Rickey Henderson – “Rickey being Rickey”

This weekend I was finally able to get some downtime between work, a 3 year old and just life in general.  After finding myself on the couch with nothing to do, I took a look at our DVR and saw that I had recorded the ESPN “30 for 30” episode where they explored Deion Sander’s 1992 season where he not only played baseball for the Atlanta Braves and football for the Atlanta Falcons but actually played a game for each on the same day.  It was pretty good and there was a lot that I didn’t know about that particular part of his career.  I enjoyed watching Deion play football but his petulant arrogance and incessant mouth-running never really generated any admiration from me.

Ironically, I have always been a big fan of Rickey Henderson who is also a character of arrogance and big-talk.  I’m not sure why I have that double standard but I’ve always dismissed his antics as “Rickey just being Rickey”.  There are many “Rickey stories” out there and none of them are particularly flattering.  They are however, pretty entertaining.

Sunday I came across an article online where Rickey Henderson said he was hoping that Oakland’s top draft pick Kyler Murray would have chosen to come play baseball for the A’s instead of opting to play professional football.  He said that in 1986, he had gone to the LA Raider’s owner Al Davis and asked him if he could play football.  Davis agreed but the Oakland A’s put an end to that idea.  Seeing Rickey suit up for the Raiders would have been exciting to watch.

I’ve decided that in 2019, I’m going to focus on a few “player collections”. I’ve had a few going over the years such as Gary Carter, Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright.  I’ll add Rickey Henderson, Adrian Beltre, Don Mattingly, and Harrison Bader.   I also think I’m going to start a collection focused on great action shots of catchers, outfield catches, or maybe acrobatic double plays.  I’ll save those ideas for another post in the future.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite Rickey cards for your viewing pleasure.

1999 Topps Stadium Club – Of course I would pick one of Rickey’s Stadium Club cards to lead off.  I’m a sucker for the photography and Stadium Club is just loaded with exceptional photos.  This is my favorite of Rickey’s SC issues.  I can’t tell if he’s on his way to swiping second or third base but I’m nearly certain, he was called safe.   I love this card for so many reasons.  First off, it’s Rickey doing what ultimately defined his career, stealing bases.  I love the bright white, green, and gold uniform.  I love the mid-stride action shot and how he’s only player in sight.  The fact that this shot was taken during a sunny Oakland day game also helps. Rickey was a New York Met in 1999 so this shot was likely taken the year before when he was with the Oakland Athletics.  Ironically, Rickey hated playing day games.  Pitcher Tom Candiotti said, “We had a day game in Oakland, and Rickey struck out. He walked all the way through the dugout talking to himself, he always talked to himself. He was saying, ‘I don’t know who’s inside Rickey’s body, but he better get out because the guy in there doesn’t like day games, he only shows up on day games, so he better get out.'”  Candiotti said that the entire dugout was screaming in laughter.

1999 Topps Stadium Club

I love collecting the photo variations and short prints of past legends. Topps has done a nice job with doing this. Here are a few of my favorite Gypsy Queen Rickey cards as well as Rickey’s 2011 Topps Update “Legends Variation”.

2013, 2014, & 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen
2011 Topps Update (Legends)

1981 Fleer – As a kid in the 80’s, I knew Henderson only as a New York Yankee. I started collecting around 1986 and every Rickey card I had featured him in Yankee pinstripes. My grandparents lived next door to a family who had a kid that was a bit older than me and he had a shoe box full of mostly Fleer and Donruss cards from the early 80’s. I remember sorting through them one day and seeing these two cards of the 22 year old Henderson in his green Athletics uniform. I realized then that I would have known he was a former Athletic if I had ever bothered to read the stats on the back. From that point forward, I began looking at both sides of the cards. When you look at his 1981 season stats, you will see that Rickey lead the American League in runs scored (89), stolen bases (56), and hits (136). 89 runs scored and 56 stolen bases may not seem like a lot (he stole 100 bases in 1980) but 1981 was a strike-shortened season. This was also the year that the Athletics accounting department found their books off by about a million bucks. They actually had about 1 million MORE than they should have. They traced it back to Rickey’s million dollar bonus. Instead of cashing it, he framed it and hung it on his wall. Adding to the allure of this story, some sources state is was the Yankees who were missing the million bucks.

1981 Fleer

1992 Donruss – This set has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. In 1992, Donruss celebrated Rickey’s greatest achievement. On May 1, 1991, he stole his 938th career base; in doing so, he succeeded Lou Brock as baseball’s career stolen base leader. Henderson would end the 1991 season with 994 stolen bases. 1992 saw the Athletics finish first in the American League West with a record of 96-66. Their offense was centered around Henderson, Canseco and McGwire. The bulk of the Athletics’ 1992 accolades, however, went to closer Dennis Eckersley. Eckersley led baseball with 51 saves over the course of the season; in the process, he posted a 7-1 record with a 1.91 ERA. Eckersley’s efforts netted him both the 1992 AL Cy Young Award and the 1992 AL MVP Award. The mighty A’s would eventually fall to Toronto in the ALCS. In 1993 Henderson would find himself in a Toronto uniform and eventually a World Series champion. His Donruss base card puts you about as close as you can get to his record breaking signature head first slide on May 1, 1991. Here he is swiping 3rd against the New York Yankees. Seconds later, he would be called SAFE and as such; the all-time base thief. Now that I look at it, if it had been up to me, I would have used the base card as the “Highlight” card. The lime green and white batting gloves he’s sporting in that photo were a must-have for many little players that year. They were made by Mizuno and featured white leather with a lime green padding on the top. Very flashy and very expensive at the time. I had a pair thanks to Mom and Dad.

