Showing posts with label Brooks Robinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brooks Robinson. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fritz Peterson: All my friends are hurt and dying

After meeting Fritz Peterson at the 24th annual Joe DiMaggio Legends Game in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., we traded some e-mails and he was kind enough to share this essay he wrote about his friend, Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson entitled, "All my friends are hurt and dying." With his permission, I am sharing this touching essay as well as a photo from 1970 with Brooks Robinson as Peterson received the BBWAA's "Good Guy," award.

"All My Friends are Hurt and Dying"

Brooks Robinson and I go back to 1966. My first start in the big leagues was against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium, their season opener. I won the game 3-2 and got a complete game. That was the only game the Orioles would lose that month as they marched to become World Series Champs that year.

Within two weeks the Orioles returned the favor, beating me in New York. After the loss, I went to a pub where ballplayers hung out and met Brooks Robinson personally for the first time. What a gentleman! He actually told me that I was going to be around the big leagues for a long time. Coming from him that gave me a big boost, since I had only been with the Yankees for less than a month at that time, just feeling my way into the big leagues.

Fritz Peterson (2nd from left) next to his friend Brooks Robinson in 1970 receiving the BBWAA Good Guy Award

On January 27, 2012, I saw Brooks at the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital's annual fund raiser in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. All the ex-major league players first met in the signing room at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino before we went downstairs to one of the ballrooms for the auction of sports memorabilia to raise money for the hospital. There would be a baseball game the next day pitting the National Leaguers against the American Leaguers. Many ex-players were in attendance, as it is each year due to the great cause it represents.

When I first saw Brooks, he looked very weak and frail. He has been dealing with several health issues for two or three years now and it looks like they were taking a toll on him. I sat a few feet away from him and had a little time to joke around about signing autographs with our, “off hands.” He was a righty Hall of Famer that signed autographs left handed and I was a lefty that signed right handed. After the signings, we all went down for some food before we were all introduced to all the fans that were in attendance at the auction.

There was a large dais set up on the stage with three levels of chairs for us to sit on. Brooks was on the third level while I was in front of him on the second level of chairs. After the introduction of all of us by the announcer, we were all to go down to the main floor to mingle with the guests while they looked over the various items up for sale. When we began standing up, Brooks’ chair slipped off the back edge of the platform and he tumbled off the third level backward and then once more as he tumbled off the dais onto the main level in the auditorium which unfortunately had a hard surface. When we realized someone had tumbled off thru the curtains behind us and onto the hard surface below, pandemonium broke loose with players jumping off the stage trying to get to Brooks, half yelling for someone to get a doctor. He was badly hurt. Since it was a fundraiser for a hospital, the audience was full of doctors who just took seconds to get to him. It was sickening, but even worse when we found out it was Brooks, the nicest but most frail player among us that night.

During the panic that ensued, I was looking at Brooks, that sweet, wonderful man lying on the floor all sprawled out with his grey hair all disheveled. I just wanted first to throw up and then, more importantly just to go down and hug him and fix him. I wish I could have taken the fall for him. I have more “meat,” on me, and as of last week I found out that the cancer cells I had had for years were now “undetectable,” the day before Brooks’ fall.

Seeing my buddy on the floor made me cry.

While we were in the signing room I was also updated about Gary Carter, another beautiful man who is being eaten up by brain cancer, similar to other friends in baseball, Bobby Murcer and Dick Howser. That brought me to thoughts of two other baseball friends who died of heart attacks over the past few years, Johnny Blanchard and Tom Tresh.

It saddens me to no end about these guys, and there will be others, but I feel blessed to have known them and because as of this moment, I have a new lease on life. I intend on paying more attention to my friends and thanking God for every moment, especially for the little things.

I love you Brooksie! (He calls me Fritzie). What a beautiful man!

Brooks Robinson is a Hall of Fame 3rd Baseman. Fritz Peterson ended up with the lowest career E.R.A. of any pitcher in the history of Old Yankee Stadium 1923-2008.

- Fritz Peterson

Saturday, February 4, 2012

New York well represented at 2012 Joe DiMaggio Legends Game

With over a dozen former New York Mets and Yankees represented at the 24th annual Joe DiMaggio Legends Game in Fort Lauderdale last Saturday, the retired heroes of Gotham baseball did their best to honor the memory of the famed Yankee Clipper while supporting the children’s hospital which bears his name.

1969 Mets Jim McAndrew and Ron Swoboda at the Joe DiMaggio Legends game
The game was the culmination of a two-day event, which included a fabulous auction and player reception at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood the evening prior, where sadly Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson suffered a broken clavicle after a fall off stage.

