Showing posts with label Boston Braves. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boston Braves. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How Ed Charles experienced a social awakening playing in Canada

Ed Charles had his start in professional baseball in 1952 when the Boston Braves sent him to their minor league affiliate in Quebec, Canada. Charles, who passed away March 15th, 2018, shared in this interview how going north of the border was a social awakening for him after growing up under the laws of Jim Crow era segregation.

Ed Charles / N. Diunte


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Gene Conley recalls the rocky start to his major league career

At six-foot-eight, Gene Conley towered over his competition on the mound and the hardwood. He used his tremendous athleticism to claim his stake in two professional sports in a way that no other athlete has done since.

The two-sport star earned Major League Baseball and NBA championships respectively with the Milwaukee Braves (1957) and the Boston Celtics (1959-1961), making him the only player ever to accomplish this feat. Sadly, Conley passed away July 4, 2017 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. He was 86.

Gene Conley 1951 Hartford Chiefs
After the Boston Braves lured Conley from his studies at Washington State University at the end of the 1950 school year, Conley’s performance for Class A Hartford in 1951 showed why the Braves persistently recruited him. Conley posted an impressive 20-9 record with a 2.16 ERA, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Eastern League and the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year. After one dominant performance, his catcher and former Negro Leaguer player Stanley Glenn, compared Conley to arguably the greatest pitcher ever.

"You reminded me of Satch tonight," Conley recalled during a 2008 telephone interview from his home.

Conley thought that he would work his way through the minor league ranks, but the slumping Braves had plans otherwise. Looking to capture the magic he displayed in his lone minor league season, the Braves management felt that he could continue his meteoric ascent in the major leagues. To his surprise, the Braves kept Conley on the major league roster when they broke from spring training in 1952.

“They brought me up after one year in A-ball to Boston,” he said. “They sent me down as fast as they brought me up!”

Conley was thrown right into the fire, making his debut in the third game of the season against the eventual National League champion Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a step up Conley acknowledged over a half-century later that he wasn’t ready to make.

“I opened up against the Dodgers,” he said. “I remember the first time I was with Braves after I came up from Hartford, I wasn't ready to pitch in the big leagues. The [Dodgers] were just loaded. Oh all of them, the whole works. I remember I was sitting there in the dugout. Spahn opened the season. Someone asked, ‘Who is pitching tomorrow?’ I heard someone say at the end of the bench, ‘They're going to try that phenom from Hartford I believe.’ I was going to crawl under my seat. I think some old veteran said that. I gave up about four runs and he [Tommy Holmes] took me out in the middle of the game.”

Blitzed by the prospect of facing a lineup filled with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers, there was no way for Conley to pitch around the mighty Brooklyn lineup. He recounted how the litany of talent they had didn’t allow him to focus on stopping one single batter.

“Their lineup was so loaded,” he said, “You didn't pay attention, there were so many stars. Someone asked me the other day, ‘Who gave you a lot of trouble?’ I said shoot, you go down the Dodger lineup. How about [Duke] Snider? [Jim] Gilliam? Pee Wee Reese? [Roy] Campanella? They were all good ballplayers, Gil Hodges too … You didn't worry about any one of them because the other guy was just as good. [Jackie] Robinson was a little over the hill, but he could play like he did. [He would] steal a base, work you for a walk, and drive you crazy on the bases.”

After just four appearances that left him with a 7.82 ERA, Conley was mercifully sent to Triple A where he helped to lead their Milwaukee team to the American Association pennant. He followed in 1953 with 23-win season at Toledo where he once again was bestowed with the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year honors.

He returned to the major leagues for good in 1954, pitching ten straight seasons with the Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Red Sox until persistent arm troubles sidelined him in 1963. He finished his career with a 91-96 record, along with three All-Star selections and the aforementioned World Series championship.

While Conley stood out in baseball for more than just his height, he was humbled by the sheer talent that surrounded him during his career. He enjoyed being able to say that he was able to compete for a long period of time against baseball’s most iconic names.

“When you have eight teams,” he said, “you can imagine how tough the lineups were back in those days. I looked in a book on Hall of Famers, I played with and against more Hall of Famers than I ever saw. What luck did I have? That had to be a good period … I caught all of those guys. I'm glad I pitched through the 50s and 60s. I caught Berra, Mantle, and all of those guys. That was fun.”

Friday, November 18, 2016

Bob Addis, 91, infamous play changed the fortunes of Dodgers 1951 season

Even though it was a play that only happened in front of a few thousand fans, a well-timed slide by Boston Braves outfielder Bob Addis led to a decision so impactful on the 1951 pennant race that some have called it, “The Call Heard ‘Round the World.” Barreling towards home plate on teammate Earl Torgeson’s ground ball to Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson, Addis deftly slid underneath the tag of Roy Campanella, evoking an emphatic safe call from umpire Frank Dascoli. Chaos of the resulting call ensued, with the results quickly altering the course of the Dodgers season. For the next 65 years, Addis held steadfast to the umpire’s call, never wavering from the outcome. On November 15th, 2016, Addis passed away at the age of 91 in Mentor, Ohio.

Bob Addis / Author's Collection
As quickly as Dascoli ruled on the play, Campanella jumped up to protest the decision; without hesitation, Dascoli tossed Campanella out of the game, leaving the Dodgers without their star catcher after Addis scored the go-ahead run. The loss way a key factor in setting up the Dodgers three-game playoff with the New York Giants that led to Bobby Thomson’s infamous, “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Despite the ensuing fracas that resulted in not only Campanella’s ejection, but also future NBA Hall of Famer Bill Sharman, who was sent packing when the umpiring crew cleared the Dodgers’ bench, Addis remained fond of the Dodgers catcher who was also his former minor league teammate.

“Roy Campanella came down for a very short time [in 1948] and played in St. Paul,” Addis recalled in a 2008 phone interview. “He hit five home runs in a row playing down there. ... He was a great guy too. I was really disappointed when he got into the accident. I talked to him often and he was a very friendly person.”

The Hartland company immortalized Addis’ memorable play with a limited edition statue in 2013. Michael Swank, who helped to bring Addis' statue to reality with Hartland, queried the former Brave about the disputed call while he was signing the collectibles for the company.

"When he came over for the signing of the statues ... we really broke the play down," Swank said. "When we finished I asked him, 'Were you safe?' He looked at me, took a sip of his water, and said, 'The only thing I have ever been more sure of was the fact that I chose the perfect bride.'"

Bob Addis Hartland Statue / Hartland LLC

Addis played for four seasons in the major leagues from 1950-1953 with the Braves, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates, compiling a lifetime .281 average in 208 games. Of the three organizations that he played for, he was most fond of the Pirates in retirement for how they reached out to him during his post-playing career.

