Friday, February 26, 2016

Watch Duke Snider as he hits a magical walk-off home run for the Mets

While Duke Snider will be forever associated with the Brooklyn Dodgers, "Boys of Summer," Snider returned to New York in a homecoming of sorts when he was purchased by the New York Mets in 1963 from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Well past the peak of his career, Snider batted .243 with 14 home runs in 129 games for the Mets who were only in their second year of existence.

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One of Snider's most memorable moments in his only season with the Mets came during a  June 7th, 1963 game against the St. Louis Cardinals at the Polo Grounds. Digging in with two men on in the bottom of the 9th inning against reliever Diomedes Olivo, Snider crushed his offering into the second deck for a three-run walk-off homer.

Snider's magical Mets moment was recently published from the Major League Baseball vaults for everyone to relive. Take a few seconds to watch the sweet swing that produced 407 major league home runs.

Friday, February 19, 2016

How one teammate saw Tony Phillips as a stabilizing force for the Mets lineup

When the New York Mets acquired Tony Phillips in a string of perplexing moves at the trade deadline in 1998, many wondered if bringing Phillips to the Big Apple was the right move in Flushing. For Mets outfielder Brian McRae, Phillips’ arrival was just what the team needed to stabilize their lineup.

“I was excited when they said that trade went through because I was hitting down in the order by that time and we really didn’t have a leadoff [hitter],” said McRae speaking Friday evening from Marshall, Texas where he was coaching the Park University baseball team. “We had done all of the shuffling in the outfield with [Todd] Hundley playing a little bit in the outfield after [Mike] Piazza got traded [to the Mets], so it was good to have him on the ball club.”

Tony Phillips with the New York Mets / Fleer
The versatile Phillips passed away at the age of 56 on Wednesday February 17, 2016 in Arizona due to an apparent heart attack. The news hit close to home for McRae who still had the death of another mutual teammate on his mind.

“It was like a month and a half ago with Dave Henderson too,” he said, “so I lost two former teammates in a short time.”

Coming up with the Kansas City Royals in 1990, McRae was familiar with Phillips from playing in the American League. He remembered Phillips as a hitter that pitchers weren't fond of seeing at the plate.

“You didn’t like him because he was pesky,” he said. “Pitchers couldn’t bury him and get him out. He fouled off a lot of pitches and always seemed like he was in the middle of rallies for those good A’s teams. He just did a lot of things well to help his team win games."

The 39-year-old Phillips brought the same tenacious approach that McRae described to the Mets, quickly invigorating the clubhouse. There were a lot of intangible elements to Phillips’ game that didn’t show up in the box score, but enabled the entire team to elevate their play.

“He was a good on-base guy for all the guys hitting behind him,” he recalled. “I think our offense got better once he came along. It wasn’t so much him hitting his way on, but just working the count. He might have had a low average, but his on-base percentage was pretty high, and he did a good job running up pitch counts to let everybody else in the lineup see pitches that the pitcher had. He was really comfortable in that role as far as taking a lot of pitches, getting deep in the count, and doing those types of things.”

Spending time with Phillips away from the field gave McRae the opportunity to gain a deeper perspective on Phillips' approach that wasn’t apparent from the opposing dugout. He found Phillips to be a real student of the game who was willing to share the intricacies of the trade with him.

“I got to know him a lot better than I did in passing from playing against him,” he said. “We spent a lot of time talking about baseball, his approach mentally, and how he went about getting prepared for a game by checking scouting reports of other teams, pitchers, and things that he picked up.

“He was good with sharing a lot of that knowledge with me; I liked to sit at his locker [to] listen and learn as much as possible. [He] put a lot of his heart and soul into what he did on the ball field, and with him being on those championship teams, you gravitated to those guys because there’s something special about them. When you’re around guys who have been a part of something special, you listen to them and try to learn as much as possible.”

McRae shared an example of Phillips’ tenacity while playing for Mets relaying an incident that occurred against the St. Louis Cardinals and his former manager Tony LaRussa. After a first-inning brushback by Cardinals starter Matt Morris, Phillips directed his angst at the Hall of Fame skipper.

“He brought a different aura to our ball club and he didn’t back down from anything,” he stated. “I remember we played against the Cardinals and Matt Morris threw up and in on him. He was jawing at Matt Morris, and then Tony LaRussa his former manager was yelling at him; he went right back at LaRussa. He brought a different edge that I think we needed.”

Tony Phillips, 18-year major league veteran dies of heart attack at 56

Tony Phillips, who enjoyed an 18-year career in the major leagues from 1982-1999 primarily with the Oakland Athletics, passed away Wednesday February 17, 2016 as the result of a heart attack according to Susan Slusser. He was 56.

An extremely versatile fielder, Phillips saw action at every position on the field except pitcher and catcher during his major league career. He amassed 2,023 hits with a .266 average over his 18 seasons with the Athletics, Detroit Tigers, California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Mets.

Tony Phillips on his 1986 Topps card / Topps

Phillips played professionally as recently as the 2015 season, when at the age of 56, he played in eight games with the independent Pittsburgh Diamonds.

Jim Davenport, a fixture with the San Francisco Giants passes away at 82

Jim Davenport, a longtime fixture with the San Francisco Giants organization as a player, coach, manager, scout, and executive, passed away Thursday evening according to an announcement made by Barry Bonds. He was 82.

