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l"Hustle Beats Talent When Talent Doesn't Hustle": Highlights from My Phoenix Trip + Reflections on Ailing Tom Seaver

A week ago in Phoenix waiting for a return flight to NYC, I noticed a great saying on the back of a fellow's jacket: "Hustle Beats Talent When Talent Doesn't Hustle."

 
I told the man I liked the sentiment.  Best I had seen since a Tampa Bay Rays athletic trainer working for their Hudson Valley Renegades farm team wore a T-shirt that said:  "Champions Are Made When Nobody Is Watching."

 
Turned out my new friend was from Green Bay, Wisconsin, now living in Phoenix area. We shared our mutual love of the UW Badgers. The cagers were blowing out Ohio State on the TV as we chatted eating some of the good food at Matt's Big Breakfast diner in Terminal B at Sky Harbor Airport.

 
The game turned out to be an overtime nail biter that Wisconsin won. Fortunately I missed the agony because was on the flight east. Badgers will limp into the NCAA tourney on Friday against a hot Oregon Ducks team eager for revenge on Wisconsin that knocked them out twice in recent years.

 
Back to my new friend with the nice jacket quote.  He has a son playing on an U-12 baseball team called the Scottsdale Dirt Dogs. They play travel ball more than grade school ball, but the dad assures me they have pitch limits enforced on pitchers. 

 

Sure hope they keep sticking with that policy because all those Tommy John operations have roots in overuse by young kids who should know better. But of course they don't because they are young and fired up to compete. It's up to parents and coaches to set the right guidelines of caution while their kids' bodies are still developing.

 
I was in Arizona for the 26th annual conference sponsored by "NINE: A Magazine of Baseball History and Culture".  Retired White Sox organist Nancy Faust got things off to a rollicking start opening night with tales of her career at the late lamented Comiskey Park.  She entertained us by bringing an organ keyboard to illustrate her stories.

 
Among the stimulating presentations were the NINE debut of Jim Gates, librarian and all-around vital honcho at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He delivered a fascinating paper on the origin of baseball cards.

 
Until the 1950s, we learned that baseball cards were only 10% of the market. They took off early in the 20th century to sell tobacco. They featured many kinds of subjects - food, inventors, gems, and especially actresses and goddesses, known quietly in the more discreet early 20th century as "girly" cards.

 
In my paper, I talked about the too-infrequent times of cooperation between college baseball and MLB.  Before I started my research, I knew how important Ohio Wesleyan U. was to the life and career of Branch Rickey, but didn't realize how big a role the Illinois Wesleyan Titans played in the college game.

 
In one dramatic instance, Bobby Winkles, the great coach that made Phoenix's Arizona State Sun Devils a late 1960s powerhouse, came to play for IWU when the Yankees relinquished their rights to him.

 
The Titans had just lost catcher Cal Neeman to the New Yorkers after his sophomore year. The amateur free agent draft was still 15 years away and IWU officials, led by the amazing man-of-many-sporting-hats Fred Young, insisted that Winkles was not ready for the pros. And that the Yankees had taken away one too many player.

 
I concluded my introduction to this meaty subject by telling the story of how veteran Red  Sox scout Bill Enos helped to administer MLB's cooperation with the Cape Cod Baseball League in the early 1980s.  Before his retirement, he had the rare privilege of naming Ray Fagnant as one of his successors.    

 

Closing night NINE speakers were Jane Leavy, author of the new biography of Babe Ruth "The Big Fella" (who accepted SABR's Seymour medal), and prolific author Curt Smith who has written many books on baseball broadcasting.

 
Turns out that Denny Matthews, who played second base for Illinois Wesleyan in the 1960s, is one of Smith's favorite broadcasters.  I like him too but because he covers the KC Royals, coastal Americans don't get to hear often enough the pipes of a man comparable to Vin Scully.

 
Before I close this post, I was saddened by the news of Tom Seaver's dementia and the announcement that he will no longer make public appearances. He contracted Lyme's disease while still living in Connecticut and picked up a second case, probably in his vineyard in the northern California wine country. 

 

Seaver will be absent in June when the Mets celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mets' 1969 World Series triumph.  I worked with Tom on THE ART OF PITCHING (that came out in 1984 and in paperback in 1994).

 

When I started taping his incisive thoughts on his craft, he urged me to visit him before the exhibition games started in St. Petersburg. Once, after a day's taping, he drove me past a building in Clearwater that he thought might be the biggest or widest in the world -  maybe two blocks long and two blocks wide.

 
He was very entranced and knowledgeable about architecture and art. He scoffed at teammates who made fun of his going to museums when on the road. Marty Noble, in a moving reminiscence posted early Sunday March 17 on the website "Murray Chass on Baseball," caught very well Seaver's scoffing as well as very thoughtful side.

 
I think he had a lot to live up to as the youngest in his accomplished family. He had an artist brother and a father Charles who was a great amateur golfer who beat his Stanford teammate the renowned Lawson Little in 1932 for the school title. Later that year Charles led the US to victory in the Walker Cup. (The Seavers were related to the Walkers and also President #41 George Herbert Walker Bush.)