1992 Donruss Highlights + 1992 Donruss

1987 Topps – The 1987 Topps set has always been a favorite of collectors. featuring the wood-grain borders and loaded with rookies and future Hall of Famers, there are about 25 cards in the set that have always been my favorites. The Henderson is one of them. I love the symmetrical cropping of the photo. Starting in the top left hand corner of the card, you can follow the Yankees logo right to his head, down his torso and all the way down to the bottom right hand corner of the card. Straight as an arrow. Kind of a weird thing to find appealing in a baseball card you’re probably thinking. Due to injuries and only playing in 95 games, 1987 was a below-average season for Henderson and drew public criticism from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. It was the only season from 1980 – 1991 that he did not lead the league in steals. Harold Reynolds lead the league in steals with 60 and tells a funny story about a phone call he received one night from Rickey:

1987 Topps

“The phone rings; ‘Henderson here.’ I say, ‘Hey, what’s going on, Rickey?’ (and I think he’s calling to congratulate me,) but he goes, ‘Sixty stolen bases? You ought to be ashamed. Rickey would have had 60 at the break.’ And then click, he hung up.”

1989 Topps & Traded – In 1989, the Yankees; uncertain whether Rickey Henderson was worth a new three-year contract and desperately in need of pitching, decided to send him back home to Oakland in exchange for pitchers Erik Plunk, Greg Caderet, and a speedy outfielder named Luis Polonia. Contractually, the Yankees needed Henderson’s approval prior to any trade and he said that Oakland was the only place he would go. Wasting no time after the mid-season trade, Henderson reasserted himself as one of the game’s greatest players, with a memorable half-season in which his 52 steals and 72 runs scored led the A’s into the postseason. The move back to Oakland proved to be a good one for Henderson as Oakland ended up in the World Series for the first time since 1974. Despite a devastating earthquake at the start of Game 3, the A’s would eventually go on to sweep the San Francisco Giants. Henderson hit .474 with an .895 slugging average (including two triples and a homer), while stealing three bases. Earlier that year on August 22, 1989, he became Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout victim, but Henderson took an odd delight in the occurrence, saying, “If you haven’t been struck out by Nolan Ryan, you’re nobody.”

1989 Topps Traded + 1989 Topps

1980 Topps (Rookie Card) – Rickey had no problem making a splash into major league baseball. At the age of 21, Rickey led the American League in stolen bases (100), was an All-Star, and helped lead the Athletics to a 2nd place finish. His rookie card is one of the most iconic cards in the hobby and it’s easy to see why. As kids, we all emulated his batting stance at one point or another. His signature fits nicely at the bottom of the card and even with a pen, you can tell Rickey was “flashy”. Check out his loopty-loop on the “y”. Ask any of his teammates how “flashy” Rickey is and they will likely tell you the same thing about his pre-game ritual. Since he broke into the league, before every game he plays, he stands completely naked in front of a full-sized mirror, points at himself and says “Rickey, you’re the best…” (over and over…)

1980 Topps

1997 Topps Gallery – This 180 card set was released to hobby shops only and as I was heading off to college that year, I didn’t discover it until years later. Here we see Rickey in a Padres uniform. One can only assume he successfully nabbed second base from the New York Mets. That looks like second baseman Edgardo Alfonso in the picture. I believe this is Shea Stadium and after reviewing Alfonso’s 1996 game log, he played second base for the Mets against the Padres in the August 27-29 home stand. Looking at Henderson’s game logs, the only game he was in a situation to steal was the August 29th game. Paul Wilson would walk Rickey Henderson in the top of the 5th. With Tony Gwynn at the plate, Rickey swiped his 35th base of the season as catcher Todd Hundley’s throw comes in late. Gwynn would go on to poke a ground ball through the middle for a base hit, scoring Henderson. That same year, Rickey was caught speeding but not by an opposing catcher. It was actually a San Diego police officer. As he approached Henderson’s sports car, the driver’s side window slips down a few inches and a hand emerges with a $100 bill in it. The officer shook Rickey’s hand and sent him home (with his money) and a gentle warning.

One time, the Padres GM Kevin Towers was trying to contact Rickey at a nearby hotel. Not finding him checked in under his real name, Towers decided to think like Rickey and asked to be transferred to “Richard Pryor’s room”. Rickey picked up the phone.

1997 Topps Gallery

Completed Set – 2017 Topps

I’m a “set” guy.  I like choosing a set and hunting down each piece of the puzzle. Admittedly, I’ve lost interest in completing a few of the recent sets I’ve set out to complete.  The Heritage sets with their high-number cards are just too much of  a challenge for my taste.  I prefer sticking to base sets with the exception of the Topps Gypsy Queen sets which have just the right amount of short-prints and variations to keep me interested.

