Showing posts with label Interview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Interview. Show all posts

Friday, October 5, 2018

Ron Locke shares wild tales of Casey Stengel during the Mets first year at Shea Stadium

Ron Locke was a 22-year-old rookie with the 1964 New York Mets, looking to make a name for himself as the Mets moved from the Polo Grounds to their new digs at Shea Stadium. Before he could break through from minor league anonymity with the fans, he first had to do so with his manager, Casey Stengel. It was a tougher task than he anticipated.

“To me, [Stengel] was a wacko,” Locke said during a phone interview from his Florida home in 2013. “I don’t know if he didn’t like me or didn’t know my name. I never knew what he was going to do. He’d send left-handers up against left-handed pitchers.”

Ron Locke / Author's Collection
While Locke was never sure if Stengel could identify him in a police lineup, he did have the attention of their Hall of Fame coach, Yogi Berra. Watching Locke closely with his keen catcher’s eye, Berra saw similarities with a former MVP teammate who was also a tough little left-handed pitcher.

“Yogi Berra thought I was like Bobby Shantz,” he said. “He would come over and say, ‘Ronnie, if I was managing here, you’d be pitching every four days until you prove you couldn’t pitch.’ That’s what I wanted to hear, but that’s not the way it worked out.”

Locke grew up in Rhode Island playing fast pitch softball as a left-handed third baseman and became an All-State baseball player in South Kingston. It was there where he caught the attention of Len Zanke, a Cincinnati Reds scout. At his urging, he auditioned in 1961 for their club in Jersey City.

“He said, ‘Go to Jersey City, Dave Stenhouse (another Rhode Island native) is down there. Just go and try it,’” Locke shared. “I pitched to their catcher on the side and he said, ‘You’ve got a good fastball; that thing really moves.’ So I go up in the stands and I’m talking to the head guy there and he asks, ‘How big are you?’ I said, ‘Maybe 5’9”-5’10”, 158 lbs.’ Well he said, ‘We don’t sign anybody here under six feet.’ So I left.”

Most amateurs would have tucked their gloves away after hearing that kind of a rejection from a top scout and moved on with their careers. Luckily for Locke, he had an angel in Zanke who urged him to give professional baseball another shot when the expansion Mets hired him the next year as a scout. After throwing in front of the Mets brass, he impressed enough that they asked him to pitch against their minor league team in Auburn.

“The Auburn team was going for the championship,” Locke recalled. “They said, ‘Go out and throw against those guys, see how you do.’ Man, they could not even touch me. The more I threw, the more confidence I got. They signed me that year. This was 1962.”

Locke joined Auburn in 1963 and set the league on fire. His 18-8 record with 249 strikeouts in 217 innings earned him a New York-Penn League first-team selection, alongside future major leaguers such as Tony Conigliaro, George “Boomer” Scott, and Paul Casanova. Little did he know that with only one year in the minors under his belt that his next season would be in the major leagues.

“I was always a small guy, I was never a big guy you know,” he said. “I just got there, looked at the field and said, ‘What am I doing here?’ I am looking at all these tall pitchers and saying, ‘My god.’ In this day and age, they probably would not have looked at me.”

Locke appeared primarily as a reliever in 1964, posting a 1-2 record with a 3.48 ERA, with his only win coming in one of his three starts. The adjustment going from pitching consistently as a starter the previous year, to not knowing if he had Stengel’s trust, increased the difficulty of his jump to the major leagues.

“They just didn’t pitch me enough,” he said. “When you go from Class A to the major leagues, that was a huge difference. You could not get your confidence. I thought I had my confidence, but he [Stengel] didn’t [have it].”

One incident that shook Locke’s confidence came when Stengel pulled him from a game in the middle of an at-bat. While box scores online do not show that he was removed mid at-bat, one account from the New York Times indicates that during the Mets first night game at Shea Stadium, Locke pitched to two batters, but only recorded a plate appearance for one of them.

“We were playing against Cincinnati … we’re losing four, or five-nothing, and he gets me up,” Locke said. “Deron Johnson was the next guy up; I threw two fastballs right by him on the outside corner. I looked over [to the dugout], and here comes Casey. I said, ‘I hope he’s not taking me out of the game. … He is walking across waving his hand to bring the pitcher in. He taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Good job boy. We’re going to bring in a right hander.’ I wanted to bury him right there. I had two strikes on him and he took me out in the middle of the at-bat. I just left the game, but I was some ticked off!”

Locke made an impressive bid during 1965 spring training to return up north with the big league club, but a late decision by Warren Spahn to hyphenate his coach title to player-coach, forced Stengel to make a move.

“I was there for most of 1965 [spring training],” he said. “Then Warren Spahn came over and was going to be our pitching coach. That was fine with me; it was going to be Tug McGraw and me in the bullpen. All of a sudden, Spahn decides he wants to be pitcher and pitching coach, so one of us had to take a hike, so I unfortunately got the call.”

Locke persisted in the minors through 1970, but could not break through the Mets developing rotation that eventually built their 1969 World Series championship team. His dampened second chance at a return to the majors never lessened his love for the game. Now, in his 70s, Locke continues to play both competitive baseball and softball.

“I play for a good team, the Florida Legends,” he said. “We have 98 national championships. We play in Las Vegas, Reno, all over the place, anywhere there is a national tournament. I started in the 60s [age bracket], now we are in the 70s. For a 70-and-over team, we have a very good team. We played on 330-foot fences and one of the guys hit the ball out of the ballpark. He is 72 years old! We have four or five guys that can hit them out 300 foot. I play the outfield. I hit and run like heck! … It was hard for me at first because I was used to that 90 MPH fastball down around my knees. All of a sudden it was unlimited arc; what a difference that was! You have to get used to hitting that.”

He feeds his baseball appetite by working for the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers and pitching annually in Roy Hobbs baseball tournaments. He even tried to audition as their batting practice pitcher.

“I work for the Red Sox at Jet Blue Park,” he said. “I’m a ticket taker, but I wanted to be an usher. I asked them to be a batting practice pitcher, but they have guys to take that job. I still throw pretty decent. I do not throw 90 MPH, but I throw decent. I play in the Roy Hobbs baseball tournament every year. They have different age groups. It’s fun.”

