Friday, July 21, 2017

2017 Topps Series 2 gives a nod to unforgettable moments for baseball fans

With their flagship base series product, Topps gives a nod to unforgettable baseball moments in their 2017 Topps Series 2 release. Focusing on their "Memorable Moments" subset, one groundbreaking debut jumped out of the box of cards provided for this review.

Winding up with a laser-eyed focus, Satchel Paige knew the cameras were on him as he stepped to the mound to deliver the goods for the Cleveland Indians on July 9, 1948. Topps captured the intensity of this moment in a colorized version of a classic photo of Paige rearing back to pitch for the Indians.

While Topps fills in many missing pieces to their 2017 Series One product, the real catch of this set are the inserts, specifically the aforementioned subset. In honor of Paige's debut, below is a piece that I originally wrote in 2012 about Paige's debut that includes interviews with players who appeared in that game.


Just two days after the record books said he turned 42, Satchel Paige made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians on July 9, 1948 in front of a crowd of 34,780 at Cleveland Stadium. The sheer magnitude of the situation shouldn’t have fazed the legendary hurler, who once pitched in the championship game of dictator Rafael Trujillo’s league in the Dominican Republic under the threat of a machine gun toting militia. Yet, for Paige, toeing the rubber on major league soil brought a sense of high drama, shaking one of baseball’s most experienced moundsmen.

“I felt those nerves … they were jumping every which way,” Paige recalled.

Standing at the plate for the St. Louis Browns was 29-year-old first baseman Chuck Stevens, who entered the game sporting a .252 batting average with one home run, certainly not the type of numbers that would rattle fear into opposing hurlers. While Paige admitted his nerves, Stevens on the other hand saw a familiar target. Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Paige came out to Stevens’ California hometown of Long Beach to play winter ball. The two squared off many times before that fateful day.

“I played against him about ten times before that night. I played against him when he could really smoke it,” said the 94-year-old Stevens from his home in California. “When Satch relieved against us [in Cleveland], he was just spotting the ball around. [It seemed like] he had lost 60 mph off of his fastball. He threw his breaking stuff and he had great control so you knew he was going to be around the plate all the time. He wasn’t going to overpower you like I had seen him in his earlier days.”

Stevens wasted no time getting acquainted with his old friend. He promptly laced Paige’s offering into left field.

“The ballgame in Cleveland was not a big deal for me because I was just hitting off of Satch," he said. "I singled into left field, between [Ken] Keltner and [Lou] Boudreau. … I always had pretty good luck off of him.”

Stevens dates his success against Paige back to a meeting they had a few years prior, just as he returned from his service in World War II.

“One of the longest home runs I had ever hit in my life was off of Paige," he said. "I had just gotten out of close to four years in the service, and we played an exhibition game in Long Beach and Satch pitched against our ball club. The ball I hit, I guess it must have been well over 400 feet. I wondered where all that power came from when I was rounding the bases.”

Stevens’ teammate Ned Garver was a 22-year-old rookie relief pitcher. Only in the major leagues for two months, he found himself right in the middle of this historical event.

“There was never a time when there wasn’t a bunch of hoopla around Satchel because he was such a colorful guy,” said the 85-year-old Garver from his home in Ohio.

Garver pitched two and one-thirds innings of scoreless relief for the save that day, but his clearest memories from that game started before a pitch was even thrown.

“We had a man on our team who hit cleanup and played left field [Whitey Platt]. He was from Florida. He told the manager he wasn’t going to play,” Garver recalled. “Zack Taylor was our manager, and you know back in those days, you didn’t tell somebody you weren’t going to play. You didn’t get away with that kind of crap. [Taylor] said, ‘No, you’re gonnna play.’ So he put him in the lineup.” Platt wasn’t a happy camper to say the least, and when he batted against Paige, he let him know it. “The first pitch Paige threw to him, he threw his bat at Satchel, and it whistled out there about belt high. He just wanted to show that he did not like that situation.”

Paige fooled Platt so badly for strike three with his famed hesitation pitch, that his bat once again took flight, this time flying up the third base line. Looking to extract some sort of revenge for Platt’s first toss of the bat, Garver said Satchel pulled one from his bag of tricks to finish the deal.

“If he threw a bat at Satchel like he did, Satchel was not going to look on that with favor, so he was probably going to give some of his better stuff along the way. To strike him out gave him some satisfaction.”

Paige pitched two scoreless innings that day, quickly shaking whatever nerves he had when Stevens stepped to the plate. He finished the season with a 6-1 record and helped the Indians get to the World Series, where he made one appearance in relief. Even though his best days were behind him, he still had enough left to outsmart major league hitters and give fans a taste of what the major leagues missed in its prime.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Why 2017 Topps Tier One is a good money bet for collectors

Seeking to live up to quality one expects by its name, 2017 Topps Tier One has selected the upper echelon of baseball for inclusion in this year’s set. With each three-card box guaranteeing two autographs and one relic card, the odds are favorable that a superstar autograph is waiting behind a foil sealed pack.

2017 Topps Tier One / Topps
A quick look at the checklist for the Tier One autographs reveals the likes of Barry Bonds, Bryce Harper, Derek Jeter, Hank Aaron, Ichiro, Kris Bryant, Mike Trout, and Sandy Koufax to name a few. The dual and triple autographs are equally as tantalizing. Over one-thousand home runs with Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. on the same signed card? Yes, I’ll take that. How about three potential Hall of Famers from the same generation with Bryant, Harper, and Trout signing together? Sir, can I have another?

For those searching for the next wave of MLB talent, Tier One has that covered with their Break Out Autographs set. Upstarts such as Alex Bregman, Miguel Sano, and of course, Aaron Judge are the headliners. Conspicuously absent is Cody Bellinger; however, I am sure Topps will make up for his demand later in the season.

2017 Topps Tier One Miguel Sano / Topps
Curiosities such as signed and unsigned bat knobs (numbered 1/1) add to the intrigue of Topps Tier One. A card with parts of Aaron’s or Ty Cobb’s bat makes for interesting discussions amongst collectors. One-of-one cut signatures from deceased Hall of Fame legends Joe DiMaggio, Roger Maris, and Willie Stargell also give collectors more vintage items to track down.

The box provided for this review yielded autographs of Steve Carlton (#/25), Miguel Sano (#/90) and a Zach Britton relic (#/331). The two signatures display nicely on both cards and the copper tinged signature of “Lefty” Carlton makes his deliberate autograph stand out amidst the wave of blue sharpies in collections everywhere.

