Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hank Presswood, 93, veteran of five Negro League seasons

Another ballplayer has taken his stories of the playing in the segregated Negro Leagues to the grave. On Monday, I was informed by Bob Kendrick, Director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum that Hank Presswood, a former shortstop in the Negro Leagues with the Cleveland Buckeyes and the Kansas City Monarchs, passed away on December 27, 2014 in Chicago at the age of 93.

Born October 7, 1921 in Electric Mills, Mississippi, Presswood cut his teeth playing for sandlot clubs in his hometown. Content with playing locally, it wasn’t until after he returned from serving in the Army during World War II that the professional leagues snatched him up … literally.

“Willie Grace went to the Buckeyes and he was the one who told them about me,” Presswood said to me during a 2010 phone interview. “He was from Laurel, Mississippi. One day I was working and who was at my job, Grace and the foreman! He asked me about going, and I wanted to go you know. … I said, ‘What in the world are you doing here, I thought you were with the Buckeyes?’ He said, ‘I am with the Buckeyes, but I told them about you. I came after you.’ I was really surprised. I accepted and went on up there.”

Presswood as a member of the 1948 Cleveland Buckeyes
Presswood left for Cleveland in 1948 and immediately he was installed as their shortstop, playing alongside such greats as Sam Jethroe and Sam “Toothpick” Jones. It was a big step for a first-year player to crack the lineup of the defending champs of the Negro American League.

“Cleveland had won the championship the year before I came in there, but I was their shortstop!” he said. “I ain't braggin', I could play any position, but my regular position was shortstop.”

At 27, Presswood was at the peak of his career physically. He said that his gifts on the field helped carry him through the game as he learned his way around the league.

“At that time I was fast,” he said. “I could do what I wanted to do because I was fast. I had a good throwing arm too. I used to play deep shortstop. As I learned the hitters, I might move over towards second or third, or come in; it depended on the hitter. As you learn the fundamentals of how to play your position, it helps out. Sometimes you see different hitters which way they hit the ball.”

Presswood played with Buckeyes until they folded in 1950. He was picked up by the Kansas City Monarchs, who were coached by the legendary Buck O’Neil. The skipper gave him the nickname of “Baby,” which stuck with him well after his career was over.

"I played two years with the Monarchs,” he said. “That's when I got my nickname. Buck O'Neil called me 'Baby'. Everyone calls me now Hank 'Baby' Presswood, and I'm two years younger than Santa Claus!"
Preswood held the late ambassador of the Negro Leagues with the highest esteem. O’Neil was his mentor both on and off the field.

"He was the greatest,” he said. “He was a good ballplayer himself. He was something else. When he passed, that really hurt because he was like a father to me."

He remained active by playing fast-pitch softball after stepping away from the Monarchs in 1952. His experience as a professional ballplayer in the Negro Leagues made him a standout on the softball diamond.

“I went to the Steel Mills and played fast pitch softball,” he said. “I have trophies on top of trophies. They couldn't fool me being an old ballplayer.”

The old ballplayer received his due recognition as an octogenarian, when in 2008, he was “drafted” by the Chicago White Sox in an honorary Negro Leagues draft. Two years later in 2010, Topps honored him with a baseball card in their Allen and Ginter set. At the age of 88, he remarked about finally having a “rookie” card.
Presswood's 2010 Topps Card

"I was really grateful for it,” he said. “It was really nice man. They even have when I played softball on that card. They had everything about my ball playing."

The set, which is popular with collectors, kept Presswood busy answering his mail. He enjoyed obliging the fans.

"I get a pile of letters every day,” he said. “Sometimes I can get them right in the mail, other days, it takes a day or so. I'm enjoying it. I'm proud that people are interested."

The increased popularity of the Negro Leagues allowed Presswood to experience the adulation of the younger generation. He just returned from an appearance at a local high school when we caught up on the phone.

"Seeing the kids is the best thing that ever happened,” he said. “I feel really proud when we talk to the kids. It's really exciting. They get a big bang out of us being there. We're gone all the time, at different places and ball games."

Well removed from his playing days, Presswood remained passionate about the game that consumed him. Once baseball season came around, he was back to doing what he loved, watching baseball.

"I'll tell you what,” he said, “I just love the game. When the Cubs and the White Sox are playing, I don't care what I have to do, I finish what I have to do, get my seat and watch the game."

Funeral services will be held Saturday January 3, 2015 at True Believers Baptist Church, 7801 S. Walcott, Chicago, Illinois, 60620.

Friday, December 26, 2014

How Billy Martin's fiery attitude helped him win as a player with the Yankees

Paying tribute Billy Martin on the 25th anniversary of his tragic death on Christmas Day in 1989, much has been written about Martin’s fiery nature as a manager, especially his many run-ins with the late George Steinbrenner. The persona that Martin exhibited as a manager, very closely reflected the energized spirit that willed him to success as a young ballplayer.


Back in 2008, I had the opportunity to speak with Gene Valla, Martin’s teammate in the Yankees minor league system. Valla was three years older than Martin, but they both grew up in the San Francisco area, with Valla attending San Francisco Polytechnic and Martin attending Berkeley.

In 1950, the Bay Area natives reunited while playing for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Kansas City. Martin was sent down from the big league club for more experience a month into the season. During their time playing together, Valla described Martin as having a penchant for victory despite his ordinary appearance on the field.

“Martin was a character,” the late Valla said during our 2008 phone interview from his home in San Francisco. “He was a good double play partner, very loose. He was a very aggressive ballplayer. He wasn’t the type that you would say that he would look like a winner, but he [became] a winner. He went back up with the Yankees [in 1950] and they won the World Series.”

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Russ Kemmerer, 84, former Major League pitcher was a master storyteller

Russ Kemmerer was one of the first retired major league players that I interviewed in my quest to put together a book about playing through baseball’s integration of the 1950s. What started out as a discussion of his early years in the Red Sox minor league system, turned into a two-day, hour-and-a-half phone conversation that ended with him sending me a copy of his book, “Ted Williams: Hey Kid, Just Get It Over the Plate,” just because he knew I would enjoy it from our talk.

I was saddened to receive the news that Kemmerer passed away on December 8, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was 84. (Ed. Note - His funeral announcement lists his birthday as November 1, 1930, not November 1, 1931 as previously listed.)

