Showing posts with label baseball. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baseball. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Rob Friedman 'Pitching Ninja' Interview


Rob Friedman, better known to his 240,000-plus Twitter followers as the PitchingNinja, fulfilled every kid's dream when Topps asked him to be a part of their 2020 Allen and Ginter baseball card set. The lawyer-turned-analyst, who created one of the most popular baseball accounts in the Twittersphere, joined the Baseball Happenings Podcast to tell how Topps' rigorous standards for being a part of the set made him feel like a major leaguer.

Click here to listen to Friedman on the Baseball Happenings Podcast on your favorite platform, or use the embedded player below to directly stream the interview.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Baseball Happenings Podcast | Greg Modica's Unexpected Return To Professional Baseball After A 14-Year Hiatus

Greg Modica thought his six-year minor league career was over when he tore his rotator cuff in 2006 while pitching for the Long Island Ducks. He spent the next 14 years molding New York City ballplayers to follow his lead on the mound, putting away any dreams he had of returning to the mound.

Fast forward to March 2020, with COVID-19 shutting down both New York City and Modica's successful pitching business, he had nothing else to do but train. Two months shy of turning 40, he made a promise to throw 90 MPH by his May birthday. What happened next wass a Hollywood-esque story where an innocent bet on one's fortitude turned into an opportunity to play professional baseball after a 14-year hiatus.  

During the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast, Modica explains how a 40-year-old with a surgically repaired right arm defied all odds to return to a professional mound for the first time since 2006. Click here to listen on your favorite podcast platform, or use the player below to share in Modica's incredible journey.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball | Review, Checklist, Box Break, and Autographs

One of Topps’ most buzzworthy products has hit the shelves in the form of 2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball. The collecting community has engaged in a spirited debate over the set’s inclusion of celebrities, entertainers, and even an egg alongside Major League Baseball stars. Whether it is entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, Yahoo Sports personality Mike Oz, or former Double Dare host Marc Summers, this year’s Allen and Ginter Baseball has plenty to keep a wide range of fans happy.

2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball Base Set, Short Prints, and Checklist

Allen and Ginter’s exceptional design is the main reason why the set remains popular with collectors. The painted posed shots position the players in an attractive way that stands out against the rest of Topps’ releases. Our review box yielded this year’s four top upstarts—Pete Alonso, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Jeff McNeil, and Fernando Tatis Jr.

2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball / Topps
The 350-card set contains 50 short prints, numbered 351-400. The numbering gap is a quirk that collectors should be aware of when collating their sets. The base cards only have two parallels—Gold Hot Box parallels and 1/1 Glossy cards.

2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball Minis / Topps
Each pack also contains one mini card. These minis are where Allen and Ginter hide the variations. Base and short-print minis feature the following variations - A&G Logo Back, Black, No Number, Brooklyn Back (#/25), Gold, Wood 1/1, Glossy 1/1, Framed Printing Plates 1/1.

Click here for the complete checklist.

2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball Inserts

To rip or not to rip? That is the question for collectors who land a serial numbered rip card. Inside these rip cards are short-printed stained-glass minis, metal minis, or red mini autographs. The lure of what hides behind the rip cards are enough to push collectors to carefully tear apart the sealed card in search of a bigger hit.

2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Inserts / Topps
Full-sized baseball-themed inserts include the Baseball Star Signs and Ginter Greats cards. Incredible Equipment, Mares and Stallions, and History of Flight are some of the non-sports insert sets. Mini inserts highlight Collectible Canines, Trains, Blue Ribbon Contests. As an added twist, some In Bloom Mini cards can be planted and grown. How’s that for a collectible?

2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Mini Inserts / Topps
2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Inserts / Topps

2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball Relics and Autographs

Each box guarantees a mix of three relics or autographs, with most being framed minis. A select few have standard signed cards, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Yusei Kikuchi. Serial numbered single and dual autographed book cards make for great display pieces.

There are two different standard sized MLB relic cards, and hobby boxes contain framed mini relics of players matched up with subway tokens, as well as fossil and arrowhead relics.

