Showing posts with label Baseball Happenings Podcast. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baseball Happenings Podcast. Show all posts

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Cholly Naranjo Interview

Starting as a 17-year-old in 1952 with the Washington Senators organization, Gonzalo “Cholly” Naranjo has ties to a unique baseball world from his ten-year career in both the United States and Cuba. The Cuban-born former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher recently appeared on the Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss the Trump administration canceling the deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation, his first meeting with Roberto Clemente, and a host of other wonderful tales from his baseball journey between Cuba and the United States.

Cholly Naranjo / 1956 Hollywood Stars

President Trump's decision to end MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation's relationship

In April 2019, President Donald Trump ended a four-month-old agreement between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation that allowed Major League teams to sign Cuban players for a 25% fee over their signing bonus to the Federation, as well as paying their Cuban income taxes. In his 85 years, Naranjo has lived through a variety of regimes in Cuba, as he was one of the few ex-Major League players who stayed in Cuba after the laws changed for professional baseball players in 1961. Naranjo returned to the United States full time in 1995 and feels this decision is a repeat version of an old tale.



“You don’t pick where you’re born,” Naranjo said. “You come out wherever you come out, and you’ve gotta go through the rules in the place where you live. You come to the United States, you’ve gotta go by the rules. We come [here] to play baseball, and we don’t pick where we’re born. What can you do?

“Now all of that is kind of juggling between baseball and the places where you live. All we wanted to do is play baseball and make a living. It happened before with us. We had that in 1961. The guys who couldn’t accomplish making the big leagues came back to their home. It’s a new copy of what baseball in Cuba is going through with the ballplayers. You’ve gotta face it because you cannot do anything with the laws of the country.”

Cholly Naranjo's favorite Almendares teammate

Naranjo built his chops playing for Almendares of the famed Cuban Winter League from 1952-1961, serving as a mainstay of their pitching staff for a decade. When asked to choose his favorite teammate, he went out of his way to recognize Willy Miranda. Regarded by many as the premier defensive shortstop of the 1950s, Naranjo told how even Miranda could poke fun at his own light hitting abilities.

“I was right beside Willy Miranda for 10 years and Willy was an outstanding guy,” Naranjo said. “He knew more about baseball than you could ever believe. … He came up one time to hit against Vinegar Bend Mizell with three men on. Dick Rand was the catcher. He turned to Dick and said, ‘Do you want to see a home run with the bases loaded?’ [Rand] said, ‘Are you going to hit it?’ He said, ‘No, the guy that’s coming after me [will hit it].’ That’s what kind of guy he was.

“He was incredible. Paul Richards said a lot about that. He could get rid of the ball faster than anybody he’d ever seen. He could make that play in the hole out on the left field grass and throw you out.”

Naranjo's toughest foes in the Cuban Winter League

On the mound, Naranjo battled established veterans during his Cuban League tenure, even drawing Branch Rickey’s attention for how he improved his curveball in the winter league. Surprisingly, when Naranjo recalled the batters who gave him fits, he pointed to two rookies whom he just could not get out.

“Jose Tartabull and Sandy Valdespino, they could read me like they owned me,” he said. “Everybody was a tough hitter for me. Those two guys, they were rookies. The rest, were day in, day out.”

Cholly's most cherished Roberto Clemente memory

Naranjo eventually reached the majors in 1956 with the Pittsburgh Pirates after narrowly missing the Washington Senators Opening Day roster in 1954. His time in Pittsburgh opened the door for a relationship with Roberto Clemente, a topic Naranjo frequently encounters. He revealed how they built their kinship before they were teammates during a chance February 1954 meeting in Puerto Rico.

“The story about Roberto [was] in 1954,” he said. “We won the pennant in Havana. The year before, I was in Chattanooga and I went to Havana. Manuel Maldonado (Denis), the Puerto Rican pitcher who beat me in Mexico in the Amateur World Series in 1949, he went to Chattanooga when I went to Havana. He was going out with the same girl I was going out with. I came back home after the season ... we won the pennant and we flew out to Puerto Rico because the Caribbean Series was in San Juan.

