Showing posts with label Hall of Fame. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hall of Fame. Show all posts

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Earl Weaver intense nature stemmed from his playing days with the Cardinals

Earl Weaver’s notoriety for his fiery temper long preceded his career as a Hall of Fame manager for the Baltimore Orioles. The 82-year-old Weaver, who passed away passed away early Saturday morning from an apparent heart attack while on a baseball themed cruise, was a fiercely competitive second baseman in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Earl Weaver as a player and a manager
Weaver was signed by his hometown Cardinals out of Beaumont High School in 1948. His first destination was their Class D affiliate in West Frankfort, Illinois. Floyd Melliere, a pitcher who went 21-4 on that team, recalled in a 2008 interview that Weaver’s penchant for baiting umpires started very early in his career.

“We came up in West Frankfort in 1948," Melliere said. "He was a holler guy, a hustler. We had a play at second base that went against him. The umpire thumbed him out. Earl stayed in the game. When he came in the dugout, I asked him, ‘I thought the umpire threw you out?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he said I cussed him. He told me what he called him. I told him I wasn’t talking to him, so he left me in the game.’ I never saw that before.”

Standing only 5’7”, Weaver drew comparisons to Eddie Stanky, the All-Star second baseman who was revered for squeezing every ounce of his ability out of his slight frame, whether it was by razzing his opponents from all over the field, leaning in to a pitch to get on base, or sacrificing his body to get in front of a hot shot through the infield. Russell Rac, Weaver’s roommate in 1950 at Winston Salem, compared the two in a 2008 phone interview.

“You remember Earl Weaver?" asked Rac. "He was my roommate my first year in Winston Salem, NC. That was 1950, Class B ball. He was a helluva second baseman. He reminded you of [Eddie] Stanky. In other words, he couldn’t do anything great, but I tell you what, he was at the right place at the right time all the time, backing up where you’re supposed to be, etc.”

Weaver didn't have to wait too long for their paths to cross, as Stanky was hired by the Cardinals as their player-manager in the 1951 offseason. A December 16, 1951 article in the Toledo Blade about Stanky’s hire referred to Weaver as, “the Eddie Stanky of the Cardinals organization.”

Weaver was a member of four straight pennant winning teams in their minor league system, and was offered an invite to spring training in 1952 prior to Stanky’s acquisition. He was given a brief trial at major league camp that spring, but didn’t make the cut. Larry Granillo of Baseball Prospectus highlighted one of Weaver’s 1952 spring training games, where he went 2-5 against the New York Yankees while sharing the lineup with Stan Musial, who in a sad twist of fate, passed away the same day as Weaver. Whatever momentum Weaver built within the organization came to a halt with Stanky taking over the reserve infielder spot, as he could not crack the ranks with both Red Schoendienst and Stanky in front of him.

Weaver never reached the majors as a player, becoming a manager in the minor leagues in 1956, working his way up the ladder the same way he did as a ballplayer. He took the reins of the Baltimore Orioles from Hank Bauer in 1968 en route to a World Series championship in 1970. Weaver spent 17 seasons at the helm from 1968-1982, and again from 1985-86, compiling a 1480-1060 record with four American League pennants to his credit.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996, and while his intense battles with umpires are etched in the memories of baseball fans everywhere, his spirited displays date back to his travels through the back roads of the Cardinals farm system. Harland Coffman, Weaver’s teammate in Omaha in 1951 captured his nature most succinctly in a 2008 interview.

“He was a real competitor," Coffman said. "He was looking for ways to beat you no matter what it was.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt once again speaks out about autographs

Mike Schmidt signed card - Baseball Almanac
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt is back again, complaining about autographs, this time about the awful scrawl of modern athletes. In 2010, we spotlighted a Sports Illustrated article by Schmidt entitled, "The autograph craze is out of whack," where Schmidt takes to task all of those who try to get his autograph in public for free by covert methods.

Schmidt has followed that up with, "Perfect penmanship becoming a thing of the past with autographs," where he calls out modern players for having illegible autographs, and again takes the time to go after collectors who try to get players outside team hotels and other places they frequent. This is coming from someone who purposely signs in a much sloppier fashion the rare times he signs for free in public, to make sure he protects the value of his autograph. One can understand that as a Hall of  Famer, a big asset is your signature, but when you are getting paid tens of thousands of dollars per public appearance, do you really care if a few people somewhere down the line make a few bucks from your signature because they couldn't afford the $75 the promoter is asking at a show?

