Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brancato, 93, one of the last links to the major leagues in the 1930's

Al Brancato
Al Brancato, shortstop for Philadelphia Athletics in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, passed away Thursday June 14, at the age of 93 at an assisted-living facility in Granite Run, Pa. In 2008, I visited Brancato at his home in Upper Darby, where he graciously shared the details of his career over lunch at his dining room table.

Growing up in South Philadelphia, it was on the sandlots where he cut his teeth playing against other professionals.

“I would play semi-pro with all of the local players who would come back from playing pro ball who couldn’t make any money there,” Brancato said. “I played for [a team] at 58th and Elmwood. That’s how I honed my skills, playing with the older guys and playing against the black teams in Chester. You learned from being around those guys. The talk, how they played, you watched all of this. The leagues around Philadelphia were very good.”

Click here to read the entire interview with Brancato, who speaks about playing baseball in the majors before World War II and all of the legendary events he was associated with during the historical 1941 season.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Potter continues to deliver with his next round of baseball signings

Chris Potter with Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr
Crisscrossing the country connecting baseball fans and their cardboard heroes, Chris Potter has continued to make his mark by delivering excellent service to those looking to enhance their autograph collections. With a week left before his next round of coast-to-coast travel, which includes signings with 80 former major league baseball players including Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Bobby Doerr, as well as NBA Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, Potter is busy keeping up with the demand of his faithful.

“Right now, to be honest, we’re up to our eyeballs in mail,” said Potter in a phone interview.

His last round of signings included the notoriously difficult Dr. Mike Marshall, who has evaded collectors for a long time, even proving to be a reluctant signer while he was playing. Potter, after taking the time to break the ice with Dr. Marshall, was able to help collectors land one who has kept his signature in great demand. “It’s definitely a scavenger hunt. A lot were able to cross Dr. Mike Marshall off of their lists,” he said.

So how exactly did Potter break down a guy like Marshall?

“It’s just getting to know somebody. It took me a few years just to build a relationship with him. He took a liking to me and it kind of went from there,” he said. For a player who doesn’t like to sign autographs, Potter was impressed with the amount of care Marshall put in to his signature. “He took pride in his signature. He definitely wanted to make things look good. There were situations where he didn’t think things were up to par and he didn’t let me have it. He was very particular about what he let out in to the market. He had a lot of pride in it, which I don’t see a lot of the players have now today.”

It is through these relationships that Potter has been given a window into the lives of these great men who have helped to build America’s pastime. One of those legends he will be visiting is the aforementioned 94-year-old Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr. “Bobby is of the classiest men I’ve ever met. It’s always a pleasure to see and work with him. I had a great time hearing his stories and talking baseball with him. [He is] one of the best ambassadors of baseball.”

With his June 22nd deadline approaching, Potter is excited to get back on the road to visit the players. One of the things he most looks forward to are the reactions of the players to the wide variety of items he reigns in from his customers. Despite the fact that many of these players have been signing their names for over a half-century, they still get a big kick of what Potter brings their way.

“They really enjoy seeing the stuff I bring them. They say, ‘I haven’t seen this.’ ‘Where can I find this?’ They haven’t seen these things in 40 years in some cases,” said Potter. “Sometimes they want to keep it, but I have to tell them they aren’t mine.”

- Click here to view the 80 players that Potter has available for his June 22nd signings, which includes three Hall of Famers, three MVP's, four Rookies of the Year and a host of other World Series champions and other award winners.

Monday, June 11, 2012

James 'Bus' Clarkson: Unheralded Negro League superstar

James "Bus" Clarkson, unlike many of his Negro League counterparts, had enough left in the tank after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 to carry himself into the major leagues. A rookie at age 37 with the Boston Braves in 1952, Clarkson is one of many unheralded starts of the Negro Leagues given a chance when his best years were behind him.

Thanks to the good people at Baseball Past and Present, Clarkson is featured in a piece that I have authored entitled, "A long ride to the majors: The story of James 'Bus' Clarkson."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The thrill of seeing Gil Hodges still lingers for a lifelong Brooklyn Dodger fan

In December of 2011, I wrote a piece entitled, "Gil Hodges' Brooklyn Dodger teammates make last minute pitch for Hall of Fame," citing recent interviews with Hodges' teammates coming out in support of their late first baseman for the Hall of Fame. That weekend, the newly formed Golden Era Committee voted Ron Santo into the Baseball Hall of Fame, once again leaving Hodges, his family, and his supporters on the outside looking in.

Earlier this week, I received a letter from 72-year-old Brooklyn Dodgers fan Bill Hidde, who shared passionate memories of watching Hodges play in Brooklyn, explaining why he is deserving of the Hall of Fame.

"I grew up in upstate New York, not far from Cooperstown and was an avid Brooklyn Dodger fan who idolized Gil Hodges. When he retired, he held the record for most home runs by a right-hander in the National League and he had a cover picture and several page layout in Look Magazine entitled, "Ballet at First Base," with sequenced shots capturing his grace and athleticism fielding his position.

I had an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn and for two or three years we made the trip there in the summer. My aunt would get tickets for Ebbets Field. The thrill for a young man to go to our seats and see that lighted diamond, and realize I was watching my heroes instead of hearing the announcer on the radio at home still lingers.

The ballplayers of that era recognized their impact on youngsters and one of the finest tributes to Gil Hodges is one that was never given. I knew everything a young boy could know about Gil, where he was born, his wife's maiden name, his service in the Marines, and minor league time before making the majors.

Several years ago, I just happened to catch an interview with teammate and star Duke Snider. The interviewer mentioned Gil dying so young. Duke replied that Gil was very high strung and got extremely nervous before big games and said he was also a chain smoker. I either had, or tried to see, every photo of Gil Hodges I could find. There was not one that ever showed him smoking and I am sure it was because he knew the bad influence that could have on his young fans.

Everyone who knew him spoke of him with respect and admiration. His early death took him from the spotlight and many never got to know the man and his accomplishments, but it will be a real injustice if he is not placed in the Hall of Fame, a place he earned and deserves to be enshrined in!"

Bill Hidde

Friday, June 1, 2012

Andres Torres reveals his battles with ADHD at Gigante premier

Andres Torres (center) at the premier of Gigante / N. Diunte
After a few extended cups of coffee with the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers, Andres Torres still had a nervous energy far greater than what any shot of caffeine could provide. He had all of the tools and raw talent to become a major league star: world class speed, a strong arm and the ability to hit from both sides of the plate. Yet Torres didn’t secure a starting role in the majors until the age of 32 after toiling in the minor leagues for the greater part of his baseball career.

Thursday evening, Torres, the New York Mets outfielder was the center of attention at the premier screening of Gigante, a documentary chronicling his battle with ADHD on his long journey to the major leagues. 

Click here to read about Torres' special evening, as well as watch video of Torres speaking about his condition.