Showing posts with label Philadelphia Phillies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philadelphia Phillies. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

How Don Carman Remained Batterymates With Darren Daulton Through His Final Hours

Throughout a long Major League Baseball career, one might have hundreds who they call teammates, but only a select few they can call true friends. Despite bonding while traveling the country for six months trying to win a World Series championship, as soon as teammates clean out their lockers, they often go their separate ways until spring training.

With the platitudes expressed for Darren Daulton in the wake of his passing, one of his teammates shared how a union formed before their first major league game together persisted through Daulton's final hours. Don Carman, a former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher who broke into the majors with Dalton in 1983, explained the nature of their transcendental friendship.

“We had something special, because in baseball I have a lot of really good friends that I spent time with, [but] the day they stop playing, they go home and you never hear from them again,” Carman said via phone shortly after Daulton's death. “It happens all the time. … That's the rule. … He and I had an amazing friendship, a wonderful friendship, [we were] very close, and I loved him like mad. There's not a time where we wouldn't hug, kiss each other, and say, 'I love you,' because you knew you had something different.”


To understand just how their relationship started, go back to the 1983 season when the two were a battery for the Philadelphia Phillies Double-A team in Reading, Pennsylvania. After both had breakout seasons in the minors, the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies called them up when rosters expanded. Arriving in the heat of a pennant race, the pair watched as future Hall of Famers Steve Carlton, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and Mike Schmidt worked at clinching the pennant. Finally, with the pennant in hand, manager Paul Owens inserted Daulton into the starting lineup on the next-to-last game of the 1983 season.

In the bottom of the 8th inning, Daulton scored the go-ahead run against the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving Owens the opportunity to summon Carman to seal the deal. The lefty spent most of the season as Reading's closer and he now was in the position to get a save in his major league debut. As a nervous Carman approached the mound, a familiar face greeted him with the right message to get him under control.

“I remember being scared to death,” he said. “Then he [Daulton] came out the mound and said something like, 'We made it. You and I made it. We're here, and we're playing in the big leagues.' I remember still being afraid, but at least I didn't have to worry about how to pitch and what I wanted to do because the guy knew me so well. And I did, I had a 1-2-3 inning. It was obviously my first outing, but it was as much as being comfortable with knowing that I didn't have to think; all I had to do, whatever he put down, I'm going to throw it because I couldn't think because I was so scared. I was the closer in Reading for the last three months of the season, so he knew me, what I wanted to do, and what made me effective, so I didn't have to worry about that.”

Just how Daulton helped to guide Carman in his debut, Carman noted that “Dutch” had a magnetism that drew his teammates to follow him. From the beginning of his career, Daulton had an uncanny ability to inspire that was evident across the league.

“The strange thing about him, everybody in baseball knows he was one of the most special baseball-type people—he was the consummate player and everybody looked up to him, even when he was 26-27, the 35-year-olds looked up to him," Carman said. “He was the leader of every team he was on. I've never met a better leader, just an amazing guy; he was like that in the minor leagues. He was a natural.”

Daulton made it a point to extend himself not only to his teammates, but to everyone around him who made the game run. Carman felt it was how “Dutch” treated those whose names did not show up in the box score that was a true testament to his character.

“It didn't matter if you were grounds crew or the owner of the team, everybody wanted to be around him and everybody felt special,” he said.“It was every person; it didn't matter who you were. If the owner of the team came over, he would walk over, grab him by the face with both hands and kiss him on the cheek. If it was the guys who just dragged the field and they walked by, 'Dutch' would do the same thing. It didn't matter who you were, you demanded his respect because he gave it to you, and everybody felt special.

“There's something about his personality that gave you this feeling that he really does care. This moment he cares about me, enough to pay attention to me, to listen to me, to smile at me, to make eye contact with me, and hear what I just said.”

Philadelphia's love affair with Dutch grew as his spirit and personality resonated with the Phillies faithful. The Phillies honored their leader when they inducted him into their Wall of Fame in 2010. Even amongst the of Hall of Famers, Carman's keen eye noted that in later years, Daulton stood out as the obvious fan favorite.

“When you go to the Wall of Fame in Philly, they call them all out on the field,” he said. “They always call him out last because they know he's going to get the biggest ovation every time. You're talking about Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, who spent more time there and are in the Hall of Fame. People would cheer, but when he came out, the place would erupt. He even made fans feel special."



While Daulton stayed in the spotlight, he and Carman remained tight behind the scenes. They participated in each other's weddings while becoming confidants throughout tough times in their lives. They stuck together even when many walked away from Daulton when he released his controversial book, “If They Only Knew” in 2007.

“Throughout all three marriages, he and I talked because he knew he could trust me," Carman said. “He would come to me for advice through all of this, so we've become very close over the years. When he went through his bizarre time when he wrote the book [If They Only Knew], a lot of people didn't know how to respond; I didn't know how, but it wasn't by leaving him because I knew this person and something was wrong. It turns out he had a brain tumor. As soon as they removed the bulk of the brain tumor, the crazy behavior changed and he was back. It was amazing."

When Daulton's brain cancer recently took a turn for the worse, Carman dropped what he was doing to make the three-hour trip to Daulton's bed side. For the next two weeks, he made spending time with Dutch his main priority.

“I kind of put work on hold for the last two weeks because that's when he made a really downward turn,” he said. “I've been with him every other day for the past 15 days. He lives three hours away. I would drive up, see him, and leave [his wife] Amanda, her mother, and his parents. I would spend the day there, go to a hotel, and then come back see him, and then drive home. A couple of days later, I would do it again.”

Even in his final days, Daulton stayed true to form, mustering up whatever strength he had left to make Carman feel welcome. This time, Carman did most of the heavy lifting.

“Obviously it was difficult,” he said. “The last ten days, he couldn't talk, but he could listen, smile, and hug you with one arm as the right side was paralyzed. Since he could do that, I did the talking.”

