Showing posts with label Brooklyn Dodgers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brooklyn Dodgers. Show all posts

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Clyde King recalls a mound visit from Fidel Castro

On April 20, 1960, Rochester Red Wings manager and former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Clyde King stood inches away from Fidel Castro as he threw out the first pitch of the International League season. Some fifty-six years after their encounter, the Cuban leader passed away November 25, 2016 at the age of 90. Little did King know at the time that the man he once squared off in an exhibition game would become one of the vilest dictators in modern history.

Fidel Castro (l.) throws out the opening day pitch in 1960 as Clyde King (r.) watches
“I think it was 1960 when I got to meet Castro,” King said from his North Carolina home in 2008. “We opened the season there and Castro threw out the first ball. We didn't know he was a bad guy at the time. We went out the mound and he said, ‘Do you remember me?’ I said, “Yes, I remember you.’ He said, ‘I'm Fidel Castro, do you remember going to the University of Havana one Sunday afternoon?’”

King quickly harked back to an exhibition the Dodgers played in Havana during 1947 while Branch Rickey was preparing Jackie Robinson to join the big league club. Castro proudly reminded the Red Wings manager that he suited up against the Dodgers squad that day.

“When the Dodgers were training, one club stayed in Havana and the other went to the University so we could get more players in action,” King recalled. “Castro said, ‘Do you remember who you pitched against?’ I said ‘No.’ He said, ‘Me!’ I asked him if he remembered the score, he said he didn’t. You know what the score was? 15-1!”

King acknowledged Castro’s support of baseball as Cuba’s flagship sport and his failed attempts to play professionally; however, whatever affection Castro had for the sport was overshadowed by the terror of his reign.

“We found out later he wasn't such a good guy,” King said. “He was terrific baseball guy. He tried to work out for a pro team but he couldn't do it. We sort of wore him out that day.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ralph Branca, 90, legacy reached far beyond iconic baseball moment

Ralph Branca, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who is most famously remembered for surrendering the home run to Bobby Thomson that catapulted the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series, passed away November 23rd, 2016 in Rye, New York. He was 90.



The Mount Vernon native and New York University grad stayed true to his local roots when he first suited up for the Dodgers in 1944 at the tender age of 18. His debut began a 12-year major league career that included one 20-win season, three All-Star appearances, and spanned 11 of those seasons with the Dodgers, interrupted by stints with the cross town rival New York Yankees, as well as the Detroit Tigers.

Ralph Branca (r.) with Bobby Valentine in 2011 / N. Diunte

While many know him for his involvement in “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” Branca didn’t let that moment define the entirety of his career. In his post playing days, Branca immersed himself in charity work, first with the Baseball Assistance Team, helping out former major leaguers who fell on hard times, and later assisting youth sports organizations through his own Sports Angels foundation.

“I was chairman of the board of the Baseball Assistance Team and worked especially with the dinner committee," Branca said in 2009. “When I resigned, they all resigned at BAT. We worked together for 15 years. I said, 'Why don't we continue as another charity?' We decided to organize Sports Angels.”

Branca, who was one of the last surviving players from Jackie Robinson’s major league debut, was featured prominently in the movie, “42,” where Branca often gave a kind hand to Robinson during rough patches in his rookie season. He took every opportunity to stress the cultural and historical significance of that event, something he felt the newspapers at the time overlooked.

"That day, if you read the papers, basically, they didn't mention that he was breaking the color barrier,” Branca said in 2009. “It was a strange new territory; people didn't know how to react or behave and the papers themselves didn't note it as a historic event, just as a write up of the game period. The papers said, ‘Robinson went 0-3, walked, scored a run, and bunted successfully.’ It never mentioned that it was a great event in the history of the world. I say the world because he helped baseball number one, but also as baseball integrated, the country took a different view of blacks. It took the government seven years to pass a civil rights law which was to the benefit of everyone, lessening our country's prejudice.”

In 2011, Branca published his memoir “A Moment in Time,” with David Ritz. In the book, Branca had the opportunity to clear the air one final time about his famous pitch and his place in baseball history.

“They’ll find out who I really am,” Branca said in 2011. “I’m not the goat; the goat is the Giants team. They did the most despicable act in the history of the game by going off the field, using a telescope, using a buzzer system, which nobody else did. Stealing signs on the field is part of the game and that includes the dugouts, but to go in your locker room and hook up a buzzer system … that’s totally despicable.”

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How Vin Scully predicted he would broadcast Fordham Prep classmate Larry Miggins' first MLB home run

With Vin Scully’s incredible 67-year run as a broadcaster for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers coming to an end, one of his more inspirational stories involves his Fordham Prep classmate Larry Miggins. In 1952, Miggins was a reserve outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and Scully was splitting broadcast duties with the legendary Red Barber. During a 2013 interview with Miggins, he explained to me how the Fordham Prep alumni crossed paths at the major league level in a most unlikely way.

“I was a senior and he was a junior,” Miggins recalled. “We had an assembly for some reason and he ended up sitting right behind me. He grabbed me by the shoulder and said, ‘Larry, you’re going to be in the big leagues and the first time you hit a home run, I’m going to be the announcer to tell the world about it.’ Can you imagine that? He’s 15 years old. I’ll be damned if it didn’t happen.”

Vin Scully / Wikimedia Commons
During the 1952 season, Miggins found sparse playing time behind two Hall of Famers in the Cardinals outfield, Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. As the Cardinals started a 16-game road trip, manager Eddie Stanky gave Miggins a rare start. His spot in the lineup on May 13, 1952 set the stage for Scully to earn his stripes as a thinly veiled fortune teller.

“I hit the home run off of Preacher Roe and it just so happened that he only had two innings out of the nine innings of the ballgame because Red Barber took them all," Miggins said. "He had the microphone when I hit that home run and told the whole world about what he had told me back in school in 1943.”

Larry Miggins Signed Baseball Card / Baseball-Almanac.com
For many years, Scully’s improbable tale of predicting that he would broadcast his schoolmate’s first major league home run was one that he told at a multitude of speeches he’s given around the country. Of the myriad of rich baseball experience that Scully’s had throughout his career, Miggins pondered why his was chosen.

“I asked him, ‘Why do you tell that story?’” Miggins said. “He said, ‘What am I going to tell these guys? I’ve got a science degree from Fordham. These guys have masters and doctorates, and are highly educated. What can I tell them that will inspire them? I tell them that story for one reason; it puts something out there that you can shoot at. It may not happen, but it can happen. Have something to drive you to excel in your work to do better and have a goal.’ That’s why he tells that story, so you’ll have a goal to do something that’s almost impossible, and when you strive hard enough, it will happen.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Book Review: 'Handsome Ransom Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer'

At age 90, Ransom Jackson still considers his entry into the major leagues an accident; however, after reading his new book, “Handsome Ransom Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer," (2016, Rowman & Littlefield) one will discover that there was no error in Jackson carving a 10-year career that included selections to two All-Star games and a World Series appearance.

