Showing posts with label Boston Red Sox. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boston Red Sox. Show all posts

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cot Deal, 90, pitched for the Red Sox and Cardinals

Ellis "Cot" Deal, who spent 50 years in professional baseball as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as a coach for numerous organizations, passed away Tuesday May 21, 2013. He was 90.
Cot Deal 1954 Topps Archives / Baseball-Almanac.com

Deal's career is expertly detailed by SABR member Patrick Doyle in his SABR biography.

Doyle's research on Deal's career also appears in the book, "Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston's (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948."

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bill 'Spaceman' Lee is no senior citizen on the mound

Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the eccentric left-handed pitcher of 14 major league seasons with the Boston Red Sox and the Montreal Expos, still has some loose ends to tie up on the baseball field.

In 2012, pitching for the San Rafael Pacifics of the independent North American League, Lee became the oldest player to pitch a complete game and record a victory in professional baseball. One would think that after accomplishing such a feat, that there was nothing left for him to prove on the diamond; however, last weekend, Lee once again broke out his bat, glove, and spikes for the final Joe DiMaggio Legends Game in Fort Lauderdale.

Bill Lee taking batting practice at Joe DiMaggio Legends Game
He pitched and played the outfield during the charity exhibition. At 66, he travels the country frequently to appear in alumni games, as well as playing in adult baseball leagues in New England. So why does Lee continue to take the field more than 30 years after he threw his final pitch in the major leagues?

“Unfinished business,” Lee said. “I never really had my fill, especially of hitting. The bat was taken away with the designated hitter; Bowie Kuhn took that away from me. I always wanted to hit, so I’ve got ten years of hitting to make up. That’s 162 games times ten. I’m getting near the threshold of retirement, and this [the final Joe DiMaggio Legends Game] may be an omen, this may be it.”

While Lee contemplates his last trip around the bases, he continues to enjoy whatever time he has left in the sun.

“This year I’ve hit a home run already, so I have to play one more year," he said. "I hit the ball, it was a home run, but it wasn’t out of the park. It was an inside the park home run, which means I can still run. The guy outside, he had to get a respirator and his dog couldn’t find the ball because he was blind, but other than that, I still play because I love the game.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tom Umphlett | Former outfielder for the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators dies at 81

Tom Umphlett, former outfielder for the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators died Friday, September 21st, 2012 in Norfolk, Virginia. He was 81.


Part of the Boston Red Sox 1950s youth movement

Umphlett played three seasons in the major leagues from 1953-55, finishing second in the 1953 American League Rookie of the Year voting to Harvey Kuenn. He was part of the Red Sox youth movement in the early 1950s to fill the voids left by Ted Williams’ military service and Dom DiMaggio’s retirement.

“[Lou] Boudreau, the manager, was going for the young talent even in spring training," he said during a 2008 interview from his home in Ahoskie, North Carolina. “You had Ted Lepcio at third base, Milt Bolling at short, Goodman at second, and Dick Gernert at first base. I played center field, and Jimmy Piersall played right.”

Ted Williams memories

Ted Williams returning from the Korean War meant that someone had to go from the crowded outfield, and the Red Sox looked to capitalize on Umphlett’s value after his impressive rookie season.

“You didn’t have a choice, back in those days,” he said. “When a club owned you, they owned you. I was in the Mickey McDermott for Jackie Jensen trade. [It was] probably one of the best trades the Red Sox ever made. The Red Sox needed a power hitter, and Jensen did a good job for them.”

Despite only spending one season with Williams, Umphlett didn’t hesitate to identify the Hall of Famer as the best in the business.

“I’m gonna tell you just how I feel," he said. "When he came out of the service, everybody was excited. I know I was!

"I was a raw rookie. I got the opportunity to play with the world’s greatest hitter, and not everybody can say that. I saw a lot of good hitters, but as far as I was concerned, he was the best. You can talk about Mantle, Mays, Aaron; they’re all great hitters, great players, but Williams was the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen.”

A Move to Washington D.C.

Umphlett played two years with the Senators from 1954-55. After batting .283 his rookie year, Washington had high hopes for him to duplicate his Boston success. Umphlett hit a sophomore slump, batting only .219 in 1954 and .215 in 1955. Even though he would never return to the majors after 1955, this wasn’t the end of the road for Umphlett. He played in the minor leagues, mostly at the Triple-A level until 1967, when he finally hung up his cleats after 17 seasons in professional baseball.