Carman spent five hours with Daulton on the day he died. Speaking with him only two days later, Carman did his best to hold back tears while humbly expressing gratitude for being there one last time for his good friend.

“I'm just glad I could talk to him.”

* This article originally appeared in the now defunct Sports Post on August, 10, 2017.



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.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Phinally! The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn't | Book Review

Nineteen-eighty marked a pivot for Major League Baseball as it entered a decade that was marred by a work stoppage, a drug scandal, and a nasty collusion case. Fortunately, for baseball fans, the 1980s opened with an exciting season that preceded the looming drama of the next few years.

Author J. Daniel takes readers through a complex journey that was the 1980 baseball season in his new book, "Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn't" (McFarland: 220pp., 2018).

Phinally! / McFarland

Once glance at the cover would lead those studying its intricacies that "Phinally!" is solely about the Philadelphia Phillies winning their first World Series title in franchise history; however, that could not be farther from the truth. Daniel went deep in the archives with his work, capturing every significant detail that the 1980 season offered.

While Daniel dives into the big stories of J.R. Richard's health woes, George Brett's season-long flirtation with .400, and Reggie Jackson getting up close and personal with a gun barrel, each event is interspersed with the less heralded happenings that serve to create a "This Week in Baseball" atmosphere.

His strength is certainly the tremendous depth in which he chronicles the season, as "Phinally!" reads more like an anthology than an oral history. He relies on a variety of newspaper and magazine accounts to narrate the season rather than rose-colored interviews with players almost 40 years later that leave out the gritty details they may have selectively forgotten.

While this nuanced approach fits Daniel's style, some will find it exhausting at times to keep up with the constant jumping around the league from page to page, as he goes through each month's dealings. Despite some of the challenges to keep up with the multitude of anecdotes that Daniel tracks, he holds the suspense of the Phillies World Series victory until the end, leaving the final page with the late Tug McGraw victorious on the mound with his hands raised in the air for the fans to once again celebrate.



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 21, 2015

Charlie Manuel reflects on playing baseball in Japan

Charlie Manuel, former manager of the 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, and major leaguer with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins, candidly discusses his time playing baseball in Japan and the adjustments he made while playing there. In this interview with the Japan Weekly Baseball Podcast, Manuel shows how his genuine character has made his one of the most respected figures in the game. Manuel is also a popular figure on Twitter and can be followed @CMBaseball41


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Book Review: 'Bob Oldis - A Life in Baseball' by Stephen Bratkovich

Spending eight decades involved in Major League Baseball, Bob Oldis has a lifetime of stories to tell, and fortunately at 87, and he is still around to share them. Oldis has teamed up with Stephen Bratkovich, a Minnesota-based author and SABR member to pen his autobiography, “Bob Oldis: A Life in Baseball.”

Bob Oldis: A Life in Baseball / Stephen Bratkovich
Standing on the cover in his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform with a proud glare into spring training sun, the smile on his face is a true metaphor for all of the pleasures baseball has brought him amidst the many adversities he’s survived.

Playing primarily as a reserve catcher over his seven seasons in the major leagues, the Iowa City native appeared in 135 games, amassing a .237 average in 236 career at-bats with the Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Philadelphia Phillies from 1953-1963. While his career line might be pedestrian at best, he often had the best seat in the house to watch the top players of his era perform up close and personal.

Bratkovich reveals the side of Oldis’ career that can’t be explained through statistical measures. He shows how Oldis endured the loss of his father during his first professional season and how it fueled him to make the major leagues less than four years later. His ability to battle in the face of tough times is a consistent theme in Oldis’ journey that Bratkovich so expertly illustrates.

At every stage of his career, Oldis seemingly met a roadblock either off or on the field that he had to navigate in order to advance. From the tenuous position of a backup catcher only one roster move away from starting or going back on the bus to the minors, to being away from his wife who was caring for two boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, or working his way back to the majors at 32 after suffering a broken jaw right before the start of the 1960 season, Oldis beared more than most would have tolerated to keep on playing.

Throughout all of the challenges that he faced, he never put his head down, instead approaching them head on. His perseverance paid off as he finally made the Pittsburgh Pirates club for the 1960 campaign. He appeared in 22 regular season games, including two in the 1960 World Series en route to a Pirates victory. After Bill Mazeroski hit his now infamous walk-off home run in Game 7 off of Ralph Terry, Oldis’ crowning as a World Series Champion was vindication for all of the hardships he endured through that point in his career.

He remained active in the majors through 1963 with the Phillies, and was a member of their coaching staff in 1964 when they had their infamous late-season collapse. He later coached in the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos during their inaugural season. Since the early 1970s, Oldis has worked for over 40 years as a scout for the Expos and the Marlins In 2016, at the age of 87, he signed a contract with the Marlins to continue in his role with the club for the upcoming year.

“A Life in Baseball,” is much more than Oldis’ tales of the time he spent in between the lines. His story is one of how the game has kept him going through all of the curveballs life has thrown him.
 
Below is an interview with Bratkovich on how he came to work with Oldis for his autobiography.



Friday, November 13, 2015

Baseball Happenings Podcast: Stephen Bratkovich - Author of 'Bob Oldis: A Life in Baseball'

This episode of the Baseball Happenings Podcast features an interview with author Stephen Bratkovich, who penned the biography of Bob Oldis, a former major league catcher and 1960 World Series Champion with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The book is entitled, "Bob Oldis: A Life in Baseball," chronicling Oldis' eight-decade career in baseball, who at 87, is still employed as a scout with the Miami Marlins. Bratkovich discusses how a letter asking to meet one of his heroes growing up turned into a two-year journey that ended up in the form of a book.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don Grate | Holder Of Longest Baseball Throw Record And Philadelphia Phillies Pitcher Dies At 91

Don Grate, a major league pitcher who once held the record for the longest baseball throw, passed away on Saturday November, 22, 2014, according to a representative at the Fred Hunter's Funeral Home in Hollywood, Florida. He was 91.

