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Why Bobby Thomson Day Will Always Be Special To Men Of A Certain Age + Thoughts on Upcoming "Final Fours" in Both Leagues (updated version)

Way back in the way back of the mid-twentieth century, on Wednesday afternoon October 3, 1951 at 3:58p, New York Giants third baseman Bobby Thomson waited for an 0-1 pitch from Brooklyn Dodger reliever Ralph Branca.

 
"There's a long drive, I think it's gonna be," shouted Russ Hodges on WMCA Radio 570 AM.  And micro-seconds later, Hodges shouted not once but four times: "The Giants win the pennant!"  Over in the WMGM 1050 AM radio booth, Red Barber quietly said, "It's in there for the pennant." 

 
I was only nine years old, but I was listening on my parents' old floor model Crosley radio. It might have been to Barber and not Hodges, but Your Honor, I just don't remember.  

But I do vividly remember telephoning my father at his office with the good news because he was a Giant fan from the days of John McGraw. 

 
My boys had been down 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth and the odds didn't look good for the Polo Grounds nine. Giants owner Horace Stoneham had retreated to the center field clubhouse to greet the lads on a good try after the game.

 

But once Alvin Dark singled to lead off the inning against previously dominant Don Newcombe, ears perked up and hearts began to leap. When my favorite Don "Mandrake the Magician" Mueller singled Dark to third, we had tying run at the plate! True rally in making.

 

Monte Irvin popped out but Whitey Lockman doubled home Dark to cut lead to 4-2.  

 

There is nothing like baseball drama in October.  Don Mueller broke his ankle sliding into third so there was a pause as he was helped off the field.  Clint Hartung, who never lived up to the ballyhoo as The Hondo Hurricane, came in to pinch-run. 

 

Don Newcombe was out and Ralph Branca made the long walk in from the bullpen far away in left field. Coach Clyde Sukeforth is said to have advised manager Chuck Dressen that Carl Erskine had just thrown his vaunted curveball in the dirt and Branca was safer pick. (Though Thomson had homered a few times in the past against Branca.)

 

And on the 0-1 pitch Thomson swung and soon Russ Hodges was shouting, "They're going crazy, they're going crazy."  I've never believed that Thomson knew what pitch was coming.  I heard from a reliable source that a few days before Whitey Lockman died, he made a definitive comment:  "He still had to hit the ball, didn't he?" 

 
It was 69 years old today - the birthday of Hall of Famer Dave Winfield who was born in 1951.  It remains a special moment (with apologies to Brooklyn Dodger fans who were heart- broken but hey you guys won enough pennants - and we were both rooked six years later when the teams left for California.)

 

Once the expanded playoffs came into baseball with wild cards were added for best record without winning a division title, Russ Hodges' dramatic call would have lost a little flair.  It would have gone:  "The Giants Win The Pennant! . . . And The Dodgers Win The Wild Card."

 
Which brings us to October baseball in 2020.  The "final fours" in each league could be very dramatic best of five series.  All will be played in "bubbles" in warm weather sites in Texas or southern California.

 

The pandemic has caused this adjustment, but for decades "warm weather" sites has been a dream of many high-rollers in baseball and television circles. After all, their argument goes, who can afford World Series prices anyway? 

 

Three of the four divisional series could be called grudge matches, especially Yankees versus Tampa Bay Rays who won season series 8-2. With a no-name lineup of seemingly interchangeable pitching and batting parts, the Rays are defiant in their disregard for Yankee "aura and mystique" (to use the phrase of the politically righter-than-right Curt Schllling). 

 

That series will be played in San Diego. If the Dodgers won enough in their last years in Brooklyn, what can be said about the Yankees and their entitlement?  So let's bring those games on, starting Monday night Oct 5 on Fox channels for five consecutive nights if necessary.

 

I must say though I cannot root for Yankees, third baseman Gio Urschela's defensive and offensive performance against his former team Cleveland was truly awesome. It's an overused word these days but certainly true.  He has to have made the people of Colombia very proud.

 

In Los Angeles, the Oakland Athletics hope to get revenge on the Houston Astros who won the World Series in 2017 but were admonished for their high-tech and low-tech sign-stealing escapades. 

 
Dusty Baker has done a helluva job in his first year managing the Astros who everyone likes to hate. Houston players have hardly been repentant for their role in the scandal. 

 

But I can never root against a Baker-led team and so I'll say, "Let the best team win . . . without excess chicanery." 

 
In the NL "final four", the Southern California freeway battle between the Padres and the Dodgers will be played in Arlington, Texas, where the World Series will also be held in the Rangers' brand-new billion-dollar Globe Life Stadium.

 

If San Diego can get back its two starters Clevinger and Lamet that missed the triumph over the Cardinals, it says here that the Padres may have enough hitting to give the Dodgers a run for their money. And their left side of the infield, Manny Machado at third and Fernando Tatis Jr at shortstop, can be spectacular.

 
The Dodgers look exceptionally well-balanced and certainly have a lot to prove after winning 7 NL West titles in a row - now 8 - without a World Series title to show for it. 