The box provided for this review yielded three relics, one of which was from Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.
2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Relics / Topps

2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball Box Break and Final Thoughts

Collectors have been loud on social media voicing their love or hate for this set. Some have embraced the diversity of Allen and Ginter; however, others can’t fathom non-baseball players with cards alongside their cardboard heroes. Despite the noise, this set gives collectors a welcome diversion from the hardcore prospecting of Topps’ other releases. Listening to Mike Oz share the joy of being in the 2019 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball set is a compelling reason enough to add a box to your collection.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Why Joe Presko faces his biggest mound challenge yet

Standing 5'9" and 165 pounds in his prime, Joe Presko could have easily blended in with the great St. Louis Cardinals fans that filled Sportsman's Park; however, Presko was far from ordinary. He stood tall on the mound alongside his Hall of Fame St. Louis Cardinals teammates Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, and Enos Slaughter in the 1950s while he went toe-to-toe against the star-studded lineups of the National League in his era. Throughout his six major league seasons with the Cardinals and Detroit Tigers, "Baby Joe" went 25-37 in 128 appearances.

During a recent trip to my local baseball card shop, the owner just received a small box of vintage 1952 Topps baseball cards. I waited until the guy next to me was done looking at them, and shortly after I started my search, Presko's iconic 1952 card jumped to the forefront. A few dollars later, his card became the first from that landmark set to enter my collection. The next day, I sent it off to Presko with the hopes of his signature and a possible interview.

Joe Presko Signed 1952 Topps Card / Author's Collection
A week later, Presko returned the card boldly signed with a note that exemplifies the connection that the men of this generation made with their fans. At 89, Presko made time to sign the card despite taking chemotherapy treatments to battle an opponent more fortuitous than the likes of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Duke Snider.

His desire to continue to reach out to his fans while battling cancer, speaks loudly to the close bond those who played during his era feel with the fans who keep their memory alive.

Note From Presko to the Author / Author's Collection

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Pitching tips in Playboy? Baseball secrets of Cy Young Award Winners

An old adage regarding the famed Playboy magazine was that many of their clientele purchased the magazine, "to read it for the articles." One reader passed along this 1984 Playboy piece from award-winning journalist Thomas Boswell, "The View from the Hill: How to Watch Big League Pitching,"

Boswell gets deep inside Pete Vukovich's mound psyche, the surly 1982 American League Cy Young Award Winner, taking stock of how he dissected a lineup throughout the course of a nine-inning game. The few paragraphs outlining Vuckovich's powerful methodology is a primer for all aspiring pitchers that over thirty years later stands well above the overly scientific pitching philosophies of today.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 Topps Heritage hooks hobbyists with a simple approach

Cut in the aesthetically pleasing style of the 1968 Topps design, Topps’ 2017 Heritage is a throwback to a season that was defined by the mound dominance of Bob Gibson and his miniscule 1.18 ERA. While the feel of the set doesn’t quite have the aggressiveness of Gibson’s fastball, it is the simplicity of the overall package that will attract collectors to this year’s issue.

While some of Topps’ other releases feel like a parade of bells and whistle with all kinds of shiny inserts, the traditional aspect of Topps Heritage is what keeps collectors coming back to this product. Nuances like the puzzles of Kris Bryant and Mike Trout on the back of the All-Star cards, as well as the action and letter variations are the right amount of diversity to make you pay attention to the details without losing sight of what brought you to the product in the first place.

Buster Posey Action Variation / Topps
A certain gem of 2017 Topps Heritage is the selections for the dual and triple Real-One autographed cards. Lucky individuals will garner a signed card of the fantasy Hall of Fame battery of Nolan Ryan and Johnny Bench. Others so fortunate will pull signed cards by three franchise Hall of Famers, with the Cardinals supplying Steve Carlton, Orlando Cepeda, and Lou Brock on the same card, while the Baltimore Orioles put out stalwarts Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Jim Palmer on another. These multi-signed cards are highly desirable pieces that could easily serve as the cornerstones of many hobbyists collections.

Nolan Ryan / Johnny Bench Dual Signed Card / Topps
Set collectors however, will face a major challenge in completing the 500-card set. The yield from the 24-pack box is well short of the fifty percent mark, further complicated by the 100 short printed cards at the end of the set. The box provided for this review only yielded eight short prints, which will undoubtedly force collectors to the secondary market to finish things off.

