Showing posts with label World Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World Series. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Don Larsen Enters Hospice Care

Don Larsen, the New York Yankees 1956 World Series hero has entered hospice care. According to a statement by his son, the 90-year-old Larsen, who lives in Hayden Lake, Idaho, has been recently suffering from esophageal cancer. Larsen is the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in World Series history. His last public appearance was in August 2019, at the St. Louis Browns Historical Society Luncheon.

Don Larsen / Terry Ballard


On behalf of the Larsen family, my wife Nancy and I want to express our heartfelt appreciation to Don Larsen’s many friends and fans who have reached out and contacted us in recent days concerning my father.

Shortly after returning from his annual August trip to St. Louis to attend the St. Louis Browns Historical Society gathering, dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He immediately began a rigorous program of radiation therapy through Cancer Care Northwest. He recently completed that treatment regime.

My dad is keeping active, despite his age (90) and this continuing health challenge. He recently celebrated a 62nd wedding anniversary with my mother, Corrine, on December 7th at Capone’s, his favorite local restaurant in Hayden, Idaho.

Dad is continuing to reside in his home of over twenty-five years overlooking Windy Bay on his beloved Hayden Lake, where he has spent many joyful hours fishing, frequently with me and our sons, Justin and Cody.

My dad and the entire Larsen family are very grateful for the medical care he has received over these recent months through the Kootenai Medical Center and Cancer Care Northwest, as well as the current assistance he is receiving from Hospice of North Idaho. Dad is looking forward to the upcoming baseball season and hopes to attend Yankee spring training once again next year.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Oscar Gamble, Yankees legend known for his powerful bat and Afro, dies at 68

Oscar Gamble, the former New York Yankees outfielder who was best known for his legendary Afro, passed away Wednesday January 31, 2018 in Birmingham, Alabama according to his agent Andrew Levy. He was 68.

Gamble's spectacular hair, which could barely fit underneath his baseball cap, was immortalized on his 1976 Topps Update baseball card. His 'fro is on glorious display in an otherwise horribly airbrushed Yankees uniform.
Oscar Gamble 1976 Topps / Topps

Getting past his hair and digging into the stats on the back of his baseball card, one will find that Gamble amassed 200 home runs over 17 seasons, while appearing in two World Series for the Yankees (1976, 1981).

In retirement, Gamble was a fixture at Old-Timers' Games and other alumni baseball reunions, including the Joe DiMaggio Legends Game in Fort Lauderdale, where Gamble was a fixture for many years. I covered the DiMaggio Legends Game in 2012, where I was able to get these photos of Gamble prior to the game.

Oscar Gamble (r.) with charity game participant / N. Diunte

Oscar Gamble taking batting practice at the 2012 Joe DiMaggio Legends Game / N. Diunte

Oscar Gamble (r.) waiting for Paul Blair (l.) and Ed Kranepool to exchange lineup cards / N. Diunte

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Gene Conley recalls the rocky start to his major league career

At six-foot-eight, Gene Conley towered over his competition on the mound and the hardwood. He used his tremendous athleticism to claim his stake in two professional sports in a way that no other athlete has done since.

The two-sport star earned Major League Baseball and NBA championships respectively with the Milwaukee Braves (1957) and the Boston Celtics (1959-1961), making him the only player ever to accomplish this feat. Sadly, Conley passed away July 4, 2017 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. He was 86.

Gene Conley 1951 Hartford Chiefs
After the Boston Braves lured Conley from his studies at Washington State University at the end of the 1950 school year, Conley’s performance for Class A Hartford in 1951 showed why the Braves persistently recruited him. Conley posted an impressive 20-9 record with a 2.16 ERA, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Eastern League and the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year. After one dominant performance, his catcher and former Negro Leaguer player Stanley Glenn, compared Conley to arguably the greatest pitcher ever.

"You reminded me of Satch tonight," Conley recalled during a 2008 telephone interview from his home.

Conley thought that he would work his way through the minor league ranks, but the slumping Braves had plans otherwise. Looking to capture the magic he displayed in his lone minor league season, the Braves management felt that he could continue his meteoric ascent in the major leagues. To his surprise, the Braves kept Conley on the major league roster when they broke from spring training in 1952.

“They brought me up after one year in A-ball to Boston,” he said. “They sent me down as fast as they brought me up!”

Conley was thrown right into the fire, making his debut in the third game of the season against the eventual National League champion Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a step up Conley acknowledged over a half-century later that he wasn’t ready to make.

“I opened up against the Dodgers,” he said. “I remember the first time I was with Braves after I came up from Hartford, I wasn't ready to pitch in the big leagues. The [Dodgers] were just loaded. Oh all of them, the whole works. I remember I was sitting there in the dugout. Spahn opened the season. Someone asked, ‘Who is pitching tomorrow?’ I heard someone say at the end of the bench, ‘They're going to try that phenom from Hartford I believe.’ I was going to crawl under my seat. I think some old veteran said that. I gave up about four runs and he [Tommy Holmes] took me out in the middle of the game.”

Blitzed by the prospect of facing a lineup filled with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers, there was no way for Conley to pitch around the mighty Brooklyn lineup. He recounted how the litany of talent they had didn’t allow him to focus on stopping one single batter.

