Archives

New York Scouts Dinner and A Memorable Basketball Saturday

January 30, 2017

Tags: Billy Blitzer, Ed Randall, Art Shamsky, Ralph Kiner, John Ceprini - Turk Karam award, John Barr - Jim Quigley award, George Digby, Joe McIlvaine, Davidson-Fordham basketball, Harvard-Columbia basketball, Wisconsin-Rutgers basketball, Ethan Happ, Columbia women 4 OT win, Knicks 4 OT loss

The annual Hot Stove League dinner sponsored by the New York-area baseball scouts has always provided many memorable moments. Last Friday's 52nd annual gathering at Leonard's of Great Neck maintained the fine tradition.

Several ovations were deservedly bestowed upon dinner organizer Billy Blitzer whose 35 consecutive years with the Cubs were finally rewarded in November. But emcee Ed Randall, who joined Billy in donning a Cubs World Series shirt, couldn't resist telling some jokes that no longer apply.

My favorite: "What would Jesus tell the Chicago Cubs?" Answer: "Don't do anything until I come back."

Guest speaker Art Shamsky called his experience on the 1969 Mets the highlight of his career. He said the team's success permanently inscribed his name in the book of New York heroes. He added that he didn't mind having a dog named for him in the "Everybody Loves Raymond" TV show.

Shamsky shared some tales of earlier Mets teams. After beginning their first two seasons losing 9 and then 8 games in a row, the Mets were rained out the following year in their first series in Cincinnati. Before their home opener, announcer Ralph Kiner quipped, "The Mets are off to the best start in their history."

Cincinnati scout John Ceprini, the winner of the group's prestigious Turk Karam award as Scout of the Year, was moved by Shamsky's appreciation of his career. Ceprini paid homage to the mentors who had encouraged him on his path towards scouting.

San Francisco Giants scouting honcho John Barr, who was awarded the Jim Quigley award for service to baseball, concluded the evening with some indelible insights into the scouting profession.

"Listen to the sound off the bat," George Digby, who signed Wade Boggs, told him.

"Who can help us win?" asked Joe McIlvaine, who was with the Mets when Barr started in his career in the 1980s. (Barr went on to work with the Orioles where he signed number one draft picks in Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina.)

"Sit on a guy . . . See him when he fails . . . See him in another sport where he is not so dominant. . . . How comfortable does he look?"

No need to attribute these quotations to anybody. They are eternal truths - if only the number-crunchers and "advanced metrics" people would understand.

I do take solace in the great saying - "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care about who gets the credit."

Before I close, I must kvell a bit about my dream basketball Saturday. All three teams that I follow closely won games and I saw two of them in person.

My girl friend's alma mater Davidson, avenging a loss at home earlier in January, walloped Fordham at the marvelous oldest-in-country Rose Hill gym in the Bronx.

My alma mater Columbia held on to beat Harvard on Morningside Heights and improve to 3-1 tied with Yale and Harvard and 1/2 game behind Princeton.

And my graduate alma mater Wisconsin rallied to beat Rutgers in overtime at Madison Square Garden. The Badgers are living on the edge in recent games but they sure know how to win.

Redshirt sophomore center Ethan Happ, first cousin of Blue Jays LHP J. Happ, scored 32 of Wisconsin's 61 points. He only went 8-16 on the foul line and that shortcoming remains a major problem. Yet all other aspects of his game - footwork, quickness, willingness to learn, and will to win - Happ inspires hope!

To make Saturday January 28 a day to live long in Wisconsin annals, the hockey team also won an overtime game at the Garden over Ohio State in the evening.

And here's one more overtime story - the Columbia women's basketball team, picked for last in the Ivy League, beat Dartmouth in FOUR overtimes on Friday night. They lost by only 2 at Harvard the following night. As an unrepentant puller for underdogs, these developments are most promising. (I attended Columbia's other 4-overtime win about a quarter century ago.)

I wish the Knicks well but I cannot lose sleep over THEIR four-overtime loss on Sunday to the Atlanta Hawks. Until there are changes in ownership at the Garden,
I fear the Knicks will be spinning their wheels.

Well, that's all for now. Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks, tournament time nears in basketball, and the days are getting longer. A really exciting time of year in spite of all the political uncertainties.

So always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Kicking Cancer's Ass and Other Memorable Moments from the NYC Baseball Writers Dinner

January 23, 2017

Tags: Sandy Alderson, Bartolo Colon, Terry Francona, Andrew Miller, Jon Lester, Dave Roberts, Jed Hoyer, Steve Garvey, Claire Smith, George Steinbrenner

The 94th annual dinner of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America was held this past Saturday night January 21st at New York's Hilton Hotel. Last year’s dinner was canceled by a blizzard so there was a lot of pent-up enthusiasm for this year’s shindig.

The evening did not disappoint with a fine mixture of levity and serious comment.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson twitted the writers for the awkwardness of their group’s acronym BBWAA. “Don’t you know baseball is one word?” he asked.

Sandy obviously forgot that Base Ball for a long time in its early decades was indeed two words. But on a winter’s night with still three weeks to spring training, who expects exactitude?

Alderson accepted “The Toast of the Town” award for former Mets pitcher ageless Bartolo Colon who will play for the Atlanta Braves in 2017. He relived with relish Colon’s remarkable homer in San Diego off James Shields. “In front of the #7 line army,” he recalled about the ardent traveling group of Mets fans.

Indians manager Terry Francona presented two awards. One was to his reliever Andrew Miller who pitched remarkably after his July trade from the Yankees. “If you look closely, he’s still icing his left arm,” Francona quipped.

Francona, who everybody calls Tito in honor of his father a former player, also presented Cubs pitcher Jon Lester with the Babe Ruth award for his postseason MVP. Lester not only was a key cog helping Francona’s Bosox to win the 2004 and 2007 World Series, but “he kicked cancer’s ass,” his admiring manager added.

In accepting the award for NL Manager of the Year, LA Dodger rookie skipper Dave Roberts noted that he also had “kicked cancer’s ass.” He thanked Jed Hoyer, now president of the Cubs, for giving him his first job with the Padres organization in 2010 once his treatment was over.

You can see why Roberts has drawn universal praise from every realm of baseball. He walked up to the low dais and quipped, “I am the first person tonight who doesn’t have to bend down to the microphone.”

Turning serious, he said that the game “was in a good place” and will be as long as we remember that “we’re all stewards of the game.”

Retired Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey gave a warm introduction to sportswriter Claire Smith who will be inducted at the end of July into the writer’s wing in Cooperstown. When his 1984 Padres teammates refused to let Smith into their clubhouse, Garvey came out into the hallway and answered every question she asked.

“If I can’t stand up for a friend, who can I stand up for?” he said. In her gracious remarks, Smith reflected on her first year on the baseball beat - she covered the 1982 Yankees that under impetuous George Steinbrenner ran through 3 managers, 6 general managers, and 54 players. “You had to fight for everything you got,” she said, adding it was “the best journalism school you can get.”

By Valentine’s Day the greatest phrase in the English language will ring true again: “Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training.” So keep the faith, dear readers, and back to you next with a report on the 52nd annual NYC Pro Baseball Scouts dinner this Friday.

Until then, always: Take it easy but take it!

Featured Work

History
Story of baseball's reserve system and the men who fought to change it
Biography/Sports
“Lowenfish’s take is detailed and nuanced.... he doesn’t look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light.”
–David Ulin, Los Angeles Times