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Three Cheers for Christian Yelich, RIP Bobby Winkles, & More

I hope everyone who reads this post is coping somehow with the coronavirus crisis that likely will not subside any time soon. 

 

I ache for those of you who have lost loved ones and have not been able to mourn and grieve adequately because of the failure of our public health system. That problem starts at the very top of our government where there is no leadership and no sense of responsibility.

 
Let me begin the baseball part of this post with a shoutout to the caring gesture of Christian Yelich, the star Milwaukee Brewers' right fielder.  Earlier this month he wrote an empathetic letter to the seniors at his alma mater, Harvard-Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks, California outside of Los Angeles - the same area where Kobe Bryant perished with his daughter and others in the helicopter crash.

 
"This is just a small chapter of your life that's just beginning," Yelich wrote.  
There will be better days ahead, Yelich assured them, once games resume and the best of them move on to higher competition. "Most importantly," he advised, "play for all your teammates that no longer get to do so, and never forget to realize how lucky you are!" 

 

(Three top pitchers in MLB today graduated from Harvard-Westlake - the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty, the White Sox's Lucas Giolito, and the Braves' Max Fried.) 

 
Pretty heady stuff from Yelich, the 28-year-old former NL MVP whose injury late last season likely cost the Brewers a chance to advance to the World Series for only the second time in franchise history and the first since 1982.   

 
Speaking of that 1982 World Series, I caught Game 7 on MLBTV last week. If the Cardinals hadn't scored insurance runs in the bottom of the 8th, I think that game would be considered an all-time classic. 

 
It was fascinating to see future MLB pitching coaches Pete Vuckovich and Bob McClure hurling for the Brew Crew.  Vuckovich was a gamer to end gamers and got out of many jams to pitch Milwaukee into the bottom of the 6th with a two-run lead.


Showing championship mettle, the Cardinals answered immediately with four runs, two charged to Vuckovich and the others to McClure. Keith Hernandez delivered the two-run tying single off his former high school teammate in the SF Bay area.  

 

St. Louis left fielder Lonnie Smith, who nine years later would be the base-running goat in the 1-0 10 inning Braves loss to the Twins, was a big part of the Cardinals' rally in this game.  It was nice to see Smith in one of his better games - we shouldn't forget he was also a big part of the 1980 Phillies championship season.

 

Future Tampa Rays batting coach George Hendrick made a key throw in this game nabbing future Hall of Famer Robin Yount aggressively trying to go from first to third in the fourth inning on a two-out single to right field by another future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. 

 

Hendrick is widely considered to be the first player to wear his uniform pants low, starting a trend that remains the fashion in today's baseball. (Not to me but that's another story for another time.)

 

Hendrick was never comfortable talking to the press and so became controversial.

But as Joe Garagiola sagely noted on the broadcast, all Hendrick wanted is to be judged by what he did on the field.

 

I hadn't heard Garagiola and partner Tony Kubek announce a game in a long while and they were good.  So was Tom Seaver, commenting from downstairs near the field.  

 

Garagiola certainly had a gift for colorful description. When Ted Simmons clearly would have been out at home on a grounder to third base, Joe quipped, "He would have needed a subpoena" to get there. Fortunately for Ted, the ball rolled foul. Oh, those little things that make up every baseball game and maybe that's what we miss most of all right now.  

 

An interesting sidelight to this game was that future Hall of Famer Simmons was catching for Milwaukee, and the former Brewer Darrell Porter was catching for St. Louis.  

 

(Note:  Simmons' induction into Cooperstown on the last Sunday in July is still scheduled, but a final decision from the Hall of Fame on whether the ceremonies wil go on as planned is still awaited.)  

 

I haven't watched many of the All-Time Game broadcasts on MLBTV but they are nice to have to pass time until the real thing returns.  Certainly we cannot expect live baseball in a normal setting until next season at the earliest.

 

I did watch ESPN's broadcast of Ali-Frazier I on Saturday night April 18.  What a brutal battle that was, with Frazier the deserved winner.

 

I didn't realize that Burt Lancaster had done the TV color commentary with light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore and venerable Don Dunphy doing blow-by-blow.  

 

Lancaster was very enthusiastic but not particularly insightful.  He was one of our more athletic actors, a star in track and field and I think gymastics too at the Bronx's DeWitt Clinton High School.

 

On a concluding sad note, here's a farewell to Bobby Winkles who passed away at

the age of 90 earlier this week.  Winkles put Arizona State University on the map as a baseball power.  He amassed a record of 524-173 from 1958-1971, and won three College World Series, 1965-1967-1969.

 

He coached such future MLB stars as Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, Rick Monday (the first pick in baseball's first amateur free agent draft in 1965), Gary Gentry a key part of the 1969 Mets, and Sal Bando, the glue on the Oakland A's 1972-74 champions.