2017 Topps Tier One Steve Carlton Copper Autograph / Topps
It is quite understandable that some hobbyists might not want to take a $125 chance on only three cards, as Topps’ guaranteed hit products tend to appeal to a niche segment of the hobby. While Topps can’t guarantee a dollar-for-dollar return on your investment with 2017 Tier One, it’s a good bet that collectors will walk away happy after a purchase.



Thursday, July 6, 2017

Gene Conley recalls the rocky start to his major league career

At six-foot-eight, Gene Conley towered over his competition on the mound and the hardwood. He used his tremendous athleticism to claim his stake in two professional sports in a way that no other athlete has done since.

The two-sport star earned Major League Baseball and NBA championships respectively with the Milwaukee Braves (1957) and the Boston Celtics (1959-1961), making him the only player ever to accomplish this feat. Sadly, Conley passed away July 4, 2017 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. He was 86.

Gene Conley 1951 Hartford Chiefs
After the Boston Braves lured Conley from his studies at Washington State University at the end of the 1950 school year, Conley’s performance for Class A Hartford in 1951 showed why the Braves persistently recruited him. Conley posted an impressive 20-9 record with a 2.16 ERA, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Eastern League and the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year. After one dominant performance, his catcher and former Negro Leaguer player Stanley Glenn, compared Conley to arguably the greatest pitcher ever.

"You reminded me of Satch tonight," Conley recalled during a 2008 telephone interview from his home.

Conley thought that he would work his way through the minor league ranks, but the slumping Braves had plans otherwise. Looking to capture the magic he displayed in his lone minor league season, the Braves management felt that he could continue his meteoric ascent in the major leagues. To his surprise, the Braves kept Conley on the major league roster when they broke from spring training in 1952.

“They brought me up after one year in A-ball to Boston,” he said. “They sent me down as fast as they brought me up!”

Conley was thrown right into the fire, making his debut in the third game of the season against the eventual National League champion Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a step up Conley acknowledged over a half-century later that he wasn’t ready to make.

“I opened up against the Dodgers,” he said. “I remember the first time I was with Braves after I came up from Hartford, I wasn't ready to pitch in the big leagues. The [Dodgers] were just loaded. Oh all of them, the whole works. I remember I was sitting there in the dugout. Spahn opened the season. Someone asked, ‘Who is pitching tomorrow?’ I heard someone say at the end of the bench, ‘They're going to try that phenom from Hartford I believe.’ I was going to crawl under my seat. I think some old veteran said that. I gave up about four runs and he [Tommy Holmes] took me out in the middle of the game.”

Blitzed by the prospect of facing a lineup filled with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers, there was no way for Conley to pitch around the mighty Brooklyn lineup. He recounted how the litany of talent they had didn’t allow him to focus on stopping one single batter.

“Their lineup was so loaded,” he said, “You didn't pay attention, there were so many stars. Someone asked me the other day, ‘Who gave you a lot of trouble?’ I said shoot, you go down the Dodger lineup. How about [Duke] Snider? [Jim] Gilliam? Pee Wee Reese? [Roy] Campanella? They were all good ballplayers, Gil Hodges too … You didn't worry about any one of them because the other guy was just as good. [Jackie] Robinson was a little over the hill, but he could play like he did. [He would] steal a base, work you for a walk, and drive you crazy on the bases.”

After just four appearances that left him with a 7.82 ERA, Conley was mercifully sent to Triple A where he helped to lead their Milwaukee team to the American Association pennant. He followed in 1953 with 23-win season at Toledo where he once again was bestowed with the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year honors.

He returned to the major leagues for good in 1954, pitching ten straight seasons with the Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Red Sox until persistent arm troubles sidelined him in 1963. He finished his career with a 91-96 record, along with three All-Star selections and the aforementioned World Series championship.

While Conley stood out in baseball for more than just his height, he was humbled by the sheer talent that surrounded him during his career. He enjoyed being able to say that he was able to compete for a long period of time against baseball’s most iconic names.

“When you have eight teams,” he said, “you can imagine how tough the lineups were back in those days. I looked in a book on Hall of Famers, I played with and against more Hall of Famers than I ever saw. What luck did I have? That had to be a good period … I caught all of those guys. I'm glad I pitched through the 50s and 60s. I caught Berra, Mantle, and all of those guys. That was fun.”

Monday, July 3, 2017

2017 Topps Finest touches a wide palate of tastes for baseball card collectors

With a product like 2017 Topps Finest, collectors have bold expectations for the set to deliver on return and design. Sandwiched in between the release of 2017 Topps Archives and 2017 Topps Series 2, Topps Finest looks to stand out amidst two of Topps’ flagship products.

Immediately noticeable alongside the Chrome finish is the powerful background that pushes the players seemingly through the card, putting you up close and personal with the action. The 125-card base set is succinct enough to hit all of the top stars, while also including the coveted rookies of Aaron Judge and Andrew Benintendi; however, set collectors will find issue with the 25 short prints, as they appear once only every four mini-boxes.

Despite the frustration of set collectors, most who will purchase 2017 Topps Finest are looking for what they can hit past the base set. A unique twist that Topps put on this year’s release are the inserts modeled in the design of the 1994-95 Finest Basketball set, a nod to when collecting both leagues were more closely aligned. This insert set also has autographed parallels, which are sure to attract collectors that pursued the basketball card set in their youth.

2017 Topps Finest 94-95 Kris Bryant Insert Card / Topps
A tiered system of 2017 Topps Finest autographs that contain refractor parallels are the most readily available signatures from this set. With the parallels coming in eight different colors of increasing scarcity (Blue, Green, Gold, Blue Wave, Red Wave, Orange, Red, and SuperFractor), the chase of completing a “rainbow” of Aaron Judge, Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Kris Bryant, and Mike Trout, will keep collectors pouring into this product as the cards hit the market.

2017 Topps Finest Tyler Austin Topps Finest Autograph / Topps
The Finest Finishes autograph insert set, which commemorate historical endings in baseball history, boasts an autograph lineup of the likes of Cal Ripken Jr., Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Ozzie Smith, Pedro Martinez, Reggie Jackson, and Sandy Koufax. These cards serve to keep the conversation going about why these moments have persisted in the minds and hearts of fans and collectors worldwide.

2017 Topps Finest Ozzie Smith Finest Finishes Autograph / Topps

Each master box (two mini-boxes) guarantees two autographs. The box provided for this review yielded not two, but three autographs, including one Finest Finishes of Jake Arrieta, which I am sure is celebrating his 2016 World Series performance. Also included were multiple base card refractors, two refractor parallels, three Breakthrough Inserts, as well as, yes, an Aaron Judge rookie card.

2017 Topps Finest Aaron Judge Rookie / Topps
If collectors are looking for a product that supplements its impressive autograph set with equally attractive base cards to match, and are willing to pay a premium to do so, 2017 Topps Finest can easily satisfy a wide palate of collector’s tastes.



