Monday, July 30, 2012

Ed Stevens, 87, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman told the other side of the Jackie Robinson story

Ed Stevens
Ed Stevens was the starting first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, finishing second on the team in home runs and was looking forward to cementing his feet in the first base position for years to come. Leaving spring training in Havana in 1947, Leo Durocher had penciled him in as their opening day starter, beating out five other first baseman in the process. Left with little time to glow in the fruits of his hard work, Stevens’ jubilee would quickly turn sour as the day before the season opener, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey announced that Jackie Robinson, not Stevens would be their opening day first baseman. Not only was Stevens about to witness Robinson break baseball’s color line, he also saw his position wither away right in front of his eyes. “I would like to say that I realized the magnitude of the situation and happily stepped aside, accepting my role as the sacrifice in this incredibly significant moment in history. But the truth is, I was a competitor, and I was agitated. The fact remained coming out of spring training the starting first base job was mine, and the rug had been ripped out from under me,” said Stevens in his 2009 autobiography, “Big” Ed Stevens - The Other Side of the Jackie Robinson Story.

Stevens, who passed away last week at the age of 87 in Galveston, Texas, was more than a mere footnote in baseball’s most significant event. Click here to read more about the career of Stevens, who spent almost 50 years in baseball as a player, scout and coach.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Red Sox manager Morgan receives royal treatment at Irish American Baseball HOF ceremonies

With the Boston Red Sox in town to face the New York Yankees, fans put aside their rivalries for the afternoon and honored former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan on Friday at the induction ceremonies for the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame at Foley’s Pub and Restaurant in New York City. The 81-year-old Morgan was the center of attention at the event, which also featured the inductions of former Yankees Gene Michael, Jeff Nelson, Wee Willie Keeler as well as legendary New York sportswriter Jimmy Breslin.

“It’s really terrific because I never thought there would be one,” Morgan said. “ I’ve known Shaun [Clancy] for so long and all of a sudden he calls me up and gives me the good news. Next thing you know, here I am, and I’ve enjoyed it a ton.”
Joe Morgan accepts his plaque from the Irish American Baseball HOF

The Walpole, Mass., native had his start in baseball at Boston College, where he was signed by his hometown club. Only this time, it wasn’t the Red Sox, it was their National League counterpart, the Braves.

“I was in Boston College and I was one of the first guys that left school [early],” he said. “I left at the end of my junior year because I got a bonus and that was 1952.” 

Morgan played two years for their minor league clubs before Uncle Sam called. He spent the next two years in the military, which Morgan said was to the benefit of his baseball career.

“It really helped me,” he said. “ I was lucky, I played a lot of baseball at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and I tried things I never would have tried. I knew I was a lot better hitter [than what I showed]. I hit .228 and .249 the first two years [before I went into the military]. When I came out, I hit .301, and .316 and I was on my way.”

Morgan made his debut with the Braves in 1959, making the club out of spring training. He played sparingly during the first two months of the season and was traded to the Kansas City Athletics. The Braves finished tied for the National League pennant with the Los Angeles Dodgers and lost a best-of-three game playoff to go to the World Series. Even though Morgan was long gone, the Braves still remembered his contributions to the team at the end of the season.

“I was with the Braves during that year in ‘59 when they lost the playoffs to the Dodgers,” he said. “I was with them for five weeks and they were good enough to give me a quarter share [of the playoff bonus]. That was something! I was rooting for them big that time. I was the lowest guy on the totem pole and they took care of me.”

Morgan was then shuttled between the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies for the next few seasons before landing with the St. Louis Cardinals for a brief appearance in 1964 at the end of their World Series run. The Cardinals wanted Morgan on the postseason roster to replace an injured Julian Javier, but the Yankees wouldn’t budge.

“Now there’s a story there,” he said. “I came up September 10th. Julian Javier got hurt; he pulled a rib cage muscle and he could not play in the World Series, so the Cardinals said, ‘We want to put Joe Morgan on as the 25th player.’ The Yankees said, ‘No way, because he didn’t come up by September 1st.’ That was the rule. They went with 24 players (Javier made only one appearance as a pinch runner) and kicked the s—t out of the Yankees.”

He started his managerial career in 1966 as a player-manager in Raleigh, N.C., with the Pirates and spent the next 26 seasons as a scout, coach and manager, taking the reins of the big league club from John McNamara from 1988-1991. He led the Red Sox to two first place finishes in the American League East during his time as manager. Morgan was ready for the task; the only difference he saw was scale.

“The biggest difference managing in the majors was that they gave me a hell of a lot of money, [something] which I never saw in 30 years in the minor leagues. … I knew the writers and how they operated. I was ready for all of that.”

Morgan, who was a two-sport star in both hockey and baseball, is an institution in his hometown and stays active visiting local high school games. Even though he is easily recognized in the town of Walpole, he still receives fan mail that is intended for the “other” Joe Morgan.

“It’s nice to be remembered,” he said. “I get mail every day. I also get a lot of mail for [Hall of Famer] Joe Morgan, so I write out; try 3239 Danville Blvd, Alamo, CA 94507 - from Joe Morgan manager Boston Red Sox.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Harrelson continues to nuture the Long Island Ducks at Hofstra seminar

Thursday morning, Bud Harrelson presided over the Hofstra University Club as part of the Operation Downtown Seminar entitled, The Birth of Long Island Ducks Baseball. The presentation, which was sponsored by the Scott Skodnek Business Development Center and Astoria Federal Savings, was attended by over 100 leaders in a variety of Long Island businesses.

Harrelson has been part of the ownership groups of the Long Island Ducks since their inception in 2000.