“I played so briefly with the Pirates, but they treated me better than any team that I played with,” he said. “I could go to Pittsburgh anytime and see a game. They fly me over to do a signing for a few hours, pay me, and put me up in a hotel. They do well by their alumni.”

After his baseball career, Addis went back to school to become a history teacher. He served as a teacher, coach, and Athletic Director at Euclid High School for 34 years before his 1993 retirement. Surveying the landscape of the major leagues during the 1950s, Addis felt that there were so many talented ballplayers that could never fully experience a break through due to the limited amount of roster spots and rules on player movement at the time.

“The big difference between then and now is that there were only 16 major league teams,” he said. “I saw so many good ballplayers in Triple-A that really didn’t make it. They had so many players to choose from. They had players today that were as good as the players back then, but not as many. You could come up now and play 20 games and get two hits; if you did that back then, you were on the bench. They had so many players trying to make it back when we played. A lot of these guys got up only briefly or never at all.”

Monday, October 24, 2016

Clint Conatser recalls how he almost changed the course of the 1948 World Series

Clint Conatser was just 17 years old when he started in the depths of the Cleveland Indians organization in 1939. Some 77 years later, he is only one of two living participants from the last Cleveland World Series championship in 1948. Unfortunately, Conatser didn’t enjoy the fruits of the Indians victory, but the labors of defeat as a member of the National League Champion Boston Braves.

Conatser almost never got to the big stage, as he asked to be put on the voluntarily retired list in 1941 so that he could enlist in World War II. They obliged.

“I wrote Cleveland and I asked them to go to the voluntary retired list,” Conatser said during a 2008 interview from his home in California. “If you went in the service, they had to pay $150 to pick you up. They didn’t pick me up and I’m in the South Pacific getting letters from little towns in Georgia and South Carolina that wanted to give me a contract.”

Clint Conatser as a Boston Brave / Author's Collection
Upon his return home, he started to work out at Manchester Playground in Los Angeles, where he attracted the attention of area scouts. He credited his resurgence to physically maturing during his service time.

“I was better than when I left because I was bigger, stronger, and I had matured,” he said. “I had started when I was 17. I just matured and had control of everything.”

He signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1946 and spent two seasons in their minor league system before the Braves purchased his contract prior to the start of the 1948 campaign. He earned the favor of manager Billy Southworth during spring training and seven years after he voluntarily retired from baseball, he was a big leaguer.

Conatser hit .277 in his 90-game rookie campaign while patrolling the outfield for the National League champs. He made two appearances in the 1948 World Series, starting in Boston’s Game 3 loss, and then pinch hitting in the deciding Game 6. During our 2008 conversation, Conatser’s clearest memory of the World Series was how his bases loaded sacrifice fly was inches from helping to force a potential Game 7.

“In the sixth game of the World Series when I pinch-hit with the bases loaded, I hit a shot and a guy made a great play on it,” he said. “They read the box scores and it said I hit a long fly ball to center field; I didn’t, I hit a shot. If the ball goes in, we win, and come back with [Johnny] Sain the next day. [Lou] Boudreau had taken [Larry] Doby out of center field because he played short like Tris Speaker used to and he put in a guy Thurman Tucker who was a world class sprinter; he could really run. He made a great play and Boudreau said that was the defining play because he put him in for Doby. If the ball goes in, it’s a different story. Every series is like that.”




Friday, February 19, 2016

Virgil Jester, 88, won final game for Boston Braves

Virgil Jester, one of Denver’s prodigal baseball figures has passed away. The former pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves died due to complications from pneumonia on February 15, 2016. He was 88.

Jester was a standout athlete at Denver’s North High School, where he played both infield and pitched. So renowned for his accomplishments on field, Jester was selected for the 1944 Esquire All-American Boys Baseball Game at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Jester was the starting pitcher for the West Squad that was managed by Mel Ott. Other notables who played in that game were Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, as well as future major leaguers Erv Palica and Billy Pierce.

Virgil Jester (second from left) at the 1944 Esquire All-American Boys Baseball Game
After attending Colorado State Teacher’s College, Jester was signed by the Braves in 1947 for the princely sum of $2,500. In a 2012 interview with the Denver Post, Jester wished his bonus arrived a half-century later.

"If you look at the salaries today, I was born 55 years too soon," Jester said.

The Braves initially placed Jester not as a pitcher, but as an infielder, an experiment that was quickly abandoned after he hit .169 during his first season with Class C Leavenworth. It was a move that paid dividends for both the Braves and Jester, as he posted winning records each of the next five seasons in the minor leagues, including a 10-5 record at Triple A Milwaukee in 1952 that led to his arrival in the big leagues.

“I won 10 straight games real quick, after that they called me up,” he said during a 2008 interview from his home in Colorado.

Jester pitched his way to a 3-5 record in 19 games for the Braves for 1952, with his third victory coming against the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 27, 1952. It was the final victory of the season for the Braves, as their last game of the 1952 campaign ended in a 12-inning tie against the Dodgers. Unbeknownst to him, it was also the final victory for the Boston baseball franchise, as owner Lou Perini moved the team to Milwaukee the following year.

“I pitched in the last game and beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the last game of 1952,” he said. “None of the ballplayers knew anything [about the move].”

Jester accompanied the team to Milwaukee and made the 1953 club out of spring training. He pitched sparingly in relief during April and was sent down to the minor leagues when rosters were trimmed at the end of the month. His demotion signaled the end of his career as a major leaguer.

He left the Braves organization after an arm injury in 1954 and remained out of baseball until 1959 when he was called by an old friend to help bolster the Denver Bears pitching staff. He gladly accepted.

“I left after the 1954 season and I never did ever hear from the Braves,” he said. “After that I rejoined the Denver Braves in 1959. I just kept myself in good shape working out with them in Bears Stadium. … They were having trouble with their young pitchers they were expecting a lot of. Bob Howsam called me in and asked me if I wanted to join the ballclub and I told them, ‘Sure!’ That's how I got back with the 1959 club.”

Jester kept himself involved in athletics working as a college football and basketball referee, as well as a baseball umpire for over 25 years. He attributed his success as an umpire to his former teammate and long-time major league manager Gene Mauch.

“I played with Gene Mauch and he was one of the men that I really followed because he knew the rule book inside out,” he said. “I think he was the only manager / ballplayer that I ever knew that knew more about the rule book than the umpires did. I felt like that was the best thing to learn what to do was to sit down with the rule book and read it. I umpired with a lot of men that knew the rule book real well, but they didn't have the guts to really apply it on the field.”




Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Remembering Alvin Dark 1922-2014

Alvin Dark, the 1948 Rookie of the Year who helped the New York Giants win the 1954 World Series, passed away on November 13, 2014 at his home in Easley, South Carolina. He was 92.

In addition to his aforementioned triumph with the Giants as a player, he also guided the Oakland Athletics to World Series victory in 1974, making him one of a select group to win a World Series as both a player and manager.

He compiled a lifetime batting average of .289 with 126 home runs and 757 RBIs, while playing with six different clubs from 1946-1960.

Below is a fitting tribute to Dark from the MLB Network.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Johnny Antonelli opens up the doors to his baseball life with 'A Baseball Memoir'

Johnny Antonelli has been out of baseball for 50 years, yet with the release of his new autobiography, "Johnny Antonelli: A Baseball Memoir", he finds himself back on the mound one more time.

“It feels pretty good. I’m not one that ever flaunted myself to be recognized. This has given me something that I probably missed since 1962 when I left. It’s something that kind of brings back memories,” Antonelli said during an August telephone interview. 

Johnny Antonelli: A Baseball Memoir / RIT Press

The southpaw collaborated with award winning journalist Scott Pitoniak to chronicle his story, one that he was initially reluctant to engage.

“He was asking me for a few years about doing a book and it wasn’t really my cup of tea, so I kind of put him off for a while. Finally I agreed to do it,” he said.


The deeper the once-hesitant pitcher went in the process, the more he enjoyed it. Their conversations elicited memories that Antonelli had once locked away.

“He kept asking me questions and dug up a lot of things that would bring back memories of all the things I went into when I was playing baseball," he said. "We got together quite often and I would say for about six or eight months that we talked and he came up with ideas. He dug into the history and I thought he did a pretty good job with it.”

Antonelli was a star at Rochester’s Jefferson High School and in 1948 was on the top of every scout’s list. His father arranged for the young lefty to pitch in a semi-pro game in front of a sellout crowd at the stadium of the Rochester Red Wings. Antonelli did not disappoint, striking out 17 on his way to a complete game no-hitter. The next day, the scouts lined up outside of his front door, waiting for their turn to woo him into their organizations. After the smoke cleared and $52,000 later, Antonelli was officially a member of the Boston Braves. In less than 48 hours, Antonelli went from a high school star straight to the major leagues at Braves Field.

Major League Baseball had a established a bonus rule at the time, where players who were signed for more than $4,000 had to be placed on the major league roster for at least two years. Antonelli’s arrival meant that someone had to be displaced from the big league club. The loss of one of their own, coupled with a hefty salary of the unproven high school player, irked many of the veterans.

“They were fighting for the pennant at the time of course and they had to get rid of a ballplayer, Jim Pendergrast, who was also a left-handed pitcher," Antonelli recalled. "He was sent down and of course there were some feelings about that with the team because he was friendly with them, and here I am a young 18-year-old coming in with a bonus. I think that upset a couple of the players, mainly Warren Spahn. For some reason, it bothered him more than any of the others.”

Spahn, who was the ace of the staff, resented the fact that Antonelli’s bonus more than tripled his salary.

“It was a unique situation, having received this bonus coming in, and then having resentment from some of the ballplayers," he said. "People have to understand and I did then that everyone wasn’t making much money. Our catcher Phil Masi would catch double headers and he was making $8,700. Spahn was making $15,000. How could you give a kid $52,000 and here we’re winning a pennant, want a raise and can’t get it? Then they went up [to owner Lou Perini] and got it. They should be happy in that respect.”

It took Antonelli a few seasons and a tour of duty in the military during the Korean War to shake the label of a bonus baby and quell all of his doubters. He missed two seasons due to his service (1951-52) and returned in 1953 to become a vital cog in the Braves rotation, going 12-12 in 31 appearances. He credits his increased role and performance due to the experience he gained pitching for his Army team.

“There was always a feeling I didn’t have the minor league experience," he said. "I always felt that I was as good as at least three-to-four of the pitchers that they were using. Not being used, you kind of lose your confidence. When I went into the service, I was pitching for Fort Myers, Va., and we had a pretty good ballclub. We won the Service Championship for the district of Washington. I got to pitch quite often and went 42-2 during that time."

His showing in Milwaukee was enough to attract the attention of the New York Giants, who traded star outfielder Bobby Thomson for his services. While Antonelli saw potential with the young club he was leaving, he was about to embark on a journey that would quickly change the course of his career.

“I enjoyed playing with Milwaukee and playing with that club, because I knew with the youth we had on that club, we were going to be good for many, many years" he said. "When I was told I was traded, I felt kind of bad about that because I thought we had a lot of future. I went to New York and we had pretty good success there, so I guess I can’t complain.”

Johnny Antonelli’s 1954 season with the Giants was one that baseball dreams are made of: 21 wins, an All-Star appearance, a third place finish in the MVP voting, and a World Series Championship that included him earning a win in Game 2 and a save in Game 4 that secured the final out of the Giants’ sweep of the Cleveland Indians.

He played with the Giants through the 1960 season, weathering their move to San Francisco to earn five All-Star selections. A New Yorker at heart, Antonelli didn’t enjoy the change of scenery.

“Going from New York to San Francisco was not my happiest time because I had a lot of success pitching in the Polo Grounds and I was concerned how I was going to pitch in San Francisco,” he said. “I felt very comfortable pitching in the Polo Grounds even though they had the short porches. As long as I kept them from pulling or hitting down the line, I had Willie Mays there catching all the mistakes I made.”

Antonelli split the 1961 season between the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Braves, retiring at the end of the season, thwarting an offer of over $30,000 to join the New York Mets in 1962. He had a successful tire business in Rochester and no longer desired the time away from his family that a major league career required.

“I had just turned 32," he said. “I was still young enough to play, but my problem was I was not a traveler; I didn’t like being away from the family. I kind of chose that time to get out. I didn’t want to be a pioneer.

"I knew they were going to have problems. It’s tough enough to live with a decent ballclub, but they were a very poor ballclub at the early stages. Even though they had some great names on the team, they were getting older. I remember someone told me that Casey Stengel said because I was in the tire business I had turned them down. They had sent me a contract for $38,000, which was a pretty good number at the time. He said, ‘He must be selling a lot of black donuts in Rochester to turn a contract like this down.’ On second thought, maybe I would have liked to play there a year or two, as I was comfortable, but again I had already made the decision.”