Kemmerer was a standout high school athlete in the Pittsburgh area at Peabody High School, earning All-City honors in baseball, basketball, and football. His talents earned him a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where he played freshman baseball and basketball.

Russ Kemmerer / Baseball-Almanac.com
After one year at Pittsburgh, he signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1950 after an offer of $3,000 by scout Socko McCarey. He spent the summer playing semi-pro ball in his hometown before officially entering the Red Sox organization in 1951. It was there he encountered a minor league system overflowing with talent.

“They had so many of us that they didn’t know which ones to keep,” he said to me during a 2008 phone interview. “Ironically, most of us, like myself, they traded to someone [else], and they stayed in the majors longer than the guys they kept. It was a hit and miss thing. You didn’t know which guys were going to be [productive].”

He made his debut with the Red Sox in 1954 and narrowly missed a no-hitter in his first start. In the seventh inning on July 18, 1954, Sam Mele hit a shot to left-field that barely evaded the outstretched arm of Ted Williams.

“My first game as a starter with Boston was against Baltimore and I just missed pitching a no-hitter,” he said. “I threw a one-hitter. Williams played left-field that game. That was one of the first games he played after breaking his collarbone. That was one of the highlights of my career. They got one hit that game. If he would have jumped a little higher, he would have probably caught the damn thing off of Sam Mele.”

Kemmerer played until 1957 with the Red Sox until he suffered an arm injury while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico right before the start of the 1957 season. The Red Sox instead of waiting for his arm to heal, traded him to the Washington Senators. 

“One morning, I got up and couldn’t raise my arm,” he said. “You didn’t want to tell anybody you were hurt because they had so many guys waiting. They didn’t fool with you, send you to the doctor or do anything; they would just call somebody else. They thought I had lost my fastball. So I was available to be traded to the Senators at that time. They called me in and told me I was traded.”

Kemmerer ended up playing nine seasons in the majors, also spending time with the Chicago White Sox and the expansion Houston Colt 45’s. He recalled the follies of playing for the formative years of what is now the Astros franchise.

“It was a funny experience,” he said. “They did so many things. One of the things we learned to hate, they bought traveling outfits for us. They were royal blue suits and Texan boots that were blue with an orange design in them. You wore a white shirt that had blue stripes with an orange tie and a ten gallon hat. You wore it on the road. When we went to New York, they said, ‘Hey, the rodeo is in town!' The first thing we’d do, to the man, we’d throw them things down and put on regular clothes when were in public. We only had to wear them when we traveled.”

He took his experiences from the big leagues and used them to help shape the lives of the next generation, working for over 20 years as a high school English teacher, as well as a baseball and football coach at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis. In retirement, Kemmerer married both of his careers with his 2002 memoir with the title containing a tribute to his most famous teammate.

“The title came from an incident when I was senior in high school in Pittsburgh and the Red Sox came to Forbes Field to play in the Green Pennant Game to raise funds for something,” he said. “The Red Sox had been scouting me since I was a sophomore in high school, so they wanted me to come in and throw batting practice. … I learned later that major league players didn’t like to hit wild high school kids. I pitched through the reserve batting order. I turned around and [Ted] Williams looked up in the batter’s box and oh damn, he pointed the bat out to me and said, ‘Hey kid, just get it over the plate, you’re doing a good job.’ … I remembered that when I was looking for the title of the book.”

Kemmerer forged a relationship with Williams that lasted until his 2002 death, appearing at annual gatherings at Williams’ museum in Tampa. He appreciated the humility of Williams and the other stars of his era.

“One thing I realized about all of these guys that I played with and against,” he said, “they respected you for the fact that you stayed up there ten years or so. There was none of this, ‘I’m a Hall of Famer and you’re not’. I was always pleased that guys admired you because you were one of them.”

Speaking with him in 2008, I was most impressed with how willing he was to talk about the game and the many travels of his career. He relished the opportunity to interact with his fans whether it was by talking on the phone or responding to autograph requests in the mail.

“I never refuse anybody,” he said. “I think it’s a great honor that they even remember you. … I’ll talk all day about baseball if someone wants to talk.”

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mudcat Grant champions the case for his teammates on the Golden Era Ballot

With a career that started under the watchful eye of Larry Doby during his 1958 rookie season with the Cleveland Indians, Jim “Mudcat” Grant was always surrounded by Hall of Fame talent. During his 14 major league seasons, Grant was teammates with 19 different Hall of Famers. On Monday, December 8th, he hopes to see that number increase in size.

Four of Grant’s former teammates — Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, and Maury Wills are up for consideration on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era ballot. A 16-member panel of former players, executives and media members will decide on their collective fates for enshrinement at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

Jim "Mudcat" Grant / N.Diunte
When Grant broke in to the majors in 1958, always hustling for him in the outfield was Minnie Minoso. Even though Grant was already familiar with Minoso’s aggressive style of play, as they had faced each other previously in the Cuban Winter League, he couldn’t help but notice the variety of ways in which he contributed on the field.

“I noticed one thing about Minnie,” Grant said in an interview at last month’s Firefighter’s Charitable Foundation Dinner in New York, “he was an all-around ballplayer. He knocked in a lot of runs as an outfielder and he stole a lot of bases. He could do anything. He wasn’t a big guy, but he went all out all the time. He was like Pete Rose; even on a short pop-up he would run like he was beating out a base hit. …. I think Minnie [Minoso] should be in, but he’s not going to make it. … He’s in my Hall of Fame if that counts.”

As he started to think about the Hall of Fame chances of his aforementioned teammates, he found fault with the entire process. He related the process to one of a popularity contest.

“When I talk about the Hall of Fame,” he said, “I don’t have a lot of respect for those people who vote for the Hall of Fame because they miss so many people that should be in the Hall of Fame. It seems like they called up one another and said, ‘Let’s put this guy in.’”

Grant stuck out over 1,200 batters in his major league career, but the amount of swings-and-misses on what should have been home runs that he’s seen from the Hall of Fame electorate has baffled him. He turned his attention to two other pitchers Lee Smith and Jim Kaat, the latter who is the leading returning vote getter from the 2012 Golden Era ballot.

“I know some guys that [have a Hall of Fame] vote and when they miss Lee Smith, when they miss Jim Kaat — who should be in the Hall of Fame … They’re so many pitchers in the Hall of Fame that have less victories than Jim Kaat. … How does this work now? You have to wonder why you are holding out on this guy and that guy who should be in the Hall of Fame.”