Accidental Big Leaguer / Ransom Jackson and Gaylon H. White
Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, Jackson pursed golf and track as high school did not field a football team. It wasn’t until he enrolled at Texas Christian University during World War II where he was urged onto the football team by legendary coach “Dutch” Meyer due to a shortage of male students that his athleticism came to the forefront. Jackson immediately became a star running back on the gridiron despite having no formal playing experience. Seeking to double down on his investment, Meyer recruited Jackson for his baseball nine. Relying on his natural abilities, Jackson excelled on the diamond, batting .500 his freshman year. Quickly, a star was born.

Partnering with journalist Gaylon H. White, Jackson recreates a landscape of major league baseball that has long escaped with witty anecdotes and never-before seen photos from Jackson’s personal collection. The stunning images provide a sense of intimacy from a time in baseball’s history that was far removed from the reaches of social media, where players could maintain a sense of privacy while still being accessible to the fans.

The humble third baseman tells his narrative from a reflective position, at times in amazement of his own experiences and accomplishments. His ability to clearly recall detailed stories of how he played in college with Bobby Layne, to playing for Ty Cobb on a semi-pro team, as well as how he handled competing with Jackie Robinson for the third base position with the Brooklyn Dodgers, give his words the proper momentum to seamlessly roll one story right into the next.

As one of the few living Brooklyn Dodgers alumni, Jackson has preserved a great deal of history by putting together his memoirs. Fifty-five years after Jackson took his final major league at-bat, he courageously put himself back in the lineup at the age of 90, showing that a big leaguer never truly loses his feel for the game no matter how long he has stepped away from the spotlight.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Clyde Parris, Negro Leaguer and Panamian baseball great passes away at 93

Jonathan “Clyde” Parris, an alum of the Negro Leagues and later a minor league MVP and batting champion in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, passed away Saturday July 9, 2016 due to complications from liver cancer at Franklin General Hospital in Valley Stream, NY. He was 93.

Clyde Parris at his home in 2011 / N. Diunte

Born September 11, 1922 in Panama’s Canal Zone, Parris quickly emerged as a rising star in the country’s rich baseball scene. Following the footsteps of his predecessors Frankie Austin and Pat Scantlebury, Parris came to the United States in 1946 to play for the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro Leagues after being recruited by a local talent scout.

“As a kid I played softball, and then I played in the community leagues,” Parris recalled during our 2007 interview. “I played infield; shortstop and third base. I could always hit the ball hard. That's how I came to be recommended to play in the United States. … I can't remember the man who brought me to the Negro Leagues. I played in Panama and he saw me play so well, he recommended me to play with Baltimore.”

His stay with Baltimore was brief, as he was released from the team early in the season to make room for future Hall of Famer Willie Wells. He was quickly signed by the New York Black Yankees, giving him another chance to prove himself in the Negro Leagues.

“We played in Yankee Stadium while the New York Yankees were away,” Parris said. "I remember approaching the stadium, guys said, ’Parris, this is Yankee Stadium!’ I went inside to the lobby to see the pictures of the stars. It was something unreal. The field was just so nice to play on, thinking about all of the greats that played there.”

Despite being on a last place club, Parris still had to compete against all of the great talent that was in the league in 1946, including Hall of Famers Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Leon Day, and Buck Leonard.

“I had to face guys like Satchel Paige, Leon Day, and Bill Byrd,” he recalled. “Byrd only pitched at home. I batted against Day the first and second year and he was hard to hit. It wasn't anything outstanding like [Bob] Gibson or [Don] Drysdale. I played with Drysdale too. I think his [Day] better years were behind him like [Josh] Gibson.”

At the time of our 2007 interview, Parris was one of the few living players to have gone up against Gibson, facing him during the famed catcher’s final season in 1946. Even though Gibson was slowed due to his declining health, Parris remembered Gibson as a threat at the plate.

“I played against Josh Gibson,” he said. “When I played against him, he couldn't even stoop down; he stooped down about halfway. Yet every time we played against him, he hit a home run or two. I remember I was playing back at third base and he hit a dribbler like a bunt, and I'll never forget that. I thought I had to play back! They also had Buck Leonard too. They were on the same team, Homestead Grays. We were the doormat of the league. What were you gonna do? We had no pitching.”

Parris also went up against Satchel Paige at Yankee Stadium. He clouted a home run off of the famed hurler, though not without controversy.

“We were facing Satchel Paige in Yankee Stadium,” Parris recalled. “They had him pitch there because he brought in huge crowds. It was near the end of the game when I hit one to right field. The right fielder in Yankee Stadium went to field the ball near the fence and it hit off of him to go over the fence. They started arguing about it. The umpire said it didn’t make a difference; it was a home run.”

After getting through his first year in the Negro Leagues, Parris didn’t want to come back. The low pay, the unforgiving schedule, and segregated conditions wore greatly on the Panamanian; however without the prospect of a job, he returned to the Black Yankees in 1947.

“After my first year in the black leagues, I didn't want to go back, but I didn't have a job,” he said. “We went barnstorming to make some money, but we didn't make anything substantial. I made $275 per month.”

Just as Parris was getting ready to return to the United States in 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were stationed in Panama for spring training, faced a team of Panamanian All-Stars before they headed north. History unfolded right before Parris’eyes.

“The first time Jackie took that first baseman's glove was against our team in Panama,” he said. “They had Newcombe, Campanella, Robinson, and Partlow.”

Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Roy Partlow in Panama 1947 / Clyde Parris Collection
He stayed in the Negro Leagues through 1949, playing with the Black Yankees and Louisville Buckeyes. He returned home to Panama, starring in their winter league, where he would eventually set most of their career batting records.

Parris made his way to the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1952, signing with by Dodgers scout Joe Cicero after playing for St. Jean of the Canadian Provincial League. By 1954, he earned Class-A league MVP honors with Elmira, besting future New York Yankees World Series MVP Bobby Richardson for the title.
Clyde Parris with Elmira / N. Diunte

The Dodgers promoted Parris to AAA Montreal in 1955, pushing him ever so close to the major leagues. Making good on his promotion, he led the International League with a .321 batting average in 1956. Despite his outstanding performance, the Dodgers didn’t bring him up to get even a taste of major league life.