Despite his lone season in the big leagues, Locke continues to receive fan mail from all over the world. Some fans try to send him money to sign their items, but he feels an old school sense of responsibility to sign their items while returning their attempts at compensation.

“I get them all the time,” he said. “Sometimes it is 4-5 per day. It makes me feel good [to get the mail]. For somebody that has been out of baseball for a long time, I am glad at least the fans remember my name. Some people send me money, but I write them a note back saying that I don’t take money for autographs; I am an old timer.”

Monday, September 24, 2018

Vance Carlson recounts life as a Yankees farmhand before his legendary NCAA football refereeing career

Vance Carlson came up with the same aspirations of making the major leagues and achieving Hall of Fame stardom that fuels every minor leaguer. He realized one of those dreams; however, it was not for his pitching prowess on the diamond, rather it was for his officiating skills on the football field. The 2003 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, who was one of the top football officials in Big Eight Conference history, died September 17, 2018 at the age of 92 in Ellis, Kansas.

Vance Carlson 1954 Lincoln Chiefs / Mile High Card Co.
Born November 14, 1925 in McPherson, Kansas, Carlson built his legend locally as a multi-sport star at McPherson High School. He had his first opportunity to sign professionally after high school with the St. Louis Cardinals, but his father held out for pinstriped pastures.

“I signed when I was out of high school when I was 17,” Carlson said from his home in 2008. “I signed a Kansas City contract and then of course I didn't get to play any. … I graduated high school at 17 and did not turn 18 until November. I played that summer and then I went to a camp in Kansas City. I got a letter and had a chance to go to the St. Louis Cardinals, but my dad would not sign the contract because I was not 18. He did sign the Yankees [contract]. They were a big name.”

Carlson had little time to savor his contract, as he entered the Air Force in 1944 during World War II. As a newbie in baseball, Carlson could not earn placement on one of the prominent bases to keep his skills sharp.

“I got to play a little in San Antonio, but not a long time,” he said. “You never got in shape. You could be an infielder or an outfielder, but you could not really get in shape if you were a pitcher. The major league stars, not that they got preferential treatment, but they were stationed where they got to play quite a bit.”

He returned from his military service to the Yankees organization in 1946. While his World War II duties kept him from staying in baseball shape, his ledger said otherwise. He posted a 17-8 record with a 2.93 ERA for their Class C team at Twin Falls in the Pioneer League. It was the start of a nine-year journey through the minor leagues.

“At that time you were just a piece of property, you got moved around any way they wanted you,” he said. “You couldn't get out of an organization. I was in the Yankee organization. It was so big; it was just a pyramid of getting to the major leagues. I am not saying I should have been in the major leagues, but it was very hard to move up because they had so many teams. … When I got out of the service in World War II, there were like 47-48 leagues. Now the minor leagues are in college really.”

Carlson crossed paths with future Yankees stars Billy Martin, Tom Sturdivant, and Whitey Ford while in their system, but ultimately he could not follow them on their major league path. He reached as high as the Pacific Coast League, which at the time had an Open classification, but that was as close as he got to the majors.

“You never really knew how close you were,” he said. “I pitched against [the major leaguers] in spring training, but I never was called up. I never even got a cup of coffee.”

Beating the bushes for almost a decade, Carlson had his share of his minor league woes. He shared his favorite tale, which occurred in 1952 while playing in AAA for Toledo. Just as he arrived to the club, he found himself trying to protect his valuables, not from teammates or thieves, but from creditors.

“When I got there, an unusual thing happened,” Carlson recalled. “The club went bankrupt in Toledo. We had to get our uniforms out of there because they were going to confiscate them. That's how I remember it. That it was our personal things, not our uniforms, but our shoes and things like that. Then they moved the franchise to Charleston, West Virginia.”

Not all was lost that year with Charleston, as he made good with another ballplayer that later followed Carlson’s path to a Hall of Fame in another sport. This time he bonded with a a future basketball Hall of Famer.

“Fred Taylor played first base, and he went on to coach Ohio State,” he said. “I roomed with him. He played basketball for Ohio State and then went back there to coach.”

Looking back at his time in between the lines, Carlson thought that he dragged out his career with the hopes of getting to the major leagues. He felt that he was often on his own due to the lack of available coaching down on the farm.

“I honestly played too long really, but that was my dream to get to go to the majors,” he said. “I don't regret it, but the thing that I see now is that there is so much better coaching in the colleges than there was in the minor leagues. You really had to teach yourself the game.”



Carlson spent 27 years as an NCAA football official, which included being at the helm of four national championships. He shared his perspective about the multitude of changes he observed in athletics since he started in professional baseball in the 1940s.

“I'm disappointed about all kinds of sports, it's all about money,” he said. “That's what got these colleges in trouble; it's you either win or else. The coach has to win or else he is gone. That is the influence of professional football.

“I'm prejudiced to college because I worked in it. It is all about offense. Umpires do not call anything above the belt. You pitch home run hitters up and in if you can, because they can't get their arms lengthened out. They say the rules are the same, letters or armpits; that's to give the hitters more. Physically they have also progressed. The only person I saw that lifted weights was Bob Feller. The Yankee organization did not wanted you to lift weights at all. They wanted you to swim. They wanted long muscle. That theory has gone out the window now. With the advance in athletic training, you can add weight in a football player and gain speed. The athlete is much better. You can't compare athletics now with in the old days because of technology.”



Friday, August 31, 2018

A teammate recalls how Frank Robinson's star growing up in Oakland was overshadowed by a big time bonus prospect

Oakland Tech's J.W. Porter was the Bay Area's most heavily recruited high school baseball player since Joe DiMaggio. Earning California State Player of the Year honors in 1950 after batting .558 as a senior while leading Oakland's Bill Erwin Post 337 to consecutive national American Legion championships, his performance sent all of the 16 major league teams into a bidding frenzy for his services.

When the dust finally settled, the phenom catching prospect scored a $70,000 bonus from the Chicago White Sox. Helping Porter's American Legion team to victory was a remarkable freshman from neighboring McClymonds High School, Frank Robinson.

J.W. Porter Photo / Author's Collection

Sharing written correspondence with Porter on Robinson's 83rd birthday, the six-year major league veteran was proud to recall his time playing with the Hall of Famer during their youth.

