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When Robert Mueller Is More Ray Mueller Than Don Mueller and Other Thoughts On Cusp Of New Baseball Season (corrected version)

I wasn't expecting too much from former FBI director Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's influence on the 2016 Presidential campaign.  But wasn't expecting so little either. And it looks like there will be a real and necessary battle for the public to see the full report. 

 
So Robert Mueller is no Mandrake the Magician after all.  That was sweet-swinging right fielder Don Mueller's nickname - one of my early New York Giant heroes with a career .296 BA and .390 SA and an astonishing low number of walks and strikeouts. 

 

He put the ball in play did my man Don Mueller. I recall his winning a game by singling to left field when they were trying to walk him intentionally.  It was mid-1950s, the year when they allowed the catcher to step outside the batter's box to receive an intentional walk.

 

Who knows how the 1951 World Series would have turned out if Mueller could have played?  Alas, he broke his ankle sliding into third just before Bobby Thomson's momentous playoff home run. Mueller was 7 for 18 when the Giants swept the Indians in 1954.

 

Ray Mueller, a little older than Don, actually had a better career than I remembered - 14 years mainly as a backup catcher, hitting .252 slugging .368. But pretty much a nondescript career which over time might be where Robert Mueller's role in history winds up.

 
An electoral repudiation in 2020 of our current pre-fascist Presidency will serve our society best.  I try to buoy myself by the inspirational quote I saw on the Illinois Wesleyan University website:  "The past is immutable, but history is up to us."    

 
Meanwhile. more sad news hit the New York area baseball community when veteran baseball writer Marty Noble, 70, collapsed and died at the Mets spring training base in Port St. Lucie this past weekend. 

 
His long-form baseball writing was always incisive and leavened with humor. For many seasons he covered the Mets for "Newsday" and later mlb.com. I noted in my last blog his recent penetrating piece on Tom Seaver that appeared on the blog "Murray Chass On Baseball". 

 
He deeply appreciated baseball scouts. I once told me how the legendary Cardinals scout George Kissell walked speedster Vince Coleman  - the Cardinal star who became a so-so Met - to an outfield wall to demonstrate the many bounces a ball took. Marty also wrote a gem about the life and times of the great scout Al LaMacchia.

 

HERE'S ANOTHER SHOUT-OUT FOR COLLEGE BASEBALL:

As the Orioles face a likely 100-loss season or worse, I'm taking solace in the good Ivy League start of my Columbia Lions. On this excruciatingly windy past Saturday, senior southpaw Josh Simpson (Stafford, CT)  hurled a complete game 3-0 shutout.

 

Simpson struck out seven and got stronger as the game went on.  Imagine that, analytic Kool-aid guzzlers. He even faced the same lineup three times and threw 110 pitches.  

 
Columbia fell 4-3 in the first game of the Sunday double header as the Big Red scored all four runs in the 5th inning off junior southpaw Ben Wereski (Orchard Park, NY Buffalo suburb). Ben was brilliant for the first four innings, striking out 8 of the first 11 batters. Cornell junior reliever John Natoli (Fairfield, CT) blew away the Lions in the late innings, striking out the last six batters. 

 

Columbia rebounded in the second game to win 13-8 and thereby capture the series. They came from behind three times with the big blow being Fresno Calif.'s senior first baseman Chandler Bengtson's grand slam. 

 

Senior righthander Ethan Abrams (Encinitas, Calif.) pitched four solid relief innings. Always nice to see pitchers like Abrams and Simpson regain form after serious arm surgery. Here's an abiding hope that the TJ epidemic declines as parents and coaches don't let youngsters throw too hard too soon. 

 
Another big weekend looms this Sat and Sun as perennial contender Dartmouth comes to town. It will be strange to see former standout Lions third baseman David Vandercook in a Dartmouth uniform as assistant coach. But glad he's moving up in his chosen career.

 

Weather should be warmer but there is always a potent breeze off the Hudson River so football attire is never out of place at Satow Stadium just north of the football stadium at the Baker Field complex. First game on Sat. is 1130, single game on Sunday starts at noon.

 
IMO the college baseball season is too short, but academic schedules and the existence of pro minor leagues make change very hard. However, once you get used to the sound of the metal bat - hard for baseball purists I know -, the game is the same and often played with more fundamentals than you see these days on the major league level.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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