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Three Cheers for Christian Yelich, RIP Bobby Winkles, & More

I hope everyone who reads this post is coping somehow with the coronavirus crisis that likely will not subside any time soon. 

 

I ache for those of you who have lost loved ones and have not been able to mourn and grieve adequately because of the failure of our public health system. That problem starts at the very top of our government where there is no leadership and no sense of responsibility.

 
Let me begin the baseball part of this post with a shoutout to the caring gesture of Christian Yelich, the star Milwaukee Brewers' right fielder.  Earlier this month he wrote an empathetic letter to the seniors at his alma mater, Harvard-Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks, California outside of Los Angeles - the same area where Kobe Bryant perished with his daughter and others in the helicopter crash.

 
"This is just a small chapter of your life that's just beginning," Yelich wrote.  
There will be better days ahead, Yelich assured them, once games resume and the best of them move on to higher competition. "Most importantly," he advised, "play for all your teammates that no longer get to do so, and never forget to realize how lucky you are!" 

 

(Three top pitchers in MLB today graduated from Harvard-Westlake - the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty, the White Sox's Lucas Giolito, and the Braves' Max Fried.) 

 
Pretty heady stuff from Yelich, the 28-year-old former NL MVP whose injury late last season likely cost the Brewers a chance to advance to the World Series for only the second time in franchise history and the first since 1982.   

 
Speaking of that 1982 World Series, I caught Game 7 on MLBTV last week. If the Cardinals hadn't scored insurance runs in the bottom of the 8th, I think that game would be considered an all-time classic. 

 
It was fascinating to see future MLB pitching coaches Pete Vuckovich and Bob McClure hurling for the Brew Crew.  Vuckovich was a gamer to end gamers and got out of many jams to pitch Milwaukee into the bottom of the 6th with a two-run lead.


Showing championship mettle, the Cardinals answered immediately with four runs, two charged to Vuckovich and the others to McClure. Keith Hernandez delivered the two-run tying single off his former high school teammate in the SF Bay area.  

 

St. Louis left fielder Lonnie Smith, who nine years later would be the base-running goat in the 1-0 10 inning Braves loss to the Twins, was a big part of the Cardinals' rally in this game.  It was nice to see Smith in one of his better games - we shouldn't forget he was also a big part of the 1980 Phillies championship season.

 

Future Tampa Rays batting coach George Hendrick made a key throw in this game nabbing future Hall of Famer Robin Yount aggressively trying to go from first to third in the fourth inning on a two-out single to right field by another future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. 

 

Hendrick is widely considered to be the first player to wear his uniform pants low, starting a trend that remains the fashion in today's baseball. (Not to me but that's another story for another time.)

 

Hendrick was never comfortable talking to the press and so became controversial.

But as Joe Garagiola sagely noted on the broadcast, all Hendrick wanted is to be judged by what he did on the field.

 

I hadn't heard Garagiola and partner Tony Kubek announce a game in a long while and they were good.  So was Tom Seaver, commenting from downstairs near the field.  

 

Garagiola certainly had a gift for colorful description. When Ted Simmons clearly would have been out at home on a grounder to third base, Joe quipped, "He would have needed a subpoena" to get there. Fortunately for Ted, the ball rolled foul. Oh, those little things that make up every baseball game and maybe that's what we miss most of all right now.  

 

An interesting sidelight to this game was that future Hall of Famer Simmons was catching for Milwaukee, and the former Brewer Darrell Porter was catching for St. Louis.  

 

(Note:  Simmons' induction into Cooperstown on the last Sunday in July is still scheduled, but a final decision from the Hall of Fame on whether the ceremonies wil go on as planned is still awaited.)  

 

I haven't watched many of the All-Time Game broadcasts on MLBTV but they are nice to have to pass time until the real thing returns.  Certainly we cannot expect live baseball in a normal setting until next season at the earliest.

 

I did watch ESPN's broadcast of Ali-Frazier I on Saturday night April 18.  What a brutal battle that was, with Frazier the deserved winner.

 

I didn't realize that Burt Lancaster had done the TV color commentary with light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore and venerable Don Dunphy doing blow-by-blow.  

 

Lancaster was very enthusiastic but not particularly insightful.  He was one of our more athletic actors, a star in track and field and I think gymastics too at the Bronx's DeWitt Clinton High School.

 

On a concluding sad note, here's a farewell to Bobby Winkles who passed away at

the age of 90 earlier this week.  Winkles put Arizona State University on the map as a baseball power.  He amassed a record of 524-173 from 1958-1971, and won three College World Series, 1965-1967-1969.

 

He coached such future MLB stars as Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, Rick Monday (the first pick in baseball's first amateur free agent draft in 1965), Gary Gentry a key part of the 1969 Mets, and Sal Bando, the glue on the Oakland A's 1972-74 champions.

 

He had an under .500 record managing in the majors for the Angels and A's but he was a memorable baseball lifer who later worked in player development with the White Sox and Expos and also broadcast games for Expos from 1989-93.

 

Winkles hailed from Swifton, Arkansas where he grew up with future Hall of Famer George Kell.  His home town was so small, Winkles liked to say, the city limits sign was placed on the same telephone pole.

 

After starring at Illinois Wesleyan U. in Bloomington, Illinois, he signed with the White Sox.  Alas, the middle infielder was stuck behind future Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio and Nelson Fox and never reached the majors.

 

He found his calling in coaching, and in 2006 he was elected in the first class of inductees into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.  Somewhere in the great beyond, one of the best Walter Brennan imitators is rehearsing for his first celestial gig.

 

(For younger readers, Walter Brennan was one of the great Hollywood character actors.  I remember him warmly as Gary Cooper's sidekick in "Meet John Doe" and Lou Gehrig's sportswriter-confidant in "Pride of the Yankees".) 

 

Well, that's all for now, and more than ever in these uncertain times, always rememeber:  Take it easy but take it!

 

 

 

 

 

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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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