The quality of modern autographs have seriously deteriorated, as players try to meet the increased demand at games, spring training, etc., but yet a few great examples remain, such as those of Michael Cuddyer, Huston Street, and Pat Neshek. If Schmidt is so concerned about the quality of current signatures, he should take a few players under his wing, just as the late Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew did with Cuddyer, and fellow Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda did with Street. A word from this Hall of Famer might just carry enough weight to make a difference.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Potter tracking down the legend of Drungo Hazewood

A rare signed Drungo Hazewood 1991 Crown Orioles Card
Drungo Hazewood’s major league baseball career lasted five plate appearances, and if you weren't scouring box scores in 1980, chances are slim that you've ever heard of him. Yet when it comes to serious fans and collectors of Baltimore Orioles memorabilia, Hazewood has remained famous for more than his unique moniker. Just like the curve balls that baffled the highly touted outfielder, he has thrown some of his own to those seeking his signature, placing his name atop the want lists of collectors across the country.

In his travels connecting retired major leaguers with aficionados looking to further their autograph collections, Chris Potter met with the elusive Hazewood to discuss the prospects of facilitating a signing to add his penmanship to their prized paraphernalia. “I brought it up to him, I said, ‘You’ve been a pretty tough autograph for people that want it,’” said Potter. “He goes, ‘I just don’t understand why they want it.’ – He just doesn’t understand why people want his autograph from the career that he had. He didn’t have a long career. He’s kind of taken back by the fact that people want his autograph. He’s more than happy to do the signing with me; he was excited about it when I mentioned it to him. He wants to see what people are going to send in to be signed.”

Hazewood is one of 50 former major leaguers that Potter will visit during his next run of signings beginning September 30th that include a wide range of talents from Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, perennial All-Stars Del Crandall, Reggie Smith, and Don Kessinger, to such curiosities as Frank Baker, Rich Coggins, Johnny Jeter, and Ron Woods. The one-time Orioles prospect is not the first player to wonder why people still want their autograph long after their cup of coffee has been emptied. “I’ve run across that a few times where players are like, ‘Who remembers me and why do people want my autograph?’” said Potter. “The people who are really seeking their autograph know who they are, but it’s really hard to find someone who knows about the players I go and see unless you are a baseball enthusiast, historian or collector. We focus more on those guys.”

For many of the players Potter visits, they enjoy the convenience of being able to do the signing in a comfortable setting while obliging the fans. “Everybody I’ve worked with really enjoys this. If you look at it, they don’t have to go anywhere and guys their age, they don’t like to travel. Not only are we providing a service to the collectors, we are providing a service to the players as well. That’s what is appealing to a lot of these guys. They want to accommodate the fans and they want to go to these shows, but some are physically unable to do so. With the service we provide, they’re able to accommodate the fans and they’re happy to do so with what we provide,” said Potter.

As he continues with traversing the routes and highways of the United States, he finds the players revel in the uniqueness of the items they’re presented with. “We get it all the time. They’re taken a back from some of these items and by people who track this stuff down, are passionate enough to get it signed, and want their autograph on it. Some of the guys are really emotional about the things we bring them to be signed.” For more information on Potter’s next round of signings, check out his website –

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Franco continues to represent as an ambassador for the New York Mets

John Franco is the epitome of New York baseball. Born and raised in Brooklyn, the Lafayette High School graduate went on to play at St. John's University in Queens before being drafted by the Dodgers in 1981. Little did he ever imagine that he would play 15 years in the major leagues with the New York Mets and earn a spot in their Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, Franco was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in a wonderful ceremony at Citi Field. A few months later, he’s still amazed at the honor.
John Franco Signing Autographs / N. Diunte
“If you would have told me as a kid growing up that I would be in the Mets Hall of Fame, I’d say you were crazy,” said Franco at his Tuesday afternoon appearance at Citibank in Tarrytown, N.Y. “It’s a great honor to be on that wall and [have] my plaque next to great players like Tom Seaver, Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson, Tommie Agee, all my heroes growing up. ... It’s a great honor, I’m humbled and I’ll truly cherish it.”

The subject of the Hall of Fame this year for Franco is one that hits close to home, as his former Cincinnati Reds teammate Barry Larkin was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame a few weeks ago.