He reluctantly traded in his glove for the managerial reins, spending an additional four years coaching in the Minnesota Twins minor league system.

“I spent 21 years in baseball,” he said. “I didn’t want to manage at first. I managed in the rookie league [in 1967], and we won the pennant. Then I managed a couple of years after that, and that was it for me in baseball.”

Honored to be a major leaguer

Even though he only lasted three seasons in the major leagues, Umphlett was honored that he made it to big leagues when there were only 16 teams.

“I was a good center fielder,” he said. “I could catch the ball and throw it. I’m not bragging, but I could play center field with anybody. It was tough to get to the big leagues because we only had 16 teams. When you went to spring training, you never had seen so many ballplayers in your life.

"There were some pretty good ballplayers, some that never got the opportunity to get to the big leagues that could have probably played there. You take a guy that probably played behind a guy like Mantle, what chance does he have to get there? He has to go to another club or change his position. I got there, and I made it. I worked hard, and I was fortunate to be there.”

Thursday, September 6, 2012

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 27, 2012

Red Sox manager Morgan receives royal treatment at Irish American Baseball HOF ceremonies

With the Boston Red Sox in town to face the New York Yankees, fans put aside their rivalries for the afternoon and honored former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan on Friday at the induction ceremonies for the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame at Foley’s Pub and Restaurant in New York City. The 81-year-old Morgan was the center of attention at the event, which also featured the inductions of former Yankees Gene Michael, Jeff Nelson, Wee Willie Keeler as well as legendary New York sportswriter Jimmy Breslin.

“It’s really terrific because I never thought there would be one,” Morgan said. “ I’ve known Shaun [Clancy] for so long and all of a sudden he calls me up and gives me the good news. Next thing you know, here I am, and I’ve enjoyed it a ton.”
Joe Morgan accepts his plaque from the Irish American Baseball HOF

The Walpole, Mass., native had his start in baseball at Boston College, where he was signed by his hometown club. Only this time, it wasn’t the Red Sox, it was their National League counterpart, the Braves.

“I was in Boston College and I was one of the first guys that left school [early],” he said. “I left at the end of my junior year because I got a bonus and that was 1952.” 

Morgan played two years for their minor league clubs before Uncle Sam called. He spent the next two years in the military, which Morgan said was to the benefit of his baseball career.

“It really helped me,” he said. “ I was lucky, I played a lot of baseball at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and I tried things I never would have tried. I knew I was a lot better hitter [than what I showed]. I hit .228 and .249 the first two years [before I went into the military]. When I came out, I hit .301, and .316 and I was on my way.”

Morgan made his debut with the Braves in 1959, making the club out of spring training. He played sparingly during the first two months of the season and was traded to the Kansas City Athletics. The Braves finished tied for the National League pennant with the Los Angeles Dodgers and lost a best-of-three game playoff to go to the World Series. Even though Morgan was long gone, the Braves still remembered his contributions to the team at the end of the season.

“I was with the Braves during that year in ‘59 when they lost the playoffs to the Dodgers,” he said. “I was with them for five weeks and they were good enough to give me a quarter share [of the playoff bonus]. That was something! I was rooting for them big that time. I was the lowest guy on the totem pole and they took care of me.”

Morgan was then shuttled between the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies for the next few seasons before landing with the St. Louis Cardinals for a brief appearance in 1964 at the end of their World Series run. The Cardinals wanted Morgan on the postseason roster to replace an injured Julian Javier, but the Yankees wouldn’t budge.

“Now there’s a story there,” he said. “I came up September 10th. Julian Javier got hurt; he pulled a rib cage muscle and he could not play in the World Series, so the Cardinals said, ‘We want to put Joe Morgan on as the 25th player.’ The Yankees said, ‘No way, because he didn’t come up by September 1st.’ That was the rule. They went with 24 players (Javier made only one appearance as a pinch runner) and kicked the s—t out of the Yankees.”

He started his managerial career in 1966 as a player-manager in Raleigh, N.C., with the Pirates and spent the next 26 seasons as a scout, coach and manager, taking the reins of the big league club from John McNamara from 1988-1991. He led the Red Sox to two first place finishes in the American League East during his time as manager. Morgan was ready for the task; the only difference he saw was scale.