“I went to AAA after leading Class-A in hitting,” he said. “In 1956, I led AAA in hitting. A lot of people thought I was going to be called up. Deep down inside, I didn't expect to go to the big leagues, I guess because of my age. I was 34, kind of old, right?”

Clyde Parris with the Montreal Royals
For those that played with Parris, they knew that he deserved at a shot in the major leagues. Former teammate Evans Killeen, who played with the Kansas City Athletics, told Lou Hernandez in “Memories of Winter Ball,” Parris was first when he thought of outstanding teammates.

“To me, he was one of the great hitters I have ever seen in my life,” Killeen said. “He would have been a great major leaguer. But he never got the chance. … All Parris hit was line drives, and he was a tough out. … What a hitter. … Could you imagine him today? This guy was some hitter.”

Parris continued playing almost year ‘round in the minors and in the Panamanian Winter League through the age of 37 in 1960. For whatever rigors on the body the extended seasons had on Parris, he said it beat getting a job.

“As far as I thought, it was better than going to work,” he said. “A whole lot of time, I didn't have a house of my own. I stayed with my folks, so I didn't have to pay rent or a mortgage. I just kept playing. A whole lot of times, you only play six-to-seven months out of the year, five-to-six up in the USA, and two months winter ball. I didn't work.”
A custom made card that Parris enjoyed / N. Diunte

During his post-playing days, he moved to Springfield Gardens in Queens. He purchased a home in the 1960s, where along with his wife Eugenia, they raised his three children (two sons and a daughter). He worked various government jobs, eventually retiring from the MTA in 1988.

His playing career went largely unnoticed in retirement, missing the entire Negro League renaissance of the early 1990s. It wasn’t until 2007 when I was put in touch with Parris that he spoke on the record for the first time since his 1960 retirement about his life in baseball.

“I haven’t been asked about my career since I was a player,” he told me during our meeting in 2007.

Clyde Parris (r.) with me during our first meeting in 2007 / N. Diunte
What forged from that interview was a friendship lasting these past nine years, where I would drive out to his home every few months to have lunch and talk baseball. Through our conversations, I was able to get in touch with the Topps Company, who promptly honored him with an official card in their 2009 Allen and Ginter Baseball Card set.

“I felt honored for Topps to give me a baseball card. I thought they could have used a better photo, but it is nice to see one after all of these years,” Parris said. “I had a good run in baseball, I can’t complain.”

Clyde Parris 2009 Topps Baseball Card / Topps

The more we met to talk, the increasingly energized he became about sharing the stories of his playing days. For almost every significant player of the 1940s and 1950s, Parris had an exciting story of either playing with or against them. From some of the aforementioned icons of the Negro Leagues, to minor league Dodgers teammates such as Don Drysdale, Sparky Anderson, and Tommy Lasorda, Parris spun vivid yarns about many in the game.

I will remember the many afternoons spent at his kitchen table listening to him openly share his experiences with his trademark laugh after recalling a lighter baseball moment. I feel fortunate to have shared that special time with him. Checking through some old messages on my phone, I found one saved from Clyde. He kept it short and sweet as usual, saying, “Hey, this is Parris, give me a call back.”

On Saturday, Clyde finally got the call back to the big show in the sky. I’m sure he went there major leagues all the way. Rest in peace my friend, you will be missed.

Ed. Note - Parts of this article are excerpted from a Times-Ledger story I wrote about Parris in 2011, "Batting average? You are thinking about surviving."

Friday, February 26, 2016

Watch Duke Snider as he hits a magical walk-off home run for the Mets

While Duke Snider will be forever associated with the Brooklyn Dodgers, "Boys of Summer," Snider returned to New York in a homecoming of sorts when he was purchased by the New York Mets in 1963 from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Well past the peak of his career, Snider batted .243 with 14 home runs in 129 games for the Mets who were only in their second year of existence.

http://amzn.to/1pggPI4
One of Snider's most memorable moments in his only season with the Mets came during a  June 7th, 1963 game against the St. Louis Cardinals at the Polo Grounds. Digging in with two men on in the bottom of the 9th inning against reliever Diomedes Olivo, Snider crushed his offering into the second deck for a three-run walk-off homer.

Snider's magical Mets moment was recently published from the Major League Baseball vaults for everyone to relive. Take a few seconds to watch the sweet swing that produced 407 major league home runs.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mike Sandlock, oldest living MLB player celebrates his 100th birthday

Mike Sandlock, the oldest living Major League Baseball player, celebrated his 100th birthday on October 17, 2015. Sandlock played parts of five seasons in the majors with the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1942-1953.

Mike Sandlock / N. Diunte

In 2011, I caught up with Sandlock at his home in Connecticut and he shared his vivid memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers fans at Ebbets Field in the video below.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How Dan Bankhead's MLB debut nearly incited a riot

The pitching mound in Ebbets Field shouldn’t have been a source of angst for Dan Bankhead when Brooklyn Dodgers manager Burt Shotton summoned him from the bullpen on August 26, 1947. The righty hurler had been playing professionally in the Negro Leagues since 1940, had four other brothers who played in the league, and served as a Montford Point Marine during World War II. Yet despite all of the formidable opponents he faced, it was the possibility of a race riot that he feared most if something went wrong on the hill that day.
Bankhead signs autographs before his 8/26/47 debut

“See, here’s what I always heard. Dan was scared to death that he was going to hit a white boy with a pitch,” Buck O’Neil said in Joe Posnanski’s, ‘The Soul of Baseball.’ “He thought there might be some sort of riot if he did it. Dan was from Alabama just like your father. But Satchel became a man of the world. Dan was always from Alabama, you know what I mean? He heard all those people calling him names, making those threats, and he was scared. He’d seen black men get lynched.”

Bankhead's famous windup
Bankhead made history as the first African-American pitcher in major league history on that day in 1947, following his teammate Jackie Robinson in the record books who had broken baseball’s color barrier earlier that season. Pitching in relief of Hal Gregg who gave up six runs and only lasted one inning, Bankhead didn’t fare much better against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. He was charged with eight runs in three-and-a-third innings, ending the day with a 21.60 ERA. To his credit Bankhead homered in his only at-bat, but it was an incident that occurred in the top of the fourth inning that almost fulfilled his prophetic fears.

Bankhead's first MLB home run

With the Pirates leading 8-2 with two outs, outfielder Wally Westlake approached the plate. Like Bankhead, Westlake was a 26-year-old rookie and World War II veteran trying to find his place in the game. Westlake hit a home run earlier in the game and looked to add another to his totals. Bankhead wound up and fired off one of his patented fastballs for the first pitch of the at-bat, but as it left his hand, his worst nightmare unraveled before his eyes.

He hit Westlake squarely in the upper arm.

