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Observations From Cooperstown: Call-ups, Helmets, and Lookalikes

Let’s file this in the category of “taking nothing for granted.” Even with a sizeable lead over the Red Sox, I’m happy to see that the Yankees haven’t waited for Scranton’s Triple-A playoff season to end before bringing some reinforcements to New York. Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Mark Melancon, Edwar Ramirez, Mike Dunn, and Jon Albaladejo represent the first wave of call-ups, giving Joe Girardi additional options for the final month of the regular season. As painful as it is for fans of the minor league affiliates to hear, the priorities and needs of the major league team should always come first. Given the frequent rest needed by Jorge Posada and the semi-ludicrous pitching limitations being placed on Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees can use some bolstering in the areas of pitching and catching depth.

Once Scranton’s postseason run is complete, the Yankees should then promote their two best everyday players at Triple-A: Austin “Ajax” Jackson and Shelley “Slam” Duncan. If nothing else, both players deserve to be rewarded for fine seasons in Triple-A; minor league players need to know that they will be promoted if they produce at lower levels. Jackson still has flaws in his game (including a surprising lack of power and too many strikeouts), but did well enough to be named the International League’s Rookie of the Year. Duncan has had nothing less than a terrific season for Scranton-Wilkes Barre, leading the league in home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage. Hopefully, the Yankees will be able to put an early clinch on the AL East and give Duncan some at-bats in which to impress opposing scouts. He could help any one of a number of teams, including the Indians, A’s, Diamondbacks, and Pirates. Heck, he’d be a good fit for the cross-town Mets, who probably won’t be re-signing Carlos Delgado and desperately need an infusion of power and enthusiasm. If someone gives Duncan a chance, they might just get some Dave Kingman-type numbers in return, with slightly better defense and significantly better attitude…

In pioneering the oversized S100 helmet made by Rawlings, David Wright has started me thinking about the history of batting helmets. Former Yankee great Phil Rizzuto is generally acknowledged as the first major leaguer to wear a full batting helmet in a game. “The Scooter” made the move from cap to hard hat in 1951, one year before the Pirates outfitted all of their players with helmets and a full 20 years before helmets became mandatory throughout the major leagues. Rizzuto wasn’t just a great shortstop and a funny broadcaster; he was a smart guy who realized the value of protecting oneself in an era when most pitchers felt comfortable pitching high and tight.

As much of a pioneer as Rizzuto was, he was not the first professional ballplayer to don a helmet in a game. That honor belongs to another Hall of Fame shortstop—longtime Negro Leagues great Willie “El Diablo” Wells. After being beaned and knocked unconscious in a 1942 game, the Newark Eagles’ legend returned to action wearing a workman’s helmet, which he found at a New Jersey construction site. Deciding that the construction helmet would work at bat, Wells donned the hard hat in his next game. El Diablo might have looked a little odd, but who could have blamed him?

Speaking of Wright, his use of the S100 helmet has conjured images of two of Hollywood’s beloved characters: The Great Gazoo from “The Flintstones” and the laughable Dark Helmet from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. So whom do you think Wright more closely resembles? It’s a close call, but I’ll place my vote with Gazoo, as portrayed by the brilliant Harvey Korman. In the immortal words of Gazoo, “Goodbye dum-dums.”…

Finally, has anyone else noticed how much Alfredo Aceves looks like former Yankee Jim Leyritz? Every time I see Aceves take the mound, I have to remind myself that “The King” is no longer playing. I had similar flashbacks when Bobby Abreu played for the Yankees; he always reminded me of former Yankee outfielder Matty Alou, at least in terms of their facial resemblance. Then again, maybe I’ve just been looking at too many old Topps baseball cards.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.


1 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Sep 4, 2009 12:15 pm

Yes! I have noticed the Leyritz thing! Similar face, but very different body types. Aceves is an interesting character. If he was just a smidge better he might just be my favorite Yankee.

As for the helmet thing, Wright looks more like one of the Spaceball's shock troops than Dark Helmet himself, but it's much funnier to call him Dark Helmet. Good on Wright for being a trailblazer, what he's doing now will save countless careers and maybe even some lives down the road, but poor Ryan Dempster. He wore the thing first and no one cared.

2 monkeypants   ~  Sep 4, 2009 12:24 pm

Good on Wright for being a trailblazer, what he’s doing now will save countless careers and maybe even some lives down the road...

I wonder about this. In a century of baseball, how many careers have been ruined by beanings? How many lives ended? At what point does concern for safety offer diminishing returns.

It could be argued that any risk of loss of life should be eliminated at any cost. If even one future life is saved, then it's worth it. I might be persuaded by this.

I'm not convinced that "countless careers" will be saved.

3 a.O   ~  Sep 4, 2009 12:29 pm

I always thought that Bobby Abreu looked a lot like this guy:


And I never noticed the Leyritz-Aceves thing before, but now that you mention it I can see it.

4 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Sep 4, 2009 12:41 pm

Good Lord, is that right? Helmets weren't mandatory until 1971? Goddamn. I always thought they began to be used regularly after that guy was killed in 1906 or whenever it was, when the ball was dirty and the sun was going down.

But I guess that makes no sense, since now that I think about it, I know they didn't use them in the '20s, but I guess I thought surely by 1940 they were standard issue.