“He [Maldonado] came up to the hotel and he was going to the University of San Juan. He came to see me as a friend. He said, ‘Come on, I’m going to take you to the university, and I’m going to introduce you to a guy who is going to be a hell of a ballplayer.’ You know who it was, Roberto Clemente. He was sitting in the track and field stands by himself. Branch Rickey just signed him and gave him a $15,000 bonus. Rickey was the general manager of the Dodgers. He sent him to Montreal. He told the Montreal manager not to play him. When he went to Havana, the fans in Havana knew a lot of baseball. They were calling the manager a “racista” because he didn’t play Roberto. They didn’t know that Rickey told him not to play because he didn’t want the scouts to see Roberto [so] they could get him in the draft. He already knew that he had the job with the Pirates and got Roberto for $5,000 in the winter meetings of the draft.”




During our 40-minute talk, Naranjo shared just a sliver of his baseball treasures that spanned his 85 years of playing and observing the game. He was especially proud that both his mind and body were clear enough to lead an active lifestyle.

“I’ve got my health at my age,” he said. “I got this far, and I’m better than when I was playing ball. Can you believe that? Sometimes I think, well, give me the ball; I’m going to get somebody out.

“It makes me feel well that I can be a normal person and do all the things necessary to live in the United States and travel. … To me, it’s like a prize that I have proven that it can happen to anybody. ... I’ve lived over there and over here, and I’m clean in both of them. I have lived long enough to show everybody what is what. I feel proud of that inside. … I say Cholly, how old are you? Well, I’ve got more miles than Pan American Airlines!"

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Don Newcombe's memory celebrated by Nashua teammate Billy DeMars

Don Newcombe was instrumental in breaking down barriers when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him in 1946. Instead of sending him to join Jackie Robinson in Montreal, they sent him along with Roy Campanella to play for the Nashua Dodgers where they integrated the Class B New England League. In the wake of Newcombe’s recent passing, I reached out to the 93-year-old Billy DeMars for the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss the experience of playing with his pioneering teammate.




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“The one thing I remember about Don was he was a helluva great pitcher,” DeMars said from his Florida home. “We were playing in Manchester New Hampshire one night, and Walter Alston was our manager that year. He brought him in the ninth inning. ... He didn’t hold anything back, he struck out all three batters. Just to watch him throw, he let the air out. He was tremendous!”

Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella in Nashua, 1946 
DeMars also noted that in addition to being lights out on the mound, Newcombe was a force at the plate. He led the team in with a .311 batting average, even besting his future Hall of Fame teammate Campanella.

Branch Rickey sent both of Negro League talents north to New Hampshire, as he could not place them in the hostile cities of his other southern minor league affiliates. DeMars said the Nashua team readily accepted both players and treated them like family.

“We had absolutely no problems whatsoever on the team," he said. "They were just other players. We got along absolutely great with Don [Newcombe] and [Roy] Campanella. In fact, Campanella had a little boy who was five or six. We used to put him on an iron crate and let him play on the pinball machine.”

The Brooklyn native wound up on the Nashua team after returning from his World War II service, where he played with Ted Williams and Charlie Gehringer at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. The trio of future major leaguers, as well as player-manager Walter Alston, helped guide the team to the championship. Some seven decades later, DeMars chuckled at the reward.

“Another funny thing about that season, we lost the pennant on the last day of the season,” he said. “We went into the playoffs, and we won that to [become] the champions and our winning share was ten bucks apiece!”

Long removed from his playing and coaching days, DeMars marveled at the amount of money, or lack thereof, that he made while in the minor leagues.

“I signed and went up to Olean New York in 1943 just before I went in the Navy,” he said. “I tell everybody I made $3.50 a day. It was $100 a month — $25 a week, which came out to $3.50 a day. It is a little bit different than today.”

He cited a broken current minor league system that continues to underpay both the players and coaches. He explained that with record-setting major league contracts, baseball needs to reach down into the minor leagues and improve salary conditions.

“That’s what’s wrong with the game,” he said. “I just saw [Manny Machado] signed for $300 million and the guys who have to take cuts in salary are the minor league managers and the players. They are not paid as much as they should be [making]. The scouts and minor league managers need to make good money too. They are developing the players, and they have to work hard as hell down there.

"I spent 11 years as a minor league manager, and I was married and I had children at the time. You had to write up the whole league twice a year, the players once a month. At that time, I used to drive the team. We used to have cars; me and two other players would drive the club around. It wasn’t easy but we made it.”