“The biggest difference managing in the majors was that they gave me a hell of a lot of money, [something] which I never saw in 30 years in the minor leagues. … I knew the writers and how they operated. I was ready for all of that.”

Morgan, who was a two-sport star in both hockey and baseball, is an institution in his hometown and stays active visiting local high school games. Even though he is easily recognized in the town of Walpole, he still receives fan mail that is intended for the “other” Joe Morgan.

“It’s nice to be remembered,” he said. “I get mail every day. I also get a lot of mail for [Hall of Famer] Joe Morgan, so I write out; try 3239 Danville Blvd, Alamo, CA 94507 - from Joe Morgan manager Boston Red Sox.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Oil Can Boyd admits to cocaine use in his new book

Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, major league pitcher of 10 seasons, primarily with the Boston Red Sox, admitted recently in an interview that he pitched with cocaine in his system approximately two-thirds of his career.

The 52-year-old right-hander is still active in baseball circles, participating in numerous fantasy camps and old-timers games, while running a baseball school in Rhode Island.

"Oil Can," further describes his struggles with cocaine and alcohol in his upcoming book, They Call Me Oil Can: My Life in Baseball, which will be released by Triumph Books in June.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Al Van Alstyne, 84, followed in the family baseball tradition

Al Van Alstyne found himself in spring training with the Red Sox in 1952 surrounded by their 15 best prospects, all trying to fill the void of Ted Williams pending leave for active duty in the Korean War. The Red Sox paraded 14 different players to the outfield after Williams departed for service at the end of April; unfortunately, Van Alstyne wasn’t one of them.

Al Van Alsytne

Van Alstyne passed away January 5th at the age of 84 after suffering from a long bout with cancer. He grew up in a baseball household, as his father Clayton Sr. pitched for the Washington Senators and his brother Clayton Jr. was an infielder in the Pirates organization. [Note: His father hit his only home run in his last major league at-bat, one of only 43 major leaguers to accomplish this feat.]

His father's baseball connections opened the door for his signing with the Boston Red Sox in 1950 from St. Lawrence University.

“My dad played in Washington with Joe Cronin, and he was with me the day I signed in Boston, as Joe was the general manager there,” said Van Alstyne in a 2009 phone interview I conducted with him.

He reported to Scranton of the Eastern League a month late after breaking his thumb playing ball right after he signed with Boston. His brother Clayton was playing for the Albany Senators which gave him the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream, to face his sibling in pro ball.

“I played against him my first year in Scranton, that was his last year. It was very enjoyable,” he said.

Van Alstyne earned his first of three invites to spring training in 1952 after having an All-Star season with Class C San Jose in 1951. Surrounded by a combination of established veterans and a volume of upstarts such as Jimmy Piersall, Gene Stephens, Tom Umphlett, and Bob DiPietro, there just wasn’t room for Van Alstyne to crack the big league roster.

“One of the reasons I signed with the Red Sox was that I saw guys were getting old, but they stayed on," he said. "I was just a rookie and I was competing with Williams, [Dom] DiMaggio and [Jackie] Jensen, not to mention Piersall, and Clyde Vollmer.” 

The opportunity to spend time with Williams during spring training allowed Van Alstyne to have a first hand view of what made him so special.

“Williams was the greatest hitter I ever saw," he said. "He was dedicated to his hitting. I don’t care where he was; he was always talking about it and demonstrating to the point where I thought sawdust was coming out of the bat.” 

He recalled a spring training game where Williams displayed his great attention to detail in what was an otherwise meaningless game.

“We were playing the Yankees in St. Petersburg one day," he recalled. "He was on the bench and I was playing center field. When he was called up to pinch hit, he asked all of the guys what the new pitcher threw, what his best pitch was, etc. He was a real student of the game … he was the ultimate.”

Van Alstyne played in the Red Sox organization through 1955 and then was purchased by the Yankees. He spent one year with their AAA team and retired after facing the task of supplanting another legend, Mickey Mantle.

“I was behind Mantle in center field and we didn’t have free agency, so that was it,” he stated.

After baseball, Van Alstyne went into financial planning for Connecticut Sigma and was inducted in to the St. Lawrence Hall of Fame in 2003 for baseball and basketball.

