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

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Johnny Schmitz | Former Brooklyn Dodger dies at 90

Johnny Schmitz, nicknamed Bear Tracks for his big feet, pitched 13 seasons in the majors, spending parts of the 1951 and 1952 seasons in Brooklyn. He passed away on October 5, 2011 in Wisconsin. He was 90.

Johnny Schmitz / Topps
Born November 27, 1920, Schmitz entered pro ball in 1938 at the age of 17 with Class D Hopkinsville of the Cleveland Indians organization. Earning a reputation for his sharp curveball, which fellow Dodgers hurler Rex Barney noted, “He could drop it in a coffee cup,” Schmitz earned a call to the big leagues only three years later with the Chicago Cubs.

Schmitz’s career was interrupted by his Naval service in World War II from 1943-45. Returning for the 1946 season, Schmitz didn’t lose a step, making the All-Star team and leading the National League in strikeouts. This would be the first of Schmitz’s two All-Star appearances, the other coming in 1948.

Schmitz came to Brooklyn from Chicago in 1951 as part of a mid-season eight-player trade that also brought heavy-hitting outfielder Andy Pafko to the Dodgers. As much as the focus was on the acquisition of Pafko, Schmitz was the key to the deal. He had great success against the Dodgers, winning 18 games against the Dodgers in his seven years with the Cubs. Now wearing the Dodger blue, they rested safely knowing they didn’t have to face Schmitz during their playoff run.

Schmitz watched helplessly from the bullpen as Ralph Branca surrendered “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to Bobby Thomson at the Polo Grounds during the final game of the season. With one swing of the bat, Schmitz’s World Series hopes were quickly extinguished.

“I thought, ‘There goes my World Series.’ To come so close, after being on teams on the bottom for so many years, and one pitch, there it went,” Schmitz said in a 1996 interview with Baseball Digest.

Schmitz had another chance for World Series glory the next season as he moved across town with the New York Yankees, but was traded to Cincinnati for Ewell Blackwell before the season ended. He pitched in the majors until 1956, also playing with the Senators, Red Sox, and Orioles.

After baseball, Schmitz became a greenskeeper on a local golf course until his retirement in 1990. He remained an avid fan of the game and was responsive to fan autograph requests up until the day of his passing, with members of the website receiving signed fan mail from Schmitz only a few days before he died.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Maury Wills proudly represents the Dodger blue at the 2011 MLB draft

Sixty years after signing with the Dodgers, Maury Wills continues to bleed Dodger blue. Wills appeared in New York City at a pre-draft luncheon earlier this week as the official representative of the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2011 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. “El Fantasma” (The Ghost) as he was nicknamed in Venezuela for his base-stealing ability, spent a few minutes discussing his 1951 entry into the famed then-Brooklyn organization.

“I was signed out of a tryout camp,” Wills recalled during the festivities. “The guys in the projects saw this ad in the newspaper for Washington D.C. kids between the ages of 17-19 to come and bring your gloves and spikes.”

Maury Wills

His courtship by the Dodgers differed greatly from the hopefuls that awaited Monday evening’s selections.

“We went and performed in front of the scouts,” he said. “There was no such thing as a draft deal like now where they see you play and approach you for a nice bonus. I got $500 and I gave it to my dad. He never saw $500 at one time in his life.”

Wills thought his signing was going to bring life changing riches. He quickly learned that wasn't the case for a young ballplayer at the lowest level of professional baseball.

“At the time, before I signed, I thought I was going to get all of this money and take my family out of the projects, but that didn’t happen,” he said. “I signed for $130 per month and $1.50 per day meal money.”

Despite the rough road he faced toiling the minor leagues for nine years, climbing the ladder all the way from Class-D Hornell to the majors, Wills would repeat his journey.

“I would do it again today,” he said. “I would pay that price.”

It was that proverbial price Wills paid that allowed him to represent the Dodgers at the 2011 MLB Draft. Throughout all of his well chronicled battles with drug abuse, he acknowledged a divinely spirit guiding him along his continued path in baseball.

“Signing for that $130 per month and that meal money, that’s what got me here,” he said. “If I didn’t want to sign for that, I wouldn’t be here. I paid the price all the way, even after getting to the big leagues. That’s the only reason I’m here, not because of myself, but in spite of myself; it was God’s grace. For the Dodgers to ask me to come here to represent them, it’s really flattering.”