Unidentified Hooky Player; Sculpture of Casey/ Photo by Lenny Fan
I’ve just done a column for the NYT on the double opening day in New York.http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/sports/baseball/two-baseball-openers-make-winter-go-away.html
But wait, there’s more. I just heard from Bill Wakefield, who pitched quite well
for the Mets in 1964, and he recalled the first game ever at Shea. He was a Stanford guy who during spring training had become friendly with Hot Rod Kanehl
, who was not a Stanford guy.
Bill’s e-mail reminded me why I love baseball so much:
“We were staying at the Travelers Inn as a team,” Bill wrote. “Rod Kanehl took me out the night before and we went to Toots Shor’s, and Howard Cosell came up and said, ‘Runner Rod, how are you?’ and I thought, ‘Wow, this is the Big Leagues – better than Tulsa.
“We then took separate cabs back to the Travelers. I was late going to breakfast and I remember Rod telling me, ‘I thought somebody had taken you to Brooklyn and I’d never see the rookie again. I’m glad you’re here for breakfast.’
“I had a one-day pay check from the Mets. 1st and the 15th. I think it was around $160. I cashed it – in NYC – cash in my pocket. This is the life.”
“Game against the Pirates. Saw buddies from college along the stands in right field. Hickman looking at the stands and asking me, ‘Are we good enough to play here?’
“As Chris Cannizzaro
used to do before opening day – he went around the entire clubhouse, shook hands with all 25 players and said, ‘Have a good year.’ You, too.”
You know you are going good when an old friend writes such a literate e-mail. Then I dug dug out my battered copy of The Southpaw by Mark Harris, which I regard as the best baseball novel, ever.
A 17-year-old lefty from upstate New York attends opening day in the city, a few years before he will be the surprise starter there.
'There was an announcement by the loudspeaker, 'Ladies and gentlemen, our national anthem,' and the band struck the tune and some lady that I could not see begun to sing, and a mighty powerful pair of lungs she had. It is really beautiful, for as the last words die away, a roar goes up from the people, and for a minute there is no sound but the echo of the singing, and no movement or motion except maybe a bird or the flags waving or the drummer on his drums, and then the music dies and the people spring to life and the chief umpire calls loud and long, 'Puh-lay ball! And the game is on.''
You should read the book.
As Chris Cannizzaro said, “Have a good year.”
I went to high school with that guy. Photo by Lenny Fan
Hardier Than Santana or Teixeira
Never mind the groundhog or the Easter Bunny.
I heard this chirping outside the house.
You know what he was saying?
Let's play two.
Yanks and Mets, separately, on Monday.
Everything's going to be all right from now on.
Photo by the Groundhog
A few days early, the groundhog emerges,
Temperatures heading toward the 50’s.
The local ball field looks inviting
Maybe it is time for opening day.
How is A-Rod recuperating?
The Yankees, he is told, are looking into new allegations,
Trying to bust his contract, be done with him.
Is that nice R.A. Dickey ready to win another 20?
The Mets let him go, and dissed him on his way out the door.
Never mind, the groundhog says. I’m going back down.
Let me know when it's safe to come up.
Photo by Doug Mills
THURSDAY Here are two stories about Musial, over the transom, from readers in Connecticut and Missouri. Your own comments are welcome, below:
A little story about “Stan the Man”
This is probably one of a thousand stories about the special person that Stan Musial was.
Stan Musial’s daughter and her family lived on a beautiful street in Kirkwood next door to a friend and classmate of my daughter, Annie. I had recently spoken to her friend’s mother who told me that Stan was always over at his daughter’s house doing chores and odds and ends and how he was just the nicest person to everyone in the neighborhood.
One evening, my brother Bill, who lived in Dallas, called to tell me that he was coming to St. Louis to attend the 40th birthday party of his very good friend and roommate at Mizzou. His friend’s first name was Stan and was actually named after “Stan the Man.”
My brother commented that it would really be special if he could get something written from “Stan the Man” to Stan (his friend) as a birthday present. I remembered what the neighbor said and called the neighbor to see if it were possible to do this the next time Stan was at his daughter’s house.
I had an 8 x 10 glossy of Stan Musial at home and I brought it over to the neighbor. She said she would ask him the next time she sees him and that, as a matter of fact, Stan has been sealing his daughter’s driveway the past few days.