Turning his attention to Mark Appel’s recent rejection of a $3.8 million signing bonus with the Pittsburgh Pirates to return to Stanford, Antonelli had difficulty accepting that a player would turn down such an amount that could set themselves up financially for the rest of their lives.

“It’s hard to believe, hard to understand that somebody would turn down such a contract," he said. “I do believe that players are people. If they can get the college education, that’s great. Not too many every year make it to the major leagues. I think an education is always the best way to go, but when someone says, 'Here’s $4 million to sign a contract,' it’s kind of hard to turn away from that.

"I know in our day, when my father accepted $52,000 from Lou Perini, that was like all the money in the world. Now it’s $4 million, and that even opens my eyes a bit more."

The longer he pondered Appel's decision, the more he saw the disparity between Appel’s bonus and his own.

“I think it’s become accepted [to turn these offers down],” he said. "The minimum pay is well over $400,000. They don’t frown on that the way the $52,000 I received. … How many ballplayers every year that come out of high school or college make it? How many are successful? The average years [for a player] when I was playing ball, was 3.5 years. You couldn’t make enough in 3.5 years to retire for life; my contract was for $5,500 a season. If you are getting $4 million up front, you should be able to save a percentage of that, leave it alone and let it grow. It’s very hard for me not to take that contract.”

Now at 82, Antonelli is happily retired from the tire business with his second wife Gail, splitting time between New Mexico and Rochester during the year. He continues to follow the game, making appearances at Frontier Field in Rochester where he was honored with a spot in their Walk of Fame. The book release has provided Antonelli the opportunity to relish in the memories of his teammates and all of the wonderful people he met along the way.

“I never met a real bad person in baseball,” he said. "Most of the things I’d say about any of the players I played with were that they were all nice people.”

Monday, June 11, 2012

James 'Bus' Clarkson | A Negro League superstar's unheralded major league journey

Beyond the barriers Jackie Robinson tore down; lay the truncated major league careers of Negro League veterans. They fought for the opportunity to prove their great league's talents that fans missed during the segregation era. Past their prime, these baseball lifers persisted well into their late 30s and early 40s, playing out the string of their careers before teammates and crowds that never had the opportunity to see them play in their true glory.


Satchel Paige's well-documented exploits of finally reaching the majors in his 40s and Sam Jethroe winning Rookie of the Year at 33 are the more prominent stories from this group. There were other less-heralded Negro League vets who had smaller major league cups of coffee, thirty-somethings like Ray Noble, Pat Scantlebury, Quincy Trouppe, Bob Thurman, Artie Wilson, and one overlooked fence buster, James "Bus" Clarkson.

Long before he reached the majors, Clarkson was a power-hitting shortstop and third baseman in the Negro Leagues. Debuting in 1937, Clarkson terrorized pitching wherever he went, whether it was in the United States or the Caribbean, finishing second to Josh Gibson in home runs in the 1941 Mexican League. As Major League Baseball turned to younger Negro League prospects, Clarkson headed north to Canada in 1948. There he blasted 31 homers while batting .408 for St. Jean of the Provincial League. Despite his monstrous numbers, Clarkson returned to the Negro Leagues with no offers from major league organizations.

Clarkson refuses to be ignored

By 1950, Major League Baseball could no longer ignore Clarkson's talents. He signed with the Boston Braves and they assigned him to their Triple-A team in Milwaukee. Immediately, Clarkson lived up to his reputation as a dangerous hitter, batting .302 while playing third base. Holding down the left side of the infield with Clarkson was a young Johnny Logan, who would later become a fixture with the Braves.

“He happened to be an outstanding hitter," Logan said of Clarkson. "When you can hit, you play someplace. He was a tremendous guy. As a young ballplayer, we looked up to him.”

With Logan spending most of the 1951 season in Boston, a 36-year-old Clarkson handled the bulk of the shortstop duties, batting .343 while leading the Brewers to the 1951 Junior World Series championship over the Montreal Royals. Among his teammates was Charlie Gorin, a 22-year-old rookie pitcher fresh from the University of Texas. Speaking with Gorin in 2008, his memories of Clarkson willing his throws across the diamond from shortstop were clear.

“I could remember pitching, and when they hit a groundball to Bus, he'd field it and just throw it," Gorin said. "He didn't have a burning arm because he was up in age. His arm wasn't that good, and it would tail off, or go in the dirt. He'd make the throw to George Crowe and he'd say, 'Do something with it George!'”

A 37-year-old major league rookie

While Clarkson proved to be a capable fielder, his superior hitting abilities gave him a chance with the Boston Braves in 1952. With Boston faltering in the National League and Clarkson batting .385 at Milwaukee, the Braves made Clarkson a 37-year-old rookie. Clarkson played immediately, entering four of the first six games that he was with Boston. He went 2-for-11 with zero extra-base hits and the Braves quickly relegated him to pinch-hitting duties for the next month-and-a-half. Clarkson finished his campaign at the end of June with a batting average of .200, with five hits in 25 total at-bats.

Boston teammate Virgil Jester, who also played with Clarkson in Milwaukee, felt that Clarkson did not have a fair chance during his time in the majors.

“I thought he was a great, great player," Jester said. "He was one of the strongest hitters that I ever saw. I don't think the Braves gave Clarkson a good break to play there.”

George Crowe, when interviewed in 2008, echoed Jester's sentiments, saying that Clarkson had difficulty going from playing full-time his entire career, to coming off the bench every few games.

“He didn't play that much in Boston as I recall, like I didn't play that much when I was there either," Crowe said. "It's hard for a guy that's used to playing every day that gets in there once every one-to-two weeks.”

It did not help that Boston had young Eddie Mathews stationed at third base and had stock in upstarts Logan and Jack Cusick at shortstop. When Charlie Grimm took the managerial reigns from Tommy Holmes in June 1952, one of his first moves was to option Clarkson to the minor leagues and bring up Logan. Even though Clarkson was recalled a few days after being sent down, he sat the bench for the rest of June except for a few pinch-hitting opportunities along the way. He last played June 22 before the Braves ended their foray with Clarkson.

Building a minor league legend

His career, however, did not end after the Braves sent him down for the last time. Clarkson signed with the Texas League's Dallas Eagles in 1953 and terrorized the circuit's pitching for the next two years. At 39 in 1954, Clarkson led the league with 42 home runs while batting .324. Ed Mickelson, who was playing with the Shreveport Oilers, remembered one of Clarkson's legendary home run blasts.

“He hit a line drive at our shortstop at Joe Koppe," Mickelson said in 2009. "Joe wasn't very big; he was 5'8” or 5'9”. He went up and jumped for the ball; I don't think he put a glove on it — it was only a few inches above his glove. The ball kept rising and went out of the ballpark in left-center field. Still rising, it went out of the field, a line drive out of the park.”