DeMars played parts of three major league seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Browns. After 11 years as a minor league manager, he spent the next 19 as a major league coach with the Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos, and Cincinnati Reds. He has managed to outlive most of his peers, with Newcombe’s death serving as a mortal reminder of his place in history.

“In August, I will be 94,” he said. “Now with Newcombe gone, I moved up to 22 [he is currently the 23rd oldest living former major league baseball player]. It’s a helluva a list isn’t it?”

Still, the nonagenarian is popular with the fans due to his status as one of the few remaining St. Louis Browns alumni.

“I get a hell of a lot of mail,” he said. “I think there are 12 of us left from the St. Louis Browns. St. Louis was great, everything about St. Louis was great.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Hal Naragon Interview

Hal Naragon is a baseball treasure. At age 90, the former major league catcher spun baseball yarns of catching Bob Feller, playing in the 1954 World Series, and later coaching the Detroit Tigers to 1968 World Series victory on the Baseball Happenings Podcast.


Click here to listen on Spotify

Signing with the legendary Bill Veeck

Naragon signed with the Cleveland Indians after attending an open tryout during the summer of 1946; however, there was just one problem — he was still in high school. This led to his first meeting with the legendary Bill Veeck.

“I found that when I filled out the application it said you had to be out of high school,” Naragon said during his 2019 interview. “They wanted to sign me and I got nervous then because I knew that I shouldn't have been there, but my dad said that we would go back up and talk to Mr. Veeck.

“Mr. Veeck said to my dad, ‘We'd like to sign your son.’ My dad said, ‘I have to tell you he has not graduated from high school yet ... and he thought that this would be a good time to see if he had an ability to play professional baseball.’”

Hal Naragon 1956 Topps / Topps
Veeck’s keen eye would not allow Naragon to walk away that quickly. He extended an olive branch to the elder Naragon, and the two came to a gentleman’s agreement for the Indians to have the first crack at his son when he graduated.

“Well after you graduate will you give us a chance to talk to him?" Veeck asked. "My dad said, ‘Will a handshake do?’ They shook hands and they got me out of the ballpark.”

Naragon's major league debut

Naragon kept his word and signed with the Indians in 1947. He moved quickly through their minor league system, and by the time he was 22 he was in the major leagues. He eagerly recalled the September day in 1951 when he singled off Virgil Trucks in his first major league at-bat.

“I know it was a chilly day and they called me in from the bullpen,” he said. “Naturally I was a little nervous, but usually by the time you get to the plate you get yourself together and do what you can do.”

He played a few more games during his September call-up, and then the Marines quickly grabbed him to serve in the Korean War. While many players suffered from losing their peak years to military service, Naragon returned right in time to take part in Cleveland’s record-breaking 1954 World Series run.

Catching Bob Feller

Now that he had an entire big league season in front of him, Naragon was able to learn from the best in the game. His pitching staff included Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Hal Newhouser. With that staff, it was easy to understand why the Indians won a then-record 111 games in 1954. For a rookie, catching Feller was one of the highlights of his career.

“When I saw Feller he wasn't really in his prime, but still he had he had a good movement on his ball, a good curveball, and his fastball still was moving,” he said.

Playing in the 1954 World Series

Naragon hit .238 as Jim Hegan’s backup en route to the Indians facing the New York Giants in the 1954 World Series. He did not figure he would get much action, but with the Indians behind in Game Three, manager Al Lopez summoned Naragon as a late inning defensive replacement.

“You know, I was hoping that I would get in one,” he said. “When I was called up out of the bullpen to come in, I, of course, felt a little on edge at first but then I kinda settled down. I liked to be able to play in a World Series.”


Witnessing Willie Mays' Catch

While the Giants swept the Indians courtesy of Dusty Rhodes peppering the short right field porch in the Polo Grounds, I couldn’t bring up the 1954 World Series without asking Naragon about perhaps the most famous catch of all-time. We revisited Willie Mays’ devastating over the shoulder grab of Vic Wertz smash during Game One.

