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

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bill White: Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play

Bill White, the former All-Star first baseman, National League president and New York Yankees broadcaster recently released his memoirs, Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play. White speaks openly about his lengthy multi-faceted career in baseball and why he has distanced himself from the game. Click here to read the entire review of the book, as well as video of White speaking from his book signing in New Jersey.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Duke Snider's Philadelphia grab eclipsed that of Willie Mays in the World Series


As detailed in Jason Aronoff's "Going, Going ... Caught!: Baseball's Great Outfield Catches as Described by Those Who Saw Them, 1887-1964" Duke Snider made an award winning grab on Memorial Day in 1954 that still stands as the best ever, yes, even better than Willie Mays' grab in the 1954 World Series.

In baseball circles, one just has to say “The Catch” and immediately visions of Willie Mays racing towards the depths of the Polo Grounds appear. While many regard Mays’ catch of Vic Wertz’s smash as the best catch ever, some witnesses argued that Mays’ catch wasn’t even the best one that year! The recently deceased Duke Snider made a catch on Memorial Day earlier that year that easily rivaled, if not surpassed Mays’ highlight in New York.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were facing the Philadelphia Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia on May 31, 1954. Entrenched in a 12-inning battle, Phillies third baseman Willie “Puddin Head” Jones stepped to the plate against Clem Labine. Jones laced a screaming shot towards the left-center field gap that forced Snider into an all-out sprint towards the wood-faced concrete wall. Snider miraculously managed to dig his foot into the wall and propelled himself seemingly higher to reach out over his head and across his body to make a spinning backhanded catch against the fence. He stumbled down the wall and pulled the ball out of the webbing of his glove. Second base umpire Jocko Conlan signaled the out and the Dodgers mobbed Snider for preserving the victory.

The Brooklyn Eagle’s Dave Anderson labeled Snider’s grab as, “the greatest, absolutely the greatest, catch in baseball history.” Dodgers coach Jake Pitler told the New York Post that Snider’s catch was like no other he witnessed in baseball.

“In forty years of baseball, I never saw a catch like Snider made.”

In a 2009 interview that I conducted with Dodger outfielder Don Thompson, he gave me a bird’s-eye view from his position in left field, where he was inserted as a late inning defensive replacement.

“A man in upstate New York contacted me about a book he was writing about baseball’s greatest catches," Thompson said. He asked me about a catch Duke Snider made on Memorial Day in 1954. I was in the field, as I went in during the 8th or 9th inning. Snider made a catch you wouldn’t believe unless you were there to see it. Puddin Head Jones hit a ball to left-center field; Snider had a better shot at it than I did. He was running towards the fence, jumped and turned, and sorta stuck his cleats in the wooden fence there and caught this ball. It may have gone over, but he jumped and turned and caught this ball. This author rated this number one. Snider was going right towards the fence as hard as he could, turned at the last minute, stuck his cleats in the fence and caught this ball. He rated it over Mays’ catch in the World Series. Mays had a long way to go, but he didn’t have anything obstructing him. Alston said not only did he have a long way to go, he had to jump, and he had the fence to contend with. I was playing left field, I was right there. He stuck his cleats in that old fence, and I couldn’t believe that he had it. He backhanded it for the catch.”

Bob “Mickey” Micelotta was on first base when the ball was hit. Micelotta was a rookie infielder for the Phillies, making only his third plate appearance in the major leagues. He drew a walk off of Labine to extend the inning for Jones’ drive. There was some speculation that Snider trapped the ball against the wall with his near-impossible catch. In a July 2009 letter from Micelotta, he affirmed Snider’s awe inspiring leap.

