Sunday, January 27, 2013

End of an era: Joe DiMaggio Legends Game ends after 25 years

All good things must come to an end. Sadly, the Joe DiMaggio Legends Game held in Fort Lauderdale to benefit the Children’s Hospital that bears his name, had its 25th and final contest Saturday afternoon. The announcement was made Friday evening by Frank Sacco, CEO of the Memorial Healthcare System, during the player reception and charity auction at the Signature Grand in Davie to a packed crowd of over 500 supporters. The news came as a surprise to not only the crowd, who let out an audible sigh when they were informed, but also many of the players who looked visibly shocked hearing it for the first time while they were on stage.

Orlando Cepeda, Rico Carty, Paul Casanova and Jose Cardenal / N. Diunte 
Click here to read full details on the final game, including interviews with the players and photos from the day's events. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Charlie 'Bubba" Harris, 86, pitched for Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians

Charlie “Bubba” Harris Jr., 86, former pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians, passed away January 12, 2013 in Nobleton, Florida.

Harris was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Jones Valley High School in Birmingham, Ala., prior to the 1943 season. He spent two seasons in their minor league organization before his entry in to the United States Navy in 1945 during World War II. He served in the Pacific Theater for a year before returning to baseball in 1946.

Charlie Harris
His path to the majors was accelerated after being acquired by the Athletics in 1947. After one season in their minor league system, Harris made the major league club in 1948. He posted a 5-2 record and led the team in appearances with 45.

In May, 2011, I was contacted a relative of Harris’ regarding his inclusion in the deal by the MLBPAA to grant non-vested players from 1947-1979 with annuity payments. His relative put me in touch with “Bubba” and his wife Doris, to help them receive the benefits they were due. During that process, I spent a few minutes talking with Harris about his time playing under the guidance of the legendary Connie Mack.

“He was the grand old man of baseball. He deserved everything that he had. … I enjoyed playing with him,” he said.

Mack, impressed by Harris’ performance, brought him back in 1949. Harris, once again was the featured man out of the bullpen, leading the team in relief appearances with 37.

He then spent the 1950 season at AAA, and returned to the majors in 1951 briefly with the Athletics before being traded to the Indians a month in to the season. Even though Harris only lasted 10 days in Cleveland before being sent to the minors (due to the May 16th deadline of teams only being able to carry a 25-man roster), his memories of that legendary pitching staff remained fresh in his mind 60 years later.

“We had a great pitching staff over there," he said. "Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn … it was a pleasure to play with them.” 

Harris continued to pitch in the minors through 1956, mostly at the AAA level with the Havana Sugar Kings. After baseball, he worked as the commissioner of the Florida Unemployment Appeals Commission.

Playing in what many call the golden era of baseball, Harris was grateful to have the opportunity to share the field with so many stars.

“I enjoyed all of it," he said. "I was in that era where I had an opportunity to play with all those big name players, and play against them. I was blessed to have that privilege.”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Earl Weaver intense nature stemmed from his playing days with the Cardinals

Earl Weaver’s notoriety for his fiery temper long preceded his career as a Hall of Fame manager for the Baltimore Orioles. The 82-year-old Weaver, who passed away passed away early Saturday morning from an apparent heart attack while on a baseball themed cruise, was a fiercely competitive second baseman in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Earl Weaver as a player and a manager
Weaver was signed by his hometown Cardinals out of Beaumont High School in 1948. His first destination was their Class D affiliate in West Frankfort, Illinois. Floyd Melliere, a pitcher who went 21-4 on that team, recalled in a 2008 interview that Weaver’s penchant for baiting umpires started very early in his career.

“We came up in West Frankfort in 1948," Melliere said. "He was a holler guy, a hustler. We had a play at second base that went against him. The umpire thumbed him out. Earl stayed in the game. When he came in the dugout, I asked him, ‘I thought the umpire threw you out?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he said I cussed him. He told me what he called him. I told him I wasn’t talking to him, so he left me in the game.’ I never saw that before.”

