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.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ralph Branca, 90, legacy reached far beyond iconic baseball moment

Ralph Branca, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who is most famously remembered for surrendering the home run to Bobby Thomson that catapulted the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series, passed away September 23rd, 2016 in Rye, New York. He was 90.



The Mount Vernon native and New York University grad stayed true to his local roots when he first suited up for the Dodgers in 1944 at the tender age of 18. His debut began a 12-year major league career that included one 20-win season, three All-Star appearances, and spanned 11 of those seasons with the Dodgers, interrupted by stints with the cross town rival New York Yankees, as well as the Detroit Tigers.

Ralph Branca (r.) with Bobby Valentine in 2011 / N. Diunte

While many know him for his involvement in, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” Branca didn’t let that moment define the entirety of his career. In his post playing days, Branca immersed himself in charity work, first with the Baseball Assistance Team, helping out former major leaguers who fell on hard times, and later assisting youth sports organizations through his own Sports Angels foundation.

“I was chairman of the board of the Baseball Assistance Team, and worked especially with the dinner committee," Branca said in 2009. “When I resigned, they all resigned at BAT. We worked together for 15 years. I said, 'Why don't we continue as another charity?' We decided to organize Sports Angels.”

Branca, who was one of the last surviving players from Jackie Robinson’s major league debut, was featured prominently in the movie, “42,” where Branca often gave a kind hand to Robinson during rough patches in his rookie season. He took every opportunity to stress the cultural and historical significance of that event, something he felt the newspapers at the time overlooked.

"That day, if you read the papers, basically, they didn't mention that he was breaking the color barrier,” Branca said in 2009. “It was a strange new territory; people didn't know how to react or behave and the papers themselves didn't note it as a historic event, just as a write up of the game period. The papers said, ‘Robinson went 0-3, walked, scored a run, and bunted successfully.’ It never mentioned that it was a great event in the history of the world. I say the world because he helped baseball number one, but also as baseball integrated, the country took a different view of blacks. It took the government seven years to pass a civil rights law which was to the benefit of everyone, lessening our countries' prejudice.”

In 2011, Branca published his memoir “A Moment in Time,” with David Ritz. In the book, Branca had the opportunity to clear the air one final time about his famous pitch and his place in baseball history.

“They’ll find out who I really am,” Branca said in 2011. “I’m not the goat; the goat is the Giants team. They did the most despicable act in the history of the game by going off the field, using a telescope, using a buzzer system, which nobody else did. Stealing signs on the field is part of the game and that includes the dugouts, but to go in your locker room and hook up a buzzer system … that’s totally despicable.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

Rinaldo 'Rugger' Ardizoia, 95, pitched one sweet game for the New York Yankees

Rinaldo "Rugger" Ardizoia, a pitcher who played in one game for the New York Yankees in 1947, passed away Sunday evening due to complications from a stroke. He was 95.

The Italian born pitcher gained notoriety in his later years as the oldest living alumni of the New York Yankees. He pitched in one game during the 1947 season against the St. Louis Browns, throwing the final two innings in a 15-5 loss. He gave up two runs, including a home run to one of his former teammates in Iwo Jima during World War II.

Rugger Ardizoia / OOTP Developments
 "The guy that hit the home run off me was one of my boyhood idols, Walter Judnich," he said to Bill Nowlin in Bridging Two Dynasties: The 1947 New York Yankees. "I more of less slid it in for him because we were so far behind anyway."

Ardizoia played the majority of his career in the Pacific Coast League with the Hollywood Stars, where he had the chance to befriend celebrities such as Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, and a fellow that would later become president of the United States.

“Ronald Reagan — he used to hang out with us,” Ardizoia said to the New York Times in 2015.

At the completion of his professional baseball career in 1951, he went to work selling rental linen for 30 years. Still, his passion for baseball did not dwindle, as he played on the semiprofessional level until he was 61. He continued to attend old-timers reunions well into his 90s, willing to share his stories of playing with the legendary Yankees no matter how brief it was.

*Note - This was originally published July 21, 2015 for the now-defunct Examiner.com.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Bob Addis, 91, infamous play changed the fortunes of Dodgers 1951 season

Even though it was a play that only happened in front of a few thousand fans, a well-timed slide by Boston Braves outfielder Bob Addis led to a decision so impactful on the 1951 pennant race that some have called it, “The Call Heard ‘Round the World.” Barreling towards home plate on teammate Earl Torgeson’s ground ball to Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson, Addis deftly slid underneath the tag of Roy Campanella, evoking an emphatic safe call from umpire Frank Dascoli. Chaos of the resulting call ensued, with the results quickly altering the course of the Dodgers season. For the next 65 years, Addis held steadfast to the umpire’s call, never wavering from the outcome. On November 15th, 2016, Addis passed away at the age of 91 in Mentor, Ohio.

