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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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Can The Dodgers Avenge Their 1916 Loss to Bosox? (updated)

One of the great things about baseball is more than any sport there is a living vibrant link to the past. Checking my old reliable Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, I see that in early October 1916 the Red Sox beat the Dodgers in five games.

Babe Ruth was hitless in five at-bats but won game two, 2-1. He allowed only six hits, walked three and struck out four in a 14-inning complete game masterpiece. Ernie Shore won the first and last games and baseball's first Dutch Leonard won the fourth one.

Outfielders Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis showed why they were a formidable regular season duo each hitting over .300 in the Series and future Hall of Famer Hooper led both teams with 6 runs scored.

Third baseman Larry Gardner only had 3 hits in the Series but two of them were homers, one of them a three-run job that won Game 4. Shortstop Everett Scott, another Bosox player who wound up with the Yankees in owner's Harry Frazee's fire seal deals, saved the first game win with a late game dramatic defensive robbery.

And let's not forget first baseman Dick Hoblitzell who did not contribute much offensively but has one of the great forgotten names in baseball history. The three games in Boston were played in Braves Field that had a larger capacity than Fenway Park. (A Boston-Milwaukee series would have delighted local historians because of the Hub town connection of each team but it was not to be.)

On the Brooklyn side, outfielder Casey Stengel tied for the team lead with 4 hits but produced only 2 runs. Jack Coombs won the only game for Brooklyn and would retire undefeated in Series action with a 5-0 record, the other four coming with Connie Mack's first Philadelphia A's dynasty.

The home run dominates the game in the 21st century and yet I firmly believe that pitching and defense still wins championship. Just look at LA Dodgers Game 7 win over the Brewers last night (Oct. 20).

Chris Taylor's sensational catch on Christian Yelich's two-strike screaming liner into the left center field alley preserved LA's precarious 2-1 lead. And let's not forget Manny Machado's remarkable 3-2 bunt that immediately preceded Cody Bellinger's game-changing two-run homer.

Little things still win baseball games. Appreciation of these nuances for me makes baseball the great game it is. I hope to live to see the day when the cutting comment, "Baseball is what this country used to be, football is what it has become," no longer is accurate.

As for the coming World Series, I like the Dodgers in six or seven. I think their starting pitching looks a little sharper than Boston's. Their bullpen too looks in better shape than Boston's, especially if closer Craig Kimbrel keeps near-imploding.
Winning the final game against Milwaukee on the road indoors has to also provide LA an amazing psychological boost.

The Dodgers accomplished what neither the Cardinals in 1987 or the Braves in 1991 could do in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Silence screaming fans in a very hostile foreign environment. Whatever happens, let's hope they are good crisp games.

For five innings last night the drama of a game seven was priceless. Every pitch, every breath mattered. But when Yasiel Puig homered in the top of sixth off Jeremy Jeffress it was all over except for the countdown.

That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it. And also remember to vote on November 6!
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