Doing their best to push forward after the injury to Robinson, the players radiated as much as the 80-degree sun, donning their uniforms for the enthusiastic crowd. Among the participants were the 85-year-old Minnie Minoso, Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Orlando Cepeda, as well as the ever colorful characters of Bill “Spaceman” Lee and Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd.

The alumni were split in two teams representing the American and National Leagues. After seven innings, the National League emerged victorious, 12-5; however, for the players, the score was irrelevant. The weekend was an opportunity to raise money for the hospital while being able to return another year to connect with their fellow teammates and cronies.

“Just to see the players that I haven’t seen for a year and the players that I played against that you were never able to sit down and talk to is great," said 1969 New York Met World Series hero Al Weis. "It’s a wonderful bunch of guys they have coming down.”

Ron Blomberg, the famed Yankee designated hitter, has multiple connections to this game, including his son Adam who is a doctor at the hospital.

“This is my seventh year coming here," Blomberg said. "Older players took care of me when I played and if I can give back to the kids, do anything for the charity, I’m involved. My son is the head anesthesiologist at Memorial, so it’s a father-son thing.”

The site of the game, Fort Lauderdale Stadium, was the spring training home of the Yankees for many years until they moved to Tampa. For players like Fritz Peterson, returning to South Florida brought back memories of a burgeoning baseball career.

“I’ve been coming out about five years … it’s a tremendous thing," Peterson said. "This is where I really started in 1966 and played all through my career until I was out of there. This is my spring training home. When the Yankees moved to Tampa, it just didn’t seem right; this seemed like the place to be.”

Event organizers are already planning next year’s event, which will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the game, and is surely expected to be a star studded affair. For more information on the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, please visit

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bill Deck's Negro Leagues Journey With The Philadelphia Stars Before WWII

About two weeks ago, I reported on the death of one of the oldest living alums from the Negro Leagues, former Philadelphia Stars pitcher Bill Deck. Deck died in Philadelphia at the age of 95 after an extended stay in a nursing home.

In November 2007 on a Friday afternoon after a long day of teaching, I decided to drive to Mr. Deck's home in North Philadelphia to see if he would be willing to talk about his baseball career. After a few knocks on the door, a tall, lithe man with a baritone voice appeared. He briefly questioned my purpose for the visit; when I told him what I was there for, he graciously invited me inside. 

I understood his initial skepticism as there was a horrific shooting of a cop the day prior about two blocks away at a nearby gas station. After entering, we spent close to two hours discussing his career in baseball, his World War II service, and his life after baseball. Upon discovering the news of his passing, I decided it was best to share visions of the career of another Negro Leaguer who has taken his stories to eternal rest.

Bill Deck - Philadelphia Stars

Falling In Love With The Game

Deck became enamored with the national pastime after moving to Darby, PA from North Carolina at the age of ten.

“That’s when I became wrapped up in baseball," he said. "I would go to the games every day. We were what you would call ball chasers. We would get the foul balls and bring them back in. That was the good part.” 

A few years later, his family migrated across the Delaware County border into Southwest Philadelphia. It was there where he began playing baseball. 

“I started playing ball when I was 13 years old,” he said. “We had moved to Southwest Philadelphia from Darby. They had a little team there, it was a mixed team, black and white. I was the only black on the team. When it came time to play against the other teams in our age group, they wouldn’t let me play. They said I was too good. I only played for special occasions, so I played with kids older than myself.”

A major opportunity arose when the family moved back to Darby. His neighbor was Ed Bolden, who was the owner of the Hilldale Daises (who would later own the Philadelphia Stars).

“I had access to every game that came there," he said. "It taught you the basics of baseball, you learned everything. We had a kids team in Darby, and they would allow us to play like on a Monday, because the big time baseball was on the weekends. They would allow us to play in the park, provided we cut the grass and to put the lines down. I learned more about that than the players did. You learned how to put down a pitcher's mound, the batters box, etc. You learned a lot by just being around.”

Watching Legends Play

His memories of watching the legends play in Hilldale Park were vivid. His lauded the merits of shortstop Dick Lundy, who many feel belongs in the Hall of Fame.

“There was a player with the Bacharach Giants, this was when I was still young," he said. "I used to watch him, he was a shortstop, Dick Lundy. He was the best shortstop I’ve ever seen. He was so smooth. He made hard plays look easy. His rival, Jake Stephens, played for Hilldale. I used to compare the two of them. Jake Stevens was a good shortstop. He’d make an easy play look hard, kicking up dust and everything, but Dick Lundy was the opposite. He made hard plays look easy.”