"It brought back some fond memories," Porter wrote in a recent letter to the author. "Frank Robinson played on our American Legion team as we won back to back world championships when he was only in the 9th grade."

Bobby Mattick, a former major leaguer turned scout, was responsible for signing not only Porter to the White Sox, but later Robinson to the Cincinnati Reds. While Robinson record-setting Hall of Fame career was well documented, it was Porter, the big-league journeyman, who was the center of attention on a team where Robinson was in his own words, "just another player."


August 2018 Letter from J.W. Porter to the Author / Author's Collection

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Reggie Smith sharing Chet Brewer's lessons at MLB Elite Development Invitational

Reggie Smith has a passion for teaching baseball that stems from the lessons he learned in Los Angeles during the early 1960s that continues to resonate through his instruction at the 2018 Major League Baseball Elite Development Invitational in historic Dodgertown. The 73-year-old Smith was excited to return to Vero Beach where he spent many years honing his craft as a both a player and coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It’s always great to be back here at historic Dodgertown,” Smith said via telephone from Dodgertown.  “It’s home, I spent a lot of time hereJust as important, the collaboration between Major League Baseball and MLBPA to run such an event and have such a project where we can interact and spend time with kids at the Elite Development Invitational here at Vero Beach is just gratifying.”

Reggie Smith at the Elite Development Invitational
Courtesy of Ruth Ruiz

The two-week Elite Development Invitational is part of the MLB Diversity Pipeline, aimed at encouraging and developing minority participation within the game. Smith views the interaction between the kids and the former players as the key link to this program’s success.

“To see how this collaboration put their shoulder into a project with not only the financial resources, but the human resources too, that is really special to me,” he said. “[We are able] to provide the opportunity for kids that need financial help and educational help to be able to use baseball as a vehicle to get into college and professional baseball. As it relates to the African American kids, it is just exciting for me to be here to impart that kind of knowledge that is necessary so that these kids have some hope.”

While Major League Baseball has seen a slight rise in the percentage of African-American players on major league rosters (8.4% as of Opening Day 2018), that number is still well below the double-digit amounts during Smith’s heyday in the 1970s. He felt a responsibility to help foster a passion for baseball with the current generation.

“Looking at the contribution that the African American player and the Hispanic player contributed to baseball, it’s disappointing to see the decline in that area of the communities that were given the opportunity to play baseball,” he said. “Baseball is expensive and unfortunately for economic reasons, it became difficult for African-Americans to play. Some of the glamour in baseball was lost because it is a long hard road to play this game to get to the highest levels of it, going through the minor leagues and hopefully on into the major leagues. 

“We have an opportunity to reintroduce the sport to kids to give them hope so that they can one, get an education by using baseball as a vehicle and two, see if they can provide economic mobility as well as educational mobility by getting back into the sport and playing baseball. It was incumbent on the ex-players like myself and many others who have the knowledge and informational resources to provide it to these kids and get them back out there to fall in love with the game again.”

Smith’s presence at the camp is a continuation of Chet Brewer’s legacy. Brewer was a famed pitcher who spent over 25 seasons in the Negro Leagues, where he was a frontline starter alongside Satchel Paige on the Kansas City Monarchs. He mentored a young Jackie Robinson in the California Winter League, and continued in that role well after his playing days were over, guiding the likes of Smith and many others towards major league careers

When the conversations of great Negro League pitchers come up, rarely does it include Chet Brewer. It should,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “Chet was an outstanding pitcher and is one of the most important players in Black Baseball history because of his global play, his role as a pioneering major league scout, and his dedication to youth baseball where he nurtured and developed future MLB stars like Smith, Bob Watson, Dock Ellis, and Enos Cabell.”

Brewer holds a treasured place in Smith’s heart for showering him with baseball wisdom at a young age. Relishing the opportunity to reminisce about his teacher, Smith cited the invaluable contributions that Brewer made to not only his own career, but also a host of other African-American major league stars.

“The love [I have] for Chet is always remembering him and the contributions that he made not only to the Negro Leagues, but to professional baseball from the standpoint of the number of young African-Americans with that he came into contact with,” Smith said. “He provided us with infinitely valuable information and knowledge to continue to play the game.

Smith had the fortune of playing for Brewer as a teenager against seasoned Negro League veterans. The sage Brewer slowly introduced Smith to the fierce competition, giving him the necessary time to find his place.

“Chet was very instrumental to me because I first started playing with him when I was 15 years old and at the time there were kind of the remnants of the many players that were in the old Negro Leagues. … At the time, [Negro League] players would always come out west and barnstorm. I was fortunate enough in 1960 to be able to play for him because Chet had spotted me and gave me the opportunity to sit on the bench, learn a little bit, and then get into a game or two until ultimately that I was able to play with him on a regular basis. In doing so, that brought in other players like Bob Watson, Bobby Tolan, Leon McFadden, Dock Ellis, and a whole group of other young African-American players who had an opportunity to play with that team. They all went on to have long and prosperous major league careers. Chet was very influential in the number of players that he came into contact with to teach us not only how to play this little boy’s game, but that we had to be men to do it.”

Smith’s deep baseball lineage created an opportunity at the EDI to link almost a century of knowledge that started from Chet Brewer’s time in the Negro Leagues in the 1920s. He applied those lessons and combined them with his fifty-plus years in professional baseball to pass along the fundamentals to the next wave of African-American talent in Vero Beach. 

“You take the information and the old school mentality that baseball is still a game where you still have to catch the ball, you have throw it, you have to hit itand you have to run,” he said. “You have to try to do all these things as efficiently, expertly,and as smartly as you possibly can. The nuances of the game that we learned back then; these are the things that we try to teach the kids to help in their development to make it that much more fun and ultimately get to the professional level.”

While Smith is committed to refining their skills within the lines, his ultimate goal is to show them how to make their baseball careers a path to education. With odds of a major league career rather slim for the few hundred in attendance at the EDI, he stressed the primary importance of using baseball as a tool to gain an advanced degree

“Education is first on the list,” he said. “At any given time, we look at the number of people that actually have a chance to make it to the major leagues and play at the highest level; you would probably have a better chance going to your local store and buying a lottery ticket. You have a better chance of winning than making it to the major leagues, but the one thing they can never take away from you is education, so I teach that first. Out of that, I hope that they play not only the love of the game, but also as a vehicle to further an education and get something that can never be taken away from them.”

