Showing posts with label St. Louis Cardinals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label St. Louis Cardinals. Show all posts

Monday, August 13, 2012

Frank Evans, 90, played in the Negro Leagues and coached in the Cardinals organization

Frank Evans stayed with the game he loved until the day he died. The former Negro League player and longtime scout and coach for the Louisville Redbirds of the St. Louis Cardinals organization passed away August 3rd in Opelika, Ala., at the age of 90.

Frank Evans 1985 Louisville Redbirds Card
Evans began his playing career as a teenager in 1937 and stayed active well into his 40s, playing as an outfielder, first baseman, and catcher with the Birmingham Black Barons, Cleveland Buckeyes, and the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. After the color line broke, Evans batted .313 in a short stint with Class C minor league teams in Port Arthur and Borger, Texas in 1954 at the age of 32.

Well after he hung up his glove and cleats, Evans was recruited by major league All-Star and future big league manager Jim Fregosi to be his first base coach in Louisville for the 1984 and 1985 seasons. Infielder Willie Lozado who played under the tutelage of Evans in 1985, said via e-mail that he brought a great amount of spirit to the clubhouse.

"Frank was a good man that always had something positive to say," Lozado wrote. "He will be missed."

A few of Evans’ other prized pupils during that time were Vince Coleman, Terry Pendleton, and Jose Oquendo, all of whom would figure prominently in the Cardinals 1987 National League pennant-winning team.

A few years back, I called Evans at his home in Alabama to discuss his career in the Negro Leagues. My recorder wasn’t working, so I just tried to soak in his vast experiences the best I could. This was at the time of President Obama’s election, and Evans was enthusiastic about his chances, a far cry from the segregation he faced in his youth. He spoke of the long bus rides, hanging his uniform outside the window while traveling to the next city, all with the hope that they might be able to find a place that would feed them while they filled up for gas. Even with the harsh indignities that he faced as a player, Evans remained enthusiastic about the game, telling me of a baseball clinic he finished a few days ago.

As our conversation progressed and I told him that I still played, he even offered me the opportunity to visit him in Alabama to help with my swing. He assured me with a few days of work that he could turn around my fortunes at the plate. I kept his number in my phone, knowing that if I ever made it down that way, that I could grab some hitting advice that I could not only use but also pass on to my players. Even though I didn’t visit, the offer of help to someone he had just encountered on the phone only thirty minutes prior spoke volumes about his generosity and love for the game.


The Topps Company honored Evans in their 2009 Allen and Ginter set, providing him with his first nationally issued baseball card. Evans was once again in the spotlight, allowing him the opportunity to not only provide his autograph, but to further spread the word about the greatness of the Negro Leagues.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Award winning author George Vecsey praises Musial at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse

George Vecsey (r.) with metroBASEBALL editor Nick D'Arienzo
George Vecsey, the long-standing New York Times writer, who recently stepped down from his column, appeared last week at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse to discuss the great Stan Musial. The Hall of Famer is the subject of Vecsey's latest book, An American Life (ESPN, 2011). The event, which was sponsored in partnership with metroBASEBALL magazine, attracted a full house of enthusiasts who participated with Vecsey in a podcast from the store.

Click here to see photos and read a full review of Vecsey's appearance and thoughts on the St. Louis Cardinal legend.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Russell Rac, 81, hit four home runs in one game while with the St. Louis Cardinals organization

Mark Whiten gained notoriety when, as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1993, he hit four home runs in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. While Whiten was the first Cardinal to achieve this feat, he wasn’t the first in the Cardinal family to do so. Long-time St. Louis farmhand Russell Rac set the single-game Venezuelan record when he hit four on January 8, 1956 while playing for Pastora. At the time, he was only the eighth player in professional baseball history to reach that mark.

Rac passed away October 11th in his hometown of Galveston, TX, with little fanfare at the age of 81. Some 55 years ago; however, he sat among the top of the prospects in the Cardinals organization.