The neighbor called me the following Saturday to tell me that she saw Stan sealing the driveway and went out to ask him the favor of signing the picture.
She went on to tell me that upon this request, Stan said “Wait right here. I’ll be back in half an hour.” A little later, Stan came back and brought with him a number of articles all signed by Stan and with well wishes for the other Stan on his birthday. He obviously had dropped everything, drove home, and returned with the items which made one man’s birthday very very special.
And guess what? Stan didn’t ask for one dime. He was just honored to be asked. He did not personally know any of us but it didn’t matter.
When I think of Stan Musial, certainly I think of all the hits I witnessed as a kid and young adult, I am almost 70 now, but most of all I remember this story because this little act of kindness defines who he was. “The Man.”
The passing of Stan Musial is a sad event for all who knew of him! Litchfield, Connecticut, my life long home, may be far away from St. Louis and populated by Red Sox, Mets and Yankees fans, but any baseball fanatic who followed Mr. Musial's career, even to a minute degree, had to love his kind and wondrous personality.
Indeed, I will never, ever forget the glorious human being who was Stan The Man Musial. And, thank The Lord I bumped into him in person twice by amazing chance.
One of those days, my son, Tommie, a Red Sox fan, and I, a Giants fan, were standing outside the door of the room where the Hall of Famers go for their party in Cooperstown, New York. Of course, we were gazing closely to catch glimpses of our Red Sox and Giants all time heroes. As we were doing so, a fan, standing right behind us, who did not need a microphone, began announcing the names and nicknames of each player moving toward us.
"Pee Wee Reese!" he exclaimed as Pee Wee moved right up to us and gave all of us a high wave. "Willie Stretch McCovey!" the microphone blurted out. Willie simply moved by with speed, as if he were rushing out of the dugout to his first base post at a Polo Grounds home game. I saw quite a few of those games with my dad, Thomas D. Williams, a Giants fan as well, particularly after Willie Mays became my favorite rookie center fielder ever.
Our announcer continued his stupendous identifications of a couple of other famers before his apparent favorite arrived.
"Stan Musial!" he exclaimed with extraordinary enthusiasm. Stan, donning a huge smile, began walking toward us from the car that took him there. As Stan, got closer, our announcer yelled out: "Give us the stance, Stan!" So Stan stopped in mid-walk, and indeed gave us that notorious batting stance: his two arms high above and well in back of his head and his legs slightly crouched and apart. Without further prompting, Stan swung his arms forward as if his bat was about to strike a fast ball. He finished the swing, moved forward toward Tommie and I, resumed his stance and swung again. By the time Stan repeated this for his third swing, he was just feet away from us. He resumed his stance and exclaimed: "Once again?!" But, he stopped there for seconds, dropped the imaginary bat, broke out with an amazing smile and continued walking into the Hall of Fame party.
Upon another occasion, years apart, I was anticipating more lively action from Hall of Famers close to the same hallers' arty location. First I remember Yogi Berra and several other famers trudge by without episode or comment except for yells from the crowd: "Hey Yogi, Yogi,Yogi!" No answer and on into the Hall he walked. I was a bit disappointed until I saw this guy I could not yet recognize get out of a car and began his energetic walk. As he did so, he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a harmonica. He soon put it to his lips as he continued his path and began playing "Take Me Out ToThe Ball Game!" As he was finishing, the crowd yelled: "Give it to us again Stan!" It was Stan The Man and once again, he belted another one out of the park: this one, however, was the greatest of baseball songs!
Dennie Williams, a Lifetime Giants Fan
Litchfield, Ct. WEDNESDAY
Fans have sent in their memories of Musial to John Hall, collector of midwest baseball history. Many are touching, and give a great sense of the hold Musial has on the region. http://komleaguebaseball.blogspot.com/
For fans further east, I hear there will be a service in his home town of Donora, Pa., in mid-February. I will keep you posted. GV MONDAY
Willie Mays on Stan Musial:
Mays was at the Baseball Writers’ dinner in New York Saturday night when word got around that Stan Musial had passed.
