Showing posts with label Baltimore Orioles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baltimore Orioles. Show all posts

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Mike Trombley dishes out big league financial advice

Mike Trombley, an 11-year major league veteran with the Twins, Dodgers, and Orioles, came on the Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss how professional athletes can best look out for their financial interests both during and after their careers. He is currently the head of Trombley Associates, a family-run financial management company in Massachusetts where he took over for his father Ray who started the company over a half-century prior.

In the wake of the recent news about Jake Peavy losing a reported $15 million due to his financial advisor’s involvement in a Ponzi scheme, Trombley explained the pitfalls that many major leaguers face trying to manage a sudden windfall of riches while keeping their attention on what is going on in between the lines of play.

“There were a couple of [Major League] friends of mine that [had] their agents paying their bills for them,” Trombley said. “They never even saw a bill.”

During the 20-minute interview, Trombley dishes out practical advice on what to look for in an investment professional, as well as his experiences of managing his money while living the hectic life of a Major League Baseball player.

Baseball Happenings Podcast on iTunes.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Lee May, three time All-Star dies at 74

Reports have surfaced that three-time All-Star Lee May passed away Saturday July 29, 2017 in Ohio. He was 74.

May played 18 seasons in the major leagues for four teams, hitting 354 home runs with 1,244 RBIs. He made the All-Star team twice with the Cincinnati Reds (1969, 1971) and once with the Baltimore Orioles (1972).

Lee May

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Joe Durham, 84, first African-American to hit a home run for the Baltimore Orioles

Joe Durham was a bona fide All-Star well before he made history as the first African-American player to hit a home run for the Baltimore Orioles. Playing in 1952 for the Chicago American Giants in the Negro Leagues, Durham was selected to the East-West All-Star Game at Comiskey Park. It was a thrill for a rookie to share a prominent stage amongst the league's veterans.

Joe Durham

“It was kind of exciting,” Durham said to me during a 2010 phone interview from his home in Maryland. “The All-Star game was good; we had a fairly decent crowd. We had a chance to play against one another and participate against guys from the East and the West. Most of the guys on those teams were older… There were several veterans that got my attention. I saw them play when I was a kid. Henry Kimbro and Doc Dennis… these guys had been playing for ages.”

Durham passed away Thursday, April 28, 2016, at the Northwest Hospital Hospice Center in Randallstown, Maryland. He was 84.

The outfielder found himself in the Negro Leagues after signing with the St. Louis Browns in 1952. The Browns wanted to place him on their farm teams in the South, but racial tensions at the time prevented that from being an option for Durham. Luckily Browns owner Bill Veeck was able to use a long-standing connection to place Durham on one of the flagship Negro League franchises.

“Everything they had in the farm system where they wanted to start me was in the South and I couldn’t play there,” he said. “Abe Saperstein who owned the Chicago American Giants and Bill Veeck who owned the St. Louis Browns were very good friends. So that’s how I got over there [to Chicago] for just one year.”

As major league teams signed more players from the Negro Leagues, these prospects served as agents of change across the minor leagues. In 1953, Durham along with future Baltimore Orioles outfielder Willie Tasby helped to break the color barrier of the Piedmont League as members of the York White Roses. Even though Durham grew up in segregated Newport News, Virginia, that still didn’t prepare him for the taunting he faced while playing.

“Hagerstown was the worst team in the whole damn league,” he said in Bruce Adelson’s book, Brushing Back Jim Crow. “They were really bad. I used to hate to go there. We opened the season in Hagerstown. I’m telling you, I never heard so much stuff in my life.”

Tasby further explained the degree of insults they faced while playing in Hagerstown. They retaliated against the hateful slurs by taking it out on the opposition.

“That was as bad as Mississippi,” Tasby told Adelson. “That was one of the worst places I played in my life. It wasn’t even in what you’d call the South. It’s in Maryland. But you see, Baltimore and Washington used to be bad too.

“We got called everything except our names there, all of the derogatory names. Of course, we beat the hell out of them every time we played there. But we still had to hear them.”

Durham responded by batting .308 with 14 home runs, earning a promotion to San Antonio in the Texas League in 1954. Still deep in the South, he had to figure out a way to keep his performance on the field unaffected by the social conditions at the time.

“Black ballplayers of that era had to have a little something extra to go along with their playing talent because of things you had to endure,” Durham said to Adelson. “You had to tell yourself not to let anything get in your way or distract you. There was nothing you could do.”

After another standout minor league season, where he hit .318 with 14 home runs and 108 RBI, Durham earned a September call-up to the Baltimore Orioles. Upon his arrival, he was immediately inserted into the lineup, and in his fourth major league game, he became the first African-American to homer for the Orioles, hitting a circuit blast off of Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Al Sima.

“The first night I got here, I played,” he said in during our 2010 interview. “I played out the season and then I had to go into the Army. I was scheduled to go in July, but I got a deferment until October.”

Durham spent two years in the Army, serving first at Camp Gordon in Georgia and then later with the Seventh Army in Germany. Upon his discharge in October 1956, he went on to play winter ball with San Juan in Puerto Rico, preparing him for major league spring training in 1957.

He responded to his two-year absence by leading the team in batting during spring training. Finally, Durham felt that he proved his worth as a full-time major leaguer. However, Orioles manager Paul Richards thought otherwise.

“The strange thing about it, I led the Orioles in hitting in spring training,” he said. “I had tremendous spring training. The prejudiced manager Paul Richards, the last day he told me, ‘If we go to Baltimore, you are only going to play 20-30 games and you are going to get rusty. We want you to go down to San Antonio.’ I asked him about going to Triple-A Vancouver and he said the roster there was full. He said, ‘Go on down there for a couple of weeks keep hitting, and we’ll bring you back up here.’”

