Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pete Rose’s longtime third base coach sees nothing wrong with an old-school slide into — or near — second base

Sometimes in baseball, it’s the third base coach that has one of the best perspectives of watching a play develop on the field. For over 25 years, Alex Grammas manned that position, primarily for Sparky Anderson’s Big Red Machine in the 1970s and later again with Anderson for 12 years in Detroit. A ten-year career as a shortstop in the major leagues put him up close and person with many collisions at second base, but none as famous when he watched from the coaches box as Pete Rose upended New York Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson during the 1973 NLCS.

“I can remember him sliding in there and the fight that developed after that,” said the 89-year old Grammas, speaking recently from his home in Alabama.





Grammas wearing number 2, pictured as the Cincinnati Reds third base coach along with Pete Rose and George Foster / Topps

While the details of the fight and its aftermath from 42 years ago is a little blurry for Grammas, who rushed in from third base to defray the fracas that ensued, he was clear on why Rose went in with such aggression.

“He [Rose] played as hard as a guy could play, no question about it,” he said. “He wanted for the team to win and that was his aim. In that All-Star game when he ran over that guy at home plate [Ray Fosse], I saw it on film and you just figure out a guy is doing things to win ballgames and some are a little tougher at it than others. Pete was as tough on that as you would run into.”

Looking at Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Chase Utley’s slide on Ruben Tejada of the New York Mets during Game 2 of the NLDS, Grammas tried to put it in a perspective from when he was a player sixty years ago. He thought that every player approaching second base was going to try to make it hard for him to finish the job.

“I had to assume that whoever was coming into second base to break up a double play, I don’t care who they were they were going to try to get you out of it,” he said. “They weren’t trying to break your leg or anything; they were just trying to get your momentum slowed down and get it to a point where you didn’t have the accuracy if you weren’t touched.

“When you’re on that field and you’re thinking we’ve gotta win this game to help us get to the World Series, a lot of things go through your mind. You don’t try to hurt anybody but you go in pretty hard and just hope that they can’t turn it into a double play, which is what you’re sliding for. The slide that fellow [Utley] made the other night wasn’t that far off the bag really. Now if you would have gone out there to the right 8–10 feet, now it would be different. This thing here, he could touch the bag even though he’s knocking this guy out of it. I guess it depends on which team you want to win is how you feel about it.”

Even though Tejada had no away to avoid Utley’s slide, Grammas felt that these types of collisions are just part of the intense competition of playoff baseball. That’s not to say that he didn’t drop some old school methods of exacting revenge on the field.
“Tejada didn’t [have a chance], he was there to be nailed,” he said. “I’ve gone through situations like that and there is really not a heck of a lot you can do about it because you know what they’re attitude is and you know what yours is. They’re trying to win a ballgame and so are you. The next time he slides in there and he’s a little open and he tries to nail me, there’s no telling where I’m liable to come down on him. You just don’t forget things like that. If you really give it a deep thought, these guys are trying to make it to the World Series and you can understand why they do things like that.”

As MLB mulls over possible rule changes regarding take-out slides at second base, Grammas, who spent 48 years in the major leagues as a player, coach, and manager, feels that any adjustment will have too large of an impact on the outcome of a game.

“I don’t think there needs to be a change in the rules,” Grammas said. “If you’re going to do that, you’re just giving people a chance to turn a double play that maybe they would have stayed out of. Maybe that [slide] would help your team win the ballgame, that what that’s for. If they felt like they could help stop him from making a double play, then that’s our chance to win the ballgame. That’s how you think as a ballplayer.”

2015 Topps Heritage High Number Baseball is a treat for the World Series

Topps’ 2015 Heritage High Number baseball card set is right on time for the World Series. As the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals square off to determine this year’s World Champion, collectors can add to their excitement with this year’s update to the classic Topps series that salutes the old and the new.
Styled in the design of the 1966 Topps set, the 2015 High Number set includes rookie cards for some of the top emerging talent in this year’s postseason.

2015 Topps Heritage High Number Baseball / Topps

Collectors will appreciate the RC designation for the likes of Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Steven Matz, and Noah Snydergaard in this year’s High Number edition. In addition to the aforementioned rookies, Topps covered many of the late season moves by major league clubs, giving fans the opportunity to get cards of the newest members of their favorite franchise in uniform.


