Showing posts with label Yankees Old Timers Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yankees Old Timers Day. Show all posts

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Tommy John with luminous visions of facing Mickey Mantle

During Sunday’s Old Timer’s Day, tales of the Yankees legends resurface, many paying homage to the great players of their franchise. Tommy John, who pitched eight of his 26 major league seasons with the Yankees, shared how he was given the royal treatment by Mickey Mantle during their first big league encounter.

“The first time I faced him he hit a home run off of me,” John said on Saturday at the DAC Field Day in Bayside, New York. “It was in Cleveland. It was a fly ball to right field that went out; boom, a home run.”


John only lasted one-third of an inning on May 8, 1964, with manager George Strickland pulling the 20-year-old after one more batter. It was certainly a learning experience for the young lefty, but it was not the last time they would meet.

“He hit one by my head in Chicago,” he said. “I have no idea how close it came, but I saw the ball and I could not react to it. That’s how hard it was hit. I could hear the ball zing by my ear and I could feel the air of the ball. I look at first base at Mickey. He looks at me with that little grin he had and he goes like this, (makes a two-inch gap between his thumb and forefinger), two inches; the ball went right off my ear. If that would have been two [inches] over, it hits me and I’m Herb Score or dead. That’s how hard he could hit the ball.”

Fans and players alike speak of Mantle’s prodigious power with the bat, but often overlooked was Mantle’s blazing speed. Plagued by leg injuries throughout his career, Mantle wrapped his legs from his ankles to mid-thigh just to get on the field. Despite his ailments and the advanced stage of his career, John noticed that when the game absolutely necessitated it, Mantle could summon the speed of his youth.

“He hit a ball to our shortstop Ron Hansen, and his buddy Whitey Ford was pitching,” he said. “The game was close and Hansen charged the ball. He threw to first base and it was bang-bang. That’s how fast Mickey ran. He could only do it once, but his buddy needed a base runner and he almost beat it out on a regular ground ball to shortstop.”

* - This article was originally published June 22, 2014 for Examiner.com

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jim Bouton reflects on Ball Four as he auctions its recordings and manuscripts

Jim Bouton, the author of the revolutionary baseball book, Ball Four, has placed all of his audio recordings, notes, original manuscripts, and the subsequent letters from Major League Baseball urging him to retract his work, up for auction. The 77-year-old retired pitcher, who spent ten seasons in the major leagues with the New York Yankees, Seattle Pilots, Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves, entrusted his collection to SCP Auctions, who expects the memorabilia which also includes some of his game-used items, to fetch in the neighborhood of $300,000.

Jim Bouton - 1965 Topps / Topps
Ball Four provided a look inside the major league clubhouse, with Bouton jotting down notes about anything of interest that happened during the season, whether it was on or off the field. In addition to Major League Baseball, Bouton’s work aroused the ire of the New York Yankees, who allegedly banned him after the 1970 publication of Ball Four from attending Old-Timers’ Day for writing about Mickey Mantle’s drinking habits.

In 1998, Bouton’s son Michael wrote a passionate letter to the New York Times to make the case for his father’s return to the annual Yankees Old-Timers’ Day. Published on Father’s Day, his son’s letter tugged at the heart strings of many, including the New York Yankees, who quickly welcomed Bouton back into the fold.

“That was sort of a bittersweet thing,” Bouton said when we spoke at the 2010 BAT Dinner in New York City. “I had been uninvited for 28 years, so the circumstances of me being invited back had to do with the fact that my daughter Lauren had been killed in an automobile accident the year before.

“My son Michael wrote a letter to the New York Times to be published on Father’s Day and said, ‘The Yankees should let bygones be bygones and that Old Timers Day was always a time for families, as he remembered when we had Old Timers Day when I was a player with the Yankees. So Michael ended the letter, ‘My dad can use all the hugs he can get right now.’ It was such a sweet and beautiful letter. The Yankees read it and invited me back.”

Forty years after his landmark work was published Bouton was still excited to discuss its merits. He explained why Ball Four has persisted despite his uncertainties about how it would be received.

“I thought it would cause a little excitement because I knew I was writing some things that hadn’t been written in a sports book,” he said. “I thought after a year or so it would die down, but it hasn’t. It didn’t hurt that I wrote an update in 1980, 1990, and 2000 to keep it alive. I think the characters in the book are so interesting and so funny; I think that [is what] resonates with people.”

