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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

How Jack Crimian mystified Mickey Mantle in his major league odyssey

John “Jack” Crimian, a former major league pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Athletics, and Detroit Tigers in the 1950s, died just days short of his 92nd birthday on February 11, 2019, in Middletown, Delaware.

Jack Crimian 1956 Topps / Topps
The righty hurler signed his first professional baseball contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1943 out of Olney High School where he was teammates with another future major leaguer, Del Ennis.

“I went to high school with Del Ennis,” he said in a phone interview from his Delaware home in 2009. “We used to hit from the football field. He once hit one out on Duncannon Avenue, past the football fields and the tennis courts. I got signed out on the sandlots on C Street and Roosevelt Boulevard. There is a park down the street and the Phillies scout (Jocko Collins) signed me from out there.”

He played the 1944 season Wilmington and Bradford before being drafted into the Army. He served as a paratrooper until 1946 when he had to return home after his father’s sudden death.

Jack Crimian 1951 Minor League Bio / Author's Collection
After the Cardinals drafted Crimian from the Phillies at the end of the 1946 season, he toiled patiently in their minor league system until his midseason 1951 call-up. The Cardinals wasted no time putting his services to use.

“I got into a ballgame in the major leagues the first day that I got there,” he recalled. “I got off the plane, went to the hotel, and they were leaving for the ballpark. I went right along to the ballpark with them.”

He pitched sparingly for the Cardinals but stayed long enough to earn his first major league win, which came in a relief effort ironically against the Phillies. He ended his first campaign with a 1-0 record with a 9.00 ERA in 11 games.

The Cardinals gave Crimian another look in 1952, but the fierce National League lineups served him a quick return to the minor leagues. He spent the next three seasons in Triple-A honing his craft in preparation for another shot at major league glory.

His bumpy ride included a 1953 offseason trade to the Cincinnati Reds who then sold his contract to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. Now a veteran of almost a decade of professional experience, the team had Crimian help Elston Howard make the transition from outfielder to catcher.

“We taught him to catch in Toronto,” he said. “We got him on loan from the Yankees, and they wanted to make a catcher out of him. We had a veteran staff, and they let us have him so he could catch every day. He caught on real quick.

“I still think he was one of the best hitters ever in the American League, definitely on that Yankees club. He hit all over. You could not pitch him one way; he would hit to right and left-center. He hit behind Mantle and Maris, and you could not walk either one of them to get to Howard because he would hurt you just as much as they would. It is no wonder why they got all of those RBIs. You had to pitch to them. He was hard to strike out.”

The Kansas City Athletics looked to bolster their pitching staff when they traded for Crimian after he posted a 19-6 record and 2.10 ERA with Toronto in 1955. Finally, he had a full season ahead in the major leagues. Pitching mostly in relief, he finished second in the American League in appearances, seeing mound time in 54 contests. While he could not recapture his dominance from Toronto in the American League, he was proud that he held Mickey Mantle to a paltry .182 batting average (2 for 11 with 5 Ks).

“I had no problem with him, I really didn't,” Crimian said. “I was fortunate I guess. He might have got a bunt single, but that was about all. I never threw him a strike.

"He wanted to hit all of the time so he would chase pitches. I would throw sliders way in on him and sinkers away from him all day long. He used to bunt against us. We were the first ones to put the shift on him. A couple times, he bunted and he got a base hit. At least we knew where we were at; that's why we did it.”

Despite his reliability with Kansas City, Crimian was on the move once again, this time the Athletics traded him to the Detroit Tigers in 1957 as part of an eight-player deal. He only lasted four games with the Tigers; however, he was still able to get his name in the record books.

A Cleveland Indians rookie named Roger Maris stepped to the plate in the 11th inning looking to battle the well-traveled veteran. He ran the count full, and Crimian thought he could sneak a high fastball by the youngster. Maris swung mightily and connected for his first major league home run.

“It was a 3-2 count and I pitched him up and away,” Crimian said to Bob Yearick in 2017. The ball went up and away, and it still hasn’t come down. But it was Jim Bunning’s fault. He struck out Maris earlier in the game, so he told me how to pitch to him.”

Detroit sent Crimian to the minor leagues a few weeks later, ending his major league career. He pitched two more seasons in the minors before retiring in 1959. While Crimian was out of professional baseball, he had not completely abandoned the game. He pitched with them from 1963-65, and even though his fastball no longer had the zip it once did, he used his guile and smarts en route to a perfect 26-0 record.

He spent 34 years as an auto body specialist in Wilmington, Delaware before his retirement. He was inducted into the Delaware Professional Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Hal Naragon Interview

Hal Naragon is a baseball treasure. At age 90, the former major league catcher spun baseball yarns of catching Bob Feller, playing in the 1954 World Series, and later coaching the Detroit Tigers to 1968 World Series victory on the Baseball Happenings Podcast.


Click here to listen on Spotify

Signing with the legendary Bill Veeck

Naragon signed with the Cleveland Indians after attending an open tryout during the summer of 1946; however, there was just one problem — he was still in high school. This led to his first meeting with the legendary Bill Veeck.