Rac (c.) in between Don Blasingame (l.) and Rip Repluski (r.)
Rac’s power output in winter ball, combined with his .312 average at AA Houston in 1955, placed Rac on the cover of the March 1956 issue of Baseball Digest. The scout's take on Rac read as follows, “Murders fast ball, pulls inside pitch, but weak on curve. His bat will have to carry him, as fielding, throwing and running are only average.”

Interviewing Rac in 2008, he gave an assessment of his talents that mirrored that of the scout quoted in Baseball Digest.

“I just happened to be in the wrong organization, because I was fast, but I wasn’t fast enough for center fielders,” he said.

The momentum he built entering the 1956 season was put to a halt by Cardinals GM Frank “Trader” Lane. While playing in Venezuela, Rac picked up a copy of the Sporting News to find he had fallen out of favor with the new GM, without even talking to him.

“Frank Lane came to the Cardinals, and the Cardinals had set a record of signing all of their players way before spring training,” he said. “I pick up the Sporting News in Venezuela and he made some sort of ugly remark about not signing a contract. I never got a contract, that’s the truth. They sent it to Mexico City. Here I am playing in Maracaibo and they sent it to Mexico City. I go to spring training and everybody wants to know why I didn’t sign. I said, ‘I can’t sign a contract I never got.’”

Rac started out the winter playing in Mexico City, but switched to Venezuela without notifying the Cardinals. After some frantic searching, Lane found Rac in Venezuela and offered him a contract.

“The contract they offered me was $600 per month,” he said. “What was the big holdout? Hold out for what? I was tickled to death to go to spring training.” 

His difficulties with Lane, whether they were rightfully deserved, put him in the dog house during spring training. He received a limited chance to show that he was fit for the big leagues.

“[Lane] was a sorry guy in my book,” said Rac. “I never got an opportunity. Fred Hutchinson was the manager and I never got an opportunity to play.”

After 1956, Rac would never get another shot with the parent club, playing two more seasons until he retired in 1958, finishing up what was an 11-year minor league career. He didn’t go quietly; he batted .312 his final year, placing him among the leaders in Texas League in hitting. Back injuries, however, prevented him from continuing.

“I played [ten] seasons and I couldn’t play no more,” he said. “My back hurt and it wasn’t no fun playing.”

After baseball, Rac was fortunate enough to find work in his hometown of Galveston with the longshoremen. He was a clerk and a timekeeper. He worked in that position for 33 years until retiring in 1992.

Our 2008 conversation allowed him to reflect on some of the characters he met during his travels. The one that stood out the most was his teammate, a 19-year-old second baseman, Earl Weaver. Even as a rookie, Weaver showed traits as a player that made him such a great manager.

“You remember Earl Weaver?” Rack asked. “That was my roommate. … He was a helluva second baseman. He reminded you of [Eddie] Stanky. In other words, he couldn’t do anything great, but I tell you what, he was at the right place, at the right time, all the time.”

Rac held tight to the effects the reserve clause had on the players of his generation. With the Cardinals in full control of his destiny, he had little choice to play until they decided to promote him, trade him, or retire. He toiled in the minor leagues waiting for a chance that never came.

“Baseball is different today than it was back then,” he said. “In those days, you could be the number one player in the world and [if] they had a guy in front of you that’s been there and did a good job, you never would get an opportunity. … They held you forever.”

He paid tribute a fellow Cardinal Curt Flood and his crusade to challenge the reserve clause. He feels current players owe a debt of gratitude to Flood and should do more to honor his legacy.

“It was terrible [the reserve clause],” he said. “That’s why all [of] these players should pitch in a fund and send money to Curt Flood’s wife because of what he did. They wouldn’t have the opportunities they have today. Now they’re paying these guys three-to-four million to sign and they haven’t done anything.”

He stressed that even with free agency and million dollar contracts, the political nature of the sport has remained a constant.