Born August 27, 1923 in Greenfield, Ohio, Grate was a standout athlete at McClain High School before making his way to Ohio State University. He was a two-sports star, lettering in both baseball and basketball, leading the way to a professional career in both sports.

Don Grate
Grate was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945, and was quickly brought to the majors to fill a roster that was depleted by the exodus of players serving in World War II. He debuted against the Chicago Cubs, who were headed for the National League pennant. It was a tall order for the young hurler.

“I had the misfortune of playing the Chicago Cubs at that time,” Grate said to me in a 2009 phone interview from his home in Miami. “The Phillies were the last in fielding at that time. I had to throw five singles, five walks, and the Cubs got five runs. That was my only loss that I had in the majors.”

Grate was roughed up in his subsequent three outings in 1945, finishing with a 17.28 ERA. Despite his struggles during his first major league season, Grate returned to the Phillies in 1946 after posting a 14-8 record at Class A Utica. He fared better in his second campaign, winning his only decision on September 22, 1946, but what a pyrrhic victory it was.
“In the Polo Grounds [Ben] Chapman told me to sidearm the third baseman for the Giants at that time," he said. "Of course, I was not a sidearm pitcher. When I got to throw a sidearm pitch, something snapped in [my] shoulder. I had been improperly warmed up. He told me to go down to the bullpen in the Polo Grounds. It was a long way down there. I go down there and he said, ‘Tell [Dick] Mauney that he's coming in, if he gets in trouble, you're next to start warming up.’ He changed his mind when I got down there. The umpire said, 'Who do you want?’ He said, ‘The big, tall man down there.’ I came in without any warm up. The umpire only allowed me eight pitches to warm up without delaying the game. Sid Gordon I think it was [the batter]. Chapman said to me, ‘Sidearm the S.O.B.’ I did and of course got a sore arm. I told him he better get somebody to warm up. We were behind two runs, but we scored about three-to-four runs and I won the game.”
Unfortunately, Grate never returned to the major leagues. He spent the next few years trying to work out his sore arm with various farm clubs across the Phillies, Braves and Red Sox organizations. In the subsequent off-seasons, he played professional basketball to stay in shape and pick up some extra money until the baseball season started again. In 1949, he played two games for the Sheboygan Red Skins of the newly formed National Basketball Association (NBA).

“You have to go to work in the winter months and get a lunch bucket,” he said. “I played in the industrial league in Columbus, Ohio just to stay in shape.”

His luck changed when he signed with the Washington Senators franchise in 1951. Grate was working as a physical education teacher when the Chattanooga Lookouts, a farm club of the Washington Senators called in 1951. He decided that he had enough of pitching and wanted a new lease on his baseball life, this time as an outfielder.

“I won two or three trophies at Ohio State for my ability to hit,” he said. “When I wasn't pitching, I played center field. I was a regular ballplayer, I played every day. Since I had a sore arm, I had moved around pitching enough, so I said I was going to be an outfielder.”

While he wanted to make the transition to a full-time outfielder, he discovered his pitching was still in demand. Seeking another opportunity to revive his career, Grate agreed to play.
“I got a call from Joe Engel in Chattanooga,” he said. “I told him I was teaching school until June. He told me I'd have an opportunity to be a utility man and pinch hitter. I said, ‘I can't come down there unless I had batting practice.’ He told me he needed pitching really bad and said pitchers didn't take batting practice. When he [finally] told me I could take batting practice, I came down and I had a 3-1 record before I switched to the outfield. I got into the lineup in center field because the guy had a stiff neck and couldn't play that night. It was like 500 feet to dead center. I hit a few balls in the crack and I could run. I hit two inside the park home runs, so I stayed in the outfield.”
Grate consistently hit near or above the .300 mark for the remaining six years of his career, finishing up with the New York Giants AAA team of Minneapolis in 1957. It was there in Minnesota where he launched his record toss during a contest in 1956.
“The last one I threw was 445 feet,” he said. “I had to go outside the ballpark in Minneapolis. It was 401 feet to dead center and 45 feet from home to the back stop. There was a crosswind going from right to left so I didn't have any help with the wind. Another guy from Omaha's throw went about halfway between the 405 mark and home plate. His ball reached home plate. Mine hit 3/4 the way up the backstop. He quit and I threw about three-to-four more pitches and they only measured to the screen; there was no way they could measure because it went half way up to the press box. One [judge] said it probably went 470. Half way up to the press box would have been another 30 feet at least. It was 455 feet and one inch to the backstop!”
Even though his awesome feat was surpassed by Glenn Gorbous in 1957, over 50 years later, it remained a popular topic with fans and collectors. He was honored by the Florida Marlins in 2006, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before a game. In 2009, he was still receiving correspondence about his throwing feats.

“I still get two-to-three requests per week that have something to do with the longest throw,” he said.

He used his professional experience in athletics to better serve his 27-year teaching and coaching career at Miami-Norland Senior High School. One of his prized pupils was his son Jeff, who was a three-sport athlete at Miami-Norland. He went on to Harvard University, following in his father’s footsteps by playing baseball and basketball on the collegiate level. After a successful career at Harvard, Jeff spent three years as a short stop in the Boston Red Sox organization.

“I was a major in health and physical education,” he said. “I had a master’s degree in administration and supervision. I taught 27 years. In basketball I had a very successful year (1964), when we made it to the finals to the state tournament. I got some satisfaction that we got to go to the state tournament.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

John McDonald's final at-bat a bit quieter for this 40-year-old shortstop

With all of the attention in Major League Baseball this weekend squarely focused on Derek Jeter's victory lap around the circuit, the final stages of another 40-year-old shortstop's quietly sneaked under the radar.

John McDonald, a reserve infielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, potentially ended his career with a bang when he doubled off of Seattle Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar in the 9th inning of Sunday’s regular season finale.

