Showing posts with label Bill Freehan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bill Freehan. Show all posts

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Honoring the tremendous character of Don Lund

I made my first contact with Don Lund via telephone late in 2007 when I started my research to find out what the experience was for the major league players who debuted as the color line was slowly eroding.

He shared his stories of being signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers only a few weeks before Jackie Robinson, and how both of them were offered positions on the major league club on the same day in 1947. We talked about his travels through a variety of major league organization, and his long standing career at the University of Michigan as a three-sport athlete, coach, and later assistant athletic director.

Don Lund with the author in 2008
His bird's eye view at Michigan of the budding talents of Bill Freehan, Barry Larkin, and Jim Abbott all rolled off his tongue as he beamed with pride describing his favorite stories of each player. He glowingly spoke about his 1962 National Championship team and the influence that Ray Fisher had on his career. He had energy to continue telling stories, not about himself, but the many people he met along the way. Our conversations routinely lasted an hour or more.

Earlier this week, I sadly received the news that Lund passed away last week at the age of 90 at an assisted living facility in Ann Arbor. The mention of his death immediately brought back memories of our 2008 meeting in New Jersey.

Knowing that he would be coming to the local area for what was most likely to be the final Brooklyn Dodgers reunion, we made plans to meet at the show and spend some time together. My only picture of Lund was what was on his baseball cards, so it was difficult for me to imagine what I was going to encounter. Time works differently on our baseball heroes, and Lund was 55 years removed from the portrait on his 1953 Topps card.

I walked up to the room, and there was Lund, holding onto a walker, partially stooped forward, smiling as we finally made our acquaintance in person. It was hard for me to envision him as the square shouldered running back that garnered a first-round draft choice from the Chicago Bears, but his grip was still incredibly firm as he reached out to shake my hand.

Within minutes of our meeting, Don made me feel like we were old pals from yesteryear. He introduced me to all of his old teammates as his friend. I watched as he signed away at all of the items the promoters put in front of him, and then as he happily met with the many fans that traveled from far and near to spend some precious moments with the living members of New York's bygone team.

As the signing finished, I went with Don to pick up his check from the promoters, as he had a few hours left before his ride to the airport. He never once scoffed at the amount, even though the quantity of items he signed brought the total to maybe $1-$2 per signature. The money wasn't his motivation for being there; it was to see teammates that he hadn't seen in some fifty years—guys like Howie Schultz, Lee Pfund, Mike Sandlock, Ralph Branca, and Clyde King, all teammates when he made his debut in 1945.

We sat around with Schultz and a few others in the hotel lobby, talking baseball while we shared some refreshments. As I went to pay, he steadfastly refused to let me do so, insisting that I was his guest for the day. As I wished him a safe trip home, he extended a handshake and a hug, wishing me well in my endeavors.

The way Don treated me that was was the embodiment of his spirit; a classy gentleman who went out of his way to treat others well.

I kept in touch with him on the phone and in the mail, exchanging correspondence once or twice a year. He always was willing to talk baseball, and in between the lines, sprinkle a few guiding thoughts for life's travels. We last spoke shortly after he moved to an assisted living facility in Glacier Hills, and even as recently as a month prior to his passing, he still had hope that he would be up and walking again, able to hit fungoes to the Michigan baseball team.

His had a profound effect on Michigan athletics, not only for their program, but for the many players he reached. Dave Campbell, who was the first baseman on Michigan's 1962 National Championship team, (who later played eight seasons in the majors, and spent two decades as a baseball analyst on ESPN) called Lund in the wake of his passing, a man of, "great leadership ... and great integrity," and was one who, "had a great influence on me while I was there."

I wish I had the opportunity to have met Lund earlier than I did, or even to have been one of his players, because in the short time we interacted, I could see how his tremendous character helped to shape the lives of so many young men.


Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 All-Star Game revives players’ memories of 1967 extra inning epic

As Major League Baseball finishes the first half of the regular season, fans and baseball's elite will descend upon Angel Stadium as it hosts its third All-Star Game. Anaheim's previous contests are of tremendous significance when it comes to the history of the midsummer classic.

The first contest in Anaheim on July 11, 1967 went 15 innings with the 2-1 National League victory being decided by a 15th inning home run courtesy of Tony Perez. Ironically, each of the three third basemen playing in the game provided the scoring via home run. The 1967 game marked the record for the longest game in All-Star Game history, which lasted for 41 years when the 2008 game also spanned 15 innings.


Freehan catches all 15 innings

As foreign as it sounds today in an All-Star Game, ten of the sixteen position players who started the game played the game in its entirety. American League catcher Bill Freehan of the Detroit Tigers was behind the dish for the whole game and recounted some of his experiences of that epic contest during a recent interview.

"If you look back to that All-Star Game, it reads like a who's who of the Hall of Fame," Freehan said from his Michigan home.

Manager Hank Bauer elected to keep Freehan in the game when he had two other catchers ready to go in.

