"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: December 2007

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Calmer than You

This year for Christmas, my secret Santa (my step-sister’s husband) got me a 1996 World Series baseball autographed by Joe Torre. How cool is that? I don’t care much about autographs but this one I like. It’s the perfect gift to get from a secret Santa. Thoughtful.

One of the things I’m most excited about 2008 is the release of The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan, a book I edited, with help from Gabe Fried at Persea books and Pat himself. As I’ve mentioned on the Banter previously, Jordan played with Torre in the Braves’ minor league system in the early ’60s.

In 1996, Pat did a piece on Joe Torre for the New York Times magazine in the middle of the summer as the team was surging then slumping. It wasn’t a long profile or a particularly memorable one. By Jordan’s own admission, it is a minor piece. The story did not make the cut for our collection; in fact, it didn’t make the B-list. However, I have a couple of drafts of the story, one called “The Patience of Joe,” and another one, completely restructured, called “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” that have some good stuff in ‘em.

Here is the begining and end of Pat’s working draft of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

Joe Torre, the New York Yankees’ manager, is sitting behind his desk in his office off the clubhouse in Yankee Stadium, talking to Rick Cerrone, the team’s director of media relations, while making out today’s line-up card.

Torre is a big, dark, sinister-looking man of 55. He has the blocky build of a professional wrestler, The Villain, recently gone on a diet. He has dark, olive-colored skin, black stubble of beard, and bushy black eyebrows that hand low over his threatening, black eyes. He does look villainous…a Mexican bandito about to pillage a town of peasants…a vengeful Saracan warrior about to sack the camp of a hated enemy.

A sportswriter barges in, unannounced. He starts haranguing Cerrone over his late-arriving press credentials which caused him to be an hour late for his interview with Torre. The sportswriter’s face is flushed with anger. Torre’s threatening eyes shift up, only the whites showing. Torre stands, a dark, threatening presence. He raises his hands, palms out, as if to fend off heat.

“Calm down,” he says, almost pleading. “Calm down. I’ll give you all the time you need. Have some coffee. Someone get him some coffee. Please!”

When Torre was a pudgy, 20-year-old catcher in the Milwaukee Braves’ minor league farm system in 1960, he looked every bit as old and dark and threatening as he does now. He always looked like an old man playing a young man’s game. At 20, Torre would waddle out to the pitcher’s mound in his catching gear to confront his baby-faced pitcher, red-faced, furious, kicking the dirt, making a spectacle of himself, embarrassing himself and his teammates because of their latest error. (Torre never embarrasses his players, he says, because, “I hit .360 one year, and .240 another, and I know I tired just as hard both years.” When Yankees’ rookie shortstop, Derek Jeter, made a crucial error that lost a game in August, Torre said, “He’s played his tail off for us and has won a lot of games. More than the error, that’s what to keep in mind.” Which is why, Wade Boggs, the Yanks’ veteran third baseman calls Torre, “A player’s manager.”)

Even at 20, Torre knew not to embarrass his teammates, and when he saw his young pitcher doing it, thrashing around the mound, he would stop ten feet from his raging pitcher, raises his hands, palms out, and say, in the same, pleading voice he uses today, “Calm down. Relax. We’ll get ‘em for you. Don’t worry.”

After Torre has calmed the sportswriter, he says, “I have a temper, I just don’t vent it. (He also has stomach troubles.) Maybe it’s more healthy to show emotion. I don’t know. I’m a patient person.”

Torre always played the game with the patience of an older man. Even at 20, he had what was called “a professional attitude.” Which meant he approached the game unemotionally, diligently, doggedly, the only way possible if a player is to fashion a long career over 100-plus games a year. Each season, each game, each inning even, can be a lifetime of emotional highs and lows. Young players, furious pitchers, caught up in those emotional high and lows don’t last long in the game. Torre lasted 17 years. He finished his playing career with a lifetime .297 batting average and is the only player to be voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player, in 1971, when he led the league in both batting, .363 and runs batted in, 137, and the National League’s Manager of the Year, in 1982, when he led the Atlanta Braves to a division title. This is Torre’s 15th season as a manager (New York Mets, Atlanta, St. Louis Cardinals) and his first with the Yankees, who are leading the American League East with the third best record in baseball, and are considered one of three teams with the best chance at winning the World Series, the last of which the Yankees won in 1978.

Torre has blended a team of youthful players and grizzled veterans, born again Christians and recovering substance abusers, into arguably one of the most well-balanced teams in baseball. The present-day Yankees play an unremarkably adept game Torre calls “a National League game. We grind it out, one run at a time.” The Yankees pick away at their opponents, a single, a stolen base, a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly ball, and a run, in a way that makes every player feel he’s contributing to their success.

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Sticks and Stones

So, I know this is kind of a bummer way to end the year, but I was doing some research not so long ago and stumbled across the Dick Young article that effectively sent Tom Seaver packing from the Mets, the one where Young brought up Nolan Ryan and his wife. This is Dick Young at his absolute, mean-spirited, vicious worst, shilling for M Donald Grant:

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When it Raines

More on Rock. Once again, from Rich Lederer, who breaks down the Bill James Abstract take on Raines from the 80s, and this, a fine Q&A with Jonah Keri.