“I found that when I filled out the application it said you had to be out of high school,” Naragon said during his 2019 interview. “They wanted to sign me and I got nervous then because I knew that I shouldn't have been there, but my dad said that we would go back up and talk to Mr. Veeck.

“Mr. Veeck said to my dad, ‘We'd like to sign your son.’ My dad said, ‘I have to tell you he has not graduated from high school yet ... and he thought that this would be a good time to see if he had an ability to play professional baseball.’”

Hal Naragon 1956 Topps / Topps
Veeck’s keen eye would not allow Naragon to walk away that quickly. He extended an olive branch to the elder Naragon, and the two came to a gentleman’s agreement for the Indians to have the first crack at his son when he graduated.

“Well after you graduate will you give us a chance to talk to him?" Veeck asked. "My dad said, ‘Will a handshake do?’ They shook hands and they got me out of the ballpark.”

Naragon's major league debut

Naragon kept his word and signed with the Indians in 1947. He moved quickly through their minor league system, and by the time he was 22 he was in the major leagues. He eagerly recalled the September day in 1951 when he singled off Virgil Trucks in his first major league at-bat.

“I know it was a chilly day and they called me in from the bullpen,” he said. “Naturally I was a little nervous, but usually by the time you get to the plate you get yourself together and do what you can do.”

He played a few more games during his September call-up, and then the Marines quickly grabbed him to serve in the Korean War. While many players suffered from losing their peak years to military service, Naragon returned right in time to take part in Cleveland’s record-breaking 1954 World Series run.

Catching Bob Feller

Now that he had an entire big league season in front of him, Naragon was able to learn from the best in the game. His pitching staff included Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Hal Newhouser. With that staff, it was easy to understand why the Indians won a then-record 111 games in 1954. For a rookie, catching Feller was one of the highlights of his career.

“When I saw Feller he wasn't really in his prime, but still he had he had a good movement on his ball, a good curveball, and his fastball still was moving,” he said.

Playing in the 1954 World Series

Naragon hit .238 as Jim Hegan’s backup en route to the Indians facing the New York Giants in the 1954 World Series. He did not figure he would get much action, but with the Indians behind in Game Three, manager Al Lopez summoned Naragon as a late inning defensive replacement.

“You know, I was hoping that I would get in one,” he said. “When I was called up out of the bullpen to come in, I, of course, felt a little on edge at first but then I kinda settled down. I liked to be able to play in a World Series.”


Witnessing Willie Mays' Catch

While the Giants swept the Indians courtesy of Dusty Rhodes peppering the short right field porch in the Polo Grounds, I couldn’t bring up the 1954 World Series without asking Naragon about perhaps the most famous catch of all-time. We revisited Willie Mays’ devastating over the shoulder grab of Vic Wertz smash during Game One.

“You didn't think that much about it at first of the catch,” he said. “He did turn around and throw a nice ball into the infield. I don't know whether we even talked about it, but you knew Vic Wertz hit the ball and you thought, ‘Oh my goodness this is going to go out the ballpark.’ Well, then Mays catches it and you just say, 'Well, he's a good outfielder.'"

While Naragon said that he felt Larry Doby made tougher catches than Mays' World Series spectacle, years later he was able to recognize its historical greatness.

“I guess when looking back on it eventually you decide, ‘Hey that was one heck of a good catch.’”

Throughout his time with the Indians, Naragon built deep connections with many of his teammates, bonded by their train rides traversing the American League. He shared a lesser-known World Series story that involved one of his early Indians mentors, Dale Mitchell.

A career .312 hitter, Mitchell unfortunately, is best recognized for making the last out of Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game. Well after the game, the first person Mitchell reached out to was his friend, Hal Naragon.

“He called me that evening,” he said. “I asked him about it and I told him I thought the ball looked a little outside. He said he thought so too.”

Larry Doby's lighter side 

The nonagenarian reached deep into his bag of stories to share a lighthearted tale of an unintentional slip of the tongue he had with Larry Doby. Fortunately, his pioneering teammate found humor during the awkward moment.

“I remember that we were playing one game, the sky was kind of high, and the ball was kind of tough to pick up right away,” he said. “He sat down beside of me and said to me, 'Gee it is really tough to pick up that ball.’ … I said, ‘Larry, why don't you go ahead and put on some of that black stuff underneath your eye?’ Once I realized what I said, I looked at Larry and he is busting out laughing you know, because he was a dark man, but he knew what I getting to.”

Herb Score's Injury

Playing with the Indians in the second half of the 1950s decade as they started to rebuild after their Hall of Fame stars retired, Naragon was able to witness their young stars blossom. Cleveland’s prized pitching prospect was Herb Score, a flame-throwing lefty that many expected to carry on Bob Feller’s legacy. In his first two seasons, Score led the American League in strikeouts with a 36-19 won-loss record.

As 1957 started, Score looked like he was en route to another spectacular season; however, that all changed when New York Yankees infielder Gil McDougald stepped to the plate during a May 7th game. McDougald sent a line drive back through the box that smashed Score directly in the face. He watched with his teammates in horror as a bloody Score tried to hold his face together. The gruesome injury kept Score out for the rest of the season and derailed a once promising career. Naragon insisted that it was arm troubles and not the line drive that kept him from regaining his mound dominance.