The veteran of 16 major league seasons hit a milestone when he turned 40 last Wednesday, becoming only the 17th major leaguer over 40 to play shortstop since 1900.

McDonald fit the mold of a dying breed of the classic great glove, no-hit middle infielder, batting a career .233 with nine teams from 1999-2014. He was so valued for his defense, that the eventual 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox acquired McDonald in an August 31st trade with the Philadelphia Phillies despite his .098 batting average at the time. He was used as a late-inning defensive replacement to bolster their playoff run.

Unfortunately, McDonald was left off the Red Sox post-season roster and it looks like he will be absent from the Angels active roster when they start the ALDS on October 2nd. With the presence of Gordon Beckham, there appears to be little room for McDonald in their playoff plans.

Sitting at his locker after Sunday’s game, McDonald not only held on to the ball from what is probably his last-at bat, but the sentiments as well.

“It’s a good feeling to get one more hit,” McDonald said to MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez on Sunday. “It might have more meaning later.”

Monday, June 2, 2014

Johnny Gray, 87, fond teammate of Roger Maris

Johnny Gray, a veteran of four major league seasons with the Philadelphia and Kansas City Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Philadelphia Phillies in the 1950s, passed away May 21, 2014 in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 87.
 
Gray starred in three sports at West Palm Beach High School before he entered the United Stated Army during World War II. Upon his discharge, he enrolled at Rollins College, where his play for their baseball team eventually earned him entry into their Hall of Fame in 1979.

Johnny Gray / Baseball-Almanac.com
The New York Yankees signed Gray in 1950 and it immediately paid dividends, as he posted a 10-4 record for their Class C team in Amsterdam, N.Y. Gray reached as high as Triple-A with the Yankees in 1953, before he was included in a massive 11-player deal at the end of the 1953 season with the Athletics. The major chip in that exchange was Gray’s Kansas City Blues teammate, first baseman Vic Power.

“Vic was always a happy-go-lucky guy,” Gray said in a 2010 interview. “He was easy to get along with. He was a great club man; there were no two ways about that.”

Leaving the crowded Yankees system opened the door for Gray to the major leagues. He made his major debut on July 18, 1954, pitching 4.1 innings in a loss to the Chicago White Sox. He struggled with his control during the season, finishing with a 3-12 record in 18 games.

Gray stayed with the Athletics in 1955, making the move with the club from Philadelphia to Kansas City, returning him to familiar grounds from his minor league days.

“I didn’t mind it much because I had been with the [Kansas City] Blues before,” he said.

The Athletics sold Gray to the Cleveland Indians in 1956, where they sent him to their Triple-A team in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis club breezed through the entire American Association with a 92-62 record, assisted by Gray’s 10 wins as both a starter and reliever. Continuing their dominance, they swept the Rochester Red Wings in the 1956 Junior World Series, 4-0.

As much as winning the championship was an exhilarating experience for Gray, his most cherished memory of that 1956 minor league season was the relationship he developed with a rookie outfielder named Roger Maris.

“One of the best ballplayers I ever played with in my life,” he said. “I can tell you this in all honesty, if you owned a business and you have to go out of town … and you couldn’t get back for three or four months, the guy that you would want is Roger Maris.

“If you left that business with him and came back, it would be twice the size. That was his attitude. I roomed with him in Indianapolis. He came to the ballpark to play. If you had nine guys that took the same attitude, you would have a club that would have never lost.”

The well-traveled Gray played winter ball in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. Not only did the wide exposure allow him to fine tune his pitching, it allowed him to develop an appreciation for the passion the fans had for the game.

“They take baseball much more serious in Latin America than they do here,” he said. “They love it. I can remember when I was in Cuba they would sing and have a band for one team. I loved it because they had the name for baseball fans in South America and it sure fit, ‘fanáticos.’”

Gray made it back to the major leagues in 1957 with the Indians, and played a handful of games with the Phillies in 1958. He continued to play at the Triple-A level until hanging it up for good in 1960. He finished his major league career with a 4-18 record with a 6.18 ERA in 48 games.

In his post-baseball playing days, Gray became an avid golfer and managed an apartment complex in Florida.


Monday, February 17, 2014

How Jim Fregosi resurrected Dave Gallagher's major league career


Dave Gallagher defined the blue-collar, lunch pail toting types that populate spring training every year. He did not have the one dominant skill that made heads turn during batting or fielding practice, but quietly got the job done with his steady play across the board. In 1988, Gallagher entered the Chicago White Sox camp with one last chance to make it in professional baseball; he just needed a believer. He found one in manager Jim Fregosi, but his conversion did not come easily.

“He believed in me in the time that I needed it,” Gallagher said via telephone from his home in New Jersey about Fregosi who passed away Friday morning in Miami due to complications from a stroke he suffered earlier in the week.

Dave Gallagher with the White Sox
By the time Gallagher reached the White Sox, his baseball career was on life support. He had the type of résumé that scouts had long written off. He was a career minor leaguer of eight seasons, who hit a paltry .111 in a 15 game trial with the Cleveland Indians in 1987. Scouts weren’t the only ones to turn away Gallagher’s prospects, he passed on himself too, quitting before the end of the 1987 AAA season after a trade to the Seattle Mariners organization. Only after a chance encounter with White Sox scout Ed Ford while working at a baseball camp, was Gallagher convinced to put his energies back into the game.

Gallagher flew to Florida to meet with the White Sox brass, who offered him a non-roster invite to their 1988 spring training. Teams often hand out these invites to see if they can find a buried treasure or bolster the reserves in their minor league system. After being told by general manager Larry Himes on the first day of spring training that he, along with the rest of the non-roster invitees, were in the latter category, Gallagher felt he had to do something drastic to ensure he was noticed. He headed straight to Fregosi’s door.

