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A Special Sendoff to WFAN's Steve Somers, A Deserved Honor for Scout Billy Blitzer, and In Memory of Royals Scout Art Stewart

To those outside the range of WFAN's 660 AM or 101.9 FM's frequency, Steve Somers' 

name may not ring a bell. 

But to those in the New York City area and those with access to the audacy.com streaming link, Somers was renowned as the last of the original on-air voices of the nation's first 24-hour sports radio station. 


The outpouring of praise and love for him as his 34-year WFAN career came to an

end in mid-November was genuine.  Media columnist Andrew Marchand in the New York Post put it very well when he noted the irony that it took a fellow from San Francisco to give the station its first true New York voice. 


Starting as the overnight host "under the covers, talking S-P-O-R-T-S," Somers became the utility player extraordinaire in the later years of his career.  Working many different shifts, I'd call him the Kike Hernandez/Chris Taylor of NY sports radio.  


Somers' well-written opening monologues were informative and humorous, qualities very rare in a medium too often drowned out by shouting and superficial statistics from both hosts and callers.  Somers' persona was genuinely caring and compassionate.


How fitting that his last special one-hour afternoon show began with a call from Jerry Seinfeld, his longtime fan, and ended with Bernie Williams calling in to say that as a Yankee player he always felt the fairness and insightfulness of Somers' commentaries. 


Always nice to see class and professionalism applauded.  And somewhere in the burgeoning world of new media I am hoping we'll hear again before too long that original and thoughtful Somers' voice.    


I'm happy to report that for the first time in the long history of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), a baseball scout will be honored.  Billy Blitzer, recently retired after a 40-year career with the Chicago Cubs, will receive recognition at the BBWAA annual dinner at New York's Hilton Hotel on Sa January 29. 


Among Blitzer's noteworthy signees were shortstop Shawon Dunston, the first pick in the nation in 1982, and southpaw Jamie Moyer, a sixth round pick in 1984 who like too many of Chicago signees went on to greater success elsewhere.  Moyer wound up winning 269 games, only 28 for the Cubs.  


On a sadder scouting note, Art Stewart, the Chicago-born Kansas City Royals scout who initally worked for the Yankees, passed away on November 11 at the age of 94. 


Among his many accomplishments, Stewart was instrumental in guiding Hall of Famer George Brett and Bo Jackson from the amateur ranks to the majors. He always gave full credit to area scouts and the solid organization built by the late Kansas City owner pharmaceutical magnate Ewing Kauffman.


His book "The Art of Scouting" is a worthy contribution to understanding the most essential and often misunderstood business of player evaluation and development. 


There will be more stories about Blitzer and Stewart and many other scouts in my own work-in-progress tentatively entitled "Homage to An Endangered Species."   


In the meantime always remember:  Take it easy but take it!  And stay positive and test negative.    

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Salutes to Laurent Durvernay-Tardif, Fred Willard, Trey Mancini + Watching 1980s Games & Upcoming TCM Highlights

In a normal baseball season, June swoons are a fate teams want to avoid.  Let's hope that we as a nation don't swoon into the worst kind of cultural and maybe actual civil war.


I like to accentuate the positive so here's a huge shout-out to Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.  The only doctor in the NFL and fresh from a Super Bowl triumph, Laurent is currently on duty serving COVID-19 patients at a hospital outside Montreal.  


I learned many fascinating things about Duvernay-Tardif during an incisive report by Andrea Kremer in the current installment of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel". He is the only McGill of Montreal university graduate ever to play in the NFL. His parents once took him and his sister out of grade school for a year to sail the world. 

Here's another inspiring story. Comic actor Fred Willard passed away last week at the age of 86.  I first loved him playing an Ed McMahon-style sidekick to Martin Mull's Barth Gimble on "Fernwood 2-Night," the successor to "Mary Hartman Mary Hartman" on early 1970s TV. 

Willard later won great acclaim for his roles in SUCH hilarious satirical films as "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show" where he played a memorable Joe Garagiola-style dog show announcer.  He and Martin Mull later played a gay couple on"Rosanne" and at the end of his life Williard had a recurring role as a grandfather on "American Family".

But according to Richard Sandomir in the New York Times obit, Fred Willard said that his "greatest achievement" was "teaching his daughter how to catch a fly ball."  Willard himself played baseball at VMI and also on military teams in Florida.  

