Friday, December 30, 2016

Lou Gehrig's last All-Star hurrah

Buddy Lewis was a ripe 21-year-old in his fourth major league season when he earned the starting nod as the third baseman in the 1938 All-Star Game.The 1938 midsummer classic serves as a historical footnote for not only being the first All-Star Game in which neither team hit a home run, but also the last All-Star contest that featured Lou Gehrig.
Buddy Lewis 1938 All-Star / Baseball-Almanac.com

As manager Joe McCarthy penciled in Lewis batting eighth at the hot corner, and placed Jimmie Foxx in the cleanup spot at first base, he had the dilemma of how to get Gehrig in the game. When Lewis' second turn at bat came in the fifth inning, McCarthy sent the Iron Horse up as a pinch hitter. Foxx moved to third base and Gehrig as the first baseman finished the game 1-3.

Lewis passed away in 2011 at the age of 94, undoubtedly the last major leaguer to have the honor of Lou Gehrig pinch hitting for him. In a 2008 letter, Lewis spoke with candor about bowing out gracefully to Gehrig in the contest.

"Everybody liked Lou," Lewis wrote in 2008. "They strengthened the lineup when he came in."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

How Dell Curry almost shifted the family legacy from the hardwood to the mound

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Billy Martin's World Series heroics was fueled by a desire to surpass Robinson

For deep rooted baseball fans, while many are celebrating joyous occasions with their families, the tragic death of Billy Martin on December 25, 1989 is an annual reminder of how one's mortality does not escape the holiday season.

One of the fiercest competitors baseball has ever seen, his fiery temperament resonated with his teammates. Speaking with his New York Yankees teammate Bob Cerv in 2008, he recalled how much Martin was motivated to outperform Jackie Robinson when their clubs met in the World Series.

Jackie Robinson and Billy Martin Baseball Card / Upper Deck

"The only thing I remember Billy Martin would say was, 'I'm gonna do better than him,'" Cerv recalled. "And he did in the World Series."

Below are Martin's and Robinson's totals from the four World Series in which they faced off. If there was an MVP award in 1953, Martin would have certainly won it. Is it mere coincidence that Martin's best World Series performance came when Robinson also had his, or was Martin hellbent on proving that he was the premier second baseman in the city?

Billy Martin World Series Stats vs. Brooklyn Dodgers

Year Age Tm Lg Series Opp Rslt G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
1952 ❍ 24 NYY AL WS BRO W 7 26 23 2 5 0 0 1 4 0 1 2 2 .217 .308 .348 .656 8 0 1 0 1
1953 ❍ 25 NYY AL WS BRO W 6 25 24 5 12 1 2 2 8 1 2 1 2 .500 .520 .958 1.478 23 1 0 0 0
1955 27 NYY AL WS BRO L 7 26 25 2 8 1 1 0 4 0 2 1 5 .320 .346 .440 .786 11 1 0 0 0 0
1956 ❍ 28 NYY AL WS BRO W 7 28 27 5 8 0 0 2 3 0 0 1 6 .296 .321 .519 .840 14 2 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/27/2016.

Jackie Robinson World Series Stats vs. New York Yankees

Year Age Tm Lg Series Opp Rslt G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
1952 33 BRO NL WS NYY L 7 30 23 4 4 0 0 1 2 2 0 7 5 .174 .367 .304 .671 7 0 0 0 2
1953 34 BRO NL WS NYY L 6 26 25 3 8 2 0 0 2 1 0 1 0 .320 .346 .400 .746 10 1 0 0 0
1955 ❍ 36 BRO NL WS NYY W 6 24 22 5 4 1 1 0 1 1 0 2 1 .182 .250 .318 .568 7 2 0 0 0 0
1956 37 BRO NL WS NYY L 7 29 24 5 6 1 0 1 2 0 0 5 2 .250 .379 .417 .796 10 2 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/27/2016.