Deck also had the pleasure of watching Hall of Famer Judy Johnson operate on an up close and personal basis with the Hilldale team. While many are quick to sing the praises of Brooks Robinson and fellow Negro Leaguer Ray Dandridge as the best at the hot corner, Deck offered up the Delaware native.

“I’d rate him the number one against anybody," he said. "He was actually that good. Nothing got past him. Being a kid, I was around 13-14 years old watching guys like that play; just to have a catch with him was the highlight of your life.”

Breaking Into The Negro Leagues With The Philadelphia Stars

As Deck spent more time around Bolden's squad, the more he learned and matured as a player. He eventually had his shot with the Philadelphia Stars in 1939. Deck described how he made his way into the Negro Leagues.

“They way you made your way in, people would notice you playing," he noted. "I was a pitcher. Hilldale had a pitcher, Red Ryan. He taught me how to throw the curveball. I perfected it so good, it drew everyone’s attention. As I grew older, I developed a few pitches and that’s when they gave me a chance to play.”

The person that opened the door for him was his former neighbor, Bolden.

“Ed Bolden wrote me a letter, and asked me if I would come to talk to him. And that’s how I got started.”

While his stay with the Stars was brief, he most memorable moment came during a stop in Iowa.

“The best game I ever pitched was on a Tuesday night," Deck recalled. "We had played in Chicago, and we stopped in Des Moines, IA. We had a night game. I didn’t start the game. We were playing the St. Louis Stars, one of the big teams out West. In the 3rd inning, the manager came in and asked me, 'Could you come in and stop these guys from hitting?' I said, 'I just pitched Sunday, what are you talking about, that’s only two days rest!' He told me, 'They’re making us look like chumps.' I replied, 'Ok, I’ll give it a shot. I don’t know how long I’ll last, ‘cause you know I just pitched Sunday.' Anyway, it was very warm that night, and I guess that’s what did it. From the 3rd inning to the 9th inning, I didn’t give up a hit. It was the greatest moment of my life. It was in the papers. There were big write-ups in the Des Moines paper the next morning. I went to the restaurant the next day and the people asked, 'Are you the guy who pitched last night?' It was quite a crowd at the game, so I said 'Yeah, it was me.'” 

Deck found his manager Jud Wilson to be very difficult to deal with. Wilson was a grizzled veteran who was known for his short fuse. He knew his days were numbered with Wilson at the helm.

“The manager of the team was Jud Wilson," he said. "He was a great third baseman. He was very hard to get along with. He didn’t like me at all I don’t think. In those days, the jobs were hard to come by. A rookie coming in, they were very choosy about who they wanted to play with them. If I come in, they’ve gotta move one of the old-timers. All of a sudden, here comes this kid to take his place. Anyway, that’s when he said, 'I’m going to send you down to the Bacharach Giants.'”

Playing With The Bacharach Giants

He continued to play until 1950, playing for the lesser known all-black semi-pro teams.

“I played for the Bacharach Giants and the [Philadelphia] Stars from 1939-1942," he said. "We played all up and down the East Coast. We’d go up to Connecticut and play. I got married in between. You had to have a job to boost the money up. We’d play in New Haven, come down the coast, play different teams. Around 1950, I finally stopped. I didn’t have that high hard one anymore. I played a little semi-pro after that. When I came out of the service, we moved to a little place called Lamont. I played with them in the Suburban League, to show them how to play ball. They’ve seen it [baseball], but they didn’t understand it.”

Serving As a Black Marine During World War II

His playing career was interrupted by his military service in World War II. Deck discussed how he was part of one of the pioneering Marine units in the service.

“I was one of the first black Marines in 1942," he said. "When they opened up the Marine Corp for Black Marines, I went to sign up in 1942 and became a Marine in 1943. It was separate. You could go in the Marines. They took three black guys from Germantown in the Marines. We were segregated right then. We had a different training camp. We went to Camp LeJune, and that’s where we took boot camp training.”

After returning from World War II, Deck moved to Lamont, PA. It was there where he was visited by another pioneer, Jackie Robinson.

“There was much buzz going on after Jackie Robinson,” he said. “Jackie came to visit us in Lamont and explained to us about baseball. One of the fellows that lived up there knew someone who knew Jackie Robinson and he asked if Jackie could come to speak to us. That was in 1947.”

He also sensed that Robinson's breaking of the color line spelled the end for Negro League baseball.

“I knew that would break the Negro Leagues down. Everyone from kids on up they were thriving to go into the majors, black and whites. That little team we started in Lamont, a lot of those kids, the big leagues would look at them, send scouts out, and send them to farm clubs.”