“Baseball was politics and still is today,” he said. “It’s like jobs; you have to be in the right place at the right time.”

Well for Rac, one day in Venezuela, far away from the politics of American baseball, he found himself at the point where the right place and the right time met.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

'Macho Man' Randy Savage remembered by his baseball teammate Tito Landrum

Before there was a "Macho Man," Randy Savage was known better as Randy Poffo, an aspiring baseball player beating the bushes trying to get to the major leagues. Poffo was an outfielder, catcher, and first baseman in the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds organizations from 1971-1974.

The former WWF and WCW World Champion died tragically on Friday, May 20, 2011, in an auto accident in Florida. He was a beloved figure in the arena of professional wrestling, known for his trademark "Oooh yeah!" that he would exclaim during his colorful interviews.

Tito Landrum & 1973 Orangeburg Cardinals Program
Playing for the Orangeburg Cardinals in 1973, the 20-year-old Savage was a teammate of a fresh faced rookie outfielder, Tito Landrum, playing together under the tutileage of Jimmy Piersall. Landrum enjoyed a nine-year career in the majors, winning a World Series with the Baltimore Orioles in 1983 and appeared in the 1985 World Series filling in brilliantly for an injured Vince Coleman.

Landrum, during an interview from his physical therapy practice Friday evening, recalled Poffo showing off his wrestling skills while he was still active as a ballplayer.

"We actually played a little bit in St. Petersburg and that's when I remember coming in the clubhouse and him making these mock rings," Landrum said. "He would get in there with some of the other players and they would do these little wrestling choreographed shows for us and it was always quite entertaining."

While Poffo wasn't a surefire prospect, Landrum remembered the same spirit that he displayed on the field that followed him into his long career as a wrestler.

"Randy was a very intense individual in baseball," he said. "I remember Randy being pretty good offensively and defensively. We just had some guys in front of him that he wasn't going to move anywhere. He didn't have the best athletic ability, but he certainly had the most qualified heart that I've ever seen. He just knew he was going to make it big somehow, someway. Of course he didn't make it in baseball, [but] he saw another avenue and he made it."

Landrum relayed another story about his travels with Poffo in the minor leagues. The two were roommates and would jokingly dispute about who owed for last month's rent.

"We actually roomed together in Orangeburg and every time we saw each other, we'd always in front of friends make a big deal about who owed who for the last month's rent," he recalled. "To be honest with you, right down to this day I couldn't tell you if I owed the last month's rent or he owed the last month's rent. I got moved up so I probably owed him, so we'd always make a joke of that."

Years later, Landrum had the opportunity to see Poffo perform at the peak of his wrestling career live and in person. There was one problem, Landrum didn't know of Poffo's Macho Man persona.

"Of course we moved on and all of a sudden one day I got this message to see him at a wrestling match," he said. "I was like, Who is this 'Macho Man?' I didnt know any 'Macho Man.' Then they told me it was Randy Poffo! I just had to go see Randy, so we hooked up there."

Watching Poffo as a professional in his second life as a wrestler left Landrum with wonderful memories of his former teammate. He relished the thought of Poffo's performances.

"Living here in New York I used to go and watch Raw," he said. "He'd leave me tickets and I'd go down there and I was always laughing. I'd tell him, 'I've got more teeth in my mouth than the entire front row Randy!' We had some great times."

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.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bill White explains the making behind his book 'Uppity'

Former New York Yankees broadcaster Bill White made an appearance this Saturday at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey to promote his memoir, Uppity: My Untold Story of the Games People Play. Legions of Yankee fans are familiar with White only from his work in the broadcast booth alongside Phil Rizzuto; however, White was a pioneer in baseball, a member of a select group of African-American players to debut in the 1950s. He endured racial taunts and the laws of Jim Crow segregation to achieve a celebrated 13-year major league career with the Giants, Cardinals, and Phillies.