Monday, December 26, 2016

John Barfield, former Texas Rangers pitcher murdered at 52

On a day when most are rejoicing in holiday spirits, Christmas Eve turned fateful for former Texas Rangers pitcher John Barfield. The 52-year-old Barfield, who pitched in parts of three seasons for the Rangers from 1989-1991, was murdered at his home in Little Rock, Arkansas after engaging in a dispute with an acquaintance

John Barfield / 1991 Mother's Cookies

Barfield, whose Rangers moundmates included Hall of Famers Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan, compiled an 8-8 record with a 4.72 ERA in 65 career appearances. According to a statement from the Rangers, Barfield's August 18th, 1990 six-inning relief victory was the last relief victory of 5.1 or more innings, until Diego Moreno accomplished the feat for the Yankees in 2015. 


Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016 Topps High Tek offers intriguing variety for collectors

Two-thousand-sixteen is quickly coming to a close, but Topps gives collectors a glimpse into the future with this year’s High Tek baseball release. Crafted with a slick opaque design with funky patterns that highlight the on-card action shots, 2016 Topps High Tek breaks the mold of recent trading card designs.

2016 Topps High Tek / Topps
The 111-base card set is divided into two different styles, Spiral Vortex and Maze Grid. If these two were the only options in the set, High Tek would quickly fall to the wayside as one of Topps’ novelty releases, but a closer inspection of the designs reveals at least a dozen additional variations. Some collectors will find this to be a dizzying array of options; others will be enthralled at the challenge of putting together a master set. Further adding to the chase of a complete set is the fact that there are only six base cards in each box.

2016 Topps High Tek Base Cards & Variations / Topps
The major appeal of 2016 Topps High Tek is the on-card autographs. The impressive list includes top modern stars such as Ichiro, Kris Bryant, and Mike Trout, as well as Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, and Ken Griffey Jr. The box provided for this review produced an autograph of Hall of Famer Wade Boggs in a parallel limited to 25.

Wade Boggs Topps High Tek Autograph / Topps
With 2016 High Tek, Topps aims to give value to collectors looking for instant autograph hits with the addition of the chase of variations that comprise the master base set. While some collectors might frown at the notion that purchasing an entire case might not yield a complete base set, they will be pleased at the quality of autographs and diversity of inserts and parallels.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Melvin Duncan, 87, pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues

Melvin “Buck” Duncan, a former pitcher and outfielder for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues, passed away November 29, 2016 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He was 87.

Born March 31, 1929 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Duncan joined the Monarchs at the tender age of 20. The watchful eyes of a future Negro League manager steered him towards one of the Negro Leagues most powerful franchises.

Melvin Duncan / Author's Collection
“I joined the Monarchs in Monroe, Louisiana,” Duncan wrote in a letter to the author in 2007. “I was scouted by Sherwood Brewer, who was from where I was raised.”

Managing the Monarchs was the legendary Buck O’Neil, who took over the helm in 1948 after Frank Duncan (no relation) retired. With O’Neil serving as a player-manager, the young hurler found that Monarchs’ skipper still took an interest in nuturing the rookies on the club.

“He was strict, gentle, and very nice to be around,” Duncan wrote. “He was like a father to the younger players; full of knowledge and would give to you. I love him very much.”

One teammate he considered a close friend was fellow pitcher Gene Collins. He found Collins special for the camaraderie they built on the road.

“Eugene Collins, he was understanding and like a brother with me, for we were roommates,” he wrote. “Whenever he pitched, he was like the fifth infielder, for he was a good fielder.”

While Collins’ name came to the forefront when recalling his favorite teammate, Duncan hesitated to choose the best player he played with in the Negro Leagues. Instead, he chose to focus on the team aspect of the game.

“It takes nine men to play the game,” he wrote. “Each man has a position to play. I was a pitcher and not a catcher, so [therefore] I was not as good as Elston Howard.”

Duncan played with the Monarchs and Detroit Stars through in 1955 while the league was in decline. Closing his 2007 letter, Duncan had a simple request on how he wanted the memory of his career to survive.

“[I want it to be remembered] that I played in the Negro Leagues and I gave all I had to give.”