“I did see the catch," Micelotta said. "I was on first base and the play was right in front of me. He did catch it!”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tom Underwood, 56, pitched 11 seasons in the majors

Tom Underwood, who pitched 11 seasons in the majors with the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Yankees, Athletics and Orioles passed away Monday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Former Yankees and Phillies lend their support to the BEST Scholarship Fund

2010 BEST Scholarship Award Winners
August 15, 2010 saw close to twenty former major league players lending their support to the BEST Scholarship Fund by attending their Meet and Greet Dinner. Attendees were treated to an evening that allowed them to mingle with the ballplayers as well as hear success stories from the scholarship recipients. Click here to read a complete recap and see photos from the event.
L-R Terry Harmon, Dennis Kinney, Wil Royster, Ross Moschitto and 1952 AL MVP Bobby Shantz

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ted Kazanski recalls his magical moment in the wake of Angel Pagan's feats

Earlier this week, Angel Pagan of the New York Mets made baseball history against the Washington Nationals, being the first player in 55 years to hit an inside the park homerun and start a triple play in the same game. The last player to accomplish that feat was shortstop Ted Kazanski of the Philadelphia Phillies on September 25, 1955 against the New York Giants on the final game of the season at the Polo Grounds.

The 76-year-old Kazanski who lives in Northern Michigan, was reached via telephone Friday evening to discuss his memorable day in Manhattan. Ironically, he remembers the triple play much clearer than the home run.

Ted Kazanski / 1954 Topps
“I remember the triple play because it ended the season," Kazanski said. "It was the last play of the season and I think it was the last game that Leo Durocher managed the Giants. I remember that part of it. They got the first two men on. [Joey Amalfitano singled and Whitey Lockman walked.] We were winning the game 3-1. I think Bobby Hofman pinch hit. I was playing closer to second base for a possible double play. He hit a line shot right at me, I flipped to Bobby Morgan and he threw to first [Marv Blaylock] and the season was over! I don't remember the home run too much. The left and right center gaps were a mile away.”

The New York Times account of the game details his inside-the-park homerun as a result of a crash between Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes.

“Kazanski's round-tripper was an inside-the-park affair that was somewhat of a gift. Kazanski drove deep to left center. Mays raced over and caught the ball, but Dusty Rhodes ran into Willie. The ball, Mays and Rhodes hit the ground and Kazanski crossed the plate.”

Even more prominent than the triple play from that game, were his memories of a teammate that had fallen asleep despite all of the commotion. Saul Rogovin was a pitcher for the Phillies who would later become a standout teacher at Brooklyn's Eastern District High School, where he mentored future major league pitcher Frankie Rodriguez. Rogovin was out cold as his team ran off the field.

“The thing I remember the most about that day is Saul sleeping in the bullpen," he said. "He was a funny guy, a great guy. Saul had narcolepsy, you know, where you fall asleep anytime. So that day, Saul is in the bullpen. Bang, the triple play happens, the season's over! We're all running off the field. You had to go all the way to center field and up the steps in the Polo Grounds to the clubhouse; that's where our clubhouse was. People were running onto the field. Meanwhile, we're all in the clubhouse showering and Pete the clubhouse guy looks out on the field and says, 'Holy ----, Saul is still out there in the bullpen sleeping!' So they had to send the batboy out there to tell him the season's over. That was a classic, I'll always remember that. He was still sleeping in the bullpen!”

Kazanski said that his efforts went with little media coverage, as compared to the coverage of Pagan's play.

“Every time I turned on Baseball Tonight, they showed his play," he said. "In our day, I don't even think they made a big deal of it in the newspaper.”

Kazanski played six seasons in the majors from 1953-58, and another six in the minors, retiring after the 1964 season at 30 after multiple surgeries on his left shoulder. This is the second time this season one of Kazanski's feats has been in the papers. In April, Atlanta's Jason Heyward became one of only ten major leaguers to have 4 RBIs in their major league debut. One of those other ten was Kazanski who collected four in his first game on June 25, 1953.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Robin Roberts and his strange journey with the New York Yankees

They say famous celebrity deaths come in groups of three, and with the passing of Hall of Famer Robin Roberts today, and legendary Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell earlier this week, one has to wonder which legend is next. Roberts was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976 after a stellar career with the Phillies, Orioles, Astros, and Cubs that spanned from 1948-1966. He died Thursday, May 6, 2010, in his home in Temple Terrace, Florida of natural causes. He was 83.




One of the teams that are not listed on his plaque at the Hall of Fame is the New York Yankees. Roberts was signed by the Yankees in the fall of 1961 to add depth to their pitching roster for the 1962 season. Some were apprehensive about the signing, pointing to Roberts' 1-10 record the previous season with Philadelphia. Many in baseball began to write off Roberts as damaged goods. Speaking with the New York Times, Roberts attempted to silence the critics.