Very Not Good

Seriously bad news for a former Yankee. The story was originally reported in the Miami Herald.

Pastime Passings–October, November, and December

With this representing the final installment of Pastime Passings for 2007, it’s an appropriate time to pay homage to some of the baseball people we’ve lost over the final months of the year. Here are tributes to those who have passed away, both broadcasters and players, during the months of October, November, and December.

Stu Nahan (Died on December 26 in Studio City, CA; age 81; lymphoma): A well-known presence on the Los Angeles sports scene since the 1950s, Nahan most recently worked on Dodgers broadcasts as a pre- and post-game host for KFWB Radio. After retiring from a journeyman hockey career as a minor league goaltender, he became a go-fer for veteran broadcaster Bob Kelley on Pacific Coast League broadcasts for the Los Angeles Angels. He eventually became a play-by-play man for the minor league Modesto Reds before hosting nightly sports reports on KCRA TV in Sacramento. In 1968, he returned to Los Angeles to anchor sports reports, working at a variety of local stations before being dismissed in 1999. Nahan also gained national acclaim for playing commentators in feature films, including Brian’s Song, Private Benjamin, and all six incarnations of Rocky. In one of his most memorable appearances, Nahan played himself while interviewing the lead character of Jeff Spicoli (portrayed by Sean Penn) in the 1982 hit, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Tommy Byrne (Died on December 20 in Wake Forest, NC; age 87; congestive heart failure): A hard-throwing left-hander with a reputation for wildness, Byrne pitched for four American League teams from 1943 to 1957. He was best remembered for his tenure with the Yankees, his first and last major league team. Pitching in three different stints for the Yankees, Byrne earned selection to the All-Star Game in 1950 and appeared in four World Series. In 21 postseason innings, he struck out 11 batters while forging an impressive ERA of 2.53. Nicknamed "Wild Bill," Byrnes led the league in walks three times. An intimidating pitcher who liked to throw inside, he led the league in hit batsmen five times. Byrnes could hit almost as well as he could throw hard fastballs. He batted .238 during his career (143-for-601) with 14 home runs, including two grand slams. In addition to the Yankees, Byrnes pitched for the St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox, and Washington Senators during his 13-year career. After his playing days, he served as the mayor of his hometown in Wake Forest for 15 years.

Don Chevrier (Died on December 18 in Tampa, FL; age 69; blood thinning disorder): The first television play-by-play man in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays, Chevrier became known as the primary sports voice of CBC, the Canadian network. Described as the "voice of God" by former CBC executive Rick Brace, Chevrier featured a booming baritone that helped make him popular with Canadian viewers. As the first TV voice of the Jays, he partnered with former Yankees star Tony Kubek to form a memorable broadcasting tandem. Chevrier also became close friends with another Toronto broadcasting icon, the late Tom Cheek, who died in 2005. The versatile Chevrier did play-by-play on Canadian Football League Grey Cup telecasts while also becoming the CBC’s voice of curling. He also did work for ABC TV in the United States, including "Monday Night Baseball" and boxing broadcasts, where he frequently teamed with Howard Cosell.

Bob Marquis (Died on November 28 in Beaumont, TX; age 82): Marquis played one season for the Cincinnati Reds, appearing in 40 games in 1953. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .273 with two home runs in 44 at-bats. A U.S. Navy veteran, Marquis had previously served in the military during World War II.

Joe Kennedy (Died on November 23 in Tampa, FL; age 28; cause of death unknown pending an autopsy): The seven-year veteran left-hander, who had pitched for three major league teams in 2007, collapsed in the bedroom of his wife’s parents while preparing to serve as the best man at a Florida wedding. He was taken to nearby Brandon Hospital, but was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. The cause of his death remains undetermined, pending the results of an autopsy.

Drafted in the eighth round of the 1998 amateur draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kennedy made his big league debut in 2001, marking the start of a three-year tenure in Tampa Bay. Establishing a reputation for his competitiveness on the mound, Kennedy gave the Rays hope of finding an ace for the top of their rotation. Making 72 starts for the D-Rays, Kennedy pitched well at times, but suffered from a lack of run support, accounting for a record of 18-31. After the 2003 season, the Devil Rays traded him to the Colorado Rockies, where he would enjoy his finest season. Despite pitching half of his games at Coors Field, Kennedy posted a 3.66 ERA while winning nine of 16 decisions. He never matched that level of triumph again, eventually bouncing to the Oakland A’s. After starting the 2007 season with Oakland, Kennedy was released, signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, released for a second time, and then signed by the Toronto Blue Jays. Kennedy became a free agent at season’s end; in spite of his recent struggles, he was expected to receive offers from the Blue Jays and potentially several other teams. Over his seven seasons, Kennedy posted a record of 43-61 with a 4.79 ERA in 908 innings.