Friday, June 30, 2017

Why 2017 Topps Museum Collection is the cornerstone of Topps releases for the season

Looking at Sandy Koufax enter his flawless delivery on the cover of 2017 Topps Museum Collection, the elegance that he showed on the mound foreshadows what this product delivers. With on-card autographs that stand out on high-grade thick stock, and radiant jersey relic pieces distributed throughout, this set proves once again that it is worthy of being a cornerstone display of any modern collection.

2017 Topps Museum Mini-Box / Topps
Opening the box, one will find four mini-boxes, which even those are worthy of being collected, as the four together pay a fitting tribute to one of the most beloved Dodgers Hall of Famer. Each mini-box guarantees either an autographed or relic card, giving collectors four exciting chances to pull a big hit.

Sorting through each five-card pack, the four base cards with their high gloss finish and limited edition parallels are in demand, as coveted rookie cards of Aaron Judge, Andrew Benintendi, and Yoan Moncada are being chased by fans across the globe. The additions of iconic legends such as Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente, and Ted Williams serve as an added bonus to the merits of this 100-card set.

2017 Topps Museum / Topps
While the aforementioned base cards serve as a delightful benefit, those who purchased 2017 Topps Museum Collection are looking to score a rare autograph or relic that justifies the product’s $200 price tag. Primary of interest are the dual and triple signed cards, as combinations of some of the best ever to play the game are together on the same piece of memorabilia. Who wouldn’t want a dual signed card of Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr., or a triple signed card of the Hall of Fame Atlanta Braves rotation of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz to add to their collections?

2017 Topps Museum Hank Aaron / Ken Griffey Jr. Dual Auto / Cardboard Connection
For those who are eyeing the next generation of Hall of Famers, 2017 Topps Museum Collection has that covered. In addition to the aforementioned trio of top rookies in their autograph roster, the likes of Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout all appear throughout the variety of signed cards available in this set. The gold signed Museum Framed and Premium Prints autograph variations jump off of the cards, further solidifying their desirability in collections.

2017 Topps Museum Quad Mets Patch / Topps
The box provided for this review stayed true to form, yielding one on-card autograph, one relic autograph, a quad patch and a prime relic, each with the quality that one has come to expect from Topps’ Museum Collection. As the All-Star Game approaches, Topps has once again given collectors a reason to keep their focus on this release without having to look ahead to what is coming in the second half of the season.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How Billy Pierce squared off against Satchel Paige in an epic 11 inning showdown

Billy Pierce, the Chicago White Sox pitching legend, passed away Friday July 31, 2015 in Palos Heights, Illinois due to complications from gallbladder cancer. He was 88.

Acquired during a trade in the 1948 off-season from the Detroit Tigers for catcher Aaron Robinson, Pierce started a 13-year run in Chicago where he emerged as one of the most successful pitchers in franchise history. Early in his tenure with the White Sox, Pierce quickly wrote himself into the record books in an epic 11-inning contest against Satchel Paige’s Cleveland Indians.

Billy Pierce / White Sox
On May 29, 1949, the 23-year-old lefty squared off the legendary Paige, who was almost twice Pierce’s age. They met during the second game of a doubleheader at Cleveland Stadium in front of a sizable crowd of 47,769 fans. They eagerly awaited this matchup of the budding star facing one of the game’s most storied pitchers.

In 2010, I spoke with Pierce about this game at the Baseball Assistance Team Dinner in New York City. He excitedly recalled how his wife came with his parents from their home in Detroit to see the game.

“My wife [Gloria] came over with my mother and dad from Detroit to Cleveland to watch the game,” he said in 2010. “We go on, one inning, two innings, three innings — it gets to be about the sixth inning and we’re tied 1-1.”

Gloria, who was shaken by the suspense of the game, was approached by a Cleveland fan. He assured her that the elder Paige would not be able to keep up with her husband.

“A Cleveland fan came up to her and said, ‘Honey, don’t worry, Satchel will collapse and he will quit.’ It ends up in the 11th inning, he beat me 2-1. He didn’t collapse,” he said.

Pierce started the bottom of the 11th against the Indians, but after he loaded the bases to three straight batters, White Sox manager Jack Onslow replaced him with Ed Klieman. After retiring the next batter, Paige was due to bat, but Indians manager Lou Boudreau had one more trick up his sleeve. The player-manager inserted himself as a pinch-hitter for Paige and promptly singled home the winning run. After eleven innings, Paige emerged with a complete game victory.

While Pierce admitted that he was fortunate to even have the opportunity to go up against Paige, he wished he could have been with the White Sox the year prior when the crowds rushed to see the American League’s first African-American pitcher.

“When he first pitched in Chicago, I wasn’t there, that was the year before. They tore the gates down; it was just jammed to see Satchel Paige.”

* - This was originally published for Examiner.com on August 1, 2015. 

Charlton Jimerson's 'Against All Odds' is a major league triumph

Charlton Jimerson’s baseball career was never supposed to happen. Growing up in a volatile home hindered by a broken marriage and his mother’s rampant drug use, Jimerson was behind in the count before he ever took the field.

Charlton Jimerson
His 6’3”, 210 lb., frame was tailor made for baseball stardom, but well beneath the surface were scars built from a tumultuous childhood. In his autobiography, “Against All Odds,” Jimerson describes how he was ultimately fortified by his rough upbringing.

Growing up in the Bay Area, Jimerson’s parents split up early on, starting a carousel of residences (including foster care) that were fueled by his mother’s crack cocaine usage. He didn’t have the opportunity to play Little League baseball until moving in with a friend’s family at the age of 12.
“My mother would not envision sacrificing $40 for me to play Little League baseball when she could use that money to buy crack,” Jimerson said.
Getting a late start in the sport put Jimerson farther behind baseball’s learning curve. While most of his peers were getting ready to age out of Little League, he was just beginning to learn the finer points of the game.

“I wasn’t like the other kids who had played tee ball at five years old and continued to play each year thereafter,” he said. “They had an early jump on learning both the mechanics of baseball and how to deal with their emotions. As for me, I was just getting my feet wet at age 12.”

As Jimerson approached high school he could not escape the volatility of his family life. When he started high school he moved in with his older brother, but that relationship soured by his sophomore year. He changed high schools and moved in with his older sister who provided some much needed stability for him to navigate his high school career.

He excelled at Mount Eden High School, starring for their basketball and baseball teams, yet by the start of his senior year, no local colleges showed interest in Jimerson as a baseball prospect. He left the team his junior year due to differences with his coach, and his senior year was tarnished by a suspension stemming from an altercation at a rival school. Despite these obstacles, the Houston Astros saw enough talent to take him as a “draft and follow,” pick in the 24th round of the 1997 MLB Draft.