The further he thought about who the various committees have missed, he immediately turned to another teammate, Tony Oliva. Grant played alongside Oliva on the Minnesota Twins when they challenged the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1965 World Series. The Cuban-born Oliva was another slam dunk choice for Mudcat.

“He should be in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “There’s no answer to this even when you ask some of the guys that got votes; there’s no answer to it. You have to think about Vada Pinson, Al Oliver; there are so many people.”

With the newly formed committees from the Hall of Fame to assess players against those of their own eras, opportunities are being created to potentially right some of the wrongs made by the BBWAA and past Veterans Committees. Grant still feels like these groups have lost the chance to honor those deserving of the Hall.

“When you get to the Veterans Committee,” he said, “they miss out too because it seems like they compare who they’re voting for to themselves. If you’re in the Hall of Fame and you’ve got a chance to put the veterans in, you’re missing out on an opportunity. A Hall of Fame vote should be thought about for players who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. You have to do a little research on these guys to see what they did.”



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don Grate, 91, holder of longest throw record, pitched for Phillies during World War II

Don Grate, a major league pitcher who once held the record for the longest baseball throw, passed away on Saturday November, 22, 2014, according to a representative at the Fred Hunter's Funeral Home in Hollywood, Florida. He was 91.

Born August 27, 1923 in Greenfield, Ohio, Grate was a standout athlete at McClain High School before making his way to Ohio State University. He was a two-sports star, lettering in both baseball and basketball, leading the way to a professional career in both sports.

Don Grate
Grate was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945, and was quickly brought to the majors to fill a roster that was depleted by the exodus of players serving in World War II. He debuted against the Chicago Cubs, who were headed for the National League pennant. It was a tall order for the young hurler.

“I had the misfortune of playing the Chicago Cubs at that time,” Grate said to me in a 2009 phone interview from his home in Miami. “The Phillies were the last in fielding at that time. I had to throw five singles, five walks, and the Cubs got five runs. That was my only loss that I had in the majors.”

Grate was roughed up in his subsequent three outings in 1945, finishing with a 17.28 ERA. Despite his struggles during his first major league season, Grate returned to the Phillies in 1946 after posting a 14-8 record at Class A Utica. He fared better in his second campaign, winning his only decision on September 22, 1946, but what a pyrrhic victory it was.
“In the Polo Grounds [Ben] Chapman told me to sidearm the third baseman for the Giants at that time," he said. "Of course, I was not a sidearm pitcher. When I got to throw a sidearm pitch, something snapped in [my] shoulder. I had been improperly warmed up. He told me to go down to the bullpen in the Polo Grounds. It was a long way down there. I go down there and he said, ‘Tell [Dick] Mauney that he's coming in, if he gets in trouble, you're next to start warming up.’ He changed his mind when I got down there. The umpire said, 'Who do you want?’ He said, ‘The big, tall man down there.’ I came in without any warm up. The umpire only allowed me eight pitches to warm up without delaying the game. Sid Gordon I think it was [the batter]. Chapman said to me, ‘Sidearm the S.O.B.’ I did and of course got a sore arm. I told him he better get somebody to warm up. We were behind two runs, but we scored about three-to-four runs and I won the game.”
Unfortunately, Grate never returned to the major leagues. He spent the next few years trying to work out his sore arm with various farm clubs across the Phillies, Braves and Red Sox organizations. In the subsequent off-seasons, he played professional basketball to stay in shape and pick up some extra money until the baseball season started again. In 1949, he played two games for the Sheboygan Red Skins of the newly formed National Basketball Association (NBA).

“You have to go to work in the winter months and get a lunch bucket,” he said. “I played in the industrial league in Columbus, Ohio just to stay in shape.”

His luck changed when he signed with the Washington Senators franchise in 1951. Grate was working as a physical education teacher when the Chattanooga Lookouts, a farm club of the Washington Senators called in 1951. He decided that he had enough of pitching and wanted a new lease on his baseball life, this time as an outfielder.

“I won two or three trophies at Ohio State for my ability to hit,” he said. “When I wasn't pitching, I played center field. I was a regular ballplayer, I played every day. Since I had a sore arm, I had moved around pitching enough, so I said I was going to be an outfielder.”

While he wanted to make the transition to a full-time outfielder, he discovered his pitching was still in demand. Seeking another opportunity to revive his career, Grate agreed to play.
“I got a call from Joe Engel in Chattanooga,” he said. “I told him I was teaching school until June. He told me I'd have an opportunity to be a utility man and pinch hitter. I said, ‘I can't come down there unless I had batting practice.’ He told me he needed pitching really bad and said pitchers didn't take batting practice. When he [finally] told me I could take batting practice, I came down and I had a 3-1 record before I switched to the outfield. I got into the lineup in center field because the guy had a stiff neck and couldn't play that night. It was like 500 feet to dead center. I hit a few balls in the crack and I could run. I hit two inside the park home runs, so I stayed in the outfield.”
Grate consistently hit near or above the .300 mark for the remaining six years of his career, finishing up with the New York Giants AAA team of Minneapolis in 1957. It was there in Minnesota where he launched his record toss during a contest in 1956.
“The last one I threw was 445 feet,” he said. “I had to go outside the ballpark in Minneapolis. It was 401 feet to dead center and 45 feet from home to the back stop. There was a crosswind going from right to left so I didn't have any help with the wind. Another guy from Omaha's throw went about halfway between the 405 mark and home plate. His ball reached home plate. Mine hit 3/4 the way up the backstop. He quit and I threw about three-to-four more pitches and they only measured to the screen; there was no way they could measure because it went half way up to the press box. One [judge] said it probably went 470. Half way up to the press box would have been another 30 feet at least. It was 455 feet and one inch to the backstop!”
Even though his awesome feat was surpassed by Glenn Gorbous in 1957, over 50 years later, it remained a popular topic with fans and collectors. He was honored by the Florida Marlins in 2006, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before a game. In 2009, he was still receiving correspondence about his throwing feats.

“I still get two-to-three requests per week that have something to do with the longest throw,” he said.

He used his professional experience in athletics to better serve his 27-year teaching and coaching career at Miami-Norland Senior High School. One of his prized pupils was his son Jeff, who was a three-sport athlete at Miami-Norland. He went on to Harvard University, following in his father’s footsteps by playing baseball and basketball on the collegiate level. After a successful career at Harvard, Jeff spent three years as a short stop in the Boston Red Sox organization.