"I was surprised," he said. "He came to me and asked, 'Are you okay? Are you okay? Can you keep going?' He was afraid that I was going to be worn out. In the papers, the next day Mayo Smith jokingly said that Bauer was trying to wear me out for the pennant race. I replied to Bauer, 'Heck yeah! [I can keep going.] We're trying to win this thing.' Unfortunately we didn't. It was fun to do it though, and that game is still a record. The other two catchers [Paul Casanova and Andy Etchebarren] were good players, but I think that it had something to do with me having prior All-Star experience that factored into Bauer sticking with me during a tight game."

A close view from the dugout

Freehan's iron man status left first-time All-Star Casanova on the outside looking in. That was Casanova's clearest memory of the game.

"They played 15 innings and I never got in the game," said Casanova via telephone. "You don't let a guy go to the All-Star Game and catch 15 innings. The only reason he [Bauer] never played me is because he didn't want Andy Etchebarren to feel bad about it. I was picked as the number two catcher. He brought Etchebarren on his own. He didn't want to play me ahead of Etchebarren. That's the only reason he did it."

Casanova recalled Senators manager Gil Hodges later approaching Bauer about Casanova's benching. His skipper wasn't happy about the affair.

"Gil [Hodges] got mad at him," he said. "When we went back to Washington, we played Baltimore at home. Gil called him to the side and said, 'If you would have played Casanova, you guys would have won the game because he hit good in Anaheim. (Casanova hit .432 at Anaheim Stadium that year with two home runs.) [Bauer] said, 'I don't want to him to feel bad about it because I don't want Andy to feel bad.'"

Another player who also watched from the bench was Indians pitcher Steve Hargan. A few of the pitchers didn't appear in the game because they had pitched the day before, but Hargan was the victim of a freak injury that prevented him from helping out the American League club.

"The last game with the Indians prior to the All-Star Game, I pulled a leg muscle rounding third," said Hargan speaking from his California home. "I got caught in the grass and pulled a hamstring, so I could hardly walk; that's the reason why I didn't pitch that day."

It dampened what was one of the highlights of Hargan's career. He agonized over the fact that an injury kept him from participating in the game.

"I felt bad about [the game] going that long and not being able to pitch," Hargan said. "Catfish [Hunter] pitched five innings. Here it was one of the most important games in my life, [and I was hurt]. That was my biggest recollection of not being able to participate because of pulling a muscle. I don't think I've ever pulled a muscle before in my life and haven't since."

Hargan shared Casanova's sentiments regarding playing time in the All-Star Game; if you're there, you should play.

"Everyone who makes the All-Star team should play if they're physically able."

The lone man at shortstop

National League shortstop Gene Alley was also another iron man going the distance, handling three errorless chances. The game exceeded his expectations in many ways.

"Well, I didn't expect it to go 15 innings," said Alley from his home in Glen Allen, Virginia. "I was ready to play nine. It was a thrill to play the whole game. I watched All-Star Games and they have at least two people at each position. I thought I might play five innings and someone else would play the rest. I don't know why they didn't substitute. The game was going along, there wasn't a lot of hitting in the game, so it went by pretty fast."

He didn't expect the Hall of Fame laden lineup to be silenced by the arms of the American League; not with Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Willie Mays in the lineup.

"There were a lot of great players," he said. "I'm not talking about myself; these guys who went into the Hall of Fame, they were great hitters and the pitching made everybody look bad."

Alley attributed the anemic offense Anaheim Stadium's ominous backdrop. The background only added to the difficult task of facing the top pitchers in the game.

"I remember the Angels said that at that time of the day [5pm] the ball would be hard to pick up," he said. "They were right, it was. The background wasn't that good that day. I think that had a lot to do with it. There were a lot of good hitters in that game and the pitching just dominated that game."

Perez gives the National League the winning run

Perez in the top of the 15th inning, hit a home run off of Catfish Hunter that led to the National League's victory. Alley said it sparked a great deal of emotion in their dugout.

"We were happy!" Alley said. "Here we can finally maybe get the game over with and win. At that time the National League really went in trying to win them."

A young Tom Seaver made his first of twelve All-Star appearances to close out the game. Alley went to the mound to offer the rookie some words of advice.

"I remember going up to talk to Tom Seaver and I told him, 'Look, just pitch the way you do against us and you'll be alright.'"

Seaver blanked the American League in the bottom of the inning to preserve the victory.

While these All-Stars are past their playing days, they will be eagerly tuned into the game. For Hargan and Alley, the game will rekindle the spirits of the inaugural game at Anaheim Stadium.

"I'm going to be watching the game," said Hargan. "It brought back some old memories. My first win was against the Angels when they were playing in Chavez Ravine. I enjoyed pitching there because it was one of the newer stadiums at the time. Most of the parks were older."

Alley is excited to see how the new park looks.

"I'm anxious to see this year's game," he said. "I don't remember too much about the stadium, but it doesn't look the same now as it did when I played there when I see it on TV."

The 81st annual MLB All-Star game will be televised July 13, 2010 8:00 PM EST on Fox.

More Info
1967 All-Star Game Box Score and Play by Play - Baseball-Reference.com
Anaheim ready to make more ASG memories - MLB.com
1967 All-Star Game: A different world - Orange County Register
Casanova didn't get in the game - The Free Lance-Star
A chance for underdogs - St. Petersburg Times