“Their lineup was so loaded,” he said, “You didn't pay attention, there were so many stars. Someone asked me the other day, ‘Who gave you a lot of trouble?’ I said shoot, you go down the Dodger lineup. How about [Duke] Snider? [Jim] Gilliam? Pee Wee Reese? [Roy] Campanella? They were all good ballplayers, Gil Hodges too … You didn't worry about any one of them because the other guy was just as good. [Jackie] Robinson was a little over the hill, but he could play like he did. [He would] steal a base, work you for a walk, and drive you crazy on the bases.”

After just four appearances that left him with a 7.82 ERA, Conley was mercifully sent to Triple A where he helped to lead their Milwaukee team to the American Association pennant. He followed in 1953 with 23-win season at Toledo where he once again was bestowed with the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year honors.

He returned to the major leagues for good in 1954, pitching ten straight seasons with the Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Red Sox until persistent arm troubles sidelined him in 1963. He finished his career with a 91-96 record, along with three All-Star selections and the aforementioned World Series championship.

While Conley stood out in baseball for more than just his height, he was humbled by the sheer talent that surrounded him during his career. He enjoyed being able to say that he was able to compete for a long period of time against baseball’s most iconic names.

“When you have eight teams,” he said, “you can imagine how tough the lineups were back in those days. I looked in a book on Hall of Famers, I played with and against more Hall of Famers than I ever saw. What luck did I have? That had to be a good period … I caught all of those guys. I'm glad I pitched through the 50s and 60s. I caught Berra, Mantle, and all of those guys. That was fun.”

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Book Review: Clem Labine: 'Always A Dodger' by Richard Elliott

Clem Labine was a fixture on the Dodgers pitching staff during the entire 1950s decade. From Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Labine stabilized a legendary bullpen as one of the game’s earliest relief specialists. Yet 65 years after his debut, his career achievements remained overshadowed by virtue of being on the same team with Hall of Famers Roy Campanella, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Duke Snider. His fellow bullpen-mate Tommy Lasorda, who made the Hall of Fame as a manager, acknowledge how underrated Labine was amongst his teammates.

“He was a great pitcher, but he was surrounded by too many stars,” Lasorda said. “He played the game the way it was supposed to be played.”

Richard Elliott, a close friend of Labine’s from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, has finally given the Dodger hurler the spotlight he deserves by authoring a very personal biography, “Clem Labine: Always A Dodger.” They first met well before he was a baseball star, while Labine was a part-time employee during high school at Elliott’s father’s apparel company, Jacob Finkelstein & Sons. A relationship that was forged in the late 1940s between a young kid, his father, and one of Brooklyn’s most beloved pitchers, remained bonded for sixty years until Labine’s 2007 death.

Always A Dodger / Richard Elliott

Elliott takes us on an unparalleled look inside Labine’s life that could only come from one with such close access to the Dodger great. From the opening of the book, it is evident that this work is much more about relationships than baseball.

“Long before he was a major league pitcher, Clem Labine was my dad’s best friend,” Elliot wrote in “Always A Dodger.”

Labine worked for Elliott’s family throughout the off-seasons of his major league career and well after he threw his final pitcher for the Mets in 1962. With the major league minimum salary currently exceeding $500,000 per year, the type of kinship that Labine and Elliott experienced from the jobs necessitated to supplement the low ballplayer wages of that era may never again be duplicated.

Filled with Labine and Elliott’s personal family photos, the images contained give “Always A Dodger,” a feel of looking inside someone’s scrapbook with a rich narrative of the life events surrounding each scene. Along the way, Elliott not only details Labine’s greatest triumphs, but also his toughest tragedies.

On the field, Labine was celebrated for his role on two World Series Championship teams, taking home Brooklyn’s only pennant in 1955, and pitching in 1960 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yet away from the field, Labine experienced two tremendous losses in a short period of time that haunted him for the rest of his life. His son Jay lost a leg in Vietnam and his wife Barbara passed away from cancer in 1976, only seven years after his son’s terrible injury.

Elliot explores the inner struggle that Labine dealt with from being away from his family as a ballplayer. While living the life of a major leaguer on the road seems exciting, these players leave their families behind for a half-year, relying on the strength of a strong wife to carry the household. It was a choice that pulled at Labine well after he retired from baseball.

“It troubles me remembering how tortured Clem seemed when he would speak of the compromises to family life which had resulted from his seventeen-year career in professional sports,” Elliott said.

While Labine was lauded for his role as the closer in the Dodgers bullpen, two of the greatest games he ever pitched came as a starter for “Dem Bums.” October 3, 1951 is widely recognized in baseball circles for Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” off of Ralph Branca, but the primary reason that game even had a chance to be played was due to Labine’s masterful performance the day prior. With the Dodgers’ season on the line, he went nine shutout innings to lead the Dodgers to a 10-0 victory. This clutch feat has been historically overlooked due to Thomson’s aforementioned home run the next day.