With each new flagship Topps release, I will hand-collate the base set.  It usually takes me all year but I always manage to get it done before the World Series hits.  This year, as I slid the last card of the Topps Series 2 set into it’s final page sleeve I decided that I should do a blog post featuring my favorite 10 cards in the set.

The problem was, I had more than 10 cards that I wanted to feature.  Topps has come a long way with their flagship sets and the photography.  At one point in time, premium photography and exciting shots seemed to be reserved for the Stadium Club sets.  The 2017 Topps design is awesome and I really enjoyed putting this set together.  Here we will look at my top 15 cards in Series 1 and 2.

Once this post is finished, the cards will be taken back out of their pages, tucked into their respective “row” of a monster-box, labeled and up on the shelf they will go to sit and wait for the day they get broken back out to see the light of day.

The ritual drives my wife crazy.  That’s her problem though.

Without further ado, let’s get to the cards and we will fittingly start with #1 in Series 1.

01011121 (4)#1 – Kris Bryant – The Chicago Cubs World Series Champion and National League Most Valuable Player graces Card No. 1 and joins a long list of great players who have been represented on the first Topps card of the year from Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams to Mike Piazza and Derek Jeter. I’ve always loved the horizontal cards and Bryant was actually chosen by baseballs to get the coveted #1 card in this year’s release.  The one-week online vote occurred in October of last year where fans chose from a list of 16 nominees on Topps.com. Topps started the Vote for Card No. 1 in 2016 when Angels outfielder Mike Trout earned the honor in the inaugural vote.

01011121 (5)#236 – Lucas Duda – As a Met’s fan, we can start here.  I love the throwback Mets uniform in this shot and the fact that it’s not even Lucas Duda on the card.  The first time I pulled this card, I stared at it and knew something was off.  The photo is actually of utility player Eric Campbell who is not even playing in Major League Baseball anymore as he signed with the Hanshin Tigers last year.  The corrected version of the card was released in factory sets and the New York Mets team sets only.  I’ll track the corrected one down on the Bay at some point.

01011121#140 – Jesse Hahn – Here we have a nice crisp shot of the A’s starter.  For some reason,
I feel like cards with daytime photos shot in California always seem to have a “brighter” feel to them.   Check out any older A’s, Dodgers or Angels cards and you’ll see what I mean.  In this particular photo, Topps captured Hahn using one of the warm-up mounds in foul territory at Oakland Alameda Coliseum.  You can also see “Jacob Ellsbury” featured on the ticker tape scoreboard in the background.  This would likely date this photo as May 22, 2016 which was a day game against the New York Yankees.  The Bombers would go on to take that game 5-4 with Ellsbury using the 3rd inning to drop a Hahn fastball over the deep center-right field wall for a home run.

01011121 (6)#6 – Kevin Pillar –   Cards featuring plays at the plate are always popular with me.  I think the first play at the plate card I owned was the 1987 Topps Wally Backman.  Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.  Topps zeroed in on this July 7, 2016, sixth inning play at the plate as Detroit Tiger catcher James McCann tags out Toronto runner Kevin Pillar.  The Jays would go on to beat the Tigers 5-4 behind 3 RBI’s from Troy Tulowitzki.

01011121 (3)#133  -Jace Peterson – This is actually one of three really nice “double-dip” action shots in the set.  The Braves second-sacker has split most of the 2017 season between AAA Gwinnett.  A versatile player who can play all infield positions as well as the outfield, if he can perform at the plate, he will be a key player for Atlanta.

01011120 (7)#36 – Addison Russell – Probably one of the most notable cards of Series 1 due to the fact that this card (along with the Bryce Harper variation) were featured in most of Topps pre-release marketing.  Collectors were seemingly very familiar with it before the set was even released.  Despite that, it’s an awesome card.  The partial full-bleed design of the set works really well with this card.  I love the clarity of Russell and the base-runner against the blurred out background.  Very effective card that captures the moment.

01011120 (8)#443 – Dee Gordon – Here we have a great action shot featuring Gordon turning a graceful double-dip against the Phillies Cesar Hernandez.  This photo was from the September 18, 2016 game between the Marlins and Phillies at Citizen’s Bank Park.   The Marlins would take this game from the Phils by a score of 5-4.  In addition to a slick-fielding lead off hitter, Gordon is known also as the son of former Royals and Phillies pitcher Tom Gordon.  I will always remember the emotional lead off home run he hit in his first at bat after the untimely passing of teammate Jose Fernandez.

01011121 (2)#251 – Justin Turner – As Justin Turner played here locally in 2009 & 2010 with the Norfolk Tides; I’ve followed Justin Turner’s career pretty closely over the years.  After being let go by the Mets in 2013 as just one of the many bone-headed moves by Met’s general manager Sandy Alderson (how does that guy still have a job?), Turner rebuilt his swing and overall approach at the plate and is currently an All-Star as well as one of the most feared hitters in the league.  Imagine a Met’s infield with Turner at third and Murphy at second.  I not only love the photography on his 2017 card, but I think it looks great in the sideways landscape format.  This photo is from the June 17, 2016 game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers and features Turner celebrating his walk-off RBI single which won the game in the 10th inning.  He had also tied the game in the 8th with two run homer.

