne passed away January 5th at the age of 84 after suffering from a long bout with cancer. He grew up in a baseball household, as his father Clayton Sr. pitched for the Washington Senators and his brother Clayton Jr. was an infielder in the Pirates organization. [Note: His father hit his only home run in his last major league at-bat, one of only 43 major leaguers to accomplish this feat.]

His father's baseball connections opened the door for his signing with the Boston Red Sox in 1950 from St. Lawrence University.

“My dad played in Washington with Joe Cronin, and he was with me the day I signed in Boston, as Joe was the general manager there,” said Van Alstyne in a 2009 phone interview I conducted with him.

He reported to Scranton of the Eastern League a month late after breaking his thumb playing ball right after he signed with Boston. His brother Clayton was playing for the Albany Senators which gave him the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream, to face his sibling in pro ball.

“I played against him my first year in Scranton, that was his last year. It was very enjoyable,” he said.

Van Alstyne earned his first of three invites to spring training in 1952 after having an All-Star season with Class C San Jose in 1951. Surrounded by a combination of established veterans and a volume of upstarts such as Jimmy Piersall, Gene Stephens, Tom Umphlett, and Bob DiPietro, there just wasn’t room for Van Alstyne to crack the big league roster.

“One of the reasons I signed with the Red Sox was that I saw guys were getting old, but they stayed on," he said. "I was just a rookie and I was competing with Williams, [Dom] DiMaggio and [Jackie] Jensen, not to mention Piersall, and Clyde Vollmer.” 

The opportunity to spend time with Williams during spring training allowed Van Alstyne to have a first hand view of what made him so special.

“Williams was the greatest hitter I ever saw," he said. "He was dedicated to his hitting. I don’t care where he was; he was always talking about it and demonstrating to the point where I thought sawdust was coming out of the bat.” 

He recalled a spring training game where Williams displayed his great attention to detail in what was an otherwise meaningless game.

“We were playing the Yankees in St. Petersburg one day," he recalled. "He was on the bench and I was playing center field. When he was called up to pinch hit, he asked all of the guys what the new pitcher threw, what his best pitch was, etc. He was a real student of the game … he was the ultimate.”

Van Alstyne played in the Red Sox organization through 1955 and then was purchased by the Yankees. He spent one year with their AAA team and retired after facing the task of supplanting another legend, Mickey Mantle.

“I was behind Mantle in center field and we didn’t have free agency, so that was it,” he stated.

After baseball, Van Alstyne went into financial planning for Connecticut Sigma and was inducted in to the St. Lawrence Hall of Fame in 2003 for baseball and basketball.

Even thought he came up short with his attempts to get even a cup of coffee in the majors, Van Alstyne was without regrets.

“It was a great seven years I had with great people.”

More Info -

Al Van Alstyne pictured with Guy Morton in 1954 Red Sox spring training - Tuscaloosa News

Van Alstyne figures prominently in Red Sox win - Daytona Beach Morning News

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chris Potter, more than a friend to collectors

Chris Potter with Rocky Colavito
Chris Potter has spent months on the road, traveling the country far and wide to have retired baseball players put their signatures on cherished baseball memorabilia for fellow collectors. What started out as an innocent meeting with Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance, has turned into a full-time business for Potter.

“It started with Dean Chance. I got to know him by going to a show and he just kind of took a liking to me,” said Potter. “Dean being Dean, he’s a business man. He asked if I had friends that collected autographs. He asked for me to get things for him to sign and he would give the money to his church. I got maybe 15-20 of my friends and we were able to raise about $1,000 for his church.”

Potter is set to embark on another round of signings with over 30 retired major leaguers that include the reclusive Rocky Colavito, All-Stars Jimmy “Toy Cannon” Wynn, George “Boomer” Scott, Don Kessinger and Steve Sax.

Using these signings to fund his road trips and the full-scale services of his business Chris Potter Sports, he was also able to bring some much needed financial support to players that baseball had left behind.

“These guys are remembered in baseball history, but baseball doesn’t want to remember them. A guy like [95-year-old] Danny Litwhiler wasn’t able to travel, but I traveled to him. When I handed him the money, there were tears in his eyes. He was in an assisted living facility and really needed the money.”

As Potter started to befriend more players, they became the referral system that enabled him to expand his network. As his reach lengthened, he was able to link teammates that haven’t spoken in decades.

“I found out it was a tight knit circle. … It’s been really nice, because I’ve been able to put these guys back in touch. I get their number from a friend of a friend and they tell me they haven’t spoken in 50 years. It’s heartwarming for me that I’m putting these guys back in touch. They’re rekindling relationships,” said Potter.