“I told him, ‘You don’t know me from anybody, but I’d really appreciate it if you could take me to every possible game,” he said. “I’m towards the end of my run and if I don’t make it, I’m done. I don’t care if you take me and I don’t play; I just want you to see me.’”

Gallagher did everything but beg Fregosi for an opportunity: however, he could not get a commitment from his new boss.

“He said, ‘I can’t promise you that. Everybody would want that.’ My reply was, ‘Not everybody asked.’ So I closed the door and walked out.”

While Fregosi’s response lacked the affirmation he sought, Gallagher felt that he had at least separated himself from the rest of the unknowns.

“I thought, man, he may love me or hate me, but at least he knows who I am.”

After a strong showing in spring training, Gallagher finally had the full attention of his manager. He was called into Fregosi’s office three days prior to breaking camp to be told that the team was trying to trade outfielder Gary Redus and that his fortunes with the club hinged on that deal.

“He wasn’t traded, so I went down to Triple-A for one month,” he said.

Gallagher responded by hitting .336 with Vancouver and was recalled in the middle of May. Immediately his call-up paid dividends. On his second day with the White Sox, he hit a home run in the 11th inning to beat the Toronto Blue Jays. His quick witted manager remarked, “He’s been here two days, it’s about time he hit one.”

It was this type of humor that Gallagher felt Fregosi used to take some of the pressure off of his players.

“There was a game in Texas and I’m about to lead off,” he said. “I walk past him to get to the on-deck circle and he’s got his arms crossed and he said, ‘C’mon Gallagher, do something, will ya?’ That was his humor … his way of relaxing you. I said, ‘I will carry us today on our shoulders.’ That was my relationship with him; he threw a sarcastic comment at me and I threw it back.”

Not known for his power, Gallagher deposited an early offering flying into the stands for a home run. He now had more ammunition to continue their exchange.

“When I circled the bases and came back in, he was staring at me. I said to him, ‘Why wouldn’t you ask me to do that more often?’”

For that entire 1988 season, it seemed whatever Fregosi asked of Gallagher, he delivered. He batted .303 in 101 games, committed zero errors in the outfield, and finished 5th in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Still, Gallagher had his doubters within the organization.

“I hit every day with our batting coach Cal Emery,” Gallagher said. “He told me, ‘David, they don’t think you can do it.’ He was trying to tell me not to let up. They didn’t think I could sustain it, that I didn’t have the skill set to continue doing what I was doing. It crushed me.”

Deep down Gallagher knew that Fregosi, while pleased with his play, was also skeptical of his ability to maintain his performance over his entire rookie campaign. The way Fregosi kept whatever questions he had about Gallagher’s abilities in house, spoke volumes about him as a professional.

“He never said it publicly,” Gallagher said. “He never made a statement in the press that would have really hurt my career. He kept it under his hat; he kept it in the meetings. What a professional he was, he could have killed me right there and knocked me out if he went public with that kind of statement.”

Fregosi never did knock out Gallagher; in fact, he became one of his biggest advocates. Fregosi was fired as the White Sox’s manager after the 1988 season, but knew if he had the chance to manage again, that he had the perfect role for Gallagher. Seven years later, while Fregosi was managing the Philadelphia Phillies, that opportunity arrived. At 34, Gallagher was no longer a minor leaguer trying to make it, but now an established veteran who was valued for his versatility on the field and leadership in the clubhouse. His old manager gave him another year under the sun.

“I think he saw me years later with the Phillies in 1995 as an excellent complementary type player,” he said.

Gallagher played that 1995 season as a reserve outfielder and pinch-hitter. He rewarded Fregosi by batting .318, and played flawless outfield defense. Grateful for another year in the big leagues, Gallagher felt this reunion cemented their kinship.

“The relationship with Jim," he said, "I don’t know if I ever had that kind of a relationship with anybody. I admired a man who didn’t think I could do it, but didn’t say anything publicly. He gave me a shot to empty my pockets to try and play and see if I could do this, and I did it.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book review: Dallas Green - 'The Mouth That Roared: My Six Outspoken Decades in Baseball'

Dallas Green has seen it all in his sixty year involvement with Major League Baseball, and with the release of his autobiography, “The Mouth That Roared: My Six Outspoken Decades in Baseball,” Green holds back very little when detailing his time in between the lines.

The Mouth That Roared / Triumph Books
While he is most famous for piloting the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980 to a World Series victory over the Kansas City Royals, Green built his foundation as a flame-throwing pitcher with the Phillies organization starting in 1955. He spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues with the Washington Senators and New York Mets in addition to his parent club of Philadelphia. Hindered by a lack of control, Green posted a journeyman-like record of 20-22. His fiery persona, akin to his fastball, was something that followed him as he transitioned from a player to a front office man.

No more was this evident than when Green took over the reins of the Phillies after Danny Ozark was ousted in 1979. At the time, Green was working as their minor league director when he was dragged into a late night session with general manager Paul “Pope” Owens on August 29, 1979. By 5:00 am the next morning, he agreed to take the job. The Dallas Green era in Philadelphia had official begun.

He wasted no time in making his vision clear. Play hard or look for a new job.

Right away he went after their veteran leaders, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, and Mike Schmidt, all who were feverish supporters of Ozark.

“I’m sure a few holdouts felt the team was winning not because of Dallas Green, but despite Dallas Green,” he said. “It would later be said that they may have been winning to spite Dallas Green.”

His charging ways helped the Phillies develop a resiliency that allowed them to come back from a 5-2 deficit during the deciding game of the 1980 National League Championship Series. The team rode that momentum into the World Series against the Royals, and won the series 4-2 in convincing fashion. The late Tug McGraw, the team’s ace closer, gave Green much of the credit for their championship run.

“He told us we had to be a team with character, that we had to look in the mirror,” McGraw said. "He was just an average player at best, and where he got his ‘Phillie baseball’ is beyond me. But he had confidence in his ideas, and he backed his people. It took us a few months to catch on, but then we did.”