Life After Baseball

After baseball, Deck went into the field of masonry, which he attributed to his longevity.

“[After baseball] I took up bricklaying," he said. "I put in 25 years. When I got married, I bought a farm in Wildwood, NJ. I bought that place in 1952. We kept it until 1993. We’d go out there and spend time on the shore, Rio Grande, NJ. It was getting too much for me to keep the place looking decent. My wife told me to sell it, and we went back to Philadelphia. After that I’ve just been retired.”

At the time of the interview, the 92-year-old Deck still felt that he could get around pretty well.

“I like to go around places,” he said. “I had to stop driving. That’s a drawback. I’m going back to the doctors to see if they can help my eyes to see if I can get licensed again. My doctor told me physically I am in good enough shape. The years of bricklaying helped.”

In the mid 1990s, Deck ran into a familiar face while visiting a museum in downtown Philadelphia. He couldn't believe what he saw.

“I went down the museum once, down at 7th and Arch, the Negro Museum," he said. "I saw this big picture on the wall, I said, 'That’s a picture taken at Parkside in 1939.' This lady that ran the museum at the time, she told me to come into her office, she wanted to talk to me. She asked me a lot of questions, almost like you are doing. I told her, 'On this picture there, that’s me right there! She asked, 'Do you mind if we keep this?' I said, 'Sure.' I had seen this picture before, but I hadn’t noticed it this closely. They enlarged it and had it hanging up. A few guys I knew down there said, 'Deck, do you know they have your picture hanging at the museum?' This was about ten years ago. I remember when that picture was taken. Right away, it brought my mind back to 1939.”

Long after Deck threw his final pitch, he admitted that baseball had never left him.

“You get it in your blood and it stays there forever," he said. "I watch spring training when they televise it. I followed baseball all of these years. I’ll turn away something else to get to a baseball game. And you almost know what’s going to happen. It’s instinct or something.”

Only later in his life did Deck gain some fanfare for his accomplishments almost 60 years prior.

“Lately, I get a lot of mail," he said. "I never would have believed it. When it first started, they used to send us letters from Buck O’Neil. They used to send us a check twice a year. All of the black players, the ones that were living, but they stopped that.”

When asked about how he wanted to be remembered, Deck was humbled by the thought of it.

“I just want to be remembered as being out there trying to play. The thought of being remembered means a lot.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2009 MLBPAA Legends for Youth Dinner November 6, 2009 - Hilton New York City

Established in 1999, the MLBPAA created the Legends for Youth Dinner recognizing former Major League players for their on-field accomplishments coupled with their off-field contributions to communities across the world. In addition, the MLBPAA recognizes current players by presenting the National and American League Pitcher and Player of the Year Awards, which is voted on by the former Major League players, and the Dick Schaap Memorial Player of the Year Award, voted on by baseball’s television and radio broadcasters and presented to Major League Baseball’s most valuable player irrespective of position or league. Finally, the Alumni Association created the Heart & Hustle Award, presented annually to a current player and voted on by former players. The winner is the player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game of baseball. Whether or not these players are named a Most Valuable Player, are a World Series Champion or simply play the game hard each time they take the field, these players win our admiration and respect.

The Legends for Youth Dinner, which will be held on November 6, 2009 at the Hilton in New York City, honors baseball’s legends with MLBPAA Lifetime Achievement Awards. This year's honoree is Hall of Fame pitcher, Gaylord Perry. In addition to the honorees, many of baseball’s greats attend the awards show to support their peers. “The MLBPAA is proud to recognize current and former Major League players for their accomplishments on this national stage,” said Brooks Robinson, Hall of Fame Third Baseman and MLBPAA President.

This event also serves as the primary fund-raiser for the Alumni Association’s youth programs. The MLBPAA allocates Legends for Youth Dinner proceeds to Alumni youth programming, which includes Legends for Youth Baseball Clinic Series. The Legends for Youth program is a series of FREE baseball clinics designed to talk to youth about life skills promote baseball and teach young players baseball fundamentals. “The life skills station carries the most weight for the long-term,” said Denny Doyle, chairman of the youth clinic series. “It carries a little more strength and power coming from a Hall of Famer. We realize that puts a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders.”

Confirmed guests at this year's dinner include Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Tony Perez, Brooks Robinson, as well as perennial all-stars John Franco, Steve Garvey and Al Leiter. To find out more information about the 2009 Legends for Youth Dinner at the Hilton in New York City, click here. To register directly for the dinner, click here.