“You didn't think that much about it at first of the catch,” he said. “He did turn around and throw a nice ball into the infield. I don't know whether we even talked about it, but you knew Vic Wertz hit the ball and you thought, ‘Oh my goodness this is going to go out the ballpark.’ Well, then Mays catches it and you just say, 'Well, he's a good outfielder.'"

While Naragon said that he felt Larry Doby made tougher catches than Mays' World Series spectacle, years later he was able to recognize its historical greatness.

“I guess when looking back on it eventually you decide, ‘Hey that was one heck of a good catch.’”

Throughout his time with the Indians, Naragon built deep connections with many of his teammates, bonded by their train rides traversing the American League. He shared a lesser-known World Series story that involved one of his early Indians mentors, Dale Mitchell.

A career .312 hitter, Mitchell unfortunately, is best recognized for making the last out of Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game. Well after the game, the first person Mitchell reached out to was his friend, Hal Naragon.

“He called me that evening,” he said. “I asked him about it and I told him I thought the ball looked a little outside. He said he thought so too.”

Larry Doby's lighter side 

The nonagenarian reached deep into his bag of stories to share a lighthearted tale of an unintentional slip of the tongue he had with Larry Doby. Fortunately, his pioneering teammate found humor during the awkward moment.

“I remember that we were playing one game, the sky was kind of high, and the ball was kind of tough to pick up right away,” he said. “He sat down beside of me and said to me, 'Gee it is really tough to pick up that ball.’ … I said, ‘Larry, why don't you go ahead and put on some of that black stuff underneath your eye?’ Once I realized what I said, I looked at Larry and he is busting out laughing you know, because he was a dark man, but he knew what I getting to.”

Herb Score's Injury

Playing with the Indians in the second half of the 1950s decade as they started to rebuild after their Hall of Fame stars retired, Naragon was able to witness their young stars blossom. Cleveland’s prized pitching prospect was Herb Score, a flame-throwing lefty that many expected to carry on Bob Feller’s legacy. In his first two seasons, Score led the American League in strikeouts with a 36-19 won-loss record.

As 1957 started, Score looked like he was en route to another spectacular season; however, that all changed when New York Yankees infielder Gil McDougald stepped to the plate during a May 7th game. McDougald sent a line drive back through the box that smashed Score directly in the face. He watched with his teammates in horror as a bloody Score tried to hold his face together. The gruesome injury kept Score out for the rest of the season and derailed a once promising career. Naragon insisted that it was arm troubles and not the line drive that kept him from regaining his mound dominance.

“You know what, that didn't hurt his career,” he said. “Basically, he threw just as hard after it as he did before he got hit. He would tell you that [too]. I think what happened, he hurt his arm a little bit and that hurt him. As far as when he got back, he had the same velocity and a good breaking curveball. He didn't blame anyone that he couldn't pitch later just as well afterward.”

Score was not the only talent that Naragon watched bloom during his Cleveland tenure. Both Roger Maris and Rocky Colavito were rookies that Dale Mitchell told him to keep his eyes on, both impressing with their power hitting and defense.

Ted Williams' thoughtful gesture

While he had a multitude of fond memories of the superstars he played with in Cleveland, he was also excited to share a favorite Ted Williams story. It was one that had nothing to do with his on-field exploits.

“I asked Ted Williams that I would like to have a picture of him and he said to me, ‘When you get to Boston, you ask Vince the clubhouse guy and I will remember, and he will remember to get you a picture.’

“When I got to Boston, I kind of forgot that I asked Ted Williams [for the picture]. I was there leaning against the wall watching him hit and when he got through hitting, he came over and said, ‘I sent that picture over to you.’ Sure enough, when I went into the clubhouse, that picture was there. I thought, 'My goodness a big-time star like that remembers something like that!'”

In 1959, the Indians traded Naragon to the Washington Senators where he stayed with the franchise as they moved to Minnesota in 1961. After finishing his playing career in 1962, he stayed with the Twins as a coach, helping to guide them to the 1965 World Series where they lost in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

1968 Detroit Tigers World Series Victory

After his success with the Twins, he followed his good friend and pitching coach Johnny Sain to the Detroit Tigers. After two unsuccessful trips as a player and a coach, he was finally able to get a World Series ring when the Tigers won the 1968 World Series.

“That was a good team,” he said. “They would hit in the clutch … they got hits when it really counts, they were good defensive players, and they always had a lot of fun.”