When the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers squared off in the 1956 World Series, Don Larsen gave the Yankees a 3-2 series edge when he threw the only perfect game in World Series history. With the Dodgers season on the line, Walter Alston gave the ball to Labine, who was nothing short of spectacular, besting Bob Turley for 10 innings to secure the Dodgers 1-0 victory and a chance to play in Game 7. Overshadowed by Larsen's performance, Labine’s extra inning effort is rarely discussed regarding the 1956 World Series.

By penning “Always A Dodger,” Elliot ensures that Labine’s career is not only celebrated, but remembered. In the eight years since Labine’s death, Elliott acknowledges that not a day goes by that Labine is not missed. Many baseball fans hope to share just a few moments with a major leaguer at the ballpark or an autograph show, but Elliott had the fortune of spending a lifetime with Labine by his side. The illustration of their relationship in the book captured the essence of the life that he touched.

“His childhood hero had become his business associate, close friend, and confident,” he said.
 Clem had become, in many ways, a second father.”

* - This article was originally published on October 4, 2015. 

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, June 24, 2014

Tino Martinez in Monument Park, good for business?

Tino Martinez was recently given a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium in front of a sellout crowd, making him the 27th New York Yankee to receive this honor. Martinez's induction was met with much controversy, as the Yankees have multiple Hall of Famers (Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, and Herb Pennock) who have yet to be honored. As the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown found out in 2013, sending in a living player is good for business. The ones who remember the deceased superstars of yesteryear are either too old to attend, or have played their "final inning."

After watching Martinez have his likeness permanently installed in Monument Park, I immediately thought of another Yankee first baseman who won four World Series rings, Moose Skowron. He was a fixture at Old-Timers Day until his passing in 2012. Martinez and Skowron's career stats as a member of the Yankees are below.

Does Martinez's induction warrant consideration for Skowron? Is Martinez truly deserving of the honor, or was this decision motivated by reasons that have to do more with finances and less with baseball?

Tino Martinez stats.
1996 28 NYY AL 155 671 595 82 174 28 0 25 117 2 1 68 85 .292 .364 .466 .830 108 277 18 2 1 5 4 *3/D
1997 ★ 29 NYY AL 158 685 594 96 176 31 2 44 141 3 1 75 75 .296 .371 .577 .948 143 343 15 3 0 13 14 *3/D AS,MVP-2,SS
1998 30 NYY AL 142 608 531 92 149 33 1 28 123 2 1 61 83 .281 .355 .505 .860 124 268 18 6 0 10 3 *3
1999 31 NYY AL 159 665 589 95 155 27 2 28 105 3 4 69 86 .263 .341 .458 .800 104 270 14 3 0 4 7 *3
2000 32 NYY AL 155 632 569 69 147 37 4 16 91 4 1 52 74 .258 .328 .422 .749 89 240 16 8 0 3 9 *3
2001 33 NYY AL 154 635 589 89 165 24 2 34 113 1 2 42 89 .280 .329 .501 .830 114 295 12 2 0 2 2 *3/D MVP-12
2005 37 NYY AL 131 348 303 43 73 9 0 17 49 2 0 38 54 .241 .328 .439 .767 104 133 10 3 0 4 3 *3/D
NYY (7 yrs) 1054 4244 3770 566 1039 189 11 192 739 17 10 405 546 .276 .347 .484 .831 113 1826 103 27 1 41 42
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 6/24/2014.
Moose Skowron stats.
1954 23 NYY AL 87 237 215 37 73 12 9 7 41 2 1 19 18 .340 .392 .577 .969 167 124 8 1 0 2 3/54
1955 24 NYY AL 108 314 288 46 92 17 3 12 61 1 1 21 32 .319 .369 .524 .894 140 151 11 3 0 2 4 3/5
1956 25 NYY AL 134 523 464 78 143 21 6 23 90 4 4 50 60 .308 .382 .528 .910 142 245 16 6 2 1 3 *3/5
1957 ★ 26 NYY AL 122 501 457 54 139 15 5 17 88 3 2 31 60 .304 .347 .470 .818 123 215 17 3 3 7 6 *3 AS,MVP-22
1958 ★ 27 NYY AL 126 502 465 61 127 22 3 14 73 1 1 28 69 .273 .317 .424 .740 106 197 16 4 1 5 1 *3/5 AS
1959 ★ 28 NYY AL 74 309 282 39 84 13 5 15 59 1 0 20 47 .298 .349 .539 .888 145 152 10 3 2 2 0 3 AS
1960 ★ 29 NYY AL 146 584 538 63 166 34 3 26 91 2 3 38 95 .309 .353 .528 .881 141 284 17 2 0 6 2 *3 AS,MVP-9
1961 ★ 30 NYY AL 150 608 561 77 150 23 4 28 89 0 0 35 108 .267 .318 .472 .790 113 265 21 8 0 3 9 *3 AS
1962 31 NYY AL 140 524 478 63 129 16 6 23 80 0 1 36 99 .270 .325 .473 .798 114 226 13 5 1 4 4 *3
NYY (9 yrs) 1087 4102 3748 518 1103 173 44 165 672 14 13 278 588 .294 .346 .496 .842 129 1859 129 35 9 32 29
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 6/24/2014.