“It was like the fans held their breath waiting for the reaction,” the now 94-year-old Westlake wrote in a 2008 letter. “He was just another dude trying to get me out and I was trying to whack his butt.”

The first game an African-American man pitched in the majors and he hit a white batter. The crowd waited for Westlake’s next move. Was the pitch retaliation for his home run earlier in the game? A split second decision by Westlake to charge the mound or take his walk down to first base would have a significant impact the fate of African-American pitchers in the majors. Fortunately, Westlake chose the latter, with little regard to what the fans expected him to do.

“I think I disappointed the rednecks,” he said.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Catching up with Brooklyn Dodger Don Demeter

Don Demeter was just 21 years old when he made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Called up in September after hitting 41 home runs at Fort Worth in the Texas League, Walter Alston sent Demeter to the plate as a pinch hitter on September 18th. Overwhelmed by the experience, Demeter went right back to the dugout after three pitches.

"I didn't even take a swing," he said in Jonathan Arnold's SABR biography.

Determined not to repeat his statuesque figure at the plate, he told himself that he would swing at the first offering the next time he was up. The next day, the Dodgers were routing the St. Louis Cardinals 15-2 by the 8th inning. Alston went to his bench and inserted him in center field. At the bottom of the inning, he led off against Don Liddle. With the count 2-1, Demeter took a mighty swing at a fastball and deposited it in the stands. 

"The next night I got to pinch hit again and the first swing I took, I hit a home run," he said. "They put me in the Ebbets Hall of Fame because I have a .500 average in Ebbets Field."

Demeter made one more appearance for Brooklyn as a pinch hitter against the Pirates. It would be his last in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. He had another stellar season in the minors in 1957, but with his St. Paul club going deep in the playoffs, there were only a few days left in the major league season when he finished. There would not be enough time for Demeter to play again in Brooklyn before they headed to California.

Starting in 1958, Demeter played the next 10 seasons in the majors, also spending time with the Phillies, Tigers, Red Sox, and Indians. He retired in 1967 with 163 home runs in 1109 games. Upon his return to Oklahoma City, Demeter entered the ministry, where he is now a pastor at the Grace Community Baptist Church.

Don Demeter (l.) with Tommy Lasorda (r.) in 2014 - David Greenwell
In 2014, he appeared with Tommy Lasorda to announce the Los Angeles Dodgers moving their Triple-A team to Oklahoma City. At the time of this writing, he's the third youngest living Brooklyn Dodger, with only Brooklyn natives Sandy Koufax and Bob Aspromonte (who ironically debuted in Demeter's home run game) as his juniors.

Below is a video with Demeter from grandson Kendrick, where he discusses his major league career and his transition to a man of the faith.




Thursday, July 9, 2015

Buddy Hicks, 87, played with the Detroit Tigers in 1956

Clarence “Buddy” Hicks, a former switch-hitting infielder with the Detroit Tigers in the 1950s, passed away December 8, 2014 in St. George, Utah due to complications from a fall. He was 87.
 
Buddy Hicks with the Dodgers in 1949
Hicks started his professional baseball career with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1944 after being plucked from the sandlots in California. He was signed before he was even old enough to vote.
“I was just 17,” Hicks said during a 2008 phone interview from his home in Utah. “I was scouted by the Dodgers playing sandlot ball in Montebello, California. I went to Montreal and sat on the bench waiting for my assignment. I started with Trenton and went to Newport News.”

The talent rich Dodgers organization was filled with bonafide prospects. Branch Rickey’s keen eye for scouting placed Hicks on the same 1944 team in Newport News with future Dodger mainstays Duke Snider, Clem Labine, Tommy Brown, and Bobby Morgan. The group of budding stars first met at training camp in upstate New York during World War II.

“It was at Bear Mountain that the embryonic ballplayers appeared in the war time training camp,” Bo Gill recalled in a 1968 edition of the Evening News. “Duke Snider, Bobby Morgan, Buddy Hicks, Clem Labine and Steve Lemo [sic], 17, and Tommy Brown and Preston Ward, 16, were to be the stars of the future as the Dodgers, under Leo Durocher, made the change from age to youth.”

Hicks (front center) with Dodgers teammates in spring training
As soon as the 1944 season ended, Hicks and Snider traveled cross country to return home to California. With the war escalating, Snider knew that their days as civilians were numbered.

“I made the trip back to the West Coast with my Newport News roomie, Buddy Hicks,” Snider said in his autobiography, "The Duke of Flatbush.

“We didn’t need to be reminded there was a war on; the evidence was all around us. The train was filled with uniformed servicemen and women traveling home on leave or returning to camp or—worst of all—being shipped overseas. I was looking forward to a few more months of good times, but the Selective Service System didn’t fool around in those days. With more than ten million people in uniform and the manpower needs growing all the time, your friendly neighborhood draft board had a way of letting you know you were always in its thoughts.”

Hicks joined the Navy and didn’t return to baseball until 1947. Upon his arrival, he encountered a flood of ballplayers that finished their service and were looking to regain their places in the organization.

“When I got out of the service, I went back and played some sandlot ball to get me back in shape,” he said. “There were 800 of us in spring training with the Dodgers coming back from the war.”

Used almost exclusively a shortstop in the minor leagues, Hicks was stuck behind Pee Wee Reese on the Dodgers. When the Dodgers tried him out at second and third base, he was looking up to Jackie Robinson and Billy Cox respectively. While he couldn’t crack their major league lineup, the Dodgers thought enough of his abilities to keep a high asking price on his services.

In 1949, when Reese got hurt in spring training, Hicks attracted the eyes of Chicago Cubs scout Red Smith. Dodgers manager Burt Shotton held firm to the Dodger creed that if other teams wanted their players, they would have to dig deep in their coffers.

“Sure we’ve got the men they want. … But they can’t get them for a dime. … We haven’t got that kind. They’re going to have to come up with their prices if they want our boys,” Burt Shotton was quoted as saying in Bob Mack’s “Bird Hunting in Brooklyn.

The fact that the Dodgers were playing hardball with moving Hicks to another organization frustrated him. He always felt that the constant movement in their farm clubs, combined with their outrageous asking prices, hindered his rise to the major leagues.

“There were a lot of guys coming down from the majors and then working their way [back] up,” he said. “The Dodgers had 27 farm clubs that year, all the way from Class D to AAA. They had three AAA farm clubs. The Dodgers tried to draft talent, and if they couldn't use them, they would sell them. I learned later that the Washington Senators were interested and the Dodgers wanted $100,000; that ended things for me.”

A knee injury in 1950 hampered his performance with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. Hicks batted only .239 and in October, the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies purchased Hicks’ contract from Hollywood. Finally, there was a team willing to meet the Dodgers asking price.