01011119#581 – Brock Holt – Another great landscape shot from Topps.  Featuring Brock Holt warming up between innings or before a game, you see a beautiful sky in the background as well as the telltale signs of the iconic Fenway Park.  I can actually imagine myself sitting in the front row at this game.

01011120 (6)#350 – David Ortiz – As Nick over at the Dime Box baseball card blog would call it, this is Ortiz “sunset card”.  Topps did a fine job of capturing Ortiz’ graceful swing launching of his last home runs into the bleachers at Fenway Park.  This photo was taken on July 26, 2016 in the third inning and happens to be a 3 run homer.  San Francisco Giants catcher   Jarrod Saltalamacchia is also featured in the photo.  An absolute first ballot Hall of Famer, Ortiz has been a fan-favorite for years and will go down as one of the most beloved Red Sox players.  I have to admit, I’m huge Ortiz fan and this card marks the end of a career that was thrilling to watch every step of the way.  I’m still on the hunt for a copy of his 2013 Topps SSP “Boston Strong” card.

01011120 (5)#508 Hanley Ramirez – Topps really outdid themselves with the Red Sox cards this year as their are so many great shots of them.  Here is another great landscape shot featuring Hanley Ramirez watching his 7th inning home run against the Blue Jays on October 2, 2016.  I love how the catcher and the umpire are both featured in this card as well.   Despite the efforts of Ramirez, Toronto would go on to win the game 2-1 and clinch the Wild Card spot.  Coincidentally, this game was also the last home game of Big Papi’s career.

01011120 (4)

#324 Ben Revere – Taking a break from the BoSox, let’s move over to the Washington Nationals and take a look at this great shot of speedy outfielder Ben Revere robbing Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman of a home run during the fourth inning of their August 19, 2016 match up.  You can watch a video clip of the grab HERE.  The Nats would go on to take this one from the Braves 7-6.  This grab was one of the few bright spots in Revere’s season and 2016 would be his only season with the Nationals.  He was picked up by the Los Angeles Angels this past December.

01011120 (2)#520 Andrelton Simmons – Topps took advantage of the flame throwing backdrop of Angels Stadium to capture Simmons celebrating a double.  Simmons was traded to Los Angeles from Atlanta last November so this is his first card in an Angels uniform.

01011119 (6)#669 Corey Kluber – If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like to stare down the pipe of a Kluber fastball, this would probably be a pretty accurate example.  This photo was from the 2016 ALDS matchup between the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays. The Tribe would go on to take the game from the Jays 2-0.  2017 has seen Kluber be as good as any pitcher in the game could be and the Indians are currently leading their division by 8 games.  This year I put my Cy Young bets on Kluber or Chris Sale.

01011119 (5)#576 Russell Martin – Topps has made a concerted effort to feature key moments from the prior season and this card is exemplary of that effort.  Here we have a a close play at the plate in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the explosive 2016 ALDS between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays.  After a lead off double by Ian Desmond, Adrian Beltre hit into a fielder’s choice leading to Desmond being tagged out at the plate.  This was the second meeting between the Blue Jays and the Rangers in the postseason, the first being the 2015 American League Division Series in which the Blue Jays defeated the Rangers after losing the first two games at home, which was marked by a controversy-laden deciding Game 5 defined by José Bautista’s bat flip.  It was also the first series between the two teams since May 15, a game which featured multiple bench clearing skirmishes and the infamous Rougned Odor punch of Bautista.

That’s it for the Top 15 cards of the 2017 Topps Series 1 & 2 set.  I’ve just completed a nice 1978 Topps set so I’ll likely get started on a Top 10 list of those cards as well.

Have a great Labor Day everyone.

 

Norfolk Tars

highrock3Recently I came across a few photos of High Rock Park which was located in Norfolk, VA right near the intersection of Church and 20th Street.  Home to Norfolk Tars who were a Piedmont League minor league affiliate to the New York Yankees, the 6,500 seat park was dedicated on July 15th, 1940 in front of a crowd of thousands.  The Norfolk Tars would go on to lose that inaugural game to the Richmond Colts in front of a sold out crowd.  The name of the park is often questioned in discussion as the location is neither “high” or “rocky”. The park was actually built on a location that is low and sandy.  The name “High Rock Park” was actually chosen by the High Rock Bottling Company which paid $1,000 per year for naming rights.

The left field fence butts up against the old Norfolk & Western Railroad tracks.  It is said that during an exhibition game, Babe Ruth hit the “longest home run in history” as the ball sailed over the fence and landed in a rolling coal car bound for West Virginia.  (It should be noted that several other cities have similar stories involving Ruth, home-runs, and coal cars.) 

highrock1

In 1944, the park sustained massive damage due to a fire and was rebuilt by local dentist and owner of the Tars, Dr. Eddie Myers.  Dr. Myers added 1,500 additional seats, changed the name to “Myers Field” and reopened the park which went on to host Norfolk Tar baseball games until 1955.

The Norfolk Tars played mediocre baseball in the 1940’s and never found themselves winning more than one pennant (1945), the Tars did serve as a starting point for a handful of baseball legends.  Notably, Yogi Berra, Lew Burdette, Whitey Ford, Bob Porterfield, Chuck Connors, Tom Gorman, and Clint Courtney.