A World Series ring for a manager brings attention and greater scrutiny, and Green was not immune. The 1981 season was plagued by the baseball strike, and the Chicago Cubs were looking to turn around their organization. After refusing their first two offers, Green left the only organization he knew to become the general manager of the Chicago Cubs.

Green wasted little time in making Chicago “Philadelphia West.” His first order of business was to hire his friend and third-base coach Lee Elia for their managerial position. He brought along John Vukovich, as well as a half-dozen scouts from their organization. He was ready to go to work.

Looking to add someone who would bring the emotional response he expected from his players, he traded with the Phillies to acquire Larry Bowa. He held up the deal until they threw in a young infielder named Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg went on to a Hall of Fame career and that trade was one of his defining moments of his time in Chicago.

Green’s wheeling and dealing did help the team get to the NLCS in 1984, but he might be better remembered for what Cubs fans called, “Bloody Monday.” At the end of the 1982 season, he cleaned house, firing most of the team’s support staff and related personnel. Even Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was not safe from Green’s wrath.

Green lasted until the end of the 1987 season with the Chicago Cubs, signing free agent Andre Dawson after Dawson presented them with a blank contract. After the 1986 fiasco where the owners colluded against signing free agents, Green offered Dawson a $500,000 contract with incentives, and to Green’s surprise, Dawson accepted. Dawson won the 1987 MVP, probably the only highlight for the last place club, and Green’s last hurrah.

That is until George called.

The Yankees were in search of a new manager after George Steinbrenner dumped Lou Piniella at the close of the 1988 season. Steinbrenner called upon Green, whose relationship dated back to 1960 when Green played in Buffalo and “The Boss,” used to pass through a Royal Arms tavern, a frequent hang out of the two at the time.

“It’s difficult to function in any job where your boss is seeking to control you. I guess we were doomed from the beginning by my big mouth and George’s lack of patience.”

Green lasted until August, doomed by a team full of aging veterans and non-descript arms. Leaving the Yankees by mutual disagreement, he took over the 1993 Mets and immediately was immersed in controversy. Doc Gooden continued to battle his drug problems, Bret Saberhagen injured himself in a jet-ski accident, Bobby Bonilla threatened to knock out the teeth of writer Bob Klapisch, Anthony Young mired his way to a record-setting 27 consecutive losses, and to top it all off, Vince Coleman set off a large firecracker at Dodger Stadium that left three people injured.

Green had a tough time steering the ship on the way to a 103-loss season. He hoped for better results in 1994, but that was dashed quickly when the players decided to go on strike. During the strike, Green earned a reputation of being one of the hardest driving managers of the replacement players.

Green stuck around long enough to usher in the “Generation K” era, but with the trio of pitchers being rushed to the majors, their unfolding led to Green’s firing in 1996. He was replaced by Bobby Valentine, whom he later held in disdain for remarks that he made after Green was rehired by the Phillies as a special assistant to the general manager in 1998.

“Bobby will always be the guy who dressed up in a Groucho Marx disguise and snuck back into the dugout after being ejected from a game in 1999,” he said. “This guy has always been a phony.”

One gets a sense that there is very little that could silence Dallas Green. And yet he chose to end his book with the heart-wrenching loss of his granddaughter.

On January 8, 2011, a deranged gunman opened fire at a public meet-and-greet with Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Christina-Taylor Green had been invited to the event by a neighbor, hoping to offer her a chance to experience how our government worked up close. She never got the chance, falling victim to the recklessness of the individual who orchestrated this horrific act. The news was painful for Green to swallow.

“And there are still no words to adequately describe my feelings about what happened. After losing my granddaughter, my heart will never fully heal, but I’ll go on.”

Through the book Green rambles, rants and raves through his rollercoaster managerial career. The strengths of the book are his readily offered, candid opinions, which give you a vivid picture of his strong personality and old-school, tough love style. On the other hand, it’s hard to overlook the fact that his presentation of events is decidedly one-sided. Green is clearly not someone who plays well with others, and it begs the question of whether his abrasive style created more problems than it cured.

In the end, though, it’s hard not to like such an abashedly colorful character in an era when athletes and front office staff speak in media coached, prepared sound bytes. For that reason, as well as the unvarnished look into the dynamics between front office and players, this is a book worth diving into for an entertaining weekend read.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Strincevich, 3rd oldest major league player, dies at 96

While our country was celebrating the merits of our military veterans this Friday, the baseball family was mourning the loss of World War II era pitcher Nick Strincevich. He passed away November 11th in Valparaiso, Ind. At 96, he was the third oldest living major leaguer at the time of his death.

Nick Strincevich

The first player to make the majors from Gary, Indiana, his path started on the local sandlots. In 1934, “Jumbo” caught the attention of a local bird-dog scout in Indiana while playing semi-pro ball that led to him pitching batting practice for the New York Yankees in Chicago against the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. By the time he arrived home from his big day at the park, he received a telegram notifying him that he was now property of the Yankees.

Entering their organization in 1935, Strincevich advanced quickly through the Yankees minor league rank, closely following his manager Johnny Neun as they climbed their way to the major leagues. Strincevich was part of the dominant 1938 Newark Bears team that had almost exclusively a future major leaguer roster including Hall of Famer Joe Gordon. Despite his 11-4 record, the Yankees did not bring him up. With their pitching rich farm system, they saw Strincevich as expendable and sold him to the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League the following season. He pitched sparingly and was purchased by the Boston Bees at the end of the 1939 season.

Strincevich found a home in Boston under manager Casey Stengel, figuring prominently in their starting rotation, pitching in 32 games during his rookie season in the National League. “Casey liked me. He used to kid me up all the time,” said Strincevich in 2003 to Craig Allen Cleve's Hardball on the Home Front.
Even though he finished the season 4-8, he showed promise for the next season, going 3-1 in his last four decisions. This anticipation for an improved 1941; however, was quickly cut short when early in the season, Strincevich was hit in the face by a thrown ball during practice. He suffered headaches that would plague him the next two seasons.