“Barry, you knew he was going to be something special when he came up to the big leagues early," Franco said. "He had a five tools [as a] player, speed, he could hit with power, a great fielder, great arm, and [was] very very smart. It was just an honor to play with Barry and I’m happy that he got into the Hall of Fame; he deserved it.”

Franco, like many of his Brooklyn brethren, honed his skills at the famous Parade Grounds. Even though the diamonds were a little rough, they still provide Franco with the opportunity to develop and mature as a player.

“Back then, the fields weren’t in great shape, but there were always games going on," he said. "There were seven or eight diamonds, and at every field, a game was going on. You’d start at nine in the morning and sometimes play until three in the afternoon. You’d go from field to field or play doubleheaders. It was a great experience, great baseball in the New York City area. We had some great teams from all over Brooklyn and it was very competitive.”

Currently, Franco works as an ambassador for the Mets and keeps busy by making appearances all over the city.

“This is my 3rd year with the Mets [as] one of their ambassadors," he said. "What I do, I go around to the various [Citi] branches … and they have these branches that myself and other veteran, retired players who are involved with the Mets go around and do some signings. I get to meet and greet the fans and talk a little bit about baseball. I go into the community, do some community service, some baseball stuff, some announcing, and some TV stuff; a little bit of everything.”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Potter continues to deliver with his next round of baseball signings

Chris Potter with Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr
Crisscrossing the country connecting baseball fans and their cardboard heroes, Chris Potter has continued to make his mark by delivering excellent service to those looking to enhance their autograph collections. With a week left before his next round of coast-to-coast travel, which includes signings with 80 former major league baseball players including Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Bobby Doerr, as well as NBA Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, Potter is busy keeping up with the demand of his faithful.

“Right now, to be honest, we’re up to our eyeballs in mail,” said Potter in a phone interview.

His last round of signings included the notoriously difficult Dr. Mike Marshall, who has evaded collectors for a long time, even proving to be a reluctant signer while he was playing. Potter, after taking the time to break the ice with Dr. Marshall, was able to help collectors land one who has kept his signature in great demand. “It’s definitely a scavenger hunt. A lot were able to cross Dr. Mike Marshall off of their lists,” he said.

So how exactly did Potter break down a guy like Marshall?

“It’s just getting to know somebody. It took me a few years just to build a relationship with him. He took a liking to me and it kind of went from there,” he said. For a player who doesn’t like to sign autographs, Potter was impressed with the amount of care Marshall put in to his signature. “He took pride in his signature. He definitely wanted to make things look good. There were situations where he didn’t think things were up to par and he didn’t let me have it. He was very particular about what he let out in to the market. He had a lot of pride in it, which I don’t see a lot of the players have now today.”

It is through these relationships that Potter has been given a window into the lives of these great men who have helped to build America’s pastime. One of those legends he will be visiting is the aforementioned 94-year-old Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr. “Bobby is of the classiest men I’ve ever met. It’s always a pleasure to see and work with him. I had a great time hearing his stories and talking baseball with him. [He is] one of the best ambassadors of baseball.”

With his June 22nd deadline approaching, Potter is excited to get back on the road to visit the players. One of the things he most looks forward to are the reactions of the players to the wide variety of items he reigns in from his customers. Despite the fact that many of these players have been signing their names for over a half-century, they still get a big kick of what Potter brings their way.

“They really enjoy seeing the stuff I bring them. They say, ‘I haven’t seen this.’ ‘Where can I find this?’ They haven’t seen these things in 40 years in some cases,” said Potter. “Sometimes they want to keep it, but I have to tell them they aren’t mine.”

- Click here to view the 80 players that Potter has available for his June 22nd signings, which includes three Hall of Famers, three MVP's, four Rookies of the Year and a host of other World Series champions and other award winners.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The thrill of seeing Gil Hodges still lingers for a lifelong Brooklyn Dodger fan

In December of 2011, I wrote a piece entitled, "Gil Hodges' Brooklyn Dodger teammates make last minute pitch for Hall of Fame," citing recent interviews with Hodges' teammates coming out in support of their late first baseman for the Hall of Fame. That weekend, the newly formed Golden Era Committee voted Ron Santo into the Baseball Hall of Fame, once again leaving Hodges, his family, and his supporters on the outside looking in.

Earlier this week, I received a letter from 72-year-old Brooklyn Dodgers fan Bill Hidde, who shared passionate memories of watching Hodges play in Brooklyn, explaining why he is deserving of the Hall of Fame.