The 1950’s provided better Norfolk Tar baseball and along with a general manager who promoted the team very aggressively, Myers Field was often sold out for home games.

One of his promotions was “swimsuit night” and he put an ad in the Virginia Pilot that the best looking girl would win $100.

01011111Norfolk Tar second baseman Tom Vinditelli would tell the story best.

“On the the night of the swimsuit contest, the fans kept coming and coming.  They all wanted to get a look at these girls in swimsuits and we must have had a crowd of over 10,000 people.  The only problem was that only one girl had signed up to be in the contest.  About an hour before the game, the general manager started to panic and kept saying, ‘What in the hell am I going to do?’  He fretted a little while longer and said, ‘We advertised a swimsuit contest, so we’re going to have a swimsuit contest!  I need some volunteers!’

He then hopped in his car, drove over to Sears and came back with a bunch of wigs, bras, ladies’ shorts and shoes in his hands.  While he was gone, his wife came down to the dugout and put all sorts of makeup on us.  He handed us these get-ups and we got dressed for the contest.

The one girl that actually did sign up for the contest was ‘Miss Norfolk’ and thank goodness for that01011111-2.
She was a knockout.  We let her go out onto the field first and when she came out in a leopard print bathing suit and high-heels, the crowd went nuts.  I was next in line and since I’m from Rhode
Island, the announcer announced me as ‘Miss Rhode Island.’  Jim Coates, our big 6’4″ who later played for the Yankees came out as ‘Miss Virginia.’  Bob Rack was ‘Miss Missouri’ and Moe Thacker was ‘Miss Illinois.’

We all looked funny as hell stumbling around in high-heels and bras but the funniest of all was my double-play partner Stan Rosenzweig.  Introduced as ‘Miss Brooklyn’, he was short and stocky with hair all over his body that made him look like a little bear out there.  He had stuffed two baseballs into his bra and on his way back to the dugout, he took them out, showed them to the crowd, and then put them back in.  He then called one of his buddies from the other team and told him to come out onto 01011112-2the field.  “Rosey” jumped into that guy’s arms, pulled one of the baseballs out of his bra and said to him, ‘Why don’t you come up and see me sometime big boy?’  

The fans all thought this was a riot and what we thought was going to be a flop of a night turned out to be a helluva time!”
Myers Field was torn down in 1955. I recently drove by the location (photo below) and sadly, nothing is left but an empty lot that has probably been a handful of other things in the past 60 years.

It is hard to believe that this is the same spot where a 17 year old Yogi Berra got his start.   Struggling defensively behind the plate, Berra went on to hit 7 home runs and knocked in 56 RBI’s in 1943, his lone season with the Tars before moving on to the New York Yankees, 18 All Star Games, 13 World Series rings, and eventually the Hall of Fame.img_6554

Note – the Tom Vinditelli story above can be found in Mike Shannon’s book: Tales from the Ballpark. 1999. 

 

 

Eddie Robinson

As we head into Game 6 of this year’s World Series, I knew the Cubs had more to add to this storybook season.  The top of the 4th inning has certainly proved that to be the case.

A home run by Bryant in the 1st and now a grand slam by Russell in the top of the 4th has put the Cubs up a cool 7 runs.  Because these two teams have never faced each other before in a World Series, the grand slam was the first hit in Cubs World Series history and the first given up by the Indians in their World Series history.  I’m sure most will say that putting Cleveland’s Tomlin on the mound with only 3 days rest was a mistake by the manager Francona.  Regardless, Francona hasn’t made any mistakes yet in this World Series and I think that Chicago knows they need to flip the switch in this game if they are going to stay alive and make history.

Chicago pitcher Jake Arrieta has cruised through the Cleveland lineup for most of the night and seems to be locked in.  Arrieta played his triple-A ball here in Norfolk for the Tides, starting 46 games between 2009 and 2013.  Here is a pretty cool clip from our local news channel spotlighting Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta back in 2009.

s-l1600-1

They did a pretty cool spotlight on Eddie Robinson who is the last surviving member of the 1948 Cleveland Indians championship team.  Robinson played first base and knocked in the winning run in game 6 of that World Series as they went on to defeat the Boston Braves.

In an interview, a reporter referenced how much the game has changed since 1948 and asked Robinson if he ever thinks about how much stars like Bob Feller and Bob Lemon would have gotten paid today.

He calmly said, “No.  I only think about how much Eddie Robinson would have gotten paid today.”

picture-17Interestingly, Robinson was with the Indians on June 12, 1948 as they played the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.  Babe Ruth was on hand to help the Yankees celebrate the 25th anniversary of their stadium.

Dying of cancer and struggling to walk, Ruth put on his Yankee pinstripes one last time and slowly made his way up the dugout steps.  Seeing that Ruth was weak and struggling to support himself, Robinson handed him one of his bats to use as a crutch.  Ruth would die 2 months later.

That bat can be seen here in this photo.

Robinson later had Ruth sign the bat and held on to it for the next 40 years.  He called a memorabilia collector in the 1980’s and asked if he was interested in purchasing the bat. Having no idea what the value of the bat would be, Robinson threw an arbitrary number of $10,000 out there as the purchase price.  The collector quickly said, “I’ll have the money to you tomorrow.”