* - Video Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Irv Noren at 92 recalls his ride from worst to first with the Yankees

Fans of yesteryear will remember Irv Noren as the bridge between Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle roaming center field for the New York Yankees. As much as he is known as an integral part of three World Series championship teams in the Bronx (1952, ’53, and ’56), little do fans know that he was dangerously close to playing for their cross town rivals in Brooklyn.

Signed by the Dodgers in 1946 after serving in World War II, Noren tore up the Dodgers farm system, winning consecutive league MVP awards, first in the Double-A Texas League in 1948, and then in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League the next season (an award ironically DiMaggio had won in 1935). So why wasn’t Noren wearing Dodger Blue instead of Yankee Pinstripes?

Irv Noren at his home in 2012 / N. Diunte
With the Dodgers fielding an outfield that contained Duke Snider and Carl Furillo, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey had other plans for his budding superstar. During a 2012 visit with Noren at his home in Oceanside, California, he explained how he found out just what those plans were.

“I just came out of Hollywood and had a great year there," Noren said. "That winter, I was sitting for dinner one night in Arcadia where we were living and I heard this come over the radio, ‘Irv Noren’s been sold to the Washington Senators by the Brooklyn Dodgers for $70,000 and a player or whatever.’ I dropped my food and went out in the backyard and said, ‘Washington Senators!’”

With the Dodgers’ finances suffering due to their investment in the Brooklyn football franchise of the AAFC, Rickey sold Noren to recover some of the losses they faced. Little did he know that the sale of Noren would haunt him only a few years later.

After two excellent seasons with the Washington Senators, Noren’s sweet left-handed swing and superb defense in the spacious Griffith Stadium attracted the attention of Yankees manager Casey Stengel. Disappointed with the early season play of the replacements for the recently retired DiMaggio, the Yankees acquired Noren in May of 1952 from the Senators in a six-player deal.

“Perhaps we gave up a lot, but we had to in order to get what we wanted. We wanted Noren. We need a center fielder who can hit, run, field, and throw,” said Stengel to the New York Times.

Within a matter of months, Noren went from worst to first, and rode the elevator all the way up to World Series victory.

“It was different going into the Yankees clubhouse instead of the other way," he said. "I said to myself, ‘Jeez, this is where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and everybody was, in this clubhouse.'"

High expectations were omnipresent, as none of the veterans wanted anyone getting in the way of their World Series checks. The team atmosphere was a tremendous shift from playing in Washington.

“It was fun to go to the ballpark because you knew that the guys meant business and policed the game themselves," he said. "Some guys stayed out all night and if they couldn’t play the next day or pitch, they’d let them know. ‘You’re screwing around with my money. In the winter do whatever you want, but right now [don’t do it]. With the Yankees, everybody wanted to beat them, and you couldn’t make a mistake against them. You had to produce over there. In Washington, you could go 0-8, but in New York if you went 0-8, someone else would be in there. They had to win.”

Noren played five seasons with the Yankees from 1952-56, which in addition to the aforementioned World Series championships, included a selection to the 1954 All-Star Game. He continued playing in the majors until 1960, making appearances with the Athletics, Cardinals, Cubs and Dodgers. Upon retiring from his playing career, he was involved with a variety of business ventures that included owning a sporting goods store, a screen printing business, and breeding thoroughbred horses. In between all of that, Hall of Famer Dick Williams recruited Noren to serve as a coach for the Oakland Athletics during their championship seasons in the early 1970s. Now completely retired, Noren enjoys the company of his family and looking after his horses.

“I felt I was a pretty lucky guy," he said. "You never give up and something good is going to happen if you hang out and do your best. It was tough in them days. Most of us spent the best years of our life in the service. I went in from 18 to 21; that’s the best three years of your life. That’s fine, we did it for the country.

"We didn’t make a lot of money, but we played for fun and a bit of money like they say. It made us respect a little bit more about what life was about, what the priorities are in life. I’ve got 15 grandkids. I get up after dinner and my grandson said, ‘Did you really play center field for the Yankees?’ [To them] we were never young; we’re [just] old. I have a few horses that keep me busy with my buddies, as well as my grandkids and great grandkids; that’s what I’m living for.”