Never heard about Scooter being the pioneer in that regard. Thanks for the history lesson!

5 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Sep 4, 2009 12:44 pm

[4] Time for Weeping to brush up on baseball history. Ray Chapman was killed in 1920. Helmets were in standard use by the '60s and common, but not universal, by the late '50s.

6 thelarmis   ~  Sep 4, 2009 12:49 pm

i agree with a lot of the above comments:

i can't believe helmets weren't mandatory until 1971. wow.

i had NO idea Scooter was the first...

i never made the Ace/King correlation, but i kinda see it now.

Ace really is a great cat. he was really wonderful with the fans in the outfield and bullpen the 2 games i saw him here in Atlanta.

i may not be right, but i believe Wright has already ditched the new helmet and is back to wearing his regular one. i know i saw some highlights about that...

7 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 4, 2009 12:49 pm

[5] A Yankee pitcher, Carl Mays, beaned Chapman, who was actually was a very good player.

8 thelarmis   ~  Sep 4, 2009 12:50 pm

[5] that makes MUCH more sense and is closer to what i thought...

check out Black Crowes albums # 4 & 5 - 3 Snakes & One Charm and By Your Side. yes, stay away from War Paint - the new(ish) reunion record...

9 thelarmis   ~  Sep 4, 2009 1:02 pm

Kirkjian's got an article on Jetes today:

Jeter... reached the 2,700 mark earlier than anyone except Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. Jeter will soon record the 10th 190-hit season of his career, which will tie him with Stan Musial for third most all-time behind Pete Rose (13) and Ty Cobb (12).

10 The Hawk   ~  Sep 4, 2009 1:05 pm

Wouldn't it have made more sense to have cut down Chamberlain's innings per appearance in July or August then build them back up in September? I guess that couldn't happen since they didn't come upon the current plan until a couple weeks ago.

11 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Sep 4, 2009 1:16 pm

[8] I replied to you (late) in the other thread. I got 3 Snakes when it came out and enjoy it, but the songs from By Your Side that hit the radio sounded warmed over. Combined with the fact that they changed over half the band (Colt, Ford & the old dude on keys) before that record made me completely disinterested, and I remain so despite your recommendation, I'm sorry to say. That record is what killed my interest in the band.

[10] There's also the fact that they didn't know then that they'd have such a big lead now. Most of all, however, its that expanded rosters give them the bullpen depth to absorb those shorts starts as well as the short outings by the 5th starter(s). So, not to be rude, but no, it wouldn't have.

12 thelarmis   ~  Sep 4, 2009 1:26 pm

[11] ah, sorry i missed your post! i was big into their debut. i remember Adam Curry stating this band from Georgia was gonna be the next big thing and i saw the World Premier video for 'Jealous Again'. i thought nothing of it and couldn't understand why they'd be "big." now that i'm in the industry, i learned that it was a label push and they were going to be "big" no matter what. moneybags were thrown into that organization and that's how it works.

i was working at a record store at the time and we spun that album every day and i loved it! i didn't dig their sophomore record til a few years later. i shunned Amorica for even more years and finally succumbed to it at my brothers' behest.

fast forward a lot of years and my brother was still a HUGE Crowes fan. i got 3 Snakes & By Your Side (i understand your sentiment about what were probably the radio songs) and i couldn't believe how great the band was and how good the songwriting was.

i didn't much care for Lions and the double live record isn't very good. the new one is really non-descript. i spun it about twice and shelved it.

fwiw, the few times i've met Colt, he's been very cool to me. then again, i rent a room at his studio, so there's that! ; )

13 Sliced Bread   ~  Sep 4, 2009 1:58 pm

Good call on Shelley to the Mets, Bruce. He'd be a great fit in Queens. The fans would love him. I'm not sure if I ever proposed that here, but definitely had the same thought after Delgado went down. Yanks and Mets don't trade that much anymore though.

14 The Hawk   ~  Sep 4, 2009 2:25 pm

[11] Ha, since when is it rude to answer a rhetorical question in the negative? Especially when I already did it myself!

And though what you say makes sense, it's still not quite right for the same reason, ie they didn't come up with this three-inning starts business until a couple weeks ago or less. Originally - allegedly - they were going to pitch him less but for "full" outings.

15 Raf   ~  Sep 4, 2009 2:29 pm

I’m not convinced that “countless careers” will be saved.

Probably not, but it makes good copy.

Having said that, players will get used to the new S100's like they got used to all the other style of helmets in the league. Technology caught up with the other equipment, so it's not surprising that it would catch up to batting helmets as well.

16 monkeypants   ~  Sep 4, 2009 2:33 pm

[15] It will be interesting to see if/how these new helmets will affect base running, or even such things as collisions at the plate (a rarity as far as plays goes, but perhaps not much rarer than beanings to the head). .

17 Just Fair   ~  Sep 4, 2009 2:56 pm

[16] I saw in the game the other night where Wright traded in his Gazoo helmet for the regular sized one once he reached 1st base.

18 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Sep 4, 2009 2:57 pm

I'd expect the helmets to get some cosmetic revisions along the way. We'll see. At least this is progress, as opposed too the Cool Flo helmets, which were only ugly.

Of course, I miss the no-flap helmets (think Winnie & Reggie), but safety over style . . .

19 monkeypants   ~  Sep 4, 2009 4:32 pm

[17] Aha!

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