A selection of 2017 Topps Heritage Short Prints / Topps
A cool touch to the box provided for this review was the addition of a 1968 Topps buyback card, further connecting the past with the present as intended by the theme of the Heritage set. While hoping for one of the aforementioned dual autographs, this box yielded a Clubhouse Collection relic card of Miami Marlins slugging outfielder, Giancarlo Stanton.

Don McMahon 1968 Topps Buyback / Topps
Giancarlo Stanton Clubhouse Collection Relic / Topps

Despite the fact that a set will be difficult to build out of one, or even two boxes, the clean and simple design combined with the possibility of pulling a monumental autograph should push collectors to explore the depths of the 2017 Topps Heritage release well into the regular season.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

How Dell Curry almost shifted the family legacy from the hardwood to the mound

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ryan Doherty excelling as a beach volleyball pro after minor league baseball career

Walking around the beach volleyball courts at last weekend’s AVP New York City Open at Hudson River Park, seven-foot-one Ryan Doherty seemed like the most obvious choice for a volleyball player. Long and lean with a standing reach that easily extends way over the net, Doherty appears to the casual observer that he’s spent a lifetime developing his volleyball skills. Little would they know that Doherty is a relative newcomer to the sport who only started playing once the door was closed on a burgeoning professional baseball career.

Doherty grew up in Toms River, New Jersey where baseball was king. A standout high school pitcher, he was a two-sport athlete at Toms River East until his senior year when he gave up basketball to focus solely on baseball. His inspiration for the decision came from newly minted Hall of Famer, Randy Johnson.

“I started to fall in love with baseball right around the time Randy Johnson was making a name for himself with the Mariners,” Doherty said to ESPN in 2002. “I had a hero for life.”

Ryan Doherty / Yakima Bears
Doherty took his talents on a baseball scholarship to Notre Dame where he earned third-team All-American honors in 2004. Armed with a fastball in the low-90s and a release that put the ball seemingly on top hitters before it left his hand, Doherty was set on a path to the major leagues. He was so eager to get to the show that left Notre Dame before his senior year to sign as an undrafted free agent in 2005 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Those long arms and legs will eventually be a consistent advantage because when he's right, he's actually releasing the ball closer to 50 feet from the plate, rather than the 52 or 54 feet most pitchers are releasing the ball from,” one scout remarked.

From the moment he stepped on the mound, Doherty made history. As the tallest player in professional baseball, he was determined to show the baseball world that he was more than a footnote in the record books. In his second professional season in 2006 with the South Bend Silver Hawks, he posted a 9–1 record with a 2.59 ERA. Based on his outstanding performance, the Diamondbacks moved him up to their advanced Class-A team in Visalia, California to start the 2007 season.

Surrounded by a team filled with heralded prospects, Doherty surely was on the right track. He spent time with his pitching idol Johnson, who was in Visalia rehabbing his way back to the major leagues. He opened the season by pitching three scoreless innings. Heading out of the gate with what seemed to be a strong push, Doherty’s train suddenly came to a screeching halt. The Diamondbacks abruptly released him, saying they didn’t see him projecting as a major leaguer. Not a single major league organization reached out for his services. He finished the 2007 season with the independent River City Rascals of the Frontier League with his baseball career in the rearview mirror.

“I left the Diamondbacks organization and it wasn’t my choice; I was released,” Doherty said at the New York City AVP Open. “I basically was an ex-athlete all of a sudden. I wasn’t a baseball player and I was 24 years old.”

So how did Doherty, who never played beach volleyball in his life, start the transformation from a flame-throwing pitcher to stymieing his opponents in the sand?

“When I was living with a friend of mine [Steve Johnson] down in South Carolina, we just happened to find a beach volleyball court and I fell in love with the sport,” he said. “I played it as much as I possibly could. It was a new great competitive outlet for me. I decided that I wanted to play this every day as long as I can.”

Initially, Doherty struggled mightily, serving as easy fodder for all comers. Playing with Johnson on the beach, the two former baseball players were out of their league even against low-level amateurs on the sand.