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Dave 'Boo' Ferriss, 94, twenty-game winner for Boston Red Sox

"Boo Ferriss was a great hitting pitcher. He was ambidextrous; he could throw left handed and right handed. Of course, he was a right handed pitcher. He had two great years, [and] then he hurt his arm. He would have been a great, great pitcher if he hadn’t hurt his arm. And a real class guy, real fine."- Billy Hitchcock to Gene Fehler in, "When Baseball Was Still King: Major League Players Remember the 1950s."

Dave "Boo" Ferris, who started his major league career with two consecutive 20-win seasons that led the Boston Red Sox to the World Series in 1946, passed away on Thanksgiving in Cleveland, Mississippi. He was 94.
Dave "Boo" Ferriss - SportsNola.com

Ferriss won the third game of the 1946 World Series and was left with a no-decision in the deciding seventh game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Ferriss watched helplessly as Enos Slaughter made his famous "mad dash," to score the deciding run from first base on Harry Walker's double in the ninth inning. Ferriss indicated that it wasn't the World Series that was his most memorable baseball moment, but his victory in 1948 to force a one-game playoff with the Indians for the American League pennant.

"It was disappointing to lose both the 1948 and 1949 pennants, after coming so close," he said to Fehler. "In 1948 I was pitching against the Yankees on the last day of the season. If we beat the Yankees and Detroit beat the Indians, Cleveland and us would tie for the pennant. I got in trouble in the sixth inning, I believe. The Yankees loaded the bases with Hank Bauer and DiMaggio coming up. I got Bauer on a sacrifice fly to Ted [Williams] in left field and got DiMaggio out and we went on to win the game. I think it was 10-5, and of course Fenway was going wild because the scoreboard showed Detroit was beating Cleveland. We did end in a tie and that brought about the first playoff game in American League history the next day, and sad to say we lost that. Gene Bearden beat us 8-3 there in Fenway. But it was a memorable moment for me, going into that game that had so much riding on it at the time."

Perhaps much greater than his 65-30 career record with the Red Sox, was his impact on the baseball program at Delta State University. With his pitching career cut short due to arm troubles, Ferriss moved on to the collegiate ranks, literally building up Delta State's program from the field level. Six-hundred-thirty-nine victories and three Division II World Series appearances later, Delta Stats acknowledged Ferriss' indelible impact on the program by naming the baseball field after him when he retired in 1988.

Clyde King recalls a mound visit from Fidel Castro

On April 20, 1960, Rochester Red Wings manager and former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Clyde King stood inches away from Fidel Castro as he threw out the first pitch of the International League season. Some fifty-six years after their encounter, the Cuban leader passed away November 25, 2016 at the age of 90. Little did King know at the time that the man he once squared off in an exhibition game would become one of the vilest dictators in modern history.

Fidel Castro (l.) throws out the opening day pitch in 1960 as Clyde King (r.) watches
“I think it was 1960 when I got to meet Castro,” King said from his North Carolina home in 2008. “We opened the season there and Castro threw out the first ball. We didn't know he was a bad guy at the time. We went out the mound and he said, ‘Do you remember me?’ I said, “Yes, I remember you.’ He said, ‘I'm Fidel Castro, do you remember going to the University of Havana one Sunday afternoon?’”

King quickly harked back to an exhibition the Dodgers played in Havana during 1947 while Branch Rickey was preparing Jackie Robinson to join the big league club. Castro proudly reminded the Red Wings manager that he suited up against the Dodgers squad that day.

“When the Dodgers were training, one club stayed in Havana and the other went to the University so we could get more players in action,” King recalled. “Castro said, ‘Do you remember who you pitched against?’ I said ‘No.’ He said, ‘Me!’ I asked him if he remembered the score, he said he didn’t. You know what the score was? 15-1!”

King acknowledged Castro’s support of baseball as Cuba’s flagship sport and his failed attempts to play professionally; however, whatever affection Castro had for the sport was overshadowed by the terror of his reign.

“We found out later he wasn't such a good guy,” King said. “He was terrific baseball guy. He tried to work out for a pro team but he couldn't do it. We sort of wore him out that day.”