“You know what, that didn't hurt his career,” he said. “Basically, he threw just as hard after it as he did before he got hit. He would tell you that [too]. I think what happened, he hurt his arm a little bit and that hurt him. As far as when he got back, he had the same velocity and a good breaking curveball. He didn't blame anyone that he couldn't pitch later just as well afterward.”

Score was not the only talent that Naragon watched bloom during his Cleveland tenure. Both Roger Maris and Rocky Colavito were rookies that Dale Mitchell told him to keep his eyes on, both impressing with their power hitting and defense.

Ted Williams' thoughtful gesture

While he had a multitude of fond memories of the superstars he played with in Cleveland, he was also excited to share a favorite Ted Williams story. It was one that had nothing to do with his on-field exploits.

“I asked Ted Williams that I would like to have a picture of him and he said to me, ‘When you get to Boston, you ask Vince the clubhouse guy and I will remember, and he will remember to get you a picture.’

“When I got to Boston, I kind of forgot that I asked Ted Williams [for the picture]. I was there leaning against the wall watching him hit and when he got through hitting, he came over and said, ‘I sent that picture over to you.’ Sure enough, when I went into the clubhouse, that picture was there. I thought, 'My goodness a big-time star like that remembers something like that!'”

In 1959, the Indians traded Naragon to the Washington Senators where he stayed with the franchise as they moved to Minnesota in 1961. After finishing his playing career in 1962, he stayed with the Twins as a coach, helping to guide them to the 1965 World Series where they lost in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

1968 Detroit Tigers World Series Victory

After his success with the Twins, he followed his good friend and pitching coach Johnny Sain to the Detroit Tigers. After two unsuccessful trips as a player and a coach, he was finally able to get a World Series ring when the Tigers won the 1968 World Series.

“That was a good team,” he said. “They would hit in the clutch … they got hits when it really counts, they were good defensive players, and they always had a lot of fun.”

Hal Naragon Tigers card courtesy of Mr. Naragon 
In 2018, as the oldest living alumni of the 1968 championship team, the Tigers invited Naragon and his wife to Detroit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their World Series victory. He basked in the opportunity to rejoice once more with his former players.

“We had a great time,” he said. “They invited us over to that and they really did a nice job for us.”

Naragon left coaching after the 1969 season to take over a local sporting goods store in his hometown of Barberton, Ohio. He ran the store from 1974 until his 1990 retirement. The town paid a massive tribute to their native son when they named Barberton High School’s baseball field Naragon Field in his honor in 2006.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict

Tanner Jones joins the Baseball Happenings Podcast to tell the listeners what exactly led him on the path to spend $100,000 to amass one of the finest single-player collections in the world en route to earning the "baseball card addict" title. In his new book “Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict” he narrates his fascinating journey of building a 10-million-card collection before deciding to roll the dice on one player — Jose Canseco.

“I call junk wax a cheap gateway drug in my book because I almost feel like it was engineered by the card companies to be mass produced in the '80s,” Jones said during his appearance on the Baseball Happenings Podcast. “So that way, when we all grow up, we are able to come back to a super easy. It's really easy to slip in a couple wax boxes of Score just for nostalgia sake, and while you're at the card shop you're like, ‘Wait a second here, there are some cards out here that have pieces of jerseys and autographs on them.’ You know, it's a completely different way of collecting than what we were used to as kids.”
Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict / Tanner Jones
Once Jones had the itch, he was off to the races. Armed with extra cash to spare, Jones started to buy back his childhood memories at pennies on the dollar.

“It didn't have anything to do with Canseco when I came back as an adult,” he said. “I was just absolutely enamored by the prices of the complete sets that I loved as a child. So yes, thinking, ‘Wait a second, I can get an '89 Upper Deck factory set for 60 bucks? Holy cow, how do you not buy that?’

“I started assembling a complete run of complete sets from 1980 to 1992, or '93 or so. Along the way is when I started discovering the game used and autographed cards, so I just got into that hardcore as well. After a while, I take step back and go, ‘Holy cow, I've already dropped a couple grand on this stuff — on baseball cards!' To me, that was like insanity back then, like a couple thousand dollars [spent] on baseball cards.”

For most, a few thousand dollars would have sufficiently scratched their nostalgic collecting itches; however, Jones is far from ordinary. His re-entry was just the tip of the iceberg that led him on a multi-million card chase for the next decade. Jones discusses how he moved from flipping cards to settling on one player before deciding to sell it all. In the midst of all of tales of wheeling and dealing, he gave valuable advice on how to keep your marriage intact during the process. Jones drops gems on the collecting conundrums throughout the latest episode of the Baseball Happenings Podcast below.





Thursday, January 3, 2019

Mark Brownson | A bitter tale of a MLB career derailed by drugs ends at 41

Their story wasn't supposed to end this way; not at this time and not in this manner. A major league marriage fitted for a storybook tale was one that ended with a family split up in despair, finalized by the abbreviated life of its main character.

Marshall “Mark” Brownson was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 1993 in the 30th round out of Wellington High School in Wellington, Florida after he helped lead his team as a senior to the Class 4A State Championship game. He signed with the Rockies in 1994 as a draft-and-follow pick after spending one season at Palm Beach Community College.