"There was nothing wrong with my arm or shoulder. Let's say my failure was due to my lack of stuff," Roberts said on January 19, 1962. "However, I believe I'll be able to pitch for the Yankees. I anticipate being able to pitch well and hope to be a starting pitcher for Ralph Houk."

At the beginning of spring training, pitching coach Johnny Sain remarked about Roberts' ability to bolster the Yankees staff.

"I think the big fellow will help us, and everyone I've talked to from the National League tells me he still can be a fine pitcher with a good club behind him," Sain said in a February 20, 1962, New York Times article.

Two months later, Roberts was gone. An Associated Press report from April 20, 1962, cited Roberts' release from the Yankees without making an appearance for the club in a major league game. In five exhibition games, he pitched 11 innings, allowing 15 hits and eight runs. Manager Ralph Houk regretted that he was not able to pitch Roberts more and that Roberts needed, "every chance to get another job."

With that, the Yankees bid him adieu. A month later, Roberts signed with the Orioles and posted a 10-9 record with a 2.78 ERA. He would go on to pitch another four seasons with Baltimore and Houston before retiring after the 1966 season with the Chicago Cubs. He finished with a career record of 286 wins and 245 losses with 2357 strikeouts.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stan Bejamin, 95, 1914-2009 - Former Philadelphia Phillie and Cleveland Indian

Long time Houston Astros scout and former MLB player with the Phillies and Indians, Stan Benjamin passed away on Christmas Eve, 2009 at the age of 95 in Cape Cod, MA.

Benjamin was a star with Framingham High School in Massachusettes and went on to play from 1939-1942 with the Phillies and finished up his Major League career with the Indians in 1945. In 1965, Benjamin joined the Houston Astros as a scout. He remained with the Astros for nearly 40 years. He scouted American League East clubs for several seasons before becoming the team's scouting supervisor for the Northeast. Benjamin was a frequent visitor to Fenway Park during the baseball season.

Astros president Tal Smith, who was born in Framingham, called Benjamin a "vital cog" in the organization and a "keen judge of talent."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hideki Matsui's World Series Performance Evokes Memories of Dusty Rhodes 55 Years Earlier

Hideki Matsui earning the 2009 World Series MVP as a designated and pinch hitter drums up memories of another New York World Series hero. A year before the World Series MVP award was created, and over 20 years before the emergence of the designated hitter, James "Dusty" Rhodes terrorized the pitching of the American League champions, the Cleveland Indians. Rhodes hit a pinch-hit homer off of Bob Lemon in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series with two runners on in the 10th inning to win the game 5-2. In game 2, he had a pinch hit single off of Early Wynn in the 5th inning, and then followed it up with another homerun off of Wynn in the 7th. In game 3, he had a pinch-hit single that drove in two runs in a 6-2 Giants victory. In the 3 games he played, he was 4-6 with 2 homeruns and 7 RBI. The Giants swept the series in 4 games over the Cleveland Indians.

Matsui had a homerun, a single and 2 RBI as a pinch-hitter, and was 8-13 overall as a DH / PH en route to his award winning performance. While many remember the 1954 World Series for Willie Mays' catch of Vic Wertz's smash; if a World Series MVP had existed in 1954, it would have gone to Rhodes for his timely hitting off of the bench for the Giants. The parallel to Matsui, plays out similar in their roles of "professional hitter" for their respective teams in World Series victory.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Howie Schultz, former Brooklyn Dodger and Minneapolis Laker dies at 87

Howie Schultz, pictured second from left with Jackie Robinson two spots to his right, passed away on October 30, 2009 at the age of 87. Schultz was the Dodgers first baseman for four seasons until Robinson arrived in 1947. Schultz played in one game at first base after being displaced by Robinson. He was sold to the Phillies a month later.

"I'm a footnote in history -- the guy who was benched to allow baseball to be integrated," he said in a 2004 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Schultz compiled a lifetime batting average of .241 in siz seasons in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers, Phillies and Reds.

Schultz also played professionally in basketball, playing three seasons in the NBA after an All-American career at Hamline University. Schultz was a member of the 1951-52 and 1952-53 NBA Champion Minneapolis Lakers which included four Hall of Famers: George Mikan, Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen, and Jim Pollard.