Click here to read the full review of the 2015 Topps Heritage High Number Baseball Card series.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mike Sandlock, oldest living MLB player celebrates his 100th birthday

Mike Sandlock, the oldest living Major League Baseball player, celebrated his 100th birthday on October 17, 2015. Sandlock played parts of five seasons in the majors with the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1942-1953.

Mike Sandlock / N. Diunte

In 2011, I caught up with Sandlock at his home in Connecticut and he shared his vivid memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers fans at Ebbets Field in the video below.


Friday, October 16, 2015

How Matt Reynolds might join Chet Trail for a dubious major league distinction

As Matt Reynolds sat on the New York Mets bench Thursday evening for Game 5 of the National League Championship series waiting to make his major league debut, one man that can relate to his angst is Chet Trail. Placed on the New York Yankees World Series roster in 1964, Trail is the only player ever on a postseason roster never to appear in a major league game.

Chet Trail / Baseball-Birthdays.com
Trail was signed by the Yankees in 1962 out of Libbey High School in Toledo, Ohio, where he was a standout multi-sport start. The Yankees gave Trail a $43,000 bonus, and in 1963 they assigned him to their Fort Lauderdale team in the Florida State League. A year later, in only his second professional season, the Yankees placed him on their World Series roster after Tony Kubek was injured; however, the acclaim wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed.

“The Yankees didn’t call me up,” the 71-year-old Trail said from his home in Toledo on Thursday evening. “It was a paper move protecting me by calling me up on the roster. They told me they were going to put me on the roster, but they didn’t go any further as to what their plans were as far as bringing me up.”

Barely 20 years old, Trail was excited to be named to the club, but he would have enjoyed it more if he would have been in uniform with the rest of the Yankee legends. Trail watched the World Series from his home in Ohio while attending college classes.

“I was just thrilled to be privileged enough to be on the roster, so I didn’t expect any more,” he said. “I was just happy to be on the roster, but I came back home and went back to college.”

The Yankees lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, but in true Yankee fashion, they cut Trail in on a share of the runner-ups earnings even though he never stepped foot in the dugout. It’s something that he appreciates over fifty years later.

“If I can remember, I did get a nominal sum being on that roster,” he said. “Back then I think the players voted for shares, but if I can remember, I did get something just for being on the roster.”

The culmination of the 1964 season left Trail with many unanswered questions. In spring training, he was promised that he would get a look at the major league level, but it never materialized.

“In 1964, Archie Moore and I were supposed to split half of a season in which I was to play in A-ball half a season and go up to the Yankees, and he was to come down and play, but they never did that,” he said. “I stayed the whole year in Greensboro, but they brought me up by name only. I never got an explanation as to why physically that never happened.”

Trail spent seven seasons in the minor leagues, reaching as high as Triple-A. He went to major league spring training five times, but for various reasons, he didn’t make the cut. Despite never reaching the major leagues, Trail had the fortune of spending time around the old guard of the Yankees dynasty.

“I was kind of awe struck with Mantle, Maris, Berra, Howard, Kubek, Richardson, and Pepitone,” he said. “I am 18-19 years old, and to be on the field in spring training with people like that who I grew up idolizing was a great experience.”

After finishing his baseball career in 1969, Trail worked in the insurance field, became a church pastor, and was one of the most successful high school basketball referees in Ohio. He is currently using his position as a respected Pastor in the community to revitalize the site of his old high school, by lobbying to build a sports complex where it once stood. After some meetings with local officials, Trail is proud with the progress he is making.

“Along with the chamber of commerce we’re putting together a business plan, so we’re making headway with that,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to bring that to fruition; I think we will. It’s been two years and it’s finally coming together. I’ve contacted Major League Baseball’s RBI program for a grant and as soon as our leg work with the business part of it is done, we’ll be reaching out to actually getting money and making the complex come to pass.”

Trail hopes that Reynolds, the Mets young shortstop gets his opportunity to play in a major league game whether it is during this year’s playoffs or next year’s regular season. He doesn’t want Reynolds to experience a similar fate searching for answers for a half-century.

“In all my years, now I’m 71, I never quite understood what actually happened there,” he said. “I was never told and it wasn’t explained to me. I had to do well in the minor leagues just to be put on the roster, but I never quite got over that hump.”

Sunday, October 11, 2015

2015 Topps Supreme Baseball Review

2015 Topps Supreme is being billed by the famed baseball card company as one of their premier products for the year. Each two card box retailing for $75, guarantees two autographs, making Topps Supreme a big dice roll for collectors.