Mark Brownson 1999 Fleer Tradition RC
Not blessed with the overpowering stuff that propelled many of the Rockies pitching prospects, Brownson slowly ascended the ranks due to his command, ultimately becoming a full-time starter in 1997 at Double-A New Haven. Buoyed by his pinpoint control, as he matured on the mound he learned to use his ability to spot the ball to his advantage.

“It wasn't until '97 that I started learning how to set hitters up better,” Brownson said to the Denver Post.

The door finally opened for Brownson in 1998 and he knocked it down in a major way. When Rockies starter John Thompson got hurt, they called up Brownson for an emergency start. And the mark he left is still talked about to this day by Rockies fans.

Unfazed by the almost 30,000 people in attendance and the lineup of the league-leading Houston Astros—which included future Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell—Brownson dominated. He flirted with a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and finished his first Major League game with a four-hit shutout en route to a 5-0 victory.

“I can't imagine delivering that performance in your first game in the big leagues,” said Rockies manager Don Baylor to the Denver Post after the game.

While his performance might have surprised his manager, Brownson on the other hand had an eerie level of trust in his stuff that evening. Even if the Astros hit the ball, he felt it would find its way into a glove for an out.

“For some reason I had confidence out there,” he remarked to the Post. “I could feel that they were going to hit it at somebody if I just throw strikes and it worked out, you know?”

Well after pitching a shutout in your first Major League game, surely the road is paved directly to super-stardom, right? Think again. Many pro careers have been derailed due to a string of bad luck, declining skill, injury, and the vices of life away from the clubhouse. Brownson's tale is a mixture of all of the above. One that turned a rising star towards a vicious vortex that swallowed his life whole.

The Brownson Family, Christmas 2010. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Brownson
Alongside Brownson to manage the peaks and valleys of his career was his ex-wife Stephanie. They met in 1998 while he was with the Rockies and quickly became an item.

“He was my prince charming,” said the former Mrs. Brownson in an exclusive interview a week after his death. “He came and swept me off my feet. I literally met him at a bar during the day. He told me that he was a plumber. He was sitting there with agent and his financial advisor. We sat there and talked and he told me that was in construction. I said, 'Construction, I thought you said [plumber].' It was cute; they went and got a newspaper and he was on the front of the sports page.”

Brownson was sent back to the minors after making one more appearance with the Rockies in 1998. During his second trip to the mound, he couldn't quite recapture the magic he had in his debut. Which, in turn, may have led some to believe that he caught lightning in a bottle his first time around. As he returned to beating the bushes, Stephanie went along with him.

“He was up for a short time and then he got sent down to Colorado Springs and I went with him,” she said. “We were pretty inseparable from that time on. I was his buddy. We had so much fun. I used to go on the road with him. I was the wife that wasn't supposed to see the things I saw. We had such a good time.”

The Rockies gave Brownson an extended look in 1999, bringing him up for seven starts during the middle of the season. He posted unimpressive numbers, averaging just over four innings per start with a 7.89 ERA. At the end of the season, the Rockies waived him, which gave him the opportunity to sign with the Phillies.

During his time with Philadelphia, it was at Yankee Stadium that Brownson was able to have his last hurrah on hallowed grounds. While he took the baseball world by storm in his debut, his ex-wife said it was his appearance at Yankee Stadium that he savored the most.

“His favorite baseball moment was when he was pitching with the Phillies,” she said. “It was the first time the Phillies had beaten the Yankees in Yankee Stadium in a long time. He was the pitcher and he kept having to put his head down because they were chanting, 'Let's Go Yankees.' He was like ear-to-ear grinning. He kept going to put his head down and he was smiling like they were applauding him.”

Trying to take advantage on the new lease of his baseball life, Brownson pitched the entire 2000 season with an undiagnosed torn labrum in his right shoulder. He struggled through four more minor league seasons, bouncing between affiliated teams and independent ball looking to recapture his form. Sadly, it never returned.

“His baseball career was over before his career was over,” she said. “He pitched with a torn labrum for a year in 2000 and it just never got better. The doctor who fixed it left a drill bit in his shoulder. They couldn't read MRIs after that.”

At 30, with his pitching career behind him, Brownson struggled with the transition from the only occupation he knew. Professional athletes commonly experience difficulty finding their path once the regimens of reporting to the clubhouse and playing in front of the fans are gone. To Stephanie, the difference was immediately noticeable once he could no longer put on the uniform.

“Once baseball was over, he was never the same,” she said. “He was so lost; he had no identity for a long time because all he knew how to do was play baseball. He didn't know how to mow a lawn, change a tire, all he knew was baseball. The first year, year and a half, was really hard for him; he was so depressed. … It was a sad process. We saved up some of the money that was left from baseball, but there wasn't a whole lot left because it was expensive to play, especially when you're up and down.”

Together, the couple opened a pool cleaning business in Florida and then later relocated the business to Arizona. During that time, Mark and Stephanie became parents, giving birth to their first daughter Madisyn, who is now 11.

“He was an incredible dad,” she said. “We didn't have kids until after baseball. He loved that girl [Madisyn] more than anything in the world.”