After finishing his basketball career, he taught physical education and coached high school basketball in the St. Paul area as well as at Hamline University. To read a more detailed description of Schultz's career, check out Stew Thornley's SABR Bio of Howie Schultz.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Humberto Robinson | Panamanian Pitcher Who Paved The Way For Mariano Rivera, Dies At 79

While Mariano Rivera is closing the door on games for the Yankees during the 2009 postseason, a tribute must be paid to the man who opened the door for Panamanians to play in Major League Baseball. Humberto Robinson was the first Panama native to play in the major leagues, making his debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1955, posting a 3-1 record in 13 games that season. Robinson went on to pitch in the majors again in 1956 and then from 1958-1960 with the Braves, Indians, and Phillies. He also made multiple appearances in the Caribbean Series representing Panama, including the final one in 1960.

Sadly, Robinson passed away in a Brooklyn, New York nursing home on September 29th, 2009, after a long battle with Alzheimer's.


Robinson's death was almost exactly 50 years after his brush with a gambler's attempt to fix a late season game in 1959 while pitching for the Phillies. Robinson was approached by Harold Friedman, a former operator of a Philadelphia night spot. Friedman reportedly offered Humberto $1,500 to throw the September 22, 1959 game against the Cincinnati Redlegs. Robinson refused Friedman's proposition, which was made at a hotel the day before the game.

"I didn't want to talk about it," Robinson said.

He confided his secret with teammate Ruben Gomez, who advised him to report the situation to manager Eddie Sawyer. Robinson remained quiet, but Gomez went to Sawyer during the fifth inning of the game. Robinson performed beautifully, pitching seven innings, striking out five while only giving up three hits. He also hit a double and scored the first run of the game. He was later congratulated by Commissioner Ford Frick for quickly reporting the attempted bribe. Friedman was sentenced two-to-five years in prison for trying to fix the game.

While you are watching Rivera pitch his way into the record books this October, envision a similarly lanky Panamanian in Robinson who displayed integrity in the face of corruption and endured hoards of racial taunts to pave the way for other Panamanians to flourish in the major leagues.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Acquiring Propsects at the Trade Deadline, Fools Gold or Treasure?

Yesterday's transaction between the Cleveland Indians and the Philadelphia Phillies read as follows: July 29: Indians trade Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to the Phillies for Lou Marson , Jason Knapp, Jason Donald, & Carlos Carrasco. While the Phillies addressed their need for an additional frontline starter and a backup outfielder, what exactly did the Indians get in return?

The centerpiece of the deal for the Indians are the two pitchers they received in Knapp and Carrasco. Knapp has yet to turn 19, and is throwing in the 97 MPH range. He is a few years away from the Majors, but the scouts drool over his upside. At his age, the Indians can afford to bring him along slowly. Carrasco at 22 entered the year as the #2 prospect in the Phillies organization, and is a veteran of two Futures games. He has hit a speed bump in AAA, posting an ERA over 5, however, he could benefit from the change of moving into a lower pressure situation in Cleveland. He throws in the mid 90's with two good offspeed pitches. Donald projects as a backup infielder, as he is hitting .230 at AAA. Marson adds to an already crowded catching situation with Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach. The departure of Ryan Garko could allow Martinez to shift to first base full-time and open the door for Marson to compete for the full-time catching gig.

This trade begs the question of the title of the article, did the Indians acquire a hidden treasure from the Phillies or a bag of fools gold? Does the scouting department of the Indians see something that the rest of us do not? Was this the best offer that they could get for Lee at the trade deadline? Approaching age 31, do they Indians feel that Lee's best days are behind him? Will the two pitchers reach their potential and eventually fill the void left by the trade of Lee?

With any trade, as time passes, the answer will be revealed. History, however, tells us a different story of prospect trades gone to bust. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick offers his view on nine trades where prospects didn't pan out entitled, "They're Called 'Prospects' For a Reason".

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Danny Ozark, 85, Phillies Manager, WWII vet and Dodgers farmhand

Death is never a timely thing, especially when there are questions that are left unanswered. I was left with many when the news broke of Danny Ozark's passing on May 7, 2009. A few months earlier, I had interviewed a spry Ozark on his cell phone for almost an hour about his baseball career and his attempts to ascend through the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Ozark, like many others of his era, was whisked away from professional baseball to serve in World War II, only to return to a crowded minor league system that was about to experience the effects of integration.