Davenport started in the major leagues with the Giants in 1958, playing primarily third base during his 13-year career, retiring after the 1970 season. In 1985, he served as manager of the Giants, posting a record of 56-88 before losing his job to Roger Craig during the last month of the season.

Jim Davenport Signed 1988 Pacific Legends / Baseball-Almanac.com

Joe Amalfitano, Davenport’s former teammate on the Giants and close friend, deftly described Davenport’s deep roots with the Giants organization.

"Jimmy's a pillar of that organization," Amalfitano said to MLB.com in 2014. "If you cut his veins, red wouldn't come out. It would be orange and black. I truly believe that."

Virgil Jester, 88, won final game for Boston Braves

Virgil Jester, one of Denver’s prodigal baseball figures has passed away. The former pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves died due to complications from pneumonia on February 15, 2016. He was 88.

Jester was a standout athlete at Denver’s North High School, where he played both infield and pitched. So renowned for his accomplishments on field, Jester was selected for the 1944 Esquire All-American Boys Baseball Game at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Jester was the starting pitcher for the West Squad that was managed by Mel Ott. Other notables who played in that game were Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, as well as future major leaguers Erv Palica and Billy Pierce.

Virgil Jester (second from left) at the 1944 Esquire All-American Boys Baseball Game
After attending Colorado State Teacher’s College, Jester was signed by the Braves in 1947 for the princely sum of $2,500. In a 2012 interview with the Denver Post, Jester wished his bonus arrived a half-century later.

"If you look at the salaries today, I was born 55 years too soon," Jester said.

The Braves initially placed Jester not as a pitcher, but as an infielder, an experiment that was quickly abandoned after he hit .169 during his first season with Class C Leavenworth. It was a move that paid dividends for both the Braves and Jester, as he posted winning records each of the next five seasons in the minor leagues, including a 10-5 record at Triple A Milwaukee in 1952 that led to his arrival in the big leagues.

“I won 10 straight games real quick, after that they called me up,” he said during a 2008 interview from his home in Colorado.

Jester pitched his way to a 3-5 record in 19 games for the Braves for 1952, with his third victory coming against the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 27, 1952. It was the final victory of the season for the Braves, as their last game of the 1952 campaign ended in a 12-inning tie against the Dodgers. Unbeknownst to him, it was also the final victory for the Boston baseball franchise, as owner Lou Perini moved the team to Milwaukee the following year.

“I pitched in the last game and beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the last game of 1952,” he said. “None of the ballplayers knew anything [about the move].”

Jester accompanied the team to Milwaukee and made the 1953 club out of spring training. He pitched sparingly in relief during April and was sent down to the minor leagues when rosters were trimmed at the end of the month. His demotion signaled the end of his career as a major leaguer.

He left the Braves organization after an arm injury in 1954 and remained out of baseball until 1959 when he was called by an old friend to help bolster the Denver Bears pitching staff. He gladly accepted.

“I left after the 1954 season and I never did ever hear from the Braves,” he said. “After that I rejoined the Denver Braves in 1959. I just kept myself in good shape working out with them in Bears Stadium. … They were having trouble with their young pitchers they were expecting a lot of. Bob Howsam called me in and asked me if I wanted to join the ballclub and I told them, ‘Sure!’ That's how I got back with the 1959 club.”

Jester kept himself involved in athletics working as a college football and basketball referee, as well as a baseball umpire for over 25 years. He attributed his success as an umpire to his former teammate and long-time major league manager Gene Mauch.

“I played with Gene Mauch and he was one of the men that I really followed because he knew the rule book inside out,” he said. “I think he was the only manager / ballplayer that I ever knew that knew more about the rule book than the umpires did. I felt like that was the best thing to learn what to do was to sit down with the rule book and read it. I umpired with a lot of men that knew the rule book real well, but they didn't have the guts to really apply it on the field.”




Thursday, February 18, 2016

2016 Topps Series 1 Baseball Review

With pitchers and catchers making their way to spring training camps, it is official that baseball season has arrived. One of the exciting rituals of spring training is the release of Topps’ classic baseball cards. Just as teams are formulating their rosters, fans of all ages can follow the newest acquisitions and hottest superstars with Topps’ 2016 Series 1 Baseball set.

2016 Topps Baseball Series 1

Click here to read the entire review of Topps' first release  of the 2016 season in my column on Examiner.com.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

James 'Red' Moore, 99, fancy first baseman in the Negro Leagues

In 2007, James "Red" Moore regaled reporters at Newark Bears stadium with his tales of playing in the Negro Leagues during the 1930s with the Newark Eagles. At the time, the 91-year-old former first baseman was accompanied by three of his junior alumni from the Eagles franchise, Benny Felder, Monte Irvin, and Willie Williams. Moore outlived them all, including the Hall of Famer Irvin, who passed away in January at the age of 96.
James "Red" Moore (second from left) at 2007 Negro Leagues tribute in Newark, NJ / N. Diunte

Earlier this week, Moore played his final inning, joining the aforementioned Eagles for a reunion in the Field of Dreams, passing away in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of 99.

Click here to read a tribute to Moore's life and career that includes anecdotes from the great Buck O'Neil.