A dejected Durham returned to San Antonio, determined to prove Richards wrong in his decision to keep him in the minor leagues. Upon his return to Texas after a three-year absence, Durham encountered greater indignities than when he left in 1954. The city of Shreveport, Louisiana enacted a law barring white and blacks from playing on the same field together. Rather than forcing the Texas League to remove Shreveport from competition, the league allowed the rest of the clubs to carry an extra player to compensate for keeping their players of color at home while they traveled to Shreveport.

“The first year I played at Shreveport, you could go in [and play],” he said. “I went in the Army and came back out. I started in 1957 and no blacks or whites could participate on the field, arena, or against one another in Shreveport. We would go to Houston and the team would go to Shreveport; we would go back to San Antonio.”

Showing tremendous character in the face of adversity, Durham’s on-field performance was at its peak. Durham maintained a .400 average during the first two months of the season, finally forcing the Orioles to call him up in the middle of June after he hit .391 in 50 games.

“I didn’t get recalled until June 10th and I was hitting over .400 until the 1st of June,” he recalled. “I came up and played the rest of the season in Baltimore.”

Unfortunately, Durham couldn’t duplicate his minor league success, hitting only .185 with four home runs in 77 games for the Orioles in 1957. Save for five at-bats with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959, it would be his last foray in the major leagues.

“I really hate to say it, but I never got a good chance to play,” Durham lamented. “They would tell you that they wanted to have you on the team and you were doing well, but he [Richards] was playing all of his boys. In 1959, I went to the St. Louis Cardinals. I had another tremendous spring, made the team and I got five at-bats before they decided to send me back to Baltimore.”

Durham continued to play in the minor leagues at the Triple-A level until 1964 and continued his involvement with the Orioles organization until his passing. A link to the franchise's birth, Durham’s six-decade association with the Orioles made him the longest-tenured employee in the team’s history. He spent 20 years as a batting practice pitcher after he hung up his spikes, and then served as their community coordinator for baseball operations, as well as a minor league coach, instructor, and scout.

“I do clinics and go around to some of the schools, community relations they call it,” he said in 2010. “I’m not on the regular payroll. I’ve been on their payroll in some capacity since 1954. I used to do a lot of traveling, hitting schools and private organizations; that was part of my job. I worked in the front office as the community relations director. I scouted one year. That was the last year I worked.”

As with many of his African-American counterparts in the early 1950s, Durham’s major league stats fall short of explaining the totality of his story and skills. His ability to stand tall in the face of Jim Crow segregation to become the Orioles’ most respected employee demonstrates Durham proved his All-Star status long after he left the diamond.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kal Segrist | Former Texas Tech baseball coach, played for Yankees and Orioles, dies at 84

Kal Segrist, a former infielder with the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles in the 1950s, and the longtime head baseball coach at Texas Tech, passed away in Lubbock, Texas this weekend. He was 84.

Kal Segrist / Author's Collection
Segrist was signed by the Yankees in 1951 after helping to lead Bibb Falk’s Texas Longhorns to back-to-back national championships in 1949 and 1950, with the latter being the first played in Omaha. After earning All-Conference honors as a second baseman in 1949, he volunteered to play first base in 1950 when he saw there was unsteadiness at the position.

“We had six different guys that tried at first base,” Segrist recalled during a 2008 phone interview from his home in Lubbock. “I went to Bibb [Falk] and I said, ‘Coach, I can play first.’ He looked at me in his office and reached in his locker and pulled out this old first base mitt that Abe Lincoln probably played with, threw it up to me, and said, ‘Well, we’ll try.’ We made that move and everything started gelling.”

After his success at the collegiate level, interest quickly grew from professional teams. After he was made an offer by the St. Louis Cardinals at a semi-pro tournament, his father sent notice to all of the major league clubs. Quickly the offers came rolling in. Right away, the Yankees wanted to do business.

“I ended up getting a call from the Yankees,” he said. “I [went] down to Beaumont and they were managed by Rogers Hornsby. That was the Yankee farm team. They were in San Antonio for a playoff. They had me go there and work out. … They made me an offer and I was one of their first bonus ballplayers.” (Segrist was given a $40,000 bonus.)

The only thing in the way of finalizing Segrist’s deal with the Yankees was a physical exam on his knee. As a kid, he has Osgood-Schlatter disease, and as a result of it, one of his legs was bowed. This condition didn’t affect his play, but the Yankees were about to make a substantial investment in the Texan and they couldn’t take any chances.

“With the knee factor, they wanted me to go to Baltimore to see this outstanding doctor and have my knee checked,” he said. “So dad and I flew to Baltimore, and he checked the knee and we got on the train and went on to New York.”

Most players who signed for such substantial bonuses in the 1950s had to be placed immediately on a major league roster, but the bonus rule was rescinded during the time that Segrist signed his contract. This meant the Yankees could send him to the vast depths of their farm system, but with a few strokes of luck, he wound up only one step away from the big show with their Triple-A team in Kansas City for spring training.

“I was probably the youngest guy there,” he recalled. “The only shortstop we had was Roy Nicely and he had stomach ulcers. We had [a few] second baseman and when we scrimmaged, after about five innings they would take him out and move me to short and someone else would play second. They did that through the entire spring. I basically, never actually spent any time playing there.