Kennedy became the second active major leaguer to pass away in the last two years. In 2006, former Yankee right-hander Cory Lidle (a onetime teammate of Kennedy) died just days after New York was eliminated by Detroit in the American League Division Series. Kennedy is survived by his wife and one-year-old son.

Joe Nuxhall (Died on November 16 in Ohio; age 79; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma): Nuxhall was best known for being the youngest major leaguer of the 20th century, pitching in a 1944 game for the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 15 years, ten months, and 11 days. Nuxhall struggled badly in his wartime debut, giving up five runs on five walks and two hits in only two-thirds of an inning against the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. Undeterred, he spent the rest of the season in the minor leagues, returned to high school in the fall, and then continued a long baseball apprenticeship in the minor leagues before making it back to the Reds in 1951, seven years after his debut. Nuxhall would last 16 seasons in the majors, establishing himself as a solid left-handed pitcher in the mid-1950s. A two-time All-Star, Nuxhall led the National League in shutouts in 1955. Except for brief stints with the Kansas City A’s and LA Angels, Nuxhall remained with Cincinnati through the 1966 season, when he retired with 135 wins and over 1,300 strikeouts. The following spring, "The Ol’ Lefthander" returned to the Reds as a broadcaster, continuing what would become a 63-year association with the franchise.

Matthew Wasser (Died on October 24 in Waltham, Massachusetts; age 22): A member of the Yankees’ media relations department, Wasser was assisting the Boston Red Sox with statistical work during the American League Championship Series at the time of his death. Wasser was killed when his taxi was struck by a suspected drunken driver. The driver, Lawrence P. Laine, was arrested and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol.

Wasser had joined the Yankees only last spring, working with both local and national in media. He was scheduled to graduate from the College of New Jersey in December. As a tribute to Wasser, the Yankees sent his family a signed baseball to be placed in his casket.

Owen "Red" Friend (Died on October 14 in Wichita, Kansas; age 80): After signing with the St. Louis Browns in 1944, Friend made his major league debut five years later. A defensive-minded infielder with the ability to handle second, short, or third, Friend played two seasons with the Browns before missing two years while serving in the U.S. military during the Korean War. He returned to the big leagues in 1953, splitting the season between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. He later played for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs before his major league career ended in 1956. After his playing days, Friend became a minor league manager, scouted for the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles, and served on Joe Gordon’s inaugural coaching staff with the expansion Kansas City Royals in 1969.

Don Nottebart (Died on October 4 in Cypress, TX; age 71; effects of a recent stroke): Nottebart was best known for throwing the first no-hitter in the history of the Houston Astros/Colt .45s franchise. Pitching for the Colt .45s on May 17, 1963, the right-hander set down the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1. Nottebart allowed a single run in the fifth inning through little fault of his own—a two-base error followed by a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. Using a devastating slider, Nottebart struck out eight Phillies and walked three in pitching the no-hitter at Colt Stadium. He would finish the 1963 season with a record of 11-8 and a 3.17 ERA. Over the course of a nine-year career, Nottebart won 66, lost 96, and posted an ERA of 3.65. A veteran of the Colts, Astros, Milwaukee Braves, and Cincinnati Reds, Nottebart saw his career come to an end in 1969, when he split the season between the Yankees and Chicago Cubs.

Bunky Stewart (Died on October 3 in Wilmington, NC; age 76): A veteran of five major league seasons, Stewart pitched for the Washington Senators from 1952 to 1956. The left-hander finished his career with a record of 5-11 and six saves. All five of his wins came in his final season, when he logged a career-high 105 innings.

 

Bruce Markusen is the author of "Cooperstown Confidential" at MLB.com. He can be reached via e-mail at bmark@telenet.net.

 

Solid as a Rock

Why bother blogging when Rich Lederer is doing such a bang-up job? Rich has long championed Bert Blyleven’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame (hey, Bill Conlin is actually voting for Blyleven this year). Now, he takes on a new case: Rock Raines. If you think I’ve beat this horse into the ground already, well, get used to it. I’m on the Raines bandwagon.

Okay, here’s a random question for the day: If you could read a biography of any sports writer who would it be? And I’m not talking about a book that has already been written. Or maybe the better question is this: What major sports writer most deserves a serious biography? Jim Murray, Dick Young, W.C. Heinz? Who would you be interested in reading about?

Which One of Dese?

Aw man, sorry for being out-of-the-loop for a minute there, guys. Got caught up in the holidaze and, well, there wasn’t any pressing news that needed to be covered anyhow. One guy who hasn’t let the year-end festivities slow him down, is my old pal, Rich Lederer, who has a terrific Q&A with veteran baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby up at The Baseball Analysts. Here’s a bit about Rock Raines:

Rich: You sent me an email last year, saying that you had come around on Blyleven. I commend you for being open minded on the subject and changing your vote. My next project is to have you see the light on Raines. I would be remiss if I let the comparison to Coleman go by without comment. Yes, they both played left field, led off, and stole a lot of bases. But, other than that, the difference between Raines and Coleman is like night and day. Raines hit .294/.385/.425; Coleman, .264/.324/.345. That’s 141 points of OPS. Over the course of their careers, Raines got on base twice as often and had twice as many total bases as Coleman.