Leading the Santurce Crabbers to winter league immortality

Clarkson carried his tremendous 1954 season into the winter when he played with the Santurce Crabbers in Puerto Rico. His team, which has been dubbed the greatest winter league team ever assembled, featured an outfield of Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and the aforementioned Bob Thurman. Clarkson anchored the infield at third base, while Don Zimmer was at shortstop, Ron Samford at second base and George Crowe at first base. Valmy Thomas and Harry Chiti held down the catching duties while Ruben Gomez, Sam “Toothpick” Jones, and Bill Greason handled the majority of the pitching. They easily captured the Caribbean Series.

Greason spent many years facing Clarkson in the Negro Leagues, as well as in the Texas League and Puerto Rico. He said the majors missed an extremely talented ballplayer.

“Clarkson would have made it no doubt in the majors if he was younger," Greason said in 2009. "He could hit and field. He was like Raymond Dandridge. People would have seen something that they don't see too much now. The fielding, throwing and hitting in one player like Clarkson and Dandridge. Those guys were tremendous … 'phenoms' as we called them.”

* Ed Note. - This was originally published at Baseball Past and Present - "A long ride to the majors: The story of James 'Bus' Clarkson."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

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

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

Nick Strincevich

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dave Cole and Roy Smalley Jr.'s deaths link a history started 57 years prior

Dave Cole and Roy Smalley Jr., remained linked long after the 1954 trade that saw them switch places on the Milwaukee Braves and the Chicago Cubs. After the late season emergence of Ernie Banks in 1953, the Cubs found Smalley Jr. expendable and sent him to the Braves for Cole during spring training. Both of their careers fizzled after the trade, neither showing the promise that either team expected after the swap.


Last week, they died four days apart. Smalley Jr. passed away at the age of 85 last Saturday in Arizona. Cole died in his hometown of Hagerstown, Maryland at 81 on Wednesday.

Their deaths, while coincidental, reminds us of the depth of baseball's connections. The news drums up nostalgia of the hope that each player brought to their new teams some 57 years ago.

Smalley began his career in 1944 with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Serving in the US Navy during World War II, Smalley returned to baseball in 1946. After some seasoning at the lower levels of minor league baseball, he became the starting shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in 1948, a position he would hold until the arrival of Ernie Banks in September 1953. Once spring training rolled around in 1954, Smalley saw the handwriting on the wall.

“Ernie had shown his talent for hitting at the end of the ’53 season. There was no hint from the club, but once into spring training in ’54, the trade didn’t come as a surprise,” Smalley in a letter he wrote to the author in 2009.


Smalley was traded to the Braves for Dave Cole in 1954 and was used sparingly as a reserve infielder. He was purchased by the Phillies the following spring, and spent parts of the next four seasons as their backup shortstop. He played in the minors through the 1960 season and then finished his career in baseball managing the Class C Reno Silver Sox from 1961-62.

His best season was 1950 when he had career highs in home runs, runs batted in, and slugging percentage. Unfortunately, he also led the league in errors, committing 51 at the shortstop position. The year 1950 had added significance for Smalley, as he married his wife Jolene.

Smalley's new bride was the sister of major league shortstop and future manger Gene Mauch, whom he would ironically later play for in 1958 as a member of the Minneapolis Millers. Keeping the family baseball tradition alive, his son, Roy Smalley III, followed in his footsteps at shortstop, playing 13 major league seasons with the Twins, Yankees, Rangers, and White Sox.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Ernie Johnson, 87, Braves pitcher, announcer and World War II veteran

Earlier this evening, it was reported during the Atlanta Braves telecast that their legendary announcer Ernie Johnson Sr. died Friday after spending time in hospice care. He was 87.

One of the friendliest voices in baseball, Johnson spent over 50 years with the organization as a player, executive, and broadcaster. Johnson was one of a handful of players who were left from the Braves’ playing days in Boston. After getting a cup of coffee in 1950, his 15-4 record at AAA Milwaukee the next season paved the way for his full-time role with the Braves pitching staff in 1952.

Ernie Johnson / Topps
Johnson was a key factor in the Braves 1957 World Series victory over the New York Yankees, pitching effectively in relief for three games. He stayed with the Braves through the end of the 1958 season, playing one more year for the Baltimore Orioles after being released.



In 2008, I had the opportunity to interview Johnson via a telephone call from his home in Cummings, Georgia. He spoke with an unparalleled level of clarity and familiarity about his experiences in baseball and his service in World War II.

For a rookie like me, it was like speaking to a sage of baseball, but he held no pretenses about himself. His voice was as inviting as I remembered it from the countless evenings I watched the Braves on TBS.

As the number of living major league players who served in World War II continues to dwindle, Johnson’s experiences serving his country speak highly to his character. He happily shared his journey during his time in the military.

Signed in 1942 by the Boston Braves, Johnson pitched briefly at Class A Hartford before entering World War II. Johnson spent three years in the Marines, seeing action in Japan during the Okinawa invasion. Unlike some ballplayers who did not want to go overseas, Johnson saw the call of duty as his opportunity to help lead the country to victory.

“I could have stayed in this country," Johnson said. "The captain called me in the office and asked me if I wanted to play baseball here. The captain told me, ‘We'll keep you from going overseas, and you can play for the base team.'"

Mulling over the decision of whether to stay or leave, Johnson decided to go to Japan. He just could not desert the troops he trained with for so long.

“I don't want to sound gung-ho, but I got through spending a year or two with these guys and we were prepped and ready to go overseas," he said. "I just thought to myself, ‘I didn't want to play baseball; I joined to help win the war. I'm gonna stick with these guys.’ We went overseas, and I was in the Okinawa invasion.”

He returned for the 1946 season suiting up with Class B Pawtucket. Luckily for Johnson, his best years were ahead of him; however, others returning from service weren’t as fortunate.

“I didn't take me too long to get ready," he said. "I was young in the service. I missed three years and I was still only 21, 22. I got back in shape pretty fast. I felt sorry for guys that went in when they were 25, 26, and now they're 28 and you could see they lost it. They would say, ‘I can't do it anymore.’ The guys I was with in Pawtucket, they couldn't play like they used to and they didn't last very long. It was sad, they missed three to four years and it really affected their careers.” 

As a pitcher, he felt that he had an easier road back from World War II than a position player. He felt it was a lot easier to recover your arm strength than it was your overall feel for the game in the batter's box.

“Pitchers are more apt to not lose it," he said. "They get back in shape and on the mound, it's not different. [The] hardest thing is hitting; you lose your timing and your bat speed, and that's when you lose your career.” 