"I grew up in upstate New York, not far from Cooperstown and was an avid Brooklyn Dodger fan who idolized Gil Hodges. When he retired, he held the record for most home runs by a right-hander in the National League and he had a cover picture and several page layout in Look Magazine entitled, "Ballet at First Base," with sequenced shots capturing his grace and athleticism fielding his position.

I had an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn and for two or three years we made the trip there in the summer. My aunt would get tickets for Ebbets Field. The thrill for a young man to go to our seats and see that lighted diamond, and realize I was watching my heroes instead of hearing the announcer on the radio at home still lingers.

The ballplayers of that era recognized their impact on youngsters and one of the finest tributes to Gil Hodges is one that was never given. I knew everything a young boy could know about Gil, where he was born, his wife's maiden name, his service in the Marines, and minor league time before making the majors.

Several years ago, I just happened to catch an interview with teammate and star Duke Snider. The interviewer mentioned Gil dying so young. Duke replied that Gil was very high strung and got extremely nervous before big games and said he was also a chain smoker. I either had, or tried to see, every photo of Gil Hodges I could find. There was not one that ever showed him smoking and I am sure it was because he knew the bad influence that could have on his young fans.

Everyone who knew him spoke of him with respect and admiration. His early death took him from the spotlight and many never got to know the man and his accomplishments, but it will be a real injustice if he is not placed in the Hall of Fame, a place he earned and deserves to be enshrined in!"

Bill Hidde

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.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gil Hodges' Brooklyn Dodger teammates make a pitch for his Hall of Fame honors

The Golden Era Committee meets this weekend in Dallas at the winter baseball meetings to decide the worthiness of ten veterans and executives for Hall of Fame enshrinement. One of those ten candidates is beloved Brooklyn Dodger first baseman and manager of the 1969 New York Mets World Series championship team, Gil Hodges.

During the 15 years he was eligible for the BBWAA vote, Hodges finished as high as third in the voting on three occasions, while the next nine finishing below him (1976, 1977) eventually made the Hall of Fame. Later, various incarnations of the Veterans Committee failed to elect Hodges, while comparable players such as Orlando Cepeda (VC) and Tony Perez (BBWAA) received the call in back-to-back years.

Gil Hodges / Bowman
At the time of his retirement, Hodges’ 370 home runs were the most in the National League by a right-handed hitter. He cemented the clean-up spot in Brooklyn’s lineup, guiding them to their only World Series in 1955. At first base, his glove work was outstanding, winning the Gold Glove during for three straight years after its inception in 1957.

To the small crop of Hodges’ remaining living Brooklyn teammates, his absence from the Hall of Fame remains a mystery. Ed Roebuck, who spent six seasons with Hodges in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, as well as another two playing for him in Washington, is perplexed by his absence.

“It’s unbelievable that Gil Hodges isn’t in," Roebuck said. "Even as a manager, how would you figure the 1969 Mets to beat Baltimore? That in itself should be admission to the Hall of Fame.”

Joe Pignatano, Hodges’ long-time coach with the Washington Senators and the New York Mets, also played five seasons with him in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and New York. Pignatano sees this year’s vote as a mere formality for something that should have been done a long time ago.

“It’s absurd," Pignatano said. "This is something that is long overdue. There isn’t anybody I know that doesn’t speak highly of him.”

Hodges’ tremendous character allowed him to positively impact everyone on the team, from the established veterans, to the newcomers on the block. One such newbie was pitcher Glenn Mickens. In 1953, Mickens was a rookie making the jump to Brooklyn from AA Fort Worth. It was Hodges that welcomed him to the fold.

“[He] made me feel like I belonged there … he was a complete gentleman in every respect,” Mickens said. “I never heard a negative word spoken about Gil Hodges and I don't think that he had an enemy in the world - except maybe those opposing pitchers who couldn't get him out, and theirs wasn't negativity, but actually respect for one of the best to ever play the game.”

Catcher Tim Thompson was another rookie who was a recipient of Hodges’ benevolence. Thompson made the club out of spring training in 1954 and needed a place to stay in Brooklyn. Hodges quickly came to the rescue.

“He was the most human being I ever been around in my life," Thompson said. "When I went to Brooklyn, he said, ‘I have a house for you to rent right beside me so you have somewhere to live.’ He used to pick me up and take me to the ballpark. He was a very good friend of mine.”