Despite his draft status, Jimerson signed on to the University of Miami as a walk-on in 1997. Entering a nationally ranked powerhouse, Jimerson was surrounded by a team of pedigreed baseball players. It was like he was back again as the 12-year-old starting Little League, only this time; he had the necessary tools to make an impression on Hurricanes coach Jim Morris.

While he boasted tremendous speed and power, he struggled to cut down on his strikeouts enough to crack the Miami lineup. For three years, he was used primarily as a late-inning replacement and pinch hitter. As he entered his senior year, Jimerson remained determined to breakthrough. His patience was rewarded when one of the team’s outfielders suffered an injury, clearing a spot for Jimerson to start. He busted through the opening, batting .302 with 10 home runs his senior year, en route to leading the Hurricanes to a National Championship. For his efforts, he was named the 2001 Most Outstanding Player Award for the College World Series.

The Astros renewed their interest in their former draft pick, selecting him in the fifth round of the 2001 draft. After enduring a harsh childhood and a slow start to his collegiate career, Jimerson finally could call himself a professional ballplayer.

Like all new players in the minor leagues, Jimerson had to make a series of adjustments both on and off the field to stay in the game. No longer could he get by waiting for a pitcher to miss with a fastball, or using his speed to make up for a poor route in the outfield. He had to put in the extra work necessary to cover his weaknesses and stay ahead of the competition. Additionally, he had to control his distractions away from the ballpark; something that he admits hindered his growth as a ballplayer.

“I would never understand the consequences of my partying habits until after I retired,” he said. “My infatuation with women, alcohol, and nightclubs continued to hinder my performance on the field throughout my entire baseball career.”

While Jimerson struck out at an alarming rate (once in less than every three at-bats), the Houston brass continued to move him up the ladder, as he sent balls screaming out of the park, stole bases, and made highlight catches in the outfield.

In 2005, he was finally vindicated when the Astros called him up to fortify their bench during their World Series run. Even though he only played one inning as a defensive replacement during his time on the club, Charlton Jimerson had arrived as a major league baseball player. Now that he had a taste of the experience, he was hungry for more.

He dutifully finished another season at Triple-A in 2006, and once again the Astros rewarded him with a September call-up. This time he wanted to prove that he could not only be an asset on defense, but have value for his skills at the plate. On Labor Day, the Astros squared off against the Philadelphia Phillies in a heated pitcher’s duel between Roger Clemens and Cole Hamels at Citizen’s Bank Park. After five innings, Hamels was halfway to pitching a perfect game. Clemens did his best to match Hamels’ efforts, yielding only one run in the process. As Clemens walked off the mound at the end of the fifth, he tweaked a muscle in his groin, causing Astros manager Phil Garner to summon Jimerson from the bench to pinch-hit. With two outs in the sixth inning, he approached home plate for his first big league at-bat.
“I felt like Mike Tyson on his way into the ring before a heavyweight title bout,” he said. “My walk was slow and calculated, with a hint of confidence in each stride. I don’t know if I was prepared for the moment, but I had definitely been through enough in my life to handle the moment. My childhood had taught me how to maneuver in the midst of pressure situations.”
What happened next during Jimerson’s showdown with Hamels was of the highest cinematic drama. With the count 2-1, Hamels unleashed a change-up that ran right into Jimerson’s wheelhouse. A loud crack and a few hundred feet later, Jimerson made his way into baseball’s record books, hitting a home run in his first major league at-bat, spoiling Hamels’ perfect game.

As he returned to the dugout amidst congratulations from his teammates, he realized that his moment in the sun went beyond his impact on the box score. It was the reward for navigating a life full of obstacles that would have swallowed most in its path.

* - This was originally published April 10, 2015 for Examiner.com

Tommy John with luminous visions of facing Mickey Mantle

During Sunday’s Old Timer’s Day, tales of the Yankees legends resurface, many paying homage to the great players of their franchise. Tommy John, who pitched eight of his 26 major league seasons with the Yankees, shared how he was given the royal treatment by Mickey Mantle during their first big league encounter.

“The first time I faced him he hit a home run off of me,” John said on Saturday at the DAC Field Day in Bayside, New York. “It was in Cleveland. It was a fly ball to right field that went out; boom, a home run.”


John only lasted one-third of an inning on May 8, 1964, with manager George Strickland pulling the 20-year-old after one more batter. It was certainly a learning experience for the young lefty, but it was not the last time they would meet.

“He hit one by my head in Chicago,” he said. “I have no idea how close it came, but I saw the ball and I could not react to it. That’s how hard it was hit. I could hear the ball zing by my ear and I could feel the air of the ball. I look at first base at Mickey. He looks at me with that little grin he had and he goes like this, (makes a two-inch gap between his thumb and forefinger), two inches; the ball went right off my ear. If that would have been two [inches] over, it hits me and I’m Herb Score or dead. That’s how hard he could hit the ball.”

Fans and players alike speak of Mantle’s prodigious power with the bat, but often overlooked was Mantle’s blazing speed. Plagued by leg injuries throughout his career, Mantle wrapped his legs from his ankles to mid-thigh just to get on the field. Despite his ailments and the advanced stage of his career, John noticed that when the game absolutely necessitated it, Mantle could summon the speed of his youth.

“He hit a ball to our shortstop Ron Hansen, and his buddy Whitey Ford was pitching,” he said. “The game was close and Hansen charged the ball. He threw to first base and it was bang-bang. That’s how fast Mickey ran. He could only do it once, but his buddy needed a base runner and he almost beat it out on a regular ground ball to shortstop.”

* - This article was originally published June 22, 2014 for Examiner.com

Don Lenhardt, 91, former outfielder for the St. Louis Browns

Don Lenhardt, who spent five seasons in the major leagues as an outfielder with the St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles, passed away June 9, 2014 in Chesterfield, Missouri. He was 91.

Don Lenhardt / Paul Rogers Collection
A native of Alton, Illinois, Lenhardt was a standout multi-sport athlete, earning a scholarship to the University of Illinois to play both baseball and basketball. His collegiate career was cut short in 1942 when he joined the Navy. He served in World War II until his 1945 discharge, never playing during his military service.

“I missed about five summers of playing after I went into the service,” Lenhardt said in Lou Hernandez's book, “Memories of Winter Ball.” “I cannot say it was bad, because you never know. It probably did not hurt me at all, because I probably matured some. I did not play ball in the service. I tried out when I was leaving, and they wanted me to stay and play, but I said no, I am going home.”

