Showing posts with label SABR. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SABR. Show all posts

Friday, September 2, 2016

Jackie Hernandez recalls historic first all-Black major league lineup 45 years later

On September 1st, 1971, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh made history when he fielded the first all-Black lineup Major League Baseball had ever seen. Starting at shortstop was Jackie Hernandez, a Cuban native who was in his seventh big league season.

Jackie Hernandez / 1972 Topps

Earlier this summer, Hernandez discussed highlights from his professional career at the SABR 46 conference in Miami. One of his most memorable moments was his inclusion in the ground-breaking lineup.

“To play in the all-Negro lineup, that was great for me,” Hernandez said. “I will never forget that. I never think that will happen again, a whole lineup of Blacks and Latins. That goes with me for life.”

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 step in his journey, Oldis seemingly met a roadblock either off or on the field he had to navigate in order to advance. From the tenuous position of a backup catcher either one roster move 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 endured more than most would have tolerated to keep on playing.

Throughout all of the challenges, 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.

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, January 26, 2014

Charlie Osgood | 17-year-old hurler for the Brooklyn Dodgers dies at 87

Charlie Osgood, a pitcher of one game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944, died January 23, 2014, in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. He was 87.

In the summer of 1944, with the Brooklyn Dodgers roster depleted by players leaving for their World War II service, Branch Rickey reached into the depths of his available talent pool to pluck seven different players aged 18 or younger to fill the void left by his departed veterans.

Charlie Osgood / Author's Collection
For one of his recruits, Rickey didn't have to look any farther than the Dodgers' family. Clyde Sukeforth, the Dodgers scout who later gained notoriety for his instrumental role in scouting and signing Jackie Robinson, had a nephew in Osgood who was a prized high school pitching star in Massachusetts. Desperate to stem their pitching woes, Rickey signed Osgood directly to the major league club.

Fresh from facing high school competition, Osgood comprised a Dodgers bullpen that included fellow teenagers Cal McLish and Ralph Branca, a trio so young that Harold C. Burr of The Sporting News dubbing Rickey’s nubile talent, “Brooklyn’s Nursery School.”

Osgood made his major league debut on June 18, 1944,  against the Philadelphia Blue Jays (nee Phillies) at the tender age of 17. Pitching in relief of his elder statesmen of McLish and Branca, he had difficulty with his control, walking three batters and hitting another. Despite his wildness, he managed to escape with allowing only one run in three innings of work. It would be his only appearance in the major leagues.

A few weeks after his debut, Burr reported in the July 6, 1944 edition of The Sporting News, that the Dodgers had sent Osgood to Class B Newport News for more seasoning. He finished the season shuttling between their farm clubs in Trenton and Montreal, playing a few games at each stop. At the end of the year, he was left unprotected by the Dodgers in the minor league draft and signed by the Chicago Cubs.

Osgood’s career was interrupted in 1945 to serve in the United States Coast Guard during World War II. He returned to the Cubs organization in 1946, and after two pedestrian seasons in the low minors, Osgood was out of professional baseball.

In his post-playing days, he graduated from Suffolk University and went on to work as a credit manager at the Boston Globe before retiring in 1988. For most of his retirement, Osgood remained elusive to fans and collectors, ignoring requests for interviews and signatures. Only in the last few years of his life, did he entertain some of the mail that was sent his way, including the homemade baseball card below.

Charlie Osgood

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flashback - Jim 'Mudcat' Grant homers during Game Six of the 1965 World Series

Much talk has been made during the 2013 World Series about the Boston Red Sox losing the advantage of their designated hitters as the series moved to St. Louis. First baseman Mike Napoli was relegated to the bench in favor of David Ortiz, and the Red Sox could be forced to send their pitcher to the plate in a potentially game deciding spot.

Jim 'Mudcat' Grant homers during Game Six of the 1965 World Series
During Game Six of the 1965 World Series, before the advent of the designated hitter, the Minnesota Twins sent Jim "Mudcat" Grant to the plate in the sixth inning against Los Angeles Dodgers hurler Claude Osteen. With his team facing elimination and clinging to a 2-0 lead, Grant was determined to make Osteen pay for intentionally walking second baseman Frank Quilici.

SABR member Joseph Wancho described the heroics that followed in Grant's SABR bio.

"With the Twins leading 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth, second baseman Frank Quilici was intentionally walked to bring Mudcat to the plate. Grant then drilled a home run to right-center to give the Twins a 5-0 lead. He became the second American League pitcher to hit a home run in World Series history. Mudcat forced a game seven by beating the Dodgers with his pitching and hitting. He went the distance, giving up one run on six hits, striking out five batters and walking none. “I really didn’t know how long I would go,” said Grant. “I just figured I’d go as long as I could for as hard as I could.”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cot Deal, 90, pitched for the Red Sox and Cardinals

Ellis "Cot" Deal, who spent 50 years in professional baseball as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as a coach for numerous organizations, passed away Tuesday May 21, 2013. He was 90.
Cot Deal 1954 Topps Archives /

Deal's career is expertly detailed by SABR member Patrick Doyle in his SABR biography.

Doyle's research on Deal's career also appears in the book, "Spahn, Sain, and Teddy Ballgame: Boston's (almost) Perfect Baseball Summer of 1948."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bob DiPietro, former Boston Red Sox outfielder, dies at 85

Bob DiPietro, a former outfielder for the Boston Red Sox who earned the nickname The Rigatoni Rifle because of his tremendous throwing arm, died two days after his 85th birthday in Yakima, Wash., on September 3, 2012.

A few years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview DiPietro for his SABR biography. Even though DiPietro only made it to the plate 12 times (all in 1951) during his major league career, it was one that included brushes with Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. In addition to being linked to some of the biggest stars that baseball has ever known, he proudly served the country in World War II, and went on to run a successful advertising business in Yakima.

He is survived by his wife Bertie, sons Bob and Mark and their wives Sheryl and Marcy, grandchildren Kiley, Joe, Lexi and Paul.