“It was a rather unusual spring. When we left, we went north. Just out of Florida, they had a place where there were several different teams. After that, we got back on the bus and they cut several people; they just left people there. We had people standing in the bus. So, again, I didn’t know the general manager had scheduled two series with two bases, one an Army base and one a Marine base. … I think Nicely and a guy named Hank Workman both jumped the club either at the Army or the Marine base. We opened the season at Louisville, guess who played short? I played my first 60 games at short in pro ball. That’s basically how I ended up at Kansas City.”

Kal Segrist (l.) with Casey Stengel (c.) and Tom Gorman (r.) in 1952
About halfway through Segrist’s first professional season, he was joined by a rookie outfielder from the big league club, Mickey Mantle. Casey Stengel felt that Mantle needed more seasoning and sent him down to Kansas City rather quickly to fine tune his skills.

“About the time the season started, they sent Mick to Kansas City,” he said. “One of the things he was supposed to learn was to drag bunt. He was to drag bunt once a game. The first three weeks he hit about .200, and the last three weeks he hit the ball like he could hit it and he was up to stay.”

Soon Segrist would have the opportunity to join Mantle on the Yankees the next season. With two of their top infielders, Bobby Brown and Jerry Coleman departing for military service midway through the season, a spot opened up for Segrist. He could have been there even earlier if he kept his mouth shut with the press.

“My second year, I came back and I was in spring training with New York until we broke camp,” he recalled. “This fella who was a nice guy … he wrote an article on me and was asking me questions. One of the things was about playing in Kansas City or New York. My reaction was, ‘I’d rather be in Kansas City playing, than on the bench in New York.’ Casey heard that and he accommodated me. One thing I learned, it was hard to play in New York if you are in Kansas City! If you are sitting on the bench in New York, you have a chance to make a play or make a move.

“I got back sent back to Kansas City and by July 4th, I hit over 20 homers and was hitting well over .300. I got the word from the manager that I was being called up.”

In his first major league game on July 16, 1952, Segrist singled in the 10th inning against the Cleveland Indians and scored the winning run on a single by Hank Bauer. He stayed with the Yankees for just over two weeks, and in 27 plate appearances, it was his only hit. He found that balls that were dropping in the minor leagues ended up deep in the mitts of speedy outfielders.
“We played Cleveland and I hit two balls that would have been out anywhere else,” he said, “one to right center, and one to left center. They had a center fielder [Larry Doby] that could fly and run. I came back and said, ‘What do you have to do to get a hit in this league.’ We were on the road and had a tough road trip. We were in Detroit and if I would have hit them three feet farther, they would have been out of the park, but they were fly outs.”
After a down year in 1953, Segrist picked it up with an All-Star performance with Kansas City, slugging 15 home runs while manning third base duties for the entire season. Just as things were looking up for the Texan, the Yankees shipped him off to the Baltimore Orioles as part of a 17-player trade that brought Don Larsen and Bob Turley to the Yankees. Moving to one of the lower-tier clubs should have provided more of an opportunity for Segrist to play, but the same bonus rule that saved him from a major league roster when he was signed, was now holding him up from occupying one.

“It was disappointing,” he lamented. “Baltimore signed several players and the rule at that time if you signed someone for so much money, they had to stay on the big league roster and you couldn’t send them down. I got caught in a trap.”

Segrist, ever the consummate team player, accepted a demotion at manager Paul Richards’ behest to Double-A San Antonio so that he could be on 24-hour recall. They paid him an additional $2,000 to accept the offer. He hit 25 home runs and in September 1955, he got to experience another taste of major league life. This time around he fared better, batting .333 in nine at-bats; however, he was hobbled by a leg injury he suffered earlier in the season.

By the time Segrist fully recovered from his injury, the Orioles had another third base prospect emerge, and that was future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. With their attention focus on Robinson, Segrist languished in the minor leagues until 1961, when he finished up with Mobile Bears of the Southern Association. In 11 minor league seasons, he hit a respectable .280 with 156 home runs.

Segrist signing autographs for Chris Potter / Chris Potter Sports
Segrist returned to school and earned his physical education teaching degree. After teaching junior high for two years, he went to Texas Tech at the urging of his cousin Herman Segrist, who chaired the physical education program. Serving as a teaching assistant and assistant baseball coach, Segrist integrated himself into the Texas Tech baseball program. By 1968, he earned the head coaching position, a far less glamorous title than today’s Division 1 standards.

“I took over totally and was there from ’68-83,” he said. “The thing about Tech, baseball wasn’t their most important sport. We didn’t even have a facility. We had trees in the outfield. I was not only the coach, I was the only groundskeeper. It’s a different deal now. Back then, I never had an assistant coach. … The guy that is there now has about six guys. The only thing I needed was a paid pitching coach, everything else I could handle. It was a challenge.

“I had to learn how to lay out a field, put down the grass, lay down home plate, the pitching rubber, first base, etc. I had to learn these things at Tech. When I got done in 1983, our ballpark that we have now, I got a new park built. We had $100,000. Most of the parks in Texas are in the millions; I designed with that $100,000. I got us a basic class ballpark built. Since then, they added to it, upgraded, and done a good job. It’s unbelievable what they got now than what I had to deal with.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

Paul Blair | How The New York Mets Let Him Fall From Their Grasp

Paul Blair's passing on Thursday evoked a terrible oversight by the New York Mets organization at the earliest stage of their franchise. The Mets once envisioned a time when Blair would roam the outfield, hauling down long drives to the depths of their soon-to-be new home in Flushing. So how did this budding franchise let one of the best center fielders of his era slip right through their fingertips?