I know you referenced their top five years, but the truth is that Raines (.334/.413/.476 with an OPS+ of 151) was a much better player than Coleman (.292/.340/.400 with an OPS+ of 104) at their respective peaks, too. I don’t think the five-year numbers are much different. We agree on Coleman. He’s not a Hall of Famer. But we disagree on Raines. I believe he is very worthy. I hope you keep an open mind on Raines and give him a closer look next year.

Tracy: That’s probably not the only one we disagree on. Raines will have to get in line for me, behind Dawson and Murphy and Rice, while I still try and sort those three out. I know there is support for each of them, but I guess what I have the hardest time dealing with is why Rice’s support seems stronger when I would put him third out of the three, and I’m not convinced yet on any of the three. Now that’s where a vote gets difficult because I have so much respect for the people that Dawson and Murphy are that it is hard not to put them on my ballot.

With all due respect, how long does it take to sort out candidates like Dawson, Murphy and Rice, guys who have been on the ballot for a good while now? I read one baseball writer’s list recently, and a guy he voted for last year isn’t get his vote this year, and vice versa. It’s frustrating to read about the voting process at times, but, ah, what am I getting steamed for? This is the Hall of Fame we’re talking about. Tom Yawkey’s got a plaque in the jernt. Never mind.

Yankee Panky # 36: Fallout Boys

It’s been more than a week since the Report’s release, and the Yankees have been at the center of the coverage and analysis. Of the 86 names released in the 409-page document — how many of you have downloaded it? — 22 were Yankees, either past or present, with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte at the forefront.

What surprised me at the outset was the experts’ surprise at Clemens’ inclusion in the report. Ever since BALCO broke four years ago, Clemens’ name has been sprinkled among prominent players on the accused list of PED (performance enhancing drug) use.

"I don’t want to believe it," John Kruk said during the Mitchell Report special aired on ESPN that afternoon. He then contradicted himself by saying that as players age, they should not get better, and that since Clemens did, that’s a possible indicator of foul play.

"In my days as a general manager, I had heard rumors of Clemens using steroids, but I always attributed his success to his tremendous work ethic," Steve Phillips said on the same program.

Curt Schilling’s Dec. 19 post on 38pitches.com was interesting, gripping and will certainly be a talking point for a while. In his 3,200-word post, he wrote that if Clemens is found guilty, he should return the four Cy Young Awards he won in the time frame of the era in question, but that if he’s clean, he should come forth and declare it, as Albert Pujols did in response to WNBC-TV’s indefensible release of incorrect names two hours before Senator Mitchell’s press conference. If you’re going to scoop someone, at least make sure you have the facts and corroborate the sources.

The evidence presented by Jose De Jesus Ortiz in the Houston Chronicle supports that. Ortiz wrote that Clemens’ name was wrongly included in an LA Times story published last year on the players included in Jason Grimley’s affidavit, which at the time were redacted.

A few of the accused have, in fact, come forward and admitted their usage, like Brian Roberts, Jay Gibbons, and most notably, Pettitte. Pettitte’s admission was strange, particularly the "if what I did was an error in judgment" line. HGH was still illegal to obtain without a prescription in 2002, so yes, committing a crime was an error in judgment. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," is akin to the Chewbacca defense.

On ESPN.com, Jemele Hill called Pettitte’s admission a farce, comparing the statement to "smoking weed for glaucoma." Her analogy may be a bit extreme (doctors in more than a dozen states can prescribe medicinal marijuana to glaucoma patients), but I understand Hill’s skepticism and the tone of her reaction. Every player who admits guilt or professes innocence will have his words interpreted 12 ways from Sunday, dissected for tone and leaving us to question the athlete’s contrition.

I credit Pettitte for issuing some sort of response to defend himself, given that one of his closest associates, trainer Brian McNamee, sold him out. And judging from my interpretation of Pettitte in covering him for two years, I believe he was sincere.

The media will be split in their interpretations of the admissions and their perceptions of the players who come forward — or don’t — because of their inclusion in the report. Friday’s opening of Kirk Radomski’s sealed affidavit, as well as Grimsley’s, could lead to an even bleaker picture of the game. In addition, journalistically and legally, the public release of those documents could change the way we access information, regarding what becomes public record.

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In terms of overall coverage, ESPN had the broadest and covered the most angles. I’m actually surprised they haven’t developed a microsite within the MLB index solely devoted to the Mitchell Report. The timing of ESPN forming its investigative team could not have been better. T.J. Quinn, Mark Fainaru-Wada, Shaun Assael, Howard Bryant, and Mike Fish were all over the report and finding stories behind the stories. It gives me hope that good journalism, even in the sports field, where traditionalists and professors still cringe at the juxtaposition of sports and journalism, exists.