Friday, July 6, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Peter Kerasotis - Author of 'Alou: My Baseball Journey'

Peter Kerasotis, the co-author of Felipe Alou's new biography, "Alou: My Baseball Journey" appears on the latest edition of the Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss how he finally convinced the 83-year-old Alou to tell his life story.
Alou: My Baseball Journey - University of Nebraska Press
Kerasotis illuminates Alou's status as a pioneer for Dominican baseball players, detailing how he persevered through Jim Crow segregation as the first player to leave the island and make it to the major leagues. He reveals Alou's tremendous character through the grace in which he handled the many obstacles throughout his six decades in baseball that ultimately led to him becoming the first Dominican manager in major league history.

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Peter Kerasotis Interview


Click here to listen on Spotify

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Gaylon White Author of 'Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball's Color Barrier'

On the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast, Gaylon White, author of the new Artie Wilson biography, "Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball's Color Barrier," explains how a friendship that started in the 1970s spawned an unparalleled look into the life of an often overlooked pioneer of MLB's integration.

Wilson, who is regarded by many historians as baseball's last .400 hitter after posting a .402 average for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948, had a career that went much deeper than his 22 major league at-bats in 1951. In this interview, White discusses how Wilson's narrative finally came to light 40 years from their initial meeting, and why for nearly a decade Wilson was one of the most popular players to grace the Pacific Coast League.


Baseball Happenings Podcast - Gaylon White Interview

Click here to listen on Spotify

White has previously authored two baseball works that focus on the 1950s era, "Handsome Ransom Jackson: Accidental Big Leaguer" and "The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels."

For those who are interested in purchasing a copy of "Singles and Smiles: How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball's Color Barrier," Rowman and Littlefield is offering readers a 30% discount with the following code - RLFANDF30.




Saturday, June 23, 2018

Ed Roebuck, one of the last 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers World Series champs, dies at 86

Ed Roebuck, one of the last links to the Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 World Series championship team, passed away June 14, 2018 in Lakewood, California. He was 86.

The right-handed relief specialist made his major league debut in 1955 after breaking camp with the Dodgers out of spring training. Manager Walt Alston gave him the heavy task of being the team’s closer and for the first few euphoric months in the big leagues, Roebuck answered the call.

“The first half of the season I was in almost every save possibility there was,” Roebuck told me during a 2010 interview in New York. “I think I led the club in saves that year. You could come in the fifth inning or the ninth inning. There wasn’t [a] right or left hander specialist; you’re in the bullpen and you could go in the first or the ninth.”

1956 Ed Roebuck Dodgers Photo / Author's Collection

By the middle of July, Roebuck was firing on all cylinders. He led the team in saves and held an ERA that hovered around two; however, his good fortunes would change quickly. At the end of the month, he had two consecutive rough outings against the Milwaukee Braves and suddenly he went from Alston’s stopper to mop-up duty.

“[Clem] Labine took over and I didn’t get to pitch after that, and when I did, I got racked up,” he said.

Fortunately, for Roebuck, his rocky start did not exclude him from the postseason roster. He made one appearance in the 1955 World Series, pitching two scoreless innings in Game 6.

“I wasn’t expecting to pitch in the series,” he said. “I was just happy to be there.”

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, the thought of Roebuck playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers was a remote one. After starring at Brownsville High School, Boston Red Sox local scout Socko McCary followed Roebuck so closely that most felt he would certainly sign with Boston once he turned 18.

“He moved in with us almost,” Roebuck said. “He would come out there every day and it was sort of a known fact that when I became eligible, that I was going to sign with the Red Sox.”

At the urging of his brother, Roebuck reluctantly attended an open tryout while awaiting his 18th birthday. Little did he know that day would alter the course of his professional baseball career.

“There was a tryout camp, and my brother who was sort of my guiding interest said, ‘Let’s go to the tryout camp,’” Roebuck recalled. “I said, ‘Gee, I don’t know, they want you to throw as hard as you can, run as hard as you can, and nothing ever comes out of it.’ He said, ‘Let’s go anyhow.’ So we go up there and apparently, I did pretty well and then I forgot all about it.”

The venerable Branch Rickey had his spies working to uncover baseball talent from every corner of the country. Unbeknownst to Roebuck, while McCary was cozying up to his family, Rickey’s charges had their eyes on the young righty the entire time.

“In 1948 while pitching for the coal mining team at that workout, the Bowen brothers had scouted me,” Roebuck recalled. “I didn’t even know anything about them. They did the hard scouting on me. I didn’t even know they existed because they were secretive about everything. I [never] talked to them before.”

Once he was on Brooklyn’s radar, nothing was going to get in the way of the Dodgers pursuit. They navigated muddy dirt roads deep into the rural community where Roebuck lived to convince him to go to Brooklyn.

“Jim Murray came over to where we lived,” he said. “We really lived in the boondocks. Most times, you couldn’t get a car back there; it was all lanes and muddy and so forth. One day this big Buick drives up there and the man says, ‘I want to take you to Brooklyn.’ I said, ‘It’s all right with me if you get the okay from my brothers and my mother.’ So he drove me there and I worked out at Ebbets Field. I had a good workout, they took me up to the office, and actually Branch Rickey signed me.”

At the tender age of 17, Roebuck had the intimidating task of sitting across the desk from Branch Rickey during his contract negotiation. He called his trusted brother for backup.

“He [Rickey] was a little scary really,” he said. “Actually, they didn’t want to make me a bonus player. The contract they offered me, I told them I’d have to check with my brother, who was going to have to check with the Red Sox to see if they were offering what [the Dodgers] were offering. My brother called back and said that the Red Sox couldn’t do that and to go ahead and sign with them, so that’s how I started.”

Immediately, the Dodgers placed Roebuck with their Class B team in Newport News, Virginia for the 1949 season. Rickey was so confident in Roebuck’s abilities that he debuted in a league where most of the players had a few years of minor league seasoning under their belts. It proved to be a rocky rookie experience for Roebuck, as he posted an 8-14 record with a 4.64 ERA.