Willie Weinbaum of ESPN sent this report to Buster Olney
: "It is a very sad day for me," Willie Mays said in a brief interview after being informed of his perennial National League All-Star Game teammate's passing. Mays, on hand to celebrate the 2012 Giants' world championship honorees and the chapter's "Willie, Mickey and the Duke" award to his 1973 Mets, called Musial "a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could."I never heard anybody say a bad word about him, ever."
This dovetails with Bernie Miklasz’ anecdote about Musial. Some people from a younger generation see Musial as less than a hero because he didn’t go on freedom rides.
How you live your daily life is important, too.
Here's a link to a terrific column by Bernie Miklasz in the Post-Dispatch. My thanks to Lynn McGuire, widow of the great John McGuire, for sending me this link. http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/bernie-miklasz/a-perfect-union-stan-the-man-and-st-louis/article_1f42f8b6-a9da-530f-9492-2a767479bd19.html#.UPyI1uRTG2M.email
A FEW PEOPLE HAVE INCLUDED PERSONAL MEMORIES OF MUSIAL. I'D LOVE TO SEE YOURS BELOW. GV. SATURDAY NIGHT
We now prepare for the tributes, in the town that loved him.
Church and state in St. Louis will honor Stan Musial in the days and weeks to come, and the baseball-playing part of the world can update its memory of Stan the Man -- .331 batting average,
475 home runs, speed and consistency, voted the best baseball player of the post-war decade by Life Magazine.
He was more than that – he was the approachable face of baseball, a humble man who came to St. Louis and stayed, until he passed Saturday at the age of 92. The family has lost Lil and Stan in a short time.
I was lucky enough to get a feel for Musial in St. Louis while writing his unauthorized biography, Stan Musial: An American Life
, which was a best-seller in 2011.
He was past speaking for himself but I was honored that some of his best friends, teammates, opponents and family spoke about him, portrayed him as very human.
I was privileged to be at the White House in 2011 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He seemed subdued most of the time but lit up when President Obama put the medal around his neck.
His friends said he wore the medal when he made the rounds of his lunch places back home in the days afterward. .
I’ll be writing about him for the Times in the Monday edition.
For the moment, my condolences go to his family and that huge swath of the country that loved him, as its own.
Poster Courtesy of John Hall
I love the National Baseball Hall of Fame
. I love the concept, the site in beautiful Cooperstown, N.Y. and the people who run it. I am sorry they will have no new living members
to induct this year, but that will take care of itself soon enough.
There is another baseball shrine -- and Buck O’Neill, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Marvin Miller are already members.
It is the Baseball Reliquary, based in Southern California, and also a state of mind that honors great characters of baseball. I don’t see the Reliquary as a threat or protest toward the Hall of Fame, but any shrine that includes female umpires and flash-in-the-pan players and pioneer mascots deserves its own separate place in this huge complicated world.
Here is a column I wrote in 2009 when Steve Dalkowski – whom I once saw strike out Roger Maris in a spring training game – was to be inducted into the Reliquary:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/sports/baseball/19vecsey.html?_r=0
Maris is also in the Reliquary for hitting 61 homers in 1961, long before the steroid generation.
Curt Flood, Pam Postema, Roger Angell and Ted Giannoulas, the great Chicken, are among 42 members of the Reliquary.
Voting is open again, not confined to baseball writers
but open to anybody who pays $25 dues.
I cannot vouch for the Reliquary or tell you if $25 is a good investment. However, for that membership, you can vote for candidates who, in their own individualistic ways, contributed to the sport, including Conrado Marrero, Lisa Fernandez, Ernie Harwell and Pete Reiser and 46 other candidates.
Their very names make me feel warm all over, like dreaming of pitchers and catchers and the first day of spring training.
Here is the Reliquary web site and the current candidates: http://www.baseballreliquary.org/candidates2013.htm
Nothing against the Baseball Hall of Fame. Just different.
Your comments are always welcome.
(FOR REACTION TO HALL VOTE, PLEASE SEE BELOW)
First of all, voters owe nothing to the baseball industry to create good will by voting in a few new members of the Hall of Fame to brighten up the dark of winter. This is baseball’s mess. Why vote for those guys right now?
