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Coping With No Baseball: Giamatti's Lyricism Always Helps + Farewell to Willie McCovey

November 4, 2018

Tags: Bart Giamatti, Boston Red Sox champions: Alex Cora, Nathan Eovaldi, J.D. Martinez, Steve Pearce, David Price; Max Muncy, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Tim Corbin, Willie McCovey (corrected on debut day), Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Willie Mays, Les Keiter, Robin Roberts, Ralph Terry, Bobby Richardson, Ted Williams, Barney Greengrass

"You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops." So wrote the late Bart Giamatti, baseball commissioner and onetime Yale professor and university president, in his classic essay "The Green Fields of the Mind."

How consoling are these words as Daylight Savings Time has ended for most of the country and we are faced with increased darkness until the arrival of the winter solstice around December 21. I watch my share of basketball and football and hockey on TV but it is no substitute for the drama and excitement of baseball.

Of course, we have our baseball memories, near and far, to sustain us. There is no doubt that the Boston Red Sox are worthy World Series winners. They showed it was no fluke that they won the AL East with a team-record 108 victories.

They eliminated the Yankees and defending champion Astros to win the American League pennant, losing only one game in each series. They won a generally well-played often gripping World Series in five games over the Dodgers, a bridesmaid for the second year in a row.

Perhaps the mettle of this year's Bosox squad was best exemplified by its reaction to its only World Series loss, a record-breaking 18-inning seven-hour-plus 3-2 defeat on Max Muncy's home run off Nathan Eovaldi.

Immediately thereafter brilliant rookie manager Alex Cora called a rare team meeting in the clubhouse to congratulate the team's effort. The team applauded Eovaldi's great six-inning effort out of the bullpen when he was listed as the Game 4 starter.
Big run producer J.D. Martinez said it might have been a loss but it was a great experience to compete in such a historic game.

Journeyman outfielder/first baseman Steve Pearce was voted the Series MVP for his batting heroics in the last two games. His solo homer tied Game 4 in 8th inning and his bases-clearing double provided the insurance runs in the 9th.

Pearce's two-run blast in the first inning the next night set the tone for the clincher.
It was a huge blow off losing pitcher Clayton Kershaw because it is hard to overestimate what scoring first means in any game, especially after the Dodgers had lost a four-run late lead in the prior game.

David Price won the final game with seven solid innings. A case could be made for Price to have won a co-MVP award although there were only five voters to assure that there was only one winner.

It was nice to see Price get the post-season monkey off his back because he had failed repeatedly in recent years to come up big in the playoffs. But this year he also won Game 2 with six solid innings and relieved effectively in the extra-inning classic third game.

Vanderbilt University baseball coach Tim Corbin has to be especially proud of his progeny because in addition to developing Price in college, another Commodore rookie Walker Buehler also pitched outstanding ball for the Dodgers.

Before I close, I want to remember Willie McCovey who passed away late last month from multiple ailments at the age of 80. He was one of many players who came up too late to help my first team the New York Giants who left New York for San Francisco after the 1957 season.

Imagine how McCovey and his teammates Felipe Alou and Orlando Cepeda would have fared with the short left and right field fences at the Polo Grounds. Certainly Willie Mays would have broken Babe Ruth's 714 home run record if he hadn't been consigned to the winds of Candlestick Park. At least he experienced five seasons in New York.

McCovey's debut in San Francisco was memorable. I happened to be listening to Les Keiter's recreating of Giant games on WINS radio on July 30, 1959. All Willie did was belt two triples and two singles off another future Hall of Famer Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts.

McCovey may be most remembered for a ball that became an out, the scalding line drive off Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry at Bobby Richardson that ended the seventh game of the 1962 World Series with the tying and winning runs in scoring position.

I prefer he be remembered for the body of his work on his field, including 521 career home runs, tying him with Ted Williams. He was a class guy on and off the field. He was always was accessible to fans and became a revered ambassador for the Giants who wisely named the water area beyond the right field fence at San Francisco's ATT Park "McCovey Cove."

There is a famous 100-year-old deli on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called "Barney Greengrass The Sturgeon King." Though McCovey never ate there, he heard about the sturgeon and had it mail ordered to the West Coast.

There is a picture of Willie in Barney Greengrass's window. I think of Willie "Stretch" McCovey when I stop in at Barney's and always will.

That's all for now. Again remember to express your vote on November 6th if we want our democracy to recover its balance. And never forget: Take it easy but take it!