“I think because of being signed in Brooklyn by Rickey, they put me in too high of a league to start,” Roebuck said. “There were 30-year-olds in that league and I was only 17. I had a hard time at Newport News.”

Not to be discouraged, Roebuck rebounded from another losing season in 1950 with 14 wins for Class A Elmira in 1951. His steady performance set him to go to their top farm club in Montreal, only one step away, although it was a big one, from the major leagues. For three seasons, Roebuck toiled with the rest of Brooklyn’s prospects eagerly awaiting his call to the show.

The Brooklyn Dodgers minor league system had a wealth of talent, primarily due to Rickey’s keen baseball eyes. With close to 30 minor league teams, their system was often a breeding ground for the rest of the league’s talent.

“There were just so many players in front of you in that organization,” he said. “When I first went with the Dodgers in spring training, there were 636 players. Many shortstops never made it because of Pee Wee [Reese] — Billy Hunter, Don Zimmer, Bobby Morgan, Chico Fernandez, etc.”

One of Roebuck’s Montreal teammates who was in this cluster of players awaiting one of Brooklyn’s All-Stars to vacate their position was Roberto Clemente. Playing together in 1954 after Clemente signed as a “bonus baby” prospect from Puerto Rico, he recalled the antics the Dodgers went through to try to hide his talents so another club would not draft him.

“He was one helluva good looking prospect,” Roebuck said. “They really messed him around because they didn’t want him to get drafted. The Pirates had their top scout follow us around in Montreal all year, Clyde Sukeforth. You knew it was going to happen.”

It happened for Roebuck too, as the Dodgers gave him his start in the major leagues the next season. From his seat in the dugout, the rookie hurler was thrilled just to be able to watch his future Hall of Fame teammate operate from field level.

“I remember in Ebbets Field sitting in the dugout and you would watch guys like [Gil] Hodges hitting, and you would have to look up,” he recalled. “Usually when you are that close to the action in baseball, it’s not all that glamorous, but it was glamorous for me. All those big guys were doing the ballet. There is so much balance and power at the same time. [Roy Campanella] was something to watch from the dugout. It was something to be associated with that outfit at the time.”

Roebuck solidified the Dodgers bullpen for the next three seasons, helping the team to return to the World Series in 1956 against the New York Yankees. An arm injury during the 1958 season put his career in jeopardy and subsequently caused him to miss the Dodgers 1959 World Series victory. The Dodgers sent him to their Triple-A team in 1959 to pitch and play first base while he recovered.

“The major league rule came in and I couldn’t play winter ball,” he said. “I never had a sore arm in my life. … Johnny Podres and I worked over at the Dodgers place and didn’t do any throwing. It was terrible. My arm was so fine-tuned and I hurt my arm by not pitching. I made a comeback and tore all those adhesions loose. The Dodgers told me I would never pitch again because I had too much scar tissue in there.

“A scout, Kenny Myers (who signed Willie Davis) told me that he thought we could do something, but it was going to be painful. By the time the summer was over, I went back to the big leagues. I would just get against the chain link fence and throw as much as it would let me. Then he would twist my arm and stretch it. He was paralyzed in the service and he had some experience with that. It was he who got me back to the big leagues. In St. Paul in 1959, I hit five home runs and gave up [only] four in 200-something innings.”

Roebuck followed the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, eventually making his home in Lakewood. He welcomed the change while other Brooklyn mainstays resisted.

“We as a family wanted to go, my wife and me, because it was new territory and new fertile ground,” he said. “I know Duke wanted to go. I don’t think guys like Hodges and some of the guys who had homes in Brooklyn wanted to go. I didn’t think O’Malley would do it. … My family was happy to go out there.”

While he found the Los Angeles Coliseum favorable as a pitcher, he lamented the challenge his teammates faced trying to hit there, especially Duke Snider.

“It was much tougher to pitch in Ebbets Field,” he recalled. “You saw some fluke home runs in the Coliseum, but you also saw some line drives hit to the screen that would be home runs somewhere else. You would have to bomb the ball to get it out in right field. It was a shame what Duke Snider had to go through when we went out there.”

Roebuck played with the Dodgers halfway through the 1963 season until he requested that they trade him to the Washington Senators. He wanted to join his old friend Hodges in the nation’s capital.

“In 1963, I didn’t pitch that much,” he recalled. “I went to Fred Patterson to tell Bavasi that I wanted to get out of there. I wanted to go with Hodges. Buzzie calls me in the office, tells me that I will always be part of the Dodgers, and the next day I was traded.”

While Roebuck got what he wanted by moving to the Senators to reunite with Hodges and pitch more often, he faced a clubhouse culture unseen with the Dodgers.

“It was a big disappointment going from the Dodgers to the Senators,” he said. “Almost all of the Dodger teams were winners. It dawned on you when you are there, that those guys are going for me. I’m going to have a good year and I don’t have to worry about winning or losing. We get a couple of hits, grab a couple of beers, and get ‘em tomorrow.

“Some of these young teams have a lot of talent but something always happens. They’ve not matured to where they know how to win. The first thing that you noticed was that the Dodgers or Yankees, they knew how to play the game. It was just a feeling. You know how to win or have been winning and take it for granted. The same thing goes the other way when you’re used to losing; you are going to play your best, but the Yankees are going to win.”

Roebuck's major league career continued through 1966 with the Senators and Philadelphia Phillies, which included being a part of the Phillies ill-fated collapse during the 1964 pennant race. He spent one more season in the Pacific Coast League with the San Diego Padres in 1967 before finally calling it quits.

He stayed in the game as a scout for the next 30 years, citing his most prized pupil as Bert Blyleven. He helped the Hall of Famer develop his legendary curve ball coaching him in a winter scout league.

“We had a winter team for kids in high school,” he said. “I was managing this team. We would invite all these people graduating the next year to play with us in the wintertime. I helped him. He didn’t have a real good spinning curve ball when he played there. It was more of a slider / slurve.”

Ed Roebuck (r.) with the author in 2008 / N. Diunte
Wrapping up our talk at a Westchester, New York hotel on the evening before a 2010 autograph show appearance, Roebuck admitted that this would be the last show he was going to attend. He was growing weary of the cross-country travel and didn’t enjoy it as much now that most of his Brooklyn Dodgers teammates were gone. As he further reflected on his place in baseball history, he humbly admitted that even though he spent 11 seasons in the major leagues, he felt he just blended in his entire career.