Paul Blair (second from left) at the 2012 Joe DiMaggio Legends Game / N. Diunte
Scout Babe Herman signed Blair in 1961 from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles as an infielder for the princely sum of $2,000. His hometown Dodgers had passed on him, citing his small stature after a tryout at the Coliseum.

“I was depressed about being rejected by the Dodgers,” Blair said to Robert Lipsyte in 1969, “and I would have signed with anyone; I just wanted to play major league ball.”

The Mets assigned Blair to their Class-C affiliate in Santa Barbara, under the watchful eye of Gene Lillard. Author Mike Huber relayed in his SABR bio of Blair how he seized an opportunity on the first day of practice that started him on the road to becoming a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder.

"The first day the coach told us to run out to our positions," Blair once told a reporter. "Well, seven players went to shortstop and six went to second but only one went to right. And I knew I could throw better than him and run better than him. So I ran out to right and played there. Then the center fielder got hurt and I moved to center."

While Blair’s .228 average and 147 strikeouts in 122 games didn’t set the world on fire, his 17 home runs and 20 outfield assists were enough for the Mets to give him a deeper look at their instructional winter league in Florida.

With Blair given the time to further show off his tools, he turned heads with his skilled play.

“Everybody on the team said that he was going to be in the big leagues one year,” said fellow Mets farmhand and instructional league teammate Larry Boerschig via telephone shortly after Blair’s passing. “He was one of the few of the bunch down there that you could see who had something a little extra.”

The Mets, who left him unprotected in the winter draft, realized they had a more valuable commodity on their hands than they initially thought. They tried to hide Blair by having him sit in the stands with a faux ankle injury.

“I didn’t play for two weeks. I was supposed to have a sprained ankle,” Blair said to the Associated Press. “The day of the draft I was supposed to have started playing.”

His teammates caught wind of what was going on when all of a sudden Blair stopped dressing for games.

"He was healthy; he wasn’t hurt," said Roger Wattler via telephone on Friday, who played the outfield with Blair on the Mets instructional league team. "You knew something was up when they didn’t even take him to the games."

Despite the Mets last-minute efforts to stash Blair’s talents, the Orioles swooped down upon on the young outfielder. Just as he was to have resumed playing, he entered the clubhouse to find out he no longer belonged to the team.

“I went to my locker and everything was packed up,” he said.

Wattler was bewildered the Mets didn't protect Blair from the draft. The Mets had just let one of their best defensive prospects fall right from their grasp.

“It was a shock when he went to Baltimore because we couldn’t believe they would not protect him," Wattler said. "You could see the potential in him; he was just a class center fielder, no doubt. He would almost look like he wasn’t even trying and he would run them down. As a defensive outfielder, there weren’t too many better at that time."

There was much speculation on the executive who didn’t see fit to protect Blair from being drafted. One source reported that Blair didn’t make the grade with Mets scout Eddie Stanky. The exact person in the organization remained a mystery to Blair; one that he had no desire to unravel.

“All I know,” Blair said to Bill Christine of the Pittsburgh Press in 1969, “is that somebody over there [New York] didn’t like me. Somebody thought I wasn’t good enough.”

It was tough at first for the 18-year-old to face the news that the Mets had given up on him so quickly, but he found solace knowing he was wanted by Baltimore.

“Sure, I was jolted,” he said to the Associated Press in 1969. “But I realized that somebody in the Baltimore organization had seen something they liked about me or they wouldn’t have been willing to invest their money in me.”

Blair made his major league debut with the Orioles on September 9, 1964, and during the following season, he cemented himself as their center fielder for years to come. His career spanned 17 major league seasons from 1964-1980, with eight Gold Gloves, and four World Series titles, two each as a member of the Orioles and New York Yankees.

Blair had no qualms about how his career progressed from his start in the Mets system when queried by the Associated Press prior to squaring off with his former parent club in the 1969 World Series.

“I’ve never regretted the way things worked out,” he said. “Maybe I could’ve made more money playing in New York but then again, maybe they would have rushed me to the majors and I might not have had time to develop properly."

Friday, August 2, 2013

Teammates ensure the legend of Drungo Hazewood lives on

Before Bo Jackson, there was Drungo LaRue Hazewood. A two-sport star in high school so athletically gifted that USC wanted to make him their starting tailback, and the Baltimore Orioles made him their first round pick in 1977. Possessing the ability to hit a baseball over five-hundred feet, run like a world-class sprinter, and throw a ball like it was shot out of a cannon, Hazewood tantalized his teammates, opponents, and fans with his skill.

“In spring training, we’d always run for times,” teammate Willie Royster said. “I remember the last time we were all together, he was the fastest guy in the organization. Nobody could beat him in the 60. We’re talking a guy over six-feet and 200 lbs., and he could just motor. It was great just to watch him perform.”
Drungo Hazewood /
Hazewood set the minor leagues on fire in 1980 at the young age of 20. Playing for the Double-A Charlotte Orioles, he set a team record for home runs with 28, while also stealing 29 bases. His undeniable performance led manager Jimmy Williams to enthusiastically recommend him for a September call-up.

“He had a super year and it looked like he was going to go all the way,” said the 87-year old Williams from his home in Maryland. “At the time I knew him, he had a super chance to play in the big leagues. If I look back at any of the reports I have, I’m sure that’s what I said in there. My reports were, ‘This kid has a chance to play in the big leagues. He has all the possibilities. He’s big, he’s strong, he hits the ball well, good outfielder, runs the bases well because of his speed.’”

Joining a team in a middle of a pennant race that included veteran outfielders Al Bumbry and Ken Singleton, there was little room for Hazewood to display his talents. He sat on the bench for most of the month, earning his only start in the next-to-last game of the season when the Orioles were eliminated from contention.