Danny Ozark / Topps
Ozark entered professional baseball in 1942, starting out as a second baseman for Brooklyn's Class D team in Olean. It was there where he was teammates with a future Brooklyn Dodger, Cal Abrams. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted into the Army.

"I was in the Army, and we landed in Europe on D-Day," Ozark said in 2008. "I received the Purple Heart in St. Laurent, France and got out in 1945. I spent three years in WWII, all of them in Europe. I never saw a baseball during WWII. I wasn't even sure I was going to go back [to baseball]."

Ozark described just what it was like to be there on D-Day.

"Well, it was I guess, the way alot of people ask me, and the best thing I probably said was, 'My underwear was very dirty and I didn't have a chance to change it for two weeks.' We were scared like everyone else, but we were young kids and alot of that stuff didn't bother us. Once you've seen death and people dying slowly, things like that stay in your memory. I can still visualize guys drowning after getting out of LCT's (landing craft tanks), because the water was deeper than they anticipated. Some of the guys that went down with the 60 lb. tanks drowned and we never saw them again." 

He was wounded in combat and later received a Purple Heart for his bravery.

"I received a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds off of an artillery shell," he said. "The other battle we were in was the Battle of the Bulge. I spent time in Antwerp while the bulge was coming towards us because of the shipping they had in the docks where all of our equipment came in."

Returning from WWII in the winter gave Ozark very little time to prepare himself for spring training.

"When I got home in December 1945, my brother didn't go into the service and I played basketball with him until spring training," he said. "I got my legs in better shape than I had them before, but I never got to throw or anything like living in Buffalo [in the winter]."

Ozark, as well as many others returning from the war found themselves behind the curve entering Florida in February of 1946. They were also walking into history unfolding before their eyes.

"I didn't even pick up a baseball you know. Brooklyn sent me a contract to report to Spring Training in February. They brought us down to Sanford, Florida. That's where Jackie [Robinson] came in, right near Daytona Beach. It was the first time I got to meet him too. We were in spring training together in '46. Heck, the first week we started playing exhibition games. I got a sore arm like everyone else. We couldn't throw the ball, yet they kept pushing us. It took time to get our arms in shape, our bats to hit the ball, and for us catch the ball because we never played baseball [during the war]."

There was immediate competition from the players that lived on the West Coast and those that spent their military service playing baseball.

"Guys in the service, especially in the Navy, some of them played with teams in exhibition games where the war was going on, guys like [Bob] Feller, Virgil Trucks, etc. We had so many guys coming from California where they can play year round. They were so far ahead of us in spring training, fielding, hitting, throwing, as far as baseball was concerned. It took us a whole month to catch up, sometimes longer because so many players in the service came out and reported. Pitchers hurt their arms because they threw too soon. [Branch] Rickey wanted to see how hard you could throw. We didn't have the doctors like they have today where you could mend in a short time and bring it back like it used to be."

At one point during that 1946 spring training, there were over 600 players in camp. Ozark marveled at the talent that was there.

"There were so many guys that could have surely made it," he said. "It wasn't that there was a shortage of talented players, there was a shortage of roster spots for them in the majors."

The problem with having so many players in camp was due to the reserve clause; you weren't free to leave for another team that could use your services.

"We were in there like a bunch of slaves," he recalled. "That was for every major league team. We had farm system, and you couldn't leave them unless they released or traded you. [Brooklyn] wouldn't listen to you. They said, 'Hang on and you'll get your opportunity'."

For Ozark, that opportunity never came. After returning from WWII, the Dodgers converted him from a second baseman to a first baseman. Not only was he behind Robinson at first base [in 1947], when Robinson moved over to second base, he was stuck behind another Dodger mainstay, Gil Hodges. He looked back at what was a hopeless situation.

"Every year, I was stuck behind Gil Hodges. Where could I go?"

He felt like he had at least one supporter in the long time Dodgers executive Fresco Thompson.