“I was just holding on most of the time,” he said. “You know, I never really had time to smell the roses because if you don’t do the job, you’re history. After I finished playing baseball, I realized I was one of the 25 people there.”

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Don Lund | Legendary University of Michigan baseball coach dies at 90

Don Lund, a three-sport star at the University of Michigan, and a major league outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, and St. Louis Browns for seven seasons, passed away Tuesday due to natural causes. He was 90.

Much of Lund’s acclaim comes from his status at Michigan where he was revered not only for his athletic prowess, lettering nine times in baseball, basketball, and football, but also for succeeding the legendary Ray Fisher as the head baseball coach at his alma mater. He coached there from 1959-62, winning the Big Ten Championship in 1961, and the National Championship in his final season.

Don Lund / Author's Collection

Mike Joyce, who went on to pitch two seasons with the Chicago White Sox in the major leagues, was one of the aces for Lund’s Big Ten Championship team in 1961. Speaking with Joyce shortly after the news of Lund’s death, he displayed tremendous pride to have played under his tutelage.

“While he was not a pitcher, he was a pretty good student of the game,” Joyce said via telephone. “He used to say, ‘The secret of pitching is to relax and concentrate.’ Fifty-four years ago he suggested that and I still haven’t forgotten that. He made the execution a lot simpler without trying to be the master of everything.”

Despite only coaching at Michigan for four seasons, Lund had a profound impact on the program, developing future major leaguers such as Bill Freehan, Fritz Fisher, and Joyce. Never during his playing days did he imagine that he would be the part of the link from Branch Rickey to Fisher.

“I never thought it [coaching at Michigan] would happen when I signed with the Dodgers,” Lund said in a 2009 interview. “Branch Rickey was the coach of the University of Michigan when he was in Law School, then it was Ray, and then I. It is such a small world; you would never think that it would happen.”

Lund almost went professional in another sports, as he was a first-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears, but turned down that offer to sign with the Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers. He signed for a $7,500 bonus right out of Michigan and three weeks later he was in Leo Durocher’s clubhouse. That three week delay included a few trips to New York, as well as his college graduation, which left him little time to be ready for his major league debut.

“Our college season ended and then there was graduation,” Lund said. “It was another two-to-three weeks before I played another game. I had gone to New York, signed a contract, came back home, and then went back to Brooklyn.”

He made his debut July 3, 1945, without stepping foot in the minor leagues. His first ride in with Brooklyn wouldn’t last very long.

“It was just a token thing,” he said. “I pinch hit, but they could see I wasn't ready to play and they sent me to St. Paul.”

He worked diligently in the minors, and was rewarded with another stay in Brooklyn at the start of the 1947 season, just in time to be on the bench for Jackie Robinson’s debut. About a week before Robinson made history by breaking baseball’s color barrier, Lund homered in a spring training game and was greeted by Robinson at home plate. The photo is immortalized on the cover of Lund’s 2009 biography, “Playing Ball with Legends”.

Lund played in the major leagues through 1954, with his best season coming in 1953, when he batted .257 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 421 at-bats for Detroit. After working with the Tigers as their farm system director from 1963-70, Lund returned to Michigan for a 22-year stay as an assistant athletic director until his 1992 retirement.

Spending nearly 50 years in a wide encompassing athletic career, Lund’s greatest accomplishment may not have been anything that he did on the field, but the impact that he left on the young men under his watchful eye.

“He was first and foremost a gentleman; somebody who made you proud to be associated with, whether or not you were a baseball player or a normal person,” Joyce said. “What I most appreciated was that he respected people that worked hard, he did not play favorites, and on top of everything else, he made it fun to play baseball.”

* - This article was originally published for Examiner.com on December 10, 2013.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Len Okrie, catcher for Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox, dies at 94

Len Okrie, former major league catcher and World War II veteran, passed away April 12, 2018 in Hope Mills, North Carolina. He was 94.

Okrie, like many baseball players of his era, put his major league dreams on hold during World War II. Drafted after one year in the minor leagues, Okrie set his sights on helping the United States Navy crack Japanese communications.

“I was drafted here in Fayetteville,” Okrie said during a 2008 interview from his home. “I served 1942-1945 in the Navy. I went to radio school to learn the Japanese code. We broke the Japanese code where we were stationed. We had to go to college to learn it all. To learn that stuff, it sure was complicated. I enjoyed it. I would have stayed in [college] if I [weren’t] bought by the Senators to go into the big leagues. I was playing softball in the war because that's all they had.”

Len Okrie / Boston Red Sox
He was able to shake off the playing rust quickly, emerging as the Senators top catching prospect after batting .314 at Fayetteville in 1947. His play on both sides of the ball impressed Washington Senators scout Mike Martin, accelerating his move from the Cubs organization to the nation’s capitol.

“I did pretty good coming back,” he said. “I was scouted by the Washington scout [Martin] and he said that I was the best catcher they had seen and I would be a good asset to the ball club. I only had a year and a half in the minor leagues and then went to the big leagues.”

Okrie debuted in 1948, pressed into action after both of Washington’s catchers went down with injuries. He hit .238 in limited duty and spent the 1949 season in AAA for more seasoning. When he returned in 1950, he found a new challenge in addition to deciphering big league pitching, a Cuban pitching staff.

“I caught [Conrado] Marrero, [Sandy] Consuegra, all of those Cubans,” he said. “With Marrero, he had a good slider. He could not understand the signs, so I used to tell [them], 'Go ahead and throw, I'll catch anything you throw.' They had a lot of Cubans; Joe Cambria brought all of those guys. Pretty good bunch of kids, they could throw well and were pretty smart.”

Now that Okrie was establishing himself as a fully-fledged major leaguer, he was also fulfilling a family legacy, as his father Frank pitched for the Detroit Tigers in 1920. His parents laid the foundation for his baseball aspirations.

“My father played big league ball,” he said. “He taught me a lot when I was a kid. [We played] every day in the backyard or on the ball field. Now there is not enough communication with the parents. My mom, dad, and sister used to chase the balls during practice. They were very proud when I made it to the big leagues; they used to sit in the stands. He told me to play hard and keep my nose clean. We never ran around; it was all baseball, period. [You] ate it, slept it, and everything else.”

