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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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YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) Journal - First 2005 Entry

As the days get colder but also happily longer, it is about time to issue my first YIBF - Yours In Baseball Forever – blog of 2015. It was a disappointment that the Orioles’ remarkable 96-win regular season did not lead to their first World Series since 1983.
After sweeping the bullpen-and-bench deprived Tigers in three games in the ALDS, the remarkable speed and bullpen arms of the Kansas City Royals turned the tables on the Orioles in the ALCS.

And the Royals certainly contributed to a memorable seven-game World Series before succumbing to the mastery of Madison Bumgarner of the Giants. It is hard to recall a Series where one player was so outstanding and dominant as Bumgarner.
Whether as a starter or five-inning reliever in the climactic Game Seven, the good young boy from North Carolina put himself in the record books forever.
Fully deserving of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s 2014 Sportsman of the Year award.

What does 2015 look like for my Orioles? Certainly much work is needed to replace the 40 home runs of Nelson Cruz (off to Seattle on a four-year deal) and the stellar southpaw bullpen work of Andrew Miller (off to the hated Yankees also on a four-year deal).

Those defections did not surprise me, but most surprisingly, the O’s will now have to replace the steady, daily grinding presence and great defense of Nick Markakis (off to Atlanta on another four-year deal). No doubt owner Peter Angelos felt burned by the long-term contracts he gave the now-retired second baseman Brian Roberts and Markakis.

Unlike the oft-injured Roberts, Markakis played every day and played hard even if his run production has fallen off year by year. He was an Oriole all his career and probably wanted to stay. But the Braves, having traded potential superstar Jason Heyward to the Cardinals for righthander Shelby Miller, needed Markakis, who grew up in the Atlanta area. Unlike Angelos and Oriole general manager Dan Duquette, the Braves under new gm John Hart did not seem concerned about Markakis’ pending neck surgery and came up with the better contract.

(I cross my fingers that Manny Machado, back from a second major knee injury in two years, Chris Davis, eligible to play in game 2 of the season after his adderall suspension, and catcher Matt Wieters back from Tommy John surgery can all pick up some of the offensive slack.)

Speaking of John Hart, he was one of the protégés of former Oriole general manager Hank Peters who died at the end of 2014. Peters, 90, had a distinguished career in the front office beginning with the St. Louis Browns, the Orioles’ lineal descendant.
He went on to work for Charlie Finley’s A’s in both Kansas City and Oakland. Peters was instrumental in signing the core of the Oakland great dynasty from 1972-1974 – Sal Bando, Reggie Jackson, and Joe Rudi.

Under Peters the Orioles survived the major defections of the first free agent class of 1976-77, notably Bobby Grich and Reggie Jackson, to stay in contention and win the AL pennants of 1979 and 1983. It was no coincidence that when Peters left the Birds for Cleveland after 1986, Baltimore sunk and the Indians rose to contention with such home-grown stars as Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome.

On the cusp of the new year, the baseball world also lost two notable nonagenarian scouts – the longtime Red Sox talent hunter Bill Enos and the Mariners’ Bill Kearns. At the age of 92 Kearns was still working for Seattle when he suffered a ruptured aorta and drove himself to a Boston hospital where he passed away quietly.

I had the pleasure of conversing with Kearns when in the spring of 2013 the scouting profession was honored with a permanent exhibition at Cooperstown.
He was courtly, incisive, and modest. “I’m just a guy,” he often said, but those who knew him will never forget his grace and intelligence.

Stay warm, dear readers, and back to you soon with another YIBF installment focusing on the post-season dinners and clinics I have attended. Here's a tease.

At the 42nd annual BeTheBest baseball clinic in Cherry Hill, NJ earlier this month, Grand Canyon University coach Andy Stankiewicz had one of the great comments.
The former Yankee and Diamondback second baseman said that he couldn't relate to pro golfer or pro tennis players.

"I liked to pick up my teammates and have them pick me up,"he observed. You can see why that scrappy little guy, who never signed more than a one-year contract in his 14-year MLB career, is considered a comer in the coaching ranks.

BTW Grand Canyon is in Phoenix and happens to be the alma mater of Ron Polk class of 1965, another clinician in Cherry Hill. The irreverent Polk is the only coach to take three teams to the College World Series and is now the volunteer assistant at UAB - University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Until next time - Stay warm, dear readers, and always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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