Quickly, Hicks’ fortunes were about to turn. No longer buried deep in the Dodgers farm system, there was immediately opportunity for him at the big league level with the Phillies. On July 3, 1951, the Phillies recalled Hicks from Atlanta of the Southern Association. Now there was more for him to celebrate other than Independence Day; however, his glee was short lived.

For two weeks, Hicks sat on the bench and never once did manager Eddie Sawyer call for his entry. On July 17th, the Phillies returned Hicks to Atlanta without him ever playing in a major league game. Despite this tease of major league immortality, Hicks pressed on.

His contract was sold to the Boston Braves organization the next year and then to the Detroit Tigers to start the 1953 season. For two more seasons, Hicks battled at the Triple-A level, waiting for his break. Finally in 1956, his efforts were vindicated when the Tigers kept him on the roster after they broke from spring training.

“Joe Gordon was instrumental in getting me up there,” Hicks said. “He said if he was managing, I would have been playing short and Harvey Kuenn would be in the outfield. What got me up was when Frank Bolling came out of the service. I spent most of my career at shortstop and I had trouble making the transition from short to second. I think the throw from second more than anything was the hardest thing for me. You have your back to the runner trying to make a double play. It just didn't work out for me.”

Hicks recalled how he could hardly keep calm during his first major league at-bat. It was in the 9th inning with the Tigers down 2-1 to the Kansas City Athletics.

“My first at-bat was a disaster,” he stated. “I was a really good bunter. My knees were shaking so bad, I could hardly stand up. They sent me in to bunt the person over from second to third and I popped the damn thing up to the catcher. That was very disastrous for me.”

Hicks played in 26 games for the Tigers in 1956 at every infield position except first base, handling 52 chances without an error. He hit only .213 and was sent down to the minor leagues in July. It was his final call to the majors.

“I went from Detroit to Charleston,” he said. “I played the first year-and-a-half, and then I was a player coach under Bill Norman.”

He continued as a player-manager through 1962, spanning 17 seasons in which he amassed over 1,700 hits in the minor leagues. Overlapping with the end of his playing career, he spent 10 seasons as a minor league manager in the Braves and Senators systems from 1960-1969 before calling it quits. He then spent the next 20 years working first in sales, and then managing an automobile parts business in California before retiring in 1990.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Jean-Pierre Roy, former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher and master storyteller dies at 94

Often a major league baseball player’s statistics do not even come close to telling their baseball career in its entirety. Looking at Jean-Pierre Roy's three major league appearances and 9.95 ERA, one might assume it was a career short on depth and substance. Those who passed over his career as a mere cup of coffee missed a truly fabulous journey. The Montreal native died Friday at a hospital in Pompano Beach, Florida, taking his fabulous stories of playing all throughout North America, Central America, and the Caribbean with him. He was 94.

Jean-Pierre Roy w/ Nicholas Diunte in 2011 - M. Lemieux
In February 2011, I had the opportunity to visit Mr. Roy at his home in Florida and spend a glorious afternoon discussing a baseball career that started in 1940 and lasted over 40 years. Knowing that he played in a variety of countries like Cuba, Mexico, and Panama, in addition to the United States and Canada, I expected that he had a few hidden gems to unravel. What I did not expect from the 91-year-old Roy, was a raconteur in the essence of Buck O’Neil; a man who could deliver his memories not only with clarity and precision but with an elegance that drew you in from the first words and left you feeling that you had been long lost friends.

A short meeting arranged by a Canadian reporter Michel Lemieux turned into a three-hour long history lesson, with Roy pulling out meticulous scrapbooks along the way. He evoked the names of baseball legends from the 1930s through the 1950s, coming up with a story or an encounter for virtually every significant baseball figure from that era.

I could regale you with details of his minor league triumphs, a map of all of the places he played, or a list of all of the superstars he befriended; however, telling those details wouldn’t do justice to the essence of Jean-Pierre Roy. To meet him was to know him, and I can’t say that about every ballplayer I’ve interviewed. He immediately expressed an excitement about his career from the start of our talk, most evident from his recall of what hooked him into the prospects of a professional career.

Jean-Pierre Roy shares a laugh - M. Lemieux
“The reason why I enjoyed playing ball and going away from the city of Montreal to travel—I got to learn part of the language,” Roy said during our 2011 interview. “You meet all kinds of people, you do all kinds of things that you shouldn’t be doing. I tried them all! I met people that I wouldn’t dare associate with if I were a ballplayer today. I was so happy to play the game; I loved the game. I put things aside for baseball. Of course, today, I regret some of them. I missed the opportunity in certain other fields. That’s what I had in mind, play the game, travel and meet people and everything, so that satisfied me.”

Playing in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, one of the most eccentric characters Roy met was Branch Rickey. Throughout his many dealings with Mr. Rickey, he was most impressed with the executive's ability to read people.

“He was a very intelligent man,” he said. “He was a university product. He had been a teacher, manager, and player. He had a good knowledge of humanity. A human for Mr. Rickey could have been a ballplayer, hockey player, a raconteur; he knew each one and why they would make an excellent selection.”

Roy had the reputation of being a ladies' man, which didn't sit well with Mr. Rickey. He fondly recalled an exchange between the two of them where Rickey offered him a bonus if he would get married. It wasn’t until much later that he understood why Rickey made the request.

“One time he wanted me to get married,” he said. “It was 1944. I wasn’t the marrying type. I wanted to meet girls, yes I did. That wasn’t on my mind. He said, ‘Jean (with his eyebrows going down this way and his cigar in the corner), I’m going to give you $2,000 if you get married before or on the first of November.’ Before or on the first of November, why not the second or the fourth? That boggled my mind. Of course, I didn’t get married. I didn’t tell him why.”

Branch Rickey's insistence to marry before the first of the month weighed heavily on his conscience. Roy chose to remain single but felt compelled to inquire as to why Rickey gave him a deadline.

“Why did he say this, on the first or before,” Roy asked. “He wanted me to get married before. It wasn’t the $2,000. He knew if I did, I’d get paid after, not before. Mr. Rickey was very selective in his own way. This is very vivid in my mind. Later on, I had the audacity to ask him, ‘Why did you say the first?’ He said, ‘What do you mean Jean? What did I say?’ So I told him, ‘You wanted me to get married on the first of November. Why the first?’ He said, ‘If I said, about the first, that wouldn’t change anything, because I wanted you to get married. That was the first thing, not to play ball, but to play better ball, to understand the game better and yourself. You cannot play well when you have several things on your mind at once, and you have that. You were not the ballplayer that I wanted. You had the ability that I wanted, but you had to do so much more to make yourself available not only to me but to other people.’ That was Mr. Rickey.”
If he adhered to Rickey's request to get married, he might have gone to the big leagues sooner than his 1946 debut. He started the season on Brooklyn’s roster, but it was almost a month before he saw action in a major league game. Even though he only appeared in three contests, he viewed it as an honor just to be there.