Okrie last parts of four seasons in the majors, primarily with Washington, save for one game with the Boston Red Sox in 1952. While adequate defensively, his bat could no longer keep with his glove, posting batting averages well below .200 in his final few minor league seasons.

He quickly transitioned into the role of a minor league coach, eager to share his father’s teachings with the next generation of baseball players. He started in 1954 in the Red Sox chain and spent close to twenty seasons developing players in their farm system, as well as that of the Detroit Tigers. One of his prized pupils was Jim Leyland.

“I coached and managed in their chains,” he said. “I had Jim Leyland, he was my buddy. I kept him in baseball when he was in Lakeland. I needed a helper and I needed a coach, so I kept him in baseball. I knew he was a clean cut kid and I liked him very much. He is doing a good job. I told the Tigers that I would like to keep him. Wherever I went, he went. He was my little backup catcher.”

After stepping away from baseball, Okrie went into law enforcement working as a desk sergeant for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department. While in retirement, he kept his full attention on the game. Despite the tremendous difference in salaries, over 50 years later, baseball still captivated his soul.

“I watch baseball everyday if I can get it,” he said. “It's a great game, but I don't see the money they make. Maybe they deserve it, I don't know. We never made that money back then. It's awful, [but] I don't blame the kids. If management wants to give the kids that much money, more power to them. We never got it, my highest salary was $5,000 per year and I finally got $18,000 when the Red Sox bought me.”

Turning his focus to modern major leaguers, he shared his father’s advice about professional conduct. Even though his father played in the majors almost a century ago, his advice still rings true to this day.

“If you are going to get paid, like my dad said, you give them 100 percent,” he said. “When you put that uniform on, it's all baseball; you run hard and you play hard. When you are off, you relax. Don't dissipate. Don't run around. I never did. That's how I stayed in it so long.”

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Jim Allen explains Shohei Ohtani's meteoric rise

Shohei Ohtani dazzled Los Angeles Angels fans in his first home start, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning before Marcus Semien broke up his bid for baseball immortality with a one-out single. After an underwhelming spring training, Ohtani has silenced his critics by blasting three home runs in his first week as a DH, and pitching to near perfection to start his second.

Shohei Ohtani / Topps
Shortly after Ohtani’s epic pitching performance against the Oakland Athletics, we spoke with renown baseball author Jim Allen, who has been covering Japanese baseball for the past 30 years. Having followed Ohtani since high school, he explains during this interview why he isn’t the least bit surprised that a healthy Ohtani is putting on a show for MLB fans.

He currently writes for the Kyodo News and is on Twitter @JBallAllen.

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Jim Allen Interview

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Carl Scheib, 91, was a two-way phenom long before Shohei Ohtani

Carl Scheib, the youngest player ever in the history of the American League, passed away March 24, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. He was 91.

Scheib first tried out with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1942 at age 15 and the legendary Connie Mack told him to come back the next spring for another look. With the encouragement of his father, Scheib left high school after spring break in 1943 to sign with the A’s as a batting practice pitcher.

Carl Scheib batting / Sunbury Press

As the World War II draft started to deplete the Athletics roster, Scheib’s prospects for being a major leaguer looked brighter. He started to travel with the team in the summer to away contests and after pitching well in an August exhibition game, Mack was ready to make history.

“Don't you think it's about time?” Mack asked Scheib.

On Monday September 6th, 1943, Mack signed Scheib to a contract right before they were to play a doubleheader against the New York Yankees. In the final inning of the second game, Scheib relieved with one out in the ninth, pitching two-thirds of an inning to close the contest. At the age of 16 years, 8 months, and 5 days, Scheib made history as the youngest player in the major leagues, a record he held until Joe Nuxhall took the mound for the Cincinnati Reds in 1944.

Scheib proved he was not a publicity stunt, pitching respectably in five more games with a 4.34 ERA to finish off 1943. Mack decided to make good on his investment and brought Scheib along slowly in 1944, pitching him exclusively in relief for all 15 of his appearances. As 1945 approached, he hoped for an expanded role, but now that he was 18, Uncle Sam had different plans for the young hurler.

“I was drafted,” Scheib told me during a 2009 interview from his home in San Antonio. “We had started the season in 1945 in Washington. A couple of guys came up from the Air Base there in Pennsylvania and picked me up in an airplane. They wanted me to [be] stationed with the Air Force. Evidently, I didn't have enough education to stick with them so I went in the Army. I did my basic training in Macon, Georgia.”

Once his base commander discovered he pitched in the majors, Scheib was put on the base team. He continued to pitch with the 60th Reigment when he went overseas.

“We played quite a bit after we got overseas,” he said. “The war was over and we were kind of occupation troops. There were was one guy who tried to get a baseball team together. I was in a good position there; I didn't want to get transferred. We won the European Theater championships over there. … Baseball was big there overseas. We had 50,000 people at one game. The Germans didn't play much baseball, but when we were done they were playing in the streets.”

When he returned to Philadelphia in 1947, he started an eight-year run as one of the most reliable pitchers on the A’s staff, appearing in 239 games as both a starter and reliever. As much as Mack valued Schieb on the mound, he also sparkled at the plate, batting a robust .298 in 1948 and a team leading .396 in 1951.

As Mack tinkered with his pitching rotation and the A’s struggled at the hit, he looked to Scheib to boost the team’s offensive production. Coming off the bench as a pinch hitter when he wasn’t pitching, Scheib had two game-winning pinch hits in 1948, giving Mack the idea to try him in the outfield. During the last two games in 1948, Scheib started in the outfield, plating one runner in six at-bats.

While the A’s continued to use Scheib as a pinch hitter, he never made another outfield appearance in the major leagues. He relished the opportunity to get another chance, but with pitching at a premium, the A’s could not afford to sacrifice his arm for his bat.

“I wanted to play the outfield so bad,” he said. “I done very good pinch hitting and I did play a couple of games in the outfield, but they always needed pitchers. [It was] back to the pitching mound. It was tough to get a good [rotation] of pitchers.”