Bill White signing copies of his book Uppity / N. Diunte

White attempted to redirect all of the negativity he faced from the fans and the opposition into his output on the field. He explained how he turned the racial epithets hurled at him as the only African-American player in the Carolina League in 1953 into fuel against the opposing pitchers.

"I was the lone African-American in the entire league," White recalled. "We played in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Durham. All of the teams were in the South. After I got down there and I figured out what I was going through, I'd rather I played someplace else, but I stayed there, overcame that, and it made me play harder. I hit almost .300 and drove in close to 100 runs. I think that what I went through, back to what my mother and grandmother taught me, it helped me do better. I took it out on the baseball."

Between 1956 and 1969, White was named to the All-Star team five times, won six Gold Gloves and a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. White then spent 18 seasons doing commentary for Yankees games from 1971-1988 before being named President of the National League in 1989. At the time, White was the highest ranking African-American in professional sports.

After his five-year tenure presiding over the National League, White washed his hands with baseball after a 40-year career as a player, broadcaster and executive. He became a recluse, staying far away from the spotlight of the media. Asked if he currently follows the major leagues, he responded with a resounding, “No.” So at 77, then why did he choose such a public display of his career?

"I think that there are a lot of young kids, not necessarily minorities that gotta realize they can do whatever they want to do if they work hard enough," he said. "It doesn't make much difference where you come from. I grew up in the South in a steel mill town. I took advantage of whatever opportunities were given to me. I had parents who said, ‘Hey you're going to get an education, you are somebody, you've gotta work twice as hard as the people you are competing with to be successful, so go out and do it.’ That's the way I've worked all my life and the way I've done things all my life. That’s why I wrote the book."

White’s title Uppity, which represented the then-white view of the educated, high-achieving blacks, stemmed from a comment he heard from Giants’ executive Chub Feeney.

"When I came out of the Army, two years later Orlando Cepeda was Rookie of the Year," he recalled. "Right behind him was Willie McCovey. I said to management, ‘Find me some place to play,’ and the GM said, 'Bill, you're too uppity.'"

At that time, the executives did not care for players giving them orders to be traded, especially from those that were black. White later received his wish, being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959. It is there where his career flourished, beginning a string of five All-Star appearances in six seasons.

White, who spends much of his time traveling in his mobile home, reflected on the return to where his big league career began in 1956. It was an awe struck experience that has stayed close to him for over 50 years.

"Like any other young player, I was star struck playing with guys like Willie Mays and Alvin Dark," he said. "I lived right above the Polo Grounds and I walked to work. As a kid coming from a small town, I didn't really get a chance to see the great things in New York, the Statue of Liberty, plays, and museums. I didn't get a chance to see those things and I missed them."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Marty Marion, former National League MVP, dies at 93

Marty Marion
Marty Marion, the 1944 National League MVP, nicknamed "The Octopus" for his tall build and long arms, died Tuesday night from natural causes. He was 93.

At 6'2" in height, Marion revolutionized the shortstop position when it was known primarily as a place for short and speedy defenders. His range and soft hands were his trademark, helping to pave the way for other tall shortstops such as Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

Marion was voted MVP of the National League in 1944, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series pennant. He would play 11 seasons for the Cardinals from 1940-50 and then two additional seasons as a player-manager for the St. Louis Browns from 1952-53.

As a manger, Marion managed the Cardinals in 1951 and then replaced Rogers Hornsby as manager of the Browns in 1952. He took over the reigns of the Chicago White Sox ballclub late in the 1954 season and managed them through the end of the 1956 season.

Marion received as high of 40% of the Hall of Fame vote when he was eligible. In later years, he received support from the Veterans Committee. Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda put Marion in the same class as two other Hall of Fame shortstops, stating, "He was an outstanding shortstop for the Cardinals on the same level as Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Recent MLB Passings, Tony Roig, Bill Werle

The baseball family lost two more of its alumni, former Washington Senator infielder Tony Roig and pitcher Bill Werle who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox.