Even though Brownson was invigorated by his newly found fatherhood, the pain in his arm continued to throb. The complications from his first surgery left doctors unwilling to open him up again just on the suspicion that something might be wrong.

“It was just a struggle,” she said. “His injuries never got better. We think he re-tore his shoulder again, but without the ability to read MRIs, there were not many doctors that were going to go in. The bone grew back around that drill bit. We never knew; his shoulder hurt him all the time. He had tendinitis in his arm. They gave him a lot of pills for it. They gave him a lot of medication.”

Brownson's history with using pain medication dated back to his days in professional baseball. Stephanie noted that while he was active, he was provided with whatever medication was necessary to get him to toe the rubber. It started a vicious cycle of using drugs to dull the pains that come with playing through injuries.

“It all started with injuries and went downhill from there,” she recalled. “I remember him playing with the Phillies and his arm hurt so bad and they would give him cortisone, pills, greenies … and he would take all this stuff to play and that was okay. The minute you weren't with that team—when you come out of that, that's how you're taught how to handle that [the pain].

“I'm angry because if somebody else could be taught something different, then maybe this wouldn't happen. You are an asset and you need that asset to be the highest of its capabilities at any cost. Once you're there you'll do anything to stay there. That's just it; you'll do anything to stay there without thought to anything else.”

As Brownson's drug use increased, his ex-wife did her best to hold the family together. They had a second daughter, Aliah, in 2010, but his addictions were making it increasingly difficult for the union to remain solvent.

“She's six and I think he's seen her under ten times,” she said. “After she was born, I left within a year. He got into heroin and I left pretty quickly.

“It was no secret; Mark's arrest records are online. It's so sad. We tried to move from Florida to Arizona to have it be better, then we moved from Arizona back to Florida and it didn't get better. It's so sad and part of the reason why I wanted to talk to someone.”

After divorcing in 2012, Brownson started to lose control over his addictions. After multiple arrests, he lived a vagabond lifestyle that included alleged bouts of homelessness.

“He hasn't seen his kids in a couple of years, but my husband and I, we didn't ask him to pay child support,” she said. “We just wanted him to call his kids once a week. He was able to talk to his daughter a couple days before he passed. He wasn't well. It was sad because he didn't have any recourse. He was staying with his mom; his dad wouldn't let him in his house. He struggled with that. I wish that more people would know. He went from having a good life to being homeless in Florida.

“Within a week of his death, he slept on a park bench. I know for a fact because he called me the next day. Then his mom let him in. Nobody cared about him like that. He was living with this girl Amanda [Marsh] who was living in Lake Worth. Then he was in a trailer that didn't have windows. We spent a lot of time worrying about him. We've been calling him to see if he was okay. We sent him little bits of money for food and whatever.”

Amanda Marsh passed away from a reported heroin overdose a week prior to Brownson's death, further clouding the final days of his tragic end. During their last conversation, Stephanie's increasing worry was that Mark was going to have the same fate as his brother Travis, who died from an overdose in 2004.

“My last conversation with him, I begged him, 'You cannot die on these kids.'”

While his ex-wife has remarried in attempt to move her life forward, the collateral damage is Brownson's two daughters, both who will live their lives without the presence of their father. His oldest daughter has found the strength to become an anti-drug advocate.

“My 11-year-old has spent more hours worrying about him in the last five years that she hasn't been able to talk to him,” she said. “She is so anti-drugs because of this. We do speaking at a women's shelter for domestic violence. We had some of those problems. We speak how drug use in the home can affect everybody and my 11-year-old will talk about it.”

Reflecting on his life and passing, his ex-wife tried to find how telling the depths of his unfortunate journey could benefit others. His story is a cautionary tale of how athlete's struggles often go unnoticed once they are out of the spotlight.

“Here's another story of an athlete, who when he played, everyone was behind him and everyone would do everything that they could for him,” she said. “When he got hurt, it was, 'We're going to pump you full of drugs and cortisone.' When he was on the 25-man roster, we had a team that gave him steroids, and then he ends up on the McLaren report when he signs with a new team! When it was over, there was nothing; that was the toughest part.

“They go in at 17 and there is little wonder when they get out at 30, that they have no direction. Everyone thinks that with athletes that there is this great life and it's just another story of falling apart. He was culpable in it too. He bought into all of it and it was really hard. It bothers me because he struggled for so long. He was arrested in Arizona and he was arrested in Florida, and nobody cared.”

Mark Brownson died February 1, 2017 in Lake Worth, Florida; he was just 41 years old. He leaves behind two daughters who will have to find their own way to put the context of his death into proper perspective.

“I want his death to mean something to somebody, even if it's not in the greatest light. … My daughters in some way have been set free for they don't have to sit up any longer and worry about where he is.”

Monday, December 31, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Breaking down the pension dilemma of the pre-1980 MLB retirees

For the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast episode, you will find audio from my appearance of the MAD Radio Network podcast with author Doug Gladstone and Marc Weiss. Gladstone is the author of "A Bitter Cup of Coffee", a 2010 book that detailed the need for the MLBPA to make amends for the pre-1980 non-vested MLB retirees. For almost the past decade, Gladstone has been tirelessly advocating for this group to receive benefits.


