icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


There is nothing like a hot stove league gathering to rekindle the baseball
spirit. My first visit to the 7th annual Baseball Scouts Foundation dinner in Los Angeles provided many memorable experiences. Good chats in the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza lobby with notable scouts Gary Nickels, now with the Dodgers, and Jerry Krause, the sage of both basketball and baseball scouting.
“An old scout always gets better, never worse” was just one of Krause’s sage comments.

The Saturday night January 16th dinner may have run a little long but to hear genuine legends Robin Roberts and Bob Feller talk about their early careers and pay tribute to the men who signed them -- Chuck Ward who inked the Phillies’ Hall of Famer and Cy Slapnicka who corralled Feller -- was worth the evening. Feller insisted that the award in his honor be named the Feller-Slapnicka award in memory of the “Queen Bee” scout who signed him out of the farm town of Van Meter Iowa in 1936. Roberts was introduced by a video of some of the highlights of his career played to the music of the Phillies fight song. “I may be one of the few people who know the words of that song,” he quipped.

The Phillies Hall of Famer said that Lou Gehrig was one of his boyhood heroes and he knew the name of Paul Krichell, the scout that signed him. He also knew that Gehrig wanted to buy his mother a house with his bonus money. When scout Ward initially offered Roberts $10,000 to sign, he knew that was not enough to buy his mother a house. When the figure got up to $25,000 Roberts recalled that he “stupidly” asked if that was enough for a house and the scout said yes. So he signed for that amount plus two steaks he ate on the train going south from Michigan State where he was signed out of college.

Brooks Robinson could not attend to receive his award but his teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Frank Robinson accepted in his absence. Frank brought his “A” game of pointed humor and genuine eloquence. After hearing a statement read from Brooks praising the American Legion baseball league in Little Rock, Arkansas that turned out more than a dozen future major leaguers and regretting that his hospitalization kept him away from the dinner, Frank deadpanned that he didn’t know everything about his former teammate but “I know Brooks Robinson did not write that.”

During their careers with the great Oriole teams of the 1960s and early 1970s, Frank said with a straight face that people often called them the Robinson brothers. Frank usually straightened out the confusion by saying, “I am an inch taller.” He repeated that line several times in his remarks but tonight there was more mirth than edge in his tone.

Alas, we Oriole fans live mainly in the past these days. They play in the hellish competitive division of the American League East and there remain too many holes in the daily lineup let alone the pitching rotation and bullpen to foresee even a spirited move towards .500 this year. And to add another dig at the oldtime fans the Orioles recently announced that they will add a surcharge for people who buy tickets on game day.

Walkup sales have always been one of the joys of being a fan acting spontaneously – “hey, it’s a beautiful night – let’s go out to the park and see the game.” Obviously like many old traditions it doesn’t count for much nowadays. So I guess the walkup sale of several thousand fans the night heralded catcher Matt Wieters made his Oriole debut late last spring will go as the final marker of another baseball tradition gone with the wind of the new baseball economics.

*****Experiencing for the first time some of Los Angeles-area sports landmarks was a real tonic for me. I was able to sit in the top row of an empty UCLA Pauley Pavillion that will be shortly renovated weith the inevitable addition of sky boxes. Pauley doesn’t have the intimacy of those Eastern shrines, Philadelphia’s Palestra on the University of Pennsylvania campus and the now-abandoned but still extant Cole Field House at the University of Maryland, but it was still a good feeling to imbibe the feeling of all those wins that the Bruins under coach John Wooden year after year for most of the late 60s and 1970s. Was also able to see the Jackie Robinson baseball stadium on another part of the beautiful UCLA campus. The gates were closed so could only glimpse the back of the Robinson statue behind home plate.

At the UCLA Guest House where I was staying I did enjoy seeing a vivid photo of the three-fourths African-American football backfield of the 1939 Bruin squad, Woody Strode, Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington.

I also paid a pilgrimage to the top row of an empty Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. Not being a Dodger fan in my youth it was a visit I could undertake without being overwhelmed by a sense of guilt.

A special highlight was to make my first trip to the Big A in Anaheim. The occasion was a somber one, a memorial service for the Angels (and USC Trojans basketball) broadcaster Rory Markas who passed on much too soon at age 55.

Angels owner Arte Moreno and his staff paid Markas a genuine tribute. His name was prominently featured on most of the stadium’s scoreboards. Markas’ brother Troy delivered a moving tribute to his departed sibling. He remembered how he, his father and Rory used to listen in their backyard to Dick Enberg’s radio broadcasts of the Angels and how Rory like many aspiring broadcasters used to make his own tapes of the games. There were not many dry eyes in the overflow gathering in the Angels’ Diamond Club lounge saying goodbye to the able talent whose signature sign-off was “Just another Halo victory.”

There was only discordant note at a Big A stadium that is happily more intimate than it appears on television. The infield was grotesquely torn up to accommodate the motocross events that take place during the off-season.

Yet this desecration shall soon pass. And by early April baseball will return to the Big A and 29 other major league ballparks and innumerable minor league, college, high school and little league fields. It is a major consolation at a time of national political impasse and continuing international unrest.

Ciao for now, dear blog readers. Back to you once the greatest words in the English language have come true yet again: "The pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training."
Be the first to comment