Standing only 5’7”, Weaver drew comparisons to Eddie Stanky, the All-Star second baseman who was revered for squeezing every ounce of his ability out of his slight frame, whether it was by razzing his opponents from all over the field, leaning in to a pitch to get on base, or sacrificing his body to get in front of a hot shot through the infield. Russell Rac, Weaver’s roommate in 1950 at Winston Salem, compared the two in a 2008 phone interview.

“You remember Earl Weaver?" asked Rac. "He was my roommate my first year in Winston Salem, NC. That was 1950, Class B ball. He was a helluva second baseman. He reminded you of [Eddie] Stanky. In other words, he couldn’t do anything great, but I tell you what, he was at the right place at the right time all the time, backing up where you’re supposed to be, etc.”

Weaver didn't have to wait too long for their paths to cross, as Stanky was hired by the Cardinals as their player-manager in the 1951 offseason. A December 16, 1951 article in the Toledo Blade about Stanky’s hire referred to Weaver as, “the Eddie Stanky of the Cardinals organization.”

Weaver was a member of four straight pennant winning teams in their minor league system, and was offered an invite to spring training in 1952 prior to Stanky’s acquisition. He was given a brief trial at major league camp that spring, but didn’t make the cut. Larry Granillo of Baseball Prospectus highlighted one of Weaver’s 1952 spring training games, where he went 2-5 against the New York Yankees while sharing the lineup with Stan Musial, who in a sad twist of fate, passed away the same day as Weaver. Whatever momentum Weaver built within the organization came to a halt with Stanky taking over the reserve infielder spot, as he could not crack the ranks with both Red Schoendienst and Stanky in front of him.

Weaver never reached the majors as a player, becoming a manager in the minor leagues in 1956, working his way up the ladder the same way he did as a ballplayer. He took the reins of the Baltimore Orioles from Hank Bauer in 1968 en route to a World Series championship in 1970. Weaver spent 17 seasons at the helm from 1968-1982, and again from 1985-86, compiling a 1480-1060 record with four American League pennants to his credit.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996, and while his intense battles with umpires are etched in the memories of baseball fans everywhere, his spirited displays date back to his travels through the back roads of the Cardinals farm system. Harland Coffman, Weaver’s teammate in Omaha in 1951 captured his nature most succinctly in a 2008 interview.

“He was a real competitor," Coffman said. "He was looking for ways to beat you no matter what it was.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Potter's next set of private signings include over 70 former major leaguers

Chris Potter with Dr. Mike Marshall
Chris Potter is set to embark on his next round of house calls beginning January 25th. While Potter is not a physician, his visits will include a doctor, five Cy Young Award winners, two World Series MVP’s, and enough All-Stars to populate a virtual mid-summer classic. Potter has been working tirelessly to connect baseball stars of yesteryear with adorning fans looking to add prized signatures to their collections.

By traveling to their homes across the country, Potter has brought the convenience of signing right to the players front doors, while at the same time taking expert care of the rare and one-of-a-kind items that collectors send in. "“Everybody I’ve worked with really enjoys this. If you look at it, they don’t have to go anywhere and guys their age, they don’t like to travel. Not only are we providing a service to the collectors, we are providing a service to the players as well. That’s what is appealing to a lot of these guys. They want to accommodate the fans and they want to go to these shows, but some are physically unable to do so. With the service we provide, they’re able to accommodate the fans and they’re happy to do so with what we provide,” said Potter in an interview earlier this year.

Fans may recognize some of the bigger names of this trip including the elusive Dr. Mike Marshall, Cecil Fielder, Camilo Pascual, Bobby Richardson, and Ron LeFlore (whose amazing path to the major leagues was chronicled in the 1978 movie, “One in a Million”); however, Potter also specializes in obscure and hard to find ballplayers who may have fallen out of contemporary baseball discussions, but are still alive and well in the hearts of diehard fans and collectors. Lesser known veterans such as Vic Albury, Ed Bauta, Carl Boles, Joe Cannon, and Larry Whisenton will also be receiving visits from Mr. Potter.