On the field, Hodges had a humble approach that resonated with his teammates. They saw him give the same respect to his opponents that he did to those in his own dugout.

“Gil would hit a grand slam and would have his head down all the way around the bases like he felt sorry for the pitcher," Roebuck said. "Now they point in the sky, jump up; so unprofessional! If you did that when I played, you would have been knocked down for sure.”

The newly formed Golden Era committee which is comprised of eight Hall of Famers (one being Hodges’ teammate Tommy Lasorda), five executives and three members of the media, has a tremendous task at hand to pare down the list to one or more candidates that 75% of them agree upon. Hodges’ candidacy has sparked debate for years; however, for Mickens, this vote should close the chapter on an honor Hodges should have received years ago.

“He was an outstanding clutch hitter and his record speaks for itself as far as his being in the Hall of Fame,”  Mickens said. “I believe that his induction is long overdue and it would be a terrible disservice if they pass him up.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tom Seaver reflects on the benefits of being a United States Marine

Hall of Fame pitcher and former United States Marine Tom Seaver stood proudly on the podium Friday morning as he saluted the veterans at Citi Pond in Bryant Park. The legendary New York Mets pitcher served in the Marine Corps from 1962-63, and remained on reserve duty until 1970.

Tom Seaver poses with Fordham's Color Guard at Bryant Park / N. Diunte

Seaver repeatedly expressed his respect for the members on active duty, explaining how his time in the military helped better prepare for his baseball career.

“What they taught me was so much about discipline, so much about focus, so much about team spirit,” said Seaver. “Does it sound like I'm talking about baseball? Yes it does, but it came from the Marine Corps.

“Just boot camp, you get through it and you feel like you've accomplished so much,” he said. “The things that I’ve learned, and especially learned to integrate into when I was a pitcher in the big leagues … the discipline and the focus and respect for uniform, etc., were an extremely important part of my career.”

Seaver was also joined by another Hall of Famer, 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Darlene Love, who serenaded the crowd with a riveting version of the National Anthem. Both were all smiles as they graciously signed autographs and posed for pictures with the active members on hand.

“It couldn't be more rewarding for me to see the passion that these individuals have,” he said.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Former Mets catcher Sasser receives Hall of Fame honors

The visions of Mackey Sasser double and triple pumping before throwing the ball back to the pitcher are vivid memories for New York Mets fans. The former catcher's struggles with his throwing are well documented, but now the 48-year-old Sasser has been able to share his major league experience with the next generation of aspiring ballplayers at Wallace Community College.

Sasser has been the head coach at Wallace for the past 14 seasons where he starred as a player (1982-83) before signing with the San Francisco Giants. During his tenure he's posted a 462-281 record and has been able to have numerous players sign professional contracts.

Last week, Sasser was inducted into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame in Alabama. Sasser played nine seasons (1987-95) for the Mets, Pirates, Giants and Mariners. While most recognize Sasser for his throwing problems back to the pitcher, he batted .307 with the Mets in 1990 and displayed a tremendous arm throwing out runners across the diamond.

His problems worsened after a collision at the plate with Jim Presley of the Atlanta Braves. Sasser suffered a torn Achillies tendon that further affected his ability to throw. He signed with the Seattle Mariners after the 1992 season, playing two injury plagued seasons with them. He spent one more with the Pirates in 1995 before retiring.

After some therapy, Sasser has been able to rise above the challenges he faced on the field.

"I didn’t want to deal with it anymore and moved on. I was able to get some help and it’s not a problem now. I had to learn to deal with myself, not just the problem,” Sasser said to the Dothan Eagle.

As a coach, Sasser takes great pride in watching his players develop not only on the diamond, but in their personal lives.

"I make my kids work hard because I want to get the best out of them," he said. "The most gratifying thing to me is when one of them comes back a few years later and he’s started a family or used his education to get a good job. I want to see them get to where they need to be.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yogi Berra greets fans at the home of the New Jersey Jackals

Fresh off of his appearance at the New York Yankees Old Timers' Day, Yogi Berra made his annual appearance at Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair, home of the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League. Adjacent to the Museum and Learning Center that bears his name, Berra signed autographs for the few hundred fans who lined up since 8am to meet the Yankee Hall of Famer.

