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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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Observations from Teny Ymota and Me On Frank Robinson and "Roma" (with correction on date of F.Robby's first MLB managing job)

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training this week! And if that isn't enough good news, I ran into an old dear friend, Teny Ymota, while waiting on line late last week to see on a movie theatre screen in Greenwich Village the acclaimed film "Roma".  (Netflix is streaming this film but I recommend getting the full experience on a big screen.)

 

Teny like me is a big Orioles fan and a lover of the game far and wide.  We shed a tear and shared our memories of the great Frank Robinson who was the final piece of the Baltimore World Series championship teams of 1966 and 1970 that also won pennants in 1969 and 1971. 

 

Frank was not easy to get to know but he exuded the will to win in every pore. Not many superstars who desired to manage would go to Puerto Rico to get experience but F. Robby did.  Teny Ymota saw him down there winning titles for the Santurce Crabbers and marveled at his leadership skills. 

 

In 1975 Frank Robinson became the first black MLB manager for the Cleveland Indians. Still active as a DH in the second year of the AL's innovation, he homered to win his first game.

Loving his Orioles experience above all others, he later went down to Rochester to manage its Triple A affiliate the Red Wings. 

 

He resurfaced as the SF Giants manager in the early 1980s and took over as Orioles skipper early in the 1988 season after the team under Cal Ripken Sr. lost its first 6 games.  They would lose 15 more in a row - a dubious record of 21 losses to start a season.  Yet his 1989 Birds contended for the pennant until the last weekend of the season. 

 

Robinson was never long without a job.  He always was in demand for his no-nonsense evaluation skills and leadership abilities. He managed the Montreal Expos in its last years and came with the franchise to skipper the Washington Nationals in its first years.    

 

He epitomized the baseball-rich area of Oakland, California as well as anyone.  He played baseball at McClymonds High under coach George Powles, who had served in Mississippi during World War II and had seen the deprivation of black people in the Deep South.

 

Frank Robinson's HS baseball teammates included future MLB standouts Vada Pinson and Tommy Harper and a basketball teammate was future basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell. He was 83 at the time of his death.

 

TIME FOR THE MOVIE REVIEW:

I didn't know what to expect from "Roma", but Teny Ymota and another dear friend had recommended it highly.  I wasn't disappointed because the film is really an epic view of the world as seen through the eyes of one family whose man of the house abruptly departs.

 

A great film or novel creates a world that the viewer/reader gets immediately swept into. So it happened for me (despite sitting in a cramped theater with excruciating knee pain and a boorish guy in front of me who sang the praises of Trump when he couldn't get to his seat as fast as he wanted). 

 

"Roma" is set in the Mexico City neighborhood of Roma in 1971. I found myself quickly drawn into the world of the mother, her children, and especially her servant.  Deservedly both the mother (Marina da Taviro) and servant (Yalitza Aparicio, a newcomer to film who I don't think is related to Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio) are both nominated for Oscars.

 

So is director Alfonso Cuaron who directed Oscar-winner"Gravity". Guaron's camera is far-ranging. You viscerally gasp at the crowded streets of Mexico City and get soothed by the ocean waters outside the city. Nominated for 10 Oscars, "Roma" deserves a lot of them. The music from the car radios deserves kudos and adds to the film's relentless forward motion.  

 

After we shared our exhilaration at the movie, I asked Teny Ymota for his baseball views.  Unlike me, he has seen a lot of the world, especially Latin America.  He's glad that after years of indifference to the international market the Birds are making more of a commitment to scouting regions outside the United States. 

 

Like me, though, he isn't optimistic that Baltimore can become a contender any time soon. 

It will take time to develop the contacts and commitment to the local Latin American areas that give them a better chance of landing promising talent. 

  

Teny Ymota is a fairly elusive fellow and when i asked when we might meet again and inquired if that was his real name, he was non-committal. He shrugged his shoulders to both questions. 

 

Well, I'll keep asking and you keep reading because I hope to get the answers real soon.

 In the meantime always remember:  Take it easy but take it!  

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