“I was a major in health and physical education,” he said. “I had a master’s degree in administration and supervision. I taught 27 years. In basketball I had a very successful year (1964), when we made it to the finals to the state tournament. I got some satisfaction that we got to go to the state tournament.”


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mudcat Grant delivers a rousing version of What a Wonderful World at Firefighters Charitable Foundation Dinner

Jim "Mudcat" Grant, the first African-American 20-game winner in the American League, serenaded the crowd with his rendition of "What a Wonderful World," at the Firefighter's Charitable Foundation Dinner at the Chateau Briand in Carle Place, NY on November 20, 2014.

Tom Sabellico (l.) with "Mudcat" Grant
The 79-year-old Grant is picture above with Tom Sabellico, who co-authored "The Black Aces," an outstanding chronicle of the select group of African-American pitchers that won 20 games in the major leagues. The video below features Grant's soulful touch on Louis Armstrong's classic.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Remembering Alvin Dark 1922-2014

Alvin Dark, the 1948 Rookie of the Year who helped the New York Giants win the 1954 World Series, passed away on November 13, 2014 at his home in Easley, South Carolina. He was 92.

In addition to his aforementioned triumph with the Giants as a player, he also guided the Oakland Athletics to World Series victory in 1974, making him one of a select group to win a World Series as both a player and manager.

He compiled a lifetime batting average of .289 with 126 home runs and 757 RBIs, while playing with six different clubs from 1946-1960.

Below is a fitting tribute to Dark from the MLB Network.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

For ex-major leaguer Bob Tufts, the 2014 World Series was one of dual devotions

Former major league pitcher Bob Tufts watched the 2014 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants with great anticipation as his two former clubs squared off in what was an epic series. While it has been over 30 years since he threw a pitch professionally, Tufts still follows the game closely and is not shy about sharing his opinions on the current state of the sport.

I recently caught up with the Princeton graduate to talk about his feeling on this year's World Series and where he made his allegiances as the playoffs progressed.

"World Series tugs at both sides for Forest Hills resident."- TimesLedger.com


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Jean-Pierre Roy, former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher and master storyteller dies at 94

Often a major league baseball player’s statistics do not even come close to telling the story of their baseball career. Looking at the numbers for Jean-Pierre Roy, one might be mislead by his three major league appearances and 9.95 ERA and assume that it was a career that was short on depth and substance. Those who passed over the totality of his career missed out on a truly fabulous journey. The Montreal native passed away Friday at a hospital in Pompano Beach, Florida, taking his fabulous stories of playing all throughout North America, Central America and the Caribbean with him. He was 94.
Jean-Pierre Roy w/ Nicholas Diunte in 2011 - M. Lemieux

In February 2011, I had the opportunity to visit Mr. Roy at his home in Florida and spend a glorious afternoon talking about a baseball career that started in 1940 and lasted over 40 years. Knowing that he played in a wide array of countries like Cuba, Mexico, and Panama, in addition to the United States and Canada, I expected that he had a few hidden gems to unravel. What I did not expect from the 91-year-old Roy, was a raconteur in the essence of Buck O’Neil, one who could deliver his memories not only with clarity and precision, but with an elegance that drew you in from the first words and by the end left you feeling that you had been long lost friends.

What started a short meeting arranged by a Canadian reporter Michel Lemieux, turned into a three-hour long history lesson, with Roy pulling out meticulous scrapbooks and evoking the name of baseball legends from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. He seemingly had a story for, or an encounter with every significant baseball figure from that era.

I could regale you with details of his minor league stats, or lists of all of the places he played and people that he saw, but telling those details wouldn’t do justice to the essence of Jean-Pierre Roy. To meet him was to know him, and I can’t say that about every ballplayer I’ve spoken to. He immediately expressed an excitement about his career from the start of our talk that was evident when he recalled what hooked him into the prospects of a professional career.

Jean-Pierre Roy shares a laugh - M. Lemieux
“The reason why I enjoyed playing ball and going away from the city of Montreal to travel—I got to learn part of the language,” Roy said during our 2011 interview. “You meet all kinds of people, you do all kinds of things that you shouldn’t be doing. I tried them all! I met people that I wouldn’t dare today if I were a ballplayer today associate with.

“I was so happy to play the game, I loved the game. I put things aside for baseball. Of course today, I regret some of them. I missed the opportunity in certain other fields. That’s what I had in mind, play the game, travel and meet people and everything, so that satisfied me.”

Playing in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, one of the most eccentric charters Roy met was Branch Rickey. Throughout his many dealings with Mr. Rickey, he was most impressed with the executive's ability to read people.

“He was a very intelligent man,” he said. “He was a university product. He had been a teacher, manager and player. He had a good knowledge of humanity. A human for Mr. Rickey could have been a ballplayer, hockey player, a raconteur; he knew each one and why they would make an excellent selection.”

Roy, who had the reputation of being a ladies’ man, fondly recalled an exchange between the two of them where Rickey offered him a bonus if he would get married. It wasn’t until much later that he understood why he made the request.

“One time he wanted me to get married,” he said. “It was 1944. I wasn’t the marrying type. I wanted to meet girls, yes I did. That wasn’t on my mind. He said, ‘Jean (with his eyebrows going down this way and his cigar in the corner), I’m going to give you $2,000 if you get married before or on the first of November.’ Before or on the first of November, why not the second or the fourth? That boggled my mind. Of course, I didn’t get married. I didn’t tell him why.

“Why did he say this, on the first or before? He wanted me to get married before. It wasn’t the $2,000. He knew if I did, I’d get paid after, not before. Mr. Rickey was very selective in his own way. This is very vivid in my mind. Later on, I had the audacity to ask him, ‘Why did you say the first?’ He said, ‘What do you mean Jean? What did I say?’ So I told him, ‘You wanted me to get married on the first of November. Why the first?’ He said, ‘If I said, about the first, that wouldn’t change anything, because I wanted you to get married. That was the first thing. Not to play ball, but to play better ball, to understand the game better and yourself. You cannot play well when you have several things on your mind at once, and you have that. You were not the ballplayer that I wanted. You had the ability that I wanted, but you had to do so much more to make yourself available not only to me but to other people.’ That was Mr. Rickey.”