Roig played parts of 21 seasons in professional baseball between 1948 and 1968, spending 1948-1962 primarily in the minor leagues, playing 76 games for the Senators between 1953-1956. After the 1962 season, Roig headed to Japan, hitting 126 home runs (1963-68) with the Pacific League’s Nishitetsu Lions and the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He then went on to become a scout and minor league manager for 30 years. He died October 20, 2010 in Liberty Lake, WA. He was 82.

Werle pitched six seasons in the majors between 1949-1954. He compiled a career record of 29-39 in 185 games, with his best season coming in 1949 with the Pittsburgh Pirates where he posted a 12-13 record with 10 complete games. He began his professional career with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in 1943, pitching with them through 1948 with a brief interruption in 1945 for service in World War II. He would go on to play AAA ball until 1961, serving as a player manager for Hawaii during his final season. This was Werle's introduction to his managerial career, as he mananged eight additional seasons from 1963-1970 at the A and AAA levels. After finishing his career as a manager, he became a scout for the Orioles and Indians for over 20 years. He died November, 27, 2010 in San Mateo, CA due to complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 89.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jay Van Noy, 82, former St. Louis Cardinal and BYU baseball coach

Utah sports legend Jay Van Noy passed away last Saturday at his home in Logan after battling Bacterial Endocarditis. He was 82.

Van Noy was a four-sport athlete at Utah State, competing in baseball, basketball, football and track. He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946 and was also drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1950. Van Noy chose baseball and quickly ascended through the ranks, making the Cardinals ball club in 1951 only after his second full season in the minor leagues.

Van Noy was called up to the big leagues in June of 1951 after getting off to a quick start in Triple-A Rochester. His results with the Cardinals wouldn't match his Triple-A prowess, going 0-7 with six strikeouts in six games. During a 2008 interview I conducted with Van Noy, he discussed his experiences in a major league uniform.

"I pulled a hamstring muscle and that's when they took me up to St. Louis," he said. "They weren't getting the results in Rochester. I was taking my at-bats up there and I was knocking them out of the ballpark. They signed me from there. When you are in that company, it was an honor just to be part of it. They were great baseball people, and they're great individuals, great citizens (Musial, Schoendienst, etc). Nobody tried to cut your throat, they tried to help you. Great people."
Van Noy would continue playing at the Double-A and Triple-A levels until 1960. He went on to become the head baseball coach at Brigham Young University, as well as an assistant in basketball and football. Van Noy was proud of one of his accomplishments while coaching at BYU that wasn't necessarily tied to wins and losses. He was instrumental in moving conference championships away from Sundays.

"My club at BYU, won the conference, and district, but we couldn't go to the championships because it was played on Sundays," he said. "We started the negotiations of that rule, so that if the school can't play on Sunday, that they let them play on Monday."

After his tenure at BYU, he became the director of Logan Parks and Recreation for 17 years. He remained active in baseball by delivering clinics through the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. As we ended our interview, Van Noy shared his sentiments about playing during the 1950s that have been echoed by many of his peers.

"It was the greatest time to come up in baseball," he said. "You came up because you loved baseball. It wasn't commercialized like it is. And the money. When they started paying money and they had money invested in you, it all went down the tubes. We had players that played both sides, offense and defense. It made a great big difference."

More Info -
Aggie Great Jay Van Noy Passes Away - Herald Journal 
Former Aggie Jay Van Noy Passes Away - Utah State Athletics
Jay Van Noy Obituary - Cache Valley


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book Review: Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial


Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial
Wayne Stewart
Triumph Books, 2010
256 pp.

Somehow Stan Musial's name seems to be omitted when discussing the upper echelon of baseball's royalty. He ranks fourth all time in hits (3,630), sixth in RBI's (1,951), appeared in 24 All-Star games and won the National League MVP award three times. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 with over 93% of the votes.