The reporting has been generally well-founded, and I’m surprised that since the Report was released, fewer writers have rushed to the morality soapbox. That’s been left to the politicians. As a fan and a realist, I’m not a fan of the romanticization and preservation of the myth of purity in baseball or any other sport. Regardless of how much testing there is, or how severe the penalties are for the athletes who test positive, there will always be cheating. People will always look for an edge. It doesn’t just occur in athletics, it’s everywhere.

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David Justice’s inclusion in the report is surprising on one hand, but then not, when you look at the sharp decline after the 2000 (age 34) season. Declaring his innocence on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN Radio show is not exactly a way to boost credibility, either. (I apologize to fans of The Herd, but the way he treated Sean Taylor’s death was disgraceful, and having a segment called "Spanning the Globe" when all the news within the segment comes from within the U.S. is an insult to our intelligence.)

YES has not stated whether it will keep Justice as an analyst next year. How they treat the situation, and how KHTK Radio in Sacramento handles the broadcast career of F.P. Santangelo, may determine how other outlets who have hired ex-players named in the Report deal with the analysts and the allegations made against them.

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In other Yankee News, Buster Olney writes that the Yankees might be coming around to the Joba Chamberlain bullpen theory I’ve advocated in this space for several months.

Alex Belth has the full excerpt below.

Finally … Alex Rodriguez’s "60 Minutes" interview was illuminating, particularly the description of the depth of his rift with Scott Boras, and his admission that opting out of the contract was a mistake. But even though he came across as sincere, I had to laugh when A-Rod called the opt-out scenario and the subsequent series of events "a bad nightmare." As opposed to the good kind?

Here’s to hoping you all have a safe holiday free of bad nightmares, PEDs and long legal documents.

Bullpen for Starters

From Buster Olney’s column today over at ESPN.com:

Heard this: If all goes well in spring training for the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain is likely to start next season in the Yankees’ bullpen, as part of the team’s effort to limit his innings. Chamberlain will go to spring training and, at the outset, prepare to pitch out of the rotation, along with five other rotation candidates: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mike Mussina and Ian Kennedy. Assuming that none of the other five has a physical or performance breakdown, Chamberlain would then open 2008 in the bullpen, as a set-up man, for at least the start of the season — under the Joba Rules.

The Yankees want to restrict the number of innings Chamberlain throws, and working him out of the bullpen for at least a couple of months will allow them to do that. Chamberlain may return to the rotation sometime in the middle of the season, depending on the Yankees’ needs.

I can’t imagine the thought of Chamberlain pitching out of the pen next season will sit well with many of you. Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say?

Card Corner–Mr. Mustache

 

There’s a myth about Reggie Jackson that most of the controversy and conflict in his career took place during his five seasons with the Yankees. That’s really not the case. While his battles of ego with Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner garnered the most media attention of his career, Jackson was just as controversial during his days in Oakland. He butted heads with manager Dick Williams and most of his coaching staff. He once fought Billy North, a onetime friend who had become a mortal enemy by 1974. Jackson frequently sparred with A’s owner/general manager Charlie Finley, who could make Boss Steinbrenner look like Charles Ingalls by comparison. One of Jackson’s controversial episodes bordered on silliness, but it was just the kind of occurrence that made life with Finley’s A’s so entertaining.

In 1972, Jackson, reported to Oakland’s spring training camp in Arizona replete with a fully-grown mustache (as seen in his 1972 Topps card, No. 435), the origins of which had begun to sprout during the 1971 American League Championship Series. To the surprise of his teammates, Jackson had used part of his off-season to allow the mustache to reach a fuller bloom. In addition, Jackson bragged to teammates that he would not only wear the mustache, but possibly a beard, come Opening Day.

Such pronouncements would have hardly created a ripple in today’s game. Players freely make bold fashion statements with mustaches and goatees, and routinely wear previously disdained accessories like earrings. It’s really no big deal in 2007. But this was 1972, still a conservative time within the sport, in stark contrast to the rebellious attitudes of younger generations throughout the country. Given that no major league player had been documented wearing a mustache in the regular season since Wally Schang of the Philadelphia A’s in 1914, Jackson’s pronouncements made major news in 1972.

In the post-Schang era, several players had donned mustaches during spring training, including Stanley "Frenchy" Bordagaray of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-1930s and, more recently, Richie Allen of the St. Louis Cardinals and Clete Boyer of the Atlanta Braves in the first two years of the seventies. (Allen’s 1971 Topps card shows the mustache in clear view, but it’s believed that the Dodger Stadium photograph was taken just before the start of the season.) Yet, in each case, the player had shaved off the mustache by Opening Day, either by his own volition or because of a mandate from the team. After all, there existed an unwritten rule within the conservative sport, one that strongly frowned upon facial hair. In addition, several individual teams had more recently instituted their own formal policies (most notably the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s), policies that forbade their players from sporting facial hair.