If he adhered to Rickey's request to get married, he might have went to the big leagues sooner than his 1946 debut. He started the season on Brooklyn’s roster, but it was almost a month before he saw action in a major league game. Even though he only appeared in three contests, Roy was honored just to be there.

“It was thrilling,” he said. “My big fault … if I had established myself as a human being, if I listened to things I heard and Mr. Rickey, I could have done much better than I did. Not only one particular game, but for several games.”

Soured by his performance with Brooklyn and Leo Durocher’s seemingly quick hook, Roy contemplated going south for greater riches. Jorge Pasquel, who knew Roy from his days in Cuba attempted to lure the Canadian to Mexico for his fledgling baseball league.

“I did not go,” he said. “[Pasquel] was a friend of mine because he used to come to Cuba. If it pleased him, he’d take us out to eat together and give me a watch. I was close to him. He comes to New York and tells me, ‘I’m going to bring you to Mexico City. You are going to play for our club, our league. I’m going to send you the money.’ He offered $3,500 for the trip. I went down and the money was $15,000, big money at the time. I was not worth $15,000 as a pitcher in Mexico. Today I say I wasn’t, but at the time it touched me.

“He was a friend. Of course, I needed the money. My mother was not well and I had my mother on my mind. I jumped and as soon as I got to Mexico, I went to Jorge and said, ‘Jorge, I do not see anybody.’ He’s sitting on a bench facing the window. He says, ‘I send you to San Luis Potosi.’ That was a little city he was sending me to. At the time, the commissioner of baseball in Cuba was a guy named Pittman. He told me I was going there. That’s not what I wanted; I thought it was Mexico City. I came back and went to Montreal.”

He returned to find himself right in the middle of Jackie Robinson’s historical debut season. On April 18, 1946, Robinson broke the color line in the minor leagues when he played in Montreal’s season opener against the Jersey City Giants. Roy spent the rest of the season with Robinson and built up a kinship with him during the remainder of his time in the Dodgers organization that allowed him to gain insight into Robinson’s character both on and off the field.

“He’s everything that has been recommended,” he said, “a complete ballplayer. [He was] a fellow who can create according to his ability and put it together at the right time to help somehow. That’s something that I remember about him … Jackie used to do it on his own. He was so strong, mentally, that I still believe, he died from this—he got hurt so badly by not being recognized as a future manager. He wanted to be a manager; that he told me.”

Throughout his global baseball travels, Roy had many opportunities to play against the stars of the Negro Leagues in their prime, and had vivid stories about all of the greats who were held back and excluded due to segregation. What he admired most was their ability to play the game despite the harsh conditions they faced.

“They didn’t care,” he said, “they played the game and that was it. I spoke with them very often. They would say, ‘We’re playing the game. We get paid for it because we’ve got to eat. Take this apart, it doesn’t matter. We want to play.’”

Roy never returned to the major leagues, bouncing around among minor league teams far and wide from Ottawa to Hollywood to Mexico City until he hung his spikes up for good in 1955 while playing for Sherbrooke in the Provincial League. At 35, he knew it was time to move on.

“I was too old for that organization,” he said. “I didn’t care too much for it because when you are through, you are through.”

Jean-Pierre Roy comfortable behind the microphone - M. Lemieux
He didn’t stay removed for too long, as Montreal Expos executive John McHale selected Roy, who was still very popular in Montreal, to do radio and television analysis when the franchise started in 1969. He remained involved as part of their broadcast team until 1983.

“I was there from day one,” he said. “This is it in Montreal. This is a childish dream. I played in Montreal; I knew they would accept it. In that ballpark, that Double-A ballpark. Mr. John McHale, I owe him a great deal of recognizance. He was the type like Branch Rickey, but there is only one Branch Rickey as far as I am concerned.”

Broadcasting in an era far away from the reach of the hyper-sensitive media outlets of today, Roy said that on-air personnel face far greater challenges with what they can say and how their words are interpreted.

“They’ve gotta be very careful because you have many writers who are knowledgeable and they have friends,” he said. “Today’s sports are so influential on people. It is a big business to start with. Big business means big dollars, and when you have big dollars, you have everything else that is big or will become big. You’ve gotta be careful how you say your ideas whenever it comes up.

“That doesn’t mean being transparent doesn’t mean having to say the truth, you have to be careful. You have to say the truth in a certain way. It’s said in a business way. At the same time, you have to communicate to who is listening to you. You have to communicate honestly and show you have the knowledge. Having all this is a plus and a minus. You know, they used to say ‘off the cover,’ but that doesn’t exist anymore. … Everything is seen by the listener as a truthful communication. It might not be complete as the communication is concerned. You cannot say everything that is on your mind to millions of people at once. This is something very fascinating to me.”

During that sunny Florida winter afternoon in 2011 as our interview progressed, Roy assumed the role of a broadcaster during a rain delay, detailing with pride his vast baseball experiences. I listened with wide ears as he professed his love affair with the game.

“My pleasure and the best memory I have of the game is what I know about it,” he said. “The little I know about it, the people I have known, and the people I see on television. Today it’s baseball to me.

“It’s the answer I would have given you yesterday and the day before yesterday. What I like about baseball is not the players; it’s the life, the life of a human being. This is how you should accept it. Do the best you can in the things our boss has asked us to do. By boss, you can call it God, the manager, the Lord, but that’s it. This is what I want, what I like to see.”

At the conclusion of our conversation, while thumbing through old scrapbooks of photos from yesteryear depicting the travels of a young handsome pitcher from a half-century ago, Roy showed contrition for his transgressions in his earlier days.

“Why should I go back 50 years and regret things that happened at that time?” he asked. “I made mistakes in baseball, made more mistakes than I was allowed to. That was my choice, let it be, it’s my fault. That’s the part that I have to read to the public. If they want to know the rest, they can. If they like me now for what I can express as far as the game myself, I hope they accept it.

“Baseball is a great game. If we can take advantage of all of the ingredients of the game and the minds that commanded the game for years like Mr. Rickey. … He is the God of baseball as far as I’m concerned. There are so many names took birth with that gentlemen. [By] birth, I say the first day they played the game was account of Mr. Rickey. That’s a gift from him.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Frank Howard emphatically endorses Gil Hodges Hall of Fame candidacy

While a statue of Frank Howard towers over spectators at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., the 6’7” slugger is also a well known figure in New York, where he was a coach for both the Yankees and Mets (serving as a manager for the latter in 1983). On Saturday, the 78-year-old Howard returned to New York as a guest at the JP Sports Long Island National Card Show at Hofstra University, signing autographs for a few hundred fans that waited patiently to greet one of the most feared power hitters in baseball history.




Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pat McGlothin, Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who once pitched a 19 inning game, dies at 94

Ezra Malachi “Pat” McGlothin, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1949-50, passed away on Friday October 24, 2014 in Knoxville, Tennessee, just a few days after his 94th birthday. McGlothin, a lifelong resident of Tennessee, was also a World War II veteran and a University of Tennessee alumnus.


During his two brief stints with Brooklyn, he made eight relief appearances over the course of two seasons, a position that was unfamiliar to him before he hit the big leagues.

"The Dodgers wanted to use me as a relief pitcher,” McGlothin said during a 2008 phone interview, “but that wasn't my forte. I didn't have that kind of arm to make the adjustment. I had a pretty good arm and I could throw every fifth day, but I couldn't relieve."

While much acclaim has gone to Tim Hudson of the San Francisco Giants for his involvement in two separate 18-inning playoff games, McGlothin had a herculean feat of his own that will be difficult for any modern era pitcher to match. On September 24, 1944, he pitched for the Corpus Christi NATB team, taking on the Pensacola NATB All-Stars led by Ted Williams. In a back and forth contest, Williams’ club knotted the score at four in the ninth inning, and the score stayed that way until the 17th inning when both clubs scored a run. Despite throwing over 200 pitches, McGlothin refused to come out. He forged his way through 19 innings, knocking in three runs, including the game winner in the bottom of the 19th. As for the legendary Williams, he had no answer for McGlothin, going hitless in seven trips to the plate. McGlothin took the legendary accomplishment in stride.

“I just stayed in there that's all and won the game,” he said.

After wrapping up his baseball playing days in 1954 as a player-manager for the Knoxville Smokies, he made a career change to selling insurance that would last him the next 60 years. McGlothin worked for the Mutual Insurance Agency, eventually buying the company. He remained their CEO until the time of his death, spending a few hours each day at the office with the help of a ride from an employee when he could no longer drive.

McGlothin played alongside all of the famed "Boys of Summer," including Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider. While he isn't as revered as some of his Hall of Fame teammates, he humbly acknowledged his position in the game.

"I didn't necessarily think I was part of history, I just played hoping I would stay," he said in a 2011 interview with television station WBIR.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mickey Rivers video interview from the 2014 Harrison Apar Foundation Golf Classic

Mickey Rivers, the starting center fielder for the New York Yankees World Series championship teams in 1977 and 1978, sat down with us at the 2014 Harrison Apar Foundation Golf Classic to talk about Yankee baseball, including both captains Thurman Munson and Derek Jeter, as well as his enjoyment of being out with the people at various charity events.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Earl Smith, last player to wear 21 on Pirates before Clemente, dies at 87

Pittsburgh Pirates fans can hardly remember a day when number 21 wasn’t worn by Roberto Clemente, but for the first month of Clemente’s 1955 rookie season, the famed number was on the back of another upstart Pirates outfielder, Earl Smith. The Fresno State graduate who challenged for the Pirates center field spot alongside Clemente that season, passed away September 27, 2014 in Fresno, California. He was 87.

Smith signed with the Pirates in 1949 and hit .324 during his first two minor league campaigns, driving in 100 runs with Modesto in 1950; however, it wasn’t until 1954 that he garnered the full attention of the Pirates front office. He hit an astonishing .387 with 32 home runs, 195 RBIs and 42 stolen bases for Phoenix, which earned him an invite to spring training in 1955.

Earl Smith  -  Kevin Baskin
Coming from one of the lowest levels of minor league ball at the time, he was facing an uphill battle going into spring training. Despite the long odds, he was excited to get the chance to compete for a spot on the major league roster after spending six seasons in the depths of their minor league system.

“It was something that you strive for,” Smith said during our 2011 phone interview. “You think you deserve a chance after awhile. … I don’t know all of the politics of it, but I was real happy to have the opportunity to get the chance to go there.”

Most observers felt that Smith was going to be sent down for more seasoning after a trial in front of the big wigs, but Smith persisted. In an outfield that was only returning one starter in Frank Thomas, Branch Rickey was looking to fill the rest of the lineup with promising young talent. Smith batted over .400 during spring training to earn his place with Pittsburgh when they broke camp.

The plan was for Smith to platoon with Tom Saffell in center field, handling the left-handed pitchers of the National League. He made his debut in Pittsburgh’s second game of the season against the Philadelphia Phillies, going 0-3 against Herm Wehmeier. The road didn’t get any smoother for Smith. He played in four of the Pirates first six games, going 1-12 with only a single off of the Giants’ Don Liddle. He sensed his window of opportunity closing faster than expected.

“I was supposedly alternating with Tom Saffell,” Smith said. “He came from the Pacific Coast League. He was left-handed and I was right. I didn’t get too much of a chance; I had 12 [sic] at-bats or something. What I’m telling you is probably speculation; the facts I didn’t know because we weren’t told that much of anything really.”

Pirates manager Fred Haney put him in the lineup only one more time, starting in a 5-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on April 29, 1955. His 0-4 performance left him with a career batting average of .063 (1-16). He never returned to the major leagues.

“When [Branch] Rickey took over, he brought his own fellows in,” he said. “We were the last of the guys to be from the old regime so to speak, before he took over Pittsburgh. … He knew what he wanted and we didn’t fit the mold.”

His departure allowed Clemente to drop number 13 in favor of Smith’s 21. It was the last time anyone else in a Pirates uniform wore the number. Even though their time together was brief, Smith could see Clemente’s talent and the backing he had from management.

“Without a doubt, he was one of the better up and coming young guys,” he said. “He had the full support of all the staff and that made the big difference.”

Smith last just one more season in professional baseball, calling it quits at the end of the 1956 season after bouncing around different farm clubs. The toll on his family became too great to bear.

“I look back on it, and that was probably my fault a little bit because they weren’t playing me too much in New Orleans because they had their team set,” he said. “I wanted to play more and I didn’t produce like I should have when I got in, so they moved me to Lincoln and that was sort of the downfall. ... I had a family and we were traveling. One year my wife traveled five or six-thousand miles just to keep up with me. … It was a tough go for the dough in those days so to speak.”

