Showing posts with label Babe Ruth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Babe Ruth. Show all posts

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review - Saving Babe Ruth by Tom Swyers

School is out and summer has arrived, time is abundant and the sun never seems to go down; a perfect storm for children to fill baseball fields across the country. Pass by most of the spacious greens now and they’re rarely used unless you are part of the elite who can afford the exorbitant rates collected by travel teams across the country. Securing not only the pocketbooks of parents nationwide, they’ve taken a firm grasp of the permits that control the access to these fields.

Standing in the face of these ever-expanding travel teams is David Thompson, a crusader for his town’s local Babe Ruth program. Thompson is the central figure in Tom Swyers’ novel, “Saving Babe Ruth,” which is based upon a true story of one parent’s fight to keep the field that has served his community so dearly for the continued use of all of its residents, instead of the exclusive group of the outsider travel program.

Saving Babe Ruth / Tom Swyers
This war of sorts is playing out in communities all over the country, with these hyper-selective travel teams starting at earlier ages, creating a chasm that are causing the community based programs to suffer. Suddenly at age 10, the travel team coaches are telling young Johnny that he is too good to be playing for the “in-house” league, as his career trajectory will be poisoned by playing with such inferior talent. Fields are going empty because these travel teams have swallowed the permits just to keep the recreational leagues from “ruining” their playgrounds.

Swyers documents how Thompson’s program is suffering from the presence of Rob Barkus and his Elite Travel Baseball League. Barkus is working in concert with the high school program to stop the kids from playing Babe Ruth, and monopolize access to the Babe Ruth fields. Very quickly Thompson realizes that he is not involved in a mere dispute, but an all out war. Barkus wants it all from Thompson, his fields, his players, and his program, stopping at nothing to turn the entire community against him.

At times Thompson is quixotic in his quest to save the program, even risking his own marriage to defend his territory and clear his name. Often he is met with indifference from parents who are blinded by visions of college scholarships and the effect that travel baseball is having on their community; travel ball is turning America’s pastime into an elitest pursuit. Yet despite the roadblocks put in his way, Thompson works feverishly to defend the opportunities of the silent majority, the kids.

Baseball fans will enjoy the passion that Swyers has put into Thompson’s efforts to keep the Babe Ruth fields available for kids of all levels. Parents are fighting this battle in every neighborhood, watching their local programs dwindle to benefit the select few playing for the travel team. Swyers reminds us why this is a war worth fighting; youth baseball is a sport that should be played by everyone, not just those with the financial means to wear embroidered uniforms and matching warm-up suits.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bob DiPietro, former Boston Red Sox outfielder, dies at 85

Bob DiPietro, a former outfielder for the Boston Red Sox who earned the nickname The Rigatoni Rifle because of his tremendous throwing arm, died two days after his 85th birthday in Yakima, Wash., on September 3, 2012.

A few years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview DiPietro for his SABR biography. Even though DiPietro only made it to the plate 12 times (all in 1951) during his major league career, it was one that included brushes with Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. In addition to being linked to some of the biggest stars that baseball has ever known, he proudly served the country in World War II, and went on to run a successful advertising business in Yakima.

He is survived by his wife Bertie, sons Bob and Mark and their wives Sheryl and Marcy, grandchildren Kiley, Joe, Lexi and Paul.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ted Beard, 90, second person to hit homerun over right field wall in Forbes Field

While digging through baseball’s history books, one would be surprised to find Ted Beard’s name in the same company with Babe Ruth. The 5’8” 165 lb. outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates was only the second player, the first being Ruth, to ever hit a home run over the 86 foot high right field fence in Forbes Field. He was only one of ten different players to accomplish that feat until the last game was played there in 1970.

The veteran of seven major league seasons between 1948-1952 with the Cleveland Indians and Pirates and 1956-57 with the Chicago White Sox died Friday, December 30, 2011 in Fishers, Ind. He was 90.

Ted Beard
Beard signed with the Pirates in 1942 out of a baseball school in Frederick, Md. Like many of his era, he was quickly whisked away by Uncle Sam to serve in World War II. He spent three years in the Pacific with the Army, reaching the rank of corporal. Discharged at the age of 24, he showed little signs of rust after being out of organized baseball for three years, batting .328 with the Class B York club in 1946.