With the help of Yankees scout Lou Magualo, Lenhardt signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1946. As he progressed in the Browns minor league organization, Lenhardt grew into a feared power hitter, smashing 22 and 26 home runs respectively for Springfield in 1948 and San Antonio in 1949. His outburst in Double A with San Antonio attracted the attention of Mike Gonzalez, who managed the Habana team in the Cuban Winter League.

“Mike Gonzalez saw me play in San Antonio and he invited me to play in Havana,” he said to Hernandez. “I wanted to go, because I knew it would help me get to the big leagues. I had a great year down there and I had a great first year in the big leagues.”

Lenhardt had a breakout rookie season in 1950 with the Browns, cracking 22 home runs, driving in 81 runs while posting a .273 batting average; however, his powerful start was not enough to cement his position in St. Louis. The cash strapped Browns traded Lenhardt to the Chicago White Sox less than halfway through the 1951 season for two players and cash. It was a welcome acquisition for the White Sox.

“I’m glad to have him with us,” White Sox manager Paul Richards said to the United Press in 1951, “and I’ll probably use him most against left-handed pitching.”

The White Sox used him as Richards directed and in 199 at-bats, he hit 10 home runs. Still, despite his power hitting, the winds of change continued to blow Lenhardt throughout the American League.

He played for three different teams in 1952, starting with the Boston Red Sox after an off-season trade. He was then traded twice in the span of two months, going from Boston to Detroit in a blockbuster deal that sent Walt Dropo and Johnny Pesky to Detroit in exchange for future Hall of Famer George Kell and Dizzy Trout. In August, Detroit sent Lenhardt back to St. Louis for 20-game winner Ned Garver.

Lenhardt stayed with St. Louis through the 1953 season, their last in St. Louis. He followed the organization in their move to Baltimore in 1954 and finished out his major league career that year with the Boston Red Sox after being sold to the team in May.

He played two more seasons in the minor leagues with the Boston organization and hung up his spikes for good at the end of the 1956 campaign. He finished his major league career with a .271 average and 61 home runs in 481 games.

After his playing days, he worked over four decades in the Red Sox organization as a scout and coach, serving as the Red Sox' first base coach under manager Eddie Kasko from 1970-73. He retired from scouting in 2002 and lived in Chesterfield attending St. Louis Browns reunions and meetings of the 1-2-3 club, an exclusive group of St. Louis retired athletes and sports writers.

* - This article was originally published on July 10, 2014 for Examiner.com

Monte Irvin bids farewell to his fans

Monte Irvin has devoted his life to baseball. Starting in 1938 with the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues, Irvin has maintained 75-year love affair with the game. At 94 years of age, he remains an encyclopedia of the sport, contributing to countless articles, books, and documentaries.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to interview Irvin, and he still felt compelled to share what he knew about the game’s great talents of yesteryear.

“I give important interviews,” he said. “If I think I can help, I give a hand.”

Monte Irvin signed photo / Author's Collection
Irvin’s generosity was not only limited to writers and historians, but also to his fans. He fielded countless numbers of autograph requests throughout the years, heightened by his 1973 Hall of Fame induction. He obliged inquiries from all over the world, and used his celebrity to raise money for his alma mater Lincoln University. If there was another Hall of Fame for the way athletes treated their fans, Irvin would be at the top of the list.

Sadly, Irvin is now replying to those that are writing to him with the following note explaining why he can no longer sign autographs. Even though he cannot fulfill the requests of those reaching out to him, his gentlemanly nature is evident in this succinct, yet sincere message.

Dear Fans,

Thank for your interest in baseball and for your support during my career as a player and Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, the years have taken their toll and my declining eyesight prevents further autograph signing. I will always be a part of this great game and I trust it will continue to bring you enjoyment as a cherished sport and pastime.

Best wishes,

Monte Irvin

Yes Monte, you will forever be a part of the game. The years you have spent sharing it with so many will allow your legend and those of whose stories you have told that are no longer here to speak on their behalf to persist for future generations to discover.

* - This was originally published May 12, 2013 for Examiner.com

Dave Campbell greatly impacted by Michigan baseball coach Lund

Modern baseball fans grew up with Dave Campbell as a mainstay on ESPN’s baseball broadcasts, but a deeper look into the history of this eight-year major league veteran reveals his roots firmly entrenched in the University of Michigan’s baseball program.

1962 Michigan Baseball Team
 Campbell was the first baseman on Michigan’s 1962 National Championship team, earning All-Tournament honors in the process. Their club was guided by Don Lund, who earned nine varsity letters in baseball, basketball and football at Michigan before embarking on a seven-year stay in the big leagues. Lund passed away last week at the age of 90 in Ann Arbor, leaving Campbell with nothing but positive memories of his mentor.

“I think the one word that people are going to use about him is respect,” the 71-year-old Campbell said from his home in Idaho. “He didn’t play, 'Big Man on Campus,’ or anything like that. He was a teacher first and foremost. He had great leadership abilities and great integrity. He was one of those people you wanted to play well for because you respected or liked him as a human being.”

Campbell was familiar with Lund before he arrived at Michigan due to his father Robert, who was a letterman there in the late 1930's in two sports, baseball and football. He knew early on that if given the opportunity, he would follow in his father’s legacy in Ann Arbor.

Dave Campbell
“I was aware of Don’s reputation before I ever got to Michigan,” he said. “I grew up in Lansing and my dad played football and baseball in Michigan. All I heard about was, 'Go Blue,’ even though I was living in Spartan-land. I don’t think there was ever any doubt that if I could go to Michigan that I was going to go there.”

He entered Michigan’s baseball program as a walk-on at a time when freshmen weren’t allowed in varsity competition, and available scholarships were scarce.

“Don was aware of me, as he had seen me play in a couple of Hearst All-Star games,” he said. “I basically walked-on and freshmen weren’t eligible then. He didn’t have much to do with me going there, but certainly had a great influence on me while I was there.”

Campbell spent one season under Lund’s watchful eye, and took away an important baseball lesson in playing the game the right way.

“I just think that he taught us the fundamentals,” Campbell said. “He would say to us, 'Go out and do the fundamentals, do your own job. If it’s your day and you’re good enough, the results will be good—don’t be afraid to succeed.’”

This inner confidence that Lund help to foster within the Michigan team was most evident during their final game, a 5-4 victory in 15 innings against heavily favored Santa Clara for the National Championship.

“The most telling thing about that National Championship game was that we played 15 innings against Santa Clara and we were the visitors,” he said. “From the bottom of the 9th on, we were facing the guillotine; if we gave up one run, we lost. I don’t even think we thought about failure.”


Lund left Michigan after the 1962 season to work as the director of the Detroit Tigers minor league system. Campbell graduated from Michigan in 1964, and quickly reunited with his former coach when was signed by Detroit scout Ed Katalinas.