The other NL matchup is not exactly chopped liver.  A well-balanced Atlanta Braves team that shut out the Reds twice in the first round faces the 2020 Cinderellas, the Miami Marlins, the "Bottom Feeders" derided by a Phillies broadcaster early in season, now have the last laugh. Philadelphia didn't even make playoffs. They will play in Houston.

 
With the NHL Stanley Cup now in the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the NBA title likely going to LeBron James' LA Lakers, MLB will have the stage to itself n October as it should be.  (I omit from this discussion the NFL and its bowdlerized season.)  

 

In closing, let's clink glasses to three Baseball Hall of Famers who left us in rapid fashion recently:  Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, and Bob Gibson.  

 

And to three lesser lights who etched their names in the Baseball Book of Achievement:  Lou Johnson, Jay Johnstone, and Ron Perranoski.   "There is no wealth but life."

 

That's all for now.  Be well and stay well and as always, take it easy but take it.

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When Robert Mueller Is More Ray Mueller Than Don Mueller and Other Thoughts On Cusp Of New Baseball Season (corrected version)

I wasn't expecting too much from former FBI director Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's influence on the 2016 Presidential campaign.  But wasn't expecting so little either. And it looks like there will be a real and necessary battle for the public to see the full report. 

 
So Robert Mueller is no Mandrake the Magician after all.  That was sweet-swinging right fielder Don Mueller's nickname - one of my early New York Giant heroes with a career .296 BA and .390 SA and an astonishing low number of walks and strikeouts. 

 

He put the ball in play did my man Don Mueller. I recall his winning a game by singling to left field when they were trying to walk him intentionally.  It was mid-1950s, the year when they allowed the catcher to step outside the batter's box to receive an intentional walk.

 

Who knows how the 1951 World Series would have turned out if Mueller could have played?  Alas, he broke his ankle sliding into third just before Bobby Thomson's momentous playoff home run. Mueller was 7 for 18 when the Giants swept the Indians in 1954.

 

Ray Mueller, a little older than Don, actually had a better career than I remembered - 14 years mainly as a backup catcher, hitting .252 slugging .368. But pretty much a nondescript career which over time might be where Robert Mueller's role in history winds up.

 
An electoral repudiation in 2020 of our current pre-fascist Presidency will serve our society best.  I try to buoy myself by the inspirational quote I saw on the Illinois Wesleyan University website:  "The past is immutable, but history is up to us."    

 
Meanwhile. more sad news hit the New York area baseball community when veteran baseball writer Marty Noble, 70, collapsed and died at the Mets spring training base in Port St. Lucie this past weekend. 

 
His long-form baseball writing was always incisive and leavened with humor. For many seasons he covered the Mets for "Newsday" and later mlb.com. I noted in my last blog his recent penetrating piece on Tom Seaver that appeared on the blog "Murray Chass On Baseball". 

 
He deeply appreciated baseball scouts. I once told me how the legendary Cardinals scout George Kissell walked speedster Vince Coleman  - the Cardinal star who became a so-so Met - to an outfield wall to demonstrate the many bounces a ball took. Marty also wrote a gem about the life and times of the great scout Al LaMacchia.

 

HERE'S ANOTHER SHOUT-OUT FOR COLLEGE BASEBALL:

As the Orioles face a likely 100-loss season or worse, I'm taking solace in the good Ivy League start of my Columbia Lions. On this excruciatingly windy past Saturday, senior southpaw Josh Simpson (Stafford, CT)  hurled a complete game 3-0 shutout.

 

Simpson struck out seven and got stronger as the game went on.  Imagine that, analytic Kool-aid guzzlers. He even faced the same lineup three times and threw 110 pitches.  

 
Columbia fell 4-3 in the first game of the Sunday double header as the Big Red scored all four runs in the 5th inning off junior southpaw Ben Wereski (Orchard Park, NY Buffalo suburb). Ben was brilliant for the first four innings, striking out 8 of the first 11 batters. Cornell junior reliever John Natoli (Fairfield, CT) blew away the Lions in the late innings, striking out the last six batters. 

 

Columbia rebounded in the second game to win 13-8 and thereby capture the series. They came from behind three times with the big blow being Fresno Calif.'s senior first baseman Chandler Bengtson's grand slam. 

 

Senior righthander Ethan Abrams (Encinitas, Calif.) pitched four solid relief innings. Always nice to see pitchers like Abrams and Simpson regain form after serious arm surgery. Here's an abiding hope that the TJ epidemic declines as parents and coaches don't let youngsters throw too hard too soon. 

 
Another big weekend looms this Sat and Sun as perennial contender Dartmouth comes to town. It will be strange to see former standout Lions third baseman David Vandercook in a Dartmouth uniform as assistant coach. But glad he's moving up in his chosen career.

 

Weather should be warmer but there is always a potent breeze off the Hudson River so football attire is never out of place at Satow Stadium just north of the football stadium at the Baker Field complex. First game on Sat. is 1130, single game on Sunday starts at noon.

 
IMO the college baseball season is too short, but academic schedules and the existence of pro minor leagues make change very hard. However, once you get used to the sound of the metal bat - hard for baseball purists I know -, the game is the same and often played with more fundamentals than you see these days on the major league level.

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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