Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How New York Yankee Jim Coates battled both Satchel Paige and Luke Easter

The year was 1957. Jim Coates was a hard-throwing right-hander who just had his first taste of big league ball with the New York Yankees. The 25-year-old was biding his time with the Richmond Virginians in the Triple-A International League, waiting for a permanent spot to open in New York. While Coates was cutting his teeth in preparation to join Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle in Yankee Stadium, the International League had a few Negro League veterans ready to show the youngster that he still had some work to do.

Satchel Paige with the Miami Marlins / Author's Collection
Toiling with Coates in the International League was future Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige. The 50-year-old Paige was pitching for Bill Veeck’s Miami Marlins, fresh off a season where he led the league with a microscopic 1.86 ERA.

“Satch was a guy that in his prime, he could throw the ball really good,” Coates said to the author in 2013.

Once in awhile Paige would reach into his bag of tricks and pull out his famed blooper pitch. More than 50 years later, Coates recalled how Paige dared hitters to swing at his slow one.

“He came up with the blooper pitch and threw it real high,” he said. “Satch was a type of guy that was great to watch. He could do it all, believe me. He’d tell ‘em, ‘Here, hit it.’ He’d throw that ol’ big blooper.”



While Paige managed to stun hitters half his age, Coates sensed that the legend was pitching more off smarts and guile than he was with the trademark speed of his younger days.

“Satch, he knew wanted to do it, but he just couldn’t,” Coates said. “He was at an age and state where he tried but he just couldn’t do it.”

During our talk, Coates brought up how great not only Paige was in the International League, but also his Negro League counterpart Luke Easter. The slugging 6’4” first baseman was a few years removed from his time with the Cleveland Indians; however, his power still rivaled the all-time greats. Coates said that he had the perfect remedy to quell Easter’s powerful stroke.

“I didn’t have any trouble with Luke,” he said. “All I had to do was knock him down first pitch and he didn’t want any part of that plate.”

Luke Easter
Easter was no stranger to being dusted off at the plate. While Coates felt that he had Easter’s number from a few knockdowns earlier in the season, the Negro League veteran patiently waited for the perfect opportunity to let the youngster think he had the upper hand. The two squared off when Easter played for the Buffalo Bisons during the 1957 International League playoffs. This time Easter tipped the scales in his favor.

He sent one of Coates’ offerings soaring over the center-field wall, nearly clearing the scoreboard. Coates admitted that Easter had a knack for making the ball disappear, even off himself.

“He hit ‘em out of there in Richmond in the International League like a golf ball,” he said.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Cookie Rojas explains Rey Ordoñez's incredible 1999 New York Mets season

Cookie Rojas should know a thing or two about judging infielders. A five-time All-Star who led his league in fielding on three separate occasions, Rojas made a strong case for Rey Ordoñez’s 1999 season as one of the best ever for a major league shortstop.

Cookie Rojas (r.) makes a powerful statement about Rey Ordoñez / N. Diunte
Rojas was in New York City last weekend as part of the Cuban Cultural Center of New York’s “History of Cuban Baseball” program at Fordham University. Speaking as part of a player panel which included Hall of Famer Tony Perez, Minnie Miñoso, Luis Tiant, Julio Becquer, and José Cardenal, Rojas was asked about Ordoñez’s place amongst the all-time defensive shortstops. He put on his manager hat and responded swiftly and succinctly.

Rojas joined the Mets as a coach in 1997, one year after Ordoñez debuted at Shea. Coming off a season where he [Ordonez] committed 27 errors, Rojas knew things had to change.

“So, after joining the Mets I looked at his record and I called him over to talk," Rojas said during the panel. "I said, 'Rey, there is something wrong for you to make 38 (sic) errors. A guy with your ability, that's impossible. There is no way I will accept that. We have work to do, in many areas. You will see that little by little you will improve and get a positive outlook.'”

Ordoñez improved quickly, committing only nine errors the season Rojas arrived. Nineteen-ninety-seven was the first of three consecutive Gold Glove campaigns for the Cuban shortstop. Rojas explained how he helped Ordoñez to improve by getting him to forget his struggles at the plate while he was in the field.

“The cause of most errors committed by major league infielders is that they do not know how to separate the offensive aspect of the game from the defensive,” Rojas said. “They go out to the field still thinking about their last at-bat, the slider that fooled them, the fast ball blown by them. They do this instead of thinking ahead to the fielding part, to think if the next batter is a fast runner or not, or what to do according to the speed of the hit ball.”