Back home in Fresno after hanging up his spikes, Smith found himself in a completely different line of work than what he intended to do. He studied at Fresno State to work in the athletic coaching field, but one of his baseball contacts swayed him into running a grocery store.

“When I was here and I played for the Cardinals, one of the backers had a grocery store chain,” he said. “I had gone to college to become a coach, but at that time coaching didn’t pay very much. A grocery job paid more, so that’s what I went into and stayed 40 years.”

Long removed from his playing days, Smith said enjoyed the correspondence from the Pirates semi-annual Black and Gold alumni newsletter, which gave him the chance to keep up with his former teammates.

“They send me information quite often and schedules for different things,” he said. “I haven’t been one to join up with some of the things they wanted, but I’m still interested in seeing the facts of the guys I played with.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tony Oliva takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Tony Oliva
Minnesota Twins legend, the 76-year old Tony Oliva, showed that you aren't too young to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The 1964 American League Rookie of the Year cheerfully took a dip in ice water in support of ALS research.

He calls out Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, and my good friend Paul Casanova to take the corresponding plunge.



A candid Willie Mays talking baseball with Billy Sample

Willie Mays
Billy Sample, former major league outfielder of nine major league seasons, talked shop with the legendary Willie Mays in the spring of 2004.

In this 15-minute interview, Mays is rather lucid as they discuss his career from humble beginnings in Alabama, making his way from the Negro Leagues all the way to the Hall of Fame.
 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Michael Conforto's outfield play turning heads in Brooklyn

Being a first-round draft pick carries high expectations from the moment a player signs their name on a million-dollar contract. In just over a month, Michael Conforto, the New York Mets 2014 first-round draft pick from Oregon State University, has been all that was advertised and then some.

Playing in thirty-six games thus far with the Brooklyn Cyclones in the short-season New York Penn League, Conforto has been a magician at the plate, batting .321 with two home runs and 18 RBIs. His prowess with the bat comes as little surprise to baseball insiders, as his hitting was the main factor in his nomination as a finalist for the 2014 Golden Spikes Award, the honor given to the top player in college baseball.

Going into the draft however, there was much speculation about Conforto’s abilities as an outfielder, with some analysts going as far as calling his outfield play, “a mess,” and saying that his arm strength leaves much to be desired.

Michael Conforto - N. Diunte
“He has a poor throwing arm that runners can take extra bases on,” said Christopher Crawford of MLB Draft Insider. 

In the short time that he has been in Brooklyn, he has laid the foundation to quell those naysayers about his defensive capabilities. He has five outfield assists and has made quite a few acrobatic plays in left field as well.

“The reports also said he was only an adequate defender; the same with his arm. But in the reports I've been sending back to the Mets, I'm telling them he's anything but that," Cyclones Manager Tom Gamboa said to the Staten Island Advance. "He threw out a runner trying to score (Monday night at RCCC), and tonight he made a diving catch. That's about the seventh or eighth diving catch he's made."

Conforto is glad that his defense is getting attention, as it was overshadowed by his strong bat throughout his entire college career. He recognizes that it is an area of his game that is continuing to be developed as he starts his journey in professional baseball.

“That's something that's been said that may be my weakness,” Conforto said to metroBASEBALL magazine, “so it's pretty cool that its been highlighted here. I've had the opportunity to be out there in left field every day and showcase my ability, so that's been pretty cool for me and it's helped me grow in a place where I really need to grow.”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dick Teed, former Brooklyn Dodger and longtime scout passes away at 88

Dick Teed wore the Brooklyn Dodger uniform for only one at-bat in the major leagues, but it left memories that lasted a lifetime. Teed struck out in his only plate appearance against Milwaukee Braves pitcher Max Surkont on July 24, 1953, but he didn’t go down without a fight.

''What I'll always remember,'' he said Richard Goldstein of the New York Times in 1982, ''is that I was up there challenging Surkont. I struck out, but I went down taking good cuts.''

Teed, who stayed with the Dodgers organization as a scout for 17 years, passed away August 17, 2014 in Newport, Rhode Island. He was 88.

Dick Teed Signed Photo / N. Diunte
A native of Windsor, Connecticut, Teed was a three-sport star at Windsor High, excelling in baseball, soccer and basketball. Shortly after his graduation in 1944, he entered the Marine Corps, serving for over two years during World War II. His tour included action in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Upon the completion of his military duty, he signed with the Dodgers in 1947. They started him at the bottom of their farm system with their Class D team in Thomasville, North Carolina.

He moved quickly through the ranks, reaching AAA with Montreal by 1950. Only one step away from the major leagues, Teed saw the light at the end of the tunnel approaching.

“If I improve my batting somewhat, I think I have a pretty good chance of sticking,” he said to the Sunday Herald in 1950. “They tell me my catching is satisfactory.”

While Teed was becoming a top-notch receiver, the Dodgers were looking for a way to remedy his struggles at the plate after he hit only .222 at St. Paul in 1951. During spring training, they found a solution – switch hitting.

He spent the whole season at Mobile in the Double-A Southern Association in 1952 working on hitting from both sides of the plate. A natural righty, Teed improved his batting average to .273.

“I’ve got more confidence this time after what I did at Mobile,” he said to the Sunday Herald in 1953.

With Roy Campanella and Rube Walker ahead of him and the Dodgers returning from a World Series appearance, there was little room for Teed on the roster. He returned to Mobile to start the 1953 season, but when Rube Walker injured his left hand in July, Teed finally got his chance in the majors.

“Everything seemed different in the big leagues - magnified,'' he said to the New York Times. ''The lights were brighter, the crowds were larger. I even thought the sound of the pitches hitting Campy's glove was louder.”

After striking out in his aforementioned debut, Teed remained positive that he would get another chance to redeem himself.

''I wasn't down, I figured there'd be another day,'' he said.

That opportunity never came. Teed rode out his stay with the Dodgers on the bench until Walker returned. The Dodgers sent Teed back to Mobile and despite spending over another decade in the minor leagues, it wasn’t enough to warrant another call to the big leagues.

"I went back to Mobile and finished the season," Teed told the Hartford Courant in 2013. "My only complaint is that I never really got a chance to show what I could do."