Despite all of his talent, Hazewood never returned to the big leagues. He passed away Sunday July 28, 2013 due to complications from cancer. He was 53.

The rate at which he ascended to the major leagues, was almost as quick as his exit from baseball. In 1983 at only 23 years old, Hazewood found himself attempting to take care of his mother who was suffering from cancer, as well as his wife and two children. Needing to support his family, he went to work driving trucks, losing touch with the baseball community.

“He was always talking about his family; he was a big family guy,” Royster said. “When we stopped playing, he immediately started working as a truck driver, making runs across country. Every now and then I’d hear from him by phone, but everybody at that time was trying to get their life together after the game was over.”

Some years later, a chance encounter enabled Royster to rekindle his friendship with his teammate who had drifted away.

“A teammate ran into him while he was in Sacramento and they exchanged phone numbers and we made contact again. After that point, we stayed in touch for the past eight-to-ten years.”

Little was ever reported as to the kindred spirit that was Hazewood. His passing allowed me to get in touch with a cadre of former teammates that were able to shine light on his personality.

“I loved Drungo,” Charlotte teammate Tom Rowe said. “He was one of my favorites, always was. We had a special kind of relationship. We’d wrestle in the hotel a lot and kind of like that brawl in Charlotte, I’d be the one flying all over the place. We had this thing, if he got really frustrated if he struck out, I’d tighten up my stomach and he’d punch me in the stomach to get his frustration out. Luckily I did a lot of sit-ups back then. He’d come over to me, ‘Tommy, I need it.’”

Royster had a breakout year in 1981 with Charlotte when he hit 31 home runs and stole 53 bases. He attributed a lot of his success from the constant support from Hazewood.

“During that whole year we were roommates," he said. "We motivated each other; we pushed each other to produce because we felt the only way to get to the big leagues was to dominate where we were.”

Hazewood seldom made public appearances, attending a reunion for the Charlotte Orioles in 2010 and did a private autograph signing with Chris Potter in the fall of 2012. Many think that he held a grudge against those in the game for never getting another shot at the big leagues, but Royster disagreed.

“He never thought they gave him the opportunity to produce and to show his wares," he said. "There were other guys they pushed ahead of him, for whatever their reasoning was. He dealt with it; he didn’t walk around angry at the world, he tried to improve on his craft.”

Looking back at his playing days, Royster’s lasting memory of his friend was someone who was highly revered by everyone on the field.

“We were best friends," he said. "Back then, he was a young kid. He was a big deal. He had all the tools. He could run, throw, hit, had a great arm, and speed. He was just a good hearted person. If he was on your team, he was the kind of guy you wanted on your team. If he was on the other team, you didn’t want to face him.”

Editor's Note -
The outpouring of support in the wake of Hazewood's passing from his former teammates was unbelievable. They all jumped at the chance to share their memories of their friend. The interviews in this article were conducted after I had submitted articles to regional newspapers memorializing his passing. You can read more interviews with his teammates that I conducted in the following articles.

Former Orioles phenom Drungo Hazewood dies - Baltimore Sun 

Charlotte Orioles' Drungo Hazewood a natural, rare blend of talent - Charlotte Observer

Monday, April 1, 2013

'Bullet' Bob Turley, 1958 Cy Young winner, passes away at 82

"Bullet" Bob Turley has run out of ammunition. The 1958 Cy Young Award winner passed away Saturday evening from liver cancer in a hospice care center in Atlanta. He was 82.

In retirement, he remained a fan favorite, graciously obliging his fans when he returned for Yankees Old Timers Day.

“I can’t understand some of these players today,” he said. “Nothing ever bothered me, signing autographs, doing interviews. You have all the privacy you want when you get out of the game.”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Earl Weaver intense nature stemmed from his playing days with the Cardinals

Earl Weaver’s notoriety for his fiery temper long preceded his career as a Hall of Fame manager for the Baltimore Orioles. The 82-year-old Weaver, who passed away passed away early Saturday morning from an apparent heart attack while on a baseball themed cruise, was a fiercely competitive second baseman in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Earl Weaver as a player and a manager
Weaver was signed by his hometown Cardinals out of Beaumont High School in 1948. His first destination was their Class D affiliate in West Frankfort, Illinois. Floyd Melliere, a pitcher who went 21-4 on that team, recalled in a 2008 interview that Weaver’s penchant for baiting umpires started very early in his career.

“We came up in West Frankfort in 1948," Melliere said. "He was a holler guy, a hustler. We had a play at second base that went against him. The umpire thumbed him out. Earl stayed in the game. When he came in the dugout, I asked him, ‘I thought the umpire threw you out?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he said I cussed him. He told me what he called him. I told him I wasn’t talking to him, so he left me in the game.’ I never saw that before.”

Standing only 5’7”, Weaver drew comparisons to Eddie Stanky, the All-Star second baseman who was revered for squeezing every ounce of his ability out of his slight frame, whether it was by razzing his opponents from all over the field, leaning in to a pitch to get on base, or sacrificing his body to get in front of a hot shot through the infield. Russell Rac, Weaver’s roommate in 1950 at Winston Salem, compared the two in a 2008 phone interview.

“You remember Earl Weaver?" asked Rac. "He was my roommate my first year in Winston Salem, NC. That was 1950, Class B ball. He was a helluva second baseman. He reminded you of [Eddie] Stanky. In other words, he couldn’t do anything great, but I tell you what, he was at the right place at the right time all the time, backing up where you’re supposed to be, etc.”