Involved in professional baseball for over 50 years as a player, coach, manager, and his current position as the Spanish Language broadcaster for the Florida Marlins, Rojas had many opportunities to analyze the top defensive shortstops in both leagues.

After a careful pause, Rojas offered the following about how Ordoñez’s magical 1999 season where he made only four errors ranks among the cream of the crop.

“Let me say I knew a great defensive shortstop who played for Almendares [in Cuba], his name was Willy Miranda, a defensive all-time great. But what I saw Ordoñez do that year, I have never seen a shortstop do in my whole life, anywhere, not even one of the all-time greats [Ozzie] Smith, a Hall of Famer,” he said. “How Ordoñez played that year was incredible. It was ... to see a defensive shortstop do what he did, one of the best that I have seen in my whole career."

A special thank you to fellow SABR member Tito Rondón for his translation of Rojas’ interview from the player panel.

* This was originally published for Examiner.com August 27, 2011.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Thou Shalt Not Steal by Bill 'Ready' Cash and Al Hunter Jr. | Book Review

One can hear the voice of Bill “Ready” Cash guiding you as you experience his career in the Negro Leagues in his new biography Thou Shalt Not Steal (Love Eagle Books, 2012). Passing away only a few months prior to the release of his life story, Cash revels in telling the narrative of playing in the famed league.


Co-authored by Philadelphia Daily News writer Al Hunter Jr., Thou Shalt Not Steal stands out from other athlete biographies, as it feels like you are sitting on the couch next to Cash as he reels you in with the details of his life and career, while neither bragging nor complaining.

Cash was a catcher for the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues during the 1940s, earning the nod for the East-West All-Star games twice during his career. During that time, Cash played alongside some of the finest players in baseball history, including Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. He regarded both players respectively as, “the best hitter and pitcher ever.”

After Jackie Robinson broke down the color barrier, major league teams began to further inspect the Negro League rosters for talent. As the Negro Leagues met its decline around 1950, Cash, a bona fide star at the time, was itching to prove that he too belonged in the major leagues, alongside the same talent that he excelled against in the Negro Leagues.

Possessing little control over the dealings between management at the major league clubs, Cash discovered that the Philadelphia Stars’ owner Eddie Gottlieb set the market too high for his services when the clubs beckoned. Gottlieb received at least three offers from the Dodgers, Giants, and Braves for Cash’s services; however, when he doubled the asking price on his star receiver, he effectively priced him out of the market for these clubs.

Cash was eventually whisked away from the Stars, but it was not by a major league club. His route to a chance in the majors would come through Mexico, signing with Mexico City Red Devils in 1950. His time in the Negro Leagues was finished.

Like many African-American players of his time, Cash experienced greater fortunes in Latin America.

He was so well regarded in Mexico for his stellar play, that newspapers in that country ranked him ahead of Roy Campanella when they spoke of the best catchers who ever played there. Every winter, teams would feverishly bid for his services, paying top dollar salaries and offering improved racial conditions in places like Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.

After a torrid winter season in Mexico, Cash was whisked away by Granby of the Canadian Provincial League for the princely sum of $10,000. Batting close to .300 for Granby in 1951, major league teams could simply no longer deny his talent. Cash signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1952, looking for a chance to prove his skills on baseball’s biggest stage.

Excited to have the opportunity at the major leagues, Cash reluctantly signed or far less than what he made in Canada. Lured by the promise of a fair shot at their Class-A Colorado Springs farm team, Cash went in to spring training competing with fellow Negro League alum Sam Hairston for the top catching spot on the team. Battling through phlebitis in his leg, Cash outpaced Hairston that spring, batting .375 compared to Hairston’s .214. In a cruel twist of fate, Cash painfully describes in the book how the White Sox brass already decided at the beginning of spring training that the job was Hairston’s no matter how well Cash fared.

Persisting through injuries and broken promises, Cash finished the 1952 season in the White Sox organization. He continued to play baseball in the United States and the Caribbean through 1955, hanging it up for good at the age of 36.

Facing life away from the diamond, Cash worked as a machinist at Westinghouse Electrical, while upholding the virtues of a longstanding Mason and church deacon.

As interest in the Negro Leagues increased in the early 1990s, Cash helped to spread the word, serving on the board of the Negro League Baseball Players Association and making frequent appearances across the country as he approached the age of 90.