Click here to read more about the Hall of Famer's appearance at his stadium in New Jersey.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gary Carter's teammates come together in support of The Kid

Gary Carter might be facing his toughest opponent yet; however, he can continue to battle strongly knowing he has the full support of his teammates. The Hall of Fame catcher is suffering from inoperable brain cancer and was in the forefront of two of his teammates thoughts Friday evening.

Carter's World Champion 1986 New York Mets teammates Rick Aguilera and Doug Sisk were at Citi Field Friday night for a series of events sponsored by the New York Mets Alumni Association presented by Citi. It was very clear that throughout the evening, their thoughts were with their beloved catcher.

The 49-year-old Aguilera works as a high school baseball coach at Santa Fe Christian in San Diego. He has been in contact with Carter recently in a show of solidarity for his cancer stricken battery-mate.

"We've texted each other and I let him know that my family is praying for him,"Aguilera said. "We're hoping that he understands and feels his teammates support and the fans support. I'm sure it means a lot to him."

The 53-year-old Sisk, works for the Mets as a part-time scout in the Seattle area where he currently resides. He wanted to share the same encouragement with Carter that his catcher give him on the mound.

"Gary was a great teammate, always positive about everything. I never heard a bad word out of his mouth, except for a food spread in Pittsburgh once," Sisk said. "He'd catch a night game then a day game; he was just a workhorse. When I had my bad times, he would try to pump me up and try to help out every way, hopefully we can all do that for him now."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How Mickey Mantle swept through Joplin on his way to stardom

With Joplin, Missouri devastated by an EF-5 strength tornado, the highest possible on the Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado power and intensity, much of the country’s attention is focused on beginning the relief efforts in this southwestern Missouri city.

While baseball may be farthest from the minds of those attempting to put back the pieces of their lives destroyed by the storm, longtime residents remember Joplin as the home of the Class C Joplin Miners of the New York Yankees organization.

Mickey Mantle / Cliff1066 - Flickr
In 1950, a fleet 18-year-old shortstop from Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle captured the hearts of this Midwestern city, rallying the team that inhabited Miners Park on 4th and Main. Leading the Western League in almost every offensive category, Mantle batted an astounding .383 with 26 home runs.

Defensively, Mantle did not develop as quickly as his hitting, committing 55 errors in 137 games. Blessed with a strong arm and tremendous range, Mantle went through growing pains at one of the most demanding positions in baseball.

Teammate Cal Neeman, who would go on to a seven-year career in the big leagues as a catcher for five major league teams, knew very well Mantle was a star that needed just a little more polishing.

“Everybody knew he had a lot of talent. There is no doubt about that. He did some fabulous things, but he also made errors too,” Neeman said via a telephone interview Wednesday from his home in Missouri.

Steve Kraly, who pitched with Joplin that year and made it to the Yankees himself in 1953, also shared via telephone Wednesday tales of Mantle’s woes at shortstop.

“If there was an infield pop-up, we’d tell him to get out of the way! He had such a strong arm, when he threw to first, nobody sat in the box seats behind first base.”

Despite Mantle’s troubles in the field, there was no denying his prowess at the plate. Neeman, who had played at Joplin the year before, marveled at Mantle’s power.

“We had a fence in center field that was 420 feet. The first year I was there, nobody hit it over the fence during a game. One night in Joplin, Mickey hit one over it left-handed and right-handed. Incredible!”

Both Kraly and Neeman saw a tremendous change in Mantle’s play in between the 1949 and 1950 seasons. Prior to the start of the 1950 season, Casey Stengel held a training camp for Yankee prospects in Arizona. Neeman attended the camp along with Mantle in January that year.

“Mantle made his mark in a school that Stengel started for prospects in January of 1950 in Arizona. I was there too. In Phoenix, everything everyone knew about him was his power,” said Neeman. “He was left handed and hit it over the left field wall constantly. He’d go the other way right handed and there was no telling where he would hit it.”

Kraly provided the perspective of Mantle's transformation from playing with him during his debut year of 1949 at Class-D Independence.

“When he joined us in Independence, he came in the second month of the season. He weighed about 160 lbs. All he did was bunt and run,” Kraly remembered. “Harry Craft finally told him to start swinging the bat. Then he started swinging the bat and hitting the ball, [but] he didn’t hit too many home runs. The next year we went to spring training in Branson, Missouri with Joplin and you saw the difference in his physique from 1949 to 1950. That’s what you saw in the big leagues. He hit home runs over the light towers.”