I want to wish continuing speedy recovery to the Orioles Trey Mancini who is recovering from colon cancer surgery and will miss the entire 2020 season (whether or not it is played). 

It turns out that Trey's father is a surgeon who had the same operation when he was 58.

Trey, the only consistent offensive threat on a depleted Baltimore roster, is not yet 28. 

He has already become a team leader on the Orioles and a fan favorite.  

In a heartfelt piece he wrote for the Players Tribune,  Mancini thanked the scout Kirk Fredriksson who had become a passionate supporter of him when he was playing for Holyoke  in a New England collegiate summer league.  


Thanks to Fredriksson's advocacy, the Orioles made Mancini their 8th round pick in the 2013 amateur draft. Rare is the player of any generation who has publicly praised the scout who signed him. Just another reason to wish Trey Mancini the speediest of recoveries.

As of this posting at the beginning of June, I don't know if major league baseball will return this year. It doesn't look like deal-makers exist on either side of the owner-player divide.

I don't think it has helped that all the meetings have been held on Zoom.

Though I miss the daily flow of games and news of games, I have found some enjoyment watching old games on MLBTV.  Like most of the pine tar game between the Yankees and Royals at Yankee Stadium on the cloudy Sunday afternoon of July 24, 1983. 

I had forgotten how wonderfully wacky was Phil Rizzuto's on-air presence.  There he was, plugging a friend's restaurant and another friend's birthday while bantering with sidekick Frank Messer. 

When Messer used the word "perpendicular" to describe how one hitter had dived across the plate to protect a base runner on a hit-and-run play, Rizzuto acted impressed.  "Very good, Messer, . . . not that I know what it means."

Was also revealing to hear both Phil and Frank berate Steve Balboni for lack of production.  He was a rookie on the 1983 Yankees but he never could relax in NYC. 


He was traded to Kansas City the following year and had a good career with the Royals. On their 1985 world champions, he played first base all season and belted 36 HRs with 88 RBI and went 8-for-25 in the World Series.


This game is most remembered for George Brett's epic rant when his three-run home run in the top of the 9th was voided by rookie plate umpire Tim McClelland.  Billy Martin convinced the ump that Brett had used too much pine tar on his bat.


The Yankees' win was voided soon thereafter by American League president Lee MacPhail who argued that the rule was being interpreted too legalistically. Watching the whole game made me remember that Royals starter Bud Black pitched very well - Black is now the Colorado Rockies manager.

I also remembered important details when watching the famous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The smooth delivery and intelligence of Vince Scully was a joy to experience again.  The game is of course known as the Bill Buckner Game, but in any dramatic close game there are a raft of earlier plays that are just as important.    

It was an elimination game for the Mets who fell behind early to the Red Sox 2-0. Southpaw starter Bob Ojeda had come up with Boston and he was highly motivated to beat his old team. He kept the Mets in the game. 


Boston's Roger Clemens was in a good form and no hit the Mets for four innings but he used a lot of pitches.  In 1986, pitch counts were not yet in vogue. Though Clemens gave up the lead in the 5th, he stayed in through the 7th, throwing about 135 pitches and getting out of jams in both the 6th and 7th innings.

Another lesson learned from Game 6 was how vital a role Mookie Wilson played.  Not known for his arm, he still threw out Jim Rice at home plate to keep the Red Sox lead at one run in the 8th inning.  

We all remember Bill Buckner's error on Mookie Wilson's grounder that gave the Mets the win, but let's not forget the previous 9 pitches that Mookie battled against reliever Bob Stanley.  

The mastery of Vin Scully was evident throughout the broadcast, not least at the very end when the camera showed a shell-shocked Red Sox team leaving the field. Scully said, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth a million."  


Before I forget, TCM throughout June will be featuring "Jazz in Film" every Monday and Thursday night. Late on Th June 4 (actually early Fri June 5) "High Society" with Louis Armstrong in a prominent role will be shown.


And I'm really looking forward to Monday night June 8 at 8p Sammy Davis Jr. stars in the rarely seen "A Man Called Adam" (1966).  Davis Jr was one of the greatest entertainers in American history and I'm eager to see how he plays a jazz trumpeter (with music provided by Nat Adderley, Cannonball's brother).  


That's all for now.  Always remember, now more than ever, "Take it easy but take it!" 




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