Bob Addis / Author's Collection
As quickly as Dascoli ruled on the play, Campanella jumped up to protest the decision; without hesitation, Dascoli tossed Campanella out of the game, leaving the Dodgers without their star catcher after Addis scored the go-ahead run. The loss way a key factor in setting up the Dodgers three-game playoff with the New York Giants that led to Bobby Thomson’s infamous, “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Despite the ensuing fracas that resulted in not only Campanella’s ejection, but also future NBA Hall of Famer Bill Sharman, who was sent packing when the umpiring crew cleared the Dodgers’ bench, Addis remained fond of the Dodgers catcher who was also his former minor league teammate.

“Roy Campanella came down for a very short time [in 1948] and played in St. Paul,” Addis recalled in a 2008 phone interview. “He hit five home runs in a row playing down there. ... He was a great guy too. I was really disappointed when he got into the accident. I talked to him often and he was a very friendly person.”

The Hartland company immortalized Addis’ memorable play with a limited edition statue in 2013. Michael Swank, who helped to bring Addis' statue to reality with Hartland, queried the former Brave about the disputed call while he was signing the collectibles for the company.

"When he came over for the signing of the statues ... we really broke the play down," Swank said. "When we finished I asked him, 'Were you safe?' He looked at me, took a sip of his water, and said, 'The only thing I have ever been more sure of was the fact that I chose the perfect bride.'"

Bob Addis Hartland Statue / Hartland LLC

Addis played for four seasons in the major leagues from 1950-1953 with the Braves, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates, compiling a lifetime .281 average in 208 games. Of the three organizations that he played for, he was most fond of the Pirates in retirement for how they reached out to him during his post-playing career.

“I played so briefly with the Pirates, but they treated me better than any team that I played with,” he said. “I could go to Pittsburgh anytime and see a game. They fly me over to do a signing for a few hours, pay me, and put me up in a hotel. They do well by their alumni.”

After his baseball career, Addis went back to school to become a history teacher. He served as a teacher, coach, and Athletic Director at Euclid High School for 34 years before his 1993 retirement. Surveying the landscape of the major leagues during the 1950s, Addis felt that there were so many talented ballplayers that could never fully experience a break through due to the limited amount of roster spots and rules on player movement at the time.

“The big difference between then and now is that there were only 16 major league teams,” he said. “I saw so many good ballplayers in Triple-A that really didn’t make it. They had so many players to choose from. They had players today that were as good as the players back then, but not as many. You could come up now and play 20 games and get two hits; if you did that back then, you were on the bench. They had so many players trying to make it back when we played. A lot of these guys got up only briefly or never at all.”

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mets players recall the final game in the Polo Grounds

One-thousand-seven-hundred-fifty-two people attending a baseball game would be something one can expect from the low minors; however, on this date in 1963, that’s how many people came out to the final major league game at the hallowed Polo Grounds where the Mets played host to the Philadelphia Phillies.

While the Coogan family was battling that day in court over payments from the city taking over the Polo Grounds, Craig Anderson was on the hill making his first start of the season for the Mets. After leading the Mets in appearances during their inaugural season, Anderson found himself at AAA Buffalo until rosters were expanded in September. Prior to the game, Anderson was in the dark regarding the circumstances surrounding its significance.

“Nobody said anything to me. It’s funny, but I don’t remember any fanfare of it being the last game at the Polo Grounds,” said Anderson, 73 from his home in Dunnellon, Florida.

1963 Mets Yearbook / Author's Collection
In this age of continuous sports media coverage, it is doubtful that the final game at one of baseball’s most historical stadiums would pass without ceremony. With the Giants leaving only a few years prior and the Mets being a new franchise, most New York fans had their moments to wax poetic in 1957; however, to the modern fan it still is mind-boggling that less than two-thousand people attended the final game at such a legendary place.

Brooklyn born Ted Schreiber made his way in to the record books by making the final two outs at the Polo Grounds when he pinch-hit for fellow native New Yorker, Larry Bearnarth. The James Madison high school alum, stepped to the plate against Chris Short with one out in the ninth inning.

“Sure I remember the game, because I made the last two outs,” said the 73-year-old Schreiber via telephone. “I thought I had a hit because I hit it up the middle, but Cookie Rojas made a great play on it. … That’s why I’m in the Hall of Fame; they put the ball there because the stadium was closed after that.”

As with Anderson, Schreiber was too caught up in doing his job to realize the history of the moment.

“I knew that was the last game; I didn’t realize I made the last out until later,” he said.

Talk of the final game established a different connection for one of the team's earlier stars. The left fielder that day, Frank Thomas belted 49 home runs during the first two seasons of the club’s existence. When queried earlier today about that final home game, he chose to discuss his part in history there with another team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“The only one I can tell you about was when the Giants played in the Polo Grounds the last game, I was the first baseman," said the 82-year-old Thomas from his home in Pittsburgh. "A ground ball [was] hit to [Dick] Groat; I made the last putout and gave the ball to Tommy Henrich. From what I understand, somebody stole it from him and it was sold for about $15,000.”