Messrs. Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa and McGwire are a collective symptom of all that went wrong with baseball in the past generation. Management did not want to know why the players had new muscles on their muscles – even when a reporter like Steve Wilstein spotted the evidence sitting there in McGwire’s locker.
And the Players Association was fighting off drug rules and drug testing on the spurious grounds of individual rights. I’ve often wondered what became of Donald Fehr.
Tyler Kepner has a great point in the Monday New York Times: some good candidates may be held back by association with their place and time. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/sports/baseball/baseball-hall-of-fame-voting-unfairly-tainted-by-steroids.html?ref=baseball&_r=0
Tyler makes the point that the Times does not let its employees vote for any award, sports or show business. Since I still write for them occasionally, I don’t vote. The paper quite properly does not want its people to be part of the story for taking some eccentric vote.
However, if I did vote, I would be a strict constructionist. This year, five players with the best statistics are handcuffed together in a squad car of suspicion and evidence and admission.
As somebody who has told the very nice sons of Roger Maris and Gil Hodges that I do not quite think their fathers were Hall of Fame players, I could make the same judgment about Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly and Lee Smith. Too many really good players in the Hall right now.
And a lot of really good players eligible this year.http://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/hof_2013.shtml
There is no tangible evidence against Mike Piazza. His career numbers seem worthy of the Hall. Wait a year.
Edgar Martinez may have been the best designated hitter in history. But designated hitter is still a gimmick in my opinion. It means he didn’t play defense most of the time. Wait a year.
Jeff Bagwell has the statistics but is generally suspected of bulking up. I don’t know. Wait a year.
Curt Schilling? Great post-season statistics. Wait a year.
Craig Biggio? He played three positions – very impressive – and has excellent longevity numbers – but was not necessarily the most feared hitter on his own team. Wait a year.
It’s really baseball’s fault we have this attitude about the past generation.
If you told me I had to vote for one player, I’d vote for Jack Morris, because he won big games for a long time, and is running out of eligibility.
There are historic considerations – “time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” to quote Andrew Marvell in a baseball column.
Pete Rose was a Hall of Fame player, absolutely, but he hurt himself by betting on baseball as a manager, and then he lied. Pete belongs in the Hall, somehow, sometime. He also loved the game, and gabbed about it incessantly with fans and reporters and other players, sitting in Sparky Anderson’s office. Bud Selig could declare that Pete broke the rules and lied – his plaque could say so -- but as a player, what a force Rose was, and versatile, too.
No doubt in my mind Bonds and Clemens were cheats as well as creeps. As time moves on, more voters could reason they were great players before they took the stuff. I can see voters including them in the Hall, but surely not now.
(MY SATURDAY COMMENTARY ABOUT THE VOTE:)
I had lunch Friday with a dozen friends who write about baseball – not beat writers, but people who follow the game just as closely. Some had wanted a Morris or Biggio to get into the Hall, but nobody seemed surprised by the shutout. It’s more than pique. It’s respect for the game.
Tyler Kepner (who was not at lunch) recently proposed a panel of 36 voters, including nine Hall of Fame players. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/09/sports/baseball/baseball-hall-of-fame-voting-process-must-change.html?_r=0
Tyler’s got a good point, but I’ll bet you the old players would have higher standards for inclusion than the writers, particularly if the vote were secret. They would be really tough on anybody suspected of using stuff. Even if the Hall panelists used “red juice” or “greenies” back in the day. You think not?
I don’t think there was one truly great – and clean -- player of the Ruth-Mays-Koufax level who was excluded on Wednesday. You know what we used to say back in Brooklyn? Wait til next year.
Your comments welcome below.
I’ll miss the baseball season – the regular season, I mean.
Of course, the impending post-season is what gives the electricity to these desparate hours, like the Yankees' and Orioles' 162nd games.
I’m not crazy about the one-game format looming for two wild-card teams. This means a team could win over 90 games, be in division contention all year, and have to throw a weary or marginal starter in a one-game shootout.
As Ken Singleton was saying on the Yankee broadcast Tuesday night, an entire season could depend on circumstance – a ball lost in the sun, something like that
What’s your opinion?
Then again, seasons end abruptly anyway. On Tuesday I was with a group of Red Sox fans called the Blohards, who hold occasional meetings in New York to celebrate or mourn. Funny how the names Dent and Boone keep coming up.