The bat has since gone on to sell at auction for over $100,000…twice.

You can purchase Robinson’s autobiography “Lucky Me: My 65 Years in Baseball” here.

In closing, the Cubs are currently leading 7-2 in the top of the 6th.

Lou Boudreau

01211202-2This will be a quick little update here as I’m currently watching Game 1 of the 2016 World Series.

What a season it has been as we finally arrive here at Game 1 with the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians facing off.  It’s certainly great to see two teams with such dedicated…and patient fans.

Who am I rooting for?  I’m excited for both teams but at the end of the day, I think I’ll have to go with the Chicago Cubs.  Their fans have waited longer and I’m a huge fan of their catcher David Ross.  What a career he has had.  He is hanging up his cleats after this year and getting to put a World Series ring on his finger would be the perfect send off.

This past weekend I was looking through a collection of Perez-Steele Hall of Fame postcards that I have accumulated through the years and came across Mr. Lou Boudreau.  Ironically, he was the player/manager of the last Cleveland Indians team to win the World Series.  Boudreau managed the Tribe from 1942 to 1950 and lead the team to a World Series title in 1948.  As their shortstop that year, he also hit .355.  Seems fitting to write about him tonight.  I love his signature on this post card.  Simple and legible – something you don’t see in today’s players signatures.

A few interesting facts about Boudreau – 1941 against the New York Yankees, he was responsible for starting the double play that ended Joe DiMaggio’s historic 56 game hitting streak.

In 1942 during his rookie year as Cleveland’s player/manager, Boudreau is said to have not only blown his nose while suffering from a cold in the dugout, but also the game.  Not feeling well enough to play the field that day, he decided to sit in the dugout and send signals to his third base coach.  At the time, Cleveland’s sign for a double-steal was a towel to the face.

Boudreau seemed to have forgotten that sign as Cleveland runner Pat Seerey pulled up into second base.  Seerey’s nickname was “Fat Pat” and it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that ol’ Fat Pat wasn’t stealing any bases anytime soon.  First base was occupied by a Cleveland runner who was just as slow.

As you can probably imagine, Boudreau’s cold that day led him to reach for the nearest towel to blow his nose.  This set off a verrrrry slooooow domino effect of two very overweight base runners taking off from their bases and attempting to advance.

While the stadium stood in shock to watch the opposing infielders easily toss out both of Boudreau’s fat  base-runners for an inning-ending double play, Boudreau lept to his feet barking at the third base coach for putting on such a stupid play.  The third base coach was just as stunned as the fans, the 2 base runners, and the opposing team.  He told Boudreau that it was in fact HIM who had given the sign for such a stupid play and it was then that Boudreau realized that he had “blown it”.  The Indians went on to lose that game.

Boudreau is also widely credited with creating the “Boudreau Shift” with the

migratedhopes of stopping the dead-pull hitter Ted Williams.  In July of 1946 as Williams was coming off of a May where he had hit .427 and the Red Sox were coming into Cleveland for a double-header with a five-game winning streak.  In the first game, Williams smashed a grand slam in the third inning and followed that up with two more dingers. By the end of the first game, Williams had racked up four hits, four runs scored, and eight RBI’s.  The Red Sox went on to win the first game 11-10.  In his first at-bat of the second game, Williams would double and score.

Boudreau had to do something defensively drastic.  Moving nearly every defensive player to flood the right side of the field, Boudreau hoped that the carnage would stop.  In his next at bat, Williams grounded out to Boudreu who was while still playing shortstop was actually standing closer to the first baseman.  The Red Sox would go on to win the second game as well with a final score of 6-4.  Later, in his biography Player-Manager, Boudreau would go on to say that the idea of the shift was spontaneous and was probably out of desperation that day.  The infield shift has been already been covered pretty extensively online.  One of the best articles can be found here.

As I wrap up this piece, the Indians are leading in the 9th, 6-0.

I haven’t seen any infield shifts yet.

Joe Cowley

After retiring 27 batters without giving up a single hit on September 19, 1986; White Sox pitcher Joe Cowley became the 214th major league pitcher to toss a no-hitter to beat the red-hot Angels 7-1.  Not to take anything away from Cowley but it wasn’t exactly what you would think of when you think “no-hitter”.  01011102

Most of the no-hitters that I’ve seen happened to creep up on me (usually by the 5th inning) and leave me on the edge of my seat as I watch the pitcher battle deeper into the game and the defense making plays to keep that magic “0” in the “H” box on the scoreboard.

Most no-hitters are close to perfection.  Cowley’s no-hitter was closer to perfectly unconventional.

Sure, Cowley lasted 9 innings and the Angels failed to get a hit, so technically, by definition it was a “no-hitter” and his name is in the record book.

Ask Angels first-baseman Wally Joyner about the game and he’s flatly not impressed –

“He was either two feet outside or right on the black (the corner). He did his job. He got 27 outs. But he wasn’t tough at all, he wasn’t. We didn’t get a hit, that’s all that happened.  If you guys don’t look up at the scoreboard, you’d think he gave up eight or nine hits. When he was around the plate, he was barely around it. I’m not even frustrated. It wasn’t impressive, it wasn’t. Not to put Joe Cowley down, but it wasn’t impressive.”