"We were terrible," Johnson said to Scott Stump in 2013. "Here we have a former D-I athlete and a former pro athlete, and we're getting embarrassed by the worst players on the beach."

Not one to be deterred by his early failures with the sport, Doherty was bit by the volleyball bug. In 2009 with only $5,000 to his name, he packed up his car and headed out to California with aspirations of making the professional tour. He made ends meet by delivering pizzas on a bicycle, managing the little money he had similarly to when he played in the minor leagues, making a dollar stretch in a variety of ways.

“I was very good at being poor from years of practice,” he said. “I didn’t have any money, but I knew that if I was going to play beach volleyball, I wasn’t going to do it for the money; I was going to do it because it is a great life. It’s something that would keep me engaged and passionate.”

With a work ethic born out of enduring the daily grind of a baseball season, Doherty hit the beach daily early in the morning to build his skill set. Once in awhile, he would get invited to play in high level games while working out at the beach because players didn’t show up. Despite his height (which earned him the nickname “Avatar”) being a tremendous asset in volleyball at the net, the many finesse areas of his game were lacking and easily exposed.
“It was definitely all of the skill aspects [that were hard to learn],” Doherty said. “Being seven feet tall, the height was easy — hitting, blocking, the serving. The things that were difficult were passing the ball, controlling sets, things like that. Those are the things that I have to work on much more than the others. Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of people willing to help me out and give me good advice, tips, and tricks. After a lot of practice reps, I’m able to say that I can now compete with most of the guys on those skill aspects. I’m not going to be the best ball control guy on the beach, but I’ve gotten much better and I still think I can improve in those areas.”
Two players who were instrumental in helping Doherty advance quickly in the sport were Olympic Gold Medalist Todd Rogers, and tour veteran Casey Patterson. Patterson took Doherty under his wing in 2012, and together they made the volleyball world take notice when the pair upset Rogers and Phil Dalhausser in the finals of the National Volleyball League tournament in Baltimore.

Rogers shortly parted ways with Dalhausser and picked up Doherty as his partner for the 2013 season. Rogers, whom Doherty compared to Cal Ripken Jr. with his skill, knowledge, and longevity, mentored him with the hopes of tuning up his game the same way he did with his former Olympic partner Dalhausser.

“Phil and I had gone our separate ways after the 2012 season, and I needed a new big guy,” Rogers said to Stump in 2013. “Ryan was the biggest on the block. I also wanted to work with a guy that needed to be taught, as I enjoy the coaching aspect of the game. I had taught Phil everything I knew, and I missed coaching. Ryan was a perfect fit for me.”

As Doherty progressed in his new sport, he carried the bulldog mentality that he had on the mound to the sand, when he would force feed hitters a steady diet 90-mile-per-hour fastballs and sloping curve balls until they showed they could make an adjustment. On the court he has applied that mantra to his offensive approach.
“One of my smartest baseball coaches said, 'Don’t change anything until they show you they can beat it.’ That’s what I took into volleyball,” Doherty said. “If I am swinging to the high deep middle of the court and that ball goes down, I’m going to keep swinging there until somebody does something to where it doesn’t work. I’ve had matches where I’ve swung to the same spot 15 times and that was the only spot I hit, but they didn’t defend it, so I’ll take it. That’s a smart thing for younger players, develop one thing so that they have to make an adjustment, and then you can go to your next. Don’t try to play a chess match if you can just play checkers.”
Ryan Doherty at the 2015 AVP Open / N. Diunte
Sitting in the player’s tent in between matches, Doherty reflected on the opportunity to be able to play in front of his family and friends, with only 70 miles separating them from the venue. He hopes that the tour makes Manhattan a permanent stop due to its incredible atmosphere.

“The East Coast tournament is always my favorite one of the year just because my friends and family get a chance to come out,” he said. “Now that I live in California, I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I like. This New York City tournament has been fantastic so far; it’s one of the coolest backdrops to a beach volleyball tournament you’ve ever going to see. I’m really hoping that this one sticks around for awhile so that we can stay here many more years.”