“It was thrilling,” he said. “My big fault … if I had established myself as a human being, if I listened to things I heard and Mr. Rickey, I could have done much better than I did. Not only for one particular game but for several games.”

Soured by his performance with Brooklyn and Leo Durocher’s seemingly quick hook, Roy contemplated going south for greater riches. Jorge Pasquel, who knew Roy from his days in Cuba, attempted to lure the Canadian to Mexico for his fledgling baseball league.

“I did not go,” he said. “[Pasquel] was a friend of mine because he used to come to Cuba. If it pleased him, he’d take us out to eat together and give me a watch. I was close to him. He comes to New York and tells me, ‘I’m going to bring you to Mexico City. You are going to play for our club and our league. I’m going to send you the money.’ He offered $3,500 for the trip. I went down and the money was $15,000, big money at the time. I was not worth $15,000 as a pitcher in Mexico. Today I say I wasn’t, but at the time it touched me.”

Roy followed the money, hoping to earn his riches in front of the Mexico City crowds. Once he set foot on Mexican soil, he discovered that Pasquel had a different destination in mind.
“He was a friend,” he said. “Of course, I needed the money. My mother was not well and I had my mother on my mind. I jumped and as soon as I got to Mexico, I went to Jorge and said, ‘Jorge, I do not see anybody.’ He’s sitting on a bench facing the window. He says, ‘I send you to San Luis Potosi.’ That was a little city he was sending me to. At the time, the commissioner of baseball in Cuba was a guy named Pittman. He told me I was going there. That’s not what I wanted; I thought it was Mexico City. I came back and went to Montreal.”

He returned to the Montreal right in the middle of Jackie Robinson’s historic debut season. On April 18, 1946, Robinson broke the color line in the minor leagues when he played in Montreal’s season opener against the Jersey City Giants. Roy spent the rest of the season with him and built together a kinship that lasted the remainder of his time in the Dodgers organization. This relationship allowed him to gain insight into Robinson’s character both on and off the field.

“He’s everything that has been recommended,” he said, “a complete ballplayer. [He was] a fellow who can create according to his ability and put it together at the right time to help somehow. That’s something that I remember about him … Jackie used to do it on his own. He was so strong, mentally, that I still believe, he died from this—he got hurt so badly by not being recognized as a future manager. He wanted to be a manager; that he told me.”

Throughout his global baseball travels, Roy had many opportunities to play against the stars of the Negro Leagues in their prime. He shared vivid stories about all of the greats who were held back and excluded due to segregation. What he admired most was their ability to play the game despite the harsh conditions they faced.

“They didn’t care,” he said. “They played the game and that was it. I spoke with them very often. They would say, ‘We’re playing the game. We get paid for it because we’ve got to eat. Take this apart, it doesn’t matter. We want to play.’”

Roy never returned to the major leagues, bouncing around minor league teams everywhere in places like Ottawa, Hollywood, and Mexico City. He hung his spikes up for good in 1955 while playing for Sherbrooke in the Provincial League. At 35, he knew it was time to move on.

“I was too old for that organization,” he said. “I didn’t care too much for it because when you are through, you are through.”

Jean-Pierre Roy comfortable behind the microphone - M. Lemieux
However, he didn’t stay removed for too long, as Montreal Expos executive John McHale selected Roy to do radio and television analysis when the franchise started in 1969. He remained involved as part of their broadcast team until 1983.

“I was there from day one,” he said. “This is it in Montreal. This is a childish dream. I played in Montreal; I knew they would accept it. In that ballpark, that Double-A ballpark. Mr. John McHale, I owe him a great deal of recognizance. He was the type like Branch Rickey, but there is only one Branch Rickey as far as I am concerned.”

Broadcasting in an era far away from the reach of the hypersensitive media outlets of today, Roy said that the on-air personnel face far greater challenges with what they can say and how the fans interpret their words.

“They’ve gotta be very careful because you have many writers who are knowledgeable and they have friends,” he said. “Today’s sports are so influential on people. It is a big business to start with. Big business means big dollars, and when you have big dollars, you have everything else that is big or will become big. You’ve gotta be careful how you say your ideas whenever it comes up.

“That doesn’t mean being transparent doesn’t mean having to say the truth; you have to be careful. You have to say the truth in a certain way. It’s said in a business way. At the same time, you have to communicate to who is listening to you. You have to communicate honestly and show you have the knowledge. Having all this is a plus and a minus. You know, they used to say ‘off the cover,’ but that doesn’t exist anymore. … Everything is seen by the listener as a truthful communication. It might not be complete as the communication is concerned. You cannot say everything that is on your mind to millions of people at once. This is something very fascinating to me.”

As our interview progressed during that sunny Florida winter afternoon in 2011, Roy assumed the role of a broadcaster during a rain delay, detailing his vast baseball experiences with tremendous pride. I listened with wide ears as he professed his love affair with the game.

“My pleasure and the best memory I have of the game is what I know about it,” he said. “The little I know about it, the people I have known, and the people I see on television. Today it’s baseball to me.

“It’s the answer I would have given you yesterday and the day before yesterday. What I like about baseball is not the players; it’s the life, the life of a human being. This is how you should accept it. Do the best you can in the things our boss has asked us to do. By boss, you can call it God, the manager, the Lord, but that’s it. This is what I want, what I like to see.”

At the end of our conversation, we thumbed through scrapbooks of sixty-year-old photos that depicted the travels of a young handsome pitcher. As we reviewed the images, Roy expressed contrition for the transgressions of his earlier days.

“Why should I go back 50 years and regret things that happened at that time?” he asked. “I made mistakes in baseball, made more mistakes than I was allowed to. That was my choice; let it be, it’s my fault. That’s the part I have to read to the public. If they want to know the rest, they can. If they like me now for what I can express as far as the game myself, I hope they accept it.

“Baseball is a great game. If we can take advantage of all of the ingredients of the game and the minds that commanded the game for years like Mr. Rickey. … He is the God of baseball as far as I’m concerned. There are so many names took birth with that gentlemen. [By] birth, I say the first day they played the game was an account of Mr. Rickey. That’s a gift from him.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pat McGlothin, Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who once pitched a 19 inning game, dies at 94

Ezra Malachi “Pat” McGlothin, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1949-50, passed away on Friday October 24, 2014 in Knoxville, Tennessee, just a few days after his 94th birthday. McGlothin, a lifelong resident of Tennessee, was also a World War II veteran and a University of Tennessee alumnus.