New York City Pays Homage To Willie Mays & More on Dear Departed Baseball Scouts

October 1, 2017

Tags: Willie Mays, Vic Wertz, Dusty Rhodes and 1954 World Series, NYC Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Rico Pena, Rio III Gallery, Gene Michael, George Steinbrenner, Gene Bennett, Mel Didier, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Kirk Gibson, Dennis Eckersley

Friday September 29 was the 63rd anniversary of Willie Mays’ great catch off Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. Along with a timely Dusty Rhodes home run over the Polo Grounds short right field fence, Mays’ defensive gem sparked the New York Giants to a sweep over the favored Cleveland Indians.

To commemorate this anniversary, New York City's Mayor Bill DeBlasio proclaimed Sept 29 Willie Mays Day. In a noontime ceremony, the sign Willie Mays Drive was unveiled at the northeast corner of 155th Street and the Harlem River Driveway.

Down below stood the Polo Grounds where I saw my first baseball game at the age of 6 in the summer of 1948. Now a school and housing project occupy the space.

One of the prime movers in this celebration was City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez who represents the 10th city council district that includes the Polo Grounds on Harlem’s Sugar Hill. Normally the City of New York does not permit streets to be named for living people but Rodriguez lobbied successfully to make an exception in the case of Mays.

Councilman Rodriguez is a native of the Dominican Republic who came to NYC as a eighteen-year old. He thrust himself into community affairs as a student at City College and has been a longtime advocate for making his constituents aware of the rich athletic history of his neighborhood.

Another honored invitee was fellow Dominican Rico Pena, the coach of the Luperon High School baseball team that in its brief history has already become a contender for the city championship. Pena brought several of his players to the ceremony.

Mays is now 86 — Willie Mays is 86 years old! - and makes his primary home just south of San Francisco (though he has long kept an apartment in the western Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale). He didn’t make the trip for this honor but his adopted son Michael Mays was on hand. So was Mario Alioto, the executive VP of Business Operations for the SF Giants.

“I don’t make history, I just catch fly balls,” Mays once said. He was being modest because he was the epitome of the five-tool player who could run, throw, field, hit for average, and hit with power. In one of his pithiest phrases, Branch Rickey once said of Mays, “The secret to his success is the frivolity in his bloodstream.”

At a reception after the ceremony at the Rio III gallery on the SE corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and 155th Street, a portrait was unveiled of Mays playing stickball
with neighborhood Harlem kids.

The lower floors of this handsome new building on 898 St. Nicholas Ave. house The Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Arts and Storytelling. This new facility was designed by famed architect David Adjaye who created the acclaimed African-American cultural museum in DC and just was selected to build the new Studio Museum in Harlem.

The Sugar Hill Children's Museum should be a must-visit for parents who want to educate their children about the rich cultural history of their neighborhood and urban and rural life in general.

Before I conclude this first October blog, I want to say a few more words about the achievements of three great baseball people who passed on in recent weeks.

Gene Michael, 79, may have been the classic "good field, no hit" player. But he learned from his failures to become a top-notch player evaluator who somehow survived the George Steinbrenner firing machine to be a key part of the Yankees resurgence in the 1990s.

Gene Bennett, 91, spent his whole career with the Cincinnati Reds. Growing up in Branch Rickey country of Scioto County in southern Ohio, Bennett was advised by Rickey to take a job as scout instead of minor league manager.

"You can get fired if one season you are given a bad team," Rickey sagely advised. A good scout, though, can perform a service to the team if he finds prospects year after year. "TALENT SETS THE STAGE, CHARACTER SETS THE CEILING," was one of Bennett's most memorable adages.

Last but not least, Mel Didier, 91, left a remarkable legacy in baseball. He was the only man to work on the ground floor of three expansion franchises - the Montreal Expos, the Seattle Mariners, and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Didier signed future Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson for Montreal. He tried valiantly to sign Kirk Gibson for Seattle but team owners weren't supportive and Gibson insisted on finishing his athletic career at Michigan State.

Ten years later when working for the LA Dodgers, Didier was instrumental in getting Gibson to sign with LA as a free agent. It was his scouting report on Dennis Eckersley's penchant for throwing sliders on 3-2 counts that Gibson remembered when he hit his walkoff homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series that propelled LA's sweep of the Oakland A's.

Didier wrote often on baseball and its techniques. His memoir with sportswriter T.R. Sullivan, PODNUH LET ME TELL YOU A STORY is one of the best of its kind.

That's all for now. Next time we'll have a better sense of how October baseball is shaping up. I still sentimentally like Cleveland to win the World Series, perhaps over Washington (but another injury to hurler Max Scherzer puts that outcome in doubt.)