Cash passed away in September of 2011 at the age of 91, one of the last surviving members of the glory days of the Negro Leagues prior to baseball’s integration. I have a feeling that if Cash lived to see his book published, that he would have been “ready” to take the field once again to tell as many people as possible about the wonderful players in the Negro Leagues. Fortunately, with some help from Mr. Hunter, Cash’s stories will continue to be told in grand fashion for generations to come.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

2018 Bowman's Best Baseball Review | Checklist, Autographs, and Box Break

Bowman made collectors wait until year’s end for 2018 Bowman’s Best to show that the baseball card manufacturer had one last ace up its sleeve. The high-quality chrome finished cards have a surprisingly soft finish that makes 2018 Bowman’s Best an attractive upgrade to 2017 Bowman’s Best en route to collectors’ must-have lists of the year.



2018 Bowman’s Best Base Set and Checklist


The 100-card base set consists of 70 current stars and rookies, as well as 30 top prospects. The prospects include Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Royce Lewis, Alec Bohm, and Eloy Jimenez, while the current MLB stars feature both Rookies of the Year in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Shohei Ohtani, as well as hobby mainstays Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. The parallels include Bowman’s Best’s signature Atomic Refractor parallels which come one per master box. Click here to view the entire checklist.


2018 Bowman’s Best Inserts


Bowman’s Best tips their cap to the 1998 design with their Best Performers inserts, which highlight a blend of prospects, emerging stars, and veterans. Bowman’s Best dedicates their minor league focus to their Early Indicators subset, while collectors will also enjoy the Neophyte Sensations and Power Producers inserts. All have Atomic Refractor and gold parallels. Highlights for this box break included a Christian Pache Early Indicators Gold parallel numbered to 50.



2018 Bowman’s Best Autographs


Bowman’s Best set high expectations by guaranteeing four autographs per master box. The extra fortunate can score coveted dual autographed cards such as those of Derek Jeter and Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout; however, a majority of the offerings is of the prospect variety. Going into the 2019 season, Bowman’s Best allows collectors to score an attractive on-card autograph of the next Rookie of the Year before their stock doubles. This review box drew two prospect autographs of Noah Naylor and Nick Schnell, a MacKenzie Gore Early Indicators autograph, and an Estevan Florial Best Performers Gold autograph numbered to 50.




2018 Bowman’s Best Wrap Up


Bowman's Best cuts through the endless filler that flood 5,000 count boxes across basements everywhere to offer a focused and condensed collecting experience. With a focus on only the top major and minor league talents, 2018 Bowman's Best is a rich journey that is worth putting money aside for a post-holiday purchase.



Sunday, January 6, 2019

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict

Tanner Jones joins the Baseball Happenings Podcast to tell the listeners what exactly led him on the path to spend $100,000 to amass one of the finest single-player collections in the world en route to earning the "baseball card addict" title. In his new book “Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict” he narrates his fascinating journey of building a 10-million-card collection before deciding to roll the dice on one player — Jose Canseco.

“I call junk wax a cheap gateway drug in my book because I almost feel like it was engineered by the card companies to be mass produced in the '80s,” Jones said during his appearance on the Baseball Happenings Podcast. “So that way, when we all grow up, we are able to come back to a super easy. It's really easy to slip in a couple wax boxes of Score just for nostalgia sake, and while you're at the card shop you're like, ‘Wait a second here, there are some cards out here that have pieces of jerseys and autographs on them.’ You know, it's a completely different way of collecting than what we were used to as kids.”
Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict / Tanner Jones
Once Jones had the itch, he was off to the races. Armed with extra cash to spare, Jones started to buy back his childhood memories at pennies on the dollar.

“It didn't have anything to do with Canseco when I came back as an adult,” he said. “I was just absolutely enamored by the prices of the complete sets that I loved as a child. So yes, thinking, ‘Wait a second, I can get an '89 Upper Deck factory set for 60 bucks? Holy cow, how do you not buy that?’

“I started assembling a complete run of complete sets from 1980 to 1992, or '93 or so. Along the way is when I started discovering the game used and autographed cards, so I just got into that hardcore as well. After a while, I take step back and go, ‘Holy cow, I've already dropped a couple grand on this stuff — on baseball cards!' To me, that was like insanity back then, like a couple thousand dollars [spent] on baseball cards.”

For most, a few thousand dollars would have sufficiently scratched their nostalgic collecting itches; however, Jones is far from ordinary. His re-entry was just the tip of the iceberg that led him on a multi-million card chase for the next decade. Jones discusses how he moved from flipping cards to settling on one player before deciding to sell it all. In the midst of all of tales of wheeling and dealing, he gave valuable advice on how to keep your marriage intact during the process. Jones drops gems on the collecting conundrums throughout the latest episode of the Baseball Happenings Podcast below.