Even thought he came up short with his attempts to get even a cup of coffee in the majors, Van Alstyne was without regrets.

“It was a great seven years I had with great people.”

More Info -

Al Van Alstyne pictured with Guy Morton in 1954 Red Sox spring training - Tuscaloosa News

Van Alstyne figures prominently in Red Sox win - Daytona Beach Morning News

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dick Williams kindled a special friendship with his lunch crew

As Lou Rodophele went to lunch this week, one seat at the table remained empty. Thursday was the day the “Lunch Bunch” met, and for years without fail, one of baseball’s legendary managers was at the helm of the gathering. This holiday season was a painful reminder that their skipper, Dick Williams, is no longer around to hold court at their weekly get-togethers.

Click here to read the friendship the two kindled as a result of their lunch meeting and the legacy Williams left behind.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Recent MLB Passings, Tony Roig, Bill Werle

The baseball family lost two more of its alumni, former Washington Senator infielder Tony Roig and pitcher Bill Werle who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox.

Roig played parts of 21 seasons in professional baseball between 1948 and 1968, spending 1948-1962 primarily in the minor leagues, playing 76 games for the Senators between 1953-1956. After the 1962 season, Roig headed to Japan, hitting 126 home runs (1963-68) with the Pacific League’s Nishitetsu Lions and the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He then went on to become a scout and minor league manager for 30 years. He died October 20, 2010 in Liberty Lake, WA. He was 82.

Werle pitched six seasons in the majors between 1949-1954. He compiled a career record of 29-39 in 185 games, with his best season coming in 1949 with the Pittsburgh Pirates where he posted a 12-13 record with 10 complete games. He began his professional career with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in 1943, pitching with them through 1948 with a brief interruption in 1945 for service in World War II. He would go on to play AAA ball until 1961, serving as a player manager for Hawaii during his final season. This was Werle's introduction to his managerial career, as he mananged eight additional seasons from 1963-1970 at the A and AAA levels. After finishing his career as a manager, he became a scout for the Orioles and Indians for over 20 years. He died November, 27, 2010 in San Mateo, CA due to complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 89.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mossup icon Walt Dropo dies at 87 - Norwich Bulletin


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



Monday, August 9, 2010

Mark Teixeira makes his way into the history books with his 25th home run

Mark Teixeira / Chris Ptacek - Wikimedia Commons
New York Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira joined exclusive company when he hit his 25th home run of the season Sunday night against the Boston Red Sox. Find out the other three major leaguers Teixeira joined that hit at least 25 homers during their first eight seasons in the big leagues.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bob DiPietro - The Rigatoni Rifle

Bob DiPietro’s major-league career was a true cup of coffee – 12 plate appearances in four games at the tail end of the 1951 season, one hit, one walk and a .091 batting average. In three games as an outfielder, he had four putouts, one error, and one assist – but what an assist it was! He threw out Mickey Mantle at home plate at Yankee Stadium.
I was able to interview DiPietro in late 2008 and write his biography for the SABR Baseball Biography Project. It is my first biography for the project, and hopefully it is the start of things to come. To read the complete biography of the "Rigatoni Rifle", click here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Joan Joyce, The Missing Legend Ted Williams Could Not Touch

Rarely did a pitcher get the best of Ted Williams. During his Major League career, Williams fanned only 709 times in 9,791 plate appearances. In 1961, a year after retiring from the Red Sox, Williams was asked to participate in an exhibition against Joan Joyce to raise money for the Jimmy Fund. Click here to read about when "the best hitter that ever lived" faced the best softball pitcher in the land.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Brooklyn Dodger who didn't make it - Hampton Coleman's journey with the Dodgers of the 1950s

The future Brooklyn Dodgers of 1952? Look hard in the bottom left-hand corner and you'll see Solomon "Hampton" Coleman. The righty "curveball artist" is the only player pictured that didn't make the major leagues.



His close cut with the Brooklyn Dodgers involved a meteoric rise from the low minors to Triple-A early in his career that crossed paths with some of the finest players in baseball's history.

The 81-year-old Coleman, explained via telephone from his Florida residence in July 2008, how he came so close to becoming a Brooklyn Dodger.