During his time in Joplin, Mantle roomed with a trio of future big leaguers, Kraly, Lou Skizas and Bob Wiesler. The four were teammates the previous year in Independence. Kraly said that the experience living together in Joplin strengthened their bond.

“We enjoyed it and we had a lot of fun. We became like brothers, not just teammates,” Kraly said.

Reminiscing about their Hall of Fame teammate, also allowed both players to share their impressions of the devastated town.

“I had all positive memories about Joplin. It was the first placed that I played professional baseball. The whole atmosphere there was really good. People liked the ballplayers,” Neeman said.

He added that the community went out of their way to support the players.

“Some of those places would give us a free meal if you hit a double and things like that. It was just really pleasant.”

Kraly echoed Neeman’s feelings about the good-natured people of Joplin.

“I was shocked when I saw that on television. There are a lot of nice people there. It hurts to see a town get wiped out where I was able to play and meet the people there. If they released the names, I probably could remember some of them. The people were nice; they gave us gifts when we performed on the field.”

Over sixty years later, invoking the name of Joplin brought back pleasant memories for two of Mantle’s teammates, playing alongside one of baseball’s brightest rising stars during a more innocent time away from the spotlight that followed their teammate until his passing in 1995.

While Mantle’s spirit may not be able to fix the damage of this tragic disaster, hopefully the memory of his magical season in Joplin will make the day for residents a bit brighter than the last.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wilber "Bullet" Rogan and the Kansas City Monarchs - Book Review

Imagine a player who many regard as a better pitcher than Satchel Paige and the equal of Joe DiMaggio at the plate and in the field. This isn’t the legend of Steve Nebraska, but that of Hall of Famer Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, who is so eloquently profiled by Phil S. Dixon in his book, “Wilber ‘Bullet’ Rogan and the Kansas City Monarchs.

Click here to read an entire review of the book.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Andy Pettitte and Whitey Ford: A Comparison

Keith Allison / Flickr / Wikimedia Commons
The big news on the New York baseball airwaves last week was Andy Pettitte's announcement of his retirement after a 16-year career in the major leagues with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. As soon as the official word was given, a multitude of talking heads discussed Pettitte's candidacy for the Hall of Fame. The soutpaw's career totals parallel that of another Yankee left-handed great, Hall of Famer Whitey Ford.

Below are Pettitte's final totals juxtaposed with Ford's. Playing in the era of specialization, it is no surprise that Pettitte falls short when comparing complete games. The rest of their statistics are eerily similar. How does Pettitte's career stack up against Ford's, and is Andy Pettitte a Hall of Famer? Discuss below.

In case you are wondering, Ford needs a second hand just to display his World Series rings, owning six, while Pettitte garnered five during his career.

Career Statistics
Player Name Stat Type

Andy Pettitte MLB

Whitey Ford MLB


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Barry Larkin leaving the MLB Network?

Baseball barry larkin 2004An anonymous source told us that Barry Larkin will be leaving his post at the MLB Network for ESPN. The 1995 National League MVP was part of the Hot Stove crew that debuted the flagship program for the station in 2009. Larkin made an excellent "double play" combination with Harold Reynolds, often providing excellent insider commentary on the "how-to's" of the game.

Scooter: The Biography of Phil Rizzuto

Carlo DeVito
Triumph Books, 2010 
368 pp.
"Holy Cow!" The trademark line from one of New York's most beloved baseball figures resonates vividly in the minds of fans across the country, long after his days in the Yankees broadcast booth. If Phil Rizzuto was still alive, it would be likely that he would exclaim his famous catchphrase after reading Carlo DeVito's “Scooter.”

DeVito provides in-depth detail of the entirety of the Hall of Fame shortstop's life, a career that was almost derailed when Rizzuto dropped out of high school in 1936. Deemed “too small” by the Dodgers and the Giants, Rizzuto was put back on track to embark on what would be a 60-year journey through baseball with the help of his high school coach Al Kunitz and the watchful eye of Yankee scout Paul Krichell.

Signed by the Yankees in 1937, Rizzuto's career was almost over before it started. During his first season in Class-D Bassett, Rizzuto tore a muscle in his leg and was told that his baseball playing days were over. Miraculously, he recovered quickly enough to return that same season and finish with over a .300 batting average. He would go on to hit over .300 at every stop in the minor leagues before debuting with the Yankees in 1941.