In the 15-minute interview, I discuss a variety of topics including how to bring attention to the pre-1980 MLB retirees caught in the pension gap, my role as a player representative, and thoughts on Marvin Miller's Hall of Fame candidacy.

Subscribe via iTunes or listen in the player below.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Danny Gallagher Author of 'Blue Monday: The Expos, The Dodgers, and the Home Run That Changed Everything'

On the latest episode of the Baseball Happenings Podcast, we speak with Danny Gallagher, author of, "Blue Monday: The Expos, The Dodgers, and the Home Run That Changed Everything".

During the interview, we discussed the Expos' championship run during the 1981 strike-shortened Major League Baseball season. Gallagher explained how "Blue Monday" gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at one of Montreal's most beloved teams through exclusive player interviews from both the Expos and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Blue Monday / Dundurn Press

Baseball enthusiasts will enjoy how Gallagher breaks down the many decisions that led to Steve Rogers' and Rick Monday's epic face-off in the 1981 National League Championship Series, including the controversial firing of Dick Williams late in the season. While Monday's name still evokes painful memories in Montreal, Gallagher graciously devotes an entire chapter to the 19-year veteran's career that shows neither him nor Rogers, should be defined by their playoff clash.

Danny Gallagher - Baseball Happenings Podcast Interview


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Has Harold Baines knocked down the doors to the Hall of Fame? | Voting Results and Commentary

In 2019 Harold Baines will have his plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, right alongside immortals such as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente. For many baseball fans, his induction will be a tough pill to swallow, as he only garnered 6.1% of the vote when he was eligible with the BBWAA writers.

Well, what changed since Baines fell off the writer's ballot after a 4.8% showing in 2011? Nothing much really, as he certainly didn't add to his 2,866 career hits or his 384 home runs; however, what did turn in his favor was the Hall of Fame's recently established Eras Committee.

Harold Baines / Keith Allison - Flickr
The Baseball Hall of Fame announced in 2016 that there would be a greater emphasis on the modern eras for consideration. Last year's Modern Era committee elected Jack Morris and Alan Trammell. In December 2018, the Today's Game Era committee selected both Lee Smith and Baines for enshrinement. While Smith's selection was of little surprise to baseball fans, many were dumbfounded when they chose Baines.

As soon as Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson announced Baines' name on the MLB Network, many fans and writers immediately took to social media not to celebrate his selection, but to denounce it. Some went as far as to allege that his selection was due to cronyism, with four of the voting members having direct ties to Baines when he was an active player.



Right or wrong, Baines will be a Hall of Famer when he steps on stage during the Cooperstown induction ceremonies in 2019. While many can waste their energies hating on his selection, I think the what baseball fans should ask themselves regarding next year's Eras Committee vote is, "Who's next?"

2019 Modern Era Committee Voting Results




Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ron Negray, pitcher in the first ever Los Angeles Dodgers game, dies at 88

Ron Negray, a former pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers, passed away November 8, 2018, in Akron, Ohio after a brief illness. He was 88.

Negray signed with the Dodgers in 1949 after briefly attending Kent State University. Although only 19 in his debut season, he looked like an experienced veteran with a 21-6 record for Class D Valdosta. Over the next three years, Negray battled his way up the crowded ranks of Brooklyn’s farm system en route to the major leagues.

Ron Negray / Author's Collection
The Dodgers finally reached for Negray once their roster expanded in September 1952. Fresh off an 11-7 performance with their Triple-A club in St. Paul, Negray entered a Brooklyn clubhouse anonymous to a Hall of Fame roster.

“The first day I came to Brooklyn, I came in during the morning,” Negray recalled during a 2008 phone interview his Ohio home. “We were playing Cincinnati and Charlie Dressen told me to go to the bullpen. Nobody even knew me; I wasn't even introduced to anybody.”

Negray's anonymous September 14, 1952 debut

After the Reds chased starter Johnny Rutherford, Dressen summoned Negray to start the fourth inning. Hidden among the throng of September call-ups, his Brooklyn teammates met Negray with surprise as he approached the mound. (Ed. Note – Some names were corrected from Negray’s recall of the following events.)

“I went in relief in about the 4th inning," he said. "Campanella [Rube Walker] came up and said, 'Who are you?' I said, 'Well, I'm Ron Negray.' Gil Hodges came up and asked if I was in the right ballpark. Campanella [Walker] then asked me if I knew the scoreboard signs. I said, ‘What scoreboard?’ They worked signs off the scoreboard, but I didn't know what he was talking about, because we didn't have that in St. Paul. That broke everybody up.”

After pitching a scoreless frame, he returned for the fifth to stare down the power-hitting Ted Kluszewski. With his bulging biceps exposed by his cut-off sleeves, Big Klu cut an intimidating figure just by standing in the batter’s box.

“He looked like Man Mountain Dean,” he said. “I guess Campanella [Walker] must have told him I threw really hard. The first pitch I threw him a change of pace, a low slow ball, and he popped it up. He cursed Campanella [Walker] because he must have told him I threw really hard.”