Starting in 1948, Beard would shuttle between the major leagues and AAA Indianapolis where he became one of the most popular players in franchise history. In 1979, he was selected by the Indianapolis News at the starting right fielder on their all-time team, ahead of Roger Maris and Rocky Colavito.

It was during the 1950 season, his longest in the majors, that he pounded his way in to the record books. On July 16, 1950, facing Bob Hall of the Boston Braves, Beard sent the ball skyrocketing over the towering grandstand. In an April 2010 interview that I conducted with Beard, he provided a recap of his at-bats leading up to the home run.

"My first time at-bat I hit a line drive at the second baseman and he caught it," he said. "The next time, I hit a line drive at third, and he caught it."

Finally, after squaring up the ball the previous two times at-bat, Beard surprised everyone in the park with his circuit blast.

"The next time, I hit it over the roof," he said. "I don't remember hitting one that far before that."

Beard would gain another moment in the spotlight, this time for his participation in one of the greatest “donnybrooks” ever as a member of the Hollywood Stars. On August 2, 1953, the Stars were playing their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Angels. Teammate Frank Kelleher was hit by a pitch and Beard was sent in to run for him. When the next batter singled, Beard, who was beaten at third base by a mile, went in to third baseman Murray Franklin with his spikes high and set off a brawl that had to be broken up by mass of police officers. The fight was immortalized in Life magazine with a multi-page spread of photos depicting the wild melee.

During his April 2010 interview, Beard had little to add other than proximity that added fuel to the fire.

"We were side by side in the towns," he said. "One team wanted to beat the other one. There's nothing more to say about that."

Beard played until 1963 with Indianapolis at the age of 42, some 21 years when he signed with the Pirates. He coached in the White Sox minor league system until 1972. After baseball he worked for the highway crew as an electrician for the State of Indiana until his retirement.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Strincevich, 3rd oldest major league player, dies at 96

While our country was celebrating the merits of our military veterans this Friday, the baseball family was mourning the loss of World War II era pitcher Nick Strincevich. He passed away November 11th in Valparaiso, Ind. At 96, he was the third oldest living major leaguer at the time of his death.

Nick Strincevich

The first player to make the majors from Gary, Indiana, his path started on the local sandlots. In 1934, “Jumbo” caught the attention of a local bird-dog scout in Indiana while playing semi-pro ball that led to him pitching batting practice for the New York Yankees in Chicago against the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. By the time he arrived home from his big day at the park, he received a telegram notifying him that he was now property of the Yankees.

Entering their organization in 1935, Strincevich advanced quickly through the Yankees minor league rank, closely following his manager Johnny Neun as they climbed their way to the major leagues. Strincevich was part of the dominant 1938 Newark Bears team that had almost exclusively a future major leaguer roster including Hall of Famer Joe Gordon. Despite his 11-4 record, the Yankees did not bring him up. With their pitching rich farm system, they saw Strincevich as expendable and sold him to the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League the following season. He pitched sparingly and was purchased by the Boston Bees at the end of the 1939 season.

Strincevich found a home in Boston under manager Casey Stengel, figuring prominently in their starting rotation, pitching in 32 games during his rookie season in the National League. “Casey liked me. He used to kid me up all the time,” said Strincevich in 2003 to Craig Allen Cleve's Hardball on the Home Front.
Even though he finished the season 4-8, he showed promise for the next season, going 3-1 in his last four decisions. This anticipation for an improved 1941; however, was quickly cut short when early in the season, Strincevich was hit in the face by a thrown ball during practice. He suffered headaches that would plague him the next two seasons.

Fortunately, during the aftermath of this injury, there was a silver lining for Strincevich. It came in the form of a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sent to the Pirates for Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner, his move to Pittsburgh would earn him 40 wins from 1944-46.

So popular was Strincevich in his hometown of Gary, that he was given a day in his honor in 1947 at Wrigley Field. It would be one of the last bright spots of his career. He would only earn one more victory in the majors and was back to the minors for good the following season. He walked away from baseball in 1950 with a record of 46-49 for Boston (NL), Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. He worked as a union steward in an auto parts factory for 30 years before his 1980 retirement.