While Bouton didn’t set out to revolutionize the world of sports writing, he acknowledged that Ball Four opened up a new world for authors to explore. Capturing the life of an athlete away from the stories told by box scores and game recaps became of greater interest to both sportswriters and fans alike.

“I think probably after the book came out, it was no longer possible for a sportswriter to be an extension of the team’s public relations department, which is what it usually was,” Bouton said. “Now I think reporters said, ‘Ok, people want to know more about these guys and their batting averages; they want to know what kind of people they are.’ I think because the players are attractively interesting with wonderful backgrounds, the more people know about them, the more they’ll become interested in the game.”

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How Luis Arroyo gave one baseball fan an experience of a lifetime

Luis Arroyo, the great Puerto Rican left-handed reliever for the 1961 New York Yankees World Series championship team, passed away at the age of 88 on Wednesday January 13, 2016 in Puerto Rico after a bout with cancer. As the closer for their team, Arroyo preserved many of their victories, but one of his greatest assists came to a complete stranger well after his playing days ended.

In 2011, while milling around the hotel where the Yankees Old Timers were stationed for the weekend, I encountered Arroyo sitting regally in a chair in the lobby corner. There he was, free from the crowds swarming the other alumni making their way through the hotel's corridor. While the droves of fans and collectors flocked to the younger retired Yankees, I sensed an opportunity to talk with Arroyo about his vast treasure of experiences as a ballplayer in Puerto Rico in the late 1940s with the legendary Negro League and Puerto Rican stars who passed through the famed winter league.

Luis Arroyo (r.) with the author in 2011 / N. Diunte
As I approached Arroyo to gauge his desire to discuss his early baseball career, he seemed a bit surprised and guarded. As we started to talk, I told him I was a friend of his former teammate Cholly Naranjo. After putting them in touch on the phone as we sat there in the lobby, Arroyo relaxed and opened up his tremendous knowledge of baseball’s unheralded superstars. For thirty minutes, he brought up the names of such greats as Willard Brown, Bus Clarkson, Perucho Cepeda, Ruben Gomez, and Satchel Paige. The more he spoke, the more pride he showed sharing his recollections of being amongst these superstars before he hit the major leagues.

Photo of Arroyo with Ponce in Puerto Rico / N. Diunte
One fellow Puerto Rican he made sure to emphasize was Francisco “Pancho” Coimbre. An early standout with Ponce’s team in Liga de BĂ©isbol Profesional de Puerto Rico, as well as in the Negro Leagues with the New York Cubans, Arroyo insisted Coimbre was the finest hitter on the island.

“I could name you the best hitter ever to come out of winter ball — Frank Coimbre,” Arroyo said in 2011. “He didn’t get a chance to play because he was colored. He was the best hitter in Puerto Rico and I could bet you anything that he could hit in the big leagues. He could run, throw, and hit. He was a hell of a ballplayer.”

As our conversation progressed, the then 84-year-old Arroyo said he was tired from the travel and wouldn’t be attending the team’s evening festivities at a local restaurant. He then proceeded to show me his tickets and to my surprise, he offered me the tickets as he didn’t want them to go to waste. I surely couldn’t turn down an opportunity to have a good meal and meet more Yankees alumni.

Old Timers Day Reception Pass / N. Diunte
Before retiring to his room, Arroyo asked me to meet him in the lobby at 9AM the next morning, as he said he would have something good for me. I thanked him for his generosity and assured him I would be there.
David Wells (l.) and the author at Yankees alumni party / N. Diunte
After waking up from an enjoyable evening mingling with the players at a Times Square restaurant, I sat on the train to the hotel with a child-like excitement for my morning encounter with Mr. Arroyo. When I arrived in the hotel lobby, Arroyo was sitting alone reading the newspaper while the slight bustle of the early risers passed him by. After a friendly greeting, we picked up where we left off yesterday’s conversation, as he started running off stories about his time in the National League with St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. Whether it was colorful anecdotes of seeing Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, and Sandy Koufax toil in Puerto Rico before hitting superstardom in the majors, or playing with Stan Musial and a young Frank Robinson, Arroyo had seen it all — even the time in Havana when he was playing with the Sugar Kings and shortstop Leo Cardenas was shot by wayward gunfire.