Weaver didn't have to wait too long for their paths to cross, as Stanky was hired by the Cardinals as their player-manager in the 1951 offseason. A December 16, 1951 article in the Toledo Blade about Stanky’s hire referred to Weaver as, “the Eddie Stanky of the Cardinals organization.”

Weaver was a member of four straight pennant winning teams in their minor league system, and was offered an invite to spring training in 1952 prior to Stanky’s acquisition. He was given a brief trial at major league camp that spring, but didn’t make the cut. Larry Granillo of Baseball Prospectus highlighted one of Weaver’s 1952 spring training games, where he went 2-5 against the New York Yankees while sharing the lineup with Stan Musial, who in a sad twist of fate, passed away the same day as Weaver. Whatever momentum Weaver built within the organization came to a halt with Stanky taking over the reserve infielder spot, as he could not crack the ranks with both Red Schoendienst and Stanky in front of him.

Weaver never reached the majors as a player, becoming a manager in the minor leagues in 1956, working his way up the ladder the same way he did as a ballplayer. He took the reins of the Baltimore Orioles from Hank Bauer in 1968 en route to a World Series championship in 1970. Weaver spent 17 seasons at the helm from 1968-1982, and again from 1985-86, compiling a 1480-1060 record with four American League pennants to his credit.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996, and while his intense battles with umpires are etched in the memories of baseball fans everywhere, his spirited displays date back to his travels through the back roads of the Cardinals farm system. Harland Coffman, Weaver’s teammate in Omaha in 1951 captured his nature most succinctly in a 2008 interview.

“He was a real competitor," Coffman said. "He was looking for ways to beat you no matter what it was.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chuck Diering, former outfielder for the Cardinals, Giants and Orioles, dies at 89

Chuck Diering, who spent nine seasons in the major leagues as an outfielder with the Baltimore Orioles, New York Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals, passed away Friday after taking a fall at his home in Spanish Lake, Missouri. He was 89.

Chuck Diering - 1951 Bowman - Wikimedia Commons

Diering signed with the Cardinals in 1941 and missed three seasons due to his service in the United States Army in World War II. He finally broke in with the Cardinals in 1947, as an understudy for the aging Terry Moore. In his five seasons with them, he earned a reputation for his tremendous speed and defense in the outfield.

The New York Giants acquired Diering in December of 1951 with Max Lanier as part of the Eddie Stanky trade. Speaking with Diering via telephone in 2011, he was perplexed some 60 years later why the Giants wanted his services.

“I don’t know why in the world the Giants got me," he said. "I think I was more or less a throw in with Max Lanier for Eddie Stanky. I think there was something with Willie, and he was going into the service and he might not be there. Well, he didn’t go anywhere.”

Mays stayed with the Giants until June, and Diering went to the minor leagues a month later. He played in 41 games, which was ironically more than Mays that season, but only had 23 at-bats.

“I was just sitting there on the bench," he lamented. "In my major league career, that was the worst part of my major league career. I would go out there for those guys just to spot play. [Leo] Durocher, I don’t think he said ten words to me while I was there. I was more or less an outsider. Durocher’s boys were Mays and Monte Irvin. I felt like I was a misfit on the team. I only spot played. Hank Thompson would come up and say, ‘Leo’s going to play you today.’ That was it.”

His stint with the Giants left a blemish on his career; one that he felt affected his hitting. In a rare turn of events for a major leaguer, he was happy when they sent him back to the minors.

“As far as anything else, it really hurt my career, the way they’re going for averages," he said. "I didn’t play enough. I had very few hits. It kept me from hitting .250. I hate that .249 number. That’s what happened to me with the Giants. I would start the game, you would get towards the end of the game, they would wave and pinch-hit for me. I was happy when I went back to Minneapolis and finished up with them."

Diering spent all of 1953 with Minneapolis, where he batted .322 with 12 home runs. In the off-season, the Baltimore Orioles who were looking for new talent after moving north from St. Louis signed him. It was just the change that Diering needed.

“I had a good year and that’s when Baltimore drafted me, when the Browns sold to Baltimore," he recalled. "The article in the Sporting News said, ‘Why did they draft Chuck Diering?’ Art Ehlers [Orioles General Manager] said, ‘We need someone to cover that territory in that football field.’ He was right; I had three good years there. They voted me the MVP for the team the first year. Bob Turley was voted most popular. I thought I was going to get the Cadillac. I still have my trophy and he doesn’t have his Cadillac!”

Much of Diering’s prowess as an outfielder was praised in Jason Aronoff’s, “Going, Going … Caught,” an excellent collection of accounts of the greatest outfield catches prior to 1964. He described Diering’s May 27, 1955 grab on a Mickey Mantle drive at Memorial Stadium rivaling Mays’ 1954 catch in the Polo Grounds.

“For all the publicity, and deservedly so, that the Giants’ Willie Mays received for his famous ’54 World Series catch, the feat doesn’t compare to Chuck Diering’s spectacular run and grab last night of Mickey Mantle’s tremendous 440-foot wallop,” Aronoff cited from Hugh Trader of the Baltimore News Post. "Just at the moment when Diering caught the ball, he collided with Hoot Evers, who was coming in from right field. Both went flying, but somehow Diering held on to the ball."

The running catches like the one Diering made in Baltimore, where he seemingly ran the length of a football field to track the ball down, he says are no longer possible due to the construction of modern parks.