Fortunately, during the aftermath of this injury, there was a silver lining for Strincevich. It came in the form of a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sent to the Pirates for Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner, his move to Pittsburgh would earn him 40 wins from 1944-46.

So popular was Strincevich in his hometown of Gary, that he was given a day in his honor in 1947 at Wrigley Field. It would be one of the last bright spots of his career. He would only earn one more victory in the majors and was back to the minors for good the following season. He walked away from baseball in 1950 with a record of 46-49 for Boston (NL), Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. He worked as a union steward in an auto parts factory for 30 years before his 1980 retirement.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dave Cole and Roy Smalley Jr.'s deaths link a history started 57 years prior

Dave Cole and Roy Smalley Jr., remained linked long after the 1954 trade that saw them switch places on the Milwaukee Braves and the Chicago Cubs. After the late season emergence of Ernie Banks in 1953, the Cubs found Smalley Jr. expendable and sent him to the Braves for Cole during spring training. Both of their careers fizzled after the trade, neither showing the promise that either team expected after the swap.


Last week, they died four days apart. Smalley Jr. passed away at the age of 85 last Saturday in Arizona. Cole died in his hometown of Hagerstown, Maryland at 81 on Wednesday.

Their deaths, while coincidental, reminds us of the depth of baseball's connections. The news drums up nostalgia of the hope that each player brought to their new teams some 57 years ago.

Smalley began his career in 1944 with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Serving in the US Navy during World War II, Smalley returned to baseball in 1946. After some seasoning at the lower levels of minor league baseball, he became the starting shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in 1948, a position he would hold until the arrival of Ernie Banks in September 1953. Once spring training rolled around in 1954, Smalley saw the handwriting on the wall.

“Ernie had shown his talent for hitting at the end of the ’53 season. There was no hint from the club, but once into spring training in ’54, the trade didn’t come as a surprise,” Smalley in a letter he wrote to the author in 2009.


Smalley was traded to the Braves for Dave Cole in 1954 and was used sparingly as a reserve infielder. He was purchased by the Phillies the following spring, and spent parts of the next four seasons as their backup shortstop. He played in the minors through the 1960 season and then finished his career in baseball managing the Class C Reno Silver Sox from 1961-62.

His best season was 1950 when he had career highs in home runs, runs batted in, and slugging percentage. Unfortunately, he also led the league in errors, committing 51 at the shortstop position. The year 1950 had added significance for Smalley, as he married his wife Jolene.

Smalley's new bride was the sister of major league shortstop and future manger Gene Mauch, whom he would ironically later play for in 1958 as a member of the Minneapolis Millers. Keeping the family baseball tradition alive, his son, Roy Smalley III, followed in his footsteps at shortstop, playing 13 major league seasons with the Twins, Yankees, Rangers, and White Sox.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mitch Williams - Straight Talk from Wild Thing - Book Review

Admittedly, Mitch Williams’ best pitch was his fastball. No deception, just a high hard one that was at times, known to have a mind of its own. Earning the nickname “Wild Thing,” for his ornate pitching motion and resulting lack of control, Williams stays true to form with his new book, Straight Talk from Wild Thing co-authored by Darrell Berger.

Click here to read a full review of Williams' new book as well as watch video of him discussing the work on NBC 10 Philadelphia.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Duane Pillette, 88, teammate of Satchel Paige on St. Louis Browns

Duane “Dee” Pillette, an eight-year major league veteran pitcher died Friday May 6, 2011 in San Jose, California at the age of 88. Pillette broke into the majors with the New York Yankees in 1949, pitching until 1956 with the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies. He compiled a 38-66 record, leading the American League in losses in 1951 for the cellar dwelling Browns.

Duane Pillette - 1954 Topps / Baseball-Almanac.com

Pillette was the son of former major league pitcher Herman Pillette, who spent four of his 26 professional seasons in the major leagues with the Reds and Tigers. The elder Pillette pitched until he was 48 in the Pacific Coast League.

Despite his father’s long career in baseball, the patriarch did not want his son to follow in his footsteps. In a 2009 interview that I conducted with Pillette from his home in San Jose, he discussed how his father wanted him to stay far away from baseball.

“My father never talked much about baseball except he didn't want me to play," Pillette recalled. "He fought me tooth and nail when I was a kid. Even though he didn't make much money in the Coast League, he sent me to Parochial schools. He never got past the sixth grade."

His father stressed the importance of getting an education ahead of playing baseball. As a youngster enthralled with the game, he was determined to move forward with the sport.

“He said, ‘I don't give a damn about baseball, you aren't going to make any money. I want you to get a good job and the only way is to get a good education,’” Pillette remembered.

He pleaded his case to his father. His father relented with one caveat, he had to be his de facto agent when scouts approached.

“I said, ‘You don't have any money and I don't have any money. I have to play baseball to get a scholarship.’ He said, ‘I'll let you play in high school, but if you have a scout come around, he has to talk to me.’”

Pillette did in fact get that scholarship, heading to the University of Santa Clara largely due to the involvement of an important Yankee scout.

“One Yankee scout, Joe Devine got me a scholarship at the University of Santa Clara," he said. "I pitched well in high school because I had a helluva ballclub. I don't think San Diego High ever lost a game in the three years I was there.”

Pillette signed with the Yankees in 1946 and immediately debuted with their top minor league ballclub, AAA Newark of the International League. While Pillette found himself playing with upstarts Yogi Berra and Bobby Brown, it was one of his opponents that made everyone take notice, Jackie Robinson. Robinson was playing for Montreal that season, on the verge of breaking the color line in the major leagues. Pillette was impressed with how Robinson handled the pressures of that season.

