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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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The Blessed Return of Baseball 2014

The weather is still chilly in the Northeast but the first ten days of the baseball season have been most welcome. Already a couple of “surprise teams” have emerged – the Milwaukee Brewers who spoiled the world champion Red Sox home opener and swept them in a weekend series. They continued their pounding in Philadelphia.

And the Seattle Mariners are getting good pitching from surprise sources as two arms they are counting on, the veteran Iwajima and rookie Tajuan Walker, heal from what they hope are minor injuries. Heralded free agent Robinson Cano is off to a solid start and has obviously deepened their lineup.

Don’t make World Series ticket orders yet in the state of Washington and Wisconsin. But a good start is almost always essential to a good season.

My Orioles limped into Yankee Stadium with losses in their first two series of the year – to last year’s World Series winner Red Sox and one of this year’s favorites the Tigers. They fell to 2-5 after losing the Yankees home opener, 4-2, but evened the series with a resounding 14-5 shellacking of the Bronx Bombers. Most important, they won the rubber match of the series with a thrilling 5-4 victory.

So as they enjoy an off day on Thursday April 10, their record stands at 4-5 tied with the Yankees. No team is running away with any division so far but sadly Arizona and Houston and San Diego and the Cubs are in danger of getting buried way below .500.

Of course 150 games are still to be played but no team wants to spend the first few weeks of the season trying to get to and then over .500.

SOME NOTES ON MY LATE MARCH BASEBALL ADVENTURES
On a rainy last Saturday of the month, I took a trolley ride to baseball graves in Brooklyn’s renowned Green-Wood Cemetery. I thought I was entering Westminster Abbey when I walked under the majestic arch of a cemetery that dates back to 1838.

I knew Henry Chadwick, the so-called “Father of Baseball” and inventor of the box score, was buried there as well as noted personages like composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein. I didn’t realize that Louis Gottschalk (1829-1869), the brilliant composer-pianist who anticipated ragtime music decades ahead of time, was also buried there.

Other baseball notables buried at Green-Wood are Dodgers owner Charles Ebbets and Jim Creighton, baseball’s first spectacular pitcher who died in 1864 at the terribly premature age of 21. He suffered severe internal injuries probably because of the tortuous movements involved in his pitching motion.

At the end of our tour, guide Jeff Richman left us with the witty one-liner, “Come visit again while you can still leave.” I intend to do so on Tuesday afternoon April 15 when restorations to Jim Creighton’s impressive tombstone will be made. The ceremony will be from 1-3p and it is free. But you must register at the Green-Wood.com website.

Earlier in March I attended the 21st annual NINE Baseball Magazine conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Renowned baseball architect and stadium renovator Janet Marie Smith delivered an outstanding opening night address on her experiences from Camden Yards and Atlanta’s Turner Stadium to renovating Fenway and now Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Virtually all of the 20 minute presentations during the conference were stimulating. Among my favorites were Larry Gerlach’s sensitive survey of Norman Rockwell’s baseball paintings, Lyle Spatz’s penetrating look at “Dixie Walker’s America,” and Steve Treder’s homage to the late colorful outfielder Leon Wagner.

The following weekend I undertook my first journey to Austin, Texas where I rooted for my Columbia Lions against the Texas Longhorns at Disch-Falk Stadium. The big ballpark, with power alleys larger than any major league ballpark, is named after two former Longhorn coaches - one of them Bibb Falk hit over .300 in his 10-year career after replacing banned Shoeless Joe Jackson in the White Sox outfield.

The Longhorns swept the three-game series but the first two games were competitive. Always helps to play the best if you want to be the best. Columbia was picked by “Baseball America” to repeat as Ivy League champions. But I know that the hardest thing in sports is to repeat a great season.

As the short Ivy League season heads to its climax in the next three weekends of April, Columbia trails the undefeated University of Pennsylvania by three games in the Gehrig Division. The other surprise team in the league is Yale that leads the Rolfe Division with a 5-3 log. The wins include a sweep of Columbia on the road.

The Ivy season is a very short one - only 20 league games. Columbia’s margin for error now is very small. They do have four games against Penn at the end of the month but it would behoove them to cut the margin before those contests.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the coming of full-fledged spring and the full-fledged baseball season on any level. Nothing like it!

And always remember to Take It Easy But Take It!
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