With over 70 different players during this series of signings, there is certainly something for everyone aficionado. To view the complete list of Potter’s signings, and information on how to participate, visit his website www.chrispottersports.com. All items are due by January 25th, 2013.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Remembering Negro League pitching ace Ross 'Satchel' Davis, 94

I had the opportunity to speak with Ross "Satchel" Davis in 2008 for an hour about baseball. I wish that I had recorded the interview, as it was extremely spirited and informative. Around the same time I spoke with him, another writer went and visited him at his home in Garwood, Texas, and posted a wonderful article about their meeting.

This tribute below captures the essence of what I remember about Ross "Satchel" Davis from the encounter I had with him on the phone.

Ross “Satchel” Davis, former pitcher for the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro Leagues, passed away at the age of 94 from complications due to pneumonia early in the morning on January 1st, 2013 at the DeBakey VA hospital in Houston, Texas according to his close friend Sarah Perry. Perry is the daughter of Melinda Ramsey, the family whom Davis lived with during the past few years in the Houston suburb of Garwood.

Ross 'Satchel' Davis signed photo
Davis was born on July 28, 1918 in Greenville, Mississippi. He pitched in the Negro Leagues from 1940-47 with the Baltimore Elite Giants, Cleveland Buckeyes, New York Black Yankees, and Boston Blues. His career highlights include pitching a no-hitter with Roy Campanella as his catcher as a member of the Baltimore Elite Giants against a potent Newark Eagles lineup that included Hall of Famers Biz Mackey, Monte Irvin, and Willie Wells in 1940, and pitching in the 1947 Negro World Series as a member of the Negro American League champion Cleveland Buckeyes.

His career was interrupted due to his military service in World War II from November 1943 through the end of the 1945 season. During his Army service, he was awarded a Bronze Star. Despite receiving a discharge that forbade him from playing baseball due to a bout with hepatitis in the service, Davis signed with Boston Blues of Branch Rickey’s United States League in 1946. Eventually he made his way back to the Buckeyes the following year, posting a 5-1 record during their run to the Negro World Series. At the end of the season due to persistent health problems, he called it quits at the age of 29.Despite his early exit from the game, in a 2006 interview with the Long Beach Telegram, he looked back with fond admiration at his playing days.

"No doubt those seasons were some of the best times of my life," he says. "Of course, like I said, those also were hard years, and when it became a job rather than a game I quit. I can thank the good Lord that all that segregation we faced is past now. Still, I think I'd rather have played then because even with all we had to deal with, the game was only about the game. We didn't do all the posturing you see now. If we hit a home run, we'd run around the bases like we were trying to turn a single into a double, not stand there and look at the ball like some guys do now. We'd call that showboating, and that just wasn't done in our day.”

Davis’ signature pitch was his fastball, which earned him the respect of the mighty Josh Gibson, and praise from the man whom he shared the same nickname, Satchel Paige. In an interview with author Brent P. Kelley in the 2003 book, “I Will Never Forget,” he explained how he earned his moniker.
“Satchel gave me that name when he came through St. Louis,” he said. “I was warming up getting’ ready to go in the fourth, and he came down and wanted to know who was this young fella throwin’ these salt tablets. They said, ‘That’s Ross Davis.’ He [Satchel] said, ‘Well, he throws the ball harder’n me.’ Of course, the guys didn’t have any idea they were gonna hit Satchel, so they knew that we were comin’ behind Satchel. They started grittin’ their teeth, taking their vicious practice swings, and Satchel with his big mouth said, ‘No need for you so-and-so’s diggin’ in. That’s my son out there. He throws the ball harder’n I do.’ The news papers took it up, started to call me ‘Satchel Paige’ Davis, and then they reduced it to ‘Satchel’ Davis.”
Davis was living in Long Beach, Calif., when he met Melinda Ramsey and her husband through the Internet. They formed a special bond, and invited him to live in an apartment in their home. Davis accepted, and Perry said his presence was more than they ever imagined.

“He took us in,” Perry said. “He was the best friend you could ever have. He had lots of stories, lots of advice ... just a perfect friend.”