DeVito explores the high regard in which Rizzuto's teammates and opponents held his talents. Often overshadowed by the prowess of Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle, DeVito illustrates how many in baseball felt it was Rizzuto that was the vital cog in the seven Yankee World Series championship teams he played for. He would stay with the Yankees through the 1956 season, with his career being interrupted from 1943-1945 due to his service in World War II.

The second half of the biography focuses on Rizzuto's storied broadcast career, which endeared him to a whole new generation of fans, many of which only know Rizzuto from his work behind the microphone. Starting in 1957, with the urges of Yankees' sponsor Ballantine Beer, Rizzuto began a 40-year journey in the booth. DeVito expertly chronicles Rizzuto's ups and downs as one of baseball's most recognizable voices and his ever changing partners in the booth.

The final two chapters in “Scooter”, which detail his playing and broadcast careers respectively are over 100 pages each. In these lengthy chapters, the stories switch so much, that it is difficult to find continuity among the tidbits presented. The book would have been better served to be broken into smaller chapters to enhance the flow of information and keep the reader focused on what DeVito is attempting to illuminate.

Small criticisms non-withstanding, “Scooter” is a great look inside the career of one of New York's most cherished and respected homegrown baseball figures, that will please even the “huckleberries” who choose to pick it up.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hall of Famer Goose Gossage receives the MLBPAA Lifetime Achievement Award

The crowd weren't the only ones eagerly listening to the wisdom of Hall of Famer Goose Gossage this Friday at the annual Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association's Legends for Youth Dinner. As pictured to the left, Hall of Famers and All-Stars closely hung on the words of the great closer as he addressed the crowd.

Click here to see more photos from the event and read about Gossage reception of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Reggie Jackson and his 1986 PSA video against cocaine

A quick search of Youtube unearthed former New York Yankee great and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson appearing in a 1986 public service announcement citing the dangers of using cocaine.

Photo by Rubenstein
The series of PSA's were part of Major League Baseball's cleanup efforts after the 1985 Pittsburgh Drug Trials, where 11 players were suspended for their cocaine use. That list included current New York Mets announcer Keith Hernandez. More detail on the scandal is given in the book "The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven". While the ad may seem cheesy, Reggie was just trying to kick "the real truth" about cocaine and help MLB refresh its public image.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry to lead baseball clinic at Hofstra University

The RPS Treiber Agency Group, today announced that it will host a Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA) Legends for Youth clinic at Hofstra University on Saturday, May 22. The clinic will feature Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, and other former players as instructors, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hofstra University Intramural Field.

The Hofstra clinic is the first New York stop in the 2010 “Legends for Youth Clinic Series. In addition to helping promote the game of baseball and developing basic baseball skills, the clinics also will focus on building kids’ confidence and self-respect, and their sense of responsibility for themselves and their team, important skills and abilities that will benefit them at home and at school.

While participation in the event is free and open to all boys and girls ages 6-16, spots are limited to the first 175 children. Internet registration for this event is taking place at The Agency is also donating dozens of tickets to the clinic to local youth organizations.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring the Legends for Youth Clinic to our community,” said John Paterno, Area President for RPS Treiber Agency Group. “As an agency dedicated to helping youth reach their full potential, we hope that through these positive role models, children who attend will walk away inspired to give it there their all when it comes to playing sports and maximizing the educational opportunities available to them.”

Co-sponsored by The Hartford, the Hofstra event will also feature former greats: All Stars George Foster and Steve Rogers as well as several other former big leaguers.

“We are very excited to co-host this clinic with RPS Treiber Agency,” said Brooks Robinson, president of the MLBPAA. “Our former players understand how important it is to donate their time to provide fun-filled, educational opportunities to children who can benefit from the influence of positive sports role models.”

About the MLBPAA Legends for Youth Program
Each year, the MLBPAA Legends for Youth Program gives thousands of children across the country a chance to learn baseball fundamentals and life skills from former Major League Legends. This year alone, the program will conduct over 40 free events around the United States and will also visit international locations such as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Celebrating its 28th year in existence, the Alumni Association is a non-profit organization that was formed to promote the game of baseball, raise money for charity, inspire and educate youth through positive sport images and protect the dignity of the game through its former players.

To find out more about the MLBPAA’s Legends for Youth program, you can visit their website at,