Joyner’s take on the game probably had something to do with the fact that Cowley walked 7 batters  during the game, including walking the bases loaded in the 6th and then giving up a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson so not only did Cowley give up a run in his 9 innings of no-hit ball; he managed to give up an earned run. He wouldn’t win another major league baseball game in his career.

Baseball can be wacky like that.

Speaking of wacky, Joe Cowley was widely considered by many of his teammates to be just that.

During his 2 seasons (’84-’85) with the New York Yankees, there was hardly a funnier sight that watching manager Yogi Berra visit the mound to either talk to Cowley or remove him from the game.  Berra was all of five-seven and Cowley six-five.  When Yogi would get to the mound, Cowley would rest his hand on Yogi’s shoulder giving the crowd the impression that it was Berra getting the talking-to and not the other way around.

In 1985, Yankee manager Billy Martin spent most of the season trying to figure Cowley out. After heading to the mound to remove Cowley from a game, Martin was taken aback as Cowley greeted the manager by saying, “Hey Skip – don’t feel bad.  You’re making the right move getting me out of here.”

That season, Cowley would go 12-5 with the Yankees and his coaches and teammates all felt that he would have performed even better had he been able to keep his concentration on the mound.  As he demonstrated in his unconventional no-hitter a year later, Cowley had an infuriating penchant for walking batters.

Yankee teammate Don Baylor who at the time was the leader of the clubhouse as well as judge and jury of the Yankee kangaroo court would fine Cowley repeatedly for his bone-headed play.

After walking the lead-off hitter in fifth inning of a game, Cowley looked over to the Yankee dugout to see Baylor standing at the top of the steps with his hands on his hips glaring out at the pitcher’s mound.  Cowley  yelled over to Baylor, “I know, I know…I owe you ten for that one!”

 

Lou & George

01221201I’m a Mets fan through and through but I’ll tell you what, there’s just something about the Yankees that I love.  I guess I have always appreciated the deep rooted history dating back to 1901 when they actually played as the Baltimore Orioles (not the same Baltimore Orioles as today), the simplicity of the classic pinstripe uniforms and the long list of baseball legends that has worn them.  The 27 world championships doesn’t hurt either!

If you haven’t read Damned Yankees by Bill Madden and Moss Klein, I highly recommend it.  A self-described no-holds-barred account of life with “Boss” Steinbrenner, the book tells what it’s like — for better or for worse, to be under the Yankees circus-tent working for “the Boss.”  Featuring a collection of Yankee tales spanning between 1973 – 1989, the book is absolutely hilarious and features the usual cast of Yankee characters from that time frame – Munson, Gossage, Jackson, Guidry, Berra, Mattingly, Nettles, and of course Billy Martin.

To tie into my 1978 Topps Lou Piniella TTM signature above, let’s talk about Sweet Lou. First off, I thought I had a signature on something featuring him in his Yankees pinstripes. It would seem that all I have is the Royals card.  Maybe I’ll write to him and inquire on getting some Yankees items signed.

Okay, so back to the book.  Stories about Lou Piniella are scattered throughout.   There was the time The Boss fined Lou for showing up to the ’82 spring training overweight; also known as the “Great Piniella Weight War.”  The grand total taken from Piniella’s wallet was $8,000.  $7,000 for being 7 pounds over the 200 and another $1,000 for tossing a baseball to some kids in the bleachers after a game.  What made this story so funny was the fact that Steinbrenner let Lou know about the fine through the media.  This obviously did not sit well with Lou who had more than a few choice words for the writers to quickly get into their stories.

Then there was the 1988 season which saw Lou as the general manager of the Yankees.  While on the phone with the general manager of the Houston Astros (discussing a possible Winfield trade),  Lou was interrupted by Steinbrenner who had just burst into his office.  Steinbrenner, completely ignoring the fact that Lou was on the phone (working), frantically gestured for Lou to hang up and to come with him.  Lou, thinking that Steinbrenner had news of a better trade offer, quickly got off the phone with the Astro’s general manager. “Come with me,” he ordered Piniella.  They left the office, hurried through the front gates and began walking around the outside of the stadium.  As the Yankees were gearing up to play an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves, the ballpark was bustling with fans.

“Don’t let anyone recognize us,” Steinbrenner told Piniella as he shoved him behind a large bush.  How could people NOT recognize the general manager and the owner of the Yankees slinking around the ballpark with hundreds of baseball fans milling around the ballpark!

“Stay down! Don’t let anyone see you!” Steinbrenner loudly whispered.

“What the hell are we doing here George?” Piniella asked.

“I’m sick and tired of these free passes being given out!” Steinbrenner responded. “There are too many people getting free passes and I’m sick of it.  You’re going to put a stop to it right now.” he barked.

“I want you to hide here and count how many people come and get free passes and then find out who they are.” the Boss told him.

Piniella couldn’t believe it.  Here he was the general manager of the New York Yankees. A business executive who was supposed to be working out winning trades and at the very least watching his own team on the field.  Rather, instead the Boss wanted him to hide in some bushes like a child.

Needless to say, the complimentary pass-crisis took priority over the Winfield trade (that the Boss had been demanding for months by the way) and it’s no wonder that the Winfield trade never happened.

