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This fall has been an active one for yours truly. I have been pleased that there continues to be interest in my biography of Branch Rickey and especially his role in the signing of Jackie Robinson. In November I talked on the subject at the University of Oregon - part of the traveling exhibit “Pride and Passion” about the African-American experience in baseball. Just before Thanksgiving I addressed an adult group at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore.

In mid-December I have two more talks slated on the subject for Columbia alumni clubs in Sarasota and Tampa.

I was really impressed with the University of Oregon campus in Eugene, a rare city named after the first name of a benefactor, EUGENE SKINNER. It is a small but pretty and vibrant college town, filled with the kind of good restaurants and eating places you might expect in such an environment. For those into exquisite pleasure without much concern for the waistline, I highly recommend Euphoria Chocolates and Princess Puckler ice cream!

One of the highlights of any trip is meeting new interesting people. At my talk in Eugene at the main branch of the public library, GEORGE BERES, a retired journalist and former SID at Northwestern in Evanston Ill. and the University of Oregon, introduced himself. He gave me three of his columns from the 1990s about race pioneers PAUL ROBESON, opera and lieder singer MARIAN ANDERSON, and the least known of the three MACK ROBINSON.

MACK ROBINSON was Jackie’s athletic mentor and older brother who was a great track man in the 1930s at the University of Oregon. He was a silver medalist in the 200-meter dash at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, finishing second to the soon world-famous JESSE OWENS. Yet Mack had to live far off campus, Beres informs us, because of the fears of race mixing even in the Pacific Northwest.

**A NEW KNOTHOLE GANG DVD: At least new to me. I have worn out my VHS copy of JACKIE ROBINSON working out Little Leaguers at Ebbets Field before a June 26, 1956 game against the Cubs. Jackie’s politeness and respect for the kids shines through. I wrote a story about this tape for the 1997 MLB All-Star Game Program when I found the winner LOUIS MANNARINO who now is retired and lives in Florida. (Louis played college ball at St. Francis of Brooklyn, a school that alas gave up baseball a few years ago.)

I am happy to learn that a second Knothole Gang show, also with Jackie Robinson working out youngsters, is now available on the same disc as the 1956 show. This one is from August 7, 1954 and while it is not as vivid as the later one it is a nice addition to one’s DVD collection. And features a few seconds with CY BLOCK who brought one of the contestants to Ebbets Field.

Block, who played briefly for the Cubs during WW II, was on his way to becoming a highly successful insurance man. When asked by rotund jolly host HAPPY FELTON his views of baseball, Block replied: “IT’S THE GREATEST THING IN
THE WORLD.” Amen, amen.

Both Knothole Gang shows are available on one disc from Doak Ewing’s Rare Sportsfilms operation in Naperville, Illinois.

**I have no real gripe with the baseball awards for 2011. Impressive fearless righthander JEREMY HELLICKSON of the Tampa Bay Rays and overpowering Atlanta Braves closer CRAIG KIMBREL copped Rookie of the Year awards but beware hurlers: Repeating your success is not easy and you cannot rest on your laurels. Ditto to JUSTIN VERLANDER winner of both the AL Cy Young award (unanimously) and MVP. First pitcher to win both awards since Oakland A’s DENNIS ECKERSLEY in 1992. RYAN BRAUN slugging outfielder of the Milwaukee Brewers also deserved his National League MVP IMO.

**On November 12 at their annual dinner at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md. The MID-ATLANTIC BASEBALL SCOUTS ASSOCIATION named JOHN DICARLO of the Giants its Scout of the Year (he is the son of the late scout JOE DICARLO).
STEVE FLEMING of Braves was named CrossChecker of the Year.
JERRY WARGO of Angels was named Part-Time Scout of Year.
JEFF BROOKENS and JOE RIGOLI were named to the Assn. Hall of Fame and will have names on the plaques at Camden Yards early next season.
Retired TY BROWN received career recognition award.

"Lose without excuses, win without boasting, and always give visiting players a most courteous welcome." GEORGE HUFF c.1922, athletic director of the University of Illinois who earlier as baseball scout signed Tris Speaker. Quoted by TIMOTHY GAY in a new volume available to all members of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research): CAN HE PLAY? A LOOK AT BASEBALL SCOUTS AND THEIR PROFESSION edited by BILL NOWLIN & JIM SANDOVAL. Also available through amazon.com, hulu.com and other vendors.

I have a piece in the volume on the late great Washington Nationals/Minnesota Twins scout HERB STEIN. Let me give Herb the last word in today’s post as spring training is only a little more than two months away:

“Baseball is spontaneous - Nobody writes the dialogue except to see what happens in front of them.”

Remember: "The only wealth is life" and “Take it easy but take it!”
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