Fortunately for baseball, Johnson’s career blossomed after his service and led him into our homes for many years as the unmistakable voice of the Atlanta Braves. The legacy he left behind from his entire career as a baseball player, father, broadcaster, and veteran has left an indelible mark on everyone that was able to know him.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stanley Glenn, 84, Negro League catcher and president

Stanley "Doc" Glenn, a catcher with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues died Saturday, April 16, 2011 due to natural causes at his home in Yeadon, Pennsylvania. He was 84.
Born Sept 19, 1926 in Wachatreague, VA, Glenn was a star at John Bartram High School in Philadelphia where he quickly drew the attention of the Stars Hall of Fame player / manager Oscar Charleston. Charleston signed him off of the sandlots in 1944 shortly after graduating from high school. Within a week of graduating, he was making $175 per month playing in the Negro Leagues.
Stanley Glenn (r.) at 2007 Judy Johnson Night / N. Diunte
Glenn played with the Stars through 1950, facing the likes of countless Hall of Famers in the Negro Leagues including: Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Monte Irvin, Ray Dandridge, Roy Campanella, Hilton Smith, and Willard Brown. He expertly detailed his recollections of not only his career, but of all of the greats he encountered in the Negro Leagues team-by-team in his 2006 autobiography entitled, "Don't Let Anyone Take Your Joy Away: An Inside Look at Negro League Baseball and Its Legacy."
His career, like many ballplayers at the time, was interrupted by World War II. He served as a technician in the Army Medical Corps during from September 1945 through November 1946, taking time off to play with the Stars when the opportunity presented itself. Upon his return from military service, he earned the nickname "Doc" for his physical therapy work performed during the war.
Glenn as a member of the Philly Stars
After Jackie Robinson's signing with the Brooklyn Dodger organization, many teams saw their top talent raided by major league organizations looking for the next baseball superstar. During the 1950 season, the hands of the Boston Braves scout Honey Russell reached down and signed Glenn to their Class-A affiliate in Hartford. As a catcher in the Braves organization, he faced stiff competition from the likes of Walker Cooper and Del Crandall. Nonetheless, Glenn played four seasons with Braves minor league outfits in Quebec, Lincoln, as well as Hartford before moving on to a career in the electrical supply business.
Glenn's Hartford teammate Gene Conley, who would go on to win championships in both MLB (Milwaukee Braves) and the NBA (Boston Celtics), was in his first year in pro ball when he pitched a game with Glenn as his catcher. Conley's performance that night was reminiscent of another lanky Negro League hurler.
"Stanley was my catcher the first season I played in A-ball," Conley recalled in a 2008 interview. "I liked him. I pitched a lot to him. I won my 20th game against Wilkes Barre. He was behind the plate when they gave me a night in Hartford. It was Gene Conley night. I pitched a shutout and beat Wilkes Barre 2-0 that night. After the last out, Stanley comes running out to the mound. Remember Podres jumping into Campanella's arms? He jumped up on me and said, 'I love you like a brother. You reminded me of Satch tonight!' He used to catch ol' Satch. I'll never forget that. It was a warm feeling. It was a good thing that he did; it made me feel good. The whole thing was nice. It was my 20th win, they gave me a night, and Stanley came out there and grabbed me. I tell people my first catcher told me I reminded him of Satchel Paige!"
Later in life with the resurgence of interest in the Negro Leagues, Glenn took the position as the president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association. He advocated for the rights of many of the former players and helped to create opportunities for them to share in the profits that many companies were making off of the renewed interest in the former league. He was a fixture at many events in the Philadelphia area, generously appearing to spread the word about the league and its history. 
Stanley Glenn Negro League Art Card / Author's Collection
Glenn was ceremoniously given his first baseball card by the Topps Company in 2007, when he was included in their Allen and Ginter set. His inclusion in the set opened up his career to a new generation of fans and collectors alike. He received a tremendous amount of fan mail after the printing of the card with requests for his signature and information on his career.
Mr. Glenn often appeared at the Delaware Blue Rocks annual Judy Johnson Tribute Night, where he graciously signed autographs and spoke about the history of Negro League baseball for many hours throughout the ballgame, often giving fans his home phone number to contact him with their questions. He was honored by the club in 2008 with special artwork bearing his image that was given to fans entering the stadium that evening. His passing dims another beacon that was able to illuminate the rich history of the Negro Leagues.
2010 Judy Johnson Tribute Night

Saturday, January 22, 2011

George Crowe, 89, former Negro League player and major league All-Star

George Crowe, former All-Star first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds passed away Tuesday night in Rancho Cordova, Calif. He was 89. 

Crowe was signed by the Boston Braves in 1949 from the Negro Leagues, where he played with the New York Black Yankees. He tore up every classification from a Class-B to Triple-A, posting averages of .354, .353, .339 and .351 between 1949 and 1952 before being called up to the Braves in 1952. Crowe shared time with first baseman Earl Torgeson his rookie year, batting a respectable .258.


During a 2008 interview that I conducted with Crowe, he shared as to why he didn't get more playing time over Torgeson, who batted a lowly .230. 

"When I was in Boston, Earl Torgeson wasn't that great of a player, but he was high on the totem pole of politics," Crowe said. "The manager was his old roommate. Torgeson and Tommy Holmes roomed together for years. Holmes became the manager. Who do you think is going to play?" 

The following season, Crowe was relegated to pinch-hitting duty, as the Braves, who had now moved to Milwaukee, brought in the powerful Joe Adcock to play Crowe's position. Nineteen fifty-four saw Crowe return to Triple-A with the Toledo club. He feasted on the pitching of the American Association, slugging 34 home runs with a .334 average. During that winter, Crowe was a member of the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers, which many regard as the best winter league team ever. He shared a lineup that included Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Don Zimmer, Bob Thurman, Bus Clarkson and pitchers Ruben Gomez and "Sad" Sam Jones. They ran away with the Caribbean Series title that year with Crowe solidifying the lineup at first base.

Crowe's undeniable talent allowed him to wrestle the first base position from Adcock in 1955, where he hit 15 home runs and batted .281. Finally receiving a chance to play regularly, Crowe took advantage of the opportunity and figured to be in Milwaukee's plans as they started to build a World Series contender. A week before the 1956 season opener, Crowe was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for "Hurricane" Bob Hazle, who greatly impacted the Braves' 1957 title run. 

It was with Cincinnati where Crowe, at the age of 36 would have his breakout season. An injury to Ted Kluszewski in 1957 opened the door for Crowe to play full time. Appearing in 133 games, Crowe smashed 31 home runs and drove in 92 runs, placing him 6th and 8th in the National League respectively in both categories.