Hal Naragon Tigers card courtesy of Mr. Naragon 
In 2018, as the oldest living alumni of the 1968 championship team, the Tigers invited Naragon and his wife to Detroit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their World Series victory. He basked in the opportunity to rejoice once more with his former players.

“We had a great time,” he said. “They invited us over to that and they really did a nice job for us.”

Naragon left coaching after the 1969 season to take over a local sporting goods store in his hometown of Barberton, Ohio. He ran the store from 1974 until his 1990 retirement. The town paid a massive tribute to their native son when they named Barberton High School’s baseball field Naragon Field in his honor in 2006.

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.





Monday, December 31, 2018

The best baseball books of 2018 | Our favorites of the year

Closing up 2018, we take a look back at some of our favorite baseball books from the year. Our favorites take on an international flair, representing baseball's diverse regions from Louisiana, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

Alou: My Baseball Journey - Felipe Alou with Peter Kerasotis

Felipe Alou teamed up with Peter Kerasotis to take a deep personal dive into his storied baseball career for "Alou: My Baseball Journey". The Dominican native reveals painful details about his life that makes his legacy journey a tale to behold. Kerasotis joined the Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss how he linked up with Alou to write his story.


They Call Me Pudge - Ivan Rodriguez with Jeff Sullivan

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, the 2017 Hall of Fame inductee perfectly captures the fiery playing spirit that propelled his 21-year major league career with his autobiography, "They Call Me Pudge". In our review, we looked at how his narrative showed just how deeply devoted Pudge was to the game.


Blue Monday: The Expos, The Dodgers, and the Home Run that Changed Everything - Danny Gallagher

Danny Gallagher looks into the Montreal Expos only playoff appearance and how the season was capped by the infamous "Blue Monday" incident. Gallagher gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at one of Montreal's most beloved teams through exclusive player interviews from both the Expos and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He appeared on the Baseball Happenings Podcast to explain how he was able to get so many players to share their experiences for the book.


Gator: My Life in Pinstripes - Ron Guidry with Andrew Beaton

In “Gator: My Life in Pinstripes”, Ron Guidry exposes the wild ride of his 14 seasons on the hill with the New York Yankees by pulling back the curtain on the Bronx Zoo, George Steinbrenner's impossible expectations, and his kinship with Yogi Berra. In our review, we discover how Guidry recovered from almost walking away from the game early in his career to become a Cy Young Award winning pitcher.




Baseball Happenings Podcast | Breaking down the pension dilemma of the pre-1980 MLB retirees

For the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast episode, you will find audio from my appearance of the MAD Radio Network podcast with author Doug Gladstone and Marc Weiss. Gladstone is the author of "A Bitter Cup of Coffee", a 2010 book that detailed the need for the MLBPA to make amends for the pre-1980 non-vested MLB retirees. For almost the past decade, Gladstone has been tirelessly advocating for this group to receive benefits.


In the 15-minute interview, I discuss a variety of topics including how to bring attention to the pre-1980 MLB retirees caught in the pension gap, my role as a player representative, and thoughts on Marvin Miller's Hall of Fame candidacy.

Subscribe via iTunes or listen in the player below.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Danny Gallagher Author of 'Blue Monday: The Expos, The Dodgers, and the Home Run That Changed Everything'

On the latest episode of the Baseball Happenings Podcast, we speak with Danny Gallagher, author of, "Blue Monday: The Expos, The Dodgers, and the Home Run That Changed Everything".

During the interview, we discussed the Expos' championship run during the 1981 strike-shortened Major League Baseball season. Gallagher explained how "Blue Monday" gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at one of Montreal's most beloved teams through exclusive player interviews from both the Expos and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Blue Monday / Dundurn Press

Baseball enthusiasts will enjoy how Gallagher breaks down the many decisions that led to Steve Rogers' and Rick Monday's epic face-off in the 1981 National League Championship Series, including the controversial firing of Dick Williams late in the season. While Monday's name still evokes painful memories in Montreal, Gallagher graciously devotes an entire chapter to the 19-year veteran's career that shows neither him nor Rogers, should be defined by their playoff clash.

Danny Gallagher - Baseball Happenings Podcast Interview