I told them, hey, my team went away. And my childhood was spent watching Richie Ashburn throwing Cal Abrams out at home and Bobby Thomson hitting that home run, exactly 61 years ago on Wednesday, but who’s keeping track?
Yes, I can remember exactly where I was. Where were you for Thomson or Dent or Boone or some other autumnal event?
I also remember Red Barber talking Dodger fans off the ledge a year earlier, in 1950, after Dick Sisler’s home run put us into deep misery. His words were like those of a speaker at a funeral service, finding hope. We cannot always win; things come to an end, The Old Redhead said in his eulogy. I think of him every time a season ends the way the Mets’ season is ending.
I told the Blohards: remember what Brooklyn fans said: Wait til next year. But they seem to suspect next year has come and gone for a while.
I will miss the regularity of baseball, the prosaic daily quality.
Whenever I got frustrated with the yakkers and the commercials on television, I could flick to the ball game and find good old Derek Jeter, inside-outing a double to right, or good old David Wright, paddling against the tide.
On Tuesday night, there was a late-season cameo, the appearance of Adam Greenberg, who was hit in the head by a pitch seven years ago and got to swing for Miami – against R.A. Dickey. The scene of the Marlins pummeling him in the dugout after his three-pitch strikeout made me choke up. My guess is that every one of those guys understood the fragility of a career.
How did you react to the gesture by the Marlins?
I hate the idea of a season going away, even another wretched Met season. It is foggy in New York Wednesday morning. The regular season is going away, to be replaced by the post-season, plus the short debate season that signals the end of the American silly season, the long and expensive march to elections.
I’m looking forward to the result, to moving on, but I could do without a lot of the foolishness. The regular baseball season – the Orioles and the Reds, Trout and Dickey – is much better than the campaign season.
Think this guy would be any worse than the jokers they are using? (see below) Photo courtesy of Wahoo Gazette
The National Football League knew it was in trouble when David Letterman mocked the officiating fiasco Tuesday night. A very bedraggled Alan Kalter trudged across the stage wearing a don’t-mess-with-me scowl and striped referee gear. He just had a bleeping day, he said.
Then there was a Top Ten List cataloging the mistakes by the ringers, with sports maven ace writer Bill Scheft from the wings explaining the N.F.L. misery.
Now we read in Judy Battista’s excellent front-page piece
in the Times that new, intransigent owners are responsible for the hard stance.
If I read between the lines, some of these new people want to solve the ills of the world right here and now – by stiffing the help.
They are willing to dilute the product for a ridiculously miniscule piece of the action – what the Times says is $3.2 million extra, out of the $9 billion in annual revenue of the N.F.L. In other words, the owners are saying, it’s not the money, it’s the principle.
They could downsize the limos at the Super Bowl and afford real refs by next Sunday.
We haven’t seen such haughtiness toward the working class since…since…since Mitt Romney talked straight from his avaricious little heart to his rich friends in that now-infamous tape.
Mitt can’t worry about poor people; the N.F.L. owners can’t worry about fans. They all have their agendas.
If I read the tea leaves correctly, some new owners are trying to make their points against a society they just joined. In that, they remind me of the 40 or 50 new tea-party types who came to Congress in 2011, with no intention of actually belonging to it. They slept in their offices and rushed home as soon as they could, scorning the institution and, in effect, the country.
By ignoring the expertise of the referees, the nouveau hard-line owners have jeopardized the product they recently bought into. They have their own tapes proliferating – the botched calls, the yowling fans, the twittering players, and the laughter on the late-night shows -- contempt, rocketing around the world.
This league is already in trouble because generations of ignored brain damage are catching up with it. Now the owners are showing us who’s boss.
Five Season, Five Rings
The Yankees were in a terrible slump a few months ago.
That is to say, they were not in first place.
My prototypical Yankee fan friend was fretting and saying they would have to bring in some new talent.
I sent a two-word reply: Johnny Hopp.
My pal was mystified, in that Hopp is not the classic insurance acquisition the Yankees have made over the decades. He was a fading first baseman
they picked up on Sept. 5, 1950 – too late to be eligible for the annual World Series, but he made his modest contributions until early 1952, when his services were no longer required. My point was, the Yankees usually get what they want and what they need.