“They don’t have the fences like we had," he said. "Today they’re all backyard fences. They want to make those catches with their gloves over the fence. When left field went to center in Brooklyn, you had a little niche because they changed the fence because of the street. From right field to center field, there was an incline and then another fence and then a mesh way up in the sky. You had to learn how to play the ball off of that mesh, how to go back because of the incline, and then learn how to play it off the different materials. It wasn’t deep at all in right field. Philadelphia had one of those real high fences too, and then halfway up it was corrugated metal, so you had to figure out how to play the ball off of that. Pittsburgh had a 450-foot center field with a brick wall. The batting cages were in left center and you had to judge that."

Like many in his era, Diering remained attached not only to the game he played, but to also how it was played when he came up. Fifty years later, he noticed a very different style of play on the field.

“The era of baseball right now is boring because they don’t play baseball like we used to," he said. "People today do not know what they’re missing. … They missed the game of baseball and how you had to do things different in baseball. Everything now is the home run. Offensively, guys had to hit and run, and steal bases. Now they’re all up there swinging for home runs. They play an altogether different defensive type of game.

"To me the center fielder runs the whole outfield. These guys, they don’t run in and take fly balls that the shortstop is running to in the middle of left and center field. The center fielder should be catching that ball in front of him. … I used to chase [Red] Schoendienst and [Marty] Marion off all the time. These guys don’t charge hard and try to throw somebody out. I asked Cardinal players why they don’t try to throw the guy out at home. They said, ‘We’re trying to prevent the double play.’”

Diering remained active in retirement, golfing two-to-three times per week until his death. He enjoyed appearing at the annual St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm Up, where he would gladly sign autographs.

“I’ll sign anything," he said. I even had my son make pictures of me and I give them away. I’ll take about 100 pictures over there and I’ll autograph them, in addition to whatever stuff they want."

His generosity extended beyond just sitting at a table for a few hours and greeting the fans. He would talk around the public areas after his designated signing time, offering to sign for anyone that was interested.

“Now, I’m the only one [player] that does this," he said. "My son and I will walk in the crowd. We’ll see a kid and ask them if they got an autograph. If they didn’t, we’ll give them an autographed picture. They’ll ask, ‘Well who is it?’ We tell them, ‘It’s a Cardinal baseball player.’ When I tell them I am the guy in the picture, they say, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding!’ That’s the biggest part of my life, is kidding people, talking with them and having fun. That’s the closure in my life.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Potter tracking down the legend of Drungo Hazewood

A rare signed Drungo Hazewood 1991 Crown Orioles Card
Drungo Hazewood’s major league baseball career lasted five plate appearances, and if you weren't scouring box scores in 1980, chances are slim that you've ever heard of him. Yet when it comes to serious fans and collectors of Baltimore Orioles memorabilia, Hazewood has remained famous for more than his unique moniker. Just like the curve balls that baffled the highly touted outfielder, he has thrown some of his own to those seeking his signature, placing his name atop the want lists of collectors across the country.

In his travels connecting retired major leaguers with aficionados looking to further their autograph collections, Chris Potter met with the elusive Hazewood to discuss the prospects of facilitating a signing to add his penmanship to their prized paraphernalia. “I brought it up to him, I said, ‘You’ve been a pretty tough autograph for people that want it,’” said Potter. “He goes, ‘I just don’t understand why they want it.’ – He just doesn’t understand why people want his autograph from the career that he had. He didn’t have a long career. He’s kind of taken back by the fact that people want his autograph. He’s more than happy to do the signing with me; he was excited about it when I mentioned it to him. He wants to see what people are going to send in to be signed.”

Hazewood is one of 50 former major leaguers that Potter will visit during his next run of signings beginning September 30th that include a wide range of talents from Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, perennial All-Stars Del Crandall, Reggie Smith, and Don Kessinger, to such curiosities as Frank Baker, Rich Coggins, Johnny Jeter, and Ron Woods. The one-time Orioles prospect is not the first player to wonder why people still want their autograph long after their cup of coffee has been emptied. “I’ve run across that a few times where players are like, ‘Who remembers me and why do people want my autograph?’” said Potter. “The people who are really seeking their autograph know who they are, but it’s really hard to find someone who knows about the players I go and see unless you are a baseball enthusiast, historian or collector. We focus more on those guys.”

For many of the players Potter visits, they enjoy the convenience of being able to do the signing in a comfortable setting while obliging the fans. “Everybody I’ve worked with really enjoys this. If you look at it, they don’t have to go anywhere and guys their age, they don’t like to travel. Not only are we providing a service to the collectors, we are providing a service to the players as well. That’s what is appealing to a lot of these guys. They want to accommodate the fans and they want to go to these shows, but some are physically unable to do so. With the service we provide, they’re able to accommodate the fans and they’re happy to do so with what we provide,” said Potter.

As he continues with traversing the routes and highways of the United States, he finds the players revel in the uniqueness of the items they’re presented with. “We get it all the time. They’re taken a back from some of these items and by people who track this stuff down, are passionate enough to get it signed, and want their autograph on it. Some of the guys are really emotional about the things we bring them to be signed.” For more information on Potter’s next round of signings, check out his website –

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bob "Tex" Nelson's career a golden example of the flawed bonus rule

Imagine signing a high school slugger for a few million dollars and the following week putting him at the plate against the likes of Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia. Bob “Tex” Nelson in 1955 did just that, debuting against Hall of Famers Early Wynn and Bob Feller right after his high school graduation. He was signed by Paul Richards as one of his hyped “bonus babies” in June of 1955. He died suddenly last week in Texas at the age of 74.

Click here to read more about Nelson's career and why it never got off the ground.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Walt Dropo, 87, 1950 American League Rookie of the Year, 1923-2010

One of the University of Connecticut's greatest stars, Walt Dropo passed away Friday night at his Boston area home. He was 87.