 

He had an under .500 record managing in the majors for the Angels and A's but he was a memorable baseball lifer who later worked in player development with the White Sox and Expos and also broadcast games for Expos from 1989-93.

 

Winkles hailed from Swifton, Arkansas where he grew up with future Hall of Famer George Kell.  His home town was so small, Winkles liked to say, the city limits sign was placed on the same telephone pole.

 

After starring at Illinois Wesleyan U. in Bloomington, Illinois, he signed with the White Sox.  Alas, the middle infielder was stuck behind future Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio and Nelson Fox and never reached the majors.

 

He found his calling in coaching, and in 2006 he was elected in the first class of inductees into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.  Somewhere in the great beyond, one of the best Walter Brennan imitators is rehearsing for his first celestial gig.

 

(For younger readers, Walter Brennan was one of the great Hollywood character actors.  I remember him warmly as Gary Cooper's sidekick in "Meet John Doe" and Lou Gehrig's sportswriter-confidant in "Pride of the Yankees".) 

 

Well, that's all for now, and more than ever in these uncertain times, always rememeber:  Take it easy but take it!

 

 

 

 

 

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Baseball Also Suffered A Serious Loss in the Kobe Bryant Tragedy (slightly revised)

On Sunday January 26th, the death of retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles shocked not just the sporting world but the world at large.  

 
It was a foggy day in Los Angeles and even the LAPD had refused to fly in such weather.  We all know, sadly, that nothing stops even retired elite athletes when there is a game. In this case, it was Kobe's 13-year-old daughter Gianna's game sponsored by his Mamba Academy that he was hurrying to. 

 
Also perishing in the crash were John Altobelli, 56, the outstanding baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, his wife Keri, and their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa who also would have been playing in the game. 

 
To baseball people in the know, the passing of John Altobelli, no relation to former MLB first baseman and manager Joe Altobelli, is a severe blow. 

 

In addition to winning four California junior college titles and being the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) 2019 Coach of the Year, Altobelli had led the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod Baseball League for three seasons from 2012 to 2014.

 

He had mentored two of New York's biggest stars, the Yankees' Aaron Judge and the Mets' Jeff McNeil.

 
As I post on Monday February 10, my thoughts are with the friends and family at the Altobelli memorial that is being held at the Big A, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's stadium. 

 

The surviving members of the immediate family are J. J. Altobelli, 29, a former University of Oregon shortstop and a 18th-round draft choice of the Cardinals, and his sister Alexis, 16.  

 

Since 2018 J.J. (John James) has been a Red Sox scout. His uncle Tony, John's young brother, is sports information director at Orange Coast College. The OCC Foundation is accepting donations in the Altobellis' memory.

 

There has also been established a GoFundMe account at

https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-the-altobelli-family 

 
That in his earlier life Kobe Bryant was not exactly a family man prompted CBS's Morning's on-air TV host Gayle King to raise the issue in an interview with retired WNBA star Lisa Leslie. 

 

There is no doubt that Kobe had become a huge supporter of girls' and women's basketball. Perhaps it was premature with grieving still so raw in the LA area for King to bring up the subject.

 

But in a gruesome sign of the times, King has reported death threats and has hired security for her home. So has said King's BFF (Best Friend Forever) Oprah Winfrey. 

 

Such is life in 2020 where far from a world of 20/20 vision, we are living In a 24/7/365 cyberspatial world where people seemingly see things only in black or white, heroes or villains.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The Super Bowl a week after the helicopter tragedy turned out to be a helluva game.  As you know, I am a big fan of Pat Mahomes and I'm glad he led the big comeback in the fourth quarter.  

 

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan will have to own or "wear" - as Buck Showalter put it when he didn't use Zach Britton in the 2016 AL Wild Card game against Toronto - his role in two blown Super Bowl leads.  As the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, his questionable play-calling allowed the Patriots to win the Super Bowl XL in 2017 after trailing 28-3 in the second half. 

 

I like to think that the 49'ers got their comeuppance for celebrating too early by striking a team photo pose in the end zone after they got a 10-point lead in midway through the fourth quarter.  There was more football to be played as the Chiefs soon schooled them.

 

I grew up in the 1950s with the "Father Knows Best" TV series.  I've never forgotten how father Jim Anderson (Robert Young) ordered son Bud (Billy Gray) to report himself to the coach for reading about himself in the newspaper rather than getting his bed rest.  He was docked a game for his impertinence. 

 

I'd like to think that premature gloating and preening will backfire in the political arena as well.  We are barely in middle innings of political cycle if you catch my drift. 

 

Next time, hope there is hopeful news from spring training for at least some of you fans and your teams. Commissioner Rob Manfred's newly-disclosed idea for expanding playoffs to 14 teams is not what I had in mind. More on that next time.

  

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

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