Other names come to mind ahead of Hopp: Cecil Fielder
in 1996, David Justice
in 2000, and Johnny Mize
in 1949. The Yankees always have the money to bring in somebody during a pennant race. They paid $40,000 for Mize, an aging first baseman, on Aug. 22, 1949, and he helped win five consecutive World Series. I can still see Duke Snider and Carl Furillo staring at his three blasts in the 1952 Series.
As a young sportswriter, my personal favorite among late-season Yankees was Pistol Pete Ramos
, who came over from Cleveland on Sept. 5, 1964 – ineligible for the World Series, to be sure, but he made sure the Yankees got there, pitching 13 times and saved eight victories. Not only that, he jollied up his old friend Mickey Mantle by daring him to stage their long-delayed challenge sprint. By that time, the Mick could hardly walk.
Just guessing that Ichiro Suzuki will not propose an old-guy race with Derek Jeter or compare arms with Yankee outfielders, although the word is that he can trash-talk in English with the best of them. He will be a presence.
Supply your own moral judgment. My Brooklyn heart was long ago broken by the Johnny Mizes – and the Johnny Hopps.
For the first time in over a decade, I watched a ball game from the stands. Now that I don’t spend my time in the press box, it seemed like something a semi-retired bloke should do,
I made a few discoveries, or re-discoveries:
1. It is expensive. My kid brother Chris and his wife CA were coming down from upstate and invited me to the Mets-Yankee game Sunday night at the stadium I prefer to call New Shea (what with my disdain for banks.)
I never buy tickets for sports events because I work at them. I was horrified to learn that seats in Section 136 in left field cost $110 each. Oh, my goodness. I would have felt all right if Chris had spent, say, $45 per ticket. Later, I heard that the Mets were discounting thousands of tickets to fill up the park for the Dickey-Sabathia matchup. How do people manage to attend these events? (I did my best to combat high concessions prices by bringing in some delicious summer rolls and baguettes from my favorite little Vietnamese place in Bayside.)
2. It is noisy. The sound system bombarded us with witless noise from batting practice to the last out – denying fans a chance to talk baseball.
3. It is competitive. The Yankee fans were at least as loud as the Mets fans, reminding me of the 2000 World Series when Yankee fans gobbled up tickets on the open market and outcheered the Mets fans (Of course, they had more to cheer about in those three games in Shea.)
4. It can be funny. Four Yankee fans behind me (three of them female) were cheering for each Yankee home run. Two Mets fans (I think mother and daughter, in orange shirts) took offense.
Do you have to be so noisy? The Mets mother asked, good-humoredly, maybe.
We’re your guests, one Yankee woman retorted nicely, maybe. You should be more polite.
They settled into a détente. After Cano’s homer put the Yankees ahead, one Yankee female offered a large box of fries to the Mets fan.
I don’t want Yankee fries, the Mets mother sniffed. They have 27 more grams of sodium.
Several rows of fans laughed.
Nice one, the Yankee woman replied with a true New Yawkuh appreciation of a zinger.
5. The game is different from left field. My brother told me A-Rod had blasted shots far over our section in batting practice, but A-Rod came nowhere close when it counted. We were looking over the shoulders of Scott Hairston and Raul Ibanez, as they glided toward fly balls in their direction. Easy plays – for calm professionals, that is. Even from this far away, we could appreciate defense by Cano and Teixeira, and we could reconstruct a bad exchange near first between Turner and Dickey. But home plate was at the far end of our range. It was hard to see pitches cross home plate, hard to follow the umpire’s signal.
6. The ritual is reassuring. Directly in front of us, a boy in a yarmulke sat next to his dad, while capturing images of the game on his electronic tablet. We who have grown children may have felt a little nostalgic, even jealous, over watching this rite of passage.
7. Being in the crowd can be downright enjoyable. With rain pushing most fans back under the eaves, we huddled in place for the bottom of the ninth. We could hear the crack as Ike Davis lashed a drive to right for the final out. Mets and Yankees fans mingled soddenly, politely, on the down staircases. The three of us had survivors’ pride from getting through the sensory wars. I could see doing this again sometime -- if we start saving now.
(Your comments on the inner life in the stands are appreciated.)