In the 2008 interview, he discussed the merits of playing full-time. 

"The regular playing time helped," he said. "Wherever I was, I played everyday. It's not the same. There's nothing like playing everyday. If you can get in there once every two weeks, you might have a good day, but it's another week or ten days before you play again. It's hard to keep a sharp edge."

Sadly, he was the only Cincinnati Reds player not selected to the All-Star game as part of the infamous ballot stuffing scandal. He was beat out by the legendary Stan Musial. He would receive a degree of retribution the following season when he was selected as a reserve to the 1958 All-Star team after batting over .300 the first half of the season.  

Crowe played until 1961, finishing his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. He served as a mentor to younger African-American players such as Bob Gibson and Bill White. At the time of his retirement, he held the MLB record with 14 pinch-hit home runs. 

In addition to his lengthy major league baseball career, Crowe was a standout basketball player. He was the first Indiana Mr. Basketball award winner in 1939. He played professionally for the Harlem based New York Rens and the Los Angeles Red Devils, the latter of which included Jackie Robinson. Crowe remembered Robinson as, "a good basketball player."  

Crowe lived in the Adirondacks until five years ago when he moved to California to be closer to his family. After suffering a stroke in late 2008, Crowe resided in an assisted living facility until his death earlier this week.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Roy Hartsfield, 85, first manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, 1925-2011

Roy Hartsfield, the first manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and former second baseman for the Boston Braves passed away January 15, 2011 in Ball Ground, GA. He was 85.

Hartsfield played second base for the Braves from 1950-52 while maintaining a .273 batting average. He was traded after the 1952 season to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Andy Pafko. He would not return to the major leagues as a player after the trade.

The rugged second sacker entered organized baseball in 1943, playing for the Atlanta Crackers before entering World War II. Hartsfield served in the Navy at the famed Great Lakes Naval Base. In a 2008 interview with Hartsfield, he described the baseball legends that awaited him at Great Lakes.

"I played my first year in the Navy," he said. "I was the only minor league player on the ball club. All of the others were major leaguers. We had Virgil Trucks, Schoolboy Rowe, Clyde McCullough, and Billy Herman. We played a 50 game schedule, we won 48 and lost 2; I guess we did pretty good. Billy [Herman] helped me quite a bit with my fielding ability. He treated me very good. In fact, they all treated me like I was their son because I was so much younger than them. I was only 18 years old!"

After a year, he was sent out to finish his service. He detailed his service upon leaving the Naval Base.

"I spent 10 months riding a banana boat between Mobile, AL and Central America (Honduras and Guatemala). I was riding that boat when the war was over."

After returning from his military service, he floated between Single-A and Double-A before catching a big break in 1949. He was signed by Braves organization from Dallas in the Texas League that year and had a standout season at their Triple-A affiliate in Milwaukee.

"It was a little tougher, but probably that year, I had the best year in my life," Hartsfield said.

That career year catapulted him to the major leagues the following spring.

Hartsfield was the regular second baseman for the Boston Braves in 1950 and 1951. Looking at Hartsfield's stats, one might wonder how a second baseman who hit .273 suddenly disappeared from the majors without a downturn in performance. Hartsfield revealed why he didn't have a longer career with the Braves.
"I had a severe case of heat exhaustion before I went to the big leagues. I played in a double header in Savannah, GA and I became completely dehydrated. I didn't realize what was happening to me. Nothing like that had happened to me ever before. They took me to the hospital like it was all over. The second game of a doubleheader was when it hit me, got cramps like football players. The doctor told my wife, 'He'll never be the same in the heat anymore.' And he was absolutely right. I couldn't play doubleheaders. I played as long as I could but then I had to walk off the field. I realized at the same time, I was losing the job. They didn't pay two salaries for one job in those days. I have nothing against the Braves, they did everything they could to help me, sent me to every doctor you could think of. That was the reason. I have a lot of people ask me to this day why I didn't play longer. They didn't know that because I didn't tell anyone that. It didn't come out until later on."

Hartsfield would not return to the majors after being traded to the Dodgers, spending five seasons at the Triple-A level, including one as a player-manager before managing full time in 1958. He saw the writing on the wall after being traded away from Boston.

"When I was traded from the Braves to the Dodgers, I knew I wasn't going to go back to the big leagues as a player because of my reputation of not being able to play in the heat," he said. "I knew that. I told my wife, 'If we're going to stay in this game we've got to go in another direction instead of playing.'"

Luckily for Hartsfield, the Dodgers opened the door to managing that would make him part of the family.

"They gave me my first managerial job," he said. "I was very appreciative of that. They treated me very very well. I was fortunate in that the Dodgers gave me a job managing to begin with. In those days, they had started losing teams every year. The first year I managed was Class-A ball in Des Moines. I was told by Fresco Thompson that he couldn't promise me anything past the first year, because they were losing clubs. They not only lost the team, the whole league folded up."

For a 32-year-old, the prospect of being unemployed after spending their whole career in professional baseball was daunting. Hartsfield described how Fresco Thompson saved his career.

"Here I am sitting in November without a job after my first year. My phone rang and it was Fresco. He said because of leagues folding, the only opening was in Class-D ball."

Faced with the choice of a demotion or not knowing where the next check was going to come from, the choice was simplified for Hartsfield.

"I realize there is more prestige in managing Class-A ball then Class-D ball, however, I told him, 'I've yet to go to the grocery store and buy any groceries with prestige, so just run it on out here and work.' I did that two times for him. I stepped down twice. He told me I would be considered if anything opened above. I moved every year until I got the top job, managing  Spokane for three years before I got a job with the big club."

True to his word, Thompson moved Hartsfield up the ladder where he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as coach from 1969-1972.

In 1977, he was named the manager of the expansion Toronto Blue Jays during their inaugural season. The Jays struggled with young talent as they matured at the major league level. Hartsfield knew that he would have to build from within as the other teams weren't going to make their top-level talent available in the expansion draft.

"We developed our own because nobody was going to give you anything in this racket," he said. "We agreed to have the right type of veterans mentally that would fit into our scheme of things."

While managing the Blue Jays, Hartsfield had a lanky rookie that would go on to have an All-Star career, albeit in another sport, basketball. Danny Ainge was a 20-year-old rookie out of Brigham Young University when he showed up for the Jays in 1979. Hartsfield had experience playing with another dual sports star, sharing the field with Hall of Famer Bill Sharman in St. Paul. Hartsfield related the situations of both Sharman and Ainge, as both chose basketball as their main careers.