Baseball’s conservative grooming standards, which had been in place for over 50 years, were now being threatened by one of the game’s most visible players. Not surprisingly, Jackson’s mustachioed look quickly cornered the attention of Charlie Finley and Dick Williams. "The story as I remember it," says former A’s first baseman Mike Hegan, "was that Reggie came into spring training… with a mustache, and Charlie didn’t like it. So he told Dick to tell Reggie to shave it off. And Dick told Reggie to shave it off, and Reggie told Dick what to do. This got to be a real sticking point, and so I guess Charlie and Dick had a meeting, and they said well, ‘Reggie’s an individual so maybe we can try some reverse psychology here.’ Charlie told a couple of other guys, I don’t know whether it was [Dave] Duncan, or Sal [Bando], or a few other guys to start growing a mustache. Then, [Finley figured that if] a couple of other guys did it, Reggie would shave his off, and you know, everything would be OK."

According to A’s captain Sal Bando, Finley wanted to avoid having a direct confrontation with Jackson over the mustache. For one of the few times in his tenure as A’s owner, Finley showed a preference for a subtle, more indirect approach. "Finley, to my knowledge," says Bando, "did not want to go tell Reggie to shave it. So he thought it would be better to have all of us grow mustaches. That way, Reggie wouldn’t be an ‘individual’ [anymore]." Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Darold Knowles, and Bob Locker followed Reggie’s lead, each sprouting his own mustache. Instead of making Jackson feel less individualistic, thus prompting him to adopt his previously clean-shaven look, the strategy had a reverse and unexpected effect on Finley.

"Well, as it turned out, guys started growing ‘em, and Charlie began to like it," says Hegan in recalling the origins of baseball’s "Mustache Gang." Finley offered a cash incentive to any player who had successfully grown a mustache by Father’s Day. "So then we all had to grow mustaches," says Hegan, "and that’s how all that started. By the time we got to the [regular] season, almost everybody had mustaches." Even Dick Williams, known for his military brush-cut and clean-shaven look during his managerial tenure in Boston, would join the facial brigade by growing a patchy, scraggly mustache of his own. Baseball’s longstanding hairless trend had officially come to an end.

And as always, Finley had found a way to profit from it.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Bruce Markusen, who writes Cooperstown Confidential for MLB.com, is the author of the upcoming book, Out of Left Field: Unusual Characters in Baseball History.

Mr. Magic

Knick fans have been called the most loyal of all New York sporting fans. The fact that the Garden still draws crowds with the organization in its current state (i.e. shambles) says something about the Knick faithful. Maybe the rattle-your-jewelry crowd just needs a place to keep warm. I don’t know how anyone but a complete boob or a die-hard fan could go to the Garden to watch this horrid excuse for a team. The call for Isiah Thomas’ job has reached new heights in recent days (despite the fact the Knicks actually won a game last night). But I’m afraid that with Jim Dolan running the team, Thomas is only part of the problem. Still, he can’t split soon enough for most of us who care even a little. The sooner we’re rid of this snake-oil salesman the better.

Which brings me to another bit from an old Sport magazine that I ran across recently, circa 1976. From a cover story on Earl Monroe (the original “Magic” though he’s of course better known as “Pearl”) by Woody Allen:

My impressions of Monroe [when he played for Balitmore]? I immediately ranked him with Willie Mays and Sugar Ray Robinson as athletes who went beyond the level of sports as sport into the realm of sports as art. Seemingly awkward and yet breathtakingly graceful…

Then in 1971 he got traded to the Knicks…Could he play alongside Walt Frazier? Frazier was then the premier all-around guard in basketball and had set standards so high that years later when he might be off his game a fraction and could no longer single-handedly win games, the fans could not deal with it and turned on him. I found this unforgivable and it certainly says something about the myth of the New York sports fan.

Woody reluctantly went to talk to Monroe at the players’ upper west side apartment. When he arrived, Woody was greeted by Pearl’s girlfriend (“My God, she’s packed into those jeans with an ice cream scoop.”) Monroe was out running errands, so Woody and the girlfriend chatted…for a few hours. Monroe never showed up, and finally Woody excused himself.

I back out the door, dumbling and apologizing, for what, I don’t know. Then, walking home this sunny, Saturday afternoon, I think to myself, how wonderful. This great athlete is so unconcerned about the usual nonsense of social protocol. Unimpressed by me, a cover interview, and all the attendant fuss and adulation that so many people strive for, he simply fails to show up. Probably off playing tennis or fooling with his new Mercedes.

Whatever he was doing, I admired him for his total unconcern…That night, Earl scored 28 points and had eight misses against Washington; the next day he tossed in 31 points against the same team.

I thought about how Sport’s editors had relayed Monroe’s enthusiasm about the prospect of our interview. I thought, too, that if I had missed an interview I’d be consumed with guilt. But that’s me and I’m not a guy who can ask for a ball with the team down by a point, two seconds left on the clock, and, with two players hacking at my body and shiedling my vision, score from the corner. If I misse the basket and lose the game for my team, I commit suicide. For Monroe, well, he’s as nonchalant about that tension-strung situation as he is about keeping appointments. That’s why I’d tense up and blow clutch shots, while Monroe’s seem to drop through the hoop like magic.