Negray left the game unscathed, hurling three clean innings in relief. He made another three appearances for the Dodgers down the stretch, pitching 13 innings without a decision.

Jackie Robinson's special gesture

As the Dodgers rejoiced for yet another opportunity to play in the World Series, the team skipped over Negray when they distributed watches to celebrate their National League victory. One teammate however, went out of his way to ensure that Negray felt like one of the regulars.

“When we won the pennant, they gave out watches,” he said. “Since I came up and I was a low-life rookie, I was the last man and didn't get a watch. Jackie [Robinson] came over and gave me his watch. He said, ‘You could have my watch.’ I gave it to my dad and I don't know what happened to it. … We talked a lot of baseball. He told me what I should and shouldn't do.”

After his sip of big league coffee, Negray stayed in the Dodgers minor league system until he was traded midseason in 1955 to the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent the remainder of 1955 and the entire 1956 campaign with Philadelphia on their big league roster.

The Dodgers reacquired Negray in 1957 as part of the Chico Fernandez trade. While he did not return to the majors for the Dodgers' farewell in Brooklyn, he made history when the team moved to California.

Breaking ground in California

When the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants squared off at Seals Stadium on April 14, 1958, it marked a frontier for baseball’s westward expansion. Both teams left New York to build a new legacy, and Negray made his mark on the inaugural contest. Appearing in relief, he pitched the final two innings in the Dodgers’ 8-0 loss. At the time of his death, he was the last player alive from the Dodgers lineup that groundbreaking day.

The Dodgers sent Negray back to the minors a month later, never again to return to the big leagues. He finished his career in 1963 after 15 seasons in professional baseball.

Negray stayed close to the game by selling uniforms and athletic equipment to local high schools for 34 years until his retirement. His death leaves only 18 living Brooklyn Dodgers alumni.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Why teammates hold Roy Halladay in elite company a year after his tragic death

The tragic news of Roy Halladay's death has sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community. The two-time Cy Young award winner died at the age of 40 when his plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. Frank Catalanotto, Halladay's teammate for four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays from 2003-2006, was suddenly frozen when a co-worker relayed the news while he was giving a hitting lesson.

“I was shocked and I couldn't believe it,” Catalanotto said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Obviously, I was very saddened.”

Roy Halladay / Keith Allison - Flickr
Catalanotto arrived in Toronto in 2003 after the Blue Jays signed him as a free agent in the offseason. He was relieved that he no longer had to face the 6'6" right-hander.

“I hated having to face him,” he said. “He had a nasty sinker, he cut the ball, and he had a great breaking ball as well. He could basically put the ball wherever he wanted; one of the few pitchers in the league that was able to do that. I remember facing him when I was with the Tigers and the Rangers and it was never fun. If you went into Toronto, you were hoping that you missed Roy Halladay. [He was] one of the best during my time in the big leagues, probably one of the top two or three best pitchers that I had faced.”

Coming together for the 2003 season, Catalanotto watched as Halladay's blazed through the American League en route to his first Cy Young award. The late pitcher posted a 22-7 won-loss record with nine complete games, while only walking 32 batters in 266 innings. His mound dominance gave his Blue Jays teammates the confidence that they were never in danger of going on an extended losing streak.

“We knew whenever he was pitching he was going to bring his 'A' game,” he said. “During those times, whenever you lost a game or maybe two-to-three games in a row, you knew that Roy was going to be pitching and that streak was going to stop. You always had that in the back of your head. We never went on big losing streaks because we had this ace that we knew that we could fall back on. It was great.”

While Halladay worked his magic on the mound, his teammates were often able to just sit back and admire his wizardry as he sent most challengers back to the bench with their hopes of getting on base dashed into oblivion. He was so stingy on the mound that Catalanotto likened it to having a vacation defensively whenever he pitched.

“It was almost like a day off defensively,” he said. “Playing behind him, you didn't get a lot of work in the field because he was striking guys out, and when you did get work in the field, it was never pressure situations because he very rarely had guys on base.”

Even though Catalanotto acknowledged that Halladay made their jobs a little bit easier every fifth day, there was no chill when it came to what Halladay did to create his electric nature on the mound. Early in Catalanotto's tenure with Toronto it was evident that Halladay's focus on preparation was unparalleled.

“I quickly realized that he was an intense individual and extremely focused in what he did every single day,” he said. “There wasn't a time when I ever saw just him sitting down doing nothing. He was always trying to get better whether it be through watching video of the hitters that he's going to face or video of himself and his mechanics. Whether [he was] going through scouting reports or working out and working on his mechanics and things like that, he always seemed like he was dedicated to his craft and left no stone unturned. For me, he was the biggest competitor that I have ever played with and it rubbed off on other guys on the team.”

When Catalanotto was able to get Halladay away from his intense moments on the mound, he found a different side of the pitcher that was hidden to baseball fans. Halladay had a jovial nature that included pulling pranks on his teammates, especially the rookies.

“The more you got to know Roy, you realized that he had a lighter side,” he said. “He wasn't always just ultra-focused on pitching. He did have a lighter side. And he was a jokester. He loved pulling pranks on the younger guys.”