Click here to read Harrelson's experiences growing the Long Island Ducks franchise and how it has benefited Suffolk County.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

1973 NL champs Millan and Staub wax poetic about the current state of the Mets

The current saga of the New York Mets were on the minds of Felix Millan and Rusty Staub, two key players from their 1973 National League Championship team, as they interacted with fans on Tuesday afternoon as part of the Mets Alumni Association Presented by Citi and the Citi Tuesdays program.

Click here to read both Millan's and Staub's thoughts on the current state of the Mets, as well as watch video from their interview.

Mets and Dodgers honor Mike Sandlock, oldest living Dodger at Citi Field

Mike Sandlock
Honoring the long standing connection of the Dodgers to Brooklyn, the New York Mets honored 96-year-old Greenwich, Connecticut, native Mike Sandlock at Citi Field Saturday afternoon. Sandlock, a former catcher, is the oldest living Dodger and a link to the franchise’s history that preceded the famed Boys of Summer.

Click here to read a full interview with Sandlock, which includes pictures from his personal collection, his day at Citi Field, and video clips from the interview.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dissecting Satchel Paige's major league debut

Just two days after the record books said he turned 42, Satchel Paige made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians on July 9, 1948 in front of a crowd of 34,780 at Cleveland Stadium. The sheer magnitude of the situation shouldn’t have fazed the legendary hurler, who once while pitching in the championship game of dictator Rafael Trujillo’s league in the Dominican Republic, was ordered to win the game under the threat of the machine gun toting militia. Yet, for Paige, toeing the rubber on major league soil brought a sense of high drama, shaking one of baseball’s most experienced moundsmen. “I felt those nerves … they were jumping every which way,” Paige recalled.

Satchel Paige
Standing at the plate for the St. Louis Browns was 29-year-old first baseman Chuck Stevens, who entered the game sporting a .252 batting average with one home run, certainly not the type of numbers that would rattle fear into opposing hurlers. While Paige admitted his nerves, Stevens on the other hand saw a familiar target. Back in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, Paige would come out to Stevens’ California hometown of Long Beach to play winter ball. The two squared off many times before that fateful day.

“I played against him about ten times before that night. I played against him when he could really smoke it,” said the 94-year-old Stevens from his home in California. “When Satch relieved against us [in Cleveland], he was just spotting the ball around. [It seemed like] he had lost 60 mph off of his fastball. He threw his breaking stuff and he had great control so you knew he was going to be around the plate all the time. He wasn’t going to overpower you like I had seen him in his earlier days,” he said.

Stevens wasted no time against his old friend and promptly laced Paige’s offering into left field.

“The ballgame in Cleveland was not a big deal for me because I was just hitting off of Satch. I singled into left field, between [Ken] Keltner and [Lou] Boudreau. … I always had pretty good luck off of him.” Stevens dates his success against Paige back to a meeting they had a few years prior, just as he returned from his service in World War II. “One of the longest home runs I had ever hit in my life was off of Paige. I had just gotten out of close to four years in the service, and we played an exhibition game in Long Beach and Satch pitched against our ballclub. The ball I hit, I guess it must have been well over 400 feet. I wondered where all that power came from when I was rounding the bases.”

Stevens’ teammate Ned Garver was a 22-year-old rookie relief pitcher. Only in the major leagues for two months, he found himself right in the middle of this historical event.

“There was never a time when there wasn’t a bunch of hoopla around Satchel because he was such a colorful guy,” said the 85-year-old Garver from his home in Ohio.

Garver pitched two and one-thirds innings of scoreless relief for the save that day, but his clearest memories from that game started before a pitch was even thrown.

“We had a man on our team who hit cleanup and played left field [Whitey Platt]. He was from Florida. He told the manager he wasn’t going to play,” Garver recalled. “Zack Taylor was our manager, and you know back in those days, you didn’t tell somebody you weren’t going to play. You didn’t get away with that kind of crap. [Taylor] said, ‘No, you’re gonnna play.’ So he put him in the lineup.” Platt wasn’t a happy camper to say the least, and when he batted against Paige, he let him know it. “The first pitch Paige threw to him, he threw his bat at Satchel, and it whistled out there about belt high. He just wanted to show that he did not like that situation,” he said.

Paige fooled Platt so badly for strike three with his famed hesitation pitch, that his bat once again took flight, this time flying up the third base line. Looking to extract some sort of revenge for Platt’s first toss of the bat, Garver said Satchel pulled one from his bag of tricks to finish the deal.

“If he threw a bat at Satchel like he did, Satchel was not going to look on that with favor, so he was probably going to give some of his better stuff along the way. To strike him out gave him some satisfaction.”

Paige pitched two scoreless innings that day, quickly shaking whatever nerves he had when Stevens stepped to the plate. He finished the season with a 6-1 record and helped the Indians get to the World Series, where he made one appearance in relief. Even though his best days were behind him, he still had enough left to outsmart major league hitters and give fans a taste of what the major leagues missed in its prime.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mets legend Ed Kranepool disappointed with David Wright's reserve selection

Ed Kranepool signs an autograph at Citibank in Huntington Square
Ed Kranepool holds many distinctions in 50-year association with the New York Mets. At 17, he was the youngest member of the inaugural 1962 team, and when he finished his career in 1979, he left as their all-time leader in hits, at-bats and games played. Tuesday afternoon, Kranepool spread some good will as part of the Mets Citi Tuesdays program at Citbank in Huntington Station.

Click here to watch video and read about Kranepool's thoughts on David Wright not being elected by the fans at the starting All-Star third baseman, as well as his own experiences in the 1965 All-Star game.