He was first signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1947 and was sent to Roanoke of the Class B Piedmont League. After posting a record of 13-5 with a 3.17 ERA, he was given an invite to major league spring training. What a jump for the young rookie from Red Springs, N.C., to go from the bushes to the big leagues in two years!

The 1948 spring training season allowed Coleman rub elbows with baseball's elite.

"I was in spring training with the Red Sox when I was 20 with Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and Dom DiMaggio. I threw batting practice to Williams," Coleman said.

One of his highlights was facing Joe DiMaggio. The Hall of Famer proved to be a tall task for the rookie.

"I pitched against Joe DiMaggio," he said. "There were a few men on base and he hit a home run off of me to win it. The Red Sox had a pitcher Boo Ferriss, and he said, 'Don't worry about it, he's hit home runs off of better pitchers than you!' That picked me up a little bit."

DiMaggio's home run off of Coleman was chronicled in the March 15, 1948 edition of the Prescott Evening Courier.

In only his second professional season, Coleman wasn't flustered by his encounter with DiMaggio. He was sent to Triple-A to play with Louisville of the American Association. After playing the 1948-1950 seasons with Louisville (with a short loan to Seattle of the PCL in 1949), Coleman's next break came courtesy of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"I was playing in Louisville, and St. Paul was the Dodger team in the American Association," he said. "When Boston was on the verge of winning the pennant that year (1950), they were looking for a pitcher by the name of Harry Taylor to buy. They purchased him from the Dodgers, and the Red Sox gave them any choice of a Triple-A pitcher in their system, so they selected me. That's how I got to the Dodgers. I played with Montreal for a couple of years. Walter Alston was the manager, and when he went to Brooklyn, he took four of us to the Dodgers."

Hampton Coleman 1953 Canadian Exhibit / Author's Collection

Alston was hired as the Dodgers manager in 1954 and it was the break that Coleman needed. During the winter, Coleman chose to go to Cuba to sharpen his skills in preparation for his big break.

He pitched the 1951-52 winter season with Almendares and 1952-53 winter season with Marianao in Cuba. Many veterans reached out to help, including pitching tips from a future Hall of Famer.

"Do you remember Hoyt Wilhelm?" he asked. "He was down there. I was trying to get another pitch, and he was helping me with a knuckleball to use as an out pitch. He helped me a lot."

Discussing Cuba evoked the memories of some of his legendary teammates. Another Hall of Fame teammate he prominently recalled was Ray Dandridge,

"I played with him in the Cuban winter leagues," Coleman recalled. "The first time I saw him was with Louisville against Minneapolis in the American Association. He was a great third baseman; he was like a vacuum cleaner, anything that came his way, he scooped up. He was a terrific fielder and good hitter. I absolutely thought he should have been a major league player. He was a tough man to get out."

The Dodgers sent many of their prospects including a left-hander who later became the club's greatest ambassador. Coleman explained how Tommy Lasorda displayed the makings of a future manager while he was an active player.

"The years I was in Cuba, I played with him, as well as two-and-a-half years in Montreal," he said. "Lasorda was managing the whole time he was playing. He was a motivator from day one. He didn't like to see anybody loafing. He'd get on your case if you were losing. Nobody loses more than a player that is loafing. I spent a lot of time with Tommy."

Despite the legendary connections he made, a car accident towards the end of the 1953-54 winter season in Cuba derailed his chances of making the Dodgers club.

"I had my wreck at the end of the season on my way to Cuba for the third year down there," he said. "I had a car accident and almost got killed. I fell out of the car on my shoulder. I was a right-handed pitcher and I could never gain any momentum again. The doctors said I would never pitch again. Later on, when technology improved, they said they could have fixed my shoulder in two hours!"

The doctors were wrong about Coleman pitching again. He returned in time for spring training, and Alston held to his word, giving Coleman a shot in February 1954. Unfortunately, Coleman knew he was at the end of the line.

"It was pretty much the end of my career. I had nothing left on the ball."