The Mossup native beat out Whitey Ford for the 1950 American League Rookie of the Year Award after swatting 34 home runs and amassing 144 runs batted in. A giant of a man, standing 6'5", Dropo starred in three sports at Connecticut. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears of the NFL and the Providence Steam Rollers of the BAA. Over 60 years later, Dropo still ranks second in career scoring average with 20.7 ppg.

While Dropo never could match his rookie season, he spent 13 seasons in the big leagues with Boston, Detroit, Chicago (White Sox), Cincinnati and Baltimore. He finished with a lifetime .270 average and 152 home runs.

More Info - 
Walt Dropo, UConn Star and A.L. Rookie of the Year in 1950, dies - NY Times

Walt Dropo, UConn legend, Red Sox rookie for the ages - Hartford Courant

Mossup icon Walt Dropo dies at 87 - Norwich Bulletin

Former Red Sox first baseman Walt Dropo dies at 87 - Associated Press

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Orioles pitching ace Mike Cuellar dies at age 72 (1937-2010)

The sad news of Mike Cuellar's death from stomach cancer on Friday caused me to reminisce about our meeting in Florida last August which was captured in the above photo. Cuellar, standing proudly in the center in his red shirt and fancy hat was in a joyous mood surrounded by his fellow teammates and countrymen.

The native of Santa Clara, Cuba began pitching for Almendares in 1957, and would later help lead them to the Carribean Series championship in 1959. That would be the same year that Cuellar would make his Major League debut with the Cincinnati Reds. He made his debut in April, and was quickly sent back down to Havana after pitching just 4 innings.

Cuellar's career didn't end there, and it is a story of perseverance. He would not return to the big leagues for five seasons. After bouncing around AA, AAA and Mexico, the screwball tossing lefty resurfaced with the Cardinals in 1964 and would spend the next 14 season playing with the Astros, Orioles and Angels. It is with the Orioles where at the age of 32, Cuellar had his resurrection.

In 1969, Cuellar won 23 games en route to winning the Cy Young award and leading the Orioles to a World Series appearance. Cuellar would help to drive the Orioles to the World Series the next two years, winning 24 and 20 games during each of those seasons. At the age of 37 in 1974, Cuellar won 22 games, making him a four-time 20 game winner.

Cuellar most recently lived in Orlando, and spent the last few months of his life hospitalized after suffering a brain aneurism, followed by the removal of his gall bladder, all of which preceded his stomach cancer. Adorned by many, I choose to remember the strong man I met during a warm summer day surrounded by members of his Cuban baseball family. Rest in peace Mike Cuellar.

More Articles on Mike Cuellar -

El béisbol cubano está de luto: Murió Mike Cuellar - Terreno de Pelota
Baseball Legend Struggling in Orlando Hospital - Orlando Sentinel
Steady Cuellar, A Master of the Screwball -
Cuban Pitcher Mike Cuellar passes away - Orlando Sentinel
Former Baltimore Orioles Ace Mike Cuellar dead at age 72 -

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fort Lauderdale Stadium empty in spring training for the first time in 50 years

Fort Lauderdale Stadium 2008

Fort Lauderdale Stadium 2008Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Vistadome 
With the departure of the Orioles from Fort Lauderdale, 2010 will mark the first time in 50 years that Fort Lauderdale Stadium will be empty during spring training. To read more information behind the vacancy in Fort Lauderdale, click here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hubert "Bert" Simmons, 85, 1924-2009 - Former Negro League Pitcher / Outfielder

Bert Simmons at the 2008 Judy Johnson Foundation NightFormer Negro League pitcher and outfielder Hubert "Bert" Simmons died on Wednesday July 8, 2009 at Seasons Hospice at Northwest Hospital Center in the Baltimore area at the age of 85. Simmons played in 1950 for the Baltimore Elite Giants. With Simmons' passing, the only four known living former Baltimore Elite Giants are James "Red" Moore, Andy Porter, Clyde Parris and Clinton "Butch" McCord.

I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Simmons during the past two Judy Johnson Foundation tributes at the Wilmington Blue Rocks stadium. He was an engaging individual, signing autographs for everyone and readily willing to share his experiences about playing professional baseball and serving in World War II with anyone who asked. We talked about the finer points of throwing a curve ball (his expertise), how he was recruited by Dick Powell to play for Baltimore, and some of his great teammates in Thomas "Pee Wee" Butts, Junior Gilliam, Joe Black and Henry Kimbro. He said that Butts and Gilliam were the best double play combination that he had ever seen. Simmons was also kind enough to pass along some advice on teaching high school students, which has helped me in my journey in education.

Last summer, Simmons was signed by the Baltimore Orioles in the June 2008 Major League Baseball "Negro Leagues Draft", which he said was his greatest honor in baseball. Simmons was held in high regard in the Baltimore area, where he made countless appearances promoting the memory of Negro League baseball. His generosity will be missed, and his memory will live on through the Negro League's Baseball Museum of Maryland where he was co-president. It is located in the Lochearn Presbyterian Church on Patterson Avenue in Baltimore County, and is set to open in September. Here is a video of Simmons and Ray Banks talking about the museum.

Below is an interview from 21st Century Radio with Dr. Bob Hieronimus

For more information on Bert Simmons, explore the following websites:

Baltimore Sun Obituary
Baltimore Afro-American Obituary
North Carolina A+T Baseball Alumni Association Article
Baseball in Wartime - Detailing Bert Simmons' WWII Experience