“A lot of guys were trying to nick him and scare him," he said. "He handled himself very well. I didn't have much trouble getting him out. He hit a lot of ground balls off of me amazingly enough. I'm not saying he took 0-4's against me, that's for sure. Jackie wore us out the first few games against us, he must have hit .600. He would bunt with nobody on with two outs, steal second base and [George] Selkirk would blow his lid.”

Pillette battled a groin injury he suffered late in the 1946 season through his next few campaigns in the minors. He played for Newark the following season and then was sent to the Portland Beavers of the PCL to work on his curveball with Tommy Bridges. He developed it well and posted a 14-11 record in 1948, which earned him a spring training invite with the Yankees in February of 1949. He was off to a great start in Florida and earned the confidence of manager Casey Stengel.

“I had a good spring and Casey had told the guys the last day before we broke camp that I was going to be the fifth starter and a long reliever,” he said.

Unfortunately for Pillette, General Manager George Weiss thought otherwise. Very quickly the tides turned for the young pitcher.

"George Weiss had other ideas. He said, ‘He needs to go back to Newark and learn some other things.’”

Pillette found himself in the familiar confines of Newark, but not for long. By mid-season, he was in the major leagues.

“I stayed there about a good month and a half, maybe more than that,” Pillette said. "I was in Syracuse when they called me over. I joined them in Cleveland at six-o'clock in the morning.”

Little did Pillette know that he would be summoned to pitch the first day he was with the team.

“I didn't figure I was going to do anything and Casey came out and gave the sinkerball sign," he recalled, "so I came in the ballgame. We scored a run on our half and went one run ahead. The very first hitter I pitched to hit a line drive at Cliff Mapes. He took a couple steps in and the ball went over his head for a triple and they tied up the ballgame. I ended up losing the ballgame, so I didn't scare anybody.”

Pillette was right; he didn’t scare off his coaching staff, as they had him start four days later.

“Jim Turner liked me a lot and Casey liked me so he started me four days later in Detroit," he said. "I pitched a day before my birthday in July. They scored two runs in the first inning and we lost the game 2-1. Then he started me in Yankee stadium against the White Sox, we went 0-0 for nine innings and Luke Appling hit a home run with a man on first base in the tenth inning and we came back in our half."

Luck, however, was not on his side. Despite his best efforts on the mound, the Yankees couldn't turn the tide to victory.

“[Joe] DiMaggio hit a line drive to right center and he very seldom got thrown out taking the extra base," Pillette said. "They threw him out at second trying to make a double and the ballgame was over. They scored two runs in the first inning off me, then they didn't score two runs until the 10th inning [the next game] and I pitched 17 consecutive innings without allowing a run and I'm 0-3. I'm the worst goddamn pitcher in the world!”

Pillette ended up 2-4 in 12 games that season and did not appear in the World Series for the Yankees in the postseason. He would pitch briefly with the Yankees again in 1950, and then was traded to the St. Louis Browns in a six-player deal. Even though he went from the top team in the American League to the worst, the trade gave him an opportunity to pitch full time. Pillette would be a key cog in the Browns rotation, pitching in 120 games from 1950-1953.

It was there in St. Louis where he would befriend another baseball immortal, Satchel Paige. 'Ol Satch pitched with the Browns from 1951-1953, giving Pillette plenty of time to get to know the ageless hurler.

“I enjoyed the guy. I admired him from all the things I heard about him," he said. "As far as I was concerned, when I saw him pitch and the things he'd do, this guy was absolutely amazing. He had the worst looking legs and everybody would tell you if you want to be a pitcher, you have to have a pair of legs. This guy had some spindles and I don't know how the hell he did what he did, but he was great."

They shared a special connection, as Paige was fond of his father from their battles barnstorming on the West Coast.

“My dad pitched against Satch in Los Angeles," he noted. "I know because Satch told me that he pitched against my father. Satch happened to play against my father in Los Angeles when he was in the winter leagues. My dad picked up extra money playing in the winter leagues. They became pretty good friends because they both had been around awhile. He said he was a fine man. He told me, ‘He didn't pitch like anybody I ever saw. He threw more soft stuff than you could believe but he had a pretty good fastball. You get two strikes on you and you might look for it. He said he never wasted any energy and probably about as smart of a pitcher as you ever saw.’ That’s probably why I got along with Satch so well, he liked my father a lot.”

After an arm injury ended Pillette’s career in 1960, he found success in the mobile home business.

“After I quit baseball, I got in the mobile home business for 32 years," he said. "I helped to build and manage this park. I've got a nice 1,800 square foot mobile home. If you came on the inside, you wouldn't think it was a mobile home. They don't make them like this anymore."

Pillette continued to stay active late in his life, gaining notoriety for his dancing. The notoriety wasn’t so much for his skills, but that he was one half of the oldest couple on the dance floor.

“On Friday and Saturday I dance with a lovely young lady that's 85, and I'm 86," he said. "We even got our picture in the paper because we are the only two whiteheads on the dance floor and they were curious. The people from the paper came in to the hotel for a party of people who were retiring. We get out there and do a little bit of a dance and this outfit took some pictures.

“The gal [Bev] who I take out was the bridesmaid at my wedding. About 10 years after her husband passed away, she called me one day and said that she wasn't sending anymore Christmas cards and she wanted to warn me. So we got to become good friends and she was a marvelous dancer. They got a hold of Bev and asked her some questions. They interviewed us at her home the next day. They showed the top part of us that we were dancing. A little story was written about it. We found a photo of Beverly in her album from my wedding and they put that in there too.”

Pillette returned to New York last summer as one of the seven living members from the 1950 World Series team. He was thrilled about his appearance at the new stadium.

"It was just wonderful being there surrounded by all of these greats," he said. "There aren't too many of us from that team left."

Even though Pillette fell below the .500 mark for his career, he was an All-Star to the fans, generously signing autographs through the mail and speaking to researchers and historians with such candor about his career. Somewhere in heaven, Pillette is having a meeting on the mound with his Paige and his father, conspiring how to retire the next batter.