Boy, the Knicks sure could use some magic these days. But even Houdini would have his hands full making this bunch disappear.

Head Games

Baseball has barely had an off-day since the end of the World Serious this year. Even before the release of The Mitchell Report last week, the Hot Stove League has kept us all busier than normal. Especially us Yankee fans. Ever feel as if the constant media coverage–including the daily posts here at Bronx Banter–is just overwhelming? Sometimes, it’s just crosstown traffic, a lot of noise to me, and I’m as much a junkie, insatiable for breaking news, as the rest of you. In light of all this activity, my annual posting of the following Roger Angell quote, may seem old fashioned or wistful for a quieter time. I’m not generally one for nostalgia, but so be it. I’m a willfully stick my head in the sand for a minute and give my winter fantasies some room to roam:

“There is a game of baseball that is not to be found in the schedules or the record books. It has no season, but it is best played in the winter, without the distraction of box scores and standings. This is the inner game, baseball in the mind, and there is no real fan who does not know it. It is a game of recollections, recapturings, and visions. Yet this is only the beginning, for baseball in the mind in not a mere yearning and returning. In time, this easy envisioning of restored players, winning hits, and famous rallies gives way to reconsiderations and reflections about the sport itself. By thinking about baseball like this, by playing it over and yet keeping it to ourselves, keeping it warm in a cold season, we begin to make discoveries. With luck, we may even penetrate some of its mysteries and learn once again how richly and variously the game can reward us.”

Roger Angell, from “Baseball in the Mind”

Chew on that. We’ll be back shortly with more buzz.

The Rich Get…More Expensive

It will be more expensive to go to Yankee Stadium next year. This is a drag, but not much of a surprise. The Red Sox already raised their ticket prices by 9% for 2008, while the Mets will hike their prices by close to 20%. Gasp, Yipe, and all of that good stuff.

Sandman Speaks

Mariano Rivera, who likes his pockets fat not flat, spoke to reporters yesterday after the Yankees made his new 3-year, $45 million deal official. Naturally, he was asked about Andy Pettitte and the Mitchell Report. According to Mark Feinsand in the Daily News:

Rivera thinks that players fingered by the report would be better off admitting their mistakes and moving forward.

“I will not lose respect for my teammates or whoever did it,” Rivera said. “I don’t know the reasons why they did it – or if they did it. I just saw Andy come out and say that he did it, and if you did it, the best thing to do is bring it out and start new. Put an end to this thing.”

…”I’m not trying to tell people to do that; I’m just a friend, and I respect their decision,” Rivera said. “If they want to come out, they’ll do it. If they don’t want to come out, they won’t do it. I think it’s the best thing, to put an end to this thing and move on. It’s a new year, hang up everything and start new.”

In another minor story, the Yankees signed Met-killer Nick Green to a minor-league contract. He will join Chris Woodward in fighting for a spot come spring training.

Brrrr

It’s brick in New York today. The Mets and the Yankees are looking into the possibility of picking up Mark Prior reports Anthony McCarron. Johan Santana is still a Twin. Otherwise, there ain’t much popping round these parts. Alex Rodriguez was on 60 Minutes last night (zzzzz). But here are a couple of Prospect Listings, ranking the Yankee’s young guns, to keep you chattering: one, from John Sickels, and another from J.P. Schwartz.

Destination Nerdville. Population: Me

So last weekend my wife was away, and do you know what I did with my wild and nerdy ass self? Went down the the public library on 42nd street and checked out old issues of Sport magazine and Inside Sports on microfilm. (I’m nuts, what can I say.) Sport was an amazing publication in the fifties and sixties, and even in parts of the seventies, but by the eighties, it was a shell of its former self. The roster of writing talent at Sport during it’s heyday is remarkable: Arnold Hano, Ed Linn, W.C. Heinz, Ray Robinson, Roger Kahn, Frank Graham Jr, Dave Anderson, Myron Cope, Al Hirshberg, Jim Brosnan, Dick Schaap, Jimmy Breslin, George Vecsey, Pat Jordan, Vic Ziegel, and Jerry Izenberg to name just a few. (All of the Sport compilations are out of print, but Bob Ryan edited a solid collection just a few years back that is well-worth picking up.) I’m not exactly sure when Inside Sports started. It was either at the tail-end of the seventies or the start of the eighties. Tom Boswell was their baseball guy for a long time, and they were very good, at least through the first half of the eighties. I found a lengthy and very entertaining profile on Nolan Ryan by Tony Kornheiser (yes, he had chops), and an excellent piece on Pistol Pete Maravich during Larry Bird’s rookie year with the Celtics by David Halberstam.