Donora, PA native Wayne Stewart does his best to elevate Musial's standing in the public eye with his biography, "Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial." Stewart treads down a similar path that others have traveled chronicling Musial's upbringing in the small town of Donora. We watch Musial develop into a multi-sport athlete at Donora High School where he would play with Buddy Griffey, the patriarch to the Griffey baseball legacy. He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals at the age of 18 out of high school and the rest shall we say has been well documented.

While Stewart attempts to follow Musial through his Hall of Fame career, he leaves bits and pieces of different stories hanging, leaving you wondering why certain anecdotes weren't further developed or why they were mentioned in the first place. He attempts to fill the gaps by quoting some of Musial's living teammates and opponents, most notably Carl Erskine, who is frequently quoted during the book. Conspicuously absent are testimonials from Musial's long time teammates Red Schoendienst, Marty Marion and Musial himself.

For the younger fans who aren't familiar with the achievements of Musial, "Stan The Man" will serve as a primer about the Cardinal great to whom Albert Pujols respectfully deferred the title of "El Hombre". For the baseball fan or historian that is searching for greater depth into the annals of Musial's career, they may not be satisfied by Stewart's work.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Paul LaPalme, 86, 1923-2010; Former MLB Pitcher with the Pirates, Cardinals, Reds and White Sox

Paul LaPalme, died in Leominster, MA on Sunday February 7, 2010 at the age of 86 after battling a long illness. LaPalme was a left-handed knuckleball pitcher, who pitched seven seasons with four major league teams including the Pirates, Cardinals, Reds and White Sox. He made his debut at the age of 17 in 1941 with Bristol of the Appalachian League, posting an impressive 20 wins. After moving up to Erie the next season, he lost three years of his career due to his World War II service from 1943-1945.

Upon his return from military service, he clawed his way from Class D ball in 1946 to the big show with the Pirates in 1951. He made an immediate impact, pitching a shutout in his first MLB game, but could not duplicate his hot start, finishing with a record of 24-45 in seven seasons. He retired after the 1959 season with Montreal. After baseball, he entered the engraving business, where he owned and operated LaPalme Engravers in Leominster.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Rogers Hornsby - My War With Baseball

Right before he started the 1962 season as a batting coach with the inaugural New York Mets team, Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby collaborated with Bill Surface to put his 48 years in baseball down on paper. Hornsby goes full steam ahead on baseball, witholding nothing back in this 250 page classic. Read the review of "My War With Baseball," to find out why this book is widely sought after by fans and historians.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Don Thompson, 85, former Brooklyn Dodger, 1923-2009

Don ThompsonThe Asheville Citizen-Times reports that former Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves outfielder Don Thompson passed away September 28, 2009 in Asheville, North Carolina after an extended illness. Thompson was originally signed by the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher in 1943, and pitched exclusively for 4 seasons until injuring his arm. During an April 2009 interview with Thompson, he recounted his transformation from a pitcher to an outfielder.

"I started out as a pitcher, but I hurt my arm," Thompson said. "I was in the Red Sox organization at that time with Louisville, and they sent me down to Roanoke. My arm got better but I stayed in the outfield. That’s when St. Louis drafted me (1948). I went to Columbus. I stayed as an outfielder. I didn’t have any desire to pitch."

Even though Thompson was a full-time outfielder, Brooklyn Dodger manager Charlie Dressen would often call on call on him when they were facing a tough lefty.

"Dressen, whenever we had a left handed pitcher pitching against us, he’d want me to throw batting practice to help the guys get ready. I still didn't want to pitch."

Once in the Cardinals organization, Thompson was immediately promoted to the AAA level, and sharpened his skills by playing two years of winter ball in Cuba under the watchful eye of Mike Gonzalez.

"The first year my manager was Mike Gonzalez. I played for Havana. Mike was an old catcher for St. Louis. I was playing in the International League with Rochester. After the 1949 season, he called me to come to Havana for the Winter. I went to Cuba, played for Havana the first year and then Almendares the second year. It helped me a great deal. I was already in shape going into Spring Training. It was sort of a circus down there. They really played hard and expected a lot out of the players."