"Sharman was a pretty good player on the Triple-A level," he recalled. "At the time, I wasn't judging Bill because he was a good teammate and friend. He made the right decision [with basketball], same as Danny Ainge, who played for me in Toronto. When you have an expansion ball club, you don't have full fledged major leaguers at every position. Bobby Doerr was my hitting coach and he was the one who signed Danny. He told me when he signed that his sport was basketball. Bobby was right. Ainge was a fierce competitor. He could have used a few years on the minor league level that he did not have. Who knows, maybe it would have helped, maybe it wouldn't?"

After being replaced as the Blue Jays manager to start the 1980 season, Hartsfield cited family responsibilities as the reason he retired after a short stint thereafter as a minor league manager. 

"I left Toronto and managed a few years in the minors," he said. "I was vested in the pension plan. I had 10 years on the major league level, so I didn't want to just manage for the sake of managing anywhere they offered me a job. I had a family that I didn't get to spend too much time with, so that determined my quitting."

In retirement, Hartsfield didn't follow baseball as closely as he did when he was playing and managing. He would visit the Braves annually, where for a day; he was back in the spotlight.

"Bobby Cox is a close personal friend of mine. The Braves invite me every year for an autograph session one night. They treat me royally and I get to visit with Bobby a little bit."

Somewhere in Heaven, the red carpet has been rolled out and the spotlight again is on Roy Hartsfield. 

 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Steve Kuczek, 85, had 1.000 batting average in the Major Leagues

Steve Kuczek, one of only 84 major league players to retire with a perfect 1.000 batting average passed away November 21, 2010 in Scotia, NY. Kuczek rapped a double off of Brooklyn Dodger star Don Newcombe in his only plate appearance for the Boston Braves in 1949. With Kuczek's passing, only 25 members of the Boston Braves are currently living.

More Info -
Steve Kuczek SABR Bio - Charlie Bevis
One-Hit Wonders: Baseball Stories - George Rose

Friday, December 25, 2009

Rogers Hornsby - My War With Baseball

Right before he started the 1962 season as a batting coach with the inaugural New York Mets team, Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby collaborated with Bill Surface to put his 48 years in baseball down on paper. Hornsby goes full steam ahead on baseball, witholding nothing back in this 250 page classic. Read the review of "My War With Baseball," to find out why this book is widely sought after by fans and historians.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Don Thompson, 85, former Brooklyn Dodger, 1923-2009

Don ThompsonThe Asheville Citizen-Times reported former Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves outfielder Don Thompson passed away September 28, 2009 in Asheville, North Carolina after an extended illness. Thompson was originally signed by the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher in 1943, and pitched exclusively for four seasons until injuring his arm. During an April 2009 interview with Thompson, he recounted his transformation from a pitcher to an outfielder.

"I started out as a pitcher, but I hurt my arm," Thompson said. "I was in the Red Sox organization at that time with Louisville, and they sent me down to Roanoke. My arm got better but I stayed in the outfield. That’s when St. Louis drafted me (1948). I went to Columbus. I stayed as an outfielder. I didn’t have any desire to pitch."

Even though Thompson was a full-time outfielder, Brooklyn Dodger manager Charlie Dressen would often call on call on him when they were facing a tough lefty.

"Dressen, whenever we had a left handed pitcher pitching against us, he’d want me to throw batting practice to help the guys get ready. I still didn't want to pitch."

Once in the Cardinals organization, Thompson was immediately promoted to the AAA level, and sharpened his skills by playing two years of winter ball in Cuba under the watchful eye of Mike Gonzalez.

"The first year my manager was Mike Gonzalez," he said. "I played for Havana. Mike was an old catcher for St. Louis. I was playing in the International League with Rochester. After the 1949 season, he called me to come to Havana for the Winter. I went to Cuba, played for Havana the first year and then Almendares the second year. It helped me a great deal. I was already in shape going into Spring Training. It was sort of a circus down there. They really played hard and expected a lot out of the players."

Thompson's big break with the Dodgers came during the winter of 1949 when he was traded from the Boston Braves to the Dodgers for the legendary Sam Jethroe.

"I played against him in the International League. He was as fast as everyone said he was."

He entered a crowded Dodgers outfield, but managed to stick with the team for three seasons.

"We had seven left fielders in Brooklyn in Spring Training. I opened the season both years (1951 and 1953) in the starting lineup. I was a left-handed hitter, and Dressen, he was playing right-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers and switching things around. He had a platoon going. I wasn’t much of a hitter, but I was a very good fielder and I had good speed."

His defense played a memorable role in the 1953 World Series when he threw out Billy Martin at the plate in Game 4 after replacing Jackie Robinson in left field. During the aforementioned interview, Thompson clearly recounted how the inning unfolded.
"Clem Labine was pitching, he came in for relief. Martin was on second base with two outs. Mantle hit a line drive over Pee Wee’s head. He was hitting left-handed, so I was playing him a little around towards right. He hit the line drive and of course Martin took off, there being two outs. Anyway, I saw Martin running, [3rd base coach] Frankie Crosetti was waving him home. I looked up and I turned it loose. Billy Cox let it go or it would have hit him right in the head. It was about that high. Campy had him by several feet. Martin bent over and tried to knock Campy down. Campy sidestepped him with the ball in his mitt, hit him under the neck and turned him a flip. That was the last out of the game. I replaced Jackie Robinson both games. He could handle the outfield pretty well, but he wasn’t used to it."

Thompson retired after the 1954 season, but it wasn't before he had another brush with greatness. During most of the 1954 campaign, he played with Montreal. Under his wing was a 19-year-old outfielder from Puerto Rico by the name of Roberto Clemente. Thompson knew that the Dodgers had a gem on their hands as soon as Clemente hit the field.

"He worked out with me in center field to start," he said. "He had a great arm and he could hit; he hit a lot of bad pitches, like Berra, over his head. He was a wild swinger, but I could tell he was going to be a good ballplayer. I think he got a bonus of $25,000 from the Dodgers. They were trying to hide him. He was eligible for the big league draft. They knew that if they didn’t take him on Brooklyn that he would possibly be drafted. I knew he was going to be great. Roberto had a temper at times, but got along with us well."

After the 1954 season, Thompson returned to Asheville and effectively retired from baseball.

"I had an older brother in Asheville who had a Dodge / Plymouth franchise and I went into the automobile business. I stopped playing baseball completely after that."

He later became a real estate agent and one of the founders of Preferred Properties in Asheville. He was inducted into the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame in 1997.
Don Thompson
Don Thompson avoiding the tag of Ted Kluszewski