He was there long enough to be included in the Dodgers 1954 spring training team photo but lasted only 10 games at Montreal. His final season came in 1955 with Double-A Fort Worth and Mobile, where he posted a combined record of 4-11 in 20 appearances.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

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

Don ThompsonThe Asheville Citizen-Times reports that 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 4 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. 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 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



Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bob Scherbarth, 83, Boston Red Sox Catcher 1926-2009

Bob Scherbarth
Former Boston Red Sox Catcher, Bob Scherbarth died January 31, 2009 according to the Villas County News. As you are reading this, you might scratch your head to remember the name, as it doesn't exactly sit among the likes of Doerr, Pesky and Williams. Scherbarth's career lasted exactly one inning, appearing as a defensive replacement for Birdie Tebbets on April 23, 1950.

Scherbarth entered the Boston Red Sox organization in 1946 in Class B Roanoke, and retired from baseball after splitting the 1952 season with Class A Scranton and Class AA Birmingham. Scherbarth is part of a handful of major league position players who never had an at-bat in a Major League game. While Scherbarth's career may equate to a "sip of coffee," he was able to do what many men aspire to do, and that is to get a taste of the majors. Scherbarth will forever be a part of the select group that can call themselves major league baseball players. I attempted in late 2008 to interview him about his experiences that day, to find out if he knew that was going to be the only chance he had in the "big show." Sadly, Scherbarth was recovering from a stay in the hospital and wasn't up to taking the interview. He told me to try back in a few weeks, and my hesitation led me to find his number disconnected and the subsequent obituary detailing his passing. A private service was held to honor Scherbarth in Presque Isle, WI.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bennett Flowers, 81, Former MLB Pitcher 1927-2009

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of former MLB pitcher Bennett Flowers. He spent 15 seasons in professional baseball from 1945-1960, with parts of 4 of those seasons in the Major Leagues. Flowers pitched in the Major Leagues for the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. He held the American League record for pitching in 9 consecutive games in 1953 until it was broken by Dale Mohorcic in 1986. I had the opportunity to interview Bennett Flowers in October of 2008 regarding his experiences playing professional baseball, serving in WWII and his successes selling electric motors and parts after baseball.
He signed after trying out in front of 16 different scouts in 1945 with the Boston Red Sox organization to play in Roanoke for an $8,500 bonus. At that tryout, the Red Sox didn't even have an official team representative there, it was a college coach from the University of North Carolina who was also a scout that signed Flowers to the Red Sox. The following year, he enlisted in WWII at Fort Bragg, and wound up in Fort Benning as a paratrooper. Upon returning from his military service, he quickly ascended up the ranks of the Red Sox organization. He posted a 17-8 record in 1951 at Scranton, which was enough for the Red Sox to call him up at the end of the season. Here is the contract from the Boston Red Sox that purchased him from the Scranton team that season.
Reflecting on his career, he had great memories of playing with Hall of Fame teammates such as Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Robin Roberts, Al Kaline and Jim Bunning.
Below is a short video clip of Flowers throwing out the first pitch at a minor league game on his 80th birthday. My condolences go out to the family of Mr. Flowers. A true gentleman from baseball's "golden era". May he rest in peace.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Oil Can Boyd Wants a Comeback at 49

Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd is looking for another opportunity to pitch in the big leagues at age 49. Boyd likens himself to Satchel Paige, who pitched professionally into his 50s.

"Satchel being my idol and knowing he didn't come into the (majors) until he was in his early 40s, that's always been in the back of my mind," Boyd told The Boston Globe.

"Now, I've been given back the fastball I once had. I want to play."

Boyd told the Globe his fastball is in the low 90s and his offspeed pitches still bite well. Former Sox catcher Mike Stanley recently caught Oil Can during Red Sox fantasy camp, had the following remarks regarding his prowess.

"He looks no different to me now than when I caught him in Texas (with the Rangers). He still has the same passion. I don't know if he was getting to 90 because we didn't have a (radar) gun, but he still had the same stuff. The same tight slider, curve, fastball," the Globe quoted Stanley as saying.

This is not Boyd's first attempted comeback. He pitched in the Northern League from 1994-1997 and then most recently in 2005 with the Brockton Rox of the independent Can-Am League, where he posted a record of 4-5 with an era of 3.83 in 110 innings. Boyd last pitched in the majors in 1991 for the Rangers; he left the game with a 78-77 record over 10 seasons with the Red Sox, Rangers and Montreal Expos.

"I have nothing to lose, and all a major league team has to lose is 15 minutes," said Boyd to the Globe. "Give me 15 minutes and I'll show I can still pitch. That's all I want."