Doherty and his partner John Mayer finished in second place in the NYC AVP Open, losing a highly contested match in the finals to the team of his former partner Patterson and Olympian Jake Gibb in three sets, 21–19, 15–21, 12–15. Their excellent showing only furthers the argument that Doherty and Mayer’s team are in contention for a spot in the 2016 Olympics. While Doherty feels that is a lofty goal due to the short time that they have played together, he’s not going to rule out the possibility of it happening.

“The 2016 Olympics are going to be very tough,” he said. “Johnny Mayer and I are in the 5th spot for the US and only two teams can go. … We just want to play and develop as a team. He’s a fantastic player. It’s our first year together; I think us trying to set an Olympics goal was a little out of reach considering how good all of the American teams are. Never say never, but we’re both going to be young enough that 2020 is not out of the picture.”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Cuban Florida baseball experience - Part One - Paul Casanova's baseball academy

Last week marked my semi-annual pilgrimage to South Florida to spend one last week in the sun and soak up the rich baseball culture in the area.

A favorite destination of mine is the baseball academy of ten-year major league veteran Paul Casanova, who delivers his instruction in the backyard of his house.
T-Shirt from Paul Casanova's Baseball Academy

I previously wrote about my 2010 visit, and every time I return, I pick up something new, whether it is an adjustment on my swing, an anecdote from his playing day, or meeting the next up-and-coming prospect out of the Hialeah area.
One of the many Walls of Fame

His students praise his ability to instruct and build their confidence, using his watchful eye from his over fifty years of professional baseball experience to keep their swings on-track.

Hank Aaron wall
His home also serves as a mini Hall of Fame of Cuban baseball history, the walls lined with photos of his Cuban contemporaries in the major leagues, as well as the legendary winter league teams prior to Fidel Castro closing off the league to professionals in 1961.

One one wall facing the batting cage, he pays tribute two of the biggest baseball legends he was associated with during his career, Hank Aaron and Ted Williams.

Casanova spent three seasons with Aaron on the Atlanta Braves from 1972-74, and was one of the first teammates to greet Aaron as he crossed the plate for his 715th home run. He refers to Aaron as, "the best," and often references Aaron's strong wrists when instructing the young hitters. Displayed on the wall are photos and articles on the wall about his Hall of Fame teammate.

Ted Williams wall
From my 2010 visit
The other side of the wall is dedicated to his manager Ted Williams, whom he played three seasons for as a member of the Washington Senators. His face lights up when speaking about the Splendid Splinter and how enamored he was with him. He felt very fortunate to visit Williams at his home shortly before he passed away. He proudly displays the photo of him with Williams on the wall of his facility.

Everything about the facility screams baseball, from the bats outside of the house, the games playing on the television, the constant crack of balls being battered, the endless baseball chatter and the photos that line the walls everywhere you walk.

As for what keeps the 71-year-old Casanova going, he says the game is a part of him.

"Baseball is in my blood. It's what I do."


Casanova's career in pictures
Batting Cages

Soft Toss Stations
Another Wall of Fame
Historical Cuban Baseball Photos
Historical Cuban Baseball Photos
Historical Cuban Baseball Photos

Baseball Bobble Heads


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Joe Margoneri's journey to the Polo Grounds

Joe Margoneri’s golden left arm was his ticket into professional baseball. Blessed with a blazing fastball, Margoneri caught the attention of the New York Giants scouts after pitching on the sandlots of Smithton, Pennsylvania.

“We had no high school baseball. I was playing semi-pro ball, working for the gentleman that ran the team. He owned a coal mine and coke oven,” Margoneri said during a December 2012 phone interview. “I was a young guy and I could throw the ball pretty good. I didn’t know how hard I could throw it. The owner got to me after the game and said there was a scout, Nick Shinkoff, from the New York Giants that wanted to see me. My boss sort of kept it hush hush and didn’t want me to see anybody else. It went on from there and that’s how I got signed.”

Joe Margoneri
Margoneri signed without a bonus and for the 1950 season made his professional debut in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

“Through the grapevine, I think somebody else got a bonus for me," he said. “I couldn’t verify it, but it doesn’t matter. All I wanted to do was play baseball at 19, 20 years old. I signed a contract for $150 a month; I thought I was a millionaire. I got by strictly on a fastball too.”