Reflecting on Halladay's tremendous accomplishments that included multiple Cy Young Awards, a lifetime .659 winning percentage, and a postseason no-hitter, Catalanotto cited how Halladay's 2001 demotion to the low minor leagues fueled his transformation into an elite pitcher. Catalanotto feels his eventual selection to the Hall of Fame will vindicate Halladay's tremendous life and career.

“He accomplished a lot,” he said. “I know that early in his career he got sent down to Single-A to work some things out. He took that personally and he wasn't happy about it. I know that he wanted to prove a lot of people wrong, and that's what he did. He became one of the best pitchers of his generation and I do think that he deserves to be a Hall of Famer.”

More of Catalanotto's interview is featured in the video below.



Monday, October 22, 2018

Ruppert Jones tells of his dark year with the New York Yankees

For most baseball players, wearing the New York Yankees uniform is a life-altering experience. One look at the legends in Monument Park can give even the most prolific athlete chills knowing that they are carrying the lineage of the most iconic figures ever to play the sport.

Ruppert Jones came to the Yankees in 1980 after a career-year with the Seattle Mariners where he played all 162 games while swatting 21 home runs and stealing 33 bases. He entered Yankee Stadium with the hopes of World Series victory and visions of patrolling the same center field as Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

Ruppert Jones / Topps
Two months into the 1980 season, Jones led the team with 28 RBIs; however, his .222 batting average did little to evoke the memories of the aforementioned Hall of Famers. While Jones attributed his weakened average to a string of bad luck, his fortunes quickly changed for the worse on Memorial Day. Returning home after their May 26th game, he immediately knew that something was wrong. Stomach pains from earlier in the day became unbearable.

“When I got home, I started to throw up all night,” the 63-year-old Jones said via telephone from his San Diego home. “I was scheduled to pick up my wife at the airport, but I couldn’t pick her up. When she got in, she was kind of upset that I told her she had to catch a cab home. When she came home, she started to yell and scream, and when she came into the room, she saw the garbage can sitting there, and I’m puking.”

His wife called for an ambulance, recognizing that this was more serious than a stomach virus. After reaching the hospital, doctors resolved that Jones needed immediate surgery to treat complications related to his 1978 appendectomy.

“I had to have an emergency operation,” he said. “I had an appendix operation two years earlier and I had adhesions [that] caused a blockage. I was in a bad way. I was out for a month and a half. I didn’t come back until after the All-Star break.”

During his recovery in the hospital, Jones found inspiration while taking a visit to the pediatric ward. There he saw children battling cancers that were much tougher than any of Nolan Ryan’s fastballs.

''That really woke me up,'' Jones told the New York Times. ''Those kids had so much courage. They would never have the opportunity to do what I had done, so what was I complaining about?''

Jones returned from his abdominal surgery after the All-Star break, determined to deliver the player the Yankees envisioned in their trade. On August 25th, 1980, with the Yankees clawing to a half-game lead in the American League East, Jones took to his spot in center field in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics, focused on making an impact defensively.

With two runners on base, the Athletics power-hitting outfielder Tony Armas drove Tommy John’s offering screaming into the left-center gap. Racing to snare Armas’ blast, Jones connected squarely with Oakland’s cement outfield wall. With Jones lying on the ground motionless, the situation turned grave.

“They asked Gene Monahan what was the worst injury he had, and he said, ‘Ruppert Jones.’ I was the worst injury he ever had because I stopped breathing,” Jones said during his 2018 interview. “He had to get me breathing again before he could get me off the field.”


Jones suffered a severe concussion and separated shoulder that ended his 1980 campaign. The impact was so powerful that he was unable to recall the immediate 24 hours after he was injured.

''People tell me what happened,'' Jones said to the New York Times, ''but there's a whole night of my life I don't remember. Initially, I was just grateful I was still alive. When I woke up feeling somewhat fine and alive, I was relieved.''

Jones watched helplessly as the Yankees battled the Royals for the 1980 American League championship. Even though he could not participate on the field, he empathized as his teammates wrestled with defeat.

“I felt [their] pain; those guys really played hard,” he said. “Kansas City played a little better than we did. That is all you can say, they played a little better than we did, so consequently, they won; they outplayed us.”

As Jones worked his way back into shape, the Yankees traded him to the San Diego Padres during 1981 spring training. The trade marked a sojourn that included a 1982 National League All-Star selection and a World Series victory with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. After his final major league season with the California Angels in 1987, he continued to play in Japan and the minor leagues before hanging it up for good in 1989.

Looking at his post-concussion accolades, most fans would not understand the extent that Jones suffered the rest of his career. His injury came well before the sports community acknowledged the severity of concussions and their proper treatment.

“After my head injury, [my body] couldn’t do what I wanted it to do,” he said. “People don’t understand the damage that a head injury does to a person. Your head is your computer. It works all of the parts of your body. When it is not functioning ... parts of your body suffer.”

For the rest of his baseball playing days, the trauma altered not only his skills but also his life in ways that were never evident in any box score.

“I never got over it,” he said. “My shoulder was not the issue. I never was the same again. Some things happened to me that I didn’t know and that nobody knew. As the years progressed, I started getting an idea … my life was never the same again. Let’s just put it like that … I was never the same.”

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.”