I met Charles Seaver on the day that Tom won his 300th game, pitching for the White Sox at Yankee Stadium in late August 1983. It was Phil Rizzuto Day, when an actual "holy cow" was given the Scooter and it knocked Phil over.

 
After the game, Charles told me that competition in baseball was similar to that in golf. You want the opponent to do well but yourself to do better, he said. Tom certainly epitomized that ideal on the field.  I hope he continues to stay with us on this earth, however impaired, for as long as he can.

 
That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

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Notes on A Time of Rebirth and Loss:  The Joy of Seeing Box Scores Again and In Memory of Tom "T-Bone" Giordano, Great Scout and Baseball Lifer

As New York's cold unpredictable winter continues, there's nothing like the return of spring training and daily box scores to lift the spirits.  Some of my best childhood memories are listening to exhibition games on the radio. 

 

I just might have acted a little sick at times in grade school to miss school some days to listen to the radio at home.  Oh, how tantalizing were those alluring sounds of bats hitting balls and hearing relaxed crowd noises from Florida and points northward as teams slowly wound their way towards a mid-April Opening Day.

 

That was then and this is now.  Seasons today begin in the first week of spring and barnstorming north through small towns and cities is passe. Long gone is the traditional home opener in Cincinnati.  MLB opens 2019 in Tokyo with the A's and Mariners on WTh March 20-21 and the Yankees open here on Tu March 28 against the Orioles. 

 
For fans of the college sport, my defending Ivy League champs Columbia open with two three-game series - a Sat March 23 twin bill starting at 1130A against Cornell with a noon single game on Su Mar 24. Perennial contender Dartmouth comes in the following SaSu March 30-31 same times same place, Satow Stadium north of Bway/218th St. 

 
For all the joy and expectation the dawn of a new season brings, I feel a sense of loss with the passing in Orlando, Florida on Valentine's Day of renowned baseball scout Tom "T-Bone" Giordano. He was 93 and had been active in pro baseball for over 60 years.

 
Anyone who encountered T-Bone will never forget his warmth, humor, baseball insight, and love of good food.  He got the nickname "T-Bone" from his father who was a butcher, born in Italy, who raised his family in Newark NJ.

 
At first, Tom's father did not want his son to spend his time playing baseball - he wanted him to concentrate on preparing for college. Papa G even cut up Tom's gloves and spikes to steer him away from baseball.

 
Papa G relented once he saw how good he was and how much he loved the game. He started to cook steaks for his son before his high school games.  When his teammates saw the results of Tom's power bat, they wanted to come for lunch, too. Thus the legend of T-Bone Giordano was born.

 
After attending Panzer College - now part of Montclair U. in northern NJ - T-Bone was signed by Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. In the minors one year he out-homered Hank Aaron in the Sally League.

 
Called up to the A's near the end of 1953, the second baseman hit a home run off Virgil Trucks for his first major league dinger. His total stats: 7 hits, 2 HRs in 40 ABs. 

 

He began a career in high school teaching and coaching on Long Island, but he always kept close to the pro game. The late great executive Hank Peters became one of T-Bone's greatest supporters. 

 
He first assisted Peters as a minor league coach and manager for the Kansas City A's (who had come into the American League when the team moved from Philadelphia in 1955). Impressed by T-Bone's post-game reports to the front office, Peters encouraged Tom to try scouting in 1960. He had found his calling.

 

Evaluating talent and makeup became T-Bone's forte. He became Peters' valued assistant in both Kansas City and Oakland (where Charlie Finley had moved the A's after the 1966 season) and later in Baltimore where T-Bone joined Peters in the mid-1970s. 

 

He played a big role in both scouting and player development for the Orioles, pushing for the signing of Cal Ripken Jr. as an infielder not a pitcher. When owner Edward Bennett Williams's meddling proved too burdensome by the mid-1980s, Peters and Giordano moved to Cleveland where they built the team that constantly contended in the 1990s. 

 

When John Hart, Peters' successor, moved on to the Braves, T-Bone followed soon thereafter. He had hoped to scout in 2019 when a blood infection could not be contained.

 

In Tom's last days at his daughter's home in Orlando, a parade of his friends and well-wishers came to visit him. It was almost as if he were attending his own funeral as he held court when it was able to, always with that ever-present twinkle in his eye.

 

Reggie Jackson, who the Kansas City A's signed before they moved to Oakland, was one of the phone callers.  If ever the phrase "forever young" applies to someone, it was to T-Bone. He was constantly learning about the game and sharing his views. 

 

"I used to think pitchers must throw strikes," he said to me in one of our last conversations.

"Now I think command of one's pitches is the most important thing."

 
New Yorkers can remember and celebrate T-Bone at Foley's welcoming sports bar on Sun March 31 from 5PM onward. Foley's is located at 18 West 33 Street one block south of the Empire State Bldg.

 
That's all for now - next time I'll report on the 26th annual NINE Baseball History and Culture Magazine conference in Phoenix. 

 
In the meantime, always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

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