His speed overpowered the hitters in the league, as he finished the season with a 23-4 record, and advanced two levels to Class B Sunbury the next season.

“I did decent there; I had 18 wins,” he said.

Just as he was poised to continue his ascent in the Giants organization, Uncle Sam called.

“The Army got me,” he said. “Back in those days, Korean War was coming on and the draft was still in progress. They were drafting guys and that’s how I got in. I didn’t volunteer.”

He spent the next two seasons (1952-53) stationed at Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

“I was fortunate, I stayed state-side,” he said. “I played baseball down in San Antonio, Texas. It was what they called special service. They had football players, basketball players — all types of athletes down there in one section.”

His teammates included some big names that were familiar to New Yorkers.

“Don Newcombe and Bobby Brown were down there; Newcombe and I got to be pretty good friends,” he recalled. “He used to be a salesman for one of the beer companies, and we used to travel around in this big ol’ Cadillac.”

His time in the service provided him with an opportunity to stay sharp for his return to the Giants.

“I pitched pretty well in the service,” he said. “We played a lot of semi-pro teams in the oil fields of Texas, as well as the Air Force bases and Army bases. I came out and went to Nashville and won like 14 games there.” 

During that 1954 offseason, Margoneri traveled south to play for Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League. He led the team to a second place finish in the Caribbean Series, which included squaring off against his future teammate Willie Mays, who was playing for the powerhouse Santurce club of Puerto Rico. He handed Santurce their only defeat of the series, surrendering two runs in a complete game victory. His performance didn’t go unnoticed.

He showed up to spring training in 1955 and immediately caught the attention of Giants manager Leo Durocher. In the March 7, 1955 issue of the Long Island Star-Journal, Durocher raved about Margoneri’s prospects.

“I like everything about the kid,” Durocher said. “I like his attitude … his poise … his motion … and, above all, his fastball. He’s firin’ harder than the others because he’s ready. He pitched in one of those winter leagues.”

The Giants felt he was ready for their highest minor league competition and sent him to their AAA team in Minneapolis. Margoneri helped lead the team to the 1955 Junior World Series Championship, defeating the Rochester Red Wings of the International League in the best of a seven game series. The long season, including his time in the winter leagues, was almost a two-year stretch of non-stop pitching. Just as he was inching close to the major leagues, he started to have problems with his pitching arm.

“That’s when my arm trouble started. I was throwing 150 pitches per game and became a bit wild,” he said.

Margoneri rested his arm in the offseason, and in 1956, he was rewarded for his perseverance. On April 25, 1956, he made his major league debut against the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds, pitching one scoreless inning in relief.

“It was just like a dream,” he said. “Just wanting to get there, and then I got there and hung on.”

Margoneri did more than hang on, he excelled. By mid-August, he was 5-2 with a 2.77 ERA. Things were looking up for the left-hander, and then his sore arm resurfaced. He won only one of his next five decisions, finishing 6-6 with a 4.04 ERA.

“My arm went practically went dead. I lost 30% on my fastball. That was right in the middle of my arm being bad. I didn’t want to tell anyone. [If you were hurt] you went down and you didn’t come back.”

Looking back at his rookie season, Margoneri savored the opportunity to brush shoulders with a future Hall of Famer.

“I had my locker next to Willie Mays. He was phenomenal. He did everything,” he said.

He even had a Mays moment of his own against the Chicago Cubs in New York, when he hit his lone major league home run.

“I’ll never forget that baby!” he said.  “It was in the Polo Grounds off of Warren Hacker of the Cubs. It was a fastball. [I hit it to] right field, over the short fence.”

He pitched 13 more games for the Giants in 1957, and was sent down to the minors for good halfway through the season. He continued to pitch until 1960 before moving on from baseball, where he worked in a paper mill for 30 years, retiring in 1991.

“I started practically on the bottom in 1962 went until 1991 and moved up the ladder. I was a supervisor the last 15 years making corrugated boxes,” he said.

Still popular with the fans, he often receives mail requests to sign his 1957 Topps card. He gladly returns them.

“I still get a lot of index cards and bubble gum cards, a few of those per week. I send them back all the time.”