Anyhow, here a few random nuggets on a favorite Yankee, Willie Randolph, that I came across. First, from a profile in Sport, Octover 1976, “Hey, Say, Willie Can Play…Willie Randolph, That Is,” by Kevin McAuliffe:

Randolph is one of the American League’s top rookies of 1976, but unlike Detroit’s Big Bird, who thrives on attention, Randolph avoids it. He has never believed in stardom, for others—”As a kid, I never said, ‘Oh, there goes so and so,’ and tired to get his autograph”—or for himself. “I’m not what you call a starry-eyed fella,” he says.

Then, from Inside Sports, August 31, 1980, “Willie Randolph: The Making of a an Advance Man,” by George Vecsey.

“It’s an old cliché, but it’s true. A walk is as good as a hit,” Randolph said earlier this season, sitting in front of his locker in Yankee Stadium, a huge portable radio-cassette player—his “box”—propped on the rug. The cassesttes are mostly Isley Brothers, Roberta Flack and “a lot of jazz.”

Says Willie: “I knew I’d walk a lot. I know the manager appreciates it when you take a 3-1 pitch, when you get on base…you’d have to swing at anything close on 3-1 when you’re batting eighth,” Randolph says. “When you’re batting leadoff, you take the walk. That’s how I do it.”

…”Willie knows the most important thing is to get on base,” [Reggie] Jackson said. “He has learned to steal when it counts. He doesn’t wait until there are two strikes. He goes down early, so the hitter has a chance to bat…The only two things he has never done are hit .300 and win a Gold Glove. That’s it. Willie is a winter. He’s not a laugh-and-joke guy, which I like, because I’m not either. He’s a good family man, too. I’ll tell you what: If Willie does hit .300, you won’t notice the difference. He’ll do it the same way he hits .270.”

Willie from Brooklyn. He was a good one.

My Bad

Andy Pettitte released a statement today apologizing for using HGH on two occasions in 2002 to recover from an injury.

Card Corner–Ken Berry

 

With so much of the recent baseball conversation delving into the solemn and sober issues of steroid use and how the game should react to the problem, I thought it would be nice to throw a lighthearted change-of-pace. Along those lines, this week’s Card Corner presents something a little bit different.

 

Yes, I admit it. I used to think that former California Angels outfielder Ken Berry (Topps 1972, No. 379)was the same Ken Berry who starred in the 1960s television series, "F-Troop." After all, the actor who portrayed Captain Wilton Parmenter, the shy and not-so-fearless leader of Fort Courage, seemed young enough to be a ballplayer. The show also aired during the fall and winter months, resulting in little conflict with the baseball season, which ran for most of the spring and summer. (As a seven-year-old in 1972, I had no idea that TV series started filming during the summer months, which would have made it difficult for Berry the baseball player to honor his major league schedule with the Angels. To make matters worse, I didn’t realize that "F-Troop" had aired live from 1965 to 1967, and was simply being featured in reruns by 1972. So in theory, Berry the ballplayer would have been filming "F-Troop" in the mid-1960s while still with the Chicago White Sox. All of these revelations are rather embarrassing.)

Captain Parmenter would have made a good outfielder, just like baseball’s version of Ken Berry. (Baseball’s Berry won two Gold Gloves for his defensive play in center field and earned selection to the 1967 All-Star Game. Back in the day, he was referred to as an excellent flychaser.) As the overmatched commander of "F-Troop," Parmenter looked lean and fit, and appeared to have enough speed to play center field. Some of the other characters on "F-Troop" also fit the stereotypes of ballplayers. Sergeant Morgan O’Rourke, played so smoothly by veteran actor Forrest Tucker, would have made a strapping, left-handed hitting first baseman. Corporal Randolph Agarn, as played by the mawkish Larry Storch, would have fit right in as a goofy, wisecracking utility infielder. And then there was Hannibal Dobbs, portrayed by character actor James Hampton of The Longest Yard fame, who would have seemed just right as a slightly daffy relief pitcher.

With or without baseball, "F-Troop" was a solidly good, funny show that was sometimes hilarious. It never would have flown in today’s world of politically correct speech (the portrayal of the Native Americans on the show is considered offensive by many critics). In some ways, it was a latter day "Little Rascals" (another riotous program that is never shown anymore because of over sensitivity and political correctness), but it was still funny, with likeable and sympathetic characters. It just would have been that much better if the Ken Berry who played center field so skillfully for the Angels, White Sox, Cleveland Indians, and Milwaukee Brewers had been the same guy who so cleverly played Captain Parmenter on TV.

Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com and is the author of the upcoming book, Out of Left Field: Unusual Characters in Baseball History.

Hung Over

Jose Canseco’s best bud, Alex Rodriguez spoke to reporters just hours before the Mitchell Report was released yesterday. Tyler Kepner has the details.

I haven’t read the Mitchell Report so I can’t offer any kind of educated analysis. In reading through the New York papers this morning, I haven’t found many really good takes on it either, though Tim Marchman’s column is good. Howard Bryant and John Helyar offer solid work at ESPN.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver