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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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77th Birthday Thoughts As Mets Limp Home to Celebrate Golden Anniversary of 1969 Triumph

The disappointing Mets will stumble back to CitiField this weekend to face the surging first-place Braves. I, for one, didn't expect much of this year's Mets because of holes in the lineup, mediocre defense, and a bullpen that matches my Orioles for ineptitude (and that means trouble right here in East River City).    

 
Forgive me a little reference to "The Music Man" because I've just completed my trombone year of 76 and start walking 77 Sunset Strip as I type this blog.  (If any dear readers want to lend Kookie Kookie a comb, please do -and while you're at it, send along a tape of Efrem Zimbalist's Sr. great violin playing.)   

 
A golden anniversary year like the Mets are celebrating brings back many memories. Kudos to the Met organization for selling some tickets to the ESPN Sunday night game at 1969 prices.

 
I was still living in Baltimore on June 27, 1969 after one year of teaching at Goucher College, just north of Baltimore. For my first Baltimore birthday I treated myself to the Birds playing the defending World Series Tigers.  

 
It was a steamy Friday on Bethlehem Steel night.  The factories were still brimming in Charm City and the steelworkers brought along a contraption placed behind the outfield fence that blasted smoke into the stifling humid air every time the Orioles did something good.   

 
Funny how memory can be deceptive. I was sure that the Birds annihilated former Cy Young award-winner Denny McLain in a rout. And that damned boiler gizmo added more hot air into the already stifling atmosphere.  

 

Thanks to a glance at retrosheet.org - SABR's indispensable guide to virtually every box score ever -, the Orioles did take an early lead and beat Detroit 4-1 behind Dave McNally's complete-game 5-hitter. But it was hardly a rout.

 
McLain did pitch the next night in a loss and didn't get out of the 6th inning but that too wasn't exactly an annihilation.  The Tigers wound up winning 90 games in 1969 but still finished far behind the Orioles, winners of 109 games.


The Birds were fated to meet the Mets in the World Series and lose in five games after beating Tom Seaver in Game One in Baltimore.  I attended Game Two in the right field upper deck nosebleeds and I have to admit like most New Yorkers (except for those sullen Yankee fans living through a rare dark decade of non-contention), I was rooting for a Mets victory.   


I reasoned it would be a good thing for the city of New York and the country itself.  It was the height of anti-Vietnam war opposition amidst Richard Nixon's succession to the Presidency earlier in 1969. 

 
If you want to relive that time, I highly recommend Wayne Coffey's new book from Crown Archetype:  "They Said It Couldn't Be Done: The '69 Mets, New York City, And The Most Astounding Season In Baseball History."  

 

It recreates very well the magical year where the Mets scored only 15 runs more than their hapless maiden version of 1962 but wound up winning it all. Ace Tom Seaver was so exuberant that he even took out an ad saying that if Mets could win World Series, America could end Vietnam war.

 
Coffey is a veteran columnist and reporter for the New York "Daily News".  Among his prior books are "The Boys of Winter" (about the USA hockey team that upset the Russians at the 1980 Winter Olympics) and "Wherever I Wind Up," his collaboration with former Mets Cy Young award-winner R. A. Dickey on his memoir.  

 
I felt drawn into this book from the opening epigraphs, quotes from Booker T. Washington and St. Francis Assisi.  Some of the baseball material will not be new to ardent Mets fans. But Coffey has done new interviews with pitcher Jerry Koosman - Tom Seaver's too-often neglected second banana -, Ed Kranepool, and probably the last interview with the Mets' platoon-third baseman and poet in residence Ed Charles.

 

Too many other of the Mets' 1969 heroes are gone now, starting with manager Gil Hodges who left us so shockingly of a heart attack on the dawn of the strike-delayed 1972 season.  Tom Seaver's ongoing battle with dementia caused by lyme disease will keep him away from this weekend's festivities.

 

Of the quartet of key AfricanAmerican Mets core players, only Cleon Jones remains. He remains actively involved in restoring his Mobile, Alabama neighborhood of Africatown, the last port where slave ships arrived. His friend and neighbor Tommy Agee is gone as in the mid-1969 acquisition, slugging first baseman Donn Clendenon.

 

Happily, they all come back to life on Coffey's pages.  We learn such new details (new at least to me) that Clendenon turned down a bigtime college football scholarship to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta. A person serving as his unofficial big brother made the recommendation, . . . the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  

 

"They Said" is also enhanced by the still-vivid memories of Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen and Howie Rose both of whom like Coffey were teenagers in that special year of 1969.

 

My only criticism of Coffey's book is that there is no index.  A work of this quality needed one.

 

Well, that's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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