“He was my farm director all the way up until I was traded to the Padres in 1970,” he said. “There were some frustrating times there too. There were a couple times I was struggling to get to the major leagues, and then there were a couple of times I got demoted. I told Don I didn’t think it was fair. He said to me, 'I must have missed that chapter in the book where it says life was always fair.’”

Campbell saw his former coach about a half-dozen times in the last ten years at various reunions for the 1962 team. During that time, Lund, who once wore the physique of a strapping football player, was limited to the use of a walker, and later on, a wheelchair. Despite Lund not being able to get around with the grace that he once used to dodge tacklers and chase down fly balls, he displayed the same character that he tried to instill players at Michigan.

“His mind was so sharp, but his body betrayed him,” Campbell said. “He loved to compete. The last 15 years of his life, he would have loved to be out on the golf course playing with his buddies, telling stories, but you never heard him complain.”

* - This was originally published on Examiner.com on December 14, 2013. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Oglivie honored to be part of the 2012 Latino Baseball Hall of Fame class

Ben Oglivie was caught off guard when a call came yesterday from the Dominican Republic informing him of his selection to the recently formed Latino Baseball Hall of Fame. The Colon, Panama native was one of six post-1959 era players selected as part of the 2012 class. Each Latin American country (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Venezuela) had one player chosen for enshrinement, which will take place in February, 2012.

Given that this is only their third class, Oglivie while green to its existence, was eager to learn more.

"I didn’t know exactly how it worked, but tonight I will find out a lot about it," Oglivie said via telephone "I am honored to be mentioned and to find out that I was accepted into it." 

Wrapped up in his duties as the hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers Class-A West Michigan Whitecaps, the 16-year major league veteran, had little time to process his selection.

"I haven’t been able to take it in as I just got the call yesterday," he said "but now that it is right in front of me I probably will now just exercise it. Now it’s kind of starting to sink in and it is a real honor." 

As his first season with West Michigan comes to an end, Oglivie continues to enjoy having the opportunity to guide the next wave of major leaguers.

"This is a good level," he said. "What we have here, we have a number of guys that potentially can be major leaguers. We have three or four [major league] prospects on this team and it’s good to work with them. Being that I played in the major leagues, you have an idea [of what it takes], and I want to be able to help them get there." 

For now. he hopes that the young players he is helping to mold heed the parables of the newly minted Hall of Famer.

"I’ve just been trying to make sure that they get good advice, whether it is how to be a major league player, or how to be a professional on and off the field."

* This was originally published September 2, 2011 for Examiner.com

Yogi Berra still fresh on the mind of David Cone at cancer fundraiser

How George Shuba inspired beyond his famous handshake with Jackie Robinson

George Shuba gave many congratulatory handshakes in his days as a major league ballplayer with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but his most famous one was captured during Jackie Robinson’s first game in the minor leagues on April 18, 1946. The hard-hitting outfielder who earned the nickname “Shotgun,” passed away at his home in Youngstown, Ohio on Monday. He was 89.

George Shuba / Topps
Shuba played seven seasons with Brooklyn, appearing in three World Series including their 1955 victory over the New York Yankees, but his most famous moment was immortalized in a national photograph of Shuba shaking Robinson’s hand after his first home run in the minor leagues. The moment was later dubbed, “A Handshake for the Century.”

Manager Clay Hopper, who managed Shuba the year prior in Mobile, installed him into the third slot of the batting order right behind Robinson. Shuba’s ability to hit the ball to the right side of the infield influenced his manager’s decision for Robinson’s debut in Jersey City.

“He put me in the third slot which is a very important slot because I was a pull hitter,” Shuba said to me during a 2008 interview in New Jersey. “If someone was on first base, I had the big hole. He knew I made contact, so that's why I was lucky to be in that slot.”

His place in the order set the stage for history when Robinson deposited the ball over the left-field field in the third inning. As Robinson rounded the bases, Shuba was waiting with an outstretched hand to greet him.

“When Jackie hit his home run,” he said, “I came to home plate and shook his hand.”

Over sixty years later, Shuba was able to put the event in its proper context. A friendly gesture that any teammate wouldn’t think twice about extending turned out to be a significant part of Robinson’s assimilation into the previously all-white professional leagues.

“I realize now it was actually a historical event,” he said. “Being fortunate to have Jackie, it didn't make any difference to me if he was black or Technicolor. As professional ballplayers, we are focused to beat the other team and if Jackie helps us to be the other team, he's with us 100%. Truth be said, he was the best ballplayer on the club.”

Shuba joined his good friend on the Dodgers in 1948, one season after Robinson broke the color barrier in the major leagues. He served mostly as a reserve outfielder, finding difficulty in breaking through an outfield that had Duke Snider, Carl Furillo and Andy Pafko. He carved his niche as a pinch hitter, a role that paid dividends during the 1953 World Series against the New York Yankees when Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen sent him to pinch-hit against Allie Reynolds.

“We got behind a few runs,” he said, “so now Charlie Dressen decided to use me early with a couple of me on base. I was ready to pinch hit; [I was] never nervous. When I went up to pinch hit, I felt the pitcher was in trouble, not me. ... When I stepped in the batter’s box, the shadows were in between me and the pitcher. It was all day ball. The ball would come out of the sun into the shade. I turned around to get some dirt on my hand and Yogi Berra said, 'Hey Shuba, it's kinda tough seeing up here, isn't it?’ I said, 'Don't bother me Yogi, I've gotta get a base hit.’ Reynolds threw me a fastball on the outside corner with two strikes on me and I hit a line drive over the right field fence 355 feet away.”

Shuba was featured in Roger Kahn’s legendary “The Boys of Summer,” which followed up with the post-playing careers of many seminal Brooklyn Dodgers. He was honored to be included in Kahn’s historical work.

“He covered each one of us at our homes,” he said. “I was very fortunate to be on that book because I had my best year in 1952 when Roger came up. We were in our early 40s when he visited us and he saw some people that might have been having tragedies in their families. I was fortunate I had just recently married. It was more than about baseball.”

The man who was given the nickname “Shotgun” by Bill Bingham of the Mobile Press in 1945 for the sound of his wicked line drives, used his powerful hands for a different cause when he penned his autobiography, “My Memories as a Brooklyn Dodger,” in 2007 with Ohio author Greg Gulas. It was an effort that he initially intended to be an oral history of his career for his family keepsakes that blossomed into a fully fledged book.

“I started out writing for my family only,” he said. “A friend of mine Greg Gulas, I asked him to be the author. He was the Sports Information Director for Youngstown State and also wrote for the Vindicator. … It covers a vast spectrum of my career as a minor and major leaguer.”