Topps has made a major improvement from last year’s release, placing on-card autographs in the 2015 Supreme series, upgrading from 2014’s exclusively stickered set. The list of potential autographs in this set is impressive. With the likes of Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Reggie Jackson, and Cal Ripken Jr., as well as this generation’s stars of Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout, the possibility of snagging one of these prized signatures makes for an intriguing play.

Click here to read the full review about the mystique of 2015 Topps Supreme and why the risk might not outweigh the reward.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cal Neeman, played seven season in the majors, came up with Mantle in Yankees system

Cal Neeman, a former major league catcher with five different teams in the 1950s and 1960s, passed away Thursday at his home in Lake Saint Louis, Missouri. He was 86.

Signed by the New York Yankees in 1949 out of Illinois Wesleyan University, where he also competed in basketball, Neeman was assigned to their Class C farm team in Joplin. During his second season in Joplin, he was joined by an erratic, but powerful shortstop in Mickey Mantle.

Cal Neeman / Author's Collection

Speaking with Neeman in 2011 in the wake of the tornado that wreaked havoc on the place of his debut, Neeman recalled a more positive image amidst the devastation the town was facing.

“I had all positive memories about Joplin,” he said via telephone in 2011. “It was the first place I played professional baseball. The whole atmosphere there was really good. People liked the ballplayers. We stayed in people’s homes; they would rent a room for $5 per week. Fourth and Main (where the stadium was located) was really close to where that tornado went through, just a tad north up.”

Neeman felt at home in the Yankee organization, primarily due to his Joplin managers Johnny Sturm and Harry Craft. Both had tremendous major league experience, which helped to shape his young career.

“My first manager was Johnny Sturm the Yankee first baseman,” he recalled. “He was just a good manager and I respected him a lot. My second year, Harry Craft was our manager, so I got to play for two good people.”

In 1950, Neeman was joined in Joplin by a young shortstop named Mickey Mantle. His abilities were evident, but he was a far cry from the legend that most know today.

“Everybody knew he had a lot of talent,” he said, “there’s no doubt about that. He did some fabulous things, but he also made some errors too.”

Mantle was so erratic at shortstop that fans were hesitant to sit behind the first base seats for fear of his wild throws. His defensive shortcomings were overshadowed by his trademark speed and power.

“Mantle was just a fun-loving kid that loved baseball,” he said. “He lived for playing ball. We had a fence in center field that was about 420. The first year I was there, no one hit it over the fence during the game. One night in Joplin, Mickey hit one over it left-handed and one over it right-handed. Of course, he could run. People found out about him being able to run like he did and they would usually have races before the away games. They would bring out the other team’s fastest runner and they’d run and win five dollars. Mickey would win every time; he would just run off and leave everybody. The Yankees then sent off a directive that there would be no more races before games.”

Neeman had little time to relish his experiences with Mantle, or the Yankees for that matter. Just as the 1950 season ended, he was drafted into the Korean War, serving two of his prime years in the military.

“After 1950 I went in the Korean War,” he said. “The bad part was I went to Korea itself [for] most of 1952, so there wasn’t any baseball or anything over there.”

The time he spent away from the game while in Korea hampered his return with the Yankees in 1953; however, as with his earlier managers in Joplin, he found a supporter in his manager with Binghamton during his first year back.

“I had a tough time, not physical shape, but to be able to throw, hit, and catch,” he said. “We had a manager Phil Page who stuck with me no matter what.”

Stuck behind Yogi Berra who recently passed away, Neeman was amongst almost a dozen Yankee catching prospects whose paths were blocked to the major leagues. Just as he was about to give up hope on making the big leagues, the Chicago Cubs drafted Neeman from the Yankees at the end of the 1956 season.

“I was ready to look for a job,” he said. “I didn’t think I could stay in baseball any longer. I was married and by that time, I was thinking that I didn’t have enough money to survive on. I was very fortunate and I got to play for a really fine man and manager, Bob Scheffing in Chicago.”

Neeman played in 376 games during his seven seasons with the Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, and Washington Senators. He had a .224 career lifetime average with 30 home runs and 97 RBIs, serving primarily as a backup catcher.

After the completion of his professional baseball career, he went back to school to become a teacher and a coach. He later ran a school supplies business before retiring in Lake Saint Louis.