Not included in the book is a story about Piniella’s first introduction to Steinbrenner after he was brought over from the Kansas City Royals.  It’s worth reading and sportscaster Tim Lewis over at All Around Tim does a fine job sharing it. I’ll let you head over to his blog to enjoy it.

 

Bob Friend – Practice Makes Perfect…

My son Cameron just turned 1 last week and what a crazy year it has been!  It’s been fun watching his personality start to develop as he grows into a little person.  I’ve always been a “planner” so I’ve certainly got my eyes on the future for him.  We’ve set up his savings
01081202account already, the college fund is up and running, and I’m debating on whether or not I should just go ahead and start now teaching him to hit from both sides of the plate.  Being a switch hitter may generate more baseball-scholarship dollars one day.  All jokes aside (not really) and without even knowing whether or not he will ever like baseball, I decided to start a little project for him.

I started writing baseball players letters back when I was 9 years old.  My first “success” was a postcard from Johnny Bench with his signature printed on it.  I still have it and even though it’s not a real signature, it’s still one of my favorite pieces.

After looking at a stack of 8×10 photos of baseball players, I decided to mail a few off to some retired players.  My note explained that I planned on giving the photo to my son one day.  I asked the player to personalize the photo and make a short inscription.  Mr Friend was happy to oblige and personalized this photo of him at Shea Stadium in 1966.  He wrote:  “To Cameron – Practice Makes Perfect – NLAS ’56, ’58, ’60 – Good Luck”.  The return is absolutely perfect and I can’t wait to give it to Cam one day.   Mr Friend is a great through-the-mail signer.  This request took 5 days to get back to me.

Bob Friend is nicknamed “The Warrior” as he averaged 39 starts per season between ’56 through ’60.  1955 was unique in that Friend posted a 14-9 record for the Pittsburg Pirates and led the National League in ERA with 2.83.  He was the first ever pitcher to do so for a dead-last team.

Being credited with wins in the ’55 and ’56 All Star Games, Friend shares the record for most All Star Games won.  His ’55 start saw him strike out Mantle, Berra, and Williams.

It was an unfortunate turn of events in the ’60 World Series where the Yankees got the best of him in both of his starts as well as a save opportunity.  Game 7 saw Friend being called in from the bullpen to preserve a 9-7 lead in the ninth.  Friend gave up singles to Bobby Richardson and Dale Long when manager Danny Murtaugh replaced him with Harvey Haddix.  Haddix then proceeded to give up a single to Mantle, scoring Richardson and advancing Long.  A grounder by Berra scored Long tying the game 9-9.

Of course, the ending of this game is well-known and regarded by some as “the greatest game ever played.”  It was Bill Mazeroski who faced Ralph Terry in the top of the 10th with the score tied.  It was a 1-2 fastball that Maz sent sailing over the wall in left, crowning the Pittsburgh Pirates the World Champions.  The Series of 1960 would go down as Mantle’s “biggest disappointment in his career.”

One of the most durable pitchers of his time, Friend averaged 232 innings pitched and 13 victories for 15 years.  Had those numbers not been for some of the worst teams in baseball, Friend would likely be in the Hall of Fame.

Bobby Shantz – 1952 AL MVP

01071201I’ve always loved this cover of SPORT magazine.

Gracing this February 1953 issue is Bobby Shantz.  He very graciously signed the cover through the mail.  I asked him to personalize it to my son Cameron and he added the following inscription:

“To Cameron – Best Wishes – Keep your eyes on the ball” – Bobby Shantz, 1952 AL MVP”

I’ve had the issue forever and decided to package it up and mail it to Mr. Shantz.  The return took about 10 days and came out beautifully.

There aren’t very many of us who can say we beat out Yankee legends in MVP voting.  Okay, so probably NONE of us can say that.  Mr. Shantz can say it though.  The award was handily won by the pitcher in 1952 after posting a 24-7 win/loss record.  Also in the running were a few guys by the name of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Allie Reynolds.

Despite the Philadelphia A’s finishing in 5th place that year, Shantz led the American League in wins, winning percentage (.774), fewest walks per game (2.03), finished second with 27 complete games, third with a 2.48 ERA and 152 strikeouts, tied for third with five shutouts, fourth with 255 innings pitched and fifth in fewest hits per game (7.39).

Due to being born just a bit too early, 1952 would have likely won him the Cy Young Award had it existed at the time.  His odds of winning would have been even greater when you take into consideration the award is given out to the top pitcher in each league.  The 280 innings pitched came at the expense of the ’53 and ’54 season as he battled arm soreness

In addition to starring in 3 All-Star Games, Shantz retired with Eight Gold Gloves and had the award been around prior to 1957 he would likely have won more.  Only Greg Maddux, Jim Kaat, and Bob Gibson have won more than Shantz’ eight.

Shantz’ last season (1964) was split between St. Louis, Chicago, and Philadelphia.  He was actually part of one of the most infamous trades in major league baseball history that year as he was shipped off to the Cubs along with Ernie Broglio (and a few other players) in exchange for a young ballplayer named Lou Brock.  Shantz was at the end of the line with his career, Broglio was shipped off with a failing arm (that whether or not St. Louis knew about is still up for debate), and of course, it goes without saying that Brock went on to have a pretty decent career for St. Louis.