"Fresco Thompson did the most for me," he said. "He helped me along quite a bit. He gave me a rule book. He said, 'You read this thing, and as your career goes on this thing will come in as handy as you can imagine.' He admired my family. He liked me and kept visiting me wherever I managed. I felt like I was going to get a shot to going up there [to Brooklyn]."

He did the best he could playing out the string in the Dodgers farm system, experiencing a few brushes when he thought he was going to get called up.

"The closest I thought I was going to get was in 1953. I always played against the big club in exhibitions, but they never took me though if they had an A or B game. Brooklyn needed a third baseman at that time, as they had [Don] Hoak and [Don] Zimmer [in Montreal]. I think finally they picked up Billy Cox and he was struggling too that year. I was hitting really well and Fresco came to the ballpark to watch me. I asked Tommy Holmes, 'Why did you put me at third base? I had no time there.' He said, 'Just to give you a change, we had Clint Weaver at first base, he was left-handed'. I wondered after all of these years if Fresco Thompson was looking at me to play third base." 

A few years later, Ozark thought that opportunity was once again knocking on his door.

"In '55, the same thing happened," he said. "I was sure I was going to go in '55. Hodges was having a tough year and they needed a third baseman and a first baseman. Thompson came again [to see me], but Frank Kellert took my place in '55. I'm almost 100% sure that is what happened."

Ozark batted over .300 in both AA and AAA. He was also among the league leaders in home runs every season. At times he felt like he was getting used to shore up the farm teams of the Dodgers instead of getting a shot at the big league club.

"You take the Kansas City team of the Yankees," he said. "[Lew] Burdette was there. I used to wear those guys out. They had [Moose] Skowron and [Bob] Cerv on their way up. These guys looked at me like, 'What is this guy doing down here?' You could have said, 'I guess I'll never make it,' but I never gave up. I just played to win."

He seemingly played for every farm club in the Dodgers organization, moving around so much that he almost hung it up in 1950.

"They sent me from AAA to Class B [Newport News] and then I went to Elmira [Class A]. It seemed like every time they sent me somewhere, it was a losing proposition. They sent me there to build up the team. We won the pennant in Neport News, I was the most valuable and popular player. In Elmira in 1950, I went back to St Paul, made two-to-three trips out of St. Paul [to Ft. Worth]. We really liked it there [St. Paul]. Our first child was born there in 1949. In 1950, they sent me to Elmira. That was when I was close to saying goodbye. They called me back to St. Paul though, and I kept going."

As we returned to discuss Jackie Robinson and the topic of baseball's integration, Ozark brought up two pioneers in their own rights, Hall of Famer Willard Brown and Clinton "Butch" McCord. Both were alumni of the Negro Leagues, and Brown holds the distinction of being the first African-American to hit a homerun in the American League. While Brown sputtered in his short trial with the St. Louis Browns in 1947, Ozark saw flashes of greatness from the 40 year-old player in the Texas League that Puerto Ricans labeled "Ese Hombre".

"I was in a home run contest with Willard Brown," Ozark recalled. "They gave us 10 swings, he beat me 9-8. He was kind of a hot dog. He could run, but never energized himself. He had a good arm and good power."

He explained how McCord's inspired play in heavily segregated Macon, Georgia mesmerized the fans.

"I had Butch McCord in Macon," he said. "He was a super guy. A good contact hitter, he didn't strike out much. He hit over .300. He became the most popular player on the team and the MVP. He was pretty close to 30 years old when I had him, and wasn't the one the organization was watching to replace Hodges at first base."

Towards the end of our discussion Ozark reflected on his coaching and managerial days in baseball.

"I retired in 1984 from managing after getting 20 years in the pension for being a major league coach and manager. I still worked for the Giants as a scout, reporting to Tom Haller who was the GM at the time. I worked for the Dodgers all my life until '72. I went back with them from '80-'82, coaching in the World Series versus the Yankees which we won in 1981. I was in three World Series with them. As I look back, five of us from the 1955 Fort Worth team, Sparky [Anderson], Dick Williams, Norm Sherry, Maury Wills, and myself all went into managing. Talk about a lineup!"

Ozark, as many others from his generation shook his head about how modern pitchers rarely throw a complete game.