Thompson's big break with the Dodgers came during the winter of 1949 when he was traded from the Boston Braves to the Dodgers for the legendary Sam Jethroe.

"I played against him in the International League. He was as fast as everyone said he was."

He entered a crowded Dodgers outfield, but managed to stick with the team for three seasons.

"We had seven left fielders in Brooklyn in Spring Training. I opened the season both years (1951 and 1953) in the starting lineup. I was a left-handed hitter, and Dressen, he was playing right-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers and switching things around. He had a platoon going. I wasn’t much of a hitter, but I was a very good fielder and I had good speed."

His defense played a memorable role in the 1953 World Series when he threw out Billy Martin at the plate in Game 4 after replacing Jackie Robinson in left field. During the aforementioned interview, Thompson clearly recounted how the inning unfolded.
"Clem Labine was pitching, he came in for relief. Martin was on second base with two outs. Mantle hit a line drive over Pee Wee’s head. He was hitting left-handed, so I was playing him a little around towards right. He hit the line drive and of course Martin took off, there being two outs. Anyway, I saw Martin running, [3rd base coach] Frankie Crosetti was waving him home. I looked up and I turned it loose. Billy Cox let it go or it would have hit him right in the head. It was about that high. Campy had him by several feet. Martin bent over and tried to knock Campy down. Campy sidestepped him with the ball in his mitt, hit him under the neck and turned him a flip. That was the last out of the game. I replaced Jackie Robinson both games. He could handle the outfield pretty well, but he wasn’t used to it."

Thompson retired after the 1954 season, but it wasn't before he had another brush with greatness. During most of the 1954 campaign, he played with Montreal. Under his wing was a 19 year-old outfielder from Puerto Rico by the name of Roberto Clemente. Thompson knew that the Dodgers had a gem on their hands as soon as Clemente hit the field.

"He worked out with me in center field to start. He had a great arm and he could hit; he hit a lot of bad pitches, like Berra, over his head. He was a wild swinger, but I could tell he was going to be a good ballplayer. I think he got a bonus of $25,000 from the Dodgers. They were trying to hide him. He was eligible for the big league draft. They knew that if they didn’t take him on Brooklyn that he would possibly be drafted. I knew he was going to be great. Roberto had a temper at times, but got along with us well."

After the 1954 season, Thompson returned to Asheville and effectively retired from baseball.

"I had an older brother in Asheville who had a Dodge / Plymouth franchise and I went into the automobile business. I stopped playing baseball completely after that."

He later became a real estate agent and one of the founders of Preferred Properties in Asheville. He was inducted into the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame in 1997.
Don Thompson
Don Thompson avoiding the tag of Ted Kluszewski



Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jackie Collum, 82, 1927-2009 Former Brooklyn Dodger Pitcher

The little lefty from Iowa Jackie Collum died at the age of 82 on August 29, 2009 in Grinnell. Collum, although only 5'7, used a devastating screwball to pitch in parts of 9 seasons in the Major Leagues from 1952-1962 with the Cardinals, Reds, Cubs, Dodgers, Twins and Indians. Prior to playing professionally, he served in the US Army during World War II in the Philippines. Upon his return from military service, he was signed into the St. Louis Cardinals organization, where he posted 24 wins in Class C St. Joseph in 1948. He cited being selected to the 1954 National League All-Star as a batting practice pitcher, as being one of his favorite accomplishments of his Major League career. After baseball, Collum ran Pioneer Oil Company in Grinnell, IA.

Here is a January 2009 article written about Collum by William L. Sherman of the Iowa chapter of SABR, entitled "Jackie Collum, A Living Legend".

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. He spent 15 seasons in professional baseball from 1945-1960, with parts of 4 of those seasons in the Major Leagues. Flowers pitched in the Major Leagues for the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. He held the American League record for pitching in 9 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". May he rest in peace.