Revisiting the Polo Grounds brought up the nuances of playing in the oddly shaped ballpark for the veterans.

“I didn’t try to think of the short fences because we had to play the game," Anderson said. "There were several home runs that I gave up that I thought should have been pop-ups or routine fly balls.”

Due to the vast depths of center field, once in awhile the baseball gods would smile on him for the “cheap” home runs he surrendered.

“Occasionally, I’d make a bad pitch and the ball goes to center field 400 feet and we’d catch it," he said. "Sometimes, it balanced out because of the deep center field, some of the balls were caught out there that should have been home runs in other ballparks."

As a pull hitter, Thomas feasted on the 279 foot fence in left field. Sometimes his eyes grew too big and drew the ire of manager Casey Stengel.

“When I went to bat, they had a big sign in left field and right field on the wall and whoever hit the sign got points," Thomas remembered. "Whoever hit the most balls against that wall would get a boat at the end of the year as a gift. I remember I was hitting one time and I pulled one foul and I heard Casey stand up and yell, ‘You want to be a sailor, join the Navy!’”

- Note - This article was originally published for now-defunct Examiner.com on September 18, 2011.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Wayne Terwilliger details the hazards of The Battle of Saipan

Wayne Terwilliger spent over 60 years in professional baseball as a player, coach, and manager. He was teammates with Jackie Robinson, a close friend of Ted Williams, and won two World Series championships as a coach with the Minnesota Twins, but the crowning moment of the 91-year-old’s career on this Veterans Day remains his time as a Marine in World War II.

“I’m more proud of my Marine service than of anything else I’ve done before or since,” Terwilliger said in his 2006 autobiography, Terwilliger Bunts One.

Wayne Terwilliger (circled) of Company D of the 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion at the Battle of Saipan in World War II. / US Coast Guard

One of a rapidly declining number of living World War II veterans, Terwilliger has fortunately left behind vivid memories of the harsh realities of war in his memoirs. One of the first to enter the Battle of Saipan, he recounted his feelings from some 70 years ago on the morning of June 15, 1944, as he anxiously sat in his amphibious tank awaiting entry into the water.

“The nose of our tank dipped down into the ocean, and for just as second my heart skipped a beat,” he said, “but the pontooned sides of the tank did the trick and we bobbed up like a huge cork.”

The tone quickly changed as soon as they approached the reef; this was no game of friendly fire, the Japanese wanted their death. Their landing would signify the beginning of one of the most hazardous days of Terwilliger’s young life.

“As soon as we got over the reef,” he said, “we were in range of the Japanese, and they started shooting. I started seeing these puffs of water all around us, and it took a second to realize what was causing them. Then we heard small arms fire hitting our tank, and the reality sank in: There were people on that island who wanted us dead.”

His crew was one of the few fortunate ones not to have their tank destroyed by enemy fire. They endured attacks all the way until they reached land. It didn’t get any better once their tank bogged down in the sand and they had to disembark.

“Japanese mortars kept whistling over our heads,” he said. “Most of them were headed toward the beach area, but we never knew when one would come our way. We also had no idea how long we’d be stuck there. We were there at least a couple of hours, though it seemed like forever.”

Stuck in a foxhole, they heard the sound of an unfamiliar tank, one they quickly realized was of the Japanese forces. Spending only a short time in action, he wondered if he was going to meet his demise.

“The tank kept moving closer to us until we could see the 37-mm turret gun and the big red “Rising Sun” on the side of the tank. … The tank stopped just short of our hole and I wondered, ‘What do we do now?’”

From their position in the fox hole, his infantry each took out their grenades and aimed them at the tank. A cloud of smoke ensued and they ran out onto the beach looking for cover.

“I ran until I came to an old Japanese artillery piece, and I thought, ‘S—t, this is the wrong way,’ so I turned and found a little path, and somehow this time I was going the right way, toward the beach. Then I looked back and there was the Jap tank coming after me. … I started zigzagging back and forth in case the tank tried to shoot at me, still running as fast I could. Guys on the beach were waving me in, yelling, ‘Come on, come on!’ I made it to the beach and dove over a small sand dune for cover, and I looked back just in time to see one of our tanks made a direct hit, which knocked the Japanese tank on its side. … That was my first six or seven hours of combat.”

Terwilliger’s story of his first day of combat is a riveting tale of the face of World War II military action that has often been kept a secret by those who have experienced it, a memory too painful to relive. His book remains as an example of our baseball heroes having their careers preempted or interrupted to face death directly in the eyes, and then return home to compete for their jobs once again – a reality our current major leaguers will never again have to face.