During his two brief stints with Brooklyn, he made eight relief appearances over the course of two seasons, a position that was unfamiliar to him before he hit the big leagues.

"The Dodgers wanted to use me as a relief pitcher,” McGlothin said during a 2008 phone interview, “but that wasn't my forte. I didn't have that kind of arm to make the adjustment. I had a pretty good arm and I could throw every fifth day, but I couldn't relieve."

While much acclaim has gone to Tim Hudson of the San Francisco Giants for his involvement in two separate 18-inning playoff games, McGlothin had a herculean feat of his own that will be difficult for any modern era pitcher to match. On September 24, 1944, he pitched for the Corpus Christi NATB team, taking on the Pensacola NATB All-Stars led by Ted Williams. In a back and forth contest, Williams’ club knotted the score at four in the ninth inning, and the score stayed that way until the 17th inning when both clubs scored a run. Despite throwing over 200 pitches, McGlothin refused to come out. He forged his way through 19 innings, knocking in three runs, including the game winner in the bottom of the 19th. As for the legendary Williams, he had no answer for McGlothin, going hitless in seven trips to the plate. McGlothin took the legendary accomplishment in stride.

“I just stayed in there that's all and won the game,” he said.

After wrapping up his baseball playing days in 1954 as a player-manager for the Knoxville Smokies, he made a career change to selling insurance that would last him the next 60 years. McGlothin worked for the Mutual Insurance Agency, eventually buying the company. He remained their CEO until the time of his death, spending a few hours each day at the office with the help of a ride from an employee when he could no longer drive.

McGlothin played alongside all of the famed "Boys of Summer," including Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider. While he isn't as revered as some of his Hall of Fame teammates, he humbly acknowledged his position in the game.

"I didn't necessarily think I was part of history, I just played hoping I would stay," he said in a 2011 interview with television station WBIR.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dick Teed, former Brooklyn Dodger and longtime scout passes away at 88

Dick Teed wore the Brooklyn Dodger uniform for only one at-bat in the major leagues, but the experience left memories that lasted a lifetime. Teed struck out in his only plate appearance against Milwaukee Braves pitcher Max Surkont on July 24, 1953, but he didn’t go down without a fight.

''What I'll always remember,'' he said Richard Goldstein of the New York Times in 1982, ''is that I was up there challenging Surkont. I struck out, but I went down taking good cuts.''

Teed, who stayed with the Dodgers organization as a scout for 17 years, passed away August 17, 2014, in Newport, Rhode Island. He was 88.

Dick Teed Signed Photo / N. Diunte
A native of Windsor, Connecticut, Teed was a three-sport star at Windsor High, excelling in baseball, soccer, and basketball. Shortly after his 1944 graduation, he entered the Marine Corps, serving for over two years during World War II. His tour included action in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. After completing his military duty, he signed with the Dodgers in 1947. They started him at the bottom of their farm system with their Class D team in Thomasville, North Carolina.

He moved quickly through the ranks, reaching AAA with Montreal by 1950. Only one step away from the major leagues, Teed saw the light at the end of the tunnel approaching.

“If I improve my batting somewhat, I think I have a pretty good chance of sticking,” he said to the Sunday Herald in 1950. “They tell me my catching is satisfactory.”

While Teed became a top-notch receiver, the Dodgers were looking for a way to remedy his struggles at the plate after he hit only .222 at St. Paul in 1951. During spring training, they found a solution – switch-hitting.

He spent the whole season at Mobile in the Double-A Southern Association in 1952 working on hitting from both sides of the plate. A natural righty, Teed improved his batting average to .273.

“I’ve got more confidence this time after what I did at Mobile,” he said to the Sunday Herald in 1953.

With Roy Campanella and Rube Walker ahead of him and the Dodgers returning from a World Series appearance, there was little room for Teed on the roster. He returned to Mobile to start the 1953 season, but when Rube Walker injured his left hand in July, it was Teed's chance for the major leagues.

“Everything seemed different in the big leagues - magnified,'' he said to the New York Times. ''The lights were brighter, the crowds were larger. I even thought the sound of the pitches hitting Campy's glove was louder.”

After striking out in his aforementioned debut, Teed remained positive about his chances for redemption.

''I wasn't down, I figured there'd be another day,'' he said.

Sadly, that opportunity never came. Teed rode out his stay with the Dodgers on the bench until Walker returned. The Dodgers sent Teed back to Mobile and despite spending over another decade in the minor leagues, it wasn’t enough to warrant another call to the big leagues.

"I went back to Mobile and finished the season," Teed told the Hartford Courant in 2013. "My only complaint is that I never really got a chance to show what I could do."

After finishing his playing career in 1963, Teed coached in the Philadelphia Phillies organization from 1964-1967, winning a division title with Spartanburg his final season as a manager. In 1968, he turned his attention to scouting, working with the Phillies until 1977. That is when he returned home to the Dodgers organization.

As a Dodgers scout in the Northeast, his first major coup was Brooklyn’s own John Franco from St. John’s University.


He also helped the Dodgers to ink an unknown first baseman from Norristown, Pennsylvania, who was selected with the Dodgers’ last pick in the 1988 draft.

Teed, who was on his way to Montreal to sign another Dodgers’ prospect, met Mike Piazza in the Philadelphia airport to sign him for $15,000. It was an unlikely setting for a signing, but such was the life of a traveling scout.

He stayed with the Dodgers as a scout until retiring in 1994. In 2001, he was inducted into the National Scouts Hall of Fame. His grandson Bryan Barnoswki kept the family tradition alive, playing minor league baseball for the Boston Red Sox from 1999-2003.

Even though he had only a brief stay in the majors, Teed told me during a 2008 interview that being a member of such a legendary team was the highlight of his career.

“How could you get a better lineup than what they had?” he asked. “Campy, Hodges, Snider, Reese, Jackie ... what a team. I didn't play long, but I enjoyed it. I was in baseball 49 years and that was my best experience; being in the dugout and the locker room just for the short time I was there. It gave me a lot of memories.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

How Don Zimmer took the reins from Clemente and Mays in Puerto Rico

With a lineup that included Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays, it was very unlikely that a career .235 major league hitter would steal the spotlight, but for a week during the 1955 Caribbean Series, Don Zimmer reigned supreme.

Don Zimmer crossing home plate with Santurce
Zimmer was the starting shortstop on arguably the greatest winter league team ever assembled, the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers.

“We had a team that I thought that could beat two-to-three of the lesser teams in the National League,” Zimmer said when spoke in 2011 at the MLB offices.