In his 11 big league seasons, Scheib put up a 45-65 record in 267 games primarily for the A’s from 1943-1954, save for three games with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Carl Scheib (7th from left) at Bobby Shantz's field dedication in 2007 / N. Diunte

After his baseball career, he ran a car wash for 12 years and then worked in sales and installations for the same car wash owner according to his SABR bio until his retirement at age sixty-two.

In retirement, he was a fixture at the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society reunions, and in 2016 he published his memoirs, “Wonder Boy - The Story of Carl Scheib” with author Lawrence Knorr.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Rusty Staub championed many with his tireless charity work

Rusty Staub, one of the most beloved players in New York Mets history, passed away on Opening Day, March 29, 2018 in Palm Beach, Florida. He was 73.

While Staub gained accolades for amassing 500 hits for four different Major League clubs, his greatest legacy was his tireless charity work, both on behalf of the Mets, and for the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund. He helped to raise millions of dollars to support families of fallen police officers and firefighters during their times of greatest need.

Rusty Staub (r.) with 1973 Mets teammate Felix Millan (l) / N. Diunte
In this video below from 2012, Staub discussed how proud he was to be a representative for the Mets long after his playing days were over.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How Ed Charles experienced a social awakening playing in Canada

Ed Charles had his start in professional baseball in 1952 when the Boston Braves sent him to their minor league affiliate in Quebec, Canada. Charles, who passed away March 15th, 2018, shared in this interview how going north of the border was a social awakening for him after growing up under the laws of Jim Crow era segregation.

Ed Charles / N. Diunte


Monday, March 19, 2018

Why Bob Gibson told one of his St. Louis Cardinals pitchers that he should quit pitching

Bob Gibson never won any awards for having a friendly persona, especially when Joe Torre hired him as baseball's first "attitude" coach. In 1995, Torre brought Gibson along as his pitching coach with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Bob Gibson / Wikimedia Commons
Queens native Allen Watson was a starting pitcher on the staff and shared a story of when an irate Gibson told one of his pitchers to quit during his tirade.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Why Joe Presko faces his biggest mound challenge yet

Standing 5'9" and 165 pounds in his prime, Joe Presko could have easily blended in with the great St. Louis Cardinals fans that filled Sportsman's Park; however, Presko was far from ordinary. He stood tall on the mound alongside his Hall of Fame St. Louis Cardinals teammates Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, and Enos Slaughter in the 1950s while he went toe-to-toe against the star-studded lineups of the National League in his era. Throughout his six major league seasons with the Cardinals and Detroit Tigers, "Baby Joe" went 25-37 in 128 appearances.

During a recent trip to my local baseball card shop, the owner just received a small box of vintage 1952 Topps baseball cards. I waited until the guy next to me was done looking at them, and shortly after I started my search, Presko's iconic 1952 card jumped to the forefront. A few dollars later, his card became the first from that landmark set to enter my collection. The next day, I sent it off to Presko with the hopes of his signature and a possible interview.

Joe Presko Signed 1952 Topps Card / Author's Collection
A week later, Presko returned the card boldly signed with a note that exemplifies the connection that the men of this generation made with their fans. At 89, Presko made time to sign the card despite taking chemotherapy treatments to battle an opponent more fortuitous than the likes of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Duke Snider.

His desire to continue to reach out to his fans while battling cancer, speaks loudly to the close bond those who played during his era feel with the fans who keep their memory alive.


Note From Presko to the Author / Author's Collection

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Breaking down Mets spring training with Bill Whitehead

Bill Whitehead, AP and MLB writer covering the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, checked in with the Baseball Happenings Podcast to break down the hectic first week of 2018 Mets spring training.

Tim Tebow / Bill Whitehead
Whitehead gave us the inside scoop on Dominic Smith, and why his late arrival to practice was out of character for their young first base prospect. He covered Smith extensively during his 2015 season with the St. Lucie Mets.

During the 30-minute interview, Whitehead also provided updates on the myriad of injuries during the first week of camp, his thoughts on the Mets new manager Mickey Calloway, where Tim Tebow fits in the Mets plans, and why Peter Alonso and P.J. Conlon are two upstarts to keep your eyes on during the spring. 



Saturday, February 24, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Mike Trombley dishes out big league financial advice

Mike Trombley, an 11-year major league veteran with the Twins, Dodgers, and Orioles, came on the Baseball Happenings Podcast to discuss how professional athletes can best look out for their financial interests both during and after their careers. He is currently the head of Trombley Associates, a family-run financial management company in Massachusetts where he took over for his father Ray who started the company over a half-century prior.


In the wake of the recent news about Jake Peavy losing a reported $15 million due to his financial advisor’s involvement in a Ponzi scheme, Trombley explained the pitfalls that many major leaguers face trying to manage a sudden windfall of riches while keeping their attention on what is going on in between the lines of play.

“There were a couple of [Major League] friends of mine that [had] their agents paying their bills for them,” Trombley said. “They never even saw a bill.”

During the 20-minute interview, Trombley dishes out practical advice on what to look for in an investment professional, as well as his experiences of managing his money while living the hectic life of a Major League Baseball player.

Baseball Happenings Podcast on iTunes.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast - Chris Carr and the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest

Chris Carr, runner-up to Kobe Bryant in the 1997 Slam Dunk Championship, recently discussed in our latest podcast going one-on-one against the future Hall of Famer in the dunk contest. In the 20-minute interview, Carr, who is now the assistant woman's basketball coach at Kansas State University, explains why he thought he had a better performance than Bryant, as well as gives an inside look of why guarding a young Bryant was an easier task than squaring up Michael Jordan.


Chris Carr 1997 Slam Dunk Contest Interview


Carr finished the first round with the highest score, giving him the opportunity to be the last dunker in the finals. Bryant scored a 49 with his first dunk, but left the door open by missing his second attempt. Carr saw his chance for victory.

"I knew I was going to have to come with something really good ... because he [Bryant] had a big game in the rookie game and wasn't the MVP ... so he was out to win something this weekend," Carr said.

Carr finished with a 45 on his final dunk, a potent attempt, but not enough to surpass the 49 that Bryant put up with the East Bay Funk. Looking back over 20 years later, Carr still feels like he got the best of Bryant in the contest.

"I still don't think that he beat me," he said. "I'm going to every year put out a tweet and copy him on it just to try to rile him up a bit."