Topps honored him in their 2006 Topps Heritage set, traveling to his home in West Newton, Pennsylvania, for him to sign replica cards as special inserts in their packs. At 83, his focus now is his family, which includes a budding pitching star.

“I raised five daughters, 13 grand children and my fifth great-grandchild is on the way. I’ve been married 58 years to my wife Helen. She went to one local high school and I went to another and she was my childhood sweetheart,” he said.

His granddaughter Nicole Sleith is an ace left-handed pitcher for Robert Morris University's softball team. So does he offer words of wisdom about facing the likes of Duke Snider, Ernie Banks, and Stan Musial?

“She doesn’t need it,” he said. She’s good; she broke all kinds of records in high school and has a scholarship now.”
Joe Margoneri pitching at 0:29 seconds

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book review: Jim Abbott - Imperfect: An Improbable Life

Jim Abbott at signing for Imperfect
Jim Abbott stood in front of an eager group of preschoolers ready to talk about the tenets of his baseball career. Little did he know that the most challenging question was going to come from his four-year-old daughter Ella.

“She raised her hand and I had no idea what was coming,” Abbott said at a recent book signing in New York City. “She said, ‘Dad, do you like your little hand?’ That question took me back. I didn’t quite know what to say. We never called it my little hand at home. My whole life, I never thought about liking it.”

After a short pause to further consider her inquiry, Abbott reflected on what he learned from his deformed hand. “I looked at her and said, ‘You know what honey, I do. I like my little hand. I haven’t always liked it and it hasn’t always been easy, but you know what, my little hand has taught me important lessons that life’s not easy and it’s not always fair.’”

Abbott was at the Upper West Side location of the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in early April to promote his autobiography, Imperfect: An Improbable Life (Ballantine, 2012) which he co-authored with former Los Angeles Times writer Tim Brown

Click here to read more about Abbott's new book as well as watch video of his speech from a recent book signing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gil Hodges' Brooklyn Dodger teammates make a pitch for his Hall of Fame honors

The Golden Era Committee meets this weekend in Dallas at the winter baseball meetings to decide the worthiness of ten veterans and executives for Hall of Fame enshrinement. One of those ten candidates is beloved Brooklyn Dodger first baseman and manager of the 1969 New York Mets World Series championship team, Gil Hodges.

During the 15 years he was eligible for the BBWAA vote, Hodges finished as high as third in the voting on three occasions, while the next nine finishing below him (1976, 1977) eventually made the Hall of Fame. Later, various incarnations of the Veterans Committee failed to elect Hodges, while comparable players such as Orlando Cepeda (VC) and Tony Perez (BBWAA) received the call in back-to-back years.

Gil Hodges / Bowman
At the time of his retirement, Hodges’ 370 home runs were the most in the National League by a right-handed hitter. He cemented the clean-up spot in Brooklyn’s lineup, guiding them to their only World Series in 1955. At first base, his glove work was outstanding, winning the Gold Glove during for three straight years after its inception in 1957.

To the small crop of Hodges’ remaining living Brooklyn teammates, his absence from the Hall of Fame remains a mystery. Ed Roebuck, who spent six seasons with Hodges in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, as well as another two playing for him in Washington, is perplexed by his absence.

“It’s unbelievable that Gil Hodges isn’t in," Roebuck said. "Even as a manager, how would you figure the 1969 Mets to beat Baltimore? That in itself should be admission to the Hall of Fame.”

Joe Pignatano, Hodges’ long-time coach with the Washington Senators and the New York Mets, also played five seasons with him in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and New York. Pignatano sees this year’s vote as a mere formality for something that should have been done a long time ago.

“It’s absurd," Pignatano said. "This is something that is long overdue. There isn’t anybody I know that doesn’t speak highly of him.”

Hodges’ tremendous character allowed him to positively impact everyone on the team, from the established veterans, to the newcomers on the block. One such newbie was pitcher Glenn Mickens. In 1953, Mickens was a rookie making the jump to Brooklyn from AA Fort Worth. It was Hodges that welcomed him to the fold.

“[He] made me feel like I belonged there … he was a complete gentleman in every respect,” Mickens said. “I never heard a negative word spoken about Gil Hodges and I don't think that he had an enemy in the world - except maybe those opposing pitchers who couldn't get him out, and theirs wasn't negativity, but actually respect for one of the best to ever play the game.”