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

On The Eve of the All-Star Break: Celebrating College Baseball & John Brush Steps Rededication While Putting Oriole Woes On Back Burner

July 10, 2015

Tags: Paul Molitor, Tom Brunansky, Neil Allen, Lance Berkman, Rick Reichardt, Frank Viola, Al Holland, Wayne Graham, Howie Gershberg, Ron Darling, Roger Angell, POTUS 41: George H. W. Bush, John Brush, Staci Slaughter, Peter Magowan, Willie Mays, Lee Mazzilli, NYS Assemblyman Denny Farrell, NYC Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, The Alou brothers, Mitchell J. Silver

The MLB season is more than half over and the first half-plus is ending with a thud for my Baltimore Orioles. After finally spurting 7 games over .500, they have lost three series in a row including a sweep on the road by the very improved Minnesota Twins.

Though they have four deserved AllStars – Manny Machado playing with abandon after knee operations, Adam Jones recovering from a rare shoulder injury, shutdown closer Zach Britton and setup man Darren O’Day – the rest of their lineup and the starting pitching has been inconsistent. They trail the Yankee$$$ by three games as of Friday morning July 10.

Deserved kudos to new Twins manager Paul Molitor, the St. Paul MN-native and Hall of Famer in his first year as skipper, whose Twins thoroughly spanked the Birds. Molitor so far is belying that myth that great players cannot make good managers.

He presents a fascinating calm presence in the dugout. No Joe Girardi-Captain Queeg-like-squeezing-baseballs-like-ball bearings for him. Or Buck Showalter-grimaces-a la Earl Weaver. It is hard to know what he is thinking (except I did catch him looking down when his starter Kyle Gibson was temporarily losing sight of the strike zone with a eight-run lead).

So far Molitor’s hirings look good. He has brought aboard former Twins slugger Tom Brunansky as hitting coach. He also hired as rookie pitching coach Neil Allen, the former Met and Yankee hurler who served many years at Triple A-Durham NC helping develop the Tampa Bay Rays’ arsenal of fine pitchers.

After four miserable years, the Twins have taken advantage of their high draft picks and they remain a solid player development organization. They are fielding virtually a home-grown team with such promising talent as center fielder Aaron Hicks and third baseman/dh Miguel Sano, the highly touted Dominican Republic native whose first games in the big leagues have been a rousing success.

The Twins are getting a solid year from two veterans and definite leaders: quiet Joe Mauer, no longer catching but playing first base, and ebullient right fielder Torii Hunter who is proving you can go home again.

There is no assurance, of course, that the young Twins can challenge the Royals or even hold off the Tigers in the AL Central – where the White Sox and Indians are also showing signs of life though under .500. However as July advances, the Twins are a top feel-good story of 2015.

ON THE COLLEGE BASEBALL/HISTORICAL BASEBALL TRAIL
On June 29 the annual “Night of Champions,” sponsored by the College Baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock, Texas, provided as always an invigorating evening.

Player inductees into the CBHofF this year were Lance Berkman (Rice), Al Holland (North Carolina A & T), Rick Reichardt (University of Wisconsin), and Frank Viola (St. Johns of Queens, NY). All attended and were genuinely moved by the honor.

Berkman, who retired after a stellar major league career (366 HRs, .290 career BA) mainly with the Astros, looked trim, like he could still put on a MLB uniform.

He said that Rice coach Wayne Graham, briefly a Mets third baseman and already inducted in the Lubbock shrine, was a demanding taskmaster who made you feel “a sense of desperation.”

(Little-known fact about Berkman’s trade to the Yankees late in his career: The Astros received two minor leaguers now shining for other teams: Jimmy Paredes as the Orioles’ surprising if streaky DH, and Mark Melancon the Pirates closer and 2015 All-Star.)

Reichardt, whose record-setting bonus from the California Angels of over $200,000 in 1964 precipitated the creation of the amateur free agent draft the following year, was also a very heralded football running back and pass receiver. (He played in the famous 1963 Rose Bowl in which Wisconsin’s fourth-quarter comeback fell just short in a 42-37 loss to USC.)

Reichardt said that he loved his time in baseball though a loss of a kidney during his rookie season and his activities in the Players Association curtailed his career. He wished that today’s players would remember how past players’ actions led to the big salaries of today. He also regretted that most of today’s players don’t work harder on developing their skills.

Frank Viola flew in from his current job as the Mets’ pitching coach at Triple-A Las Vegas. His 26-2 record in three seasons at St. John’s was a remarkable career accomplishment. He gave great credit to his late pitching coach Howie Gershberg.

For a single game exploit, everyone still talks about Viola’s extra-inning victory over Ron Darling and Yale in a 1981 NCAA regional. Roger Angell immortalized the game in his “Web of the Game” essay in The New Yorker magazine (reprinted in the anthology “Late Innings”).

Viola said that the two things he most remembered about the game were: 1. The entire Yale dugout stood to applaud Darling when he gave up his first hit, a bloop, in the 11th inning. 2. The next day Darling also the Yale right fielder made a 310-foot throw on one hop to home plate. (Darling now is a member of Mets TV broadcasting team.)

Al Holland spoke forcefully and delightfully. Undrafted and rarely scouted at the historically black North Carolina A & T in Greensboro, Holland was signed at a tryout camp in Charlotte NC in 1975 by Branch Barrett Rickey, Branch Rickey’s grandson who was then an assistant farm director for the Pirates. (Today BB Rickey is the president of the Pacific Coast League.)

Holland received no bonus, just a dinner and a copy of an early illustrated book on visualization techniques. Holland made a bet with Rickey that he would arrive in Pittsburgh within two years and wanted a steak dinner. Sure enough Holland made the Pirates in 1977 and got his dinner.

He made his first mark in the big leagues with the San Francisco Giants under manager Frank Robinson. After compiling a long string of hitless innings, Robinson offered Holland a day off. “Did I tell you I was tired?” Holland remembered telling the intense skipper. “When I’m tired, I’ll tell you.

Holland finished his 10-year career with a 34-30 record, an ERA of 2.98, and 82 saves including 54 for the Phillies who he starred for in their 1983 pennant-winning season.

More good news from Lubbock was the ceremonial ground-breaking for the George HW Bush College Baseball Hall of Fame museum building. Bush, POTUS 41, played first base for Yale in the first two College World Series in 1947 and 1948.

One final historical moment: On the 102nd anniversary of their original dedication, the John Brush Steps were formally re-opened on Thursday July 9. Giants owner John Brush died in 1912 and the steps from Edgecombe Avenue on Sugar Hill down toward the entrance to the bathtub-shaped Polo Grounds were a memorial to him.

Many dignitaries and abiding baseball fans gathered for the ceremony.
A huge tip of the cap goes to Staci Slaughter, SF Giants Communications Exec V-P, who flew in from San Francisco for the occasion. Beginning with former owner Peter Magowan, a New York native who loved the NY Giants, the SF franchise has been very cognizant of its roots.

The SF Giants, the Mets and the Yankees, the football Giants and Jets, MLB as a corporate entity, and NYC government all contributed to make possible the re-dedicated Brush steps.

Lee Mazzilli, a Brooklyn boy who played for both the Mets and Yankees, spoke very movingly about the Polo Grounds and what it meant in American history not just baseball history. He said he grew up a SF Giant fan of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey,
Juan Marichal, and Dick Dietz.

Longtime New York State assemblyman Herman D. "Denny" Farrell Jr. grew up in Sugar Hill above the Polo Grounds. He told the story of how one day the St. Louis Cardinals got lost on the subway to the ballpark.

Carrying bats and wearing Cardinal jackets, they trudged up the hill towards the Polo Grounds. Soon word spread among Farrell and his friends. "Look, there's a real baseball team here!" they exulted. Farrell still vividly remembers the white hair of Cards third baseman Whitey Kurowski trudging up the hill towards the ballpark.

NYC parks commissioner Mitchell J. Silver and city councilman Ydanis Rodriguez are confident that the Harlem River Driveway (north of 155th Street that leads to Harlem River Drive) will soon be named after Willie Mays.

Also on the agenda is naming a street for the Alou brothers, Felipe, Mateo and Jesus, who were signed and starred for the San Francisco Giants. "Thank you, San Francisco, for giving three brothers a chance," Councilman Rodriguez noted gratefully.

That’s all this time. This is Teny Ymota (The Earl Of NY, Your Man On The Aisle), reminding you: Take it easy but take it!

Thoughts After Memorial Day Weekend

May 26, 2009

Tags: Joaquin Andujar, Cleveland Indians, Babe Ruth, Mickey Cochrane, Willie Mays, Joe Adcock, Fay Vincent, oe Maddon, Tampa Rays, New York Mets, Akinori Iwamura, interleague play, Branch Rickey

THOUGHTS AFTER MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND
I’ve always believed with pitcher Joaquin Andujar that there is only one word you need to understand baseball: “Youneverknow.” I like to think I’ve coined an adage of my own: “No four-run lead is ever safe in baseball until the game is over.” I may have to (more…)

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“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.”
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