"Alot of guys that are pitchers now can't finish games because the pitching coaches are counting clickers all games. The only person that knows when it is time to come out is the man upstairs. How can you apply the same rule [100 pitches] to each pitcher? We have two different bodies, you live differently, you have different eating habits, take different vitamins, etc. How can you tell whose arm can last longer?"

He cited changes in the height of the pitching mound, as well as increases in strength training as reasons for pitchers being injured more frequently.
 
"Today, guys like Clemens lift 300 lbs. In my day, you couldn't lift a feather. You had to have loose limbs. They can throw harder, yet they are tearing muscles more, due to the extra strength training. The big factor in pitching came when they changed the dimensions of the mound, when they flattened it out. They're using more of their arm instead of their legs and back, going downhill. Who would have thought that someone like Spahn would pitch the way he did for that many years? Now these relievers can't go more than one inning and get hurt. The mound has an effect and the baseball itself. They'll never raise the mound again because people want to see action."

Living in Vero Beach in 2008 gave him the opportunity to visit Dodgertown for the last time before the Dodgers moved to Arizona. The thought of the Dodgers moving signaled an end of an era to Ozark.

"It was sad to see the Dodgers leave Dodgertown, as I spent alot of time there with the organization," he said. "I went to Dodgertown the last year to watch a few games, and to visit Joe Torre, Tommy Lasorda, and Larry Bowa."

Ozark spent over 40 years in baseball as a player, coach, manager and scout. A baseball lifer and World War II veteran, he was a true hero and gentleman in every sense of the word. Some reporters had commented that Ozark was "too nice," when he managed the Phillies in the 1970s, but after speaking with him I couldn't imagine Ozark any other way. We could have kept on going that afternoon, but I felt that I had already occupied enough of his time. Upon ending the interview, Ozark left me with these final words.

"Anytime you need me, you give me a buzz,"  he said.

I wrote him three days before his death to see how he was doing. I can only wonder if he received my letter before he passed.

Rest in peace Danny Ozark. The man upstairs might need some good counsel on when that pitcher needs to come out.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Jack 'Lucky' Lohrke, 85, New York Giants Infielder, 1924-2009

The ballplayer who earned the nickname "Lucky" for his escapes from brushes with death, died on April 29th at the age of 85. Jack "Lucky" Lohrke was an infielder in the Major Leagues from 1947-1953 with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies, appearing in two games for the Giants during the 1951 World Series. After his playing days had came to an end, Lohrke shied away from the 1946 Spokane Indians bus crash that earned him his nickname. Lohrke moved to San Jose in 1971 and lived there until his death. To read more in-depth about Lohrke, Sports Illustrated interviewed Lohrke 1994 about his career and his moniker. The piece was entitled, "O Lucky Lohrke."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bennett Flowers, 81, Former MLB Pitcher 1927-2009

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of former MLB pitcher Bennett Flowers, on February 18, 2009. He was 81.

Flowers spent 15 seasons in professional baseball from 1945-1960, with parts of four seasons in the major leagues. Flowers pitched in the majors for the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. He held the American League record for pitching in nine consecutive games in 1953 until it was broken by Dale Mohorcic in 1986.


I had the opportunity to interview Bennett Flowers in October of 2008 regarding his experiences playing professional baseball, serving in WWII and his successes selling electric motors and parts after baseball.


He signed after trying out in front of 16 different scouts in 1945 with the Boston Red Sox organization to play in Roanoke for an $8,500 bonus. At that tryout, the Red Sox didn't even have an official team representative there, it was a college coach from the University of North Carolina who was also a scout that signed Flowers to the Red Sox. The following year, he enlisted in WWII at Fort Bragg, and wound up in Fort Benning as a paratrooper. Upon returning from his military service, he quickly ascended up the ranks of the Red Sox organization. He posted a 17-8 record in 1951 at Scranton, which was enough for the Red Sox to call him up at the end of the season.

Here is the contract from the Boston Red Sox that purchased him from the Scranton team that season.
Reflecting on his career, he had great memories of playing with Hall of Fame teammates such as Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Robin Roberts, Al Kaline and Jim Bunning.

Below is a short video clip of Flowers throwing out the first pitch at a minor league game on his 80th birthday. My condolences go out to the family of Mr. Flowers. A true gentleman from baseball's "golden era."