Catcher Tim Thompson was another rookie who was a recipient of Hodges’ benevolence. Thompson made the club out of spring training in 1954 and needed a place to stay in Brooklyn. Hodges quickly came to the rescue.

“He was the most human being I ever been around in my life," Thompson said. "When I went to Brooklyn, he said, ‘I have a house for you to rent right beside me so you have somewhere to live.’ He used to pick me up and take me to the ballpark. He was a very good friend of mine.”

On the field, Hodges had a humble approach that resonated with his teammates. They saw him give the same respect to his opponents that he did to those in his own dugout.

“Gil would hit a grand slam and would have his head down all the way around the bases like he felt sorry for the pitcher," Roebuck said. "Now they point in the sky, jump up; so unprofessional! If you did that when I played, you would have been knocked down for sure.”

The newly formed Golden Era committee which is comprised of eight Hall of Famers (one being Hodges’ teammate Tommy Lasorda), five executives and three members of the media, has a tremendous task at hand to pare down the list to one or more candidates that 75% of them agree upon. Hodges’ candidacy has sparked debate for years; however, for Mickens, this vote should close the chapter on an honor Hodges should have received years ago.

“He was an outstanding clutch hitter and his record speaks for itself as far as his being in the Hall of Fame,”  Mickens said. “I believe that his induction is long overdue and it would be a terrible disservice if they pass him up.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bill 'Ready' Cash, veteran of eight Negro League seasons dies at 91

Bill “Ready” Cash, an All-Star catcher with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues from 1943-1950, passed away Monday at Roxborough Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 91.

Born February 21, 1919 in Round Oak, Georgia, Cash moved to Southwest Philadelphia as a youngster, where he honed his baseball skills on the local sandlots. After quitting his high school team, as he was the only black player on the squad, he starred on local semi-pro teams in the early 1940s. Under the tutelage of Negro League veteran Webster McDonald, he was brought to Philadelphia manager Goose Curry in 1943 and was invited to join the Stars.

Cash played eight seasons in the Negro Leagues, all with Philadelphia. He was selected to the East-West All-Star game in 1948 and 1949; during the latter which he caught the entire game. In demand for his prowess behind the plate, the well-traveled catcher played in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, and Canada.

I had the opportunity to meet Cash in 2008 at an event at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Even at his advanced age, he rattled off names and explicit details of legends such as Ray Dandridge, Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. I marveled at the size of his hands, which were not only huge, but disfigured from the multiple broken fingers due to the hazards of catching. I only wondered about the power of those hands during his prime.

He earned the nickname “Ready” after being taken out of a game early in his tenure.  He wasn’t happy about the benching and quickly told the manager, "When I put on the uniform, I'm ready to play." The moniker followed him the rest of his career.

A few years after major league baseball integrated, the Chicago White Sox signed Cash at the age of 33. Fueled by the promise of a spot with Class-A Colorado Springs, Cash batted .375 during spring training, besting fellow Negro League alum Sam Hairston’s .214 average. Despite his torrid spring, the White Sox executives did not hold up their end of the bargain and sent Cash to Class B Waterloo. Infuriated, Cash asked for his release.

“I was mad because they lied to me,” he said in Brent P. Kelly’s Voices from the Negro Leagues.

Reluctantly, Cash stayed on with Waterloo, seeking to prove his major league worthiness. His aspirations were derailed when he broke his leg less than 40 games into the season and was shelved for nine weeks. Upon his return, he was reassigned to Class C Superior to help them in their playoff run. It would be the end of Cash’s quest to get to the major leagues. He played a few more years in the Mandak League as well as with a semi-pro outfit in Bismarck, North Dakota before finishing in 1955.

Even at the end of his career, Cash’s skills continued to impress. During a 2008 interview I conducted with his Bismarck manager Al Cihocki, the mention of his name elicited an excited response.

“How about Bill Cash? Holy Christ, boy could he hit and throw. If he was playing today, he would be worth a fortune.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

'Macho Man' Randy Savage's Baseball Teammate Tito Landrum Shares How They Chased MLB Stardom

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."

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