Collectors that are under the guise that Potter is doing easy work while exploiting these players need to think again. Traversing the United States to provide his service doesn’t come cheaply.

“We bought our car in April and since then there are 37,000 miles on it. Our expenses are ungodly amounts. Hotels, gas, food … it’s not like you can go to the grocery store and cook meals at home; you are constantly eating out,” said Potter.

The hectic pace of visiting multiple players per day has Potter on a similar schedule as a touring artist.

“The time we have on the road, we’re lucky if we get something small at the hotel in the morning and then getting back at 8-9pm and it is McDonalds or something fast. We’re always on the go,” he said.

Potter has even said that he’s been approached by a few television producers who have wanted to document his travels ala a reality TV show, but so far nothing has materialized.

For those skeptical about the reliability of Potter's service, one of his customers has entrusted him to handle an autograph book so valuable that it is flown across the country for his signings. 

“We have a book that we handle for a customer who lives in Las Vegas. He flies out to us to hand deliver this book to me. It has over 7,000 signatures in it. It has Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams several times over, Stan Musial, etc. It is priceless. It can’t be sent in the mail,” said Potter.

Collectors can rest easily knowing that their items are being taken care of in a manner as if they were handling it themselves.

“With us, you know your item is going to be handled correctly. People are picky about the type of pens they want used and they want their cards signed in the right spot,” said Potter. “If it is an expensive item, then I would definitely let it be handled by a professional. That’s what we offer, a service to the collectors.”

For the full list of signings offered by Potter, please check his website. All items are due by Monday, December 9th, 2012.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ted Beard, 90, second person to hit homerun over right field wall in Forbes Field

While digging through baseball’s history books, one would be surprised to find Ted Beard’s name in the same company with Babe Ruth. The 5’8” 165 lb. outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates was only the second player, the first being Ruth, to ever hit a home run over the 86 foot high right field fence in Forbes Field. He was only one of ten different players to accomplish that feat until the last game was played there in 1970.

The veteran of seven major league seasons between 1948-1952 with the Cleveland Indians and Pirates and 1956-57 with the Chicago White Sox died Friday, December 30, 2011 in Fishers, Ind. He was 90.

Ted Beard
Beard signed with the Pirates in 1942 out of a baseball school in Frederick, Md. Like many of his era, he was quickly whisked away by Uncle Sam to serve in World War II. He spent three years in the Pacific with the Army, reaching the rank of corporal. Discharged at the age of 24, he showed little signs of rust after being out of organized baseball for three years, batting .328 with the Class B York club in 1946.

Starting in 1948, Beard would shuttle between the major leagues and AAA Indianapolis where he became one of the most popular players in franchise history. In 1979, he was selected by the Indianapolis News at the starting right fielder on their all-time team, ahead of Roger Maris and Rocky Colavito.

It was during the 1950 season, his longest in the majors, that he pounded his way in to the record books. On July 16, 1950, facing Bob Hall of the Boston Braves, Beard sent the ball skyrocketing over the towering grandstand. In an April 2010 interview that I conducted with Beard, he provided a recap of his at-bats leading up to the home run.

"My first time at-bat I hit a line drive at the second baseman and he caught it," he said. "The next time, I hit a line drive at third, and he caught it."

Finally, after squaring up the ball the previous two times at-bat, Beard surprised everyone in the park with his circuit blast.

"The next time, I hit it over the roof," he said. "I don't remember hitting one that far before that."

Beard would gain another moment in the spotlight, this time for his participation in one of the greatest “donnybrooks” ever as a member of the Hollywood Stars. On August 2, 1953, the Stars were playing their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Angels. Teammate Frank Kelleher was hit by a pitch and Beard was sent in to run for him. When the next batter singled, Beard, who was beaten at third base by a mile, went in to third baseman Murray Franklin with his spikes high and set off a brawl that had to be broken up by mass of police officers. The fight was immortalized in Life magazine with a multi-page spread of photos depicting the wild melee.

During his April 2010 interview, Beard had little to add other than proximity that added fuel to the fire.

"We were side by side in the towns," he said. "One team wanted to beat the other one. There's nothing more to say about that."

Beard played until 1963 with Indianapolis at the age of 42, some 21 years when he signed with the Pirates. He coached in the White Sox minor league system until 1972. After baseball he worked for the highway crew as an electrician for the State of Indiana until his retirement.