Reflecting on a career that started after being signed by the Dodgers from a tryout camp in Youngstown in 1943, Shuba shared the following words of advice in 2008 hoping to inspire the younger generation to strive towards success both on and off the field.

“Competition is good for people,” he said. “If they succeed, it gives them confidence. After they’re playing days are over, it can help them make the transfer to the regular life. … I would tell the kids to dream. The saying is, 'Dreams plus dreams equals dreams. Dreams plus action equals success.’ I was fortunate that my dreams came true. I lived my dreams and I am forever grateful for that.”

* - This was originally published September 30, 2014 for Examiner.com

Les Layton, 92, homered in his first major league at-bat

Getting to the major leagues is a dream for most young men; hitting a home run in their first time at bat is an even greater fantasy. Les Layton, a former outfielder for the New York Giants who made both of those scenarios a reality in his 1948 debut, passed away March 1, 2014 in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 92.

Les Layton, Jess Dobernic and Gene Baker at home plate during Hollywood Stars vs Los Angeles Angels game, 1950
Collection: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives
Layton was eager to contribute to the Giants in his 1948 rookie campaign, but manager Mel Ott only used Layton once within the first month of the season, filling in as a pinch runner during an early season game in Boston.

“I had a hard time,” Layton said in a 2008 interview with the author. “The Giants had so many outfielders. Bobby Thomson was coming on; Sid Gordon was there as was Willard Marshall.”

Twenty-five games into the season, on May 21, 1948, Ott finally summoned Layton to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the 9th inning against Chicago Cubs left-hander Johnny Schmitz.

“I can remember it now,” he said. “They told me to grab a bat, get up there, and hit one, and I did! It went on top of the roof in the Polo Grounds in left field.”

As Layton quickly circled the bases, he expected a hero’s welcome from his teammates. When he returned to the bench, the silence was deafening.

“I came back in the dugout and nobody said a word,” he said. “They didn't say, 'Nice going,' or anything, and then suddenly they all broke out in rapture.”

At the time he was only the 15th player in the National League to ever hit a home run in his first major league at-bat.

His role as a pinch-hitter produced another statistical oddity. His first four major league hits went for the cycle, all happening in four different parks. Layton’s first four career hits in order were a home run (New York), a triple (Cincinnati), a double (Pittsburgh) and a single (Chicago).

By the end of June, Layton was batting .350 strictly as a pinch-hitter, and Mel Ott finally inserted him into the starting lineup after Thomson and Whitey Lockman suffered minor injuries. He started eight games in a row at the beginning of July, going 10-33, which also included his second (and last) major league home run. Once the starters returned to full strength, Layton was relegated to pinch-hitting duties for the remainder of the year.

“Mel Ott called me aside later on when he was managing in the Coast League and apologized for not being able to play me so much,” he said. “The old timers that were making the money were the ones that had to play.”

Layton finished 1948 with a .231 batting average in 91 at-bats. With the emergence of Don Mueller and the arrival of Monte Irvin in 1949, there was no place for Layton on the Giants roster.

The Giants sold him to the Cubs, who sent him to Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League. It was the best experience of Layton’s career.

“I spent three years in the Coast League with Los Angeles,” he said. “I enjoyed that more than anything else. I got to play every day."

Layton stayed in the minor leagues through 1954, serving as a player-manager for the Wichita Indians his last season.

After leaving professional baseball, he went to work for Boeing for 18 years as a production engineer, a trade he studied while at the University of Oklahoma. While at Boeing, he played for their semi-pro baseball team, the Boeing Bombers. He helped to lead them to a championship at the prestigious National Baseball Congress tournament in 1955.

The World War II veteran retired to Scottsdale with his wife Barbara. When I caught up with Layton in February 2008, he was trying to move forward from her death a few months earlier.

“I lost my wife in December and it’s pretty lonely out here,” he said. “We were married 62 years. I'm not a pretty good cook. I'm learning. You miss having her around, somebody to talk to. It's a whole different ballgame.”

2017 Topps Archives weathers a storm of controversy to shine for collectors

Imagine opening a pack of baseball cards and pulling mint specimens of Hank Aaron, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout one after another. While this sounds like a fantasy lineup, 2017 Topps Archives provides a wonderful array of fresh faces mixed in with veterans and legends in the design of vintage Topps cards from yesteryear.


Focusing on the themes of the 1960, 1983, and 1992 sets, this year’s Topps Archives set is one of the most exciting and controversial releases to hit the market this season. While collectors are attracted to seeing their heroes fixed on classic Topps motifs, much attention has been given to who Topps chose to be signers for their Fan Favorites autograph insert cards.

Baseball chaser Zack Hample, who gained notoriety for catching Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit, was nabbed by Topps to be part of the series, which includes other debated aficionados such as Skip Bayless and Bald Vinny. Once fans got wind of his appearance in the set, they reacted with disdain to the possibility of landing his card as one of the two guaranteed autographs in each box. Some even resorted to having bids on ways to destroy the card with the proceeds going to charity.






Fortunately, the box provided for this review yielded spectacular autographs of Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda and Kansas City Royals star Kevin Seitzer. These cards are crisp in the both their styles and signatures.





Going past the base set, the 1959 Bazooka Gum and 1960 Rookie Card designs have tremendous eye appeal that further an even greater reason to pursue Topps Archives. While on their chase, consumers will also find a career retrospective to Derek Jeter as another way to get on the bandwagon.



Despite the chatter surrounding the desirability of a few of Topps’ choices on autographs, collectors have found excitement in seeing the tremendous history of past and present stars distributed in classic Topps styles. With the opportunity to pull a future Hall of Famer alongside one already enshrined in Cooperstown, it makes 2017 Topps Archives a release that can weather all seasons.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Teammates tout Jimmy Piersall's transcendental outfield abilities

“The catches Piersall makes simply defy description. They have to be seen to be believed and he keeps making them,” Lou Boudreau.
Those who watched Jimmy Piersall patrol the outfield for the Boston Red Sox in the 1950s, placed his name above lauded fly chasers such Tris Speaker, Terry Moore, Joe DiMaggio, and yes, Willie Mays. The daring depths at which he played allowed for Piersall to make miraculous catches that were deemed impossible by everyone in the ballpark, except by himself.

While his legendary defensive efforts were overshadowed by his struggles with his mental health and unpredictable on field behavior, there was no denying that Piersall’s glove was where many sure hits in the expansive ballparks of his era went to rest. Sadly, on Sunday June 3rd, 2017, Piersall too met his final resting place in Wheaton, Illinois. He was 87.

Piersall was signed by the Red Sox in 1948, and immediately made an impact for their Class A team in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Usually most rookies fresh out of high school were sent to lower classifications, but one Scranton teammate saw why Boston put him on the fast track to the major leagues.