“We had Bus Clarkson at third base, I played short, Ronnie Samford at second, and George Crowe played first. Valmy Thomas and Harry Chiti caught. Mays, [Bob] Thurman and Clemente played the outfield. People laugh when I tell them that. They say, ‘No!’ I say, ‘Yes, that was our outfield.’ … That was a great club!”

Zimmer almost played his way out of Puerto Rico that winter, but was saved by the last minute due to some quick thinking by Santurce’s manager Herman Franks.

“I was struggling with Mayaguez and they let me go. There was some kind of rule that if I left Puerto Rico, then any other club could bring me back to Puerto Rico to play … went to Miami, and Herman Franks called me to play for Santurce … got on an airplane to Puerto Rico,” Zimmer said in Thomas E. Van Hyning’s "The Santurce Crabbers".

Holding down the middle of the infield, Zimmer helped Santurce breeze through the Puerto Rican Winter League for a spot in the Caribbean Series in Caracas. They were the clear favorites going into the series, much to the chagrin of Bobby Bragan who managed the Cuban entry from Almendares.

“I remember going to Caracas,” he said. “Bobby Bragan was managing the Cuban team. He said, ‘They said you got a good team, huh? You’ll wind up second.’ Ronnie Samford was in a bar that night with us, having a beer. I didn’t want to say nothing to Bragan, but Ronnie said, ‘You couldn’t beat us.’”

Samford was right, the Santurce team ran over the competition, winning their first five games to clinch the championship. Zimmer hit .400 with three home runs, including a leading off Game 2 against Panama with a circuit blast.

Zimmer earned MVP honors for his performance, besting his teammate Mays, who hit .462 after starting the series 0-14.

“I was a cinch to be the Most Valuable Player of the Caribbean Series, except Mays got hot the last two days and took over,” he said in 2011.

While Zimmer couldn’t duplicate the success that he had in Puerto Rico in the major leagues, the experience he gained from playing with all of the veterans from the Negro Leagues and the Caribbean was invaluable in shaping the rest of his career.

“I was just 21 years old,” he said. “Just being around them was good enough for me, learning and watching the way they went about things.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Rare footage of Ralph Kiner interviewing Roger Craig during Mets 1962 spring training

A predecesor to Kiner's Korner, this is rare footage of the late Ralph Kiner interviewing newly minted New York Mets pitcher Roger Craig in 1962 during the team's first spring training. Craig entered the majors in 1955 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Kiner's last year in the majors. They never faced off in a major league game, as Kiner was in the American League with the Cleveland Indians.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Charlie Osgood | 17-year-old hurler for the Brooklyn Dodgers dies at 87

Charlie Osgood, a pitcher of one game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944, died January 23, 2014, in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. He was 87.

In the summer of 1944, with the Brooklyn Dodgers roster depleted by players leaving for their World War II service, Branch Rickey reached into the depths of his available talent pool to pluck seven different players aged 18 or younger to fill the void left by his departed veterans.

Charlie Osgood / Author's Collection
For one of his recruits, Rickey didn't have to look any farther than the Dodgers' family. Clyde Sukeforth, the Dodgers scout who later gained notoriety for his instrumental role in scouting and signing Jackie Robinson, had a nephew in Osgood who was a prized high school pitching star in Massachusetts. Desperate to stem their pitching woes, Rickey signed Osgood directly to the major league club.

Fresh from facing high school competition, Osgood comprised a Dodgers bullpen that included fellow teenagers Cal McLish and Ralph Branca, a trio so young that Harold C. Burr of The Sporting News dubbing Rickey’s nubile talent, “Brooklyn’s Nursery School.”

Osgood made his major league debut on June 18, 1944,  against the Philadelphia Blue Jays (nee Phillies) at the tender age of 17. Pitching in relief of his elder statesmen of McLish and Branca, he had difficulty with his control, walking three batters and hitting another. Despite his wildness, he managed to escape with allowing only one run in three innings of work. It would be his only appearance in the major leagues.

A few weeks after his debut, Burr reported in the July 6, 1944 edition of The Sporting News, that the Dodgers had sent Osgood to Class B Newport News for more seasoning. He finished the season shuttling between their farm clubs in Trenton and Montreal, playing a few games at each stop. At the end of the year, he was left unprotected by the Dodgers in the minor league draft and signed by the Chicago Cubs.

Osgood’s career was interrupted in 1945 to serve in the United States Coast Guard during World War II. He returned to the Cubs organization in 1946, and after two pedestrian seasons in the low minors, Osgood was out of professional baseball.

In his post-playing days, he graduated from Suffolk University and went on to work as a credit manager at the Boston Globe before retiring in 1988. For most of his retirement, Osgood remained elusive to fans and collectors, ignoring requests for interviews and signatures. Only in the last few years of his life, did he entertain some of the mail that was sent his way, including the homemade baseball card below.

Charlie Osgood


Monday, January 20, 2014

How Don Newcombe helped to open the door for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

While celebrating the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I would like to highlight the contributions of one Brooklyn Dodger who had a major part in turning the wheels of the civil rights movement.

1956 Topps Don Newcombe / Topps

Legendary Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe was one of the earlier black players signed by a major league team, quickly following Jackie Robinson and Johnny Wright into the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1946.

Paired with future Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella at Class B Nashua, they became the first black players in the New England League. Newcombe's breaking of the color line in the New England League was one of many "firsts" in his career. In addition to being one of a handful of blacks in the majors when he made his 1949 debut, he was baseball's first Cy Young Award Winner, winning both the MVP and Cy Young Award in 1956. He was the first player in baseball to be a Rookie of the Year winner that captured the aforementioned dual honors in the same season.

Newcombe is the last living link to the early African-American Brooklyn Dodger players that endured vicious racial taunts, Jim Crow segregation, and the weight of the entire black community during their quest to play baseball on the sport's brightest stage.

Twenty-years prior to Dr. King's assassination, Newcombe and company were laying the groundwork for the civil rights movement. The camaraderie displayed on the field throughout the entire Brooklyn Dodger ball club, crossed  racial boundaries to achieve greatness in America's national pastime. These pioneers planted the necessary images for our country to begin to advance race relations.

Some 28 days before Dr. King was assassinated, he visited Newcombe in Los Angeles. King was in the midst of an exhausting tour of speech-making and sought the company of the Dodger great. In a 2009 interview with the New York Post, Newcombe relayed Dr. King's epic words.

"Don, you'll never know how easy you and Jackie and Doby and Campy made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field."

Let these words marinate as an example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s character as he is honored on this monumental day.

Video - Don Newcome at the 2012 BBWAA Dinner