Arroyo (l.) with Fidel Castro (r.) in 1959 as a member of the Havana team / N. Diunte
As the early sunlight penetrated the glass doors of the lobby, Arroyo perked up even more, speaking with wonderful candor about his time with the Yankees. Like an assembly line, the vaunted names of the Yankees championship team rolled off his tongue: Berra, Ford, Howard, Mantle, and Maris. For each of them he had his own colorful bit, each told with a laugh and a smile. We finally got down to his stellar 1961 season, when he appeared in 65 games for the Yankees, saving 29 of them en route to a 15-5 record, an All-Star appearance, and a sixth place finish in the American League MVP voting.

“When I had that good year, [finishing] 15-5, and we won the World Series, I used to pitch all year around,” he said. “When I finished the World Series in 1961, the GM Roy Hamey said to stop pitching all year around. I told him that I pitch winter ball because I wasn’t making any money. He took care of me. He gave me $10,000.”
Photo of Arroyo pitching that is outside of the Yankees suites / N. Diunte
Arroyo’s decision to take the money from the Yankees was one that he regretted later in life. Instead of keeping in shape during the time he would have normally been playing winter baseball, he strayed from his training routine; a decision he felt ultimately shortened his career.

“I made a mistake,” he lamented. “When I wasn’t pitching, instead of going to the ballpark and keep running and doing some throwing, I went out with all the friends, drank, and ate, and when I came to spring training, I was 20 pounds overweight; it was the biggest mistake of my life. I don’t blame him, he did me a favor. When I gained all those pounds, I couldn’t throw at all. In 1963, I hurt my arm. … I went to bed and I felt something to my elbow and that was the end of my career. I had an operation. I tried to play winter ball and I couldn’t do it.”

While his arm injury spelled the end of Arroyo’s playing career with the Yankees, he remained with them as a scout for 20 years. He was instrumental in getting them to sign Ricky Ledee, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams, the latter for which he told me how he had to work hard on George Steinbrenner to convince him to go after a skinny 16-year-old outfielder from Puerto Rico.

As he prepared to move on with the rest of his day, he called down his grandson Gustavo from his hotel room. As he emerged from the elevator, he was holding an envelope. Arroyo introduced me to his grandson and proceeded to take a ticket and special pass from the envelope. He wanted me to be their guest at Old Timers Day. He said he thought it was something I would enjoy as a baseball fan. He instructed me to meet them at the hotel at 9AM for breakfast the next morning.

2011 Old Timers Day Suite Ticket / N. Diunte
I went home elated with my ticket and called a few friends with the news. I wasn’t sure what was in store for the next day, but I was excited about the opportunity. I met Gustavo for breakfast at the hotel in the morning and watched at the Old Timers left on the first bus to the stadium. We went on the next bus for the players’ guests, which took us directly into the private entrance to the stadium. We were escorted through the inside of the stadium up to a series of specially connected luxury suites.

A small sampling of the decor in the suites / N. Diunte
What an experience watching the ceremonies and the games from the suites. The food was top notch and as you start to mingle with the players families, you realize that the event is not only an annual highlight for the retired players, but also their families who can experience the cheers of their loved ones once again from the sold out crowd.
Arroyo's entrance on the big screen at Yankee Stadium / N. Diunte
In the sweltering heat, the elder alumni, including Arroyo made their way back up to the suites before those who played in the game. He was accompanied by the likes of Don Larsen, Hector Lopez, and Moose Skowron, as well as Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. As the aforementioned battery entered the room, they were closely guarded by security and escorted to a private area of the suites. Arroyo managed to get over to the private area to say a few words to both Berra and Ford and emerged with a photo in his hands. He handed it to me and it was signed by both Ford and himself. It was another act of generosity by the former Yankee that deepened my appreciation for his time and effort.

Autographed photo of Ford and Arroyo / N. Diunte
After watching the game and returning to the hotel on the bus sitting next to Skowron, (who was telling jokes all along the way) I met with Arroyo and his grandson and once again thanked them for bringing me behind the curtain for Old Timers Day. They extended the baseball opportunity of a lifetime to a total stranger and for their generosity, I am eternally grateful.

Moose Skowron (r.) with the author in 2011 / N. Diunte
I met with both of them in subsequent years during their return trips to Old Timers Day, last seeing Arroyo in 2013. Despite being limited by weakened knees, he made it his priority to attend.

“Even though I have arthritis in my knees, I can’t miss it.”

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.
Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
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 Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/24/2014.
 
Moose Skowron stats.
Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
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
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
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 Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/24/2014.