“Jim joined us about 30 days late in 1948,” teammate Harley Hisner recalled in 2008. “He was in high school and his team was in the high school finals. They signed him and sent him to Scranton. He was only 18 years old, but he was the best curve ball hitter I’d ever seen that young.”

The oddly shaped outfields of minor league parks gave Piersall the room he needed to show off his spectacular defensive abilities. After spending three seasons with Piersall in Scranton and Louisville, Hisner held him in higher esteem than his famous New York contemporaries.

“As far as I am concerned there was nobody that can go get a ball better than him, including Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays," Hisner said. "He had a sense of where that ball was going; as soon as it was hit, he was off and running. I’d take him any day.”

When the Red Sox finally brought Piersall up for good in 1952 after a quick look in 1950, manager Lou Boudreau envisioned Piersall’s athleticism serving him best at short stop. The toll that the demands of learning a new position wore heavily on Piersall, which led in part to his well publicized nervous breakdown.

Ted Lepcio was one of Boston’s fresh faced infielders in 1952 and was quickly paired with Piersall as their double play combination of the future. He found Piersall conflicted by playing a position that he had little familiarity with in order to meet management’s demands.

“He was supposed to help me out,” the 87-year-old Lepcio said via telephone from his home in Needham, Massachusetts shortly after Piersall’s passing. “Imagine that, a center fielder going to help me out! That was a joke. He told me personally that he didn’t want to do it, but what are you going to do when you are a young kid and the guy says you’re going to play a position. He knew he wasn’t in the right position.”

Piersall, Lepcio, Boudreau and Dick Brodowski / Boston Public Library
Piersall's recovery was well documented in his autobiography, "Fear Strikes Out," which later became a Hollywood movie with Anthony Perkins. Lepcio was Piersall’s roommate and the two developed a close relationship throughout Piersall’s struggles. When Piersall finally returned to the team from being hospitalized, Lepcio’s locker was the first reporters ran to.

“He didn’t go in there for a joke, he was wound tight and finally had to have some help at the time he went in,” Lepcio said. “When he came out, the first thing was the reporters came to me. I said, ‘He was the same Jimmy to me.’ It was kind of meant as a joke, but he improved. We roomed together for almost two years until we had enough of each other.”

Ike DeLock also broke in with Piersall and Lepcio in 1952, serving as a reliever on a veteran pitching staff. He said that Piersall had a fascination with besting Tris Speaker’s record for unassisted double plays by a center fielder. As a young pitcher, he was always worried that Piersall was going to get beat behind him by a fly ball.

“He always wanted to have a double play unassisted,” the 88-year-old Delock said Sunday from his home in Naples, Florida. “I told him, ‘Jimmy, when I’m pitching, you play deep in center field because I don’t want anybody to hit the ball over your head.’”

I had the opportunity to speak with Piersall in 2008 over the phone from his home in Wheaton. He explained how he learned to play such a shallow center field, one that is rarely seen anymore in the major leagues.

“It was 500 feet to centerfield in Louisville, the biggest centerfield in the world,” he said. “Most of the time, I cut it in half. Most balls are hit in front of you, not over your head. Watch how many broken bats go out into left field.”

Piersall’s made his presence known in baseball after he was moved permanently to the outfield in 1953. His knack for the spectacular led author Jason Aronoff in his book, “Going, Going … Caught,” to rate Piersall as the best defensive major league outfielder that year.

“In 1953 Jimmy Piersall had a fielding year which was brilliant from start to finish,” Aronoff said. “He had a number of catches which veteran observers called the greatest they had ever seen.”

While Piersall continued to make plays throughout his career on balls that were foregone as home runs or extra base hits, none came close to his series of thefts in 1953. Fast forward a decade later, Piersall found his way to the New York Mets via the Washington Senators in a trade for Gil Hodges.

While the lowly Mets thought that Piersall could recapture some of his Boston magic, he made noise not for his outstanding play on the field, but his outlandish response after he hit his 100th career home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Polo Grounds.

Tim Harkness had just arrived from the Los Angeles Dodgers and had reveled in the presence of his veteran teammates, including the newly arrived Piersall. He noted a conversation in the clubhouse between Piersall and Duke Snider that occurred shortly after Snider hit his 400th career home run.

“Duke hit his 400th home run that summer and Piersall said to him, ‘You know, I’ve got 99, when I hit my 100th, the whole world is gonna hear about it,’” the 79-year-old Harkness recalled from his Ontario home on Sunday.
Piersall goes backwards for 100th home run / Author's Collection
As luck would have it, Harkness was hitting behind Piersall when he hit his infamous home run where he rounded the bases backwards. Harkness was immortalized in the photo, waiting on deck in his number three jersey as Piersall approached the plate. He recounted the event as it unfolded in front of him in the on-deck circle.

“He hit one of those Chinese home runs in the old Polo Grounds,” he said. “He hit it about 285 feet. When he got to first base, he turned around and started running backwards. When he rounded third, I said to myself, ‘Should I kick him in the ass?’ When he came to the plate, I just stood there with the bat just like a statue and just watched him do it. As soon as he touched home plate, the umpire said, “Home run and you’re gone!” He threw him out of the ballgame for making a travesty of the game so to speak.”

Piersall was shortly thereafter released by the New York Mets. He didn’t hold back about his feelings for the organization when asked about the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008.

“I don't give a s—t,” he replied.

He finished his 17-year major league career with the Los Angeles and California Angels in 1967. He later was in the spotlight for his controversial comments as a White Sox broadcaster that led to his firing and spawned his book, “The Truth Hurts.”

During our conversation in 2008, Piersall displayed his candor when discussing the prevalent ticket prices at major league stadiums. As both New York teams were moving towards new stadium, he felt that the outrageous prices were driven by the owners.

“Two-hundred-fifty dollar a seat in Yankee Stadium ... the only problem we have are politicians,” he said. “The message never seems to get to those guys. It was $2.50 for the bleachers and $6 for a good seat. Everyone is saying that the players are making too much money, but the owners aren't going bankrupt. ... They could get rid of those 40 guys in the offices that send out postcards. They could cut down on their expense accounts, but it won't happen.”

As we came to the close of our interview, Piersall left me with this gem that was reminiscent of the old school mentality that is long gone from today’s game, as the league has become more conscious of the protecting their on-field product.

“I got drilled one day and I said to the pitcher, ‘If you don't get that guy, I'll drop the ball with the bases loaded.’ I asked the umpires why they're so tough and the owners said they don't want their players getting hurt. Bob Watson said the owners are afraid the good players are going to get hurt. There aren't that many good players; they're decent players.”