After finishing his playing career in 1963, Teed coached in the Philadelphia Phillies organization from 1964-1967, winning a division title with Spartanburg his final season as a manger. In 1968, he turned his attention to scouting, working with the Phillies until 1977, when he came home to the Dodgers organization.

As a Dodgers scout in the Northeast, his first major coup was Brooklyn’s own John Franco from St. John’s University.


He also helped the Dodgers to ink an unknown first baseman from Norristown, Pennsylvania, who was selected with the Dodgers’ last pick in the 1988 draft.

Teed, who was on his way to Montreal to sign another Dodgers’ prospect, met Mike Piazza in the Philadelphia airport to sign him for $15,000. An unlikely setting for a signing, but such was the life of a traveling scout.

He stayed with as a scout with the Dodgers until retiring in 1994. In 2001, he was inducted into the National Scouts Hall of Fame. His grandson Bryan Barnoswki kept the family tradition alive, playing minor league baseball for the Boston Red Sox from 1999-2003.

Even though his time as a major leaguer was brief, Teed said to me in a 2008 interview that being a member of such a legendary team was the highlight of his career.

“How could you get a better lineup than what they had?” he asked. “Campy, Hodges, Snider, Reese, Jackie ... what a team. I didn't play long, but I enjoyed it. I was in baseball 49 years and that was my best experience; being in the dugout and the locker room just for the short time I was there. It gave me a lot of memories.”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bob Wiesler, climbed the Yankee ranks with Mantle, passes away at 83

Bob Wiesler wasn't even 21 years old when he first stepped on the mound at Yankee Stadium on August, 3, 1951. Looking up at the large crowd, Wiesler admitted that his nerves had set in before he threw his first pitch.

“[I was nervous] in front of all of those people!” Wiesler said to Kenneth Hogan in Batting 10th for the Yankees. “We used to have 1,000 in the minors. In Kansas City, we‘d usually have about 4,000. In Yankee Stadium they used to almost have full houses.”

Wiesler, who went on to enjoy six seasons in front of those packed crowds with the Yankees and Washington Senators in the 1950s, passed away August 10, 2014 at his home in Florissant, Missouri, just three days shy of his 84th birthday.
Bob Wiesler / Lonecadaver.net

The 6’3” lefty pitcher was a star at Beaumont High School in St. Louis, the same school that also spawned major leaguers Roy Sievers, Bobby Hofman, and future Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. Many clubs aggressively pursued Wiesler in high school, but his admiration for Lou Gehrig drew him to the famous pinstripes.

“I read the book Pride of the Yankees and from that point Lou Gehrig was my idol,” he said. “I had the same kind of deal with each [team] so I picked the Yankees.”

He was assigned to their Class D team in Independence, Kansas, and was joined by another local sensation, Mickey Mantle. They played together for two seasons, working their way up the ladder of the Yankees system.

“He came out of high school in 1949 and joined us in Independence,” he told me in a 2008 interview. “He had a pretty good year, but in Joplin, he was tearing the ball up. [He] hit like .380 or .390, something like that and had a fabulous year.”

Wiesler did well himself at Joplin in 1950, going 15-7 with a 2.35 ERA. His performance attracted the attention of the Yankees management, earning him an invite to a special rookie school with Mantle for further development.

“Mantle and I, and quite a few others that they called prospects were down there in Arizona,” he said. “I impressed them that much to go to spring training in Kansas City and I stayed with them.”

With only two years under his belt, Wiesler was one step away from the major leagues in AAA with Kansas City. He continued to harness his control while in AAA, testing his stuff against those who had major league experience.

“There were some good ballplayers there,” he said. “There were a lot of veterans that were up.”

About halfway through the 1951 season, Mantle and another young pitcher Tom Morgan were not progressing fast enough at the Major League level as the Yankees desired. Looking for a change, the Yankees recalled Wiesler who was among the league leaders in strikeouts.

Playing for the division leaders, Wiesler only had the opportunity to pitch in four games, including an 8-0 loss in his debut against the St. Louis Browns. Forcing the Yankees hand was Mantle, who hit .364 in 40 games with 11 home runs. The two switched places again on August 21st.

“They sent me back down in August,” he said to Hogan, “but they did send me a little check at the end of the year after they split the World Series money.”

Wiesler had little time to enjoy his World Series share, as he was activated from his National Guard service in November. He was sent to Fort Allen, Vermont, where he spent the entire 1952 season on active duty.

After working his way back into playing shape with a full season in at AAA in 1953, the Yankees gave Wiesler another shot in 1954. Just as he was getting his footing in the major leagues, the rug was abruptly pulled from beneath him.

“I had won three games for them,” he said, “and I was supposed to pitch on a Sunday [against Baltimore]. They signed Ralph Branca who was released; he traveled with us and threw batting practice. George Weiss decided to sign him and sent me back down. I wasn't too happy about that.”

Displeased with the decision, Wiesler begrudgingly accepted his demotion. He worked his way back to the Yankees in 1955 and lasted the entire season, en route to a World Series showdown with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He did not pitch in the World Series, but was on the roster to unfortunately witness Johnny Podres help the Dodgers take Brooklyn’s only championship.

Wiesler was selected to go on a tour of Japan with the Yankees after the season, playing in Hawaii and Manila en route to the Land of the Rising Sun. That trip was the last time he wore a Yankee uniform. Early in spring training, he was involved in a seven-player trade with the Washington Senators that included Whitey Herzog. He took the baseball elevator all the way to the proverbial basement.

“I went from a first-place club to a last-place club. It was kind of disappointing,” he said; however, the move did have a small advantage. “I got to pitch more at Washington— I got to start every fourth day.”

He did the bulk of his pitching with Washington in 1956, appearing in 37 games, starting 21, but was plagued by a lack of control. He walked 112 batters in 123 innings on his way to a 3-12 record. It was his last season as a regular in the major leagues, save for cups of coffee in 1957 and 1958.

He finished his playing career in 1961 with Dallas Fort-Worth, ending with a 7-19 record in 70 major league games. He went to work for Anheuser-Busch, and stayed involved with baseball by pitching batting practice for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1964-1968. It didn’t take long for him to reconnect with his Yankee roots.

“I started throwing batting practice for the Cardinals in 1964 and here I am pitching for them and they’re playing the Yankees in the World Series!”


* Note - Wiesler played in Independence, Kansas, in 1949, not Missouri as originally reported.